Chapter XVII. Bound for the West
 

On the following morning Tom and Sam arrived, as anxious as Dick had been to learn the particulars of what had occurred. They listened to their father's story with interest, as he told of how he had heard a noise and gone below to grapple with the midnight intruder who was ransacking the library desk, and of how Randolph Rover had come to his assistance and been seriously wounded, and how all were now certain that the unwelcome visitor had been Arnold Baxter--that is, all but Randolph Baxter, who lay semi-unconscious, in a high fever, and who knew nothing.

The doctor came in at noon, and pronounced Randolph Rover but little better.

"He must be kept very quiet," said the medical man. "Do not allow anybody to disturb him. If he should become in the least excited I would not answer for his life." So the boys kept away from his bed-chamber and walked about on tiptoes and spoke in whispers.

It was Dick who called together a council of war, out in the barn, late in the afternoon, after he had had another long talk with his father.

"Here's the whole thing in a nutshell," he said. "Arnold Baxter has those papers -- or the best part of them -- and he means to stake that claim if he can."

"But he won't dare to show himself," said Sam. "If he does, we can turn him over to the police."

"Of course he won't show himself, but he'll get somebody else to stake the claim and whack up," replied Dick.

"We won't let him do it," interposed Tom bluntly. "I'll go to Colorado myself and stop him."

"Good for you, Tom! You've struck the nail's head first clip," said his elder brother.

"Father was going out there this spring, anyway -- and he was going to take us."

"True. Father would go to-day if he could, but he can't, on account of that hurt ankle," went on Dick.

"Then let us go for him," came from Sam. "We can do nothing here but worry Uncle Randolph, and I don't feel like going back to Putnam Hall while this excitement is on."

"I told father that I wanted to go, lout he is afraid the trip would be too dangerous."

"Pooh! we went to Africa," was Tom's comment. He was awfully proud of that trip to the Dark Continent.

"It isn't the trip so much as it is the fact that we may fall in with Arnold Baxter and his confederates."

"By the way, I wonder if Dan has joined his father?" mused Sam.

"Like as not. Certainly Dan knew what his parent was up to -- otherwise he wouldn't have written that letter Josiah Crabtree dropped."

"Then you can be sure the two Baxters have gone to Colorado," said Tom.

"And the three Rovers will go, too," said Sam.

"Will you?" asked Dick. "I wanted to say so, but --"

"Yes, we'll go, and that settles it," cried Tom. "And the sooner we get off the better. But we must get father to explain everything a little more closely before we leave."

It was easy to get Anderson Rover to explain, but not so easy to get him to consent to their going out to Colorado. At last he said that if they could get Jack Wumble to go with them they might go.

"Jack Wumble is all right, and if he says he will stick to you I know he will keep his word. He is a crack shot, and besides he knows Larkspur Creek from end to end, and it will save you a lot of hunting around to have him by to give information."

"And where can we find Jack Wumble?

"The last I heard of him he was in Chicago. He is rather a reckless man, and when he has money is apt to spend it in gambling. But his heart is true blue and honest to the core."

"Do you know where he was stopping?"

"At a hotel called the Western Palace. It is a great resort for mining men, and you will be sure to find out all about him if you ask for him there," concluded Mr. Rover.

A great deal more had to be talked about and considered, but we will pass that over. It was decided that the boys should leave for Chicago early on the following Monday morning. The spare time was used up in getting ready for the trip. The boys had their trunks shipped home from Putnam Hall, and wrote to the master and their friends telling of what was going on, but entering into no particulars. By Saturday night they were all ready, and on Sunday went to church at their aunt's request.

"I hate to see you go," said Mrs. Rover, with a sad smile. "It is a big risk. Be sure and come back safe and sound."

"We will," answered Tom. "And you be sure and have Uncle Randolph up and well when we do come back," he added. Poor Tom! little did he think of the grave perils that waited for him in the far West!

The day was a perfect one when they left, the air full of bright sunshine and the music of the birds which had made Valley Brook their summer home for many years. Mrs. Rover saw them to the carriage, while Anderson Rover waved them a serious adieu from his bedroom window. Poor Randolph Rover was as feverish as ever, and knew nothing of their coming or their going. All of the boys were half afraid they would never again see their uncle alive.

