Dave Porter Series
DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH OR THE COWBOY'S SECRET
BY EDWARD STRATEMEYER
Author of "Dave Porter at Oak Hall," "The Gun Club Boys of Lakeport," "Old Glory Series," "Colonial Series," "Pan-American Series," etc.
ILLUSTRATED BY LYLE T. HAMMOND
BOSTON LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
Published, August, 1910
COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.
All rights reserved
DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH
Norwood Press BERWICK & SMITH CO. Norwood, Mass. U. S. A.
"Dave Porter at Star Ranch" is a complete tale in itself, but forms the sixth volume in a line issued under the general title of "Dave Porter Series."
In the first book of the series, called "Dave Porter at Oak Hall," the reader was introduced to a typical American lad of to-day, and was likewise shown the workings of a modern boarding school—a little world in itself.
There was a cloud over Dave's parentage, and to solve the mystery he took a long sea voyage, as related in the second volume, called "Dave Porter in the South Seas." Then he came back to Oak Hall, to help win several important games, as the readers of "Dave Porter's Return to School" already know.
So far, although Dave had heard of his father, he had not met his parent. He resolved to go on a hunt for the one who was so dear to him, and what that led to was related in "Dave Porter in the Far North."
When Dave returned to America he was sent again to school—to dear old Oak Hall with its many associations. Here he met many friends and some enemies, as narrated in "Dave Porter and His Classmates." The lad had no easy time of it, but did something for the honor of the school that was a great credit to him.
While at Oak Hall, Dave, through his sister, received an invitation to spend his coming summer vacation on a ranch in the Far West. He was privileged to take some friends with him; and how the invitation was accepted, and what happened, I leave the pages which follow to relate.
It has been an especial pleasure for me to write this book. During the past summer I covered about seven thousand miles of our great western country, and I have seen many of the places herein described. I have also been touched by our warm western hospitality, and have had the added pleasure of meeting some of my young readers face to face.
Once again I thank the many who have praised my books in the past. I trust that this volume may prove to their liking, and benefit them.
EDWARD STRATEMEYER. April 12, 1910.
I. Dave and His Chums 1 II. A Stray Shot 11 III. An Interview of Interest 21 IV. Caught in the Act 31 V. At Niagara Falls 41 VI. Nat Poole's Little Game 51 VII. In Which Dave is Robbed 61 VIII. The Youth in the Balcony 71 IX. Only a Street Waif 81 X. Off for the Boundless West 91 XI. The Arrival at Star Ranch 101 XII. A Race on Horseback 112 XIII. The Crazy Steer 122 XIV. A Face Puzzles Dave 132 XV. Among the Cowboys 142 XVI. A Meeting on the Trail 152 XVII. In Which Some Horses Are Stolen 162 XVIII. Out in the Wind and Rain 172 XIX. A Fruitless Search 182 XX. Fishing and Hunting 192 XXI. A Wildcat Among the Horses 202 XXII. Cowboy Tricks and "Bronco-Busting" 212 XXIII. Dave on a Bronco 222 XXIV. The Cattle Stampede 232 XXV. The Beginning of the Grand Hunt 242 XXVI. After Deer 253 XXVII. The Mountain Lion 263 XXVIII. Up to the Mountain Top 273 XXIX. Two Elk and a Bear 283 XXX. To the Rescue—Conclusion 292
DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH
DAVE AND HIS CHUMS
"Why, Dave, what are you going to do with that revolver?"
"Phil and Roger and I are going to do some target shooting back of the barn," answered Dave Porter. "If we are going to try ranch life, we want to know how to shoot."
"Oh! Well, do be careful!" pleaded Laura Porter, as she glanced affectionately at her brother. "A revolver is such a dangerous thing!"
"We know how to handle one. Phil has been painting a big door to represent a black bear, and we are going to see if we can do as well with a revolver as we did with the rifle."
"Do you expect to shoot bears on the ranch? I didn't see any when I was out there."
"We don't expect to see them around the house, but there must be plenty of game in the mountains."
"Oh, I presume that's true. But I shouldn't want to hunt bears—I'd be afraid," and Laura gave a little shiver.
"Girls weren't meant to be hunters," answered Dave, laughing. "But I shouldn't consider the outing complete unless I went on at least one big hunt—and I know Phil and Roger feel the same way about it."
"Hello, Dave!" cried a voice from an open doorway, and a handsome lad with dark curly hair showed himself. "Coming?"
"Yes, Roger. Where is Phil?"
"Gone to the field with his wooden bear." Roger Morr looked at his chum's sister. "Want to come along and try your luck?" he questioned. "A fine box of fudge to the one making the most bull's-eyes—I mean bear's-eyes."
"No, indeed, I'd be afraid of my life even to touch a revolver," answered the girl. "But I'll hunt up Jessie, and maybe we'll come down after a while to look on."
"Oh, you want to learn to shoot!" cried Roger. "Then, when we get to Star Ranch, you can dress up in regular cowgirl fashion, and ride a bronco, and fire off your gun in true western style."
"And have a big bear eat me up, eh?" answered Laura. "No, thank you—I want to come back East alive. But I'll come down to the field as soon as I can find Jessie," answered Laura, and walked away.
A long, melodious whistle was floating through the outside air, and Dave and Roger knew it came from Phil Lawrence. They hurried from the broad porch to the garden path, and around the corner of the carriage shed. Here they came upon their chum, carrying on his shoulder an old door upon which he had painted the upright figure of what was supposed to be a bear.
"Hurrah for the great animal painter!" cried Dave, as he ran up and took hold of one end of the door. "Phil, you ought to place this in the Academy of Design."
"It's superb!" was Roger's dry comment. "Best picture of a kangaroo I ever saw. Or is it a sheep, Phil?"
"Humph! It's a good deal better than you could have painted," grumbled the amateur artist.
"Sure it is—best photo of a tiger I ever saw," said Dave, adding to the fun. "Why, you can almost hear him growl!"
"See here, if you're going to poke fun at me I'll throw the target away. I put in two hours of hard work, and three cans of paint, and——"
"We won't say another word, Phil," interrupted Roger. "Here, let me take hold. You've carried it far enough," and he relieved Phil of his burden.
"I wonder where would be the best place to set it?" mused Dave, gazing across the field.
"Up against the tree over there," answered Phil, pointing. "I had that spot picked out when I painted it. We'll set it so that it will look as if his bearship was trying to climb the tree."
"It's rather close to the back road," protested Dave. "We might hit somebody."
"Oh, hardly anybody uses that road,—so the stableman told me," answered Roger. "Besides, we can watch out. One always wants to be careful when shooting, at a target or otherwise."
The three youths soon had the target placed to their satisfaction, and then began a lively blazing away with the three revolvers that had been brought along. They aimed for the eyes of the painted creature, and for other vital spots, and all did fairly well.
"You're the best shot, Dave," announced Roger, during a lull in the practice, when all had gone to inspect the "damage" done. "You've plugged him right in the eyes three times and once in the heart. Had he been a real bear, he'd be as dead as a salt mackerel now."
"Provided he had consented to stand still," answered Dave. "Shooting at a stationary object is one thing, and at a moving, living creature quite another."
"I have it!" cried Phil. "Let us get a rope and throw it over one of the tree limbs. Then we can tie the door to it and swing it to and fro. We'll try to hit the bear while he's swinging."
"That's the talk!" returned Dave, enthusiastically. "I'll get the rope!" And he ran off to the barn for it. Little did he dream of what trouble that swinging target was to make for himself and his chums.
Many of my old readers already know Dave Porter, but for the benefit of others a brief outline of his past history will not be out of place. When he was a wee boy he had been found one day wandering along the railroad tracks outside of the village of Crumville. Nobody knew who he was or where he came from, and consequently he was put in the local poorhouse, there to remain until he was nine years old. Then a broken-down college professor named Caspar Potts, who was doing farming for his health, took the lad to live with him.
Caspar Potts gave Dave the rudiments of a good education. But he could not make his farm pay, and soon got into the grasp of Aaron Poole, a miserly money-lender, who threatened to sell him out.
Things looked exceedingly black for the old man and the boy when something very unexpected happened, as has been related in detail in the first volume of this series, called "Dave Porter at Oak Hall." In Crumville lived a rich manufacturer named Oliver Wadsworth, who had a beautiful daughter named Jessie, some years younger than Dave. Through an accident to the gasoline tank of an automobile, Jessie's clothing took fire, and she might have been burned to death had not Dave rushed in and extinguished the flames.
Mr. Wadsworth was profuse in his thanks, and so was his wife, and both made inquiries concerning Dave and Caspar Potts. It was found that the latter was one of the manufacturer's former college professors, and Mr. Wadsworth insisted that Professor Potts give up farming and come and live with him, and bring Dave along. Then he sent Dave to boarding school, where the lad soon proved his worth, and made close chums of Roger Morr, the son of a United States senator; Phil Lawrence, the offspring of a wealthy shipowner, and a number of others.
The cloud concerning his parentage troubled Dave a great deal, and when he saw what he thought was a chance to clear up the mystery, he took a long trip from home, as related in "Dave Porter in the South Seas." After many adventures he found his uncle, Dunston Porter, and learned much concerning his father, David Breslow Porter, and his sister, Laura, then traveling in Europe.
Dave was now no longer a "poorhouse nobody," as some of his enemies had called him, but a well-to-do youth with considerable money coming to him when he should be of age. While waiting to hear from his parent he went back to Oak Hall, as related in "Dave Porter's Return to School." Here he added to his friends; yet some boys were jealous of his prosperity and did all they could to injure him. But their plots were exposed, and in sheer fright one of the lads ran away to Europe.
Much to Dave's disappointment, he did not hear from either his father or his sister. But he did receive word that the bully who had run away from Oak Hall had seen them, and so he resolved to go on another hunt for his relatives. As told in "Dave Porter in the Far North," he crossed the Atlantic with his chum, Roger, and followed his father to the upper part of Norway. Here at last the lonely lad met his parent face to face, a meeting as thrilling as it was interesting. He learned that his sister had returned to the United States, and with some friends named Endicott had gone to the latter's ranch in the Far West.
Mr. Oliver Wadsworth's mansion was a large one, and by an arrangement with him it was settled that, for the present, the Porters should make the place their home. All in a flutter of excitement, Laura came back from the West, and the meeting between brother and sister was as affecting as had been that between father and son. The girl brought with her some news that interested Dave deeply. It was to the effect that the ranch next to that of the Endicotts was owned by a Mr. Felix Merwell, the father of Link Merwell, one of Dave's bitterest enemies at Oak Hall. Link had met Laura out there and gotten her to correspond with him.
