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    Chapter 10

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    Chapter 11
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    GETTING ACQUAINTED

    "I don't see him anywhere," remarked Andy, as he and his cousins approached the mess hall of the school.

    The cadets were entering in little groups of twos and threes, for as yet the regular term at Colby Hall had not begun. With the real opening of the school, the cadets would have a dress parade previous to dining and would then stack their arms outside and march in in regular order.

    "Who are you talking about?" questioned Fred.

    "Professor Asa Lemm. I don't see him at any of the tables."

    "Maybe he didn't come to the Hall to-night. He might have had quite some business to transact with that man who left the train with him."

    As there were more tables than professors, some of the boards were presided over by the senior cadets. There was a little confusion, due to the entrance of so many new pupils, and then the Rovers were assigned to a table presided over by a senior named Ralph Mason, who was the major of the school battalion.

    "I am glad to meet you," said Major Mason, as he shook hands cordially. "I hope you will make yourselves at home," and he smiled in a manner that won the confidence of all the boys at once.

    The meal was a good, substantial one--for Colonel Colby believed in setting a homelike table--and soon the clatter of knives and forks and the rattle of dishes filled the air. Most of the boys had come in from long journeys and were, consequently, hungry, so but little was said while the meal progressed. Spouter and Fatty and several other boys they had met sat at a table next to that occupied by the Rovers, but Nappy Martell and his cronies were on the opposite side of the mess hall, for which our friends were thankful.

    "I think if I had to look at the face of Codfish while I was eating, it would spoil my appetite," was Andy's comment during the meal. "They ought to photograph his mouth and put it in the comic supplements."

    "Yes. Or else they ought to get him to act in some of the funny movies," returned his twin.

    As soon as the repast was at an end, Fred sought out Professor Brice and asked him if anything had been learned concerning the missing suitcase.

    "I am sorry to say I haven't learned anything," answered the professor, a troubled look coming over his face. "I really must say, Rover, I don't know what to make of it. Do you suspect anyone in particular of having taken it?"

    Fred was on the point of mentioning Nappy Martell's name, but suddenly held himself in check.

    "I wouldn't like to say anything about that, Professor," he answered slowly. "I might be accusing a fellow cadet unfairly. If the suitcase isn't returned by to-morrow I may have something to say about it."

    "Very well. I think I understand how you feel about it," and the young professor looked knowingly at the boy. "Did you have much in the suitcase?"

    "Yes, sir. It was well packed. You see, I wasn't sure whether my trunk would come right along, so I carried all I could in my handbaggage."

    When Fred joined the others, all of the crowd, led by Spouter, walked down to the gymnasium. Here the Rovers were introduced to a number of other pupils, including Ned Lowe, who was quite a mandolin player and also a good singer, and a tall, studious youth named Dan Soppinger.

    "Ned is our great singer," announced Spouter. "We expect some day that he'll be singing in grand opera on the Metropolitan stage."

    "Did you say grand opera or grand uproar?" questioned Andy, slyly.

    "Opera, my boy! Opera!" repeated Spouter. "I expect some day that he will thrill great audiences with exquisite renderings of the famous solos by Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, Donizetti----"

    "Great mackerel, Spouter! what are you giving us--a musical directory?" interrupted Randy.

    "No. I was only giving you a list of the things I expect to hear Ned sing sooner or later. Now, as for Dan here--he is the human encyclopedia."

    "If there is anything you don't want to know, ask Dan and he'll be sure to tell you all about it," put in Fatty with a grin. "How about it, Dan?"

    "Say! that's a fine way to introduce a fellow," cried Dan Soppinger, with a doubtful grin on his studious face. "Of course, I'm trying to learn as much as possible, but there are a whole lot of things that I don't know, and I'm not ashamed to acknowledge it. But say! by the way, can any of you tell me what the date was when Jefferson was inaugurated president?"

    At this question there came a sudden groan, not only from Fatty, but also from Spouter and Ned Lowe. Then with one voice the three shouted:

    "Down with him! He's at it again!"

    "I don't believe any of you know the date," retorted Dan Soppinger. "If you did, you'd tell me. I am writing an article about the presidents, and I've got to put that in. And then, here's another thing. Can any of you tell me who crossed the Pacific Ocean to----"

    But whatever the question was, it was never finished, for at that moment Spouter, Fatty, Ned and several others piled on Dan Soppinger and brought him to the gymnasium floor.

    "Hi! You let up!" cried the victim, squirming from under the others as best he could. "Can't a fellow ask a question or two without you starting such a rough-house as this?"

    "No questions to be asked, Dan, until the regular school term begins," answered Spouter. "Then all you've got to do is to go to the Rover boys----"

    "Not much!" came simultaneously from Andy and Randy.

    "Do you take us for a school library?" questioned Fred, gaily.

    "I'll answer all the easy ones, Dan," said Jack, good-naturedly. "The hard ones I'll turn over to Spouter. If the question is a real sensible one, he'll give you a nice little answer--one about twelve hundred words long."

    "Hurrah! Spouter is discovered at last!" cried Fatty. "Twelve hundred words long just fits it--that is, if Spouter is in a hurry to cut it short."

