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    Chapter 28

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    Chapter 29
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    IN THE GUARDROOM

    "What in the world do you suppose has become of them, Randy?"

    "I give it up! I hope they only lost their way and didn't have some kind of an accident."

    "Oh, don't speak of an accident!" cried Andy in horror. "It makes me shiver to think of it."

    "I can't understand why they didn't rejoin us as they promised to do," said Frank Newberry, who was present. "We looked all over for them, and fired one or two shots to attract their attention, but it was all useless."

    The twins had passed a restless night following the continued absence from the school of their cousins. Early in the morning they had gone out in company with Gif and Spouter, and covered many miles in a vain search for the absent ones. They could not settle down to their class work, and so were excused by Professor Brice.

    "Well, I've got to be getting back to the classroom," remarked Frank Newberry, presently, and he and several others who were present hurried away, leaving the twins to themselves.

    The boys walked down the roadway which had been followed by the hunters the day before. They had covered only a short distance when they saw a farm wagon approaching, with Captain Dale beside it on his horse.

    "There they are!" cried Andy, and an instant later added in amazement: "Old Lacy and one of his men are with them!"

    "Yes. And I bet that spells trouble for Jack and Fred," announced his brother.

    The old farmer would not stop for the boys on the roadside, but drove directly to the Colby Hall entrance.

    "Why! what's the matter?" exclaimed Randy to the military instructor.

    "A little trouble, boys," was Captain Dale's answer. "You'll hear about it later." And then he went after the wagon, and the boys took to their heels and followed.

    "Now then, you do what you promised!" snapped Elias Lacy, after Jack and Fred had jumped from the wagon. "Don't let 'em run away, nohow!"

    "You can rest assured that I will take care of them, Mr. Lacy," answered the captain coldly.

    "When do you expect Colonel Colby back?"

    "Some time this afternoon."

    "Then I guess I'll be back by that time to see him. An' I guess I'll be able to prove them boys is guilty, too."

    "Why, Jack! what is it all about?" demanded Randy, while his twin looked on questioningly. The boys' shotguns and game had been taken from the farm wagon, and now the pair from the Lacy farm drove away.

    "You've got to search me!" declared Jack. "Old Lacy accuses Fred and me of shooting two of his cows."

    "You didn't do it, though, did you?" queried Andy.

    "Certainly not!" burst out Fred. "All we know about it is what he has told us. We weren't even near the pasture where the cows were kept."

    As well as they were able, Jack and Fred explained the situation to their cousins and also answered a number of questions put to them by Captain Dale. The military instructor was much puzzled over the situation, and hardly knew what to do.

    "You heard what I promised Mr. Lacy," he said finally. "I'll have to place you in the guardroom until Colonel Colby gets back. But I imagine you would rather be kept there than let Mr. Lacy take you down to the town lock-up."

    "It isn't fair to lock us up at all," grumbled Fred. "We have done no wrong. Of course we stayed away from the Hall over night, but that couldn't be helped. It was no fun staying outdoors on such a cold night without shelter."

    "Can't you parole us, Captain?" queried Jack.

    "No. I gave Mr. Lacy my word that I would lock you up, and I'll have to do it. I'll see to it, however, that you suffer no discomforts while you are in the guardroom."

    After this there seemed no help for it, and, turning their guns and game over to the twins, Jack and Fred followed Captain Dale through one of the lower corridors and then into a wing of the building. Here there was a room about twelve feet square, the one window of which was barred, and this was known officially as the school guardroom, or prison.

    "You may wash up if you care to do so, and I will send you some breakfast," announced Captain Dale, and then left them in the room, locking the door behind him.

    The apartment was but scantily furnished, containing an iron cot, a couple of stools, a table, and, in one corner, a wash bowl with running water. There was a small steam radiator in the room, and this the boys lost no time in turning on, for the air was damp and cold.

    "This is a fine prospect, truly," remarked Fred, as he sank down on one of the stools. "I wonder how long we'll have to stay in this hole."

    "That remains to be seen, Fred. I wish Colonel Colby were here. I think he would give us some good advice--being such an old friend of our fathers."

    "Gee! I'd hate to have him send a letter home telling the folks that we were guilty of shooting a farmer's cows."

    "So would I. I don't see how we are going to clear ourselves. You can bet Lacy will make out the blackest possible case against us."

    After their outing in the woods the boys were glad enough to wash themselves. They had hardly finished when one of the waiters of the Hall came in with a large tray filled with an appetizing breakfast.

    "This isn't so bad," declared Jack, when they had been left once more alone. The boys ate heartily, yet they were so much troubled that it is not likely the food did them any good.