But youth is strong and hopeful, and by the time they had entered the cars and made themselves comfortable the scenes around them engrossed their attention, and the past was forgotten for the time being. The train was an express, and flew along at the rate of sixty miles an hour.

"We'll be in Chicago by this time to-morrow," said Dick. "It's quick traveling, isn't it?"

"I hope we are fortunate enough to catch Jack Wumble," said Tom. "I don't want to lose time in Chicago hunting him up."

The car was but half filled, so that the boys had several seats all to themselves. They had brought with them a map of Colorado, and they spent much of the day in studying this.

When it came time for dinner they entered the dining car. They could not get seats together, and so Tom was compelled to sit opposite to a burly fellow whose appearance did not strike him as altogether favorable.

"Bound for Chicago?" asked the man, after passing the time of day.

"Yes, sir," answered Tom. "Are you bound there?"

"I am going through that city. You belong there, I suppose?"

"No, sir, I've never been there before."

"Is that so. Going on a pleasure trip, or to try your luck? Or perhaps you are on business?"

"Yes, I am on business."

"You are rather young to be out on business, it strikes me," went on the burly stranger, after a pause.

"Oh, I've been around a little before," said Tom coolly.

"Yes, you look like a lad who has seen some thing of the world. Well, I've seen something of the world myself."

"Are you a Western man?" asked Tom, who thought it would not hurt to do a little questioning on his own account.

"Yes, I was born and brought up in Colorado."

The reply interested Tom.

"But you have traveled, you say?"

"Yes, I've been to San Francisco and to New York, and also up in the mining districts of the Northwest Territory, and in the mines of Mexico. I've been what they call a rolling stone." And the burly man laughed lightly, but the laugh was not a pleasant one.

"Then you ought to know a good deal about mining," Tom ventured. "I am interested in the mines of Colorado. In what part of the State were you located?"

"Well, I lived in Ouray some time, and also in Silverton, but I went here, there, and everywhere, prospecting and buying up old claims cheap."

"I hope you struck it rich."

"Oh, I'm fairly well fixed," was the careless answer. "So you are interested in our mines, eh? Got a claim?"

"No, sir, but I am going out there to look up a claim -- if I can."

"Take my advice and leave mining alone unless you have had experience. The chance for a tenderfoot, as we call 'em, getting along has gone by."

"I shan't waste much time in looking around."

"And don't waste your money either. Nine mines out of ten that are offered for sale are not worth buying at any price. I've been all through the miff and I know."

"I suppose you know a great many of the old time miners?" said Tom, after another pause.

"Oh, yes, loads of them, Quray Frank, Bill Peters, Denver Phil, and all the rest."

"Did you ever meet a man by the name of Jack Wumble?"

The burly man started and spilled a little of the coffee he was holding to drink.

"Why -- er -- confound the rocking of the train," he answered. "Why, yes, I met Wumble once or twice, but never had any business with him. Are you going to buy a mine from him?"

"No, I am going to try to get him to help locate one that is missing," answered Tom, before he had thought twice.

"Indeed! Well, I've heard Jack is a good man at locating paying claims. Do you know him personally?"

"I do not."

A gleam of satisfaction lit up the burly man's face, but Tom did not notice it.

"Wumble used to hang out in Denver. Going to meet him there, I suppose."

"No, I'm going to meet him in Chicago, if I can."

"I see."

So the talk ran on until the meal was finished. Then the burly man bowed pleasantly and the two separated.

When Tom rejoined his brothers Sam asked him about the man.

"I'm sure I've seen him before," he said. "But where is more than I can say."

"I think I've seen him, too," said Dick. "And I must say I don't much like his looks."

When Tom told of the conversation that had been held, Dick shook his head seriously.

"I wouldn't talk so much, Tom," he remarked. "It won't do any good, and it may do harm, you know."

"I'll be more careful hereafter, Dick. I am sorry myself that I had so much to say," returned Tom.