Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter and His Classmates



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In the crowd Dave saw Vera and Mary, and spoke to them for a minute or two. Both girls thought the game the best they had ever seen.

"Oh, I think your pitching was superb!" cried Vera, enthusiastically. "I hope you do as well when you play Rockville."

"I'll do my best," answered Dave, and then turned to rejoin some of his fellow-players. He came face to face with Roger and was about to speak, when the senator's son turned his head the other way and passed on.

The club members had come to Oakdale in the carryall and a carriage, and they returned to the school in these turnouts. Dave and Phil looked for Roger, but he was not to be found. Phil, as captain of the club, had had so many details to look after that he had not gotten time to speak to Mary, much to his disappointment. But she had waved her hand to him and smiled, which was one consolation.

Link Merwell and Nat Poole had predicted defeat for Oak Hall, and when instead a victory was gained this pair did not know what to say.

"I reckon it was a fluke," was Merwell's comment. "They couldn't do it again in a hundred years. Must have been something wrong with the Resolute players."

"I heard their pitcher had a sore arm, and they had a substitute first baseman," said Nat Poole. "That would make a big difference."

"I hope Rockville Military Academy does 'em up brown," went on Link Merwell. The thought of having the honor to stand up for his own school never entered his head.

"So do I, Link. It will take some of the conceit out of Porter and his crowd. As pitcher Porter, of course, thinks he is the whole thing."

"Say, did you notice how cold Porter and Morr are getting toward each other?" And Link Merwell chuckled gleefully.

"Yes. I guess they are stirred up over that girl right now."

"You bet! And maybe they'll be stirred up some more before I am done with them."

On the following Thursday afternoon, Dave, Phil, and Plum went out for a row on the river. It was a beautiful day, clear and warm, and the three got out a boat with two pairs of oars and a rudder, so that all might have a share in handling the craft at the same time.

"Let us row down to Bush Island," suggested Plum, naming an island about two miles away, which took its name from a patch of huckleberry bushes growing there. It was a pleasant spot, and one end of the island was occasionally used by the folks of Oakdale for picnic grounds.

"That suits me," answered Dave, and soon the three boys were off, never dreaming of what this little trip was destined to bring forth.

CHAPTER XXIV
ON BUSH ISLAND

The three boys had covered less than a third of the distance to Bush Island when they passed two rowboats, one containing Roger, Ben, and two others, and another containing Doctor Clay and Andrew Dale.

"Hello! lots of folks out this afternoon," was Phil's comment.

"This is the first time I have seen the doctor and Mr.

Dale out," said Dave. "They row very well, don't they?"

"The doctor was once a college oarsman," put in Plum. "I suppose he likes to get out here for the sake of old times."

"Well, Mr. Dale pulls as well as he does," returned Dave. "Both of them pull a perfect stroke."

"Wonder if old Haskers ever rows?" mused Phil.

"Guess he doesn't do much of anything but teach and find fault," grumbled Gus Plum.

The craft containing the doctor and the first assistant was heading for the east shore of the river and was soon out of sight around a point of rocks. The other boat had turned around, so the boys did not have a chance to speak to their fellow-students.

"Here comes a motor boat!" cried Dave, as a steady put-put! reached his ears.

"It's Nat Poole's boat," said Phil as the craft came into view.

Soon the motor boat came close to them and they saw that Poole and Merwell were on board. The pair were smoking, as usual, but placed their cigarettes on the seats, out of sight.

"Where are you going?" demanded Nat Poole, abruptly.

"Rowing," answered Phil, dryly.

"Humph! Don't you wish you had this motor boat?"

"Not particularly."

"A motor boat beats a rowboat all hollow," went on the dudish student.

"Not for rowing," vouchsafed Dave.

"Well, you can row if you want to," sneered Poole. "I prefer to let the motor do the work," and then he steered away, giving the rowboat all the wash possible as he passed.

"Wonder where they are going?" said Link Merwell, as he looked back to see if the rowboat had shipped any water from the wash.

"I don't know, I'm sure."

"Perhaps they'll land somewhere. If they do, we can play a trick on 'em, Nat."

"How?"

"By taking their rowboat when they are out of sight. We can easily tie the boat on behind and tow it to the boathouse. Then those fellows would have to walk back to Oak Hall."

"Good! That would be great!" ejaculated Nat Poole. "I wish they would land and leave the boat to itself for a while."

"Let us watch 'em," suggested Merwell, and to this his crony readily agreed.

It did not take Dave and his friends long to reach Bush Island. Beaching the rowboat, they went ashore and took a walk around.

"It certainly is a nice spot for a picnic," was Phil's comment. "I don't wonder that the town folks come here – and the Sunday schools. I'd like to have a picnic myself here – when it gets a little warmer."

