Chapter I. Plans for an Outing
 

"Whoop! hurrah! Zip, boom, ah! Rockets!"

"For gracious' sake, Tom, what's all the racket about? I thought we had all the noise we wanted last night, when we broke up camp."

"It's news, Dick, glorious news," returned Tom Rover, and he began to dance a jig on the tent flooring. "It's the best ever."

"It won't be glorious news if you bring this tent down on our heads," answered Dick Rover. "Have you discovered a gold mine?"

"Better than that, Dick. I've discovered what we are going to do with ourselves this summer."

"I thought we were going back to the farm, to rest up, now that the term at Putnam Hall is at an end."

"Pooh! Who wants to rest? I've rested all I wish right in this encampment."

"Well, what's the plan? Don't keep us in 'suspenders,' as Hans Mueller would say."

"Dear old Hansy! That Dutch boy is my heart's own!" cried Tom, enthusiastically. "I could not live without him. He must go along."

"Go along where?"

"On our outing this summer?"

"But where do you propose to go to, Tom?"

"For a trip on the broad and glorious Ohio River."

"Eh?"

"That's it, Dick. We are to sail the briny deep of that river in a houseboat. Now, what do you think of that?"

"I'd like to know what put that into your head, Tom," came from the tent opening, and Sam Rover, the youngest of the three brothers, stepped into view.

"Uncle Randolph put it into my head, not over half an hour ago, Sam. It's this way: You've heard of John V. Black of Jackville?"

"The man that owed Uncle Randolph some money?"

"Exactly. Well, Black is a bankrupt, or next door to it. He couldn't pay Uncle Randolph what was coming to him, so he turned over a houseboat instead. She's a beauty, so I am told, and she is called the Dora--"

"After Dora Stanhope, of course," interrupted the youngest Rover, with a quizzical look at his big brother Dick.

"Now look here, don't you start in like that, Sam," came quickly from Dick, with a blush, for the girl mentioned was his dearest friend and had been for some years. "Tell us about this houseboat, Tom," he went on.

"The houseboat is now located on the Ohio River, at a place not many miles from Pittsburg. Uncle Randolph says if we wish to we can use her this summer, and float down to the Mississippi and further yet for that matter. And we can take along half a dozen of our friends, too."

"Hurrah! that's splendid!" burst out Sam. "What a glorious way to spend the best part of this summer! Let us go, and each take a chum along."

"Father says if we go we can take Alexander Pop along to do the cooking and dirty work. The houseboat is now in charge of an old river-man named Captain Starr, who knows the Ohio and Mississippi from end to end, and we can keep him on board."

"It certainly looks inviting," mused Dick Rover. "It would take us through a section of the country we haven't as yet seen, and we might have lots of sport, fishing, and swimming, and maybe hunting. How many will the houseboat accommodate?" he added.

"Twelve or fourteen, on a pinch."

"Then we could have a jolly crowd. The question is, who are you going to take along? We can't take all of our friends, and it would seem a shame to ask some and not others."

"We can decide that question later, Dick. Remember, some of the fellows already have their arrangements made for this summer."

"I know Major Colby can't go," said Sam. "He is going to visit some relatives in Maine."

"And George Granbury is going up to the Thousand Islands with his folks," put in Tom.

"We might ask Songbird Powell," came from Dick. "I don't believe he is going anywhere in particular."

"Yes, we ought to have him by all means, and Hans Mueller, too. They would be the life of the party."

"I should like to have Fred Garrison along," said Sam. "He is always good company. We can--"

Sam broke off short as the roll of a drum was heard on the parade ground outside the tent.

"Dress parade, for the last time!" cried Dick Rover. "Come, get out and be quick about it!" And as captain of Company A he caught up his sword and buckled it on in a hurry, while Tom, as a lieutenant of the same command, did likewise.

When they came out on the parade ground of the encampment they found the cadets of Putnam Hall hurrying to the spot from all directions. It was a perfect day, this fifth of July, with the sun shining brightly and a gentle breeze blowing. The camp was as clean as a whistle, and from the tall flagstaff in front of the grounds Old Glory flapped bravely out on the air.

To those who have read "The Rover Boys at School," and other volumes in this series, Dick, Tom, and Sam need no special introduction. When at home they lived with their father and their aunt and uncle at Valley Brook farm, pleasantly located in the heart of New York State. From this farm they had been sent by their uncle Randolph to Putnam Hall military academy, presided over by Captain Victor Putnam, to whom they became warmly attached. At the academy they made many firm friends, some of whom will be introduced in the pages which follow, and also several enemies, among them Dan Baxter, the offspring of a criminal named Arnold Baxter, who, after suffering for his crimes by various terms of imprisonment, was now very sick and inclined to turn over a new leaf and become a better man.

