Chapter VIII. A Meeting in the Messroom
 

In the meantime Dick, Sam, and Fred had been having quite a different experience. George, Strong, the second assistant at Putnam: Hall, was not only a first-class teacher, but a calm and fair-minded gentleman as well; and in addition, and this was highly important, he was not so old but that he could remember perfectly well when he had been a boy himself.

"Come this way, my lads," he said with a faint smile. "I trust you will soon feel at home in Putnam Hall. It is Captain Putnam's desire to have all of his boys, as he calls them, feel that way."

"What will Mr. Crabtree do with my brother?" asked Dick anxiously.

"I cannot say, Rover. Probably he will place him in the guardroom until Captain Putnam arrives."

"I am sure he didn't do much that was wrong."

"We had better not discuss that question, my boy. Come this way; I will conduct you to your room."

"George Strong showed them into the main hallway and up the stairs to the second story. Passing through a side hall, they entered a large, bright dormitory overlooking the parade- and the playground. Here were eight beds, four on either side, with as many chairs, and also a table and two washbowls, with running water supplied from a tower on the roof, the water being pumped up by the aid of a windmill.

"This room has not been occupied this year," said the teacher. "Captain Putnam and Mrs. Green, our housekeeper, thought it might be as well to put you in here together, along with Lawrence Colby and Frank Harrington, when they come. I believe you are all friends, at least Harrington and Colby intimated as much in their letters."

"They told the truth," cried Sam. "This just suits me, and we owe Captain Putnam and Mrs. Green one for doing it."

George Strong smiled. Then the smile faded as he remembered how Josiah Crabtree once told Captain Putnam that he did not believe in letting chums room together. "Place each boy among strangers," Crabtree had said. "It will make him more reliant." But Captain Putnam had not listened to the crabbed old fellow, and Strong was glad of it.

"Here is a closet, in which each of you can stow his clothing when it is dealt out to him. Your ordinary suits will, of course, be placed, away for you, for during the academy term, you will as cadets wear only your uniforms."

"When will I get my uniform?" asked Fred, who was anxious to don his "soldier fixings," as he put it.

"Tomorrow, if we have any suit on hand that fit."

"I don't want a second-handed suit," put in Sam.

George Strong laughed. "Don't worry, my boy; every pupil gets new clothing. But, many boys are so nearly of a size that Captain Putnam always keeps a dozen or more suits on hand."

"Oh, that's different."

"The beds are all numbered, and to avoid disputes we always put the eldest boy in bed No. 1, and so on. You can arrange this between yourselves, and I feel certain you won't get into, dispute."

"We won't quarrel," said Dick. "I don't how exactly how old Frank and Larry are, though."

Then arrange to suit yourselves until they come," concluded Mr. Strong.

Having shown then their dormitory he conducted them through the building and exhibited the various class- and drill-rooms, and then ended up by introducing them to several other pupils, including Bart Conners, the major for the term, and Harry Blossom and Dave Kearney, the two captains.

"Welcome to Putnam Hall!" cried Major Bart Conners, a tall youth of nearly seventeen. He shook hands all around, and so did the two captains; and then the assistant teacher left the party.

"Oh, it was a shame the way Crabtree treated your brother!" said Captain Harry to Dick. "It's a wonder to me that Captain Putnam keeps him here."

"I was in for getting up a petition to Crabtree removed," put in Captain Dave. "I think every boy in the academy would sign it."

"I hope Captain Putnam, is not so severe," said Fred.

"Not by a jugful, Garrison," came from Captain Harry. "He's strict, and makes everybody toe the mark, but you couldn't find a better all-around man."

"Then he'll suit me."

It was now quite late, and presently a loud, clear bell rang out in the belfry.

"Six o'clock," said Captain Dave Kearney. "That is to bring in the boys from the playground. They have fifteen minutes in which to wash up for supper. Excuse me, I'll be needed in ten minutes to form my company," and soon the newcomers found themselves alone with several others who had just arrived at Putnam Hall.

The cadets were rushing from everywhere to the lavatories, to make themselves presentable on parade. Soon they began to form on the grounds before the building. Dick and the others saw them divide up into two companies, with Harry Blossom at the head of the first and Dave Kearney leading the second. The two companies, called a battalion, were commanded by Major Bart. In addition to the officers, there were two drummers, a bass-drummer, and two fifers.

"Companies, attention!" came the command, and the lines became rigid. "By column of fours -- march!" The drums struck up, and away went the columns of each company, to the front of the parade ground. Then they wheeled to the right, the fifers started up a lively air, and the cadets marched around the hall three times, and at last into the door nearest to the mess-hall or dining room.

"By Jinks, that's fine!" cried Sam. "Cadet life will suit me, I'm sure of it."

The cadets had hardly disappeared before one of the waiters in the mess-hall came forward. "Please come right in, gents," he said. "Mr. Strong will give you places at the tables." And they went and soon found themselves seated among as jolly a set of boys as they had ever encountered.

Of course there were exceptions; where would there not be in a crowd of nearly a hundred? There were pupils there who were morose by nature, those who seldom or never smiled, and there were likewise half a dozen of the Dan Baxter order -- bullies and worse. We shall see more of all these characters as our tale progresses.

