Chapter I. Introducing the Rover Boys
 

"Hurrah, Sam, it is settled at last that we are to go to boarding school!"

"Are you certain, Tom? Don't let me raise any false hopes."

"Yes, I am certain, for I heard Uncle Randolph tell Aunt Martha that he wouldn't keep us in the house another week. He said he would rather put up with the Central Park menagerie -- think of that!" and Tom Rover began to laugh.

"That's rather rough on us, but I don't know but what we deserve it," answered Sam Rover, Tom's younger brother. "We have been giving it pretty strong lately, with playing tricks on Sarah the cook, Jack the hired man, and Uncle Randolph's pet dog Alexander. But then we, had to do something -- or go into a dry rot. Life in the country is all well enough, but it's mighty slow for me."

"I guess it is slow for anybody brought up in New York, Sam. Why, the first week I spent here I thought the stillness would kill me. I couldn't actually go to sleep because it was so quiet. I wish uncle and aunt would move to the city. They have money enough."

"Aunt Martha likes to be quiet, and uncle is too much wrapped up in the art of scientific farming, as he calls it. I'll wager he'll stay on this farm experimenting and writing works on agriculture until he dies. Well, it's a good enough way to do, I suppose, but it wouldn't suit me. I want to see something of life -- as father did."

"So do I. Perhaps we'll see something when we get to boarding school."

"Where are we to go?"

"I don't know. Some strict institution, you can be sure of that. Uncle Randolph told aunty it was time the three of us were hand. He said Dick wasn't so bad, but you and I --"

"Were the bother of his life, eh?"

"Something about like that. He doesn't see any fun in tricks. He expects us to just walk around the farm, or study, and, above all things, keep quiet, so that his scientific investigations are not disturbed. Why doesn't he let us go out riding, or boating on the river, or down to the village to play baseball with the rest of the fellows? A real live American boy can't be still the time, and he ought to know it," and, with a decided shake of his curly head, Tom Rover took a baseball from his pocket and began to throw it up against the side of the farmhouse, catching it each time as it came down.

Tom had thrown the ball up just four times when a pair of blinds to an upper window flew open with a crash, and the head of a stern-looking elderly gentleman appeared. The gentleman had gray hair, very much tumbled, and wore big spectacles.

"Hi! hi! boys, what does this mean?" came in a high-pitched voice. "What are you hammering on the house for, when I am just in the midst of a deep problem concerning the rotation of crops on a hillside with northern exposure?"

"Excuse me, Uncle Randolph, I didn't think to disturb you," answered Tom meekly. "I'll put the ball away."

"You never stop to think, Thomas. Give me that ball."

"Oh, let me keep it, Uncle Randolph! I won't throw it against the house again, honor bright."

"You'll forget that promise in ten minutes, Thomas; I know you well. Throw the ball up," and Mr. Randolph Rover held out hands.

"All right, then; here you go," answered Tom, somewhat put out to thus lose a ball which had cost him his week's spending, money; and he sent the sphere flying upward at a smart speed. Mr. Rover made a clutch for it, but the ball slipped through his hands and landed plump on his nose.

"Oh!" he cried, and disappeared from sight, but reappeared a moment later, to shake his fist at Tom.

"You young rascal! You did that on purpose!" he spluttered, and brought forth his handkerchief, for his nose had begun to bleed. "Was anyone ever tormented so by three boys?"

"Now you are in for it again, Tom," whispered Sam.

"I didn't mean to hit you, Uncle Randolph. Why didn't you catch it on the fly?"

"On the fly?" repeated the uncle. "Do you suppose I am accustomed to catching cannon balls?"

"Didn't you ever play baseball?"

"Never. I spent my time in some useful study." The elderly gentleman continued to keep his handkerchief to his nose, and adjusted his glasses.

"Thank fortune, you are all going to go to boarding school next week, and we will once more have a little peace and quietness around Valley Brook!"

"Where are we to go, Uncle Randolph?" asked Sam.

"You I will learn that Monday morning, when you start off."

"It wouldn't hurt to tell us now," grumbled Tom.

