Chapter IV. What the Morning Brought Forth
 

Link Smith was much surprised by Lew Flapp's assertion that he wanted to visit the camp during the middle of the night and when practically everybody was asleep.

"What do you want to come in for?" he asked, feeling fairly certain that Flapp's mission could not be as upright and honest as desired.

"Oh, it's all right, Link," answered the big bully, smoothly.

"But what do you want?"

"Well, if you must know, I want to talk to a couple of my old friends."

"Why can't you talk to them to-morrow, after they leave school?"

"That won't do. I want them to do something for me before they leave the academy."

"It's a strange request to make, Lew."

"Oh, it's perfectly square, I assure you. You see, it's this way: I want them to get some proofs for me,--to prove that I am not as black as the follows reported to Captain Putnam."

Now, it is possible that some other cadet would not have been hoodwinked in this fashion by the bully, but Link Smith swallowed the explanation without a second thought.

"Oh, if that's what you want, go ahead," said he. "But don't tell anybody I let you in."

"I shan't say a word if you don't," answered Lew Flapp. "By the way," he went on, with assumed indifference, "they tell me the Rover boys have cleared out and gone home."

"No, they haven't," was Link Smith's prompt answer.--They are right here."

"Are you sure, Link?"

"Of course I am. They are bunking together in the last tent in Street B, over yonder," and the feeble-minded cadet pointed with his hand as he spoke.

"Is that so! Well, I don't care. I don't want to see them again until I can prove to Captain Putnam that they are a set of rascals."

"Are you going to try to get into the academy again, Lew?" asked Link, curiously.

"Not much! I'll be done with Captain Putnam just as soon as I can show him how he mistreated me and how the Rovers are pulling the wool over his eyes."

"Everybody here thinks the Rovers about perfect."

"That's because they don't know them as well as I and Rockley do."

A few words more passed, and then Lew Flapp slipped into the camp lines and made his way between the long rows of tents.

He had gained from Link Smith just the information he desired, namely, the location of the Rover boys' sleeping quarters. He looked back, to make certain that Link was not watching him, and then hurried on to where the Rovers rested, totally unconscious of the proximity of their enemy.

"I'll show them what I can do," muttered Lew Flapp to himself. "I'll make them wish they had never been born!"

At last the tent was reached and with caution he opened the flap and peered inside. All was dark, and with a hand that was none too steady he struck a match and held it up.

Each of the Rover boys lay sleeping peacefully on his cot, with his clothing hung up on one of the tent poles.

"Now for working my little plan," murmured Flapp, and allowed the match to go out. In a second more he was inside the tent, moving around cautiously so as not to disturb the sleepers.

The bully remained in the tent all of ten minutes. Then he came out as cautiously as he had entered, and fairly ran to where Link Smith was still on guard.

"Did you see them?" asked the feeble-minded cadet.

"I did, and it's all right, Link. Now, don't tell anybody I visited the camp."

"Humph! do you think I want to get myself in trouble?"

"Good-night."

"Good-night."

And in a moment more Lew Flapp was out of sight down the country roadway and Link Smith was pacing his post as before.

Bright and early the camp was astir, and at half-past seven o'clock a good hot breakfast was served, the cadets pitching into the food provided with a will.

"And now for Putnam Hall and the grand wind-up," said Tom, as he finished his repast.

"And then to go home and prepare for that grand trip on the houseboat," came from Sam.

"Which puts me in mind that we must see who will go with us," said Dick.

"Songbird Powell says he is more than willing," answered Tom. "And I know Dutchy will fall all over himself to become one of the party."

"I think Fred Garrison will go," said Sam. "He said he would let me know as soon as he heard from his parents."

Captain Putnam had expected to begin the march to the Hall by half-past eight, but there were numerous delays in packing the camping outfit, so the battalion was not ready for the start until over an hour later.

The cadets were just being formed to start the march when several men appeared at the edge of the field.

"There's them young soldiers now!" cried one. Come on and find the rascals!"

"What do you want, gentlemen?" demanded George Strong, who happened to be near the crowd.

"Who is in charge of this school?" asked one of the men.

"Captain Victor Putnam is the owner. I am his head assistant."

"Well, I'm Josiah Cotton, the constable of White Corners."

"What can I do for you, Mr. Cotton?"

"I'm after a feller named Dick Rover, and his two brothers. Are they here?"

"They are. What do you want of them?"

"I'm goin' to lock 'em up if they did what I think they did."

"Lock them up?" cried George Strong, in astonishment.

"That's what I said. Show me the young villains."

"But what do you think they have done?"

"They broke into my shop an' stole some things," put in another of the men.

"That's right, they did," came from a third man. "Don't let 'em give ye the slip, Josiah."

"I ain't a-goin' to let 'em give me the slip," growled the constable from White Corners.

"When was your shop robbed?" demanded George Strong, of the man who had said he was the sufferer.

"I can't say exactly, fer I was to the city, a-buying of more goods."

"Mr. Fairchild is a jeweler and watchmaker, besides dealing in paints, oils, glass, an' wall paper," explained the constable. "He carries a putty considerable stock of goods as are valuable. Yesterday, or early last night, when he was away, his shop was broken into and robbed."

