Chapter IV. The Chase on the Lake
 

"He means to give us as much of a chase as possible," remarked Tom, as he glanced over his shoulder. "If I remember rightly, Baxter was always a pretty fair oarsman."

"Yes, that was the one thing he could do well," returned Dick. "But we ought to be able to catch him, Tom."

"We could if we had two pairs of oars. One pair can do just about so much and no more."

"Nonsense! Now, both together, and put all your muscle into it," and Dick set a stiff stroke that his brother followed with difficulty.

Baxter had been rowing down the lake, but as soon as he saw that he was being pursued he changed his course for the east shore. He was settled to his work, and for several minutes it was hard to tell whether he was holding his own or losing.

"Hurrah! we are catching up!" cried Dick, after pulling for five minutes. "Keep at it, Tom, and we'll have him before he is half over."

"Gosh, but it's hot work!" came with a pant from Tom Rover. "He must be almost exhausted to row like that."

"He knows what he has at stake. He sees the prison cell staring him in the face again. You'd do your best, too, if you were in his place."

"I'm doing my best now, Dick. On we go!" and Tom renewed his exertions. Dick set a faster stroke than ever, having caught his second wind, and the rowboat flew over the calm surface of the lake like a thing of life.

"Keep off!" The cry came from Baxter, while he was still a hundred yards from the eastern shore. "Keep off, or it will be the worse for you!"

"We are not afraid of you, Baxter, and you ought to know it by this time," answered Dick. "You may as well give in now as later on."

"Give in! You must be crazy!"

"We are two to one, and you know what we have been able to do in the past."

"Humph! I don't intend to go to jug again, and that is all there is to it."

"Maybe you can't help yourself."

"We'll see about that. Are you - going to keep off or not?

"Don't ask foolish a question."

"You won't keep off?"

"No."

"If you don't I -- I'll shoot you."

As Dan Baxter spoke he stopped rowing and brought from a hip pocket a highly polished nickel-plated revolver.

"Do you see this?" he demanded, as he pointed the weapon toward the Rover boys.

Both Dick and Tom were taken aback at the sight of the weapon. But they had seen such arms before, and had faced them, consequently they were not as greatly alarmed as they right otherwise have been. They knew, too, that Dan Baxter was a notoriously bad shot.

"Put that up, Baxter," said Dick calmly. "It may only get you into deeper trouble."

"I don't care!" said the bully recklessly. "I'm not going back to jail and that is all there, is to it!"

"You won't dare to shoot at us, and you know it," put in Tom, as the two boats drifted closer together.

"I will, and don't you fool yourself on it."

"Drop those oars or I'll fire, as sure as my name is Dan Baxter," and the revolver, which had been partly lowered, was raised a second time.

It must be confessed that Dick and Tom were much disconcerted. The two rowboats were now less than fifty feet apart, and any kind of a shot from the weapon was likely to prove more or less dangerous. Baxter's eyes gleamed with the hatred of an angry snake ready to strike.

"You think you are smart, you Rover boys," said the bully, after an awkward pause all around. "You think you did a big thing in rescuing Dom Stanhope and in putting me and my father and Buddy Girk in prison. But let me tell you that this game hasn't come to an end yet, and some day we intend to square accounts."

"There is no use in wasting breath in this fashion, Baxter," returned Dick, as calmly as he could. "We are two to one, and the best thing to do is for you to submit. If you fire on us, we may do a little shooting on our own account."

"Humph! Do you imagine you can scare me in that fashion? You haven't any pistol, and I know it. If you had you would have drawn the weapon long ago."

At this Dick bit his lip. "Don't be too sure," he said steadily, as the boats drifted still closer together. "The minute I heard you had escaped from jail I went and bought a pistol in Cedarville." This was the strict truth, but Dick did not add that the weapon lay at that moment safe in the bottom of his trunk at the Hall.

"Got afraid I'd come around, eh?"

"I knew there was nothing like becoming prepared. Now will you -"

Dick did not have time to finish, for, lowering the front end of the pistol, Dan Baxter pulled the trigger twice and two reports rang out in quick succession. One bullet buried itself in the seat beside Tom, while the second plowed its way through the bottom, near the stern.

