"Hello! what was that?" cried Phil, who was nearest to our hero.
"I didn't get a very good view of it, Phil," answered Dave, who now had his rifle ready for use, "but unless I was much mistaken, it was a wildcat."
"A wildcat! Great Caesar! We don't want to run into any such beast as that, Dave."
"Did you see a wildcat? Where is it?" demanded Roger, quickly, as he, too, reached Dave's side.
"It went off in that direction," answered Dave, pointing with the barrel of his rifle. "See! There it is!"
As Dave uttered the last words, Roger and Phil saw a small, tawny-colored body creep out of some distant bushes and make a leap onto a flat rock. The beast was indeed a wildcat, and as it came from cover it swung around for a brief instant to gaze savagely at the boys. Then it crouched low, preparatory to making a leap to another rock higher up.
Crack! It was Dave's rifle that rang out. And following the report the wildcat was seen to leap into the air and then fall back on the rock, where it whirled over and over several times.
"You hit it, Dave!" yelled Phil and Roger, simultaneously.
"What did you shoot at?" called out Ben, as he came plunging forward, followed by Luke and Shadow.
"A wildcat! See, there it is on the rocks!" cried Roger.
"A wildcat! I didn't know there were any left around here," returned Ben, and then he added, quickly: "There it goes! You didn't kill it after all, Dave."
As Ben spoke, the wildcat gave another whirl on the rock, and then slipped off through the bushes out of sight of the boys.
"I'll give him a shot from my gun if he needs it," announced Roger, as he hurried forward.
"Be careful that he doesn't get at you first!" cried Dave, warningly. "If he's only slightly wounded he'll be a dangerous customer to tackle."
The other boys followed Roger, and, having reloaded his weapon, Dave followed suit. Soon all were standing close to the flat rock where the wildcat had been hit.
"Where is it?"
"I don't see him anywhere."
"Be careful, he may land on you before you know it!"
"There! There! Look yonder!" The last cry came from Luke, and at his words all turned quickly, to see the wildcat crouch between two trees growing close to the rocks. With a snarl, the beast leaped out toward them, the blood flowing from a wound along one forequarter.
Roger had the shotgun ready, and without taking time to bring the weapon to his shoulder, he pulled the trigger.
Bang! went the piece, and then, with a final leap, the wildcat sprang toward the boys, only to drop dead at their feet.
"Good! That's the way to do it!" cried Phil, enthusiastically. "That wildcat won't bother us any more."
"Dave hit him in the forequarter," announced Roger, after an examination of the dead animal. "More than likely the beast would have died from that wound."
"I don't know about that," returned our hero; modestly. "You are the one who settled him. That was a fine shot, Roger. It couldn't have been better." And on this the others agreed.
As no one cared to take the trouble to skin the wildcat, the beast was left where it had fallen, and the boys once more took their way along the trail leading to the spot where they had seen the smoke. Soon the trail made another turn, and then came out on a path which was wider and showed considerable usage.
"Here are footprints," said Ben, pointing to them. "I believe we are getting close to some sort of a house or cabin."
A few minutes later the broad path they had discovered made another turn, and then in the distance they saw a neat log cabin, located on the bank of a small mountain torrent. From the chimney of the cabin a thin wreath of smoke was curling.
"That's the smoke we must have seen," announced Dave. "Now the question is: Who lives there?"
"And how will they take our arrival," added Phil.
"Wait a minute!" ordered Dave, and put out his hand to stop his chums from advancing. He had seen a man come limping from the mountain torrent with a bucket of water in his hand. Now the man stopped in front of the door to the cabin as if to look around before entering.
"Well, that isn't the wild man; that's sure! And it isn't Link Merwell, either," announced Roger.
"Say, I've seen that man before!" cried Phil, in sudden excitement.
"You have, Phil?" questioned Dave. "Who is he?"
"Who is he? Unless I am greatly mistaken, that is my missing uncle, Lester Lawrence!"
THE MAN AT THE CABIN
"That man is your uncle?"
"Do you mean the man who disappeared so mysteriously after that robbery?"
"That's the man." Phil's manner showed increased excitement. "Isn't this the strangest thing that ever happened? To think of my running across my uncle in this out-of-the-way place!"
"You want to make sure that he is your uncle first," warned Dave. "Perhaps he is only somebody who looks like your relative, the same as that Ward Porton resembles me," added our hero, with a grim smile.
