Chapter X. In the Nick of Time

"Baxter, don't you dare to tar me!" cried Tom, as the bully faced him.

"Ha! ha! I guess you are pretty well scared now," laughed Baxter. "Your former show of bravery was all put on."

"If you go ahead you shall suffer the full penalty for the outrage, mark my words."

"Bah, Tom Rover, you can't frighten me. When I get through with you I'll warrant that your own mother won't know you."

Tom tried to retreat, but each of the tramps held him by the arm, so that he could not stir. As his legs were still bound, kicking was likewise out of the question.

"Let me put a nice big cross on his breast first," said Baxter. "Here goes!"

He reached out with the brush, but before he could touch Tom an interruption came as forceful as it was unexpected.

A thick stick came flying through the air, hitting his arm and sending the tar brush spinning to a distance.

"You rascal, let Tom alone!" came in Dick Rover's voice, and he rushed in and threw the bully headlong.

"Dick! Sam!" came from Tom joyfully. "Oh, how glad I am that you have come."

"Wot's dis!" gasped Stumpy Nuggs. "Longback, dare's trouble ahead!"

"Yes, an' I don't intend ter be in it!" answered the second tramp. "I reckon we've got about all we want out of dis crowd, anyway!" And both tramps took to their heels.

Josiah Crabtree stood by, speechless. The interruption had come so suddenly that he knew not what to do.

As quickly as he could Dan Baxter scrambled to his feet. As he did so Sam leaped for the tar brush and secured it.

"Let me alone!" roared the bully, and began to back away. But as he did so his hand went into his hip pocket and he drew a pistol.

"No, you don't!" cried Sam, and knocked the weapon from his hand with the brush. This action caused, the hot tar to leave a heavy streak over Baxter's face and neck, and be let out a yell that would have done credit to an Indian on the warpath.

"Wait, I'll get even for this, Sam Rover!" he hissed, and then as Dick advanced he turned and took to his heels, running as if the Evil One were after him. Sam followed him, still swinging the brush, but Dan Baxter was soon lost to sight in the bushes.

Dick now turned to where Josiah Crabtree had been standing. The former teacher had recovered and was making tracks down the gully toward the lake. The tramps had disappeared. He leaped to Tom's side.

"We must bag some of them, Tom," he said, as he whipped out his knife and set his brother free.

"There goes Crabtree -- let us collar him."

Both boys ran as never before, and came upon the former teacher just as that individual reached the lake shore below the bluff. Tom made a grab and caught him by the coat tails.

"Let me go!" snarled Crabtree, and aimed a blow at the cadet's head. But Tom ducked, and the next instant put out his foot and Crabtree pitched headlong into the lake.

"Help me! I'll be drowned!" spluttered the former teacher, as he came up with his head covered with mud, for the lake at this point was less than five feet deep.

"Climb out and you'll be all right," sang out Dick, and feeling the bottom with his feet, Crabtree looked very sheepish and clambered slowly up the bank.

As he stood before them, all dripping with water and mud, he looked the picture of misery.

"Boys, this is a --- a -- sad way in which to treat your former teacher," he wailed.

"Don't talk like that, or I'll be tempted to throw you in again," exclaimed Tom. "Dick, what will we do with him?"

"Hold him until we hear from Sam."

They looked up the gully and soon espied the youngest Rover hurrying toward them.

"Where is Baxter?" asked Dick.

"He got away, but not until I had let him have that tar brush right in the neck," answered Sam. "Hullo, so you have captured old Crabby, eh? That's good."

"Surely you do not intend to --- ahem -- keep me a prisoner," remarked Josiah Crabtree, in a voice which he tried in vain to steady.

"That's just what we do intend to do," answered Dick. "You'll march right to the Cedarville lock-up with us."

While Dick and Sam guarded the prisoner, Tom ran back for his torn coat and other garments, and also for the rope. When he returned Crabtree's hands were bound and the cadets told him to move along. He was searched, and a pistol was taken from him.

Crabtree went along most unwillingly. Once he refused to budge, but Dick showed the pistol, and that settled his stubbornness, and he went along as willingly as a lamb.

On the outskirts of Cedarville the party met Chief Burger and Detective Trigger.

"So you have one of them, eh?" cried the chief. "Very good, very good indeed. Turn him over to me and I will take him straight to headquarters."

