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"So you wish to see me, Rover? Very well, come right in and sit down," said Captain Putnam, who sat in front of his desk, making up some of his accounts for the month just past.
Tom came in and sat down. It must be confessed he was a trifle nervous, but this soon wore away.
"I came to tell you something and to ask your advice," he began. "You remember what happened to me when I ran away into the woods just after arriving at the Hall?"
"Very well, Thomas," and the captain smiled.
"Well, when Sam and I went to Cedarville to buy our skates we saw Dan Baxter in the tavern there, in company with the man with a scar on his chin. This man gave Baxter some bank bills."
"What! At the tavern?"
"Please tell your story in detail, Rover," and now Captain Putnam swung around so that he might get a full view of his pupil's face.
And Tom told his story from beginning to end just as I have set it down in the foregoing pages.
"I am certain this man is some relative of Baxter," he concluded. "And I am equally certain he is not an honest fellow."
"Humph!" Captain Putnam arose and began to pace the heavily carpeted floor. "Rover, this is a serious charge."
"I understand that, Sir. But you can't blame us boys for trying to get back Dick's watch and trying to - to -"
"Bring the guilty party to justice? Certainly not! But it would seem the man with a scar is not the thief."
"No, but he is the boon companion of the thief."
"That is true -- unless there is some grave mistake. But you are right about one thing, the man is really Baxter's father, and his name is Arnold Baxter."
"And why does he travel around under the name of Nolly?"
"That is the mystery. I met Mr. Baxter only once -- when he placed his son in my care. At that time I was certain he was wearing a wig and a false mustache. The scar was on his chin, although he tried to hide it. I have never seen him since. When any money is due from him he sends it to me by mail and does not ask for any receipt. I once asked Baxter about his parents, and he said his mother was dead and he didn't know exactly where his father was, as the latter was a great traveler and went everywhere."
"If you are right, and the man is a rascal, it is to his credit that he is trying to bring his son up as a gentleman. Perhaps he doesn't want Daniel to know anything of the past. Do you follow me?"
"I do, sir. But if this is so, would he take his son into the tavern?"
"Perhaps -- everybody is not so opposed to drinking as I am."
"Well, if Mr. Baxter is a bad man, I rather think Dan is a chip of the old block," rejoined Tom bluntly. "But be that as it may, all I want to get hold of is that thief and Dick's timepiece."
"I will question Baxter closely," answered Captain Putnam. "But I do not wish to hold him guilty of something of which most likely he knows nothing."
George Strong had by this time come in, and he was sent to bring Baxter. He was gone but, a few minutes when he came back in high excitement.
"Baxter has broken out of the guardroom!" he, exclaimed. "I cannot find him anywhere!"
"Did you look in the dormitory?"
"Yes, sir; and his valise is gone, and his trunk is empty of all of value."
"Humph!" Captain Putnam's brow contracted. "This looks very suspicious."
At that moment one of the smaller cadets came in with a note in his hand.
"I just met Baxter running down the road!" exclaimed the little fellow. "He gave me this for you, Captain Putnam."
At once the proprietor of the Hall tore open the communication and read it half aloud:
"Good-by to Putnam Hall forever. It is full of fellows who are no good and run by a man I never liked. No use of following me, for I am going to join my father, and I don't mean to come back.
"P. S. -- Tell the Rover boys I shan't forget them, and some day I shall take pains to square accounts.
"The foolish boy," was the captain's comment. "But perhaps he has done what is best, for it might have been necessary to dismiss him." For a long while those at the Hall wondered how Baxter had escaped. Only Mumps knew and he kept the secret to himself. A duplicate key to the door of the guardroom had done the trick.
As Baxter was not followed, nothing more was spoken of him for the time being, and after several days the cadets settled down to their regular work as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. A hunt was instituted by Dick for Arnold Baxter and Buddy the thief, but no trace of the pair came to light.
The Christmas holidays were now at hand and the closing days at Putnam Hall were given over to several entertainments. One of these consisted of a stage performance of a play called "A Christmas in a Tenement," given by twelve of the boys. Three of the lads, including Tom, took female parts, and the audience laughed itself sore over the antics that were cut up.
Many living in the vicinity came to the entertainment; including all of the Lanings and also Dora Stanhope and her mother; who was now almost as well as ever.
"It was fine!" said Nellie Laning to Tom. "But, oh, Tom, what a girl you did make!"
"Wouldn't you like me for a sister?" queried Tom.
"A sister! Oh, dear!" cried Nellie, and began to laugh again.
"You looked like a female giraffe!" put in Grace Laning. "Sam acted a little boy splendidly. Sam, don't you want a stick of candy?"
"Yes, mammy, please," squeaked Sam, just as he had on the stage, and another laugh went around.
In the meantime Dick had drawn Dora to one side. "What is the news?" he asked anxiously.
"Nothing new," sighed Dora. "Josiah Crabtree has gone to Boston on business. I am afraid I cannot keep that marriage off much longer. He seems bound to marry mother, and even if she feels like drawing back she hasn't the courage to tell him so."
"It's a shame," murmured Dick. "Well, remember what I said, Dora, if I can ever help you I will." And he squeezed her hand. Before they separated he gave her a silk handkerchief he had purchased at Cedarville, one with her initial in the corner, and she blushingly handed over a scarf made by herself. Dick was very proud of that scarf, although Tom and Sam leased him about it unmercifully.
Of course the boys had received letters from their uncle and aunt regularly, yet they watched eagerly for the hour that should bring them within sight of the farm with its well-known buildings. The journey to Oak Run proved uneventful, and here Jack, the hired man, met them with the carriage.
"Glad to see you, lads," he said -- with a grin.
"Seems quite natural like."
"So it does, Jack!" cried Tom. "Let 'em out, for we want to get home!"
The snow was falling, and by the time the farmhouse was reached it was several inches deep. "We're in for a sleigh ride before we go back," said Sam.
Their uncle and aunt stood at the door to receive them. "Welcome home! Merry Christmas!" came from both, and each of the boys gave a warm handshake to Randolph Rover and hearty kiss to their Aunt Martha. Past troubles were all forgotten.
This was Christmas Eve, and the boys stayed up late, cracking nuts by the blazing log fire and having a good time generally.
In the morning Dick was the first one awake.
"For gracious' sake!" he ejaculated, staring at the chimney piece. "There hung his own stocking and also one each belonging to Tom and Sam. Each was filled with goodies such as he knew only his Aunt Martha could make.
"Sam and Dick, wake up, we've struck a, bonanza!" he cried, and hauled both from under the covers. All laughed heartily, and marched down to the dining room with the stockings over their shoulders.
"A merry Christmas to Uncle Randolph from of us," said Tom, handing over a much coveted volume on agriculture. "And a merry Christmas to Aunt Martha from three bad boys," added Sam, and turned over a fancy work-basket, both presents having been purchased at Ithaca on the journey home.
"Ha! Just what I desired!" said Randolph Rover, adjusting his spectacles. "I am very much obliged, boys -- I am, indeed!"
"Such a pretty basket!" murmured Mrs. Rover. "It was very good of you!" and she, hugged each lad in his turn. Then came more presents -- neckties, collars, and gloves for the boys, besides a book for each written by a favorite juvenile writer.
"The snow is two feet deep!" said Dick, after an inspection, when breakfast had come to an end. "We're booked for the house today!"
"We'll wait until afternoon," said Mr. Rover.
It was a happy time, even if they were snowed in. Soon the warm sun came out and brought the snow down a little. "Best kind of sleighing now," said the hired man, and drove around the biggest sleigh on the place. All tumbled in, and the party did not return until after midnight.
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