Chapter XIV. Josiah Crabtree in Difficulty
 

Dora Stanhope had witnessed the approach of the boys, and now she came out into the garden again and confronted them. She blushed prettily upon seeing Dick and several others with whom she was acquainted.

"I understand that Mr. Crabtree is about to be married," said Dick in a low tone.

"Yes, he insists on marrying my mother this afternoon. He has been at her about this for several months," answered Dora between her sobs.

"Evidently you oppose the marriage."

"I -- I hate Mr. Crabtree!" came almost fiercely. "He is -- is nothing like my poor dead papa was."

"I believe you, Dora," answered Dick. "I don't see what your mother can find in him to like. We hate him at the academy."

"I know it -- and I imagine Captain Putnam is preparing to get rid of him, for I heard he was corresponding with a teacher in Buffalo -- one who has been head master in a military academy out in that vicinity."

"Indeed! I hope we do get clear of him -- and I wish you could get clear of him too."

"It doesn't seem as if I could," sighed Dora. "He has wound my mother right around his finger, so to speak. But what are those other boys going to do?" And she pointed to the balance of the cadets, who were following closely upon the wheels of the carriage, which had turned into the highway leading to Cedarville.

"I'll go after them and see," said Dick, and turned to leave. Then he came to a halt and turned back. "Dora, I am awfully sorry for you," he whispered. "If I can ever do anything for you, don't hesitate to call on me."

"I'll remember that, Dick," she replied gratefully, but never dreamed of how much she would one day require his aid.

When Dick joined the crowd he found it on all sides of the carriage, shouting and hurrahing wildly. At first Josiah Crabtree pretended to pay no attention, but presently he spoke to the driver, and the turnout came to a halt.

"Students, what doe's this unseemly conduct mean?" he demanded harshly.

"Why, Mr. Crabtree, is that you!" exclaimed Frank Harrington in pretended surprise.

"Yes, Harrington. I say, what does it mean?"

"We are out playing hare and hounds, sir."

"But you are following this carriage."

"Oh, no, sir, we are following the paper scent, sir," answered Larry Colby, and pointed to the pieces of paper, which Fred Harrison was slyly dropping just in front of the horses.

"Then our carriage is on the trail," sighed Josiah Crabtree. "It is very annoying."

"Oh, it doesn't bother us much, sir," answered Frank coolly.

"Bother you! It is myself and Mrs. Stanhope to whom I referred. Make the hares take another course."

"Can't do that, sir, until we catch them."

"But why must you keep so close to this carriage?"

"I don't know, sir. Perhaps it is the carriage which is keeping close to us."

Josiah Crabtree looked more angry than ever. He spoke to the driver, with a view to increasing the speed of the team, but Borgy had entered into the spirit of the fun at hand, and he was, moreover, a great friend of Dora, and he shook his head. "Couldn't do it sir," he said. "I wouldn't want to run the risk of winding them."

"Do you mean to say they cannot outrun these boys?" demanded the head assistant at Putnam Hall.

"Hardly, sir -- the lads is uncommonly good runners," answered Borgy meekly.

"I will show you how to manage them!" ejaculated Josiah Crabtree, and stepped over to the front seat.

"Oh, Josiah, be careful!" pleaded Mrs. Stanhope.

"I know how to drive horses, so don't worry," answered Crabtree, and took up both reins and whip. Before Borgy could stop him he had given one of the horses a smart cut on the flank.

The steed was a spirited one and not used to the whip, and scarcely had the lash landed than he gave a wild leap into the air, came down, and broke into a mad run, dragging his mate with him. A second later the carriage struck a stone, bounced up, and Borgy was pitched out, to land in the midst of some bushes growing by the roadside.

The bolting of the team proved almost fatal to the boys in front, who scattered just in time to let horses and carriage pass them with lightning-like speed. Then the cadets gathered together and stared blankly at one another.

"It's a runaway!"

"Serves old Crabby right, for hitting the horse!"

"Yes, but he and the lady may be killed!"

