Chapter IV. The Last Day at the Farm
 

"What does this mean?"

It was Gilbert Ponsberry, the chief constable of Oak Run, who spoke, as he strode up to the grocery wagon, all out of breath.

"Hullo, Ponsberry, you are just the man we want to see!" cried Joel Darrel. "Did you notice who boarded that train?"

"No; I wasn't at the depot. Anything wrong?"

"I have been robbed of a gold watch and chain," answered Dick, and related the particulars.

"Gee shoo! No wonder you drove fast," ejaculated the constable. "I would have done so myself. How did that fellow look?"

As well as he was able, Dick gave a description of the thief.

"I saw that tramp yesterday," said the constable, when he had finished. "He was in the depot, talking to a tall, thin man. I remember him well, for he and the other fellow were quarreling. I hung around rather expecting a fight. But it didn't come."

"You haven't seen the thief since yesterday?"

"No."

"You remember the tall, thin man he was with?"

"Oh, sure, for he had a scar on his chin that looked like a knife cut."

"Is he anywhere around?"

"I haven't seen him since. Let us take a walk around, and we can ask Ricks the station master about this."

"We had better ask Mr. Ricks first," said Dick.

All hands, even to the grocery boy, hunted up the station master, an elderly fellow who was well known for his unsociable disposition.

"Don't know anything about any thief," he snapped, after hearing the story. "I mind my own business."

"But he may have taken the train," pleaded Dick. It made his heart sink to think that the watch, that precious memento from his, father, might be gone forever.

"Well, if he did, you had better go after him -- or telegraph to Middletown," was the short answer, and then the station master turned away.

"You telegraph for me," said Dick to the constable. "I will pay the costs."

"All right, Dick. My, but old Rick is getting more grumpy every day! If this railroad knows its business it will soon get another manager here," was Gilbert Ponsberry's comment, as he led the way to the telegraph office.

Here a telegram was prepared, addressed to the police officer on duty at the Middletown station, and giving a fair description of the thief.

The train would reach the city in exactly forty-five minutes; and as soon as the message had been sent, Dick, Darrel, and the constable went off on a tour of Oak Run and the vicinity.

Of course nothing was seen of the thief, and in an hour word came back from Middletown that he was not on the cars.

This was true, for the train had stopped at a way station, having broken something on the engine, and the thief had left, to walk the remainder of the distance to Middletown on foot.

It was not until nightfall that Dick returned to his uncle's farmhouse.

Here he found that Sam and Tom had already arrived. Tom was lying on the sofa in the sitting room, being cared for by his Aunt Martha, who was the best of nurses whenever occasion required.

"Didn't find any trace of the villain?" queried Randolph Rover, with a sad shake of his head. "Too bad! Too bad! And it was your father's watch, too!"

"I never wanted to see Dick wear it," put in Mrs. Rover. "It was too fine for a boy."

"Father told me to wear it, aunty. He said it would remind me of him," answered Dick, and he turned away, for something like a tear had welled up in his eye.

"There, there, Dick, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," cried his aunt hastily. "I would give a good deal if you had your watch back."

Supper was waiting, but Dick had no appetite, and ate but little. Tom braced up sufficiently to take some toast and tea, and declared that he would be all right by morning and so he was.

"Here is a letter for Tom from Larry Colby," cried Dick during the course, of the evening.

"I declare, I forgot all about it, Tom, until this minute."

"I don't blame you, Dick," was the reply, with a sickly smile. "You read it for me. The light hurts my head," and Tom closed his eyes to listen.

Larry Colby was a New York lad who in years gone by had been one of Tom's chums. The letter was just such a one as any boy might write to another, and need have no place here. Yet one paragraph interested everybody in the sitting room:

"Next week I am to pack my trunk and go to Putnam Hall Military Academy [wrote Larry Colby]. Father says it is a very fine military, school, and he has recommended it to your uncle."

"Putnam Hall Military Academy!" mused Tom. "I wonder where it is?"

"It is over in Seneca County, on Cayuga Lake," replied Randolph Rover, and something like a smile appeared on his face.

"On Cayuga Lake, uncle!" cried Sam. "Why, that's a splendid location, isn't it?"

"Very fine."

"And is that where we are to go?" put in Tom eagerly.

"Yes, Thomas; I might as well tell you, although I wanted to surprise you. You are to go to Putnam Hall, and there you will have with you Lawrence Colby, Frank Harrington, and several other lads with whom you are all acquainted."