"Oh, I am sure that man is my uncle," declared the shipowner's son.
"Do you think he is the same fellow we saw before—the wild man?" queried Roger.
"I don't know as to that. Maybe he is," and Phil's face now showed worriment. "I do hope my uncle hasn't lost his mind!"
"Well, he might do that because of his troubles," was Shadow's comment. "It was trouble that affected Wilbur Poole, if you'll remember."
During the course of this conversation, the boys had withdrawn to the shelter of some trees and brushwood. In the meantime the man with the bucket of water had disappeared within the cabin.
"I noticed he limped considerably," remarked Dave.
"Yes, and he had his left foot bound up," announced Luke. "More than likely he hurt it in some way."
"It would be an easy matter for somebody to hurt his foot if he cut up like that fellow who nearly scared the girls and Link Merwell to death," remarked Ben.
"I am going to the cabin and see what he has to say for himself," declared Phil, resolutely starting forward.
"If you go we had better go with you," announced Dave. "But be careful, Phil. If that man is out of his head he may be dangerous."
"I don't think my Uncle Lester would hurt me even if he was out of his mind," answered the shipowner's son, as he moved toward the cabin, followed closely by the others.
The boys were still a hundred feet or more away from the habitation when the man reappeared at the doorway. On catching sight of the newcomers he uttered a sudden cry of dismay, and then disappeared like a flash, banging the cabin door shut behind him.
"Evidently he's not very sociable," remarked Luke, dryly. "I guess he doesn't want any visitors."
Advancing to the door, Phil knocked loudly.
"Go away from here! I don't want to see any of you!" cried a heavy voice from within. "Go away, I tell you!"
"Open the door, please. I want to speak with you," answered Phil, as calmly as he could.
"I won't talk to you! I don't want any one around this place!" came angrily from within the cabin. "Go away, or I'll shoot!"
"Say, I don't like this!" cried Shadow, in a low voice. "I guess we had better get out," and he started to retreat, followed by Luke and Ben. Phil, however, stood his ground, and not to desert their chum, Dave and Roger did the same.
"We are not going to molest you," called out Phil, after several seconds of silence. "All I want to do is to talk to you."
"I won't talk to anybody, I tell you! Go away! If you don't I'll use a shotgun on you!" returned the man in the cabin.
"Aren't you Mr. Lester Lawrence?" demanded Phil.
"What's that?" And now the voice of the man showed sudden interest.
"I say: Aren't you Mr. Lester Lawrence?" repeated Phil.
"Who said I was Lester Lawrence?" demanded the man, suspiciously.
"If you are, I must talk to you. I am Phil Lawrence, your nephew."
"Phil Lawrence!" the boys outside heard the man mutter to himself. "Phil Lawrence? Oh, it can't be!" Then he raised his voice: "You are trying to play some trick on me," he shouted.
"It isn't any trick," put in Dave. "This young man here is Philip Lawrence, and he is looking for his uncle, Lester Lawrence. He has good news for him."
"Good news? I can't believe it! It is some trick. I want you all to go away."
"Uncle Lester, it isn't any trick. I am Phil, your nephew. I want to talk to you. I've got the best kind of news for you; something that you'll be glad to hear. Won't you please open the door and let me talk to you?"
"It's a trick, I know it's a trick," came from the man, in almost a whine. Nevertheless, he advanced toward the door, and with trembling hands threw off the bolt that had been shot into place. Then, with great caution, he opened the door several inches and peered out.
"Who says he is Philip Lawrence?" he questioned, sharply.
"I am, Uncle Lester," announced the shipowner's son. "Don't you remember me? You used to think the world and all of me some years ago, when you lived across the street from us."
The man opened the door a little wider, and gazed sharply into Phil's face. Then his manner seemed to change, and, allowing the door to swing wide open, he tottered back and sank down on a bench.
"It's Phil—little Phil, sure enough," he murmured. "How in the world did you come to follow me to this faraway place?"
"I didn't follow you, Uncle Lester," returned the youth. "I and my friends were looking for a wild man who is roaming around in this vicinity, scaring people, and we reached this place by accident. We saw you coming to the cabin with a bucket of water, and I easily recognized you at once."
"I thought I was safe here—safe from the whole world," muttered Lester Lawrence. "But you said you had good news for me," he added quickly. "What is it?"