"It's too bad, Laura; I wish you hadn't done it," Dave had said on learning the news. "It may make trouble, for Merwell is no gentleman." And trouble it did make, as the readers of "Dave Porter and His Classmates" know. The trouble went from bad to worse, and not only were Laura and Dave involved, but also pretty Jessie Wadsworth and several of Dave's school chums. In the end Dave "took the law in his own hands" by giving Link Merwell a sound thrashing. Then some of the bully's wrongdoings reached the ears of the master of the school, and he was ordered to pack his trunk and leave, and a telegram was sent to his father in the West, stating that he had been expelled for violating the school rules. He left in a great rage.
"This is the work of that miserable poorhouse rat, Dave Porter," Link told some of his cohorts. "Just wait—I'll fix him for it some day, see if I don't!" Then he wrote a most abusive letter to Dave, but in his rage he forgot to address it properly, and it never reached the youth.
The term at Oak Hall came to an end in June and then arose the question of what to do during the vacation. In the meantime letters had been flying forth between Laura and her warm friend, Belle Endicott, who was still at Star Ranch, as Mr. Endicott's place was called. It may be said in passing that Mr. Endicott was a rich railroad president, and the ranch, while it paid well, was merely a hobby with him, and he and his family resided upon it only when it suited their fancy to do so.
"The Endicotts want me to come out again," said Laura to Dave. "They want me to bring you along with some of your chums, and they want me to bring Jessie, too, if her folks will let her come."
"Oh, that would be jolly!" Dave answered. When he thought of Jessie's going he blushed to himself, for to him the girl whose life he had once saved was the nicest miss in the whole world. Dave was by no means sentimental, but he had a warm, manly regard for Jessie that did him credit.
More letters passed back and forth, and it was finally arranged that Laura and Dave should visit Star Ranch during July and August, taking with them Jessie and Phil and Roger. Dunston Porter was to accompany the young folk as far west as Helena, near which the Endicotts were to meet the travelers, and then Dave's uncle was to go on to Spokane on business, coming back to take the young folks home about six weeks later.
The thoughts of spending their vacation on a real ranch filled the young folk with delight. All anticipated a "Jim-dandy" time, as Phil expressed it.
"We can go out hunting and fishing, and all that," declared the shipowner's son to his chums. "And maybe we'll bring down a bear or two." And then he suggested that they get revolvers and perfect themselves in marksmanship.
"Maybe we'll run into Link Merwell out there," said Roger. "My, but he was mad when he left Oak Hall! He'd like to chew your head off, Dave!"
"I don't want to see him," answered Dave, soberly. But this wish was not to be fulfilled. He was to meet Link Merwell in the near future, and that meeting was to be productive of some decidedly unpleasant results.
A STRAY SHOT
Dave soon returned to the field with a rope, and the representation of a bear was swung from the lower limb of an old apple tree. Then another smaller line was fastened at one side, so that the "bear" could be swung to and fro.
"You can do the first shooting," said Dave to his chums. "I'll play bellman." And he pulled on the side rope, so that the door swung like the pendulum of a clock.
"Hi! don't swing too fast!" called out Phil. "Sixty seconds to the minute, remember."
He took his position, and watching his chance, fired.
"How's that?" he asked, after the report had died away.
"Hit his bearship in the left ear," announced Dave.
"Humph! I aimed for his right eye!"
The senator's son now tried his luck and managed to hit the representation of a bear in the tail. This made all the lads laugh, and Roger and Phil called on Dave to show his skill.
"I don't think this revolver works very well," said the senator's son, handing the weapon to Dave. "The trigger seems to catch in some way."
"Oh, don't blame the pistol for your poor shooting, Roger!" cried Phil, good-naturedly.
"Well, examine the pistol for yourself, Phil."
Dave took the weapon and snapped the trigger. There was no report, and he tried again, aiming at some brushwood not far from the apple tree. The brushwood was close to the back road.
"It's all right now, I guess," he said, as the pistol went off with ease. "But that trigger ought to be looked after," he added. "You wouldn't want it to miss fire at a critical moment."
He stepped forward and, while Roger swung the representation of a bear, he fired another shot.
"Good for you!" exclaimed the senator's son in admiration. "You took him right in the throat, Dave!"
"Hold up there! Stop that! Do you hear me, you young rascals! Do you want to kill me?"
The call came from the back road, and looking in that direction, the three boys saw a well-dressed man coming toward them on the run. He was carrying a whip, and his face was full of sudden passion.
"It's Aaron Poole, Nat's father!" said Dave, as he lowered the pistol in his hand.
"I say, are you trying to kill me?" cried the miserly money-lender of Crumville, as he came closer, and he shook his whip at Dave.
"Why, no, Mr. Poole," answered Dave, as calmly as he could. "What makes you think that?"
"Oh, you needn't play innocent," snarled Aaron Poole. "You just fired a shot at me! It went through my buggy top." And the money-lender pointed to the back road, where stood his horse and carriage. "Nice doings, I must say!"
"Mr. Poole, I didn't fire at you," answered Dave. "I didn't know anybody was out there on the road,—and I didn't fire in that direction."
"You fired into the bushes, when you tried the pistol," said Roger, in a low voice.
"Maybe the bullet went through the bushes," suggested the shipowner's son.
"You fired at me—I heard the shot and saw you with the pistol!" stormed Aaron Poole. "I've a good mind to have you arrested!"
"Mr. Poole, why should I fire at you?" asked Dave. "I——"
"Oh, you needn't try to smooth it over, you young rascal! I know you! You are down on me because I made Caspar Potts pay me what was due, and you are down on my son Nat because he is more popular at Oak Hall than anybody else."
"Well, to hear that!" whispered Phil. He knew, as well as did the others, that overbearing Nat Poole had scarcely a friend left at the school the lads attended. On several occasions Nat had tried to harm Dave, but each time he had gotten the worst of it.
"I didn't fire at you—didn't know anybody was on the back road," protested Dave. "If a bullet went through your buggy top I am sorry for it, but I am also glad it didn't go through your head." And Dave had to shudder as he thought of what might have happened. "After this I'll be more careful when I shoot."
"Oh, don't you try to smooth it over!" snarled Aaron Poole. "I know you of old, Dave Porter! You are always up to some underhanded tricks. Nat knows you, too! Maybe you didn't mean to kill me, but you meant to scare me, and you took a big chance, for I might have been hit. I think I'll swear out a warrant for your arrest."
"Oh, Mr. Poole, don't do that!" cried Phil, in alarm. "Dave didn't know anybody was back there. It was purely an accident."
"Humph! Who are you, I'd like to know?"
"I am Phil Lawrence. I go to Oak Hall with Dave. I think we have met before."
"Oh, yes, I've heard of you—through my son, Nat. You sided with Porter against my son. Of course you'll stick up for Porter now. I think I'll go right down to town and get a warrant, and have it served." And the money-lender made as if to walk away.
"If you have Dave arrested we can testify that it was nothing but an accident," said Roger.
"Bah! it was no accident—he either meant to hit me or scare me! I'll have the law on him!" stormed Aaron Poole, and then he hurried away. Dave followed, wishing to argue the matter, but the money-lender would not listen, and leaping into his buggy he drove off at a rapid gait in the direction of Crumville Center.
"Now, I wonder what I had better do?" said Dave, soberly, after the angry man had departed.
"Do you really think he'll have you arrested?" questioned the senator's son.
"More than likely."
"But you didn't shoot at him. It was nothing but an accident."
"You can trust Mr. Poole to make out the blackest kind of a case against me," answered Dave, bitterly. "He has been down on me for years, and you know how Nat is down on me, too. He'll have me sent to prison, if he can!"
"We'll stand by you," said Phil. "We know you didn't shoot at him—or at anybody."
"I think I had better tell my father about this," went on Dave. All his interest in target-shooting had ended. "He will know what is best to do."
"We'll leave the target where it is," said Roger. "Then we can explain just how the thing occurred."
With downcast heart Dave left the field and approached the mansion, and his chums went with him. Just as they reached the piazza, the door opened and Laura came out, accompanied by Jessie Wadsworth.
"Oh, are you coming back?" asked Laura. "We were just going to join you."
"Maybe you've killed the bear!" cried Jessie, with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "I heard that Phil had manufactured one."
"No," answered Dave. "We—that is. I—had some trouble with Mr. Poole." He turned to his sister. "Where is father?"
"Gone out of town on business. He'll be back this evening."
"And Uncle Dunston?"
"Uncle went with him."
"Oh, that's too bad!" And Dave's face showed more concern than ever.
"What was the trouble about?" asked Jessie, who was quick to see that Dave was ill at ease.
"Oh, Mr. Poole thought I shot at him—but I didn't," replied Dave, and then told the story.
"Oh, Dave, do you really think he'll have you locked up!" burst out his sister, while Jessie's face showed her deep concern.
"I don't know what he'll do," was the slow answer.
"Oh, maybe he won't do anything—after he calms down," said the shipowner's son. "He'll realize that Dave wouldn't do anything like that on purpose."
"You don't know Mr. Poole," said Jessie. "Father says he is one of the most hard-hearted men around here."
"Well, let us hope for the best," said the senator's son. He wanted to cheer up Laura and Jessie quite as much as Dave.
The boys put the pistols away and then went out in a summerhouse to talk the affair over.
"If he has me arrested, I suppose that will stop my going out to Star Ranch," said Dave, gloomily. "Too bad! And just when I was counting on having the time of my life!"
"Oh, don't take it so to heart, Dave!" cried Phil. "Maybe you'll never hear of it again."
"He'll hear of it if Mr. Poole tells Nat," said the senator's son. "Nat will want his father to make all the trouble possible for Dave."
"Where is Nat now? At home?"
"Yes," answered Dave. "I saw him yesterday, down at the post-office."
"Then he'll surely hear about it."
At first Dave thought to tell Caspar Potts about the affair, but then he realized that the professor was too old to aid him. Besides, the aged man was not well, and the boy hated to disturb him.
The middle of the afternoon came and went, and nothing was heard from Aaron Poole. Mrs. Wadsworth went out carriage-riding, taking the girls with her.
"Let us take a walk," proposed Phil. "No use in hanging around the house for nothing."
"I don't want Mr. Poole to think I ran away," answered Dave.
Nevertheless, he agreed to go with his chums, and they started off, leaving word that they would be back in time for dinner, which was served at the Wadsworth mansion at half-past six.
