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"I must thank you for ridding us of that fellow," said one of the girls. "He has annoyed us several times."
"It was a pleasure to assist you," answered Dick, with the politeness of a dancing master, and tipped his hat; and his brothers and Fred Garrison did the same.
After this there seemed nothing to do but to be introduced, and Dick did this for the boys, while the eldest girl acted for herself and her companions.
"My name is Dora Stanhope," she said. "These are my cousins Nellie and Grace Laning. We live at Cedarville."
"Just the place we are going to!" cried Torn. "We are bound for Putnam Hall. I suppose you know the place?"
"We do -- very well," answered Dom Stanhope. "It is less than quarter of a mile away from our farm."
"And it is quite near to our place too," added Nellie Laning.
"Then perhaps we'll see more of each other," remarked Fred Garrison.
"Perhaps; but isn't Captain Putnam rather strict about letting you boys out?" questioned, Dora.
"We don't know yet -- we are newcomers."
"Newcomers!" cried Nellie. "Then you don't know that fellow who was just here?"
"No. Does he belong at Putnam Hall?"
"Yes. I know nothing of him, however, further than that I have seen him several times on the Hall road."
Dick gave a low whistle.
"Perhaps we've put our foot in it," remarked Sam in a low tone to him.
"Never mind; we did what was right," answered Dick. "No fellow is justified in acting as Dan Baxter did."
"Tell us something about Putnam Hall, won't you?" said Fred Garrison, after a pause.
At this the three girls laughed.
"What should we know about that place?" asked Dora. "We have never been inside, excepting at one Christmas entertainment."
"But you must see some of the fellows occasionally."
"Not often," said Grace Laning. "Captain Putnam does not allow his pupils to leave the grounds excepting on special occasions. But papa caught three of the pupils in our strawberry patch once."
"He did? And what happened to the fellows?" put in Tom with deep interest.
"Father made them pick twelve quarts of berries for him for nothing, and didn't let them eat a single one."
"Great Caesar! What a fine fellow your dad -- I mean your father -- must be."
"Of course he is fine. The boys had no right to attempt stealing the berries. My father would have given them some for the asking."
"But they wouldn't have been half as sweet as if they were hooked on the sly," said Tom wisely, and everybody laughed.
"You boys ought to have fine times at Putnam Hall," went on Dora to Dick. "I sometimes see the soldier boys marching; and once, last summer, I visited their encampment."
"We are looking forward to a good time,"' was the answer. "And I trust we see you again," went on Dick; and Dora blushed prettily.
The Golden Star was now approaching a little landing known as Hopedale, and all left their chairs to see the village, and people getting on and off. It was an engaging scene, and the did not return to the bow of the boat until ten minutes later, after taking a walk completely around the steamer's deck.
In the bow a surprise awaited them. During their absence Dan Baxter had appropriated four of their camp chairs and was stretched out on them as if in sleep.
"Oh, what a cheek!" cried Tom.
"Let us haul him off," suggested Sam.
"All right, come ahead," put in Fred.
"Oh, please don't have another row with him!" cried Dora in alarm. "Let him keep the seats. We can go somewhere else,"
"All right, let the pig sleep," said Dick.
He felt tolerably certain that Dan Baxter was awake and heard him, but the bully made no sign.
The party walked away, and the bully sneered softly to himself.
"They didn't dare to tackle me," was what he thought in his conceit. "I'd like to meet 'em one by one alone I'd show each a trick or, two."
At last Cedarville was reached and the little steamer tied up at the dock, and the boys and girls went ashore. Just before leaving, Dick took a look at Dan Baxter and saw that he wag now sleeping in earnest.
"I won't wake him," he thought. "If he is carried to the head of the lake, it will only serve him right."
Once on the dock, he and Fred hurried off to see about the baggage, and while they were gone a well-dressed and pleasant- looking farmer came up and kissed each of the girls. It was Mr. Laning.
"I hope you had a nice visit to Cousin May's," he said. "Come, the carriage is waiting out in the street."
And he hurried the girls away before they had hardly time to say good-by.
"Nice girls," remarked Tom.
"Yes, indeed," answered Sam. "Hope we see them again."
"We won't have much of a chance if what they say about Putnam Hall is true, Sam. Evidently Captain Putnam believes in keeping his pupils well in hand."
"Well, Uncle Randolph believes we ought' to be taken well in hand."
Dick and Fred returned presently, bringing with them a tall, lean man of apparently fifty.
"Boys," cried Fred, "let me introduce you to Mr. Peleg Snugsomebody, general utility man at Putnam Hall."
"Peleg Snuggers, please," said the man weekly. "Excuse me, but I was sent to bring you to the Hall."