"We might come over some holiday – and bring a basket of grub along," said Plum.

"Oh, we'd have to have something good to eat," put in Dave. "That's three-quarters of the fun."

Much to their surprise, in walking to the center of the island, they ran into Doctor Clay and Mr. Dale. Both had some bits of rocks in their hands and the doctor had a geologist's hammer as well.

"Well, boys, what brought you?" asked the head of the school, pleasantly.

"Oh, we just stopped for fun," answered Dave. "We didn't know you rowed so far."

"We are knocking off a few geological specimens for the school cabinet," answered Doctor Clay. "These are not particularly valuable – but every little helps."

The boys remained with the men for a quarter of an hour, and then walked back to the shore. As they did this, Dave suddenly put up his hand.

"What is it?" asked Phil and Plum, in a breath.

"Thought I heard a motor boat."

"Perhaps Nat Poole's boat is near the island," suggested Gus.

"Oh, there are a dozen motor boats on the river now," answered Phil. "There, I heard it, but it's a good distance off."

No more was said about the motor boat, and they continued on their walk to the shore. Here they found their rowboat as they had left it, and entering, shoved off, and continued their row. They went a little further than at first anticipated, and consequently had to hurry to get back in time for supper, and even then were the last students to enter the dining hall.

As he passed to his seat Dave had to walk close to Link Merwell. When the bully saw him he started and stared in amazement. Then he looked around and stared at Phil and Gus. He leaned over and spoke to Nat Poole, who sat close at hand.

"They are back!" he whispered.

"Who? Porter and his crowd?" And now the dudish pupil looked equally amazed.

"Yes, – look for yourself."

Nat Poole did look, and his face became a study. As soon as possible he and Merwell finished their evening meal and went outdoors.

"Somebody must have stopped at the island and taken them off," said Merwell, when he felt safe to speak without being overheard.

"I suppose that must be it or else – " Nat Poole stopped short and turned pale.

"Or what?"

"Perhaps we took some other boat, Link! Oh, if we did that, the owner might have us arrested!"

"Nonsense! It was an Oak Hall boat – I looked to make sure, when I tied it to the motor boat."

"Let us go down and see."

"Can't you take my word for it?" asked Merwell, roughly.

"Yes. But I want to know just what boat it was."

"If they see you hanging around the boathouse they may smell a mouse."

"I'll be careful. I have a right to look after my motor boat, you know."

"That's so – I forgot that."

The youths walked to the boathouse and, on the sly, looked at the craft they had towed over from Bush Island. It was certainly an Oak Hall rowboat, and Nat breathed a little sigh of relief.

The two lads were just on the point of leaving the boathouse when Job Haskers came in, followed by a man who took care of the boats.

"Siller tells me you were out in your motor boat this afternoon," said Job Haskers. "Did you see anything of Doctor Clay and Mr. Dale?"

"No, sir," answered Nat Poole.

"Were they out in a boat?" asked Merwell.

"Yes, they went for a row about four o'clock, and they have not yet got back. It is strange, for they said nothing about being away for supper."

"Well, we didn't see them," answered both Poole and Merwell. Then both left the boathouse and took their way to the gymnasium.

Here, as fate would have it, they ran into Messmer and Henshaw, who were doing some turns on the bars, in company with Gus Plum, who, since his good work on the ball-field, was becoming quite a favorite.

"I don't think I can do many turns to-night," they heard Plum say. "I am tired out from a row Dave Porter, Phil Lawrence, and myself took to Bush Island."

"How did the island look?" asked Messmer, carelessly.

"Very nice. We walked all around it and ran into Doctor Clay and Mr. Dale. They were there gathering geological specimens."

"I'd like to make a collection," put in Henshaw. "By the way, Mr. Dale wasn't at supper. Did he come home with you?"

"No, we left him and the doctor there knocking off the bits of rock," answered Plum.

Merwell and Poole listened to this conversation with keen interest. They exchanged glances, and then the dudish pupil pulled his crony by the coat-sleeve and led the way to a lonely part of the campus.

"Oh, Link, do you think we took the doctor's boat by mistake?" asked Poole, with something akin to terror in his tones.

"Hush! not so loud!" warned Merwell. "If we did, you don't want to let anybody know it."

"But what shall we do? The doctor and Mr. Dale can't leave the island without a boat."

"I know that. But don't you say anything – unless you want to get into hot water."

"But they may have to stay there all night!" continued the thoroughly frightened Nat.

"Oh, I reckon somebody will come to take them off."

"Do you sup – suppose they saw us run away with their boat?" Poole was now so scared he could scarcely talk.

"No. We didn't see them, and consequently I can't see how they'd know us. But you want to keep mum."

"Maybe somebody saw us bring in the empty rowboat."

