Chapter XI. At the Farm
 

"Oak Run! All out for Oak Run!"

It was the familiar cry of the brakeman of the train, as the cars rolled into the little station at which the Rover boys were to alight. The ride from Ashton had been without incident. They had had to make two changes, and had fretted not a little over a delay of half an hour at one junction point.

"There's old Ricks!" cried Sam, motioning to the station master, who was looking after some baggage. "Remember the fun we had with him on our last trip here, Tom?"

"Indeed, yes," was the reply, and the fun-loving Rover grinned a little.

"No time for fun now," put in Dick, quickly. "We want to get home just as soon as possible."

From one of the telegraph offices along the line the boys had sent word ahead, and at the station they found Jack Ness, the hired man, who had brought the family touring car.

"Glad to see you back," said the hired man, touching his cap.

"Any news, Jack?" asked the three, in one voice.

"You mean from your father?"

"Yes."

"No," and Jack Ness shook his head slowly "Not a line for several days. Your aunt an' uncle are worried 'most to death."

The boys leaped into the touring car, Dick taking the wheel and Sam getting in beside him. Tom and the hired man occupied the tonneau, with the baggage. Away they went, in a cloud of dust, over the frail bridge that spanned the river and through the village of Dexter's Corners. Then they struck the country road leading to Valley Brook farm, their home. Dick increased the speed to thirty miles an hour-- all the car would stand on such a highway.

"Say, we'll have an accident!" cried Jack Ness, in alarm. "It ain't safe to run so fast, nohow!"

"Sit still, Jack; Dick knows what he is doing," commanded Tom. "We want to get home just as soon as we can."

"Well, I don't blame ye fer wantin' to git home,-- but I don't want to git kilt!" murmured the man of all work.

Farm after farm was passed and also a patch of timber land. Then they swept around a turn and came in sight of Valley Brook, with its broad fields and its gurgling brook flowing down to Swift River.

"There's Aleck!" shouted Sam, pointing to a colored man who was standing at the entrance to a lane. He waved his hand and Alexander Pop, one of the servants, and a man who had made many trips with the Rovers, took off his hat and waved in return.

As he swung up to the broad piazza of the house, Dick honked the automobile horn. At once the door flew open and Mrs. Rover ran out, followed by her husband.

"Oh, boys! I am so glad to see you!" cried Mrs. Rover.

"How are you, Aunt Martha!" returned Sam, leaping out and kissing her, an example speedily followed by his brothers.

"Very glad you came," said Randolph Rover, a tall, thin, and studious-looking man, wearing big spectacles. He shook hands all around. "Come right into the house."

"You haven't any word from dad?" questioned Sam.

"Nothing, boys-- and I do not know what to make of it."

"It is a fearful state of affairs," burst out Mrs. Rover, and tears stood in her motherly eyes. "We cannot imagine what has happened to your father."

"I sent another telegram to that hotel," said Dick. "I asked the manager to send his reply here."

It was a rather sad home-coming, and even Tom felt much depressed in spirits. All filed into the house and to the sitting-room, leaving Jack Ness and Aleck Pop to look after the automobile and the baggage.

"We ought to get a message from New York soon," remarked Dick, after his uncle had related the little he had to tell about how Anderson Rover had gone away on the trip to the metropolis. Evidently Randolph Rover knew little about the business that had taken his brother to the city. He was no business man himself-- being wrapped up in what he called scientific farming-- and probably the boys' father had not thought it worth while to take him into his confidence.

Dinner was on the table, and the boys went to the dining-room to eat. But nobody had any appetite, and the fine repast prepared by the cook under Mrs. Rover's directions, was much of a failure. Once the telephone rang and the boys rushed to it. But the call was only a local one, of little consequence.

"I think the best thing I can do will be to go over dad's private papers," said Dick, presently. "They may give me a clew of where to look for him in New York."

"That's the talk!" cried Tom. "Come on, let's get busy." He hated to sit still at any time, and just at present inactivity was doubly irksome.

During the past year a room had been added to the house and this was used as a library and sort of office combined, being provided with a substantial safe and two roller-top desks. One of the desks was used exclusively by Anderson Rover for his private letters and papers. When sick the man had given Dick the extra key to the desk, telling him to keep it. The father trusted his three sons implicitly, only keeping to himself such business affairs as he thought would not interest them.

The boys sat down and, led by Dick, began a careful inspection of the many letters and documents which the roller-top desk contained. A large number of the papers and letters they knew had no bearing on the affair now in hand. But presently Dick took up some letters of recent date and scanned them with interest.

"I guess this is what we are after!" he cried.

"I was afraid it might be that."

"What is it?" asked his brothers.

"That old irrigation scheme-- the one run by Pelter, Japson & Company, of Wall Street, New York."

