Chapter IX. The Rover Boys on Wheels
 

"Say, fellows, but this is the greatest sport yet!"

"I feel like flying, Tom," said Dick Rover. "I never thought wheeling was so grand."

"Nor I," came from Sam Rover. "Where shall we go this afternoon?"

It was several weeks later, and the scholars were having a half-holiday. Just six days before, Randolph Rover had surprised his three nephews by sending each a handsome bicycle, and it had taken them hardly any time to learn how to handle the machines.

"Let us take a ride over to Chardale," said Dick. "I understand that the roads are very good in that direction."

"All right, I'm willing," answered Sam, and Tom said the same. Soon the three brothers were on the way, Dick leading and Tom and Sam coming behind, side by side.

It was an ideal day for cycling, cool and clear, and the road they had elected to take was inviting to the last degree, with its broad curves, its beautiful trees, and the mountainous views far to the north and west.

"It's a wonder we didn't get wheels before," observed Dick. "This beats skating or riding a to bits."

"Just you look out that you don't take a header!" warned Tom. "This road is all right, but a loose stone might do a pile of damage."

"I've got my eye on the road," answered his big brother. "For the matter of that, we'll all have to keep our eyes open."

To reach Chardale they had to cross several bridges and then descend a long hill, at the foot of which ran the railroad to several towns north and south.

"Come on!" cried Tom, and spurted ahead. With a laugh, Sam tried to catch up to him, but could not. "Now for a coast!" went on the fun-loving Rover, as the hill was gained, and on he started, his wheel flying faster and faster as yard after yard was covered.

"My gracious, Tom! look out or you'll be smashed up!" yelled Dick. "Put on your brake!"

"Can't," came back the answer. "I took it off entirely this morning."

This reply had scarcely reached Dick's ears when another sound came to him which disturbed him greatly.

Far away he heard the whistle of a locomotive as it came around the bottom of the hill. Looking in the direction, he saw the puff of smoke over the treetops.

He tried to cry out, but now the road was rather rough, and he had to pay strict attention 'to where he was riding.

"Tom's going to get into trouble," gasped Sam, as he ranged up alongside of his elder brother. "The road crosses the railroad tracks just below here."

"I know it, Sam. I wish we could make him come back."

As Dick finished he saw a chance to stop and at once dismounted. Then he yelled at the top of his lungs:

"Tom, stop! Stop, or you'll run into the railroad train!"

Sam also came to a halt and set up a shout. But Tom was now speeding along like the wind and did not hear them.

Nearer and nearer he shot to the railroad tracks. Then the whistle of the locomotive broke upon his ears and he turned pale.

"I don't want to run into that train," he muttered, and tried to bring his bicycle to a halt.

But the movement did not avail without a brake, and so he was compelled to seek for some side path into which he might guide his machine.

But, alas! the road was hemmed in with a heavy woods on one side and a field of rocks on the other. A sudden stop, therefore, would mean a bad spill, and Tom had no desire to break his bones by any such proceeding.

Nearer and nearer he drew to the railroad crossing. He could now hear the puffing of the engine quite plainly and caught a glimpse of the long train over the rocks to his left. On he bounded until the crossing itself came into view. He was less than a hundred yards from it -- and the oncoming engine was about the same distance away!

There are some moments in one's life that seem hours, and the present fraction of time was of that sort to poor Tom. He had a vision of a terrific smash-up, and of Dick and Sam picking up his lifeless remains from the railroad tracks. "I'm a goner!" he muttered, and then, just before the tracks were reached, he made one wild, desperate leap in the direction of a number of bushes skirting the woods. He turned over and over, hit hard -- and for several seconds knew no more.

When Dick and Sam came up they found Tom sitting in the very midst of the bushes. The bicycle lay among the rocks with the handle- bars and the spokes of the front wheel badly twisted.

"Are you much hurt, Tom?" asked his big brother sympathetically, yet glad to learn that Tom had not been ground to death under the train, which had now passed the crossing.

"I don't know if I'm hurt or not," was the 'slow answer, as Tom held his handkerchief to his nose, which was bleeding.

"I tried to plow up these bushes with my head, that's all. I guess my ankle is sprained, too."

"You can't ride that wheel any further," announced Sam.

"I don't want to ride. I've had enough, for a few days at least."

It was a good quarter of an hour before Tom felt like standing up. Then he found his ankle pained him so much that walking was out of the question.

"I'm sure I don't know what I am going to do," he said ruefully. "I can't walk and I can't ride, and I don't know as I can stay here."

"Perhaps Dick and I can carry you to Hopeton," said Sam, mentioning a, small town just beyond the railroad tracks.

"It will be a big job. If you -- Here comes a wagon. Perhaps the driver of that will give me a lift."

As Tom finished a large farm wagon rattled into sight, drawn by a pair of bony horses and driven by a tall, lank farmer.

"Hullo, wot's the matter?" asked the farmer, as he drew rein. "Had a breakdown?"

"No, I've had a smash-up," answered Tom.

"My brother's ankle is sprained, and we would like to know if you can give him a lift to the next town," put in Dick. "We'll pay you for your trouble."

"That's all right -- Seth Dickerson is allers ready to aid a fellow-bein' in distress," answered the farmer. "Can ye git in the wagon alone?"

Tom could not, and the farmer and Dick carried him forward and placed him on the seat. Then the damaged bicycle was placed in the rear of the turnout, and Seth Dickerson drove off, while Sam and Dick followed on their steeds of steel.

"I see you air dressed in cadet uniforms," remarked the farmer, as the party proceeded on its way. "Be you fellers from Pornell school?"

"No; we come from Putnam Hall," answered Tom.

"Oh, yes - 'bout the same thing, I take it. How is matters up to the school -- larnin' a heap?"

"We are trying to learn all we have to."

"Had some trouble up thar, didn't ye? My wife's brother was a-tellin' me about it. A darkey stole some money an' watches, an' that like."

"They think he stole them," said Tom.

"We can hardly believe it."

"Why don't Captain Putnam hunt around them air pawnshops fer the watches?" went on Seth Dickerson, after a pause.

"The thief would most likely pawn 'em, to my way of thinkin'."

"He hasn't much of a chance to do that. But I presume the police will keep their eyes open."

"I was over to Auburn yesterday -- had to go to see about a mortgage on our farm -- and I stopped into one of them pawnbrokin' shops to buy a shot-gun, if I could git one cheap. While I was in there a big boy came in and pawned a gold watch an' two shirt studs."

"Is that so," returned Tom, with much interest. "What kind of a looking boy was it?"

"A tall, slim feller, with reddish hair. He had sech shifty eyes I couldn't help but think that maybe he had stolen them things jest to raise some spending money."

"Did he give his name?"

"He said Jack Smith, but I don't think thet vas correct, for he hesitated afore he gave it."

"A tall, slim fellow, with reddish hair and shifty eyes," mused Tom. "Do you remember how he was dressed?"

"He had on a rough suit of brownish-green and a derby hat with a hole knocked in one side."

"My gracious me!" burst out the boy. "Can it be possible!"

"Can wot be possible, lad?"

"That description fits one of our students exactly." Tom called to Dick and Sam. "Come up here, both of you!"

"What's up, Tom; do you feel worse?" asked Dick, as he wheeled as closely to the seat of the wagon as possible.

"No, I feel better. But I've made a big discovery -- at least, I feel pretty certain that I have?"

"What discovery?" questioned Sam.

"I've discovered who stole that money and other stuff."

"And who was it?" came quickly from both brothers.

"Jim Caven."