Edward Stratemeyer.

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



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"Well, what do you propose?" asked Gus Plum.

"I'll tell you to-morrow. I've got to think it over."

"I wish I was dead sure Oak Hall would lose," whispered the bully of the school. "We might make some money by the operation."

"So we could!" cried Nat Poole. "All the Rockville boys are betting they will win."

"And we could bet the same way," said Jasniff, with a leer. "Only we'll have to put up our money through some outsider."

"I can fix that," said Gus Plum. "I know a fellow in Oakdale who will do it for us."

The day set for the great football match dawned bright and clear. As soon as they could get away from their school duties Roger's eleven went out for a short practice and Henshaw and the other substitutes with them. Henshaw was sorry he was not on the regular team, but said little about it.

While the practice was going on, Plum, Poole, and Jasniff watched all the players closely, trying to gain the knowledge of some tricks and signals, which they hoped later to divulge to the Rockville eleven.

The practice at an end, Babcock announced that he wanted to go to a place called Leeton on an errand. Leeton was a small railroad crossing two miles from the school, where Babcock had a relative living.

"Wouldn't you like to go with me?" he asked Dave. "We can go over on our bicycles and be back inside of an hour."

Dave was willing, thinking the short spin on a wheel would do him good. They soon set off, and before long were well on the road.

"There's our chance!" cried Nick Jasniff, as he and his cronies watched the departure. "Just what I wanted!"

"Shall we go after them?" asked Plum.

"Sure!"

The bully and the others had bicycles – indeed nearly every youth at Oak Hall had one, for the craze was at its height. The three set off without delay, following the same road Dave and Babcock had taken.

Unconscious of the fact that they were being followed, Dave and his companion spun along. There was a winding road, across a brook, then up a hill, and over another small hill to the railroad crossing. At several places pedaling was rather difficult, but they did not mind it, being fresh and with good wind.

Arriving at the railroad crossing, Babcock stopped at the house for which he was bound and executed his errand. Then the two lads got a drink of water at the well and started on the return.

"I'll race you back!" cried Babcock.

"Better not race to-day," cautioned Dave. "We want to save our strength for the game."

"All right, Dave, just as you say. But a little race wouldn't hurt me."

Not far from Leeton the road made a sharp turn, coming up close to the railroad tracks. Here there was a steep down grade for three hundred feet. As the boys neared the turn they began to coast, thinking the way perfectly clear.

They were almost to the bottom of the hill when something happened that filled them with alarm. Close to the side of the roadway stood a tall, slim tree.

As they came up the tree fell directly in their path.

"Look out!" yelled Dave, who was in advance, and then his bicycle struck the tree and he was pitched headlong over the handle-bars. Babcock also took a tumble, and both lads came down violently at the side of the road, where there was a gully filled with rocks and hard dirt. Both slid along, turned over, and then lay still.

A full minute passed and neither Dave nor Babcock offered to get up. Then from out of the bushes near by Plum, Poole, and Jasniff emerged.

"We caught 'em right enough," muttered Jasniff. "The tree came down just in time."

"Ar – are they hu – hurt much!" faltered Nat Poole. His face was as white as death itself.

"They are certainly knocked out," answered Nick Jasniff, coolly.

"Oh, I hope they ain't dead!" gasped Poole, his knees beginning to shake.

"They are not dead," announced Gus Plum, who was bending over the fallen youths. "They are stunned, that's all." And he breathed a short sigh of relief, for he had been fearful of serious results.

"We had better get away, before they come to their senses and recognize us," went on Poole, who was the most timid-hearted of the unworthy trio.

While they were deliberating they heard the whistle of a locomotive on the railroad and soon a long train of empty freight cars came into view. Then, when about half the train had gone by, the cars came to a sudden halt, brought to a stop because of a danger signal at the crossing.

"What's the freight train stopping for?" asked Plum.

"Don't ask me," answered Nick Jasniff. "But I say," he added suddenly. "The very thing!"

"What?"

"Let us put 'em both in one of the empty cars!"

"Oh, don't bother!" answered Nat Poole, who, had he had his choice, would have wheeled away without delay.

"They are only stunned – they'll soon come around," went on Jasniff. "If we leave them here they may get in the game anyway. We may as well send them off to parts unknown!"

This plan appealed strongly to Gus Plum, and both he and Jasniff walked to the train and looked up and down the long line of empty cars. Not a soul was in sight.

"The coast is clear," said Jasniff. "Come on, we can do it in a jiffy, and nobody will be the wiser."

They went over to Babcock, raised him up, and carried him to the nearest of the cars. The sliding door was wide open, and they pushed the unconscious form half across the car floor. Then they ran back and picked up Dave. At that moment came the whistle of the locomotive.

