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For an instant there was a dead silence in the bankers' offices. Charles Rush looked blankly at his bookkeeper.
"I believe Fredericks is right," said Mr. Wilder, the first to break the awkward pause. "I remember the fellow very well. I thought at the time that he was watching Mr. Rush rather closely."
"You had no business to bring in a man that was not to be trusted," growled Charles Rush, turning to the janitor.
"Do you think he stole the stuff?" ejaculated Subrug. "Sure Mooney wasn't smart enough for such a game."
"Perhaps not, but he got others to help him," said Dick. "He got Buddy Girk and Arnold Baxter, I feel positive of it."
"The whole thing fits together pretty well," said the detective. "If only we, can lay hands on these men the boy mentions, we'll be all right."
A long conversation followed, and then Dick and the others went to the police station.
The rooms at Yates' tenement were thoroughly searched once more, and a watch was set for Girk and Arnold Baxter.
But the rascals had flown and the watch proved useless.
In the meantime two detectives tried to trace what had become of Mooney, but this work also amounted to nothing, and it may be as well to add here that Mooney was never heard of again, having sailed for South America.
Upon an accounting it was learned that Rush & Wilder were by no means in a good financial condition and that Senator Harrington would lose a good sum of money should they fail.
"I'd give a thousand dollars to collar those thieves," said the senator dismally.
"If Arnold Baxter and Girk got that money they'll live in high clover for a while," remarked Dick, when the excitement was over and they had returned to Frank's home. "My! what a villain that Baxter is proving to be! No wonder Dan was bad! It must run in the blood."
The robbery kept the boys in Albany several days, and this being so, it was decided to abandon the trip on the river to New York.
"I'll send the Spray down by somebody," said Dick, "and then we can take a train from here direct to Oak Run," and so it was arranged.
The trip to Oak Run proved to be uneventful. And at the railroad station they were met by Jack Ness, the Rovers' hired man, who had driven over with the carryall to take them home.
"Glad to see you all looking so well," grinned the hired man. "Getting fat as butter, Master Tom."
"Thanks, Jack, I'm feeling fine. Any news?"
"No, sir, none exceptin' that your uncle has had a row with Joel Fox, who has the farm next to ours."
"What was the row about?" questioned Dick.
"All about some fruit, sir. We had a tree hangin' over Fox's fence -- finest pear tree on the place, that was. Fox strips the tree at night, sir -- saw him with my own eyes."
"Oh, what cheek!" burst out Sam. "What did uncle do?"
"Tried to talk to him, and Fox told him to mind his own business, that he could have what fruit hung over his fence. So he could, but not half of it hung that way, and he took every blessed pear."
"Fox always was a mean man," murmured Tom. "I'd like to square accounts with him before I go back to Putnam Hall."
"I reckoned as how you might be up to something like that," said Ness, with another grin. "But you want to be careful. Only yesterday Fox shot off his gun at some boys who were after his apples."
"Did he hit the boys?"
"I don't think he did."
"Who were they?"
"I don't know. And I reckon he don't either."
"Humph!" Tom mused for a moment.
"I'd like to scare the mean fellow by making him think one of the boys was killed."
"That's an idea!" cried Sam, and winked at his brother. "Let's do it!"
They were soon bowling over Swift River and along the road leading to Valley Brook farm. At the farmhouse their Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha stood in the dooryard to greet them.
"Back again, safe and sound!" cried Randolph Rover. "I suppose you feel like regular sailors."
"Well, we do feel a little that way," laughed Sam, and returned the warm kiss his aunt bestowed upon him. "It's nice to be home once more."
"Would you rather stay here than go back to Putnam Hall?" asked his aunt quickly.
"Oh, no, I can't say that, Aunt Marth. But it's awfully nice here, nevertheless."
A hot supper was awaiting them, and while they ate they told of all that had happened since they had been away. Randolph Rover shuddered over the way Dick had been treated.
"Be careful, my boy," he said. "Remember, even your father could not bring this Arnold Baxter to justice. He is evidently a thorough-paced scoundrel, and his companion is probably just as bad."
"And how goes the scientific farming, Uncle Randolph?" asked Tom, who knew how to touch his uncle in the right spot.
"Splendidly, my boy, splendidly! I am now working on a new rotation of crops. It will, I am certain, prove a revelation to the entire agricultural world."
"Did you make much money this season?" asked Sam dryly.
"Well -- er -- no; in fact, we ran a little behind. But we will do finely next year -- I am certain of it. I will have some strawberries and celery which shall astonish our State agricultural committee," answered Randolph Rover. He was always enthusiastic, in spite of almost constant failure. Thus far his hobby had netted him a loss of several thousand dollars.
It was Friday, and Saturday was to be given over to packing up for school. Yet on Saturday morning Tom managed to call Sam aside.
"We'll go over to Fox's," said he. "Are you ready?"
"I am, Tom," answered the younger brother. "And be sure and pile it on."
"Trust me for that," and Tom winked in a fashion that set Sam to roaring.