"It's the best kind of news, Uncle Lester. Don't you know that shortly after you disappeared the bank authorities and the police found the guilty parties?"
"They did?" And now the man's face showed his amazement.
"Why, sure they did! And then, of course, they knew that you were innocent."
"Oh, Phil! can this be true?"
"It certainly is true, Uncle Lester, every word of it! You are an innocent man, and everybody at home knows it. Father has been trying his best to get into communication with you. He inserted personals in the newspapers, and even put detectives on your track; but, as you know, without avail."
"Then the world knows that I am innocent! Thank God for that!" exclaimed the man, with fervor. "Oh, how I have suffered! And for such a long time, too!" And tears stood in his eyes.
"But why didn't you communicate with father?" asked the nephew. "You ought to have known that he would be tremendously worried about you."
"I was bitter, bitter against the whole world. I didn't think I had a friend left!" cried Lester Lawrence. "I didn't want to see anybody, and I didn't want anybody to see me. I was afraid that they might catch me and put me in jail, and then if I could not prove my innocence—and there was to my mind no way of doing that—they would send me to prison for a long term of years. That's why I made up my mind to disappear."
"And you've been up here ever since?" asked Phil.
"No, I've been here only since last Summer. Before that I was in another section of the Adirondacks."
Lester Lawrence looked at Dave and Roger, who had followed Phil into the cabin, and at the other boys, who were crowded around the doorway.
"Who are these; some of your school chums?" he questioned.
"Yes, Uncle Lester," answered the shipowner's son, and introduced his friends one after another. "They are all good fellows, and I hope you will consider them as friends."
"I will do that, Phil, if you want me to," was the reply. "Your revelation has lifted a great weight from my shoulders. Tell me all the particulars."
Sitting down beside his relative, the shipowner's son related all that he knew of the occurrences of the past. Mr. Lawrence listened to the recital with close attention and asked many questions, his face meanwhile showing his intense satisfaction.
"What you have told me makes me feel ten years younger," he declared. "If all this is true—and I have no reason to doubt your word—I can once more face the world and those who are dear to me."
"Phil has got another surprise for you, Mr. Lawrence," put in Dave, when the recital was at an end. "You will not only be a free man when you return to your former home, but you will also have a good deal of money coming to you."
"Indeed! And how is that?"
"It's this way, Uncle Lester," answered Phil, and thereupon gave a few of the details concerning the land which the rival railroads wished to purchase from the uncle and Phil's father.
"That certainly is splendid news!" declared Lester Lawrence, his eyes lighting up. "What a wonderful change the last hour has brought! Before you came I thought I was doomed to live here, unknown and alone, for perhaps the rest of my life."
"But how have you managed to live?" asked Dave, curiously.
"Oh, that has been easy. You see, when I left home I had quite a little money that belonged to me. I buy necessary provisions down in one of the towns, and also do some hunting and fishing. This cabin belongs to the daughter of an old hunter who lived here for years, and as she did not wish to occupy it she let me have it at a very reasonable rental."
"Do you know anything of that wild man who is in this vicinity?" queried Roger.
At this direct question Lester Lawrence dropped his eyes and showed much confusion.
"I am afraid I do," he answered, shamefacedly. "The fact of the matter is, it was I who played the wild man, dressing myself up in some old outfits that were left in this cabin by those who used to live here."
"But what was your purpose?" questioned Luke.
"I wanted to scare the folks in this vicinity, so they would not come near this cabin. I was afraid if too many people came to this neighborhood, sooner or later somebody might recognize me and inform the authorities."
"You nearly scared the ladies and girls in our bungalows to death," said Ben, bluntly.
"I am very sorry for it, now," was the reply. "But you see, what Phil has told me has put an entirely different face on the matter. I looked at all strangers as enemies. I was very bitter against everybody."
"Well, I guess you had a right to feel bitter, Uncle Lester," returned Phil, who could realize how his relative had suffered. "But it's all past now, and you must give up your life here and come home with me."
"I am willing to go home, now that I know my name is cleared," answered Lester Lawrence. "But I can't travel just yet," he added, ruefully, looking down at his bandaged foot.
"What is the trouble?" questioned Dave, kindly.
"I sprained my ankle the day I followed one of you boys—that is, I suppose it was one of your crowd. I mean the chap who fell over the cliff."
"Link Merwell!" ejaculated Phil. "He is no friend of ours, he is an enemy. By the way, Uncle Lester, have you seen him since then?"
