Chapter I. Bound for Home
 

"HURRY Up, Sam, unless you want to be left behind!"

"I'm coming!" shouted Sam Rover, as he crossed the depot platform on the run. "Where is Tom?"

"He went ahead, to get two good seats for us," answered Dick Rover. He looked around the crowd that had gathered to take the train. "Hi, there, Songbird, this way! Come in this car, Hans!"

"Say, aren't you fellows coming aboard?" came a voice from the nearest car, and a curlytopped head with a pair of laughing eyes appeared. "Folks crowding in to beat the band! Come on in if you want seats."

"We'll be in directly," answered Sam, and followed his brother Dick to the car steps. Here there was quite a jam, and the Rover boys had all they could do to get into the car, followed by half a dozen of their school chums. But Tom Rover had managed to keep seats for all, and they sat "in a bunch," much to their satisfaction. Then the train rolled out of the station, and the journey homeward was begun.

The term at Putnam Hall Military Academy was at an end, and the school days of the three Rover boys at that institution were now a thing of the past. Each had graduated with honors, yet all were a trifle sad to think that there would be no going back to a place where they had made so many friends.

"It's almost like giving up your home," Dick had said, several times, while at the actual parting Sam had had to do his best to keep back the tears which welled up in his eyes. Even fun-loving Tom had stopped a good deal of his whistling and had looked unusually sober.

"We'll never have such good times as we've had at Putnam Hall," Sam had said, but he was mistaken, as later events proved.

The three Rover boys did not wish to part from their many school chums, yet they were, more than anxious to get home, and for this there was a very good reason. Their father had told them that he had a very important communication to make to them one regarding how the summer was to be spent. So far no arrangements had been made for the vacation, and the brothers were anxious to know "what was in the wind," as Tom expressed it.

"Maybe we are to prepare for college," said Dick.

"Perhaps we are to go on another trip to Africa?" added Sam.

"Or start on a hunt for the North Pole," put in Tom. "That would be just the thing for this hot weather."

"I can tell you one thing," went on Dick. "Whatever father has on his mind is of a serious nature. It is no mere outing for pleasure."

"I know that," answered Sam, "I could see it by the look on his face."

"Well, we'll know all about it by this time tomorrow," said Tom. "I hope it is some trip--I love to travel," and his brothers nodded their heads in approval.

To those who have read any of the twelve previous volumes in this "Rover Boys Series" the three brothers will need no special introduction. For the benefit of new readers allow me to state that Dick was the oldest, fun-loving Tom next, and Sam the youngest. They were the sons of Anderson Rover, a widower and rich mine owner. The father was a great traveler, and for years the boys had made their home with their uncle, Randolph Rover, and their Aunt Martha, on a farm called Valley Brook, in the heart of New York state.

From the farm, and while their father was in Africa, the boys had been sent to Putnam Hall, as related in the first volume of this series, entitled, "The Rover Boys at School." At the Hall they made a score of friends and several enemies, some of which will be introduced later. A term at school was followed by a trip on the ocean, and then one into the jungles of the Dark Continent in search of Mr. Rover, who had mysteriously disappeared. Then the Rover boys went out west and to the great lakes, and later spent a fine time hunting in the mountains. They likewise spent some time in camp with their fellow cadets, and during the summer vacation took a long trip on land and sea. Then they returned home, and during another vacation sailed down the Ohio River in a houseboat, spent some time on the plains, took an unexpected trip to southern waters, and then came back to the farm.

On getting back home, as related in the twelfth volume of this series, called "The Rover Boys on the Farm," the boys had imagined that adventures for them were a thing of the past. They were willing to take it easy, but this was not to be. Some bad men, including a sharper named Sid Merrick, were responsible for the theft of some freight from the local railroad, and Merrick, by a slick trick, obtained possession of some traction company bonds belonging to Randolph Rover. The Rover boys managed to locate the freight thieves, but Sid Merrick got away from them, dropping a pocketbook containing the traction company bonds in his flight. This was at a time when Dick, Tom and Sam had returned to Putnam Hall for their final term at that institution. At the Hall they had made a bitter enemy of a big, stocky bully named Tad Sobber and of another lad named Nick Pell. Tad Sobber, to get even with the Rovers for a fancied injury, sent to the latter a box containing a live, poisonous snake. The snake got away and hid in Nick Pell's desk and Nick was bitten and for some time it was feared that he might die. He exposed Tad Sobber, and fearing arrest the bully ran away from the Hall. Later, much to their surprise, the Rover boys learned that the bully was a ward and nephew of Sid Merrick, and when the sharper disappeared, Tad Sobber went with him.

