"Do you really think so?"
"I certainly do."
"Then I will be very cautious. But I've just got to say something," declared Laura.
A STRANGE COMMUNICATION
The three boys had quite some sport going up the lake with Della Ford and her aunt as passengers. Being towed by the motor-boat, they had nothing to do but take it easy, and they spent the time in chatting of things in general, and of moving pictures and fun on Mirror Lake in particular.
"We would be pleased to have you come up some evening and take dinner with us," said Della Ford, after consulting with the manager of the moving-picture company. "Come up and bring that boy with his banjo, and we'll have a lot of fun."
"All right, we'll be up some time," answered Phil.
"And don't forget, Mr. Porter, that some day you're to show me how to catch a fish," called out the young actress.
"All right, I won't forget," answered Dave; and then the three boys pushed the rowboat away from the dock, and started upon the return to Bear Camp.
"She's a mighty pleasant girl, that's sure," remarked Phil, as he took it easy on the stern seat, while Dave and Roger plied the oars.
"I think Dave has made a hit with her," responded Roger, with a sly wink at the shipowner's son.
"If you don't look out I'll make a hit with somebody in this boat," declared Dave, his face flushing. "You attend to your rowing or we won't get back in time for dinner."
"I thought you said that fellow, Ward Porton, was going to join the company up here," remarked Phil, by way of changing the subject.
"All I know about it is what Mr. Appleby told me," returned Dave. "I'd like first-rate to see him again and ask him some more about Link Merwell."
"Do you think Link will come up here?" asked Roger.
"I don't know what to think. He is likely to do almost anything. But I doubt whether he will want to place himself in any position where we can get hold of him."
"What a fool Link has been," was Phil's comment.
When the rowboat returned to the dock at the camp, the boys found only Laura and Belle on the veranda of one of the bungalows.
"Where's Jessie?" asked Dave.
"She has a headache and is lying down," answered Laura, and looked at her brother closely.
"That's too bad," he answered. "Can't you do anything for it?"
"She wanted to be left alone, Dave."
"I wonder if I can't do something?"
"I don't think so."
Roger and Phil sat down on the veranda, and were soon joined by Luke and Shadow.
"Where is Ben?" questioned Roger.
"He went to Carpen Falls with his father and Mr. Porter for the mail," answered Mrs. Basswood, who had joined the group.
"I hope I get a letter from daddy," cried Belle. "Why, just think! I haven't had a letter for three days," she pouted.
"I'd like a letter, too," put in Phil. "I haven't had a word from home since I left," and his face clouded, as he remembered his father's troubles over the land question.
Dave had been seated on the end of the piazza, but now he arose and walked over to the other bungalow. Here he met Mrs. Wadsworth just coming from Jessie's room.
"It's only a slight headache, Dave," said the lady, in answer to his question. "I think Jessie will be all right in the morning. She thought she had better stay where she is this evening."
"I wish I could help her, Mrs. Wadsworth," returned the youth, quickly. "Isn't there something I can do?"
"Nothing that I know of," was the reply, and then Mrs. Wadsworth walked out of the bungalow to join her husband, who was smoking a cigar in a little pavilion that overlooked the lake.
Dave took a turn or two across the living-room. He was very much disturbed in mind, and felt that he ought to do something.
"I'll take a chance, and knock on the door anyhow," he told himself, and moving to the door of Jessie's room, he tapped lightly. Then, as there was no response, he tapped again.
"Who is it?" came from the girl.
"It is I, Jessie. Can't I do something for you?"
"No, I don't think you can," she returned, quickly.
"The others told me you had a headache. I'm very sorry to hear that. I wish I could do something to make you feel better."
"You can't do a thing."
"I might get a hot-water bottle, or some chopped ice, or—or—something," he faltered, not knowing how to go on.
"Oh, Dave, don't be silly!"
"Silly! So now I'm the one who's silly; am I?" he returned. But there was more of slyness than bitterness in his tone.
"Dave Porter! Was there ever such a boy! Now you must go away and leave me alone!"
"All right, Jessie, if you want me to go away I'll go. Just the same, I want you to know that I'm awfully, awfully sorry that you have a headache. I'd rather have it myself."
"Would you indeed?" There was a creaking of the couch, as if Jessie had turned and was sitting up. "Well, I don't want you to have a headache. They are not a bit nice! They are horrid!"
"Are you lying down?"
"I was lying down."
"Well, if you're not so very, very sick, Jessie, won't you just come to the door a minute? I want to tell you something," went on Dave, after a moment's hesitation.
The girl came slowly to the door, and opened it several inches, showing a mass of disheveled hair, and cheeks that had traces of tears on them.
"What do you want to tell me?"
"A good many things, Jessie," returned Dave, in a low tone. "First of all, I don't want you to be angry with me. I simply can't bear it. And besides, I don't think you have anything to be angry about."
"No, I don't. I think you misunderstand me. Why, Jessie, I wouldn't have anything come between us for the world, and you know it!"
"Do I?" The door opened a little wider.
"Yes, you do. You know there isn't any one that I care for one-tenth part as much as I care for you. I didn't go up the lake this afternoon because I particularly wanted to; and those people came here of their own accord."
"And I don't want you to act so cold, Jessie. Why, it cuts a fellow to the heart! If I thought——"
A wild yell, followed by several screams of terror from outside, interrupted the conversation. Dave stopped short to listen, and Jessie threw wide-open the door to do likewise. Another yell rang out, fierce and penetrating, and then came several more screams, and a rush of footsteps.
"Oh, Dave! what can it mean?" cried Jessie, in sudden alarm.
"I don't know. I guess I had better find out," he returned, and ran toward the front doorway.
"Be careful, Dave! be careful!" cautioned the girl, pleadingly. "Maybe it's a bear!"
"In that case I'd better get one of the guns," he returned.
The party had brought a number of firearms with them, and several of the pieces were hung up on the walls, loaded and ready for use. Catching up a double-barreled shotgun, Dave ran outside with Jessie at his heels. The commotion had continued, and now the youth found himself confronted by his sister and Belle.
"What is it, Laura?"
"I don't know, exactly. But it certainly was something awful!"
"I think it must have been a wild man," broke in Belle. "Anyhow, if it wasn't, I don't know what else it could have been."
The other boys had left the vicinity of the bungalows, and were running toward the woods, with Mr. Wadsworth following them.
"They saw something, but they don't know what it was," said Mrs. Wadsworth, who was plainly much agitated. "It let out the most awful yells you ever heard."
"Maybe it was that wild man, Wilbur Poole!" exclaimed Dave. "He might have followed us to this place, you know."
He ran on, and soon joined the other boys and Mr. Wadsworth, who had come to a halt at the edge of the clearing on which the bungalows were located.
"I think he disappeared over here!" cried Shadow.
"And I think he went this way!" returned Luke.
"When I saw him last he was by yonder bushes!" were Roger's words.
"I think he went over there, just as Shadow said!" came from Phil.
"Who was it?" asked Dave. "Wilbur Poole?"
"Whoever he was, he had the most outlandish rig on a fellow ever saw!" exclaimed Luke. "I think he must have borrowed it from some scarecrow."
"If that was Wilbur Poole we had better keep our eyes open for him," said Dave, seriously. He had not forgotten the trouble which the wild man who called himself the King of Sumatra had given him and his chums in the past.
"We were all sitting there enjoying ourselves when we heard the fellow give an awful yell or two," explained Phil. "Then he came dancing out from behind some bushes, waving a sort of sceptre in the air. He nearly scared the girls into fits, and that is what made them scream. Then he caught up a stick of wood from the pile yonder, and disappeared between the trees. I guess he must have imagined he was a wild Indian on the warpath."
"I am afraid if that poor fellow isn't captured he will cause us a good deal of worry," was Mr. Wadsworth's comment. "As long as he is at large there is no telling what he will do."
"If it really is Wilbur Poole, we ought to let the Pooles know about it," said Dave.
The matter was talked over for some time, and then, after another search through the edge of the woods and among the rocks and brushwood of that vicinity, the boys and Mr. Wadsworth returned to the bungalows. They found all of the girls and Mrs. Wadsworth on one of the verandas, discussing the situation. Even Jessie had joined the group, declaring that the alarm had scared most of her headache away.
"Oh, I was so frightened when I first saw the man—if it really was a man!" cried Laura.
"He looked more like an orang-outang," declared the girl from the West. "If I had met him out on the range, and if I had had a gun with me, I surely would have shot at him!"
"I brought a gun along," returned Dave, exhibiting the weapon; "I thought it was a bear scare."
The scare was the topic of conversation all through the dinner hour, and it was decided that a letter should be posted to Mr. Aaron Poole the following morning, acquainting him with what had occurred.
"It's queer that my husband and Ben and Mr. Porter don't come," remarked Mrs. Basswood, when the meal was nearly over and it was growing dark.
"It's quite a walk to Carpen Falls," said Dave. "And you must remember the trail isn't any too good in some spots."
"I think I see them coming now," announced Roger, a minute later; and he was right. Soon Ben and his father and Dunston Porter came into full view near the end of the lake.
"Talk about an adventure!" cried Ben, as they came up. "Who do you think we met?"
"The wild man!" burst out several of those present.
"Oh, then he was here, was he? Was it Wilbur Poole?"
