Chapter IV. A Trail is Found and Lost
 

By this time several carriages had come up, also a number of folks on bicycles and on foot, and to all of these the situation had to be explained. Among the last to put in an appearance was Captain Putnam, and he was at once all attention, and desired to know how seriously Dick and Frank were injured.

"It was an outrageous piece of work," he said.

"Still, to be fair, we must admit that the broken brake is largely responsible for what happened, after the start down hill was made."

"But I couldn't help the brake breaking," pleaded the general utility man. "I did my best, and was thrown out --"

"I am not finding fault with you, Snugger," cut in the captain, shortly. "Let it pass, and leave the stage to be taken care of by the Cedarville blacksmith. But I wish we might lay hands on the rascal who is responsible for the start of the mishap."

"They have found a coin such as we used when as we were in Africa," said Dick. "I think that furnishes a clew."

"In what way, Rover?"

"Those coins were also used by Dan Baxter and Josiah Crabtree."

"And you think one or the other, or both, are in this neighborhood again?"

"It looks plausible, doesn't it?"

"Yes, but -- it would be very strange. I should think they would give this locality a wide berth."

"Hardly. Josiah Crabtree isn't done with the Stanhopes, to my mind, and Baxter will get square with us if he can."

While this talk was going on Sam and Tom were following some footprints leading from the clearing where the signal board had been found down a small path toward the lake. The footprints were clearly defined.

"The prints are not very large," observed Tom, as he and his brother measured them. "It looks to me as if Dan Baxter's feet might have made them."

"Certainly they weren't made by old Crabtree," said Sam. "He had a very long foot and always wore square-toed boots."

They followed the prints down to the lake shore, and then along the rim of the lake for nearly half a mile.

Here there was a little cove, and under some bushes they discovered some marks in the wet dirt of the bank, as if a rowboat had been moored there. In this dirt the footprints came to an end.

"That's the wind-up of this trail," sighed Tom. "Water leaves no trail."

"That's so. But supposing we skirt the lake some more."

They went on, and did not give up until the declining sun told them the day was done.

When they reached the Hall they found that all of the others had come in, and that preparations were already going forward for the feast in the evening. For once Captain Putnam and George Strong, his main assistant, were going to allow the cadets to have their own way. Secretly the captain was tremendously pleased over the showing his pupils had made on the football field, for this happened to be a year when college athletics were in the ascendancy in all of the States.

But the regular evening drill must not be neglected, and soon the sound of the drum was heard, calling the members of companies A and B to the parade ground. A rush was made for uniforms, swords, and guns, and soon the boys come pouring forth, Dick as a captain, and his two brothers as under officers.

"Attention!" shouted the major of the command. "Forward! march!"

"Boom! boom! boom, boom, boom!" went the drums, and then the fifers struck up a lively tune, and around the academy marched the two companies at company front. Then they went around again by column of fours, and then marched into the messroom, where they stacked arms and sat down at the long mess tables. The movements were patterned after those at West Point, and could not have been improved upon.

"Well, what of the hunt," asked Dick, as soon as he got the chance to talk to Tom.

"We followed it to the lake and then lost the trail," answered his brother. "But I am convinced that the rascal was Dan Baxter."

"I believe you are right, Tom," answered Dick, and related what Dora Stanhope had told him. Of course Tom listened with keen interest.

"We made a mistake in letting old Crabtree and Baxter go when we had them in Africa. We should have handed them over to the authorities."

"I am not worried about Baxter so much," went on Dick. "But I hate to think of Crabtree being around to molest the Stanhopes."

"And especially Dora," grinned Tom.

"Right you are, Tom, and I am not ashamed to admit it to you. But please don't -- don't well, make fun of it to me any more."

"I won't, Dick." Tom gave his brother's hand a squeeze under the table. "Dora is all right, and if some day I get her for a sister-in-law I won't complain a bit." This plain talk made Dick's face flush, but he felt tremendously pleased, nevertheless, and loved Tom more than ever.