"I'd like to see that place where you used to live with Professor Potts," said the senator's son to Dave. "Is it far from here?"
"Quite a distance, but we can easily walk it," was the reply.
They passed out on the country road and were soon tramping along in the direction of the old Potts place. As they went on they talked over the proposed trip to the West.
"We ought surely to have the time of our lives," said the shipowner's son. "Just think of riding like the wind on some of those broncos!"
"Or getting flung heels over head from a bronco's back," added Roger. "I rather think we'll have to be careful at first."
"One thing I don't like about this trip," said Dave.
"The fact that Link Merwell's father owns the next ranch to the Star?"
"Oh, ranch homes out there are sometimes miles apart," said Roger. "You may not see the Merwells at all."
"That will just suit me,—and I know it will suit Laura, too. She is awfully sorry that she once corresponded with Link."
"Well, she didn't know what he was," answered the senator's son. Ever since he had met Laura he had been much interested in Dave's sister.
The three chums had covered about half the distance to the old Potts place when they saw a horse and buggy approaching. As it came closer they saw that it contained two men.
"It's Mr. Poole!" cried Dave, and then, as he caught sight of the other man's face, he turned a trifle pale. "Step behind here!" he called to Phil and Roger, and pulled them back of some handy bushes.
The horse and buggy soon came up to them and passed on, the three boys keeping out of sight until the turnout was gone. Dave gave a deep sigh.
"I guess Mr. Poole means business," he said.
"What do you mean?" questioned the senator's son.
"I mean he is going to have me locked up."
"Why?" asked Phil.
"That man in the buggy with him was Mr. Mardell, the police justice."
AN INTERVIEW OF INTEREST
"Well, I shouldn't go back home until your father and your uncle return," said the senator's son. "Then, if you are arrested, they'll know exactly what to do."
"It's too bad it happened!" murmured Dave. "I wish I had gotten off to the West without seeing Aaron Poole. But I suppose there is no use in crying over spilt milk. I'll have to face the music, and take what comes."
The three lads went on, and presently came in sight of the farm where Caspar Potts and Dave had once resided. The ground was now being cultivated by the man who had the next farm, and the house was tenantless.
"I've got the key of the house," said Dave. "If you'd like to take a look inside I'll unlock the door. But it's a very poor place—a big contrast to the Wadsworth residence."
"And so you used to work here, Dave?" said Phil, gazing around at the fields of corn and wheat.
"Yes, I've plowed and worked these fields more than once, Phil. And in those days, I didn't know what it was to have a nice suit of clothes and good food. But Professor Potts was kind to me, even if he was a bit eccentric."
"It was a grand thing that you found your folks—and your fortune," said Roger.
"Yes, and I am thankful from the bottom of my heart."
The three boys entered the deserted house, and Dave showed the way around. There was the same little cot on which he had been wont to stretch his weary limbs after a hard day's work in the fields, and there were the same simple cooking utensils with which he had prepared many a meal for himself and the old professor. Conditions certainly had improved wonderfully, and for the time being Dave forgot his trouble with Aaron Poole. No one could again call him "a poorhouse nobody."
From the cottage the boys walked to the barn. As they entered this building they heard earnest talking in the rear.
"You are a mean lad, to tease an old man like me!" they heard, in Caspar Potts's quavering tones. "Why cannot you go away and leave me alone?"
"Don't you call me mean!" came in Nat Poole's voice. "I'll do what I please, and you can't stop me!"
"I want you to leave me alone," reiterated the old professor.
"I will—when I am done with you. How do you like that, old man?" And then Nat Poole gave a brutal laugh.
"Oh! oh! Don't smother me!" spluttered Caspar Potts. "Please leave me alone! You have ruined my clothes!"
"I wonder what's up?" said Dave to his chums, and ran through the barn to the rear. There he beheld Caspar Potts in a corner. In front of him stood Nat Poole, holding a big garden syringe in his hands. The syringe had been filled with a preparation for spraying peach trees, and the son of the money-lender had discharged the chalk-like fluid all over the aged professor.
"Nat Poole, what are you up to!" cried Dave, indignantly, and, leaping forward, he caught the other youth by the shoulder and whirled him around. "You let Professor Potts alone!"
"Dave!" cried the professor, and his voice showed his joy. "Oh, I am glad you came. That young man has been teasing me for over a quarter of an hour, and he just covered me with that spray for the peach-tree scale."
"What do you mean by doing such a thing?" demanded Dave. "Give me that syringe." And he wrenched the article from the other youth's grasp. He looked so determined that Nat became alarmed and backed away several feet.
"Don't you—you—er—hit me!" cried the money-lender's son.
"What a mean piece of business," observed Roger, as he came up, followed by Phil. "Nat, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
"Oh, you shut up!" grumbled Nat, not knowing what else to say.
"I always thought you were a first-class coward," put in Phil. "Now I am sure of it."
"This is none of your affair, Phil Lawrence!"
"I should think it was the affair of any person who wanted to see fair play," answered the shipowner's son.
"Nat, you take your handkerchief and wipe off Mr. Potts's clothes," said Dave, sternly.
"Eh?" queried the money-lender's son in dismay.
"You heard what I said. Go and do it, and be quick about it."
"I—er—I don't have to."
"Yes, you do. If you don't——" Dave ended by walking over to a barrel and filling the syringe with the spraying fluid.
"Hi! don't you douse me with that!" yelled the other youth in alarm. Then he started to run away, but the senator's son caught him by one arm and Phil caught him by the other.
"You've got no right to hold me!"
"Well, we'll take the right," said Roger, calmly. "Now, Nat, do as Dave told you."
There was no help for it, and with very bad grace the money-lender's son drew from his pocket a silk handkerchief and removed what he could of the fluid from Caspar Potts's clothing. Many spots remained.
"I am afraid the suit is ruined," said the aged professor, sorrowfully. "Anyway, it will need a thorough cleaning."
"If it is ruined, Nat can pay for it," said Dave, firmly.
"I'll pay for nothing!" grumbled the boy who had done the mischief. He was short of spending-money, and knew how hard it was to get an extra dollar from his parent.
"He certainly ought to pay for it," said Caspar Potts. "Some men would have him locked up for what he has done."
"Humph! Don't talk foolish! It was only a little fun!" grumbled Nat. "I didn't mean any harm. You can easily get those spots out of your clothes."
"Did he do anything else to you?" asked Dave of the professor.
"Yes, he plagued me a good deal, and he shoved me down in the cow-yard," was the reply. "I was hoping some one would come to drive him away. I said I'd have the law on him, but he laughed at me, and said nobody else was around and his word was as good as mine."
"If that isn't Nat to a T!" murmured the senator's son. "Doing the sneak act every time!"
"Well, we are witnesses against him," put in Phil. He looked at Dave and suddenly began to grin. "Oh, but this is great!" he cried.
"What's struck you?" queried Dave.
"Oh, nothing, only I reckon we've got a good hold on Mr. Aaron Poole now—in case he tries to make a complaint against you."
"To be sure we have!" burst out Roger. "He won't dare to do it—after he knows what Professor Potts can do."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Nat, curiously. "Is my father going to make a complaint against Dave? What is it for?"
"Maybe you'll learn later—and maybe you won't," answered the senator's son. "But if you see your father you had better tell him to call it off as far as Dave is concerned—if he wants to save you."
"Then you've had trouble, eh?"
"No worse than this—if as bad."
"Humph! In that case my father won't believe what you say about me!" cried Nat, cunningly. And then of a sudden he leaped back, turned, and ran around a corner of the barn at top speed. He made for the road, and was soon hidden from view by trees and bushes. Phil and Roger attempted to catch him, but Dave called them back.
"No use in doing that," said Dave. "Let him go. It will be time enough to say more when Mr. Poole makes his complaint."
The three youths assisted Caspar Potts in rearranging his toilet, and in the meantime the aged professor told the lads the details of his trouble with Nat. The money-lender's son had certainly acted in a despicable manner, and he deserved to be punished.
"I will leave the matter to Mr. Wadsworth, and to your father and your uncle," said Professor Potts to Dave. "They will know better what to do than I."
On the way back to the Wadsworth mansion the boys told of the pistol incident and the professor became much interested. He agreed with Phil and Roger that Nat's doings were much worse.
Dave's father and his uncle had returned, and the youth went straight to them with his tale. Then Mr. Wadsworth came in and was likewise told. All the men were also informed of what had happened to Caspar Potts.
"I think I see a way of clearing this matter up—if Mr. Poole attempts to act against Dave," said Mr. Wadsworth. And then he had a long talk with Professor Potts.
The folks at the mansion had just finished dinner when visitors were announced. They proved to be Aaron Poole and an officer of the law, brought along to arrest Dave.
"I think you had better let me engineer this affair," said Mr. Wadsworth, and so it was agreed. He entered the reception room and shook hands formally with Aaron Poole.
"I came to get Dave Porter," said the money-lender, stiffly. "I am going to have him locked up."
"Mr. Poole, will you kindly step into the library with me?" answered Mr. Wadsworth.
"I wish to have a little conversation with you."
"It won't do any good. I'm going to have that Porter boy arrested, and that is all there is to it."
"I wished to see you about your son, Nat. Do you know that he stands in danger of arrest?"
"Arrest! Nat?" queried the money-lender, and the officer of the law looked at the rich manufacturer with interest.
"Yes. Come into the library, please."
"Want me?" asked the officer.
"No," returned Mr. Wadsworth, shortly, and the man settled back in his chair, his face showing his disappointment.
Once in the library the manufacturer shut the door with care. He motioned his visitor to a chair. But Aaron Poole was too impatient to sit down.
"Now, what's this about my son, Nat?" growled the money-lender.
"I'll tell you," was Mr. Wadsworth's reply, and he related what had occurred at the old Potts place.
"You expect me to believe this?" snarled Aaron Poole.
"Believe it or not, it is the truth, and I have the three boys to prove it, and likewise Professor Potts's ruined suit of clothing. Now," continued the manufacturer, "I know all about your charge against Dave. I'll not say that he wasn't careless, because he was. But he meant no harm, and it is going too far to have him arrested. It would be much fairer for Professor Potts to have your son locked up, and make you pay for the suit of clothing in the bargain. Now, the professor thinks a great deal of Dave, and he is willing to drop his complaint against Nat if you'll drop your complaint against Dave."
"Oh, so that's the way the wind blows, eh?" snarled Aaron Poole. "Well, I won't do it!" he snapped. "I'm going to have Dave Porter arrested!"
