Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter and His Classmates

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Mr. Porter explained that they had just come in on the train, and were looking for some conveyance to take them to Oak Hall.

"We thought we might call on you for an hour or so and then come back and put up at the Oakdale Hotel," he said.

"I'll certainly be glad to have you call," answered Dave.

Then he told about the missing express package. In the meantime Laura conversed with Mary and Vera, but nothing was said about how the boys and girls had chanced to meet. Then Mary and Vera said they must attend to some errands and get home.

"Well, we'll look for you to-night, sure!" cried Phil.

"We'll be there," answered Mary.

"I wouldn't miss it for a good deal," said Vera. "I want to see that red mustache and wig, if nothing else!" And she laughed, merrily.

"You won't see the wig unless my package is found," answered Dave; and then the two girls hurried away.

Mr. Porter led the way to the local hotel, situated close to the depot, and there registered his party for dinner and supper.

"You can take dinner with us," said he to his son and Phil. "I'll write a note to Doctor Clay, so there will be no trouble."

"We can't stay very long after dinner," answered Dave. "I must look up that package, – and all hands want some kind of a rehearsal."

The boys walked to the express office, but Case had not come back, so they had to go to dinner without hearing from the driver. The five sat at a separate table, and Dave had Laura on one side and Jessie on the other. He did his best to make himself agreeable to Jessie, but she did not warm up as was usual with her, and this made his heart feel rather heavy.

"Why, Jessie, you don't act like yourself," he said, after dinner, and while the others were sitting somewhat apart from them in the hotel parlor.

"Don't I?" she asked.

"No, you don't. What is the matter, don't you feel well?" And his face showed his concern.

"Oh, yes, I feel very well." Her lips trembled a little. "I – I guess I am out of sorts, that's all."

"It's too bad."

"Oh, I'll soon get over it, I suppose." Jessie gave a sigh. "Tell me about your doings, Dave. I suppose you are having hard work at school and like to get out and meet some of your Oakdale friends."

"Why, yes, I like to get out sometimes."

"Those seem to be very nice girls."

"Yes, they are. Phil is quite fond of one of them, too."

"Which one?"

"Mary Feversham. We became acquainted with them in quite an odd way," and he told of the big snowball and the ice-boat.

"That Vera Rockwell seems to think a great deal of you, Dave."

"Do you think so? Well, I think she is a nice – "

"Dave, there is the expressman now!" called out Phil, from his position near a window. "Come on, if you want to find out about that package."

"All right," answered Dave, and for the time being he forgot all about what he was going to say to Jessie – that he thought Vera nice but not as nice as Jessie herself – something which might have gone a long way toward heading off the trouble that was brewing.

For boys and girls will often think a great deal of each other – and a heartache at fourteen or sixteen is often as real, if not as lasting, as at twenty or older.

Since the day Dave had saved Jessie's life he had been her one hero and her closest boy chum, and now to find him in the society of another and for him to say she was nice – And then there was more than this, an anonymous letter, concocted by Link Merwell and Nat Poole and sent to her by mail. That letter had said some terrible things about Dave – things she could not and would not believe, and yet things which made her very miserable.

"I suppose he has a right to make such friends as he pleases," she thought. "It is none of my affair, and I have no right to spoil his pleasure by saying anything." And then she brushed away the tears that would come into her eyes in spite of her efforts to keep them back.

At the express office Dave and Phil found Mr. Goode already questioning the wagon driver about the missing package.

"I turned it over to a boy who said he belonged to Oak Hall school and would give it to Dave Porter," said the driver. "I thought you had it by this time. He signed for it – leastwise he put that scrawl on the book."

"What was his name?" asked Dave.

"I asked him, but he mumbled something I didn't catch. I didn't pay much attention, for I thought it was all right."

"What sort of looking chap was he?" asked Phil.

As best he could the wagon driver described the individual. The description might have fitted half a dozen lads, until he mentioned a four-in-hand tie of bright blue with white daggers splashed over it.

"Merwell wears a tie like that!" cried Phil. "I have seen it several times."

"What would he be doing with my package, Phil?"

"What? Why, maybe he knew about the wig and wanted to spoil your part of the show. It would be like him to play such a trick."

"That's true," answered Dave, and then he asked the wagon driver if the boy had worn a ring with a ruby.

"Yes, a fine large stone," answered the man.

"Then it was Link Merwell," said Dave, decidedly. "Now the question is, What has he done with the package?"

"I don't think he'd dare to destroy it," answered Phil. "Probably he hid it away somewhere."

"I'll soon find out. Come on, Phil."