"We are not so sure about that. We didn't get a very good look at him. He had on such a queer outfit that he was completely disguised."
"That's just it!" broke in Dunston Porter. "We couldn't tell who he was, either. He appeared right in front of us on the trail, flourishing a big stick. He let out a whoop like an Indian, gave a leap or two into the air, and then dashed out of sight behind some bushes."
"He didn't attack you, did he?" questioned Mrs. Basswood, anxiously.
"No," returned her husband, "but, all the same, I didn't like his actions. He might have done some serious damage with the stick he carried."
"That man, whoever he is, ought to be put under guard," declared Phil, and then he added quickly: "Did you get any letters, Ben?"
"Oh, yes, several of them. Here they are," and placing his hand in the pocket of his jacket, the youth brought forth over a dozen epistles.
There was a wild scramble, and the letters were quickly distributed.
"Oh, good! Here's a letter from dear dad!" exclaimed Belle. "Excuse me while I read it," and she quickly tore open the communication.
All of the girls had letters, and there was also one for Dave and another for Phil. As our hero looked at the communication addressed to him, he could not help but start. He thought he recognized the handwriting as that of Link Merwell.
"I wonder what he has got to say now," he mused, and then as the others began reading their letters, he opened the envelope and took out the single sheet it contained.
In a large, heavy hand were scrawled these words:
"I think before long you will be getting what is coming to you, you poorhouse nobody."
There was no signature.
THE SWIMMING RACE
Dave read the brief communication over several times. As he did so his face showed both perplexity and anger. Roger, who had received no letter and who therefore had nothing to read, looked at him curiously.
"No bad news, I hope?" he said, as he came up to Dave.
"I think it's another communication from that good-for-nothing Link Merwell," returned Dave. "Here, you can read it for yourself," and he passed the letter over.
The senator's son read the scrawl, and his face showed his disgust.
"I guess you're right, Dave, it must be from Link Merwell."
"Link Merwell!" broke in Shadow, who sat on a bench near by. "What about that rascal; have you heard something further of him?"
"Oh, it doesn't amount to anything," returned Dave, hastily, and taking the communication he thrust it into his pocket. "Don't say anything about it," he added to Roger, in a low tone.
"All right, I won't if you want it that way," answered his chum. "Just the same, Dave, this looks to me as if Link was plotting once more to do you an injury."
"If so, Roger, would he be fool enough to notify me beforehand?" queried our hero, as the pair walked a little distance away from the others.
"There is no telling what a fellow of Link's stamp might do. He is just fool enough to brag about what he hoped to do rather than go and do it. It's an outrage that he should call you a 'poorhouse nobody.'"
"I'd thrash him for it if I could get my hands on him," returned Dave, quickly, and his face showed deep resentment. He had not forgotten how, in years gone by, his enemies had taunted him with being a "poorhouse nobody," and how he had had to fight his way through until his identity had been established.
"Anyway, Dave, this gives you a chance to be on your guard," went on Roger. "If I were you I'd keep my eyes wide open for Link Merwell."
"I certainly shall, Roger. And if I can lay my hands on him I won't be as considerate as I was on Cave Island," was the answer. "I'll hold him until I can turn him over to the authorities. He ought to be keeping company with Jasniff in jail."
The girls were chattering among themselves over the letters they had received, and Shadow and Luke soon joined in. As was to be expected, the former story-teller of Oak Hall had his usual anecdote to relate, to which the others listened with interest. Phil had drawn apart from the crowd, and was now reading the letter he had received a second time. His face indicated unusual concern.
"Well, I hope you got good news, Phil," remarked Dave, as the shipowner's son came towards him and Roger.
"No, it's just the opposite," was the somewhat doleful reply.
"What? Do you mean it's bad news?" broke in Roger, quickly.
"It certainly is! Instead of losing twenty to thirty thousand dollars, my dad stands to lose about fifty thousand dollars on that land deal I mentioned to you some time ago."
"Why, how is that?" queried our hero, curiously. "Has the land gone up in value since then?"
"I don't know about the value of the land itself, but it's this way: Since that railroad made a bid for the acreage, another railroad has come into the field. They are going to run a rival line through that territory, and so they bid against the L. A. & H. Then the L. A. & H. railroad increased their bid, and the other folks did the same, so that now, if my father could give a clear deed to the land, he could sell it for about fifty thousand dollars."
"And hasn't he been able to get any trace of your Uncle Lester?"
"He has something of a clue, but so far he has been unable to locate my uncle. It certainly is a strange state of affairs."
"Won't the railroad company take the land without your uncle being represented in the deed?" questioned Roger.
"I don't think so. If they were willing to do that my father would put the deal through without delay. It certainly is too bad!" added Phil, with a sigh.
"It seems to me if I were you I'd get on the trail of your Uncle Lester somehow," was Roger's comment. "I wouldn't let that fifty thousand dollars get away from me. I'd hire detectives to scour the whole United States for the missing man."
"My father's doing all he can, Roger." Phil turned to our hero. "You got a letter, didn't you?"
"Not much of a one, Phil." Dave hesitated for a moment: "Here, you might as well see it. I showed it to Roger. But don't say anything to the others about it, especially the girls. There is no use in worrying them. As it is, they have had scare enough from that wild man."
The shipowner's son read the letter Dave had received with interest.
"Sure, that's from Link Merwell! I know his handwriting almost as well as I know my own," he declared. "He always makes those funny little crooks on his capital letters. I guess that shows what kind of a crook he is," and Phil grinned at his little joke. "What are you going to do about this, Dave?"
"I don't see that there's anything to do about it. As I told Roger, if Link shows himself around here I'll do all I can to place him in the hands of the authorities and see to it that he goes to jail."
"It's a beastly shame that any one should write such a note as that," went on the shipowner's son. "You are not a 'poorhouse nobody,' and everybody knows it."
"I've been wondering what Link Merwell can have up his sleeve," came from Roger. "He certainly must be up to something, or he wouldn't send such a letter as that."
The matter was talked over for a little while longer by the three boys, and then they rejoined the others.
Jessie declared that her headache was now gone completely, and the young folks spent the rest of the evening in the Basswood bungalow, where Belle played the piano and Luke favored them with several selections on his banjo and his guitar. They also sang a number of songs, and altogether the evening ended quite pleasantly. The cloud that had come up between Dave and Jessie seemed to have vanished, much to their own satisfaction, and to that of their friends.
On the following morning Mr. Basswood announced that he had to return to Crumville for a few days on business. He said that as soon as he arrived home he would get into telephone communication with Mr. Aaron Poole and acquaint him with the fact that some sort of a wild man had visited the vicinity of Bear Camp.
"Of course we may be mistaken as to the identity of that individual," said Ben's father. "He may not be Wilbur Poole at all."
"You want to be sure, Dad, and let Nat's father know that," said Ben, "because if Mr. Poole spent money up here looking for his brother, and then found out that the wild man was somebody else, he would never forgive either himself or you for the outlay." And at this frank statement those who knew how miserly the money-lender of Crumville was laughed outright.
Mr. Basswood departed for Carpen Falls in the middle of the forenoon. As it promised to be a warm, clear day, one of the young folks suggested that they go in bathing at a little sandy beach a short distance below the bungalows. This suggestion was eagerly seconded, and as a consequence, a little later on, the young folks donned their bathing outfits and soon were having great sport in the water, with the older folks sitting on a fallen tree not far away watching them.
"Oh, but it's cold!" declared Jessie, after her first plunge.
"You'll get used to it after a bit," returned Dave. "Just strike out lively, and that will help to keep your blood in circulation."
"Come on for a race!" shouted Luke, who was splashing around in great shape.
"A race it is!" called back Phil.
"Where shall we race to?" questioned Roger.
"If you are going to race, I'll be the referee and timekeeper," announced Dunston Porter.
It was decided that the boys should swim from the beach to a rock standing out of the water on the far edge of the cove.
"First fellow to stand up on the rock wins the prize," announced Phil, and then he added quickly: "Girls, what's the prize?"
"A fresh flapjack to the boy who bakes it," announced Belle, gaily.
"Say, speaking of flapjacks puts me in mind of a story," came from Shadow, who was wading around in water up to his ankles. "Once there were two old miners who were in a camp in the mountains. They got to disputing as to who could make the best flapjacks. Says one of them——"
Shadow did not finish the story he had started to tell. Unbeknown to him, Roger had come up behind, and was now on his hands and knees in the water. Luke gave the would-be story-teller a quick shove; and over went Shadow backwards, to land in the shallow water with a resounding splash.
"Flapjack number one!" cried Luke, gaily. "Say, Shadow, what are you making so much noise about?"
"I'll noise you!" roared the former story-teller of Oak Hall, as he scrambled to his feet.
Then he started to rush after Luke, but Roger caught him by his ankle, and down he went into the water with another splash, this time sending the spray flying clear to those sitting on the fallen tree.
"Here! Here! You boys stop that!" cried Mrs. Wadsworth. "We haven't any umbrellas."
"Oh, excuse me, I didn't mean to shower you," pleaded Shadow. "Anyway, it was Roger's fault."
"If you are going to race, start in!" ordered Dunston Porter.
"Well, what's the prize?" queried Roger, doing his best to keep out of Shadow's reach.