"If you do, Professor Potts will have Nat arrested, and we'll push our case just as hard as you push yours, Mr. Poole."
"Humph! I guess this is a plot to free Dave Porter!"
"You can think what you please. This is the way I look at it: Dave was careless, and his father can give him a lecture on his carelessness. Nat was brutal, and it is up to you to take him in hand. If he were my son, I'd give him a good talking to—and maybe I'd thrash him," added the rich manufacturer, warmly.
"Oh, you are all down on my son—just as you are down on me!" cried Aaron Poole. "I'll look into this! I'll—I'll——"
"Don't do anything hasty," advised Mr. Wadsworth. "Better talk the matter over with Nat."
"I'll do it. But I'll not drop this matter! I'll get after Dave Porter yet!" cried Aaron Poole, and then he stalked out of the library, and, motioning for the officer of the law to follow him, he left the mansion.
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
"I don't think he'll do anything—that is, if he gets the truth out of Nat," said Mr. Wadsworth, as he rejoined the others. "Of course, if his son denies the attack on the professor, it may be different."
"If Nat does that, we'll have the testimony of the professor, Phil, and Roger against him," said Mr. Porter.
It must be admitted that the next day was an uncomfortable one for Dave, for he did not know at what moment an officer of the law might appear to arrest him. In the afternoon he and his chums went fishing, but he had little heart for the sport.
Early on the day following Ben Basswood called to see Dave and the others. As my old readers know, Ben had been a friend to Dave for many years, and had gone from Crumville to Oak Hall with him.
"Was coming before, to meet you and Roger and Phil," said Ben. "But I had to go out of town on business for dad. How are you all? Say, I hear you are going out West on a ranch. That's great! Going to shoot buffaloes, I suppose."
"No, hippopotamuses," put in the senator's son, with a grin.
"And June bugs," added Phil.
"You'll sure have the time of your lives! Wish I was going. But I am booked for the Great Lakes, which isn't bad. Going to take the trip from Buffalo to Duluth and back, you know. But say, I came over to tell you something."
"What is it, Ben?" questioned Dave.
"Come on outside."
The boys walked out into the garden and down to the summerhouse, where they proceeded to make themselves comfortable.
"It's about Nat Poole," continued Ben Basswood. "I guess you had some kind of a run-in with him, didn't you?"
"Not exactly," answered Roger. "We caught him tormenting Professor Potts and we put a stop to it."
"Well, you had some trouble with Nat's dad, didn't you?"
"Yes," answered Dave. "Did Nat tell you?" he added quickly.
"No, I know of the whole thing by accident. I had to go to the building where Mr. Poole has his new office. While I was waiting to see a man and deliver a message for my dad I overheard some talk between Mr. Poole and Nat. It was mighty warm, I can tell you!"
"What was said?" demanded Phil.
"Mr. Poole accused Nat of something and Nat, at first, denied it. Then Mr. Poole said something about arrest, and Professor Potts, and Nat got scared and begged his father to save him. Then Mr. Poole mentioned Dave and a pistol and said he couldn't do anything if that's the way matters stood, and Nat began to beg for dear life, asking his father to let Dave alone this time. At last Mr. Poole said he would, but the way he lectured Nat was a caution. He said he wouldn't give Nat a cent more of spending-money this summer."
"Hurrah, that lets you out, Dave!" cried Roger. "The case against you is squashed."
"The Pooles will have to let it drop," added the shipowner's son. "And I am mighty glad of it."
"I hope you are right," said Dave, and his face showed his relief.
They had to tell Ben all about what had happened. Then the latter wanted to see the bear target, and the crowd ended by doing some more target practicing. But this time Dave was very careful how he shot, and so were the others.
It had been decided that the start for the West was to be made early the following week, and for several days the boys and the girls were busy getting ready. Laura had traveled a great deal, so the journey would not be a novelty to her, but with Jessie it was different.
"I know I shall like it, once I am there," said Jessie. "But, oh, it seems such a distance to go!"
"We'll take good care of you," answered Dunston Porter.
"And I am sure you'll like Mrs. Endicott and Belle," added Laura. "Belle is as full of fun as a—a—oh, I don't know what."
"Shad is of bones," suggested Dave, who stood by.
"Oh, what a comparison!" cried Jessie, and then giggled in the regulation girl fashion.
They were to take a local train to Buffalo and change at that city for Chicago. Ben Basswood decided to go with them as far as Buffalo, so there would be quite a party. The boys gathered their things together and were ready to start a full day beforehand. The buying of railroad tickets and berths in the Pullmans was left entirely to Dunston Porter.
A farewell gathering had been arranged for the young people by Mrs. Wadsworth, to take place on the afternoon previous to their departure for the West. About a dozen boys and girls from Crumville and vicinity were invited. The party was held on the lawn of the Wadsworth estate, which was trimmed for the occasion with banners, flags, and lanterns. A small orchestra, located in the summerhouse, furnished the music.
Of course Dave and his chums donned their best for this occasion, and Laura and Jessie appeared in white dresses that were as pretty as they could be. Jessie's wavy hair was tied up in new ribbons, and as Dave looked at her he thought she looked as sweet as might a fairy from fairyland. He could not help smiling at her, and when she came and pinned on his coat a buttonhole bouquet he thought he was the happiest boy in the whole world.
"Oh, but won't we have the grand times when we get out West!" he said to her.
"I hope so, Dave," she answered. "But——"
"But what, Jessie?" he questioned, as he saw her hesitate.
"I—I can't get that Link Merwell out of my head. I am so sorry his father's ranch is next to that we are going to visit."
"Oh, don't worry. We'll make Link keep his distance," he returned, lightly. Yet it must be confessed that he was just a bit worried himself.
Among the first boys to arrive was Ben Basswood, and he lost no time in calling Phil and Roger aside.
"I don't want to worry Dave or the others," said Ben. "But I think somebody ought to be told."
"Told what?" asked the senator's son.
"About Nat Poole. I got the word from a friend of mine, Joe Devine. Joe was talking with Nat Poole, and he said Nat was very angry at all of us, and angry because Mrs. Wadsworth was giving us the party, especially as he wasn't invited. Joe said Nat intimated that he was going to make the affair turn out a fizzle."
"A fizzle?" queried Phil. "How?"
"Joe didn't know, but he told me, on the quiet, that I ought to watch out, and ought to warn the others. But I don't like to say anything to Mrs. Wadsworth, or the girls. You see, it may be only talk, and if it is, what's the use of getting the ladies excited?"
"It would be just like Nat to play some dirty trick," said the shipowner's son. "The question is, What will it be?"
"Somebody ought to stand guard," was Roger's advice. "And I think we ought to tell Dave."
This was readily agreed upon, and Dave was told a few minutes later. His face at once showed his concern.
"It mustn't be allowed!" he said, earnestly. "I don't care so much on my own account, but think of Mrs. Wadsworth and the girls! Yes, we must keep our eyes open, and if anything goes wrong——" He finished with a grave shake of his head.
"What are you boys plotting about?" asked Laura, as she came up. "Come, it won't do to stick together like this, with all the girls arriving. Dave, go and make folks at home,—and you do likewise," she added, with a smile at Phil and Roger.
The boys dispersed and mingled with the arriving guests. Dave did all he could to make everybody feel at home, but all the while he was doing it he kept his eyes wide open.
Presently, chancing to look in the direction of the automobile house, Dave saw somebody skulking along a hedge. The person was visible only a second, so the youth could not make out who it was.
"Maybe it's all right, but I'll take a look and make sure," he told himself, and excused himself to a girl to whom he had been talking. As he hurried across the lawn he passed Phil.
"Come with me, will you?" he said, in a low voice.
"See anything?" demanded the shipowner's son.
"I saw somebody, but I am not sure who it was."
Taking care not to make his departure noticeable, Dave walked toward the automobile house and Phil followed him. Soon the pair were behind some rose bushes and then they gained the shelter of the heavy hedge.
"There he is!" said Dave, in a low voice. "It's Nat Poole, sure enough!"
"What's he doing?" asked Phil.
"Nothing just now. But I guess he is up to something."
Keeping well out of sight behind the hedge, the two boys watched the son of the money-lender. Nat was sneaking past the automobile house and making for a washing-shed adjoining the kitchen of the mansion.
"I think I know what he is up to," murmured Dave. "Come on after him, Phil."
As silently as shadows Dave and Phil followed the money-lender's son to the shed. Once Nat looked around to see if the coast was clear, and the followers promptly dropped down behind a lilac bush. Reassured, Nat entered the shed, and Dave and Phil tiptoed their way up and got behind the open door.
The hired help were in the kitchen, so the shed was empty. On the floor stood an ice-cream freezer full of home-made ice-cream, and on a shelf rested several freshly baked cakes, all covered with chocolate icing, set out to harden.
"Now I'll fix things," Dave and Phil heard the money-lender's son mutter. "Salt in the cream and salt in the layer cakes will do the trick! Some of the boys and girls will think they are poisoned!"
Nat took up a bag of salt that was handy,—used for making the cream,—and proceeded to open the can in the freezer. Dave watched him as a cat does a mouse.
Just as Nat was on the point of dumping some of the salt into the ice-cream he felt himself jerked backwards. The salt dropped to the floor, and Nat found himself confronting Dave, with Phil but a few steps away.
"You contemptible rascal!" cried Dave, his eyes flashing.
"Why—I—er——" stammered the money-lender's son. He did not know what to say.
"Going to spoil the cream, eh?" came from Phil. "It was a mighty dirty trick, Nat."
"On a level with what you did to Professor Potts," added Dave.
"I—er—I wasn't going to do nothing!" cried Nat, with little regard for grammar. "I—er—I was looking at the ice-cream, that's all."
"A poor excuse is worse than none," answered Dave, grimly. "You were going to put salt in the cream and spoil it, you needn't deny it."
"See here, Dave Porter, I want you to understand——"
"Don't talk, Nat, we know all about it," broke in Phil. "You planned to come here yesterday, and we can prove it. We were on the lookout for you."
At this assertion the face of the money-lender's son changed. He grew quite pale.
"I haven't time to waste on you—I want to enjoy this party," said Dave. "Come along with me."
"Where to?" demanded Nat.
"I'll show you," answered Dave, and caught the money-lender's son by the arm. "Catch hold of him, Phil, and don't let him escape."
AT NIAGARA FALLS
"See here, I want you to let me alone!" stormed Nat Poole, and he tried to jerk himself free.
