Chapter VIII. In Which Alexander Pop Runs Away
 

"Will you submit to having your trunk examined or not?" demanded Captain Putnam, after a painful pause, during which Alexander Pop's eyes rolled wildly from one teacher to the other.

"Yo' kin examine it if yo' desire," said Aleck. "But it's an outrage, Cap'n Putnam, an' outrage, sah!"

Without more ado Captain Putnam approached the waiter's trunk, to find it locked.

"Where is the key, Pop?"

"Dare, sah, on de nail alongside ob yo' sah."

Soon the trunk was unlocked and the lid thrown back. The box contained a miscellaneous collection of wearing apparel, which the captain pushed to one side. Then he brought out a cigar box containing some cheap jewelry and other odds and ends, as well as two five dollar bills.

"Dat money am mine, sah," said Aleck. "Yo paid me dat las' Saturday, sall."

"That is true, but how did this get here, Pop?"

As Captain Putnam paused he held up a stud set with a ruby-the very stud the cadet Weeks had lost!

"Dat -- dat stud -- I never seen dat shirt-stud before, cap'n, 'deed I didn't," stammered the waiter.

"That is certainly Weeks' stud; I remember it well," put in George Strong. "He showed it to me one day, stating it was a gift from his aunt."

"And here is a cheap watch," added Captain Putnam, bringing forth the article. "Pop, is this your watch?"

"No, sah -- I -- I never seen dat watch before," answered Aleck nervously. "I dun reckon sumbuddy put up a job on dis poah coon, sah," he continued ruefully.

"I believe the job was put up by yourself," answered Captain Putnam sternly. "If you are guilty you had better confess."

A stormy war of words followed. Alexander Pop stoutly declared himself innocent, but in the face of the proofs discovered the master of the Hall would not listen to him.

"Peleg Snuggers shall take you in charge and drive down to the Cedarville lock-up," said the captain.

The news that some of the things had been found in Pop's trunk spread with great rapidity. Many were astonished to learn that he was thought guilty, but a few declared that "a coon wasn't to be trusted anyway."

"Niggers are all thieves," said Jim Caven, "never yet saw an honest one."

"I don't believe you!" burst out Tom. "Pop's a first-rate fellow, and the captain has got to have more proof against him before I'll believe him guilty."

"Oh, he's a bad egg!" growled the Irish boy.

"You only say that because he called you down last week," put in Frank. He referred to a tilt between the new pupil and the colored man. Jim Caven had tried to be "smart" and had gotten the worst of the encounter.

"Yes, I think he's as honest as you are!" burst out Tom, before he had stopped to think twice.

"What! do you call me a thief!" roared Jim Caven, and leaped upon Tom, with his face as white as the wall. "I'll make you smart for that!"

One blow landed on Tom's cheek and another was about to follow, when Tom dodged and came up under Caven's left arm. Then the two boys faced each other angrily.

"A fight! Fight!" cried a number of the cadets, and in a twinkle a ring was formed around the two contestants.

"I'm going to give you the worst thrashing you ever had," said Caven, but in rather a nervous tone.

"All right, Caven, go ahead and do it," cried Tom. "I will stand up for Aleck Pop, and there you are!"

Tom launched forth and caught Caven on the right cheek. The Irish lad also struck out, but the blow fell short. Then the two boys clinched.

"Break away there!" cried Frank. "Break away!"

"I'll break his head!" panted Caven. "How do you like that?" And he held Tom with one hand and hit him in the neck with the other.

The blow was a telling one, and for a brief instant Tom was dazed. But then he caught his second wind and threw Caven backward. Before the Irish lad could recover his balance, Tom struck him in the nose, and over rolled his opponent.

A shout went up. "Good for Tom Rover! That was a telling blow! I Keep it up!"

"I'll fix you!" gasped Jim Caven, as soon as he could speak. "I'll fix you!" and staggering to his feet, he glanced around for some weapon. Nothing met his view but a garden spade which Peleg Snuggers had been using, and catching this up he ran for Tom as if to lay him low forever.

"Caven, none of that! Fight fair!"

"He shan't call me a thief!" growled the Irish boy. "I'll show him!" And he aimed a tremendous blow for Tom's head.

Had the spade fallen as intended Tom's cranium might have been split in twain. But now both Dick and Frank caught the unreasonable youth and held him while Sam and several others took the spade away.

"Stop it -- here comes Mr. Strong!" came the unexpected cry from some outsiders.

"Yes, give it up, Tom," whispered Sam.

"We're in hot water enough, on account of that feast."

"I'll give it up if Caven is willing," muttered

"I'll meet you another time," answered Caven, and walked rapidly away.

"What is the row here?" demanded George Strong, as he strode up.

"Nothing, sir," said one of the boy. "Some of the fellows were wrestling for possession of that spade."

"Oh, I was afraid there was a fight," and Mr. Strong sauntered off.

He was on his way to the barn, and presently the cadets saw him come forth with the man-of-fall-work and the light spring wagon.

"They are going to take poor Aleck to the Cedarville lock-up," announced Fred. "Poor chap, I never thought this of him!"

"Nor I," answered Dick. "To me this affair isn't very clear."

"I don't believe they will be able to convict him of the crime," put in Sam.

An hour later Peleg Snuggers started away from Putnam Hall with his prisoner. Aleck looked the picture of misery as he sat on a rear seat, his wrists bound together and one leg tied to the wagon seat with a rope.

"Dis am a mistake," he groaned. "I aint guilty nohow!"

Some of the boys wished to speak to him, but this was not permitted. Soon the turnout was out of sight.

"You may think I am hard with him," said Captain Putnam, later on, "but to tell the truth he does not come from a very good family and he has a step-brother already in prison."

"Aleck can't be held responsible for his stepbrother's doings," murmured Tom, but not loud enough for the master to hear him.

A diligent search had been made for the other stolen articles, but nothing more was brought to light. If Pop had taken the things he had either hidden them well or else disposed of them.

It was nearly nightfall when Peleg Snuggers drove back to the Hall. Dick and Tom met him just outside the gates and saw that the man-of-all-work looked much dejected.

"Well, Peleg, is he safe in jail?" called out Tom.

"No, he ain't," was the snappy reply.

"Why, what did you do with him?" questioned Dick quickly.

"Do? I didn't do nuthin -- not me. It was him as did it all -- cut that blessed rope and shoved me over the dashboard on to the hosses!" growled Snuggers.

"Do you mean to say he got away from you?" asked Tom.

"Yes, he did -- got away like a streak o' fightnin', thet's wot he did, consarn him!" And without another word Peleg drove to the rear of the Hall, put his team in the barn, and went in to report to Captain Putnam.

Another row resulted, and this nearly cost the utility Man his position. But it appeared that he was not so much to blame that Alexander Pop had taken him unawares and finally he was sent away to his work with the caution to be more careful in the future. Before night and during the next day a hunt was made for the colored man, but he had left the vicinity entirely, gone to New York, and shipped on one of the outward-bound ocean vessels. The Rover boys fancied that they would never see him again, but in this they were mistaken.