Chapter IX. A Dose of Tar and Feathers
 

"Make some kind of a light -- I can't see a thing," said Dan Baxter, as the little party came to a halt in front of a half tumbled down building.

Stumpy Nuggs carried matches, and quickly lit a bit of candle which he produced from one of the pockets of his ragged attire.

They entered the dwelling, forcing Tom to accompany them. This done they tied the young cadet fast to an iron ring set in the huge old fashion fireplace.

"Now we'll turn out his pockets," said Longback, and this was quickly done. To the tramps' chagrin Tom carried no watch, but had with him two dollars in money.

"Now we'll take dat ring," said Nuggs, pointing to the article on Tom's little finger.

"So I have fallen in with a lot of thieves, eh?" said the boy. "Well, if you want the ring you can fight for it."

"Shut up!" roared Dan Baxter, and struck him across the mouth, causing Tom's under lip to bleed. The boy tried to retaliate, but his bonds held him fast.

While one tramp held his hand the other possessed himself of the ring. The ring contained an opal of which Tom was very proud, and to part with the article made the young cadet feel pretty bad.

"You will rue this night's work," he muttered. "I'll see you in prison for it."

"Don't waste your breath in threatening," cried Baxter.

"All right, Baxter, wait and see. I'll put you where your father is."

The bully's face reddened. "Will you shut up, or do you want another crack on the mouth?"

"It's only a coward who would strike a person when he is helpless."

"Coward or not, I want you to keep a civil tongue in your head."

"Perhaps you imagine we don't know who tried to wreck the stage," went on Tom pointedly.

"Wreck a stage? I know nothing of such a thing."

"You know all about it. And we'll prove it too -- when you are under arrest."

"I won't talk to you!" howled Baxter.

"Come with me," he added to the tramps, and then the three quitted the building, leaving Torn to his reflections, which were dismal enough.

"I'm in a pickle and no mistake," he murmured. "What will they do with me next?"

Hour after hour went by and still Tom was left alone. In the meantime Baxter had held a long conversation with the tramps and had formed a compact with them, paying them the ten dollars as agreed.

The sun was shining brightly when at last Dan Baxter re-entered the old building.

"Getting hungry, I suppose," he remarked, with a wicked grin.

"Not particularly so," answered Tom coldly. He was hungry, but he was not going to admit it.

"I suppose you would like to have your liberty," went on the bully.

"Don't ask superfluous questions, Baxter. Let us get down to business. Why did you make me a prisoner, and what are you going to do with me?"

"I made you a prisoner because I felt like doing so," growled the big youth.

"And what do you propose to do next?"

"Teach you a lesson that you won't forget all your life, Tom Rover."

"Thank you for nothing."

"I haven't forgotten how you and your brothers handled me out in Africa -- and here, too, for that matter."

"You deserved what you got, Dan Baxter. Some persons would have had you sent to prison for your actions."

"Bah! You don't know what you are talking about. What were you doing out so late last night?"

"None of your business."

"Were you over to the Stanhopes' place?"

"Perhaps I was and perhaps I wasn't."

"Don't get mulish. Remember that you are absolutely in my power."

"And what if I was at the Stanhopes' place? Haven't I a perfect right to go there?"

"Did you meet anybody there?"

"Yes, I did. I met your particular friend, Josiah Crabtree."

Baxter's face fell. "And what -- that is what did you have to say to each other?"

"Crabtree tried to rob the widow--and I believe you were outside waiting for him," Tom continued suddenly.

"Nonsense."

At this moment Stumpy Nuggs came in.

"There's a man comin' dis way!" he said excitedly, "Wot shall we do?"

"A man!" ejaculated Baxter, in alarm. "I'll go out and see if I know him."

He left the building with the tramp. The newcomer was approaching along the gully path. As he drew closer Baxter recognized Josiah Crabtree.

"Baxter!" exclaimed the former teacher, as, he carne up. "This is fortunate; I was afraid you had been captured."

