Chapter II. An Important Telegram
 

Dick Rover would not have been so much disturbed by his father's disappearance had it not been for one thing, which was that Mr. Rover, on leaving the closing exercises at Putnam Hall, had declared that he would take the last train home that night. This train got into Oak Run at one o'clock in the morning, when the station was closed and the platform usually deserted.

"Let us ask around and see if anybody was here when the train came in," suggested Tom.

They first appealed to Mr. Ricks, the station master, an old and crabbed individual, who disliked the boys for the jokes they had played on him in times past. He shook his head at once.

"Don't keep the station open that long," he grunted. "I was home an' in bed, an' I don't know anything about your father."

"Was anybody around the station, that you know of?" went on Dick.

"No."

"Did any telegram come in for our family?"

"If it did I reckon Jackson would send it over, or telephone."

"Let us ask Jackson and make sure," said Sam, and led the way to the telegraph office. The telegraph receiver was ticking away at a lively rate, and Jackson, who had charge of the office, was taking down a message on a blank.

"Hullo!" cried the telegrapher, as he finished and looked up. "Here is a message for Mr. Randolph Rover hot off the wire. It won't take long to deliver it," and he handed it over. "It's paid for," he added. "But you'll have to sign for it," and Mr. Rover did so.

Eagerly all the Rovers read the communication, which ran as follows:

"Am following man I want to catch if possible. May be away from home several days or a week. Very important to see man--trip this summer depends upon it.

"ANDERSON ROVER."

"Wonder who the man can be?" mused Dick, after reading the message twice.

"He has something to do with this matter father was going to tell us about," returned Sam. "It's certainly a mystery."

"Well, this relieves our anxiety," said Randolph Rover. "So long as I know nothing has happened, your father can stay away as long as, he pleases."

"But I am dying to know what it is all about," burst out Tom, who was always impatient to get at the bottom of things. "Uncle Randolph, do you know what father has in mind to do this summer?"

"He talks about taking a sea trip, but where to I don't know."

"And he wants us to go along?" queried the youngest Rover.

"I believe so, Samuel."

"Hurrah! I'd like a sea trip first rate."

"Yes, but--" Mr. Rover lowered his voice. "He doesn't want anybody to know where to. It's some kind of a secret--very important, I imagine --something to do with a gold mine, or something of the sort. He did not give me any particulars."

"He said he was going to let us know about it when we got home from the Hall," said Dick. "I hope he catches his man."

"Wonder who it can be?" came from Tom.

Nobody could answer that question, and in a thoughtful mood the three Rover boys followed their uncle to the carriage and got in. Then the team was touched up and away they whirled, out of the village, across Swift River, and in the direction of Valley Brook farm.

It was a beautiful day in June and never had the country looked finer. As they swept along the well kept road Dick drew a deep breath of satisfaction.

"This air makes a fellow feel new all over!" he declared.

"I suppose you are going to plant and grow some wonderful things this summer, Uncle Randolph," said Tom. His uncle had studied scientific farming for years, but had never made any tremendous success of it in fact his experiments usually cost him considerably more than they brought in.

"Well--er--I am trying my hand this year on some Mexican melons said to be very fine, Thomas," was the reply.

"Mexican melons?" said the fun-loving Tom, innocently. "That puts me in mind when I was over to Albany last I saw a pumpkin in a restaurant window eight feet high and at least ten feet across."

"Is it possible!" ejaculated Randolph Rover, gazing at his nephew incredulously.

"Sure thing. The pumpkin looked to be good, too. They had a lot of pumpkin pies set around it, just for an advertisement."

"Thomas, did you measure that pumpkin?"

"No; why should I?"

"Then how do you know it was eight feet high and ten feet across?"

"Why, Uncle Randolph, I didn't say the pumpkin was eight feet high and ten feet across. I said I saw it in a restaurant window eight feet high and ten feet across," and Tom drew down the corners of his mouth soberly.

"Tom, that's the worst ever!" cried Sam.

"You ought to be made to walk home for that," added Dick.

"Thomas! Thomas! you are as bad as ever!" said Mr. Rover, with a sigh. "But I might have been on my guard. I know there are no pumpkins of that size."

"Uncle Randolph, you'll have to forgive me," said Tom, putting his hand affectionately on his relative's shoulder. "I really couldn't help it--I am just bubbling over to think that school days are over and I won't have to do any studying for several months to come."

"I fancy we'll have to tie you down to keep you out of mischief."

"You won't have to tie me down if I go on a sea trip with dad."

"Haven't you had sea trips enough with being cast away in the middle of the Pacific, and being wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico? It seems to me every time you and the others leave home something serious happens to you."

"True but we always come back right side up with care and all charges paid," answered the fun-loving Rover airily.

They soon made a turn in the road which brought them in sight of the big farmhouse, nestling comfortably in a group of stately trees. As they turned into the lane their Aunt Martha came to the front piazza and waved her hand. Down in the roadway stood Jack Ness; the hired man, grinning broadly, and behind Mrs. Rover stood Alexander Pop, the colored helper, his mouth open from ear to ear. At once Tom began to sing:

"Home again! home again! Safe from Putnam Hall."

And then he made a flying leap from the carriage, rushed up the steps and gave his aunt such a hug as made her gasp for breath.

"Oh, Tom, you bear! Do let up!" she cried. "Now, there's a kiss for you, and there's another! How do you do, Sam, and how are you, Dick?" And she kissed them also. "I am glad you are back at last." She turned to her husband "What of Anderson, did you hear anything?"

"Yes, he will be back in a few days."

"I'se jess too pleased fo' anything to see yo' boys back heah!" came from Aleck Pop. "It's dun been mighty lonely since yo' went away."

"Don't worry, Aleck, we'll cheer you up," answered Tom.

"Oh, I know dat, Massa Tom yo'll turn dis place upside down in two days suah!"

"Why, Aleck, you know I'd never do anything so rash," answered Tom, meekly.

"Going to uncover some more freight thieves?" asked Jack Ness, as he took charge of the team and started for the barn.

"I think dem boys had bettah cotch some of dem chicken thieves," put in Aleck Pop. "Yo' don't seem to git holt ob dem nohow."

"Oh, never you mind about the chicken thieves," grumbled Jack Ness.

"Has somebody been stealing chickens again?" asked Dick, remembering that they had suffered several times from such depradations.

"Yes, da has took two chickens las' Wednesday, foah on Saturday, an' two on Monday. Jack he laid fo' 'em wid a shotgun, but he didn't cotch nobody."

"I'll catch them yet, see if I don't," said the hired man.

"Perhaps a fox is doing it," suggested Sam. "If so, we ought to go on a fox hunt. That would suit me first rate."

"No fox in this," answered Jack Ness. "I see the footprints of two men,--tramps, I reckon. If I catch sight of 'em I'll fill 'em full of shot and then have 'em locked up."