Chapter III. Josiah Crabtree Frees His Mind
 

Then individual to whom Tom referred had been a former master at Putnam Hall, but his disagreeable ways had led to his dismissal by Captain Putnam.

Josiah Crabtree was a tall, slim individual, with a sharp face and a very long nose. During the past term at Putnam Hall he had been very dictatorial to the Rover boys, and it must be confessed that they had made life anything but a bed of roses for him. Crabtree had been very desirous of marrying a certain widow by the name of Stanhope, but the marriage was opposed by Dora, the widow's daughter, and as Dick was rather sweet on Dora, he had done all he could to aid the girl in breaking off the match, even going so far as to send Crabtree a bogus letter which had taken the teacher out to Chicago on a hunt for a position in a private college that had never existed. Dick knew that Crabtree was comparatively poor and wished to marry the widow so that he could get his hands on the fortune which the lady held in trust for her only child.

"It is Crabtree," said Dick, as he gave a look.

"I wonder how he liked his trip to Chicago?" laughed Sam. "Perhaps the Mid-West National College didn't suit his lofty ideas."

"Hush! don't let him hear you talk of that," returned Dick. "He might get us into trouble."

"What kind of soup, sah?" interrupted the waiter, and then they broke off to give their order, and the waiter hurried off to fill it.

"I'd like to know if he has been around the Stanhope cottage again," mused Dick, as he sipped his soup.

"Dick can't bear to think of anybody around Dora," laughed Tom.

"I don't want him around," retorted the elder Rover, growing red in the face. "He wants the Stanhopes' money and that's all he does want. I don't believe he really loves Mrs. Stanhope."

"But why does she encourage him?" came from Sam. "Why don't she send him about his business?"

"Oh, she is sickly, as you know, and he seems to have a peculiar hypnotic influence over her, at least that's what Dora thinks."

"What are you laughing at, Tom?"

"I - I was thinking of the time we put the crabs in old Crabtree's bed," answered the younger brother.

"No, you, weren't -"

"Well?" demanded Tom, as Dick paused.

"You were laughing because I mentioned Dora, and -"

"'Pon my honor I wasn't," smiled Tom, but his look belied his words.

"You were. If I mention her cousins, Grace and Nellie Laning, I guess the laugh will be on you and Sam --"

"We'll call it quits," answered Tom hurriedly.

"They're all nice girls, eh, Sam?"

"To be sure. But, I say, hadn't we best keep out of old Crabtree's way?"

"I don't know as it's necessary," said Dick.

"I'm not afraid of him, I'm sure."

"Oh, neither am I, if you are going to put it that way," answered the youngest Rover.

"If he's stopping here I'm going to have some fun with him," grinned Tom.

The evening meal was soon finished, and the boys took a stroll around the grounds. They were just on the point of retiring when Dick drew his brothers' attention to a figure that was stealing through a nearby grove of trees.

"There goes Crabtree."

"I wonder where he is going," mused Sam. "Where does that path lead to?"

"Down to the river," came from Tom. And then he added suddenly: "Come, let us follow him."

"What's the good," grumbled Dick. "I'm tired out."

"There may be some chance for fun. Come on," and thus urged Dick and Sam followed their fun-loving brother.

The path through the grove ran directly to the cliff overlooking the Hudson, at a point where a series of stone steps led up from the water's edge. As they gained a spot where they could look down upon the river, Dick uttered a short cry.

"Look, boys, a Yacht!" he said, pointing through the moonlight. "I'll wager it is the Falcon!"

"And Mumps is coming to meet Josiah Crabtree," put in Sam.

"But what would he want to see Crabtree about?" demanded Tom. "Remember at Putnam Hall the only friends Josiah Crabtree had were Dan Baxter and Mumps."

"That is true, Dick. See, Crabtree has his handkerchief out and is waving it as a signal."

"And here comes somebody up the steps. Mumps, sure enough," whispered Sam.

"Let us get behind the trees and learn what is going on," came from Dick, and the three brothers lost no time in secreting themselves in the immediate vicinity.

