Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter and His Classmates



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"We must get back to the boathouse. Remember, the Soden boys are still locked up in that closet. It hasn't much ventilation and we don't want them to smother."

"I'm not going around by the road," said Henshaw.

"Not on your life!" exclaimed Ben. "I'd rather go down to the river and walk over the ice."

It was finally decided to follow Ben's suggestion, and the crowd continued on their way through the brushwood until the Leming River was reached. They saw or heard nothing more of Mike Marcy and his hired boy, for which they were thankful. Reaching the ice, they set off at a dog-trot for the old boathouse.

"If we only had skates this would be fine," declared Dave. "But as we haven't any we've got to make the best of it."

"As the servant girl said, when she told her mistress that she couldn't make sponge cake because they didn't have any sponges," answered the senator's son.

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story about a – " began Shadow. But just then one of the boys put out his foot and down went the story-teller of the school on the ice. "Hi, you!" he roared and pulled the other youth on top of him. Then began a wild scramble on the part of both to see who could get up first, and the story was forgotten.

When the Gee Eyes came in sight of the old boathouse they were surprised to learn it was well past midnight.

"We'll have to rush matters," said Dave. "If we don't, somebody may report us, and the doctor won't let us off very easily if we stay out too late."

"Maybe we'd better postpone the other initiations," suggested Luke.

"Oh, no, go ahead!" cried half a dozen. "We are safe enough."

Entering the old boathouse, the boys lit all the lanterns they possessed, and those who had lost their head-coverings tied masks over their faces. Then some approached the closet in which the Soden twins had been confined.

"Hello!"

"They are gone!"

"What does this mean?"

"They must have broken out and run away!"

Such were some of the exclamations indulged in when it was found that the apartment was empty. A hasty examination was made of the hasp and staple of the door, and they were found intact. A wooden peg had served to keep the hasp in place.

"It looks to me as if somebody had let them out," said Dave, after an examination.

"But who would do that, Dave?" questioned Phil.

"Somebody not a member of the Gee Eyes – some enemy of the club."

"But why should the Soden boys run away?" asked Shadow. "They were willing to be initiated."

"Perhaps they got cold feet – mentally as well as physically," ventured Henshaw. "They may have got to talking things over in the dark and got scared."

"They didn't break out, that's sure," declared the senator's son. "Somebody on the outside removed that wooden peg."

"Well, we didn't do it," said one of the boys.

"Can they be anywhere around?"

Some of the boys began a search, but this was in vain – the twins had disappeared.

"We may as well give up for to-night," said the president at last.

"I move we adjourn to bed," said Ben, and this was put and carried, and without delay the robes, headgears, and stuffed clubs and swords were hidden away, and the students hurried to Oak Hall.

Here another setback awaited them.

The side door was locked, and the false key they had put on a convenient nail was missing.

"Somebody is playing us tricks," said Dave. "I thought so before and now I am certain of it. I shouldn't wonder if that somebody had gone and told Mike Marcy to look out for ghosts at the end of his lot."

"Who would do it?"

"Several fellows – Link Merwell, Nat Poole, and their cronies."

"Never mind that crowd now," said Shadow. "How are we to get into the school without waking anybody up?"

"Let us try all the doors and lower windows," suggested the shipowner's son.

This was done, and at last one of the boys found a basement window unfastened. He notified the others.

"I know where that leads to," said Dave. "The laundry."

"Yes, I've been in the laundry, too," added the senator's son.

"Then one of you see if you can get upstairs through the laundry and let us in," said Buster. "And please don't be all night about it either, for I am getting cold."

"Don't say a word," came from Messmer. "My ears are about frozen already."

"I'll go," said Dave.

"I'll go along," returned Roger.

Both climbed down through the basement window, to find themselves in a place that was pitch-dark. Here Dave struck a match and by its faint rays led the way to an open cellar and then to a stairs running up to the kitchen.

Tiptoeing their way up the stairs, they tried the door at the top, and to their joy found it unlocked. They stepped into the kitchen, and just then the match went out, leaving them again in the dark.

"I know the way now, so there is no need to make another light," said Roger.

"Wait, – better have a light," answered Dave. "You don't want to stumble over anything and make a noise."

He found a candle and lit it, and then the chums crept silently from the kitchen, through the pantry and dining room to the side hall. They wanted to stop for something to eat from the pantry, but did not wish to keep their friends waiting out in the cold.

The two youths were just on the point of turning a corner of the hall when a sound struck their ears. Somebody was close at hand, snoring lustily!

"Who can it be?" asked Roger, in a faint whisper, when both realized what the sound meant.

"I'll soon find out," answered Dave, and held up the candle.

"Don't wake him up, or there'll be trouble!"

