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- The Rover Boys out West - 6/36 -


twinkled overhead like so many diamonds. Both knew the short cut to Mrs. Stanhope's cottage well, and made rapid progress. "Shall you ring the bell if everything appears to be right?" asked Tom, as they came in sight of the modest dwelling, set in the widow's well-kept garden.

"I guess not, Tom. It's so late. Both Mrs. Stanhope and Dora have probably gone to bed."

They had almost reached the gate to the garden when Dick caught his brother by the sleeve and drew him back into the shadow of a large maple tree.

"What is it, Dick?"

"I think I saw somebody moving around the corner of the house just now."

Both boys strained their eyes, but could see nothing that resembled a human form.

"I don't see a thing, Dick."

"Come, we'll move around to the outside of the garden," returned the older brother.

The flower garden was not large, and was separated from the vegetable laths. As they made their way along this, both caught the sound of a window sliding up.

"Hark! Did you hear that?" whispered Dick excitedly.

"I did. It came from the back of the house."

"Somebody must be trying to get into the kitchen window!"

Dick broke into a run, with Tom at his heels. Entering the garden by a rear gate, they soon reached the vicinity of the kitchen. A window stood wide open, and through this they beheld somebody inside the apartment with a blazing match in his hand trying to light a candle.

"Hi, there, who are you?" cried Tom, before Dick could stop him.

At the sound of the call the man in the kitchen jumped as though stung by a bee. Then he wheeled around, with the lighted candle in his hand, and both boys saw that it was Josiah Crabtree.

CHAPTER V

A STRUGGLE IN THE DARK

"Crabtree, you rascal!" ejaculated Dick.

"Who -- who is that?" spluttered the former teacher of Putnam Hall, in dismay.

"It is I -- Dick Rover. What are you doing here?"

"I -- I came to call upon the Widow Stanhope," stammered Josiah Crabtree. He was so astonished he knew not what to say.

"You came to rob her, more likely," sneered Tom. "You just broke in at the window."

"No, no -- it -- it is all a mistake, Rover. I -- I am stopping here for the night."

"Indeed!" gasped Dick, almost struck dumb over the man's show of "nerve," as he afterward expressed it.

"Yes, I am stopping here."

"With Mrs. Stanhope's permission of course."

"Certainly. How could I stop here otherwise?"

"What are you doing in the kitchen all alone?'"

"Why, I -- er -- I was up in my room, but I -- er -- wanted a glass of water and so came down for it."

"Then Mrs. Stanhope and Dora have gone to bed?"

"Yes, they just retired."

"Have you become friends again?" asked Dick, just to learn what Josiah Crabtree might say.

"Yes, Rover, Mrs. Stanhope is once more my best friend."

"Then she doesn't know what a rascal you were out in Africa."

"My dear Richard, you are laboring under a great delusion. I was never in Africa in my life."

"What!" roared Dick aghast at the man's audacity.

"I speak the truth. I have made an investigation, and have learned that somebody went to Africa under my name, just to take advantage of my -- ahem -- of my exalted rank as a professor."

"Great Scott! how you can draw the long bow!" murmured Tom.

"I speak the plain truth. I can prove that for the past six months I have been in Chicago and other portions of the West.

"Well, if you are a guest here, just stay with Tom while I call the Stanhopes," said Dick, and leaped in at the window.

"Boy, you shall do nothing of the kind," cried Josiah Crabtree, his manner changing instantly.

"Why not? If you are friends, it will do no harm."

"Mrs. Stanhope is -- er -- is not feeling well, and I will not have her disturbed by a headstrong youth like you."

"We'll see about that. If you --"

Dick broke off short, for just then a voice he knew well floated down into the kitchen from upstairs.

"Who is talking down there? Is that you, Dick?" It was Dora speaking, in a voice full of excitement.

"Yes, Dora, it is I -- and Tom. We have caught Josiah Crabtree here in your kitchen."

"Oh!" The girl gave a little scream. "What a villain! Can you hold him?"

"We can try," answered Dick. He turned to Crabtree. "I reckon your game is up, old man."

"Let me go!" growled the former teacher fiercely, and as Dick advanced upon him he thrust the lighted candle full into the youth's face. Of course Dick had to fall back, not wishing to be burnt, and a second later the candle went out leaving the room in total darkness.

But now Tom sprang forward, bearing Crabtree to the floor. Over and over rolled the pair, upsetting first a chair and then a small table.

At the sound of the row Dora Stanhope began to scream, fearing one of her friends might be killed, and presently Mrs. Stanhope joined in. But the cottage was situated too far away for any outsiders to hear, so the boys had to fight the battle alone.

At length Josiah Crabtree pulled himself clear of Tom's hold and made for the open window. But now Dick had recovered and he hurled the man backward.

The movement kept Crabtree in the room, but it was disastrous to Tom, for as the former teacher fell back his heel was planted on Tom's forehead, and for the time being the younger Rover lay stunned and unable to continue the contest.

Finding himself unable to escape by the window, Josiah Crabtree felt his way to the door and ran out into the hall. Because of his former visits to the house he knew the ground plan well, and from the hall he darted into the parlor and then into the sitting room.

Dick tried to catch him, and once caught his arm. But Crabtree broke loose and placed a large center table between them.

"Don't dare to stop me, Rover," hissed the man desperately. "If you do you will be sorry. I am armed."

"So am I armed, Josiah Crabtree. And I call upon you to surrender."

"What, you would shoot me!" cried the former teacher, in terror.

"Why not? Didn't you try to take my life in Africa?"

"I repeat, you are mistaken."

"I am not mistaken, and can prove my assertion by half a dozen persons."

"I have not been near Africa."

"I won't argue the point with you. Do you surrender or not?"

"Yes, I will surrender," replied Josiah Crabtree meekly.

Yet he did not mean what he said, and as Dick came closer he gave the lad a violent shove backward, which made the elder Rover boy sit down in an easy chair rather suddenly. Then he darted into a small conservatory attached to the sitting room.

"Stop!" panted Dick, catching his breath.


The Rover Boys out West - 6/36

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