Dave Porter on Cave Island: or, A Schoolboy's Mysterious Mission
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“I hope to bring you at least a brace of rabbits or squirrels, Doctor.”
“Well, I wish you luck. And don’t stay too late,” returned the head of the school, and then with a pleasant nod he dismissed them.
Dave, Roger, and Phil were the first at the place of meeting, but they were quickly joined by all the others except Ben.
“I’ll tell you what, Phil,” said the senator’s son, when he had a chance to talk to Phil alone. “Something is wrong with Dave. He isn’t himself at all. Can’t you see it?”
“Of course I can, Roger,” was the reply of the shipowner’s son. “If I get a chance to speak to him about it, I am going to do so. But I’ve got to be careful – I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“When you do speak, give me the sign, so I can hear what he has to say, too,” went on Roger, and to this Phil agreed. Then came the start up the river, and a little later Phil broached the subject, and Dave made the dismaying announcement that Jasniff and Merwell were doing their best to bring disgrace to himself and his family and ruin them.
CHAPTER III – WHAT DAVE HAD TO TELL
“It’s rather a long story, and I scarcely know how to begin,” said Dave, after he, Phil, and Roger had skated ahead and to the right, where the others were not likely to overhear the conversation. “But, to begin with, Jasniff and Merwell have been to Crumville since they left here in such a hurry, and – I have some reason to believe – they have been here in town, too.”
“Here!” cried the shipowner’s son.
“Why didn’t you tell us of this before?” asked Roger.
“I didn’t know of it until lately, and I didn’t want to worry you over my private affairs.”
“But what have they done?” demanded Phil, impatiently.
“As I said before, Phil, I hardly know how to begin to tell you. But to plunge right in. In the first place, when they were in Crumville they followed my sister Laura and Jessie Wadsworth to a concert by a college glee club. They forced their attentions on the two girls, and gave outsiders an impression that they had come as escorts. The girls were so upset over it that Laura wrote me that Jessie was actually sick. Two days after that, when the girls were out walking one evening, Jasniff and Merwell followed them, and right on the main street, near the post-office, they came up and commenced to talk and Merwell said to Laura, loud enough for half a dozen folks to hear: ’You’ve got to keep your word – you can’t go back on us like that.’ And Jasniff added: ‘Yes, you girls were glad enough to let us give you a good time before, down at the Rainbow.’ The Rainbow is a ten-cent moving-picture place, and a low one at that. Of course there wasn’t a word of truth in it, but Merwell and Jasniff gave folks the impression that Laura and Jessie had been going out with them, and you know how such reports spread in a small town like Crumville.”
“The hounds!” exclaimed the senator’s son, wrathfully. “They should have been run out of town!”
“Why didn’t the girls tell your folks?” asked Phil.
“They did, as soon as they got home, and my father, Uncle Dunston, and Mr.Wadsworth went out to look for Merwell and Jasniff, but they were not to be found. But that was only the beginning. The next day an old lady came to the house with a letter she had picked up in the post-office. It was addressed to Link Merwell and had my sister’s name signed to it, and stated that she was sorry they had quarreled and wouldn’t he please forgive her and take her to the dance as promised? Of course the whole thing was a forgery, and it was dropped in the post-office just to make talk. I suppose Merwell thought some chatterbox would pick it up and spread the news.”
“But what is his game?” queried the shipowner’s son. “I don’t see how he is going to gain anything by such actions.”
“He wants to ruin our reputations, just as he and Jasniff have ruined their own. But I haven’t told you all yet. A day later my father heard of another letter being found, in which Laura and Jessie promised to go off on a joy-ride in an auto with Merwell and Jasniff. Then Merwell and Jasniff appeared in Crumville with a stunning touring car, and they had two girls with them, loudly dressed and heavily veiled, and the whole four tooted horns, and sang, and behaved in anything but a becoming fashion. A good many folks thought the veiled girls must be Laura and Jessie, and you can imagine how my sister and her friend felt when they heard of it.”
“Those chaps ought to be arrested,” murmured Phil.
“And tarred and feathered,” added the senator’s son.
“After that, my father and Mr. Wadsworth got after them so sharply that they left Crumville. That was only a few days ago. The very next day came a lot of goods to the house, delivered by a large city department store. The folks hadn’t ordered the goods and didn’t know what to make of it. They investigated, and learned that a young woman calling herself Laura Porter had selected the things and had them sent out. Then came other goods for Mr. Wadsworth, said to have been bought by Jessie. It was an awful mix-up, and it hasn’t been straightened out yet.”
“It’s the limit!” muttered the senator’s son. “I’ll wager your dad and Mr. Wadsworth would like to wring those chaps’ necks!”
