Chapter IX. A Breakdown on the Road
 

"I rather think that was rough on William Philander," remarked Dick, with a serious shake of his head.

"Oh, he has got to be taken down somehow," replied Tom, "That's right," added Stanley. "Why, the way he acts towards some of the fellows is outrageous. Just because they don't dress as well as he does he thinks them beneath his notice."

"And I wouldn't waste any sympathy on that girl," put in Spud. "She is as bad as Tubby, when it comes to cutting the fellows she doesn't care to know."

"Well, I guess it will all pass over," remarked Sam. And it must have, for a few days later William Philander and Clarabel Ruggles were seen out driving together and apparently as friendly as over. The dudish student had sent the young lady a letter stating he thought some of his fellow collegians had doctored the box of candy, and this explanation was accepted by the girl and her aunt. Then William Philander sent the girl some candy he was sure was all right, and also a big bouquet of roses; and that was the end of the unpleasantness.

It must not be thought that in those days the girls at Hope Seminary were forgotten. Whenever the Rover boys got a chance they visited the place, and many a nice time they and the girls had together. On those occasions Dick and Dora would roam off together, the others making no attempt to follow them, and the pair would plan the many things they hoped to do in the future.

"You have not heard from Josiah Crabtree, have you?" questioned Dick, on one of these visits.

"Not a word-- and I don't want to hear from him," replied Dora.

"He's in hiding, but he'll let us hear from him sooner or later-- mark my words."

"Oh, I wish he hadn't escaped, Dick!" And Dora clung tightly to his arm.

"Well, that can't be helped."

"Is there anything new about your father's business?"

"Nothing of any importance."

"How does he feel?"

"In his last letter he said he felt somewhat better and was going to take a trip to New York. How is your mother?"

"Quite well. But the fact that old Crabtree is at large disturbs her very much. As soon as she heard of it, she went over to the Lanings' home to stay."

The boys had driven over to Hope in a carriage. When they started to return to Brill it was quite dark.

"We've got to hurry up," remarked Tom, as they rode away, Sam driving the team.

"Why so?" asked Dick. "We have no boning to do to-night."

"Have you forgotten the spread Bob Grimes is going to give? He said it was to be the finest yet given at Brill, and I don't want to miss it."

"That's so!" cried Dick. "Sure, we want to be on hand, since we are invited. Bob is a first-class fellow."

"Queer we forgot about that feast," murmured Sam. "But I suppose we were thinking too much of the girls," and he grinned sheepishly.

"What time is the spread to come off, Tom?" asked his big brother.

"Ten o'clock sharp, so Bob said."

"In his room?"

"His room and the one next to it. They connect, you know."

"We'll get there in plenty of time-- unless we have a breakdown-- which I don't expect."

"Don't be too sure of that. This carriage is none too good. I said so when Abner Filbury brought it around for me."

"The wheels do appear to be somewhat shaky," remarked Sam.

"We miss the biplane, for making quick trips," returned Tom, with a sigh. "We ought to get a runabout-- an auto runabout, I mean."

"That's the talk!" cried his younger brother. "If we had one of those we could run over to Hope whenever we pleased."

The main road was being repaired, so, at a certain place, the boys had to turn off on a side road for a distance of nearly a mile. Here the going was anything but good, and they went down in more than one rut or hollow.

"Be careful, Sam!" warned Dick. "Don't drive so fast."

"Oh, go ahead," put in Tom, impatiently. "We are losing a lot of time on this side road."

Just then came a narrow turn, with a down grade, very uneven and full of rocks. Over the latter bumped the carriage. Then came a sudden jounce, followed by a crash.

"Whoa!" yelled Sam to the team, and brought them to a standstill at the foot of the hill.

"What broke?" asked Dick, anxiously.

"The back axle, I think," answered Tom, as he leaped to the ground.

The boys had a lantern with them and with this they looked for the damage done. Tom's guess proved correct-- the back axle had given way close to the left wheel.

"What's to be done now?" asked Sam, in some dismay. "Say, I don't think that was my fault," he added, quickly.

"I told you to be careful," returned Dick. "Now we are in a pickle and no mistake."

"If we had a wire we might bind up that axle," said Tom, looking at the fracture, which was in the form of a long split.

"But we haven't any," said Dick. He looked into the carriage. "Nothing here but the hitching strap and I don't think that will do."

"There is a farmhouse," said Sam, pointing to a light in a nearby field. "Maybe I can get help there."

"We'll see," said Dick. "Just draw up alongside the fence-- so that nobody will run into the carriage. Now that the main road is shut off, everybody has to use this one."

Soon the carriage was safe by the roadside, and then the three Rovers hurried to where the light gleamed from the kitchen windows of a small farmhouse. Dick knocked on the door of the place.