"Going to tax him with it?"

"Yes. He hasn't any right to touch my property, or to sign my name."

Hurrying back to the hotel, the boys told of what they had learned. Then they got their bicycles and pedaled with all speed in the direction of Oak Hall. Dave felt very much out of sorts, not only because the package was missing but also over the meeting with Jessie. It was the first time that there had been any coldness between them – for he felt that it was a coldness, although he could not explain it.

Arriving at the school, they learned that Link Merwell had taken a walk with Nat Poole. Chip Macklin pointed out the direction, and Dave and Phil went after the pair. They were not surprised to catch the cronies smoking on some rocks behind a growth of underbrush near the highway beyond the campus. As Dave and his chum came up Poole and Merwell threw their cigarettes away.

"Merwell, what did you do with my express package?" demanded Dave, coming at once to the point.

The words made the bully start, but he quickly recovered and arose slowly to his feet.

"Want to see me?" he drawled.

"I want my express package."

"Don't know what you are talking about."

"Yes, you do. Where is the package? I want it at once."

"You took it out of the express office, and we can prove it," added Phil.

"Humph!" growled Link Merwell.

"Are you going to give up the package or not?" demanded Dave.

"Who says I – er – took, any package of yours?" blustered the bully, trying to put on a bold front.

"I say so," declared Dave. "And you not only took it but you signed for it. Merwell, do you know that signing another person's name without permission is forgery?" he went on, pointedly.

At these plain words Link Merwell grew pale.

"I – er – I didn't sign your name."

"You pretended to sign it, and that's the same thing. You got the package from the office by fraud."

"No, I didn't. I said I'd take it to the school, and I did."

"Then where is it?"

"In your dormitory."


"On the top shelf of the closet – been there since yesterday," and now Link Merwell leered over the joke he had played.

"Ha! ha! ha!" came from Nat Poole. "That's one on you, Dave Porter."

"It was a mean trick to play," was Phil's comment.

"Did you open that package?" demanded Dave.

"No, I didn't touch it, excepting to bring it from the express office."

"Very well then, Merwell. If I find anything wrong I'll hold you responsible."

"Say, you needn't try to scare me!"

"I am not trying to scare you – I am merely giving you warning. I won't put up with any of your underhand work, and I want you to know it," answered Dave, and turning on his heel he walked back to the school, followed by Phil.

"He's mad all right," whispered Nat Poole.

"Maybe he has heard from that Crumville girl in a way he didn't like," returned Link Merwell, and closed one eye suggestively.

"Well, if he did, I hope she didn't say anything about the letter," answered Nat Poole, somewhat uneasily. "That was awfully strong."

"Pooh! Don't get scared Nat; nobody will ever find out who wrote that letter, if we keep our mouths shut."

Going up to the dormitory, Dave found the package on the shelf of the closet, as Merwell had said. It was tucked behind some other things, well out of sight.

"It was certainly a well-planned trick," said the shipowner's son, while Dave was opening the package. "He did this so, if he was found out, he could say he gave the package to you and could bring the doctor here to prove it. Perhaps he had in mind to add that you had hidden the package yourself, just to get him into trouble."

"Maybe you're right, Phil; I believe Merwell equal to almost anything."

Fortunately the contents of the package had not been disturbed. Having ascertained that much, Dave went off to find Gus Plum, so that they might have a final rehearsal of the little play they were to enact. In the lower hall he ran into Job Haskers.

"Porter, I want to see you!" cried the assistant teacher, harshly. "You were absent at dinner time. You know that is contrary to the rules. What have you to say for yourself?"

"I met my father in Oakdale, sir – he is coming to the entertainment to-night. He asked Phil Lawrence and myself to dine with him. I have a note for the doctor from him explaining the matter."

"Hum! Very well," answered Job Haskers, and hurried off without another word. Dave smiled grimly to himself, and lost no time in taking the note to the doctor, who excused him and Phil readily.

Dave learned from Shadow that Gus Plum had been in the school but had gone off in the direction of the old boathouse. Feeling that it was growing late Dave hurried after the missing student. Just as he neared the old boathouse, which stood partly on some rocks and partly over the river, he heard a strange crash of glass.

"Hello, what's that?" he asked himself, and ran forward to see.

"There! you'll never tempt me again!" he heard, in Gus Plum's voice.

Then he turned the corner of the old boathouse and saw the former bully of Oak Hall standing near some rocks. At his feet lay the remains of a big bottle. Plum looked pale and as if he had been fighting.

"Oh, Gus!" cried Dave, and then stopped short and looked at the broken bottle and at the stuff flowing over the rocks.

