Chapter XXIV. Preparing for a Mid-Night Feast
 

Dick was in a quandary as to how he was to treat all of his friends, and called Sam and Tom to him for consultation.

"I've got a dollar and a quarter," said Sam, "you can use that, and welcome."

"And here is a dollar and ten," added Tom, passing over the amount in ten cent pieces and nickels. "Haven't you any money of your Own?"

"I have two dollars and thirty cents," answered Dick.

That makes four dollars and sixty-five cents," said Tom, summing up. "That's enough for a pretty fair blow-out."

"So it is, Tom, but where is the stuff to come from? Mrs. Green won't sell it to me."

"That's true."

"And she has her pantries all locked up."

"Oh, pshaw! You don't want to treat the boys on school stuff," said Sam. "Get 'em something from Cedarville -- some bottled soda, candies, nuts, and things like that."

"That's the talk, Dick. Let us sneak out after dark and go to Cedarville!" cried Tom. "That would just suit me."

"I'll think it over," answered his big brother slowly.

After supper found most of the cadets indoors, for the night promised to be cold. About half of the boys remained in the library, while the others betook themselves to their rooms.

"Well?" queried Tom, as he approached Dick on the stairs.

"I'm ready, Tom," answered his brother.

"But be careful, or we'll be spotted."

Like a pair of ghosts they glided up the front stairs, along the broad hallway, and down the stairs in the rear. The door was unlocked, and they passed into the yard.

"Let us take Peleg Snuggers into our confidence," whispered Tom. "For a quarter I am certain he'll let us have one of the captain's nags."

"You can test him if you wish," answered Dick, who was doubtful.

Peleg Snuggers was found in the harness room' shining up some buckles by the aid of a stable lantern.

"Hullo, Peleg -- working rather late," was Tom's greeting.

"Yes, sir -- got behind," answered the utility man. "What brought you here?"

"I want a horse, Peleg. Which one can I have?"

"A horse! Did the captain send you?"

Instead of replying Tom held out a silver quarter. "Don't ask questions, Peleg, but just let me take a horse for an hour or two, that's a good man."

"Can't do it, Master Rover -- against orders, sir."

"Oh, yes, you can. We won't hurt the beast. We are bound to get to Cedarville and back before ten o'clock. Do you want us to drop on the road from exhaustion and be frozen to death?" and Tom put the question in all seriousness.

"No, no, certainly not!"

"Then bring out a horse. That black will do. Here, take the quarter, Peleg, and much obliged to you. Hurry up."

"Was there ever such a boy!" grumbled the man; but, nevertheless, he arose and got the black horse ready for them, hooking the animal to a small cutter.

"Remember, if the captain learns of this, I don't know nothing about it...," he called out, as the two boys drove off by a back way, out of sight of the main building of the institution.

"Peleg is all right, if you know how to handle him," said Tom, as he took the reins from Dick.

"I'll let him out a bit, and we'll drive to Cedarville in a jiffy."

"Tom, you're getting more cheeky every day," was Dick's comment, yet he was far from displeased over what his brother had accomplished.

Away went the cutter, the roads being now in an excellent condition. Soon Putnam Hall was left far behind, and they came within sight of the Stanhope homestead.

"I'd like to stop for just a minute," said Dick, but Tom shook his head.

"We want to get to Cedarville before the shops close," said the younger brother.

"We can stop on the way back -- if we have time," and they continued on their way.

Both knew Cedarville "like a book," as Tom expressed it, having been there so many times before. They drove straight to the largest confectionery in the village.

"A pound of chocolates, a pound of marshmallows, a pound of iced fruits, and five pounds of best mixed candies," said Dick, and the articles were quickly put up for him.

"How much?"

"A dollar and thirty cents, please."

The bill was paid, and they hurried to another store, where they purchased two dozen bottles of soda water, a dozen bottles of root beer, and five pounds of mixed nuts. Tom wanted to buy some cigarettes for such of the cadets as might wish to smoke, but Dick shook his head at this.

"No, that's going too far," he said. "We'll have a respectable spread, and that's enough."

Inside of half an hour they had started on the return, the various articles purchased stowed safely away in the back of the cutter.

"We'll have at least fifteen minutes to spare," said Dick, and waited as patiently as possible until the Stanhope homestead again appeared. As soon as they gained the entrance to the garden, Dick hopped out, ran up the path to the porch, and rang the bell. Dora Stanhope answered his summons.

"Oh, Dick, is that you?" she cried. "Come in."

"I can't stay but a few minutes, Dora," he answered as he entered the hall. "I must get back to the academy. I thought I would just stop to see how you are getting on."

"Oh, everything is the same, Dick."

"I heard the marriage was to take place this week."

"Yes."

"Let me tell you something," went on the boy, and told her of the letter to be sent from, Chicago to Josiah Crabtree.

"Oh, I hope he gets it and goes!" exclaimed Dora quickly, and her face brightened a bit.

"Send me word if he does," said Dick.

He remained for ten minutes longer, but what was said and done need not be mentioned here. When he left his heart was all aglow, while Dora was blushing deeply. "Best girl in the world," he murmured. "What an awfully nice young fellow," was Dora's thought.

"Hurry up!" cried Tom from the sleigh, when his big brother put in an appearance again. "I'm most frozen stiff!" And on went the cutter, the horse feeling quite fresh after his rest.

"I'll go ahead and see if the coast is clear," said Dick, when they reached the vicinity of the stable, and he leaped into the snow. It did not take long to walk to the barn. He was gone but a few minutes, and came back on a run.

"We are in for it!" he cried. "Mr. Strong is down at the stable talking to Peleg Snuggers."

"Great Caesar! What's to do?"

"Get the stuff out of the sleigh first and hide it near the Hall in the snow," answered Dick. Be quick!"

His advice was followed, Tom carrying the soda water and root beer and Dick the other things. All were hidden in a snow bank -- directly under the dormitory window.

This accomplished, Dick led the horse up to the back of the stable and unhitched him. He could hear George Strong and the utility man talking less than twenty feet away.

"Very well, Snuggers, I'll be back shortly," he heard, coming from the head assistant, and Strong walked from the stable toward the Hall.

In a twinkle Dick ran around the stable corner. "Quick, Peleg, here is the horse, all unhooked. Put him in his stall. The cutter is back there, out of sight," and as the hired man took possession of the animal, the youth ran off, to join his brother at the entrance to Putnam Hall.

"The door is locked!" groaned Tom.

"Something is wrong."

Without replying, Dick ran around to a spot under the dormitory window. Making a soft snowball, he threw it against the glass, and followed this by several others. Presently the window was thrown up, and Sam, Fred, and Larry showed their heads.

"Say, you fellows, help us up!" cried Dick softly. "There is a wash line in the closet -- the one my Aunt Martha insisted on tying around my trunk when we came here last summer."

There was a scramble in the room, and presently the end of the line was thrown out. It was new and strong, and quite capable of supporting either of the lads' weight.

"You go first, Tom but be quick!" said Dick softly, and his brother caught hold and went up with ease, bracing one foot after another against the rough stonework and projecting bricks. Then the rope came down a second time and Dick ascended.

Hardly were the boys in the room than there came a loud knocking on the door.

"It's Mr. Strong!" gasped Sam. "What shall we do now? It looks as if we were a caught!"