They found Joel Fox at work along the roadside, mending a part of a stone wall which had tumbled down. Fox was a Yankee, and miserly and sour to the very core.
"Well, what do you want?" he demanded, as the boys came to a halt in front of him.
"Why, Mr. Fox, I thought you had skipped out!" cried Tom in pretended surprise.
"Why should I skip out, boy?"
"On account of Harry Smith."
"Harry Smith? Who is he?"
"Harry Smith of Oak Run -- the boy who was shot the other day. Didn't you hear he was dead?"
At these words Joel Fox dropped the tools he was using and turned pale.
"Is - er -- is the boy-- er-" He could not finish.
"It was a wicked thing to do," put in Sam. "Any man that would shoot a boy ought to be lynched."
"Perhaps that crowd of men were coming up here," went on Tom. "Didn't they have a rope with them?"
"To be sure they had a rope, Tom. And one of 'em said something about hanging."
"What crowd are you talking about?" stammered Joel Fox, growing paler and paler.
"The crowd at the depot. Did you shoot him, Mr. Fox? I can't hardly believe it true, although I know you were mean enough to take my uncle's pears."
"I - er -- the pears were on my property. I er -- I didn't shoot at any boy. I - er -- I shot at some crows in my cornfield," stammered Joel Fox. "Did you say a crowd of men were coming over here with a rope?"
"You'll see fast enough, you bad man!" cried Tom, and ran off, followed by Sam. In vain Fox tried to call them back.
The boys went as far as a turn in the road, then hid behind some bushes. Soon they saw Fox pick up his tools and make for his barn. Then he came out and hurried for his house.
"I guess he's pretty well rattled," laughed Tom. "Won't he be mad when he learns how he has been fooled!"
They waited for a while, but as Fox did not reappear they hurried back home by another road, that the man might not see them.
Tom was right when he said that the miserly old farmer was "rattled," as it is commonly called.
All day long the coward remained in the house, as nervous as a cat and afraid that a crowd of men would appear at any minute to lynch him.
His wife did not know what to make of such actions and finally demanded an explanation, and when it was not forthcoming threatened him with the broom, which she had used as a weapon of offense several times previously.
"They say he's dead!" finally burst out Joel. "They are goin' ter lynch me for it. Hide me, Mandy, hide me!"
"Who is dead, Joel Fox?"
"The boy I shot at fer stealin' them apples. Oh, they'll lynch me; I feel it in my bones!" groaned the old man.
"Who was it?"
"Harry Smith of Oak Run."
"And he is dead?"
"So they say. But I didn't calkerlate I hit him at all," whined Joel.
"No more you did, for I saw him run away, and he went clear out o' sight up the road. Who told you this?" demanded Mrs. Fox.
"Those Rover boys, Tom an' Sam."
"Those young imps! Joel, they are fooling you."
"Do you really think so, Mandy?" asked the man hopefully.
"I do. If I was you I'd go over to Oak Run and find out."
'No, no -- if it's true they'll lynch me, I know they will!"
"Then I'll go over. I know Mrs. Smith. If he's dead there will be crape on the door an' I won't go in," concluded Mrs. Fox.
And getting out a horse and buckboard, she drove over to Oak Run and to the Smiths' place. She found no crape on the door. Harry Smith sat on the porch, his arm in a sling. Plucking up courage she drew rein, dismounted, and walked up to the boy, who was one of the Rover brothers friends.
"How is your arm, Harry?" she began softly.
"It's pretty fair," answered the boy politely. "Won't you come in, Mrs. Fox?"
"Well, I guess not. Harry, I'm sorry for this."
"So am I sorry, Mrs. Fox."
"I didn't think you would do it. Why didn't you come up to the house an' ask for them apples?"
The boy looked puzzled, for the simple reason that he was puzzled. "I don't understand you. What apples?"
"The ones you tried to steal."
"I didn't try to steal any apples, Mrs. Fox. What makes you think that?"
"Didn't you try to git in our orchard when Joel fired on you?" cried Mrs. Fox.
"Why, I haven't been anywhere near your orchard!"
"So?" Mrs. Fox looked bewildered. "Then -- then how did you get hurt?" she faltered.
"Why, Mr. Wicks and I were cleaning out pa's old shotgun when it went off accidentally, and I got a couple of the shot in my forearm," answered Harry Smith promptly.
The answer took away Mrs. Fox's breath.
"Drat them boys -- I knowed it!" she muttered, and drove away without another word. Harry Smith was much puzzled, but letters which soon after passed between him and Tom cleared up the mystery.
But the boys never heard of how Joel Fox fired when his wife got home. The lady arrived "as mad as a hornet," to use a popular saying. "You're the worst old fool ever was, Joel Fox!" were her first words, and a bitter quarrel followed that ended only when the man was driven out of the house with the ever-trustworthy broom. Joe Fox wanted to go over to the Rover farm, to have it out with Tom and Sam, but somehow he could not pluck up the courage to make the move.
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