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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 30
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    "There! what do you think of that letter?" demanded Elias Lacy, after Colonel Colby had read the communication.

    "I don't know what to think of it, Mr. Lacy," was the slow reply. "I have not yet had an opportunity to interview the two Rovers. If you will sit down here in my office, I'll talk to them and try to settle this matter with you."

    "Don't you want me to go with you?" questioned the old farmer quickly.

    "No. I prefer to interview them alone."

    "All right then, I'll stay here. But don't be too long, 'cause I want to drive down to the town an' git Bill Pixley, the chief o' police, or one of his men."

    "I don't think you'll need any police, Mr. Lacy. I think we'll be able to fix this matter up to your entire satisfaction," answered Colonel Colby; and then left the office and made his way along the corridors to the guardroom.

    His coming was a great relief to Jack and Fred, for they felt that in Colonel Colby they had a real friend. Yet they were much troubled, for they realized that the case looked black against them.

    "Now tell me everything you know. Don't hold back a single item," said the colonel, as he seated himself on one of the stools.

    Thereupon both cadets related their story in detail--how they had gone out with Frank Newberry and the others, how the two parties had become separated, and how they had lost their way, camped out over night, and finally found the woods road leading down to the Lacy farm, and then how Elias Lacy and his hired man had held them up and threatened them with arrest.

    "And you do not know a single thing about the shooting of the cows?" questioned the colonel, eyeing them sternly.

    "Not a thing, sir," responded Jack, promptly.

    "We don't know anything more about those cows than you do, sir," added Fred, vehemently. "We weren't anywhere near his place when they were shot."

    "Then what do you two say to this letter?" continued the master of Colby Hall, and presented the communication to them.

    Jack read the letter with Fred looking over his shoulder. Then, of a sudden, Fred gave a cry of amazement.

    "I think I know who wrote that letter!" he exclaimed.

    "You do!" returned Colonel Colby and Jack, simultaneously.

    "I think so; although, of course, I am not sure." Fred looked at his cousin. "It would be just like him to do it."

    "Who are you talking about, Fred?"

    "I'm talking about Slugger Brown."

    "Slugger Brown!"

    "Do you mean Slogwell Brown?" queried the master of the school.

    "Yes, sir."

    "And what makes you think Brown wrote that communication?" demanded Colonel Colby. And now, somewhat to their wonder, the Rovers realized that the colonel seemed to be unusually interested.

    "Because I once saw Brown writing in backhand fashion on the blackboard in the gymnasium," explained Fred. "He wrote a hand almost identical with that. I noticed it particularly, because he was amusing himself by writing one line slanting backward and the next line slanting forward."

    "Did he know you were watching him?"

    "Oh, no! I didn't stay there long enough for that. He was all alone, and as I didn't care to speak to him, I passed out without his noticing it."

    "How long ago was this?"

    "Only about a week ago."

    "Hum!" The colonel mused for a moment, knitting his brows closely as he did so. "That is worth investigating." He thought for another moment. "You have nothing more to add to your story?"

    "No, sir," answered Fred.

    "I think we've told you everything, Colonel Colby," returned Jack. "We are innocent, and I trust you will do all you can to help us prove it."

    "I shall do what is absolutely fair in the matter," answered Colonel Colby; and then left the two boys once more to themselves.

    Andy and Randy had begged for permission to talk things over with their cousins, and they came in to see Jack and Fred almost immediately after Colonel Colby left.

    "If Slugger Brown wrote that letter, maybe he and Nappy Martell did the shooting," remarked Randy.

    "They would be just mean enough to do it," added his twin. "They'd do anything to get our crowd into trouble."

    "Why can't you two fellows watch Brown and Martell?" questioned Jack. "You might tell Gif and Spouter and Ned about it, too. Find out where those two fellows were yesterday afternoon, and find out if they used any of the shotguns."

    "Say! that's an idea!" cried Randy, enthusiastically. "I'll go at it right away!"

    "And so will I!" declared his brother. "Maybe we'll be able to lay the whole blame on that pair."

    The twins talked it over with the others for a little while longer, and then were let out of the guardroom by a servant, who locked the door after them. As they came out into the main corridor of the Hall, they saw that Elias Lacy was just leaving Colonel Colby's office.

    "All right, then, I'll wait," the old farmer was saying. "But I'll be back by to-morrow afternoon, an' if you can't prove by that time that them Rover boys is innercent, I'm a-goin' to have 'em locked up."

    "Very well, Mr. Lacy," the colonel replied, and bowed his visitor out of the door.

    "Well, anyway, the colonel has got old Lacy to wait another day," whispered Randy. "That will give us just so much more time to get on the track of what Martell and Brown have been doing."

    "All provided they are really guilty of playing this dirty trick," answered his brother.

    In the upper hallway the twins ran across Ned Lowe, and immediately took that cadet into their confidence, and asked him if he would not try to find out for them where Brown and Martell had been the previous afternoon.

    "For, you see, we can't ask them ourselves," explained Randy. "If we did that they would become suspicious at once."

    "All right, I'll do what I can," answered Ned, and made off without delay. He came back in less than fifteen minutes, looking much excited.

    "How did you make out?" queried Randy, eagerly.

    "Great! I want you two fellows to come upstairs at once while Brown and Martell are out of their rooms. And I think you had better bring along one of the teachers as a witness."

    "Why, what have you learned, Ned?" questioned Andy.

    "I saw them down near the gymnasium, and sneaked up behind them, and by rare good luck heard them talking about two shotguns that belonged in the gun rack. They were wondering how they could get them from their rooms back into the gun rack without detection."

    "Hurrah! I wager we have found 'em out!" ejaculated Randy, excitedly. "Come on! let's get one of the teachers at once!"

