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Title: Dave Porter's Great Search - The Perils of a Young Civil Engineer
Author: Stratemeyer, Edward
Language: English
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[Illustration: THE LONG HORSEBACK RIDE OF THE MORNING HAD WHETTED THEIR
APPETITES.—_Page 125._]

                           Dave Porter Series



                       DAVE PORTER’S GREAT SEARCH
                  THE PERILS OF A YOUNG CIVIL ENGINEER


                                   BY

                           EDWARD STRATEMEYER

 Author of “Dave Porter at Oak Hall,” “The Old Glory Series,” “Colonial
                  Series,” “Pan-American Series,” etc.

                   _ILLUSTRATED BY WALTER S. ROGERS_

[Illustration]

                                 BOSTON
                       LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.



                        Published, August, 1917


                            Copyright, 1917
                     BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.

                         _All rights reserved_

                       DAVE PORTER’S GREAT SEARCH


                             Norwood Press
                          BERWICK & SMITH CO.
                             NORWOOD, MASS.
                                U. S. A.



                                PREFACE


“Dave Porter’s Great Search” is a complete story in itself, but forms
the thirteenth volume in a line issued under the general title of “Dave
Porter Series.”

As my old readers know, this series was begun some years ago by the
publication of “Dave Porter at Oak Hall,” in which my readers were
introduced to a wideawake, American boy at an up-to-date American
boarding-school. This was followed by “Dave Porter in the South Seas,”
where our hero had gone to find his father, and then by “Dave Porter’s
Return to School.” After that we had “Dave Porter in the Far North,”
where the lad went on a second journey looking for his parent; “Dave
Porter and His Classmates,” in which our hero was put to a most unusual
test; and then by “Dave Porter at Star Ranch,” in which he took part in
many strenuous adventures.

From the Wild West Dave returned again to school, as related in “Dave
Porter and His Rivals.” Then he took a sea voyage, as told of in “Dave
Porter on Cave Island,” and later still taught some of his school chums
a much-needed lesson, the particulars of which are given in “Dave Porter
and the Runaways.”

The lad had imagined his strenuous adventures were now at an end, but
this was not to be. He heard of a lost mine, and, with his chums, went
in search of it, as related in “Dave Porter in the Gold Fields.” Coming
back, he put in some fine times in the Adirondack Mountains, as related
in “Dave Porter at Bear Camp.”

By this time the lad had graduated from school, and he now took up the
study of civil engineering. There was another lad who looked exactly
like Dave, and this person caused our hero much trouble, as told of in
“Dave Porter and His Double,” where we last met him.

In the present volume Dave is still pursuing his calling of civil
engineering. He is at work in the mountains when he comes face to face
with one of his old-time enemies. Later still word comes to the youth
that his dearest girl friend, Jessie Wadsworth, and his sister Laura
have disappeared from home. One surprise is followed by another, and the
young civil engineer is confronted by many perils.

Once again I thank my young readers for the interest they have shown in
the various volumes I have written for them. I trust that the reading of
this book will benefit them all.

                                                     EDWARD STRATEMEYER.

 _May 1, 1917._



                                CONTENTS


                CHAPTER                            PAGE

                      I IN THE MOUNTAINS              1

                     II SOMETHING ABOUT THE PAST     12

                    III A SURPRISE OF THE ROAD       22

                     IV WHAT PHIL’S LETTER TOLD      34

                      V NICK JASNIFF’S VISIT         45

                     VI NEWS FROM HOME               58

                    VII THE FIGHT ON THE TRAIL       68

                   VIII WHAT WAS MISSING             77

                     IX DAVE AT ORELLA               88

                      X WHAT THE GIRLS HAD TO TELL   98

                     XI THE OAK HALL CHUMS          109

                    XII ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP         120

                   XIII TO THE RESCUE OF SHADOW     130

                    XIV SOMETHING ABOUT BEARS       142

                     XV THE TRAIL TO NOWHERE        152

                    XVI WAITING FOR LETTERS         162

                   XVII BAD NEWS                    172

                  XVIII ON THE WAY EAST             183

                    XIX THE DEMAND FOR MONEY        192

                     XX BEGINNING THE GREAT SEARCH  202

                    XXI STUCK ON THE ROAD           212

                   XXII THE FIRST CLUE              221

                  XXIII WHAT THE LITTLE GIRLS KNEW  230

                   XXIV ANOTHER CLUE                238

                    XXV WHAT HORSEHAIR HAD TO TELL  247

                   XXVI THE MOUNTAIN ROAD           257

                  XXVII TO THE RESCUE               267

                 XXVIII PRISONERS                   277

                   XXIX TRYING TO ESCAPE            286

                    XXX THE ROUND-UP—CONCLUSION     296



                       DAVE PORTER’S GREAT SEARCH



                               CHAPTER I
                            IN THE MOUNTAINS


“What do you think of that sky, Dave?”

“It looks to me as if we were in for a storm, Roger,” answered Dave
Porter, a trace of anxiety crossing his usually pleasant features.

“Perhaps it is only wind,” vouchsafed Roger Morr, after he brought his
horse to a standstill so that he might scan the distant horizon
minutely. “You know they do have some terrible wind storms out here in
Montana.”

“Oh, yes. I remember the big winds we had when we were out at Star
Ranch,” answered Dave. “Don’t you remember once we thought we were in
for a regular tornado?”

“I surely do remember. Say, Dave, those were certainly great days on the
ranch, weren’t they?”

“Now that we’ve moved up here to Montana I hope some day to get the
chance to run out to the ranch,” continued Dave. “I would like very much
to meet Belle Endicott and her folks.”

“I’ll wager you’ll find Phil Lawrence sneaking out this way some day,”
laughed Roger.

“Can you blame him, Roger? Belle is an awfully nice girl.”

“Of course I shouldn’t blame him, any more than I’d blame myself
for—for——”

“Than you would blame yourself for sneaking off to Crumville to see my
sister,” laughed Dave.

“Humph! I guess you wouldn’t mind being back in Crumville this moment,
calling on Jessie Wadsworth.”

“I don’t deny it. But say, let us get on our way. Those black clouds are
coming up altogether too rapidly to suit me.”

“How many miles do you suppose we are from the camp?”

“Six or eight at least. You know we followed this trail for a long time
before we stopped to have lunch.”

“If that new branch of the M. C. & D. Railroad comes through this way it
will certainly follow a picturesque route,” declared Roger.

“That will suit the summer tourists, even if it doesn’t cut any ice with
the natives. But come on, we had better not waste any more time. Before
you know it it will be dark and that storm will be upon us.”

The two young civil engineers were high up on a trail among the
mountains of Montana. Far below them stretched a rugged valley,
containing more rocks than grazing lands. Off to the southward could be
seen a small stream which some time before had been shimmering in the
sunlight, but which now was almost lost in the sudden gloom that was
overspreading the sky.

“What a difference between the scenery here and that along the Rio
Grande,” remarked Roger, as the two chums made their way along the
narrow trail leading to the camp of the Mentor Construction Company.

“I’m glad of the change, Roger. I was getting tired of the marsh land
along that river, and I was also mighty tired of those greasers.”

“Not to say anything about the raids the Mexicans made on us,” laughed
the chum. “Say, we came pretty close to having some hot times once or
twice, didn’t we?”

“I hope, Roger, we are able to make as good a showing up here on this
railroad work as we did on that Catalco Bridge. That certainly was a
superb piece of engineering.”

Dave was silent for a few minutes while the horses trotted along the
stony trail. Then, pleased by a passing thought, his face and eyes lit
up with enthusiasm.

“Wouldn’t it be grand, Roger, if some day you and I could put through
some big engineering feat all on our own hook?” he cried. “Think of our
putting up some big bridge, or building some big tunnel, or some fine
skyscraper, or something like that!”

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to do it some day. The men who are
at the head of the Mentor Construction Company had to start as we are
doing—at the foot of the ladder. What one man has done, some other
fellow ought to be able to do after him.”

“Right you are! But ride slow now. If you’ll remember, the trail is
rather dangerous just ahead of us.”

The admonition that had been given was not necessary, for both young men
knew only too well the danger which lay ahead of them. At this point the
trail became exceedingly narrow and wound in and out around a cliff
which towered at least a hundred feet above their heads. In some spots
the trail was less than a yard wide, and on the outer edge the rough
rocks sloped downward at an angle of forty-five degrees.

“If a fellow slipped down there I wonder where he would land,” murmured
Roger, as he held back his steed so as to give his companion a chance to
pick his way with care.

“If you went over there you’d probably tumble down several hundred
feet,” answered Dave. “And if you did that, you and your horse would
most likely be killed. You be careful and keep your horse as close to
the cliff as possible.”

At one point in the trail where it would have been utterly impossible to
pass another person, the young civil engineers stopped to give a long,
loud whistle, to announce to any one coming in the opposite direction
that they were approaching. No whistle or call came in return, so they
took it for granted that the trail was clear and proceeded again on
their way.

By the time the vicinity of the cliff had been left behind, more than
three quarters of the sky was overcast. Far off in the distance they
could hear a murmur which gradually increased.

“It’s the wind coming up between the mountains,” announced Dave. And he
was right. Soon the murmur had increased to a strange humming, and then,
in a moment more, the wind came rushing down upon them with a violence
that was anything but comfortable.

“Come on! Don’t linger here!” shouted Dave, as he urged his horse
forward. “We’ll soon be out on the regular road.”

A quarter of a mile farther brought them to another turn in the trail,
and in a minute more they went down a long slope and then came out on a
broad trail running to a number of mines and ranches in that part of
Montana. Here for over a mile riding was much easier, and the chums made
good progress in the direction of the construction camp at which they
were making their headquarters.

“Do you think we can make it before the rain comes?” questioned Roger,
as they dashed along.

“No such luck. Here comes the rain now,” answered Dave.

As he spoke, both of the young civil engineers felt the first drops of
the on-coming storm. Then the rain became a steady downpour which
threatened every minute to turn into a deluge.

Fortunately for the two young men, they were not hampered by any of
their civil-engineering outfit. They had been asked that morning by Mr.
Ralph Obray, the manager of the construction gang, to ride up the trail
and make sure that certain marks had been left there by the surveyors
for the railroad. The work done by the railroad had been merely of a
preliminary nature, but this preliminary work, crude as it was, was to
be used as a basis for the more accurate survey by the engineers of the
construction company.

“I don’t think we can make camp in such a downpour as this,” gasped
Roger, after another half-mile had been covered.

“Maybe you’re right,” responded Dave. “It certainly is coming down to
beat the band! But what are we going to do? I don’t believe in standing
still and getting ourselves drenched to the skin.”

“We ought to be able to find some sort of shelter near by. Come on, let
us take a look around.”

Both did this, sheltering their eyes from the rain with their hands. In
such a downpour the scenery on all sides was practically obliterated.

“Can’t make out a thing,” remarked Roger in disgust. “I suppose we’ve
got to go on and take what comes. By the time we reach camp we’ll feel
like a couple of drowned rats.”

“Never mind. We’ll have a chance to change our clothing, anyway,”
responded Dave lightly. “And we won’t have to take a bath or get under
the shower.”

“Take a bath or get under the shower!” repeated Roger. “Wow! If I had a
chance to do that I wouldn’t know myself,” he added with a grin. For
neither of the chums had seen anything like a bathtub or a shower for
several months. When they took a bath it was usually in a small stream
that flowed not far from where the construction camp was located.

Forward the young civil engineers went once again, the rain beating
furiously in their faces as they proceeded. The downpour was so severe
that presently they came to where a hollow on the road was completely
filled with muddy water.

“Stop, or you may get stuck!” cried Dave, as he brought his horse to a
halt. “I think we had better try to go around this pool.”

“Come on this way,” returned his chum quickly, and turned off to the
left.

And right here it was that the two young civil engineers made a big
mistake. Had they turned to the right they would soon have come out on
the road at a point where it would have been perfectly safe to proceed.
But the turn to the left led them downward, and almost before they knew
it they found themselves between the rocks and on the edge of a thick
woods.

“Hello! where have we landed now?” queried Dave. “I don’t believe we can
get back to the road from here.”

“Oh, come on, let us skirt the woods,” urged Roger. “We are bound to get
back to the road sooner or later.”

Somewhat against his better judgment, Dave allowed his chum to take the
lead, and on they went through the rain and increasing darkness. The
first rush of wind had now somewhat subsided, but in its place they
could hear the low rumble of distant thunder. Then a sudden flash of
lightning lit the scene.

“Say, I don’t like this!” cried Roger, as the thunder became louder and
several more flashes of lightning flared over the surroundings.

“Watch for the next flash, Roger, and maybe you can see the road,”
suggested Dave.

Both young civil engineers did as had been suggested, but, though they
waited not only for the next flash of light but also for the two
following, they were unable to see more than the rocks and trees in
their immediate vicinity.

“I’m afraid we’re lost down here,” said Dave at last. “And if that’s the
case, the only thing we can do is to ride back to where we came from.”

“Oh, let us go ahead a little farther. Maybe the road is at the edge of
the woods yonder.”

“If we only knew of some miner’s camp or some ranch-house around here,
we might get shelter, Roger. I don’t much like the idea of riding in
such a storm as this is getting to be.”

“True for you! But I don’t think there is any kind of shelter such as
you mention within a mile or two of this place. I didn’t see anything
that looked like a house or a cabin when we came up the trail.”

Once more Roger went ahead, and with increased unwillingness Dave
followed him, all the while thinking that it would be better to retrace
their steps to the point where they had found the roadway covered with
water.

“We might have skirted that pool somehow,” thought Dave. “Now we don’t
know where we’ll land.”

The two riders found a slight rise ahead of them, and this encouraged
Roger into believing that the roadway was not far distant. Less than a
hundred yards further on, however, they came to a sudden halt.

“Well, I’ll be blessed!”

“I think we’ll have to turn back now, Roger.”

“I suppose so. Isn’t it too bad?”

Without warning of any kind they had suddenly come to a spot where the
jagged rocks arose in front of them several feet higher than their
horses’ heads. Off to the left flowed a swift mountain torrent, bordered
on one side by a low, irregular cliff and on the other by the jagged
rocks and the tall forest. The rain was now coming down as steadily as
ever, while the thunder and lightning constantly increased in violence.
The sky was entirely overcast, so that when there was no lightning it
was almost totally dark at the edge of the forest.

“Maybe if we could get across that stream we might climb up to the
roadway,” suggested Roger, who hated to think of going back. “Anyway,
let us take a good look the next time it lightens.”

Roger had scarcely spoken when there came a tremendous crash of thunder
so close at hand that it made both of the young civil engineers start.
The horses too were badly frightened, and both gave wild plunges one
into the other. As a consequence, a moment later Dave found himself
unseated and thrown to the ground, and an instant later Roger landed
almost on top of him.

“Hi! Stop the horses!” gasped Dave, when he could speak.

To this Roger made no response for the reason that he had come down on
the rocks with such force that he was all but stunned. Dave attempted to
struggle to his feet and catch the plunging animals, but before he could
do so the two horses had bolted away in the semi-darkness, leaving their
former riders to their fate.



                               CHAPTER II
                        SOMETHING ABOUT THE PAST


“We’re in a pickle now, and no mistake!” panted Roger.

“Let us try to catch the horses before they get too far away,” came from
Dave. “We don’t want the fun of tramping back to camp on foot.”

“Not to say anything about losing two valuable animals.”

“I hope you didn’t break any bones,” continued Dave, as he saw his chum
feeling of his knee and his elbow.

“Oh, I guess I didn’t get anything more than a good shaking up. And you
didn’t escape entirely, either. See, your hand is bleeding.”

“Oh, it’s only a scrape. Come on;” and thus speaking Dave ran off in the
direction the runaway horses had taken, and his chum followed.

To my old readers Dave Porter will need no special introduction. For the
benefit of others, however, let me state that when a small boy he had
been found wandering alongside the railroad tracks in Crumville. As
nobody claimed him he had been put in the local poorhouse, and, later
on, bound out to a broken-down college professor, Caspar Potts, who at
that time was farming for his health.

In an elegant mansion on the outskirts of Crumville, lived Mr. Oliver
Wadsworth, a wealthy jewelry manufacturer, with his wife and his
daughter Jessie. One day the gasoline tank of an automobile took fire,
and Jessie was in danger of being burned to death when Dave came to her
rescue. As a consequence of this Mr. Wadsworth became interested in the
boy, and decided that he should be given the benefits of a good
education and had sent him to a first-class boarding school, as related
in the first volume of this series, entitled “Dave Porter at Oak Hall.”
With Dave went Ben Basswood, his one boy friend in the town.

At Oak Hall Dave made a number of close friends, including Roger Morr,
the son of a well-known United States Senator; Phil Lawrence, the
offspring of a rich ship-owner; “Shadow” Hamilton, who loved to tell
stories; and Buster Beggs, who was as fat as he was jolly.

In those days the principal thing that troubled Dave was the question of
his parentage. To solve the mystery of his identity he took a long sea
voyage, as related in “Dave Porter in the South Seas,” where he met his
uncle, Dunston Porter, and learned much concerning his father, David
Breslow Porter, and also his sister Laura, who were at that time
traveling in Europe.

On his return to school, and during the time that our hero spent in
trying to locate his father and his sister, as related in succeeding
volumes of this series, Dave made many new friends. But there were some
lads who were jealous of the boy’s success, and two of them, Nick
Jasniff and Link Merwell, did what they could to get our hero into
trouble. The plot against Dave, however, was exposed, and in sheer
fright Nick Jasniff ran away and went to Europe while Merwell went out
West to a ranch owned by his father.

Dave’s sister Laura had an intimate friend, Belle Endicott, who lived on
Star Ranch in Montana, and through this friendship all of the boys and
girls were invited out to the ranch. There, to his surprise, Dave fell
in once more with Link Merwell and finally exposed that young rascal so
that Link thought it would be to his advantage to disappear.

“You’ll have to keep your eyes open for those wretches,” was Roger’s
comment at the time.

“They’ll get the better of you if they possibly can, Dave,” Phil
Lawrence had added.

“I’ll watch them,” the youth had answered.

When the Christmas holidays arrived Dave went back to Crumville, where
he and his folks resided with the Wadsworths. Directly after Christmas
came a startling robbery of the Wadsworth jewelry works, and Dave and
his chums by some clever work discovered that the crime had been
committed by Merwell and Jasniff. After a sea voyage to Cave Island,
Jasniff was captured and sent to jail, but Merwell at the last minute
managed to make his escape.

The trip to Cave Island was followed by another to the great West, where
Dave aided Roger Morr in locating a gold mine which had been lost
through a landslide.

After this our hero went up to Bear Camp in the Adirondack Mountains,
where he had a glorious time with all of his chums and also the girls.
At that time Dave fell in with a young man named Ward Porton, who was
almost our hero’s double in appearance. Porton proved to be an
unscrupulous person, and caused our hero not a little trouble, he trying
at one time to palm himself off as the real Dave Porter. This scheme,
however, was exposed, and then Porton lost no time in disappearing.

Our hero had now graduated from Oak Hall, and he and Roger Morr had
taken up the profession of civil engineering. In the midst of his
studies Dave was startled by the news of the disappearance of some
valuable miniatures which had been willed to his old friends, the
Basswoods. It was discovered that Ward Porton was in this plot, and
later on this evildoer, along with his disreputable father, was brought
to justice.

As soon as their first examination in civil engineering had been passed,
Dave and Roger had succeeded in obtaining through their instructor
positions with the Mentor Construction Company, a large concern
operating many branches throughout the United States and in foreign
countries. They were assigned to a gang operating in Texas, building a
railroad bridge near the Rio Grande. This construction camp was under
the general management of Mr. Ralph Obray, assisted by a number of
others, including a middle-aged man named Frank Andrews, who had
speedily become a warm friend of the young civil engineers.

The work had proved absorbing from the start to Dave, and it must be
said that the senator’s son was almost equally interested. Both kept up
their studies every day and kept their eyes and ears wide open, and
consequently made rapid progress. On more than one occasion Mr. Obray
had given them encouraging words and shown his satisfaction, and Frank
Andrews was enthusiastic.

“You fellows keep on the way you have started, and some day you’ll be at
the top of the ladder,” was the way Andrews expressed himself.

The two young civil engineers had remained at work on the Catalco Bridge
for nearly a year. Then the task had been turned over to another gang,
and the Obray outfit, as it was commonly called, had been sent up from
Texas into Montana, to take up the work of roadbed and bridge
construction for the M. C. & D. Railroad.

This railroad was simply a feeder of one of the main lines, yet it was
thought that in time it would become a highly important branch. The work
to be undertaken was unusually difficult, and it was an open secret that
several construction companies had refused even to give figures on it.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us up here,” had been Frank Andrews’
remark to Mr. Obray, after the pair had gone over the situation
carefully.

“Right you are, Andrews,” the manager of the construction gang had
answered. “It looks all right on paper, but we are going to have a good
many difficulties which can’t be put down in black and white.”

“What we’ve got to guard against, to my way of thinking, is landslides,”
the assistant had answered.

Since beginning work for the Mentor Construction Company, Dave and Roger
had had two opportunities for returning to the East. They had come by
the way of Washington, where Senator Morr and his wife were now
residing, and had also stopped off at Philadelphia to visit Phil
Lawrence. Then they had made their way to Crumville, there to put in a
most delightful time with Dave’s folks and the Wadsworths. As my old
readers are aware, to Dave there was no girl in the world quite so sweet
and lovable as Jessie Wadsworth, while it was noticed that Roger and
Dave’s sister Laura were together whenever occasion permitted.

The two young civil engineers had been in Montana now for about three
weeks, and during that time they had gone on numerous errands to places
ten and even twenty miles away. On arrival they had hoped to visit Star
Ranch, but had learned that this place was nearly a hundred miles off.
They had looked at some of the local mines with much interest, and had
likewise visited several ranches.

“We’ll get to know this whole district like a book before we get through
with it,” had been Roger’s comment.

“Maybe,” Dave had answered. “Just the same, if I were you I wouldn’t go
too far away from the regular trails without a pocket compass. Getting
lost among these mountains might prove very serious.”

The two young civil engineers had started off on their errand that
morning in high spirits, due not alone to the fact that both were
feeling in the best of health and were doing well in their chosen
profession, but also to the fact that the day before they had received a
number of letters from home, including a warm epistle to Dave from
Jessie and an equally tender missive from Laura to Roger.

At their end the two girls had written each in the confidence of the
other, so that the two chums did not hesitate to talk over the contents
of both letters between them.

“Oh, we’ve got the brightest prospects in the world before us!” Dave had
cried when they had set out, and in the exuberance of his spirits he had
thrown his cap high up in the air.

But the prospect at this particular minute did not seem to be so bright.
The rain was coming down steadily, accompanied by sharp crashes of
thunder and vivid flashes of lightning, and the two youths had all they
could do to keep their feet as they sped along in the direction the
runaway horses had taken.

“This is the worst ever!” groaned Roger, as both presently came to a
halt with the rocks on one side of them and the forest on the other. “I
can’t see anything of those horses, can you?”

Dave did not for the moment reply. He was waiting for the next flash of
lightning, and when it came he strained his eyes in an effort to locate
the vanished steeds. The effort, however, was a vain one.

“They’re gone, that’s sure,” he announced gloomily. “If the storm didn’t
make so much noise we might be able to hear them clattering over the
rocks; but between the wind and the thunder that’s impossible.”

“They had to come this way, for it’s the only way. Let us go on a little
farther.”

As there was nothing else to do, Dave followed his chum along the edge
of the forest and at last the pair reached the spot where they had left
the road. Here the pool of water had become much larger and deeper.

“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere,” grumbled the senator’s son, as
they came again to a halt. “Just look at this! It’s a miniature lake!”

“We’ll have to get around it somehow, Roger,” was the reply. “Let us try
the other side this time.”

“But what about the horses?”

“If they came up here on the roadway I’ve an idea they started straight
for camp. They wouldn’t know where else to go.”

Not caring to stand still in such a downpour, the two started to skirt
the pond, going in the opposite direction to that which they had before
taken. They had to clamber over a number of rough rocks and through some
brushwood heavily laden with water, so that by the time they reached the
other side they were as wet as if they had taken an involuntary bath.

“Well, there’s one consolation,” announced Roger grimly. “We couldn’t
get any wetter if we tried.”

“Come on. Let us leg it for camp as fast as we can,” returned Dave.
“It’s pretty cold out here, drenched like this.”

“Wait a minute! I think I saw something!” cried the senator’s son
suddenly. “Look!”

He pointed off to one side of the roadway, and both waited until another
flash of lightning lit up the scene.

“The horses!”

They were right. There, not over a hundred yards away, stood the two
runaway steeds, partly sheltered by several big trees. Their heads had
been down, but now they suddenly came up as if in fresh alarm.

“Do you think we can catch them, Dave?” gasped the senator’s son.

“We’ve got to do it, Roger,” was the reply. “But be careful, or they’ll
get away as sure as fate. Here, you approach them from the right and
I’ll go around to the left. And don’t let them get past you, no matter
what happens.”



                              CHAPTER III
                         A SURPRISE OF THE ROAD


Fortunately for the two chums, the flash of lightning which had revealed
the two horses to them was followed by something of a lull in the storm
and this served to keep the steeds from stampeding again.

“Be careful, Roger,” cautioned Dave, as they separated to do as our hero
had advised.

“Do you want me to take my own horse or the one which happens to be
nearest to me?” questioned the senator’s son.

“Take the nearest, by all means—and be sure to hold on tight!”

In the darkness, and with the rain still coming down steadily, the two
approached closer and closer to the horses. One animal gave a low snort,
but whether of fear or recognition of his master could not be
ascertained.

“I guess we’ve got them, all right enough,” sang out Roger, as he made a
dash to cover the dozen feet that separated him from the nearest steed.

Dave was a few steps farther away from the other horse. At that instant
came another clap of thunder, followed almost instantly by the
lightning. Then came a crash in the forest, showing that a tree close by
had been struck.

The nervous horses wheeled around and reared up. Then one started in one
direction and the other in another.

“Grab him, Roger! Don’t let him get away!” yelled Dave, and made a wild
leap for the animal nearest him. He caught the loose rein, and an
instant later had a firm hold on the steed. The horse did considerable
prancing, but the youth, who some seasons before had tamed a bronco at
Star Ranch, was not daunted. He brought the animal to a standstill, and
then, seeing that it was his own mount, leaped lightly into the saddle.

“Now behave yourself, old boy,” he said soothingly, patting the animal
on the neck. “You’re all right. Take it easy.”

In the meanwhile, Roger was having an exciting experience with his own
horse. The animal had tried to back away from him, and had gotten a hind
leg fast between two trees. Now he began to kick out wildly, hitting one
of the trees several resounding blows.

“Whoa there! Whoa!” cried the senator’s son; but his horse continued to
kick out until, with a wrench, he got the other foot free. Then he began
to prance around once more, showing every evidence of wanting to run
away.

“Wait! I’ll hold him while you get into the saddle!” cried Dave, riding
up. And then he placed himself directly in front of Roger’s mount.

Taking advantage of this opportunity, the senator’s son made a leap and
got safely into the saddle; and then the two runaway horses settled down
to behaving themselves decently.

“This was luck, all right,” remarked Dave, when the brief excitement was
over.

“Right you are,” was the ready reply. “I didn’t fancy walking back to
the camp.”

“Nor losing two such valuable horses,” added our hero. “If they had
failed to return perhaps Mr. Obray would have made us pay for them, and
that would make a big hole in our salaries.”

Making sure that the horses should not get away from them again, the two
young civil engineers rode back to the road, and then with caution
picked their way along on the right-hand side of some ever-increasing
ponds of water. This was slow and dangerous work, the horses slipping
and sliding among the wet rocks and loose stones, and more than once
getting into mud and water up to their knees. But at last that peril was
left behind, and once again the youths found themselves on comparatively
solid ground and headed in the direction of the construction camp.

“We’ll sure have a story to tell when we get back,” remarked Roger, as
they rode along side by side.

“Yes. But we’ll want to change our togs before we start to tell it,”
returned Dave grimly. “I feel as if I had jumped overboard with all my
clothing on.”

“It looks to me as if the storm was passing away,” continued the
senator’s son, gazing up at the sky.

“Oh, more than likely it will stop raining as soon as we get back,
Roger. It would be just our luck.”

It was true that the storm was passing, and they were still some
distance from the construction camp when the rain practically ceased. A
portion of the clouds rolled away, making the sky much clearer.

“I’ll bet the sun comes out as brightly as ever before it sets,”
ventured Roger. “Hang it all! why couldn’t we have found some shelter
during this awful downpour? Then we wouldn’t have got wet to the skin.”

“Never mind, Roger. There is no use in crying over spilt milk. Don’t
forget how thankful we are that we got our horses back.”

The chums were still out of sight of the construction camp when they
heard a clatter of hoofs on the stony roadway ahead of them. In a minute
more a figure, clad in a semi-cowboy outfit, came galloping toward them.

“Hello! who can that be?” cried Roger.

“Maybe it’s one of our men coming out to look for us,” answered Dave.
“Perhaps Mr. Obray or Frank Andrews got worried when it began to blow so
and lighten so hard.”

The two young civil engineers slackened their pace, expecting that the
newcomer would halt as soon as he saw them. They drew up to one side of
the road, and were somewhat surprised to see the person on horseback go
by without paying any attention to them. He was a fellow about their own
age and had his head bent down over his horse’s neck as if he was in
deep thought.

Both of the young civil engineers stared at the rider as if he were a
ghost. Neither of them said a word, but they both looked after the
passer-by as if they could not believe the evidence of their senses.

“Dave, did you see him?” came at last in an excited tone from Roger.

“I certainly did, Roger!”

“It was Nick Jasniff!”

“So it was!”

“But how in the world did he get here?”

“I don’t know. I thought he was in prison!”

“So he was—we saw him sentenced ourselves, after we caught him on Cave
Island.”

“And his sentence can’t be up yet. The time is too short.”

“Maybe he broke jail or got out sooner on account of good behavior. You
know they give prisoners some time off if they behave themselves well.”

“You don’t think we could be mistaken?”

“I don’t think so. If that fellow was not Nick Jasniff, it was his
double.”

“Oh, don’t say anything about doubles!” cried Dave quickly. “I had all I
want of that sort of thing with Ward Porton. I’m quite sure that fellow
was Nick Jasniff himself. He had that same hang-dog, slouching way about
him he had when he went to Oak Hall.”

“But what can he be doing out here in Montana?”

“I don’t know,—unless he may have thought that some of the Merwells were
still out here. He, of course, must know about Mr. Merwell disposing of
the Three X Ranch.”

“You don’t suppose he came out here to see us, do you?”

“To see us? Not on your life! Why should he want to see us? He knows
well enough that we have no use for him.”

“But maybe he wants to get square with us. You know he threatened us in
all sorts of ways after we had him arrested. And you know what an awful
wicked fellow he is, Dave. Didn’t he try once in the Oak Hall gym to
brain you with an Indian club?”

“Yes; I remember that only too well, Roger. Just the same, I don’t think
a fellow like Jasniff would come away out here to square accounts with
us. It’s more likely he came out here to get away from the people who
know him. Maybe he thought he could start life over again in a place
like this, where nobody knew him.”

“Humph! possibly you’re right. But if that’s the case, I don’t want him
to come around where I am. I have no use for a jailbird,” grumbled the
senator’s son.

The youths had resumed their journey, and a few minutes later they came
into sight of the construction camp. This consisted of a rudely-built
office, backed up by a score or more of smaller buildings used as
bunk-houses. At the end of a row was a large, low building in which was
located the kitchen and also the mess hall, or “Palace of Eats,” as some
of the engineers had christened it. Still further away was a small shed
for horses, with a corral attached.

“Hello! I was wondering what had become of you two chaps,” cried Frank
Andrews, as they rode up to the building wherein they and the assistant
and some others had their quarters. “Some let-down you got caught in.”

“I should say so!” cried Roger. “We came within an ace of being
drowned.”

“Be thankful that you weren’t struck by lightning,” returned the older
engineer, with a twinkle in his eyes. “I suppose you’ll want to get some
dry duds on before you make any report about those marks.”

“The marks are all there, just as Mr. Obray expected they would be,”
answered Dave. “I’ve got a list of them here in my notebook.”

“By the way, Mr. Andrews, was there a stranger here a little while ago—a
fellow about our age?” questioned Roger.

“There was somebody here. I don’t know who it was,” answered the
assistant. “He was over at the main office, talking to Mr. Obray.”

“And you don’t know who he was?”

“No.” Frank Andrews gazed at the two chums questioningly. “Anything
wrong about him?”

“That is what we want to find out,” answered the senator’s son. “We
thought we knew him; and if so he isn’t the kind of fellow that any one
would want around here.”

“Why, how is that?” questioned Frank Andrews. And thereupon, in a few
brief words, Roger and Dave told about Nick Jasniff and his doings.

“You’re right! We don’t want any jailbirds around this camp!” cried the
assistant. “When you go up to the office you had better tell Mr. Obray
about this.”

Dave and Roger were glad enough to get under shelter. They lost no time
in taking a good rub-down and in changing their apparel. Then they
hurried over to the office of the construction camp, where they found
the manager and several of his assistants going over various papers and
blue-prints.

“Got back, eh?” said Mr. Obray, with a smile. “You certainly didn’t have
a very nice day for the trip.”

“Oh, well, it’s all in the day’s work, Mr. Obray,” answered Dave
lightly.

“And we had one advantage coming back,” put in Roger. “We didn’t suffer
the least bit from dust;” and at this sally a smile lit up the features
of all present. They liked Dave and Roger very much, and the fact that
Dave’s chum was the son of a United States Senator added something to
the importance of both of the young men.

Getting out his notebook, Dave lost no time in turning in his report,
which was supplemented by what Roger had to say. Then the two young
civil engineers were asked a number of questions, to which they replied
as clearly as possible.

“I guess that’s about all,” said Mr. Obray finally. “I think that makes
it pretty clear. Don’t you, Mr. Chase?” he continued, turning to one of
the other men present.

“I think so,” answered Mr. Chase. “But we’ll still have to make an
investigation up there at Number Six. I’m not satisfied about the
formation of that rock. I think we’re due for a lot of trouble.”

“Well, we’ll meet it as it comes—there is no use in anticipating it,”
answered Ralph Obray briefly.

He was a man who was never daunted, no matter how great the obstacles
that confronted him. It was his clear-headedness that had won more than
one engineering victory for the Mentor Construction Company when all the
other engineers had given up a task as impossible.

“Mr. Obray, we would like to ask you a few questions in private if you
don’t mind,” said Dave in a low voice, when he saw the other civil
engineers turn away to consult a map that hung on one of the office
walls.

“All right, Porter. Come right in here,” answered the manager, and led
the way to a corner, where he had a small private office.

“I wish to ask you about a fellow we met on the road just before we got
back to camp about half an hour ago,” explained our hero. “He was a
fellow about our own age. He was on horseback, and I thought he might
have been here.”

“There was a fellow here, and he left less than an hour ago,” answered
the manager. “I should think he was about your age, or maybe a year or
two older.”

“Was he a tall, lanky sort of fellow with a rather slouchy air about
him?” questioned Roger.

“Yes, that description would fit him pretty well.”

“And did he have a squint in one eye?” questioned Dave suddenly,
remembering a peculiarity about Nick Jasniff which he had almost
forgotten.

“Yes, there certainly was something the matter with one of his eyes. The
upper lid seemed to droop considerably.”

“Might I ask what that fellow was doing here?”

“He came here looking for a job. He said he was working on one of the
ranches in this vicinity but that he preferred to work for us and learn
civil engineering if we would give him a chance. I told him we were
pretty well filled up as far as our engineering corps was concerned, but
said he might call some other time. You see, Barry and Lundstrom are
thinking of leaving, and if they do we might have a chance for one or
two outsiders, provided they were of the right sort.”

“Well, if this fellow is the person we think he is, he isn’t any one you
would care to have around here, Mr. Obray,” cried Roger.

“And why not?” demanded the manager of the construction camp.

“Because if he is the fellow we think he is, he is a thief and a
jailbird!”



                               CHAPTER IV
                        WHAT PHIL’S LETTER TOLD


Mr. Ralph Obray was much surprised at the statement made by Roger, and
his face showed it.

“That is a pretty strong statement to make against anybody,” he said
slowly. “Perhaps you had better explain.”

“I can do that easily enough,” returned the senator’s son. “And Dave
here can tell you even more than I can.”

“By the way,” broke in Dave, “may I ask if the fellow left any name?”

“Oh, yes.” The manager of the construction camp glanced at a slip of
paper lying on his desk. “Jasper Nicholas.”

“Jasper Nicholas!” cried Roger. “What do you know about that?”

“It sounds a good deal like Nicholas Jasniff turned around,” answered
our hero. He looked at the manager. “The fellow we have in mind was
named Nicholas Jasniff,” he explained.

“Tell me what you know about the fellow,” returned Mr. Obray shortly.

Thereupon the two chums related how they had been schoolmates with Nick
Jasniff and Link Merwell at Oak Hall and how Jasniff had one day
attacked Dave in the gymnasium with an Indian club and how the fellow
had run away. Then they told of the robbery of the Wadsworth jewelry
works, and of how Jasniff and Merwell had been followed to Cave Island
and captured.

“At the last minute Merwell got away,” continued Dave, “but the
authorities hung on to Jasniff and he was tried and sent to prison for a
long term of years. How he got out I don’t know.”

“That is certainly an interesting story,” said Mr. Obray. “But if that
fellow Jasniff is in prison he can’t be the fellow that called here.”

“But look at the similarity in names!” broke in Roger. “Oh, I am sure he
is the same fellow.”

“If he is, we won’t want him around here even if he has a right to his
liberty,” declared the manager. “Our men are all honest—or at least we
think they are—and we can not take chances with a man who has been
convicted of a crime. Of course, such a fellow has a right to do his
best to get along in the world; but he had better go to some place where
nobody knows him.”

“Don’t you think we had better try to find out whether Jasniff has
really served his full term and been properly discharged from prison?”
remarked Dave. “If he is a fugitive we ought to capture him and send him
back to the authorities.”

“You are right there, Porter. It might be a good idea for you to send a
message to the East to find out about this.”

“Where do you think I ought to send for information?”

“Do you know where he was placed in prison?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Then I would send directly to the prison authorities.”

“Let us send a telegram!” cried Roger. “A letter would be too slow. I’ll
stand half the expense.”

“All right, I’ll go you!” responded our hero quickly. “If Nick Jasniff
got out of prison on the sly, he ought to be returned to the place.”

“Maybe if he did get out, and we captured him, we might get a reward,
Dave.”

“That is true, too—provided a reward has been offered.”

“You seem to be pretty sure that this fellow who called here is the man
you are after,” remarked Mr. Obray. “Don’t you think you may be
mistaken? In that storm, and with the fellow galloping past you on
horseback all hunched up to keep from getting wet, you may have made a
mistake.”

