Chapter XXIV At the Festival - The Rover boys on a Tour by Edward Stratemeyer

While Dora and her cousins were talking to Minnie the others had sought out Mr. Sanderson, who was down in the barn superintending the stowing away of some grain. The farmer listened with interest to what they had to tell him about Blackie Crowden, but shook his head dolefully.

"I'm pretty well satisfied that they'll never get that money back for me now," he announced. "A fellow of that character would use up cash about as fast as he could lay hands on it."

"Well, let us live in hopes," returned Dick, not knowing what else to say.

The farmer asked them about their tour, and said he trusted that they would have a good time. Then Sam ventured to mention Songbird.

"Better not talk to me about that young man," declared Mr. Sanderson, drawing down the corners of his mouth. "He may mean well enough, but he's not my kind, and I've told Minnie she had better stop having him call and also stop writing to him."

"Oh, Mr. Sanderson! I think you are doing our chum an injustice," cried Sam. "It wasn't his fault that he was robbed of that four thousand dollars."

"Humph! That's as how you look at it," grumbled the farmer. "I've said what I think, and I'll stick to it." And nothing that the Rovers could say would alter his decision in this matter.

"Oh, I'm so sorry for Minnie I really don't know how to express myself,"

were Dora's words, when the party were once more on the way to the Ashton hotel. "If her father compels her to give up Songbird it will just about break her heart."

"I don't believe she's the one to give up Songbird," answered Sam. "She isn't that kind of girl," and he looked at Grace. But her eyes at that moment were turned in another direction. He followed the look and saw that she was gazing at Chester Waltham, who, with his sister, had driven their car to meet the others.

"There is one thing about this whole matter that worries me," said Dick, "and that is that when they catch this Blackie Crowden--and I think they'll land on the fellow sooner or later--most of the money may be gone. There will be some satisfaction in placing such a rascal behind the bars, but that won't give Mr. Sanderson his cash back nor lift that mortgage."

"We've just got news and we thought we would let you know about it,"

cried Ada Waltham, as the runabout came to a standstill close to the other automobiles. "There is to be a grand festival at Larkinburg this evening, and if it is not necessary to stay in Ashton to-night we might as well go to that place and attend the festival. I received a letter at the Ashton post-office from two girls who used to go to Hope, and they are to be at the affair, and they write that it will be well worth attending."

"Oh, yes, let us go to Larkinburg by all means!" cried Grace. "I know the two girls--Jennie Cross and Mabel Stanford. The festival will certainly be well worth while if they say so."

"Let me see--how many miles is it to Larkinburg?" questioned Tom.

"Only sixty, so we can make the run with ease if we start directly after lunch," answered Chester Waltham.

The matter was talked over for a few minutes, and as a result it was decided to go ahead and make the town mentioned in ample time to attend the festival.

"They are going to have a concert and some outdoor tableaux, with refreshments," said Grace. "Ada was telling me all about it."

"Well, that will be much better than staying in Ashton doing nothing,"

returned Dora. "And, besides, we must be getting along on our trip. Dick says we are really a day behind in our schedule."

During the stop at the Ashton hotel for lunch, Chester Waltham had been very attentive to Grace and had asked her if she did not wish to change places with his sister on the run to Larkinburg; but she had declined, offering some excuse which was far from satisfactory to the young millionaire.

"I thought you were going to put in part of this tour with me," he had said, rather reproachfully. "Besides, if you will come in with me it will give Ada a chance to visit with the others."

"Well, I'll ride with you some time," Grace had answered. "I want Ada to have as good a time as any of us."

The long hours spent on the road had proved rather tiring to Mrs.

Stanhope and Mrs. Laning, and when Larkinburg was reached they were glad enough to rest in a comfortable room which Dick engaged for them.

"You young folks can go to the festival," said Mrs. Stanhope, with a smile. "We are going to stay here and go to bed early;" and so it was arranged.

The festival was held in a large grove bordering a beautiful stream and located some distance from the center of the town. As soon as our friends had arrived they had called up the two former students of Hope, and it had been decided that these girls, along with their escorts, should join the others and all should attend the festival together.

"We can easily pack the whole crowd in our three cars," announced Dick.

"I can't carry any extra people in my runabout," complained Chester Waltham. "Of course, one of the fellows might stand on the running board, but----"

"We'll take them, don't worry," answered Sam. "We've got some vacant seats, you know, and four extra won't count."