"The fellow who wins gets the hole in the doughnut," returned Dave, gaily.
"All ready! Line up!" ordered Dunston Porter, and after a general scramble and amid much merriment, the boys lined up. Then came the order "Go!" and all of them struck out lustily for the rock that marked the goal.
At first Ben, who had taken but little interest in the horseplay just enacted, kept well to the front. Ben had always been a good swimmer, and many a time he and Dave had raced each other in Crumville Creek.
"You fellows won't be in it!" he shouted merrily.
"Don't you be too sure of that," returned Luke. "This race isn't over yet."
"You fellows had better save your wind," spluttered Phil, who at that instant came up alongside of Shadow. There followed a great splashing of water, and suddenly Ben disappeared from view.
"Hey, you! Who fouled me that way?" roared the leader. "Whoever caught me by the foot ought to be put out of this race."
"Must have been a whale, Ben," answered Roger, mischievously.
"I'll whale you if you do it again," was the answer. And then all of the boys stopped talking and with renewed vigor bent to the task of trying to win the race.
Soon half the distance to the rock was covered. Ben was still in the lead, with Roger and Phil close behind him. Luke and Shadow had dropped so far to the rear that they gave up all hope of winning.
"Here is where I leave you fellows," announced Phil, and made a sudden spurt that soon placed him slightly in advance of Ben.
"Hi! hi! don't leave me this way!" yelled Roger, and he, too, put on a burst of speed, followed a second later by Dave.
On and on, through the cool, clear waters of Mirror Lake plunged the four boys. The goal was now less than fifty feet away.
"O my, see how hard they are swimming!" came from Laura.
"Ben was ahead, but I think Roger is up to him," announced Mrs. Basswood.
"Those four lads are pretty well bunched up," remarked Dunston Porter.
"Shadow and Luke have dropped out of it," announced Belle. "Gracious, how those others are swimming! Wouldn't you think it was for a prize of a thousand dollars?"
The four who had remained in the race were now less than five yards from the goal, a large flat rock that was joined to the mainland by a series of other rocks.
"Here is where I win!" declared Ben, and threw himself forward with all the strength left to him.
"Not much!" came from Phil.
"Count me in!" panted Roger.
"Also yours truly!" added Dave.
And then the four, lining up side by side, struck out fiercely, each doing his level best to touch the rock first. It was a neck-and-neck race, and in a moment more four hands went up on the rock at practically the same time.
"Not much, my hand was here first!"
"Don't climb up on that rock!"
"What's the trouble?"
"What is it?"
"It's a snake, and a big one!" yelled Dave. "Back away from the rock, boys, just as fast as you can!"
A CRY FROM THE CLIFF
"It's a snake sure enough!"
"My, what a big one!"
"No climbing on that rock for me!"
Such were some of the cries which rent the air as the four youths dropped back into the lake and lost no time in getting away from the spot which had been the goal of the swimming race.
"Say, Dave, what sort of a snake do you suppose that was?" queried Roger.
"Did he drop into the water?" questioned Ben, anxiously. "If it's a water snake maybe it's after us."
"I don't know what kind of snakes are to be found around here," returned Dave. "But it was dark in color and I think all of four or five feet long."
"Say, who won this race, anyhow?" came from Phil, as the boys swam around not far from the rock.
"I should say the snake did," laughed Dave.
In the meantime Dunston Porter, noticing that something unusual was going on in the vicinity of the goal, had leaped up and was running along the edge of the cove.
"What's the matter over there?" he yelled.
"A snake, Uncle Dunston," called back Dave. "Better get a shotgun and go after it."
"O dear! did you say a snake?" came from Laura, in dismay.
Acting on Dave's suggestion, Dunston Porter hurried back to one of the bungalows. He reappeared with a shotgun, and lost no time in making for the vicinity of the rock where the reptile had been seen. In the meanwhile the four boys rejoined Luke and Shadow, and all swam back to the dock.
"Oh, Dave, are you sure the snake didn't drop into the water after you?" questioned Jessie, and her face showed her anxiety.
"No, it retreated to the rocks further back," was the answer.
"Was it a poisonous snake?" asked Mrs. Basswood.
"I am sure I don't know."
"If there are snakes in these woods I don't think I'll care to go out very much," commented Laura, with a shiver.
"Snakes will just spoil everything," added Jessie, dismally.
While the boys and girls were dressing the report of a shotgun rang out.
"If that was Uncle Dunston shooting, he must have found Mr. Snake," were Dave's words.
"I hope he did find the snake," answered Roger. "If that reptile was left prowling around in this vicinity, none of the ladies would want to go out."
"And I wouldn't care much about going out myself," added Luke.
Having finished dressing, the boys lost no time in following Dunston Porter toward the rock which had been the goal of the swimming race. They found the old hunter and traveler searching through the brushwood back of the rocks.
"Did you get it, Uncle Dunston?" questioned Dave.
"I did," was the reply. "What's left of that snake is over yonder," and Mr. Porter pointed with his hand. "I'm looking around here to see if there are any more of them, but I rather fancy that is all there is."
The charge from the shotgun had fairly torn the reptile to pieces, for when Dunston Porter had fired the snake had been coiled up, evidently ready for an attack.
Arming themselves with clubs and stones, the boys joined Dunston Porter in the hunt for more reptiles, but their search was unsuccessful; and a little while later all returned to the bungalows.
"Did you find any other snakes?" asked Jessie, after she had been told about the one that had been killed.
"No, and I don't think there are any others," answered Mr. Porter.
"Well, I hope there are not," put in Laura, "but if there are I wish you had found them."
"We can't find what isn't there," said Luke, with a grin.
"Say, that puts me in mind of a story," burst out Shadow.
"Wow!" ejaculated Roger. "Here comes another!"
"Oh, say! this is a good one," pleaded the would-be story-teller. "It's about an old college graduate who was a regular fiend for football. He would undergo almost any hardship for the sake of getting to a game. Well, one time there was a great contest on between two of the big colleges, and although old Bixby nearly broke his back to get there, he didn't arrive until late. 'Say, how is it going?' he puffed to a gate-keeper. 'Nothing to nothing, middle of the second half,' answered the gate-keeper. 'Is that so?' returned old Bixby. 'That's good! I haven't missed anything,' and he passed in." And at this anecdote there was a general laugh.
In the afternoon while the young folks were enjoying themselves in various ways around the bungalows, they heard the put-put of a motor, and looking out on Mirror Lake, saw the craft belonging to the moving-picture company manager approaching, loaded with the furniture that had been borrowed.
"Here they come with our things!" cried Ben. "Looks like a house moving; doesn't it?"
They saw that the boat was in sole charge of Mr. Appleby, and as the craft drew closer the moving-picture manager gave them a cheery hail.
"Going into the moving business instead of moving pictures, eh?" cried Dave.
"I thought I might as well bring this stuff back while I had a chance," answered the manager, and soon brought his motor-boat to a standstill beside the dock. Then the boys made short work of taking the furniture back to the bungalows.
"I've got news for you, Mr. Porter," announced the moving-picture man, after the job was finished. "I've seen that young rascal, Link Merwell."
"You have!" exclaimed Dave, eagerly. "Up at your camp?"
"Did you make him a prisoner?" asked Phil.
"I didn't get the chance. He was evidently on his guard, and as soon as I told him what I knew, and that I was going to hand him over to the authorities, he ran straight into the woods, and that was the last any of us saw of him. He even left his suitcase and a light overcoat behind."
"Well, it's too bad he got away," returned our hero. "I thought sure if he had the audacity to show himself here we'd get a chance to capture him."
"I was foolish not to make him a prisoner as soon as he appeared," answered Thomas Appleby. "But I didn't think he would run away in that fashion, leaving his outfit behind. Besides, what he'll do in the woods behind our camp is a mystery to me. I asked old Tad Rason if there were any roads back there, and he said not within a couple of miles; so Merwell stands a good chance of losing himself completely."
"Great Scott! Supposing he should get into the woods and be unable to get out again!" burst out Roger.
"Well, such things have happened," answered Luke. "I heard only last winter of a man who was lost in the Maine woods."
"Yes, and Tad Rason told of two brothers who were lost up here in the Adirondacks for over three weeks," returned Mr. Appleby. "When they were found they were almost starved to death and next door to crazy."
"If anything like that should happen to Link, he will have nobody to blame but himself," announced Roger.
"Did he know we were up here?" queried Dave.
"He knew you were somewhere in this vicinity, but he did not know that the camps were so close to each other. I think if he had imagined such to be the case he would have steered clear of this vicinity."
"Was that young actor, Ward Porton, with him?"
"I really don't know whether they came together or not. Porton showed up about two hours before Merwell arrived. Of course, they may have separated just before the camp was reached—Porton not wanting to appear in the company of a fellow you had told him was a crook."
"Is Porton at your camp now?"
"Yes. But he doesn't intend to stay very long. He says he has something else in view, although what it is I don't know. To tell you the truth," and Mr. Appleby lowered his voice a trifle, "I think he is sweet on Miss Ford, and as she doesn't care for him at all and has told him so, it has put his nose out of joint."
"When you spoke to him about Merwell did Porton stand up for the fellow?" continued our hero. He was anxious to learn if possible just how close the companionship of the pair had been.