There was a stir from within, and then the door was opened, revealing an old man, who held a lighted lamp in his trembling hand.

"Who be yeou?" he drawled.

"We have had a breakdown on the road," answered Dick. "We thought we might get some help here."

"A breakdown, eh? What sort?" And the old man gazed curiously at the boys.

In a few brief words the Rovers explained matters.

"If you can let us have some wire, or straps, we'll pay you for them," went on Dick.

"I hain't got much," replied the old man. "I'm poor, I am-- with havin' sech rheumatism I can't work the farm. But yeou kin look in the barn an' see wot there is."

The boys waited to hear no more, but hurried to the structure indicated-- a building all but ready to fall down. In a harness closet they found a few old straps and a coil of fence wire.

"I guess these will answer," said Dick.

"Anyway, let us try them. Sam, you go back and pay the old man whatever he wants, while Tom and I do the mending."

"All right," answered the youngest Rover, and hurried off in the direction of the farm-house.

Sam found the old man sitting by a small table, eating a frugal meal of beans and bread and coffee.

"We found three old straps and some fence wire," said the youth. "What do you suppose they are worth?"

"Well, I'm a poor man, I be," whined the old man. "I don't think yeou be goin' to rob a poor, old man."

"Not at all," answered Sam, kindly. "How much do you want?"

"Them tudder fellers wot had a breakdown give me a dollar fer wot they got," said the old man, shrewdly.

"If I give you a dollar, will that be all right?"

"I guess so," answered the old man. He knew what three straps and what wire were meant, and knew they were not worth half the amount offered.

"Who had the other breakdown?" asked Sam, as he handed over a dollar bill.

"Some fellers in an autymobile-- a couple o' weeks ago, or so."

"Some men in an automobile!" cried Sam, with sudden interest. "Who were they?"

"I dunno. They left the autymobile in the barn one night an' come fer it the next day. They give me a dollar."

"How many men?"

"Two I think there was, although one on 'em kept putty well out o' sight, as if he didn't want to be seen."

"How did the man look that you saw?"

"Oh, he was a tall feller, with a face that stuck out here," and the old man pointed to his chin.

"And did he have real heavy eyebrows?"

"He sure did-- eyebrows 'most as heavy as a moustache."

"How did the other man look?"

"I dunno-- didn't git no good sight o' him. But, say, wot you askin' about them fer? Do you know 'em?"

"I think I know one of the men, but I am not sure," returned Sam, and went outside to join his brothers.

Dick and Tom were deeply interested in what the old farmer had told their brother, and as soon as the strapping and wiring of the split axle was completed all of the boys went into the house to ask the farmer more about the two men and the automobile.

"I can't tell yeou nuthin' more," said the farmer. "They left the autymobile in the barn all night an' paid me a dollar fer it. I don't know who they was, or where they went."

"Can you remember the date this happened?" asked Dick.

"I certainly kin do that, fer it was on my birthday, the tenth."

"The day Crabtree escaped!" murmured Dick, and Sam and Tom nodded.

"Where did they go?" asked Tom.

"I dunno. They went off at night."

This was all the old farmer could tell, and a few minutes later the boys left him. All were rather thoughtful as they got into the carriage once more and drove off.

"Just to think of it!" cried Tom. "Crabtree was around here a night and a day, and nobody knew it!"

"It's too bad we didn't get news of it before," returned Dick. "We might have followed up that 'autymobile,' as the old man called it. But it's too late now. They must be miles and miles away. Crabtree may be in Canada, or on his way to Africa, or China."

"I don't believe he'd go to Africa or China," said Tom. "I think he'll hang around, trying to do us or the Stanhopes or Lanings an injury."

"Just what I think," put in Sam. "I'd like to know who the fellow with the pointed chin and heavy eyebrows is."

"He must be some old friend, or he wouldn't help Crabtree to get away."

"Either an old friend, or else Crabtree paid him pretty well for his services."

"Well, Crabtree is gone, and that is all there is to it."

All the way to Brill the boys discussed the situation. At first they thought they would notify the authorities about what they had learned, but finally concluded that this would do no good. Too much time had elapsed since the automobile had stopped at the old farmhouse.

Arriving at the college, they turned the carriage over to Abner Filbury, explaining about the axle and offering to pay for the damage done. Then they hurried to their room, to get ready for the feast Bob Grimes was to give.

As they entered the dormitory they saw a letter lying on the table. It bore a special delivery stamp and was addressed to Dick.

"Hello, what's this?" cried the oldest Rover boy; "A letter from home, and sent by special delivery. What can it mean?"

"No bad news, I hope," said Sam, his face sobering.

"Read it, Dick," put in Tom. "It must be something important."