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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 25
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    "Hallowe'en to-morrow night, boys! So get ready for some real fun!"

    "Right you are, Andy! Remember what fun we had last year in New York?"

    "And what fun we had down on the farm two years ago, scaring Aleck Pop and Jack Ness nearly to death?" broke in Fred.

    "I don't know whether they'll let us have any fun around Colby Hall or not," remarked Jack, but in such a tone of voice that all of the others knew he was fooling.

    Several days had passed since the target practice, and the boys were gathered in the room used by Andy and Randy for studying. All were deep in a discussion of what they might do on Hallowe'en, when there came a knock on the door and Dan Soppinger came in.

    "Excuse me for interrupting you," commenced Dan, "but I'm up against a hard proposition. Can any of you tell me----"

    "Gee! the Human Question Mark is at it again!" broke out Randy.

    "Certainly we can tell you," put in Andy; "but please don't ask it."

    "Three and three make six, three and three always have made six, and three and three always will make six!" cried Fred in a girlish tone of voice. "So what's the use of asking a question like that?"

    "Who said anything about three and three making six?" snorted the Human Question Mark. "What I was going to say was: Can any of you tell me----"

    "When Nero discovered the north pole?" interrupted Andy.

    "No. He wants to know when Washington first crossed the Pacific in a motor boat," came from Fred.

    "No; that isn't it at all," declared Jack, seriously. "Dan wants to know what kind of an automobile Noah took on the ark."

    "Great Scott! What do you take me for?" groaned Dan Soppinger, helplessly. "Here I come in to ask you a perfectly simple question, and you start with a lot of foolishness."

    "Why, my dear Dan, we are helping you all we can!" cried Andy in deeply injured tones.

    "I want to know when Florida was first settled and by whom!" cried Dan, desperately. "I bet ten cents none of you know!"

    "Oh, that's easy, Dan," answered Andy, gravely. "Florida was first settled by the alligators, in the year one;" and at this remark there was such a burst of laughter that the Human Question Mark gave it up in despair and fled.

    "I've got a great scheme for Hallowe'en," said Andy a little later. He had been walking up and down the room trying to make up his mind what they might do to have some fun. "I wonder if the girls over at Clearwater Hall wouldn't lend us some dresses and some girls' hats for the occasion."

    "They might if we agreed to lend them some of our suits in exchange."

    "Well, we could do that easily enough," answered Fred. "We hardly ever have a chance to wear anything these days but our uniforms."

    "What do you want to do, Andy--dress up as a girl?" questioned Jack.

    "That's it. We might have dead loads of fun."

    The matter was discussed for a time, and in the end a boy, who often did errands for the cadets, was dispatched to Clearwater Hall with a note to Ruth and her chums. The boy had performed this sort of service before, and knew that he must deliver the note without allowing the communication to go through the school office.

    The messenger returned just as the cadets were on the point of retiring, and brought back a letter from the girls in which they agreed to let the boys have what they wanted in return for some suits of male attire. It was agreed that the exchange be made in the afternoon, directly after the school session.

    The Rover boys and two of their friends walked to Haven Point, and there invested some of their spending money in the hire of an automobile. Then they rode back to the school, procured several bundles of clothing, and set out for Clearwater Hall.

    The girls were waiting for them at a spot secluded from observation, and there an exchange of bundles took place, interspersed with a good deal of laughing by the cadets and giggling on the part of the Clearwater pupils.

    "Oh, I'd love to see you dressed up as a girl!" cried Ruth to Jack.

    "How about your being dressed up as a boy?" he returned.

    "Oh, none of us will dare show ourselves outside the grounds," returned Ruth, blushing. "Miss Garwood wouldn't permit it."

    "Well, if we get the chance, we may come up as far as yonder side fence," put in Fred. "If we do, we'll give you the signal--three long whistles."

    Nearly all of the cadets at Colby Hall were ready for Hallowe'en fun. They dressed up in all sorts of disguises, including those of monks, Indians, negroes, and ghosts. Lighted pumpkins with grinning faces cut into them were likewise numerous; and one senior trailed around in a silk gown which he had brought from home for this very occasion.

    When the Rover boys appeared dressed as young ladies, with girls' hats on their heads and parasols in their hands, they were greeted with a loud cheer, and this was redoubled as they marched around the campus arm in arm with several boys dressed as dudes, and one attired as an admiral.

    "Some class to the Rovers, and no mistake!" was Spouter's comment. He had on a pair of long whiskers, a linen duster, farm boots, and a big straw hat.

    "How do you do, Uncle Si?" cried Andy, coming up to him and bowing. "How is corn?"

    "So high, by gosh! y'u can't see the house," answered Spouter in country dialect. "Do tell, leetle gal! but y'u do look mighty purty, y'u do!" and at this there was a general snicker.

