Chapter VIII Something About Blackie Crowden - The Rover boys on a Tour by Edward Stratemeyer

When Sam returned to Brill late that evening, after having spent a most delightful time with Grace, he found that Songbird had returned from the Sandersons' homestead some time before. The would-be poet of the college was working hard over some of his lessons, and it was plainly to be seen that he was in anything but a good humor.

"Sanderson treated me like a dog--like a regular dog!" he burst out, in reply to Sam's question. "Why! to hear him talk you would almost think I was in league with the fellow who attacked me!"

"It's too bad, Songbird; but you shouldn't take it so much to heart.

Remember, Mr. Sanderson is a very hard-working man and one who has probably never allowed another fellow to get the best of him in any kind of a deal. The amount that was lost represents probably the savings of a good many years, and to lose it so suddenly and in such an underhanded way has completely upset him. When he has had time to think it over calmly he'll probably see that you were not to blame."

"I don't think so--he's not that kind of man, Sam. He was very bitter and he told Minnie that she wasn't to see me any more. Minnie was dreadfully upset, of course, and she rushed off to her room, so I didn't have any chance to say good-bye to her."

"As bad as that, eh? Well, you can write her a letter anyway."

"So I can; but maybe her father will see to it that she never gets it,"

responded the smitten youth, gloomily.

"I've got a little news that may prove encouraging," pursued Sam after a slight pause; and then he related the particulars of his meeting with Andy Royce, and what the Hope gardener had said regarding Blackie Crowden.

"Say! that's great!" burst out the would-be poet. "If I could see this Crowden I'd know at once if he was the man who watched me when I was at the Knoxbury bank, and if it was it would certainly pay to put the authorities on his trail."

"I was thinking the same, Songbird. I wonder if we couldn't get permission from Dr. Wallington to drive over to Center Haven to-morrow and find out what we can about this Blackie Crowden?"

"Oh, he'll have to give us permission--at least he'll have to let me go," returned Songbird. "I can't settle down to any lessons until something is done, one way or another. Here I am, trying to study, and I hardly know a word of what I'm reading."

"Let us go to the doctor at once if he is still up and ask him," said Sam.

Permission to leave the college was readily granted by Dr. Wallington, who, however, cautioned Songbird about overexerting himself while he was still suffering from the attack that had been made upon him.

"I'll depend upon you, Rover, to look after him," said the head of Brill, kindly. "And let me add, I wish you every success in your search for the offender. I certainly would like to see you get Mr. Sanderson's money back."

The two young collegians had breakfast as early as possible, and by eight o'clock were on their way to Center Haven in the automobile belonging to the Rovers, and which had now been left in Sam's care.

Heavy chains had been put on the wheels so that the automobile made its way over the snowy roads without much trouble. Of course in some spots where the frozen highway was uneven, the boys got some pretty hard bumps, but this they did not mind, their one thought being to get to Center Haven as soon as possible and learn all they could concerning Blackie Crowden and his doings.

Center Haven was a town about the size of Knoxbury, and among other things boasted of a large hotel which was generally well patronized during the summer months. Andy Royce had said that Crowden had been seen at this hotel and probably had some sort of position there. When the boys arrived there they found that the main building of the hotel was completely closed. The only portion that was open was a small wing with an equally small dining room used for the accommodations of the few transients who came to Center Haven during the winter months.

"We came here to find a man named Blackie Crowden," said Sam to the proprietor of the hotel, who came forward to meet them when they entered. "Can you tell me anything about him?"

"You won't find him here," returned the hotel man, brusquely. "I discharged him two weeks ago."

"Discharged him?" queried Songbird, and his tone showed his disappointment. "Any trouble with him?"

"Oh, yes, lots of trouble. Are you friends of his?"

"We certainly are not," answered Sam. "But we'd like to find out something about him."

"I'm glad you are not friends of his," continued the hotelkeeper. "I feel very sore over that man. I took him in and gave him a good job, and paid him a good deal more than he was worth. But he wouldn't work--in fact he was the laziest man I ever saw--and so I had to discharge him. I paid him all that was coming to him, and when he got out he was mean enough to sneak off with some of my clothing, and also a pair of my gloves and my rubbers. If I could lay my hands on him, I'd be strongly tempted to hand him over to the police."

"Did he take an overcoat of yours and a fur cap?" demanded Songbird, quickly.

"He certainly did. A heavy, dark-gray overcoat and one of these fur caps that you can pull down over your ears and over the back of the head."

"He must have been the same fellow," remarked Sam. "And the fact that he robbed this man here goes to prove what sort of rascal he really is."

"Did he steal anything from you people?" asked the hotelkeeper, curiously.

"I think he did," answered Songbird. "Did you hear anything of the attack that took place a few days ago on the road near Ashton, in which a young fellow was robbed of four thousand dollars in cash?"

"Oh, yes, I heard about that from the police captain here."

"Well, I am the fellow who was robbed," continued Songbird. "And I'm strongly inclined to think now that it was this Blackie Crowden who was guilty--in fact I am almost certain of it. When I was at the Knoxbury bank getting the money and putting it away in my pocket I saw a man watching through a window of the bank. He had on a dark-gray overcoat and a fur cap pulled far down over his face. Then, later on, just after I was attacked, my friend here with a chum of ours came driving along and saw this same man with the heavy overcoat and the fur cap drive off with the horse and cutter that I had had--and he was the same fellow who had knocked me senseless."

