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Chapter 8

AT COLBY HALL


"My! look at that!"

"Some tumble that, eh?"

"Why! he sent some of that water and mud over me!"

Such were some of the exclamations as the loudly-dressed youth went down in the puddle of water and mud.

He was flat on his back, and it took several seconds for him to turn over and get to his feet. The fall had attracted the attention of everybody making for the auto-stage excepting Spouter and Jack.

"Oh, my eye! you're certainly a sight to see," came from the biggest boy in the crowd, Slugger Brown.

"It wasn't my fault that I fell," retorted the unfortunate one. "Those fellows bumped into me and made me lose my footing," and he pointed to Fred and Randy.

"No such thing!" burst out Fred, indignantly. "You bumped into us first; and you only fell when you tried to jump across the puddle and your feet slipped."

"I say it's your fault!" spluttered the boy who had gone down. His hands were covered with mud and water and he stood there helpless, filled with rage.

"Take your handkerchief and wipe your hands off," advised Slugger Brown. He looked coldly at Fred and Randy. "If they tripped you up, they ought to have a licking for doing it."

"That's the fellow who's responsible," answered the boy who had fallen, and he strode up to confront Fred. "For two pins I'd smash you on the nose," he continued, hotly.

"You leave him alone!" broke in Randy, and doubled up his fists.

The boy who had gone down had expected Fred to back away; but the youngest Rover bravely stood his ground.

"Say! what's up back there?" queried Spouter, suddenly looking around to see why the other boys had not followed him to the auto-stage.

"Looks to me as if somebody was going to get into a fight," returned Jack. "See! one of those fellows just made a pass at Fred. Come on, this won't do!" and he ran back towards the crowd that was gathering.

The boy who had fallen had, indeed, made a pass with one of his dirty fists at Fred, but the latter had dodged the blow with ease and now he had the loudly dressed youth by the arm.

"You behave yourself!" he said sharply. "I didn't knock you down, and you know it! I'm sorry you got yourself all dirty, but it wasn't my fault."

"You fight him, and you'll fight me too!" broke in Randy. "If there is any blame in this it belongs to me as much as to my cousin."

By this time Jack had reached the group and pushed his way to the front. As he caught sight of the face of the boy who had fallen, he gave a quick exclamation.

"Well I never! Nappy Martell!"

"Do you know this fellow?" questioned Andy, quickly.

"I've met him before," was the reply. "He's Nappy Martell--the fellow I had trouble with in front of the office in Wall Street--the fellow who so mistreated that poor street peddler."

"Oh! So this is the same chap, eh?" broke out Randy. "No wonder he wants to fight with Fred. He's a regular scrapper, in spite of his fine clothes."

"What are you doing here?" asked Nappy Martell, curiously, as he looked at Jack. Then his gaze suddenly shifted to Fred and Randy. "Are you Rovers, too?"

"We are," was the quick response.

"Humph! No wonder you knocked me down. I suppose that fellow told you all about me?" and Nappy pointed to Jack.

"What's the use of quarreling about a little thing like a tumble in the dirt?" panted Fatty, who was almost out of breath because of his run towards the auto-stage. "Come on! let's get to the Hall and see who is there."

"I'm not anxious to fight," answered Fred, readily; "but I don't like this fellow's talk."

"I'll talk as I please," blustered Martell. "And I'll fight, too, if I want to."

"That's the talk, Nappy!" came from Slugger Brown. "Don't let any new boys lord it over you. If you want to fight, go ahead."

"I owe these Rovers one," muttered the loudly dressed youth. "I had a run-in with this one in New York," and he pointed to Jack. "They are all of a kind--too fresh to live."

"There is no use of your talking that way, Martell," broke in Jack. "We didn't come here to scrap, but everyone of us can take his own part if it is necessary."

A perfect war of words followed, and the argument proved so hot that it looked as if there would certainly be a fight with Fred and Randy, and possibly some of the others, on one side, and Nappy Martell, Slugger Brown and one or two of their cronies who had come up on the other. But then came a sudden diversion as a heavily built and military looking man came from the main street of the town and walked towards them.

"Cheese it, boys!" came from one of the lads present. "Here comes Captain Dale. He'll report us all if he knows there's anything like a fight going on."

At the announcement that Captain Mapes Dale, who was the military instructor at Colby Hall, was approaching, the boys who had attended the academy the term previous fell back in alarm. They knew the captain to be a strict disciplinarian who abhorred fighting except in a military way.

"Well, boys, are you going up to the Hall?" said the captain pleasantly, as he came closer. The old pupils present saluted him and were saluted in return.

"Yes, sir," answered Spouter. And then before any of the others could speak he added: "Captain Dale, will you permit me to introduce some new scholars?" and thereupon he mentioned the Rover boys' names.

"Glad to know you," said Captain Dale, and shook hands all around.

In the meanwhile Nappy Martell had dropped somewhat in the background so that the military instructor might not notice the soiled condition of his clothing. Then one or two other new pupils were introduced, and the whole crowd made for the auto-stage.

The stage was a large affair, and Slugger Brown, Nappy Martell and some of their friends kept to the front end, leaving the Rovers and their friends together at the rear, the captain and a professor connected with the Hall seating themselves between the two factions.

"This row is only stopped for the time being," whispered Randy to Jack. "I think that fellow Martell is too ugly to let it drop."

"He's rather a big fellow to tackle Fred," returned Jack. "Why, he is even bigger than I am!"

"That's the way with most bullies," put in Fatty. "They don't feel like tackling a fellow of their size. They like to pick out little chaps."

