Chapter I. Something About the Rover Boys
 

"Luft up a little, Sam, or the Spray will run on the rocks."

"All right, Dick. I haven't got sailing down quite as One as you yet. How far do you suppose we are from Albany?"

"Not over eight or nine miles. If this wind holds out we'll make that city by six o'clock. I'll tell you what, sailing on the Hudson suits me first-rate."

"And it suits me, too," put in Tom Rover, addressing both of his brothers. "I like it ten times better than staying on Uncle Randolph's farm."

"But I can't say that I like it better than life at Putnam Hall," smiled Sam Rover, as he threw over the tiller of the little yacht. "I'm quite anxious to meet Captain Putnam and Fred, Frank, and Larry again."

"Oh, so am I," answered Tom Rover. "But an outing on the Hudson is just the best of a vacation. By the way, I wonder if all f our old friends will be back?"

"Most of them will be."

"And our enemies?"

"Dan Baxter won't come back," answered Dick seriously. "He ran away to Chicago with two hundred dollars belonging to his father, and I guess that's the end of him -- so far as Putnam Hall and we are concerned. What a bully was!"

"I feel it in my bones, Dick, that we'll meet Dan Baxter again," came from Sam Rover.

"Don't you remember that in that note he left when he ran away he said he would take pains to get square with us some day?"

"He was a big blower, Sam," put in Tom. "I am not afraid of him. An his chum, Mumps, was a regular sneak coward. I hope Putnam Hall will be free from all such fellows during the next term. But we -- Hold hard, Sam -- there is another yacht bearing down upon us!"

Tom Rover leaped to his feet and so did Dick. Tom was right; another craft, considerably larger than their own, was headed directly for them.

"Throw her over to starboard!" sang out, Dick Rover. "And be quick about it -- or we'll have a smashup sure!" And he leaped to his brother's, assistance, while Tom did the same.

The Rover brothers were three in number -- Dick, the oldest and most studious; Tom next, is full of fun as an egg is full of meat, and Sam the youngest.

In a former volume of this series, entitled, "The Rover Boys at School," I related how the three youths had been sent by their uncle, Randolph Rover, to Putnam Hall, a military boarding school, situated upon Cayuga Lake, in New York State.

Whether the three boys were orphans or not was a question that could not be answered. Their father, Anderson Rover, had been a geological expert and rich mine owner, and, returning from the West, had set sail for Africa, with the intention of exploring the central region of that country in the hope of locating some valuable gold mines. The boys and their uncle knew that he had journeyed from the western coast toward the interior with a number of natives, and that was all they did know, although they had made numerous inquiries, and hoped for the best. The lads' mother was dead; and all these things had happened years before they had been sent to boarding school.

Randolph Rover was an eccentric but kind hearted man, given over entirely to scientific farming, of which, so far, sad to relate, he had made a rather costly failure. He spent all of his time over his agricultural books and in the fields, and was glad enough to get the boys off his hands by sending them to the military school.

When vacation came he wondered what he should do with them during the summer, but the problem was solved by the boys, who hated to think of remaining on the farm, and who proposed a trip up and down the Hudson River and through Long Island Sound, providing their guardian would furnish the boat and bear the expense of the outing. The outcome was the chartering of the yacht Spray, and all of the boys took lessons in sailing from an old tar who knew exactly how such a craft should be handled.

At Putnam Hall the boys had made a number of friends, and also several enemies, and had had several surprising adventures, as my old readers already know. Who their friends and their enemies were, and what further adventures were in store for the three brothers, I will leave for the pages following to reveal. At present let us turn our attention to the boat which seemed on the point of running down the Spray.

Like their own craft, the other boat carried but a single mast. But the stick was at least ten feet longer than the mast of the Spray, and the boat was correspondingly larger in every respect. As she came nearer the Rover boys saw that she contained two occupants, a boy and a somewhat elderly man.

"Sheer off there!" cried Dick, at the top of his lungs. "Do you want to run us down?"

"Get out of the way yourself!" came back the answer from the boy in the other boat.

