Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter's Return to School. Winning the Medal of Honor



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It was a bright moonlight night when the three started and all were in the best of spirits. There were a few skaters out, mostly grown folk, so the way was by no means lonely. They had plenty of time, so did not hurry.

"We don't want to overheat ourselves," said Roger. "Perhaps the hall will be warm, and then we won't be able to stand it."

Arriving at Rockville Landing, they took off their skates and left them at one of the boathouses. Then they walked through the town, past the brightly lighted shops, and stopped at one place for some candy and glasses of hot chocolate.

"Well, I never!" cried Dave, suddenly, as they were leaving the shop.

"What's up?" queried Shadow.

"Did you know that Gus Plum was coming here?"

"I certainly did not," answered the senator's son. "Where is he?"

"I just saw him over there. He passed around that corner."

"Maybe you were mistaken in the person," ventured Shadow.

"I think not."

"He may have come over, – to go to the entertainment, just as we are doing."

"He doesn't care for music."

"I know that."

The three boys walked to the corner and looked down the side street. Nobody resembling the bully of Oak Hall was in sight.

Five minutes later found them at the place where the entertainment was to take place. Roger took his chums around to the stage door and in, and introduced Dave and Shadow to his friends, and then the students from Oak Hall went around to the front and secured seats near one of the boxes.

The programme was a light and varied one – such as are usually given by college glee clubs – and Dave and his chums enjoyed it thoroughly. One bass singer rendered a topical song, the glee club joining in the chorus. This was wildly applauded, and the singer had to give at least a dozen verses of the effusion.

"This is all right!" whispered Dave. "I wish our glee club could do as well."

"Maybe it will – when the boys are as old as these fellows," answered Shadow.

"These fellows are the best singers at the college," said Roger. "They can't get into the club unless they have first-class voices."

The concert came to an end about half-past ten o'clock, and Roger waited for a while, in order to talk to his friends again. Then he, Dave, and Shadow started on the return to Oak Hall.

Their course took them past the railroad station and a row of small dwellings. Just as they were between the station and the dwellings a light from a street lamp fell full upon two persons standing some distance away.

"Look! there is Gus Plum again!" cried Dave.

"Yes, and that is Nick Jasniff with him!" said the senator's son, in a tone of great surprise.

"Let us go over and make sure," suggested Shadow.

The three started across the street, and as they did so Plum and Jasniff moved away in the direction of one of the dwelling houses. Before they could be stopped they had mounted the porch, opened the door, and gone inside.

Those outside heard the door locked, and then all became quiet.

"Well, I never!" came from Dave. "This is certainly a mystery."

There was good cause for his words. The front of the dwelling was entirely dark and the lower windows had the solid wooden shutters tightly closed.

"Shall I ring the bell?" asked Roger, after a pause in perplexity.

"There is no bell to ring," answered Shadow.

"I wouldn't knock," advised Dave. "What's the use? We may only get into a row."

"The doctor ought to know that Jasniff is here," said Roger.

"We can tell him that, even if Plum won't," added Shadow. "I agree with Dave, it will do no good to knock."

"I'd like to know if they saw us," said Dave, as he and his chums continued on their way up the street.

"If they didn't it's queer why they should get out of sight in such a hurry," replied the senator's son.

"Perhaps Jasniff is going to get Plum to smooth matters over with the doctor," was Dave's comment. "He may be sick of staying away from the Hall."

"Dave, what are you going to do if he does come back?" asked Shadow, curiously.

"Do? Nothing."

"Aren't you afraid of him in the least?"

"Oh, I shall keep on my guard, for fear he may play me some foul trick."

"I'd rather he'd go away for good."

"So would I," added Shadow.

"Oh, I don't know. He may reform. If he wants to reform, I'd like to give him the chance."

"He'll never reform," said Roger, decidedly. "He is a bad egg through and through."

"Just what I think," said Shadow. "To my mind, he is much worse than Plum or Poole."

"Oh, I know that," returned Dave.

Arriving at the boathouse, they got out their skates and put them on. While they were doing this, two men, wrapped up in heavy overcoats, walked up over the ice and passed down the street in the direction from whence the students had come.

"There's the long and the short of it," said Roger, with a laugh. He had noticed that one man was unusually tall and the other unusually short.

"Well, men can't all be of a size," laughed Dave. "That little man had all he could do to keep up with the big fellow," he added.

The skate to the school was a fine one and they arrived at Oak Hall just as the silvery moon was sinking behind the distant hills. Swingly let them in, and inside of quarter of an hour the boys were in bed and in the land of dreams.

