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Luckily for the boys the barn was blown clean over on its side, its roof falling some distance away, so that none of the wreckage came down on top of the crowd.
But the sounds of the beams and boards breaking were so terrifying that for several minutes after the damage was done none of the crowd dared to move. Each felt as though the next second might be his last.
At length Dick pulled himself together and peered forth.
"Any -- anybody hurt?" he panted.
"I'm not," came from Tom. "But, say, wasn't --"
A splutter, coming from Hans, interrupted him. In his eagerness to escape the fall of the barn the German cadet had plunged into the hay open-mouthed, and now some of the stuff had entered his throat and was almost choking him.
"Clap him on the back!" cried Dick, and Tom did as requested. Then came several gulps and Hans began to cough. But the danger from strangulation was over.
All were soon out of the wreckage, and thankful that they had escaped thus easily.
"But we won't have the barn to shelter us," said Frank ruefully. "What will we do next?"
Push on until another shelter appears," said Dick. "We can't remain here, to be frozen to death."
"Yes, but be careful that we don't get on to the lake again," cautioned Sam.
"No fear of that, Sam."
After the terrific blow which laid low the old barn, the wind appeared to let up a bit, and consequently moving was not so difficult. They struck out across the meadow, and presently gained a clump of trees.
"Dis vos besser as noddings," said Hans. "Supposing ve stay here for der night?"
"I'm going to see what's on the other side of the woods first," replied Dick, and stalked off, Tom at his heels. Presently the others heard both Rover boys set up a shout.
"A house, fellows! Come on!"
They made a rush forward, and soon they reached a stone fence. On the other side was what had been a planted field, and beyond this a house and several outbuildings.
With hearts greatly lightened they climbed over the fence and made for the house. They were still some distance from the dwelling when they heard the bark of a dog.
"Hullo! I hope he isn't loose," cried Frank.
"But he is," ejaculated Tom; "and he is coming this way too!"
"Du meine zeit!" shrieked Hans. "He vill chew us all up! Vot shall ve do?" And he looked ready to collapse.
"Perhaps we can snowball him --" began Sam, when Dick set up another cry.
"It's Laning's dog, boys. What fools we are! This is Mr. Laning's place."
"Laning's place," burst out Tom. "Why, to be sure it is. And that is Leo! Leo! Leo! old boy, don't you know us?" he cried.
On bounded the dog, and then began to bark again, but this time joyously. He came up to Tom and leaped all around him, wagging his brush as he did so. Then he came to Sam and to Dick, for he knew them all very well.
"It's a good thing the old barn blew down," said Tom, for he could not help but think of the greeting the Laning girls would give him.
They were soon at the back door of the farmer's cottage. It was opened by Mrs. Laning, who stared at them in astonishment.
"Can we come in?" asked Dick. "We are nearly frozen."
"Well, I never! Out in all this storm! It's a wonder the captain would allow it. Why, come in of course, and get thawed out by the fire." And then they went in to meet Mr. Laning, and also the two girls.
Their story was soon told, and meanwhile the lady of the house prepared a hot supper for them. As they sat eating they discussed the question of whether it would be better to return to Putnam Hall that night or wait until morning.
"I would say stay here," said Mr. Laning, "but Captain Putnam will be worried about you and start out in search of you."
"That's just it," answered Dick. "I think one of us, at least, ought to return."
"Let us draw straws for it," said Frank, and so it was agreed.
From the Laning place each knew the road well, so there was no danger of going astray. Besides, the storm was now letting up in violence.
It fell to Frank's choice to go, and as he was about to leave Hans decided to keep him company. The pair was soon off, and this left the Rover boys and the Lanings to themselves.
Satisfied that all was now right, the three brothers made the most of the evening thus afforded them, and so did the two girls, and all played, sang, and went in for various games until eleven o'clock. Then the lads retired to a room assigned to them.
"I say," said Tom, as he prepared to turn in. "That adventure started queer-like, but we came out of it all right."
"Yes, it couldn't be better," added Sam.
At this Dick winked. "Especially as we landed at the Lanings' home," he observed.
"What a pity it wasn't Dora's home, too," drawled Tom, and then as Dick shied a shoe at him be turned over and dropped off into the land of dreams.
Early the next morning they started for Putnam Hall, John Laning driving them thither in his sleigh. It was a ride they enjoyed. The farmer dropped them at the door, and Captain Putnam stood ready to receive them.
