Chapter XXII. Fun at the Hotel
 

It was no easy matter for Tom to get into the room Josiah Crabtree was occupying, but after trying a good number of keys, fished up here, there, and everywhere, one was at last found that fitted the lock.

Striking a match, Tom entered the room quickly, drew back the sheet of the bed, dumped in the crabs, and then pulled the sheet tip to its original place.

"He's coming!" whispered Sam, who stood guard at the door. "Hide, Tom," and then he ran back to the big room adjoining.

Finding he could not escape, Tom threw the box under the bed and rushed to a closet in the corner. Here he crouched down behind a large trunk left in the place on storage. He had scarcely secreted himself when Josiah Crabtree came in. He had shoved his key in the lock, but had failed to notice that the lock-bolt was already turned back.

"Oh, what a cold night," muttered the ex-school teacher as he lit the gas. "A warm bed will feel fine."

"I reckon it will be warm enough," thought Tom.

As the room was scantily heated, Crabtree lost no time in disrobing. Having donned a long night robe, he turned off the gas, flung the sheets back, and leaped into bed.

Exactly ten seconds of silence followed. Then came a yell calculated to raise the dead.

"Whow! What's this? Oh! What's got me by the legs? Oh, oh! oh! I'm being eaten up alive! Let go there! Oh, dear!"

And with additional yells, Josiah Crabtree leaped straight out of bed, one crab hanging to his left knee, several on his feet, and one, which he had caught hold of clinging to the back of his hand. At once he began to do an Indian war-dance around the apartment, knocking the furniture right and left.

"Let go there! What on earth can they be? Oh, my toe is half off -- I know it is! Let go!" And then he struggled toward the gas jet, but before he could light it Tom had slipped out of the apartment, closing the door behind him. The banging of furniture continued, and then came a crash, as the washstand went over, carrying with it a bowl, a soap tray, and a large, pitcher filled with water. The icy water gushed over Crabtree's feet, making him shiver with the cold, but the crabs were undaunted and only clung the closer.

The noise soon aroused the entire hotel, and the clerk, several bell-boys, and finally the proprietor, rushed to the scene. The door was flung wide open.

"Have you been drinking, sir? How dare you disturb the hotel in this fashion?" demanded the proprietor.

"The crabs! Take them off!" yelled Crabtree, continuing to dance around.

"Crabs? What made you bring crabs up here?"

"I - I -- oh, my toes! Take them off!" shrieked Josiah Crabtree, and kicked out right and left. One of the crabs was flung off, to land in the hotel proprietor's face and to catch the man by the nose.

"My nose! He will bite it off!" cried the hotel man. "Kill the thing, Gillett -- smash it with a-a-anything!"

And Gillett, the clerk, tried to do so, while the hotel man and Crabtree continued to dance around in the wildest kind of fury. Safe in their own room, the boys laughed until they cried. All had gone to bed, and Tom lost no time in getting under the covers.

"Somebody has played a trick," began Crabtree when an extra nip on his knee cut hint short. "Oh, my, I shall die!" he moaned. "I know I shall die!"

By this time the proprietor of the hotel had freed himself from the crab that had nipped him on the nose. "You won't die, but you'll get out of this hotel," he snarled. "Throw the crabs out of the window," he continued to his employees, and after a good deal of trouble one crab after another was hurled forth, the window being kept open in the meantime and the icy draught causing Crabtree to shiver as with the ague. As there seemed no help for it the ex-teacher began to dress again with all possible speed.

"If I find out who did this I'll -- I'll kill him," moaned Josiah Crabtree. "I've been nipped is a hundred places!"

"You'll leave this hotel!" said the proprietor. "I've had enough of you. First the room didn't suit, then the price was too high, and at dinner and supper you found all manner of fault with the menu. You'll go, and the quicker, the better."

"But look here --" began Crabtree.

"I won't argue with you. Either get out or I'll have you arrested as a disorderly character."

"Yes, but --"

"Not a word. Will you go quietly, or shall I have you put out?"

"I'll -- I'll go!" gasped Josiah Crabtree, and five minutes later he was on the cold street, satchel in hand, and saying all manner of unpleasant things under his breath.

"Oh, Tom!" laughed Sam, and could go no further. Each of the boys had felt like exploding a dozen times. It was not until an hour after that any of them managed to get to sleep.