At this remark the face of the senator’s son became clouded.

“It might be so, Dave. To tell the truth, we didn’t get a very good look
at him. And yet I think it was Nick Jasniff.”

“I’m almost certain of it, Roger. I’ll never forget that face of his. I
studied it pretty well when he was up for trial and we testified against
him.”

“You might wait until he comes here again,” suggested the manager.

“Yes. But then we wouldn’t have the information we want,” declared Dave.
“I’d rather pay out my money on that telegram and learn the truth. Then,
if Jasniff was wanted by the authorities, we could make a prisoner of
him right then and there.”

“That is true.”

The matter was discussed for several minutes longer, and then the two
chums walked back to their quarters. Here they talked the matter over
between themselves.

“We can’t send a telegram to-night; the office closes at six o’clock,”
declared Dave. “We can write it out, however, and send it the first
chance we get in the morning. I think Mr. Obray will let you or me ride
down to the telegraph office with it.” The nearest station from which a
telegram could be sent was quite a distance away, and a telephone line
between the two points, while it was being erected, was not yet in
operation.

Of course Frank Andrews wished to know what had taken place, and the
youths told him. He shook his head sadly.

“It’s too bad! Especially with a young fellow,” he declared. “That term
in prison will hang over him like a cloud all the rest of his life.
Kind-hearted people may talk all they please and do all they possibly
can—the fact remains that if a man has once been in prison, unless he
can prove that he was innocent, very few people will care to have
anything to do with him.”

“If Jasniff were a different kind of fellow I’d have a different feeling
for him,” said Dave; and his face showed his earnestness. “If he had
been led into crime by others it would be a different story. But so far
as I can remember, he was always hot-tempered, vicious, and bound to
have his own way. He was the leader in that robbery—not Merwell. And
when he was captured he acted in anything but a penitent mood. On that
account I can’t get up much sympathy for him.”

“He doesn’t deserve any sympathy!” cried Roger. “Why, every time I think
of how he grabbed up that Indian club in the Oak Hall gymnasium and did
his best to brain you with it, it makes my blood run cold!”

“He certainly must have been a pretty wicked boy to attempt anything
like that,” was Frank Andrews’ comment. “It’s bad enough for schoolboys
to fight with their fists; but that at least is a fair way to do.”

The two chums were tired out from their strenuous adventures of the day,
and were glad to retire early. During the night the storm cleared away
entirely, and in the morning the sun shown as brightly as ever.

“If you don’t mind, Dave, I’ll take that telegram down to the office,”
said Roger, while the pair were dressing. “I’m expecting a box that
father said he was sending, and I can ask for that at the same time.”

“All right, Roger. But you had better wait until the mail gets in. There
may be some other message we’ll want to send.”

The mail was brought in while the youths were at breakfast, and was
distributed immediately after that repast was over.

“Hello, here’s a letter from Phil!” cried our hero, as he noticed the
postmark “Philadelphia.”

“I’ve got the box from dad,” returned the senator’s son, “so I won’t
have to ask about that at the express office.”

“I knew it!” exclaimed Dave, who had ripped the letter open and was
scanning its contents. “Phil is coming out here to pay a visit to Star
Ranch; and he says he may bring Shadow Hamilton with him. Isn’t that the
best ever?”

“So it is, Dave! But it’s no more than I expected—at least so far as
Phil is concerned. I knew he couldn’t remain away from Belle Endicott
very long,” and the senator’s son winked suggestively.

“Here’s a lot of news about the other fellows, Luke Watson, Polly Vane,
and Jim Murphy. Polly has gone into business with an uncle of his, and
Jim Murphy has a well-paying position up at Yale.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Polly Vane was one of the finest fellows that ever
lived, even if he was somewhat girlish. And as for Jim Murphy—there was
never a better monitor around Oak Hall.”

Dave had turned over to the last sheet of the six-page communication
Phil Lawrence had sent. Here the letter proper came to an end, but there
was a postscript added in lead pencil. This ran as follows:

  “You will be interested to know that some time ago Nick Jasniff’s
  case was brought up before the Board of Pardons by a Committee on
  Prison Reform. The men and women composing the committee made a
  strong plea for Jasniff because of his age, and I understand they
  made a very favorable impression on the Pardon Board. If Jasniff is
  pardoned, he will be getting out without having served even half of
  his sentence. I wish I had been there to tell the Board what sort of
  a fellow he is.”

“Here’s the milk in the cocoanut, Roger!” cried Dave, and read aloud
what Phil had written.

“Humph, so that’s the truth of it,” murmured the senator’s son. “More
than likely that committee worked on the feelings of the Pardoning Board
so that they gave Jasniff his liberty. Well, if that’s the case, there
won’t be any need for sending that telegram.”

“You’re right. If he was pardoned, that ends it, and he has as much
right to his liberty as we have to ours. Just the same, I think they
made a mistake. When he was tried, I am sure the judge, on account of
his age, gave him as short a sentence as he deemed best.”

“I’m sure of that too, Dave! Why, one of the lawyers told me that if
Jasniff had been ten years older he would have gotten twice as long a
sentence.”

“I think I had better go to Mr. Obray with this news,” said Dave. “You
can tell Andrews if you want to.”

Our hero found the manager of the construction camp just preparing to go
out with several of his assistant engineers. Explaining the situation,
Dave allowed Mr. Obray to read the postscript of Phil’s letter.

“Looks as if you were right after all, and the fellow who was here had
been pardoned,” was Ralph Obray’s comment. “In that case, you can’t do
anything about having him held. Just the same, if he is that sort I
won’t want him around.”

“If he comes again, may we see him to make sure that he is really this
Nick Jasniff?”

“Certainly, Porter. If you are anywhere near, I’ll hold the man at the
office, or wherever we happen to be, and send for you and Morr.”

Dave and Roger were now working under the directions of Frank Andrews.
In the gang were two others—a young man named Larry Bond, and an elderly
engineer named Hixon. All had become well acquainted and were good
friends. Hixon was from the West and had spent many years of his life on
the cattle ranges and in the gold fields.

“I was a prospector for six years,” he once declared. “But, believe me,
it didn’t pay. Sometimes I struck it pretty rich; but then would come
long dry spells when I wouldn’t get a thing. All told, I didn’t do as
well, year in and year out, as I am now doing at regular wages.”

Andrews’ gang, as it was termed, had some work to do at Section Five of
the proposed line, the work, of course, being preliminary to that which
was to be made on the erection of the bridges to be built. This was in a
decidedly rocky part of the territory, and the young civil engineers and
the others had no easy time of it making their survey.

“Some different from sitting in your room at Oak Hall working out a
problem in geometry, eh?” remarked Dave to Roger, after a particularly
hard climb over the rocks.

“I should say so,” panted the senator’s son.

“You look out that that chain doesn’t get away from you,” cried Dave,
pointing to the long coiled-up steel measure which the other was
carrying at his belt. The real civil engineer’s, or surveyor’s, chain is
largely a thing of the past, the steel measure having taken its place.

Frank Andrews and the others were at a distance and young Bond was
wigwagging his signals across a deep cut in the hills. Now Dave prepared
to signal in return, at the same time holding up his leveling-rod as
required. Roger attempted to climb around on the rough rocks, and then
suddenly uttered a cry of dismay.

“What’s the matter?” asked Dave.

“That measure! I just started to fasten it tighter to my belt when it
slipped out of my hands. There it goes—sliding down the rocks out
there,” and the senator’s son pointed to a spot at least fifty feet
below them.

While Dave was still signaling and moving his leveling-rod farther along
as desired, Roger began to scramble down the rocks in the direction
where the steel measure had fallen. He was gone for fully ten minutes
when suddenly Dave heard a yell.

“What’s the matter, Roger?” he called, dropping the leveling-rod and the
signal flag he held.

“It’s a snake—and a big one, too!” screamed the senator’s son. “Oh,
Dave, come here and help me! My leg is caught between the rocks, and
it’s a rattlesnake!”



                               CHAPTER V
                          NICK JASNIFF’S VISIT


The announcement that Roger had his leg caught between the rocks and
that a rattlesnake was about to attack him filled Dave with alarm.

“Oh, Roger, are you sure it’s a rattlesnake?”

“Yes! Yes! Come down and help me! Quick!”

“I will. Can’t you hit him with a rock or something?”

“I will if I can. But hurry up—and bring that axe or something with
you!”

When leveling parties, as they are officially called, go out, one man
often carries an axe with which to clear away any obstructions which may
prevent a clear sight. On this occasion Roger had been carrying the axe,
as well as the chain, and the implement now lay close to where our hero
stood.

Grabbing up the axe, Dave lost no time in scrambling down the rocks. As
he did this he heard a stone strike on some rocks below and knew that
Roger was throwing at the snake.

“Oh, Dave! Help!” yelled the senator’s son, “He’s getting ready to
strike!”

With one wild leap Dave came down to within a few feet of where his chum
stood between two rocks which reached up to his waist. One leg was fast
between the rocks, and while the unfortunate youth was endeavoring
wildly to extricate himself from his predicament, he was shying one
loose stone after another at a snake that was coiled up in something of
a hollow less than a dozen feet away. The hollow was so situated that
exit from it could only be had in the direction occupied by the young
civil engineer.

As Dave approached he saw that it was indeed a rattlesnake that his chum
had disturbed. The reptile was at least five feet in length and of
corresponding thickness, and was now coiled up as if ready to strike.

It was a moment which called for immediate action, and without stopping
to think Dave raised the axe and sent it whirling forward toward the
snake. His aim fell short, but this shortness proved to be thoroughly
effective. The handle of the axe came down with a thud on the rocks,
sending the blade flashing in a semicircle. The sharpened bit of steel
caught the snake in the very center of its folds, inflicting several
deep cuts.

Instantly the reptile’s attention was taken from Roger. It whirled
around swiftly in search of the enemy that had struck it and whipped
angrily at the axe.

“Oh, Dave! can’t you shoot him?” gasped Roger. “I dropped my pistol when
I came down over the rocks.”

In that wild territory it was the custom of every one of the engineering
gang to carry firearms. Dave had a small automatic pistol in his hip
pocket, and this he now brought into play.

Crack! Crack! Crack! went the weapon three times in rapid succession.
The first shot did not take effect, but the second and third hit the
mark, and the rattlesnake twisted and turned in its death agony. Then,
placing the pistol back in his pocket, our hero raised up a stone almost
as large as his head and with it put the reptile out of its misery.

“Oh, Dave, is he—is he dead?” panted Roger. His face had gone white, and
his whole attitude showed how unstrung he was.

“He’s as dead as a door-nail, Roger,” was the answer, after Dave had
made a brief inspection of the remains. “He’ll never bother you or
anybody else again.”

“I felt sure he was going to bite me!” went on the senator’s son with a
shudder.

“You certainly had a close shave, and I don’t wonder that it scared you,
Roger. Think of facing a snake like that and not being able to run
away!”

“He was down in this very hollow where my leg is first. Then he glided
over to the other hollow and began to rattle and coil up to strike. If
you hadn’t come down as you did, he would have struck me sure;” and the
senator’s son shivered again.

“I think we had better wipe off that axe-handle, and the blade, too,”
remarked Dave. “He may have gotten some of his poison on it.”

“Yes, wipe it off very carefully,” answered Roger. “But first of all
I’ve got to get my foot loose. It does beat all how I got stuck.”

“You didn’t hurt your leg or your foot, did you?”

“I scraped my shin a little, but that doesn’t count.”

An inspection was made, and finally Dave had to bend down and unlace
Roger’s shoe before the limb could be gotten out of the space between
the two rocks. Then the footwear was recovered, and the senator’s son
put it on once more. In the meanwhile, Dave took up the axe rather
gingerly and also tied a bit of string to the tail of the lifeless
rattlesnake.

“We’ll take it back to the camp to show the others,” announced our hero.
“They wouldn’t believe our story unless we were able to show the snake.
Besides that, we can keep the rattles if we want to. Some people prize
them quite highly as trophies.”

The axe was wiped off with care, and then, after Roger had recovered his
pistol and also the steel measure he had dropped, the pair scrambled up
the rocks to where Dave had left his flag and the leveling-rod. He waved
the flag in the air as a signal, and presently an answering signal came
back from the other members of the leveling gang, who had been wondering
what had become of the two assistants.

“Say, you fellows have got to attend to business during working hours!”
cried Frank Andrews, when they met. “If you want to——Great catfish!
where did you get that snake?” and he broke off short to gaze in wonder
at the rattlesnake tied to the string that Roger exhibited.

“You have to break off business when you get an unexpected caller like
that,” replied Dave dryly.

“Do you mean to say that rattler attacked you?” questioned Larry Bond
quickly.

“He started to attack Roger.”

“And Dave threw the axe at him and then shot him,” explained the
senator’s son.

“Some rattler! that’s what he is!” was the comment of John Hixon. “If he
struck for you he certainly meant business;” and he examined the remains
of the rattlesnake with much interest.

“We thought we heard several shots, but we were not sure,” remarked
Frank Andrews.

“I guess you didn’t hear them very well because we were in something of
a hollow,” answered Dave; and then he and Roger gave the particulars of
what had occurred.

“You can be mighty lucky that you weren’t struck,” declared Hixon
emphatically. “When I was out in the gold mines in the northern part of
this state I knew a man who was struck twice by a rattler, and he came
about as close to dying as any man I ever saw.”

The adventure had so unnerved Roger that Frank Andrews excused him for
the rest of the day, and he went back to the construction camp, taking
the remains of the rattlesnake with him. Here the story about the
reptile soon spread; and that evening all the men connected with the
camp came in to view the rattlesnake.

“I’m very thankful that you got out of this as luckily as you did,”
remarked Mr. Obray to Roger. Then he told all of his men that they must
be very careful when they went among the rocks and through the bushes.
“Because, you know,” he explained, “where there is one rattlesnake there
may be more. I was told by those who made the first survey for the
railroad that they saw no snakes of any kind in this vicinity.
Evidently, however, there was one snake that they missed.”

“And I hope he’s the only one,” put in Frank Andrews.

The snake scare was the main topic of conversation for several days, and
it is safe to say that no one went anywhere without having his eyes wide
open for a possible appearance of some reptile. But no more
snakes—rattlers or otherwise—put in an appearance.

Phil had written that he would come out to Montana in about a week and
would stop at the construction camp before going to the Endicott place.
Dave and Roger, of course, looked forward to the visit with much
pleasure.

“We’ll have to ask for a day off just to show Phil around,” said Dave.

“That’s so. And among other points of interest we can show him the spot
where you killed the rattler,” answered his chum, with a grim smile.

“Yes, we can do that.”

“I hope Shadow Hamilton comes with him. I could even stand it to hear
some of Shadow’s oldest chestnuts of stories,” went on Roger. “It would
seem like old times at Oak Hall.”

“Let us trust that Shadow has a new batch of stories to tell,” responded
Dave. “We haven’t seen him in such a while he has had plenty of time to
gather in a new crop.”

Several days went by, and the young civil engineers were kept so busy
that they had little time to think about the coming of Phil Lawrence and
Shadow Hamilton. Once or twice they thought of Nick Jasniff and asked
Mr. Obray if that individual had shown himself.

“Not yet,” was the manager’s reply. “Maybe he got wind that you were
here and that is keeping him away.”

On the afternoon of the fourth day following the killing of the
rattlesnake, Dave and Roger were hard at work in Section Five when one
of the general utility men around the camp came riding up on horseback
and leading another steed by the halter.

“Mr. Obray sent me for you,” he announced to the chums. “You are to take
these two horses and ride down to the office as fast as you can. Some
young man is there that you wanted to see—the fellow who came here some
days ago looking for a job.”

“It must be Nick Jasniff!” exclaimed Dave, and lost no time in leaping
into the saddle. He was followed by Roger; and both hurried off along
the trail leading to the construction camp.

“Let us sneak up to the office by the back way and listen to what Nick
Jasniff has to say,” suggested Dave while they were on the way.

This suited Roger, and coming into view of the camp they left the horses
at the shed and hurried along past the bunk-houses to the rear of the
office. Here a window was wide open, and, looking through this, they saw
Mr. Obray at a desk, and sitting near him was his visitor, hat in hand.

“There is no mistake about him. It’s Nick Jasniff,” whispered the
senator’s son.

He was right, it was indeed the former bully of Oak Hall, the rascal who
had been sent to prison for the robbery of Mr. Wadsworth’s jewelry
works. Jasniff was talking very earnestly to the manager of the
construction camp.

“Yes, I am working over at the Double Eight Ranch,” Jasniff was saying.
“I’ve been there now for quite a while, but I don’t like it very much.
You see, I’ve been used to office life, and working around the
construction of skyscrapers, and things like that. I had a pretty good
job out in San Francisco and another one in Seattle. I would much rather
work for a concern like yours than to stick to cow-punching.”

“How long have you been at Double Eight Ranch?” questioned Mr. Obray. He
was doing what he could to put in time until Dave and Roger might
arrive.

“Been there nearly three months.”

“And did you come directly from San Francisco or Seattle?”

“Oh—I—er—came from Seattle,” responded Nick Jasniff hesitatingly. “I
was—er—out of work for about six weeks.”

“And how long did you work in Seattle?”

“A little over a year. I would have stayed there longer, only the firm
that employed me went out of business,” continued the fellow who had
been in prison glibly.

“Ever been in the East—in New York or Philadelphia?”

“No, sir. I never got any farther East than Chicago.”

At this reply from Jasniff Dave poked Roger in the side and both looked
at each other knowingly.

“He’s the same Jasniff,” whispered the senator’s son. “He always did
have a smooth tongue.”

“Yes. And that smooth tongue of his got him into more than one
difficulty,” responded our hero.

The pair remained silent for a minute or two longer listening to the
questions put by Ralph Obray and the answers made by Nick Jasniff.
Finally the questions became so personal that the fellow who had been in
prison commenced to grow suspicious.

“Well, will you have an opening for me or not?” he demanded at last,
arising to his feet.

At that moment Dave and Roger glided around the side of the office and
tiptoed in through the doorway. They came up directly behind Nick
Jasniff before he was aware of their presence.

“Here is the fellow if you want to talk to him,” said Mr. Obray quickly;
and thereupon the visitor turned around, to stare in amazement at Dave
and Roger.

“W—w—what——” stammered Nick Jasniff, and was unable to go on.

“You didn’t expect to see us, did you, Jasniff?” declared Dave coolly.

“You were lucky to get out of prison so quickly,” put in Roger.

“I—I—don’t know you,” faltered Nick Jasniff, and now his face grew
purple while the heavy beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead.

“You don’t know us, eh?” cried Dave. “Well, we know you well enough!”

“Even if you are traveling under the assumed name of Jasper Nicholas,”
added Roger slyly.

“See here! I don’t know what you fellows are talking about!” cried Nick
Jasniff, straightening up. “Is this some game or not?”

“It is a game—on your part,” answered Dave, quickly.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, come, Jasniff, what’s the use of talking like this? We know your
game thoroughly!” burst out Roger. “We have found out all about you, and
Mr. Obray here knows about you, too. He just sent for us to identify
you.”

At this announcement Nick Jasniff wheeled around to confront the
manager.

“Is that true? Did you send for these fellows to come to identify me?”

“I did.” Mr. Obray’s face took on a stern look. “They had told me all
about you.”

“They didn’t have any right to do that!” blustered the fellow who had
been in prison.

“Yes, they did. In fact, it was their duty to do so. We are all honest
men in this camp, and we have no use for fellows like you. I wanted to
make sure that there was no mistake. Now I am sure, and you can get
out—and stay out.”

“I think that Board of Pardons was very foolish to pardon you,” Roger
could not help remarking. “They should have let you stay in prison to
the end of your term.”

At this remark Nick Jasniff looked for a moment blankly at the senator’s
son.

“Now, see here, you——”

“Oh, we know all about how you were pardoned,” went on Roger. “It was a
big mistake. But now that they have let you go, I suppose you have as
much right to earn your living as anybody.”

“But we don’t want you around where we are,” added Dave.

“Huh, I’m not taking orders from you,” blustered Nick Jasniff.

“No, but you are taking orders from me,” interposed Mr. Obray sternly.
“As I said before, I want you to leave this place. I don’t want you to
come here again—understand that;” and he arose to his feet to signify
that the interview was at an end.

“All right—I’ll go. But I won’t forget that you had me come over here on
a fool’s errand,” grumbled Nick Jasniff. And then, as he reached the
doorway and passed outside, he turned around and shook his fist at Dave
and Roger. “Just you wait! Some day I’ll get square with you for this!”
he cried angrily.

Then he ran swiftly toward the horse he had been riding, leaped into the
saddle and rode away.



                               CHAPTER VI
                             NEWS FROM HOME


“He’s mad clean through, that’s certain,” remarked Roger, as he and Dave
hurried out of the office to watch Nick Jasniff gallop away down the
road leading from the construction camp.

“Yes. And I’ve no doubt but he’ll do his best to make trouble for us,”
replied Dave seriously. “It’s too bad! I thought we were done with that
fellow forever.”

“Do you suppose he really has a job at the Double Eight Ranch?” queried
the senator’s son, after a pause, during which they noted Jasniff’s
disappearance around a bend of the trail.

“He must be working somewhere. Or else somebody has supplied him with
funds. He can’t live on nothing.”

“Perhaps he got his funds as he got those stolen jewels, Dave.”

“That might be true too. They say very few men reform after they have
once been in prison.”

“Let us ask some of the others about this Double Eight Ranch.”

This suggestion was considered a good one, and during the next few days
they made a number of inquiries concerning the ranch in question, and
learned that it was a large place located in a fertile valley about
twenty miles away. It was owned by a syndicate of Western capitalists
and was under the management of a man named James Dackley. The ranch
employed about a dozen experienced cowboys and an equal number of
assistants.

“If Nick Jasniff works there it must be simply as an assistant, since he
knows little about a cowboy’s duties,” was Dave’s comment.

“Yes. And if he is only an assistant he can’t be paid very much money.
No wonder he wanted to join our crowd. I suppose he thought he could
earn two or three times as much.”

“Well, Roger, you can’t blame him for wanting to earn money,” returned
Dave briefly. “Now that he has paid the penalty of his crime, as the
laws puts it, he has as much right to go where he pleases, and work at
what he pleases, as anybody.”

“Oh, I’m not begrudging him a chance to earn his living,” cried the
senator’s son quickly. “I hope he reforms and gets along well in life. I
only want him to keep away from where I am. I think I’ve got a right to
pick my company, and I don’t propose to pick such fellows as Jasniff.”

Sunday passed, and then Dave received another letter from Phil Lawrence
stating that the ship-owner’s son had been delayed, but that he would
surely come West in the near future, and that not only Shadow Hamilton
but also Ben Basswood had promised to make the trip with him. Concerning
Ben, Phil wrote as follows:

  “You must know how grateful the Basswoods are to you and Roger for
  recovering those thousands of dollars’ worth of miniatures down
  there on the Border. I think they feel pretty wealthy now, having
  been offered a fine price for some of the little paintings. So it
  was an easy matter for Ben to get permission to join Shadow and me
  when the trip was proposed. Ben is wild, thinking what a good time
  he is going to have, for, as you know, he has never had the chance
  of getting around that we have had.”

“This is better than ever!” cried Roger, when he read the communication.
“Talk about old times at Oak Hall! We will tear things wide open when
they arrive.”

“We’ll have to attend to our work, Roger. You know we are here to learn
all about surveying and civil engineering. Our play days are very
largely at an end.”

“Oh, I think Mr. Obray and Frank Andrews will let us cut loose a
little—after they understand matters,” pleaded the senator’s son.

The same mail had brought the young men letters from Jessie and Laura
and also an interesting communication from Dave’s Uncle Dunston. The two
girls had been on a trip to New York with Mrs. Wadsworth, and had much
to tell about their sightseeing in and around the metropolis. Both said
they wished Dave and Roger had been with them.

“Too bad! But we are a long way from old New York,” sighed Roger. “My,
what a grand old time we could have had, visiting Bronx Park, Coney
Island, and a lot of other places!”

“Yes. And we might have taken an auto trip or two,” added Dave, his face
brightening.

“And think of being with the girls, Dave!” broke in Roger wistfully. “It
seems a terribly long time since we saw them, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does,” answered Dave. He gave something of a sigh. “Well, it
can’t be helped. If we want to make something of ourselves in this
world, we’ve got to buckle down and take the bitter with the sweet. I
guess it’s just as hard on the girls. They won’t want to go out in
company with any of the other fellows.”

“And we know what we are working for—and that is one comfort,” added the
senator’s son.

In his communication to his nephew Dunston Porter spoke about having
bought some stock in the Mentor Construction Company, and having gotten
Mr. Wadsworth to make the same kind of investment. Between them the two
had put up twenty thousand dollars.

“That sure is something worth while!” cried Roger. “It ought to help
your chance with the concern.”

“Well, if it helps my chance, it’s got to help your chance, too, Roger.”

“I never thought of the company as an investment,” went on the senator’s
son. “I think when I write to my father I’ll speak to him about it, and
tell him of what your uncle and Mr. Wadsworth have done. Maybe my father
will buy a like share.”

“That would be fine, Roger. Then both of us could feel as if we had a
real personal interest in the concern we were working for. Of course,
it’s only a small amount in comparison with what the construction
company really has invested in this business. But every little helps.”

“Yes. And it will prove to those higher up that we have some interest
beyond just earning our salaries.”

Another part of Dunston Porter’s letter referred to the clearing up of a
tract of land on the outskirts of Crumville which belonged jointly to
the Porters, Mr. Wadsworth and an estate which was represented by Mr.
Basswood. The real estate dealer had said that now would be a good time
in which to lay out streets through the tract and sell off the plots for
building. There were several new factories being erected down along the
railroad tracks, and the workingmen employed in these concerns would
want homes.

  “The tract has not been used for a number of years,” wrote Dunston
  Porter; “and during the past six summers a band of gypsies has been
  making its encampment there. We had quite some trouble getting the
  gypsies to evacuate, and a couple of them became so ugly that we had
  to threaten them with arrest. But they have gone at last, and we
  have told them that they cannot come back. We expect to lay out the
  streets and the plots of ground immediately, and then Mr. Basswood
  is going to get ready and hold a big auction sale of the various
  parcels. All of us hope to make quite some money by the
  transaction.”

“Hurrah for the auction sale of building lots!” cried Dave. “I hope they
make a barrel of money. Wouldn’t it be fun to be there and see the
various plots sold off?”

“I went to a sale like that in our home town years ago,” returned Roger.
“They had a big tent put up and furnished refreshments, and a small
brass band played selections. The auctioneer was a very gifted talker,
and he made a wonderful address to the assemblage, telling them of all
the advantages to be had by buying the lots. Then the agents got busy
and the lots sold off like hot cakes, some for cash and some on the
instalment plan. At that time there wasn’t a building of any kind on the
land; but less than a year later there were half a dozen rows of houses
and half that number of barns and garages, and now that end of the town
is quite thriving.”

“I’m sure Crumville is bound to grow,” returned Dave. “Just look at what
it was when I was a small boy and what it is to-day! We have three or
four times as many people and stores, and we have a new railroad station
with a good many more trains, and two moving picture theaters, two new
schools, another church, and several new factories. And not only that,
the business men have become so wideawake that they are gathering in the
trade for miles around—trade that used to go to other towns.”

“Well, I hope it does grow, Dave. That will make it so much better for
your folks and the Wadsworths, and also the Basswoods.”

On the morning following this conversation Dave was preparing to go out
with the others when one of the clerks from the office came to him with
the information that Mr. Obray wanted to see him at once. He found the
manager of the construction camp deep in some papers strewn over his
desk.

“Porter, would you like to go on a special errand for me over to
Orella?” the manager asked abruptly. “I’ve got some important papers
that I wish delivered, and I want to see to it that they are placed in
the hands of just the right party.”

“Why, yes, Mr. Obray, I’ll be glad to do whatever you want me to,”
answered Dave quickly. “It’s quite a trip though, so I’ve heard,” he
added with a smile.

“I know that, Porter. But the trail is a good one all the way; and if
you follow the signboards you can’t go astray. You can take a good
horse, and you had better take something to eat along, too. If you start
inside of the next hour, you ought to be able to get back before dark.
Of course, if you have any difficulty in finding the right party, you
can stay in Orella all night and come back to-morrow.”

“Oh, I think I can make the trip in one day, provided I don’t have to
lose too much time in the mining camp. I’ll be ready inside of fifteen
or twenty minutes.”

“Then go ahead, and when you’re ready I’ll give you the papers and also
tell you who they are to be delivered to.”

When Dave rejoined his chum he told Roger about the proposed trip.

“You’re in luck, Dave!” cried the senator’s son. “That will make a dandy
outing. I wish I was going along.”

“I thought at first of asking Mr. Obray to let you go,” answered Dave.
“But then I got to thinking about the time we would want off when Phil
and the others came, and I didn’t want to crowd things too much.”

“Oh, no, I’m glad you didn’t,” was the hasty response. “I don’t want to
have the manager thinking we are loafing on the job.”

Dave ran over to the kitchen and there had Jeff, the cook, put him up a
substantial lunch. Then he dressed himself for the long, hard ride
through the mountains, and a little later presented himself again at the
office.

“Here are the papers,” said Ralph Obray, handing over a large and fat
legal-looking envelope. “I want you to deliver them to Mr. Raymond
Carson or, if Mr. Carson is not there, to either his wife or his
brother-in-law, Mr. Fred Jamison. If you deliver this to the wife or the
brother-in-law, tell them that the papers are very valuable and that
they must not be given to anyone but Mr. Carson.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the young civil engineer. And to make sure of the
names he put them down in the notebook he carried. “I suppose I had
better get a receipt for them,” he added.

“Yes, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do that, Porter, although I know I
can take your word for it. I have watched you ever since you came to
work for our company, and that is why I am trusting you in the present
instance.”

“You can rely on me to do my best, Mr. Obray,” answered our hero. And
then with pardonable pride he drew from his pocket the letter he had
received from his uncle. “I guess this will prove to you how much I am
interested in the Mentor Construction Company,” and thereupon he showed
the manager the paragraph pertaining to the purchase of stock in the
concern by the Porters and Mr. Wadsworth.

“That certainly is evidence!” cried Ralph Obray heartily. “I am glad to
know your people take such a substantial interest in this company. I
might as well tell you, my folks have an interest in it, too. But now
you had better be on your way, because it’s a long trip to Orella and I
won’t feel entirely satisfied until I know those papers are in the hands
of Mr. Carson or those other people.”

“I’ll get them there just as soon as I can make it,” answered Dave.

And a few minutes later he was on his way, never dreaming of the strange
adventure in store for him.



                              CHAPTER VII
                         THE FIGHT ON THE TRAIL


The road to Orella was in the opposite direction to that taken by Dave
and Roger on the day they had encountered the heavy storm. As Mr. Obray
had said, the trail was well marked, so that the young civil engineer
had little trouble in following it.

“But you are going to have some rough riding, Dave,” remarked Roger,
when he came forward to see his chum depart. “They tell me there is one
spot on the trail where riding is as dangerous as it is on any trail in
Montana.”

“Well, Sport is a good horse, and I intend to be careful,” answered our
hero; and then, with a wave of his hand, he galloped away and was soon
out of sight of the construction camp.

Our hero felt in the best of humor, for the day promised to be a fine
one and a ride on horseback through the mountains was just to his
liking. He could not help but whistle gayly to himself as he sped
forward; and thus the first three miles of his journey were covered in a
comparatively short space of time.

Beyond these three miles the trail roughened for another mile or two,
and here the young civil engineer had to pick his way among the rocks
and loose stones with care. In some places where the trail was of dirt,
the brushwood grew thickly, so that it often brushed his legs and the
sides of his steed as they passed. This, of course, was merely the foot
trail to Orella, a sort of short cut. The main trail for teams wound
along farther down in the valley and was fully fifteen miles longer.

As Dave pursued his journey, many thoughts came to his mind, both about
his work and concerning those left at home in Crumville. The beautiful
face of Jessie, with her bewitching eyes, was continually before him;
and once or twice he took from his pocket the last letter he had
received from her, to read over some of the lines she had penned.

“She wants me to make good as a civil engineer, and I’m going to do it,”
he murmured to himself.

Shortly after leaving the construction camp he had passed several miners
who were prospecting in that vicinity, but now he seemed to be alone on
the trail, and the only sound that broke the stillness was the
occasional cry of a wild bird and the hoofbeats of his horse as the
sturdy animal moved ahead.

Having mounted to the top of an unusually hard rise, Dave brought Sport
to a halt to rest, and also to take a look at his surroundings. On one
side of him were the jagged rocks leading still further upward, while on
the other was the broad valley, clothed in green and with a shimmering
river flowing through its center. Far away he could see some animals
grazing, and took them to be mountain goats, although at such a distance
it was hard to make sure.

“A fellow certainly could have some great times out here hunting in the
proper season,” he told himself. “I’d like to go out myself for a few
days, especially if I could get some old hunter for a guide.”

Having rested for about five minutes, Dave moved forward again, and soon
found himself on the dangerous part of the trail mentioned by Roger. The
youth had heard this spoken of before, and he reined in his steed and
moved forward with caution.

“You be careful, old boy,” he said, patting his horse on the neck.
“Neither of us wants to take a tumble down yonder rocks. If we did, it
might be good-bye to both of us.”

Evidently Sport understood the situation quite as well as did the young
civil engineer, for he kept as close to the inner side of the path as
possible, and picked every step carefully, and thus they moved onward
until the very worst of the trail had been left behind. There was,
however, still some bad places, the trail widening out in some spots
only to narrow worse than ever in others.

“Hi there! Don’t you ride me down!” cried an unexpected voice, as Dave
came around one of the narrow bends of the trail. And the next instant
the youth found himself face to face with Nick Jasniff.

The fellow who had been in prison was on foot, and carried a bundle
strapped over one shoulder. He was so close that he had to leap to one
side for fear of being trampled under foot, and this filled him with
anger even before he recognized who was on horseback.

“Nick Jasniff!” exclaimed Dave, and for the instant knew not what more
to say.

“So it’s you, Porter, is it?” snarled the former bully of Oak Hall.
“What are you doing on this trail?”

“That is none of your business, Jasniff,” answered Dave coldly.

“See here! You needn’t put on any lordly airs with me!” growled the
fellow who in the past had caused our hero so much trouble. “Thought you
were playing a fine game on me, didn’t you—having that construction camp
manager make a fool of me?” And now Jasniff came closer and caught
Dave’s horse by the bridle.

“You keep your hands off my horse, Jasniff,” ordered Dave. “You let go
of him this instant!”

“I’ll let go when I please.”

“No, you won’t! You’ll let go now!” And so speaking, Dave leaned over in
the saddle to push the fellow away.

It was not a very wise thing to do, and Dave should have known better.
The instant he made the movement, Jasniff, who was tall and powerful,
caught him by the arm, and the next instant had hauled him from the
saddle. The scuffle which resulted from this alarmed the horse, and the
steed trotted away some distance up the trail.

“I guess I’ve got you now where I want you, Porter!” cried Jasniff, the
squinting eye squinting worse than ever as he scowled at our hero. “I’ve
got a big account to settle with you.”

Dave realized that he was in for it and that Nick Jasniff would hesitate
at nothing to accomplish his purpose. Our hero remembered well the
dastardly attack made on him by the rascal at the Oak Hall gymnasium
with an Indian club.

Jasniff struck out with his left fist, and at the same time put his
right hand back as if to draw some weapon. Dave dodged the blow intended
for his face, and then struck out swiftly, hitting Jasniff in the cheek.
Then several blows were exchanged in quick succession, Dave being hit in
the chest and shoulder and Jasniff receiving several in the chest and
one on the nose which sent him staggering several feet. Then the bully
rushed forward and clinched, and both circled around and around on the
narrow trail, each trying to get the advantage of the other.

“I’ll fix you! Just wait and see!” panted Jasniff, as he did his best to
get a strangle hold on our hero.

Dave did not answer, for he realized that in an encounter with such a
tall and powerful fellow as Jasniff he must make the best use of his
breath as well as his muscles.

He slipped from the clutch Jasniff was trying to get on him, and caught
the fellow by the waist. Then Jasniff went down with Dave on top of him,
and both rolled over and over among the rocks and into some bushes which
chanced to have sprung up in that vicinity.

“You le—le—let up!” gasped Jasniff presently, when he found Dave had him
by the throat.

“I’ll let up when I’m through with you—not before,” answered Dave
pantingly.

The struggle continued, and Jasniff arose partly to a sitting position
only to have his head banged backward on the rocks. Then, however, he
managed to get one leg doubled up and he sent his foot into Dave’s
stomach in such a way that our hero was for the moment deprived of his
breath. Both clinched again and rolled over until they were close to the
edge of the rocks.

“Now I’ve got you!” cried the bully; and just as Dave managed to hit him
another blow in the nose, one which made the blood spurt, Jasniff tore
himself free and an instant later pushed Dave down over the rocks.

Even then our hero might have saved himself, as he had his left foot
planted in what he thought a safe place, and he might have caught
Jasniff by the leg. But the foot gave way most unexpectedly, and in a
trice Dave found himself rolling over and over down a rocky slope. He
clutched out wildly, and managed to catch hold of several bushes. But
these came out by the roots, and then he slid downward once more, at
last reaching a little cliff over which he plunged sideways, to land
with a crash in some bushes and stunted trees some distance below.

The rolling and the drop over the cliff had all but stunned the young
civil engineer, and for fully five minutes he lay among the bushes
hardly realizing where he was or what had happened. Then, when he
finally arose to his feet, he found that his left shoulder hurt him not
a little, and that his left ankle felt equally painful and was quite
lame.

“That certainly was some tumble,” he groaned to himself. “I suppose I
can be thankful I wasn’t killed.”

[Illustration: DAVE FOUND HIMSELF ROLLING OVER AND OVER DOWN A ROCKY
SLOPE.—_Page 74._]

He had rolled a distance of fifty yards, and the top of the little cliff
was six or eight feet above his head. From where he stood he could not
see that portion of the trail where the encounter had occurred, and
consequently he knew not what had become of Nick Jasniff.

“I hope he rolled down, too,” murmured Dave to himself. But after he had
taken a good look around he concluded that Jasniff had remained up on
the trail.

The only thing to do was to climb up to the trail and try to find out
what had become of Jasniff and the horse.

“It would be just like Jasniff to take Sport and ride off with him,”
thought Dave dismally. “What a fool I was not to give him a knock-out
blow when I had him down on the rocks! If I had given him that I could
have made him a prisoner before he had a chance to regain his senses.
Now he’s got the best of it, and there is no telling what he’s up to.”