"He didn't have much to say after I told him all I knew," responded Thomas Appleby. "Previous to that, he remarked that you might be mistaken regarding Merwell—that Merwell had said that Jasniff and somebody else were guilty of the jewelry robbery."
"Humph! he can't put it off on anybody else like that!" cried Phil. "We know beyond a doubt that he and Jasniff committed that crime."
"Perhaps I ought not to blame Ward Porton for sticking up for Merwell," answered Dave. "Link is a mighty slick talker, and he probably told his story to suit himself and got Porton to swallow it. Just the same, Porton is very foolish to chum with him."
"I'll be rather sorry to lose Porton, for he is a clever fellow in the movies," went on the manager. "He wanted to leave in a few days, but I persuaded him to stay for a week at least, so we could finish several dramas in which he is an actor. After he is gone I'll have to get some one to take his place. Any of you young fellows want to have a try at it?" and Mr. Appleby looked full at Dave.
"Oh, I don't know," returned our hero, slowly. And then he saw that Jessie's eyes were turned upon him and that they showed she was troubled. "I don't think I care to take the matter up. You see, I came here for a rest and a good time."
"I wouldn't mind taking a hand at it!" cried Luke.
"You can count me in, too!" added Shadow. "I'd like first-rate to see myself on the screen in a moving-picture show," and his eyes lit up in anticipation.
"Well, you fellows come down some time and we'll talk it over," concluded the manager. "I've got to get back now. We are getting ready to put on quite an important drama to-morrow, and we have got to rehearse a number of scenes. If you folks want to come up and look on, you'll be welcome," he added, to the crowd in general.
When the moving-picture manager had departed, the boys set out to fish along the brook that flowed into Mirror Lake. While getting ready for the sport the conversation drifted around once more to Link Merwell.
"If he is in this vicinity, Dave, you can make sure he'll try to get in on us somehow before he leaves," remarked Phil.
"I don't see what he can do," returned Luke.
"Oh, a fellow like Link can do lots of things!" burst out Ben. "Why, he might even try to burn down the bungalows!"
"Do you think he's as bad as that?" questioned Shadow.
"Yes, I do!" was the flat answer.
Fishing in the vicinity of the lake was not very good, so the boys pushed further and further up the brook, until they reached a point where there was a little waterfall and a pool of considerable size. Here fishing was better, and soon they had quite a number of specimens of the finny tribe to their credit.
"Come on, Dave, let's go up a little farther," pleaded Phil. "I'd like to see what this brook looks like beyond the falls."
"All right, I'll go," answered our hero. "What about you fellows?" he asked, of the others.
"I'll stay here and rest," announced Roger. "I'm tired of scrambling over the rocks."
"So am I," agreed Ben. Shadow and Luke also said they would remain in the vicinity of the pool.
Dave and Phil found it no easy task to follow the brook, which wound in and out among the rocks and brushwood. At one point they had to do some hard climbing, and once the shipowner's son slipped and came close to spraining an ankle.
"Say, I don't believe I'll go much farther, after all," declared Phil. "This is rough and no mistake!"
"It is better walking a little farther on, Phil," announced Dave. "Come on, don't give up this way! Maybe we'll find some extra large fish up there."
Once more they set out, and soon found themselves in a small clearing, backed up by a cliff fifteen or twenty feet in height, and overgrown with brushwood and trailing vines.
"Hark! What was that?" exclaimed Phil, as both came to a halt preparatory to casting their lines into the stream.
"I think it was a shout," answered Dave. "Maybe the others are calling to us."
"No, I think the call came from up on the cliff, Dave. Listen, there it is again!"
Both strained their ears and soon heard another cry. This time it was much closer.
"Stop! stop! let me alone!" Such were the words that floated to their ears. "Please don't hit me! Let me alone!"
Dave and Phil looked at each other curiously.
"Who can it be?" questioned the shipowner's son.
"I don't know, but I guess we had better try to find out," answered our hero.
THE CAPTURE OF LINK MERWELL
"Where did that cry come from, Dave?"
"I think it came from the top of the cliff, Phil. Listen! there it goes again."
Both boys strained their ears once more, and now heard another voice, heavy and threatening.
"Leave this place! Leave at once, I command you! No one has any right to disturb me!"
"Don't hit me, I'll go!" returned the one who had first spoken, and a few seconds later he came into view at the edge of the cliff.
"Hello, it's Link Merwell!" burst out Dave, in amazement.
"Yes, and see, that wild man is after him!" added the shipowner's son.
He was right. Following closely upon the appearance of Link Merwell the boys at the foot of the cliff had seen some brushwood thrust aside, and now appeared the strange fellow who had so frightened the girls some time previously. He was dressed up more fantastically than ever, and had his face smeared with red and yellow. Over his shoulder, suspended by a strap, he carried an old-fashioned fowling piece, and in his hands was a heavy club.
"Go away from here! Go away, I say, and never come back!" cried the strange individual, dancing around wildly and flourishing his club close to Link Merwell's head.
"All right, I'm going! Please don't hit me!" pleaded the youth, who was plainly in terror of his life. And then, in his haste to escape, he took several steps forward.
"Look out there, or you'll have a bad fall!" yelled Dave, in quick alarm.
The warning, however, came too late. Deceived by the brushwood and vines growing at the edge of the cliff, Link Merwell lost his footing, and the next instant came tumbling headlong.
"Ha, ha! I told you to keep away! Now don't come back!" yelled the fantastically-dressed man in the bushes behind the cliff; and then with another yell he suddenly disappeared from view.
Dave and Phil rushed forward fully expecting to find Merwell seriously hurt. But in falling the youth had been fortunate enough to catch hold of some of the trailing vines, and these had stayed his progress somewhat, so that all he received was a violent shaking-up.
"Don—don't let—let him sho—shoot me!" spluttered Link Merwell, as he turned over and scrambled to his feet. Then, for the first time recognizing those who stood before him, his face showed more concern than ever.
"Who's that fellow who attacked you, Link?" asked Dave, quickly.
"I don't know—some crazy old lunatic, I suppose," muttered the former student of Oak Hall. "Is he—he—coming after me?"
"No, he just dashed out of sight," answered Phil. "He's the same chap who nearly scared the girls to death," he added to Dave.
"How do you know? He didn't look like that fellow," returned our hero.
"I recognized him by his voice, even though he is dressed quite differently, Dave. He must be as crazy as they make them."
"Oh, so you know him, do you?" put in Link Merwell, questioningly. He had gotten to his feet and was now straightening out his apparel.
"I must say, Link, I didn't think I was going to have the pleasure of meeting you so soon," said Dave, with a little bit of pardonable sarcasm.
"Humph!" Link Merwell was on the point of saying more, but bit his lip and kept silent.
"So you were on board the steam yacht when she took fire," put in Phil.
"Why didn't you show yourself; were you afraid?"
"That was my business. I didn't have to show myself if I didn't want to."
"We know well enough why you didn't show yourself, Link," broke in our hero. "And we also know why you left Mr. Appleby's camp so suddenly. You were afraid of arrest."
"Who told you that?"
"Nobody told us. We know it," went on Dave. "You have escaped several times, but I guess we've got you now."
"Hi! don't you dare to touch me!" exclaimed Link Merwell, in fresh alarm. "You haven't got any right to put your hands on me."
"Right or wrong, Link, we are going to make you a prisoner," declared Phil, and advancing he caught the youth who had helped to rob Mr. Wadsworth's jewelry works by the arm.
"You let me go, Phil Lawrence! If you don't it will be the worse for you!" bawled Link, and tried to wrench himself loose.
"Here, none of that!" broke in Dave, quickly, and stepping forward, he caught the evildoer by the other arm. "You just march along with us!"
"I won't go!" bawled the boy who had gotten himself into trouble. "Let go of me, I tell you!"
He started to struggle, and for a minute or two Dave and Phil had all they could do to hold him. Then, in sudden viciousness, Link kicked out, taking Dave in the shin.
"Oh, so that's your game, is it?" cried Dave, his anger rising. And then, as Link kicked out once more, he caught the foot and gave the youth a shove that sent him sprawling on his back. Before Link could arise, Dave rushed in and sat down heavily on him.
"Oh!" grunted the fallen one. "D-don't cru-crush my ribs!" he panted. "L-let u-up!"
"I won't let up until you promise to behave yourself," answered Dave, sternly. "For two pins, Link, I'd give you the thrashing of your life. You deserve it. What right had you to send me that note and call me a 'poorhouse nobody'?"
"That's right, Dave. Pitch into him! Give him what he deserves!" agreed Phil. "Maybe a good licking would knock some common-sense into him."
"D-don't you dare to—to t-touch me," panted the boy under Dave. "If you—you do, I'll ha-have the l-law on you!"
"Don't talk about the law!" cried Dave. "The law will take care of you. When I caught you down on Cave Island, and you said that you were sorry that you had joined Jasniff in that robbery and that you were going to reform, I felt sorry for you. But you are a faker, Merwell, and I don't believe you ever will reform, and that's the reason I'm going to do my best now to place you in the hands of the law."
"You—you—you let me u-up!"
"I won't let you up until you promise to behave yourself and come along with us."
"A-all right, I pro-promise."
"Very well, then, you can get up," answered Dave, arising. "But remember, you have given us your word, and if you break it, I'll guarantee that Phil and I will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Now, if you know when you are well off, you'll do exactly as we tell you to."
