Chapter XXI. Something About the Past

During holiday week the boys took occasion to tell their uncle all of the particulars concerning the tramp called Buddy, Arnold Baxter, and his son the bully. It is needless to state that Randolph Rover listened to their story with interest.

"I would like to meet this man with a scar on his chin," he said. "Speaking of him reminds me of something that happened years ago."

"What was it, Uncle Randolph?" questioned Tom.

"Your father had an enemy who had a scar on his chin."

"What!" cried Sam. "Could it have been this Arnold Baxter?"

"Hardly, although such a thing is possible. This man was a Westerner, and laid claim to some property owned by your father. They had a quarrel, and the fellow shot your father in the arm and then ran away. I never learned any of the particulars."

"Arnold Baxter and this Buddy spoke about a mining claim, and about some papers," burst out Tom. "I'd like to wager he is the same chap!"

"If he is, you want to beware of him," responded Randolph Rover gravely. "He is your father's deadliest enemy."

"I'll remember that," said Dick, and his brothers nodded. The matter was talked over for several hours, but brought little satisfaction.

On New Year's Day came another fall of snow, and the lads spent the afternoon in a regular snowballing match among themselves and with the hired man. Poor Jack caught it on all sides, and after quarter of an hour's bombardment was glad enough to run to the barn, for shelter. "But it's great sport," he grinned, as he almost stood on his head trying to get from the back of his neck a soft snowball which Tom had planted there.

The following day they started back for Putnam Hall, and on the way met Larry, Frank, Fred, and a number of others. When Ithaca was reached a surprise awaited the crowd. The weather was so cold that the ice impeded transportation, and the Golden Star was not making her usual trips to Cedarville and other points.

"Here's a state of things!" cried, Tom. "What's to do -- walk to Putnam Hall?"

"Well, hardly, seeing that it is a good number of miles and the weather is bitterly cold."

"Well, if we can't walk and can't ride, how are we to get there?" came from Sam.

"That's the conundrum, Brudder Bones," laughed Larry, imitating a negro minstrel. "I'se gib it up, sah!"

"It's no laughing matter," said Dick. "We might stay in Ithaca over night, but traveling may be no better in the morning."

"Let us send a telegram to Captain Putnam for instructions," suggested Fred, and soon the following message was prepared and sent to the Hall by way of Cedarville:

"Six of us are held up at Ithaca by the cold. How shall we come on?"

This message was forwarded without delay, and while awaiting an answer Dick and his brothers took a walk through the town.

They were passing down the main street when Sam uttered a short cry.

"Hullo, there is Josiah Crabtree!"

"Where?" questioned Dick with deep interest.

"Across the way. He has just entered the jewelry store on the corner."

"Say, perhaps he's buying a wedding ring," blurted out Tom before he stopped to think.

"Tom, that matter is no joke," came from Dick, as his face grew red. "I sincerely hope, for Dora Stanhope's sake, that he never marries, Dora's mother."

"Oh, so do I," answered Tom readily.

"Why, he isn't fit to be stepfather to a dog!"

"Let us look into the window and see what he is doing," suggested Dick uneasily, for he could not get it out of his head but that his brother's guess might be correct.

The window was broad and clear, and they looked through it into the shop with ease. Josiah Crabtree stood at the counter, talking to a clerk, who presently brought forth a tray of plain rings.

"It is a wedding ring, as sure as you are born!" cried Tom.

"I'm going in," said Dick in a low tone. "Wait for me here," and he entered the establishment. There were counters an both sides, and he walked to a position directly opposite to that occupied by the ex-schoolmaster.

"I wish to see some cheap scarf pins," he said to the clerk who came to wait on him, and the man hurried off to bring on the articles mentioned.

"And is this the latest style of wedding ring?" Dick heard Josiah Crabtree say in a low voice.

"Yes, sir, the very latest -- and very tasty," answered the clerk who was waiting on him.

"I wish two, one for the lady and one for -- ahem -- myself."

"Yes, sir -- quite the style now for a gentleman to have a ring. Want them engraved, of course."

"Yes. Here is a paper with the sizes and what is to be engraved upon each. How much will they be with the engraving?"

"Six dollars each, sir."

"Six dollars! Don't you make a reduction on taking two?" asked Crabtree, who was a good deal of a miser.

