Edward Stratemeyer.

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



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"Both of 'em want money – want it just as bad, almost, as we do. One of 'em up and told me so."

"Yes, but – "

"When fellows like that want money – actually want it – they get desperate. At such a high-toned school they have to keep up a front, and they can't do that unless they have got the coin in their pockets."

"When are you going to see them again?"

"To-morrow."

"Where?"

"At the old mill, near Nabill's."

"Well, if you – What's that?"

The speaker broke off short, as a sound from outside reached his ears. Tired of waiting for Dave, Roger and the other students had come closer and Henshaw had stumbled over a loose stone and gone crashing into a hollow among some bushes.

"Somebody out there!" ejaculated Pud Frodel, and caught up a club that stood handy.

"Maybe they're following us!" returned his companion. "Come on and see. We don't want to be cornered in a place like this."

"Oh, my ankle!" came in a painful cry from Henshaw. He had given that member a severe wrench.

"Some of the schoolboys!" cried one of the men.

"Let us get out," added the other.

"Are those two fellows we know in the crowd?"

"No, these are all strangers."

After having run out of the cabin, the two men went in again. Then they seemed to suddenly disappear.

"Hullo, Dave!" sang out Roger. He could see but little in the gloom of the coming night, for it was now nearly supper time.

"I am here, Roger."

"Where are the men? And what kept you so long?"

"I don't know where the men are," answered Dave, ignoring the other question. "They just stepped back into the cabin."

"Look out that somebody isn't shot," said Messmer, nervously.

"Are they the fellows we are after?" asked the senator's son.

"I am pretty sure they are," whispered Dave. "But I want to talk to you about it later," he added, giving Roger's arm a knowing squeeze. "There is something of great importance in the air."

"I should think there would be – if these are the thieves, Dave."

"It's more than that. But don't ask me about it just now."

After some hesitation, the four boys entered the cabin. The fire was burning brightly, so that they could see with ease. All looked in consternation. Not a sign of the two men was to be seen anywhere.

"Where are they?"

"They certainly came in here!"

"That is true – they did come in here," said Dave. "Perhaps they are in hiding."

The boys began to search around the cabin and presently the senator's son found a piece of a log that was loose. He gave a push and it rolled away, showing a dark hole, leading through some thick bushes and past some rocks.

"This is the way they went!" he shouted. "It's a clever outlet."

The passageway was so dark the boys hesitated for a moment about entering it. Then Dave caught up a firebrand and went in. Soon the others heard him shout from some distance behind the cabin.

"Come right through!" he called.

"It's all right."

They went through and next found themselves under some tall trees. Beyond was an open space, and here the tracks of the two men were plainly to be distinguished. They led to the shore of the island and disappeared on the ice beyond.

"They've gotten away from us," said Henshaw, disappointedly. He was limping badly.

"How's the ankle?" asked Dave.

"I gave it a bad twist, but I guess I can walk to the ice-boat."

Nothing could be seen in the fast-gathering darkness, and after remaining at the shore for a few minutes, the four retraced their steps to the dilapidated cabin. Here the fire was replenished and the students looked around for evidence against the two men.

"They are certainly the two men who committed the robberies in this district," said Dave. "They as much as admitted it themselves. The short, stout fellow is the leader and he is doing the work for a particular reason. He was once sent to prison for two years. He vowed he would get square on the twelve jurymen and the judge who convicted him. So now he is going around robbing one after another of the thirteen."

"Mrs. Fairchild wasn't a juryman," said Messmer.

"No, but her husband was – the fellow mentioned that."

"It's a pity we didn't catch them," said Roger. "We got tired of waiting for you and were afraid you had gotten into some kind of trouble," he added, to Dave.

They looked around the cabin with care, but could find little outside of the provisions previously mentioned. There were some evidences that the men had been there a number of times, but that was all.

"This is not their regular hanging-out place," said Dave. "They must have another resort – where they have at least some of their plunder."

"I think the best thing we can do is to get back to the Hall and notify Dr. Clay," said Roger. "He can then set the authorities on their track."

This was considered good advice, and putting out the fire, so that it might not destroy the cabin, they left the place once more and started for the spot where they had left the Snowbird.

To Henshaw the walk was a difficult one, and the others had to help him over the trying places. Consequently, when they at last reached the shore it was pitch dark. A cold north wind caused all to shiver.

"It will be no easy job steering back to the Hall in this darkness," said Messmer. "A fellow can't see fifty feet ahead of him."

"Oh, I know the course well enough," answered Henshaw.

The ice-boat was found exactly as they had left it, and soon the craft was shoved out on the lake. Then all got aboard, the sail was hoisted, and off they started for Oak Hall.

"Phew! but it is getting cold!" was Dave's remark, as he buttoned up his overcoat.

