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The Rover boys had acted on the impulse of the moment. They had seen that the girl wanted the two dudish young men to leave her alone, and stepping into the kitchen, Dick had tackled Dudd Flockley while Tom and Sam had given their attention to Jerry Koswell.
"You cowards!" cried Dick, confronting Flockley. "Why can't you leave a young lady alone when she tells you to?"
"They ought to be kicked out of the house," added Tom.
"You--you--" spluttered Dudd Flockley. He did not know what to say. He gathered himself up hastily and Jerry Koswell followed. "Who are you?" he demanded, facing Dick with clenched fists.
"Never mind who I am," was the reply of the oldest Rover. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"This is none of your affair," came from Koswell.
"Well, we made it our affair," answered Tom. He turned to the girl "I hope we did right," he added hastily.
"Why--er--yes, I think so," faltered the girl. She was still very white and trembling. "But--but I hope you didn't hurt them."
"See here, Minnie, are you going to stand for this?" growled Dudd Flockley. "It ain't fair! We're old friends, and--"
"You had no right to touch me, Mr. Flockley," answered the girl. "I told you to let me go. I--I thought you were a--a--gentleman." And now the tears began to show in Minnie Sanderson's eyes.
"I am a gentleman."
"You didn't act like one."
"Oh, come, don't get prudish, Minnie," put in Jerry Koswell. "We didn't mean any harm. We--"
"I want you to leave this house!" said the girl, with a sudden show of spirit. "You had no warrant to act as you did. It--it was--was shameful! Leave at once!" And she stamped her small foot on the floor. Her anger was beginning to show itself and her face lost its whiteness and became crimson.
"We'll leave when we please," muttered Dudd Flockley.
"So we will," added Jerry Koswell.
On the instant Dick looked at his brothers, and the three advanced on the two dudish-looking young men.
"You do as the young lady says," said Dick in a cold, hard voice. "I don't know you, but you are not wanted here, and that is enough. Go!" And he pointed to the door.
"See here--" blustered Flockley. But he got no further, for Dick suddenly wheeled him around and gave him a shove that sent him through the doorway and off the back porch.
"Now the other fellow," said the oldest Rover, but before Tom and Sam could touch Jerry Koswell that individual ducked and ran after Flockley. Then both young men stood at a safe distance.
"We'll fix you for this!" roared Flockley. "We don't know who you are, but we'll find out, and--"
"Maybe you want a thrashing right now," came from Tom impulsively. "I'm in fighting trim, if you want to know it." And he stepped out of the house, with Sam at his heels. Dick followed. At this hostile movement Flockley and Koswell turned and walked hurriedly out of the garden and down the country road, a row of trees soon hiding them from view.
"They are as mad as hornets," observed Sam. "If they belong anywhere near Ashton we'll have to look out for them."
"Right you are," answered Tom. "But I am not particularly afraid."
Having watched the two young men out of sight, the three Rover boys returned to the farmhouse. Minnie Sanderson had now recovered somewhat and she blushed deeply as she faced them.
"Oh, wasn't it awful," she said. "I--I don't know what you think of it. They had no right to touch me. I thought they were gentlemen. They have called here several times, but they never acted that way before."
"Then we came in the nick of time," answered Dick. "Will you allow me to introduce myself?" and he bowed. "My name is Dick Rover and this is my brother Tom and this my brother Sam. You are Miss Sanderson, I suppose."
"Yes, Minnie Sanderson."
"We are strangers here. We were on the train, but there was a little accident and we were in a hurry to get to Ashton, so we got off and walked up this road, thinking we could hire somebody to drive us to Brill College."
"Oh, do you go to Brill?" And the girl's eyes opened widely.
"We don't go yet, but we are going."
"Then--then you'll meet Mr. Flockley and Mr. Koswell again."
"What, are they students there?" cried Tom.
"Yes. This is their second year, I believe. I know they were there last spring, for they called here."
Sam gave a low whistle.
"We are making friends first clip, aren't we?" he murmured to his brothers.
The boys related a few of the particulars of the accident and their experience at the farmhouse near the railroad.
"Oh, that's old Mrs. Craven!" cried Minnie Sanderson. "She would talk you out of your senses if you'd let her. But about a carriage, I don't know. If papa was here--"
At that moment came the sound of carriage wheels on the gravel path near the barn.
"There is papa now!" cried Minnie Sanderson. "You can talk to him. I guess he'll take you to the college quick enough."
"How did those two young fellows get here?" asked Sam.
"I don't know. And please--that is--you won't say anything to my father about that, will you? It would make him very angry, and I don't know what he'd do."
"We'll not say a word if you wish it that way," answered Dick.
"I don't think they'll bother me again after the way you treated them," added the girl.
She led them toward the barn and introduced her father, a fat and jolly farmer of perhaps fifty. Mr. Sanderson had been off on a short drive with one horse and he readily agreed to take them to Brill College for two dollars.
