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    Chapter 13

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    Chapter 14
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    THE WORK OF THE ENEMY

    It was not until a few minutes after five o'clock that Jack, Andy and Pepper hurried down to the gymnasium, to get their wheels. At the last moment Andy discovered that one of his buttons was loose and had to be sewed on, and Jack had trouble with the new cap he was going to wear. It was a trifle too large and he had to place a strip of paper under the band to make it stay on his head properly.

    "It certainly feels like snow," said Pepper, as the three got out their bicycles. "I am sure we'll get a snowstorm before long."

    "I don't care, if only it holds off till we get back," returned Andy.

    They lit the acetylene gas lamps, with which their wheels were provided, and then ran the bicycles down to the roadway.

    "Have a good time," cried Stuffer, who had come out to see them off.

    "Don't worry about that," replied Pepper, gaily.

    "I'll wager you'll have a dandy spread," went on the lad who loved to eat.

    "Wish you were along, Stuffer?" asked Jack.

    "Do I? Well, now, don't mention it!" and Stuffer's eyes fairly watered in anticipation.

    "I'll bring you something if I get the chance," sang out Pepper, as he gave his bicycle a shove and leaped into the saddle. "So-long!"

    Jack and Andy followed their chum, and with a parting cry to Stuffer, all three pedaled along the highway leading to Point View Lodge. It was now night, but the three gas-lamps lit up the road so well that they had little difficulty in finding their way.

    "We are not due until six o'clock," said Jack. "So we can take it easy. No use of getting into a perspiration over it."

    "We'll not sweat much to-night," answered Pepper. "Too cold. I move we keep at it until we reach that old barn near the Lodge. Then we can rest a bit, so that we won't appear at the place all out of breath."

    Two miles were covered, and then they came to a place where the highway was unusually rough.

    "Let me go ahead and pick the way," sang out Andy, and forged to the front.

    "Better slack up a little!" returned the young major. "No use of taking chances when we have plenty of time."

    Scarcely had he uttered the words when there came a cry from the acrobatic youth. His wheel commenced to wobble and twist. Over into some bushes he shot, to fall with a crash in their midst.

    "Hello, what's the matter with you?" sang out Pepper, and leaped quickly to the road, an example followed by Jack.

    "Bicycle has gone to pieces, I guess," spluttered Andy, as he essayed to scramble out of the bushes.

    "Are you hurt?" demanded Jack, anxiously.

    "Only a few scratches, Jack. Say, that was a narrow escape, wasn't it?"

    "Thought you said your wheel was in good condition," came from Pepper.

    "So it was when I looked at it this morning."

    "What's wrong now?"

    "The handle-bars are loose for one thing. I don't know what else is wrong until I look it over."

    The machine was brought forth from the bushes. The lamp-glass had been smashed and the light had gone out. Andy stopped the flow of acetylene gas, and then his chums turned the rays of the other lamps on the disabled bicycle.

    "Handle-bars loose and also nuts on the front wheel!" cried Andy, after an examination. "Say, I believe some enemy did this!"

    "Who?" questioned the young major.

    "I don't know. Maybe Ritter, or Coulter."

    "Hurry up and tighten things," cried Pepper. "We don't want to be late."

    "Better be late than have a nasty tumble," returned Jack. "While you are at it, Andy, better look the whole machine over carefully."

    "I will, Jack. And maybe you had better look your machines over, too."

    "Good advice."

    While Andy was fixing his bicycle Pepper and the young major inspected their own bicycles.

    "Well, I never!" gasped The Imp, as the light fell on his rear wheel. "Another quarter of a mile and I would have had a spill and no mistake!"

    "Same here!" came from Jack. "Oh, isn't this the worst yet!"

    "What's wrong?" queried the acrobatic youth.

    "The back wheel is loose, and two of the sprockets of the sprocket-wheel have been filed down, to let the chain slip," answered Pepper.

    "And my handle-bars are loose and the chain all but filed in two," cried Jack. "Boys, this was done on purpose!"

    "Of course!" came from both of the others.

    "Done by our enemies!"

    "Sure."

    "Ritter and his cronies."

    "Well, we'd have to prove that," answered Andy, slowly.

    "Don't you believe it, Andy?"

    "I do; but that isn't proof."

    "And that isn't getting us to Point View Lodge," came from Pepper. "I guess we'll have to walk!" he added, with something like a groan.

    "Walk! We can't walk that distance," replied the young major.

    "Well, we can't trust ourselves on these machines. We might if we had lots of time, but that we haven't got."

    The three cadets stared blankly at each other. Here they were on a lonely road, and what to do none of them knew.

    "Oh, if I only had Ritter here wouldn't I punch his head good!" muttered Pepper.

    "Ritter will keep. Let us look over the machines and make up our minds what is to be done," said Jack.

