Chapter III. The Missing Danger Signal
 

When Sam came back he found Dick sitting on a rock with his cut plastered up from the out kit taken along to the football match. Frank had likewise been attended to.

"I am so glad you are not hurt seriously," said Mrs. Stanhope, as she sat down beside Dick, with Dora close at hand. "All of you have had a very narrow escape."

"It is a shame that no danger signal was display," said Dora. "When they are fixing a bridge they usually put a bar across the road with the sign: 'Danger! Road Closed,' on it."

"Exactly," put in Peleg. "But I haint seen no sign, an' that I can swear to."

"In that case Contractor Darwell will be responsible for this smash up," said John Laning. "Are the horses hurt?"

"They are pretty well scratched up around the legs."

"Humph! And the two front wheels of the stage are a total wreck. I reckon it will take the best part of fifty dollars to fix matters up."

"Anyway, I don't calculate as how I'm responsible," grumbled the general utility man, fearing he saw trouble ahead, when Captain Putnam should hear of the affair.

A creaking on the road was heard, and presently a lumber wagon hove into sight, piled high with the new planking for the bridge. On the front sat Darwell the contractor and two of his workmen.

"Hullo, what does all this mean?" cried the contractor, as he brought his wagon to a standstill, and viewed the wrecked stage.

"It means that Captain Putnam will have a little account to settle with you, Mr. Darwell," put in Harry Blossom promptly.

"With me? What for?"

"For this wreck."

"And for this cut chin," added Frank.

"And my being knocked out," said Dick.

"I'm not responsible for any wreck," replied Joel Darwell. "I put up the bar with the danger signal on it, up at the cross-roads."

"We didn't see no sign," interrupted Peleg Snuggers. "Not a bit of a sign."

"There was no sign when I came along," said John Laning.

"I put the sign up not over three hours ago," insisted Joel Darwell. "I can show you just where Sandy Long and I dug the post holes for it."

"Then some rascal took the sign down," said Tom. "What for?"

"Must have done it to wreck the stage," answered Larry Colby. "But could anybody be so cold-blooded?"

"Yes, there are several people who would do that," answered Dick promptly. "But I don't think they are within a hundred miles of Cedarville just now."

"You mean Dan Baxter for one," said Sam.

"And Josiah Crabtree for another," put in Tom. "They are both down on everybody around here."

"How about Mumps?" asked Larry.

"Oh, he reformed after that chase on the ocean, and I've heard he is now out West," said Sam. There's another rascal, though -- Mr. Arnold Baxter. But he is in jail in Albany -- he and that tool of his, Buddy Girk."

"Well, certainly somebody is responsible," said Frank. "Supposing we go back and try to find some clew?"

"And find the danger sign and put it up again," said Joel Darwell.

A dozen of the boys went back, and with them Tom and Sam, leaving Dick with the Stanhopes. As soon as the crowd had left, Dora Stanhope motioned the elder Rover to one side.

"Oh, Dick, it makes me shiver to hear Josiah Crabtree spoken of," she said in a whisper.

"Why, Dora, you don't mean to say that he has turned up again?" he questioned quickly.

"No -- but -- but -- last night I heard a strange noise on our side porch, as if somebody was trying the side window. I went to the door and asked to know who was there. At once I heard somebody or some animal leave the porch and climb over the side fence of the garden. I am almost certain it was some person trying to get into the house."

"Did you tell your mother?"

"No, she had one of her nervous headaches, and I thought it would do no good. But I couldn't sleep all night, and I laid with a big stick in one hand and papa's old revolver in the other. The revolver wasn't loaded, but I thought I might scare somebody with it."

"The revolver ought to be loaded, Dora. Do you know what caliber it is?"

"No; you know I know little or nothing about firearms."

"Then I'll find out for you, and get some cartridges. If Josiah Crabtree is around you ought to shoot him on the spot."

"Oh, I couldn't do that -- even though I do know how dreadfully he treated you while you were in the heart of Africa."