"I wonder if Tom is going to get any supper?" said Dick to his younger brother.

"If they don't give him any, I'll raise a kick, Dick."

"So will I."

"Silence at the table!" came in the sharp tones of Josiah Crabtree, who presided over the particular board at which the Rovers had been placed.

"I was only wondering if my brother was going to get any supper," returned Sam boldly.

"Silence! I will take care of that."

In the midst of the meal a newcomer appeared at the doorway to the messroom. It was Dan Baxter.

"Well, Baxter, how is this?" asked Mr. Strong, the teacher nearest to him.

"I - I was carried to Bar Landing," answered the bully sheepishly.

"Bar Landing? Then you were on the afternoon boat from Ithaca?"

"Yes, sir."

"How did you come to be carried past Cedarville?"

"I - er -- fell asleep on the trip."

"Indeed! Well, when next you travel you had better try to keep awake," was George Strong's comment, and a titter passed along the table, which made Dan Baxter very angry.

"Sit down here. Alexander, help Baxter to some supper."

"Yes, sah," came from the waiter; and no more was said. Presently Baxter caught sight of Dick at the table opposite, and he looked daggers at the youth. "He's got it in for me," thought Dick; and he was right.

The supper at an end, the pupils were allowed two hours to themselves -- one hour outdoors if they wished it, or both hours in the reading room, which was well supplied with books and all of the best magazines. The newcomers went out in a bunch, and Captain Harry Blossom accompanied them.

"I'll show you the gymnasium, if you wish to see it," he said.

"I would like to know something about Tom," replied Dick. "Where have they placed him?"

"Undoubtedly in the guardroom."

"Where is that?"

"Do you see that window over there?" and Captain Harry pointed with his hand.

"Yes," came from Dick and Sam together.

"Well, that's the window to the place."

"I wonder if I can't talk to my brother?" went on Dick.

"It's against the rules to talk to a prisoner."

"Well, I'm going to talk anyway," said Dick with a recklessness which was unusual to him. "I want to find out just what they are doing with him."

"I guess I had best leave this crowd," remarked the young captain of Company A.

Dick was about to ask why, when Sam nudged him on the arm. "Let him go," whispered the younger brother.

In a moment more Captain Harry had walked away.

"Don't you see what he meant? "asked Sam aloud.

"Well hardly."

"Then you are losing some of your wit, Dick. He didn't want to see us break the rules. I suppose if he had seen us he would have felt it was his duty to report us."

"That's so, Sam. How thick I was! Well, I'm going over to the window now."

"So am I."

"And I'll go too," added Fred.

Off the three hurried across the parade ground, the other new cadets watching them curiously, for all had heard of what Tom had done and how Josiah Crabtree had treated him.

The window of the guardroom was but five feet from the ground. In front of it, however, was an iron fence, placed in the form of a semicircle, at a distance of about ten feet from the opening. The fence was higher than Dick's head, and the iron pickets were sharp-pointed.

"The window to the room is shut," announced the elder Rover, after an inspection in the semi-darkness. "It's a shame, in this warm weather. Poor Tom will be half smothered to death!"

"Wait till I attract his attention," said Sam. Catching up a clod of grass and dirt he threw it against one of the window panes.

A minute of suspense followed, but no face appeared at the window.

"That's queer," said Fred. "It seems to me be would show himself if he was there."

"Perhaps he, can't," said Sam. "He may be chained up in the other end of the room."

"I'm going to make sure," said Dick determinedly. "Sam and Fred, both of you give me a boost up."

"But how will you get back?"

"You can give me another boost through the pickets."

"Hurrah! so we can!" cried Sam. "All right; up you go!"

And up Dick did go, so rapidly that he almost fell over the top of the iron barrier.

"Now, who has a match?" he asked.

"Here you are," said Fred, and passed over several.

Stepping to the window, Dick tapped upon it, and at the same time struck a light, for the room within was pitch-dark. The next instant he muttered a cry of disgust. "Sold!"

"What's that?" came from Sam and Fred.

"The room is empty."

"Then there must be some mistake," said Fred. "Can you see all over inside?"

"Yes."

"Sure Tom isn't asleep in a corner or on a couch -- if there is one?" put in Sam. "He would go to sleep if he could."

"He isn't here -- no doubt of it," answered Dick, after striking a second match and making another inspection. "Oh!"

Dick blew out the match in a hurry and started back for the fence. He had seen the door of the guardroom open and Josiah Crabtree come in.

The head assistant of Putnam Hall saw the light of the match and by it obtained a good view of Dick's face.

"Ha! that youth has come here to assist his brother to escape!" was the conclusion he reached. He darted for the window and threw it up.

"Come back here, Master Rover!" he cried, as he saw Dick trying to mount the fence.

"Don't you go!" whispered Sam, and tried to assist Dick from the other side, while Fred did the same.

Josiah Crabtree would have leaped from the window, but the bars held him back.

"I'll get you yet!" he ejaculated wrathfully, and, turning, ran from the guardroom, with the intention of capturing Dick on the parade ground.