    The report soon circulated throughout Colby Hall that Jack and Fred had been placed under arrest, and many of the cadets wanted to know what it meant.

    "They've been arrested for shooting two of old Lacy's cows!" said Codfish, who had heard the news and had started to circulate it as quickly as possible. "They say old Lacy is going to send them to state's prison for it."

    "Spikeless mosquitoes!" cried Fatty. "Do you think they really went over there and shot the cows?"

    "I don't know, I'm sure," answered Walt Baxter, who was present. "I know they didn't bear old Lacy much good-will. They felt rather raw over the way the old man held 'em up with his shotgun when they were having their Hallowe'en fun."

    "Yes. And they were down on Lacy because he once took away some chestnuts they had gathered from one of his trees," put in another cadet.

    "Shooting cows is rather a serious business," was Bart White's comment.

    This talk took place on the campus. Down in the gymnasium another group of cadets had gathered, including Nappy Martell and Slugger Brown.

    "Locked up for killing old Lacy's cows, eh?" cried Martell, with a satisfied grin on his face. "They'll catch it for that, all right enough!"

    "I don't see why Colonel Colby don't fire 'em out of the school for it," said Slugger Brown.

    "Maybe he will dismiss 'em if he finds out the report is true," ventured another cadet.

    "Of course the report is true!" put in Codfish, who had come up. "Didn't one of the hired men see 'em do it?"

    "Is that so, Codfish?"

    "So they say."

    "Oh, it would be just like those Rovers to do something like that," came from Nappy Martell. "They are that kind of fellows."

    "I always thought they were pretty good chaps," was the comment of another cadet.

    "Good chaps!" sneered Slugger Brown. "That shows you don't know 'em as well as we do. They are sneaks--all of 'em--and wouldn't hesitate a minute to do anything underhanded. I hope Colonel Colby gets after them and fires 'em out;" and then, with a knowing look at Martell, Slugger passed on, and presently his crony followed him.

    A good deal of this talk drifted to the ears of the Rover twins and hurt them not a little. But they were in no position to combat what was said.

    "Of course we know Jack and Fred are innocent," remarked Randy to his brother. "But in a court of law it is one thing to know it and quite another thing to prove it."

    "Yet I've always heard it said that a man was innocent until he was proved guilty," asserted Andy.

    "Very true. Just the same, many a man has been convicted on what they call circumstantial evidence; and evidently the circumstantial evidence against Jack and Fred is pretty strong."

    In the guardroom the time for Jack and Fred passed slowly. They discussed the situation from every possible point of view, but without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.

    "Even if they don't send us to prison for the crime, they may make our fathers' pay for the cows," said Jack.

    "Yes. And Colonel Colby may send us home," added Fred, dismally. "Oh, dear! wouldn't that be the worst ever?" and he sank down on the cot and covered his face with his hands.

    It was Martell and Brown, aided by Codfish, who saw to it that the report of Jack and Fred's arrest was carried to Clearwater Hall. This brought consternation to the girls, particularly to Ruth and May.

    "I won't believe it!" declared Ruth. "I don't believe Jack and Fred would be so mean."

    "I don't believe it either!" cried Spouter's cousin. "Somebody else must have done it!"

    In the middle of the afternoon Colonel Colby returned to the Hall and was at once acquainted with the affair by Captain Dale. The colonel was on the point of questioning the two prisoners when a servant came in, announcing the arrival of Elias Lacy. The farmer was as wildly excited as he had been in the morning.

    "I knowed I was right!" he cried, flourishing a letter in the colonel's face. "Here's something I got to prove it! It come by mail this mornin' when I was bringin' them young whelps over here. I put the letter in my pocket, an' I forgot all about it until an hour ago. Jest read that, will you?" and he thrust the communication into Colonel Colby's hand.

    The letter was postmarked at Beach Haven, and had been mailed the evening previous. It was written in a slanting backhand, evidently disguised, and ran as follows:

    "Dear Mr. Lacy:

    "Your two cows were shot by Jack Rover and Fred Rover. They were out in the woods hunting when we saw them go towards your pasture lot. We thought they were up to some trick, so watched them. They drove the two cows from the rest of the herd, and then Jack Rover gave one cow two shots and Fred Rover gave the other cow two shots. Then they ran back into the woods as tight as they could go. They didn't join the other hunters they had gone out with, most likely because they were afraid.

    "You had better go to Colby Hall and have them arrested before they run away.

    "Yours truly,

    "Three boys who know, but who do not dare to give you their names."
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