"I've got a scheme, Dave," broke in Phil, bringing out an extra piece of fishline from his pocket. "Let's tie his hands behind him with this. Then I don't think he'll care to run away—not very far, anyhow."
"Humph! can't you let me walk along without having my hands tied?" grumbled the prisoner.
"We are not going to take any chances, Link," answered the shipowner's son. "Now that we have caught you we are going to see that you get where you belong—in prison."
"You send me to prison and my father will make it hot for you!"
"You stop threatening us, Link!" ordered Dave, sternly.
"All right. But you'll see!"
Much against his will, Link Merwell was forced to place his hands behind him, and in a few minutes Phil and Dave had secured the fishline around his wrists. Then they picked up his cap, which had fallen off, and placed it on his head.
"Now then, march!" ordered Dave. "And no funny work!" And he led the way back along the brook, with Merwell following and Phil bringing up the rear with the fishing outfits.
"Say, how do you expect a fellow to get over these rocks with his hands tied behind him?" grumbled Link Merwell, after he had slipped several times.
"You'll have to do the best you can," returned Phil, coldly. "A jailbird like you can't expect much consideration."
"Bah, you make me tired, Phil Lawrence!" growled the prisoner. "I don't think you'll be able to send me to prison; not for long, anyhow! My father's got plenty of money; he'll get me out some way."
"If he spends any money on you he'll be foolish," returned the shipowner's son. "Now go ahead, we are not going to waste all our time on you."
It was not long after this when they came in sight of the other boys. Ben and Roger were still fishing, while Luke and Shadow were resting on the rocks, the latter telling one of his favorite stories.
"Hello! What luck?" called Ben, looking up. And then he added: "Great Caesar's ghost! if it isn't Link Merwell!"
"Where did you run across him?" cried Luke, leaping to his feet, followed by Shadow.
"We found him running away from some kind of a wild man," answered Dave.
"The wild man who scared us into fits the other day?" queried Roger.
"We don't know if it was that fellow or somebody else," answered Phil.
Link Merwell was much crestfallen to confront so many of his former schoolmates of Oak Hall. He realized that he was "in the camp of the enemy" in more ways than one. At one time or another he had played each of them some sort of a scurvy trick, and he realized that not one of them would have a good word to say for him.
"Well, I see they have made you a prisoner," remarked Luke, as he noticed that Link's hands were tied behind him.
"Humph! they had no right to do it," growled the prisoner. "Where are you going to take me, anyhow?"
"We are going to take you to our bungalows," announced Dave. "There you will have the pleasure of talking the matter over with Mr. Wadsworth."
At the mention of the name of the man he had robbed, Link Merwell winced and his face paled. Evidently he did not relish what was in store for him.
"Say, having his hands tied behind him puts me in mind of a story," began Shadow. "Once there was a fellow——" and then, as the would-be story teller saw a look of disgust coming over the faces of his chums, he added hastily: "Oh, well, never mind. I'll tell you that story some other time."
"Is Mr. Wadsworth staying up here with you?" asked Link, while Ben and the others prepared to return to the bungalows.
"He is," answered Dave.
"Is his family with him?"
"Yes, we are all up here for a short vacation." Dave looked at his enemy squarely in the eyes. "Link, do you think you are treating me just right? I never put a straw in your way, and yet you have done everything you could to make things unpleasant for me. I tried to help you down on Cave Island, and in return for that you have been sending letters to Nat Poole asking him to help you in hurting me. And then the other day you sent that note calling me a 'poorhouse nobody.'"
"Oh, don't preach to me, Dave Porter!" growled the youth who had been made a prisoner. "I hate that kind of talk. You always tried to set yourself up as being better than any one else. Maybe you could get on the soft side of Gus Plum, but you can't play any such game as that on me. I know what I am doing."
"Link, I'm sorry to hear you talk that way," went on Dave, earnestly. "Do you want to spend all your life in prison?"
"Bah, don't talk to me! Didn't I tell you I don't want any preaching? If I've got to go to jail I'll go, but it won't be for long, mark my words! My father has got lots of money, and I guess the lawyers will know what to do. But let me tell you something, Dave Porter"—and now Link Merwell's face showed both cunning and hatred—"you found fault with that note I sent to you calling you a poorhouse nobody. Well, that is all you are; a poorhouse nobody!"
"See here, Link——" began our hero, his temper rising.
"Oh, now, just wait, Dave Porter! Just wait a little, and you'll find out what I mean. You are a poorhouse nobody and nothing else. Dave Porter? Why, you are not Dave Porter at all! You are a poorhouse nobody; that's all you are!"
BACK IN CAMP
"What's this you are saying, Link?" demanded Phil, who had overheard the conversation just recorded. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk that way. Just because Dave spent part of his life in the poorhouse after he was stolen away from his parents is no reason why you should speak as you do."
"And that isn't the reason why I am talking this way," retorted the prisoner. "I've got another reason, and Dave Porter will find out what it is before very long."
"You just said that I was not Dave Porter," remarked our hero. "What do you mean by that?"
"Never mind what I mean; you'll find out sooner or later," answered Link, with an expression of cunning on his countenance.
"Oh, don't listen to him!" broke in Roger; "he is only trying to worry you, Dave. Let us get back to the bungalows and tell Mr. Wadsworth about this capture."
"I'm not going back with you," retorted Link Merwell. And now, with his hands tied behind him, he made a leap over the rocks in the direction of the woods.
The sudden movement on the part of the prisoner, surrounded as he was by all of the boys, came somewhat as a surprise. But Dave, Roger and Phil were quick to recover, and away they bounded in pursuit of the fleeing one.
Terror lent speed to Link Merwell's feet, and soon he gained the edge of the growth, which at this point was quite heavy.
"Hurry up or he'll hide himself!" called Dave, who was in advance of his chums.
The runaway might have made good his escape had it not been for the fact that his hands were so tightly bound behind him. As he dashed between the first of the trees, his foot caught on an outcropping root. Unable to throw out his hands to save himself, he came down heavily, striking his forehead on another tree root.
"I've got him, come on!" cried Dave, and in a few seconds more was beside the fallen one. To his surprise Link Merwell lay motionless.
"Collar him! don't let him get away again!" yelled Roger, as he came up with Phil beside him.
"I think he hurt himself when he fell," answered our hero. "How about it, Link?" and he bent over his enemy as he asked the question.
There was no reply, and getting down on their knees, the three boys raised Link Merwell up and turned him over. He was unconscious, and the blood was flowing from a cut on his left temple.
"He came down pretty hard, I imagine," said Dave. "Let us carry him down to the brook."
Not without some difficulty, the three lads raised the unconscious form and carried it toward the brook, meeting the other boys on the way.
"Hello! what did you do; sock him one?" queried Luke.
"No, he fell, and as he couldn't use his hands he hit his head on a tree root," answered Dave. "Get a little water, somebody, and we'll see if we can revive him."
The water was soon brought, and with this they washed off the wound, after which they bound up Link Merwell's head with several handkerchiefs. The sufferer groaned and gasped several times, and finally opened and closed his eyes.
"Say, he may be hurt worse than we think," remarked Roger, gravely.
"I guess he ought to have a doctor," added Dave. "But where to get one around here I don't know. I don't believe there is one at Carpen Falls."
"I know there isn't, because I heard my mother asking about it," added Ben. "But I think we ought to get him down to the bungalows."
All of the boys were agreed that this was the best thing to do, and so, after putting up their fishing outfit, they began the return to the lake shore, taking turns at carrying the unconscious youth.
"O dear! who is hurt?" cried Laura, as she saw the party approaching.
"It's Link Merwell," answered her brother. "Call Mr. Wadsworth; will you?"
"Oh, Dave! so you've caught him; have you?" cried Jessie, while Laura ran off on her errand. "Did you have a fight?"
"Not much of a one, Jessie. He got hurt through a fall."
"What a very foolish boy he has been!" was Belle's comment. "But I think his father is partly to blame. He always allowed Link to do as he pleased on the ranch, and when Link went to the city he always gave him more spending money than was good for him, at least, so my father said."
"It was up to Link to do the square thing on his own account," broke in Roger. "He had all the chance in the world to make a man of himself. But he preferred the company of fellows like Jasniff. And this is the result."
Mr. Wadsworth was in his bungalow writing a letter. He was surprised and gratified at the news brought by Laura, and quickly followed her outside. A little later Mrs. Wadsworth and Mrs. Basswood joined the group. The boys had unbound Link, and now they placed him on a large hammock with a comfortable pillow under his head. As the jewelry manufacturer approached, the sufferer opened his eyes and then struggled to sit up.
"Hello! I guess he isn't hurt as much as we thought," remarked Shadow, in a low tone.
"Maybe he's only playing 'possum," was Luke's comment.
"No, he was hurt, that's sure; the cut on his forehead shows it," answered Dave.
"Well, Merwell, so they have caught you; have they?" began Mr. Wadsworth, as he stepped up in front of the youth. "I thought we would get you sooner or later."
"I—I can't talk to you no-now," faltered the prisoner.
"I don't think it will be necessary to do much talking, Merwell," went on the jewelry manufacturer. "We can do our talking later—possibly in the police court."