More anxious to know what had become of his horse than over Jasniff’s
welfare, Dave moved around to one end of the cliff and then began to
scramble up the rocks. This was by no means easy, and more than once he
had to stop to catch his breath and nurse his hurt shoulder and his lame
ankle. Up above him he could now see the trail, but neither Jasniff nor
the horse was in sight.

At last Dave had the satisfaction of drawing himself up over the rocks
bordering the edge of the trail, and here, feeling rather weak, he sat
down to regain his strength. He listened intently, but scarcely a sound
broke the silence of the mountains. Evidently Nick Jasniff had taken
time by the forelock and made good his departure.

“If he took that horse, what am I to do?” mused Dave bitterly. “To foot
it all the way to Orella, and especially with this lame ankle, is almost
out of the question.”

Thinking of Orella put Dave in mind of his mission, and he quickly
thrust his hand into his pocket to see if the envelope Mr. Obray had
given him to deliver was safe.

The next instant his heart almost stopped beating. The envelope was
gone!

Frantically he searched one pocket after another; and then he made
another discovery equally dismaying. Not only was the envelope the
construction camp manager had given him missing, but likewise the
letters he had received from Jessie and his Uncle Dunston, and also his
pocketbook which had contained upward of forty dollars.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                            WHAT WAS MISSING


“Gone!”

This was the one word which burst from Dave’s lips as he searched one
pocket after another in rapid succession. Then he arose to his feet, to
hurry up and down the trail in the vicinity where the encounter with
Jasniff had occurred. But though he looked everywhere, not a trace of
the documents, the letters, or his pocketbook could be found.

An examination showed that his coat was torn in several places and that
the side of one of the pockets had likewise been rent. But whether this
damage had been caused by the fight or when he had rolled down over the
rocks, he could not determine.

“I guess I got pretty well mussed up in the fight, and the fall down the
rocks finished the job,” he muttered to himself.

He was much disheartened, and felt bitter against Nick Jasniff. Whether
the rascal had picked up the articles lost and made off with them was,
however, a question.

“If I lost them up here on the trail he probably took them,” Dave
reasoned. “But if they fell out of my pockets when I rolled down the
rocks and over the cliff, they must be scattered somewhere between here
and the place where I landed in the bushes.”

Dave felt much perplexed, not knowing whether it would be better to try
to find Jasniff or to make a search in the vicinity where he had had the
fall.

“I suppose it would be sheer nonsense to try to follow Jasniff on foot
if he went off on my horse,” the young civil engineer reasoned. “I might
as well take a look down below and make sure that I didn’t drop those
things when I fell.”

With his hurt shoulder and lame ankle, it was almost as much of a task
to get down the rocks as it had been to climb up. As well as he was
able, he took the same course he had followed in the fall, and he kept
his eyes wide open for the things he had lost. But five minutes of
slipping and sliding brought him to the top of the little cliff without
seeing anything but dirt, rocks, and bushes. Then he had to make a wide
detour to get to the bottom of the cliff.

“I suppose it’s a wild-goose chase, and I’ll have my work for my pains,”
he grumbled. “Oh, rats! Why did I have to fall in with Jasniff on this
trip? I wish that fellow was at the North Pole or down among the
Hottentots, or somewhere where he couldn’t bother me!”

Dave began to search around in the vicinity of the spot where he had
fallen. He was almost ready to give up in despair when his eye caught
sight of a white-looking object some distance below. Eagerly he climbed
down to the place where the object lay, and the next moment set up a cry
of joy.

“Hurrah! Here are Mr. Obray’s documents!” he exclaimed. “I hope they are
all right.”

A hasty inspection convinced him that the legal-looking envelope and its
contents were intact. Having inspected them carefully, he placed the
packet inside of his shirt.

“I won’t take any more chances with it,” he told himself. “Somebody will
have to rip my clothing off to get that envelope away.”

With the envelope safe in his possession once more, Dave felt
exceedingly light-hearted. But the letter from Jessie, as well as the
communication from Uncle Dunston, and the pocketbook with the forty odd
dollars in it, were still missing, and he spent some time looking for
those things.

“It doesn’t matter so much about the letters, even though I hate to part
with the one from Jessie,” he reasoned. “But I’d like to set my eyes on
that pocketbook with the forty-two or forty-three dollars it held.”

But our hero’s success had come to an end with the finding of the
envelope to be delivered at Orella; and although he searched around for
a quarter of an hour longer, nothing of any value came to sight. Then,
with a deep sigh, he pulled himself up once more to the trail, and set
off on a hunt for his horse.

“Jasniff was headed in the opposite direction, and maybe he didn’t go
after Sport,” Dave argued to himself. “Anyhow, I’ve got to go that way,
even if I have to journey on foot.”

Painfully our hero limped along, for the climbing up and down on the
rocks had done the lame ankle no good. He had had to loosen his shoe,
for the ankle had swollen not a little.

“If I could only bathe it it wouldn’t be so bad,” he thought.

But there was no water at hand, and the small quantity he carried in a
flask for drinking purposes was too precious to be used on the injured
limb.

He had covered several yards when his lame ankle gave him such a twinge
that he had to sit down to give it a rest.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do if I can’t find that horse,” he
thought bitterly.

He was sitting and nursing the hurt ankle and looking over the landscape
in the valley below him, when something on one of the bushes less than
fifty feet away caught his eye.

“I wonder what that can be,” he mused. “It doesn’t look like a bird’s
nest. It looks more like an old shoe. I wonder——Can it be my
pocketbook?”

The last thought was so electrifying that Dave leaped to his feet, and,
regardless of the painful ankle, walked over to the edge of the trail.
Here he could see the object quite plainly, and he lost no time in
crawling down to the bushes and obtaining it.

It was indeed his pocketbook, but wide open and empty. Even the few
cards and slips of paper it had contained were missing.

“This proves one thing,” he reasoned bitterly. “Jasniff picked that
pocketbook up where we had the fight, and he came this way while he was
emptying it, then he threw it away.”

Dave was also sure of another thing. The pocketbook and the two letters
had been in the same pocket, and he felt certain that Nick Jasniff had
also confiscated the two communications.

“Now the question is, if he came this way, did he get Sport?” Dave
mused. “If he did, then it’s good-bye to the letters, the money and the
horse.”

Placing the empty wallet in his pocket, Dave sat down and rested his
lame ankle. He counted the loose change in his trousers’ pocket and
found he had eighty-five cents. Then he limped on once more around
another bend in the trail.

Here a sight filled him with satisfaction. At this point the rocks came
to an end and there was a fairly good bit of pasture-land, and here
stood Sport, feeding away as if nothing out of the ordinary had
happened.

“Good old Sport!” cried Dave, going up to the animal and patting him
affectionately. “I’m mighty glad you didn’t run any farther, and doubly
glad Nick Jasniff didn’t get you. Now, old boy, we’ll be on our way and
try to make up for lost time;” and in a moment more our hero was in the
saddle and galloping off in the direction of Orella.

Dave surmised that Nick Jasniff had come in that direction looking for
the horse, but without finding Sport. At the same time, the rascal had
rifled the pocketbook and then thrown it in the bushes. Then, thinking
the horse had gone a much greater distance, Jasniff had retraced his
steps and continued on his way in the direction of the construction
camp.

“But he can’t be bound for the camp, for Mr. Obray warned him to keep
away,” thought our hero. “It must be that he is headed either for some
of the mining camps or ranches, or the railroad station.”

Our hero felt that it would be next to useless for him to go to the
Double Eight Ranch, where Nick Jasniff was employed, and accuse him of
the theft. The fellow would probably deny everything—even the meeting on
the road. And as there had been no witnesses to the transaction, there
the case would have to rest.

“Just the same, when I get the chance, I’ll let the manager of the
Double Eight Ranch know what sort of fellow Jasniff is,” Dave said to
himself. “Maybe that crowd over there won’t want a prison bird around
any more than we wanted him at the construction camp.”

Our hero had been right in regard to finding the pocketbook and letters.
After Dave had disappeared over the edge of the cliff below the trail,
Nick Jasniff had looked around to find his hat, which had fallen off in
the struggle. As he picked this up he had noticed the pocketbook and the
two letters.

“Maybe there’s something in that pocketbook worth keeping,” he had
muttered to himself, as he tried to stop the flow of blood from his
bruised nose. “And I guess I’m entitled to anything I can get from Dave
Porter. I hope he broke every bone in his body by that fall.”

He waited for a minute to see if Dave would reappear, and then hurried
along the trail, thinking he could find and mount our hero’s horse. He
quickly transferred the forty-three dollars he found in the wallet to
his own pocket, and then threw the pocketbook away in the spot where
Dave picked it up.

“I guess it’s no use to look any farther,” Jasniff had muttered to
himself on failing to locate the horse. “Gee! I’m glad I struck this
forty-three dollars! That amount with the thirty I had before will see
me a long distance on my way.”

And thereupon he had hurried back past the spot where the encounter had
taken place, and then along the trail to where there was a fork—one
branch leading down to the construction camp, and the other off in the
direction of some mines and the nearest railroad station.

Although our hero did not know it, Jasniff had had another quarrel
earlier in the day. A miner operating near the Double Eight Ranch had
the night before fallen in with several of the men employed by the
Mentor Construction Company, and from them had learned the particulars
concerning the fellow who had gotten out of prison.

This news had been carried to James Dackley, the manager of the Double
Eight, and Dackley, who was naturally a hot-headed man, had become
furious over the thought of being so deceived by Jasniff.

“I only took him on because I thought he was a tenderfoot and was hard
up for a job,” Dackley had growled. “He told such a straight story that
I swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker. I don’t want such a fellow
around here any more than they want him over to the railroad camp. Just
have Nolan send him to me, and I’ll soon send him about his business.”

Thereupon Nick Jasniff had been summoned from the bunk-house to the main
building on the Double Eight Ranch and been closely questioned by James
Dackley. He had denied everything, but the ranch manager had refused
almost to listen to him.

“I’m going to investigate this,” said Dackley, “and if the story is
true, the sooner you get out the better I’ll be pleased.”

Nick Jasniff had well understood that the truth would come out in the
near future; and knowing how passionate James Dackley could become on
occasion, he had lost no time in packing his few belongings and asking
for his pay. This had been given to him, and he had thereupon set out on
his journey toward the railroad station on foot—Dackley refusing to give
him the loan of a horse.

Nick Jasniff had come to the conclusion that it would be best for him to
quit the neighborhood. He had thirty dollars in his pocket, and this
added to the forty-three taken from Dave’s pocketbook made quite a sum.

“There’s no use of my staying here in the West,” he reasoned. “There are
far more chances in the East for a fellow like me. Maybe I’ll find some
of the fellows I used to know out there, and we can pull off some stunts
worth while.”

With several miles placed between him and the place where he had had the
encounter with Dave, Nick Jasniff sat down to rest and at the same time
look over the letters he had picked up. There was a cynical sneer on his
face as he read the communication from Jessie to Dave.

“It’s enough to make a fellow sick to think such a rich girl as that
should take to a fellow like Dave Porter,” he murmured to himself.
“Wouldn’t I like to put a spoke in that fellow’s wheel! I wonder if I
couldn’t do something to come between Porter and the Wadsworths? I owe
old man Wadsworth something for sending me to prison.”

Then Nick Jasniff turned to the letter written by Dunston Porter. The
beginning of this did not interest him greatly, but he read with
interest what Dave’s uncle had written concerning the gypsies who had
camped out on the outskirts of Crumville.

“Got into a row with a couple of gypsies, eh?” he mused. “I reckon
that’s something worth remembering. Maybe those fellows wouldn’t mind
joining me in some kind of a game against the Wadsworths. Maybe we could
put one over and make a lot of money out of it. Anyway, it’s something
worth thinking about;” and thereupon Nick Jasniff grew very thoughtful
as he proceeded on his way to the railroad station.



                               CHAPTER IX
                             DAVE AT ORELLA


It was two o’clock in the afternoon when Dave rode into Orella. This was
a typical mining town of Montana, containing but a single street with
stores, the majority of which were but one story in height. Back of this
street were probably half a hundred cabins standing at all sorts of
angles toward the landscape; and beyond these were the mines.

Just previous to entering the town Dave had stopped at a wayside spring
and there washed up. Before that he had brushed himself off as well as
he was able, so that when he entered the place the only evidences he
carried of the encounter with Nick Jasniff were some scratches on the
back of his hand and a small swelling on his left cheek.

The first person he met directed him to the offices of the Orella Mining
Company, of which Mr. Raymond Carson was the general manager.

“Is Mr. Carson in?” he questioned of the clerk who came forward to
interview him.

“He is,” was the answer. “Who shall I say wants to see him?”

“My name is Porter, and I was sent here to see him by Mr. Obray of the
Mentor Construction Company.”

“Oh, then I guess you can go right in,” returned the clerk, and showed
the way to a private office in the rear of the building.

Here Mr. Raymond Carson sat at his desk writing out some telegrams. Dave
quickly introduced himself and brought forth the legal-looking envelope
which had been intrusted to him. The manager of the mining company tore
it open and looked over the contents with care.

“Very good—just what I was waiting for,” he announced. “You can tell Mr.
Obray I am much obliged for his promptness.”

“Would you mind giving me a receipt for the papers?” questioned the
young civil engineer.

“Not at all.” The mining company manager called in one of the clerks.
“Here, take down a receipt,” and he dictated what he wished to say.

Dave at first thought he might tell of how close he had come to losing
the documents, but then considered that it might not be wise to mention
the occurrence. The receipt was written out and signed and passed over.

“How are matters coming along over at your camp?” questioned Mr. Raymond
Carson with a smile.

“Oh, we are doing very well, everything considered,” was Dave’s reply.
“We are having a little trouble on account of some of the rocks in
Section Six. They are afraid of a landslide. We’ve got to build two
bridges there, and our engineers are going to have their own troubles
getting the proper foundations.”

“Yes, that’s a great section for landslides. I was out there mining
once, and we had some of the worst cave-ins I ever heard about.”

“There is practically no mining around there now,” ventured Dave.

“No. The returns were not sufficient to warrant operations. Some time,
however, I think somebody will open up a vein there that will be worth
while.”

A few words more passed concerning the work of the construction company,
and then Dave prepared to leave. Just as he was about to step out of the
office, however, he turned.

“By the way, Mr. Carson, may I ask if there was a young fellow about my
own age here during the past week or two looking for a job—a fellow who
said his name was Jasper Nicholas?”

“A young fellow about your age named Nicholas?” mused the mine manager.
“Let me see. Did he have a cast in one eye?”

“The fellow I mean squints a good deal with one of his eyes. He is
rather tall and lanky.”

“Yes, he was here. He wanted a job in the mines. Said he didn’t think he
was cut out for office work. But somehow or other I didn’t like his
looks. Is he a friend of yours?”

“He is not!” declared Dave quickly. “In fact, he is just the opposite.
And what is more, he is a thief and has served a term in prison.”

“You don’t say!” exclaimed the mine manager. “Are you sure of this?”

“Positive, sir. His real name is Nicholas Jasniff. Some years ago he and
another fellow stole some valuable jewels from a jewelry works. I aided
in capturing him and sending him to prison.”

“Humph! If that’s the case I am glad I didn’t hire him. As I said
before, I didn’t like his looks at all, and out here we go about as much
on looks as we do on anything.”

“He came to our camp, but Mr. Obray soon sent him about his business,”
said Dave.

After talking the matter over for a few minutes longer, but without
mentioning the attack on the trail, Dave rode away. At the end of the
street he stopped at a general store, which contained a drug department,
and while giving his horse a chance to feed, there obtained some
liniment with which he rubbed his lame shoulder and his hurt ankle.
Then, having obtained a bottle of lemon-soda with which to quench his
thirst, and help along his supper when he should stop to eat it, our
hero set off on the return to the construction camp.

By the time Dave reached the spot where the encounter with Jasniff had
occurred, it was growing somewhat dark on the trail. Over to the
westward the mountains were much taller than those where the trail ran,
and the deep shadows were creeping upward from the valley below. Soon
the orb of day sank out of sight, and then the darkness increased.

So far on the return Dave had met but two men—old prospectors who had
paid scant attention to him as he passed. He had stopped at a convenient
point to eat what remained of the lunch he had brought along, washing it
down with the lemon-soda. Presently he came to a fork in the trail, and
by a signboard placed there knew that he was now less than four miles
from the construction camp.

The hard ride had tired the young civil engineer greatly, and he was
glad enough to let Sport move forward on a walk. The horse, too, had
found the journey a hard one, and was well content to progress at a
reduced rate of speed.

The narrow portion of the footway having been left behind, horse and
rider came out into something of a hollow on the mountainside. Here and
there were a number of loose rocks and also quite a growth of scrub
timber. Dave was just passing through the densest of the timber when an
overhanging branch caught his hat and sent it to the ground.

“Whoa there, Sport!” he cried, and bringing his horse to a halt, he
leaped down to recover the hat.

Dave had just picked up the head covering when he heard a low sound
coming from some bushes close at hand. It was not unlike the cry of a
cat, and the youth was instantly on the alert. He remembered only too
well how, when he had been at Star Ranch, a wildcat, commonly called in
that section a bobcat, had gotten among the horses belonging to himself
and his chums and caused no end of trouble.

The cry was followed by several seconds of intense silence, and then
came the unmistakable snarl of a bobcat, followed instantly by a leap on
the part of Sport.

“Whoa there!” cried Dave, and was just in time to catch the horse by the
bridle. Then Sport veered around and kicked out viciously at the
brushwood.

The bobcat was there, and evidently had no chance to retreat farther,
the bushes being backed up by a number of high rocks. With a snarl, it
leaped out into the open directly beside the horse and Dave. Then, as
the horse switched around again and let fly with his hind hoofs, the
bobcat made a flying leap past Dave, landing in the branches of a nearby
tree.

“Whoa there, Sport!” cried the youth, and now lost no time in leaping
into the saddle. In the meanwhile the bobcat sprang from one limb of the
tree to another and disappeared behind some dense foliage.

Had our hero had a rifle or a shotgun, he might have gone on a hunt for
the beast. But he carried only his small automatic, and he did not
consider this a particularly good weapon with which to stir up the
bobcat. He went on his way, and now Sport set off on a gallop, evidently
glad to leave such a dangerous vicinity behind. Although horses are much
larger, bobcats are such vicious animals that no horses care to confront
them.

“I sure am having my fill of adventures to-day,” mused Dave grimly.
“First Nick Jasniff, and now that bobcat! I’ll have to tell the others
about the cat, and maybe we can organize a hunt and lay the beast low.
The men won’t want to face a bobcat while at work any more than they
would care to face that rattlesnake I shot.”

It was not long after this when the lights of the construction camp came
into view, and soon Dave was riding down among the buildings. Roger was
on the watch, and came forward to greet him.

“Had a safe trip, I see!” called out the senator’s son. “Good enough!”

“I had a safe trip in one way if not in another,” announced Dave. “Two
things didn’t suit me at all. I met Nick Jasniff, and then I also met a
bobcat.”

“You don’t say!” ejaculated Roger. “Tell me about it.”

“I want to report to Mr. Obray first, Roger. If you want to go along you
can.”

Dave found the construction camp manager at the doorway of the cabin he
occupied, reading a newspaper which was several days old. He, as well as
Roger, listened with keen interest to what our hero had to relate.

“And so that rascal took your forty-odd dollars, did he?” exclaimed
Ralph Obray, when Dave was telling the story. “He certainly is a bad
egg.”

“I’m mighty glad he didn’t get away with your papers, Mr. Obray,”
answered our hero soberly. “Of course, I don’t know how valuable they
were, but I presume they were worth a good deal more than the contents
of my pocketbook.”

“You are right there, Porter. The documents would be hard to duplicate.
And I’m mighty glad they are safe in Mr. Carson’s hands and that we have
the receipt for them. Now, in regard to your losing your money: If we
can’t get it back from this fellow Jasniff, I’ll see what the company
can do toward reimbursing you.”

“Oh, I sha’n’t expect that, Mr. Obray!” cried the youth. “It was no
concern of yours that I was robbed.”

“I don’t know about that. If you hadn’t taken that trip for us, this
Jasniff might not have gotten the chance to take your money. In one way,
I think it is up to the company to make the loss good; and I’ll put it
up to the home office in my next report.”

“You certainly ought to let the people at Double Eight Ranch know what
sort Jasniff is!” cried Roger.

“Of course, I can’t prove that he took the money,” returned Dave. “There
were no witnesses to what occurred, and I suppose he would claim that
his word was as good as mine.”

“But we know it isn’t!” burst out the senator’s son indignantly. “He’s a
rascal, and I intend that everybody around here shall know it!”

“You certainly had your share of happenings,” was Mr. Obray’s comment.
“It was bad enough to have the fight with Jasniff without running afoul
of that wildcat. You ought to have brought him down with your pistol, as
you did that rattlesnake,” and he smiled broadly.

“I didn’t get a chance for a shot,” explained Dave. “I had to grab the
horse for fear he would run away and leave me to walk to the camp. And
besides, the wildcat moved about as quickly as I can tell about it.”

“Maybe we can form a party and round the wildcat up,” put in Roger
eagerly.

“I was thinking of that, Roger.”

Of course Dave had to tell Frank Andrews about the encounter with
Jasniff and also about meeting the wildcat. Several others were present
when the story was retold, and soon nearly everybody in the camp was
aware of what had taken place.

“I certainly hope you get your money back,” remarked Larry Bond.
“Gracious! I wouldn’t like to lose forty-odd dollars out of my pay! I
couldn’t afford it.”

“We’ll have to round up that bobcat some day,” said old John Hixon. “If
we manage to kill him off, it will discourage others from coming to this
neighborhood.”

“Well, any time you say so, I’ll go out with you to try to lay the
bobcat low,” answered Dave.



                               CHAPTER X
                       WHAT THE GIRLS HAD TO TELL


Two days later Dave was hard at work with the others on the mountainside
when a gang of six cowboys rode up. They were curious to know some
particulars concerning the new railroad spur which was to be put through
in that vicinity, and stopped to watch proceedings and to ask a number
of questions.

“What ranch do you hail from, boys?” questioned Frank Andrews of the
leader of the crowd, a tall, leathery-looking man of about forty.

“We’re from the Double Eight outfit,” was the answer, as the fellow
pulled a sheet from a book of papers he carried, filled it with some
loose tobacco from a pouch, and proceeded to roll himself a cigarette.

“The Double Eight, eh?” exclaimed the civil engineer. “That is
interesting. I think one of my young men here would like to ask you a
few questions, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“All right, pard, shoot away,” answered the cowboy calmly, as he began
to puff at his cigarette.

Frank Andrews lost no time in summoning Dave, who was some distance up
the trail, and told our hero where the cowboy hailed from.

“I believe you have a fellow staying with you who calls himself Jasper
Nicholas,” began Dave.

“We did have a feller with that handle down to our outfit,” responded
the cowboy. “But he got fired some days ago.”

“Fired!” cried Dave and Roger simultaneously.

“That’s the size on it, son. He got kind o’ fresh with the boss, and Jim
wouldn’t stand for it nohow. I don’t know exactly wot the rumpus was
about, but that feller didn’t lose no time vamoosin’.”

“I wish you would tell me some of the particulars about him,” went on
Dave. “Then I’ll tell you something that may interest you.”

“I ain’t got much to tell, ’cause I didn’t like the feller, and
consequently didn’t have much to do with him. Fact is, he wasn’t in
cahoots with nobody around the ranch. He had a hang-dog way about him
none of us cottoned to.”

“But I wish you would tell me what you do know,” insisted our hero.

Thereupon the cowboy, who said his name was Pete Sine, told how Nick
Jasniff had come to the Double Eight Ranch some weeks before with a
hard-luck story and had been given a job as an all-around handy man.

“But he wasn’t handy at all,” announced Pete Sine. “Fact is, he was the
most unhandy critter I ’most ever met up with. But he told such a
pitiful story, the boss and some of the fellers felt sorry for him, so
they all done the best they knowed how for him—that is at the start. But
he soon showed the yellow streak that was in him, and then, as I said
before, the boss got wise to him and fired him. Now what do you know
about him?”

Dave, aided by Roger, gave many of the particulars concerning Nick
Jasniff’s past doings, and our hero related the details of the fight on
the road, and how he had lost the contents of his pocketbook.

“Snortin’ buffaloes!” ejaculated Pete Sine, giving his thigh a
resounding slap with his hand. “I knew it! I sized that feller up from
the very start. I warned Jim Dackley about him, but Jim was too
tender-hearted to see it—that is at first. Now when did this happen?”
went on the cowboy. And after Dave had mentioned the day, he continued:
“That was the very day the boss fired him!”

“And have you any idea where he went to?” questioned our hero quickly.

“Not exactly, son. But Fred Gurney, one of our gang who ain’t here just
now, got it from the agent over to the railroad depot that the feller
took the seven-thirty train that night for Chicago.”

“He must have left Montana for good!” cried Roger. “Dave, I’m afraid you
can whistle your forty-odd dollars good-bye.”

“So it would seem, Roger. It’s too bad! But I’m mighty glad Nick Jasniff
has cleared out. I’d hate to think he was around here. He would be sure
to try to do us some harm.”

“You might send on to Chicago and have him arrested on his arrival
there,” suggested Frank Andrews. “That is, if he hasn’t gotten there
already.”

“I don’t think it would be worth bothering about,” answered Dave. “It
would make a lot of trouble all around; and maybe I would have to go on
to Chicago to identify him, and then stay around and push the charge
against him. I’d rather let him go and pocket my loss.”

“Maybe you’ll meet up with him some day,” suggested Pete Sine. “And if
you do——Well, I know what I’d do to him,” and he tapped his pistol
suggestively.

The other cowboys had listened with interest to the talk, and every one
of them intimated that he had distrusted Nick Jasniff from the start.
Evidently the fellow who had been in prison had not created a favorable
impression, even though his hard-luck story had brought him some
sympathy.

After this occurrence matters moved along quietly for a few days. On
Sunday, there being no work to do, old John Hixon and several of the
other men went out to look for the bobcat Dave had met on the trail. But
though they spent several hours in beating around through the brushwood
and the scrub timber, they failed to find the animal.

“Guess he got strayed away from his regular haunts, and then went back,”
was Hixon’s comment. “Wild animals do that once in a while. I remember
years ago an old hunter told me about a she bear he had met here in
Montana. Some time later another hunter, a friend of his’n, told about
meetin’ the same bear over in Wyoming. Then, less than a month later,
this old hunter I first mentioned met the same bear and killed her. He
always wondered how it was that bear got so far away from home and then
got back again.”

On Monday morning came more letters from home, and also communications
from Phil Lawrence, Ben Basswood and Shadow Hamilton. The letters from
Crumville were, as usual, two communications from Laura and Jessie; and
in each of these the girls mentioned the fact that Dave’s Uncle Dunston,
as well as Mr. Wadsworth and Mr. Basswood, had had more trouble with the
gypsies who had formerly occupied the vacant land on the outskirts of
the town.

  “Uncle Dunston says the gypsies were very forward,” wrote Laura.
  “They said all kinds of mean things and made several threats. One of
  the old women, who is called Mother Domoza, came here to the house
  and frightened Jessie and me very much. The folks were away at the
  time, and I don’t know what we would have done had it not been for
  dear old Mr. Potts. He was in the library, where, as you know, he
  spends most of his time, and when he heard the old gypsy denouncing
  us he came out with his cane in his hand and actually drove her
  away.”

“Good for Professor Potts!” cried Dave, when Roger read this portion of
the letter to him. “I’m glad he sent the old hag about her business.”

The letter from Jessie also contained some references to the gypsies,
but had evidently been mailed previous to the trouble with Mother
Domoza. Jessie said she was glad that the vacant ground was to be cut up
into town lots and built upon, and she sincerely trusted that none of
the gypsies would ever come to camp near Crumville again.

  “Some of them used to come around and tell fortunes,” wrote Jessie.
  “But I don’t need to have my fortune told, Dave. I know exactly what
  it is going to be, and I would not have it changed for the world!”

And this part of the letter Dave did not show to Roger; but he read it
over many times with great satisfaction.

But all thoughts of the gypsies and of what they might do were forgotten
by our hero and Roger when they came to peruse the letters sent by Phil,
Ben and Shadow.

“Hurrah! They are on their way at last!” cried Dave, his face beaming
with satisfaction. “Ben writes that they were to start within
forty-eight hours after this letter was sent.”

“And that is just what Shadow and Phil say, too,” announced the
senator’s son. “That being so, they ought to arrive here within the next
two days.”

“Right you are, Roger! Oh, say! when they come, won’t we have the best
time ever?” exclaimed Dave.

And then, in the exuberance of their spirits, both youths caught hold of
each other and did an impromptu war-dance.

“Hello! hello! What’s going on here?” cried Frank Andrews, coming up at
that moment. “Have you fellows joined the Hopi Indians?”

“Our three chums are on the way—we expect them here inside of the next
two days!” announced Dave.

“Is that so? I don’t wonder you’re so happy. As I understand it, you
fellows were all very close chums.”

“The closest ever!” answered Roger. And then suddenly his face clouded a
little. “But oh, Mr. Andrews, what are we going to do with them when
they get here? We’ll have to make some sort of arrangements for them.”

“I reckon we can make room one way or another,” answered the older civil
engineer. “You know Barry and Lundstrom have left and that gives us two
vacant bunks, and we can easily fix up an extra cot here if we want to.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do, if you won’t mind,” announced Dave.

He and Roger had already spoken about the matter to Ralph Obray, and the
general manager had given them permission to entertain their chums at
the camp for several days if the visitors wished to stay that long. It
was, of course, understood that their meals should be paid for, since a
report of all expenditures had to be made to the head office.

“I think you fellows have earned a little vacation,” said the manager to
the chums. “You have both worked very hard. And I have not forgotten,
Porter, how you carried those documents to Orella for me and what a
fight you had to get them there in safety.”

“But understand, Mr. Obray, we don’t expect to be paid for the time we
take off,” interposed Roger. “At least I don’t expect to be paid for
it.”

“And that is just the way I feel about it,” added Dave.

“You young fellows leave that to me,” answered the construction company
manager smilingly. “I’ll take care of that. I can remember when I was a
young fellow and had my friends come to see me. You go on and show your
chums all the sights, and have the best time possible, and then, when
they are gone, I’ll expect you to work so much the harder to make up for
it. I think you see what I mean.”

“And we’ll do it—take my word on it!” answered Dave heartily.

“Indeed we will!” echoed Roger.

During the next two days the chums were so anxious awaiting the coming
of the others that they could hardly attend to their work. They saw to
it that quarters were made in readiness for the three who were expected
and that Jeff, the cook, would have room for them at one of the
dining-tables.

Then, on the morning of the third day, when a telegram came in from the
railroad station stating that Phil and the others would arrive by noon,
Dave and Roger, taking a lunch along, set off on horseback, leading
three other horses behind them, to meet the expected visitors.

The ride to the railroad station occurred without mishap, though it was
no easy matter to make the three riderless horses follow them at certain
points where the trail was rough. But the two chums reached the station
with almost an hour to spare.

“And it wasn’t no use for you fellers to hurry,” announced the station
master, when he found out what had brought them. “That train is
generally from one hour to three hours late.”

“Great Scott! have we got to wait around here three hours?” groaned the
senator’s son.

“We might have known the train would be late,” observed Dave. “They
usually are on this line.”

Presently the station master went in to receive a telegram. When he came
out he announced that the train would be there in less than two hours
unless something occurred in the meanwhile to cause a further delay.

The chums put in the time as best they could; but it was slow work, and
they consulted their watches every few minutes. At last, however, the
time came to a close, and soon they heard a long, low whistle.

“Here she comes!” cried Dave, his heart giving a leap.

“Let’s give them a cheer as soon as we see them,” suggested the
senator’s son.

And then the long train rolled into sight around a bend of the mountains
and soon came to a standstill at the little station.



                               CHAPTER XI
                           THE OAK HALL CHUMS


“There they are!”

“This way, boys! Oak Hall to the front!”

A vestibule door to one of the cars had been opened and a porter had
come down the steps carrying three suit-cases. He was followed by three
young men, who waved their hands gayly at Dave and Roger.

“Here at last!” sang out Phil Lawrence, as he rushed forward to catch
our hero with one hand and the senator’s son with the other.

“Some city you fellows have here,” criticized Ben Basswood, with a broad
grin, as he waited for his turn to “pump handle” his friends.

“Say!” burst out the third new arrival, as he too came forward. “Calling
a little, dinky station like this a city puts me in mind of a story.
Once some travelers journeyed to the interior of Africa, and——”

“Hello! What do you know about that?” sang out Dave gayly. “Shadow has
started to tell a story before he even says ‘how-do-you-do’!”

“Why, Shadow!” remonstrated Roger in an apparently injured tone of
voice. “We heard that you had given up telling stories entirely.”

“Smoked herring! Who told you such a yarn as that?” burst out Phil.

“I don’t intend to give up telling stories,” announced Shadow Hamilton
calmly. “I’ve got a brand new lot; haven’t I, fellows? I bet Dave and
Roger never heard that one about the coal.”

“What about the coal, Shadow?” demanded Roger, shaking hands.

“Don’t ask him,” groaned Ben. “He’s told that story twenty-six times
since we left home.”

“You’re a base prevaricator, Ben Basswood!” roared the former
story-teller of Oak Hall. “I told that story just twice—once to you and
once to that drummer from Chicago. And he said he had never heard it
before, and that proves it’s a new story, because drummers hear
everything.”

“Well, that story has one advantage,” was Phil’s comment. “It’s short.”

“All right then, Shadow; let’s hear it. And then tell us all about
yourself,” said Dave quickly.

“It isn’t quite as much of a story as it’s a conundrum,” began Shadow
Hamilton. “Once a small boy who was very inquisitive went to his aunt in
the country and helped her hunt for eggs. Then he said he would like to
go down into the cellar. ‘Why do you want to go in the cellar, Freddy?’
asked the aunt. ‘I want to go down to look at the egg coal,’ announced
the little boy. ‘And then I want to see what kind of chickens lay it.’”
And at this little joke both Dave and Roger had to smile.

No other passengers had left the cars at this station, and now the long
train rumbled once more on its way. The station master had gone off to
look after some messages, so the former chums of Oak Hall were left
entirely to themselves.

“It’s a touch of old times to get together again, isn’t it?” cried Dave
gayly, as he placed one arm over Phil’s shoulder and the other arm
around Ben. “You can’t imagine how glad I am to see all of you.”

“I am sure the feeling is mutual, Dave,” answered Phil. “I’ve missed you
fellows dreadfully since we separated.”

“I sometimes wish we were all back at Oak Hall again,” sighed Ben. “My,
what good times we did have!”

“I guess you’ll be glad enough to reach Star Ranch, Phil,” went on Dave,
giving the ship-owner’s son a nudge in the ribs. “Probably Belle
Endicott will be waiting for you with open arms.”

“Sour grapes, Dave. I know where you’d like to be,” retorted Phil, his
face reddening. “You’d like to be in Crumville with Jessie Wadsworth—and
Roger would like to be in the same place, with your sister.”

“Have you fellows had your lunch?” questioned Roger, to change the
subject.

“Yes. When we found out that the train was going to be late, we went
into the dining-car as soon as it opened,” answered Ben. “How about
you?”

“We brought something along and ate it while we were waiting for you,”
said the senator’s son. “Come on, it’s quite a trip to the construction
camp. We came over on horseback, and we brought three horses for you
fellows.”

“Good enough!” cried Shadow. “But what are we going to do with our
suit-cases?”

“You’ll have to tie those on somehow,” announced Dave. “We brought
plenty of straps along.”

As the five chums got ready for the trip to the construction camp, Dave
and Roger were told of many things that had happened to the others
during the past few weeks. In return they told about themselves and the
encounter with Nick Jasniff.

“A mighty bad egg, that Jasniff,” was Phil’s comment.

“The worst ever,” added Shadow.

“Mr. Dunston Porter and the girls didn’t tell you half of the story
about those gypsies,” said Ben. “Those fellows tried to make all sorts
of trouble for us. They tried to prove that they had a right to camp on
that land, and my father and your uncle had to threaten them with the
law before they went away. Since that time several of the gypsies have
been in town, and they have made a number of threats to get square. That
old hag, Mother Domoza, is particularly wrathful. She insists that she
got the right to camp there as long as she pleased from some party who
used to own a part of the land.”

“Where are the gypsies hanging out now?” questioned Dave.

“Somebody told me they were camping on the edge of Coburntown.”

“You don’t say! That’s the place where I had so much trouble with the
storekeepers on account of Ward Porton’s buying so many things in my
name.”

“If I were living in Coburntown, I’d keep my eyes open for those
gypsies,” declared Ben. “I wouldn’t trust any of them any farther than I
could see them. Ever since they camped on the outskirts of Crumville
folks have suspected them of raiding hencoops and of other petty
thieving. They never caught them at it, so they couldn’t prove it. But
my father was sure in his own mind that they were guilty.”

“Yes, and I remember a year or so ago some of the gypsy women came
around our place to tell fortunes,” added Dave. “They went into the
kitchen to tell the fortunes of the cook and the up-stairs girl, and two
days later the folks found that two silver spoons and a gold
butter-knife were missing. We made some inquiries, but we never got any
satisfaction.”

“Looking for stuff like that is like looking for a needle in a
haystack,” was Phil’s comment.

“Oh, say! Speaking of a needle in a haystack puts me in mind of a
story,” burst out Shadow.

“What! another?” groaned Roger in mock dismay; and all of the others
present held up their hands as if in horror.

“This is just a little one,” pleaded the former story-teller of Oak
Hall. “A man once heard a lady speak about trying to find the needle in
the haystack. ‘Say, madam,’ said the man, very earnestly, ‘a needle in a
haystack wouldn’t be no good to nobody. If one of the animals got it in
his throat, it would ’most kill ’im.’”

“Wow!”

“Does anybody see the point?” questioned Roger.

“What do you mean—the point of the needle?” demanded Dave.

“If you had the eye you could see better,” suggested Ben.

“I don’t care, it’s a pretty good joke,” protested the story-teller.

“Hurrah! Shadow is stuck on the needle joke!” announced Dave. “Anyhow,
it would seem so.”

“Jumping tadpoles!” ejaculated Roger. “Boys, did you catch that?”

“Catch what?” asked Phil innocently.

“Phil wasn’t born a tailor, so maybe he never knew what it was to _seam
sew_ anything.”

“Whoop! I’ll pummel you for that!” roared the ship-owner’s son, and made
a sweep at Dave with his suit-case.

But the latter dodged, and the suit-case landed with a bang on Shadow’s
shoulder, sending the story-teller to the ground.

“Say, Phil Lawrence, you be careful!” cried the prostrate youth, as he
scrambled up. “What do you think I am—a punching-bag?”

“Ten thousand pardons, Shadow, and then some!” cried the ship-owner’s
son contritely. “I was aiming to put Dave in the hospital, that’s all.”