"Those men will have a cold walk, wherever they may be going," returned Messmer.

"They said something about the old mill," answered Dave. "I'll tell you the story after I've seen Dr. Clay."

On and on sped the Snowbird with the wind shifting in her favor. It was so cold the tears streamed down the cheeks of all the boys and Roger declared that his ears were about frozen. They tried to look ahead, but could see next to nothing.

"Henshaw, are you sure of your course?" asked Dave, presently.

"I think I am," was the hesitating response. "But it is dark, no two ways about it."

The wind now took another turn and the ice-boat bore away to the left bank of the river. Henshaw did what he could to bring the craft about, but two minutes later came a grating jar and everybody was pitched off into a snowbank, some heels over head.

"I guess we've landed!" spluttered Roger, as he pulled himself to his feet. "Henshaw, what did you do that for?"

"I – I didn't know we were going ashore," replied Henshaw, who had gone head first into the snow himself. "Anybody hurt?"

One after another got up. Fortunately nobody had been hurt. Messmer had some of the snow down his back and Dave had some up his coat sleeve. The ice-boat was as good as ever.

"Now we want to be more careful," said Dave, as they hauled the craft on the lake once more. "One such spill is enough."

"That's true," said Roger. Then the journey was resumed, nobody dreaming of the accident so close at hand.

CHAPTER XXX
DAVE'S HEROISM

As the ice-boat swept along Dave revolved in his mind all that he had heard at the old cabin.

He could place but one meaning on the words spoken by the two criminals regarding two schoolboys. They must refer to Nick Jasniff and Gus Plum.

"Can it be that those two are in with such rascals?" he asked himself. "I might think it of Jasniff, but I never dreamed Plum could be quite so bad. And yet last season he did some pretty crooked work with the valuable postage stamps that disappeared."

On and on swept the Snowbird, through the darkness of the night. It was growing colder each moment, and the cutting wind made each of the lads shiver. Dave wanted to tell Roger his tale in full, but now was no time for connected conversation.

Suddenly out of the darkness loomed a strange object, moving in almost the same direction as the Snowbird. It was the ice-boat belonging to the Rockville cadets.

"Look out!" yelled Henshaw, while Messmer gave a scream of fright. Then both ice-boats appeared to turn toward each other, there came a grinding, rending crash, and in a twinkling Dave found himself spinning on his back over the ice with Roger beside him.

Fortunately for Dave he landed in such a fashion that he received little more harm than a thorough shaking up. He slid a distance of two hundred feet and then came to a stop in a small ridge of snow.

"Hello, I wonder if anybody is hurt?" he asked himself, and got to his feet as quickly as possible. He walked back to the scene of the collision and soon ran into the senator's son.

"Are you all right, Dave?"

"Yes, Roger; how about you?"

"Got shaken up, that's all."

"Help! help!" came faintly from one of the ice-boats, and running back Dave and Roger saw Henshaw on the ice, with the overturned Snowbird on top of him. Close at hand lay the second ice-boat, and it was plain to see that both craft were much damaged.

Messmer was near, suffering from a cut on his hand, yet he was willing to go to Henshaw's assistance. The bow end of the Snowbird was raised and Henshaw dragged himself forth.

"Are you badly hurt?" asked Dave, anxiously.

"My left leg got a pretty good squeeze," answered Henshaw, trying to limp around on the member. "I am afraid I can't walk on it." And he sat down on the edge of the overturned ice-boat.

In the meanwhile the Rockville cadets were pulling themselves together. All had been bruised and scratched a little, but that was all. Their ice-boat, too, had gone over, and the runners were partly broken.

"That was your fault!" growled one of the cadets, striding over to the students of Oak Hall.

"No more our fault than yours," answered Dave.

"You ran right into us."

"You did as much of the running in as we did," answered Roger.

"Do you suppose I got my leg hurt for fun?" growled Henshaw.

"Are you hurt?" questioned another of the cadets.

"I am."

"Well, I am sorry for that."

The fact that Henshaw was hurt caused the Rockville boys to become a little more friendly, and two of them said they would do what they could for the sufferer. No more was said about the cause of the accident, which was in reality the fault of both parties equally.

Nothing much could be done for Henshaw. It pained him to stand on the injured leg and so he remained sitting down. The other boys began to inspect both ice-boats. It was found that they were badly broken at the bow and both masts were loosened. As a consequence, while they could be used, progress on the river, even before the wind, would be slow.

"This is too bad," observed Dave. "We ought to get back to Oak Hall as soon as possible, and tell the doctor what we have learned."

After a good deal of tugging both ice-boats were righted and each party boarded its own craft. On they went in the darkness and soon separated, the craft from Rockville doing a little better than that containing our friends.