"All right, have your own way about it," growled the prisoner. "You've got me and I'm down and out, so you can do your worst." And with this he rolled over on the hammock once more and again closed his eyes.
"Talk about nerve!" whispered Ben. "Doesn't that take the cake!"
"I'd like to know whether he is really hurt so much, or only shamming," added Phil. "He always was a sly one."
"Tell me how you came to capture him," said Mr. Wadsworth.
Thereupon Dave and Phil related how they had gone up the brook to the vicinity of the cliff, and there heard the words between Link and the so-called wild man.
"O dear! is that awful creature around here again?" cried Jessie.
"Yes," answered Dave. "And I wish he would keep away."
Then Dave and Phil related how Link Merwell had plunged over the cliff and had been made a prisoner, and then how, later on, he had tried to escape, struck his head on the tree root, and how all of the boys had brought him to the bungalows.
"I am glad he didn't get away from you," said Oliver Wadsworth. "I think he ought to be in prison to keep Jasniff company."
"How will you get him to jail?" questioned Phil.
"I don't know what we can do except to march him down to Carpen Falls. But we can't do that to-day, for he seems too weak. Perhaps we can take him down there to-morrow, or else some of us can go down and get an officer to come up here and take charge of him."
The matter was talked over at some length, and it was finally decided that nothing more should be done that day. Link Merwell did not join in the discussion, nor even open his eyes to look at them. But by close observation, Dave became satisfied that the prisoner was listening intently to every word that was said.
"What will you do with him to-night?" asked Roger.
"We might lock him up in one of the rooms in the bungalow," suggested Dave.
"I don't think we'll give up one of our rooms to that fellow!" put in Mr. Wadsworth. "I think a bunk in the woodshed will be plenty good enough for him."
"Oh, Pa, wouldn't that be rather hard on him?" questioned Jessie, who did not want to see even a rascal like Merwell suffer physical discomfort.
"I dare say he has been putting up with worse than that in the woods here and while he was on Cave Island and in the far West," returned her father. "We'll place an old couch and some blankets in a corner of the shed, and that will be plenty good enough for him."
"But somebody will have to watch him," answered Dave. "I'll do it if you want me to."
"That wouldn't be quite fair, Dave," broke in Phil. "If he has got to be watched, let us take turns at doing it."
"We might bind him fast to the cot," suggested Mr. Wadsworth.
"He's so slick I'd be afraid to risk that," answered Dave. "I'll not mind staying up watching him."
"Let us all take a hand at it," broke in Ben. "Every fellow can go on guard-duty for two hours, and call the next fellow." And so, after a little discussion, the matter was arranged.
"I suppose I'm not to have anything to eat?" grumbled Link Merwell, a little later, when they were arranging to place him in the woodshed, which was a small lean-to of the Wadsworth bungalow. This place was used for the storage of firewood, but just now was almost empty.
"Oh, yes, we'll see to it that you get something to eat," answered Mrs. Wadsworth, quickly.
"I haven't had a square meal for twenty-four hours," went on the prisoner.
"Give him all he wants, but nothing fancy," said Mr. Wadsworth. "He deserves nothing but the plainest kind of victuals."
"Where have you kept yourself since you ran away from Mr. Appleby's camp?" questioned Phil, curiously.
"Oh, I just roamed around in the woods," was the somewhat sullen answer.
"Did you meet that wild man more than once?" questioned Roger.
"No. If it hadn't been for that fellow, whoever he is, you wouldn't have caught me," added Link, bitterly.
"I wonder what the Pooles will do when Mr. Basswood tells them what we think, that it is Mr. Wilbur Poole," came from Dave. "Perhaps they will send some of the sanitarium authorities up to try to catch him."
"I hope they do catch him!" came from Jessie. "I'll never feel safe as long as that man is at large."
Mr. Dunston Porter had been down to Carpen Falls for a walk and to get the mail. He returned late that evening, bringing several letters with him. He was of course much surprised to learn of the capture of Link Merwell, and listened with interest to the details concerning the affair.
Among the letters which his uncle had brought along was one for Dave, which he read with deep interest. It was from Nat Poole, who evidently had not yet heard anything regarding his missing uncle.
"I want to tell you of what has happened here lately," (wrote Nat). "I have received two visits from a young fellow named Ward Porton, who is, I believe, a moving-picture actor, and the same fellow that you helped to rescue from a burning steam yacht. This fellow was in town once with Link Merwell, and then came here alone. He has been visiting a number of people who are well acquainted with you, and also visited the poorhouse here and talked to several of those in authority, and those who used to have the running of the poorhouse years ago, when you were an inmate there. This Ward Porton acted as if he had something of great importance on his mind, but what it was he would not tell, but he did let slip that it was something concerning you—that there was a big surprise in store for you. He also let slip that he, too, had been in a poorhouse when he was a little boy, and that he had never been able to learn where he had really come from.
"I am writing this to put you on your guard in case he should show himself either at your camp or at the Wadsworth mansion after your return. I must confess that I don't like the fellow's manner, and I rather surmise he is laying pipes to play you some trick."
Dave read this letter over several times, and was much perplexed. He had not forgotten what Link Merwell had said to him shortly after being captured, nor had he forgotten the fact that he had seen Link and Ward Porton in Crumville at the old Potts farm.
"Those fellows are certainly up to something," our hero told himself. "Link said that I was not Dave Porter. Now, what did he mean by that? Those fellows must be hatching up some plot against me."
"Dave, you look rather worried," remarked Phil, as he caught the youth reading the communication for the third time. "No bad news I hope?"
"I can't tell whether it is or not, Phil," was the reply. And Dave handed the letter to his chum.
"Phew! This looks like a mystery," was the comment of the shipowner's son. "Dave, do you think this had anything to do with what Link Merwell said when we caught him—that you were not Dave Porter?"
"That's the way it looks to me, Phil."
"But that's rank nonsense. We all know you are Dave Porter."
"Well, I've always thought I was Dave Porter, ever since I met my Uncle Dunston out in those South Sea Islands."
"Why of course you are! Don't you look just like your Uncle Dunston? This is some game, Dave."
"I think so myself."
"What are you fellows confabbing about?" asked Roger, walking up.
"We're talking about a letter I just received," answered Dave. And then the senator's son also read the communication.
"Say, this is a mystery and no mistake!" was Roger's comment. "And so Nat thinks that Ward Porton is mixed up in it, eh? That is strange."
"What do you suppose he has to do with it, Roger?" questioned Phil.
"I am sure I don't know. But come to think of it, he did look like——" And then Roger broke off in confusion.
"Look like what, Roger?" asked Dave, quickly.
"Oh, never mind, Dave, let's drop the subject and talk about what we are going to do with Link Merwell."
"I think I know what you were going to say," went on our hero, and he tried to speak calmly although his heart gave a sudden jump. "You were going to say that Ward Porton looked like my Uncle Dunston and like me."
"Well, if you must know it, Dave, that is what did come into my mind. I don't think he resembles you quite as much as he resembles your uncle, to be really honest."
"Oh, say, Roger, drop that!" interposed Phil, hastily. "I think Dave looks a good deal more like his uncle than Porton looks like Mr. Porter."
"It's a queer mystery, that's certain," returned Dave, slowly. "I don't like it, I must say," and his face showed more concern than it had for a long while.
"Don't you take this too seriously, Dave!" cried Roger. "I believe at the most it's only some game gotten up by Link Merwell. Now that we have him a prisoner and can send him to jail for that robbery, more than likely you won't hear anything further about it."
"I sincerely hope you speak the truth," was our hero's sober reply.
After a plain but substantial meal, Link Merwell was taken to the woodshed and told he would have to remain there until morning. Then the boys cast lots to find out who should go on guard first.
"I'm number one," announced Phil, after drawing one of a number of slips of paper placed in a cap.
"And I follow you," announced Luke.
"I'm guard number three," came from Ben, and the other boys announced what slips they had drawn.
Usually the woodshed was dark, but now a lantern had been hung on a nail to illuminate the place. There were two doors, one connecting with the bungalow proper, and the other leading into the backyard of the place. There was also a small window, over which in times past several stout wooden bars had been nailed to keep out prowling wild animals.
"Think I'll run away, eh?" remarked Link Merwell, as he sat down on the couch which had been placed in the woodshed.
"You'll not get the chance," returned Phil, who had armed himself with one of the double-barreled shotguns. "If you try to get away, Link, you'll get a dose of shot in you, just as sure as fate."
"Humph! I don't think I'll want to run away," grumbled the prisoner. "There is no place to run to in this forsaken section of the country. What you folks can find here to make it pleasant is a mystery to me."
The door leading to the outside had been closed and bolted. The other door leading to the bungalow proper was left open for ventilation, and Phil sat on a low stool beside it, with the shotgun across his knees.
"Are you quite sure you can manage him, Phil?" questioned Mr. Wadsworth, as he came to the doorway after the others in both bungalows had retired.
"Yes, I can manage him easily enough," returned the shipowner's son. "I've got this, you see," and he tapped the shotgun suggestively.
"Well, don't have any shooting unless it becomes absolutely necessary," answered the jewelry manufacturer; and then he, too, retired.
For a short while Link Merwell lay down on the couch and turned over as if to go to sleep. But he was restless, and presently, when all was quiet, he turned over again and sat up.