“Come on and get busy and let us be off to the camp,” broke in Roger.
“We’ll have plenty of time for horse-play later. We want to show you
fellows a whole lot of things.”

Dave insisted upon carrying one of the suit-cases, while Roger took
another. Soon all of the hand-baggage was securely fastened to the
saddles of the horses, and then the boys started on the journey to the
construction camp. They took their time, and numerous were the questions
asked and answered on the way.

“Yes, I’m doing first class in business with dad,” announced Phil. “We
are going to buy an interest in another line of ships, and dad says that
in another year he will put me at the head of our New York offices. Then
I’ll be a little nearer to Crumville than I was before.”

“I’m glad to hear of your success, Phil,” said Dave. “I don’t know of
any fellow who deserves it more than you do.”

“Sometimes I wish I had taken up civil engineering, just to be near you
and Roger,” went on the ship-owner’s son wistfully. “But then, I reckon
I wasn’t cut out for that sort of thing. I love the work I am at very
much.”

“I suppose some day, Phil, you’ll be settling down with Belle Endicott,”
went on our hero in a low tone of voice, so that the others could not
hear.

“I don’t know about that, Dave,” was the thoughtful answer. “Belle is a
splendid girl, and I know she thinks a good deal of me. But her father
is a very rich man, and she has a host of young fellows tagging after
her. There is one man out in Denver, who is almost old enough to be her
father, who has asked Mr. Endicott for her hand in marriage.”

“But Belle doesn’t want him, does she?”

“I don’t think so. But she teases me about him a good deal, and I must
confess I don’t like it. That’s one reason why I am going out to Star
Ranch.”

“Well, you fix it up, Phil—I know you can do it,” answered Dave
emphatically. “You know Jessie and Laura are writing to Belle
continually; and I know for a fact that Belle thinks more of you than
she does of anybody else.”

“I hope what you say is true, Dave,” answered the ship-owner’s son
wistfully.

Naturally a bright and energetic youth with no hesitation when it came
to business matters, Phil was woefully shy now that matters between
himself and the girl at Star Ranch had reached a crisis.

In their letters Dave and Roger had told their chums much about the
Mentor Construction Company and what it proposed to do in that section
of Montana. They had also written some details concerning the camp and
the persons to be met there, so that when the party came in sight of the
place the visitors felt fairly well at home. They were met by Frank
Andrews, who was speedily introduced to them, and were then taken to the
offices.

“I’m very glad to meet all of you,” said Mr. Obray, shaking hands at the
introduction. “Porter and Morr have told me all about you; and I’ve told
them to do what they can to make you feel at home during your stay.
There is only one thing I would like to caution you about,” went on the
manager, who occasionally liked to have his little joke. “Don’t under
any circumstances carry away any of our important engineering secrets
and give them to our rivals.”

“You can trust us on that point,” answered Phil readily. “All we expect
to carry away from here is the recollection of a grand good time.”

“Oh, say! That puts me in mind of a story,” burst out Shadow
enthusiastically. “Once a man——”

“Oh, Shadow!” remonstrated Roger.

“I hardly think Mr. Obray has time to listen to a story,” reminded Dave.

“Sure, I’ve got time to listen if the story isn’t a long one,” broke in
the manager.

“Well—er—it—er—isn’t so very much of a story,” answered Shadow lamely.
“It’s about a fellow who told his friends how he had been hunting
ostriches in Mexico.”

“Ostriches in Mexico!” repeated Mr. Obray doubtfully.

“Yes. A man told his friends that he had been hunting ostriches in
Mexico with great success. His friends swallowed the story for several
days, and then began to make an investigation. Then they went to the man
and said: ‘See here. You said you had been hunting ostriches in Mexico.
There are no ostriches there.’ ‘I know it,’ said the man calmly. ‘I
killed them all.’” And at this story the manager laughed heartily. Then
he dismissed the crowd, for he had much work ahead.

“A nice man to work for,” was Ben’s comment, when the visitors were
being shown to their quarters in the bunk-houses.

“As nice a man as ever lived, Ben,” answered Dave. “Roger and I couldn’t
have struck it better.”

“I know I’m going to enjoy myself here,” announced Shadow. “All of your
gang seem so pleasant.”

“And I want to learn something about civil engineering,” announced Ben.
“Maybe some day I’ll take it up myself.”



                              CHAPTER XII
                          ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP


The next morning all of the former Oak Hall chums were up by sunrise. As
Dave had said, they wanted to make the most of their time.

“It’s a beautiful location,” was Phil’s comment, as he stood out on the
edge of the camp and surveyed the surroundings.

On one side were the tall mountains and on the other the broad valley,
with the little winding river shimmering like a thread of silver in the
sunlight.

“Nice place to erect a bungalow,” added Ben.

“What are you thinking of, Ben—erecting bungalows and selling off town
lots?” queried Roger slyly.

“Oh, I didn’t get as far as that,” laughed the son of the Crumville real
estate dealer. “Just the same, after your railroad gets into operation
somebody might start a summer colony here.”

The visitors were shown around the camp, and at the ringing of the
breakfast bell were led by Roger and Dave into the building where the
meals were served. And there all did full justice to the cooking of Jeff
and his assistant.

The youths had talked the matter over the evening before, and it had
been decided to take an all-day trip on horseback along the line of the
proposed railroad.

“We’ll show you just what we are trying to do,” Roger had said. “Then
you’ll get some idea of what laying out a new railroad in a country like
this means.”

“I wish I could have gone down to the Rio Grande when Ben went down,”
remarked Phil. “I would like to have seen that new Catalco Bridge your
company put up there.”

“It certainly was a fine bit of engineering work!” cried Ben. He turned
to Dave. “You don’t expect to put up any bridge like that here, do you?”

“Not just like that, Ben. Here we are going to put up fifteen or twenty
bridges. None of them, however, will be nearly as long as the Catalco
Bridge. But some of them will be considerably higher. In one place we
expect to erect a bridge three hundred feet long which, at one point,
will be over four hundred feet high.”

A substantial lunch had been packed up for them by the cook, and with
this stowed safely away in some saddlebags, the five youths set out from
the construction camp, Dave, with Phil at his side, leading the way, and
the others following closely.

Every one felt in tiptop spirits, and consequently the talk was of the
liveliest kind, with many a joke and hearty laugh. Shadow Hamilton was
allowed full sway, and told a story whenever the least opportunity
presented itself.

“Some mountains around here, and no mistake,” observed Phil, after they
had climbed to the top of one stretch of the winding trail and there
come to a halt to rest the horses.

“That climb would be a pretty hard one for an auto,” observed Ben. “It’s
worse than some of the climbs we had to take when we were making that
tour through the Adirondacks to Bear Camp.”

“Oh, say! Speaking of climbing a hill in an auto puts me in mind of a
story!” burst out Shadow eagerly. “A man got a new automobile of which
he was very proud, and took out one of his friends, a rather nervous
individual, to show him what the auto could do. They rode quite a
distance, and then the man started to go up a steep hill. He had a
terrible time reaching the top, the auto almost refusing to make it. But
at last, when he did get up, he turned to his friend and said: ‘Some
hill, eh? But we took it just the same.’ To this the nervous man
answered: ‘I was afraid you wouldn’t make it. If I hadn’t put on the
hand-brake good and hard, you would have slipped back sure.’” And at
this little joke the others smiled.

Having rested, the party proceeded on the way once more, and Dave and
Roger pointed out what had been done toward surveying the new line and
where the bridges and culverts were to be constructed; and they even
drew little diagrams on a pad Dave carried, to show how some of the
bridges were going to be erected.

“It certainly is a great business,” was Phil’s comment. “I should think
it would be pretty hard to learn.”

“It is hard, Phil. But we are bound to do it,” answered Dave. “We are
going to learn all about surveying and draughtsmanship, and in the
meantime we are brushing up on geometry and trigonometry, and half a
dozen other things that pertain to civil engineering. We’ve got a great
many things to learn yet, before we’ll be able to tackle a job on our
own hook,” he added, with a little smile.

From time to time the youths talked about the days spent at Oak Hall and
of what had become of numerous schoolfellows. The visitors discussed the
doings of Nick Jasniff in that vicinity, and they wondered what that
rascal would do next.

“Like the proverbial bad penny, he’ll be sure to turn up again sooner or
later,” was Phil’s comment.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” sighed Dave.

Thinking that they might possibly spot a bobcat or some other wild
animal, Dave had brought a double-barreled shotgun along, and Roger
carried old Hixon’s rifle. The others were armed with small automatic
pistols, purchased especially to be carried on the trip to Star Ranch.

“But I don’t suppose we’ll sight anything worth shooting now we’re
armed,” remarked our hero. “That’s the way it usually is.”

Noon found the chums in the very heart of the mountains. They had been
told by Hixon where they could find a fine camping-spot close to a
spring of pure, cold water; and there they tethered their horses and
proceeded to make themselves at home. They had brought along some coffee
and a pot to make it in, and presently they started a small fire for
that purpose.

“A fellow could certainly camp out here and have a dandy time,” remarked
Ben, when the odor of the coffee permeated the camp. “There must be
plenty of game somewhere in these mountains and plenty of fish in the
streams.”

“Yes, the streams are full of fish,” answered Roger. “But about the
game, I am not so sure. There are plenty of birds and other small
things, but big game, like deer, bear, and mountain lions are growing
scarcer and scarcer every year, so Hixon says. He thinks that every time
a gun is fired it drives the big game farther and farther back from the
trails.”

The youths brought out their lunch from the saddlebags, and when the
coffee was ready they sat down to enjoy their midday repast. The long
horseback ride of the morning had whetted their appetites, and with
little to do, they took their time over the meal.

“Let’s take a walk around this neighborhood before we continue the
ride,” said Roger, when they were repacking their things. “I’m a bit
tired of sitting in the saddle, and had just as lief do some walking.”

Seeing to it that their horses could not get away, the five youths
started to climb up the rocks to where the summit of the mountain along
which they had been traveling would afford a better view of their
surroundings. It was hard work, and they frequently had to help each
other along.

“Be careful, Shadow, or you may get a nasty tumble,” cautioned Dave,
just before the summit was gained.

“Don’t worry about me, Dave,” panted the former story-teller of Oak
Hall. “I know enough to hang on when I’m climbing in a place like this.
I’m not like the fellow in the story who let go to spit on his hands.”

From the summit of the mountain they could see for many miles in every
direction, and here Ben, who had brought along a pocket camera, insisted
upon taking a number of views—two with the others seated on several of
the nearby rocks. Then Dave made Ben pose and took two more pictures.

“It’s too bad we can’t take a picture of Ben shooting a bear or a
wildcat,” remarked Roger. “That would be a great one to take home and
show the folks.”

“I’d rather have a picture of you and Dave building one of those big
bridges you spoke about,” answered the other youth. “Then we could have
a couple of copies framed and shipped to Jessie and Laura;” and at this
dig Ben had to dodge, for both Dave and Roger picked up bits of rock to
shy at him.

“Let’s walk across the summit of this mountain and see what it looks
like on the other side,” suggested Shadow. “I suppose we’ve got time
enough, haven’t we?”

“We’ve got all the time there is, Shadow,” answered Dave. “It won’t make
any difference how late it is when we get back to camp.”

One after another they trudged along through the underbrush and among
the loose stones on the mountain summit, which was a hundred yards or
more in diameter. In some places they had to pick their way with care,
for there were numerous cracks and hollows.

“A fellow doesn’t want to go down into one of those cracks,” remarked
Phil, after leaping over an opening which was several feet wide and
probably fifteen or twenty feet in depth.

“He’d get a nasty tumble if he did,” answered Roger.

“And he’d have a fine time of it getting out if he chanced to be alone!”
broke in our hero.

With the sun shining brightly and not a cloud obscuring the sky, the
five chums presently reached the other side of the mountain. Looking
down, they saw a heavy wilderness of trees sloping gently down to the
hollow below them and then up on the side of the mountain beyond.

“Isn’t that perfectly grand!” murmured Ben. “Just think of the thousands
upon thousands of feet of timber in that patch!”

“Yes. And think of all the masts for ships!” added Phil, with a little
laugh.

“And flagpoles!” exclaimed Dave. “I guess there would be enough
flagpoles in that patch to plant a pole in front of every schoolhouse in
the United States.”

“Well, every schoolhouse ought to have a flagpole, and ought to have Old
Glory on it, too!” cried Roger. “My father says that people generally
don’t make half enough display of our flag.”

The youths walked along the edge of the summit for quite a distance,
looking off to the northward and southward. Then, after Ben had taken a
few more pictures, they started back for where they had left the horses.

“Come on, let’s have a race!” cried Ben suddenly. “First fellow to reach
the horses wins the prize!”

“And what’s the prize?” queried Phil.

“Won’t tell it to you till you win it!” broke in Dave.

With merry shouts, all of the chums started on a run for where they
supposed the horses had been left. They soon found themselves in the
midst of the underbrush and many loose rocks, around which they had to
make their way. Some thought the horses were in one direction and some
another, and as a consequence they soon became separated, although still
within calling distance.

“Hi! Be careful that you don’t go down in some hole and break a leg,”
cautioned Dave.

“That’s right!” sang out Roger, who was some distance off. “Some of
these rocks are mighty treacherous.”

Forward went the crowd, and in about ten minutes Dave and Roger found
themselves in sight of the former camping spot. Phil and Ben were also
coming on from around some rocks on the left, and each of the crowd put
on an extra burst of speed to reach the horses first.

“I win!” cried Roger, as he caught hold of one of the saddles.

At the same moment, Phil touched another of the animals, and a few
seconds later Dave and Ben did the same.

“Pretty close race for all of us!” cried Ben; and then, of a sudden, he
looked around. “Where is Shadow?”

The four who had reached the horses looked back toward the brushwood and
the rocks around which they had made their way. They waited for several
seconds, expecting each instant that the former story-teller of Oak Hall
would show himself. But Shadow failed to appear.

“Hello, Shadow! Hello! Where are you?” sang out Dave, at the top of his
lungs.

No answer came to this call, and one after another the others also
summoned their missing chum. They listened intently, but not a sound of
any kind broke the quietness of the mountain top.

“Something has happened to him, that’s sure,” remarked Roger, his face
growing grave.

“I guess we had better go back and look for him,” announced Dave.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                        TO THE RESCUE OF SHADOW


“Who saw Shadow last? Does anybody know?” questioned Dave, as the whole
crowd looked at each other in perplexity.

“He was close to me when we started the race,” answered Phil. “But I
soon got ahead of him and turned to one side of some big rocks while he
went to the other side.”

“And didn’t you see him after that?”

“No. But I heard him call to some of the others.”

“I think he was close behind me during the first half of the race,”
broke in Roger. “But after that I drew away from him.”

“We’ll go back to where we started from and keep calling his name,” said
our hero. “He’ll be bound to hear us if he is anywhere around.”

“Perhaps he went down into one of those openings between some of the
rocks and was knocked unconscious,” suggested Ben. “Such a thing could
easily happen.”

“Oh, I hope he isn’t seriously hurt!” cried the senator’s son.

Very soberly the four youths climbed back to the summit of the mountain,
and then began to retrace their steps toward the other side. They kept
calling Shadow’s name continually, but no answer came back.

“Over yonder is the worst opening I had to jump over,” remarked Roger,
when they were near the center of the summit.

“Let us look at it, right away,” returned our hero quickly.

All hurried to the place Roger had mentioned. It was an opening between
some rough rocks, and was all of a hundred feet long and two to eight
feet in width. How deep it was they could not surmise, for the walls
curved from one side to the other, so that the bottom of the opening was
out of sight.

“Looks to me as if it might be the entrance to some cave,” announced
Ben, as all came to a halt on the brink of the opening. “Listen!”

The crowd did so, and at the bottom of the opening they heard a faint
splashing of water as it poured over the rocks.

“Must be an underground stream down there,” remarked Phil.

“Perhaps it’s the same stream that furnishes water to the spring at our
camp,” suggested Dave. He sent up a shout. “Hello, Shadow! Are you down
there?”

“Help! Help!” came in a low voice from below.

“He’s down there, as sure as fate!” exclaimed Roger.

“Are you hurt?” shouted Phil.

“I’m pretty well scraped up, that’s all. But the rocks down here are all
smooth and wet, and I can’t climb up—try my best.”

“You are in no danger just at present, are you?” questioned Dave
quickly.

“I don’t think so—unless you fellows roll down some stones on me.”

“We’ll be careful about that,” answered Ben; and lost no time in pushing
back a number of stones which lay close to the brink of the opening.

“We’ll have to get a rope or something with which to haul him up,” said
Phil. “Dave, did we bring anything of that sort along?”

“Yes, I’ve got a good strong lariat tied to my saddle,” answered our
hero. “Frank Andrews advised taking it along; for when you are traveling
among the mountains you can never tell when you’ll need such a rope.
I’ll go back and get it.”

“Maybe you’d better bring a few straps along, too, Dave,” put in Roger.
“Then, if Shadow can’t haul himself up, he can tie himself fast and we
can pull him up.”

“Good idea, Roger. I’ll do it.”

Dave was soon on his way, and in less than twenty minutes he was back to
the spot, carrying the lariat he had mentioned and also a number of
straps taken from the outfit. The lariat was of rawhide, and more than
once had been tested by the civil engineers for its strength. It had
been purchased by Andrews from a cowboy in Texas, after the latter had
given a very fine exhibition of lassoing steers with it.

“We’re sending down the end of a lariat with some straps,” called down
Dave. “Let us know as soon as it is low enough.”

“All right,” answered Shadow, but somewhat feebly, for the tumble had
evidently knocked the breath out of him.

Tying the loose straps to the end of the rope, and weighting the whole
down with a stone, Dave lowered the lariat carefully over the edge of
the opening. It slipped through his hands readily, and soon the end
disappeared from sight over a bulge of the wall below. All of the others
watched the rope as it disappeared into the opening. They waited for
some cry from Shadow, stating that he had hold of the other end, but
none came.

“Maybe it caught somewhere on the way down,” suggested Ben.

“Well, here’s the end of it anyway,” announced Dave. “And the other end
must be free for I can still feel the weight of the straps and the
stone.”

“Hello, down there!” shouted Roger. “Can you see the rope?”

“Yes,” answered Shadow. “Please let it down about two feet farther.”

“I can’t do that just now. I’m at the end of the rope,” answered Dave.
“Just wait a few minutes, and we’ll fix you up.”

“We’ll have to tie something to it,” said Roger. “Too bad we didn’t keep
one or two of those straps up here.”

“Let’s get a stout sapling and tie that to the lariat,” said Phil. “That
will be even stronger than the straps.”

On the edge of the summit they had noticed a number of saplings growing,
and in a few minutes they had one of these uprooted. It was ten or
twelve feet in height, and plenty strong enough for the purpose
intended. It was tied fast by the roots, and then they lowered it into
the opening, all taking hold of the other end, so that it might not slip
from them.

“All right, I’ve got the rope now,” announced Shadow, a few seconds
later. “Just hold it as it is.”

“Do you think you can haul yourself up, Shadow?” asked Dave. “Or do you
want us to do the hauling?”

“I guess you had better do it if you can,” answered the youth below.
“That tumble made me kind of weak and shaky.”

“Then strap yourself good and tight,” answered Roger. “See to it that
the lariat won’t slip from the straps, either.”

It was almost dark at the bottom of the hollow into which Shadow had
tumbled. He was in water up to his ankles. But this the unfortunate
youth did not mind, for the stream had enabled him to bathe his hurts
and obtain a refreshing drink. Now he lost no time in fastening one of
the large straps around his waist, and to this he attached the lariat by
a firm knot. Then, to make assurance doubly sure, he tied another of the
straps to the rope and around his left wrist.

“Now I’m ready!” he shouted to those above. “But do be careful and don’t
send any rocks or dirt down on my head!” His hat had fallen off and into
the stream, but he had recovered it, and was now using it as a
protection for his head.

“We’ll be as careful as we can,” announced Dave. “If anything goes
wrong, shout out at once.”

It had been decided that Dave and Roger should haul up on the sapling
and the lariat; and while they were doing this, Ben and Phil were to
hold fast to them in order to prevent any of the party from going over
the brink.

Soon the sapling came out of the opening, and then the lariat came up
inch by inch.

“Are you all right, Shadow?” demanded our hero, when about half of the
rope had been pulled up.

“All right, so far,” was the gasped-out answer. “For gracious’ sake,
don’t let me drop!”

“Don’t worry,” answered Roger. And then he added to Ben: “Just carry the
sapling back and stick it between those rocks, then we’ll be sure that
the rope can’t slip.”

As Shadow even though thin, was tall and weighed all of one hundred and
thirty pounds, it was no easy matter to haul him up out of the opening,
especially as the lariat had to slip over several bends of the rocks.
Once there came a hitch, and it looked as if the lariat with its burden
would come no farther. But Shadow managed to brace himself and climb up
a few feet and loosen the rope, and then the remainder of the haul was
easy. Soon he came into sight, and in a few seconds more those above
helped him over the brink of the opening and to a place of safety.

“Thank heaven, I’m out of that!” he panted, as he sat down on a nearby
rock to rest. “I owe you fellows a good deal for hauling me out of that
hole.”

“Don’t mention it, Shadow,” answered Dave readily.

“We’d do a good deal more for you than that,” added Roger.

“Indeed we would!” came simultaneously from the others.

“After this I’m going to be careful of how I run and jump,” answered
Shadow.

“How did you come to go down?” questioned Phil.

“That was the funniest thing you ever heard about,” was the quick reply.
“Just as I came into sight of this opening, I felt one of my shoes
getting loose. I bent down to feel of it, and the next instant I
stumbled over something and rolled right down into the hole. Of course,
I tried to save myself, but it was of no use, and down I went quicker
than you can think. I struck the rocks on one side of the opening, and
then on the other side, and hit some bushes and dirt. Then, the next
thing I knew, I went ker-splash! into a big pool of water.”

“And that pool of water saved you from breaking your neck,” broke in
Ben.

“More than likely. I got up out of the pool in a hurry, and then I
walked several yards to where the stream of water wasn’t nearly so deep.
Then I set up a yell, and kept at it for nearly a quarter of an hour. I
had just about given up thinking you would ever find me, when I heard
you yelling.”

“As soon as you’ve rested, we’ll help you back to our camping place,”
announced Dave. “Then we can start up the fire again and you can dry
yourself;” for he saw that Shadow was soaking wet from his back down.

“I’m thankful this adventure has ended so well,” was Phil’s comment.
“What would we have done if anything had happened to you?”

“As it was, enough did happen,” answered Shadow ruefully. Then, of a
sudden, his face broke into a smile. “Say, when I was down there I
thought of a dandy story! One day two men went to clean a well——”

This was as far as the former story-teller of Oak Hall got with his
narrative. The others gazed at him for a moment in wonder, and then all
broke out into a uproarious fit of laughter.

“Can you beat it!” gasped Phil.

“I guess Shadow would tell stories if he was going to his own funeral!”
came from Roger.

“You’ve certainly got your nerve with you, Shadow,” announced Dave.

“I suppose you thought of the story while you were tumbling down into
the opening,” suggested Ben.

“No, I didn’t think of it just then,” answered the story-teller
innocently. “It came to me while I was waiting for you fellows to get
the rope.”

“Never mind the story now,” said Dave. “If you are rested, let us get
back to the camp and start up that fire. We don’t want you to catch
cold.” For on the summit of the mountain there was a keen, cool breeze.

They were soon on the way, Dave on one side of Shadow to support him and
Roger on the other. Phil and Ben ran ahead, and by the time the youth
who had taken the tumble arrived, more wood had been placed on the
campfire, and it was blazing up merrily, sending out considerable
warmth.

“That’s an adventure we didn’t count on,” remarked Phil, while Shadow
was drying out his clothing in front of the blaze.

“Well, something is bound to happen when we get together,” answered
Roger. “It always does.”

“After this we had better keep our eyes peeled for all sorts of danger,”
said Dave. “We don’t want anything bad to happen to our visitors during
their stay.”

Half an hour was spent in the camp, and by that time Shadow’s wet
clothing had dried out sufficiently to be worn again. The former
story-teller of Oak Hall had been allowed to tell several of his best
yarns, and now seemed to be in as good a humor as ever. His hands and
his shins had been scraped by his fall, but to these little hurts he
gave scant attention.

“I came out on this trip with Phil just to see what rough life was
like,” he announced. “If something hadn’t happened to me I surely would
have been disappointed.”

“You’ll see enough of rough life before you get home again, Shadow,”
said Phil. “Just you wait till you get to Star Ranch. I’ll have some of
the cowboys there put you through a regular course of sprouts.”

Just before the party got ready to break camp, Ben wandered off to get
several more pictures. He went farther than he had originally intended,
the various scenes before his eyes proving decidedly fascinating. He
took a view of some rocks, and then gazed for a long time across to a
hill some distance away. Then he returned quickly to where he had left
the others.

“Say, fellows, I’ve discovered some game!” he cried.

“Game?” queried Dave. “What kind?”

“I don’t know exactly what they were,” answered the youth from
Crumville. “They looked though to be a good deal like a couple of bears.
They are off in that direction,” and he pointed with his hand.

“Say, let’s go after them, no matter what they are!” exclaimed Phil.
“I’d like to get a shot at something before we return to the
construction camp.”

“I’m willing,” announced Dave.

“Shall we go on horseback or on foot?” questioned Shadow. “For myself,
I’d rather ride than walk.”

“Oh, we’ll go on horseback,” answered Roger. “There is no use of our
coming back to this place. Come on—let us get after that game right now!
Ben, you show the way.”



                              CHAPTER XIV
                         SOMETHING ABOUT BEARS


The campfire was stamped out with care, so that there would be no danger
of a conflagration in the forest so close at hand, and then the five
lively chums leaped into the saddle once more and started off in the
direction in which Ben had said he had seen the game.

“What made you think they were a couple of bears?” questioned Dave, as
they rode along as rapidly as the roughness of the trail permitted.

“They looked as much like bears as they looked like anything,” answered
his chum. “Of course, they were quite a distance away, and I may have
been mistaken. But anyway, they were some sort of animals, and quite
large.”

“Were they standing still?”

“No. They appeared and disappeared among the rocks and bushes. That’s
the reason I couldn’t make out exactly what they were.”

“Perhaps they were deer,” suggested Phil.

“I think they were too chunky for deer—and even for goats. Besides that,
they didn’t leap from one rock to another as deer and goats do.”

“Could they have been bobcats?”

“No. They were larger than that.”

The chums soon had to leave the regular trail, and then found themselves
in a section of the mountainside sparingly covered with bushes and an
occasional tree. The rocks were exceedingly rough, and in many places
they had to come to a halt to figure out how best to proceed.

“Say, we don’t want to get lost!” remarked Phil.

“I don’t think we’ll do that, Phil,” answered Dave. “Roger and I know
the lay of the mountains pretty well around here. And besides, I brought
my pocket compass along. Just at present we are northeast of the
construction camp.”

They could not go in a direct line to where Ben had noticed the game,
and it therefore took them the best part of an hour to reach the
vicinity.

“Now I guess we had better be on the watch,” announced Dave, and unslung
the shotgun he carried, while Roger did the same with the rifle. Seeing
this, the others looked to their automatic pistols, to make certain that
the weapons were ready for instant use.

For fully half an hour the five chums rode up and down along the side of
the hill and had Ben point out to them just where he had seen the two
animals.

“It looks to me as if they had cleared out,” said Phil in a disgusted
tone of voice. “And if they have, we have had a pretty nasty ride for
our pains.”

“Oh, don’t let’s give up yet!” pleaded Shadow. “I want to get a shot at
something—even if it’s nothing more than a squirrel.”

“If you don’t watch out, you may have an elephant crashing down on you,”
laughed Phil.

“Humph, I suppose you don’t care whether we bring down any game or not!”
retorted Shadow. “You put me in mind of a fellow who went hunting. He
came back at night, and his friends asked him if the hunting was good.
‘Sure, it was good!’ he declared. ‘I hunted all day long, and not a bit
of game came anywhere near me to disturb my fun!’”

“One thing is certain,” broke in Dave. “You’ve got to be quieter if you
expect to find any game at all. You don’t suppose a bear is going to
come out on the rocks just to listen to stories.”

“That’s right! He couldn’t bear to do it!” cried Roger gayly.

“My, my, but that’s a bare-faced joke!” cried Phil; and then there was a
general laugh over the little puns.

After that the youths became silent, and the only sound that broke the
stillness was the clatter of the horses as they passed over the rocks
between the brushwood. Thus another half hour passed, and still nothing
in the way of game was brought to view.

“I guess we’ll have to give it up and continue our trip,” said Roger at
last.

To this the others agreed, and then all started off in another direction
to hit the regular trail where it wound off towards the railroad
station.

“I think we can make a sort of semicircle,” said Dave. “And if we don’t
lose too much time we’ll be able to get back to the construction camp by
seven or eight o’clock.”

All were disappointed that they had not seen any game, and the others
began to poke fun at Ben, stating that his eyesight must have deceived
him.

“It didn’t deceive me at all,” insisted the son of the Crumville real
estate dealer. “I know I saw them as plain as day. But what the animals
were, I can’t say.”

“Oh, well, never mind!” cried Phil gayly. “If we can’t bring down any
game, we can have a good time anyway. Let’s have a song.”

“All right, boys. Everybody go to it!” cried Dave. “Oak Hall forever!”
And then all present began to sing, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, a
song they had sung ever since they had first gone to Oak Hall.

               “Oak Hall we never shall forget,
                 No matter where we roam;
               It is the very best of schools,
                 To us it’s just like home.
               Then give three cheers, and let them ring
                 Throughout this world so wide,
               To let the people know that we
                 Elect to here abide!”

They sang it exceeding well, Dave and Roger in their tenor voices, Phil
and Ben filling in with their baritone, and the long and lanky Shadow
adding his bass voice, which every day seemed to be growing deeper.
Then, after the verse was finished, at a signal from Roger, all let up
the old school cry:

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

“Oh, my! wouldn’t it be grand if we were all going back to school
to-morrow?” burst out Phil.

“Oh, those good old baseball days!” cried Ben.

“And the skating and snowballing!” burst out Shadow.

“And the football!” added Dave. “Don’t you remember how we used to make
Rockville Academy bite the dust?”

“And all those funny initiations in the Gee Eyes!” came from Roger.

“I think if I could do it, I’d like to go back to my first days there,
even if I had to stand Gus Plum’s insolence,” said Dave, his eyes
glistening.

“Yes. But we wouldn’t stand for such fellows as Merwell and Jasniff,”
added Roger quickly.

“Oh, let’s forget all those bullies!” broke out Phil. “If we should——”

Phil did not finish, for Dave had suddenly put up his hand as a warning
to be silent. Now our hero motioned his chums behind some of the rocks
and brushwood beside the trail. Then he pointed to a large, flat rock a
distance farther on.

“A bear!” gasped Shadow.

“Two of them!” burst out Ben, in a low tone. And then he added quickly:
“I’ll bet they are the two animals I saw when I was taking those
pictures!”

“Perhaps so, Ben,” answered Dave in a whisper; “although we are a pretty
good distance from where you spotted them. However, that doesn’t matter
just now. The question is—what are we going to do?”

“Shoot ’em!” came promptly from all of the others in a breath.

Evidently the horses had either scented or sighted the bears, for they
showed great uneasiness. The bears, however, did not seem to be aware of
the presence of their enemies. Both were bending down on the rocks, as
if examining something intently.

“They are eating something,” said Roger, a moment later. “See how
eagerly they are lapping it up.”

“Maybe it’s some wild honey,” suggested Phil. “I understand bears are
all crazy about anything that is sweet.”

The shipowner’s son was right. The bears had come upon the remains of a
“bee tree” which had been blown down by the recent high winds. A section
of the tree containing a large portion of the honey had struck the
rocks, and the honey had spread in every direction. Now the two animals
were frantically lapping up the sweet stuff, each trying to get his fill
before the other got it away from him.

“I guess Roger and I had better fire first,” said Dave. “I’ll take the
bear on the left, and you, Roger, take the one on the right. Then, as
soon as we have fired, you other fellows can let drive for all you are
worth with your automatics while we are reloading. Then, if the bears
are not dead by that time, we’ll try our best to give them another dose
of lead.”

So it was arranged, and a moment later the crowd of five dismounted and
tied their horses to some trees. Then they crept forward, keeping as
much as possible behind the rocks, so that the feeding bears might not
see them.

Ordinarily the bears would have been on the alert, and their quick sense
of smell would have made it impossible for the youths to get within
shooting distance. But now both animals were so absorbed in lapping up
the honey spread around on the rocks, that they paid absolutely no
attention to anything else. It is also possible that the smell of the
honey was so strong that it helped to hide every other odor.

“Now then, fellows, are you ready?” whispered Dave, when they had gained
a point behind the rocks which was not over a hundred and fifty feet
from the bears.

“All ready!” was the whispered return.

It must be confessed that some of the youths were nervous. Shadow’s hand
shook as he started to level his automatic pistol. Had he been called on
to face a bear all alone, it is quite likely that he would have been
struck with what is known among hunters as “buck fever,” and would have
been totally unable to do anything.

Bang! crack! went the shotgun and the rifle. And almost immediately came
the crack! crack! crack! of the three automatic pistols.

Then, as the bears whirled around and started to run, Dave fired again,
and so did Roger, and the others continued to discharge their small
firearms as rapidly as possible.

Dave’s first shot had been a most effective one, taking one of the bears
directly in an ear and an eye. This had been followed up by the second
shot, and also several shots from the pistols, and presently the animal
raised up on his hind legs and then came down with a crash, to roll over
and over among the rocks and brushwood.

“He’s done for, I think!” cried our hero with much satisfaction.

“Don’t be too sure,” remonstrated Ben, who was close behind. “He may be
playing ’possum.”

In the meantime, the other bear had leaped out of sight behind some of
the rocks. Now, as Dave stopped to reload the double-barreled shotgun,
the others went on, intent, if possible, on bringing the second beast
low. That he had been hit, there was no doubt, for he had squealed with
pain and flapped one forepaw madly in the air.

The youths with the pistols were the first to again catch sight of the
second bear. He stood at bay between a number of large rocks, and
snarled viciously as soon as he caught sight of them. He arose on his
hind legs and made a movement as if to leap directly toward them.

“Shoot! Shoot!” yelled Roger, and discharged his rifle once more. But
the shot whistled harmlessly over the bear’s head. Then the other youths
took aim with their pistols, hitting bruin on the shoulder and in the
thigh.

These wounds were not dangerous, but they maddened the beast very much;
and, with a roar of rage, the bear suddenly leaped from between the
rocks and made directly for the crowd of young hunters.



                               CHAPTER XV
                          THE TRAIL TO NOWHERE


“Look out there!”

“He’s coming this way!”

“Run for your lives!”

These shouts were mingled with shots from several of the pistols, none
of which, however, took effect, for the sudden advance of the wounded
bear had disconcerted the aim of the young hunters.

The youths scattered to the right and the left behind the rocks and
brushwood, and as the bear came lumbering forward, it looked as if for
the time being he would have the place entirely to himself. Then,
however, he caught sight of Roger and made a savage leap for the
senator’s son.

Fortunately for the youth, the rifle he carried was a repeating weapon,
and now he let drive once more, sending a ball along bruin’s flank. But
this attack only served to increase the rage of the animal, and with a
ferocious snarl he sprang forward and made a pass at Roger with one of
his heavy paws.

Had this blow landed as intended, it is more than likely the senator’s
son would have been felled and perhaps seriously hurt. But by a quick
backward spring, the young civil engineer dodged the attack. Then he
fired again, and this was followed almost simultaneously by discharges
from the pistols of Phil and Ben. But all the bullets flew harmlessly
over the beast’s head.

“Run, Roger! Run!” yelled the shipowner’s son. “Run, or he’ll knock you
down sure and kill you!”

Roger needed no such advice, because he already realized his peril. He
turned to retreat, but in his haste tripped over the uneven rocks and
went pitching headlong into some nearby brushwood.

It was at this time, when the matter looked exceedingly serious, that
Dave came once more to the front. He had succeeded in reloading the
shotgun, and now, advancing rapidly, he took careful aim at the bear and
fired twice.

The first discharge from the shotgun took the huge beast directly in the
neck, and as he made a leap forward, as if to cover the distance that
separated him from our hero, the second dose of shot landed in his
stomach. He let out a frightful roar of pain and rage, and then pitched
forward with a crash on a rock and rolled over and over down into a
nearby hollow.

“Reload as fast as you can, fellows!” ordered Dave. “Don’t take any
chances. Neither of those beasts may be dead;” and he started at once to
look after his own weapon.

Years before his Uncle Dunston, who, as my old readers know, was a
famous hunter, had impressed upon the youth the truth that an unloaded
weapon is a very useless affair.

It must be admitted that Roger’s hand shook not a little while he was
looking to make sure that his rifle was in condition for further use.
Poor Shadow had gone white, and now sat on a flat rock, too weak in the
knees to stand up.

“Maybe we had better give the bears some more shots before we go near
them,” suggested the former story-teller of Oak Hall, in a voice which
sounded strangely unnatural even to himself.

“It wouldn’t do any harm to give them a few shots from the pistols,”
answered Dave. “Then we can all say we had a hand in laying them low.”
And thereupon those who possessed the smaller weapons proceeded to make
sure that the bears should never have a chance to fight again.

“Dave, I’ve got to hand it to you for coming to my assistance,” said
Roger warmly, as soon as he had recovered from his scare. “Gracious! I
thought sure that bear was going to jump right on me!”

[Illustration: DAVE TOOK CAREFUL AIM AT THE BEAR AND FIRED.—_Page 153._]

“Dave is the head hunter of this crowd,” announced Phil.

“He takes after his Uncle Dunston when it comes to shooting,” put in
Ben. “Both of them can hit the bull’s-eye without half trying.”

“I—I—don’t think I want to do much hunting after this,” was Shadow’s
comment. “That is, hunting for big game. I wouldn’t mind going out after
rabbits and birds and things like that.”

“Oh, you’ll get used to it after a while, Shadow,” answered Dave. “I
know how I felt when I faced my first big game. I had all I could do to
steady my nerves.”

“Not such very big bears, when you come to look them over,” said Ben,
who was making a close inspection.

“They certainly looked big enough when they stood up on their hind legs
and came for us,” answered Phil. “I guess a bear must shrink after he’s
dead;” and at this remark there was something of a laugh. Now that the
tension had been removed, some of the youths were inclined to be a bit
hysterical.

“What are we going to do with the bears?” questioned Phil.

“Can’t we save the skins and the heads?” asked Ben.

“Yes, we can do that,” answered Dave. “I don’t believe the skins are
particularly good at this time of the year, but you fellows might draw
lots for them and take them home as trophies of the occasion.”