"They are certainly a bad pair," said Dick, but how bad the Rovers were still to find out.

With the boys on the train were John Powell, better known as "Songbird," because he had a, habit of reciting newly made doggerell which he called poetry, Hans Mueller, a German youth who frequently got his English badly twisted, Fred Garrison, who had graduated with the Rovers, and some others.

"Dick, you haven't told me yet what you intended to do this summer," remarked Fred Garrison, as the train rolled on.

"Because I don't know, Fred," answered the elder Rover. "My father has something in store, but I don't know what it is."

"Can't you guess?"

"No."

"I wish we could take another trip like that on the houseboat--it was certainly a dandy."

"The best ever!" put in Tom. "Even if we did have trouble with Lew Flapp, Dan Baxter and some others."

"Speaking of Dan Baxter puts me in mind of something," came from Songbird Powell. "It has just leaked out that Tad Sobber sent a note to Captain Putnam in which Tad blamed some of the cadets for his troubles, and said he was going to get square some day."

"Did he mention any names?" questioned Sam.

"Yes."

"Mine?"

"Yes--and Dick's and Tom's, too."

"It is just like Sobber--to blame his troubles on somebody else," remarked Dick.

"I am not afraid of him," declared Tom. "He had better keep his distance unless he wants to get the worst of it. We used to put up with a whole lot from Dan Baxter before he reformed--I am not going to put up with as much from Sobber."

"Tad certainly went off in bad company," said Sam. "His uncle ought to be in prison this minute."

"Have the authorities heard anything of Merrick?" asked Songbird.

"Not a thing."

"I dink me dot feller has skipped to Europe alretty," vouchsafed Hans Mueller. "He vould peen afraid to stay py der United States in, yah!" And the German boy shook his head wisely.

"Personally I never want to set eyes on Sobber again," said Dick, with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "The idea of introducing that deadly snake into the school was the limit. Why, half a dozen of us might have been bitten instead of only poor Pell."

"Maybe he did it only for a joke," said Larry Colby, another of the cadets.

"If he did, it was carrying a joke altogether too far--endangering one or more human lives. I don't believe in that sort of fun."

"Nor do I," came from several.

"If he is in Europe with his uncle perhaps I'll meet him there," said Larry Colby. "I am going to France and Italy with my uncle and cousin. Wish some of you fellows were going along," he added, wistfully.

"I am going to the Maine woods," said a lad named George Granberry. "You can never guess who is going there, too."

"Who?"

"William Philander Tubbs and Mr. Strong."

"What, our own dude going to camp in the wilderness," cried Tom. "Oh, if I was only along wouldn't I give him some surprises!"

"I'll have some fun don't forget that!" replied George, with a grin. "But as Mr. Strong is going to be along, of course I'll have to be a little careful."

"Dear Mr. Strong!" murmured Sam, with a sigh. "What a fine teacher he is, and how I hate to give him up!"

"I envy your having him along," said Dick.

At that moment the train rolled into a station and Larry and some of the others got off.

"We leave you at the next station," said Songbird, to the Rovers. "When you find out what you are going to do this summer, write and let me know."

"I certainly shall," answered Dick.

The three Rover boys soon after found themselves alone. They had to make a change of cars, and some time later rolled into the station at Oak Run.

"Home again!" shouted Tom, as he alighted on the depot platform.

"Yes, and there is Uncle Randolph waiting for us," added Dick, as he hurried forward to meet his relative. "How do you do, Uncle!" he cried.

"I am well, Richard," answered Randolph Rover, and then he shook hands with all three boys. "Your--er--your father--" he began and hesitated.

"Father? What of him?" asked Tom, in quick alarm, for he saw that his uncle was much disturbed.

"Isn't he with you?"

"Why, no!" answered the three, in a chorus.

"He started for home last night," added Dick.

"Took the train after the one you and Aunt Martha took."

"But he didn't come home," said Randolph Rover.

"Didn't come home?"

"No."

"Didn't he send any word?" questioned Sam.

"None that I received."

"He said he was going straight home would telephone from Lockville for the carriage to meet the last train," said Tom. "This is mighty queer."

It was queer and for the moment the Rover boys and their uncle stared blankly at one another.

"Something is wrong," declared Dick, presently. "And I am going to make it my business to find out at once what it is."