"I am glad you are safe back," he said, with some display of emotion. "Harrington and Mueller have given me the particulars of your night's adventure. Hereafter I want all of the cadets to remain off the lake during a snowstorm."
"You may be sure we will remain off, captain," answered Dick. "One such adventure is enough for any fellow."
After this happening nothing of special interest occurred until Christmas. Then the cadets gave their usual entertainment, including a little domestic drama called "Looking for a Quiet Boarding House." In this drama Tom and Larry acted the parts of two old maids who were taking boarders, while Dick, Sam, and eight others were the so-called boarders, or those looking for board. The play was filled with humorous situations, and the audience, in which were the Stanhopes and the Lanings, enjoyed it hugely.
"If you fail in everything else, you had better go on the stage, Tom," said Nellie to that youth. "You make a splendid actor -- or I should say actress," and she laughed.
"How would you like to have me for a sister?" minced Tom, in the voice he had used in acting.
"Thank you, but I don't want an old maid for a sister."
"Then perhaps you don't want to be an old maid yourself," he retorted. "All right, I'll see to it that you are spared that annoyance." And then she boxed him playfully on the ears. She could not help but think a good deal of this open-hearted, fun-loving fellow.
After the entertainment the boys went home, to remain over New Year's Day. Jack Ness, the hired man, met them at the railroad station in Oak Run and drove them through Dexter's Corners to Valley Brook farm.
"It's good fer sore eyes to see ye back," said the hired man. "The folks is waitin' fer ye like a set o' children."
When they came in sight of the farmhouse there were Mr. Rover, Uncle Randolph, and Aunt Martha all on the porch to receive them. Anderson Rover could not help rushing forward to embrace his sons, and the greetings of uncle and aunt were scarcely less affectionate.
"My own boys!" was all that Anderson Rover said, but the manner of speaking meant a good deal.
"The house is yours, boys," said their Aunt Martha. "I used to think you were a bother, but now I'd rather have the bother than miss you," and she smiled so sweetly that Dick gave her an extra hug.
"Yes, yes, do what you please, lads," put in Randolph Rover. "I shall not be annoyed. We understand each other a great deal better than we did before we went to Africa, eh?"
"Right you are, uncle!" cried Tom. "We found you out to be a regular brick."
Christmas presents were numerous, including some jewelry for all of the boys and a ring to replace the one Tom had lost, and some games, and half a dozen story books, not to mention other things more useful, as, for instance, some socks Mrs. Randolph Rover had, herself, made. For the aunt there was a new breastpin from the three boys, and for the uncle a set of scientific works just to his liking. For their father the lads had purchased a gold-headed cane, the stick of which was made of some wood they had brought with them from the banks of the Congo.
The time at home passed all too quickly, and soon it was necessary for the boys to return to Putnam Hall. Dora Stanhope and the Laning girls had not been forgotten, and now these young folks sent gifts of dainty embroidered handkerchiefs, of which the boys were very proud. Tom and Sam had sent Nellie and Grace two elegant Christmas cards. What Dick had sent Dora he would not tell. Being behind the scenes we may state that it was a tiny gold locket, heart-shaped, and that Dora treasured the gift highly.
The second week after New Year found them at the Hall once more, pegging away at their studies harder than ever, for they were bound to make the record their father desired of them.
But the time spent at school was not without its sport and fun, for there was plenty of sleighing and skating, and the gymnasium was always open during the off hours.
"No enemies at the Hall this season," remarked Fred Garrison, "no Baxters or Cavens, or fellows of that sort."
"No, and I am glad of it," answered Dick. "It's a big relief."
"Have you any idea what became of Baxter?"
"Not the slightest."
"And of Mumps, the fellow who used to be his toady?"
"Oh, Mumps reformed, after that chase on the ocean, and I've since heard that he went West, struck some sort of a job as a bookkeeper, or something like that."
"Well, old Crabtree is safe. He won't bother you any more," concluded Fred, and there the subject dropped.
The weeks glided by quickly, until spring was at hand, and the green grass began to cover the bills and fields surrounding Cayuga Lake. Still the Rover boys pegged away, and it must be admitted that even Captain Putnam was astonished at their progress.
"They are whole-souled fellows," he said to George Strong. "They put their whole mind into everything they go into."
"And those are the boys who afterward make their mark in the world," answered the head assistant. "The Rover boys are all right."
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