“Wait, you haven’t heard it all yet,” went on Dave, with a sickly smile. “Yesterday I received a notice from the express company here to call for a package on which eighteen dollars was due. I was expecting some things that I am going to take home for Christmas presents, although they were to come to fifteen dollars and a half. I paid for the package, thinking I had made a mistake in footing up my purchases, and when I got it home I found out it wasn’t what I had bought at all, but a lot of junk nobody can use. Then my own package came in by the next express, and, of course, I had to pay again. I sent a telegram to the city about the first package and they answered that David Porter had purchased the same and had it sent C. O. D. Then two other packages came, one calling for six dollars and the other for twenty-four dollars. But I refused to have anything to do with them, and said I could easily prove that I hadn’t been to the city to order them. But it is going to cause a lot of trouble.”
“I believe you,” returned the senator’s son.
“Anything more, Dave?” queried Phil.
“Yes. Last night, if you will remember, an old man came to see me. He said that two young men had sent him to me, saying that we wanted a man in Crumville to take care of a certain young lady who was slightly out of her mind. He said he had once worked in an asylum and knew he could give satisfaction, even if he was getting old. It was another of Merwell and Jasniff’s mean tricks, and I had quite a time explaining to the old man and getting him to go away. He said he had spent two dollars and a quarter in car-fare to come to see me, and I felt so sorry for him that I gave him five dollars to help him along.”
“Dave, where is this going to end?” cried Roger.
“That is just what I want to know,” returned Dave. “Perhaps by the time we get back to Oak Hall there will be more packages waiting for me – or potatoes, or a horse, or something like that.”
“You could have Merwell and Jasniff arrested for this,” was Phil’s comment.
“Yes, if I could catch them. But they know enough to keep shady. But that isn’t all. Yesterday I got a letter, or rather a note. It was postmarked from Rocky Run, about fifteen miles from here. Inside of the envelope was a card on which was written: ‘We’ll never let up until we have ruined you.’”
“Was it signed?” asked the senator’s son.
“Oh, no. But I am sure it came from Merwell and Jasniff.”
“They are certainly sore,” was Phil’s comment.
“Traveling around must cost them money. Where do they get the cash?” asked Roger.
“From Mr. Merwell most likely,” answered Dave. “He got a good price when he sold his ranch, and he seldom denies Link anything.”
“Have you any idea who the girls were who were in the auto in Crumville?”
“Not exactly, but I think they must have been some of the girls Nat Poole goes with. When Jasniff and Merwell were there with Nat, I saw the whole crowd out with some girls from the cotton mills. They were nice enough girls in their way, but they were very boisterous and not the kind Laura and Jessie care to pick for company. I suppose those girls played their part thinking it was nothing but a good joke. One had a hat on with feathers such as Jessie wears and the other wore a coat and veil like Laura’s. I guess a good many who saw them riding in the auto and cutting up like wild Indians thought they were Laura and Jessie.” And Dave heaved a deep sigh.
“And what are you going to do, Dave?” asked Phil, after a short silence, during which the three chums continued to skate in advance of their friends.
“What can I do? We are trying to locate the rascals, and when we do we’ll make them stop. But in the meantime – ”
“They may cause you no end of trouble,” finished the senator’s son.
“I don’t care so much for myself as I do for Laura and Jessie, and for Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth. I hate to see them suffer because of my trouble with those rascals. I don’t see why Merwell and Jasniff can’t fight it out with me alone.”
“You forget one thing, Dave,” returned Phil. “Merwell was once sweet on your sister. I suppose it made him furious to be turned down by her.”
“Well, then, why does he annoy Jessie? She never harmed him, or Jasniff either.”
“Huh! As if you didn’t know why!” replied Roger, with something like a chuckle. “Don’t they both know that Jessie is the very apple of your eye, and that anything that brings trouble to her will cut you to the heart? Of course they know that, Dave, and you can rest assured that they will try to hurt you quite as much through Jessie as they’ll try to hurt you direct.”
“Perhaps, Roger. If I was sure – ”
“Low bridge!” shouted Phil at that instant, as a bend of the river was gained, and then the whole crowd of students swept under the lowhanging branches of a number of trees. Those ahead had to go slowly and pick the way with care.
“How much farther have we to go?” called out Sam Day.
“Only a couple of miles,” replied Dave. He turned to Phil and Roger. “That’s about all,” he whispered. “Keep it to yourselves.”
“We will,” they replied.
“Somebody else going to carry this hamper?” cried Chip Macklin. “It’s getting rather heavy.”
“I’ll carry one end,” said Ben Basswood.
“And I’ll take the other,” added Phil. “Dave, you and Roger go ahead and bring down a couple of deer, and a bear, and one or two tigers, or something like that,” he continued, with a grin, for he wanted to get Dave’s mind off of his troubles.
“Nothing but an elephant for mine,” answered Dave, with a forced laugh. “I don’t want to waste my powder.”