"I don't think so; nobody was around when we came in. Now you just keep quiet and it will be all right."

"If they have to stay on the island all night they'll be as mad as hornets."

"I don't care – I'd like to pay them both back for some of the mean things they've done to us."

"I don't know that they've done any mean thing to me," answered Nat Poole. He felt that he would give a good deal not to have touched the rowboat found on the shore of Bush Island tied to a tree. That it had been a craft used by Doctor Clay and Mr. Dale there was now not the slightest doubt.

Dave was in the library of the school, consulting a history of Rome, when Ben came in with news that Doctor Clay and Mr. Dale were missing. It was almost time to go to bed and a number of the students had already retired.

"Missing!" cried Dave, and put down the volume in his hands. "What do you mean, Ben?"

"They are missing – isn't that plain enough? They went for a row on the river this afternoon, and they have not come back."

"Why, we met them at Bush Island," and Dave explained the occurrence. "Maybe I'd better tell Haskers," he added, and hurried off.

He found the assistant teacher in the office, considerably worried. That evening he and the doctor were to have gone over some school matters that needed attention. The non-return of the master of the Hall was therefore good cause for alarm.

"What do you want, Porter?" he asked, coldly, for he had not yet forgotten the quarrel in that very room some months previous.

"I understand Doctor Clay and Mr. Dale are missing, Mr. Haskers."

"Well?"

"I only wish to tell you that Phil Lawrence, Gus Plum, and I were out rowing this afternoon and we went to Bush Island, and there we met the doctor and Mr. Dale, who had come in a rowboat."

"Indeed! Did they say anything about coming back?"

"No, sir. We left them there, gathering geological specimens."

"They wouldn't stay there unless there was a reason for it," mused Job Haskers.

"Perhaps their boat sprung a leak, or something like that."

"Ahem! Such a thing is possible."

"Would you like some of us to go to the island and find out?"

"No. If I want that done I can send Siller."

"You might go to the island in Poole's motor boat. She could make the trip in no time."

"I'll think of it," answered Job Haskers, shortly. He did not wish to give Dave any credit for the suggestion.

Nevertheless, he acted on the advice, and less than a quarter of an hour later, with the searchlight on, the motor boat left the school dock, carrying on board Nat Poole, Siller, and Job Haskers. Poole was badly frightened, fearing that what he and Merwell had done would be found out.

CHAPTER XXV
WHAT AN AUTOMOBILE DID

"Dave Porter, Doctor Clay wishes to see you in his private office immediately."

It was Murphy the monitor who spoke, and he addressed Dave just as the latter was getting ready to retire for the night. He had already called Phil and Gus Plum.

"What does he want, Jim?" questioned Dave.

"I don't know, I'm sure. He and Mr. Dale just came in, and he is as mad as a hornet."

Without delay Dave put on the coat he had taken off, and went below, accompanied by Phil and Gus. The door to the private office stood open and inside were the master of Oak Hall, Mr. Dale, and Job Haskers.

"Come in, young gentlemen," said the doctor, somewhat grimly. "I want to ask you a few questions."

They walked in and stood in a row, facing the master. Certainly Doctor Clay was angry, and Andrew Dale looked far from pleased.

"All of you were on Bush Island this afternoon," went on Doctor Clay. "When you went away, did you do anything to the rowboat that Mr. Dale and myself took there?"

"No, sir," answered Dave, promptly.

"We didn't see your boat – at least, I didn't," answered Plum.

"I didn't see it either," came from Phil.

"Porter, did you see the boat?"

"No, sir."

"All of you are positive of this?" went on the master of the school, sternly.

"The only time I saw the boat was when you and Mr. Dale were on the river rowing – before we got to the island," said Dave.

"That boat was taken by somebody. We tied it to a tree and when we went for it, it was gone. We had to remain on the island, in the dark and cold, until Mr. Haskers came with Poole's motor boat and took us off."

"Excuse me, Doctor, may I ask a question?" said Andrew Dale.

"Certainly."

"Did you boys see anybody else on the island?"

"No, sir," returned Dave.

"Was anybody near there, so far as you know?"

"Not very near. We met a number of the fellows on the river, while we were rowing toward the island."

"Who were some of those boys?" asked Doctor Clay.

Dave remembered that one of the boats had contained Roger, Ben, Sam Day, and Messmer, and remained silent.

"Don't any of you remember who were in the other boats?" asked the doctor, and his voice was sharper than ever.

"Nat Poole and Link Merwell were out in the motor boat," answered Phil.

"Yes, I know that, but both declare they were not near the island."

"Roger Morr, Sam Day, and a lot of others were out, but they were near the boathouse, and I don't think any of them went near Bush Island," answered Gus Plum.