A term at school had been followed by a remarkable chase on the ocean, and then a journey to the jungles of Africa, in a hunt after Anderson Rover, the boys' father, who was missing. Then had come a trip to a gold mine in the West, followed by some exciting adventures on the Great Lakes. On an island in one of the lakes they unearthed a document relating to a treasure hidden in the Adirondack Mountains, and next made their way to that locality, in midwinter, and obtained a box containing gold, silver, and precious stones, much to their satisfaction.

After their outing in the mountains, the boys had expected to return to Putnam Hall, but a scarlet-fever scare broke out and the institution was promptly closed. This being the case, Mr. Rover thought it best to allow his sons to visit California for their health. This they did, and in the seventh volume of the series, entitled "The Rover Boys on Land and Sea," I related how Sam, Tom, and Dick were carried off to sea during a violent storm, in company with Dora Stanhope, already mentioned, and her two cousins, Nellie and Grace Laning, two particular friends of Tom and Sam. The whole party was cast away on a deserted island, and had much trouble with Dan Baxter, who joined some sailor mutineers. Our friends were finally rescued by a United States warship which chanced to pass that way and see their signal of distress.

After reaching San Francisco once more, the Rover boys had returned to the East, while Dora Stanhope and the Lanings had gone to Santa Barbara, where Mrs. Stanhope was stopping for her health. The scare at Putnam Hall was now over, and in another volume of the series, called "The Rover Boys in Camp," I related how Dick, Tom, and Sam returned to the military academy again, and took part in the annual encampment. Here there had been no end of good times and not a little hazing, the most of which was taken in good part. The boys had made a new enemy in the shape of a bully named Lew Flapp, who was finally expelled from the school for his wrong-doings. Dan Baxter also turned up, but when the authorities got after him he disappeared as quickly as he had done many times before, leaving his father to his fate, as already mentioned.

"I don't think we'll be bothered much with Dan Baxter after this," Tom had said, but he was mistaken, as later events proved.

Rat, tat, tat! Rat, tat, tat! went the drum on the parade ground, and soon the three companies which comprised the Putnam Hall Battalion were duly assembled, with Major Larry Colby in command of the whole, and Dick at the head of Company A, Fred Garrison at the head of Company B, and Mark Romer leading Company C. In front of all stood Captain Putnam, the sole owner of the military institution, and George Strong, his chief assistant.

"The boys certainly make a fine showing, on this last day of our encampment," said Captain Putnam to his assistant. "And a good deal of the credit is due to you, Mr. Strong."

"Thank you for saying so, sir," was the answer. "Yes, they look well, and I am proud of them, Captain Putnam. I believe our military school will compare favorably with any in the land."

After the drill was over Captain Putnam came forward and made a rather extended speech, in which he reviewed the work accomplished at the academy from its first opening, as told by me in another series of books, entitled "The Putnam Hall Series," starting with "The Putnam Hall Cadets," down to those later days when the Rover boys appeared on the scene. He also complimented the cadets on their excellent showing and trusted they would all have a pleasant vacation during the summer. This speech was followed by a short address by George Strong, and then came a surprise when Dick Rover stepped forward.

"Captain Putnam," said he, "in behalf of all the cadets here assembled I wish to thank you for your kind words, which we deeply appreciate.

"I have been chosen by my fellows to present you with this as a token of our esteem. We trust it will prove to your liking, and that whenever you look upon it you will remember us all."

As Dick spoke he brought into view a fair-sized package wrapped in tissue paper. When unrolled, it proved to be a small figure of a cadet, done in silver and gold. On the base was the inscription: "From the Cadets of Putnam Hall, to Their Beloved Head Master, Captain Victor Putnam."

After that Mr. Strong was presented with a set of Cooper's works and the other teachers were likewise remembered. More addresses of thanks followed, and then the battalion was dismissed for dinner.

"It's a fine wind-up for this season's encampment," said Tom, after it was over. "I don't believe we'll ever have another encampment like it."

"And now, ho, for the rolling river!" cried Sam. "Say, I'm just crazy to begin that trip on the houseboat."

"So am I," came from both of his brothers. But they might not have been so anxious had they dreamed of the many adventures and perils in store for them.