"Listen, Nat," said Dave, sternly. "If you make a noise it will be the worse for you, for it will bring the others here, and then we'll tell about what you tried to do. Maybe Mrs. Wadsworth will call an officer, and anyway all the girls and the boys will be down on you. Now, if you want Phil and me to keep this a secret, you've got to come along with us."
"Where to?" grumbled Nat, doggedly.
"You'll soon see," returned Dave, briefly, and with a wink at his chum.
Somewhat against his will, Nat walked toward the end of the garden. He wished to escape from Mrs. Wadsworth and the others, but he was afraid Dave and Phil contemplated doing something disagreeable to him. Maybe they would give him a sound thrashing.
"Don't you touch me—don't you dare!" he cried, when the barn was readied. "Remember, my father can have you locked up, Dave Porter!"
"Well, don't forget what Professor Potts can do to you, Nat," answered Dave.
"What are you going to do?" asked Phil, in an aside to his chum.
Dave was trying to think. He had been half of a mind to lock Nat in the harness closet until the party was over—thus preventing him from making more trouble. Now, however, as he heard a locomotive whistle, a new thought struck him.
"Come on down to the railroad tracks, Nat," he said.
"Maybe you can take a journey for your health—if the freight train stops at the water tank."
"I—er—I don't understand."
"You will—if the train stops—and I think it will."
The three boys pushed off across the fields to where the railroad tracks were located. Here was the very spot where Dave had been picked up years before. Not far off was a water tank, where the locomotives usually stopped for their supply. A long freight train was just slowing down. Many of the cars were empty and the doors stood wide open.
"Up you go, Nat!" cried Dave.
"Into one of the empty cars. You are going to have a ride for your health."
"Not much! Why, that train don't stop short of Jack's Junction, twelve miles from here!"
"I know it. You can walk back—the exercise will do you good."
"I—er—I don't want to go!" And Nat made as if to run away. But Dave and Phil held him.
"But you are going!" cried Dave. "In you go!"
He and Phil forced the money-lender's son toward one of the open cars. Still protesting, Nat was shoved up and through one of the open doors. The door on the other side was closed. He ran to it, but found it locked from the outside.
"Hi, you let me off!" he cried, as the train gave a jerk and commenced to move.
"Don't jump, you might hurt yourself!" cried Dave, and shoved the door shut.
"Hope you have a pleasant journey!" called out Phil, merrily.
"And a nice walk back!" added Dave.
The freight train quickly gathered headway. Dave and Phil ran down by the side of the tracks. They saw Nat shove back the door about a foot and peer out. He did not dare to jump, and, seeing them, shook his fist wildly.
"He's off!" cried the shipowner's son, and then commenced to laugh. "Dave, that was just all right! He's booked for quite a journey."
"Twelve miles, or more, and he'll either have to wait for a train, and pay his fare back, or walk."
"Exactly. And if the train hands catch him, maybe they'll give him the thrashing he deserves."
"They'll hustle him off pretty lively, that's sure. Well, one thing is certain, he won't bother this party any more," added Dave. "Let us get back."
They hurried to the house, and as they did so the freight train passed out of sight and hearing. They thought they had seen the last of Nat, but they were mistaken.
"Where have you boys been?" asked Laura, when they reappeared, after having brushed off their clothing.
"I'll tell you later," answered her brother.
"Not very. It's all over now, Laura."
The party was now in full swing and proved a big success. The boys and girls played all sorts of games, and also did a little dancing. Then refreshments were served. When the ice cream and cake were passed around, Phil and Dave could not help but look at each other, and the shipowner's son winked suggestively.
"Why are you winking at Dave?" demanded Roger.
"Did I wink?" questioned Phil, solemnly, and then Dave began to laugh and almost choked on a piece of cake in his mouth.
After the refreshments came more games and some singing, and it was nine o'clock before the lawn party came to an end. The girls and boys from the town went home mostly in pairs, but Ben remained behind, for he knew Dave and Phil had something to tell. All the lads congregated in the summerhouse and Laura and Jessie went with them.
"Wanted to spoil the ice-cream and chocolate layer-cakes!" cried Jessie. "Oh, how mean!"
"It served him right, to put him on the freight train!" was Laura's comment. "I hope he was carried about fifty miles, and has to walk back."
"He'll be trying another trick before we leave," said Roger. "We must keep our eyes open."
"Isn't it a shame he can't be nice?" came from Jessie. "If he keeps on like this, he'll not have a friend in the world."
"Well, he hasn't many friends now," answered Dave. "At Oak Hall the majority of the fellows turned him down just as they turned down Link Merwell."
"Oh, that Link Merwell!" sighed Laura. "I trust I never see or hear of him again!"
Bright and early the next day the boys arose and packed the last of their baggage. The girls were up, too, and joined the lads at the breakfast table. Dave's father was there, and also Uncle Dunston, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth.
"Well, I certainly hope you all have a grand time," said the rich manufacturer.
"And I hope the outing does Jessie good," said his wife. Jessie was not very strong and the doctor had said that a trip to the Far West might do much towards building up her constitution.
"You must write often," said Mr. Porter to his daughter. "And make Dave write, too."
"I'll not forget," said the daughter, and Dave nodded.
It was rather a sober meal, although every one tried to be cheerful. The big touring-car, Mr. Wadsworth's latest purchase, was at the door, and the baggage had gone on ahead. Soon it was time to go.
"Good-by, everybody!" cried Dave, and shook hands with his father and Mrs. and Mr. Wadsworth. The lady of the house gave him a warm kiss, and kissed all the others.
"Wish you were going too, daddy!" cried Laura to her father.
"Well, I'll go the next time," was the answer, with a smile.
In another five minutes the boys and girls and Dunston Porter were off for the depot, the others waving their hands as the travelers disappeared. Tears came to Mrs. Wadsworth's eyes, at the parting with Jessie, yet she did her best to smile.
"We'll be back in six weeks!" called out Dave. "And as brown as berries and as strong as oxen!" And this caused everybody to laugh. Little did any of them realize what adventures those six weeks were to contain.
The train for Buffalo was on time, and when it rolled into the station they climbed on board, and the boys found the right seats in the parlor car and settled the girls. Ben was there, and had a seat with the crowd.
"I've got news," said Ben, as the train went on its way. "Nat Poole isn't back yet."
"Who told you?"
"Tom Marvin. He called this morning to see Nat about something. Nat had sent a telegram home from a place called Halock, stating he had been carried off on a freight train."
"Humph! then he went further than we supposed he would," mused Phil. "Where is Halock?"
Nobody knew, and they consulted a time-table taken from a rack in the car.
"It's a flag-station not far from Buffalo," announced Roger. "Say, he certainly was carried some distance!"
"What if he didn't have any money to get home with?" asked Laura.
"Maybe he telegraphed for some," said Phil.
"He could pawn his watch—he always wears one," added Ben. "But it is queer that he didn't get off at Jack's Junction."
"Perhaps he liked to ride—after he once got used to it," returned the senator's son.
On and on went the train, stopping at several towns of more or less importance. The girls and boys amused themselves studying the time-table and in gazing out of the window, and Dunston Porter told them of some of his experiences while roving in various portions of the globe, for, as my old readers are aware, he was a great traveler. At noon they went into the dining-car for lunch, and Dave and Roger sat at one table with Laura and Jessie opposite to them.
"Say, this puts me in mind of a story, as Shadow Hamilton would say," said the senator's son, as the train rushed along while they ate. "A little girl had a sandwich on a train like this, once, and then boasted afterwards that she had eaten a sandwich three miles long."
"Well, I think I'll eat some roast beef ten miles long," said Dave. "And two miles of apple pie to boot!" And this caused the girls to giggle.
They reached Buffalo in the middle of the afternoon and there had to wait until half-past ten for the night express to Chicago. Here Ben left them, for the boat he was to take was waiting at the dock.
"Send me a letter to Duluth," he said, on parting, and Dave promised to do so.
"I'll tell you what we might do," said Dunston Porter. "We can take a trolley trip to Niagara Falls and come back on a train. We have plenty of time."
"Oh, yes, I'd like to see Niagara!" cried Jessie, clapping her hands.
The others all voted the suggestion a good one, and soon, having checked their baggage at the depot, they boarded a trolley car bound for the Falls.
"We can look at the Falls for an hour, get supper, and still have time in which to return to Buffalo," said Mr. Porter. "When we get there we can get a carriage to drive us around."
The trolley car made good time and it was still daylight when Niagara was reached. Hackmen were numerous, and Dunston Porter soon engaged a turnout to take them around Goat Island and other points of interest. They could hear the roaring of the Falls plainly, and the sight of the great cataracts impressed them deeply. "Want to go down under the Falls?" asked Phil, as they were riding along.
"No, indeed!" answered Laura.
"We haven't time, anyway," answered Roger. "We've got to get back or we'll miss that train for Chicago, and that won't do, for our berths have been engaged ahead."
At the bridge leading to the Three Sisters Islands the whole party alighted, so as to get a better view of the upper rapids of the river. As they did so, a youth seated on a rock near by looked at them in amazement. Then of a sudden he slipped off the rock and dodged out of sight.
The youth was Nat Poole.
NAT POOLE'S LITTLE GAME
It may not be out of place here to relate how Nat Poole happened to be at Niagara Falls, and how he chanced to have with him a man who was willing to do almost anything for the sake of a little money.
When Nat was placed aboard of the freight train by Dave and Phil he was in a great rage, yet powerless, for the time being, to help himself. The train moved so swiftly that he did not dare to jump off, and soon Crumville was left far behind.
As soon as he had cooled off for a little, Nat found out that he was very tired. He had been out the night before with some of the fast young men of the town, playing cards and pool, and had had but two hours' sleep in twenty-four. He found a pile of old bagging in one end of the freight car and sat down to rest. Presently his eyes closed, and before he knew it he was sound asleep. He continued to sleep during the stop at Jack's Junction, and he did not notice another party enter the freight car, nor did he notice the door being closed and locked.
When Nat awoke it was with a sense of pain. The other party in the car had stepped on his ankle. He gave a cry and this was answered by an exclamation of astonishment.
"Who are you?" asked Nat, sitting up and then leaping to his feet.
"I reckon I can ask the same question," returned the stranger.
"Are you a train hand?"
"Neither am I."
There was a moment of silence after this, and then the unknown lit a match and held it close to Nat. Both gave a cry of astonishment.
"Hello! You are Nat Poole, the boy I met at Rally's Pool Parlors," said the stranger.
"Yes, and you are Tom Shocker, the traveling salesman."
"Right you are—but I'm not a traveling salesman any longer," answered Tom Shocker, and gave a short laugh.