"Oh, don't misunderstand me," returned the oldest of the Rover boys. "Fred may be small, but he is very strong and wiry, and he knows how to take care of himself. But I shouldn't like to see any out and out fighting--at least not so soon. We don't want to get a black eye before we get settled down."

"That's the talk!" came from Andy. "I'd rather have some fun than have any fighting. I hope we'll find the other fellows at the Hall more pleasant than this Martell and that great big Slugger Brown."

"It's queer you didn't mention Martell to us on the train," remarked Fred.

"I thought he had left school," answered Spouter. "You see, he went home before the term closed last Spring, and I didn't know that he was coming back."

"He and Brown seem to be pretty thick," was Randy's comment.

"Yes; they were always together last term, they and a fellow named Henry Stowell. Stowell is a regular little sneak, and most of the boys call him Codfish on account of the awfully broad mouth he's got."

"Well, there's one thing sure," remarked Jack; "we'll all have to keep our eyes open for Martell, Brown and Company."

While on the train the Rover boys had learned that Haven Point was a clean and compactly built town containing about two thousand inhabitants. It was located at the head of Clearwater Lake, a beautiful sheet of water about two miles long and half a mile wide and containing a number of picturesque islands. At the head of the lake was the Rick Rack River, running down from the hills and woods beyond. Up in the hills it was a wild and rocky watercourse containing a number of dangerous rapids, but where it passed Colby Hall it was a broad and fairly deep stream, joining the lake at a point where there were two rocky islands. The distance from the railroad station to the Military Academy was a little over half a mile, along a road branching off through the main street into a country highway bordered on one side by the river and on the other by a number of well-kept farms, with here and there a small patch of timber.

"There's the Hall!" exclaimed Spouter presently, after the auto-stage made a turn through a number of trees and came out on a broad highway running in a semi-circle around a large campus. "What do you think of the place? Looks rather fine, doesn't it?"

All of the Rover boys gazed eagerly at what was before them. They saw a large stone building, shaped almost in the form of a cross, the upper portion facing the river. It was three stories in height and contained not only the classrooms and mess hall of the institution, but also the dormitories for the boys. To one side was a small brick building which at one time had evidently been a private dwelling. This was now occupied by Colonel Colby and his family and the various professors. On the opposite side was a long, low, wooden building.

"That's our gym," explained Fatty. "You can go in there any time you want to, do a turn on the bars, and break your neck."

Down at the water's edge were several small buildings which, Spouter explained, were used for storing the boats belonging to the Hall and also as bathhouses. Behind the Hall were a stable and a barn, and also a garage. And still farther back were a vegetable garden and some farm fields, for Colonel Colby believed in raising as much stuff for the Hall table as possible.

"That's the Rick Rack River," explained Spouter, as they passed the stream. "We've some dandy times there swimming and boating."

"Don't you have skating in the winter?" queried Andy.

"Sure! And we have some great races, too."

In another moment the auto-stage drew up to the front door of Colby Hall, and one after another the boys and Captain Dale and the other teacher alighted.

"You new pupils may as well follow me right to the office," said the captain. "You can leave your suitcases in the hallway until you have been assigned to your rooms."

He led the way, and they followed through a large reception room and into an elegantly appointed office where Colonel Colby sat at a mahogany desk, writing.

"Some new pupils, Colonel Colby," announced the captain, and at once the colonel arose.

"So you are the Rover boys, eh?" he said, his face lighting up with pleasure. "I am certainly very glad to meet you. Of course you know that your fathers and myself were schoolmates for many years?"

"Yes, Colonel Colby, we know that," replied Jack. "That is one reason why they sent us here."

"So I understand. I am proud to know that my old friends think so much of me," and the master of Colby Hall smiled broadly. "I am sure we are going to get along famously."

"It certainly looks like a nice school," remarked Andy, frankly. "I like it first rate."

"And so do I," added his twin.

"We hope to have some great times here," came from Fred.

Then one after another the boys were required to sign the register and answer a number of questions regarding their age and previous instruction, and the state of their health.

"I'll have Professor Brice assign you to your rooms," said Colonel Colby, after the questioning had come to an end. "He has charge of that matter so far as it concerns the older boys. The younger boys are under the charge of Mrs. Crews, the matron."

The master of the Hall touched a bell, and when a servant appeared requested that Professor Brice be summoned. The latter soon appeared, a young man evidently just from college. He was introduced to the boys, and then took them off to assign them their rooms.

"Hadn't we better get our suitcases?" suggested Jack.

"Yes; you might as well bring them along," answered Professor Paul Brice. "That will save another trip downstairs. You can give your trunk checks to me, and I will see that the trunks are brought up from the station and placed in your rooms to be unpacked. After you've unpacked them, they will be marked with your names and placed in the trunk room."

It took the boys but a minute to reach the end of the hallway where their suitcases had been left. Those of the twins were still there, and also that belonging to Jack; but Fred's was missing.

"Hello! what's become of my suitcase?" questioned the youngest Rover, anxiously.

"Maybe somebody carried it upstairs for you," suggested Jack.

All looked around the hallway and in the nearby rooms, but the suitcase could not be found.

"Well, I don't think you need to worry," said Professor Brice lightly. "There is no danger of thieves around here. Probably some boy picked up the suitcase by mistake."

"Maybe," returned Fred; but then he looked at his cousins and shook his head slowly.

"I guess you suspect Nappy Martell and his cronies," whispered Randy on the way upstairs.

"I do!" answered Fred. "I think they took that suitcase to play a trick on me."


Edward Stratemeyer