Chapter VII. Dick is Made a Prisoner
 

The hallway of the tenement was pitch-dark, the door standing open for a foot or more. From a rear room came a thin stream of light under a door and a low murmur of voices.

"I guess he went to the rear," whispered Dick. "You wait around the comer till I see."

Noiselessly he entered the hallway and walked to the door of the rear room. Listening, he heard an Irishman and his wife talking over some factory work the man had been promised.

"Girk can't be there," he thought, when he heard an upper door open.

"Hullo, Buddy, back again!" muttered a strangely familiar voice, and then the upper door was closed and locked.

Wondering where he had heard that voice before, Dick came forward again and ascended the rickety stairs. They creaked dismally, and he fully expected to see somebody come out and demand what was going on. But nobody came, and soon the upper hall was gained, and he reached the door which he rightfully guessed had just been opened and closed.

"Yes, everything is all okay," were the first words to reach his ears. "But I had a sweet job to find Mooney. He's cracked on music, it seems, and had gone to a concert instead of attending to business."

"But he won't fail us tomorrow morning?" came in a second voice, and now Dick recognized the speaker as Arnold Baxter, his father's worst enemy, who had been left at the hospital in Ithaca with a broken limb and several smashed ribs. Baxter had tackled Dick while the two were on a moving train, and, while trying to throw the boy off, had gotten the worst of the encounter by tumbling off himself.

"Arnold Baxter! is it possible!" muttered Dick to himself. "He must have a constitution like iron to get around so soon."

"No, Mooney won't fail us," said Buddy Girk. "I gave him a mighty good talkin' to, I did."

"I can't afford to have him go back on us," growled Arnold Baxter. "I'm not well enough yet to do this job alone."

"How does your chest feel?"

"Oh, the ribs seem to be all right. But my leg isn't. I shouldn't wonder but what I'll have to limp more or less for the rest of my life."

"That puts me in mind. Whom do you reckon I clapped eyes on down at the concert hall tonight?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Any of our enemies?"

"Those three Rover boys."

"What!" Arnold Baxter pushed back his chair in amazement. "Can they be -- be following me?" he gasped.

"No. I saw 'em by accident. They had been to the concert."

"But they don't belong here. They live on a farm called Valley Brook, near the village of Dexter's Corners."

"They were with another boy -- a well-dressed chap. Maybe they are paying him a visit."

Arnold Baxter shook his head. "I don't like this. If they have got wind of anything..."

"But how could they get wind?" persisted Buddy Girk.

"That would remain to be found out. You must remember, Buddy, that they are down on me because of that row I once had with their father over that gold mine."

"I know it. And, by the way, I never got nothin' out of that deal neither," growled Buddy Girk.

"Didn't I tell you that some papers were missing? I half believe Anderson Rover took them with him when he set out for Africa."

"Then they are gone for good."

"Not if he comes back, Buddy. That man is like his boys -- bound to turn up when you least expect it. That gold mine was -- What's that?"

Arnold Baxter stopped short and leaped to his feet. A wrangle in the hallway just outside of the door had interrupted him.

"Vot vos you doin' here, hey?" came in a heavy German voice. "I dink me you vos up to no goot, hey?"

"Let me go!" came from Dick. "I have done no harm."

"I dink you vos von sneak thief alretty! Stand still bis I find owit."

"It's Dutch Jake!" cried Buddy Girk. "He has collared somebody in the hall. I'll see who it is."

He threw open the door and allowed the light of a lamp to fall on Dick and the burly man who had captured the youth.

"Great smoke! It's one of dem Rover boys!" he cried, dropping into his old-time manner of speech. "Wot are you doin' here?"

"You know dot young feller?" demanded the man who had been mentioned as Dutch Jake.

"Yes, I do, and he's up to no good here," replied Buddy Girk.

"Den maybe I best kick him owit kvick, hey?"

"Yes - no -- wait a minute." Girk turned to Arnold Baxter. "Here is that oldest Rover boy spying on us."