"Hurrah, Uncle Randolph!" came from Sam, and rushing up, he caught his relative around the shoulder. "You're the best kind of uncle, after all."

"Putnam Hall is an institution of learning that has been established for some twenty years," went on Mr. Rover, pushing back his spectacles and laying down the agricultural work he had been perusing. "It is presided over by Captain Victor Putnam, an old army officer, who in his younger days used to be a schoolmaster. He is a strict disciplinarian, and will make you toe the mark; but let me say right here, I have it from Mr. Colby that there is no schoolmaster who is kinder or more considerate of his pupils."

"Is it a regular military institution like West Point?" asked Tom.

"Hardly, Thomas, although the students, so I am informed, dress like cadets and spend an hour or so each day in drilling, and in the summer all the school march up the lake and go into an encampment."

"That just suits me!" broke in Sam enthusiastically. "Hurrah for Putnam Hall!"

"Hurrah!" echoed Tom faintly, and Dick nodded to show he felt as they did. At the cheer, Sarah the cook stuck her head into the door.

"Sure an' I thought Tom was out of his head, bedad," she observed.

"Sarah, I'm going away soon -- to a military academy. I won't bother you any more," said Tom.

"Won't yez now? That will be foine." Then the cook stopped short, thinking she had hurt the boy's feelings. "Oh, Master Torn, don't moind me. You're not such an -- an awful bother as we think," and then at a wave of Mrs. Rover's hand she disappeared.

After this the evening passed quickly enough, for the boys wanted to know all there was to be learned about their future boarding school. Mr. Rover had a circular of the institution, and they pored over this.

"Captain Victor Putnam is the head master," said Dick, as he read. "He has two assistants, Josiah Crabtree and George Strong, besides two teacher's who come in to give instructions in French and German if desired, also in music. Uncle Randolph, are we to take up these branches?"

"I am going to leave you to select your own studies outside of the regular course, Richard. What would be the use of taking up music, for instance, if you were not musically inclined."

"I'd like to play a banjo," said Tom, and grinned as well as the bandage on his head, would permit.

"I doubt if the, professor of music teaches that plantation instrument," smiled Mrs. Rover. Then she patted Tom's shoulder affectionately.

Now the boys were really to leave her, she was sorry to think of their going.

"They will not take more than a hundred pupils," said Dick, referring to the circular again. "I should say that was enough. The pupils are divided into two companies, A and B, of about fifty soldiers each; and the soldiers elect their own officers, to serve during the school term. Tom, perhaps you may turn out captain of Company B."

"And you may be Major Dick Rover of the first battalion," returned Tom. "Say, but this suits me to death, Uncle Randolph."

"I am glad to hear it, Thomas. But I want you to promise me to attend to your studies. Military matters are all well enough in their way, but I want you to have the benefits of a good education."

"Oh, I fancy Captain Victor Putnam will attend to that," put in Sam.

The circular was read from end to end, and it was after ten o'clock before the boys got done talking about it and went to bed. Certainly the prospect was a bright one, and if poor Dick had only had his watch the three would have been in high feather. Little did they dream, of all the startling adventures in store for them during their term at Putnam Hall.

It must not be supposed that Mr. Randolph Rover intended to allow the theft of Dick's watch to pass without a strong effort being made to recover the article. Early in the morning he drove to the Corners, and to Oak Run and another village called Bender's, and at each place had a notice posted, mentioning the loss and offering a reward of fifty dollars for the recovery of the property and of one hundred dollars if the thief was captured in addition. This offer, however, proved of no avail, and Dick had to leave for Putnam Hall wearing his old silver watch, which he had put aside upon the receipt of the gold timepiece.

It was a clear, sun-shiny morning when the boys started off. They had paid a last visit to the various points of interest about the place and bid good-by to Sarah, who shook hands warmly, and said farewell to the hired men, both of whom hated them to leave, for they had made matters pleasant as well as lively. Their three trunks were loaded in a farm wagon, and now Jack, one of the men- of-all-work, drove up with the two seated carriage to drive them over to Oak Run by way of the river bridge, half a mile up the stream.

"Good-by, Uncle Randolph!" cried one after another, as they shook hands. "Good-by, Aunt Martha!" and each gave Mrs. Rover a hug and a kiss, something which brought the tears to the lady's eyes.

"Good-by, boys, and take good care of yourselves," said Randolph Rover.

"And if you can't stand it at boarding school, write, and we will send for you to come back here," added his wife; and then, with a crack of the whip, the carriage rolled off, and the farm was left behind. It was to be many a day before the boys would see the place again.