"You must learn to be patient, Thomas. My one hope is that life at boarding school makes a real man of you."

"Of course we are all to go together?"

"Yes, you are to go together, although I can get along with Richard very well, he is so much more quiet and studious than you or Samuel."

"I reckon he takes after you, Uncle Randolph."

"If so, he might do worse. By the way, what were both of you doing here?"

"Nothing," came from Sam.

"We haven't anything to do. This farm is the slowest place on earth," added Tom.

"Why do you not study the scientific and agricultural works that I mentioned to you? See what I have done for scientific farming."

"I don't want to be a farmer," said Tom. "I'd rather be a sailor."

"A sailor!" gasped Randolph Rover. "Of all things! Why, a sailor is the merest nobody on earth!"

"I guess you mean on the sea, uncle," said Sam with a grin.

"Don't joke me, Samuel. Yes, Thomas -- the calling of a sailor amounts to absolutely nothing. Scientific farming is the thing! Nothing more noble on the face of the earth than to till the soil."

"I never saw you behind a plow, Uncle Randolph," answered Tom, with a twinkle in his blue eyes. "Besides, I heard you say that the farm ran behind last year."

"Tut, tut, boy! You know nothing about it. I made a slight miscalculation in crops, that was all. But this year we shall do better."

"You lost money year before last, too," commented Sam.

"Who told you that?"

"Mr. Woddie, the storekeeper at the Corners."

"Mr. Woddie may understand storekeeping, but he knows nothing of farming, scientific or otherwise. I spent several thousands of dollars in experimenting, but the money was not lost. We shall soon have grand results. I shall astonish the whole of New, York, State at the next meeting of our agricultural society," and Mr. Randolph Rover waved his hand grandiloquently. It was easy to see that scientific farming was his hobby.

"Randolph!" It was the voice of Mrs. Rover, who now appeared beside her husband. "What is the matter with your nose?"

"Tom hit me with his ball. It is all right now, although it did bleed some."

"The bad boy! But it is just like him. Sarah has given notice that she will leave at the end of her month. She says she can't stand the pranks Tom and Sam play on her."

"She need not go -- for the boys are going to boarding school, you know."

"She says you promised to send them off before."

"Well, they shall go this time, rest assured of that. I cannot stand their racing up and down stairs, and their noise, any longer. They go Monday morning."

"Better send them off tomorrow."

"Well - er -- that is rather sudden."

"Sarah's month is up Friday. She will surely go unless the boys are out of the house. And she is the best cook I have ever had."

"Excepting when she burnt the custard pies," put in Tom.

"And when she salted the rice pudding!" added Sam.

"Silence, both of you. Randolph, do send them off."

"Very well, I will. Boys, you must go away from the house for an hour or two."

"Can we go fishing or swimming?" asked Tom.

"No, I don't want you to go near the river, you may get drowned."

"We can both swim," ventured Sam.

"Never mind -- it is not safe -- and your poor father left you in my, care."

"Can we go down to the village?"

"No, you might get into bad company there."

"Then where shall we go?" came from both boys simultaneously.

Randolph Rover scratched his head in perplexity. He had never had any children of his own, and to manage his brother's offspring was clearly beyond him. "You might go down to the cornfield, and study the formation of the ears -"

"Send them blackberrying," suggested Mrs. Rover. "We want the berries for pies tomorrow, and it will give them something to do."

"Very well; boys, you may go blackberrying. And mind you keep out of mischief."

"We'll mind," answered Tom. "But you might let me have that ball."

"I will give it to the morning," answered Randolph Rover, and turned away from the window with his wife.

As soon as they were out of sight, Tom threw up both, hands in mock tragedy, "Alack, Horatio, this excitement killeth me!" he cried in a stage whisper. "Sent blackberrying to keep us out of mischief! Sam, what are we coming to?"

"Well, it's better than moping around doing nothing. For my part, I am glad we are to go to boarding school, and the sooner the better. But I would like to know where to?"

"If only we were going to a military academy!"

"Hurrah! Just the thing! But no such luck. Get the berry baskets and let us be off. By the way, where is Dick?"