"Just wait till I put in a fresh team," he said. "Then I'll get you over to the college in less than an hour and a quarter."
While he was hooking up he explained that he had been to a nearby village for a dry battery for the electric doorbell.
"We don't use the bell much, but I hate to have it out of order," he explained.
"That's why it didn't ring," said Sam to his brothers.
The carriage was soon ready and the three dress-suit cases were piled in the rear. Then the boys got in and Mr. Sanderson followed.
"Good-by!" called the boys to Minnie Sanderson.
"Good-by," she returned sweetly and waved her hand.
"Maybe we'll get down this way again some day," said Dick.
"If you do, stop in," returned the girl.
The farmer's team was a good one and they trotted out of the yard and into the road in fine shape. Dick was beside the driver and his brothers were in the rear. The carriage left a cloud of dust behind as it bowled along over the dry country road.
"First year at Brill?" inquired Mr. Sanderson on the way.
"Yes," answered Dick.
"Fine place--no better in the world, so I've heard some folks say-- and they had been to some of the big colleges, too."
"Yes, we've heard it was all right," said Tom. "By the way, where is Hope Seminary?"
"About two miles this side of Brill."
"Then we'll pass it, eh?" came from Sam.
"Well, not exactly. It's up a bit on a side road. But you can see the buildings--very nice, too--although not so big as those up to Brill. I'll point 'em out to you when we get there."
"Do you know any of the fellows at Brill?" questioned Tom, nudging Sam in the ribs as he spoke.
"A few. Minnie met some of 'em at the baseball and football games, and once in a while one of 'em stops at our house. But we are most too far away to see much of 'em."
Presently the carriage passed through a small village which the boys were told was called Rushville.
"I don't know why they call it that," said Mr. Sanderson with a chuckle. "Ain't no rushes growing around here, and there ain't no rush either; it's as dead as a salted mackerel," and he chuckled again. "But there's one thing here worth knowing about," he added suddenly.
"What's that?" asked Dick.
"The Jamison place--it's haunted."
"Haunted!" cried Tom. "What, a house?"
"Yes, a big, old-fashioned house, set in a lot of trees. It ain't been occupied for years, and the folks say it's haunted, and nobody goes near it."
"We'll have to inspect it some day," said Sam promptly.
"What--you?" cried the fat farmer.
"Ain't you scared?"
"No," answered the youngest Rover. "I don't believe in ghosts."
"Well, they say it's worth a man's life to go in that house, especially after dark."
"I think I'd risk it."
"So would I," added Tom.
"We'll pay the haunted house a visit some day when there is no session at the college," said Dick "It will give us something to do."
"Hum!" mused the farmer. "Well, if you do it you've got backbone, that's all I've got to say. The folks around here won't go near that Jamison place nohow."
The road now became hilly, with many twists and turns, and the farmer had to give his entire attention to his team. The carriage bounced up and down and once Sam came close to being pitched out.
"Say, this is fierce!" he cried. "How much more of it?"
"Not more'n a quarter of a mile," answered Mr. Sanderson. "It is kinder rough, ain't it? The roadmaster ought to have it fixed. Some of the bumps is pretty bad."
There was one more small hill to cross, and then they came to a level stretch. Here the horses made good time and the farmer "let them out" in a fashion that pleased the boys very much.
"A fine team and no mistake," said Dick, and this pleased Mr. Sanderson very much, for he was proud of but two things--his daughter Minnie and his horses.
"There is Hope Seminary," said Mr. Sanderson presently and pointed to a group of buildings set in among some large trees. "That's a good school, I've been thinking of sending my daughter there, only it's a pretty long drive, and I need her at home. You see," he explained, "Minnie keeps house for me--has ever since my wife died, three years ago."
The boys gazed at the distant seminary buildings with interest, and as they did so Dick thought of Dora Stanhope and Tom and Sam remembered the Lanings. All thought how jolly it would be to live so close together during the college term.
"Now we've got only two miles more," said Mr. Sanderson as he set his team on a trot again. "I'll land you at Brill inside of fifteen minutes, even if the road ain't none of the best."
The country road ran directly into the town of Ashton, but there was a short cut to the college and they turned into this. Soon the lads caught sight of the pile of buildings in the distance. They were set in a sort of park, with the road running in front and a river in the rear. Out on the grounds and down by the stream the Rover boys saw a number of students walking around and standing in groups talking.
With a crack of his whip Mr. Sanderson whirled from the road into the grounds and drove up to the steps of the main building.
"This is the place where new students report," he said with a smile. "I'll take your grips over to the dormitory."
"Thank you, Mr. Sanderson," said Dick. "And here are your two dollars," and he handed the money over.
While Dick was paying the farmer Sam turned to the back of the carriage to look at the dress-suit cases. He gave an exclamation.
"What's the matter?" asked Tom.
"Didn't you have a suit case, Tom?"
"Well, it's gone."
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