On their numerous hunting trips Dave and Roger, as well as Phil, had
seen large game skinned and dressed on more than one occasion, and,
consequently, the task before them was not an altogether new one. In the
outfit they had brought along there was a hunting-knife, and also a good
sharp carving-knife, and with these tools, and the aid of the hatchet
they had brought along, they set to work to skin both of the bears and
cut each head from the rest of the body. It was no easy job, and took
much longer than they had anticipated.

“As soon as we have finished we had better make for the construction
camp,” said Dave.

“What are you going to do with the bear meat?” asked Roger. “It’s a
shame to leave it here.”

“We can cut out some of the best of the steaks, Roger; and then we can
hang the rest of the meat up on the limbs of a tree. Then, if we want to
come back for it to-morrow, or any of the others at the camp want to
come and get it, why all right.”

One of the saddle-bags was cleaned out, and in this they placed the very
choicest of the bear steaks. Then the heads and pelts were rolled up and
strapped into bundles. After that, by means of the lariat, they hoisted
one carcass after the other into the branches of the nearest tree and
there fastened them with straps.

The horses were uneasy, evidently scenting the blood of the bears. They
did not seem to fancy the idea of carrying the pelts and steaks, and the
youths had all they could do to make the animals behave. But all the
young men were used to riding, and so, after a little prancing around,
they made the steeds steady themselves, and then the journey back to the
construction camp was begun.

“I think it is quite a while since a bear was brought down in this
neighborhood,” said our hero, while they were riding along. “Old Hixon
told me he had been on their trail a number of times, but he could never
get close enough to get a shot.”

It was already growing dark, and long before the construction camp came
into view, the sun sank over the tops of the mountains in the west and
the long shadows began to creep across the valley.

“I hope you are sure of where you are going, Dave,” said Phil, as he
rode alongside of his chum.

“I’m not so very sure of this trail, Phil,” was the slow answer. “You
see, this is a new bit of territory to Roger and me.” He turned to the
senator’s son. “What do you think of it?”

“I hope we are on the right way,” was the ready reply. “I think inside
of another half hour we’ll strike the regular trail between the camp and
the railroad station.”

Soon the shadows had reached the summit of the mountain behind them, and
then the darkness of night came on rapidly. As the trail was a most
uncertain one, they had to proceed slower and slower, for fear of
running into some danger which might lurk ahead.

“It’s a pity one of us didn’t bring a flashlight along,” said Ben. “Then
we could make sure of what sort of footing was ahead.” They were passing
over some loose rocks at the time, and these occasionally made the
horses slip and slide. Once Phil’s animal went to his knees, and made a
great splurge and clatter regaining his footing.

“This is certainly some lonely spot,” was Roger’s comment, after they
had gone forward another quarter of a mile. “There doesn’t seem to be a
cabin or a camp of any sort in sight.”

“Listen! What’s that?” cried Shadow suddenly, and came close up beside
Dave.

Far away in the woods they heard a peculiar sound. They listened
intently for several minutes, and then the sound was repeated.

“I don’t think it’s anything more than a hoot owl or something of that
sort,” said our hero.

“Just what I think,” answered Roger. “I’ve heard that cry several times
since I came to Montana. It’s a bird of some sort.”

They had been going downward, but now the little trail they were
following led up over more loose rocks, and then into a thicket of
underbrush. Beyond this they came to the edge of the mountain forest.
Here Roger called a halt.

“This doesn’t look very good to me,” declared the senator’s son. “The
trail is getting worse and worse, and now it seems to lead directly into
these big woods.”

“We had better go slow about getting in among trees,” announced Phil.
“We might become hopelessly lost.”

“Then what do you propose to do?” demanded Ben. “Go back?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. I am willing to leave it to Dave and Roger. They
know a great deal more about this section of the country than we do.”

“We don’t know much about this particular piece of ground we are on
right now,” answered the senator’s son. “I can’t remember that I was
ever in this vicinity before.”

“Nor I,” added Dave. “Ever since we left the place where we had our
lunch this noon, the trail has been a strange one to me. Just the same,
I think we have been heading in the general direction of the
construction camp. For all we know, it may be right on the other side of
these big woods.”

Dave brought out his pocket compass, and he and Roger inspected it
carefully by the light from a match. Then the two talked the matter over
for several minutes.

“I’ll tell you what I think about it,” declared our hero finally. “I
think the best thing we can do is to skirt the woods instead of going
through them.”

“I’m sure it would be safer,” added Phil.

To skirt the edge of the forest, they had to leave the trail entirely
and pick their way as best they could among the rocks and brushwood.
Soon the horses hesitated about going forward, and then they had to
dismount and lead the animals.

“If we can’t locate the camp after we get around the edge of the woods,
what are we going to do?” questioned Roger of our hero in a low voice,
so that the others who were coming on behind might not hear.

“I’m sure I don’t know, Roger,” was the unsatisfactory reply.

“We’ve got to do something, Dave. We can’t stay out here all night.”

“Oh, yes, we can if we have to. If it becomes necessary to do so, we can
go into camp, light a fire, and broil some of those bear steaks.”

“Yes, we could do that. And bear steaks wouldn’t be half bad, seeing how
hungry I am getting,” returned the senator’s son. “But just the same,
I’d rather get back to our camp to-night.”



                              CHAPTER XVI
                          WAITING FOR LETTERS


The five chums continued on their way around the edge of the forest. All
were in a sober frame of mind, for each realized that, for all they
knew, they might be hopelessly lost on the mountainside. Presently the
sharp decline came to an end, and then all of them leaped once more into
the saddle.

“Look!” exclaimed Dave presently. “Am I right? Is that a light ahead?”

All gazed in the direction he indicated, and presently made out a small
light which was swinging to and fro as it seemed to draw closer.

“I believe that’s some one with a hand lantern!” cried Roger. “Maybe
it’s a man on horseback with a lantern to light his way.”

The five chums noted in what direction the light was headed, and then
turned the horses toward the same point. Soon they came so close that
they could call to the other party, and they set up a shout.

“Hello, Porter! Hello, Morr! Is that you?” came an answering hail. And
then the light seemed to come to a halt.

“It must be one of the fellows from our camp!” exclaimed Dave. “And if
that is so, we can’t be very far from one of the regular trails.”

He urged his steed forward with the others following, and soon they came
face to face with a man named Dan Morrison, who had charge of one of the
section gangs at the camp. To this individual our friends explained the
situation, and received the information that they were on a side trail
which, half a mile farther on, ran into the regular trail leading to the
construction camp.

“This trail is one of several that leads to the railroad station,”
explained Dan Morrison. “It’s something of a short cut, but it isn’t
quite as good as any of the others. But I’m used to it, so I don’t mind
it, even in the darkness. I carry the lantern more for company than for
anything else.”

Mr. Morrison was much surprised to hear about the shooting of the two
bears, but the youths did not wait to go into details, being anxious to
get back to the construction camp, where they hoped a good hot supper
would be awaiting them.

“And if they haven’t got anything cooked for us, we’ll make Jeff broil
some of these bear steaks,” announced Dave.

“They’ll certainly be something in the way of a novelty,” said Phil.
“Although, as a matter of fact, I never yet ate a bear steak that could
compare to a beefsteak. The meat is usually coarser and tougher.”

It was not long after this when they discerned the welcome lights of the
construction camp in the distance. Then they set off on something of a
race, and rode into camp in great style.

“Well, lads, what kind of a day did you have?” questioned Frank Andrews,
as he came out to greet them.

“Fine!”

“The best ever! We shot two bears.”

“Shot two bears!” repeated Frank Andrews incredulously. “You can’t
string me that way. Why don’t you say you brought down half a dozen
elephants while you’re at it?”

“We certainly did bring down two bears,” announced Roger with pardonable
pride. “And one of them might have killed me if it hadn’t been for
Dave.”

“What’s this I hear about shooting two bears?” demanded another voice,
and Mr. Obray stepped into view from the semi-darkness.

“It’s true, Mr. Obray,” answered Dave. “Just wait, and we’ll show you
the skins and the heads. We cut them both off to bring along. And we’ve
got some fine bear steaks in our saddle-bags too.”

“And anybody who wants to, can go back and get the rest of the
carcasses,” added Roger. “We hung them up in a tree to protect them.”

“It doesn’t seem possible!” exclaimed the construction camp manager.
“One bear would be something worth talking about. But two! Are you sure
you’re not fooling?”

“It’s the plain truth,” answered Phil.

“But I never want to go out to shoot any more bears,” vouchsafed Shadow.
“One bear hunt in a lifetime is enough for me.”

The news soon spread throughout the construction camp that two bears had
been killed, and it was not long before every man in the place came up
to view what the hunting party had brought in. Old John Hixon seemed to
be particularly interested.

“Pretty big critters—both of ’em,” was his comment. “Of course, I’ve
seen ’em bigger, but these fellows were large enough for anybody to
wrassle with.”

Of course the youths had to tell their story in detail—not only about
the fight with the two bears, but also how Shadow had fallen into the
opening on the mountain summit and had been rescued.

“You’ve certainly had a strenuous day of it,” was Ralph Obray’s comment.
“I’m glad to know that all of you got back in safety. After this I guess
I had better keep my eyes on you,” and he smiled faintly.

“I hope we are in time for supper, Jeff!” cried Roger to the cook. “I’m
altogether too hungry to miss that.”

“You all ain’t goin’ to miss nothin’,” answered the cook, with a
good-natured showing of his ivories. “Come right down to the dinin’-room
and git all you wants. If you wants me to broil some of dem dar bear
steaks, I’ll do it fo’ you.”

“Well, I’m mighty glad we’re not going to miss anything in the way of
supper,” remarked Ben.

“Oh, say, speaking about missing something puts me in mind of a story!”
burst out Shadow eagerly, as the chums made their way toward the
dining-room of the camp. “Once there was a miserly old man who was
inveigled into buying a ticket for a charity concert. He found it
impossible to get there on time, and so found the concert in full blast
when he arrived. ‘Say, what are they playing?’ he asked of an usher as
he came in. ‘Why, they just started the Twelfth Symphony,’ was the
reply. ‘You don’t say!’ groaned the miserly old man. ‘It’s too bad I’ve
missed so much of the concert, after paying for that ticket!’”

It might go without saying that all of the youths enjoyed the repast
which Jeff and his assistant provided. At first they thought to have
some of the bear steaks; but then concluded to leave those until the
morning, when every man in the camp who cared to do so might have his
share of the meat.

On the following morning all of the visitors, as well as Roger, were so
tired that they decided to remain in camp and take it easy. Dave,
however, after consulting with Mr. Obray, took two of the men with him
and went back to where the carcasses of the bears had been left, and
brought the meat back to camp. Here the steaks and the other portions
fit to cook were enjoyed by all, and served to put Dave and his chums on
better terms than ever with the others.

Phil, Ben, and Shadow remained at the construction camp two days longer,
and during that time the chums went fishing, as well as riding, and
enjoyed every moment of the time. Ben was particularly pleased, and in
private confided to Dave and Roger that had he not promised to go on to
Star Ranch with Phil he would willingly have put in the rest of his
vacation with them.

“Oh, you’ll like it at Star Ranch just as well as you like it here,”
announced Dave. “It’s a splendid place, and the Endicotts will be sure
to give you the time of your life.”

The days passed all too quickly for all of the young men. Even Shadow
complained of the shortness of the time, he stating that he had not had
an opportunity to tell one half of his best stories.

“Never mind, Shadow, you’ll have to come back some day and tell us the
rest of them,” said Roger consolingly.

At last came the hour when the visitors had to depart, and Dave and
Roger saw them off at the railroad station.

“Give our best regards to the Endicotts!” cried Dave, when the long
train rolled into the station and Phil and the others climbed on board.

“And don’t forget to remember us to Sid Todd!” added Roger, mentioning
the foreman of Star Ranch, a man who had proved to be a good friend.

“Don’t go after any more bears!” sang out Ben.

“Oh, say, that puts me in mind of a story!” cried Shadow. “Once three
men went out to hunt, and——” But what the story was about, Dave and
Roger never heard, for the vestibule door to the car was closed, and in
a moment more the long train rumbled on its way.

“A nice bunch, all right,” was Roger’s comment, as he and Dave turned
their horses back in the direction of the camp.

“No better fellows anywhere, Roger. I’ll tell you, when we went to Oak
Hall we made some friends that are worth while.”

“Right you are!” The senator’s son drew a deep breath. “Well, now that
they have gone, I suppose we have got to pitch into work again.”

“Sure thing, Roger! It doesn’t do to be idle too long.”

“Oh, I’m not complaining, Dave. I love my work too much.”

“That’s exactly the way I feel about it. The more I see of civil
engineering, the deeper it grips me. I’m hoping some day we’ll be able
to get together and put over some piece of work that is really worth
while,” answered Dave earnestly.

Two weeks slipped by without anything unusual happening. Their brief
vacation at an end, Dave and Roger plunged into their work with vigor,
just to show Mr. Obray and Frank Andrews that they appreciated all that
had been done for them. During that time the weather was far from fair,
and the young civil engineers were more than once drenched to the skin
while at work on the mountainside. Then the numerous storms brought on a
small landslide, and some of the results of what had been accomplished
were swept away.

“That’s too bad!” cried Dave.

“Oh, it’s all in the day’s work, Porter,” answered Frank Andrews
philosophically. “Mr. Obray is mighty thankful that none of our men was
caught in that landslide.”

Two days after this the storms cleared away, and the sky became as
bright as ever. As soon as things had dried out a little, the
engineering gangs went forth once more, and Dave and Roger became as
busy as ever. They worked their full number of hours, as did the others,
and in addition spent one or two hours every evening over their
textbooks. Frank Andrews continued to aid them, and often explained
matters which puzzled them.

The two youths had received letters from home on the day after their
former Oak Hall chums had left. But since that time no other
communications had arrived.

“It’s queer we don’t get some more letters,” grumbled the senator’s son
one day.

“Were you looking for a letter from your folks?” questioned Dave slyly.

“You know well enough what I was looking for,” answered Roger, his face
growing a bit red. “You didn’t get any letter from Jessie, did you?”

“Not since the day you got one from Laura, and the day that one came
from your mother.”

“What do you make of it, Dave? They must have gotten our letters.”

“Maybe not, Roger. Just the same, I think the girls would have written
even if they didn’t get our letters.”

“Do you suppose anything has gone wrong?”

“I don’t know what to suppose.”

“Maybe we ought to send a telegram,” suggested the senator’s son, after
a pause.

“Oh, there’s no use of scaring them with a telegram, Roger. Let us wait
a few days longer. We may get some letters to-morrow.”

But the morrow passed, and so did several more days, including Sunday,
and still no letters were received from Crumville. Roger got a letter
from his folks in Washington, and Dave received a brief communication
from Phil, stating that he and the others had arrived safely at Star
Ranch. But all of these did not satisfy the young civil engineers.

“Something must be wrong somewhere,” announced Dave at last. “I guess
after all, Roger, we had better send a telegram to Crumville and find
out what it means.”



                              CHAPTER XVII
                                BAD NEWS


On the following day the two young civil engineers were sent with the
rest of the gang under Frank Andrews to do some work located along the
line about half way to the railroad station.

“That will give us a chance to send off a telegram,” said Dave to the
senator’s son. “We can ask Andrews to let us off an hour earlier than
usual and ride over to the station and get back to camp in time for
supper.”

So it was arranged; and as soon as they quit work, the two young men
hurried off on a gallop so that they might reach the station before the
agent, who was also the telegraph operator, went away.

“We want to send a telegram to the East,” announced Dave, as they
dismounted at the platform where the agent stood looking over some
express packages.

“All right, I’ll be with you in a moment,” was the reply. “By the way,
you are from the construction camp, aren’t you? I just got a telegram
for one of the fellows over there.”

“Who is it?” questioned Roger.

“I forget the name. I’ll show it to you when we go inside. Maybe you
wouldn’t mind taking it over for the fellow.”

“Certainly we’ll take it over,” declared Dave readily.

When they passed into the office, the agent brought the telegram forth
from a little box on the wall, and gazed at it.

“David Porter is the name,” he announced.

“Why, that is for me!” cried our hero quickly.

“You don’t say! Well, there you are. It’s paid for.”

Hastily the young civil engineer tore open the flimsy yellow envelope
and gazed at the message inside. It read as follows:

  “Do you or Roger know anything about Jessie and Laura? Answer
  immediately.

                                                    “DAVID B. PORTER.”

“What is it?” questioned the senator’s son eagerly; and without replying
our hero showed him the message. Then the two youths stared at each
other blankly.

“What in the world——” began Dave.

“Something has happened!” burst out his chum. “Dave, this looks bad to
me.”

“They want to know if we know anything. That must mean that Jessie and
Laura are away from home, and they are without news about them.”

“It certainly looks that way.”

Each of the youths read the telegram again. But this threw no further
light on the mystery.

“And to think we didn’t get any letters! That makes it look blacker than
ever,” murmured Roger.

“I’m going to answer this at once and see if we can not get further
information!” exclaimed our hero. He turned to the station agent. “How
long do you expect to remain open?”

“I generally shut down about seven o’clock, but to-night I expect to
stay open until the five-forty gets here, which will be about
seven-thirty.”

“You haven’t got to go away, have you?” continued Dave. “The reason I
ask is that I want to send an important telegram off, and I’d like to
wait here for an answer for at least a couple of hours. Of course, I am
perfectly willing to pay you for your time.”

“I haven’t anything very much to do to-night after I close up, and if
you want me to stay here I’ll do it,” announced the agent, who was not
averse to earning extra money.

The two young civil engineers held a consultation, and soon after wrote
out a telegram, stating they had heard nothing since the receipt of the
last letters from home, the dates of which were given. They asked for
immediate additional information, stating they would wait at the
telegraph office for the same.

“Nothing wrong, I hope?” ventured the station master, after the telegram
had been paid for and sent.

“We don’t know yet. That is what we wish to find out,” answered Dave.
And then, to keep the man in good humor, he passed over a dollar and
told the agent to treat himself from a small case full of cigars which
were on sale in the depot.

After that there was nothing for Dave and Roger to do but to wait. The
agent sat down to read some newspapers which had been thrown off the
last train that had passed through, and even offered some of the sheets
to them. But they were in no humor for reading. They walked outside, and
a short distance away, and there discussed the situation from every
possible angle.

“If we don’t get any news, what shall we do?” queried the senator’s son.
“I’m so upset that I know I won’t be able to sleep a wink to-night.”

“Upset doesn’t express it, Roger,” returned Dave soberly. “When I read
that telegram it seemed fairly to catch me by the throat. If anything
has happened to Jessie and Laura——” He could not finish.

“Dave, do you suppose those gypsies——”

“I was thinking of that, Roger. Such things have happened before. But
let us hope for the best.”

Slowly the best part of two hours passed. Then the station master,
having looked through all the newspapers, came out of his office,
yawning and stretching himself.

“How much longer would you fellows like me to stay?” he questioned. “You
know I open up here at six in the morning, and I live about a mile away
and have to hoof it.”

“Oh, don’t go away yet,” pleaded Roger. “The message may come in at any
minute. They’ll be sure to send an answer as soon as they get what we
sent.”

“Wait at least another half-hour,” added Dave.

“All right;” and the agent went back into his office, to settle himself
in his chair for a nap.

Ten minutes later the telegraph instrument began to click. The station
agent jumped up to take down the message.

“Is it for me?” questioned Dave, eagerly, and the station master nodded.
Then the two youths remained silent, so that there might be no error in
taking down the communication that was coming in over the wire.

“Here you are,” said the agent at last, handing over the slip upon which
he had been writing. “I’m afraid there is trouble of some kind.”

Like the other message, this was from Dave’s father, and contained the
following:

  “Laura and Jessie left on visit to Boston four days ago. Thought
  them safe. They did not arrive and no news received. Suspect
  gypsies. Everybody upset. Mrs. Wadsworth prostrate. Will send any
  news received.”

Dave’s heart almost stopped beating when he read this second telegram,
and he could not trust himself to speak as he allowed his chum to peruse
the communication.

“Oh, Dave, this is awful!” groaned the senator’s son.

“So it is,” responded our hero bitterly. He read the message again. “I
wonder what we can do?”

“I don’t see that we can do anything—being away out here.”

“Then I’m not going to stay here—I’m going home,” announced Dave firmly.

“What!”

“Yes, Roger. I’m going home. Why, you don’t suppose I could stay here
and work with such a thing as this on my mind! This looks to me as if
Jessie and Laura had been abducted—or something of that sort.”

“Well, if you go, Dave, I’ll go too!” cried the senator’s son. “If
anything has happened to Laura——” He did not finish, but his face showed
his concern.

“Do you want to send any more telegrams?” questioned the station agent.
“If you don’t, I’ll lock up.”

“I think I will,” answered Dave. “They’ll want to know whether this
telegram was received.” And then, after he and Roger had consulted for a
moment, they sent the following:

  “Second telegram received. Both too worried to remain. Will come
  East as soon as possible.

                                                     “DAVE AND ROGER.”

Having listened to the operator sending the message off, the two young
civil engineers lost no time in leaping into the saddle and setting off
for the construction camp. They rode at as rapid a gait as possible, and
on that stony trail there was but little chance for conversation.

“It must be the gypsies,” said Roger, when he had an opportunity to
speak. “I can’t think of anything else.”

“The gypsies certainly promised to make trouble for them,” answered Dave
bitterly. “But to go so far as kidnapping——Why, Roger! that’s a terrible
crime in these days!”

“I know it. But don’t you remember what they wrote about the gypsies—how
that Mother Domoza and the others were so very bitter because they had
to give up their camp on the outskirts of Crumville? More than likely
your Uncle Dunston, and Mr. Basswood, and Mr. Wadsworth, didn’t treat
them any too gently, and they resented it. Oh, it must be those gypsies
who have done this!” concluded the senator’s son.

When they arrived at the construction camp, they found that most of the
men had gone to bed. But there was a light burning in the cabin occupied
by Ralph Obray and several of the others, and they discovered the
manager studying a blue-print and putting down a mass of figures on a
sheet of paper.

“What do you want?” questioned the manager, as he noted their excited
appearance. “Have you struck more bears?”

“No, Mr. Obray. It’s a good deal worse than that,” returned Dave, in a
tone of voice he tried to steady. “We’ve got bad news from home.”

“You don’t say, Porter! What is it? I hope none of your relatives has
died.”

“My sister is missing from home, and so is the daughter of the lady and
gentleman with whom my family live,” announced our hero. And then he and
Roger went into a number of particulars, to which the construction camp
manager listened with much interest.

“That certainly is a strange state of affairs,” he declared. “But I
don’t see what you can do about it.”

“I can’t stick here at work with my sister and Jessie Wadsworth
missing,” declared Dave boldly. “I’ve come to ask you to give me a leave
of absence. I want to take the very first train for home.”

“But what can you do after you get there, Porter? If anything has really
gone wrong, you can rest assured that your folks and the others have
notified the authorities and are doing all they possibly can.”

“That may be true, Mr. Obray,—more than likely it is true. Just the
same, unless I get word by to-morrow morning that they are found or that
some word has come from them, I want to go home and join in the search.”

“And I want to go with him!” broke out Roger.

“I might as well explain matters to you, Mr. Obray,” said Dave. “For a
number of years Jessie Wadsworth and myself have been very close
friends, and now we have an understanding——”

“Oh, I see. That’s the way the wind blows, does it?” And the camp
manager smiled.

“Yes, sir. And the same sort of thing holds good between Roger here and
my sister Laura. That’s the reason he wants to go with me.”

“Oh!” The construction manager nodded his head knowingly. “I understand.
Well, I suppose if I were situated like that, I’d feel just as you do.”

“Please understand we’re not going away to shirk work or anything like
that,” declared Roger. “You ought to know me well enough by this time,
Mr. Obray, to know that I am heart and soul in this thing of making a
first-class civil engineer of myself.”

“And that’s just the way I feel about it, too,” affirmed Dave.

“Oh, I understand. I have been very well satisfied so far with the
showing both of you have made. It has been very creditable. I know you
haven’t shirked anything.”

“Of course, it’s too bad we have got to go right on top of having that
vacation when our friends came to visit us,” was Dave’s comment.

“That is true, too, Porter. But some things can’t be helped. I take it
that you would rather know that your sister and that other young lady
were safe, and stick at work, than you would to lay off on account of
such an errand as this.”

“You’re right there, Mr. Obray!”

“I’d give all I’m worth this minute to know that Dave’s sister and
Jessie Wadsworth were all right!” burst out the senator’s son.

“Well then, if you think you ought to go back home, you may do so,”
announced Ralph Obray. “But I sincerely hope that by the time you get
there this matter will have straightened itself out. And if that proves
to be true, I shall depend upon your coming back immediately.”

“We’ll do it,” answered Dave readily. “We’ll come back the very first
thing after we find out that everything is all right.” And Roger
promised the same.

It can easily be imagined that the two chums did not sleep much that
night. They spent the best part of an hour in packing some of their
belongings and in informing Frank Andrews of what had occurred. The head
of their gang was even more sympathetic than Mr. Obray had been, and
said he would do anything in his power to help them.

“I suppose you would like to take the eight o’clock morning train East,”
he remarked.

“That’s our idea,” answered Dave.

“Then I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” went on Frank Andrews. “I’ll order up
an early breakfast for you, and I’ll have old Hixon ride over to the
station with you to bring back your horses.”

And so the matter was arranged.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                            ON THE WAY EAST


“Well, boys, I certainly wish you luck.”

It was John Hixon who spoke, as he shook hands with Dave and Roger at
the railroad station on the following morning.

As arranged, the party of three had had an early breakfast and had lost
no time in riding over to the railroad station. They had found the train
half an hour late, and Dave had lost no time in sending a telegram to
Crumville stating that he and Roger were on the way, and asking that if
there was anything of importance to communicate, to send them word
either at St. Paul or Chicago.

The two youths had no accommodations on the train, which was made up of
sleeping-cars, an observation-car and a diner. They had made up their
minds that they would journey on the train even if they had to sit up in
a smoking compartment. But the cars proved to be less than
three-quarters filled, and they had but little trouble in obtaining a
section. Then they settled down as best they could for the long journey
to Chicago, where, of course, they would have to change for the train to
the East. They paid for their passage only as far as St. Paul, so that
they might leave the train at that city if a telegram was received
assuring them that everything was all right.

“But I’m afraid we won’t have any such luck, Roger,” observed Dave, in
speaking of this possibility.

“You can’t tell,” answered the senator’s son hopefully. “It’s just
possible that Laura and Jessie may have returned home and explained
their disappearance.”

“They’d never stay away so long without sending some word, I’m certain
of that,” answered our hero emphatically. “They are not that kind of
girls.”

“It certainly would seem so, Dave. But you must remember they may have
sent some kind of word, and it may not have been received. They may have
met some friends, sent a message, and gone off on an automobile tour or
a motor-boat voyage.”

Dave shook his head. “It won’t do, Roger. I know Laura and Jessie too
well. They would want to make sure that the folks at home knew where
they were. And they would send us word too. Besides that, they wouldn’t
go off on any extended trip, such as you mention, unless they had
permission from my father and Mrs. Wadsworth.”

All through the morning the two young civil engineers discussed the
situation from every possible angle, but without arriving at any
satisfactory conclusion. At noon they partook of lunch in the
dining-car, making this repast last as long as possible, “just to kill
time,” as Roger expressed it.

“It’s going to be a long-winded trip,” sighed the senator’s son, after
they had finished their meal and had walked back to the end of the
observation car.

“Well, we’ve got to make the best of it, Roger,” was Dave’s reply.
“Ordinarily such a trip as this would be fine. Think of what grand
scenery there is to look at!” and he pointed out with a sweep of his
hand.

The long train rumbled onward hour after hour, and the two youths passed
the time as best they could, talking, looking at the scenery, and
reading the various papers and magazines contained in the car library.
At seven o’clock they had dinner, and then sat outside once again until
it grew so dark that nothing could be seen.

“Well, we might as well go to bed,” remarked Dave finally. “Which berth
do you want, Roger—the upper or the lower?”

“It is immaterial to me, Dave,” was the answer. “To tell the truth, I
don’t think I’m going to do much sleeping.”

“We’ll toss up for it,” was the answer. And the toss of the coin gave
Dave the lower berth.

It proved to be a long, wearisome night for both of them. Dave tumbled
and tossed on his pillow, trying in a hundred ways to account for the
mysterious disappearance of his sister and Jessie. Were they captives of
the gypsies? Or had some other dreadful fate overtaken them? Then, at a
sudden thought, Dave sat up in his berth so quickly that he hit his head
on the bottom of the berth above.

“I wonder if it’s possible,” he murmured to himself.

He had suddenly remembered how he had lost the two letters from home at
the time he had been robbed by Nick Jasniff of the contents of his
pocketbook. If Jasniff had read those letters he had learned much about
the trouble in Crumville with the gypsies, and he had also learned from
Jessie’s letter that she and Laura were contemplating a trip to Boston.

“Jasniff is bitter against Mr. Wadsworth for having had him sent to
prison,” Dave reasoned; “and he is equally bitter against me and my
family for what I did in capturing him. He took a train for the East.
Can it be possible that he is mixed up in this affair?”

This thought sent Dave off on a new chain of reasoning, and he became so
restless that, instead of trying to go to sleep, he pulled up the shade
of one of the windows, propped his pillow close against the glass, and
lay there thinking and looking out on the star-lit landscape. But at
last tired nature asserted itself, and he fell into a fitful doze, from
which he did not awaken until it was about time to get up.

“I’ve got a new idea,” he announced to his chum, after the two had
washed and dressed and were on their way to the dining-car for
breakfast. And thereupon he related his suspicions against Jasniff.

“It may be so,” mused the senator’s son. “It would be just like that
rascal to go in with those gypsies and try to do your folks and the
Wadsworths harm.”

On the train the two young civil engineers met several very agreeable
people, but they were in no frame of mind to make friends just then.
Though they did their best to be pleasant, they were glad enough when
the train, after a stop at Minneapolis, finally rolled into the station
at St. Paul. Here, with only a few minutes to spare, they rushed out to
the telegraph office. There was a message for them, and Dave tore the
envelope open eagerly. One glance at the contents, and his face fell.

“No news of importance,” he announced. “Come on. We’ll have to go on to
Chicago.” And then the journey to the great City of the Lakes was
renewed.

At Chicago another message awaited them. This was a little longer than
the other had been, but gave them scant satisfaction, reading as
follows:

  “Strong suspicions against gypsies who have disappeared. Demand for
  fifty thousand dollars.

                                                     “DUNSTON PORTER.”

“That settles one thing. The girls have been kidnapped,” remarked Roger.

“Yes. And the kidnappers want fifty thousand dollars,” added Dave. He
drew a long breath. “Well, there’s one satisfaction about this, Roger.
We know the two girls must be alive.”

“Yes, Dave. But think of them in the hands of those dirty gypsies!”

“I can hardly bear to think of it, Roger. I wish I had those rascals by
the neck! I think I could willingly shake the life out of them!”

“So could I! But come on, let us see if we can’t get on the next train
bound for Albany. There is no use of our going down to New York City.”

The chums were fortunate in getting two upper berths on a train to leave
in less than an hour. The run to Albany would take less than twenty-four
hours, and there they would be able to change to a local train running
to Crumville.

On the train a surprise awaited them. They ran into two of their old
school chums, Buster Beggs and Sam Day. Both of these lads were fat and
full of fun, and, having been close chums at school, had gone into
business together in the city.

“We’re in the book and stationery line,” announced Buster Beggs, after a
cordial handshaking all around. “We’re doing fine, too. Aren’t we, Sam?
But say, I thought you fellows were learning to be civil engineers and
were away out West.”

“We have been out West,” answered Dave. “But we are going home on a
special errand just now.” And then there was nothing to do but to
acquaint Buster and Sam with what had occurred.

“You don’t mean it!” burst out Buster in excitement. “Why, that reads
like a regular old-fashioned novel!”

“I thought kidnappings like that were a thing of the past,” was Sam
Day’s comment. “I certainly hope you round up those gypsies and rescue
the girls.”

“We’ll do it or else know the reason why,” answered Roger determinedly.

From Buster and Sam the two young civil engineers learned much
concerning a number of their other school chums. In return, they told a
great deal about themselves; and thus the hours passed a little more
quickly than they would otherwise have done. The four former Oak Hall
students dined together, and managed to make an exchange of berths with
some others on the train, so that they were all together in opposite
sections that night.

“We’re certainly getting some touches of old times,” remarked Dave.
“First Phil, Ben, and Shadow, and now you two!”

“I’ll tell you what—we ought to organize that Oak Hall club we once
talked about,” said Buster Beggs. “Then we could hold a reunion once a
year.”

“It certainly would be fine,” answered Roger, his eyes lighting up with
pleasure. “We’ll have to remember that, Dave.” And to this our hero
nodded approval.

Buster and Sam left the train at Utica, while the two young civil
engineers continued on their way to Albany. Here they had a wait of an
hour and a half, and during that time they purchased a couple of
newspapers.

“Hello, here’s an account of the affair now!” cried Roger, pointing to
the top of one of the pages.

There was an account nearly a column long, telling of how a search was
being instituted for the missing girls and how it was supposed that a
demand for money had been made upon Mr. Wadsworth and Mr. Porter. It was
added that neither of the gentlemen would affirm or deny the report.

“That looks to me as if they were warned to keep quiet about the demand
for money,” announced Dave.

“Possibly they were told that if they did not keep quiet something would
happen to the girls,” added Roger. He closed his teeth with a snap. “Oh,
I just wish I had my hands on those rascals!”

“It’s maddening, isn’t it, Roger, to stand around here and not be able
to do anything?” groaned Dave. In his mind’s eye he could picture the
misery endured by Jessie and his sister while they were being held
captives.

At last the train for Crumville came in, and they lost no time in
jumping on board.

“Thank heaven, we are on the last leg of this journey!” breathed Roger,
as they settled down in a seat.

“Right you are, Roger!” answered Dave.

But then their faces grew exceedingly thoughtful. What dire news might
await them at their journey’s end?



                              CHAPTER XIX
                          THE DEMAND FOR MONEY


“Oh, what shall we do—what shall we do?”

It was Mrs. Wadsworth who uttered the words. She sat in the luxuriously
furnished living room of the Wadsworth mansion, wringing her hands while
the tears stood on her cheeks. In front of her was the rich jewelry
manufacturer, pacing up and down and biting his lip in deep thought.

“Don’t take it so hard, Alice, my dear,” said the husband in a husky
voice. “It’ll come out all right—I am sure it will.”

“But, Oliver, I am so frightened! Think of those poor girls in the hands
of those awful gypsies—or somebody just as bad, or worse! It’s dreadful!
I can’t bear to think of it!” and Mrs. Wadsworth’s tears began to flow
afresh.

In a corner of the library sat old Caspar Potts, white-haired and with
eyes that were no longer bright. The professor’s head was shaking from
side to side.

“I wish Davy were here,” he quavered. “I’m sure that boy could do
something.”

“He has telegraphed that he is on the way, along with Roger Morr,” said
Mr. Wadsworth.

“Good! Good! He’ll do something—I know he will! Davy is a great boy!”
and the old professor nodded his head vigorously. Ever since he had
taken our hero from the poorhouse years before, Dave had been the very
apple of his eye.

Oliver Wadsworth walked to a writing-table, and from one of the
compartments drew a much-rumpled sheet of paper, which had come to him
in a dirty envelope several days before. The envelope had been
post-marked, “Halwick,” the name of a town about thirty miles away.

“What are you going to do about that demand for money?” questioned Mrs.
Wadsworth, as she watched her husband peruse the note—something he had
done a great number of times.

“I don’t know,” he answered helplessly. “We have been given at least ten
days in which to raise it, so there is no great hurry about deciding the
question.”

“Is Mr. Porter in favor of meeting the demand?”

“He is like myself, he doesn’t know what to do. He and Dunston Porter
are both of the opinion that this demand for fifty thousand dollars may
be just the forerunner of other demands. They may want every cent all of
us are worth before they give the two girls up,” added the jewelry
manufacturer.

“But, Oliver! if you don’t give them the money——”

“I know, I know, Alice. We’ll have to fix it up somehow,” answered the
husband hastily. Then he sat down beside her and put his arm around her
shoulder. “Please don’t worry so. I am sure we’ll be able to fix this
matter up somehow sooner or later, and that the girls will come back
safely.”

“Oh, I wish I could believe you!” burst out the distressed woman. And
then, unable to control herself longer, she burst into a passionate fit
of weeping, and betook herself away to her bedroom.

From outside came the sound of an automobile rolling along the gravel
roadway, and looking from a window the manufacturer saw Dave’s father
alight, followed by Dunston Porter. Both showed signs of weariness, and
the look on the face of each betokened keen disappointment.

“Any success?” demanded the jewelry manufacturer quickly, as the pair
entered the house.

“Nothing worth speaking about,” answered Dunston Porter. “We hired
another detective and sent him off to Halwick.”

“The authorities have no news whatever,” added Dave’s father. “They have
received telegrams from all the large cities within three hundred miles
of this place, and not a trace of the girls has come to light. They
claim that it’s the strangest disappearance on record.”

“But this demand for money——” began Oliver Wadsworth.

“Yes, they are trying to sift that out, too. But they don’t seem to be
able to get anywhere with it. They have advised that you continue to
keep quiet about it, and they said they would keep quiet, too.
Nevertheless, I think the news has leaked out somehow.”

“Let me see that letter again,” said Dunston Porter, and perused the
communication as carefully as the jewelry manufacturer had done. It was
written in heavy lead pencil in evidently a disguised hand, and was as
follows:

  “The to girls Jessie Wadsworth and Laura Porter are safe in our
  hands. We will take good care of them but you wil haf to pay the
  price and do it inside of ten days or two weeks at longest. We mean
  busines so no funy work. We want fifty thousand dollars from you Mr.
  Wadsworth and from them Porters. Each of you can pay as much of the
  amount as you plese. We want the money in cash and wil send you word
  just were it is to be placed and at what time. If you fale us you
  will be mighty sory for we mean busines. Dont make no mistak about
  that. If you pay the money as we want the girls will be back home
  safe inside of two days and not a hare of there head harmed. Now
  take warning for we mean busines and wont stand for no nonsence.”

“This was either written by a very illiterate person or else by somebody
who tried to make out he was such,” was Dunston Porter’s comment.

“I think it is just such a letter as one of those young gypsies might
write,” answered Dave’s father. “Most of them have some education, but
not a great deal.”

Both Mr. Wadsworth and Dave’s father had had a great deal of business to
attend to during the past few weeks, and Dunston Porter had been kept
busy assisting Mr. Basswood in turning the vacant land on the outskirts
of Crumville into building plots and offering them for sale. But since
the unexpected and mysterious disappearance of the two girls all
thoughts of business had been brushed aside.