"And what makes you think the Rovers are the thieves?" asked George Strong.

"We got proof," came doggedly from Aaron Fairchild. "We're certain on it."

By this time, seeing that something was wrong, Captain Putnam came to the scene. In the meantime the battalion was already formed, with Major Colby at the head and Dick in his proper position as captain of Company A.

"I cannot, believe that the Rover Boys are guilty of this robbery," said the master of Putnam Hall after listening to what the newcomers had to say. "What proof have you that they did it?"

"This proof, for one thing," answered Josiah Cotton, and drew from his pocket a memorandum book and the envelope to a letter. In the front of the memorandum book was the name, Richard Rover, and the envelope was addressed likewise.

"The thief dropped that," went on the constable.

"Where did you find these things?"

"On the floor of the shop, in front of the desk."

"Anybody might have dropped them."

"See here, Captain Putnam, do you stand up fer shieldin' a thief?" roared Aaron Fairchild. "To me this hull thing is as plain as the nose on my face."

As Aaron Fairchild's smelling organ was an unusually large one, this caused the master of Putnam Hall to smile. But he immediately grew grave again.

"This is a serious matter, Mr. Fairchild. I do not wish to shield a thief, but at the same time I cannot see one or more of my pupils unjustly treated."

"Are ye afraid to have 'em examined?"

"By no means. I will call them up and you can talk to them. But I advise you to be careful of what you say. The Rover boys come from a family that is rich, and they can make it exceedingly warm for you if you accuse them wrongfully."

"Oh, I know what I'm a-doin' and the constable knows what he's a-doin', too," answered Aaron Fairchild.

George Strong was sent to summon Dick, Tom, and Sam, and soon came up with the three brothers behind him.

"Something is wrong, that is certain," murmured Dick.

"Those men look mad enough to chew us up," answered Tom.

"Now, boys, keep cool," cautioned George Strong. "I think some terrible mistake has been made."

"What's it all about, Mr. Strong?" asked Sam.

"I'll let them explain," returned the head assistant.

Josiah Cotton had heard Captain Putnam's words of caution to Aaron Fairchild, and as he had a great regard for persons who were rich, and did not want to get himself into trouble, he resolved to move with caution.

"I'd like to ask you three young gents a few questions," said he, as the boys came up. "Fust, which one of you is Richard Rover?"

"I am Richard, commonly called Dick," was the ready reply. "This is my brother Tom, and this is Sam."

"Very well. Now then, do you remember visitin' Mr. Fairchild's jewelry an' paint store?" went on the constable.

"Visiting a jewelry and paint store?" repeated Dick. "I do not. What a combination!"

"Perhaps he paints his jewels," put in the fun-loving Tom.

"Don't you git funny with us!" growled Aaron Fairchild. "Let's come to the p'int. My store was robbed, an' I'm thinking you fellers done the deed."

"Robbed!" echoed Sam.

"And you think we did it," put in Dick, indignantly. "I like that!"

"We are not thieves," said Tom. "And you ought to have your head punched for thinking it."

"Boys, keep cool," came from Captain Putnam. "Mr. Cotton, hadn't you better do the talking for Mr. Fairchild?"

"I want 'em searched," burst out Aaron Fairchild. "If they robbed my store they must have put the stuff somewheres."

"What makes you think we robbed you?" asked Dick.

"This," and he was shown the memorandum book and the envelope.

"Humph! I lost that book some weeks ago, when I had my fight with Lew Flapp, Rockley, and the rest of that crowd that were dismissed from the academy."

"And what of the envelope, Richard?" asked Captain Putnam.

"I don't remember anything about that. It probably came on a letter from home and I must have thrown it away."

"The book and the envelope were found on the floor of the shop that was robbed."

"Well, I didn't drop them there."

"And neither did I," came from Tom.

"Nor I," added Sam.

"Are you going to let us search you and your belongings or not?" demanded the constable from White Corners.

"I don't see why you should search us," put in Tom, hotly. "It's an outrage, to my way of thinking."

"You had better let him make a search," came from Captain Putnam. "Then he will see that he has made a mistake."

"All right, search me all you please," said Sam.

"I am of Tom's opinion, that it is an outrage," said Dick. "Nevertheless, he can search me if he wishes."

"Let us retire to yonder barn, out of the sight of the battalion," said Captain Putnam.

The constable and Aaron Fairchild were willing, and all walked to the barn in question.

"You can look at that first," said Dick, and unbuttoning his coat he took it off and handed it to the constable.

Josiah Cotton dove into one pocket after another, bringing out various articles which were Dick's private property.

"Any o' these yours?" he asked the jeweler.

"Can't say as they are, Josiah," answered Aaron Fairchild. "Go on a-huntin'. Maybe somethin' is in the linin'."

"There is!" shouted the constable, running his hand over the padding. He found a small hole and put in his fingers. "Here ye are!" he ejaculated, and brought forth two plain gold rings and one set with a topaz.

"My property!" gasped Aaron Fairchild. "My property and I'll swear to it! Didn't I tell ye he was a thief?"