"He is an enemy, you say!" cried Mr. Lawrence. "Is that so? Yes, I saw him. He was here early this morning, and I chased him away."
"He was here, and you chased him away!" exclaimed Dave. "Have you any idea where he went to?"
"I think he took the trail back of the house; the one leading to Carpen Falls," answered Lester Lawrence. "I slipped on my most outlandish costume, and I must have scared him out of his wits, for he ran like a deer," he added, with a smile.
"In that case there is no use in our looking for him around here," announced Roger.
"I think I'll give the hunt up," said Phil. "Finding my uncle has changed matters completely. What I want to do is to send word to my father that my uncle is found. Then, as soon as he is able to travel, I'll leave you fellows and take him home."
"I think I'll be able to walk on the foot in a day or two," answered Lester Lawrence. "You see I can already hobble around. But that sprain was a pretty bad one, I can assure you!"
After this the situation was discussed for some time—in fact, until well after the noon hour. Then one of the boys suggested that they have dinner, and while Phil and his uncle continued to talk over their personal affairs, Dave and his chums set about getting ready the meal.
While all in the cabin partook of the midday meal, the boys told the hermit about their life in camp, and also of their adventures at Oak Hall and in other places. Lester Lawrence listened interestedly to the recital, and asked innumerable questions concerning their doings, and also questioned Phil regarding conditions at home.
"I'll leave the matter of that land deal entirely to your father," he said to his nephew. "He always had a better head for business than I've got. He'll know the right thing to do."
After the meal it was decided that Phil should remain at the cabin with his uncle, while the other boys returned to Bear Camp. Phil wrote out a message which he asked Dave and the others to send to Carpen Falls, from which point it might be transmitted by telephone and telegraph to his parents, announcing the finding of the long-lost uncle.
"Now that I have found Uncle Lester, I don't want to leave him," said Phil to Dave and Roger, as he drew his two particular chums to one side, out of hearing of the others. "Uncle Lester may be all right in his mind—in fact I hope he is—but at the same time, he has acted so queerly that I don't want to give him any chance to get away from me. Besides, I think he ought to rest so that his lame ankle can get well. I'll do all the work around here and stay until some of you get back, which I suppose will be in a day or two."
"All right, Phil. You stay with him, by all means," answered our hero. "We'll attend to this message, and we'll wait to see if any message comes back from your father."
The boys to return to Bear Camp had thought they must go by the way they had come, but Lester Lawrence told them to follow the mountain torrent for a distance of a quarter of a mile, and then they would reach a broad and well-defined trail leading to the brook which flowed into Mirror Lake.
"It's a much shorter route," he said, "and you will find the traveling much easier."
It was about half an hour later when Dave and the others bid Phil and Mr. Lawrence good-bye, and set out on the return to Bear Camp. Our hero still had possession of the rifle, and Roger carried the shotgun. Under the heavy trees it was both dark and cold, and the boys hurried along as rapidly as possible, not only to make time, but also to keep warm. Dave and Roger were in advance, discussing the finding of Phil's uncle.
"I'm mighty glad on Phil's account that his uncle has been found," remarked Dave. "The selling of that land at a handsome profit will be a big lift for the Lawrence family."
"Yes. And how it will please Phil's parents to have Mr. Lawrence's brother back!" responded Roger. "As it was, they did not know whether he was dead or alive. It's a terrible thing to——"
Roger broke off short, for at that instant Dave clapped his hand over his chum's mouth and drew him quickly behind a nearby tree. They were well in advance of their friends, and now our hero motioned the others to keep back.
"What is it? What is the trouble?" called out Ben.
"It's a deer, keep quiet!" answered Dave, in a low tone.
"A deer! Where?" questioned Roger.
"Over yonder, by the white birch."
The senator's son looked in the direction indicated, but for the moment saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then, however, a head appeared from between some bushes back of the white birch, and presently a beautiful deer stalked into view.
"I see him," whispered Roger, excitedly. "There is your chance, Dave, plug him!"
Our hero already had the rifle raised. He was about to pull the trigger when he paused, for he had seen the bushes back of the deer move.
"What's up? Why don't you shoot?" whispered Roger, his voice betraying excitement.
"I think there's another deer there, Roger," whispered our hero, in return. "Yes, there he is! Now then, you will have a shot yourself. Take the one on the left and I'll take the one on the right."