"I don't think we'll get back to the Hall much before midnight," said Dave, and this proved to be the case. It lacked just ten minutes of that time when they tied up at the boathouse. Henshaw's leg was now stiff and the others had to carry him to the door.

"Ha! so I have caught you!" exclaimed Job Haskers, as he suddenly showed himself. "What do you mean by coming in at this late hour?"

"We've had an accident – Henshaw is hurt," answered Roger.

At this announcement the teacher's face took on a sour look.

"An accident, eh? You are quite sure?" he demanded, with a suspicious look at Henshaw.

"Yes, I'm sure," grumbled the hurt one. "We had a collision with another ice-boat, and when our craft turned over I was caught underneath."

"What is the trouble there?" came in Dr. Clay's voice, and he showed himself at the top of the stairs and then came down. After asking a few questions he had Henshaw taken to a private bed-chamber, where the injured limb was carefully examined and then bathed with liniment.

"I wish to see you in private, Dr. Clay," said Dave. "Perhaps Morr and Messmer will want to see you too."

"Very well, come into the office," answered the master of Oak Hall, and led the way. He made a light and then faced the three students who had followed him.

In a plain, straightforward manner Dave told of the visit to the rocky island and the old cabin, and of what the two men had said. He did not mention the talk about the two schoolboys, although strongly tempted to do so. He said the two men expected to go to the old mill, near Nabill's farm, the next day.

"This is very important," exclaimed the doctor, when he had finished. "I must notify the authorities at once, and we must do everything we can to capture the rascals."

"Can I do anything?" asked Roger.

"I think not. As you say one man is very tall and the other very short, it ought not to be a very difficult matter to recognize them if they show themselves. The old mill is also well known, so there can be no mistake."

"Of course, they may not go to the mill now," went on Dave.

"That is true. But I will have the authorities keep a close watch all around this district and also at the railroad stations. As he has been in prison this Pud Frodel must be known."

After that the doctor told the boys they had better go to bed, and they did so. But it was an hour before Dave could get to sleep. Once he thought of getting up and visiting Gus Plum's dormitory, but gave up the idea, knowing that all the others would want to know what was doing.

In the morning the weather changed. It was not so cold, but the snow was coming down thickly and the wind sent it swirling in all directions. Already the ground was covered to a depth of several inches, and there was no telling when the storm would cease.

"This will make it hard to track those men," observed Roger, as he and Dave came down for breakfast.

"Roger, I want to tell you something," said Dave, and as the pair walked to a secluded corner of a hallway Dave told his chum what had been on his mind since the visit to the lonely cabin.

"Oh, Dave! can this be true?" cried the senator's son, in horror. "Can Jasniff and Plum really be mixed up in this?"

"It looks like it to me, Roger," was Dave's slow reply. "And yet I shouldn't want to say a word until I was certain. Jasniff I know is bad, – and so is Plum, for the matter of that. But there is a difference between them."

"I know it, Dave. Jasniff is wicked at heart, while Gus is more a bully and headstrong." The senator's son paused. "What do you propose to do?"

"I've been thinking of having a straight talk with Plum. Of course, if he is really in with those robbers I'll have to expose him."

The chums talked the matter over for several minutes and then went in to breakfast. Plum was there, but Dave noticed that the bully ate little. Soon Plum arose and left the dining room abruptly. Dave followed, why he could hardly tell. But he had a feeling that he must follow Plum then and there.

The bully of Oak Hall passed from the hall to the coat room, and there donned his overcoat, hat, and rubbers. Then he walked to a side door, and opening it cautiously, stepped out into the howling storm.

Dave was now certain something unusual was in the wind, for the school session would begin in twenty minutes and he knew Plum would not go out in such a storm without good reason. Quickly he donned his own coat, hat, and rubbers and followed to the outside of the school building. He saw Plum running across the campus and he followed. Then the bully leaped the boxwood hedge and came out on a road leading to a village called Bagor, a short distance from Rockville.

"Perhaps he is going to meet Jasniff," Dave reasoned. "He must be pretty well upset. I don't believe he even got permission to leave."

The road led through a wood and then up a long hill. The snow was so thick that Dave had all he could do to keep Plum in sight. The bully of the Hall walked rapidly, his head bent low and his hands rammed well down in his overcoat pockets.

The high ground at the top of the hill gained, Plum struck off to the southeast, in the direction of the railroad tracks. Inside of five minutes he reached a point where the tracks ran through a deep cut. On either side were tall trees, and the sloping banks of the cut ran down almost to the rails, now covered with snow.

At the edge of the cut Plum paused again. He looked up and down the opening, as if undecided in what direction to turn. Far away a locomotive whistle sounded and a freight train appeared in sight, rolling forward rapidly on a slight down-grade.

