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HOME > Classical Novels > Rick and Ruddy Out West > CHAPTER III THE TELEGRAM
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 Rick’s mother was waiting for him. With a wondering look on her face she took the letter he held out to her, and the boy watched her read it.  
“This is very strange,” she murmured as she glanced through the short note.
“Mother, what is it?” asked Rick. “Has anything happened—anything to Uncle Tod?”
“Nothing serious I think—at least not yet,” added Mrs. Dalton as once more she glanced over the letter. “He’s just gone, that’s all. He left in a hurry, too. I didn’t notice him go. I wonder if he took any of his things with him?”
“I didn’t look to see,” the boy answered. “I just hurried down when I saw the letter. Say, what has happened, anyhow?”
“You may read the letter,” offered Mrs. Dalton as she started up stairs toward Uncle Tod’s room. “Don’t let the potatoes burn,” she called to Mazie who was in the kitchen.
“All right, Mother, I won’t,” was the answer. “But what’s the matter? Why don’t you all come to supper? Here’s daddy,” she went on, as she caught a glimpse of her father coming in the front gate.
“I hope he can puzzle this out,” murmured Mrs. Dalton, as she entered Uncle Tod’s room, while Rick remained in the hall outside to read the letter left by the man whose strange actions, following that mysterious message, had created a worry in the family.
The letter that Uncle Tod had left for his niece was short. Rick read this:
“Dear Schotzie: I’m sorry I have to leave this way, but it has to be. If any one inquires for me don’t tell them anything. Don’t even tell them I’m gone! You will soon receive a telegram. Just believe in me.
Your affectionate
Uncle Tod.”
“He took some of his things,” declared Mrs. Dalton, after a hasty look through the closet. “He must be going to stay for a while.”
“But where has he gone?” asked Rick.
“You know about as much as I do,” his mother replied. “I never was more surprised in all my life! I can’t understand it. Oh, what’s this?” she exclaimed as something fell with a thud from the top of a closet shelf where Uncle Tod kept his clean shirts—some of which he had taken with him. “What is it?” she repeated, and she stepped back from a green object that had rolled to the middle of the floor. “Is it a rat, Rick?”
“No, it isn’t a rat,” the boy answered with a laugh. “It’s a cabbage leaf and rolled up in it is a rock and a bullet, and—”
“Oh, Rick, a bullet—”
“Don’t be afraid, Mother, it’s just the lead part, and can’t go off. See.”
He opened the now wilted1 cabbage leaf and showed the curious rock, which, as he now noticed, had some shining bits of metal imbedded in it. He took the lead bullet in his hand and held it out to show his mother it was harmless for it was out of the explosive cartridge2 shell.
“But what does it mean?” asked Mrs. Dalton.
“It’s the message Uncle Tod got over the fence to-day,” said Rick.
“A message? Over the fence? Why—”
“Yes. It was thrown over soon after I ran home because I was afraid the dog-catchers were out again and might get Ruddy. Uncle Tod didn’t say what it meant—”
“I don’t see that it can mean anything sensible—just a cabbage leaf and a stone,” interrupted Mrs. Dalton.
“Oh, it means something!” insisted Rick. “If you’d ever read any Indian stories—”
“Nonsense!” she laughed. “It’s my opinion Uncle Tod is playing a joke on all of us.”
“No, sir!” exclaimed Rick. “If you had seen his face—”
“Say, what’s going on up there?” called the voice of Mr. Dalton from the lower hall. “It’s too early to be hiding Christmas presents. What are you doing? I’d like my supper!”
“Oh, Dick!” exclaimed his wife. “Uncle Tod is gone!”
“Gone!” there was a note of alarm in Mr. Dalton’s voice.
“I mean he’s gone away, and he didn’t say where, and he doesn’t want it known and he got such a queer message—”
“I’ll show it to you,” broke in Rick, racing3 down the stairs with the cabbage leaf, the rock and the bullet.
“Hum!” mused4 Mr. Dalton when he had looked at them. “Some of Uncle Tod’s jokes!”
“No, I think not,” was Mrs. Dalton’s opinion. “Here’s a letter he left.”
Mr Dalton whistled softly when he had read this.
“Tell me all about it,” he suggested. “We can talk while we eat supper.” And when the story was told him, from the time of Rick’s hasty run home in alarm over Ruddy, to the discovery that Uncle Tod had secretly disappeared, Mr. Dalton agreed that it was rather puzzling.