"You must be very careful of your movements, especially after dark. Crabtree may be around, with some new scheme against you or your mother. I wish he could have been left behind in Africa."

"Oh, so do I! but he and Dan Baxter both came back to America, didn't they?"

"So we heard in Boma. But don't get worked up too much, Dora, for it might have been only a cat, -- or a common tramp looking for something to eat. We have had lots of tramps around the Hall lately."

"I have asked Grace Laning to pay us a visit, and she is coming over to-morrow."

"Then you will have somebody in the house besides your mother and yourself. I wish I could stay with you folks."

"How long are you going to remain at the Hall, Dick? When you came back you said something about going out West with your father to look up that mining claim in Colorado."

"We shan't start for the West until next spring. Father was going right away at first, but after he found out that Arnold Baxter was safe in jail and couldn't bother him any more, he concluded to remain with Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha until next spring so as to give himself the chance to get back his old-time strength. His sufferings in Africa pulled him down a good bit."

"I suppose. Well, I am glad you will be around during the winter. Next summer mamma has promised to go with me on a trip to Buffalo and then around the Great Lakes. I trust the lake air will do her much good, and that we won't hear or see anything of Mr. Crabtree while we are on the water."

"I'd like to go with you on that trip," answered Dick. "I have no doubt you will have a grand time."

Little did he dream of all the perils that trip was to lead to, and of how he and his brothers would be mixed up in them.

In the meantime the others had journeyed up the hill to where the road branched off in three directions. At this point Joel Darwell pointed out two newly-made holes in the earth, about fifteen feet apart.

"See them?" he cried. "Well, that is where I placed the danger sign, and I am willing to swear to it."

"And so am I," added the workman who was along.

"Well, there is no danger signal here now," returned Tom, glancing around. Some bushes torn up beside the road attracted his attention, and he hurried toward them. "Here you are!"

He pointed to a cleared spot behind the bushes and there, on the ground, lay the torn-up posts and boards. Evidently somebody had dragged them thither in great haste.

"It's the work of some thorough rascal!" cried Sam. "Somebody who meant mischief to our stage."

"Maype dis vos der vork of dem Pornell Academy fellers," suggested Hans.

"No, they are gentlemen, not scoundrels," replied Tom. "They may feel cut up, but they wouldn't play such a dastardly trick as this."

The spot was one commanding a good view of the back road, so that anybody standing there could have seen the stage coming while it was still a quarter of a mile off.

All hands began a search for some clew leading to the identity of the evil-doers--that is, all but Joel Darwell and his helper. These two dragged the posts and boards into position again, and this time set them down so firmly that a removal would be out of the question without tools.

"Hullo, here's something!" cried one of the cadets presently. "Did you just drop this, Tom?"

As he spoke he held up a round, flat coin of coppery metal, engraved with several circles and a rude head.

"No, I didn't drop it," replied Tom, his face growing serious. "Did you, Sam?"

Sam gave a look, placed his hand in his pocket and brought out a similar piece. "No, there is mine," he said. "Where in the world did that come from?"

Then Tom and Sam looked at each other. The same idea crossed the mind of each. The coin was similar to those they had handled while on their way through Africa. They had brought home several as pocket-pieces.

"I'll wager Dan Baxter dropped that!" cried Tom. "He, or --"

"Josiah Crabtree!" finished Sam. "Yes, I am sure of it, for Dick brought none to Putnam Hall; I heard him tell the Captain so, when they were talking about coins one day."

"Then in that case, either Baxter or Crabtree is responsible for this smash-up!" came from one of the other cadets.

"Right you are. The question is, which one?"

"Perhaps both vos guilty," suggested the German student.

"That may be true, Hans," came from Tom. "I wonder if one or the other of the rascals is in hiding around here?"

"We'll begin a search," said Sam. "Hans, go and call the others," and at once the German cadet started off on his errand.