"What are you going to do with me when you get me to Carpen Falls?" he questioned.
"We are going to hand you over to the authorities."
"Is Dave Porter going along to the Falls?"
"I don't know about that. That's for Mr. Wadsworth to say," answered Phil. "By the way," he continued, "what did you mean by telling Dave that he was not Dave Porter?"
"Never you mind, you'll find out soon enough," grumbled the prisoner.
"Very well, Link, if you don't want to tell me you don't have to. Just the same, if you are trying to hatch out some plot against Dave, I warn you to be careful. He has stood about as much as he intends to stand."
"This is no plot; this is something real," grumbled Link Merwell. "Just you wait, that's all," and then he lay down on the couch once more and pretended to go to sleep.
At the proper time Luke came to relieve Phil, and was followed by Ben, and then by Shadow.
"Say, it's cold to-night," remarked the former story-teller of Oak Hall, as he took the shotgun and sat down on the stool. "If this weather keeps on, before long we'll have frost up here, and we'll all be thinking of going home."
"Better put on an extra coat; here is one," answered Ben, and passed the garment over. Then he returned to the other bungalow, for he was tired.
Shadow had expected to have quite a talk with the prisoner, but in this he was disappointed, for Link appeared to be asleep, and he did not have the heart to awaken the prisoner. He sat on the stool, thinking over several of the stories he had told from time to time, and trying to invent one or two new ones.
In the midst of his revery a sound from outside startled him. It was the hooting of an owl, and so close that the mournful sound made Shadow shiver.
"I'd like to shoot that owl," he told himself, as the hooting continued. "If I brought him down I could have him stuffed," he thought, with some satisfaction.
Shadow looked at the motionless form on the couch, and then arising from the stool, tiptoed his way into the big living-room of the bungalow. One of the windows was wide open, and he looked out of this to see if he could locate the owl. The hooting was now closer than before and seemed to come from a tree not twenty-five feet away.
"Say, there's a chance for a shot," murmured the youth to himself. "If I could only spot that owl I'm sure I could——"
Thump! Shadow received a staggering blow in the back of the neck, and then felt himself hurled to one side, while the shotgun was wrenched from his grasp. Then, before he could recover from his astonishment, a figure leaped through the open window and dashed across the moonlit dooryard.
"Hi! Stop!" yelled Shadow, as soon as he could recover his breath. "Stop! Help!"
"What's the racket?" The cry came from Roger, and then he and Dave burst into the room, followed by Phil.
"Merwell! He's escaped! He got the gun away from me, and jumped through the window!" panted poor Shadow. "Oh, what a fool I was to think he was asleep!"
"Where did he go?" questioned Dave, and at the same time bounded back into the bedroom, to don his shoes and part of his clothing.
"He jumped out of the window with the gun. That's all I know about it," answered Shadow.
"Didn't you have a fight?" questioned Phil.
"No, I came to the window to look at an owl that was hooting around here. Link came behind me and gave me a fierce crack in the neck. Then he grabbed the gun and went through the window like a flash. And I thought he was asleep!"
By this time Dave had returned, partly dressed, and catching up another one of the fowling pieces in the bungalow he, too, leaped through the window, followed by Shadow. A few seconds later the other boys joined them.
"Have you any idea which way he went?" questioned our hero.
"I don't know exactly, Dave, but I think he went that way," and the former story-teller of Oak Hall pointed with his hand.
"Let's scatter a little," ordered Dave, and while he passed in the direction pointed out, the other boys separated to both sides of him. All advanced to the edge of the woods and there came to a halt. While the moon made it fairly bright in the open space surrounding the bungalows, beneath the trees it was dark, and consequently little could be seen.
"Might as well look for a pin in a haystack," grumbled Roger. "If he got into these woods it's good-bye to him. We might search all night and not get a trace of the rascal."
"I guess you're right, Roger," answered Dave, "but let's search around a little anyway."
Long before this the alarm had become general, and now Dunston Porter and Mr. Wadsworth appeared, followed shortly by Mrs. Wadsworth and Mrs. Basswood and the girls.
"Let us take the flashlights and lanterns and see if we can't get on the track of him," ordered the jewelry manufacturer. "We must capture him if it is possible to do so."
And then the search began in earnest.
MORE OF A MYSTERY
"Did you see anything of him?"
"Not a thing. Did you?"
"I saw something move under the trees, but I guess it was a wild animal."
"He's gotten away, and that is all there is to it," said Dave, as he looked at his chums and at the men, who had also joined in the search for Link Merwell.
"This is certainly too bad!" remarked Mr. Wadsworth, with a shake of his head.
"And it was all my fault!" broke out Shadow, bitterly. "Oh, I could kick myself full of holes every time I think of it!"
Over an hour had been spent in the woods surrounding the clearing on Mirror Lake. During that time the men and the boys had stirred up several small wild animals, but that had been all.
"He must have legged it for all he was worth after he jumped through the window," was Roger's comment. "For all we know he may be miles away from here by now."
"If he ran straight into those woods it was a hazardous proceeding," said Dunston Porter. "He'll become hopelessly lost in the darkness, and when daylight comes he won't know how to turn to get out."
"Oh, perhaps he'll climb a tree and locate his surroundings that way," suggested Dave. "You must remember that Link isn't like a city fellow. He was brought up in the wild West, and knows how to do for himself in the open."
"We may as well give up the hunt," said Mr. Wadsworth, and turned toward Bear Camp, followed by the others.
"Oh, Dave, did you catch him?" The cry came from Jessie, who stood on the porch with the others, awaiting their return.
"No, he got away."
"That's too bad!"
"You should have kept him bound, Dave," said Laura.
"That's it, Dave," added Belle. "In the West they would tie a rascal like Link fast to a tree with a lariat. If you secured him properly he would stay there until you freed him."
"Well, there is no use in crying over spilt milk," remarked Mrs. Basswood. "I suppose we may as well go to bed again." And on this the others agreed.
Several days, including Sunday, passed, and nothing more was seen or heard of Link Merwell or Ward Porton. During that time the young folks went out on the lake several times, and also went fishing. Swimming was mentioned, but as the weather was getting colder rapidly, only Dave and Phil went in for a plunge. One day they planned to visit the moving-picture people, but it rained and they did not go.
"It will soon be time for hunting," announced Roger. "I hope we do get a chance to bring down something before we have to go back."
"Well, I'd like to have a crack at a deer, myself," answered Dave, who had not forgotten the sport he had had on Squirrel Island and at other places in the vicinity of Oak Hall.
"What's the matter with a crack at a bear?" interposed Phil. "A great big shaggy fellow that would weigh eight hundred or a thousand pounds."
"Say, Phil, you don't want much in life!" cried Ben. "Why don't you make it a two-thousand-pound bear while you are at it?"
"Say, speaking about heavy bears puts me in mind of a story I heard!" cried Shadow, his face lighting up for the first time since the escape of Link Merwell. "This yarn was told by an old western hunter and trapper, and he said it was strictly true. He said he was out on the ranges one day when he found himself suddenly pursued by three Modoc Indians. He shot at them several times without hitting anybody, and then, to his consternation, he found that his ammunition had given out. He legged it up a mountain-side, and the three Modocs came after him, yelling to beat the band. Just as they were following him up the steep trail, he saw a monstrous bear come plunging out from a thicket near by. He was so upset that he hardly knew what to do, but he grabbed up a big rock and sent it at the bear. It struck the monstrous animal on the head and keeled him over, and the bear rolled down the steep mountain-side, and knocked over the three Modoc Indians, smashing every one of them."
"Wow! That's some bear story!" exclaimed Luke.
"Shadow, how could you bear to tell such a story?" asked Dave, reproachfully.
"That knocks out all the dime novels ever written," said Ben.
"Why, Ben! do you mean to say you have read them all?" cried our hero, in pretended surprise.
"All? I don't read any of them!" snorted Ben. "Just the same, that's the biggest whopper I ever heard."
"Well, I'm not vouching for the story," interposed Shadow, dryly, "I'm just telling it as it was told to me."
"Speaking about being frightened by a bear puts me in mind that it's queer we haven't seen or heard anything more of that wild man," remarked Roger.
"We don't want to see or hear anything more of him!" burst out Laura. "One scare was enough."
"It's queer that the Pooles don't send some one up here to look for him," remarked Jessie. "If he were my uncle I certainly wouldn't want him to be roaming around in the woods that way."
"If he is just roaming around I wonder how he manages to live," said Dave. "And where does he get all that outlandish outfit?"
"He must have some sort of a habitation here," returned Phil. "Maybe he has taken possession of some bungalow or cabin that was locked up. If he has, won't the owners of the place be mad when they find it out, especially if he is using their things!"
"I wonder if we couldn't go up to that cliff and track him in some way from there?" said Phil. "He may have left some sort of trail behind him. Unless he follows some kind of paths through the woods he would be apt to get lost, just like anybody else."
"If he really is Wilbur Poole, I'd like to capture him and send him back to the sanitarium; where he belongs," remarked Roger. "I think Nat would like us to do it."
"What do you say about starting on a regular hunt to-morrow?" asked Dave. "We might go out directly after breakfast and carry our lunch with us. Who knows but what in looking for the wild man we might run across some trace of Link Merwell."
"Oh, Dave, you mustn't get into any trouble!" cried Jessie, hastily.