“Well, I take it that the scare about the possibility over Ruddy being shot, poisoned or stolen away has nothing to do with Uncle Tod’s going,” said Rick’s father. “How about it?”
“Ruddy is all right, and the dog catchers haven’t been around,” answered Rick. “That was a false alarm of Tom’s.”
“Then as to this ‘message,’ as Rick calls it,” went on Mr. Dalton, turning over the piece of rock, “we have here a bit of copper5 ore.”
“Is that what it is?” asked Rick.
“That’s what it is—copper ore. It didn’t come from around here unless it came on a railroad train as part of a shipment, and I don’t believe that could have happened for there are no smelters in this locality. So much for that.”
“The cabbage leaf doesn’t tell much,” said Mazie. “But it’s awfully6 interesting—quite hectic7, I should say.”
“Hectic! Where do you get that word?” laughed Rick.
“All the girls at school say it,” answered Mazie with just the least up-tilting of her nose, for Mazie was growing fast.
“If you mean ‘hot’ why don’t you say so?” demanded her brother.
“Hectic is a much nicer word than hot,” declared Mazie, “and our teacher said we should try to increase our vo—vo—vocabulary.”
“Well, you’re doing it all right!” chuckled8 Rick. “Anyhow the cabbage leaf doesn’t mean anything; does it, Dad?”
“Unless it’s meant for part of an Indian sign message as you at first suggested, Rick.”
“That’s what I thought,” the boy said. “You know Uncle Tod knows a lot about Indians. I don’t mean those tame ones up at his salt mines,” he added. “Indians, like old Johnnie Green, with his ‘kickum hard—two bits,’ wouldn’t send such a mysterious message as this.”
“No, I think not,” agreed Mr. Dalton. “Besides, everything at Uncle Tod’s salt mine is progressing quietly, since he got rid of his rascally9 partner Slither. And, as a matter of fact, Uncle Tod has sold most of his salt mine stock, just retaining a small block. So I think Johnnie Green and his Indians had nothing to do with this.”
“But what does it mean?” asked Mrs. Dalton. “I’m beginning to get worried.”
“It’s great!” exclaimed Rick. “It’s like a detective story! I’m going to see if we fellows can’t puzzle it out.”
“No, you mustn’t!” said his mother.
“Why not?”
For answer she held up the letter Uncle Tod had left.
“Oh, yes, he said to keep it secret; didn’t he,” remarked Rick. “All right, I will. Well, we’ll have to pass up the cabbage. But there’s the bullet,” and he pointed10 to where it lay on the table.
“Yes,” said Mr. Dalton, “there’s the bullet. Get me my magnifying glass from my desk, will you please, Mazie?” he asked his daughter. And when the powerful lens was brought, Mr. Dalton, under it, studied the leaden missile.
“There are some letters scratched on this,” he said, after a while. “There’s a c and an o. Wait, I’ll write them down as they appear.”
On a piece of paper he set the letters down in this fashion
M     E
“What do they mean?” asked Mazie, looking over her father’s shoulder.
“Maybe that’s the Indian’s weather vane,” suggested Mrs. Dalton, “and the letters stand for the points of the compass, like our N for north, and so on.”
“I don’t believe so,” spoke11 Mr. Dalton. “If they intended this for a weather vane there would have been an arrow or a cross or something like that.”
Mazie was busy with pencil and paper, putting down the letters.
“What are you trying to do?” asked Rick.
“Seeing what they spell,” she answered. “But ocem, mcoe, oemc or moce doesn’t spell anything in English. Maybe it’s an Indian word and meant danger for Uncle Tod!” she eagerly exclaimed.
“You’re getting as strangely mysterious as Rick,” laughed her father. “Wait a moment, though,” he exclaimed as if a new idea had occurred to him. Quickly he set the letters down on paper, and then he wrote them in a new combination.
“I have it!” he cried, as pleased as a boy or girl would have been over the solution of a puzzle. “This is the word!”
He held out a paper on which he had written:
“That’s what it is,” he said. “It was a summons to Uncle Tod. The word is ‘come,’ and on a bullet means ‘come in a hurry,’ I take it. I think we have solved that much.”