The girls from Hope were a jolly pair and so were the two young men who accompanied them. All got in the Rovers' machines, and away they went, followed closely by the Waltham runabout. A parking space had been set aside, and there our friends found themselves surrounded by machines of all sorts, and a jolly, laughing crowd numbering several thousands of people.

"Oh, how pretty!" burst from Grace's lips, as they strolled toward the place where the concert and the tableaux were to be given.

A stage had been constructed among some trees and bushes with a background of the river, and here scores of lamps and lanterns twinkled forth. The seats were placed along a sloping bank, and soon the whole crowd was gathered to listen to the opening number of the concert.

As soon as the machines were parked Chester Waltham, almost ignoring his sister, had devoted his attention to Grace, doing this while Sam was busy talking over some matters with his brothers. Waltham had walked over to the seats with Grace beside him, and now he saw to it that she was placed where he could talk to her with ease. This, of course, did not particularly suit Sam, but he was helpless in the matter and so made the best of it.

The concert was a fine one and the tableaux, which were interspersed between the various musical numbers, were intensely interesting.

"Certainly well worth attending," was Tom's comment, when that portion of the festival came to an end amid a loud clapping of hands.

"And now for some refreshments," announced Dick. "Come on, let us hurry or the tables may all be filled," for some long tables decorated with lanterns had been set under the trees at one side of the grove.

"My! but it is rather chilly here," was Grace's comment, when they were moving toward the tables. "I feel positively cold."

"Didn't you bring your jacket?" questioned Sam.

"Yes, but I left it in the auto."

"I'll go and get it," he returned, and ran off to procure the garment.

He found that more machines had come in, and it was some little while before he could locate their automobile and pick out the jacket.

In the meanwhile, Chester Waltham, leaving his sister with the other girls from Hope, had gone on with Grace and seated her at one of the tables, with the others of the party opposite. There was but one vacant seat left next to Grace, and this the young millionaire appropriated.

"I don't know what Sam will do when he gets here," remarked Grace, anxiously.

"Oh, I guess he'll find a seat somewhere," answered Chester Waltham, coolly.

The youngest Rover was rather surprised on getting back to find every seat filled and the young millionaire sitting beside the girl who was so dear to his heart, but he made no comment. He helped Grace don the jacket, and then stood back until there was a vacant seat at a table some distance away.

"I think it was rather mean of Chester Waltham to appropriate that seat," whispered Nellie to Dora while they were being served.

"I think so myself, Nellie," was the low reply.

At last the festival came to an end, and all those in the crowd prepared to go home.

"I hope you enjoyed your refreshments," said Sam, rather coolly, as he came up to Grace's side.

"Why, yes, I enjoyed them very much," answered the girl. She looked at him rather pointedly. "Didn't you think the sandwiches and cake and other things were very nice?"

"Nice enough," he grumbled. "Come on, let us get back to the hotel, I'm as tired as a dog," and he started to walk away, leaving the others to follow him.

His words and the manner in which they were spoken rather nettled Grace, and she walked toward the automobiles in silence, with the others in front and behind her. But Chester Waltham remained at her side, and as they approached the machines he caught her by the arm.

"Say, Grace, come on and take a ride with me," he half whispered. "It's a beautiful night. Come on, you don't want to go back to the hotel yet."

"But what about Ada?" she questioned.

"Oh, she can take your place in one of the other autos, can't she?"

"I--I--suppose so," faltered Grace. She hardly knew how to go on. She did not wish particularly to take a ride with Waltham, and, at the same time, she was hurt over the way Sam had spoken to her.

"See here, Sis," cried the young millionaire, "I am going to take Miss Laning back in my runabout. She says you can take her place with the Rovers."

"Oh, all right, Chester," answered the sister. "Hope you have a nice time of it," she added to Grace.

There was a large crowd down among the automobiles, and our friends had all they could do in the semi-darkness to get their machines out on the road in safety.

"Where is Grace?" demanded Sam, as some of the others came up to him. He had just turned on the lights of both cars.

"She is going to ride back with Chester," answered Ada Waltham. "You'll have to let me ride back with you," and she laughed lightly.

"Oh, all right. Come ahead," returned the youngest Rover. He spoke as lightly as he could. He did not wish to let the others know his true feelings. There was a strange bitterness in his heart, and for the moment he wished that he had never come on this tour.