"All right," returned the senator's son, and raised the double-barreled shotgun. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. When I say 'three,' fire," answered Dave, quickly. "One, two, three!"
Crack! Bang! The two pieces rang out in quick succession, and as the reports echoed through the forest both deer gave a wild leap into the air. Then the animal at which Dave had shot plunged forward on its knees and fell into some brushwood, kicking wildly. The other deer whirled around and started to run for cover.
"Give it the other barrel, Roger!" yelled Dave, as he ran forward.
There was no need of this advice, for while Dave was yet speaking the second barrel of the shotgun was discharged at the flying deer. Roger's aim this time proved to be better than before, and plunging forward, the deer ran full tilt into a tree and then pitched over on its side, where it soon breathed its last.
Long before Dave reached his quarry he was ready for a second shot should the game require it. But when he reached the deer's side he found that the end of the animal was close at hand. Then he rejoined his chum, who was watching the other deer.
"Is he dead, Roger?" he asked, quickly.
"I think he is, Dave," was the answer, and Roger's tone showed his exaltation. "My! but this is luck; isn't it?"
"I should say yes! Two deer at a clip!"
"How about the one you hit; is it dead?"
"Just about," was Dave's reply, and then he hurried over to the game, to note that it was breathing its last.
"How did you make out?" The cry came from Ben, as he came running forward, followed by Luke and Shadow.
"Did you hit anything?" queried the former story-teller of Oak Hall.
"Did they hit anything!" yelled Luke. "Say, this is great, they got two of them!"
"This is what I call wholesale hunting!" announced Ben.
"You fellows certainly opened the hunting season in great shape," was Shadow's comment. "A wildcat and two deer all in one day!"
The boys dragged the two deer together, and it must be confessed that Dave and Roger looked at their quarry with great pride.
"How are we going to get those down to the bungalows?" asked the senator's son.
"I think the best thing to do will be to tie their feet together and slip each of them on a long pole," returned Dave.
A small hatchet had been brought along for possible use in cutting firewood, and with this the boys cut down two long and slender saplings. Then they tied up the deer as our hero had mentioned, and a sapling was thrust between the front and hind legs of each of the game, allowing the body to hang below.
"Here, Ben, you can carry the rifle," announced Dave. "I'll take one end of one load."
"And I'll help carry with you," announced Luke.
"I'll carry my share of the load," offered Roger, and he picked up one end of the second sapling, while Shadow took the other. Thus carrying the loads between them, and with Ben going ahead with the rifle, they continued on the return to Bear Camp.
Progress with such heavy loads was necessarily slow, and several times the boys stopped to rest. It was well toward nightfall when they reached the stream flowing into Mirror Lake.
Having gained the watercourse, it was an easy matter for them to continue onward until they reached the vicinity of the two bungalows. As soon as they came in sight of the camp, several set up a shout, which quickly brought Laura and Belle into view.
"Home again, and with lots of good news!" cried Dave, swinging his cap.
"Oh, look, they have two deer!" exclaimed the girl from the West. "Isn't that grand?"
"It certainly is," returned Laura; but her voice had little of enthusiasm in it.
"Where is Uncle Dunston?" cried Dave. "I want him to look at what Roger and I shot."
"Your uncle has gone home," answered Belle. At the same time Laura turned away.
"Gone home!" repeated Dave, in bewilderment. "Why, what made him do that? I didn't know he was going until next week."
"He went with Mr. Wadsworth," continued Belle. "They had some very important business to attend to."
"What was it? Laura, do you know?"
"Yes, I know, Dave," answered the girl, and now her voice had a curious, uncertain ring in it. "Oh, Dave, it's the most awful thing I ever heard of! I don't see how I am ever going to tell you!" she burst out; and then, of a sudden, began to cry and ran into the bungalow.
Dave was so surprised that for the moment he knew not what to say or do. His eyes followed Laura as she disappeared within the bungalow, and then he turned in bewilderment to Belle.
"Laura takes it awfully hard, but I don't think she ought to—at least not yet," said the girl from Star Ranch. "There may not be a word of truth in the story. Anyway, I'm not going to believe it until they prove it."
"But what are you talking about, Belle?" questioned Dave, his face still showing his perplexity. "What is it all about? Has anything happened at home? It isn't my father; is it?"
"No, there is nothing wrong at your home, Dave—at least not in the way you think." Belle paused for a moment as if not knowing how to go on. "You remember what Link Merwell said; don't you?"