"Well, somebody was there, and took our boat," said Doctor Clay. "If I find out who was guilty of the trick I shall punish him severely." He knew that many of the boys would laugh behind his back, and he hated to be the butt of such a joke.

After being questioned for quarter of an hour the boys were told they could go, and returned to their dormitory. Hardly had they left the office when Siller, the boatman, came in.

"The boat you had is at the dock," he announced. "It was tied up around a corner, where I didn't see it before."

"That proves some boys from this school took it from the island," said the doctor. "Is the boat all right?"

"Yes, sir. I looked her over, and in the bottom I found this case."

As Siller spoke he handed over a small leather case, which was empty but smelt strongly of tobacco.

"A cigarette case!" cried the master of the school. "Could any pupil here have had that? They know that smoking is forbidden." He turned the case over in the light. "Here is a letter painted on the side. It is rather worn."

"It is an M," said Andrew Dale, after an examination. "Let me see, what pupils' names begin with M?" He mused for a moment. "Morrison, Morr, Merwell – "

"Morrison went home yesterday, to be gone a week. Merwell said the motor boat was not near the island, and I certainly did not hear it."

"Plum just said Morr and some others were out in a rowboat," added Andrew Dale, quickly. "This may be his cigarette case."

"We'll question him."

Thereupon Roger was made to visit the office and put through a course of questions. He denied being near Bush Island and also denied owning the cigarette case. He felt angered to think he was suspected and answered the doctor so sharply that he was told to translate ten pages of C?sar the next afternoon – a task he hated. And there the whole matter rested for the time being. Merwell missed his cigarette case, sent to him by a friend for his birthday, and he warned Poole not to breathe a word about it.

"We have told the doctor we were not near the island," said the bully. "Now, if he finds out that we were, he'll punish us severely, and maybe he'll expel us." This fairly terrorized Nat, and he wished he had never seen Bush Island or listened to Merwell's plan to rob Dave and his chums of their rowboat.

In some way Roger became convinced that Dave was responsible for his being hauled up before Doctor Clay, and as a consequence he grew colder and colder toward his former chum, something that hurt Dave very much. Phil, in a roundabout way, tried to patch up the matter, but Roger would not listen. He spent his entire time in company with Shadow, Buster, and some others, and only spoke to Dave when the baseball nine did its practicing.

About six miles from Oak Hall was a private park known as Hilltop. This belonged to a gentleman named Richard Mongrace, who had a brother, a man who had once been a college football player, but who was now an invalid and could not leave the estate. Mr. Mongrace had a fine field for all sorts of outdoor sports at Hilltop, with a grand stand and bleachers, and, to please his brother, he frequently invited local clubs to use his grounds for their contests.

In the past both Oak Hall and Rockville Military Academy had played at Hilltop, and now they had been invited to do so again, and it had been arranged that the baseball series should be played there. It may be as well to state here that the contest was to consist of two games out of a possible three. If either side won the first two games the third was not to be played.

The day for the first game proved cloudy and windy, yet the Oak Hall boys went to the grounds in high spirits. Some went on bicycles, some in the carryall, and a few walked, just for the exercise.

Dave was in the carryall, along with Phil, Shadow, and ten others. They were a jolly crowd, and as the turnout bowled along over the road they sang, gave the school yell, and cut up generally. The athletic yell was very popular, as follows:

 
"Baseball!
Football!
Oak Hall!
Has the call!
Biff! Boom! Bang! Whoop!"
 

"This is the day we rip Rockville up the back!" cried one of the students.

"And poke holes in the sky with raps for home runs," added another.

"And strike out three men every inning!" cried a third. "Dave, how is our pitcher to-day?"

"Able to sit up and eat pie," answered Dave, with a smile.

"Talking about pitchers puts me in mind of a little story I heard yesterday – " began Shadow. "A little girl – "

"Hello, Shadow has hit the story trail once more!" sang out Phil. "Thought there must be something wrong with him. He hasn't told a story for an hour and ten minutes."

"He's thinking of all the outs he is going to make," put in Plum, slyly.

"Not an out for yours truly," returned the story-teller. "But to get back to the little girl. Says she to her papa, 'Papa, did you say a baseball club has a pitcher?' 'Yes, my dear,' says papa. 'Well, do they have a sugar-bowl too?'" And at this anecdote the boys smiled.

Jackson Lemond was driving the carryall. He had a team of horses which the doctor had purchased only a few weeks before. They were a mettlesome pair, and the Hall driver did not altogether understand them. At times they went along very well, but at others they "cut up simply awful," to use Horsehair's way of expressing it.

"Why don't you let the team out, Horsehair?" asked one of the boys, presently. "We don't want to take all day to get to Hilltop."

"I hate to give 'em too much headway," answered the driver. "The road ain't none of the best along here, and there ain't no telling what they might do."



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