"Why?" asked Nat.
"Lost my job."
"I suppose your boss found out that you were spending your time playing cards and pool," said Nat. "How did you make out after I left you?"
"Lost all I had. That's the reason I am stealing a ride on this freight," answered the man. "But what are you doing here?" he continued in curiosity.
In his own fashion Nat related how he had been attacked by two of his former school enemies, dragged to the car and thrown in. He added that he had been next to unconscious, and so was unable to fight off Dave and Phil. Then he asked how Tom Shocker happened to be on board.
"I got on at Jack's Junction," said the man. "I haven't got but fifty cents left and I thought I'd beat my way to Buffalo, where I think I can get some more cash. But I didn't think they'd lock the door of the car."
During the ride to Halock, Tom Shocker managed to learn a good deal about Nat and his trouble with Dave and the others, and he also learned that the youth had considerable spending-money with him. The car was opened at Halock and run off on a siding, and the pair got off.
"Let us take a trolley to Buffalo," said Shocker. "There we can get a room at a hotel—that is, if you'll put up the price."
"All right; I might as well go to Buffalo, now I am so close," answered Nat. "But I'll send word home first," he added, and this was done.
After resting at a hotel in Buffalo, Tom Shocker proposed a trip to Niagara Falls, Nat, of course, to pay the way.
"I'll pay you back some day," said Shocker, offhandedly. "When I strike another situation I'll have plenty of cash. And, in the meantime, if you want me to do anything for you, say the word. I am open for any proposition that you may offer."
On the way to the Falls, Tom Shocker told much about himself, and Nat learned that the fellow was one of those shiftless mortals who change from one situation to another. He had been a salesman on the road for five different concerns, had run a restaurant, a poolroom, and a moving-picture show, and had even been connected with a prize-fighting affair. He did not care what he did so long a it paid, and many of his transactions had been of the shady sort.
Nat did not enjoy the visit to the Falls as much as he had anticipated. He found Tom Shocker rather coarse, and the man wanted to drink whenever the opportunity afforded. From the rapids below the Falls the pair walked to Goat Island, and there Nat was on the point of giving Shocker the slip when he chanced to see Dave and the others of the party.
"What's the matter?" demanded Shocker, who stood close by, as he saw the money-lender's son dart out of sight behind the rocks.
"Do you see that boy?" demanded Nat, pointing with his hand.
"That is Dave Porter, the fellow who put me on the freight car. And over yonder is Phil Lawrence, the other chap."
"You don't say! What brings them here?"
"They are on their way out West, and I suppose they ran up here to see the sights. I—I wish I could do something to 'em!" added Nat, bitterly.
"Maybe you can," answered Tom Shocker, always open for action. "I'll tell you one thing," he continued, in a low tone. "If they had treated me as they treated you, I'd not let them off so easily."
"Will you help me, if I—er—try to fix that Dave Porter?" asked Nat. "He started it. I don't care so much about Lawrence."
"Sure I'll help you. Anything you say goes," answered Tom Shocker, readily. He thought he saw a chance of getting another dollar or two out of Nat.
The two walked behind some bushes and there talked the matter over for several minutes.
"Fargo's is the place to go to," said Shocker, presently. "I know we can trust him."
"Of course, I don't want to hurt Porter," said Nat, nervously. "I only want to scare him."
"Sure, I understand. We'll scare the wits out of him," returned Tom Shocker. "Now, let me see. I have it—we'll catch him on the bridge. His carriage is bound to come that way, to get off Goat Island."
Dave and his friends spent the best part of a quarter of an hour around the Three Sisters Islands and then returned to their carriage.
"Now we can go to the hotel and have dinner," said Dunston Porter. "And then we can take a local train back to Buffalo."
The carriage was just crossing the bridge that connects Goat Island with the city of Niagara Falls when a man stepped up and stopped the turnout. It was Tom Shocker.
"Excuse me, but I reckon this is the number, 176," he said. "Is there a young man here named David Porter?"
"Yes, I am Dave Porter," answered Dave, and looked at Shocker curiously. The fellow was a total stranger to him.
"Got a note for you," went on Shocker, and produced it. It was sealed and marked Private in plain letters.
Wondering what the note could contain, Dave opened and read it. His face changed color and he gave a little gasp.
"Excuse me, I'll have to—to leave you for a little while," he stammered to the others.
"What's the matter?" asked Roger.
"I—I can't tell you just now." Dave turned to his uncle. "Where will you get dinner, Uncle Dunston?"
"At the International."
"All right—I'll be there before long," answered Dave, and sprang to the ground.
"But what's up?" cried Phil. He could see that his chum was much disturbed.
"I—I can't tell you, Phil. But I'll be back before you finish your dinner."
"Don't you want some one along?" asked Laura, who did not like to see her brother depart in the company of such a looking stranger as Tom Shocker.
"No, Laura. Oh, it's all right. I'll be at the International on time," said Dave, and then he hurried over the bridge and down a side street of the city, in company with Tom Shocker.
The note Dave had received was written in a cramped hand and ran as follows:
"DEAR DAVE:—You will be surprised to receive this, but I saw you in town to-day and noted the number of your carriage. I am in deep trouble and would like you to come and see me in private, if only for five or ten minutes. You can aid me a great deal. Please don't tell any of the others of your party. The man who brings this to you will take you to me. Please, please don't disappoint me.
"Yours truly, "ANDREW DALE."
Andrew Dale was the first assistant teacher at Oak Hall, and an instructor who had made himself very dear to Dave and some of the other boys. He had sided with Dave when the latter was termed "a poorhouse nobody," and this had made teacher and pupil close friends.
"What's the matter with my friend?" asked Dave, as he and Tom Shocker hurried through several side streets of the city.
"I don't know exactly," was the reply. "Money matters, I think, and the gent is sick, too. He wanted it kept very quiet—said it might ruin his reputation if it got out."
"Well, I didn't say anything to anybody," answered Dave. "How much further have we to go?"
"Only a couple of blocks."
But the "couple of blocks" proved to be five, and they had to make another turn or two. Then they came to the side door of a building used as a lodging house and a pool and billiard parlor. This resort was run by a man named Bill Fargo, a sport who had once had dealings with Shocker in a prize-fighting enterprise.
"He's got a room here—up on the third floor," said Shocker, as he saw Dave hesitate. "Come on, I'll show you."
He went ahead, up the somewhat dilapidated stairs, and Dave followed. In the pool and billiard parlors below some men were laughing and talking, and clicking the ivory balls together, but upstairs it was silent, and nobody seemed to be around.
During the past few years of his life Dave had had a number of stirring adventures, and he was by no means as green as he had been when first he had set out for Oak Hall. He did not like the looks of his surroundings, and he resolved to keep his wits about him and be on his guard.
"Why should Mr. Dale come to a place like this?" he asked himself. He knew the teacher to be a model man, who did not drink or gamble.
"Here we are," said Tom Shocker, as he stopped in front of a door at the back of the hallway on the third floor of the building. "I guess you can go right in. He's on the bed with his broken ankle."
"His broken ankle?" repeated Dave. "Why didn't you tell me of that before?"
"I thought I did," returned Shocker, smoothly. "Here you are. It's dark, isn't it? I'll light the gas," and he commenced to fumble in his pocket, as if hunting for a match.
It was dark, and for several seconds Dave could see little or nothing. He heard a faint groan.
"Is that you, Mr. Dale?" he asked, kindly.
A low reply was returned—so low that Dave could not make out what was said. He went into the room a few steps further. As he did so Tom Shocker closed the door and locked it. Dave heard the click of the lock's bolt and wheeled around.
"What did you do?" he demanded sharply.
"I guess I've got you now, Dave Porter!" cried another voice, and now Dave recognized the tones of Nat Poole. "You played me a scurvy trick by putting me aboard the freight train. I guess it's about time I paid you back; don't you think so?"
IN WHICH DAVE IS ROBBED
Dave found himself in a decidedly unpleasant situation. The door of the room was locked and Tom Shocker stood against it. The man lit the gas, but allowed it to remain low. Dave saw Nat Poole standing close to a bed. The money-lender's son had a small bottle and some cotton in his hand.
"I suppose this is a trick?" said Dave, as coolly as he could.
"Rather good one, too, isn't it?" returned Nat, lightly.
"That depends on how you look at it, Nat. Did you forge Mr. Dale's name?"
"That isn't a nice business to be in."
"Humph! you needn't preach to me, Dave Porter! You played a dirty trick on me and I am going to pay you back."
"What are you going to do?"
"You'll see soon enough."
"I want you to open that door!" cried Dave, wheeling around and confronting Tom Shocker. "Open it at once!"
"This is none of my affair, Mr. Porter," answered the man, with a slight sneer. "You can settle it with Mr. Poole."
"I'll settle with you, you rascal!" cried Dave, and leaping forward he caught Tom Shocker by the shoulder and forced him aside. "Give me that key!"
"Don't you do it!" cried Nat. "Here, wait, I'll fix him! Hold him!"
Nat poured some of the stuff in the bottle on the cotton and advanced on Dave. At the same time Tom Shocker caught Dave by both arms and essayed to hold him.
Dave was strong, and a sudden fear gave him additional strength. He might have been a match for his two assailants, but for the stuff on the cotton. This was chloroform, and when Nat clapped the saturated cotton to his mouth and nose he was speedily rendered all but unconscious.
"Don't give him too much!" he heard Tom Shocker say.
"You watch him, while I tie his hands," answered Nat, and then Dave was forced back and onto the bed. He struggled weakly, but could not free himself, and before he realized it he was a close prisoner, with his hands tied fast to the head of the bed and his feet fast to the lower end. He was flat on his back.
"Now, you can stay there until somebody comes to release you," said Nat, mockingly. "I reckon that will teach you a lesson not to send me off on freight trains!"
"Nat, I've got to get back to Buffalo to catch my train for Chicago."
"Humph. Not to-night. You'll stay here."
"The others will worry about me."
"Let them worry. I'll be glad of it."
"Better destroy that note," suggested Tom Shocker. Then he noticed Dave's watch and chain, and valuable stickpin, and his eyes glistened. He began to wonder how much money the lad had in his pocket.
The note was taken by Nat. Then the money-lender's son took a soft pillow and placed it over Dave's face.
"That will keep you from calling too loudly," he said. "I guess it won't hurt your breathing though. Come," he added to the man. "Let us get out of here, before somebody comes."
