Chapter XV. How Arnold Baxter Escaped

"Well, I never!"

It was Dick Rover who uttered the remark, as he leaped from the chair in which he had been sitting, newspaper in hand.

"Never what, Dick?" drawled Tom lazily, looking up from a kite he was mending.

"Never saw anything to equal those Baxters. What do you think? Arnold Baxter has escaped from prison."

"What!" ejaculated Tom, and on the instant the kite was forgotten, and Tom smashed it directly through the middle with his foot as he came to his brother's side.

"Yes, he has escaped, and in the slickest manner I ever heard of. I tell you, Tom, he is a prize criminal, if ever there was one."

"But how did he get out?"

"How? Why, just shook hands with his jailers, thanked them for their kindness, and then left."

"Oh, pshaw, Dick, is this a joke? Because if it is, I want to remind you that we had the first of April last week."

"It's no joke, although Baxter ought to have played his trick on the first, true enough."

"Well, what is the trick? You said he shook hands with his jailers and walked off. Of course, he couldn't do that, unless his time was up."

"But it wasn't up -- not by several years."

"Then how did he do it?"

"By a trick, Tom -- the neatest, cleverest, slickest ever performed in this State."

"Oh, stow your long-winded speeches, Dick," cried the younger brother half angrily. "Boil it down and serve the extract in short order."

"Very well, I will. Firstly, Arnold Baxter is in jail. Secondly, he states his friends are going to ask the governor for a pardon. Thirdly, a friend in disguise comes to the jail with the supposed pardon. Fourthly, great joy of Baxter. Fifthly, he thanks his jailers and bids them good-by, as I said before. Sixthly, after he and his friend are gone the jailers inspect the so-called pardon. Seventhly, the jailers telephone to the governor. Eighthly, the pardon is pronounced a forgery, signatures, seal, and all. Ninthly, all the powers that be are as mad as hornets, but they can do nothing, for Baxter the elder has gone and has left no trace behind him."

"Phew!" Tom emitted a long, low whistle.

"Say, but that runs like the half-dime novels I used to stuff myself with in my green days, doesn't it?"

"That's right, Tom, excepting that this is strictly true, while the half-dime novels used to be as far from the truth as a howling dog is from the moon. But seriously, I don't like this," went on the elder Rover earnestly.

"Neither do I like it."

"Baxter at liberty may mean trouble for father and for us."

"I begin to see now what Dan Baxter meant," ejaculated Tom suddenly. "I'll wager he knew all along what his father and the friend were up to."

"I wonder who the stranger was? He must have been a very skillful forger to forge the governor's signature and the other signatures too."

"He must be some old pal to Baxter. Don't you remember father said Baxter was thick with several fellows in the West before he came out here?"

"Let us write to father about this at once."

This was agreed to, and Dick began to pen the letter without delay. While he was at work Sam came in and was acquainted with the news.

"It's just like the Baxters," said the youngest Rover. "After this, I'll be prepared to expect anything of them. I'd like to know where he has gone? Perhaps out West."

"Out West?" cried Dick and Tom simultaneously.

"Certainly. Didn't he swear to get the best of us regarding that mine matter?"

"By gum!" murmured Tom. "Dick, we can't send that letter any too quick. Perhaps we had better telegraph."

"Oh, father may have the news already." Dick glanced at the newspaper again. "Hullo, I missed this," he cried.

"Missed what?" came from both of the others.

"The paper says Baxter's escape occurred several days ago. The prison' officials kept it to themselves at first, hoping the detectives would re-capture the criminal."

"And that paper was printed yesterday morning. At any rate, Baxter has had his liberty for at least five days. I must say I don't like this at all. We'll telegraph to father without delay."

Looking out of the window Dick saw Captain Putnam walking on the parade ground. He ran down to interview the master of the Hall.

"Why, yes, you can go to Cedarville at once, if you deem it important," said the captain. "Peleg Snuggers can drive you down."

"Thank you, captain," said Dick, and ran to the stables. He found the utility man at work cleaning out a stall, and soon had Snuggers hitching up. Inside of ten minutes Dick was on the way to town. As he bowled along, little did he dream of how long it would be before he should see dear old Putnam Hall again.

While passing the Stanhope cottage Dick saw Dora at work over a flower bed in the front garden.

"Just going to Cedarville on a little errand," he shouted, and waved his hand to her, and she waved in return. In the back garden was Aleck, and the negro, flourished a hoe as a salute.

The telegraph office at Cedarville was not a large place, and but few private messages were received there. As Dick drove up the operator looked at him and at Snuggers.

"Hullo, I was just going to send a message up to your place," he said to the utility man.

"All right, I'll take it," replied Snuggers. "You can pay me for the messenger service," he added with a grin.

"Whom is the message for, if I may ask?" questioned Dick quickly.

"For Richard Rover."

"That's myself. Let me have it at once."

"You are Richard Rover?" queried the operator, and looked at Snuggers, who nodded. "You came here just in time, then."

The telegraph operator brought the message forth, and Dick tore it open with a hand that trembled in spite of his efforts to control it. He felt instinctively that something was wrong.

The telegram was from Mrs. Randolph Rover, and ran as follows:

"Come home at once. Your father and uncle attacked by unknown rascal who tried to ransack house. Uncle seriously hurt.

"Martha Rover."

Dick's heart seemed to stop beating as he read the lines. "Attacked by rascal who tried to ransack the house," he murmured. "It must have been Arnold Baxter."

"No bad news, I trust, Master Dick," observed Snuggers.

"Yes, Peleg, very bad. Take this back to the Hall and give it to my brothers, and tell them I am going to Ithaca by the first boat, and there take the midnight train for home. Tell them to explain to Captain Putnam and then to follow me. Do you understand?"

"Well -- I -- er -- I guess I do," stammered the workingman. "Be you going home, then?"

"At once." Dick turned to the operator.

"The boat for Ithaca is almost due, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir, in five minutes."

"Take me to the wharf, Peleg, and hurry up about it."

"Got to go, then?"

"I have," and Dick leaped into the carriage. Peleg Snuggers saw that the young cadet was in earnest, and made the boat landing in less than three minutes.

The Sylvan Dell, a companion boat to the Morning Star, was on time, and Dick soon found himself on board and bound for Ithaca. He was too excited to keep quiet, and began to pace the boat from stem to stern.

"What's up, my lad?" asked the captain, as he looked at the youth curiously.

"I am in a hurry to get home, sir."

"Well, I'm afraid tramping around won't hurry matters any," and Captain Miller smiled broadly.

"Do you object to my walking around?" asked Dick, somewhat sharply.

"Oh, no; go ahead. I hope you haven't heard any bad news," went on the captain kindly.

"But I have heard bad news. My father and my uncle were attacked by some man who tried to ransack the house. My uncle was seriously hurt."

"That's bad. I trust they collared the villain."

"No; I guess he got away, for the telegram I received said he was unknown."

"It's too bad. Do your folks live in the city?"

"No; at a country place called Valley Brook."

"Then I doubt if they catch the rascal who did the deed. The country offers too good a chance to escape."

"I mean to catch him if I can," said Dick earnestly, and then the captain left him once more to himself. He thought that the boy had rather a large opinion of himself, but did not know that Dick already had a first-class clew to work on.