"You villain!" cried Dick, and in his excitement hurled his oar at Dan Baxter, hitting the fellow across the fact with such force that the bully's nose began to bleed. The shock made Baxter lose his hold on the pistol and it went over the side of his craft and sank immediately to the bottom of the lake.

"My, but that was a close shave!" muttered Tom, as he gazed at the hole through the seat. "A little closer and I would have got it in the stomach."

A yell now came from Sam, and a shriek from the girls, all of whom had heard the pistol shots. They were too far away to see the result of the shooting and feared both Tom and Dick had been killed or wounded.

As quickly as he could recover from the blow of the oar, Dan Baxter picked up his own blades, and without paying attention to the blood which was flowing from his nose, began once again to pull for the shore.

"Come on, his pistol is gone!" shouted Dick, and then his face fell. "Confound it, I've thrown away my oar! There it goes!" And he pointed some distance to their left.

"That isn't the worst of it!" groaned Tom. "Look at that hole in the bottom, made by that pistol shot. The water is coming in just as fast as it can."

There was small need to call attention to it, for the water in the bottom of the boat was already an inch deep. Dick started in perplexity, then, struck by a sudden idea, drew a lead pencil from his pocket and rammed it into the opening. It fitted very well, and the water ceased, to come in.

"Now we'll have to bail out and pick up that other oar," said Tom. "It was foolish to throw it away, Dick."

"I don't know about that. It deprived Baxter of his pistol. Paddle over, and I'll pick it up." Tom did so, and the blade was speedily recovered.

But Dan Baxter had made good use of the precious moments lost by the Rover boys, and hardly were the latter into shape for rowing once more than they saw the bully beach his craft and leap out on the shore. "Good-by to you!" he cried mockingly. "I told you that you couldn't catch me. The next time we meet I'll make you sorry that you ever followed me," and he started to run off with all possible speed.

Tom and Dick were too chagrined to answer him, and pulled forward to the shore in silence. They ran the craft into some bushes and tied up, and then started after Baxter, who was now making for the woods south of the village of Nelson.

When the highway skirting this portion of Cayuga Lake was gained Dan Baxter was a good five hundred feet ahead of them. A turn in the road soon hid him from view. Gaining the bend they discovered that he had disappeared from view altogether.

"He has taken to the woods," sighed Dick.

"If that is so we may as well give the hunt up," answered his brother. "It would be worse than looking for a pin in a haystack, for we wouldn't know what direction he had taken."

"I wish I had a bloodhound with which to trail him. He ought to be run down, Tom."

"Well, let us notify some of the people living near and see what can be done."

They ran on to the spot where they supposed Baxter had left the highway. On both sides were dense thickets of cedars with heavy underbrush. All in all, the locality formed an ideal hiding place.

Night was coming on by the time they gained the nearest farmhouse. Here they found three men, to whom they explained the situation. All of the men smiled grimly.

"If he went into the woods it would be a hard job to trail him," was the comment from Farmer Mason. "If he ain't careful he'll lose himself so completely he'll never git out, b'gosh!"

"Well, I don't know but what that would suit me," responded Tom dryly.

The search was begun, and several others joined in. It lasted until night was fairly upon the party and was then given up in disgust.

"It's no use," said Dick. "He has slipped us!"

"But we ought to notify the authorities," said Tom. "They will probably put a detective on his track."

"Yes; but a detective can't do any more than we can, up in this wild locality."

"He won't remain in the woods forever. He'll starve to death."

"Well, we can send the police a telegram from Cedarville."

This was done, and the Rover boys returned to Putnam Hall by way of the side road leaving past the homes of the Stanhopes and the Lanings. They found Sam and the girls very anxious concerning their welfare.

"We were afraid you had been shot," said Dora. "I am thankful that you escaped."

"So am I," put in Sam. "But it's too bad that Baxter got away. I wonder where he will turn up next."

They all wondered, but could not even venture an answer. Soon the boys left the girls and hurried to the academy, where their story, had to be told over again. Captain Putnam looked exceedingly grave over the narrative.

"You must be careful in the future, lads," he said. "Remember, you are in my care here. I do not know what your uncle would say if anything should happen to you."

"We will be on our guard in the future," answered Dick. "But I am awfully sorry we didn't catch him."

"So am I. But perhaps the authorities will have better luck," and there the talk came to an end, and the boys retired for the night.