"Hurry up, they are going to start!" said Jasniff, and they lost no time in pushing Dave into the car. Then Jasniff rolled the door shut.

"Might as well lock 'em in," he suggested, but before he could accomplish his purpose the train gave a jerk and went on its way. All three of the students stared at it and watched it out of sight.

"They are gone, that's sure," murmured Gus Plum. His heart was beating violently.

"Yes, and they won't come back in a hurry," chuckled Nick Jasniff.

"Maybe they will be carried clear to New York," said Nat Poole.

"If they are, so much the better."

"You are sure they weren't seriously hurt?"

"I guess not."

"If they are, and we are found out – "

"Who is going to tell on us?" demanded Nick Jasniff. "Don't you dare to open your trap, Nat."

"Oh, I shan't say a word."

"Nobody saw us," said Gus Plum. "So, if we keep quiet, nobody will ever know we had anything to do with it."

"What about the wheels?"

"Leave them right where they are. Somebody will pick them up sooner or later. Both are marked Oak Hall and have the initials on them."

"Well, what are we to do next?" asked Gus Plum, after an awkward pause.

"Get out of here and wheel over to Oakdale," answered Nick Jasniff, who had become the leader of the unworthies. "We can put our money in the hands of Lancaster and he can put it up on Rockville for us. We are now sure to win."

"Morr will put Henshaw in Babcock's place," said Poole, as they rode away.

"Will he? Not after Henshaw has had his dinner," and Nick Jasniff winked knowingly.

"Do you mean to dose him?" asked Plum.

"I guess I will. I sit close to him and I can drop a little powder in his food which will make him feel weak and dizzy all the afternoon."

"Have you got the powder?"

"I can get it from Lancaster. He told me about it several days ago."

"It isn't poison, is it?" asked Nat Poole. He was beginning to grow afraid of Nick Jasniff's bold ways.

"No, it won't hurt him a bit, only make him weak and light-headed for a few hours."

"Then give it to him by all means," urged Gus Plum. "With Porter, Babcock, and Henshaw out of the game Rockville is bound to beat, and if we make the right kind of bets we ought to win a pot of money!"

CHAPTER XIV
CARRIED OFF

When Dave came to his senses he found himself rolling around the floor of the freight car. The door was three-quarters shut and the train was winding its way around several uneven curves.

He put his hand to his forehead. There was a big lump near his left eye and his left hand was bleeding from several scratches. The car was full of dust and he began to cough.

"What a fearful tumble!" he muttered to himself, and then sat up and stared around him. "Where in the world am I?"

He had expected to find himself beside the highway; instead he was boxed in and moving along at a speed of twenty or more miles an hour. He glanced through the open doorway and saw the trees and rocks flashing by. It took him all of a minute to collect his scattered senses, and then he gazed around the dust-laden car. Only a few feet away lay the form of Babcock. The youth was breathing heavily.

"Paul!" he called out. "Paul! What does this mean? Did you bring me here?"

There was no answer, and on his hands and knees he bent over his friend. Then he gave Babcock a shake, and the hurt one opened his eyes.

"The tree – look out for the tree!" he murmured and struggled to a sitting position.

"Paul, did you bring me here?" went on Dave.

"Me? Here? What do you mean? Where am I?" stammered Babcock, and then he, too, stared out of the doorway of the freight car. "Well, I never!"

It was not until several minutes later that the pair comprehended the truth of the fact that they were in a freight car that was moving along at a good rate of speed and that they had been put in the car by some party or parties unknown.

"This certainly beats the Dutch!" cried Dave. "Are you hurt much?"

"I am pretty well shaken up, and my shoulder is a little lame, Dave. How about you?"

"I've got this lump and those scratches, that's all."

"You went into that tree and so did I. Do you remember what happened after that?"

"No."

"Neither do I. Somebody must have put us in here. Who was it?"

"Don't ask me, and don't ask me where we are going either, for I haven't the least idea."

The two students talked the matter over for fully five minutes, but could reach no conclusion. At first they fancied that they might have been robbed, but nothing was missing but their wheels.

"This is a mystery we must solve later," said Dave. "The present question is, How are we to get off this train and get back to the Hall?"

A moment later the freight train passed through a small lumber town. They heard a mill whistle blowing. Dave pulled out his watch.

"Why, Paul, it is twelve o'clock!"

"Nonsense!" Babcock consulted his own time-piece. "You are right! And we were going to be back to the Hall by dinner time!"

"Don't forget that to-day is the day for the great football match."

"Creation! Do you know it slipped my mind for the moment! Why, Dave, we must get back!"

"I agree with you."

"Let us get off the train at once."

"What, with the cars running at twenty-five or thirty miles an hour! No, thank you! We've had one bad tumble, I don't want a second."