"Ha! I told you they were regular rats for that sort of work," fumed Arnold Baxter.

"Don't let him go."

"Why not?"

"He may know too much. Bring him in here till I question him."

"Not much!" burst out Dick. "Help! Help!"

His cries carne to a sudden ending as Buddy Girk clapped a large and somewhat dirty hand over his mouth.

"Run him in here, Jake," said the former tramp. "He is a fellow we have an account to settle with."

"Is dot so? Vell, I ton't vont me no troubles," answered the German doubtfully.

"It's all right - he -- he stole some of our money. That's right, in with him," and Dick was run into the room, after which Dutch Jake retired as suddenly as he had appeared. He was an elderly man, of a queer turn of mind, and, all by himself, occupied a garret room of the tenement.

As soon as the door was locked Arnold Baxter faced Dick. "Now will you keep quiet, or shall I knock you over with this?" he demanded, and raised a heavy cane he had grown into the habit of carrying since he had escaped from the hospital, on the very day that the authorities were going to transfer him to the jail at Ithaca.

"Don't you dare to touch me, Arnold Baxter!" cried the boy boldly.

"Will you keep quiet?"

"That depends. What do you want of me?"

"You followed Girk to this place and were spying on us."

"I think I had a right to follow Girk. He is wanted by the authorities, as you know."

"You heard us planning to do something."

"Perhaps I did."

"I know you did."

"All right, then; don't ask me about it."

"You think that you are a smart boy," growled Baxter uneasily.

"Thank you for nothing."

"Don't get impudent."

"That is what old Crabtree used to say."

"The Rovers always were too important for their own good, young man."

"We know how to do the fair thing by others -- and that is more than you!"

"Shut up; I'm in no humor to listen to your preaching."

"Then open the door and let me go."

"Not just yet. I want to know how much you overheard of my talk with Buddy Girk."

"I reckon he heard all of it," growled the fool.

"If I was you, Baxter, I wouldn't let him go at all."

"You would keep him a prisoner?"

Buddy Girk nodded.

"But we can't guard him, Buddy."

"We won't want to guard him. Just bind him hands and feet, and stuff a gag in his mouth, and there you are."

"Would you leave him in this room?"

"I don't know." Girk scratched his tangled head of hair. "No, I wouldn't. I'll tell you where to take him."

He finished by whispering into Arnold Baxter's ear. At once the rascal's face brightened, and he nodded. "Just the thing!" he muttered.

"It will serve him right."

"Are you going to let me go?" demanded Dick uneasily, for he saw that the two were plotting to do him injury.

"No," came from both.

Without another word Dick leaped for the door. The key was in the lock, but ere he could turn it Buddy Girk hauled him back. A scuffle followed, which came to a sudden termination when Arnold Baxter raised his heavy cane and struck the boy, on the back of the head. With a million stars dancing before his eyes, poor Dick went down completely dazed.

Girk lost no time in following up the advantage thus gained, and by the time Dick felt like rising he found his hands bound behind him and a gag of knotted cloth stuffed into his mouth. Then his feet were fastened together, and he was rolled up in an old blanket much the worse for wear and the want of washing.

"Now, come on, before anybody else spots us!" exclaimed Baxter. "If you can lift him alone I'll bring the light. I'm no good on the carry yet."

"All right, light the way," answered Buddy Girk, and took up the form of the boy.

Taking up the smoky lamp, Arnold Baxter led the way out of a rear door to a side hallway. Here two flights of stairs led to a low and ill ventilated cellar. The underground apartment had never been used for anything but old rubbish, and this was piled high on all sides.

"Here we are," said Baxter, as he paused in front of what had once been a stone coal bin. "Dump him in there and shut the door on him. I don't believe he'll get out in any hurry."

Dick's form was dropped on a heap of dirty newspapers and straw. Then Girk and Baxter left the bin. There was a heavy door to the place, and this they closed and shoved the rusty bolt into the socket. In a second more they were on their way upstairs again, and Dick was left to his fate.