Directly after supper the boys were given until eleven o'clock to do as they pleased. At once some old barrels were piled high at one end of the campus, smeared with tar, stuffed with wood, and set on fire, and the blaze, mounting to the sky, lit up the neighborhood to the lake on one side and the mountains on the other.

Four cadets had gone down to Cedarville to buy the fireworks and the things to eat, and by nine o'clock these returned, loaded down with their purchases. Among the crowd was Larry Colby, who sought out Dick as soon as he arrived.

"I've got news," he exclaimed. "Whom do you suppose I saw down in Cedarville? Josiah Crabtree!"

"You are certain, Larry?"

"Yes."

"Where did you meet him?"

"Down at the restaurant where he went for some ice cream. He was just paying for a lunch he had had when I came in."

"Did you speak to him?"

"No; I wanted to do so, but as soon as he saw our crowd coming in he dusted out of a side door."

"Was he alone?"

"Yes."

"Humph!" Dick's brow clouded. He was inclined to think that Dora had been right concerning the noise she had heard on the side porch.

"You haven't any idea where he went?"

"No; I wanted to follow him, but it was dark on the street and he slipped me."

This was all Larry had to tell, and he hurried to arrange the fireworks.

The celebration was a grand success, and lasted until almost midnight. The boys had brought along a lot of Roman candles and skyrockets, and these they set off from the top of one of the tallest trees on the grounds.

"So that the Pornell fellows can see them," said Sam. "I know they will enjoy the show," and then he closed one eye suggestively. The Pornell players had chaffed him on account of his size, and now that the victory was won, he did not mean to let them forget their defeat too quickly.

At about ten o'clock Dick went to Captain Putnam and asked permission to leave the grounds for an hour or two.

"Where do you wish to go?" asked the captain.

"To Mrs. Stanhope's, sir," and be related what Dora bad told him, and of what news Larry Colby had brought.

"I am afraid you may get into trouble, Rover," said the captain seriously.

"I will be very careful, sir. I am not afraid of Mr. Crabtree, should he turn up."

"I don't believe you are afraid of anyone," said the master with a smile, for he admired Dick's courage.

"Then you will let me go?"

"Wouldn't you rather have somebody with you?"

"I wouldn't mind having Tom along."

"I meant some grown person -- like, for instance, Mr. Strong."

"No, sir."

"Well, then, take Tom. But mind and be careful, and don't stay too late if everything is right, down there."

Having received this permission, Dick hurried to Tom. Soon the two brothers were on the way, Tom eating some cake and peanuts as they hurried along. The latter hated to miss the feast, but did not wish to see his brother under take the mission alone.

It was a clear night, and although there was no moon, the stars twinkled overhead like so many diamonds. Both knew the short cut to Mrs. Stanhope's cottage well, and made rapid progress. "Shall you ring the bell if everything appears to be right?" asked Tom, as they came in sight of the modest dwelling, set in the widow's well-kept garden.

"I guess not, Tom. It's so late. Both Mrs. Stanhope and Dora have probably gone to bed."

They had almost reached the gate to the garden when Dick caught his brother by the sleeve and drew him back into the shadow of a large maple tree.

"What is it, Dick?"

"I think I saw somebody moving around the corner of the house just now."

Both boys strained their eyes, but could see nothing that resembled a human form.

"I don't see a thing, Dick."

"Come, we'll move around to the outside of the garden," returned the older brother.

The flower garden was not large, and was separated from the vegetable laths. As they made their way along this, both caught the sound of a window sliding up.

"Hark! Did you hear that?" whispered Dick excitedly.

"I did. It came from the back of the house."

"Somebody must be trying to get into the kitchen window!"

Dick broke into a run, with Tom at his heels. Entering the garden by a rear gate, they soon reached the vicinity of the kitchen. A window stood wide open, and through this they beheld somebody inside the apartment with a blazing match in his hand trying to light a candle.

"Hi, there, who are you?" cried Tom, before Dick could stop him.

At the sound of the call the man in the kitchen jumped as though stung by a bee. Then he wheeled around, with the lighted candle in his hand, and both boys saw that it was Josiah Crabtree.