The next day was a busy one for Dave. He had some extra hard lessons, to which he applied himself with vigor. An examination was soon to take place and he was determined to come out at the top if it could possibly be accomplished.

"Gracious, I can't grind like that," said Roger, but half in admiration.

"Dave has his eye on that medal of honor," said Ben. "Well, it is certainly well worth working for."

The weather had changed and by noontime it was snowing furiously. Dave had not seen Gus Plum in the morning, but the bully was at the dinner table as usual. Shadow had reported seeing Nick Jasniff in Rockville to the doctor, but had given no particulars. Dr. Clay had said he would look into the matter, and sent Andrew Dale to Rockville for that purpose.

It was not until evening that the assistant teacher returned from the neighboring town. He had seen nothing of Nick Jasniff, although he had hunted thoroughly and even visited the house Shadow had mentioned.

"The house was locked up, and when I knocked on the door nobody came to answer my summons."

This was as much as Andrew Dale could tell concerning the missing student. But he brought other news, which was flying over the country-side like wildfire. During the night thieves had broken into the railroad station at Rockville, opened the old-fashioned safe, and stolen nearly three hundred dollars in money, some checks, and several bundles of railroad tickets.

CHAPTER XXVIII
AN ICE-BOAT RACE

"What do you think of that?" cried Roger, when the news was circulated among the boys.

"I think the deed was done by the same fellows who robbed Mrs. Fairchild and Mr. Lapham," said Ben. "The authorities are dead slow that they don't catch the rascals. They must certainly be hanging out somewhere in this district."

"Boys, I've got an idea!" cried Dave. "Mrs. Fairchild said the man she saw was rather tall. Don't you remember the tall man we saw last night?"

"To be sure, and the short fellow with him," exclaimed Roger. "They may be the very rascals!"

"Let us tell the doctor of this," said Shadow, and forthwith they went to Dr. Clay, who listened to their story with interest.

"I will notify the authorities," he said. "How did the men look in the face?"

"I didn't see their faces," answered Roger.

"One had a beard, I think," ventured Shadow.

"Both had reddish beards," answered Dave, "and they had reddish mustaches, too."

This was as much as the boys could tell. Later it was learned that the tall and the short man had been seen before and it was pretty clearly established that they had had something to do with all of the robberies throughout that district. But the men were missing, and what had become of them nobody could tell. The local papers came out with a full account of the robbery and not only mentioned the money that had been taken but also the names on the checks, and the lists of stolen railroad tickets. These accounts Dave and his chums read with interest.

"Say, I saw a funny thing just now," said Ben, coming to Dave and Sam Day a little later, while both were doing some sums in algebra. "I was in the library and so were a lot of fellows, including Plum and Poole. Plum has been on the sick list to-day and wasn't downstairs when the news came in about that Rockville affair. He took up one of the papers and began to read about the robbery, and all at once he staggered back. I thought he was fainting. He grabbed the paper with all his might and his eyes almost started out of his head. He would have gone over, only Poole caught him and led him to a chair. Then he said his head hurt him and he went to his dormitory."

"That was certainly queer," said Dave, thoughtfully.

"He acted just as if that news was some kind of a blow to him," went on Ben.

"I don't see how it could affect him," said Sam Day. "I guess it was just his sickness."

Sam did not know that Gus Plum had been seen in Rockville the night the robbery occurred, and Dave did not feel called upon to enlighten him. But Ben knew, and he and Dave walked away to talk the matter over, being joined a moment later by Roger and Shadow.

"Plum was certainly in Rockville," said Shadow, "but I don't see how that connects him with the robbery." He was voicing a thought that had come to the minds of all.

"I don't believe he was connected with it," said Dave. "It's an awful thing to think a fellow is a thief." He looked at Shadow, who understood him thoroughly, as my old readers will understand. "But – he was there with Jasniff," he added, slowly.

"Do you think Jasniff had anything to do with it, Dave?"

"I should hate to think any boy was a thief."

"I don't believe a fellow like Jasniff could open that safe," came from Roger. "Those robbers must have had regular burglars' tools."

"But what made Plum so afraid, or dumbstruck, or whatever you may call it?" asked Ben. "It was no small thing, I can tell you that."

"Perhaps he got scared, thinking he was at Rockville with Jasniff at the time of the robbery," answered Dave. "He knows Jasniff is a kind of outcast just now. Perhaps he himself suspects Jasniff."

The students speculated over the affair for some time. At first Dave thought it might be best to let Dr. Clay know, but finally concluded to keep quiet and see what the next few days would bring forth.