    The Rover boys were much interested in what was taking place in the gymnasium, and they even tried out some of the bars and swinging rings, as well as one of the exercising machines.

    "This is certainly an up-to-date institution," remarked Jack. "This gym couldn't be better."

    "How about the boats?" questioned Randy. He and his brother had owned a rowboat on the Hudson River, and had often gone out in the craft.

    "Oh, we've got half a dozen good rowboats, as well as several racing shells," answered Spouter. "You'll probably get a chance to look them over later."

    While the Rover boys were taking in the sights to be seen in and around the gymnasium, their attention was attracted to a tall, well-formed cadet who was doing some clever work on one of the bars.

    "He's doing that almost as well as a circus performer," was Fred's comment.

    "Yes; he's certainly very graceful," returned Jack. "I wonder who he is."

    "That is Walt Baxter," announced a cadet who had heard the talk.

    "Walt Baxter!" exclaimed Randy. "I wonder if he can be the son of Dan Baxter, the man who made so much trouble for our fathers while at Putnam Hall."

    "I'll soon find out," returned Jack. "But please remember--Dan Baxter reformed, and more than likely his son is a first-rate fellow."

    As soon as Walter Baxter had gotten through with his exercise and had dropped to the floor, Jack, followed by his cousins, went up to him.

    "Are you Walt Baxter--the son of Mr. Daniel Baxter?" he questioned.

    "Yes," returned the other, and looked at Jack and the others with him curiously.

    "I am Jack Rover--the son of Mr. Richard Rover. These are my cousins," and Jack introduced them.

    "Oh! is that so?" answered Walt Baxter, and shook hands rather doubtfully. "I--I--am glad to know you," he stammered.

    "And we are real glad to know you, Baxter," answered Randy, readily. "We heard you were at this school. We hope that we'll all be good friends."

    "If we are not, it won't be my fault," and now there was a ring of relief in Walter Baxter's voice. He lowered his tone a trifle. "I know your fathers did a lot for my father, and I am very thankful for it. If I can do anything for you fellows here, I'll certainly do it."

    "And we'll do what we can for you, Baxter," answered Jack, quickly.

    After that the talk became general, and Walt Baxter told much about himself and the doings of the cadets at Colby Hall. When Nappy Martell's name was mentioned, he drew down the corners of his mouth.

    "I never had any use for that chap," he declared. "Once or twice my hot temper got the better of me and we came pretty near having a fight. But after that Martell gave me a wide berth."

    "I think I've got Martell to thank for something that is missing," said Fred, and thereupon related the particulars regarding the lost suitcase.

    "Say! I think I know something about that!" cried Walter Baxter, quickly. "Yes, I'm sure I do!"

    "Did you see Martell take the suitcase?" demanded the youngest Rover, quickly.

    "I can't say as to that, exactly. But I did see Martell sneaking off through the backyard, past the stable, with something under his arm--a big package wrapped up in a couple of newspapers."

    "When was this?" questioned Jack, quickly.

    "About four o'clock this afternoon."

    "Just after we arrived at the Hall!" burst out Randy.

    "What did he do with what package?" asked Jack.

    "I don't know exactly, excepting that he went down past the stable on to the roadway that leads to the farm fields."

    "Maybe he took the suitcase and threw it down in one of the fields," ventured Andy.

    "You didn't see him come back?" asked Fred.

    "Yes, come to think of it, I did--about a quarter of an hour after that," answered Walt Baxter.

    "And did he have the package then?"

    "No."

    "Then I'll wager it was the suitcase and he left it somewhere down on the farm!" cried Randy. "Let us go and take a look. We are permitted to go out in the farm fields, aren't we?" he asked of Walt.

    "Oh, yes. You can go anywhere you please during off hours so long as you don't go out of bounds," was the reply. "If you want to go out of bounds, you have to report at the office and get permission."

    The matter was talked over for a few minutes more, and Walt Baxter said he would gladly go along with the Rovers to show them just where he had seen Nappy Martell with the bundle. The five boys were soon in the neighborhood of the Hall stable, and then they passed beyond this to a roadway which ran between the fields attached to the school farm.

    "It's a pity it's so dark," declared Jack. "I doubt if we'll be able to locate that suitcase even if we get quite close to it."

    "I'll tell you what I'll do," declared Randy. "I'll run back to my room and get my pocket flashlight. That will be just the thing."

    It took him but a few minutes to obtain the article he had mentioned, and with the flashlight to guide them, the five boys started along the roadway behind the school. The light was flashed first on one side and then on the other.

    "Looks like a wild goose chase," declared Andy, after they had passed two farm fields. "I don't think he would come this far with that heavy suitcase."

    "Here is a cornfield full of stacks," said Walt Baxter. "The stacks would afford a dandy hiding place for almost anything."

    They approached the first of the stacks, and Fred kicked some of the corn stalks aside, but without result. Then they passed on to the next stack.

    "Hello! here is something!" exclaimed Jack, as the rays of the flashlight fell upon the object. "Fred, I guess we've found it all right enough."

    "So we have!" cried the youngest Rover; and in a moment more he thrust his hand in between the cornstalks and pulled out the missing suitcase.
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