“Huh! Come,” murmured Rick. “I guess that’s it. But say, what a lot of combinations you can make out of four letters!” he cried. He wrote,—meco, ocem, cmoe, moce, eomc, mcoe—until his mother cried:
“Oh, Rick, stop it! You’re getting on my nerves!”
But it is rather surprising to see how many combinations, other than the right one, can be made from those four letters.
“It seems, then,” went on Mr. Dalton, “that Uncle Tod was summoned away by this mysterious message, tossed over the back fence by some one unknown. Why this form of summons should be chosen, rather than an ordinary letter I don’t know. But as long as Uncle Tod has gone, and the letter he left seems to confirm this, we might try to find out how he was able to slip off without any of you seeing him,” and he looked at his wife, daughter and son.
“I was swimming,” said Rick.
“I only came home a little while ago,” Mazie said. “I was over to Helen’s house.”
“And I’ve been so busy that all I remember is that Uncle Tod came in,” said Mrs. Dalton. “I didn’t hear him go out.”
However the fact remained that Uncle Tod had gone out, and had taken a few things with him in a valise, which would seem to indicate that he intended remaining some time.
“He must have come down the back stairs when I was in the front of the house,” decided12 Mrs. Dalton.
“And he could easily get over the back fence and go to the station that way,” added her husband. “I think I’ll make some inquiries13 at the railroad station.”
He did this, with the result that it was easily established Uncle Tod had met a man there, and had bought a ticket for a western city. But this was all that could be learned.
“I guess we’ll just have to wait until he sends that telegram he speaks of in his letter,” said Mrs. Dalton.
“Yes,” agreed her husband. “But I don’t see the need for all this mysteriousness.”
“Uncle Tod knows what he’s doing,” said Rick. “I thought he was crazy when I was cruising with him on the Sallie, but it turned out all right, and I’m sure it will now.”
“Of course he may have had his reasons,” admitted Mr. Dalton, “but I can’t guess at any to make him leave so quickly and so secretly. It’s just as if he were afraid.”
“Maybe he is afraid,” admitted Rick, “I mean afraid of getting us in trouble. He isn’t afraid for himself, but some danger might be hanging over him and he didn’t want us mixed up in it.”
“Oh, nonsense!” laughed Mr. Dalton. “I guess you Boy Scouts14 have been playing too many Indian games.”
“No,” said Rick, for he and Chot were now full-fledged Scouts, “we only do the best things the real Indians once did. Of course some of them were mysterious, and Uncle Tod may know about them. But I would like to know what all this means.”
“So would I,” agreed his mother with a sigh. “I hope nothing happens to Uncle Tod.”
“I reckon he can look out for himself,” said her husband, and Rick murmured:
“He sure can!”
The family agreed that nothing was to be said to outsiders concerning the strange leaving of Uncle Tod. If questions were asked they were to be evaded15, or it could be said, with perfect truth, that Mr. Belmont (his name was Toddingham Belmont) had gone away for a few days.
“And when that telegram comes we’ll know more about it,” suggested Rick. Meanwhile he and Ruddy pursued their usual line of activities about Belemere, going swimming, fishing, crabbing16 or off on joyous17 excursions in the fields and woods.
And then, one day, the expected message came. Uncle Tod had been gone nearly a week, without a word as to his whereabouts when, one afternoon, the colored boy from the telegraph office, riding his ramshackle and rattling18 wheel, stopped at the Dalton home.
“Oh, Mother!” cried Mazie. “Here’s a telegram!”
Mrs. Dalton’s hand shook a little as she signed the book, for telegrams were rather unusual, and she told Mazie to give the boy ten cents for himself.
“Is it from Uncle Tod?” asked Rick eagerly, as he quieted Ruddy, with whom he had been romping19 in the yard.
“I don’t know, my dear. I’ll tell you in a minute,” his mother answered.
With still trembling hands she tore open the envelope. It was a telegram from Uncle Tod, dated from the western town of Bitter Sweet Gulch20, and the message read:
“Arrived safe and sound, but need help. Let Rick and Ruddy come West. I want them. Also bring another boy. They’ll have a good time and be of service to me. Will explain later. Come soon, and don’t forget Ruddy.”
“Whew!” whistled Rick as he sensed the import of the message. “Ruddy and me for the West! Hurray. Oh, boy!”

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