"We can't get out -- we are almost on the rocks now!" yelled Tom. Then he gave a start of surprise. "Why, it's Mumps!"

"By jinks, it is John Fenwick!" muttered Dick. "I remember now that he came from the Hudson River and that his folks owned a boat." He raised his voice, "Are you going to sheer off or not?"

By this time the two boats were nearly bowsprit to bowsprit, and Sam Rover's heart almost stopped beating. But now Mumps spoke to the man with him, and his craft, called the Falcon, sheered to port, scraping the Spray's side as she did so.

"Mumps, what do you mean by such work?" demanded Dick, when the immediate danger was past.

"Ha! ha! I thought I would give you a scare," laughed the former sneak of Putnam Hall.

"You needn't be afraid but what I and old Bill Goss here know how to keep the Falcon out of danger."

"It was foolishness to run so close," said Tom.

"Don't you talk to me, Tom Rover. I've had enough of you, mind that."

"And I want you to mind and keep off next time, Mumps. If you don't --"

"What will you do?"

"I'll be tempted to come aboard the Falcon and give you a thrashing."

"You'll never set foot on my boat, and I'm not afraid of you," roared Mumps. "You think you got the best of me at Putnam Hall, but you didn't, and I want you to know it."

"How is your friend, Dan Baxter?" cried Sam. "Has he landed in jail yet?"

"Never mind Dan Baxter," growled Mumps, growing red in the face; and then the two yachts moved so far apart that further talk was impossible.

"Well, I didn't expect to meet him," muttered Dick, after the three brothers had cooled down a bit. "He must have known we were in this boat."

"I saw his craft last night, down near Catskill," said Tom. "I'll wager he has been following us up."

"He wouldn't do that unless he had some reason for it."

"I believe he would sink us if he could," put in Sam. "To my mind he is almost as bad as Baxter."

"Hardly, Sam; Dan Baxter is a thief and the son of a thief," came from Tom. "By the way, I wonder if Arnold Baxter is still in the hospital at Ithaca."

"More than likely, since he was so badly hurt by that fall from the train. If we -- Look, Mumps has turned around and is following us!"

Sam pointed to the Falcon, and his brothers saw that he was right. Soon the larger craft was again within hailing distance.

"Hi, Mumps, what are you following us for?" demanded, Dick, as he stepped up on the stern seat.

"Didn't know I was following you," was the sour rejoinder. "I have a right to sail where I please."

"If you have any game in mind I advise you not to try it on."

"What game would I have, Dick Rover?"

"Some game to get yourself into trouble."

"I know my own business."

"Alright, you can go about your business. But don't try to step on our toes - or you'll get the worst of it."

"So you're going to play the part of a bully?"

"No; I'm only giving you fair warning. If you let us alone we'll let you alone."

"You have been watching the movements of the Falcon since day before yesterday," went on Mumps, slowly and distinctly, as though he expected his words to have a great effect.

"Watching your boat - " began Dick and Tom simultaneously

"Yes, watching my boat - and I don't like it," answered Fenwick, and his face grew dark.

"Why should we watch your boat?" demanded Sam.

"Never mind why. You've been watching her, and that's enough."

"And why should we put ourselves out to that extent - when we are merely out for pleasure," said Dick. "There is no fun in watching a fellow like you, I'm sure."

"John is right; ye have been a-watchin' this boat," growled the old sailor named Bill Goss, who, it may be as well to state here, was thoroughly under his younger master's thumb for reasons best known to himself. "If I had my way I'd wollop the lot on ye!" And he shook his fist at the occupants of the Spray.

"You keep your oar out!" cried Dick sternly. "You are entirely mistaken in your suspicions. We are not spying on you or anybody, and if you -"

Dick was permitted to go no further. While Bill Goss was speaking to the Spray had been caught by a sudden puff of wind and sent over to starboard. Now the Falcon came on swiftly, and in an instant her sharp bow crashed into the Rover boy's boat. The shock of the collision caused the Spray to shiver from stem to stern, and then, with a jagged hole in her side, she began to slowly sink.