The bully of the school was certainly ill at ease that day and also the next. He missed nearly all his lessons and was sharply reprimanded by Job Haskers.

"I've got a headache," he said. "It has ached for several days. I wish you would excuse me." And this getting to the ears of the doctor, he was told to take some headache tablets and retire.

Some of the students who were of a mechanical mind had built themselves ice-boats and these were now being used on the river whenever the opportunity afforded. Messmer and Henshaw had a boat, and one afternoon after school they asked Roger and Dave to go for a sail down the river. Ice-boating was something of a novelty to Dave, and he accepted the invitation gladly and so did the senator's son.

The ice-boat built by Messmer and Henshaw was about twenty feet long, with a single sail, and was named the Snowbird. It was by no means a handsome craft, not being painted, but under favorable conditions developed good speed, and that was all the builders wanted.

"We didn't build her for beauty, we built her for service," Henshaw explained.

"Well, as long as she'll go that's all we want," answered Roger. "I shouldn't give a cent for a boat that was good-looking and couldn't get over the ground."

"Did you ever see a boat get over the ground, Roger?" asked Dave, quizzically.

"Well – er – not exactly, but you know what I mean, Dave."

"So I do, and I agree with you."

The start of the trip was made in fine shape, and for a little while they sailed along in company with two other ice-boats belonging to other students. But then the others turned back, and the Snowbird continued on the course alone.

"This is certainly grand!" cried Dave, enthusiastically. He was sitting at the bow, holding fast with one hand and holding on his cap with the other. "My! but we are rushing along."

"It's just the right kind of a breeze," said Henshaw.

"Beats skating, doesn't it?" came from Roger. "We must be making about a mile a minute!"

"We won't dare to go too far," said Messmer. "Remember, we've got to get back, and that will take longer."

"Maybe the wind will change."

"No such luck, I am afraid."

On they went, the runners of the Snowbird making a sharp skir-r-r on the smooth ice. They were passing an island and as they reached the end they came in sight of another ice-boat, carrying a number of boys in military uniform.

"Hello! there is an ice-boat from Rockville Military Academy!" exclaimed Dave. "That's a pretty good-looking craft." This was a deserved compliment, for the ice-boat was gayly painted and decorated with a small flag.

"Hello!" yelled one of the Rockville students, as the other craft came closer. "Where did you borrow that old tub?"

"From the fellow who swapped it for that barn-door you're riding on," retorted Dave, quickly.

"I'll give you ten cents for it," went on another Rockville cadet.

"Thanks, but we don't want to rob you," answered Roger, merrily.

"Maybe you think you can beat us," said Henshaw, who had been eying the other ice-boat critically.

"We don't think so – we know it," was the quick rejoinder.

"Come ahead then, and prove it," exclaimed Messmer.

In a moment more the race was on. There was a straight course of two miles ahead and over this the rival ice-boats flew, at first side by side. Then an extra puff of wind took the Rockville craft ahead.

"What did I tell you!" cried one of the cadets. "You're too slow for us. Good-by!"

"You're not leaving us yet," answered Henshaw, who was steering, and he threw the Snowbird over a bit from the shore. The wind was coming over the top of a hill and now both craft got the full benefit of it. On they rushed, with Rockville slightly ahead. Then, slowly but surely, the Oak Hall boat began to crawl up.

"We are gaining!" cried Dave.

"Oh, if I only had a bellows, to help make wind!" sighed the senator's son.

They had still half a mile to go when of a sudden the Snowbird shot ahead. Those on the Rockville craft were amazed and their faces fell.

"Here is where we beat you!" cried Henshaw. "Good-by! We'll tell 'em you are coming."

"Oh, go to grass!" growled one of the Rockville cadets, and then the Snowbird continued to forge ahead, leaving the rival ice-boat far behind.

"They feel sick," said Dave. "I must say I didn't think this ice-boat could do it. You've certainly got something worth having."

"Even if we are not all painted up and haven't a flag," added Messmer.

They continued on the course for quarter of a mile further. Then they came to a number of islands, and rounding one of these started to tack back. Meanwhile the rival ice-boat passed on down the river.

"Not so much fun in this," observed Roger. "I like to rush right before the wind."

"That's like the small boy who wanted to go down hill on his sled all the time and never wanted to walk back," answered Henshaw. "But going back will not be so much of a hardship as you think."

"Oh, I'll like it well enough," answered the senator's son, quickly.

They were soon opposite one of the islands not over a mile from Oak Hall. It was a lonely and rocky spot and one seldom visited by any of the students.

"Somebody is out skating here," said Dave, and he pointed out two persons who were close to the island.