Step by step they drew closer to the sleeping person. It was a man, wearing an overcoat and a skullcap. He was seated in a comfortable armchair taken from the parlor.

"Old Haskers!" cried Dave.

"He must have been on the watch for us and fallen asleep," was the comment of the senator's son.

"Don't wake him – let him sleep."

"To be sure, Dave – I'd like to chloroform him!"

The boys passed the snoring teacher and reached a side door. Unlocking it, they slipped without, and closed the door again. Then they summoned the members of the Gee Eyes and told them of what they had discovered.

"You'll have to go in as quietly as mice," said Dave. "Otherwise he'll wake up and catch us, – and then the fat will be in the fire."

"Dave, somebody has surely been spying on us," said Phil.

"Exactly – but we can't take that up now. In you go, and take off your shoes before you start upstairs. Maybe – " Dave paused.

"What, Dave?"

"Maybe we can play a joke on Haskers, when we are about safe."

"How?" asked several.

"We might carry him out on the piazza and lock the door on him. Under that overcoat he has on only his night clothes and a pair of slippers."

"If we only could do it!" murmured Phil, gleefully.

One by one the members of the Gee Eyes entered the school building, slipped off their shoes, and went upstairs. Then, wrapping their coats around their heads, Dave, Roger, Phil, and Shadow came back and surrounded Job Haskers.

"Now listen," said Dave, who still held the candle. "If he wakes up, drop him. I'll blow out the candle, and all scoot for the dormitories, – but without noise, remember that!" And so it was agreed.

As carefully as possible they raised up the sleeping man, armchair and all, and carried him to the side door, which Dave opened. Then they took their burden outside and put the chair down in the snow at the foot of the piazza steps. This accomplished, they ran back into the school, closed and locked the door, and threw the key in a dark corner.

"Now for the dormitory!" cried Dave, and blew out the light. "And everybody undress in jig-time!"

All understood, and the way they flew up the stairs was a wonder. Like lightning-change actors they threw off their garments and got into their sleeping clothes. The other boys were already disrobed, and some were at the windows, looking down through shade cracks, to see what might happen below.

They had not long to wait. Job Haskers speedily grew cold and woke up with a start. In the darkness he stared around in perplexity and then leaped to his feet.

"Oh!" the boys heard him mutter, as some of the loose snow got into his slippers. "What can this mean? Where am I?"

He took several steps, and more snow got into his slippers. Then he slipped on a patch of ice and plunged straight into the snow with his arms and shoulders.

"Confound the luck!" the boys heard him say. "Boys, what does this mean? Who put me here? Oh, but won't I make you suffer for this! Oh, my feet!" And then he rushed for the piazza steps. Here he slipped again, and the students heard him yell as he came down on his left elbow. Then he disappeared from sight under the roof of the piazza.

"He won't get in right away!" whispered Roger. "Oh, this is the best yet!"

They heard Job Haskers fumble at the knob of the door. He tried to turn it several times and then shook it violently. Finding the door would not open, he began to pound upon the barrier with his fist.

"He's making noise enough to wake the dead!" whispered Phil.

"Somebody is going below," said Dave, a moment later. "Now I guess there will be more fun!"

"If only we aren't caught!" murmured Shadow, who was a bit afraid that the fun had been carried too far.

CHAPTER XV
WHAT MIKE MARCY HAD TO TELL

It was Murphy the monitor who let the assistant teacher in. Job Haskers entered stamping his feet loudly, for they were decidedly cold.

"Why, Mr. Haskers, what does this mean?" asked the monitor, in amazement. "I didn't know you were out. And in slippers, too!"

"I – er – I – " stammered the teacher, and then he stopped, for he did not know how to proceed. He realized that he occupied a very ridiculous position.

"Can I do anything for you?" went on the monitor.

"Murphy, have you seen any boys come in since lights were out?"

"No, sir."

"Nobody at all?"

"Not a soul."

"It is queer. They must have come in, and finding me asleep – " Job Haskers did not finish.

"Where were you asleep, sir?"

"Never mind – if you saw nobody. But listen, I want you to make the rounds, and see if every boy is in his dormitory. If any are absent, report to me in my room at once."

"Yes, sir," returned the monitor, and hurried off.

"He'll not find us missing," whispered Dave. "All hands in bed and eyes shut. No fooling now, for if you are caught something serious may happen."

The others understood, and when Jim Murphy came with a light to look into dormitories No. 11 and No. 12 he found every lad tucked in under the blankets and looking as if he had been slumbering for several hours.

"That was what I call a narrow escape," whispered Phil, after the monitor had departed. "Somebody surely spied on us."

"We'll look into the matter to-morrow," answered Luke Watson. "I'm in for sleep now." And a little later all the lads were in the land of dreams.

