THE SCENE OF OPERATIONS

“Did you hear it, Dory?” called Matt Randolph, as soon as he saw the
light at the door of the other.

“Did I hear it?” replied Dory, who was cool enough to smile at the
absurdity of the question, though it was nothing more than the
introduction to the subject in the minds of both. “I could not very well
help hearing it, though I sleep as soundly as a bullfrog in winter.”

“What was it?” demanded Matt, apparently more excited than Dory.

“That’s the conundrum before the house at the present moment. I have not
the least idea what it was,” replied Dory. “It shook my windows, and at
first I thought my bed was lifted up under me. It might have been an
earthquake, though such convulsions are not the fashion in the State of
Vermont.”

“I thought it must be an earthquake at first,” added Matt.

“Did you alter your mind?” asked Dory, as he stepped back into his room,
and put on his shoes.

“Not exactly; but on second thought I concluded that it could not be an
earthquake, and I was wondering what it could be, when I heard a door
open,” added Matt, who was fully dressed, for he had taken the time to
put on his clothes before he came out of his room.

“I move you, Captain Randolph, that we don’t try to imagine what it was,
but that we go and look into the matter, and find out what it was,”
replied Dory, as he put on his coat, and led the way to the hall.

“That is the sensible thing to do; but a fellow can’t expect to be very
bright when he is shaken out of his slumbers by something like an
earthquake,” said Matt, as he followed Dory.

By this time several of the students had recovered, in a measure, from
their consternation, and had opened their doors, some of them shaking
with terror, as though they expected to be swallowed up immediately in
some awful catastrophe.

“What is the matter, Dory?” Tucker Prince asked, as the two coxswains
passed his door.

“Give it up, Tuck: ask me something easier,” replied Dory, laughing. “I
may be able to tell you something about it at a later hour in the
morning.”

“What was it, Dory?” asked Tom Topover.

“It was a tremendous noise; and that is all that is known about it at
the present moment, on this floor of the dormitory.”

“I knew as much as that before,” added Tom.

“Then, you are as wise as any of us, Tom.”

Dory and Matt did not pause to talk, but hastened to the lower floor.
There was nothing below to explain the noise, and the outside door was
locked as usual. Dory opened it, and they went out on the lawn. At this
point they smelled something which was not powder, though it had an
unknown chemical odor.

The building containing the schoolroom and workshops, or a part of the
latter, was close to the dormitory; and the inquirers went in that
direction. The office was in front of the shops, on the lower floor. It
was an apartment of considerable size, which had been put in the year
before, when the shops were enlarged. It was handsomely carpeted, and
was really Captain Gildrock’s private apartment; though Fatima Millweed
used it, and kept the accounts of the institution there.

As the principal had indicated to his visitors the afternoon before, it
contained a steel safe, as well as a couple of roll-top desks, and a
number of easy-chairs; for visitors on business were received in this
room. Captain Gildrock had sold a house the day before in the town, and
had put the money he received in the safe until he could go to the bank
in Burlington.

Dory had carried his lamp as far as the outside door of the dormitory,
but the wind had blown the light out as soon as he came out of the
building. He retained it in his hand as they walked to the shops, as the
structure was called, taking its name from the working, rather than the
school, room.

It was a dark night, cloudy and windy: in fact, it was blowing a smart
gale from the south. Coming from the light into the gloom outside, Dory
and Matt might as well have been blind, so far as seeing any thing was
concerned. But every inch of the ground was familiar to them, and they
walked directly to the shops. The chemical odor became more pronounced.
They halted in front of the office. This apartment was locked, and they
had no key to the door. They could not yet see any thing in the deep
gloom, though their sight was improving.

“The explosion came from some point near us,” said Dory, as he walked up
to the door of the office, guided by instinct rather than sight.

“I can smell something, but I can’t see a thing,” added Matt.

“Here we are!” exclaimed Dory, when he had passed from the door to one
of the windows of the office. “This window is open, and the mischief
came from here!”

“Is it a break?” demanded Matt, beginning to be a little excited.

This was police slang; but Dory understood it, as any one might have
done; and he replied that it was a “break.”

