When the whell came off

“What was that?” asked Bob, and when it is added that he whispered the question it may better be understood what a hold the finding of the letter had taken on the boys. Already they seemed to be within the mystery at which it hinted.
Then Jerry realized the futility of Bob’s query.
“It sounded very much like a knock on the door,” and his tone was humorously sarcastic.
“Say! are you going to keep me here all day? What’s the matter in there? Open up! I’ve got news for you!”
“It’s Jim Blake!” exclaimed Jerry, now recognizing the voice of the person on the other side of the door.
“Of course it is!” came the reply. “What’s the matter? Is Bob Baker giving one of his spreads? If he is, let a fellow in on it, can’t you? Open the door!”
“Come in; it isn’t locked,” called out Jerry. “But there’s nothing doing in the eats. What’s up?”
“I don’t know,” answered Jim Blake, whose ability to control a slow and fast ball had gained for him the honor of ’varsity pitcher. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something doing all right.”
“In what way?” Jerry asked, as Jim slumped down in an ancient chair, the joints of which squeaked in protest, thereby moving Jerry to utter a caution.
“Oh, I won’t break it,” said Jim. “But say, do you fellows know that Professor Snodgrass is on his way to pay you chaps a visit?”
“We didn’t know it,” said Bob, coming back from a quiet trip to his own room, meanwhile munching some chocolate, which he generally kept on hand to use in cases of emergency. “No, we didn’t know it, but he’s none the less welcome.”
“Oh, I know he’s quite friendly with you boys,” went on Jim, “but I thought maybe he had it in for you this time.”
“What makes you think so?” asked Ned.
“And how do you know he’s coming here?” was Jerry’s question.
“I’ll answer the last first, like working out some of those tough back-handed problems,” laughed Jim.
“Black-handed, did you say?” came from Bob.
“Pretty nearly that—yes. But the reason I happen to know the professor is coming here is that I passed him in the laboratory hall a few minutes ago. He held something tight in his hand, and he was awfully excited. His clothes were covered with mud, his hat was dented in, his collar torn and his coat was split up the back. He was hurrying along, talking to himself as he often does, and what he said was:
“‘I must get to Ned, Bob and Jerry at once! This is terrible!’”
The three motor boys looked at one another, surprise plainly showing on their faces.
“What——” began Jerry.
“How did he——” Ned commenced.
“Maybe he’s been——” And that was as far as Bob got, for Jim interrupted with:
“I thought maybe you fellows had been up to some game or trick with him, which would account for his condition. And from what he said I thought maybe he was on his way here to have his revenge, one way or another. So I cut on ahead to warn you. Better lock your door and keep quiet. I’ll slip out and——”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort!” exclaimed Jerry. “And we won’t lock our door against Professor Snodgrass. He’s welcome to come in any time he likes.”
“Oh, well, if you’ve made up your minds to take your medicine, why that’s a different proposition,” said Jim with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Only I thought I’d tip you off so you could——”
“Thanks, it’s kind of you,” murmured Jerry. “But, as a matter of fact, we haven’t been up to any mischief.”
“But what put the professor in this condition?” Jim demanded. “I know he’s always on the lookout for queer bugs and such things, and that he’ll do almost anything to get a rare specimen. But I never saw him quite so badly off as this before, and he seemed very much in earnest about getting to you. Still you know your own business, I s’pose. Hark!”
They all listened. In the corridor outside the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps could be heard.
“There he is!” exclaimed Jerry, as he opened the door.
In the doorway a queer sight stood revealed. A little bald-headed man gazed unblinkingly through the powerful lenses of his spectacles at the four boys. His condition was just about as Jim had described, and the three chums noted the tightly-clenched hand of the “bugologist,” as the delightful scientist was dubbed behind his back, though with no disrespect attached to it, for the boys were very fond of him.
“Ah, Ned, Bob and Jerry, I am very glad to find you in,” began Professor Snodgrass, with a little jerky bow.
“It’s a good deal better than being found out, sometimes,” murmured Jim. The professor, not having heard the comment, nodded in friendly fashion to the pitcher.
“What has happened?” asked Ned, as he pushed forward a chair for the little man. The teacher seemed rather out of breath and considerably excited.
7593ad8cgw1f4azrg0y78j20j60pon2m“What’s the matter?” chimed in Bob. “Is everything all right?”
“Well—yes—I think so—perhaps.” Professor Snodgrass was not quite certain about the matter, it seemed. “At any rate, I have him,” he went on.