"If we go out we'll go armed and be on our guard," he replied.
The matter was talked over for some time, and at last it was decided that the boys should start out in a body directly after breakfast the following morning, provided it remained clear. They were to carry a shotgun and a rifle, and also a substantial lunch, and were not to return to Bear Camp until evening.
"I'd like to go on such a tramp myself," announced Belle. "It would be lots of fun climbing over the rocks and up the mountains."
"I think you girls had better remain around the bungalows," said Mrs. Wadsworth. "You can go out some other time, when the boys are not looking for that wild man and Link Merwell."
During the past few days those at Bear Camp had seen but little of the moving-picture company. That afternoon the old hunter, Tad Rason, stopped at the dock in his rowboat, and made the announcement that the company had gone to the other end of the lake, to take pictures for several more dramas.
"Mr. Appleby wanted me to tell you that that young feller, Ward Porton, ain't goin' to be with 'em no more," announced Tad Rason to Dave. "He says the young feller writ a letter sayin' that he was on the track of his parentage, and he guessed as how he'd have plenty of money of his own when he could prove who he was."
This announcement was of great interest to Dave, and he immediately questioned Tad Rason, to learn if the old hunter knew anything further. But that was all Rason could tell. He even did not know how long Ward Porton had remained with the moving-picture company after his arrival in the Adirondacks.
"The huntin' season will be openin' to-morrow," announced Tad Rason, in reply to a question from Phil. "I'm bound down the lake now to meet a party of hunters comin' from Albany. I take 'em out every season, actin' as guide."
"Perhaps we'll get you to go out with us some day," said Roger.
"All right, boys. I'll be glad to go, if I ain't got any job with them other fellows," announced the old hunter.
Although he was not willing to admit it to the others, Dave was greatly worried over the news brought by Tad Rason. Coupling it with what he had heard from Link Merwell and Nat Poole, he could reach but one conclusion, which was that in some way Ward Porton was going to try to prove that the boy from the Crumville poorhouse was not the real Dave Porter.
"Maybe he'll come along with a story that he is the real Dave," thought our hero, bitterly. "He said he was raised in a poorhouse, just like myself, but he also said it was away down East and not anywhere near the vicinity of Crumville. How he is going to get around that is beyond me. I don't think he'll be able to make anybody believe his story. Just the same, I wish this thing hadn't come up. I'd like to forget those poorhouse days entirely." And at the remembrance of those bitter times, Dave sighed deeply.
"Dave, you look awfully worried," said Jessie, that evening when the boys were getting ready for their next day's tramp. "What is the trouble?"
"Oh, it isn't much," he answered, evasively. "I was just thinking over what Link Merwell said."
"Dave, don't let him worry you so!" cried the girl, sympathetically. "He is a bad boy, and everybody knows it."
"But he said some things that I don't like at all, Jessie. I don't like him to call me a poorhouse nobody."
"Dave, don't you mind him! I don't care if you did come from the poorhouse. I think just as much of you anyway," and Jessie's eyes showed her earnestness.
"It's splendid of you to say that," he returned, in a low tone, and catching both her hands, he squeezed them tightly. "It's a grand good thing to have somebody who believes in you."
Early in the evening there was a slight shower, and some of the boys thought they were in for a steady rain. But soon the clouds passed, and the moon and stars came out as brightly as ever.
"A perfect day!" announced Roger, on arising the next morning. "Just cool enough to make mountain climbing a pleasure."
The servants had an early breakfast ready for the boys, and by the time the girls and the others appeared they had partaken of the repast and were ready to depart. Dave carried the rifle and Roger the shotgun, while the others were loaded down with several knapsacks of provisions and some extra wraps and a blanket or two.
"You want to take plenty of things with you," Dunston Porter had cautioned them. "You may get farther away from home than you anticipate, and may have to stay out all night."
"That's true, Uncle Dunston," Dave had answered. "And that being so, if we don't turn up at a reasonable hour, don't worry about us."
"But what will you do if you capture that wild man?" asked Mrs. Basswood.
"If it's Wilbur Poole, we'll make him a prisoner and bring him with us," announced Dave.
"Well, good luck to you!" cried Dunston Porter, as the boys prepared to leave. "Remember the hunting season opens to-day, so if you get a chance at any game don't let it slip you."
"Trust us for that, Uncle Dunston!" cried Dave.
With shouts of good-bye, the boys turned away from the bungalows, and a few minutes later disappeared along the path running beside the brook.
SHOOTING A WILDCAT
Less than half an hour later, the boys found themselves at the top of the cliff where Dave and Phil had seen the encounter between Link Merwell and the so-called wild man. A brief look around convinced them that the locality was deserted.
"Now to find the wild man's trail, if he left one," announced Dave, and the boys scattered in several directions, looking at the ground and the brushwood with great care.
"If we only had one of those Reservation Indians with us, he might help us pick up the trail," declared Roger. "As it is, I must confess I'm not much of a trail-finder."
"Oh, don't give up so soon," returned Dave. "Remember we have the whole day before us."
Presently Ben and Luke, who had turned southward on the cliff, let out a shout.
"Here is something of a trail," announced Ben, when the others came hurrying in that direction, and he pointed to footprints which led through some soft soil between a number of low bushes. A little further on they could see where somebody's shoes or boots had carried some of the mud up on to the rocks beyond.
"That certainly does look like a trail," declared Dave. "Let us follow it up a bit, and see where it leads to."
This was considered good advice, and soon, led by our hero, the whole party was moving through the brushwood and over the rocks. Then they came once again to the woods, and here discovered a well-defined trail running southwestward.
"This may be an animal trail for all we know," remarked Shadow. "For my part, I can't tell one kind of trail from another."
"It's quite likely that a fellow like that wild man would use any trail he came across, and so would anybody else trying to move around in a wilderness like this," answered Dave. "I don't think it will do any harm to follow it for some distance."
"Better keep your eyes open, Dave," cautioned Phil. "It may lead us into danger."
"I've got my eyes wide open, and I've got the rifle handy, too," answered our hero, as he once more led the march forward.
The trail was very narrow in places, so that they had to walk in single file. It made a long curve through the forest, and then came out in a little clearing, backed up by a series of jagged rocks. Here there was a small stream, and behind it a spring of pure, cold water.
"It looks to me as if the animals used this trail when they wanted a drink," was Luke's comment. "That water looks pretty good to me," and bending down, he took a deep draught. "It's fine," he went on; "try it!"
The others did as requested, and agreed with Luke that the water was as good as any they had ever tasted. Then began more searching, and before long they found another trail, this time veering to the westward.
The boys pushed forward once again, Dave still in the lead; and thus a half mile more was covered. Then they found themselves between a number of rocks where, presently, the trail seemed to lose itself.
"Say, Dave, we don't seem to be getting anywhere," announced Phil, as having climbed over several very rough rocks, he stopped to regain his breath.
"That's right!" broke in Luke. "And say, we had better go slow unless somebody wants to sprain an ankle. This is the roughest ground I ever tried to get over."
"It is easier walking just ahead," announced Dave, who now stood on the top of one of the rocks, gazing forward. "Come on! I think I see the trail too," and he made a leap from one rock to another and was soon some distance in advance.
The rough rocks left behind, the boys came out on a trail which seemed to come from the north and lead directly up a steep hillside well covered with tall trees. Here the shade was very thick, and the slight breeze that was stirring made the atmosphere decidedly cool.
"Wonder what time it is?" remarked Luke, and drew out his watch as he spoke. "Well, I never! Only ten o'clock! I thought it must be about noon!"
"Getting hungry already?" laughed Dave. "If you are, we might stop for a bite."
"That's it! let's have a bite to eat, and rest at the same time," cried Phil. "We brought plenty of lunch along—enough for several meals."
The boys sat in a sort of circle on some rocks and a fallen tree, and while thus resting partook of a light lunch from one of the knapsacks. Then they moved forward, up the hillside, and presently found themselves on the top of the rise.
"Here is quite a view!" announced Shadow, and they spent a little time in taking in the panorama spread before them. On one side they could see Mirror Lake, and on the other the nearby mountains and also a faraway wagon-road, which they rightly guessed was that running to Carpen Falls and the villages beyond.
"See anything worth looking at outside of the scenery?" questioned Roger of our hero.
"I see some smoke down in yonder hollow," announced Dave. "That must come either from some campfire or else from some cabin, and whether it is from a campfire or a cabin it means that some human being must be there."
"Right you are, Dave! And that human being may be that wild man, or Link Merwell," answered Ben, quickly.
"How far do you think it is to that smoke?" asked Phil.
Various guesses were made, and the consensus of opinion was that the smoke was not over half a mile distant.
"Let us take the trail leading off in that direction," said Dave, and a few minutes later the boys struck out once more.
Much to their surprise, getting down into the hollow between the hills and the nearby mountain was by no means as easy as they had anticipated. The way proved exceedingly rough, and more than once one or another of them was in danger of a serious tumble. As it was, Shadow slipped on the rocks and scraped his hands in several places. Then Luke gave a grunt, announcing that he had barked his left shin.
Dave was still in advance, and now he made a leap from a rock into some low brushwood. As he did this there came a sudden cry and a snarl, followed by the movement of some body through the brushwood a short distance ahead.