    At the first opportunity, the Rovers and several of their friends slipped away from the campus and hurried off in the direction of Clearwater Hall. They were lucky enough to meet a big wagon, the driver of which was going to the next town to pick up some young folks for a straw ride. This man took them to the young ladies' school just for the sport of it.

    When the Rovers gave the signal, Ruth and her friends came running towards the side fence of the grounds. All were attired in male costumes, wearing exaggerated collars, cuffs and neckties. In addition, Ruth had on a big pair of pick-toed shoes and a silk hat many years out of date. She also carried a silver-headed cane.

    "Oh, don't you want to take us out for a walk?" questioned Andy, in a high-pitched, feminine voice.

    "Very sorry, my dear, very sorry," came from May Powell, in as deep a voice as she could command. "I have important business to attend to."

    "Oh, Jack, what an awfully big girl you do make!" screamed Ruth, when she discovered his identity behind the little mask he wore. "I didn't know you were so large."

    "And what a little man you are," he answered, gaily.

    "Don't say a word," she returned. "See these sleeves? They are all rolled up; and I had to do the same with the trousers," and she laughed merrily.

    Although acting against the rules, the Rovers and their friends found an opening in the fence, and for a brief quarter of an hour mingled with the girls on the campus of the school. They had "a barrel of fun," to use Andy's way of expressing it, and left only because it was getting late and they knew they would have to walk all the way back to Colby Hall.

    "This is about the best Hallowe'en fun we ever had," remarked Jack, while he and the others were on the return to the school.

    To make time, the boys did not take the regular road through Haven Point to Colby Hall, but tramped along a back highway which was considered something of a short cut. This presently brought them in sight of a large farm which belonged to a hard-fisted man named Elias Lacy.

    "Say, we ought to call on old Lacy and give him a scare," said Randy, coming to a halt near the farmhouse.

    "It would serve him right!" answered Fred, promptly.

    None of the Rovers had a kindly feeling for Elias Lacy, for the reason that the old man had once caught them getting chestnuts from a tree on the corner of his farm and had made them give up all the nuts they had gathered and had then threatened them with the law if they dared to set foot on his premises again.

    "I know you cadets," he had snarled. "You are all a pack of petty thieves! I want you to keep away from here."

    He had suffered a great deal, some cadets, including Slugger Brown and Nappy Martell, having at various times robbed him of his cherries, his strawberries, and some melons. Of these depredations, however, the Rovers knew nothing.

    "Maybe Lacy isn't around," remarked Jack. "He may have gone to town."

    They knew that the old man was a bachelor. He had two young men working for him, and also a woman who came in during the day to do the housework, but all of these went home at night.

    "I see somebody moving around the house now," answered Randy. "It's Lacy, too!"

    "Let's knock on the door and pretend we are young ladies in distress," cried Randy. "Come on! I wonder what he'll do?"

    "Don't ask him for any money. He won't give you a cent," chuckled Fred.

    "Let's tell him some tramps stopped us and that we want him to go out and fight the fellows," suggested one cadet. "That will show how brave a man Lacy is. We can take off our masks."

    So it was arranged, and in a minute more the boys were all on the front piazza of the farmhouse ringing the old doorbell. There was a sound within, and in a moment more Elias Lacy came to the door with a lamp in one hand.

    "What do you want?" he asked in astonishment, when he saw what looked to be a number of well-dressed girls confronting him.

    "Oh, Mr. Lacy, won't you please protect us?" pleaded Randy, in his best feminine voice.

    "Three murderous tramps are after us!" gasped Andy. "Oh, dear! I know I shall faint!"

    "The tramps wanted to rob us!" cried Jack.

    "They are just outside your fence," put in Fred. "Please go out and chase them away."

    Elias Lacy was staggered. He placed his lamp on a little table near by, and looked in wonder at the crowd before him.

    "Three tramps, eh? An' goin' to rob you? Why, I never heard of sech a thing!" he shrilled. "Mebbe I'd better git my gun."

    "Oh, yes! yes! Get your gun, by all means! Get your gun! And maybe you'd better get a sword, too!" cried Randy.

    "Yes! Or a knife or a--a--razor," put in Andy.

    "Now, now! don't git so excited!" cried the old man, for the boys insisted upon clinging to his arms and to his shoulders. "Them tramps ain't goin' to eat you up."

    He was short-sighted, and, as the lamplight was poor, he had not noticed the boys' somewhat crude make-up. He hurried into a room and came forth presently carrying a shotgun. Then he walked back into his kitchen.

    "Great Cæsar! he's got his gun all right enough," said Jack in a low voice.

    "Maybe he'll use it on us when he discovers the trick," returned Fred.

    "I'll git my lantern, an' then we kin go after them tramps," announced Elias Lacy; and in a moment more he reappeared with a smoky lantern and started for the front door. "Come on, an' show me where them tramps are," he said, determinedly.
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