Chapter I. Unpleasant News

"Back to Putnam Hall again, boys! Hurrah!"

"Yes, back again, Tom, and glad of it," returned Dick Rover. "I can tell you, the academy is getting to be a regular second home."

"Right you are, Dick," came from Sam Rover, the youngest of the three brothers. "I'd rather be here than up to the farm, even if Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha are kind and considerate. The farm is so slow -"

"While here we have our full share of adventures and more," finished Tom. "I wonder what will happen to us this term? The other terms kept us mighty busy, didn't they?"

"I'm not looking for any more outside adventures," said Dick, with a serious shake of his head. "Our enemies have been disposed of, and I don't want, to hear of or see them again."

"Nor I -- but we'll hear of them, nevertheless, mark my words. The Baxters won't leave us rest. They are a hard crowd, and Buddy Girk is just as bad," finished Tom.

It was the opening of the spring term at Putnam Hall Military Academy, and the three Rover boys had just come up from Cedarville in the carryall, driven by Peleg Snuggers, the general-utility man of the place. Their old chums, Frank Harrington, Fred Garrison, Larry Colby, and a number of others, had already arrived, so the boys did not lack for company. As they entered the spacious building genial Captain Putnam greeted each with a hearty handshake, and a pleasant word also came to them from George Strong, the head assistant.

For the benefit of those who have not read the other books of this series, entitled "The Rover Boys at School" and "The Rover Boys on the Ocean," I would state that the Rover boys were three in number, Dick being the oldest, Tom next, and Sam the youngest, as already mentioned. Whether the boys were orphans or not was a question which could not be answered. Upon the death of their mother, their father, a rich mine owner and geological expert, had left the boys in the care of his brother, Randolph Rover, an eccentric gentleman who devoted his entire time to scientific farming. Mr. Anderson Rover had then journeyed to the western coast of Africa, hoping to locate some valuable gold mines in the heart of the Dark Continent. He had plunged into the interior with a number of natives, and that was the last heard of him, although Mr. Randolph Rover had made diligent inquiries concerning his whereabouts.

All of the boys were bright, fun-loving fellows, and to keep them out of mischief Randolph Rover had sent them off to Putnam Hall, a first class school, located some distance from Cedarville, a pretty town on Lake Cayuga, in New York State. Here the lads had made numerous friends and incidentally a number of enemies.

Of the friends several have already been named, and others will come to the front as our story proceeds. Of the enemies the principal ones were Arnold Baxter, a man who had tried, years before, to defraud the boys' father out of a gold mine in the West, and his son Dan, who had once been the bully of Putnam Hall. Arnold Baxter's tool was a good-for-nothing scamp named Buddy Girk, who had once robbed Dick of his watch. Both of these men were now in jail charged with an important robbery in Albany, and the Rover boys had aided in bringing the men to justice. Dan, the bully, was also under arrest, charged with the abduction of Dom Stanhope. Dom, who was Dick Rover's dearest friend, had been carried off by the directions of Josiah Crabtree, a former teacher of Putnam Hall, who wished to marry Mrs. Stanhope and thus get his hands on the money the widow held in trust for her daughter, but the abduction had been nipped in the bud and Josiah Crabtree had fled, leaving Dan Baxter to shoulder the blame of the transaction. How Dora was restored to her mother and what happened afterward, old readers already know.

A winter had passed since the events narrated above, and before and after the holidays the Rover boys had studied diligently, to make up for the time lost on that never-to-be-forgotten ocean chase. Their efforts had not been in vain, and each lad had been promoted to the next higher class, much to Randolph Rover's satisfaction and the joy of their tender-hearted Aunt Martha.

"The boys are all right, even if they do love to play pranks," was Randolph Rover's comment, when he heard of the promotions. "I trust they improve their time during the term to come."

"They are good boys, Randolph," returned Mr. Rover. "They would not be real boys if they did not cut up once in a while. As to their daring -- why, they simply take after their father. Poor man. If only we knew, what had become of him."

"Yes, a great weight would be lifted from our shoulders, Martha, if we knew that. But we do not know, and there seems to be no way of finding out. I have written to the authorities at various places in Africa until I know not whom to address next."

"He must be dead, otherwise he would write or come home, Randolph. He was not one to keep us in the dark so long."

"I cannot believe my brother dead, and the boys will not believe it either. Do you know what Dick said to me before he left for school? He said, that if we didn't get word he was going to Africa some day to hunt his father up."

"To Africa! What will that boy do in such a jungle, and among such fierce natives? He will be killed!"

"Perhaps not. The boy is uncommonly shrewd, when it comes to dealing with his enemies. Just look how nicely he and Tom and Sam served Arnold Baxter and those others. It was wonderful doings -- for, boys."

"Yes, but they may not be so successful always, Randolph. I should hate to see them run into any more, danger."

"So should I, my dear. But they will take care of themselves, I feel that more and more every day," concluded Randolph Rover; and there, for the time being, the subject was dropped.

"I wonder what has become of old Josiah Crabtree?" remarked Dick Rover, as he and his brothers walked around the parade ground to inspect several improvement which Captain Putnam had caused to be made.

"I'm sure I can't guess," answered Tom.

"Like as not he became scared to death. I suppose you'll be satisfied if he keeps away from Dora and her mother in the future?"

"Yes; I never want to set eyes on him again, Tom. He worried the widow half to death with his strange ways."

"I wonder how the Baxters feel to be locked up?" put in Sam. "I know Arnold Baxter is used to it, but it's a new experience for Dan."

"Dan is as bad as his father," broke in Larry Colby, who had joined the brothers. "I was glad to hear that Mumps had turned over a new leaf and cut the bully dead."

"Oh, so were all of us!" said Tom. "By the way, do you know where Mumps is now? In the mining business, out West, acting as some sort of a clerk."

"A spell in the West will take the nonsense out of him," came from Dick. "It was a great pity he ever got under Dan Baxter's influence I wonder how Arnold Baxter is getting along? He was quite severely wounded, you know, during that tussle on the yachts."

"He's about over that, so Frank Harrington says," replied Larry. "I'll wager he is mighty bitter against you fellows for having put him where he is."

"It was his own, fault, Larry. If a person is going to do wrong he must take the consequences. Mr. Baxter might today be a fairly well-to-do mine owner of the West and Dan might be a leading cadet here. But instead they both threw themselves away -- and now they must take what comes."

"My father used to say it took all kind of people to make a world," went on Larry. "But I reckon we could do without the Baxter and the Buddy Girk kind."

"And the Josiah Crabtree kind," added Sam. "Don't forget that miserable sneak."

"Perhaps Crabtree has reformed, like Mumps."

"It wasn't in him to reform, Larry," came from Tom. "Oh, how I detested him, with his slick, oily tongue! I wish they had caught him and placed him where he deserved to be, with the Baxters."

"Yes, and then we could -" began Sam, when he stopped. "Hullo, Frank, what are, you running so fast about?" he cried.

"Just got a letter from my father!" burst out Frank Harrington, as he came up out of breath. "I knew you would want to hear the news. Dan Baxter has escaped from jail and the authorities don't know where to look for him."