“Dave and Roger ought to be here almost any time now,” remarked Dunston
Porter. “But what good their coming on the scene is going to do, I can’t
surmise.”

“You can’t blame them for wanting to come after receiving such news,”
remarked Mr. Wadsworth. “Dave, I know, thinks a great deal of his
sister, and you all know that he and Jessie think a great deal of each
other.”

“Yes. And I know that Roger has his eye on Laura,” answered the girl’s
father. “And she thinks a great deal of the young man.”

At that moment the telephone rang, and Dunston Porter went to answer it.
A telegram was telephoned to him.

“Dave and Roger are now on their way from Albany,” he announced. “They
will be here in about an hour. I think I’ll run down to the depot in the
auto and meet them.” And so it was arranged.

There were no passengers as eager as Dave and Roger to leave the train
when it rolled into the little station at Crumville. Dunston Porter was
on hand, and they gazed eagerly at his face to see if it bore any signs
of good news.

“No, I’ve got nothing to cheer you with,” he announced, after shaking
hands and conducting them to the auto, into the tonneau of which they
pitched their suit-cases. “We haven’t the least idea where they are or
how they disappeared.”

“But, Uncle Dunston, you must have some news!” pleaded Dave.

“At least you can tell us how and when they left home and what was the
last word you had from them,” said Roger.

“They made up their minds to go to Boston to visit Jessie’s aunt, Mrs.
Brightling, just about two weeks ago,” answered Dave’s uncle. “They
spent two or three days in getting ready; and then a week ago this
Wednesday they started on the trip, Mrs. Wadsworth and the chauffeur
taking them down to the depot. They carried one trunk, which was checked
through to Boston, and Laura had a suit-case, and both of the girls had
handbags. They had through tickets to Boston, and got on the train; and
that was the last we saw or heard of them.

“We had expected to get a letter from Laura, and the Wadsworths expected
a letter from Jessie, stating that they had arrived safely. When no
letters came, Mrs. Wadsworth got nervous, and as a result she asked her
husband to send a telegram to find out what was wrong.

“The telegram had just been sent when a telegram was received from Mrs.
Brightling, asking how it was that the girls had not come on as
expected. Then she telegraphed a little later that she had not seen them
nor heard from them.

“A search was made at the depot in Boston, and the trunk was found just
as it had been checked from here. The suit-case the girls had kept with
them on the train.”

“But didn’t they meet anybody on the train who knew them?” questioned
Dave.

“No one that we have heard from up to the present time. We have been
making a number of inquiries, and, of course, expect to make more. You
see, the people they met on the train were going away from Crumville, so
that makes it difficult to follow them up. And besides that, so much
time was lost in the first place, that I suppose a good many people
would forget, even if they had seen them on the train.”

“But didn’t they have parlor-car chairs?” questioned Dave.

“No. The train had only one parlor car on it, and that was crowded. Mr.
Wadsworth had telegraphed for seats, but there had been some mix-up, and
as a consequence the girls had to put up with seats in one of the day
coaches. Mrs. Wadsworth told them they had better wait for another
train, but they laughed and said that they would rather go into one of
the day coaches than lose the time.”

During this conversation Dunston Porter had started up the automobile
and was on the way to the Wadsworth mansion. In a few minutes more they
rolled up to the piazza, and there Dave’s father and Mr. Wadsworth came
out to greet them, followed by the trembling form of Professor Potts.

It was a sorry home-coming for our hero, and Roger was equally affected.
They shook hands with those who were there to greet them, and for the
moment the emotions of all were so deep that nobody trusted himself to
speak. All went inside, and it was old Caspar Potts who broke the
silence.

“If I were only a younger man!” he said in a trembling voice. “Davy,
it’s up to you to do something—you and your friend Roger.”

“I’m going to do it if I possibly can, Professor,” answered the youth,
huskily.

All sat down and the Crumville folks gave to the young civil engineers
all the particulars they had concerning the strange disappearance of the
two girls.

“And are you quite sure it is the work of those gypsies?” queried Roger.

“I don’t see who else would play such a dirty trick,” responded Mr.
Wadsworth.

“Dave has another idea,” went on the senator’s son.

“What is that?” asked Dunston Porter quickly, while the others looked up
questioningly.

“I’ve been wondering if Nick Jasniff wasn’t connected with this affair,”
answered Dave.

“Nick Jasniff!” exclaimed Oliver Wadsworth. “You mean the fellow I
helped to put in prison?”

“Yes.”

“What makes you think he could have had anything to do with it?”

“I’ll tell you,” answered our hero. And thereupon he related how he and
Roger had first seen Nick Jasniff in the vicinity of the construction
camp, and how, later on, he had been instrumental in having Jasniff sent
away from the camp, and then how he had met the rascal on the road, had
a fight, and lost the two letters and the contents of his pocketbook.

“I ought to have written about this, but I didn’t want to worry you
folks too much,” he concluded.

“Dave, you may have struck the truth!” burst out Mr. Wadsworth
excitedly. “It would be just like that rascal to do such a thing as
this. And besides that, you must remember one thing—Jasniff was not
pardoned.”

“Not pardoned!” burst out our hero and Roger simultaneously.

“No, he was not pardoned,” answered the jewelry manufacturer. “His case
came up before the Board of Pardons, and after a hearing they
recommended a pardon for him to the governor. But before the governor
signed the order to let him go, Jasniff made his escape from the prison
and ran away. Then, of course, the recommendation for a pardon was torn
up and thrown in the waste-basket; so if the fellow is ever captured he
can go back to prison and serve his term over again.”



                               CHAPTER XX
                       BEGINNING THE GREAT SEARCH


“Well, what do you know about that!” cried Roger.

“No wonder Nick Jasniff wanted to leave the vicinity of the construction
camp,” remarked Dave. “He must have reasoned that sooner or later we
would learn that he hadn’t been pardoned and was wanted at the prison.”

“That must be it,” answered the senator’s son.

“If this Nick Jasniff is interested in the affair, we want to know it,”
said Mr. Wadsworth. “I shall at once give the authorities the
particulars of Jasniff’s doings, so that they can go on the hunt for
him. They have his picture in the Rogues’ Gallery, and that can be
copied and circulated, so that the authorities in different cities, and
especially in this vicinity, can be on the lookout for him.”

“But why weren’t the authorities on the lookout for him before?”
questioned our hero.

“They were at first. But then they got word that Jasniff had sailed for
some port in South America, so they gave it up. Evidently the report was
a false one.”

“Yes, and probably circulated by Nick Jasniff himself,” added Roger.

“Of course you have been over to Coburntown, where the gypsies went
after they left here,” remarked Dave.

“We have been all around that territory,” answered his Uncle Dunston.
“The gypsies have disappeared entirely, one report stating that they
were bound south. I had them stopped at a town about fifty miles away,
and those in the camp were closely questioned. They said that Mother
Domoza had been left behind on account of sickness, and that two
gypsies, one named Tony Bopeppo, and the other Carlos Vazala, had
remained with her to take care of her. They said the three were to go to
another gypsy camp some twenty or thirty miles away. But at that camp it
was said that they knew nothing about the old hag and her followers.”

“Were the two gypsies, Bopeppo and Vazala, the two with whom you had
trouble about the land?” questioned Roger.

“Yes, they were the leaders in the quarrel,” answered Dunston Porter.
“Bopeppo was particularly furious, and one day threatened to strike Mr.
Basswood. I stopped him, and told him if he didn’t behave himself I’d
have him placed under arrest. Vazala was also very vindictive, he
asserting, along with Mother Domoza, that they had the right to occupy
the land as long as they pleased.”

“Then it is more than likely that Bopeppo and Vazala, assisted by Mother
Domoza and perhaps by Nick Jasniff, are guilty of this kidnapping,” went
on our hero.

“We had figured it out that way—of course leaving out Jasniff.”

“Have you any sample of the handwriting of Bopeppo or Vazala?” asked
Roger. “If you have you might compare them with the note sent to Mr.
Wadsworth.”

“We have managed to get one note written by Bopeppo, and we have two
samples of Vazala’s signature. But neither of them seem to be in the
handwriting used in the note,” answered Dave’s father.

“Then it would seem as if the note had been written by somebody else!”
cried Dave. “How about Mother Domoza?”

“We don’t believe the old hag can read or write English.”

“I’d like to see the note,” said Roger. Thereupon the communication was
brought forth and the two young civil engineers scanned it very closely.

“I wish I could remember Nick Jasniff’s handwriting, but I can’t,” said
Roger. “How about it, Dave?”

“If my memory serves me, he wrote rather a heavy hand,” answered our
hero. “But I am not willing to say whether this is in his style or not.
This looks to me as if it was a disguised hand, for it is very
irregular.”

“We all thought the handwriting was disguised,” answered Mr. Wadsworth.
He heaved a deep sigh. “Too bad! All this talk doesn’t seem to get us
anywhere.”

“Well, one thing is certain,” said Dave. “The girls got on board that
train, and the train went to Boston, making all of its usual stops. In
that case, they must have gotten off at one of the stop stations,—that
is, unless the train made some other stops which were not scheduled.”

“We have found out that the train did make a number of other stops,”
answered his father. “Shortly after it left Hemston they discovered a
hot box, and they had to stop four times on the way to fix that—twice
near some water tanks, and twice at some cross-road signal towers. As a
consequence of the delay, the train was also held up at two little way
stations to let two express trains pass, and did not get into Boston
until nearly two hours behind its regular time.”

“Have you got a list of all those stopping places?” questioned Roger.

“We have.”

“Then I know what I’m going to do,” cried Dave. “I’ll take the
automobile and go along the line of the railroad and stop at every one
of those places and make inquiries, and see if we can’t find out whether
the girls left the train, or if they were met by the gypsies, or anybody
else.”

“I’ve already been along the line, Dave,” answered his father. “Your
uncle and I went over the route, not by automobile but by a way train,
and we made inquiries at every station; but without the least success.”

“Yes, but the train couldn’t have stopped long enough for you to ask
many questions,” put in Roger.

“That is true,” returned Dave’s parent slowly. “Probably you would have
a better chance of getting some particulars if you went along the route
in the automobile. Of course it would take considerable time—several
days in fact—to follow the route in that manner all the way into
Boston.”

“It’s the only thing I can think of to do,” answered Dave. “And it will
be much better than sitting here and doing nothing.”

“Right you are!” cried Roger. “I’m willing to start this minute if you
say so,” and he jumped to his feet.

“I don’t think you can do much to-day,—it is too late,” answered Mr.
Wadsworth. “But you might get ready for a start early to-morrow
morning,” and he looked rather hopefully at the two young civil
engineers.

“We’ll do it!” answered Dave.

After that the discussion became general, and our hero and his chum got
all the particulars possible concerning the stops the train upon which
Jessie and Laura had taken passage had made on its trip to the Hub. They
put all these names and locations down on a sort of map that they drew
up, and then consulted an automobile Blue-Book, so that they might get
familiar with the roads to be taken on their tour.

“This is certainly going to be some search, Dave,” remarked Roger, after
the conference had come to an end and the two chums had gone up-stairs
to fix up for dinner.

“I know it, Roger. It will probably take us several days, and maybe a
week. But I won’t mind that, and neither will you, if only we learn
something of advantage.”

It was a quiet party that sat down to the table that evening in the
large dining room of the Wadsworth mansion. In a voice that trembled
more than usual with emotion, old Professor Potts asked a blessing on
the meal, and the repast was well on its way before anyone felt like
talking. Then Roger questioned Mr. Wadsworth concerning the automobile
to be taken for the trip.

“I think you had better take the four-passenger car,” announced the
jewelry manufacturer. “That will leave us the large car in case we need
it. The smaller car is in just as good a condition and is just as
speedy.”

“We’ll look over the car as soon as we have finished eating,” said Dave.
“I want everything to be in the best of order, so that we shall not be
delayed by any breakdown. Of course, we’ll carry along an extra shoe or
two, and three or four inner tubes.”

The two chums had already decided on what they were to wear on the trip
and what to take along in the way of extra clothing. They spent the
entire evening in going over the four-passenger car, and, with the aid
of the Wadsworth chauffeur, put the machine in the best possible order,
and then filled it up with oil and gasoline.

“Oh, boys, you’ll do your best to find them?” said Mrs. Wadsworth, when
they came in rather late and were ready to retire.

“You can rest assured of that, Mrs. Wadsworth,” answered Dave.

“We won’t give up until we have found them, or found out something about
them,” broke in Roger. And then the lady kissed each of them
affectionately. The strain had been terrible, and she looked ten years
older than usual.

Dave and Roger had expected that no one would be around when they were
ready to depart in the morning, for it was but a little after sunrise.
But in this they were mistaken. Both Dave’s father and his Uncle Dunston
had come down to see them off.

“I want to caution you about one thing,” said Dave’s parent. “You take
care of yourselves, and if you do chance to run into those gypsies, or
anybody else who has any connection with this crime, do your best to
keep out of trouble.”

“We’ll be on our guard, Dad, don’t fear,” answered the son.

“Of course you are armed?” questioned Dunston Porter.

“Yes, we’ve each got a pistol, and Dave’s shotgun is under the back
seat,” answered Roger. “You see, we weren’t going to take any chances,”
and he smiled grimly.

“If you discover anything at all, send us word at once,” went on Dave’s
father. “Use the telegraph or the telephone—whichever is handiest.”

“You can depend on it we will,” said Dave.

“And don’t forget that we want to hear from you folks here in Crumville
if you hear anything,” added Roger. “You can send a message to any of
the railroad stations along the line. We’ll stop at each station and ask
for messages.”

Dave was at the wheel of the car, with Roger alongside of him. In the
back the two had their suit-cases, and also a number of wraps and a
hamper filled with lunch, for there was no telling where they could stop
along the road for something to eat.

With scarcely an effort, the touring-car rolled away from the Wadsworth
mansion, the men left behind waving their hands to the two on board.
They waved in return, and a moment later the machine left the grounds,
headed for the Crumville railroad station. This was soon passed, and
they took the highway leading to the next station on the line; and thus
the great search was begun.

The first place they reached was a small way-station, and they soon
learned that the particular train Laura and Jessie had taken had not
stopped there for a month or more. The station master had, however,
heard about the kidnapping, and was anxious to hear more. But Dave and
Roger did not waste time on him.

In the course of the next couple of hours, they stopped at six more
stations, and made various inquiries. The train had stopped at just one
of these places, but the station agent was positive that only two of the
local residents had gotten on board, and no one but a drummer from the
city had alighted.

The way to the next station was up a long hill, and near the top Dave
had to bring the car to a sudden halt. The regular road was being
repaired, and a sign was up showing where a detour might be made.

“That side-road doesn’t look very inviting,” was our hero’s comment, as
he surveyed it.

“Oh, it must be all right,” answered Roger. “If it were not, they
wouldn’t have that sign up.”

They proceeded on their way, and soon found the side road both rough and
uncertain. They had some difficulty in getting to the bottom of the
hill, and here they had to make a sharp turn to the left in an endeavor
to get back to the main highway.

“Look out for the puddles, Dave!” cried the senator’s son, as they
splashed into one pool of water.

Dave did what he could to keep out of the next puddle, and in doing this
ran pretty well off to one side of the roadway. The next instant he
found himself in mud almost up to the hubs, and here the car threatened
to come to a standstill. He immediately threw the gear into second, and
then into low, and thus they chugged on for a distance of ten or twelve
feet farther. Then the car came to a sudden standstill.

“Stuck?” remarked Roger laconically.

“So it would seem,” answered Dave.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                           STUCK ON THE ROAD


Twice Dave tried to back the car and then go ahead, but without avail.
The machine settled down still farther in the mud of the road, and there
it stuck.

“Now what are we going to do?” demanded the senator’s son, impatiently.

“I don’t know, Roger,” was the slow reply. “We’ve got to do something—we
can’t stay in this mud-puddle all day.”

“It’s an outrage that they marked this road for a detour,” continued
Roger. “Why, a team of horses would have all they could do to get
through such a spot as this!”

“I guess I’ll have to get out for help,” said Dave. “Too bad! To think
of getting stuck inside of three hours after leaving home!” and he made
a grimace.

There was no help for it, and, reaching over into the tonneau of the
car, Dave got out a pair of rubbers and put them on; and Roger did the
same. Then both leaped out of the car and made their way to where the
footing was fairly firm.

“The road seems to be pretty good farther on,” announced our hero, after
an examination. “But I’m afraid we’ll have to get somebody with a team
of horses or oxen to pull us out of that hole. The car will never do it
under its own power.”

They walked on, and presently came in sight of a farm nestling in a
small valley beyond the hill. They walked up to this, and found a farmer
in the barnyard, cleaning the mud from one of his horses.

“Well, gentlemen, what can I do for you?” hailed the man, as they walked
up.

“I guess we got here just in time,” returned Dave. “There’s no use in
finishing that cleaning until you’ve done a little job for us.”

“Eh? What’s that?” demanded the farmer curiously.

The chums explained the situation, and the farmer, whose name was
Rawson, readily agreed to take two of his horses and the necessary
tackle and assist them in getting the automobile out of the mud. In less
than ten minutes the three were on their way to where the car was
stalled. Mr. Rawson went to work quickly and with a precision that
showed he knew exactly what he was doing.

“As soon as I give the word, you turn on your power and throw her into
low gear,” he said. “I think we’ll have you out of this in a jiffy.”

And so it proved, the car coming up from the mud by the combined power
of itself and the horses with hardly an effort. Then the team was
unhooked, and Dave ran the car along the highway to where the farmer
said farther traveling would be perfectly safe.

“By the way, we are on a rather peculiar errand around here,” said Dave,
after he had settled for the farmer’s services. “May I ask if you have
seen any gypsies in this vicinity during the last couple of weeks?”

“I don’t know about their being gypsies,” answered Mr. Rawson. “I had
some trouble with a couple of tramps who robbed my chicken-coop about
ten days or two weeks ago. I found they had been camping out in one of
our sheds down in the woods. They wore bandana neckerchiefs and
bright-colored vests.”

“That sounds as if they were gypsies! What became of them?”

“I can’t tell you about that. You see, one night we lost two of the
chickens, and so I set a watch, and the next night I saw these two
fellows sneaking up toward the house. I had my shotgun, and asked them
what they wanted, and both of them dived out of sight behind some bushes
and then ran for the woods. I followed them as far as the shed, and
after that I lost track of them, and I’ve never seen them since. The
next day I went down to the shed, thinking they might be hanging around
somewhere, and there I saw they had been camping out in the shed, and
saw where they had cooked the chickens and eaten them.”

“That sounds pretty interesting,” said Dave. “But I hardly think those
fellows could have been the men we are looking for. The gypsies we are
trying to spot must have had some money, and I don’t think they would
camp out in that shed you mention. However, I’m going to remember it,”
he added.

The chums questioned the farmer further, but got very little
satisfaction. Then the journey in the automobile was resumed.

“What makes you think those fellows could not have been Bopeppo and
Vazala?” questioned Roger, when they were once again speeding along the
highway.

“I think this kidnapping was conducted in a much more high-toned
fashion—if you can call it that, Roger. Those gypsies who used to camp
on the outskirts of Crumville were far from poor. In fact, I have an
idea that old Mother Domoza is really wealthy.”

“What! Wealthy, and live like that?”

“Exactly. I think she’s a first-class miser. A good many of the gypsies
are—especially the older ones. They pretend to be very poor, but they
own all sorts of jewelry, precious stones, and, very often, quantities
of gold coin. They won’t trust the banks, but carry the stuff around
their person, or else bury it somewhere.”

“But these fellows might have been frightened over something, and gone
into hiding on that account,” suggested Roger.

“That may be—and I don’t intend to forget what Mr. Rawson said,”
answered Dave. “It’s also possible that those two fellows may have been
just hangers-on, who helped Bopeppo, Vazala and Mother Domoza, and maybe
Nick Jasniff, to commit the crime.”

By noon the chums had stopped at one more way station, and also at one
of the water tanks near where the hot box on the train had been
discovered. They went up and interviewed the man in charge of the tank,
but he could give them no satisfaction.

“I can’t tell you who left the train or who got on board,” he said. “I
went down to look at the hot box along with the engineer, and I helped
him get some water, and I didn’t pay much attention to anything else.”

“Have you seen any fellows around here who look like gypsies?”
questioned Dave.

“Yes. I saw a couple of that class of men walking up the track either
the day before that train came along or the day after. I’ve been trying
to make up my mind which day it was since I read about this kidnapping,
but I can’t say for sure.”

Leaving the vicinity of the water tank, the chums continued along the
highway which ran within sight of the railroad. Reaching a convenient
spot in the shade of a big tree, and where there was a spring and a
watering trough, they came to a halt and there enjoyed a portion of the
lunch they had brought along, washing it down with a drink of pure, cold
water.

“Well, we haven’t learned anything yet that is worth while,” remarked
Roger, during the course of the meal.

“I didn’t expect it was going to be any easy kind of a job,” Dave
replied. “Even if we get the slightest kind of clue to this mystery,
Roger, we can think ourselves lucky.”

“Oh, I know that.”

During the afternoon they stopped at five other places, putting to the
people they met the questions which they had been asking all along the
line. In every instance, however, no one could give them any
information, although most of the men and women were very anxious to
learn if anything had been heard of the missing girls.

“I hope those kidnappers are caught,” said one of the men at the last
station at which they stopped. “They are not fit to be at large.”

“They ought to be hung!” declared his wife emphatically. “Why, since I
heard about the disappearance of those two girls, I haven’t dared to let
my little girl and boy leave the house! It’s terrible! I do so hope they
catch those rascals and punish them well!”

Evening found the chums at the town of Chesleyville, and here, as there
was a fairly good hotel, they resolved to remain for the night. They
drove around to the hotel and left the car in the garage attached to the
hostelry, and then made arrangements for a room and meals. They had
supper, and then Dave suggested that they take a walk down to the
railroad station and in the vicinity of the freight yard.

“I don’t know whether we’ll learn anything or not, but we can’t afford
to miss any chances,” was the way he expressed himself.

“That’s the talk!” cried Roger. “We don’t want anything to get away from
us.”

They had quite a talk with the station agent and a number of others,
including a young fellow who had charge of a news-stand.

“I’ve seen pictures of those girls who were kidnapped,” declared the
youth, “and unless I am greatly mistaken, one of them—the taller of the
two—bought a magazine and a weekly from me.”

This was interesting information, and the two lost no time in
questioning the youth closely. He described the taller of the two girls,
telling how she had been dressed and what sort of hat she had worn. The
description of the suit and the head covering tallied closely with what
Mrs. Wadsworth had said Laura had worn.

“What did she buy—do you remember that?” questioned Roger. And thereupon
the news vendor mentioned a popular monthly magazine and an equally
popular weekly.

“And you saw the other girl?” asked Dave.

“Yes, at the car window. She didn’t get out, but the other girl went to
the open window and asked her what she wanted, and then she came back
and got the weekly. That was after she had bought the magazine. She
dropped her hand-bag and had to turn around to pick it up, and that’s
how I came to notice her.”

This was all the youth could tell, but it was something, and the chums
returned to the hotel in a thoughtful mood.

“If that really was Laura, and if the girl in the car was Jessie, then
that proves one thing,” remarked Dave. “They weren’t kidnapped anywhere
between here and Crumville.”

“And that means that it did happen somewhere between here and Boston,”
added Roger. “But, gracious, Dave! it’s a long way from here to that
city!”

Neither of the young civil engineers felt in the humor for retiring
early, so they passed into the reading-room of the hotel, to glance at
one or two of the newspapers. Dave was perusing an article in reference
to the disappearance of the girls, and Roger was deep in some news from
Washington which affected his father, when both were startled by an
exclamation made by some one who had stepped from the outside to a broad
window which opened upon a veranda of the hotel.

“Who was that?” asked Roger, as he looked up just in time to see
somebody disappearing from view.

“I don’t know, I’m sure,” answered Dave.

Struck by the peculiarity of the movement which had taken place, both
walked over to the window and looked outside. Here all was in
semi-darkness, the only light coming from the hotel and a small street
lamp some distance away. They saw the figure of a young man hurrying
down the street, and as the individual passed under the street light, he
pulled up the collar of his coat and pulled down the soft hat he wore.

“Whoever he was, he got out in a mighty hurry,” was Roger’s comment.

To this Dave did not answer. He was wondering who the strange individual
could be.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                             THE FIRST CLUE


“Did you see his face at all, Dave?”

“No. Did you?”

“Not at all. He left the window so quickly I didn’t catch more than a
glance of the side of his body.”

“He certainly left in a mighty hurry,” mused our hero.

“Dave, do you imagine it might have been Nick Jasniff?” asked the
senator’s son excitedly.

“I thought of that, Roger. As the fellow passed under that lamp-post his
form looked something like Jasniff’s. But that is rather a wild guess—a
good many fellows might possess his general make-up.”

The two chums went back to their newspapers, and half an hour later they
retired to their room. Both arose early, thinking to look over the
automobile before breakfast, so that they might be ready to start off
immediately after eating. When they reached the hotel garage, they found
the colored man who was in charge very much excited.

“You gemmen didn’t send nobody down here to get your car, did you?” he
questioned quickly.

“We certainly did not!” cried Dave.

“Has any one been here to get the car?” questioned the senator’s son.

“A young fellow was here at your machine,” answered the colored man. “I
jest stepped over to the hotel to ask the clerk to order some more
gasoline, we runnin’ short. When I came back the fellow was at your car.
I thought at first it was one of you gemmen, but as soon as I called to
him he jumped from the car and went out the back door.”

“How long ago was this?” burst out Dave.

“Not over five minutes ago, boss. I called to the fellow and ran after
him, but he jumped over the back fence and got away.”

“Was he a tall young fellow with a soft hat?” queried Roger.

“He was.”

“He must have been the same chap who looked in at the hotel window!”
went on the senator’s son to Dave. “Now, what do you make of that?”

“I make of it that he is trying to do us some injury,” answered Dave.

“Do you really think it could be Nick Jasniff?”

“I am sure I don’t know. If it was Jasniff, how in the world did he get
up here in this town?”

“Perhaps he has been following us.”

“But how could he do that unless he had an automobile or a motorcycle,
or something like that?”

“I am sure I can’t answer that question.” Roger turned to the garage
man. “Did you know the fellow at all?”

“No, boss; he was a stranger to me.”

“Have you ever seen him before?” asked Dave.

“Oh, I ain’t exactly sure of that, boss—so many men comin’ and goin’ all
the time.”

“Let us see if he did any injury to the car,” suggested Roger.

The automobile was run out into the yard of the hotel, and there the
young men went over the machine carefully. Nothing seemed to be amiss,
and the things in the tonneau had been left undisturbed.

“I guess he didn’t have time enough to do anything,” said Dave. “I think
he had been watching this man,” indicating the colored individual, “and
as soon as he went into the hotel, the rascal sneaked into the garage
intending to get the car out. Maybe he was nothing more than an auto
thief who watched us come to the hotel and thought he saw a chance to
get away with our car.”

“If he’s an auto thief, I wish I had caught him,” was the comment of the
colored man.

“I think I’ll buy a lock for the car,” announced Dave. “I saw an
automobile place down the street. We can stop there before we leave
town.”

This was done; and the chums purchased a lock which could be placed on
the gear shift, so that it would be impossible to start the car without
unlocking the device or smashing it.

“By the turn of affairs, we’ve got to watch out for more than one kind
of enemy,” announced Roger, when the search for clues to the mysterious
disappearance of the two girls had again been resumed.

“I’ve got a new idea, Roger,” answered our hero slowly. “I may be
mistaken, but somehow it strikes me that it would pay us to take a look
around Chesleyville before we go farther. If that fellow was connected
in any way with the kidnapping of Jessie and Laura, the girls may be
held somewhere in this neighborhood.”

“That idea strikes me as a good one, Dave. Let us make a number of
inquiries and find out if the gypsies were in this vicinity.”

The plan was carried out, the two youths spending the best part of a
couple of hours both in the town and on the outskirts. The search in
that vicinity, however, proved fruitless, and once again they set off on
their trip along the line of the railroad.

Before lunch time they had stopped at three more places, and at one of
them gained the information that several gypsies had been seen in that
vicinity about two weeks before. They had been men, and where they had
gone nobody seemed to know.

Late that afternoon found the chums at a place known as Fallon’s
Crossing. Here a small sideline crossed the main railroad, and here were
located a switch shanty and a small freight yard. At this point it was
said that the train which had carried Laura and Jessie had stopped for
fully fifteen minutes, to let the hot box cool off and also to allow
another train to pass. Just beyond Fallon’s Crossing was the thriving
town of Crandall, at which the train was scheduled to make a regular
stop.

The switchman at the shanty could tell them nothing more than that the
train had stopped. He said a number of people had gotten off to pick
some wildflowers that grew by the roadside, and then re-entered the
train. Who the people had been, he could not remember.

There was a man hanging around the freight yard who had also been
present on the day when the train had stopped, and he vouchsafed the
information that when the people on the train had learned that the stop
would be for some time a number had tramped up the tracks to the town,
to get on again when the train arrived at the regular station.

“There were at least eight or ten people did that,” said the
freight-yard man; “but who they were I do not know.”

“Did you see any gypsies around?” questioned Dave.

“No. We haven’t had a gypsy around here in years. We don’t stand for
gypsies any more than we do for tramps.”

When the two chums returned to their automobile they saw nearby a
middle-aged man with a motorcycle. He was bending over the machine,
trying to fix something, and as they came closer he hailed them.

“Is that your car over there?” he questioned.

“It is,” answered Dave.

“Then, would you mind lending me a small wrench for a few minutes? I
just broke mine.”

“Certainly,” answered Dave.

The tool was brought forth, and the man at once set to work to use it.
While the two chums looked on the man spoke about the trials and
tribulations he had had with the motorcycle and of a trip he had made to
that vicinity some time before. Being questioned, it developed that he
had been on hand when the train containing the two girls had stopped
there.

“I was quite interested in that hot box they had, and I was talking to
the fireman about it,” he said.

“Did you see any of the folks leave the train?” questioned Dave. “We are
very anxious to find out.” And then, seeing the look of surprise on the
man’s face, he gave his reasons.

“I’ve read about that kidnapping case!” cried the man. “Yes, I saw at
least a dozen people leave the cars and walk off in the direction of the
town. Some of them said they belonged in the town, and others asked the
conductor if they couldn’t go up to the railroad station and get aboard
again when the train came along.”

“Did you notice those two young ladies?” questioned Roger eagerly, and
gave a description of Laura and Jessie.

“I think I did see them,” answered the man slowly. “I remember seeing
the beaded hand-bag one of the young ladies carried, and I remember she
wore a hat with a blue pompon.”

“It must have been Jessie and Laura!” exclaimed Dave. “Have you any idea
where they went?”

“The whole crowd walked up the railroad tracks in the direction of the
town. Whether they went to the station or not, I, of course, don’t know.
I hung around here watching them fix that hot box, and then I jumped on
my motorcycle and rode off in the opposite direction.”

This was all the man on the motorcycle could tell; and as he was in a
hurry to go on they did not detain him further.

“This looks like a clue,” was Roger’s comment, as they re-entered the
automobile and moved on their way. “I guess the best thing we can do,
Dave, is to make some inquiries around Crandall.”

“Exactly, Roger! I think we are on the trail at last;” and Dave’s face
showed his pleasure.

The road ran close to the tracks, and it took them but a few minutes to
reach the town. Here they continued their inquiries in and around the
station, but without gaining any additional information.

“It is too bad,” said Roger disappointedly. “I thought sure we would
learn something more.”

“We’ve got to do it, Roger!” cried Dave. “I am sure we are on the right
track. Those girls came here, and, so far as we can learn, nobody saw
them get on the train again. If they didn’t get on the train, where did
they go?”

“I’d give a good deal to have that question answered,” returned the
senator’s son. He heaved a sigh. “Oh, we’ve got to do something!”

They continued their inquiries, and presently found themselves talking
to a lame boy in charge of a small fruit-stand, where they made a
purchase.

“Yes, I was here the day the train was held up down at the Crossing, and
some of the folks walked up to the station,” said the lame boy. “There
were a couple of drummers with their cases, and a man and his wife and
two or three children, and then there were a couple of other men,—and
three or four young ladies. Some of ’em went right over to the station,
and the rest of ’em went uptown.”

“Did you notice two young ladies in particular?” questioned Dave; and
then he told how Laura and Jessie had been dressed, and of the beaded
handbags they carried, and added that they also had a magazine or two.

“Oh, yes, I remember them!” cried the young fruit-stand keeper. “They
stopped here and got some grapes and a couple of peaches.”

“And did they get on the train again when it came along?”

“I didn’t see ’em. They walked uptown. One of them asked me where the
Bliss House was.”

“The Bliss House?” queried Roger.

“Yes, sir. That’s our hotel,” explained the boy.

“And they went there?” questioned Dave.

“I think they did.”



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                       WHAT THE LITTLE GIRLS KNEW


Dave and Roger talked to the fruit-stand boy a few minutes longer, and
then jumped into the automobile and rode up to the Bliss House, an
old-fashioned hotel, standing on a corner and surrounded by a number of
stately elm trees.

“I can’t understand this at all, Dave,” said Roger, while on the way.
“What would take those girls uptown? They must have known that the train
might come along at any minute, and then, if they weren’t on hand to get
aboard, they’d be left.”

“It certainly is a mystery, Roger. All we can do is to follow up this
clue and see where it leads to. From what that man who had the
motorcycle said, and from what the lame boy told us, it is pretty
certain that Jessie and Laura got off the train at the Crossing and did
not get on again at this railroad station. And if they came up to the
hotel here, they must have had some purpose in so doing.”

The country hotel was not a very busy place, and the chums found the
clerk quite willing to give them all the information he could. He did
not, however, remember the girls; nor did the proprietor of the place,
who came up to see what was wanted, remember them.

“I don’t think they came here. Or, if they did, they didn’t come to the
office,” said the clerk. “I was here all day, and I know.”

“Did you have any strangers around the place that day, so far as you can
remember?” questioned Dave.

“None to stay. We had half a dozen drummers; but I know all of them, for
they have been coming and going for a number of years.”

“Wait a minute! Come to think of it, there was something else happened
that day which I thought was rather queer,” cried the hotel proprietor
suddenly. He was a bald-headed man, and he began to scratch his hairless
head vigorously. “Seems to me it was just about half an hour or so
before that train came in, too,” he added, nodding his head
emphatically.

“What was the thing that happened?” questioned Roger quickly.

“There was a big touring-car came down the Kapton road yonder. A man
dressed as a chauffeur was driving the machine. He stopped his car and
asked for directions, and then the car swung around and came to a stop
down there near our stables. I sent the boy out to see if anything was
wanted—the stable man being off on an errand—and the boy came back and
said they wanted to know when that train would get in. Then the car
moved over to the other side of the street and stood there for five or
ten minutes. The chauffeur turned around in his seat to talk very
earnestly to a couple who were in the car. I couldn’t hear what they
were saying, but they all seemed to be rather excited. Then the car went
back down the road, and that was the last I saw of it.”

“It wasn’t a car that belonged around here, so far as you knew?” asked
our hero.

“No, it didn’t belong around here. It was a great big heavy enclosed
affair, and looked as if it had seen pretty rough usage—one of the
mud-guards being quite battered. That was one reason why I took notice
of it—I thought maybe they had been in some sort of an accident,
especially when the chauffeur and the people in the car got to talking
so excitedly among themselves.”

“Did you notice what kind of people they were?” asked Dave.

“I think the chauffeur was a foreigner. He had heavy dark hair and a
small dark mustache. He wore a regular cap and goggles, and also a
dust-coat.”

“Who were the people in the car?” questioned the senator’s son.

“There were a man and a woman, and I should say they were rather
elderly. The woman had a thick veil over her face, and the man wore a
dust-coat buttoned up around his throat and a cap pulled far down over
his forehead, and I think he had on smoked glasses. I thought the whole
bunch might be foreigners, and that was another reason why I noticed
them.”

“This is certainly interesting, but I don’t see how it connects up with
the disappearance of the girls,” was Dave’s comment.

“Those gypsies all look like foreigners,” said Roger.

“Yes. But I don’t think any of them knows how to run an auto. They
always use horses.”

“Oh, well, they might be getting up-to-date.”

Thinking that the incident of the strange touring-car might be worth
following up, Dave and Roger left the hotel and ran their own automobile
a distance along the Kapton road. From the hotel proprietor they had
learned that this road led to the small village of Kapton two miles
distant.

“This is a good deal like looking for a needle in a haystack,” was
Roger’s comment.

“True, Roger. But if you took the haystack and went over it a wisp at a
time, sooner or later you’d come on the needle,” answered Dave. “And
that is what I propose to do in this case—I’m going to follow up every
possible clue until we strike something.”

On the outskirts of Crandall they came upon a little country home where
several children were enjoying themselves at a swing in the open
dooryard. Here Dave stopped the car.

“I suppose you play here nearly every day,” he said to the oldest of the
girls, a bright miss of nine or ten years of age.

“Oh, yes; whenever the weather is good.”

“And we have lots of fun,” broke in another of the happy group.

“We are trying to find out something about a big automobile that came
along here about ten days ago,” said Roger. “It was a great big enclosed
car, and one of the mud-guards was smashed.”

“Oh, I remember that car, Nellie!” cried one of the girls. “Don’t you
remember? It’s the one that stopped over by Radley’s orchard.”

“Indeed I do remember!” answered Nellie, with a toss of her head.
“Didn’t they come close to running over Rover?”

“What did the car stop at the orchard for?” asked Dave.

“I don’t know exactly. I think they had to fix something on it. Anyway,
the man opened the tin door on the top of the front,” answered the girl.
“That was broken, too, just like the tin thing over the wheels.”

“They didn’t stop for that,” said another one of the girls. “They
stopped to send Billy Barton on an errand down to the hotel.”

This announcement on the part of the little girl filled our hero and
Roger with increased interest.

“Where is this Billy Barton, and what did he go to the hotel for?”
questioned Dave.

“The man who ran the car gave Billy a note to give to two young ladies
who, he said, would either be at the hotel or would soon get there.
Billy said he saw two young ladies just going into the hotel, and asked
them if they were the people he was looking for, and they said ‘Yes’;
and so Billy gave them the note. The man gave him ten cents for doing
it. I wish I could deliver a note and get ten cents for it,” continued
the little girl wistfully.

“Well, you’re going to get ten cents for telling me all about those
people in the automobile,” said our hero, and produced several dimes
which he distributed among those present, much to their astonishment and
gratification.

“But that wasn’t all of it, mister,” said one of the girls. “Those young
ladies came up here and got into the automobile and rode away.”

“Got into the automobile and rode away!” burst out Dave and Roger
simultaneously.

“Yes, sir.”

“I saw them, too!” said the smallest of the girls, who had thus far
spoken but little. “They didn’t get in very easy though!”

“They didn’t get in easy?” queried our hero. “What do you mean?”