"Dave!" returned the big youth. And then he added, simply: "It was a bottle of wine, and rather than keep it to be tempted, I smashed it."


"Gus, that was the bravest thing you ever did!"

And so speaking, Dave caught the other youth by the hand and shoulder and held him for a moment.

"Oh, I don't know about that," was the hesitating reply. "I – I should have smashed it when I received it."

"Where did you get the wine, if I may ask?"

"It was sent to me by Link Merwell."

"What!" Dave's manner showed his great astonishment. "Do you mean to say he sent you that, knowing that you were trying to give up the habit?"

"Yes. He says I am a fool to listen to you – said I was tied to your coat-tail – that I ought to be independent. He says a little drinking won't hurt anybody."

"Gus, he is trying to – to – " Dave could not finish the sentence, for he did not want to hurt Plum's feelings.

"Yes, I know. He'd like to see me down and out, as the saying goes. He hates me because I won't chum with him any longer."

"The less you have to do with him the better, Gus."

"I know that, and just before I came out here to break that bottle I sent him a note telling him that if he sent me any more such stuff I'd break the next bottle over his head!" And Plum's face glowed with some of his old-time assertiveness.

"Well, I shouldn't blame you for that, Gus. I rather think your threat will keep him in the background for a while."

Dave could realize something of the struggle which the former bully had had, to throw the bottle of wine away. But he did not know all – how for three hours the poor lad had wavered between drinking and abstaining – and that it was only the thoughts of Dave, and of his mother and home, that had kept him in the right path.

Leading the way to the new boathouse, Dave found a spot where they would not be interrupted, and here he and Plum went to work on their dialogue, making such final changes as seemed best.

"I've had my troubles with Merwell, too," said Dave, and told about the express package. "He seems bound to bring us to grief."

"He's a bad egg – the worst in the school," was Gus Plum's comment.

It must be confessed that all the boys were a little nervous as the time approached for the entertainment. It was to take place in the large assembly room of Oak Hall, and the platform had been transformed into something of a stage, with side curtains and a drop, and a back scene hired from a distant theater and representing a garden. The room itself was decorated with flags and bunting, and looked cozy and inviting.

Promptly on time the visitors began to arrive, some from Oakdale and others from a distance. The boys to take part in the show were behind the scenes, while others showed the visitors to seats, so that Dave did not see any of his friends or relatives until later.

The programme had been divided into two parts, of five numbers each, including an opening song by all the players, and a closing farce written merely to bring in all the characters.

"Now, fellows, do your best," said Luke Watson, as the school orchestra played the overture. "Make it as near like a professional show as possible."

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story," came from Shadow. "Once some young ladies – But, pshaw! I'll save that for the stage," he added, and broke off suddenly.

The opening number went very well, and then came a playlet by four of the boys representing four sailors ashore after an ocean trip of five years. The sailors did not apparently know how to act in a big city and did so many ridiculous things that the applause was long and loud.

A musical number followed, introducing banjo playing by Luke, a guitar solo by Henshaw, a cornet solo by a lad named Dixon, and then a trio by the three. Then came fancy dumbbell exercises and club-swinging by three members of the gymnasium club, and this too went very well, the exercisers keeping time to a march played by the orchestra.

The next number was Shadow's monologue, and when that youth came out everybody had to laugh before he said a word. He was dressed as an extreme dude, with big checked coat and trousers, fancy colored vest, a tremendous watch-chain, and paste diamond stud, very pointed patent leather shoes, a high standing collar, and a highly-polished silk hat.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys, girls, and fellow-weepers," he commenced with a profound bow and a flourish of his silk hat, "I have been asked an important question, namely, What is the difference between a cat and a shotgun? Well, I don't know, excepting that both can go off, but it's only the feline that comes back. Now, that puts me in mind of a story I once heard while traveling in Egypt with Noah, looking for a typewriter which was lost overboard from the ark. A little boy went to a hardware store for his dad and hung around waiting to be waited on. At last a clerk asked, 'Well, little boy, what do you want?' 'Oh,' says the little boy, 'I want a fire engine, an' a hobby horse, an' a automobile, an' a lot o' things, but papa he wants a bottle of glue, an' he says if it don't stick he'll stick you for it!' Now, that's the same boy who went to the courthouse to get courtplaster for his mother and then went down to the henhouse to look for egg plants."