“As the society belle said when she left the mark of her cheek on the gent’s shoulder,” remarked Buster Beggs, the fat lad of the group.
“Say, that puts me in mind of another story,” came from Shadow. “Once on a time a Dutchman heard that a certain lady was a society belle. He wanted to tell his friend about it, but he couldn’t think of the right word. ‘Ach, she is von great lady,’ he said. ‘She is a society ding-dong!’”
“There’s a ringer for Shadow!”
“Shadow, you want to frame that joke and hang it in the woodshed.”
“Put it down in moth-balls until next summer, Shadow.”
“Oh, say, speaking about moth-balls puts me in mind of another story. A man – ”
“Was it a young man, Shadow?” asked Dave, calmly.
“Maybe it was a very old man,” suggested Phil.
“Was he clean-shaven or did he have a beard?” queried Roger.
“Never mind if he was young or old, or clean-shaven or not,” cried the story-teller. “This man – ”
“Was he an American or a foreigner?” demanded Gus Plum. “That is something we have simply got to know.”
“And if he was knock-kneed,” put in Sam. “I hate love stories about knock-kneed men. They aren’t a bit romantic.”
“Who said anything about a love story about a knock-kneed man?” burst out Shadow. “I said – ”
But what Shadow was going to say was drowned out in the sudden report of a shotgun, – a report so close at hand that it made nearly every student present stop in alarm.
CHAPTER IV – THE SCHOOLBOY HUNTERS
“Dave, what did you shoot at?”
It was Phil who asked the question, for he had been the only one to see Dave raise his shotgun, take quick aim, and fire into the brushwood lining the river at that point.
“I shot at a rabbit, and I think I hit him,” was the reply. “I’ll soon know.” And Dave skated toward the shore, less than twenty yards away. He poked into the bushes with the barrel of his gun and soon brought forth a fat, white rabbit which he held up with satisfaction.
“Hurrah!” cried the senator’s son. “First prize goes to Dave! He’s a fine one, too,” he added, as the students gathered around to inspect the game.
“Thought you said you wouldn’t shoot anything less than an elephant,” grunted Buster.
“The elephant will come later,” answered Dave, with a smile.
“I’d like to get a couple like that,” said Gus Plum, wistfully.
“Maybe that will be the total for the day,” was Sam’s comment. He had gone wild-turkey shooting once and gotten a shot at the start and then nothing more, so he was inclined to be skeptical.
“Oh, we’ll get more, if we are careful and keep our eyes open,” declared Dave. “I saw the track of the rabbit in the snow yonder and that made me look for him.”
Dave’s success put all the students on the alert, and they spread out on either side of the stream, eager to sight more game.
Less than two minutes later came the crack of Gus Plum’s shotgun, followed almost immediately by a shot from Buster Beggs’ pistol. Then a gray rabbit went scampering across the river in front of the boys and several fired simultaneously.
“I got him! I got him!” shouted Gus, and ran to the shore, to bring out a medium-sized rabbit.
“And we’ve got another!” cried Sam. “But I don’t know whether Shadow, Ben, or I killed him.”
“I guess we all had a hand in it,” said Ben. “We all fired at about the same time.”
“What did you get, Buster?” questioned Chip Macklin.
“I – I guess I didn’t get anything,” faltered the fat youth. “I thought I saw a squirrel, but I see now that it is only a tree root sticking out of the snow.”
“Great Scott, Buster! Don’t shoot down the trees!” cried Phil, in mock dismay. “They might fall on us, you know!” And a laugh arose at the would-be hunter’s expense.
On the students skated, and before long reached a point where the river was parted by a long, narrow strip of land known as Squirrel Island, because squirrels were supposed to abound there.
As they reached the lower end of the island Dave held up his hand as a warning.
“I think I saw some partridges ahead,” he said, in a low voice. “If they are there we don’t want to disturb them. Put down the hamper and take off your skates, and we’ll try to bag them.”
His chums were not slow in complying with his commands, and soon the crowd was making its way toward the center of the island, where grew a dense clump of cedars. They had to work their way through the brushwood.
“Ouch!” exclaimed Shadow, presently.
“What’s the trouble?” whispered Roger.
“Scratched my hand on a bramble bush,” was the reply. “But it isn’t much.”
“Be careful of your guns,” cautioned Dave. “Don’t let a trigger get caught in a bush or you may have an accident.”
“There they are!” cried Ben, in a strained voice. “My, what a lot of ’em!”
He pointed ahead, and to one side of the tall cedars they saw a covey of partridges, at least twenty in number, resting on the ground.
“All together!” said Dave, in a low, steady voice. “Fire as you stand, those on the right to the right, those on the left to the left, and those in the center for the middle of the flock. I’ll count. Ready? One, two, three!”
