Chapter V. On the Way to Putnam Hall
 

"I don't think we'll want to send word to Aunt Martha to be taken back," observed Sam, who sat on the driver's seat with the hired man.

"Neither do I," returned Tom. "To be sure, we have a nice enough home here, but it's dreadfully slow."

"There is no telling what may be in store for us," joined in Dick. "Don't you remember how Fred Garrison fared at Holly School? That institution sent out a splendid circular, and when Fred got there they almost starved him to death."

"That is true. Where is Fred now?"

"I don't know."

"Mr. Colby wouldn't recommend Putnam Hall if it wasn't all right," remarked Tom. "Jack, whip up the team, or we'll miss that train."

"They are going putty well now, Master Tom," replied the driver.

The trunks had gone on ahead, and when they reached the depot at Oak Run they found old Ricks grumbling because no one was there to check them.

"Do you reckon I'm going to be responsible for everybody's baggage?" he snarled as Dick approached him.

"I'll check them as soon as I can get tickets," answered Dick curtly. "What an old bear he is!" he whispered to Tom. "He didn't treat me half decently when I was over here about the watch."

"If only we had a little time I would fix him," whispered Tom in return. He had sobered down for several days now and was dying to play a trick on somebody.

They went into the station and procured tickets, and then found the time for the train had been changed, and it would not be along for nearly half an hour.

"Good! Just wait till I get back," said Tom.

He had noticed Ricks gathering up some waste paper around the depot, and felt tolerably certain the old fellow was about to build a bonfire of it. Walking over to one of the stores, he entered, and asked the proprietor if he had any large firecrackers on hand.

"Just two, sir," said the storekeeper, and brought them forth. Each was six inches long and thick in proportion.

"How much?" asked the boy.

"Seeing as they are the last I have, I'll let you have them for fifteen cents each."

"I'll give you a quarter for the two."

"Very well; here you are," and the transfer was made on the spot. Slipping the firecrackers into his coat pocket, Tom sauntered up to old Ricks, while Sam and Dick looked on, sure that something was in the wind.

"Ricks, that is pretty bad news from Middletown, isn't it?" he observed.

"Bad news? What do you mean?" demanded the station master, as he threw some more waste paper on the fire, which he had just lit.

"About that dynamite being stolen by train wreckers. They think some of the explosive was brought up here."

"Didn't hear of it."

"Dynamite is pretty bad stuff to have around, so I've heard."

"Awful! Awful! I never want to see any of it," answered Ricks, with a decided shake of his head.

"If it goes off it's apt to blow everything to splinters," went on Dick.

"That's so -- I don't want any of it," and the old man began to gather up more waste paper for his fire. Watching his chance, Torn threw one of the firecrackers into the blaze and then rejoined his brothers.

With a handful of paper Ricks again approached the blaze. He was standing almost over it when the firecracker went off, making a tremendous report and scattering the light blazing paper in all directions.

"Help! I'm killed!" yelled old Ricks, as he fell upon his back. "Get me away from here! There's dynamite in this fire!" And he rolled over, leapt to his feet, and ran off like a madman.

"Don't be alarmed -- it was only a firecracker," called out Tom, loud enough for all standing around to bear, and then he ran for the train, which had just come in. Soon he and his brothers were on board and off, leaving poor Ricks to be heartily laughed at by those who had observed his sudden terror. It was many a day before the cranky station master heard the last of his dynamite.

The boys were to ride from Oak Run to Ithaca, and there take a small steamer which ran from that city to the head of the lake, stopping at Cedarville, the nearest village to Putnam Hall. At Cedarville one of the Hall conveyances was to meet them, to transfer both them and their baggage to the institution.

The run to Ithaca proved uneventful although the boys did not tire of looking out of the window at the beautiful panorama rushing past them. At noon they had lunch in the dining car, a spread that Sam declared was about as good as a regular dinner. Three o'clock in the afternoon found them at the steamboat landing, waiting for the Golden Star to take them up to Cedarville.

"Fred Garrison, by all that's lucky!" burst out Tom suddenly, as he rushed up to a youth of about his own age who sat on a trunk eating an apple.

"Tom Rover! Where are you bound?"

"To a boarding school called Putnam Hall."

"You don't say! Why, I am going there myself," and now Fred Garrison nearly wrung off Tom's hand.

