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AN ALARM OF FIRE
With great care, so as not to make any noise, the two Rover boys tiptoed their way back behind the boxes and barrels until they reached the narrow stairway.
"Come on! But don't make a bit of noise," said Randy quickly, and went down the stairs as rapidly as possible, with Fred at his heels. Reaching the lower floor of the gymnasium, they shut the door, and then lost no time in mixing with the other Rovers and their chums at the far end of the building.
"Where have you fellows been?" questioned Jack, who had suddenly noticed their absence.
"I'll tell you later," said Fred.
"Now, don't say a word more about our being away--especially if Slugger and Nappy and Codfish come this way. Act just as if we had been here right along."
"I get you, Randy," said Jack; and a minute later, as the others who had been mentioned came into sight, he continued in a loud voice: "Go ahead, Randy, it's your turn. Have you been asleep?"
"No; I'm not asleep," answered Randy, and caught a ball which was being pitched around.
Fred began to practise on an exercising machine, and acted as if he had been at it for some time.
Soon Slugger, Nappy and Codfish came down and passed the crowd, eyeing all of them closely. Then Slugger winked to the others, and the three made their way slowly from the gymnasium building.
"Now then, I'll tell you fellows something," announced Fred; and thereupon he and his cousin related to the others what they had overheard in the upper room of the building.
"So that's their game, is it?" cried Jack wrathfully. "That's the way they are going to pay us back for agreeing to give them another chance at this school!"
"You ought to tell Colonel Colby about this at once," put in Spouter, who had listened to what was being said. "Then he can have those rascals watched."
"I don't like the idea of going to Colonel Colby," Jack answered. "I feel more like taking the matter in my own hands."
"Don't you do it, Jack," advised Gif. "Your idea would be all well enough if they were ordinary cadets. But they are not. They should have been dismissed from this school long ago. If I were you, I wouldn't dirty my hands on them. Report the matter to the colonel, and let him take charge of it."
"What is this you are saying, Garrison?" demanded a voice from close behind the cadets, and Professor Brice appeared in the doorway of the washroom of the gymnasium. "What is this you just said about Brown and Martell?"
"I said they were not fit to be cadets in this institution," answered Gif flatly.
"From what you young gentlemen have been saying, I should judge that you know something concerning Brown and Martell," went on the young teacher, with a glance around the crowd.
"We do know something," answered Walt, after a somewhat painful silence. "That is, two of the crowd here know. We have been urging them to speak to Colonel Colby about it."
"Who are the two, and what do you know?"
Again there was a silence, and then Spouter came to the front.
"Professor Brice, I'd like to ask a question," he said. "Two of the cadets here overheard a talk between Brown, Martell and Stowell. Those three proposed to play a most outrageous trick on Colonel Colby, and then make it appear as if that trick had been played by some other cadets. In fact, they were going to make all the evidence point to those other cadets. Now, do you think those cadets ought to defend themselves by telling Colonel Colby all they know? They feel that they don't want to be tale bearers."
"If the trick was to be played solely to injure their reputation, they certainly ought to expose it," was the teacher's quick response. "It is one thing to tell on another person just for the sake of telling, and it is quite a different thing to defend one's own reputation."
Following this there was quite a discussion, but in the end Professor Brice convinced the Rovers that they had better tell the particulars of what they had overheard. He listened to their story with close attention.
"This is certainly worthy of an investigation," he said, after they had finished. "I'll tell Colonel Colby about it, and maybe he will send for you. If he does so, kindly take my advice and see to it that when you come to the colonel's office you are not watched by Brown, Martell and Stowell, or that may spoil everything. I think that the colonel will agree with me that the thing to do is to catch those fellows red-handed."
"All right, Professor, we'll leave everything in your hands," answered Fred. Even yet he did not feel just right over what had been done. He still felt that he and his cousins should have settled affairs privately with Slugger Brown and his cronies, even if it had been a matter of fist fights.
The young professor lost no time in going to Colonel Colby. He found the master of the Hall in his study looking over the questions which were to be used in the coming examination.
"I am sorry to report more trouble, sir," he announced, and, sitting down, he gave Colonel Colby a rapid sketch of what had taken place at the gymnasium.