"You must be careful that be doesn't get away," said Dick.

"Just so, lad; I will be. No one ever escaped from me, not much! Come on, sir!" And be caught Josiah Crabtree by the arm.

"This is awful!" groaned the former teacher. "And right here in Cedarville, too, where everybody knows me!"

"You should have thought of those things before, Mr. Crabtree," said Dick, his heart softening a little, now that he saw the man was beginning to break down.

"What will my friends, and the profession at large, say?" and Crabtree shook his head bitterly.

"You have only yourself to blame," put in Tom. He had not forgotten how Crabtree had threatened him but a short while before.

Suddenly the former teacher's last drop of courage seemed to desert him and, deadly pale, he sank on his knees.

"Spare me, boys, spare me! For the sake of my family and my friends, spare me!" he moaned.

"I didn't know you had a family," put in Sam.

"My relatives -- my poor, dear, distant relatives," replied Crabtree, hardly aware of what he was saying. "Spare me for their sakes, and I will reward you well."

"The law must take its course, Mr. Crabtree," said Dick. He turned to Chief Burger. "Take him, and Tom can go with you, to make the charge for us and for Mrs. Stanhope. I think Detective Trigger had better come with Sam and me to hunt for Dan Baxter."

So it was arranged, and soon Crabtree was walking into Cedarville with the chief of police on one side of him and Tom on the other. The sight of a man being placed under arrest was an unusual one, and soon a crowd began to follow the three.

"It's Mr. Crabtree that used to teach at Putnam Hall," said one. "My, but ain't he a sight."

"Must have tried to get away by jumping into the lake," suggested another.

"What's he arrested for?" asked a third.

Nobody in the crowd knew, and consequently all followed to the police headquarters.

Here Chief Burger, who also acted as justice of police, took down Tom's charge against the former teacher.

"Breaking in and trying to steal," said Tom.

"It's not so!" cried Crabtree. "Boy, this is -- ahem -- infamous! I never stole a thing in my life!"

"We will prove it when your trial comes off," answered Tom coolly.

"Let us -- ahem -- try to patch this thing up," went on Josiah Crabtree. "Chief, will you kindly send for Mrs. Stanhope? I am certain she will not allow this charge to stand against me."

"See here, you shan't try any of your games on that lady!" exclaimed Tom. "I know the peculiar influence you exert over her, and I feel bound to protect her."

"She is not my enemy, as you are. I know she will clear me."

"Not much. If she won't testify against you, her daughter Dora will, and so will I and my brothers, and some other folks, too."

"I demand to see my accusers!" stormed Crabtree," trying to put on a bold front.

"All right, Dick and Sam will be here after awhile. And then, if you wish, we'll air all of your doings since the time Captain Putnam discharged you."

At the last words the former teacher winced and turned pale, for he knew his record would not bear investigating.

"You are a bad boy, Tom Rover -- leave me!" he muttered, and turned his back on the cadet. A few minutes later, as he could not furnish bail, he was led to a cell and locked up.

As soon as Crabtree was disposed of, Tom left the jail to find his brothers. This was no easy matter, and it was not until well along in the afternoon that he discovered Dick, Sam, and Detective Trigger down by the lake shore nearly a mile from Cedarville.

"Any luck?" he asked.

"Not a bit," replied Dick. "He has given us the slip nicely."

The hunt continued until nightfall, and was kept up all of the next day. But it proved of no avail. Dan Baxter had left the vicinity of the lake entirely, and the Rover boys were destined not to see him again for many days to come.

The arrest of Josiah Crabtree had occurred on Friday. On Monday came a letter from Mr. Anderson Rover, stating that Alexander Pop would arrive in Cedarville on Tuesday and might remain at Mrs. Stanhope's cottage as long as the lady and the boys wished.

"I wish Aleck to be near you," wrote Mr. Rover. "It alarms me greatly to hear of the trouble that you are having. It seems to me that our family are bound to be in hot water all the time. I cannot understand Arnold Baxter. As he is in prison at Albany I do not see how he can trouble me, at least for the next few years.

"I have looked up that mining property in Colorado very carefully, and shall go out there as soon as the coming winter is at an end. Perhaps I will take one or all of you with me, but that will depend upon how good you do at your studies this winter. I shan't take anybody along that can't show a good report."