As the freight train came closer Plum prepared to climb down the steep slope of the cut. All was covered with ice and snow, and he had taken but a dozen steps when he lost his footing and his hold and rolled over and over. Then he struck a projecting rock and the next instant pitched forward on his head, rolled over and over once more, and landed squarely on the tracks below!

Dave was close to the edge of the cut and saw the whole occurrence. When Plum struck on his head he uttered a deep groan, showing that he was injured. Then, as he lay on the tracks, he did not move.

"He is unconscious!" thought Dave, and a chill of horror swept over him. He looked along the cut. The freight train was sweeping forward, directly for the unconscious youth. In half a minute more it would reach Plum and run over him. He heard a fierce whistle, as the locomotive engineer gave the signal for brakes, and the engine itself was reversed. But the grade was too great and the train too heavy for a sudden stop.

Dave's heart leaped into his throat. Was Plum to be ground up under his very eyes? He had no great love for the bully, but at that moment his heart went out to him as if he were a brother.

"I must save him – if I can!" he told himself. "He must not be killed if I can help it!" And then, throwing himself face downward, he slid over the ice and snow to the bottom of the cut. His hands and face were scratched, but he paid no heed. As he touched the bottom he leaped up. The train was less than fifty feet away, the wheels grinding sharply on the tracks. He made one wild leap forward, caught Plum by the feet and dragged him out of harm's way. Then the train rolled on, coming to a stop a few seconds later.

CHAPTER XXXI
GUS PLUM'S CONFESSION

"You did this for me, you! Oh, Dave Porter, how could you do it? How could you?"

It was Plum who spoke. He sat on a fallen tree not far away from the railroad cut. His forehead was swollen and there was a cut on his cheek, but otherwise he had quite recovered from the shock received. The train, after stopping for a few minutes, had gone on, and the two youths were alone.

Plum's voice was choked with emotion. He had come to his senses to find Dave and the fireman of the train bending over him. It was the fireman who had told of Dave's brave deed.

"Pluckiest thing I ever see in my born days," the fireman had said. "He came down the slope pell-mell and hauled you off the track just as we hit the spot."

Then the fireman and the train had gone on and Dave had done what he could for the bully. Plum was trembling like a leaf and found it next to impossible to control himself. Twice before he had tried to speak but his voice had failed him.

"You are sure you are not hurt?" asked Dave. He himself hardly knew what to say. The excitement of the occasion had put him in a dripping perspiration.

"Oh, I don't care if I am!" replied Plum. "I – I wish – I wish I was dead!"

"Plum!"

"Yes, I do! I – I – but I can't talk about it. And to think you did this for me, you! Why, I thought you hated me!"

"Perhaps I did, Gus. But I didn't hate you when I saw you on the tracks unconscious."

"You did more for me than I should ever have done for you."

"Maybe not."

"I know it, Porter, for – well, you know how I have hated you. But I am not going to be that way any more – I couldn't!"

After this there was a silence. Each boy wanted to say something, but hardly knew how to get at it. Finally Dave broke the ice.

"Gus, what brought you to this spot this morning?" he questioned.

"Oh, don't ask me! I was crazy, I guess. I wanted to get away – I never wanted to see Oak Hall or anybody again!"

"Were you going to run away?"

"I guess so – I don't know. I didn't sleep last night nor the night before."

"Gus, tell me the truth, will you?" went on Dave, boldly. "Are you working with those fellows who robbed the Rockville railroad station and those other places?"

"No! no! Oh, Porter! Dave! What do you know about this – about me?" Plum's face grew as white as the snow around them. "I – I heard what you told Dr. Clay last night – I was listening at the door. Do you – do you know anything more?"

"I do and I don't, Gus. Those men said something about two schoolboys, and I and some others saw you in Rockville the night of the robbery. More than that, I know what sort of a fellow Nick Jasniff is, and you and he are always together."

"Dave, I didn't steal any money, I give you my word I didn't! I was led along by Jasniff. I was in debt and I needed money badly. Jasniff said he knew where he could borrow some for me, and he did get me fifty dollars. Then he introduced me to that short man, who went by the name of Sloan, and to the tall man, who went by the name of Carson. It seems Jasniff knew Sloan, or Pud Frodel, years ago, before he was sent to prison. The tall man isn't over-bright and he is simply Pud Frodel's tool. One day I was talking to the tall man and I soon found out what sort of a crowd they were, although the tall fellow didn't say so in so many words. Then I wanted to cut them, and cut Nick Jasniff too, but Jasniff said if I did, he'd write a letter to Dr. Clay exposing me. Jasniff, after he ran away from the Hall, went right in with the robbers and he wanted me to go in, but I up and told him I wouldn't have anything more to do with him and with those rascals."



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