The next morning the members of the Gee Eyes looked for an investigation from Job Haskers, but no such thing occurred. The fact of the matter was that the teacher realized fully what a joke had been played on him while he was asleep, and he was afraid to stir the matter up for fear the entire school would be laughing at him. He made a few very cautious inquiries, which gave him no clew, and then, for the time being, dropped the matter.

The Gee Eyes were anxious to know how the Soden brothers had gotten out of the closet at the old boathouse, and were amazed when the answer came.

"Why, two of you fellows came back and let us out," said Henry Soden.

"Let you out?" asked Buster Beggs.

"Yes."

"One of the fellows said that Mr. Haskers was onto the game and that no initiations would be attempted," explained Joe Soden. "He said we had better get back to our dormitory as quickly as we could, so we scooted."

"Who were those chaps?" demanded Dave.

"I don't know. They wore their coats inside out and big paper bags over their heads."

"They were no members of the Gee Eyes," said Phil. "They were some outsiders who wanted to spoil our fun."

"Well, I must confess we were glad enough to get out of the closet, – it was so cold," said Henry Soden. "But just the same I shouldn't have run away if I had known the truth. Both of us are anxious to join your club."

"I'll tell you what I think," said Dave. "It was a put-up job all around. Some enemy told Mike Marcy about ghosts, sent word to old Haskers to be on guard, and released Joe and Henry."

"If that is true, we want to find out who that enemy was," answered Roger. "No student of Oak Hall can play such a trick on the Gee Eyes without suffering for it."

"So say we all of us!" sang out several.

"I have a plan," went on Dave. "Let us lay for that hired boy of Marcy's – the lad called Billy. Maybe he can tell us who told Marcy – if anybody did tell him." And so it was arranged.

The opportunity to interview the farm boy Billy did not occur until about a week later, when Dave and Ben Basswood were walking to Oakdale to buy some film rolls for their cameras. They took a side road leading past the Marcy farm, and caught sight of Billy down by a cowshed and beckoned to him.

"Is your name Billy?" asked Dave, kindly, for he could easily see that the lad was somewhat simple-minded, by the way he clasped and unclasped his hands, twisted his shoulders, and twitched his mouth.

"Yes, Billy Sankers, from Lundytown," was the boy's reply.

"Do you work for Mr. Marcy?"

"Do I? Sure I do – an' he works for me," and Billy grinned at what he thought was a joke.

"You went after ghosts the other night, didn't you?" continued Dave.

"Yes, we did, an' we bagged a lot of 'em, too – shot 'em full of holes an' they disappeared into the sky," and the poor deluded boy began to wave his arms as if flying.

"Who told Mr. Marcy that the ghosts were coming?" asked Ben.

"Two boys from the school over there," and now Billy jerked his thumb in the direction of Oak Hall. "They said to keep still about it, but what's the use? The ghosts are shot full of holes, shot full of holes, holes, holes!"

"Did you know the boys?" asked Dave.

At this question Billy shook his head. "I don't go to school there – I know too much. Maybe some day I'll go over and teach the teachers. One boy called the other Nat," he added, suddenly.

"Nat!" cried Dave. He turned to his chum. "Can it have been Nat Poole?"

"That's it, Nat Poole!" cried Billy. "You're a wise owl to guess it."

"What was the other boy called?" continued Ben.

"Called? Nothing. Yes, he was, too, he was called Link. That's it, Link, Blink, Hink! Funny name, eh?"

"Link!" cried Dave. "Can it have been Link Merwell?"

"More than likely," answered his chum. "Nat and Link travel together, and both are down on our crowd."

"Did they tell Mr. Marcy that the ghosts would be schoolboys?" asked Dave.

"No, ghosts," answered Billy, nodding his head gravely. "They told Mike an' he told me, an' we got the shotguns to scare 'em off. Mike don't want ghosts around this place."

"Here comes Mike Marcy now," whispered Ben. "Had we better get out?"

"I'll not run for him," was Dave's answer.

"Sure, an' what do you fellers want here?" demanded the big, brawny Irish-American farmer as he strode up, horsewhip in hand.

"Mr. Marcy, we want to have a talk with you," said Dave, coldly. "I guess you remember me."

"I do. You're the lad I once had locked up in my smokehouse," and the farmer grinned slightly.

"Yes. But I am not here about that now, – nor am I here to tell you that I was one of the boys that found your mule when he was lost and sent you word. I am here to ask you about the shooting that took place about a week ago."

"Shooting!"

"Exactly. Who were the boys who came here and told you to go to the end of your farm and shoot at a lot of innocent lads having a little fun by themselves?"

"Why – er – See here, what do you mean?" blustered Mike Marcy.

"I mean just what I say, Mr. Marcy, and I want you to answer my question."

"Eh! Say, do you see this whip?" stormed the farmer. "I'll let ye taste it in a minit!"

