Chapter VII. A Hunt Through the Woods
 

Before starting for Cedarville Dick acquainted Dora with the discovery he had made.

"We were fortunate," said the girl. "I would not lose Dolly for a good deal."

If there was one thing Dick loved it was a good horse, and once on Dolly's back he urged the little mare along at top speed. She was in prime fettle, and flew along the hard road as if she thoroughly enjoyed the outing.

Arriving at Cedarville Dick sought out the little police station, for the town had at last taken on a force, consisting of a chief and eight men.

The chief, a little fat man by the name of Burger, sat in his office reading the Cedarville Trumpet, the weekly journal of the place.

"Want to see me on business, eh?" he said, laying down the sheet. "All right, young man, sit down. What name?"

"Richard Rover. I am one of the cadets at Putnam Hall."

"Just so. Trouble at the Hall, I presume? Anything connected with that celebration last night?"

"No, sir, I --"

"Another robbery, then? Captain Putnam seems to have his hands full."

"We've had no robbery at the Hall, sir. I came --"

"No robbery, eh? Then perhaps it's a fight. Students will fight when they get celebrating. I know we had a fight once at the academy I attended, and it lasted three days."

"I hope they called out the fire department," answered Dick, with a grin.

"The fire department -- Ha! ha! a good joke! No; they called in the doctor, ha! ha! So it's a fight, eh? Does the captain want us to arrest anybody?"

"It's not a fight."

"What? But you said --" The fat chief paused.

"I said I wanted to see you about business."

"Just so -- and that you were from Putnam Hall, and Captain Putnam had sent you."

"No, no. Please give me a chance to talk."

"Why, of course. I never interrupt anybody. Go on, but don't take too much time, for my time is limited."

"I came from Mrs. Stanhope's cottage, man broke in there last night --"

"Ha, a burglary! Why didn't they let us know at once? Or perhaps you have collared the villain already?"

"No, we haven't got him, although my brother and I tried to catch him."

"Pooh! Two boys, and tried to catch a burglar! Of course he got away."

Dick felt disgusted, and arose to make his departure.

"If you won't listen to what I have to report, I'll take myself off," he said half angrily.

At this Chief Burger stared at him in astonishment.

"Really, you are a remarkable boy," he gasped. "Ain't I listening to everything you are saying?"

"Hardly. I wish to tell you everything from the beginning."

"Just so. Go on, I shan't say a word. What a remarkable boy! But it must be the military training that does it."

As well as possible Dick told all that had happened during the night. Chief Burger interrupted him a score of times, but at last the tale was finished. At the conclusion the chief closed one eye suggestively.

"And don't you know where this Josiah Crabtree is now?" he asked.

"If I did I'd go after him hot-footed," returned Dick.

"He must be in hiding in the woods near the cottage."

"Perhaps, but he had eight hours in which to get away."

"Just so. I will send out an alarm to all of my force, and then Detective Trigger and I will make a personal hunt for the rascal."

"When you hunt for him you had better hunt for Dan Baxter, too," said Dick, and he told of the happening on the stage ride.

"I will keep an eye open for Baxter, too," said the chief.

From the police station Dick rode to the post office, and here wrote and mailed a long letter to his father, relating what had happened and repeating the wording of the letter that had been found. He requested that Alexander Pop be sent up without delay.

There was nothing to keep Dick in Cedarville any longer, and he prepared to return to the Stanhope cottage with the mare. But before going he entered the leading drug store, and here purchased a box of choice chocolates for Dora, for he fortunately had his spending money with him, or at least the balance left over from the football celebration.

When Dick reached the cottage he found both the washwoman and the carpenter at work, one in the wash-house and the other finishing up the new barn. The money taken from the bank had been turned over to Mr. Gradley, so Mrs. Stanhope no longer had this to worry her.

Feeling that he could do little at school for the balance of that day, Dick resolved to hunt through the woods for some trace of Josiah Crabtree, and went off shortly after giving Dora the chocolates, over which the girl was greatly pleased. He followed the road in the direction of the lake at first, and was about to plunge into the brushwood when a distant voice hailed him.

"Hullo, Dick, stop! I want to see you."

It was Sam calling, and soon his youngest brother came up on a run.

"Sam, what brings you?" he asked, for it was easy to see that something out of the ordinary had occurred.

"I want to know where Tom is," panted Sam.

"Tom?" Dick's face grew pale all in an instant. "Didn't he return to Putnam Hall last night?"

"No, and nobody around there has seen him since he went off with you. I thought he was with you, until Dora just told me that he started to return about midnight."

"He did. And he didn't return? What can it mean?"

"What's the trouble here?"

Sam was given the particulars, and uttered a long, low whistle.

"That looks black, doesn't it?"

"It does, Sam. I don't like it for a cent."

"Do you suppose he fell in with Crabtree?"

"Perhaps -- or with somebody just as bad."

"Perhaps he spotted Crabtree and started to follow him."

"I shouldn't think he would follow him all this time without letting somebody know."

For several minutes the two brothers discussed this new turn of affairs. Both were greatly troubled, and Dick did not know whether to continue his hunt or not.

"I wouldn't care if only I knew he was all right," he said.

"That's just it. Tom is able to stand up for himself in an even fight, but if Crabtree played him some trick --"

"Let us hunt for him," interrupted the elder Rover. "There is no use of our sitting down and sucking our thumbs."

They went along the road until the spot was gained where Josiah Crabtree had been last seen. Then they began a systematic search until Sam discovered what he said were fresh footprints leading directly into the woods. At one point one of the prints was very plain, and they saw that it was made by a long shoe, square-toed.

"I reckon you have struck it, Sam," said Dick, after an inspection. "Now if only we can stick to the trail to the end."

Fortunately the ground was so damp that the trail could be followed with ease. An hour's walking brought them to the rock where the former teacher had spent the larger part, of the night.

"He made a stop here, that's certain," observed Dick, as they surveyed the criss-cross tracks.

"Like as not he got mixed up in the dark, Dick. It must have been awfully black here under the trees."

Presently they discovered another trail, leading up a hill. Beyond was a tall tree which Josiah Crabtree had climbed in order to obtain a better view of the surroundings. From the tree the trail led directly toward the lake.

"We're on his track, all right enough," observed Sam. "But if he took to the water we'll lose it, just as we lost Baxter's trail yesterday."

The trail crossed the main road and came out at the lake where there was a slight bluff covered with a heavy growth of underbrush. To their right was an old building, which in years gone by had been a dwelling.

"There is a fire over yonder," observed Dick, as he pointed past the building "Somebody seems to be burning a lot of wet brush. See the heavy smoke."

"Perhaps the folks at the fire can tell us something of Crabtree," answered Sam. "Let us go over and interview them."

His brother was willing, and as well as they were able they pushed their way through the brush toward the fire.

The latter burned fiercely, and presently the two boys detected the odor of tar.

Then they reached a point where they could overlook what was going on around the fire, for the blaze was located in something of a gully of the cliff.

"Merciful heaven!" burst from Dick's lips, and he stood spellbound. Sam also gave a look, and the sight that both boys saw nearly froze the blood in their veins.