"Why, I thought dad had dropped that," said Sam, in surprise.

"He tried to. But they held him to some agreement-- I don't know exactly what. They wanted to get more money out of him-- if they could."

"And you think he went to New York on that account, Dick?" asked Tom.

"It looks so to me."

"But that doesn't account for his disappearance."

"Perhaps it does."

"What do you mean?"

"Those fellows may be holding him a prisoner, or they may even have put him out of the way altogether-- although I doubt if they are as bad as all that."

"Some men would do anything for money," grumbled Sam. "But what good would it do to hold him a prisoner?"

"They may want to force him to sign some papers, or give up some papers he is holding, Sam. One thing is certain, they were very anxious to see him-- these letters show that."

"Hadn't we better telegraph to them and see what they have to say?" suggested Tom.

"Perhaps, Tom-- but, somehow, I don't think that would be a wise move to make. Father did not trust them. He said they were sharpers. If we sent them any word it might put them more on guard than they would otherwise be. I think the best thing to do is to go to New York and interview them personally-- if we don't get word from dad before we leave."

"I think----" commenced Tom, and just then the telephone bell rang and all rushed to it. Dick took up the receiver.

"Is this the Rovers' house?" asked a voice over the wire.

"Yes."

"I have a telegraph message for Richard Rover."

"All right, Mr. Barnes," answered Dick. "What is it?" He had recognized the voice of the telegraph operator at Oak Run.

"Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Rover?" returned the operator. "This is from New York City, and is signed, 'Thomas A. Garley.'"

"Yes, yes! Read the message!" cried Dick, and all three boys listened closely while Dick held the receiver.

"He says: 'No news of Anderson Rover. Better come on and investigate.'"

"Is that all?"

"Yes." And the operator repeated the message. "I'll mail the sheet to you," he added.

"All right, much obliged." Dick turned to his brothers. "Shall I send word back that we are coming?" he questioned.

"Yes."

"Take this message down, Mr. Barnes," went on Dick, and dictated what he wished to say. "I'll settle next time I see you," he added, and hung up the receiver.

The uncle and the aunt of the boys wished to know the news, if such it can be called, and the lads told them. At once Mrs. Rover burst into tears.

"I am sure something has befallen Anderson!" she sobbed. "Oh, what shall we do, Randolph?"

"I-- I think I had better go to New York and-- er-- make some-- er-- inquiries," answered her husband, somewhat helplessly, for a visit to the teeming metropolis always appalled him.

"No, you stay here, and wait for some word, Uncle Randolph," said Dick. "Sam and Tom and I are going to New York."

"Oh, boys!" cried Mrs. Rover. "Going alone?"

"Why not, Aunt Martha?" asked Sam. "We are not afraid."

"I know that. But this is-- er-- no ordinary trip. You may get into trouble, and----"

"If we do, we'll get out of it again," put in Tom, grimly.

"Oh, if only we knew what had become of your dear father!" and the lady's eyes filled again with tears, while Uncle Randolph looked deeply sympathetic.

"I think we had better start at once," went on Dick. "We can get the five-thirty train down."

"What, to-night!" exclaimed the aunt. "Why, that will get you to New York at midnight!"

"Just about," said Tom.

"You had better start in the morning. What will you do at midnight in a big city like New York!"

"We'll go direct to the Outlook Hotel," answered Dick. "And then, if we can't find out anything about father, we can go down to the offices of Pelter, Japson & Company in the morning."

"And if you don't find out anything there?" asked Randolph Rover, timidly.

"Then we'll go to the police, and maybe get a detective or two on the case," returned Dick. "And we'll have to look up the hospitals-- in case he met with an accident. But I don't think he has met with any accident," he continued hastily, for he saw how alarmed his aunt was becoming. "For if he had an accident, the authorities would find out, from the things in his pockets, who he was, and notify us, or the hotel."

Mrs. Rover heaved a deep sigh, and her husband shook his head slowly. Dick closed the desk again and locked it, and then the three boys hurried to their rooms, to prepare for the trip to the metropolis.

"Say, I dun heah dat you am gwine to New York," came a voice from the entrance to Dick's bedroom, and looking up from the suitcase he was packing, the oldest Rover boy saw Aleck Pop standing there, an anxious look on his ebony face.

"Yes, Aleck, we are going to take the five-thirty train. You can tell Jack to get the car ready."

"Want me to go along?" asked the colored man, wistfully.

"No, Aleck, not this trip. You stay here and do what you can for my aunt and uncle."

"Yo' father am missing, ain't he?"

"Yes."

"It's too bad. Hope you find him, Dick, I do, indeed! I'll tell Jack about dat auto." And Aleck Pop went off, shaking his head in sorrow. He loved all of the Rovers, and their troubles were his own.