Crack! bang! crack! bang! went the shotguns and pistols. Then came a rushing, rattling, roaring sound, and up into the air went what was left of the covey, one partridge, being badly wounded, flying in a circle and then directly for Roger’s head. He struck it with his gun barrel and then caught it in his hands, quickly putting it out of its misery. The other boys continued to bang away, but soon the escaping game was beyond their reach.
“A pretty good haul!” cried Dave, as he and his chums moved forward. “Three here and the one Roger has makes four. Boys, we won’t go back empty-handed.”
“Who hit and who missed?” questioned Sam.
“That would be a hard question to answer,” returned Phil. “Better let the credit go to the whole crowd,” and so it was decided.
“Well, there isn’t much use in looking for any more game around here,” said Dave. “Those volleys of shots will make them lay low for some time.”
“Let’s go into camp and get lunch,” suggested Buster. “I’m as hungry as a bear.”
“Were you ever anything else?” questioned Ben, with a grin, for the stout youth’s constant desire to eat was well known.
They tramped to the south shore of the island, and there, in a nook that was sheltered from the north wind, they went into temporary camp, cutting down some brushwood and heavier fuel and building a fire. Over the flames they arranged a stick, from which they hung a kettle filled with water obtained by chopping a hole through the ice of the river.
“Now, when the water boils, we can have some coffee,” said Roger, who was getting out the tin cups. “And we can roast those potatoes while the water boils,” he added.
“What about some rabbit pot-pie, or roast partridge?” asked Buster.
“Oh, let us take all the game back to the school!” exclaimed Ben. “Just to show the fellows what we got, you know.”
“That’s the talk!” cried Gus. “If we don’t, maybe they won’t believe we were so lucky.”
“Yes, let us take it all back,” chimed in Chip Macklin.
All but Buster were willing to keep the game. He heaved a deep sigh.
“All right, if we must,” he said mournfully. “But it makes my mouth water, just the same!” And he eyed the plump rabbits and fat partridges wistfully.
Inside of half an hour the lunch was under way. Around the roaring campfire sat the students, some on convenient rocks and others on a fallen tree that chanced to be handy. They had brought with them several kinds of sandwiches, besides hard-boiled eggs, crackers, cheese, some cake, and the coffee, with a small bottle of cream and some sugar. They also had some potatoes for roasting, and though these got partly burned, all declared them “fine” or “elegant,” – which shows what outdoor air will do for one’s appetite.
They took their time, and during the meal Shadow was allowed to tell as many stories as he pleased, much to his satisfaction. It was Dave who was the first to get up.
“Might as well be moving,” he said, after consulting his watch. “We’ll have to start on the return inside of two hours, and that won’t give us much time for hunting.”
“Wait, I want just one more picture!” cried Sam, who had been busy before with his camera. “Now all look as happy as if to-morrow were Christmas!” And as the others grinned over the joke, click! went the shutter of the box, and the picture was snapped.
“Now, Sam, let me take you, with a gun in one hand and the partridges in the other!” cried Dave. “If it turns out well, we can have it enlarged for our dormitory.” And a minute later another picture was added to the roll of films.
“Why not leave the things here and come back for them?” suggested Roger. “No use in toting the hamper and game everywhere.”
“We can hang the game in a tree,” added Ben.
All agreed to this, and so the hamper and the game were hung up on the limbs of a near-by walnut tree along with their skates and some other things. Then the fire was kicked out, so that it might not start a conflagration in the woods, and the students prepared to continue their hunt.
“I guess we may as well tramp to the upper end of the island first,” said Dave, in answer to a question from his companions. “Then, if we have time, we can beat up one shore and then the other. By that time it will be getting dark and time to turn back to the Hall.”
“Say, wait a minute!” cried Ben, suddenly.
“What’s wrong, Ben?” asked several.
“Why, I – er – I thought I saw somebody over in the woods yonder, looking at us,” and the Crumville lad pointed to the trees in question. All gazed steadily in the direction but saw nothing unusual.
“Maybe it was a rabbit, or a bear, or something like that,” suggested Buster. “If it’s a bear we had better look out,” he added, nervously.
“We’ll soon find out,” said Dave. “Come on,” and he walked forward toward the woods. But he found nothing and soon rejoined his companions.
“I must have been mistaken,” said Ben. “Come on, if we are to do any hunting.” And off he stalked, and one by one the others followed.
Evidently the shots at the partridges had scared much of the game away, for at the upper end of the island they started up nothing but two squirrels and a few wild pigeons. Then they came down the north shore and there bagged two rabbits. They also saw a wild turkey, but it got away before anybody could take aim at it.
“See, it has started to snow!” cried the senator’s son, presently, and he was right. At first the flakes were few, but inside of five minutes it was snowing steadily.
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