Chapter X. Startling News
 

Sam and Tom watched with interest while Dick tore open the envelope and took out the letter it contained. The oldest Rover boy scanned the communication hastily.

"What is it?" questioned both of his brothers, impatiently.

"It's from Uncle Randolph," replied Dick. "He says father went to New York several days ago."

"Is that all?"

"No, he adds that he sent father a telegram and so far no answer has come back," went on Dick, seriously. "He thinks something has happened to dad."

"Oh, Dick" cried Sam. "What could happen to him?"

"A great many things, Sam-- in a big city like New York. He might get run down by a street car, or an automobile, or be hurt in the subway, or on the elevated railroad. He wasn't very well, remember."

"Yes, I know that. Is that all?"

"Uncle Randolph wants to know at once whether we have heard from dad during the past three days."

"We haven't had a word," broke in Tom "I thought it kind of strange, too."

The other boys read the letter, and then the three talked the matter over. They were interrupted by a knock on the door, and Stanley appeared.

"Going to the spread, aren't you?" he questioned. "Hurry up-- it's getting late."

"I don't think I can go," answered Dick. "I've got something I must attend to-- this letter from my uncle," and he held the communication up. "Sam and Tom can go."

"I don't feel much like it-- now," murmured Sam.

"Neither do I," added Tom.

"Oh, you might as well go," urged Dick. "I'll attend to the message to Uncle Randolph. Everything may be all right-- and there is no use of the three of us disappointing Bob. You go, and explain why I didn't come."

"Maybe you can come later," suggested Stanley.

"I'll see. But I must get word to my uncle first," answered Dick.

While Sam and Tom got ready to attend the spread Bob Grimes was to give, Dick hurried downstairs again. In the hallway he ran into Paul Orben, one of the older students whom he knew real well.

"Why in such a hurry, Dick?" questioned Paul, good-naturedly grabbing him by the shoulder.

"I want to get to town-- to send a telegram home," answered Dick. Then, struck by a sudden idea, he added: "Paul, is your motorcycle ready for use?"

"It is, and if you want to use it to run down to Ashton with, take it," answered the other, readily. He had once been up in the Dartaway and was glad of a chance to pay the debt he thought he owed the Rovers.

"Thanks very much, I'll use it," returned Dick.

"Come on, then, and I'll make sure that it is all right."

The two young collegians hurried to a room attached to the gymnasium, where bicycles, motorcycles, and other things were kept. Soon the motorcycle was brought out and Paul gave it a brief inspection.

"All right," he announced. "I thought it would be."

"Then I'm off," answered Dick, and pushing the machine along the path towards the road, he hopped into the seat and turned on the power.

Dick had never had much experience in running a motorcycle, but he had tried one enough to know how it should be handled, and soon he was well on his way and riding at a fair rate of speed. The road was good, and he had a fine headlight, and almost before he knew it he had reached Ashton and was approaching the depot.

He had been afraid the ticket and telegraph office would be closed, but he found the man inside, making up a report.

"I want to rush a message home," he said. "And I want to arrange to have it telephoned to our house. I will pay the bill, whatever it is."

"It will depend on whether we can get the operator at Oak Run," said the man. "He may have locked up for the night."

The message was written out, and Dick waited in the depot for an answer. Quarter of an hour passed slowly and then the telegraph operator came to him.

"Sorry, Mr. Rover, but Oak Run doesn't answer. I guess the office is closed for the night."

"Try for Spotstown," said Dick, naming another railroad station several miles further from his home.

Again came a wait.

"Same story-- can't get Spotstown, either," said the operator.

"Well, I've got to get somebody, somehow," murmured the oldest Rover boy. "I guess you can get New York City, can't you?" he asked, with a faint smile.

"Of course."

"Then I'll write another message."

Dick knew that when his father was in the habit of going to the metropolis he usually stopped at a large place on Broadway, which I shall call the Outlook Hotel. He accordingly addressed a message to the manager of that hotel, as follows:

"Is Anderson Rover at your hotel? If so, have him telegraph me; otherwise send me word at once."

"Now I guess I'll hear something," thought Dick, as he turned in this telegram and paid for having it transmitted. "Send it Rush, please," he told the operator.

Again there was a wait-- this time of nearly half an hour. At last the instrument commenced to click in the telegraph office, and Dick waited anxiously while the man took the message down.

"Is it for me?" he asked. And the man nodded, as he continued to write.

When the sheet was passed over the operator looked curiously at Dick-- a look that made the youth's heart sink. With a hand that trembled in spite of his efforts to steady it, the oldest Rover boy held up the paper and read this:

"Anderson Rover was at this hotel until yesterday morning. His baggage is here. Bill unpaid. Left no word.

