Chapter X. A Strange Message from the Sea
 

"Jim Caven!" repeated Dick slowly, "What makes you believe that he is guilty?"

"From what Mr. Dickerson here says," answered Tom, and repeated what the farmer had told him.

"Gracious, that does look black for Caven!" said Dick, when he had finished. He turned to the farmer. "Would you recognize that boy again if you saw him?"

"I allow as how I would. His eyes was wot got me -- never saw sech unsteady ones afore in my life."

"Yes, those eyes put me down on Caven the minute I saw him," answered Tom. "More than half of the boys at the Hall have put him down as a first-class sneak, although we can't exactly tell why."

"See here," said Dick. "I think it would be best if Mr. Dickerson would drive back to the Hall with us and tell Captain Putnam of what he knows."

"And see if he can identify Caven," finished Sam. "Are you willing to do that, Mr. Dickerson?"

"Well, to tell the truth, I've got some business to attend to now," was the slow reply.

"I am sure Captain Putnam will pay you for your trouble," went on Sam. "If he won't, we will."

"You seem mighty anxious to bring this Caven to justice," smiled the farmer.

"We are, for two reasons," said Tom. "The first is, because he isn't the nice sort to have around, and the second is, because one of the men working at the school, a colored waiter, whom we all liked, has been suspected of this crime and had to run away to avoid arrest."

"I see. Well --" The farmer mused for a moment. "All right, I'll go back with ye -- and at once."

The team was turned around as well as the narrow confines of the hilly road permitted, and soon the Rover boys were on their way back to Putnam Hall, a proceeding which pleased Tom in more ways than one, since he would not have now to put up at a strange resort to have his ankle and his wheel cared for. They bowled along at a rapid gait, the horses having more speed in them than their appearance indicated. They were just turning into the road leading to Putnam Hall grounds when Dick espied several cadets approaching, bound for the lake shore.

"Here come Caven, Willets, and several others!" he cried. "Mr. Dickerson, do you recognize any of those boys?"

The farmer gave a searching glance, which lasted until the approaching cadets were beside the wagon. Then he pointed his hand at Jim Caven.

"Thet's the boy I seed over to Auburn, a-pawning thet watch an' them studs," he announced. "He's got his sodger uniform on, but I know him jest the same."

Jim Caven looked at the farmer in astonishment. Then when he heard Seth Dickerson's words he fell back and his face grew deathly white.

"I -- I don't know you," he stammered.

"I seed you over to Auburn, in a pawnshop," repeated Dickerson.

"It -- It isn't true!" gasped Caven. "I was never over to Auburn in my life. Why should I go there to a pawnshop?"

"I guess you know well enough, Caven," said Tom. "You bad better come back to the Hall with us and have a talk with Captain Putnam."

"I won't go with you. This is -- is a -- a plot against me," stammered the slim youth.

"You will go back!" cried Dick, and caught Caven by the arm. But with a jerk the seared boy freed himself and ran down the road at the top of his speed.

Sam and Dick pursued him on their bicycles, while some of the others came after on foot. Seeing this, Jim Caven took to the woods just as Dan Baxter had done, and the boys found it impossible to track him any further.

"I wonder if he'll come back tonight?" said Dick, as the party returned to where they had left Seth Dickerson and Tom.

"I don't think he will," answered Sam. "I declare, he must be almost as bad as the Baxters!"

The farm wagon soon reached the Hall, and Dick ushered Seth Dickerson into Captain Putnam's office. The captain looked surprised at the unexpected visitor, but listened with deep concern to all the farmer and the Rover boys had to say.

"This certainly looks black for Caven," he said at last. "I did not think I had such a bad boy here. And you say he got away from you?"

"Yes, sir."

"It is a question if he will come back -- providing he is really guilty. I will have his trunk and bag searched without delay. But if he is guilty how did that ruby stud and the watch come into Alexander Pop's possession?"

"He was down on Aleck," replied Tom, who had hobbled in after the others. "And, besides, he thought if Aleck was arrested the search for the criminal would go no further."