"All right," answered Tom Shocker. He gazed wistfully at Dave's watchchain and at the stickpin. "I—er—all right," he added, and followed Nat to the door.
The pair walked outside and the man locked the door. Then both hurried below and out of the side door to the street. They went as far as the corner.
"Let us make for the depot," said Nat, who was plainly nervous. Now that the trick had been played he was becoming alarmed over the possible consequences. "You don't think he'll smother?" he asked, anxiously.
"Smother? Not a bit of it," answered Tom Shocker. "He'll be out of that room inside of an hour. He wasn't tied very hard, and he's sure to make a racket sooner or later."
Tom Shocker went with Nat a distance of two blocks more and then came to a sudden halt.
"By jove, I forgot!" he cried. "I must see my old friend, Dickson, before I leave town. It won't take me but a few minutes. You go to the depot and wait for me." And before the money-lender's son could reply, he was off, down another side street.
Tom Shocker was well acquainted with the thoroughfares of Niagara Falls and it did not take him long to double on his tracks and return to Fargo's resort. He mounted the stairs, pulling his hat far down over his forehead as he did so. Then he tied his handkerchief over the lower portion of his face. He had the key of the room still in his possession, and with it he unlocked the door.
The light was still burning, and on the bed he could see Dave struggling to free himself of his bonds and of the pillow which still rested lightly over his head. Holding the pillow in place with one hand Shocker gained possession of the watch and chain and stickpin with the other. Then he took from Dave's pocket a small roll of bank-bills. He tried to appropriate the lad's ring, but could not get it off the finger.
Dave, finding himself being robbed, struggled harder than ever. But the bonds held and he was helpless to protect himself. In less than two minutes Tom Shocker accomplished his purpose, and then he glided out of the room silently, once more locking the door. Once on the street he set off on a brisk walk, but he did not go in the direction of the depot.
"I reckon I can afford to part company with Poole now," the man told himself. "Won't there be a row when that Porter gets free! But he can't blame me!" he added, with a chuckle.
Left once more to himself, Dave continued to struggle, and at last he managed to toss the pillow from his face. Then he breathed more freely, for which he was thankful.
"What a mean trick!" he murmured, as he saw that his watch was gone.
Presently he heard footsteps passing along the hallway, and he uttered a call. The footsteps came to a stop.
"Come in here, please!" he called. "I need help."
"What's up?" asked somebody outside, and then the door was tried. Soon a key was inserted in the lock, the door was opened, and a chambermaid showed herself.
"Untie me at once!" cried Dave.
The maid turned up the gas and then uttered a cry of astonishment. Without waiting to question the youth she flew out of the room and down the stairs, to return, a few minutes later, with a burly man.
"What's this mean?" asked the man, as he commenced to untie the ropes that held Dave.
"It's a trick that was played on me," answered Dave, thinking rapidly. He was on the point of stating that he had been robbed, but he did not wish to create too much of a scene. He felt sure that Nat would, sooner or later, return his belongings to him.
"A trick, eh?" said the hotel proprietor. "Certainly a queer one. Where are the fellows who hired this room?"
"I don't know. They tied me fast and left."
"Did you know them?"
"I knew one of them—he goes to boarding school with me."
"Oh, I see, a schoolboy's trick, eh? You schoolboys are up to all sorts of pranks."
"You don't know where they went to, do you?" questioned Dave, as he leaped up from the bed and stretched himself.
"No, I haven't the least idea. They hired this room for to-night, that's all."
"I think I'll try to catch them," said the youth. "Much obliged for setting me free."
"You are welcome. But say, I don't want any more skylarking around here," added the proprietor of the resort, as Dave hurried out of the room and down the stairs.
He had found his hat on the floor, and, after brushing up a little, he started on a brisk walk for the hotel where the others were to have dinner. He did not, of course, know the way, and so hired a newsboy for a dime to act as guide.
"Dave! you have been away a long time!" cried Laura, as he appeared. "We have almost finished eating."
"Never mind, I can get all I wish in a few minutes," he answered.
"Why, your stickpin is gone!" cried Jessie. "And your watchchain, too."
"Dave, have you been robbed?" questioned his uncle, quickly.
"Yes and no," he answered, with a grim smile. "I suppose I might as well tell you what happened," he continued, and then gave a few of the details. Then he had to tell his uncle how Nat had been put aboard the freight car.
"Well, it's a case of tit for tat, I suppose," said Dunston Porter. "You can thank your stars that you got away so quickly. A little later and you would have missed the train,—and we would have missed it, too—for I should not have gone on without you."
"I suppose Nat thinks he has the laugh on you," said Roger. "But what of your watch and pin and money? Are you going West without them?"
"I suppose I'll have to. But I'll make him give them up in short order. I'll send him a telegram."
"Tell him if he doesn't send them on by express at once that you will put the case in the hands of the law," said Phil. "That will scare him."
Dave was quickly served with a meal, and he lost no time in eating what he wanted. Then the entire party walked toward the railroad station, to catch the train for Buffalo.
"I was a chump to follow that man up into that room," said Dave to his chums. "Next time I'll be more on my guard. But I thought Mr. Dale must be in some dire trouble."
"It was a nervy thing to do—to forge his name," was the comment of the senator's son. "It's a pity you didn't keep the note."
"I couldn't. After I was tied up they had me at their mercy."
"Who was the man?"
"I don't know. I never saw him before."
"He must have been some friend of Nat's."
"I suppose so."
Arriving at the station, they found they had several minutes to wait. When the train rolled in all got on board but Roger, who was buying a late newspaper from a boy on the platform.
"Hurry up, or you'll get left!" cried Dave.
"I'll get on the car behind!" cried the senator's son, and did so. He did not rejoin his companions until the train was on its way towards Buffalo.
"What do you think!" he cried. "Nat Poole is on board!"
"Nat!" ejaculated Dave. "Is that man with him?"
"No, Nat seems to be alone."
"Did he see you?"
"I don't think so. He was crouched down in a seat, as if in deep thought."
"I'll interview him," said Dave, and left the car, followed by Phil, Roger, and his uncle.
"Don't quarrel on the train," cautioned Dunston Porter. "But insist upon it that Nat return your belongings."
Roger readily led the way to where the son of the Crumville money-lender sat, crouched down, and with his eyes partly closed. When touched on the shoulder Nat sat up, and a look of fright came into his face.
"Why—er—why——" he stammered and was unable to proceed.
"Didn't expect to see me quite so soon, did you?" returned Dave, pleasantly, and dropped into the seat beside him. "Nat, if it's all the same to you, I'll take my watch, my stickpin, and my money," he added, coldly.
"Your what?" exclaimed Nat. Then he stared blankly at Dave. "I—er—I don't understand you."
"Yes, you do. I want my things, and I want them at once!"
"I haven't got your things, and you needn't say I have!" retorted the money-lender's son. "Oh, I see how it is," he added, struck by a sudden thought. "You want to play another joke on me, don't you? Well, it won't work this time. I didn't touch your things, and you know it."
THE YOUTH IN THE BALCONY
For a moment Dave stared at Nat Poole in perplexity. He saw that the money-lender's son was in earnest. Like a flash he realized that something was wrong.
"See here, I want no more fooling, Nat," he said, sharply. "My watch and chain, my scarfpin, and thirty-three dollars in bills were taken from me, either by you or your companion. I want them back, and now!"
"Dave, you—er—you don't mean that you—you were—robbed?" Nat could hardly utter the words. His teeth were fairly chattering with sudden fright.
"I certainly was, if you want to call it by such an ugly name."
"But I didn't touch the things, you know I didn't!"
"Then your companion did."
"No, he didn't, he came away with me, you know that. All we did was to tie you fast and throw that pillow over your face. Then we came away and locked the door. It was only a bit of fun, to pay you back for putting me on the freight car."
"One of you came back and took the things. I couldn't see who it was, for the pillow was still over my head."
"I didn't come back—I give you my word of honor. Shocker must have done it! Oh, the rascal!" And now Nat's face showed his concern.
"Who was that man?" asked the senator's son.
"A fellow I met in Crumville a few days ago. He appeared to be straight enough." And then Nat told his story from beginning to end. He said that he had hung around the depot waiting for Tom Shocker to come, but that the fellow had failed to show himself.
"It's as plain as day," said Phil. "If Nat's story is true, this Shocker went back and robbed Dave."
"Yes, but if he did, Nat is partly responsible, for he left me tied up," said Dave.
"Of course he is responsible," came from Roger.
"I don't see how," grumbled the money-lender's son, but his uneasiness showed that he thought as did the others.
"You'll see how, if that Shocker doesn't show up with my things," said Dave, sternly. "I'll hold you and your father responsible for every dollar's worth."
This threat almost caused Nat to collapse, and he felt even worse when Dave added that the scarfpin and the watch and chain were worth about one hundred dollars.
"I'm going to hunt up Shocker's address as soon as I get home," said Nat. "I'll run him down, see if I don't—and I'll make him give the things up, too!"
"Well, I'll give you a fair amount of time," answered Dave. "After that I'll look to you and your father to make good."
Fortunately for Dave, he could easily get along without the watch and the scarfpin, and his uncle let him have some money in place of that taken. But Mr. Porter told Nat that his father would have to settle the matter if Tom Shocker was not brought to book.
At Buffalo the others separated from Nat Poole, who said he was going to take the early morning train home. Nat felt very bad over the outcome of his joke, and to a certain extent Dave and his chums felt sorry for him.
"I was a big fool to take up with a stranger like Shocker," said the money-lender's son. "You'll not catch me doing it again! I only hope I can lay my hands on him!" Then, just as he was about to leave, he turned back and beckoned Dave to step to one side.
"What do you want now?" asked Dave.
"I want to show you that I—er—that is, I am not the enemy you think, Dave," was the low answer. "I am going to give you a warning. I wasn't going to say anything, at first. It's about a letter I got from Link Merwell."
"Merwell?" And now Dave was all attention.
"Yes, he sent it to me from Chicago, where he is stopping on his way to his father's ranch. He said he had heard that you were going to the Endicott ranch, and he added that if you came out West he would see to it that you got all that was coming to you—those are his very words."
"When did you get this letter?"
"A couple of days ago. Take my advice and beware of him, for he means business. When he left Oak Hall he was the maddest boy I ever saw. He will do something awful to you if he gets the chance."
"I'll be on my guard—and I am much obliged for telling me," said Dave; and then he and Nat separated, not to meet again for many weeks.
The train for Chicago was already standing in the station, and the Porters and their friends were soon on board. The two girls had a private compartment and the others several sections, and all proceeded to make themselves at home.