“Who?” Jerry gasped. “The person who is responsible for your condition?”
“Oh, no—er—my condition? Oh, I see,” and for the first time the scientist seemed aware that he was greatly disheveled. “I—er—I do seem a bit mussed,” he admitted. That was putting it mildly.
“But I got him,” went on the professor. “Have you a strong box that you aren’t using?” he asked.
The latter, guessing what was coming, produced one that met the professor’s requirements. Then, sliding back the cover, he held his clenched hand over the box and dropped into it something that fell with a thud, like that an inert toad or frog might produce.
“There you are!” exclaimed the scientist, quickly slipping the cover into place. “The finest specimen of a one-spot lizard I have ever caught! I certainly am in luck!”
“One would hardly believe it to look at you,” said Jerry with a laugh. He and his chums were on terms of more or less familiarity with the professor.
The scientist had known the boys a number of years and had made several trips with them. To some his actions might seem grotesque when he was anxiously searching for some rare animal or insect, but the boys knew him well enough to think little of what, to others, might be absurdities. And no one would ever think the professor foolish when once they knew of his attainments. He had written many books, which were authorities on their special topics, and he had more honorary degrees from different schools of learning than he could recall, off-hand.
“You say you caught the lizard, but it looks more as though he had caught you,” laughed Jerry.
“He gave you a pretty good tussle, at all events,” remarked Ned.
“Oh, you are referring to my clothes—and—er—my general condition, I suppose,” said the professor with a smile. “Well, it is not altogether my fault this time. I had little or no difficulty in[24] capturing this lizard, but my appearance is due to what happened when the automobile lost a wheel.”
“Lost a wheel?” chorused the boys. “Were you in an automobile catching lizards?”
“No, I had already captured this fine specimen, and I was riding back with it to the college in the machine, when the wheel came off.”
“What made the wheel come off?” Bob queried. “Must have been a queer kind of machine. Did the wheel just roll off?”
“No, I think it was broken off the axle when the auto toppled down the hill,” said the professor calmly, as he opened the top of the box a trifle to take a peep at his specimen.
“Toppled down the hill! Did an automobile in which you were riding topple down a hill?” asked Jerry in astonishment.
“It did,” the professor answered. “It went over and over. I was made quite dizzy, but I kept tight hold of the lizard. And when we came to a stop, after crashing into a tree, I noticed that the wheel was gone.”
“Great Scott!” cried Ned. “When did all this happen—and where? Aren’t you hurt? Hadn’t you better see a doctor?”
“Ha! I knew there was something I was to remember! It’s a doctor!” cried Professor Snodgrass in triumph. “Your father wants you to send a doctor to him at once, Ned.”
“My father—wants a doctor?” faltered Ned. “What for?”
“Because he was slightly hurt in the same accident when the wheel came off the auto,” gently explained the professor. “It isn’t anything serious, though. He’s at the hotel in town and your father is with him, Bob. That’s what I came to tell you. But there is no need to worry.”
“Well, of all the——” began Ned.
“What in the world——” murmured Bob.
“Don’t stop to talk!” cried Jerry. “Let’s get a machine, hunt up a doctor, and go to the hotel at once. What does it all mean, Professor Snodgrass? No! don’t stop to tell me. You can explain later. Lively, fellows! Come on!”
“Anything I can do?” asked Jim. “Say the word!”
“You might get a machine for us,” suggested Jerry.
“I’ll get Charlie Moore’s,” offered Jim. “He isn’t using it.”
Out he rushed, leaving Ned, Bob and Jerry to get ready, for they had taken off coats, ties and collars on reaching their rooms. They dressed hurriedly, Jerry meanwhile asking Professor Snodgrass if the scientist himself were not in need of medical treatment.
“Not in the least, I assure you,” was the answer. “Fortunately, I was in the rear, among a lot of blankets and cushions, and they made a sort of buffer for me. Your father, Ned, and Mr. Baker were riding in the front seat.”
“But what in the world were they doing in an automobile around here?” Ned questioned. “They were supposed to be in a train making a business trip.”
“They said they had to change their plans, and they were on their way back to Haredon in the auto and, incidentally, they were going to stop off to see you,” explained Professor Snodgrass. “They picked me up along the road. Then the accident happened, and I told them I’d come on and let you boys know. Your father, Ned, said it was very important.”
“Auto’s waiting!” came the hail of Jim from the ground under the chums’ windows, and without waiting for Professor Snodgrass, the boys ran down the stairs.