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- The Rover Boys in Business - 5/39 -
remarked Tom, grimly.
"Better take it on low gear," suggested his brother. "We can't see in this water, and we may go down in a hole before we know it."
Slowly and cautiously, Tom guided the machine along, trying to keep as much as possible to the high points of the various sandbars which ran in a diagonal direction to the stream itself. Once or twice they bumped over some rather large stones, and once they went into a hollow which was somewhat deeper than expected, but, with it all, they managed to keep the working parts of the car above the surface of the stream, and inside of five minutes found themselves safe and sound on the opposite shore, and headed for another side road which joined the main highway less than a quarter of a mile beyond.
"I am mighty glad we are out of that," remarked Sam, as they left the rather uneven side road and came out on the smooth highway. "I must say, I don't like autoing in the water."
"Pooh, that wasn't so bad!" replied Tom. "But it would be, I think, after a heavy storm, when the river was swollen. It must be getting late," he added. "Better speed her up a little, or we'll get to Hope just in time to say 'good-night,'" and he smiled grimly.
Fortunately for the boys, there was very little traveling that night. They met but two wagons and one automobile; and these on straight stretches of the road where there was little danger of collision. Tom was now running at thirty-five to forty miles an hour, and this was rather dangerous where the highway curved, and where what was ahead was partly hidden by, trees and bushes.
"Here we are at last!" cried Tom, presently, as they came in sight of Hope Seminary, a fine collection of buildings nestling in a pretty grove of trees. All the dormitory windows showed lights, and there was also a light in the reception parlor of the main building, for which the lads were thankful.
"Give 'em the horn, Tom," suggested Sam.
"Sure! I was only waiting to get a little closer," was the answer, and then, as the automobile turned into the seminary grounds and ran along the road leading up to the main entrance, Tom sounded the horn in a peculiar fashion, a signal which had been arranged between the boys and the girls long before.
The cries came from two girls dressed in white, who had been seated on a rustic bench near a small fountain. Now, as Tom brought the car to a quick stop, the girls hurried forward.
"Hello, here we are again!" sang Tom, merrily, and leaping to the ground he caught Nellie Laning by both hands. "How are you?"
"Oh, I am pretty well, Tom."
"And how are you, Grace?" came from Sam, as he, too, left the automobile.
"Oh, Sam, I am so glad you have come!" cried Grace Laning. "Nellie and I have been waiting for you."
"Well, we are glad we are here. We have had quite an adventure to-night."
"Oh, did you have a breakdown?" questioned Grace, anxiously.
"No, but we had to go to the rescue of a fellow who ran into the river."
"Oh, dear! Troubles never seem to come singly," sighed Nellie.
"What do you mean!" demanded Tom, quickly. "Is something wrong here?"
"Indeed there is, Tom!" answered Grace. And then, with a look at her older sister, who had turned her face away, she continued: "I think it is a shame! If it was not that it would make it look as if Nellie were guilty, we would pack up at once and leave this place."
"Why, what do you mean?" came from both of the Rovers.
"Oh, Grace, perhaps you had better not tell them," cried Nellie, with almost a sob.
"Nellie!" And now Tom caught the girl tightly in his arms. "What has happened?"
"I-- I-- can't tell!" sobbed the girl. "Grace will tell you."
"I don't suppose it is necessary to go into all the details," said Grace, "but the long and short of it is, that Nellie is suspected of stealing a four-hundred-dollar diamond ring."
"What!" ejaculated Tom.
"It was this way, Tom," pursued Grace. "One of the teachers here, a Miss Harrow, who assists the seminary management by keeping some of the books, had a diamond ring said to be worth four hundred dollars placed in her possession by a Miss Parsons, another teacher. It seems that Miss Parsons had an eccentric old aunt, who wished to give the seminary some money, and so turned over the ring, to be converted into cash. This ring Miss Harrow left on her desk in the office. Nellie went into the office to see the teacher, but finding no one there, came away. Then Miss Harrow came back a few minutes later, and found the diamond ring gone. She at once made inquiries, but as she could find nobody who had been in the once after Nellie had left, she called Nellie in and wanted her to tell what had become of the piece of jewelry."
A FOUR-HUNDRED-DOLLAR RING
"Did you see this ring, Nellie?." questioned Tom, after a painful pause.
"Why, yes, it was lying in the middle of a flat-top desk," responded the girl, wiping her eyes with her handkerchief.
"Didn't somebody go into the office after you were there?"
"I don't know, Tom. In fact, nobody seems to know."
"I was in the office with another girl about five minutes before Nellie went there," came from Grace. "I saw the ring there, too, and I thought it was very foolish to leave it so exposed. Why, anybody could have run off with it."
"It certainly was careless," put in Sam.
"Miss Harrow said she was on the point of putting it in the safe when she was called by 'phone to one of the other buildings. She had a dispute to settle between some of the hired help, and she did not think of the ring until some time later. Then, so she says, she rushed back to the office to find it missing."
"Well, I think it is a shame that she accused Nellie," said Tom, stoutly and with something of a savage look in his eyes. "Nellie, if I were you, I wouldn't stand for it."
"She-- she hasn't accused me, exactly," returned the suffering girl. "But she intimated that I must have taken the ring, so it's just as bad."
"What does the seminary management have to say about it?" asked Sam.
"They seem to think it lies between Nellie and the teacher," answered Grace.
"In that case, how do we know the teacher didn't take the ring herself?" broke in Tom, quickly.
"Oh, do you think that possible?" questioned Nellie, in surprise.
"It's more reasonable to think she took it than you did. Anyway, she hasn't any right to accuse you," went on Tom, bluntly.
"As I said, Tom, she hasn't accused me-- that is, openly; but I know what she thinks, and I know what she will make others think," returned Nellie. And now she showed signs of bursting into tears again. "Oh, I feel as if I must pack up and go home!"
"Don't you do it, Nellie. That would make it look as if you were guilty. You stay here and face the music." Then, as Nellie began to cry again, Tom took her in his arms and held her tightly.
"Come on!" said Sam, in a low tone of voice. "I think some people at the window are listening." And he led the way to a distant portion of the seminary grounds. After that, Grace told all she knew of the miserable affair, and Nellie related just how she had seen the diamond ring on the teacher's desk.
"Was the window open at the time?" questioned the older Rover boy.
"If I remember rightly, the window was tight shut," replied Nellie.
"Yes, it was shut when I was in the office," put in Grace. "I have been trying to think out some way by which the ring could have disappeared, but without success."
The matter was talked over for some time, and then the girls questioned the boys regarding the happening at the broken bridge. Nellie, and Grace also, wanted to know the latest news from Dick and Dora.
"So far as I know, Dora is in fine health and enjoying herself in the city," said Tom. "But Dick is having his hands full, and I rather think that, sooner or later, I'll have to pack up and go to his assistance."
"Then you'll leave Brill for good?" questioned Nellie.
"I think so. I can't be breaking in on my college course every now and then as I have been doing, and pass my examinations. More than that, I begin to believe that I was not cut out for a college man. I am like Dick; I prefer a business career rather than a professional one. It is Sam who is going to make the learned one of the family."
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