Chapter XIV. The Disappeapance of Dora Stanhope
 

"We can't reach him with that! He'll be burnt up before we can get to him. See, the flames are already coming out of the window beside him!"

"Save me! Push the ladder up higher!" shrieked Leeks. "I can't get down to it!"

"Wait, I've got an idea," put in Dick, and ran behind the barn to the garden patch.

Soon he came back armed with a long and knotty beanpole. George Strong was already on the ladder, and the beanpole was shoved up to him.

"That's all right!" came the cry. "Leeks, can't you get hold?"

"I'll try," said the terrorized boy.

As quickly as he could George Strong mounted to the very top of the ladder. Then the teacher raised the beanpole, heavy end upward, until Leeks managed to grasp it.

"Can you steady it against the gutter?" asked the teacher.

"I -- I don't know. If I had a cord -"

"There is a string on the window blind. Tie the end of the pole to that."

With trembling hands Leeks did as directed. The cord was not a stout one, but it was sufficiently strong to keep the beanpole in position, and that was all that was required, since the teacher steadied it and held it up from below.

But getting over the edge of the gutter was no easy movement, and those on the ground held their breath as Leeks crawled to where he could grasp the beanpole. Then the cadet came down on the run to where his feet struck the top of the ladder. In a minute more he and the head teacher came to the ground.

A cheer went up. "Hurrah! Leeks is safe! Good for Mr. Strong!" In the midst of the cries Leeks fainted and had to be carried to the gymnasium for treatment.

The fire had evidently started in the lower hallway of the building, in a closet under the broad stairs. It was burning furiously in all of the halls and toward the rear.

As soon as Captain Putnam felt assured that the scholars and all others were safe he organized the boys into a bucket brigade. In the meantime Mrs. Grow, with more forethought than seemed possible to her nature, had turned on the water pipes leading from the water tower on the Hall roof. Thus a dozen small streams were thrown on the fire, to which the boys soon added their buckets of water. Then the Cedarville fire department added their services, and fighting the fire began in earnest, while Captain Putnam directed the removal of all furniture and other things which could be gotten out with safety.

"Say, but this is work!" panted Tom, as he struggled along with a big bucket of water in each hand.

"I only hope we succeed in saving the building."

"We won't save all of it," replied Sam, who was laboring as hard as anybody. "And I guess all of our clothing will be burnt up."

"Don't say a word about dat!" put in Alexander Pop. "I dun gone an' buy me a new pair ob checked pants las' week -- an' a new silk hat, too!" And the negro was almost ready to cry with vexation at the thought that those new clothes, with which he had hoped to cut such a dash, would go down in the ruin.

It was a good two hours ere the fire was gotten under control, and not until after sunrise was the last spark put out. Then Captain Putnam and several of the others surveyed the damage that had been done.

All of the stairways had been burned away, and the plastering from top to bottom of the three hallways was down. In the rear, two dormitories and the garret floor had been burned out.

"A nasty fire," said the captain to his head assistant. "I'm afraid I will have to close down the school, at least for a while."

"I don't know as I would do that, captain," replied George Strong. "The classrooms are not touched, neither are some of the dormitories. We can bunch the boys up a bit -- and I think they would rather be bunched up than be sent home."

The matter was talked over at some length, and in the end put to the boys themselves, and all declared that they would rather remain, and some added that during their spare hours they would do all they could to put the place into shape again.

"That will be unnecessary," said Captain Putnam. "The insurance companies will have to do the repairing, and I shall notify them without delay. As to the clothing that has been lost, I will make that good to each of you."

The fire was not yet out when Dora Stanhope appeared, in company with John Laning and Nellie and Grace.

"I am so afraid somebody had been burnt up!" cried Dora to Dick. "I'm awfully glad you and your brothers are all right!"

"We got out easily, answered Dick, but he gave Dora a bright smile for the interest she had shown in him.

"How did the fire start?" questioned John Laning.

"Nobody knows," answered Tom. "Captain Putnam says it is a complete mystery."

"I believe the Hall was set on fire," put in Sam. "And I believe I can point out the party who is guilty."

"Dan Baxter?" put in Larry.

"Yes."

"Would he be wicked enough to do that?" cried Dora in horror.

"Yes, I guess Dan is bad enough to do anything," said Dick.

"He was terribly mad over the way we mauled him," came from Tom. "He was just about, ready to kill us."

"If that's the case Captain Putnam had better have Baxter arrested," suggested John Laning. "He is a dangerous boy to be at large."

