INTRODUCING THE YOUNGER ROVERS
"For gracious sake! what's that racket?" exclaimed Dick Rover, as he threw down the newspaper he was reading and leaped to his feet.
"Sounds to me as if there was a battle royal going on," returned his younger brother, Sam, who was at a desk in the library of the old farmhouse, writing a letter.
"It's those boys!" exclaimed Tom Rover, as he tossed aside a copy of a comic paper which he had been looking over. "I'll wager they're up to some mischief again."
"Well, if they are your boys, Tom, you mustn't find fault with them," answered Sam Rover, with a twinkle in his eye. "If ever there were chips of the old block, your twins are It with a capital I."
"Humph!" snorted Tom Rover. "I don't think Andy and Randy are much ahead of your Fred when it comes to playing tricks, and I think Dick's Jack can hold up his end too."
"Never mind about that just now," broke in Dick Rover, hastily. "Let's go out and see what those kids are up to."
"All right. But don't be too severe with 'em," pleaded Tom Rover. "Remember, boys will be boys."
"That's true, Tom. But we've got to take 'em in hand sooner or later," remonstrated his brother Sam. "If we don't, they'll grow up the wildest bunch ever known."
A number of cries of alarm and protest, mingled with fierce cheering, had reached the house from the garden just beyond the broad veranda. As the three Rover brothers hurried through the hallway and outside, the yelling and cheering were renewed. Then, just as Tom Rover stepped out on the veranda, there was a sudden swish and a stream of water from a garden hose caught him directly in the left ear.
"Hi! Hi! Stop that!" cried Tom Rover, doing his best to dodge the stream of water, which suddenly seemed to play all over the piazza. "What do you mean by wetting me this way?"
"It wasn't my fault, Dad," came from a boy standing on the lawn, both hands clutching a rubber hose held, also, by another boy of about the same age. "It was Fred who turned the hose that way."
"Nothing of the sort! It was Randy twisted it that way trying to get it away from me," cried Fred Rover. "And he isn't going to do it!" and thereupon ensued a struggle between the two boys which caused the stream of water to fly over the garden first in one direction and then another.
In the meanwhile, not far away another stream of water was issuing from a hose held by two other lads. This, as well as the water from hose number one, had been directed towards the back of the garden, where an elderly white man and an equally elderly colored man were trying to shelter themselves behind a low hedge to keep from becoming drenched.
"Fo' de lan's' sake, Massa Dick! won't you make dem boys stop?" cried out the old colored man, when he caught sight of Dick Rover hurrying out on the lawn. "Dem boys is jest nacherly tryin' to drown old Aleck Pop, dat's what dey is!"
"They didn't have no call to touch them hoses," came from the elderly white man. "I tol' 'em they mustn't muss with the water; but they won't mind nohow!" and thus speaking old Jack Ness held up his hands in comic despair.
"Why! we didn't know you were behind the hedge," came from one of the boys holding the second hose. "We thought you were both down at the barn."
"You can't make believe like that, Andy Rover!" returned the old man of all work, shaking his head vigorously. "You knowed I was goin' to trim up this hedge a bit and that Aleck was goin' to help me."
"You boys let up with this nonsense," came sternly from Tom Rover. He turned to face one of his twins. "Randy, I ought to give you a thrashing for wetting me like this."
"Don't Fred get half the thrashing?" questioned Randy Rover, quizzically, for he could readily see that his parent was not as angry as his words seemed to imply. "I don't like to be selfish, you know. He can have more than his share if he wants it."
"You'll take your own thrashings--I don't want 'em," broke in his cousin Fred quickly.
"Jack," cried Dick Rover, turning to his son, "turn that water off at once."
"I don't know where to turn it off. I didn't turn it on," answered Jack Rover, the oldest of the four boys who had been fooling.
"I'll turn it off and fix it so they can't turn it on ag'in," came from old Jack Ness, and away hobbled the man of all work.
"I think it's a shame for you boys to drench old Ness and Aleck," was Sam Rover's sober comment. "Both of them might catch cold or get rheumatism."
"We didn't start to do anything like that, Dad," answered Fred Rover. "We were going to have a little fight between ourselves, playing rival firemen. We aimed the water at the hedge, and we didn't see Ness and Aleck until they let out a yell."
"But I saw two of you playing the water in that direction," cried Dick Rover. "You were one of them, Jack."
"Oh, well, Dad, what was the harm after they were all wet?" pleaded his son. "They'd have to change their clothing anyway."
"That's just it," added Andy Rover quickly, with his eyes twinkling from merriment. "A little more water won't hurt a person when he's already soaked. It's just like spoiling a rotten egg--it can't be done," and at this reply, both Dick Rover and his brother, the fun-loving Tom, had to turn away their faces to hide their amusement. Nevertheless, Dick sobered his face almost instantly as he answered:
"Well, these pranks around the farm have got to stop. You'll have your grandfather and Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha all upset, not to say anything about your sisters and your mothers. It's a fortunate thing that they went down to the town to do some shopping. Otherwise I think all of you would be in for quite some punishment."
"Oh! Then you're not going to punish us, are you?" broke in Randy Rover quickly. "That's fine! I knew you wouldn't mind our having a little fun."
"Don't be so fast, young man," returned his father. "Your Uncle Dick may be too lenient. I am rather of the opinion that you and your brother, if not your cousins, have got to be taken in hand."
"Oh, please, Massa Tom, don' go fo' to punish 'em," burst out old Aleck Pop. "I--I don't s'pose dey meant any great ha'm, even do dey did t'row dat stream of wattah right in dis yere coon's mouf;" and he smiled broadly, showing a row of ivories, rather the worse for wear.
"I think all of you boys had better go into the house and get some dry clothing on before your mothers put in an appearance," suggested Dick Rover. "If they see you like this, all dripping wet, they'll certainly be worried."