“Look out, then, Dory!” added Matt, laying his hand on the shoulder of
his companion. “The burglars may be still in the office; and such
fellows carry revolvers, which they use when they get into a tight
place.”

“They can hardly be here now, after they have taken the trouble to wake
up the entire neighborhood with such an explosion,” replied Dory. “Take
this lamp, Matt, and I will get in at the window, and strike a light.”

“Don’t do it, Dory!” protested Matt. “Wait a moment, and I will go back
to the dormitory, and get a lantern out of the lower hall.”

Without waiting for his companion, Matt ran back to the dormitory. A
couple of lanterns were kept there for the use of the students in the
evening, if they had occasion to go to the shops or elsewhere. Matt took
one of them down, and lighted it, for there were matches in the tin box
on the wall. When he had done so, he concluded to light the other, so
that each of them could have one in conducting the examination.

Dory stood at the open window while his companion was gone; for he
agreed with Matt, that prudence was a virtue at all times: and
reasonable people practise it, unless they get too angry to do so, and
then they regret it afterwards. He had begun to think that Matt was gone
a long time, when he heard a sound inside of the office.

The noise startled him, for he had not believed the robbers delayed
their flight so long after they had taken the trouble to announce
themselves to all within hearing. He listened with his head thrust into
the open window as far as the length of his neck would permit, and he
was intensely interested from that moment.

If there were any robbers in the office, they must have heard what Matt
said when he proposed to go for the lantern. Dory had always read the
newspapers; and he knew something about the operations of burglars,
though he lived far from any great city. The night-visitors to the
office of the institution, he concluded, had blown open the steel safe,
or attempted to do so. If they had succeeded, it could not have taken
them more than a minute or two to scoop out the contents of the safe, or
at least to pocket the money it contained.

He was just making up his mind that the burglars must have departed
before any one had had time to come to the office, when the noise he had
heard before was repeated. It sounded like some mechanical operation,
and appeared to be on the farther side of the room, where there was a
door opening into the carpenter’s shop.

“I was a fool not to open this door before we finished the safe!” said
some one in the room, in a low and subdued voice, and in a tone which
indicated his disgust at the situation in which he found himself.

“Hurry up! The fellow will be back with the lantern in a moment, and
then we shall be blown,” added another voice.

“Then some one will get shot!” said the first speaker.

But at the same moment, the sound of the opening door came to Dory’s
ears. He was on the point of springing in at the window, to prevent the
escape of the burglars, when he realized that he was almost sure to be
shot, as the first speaker had suggested. He was unarmed; and against
two men, as he supposed they were, he had a small chance of
accomplishing any thing in the way of capturing them.

Through the open door into the shop he saw several flashes of light, and
then he understood that the operators were provided with one or more
dark-lanterns. He could hear their retreating footsteps in the shop; and
he concluded that they intended to escape through one of the rear
windows, which they could easily open, as they were fastened on the
inside.

Two lights were approaching from the dormitory, Dory saw, as he withdrew
his head from the window. But what use were they now? He had solved the
enigma, and any further light on the subject was superfluous. The
burglars had effected an entrance: whether the explosion had opened the
safe, or not, was yet to be discovered. But while he was thinking of the
matter, the robbers were getting away. This was all wrong, Dory suddenly
realized.

“Help! Help! Burglars! Robbers!” shouted Dory, at the very top of his
voice; and he had never been accused of having weak lungs.

“What are you about, Dory?” called Matt, as he rushed towards him.

“Doing the next best thing!” said Dory hastily. “Run to the dormitory,
Matt, with all your might, and ring the bell, just as you would for
fire.”

“Do you think there are any burglars in the office?” asked Matt.

“Not now! But there have been at least two of them there, and now they
are escaping by the back windows of the carpenter’s shop! They are armed
too. Hurry up, and ring the bell, Matt!” shouted Dory, in the ears of
his companion, as he took one of the lanterns from him.

Placing the lantern on the doorstone of the office, Dory darted off at
the fastest run he could get up for the rear of the building. He
appeared to have forgotten that the burglars had revolvers.

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