Chapter XIX. Words and Blows
 

"Baxter and Flapp!"

The cry came from several at once, and all climbed to the deck of the houseboat after Tom.

"Are you certain of this, Tom?" asked Dick.

"Yes, I saw them as plain as day. They were looking at the houseboat."

"Did they see you?"

"I think they did, and if so they must have seen the rest of our crowd too."

"We ought to go after them," came from Fred. "The name of that steamboat was the Beaver."

"Wonder where she will make her first stop?"

For an answer to this question Captain Starr was appealed to, and he said the craft would most likely stop first at a town which we will call Penwick.

"How far is that from here?" asked Sam.

"About six miles."

"Can we get a train to that place?"

"Yes, but I don't know when."

A time-table was consulted, and it was found that no train could be had from Pleasant Hills to Penwick for two hours and three-quarters.

"That is too late for us," said Dick. "If they saw Tom they'll skip the moment the steamboat touches the landing."

"If you want to catch them why don't you follow them up in the tug?" suggested Songbird.

"Dot's the talk!" came from Hans. "I would like to see you cotch dot Flapp and Paxter mineselluf."

"I'll use the tug," said Dick.

He summoned the captain and explained the situation. It was found that steam on the tug was low, but Captain Carson said he would get ready to move down the stream with all possible speed.

"I would like you to stay on the houseboat," said Dick, to Songbird, Fred, and Hans. "I don't want to leave Captain Starr in charge all alone."

So it was agreed; and fifteen minutes later the tug was on the way after the Beaver, with Dick, Tom, and Sam on board.

"Can we catch the steamboat, captain?" questioned Tom, anxiously.

"We can try," was the answer. "If I had known you wanted to use the tug again to-night I should have kept steam up."

"Well, we didn't know."

The Beaver was out of sight and they did not see the steamboat again until she was turning in at the Penwick dock.

"There she is!" cried Sam.

"Hurry up, Captain Carson!" called out Dick. "If you don't hurry we will lose the fellows we are after, sure."

"I am hurrying as much as I can," replied the captain.

In five minutes more they gained one end of the dock and the Rovers leaped ashore. The Beaver was at the other end, discharging passengers at one gang plank and freight at another.

"See anything of them?" asked Sam.

"Yes, there they are!" shouted Tom, and pointed to the street beyond the dock.

"I see them," returned Dick. "Come on!" And he started for the street, as swiftly as his feet could carry him.

He was well in advance of Sam and Tom when Dan Baxter, looking back, espied him.

"Hi, Flapp, we must leg it!" cried Baxter, in quick alarm.

"Eh?" queried Lew Flapp. "What's wrong now?"

"They are after us!"

"Who?"

"The three Rover Boys. Come on!"

The former bully of Putnam Hall glanced back and saw that Dan Baxter (and he too had been a bully at the Hall) was right.

"Where shall we go to?" he asked in sudden fright.

"Follow me!" And away went Dan Baxter up the street with Flapp at his heels. Dick, Tom, and Sam came after them, with a number of strangers between.

"Do you think we can catch them?" asked Tom.

"We've got to catch them," answered Dick. "If you see a policeman tell him to come along--that we are after a couple of criminals."

Having passed up one street for a block, Baxter and Flapp made a turn and pursued their course down a thoroughfare running parallel to the river.

Here were located a number of factories and mills, with several tenement houses and low groggeries between.

"They are after us yet," panted Flapp, after running for several minutes. "Say, I can't keep this up much longer."

"Come in here," was Dan Baxter's quick reply, and he shot into a small lumber yard attached to a box factory. It was now after six o'clock and the factory had shut down for the day.

Once in the lumber yard they hurried around several corners, and presently came to a shed used for drying lumber. From this shed there was a small door leading into the factory proper.

"I reckon we are safe enough here," said Dan Baxter, as they halted in the shed and crouched down back of a pile of boards.

"Yes, but we can't stay here forever," replied Lew Flapp.

"We can stay as long as they hang around, Flapp."

In the meantime the Rover Boys reached the entrance to the yard, and Dick, who had kept the lead, called a halt.

"I am pretty certain they ran in here," he declared.

"Then let us root them out," said Tom. "And the quicker the better."

The others were willing, and they entered the small lumber yard without hesitation. As there were but three wagonways, each took one, and all presently reached the entrance to the drying shed.

"See anybody?" questioned Dick.

"No," came from his brothers.

"Neither did I. I see there is a big brick wall around this yard. If they came in here they must have gone into this shed or into the factory itself."

"That's it, Dick," said Tom. He pushed open the door to the shed. "I'm going to investigate."

"So am I," said both of the others.

In the shed all was dark and soon Sam stumbled over some blocks of wood and fell headlong.

"Confound the darkness," he muttered. "We ought to have brought a light."

"I've got one," answered Dick, and feeling in his pocket he produced one of the new-style electric pocket lights. He pushed the button and instantly the light flashed out, as from a bull's-eye lantern.

"Hurrah, that's a good thing!" cried Tom. "By the way, isn't it queer there is no watchman here?"

"Maybe the night watchman hasn't got around yet," answered Dick, and struck the truth.

They began to move around the shed, much to the alarm of both Dan Baxter and Lew Flapp.

"I don't see any trace--" began Dick, when of a sudden the light landed fairly and squarely on Baxter's face. Then it shifted to the face of Lew Flapp.

"The old Harry take you, Dick Rover!" yelled Baxter, in a sudden rage, and throwing his whole weight against the pile of boards on which the eldest Rover was standing, he caused it to go over, hurling Dick flat on his back on the floor.

"Dick, are you hurt?" called out Tom. The electric light had been broken, and all was pitch-dark.

"I--I guess--not," answered Dick. "But it was a close shave."

"They are getting out!" came from Sam, as he heard a scuffling of feet.

"No--they are going into the factory," shouted Tom. "Stop, Baxter! Stop, Flapp! If you don't--Oh!"

Tom's cry came to a sudden end, for without warning a billet of wood struck him fairly on top of the head and he went down as if shot.

By this time Dick was on his feet.

"What's up, Tom?"

"I--I--oh, my head?"

"Did somebody hit you?"

"Yes."

Sam was running after Baxter and Flapp. But they reached the factory first and banged the door full in the face of the youngest Rover.

"Open that door, Dan Baxter!" called out Sam.

"All right!" was the sudden reply, and open flew the door. Then down on poor Sam's head came a heavy billet of wood and he pitched backward unconscious. Then the door was closed once more and locked from the inside.