"And I was afraid you were in the same box," rejoined Baxter.

"I had a hard time of it to get away. I got lost in the woods and had to remain out in the cold all night."

"Then you didn't succeed in getting what you wanted, or in seeing Mrs. Stanhope?"

"No. Those confounded Rover boys turned up, and I had to -- ahem -- leave in a hurry. But who are these two men?" and Josiah Crabtree looked apprehensively at the tramps.

"They are all right, Crabtree. They helped me do a slick thing last night."

"Ah, and what was that?"

"I met Tom Rover on the road and they helped me to capture him."

"Indeed, and where is the -- ah -- young rascal now?"

"A prisoner in the old house yonder."

At this information Josiah Crabtree was much astonished, and begged for the particulars of the affair, which were speedily forthcoming.

"And now you have him a prisoner, what do you propose to do?" asked the former teacher.

"I'll soon show you," growled Baxter. "I'm going to do him up brown -- or rather, black. See here."

He led the way back to the gully and pointed to a pot of tar and a brush which rested by it.

"It is tar!" cried Crabtree.

"Exactly."

"And you are -- ahem -- going to give him a coat of that?"

"Yes. Doesn't he deserve it?"

"To be sure he does. I will assist you," answered the former teacher readily, with a malicious gleam in his fishy eyes. "I wish you had all three boys here, to tar them with the same brush."

"One at a time, Crabtree. We'll fix the others some time later."

A fire was started and the pot of tar was hung from a chain caught up between two uprights.

Some of the softening stuff was smeared on the wood which was burning, and this made the blaze more fierce than ever. Soon the tar was near to the boiling point.

The two tramps had thrown themselves down to watch the proceedings.

"Yer ought ter have some fedders," suggested Longback.

"I have. There was an old musty feather bed in the house. I'm going to use that."

Going into the building Dan Baxter brought forth the feathers in question, and placed them close to the pot of tar.

While he was doing this Josiah Crabtree went in to talk to Tom.

Of course the boy was surprised to see the former teacher, who eyed him darkly.

"So Baxter has caught you," began Crabtree.

To this Tom made no answer.

"I presume you do not like your present position," went on the man.

Still no reply.

"You feel so bad about it that you do not even Wish to talk, is that it?"

"No, I was just thinking of what an ugly, black-hearted villain you were, Crabtree," aid Tom, looking him full in the face. "I don't believe you have a single spark of honor left in you."

At this Crabtree's face grew as dark as a thunder cloud.

"Ha I how dare you address me in this fashion?" he cried.

"I know I am taking a great risk, but I cannot help it."

"Do you forget that you and your brothers are solely responsible for my present position? That but for you I would have married the Widow Stanhope and started one of the finest boys' school in New York State?"

"Yes, and you would have made Mrs. Stanhope perfectly miserable, and squandered every dollar that she holds in trust for Dora."

"That is your opinion, and it is worth nothing."

"My opinion is the opinion of everybody that knows you as well as I do."

"You have constantly interfered in the doings of myself and of others, and now you must stand punishment for the same."

"What do you intend to do?" demanded Tom quickly.

"I'll show you," broke in the voice of Dan Baxter, and he came in, followed by the two tramps. Soon Tom was released from the fireplace and marched between them out into the open air.

"How do you like that?" asked Baxter, as he led the way to the fire. "Tar and feathers are fine, aren't they?"

"You would tar and feather me?" asked Tom, and now it must be confessed that he shivered in spite of his efforts to remain calm.

"Yes, we'll tar and feather you," responded Baxter.

"And lay it on -- ahem -- thick, Daniel," put in Josiah Crabtree.

"Trust me for that."

Baxter gave a signal to the two tramps and they began to literally rip Tom's clothing from his back. Soon the unfortunate youth was stripped to the waist. Then Baxter caught up, a brush full of tar and advanced upon him.