Captain Putnam came up and was soon told of what had occurred. He had not heard of the fight down at the lake, but was not greatly surprised.

"I do not blame you boys, since Baxter began the attack," he said. "And I agree, he is a thoroughly bad fellow. Yes, I'll have him arrested -- providing we can locate him."

Word had already been sent to a clothier, and a gentlemen's outfitter, both of whom had stores in Cedarville, and before noon these men came to the Hall, and the students were fitted out temporarily -- that is, the portion who had lost the majority of their clothing. Then a gang of laborers and scrub-women were sent to work to clean up the mess and make the classrooms and unburned dormitories fit for occupation. In two days Putnam Hall was once more in full sway, as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, the burnt section being boarded entirely off from the other.

The search for Dan Baxter began at once, but nothing could be ascertained concerning him. A search was also made for the Falcon, but that craft had disappeared from the lake.

"Well, I hope we never hear or see anything more of Baxter," said Sam. "I declare, he is worse than a snake in the grass."

"I'd rather see him locked up," answered Dick grimly. "Then I'd know he was out of the way of harming us further."

Several days slipped by and the boys were deep in their studies, when, late one afternoon, Dick was greatly astonished by being told that Mrs. Stanhope was in the parlor waiting to see him.

"She seems very much agitated," said Captain Putnam. "I am afraid something is wrong."

"Can you say what it is, Richard?"

"No, sir; excepting Dan Baxter or Josiah Crabtree may have been worrying them again"

"Do you mean to tell me that Baxter goes to their house?"

"He has been there several times to my knowledge. He's as sweet on Dora Stanhope as Josiah Crabtree is anxious over Mrs. Stanhope -- and neither person deserves any encouragement."

"I thought the engagement between Mrs. Stanhope and Crabtree was off."

"It was -- for the time being. But it seems Mr. Crabtree isn't going to give her up -- he is too anxious to get hold of Dora's money," and with this remark Dick hurried to the parlor.

"Oh, Dick Rover!" cried Mrs. Stanhope, when he entered, "do tell me what has become Of Dora.'

"Dora!" he repeated in bewilderment. "I don't know, I am sure. Has she left home?"

"She hasn't been home since she answered your note yesterday afternoon."

"My note? I sent her no note."

"But I found it lying on the dining-room table last evening, when I came from my room. You see, I had been lying down with a headache."

"Mrs. Stanhope, I sent Dora no note. If she got one that was signed with my name it was a forgery."

"Oh, Dick Rover!" The lady had arisen on his entrance, now she sank back into a faint.

The youth was greatly alarmed, and at once rang for one of the servants and also for Captain Putnam.

"What is the matter?" asked the master of the Hall.

"Something is very much wrong, sir," replied Dick. "Dora Stanhope has disappeared."

"Disappeared!"

"Yes, sir. She received some sort of a note signed with my name."

No more was said just then, Dick, the captain, and the servant doing all they could to restore Mrs. Stanhope to consciousness. When the lady finally came to her senses she could not keep from crying bitterly.

"Oh, where can my Dora be?" she moaned. "Something dreadful has happened to her -- I feel certain of it."

"Where is that note?" asked Dick.

"I left it on the mantelpiece in our dining room. It said: 'Dear Friend Dora: Meet me as soon as you can down at the old boathouse on the lake. I have something important to tell you,' and it was signed 'Richard Rover.'"

"Mrs. Stanhope, as true as I stand here, I never wrote that note or sent it."

"I believe you, Dick. But who did send it?"

"Some enemy who wanted to get her away from the house -- Dan Baxter or --" Dick paused.

"Or who?"

"Well, Josiah Crabtree, if you must know. He hates her and he wants to separate her from you."

At the mention of Josiah Crabtree's name a curious shiver passed over Mrs. Stanhope. "We -- we'll not talk about Mr. Crabtree," she faltered. "But, oh, I must have my Dora back!" And then she came near to fainting again.

"I would like to go over to the Stanhope cottage and investigate," said Dick, after the lady had been placed in Mrs. Green's care. "To my mind it won't do to lose time, either."

"You can go, Richard," answered Captain Putnam. "But be careful and keep out of trouble."

"Can I take Tom and Sam with me?" I

At this the master of Putnam Hall smiled broadly. "Always like to be together, eh? All right, I don't know but what it will be safer for the three of you to go together," he said; and Dick lost no time in telling his brothers. In a few minutes the trio set off for the Stanhope cottage, little dreaming of the long time that was to elapse before they should see Putnam Hall again.