Manager."

"Gone!" murmured Dick, brokenly. "'Left no word,' 'Bill unpaid!' What can it mean?"

"Something unusual, eh?" said the operator, as he took the bankbill the youth handed out to him for the message and gave back the change.

"Very unusual," was the reply. "I don't know what to make of this." Dick thought for a moment. "I suppose I can't get a train home before morning."

"No, the first train for you is the eight-forty-five to-morrow."

"Too bad! I wish there was a train right away."

There was no help for it, and a few minutes later the youth left the depot, and jumping on the motorcycle, started back for Brill College.

As he rode along Dick's thoughts were busy. What had taken his parent to New York and why had he disappeared so mysteriously?

"He certainly must have gone there on business-- the business that has been bothering him so long," he mused. "But would that cause him to disappear? Maybe he had an accident, or was waylaid for his money."

A thousand thoughts surged through poor Dick's brain, but he could reach no definite conclusion regarding his father's disappearance. Yet he was certain of one thing.

"He didn't leave the hotel that way of his own accord," he reasoned. "He would pay his bill and look after his baggage. It's for some outside reason that he didn't return to his hotel and answer Uncle Randolph's telegram."

When Dick arrived at the college he put the motorcycle away and went directly to his room. Sam and Tom were still away, but he heard them returning just as he was on the point of going after them. As they came in, he motioned for them to close and lock the door. Fortunately, they had their rooms to themselves, Songbird, their only roommate, having gone away for the night.

"What did you learn, Dick?" asked both brothers, quickly.

"Not much-- and still a great deal," he answered, and told them how he had tried to send word home and had then called up the hotel in the metropolis.

"What do you make of this?" asked Tom, after he and Sam had read the brief message from the hotel manager.

"Do you think he met with an accident?" questioned Sam.

"I don't know what to think."

"It looks mighty suspicious to me-- the bill unpaid and baggage left behind," murmured Tom. Then of a sudden he drew a sharp breath. "Oh, Dick, do you think----" And then Tom stopped short.

"What, Tom?"

"I-- I hate to say it, but do you think it's possible that dad got-- got a little bit out of his head-- with that business worrying him?"

"It's possible, Tom. Men have been known to get that way from business troubles, and dad was far from well, we all know that."

"He should have taken somebody to New York with him," put in Sam. "But it's no use talking about that now. The question is, What are we going to do? I can't stay here and study when he is missing."

"Not much-- I couldn't study a thing!" cried Tom.

"I know what I am going to do," replied Dick. "I am going to take that early train home, and see Uncle Rudolph. I'll send another message to that hotel manager, too, and then, unless we get word that everything is O. K., I'm going to New York as fast as I can get there."

"And I'll go along!" cried each of the two brothers.

"Yes, that might be best-- for if he is still missing we may have a great task to learn what became of him. We'll have to hunt the hospitals, and the police headquarters, and the-- the----" Dick was going to add "morgue," but he could not bring himself to utter the word. It was too awful to think that their father might be dead.

"We'll have to explain to Doctor Wallington, or Professor Blackie," said Tom.

"And send word to the girls," added Sam.

"I don't want to worry anybody more than I have to," said Dick. "This may turn out all right after all," he added. But he had his doubts. That something unusual had happened to his father he was certain.

The boys spent some little time in packing their suitcases with such things as they deemed necessary for the trip, and then turned out the lights and went to bed. But none of them slept well. All tumbled and tossed on their couches, trying in vain to solve the mystery that surrounded the disappearance of their parent.

They were up an hour earlier than usual, and it was Dick who took the liberty to knock on the door of the head of the institution.

"Who is it?" asked the worthy doctor, and the young collegian told him. A moment later the head of the college appeared, wrapped in a dressing gown.

"I am sorry to disturb you, sir," said Dick. "But something has happened that has upset me and my brothers a great deal." And he briefly related the condition of affairs, and asked leave of absence for himself and Tom and Sam.

"This is certainly alarming," said Doctor Wallington, sympathetically. "I trust your, father is speedily found and that nothing serious has happened to him. Yes, you may go, and remain as long as is necessary. When he is found, let me know."

"Thank you, sir," said Dick, and after a few words more he hurried off. Then he and his brothers got an early breakfast, and had Abner Filbury drive them to the Ashton depot. Only a handful of students saw them depart.

"Wish you success, boys!" cried Stanley after them.

"Yes, indeed," added Spud. "Keep up a stout heart. Maybe it's all right, after all. There may be some mistake somewhere."