“Why the driver of the automobile and the man who was inside got out and
had to shove them both in. I thought they was fooling, but they was
awful rough about it.”

“Did the girls scream, or anything like that?” asked Roger.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t near enough to hear.”

“And then, when the girls were in the auto, what did the others do?”

“Oh, they drove away just as fast as they could. They drove so fast that
they nearly ran over old Mr. Merrick.”

“Who is he?”

“Why, don’t you know old Mr. Merrick?” asked the little girl. “He lives
’way up the road—up there where you see that little white house. He was
standing out in the middle of the road when the automobile rushed past
him so fast that he could hardly jump out of the way. He was awful
angry. He told my papa that he thought the man ought to be arrested.”

“If only they had arrested them!” murmured Dave.

“And that was the last you saw of that automobile?” asked Roger.

“Yes, sir,” came from several of the girls at once.

“It hasn’t been this way again?”

“No, sir.”

After that the two chums questioned the little girls closer about the
general appearance of the car, and learned that the turnout not only had
one of the mud-guards badly bent, but that the side of the car was
scratched in several places and that the wind-shield was cracked.

“That’s something to go by, but not much,” remarked our hero. “One thing
is certain, we are on the right trail at last. For some reason that
isn’t at all clear, Jessie and Laura left that train at the Crossing,
walked up to the railroad station here in town, and then to the hotel.
There they were met by the small boy with the note, and as a result of
receiving that note they came out here and either got into that
automobile willingly or were forced into it.”

“But where did the auto go to, Dave?”

“That remains to be found out.”

“Will you let the authorities know about this?”

“At once! The more people we get on this trail, the quicker we’ll be
able to run those rascals down.”



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                              ANOTHER CLUE


Dave and Roger lost no time in getting back to the business section of
Crandall, and there they inquired their way to police headquarters. They
found the chief in charge, and introducing themselves asked him if he
knew about the disappearance of the girls.

“Oh, yes, I know all about that,” answered the chief. “We’ve been on the
watch for them, but so far nothing has come to light.”

Thereupon Dave and Roger related what they had heard from the lame boy
and those at the Bliss House, and then what the little girls had told.

“This is mighty interesting,” mused the chief. “But I don’t see what I
can do except to have my men on the watch for that automobile. If it
turns up, do you want the party running it held?”

“I certainly do!” answered Dave. “Or better yet, if you get the chance,
have the auto followed and see where it goes to—especially if it goes
down the Kapton road.”

“All right, I’ll do that.”

From the police station the two young civil engineers hurried down to
the telegraph office, and there sent a long message to the folks in
Crumville. No message had arrived for them, so they took it for granted
that no news had come in at the Wadsworth place since their departure.

“And now what’s the next move?” queried Roger, who in this affair looked
to Dave as the leader.

“I think we had better travel along that Kapton road and see if we can
find out anything more about that automobile and those in it,” was the
reply. “There is certainly no use in our continuing the trip along the
railroad.”

It was growing dark when Crandall was left behind, and they journeyed
forward on the Kapton road slowly, keeping their eyes open for anything
that might suggest a further solution of the mystery they were
endeavoring to unravel.

“We might stop and question that Mr. Merrick the little girls
mentioned,” suggested Roger.

“Yes, we can do that, although I doubt if the old man can add much to
what we already know.”

They found Mr. Aaron Merrick a very fussy old individual and hard to
talk to. He remembered the incident of the automobile very well, and was
highly indignant, but he could not tell anything about who had been
driving the car or who was inside.

“They went by me jest like a comet!” he explained. “I had to jump fer my
life, or I’d been run over sure! All them pesky rascals ought to be put
in prison. I don’t believe in autermobiles, anyway,” and he looked
rather indignantly at the two chums.

“Well, we are after the fellow who ran that auto,” answered Roger. “And
if we catch him he’ll go to prison fast enough.”

“What’s the matter? Did he steal that there car?”

“He did worse,” answered the senator’s son. “But we haven’t got time to
talk about that now,” he added, and hurried away, followed by our hero.
Mr. Merrick came after them, anxious to know what might be wrong, but
they did not enlighten him.

Half an hour later found the machine rolling into the little village of
Kapton. They had stopped twice on the way, but had learned nothing more
concerning the big touring car with the battered mud-guard and the
cracked wind-shield.

“Do you think we ought to stay here all night?” questioned Roger.

“That will depend on whether we can get accommodation or not,” returned
Dave. “Anyhow, we want to make some inquiries before we leave this
place.”

They soon learned that Kapton boasted of nothing in the way of a hotel
or boarding-house.

“But you can get pretty good accommodations at the Bliss House in
Crandall,” said the storekeeper, who gave them the information. “Or else
you can go to the American House at Frytown.”

“Is that in the opposite direction to Crandall?” questioned Dave.

“Yes, sir; it’s on the same road that you came up on. The road runs
right through Frytown to Cullomburg, and it’s a pretty fair road all the
way.”

“Then I guess we’ll go on to Frytown. By the way, can you give us any
information about a big touring-car that went through here about ten
days ago—a touring-car that had a battered mud-guard and a cracked
wind-shield and was driven by a fellow who looked like a foreigner—a
chap with a small black mustache?”

“Why, yes, I saw that car!” cried the storekeeper. “The fellow who ran
it came in here and bought a lot of groceries.”

“He did!” exclaimed both of the chums in surprise.

“Yes, sir.”

“When was this?”

“Let me see——” The storekeeper rubbed his chin reflectively. “I guess it
was just about a week ago to-day. The fellow came in and said he was in
a good deal of a hurry, so I and my clerk hustled to get the order out
for him. We packed it in a big box, and put the box in the tonneau of
the car. But what about this—is the man some friend of yours?”

“Hardly a friend,” answered Dave quickly! “But we are very anxious to
locate him. Have you any idea where he came from or where he went?”

“All I can say is that he came into this place from Frytown way, and he
turned around after he had the stuff and went back the way he came.”

“Did he give you any names, or say where he was from?” questioned Roger.

“No, he didn’t say anything excepting that he was buying the things for
some folks who were sick in a camp and couldn’t get away. I asked him
one or two questions, but he acted as if he didn’t want to answer them,
and so I didn’t say too much. You see, he paid spot cash for what he
got, so it was none of my business,” added the storekeeper.

“Do you remember the things he got?” questioned Dave. And then, as the
storekeeper showed that he was becoming suspicious, our hero added: “I
may be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Linton. We suspect that the man who
is running that automobile is a fellow who escaped some time ago from
prison. In fact, we are not sure that he owns the automobile he is
running, and it is possible that he may be mixed up in the abduction of
two young ladies. That is why we are so anxious to get on his trail.”

“You don’t say! Well, I’d want to get on the trail of a rascal like that
myself. Yes, I think I can tell you pretty near everything the fellow
bought.”

And thereupon the storekeeper enumerated a number of articles, including
coffee, sugar, flour, butter, and a quantity of canned goods.

“And was that all?” asked Roger, as the storekeeper paused.

“No. After he had those goods, he asked about a good strong
clothes-line, and then he bought a lock, some screws and nails, and a
hammer and a screwdriver.”

“And was that all?”

“That’s all, so far as I can remember. Oh, no! he did buy some smoking
tobacco and a couple of pipes and some packages of cigarettes.”

“And how did the fellow look? Can you describe him?”

“I can’t say much except that he was rather tall and thin and had, as
you said, a little black mustache, and heavy black curly hair. His face
was very dark, as if he had gotten well tanned. He kept on his
automobile goggles, and had his cap pulled down well over his forehead,
and his dust-coat was buttoned up tight around his neck.”

“You haven’t seen him since?”

“I think I saw the automobile going by the door late one evening a
couple of nights ago, but I am not sure. You see, I am getting old, and
my eyesight ain’t none too good,” concluded the storekeeper.

When Dave and Roger returned to the automobile and headed the car in the
direction of Frytown, both were in a meditative mood.

“I think I can begin to figure this out, Roger,” said Dave slowly. “It
looks to me as if Jessie and Laura were being held prisoners somewhere
in this vicinity, and that that fellow who ran the car, whoever he is,
came down here to buy supplies for the crowd.”

“Yes. And do you remember what the storekeeper said about the
clothes-line and a lock and nails? More than likely they’ve got the poor
girls tied fast in some room, and they have put a new lock on the door
and nailed up the windows.”

“What you say would fit in very well with what the storekeeper told us.
If that rascal came here to get his supplies, it would seem to indicate
that the place where the girls are being kept prisoners must be
somewhere in this vicinity.”

“Yes, unless they did not dare to go to any town that was closer by. For
all we know, he may have come from twenty or thirty miles away—or even
farther than that.”

“Well, we’re on the right trail, anyway, and that’s something,” returned
Dave hopefully. Then he gave a sudden exclamation. “My gracious! Why
didn’t I think of that before?”

“Think of what, Dave?”

“Don’t you remember what the storekeeper said about that fellow
purchasing some cigarettes?”

“What of it?”

“Why, just this: One of the things that fastened the crime on Jasniff
and Merwell at the time Mr. Wadsworth’s jewelry factory was robbed was
the fact that both of those rascals were inveterate cigarette smokers,
and smoked a certain brand of Turkish cigarettes—a kind that had a
peculiar gold and blue band around the box. I’m going back and ask that
storekeeper what kind of cigarettes that fellow got.”

And so speaking Dave made a sharp turn and brought the car around, and
in a moment more was on his way back to the store.

“Back again, eh?” said the proprietor. “You weren’t gone very long.”

“I believe, Mr. Linton, you said that fellow we were talking about
purchased some tobacco and cigarettes?”

“So I did.”

“Can you remember anything about the cigarettes? Please try to think
exactly of what happened when he asked for them.”

“Hum! Let me see!” The storekeeper meditated for a moment. “Oh, yes, I
remember now! He asked me if I had any Doradas or Mimoras, or any other
Turkish cigarettes. I told him No, we had very little call for anything
like that. So then he took half a dozen packages of these,” and the
storekeeper pointed to some cigarettes in his showcase.

“Thank you. That’s all I wanted to know,” answered Dave. “Good night”;
and he hurried away to the automobile with Roger following.

“Well, what do you make of this?” questioned the senator’s son quickly.

“I think we have found another clue, Roger. That fellow asked for
Doradas cigarettes. They are a Turkish brand, and come in a box having a
blue and gold band around it—the same kind of cigarettes that Jasniff
smoked when he and Merwell robbed Mr. Wadsworth’s safe.”



                              CHAPTER XXV
                       WHAT HORSEHAIR HAD TO TELL


“Then you think the fellow purchased the cigarettes for Jasniff?”
questioned Roger, after our hero had made the declaration concerning the
Wadsworth robbery.

“Either that, Roger; or else the fellow purchased the cigarettes for
himself.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that that chauffeur was Nick Jasniff?”
exclaimed the senator’s son.

“Why not, Roger? It would be an easy matter for Jasniff to disguise
himself. In fact, if he was in any such game as this, I think that is
just what he would do. He could easily stain his skin with some walnut
juice, or something like that, gotten from the gypsies, and then put on
a wig and a false mustache.”

“I believe that’s just what he did!” exclaimed Roger. “I know one
thing—he was a good hand at running automobiles. I have seen him do it.”

“The whole thing fits in pretty closely,” went on Dave. “First, Jasniff
was angry at Mr. Wadsworth and the rest of us for placing him in prison.
Next, he stole those letters and my money. The letters told him all
about the gypsies and their troubles with our folks. He put two and two
together, came on East, and fixed up the plan to kidnap the girls.”

“But how did they get the girls to leave the train at Crandall and then
go from the hotel to where the automobile stood along the road?”

“That is something still to be explained. But that can wait. What we
want to do just now is to find out where they took Jessie and Laura, and
rescue them.”

“It certainly is a great search, Dave. What are you going to do next?”

“I think the best thing we can do is to work our way along to Frytown.
That is quite a place, and it is barely possible that from there we can
get into communication with Crumville on the long distance telephone. If
we can do that, we can tell the folks at home all we have learned, and
get them to send some first-class detectives out this way to assist us
in the search.”

“Let’s run rather slow on the way to Frytown,” suggested the senator’s
son. “We may be able to pick up more clues.”

“Yes, we’ll keep our eyes wide open.”

They presently found themselves on a lonely stretch of the country road,
and here it was so dark they had to turn on all the lights of the
machine.

“I’d give all I’m worth, Dave, if we could catch sight of that other
car,” remarked Roger, after a spell of silence.

“I’m afraid that’s too much to hope for,” answered our hero, with a grim
smile. “We ought to be thankful that we have learned as much as we have.
If we hadn’t met that fellow on the motorcycle down at the Crossing, we
might still be hunting for clues along the line of the railroad between
Crandall and Boston.”

“Oh, yes, I think we’ve done wonderfully well.”

On the way to Frytown they stopped at six or seven farmhouses, but
without learning anything that was to their advantage. Two farmers had
seen the big touring car with the battered mud-guard go by a week or two
before, but could give no definite information as to who had been
driving it or what passengers the automobile had contained.

“So many machines comin’ and goin’ these days, a feller don’t pay much
’tention to ’em,” was the way one farmer expressed himself.

“I know it,” answered Dave. “But we are very anxious to find that car,
so I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to ask.”

“Oh, no harm whatever,” said the farmer.

When the chums reached Frytown it was after nine o’clock. They made
their way at once to the American House, the hotel which the Kapton
storekeeper had mentioned, and there placed their machine in the garage,
engaged a room, and asked if they might be served with something to eat.

“The dining room is closed,” announced the proprietor. “But we don’t let
anybody starve,” he added, with a smile. “Just come this way, and I
guess we can fix you up,” and he led them to a side room, where a
waitress served them with a plain but substantial supper. Before this
was eaten, however, Dave questioned the man about telephone connections.

“You can’t get any out-of-town connections after seven o’clock,” was the
statement made by the hotel keeper. “You’ll have to wait until seven
o’clock to-morrow morning.”

After the meal the two chums questioned the hotel man and several of his
assistants about the big automobile they were looking for, and were
informed that the touring-car had been seen in Frytown a number of
times, moving up and down the main road.

“Once I saw it when it had several people inside besides the chauffeur,”
said one man. “The people seemed to be cuttin’ up pretty well, but what
it was all about, I don’t know. The car was goin’ too fast to give a
fellow a chance to see.”

“How long ago was that?” questioned Dave quickly.

“Oh, I don’t know. Ten days or two weeks—or maybe longer.”

“Do you remember which way the car was going at that time?”

“Sure. It was headed in the direction of Cullomburg.”

“How far is that town?” questioned Roger.

“That’s up in the mountains about eight miles from here. It’s a pretty
fair road, though, all the way.”

After receiving this information, Dave and Roger took a walk around the
town, stopping at several of the stores and making a number of small
purchases just for the sake of getting into conversation with the
storekeepers. From one of these they learned that the man who had driven
the car had come in for some supplies, including some cigarettes.

“Yes, he bought six packages of Turkish cigarettes—all I had,” said the
storekeeper.

From this man they learned that there was a regular public garage in the
place with a machine shop attached.

“Let us go over there. Possibly the fellow with the car stopped for
gasoline or oil, or to get something fixed,” said our hero.

The garage was a short distance up a side street, and they found the man
in charge sitting in a little office with his feet on a desk and smoking
a corncob pipe. They stared at this man for a moment in amazement, and
then both burst out:

“Horsehair!”

“Eh? Wot’s that?” cried the man, and swung his feet down from the desk
and leaped up, taking his corncob pipe from his mouth as he did so.
“Well now, ain’t this jest wonderful!” he ejaculated. “Dave Porter and
Roger Morr! Who would ‘a’ thunk it!”

“And who would have thought of meeting you here, Horsehair?” cried Dave,
shaking hands vigorously, quickly followed by his chum.

“Why, we thought you were still driving the stage-coach at Oak Hall,”
remarked the senator’s son.

For the man they had run across so unexpectedly was indeed Jackson
Lemond, the man who for years had driven the stage-coach and worked
around the stables at the boarding-school. Because of the number of
horsehairs which continually clung to his clothing, the pupils had never
known him by any other name than Horsehair.

“Well, you see, I got a leetle bit old for that job—or else the boys got
a leetle bit too frisky fer me, so I looked around fer something else
that was a bit more quiet; and as my cousin owned this garage, and he
was too sick to tend to business, I come out here and took hold—and here
I be.”

“It’s like a touch of old times, Horsehair!” cried Dave, as he dropped
on a chair, while Roger did the same. And then after a few more words
about their former doings at Oak Hall our hero continued: “I am after
some information, and I know you’ll give it to me if you possibly can.
Have you noticed during the past couple of weeks a big touring-car
around here—a car that has one of the mud-guards badly smashed, and the
wind-shield cracked, and a good deal scratched up?”

“Sure, I know that car,” answered Horsehair readily. “The feller that
runs it was in here to git some new batteries, and also some gas and
oil.”

“Was he smoking cigarettes?” questioned Roger.

“He was—one right after another. But I told him not to smoke while I was
pourin’ in the gasoline. I don’t want to go up to heaven jest yet;” and
Horsehair chuckled over his little joke.

“Have you any idea where that fellow came from or where he went to?”
questioned Dave. “I might as well tell you, Horsehair, it is of great
importance. We suspect that fellow of some serious crimes.”

“You don’t say, Porter! What did he do—steal that machine? Oh, I know
them auto thieves is all over. They told me only last week a car was
stole in and around Boston ’most every day.”

“Never mind what the fellow is guilty of, Horsehair. What we want to do
is to find him, and then you’ll know all about it.”

“Well, I don’t know where he come from, but after he got fixed up here
he turned off in the direction of Cullomburg.”

“Do you know what make of car it was?”

“Yes, although the name-plate had been tore off. It was a Simms-Tecco,
one of them old foreign cars. Must be about eight or a dozen years old.
It had them old-fashioned battery connections on it, and had them old
Horseshoe anti-skid tires on the rear wheels. That’s how I remember it.”

“You must have learned a lot about cars after you left Oak Hall,” was
Roger’s comment.

“Oh, I’m right in the business now, I am!” answered Horsehair proudly.

“You didn’t know who the fellow was, did you?” questioned Dave.

“No, I didn’t. But do you know, he acted awful queer—that feller did. He
come sailin’ in here shoutin’ out fer gasoline, and all at once, when he
seen me, he stopped as if he was shot, and fer a minute or two I thought
he was goin’ to back out and go ’way. Then he seemed to git over it and
bought what he wanted, jest like I said.”

“It is no wonder that he was surprised, if he is the fellow we think,”
answered Dave. “Do you remember a chap who went to Oak Hall, named Nick
Jasniff—the fellow who once attacked me in the gymnasium with an Indian
club and then ran away?”

“O’ course I remember that big overgrown bully,” answered Horsehair.

“Well, that’s the fellow we think it is,” said Roger.

“But it can’t be him! This feller was a furriner. He had real dark skin
and dark hair and a little dark mustache.”

“We think he was in disguise.”

“Gee, sho! you don’t mean it?” ejaculated Jackson Lemond. “Gosh, it does
beat all wot some fellers will do! And I suppose he stole that auto?”

“We don’t know about that. But even if he did, we think he is guilty of
a worse crime,” answered Dave; and thereupon related some of the
particulars concerning the disappearance of his sister and Jessie.

“Well, if that rascal is guilty of sech a measly piece of business as
that, I hope you ketch him,” said Horsehair. “He deserves to be put
behind the bars.”

The two chums talked the matter over with the former stage driver of Oak
Hall for fully half an hour, and then returned to the hotel. Now that
the scent of the trail seemed to grow warmer, it was hard for them to
rest, and they slept but little and were glad when morning was at hand.

“I am going to call up Crumville on the telephone as soon as possible,”
declared Dave, and went to a booth to see if he could get the necessary
connections.

It took some little time, but finally he recognized the voice of Mr.
Wadsworth.

“This is Dave—Dave Porter,” said our hero. “I’ve got some news of
importance.”

“And we’ve got some news, too,” answered the jewelry manufacturer.



                              CHAPTER XXVI
                           THE MOUNTAIN ROAD


The news Mr. Oliver Wadsworth had to impart was to the effect that two
more notes had been received from those who held Laura and Jessie
prisoners.

The first told that it was known Dave and Roger were trying to follow up
those who had committed the crime, and added a warning that it would do
no good and if they persisted in the search they would certainly come to
grief. The second communication had been another demand for the fifty
thousand dollars, stating that the sum must be paid over in cash inside
of the next three days and designating how the transfer was to be made.
With that communication was sent a lock of each girl’s hair and also a
card on which was written: “_We are well_,” and signed by both.

“I’m glad to know they are well,” answered Dave; and then he related the
particulars of what he and Roger had discovered since they had sent
their former messages to Crumville.

“It certainly looks as if you were on the right track!” exclaimed the
jewelry manufacturer. “I hope you will notify the local authorities, so
that they will watch out for that car and those who are running it.”

“We have done that,” answered our hero; “but the local authorities up
here do not amount to a great deal when it comes to running down such
slick criminals. I think the best thing you can do is to notify some of
those city detectives to come up here and get busy.”

“You can rest assured, Dave, that I will do that—and at once,” was the
reply. “Where can they get into communication with you?”

“We are now stopping at the American House in Frytown, but from here we
are going to go up into the mountains to Cullomburg. We have an idea
that the girls are being held somewhere between here and Cullomburg or
beyond. There are not very many good roads around here, and it is
reported that the battered-up touring-car was seen going back and forth
on the road between here and that mountain town.”

Before the conversation over the telephone came to an end, Dunston
Porter broke in on the Crumville end of the wire, and when he heard of
what had been discovered stated that he would come on to Crandall
immediately, bringing several men with him, and there get some kind of
turnout to take him to Frytown and beyond.

“There can’t be too many of us in this search,” said Dave’s uncle.

“If we learn anything new we’ll send word to you at the American House
in Frytown,” announced Dave, “and if we need any signal remember what we
used to use—two shots or two whistles in quick succession”; and
thereupon the telephone conversation came to an end.

“I’m glad to learn your uncle is coming up here and that he will bring
two or three men with him,” said Roger, when told of what had been said
over the wire. “As your uncle says, it would be impossible for us to
round up those rascals alone, even if we were fortunate enough to locate
them.”

“I don’t want to round them up so much as I want to rescue Jessie and
Laura,” was the reply.

“I’m glad to learn that they are well, Dave.”

“But we can’t be sure of that, Roger. That card may have been signed
under compulsion, or it may have been signed some days ago. There is no
telling what condition the girls are in just now. They may have been
dreadfully mistreated,” and the look on Dave’s face showed his great
anxiety.

The chums explained the situation to the hotel proprietor, who promised
to aid them in every way possible. Then they had breakfast, paid their
bill, and rode away from the hotel. They stopped at the garage where
Horsehair was in charge, and there purchased some gasoline and oil and
had a little more air put in their tires.

“Now don’t forget, Horsehair,” said Dave. “If that fellow puts in an
appearance with that battered-up car—or anybody else comes with that
car—be sure to have the fellow held. I don’t care how you do it—just see
to it that he doesn’t get away. If he talks about damages, or anything
like that, don’t pay any attention to him. We’ll foot the bill, if
there’s anything to pay.”

“All right, Porter, you leave it to me,” answered the former
stage-driver of Oak Hall. “If I git my claws on ’im, you bet your boots
he ain’t goin’ to git away, nohow.”

“And remember, if you see any of those people, or see any people who
look like gypsies around here, either let me know, or else leave word at
the hotel for my uncle, Dunston Porter.”

“Is he here?”

“Not yet. But I expect him up here before to-night.”

Dave had questioned Horsehair about the road to Cullomburg, and had been
told that it was a winding highway, passing over two small hills, and
then going up into the mountains beyond. There were a number of
cross-roads, but none of these was in very good condition, and that to
travel them in an automobile would be difficult.

“I wonder if we had better take somebody along?” remarked Roger, when
they were about to leave. “We might get a constable, or somebody like
that.”

“I think we had better make this search on our own hook,” answered our
hero. “Outsiders might be more in the way than anything else.”

“I wish we had brought along some sort of disguises, Dave. They might
come in handy.”

“We can put on our auto goggles and pull our caps down pretty well over
our foreheads and button our dust-coats tight up around our necks, just
as Jasniff did. That will help to disguise us.”

A little while later found them on the road to Cullomburg. The highway
was a winding one, passing a number of farms, where, however, the houses
sat back a considerable distance from the road. Here and there they had
to pass through patches of woods, and at one point they crossed a
rickety bridge that spanned a small mountain torrent.

“That bridge isn’t any too good for a heavy auto,” announced Roger,
after they had rattled over it. “Some day some fellow with a heavy load
will break through.”

So far they had met nobody on the road, but now they heard the rattle of
a wagon, and presently a sleepy-looking farmer, drawing a load of hay,
appeared. He was willing enough to stop and talk, but could give them no
information concerning the battered touring-car.

“I belong on the other side of Cullomburg, an’ I don’t git down on this
end o’ the road very much,” he explained.

“Do automobiles use the road on the other side of Cullomburg?”
questioned Roger.

“They do when they don’t know where they’re at,” answered the farmer,
with a chuckle. “A feller from Boston come through that way this spring,
an’ he vowed he’d never come ag’in. He got stuck in the mud twice, an’
he cut two tires all to pieces on the rocks, an’ I guess it was too
expensive fer ’im.”

“Then the good road ends at Cullomburg?” said Dave.

“That’s right, mister. An’ the last half-mile into town ain’t none too
good at that.”

“And the side-roads are all poor, too?”

“Yes, sir, every blame one o’ them. We ought to have ’em fixed up, but
the folks aroun’ here don’t want to pay the taxes for doin’ it.” And
then the farmer with the load of hay rattled on down the road.

“Well, the trail seems to be shortening,” announced Dave, as they
continued on their way up a steep grade where he had to throw the clutch
into second gear. “If that car couldn’t use the road beyond Cullomburg
and couldn’t use any of the side-roads, those rascals must be hanging
out somewhere on this road between Frytown and Cullomburg.”

They were passing up a rocky bit of the roadway when suddenly there came
a loud report from one of the back tires. Dave turned off the power and
put on the hand-brake, and they came to a stop.

“A blow-out,” he announced laconically.

“I was thinking we might get something of that sort after what that
farmer said,” answered the senator’s son. “Well, it’s all in the day’s
work, Dave. We might as well get out and see how much damage has been
done.”

The cut in the back tire was not a large one, and at first they thought
to use the same tire again by putting in a patch. Then, however, Dave
changed his mind, and said he would put on another shoe.

“The tube might blow out through the patch just when we wanted to use
the car the worst way,” he said. “If we have to, we can fall back on
this old shoe later on.”

The chums were used to putting on tires, so the task did not take them
very long. There was a device attached to the engine for blowing up the
inner tube, so they were saved the trouble of this exertion.

“Suppose you let me run the car for a while?” suggested the senator’s
son.

“All right, Roger; go ahead,” was the ready reply. “Only don’t run too
fast. I’ve got another idea. Perhaps we’ll be able to trace that other
car by the marks left in the roadway. Don’t you remember Horsehair said
that the back wheels of the car were equipped with the old-style
Horseshoe anti-skid tires?”

“Yes, I remember his saying that.”

They proceeded along the mountain road with care, doing this not only to
look for some trace of the car they wanted to locate, but also in order
to avoid the rough stones which seemed to crop up most unexpectedly. A
quarter of a mile farther on, they came out on a level stretch, and just
beyond was a cross-road. Here the woods were thick on all sides, and the
roadway was covered with dirt and decayed leaves.

“Certainly a rather lonely place,” announced Roger.

“A splendid place in which to hide,” answered Dave, and then, as they
came closer to the cross-road, he added: “Let us stop here, Roger, I
want to take a look around.”

The touring-car was brought to a halt, and the chums got out and began
to inspect the wagon and other tracks to be seen both on the highway
which they had been traveling and the narrow cross-road. A few minutes
later Dave uttered a cry.

“Here are the marks of auto tires, Roger! Just look in this muddy
stretch. Wouldn’t you say that those were the marks of the Horseshoe
anti-skid shoes?”

“That’s just what they are, Dave!” answered the senator’s son, after a
brief examination.

The marks had been discovered on the side-road to their left. The road
was a winding one, leading through the thick woods, and what was beyond
they could not surmise.

“It seems to me this proves their hiding-place must be up on that road,”
said Roger.

“Let us go down the road on the other side and see if any of the marks
are there,” returned our hero.

This was done, but no automobile marks of any kind were to be discerned
in the soft soil. Then they came back to the cross-road, and after a
long hunt found traces where the other touring car had come around the
corner from the side-road into the main road leading down to Frytown.

“That settles it in my mind,” announced Dave. “I don’t believe they ever
went through to Cullomburg or that they ever went up that side road on
our right. They took this side-road to the left, and it’s my opinion
that leads to where they have got Laura and Jessie prisoners.”

“What do you think we ought to do, Dave? Go back to town and get help
and round them up?”

Our hero mused for a moment. “Maybe we had better go ahead, Roger, and
do a little more investigating.”

“But suppose those rascals come on us all at once and surprise us? For
all we know there may be half a dozen or more in this gang.”

“I’ve got another idea. I don’t believe this road is very long. As we
came up I saw through the clearing below that there was quite a mountain
on our left, and this road probably ends right there. Now, if you are
willing, we’ll run our machine up past the cross-road a little distance,
and then see if we can’t hide it behind the bushes. Then we can tramp up
on the side road on foot.”

“All right, Dave. Let us do it—and at once!”



                             CHAPTER XXVII
                             TO THE RESCUE


It was an easy matter to run the car a hundred feet or so beyond the
side road. Here the trees were slightly scattered, and they had little
difficulty in bringing the machine to a halt in the midst of them at a
place where there were a few bushes. Then Dave took out the spark plug
from the dashboard and placed it in his pocket.

“I don’t believe anybody will bother that car,” he said.

“Perhaps we won’t be gone very long anyhow, Dave. This may prove to be a
blind road leading to nothing.”

They pushed on side by side. As it was very warm they had discarded
their dust-coats and their goggles. Each had seen to it that his pistol
was ready for use, for there was no telling what might confront them.

A little farther on the road took a turn, and here became so stony that
the tracks made by the wheels of the car they were following were
completely lost. But as there was no place where the machine might have
turned around, they felt certain it had gone on.

“We had better keep quiet from now on, Roger,” said our hero in a low
voice. “And keep your ears and eyes wide open.”

Two hundred feet more were passed and then Dave came to a halt, at the
same time clutching his chum by the arm. From ahead they heard footsteps
coming down the rocky roadway. Both made a bound, and crouched behind
some trees and brushwood. The approaching person, whoever he was, came
closer; and presently the two youths saw that he was a middle-aged man
dressed in the garb of a gypsy.

“I’ve seen that fellow before! He is one of the gypsies who used to hang
around the outskirts of Crumville!” whispered Dave excitedly.

“Then he must be one of the chaps who ran off with Laura and Jessie!”
returned the senator’s son. “What shall we do?”

“Wait a minute. We want to make sure that he is alone.”

They waited until the gypsy had passed them and gone on a distance of a
hundred feet or more. He was evidently alone.

“Maybe we had better let him go,” whispered Roger. “That will make one
less to tackle, if the others are ahead of us.”

“He’s not going to get away,” answered Dave decidedly. “We may not meet
the others at all, and in that case we’d be very foolish to let this
fellow get out of our clutches. Come on! I’m going to make him a
prisoner!”

Making as little noise as possible, our hero went after the gypsy, who
had now passed a turn in the road and was out of sight. The senator’s
son followed, and soon both came up behind the fellow ahead.

The gypsy was taken completely by surprise. He had seated himself on a
rock to fix one of his shoes, and before he could regain his feet both
of the young civil engineers had him covered with their weapons.

“Throw up your hands and keep quiet,” demanded Dave sternly.

“Yes, don’t you dare to cry out,” added Roger. “If you do, you’ll get
shot.”

“What is this? For why do you stop me like this?” stammered the gypsy.
He was a tall, swarthy-looking fellow, with anything but a cheerful
countenance.

“You know well enough why we have stopped you,” returned Dave. “What
have you done with those two young ladies who belong in Crumville?”

“I know not’ing of any young ladies,” grumbled the gypsy. “You make big
mistake.”

“You do know!” cried Roger. “Now tell us the truth! Have you hurt those
young ladies?”

“I know not’ing,” was all the gypsy replied. And, try their best, that
was about all the two chums could get out of him.

Had the man not been covered by the pistols he would undoubtedly have
shown fight, but he was too cowardly to attempt anything under the
existing circumstances.

Not knowing what else to do with their prisoner, the two youths marched
him down the road and to where they had left the automobile. Here they
brought out a strong rope, and with this bound the gypsy’s hands and
feet and tied him fast to one of the trees.

“I guess he’ll stay there until we get back,” was Dave’s comment. “Now
then, are you going to tell us what became of those young ladies or
not?” he questioned. But to this the gypsy merely shook his head and
muttered something which neither of the young civil engineers could
understand.

“I don’t believe that fellow is altogether right in his mind,” said
Roger.

“Either that, Roger, or else he is shamming,” answered Dave. But Roger
was right, the fellow was not more than half-witted.

Leaving their prisoner, the two chums lost no time in making their way
along the side-road once more. They soon passed the point where they had
first caught sight of the gypsy. Here the roadway became fairly good for
a distance of several hundred feet, but beyond this were a number of
large rocks, and the road seemed to come to an end in a mass of
brushwood.

“Let us look around for wheel-tracks, Roger,” said Dave in a low voice.

Both began an eager search, and were soon rewarded by seeing where the
touring-car they were following had left the mountain road and passed in
among some trees and bushes on the right. Close at hand was a spring of
water, and beyond this the remains of a tumbled-down barn.

“I see the car!” whispered Dave, and pointed to the machine, which
rested behind some rocks and brushwood. One glance at the automobile
showed that it was deserted.

“They can’t be very far off,” said Roger in a low voice. “Dave, what do
you think we had better do next?”

“Let us get behind the trees and bushes and reconnoiter,” was the
answer. “Be very careful, Roger, so that you don’t expose yourself. We
don’t want to tumble into a hornet’s nest.”

“Don’t you think we had better go back to town and get help, or wait
until your Uncle Dunston arrives?”

“Maybe we’ll have to do that. But I want to discover where the girls are
first, if I possibly can.”

With extreme caution the young men moved along behind the trees. They
saw that from the dilapidated barn a trail ran over some rough rocks to
where was located a large bungalow. This had evidently been unused for
years, and was almost as dilapidated as the other building. One end of
the front porch had fallen down, and many of the windows had the glass
broken out of them.

“I’d like to wager that this is the place to which they brought the
girls,” whispered Roger.

“I think you’re right,” answered Dave. “And if that is so, and those
rascals are around here, we want to be more careful than ever.”

Nobody was in sight around the dilapidated bungalow, and not a sound
came from within. Presently, however, Dave noticed a thin wreath of
smoke curling up from the chimney.

“Somebody has got a fire in there—that’s sure,” he whispered. “I’m going
to work my way around to the kitchen side of the building.”

With added caution the two youths crept along among the trees and over
the rocks until they gained a point where they could look into the open
kitchen of the bungalow. Here they saw an old gypsy woman moving around
as if preparing a meal.

“I’ll bet that’s Mother Domoza, in fact, I’m almost certain of it,”
whispered our hero. And he was right, it was indeed the gypsy woman who
had caused so much trouble to the folks in Crumville.

The two chums crept closer, and were then able to see what Mother Domoza
was doing. She had prepared some things to eat over a small rusty stove
in the bungalow, and now she placed this food on a couple of tin plates.
Then, with the plates in one hand and a tin kettle of water in the
other, the old woman left the kitchen and entered the front part of the
bungalow.

“Do you know what I think?” said Roger excitedly. “I think she’s been
getting some food ready for the girls!”

“I’m going to follow her and find out,” answered Dave, with sudden
determination.

“But, Dave, we want to be careful! If those other fellows are around——”

“I know, Roger. But I was thinking that possibly we could get into the
bungalow without being seen. It is a big rambling affair, as you can
see, and it must have a lot of vacant rooms.”

Our hero led the way across a little clearing, and then entered the
kitchen of the house. Going to one of the doors, he listened intently
and heard Mother Domoza ascending a creaking pair of stairs. Then he
heard a door slam, after which, for the time being, all became silent.

Not daring to speak for fear of being overheard, our hero tiptoed his
way across what had been the living room of the bungalow and then to the
narrow stairs which led to the upper floor. Roger came close behind him,
and soon the pair stood on an upper landing. All was bare, the entire
building being devoid of everything but a few heavy pieces of furniture,
evidently left there years before because the owner did not think they
were worth carrying away.

“Oh! oh! please don’t do that! Please don’t!”

The unexpected cry came from a room at the end of a corridor. It was the
voice of a girl, and was immediately followed by some harsh words
uttered by the gypsy woman. Then the voice of another girl was heard.

“You let her alone! Don’t you dare to touch her, or touch me!”

“I’ll do as I please! I’ll make you behave yourselves!” came in the
voice of Mother Domoza. And then there followed some heavy footsteps and
several girlish screams.

Not waiting to hear more, Dave and Roger bounded down the corridor and
flung themselves against the door to the room from which the sounds had
issued. They had recognized the voices of Laura and Jessie, and were
more than eager to go to the girls’ assistance.

The door had been closed, and evidently something had been placed
against it. But the two young civil engineers were strong and their
excitement gave them additional strength. They flung the door open
readily, sending a bench before it. As they did this they found
themselves confronted by Mother Domoza, her eyes blazing with commingled
astonishment and anger.

“You—you!” she shrieked. “What do you want here?”

“It’s Dave!” shrieked Jessie.

“And Roger!” exclaimed Laura.

Then the two girls attempted to move toward the two youths, but their
way was barred by Mother Domoza.

“You get out of here! You have no right here!” screamed the old gypsy
hag, and in her sudden fury she hurled herself at the two young civil
engineers, sending them out into the corridor. Then she tried to shut
the door of the room behind her.

But now Dave’s blood was up, and he knew it would be useless to attempt
to argue with the old hag. He made a leap forward, caught her by the
arm, and swung her around. As he did this, Roger caught the old hag by
the other arm, and between them they ran her down the corridor. Here
they saw the open door to a vacant room, and into this they thrust the
old woman, who, by this time, was screaming at the top of her lungs. The
door had a hook with a staple to it, and this they locked.

“Now you behave yourself and keep still,” ordered Dave. “If you don’t,
you’ll get into worse trouble than ever.”

“Oh, Dave! is it really you?” came from the room at the other end of the
corridor.

“Roger! Roger!” burst out Laura, “can’t you come and release us?”

“We are chained fast to the floor,” explained Jessie.

“We’ll release you, and we’ll get you out of here in no time,” answered
Dave; and then he and his chum ran back to where the girls were
confined.