"All right, Dad; I'll do it," answered Jack, quickly. And then he motioned to his cousins. "Come on, let's see how fast we can make the change;" and off into the big farmhouse rushed the boys, clattering up the back stairs one after the other, to the two big rooms which they occupied.
"Some boys!" was Sam Rover's comment, as he shook his head doubtfully.
"They are certainly growing older--and wilder," returned Dick Rover.
"We've got to take them in hand--that is dead certain!" said Tom Rover, with conviction. "Why! if I don't do something with Andy and Randy pretty soon, they'll be as--as----"
"As bad as you were, Tom, at their age," finished Dick Rover, with a smile.
"Now you've said something, Dick," affirmed Sam Rover. "Andy isn't quite so bad when it comes to playing tricks, although he certainly says some awfully funny things, but when it comes to doing things Randy continually puts me in mind of Tom."
"Oh, say! To hear you fellows talk, you'd think that I was the worst boy that ever lived," grumbled Tom Rover. "What did I ever do to raise such a rumpus as this?"
"Phew! What did he ever do to raise such a rumpus as this?" mocked Sam Rover. "Well, what didn't he do? When father went to Africa and disappeared and we came down here to good old Valley Brook Farm, wasn't he the constant torment of Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha, and the hired girl, and all the rest of the community until, in sheer despair, uncle had to send us off to Putnam Hall? And when we went to the Hall, who was the first one to get into trouble--exploding a giant firecracker on the campus? Answer me that, will you?"
"Ancient history," murmured Tom Rover, dryly. But then, of a sudden his eyes began to twinkle. "No use talking, though, we certainly did have some good times in those days, didn't we?" he continued. "Do you remember how we got the best of old Josiah Crabtree?"
"Yes. And how we got the best of a whole lot of our enemies," added Sam Rover.
"Yes, and what gloriously good times we did have at Putnam Hall and at Brill College," came from Dick Rover, with a sigh. "Sometimes I wish all those happy days could be lived over again."
"When you think of those days, Dick, just think of what great times are in store for our boys," said Sam. "I only trust they have as good times as we had."
"I guess they'll know how to take care of themselves all right enough," was Tom Rover's comment. "But, just the same, we can't permit them to become too wild. Sending them to that private school in New York City doesn't seem to have done them so very much good, although, of course, I admit they are well educated for their age."
"I know where I'm going to send Jack when the proper time comes," answered Dick Rover.
"Where?" came from his brothers.
"I'm going to send him to Colby Hall, the military academy which our old school chum, Larry Colby, has opened. Larry sent me some of his literature some time ago; and I have heard from several people that it's already a first-class institution of learning--every bit as good as Putnam Hall."
"Well, if it's half as good as dear old Putnam Hall it must be some school," said Tom Rover. "And there's no reason why Larry Colby shouldn't be able to run a first-class military academy. He was a good scholar and a first-class cadet when he was at Putnam Hall."
"After Larry left Putnam Hall he went to travel in Europe," continued Dick. "Then he went through college, and immediately after that he joined the militia of New York State and there worked his way up until he now sports the title of colonel."
"Colonel Colby, eh? That's going some," was Tom's comment.
"His school is patterned after West Point, as was Putnam Hall, and I understand he has a West Point officer there to instruct the cadets in military tactics."
"Well, that's the sort of school our boys will need," answered Tom Rover. "The stricter it is the better it will be for them."
"I think it would be a good scheme to send them to Larry Colby's school," was Sam's comment. "As Larry knows us so well he would probably take an especial interest in our boys."
"Yes. But I wouldn't want him to show our lads any special favors," broke in Tom, quickly. "If the boys went there, I should want them to stand on their own feet, just as we did when we went to Putnam Hall."
"That's the talk, Tom! No favoritism!" cried Dick. "The only way to make a boy thoroughly self-reliant is to make him take his own part."
"If we are going to send them off to boarding school, they might as well go this Fall as any other time," remarked Sam Rover. "Have you any idea when the term at Colby Hall begins, Dick?"
"About the middle of September."
"It's the middle of August now. That would give us a full month in which to make arrangements and for them in which to get ready."
"Have you ever said anything to the twins about going to boarding school, Tom?" questioned Sam.
"Oh, yes. They understand that they are to go to some place sooner or later. Fred understands it, too, doesn't he?"
"And I told Jack only a short while ago that he must get ready to think of leaving home," put in Dick Rover. "Of course, it will be rather hard on the boys at first. They have never been away from us at all except the two weeks when they were out in that boys' camp."
"They'll have to get used to it, just as we got used to it when father went off to Africa and Uncle Randy sent us to Putnam Hall. Perhaps we had better tell them----"
Sam Rover broke off short as a series of shrieks in a high-pitched feminine voice issued from the pantry of the big farmhouse. An instant later a hired girl, followed by a middle-aged cook, came flying forth from the kitchen doorway.
"Oh, save me! Save me!" cried the hired girl, clutching her skirts tightly around her ankles, "Save me!"
"Oh, Mr. Rover! Mr. Rover! It's those dreadful boys! I won't stay here another minute!" screamed the cook, flourishing a big spoon in one hand and a dish-cloth in the other. "It's outrageous! That's what it is! I'm going to pack my trunk and leave this house right away!"
"What's the matter?" demanded Tom Rover, quickly.
"Are you hurt?" came anxiously from Dick.
"What have the boys done now?" questioned Sam.
"What have they done?" wailed the hired girl. "I just went into the pantry and opened the closet door and out jumped about a thousand mice at me!"
"Yes! and they are running all over the house!" broke in the cook savagely. "One of 'em ran right over my foot and tried to bite me! I'm going to pack my trunk and leave! I won't stay here another minute!"
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