"Gone to the village for the mail. There he, comes down the road now," and Tom pointed to a distant path back of the meadows.

The two boys hurried into a woodshed behind the large farmhouse and procured a basket and two tin pails. With these in hand they set off in the direction of the berry patch, situated along the path that Dick Rover was pursuing, their intention being to head off their brother and see if he had any letters for them.

Of the three Rover boys, Richard, commonly called Dick, was the eldest. He was sixteen, tall, slender, and had dark eyes and dark hair. He was a rather quiet boy, one who loved to read and study, although he was not above having a good time now and then, when felt like "breaking loose," as Tom expressed it.

Next to Richard came Tom, a year younger, as merry a lad as there was ever to be found, full of life and "go," not above playing all sorts of tricks on people, but with a heart of gold, as even his uncle and aunt felt bound to admit.

Sam was the youngest. He was but fourteen, but of the same height and general appearance as Tom, and the pair might readily have been taken for twins. He was not as full of pranks as Tom, but excelled his brothers in many outdoor sports.

The history of the three Rover boys was a curious one. They were the only children of one Anderson Rover, a gentleman who had been widely known as a mineral expert, gold mine proprietor, and traveler. Mr. Anderson Rover had gone to California a poor young man and had there made a fortune in the mines. Returning to the East, he had married and settled down in New York City, and there, the three boys had been born.

An epidemic of fever had taken off Mrs. Rover when Richard was but ten years of age. The shock had come so suddenly that Anderson Rover was dazed, and for several weeks the man knew not what to do. "Take all of the money I made in the West, but give me back my wife!" he said broken-heartedly, but this could not be, and soon after he left his three boys in charge of a housekeeper and set off to tour Europe, thinking that a change of scene would prove a benefit.

When he came back he seemed a changed man. He was restless, and could not remain at home for more than a few weeks at a time. He placed the boys at a boarding school in New York and returned to the West, where he made another strike in the gold mines; and when he came back once more he was reported to be worth between two and three hundred thousand dollars.

But now a new idea had came into his head. He had been reading up on Africa, and had reached the conclusion that there must be gold in the great unexplored regions of that country. He determined to go to Africa, fit out an exploration, and try his luck.

"It will not cost me over ten to twenty thousand dollars," he said to his brother Randolph. "And it may make me a millionaire."

"If you are bound to go, I will not stop you," had been Randolph Rover's reply. "But what of your boys in the meanwhile?"

This was a serious question, for Anderson Rover knew well the risk he was running, knew well that many a white man had gone into the interior of Africa never to return. At last it was settled that Randolph Rover should become Dick, Tom, and Sam's temporary guardian. This accomplished, Anderson Rover set off and that was the last any of his family had ever heard of him.

Was he dead or alive? Hundreds of times had the boys and their uncle pondered that question. Each mail was watched with anxiety, but day after day brought no news, until the waiting became an old story, and all settled down to the dismal conviction that the daring explorer must be dead. He had landed and gone into the interior with three white men and twenty natives, and that was all that could be ascertained concerning him.

At the time of Anderson Rover's departure Randolph had been on the point of purchasing a farm of two hundred acres in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. The land had not changed hands until a year later, however, and then Dick, Tom, and Sam were called upon to give up their life in the metropolis and settle down in the country, a mile away from the village of Dexter Corners.

For a month things had gone very well, for all was new, and it seemed like a "picnic," to use Tom's way of expressing it. They had run over the farm from end to end, climbed to the roof of the barn, explored the brook, and Sam had broken his arm by falling from the top of a cherry tree. But after that the novelty wore, away, and the boys began to fret.

"They want something to do," thought Randolph Rover, and set them to work studying scientific farming, as he called it. At this Dick made some progress, but the uncle could do nothing with Tom and Sam. Then the last two broke loose and began to play pranks on everybody that came along, and life became little short of a burden to the studious Randolph and, his quiet-minded spouse.

"I must send them off to a boarding school, or somewhere," Randolph Rover would say, but he kept putting the matter off, hoping against hope that he might soon hear from his lost brother.