Chapter VI. An Interesting Letter




But to catch Josiah Crabtree was not easy. The former teacher of Putnam Hall was thoroughly alarmed, and once having taken to the woods, he plunged in deeper and deeper, until to find him would have been almost an impossibility. Indeed, he completely lost himself, and when the boys had left the vicinity he found himself unable to locate the road again, and so had to remain in the cold and damp woods all night, much to his discomfort. He could not keep warm, and sat chattering on a rock until daylight.

Finding it of no use to continue the search, Dick and Tom retraced their steps to the Stanhope homestead. They found Dora on guard, with every window and door either locked or nailed up. The girl had persuaded her feeble mother to lie down again, but Mrs. Stanhope was still too excited to rest comfortably.

"Did you catch him?" Dora asked anxiously, after she had admitted them.

"No, he got away in the darkness," answered Dick.

"It is too bad. What do you suppose he was up to?"

"That is what we would like to find out, Dora. Certainly he was up to no good."

"Perhaps he wished to rob us."

"He must know that you do not keep much money in the house."

"Day before yesterday mother had me draw four hundred dollars out of the bank, to pay for the new barn we have had built. The carpenter, however, went to Ithaca on business, so as yet we have not been able to pay him the money."

"It was a mistake to keep so much cash in the house. You should have paid by check -- it's the same thing," put in Tom.

"I know it, but Mr. Gradley is peculiar. He once had some trouble over a check, and he stipulated that be should be paid in cash."

"Do you suppose Josiah Crabtree saw you draw the money from the bank?" remarked Dick thoughtfully.

"I don't know what to think."

"He would be just rascal enough to try to get it, if he knew of it. I guess we had better remain here until morning, and after that you had better have a man around the house."

"Yes, mother says she will hire a man. But men are difficult to get -- that is, one who is reliable. We had to discharge Borgy on account of drunkenness."

"Perhaps father will let Alexander Pop come up here for a while," cried Dick, struck with the idea. "I don't believe he needs the man at home, and Aleck is thoroughly reliable, even if he is colored."

"Yes, I know Pop well. I would like to have him first-rate. But it is asking a good deal at your hands, Dick."

"As if I wouldn't do a good deal more than that, Dora," he cried quickly, and caught her hand.

"I know you would -- you have already. You are the best friend I have, Dick -- you and your brothers."

"And I always will be, Dora, always!" he whispered, and pressed her hand so tightly that she blushed like a peony.

Tom had passed into the kitchen and was looking around to see what damage his struggle with Crabtree had done. Nothing was injured. Under the kitchen table lay a letter and a small vial. He picked up both.

"Chloroform!" he cried, as he smelt of the contents of the vial, just as the others came in.

"Where did you get that?" asked Dora.

"Found it under the table, along with this letter. Crabtree must have dropped both."

"Let me see the letter!" cried Dick.

Tom passed it over, and all three read the communication with interest. It had been sent to Josiah Crabtree while the latter had been stopping in New York, and was post-marked Albany.

"It's from Dan Baxter," said Dick.

The letter ran as follows:

Dear Mr. Crabtree:

"I drop you a few lines as promised. I have seen my father and his plans are about completed. The Rovers think they have the upper hand, but when he gets out of jail he will be able to show them a thing or two and surprise them. If you go to Cedarville I will meet you there on the 5th of next month -- at the old meeting place. We won't have Mumps, the turncoat, to bother us, and maybe we can lay plans for a fat deal all around. Anyway, we ought to square accounts with those Rover boys. They treated both of us outrageously and they ought to suffer for it.

Yours as faithfully as ever,

"D.B."

"Won't Crabtree be mad when he finds out that he lost this?" grinned Tom.

"He may not know that he dropped it here."

"Well, it clears up one point. Baxter and he are both around, and intent on mischief."

"True enough."

"What shall you do next?" put in Dora anxiously.

"I hardly know. 'Forwarned is forearmed,' they say, but Baxter and Crabtree are such underhanded rascals one never knows what to expect of them next."

"Of course you will tell the Cedarville police -- or I shall."

"I'll do that. But you know what they did before. Never helped us a bit, but let both slip through their fingers."

"Perhaps they will be on their mettle now."

The situation was talked over for half an hour, and then it was decided that Tom should return to Putnam Hall to explain to Captain Putnam and to Sam, while Dick should remain with the Stanhopes.

This agreed upon, Tom took his departure immediately, as it was now midnight, and he did not wish to be locked out for the night.

"And now you had better return to bed, Dora," said Dick, after his brother had departed. "I will remain downstairs, on the sofa, and I don't believe anybody will disturb me."

"All right, if you wish it that way," replied the girl. "But you can have one of the bedrooms if you wish."

"No, I'll stay here, and keep my clothes on."

Dora went upstairs, but soon came back, carrying a pillow and a quilt.

"There, that will provide a little comfort," she said, but then, as Dick caught her hand as if to kiss it, she gave a merry little laugh and ran upstairs again.

It was a long while before Dick could go to sleep. He had read the letter found in the kitchen with care, and he wondered what it all meant.

"What plans can Arnold Baxter be completing?" he asked himself. "And how can he surprise father? Can that refer to the missing mine in Colorado? He talks as if he was going to get out of jail pretty soon, but that can't be, for the judge will certainly give him three or four years at the least. Perhaps I had better write to father about this."

No other person came that night to disturb the inmates of the cottage, and when at last Dick did fall into slumber he did not awaken until the sun was shining in the window and a neighboring Irish woman, who did Mrs. Stanhope's washing and ironing, was knocking on the kitchen door for entrance.

"Good-morning, Mrs. O'Toole," he said, as he leaped up and let her in.

"Good-marnin', young sir," stammered the washerwoman. "Sure an' I didn't ixpict to see you here."

"I suppose not. But come in, and I will call Miss Dora."

"No need to call me, if you please," came in a silvery voice from the hall, and Dora appeared, as bright and fresh as ever. "I would have been down before, only I had to wait on mamma."

"And how is she?"

"She is no worse, but neither is she better. I shall send for our doctor to-day."

Breakfast was soon on the table-fresh coffee, fresh eggs, and dainty buckwheat cakes baked by Dora's own hands. It is needless to say that Dick enjoyed the repast.

"You'll make a famous housekeeper for somebody some day, Dora," he said, looking at her pointedly.

"You go and eat your cakes before they get cold," she answered.

"I've already eaten my fill, I can't go another one. I've enjoyed them ever so much. Now I guess I had better be off for Cedarville."

"If you wish, you can hitch up Dolly to the carriage and drive over. It will be nicer than walking."

"Supposing I go over on horseback? Is she used to a saddle?"

"Oh, yes, and you will find a gentleman's saddle in the harness closet back of the stalls."

"Then I'll go that way. Good-by. I'll be back before noon, unless something unusual turns up. And when I am down in Cedarville I'll send word to father about Aleck."

Leaving the house Dick went to the barn, which was usually locked. Dora had given him the key, but to his surprise he found the padlock pried off and the door partly open.

"Can this be more of Crabtree's work?" he asked himself. "Perhaps he has stolen the mare! What fools we were not to look in here last night."

But Dick's fears were groundless. The mare was still there. But she was all saddled, ready for him to ride.

"Crabtree's work, beyond a doubt," he thought.

Before he went to the house he came here, and it was his intention to steal the mare and get away on her.



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