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    Chapter 27

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    Chapter 28
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    ELIAS LACY'S DEMAND

    The two Rover boys stared at Elias Lacy in open-mouthed amazement.

    "What did you say about killing two cows?" questioned Jack.

    "Have two of your cows been killed?" came from Fred.

    At these questions the old farmer seemed to become more enraged than ever. He raised his pitchfork as if to use it on the cadets.

    "You can't play innercent with me!" he fairly screamed. "I know you! You shot them cows, an' I'm a-goin' to send you to state's prison fur it!"

    "It's a purty serious business--killin' a man's cattle like that," added Caleb Boggs, with a shake of his head. He still held his shotgun so as to cover the two boys.

    "I don't know a thing about your cows, and I certainly haven't shot at them," answered Jack, indignantly.

    "We haven't been anywhere near your cow pasture, or your cowshed, either," said Fred. "We've been hunting up in the woods yonder. Your man saw us."

    "We got lost up there after it began to snow, and we had to camp out all night," explained Jack. "We just found that road and were trying to get back to Haven Point and Colby Hall."

    "It ain't so! It ain't so!" snarled Elias Lacy. "You come over to my cow paster yesterday afternoon an' shot both o' them cows and then you run away. One o' my men seen you."

    "He never did!" burst out Jack. "I tell you we weren't near your place."

    "We went out hunting with a number of other cadets, and we can prove it!" added his cousin.

    "Huh! where are them other cadets now?" demanded the old farmer.

    "We got separated in the woods--they going off for some rabbits in one direction and we going off after some other rabbits in another direction," explained the oldest Rover boy. "I don't know where those other cadets are now. Probably they went back to the school."

    "You ain't got no right to hunt on my grounds."

    "We were out in the open woods, Mr. Lacy, where we had a perfect right to be."

    "Well, we won't talk about that now," snarled the old man. "I'm a-goin' to fix you for shootin' them cows. They was two of the best cows I had, an' they was wuth a lot o' money."

    A wordy war followed, during which the boys became almost as angry as the old farmer. They insisted upon it that they had not been near his farm during the afternoon of the day before, but he did not believe a word they said.

    "I'm a-goin' to have the law on you!" he cried. "I'm a-goin' to have you arrested! An' I'll make your folks pay fur them cows!"

    "Hadn't we better march 'em down to the barn?" suggested the hired man. "Then I kin hitch up the horses and we kin take 'em down to the town lock-up."

    "Oh, Jack, don't let them lock us up!" whispered Fred, in horror.

    "If you lock us up, Mr. Lacy, you'll suffer for it," said Jack. "I'll get my father to sue you for damages."

    "Don't you talk to me like that, you young whipper-snapper!" cried the old man. "I know what I'm a-doin'. I'm a-goin' to turn you over to the town authorities, an' that's all there is to it!"

    The old man was obdurate, and he and the hired man forced the boys into the barn, where the farmer stood guard with the shotgun while the hired man hooked up a team of horses to one of the farm wagons. Then the lads were told to get into the turnout.

    "I don't think I'll get in," said Jack.

    "Yes, you will!" snarled Elias Lacy; and then followed a lively scuffle. But the two boys were no match for the men, and they were quickly disarmed. Then, being covered by the hired man's shotgun, they had to get up into the wagon. The hired man drove, while Elias Lacy sat in the rear, the shotgun ready for action so that the boys might not escape. Their own guns, along with their game, were placed on the bottom of the wagon under a blanket.

    It must be confessed that Jack and Fred were in no enviable frame of mind as the wagon with the two prisoners aboard headed in the direction of Haven Point. They knew that news of their arrest would spread rapidly, and they wondered what their friends, and especially the girls at Clearwater Hall, would think of it.

    "Gee, but we're in a pickle!" commented Fred, dismally.

    "Yes. And the worst of it is, I don't know how we are going to clear ourselves," answered his cousin. "As near as I can learn, those cows were shot while you and I were off by ourselves in the woods. The hired man says the other man who works on the place saw two cadets disappearing between the trees."

    "Who can those fellows be, Jack?"

    "Don't ask me! Probably two of our fellows who have some grudge against Lacy."

    This talk was carried on in an undertone, so that neither the old farmer nor his hired man could understand what was said.

    "You needn't plan no trick to escape," warned Elias Lacy, raising his shotgun slightly.

    "Mr. Lacy, what did you do with the two cows that were shot?" asked Jack, suddenly.

    "I left 'em out in the paster, right where they fell," returned the old farmer. "I ain't a-goin' to tech 'em till the authorities have looked 'em over."