"Yes. Of course I don't believe it at all. But this young fellow, Ward Porton, sent word to your father, and that has upset him a great deal, so that he sent word to your Uncle Dunston and Laura, as well as to Mr. Wadsworth. The word came in this morning, a couple of hours after you had left; and after talking the matter over, your uncle and Mr. Wadsworth made up their minds to return to Crumville without delay."
"And what did this Ward Porton have to say?" questioned our hero, and it was with an effort that he steadied his voice.
"I can't give you all the particulars, because Laura did not show me the letter. Poor dear! it just broke her up completely, and I've had an awful time with her—and I've had an awful time with Jessie, too."
"But you must know something," went on Dave, while the others gathered around, their faces showing their intense curiosity.
"Well, as near as I can make out, this Ward Porton has been investigating matters connected with himself and with you, and he claims that he is the real Dave Porter and that you are somebody else."
"Oh, say, that's nonsense!" burst out Phil, quickly. "Why, we proved Dave's identity beyond question, when we came back from our trip to the South Seas."
"Sure we did!" added Roger. "Dave's uncle went into all of the details with the Crumville poorhouse authorities, and also got the particulars of how that fellow named Sandy Margot, the good-for-nothing husband of that crazy nurse, Polly Margot, abducted Dave and took him on a railroad train, and then got scared and put him off at Crumville."
"I am sure I hope what you say is true, Roger," responded the girl from the West. "What this Porton bases his claim on I don't know. As I said before, I didn't read the letter Dave's uncle turned over to Laura."
"I must go in and find out about this," said Dave, in a curiously unnatural voice. His mind was in a whirl, and for the time being his good luck at hunting, and the finding of Phil's uncle and the clearing up of the mystery of the wild man, were completely forgotten.
He found Laura in one of the bedrooms of the bungalow, sitting in a chair by the window, with her hands clasped tightly together and her face firm-set and drawn. As she looked up at him, two fresh tears stood out on her cheeks.
"They tell me that Uncle Dunston got a letter about me," said the youth, doing his best to steady his voice. "Will you let me see it?"
"It's on the table," returned the girl, motioning with her hand. And then she added impetuously: "Oh, Dave, I can't believe it's true, I simply can't! Why, it's the most dreadful thing that ever came up! I am sure there must be some mistake!"
"I—I can't understand it," Dave stammered in return, and then picked up the communication which had been sent by special messenger from Carpen Falls. The letter ran as follows:
"A most astonishing thing has come up, and I wish you would return to Crumville at once; and it might be well to bring Mr. Wadsworth with you.
"I cannot go into all the details because I am completely upset. Briefly stated the matter is this: A young man named Ward Porton—the same fellow who was in Crumville some time ago with Link Merwell—has written to me, stating that he has every reason to believe that he is the real Dave Porter, and that our Dave is somebody else. His story is that he was left in a poorhouse at Lumberville, Maine, by an old woman who obtained him from Sandy Margot, who told her the child had been under the care of Polly, his wife. The claim is also made that Sandy Margot had in reality stolen two children, little boys, at about the same time, and the theory is advanced that the other boy was the one dropped from the train at Crumville. The young man states that he has gone into the matter very carefully, and has a number of proofs which he will submit whenever called on to do so. He adds that he feels sorry for Dave, but hopes that I will find in him as good a son, and also hopes that Laura will like him as well as a brother.
"I am so upset that I hardly know what to think or what to do. If this young man's story is true, then all of us have made a sad mistake, and what Dave is to do in the matter I don't know. Come on as soon as possible and help me to get to the bottom of this terrible mix-up.
"Your affectionate brother, DAVID BRESLOW PORTER."
Dave read this letter with care, and then allowed the communication to slip from his fingers. If his mind had been in a whirl before, it was more so now, and for the moment he could hardly think straight. If he was not Dave Porter, who was he? A thousand ideas ran riot through his brain.
"Oh, Dave! it can't be true; can it?" came half-pleadingly from Laura.
"I don't know," he answered dumbly. "I don't know."
"But, Dave, I thought that you and Uncle Dunston proved your identity completely, even before you found father and met me."
"I always supposed we did prove it, Laura," he answered. "We went into the matter very carefully at that time. Nothing was ever said about Sandy Margot stealing two little boys. I always supposed he had taken only one child."
