Chapter XXIV. Josiah Crabtree Makes a Move
 

As quick as a flash of lightning Dick saw through Josiah Crabtree's scheme for, letting matters Of the past drop. The former teacher of Putnam Hall was afraid the youth would hunt up the college students from Yale and expose him to them.

As a matter of fact, Crabtree was already "on the outs" with two of the students, and he was afraid that if the truth regarding his character became known his present position would be lost to him and he would be cast off to shift for himself.

"You don't want me to speak to the students under your charge?" said Dick slowly.

"Oh, of course you can speak to them, if you wish. But I - ahem - - I would not care to -- er - er --"

"To let them know what a rascal you are," finished Dick. "Crabtree, let me tell you once for all, that you can expect no friendship, from me. You are not worthy of it. When I meet those students I will tell them whatever I see fit."

At these words Josiah Crabtree grew as white as a sheet. Then, setting his teeth, he suddenly recovered. "Are those your friends?" he demanded, pointing up the lake shore.

As was perfectly natural, Dick turned to gaze in the direction. As be did so, Crabtree swung a stick that be carried into the air and brought it down with all force on the youth's head. Dick felt a terrific pain, saw a million or more dancing lights flash through his brain-and then be knew no more.

"I guess I've fixed him," muttered the former teacher of Putnam Hall grimly. He knelt beside the fallen boy and felt of his heart. "Not dead, but pretty well knocked out. Now what had I best do with him?"

He thought for a moment, then remembered a deep hollow which he had encountered but a short while before. Gazing around, to make certain that nobody was watching him, he picked up the unconscious lad and stalked off with the form, back into the jungle and up a small hill.

At the top there was a split between the rocks and dirt, and into this he dropped poor Dick, a distance of twenty or more feet. Then he threw down some loose leaves and dead tree branches.

"Now I reckon I am getting square with those Rovers," he muttered, as he hurried away.

The others of the Rover party wondered why Dick did not join them when they gathered around the camp-fire that night.

"He must be done fishing by this time," said Tom. "I wonder if anything has happened to him?"

"Let us take a walk up de lake an' see," put in Aleck, and the pair started off without delay.

They soon found the spot where Dick had been fishing. His rod and line lay on the bank, just as he had dropped it upon Josiah Crabtree's approach.

"Dick! Dick! Where are you?" called out Tom.

No answer came back at first. Then, to Tom's astonishment, a strange voice answered from the woods: "Here I am! Where are you?"

"Dat aint Dick," muttered Aleck. "Dat's sumbuddy else, Massah Tom."

"So it is," replied Tom, and presently saw a tall and well-built young man struggling forth from the tall grass of the jungle.

"Hullo, what are you?" demanded the newcomer, as he stalked toward them.

"I guess I can ask the same question," laughed Tom. "Are you the Dick who just answered me?"

"I am Dick Chester. And who are you?"

"Tom Rover. I am looking for my brother Dick, who was fishing here a while ago. Are you one of that party of college students we have heard about?"

"Yes, I'm a college student from Yale. May I ask where you come from?"

In a brief manner Tom told Dick Chester. "We can't imagine what has become of my brother Dick," he went on.

"Perhaps a lion ate him up," answered the Yale student. "No, you needn't smile. We saw a lion only yesterday. It nearly scared Mr. Crabtree into a fit."

"Mr. Crabtree!" burst Torn. "Josiah Crabtree?"

"The same. Do you know him?"

"Indeed I do -- to my sorrow. He used to be a teacher at the academy I and my brothers attend. But he was discharged. He's a regular rascal."

"You are sure of that?" queried Dick Chester. "I have thought so all along, but the others, would hardly believe it."

"I am telling the truth, and can prove all I say. But just now I am anxious about my brother. You say you saw a lion?"

"Yes. He was across the lake; but Mr. Crabtree was scared to death and ran away. Frank Rand and I took shots at the beast, but I can't say if we hit him."

"It would be too bad if Dick dunh fell into dat lion's clutches," put in Aleck. "I reckon de lion would chaw him up in no time."

"Go back and call Cujo," said Tom. "He may be able to track my brother's footsteps."

At once Aleck loped off. While he was gone Tom told Dick Chester much concerning himself, and the college student related several facts in connection with the party to which he belonged.

"There are six of us students," he said. "We were going to have a professor from Yale with us, but he got sick at the last moment and we hired Josiah Crabtree. I wish we hadn't done it now, for he has proved more of a hindrance than a help, and his real knowledge of fauna and flora could be put in a peanut shell, with room to spare."

"He's a big brag," answered Tom. "Take my advice and never trust him too far - or you may be sorry for it."

Presently Aleck came back, with Cujo following. The brawny African began at once to examine the footprints along the lake shore.

"Him been here," he said. "Him came up dis way. But him no walk away."

"Didn't walk away!" ejaculated Tom.

"No. Udder footprints walk away, but not um Massah Dick."

"I don't understand, Cujo. Do you think he -- fell into the lake?"

"Perhaps, Massah Tom - or maybe he get into boat."

Tom shook his head. "I don't know of any boats around here -- do you?" he asked of Dick Chester.

"No," returned the young man from Yale. "But the natives living in the vicinity may have them."

"Perhaps a native dun carry him off," said Aleck. "He must be sumwhar, dat am certain."

"Yes, he must be somewhere," repeated Tom sadly.

By this time Sam and Randolph Rover were coming up, and also one of Dick Chester's friends. The college students were introduced to the others by Tom, and then a general hunt began for Dick, which lasted until the shades of night had fallen. But poor Dick was not found, and all wondered greatly what had, become of him.

Tom and the others retired at ten o'clock. But not to sleep, for with Dick missing none of the Rovers could close an eye. "We must find him in the morning," said Sam. "We simply must!" And the others agreed with him.