Such were some of the cries. As soon as they could recover, the whole party made after the carnage, now disappearing around a bend.

"They'll never get around the next time alive!" said Captain Harry Blossom, who was running beside Tom. Soon Dick joined the pair.

In the meantime Josiah Crabtree was filled with terror over the sudden turn of affairs. He dropped the whip and tugged first at one rein and then the other.

"Whoa! whoa!" he cried in a hoarse whisper. "Whoa!"

But instead of slackening their speed, the team moved on faster than ever, the carriage rocking violently from side to side.

"We will be killed!" moaned Mrs. Stanhope. "Oh, why did I not take Dora's advice and have a regular wedding, as she proposed!"

"I will -- will stop them!" panted Crabtree. "Whoa, you brutes, whoa!"

"Whoa, Peter; whoa, Jack!" added Mrs. Stanhope timidly.

For an instant the horses seemed to take notice of the lady's voice, but only for an instant; then they went on as fast as ever, around another bend, and down a rocky stretch, lined on either side with trees and bushes.

Suddenly there came a crash, as a wheel came off the carriage. Then came a second crash and Mrs. Stanhope was hurled forth among some bushes. But the turnout continued on its way, Josiah Crabtree clinging to the wreck, until at last he too was hurled forth, to fly up among some tree branches and remain there for the best part of ten minutes.

When the crowd of cadets reached Mrs. Stanhope they found the lady unconscious and evidently suffering from a broken arm. Several of them, including Dick, Tom, and Sam, did what they could for her, while others ran off to find Josiah Crabtree and to summon a doctor.

It was several minutes before the head assistant at Putnam Hall could be helped out of the tree. He came down in fear and trembling, so overcome he could scarcely stand.

"How -- how is Mrs. Stanhope?" was his, first question.

"We don't know," answered several of the cadets, and Josiah Crabtree hobbled back to find out...

The shades of night had long fallen when Mrs. Stanhope was conveyed to her home, and a doctor was brought from Cedarville and the Lanings were informed of what had happened. The doctor said that a rib as well as the left arm had been fractured, and that the lady must be kept quiet for at least two months. At once Dora set about doing what she could for her mother, and Nellie Laning remained at the homestead to assist her. No one seemed to care about Josiah Crabtree, and he was allowed to hobble back to Putnam Hall on foot.

"It was the fault of those boys," he muttered to himself. "I'll get even with them, see if I don't!"

But his chances of "getting even" while at the academy were speedily nipped in the bud by Captain Putnam, who did not say anything on Sunday, but interviewed the head assistant early on the day following.

"It is perhaps needless for us to go into the details of what has occurred, Mr. Crabtree," said the owner of the Hall. "Your contract with me comes to an end next month. I will pay you in full tomorrow and then I wish you to remove yourself and your belongings from this place."

"You -- you discharge me!" cried the teacher in astonishment.

"I do. I have long been dissatisfied with your conduct toward my pupils, and I am now satisfied that you are not worthy of the position with which I entrusted you."

At this Josiah Crabtree's face fell, for he had hoped to keep his place at Putnam Hall until his marriage to Mrs. Stanhope was assured. Now there was no telling when that marriage would occur, and in the meantime it was not likely he could get another position.

"I think I ought to have more notice than this."

"You deserve no notice -- since you were about to marry on the sly, so to speak, and, most likely, leave me when your contract came to an end without allowing me time to make other arrangements."

"I would have given you at least two weeks time."

"And I am giving you three weeks pay, which you do not deserve. I do not think we need to prolong the discussion," and Captain Putnam turned away.

The departure of Josiah Crabtree was hailed with satisfaction by all of the pupils excepting Dan Baxter. Strange to say, a strong friendship had sprung up between the bully and the hot-tempered school teacher. Baxter was the only one who shook hands when Crabtree left.

"I hope we meet again, Mr. Crabtree," he said. "I like you, even if the others don't."

"And I like you, Baxter," answered Josiah Crabtree. "I shall remember you."

And Josiah Crabtree did remember the bully in a manner which was strange in the extreme.