When they came down in the morning the hotel clerk winked at them. "I'm not saying a word," he whispered. "But it served the old crank right. Even the boss is doing a little smiling, although he got quite a nip himself."

"Really, I don't know what you are talking about," answered Tom. Then he shut up one eye, stuck his tongue into his cheek, and strolled into the dining room.

"He's an out-and-out boy, he is," murmured the clerk, gazing after him.

Breakfast was finished, and the cadets were strolling around the hotel awaiting further instructions from Captain Putnam, when a man drove up to the door in a big livery-stable sleigh.

"I am after some boys bound for Putnam Hall," he said. "Captain Putnam telegraphed to the, boss to bring 'em up to the Hall in this sleigh."

"Hurrah!" shouted Sam. "Such a long ride will just suit me!"

"If it doesn't prove too cold," was Dick's comment.

There was but one seat in the turnout, the back being filled with straw and robes. "Take your lunch with you," said the driver. "For it's a long trip we have before us, and I reckon a part of the road ain't none too good."

The clerk of the hotel was consulted, and soon a big lunch-box was packed, containing sandwiches, cake, and a stone jug of hot coffee. This was stowed away in the straw, and the lads piled in, laughing merrily over the prospect before them.

"Off we go!" shouted Larry, and with a crack of the whip the sleigh started. It was drawn by a heavy pair of horses, who looked well able to get through any snowdrift that might present itself.

Ithaca was soon left behind, and they sped swiftly along a road running northward, a half mile more from the west shore of the lake. The road was level, and somewhat worn by travel, and for the first three miles good time was made.

"If we can continue this gait we'll reach Putnam Hall by three or four o'clock this afternoon, allowing an hour's rest at noon," said the driver in reply to a question put by Frank. "But we have still a number of small hills to climb, and it's not going to stay as clear as it was early this morning."

The latter remark was caused by the sun disappearing under heavy clouds. Soon it began to snow, at first lightly, and then heavier and heavier.

"We're going to catch it!" said Tom, after the noon stop had been taken at a wayside hotel, where they had taken dinner, keeping the boxed lunch for later on. "The snow is four inches deeper than it was."

On they went again, the snow becoming so thick at last that they could scarcely see a yard before them. It was very cold, and the cadets were glad enough to huddle in the straw, with the robes over them, leaving the driver to pick his way as best he could.

An hour had gone by, and they were wondering if they were anywhere near Cedarville, when a wild shout rang out, and the next instant came a crash, as their sleigh collided with another coming from the opposite direction. A runner of each turnout was smashed, and the occupants of the other sleigh came tumbling in upon the lads in great confusion.

"Great Caesar! what's this?" groaned Tom as he shifted a weight from his shoulders, and then he stared in amazement as he found himself confronted by Nellie Laning!

"Tom Rover!" burst from the girl's lips soon as she could recover her breath. "Did you ever!"

"Well, hardly!" murmured Tom, as he helped her to, a sitting position. "You're coming in on us fast. What's the trouble? Oh, and there is Grace and your father! "

"The sleighs ran into each other," answered Nellie. "Can you stop the horses, father?" she called out.

"Yes, but the sleigh is a goner," answered Mr. Laning, and then some sharp words passed between himself and the livery-stable driver. There was no doubt, however, but that the blinding storm was largely responsible for the accident.

An examination proved that both sleighs would have to be abandoned, and then the two parties sought shelter at a near-by farmhouse, while Mr. Laning went off on one horse, and the livery- stable driver on another, each to borrow a sleigh elsewhere.

This left the boys in the company of the girls for over an hour, and during that time Dick, Tom and Sam asked a great many questions, especially about Mrs. Stanhope and Dora.

"Yes, the marriage is to come off next week, Thursday, unless something prevents it," said Nellie. "Dora is fairly sick over the prospect. What Aunt Lucy can see in Mr. Crabtree is more than any of us can understand."

"He must have hypnotized her," observed, Dick. "It's a shame! I wish old Crabtree was in Jericho!"

"So do all of us!" laughed Grace, and then Sam took her off for a quiet chat, while Tom, monopolized Nellie.

"Those Rover boys think a great deal of the Lanings and Stanhopes," observed Larry to Fred. "Well, it's all right -- they are awfully nice girls, every one of 'em!"