"If this isn't the most glorious news yet!" burst in Dick. "Why, Larry Colby is going too!"

"I know it. But he won't come until tomorrow."

"And Frank Harrington is going too."

"He is there, already --he wrote about it day before yesterday. That makes six of us New York, boys."

"The metropolitan sextet," chirped in Sam.

"Boys, we ought to form a league to stand by each other through thick or thin."

"I'm with you on that," answered Fred. "As we are all newcomers, it's likely the old scholars will want to haze us, or, something like that."

"Just let them try it on!" cried Tom. "Yes, we must stick together by all means." And the compact, so far as it concerned the Rover boys and Fred Garrison, was made on the spot. Later on Larry Colby and Frank Harrington joined them gladly.

It was not long before the Golden Star, a stanch little side- wheeler, steamed up to the dock, and the waiting crowd rushed on board and secured favorable places on deck. The baggage followed, and soon they were off, with a whistle which awoke the echoes of Cayuga Lake for miles around.

While waiting on the dock Dick had noticed three girls standing near them. They were evidently from the rural district, but pretty and well dressed. The boys took seats near the bow of the boat, on the upper deck, and presently the girls sat down not far away.

"He was awfully bold, Clara; I want nothing to do with him," Dick heard the prettiest of the girls say. "He had no right to speak to us."

"He had dropped his handkerchief, and he pretended I was stepping on it," said another of the three. "Oh, here he comes now!" she went on as a youth of seventeen came into view. He was large and bold-looking, and it was easy to see that there was a good deal of the bully about him. He was smoking a cigarette, but on seeing the girls he threw the paper roll away.

"How do you do again?" he said, as he came up and tipped his hat.

At this all of the girls looked angry, and not one returned his salutation. But, undaunted by this, the newcomer caught up a camp stool and planked himself down almost directly between the prettiest of the three and her companions.

"Splendid day for the trip," he went on.

"Won't you have some confectionery?" and he hauled from his pocket a box of cream chocolates and held them out.

"Thank you, but we don't wish any," said the youngest of the girls.

"Won't you have some?" asked the unknown of the eldest girl.

"I don't want any, and I told you before not to speak to me!" she said in a low voice, and the tears almost came into her eyes.

"I ain't going to hurt you," grumbled the young fellow. "Can't a fellow be pleasant like?"

"I do not know you, sir."

"Oh, that's all right. My name is Daniel Baxter. Sorry I haven't a card, or I would give you one," was the smooth rejoinder.

"I do not wish your card," was the answer delivered in the most positive of tones.

"Oh, all right. Yes, it's a splendid trip," said the fellow, and drew his camp chair even closer. The girls wished to edge away, but there was no room in the narrow bow. The eldest girl looked around as if for help. Her eyes met those of Dick, and she blushed.

"Say, that fellow is a regular pill," whispered Tom to his elder brother.

"Somebody ought to take him by the collar and pitch him overboard."

"You are right, Tom," answered Dick, and then as the bully attempted to crowd still closer to the girls he suddenly arose, took a few steps forward, and caught Dan Baxter by the arm.

"You get out of here and be quick about it," he said in low but firm tones.

The fellow started, and for the instant his face changed color. But then he saw that Dick was but a boy, younger and smaller than himself, and his bullying manner returned. "Who are you talking to?" he demanded.

"I am talking to you. I told you to get out -- and be quick about it."

"Oh, cried the eldest girl, but her face took on a look of relief, for she saw that Dick was a thoroughly gentlemanly youth."

"Who are you anyway?" blustered Dan Baxter.

"My name is Dick Rover, if you want, to know." Dick turned to the girls. "He was annoying you, wasn't he?"

"Very much," answered the three promptly. "Then you'll get out, Daniel Baxter."

"Supposing I refuse?"

"If you refuse, I'll pitch you out, and make a complaint to the police at our first stopping place."

"You talk big!" sneered the bully, but he was much disconcerted.

"Don't you talk back to my brother," put in Tom, who had come up. "You think you're a regular masher, as they call such silly fellows, but I don't think your game is going to work here."

"That's it," chimed in Sam.

"Humph! three of you, eh?" muttered the bully. "We'll see about this some other time," and leaving his camp chair he made for the cabin and disappeared, from view.

"He's a bad egg," was Tom's comment, but how thoroughly bad the Rover boys were still to learn.