Chapter XX. Days of Pleasure
 

"Sam! Sam! Speak to us!"

It was Dick who uttered the words, as he knelt beside his youngest brother and caught his hands. Tom was just staggering up.

But Sam was past speaking, and made no reply.

"What's the matter, Dick?" asked Tom.

"Poor Sam is knocked out completely. I don't know but what they have killed him."

"Oh, don't say that!"

"Have you got a match? I've lost that electric pocket light."

"Yes." Tom struck the match and lit a bit of pine wood that was handy, and found the light. "Dick, don't tell me he is dead."

"Oh!" came in a deep gasp from poor Sam, and he gave a shiver from head to feet.

"He isn't dead, but they must have hit him a terrible blow. Let us carry him out into the open air."

This they did, and laid the youngest Rover on some boards. Here he presently opened his eyes and stared about him.

"Don't--don't hit me again!" he pleaded, vacantly.

"They shan't hit you again, Sam," answered Dick, tenderly. He felt of his brother's head. On top was a lump, from which the blood was flowing.

"This is the worst yet," said Tom. "What had we best do next?"

"Call a policeman, if you can find any."

"That's rather a hard thing to do around here."

However, Tom ran off, and while he was gone Dick did what little he could to make Sam comfortable. At last the youngest Rover opened his eyes again and struggled to sit up.

"Where--where are they, Dick?"

"Gone into the factory."

"Oh, my head!"

"It was a wicked blow, Sam. But keep still if your head hurts."

When Tom came back he was accompanied by a watchman from a neighboring yard and presently they were joined by the watchman of the box factory, who had been to a corner groggery, getting a drink.

"What's the row?" questioned the first watchman, and when told, emitted a low whistle.

"I think those fellows are in the factory yet," continued Dick.

As soon as the second watchman came up both went into the box factory and were gone fully ten minutes. Then Dick followed them, since Sam was rapidly recovering.

"Can't find them," said one of the watchmen. "But yonder window is open. They must have dropped into that yard and run away."

"Is the window generally closed?"

"Yes."

"Then you must be right."

"Why don't you call up the police? You can do it on the telephone."

"Have you a telephone here?"

"Of course."

Dick went to the telephone and told the officer in charge at the station what had occurred.

"I'll send two men at once," said the officer over the wire; and in five minutes the policemen appeared.

Again there was a search, not only of the box factory, but also of the whole neighborhood, but no trace of Dan Baxter or Lew Flapp could be found.

Having bathed their hurts, both Sam and Tom felt better, and all three of the Rovers walked to the police station with the policemen, and there told the full particulars of their story.

"You were certainly in hard luck," said the police captain, who happened to be in charge. "I'll do what I can to round these rascals up." But nothing came of this, for both Baxter and Flapp left Penwick that very night.

When the Rover boys returned to the houseboat, it was long after midnight, but none on board had gone to bed. The Stanhopes and Lanings had come back, bringing their friends with them, and all had been surprised to find the Rovers absent. After remaining on the houseboat a couple of hours the friends had gone home again.

"Something is wrong; I can see it in your looks, Dick," said Dora, as she came to him.

"Sam, where did you get that hurt on your head?" questioned Grace, in alarm.

"Oh, we had a little trouble, but it didn't amount to much," answered the youngest Rover as bravely as he could.

"Yes, but your head is in a dreadful condition."

"And Tom has a cut over the left eye," burst in Nellie. "Oh, you have had a fight of some kind, and I know it!"

"A fight!" cried Mrs. Stanhope. "Is it possible that you have been fighting?"

"We had a brush with a couple of rascals in Penwick," said Dick. "We tried to catch them, but they got away from us. That is all there is to it. I'd rather not talk about it," he went on, seeing that Mrs. Laning also wanted to ask questions.

"Well, you must really be more careful in the future," said Mrs. Stanhope. "I suppose they wanted to rob you."

"They didn't get the chance to rob us," put in Tom, and then the Rovers managed to change the subject. The Stanhopes and the Lanings did not dream that Dan Baxter and Lew Flapp had caused the trouble. Perhaps, in the light of later events, it would have been better had they been told the truth.

Dick gave orders that the Dora should be moved down the river early the next day, and before the majority of the party were up, Pleasant Hills was left behind.

"I sincerely trust we have seen the last of Baxter and Flapp," said Sam.

"So do I, Sam," answered Dick.

"I'd like to meet them and punch their heads good for them," came from Tom.

After that a week slipped by with very little out of the ordinary happening. Day after day the houseboat moved down the river, stopping at one place or another, according to the desires of those on board. The weather continued fine, and the boys and girls enjoyed themselves immensely in a hundred different ways. All had brought along bathing suits and took a dip every day. They also fished, and tramped through the woods at certain points along the stream. One night they went ashore in a field and camped out, with a big roaring fire to keep them company.

"This is the way it was when the cadets went into camp," said Dick. "I can tell you, we had lots of sport."

"It must have been very nice, Dick," answered Dora. "Sometimes I wish I was a boy and could go to Putnam Hall."

"Not much! I'd rather have you a girl!" declared Dick, and in the dark he gave her hand a tight squeeze.

During those days Dick noticed that Captain Starr acted more peculiar than ever. At times he would talk pleasantly enough, but generally he was so close-mouthed that one could scarcely get a word out of him.

"I believe he is just a wee bit off in his upper story," said the oldest Rover. "But I don't imagine it is enough to count."

"If he had any ambition in him he wouldn't be satisfied to run a houseboat," said Tom. "It's about the laziest job I know of."

The Monday after this talk found the Dora down the Ohio as far as Louisville. To avoid the falls in the stream, the houseboat had been taken through the canal, and during the middle of the afternoon was taken down the stream a distance of perhaps eighteen miles, to Skemport,--so named after Samuel Skem, a dealer in Kentucky thoroughbreds.

Fred Garrison had a friend who came from Skemport and wanted to visit him. The others were willing, and Fred went off with Tom and Sam as soon as the boat was tied up. When they came back, late in the evening, the others were told that the friend had invited all hands to visit a large stock farm in that vicinity the next afternoon to look at the horses there.

"That will be nice!" cried Dora. "I love a good horse."

Two large carriages were hired for the purpose, and Aleck was allowed to drive one, a man from the local livery stable driving the other.

"How soon will you be back?" sang out Captain Starr after them.

"Can't say exactly," replied Dick.

The distance to the stock farm was three miles, but it was quickly covered, and once there the Rovers and their friends were made to feel perfectly at home.

"I'd like to go horseback riding on one of those horses," said Dora, after inspecting a number of truly beautiful steeds.

"You shall," said the owner of the stock farm; and a little later Dora, Nellie, Dick, and Tom were in the saddle and off for a gallop of several miles, never once speculating on how that ride was to end.