A moment later the ice-boat was thrown over on the other reach and came close to the island. Then Roger uttered an exclamation:

"The tall man and the short man!"

"Can they be the robbers?" queried Dave, quickly.

He watched the pair, and saw them disappear behind some bare bushes which fringed the shore of the island.

"Roger, I think we ought to try to find out something about those fellows."

"I think so myself."

"If those are the rascals who robbed the Rockville railroad station, we ought to try to capture them," said Henshaw.

"How can we do that?" asked Messmer. "We are not armed."

"Let us follow them up anyway," said Dave.

This was agreed to by all on board the Snowbird, and in a few minutes the craft was run close to the shore and the sail was lowered.

"I am going to arm myself," said Roger, and suited the action to the word by picking up a heavy stick that lay handy. Seeing this, the others also procured sticks, and thus armed, all made their way to the spot where the two men had last been seen.

"Here are their tracks in the snow," said Dave, pointing to the drift which the wind had swept up from the river. "It will be easy enough to follow their tracks."

"We had better go slow and make no noise," cautioned Roger. "If they hear us they'll be on guard and may run away."

Slowly and silently after that the students followed the trail, through the snow and over the wind-swept rocks. They passed under some tall trees, crossed a frozen-over gully, and then came to where a pile of rocks appeared to bar their further progress.

"They passed along this way!" whispered Dave, pointing to the footmarks, close to the base of the rocks. "Go slow now, or – "

"Hush!" interrupted Roger. "I hear voices."

"I see a cabin, just beyond the turn of these rocks," said Henshaw. "The two men must be there."

CHAPTER XXIX
THE CABIN ON THE ISLAND

The four boys came to a halt, to consider what they should do next. They did not know but that the two men might be desperate characters and ready to fight hard if cornered. They might even be ready to do some shooting.

"I'll go ahead and take a look around," said Dave. "You others had better remain here for the present."

This was agreed to, and with extreme caution Dave made his way around a corner of the rocks and along some bushes, to one side of the cabin. The building was of logs, very much dilapidated, having been erected by some campers many years before.

As Dave came close to one of the windows of the cabin he saw a man cross the floor in the direction of a rude fireplace. Then a match was struck, and some paper lit. Soon a fire was blazing in the room, casting a ruddy glare over all.

Both men were present, each still wrapped in his overcoat and with his hat pulled down over his forehead. That they were the individuals he had seen in Rockville the night of the concert and the robbery the youth was quite sure.

Dave was anxious to hear what the two fellows might have to say, and so crept closer to the window, which was wide open. Near the window a log was loose, leaving quite a crack, and by putting his ear to this the boy made out nearly all that was being said.

"We were simple, I think, to come here, Pud," said the tall man, as he threw some more wood on the fire. "We ought to be miles away by this time."

"I ain't going away yet, Hunk," was the reply from the short man. "You know what I came for. Well, I am going to stick it out."

"But it is getting more dangerous every day," pleaded the man called Hunk.

"Oh, you only think so."

"No, I don't. Didn't I read the papers, – and didn't you read them too? They are after us, I tell you."

"Well, they haven't got us yet."

After that there was a pause, during which one of the men put some water in a pot to boil and brought out some provisions in a flour bag.

"Who is next on that list of yours?" asked the man called Hunk, presently.

"Paul Barbridge, and I want to do him up good. He was the foreman of the jury that sent me up for two years."

"Has he got money?"

"I think so – leastwise, I am going to find out," and the speaker gave a low chuckle. "Oh, I ain't going to let up until I run through the whole twelve or their families. And then I am going to strike the judge – and strike him good and hard. I'll show 'em that they can't send Pud Frodel to prison and not get paid back! I said I'd get square when I was sentenced and I am going to keep my word. Fairchild died on me, but I reckon I fixed his widow for it."

There was another pause, during which both men prepared to eat some of the provisions they had brought with them. Dave was on the point of rejoining his companions, when the men began to speak again and now their words filled him with amazement.

"You're a queer one, Pud," said the man called Hunk. "A queer one, I must say. Sometimes I wonder to myself how I can stick to you."

"Well, you haven't got to stick if you don't want to."

"I know that. But you want me, don't you?"

"I like to have somebody, and – you like your share, eh?" And the short man laughed harshly. "I've been square, haven't I?"

"Yes, to the cent – and that is why I stick to you. But you do such queer things. Now, for instance, those schoolboys – "

"Oh, don't bring that up again, Hunk. I know just what I am doing. I told you that before."

"Well, one of those boys may be all right, but I shouldn't trust the other."



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