7. Something Of A Surprise.
 

Despite the stirring events which had just passed the Rovers managed to pass a pleasant evening at the Stanhope cottage. This was in a large measure due to Dora, who did all she could to entertain them and make them forget their troubles. All played games, and Dora played the piano and sang for them, while Dick and Tom also took a hand at the singing. Sam could not sing, and declared that he was certainly getting a cold, whether from being in the storeroom or not.

At ten o'clock the boys retired, to a large bed chamber containing a double bed and a good-sized cot. They were soon undressed, and after saying their prayers dropped asleep and slept soundly until seven in the morning.

When they arose a surprise awaited them. On the ground outside the snow lay to the depth of a foot or more, and it was still showing as heavily as ever.

"Hullo! we are snowed in!" exclaimed Sam, as he gazed out on the whitened landscape.

"Sure enough," returned Dick, and added:

"This looks as if Captain Putnam might not come back to-day,"

"If that's the case, I vote we stay here," put in Tom. "I'm sure Mrs. Stanhope will keep us."

It was found that Sam's cold had attacked him in earnest. He was very hoarse, and complained of a severe pain in the chest.

"You'll have to do something for that cold," said Dick. "Better stay in bed this morning, and let Mrs. Stanhope put a plaster on your chest."

Going below, he told the lady of the cottage of his brother's condition. A mustard draught was at once prepared and placed upon Sam, and he was also given some pine tar cough mixture. These things relieved him somewhat, but Mrs. Stanhope insisted upon it that he remain in bed, and brought him his breakfast with her own hands.

"Of course you must stay here, especially since Sam is sick," said Dora, while they were eating a breakfast of buckwheat cakes, honey, chops, and coffee. "He may not get worse, but if he does, one of you will have to take the horse and go for the doctor."

"Yes, we'll have to watch Sam," answered Dick. "But don't put yourselves to too much trouble on our account."

"As if we could take too much trouble for you!" exclaimed Dora, and blushed sweetly. It was not likely that she would ever forget all the Rovers had done for her and her mother.

Tom was anxious to learn about the Lanings, and was told that they were all at home and doing finely.

"Nellie and Grace are going on a visit to an aunt at Timber Run after the holidays," said Dora. "They wanted me to go along, but I didn't care to leave mamma, and we didn't wish to lock up the house for fear some tramps might break in and rob us."

After breakfast Sam said he felt like sitting up, but toward noon his chest began to hurt him again, and Mrs. Stanhope said it would be best that somebody go for a doctor. Dick and Tom both volunteered, but it was finally decided that Dick should go alone, on horseback.

A steed was soon saddled, and off Dick rode, wrapped in his overcoat and with an old fur cap pulled well down over his ears. It had now stopped snowing, so the weather was not quite as unpleasant as it had been.

Dick was bound for the house of Dr. Fremley, a physician he knew well, and thither he made his way as speedily as the horse could plow through the drifts which presented themselves. At times, when the wind arose, it was nipping cold, and the youth was glad to get in where it was warm when the physician's office in Cedarville was reached.

"Certainly, I will come and see your brother," said Dr. Fremley. "I'll be ready to go in about half an hour."

"Will you go on horseback?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll wait in town and go back with you," said Dick. "I wish to make a purchase or two."

It was agreed that the youth should meet the physician at half-past twelve, and leaving his horse in the latter's stable, Dick walked down the main street of Cedarville.

He had his Christmas money with him, and entering a drug store he bought a cup of hot chocolate, that warmed him considerably. After this he selected a bottle of cologne and a box of chocolates as a Christmas gift for Dora.

Opposite to the drug store was a stationery and book store, and here Dick procured a fancy floral calendar for Mrs. Stanhope and an interesting girl's book for Dora.

From the store Dick could obtain a side view of the Cedarville Hotel, which stood on a corner up the street, and having paid for his purchases the youth stood near the door and watched the hotel, wondering at the same time if he would see anything of Dan Baxter.

Presently a number of men came from the bar-room of the hotel and moved in various directions. With one of these was the youth for whom Dick was looking.

Dan Baxter and his companion moved in the direction of the lake shore, and Dick lost no time in following the pair.

The man with Baxter was a stranger to Dick, but he showed by his manner that he was a rough individual, and when he talked he did a great deal of swearing, which, however, will not appear in his conversation in these pages.

Having reached the road running along the lake front, Baxter and his companion, whose name was Lemuel Husty, passed northward past a straggling row of cottages and then on the road leading to the village of Neckport.

"I wish I had time--I'd follow them," said Dick to himself, and turned back, much disappointed over the fact that he had not had a chance to speak to Dan Baxter.

As Dick turned in the direction of the doctor's office once more he was hailed by a lad of the village, named Harry Sharp.

"Hullo, Dick Rover!"

"How are you Harry? How do you like the snow?"

"All right enough, only it will spoil some of the skating."

"So I've been thinking," answered Dick, as the two came closer.

"Say, Dick, who do you suppose I met a while ago," went on Harry Sharp.

"I don't know--Dan Baxter?"

"That's the chap. How did you guess it?"

"I saw him myself."

"I thought he didn't dare to show himself?"

"Well, he ought to be arrested, Harry. But perhaps having his father in prison, and losing most of his money, is punishment enough for him."

"I met him in the post office. He was posting several letters."

"Did you see the handwriting on the letters?"

"No. As soon as he saw me he slid out of sight."

"I guess he doesn't fancy being recognized. By the way, have you seen Captain Putnam?"

"Saw him about an hour ago. I think he was going to the Hall."

"Good enough! I was waiting for him to get back."

A few words more followed, and the two boys separated, and Dick hurried to the doctor's office. Dr. Fremley was ready to leave, and soon the pair were on the way to the Stanhope cottage.

Not wishing to give the Hall a bad name Dick deemed it advisable to say nothing about the fact that Sam had been locked in an ice-cold room without his overcoat or hat, and merely stated that his brother had exposed himself.

"He has a very heavy cold," said the doctor, after an examination. "If let run, it would have become serious, beyond a doubt; but I feel confident I can check it," and he left some medicine and some plasters.

As soon as the doctor was gone Dick announced his intention of returning to Putnam Academy. "The captain has got back, and I want to lay the whole case before him, and do it, too while Sam is still sick."

"Shall I go along?" asked Tom.

"No, I'll go alone. They may need you here on Sam's account."

Dick was soon on the way, riding another horse, for the Stanhopes now kept two. He had had a fine dinner, and felt in the best of spirits, despite the disagreeable task before him. He did not doubt for a moment but that Captain Putnam would side with him and condemn the actions of Jasper Grinder.

He was still out of sight of the Hall when he saw Peleg Snuggers riding toward him in the captain's cutter.

"Is that you, Master Rover!" sang out the man of all work. "Where are your brothers?"

"Safe, Snuggers. Has the captain got back?"

"Yes--got in a couple of hours ago."

"Has he said anything about our going away?"

"Said anything? Just guess he has. Why, the whole school is so upset nobody knows what he is doing. Do you know what happened after you and your brothers ran away?"

"Of course I don't. What did happen?"

"Mr. Grinder had a terrible row with more than a dozen of the boys, who sided with what you had done. He got awfully mad at them, and was going to cane the lot, when all of a sudden he fell down in a fit, just like he was going to die, and we had to work over him most an hour before we could bring him around."