    The boys were fortunate enough to fall in with Professor Brice a minute later, and in a rather excited fashion they told the teacher of what they had learned and what they proposed to do.

    "Why, certainly, I'll go with you," said Paul Brice, quickly. "I want just as much as anybody to get at the bottom of this affair."

    Accompanied by the professor, the three cadets hurried to the second floor of the Hall and then to the rooms occupied by Slugger Brown and Nappy Martell. The door to each was locked, but one of them was opened for the crowd by an assistant janitor. A hasty search revealed nothing in the shape of a firearm in either room, and the Rover boys were much disappointed. But then Randy thought of the bed, and quickly raised the mattress. On the springs rested a shotgun.

    "And I'll bet the other shotgun is in the other bed!" cried Andy, and he and the professor made an investigation. The fun-loving Rover's surmise was correct.

    "These are guns belonging to the Hall, too!" cried Ned, pointing out the mark of the school on the stocks. "They must belong down in the gun rack, just as Slugger and Martell said."

    "Bring those guns along, boys, and we'll go directly to Colonel Colby's office," said Professor Brice; and the cadets lost no time in doing as he directed.

    They found the master of the school seated at his desk, looking over a mass of papers. He gazed in wonder at the three lads and Professor Brice.

    "We found the shotguns that were used on those cows!" cried Randy, his eyes sparkling.

    "And do you know where we found 'em? In the beds that Slugger Brown and Nappy Martell use!" broke in Andy.

    "What's this?" And now the colonel was really startled.

    "You had better let the boys tell the beginning of the story, and I will tell the end," said Professor Brice.

    Thereupon, the two Rovers repeated the talk that had taken place in the guardroom, and then told how they had gotten Ned to spy on Brown and Martell. Then Ned told of what he had heard, and of how the three had called on Professor Brice for assistance. After that the teacher took up the narrative, ending with the finding of the shotguns in the beds.

    "It looks like a pretty clear case against Brown and Martell," remarked the colonel slowly. "However, I shall have to make a further investigation. I will send for Brown and Martell at once."

    The colonel was as good as his word, and inside of five minutes Slugger and Nappy came into the office together. They looked much disturbed, and this look increased when they saw Andy and Randy.

    "Brown and Martell, I have sent for you to answer a few questions," began Colonel Colby, sternly, as the two cadets faced him. "I want you to answer me directly and truthfully. What was your object in taking two of our shotguns from the gun rack and going over to Mr. Lacy's farm and shooting down two of his cows?"

    "Wh--wh--why, wh--wh--what do you mean?" faltered Brown.

    "We didn't--er--shoot--er--any cows," stammered Martell.

    Both boys were thrown into utter confusion, and showed it plainly. Then Slugger Brown suddenly turned to glare at the Rovers.

    "Is this some of your work?" he demanded. "If it is, let me tell you I'll pay you back for it!"

    "Stop that talk, Brown!" commanded Colonel Colby. "I want you and Martell to answer my question. Why did you go over there and shoot those cows?"

    "Who says we shot the cows?" questioned Nappy, faintly.

    "Never mind who says so. You did it, and it is useless for you to deny it. Here are the two guns you took from the gun rack and afterwards hid in your beds. And here is the despicable note you, Brown, wrote and mailed to Mr. Lacy," and the colonel held out the communication.

    "Oh, Colonel Colby, I di--di--didn't do it!" faltered Slugger Brown. His face had suddenly gone white, and he could scarcely speak.

    "Do you deny that this is your handwriting?"

    "I--I----Oh, is----I--I--didn't----That is----" and here Slugger Brown broke down absolutely, not knowing what to say.

    "Did you mail that letter or did Brown do it?" questioned the colonel, quickly turning to Martell.

    "He did it! I didn't have anything to do with it!" burst out Nappy, breaking down completely.

    "It ain't so!" cried Slugger. "He was with me, and he dropped the letter in the post-office!"

    "And so you killed the cows to get the Rovers into trouble?" said Colonel Colby; and now his eyes glittered like steel. "A fine thing to do, truly! I did not think any of our cadets would stoop to such a base action."

    "It was a--er--a joke," gasped Nappy.

    "A joke! To kill two valuable cows? Martell, if you talk that way, I'll be inclined to think you are losing your senses. But evidently there is something radically wrong with both you and Brown," went on the master of the Hall. "This case of the cows and the plot against the Rovers is bad enough, but I have another matter against you which may prove even worse."

    "What is that?" questioned Slugger, very faintly.

    "It is a case that Captain Larkins of the steam tug, Mary D., has lodged against you. He says he has absolute proof that both of you went out in a motor boat one day and tampered with the towing line and the chains of a large lumber raft, so that when a sudden squall came up on the lake, the towing line parted and the lumber raft went to pieces."

    "Oh, say! that must have been the squall we were out in!" exclaimed Randy. "And we got caught among that floating lumber, too!"

    "Yes, that was the time," answered Colonel Colby.

    "Oh, Colonel! can't we go to our cousins and tell them that they can have their freedom?" questioned Andy, with a sudden thought of those left in the guardroom.

    "Yes, Rover. Both of you and also Lowe can go," was the colonel's reply. "I will settle this affair with Brown and Martell."

    "And will you settle it with Mr. Lacy, too?" queried Randy, quickly.

    "Yes. I will fix the whole matter up. You may tell Jack and Fred that they need not worry any further on this score." And thereupon Andy, Randy and Ned hurried away to bear the glad tidings to the prisoners.

    Of course Jack and Fred were greatly pleased to be released. They listened eagerly to all the twins and Ned had to relate.

    "So Nappy and Slugger are guilty!" cried Jack. "What a mean way to act!"

    "And to think they are also guilty of sending that lumber adrift," said Fred. "They'll suffer for that."

    "They ought to suffer," answered his cousin.
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