There was considerable applause over this opening, and Shadow continued:

"That hand-clapping puts me in mind of another story. A would-be actor had joined a barn-storming company, and the company opened in a little place on Staten Island where the mosquitoes are manufactured by the ton, gross, or hogshead, just as you want 'em. Well, as soon as the play commenced, the would-be actor thought he heard a lot of applause. Says he to the scene-shifter: 'We've got 'em a-going, haven't we?' 'I don't know if you have or not,' answered the scene-shifter. 'I know the mosquitoes have some of 'em a-going, by the way they're slapping at 'em!' Well, that company busted up and the would-be actor had to come home on a trolley-car because he couldn't afford the train. He had only a nickel, and that he put into his mouth, and all at once it went down. 'What's the matter?' asked the conductor. 'I – I swallowed my nickel – the only one I had!' gasped the would-be actor. 'Never mind, I'll ring it up,' said the conductor, and he did. And then the actor didn't know if he was a nickel in or a nickel out."

This brought forth more applause, and Shadow continued to tell one story or joke after another, in rapid succession, until the entire audience was roaring. When he made his bow and disappeared behind a side curtain his monologue was voted by all one of the hits of the evening.

"It was all right," said Dave. "I only hope our playlet goes as well."

The playlet came in the middle of Part Two, and the stage was set with a table, two chairs, and several other things. The table was a small one stored in a side room, and the chairs were common kitchen chairs. They were brought out by Chip Macklin and Frank Bond, who had been chosen to do all kinds of errands.

"I just met Link Merwell in the side room," said Chip, when he came out with the table. "He looks as sour as can be. I guess he wishes the show would be a failure – because he wasn't asked to take part."

"Yes, he'd like to make it a failure," answered Dave; and then, for the time being, turned his whole attention to the play and gave his enemy no further thought.

Dave and Plum had gotten themselves up with great care, as a German immigrant and a darky, and when one shuffled on the stage after the other there was a good deal of laughing. The playlet revolved around the question of getting situations as a butler and a footman in a fashionable residence, and the lines were humorous in the extreme, and both Dave and Gus got about all the fun possible from them.

"Oh, how very, very funny!" cried Laura, and could hardly control her laughter.

"It certainly is funny," answered Jessie, and then she glanced over to where Vera Rockwell was sitting with some friends. She saw Vera applauding vigorously and it piqued her just a little. She clapped her hands, too, but her heart was not as light as it might have been had Vera not been there.

In the course of the playlet, Dave had to stand on one of the chairs and then mount to the table, to show how he would play the part of a footman. As he got up on a chair there was an unexpected crack, and down went the back part, letting him fall most unexpectedly.

It takes a quick-witted person to do just the right thing in a case of emergency. Dave had not looked for this fall, and the play did not call for it. Like a flash he felt that this was some trick of Link Merwell. But just as quickly as the accident came he resolved to make the best of it. In a very comical way he rolled over twice, stood partly on his head and then sat up with a dazed expression.

"Oxcuse me!" he said, in a German tone of voice. "I tidn't know dot chair vos so tired owid he tidn't vont to hold me alretty." Then he picked up the broken chair. "Vell, of you ton't vont to sthand up, chust lay down," and he flung the broken article behind him.

This brought forth an extra round of applause and in the midst of this Dave began to climb up the second chair. That too he felt to be "doctored," and he went up with care and thus managed to stand on top without breaking off the legs which had been nearly cracked through. Then from the chair he went to the table. He knew what to expect now and began to prepare for it.

"Dis coach vos got von palky horse," he said. "Chust you hold der animile alretty, yah!"

"Dat wot I will, brudder Carl," answered Plum, in negro dialect, and wondering what was to come next, for those lines were not in the playlet.

"Now, dot is der vay I goes me riding py der Park," went on Dave, beginning to wabble on the shaky table. "Whoa mit dot hoss! Tidn't I told you he vos balky?" For the table was growing weaker and weaker.

"Say, dun yo' know dat hoss has got de dumb ager?" demanded Plum. "Wot yo' want to give him is a dose of Plaster of Paris Pills fo' Peevish People. If dat hoss should – "

"He's running avay! Call der fire engines and der hoss-pistol vagons!" bawled Dave, and made a movement as if on a runaway coach. Then, as the table settled with a final crash, he whispered to Plum: "Make believe stop the horse and quarrel over it." Then he leaped forward, caught an imaginary horse by the tail and struggled to hold back. Gus was equally quick-witted and leaped to the head of the same imaginary horse and stretched up and down, as if he had hold of the bridle. Then the two boys backed and "shied" all over the stage, overturning the second chair, at which Dave yelled, "Dere goes dot peanut stand alretty!" Then of a sudden the two young actors faced each other.

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