They had just passed into the room and were hard at work on some chains
which bound the two girls to rings in the floor, when there came an
unexpected interruption. They heard footsteps in the corridor, and an
instant later several gypsy men appeared. Then, before they could make a
move to escape or show fight, the door to the room was slammed shut and
they heard the click of a heavy lock.

Dave and Roger were prisoners in company with those they had sought to
rescue.

[Illustration: “YOU HAVE NO RIGHT HERE!” SCREAMED THE OLD GYPSY HAG.
_Page 275._]



                             CHAPTER XXVIII
                               PRISONERS


For a moment after they were made prisoners Dave and his chum thought to
try an attack upon the door, in an endeavor to batter it down. But then
a command from the corridor made them pause.

“Now, you keep quiet in there and behave yourselves,” said a voice in
fairly good English. “We are armed, and we mean business.”

“Who is it who is talking?” asked Dave.

“That’s none of your business, young man. You keep quiet or it will be
the worse for you.”

“Say, Tony, you are wanted downstairs,” put in another voice out in the
corridor. “There may be more of those spies around.”

“All right, Carlos,” was the quick reply. Then the gypsy called Tony
raised his voice. “Now you fellows settle down and don’t try any funny
work. Remember we are all armed and know how to shoot.”

“Look here, we want to talk this matter over,” said Dave, as he heard
the gypsy prepare to go below.

“I haven’t got time now. I’ll be back later. Now, no funny work
remember, or you’ll get the worst of it!” and then those in the room
heard the gypsies tramp downstairs. Mother Domoza had joined them, and
all seemed to be in an angry discussion among themselves.

“Oh, Dave, do be careful!” pleaded Jessie. “They are dreadful people,
and I am afraid they will shoot us!”

“Yes, you must both be very careful,” put in Laura. “I heard one of them
say that if our folks attempted to follow them, there would surely be
some shooting;” and the girl shuddered.

“Have they done you any harm?” questioned Roger, quickly.

“They have treated us very rudely, and they have given us awful food,”
answered the daughter of the jewelry manufacturer.

“They wanted us to aid them in a demand for money, but we would not do
it,” explained Laura. “We have had some dreadful quarrels, and that old
Mother Domoza has been exceedingly hateful to us. Just now, when she
brought in some food, she said we must write a letter home for money,
and when we said we wouldn’t do it, she caught Jessie by the arm and
shook her.”

Each of the girls was chained to a ring in the flooring by means of a
heavy steel dog-collar fastened around her ankle and to a chain which
had another steel dog-collar on the other end passed through a ring in
the floor.

“They keep us chained up about half the time,” explained Laura.

“But not at night, I hope?” returned Dave.

“No. At night Mother Domoza releases us so we can go into the adjoining
room where there is an old mattress on the floor on which we have to
sleep. Mother Domoza, or one of the other gypsies, remains on guard in
the hallway outside.”

“What about the windows?” questioned Roger.

“They are all nailed up, as you can see. Once we tried to pry one of
them open, but the gypsies heard it, and stopped us.”

The two youths made a hasty inspection of the two rooms in which the
girls were kept prisoners. Each apartment was about twelve feet square,
and each contained a window which was now nailed down and had heavy
slats of wood taken from the tumbled-down piazza nailed across the
outside. The inner room, which contained the mattress already mentioned,
had also a small clothing closet in it, and in this the girls had placed
the few belongings which had been in Laura’s suit-case at the time they
had been kidnapped.

“They took our handbags with our money away from us,” explained Jessie.

Of course the girls wanted to know how it was that Dave and Roger had
gotten on the trail, and they listened eagerly to the story the chums
had to tell.

“Oh, I knew you would come, Dave!” cried Jessie, with tears in her eyes.
“I told Laura all along that you would leave Montana and come here just
as soon as you heard of it;” and she clung tightly to our hero, while
the look in her bedimmed eyes bespoke volumes.

“Yes, and I said Roger would come,” added Laura, with a warm look at the
senator’s son.

“There’s one thing we can’t understand at all,” said Dave. “How was it
that you left that train at Crandall, went to the hotel there, and then
walked out on that country road to where the automobile was?”

“Oh, that was the awfulest trick that ever was played!” burst out Laura.
“They must have planned it some days ahead, or they never could have
done it.”

“Tell me,” broke in Roger suddenly, “wasn’t the driver of that car Nick
Jasniff?”

“I think he was,” answered Dave’s sister. “We accused him of being
Jasniff, but he denied it. Nevertheless, both of us feel rather certain
that it is the same fellow who robbed Mr. Wadsworth’s factory.”

“We suspected Jasniff almost from the start,” said Dave. “But go
ahead—tell us how they got you to leave the train and go to where they
had the automobile.”

“You see, it was this way,” explained Laura. “At the very first station
where the train stopped, a messenger came through the car calling out my
name. He had a telegram for me, which read something like this: ‘We are
on an auto tour to Boston. If you want to ride with us, leave train at
Crandall and meet us at the Bliss House. Telegraph answer from
Glenwood.’ And the telegram was signed, ‘Mrs. Frank Browning.’”

“Mrs. Frank Browning?” repeated Dave. “Do you mean the girl you used to
know so well—Edith Parshall?”

“Yes, Dave. You know she is married, and her husband has a fine big
touring-car. They left Crumville for a trip a few days before we went
away. They were at our house talking about the tour the night before
they started.”

“I see,” answered Dave, nodding understandingly. “Go on.”

“Jessie and I talked it over, and as we were very much crowded in the
day coach—you know we couldn’t get parlor-car chairs—we thought it would
be a fine thing to accept Mrs. Browning’s invitation. So at Glenwood we
sent a telegram, stating we would meet them at the Bliss House in
Crandall. The train met with some kind of an accident, and we were
stalled just outside Crandall; but we got out with a number of others
and walked to the town.”

“Of course Mrs. Browning had nothing to do with the telegram,” put in
Jessie.

“Just as we got to the hotel in Crandall, a boy came up with a note and
asked if either of us knew Laura Porter. I took the note, and from the
way it was written supposed that Mrs. Browning had sent it. It stated
that they had had a blow-out, and her husband was fixing the car some
distance down the road, and wouldn’t we walk down there and meet them?”

“So, instead of going into the hotel, we went down the road as the boy
told us,” said Jessie. “He pointed out the car, and then ran away to
join some girls who were in a yard not very far off. We went up to the
car, and the next thing we knew we were caught up and thrown inside, and
the car went down the road at breakneck speed.”

“Who was in the car?” questioned Dave.

“Mother Domoza and a tall gypsy, who we found out was Tony Bopeppo, the
man you were just talking to. The fellow who drove the car was the chap
we afterward suspected of being Jasniff. He wore a false mustache and a
wig, and I am sure he had his face stained.”

“Didn’t you struggle or cry out?” questioned Roger.

“To be sure we did! But the old gypsy hag had something on a
handkerchief which she placed to our faces, and then we went off into
something like a swoon. When we recovered, we found we were bound hands
and feet with pieces of clothes-line. The automobile was going along at
a lively rate, and we bumped over some terrible rocks. Then we began to
climb a long hill, and after a little while the automobile came to a
stop among some trees. There we were met by several other gypsies, and
the whole crowd made us walk to this house and marched us up to these
rooms—and here we are!”

“And now they have captured you, too!” cried Jessie. “Oh, this is worse
than ever!”

“Don’t you worry too much,” whispered Dave, lowering his voice so that
anybody outside the door might not hear. “When we were at a town a few
miles away from here, we sent word to Crumville, and Uncle Dunston is
coming out to this neighborhood.”

And then in a low voice Dave and Roger related how they had been
following up the trail from Frytown, and had captured one of the gypsies
and tied him to a tree.

“Oh, if we could only get word to Uncle Dunston!” murmured Laura.

The girls had had no food since early morning, and so they were hungry.
Nevertheless they insisted upon it that the boys share what was on the
tin plates left by Mother Domoza, and each washed down the scanty meal
with a draught of water from the tin kettle.

“Dave, what do you think they will do with all of us?” questioned his
sister, after the situation had been discussed from several angles. The
gypsies were still downstairs and in the woods surrounding the bungalow.

“Their idea is to make a lot of money out of this,” was the reply. “But
they are not going to do so if I can prevent it. I’m going to get out of
here somehow, and then notify the authorities, and have these rascals
rounded up.”

“That’s the talk!” returned Roger. “Come on—let us make an inspection of
these rooms and see what can be done.”

“I’m going to release the girls first,” said Dave, and getting out his
penknife, he opened the file blade and began work on the steel band
which encircled Jessie’s ankle.

Seeing this, Roger employed himself on the band which held Laura
prisoner, and soon the youths had the satisfaction of setting the two
girls free.

“Those gypsies will be very angry when they find out that you have
ruined the chains,” remarked Jessie.

“We’ll have to take our chances on that,” answered Dave.

“We are still armed, even if we are prisoners,” put in Roger. “I guess
we could put up a pretty stiff fight if we had to.”

“Oh, Roger, I hope there won’t be any shooting!” cried Laura, in horror.

“There won’t be, unless they start something,” answered the senator’s
son.

The two young men began a careful inspection of the two rooms. Although
the bungalow was old and dilapidated in many places, the timbers of
which it was built were heavy, and they found the walls and the floor,
as well as the ceiling, intact. The only place that looked as if it
might afford some means of escape was the little closet where the girls
had hung up some of the articles contained in Laura’s suit-case. Here,
by standing on a bench, Dave found that one of the boards in the closet
ceiling was loose. He was just about to make an investigation of what
was beyond this loose board, when there came a sharp knock on the door
leading to the corridor.

“I want Dave Porter to step out here!” said a voice. “I want to talk to
him!”



                              CHAPTER XXIX
                            TRYING TO ESCAPE


“Oh, Dave, don’t go!” cried Jessie, as he walked toward the door, and
she caught him by the arm.

“I don’t think I’d trust myself out there alone, Dave,” cautioned Roger
in a low voice. “I think the best thing we can do under the present
circumstances is to stick together.”

Dave hesitated. He realized that what his chum said might be true. Then
his hand went into the pocket where he had his automatic pistol.

“I’ve got this, Roger. I think I can defend myself,” he said.

“Oh, Dave, I’d hate to see any shooting!” whispered his sister.

“There won’t be any shooting unless they start things,” he answered.

“Say, Dave Porter, are you coming out or not?” demanded the voice of the
person in the corridor.

“Is that you, Nick Jasniff?” asked our hero quickly, for he was quite
sure that he recognized the voice.

“Who told you I was Nick Jasniff?” grumbled the fellow outside.

“Never mind that now, Jasniff. What do you want?”

“You are making a mistake about me, Dave Porter. I want you to come
outside so I can talk to you.”

“Is the door unlocked?”

“It is. But don’t you try any funny work, because we are well armed, and
we don’t intend to take any chances so far as you and Roger Morr are
concerned.”

With caution Dave opened the door several inches, and peered out into
the corridor. He saw the disguised person he suspected of being Nick
Jasniff standing there, and behind him were several others, evidently
gypsies.

“This is a fine piece of business for you to be in, Jasniff,” he said
sharply. For a close look at the face in front of him had convinced him
that the rascal was really the fellow who had escaped from prison.

“Humph, you needn’t preach to me, Dave Porter! I guess I’ve now got you
just where I want you!” answered Nick Jasniff, seeing it would be
useless to deny his identity any longer.

“That remains to be seen. Fellows like you always get to the end of
their rope sooner or later.”

“We won’t waste words on that just now, Porter. What I want to know is,
did you and Morr come here alone or are there others hiding in the
woods?”

“Do you think I’d be fool enough to tell you our plans?” demanded Dave.

“You’ll tell me everything, Porter, and do it pretty quick!” snarled
Nick Jasniff, flying into a sudden rage. “Don’t you see that you are
entirely in our hands, and that we can do as we please with all of you?
Unless you tell me everything I want to know, we are coming in there and
take those two girls away and leave you two fellows here, bound and
gagged. Then, if nobody comes to rescue you, you can starve to death. Do
you get me?”

“Oh, Dave! don’t let them do anything like that!” pleaded Jessie, who
had been listening over his shoulder to what was said.

“Don’t worry about their binding and gagging us—at least not while we
are armed,” put in Roger.

“See here, Jasniff, you can talk all you please, but we do not intend to
let you carry out your threats,” said Dave. “Both Morr and I are well
armed, and we know how to shoot. In a very short time this place will be
completely surrounded and you will be made prisoners.”

“It isn’t so!” cried the former bully of Oak Hall; but the tone of his
voice showed his uneasiness.

“It may be so!” cried one of the gypsies quickly. “Remember, Carmenaldo
did not return. That looks bad.”

The gypsies began to whisper among themselves, and then one of them
pulled Jasniff back.

“We had better go out again and take another look around,” he said in a
hoarse whisper. “That young man may speak the truth, and we do not want
to run any chances of being captured in such a game as this. If we find
the woods clear, we can then come back and settle with these intruders.”

“All right, have your own way,” grumbled Jasniff. “Just the same, I
think they came here alone. Didn’t I see them alone at that hotel?”

The gypsies were evidently too disturbed to argue the matter further,
and they pushed forward and closed the door in Dave’s face. Then those
inside the room heard the lock fastened once more and heard the gypsies
tramp away and down the stairs.

“Oh, Dave, I’m so glad you didn’t get into a fight!” cried Jessie, her
face showing momentary relief.

“While they are gone let us see if we can escape by way of the opening
in the top of the closet,” suggested Roger.

“Hush, not so loud!” whispered Dave. “One of the gypsies or Nick Jasniff
may still be in the corridor listening.”

“I’ll tell you what let’s do,” returned the senator’s son in an equally
low voice. “Let the two girls stay here and do some pretty loud talking.
That will cover up any noise that we may make in the closet. Then, if
there is a chance to get out, we’ll have to lay a plan as to just how to
do it.”

This suggestion was carried out, and the two girls began to talk
hurriedly and in a loud tone of voice close to the door leading to the
corridor. In the meantime, Dave and Roger went to the closet, and both
made an investigation of the ceiling. Here, as stated before, one board
was loose, and they soon managed to pry up another.

“Now boost me up, Roger, and I’ll investigate further,” said our hero.

Dave presently found himself in a dark place directly under the sloping
roof of the bungalow. In its highest part, the roof was but four feet
from the flooring, so he had to stoop as he felt his way around. He soon
came to a sort of hatchway; the cover to this he raised cautiously.
Below was a vacant room which had once been used as a bed-chamber.
Around the opening where Dave stood was a mass of discarded household
things and several packages of magazines which had evidently been
brought up to the little garret-like opening by means of a ladder, but
now the ladder was missing.

Our hero lit a match, and this brief illumination showed him several
large bundles of magazines still tied together with some old rope. He
quickly possessed himself of the rope, and found it still usable. Then
he went back to the closet where Roger awaited him, and told of what he
had discovered.

“Do you think we can make our escape that way?” questioned the senator’s
son eagerly.

“I don’t know about that, Roger. We might try.”

The matter was discussed for several minutes with the girls, and all
decided that they had better do what they could to secure their freedom
without delay. Dave brought down one of the boards from the flooring
above, and setting the bench up endways placed one end of the board upon
it, thus making a sort of gangplank. Up this he and Roger assisted the
girls, and then followed to the little garret-like enclosure above.

“Now I think I had better go down into that other room first and look
around,” said our hero, and let himself down by means of the rope which
he had found and which he fastened to a staple at the side of the
hatchway.

Once below, Dave tiptoed his way around cautiously. There was a window
to the room, and this looked out on the top of a little porch, beyond
which were a number of trees. Then he went to the door and opened it
cautiously. He saw a little corridor opening into that which led to the
stairs. From below came a murmur of voices.

“I don’t think we can get away by going below,” he explained to the
others, after they had joined him; “but that looks pretty good to me,”
and he pointed out of the window to the roof of the porch and the trees
so close at hand.

“Oh, that’ll be easy if they don’t catch sight of us getting down,”
answered Roger quickly.

The glass of the window was gone; nevertheless, they had to raise the
lower sash before any of them could get out on the roof of the porch.
This was much dilapidated, and creaked as they stepped upon it.

“Oh, Dave! you don’t suppose it will break down with us?” cried Jessie.

“Jump for the trees if it starts to go,” he answered, and the words had
barely left his lips when the old porch began to sag. A moment later it
collapsed completely, sending all of the young people to the ground.

It was a most unexpected tumble. As they went down Dave made a grab for
Jessie and did what he could to save her from getting hurt. Both landed
in some bushes, and Laura and Roger came down beside them.

With the sudden collapse of the porch, there was a cry of alarm in the
lower part of the bungalow, and some person, evidently one of the
gypsies, set up a yell from somewhere among the trees.

“Come!” cried Dave, as he pulled Jessie to her feet. “We’ve no time to
spare! Let us get out of sight as quickly as possible!”

He glanced over his shoulder, to see that Roger had Laura by the arm and
was forcing her along. All four ran among the trees, not knowing,
however, in which direction they were heading.

“Oh, Dave, they are after us!” panted Jessie.

Our hero glanced back and saw that several gypsies and Nick Jasniff had
just emerged from the bungalow, some with pistols and others with clubs
in their hands.

“This way, quick!” he exclaimed, and pointed to a little gully but a few
feet away.

He and Jessie leaped into this, and Roger and Laura immediately
followed. The hollow was filled with weeds and brushwood.

“Say, can’t we hide here?” asked Roger.

“They’d be after us in a minute, Roger,” answered Dave. “Come on!” and
he pushed his way down along the hollow until they reached the tiny
watercourse which flowed from the spring near the roadway. Here was a
heavy clump of trees, some of the branches close to the ground.

“Now then, up you go!” cried Dave, and he and Roger assisted the two
girls into the nearest tree branches. Then the young men hauled
themselves up.

“Now climb up as high as you can,” directed Dave to Jessie and his
sister. And then all four went up the tree a distance of twenty feet or
more.

“Where did they go?” cried someone who stood close to the watercourse.

“I don’t know. But they must be somewhere in this vicinity,” answered
the voice of Nick Jasniff.

Hardly daring to breathe, the four in the tree listened to what was
taking place below. They heard Nick Jasniff and several of the gypsies
tramping around, first in one direction and then in another.

“Are you sure they all got away?” questioned one of the gypsies, of
another who had just arrived.

“Yes. The room was empty and we have searched the house thoroughly.”

“Then I guess the game is up,” growled a third.

“What’s the use of giving up so soon?” grumbled Nick Jasniff. “I believe
they are hiding around here somewhere, and I don’t believe there is
anybody else near. I think the best thing you can do, Bopeppo, is to
call in all those other fellows and begin a search for them. Eight of us
ought to be able to handle two fellows and two girls without much
trouble.”

After that Jasniff and Bopeppo moved around again through the woods in
the immediate vicinity of the bungalow. One of them had discovered where
the party of four had jumped into the gully leading to the watercourse,
and now he set up a sudden shout:

“They came this way! Here are their footprints!”

“Where do they lead to, Vazala?” questioned Nick Jasniff eagerly.

“They lead to right here!” answered Carlos Vazala, pointing to some
impressions in the damp ground and some overturned stones.

“I bet they went up into these trees!” cried Jasniff. He raised his
voice. “If you are up there you might as well come down,” he commanded.
“If you don’t, we’ll come up there and bring you down.”



                              CHAPTER XXX
                        THE ROUND-UP—CONCLUSION


“Oh, Dave, do you think——” began Jessie in a low voice, when a look of
warning from our hero stopped her.

“You can’t fool us!” cried Nick Jasniff, after a moment of silence. “Are
you coming down, or shall I come up and bring you down?”

To this none of those in the tree replied. All kept silent, scarcely
daring to breathe. Jessie was clinging to Dave’s arm, and Roger had a
protecting hand on Laura’s shoulder. Each of the young civil engineers
had his pistol ready for any emergency which might arise. They heard a
movement below as if either Nick Jasniff or one of the gypsies was
starting to climb the tree.

“Oh, don’t let them come up here!” whispered Laura, unable to remain
silent longer.

“Yes, yes, make them stay on the ground!” breathed Jessie.

“Stop where you are!” cried Dave in stern tones. “Don’t you dare come a
foot closer if you value your life.”

“Don’t you shoot me!” exclaimed Nick Jasniff.

“Then you get back on the ground, Jasniff, just as quick as you can,”
answered Roger. “We won’t stand any more of your nonsense!” and at these
words Nick Jasniff lost no time in dropping out of the tree.

The gypsies and the fellow who had escaped from prison began to talk
among themselves, but in such a low tone of voice that those in the tree
could not make out what was being said.

“What do you suppose they’ll do next?” questioned Jessie anxiously.

“They’ll try to get us down somehow; but I’m not going,” answered Roger
stubbornly.

“But they may keep us up here all night—or even longer!” returned Laura.

“Are you going to give in or not?” demanded Nick Jasniff in a loud tone
of voice.

“I don’t see why we should give in,” answered Dave.

“You’ll have to do it, Porter, sooner or later. Can’t you see that we’ve
got the bulge on you? If you don’t give in now, we’ll keep you up in
that tree until you change your mind. The best thing you can do is to
drop your pistols and give yourselves up. If you’ll do that we’ll
promise to treat you well and let you go as soon as we receive that
ransom we are expecting.”

“We don’t intend to give in,” answered Dave, after a few words with
Roger.

“All right then, we’ll let it go at that—for the present,” answered Nick
Jasniff. “I think you’ll change your tune after you have spent a night
in that tree and are good and hungry,” he added cunningly. “And let me
tell you, if anybody tries to escape he’ll get shot.”

After that there was a long period of silence. Evidently some of the
gypsies had moved away, but it was more than likely that the others were
keeping on guard in the vicinity of the tree. What had become of Nick
Jasniff those who were concealed among the branches could not surmise.

It must be confessed that Dave and those with him were in a great
quandary. They did not wish to remain in the tree indefinitely, and yet
to make another break for liberty might be decidedly perilous.

The best part of an hour passed, and then Dave and the others heard some
of the gypsies calling to each other.

“Dobado is back, and he has news!” they heard some one cry.

“Did they find Carmenaldo?” asked another voice.

“They did not.”

“Perhaps that half-witted fool has gone back on us,” came in the voice
of Nick Jasniff. “I said it wouldn’t be wise to let that fellow into the
game.”

“Carmenaldo is all right. He can be trusted,” answered the voice of
Mother Domoza. She was an aunt to the half-witted gypsy and she did not
like to have any one speak ill of him.

Then began a hurried consultation among the gypsies, and the whole crowd
moved down in the direction of the tree in which our friends were
hiding.

“Ha, you are a pack of cowards not to get them out of the tree!” cried
Mother Domoza. “Had I the strength to climb, I’d get them out
single-handed.”

“We’d bring them down quick enough, were it not that they are armed,”
answered Tony Bopeppo.

There was a warm discussion, the old gypsy woman urging the men to go up
into the tree and bring down our hero and the others.

In the midst of the discussion Dave heard a sound which thrilled him to
the heart. Far off from the direction of the main road between Frytown
and Cullomburg came the honk of an automobile horn twice repeated.

“Roger, did you hear that?” he cried in a low voice. “Listen!” and a
moment later the double honk was repeated.

“Why, it sounds like the horn on your auto!” exclaimed the senator’s
son.

“That’s just what it is! And didn’t you hear—it sounded out twice in
rapid succession? Listen! there it goes again! That’s the signal from my
Uncle Dunston!”

“Oh, Dave! can it be Uncle Dunston?” exclaimed his sister.

“That’s just who it is!” he answered, great relief showing itself in his
voice. “I’m going to answer back!” and pulling out his pistol, Dave
fired two shots in the air in rapid succession.

“Hi! hi! what are you doing?” roared a voice from below. “Don’t you dare
to shoot at us!”

“We are not shooting at you,” answered Dave quick-wittedly. “I am trying
my pistol to see that it is in good order.”

“Huh, you’ll get no chance to use that pistol on us,” growled Nick
Jasniff.

All in the tree paid but scant attention to what was said below. They
were listening intently. An instant later came two more honks from the
distant automobile.

“Give them two more shots, Roger!” cried our hero. “I’m going up to the
top of the tree to look around,” and he began to climb with vigor.

From the top of the tree Dave could get a fairly good view of the
surroundings. He soon made out the little side-road and the point where
it ran into the main highway. Then he spotted an automobile containing
four or five men. Another auto was on the main highway but a short
distance away.

Standing on the topmost branch of the tree and holding fast with one
hand, Dave waved his cap with the other and then fired two more shots
from his pistol. Those in the automobile were evidently on the alert,
and a second later our hero saw that his signal had been seen. One man
jumped up in the front automobile and waved his arms, and then the
automobile moved forward rapidly up the little side-road.

“They have seen us, and they are coming in this direction!” cried Dave,
as he lowered himself to where the others rested in the tree. “I’ll give
them another signal, so that they won’t go astray,” and a few seconds
later two more shots rent the air.

“Hi, you! what are you doing up there, anyway?” came uneasily from Nick
Jasniff.

“An automobile is coming!” came in a yell from a distance. “An
automobile with a number of men in it!”

“We’ve been betrayed!” added another of the gypsies. “We must run for it
or we’ll be captured!”

“The automobile! Why can not we ride away in the automobile?” asked
Mother Domoza, in sudden panic.

“We can’t use it! That other auto will block the road!” answered Nick
Jasniff.

By this time a shouting was heard from the narrow roadway as the first
automobile came closer, quickly followed by the second car.

“Hello, Uncle Dunston! is that you?” yelled Dave at the top of his
lungs.

“Yes, Dave!” came the answering cry. “Where are you?”

“We are all here in a tree in the woods,” answered Roger.

“Are the girls safe?”

“Yes,” returned Dave. “Never mind us—go after those gypsies and after
Nick Jasniff.”

“We’ll do that all right enough!” answered Dunston Porter.

“They are the kidnappers, don’t let them get away!” yelled Roger.

The men who had accompanied Dunston Porter needed no further urging.
They knew many of the particulars concerning the case, and had been
promised a large reward if they would give their aid in rounding up the
kidnappers and saving the two girls. One man was a local constable, and
two were detectives, while the others were men who had been picked up in
the town and pressed into service because of their strength and
willingness to fight. The whole crowd leaped from the automobiles and
lost no time in giving chase to the fleeing criminals.

“I’m going to join in this hunt, Roger!” exclaimed Dave. And then he
added to the two girls: “You had better remain where you are until we
come back.”

He dropped out of the tree just in time to see his Uncle Dunston making
after one of the gypsies and Nick Jasniff. Several shots were fired,
which, however, took no effect, and then the criminals dived out of
sight between a number of trees.

Dave’s blood was up, and he made up his mind that Nick Jasniff should be
captured if it were possible to do so. Roger had followed him out of the
tree, and now both made after the rascal who had escaped from prison.

“You get back! Don’t you dare to follow me!” howled Jasniff, and
flourished a revolver at them. He pulled the trigger, but the weapon
failed to go off, and then the rascal continued to run.

“We ought to shoot him!” exclaimed the senator’s son.

But as he spoke he saw Nick Jasniff trip over a tree root and go
sprawling. Before the fellow could arise, Dave was on him. Jasniff tried
to catch our hero by the throat, and in return received a blow in the
chin which all but stunned him.

That the chase after the fleeing gypsies was going on in earnest was
testified to by the sounds coming from various quarters of the woods on
the mountainside. Exclamations and cries rent the air, punctuated every
now and then by a pistol shot or the discharge of a shotgun. One of the
gypsy men was hit in the leg and fell, and Mother Domoza received part
of a charge of shot in her right hand.

“We’ll disarm him and tie his hands behind him,” said Dave to Roger,
referring to Jasniff. And despite the protests of the fellow who had
escaped from prison this was speedily done. Then Jasniff was marched
along to the foot of the tree in which the girls were hiding, and there
Roger stood guard over him, while Dave assisted Jessie and his sister to
the ground.

In less than half an hour the impromptu fight came to a finish. Mother
Domoza and three of the leading gypsies had been captured. The others
had escaped into the mountains, but a posse was organized, and all of
them were rounded up inside of twenty-four hours.

“Oh, Uncle Dunston, I am so glad to see you!” cried Laura, when the
uncle put in an appearance.

“And I am glad, too!” exclaimed Jessie.

“Are either of you hurt?” questioned Dunston Porter quickly.

“No, not in the least,” answered the daughter of the jewelry
manufacturer. “But we have been horribly frightened.”

“You didn’t pay the gypsies or Jasniff any reward, did you?” questioned
Dave quickly.

“No, Dave; although we might have done so if we hadn’t got the word that
you sent by telephone.”

As far as our friends went, it was a happy little party that gathered in
the bungalow a short while after. The girls were inclined to be somewhat
hysterical, and the young men and Dunston Porter did all they could to
quiet them.

“As soon as I discovered your automobile in the bushes I knew that you
must be somewhere in this vicinity,” explained Dunston Porter. “We had
come in to Frytown from Crandall less than an hour before.”

“But how did you get to Crandall so quickly?” questioned Roger.

“As soon as I got word from Dave I set the wires to working, and through
the authorities had the Boston Express stop both at Crumville and
Crandall, so that brought us up here in no time.”

“Did you see that fellow we had tied to the tree?” questioned Dave.

“Oh, yes, I found him directly after I located your auto. I tried to get
something out of him, but he seemed a bit off in his mind. Then I
remembered that signal you had spoken about and used it on the auto
horn.”

“Oh, won’t I be glad to get back to Crumville!” murmured Jessie.

“That’s right,” answered Laura. “I don’t think we want to make that trip
to Boston just now. I want to get home and see the rest of the folks.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

And now let me add a few words more and then bring this story of “Dave
Porter’s Great Search” to a close.

The whole party found themselves that night at the Bliss House in
Crandall, where they would have to remain until morning. Word had been
sent to Crumville, and it can well be imagined how happy those at home
were when they received the glad tidings that the girls were safe and
that those who had kidnapped them had been captured.

“Oh, Dave, it was simply wonderful how you and Roger got on the trail of
Jasniff and those awful gypsies!” remarked Jessie, in talking the matter
over.

“It was certainly very clever work,” put in Laura. “I think I’ll have to
have medals of honor struck off for both of you”; and this remark
brought a happy laugh all around.

The criminals had been taken in charge by the authorities, and the
following day found them safe behind the bars. It may be added here that
later on all of the gypsies, including Mother Domoza, were tried and
sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Nick Jasniff was returned to
the prison from which he had escaped.

“He’ll have to serve his old sentence over again,” explained Dunston
Porter. “After he has finished with that, they will probably try him for
this kidnapping affair, so that it’s likely he will not mingle with
honest people for a good many years to come.”

On being taken to prison, Jasniff was closely questioned and finally
gave the particulars of how he had stolen the battered touring-car, come
to Crumville in disguise, learned that the girls were going to take the
trip to Boston, and arranged with the gypsies to do the kidnapping.

“Oh, what a misspent life!” was Laura’s comment.

“Well, he has no one to blame for it but himself,” was Roger’s blunt
reply.

The home-coming of the two girls, accompanied by Dave, Roger and Dunston
Porter, was made a gala occasion at Crumville. Many of their friends
were on hand to greet them, and Mrs. Wadsworth shed tears of joy when
she embraced her daughter and Laura.

“I shall never forget what you have done,” said Mr. Wadsworth to Dave
and Roger. “It was grand—simply grand!” and he wiped the moisture from
his eyes.

“I knew Davy would do it,” quavered Caspar Potts, nodding his head over
and over again. “He’s a great boy—my Davy is!”

As for Dave’s father, the man could hardly speak, but the way he grasped
his son’s hand spoke volumes.

The two young civil engineers could not resist the temptation to send a
so-called night letter over the wires to those at the construction camp
in Montana, telling of what had been accomplished and stating that they
would soon be back at work. This message caused even Ralph Obray to
become enthusiastic.

“They are certainly great boys,” he said to Frank Andrews.

“The finest lads we have in camp,” answered the other. “I’m certainly
glad they joined us. Some day they’ll make their mark.”

“I believe you!”

Now that the young civil engineers had found the two girls they were
loath to separate from them. The young folks had many hours of happiness
together, which the older heads did not have the heart to interrupt.

“They certainly think the world and all of each other,” said Mr. Porter
to Mr. Wadsworth, referring to Dave and Jessie.

“So they do, and I am not sorry for it,” answered the jewelry
manufacturer. “And I notice that Roger thinks a good deal of your
daughter Laura.”

“You are right. And that pleases me, too,” returned Dave’s father.

“Well, we’ve got to start back for the West to-morrow,” announced Dave
one day.

“Right you are!” answered the senator’s son. “I suppose after this there
won’t be anything left for us to do but to work.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Roger. Something else may turn up sooner or later,”
returned our hero.

And he was right. Something else did turn up, and what that was will be
related in our next volume, to be entitled “Dave Porter Under Fire, or A
Young Army Engineer in France,” in which book we shall learn how our
hero and his chum “did their bit” for Uncle Sam.

“Becoming civil engineers has not been such a monotonous existence after
all,” said Roger. “Think of those strenuous times we had along the Rio
Grande and in Mexico, and then all those doings out in Montana, and when
we went after the gypsies and Jasniff.”

“They certainly were strenuous days, Roger,” answered Dave. “But now
we’ve got to buckle down to work if we want to become first-class,
full-fledged civil engineers.”

And here let us take our leave and bid Dave Porter good-bye.


                                THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       EDWARD STRATEMEYER’S BOOKS


                            Old Glory Series

              _Cloth. Illustrated. Net $1.75 per volume._

                     UNDER DEWEY AT MANILA.
                     A YOUNG VOLUNTEER IN CUBA.
                     FIGHTING IN CUBAN WATERS.
                     UNDER OTIS IN THE PHILIPPINES.
                     THE CAMPAIGN OF THE JUNGLE.
                     UNDER MacARTHUR IN LUZON.


                             Fortune Series

              _Cloth. Illustrated. Net $1.75 per volume._

                      ON TO PEKIN.
                      UNDER THE MIKADO’S FLAG.
                      AT THE FALL OF PORT ARTHUR.
                      WITH TOGO FOR JAPAN.


                            Colonial Series

              _Cloth. Illustrated. Net $1.75 per volume._

                      WITH WASHINGTON IN THE WEST.
                      MARCHING ON NIAGARA.
                      AT THE FALL OF MONTREAL.
                      ON THE TRAIL OF PONTIAC.
                      THE FORT IN THE WILDERNESS.
                      TRAIL AND TRADING POST.


                           Mexican War Series

             _Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume $1.00._

                     FOR THE LIBERTY OF TEXAS.
                     WITH TAYLOR ON THE RIO GRANDE.
                     UNDER SCOTT IN MEXICO.


                          Pan-American Series

             _Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume $1.00._

                    LOST ON THE ORINOCO.
                    THE YOUNG VOLCANO EXPLORERS.
                    YOUNG EXPLORERS OF THE ISTHMUS.
                    YOUNG EXPLORERS OF THE AMAZON.
                    TREASURE SEEKERS OF THE ANDES.
                    CHASED ACROSS THE PAMPAS.


                           Dave Porter Series

              _Cloth. Illustrated. Net $1.75 per volume._

                    DAVE PORTER AT OAK HALL.
                    DAVE PORTER IN THE SOUTH SEAS.
                    DAVE PORTER’S RETURN TO SCHOOL.
                    DAVE PORTER IN THE FAR NORTH.
                    DAVE PORTER AND HIS CLASSMATES.
                    DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH.
                    DAVE PORTER AND HIS RIVALS.
                    DAVE PORTER ON CAVE ISLAND.
                    DAVE PORTER AND THE RUNAWAYS.
                    DAVE PORTER IN THE GOLD FIELDS.
                    DAVE PORTER AT BEAR CAMP.
                    DAVE PORTER AND HIS DOUBLE.
                    DAVE PORTER’S GREAT SEARCH.
                    DAVE PORTER UNDER FIRE.
                    DAVE PORTER’S WAR HONORS.


                            Lakeport Series

              _Cloth. Illustrated. Net $1.75 per volume._

                    THE GUN CLUB BOYS OF LAKEPORT.
                    THE BASEBALL BOYS OF LAKEPORT.
                    THE BOAT CLUB BOYS OF LAKEPORT.
                    THE FOOTBALL BOYS OF LAKEPORT.
                    THE AUTOMOBILE BOYS OF LAKEPORT.
                    THE AIRCRAFT BOYS OF LAKEPORT.


                   American Boys’ Biographical Series

              _Cloth. Illustrated. Net $1.75 per volume._

               AMERICAN BOYS’ LIFE OF WILLIAM McKINLEY.
               AMERICAN BOYS’ LIFE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT.

                   DEFENDING HIS FLAG. _Price $1.75_



                           DAVE PORTER SERIES

                         By EDWARD STRATEMEYER


“Mr. Stratemeyer has seldom introduced a more popular hero than Dave
Porter. He is a typical boy, manly, brave, always ready for a good time
if it can be obtained in an honorable way.”—_Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wis._

“Edward Stratemeyer’s ‘Dave Porter’ has become exceedingly
popular.”—_Boston Globe._

“Dave and his friends are nice, manly chaps.”—_Times-Democrat, New
Orleans._

DAVE PORTER AT OAK HALL

                               Or The School Days of an American Boy

DAVE PORTER IN THE SOUTH SEAS

                               Or The Strange Cruise of the _Stormy
                               Petrel_

DAVE PORTER’S RETURN TO SCHOOL

                               Or Winning the Medal of Honor

DAVE PORTER IN THE FAR NORTH

                               Or The Pluck of an American Schoolboy

DAVE PORTER AND HIS CLASSMATES

                               Or For the Honor of Oak Hall

DAVE PORTER AT STAR RANCH

                               Or The Cowboy’s Secret

DAVE PORTER AND HIS RIVALS

                               Or The Chums and Foes of Oak Hall

DAVE PORTER ON CAVE ISLAND

                               Or A Schoolboy’s Mysterious Mission

DAVE PORTER AND THE RUNAWAYS

                               Or Last Days at Oak Hall

DAVE PORTER IN THE GOLD FIELDS

                               Or The Search for the Landslide Mine

DAVE PORTER AT BEAR CAMP

                               Or The Wild Man of Mirror Lake

DAVE PORTER AND HIS DOUBLE

                               Or The Disappearance of the Basswood
                               Fortune

DAVE PORTER’S GREAT SEARCH

                               Or The Perils of a Young Civil Engineer

DAVE PORTER UNDER FIRE

                               Or A Young Army Engineer in France

DAVE PORTER’S WAR HONORS

                               Or At the Front with the Fighting
                               Engineers


 For sale by all booksellers, or sent postpaid on receipt of price by the
                                publishers

                  Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.     Boston

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. Moved the advertising page at the beginning of the book to between
      the End and the advertising at the back.
 2. Silently corrected typographical errors.
 3. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.
 4. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.





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