"We can throw off a dollar on the pair," answered the clerk, after consulting the proprietor of the shop.

"I didn't expect to pay over ten dollars."

"We can give you this style for ten dollars."

"No, I want the latest -- to please the lady."

"Humph!" muttered Dick. "You'll never please Mrs. Stanhope with any ring."

"Eleven dollars is the lowest we can take."

"And when will the rings be ready for me?"

"Day after tomorrow. We might do them quicker, but we have a great deal of engraving ahead."

"Day after tomorrow will do, for I do not wish them until next week," answered Josiah. "Here is my card. I am stopping at the American House in this city."

"Yes, sir. Do you want the rings sent?"

"No, I will call for them," concluded the ex-teacher, and hurried from the place. Sam and Tom saw him coming, and dodged out of sight around the comer.

Dick had taken in all that was said and had in the meantime picked out a cheap scarf pin which cost but ten cents. As soon as Crabtree was gone he paid for the pin, shoved it into his pocket, and rejoined his brothers, to whom he told the particulars of what had occurred.

"He intends to marry Mrs. Stanhope next week," he declared bitterly. "I would give almost all I'm worth to stop that wedding."

"Gracious, but you do think a heap of Dora!" said Tom slyly. "Well, I don't blame you. She is a splendid girl -- eh, Sam?"

"That's right," answered Sam.

"But, Dick, why not put up a job on old Crabtree?"

"What kind of a job?"

"Find out just when he wants to get married and then send him a letter from Yale or some other college, requesting him to come on at once if he wants a certain position. That will cause another delay, and maybe Mrs. Stanhope will get sick of him."

"Oh, if only we could do something like that!" cried his elder brother quickly. "I wish I could send him away out West."

"We'll manage it somehow --" put in Tom.

"Sam, what wonderful ideas you have for your years!"

"Oh; I take after my big brothers," answered the youngest Rover modestly.

Late in the evening a telegram was received from Captain Putnam:

"Remain in Ithaca over night, at the American House. Will send word how to get here in the morning."

"The American House!" ejaculated Dick. "That is where old Crabtree is stopping."

"If only we can have some fun with the old chap!" sighed Tom.

The six boys marched to the hotel in a body, told their story, and showed the telegram to the clerk.

"All right," said the clerk. "We've had cadets stop here before. I have a big room on the second floor, with two large beds in it. Will that do?"

"That suits me," said Larry.

"Is Mr. Josiah Crabtree stopping here?" questioned Tom.

"Yes. He has the room next to the one I mentioned -- his is No. 13, and yours will be No. 14."

"All right; thanks," answered Torn dryly, and immediately began to lay plans for playing a joke on the old teacher.

"We don't want to let Mr. Crabtree know we are stopping here," he said to the clerk later on. "He is no longer a teacher at the Hall, and we would rather not meet."

"Shall I put you in another room?"

"Oh, no; only don't tell him we are here."

"I'll remember that, sir."

As soon as the boys had been shown to the big room, Tom turned to his fellows. "I want each of you to chip in ten cents," he said.

"What for?" came in a chorus.

"For the purpose of getting square with old Crabby."

"I don't see the connection," said Larry. "Kindly be a little more definite."

"You'll see, or hear, the connection a little later on," answered Tom. "Quick, shell out and I'll promise you your money's worth, or return the amount with legal interest."

The fifty cents was quickly collected, and, adding ten cents of his own, Tom ran from the hotel. "No fish market open at this time of night, "he said to himself.

"I'll have to try a restaurant," and hurried into the first place which came into sight.

"Have you any crabs?" he asked, of the waiter who came to him.

"Yes, sah; very fine, sah. Want some softshell, sah?"

"I don't care whether they are soft-shell or as hard as rocks. I want live crabs, the most active kind you have in stock."

The waiter stared in amazement, then called the owner of the restaurant.

"You want live crabs?"

"I do -- strong, active, go-ahead crabs, and I want them in a box."

"Is this a joke?"

"It will be -- when the crabs get to work," answered Tom with a wink.

"Oh, I understand," laughed the restaurant keeper. "How many?"

"What are they worth?"

"Good nippers are worth ten cents apiece."

"Give me six, and mind you put them in a strong box for me."

Five minutes later Tom left the restaurant with the live crabs tucked safely away in a shoe box under his overcoat.