Babcock looked out of the doorway. The lumber town had been left behind and they were running through a dense woods. How far they were from Leeton and Oak Hall they could not tell.

"I wish we could signal the engineer, I'd soon stop the train," said Dave.

"Can't we crawl to the top of the car?"

"We might if we were regular train hands, but as greenies we had better not risk it."

Another mile was passed, and the train began to go around another curve. Then came a steep upgrade and the speed of the cars was slackened.

"We're slowing up!" cried Babcock. "Maybe we can jump for it now."

The locomotive was puffing laboriously, and presently the train seemed to do little but crawl along. The boys looked at each other.

"Shall we go?" asked Dave.

"Yes."

"All right, here goes!"

Dave swung himself down and made a jump in safety. Fifty feet further on Paul Babcock did the same. Then the long freight train rolled by, a brakeman on the caboose gazing at them curiously as it passed.

"Well, where are we?" asked Babcock, gazing around with interest.

"On the line of the D. S. & B. railroad," answered Dave, with a grim smile.

"I know that well enough, but where on the line?"

"Some miles from Leeton. The question is, Shall we walk back on the track?"

"I don't know of anything else to do. We can find out where we are when we reach that lumber town where we heard the whistle blowing."

They walked along the track for all of a mile and a half and then came in sight of the lumber town, which consisted of nothing but the mill, one general store, and a dozen frame houses. It was now nearly one o'clock and the men of the mill were preparing to resume their day's labor.

"What town is this?" asked Dave, of a boy they met.

"This town is Mill Run," answered the youth.

"How far is it to Leeton?"

"About twelve miles."

"Twelve miles!" ejaculated Babcock.

"Yes, and maybe more."

"Do you know when we can get back to Leeton?"

"Not till seven-thirty to-night. There are only two passenger trains a day on this line."

"Well, we've got to get back before to-night," said Dave, decidedly. "We've got to get back right now."

"I don't see how you are going to do it," said the boy. "Ain't no train, nor stage, nor nuthin."

"Can't we hire some sort of a carriage?" queried Babcock. "We won't mind the expense." He came from a well-to-do family and had ample spending money.

"Might git old Si Ross to drive you over."

"Who is Si Ross?"

"Used to run the stage from here to Leeton before the railroad went through."

"Will you show us his place?"

"Of course," answered the boy and took them through the lumber town and to a small shanty on the outskirts. Here they found Si Ross, a bent-over old man who was rather hard of hearing.

"Hi, Si!" called out the boy. "These fellers want you to drive 'em over to Leeton."

"They're arrivin' from Leeton?" queried the old man.

"No, they want you to drive 'em over —drive 'em over!" shrieked the boy.

"Me drive 'em over?"

"Yes," said Dave and Babcock at the top of their voices, and nodded vigorously.

"Cost ye two an' a half."

"All right. Can you do it right away?" went on Dave.

"O' course I know the way."

"Can you do it right away!" screamed Dave.

"Sure – soon as I kin hitch up."

"Hurry up!" yelled Babcock. "We want to get there as soon as possible."

"I'll git ye there soon enough, don't ye fear," said Si Ross, and hobbled off to his barn. He brought forth a bony horse and shoved out a rickety road wagon and began to hook up. The boy helped him.

"That doesn't look very promising," remarked Babcock.

"Is this the best turnout in town?" asked Dave, of the boy.

"It's the only one you can git," was the answer.

At last Si Ross was ready to leave and the two students got up on the rear seat of the wagon, Dave first giving the boy ten cents for his trouble, which pleased the urchin immensely. Then Si Ross pulled himself to the front seat, provided himself with a fresh chew of tobacco, and took up the reins.

"Gee dap!" he squeaked to the bony horse and the animal started off on a walk. Then the driver cracked his whip and soon the steed was making fairly good time over the lonely country road.

Again the boys consulted their watches and found it was now half-past one o'clock. The football game was scheduled to start at half-past three.

"Two hours to get there in," said Dave. "We'll never make it."

"I think we ought to start for Mr. Mongrace's place direct," said Babcock.

"But we haven't our football togs."

"Perhaps Roger will take them along, or we may be able to borrow some. One thing is certain, we haven't time to return to Oak Hall for them."

"Do you know where Mr. Mongrace's estate is?" asked Dave, in a loud tone of the driver.

"Yes – very fine place," was the answer.

"Can you take us there?"

"How?"

"Can you take us there?"

"Sure. But I thought you wanted to go to Leeton?"

"We must get to Mr. Mongrace's by half-past three!" called out Dave.

"I can make it – but we'll have to hurry."

"Go ahead then."

"Three dollars."