"I never get into a sleeping car without thinking of old Billy Dill, the sailor who went with me to the South Seas," said Dave to Laura and Jessie. "He thought we'd have to sleep in the seats, and when the porter came and made up the berths he was the most surprised man you ever saw."
"And where is he now?" asked Jessie.
"In a home for aged sailors. Father and Uncle Dunston have seen to it that he is comfortably cared for."
"I must visit him some day," said Laura. "Just think! if it hadn't been for him we might never have met, Dave!" And she gave her brother a tight hug.
The train was a comfortable one, and all of the party slept well. When they arose, they found themselves crossing the level stretches of Indiana. The boys and Mr. Porter took a good wash-up and were presently joined on the observation end of the car by Laura and Jessie.
"What a beautiful morning!" cried Jessie.
"I feel just as if I'd like to get out and walk," added Laura, and this caused the others to laugh.
They had an appetizing breakfast of fruit, fish, eggs, and rolls, with coffee, and took their time over the repast. Then Dunston Porter pointed out to them various points of interest. Before long, they reached a small town and then came to the suburbs of the great city by the lakes.
"Here we are!" cried Roger, at last, as they ran into the immense train shed. Here all was bustle and seeming confusion, and they picked their way through the crowd with difficulty. The boys rather enjoyed this, but it made Laura and Jessie shrink back.
"Why, it's as bad as New York!" said Jessie.
"Almost," answered Dunston Porter. "Come, we'll soon find a couple of carriages to take us to the hotel."
That the girls and the others might see something of Chicago, it had been arranged to remain in that city two days. They were to stop at a new and elegant hotel on the lake shore, and thither they were driven with their baggage.
"It certainly is as bustling as New York," was Roger's comment, as they drove along. "Just look at the carriages, and autos, and trucks!"
"This afternoon we'll hire an automobile to take us around," said Dunston Porter. "It is the only way to see a good deal in a little time."
They were fortunate in getting good accommodations at the new hotel, and the boys and girls were struck by the elegance of the rooms, and, later, by the sumptuousness of the dining-hall.
"Why, it's fit for a palace!" declared Jessie.
"Beats the Crumville Hotel, doesn't it?" said Dave, dryly, and this caused the girls to giggle and the other boys to laugh.
An automobile was engaged at the stand in the hotel, and immediately after lunch the whole party went sightseeing, visiting the lake front, Lincoln Park, and numerous other points of interest. At the park they alighted to look at the animals, and this pleased the girls especially.
"To-morrow morning I'll have a little business to attend to," said Dunston Porter, "and I'll have to let you take care of yourselves for a few hours. I propose that you boys take the girls around to some of the big department stores."
"Oh, yes!" cried Laura, who had a woman's delight for finery. Jessie was also interested, for her opportunities for visiting big stores were rare.
Mr. Porter had already purchased tickets for one of the theaters, where they were playing a well-known and highly successful comedy drama, and this they attended that evening after dinner at the hotel. Their seats were on the right in the orchestra, so they had more or less of a chance to view the opposite side of the auditorium.
"They certainly have a full house," said Roger, who sat on one side of Dave, while Jessie sat on the other. "I believe every seat is taken."
"That shows that a good drama pays," answered Dave. "This is clean as well as interesting." His eyes were roving over the sea of faces, upstairs and down. "I wonder how many a theater like this can hold?"
"Two thousand, perhaps."
"It certainly looks it, Roger. That gallery—Well, I declare!"
"What is it?" asked the senator's son.
"Do you see that fellow in the front row in the balcony? The one next to the aisle?"
"Yes. What of him?"
"Looks to me like Link Merwell."
"Oh, Dave, you must be mistaken."
"I don't think so. It looks like Merwell, and Nat Poole said he was in Chicago."
"So he did. Now you speak of it, he does look like Merwell. Wish we had an opera glass, we might make sure."
"I'll see if we can't borrow a glass," said Dave.
He looked around and saw that a lady directly in front of Jessie had a pair of glasses in her lap. He spoke to Jessie, and the girl asked the lady to lend her the glasses for a minute, and the favor was readily granted, for it was between the acts, and there was nothing on the stage to look at. Dave adjusted the glasses and turned them on the balcony.
"It's Merwell, right enough," he announced.
"Let me see," said the senator's son, and took the glasses from Dave. As he pointed them at the youth in the balcony, the latter looked down on Roger and those with him. He gave a start and then leaned forward.
"It's Merwell, and he sees us!" cried Roger.
"What's up?" asked Phil, who was some seats away.
"Link Merwell,—up in the balcony," answered Dave, and pointed with his finger. Phil turned in the direction, and as he did so, Link Merwell doubled up his fist and raised it in the air for an instant.
"Merwell, sure as you're born," said the shipowner's son. "And full of fight!"
"Oh, Dave, you mustn't quarrel here!" whispered Laura, who sat on the other side of Roger.
"We'll not quarrel here," answered her brother. "But I am glad I saw him," he added to his chums. "Now we can keep on our guard."
The play went on, and, for the time being, the boys and the girls paid no further attention to Link Merwell. Just as the final curtain was being lowered, Dave looked up toward the balcony.
"He has gone," he announced.
"Perhaps he was afraid we'd come after him," suggested Phil.
"Maybe he came downstairs to watch for us," added Roger. "Keep your eyes open when we go out."
They did as the senator's son suggested. They saw nothing of Merwell in the foyer, but came face to face with the former student of Oak Hall on the sidewalk. He glared at them, but then seeing Dunston Porter at Dave's side, slunk behind some other people, and disappeared from view.
"My, what an ugly look!" said Laura, with a shiver.
"He looked as if he wanted to eat somebody up," was Jessie's comment. "Oh, Dave, you must be careful!"
"I wish his father's ranch wasn't so close to Mr. Endicott's," continued Dave's sister. "I declare, the more I think of it, the more nervous it makes me!"
"Don't you worry, Laura, or you either, Jessie," answered Dave. "We'll take care of Link Merwell. If he tries any of his games, he'll get the worst of it—just as he got the worst of it at Oak Hall."
But though Dave spoke thus bravely, he was much disturbed himself. He could read human nature pretty closely, and that look in Merwell's face had showed him that the fellow meant to do harm at the first opportunity that was afforded.
ONLY A STREET WAIF
In the morning Dunston Porter left the hotel early, stating that he would not return until lunch time. The boys and girls took their time over their breakfast, and then started out for a tour of the big stores located on State Street.
Two hours were spent in a way that pleased Laura and Jessie greatly. The girls purchased several things, to be mailed to the folks left behind. Then all walked around to the post-office, both to see the building and to send the things away.
It was while the others were addressing their packages and also some picture postcards, that Dave saw a sight that interested him greatly. Near one of the doorways was a small and ragged newsboy with half a dozen papers under his arm. An older youth had him by the shoulder and was shaking him viciously.
"I say it was a five-dollar gold piece I gave you yesterday by mistake!" the older boy was saying. "I want it back."
"No, it wasn't, mister," the boy answered. "It was a cent, nothing but a cent."
"I know better, you little thief! Give me that gold piece, or I'll call a policeman." And again the big youth shook the ragged newsboy, causing the papers to fall to the sidewalk.
"Why, it's Link Merwell!" murmured Dave to himself, and he stepped in the direction of the pair who were disputing. Merwell had his back to Dave and did not see him.
"Are you going to give me my gold piece or not?" demanded Link Merwell, and now he gave the newsboy such a twist of the shoulder that the ragged lad cried out with pain.
"I don't know anything about your gold piece!" cried the boy for at least the tenth time. "Let me go, please, mister! I ain't no thief!"
"I'll twist your little neck off for you!" muttered Merwell, and was on the point of hitting the boy in the face when Dave stepped up behind him and caught his arm.
"Don't you know better than to hit a little chap like this, Merwell?" he demanded.
"Porter!" muttered the western youth, and his face took on a sour look. "Say, this ain't none of your affair!" he burst out. "You keep your hands off."
"Please don't let him hurt me!" pleaded the ragged newsboy. "I didn't do wrong, mister. I ain't seen no gold piece. He gave me a cent yesterday for a newspaper, that's all." And the boy looked imploringly at Dave.
"He's got a five-dollar gold piece of mine," cried Link Merwell. "I want it. And what's more, Dave Porter, I want you to keep your nose out of my business!" he added, fiercely.
"Merwell," answered Dave, as calmly as he could, "I have no desire to interfere in your business. But I am not going to stand by and see you abuse this boy, or anybody else. I know just the sort you are—a bully."
"Bah! Just because you had me expelled from Oak Hall you think you can do anything, don't you? Well, just wait till you get out West, that's all! I'll show you a thing or two you won't forget as long as you live!"
"Take care that you don't get the worst of it, Merwell. Now let that boy go." And Dave came a step closer and clenched his fists.
"Going to help the rascal steal five dollars from me?"
"He says he knows nothing of your gold piece and he looks honest to me. Why aren't you more careful of your money?"
"He's got my gold piece and I know it!" declared Link Merwell, loudly. "If he don't pass it over, I'm going to have him arrested."
Quite a war of words followed, the loud talking attracting a crowd, including Phil and Roger and the girls. The ragged newsboy broke down completely and commenced to cry bitterly.
"This is a shame, Merwell," said the senator's son. "I think as Dave does, that the newsboy is honest. If you are so hard up, I'll give you five dollars out of my own pocket," and he produced a roll of bills.
"I don't want your money, Morr!" answered Merwell, in a rage. "I am going to make this boy give me back my gold piece."
"Say, you," said a man who had listened to the talk for several minutes. "When did you lose that five-dollar gold piece?"
"Yesterday morning," answered Link Merwell. "I bought a newspaper from this boy and after a while I found out I had given him a five-dollar piece in place of a cent."
"Did you buy any postage stamps about the same time?" went on the man.
"Why—er—yes, I did." Link Merwell gave a start. "Say, did——"
"You did," answered the man, with a sarcastic grin. "I'm the clerk at that window and I'm just going to lunch," he explained to the crowd. "You bought five two-cent stamps and threw down a nickel and what I supposed were five pennies. When I looked at them I saw one was a five-dollar gold piece. I tried to call you back, but you got out in such a hurry I couldn't locate you. If you'll come back with me I'll give you the gold piece in exchange for one cent."
"There you are, Merwell!" cried Dave. "Now you can see how you were mistaken in this boy."
Link Merwell's face was a study. He felt his humiliation keenly, and it is safe to say he would rather have lost his five dollars than have been shown up in the wrong.