"Too bad! too bad!" and the master of the Hall showed his disappointment. He heaved a sigh. "It looks to me, Brice, as if I had made a mistake in giving Brown and Martell another chance."
"Just what I was thinking, sir," returned the young teacher.
"You say the Rovers did not wish to report the matter?"
"That's it, sir. I had to fairly drag the story but of them. They did not want to have the reputation of tale bearers."
"I think I understand their view of it, Brice. At the same time, this is too serious a matter to allow them to settle it between themselves. I think the best thing we can do is to have those three cadets watched closely, to see if they really intend to carry out their nefarious plot."
"Exactly what I was thinking, Colonel Colby."
"First, however, you may send Randy Rover and his Cousin Fred to me. I want to question them, so as to make sure of my ground."
Expecting this call, Randy and Fred kept themselves in readiness, and as soon as Professor Brice came for them they hurried off to the office, taking care that none of their enemies should see them. Slugger, Nappy and Codfish, however, were out of sight, having gone upstairs to their rooms.
"Now, I want you to tell me exactly what was said," announced Colonel Colby, as soon as the two cadets appeared.
They had their story well in mind, and it did not take long to give the master of the Hall all of the details. In the midst of the conversation, Fred let drop accidentally that the three unworthy cadets had been smoking.
"They were smoking?" interrupted the colonel.
"Yes, sir. But--I--I--didn't mean to mention that," stammered Fred.
"What were they smoking, Rover?"
"All of them?"
"Yes, sir. Although, to tell the truth, Codfish--I mean Stowell--didn't seem to want to smoke, but Slugger--that is, Brown--urged him, so that he didn't know how to get out of it. I guess the cigarette made him sick."
"I see." Colonel Colby nodded his head slowly. "Now go on;" and then the story of what had been overheard in the upper room of the gymnasium was finished.
"It's an outrage! an outrage! if what you say is true; and I have no reason to doubt your word," went on the master of the Hall, after the cadets had finished. "I am sorry now that I gave Brown and Martell this chance to return to our school."
To this neither of the Rovers made any reply. For an instant both of them thought of the trick they had played on Asa Lemm. Colonel Colby seemed to follow their thought.
"Your trick and this thing are two entirely different affairs," continued the colonel. "In the one case, you, in your boyish fashion, tried to square up for the way you had been mistreated. In this case, however, these cadets are trying to get you into trouble, and if this trick had succeeded, it is just possible that I might have been angry enough to send you and the rest of your family home."
"Well, don't send Brown and Martell home on our account," announced Randy. "We are not afraid of them."
"That may be, Rover. But I cannot have such underhand work at this school. Now I want you cadets to do me a favor. I want you to act exactly as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. I want you to tell all of the others to keep quiet about this. I want to set a trap, and if possible catch those rascals in the midst of their work. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir," came from both of the cadets.
"Then that is all."
Allowed to leave the office, Randy and Fred lost no time in hunting up the others, who had gone upstairs to the Rover boys' rooms. On the way, they met Walt, Spouter and Gif, and told these cadets to come along. Then they closed the door to the hallway.
"It's to be kept a secret," announced Randy.
In subdued voices, so that no one passing in the hallway might hear them, the Rovers and their chums discussed the situation. They were in the midst of this when they suddenly heard a wild cry of alarm. Then came a rush of footsteps, and less than a minute later the loud clanging of a bell.
"Hello! what's that?" exclaimed Jack.
"Something is wrong--that's sure!" announced Randy.
"What's the bell ringing for?" queried Fred. "It isn't time for parade yet."
"That isn't the parade bell!" ejaculated Gif. "That's the fire bell! There must be a fire!"
The boys flung open the doors, and ran hastily into the hallway. Cadets were pouring forth from every quarter, and there was a tremendous excitement.
"Is the building on fire?"
"Take it easy, boys! Take it easy!" yelled Major Ralph Mason, as he appeared at the head of one of the stairways. "There is no fire in this building. Don't get excited."
"Where is the fire?" queried a dozen voices in chorus.
"It's down at the gym! The upper floor is in flames!"
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