"Do we walk?" demanded Tom.
"No, sir; the carryall is out on the street, and my boy Pete has the wagon for your trunks."
"The trunks are already in the wagon," said Dick. "Come ahead."
"How many of you, please?" went on Peleg Snuggers.
"There is only one of me, thank you," answered Tom meekly.
"Don't joke me so early in the term, please," said the utility man pleadingly. "Goodness knows, I'll get more than my share between now and Christmas. I mean, how many it the party?"
"Five of us, Mr. Sluggrub."
"Snuggers, please; Peleg Snuggers -- an easy name to remember when you get the swing of it, sir."
"To be sure, Smullers. Yes, there are exactly five of us," and Tom winked at his companions.
"That's all right; the captain said to bring five. Where is the other?"
"The other boy. I see only four of you."
"You asked me how many there were in the party, Mr. Snugbug."
"Yes, sir; and you said five."
"Four of us, and only one of you. Isn't that five --or do they have a different kind of arithmetic at Putnam Hall from what I have been studying?"
"Please don't joke, Master Rover, please don't. I was to bring five boys." The utility man drew a slip of paper from his pocket. "Four new boys -- Richard, Samuel, and Thomas Rover and -- Frederick Garrison -- and Corporal Daniel Baxter."
"Gracious, the bully is a corporal at the Hall!" came from Sam in so low a tone that Snuggers did not catch it.
"The corporal isn't present," said Fred, gazing around absently.
"So he isn't. Must have missed the boat. Come along, please," and Peleg Snuggers led the way to where a large and extra-heavy carryall stood. A splendid team of iron-grays was attached to the carriage; and Dick, who loved good horseflesh, could not help but admire the animals.
"Oh, they are fine, Master Richard," said Snuggers. "Nothing finer on the lake shore. Captain Putnam's one recreation is to drive behind a fast team."
"Is it? I wish he would take me out with him some time."
"Always drives alone. Reckon it kind of quiets him, after a noisy time with the boy."
They were soon on the way, which led out of Cedarville and over a hill fronting the lake.
"By the way, do you know where the farms belonging to Mr. Stanhope and to Mr. Laning are located?" asked Tom, when they were well out of the village.
"Mr. Stanhope, sir? There isn't any Mr. Stanhope. He died two years ago. That place you see away over yonder is Mrs. Stanhope's farm."
"She has a daughter Dora?"
"Yes," Peleg Snuggers paused for a moment. "They say the widder thinks of marrying again."
"Is that so!" put in Dick, and then he wondered if Dora would be pleased with her stepfather. "So that is the place?"
"Yes, sir; two hundred and fifty acres, and the fittest dairy in these parts. If, the widder marries again, her husband will fall into a very good thing. The dairy company at Ithaca once offered fifty thousand dollars for the cattle and land."
"Gracious!" came from Tom. "We've been chumming with an heiress. Are the Lanings rich, too?"
"Very well to do. That is their place, that side road. Here is where we turn off to get to the Hall. Captain Putnam had this road made when the Hall was first built."
The road was one of cracked stone, as smooth as a huge iron roller could make it. They bowled along at a rapid rate, under the wide spreading branches of two rows of stately maples. They were close to the lake, and occasional glimpses of water could be caught through the tree branches.
"It is certainly a splendid locality for a boarding academy," was Dick's comment. "My, what pure air -- enough to make a sick boy strong! Do you have much sickness at the Hall?"
"Very little, sir. The captain does not let a cast of sickness stand, but calls in Dr. Fremley at once."
"That is where he is level-headed," said Fred. "My father said I was to call for a doctor the minute I felt at all sick."
They were now approaching Putnam Hall, but there was still another turn to make. As they swept around this, they came upon a tramp, half asleep under a tree. The tramp roused up at the sounds of carriage wheels and looked first at the driver of the carryall and then at the four boys.
"Phew!" he ejaculated, and lost no time in diving out of sight into some brush back of the row of maples.
"Hullo, who was that?" cried Sam.
"A tramp, I reckon," answered the utility man. "We are bothered a good deal with them."
"Begging at the Hall for the left-overs?"
"Exactly. The captain is too kind-hearted. He ought to drive 'em all away," answered Peleg Snuggers; and then the carryall passed on.
When it was gone, and the wagon with the trunks had followed, the tramp came out of the brush and gazed after both turnouts. "Say, Buddy Girk, but dat was a narrow escape," he muttered to himself. "Wot brought dem young gents to dis neighborhood? It can't be possible da have tracked me -- an' so quick." He hesitated. "I t'ink I had better give dis neighborhood de go-by," and he dove into the brush again. He was the rascal who had stolen Dick's timepiece.
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