"You'll do nothing of the kind," answered Dave, coolly. "I ask you a question and you must answer it. This is a serious business. You fired three shots at a crowd of innocent schoolboys who were harming nobody. You cannot deny it."

"They were on my land."

"Some of them were on the road, and they were doing absolutely no harm. You merely fired at them out of pure ugliness."

"See here, do ye want this?" And now the horsewhip was raised.

"If you strike either of us, I shall at once have you arrested. How many students do you suppose are now in bed under the doctor's care because of the shooting you did?"

At this question Mike Marcy turned suddenly pale.

"I – er – was anybody hurt? I – er – I fired into the air – just to scare 'em," he faltered.

"I ask you a question and I want you to answer it, and you had better do it unless you want to get into more trouble. Who told you to go out and do the shooting?"

"We want their names and we are bound to have them," put in Ben, following up Dave's bold manner, now that he saw the farmer was growing uneasy.

"The boys were named Nat Poole and Link Merwell. But they wanted their names kept secret."

"What did they tell you?"

"They said a lot of the toughest lads in the school were going to disguise themselves an' come down here and cut up like Indians, and maybe rob me of some chickens, an' I had better be on the watch for 'em. One said I might scare 'em by saying I saw ghosts, and I said that was a good idee. So I called Billy an' told him about the ghosts, an' we got the shotguns. But as true as I stand here I shot up into the air. I didn't want to hit anybody, an' if any lad got as much as one shot in him I'm sorry."

"That is all we want to know, Mr. Marcy," returned Dave. "We thank you for the information," and he started to walk away, followed by Ben.

"But see here – if anybody is hurted – " cried Mike Marcy. "Sure, I don't want trouble – "

"We won't say any more about it – since you didn't mean to hit anybody," answered Dave. "But after this never shoot at us again."

"I won't, ye can be certain of that," answered the farmer, with a sigh of relief.

"And another thing, Mr. Marcy," added Ben. "If you see Nat Poole or Link Merwell do not tell them that you saw us or told us the truth."

"I'll remember." And with this promise from the farmer the boys took their departure. But they had not gone a hundred feet when Mike Marcy came running after them.

"Tell me," said he; "was anybody really hit?"

"Nobody was seriously hurt," answered Dave. "But you scared some of the boys nearly to death, and they tumbled all over the rocks and bushes, in trying to get out of range of the shots."

"I see. Well, I won't do any more shooting," answered Mike Marcy, and walked back to his house, looking very thoughtful.

"It is just as we supposed," said Dave, when he and his chum were alone. "Nat Poole and Link Merwell are responsible for everything. They got Marcy to do the shooting, released the Soden brothers, and somehow put Haskers on guard."

"Well, the Gee Eyes will have to square accounts with them," replied Ben. "We'll make a report at the next meeting of the club, and then the club can take what action it likes in the matter. For my part, I think such sneaks ought to be drummed out of the school."

"And I agree with you, Ben. But let me tell you one thing. Link Merwell is ten times worse than Nat Poole. Nat is a dude and a fool and easily led around by others, but Link Merwell is a knave, as black-hearted as any boy I can name. Look out for him, or when you least expect it he will play you foul."

CHAPTER XVI
SOMETHING ABOUT LESSONS

At Oakdale the two students ran into Phil, who had come to town earlier, to see about a pair of skating shoes. They told their chum of what they had learned, and the shipowner's son agreed that the Gee Eyes ought in some way to punish the offenders.

"I just met two friends," went on Phil. "I stopped at the candy store for some chocolates and ran into Mary Feversham and Vera Rockwell. Vera wanted to know how you were, Dave," and Phil grinned.

"I trust you told her I was very sick, Phil," was Dave's quick reply.

"I did – I said you were crying your eyes out for another sight of her," and then Phil dodged, to escape a blow Dave playfully aimed at his head.

The boys procured the articles for which they had come, and then took a stroll through the town. At one store an auction sale was in progress and here they met the two girls Phil had mentioned. Both were dressed in fur coats, with dainty fur caps to match, and both looked very sweet.

"We watched them selling some bric-?-brac," said Mary. "It was real fun. A beautiful statue of Apollo went for two dollars – just think of it!"

"Might get one of those statues to replace the broken one," said Ben to Dave.

"Oh, did somebody break a statue?" cried Vera.

"Yes, – and there was quite an exciting time doing it," said Phil. "Dave was the hero of the occasion."

"Oh, tell me about it, Mr. Porter!" And Vera bent her eyes full upon Dave.

"Oh, it didn't amount to much," answered Dave.

"But please tell me, won't you?" pleaded Vera.

Then both girls teased him, until at last he related some of the particulars of the encounter with Job Haskers. Mary and Vera were deeply interested, Vera especially.



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