    "Were they killed with bird shot or with rifle bullets?"

    "Bird shot--same as you've been a-usin' in them shotguns of yourn."

    A portion of the roadway leading into Haven Point was being repaired and was closed off; so, in order to get down into the town, they had to make something of a detour in the direction of Colby Hall.

    "Oh, Jack, hadn't we better ask him to take us to the Hall first?" whispered Fred to his cousin. "Maybe Colonel Colby can fix this up for us."

    "I might ask him," returned Jack, in a low tone.

    "I ain't a-goin' to Colby Hall," snarled Elias Lacy, after the question had been put to him. "I'm a-goin' to take you to the lock-up."

    The journey towards the town was continued, and presently those in the wagon came within sight of a rural free delivery turnout.

    "Hello there, Pete! Got any letters for us?" sang out the farm hand.

    "One fur Mr. Lacy," replied the post carrier, and, driving closer, he handed it over.

    "I ain't got no time to read letters now," announced Elias Lacy, as he thrust the communication into his pocket. "I've got other business to 'tend to."

    "Givin' a couple of the Colby cadets a ride, eh?" ventured the carrier.

    "I'm a-takin' 'em to the lock-up, Pete. They went an' shot two o' my cows."

    "You don't say, 'Lias!" cried the carrier in amazement. "Out huntin' I s'pose, and mistook 'em for deer or bears," and he chuckled over his little joke.

    "No; they done it a-purpose," growled the farmer. "They held a grudge agin me, an' they thought they was a-goin' to git square. But I'll show 'em, an' don't you forgit it!"

    "We didn't shoot his cows!" came simultaneously from Jack and Fred.

    "Bad business! But I've got to be on my way," commented the carrier. "That road bein' closed puts me away off my regular route;" and off he drove.

    Three quarters of the distance to Haven Point had been covered when those in the wagon heard a shout, and a moment later Captain Dale came galloping up on horseback.

    "Where in the world have you two cadets been?" he cried. "We have been looking all over for you."

    "We got lost in the woods and had to camp out all night," explained Jack, and then added: "Did the others get back?"

    "Oh, yes. And they fully expected that you would follow them." And then, seeing a peculiar look on the boys' faces, the military instructor of Colby Hall continued: "Nothing wrong, I hope?"

    "Yes, there is--a whole lot wrong!" cried Elias Lacy, before the cadets could answer. "They sneaked up to my farm an' shot two o' my cows."

    "Impossible!" exclaimed the military man.

    "No, it ain't! It's so!" shrilled the old farmer. "They killed the cows, an' I'm on my way to put 'em in the Haven Point lock-up."

    "Oh, Captain Dale, don't let him have us arrested!" pleaded Fred. "We do not know anything about his cows, and we certainly did not shoot them."

    "Tell me all about this," demanded Captain Dale. And in a highly excited fashion, Elias Lacy told his story, which was corroborated by his hired man.

    "Now I'll hear what you have to say," said the captain, turning to Jack and Fred.

    They gave him the particulars of what had happened, just as they had already related them to the old farmer. Then Captain Dale asked them a number of questions. Elias Lacy interrupted continually.

    "I ain't a-goin' to stand no nonsense," said the old man doggedly. "I'm a-goin' to put 'em in the lock-up, an' do it right now!"

    "Mr. Lacy, allow me to tell you something," said the military instructor coolly. "If these boys are guilty you will be justified in having them placed under arrest. But if they are not guilty--and they claim they are innocent--you'll make yourself liable for a big suit for damages."

    "I don't care! I know they shot them cows!"

    "No, you don't know it. You admit that the farm hand who saw the two cadets did not recognize them. In fact, he wasn't altogether sure that they were cadets. Now, these boys claim they were nowhere near your pasture lot when the cows were shot. I think the best thing you can do is to let them return to the Hall with me. Colonel Colby is away to-day, but I will take the matter up with him just as soon as he returns."

    "Mebbe if I let 'em go to the Hall, they'll run away," answered Elias Lacy. The mention of a possible lawsuit for damages had taken some of the aggressiveness out of him.

    "I will see to it that they do not run away," answered Captain Dale. "We have a guardroom at the Hall--a sort of lock-up; and if it is necessary I will have them placed there until Colonel Colby can investigate, and until you can make up your mind what you want to do."

    The old farmer argued the matter for several minutes, but in the end agreed to let the military instructor take charge of Jack and Fred.

    "But remember," he said in parting, "you've got to keep 'em under lock an' key till I see Colonel Colby. I'm a-goin' to make an investigation, an' I'm purty sure I'll be able to prove that they killed them cows."
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