"All right!" yelled Babcock, and felt in his pocket. "Oh, pshaw! I've only got a dollar and a quarter with me!"

"Never mind, I've got it," said Dave, and brought out the necessary bank bills.

The sight of the cash was inspiring to Si Ross, and he urged his bony nag along at a faster gait than ever. They passed over one small hill and then came out on a highway which was in excellent condition.

"I'd like to know who put us in that freight car," said Dave, as they rattled along. "Do you know, I've half an idea the whole thing was a put-up job. That tree seemed to fall down right in front of us and I don't see what should make it fall. There was hardly any wind blowing."

"It was certainly a curious piece of business all the way through," returned Paul Babcock. "We'll have to start an investigation after the game. And we must try to recover our bicycles too."

"Do you think any of the Rockville fellows would be mean enough to play such a trick on us?"

"I don't know. Whoever it was took big chances. Why, we might have been killed!"

"Well, it wasn't done by footpads, otherwise we should have been robbed."

"That is true. Well, the best thing we can – Whoa! What's the matter!"

"The horse is running away!"

"The back-strap is broken!"

There was no time to say more, for the wagon was swaying from side to side. Then came a turn, and a second later the vehicle ran off into a gully. Crash! went one of the front wheels, and over went the body. The horse came to a standstill and Si Ross slid into some bushes, followed by the two students.

"Smashed!" wailed the old driver, as he got up and surveyed the wreck.

"And that ends our hope of getting to the football field in time," added Babcock dolefully.

CHAPTER XV
OFF FOR THE GAME

"Where in the world can Dave and Paul be keeping themselves?"

It was Roger who spoke. He and the others had had their dinner and were out on the campus doing a last bit of practising before starting for Mr. Mongrace's place.

"They certainly should have been here long ago," returned Phil. "They won't have time to get their dinner."

"I wonder if Gus Plum and his crowd met them on the road," said Sam. "They were out on their wheels."

"I'll ask them," said Shadow, and ran off to do so. He met Nat Poole at the doorway to the Hall.

"Say, Nat, did you see anything of Dave Porter and Paul Babcock when you were out on your wheel?" he asked.

Nat Poole started at the direct question and his face changed color. But he quickly recovered.

"No, I didn't see them," he answered. "What makes you ask?"

"They are missing and I know you were out on your wheel and they went out too – over to Leeton."

"We went to Oakdale," said Nat, and turned away, for fear of being questioned further. He, Plum, and Jasniff had arranged it between them to say they had been to Oakdale and nowhere else.

Shadow Hamilton returned to his friends and related what Poole had said. Some of the students had already departed for the football field, going on their wheels and in one of the carriages belonging to the place. The football club was to take the carryall, and turnouts had been engaged for all who were to witness the game.

Soon Andrew Dale came out to see if the team was ready. He was greatly surprised when he learned that Dave and Paul were missing.

"It may be they have been delayed," said he, "and if that is so, they may have gone direct from Leeton to the Mongrace estate. I think there is a fairly good road."

"Perhaps that is so," answered the senator's son, brightening a little. "But they ought to have come here – they knew I should be worried."

"You had better take their suits along. We can leave word here about the suits – in case they come after we are gone."

Swiftly the minutes went by until the club could wait no longer. Then into the carryall they piled, regulars and substitutes, taking the outfits of the missing players with them. Jackson Lemond was to drive, and with a crack of the whip they were off. Usually the boys would have been noisy and full of fun, but now they were sober.

"Paul told me he would surely be back," said Henshaw. "I am afraid something has happened to him."

"Maybe they got a tumble," suggested Buster Beggs. "But it would be queer if they both got caught at the same time."

The boys had brought their horns and rattles with them, yet they made little noise as they rode along, much to the satisfaction of Jackson Lemond, who had been afraid they would scare the horses and cause them to bolt. Yet the Hall driver was sorry to see them so blue.

"Ain't feelin' much like playin', I take it," he observed.

"It is not that, Horsehair," answered Roger. "We are alarmed over the absence of Dave Porter and Paul Babcock."

"Got to have 'em to play, eh?"

"Well, they belong on the regular eleven."

"Maybe they went ahead," said the Hall driver, hopefully.

The roads were in good condition, and soon they reached the broad highway leading directly to the Mongrace estate. On this road they met a score of turnouts all bound for the football field.

"Hurrah! There are the Oak Hall fellows!"

"Hope you win, boys!"

"You've got to put up a stiff game if you want to come out ahead this season. Rockville has got a dandy team."

So the cries ran on, while horns were blown and rattles used. Then a big stage lumbered up, carrying a number of students from Rockville in their natty military uniforms.

"This is the time we'll wax you!"

"After this game Oak Hall won't be in it!"



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