"Well, John, I've been waiting for you," said Josiah Crabtree, as Mumps came forward and the two shook hands.

"So have I been waiting for you," returned the former sneak of Putnam Hall. "Why didn't you come yesterday?"

"It was impossible to do so, my lad. Is that the Falcon down there?"

"It is."

"Who is in charge of her?"

"A sailor named Bill Goss."

"Is he a -- ahem -- a man to be trusted?"

"I guess I can trust him," snickered Mumps.

"If he dared to give me away, I could send him to jail."

"You mean that you - er -- have him -- ahem -- in your power?"

"That's it, Mr. Crabtree."

"Very good. And is be, a good sailor?"

"As good as any on the river."

"Then he can sail the yacht down the river without mishap?"

"He can take her to Florida, if you wish to go that far."

"No, I don't want to go that far -- at least, not at present."

"Don't you think you ought to let me in on your little game," went on Mumps earnestly. "So far I'm in the dark."

"You will know all very soon, John -- and you shall be well paid for what you do."

"That's all right. But if it isn't lawful --"

"I will protect you, never fear."

"Where is Dan Baxter?"

"Hush! It will be best not to mention his name, my lad."

"'But where is he?"

"I cannot say exactly."

"Is he around Lake Cayuga?"

"Well -- ahem -- more than likely he is. To tell the truth, he is very anxious to see his father."

"To bone him for some more money?"

"I think not. Daniel thinks a great deal of his parent, and when Mr. Baxter was so seriously injured --"

"Dan didn't care much for that. He isn't that kind."

"Daniel is a better boy than you think, John. He loves his parent, and when that imp of a Rover got Mr. Baxter into trouble Daniel was very much exercised over it."

"Gracious, but that's rich," murmured Dick. "I got him into trouble. I guess the rascal did that for himself."

"Well, we won't talk about that, professor," went on Mumps. "You didn't stay in Chicago long."

"No, I -- ahem -- the position offered to me did not suit my views, so I declined it."

"Gee-christopher!" came from Tom, and each of the Rovers could scarcely keep from laughing.

"I think those Rover boys put up a job on you," said Mumps. "At least, I got an inkling that way."

"Indeed. I would like to wring their necks, the imps!" burst out Josiah Crabtree. "Oh, what have I not suffered at their hands! At one hotel where I stopped they placed live crabs -- But let that pass, the subject is too painful. To come back to the point. I can have the Falcon at any time that I may need her?"

"Yes."

"And you will promise to say nothing to a soul about what is done on the trip I propose?"

"I Will."

"Very good, You see, this is a - er -- a delicate matter."

"Are you going to marry Mrs. Stanhope and use the yacht for your honeymoon?" said Mumps somewhat slyly.

"Hardly -- although that would not be a bad idea, my lad. But now I have a different deal on hand -- something very much different. If you do not object I'll take a look at your yacht and interview this sailor you mention."

"All right, come ahead."

Mumps led the way down the rocky steps and Josiah Crabtree followed, moving slowly that he might not fall. Creeping to the edge of the cliff, the Rover boys saw the pair reach the Falcon and go on board.

"Now what is in the wind?" said Dick, as soon as the pair were out of hearing.

"That's a conundrum," replied Tom. "I'll wager one thing though -- old Crabtree is up to no good."

"I believe you are right. I wish we could hear the rest of what is going on."

"Can't we get close to the yacht?" suggested Sam. "See, the sky is clouding over. I don't believe they will see us going down the stairs."

They talked the plan over for a moment, then began to descend the steps, keeping as low down as possible and close to some brush which grew up in the crevices of the stones. Soon the river bank was gained at a point not over fifty feet from where the yacht lay.

They halted behind a large stone close to the water's edge. By straining their eyes in the darkness they saw Mumps, Crabtree, and Bill Goss in earnest conversation in the stern of the vessel. A low murmur came to their ears, but not a word could be understood.

"We must get closer," was Dick's comment, when to the surprise of all they saw the sailor hoist the mainsail of the Falcon. A gentle breeze was blowing, and soon the yacht was leaving the shore. They watched the craft until the gathering darkness hid her entirely from view.