"Is that so! Well, I think you've hit the nail on the head, and if you catch this Blackie Crowden you'll have the right fellow. Anybody who would run off with my things as he did after he had been treated as well as I treated him wouldn't be above committing such a crime. But the question is, where did he go? Have you any idea?"

"We know he got on the train at Dentonville," said Sam. "That's as far as we've been able to trace him so far. But now that we know that this criminal is Blackie Crowden, maybe the authorities will be able to run him down sooner or later."

"This Crowden was very friendly with one or two of the men around the stables," went on the hotelkeeper. "Maybe you can find out something about him from them."

"A good idea!" answered Songbird. "We'll see what they have to say."

The hotel man took the two youths to the stables, and there they talked with several men present who had known Crowden. From these they learned that the man had been very much dissatisfied with the work assigned to him, and had frequently spoken about the good times to be had in such large cities as New York, Chicago and Denver.

"He said he thought he would go back to New York first," said one of the stable men, "and then he thought he would go on to Chicago and after that visit some of his old places and cronies in Denver. But, of course, where he really did go to I haven't the least idea."

"What you say is something of a clue anyway," returned Sam. "Now if we only had a photograph of this Crowden, it might help the police a great deal."

"We've got a picture of him," said one of the men present. "It was taken by one of the visitors at the hotel this fall. He came out here to take a picture of some of the horses and we helped him, so all of us got into the picture, Crowden with the rest. I'll get it," he added, and disappeared in the direction of his sleeping quarters.

The photograph was a fairly large one, showing three men and as many horses. The man in the center was Blackie Crowden, and the stable man and the hotelkeeper declared that it was an excellent photograph of that individual.

"Will you let us have this photograph?" asked Songbird. "I would like to have that picture of Crowden enlarged, and then you can have it back."

"Sure you can have it," answered the stable man. "As that fellow is a thief, you might as well tear that picture up afterward, because I don't want to be in no photograph with a criminal," and he grinned sheepishly.

"All right then, I won't take the trouble to return it," answered Songbird. "Suppose you accept this dollar for it," and he passed over a banknote, which the stable man took with thanks. A little later the two youths started on the return to Ashton.

"Well, that's one step nearer the solution of this mystery," announced Sam. "Now I think we had better stop at Knoxbury and find out about that horse which belonged to Hoover, the livery stable man."

They reached the banking town about noon, and went directly to the livery stable. As they did so a man in a cutter drove in, leading a horse behind him.

"There is the horse now!" cried Sam. "He must have just gotten the animal back from Mr. Bray."

"Are you Mr. Hoover?" questioned Songbird of the man in the cutter, as he came to a halt near them.

"That's my handle, young man. What can I do for you?"

"I would like to know something about that horse, and who hired him from you;" and then he introduced himself and Sam.

"I don't know who got the animal," answered Mr. Hoover. "I was away at the time, and a stable boy let him out. He declares the fellow said he was a friend of mine, and that it would be all right."

"And was the fellow dressed in a heavy, gray overcoat and a heavy fur cap?" asked Sam.

"Yes, that was the description the stable boy gave. When he found I didn't know anything about the man he was scared to death, because I told him that if the horse didn't come back I'd make him pay for the animal."

"Then that's all we want to know, Mr. Hoover," answered Songbird. "I'm pretty sure now I know who it was that knocked me down and robbed me."

"He was a rascal, all right," answered the livery stable man. "I had to pay old Bray four dollars to get my own horse back," he added, sulkily.

As the long ride in the open air had made them hungry, the two youths went to the restaurant in Knoxbury for dinner. Then the automobile was turned once more in the direction of Ashton.

"I'll have that photograph enlarged by Clinger," said Songbird, referring to a photographer in the town who did a great deal of work for the Brill and Hope students. "Then I'll have copies sent to the various police stations, even to New York, Chicago and Denver, along with a description of Blackie Crowden."

"That's the talk, Songbird. Oh, I am sure we'll get on his trail sooner or later," said Sam. But though he spoke light-heartedly for his chum's benefit, he knew that to trace the criminal would be by no means easy.

With the four thousand dollars in his possession, Blackie Crowden would probably make every effort to keep from being discovered.

As they sped along the road, Songbird could not help becoming poetical, and despite his blueness he managed to concoct the following doggerel:

"The engine hums--advance the spark, Turn on the throttle--what a lark!

Away we go like a flash of light Over the hill and out of sight."

"Not so bad, Songbird," was Sam's comment. "That's right--keep it up and maybe you'll feel better." But that was the only verse to be gotten out of the would-be poet for the present.

Arriving at Ashton, they went immediately to the photographer's shop and told him what was wanted, and he agreed to re-photograph the picture of Crowden and then enlarge the same and make as many copies as Songbird desired.
"I'll do it this afternoon," said Mr. Clinger, "and you can have a dozen or more copies by to-morrow morning. I'll make the head of the fellow about as large as a half dollar, and that ought to make a picture for any policeman or detective to go by;" and so it was arranged.

While the youths were at the photographer's an express train had come into Ashton and now quite a few people were coming away from the railroad station. As the boys walked towards the automobile, Songbird suddenly uttered a cry.

"Look, Sam! Look who's here!"

"Why, it's Tom! My brother, Tom!" exclaimed Sam, as he rushed forward.

"What in the world brought him here to-day?"