"Perhaps you are right, Thomas. It is a sad state of affairs at the best."

The party ascended to the dormitory which Jim Caven occupied with several smaller boy. His trunk was found locked, but Captain Putnam took upon himself the responsibility of hunting up a key to fit the box. Once open the trunk was found to contain, among other things, a bit of heavy cloth tied with a piece of strong cord.

"Here we are, sure enough!" cried the captain, as he undid the package and brought to light several of the missing watches and also some of the jewelry. "I guess it is a clear case against Caven, and Pop is innocent."

"I wish we could tell Pop of it," put in Dick.

"He must feel awfully bad."

"I will do what I can for the negro, Rover. I am very sorry indeed, now, that I suspected him," said Captain Putnam, with a slow shake of his head.

At the bottom of the trunk was a pocketbook containing nearly all of the money which had been stolen. A footing-up revealed the fact that two watches and three gold shirt studs were still missing.

"And those were pawned in Auburn," said Sam. "Just wait and see if I am not right."

A party was organized to hunt for Caven, and the captain himself went to Auburn that very evening. The hunt for the missing boy proved unsuccessful, and it may be added here that he never turned up at Putnam Hall again nor at his home in Middletown, having run away to the West.

When Captain Putnam came back he announced that he had recovered all but one watch. The various goods and the money were distributed among their rightful owners, and it must be confessed that a big sigh of relief went up from the cadets who had suffered. The single missing timepiece was made good to the boy who had lost it, by the captain buying a similar watch for the youth.

After this several weeks passed without anything of special interest occurring outside of a stirring baseball match with a club from Ithaca, which Putnam Hall won by a score of six to three. In this game Dick made a much-needed home run, thus covering himself with glory.

"The Rovers are out of sight!" was Larry's comment. "Whatever they do they do well."

"And they hang together like links of a chain," added Fred. "The friend of one is the friend of all, and the same can be said of an enemy."

One morning a telegraph messenger from Cedarville was seen approaching the Hall, just as the boys were forming for the roll-call.

"Here's a telegram for somebody," said Sam.

"I hope it's not bad news."

"A message for Richard Rover," announced George Strong, after receiving it, and handed over the yellow envelope.

Wondering what the message could contain and who had sent it, Dick tore open the envelope and read the brief communication. As his eyes met the words his head seemed to swim around, so bewildered was he by what was written there.

"What is it, Dick?" came from Tom and Sam.

"It's from Uncle Randolph. He wants us to come home at once. He says -- but read it for yourselves," and the elder Rover handed over the message, which ran as follows:

"Have just received a strange message from the sea, supposed to be written by your father. Come home at once.
RANDOLPH ROVER."

"My gracious! News from father!" gasped Tom.

"Is he really alive?" burst out Sam. "Oh, I pray Heaven the news is true!"

"A strange message from the sea," repeated Dick. "I wonder what he can mean?"

"Perhaps it's a message that was picked up by some steamer," suggested Sam. "Anyway, uncle wants us to come home at once."

"He doesn't say all of us. The message is addressed to me."

"But of course he wanted all of us to come," put in Tom. "Anyway, four horses couldn't hold me back!" he continued determinedly.

"Nor me," chimed in Sam. He drew a long breath. "If we hurry up we can catch the noon boat at Cedarville for Ithaca."

"Yes, and the evening train for Oak Run," finished Tom. "Hurry up, Dick!"

Dick was willing. To tell the truth, that message had fired him as he had never been fired before. He burst into the captain's office pell-mell, with Tom and Sam on his heels, to explain the situation. Ten minutes later -- and even this time seemed an age to the brothers -- they were hurrying into their ordinary clothing and packing, their satchels, while Peleg Snuggers was hitching up to take them to the landing at Cedarville.

"Good-by to you, and good luck!" shouted Frank, as they clambered into the wagon, and many other cadets set up a shout. Then the wagon rattled off. The Rover boys had turned their backs on dear old Putnam Hall for a long while to come.