ON THE TRACK OF THE BURGLARS

Matt Randolph lost no time in discharging his duty at the bell-rope, and
he performed it with the utmost vigor and determination. He rang the
bell, which was in a cupola at the top of the building, as the students
had been instructed to do in case of fire. There was no art or skill to
be used in the operation, and the ringer was simply required to make all
the noise he could; and Matt made it.

Dory reached the rear of the shops in season to escape being shot by the
reckless burglars, and even to avoid being shot at. Perhaps it was
fortunate that he was too late to see the marauders leap from the
window, as he had expected; for his life, or the comfort and well-being
of his well-developed frame, might have been endangered.

When Dory reached the rear of the shops, he found one of the windows
open; and he halted under it to obtain further information, for he was
not a fellow to lose his head, and fly off at random. The rapid ringing
of the bell was rather exhilarating; but he considered it quite
necessary to keep cool, and he did not allow himself to be carried away
by the excitement of the moment. He stopped short under the open window.

It was too dark to see any thing. He had thought of bringing the lantern
with him; but when he thought that it would be of more assistance to the
burglars in avoiding him, than it would be to him in finding them, he
concluded to let the darkness hide his movements. It occurred to him
that the light would enable them to use their revolvers effectively.

All he could do was to stop and listen. The wind was blowing very hard;
and the noise it made in the trees prevented him from hearing the tramp
of footsteps, if there were any to be heard. There was not a sound that
could be distinguished above the rattling of the leaves and the swaying
of the branches.

It was rather discouraging to the volunteer thief-taker; and he began to
feel that he had come to the end of his rope, for it was useless to run
here and there without something to guide his steps. As he had no clew
to the marauders, he could only consider probabilities. What direction
would the burglars take to make their escape? If they had come in a
boat, they could embark anywhere between the bridge above the quarries
and Beaver River.

By land they could pass through the grounds of the estate, and reach the
street; or they could follow the cart-path through the quarries, pass
over the bridge, and reach Lake Champlain at Porter’s Bay, or any point
below it, or strike a road which would lead them to the north.

While he was thinking of it, he heard the voice of Matt Randolph calling
to him. But the bell was still ringing, even more furiously than at
first; and it was plain that he had turned this task over to some other
student, for no one but a boy would have put so much vigor into the
operation. And by this time the tremendous racket ought to bring a crowd
to the centre of the disturbance.

“Have you seen any thing of them, Dory?” shouted Matt, as he reached the
corner of the building.

“Not a thing,” replied Dory.

The sound of his voice directed the steps of his companion, and brought
him to the vicinity of the open window. He had a lantern in his hand,
and by its aid they examined the window by which the burglars had made
their exit from the shop. But there was nothing there to afford them a
particle of information in the quest.

“Don’t you know which way they went?” asked Matt.

“I have not the least idea,” answered Dory; and he stated the avenues of
escape open to the robbers, as he had just been over them in his own
mind.

“But while we are standing here, doing nothing, the villains are getting
away,” said Matt, with some excitement in his manner.

“It’s no use to tear around wildly without knowing what you are about,”
replied Dory quietly. “I am in favor of looking over the chances before
we strike in any direction. With all the racket of that bell, they did
not go through the grounds to the nearest road.”

“They will give the roads a wide berth,” added Matt.

“Then, they have either taken a boat on the little lake, or they have
gone up to the bridge above the quarry. I feel almost sure they have
done one or the other of these things,” continued Dory, who had reached
a decided conclusion, and was ready to act.

“I think you are right, Dory; and what to do is the next article in the
warrant,” replied Matt, whom the influence of the other had completely
cooled off, and he saw the folly of running about at random without any
plan of operations.

“All we have to do is to cover the open points of escape, as we
understand them. Have the fellows turned out yet?”

“I believe every one of them is out, in front of the dormitory.”

“My uncle ought to be on the spot by this time; but if he is not, I will
assume the responsibility of acting without him. If you will take a
crew, and man the Marian, I will follow the route by the bridge. The
keys of the boat-house are in the office. Be in a hurry about it,” added
Dory briskly; and he started off in the direction of the quarries.




“Suppose I see a boat working out of Beechwater, do you think I ought to
try to capture it?” asked Matt, who seemed to be in doubt.

“Not at all! Follow it, and see where it goes: follow it to the end of
Lake Champlain, if it leads you as far as that. Don’t meddle with it,
and don’t let any of your fellows get shot.”

Matt ran back to the dormitory. Though the bell had been ringing some
time, Captain Gildrock had not yet appeared at the scene of the tumult.
The captain of the Lily took the keys, and summoned the crew of the
Marian. In less than five minutes they were pulling out of the
boat-house. The boat proceeded, with all the speed the oarsmen could
give it, to the outlet. Matt went through it to the river, and then
proceeded to examine the north shore of Beechwater.