    The more they inspected the wheels the more hopeless appeared the task of fixing them up so they could be used.

    "We simply haven't got time to bother with them," announced Jack. "We've got to get to the Lodge some other way."

    "Well, what way?" asked Andy.

    "I wonder if we could hire a rig at the next farmhouse."

    "Well, we can try that," answered Pepper.

    Trundling their bicycles, they hurried along the country road until they reached a farmhouse.

    "Looks as if they were all out or gone to bed," was Jack's comment, for not a light showed about the place.

    "We'll soon know," returned Pepper, and he pounded lustily on the front door.

    There was no answer to this summons, and he pounded again. But nobody appeared.

    "Gone away for the day, I guess," he said. "Now what?"

    "Let us leave our wheels in the barn," said Jack. "We can come back for them any time."

    This they did, and after a look around the place, to make certain nobody was there, they passed out on the road once more. Pepper looked at his watch.

    "Fifteen minutes to six," he announced.

    "Oh, we'll never get there on time," groaned Andy.

    "We'll be lucky if we get there at all to-night," answered the young major.

    "They are looking for us by now," came from Pepper. "Wonder what they will think when we don't show up?"

    "They'll think we are pretty mean, I guess," answered the acrobatic youth.

    "Here comes some kind of a turnout now!" cried Pepper.

    He pointed down the highway. They could see a lantern swinging idly to and fro. It was hung under a farm-wagon, and presently they saw the turnout, drawn by a pair of good-looking horses. The wagon was filled with barrels of potatoes, and on the seat sat a raw-boned old farmer, half asleep.

    "Hello, there!" challenged Jack out of the darkness. "Hold up a minute, please!"

    "Hi, what's this, a hold-up?" exclaimed the old farmer, and then of a sudden he reached between the barrels of potatoes and brought forth a long horse-pistol and pointed it at them.

    "Don't shoot!" cried Pepper, thinking the old fellow might be just scared enough to pull the trigger of his ancient weapon. "This isn't any hold-up."

    "Who be you?" and the farmer peered forth anxiously in the darkness.

    "We are cadets from Putnam Hall."

    "Oh! I see! Waal, don't ye try to play no trick on Ezra Cole, or I'll let fly with this hoss-pistol, sure ez you're born!"

    "We don't want to play any tricks, Mr. Cole," answered Jack. "We are in trouble, and I was wondering if you could help us out."

    "Wot's the trouble?"

    In as few words as possible the young major and his chums explained the difficulty. The old farmer listened with interest.

    "I know Mr. Ford; he buys garden sass from me," he said.

    "We don't know how we are going to get to the Lodge, unless we can find somebody to drive us over," said Pepper. "Could you do it, if we paid you?"

    "Wot, with this load o' potatoes? Not much!"

    "Couldn't you leave your potatoes here?" asked Andy. "I'll give you fifty cents to drive me over."

    "And so will I," added Pepper.

    "That will be a dollar and a half for the three of us, Mr. Cole," put in Jack.

    "Hum!" The old farmer began to look interested. "It's a putty stiff drive to Point View, an' I'd have to come back fer the potatoes."

    "Make it two dollars!" cried Jack. "And do it as quickly as you can."

    "Hum! Got the cash with you, young man?"

    "Yes, here it is!" And the young major held up two one-dollar bills.

    "All right, I'm your man!" cried Ezra Cole. "I ain't in no hurry to git to hum, an' two dollars ain't picked up every day. Jest wait till I drive in an' leave my potatoes where they will be safe."

    "Might leave 'em with our bicycles," said Jack.

    "So I will."

    It did not take the old farmer long to unload his barrels of potatoes. Then he swept out his farm-wagon and spread some horse-blankets for the boys to sit upon. They leaped in and he took up the lines once more.

    "G'lang!" he shouted to his team and cracked his whip, and off they went along the road at a good gait.

    "Great Julius Cæsar!" cried Andy, after a quarter of a mile had been passed. "Talk about bumping the bumps! This road has 'em beaten to a frazzle!"

    "Getting your money's worth, Andy?" asked The Imp, with a grin.

    "Ain't no springs on this wagon!" said Ezra Cole, with a grin. "But don't you mind; it will give you a fine appetite fer that dinner when you git there!"

    "It will, if it doesn't knock out our teeth so we can't chew!" murmured Jack.

    On and on they rattled at a good pace until the lights of Point View Lodge shone in the distance.

    "Just drop us off at the gate!" cried Jack. "We don't want to ride up to the piazza in such a rig as this."

    "Why, hello, have you arrived at last?" cried a voice from out of the darkness, and then Laura and Flossie appeared, standing by the gate. The three cadets looked glumly at each other, and then Pepper commenced to snicker and all burst into a hearty spell of laughter.
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