Chapter XII. Flapp and Baxter Plot Mischief
 

The cottage which Mother Matterson occupied was a much dilapidated one of a story and a half, containing three rooms and a loft. Some of the windows were broken out and the chimney was sadly in need of repair.

Many were the rumors afloat concerning this old woman. Some said she was little short of being a witch, while others had it that she was in league with tramps who had stolen things for miles around. But so far, if guilty, she had escaped the penalty of the law.

"So you've come at last," went on the person in the cottage, as Lew Flapp came in, and a moment later Dan Baxter came into view. He was tall and lanky as of old, with a sour look on his face and several scars which made him particularly repulsive. "I had almost given you up."

"I've had my own troubles getting here," answered Flapp. "At first I couldn't locate Hacknack and then I had the misfortune to fall in with Sam Rover"

"Sam Rover! Is he on your track now?"

"I rather guess not," and the bully of Putnam Hall gave a short laugh. "He has gone swimming for his health."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll tell you," answered Lew Flapp, and in a rapid manner he related all that had occurred since he had met Sam in the Oak Run barber shop.

"Well, all I can say is, that you are a lucky dog," came from Dan Baxter, at the conclusion of the recital. "You can thank your stars that you are not at this moment in the Oak Run lock-up."

"I shouldn't have run any risk at all if it hadn't been for you," growled Flapp.

"Oh, don't come any such game on me, Flapp. I can read you like a book. You know you don't dare to go home--after that trip-up at White Corners. Your old man would just about kill you--and you'd be locked up in the bargain."

At these words Lew Flapp winced, for he knew that Dan Baxter spoke the truth. He was afraid to go home, and had come to Hacknack simply because he knew not where else to go and because Baxter had promised him some money. The amount he had realized on the sale of the stolen jewelry had been spent.

"See here, what's the use of talking that way?" he grumbled. "I didn't come here to get a lecture."

"I'm not lecturing you," came hastily from Dan Baxter. "I'm merely telling you things for your own good, Flapp. I want you to pull with me. I know we'll get along swimmingly."

"You said you'd let me have some money."

"And I'll keep my word."

"I need at least fifty dollars."

"You'll need more than that, Flapp. You've got to stay away from home until this matter blows over, or until your old man patches things up with that Aaron Fairchild and the White Corners authorities. I've got a plan, if you care to listen to it."

"Sure, I'll listen--if you'll only let me have that money."

"I'll let you have all you want--providing you'll agree to help me."

"Well, what is your plan? But first tell me, how about this woman?" And Flapp nodded his head toward Mother Matterson.

"Don't you worry about her," grinned Dan Baxter. "I've got her fixed. She won't squeal."

"Then go ahead."

"As I said before, the best thing you can do is to stay away from home until this unpleasantness blows over. Write to your father and tell him it is all a mistake, and that you are not guilty but that you can't prove it. Ask him to square the thing with Aaron Fairchild and the others, and tell him you are going on an ocean trip and won't be back until you know you are safe. Then you come with me, and we'll have a jolly good time, besides squaring up matters with the Rovers."

"Where are you going and how are you going to square matters with them?

"I've learned a thing or two since I came here. At first I was going to try to fix them while they were at home, but now I've learned that they are going away on a houseboat trip on the Ohio and the Mississippi. I propose to follow them and give them more than they want the first opportunity that presents itself."

"You are certain about this houseboat trip?"

"I am."

"And who is going?"

"The three Rover boys and some of their school chums."

"Humph! I'd like to get square with the whole crowd!" muttered Lew Flapp. "I'd like to sink them in the middle of the Ohio River!"

"We'll square up, don't you worry," answered Dan Baxter. "I'm not forgetting all they've done against me in the past. If I had the chance I'd wring the neck of every one of them," he added, fiercely.

"I don't think it is safe to stay around here any longer," said Lew Flapp, after a pause. "Somebody may spot us both."

"I'm not going to stay any longer. We can get out on the night train. By the way, supposing Sam Rover doesn't get out of the river."

"What do you mean?" questioned Flapp, with a shiver, although he knew well enough.

"Maybe Sam Rover was drowned."

"Oh, don't say that!"

"Bah! Don't be chicken-hearted, Flapp."

"I--I--didn't mean to--to--kill him."

"I know you didn't. Just the same that is a dangerous river. The current is swift and it's full of rocks."

"You're making me feel very uncomfortable."

"Oh, don't worry. Those Rover boys are like cats--each has nine lives. Sam Rover will be hot-footed after you before you know it."

"Have you got that money with you, Baxter?"

"To be sure I have. I never travel without a wad."

"Then let me have some."

"You won't need it, if we are to travel together."

"We may become separated," urged Lew Flapp. He did not altogether trust his companion.

"Well, I reckon that's so, too. I'll let you have twenty-five dollars. When that's gone you can come to me for more. But remember one thing: you've got to help me to down the Rovers."

"I'll help you to do that. But--but--"

"But what?"

"We mustn't go too far."

"Oh, you leave that to me. You've heard how they treated my father, haven't you?"

"They say Dick Rover was kind to him."

"Bah! That's a fairy story."

"But your father says the same--so I have been told."

"The old man is out of his head--on account of that fire. When he gets clear-headed again he won't think Dick Rover--or any of the Rovers, for the matter of that--is his friend."

There was another pause.

"Where do you propose to go to?"

"Philadelphia, on a little business first, and then to Pittsburg, and to that place where they have their houseboat."

"And after that?"

"I'm going to be guided by circumstances. But you can rest assured of one thing, Flapp--I'll make those Rover boys wish they had never undertaken this trip."

Dan Baxter brought out a pocketbook well filled with bank bills and counted out five five-dollar bills.

"My, but you're rich!" cried the bully of Putnam Hall.

"Oh, I've got a good bit more than that," was the bragging answer. "I want you to know that once upon a time my father was as rich as the Rovers, and he would be as rich now if it wasn't that they cheated him out of his rights to a gold mine," went on Dan Baxter, bringing up something which has already been fully explained in "The Rover Boys Out West." The claim belonged to the Rovers, but the Baxters would never admit this.

"Did they really cheat him?" questioned Lew Flapp, with interest.

"They certainly did."

"Then why didn't you go to law about it with them?"

"They stole all the evidence, so we couldn't do a thing in law. Do you wonder that I am down on them?"

"No, I don't. If I were you, I'd try to get my rights back."

"I'm going to get them back some day," answered Dan Baxter. "And I am going to square up with all the Rovers, too, mind that!"