Dory followed the road to the quarries, and reached the bridge. He
crossed it, and was then in the great road. Between him and the lake the
region was covered with woods. From the road there were cart-paths
leading down to the lake, mostly used by picnic parties. If the burglars
had come this way, they were likely to take to the woods, if they
understood that they were pursued.

Dory halted several times to listen; but it was useless to do so, he
found, for the wind in the trees made noise enough to silence all other
sounds. He passed the cart-path which led down to Porter’s Bay, and soon
came to one which led to a very deep indentation of the shore from
Kingsland Bay.

At this point he halted and listened again, and had about come to the
conclusion not to go any farther in this direction. But just then a
bright thought was suggested to him by the circumstances of the
occasion. There had been a heavy rain some time in the night, after he
went to bed, as he learned from the puddles of water in the road. The
ground, where he had seen it by the light of the lantern, had been
washed by a heavy shower, such as sometimes comes with a southerly wind.

The road was rather sandy at the point where Dory halted, as he could
tell from the feeling of it. He lighted a match, for the purpose of
applying a little Indian craft to the situation. Placing the lighted
brand inside of his hat, to protect it from the wind, he stooped down,
and began to examine the bed of the road.

He had hardly bent his body to the task before he heard a sound, not a
great distance from him, which was marvellously like a human voice. He
sprang to his feet, and gazed into the gloom of the woods in the
direction from which the sound had come. But all was silence except the
piping of the violent wind through the branches of the trees. He
strained his hearing-powers for some time, in the hope that the sound
would be repeated; but he did so in vain.

He was almost sure that he had heard a voice, and he was encouraged to
believe that he was on the right track. The sound reached him very
nearly at the instant when he had touched off the match. He spent a few
minutes in reasoning over the circumstance. If the burglars were in the
vicinity, the light of the match had enabled them to locate him; and he
was willing to believe that the discovery of his presence had called
forth a sudden exclamation of surprise from the least prudent of the
two.

Whether his conclusion was correct, or not, it satisfied him, and
assured him that the marauders were near him. He was alone and unarmed;
while there were two burglars, each perhaps provided with a revolver.
The situation was not wholly satisfactory to him; for though he was as
brave as a lion, he was also as prudent as a cat lying in wait for a
bird.

He had halted at the junction of the great road with the cart-path
leading to Kingsland Bay; and the sound he had heard, assured him that
the marauders were on this side-road. He had no more idea of attacking
them than he had of running away from them. But the light had enabled
them to fix his own position in the gloom, and Dory deemed it advisable
to derange their calculations.

With a careful step, he walked away from the junction of the roads by
the way he had come. It would be as difficult for them to hear him as it
was for him to hear them, and in a few moments he increased his pace. At
the foot of a little hill, perhaps a quarter of a mile from his first
stopping-place, he halted again. He did not believe they had followed
him, for they could not have been aware of his movement.

Lighting another match, he examined the road, as he had intended to do
before. Between the ruts he found the footprints of two persons, who had
been walking side by side. The marks were made by genteel boots or
shoes, and not by any farmer or laborer who wore cowhide and broad soles
on his feet.

This discovery made it appear to Dory that the burglars were
professional gentlemen of the housebreaking order, and probably they did
not belong anywhere in the vicinity of Genverres. This demonstration
added something to the inquirer’s stock of information; but it was of no
especial value, since the hearing of the voice in the woods was more
tangible evidence.

No end of questions which he could not answer flashed through Dory’s
mind after his match had burned out, and he had established to his own
satisfaction the professional character of the operators. They were
somewhere within a half a mile of him; and he wanted to know whether
they intended to take a boat at Kingsland Bay, or escape by the road,
which would take them to Burlington if they followed it long enough. Of
course he could not answer either of these important questions.

The peril of the situation, in view of the revolvers, and the lack of
knowledge, made it very difficult for him to determine what to do. He
ended by deciding to do nothing beyond lying in wait for the marauders.
He returned very cautiously to the junction of the roads again. There he
seated himself on the top-rail of a fence, and–waited.

That was all he could do, though the inactivity to which he was
condemned made him as impatient as a chained mastiff.

He had seen the clock in the lower hall of the dormitory, and he knew
that the explosion had occurred at about three o’clock. At least half an
hour–and he thought it was nearer a full hour–had since elapsed. It
would be daylight within an hour, though it was a very dark morning, and
with the light he could act more intelligently.

No sound came from the direction of the bay, and it occurred to Dory
that the marauders might have continued their retreat by the road. He
was startled at the thought, and he jumped down from the fence.