"And to think this other young man is a perfect stranger," went on Laura, dolefully. "There is no telling what sort of a person he is."
"He's no stranger to me. I helped to pull him out of the water when the steam yacht was on fire," answered Dave. "I guess he's all right as far as that goes, although I don't think much of his keeping company with Link Merwell."
"Do you suppose it can be a plot hatched up by Link Merwell?"
"I don't know what to think. This news stuns me. I've got to consider it. Maybe I had better go back to Crumville, too."
"No, Uncle Dunston said you had better stay here—at least for the present. He said if they wanted you they could send you word."
"Oh, all right," and now Dave's voice showed a faint trace of bitterness. "Maybe they don't want me around, if they have really settled it that I am not the real Dave Porter."
"Oh, Dave! Don't want you around!" Laura sprang to her feet, and coming over to him, caught both his hands in her own. "Don't talk that way. Even if they should prove that you are not my brother, I shall always think just as much of you."
"Thank you for saying that, Laura," he returned, with much emotion. "It's nice to know that there is somebody who won't go back on me."
"I don't believe anybody will go back on you, Dave—you have always been so good. Oh, I think this is dreadful—just dreadful!" and Laura showed signs of bursting into tears once more.
"Where are Jessie and Mrs. Wadsworth, and Mrs. Basswood?"
"I think Jessie went over to the other bungalow with her mother. She was as much upset as I was."
"Does she think the story is true?"
"She hopes it isn't. But of course she can't do anything—and I can't do anything either."
"Well, I don't see what I can do." Dave took a turn up and down the room, and then sank on a chair. "This just knocks me endwise. I can't even seem to think straight," he added, helplessly.
"You poor boy!" Laura came over and brushed back the hair from his forehead. "You don't know how this hurts, Dave. Oh, it can't be true!"
"I wonder how long I've got to wait before I hear from Crumville?"
"I am sure I don't know. I think, though, we'll get word just as soon as they know anything definite."
At that moment came a timid knock on the door, and Laura opened it to admit Jessie. The appearance of the girl showed that she was much upset. Her face was tear-stained and her hair awry.
"Oh, Dave!" was all she said. And then coming straight toward him, she threw her head on his shoulder and burst into a fit of weeping.
"There, there, Jessie! Don't you cry so," he said, soothingly. "I am sure it will be all right."
"But Da-Dave, hasn't Laura to-told you?"
"Yes, she has told me."
"And did you read that letter?"
"But it can't be true, Dave! Oh, tell me it can't be true!" went on the girl, pleadingly.
"I can't tell you whether it is true or not, Jessie, for I don't know," answered the boy, as bravely as he could. "I suppose they'll investigate the matter at Crumville and at that place in Maine, and let me know." He looked at her curiously. "What if they prove I am not the real Dave Porter, Jessie—will you care very much?"
"Care? Of course I'll care, Dave! But don't misunderstand me," she added, quickly. "Even if they prove you are not the real Dave Porter, it won't make any difference to me. I shall think just as much of you, no matter who you are."
"Do you really mean that?" and he clutched her tightly.
"I certainly do! What difference will it really make? You will be yourself, no matter what your name is."
"I know, Jessie, I'll be myself; but who will I be? Perhaps I'll be a 'poorhouse nobody' after all," and he smiled bitterly.
"Never!" returned the girl, emphatically. "You'll never be a nobody, Dave. You are too true, both to yourself and to those around you. You'll make a name for yourself in this world even if they take your present name away from you;" and as she spoke the girl's words rang with earnestness.
A great and peculiar joy seemed to creep over Dave, and despite the blackness of the situation, his heart for the moment felt light. He gazed with emotion at both Laura and Jessie.
"If that's the way you feel about it—and Laura says she feels the same—I'm not going to worry just yet," he answered.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NIGHT
That evening the sole topic of conversation at Bear Camp was the news concerning Dave. The other lads could not bear to question Laura or Jessie on the subject, knowing how badly both of them must feel; but they asked Belle to tell all she knew, and also quizzed Mrs. Wadsworth and Mrs. Basswood.
"It's the worst state of affairs I have ever known," was the way the jewelry manufacturer's wife expressed herself, in private to Roger and Phil. "We, as you know, think the world and all of Dave, and we don't want him to drop back and become a nobody, even in name. He is a splendid boy, and no matter what happens we shall always think as much of him as we ever did."
"I think all his friends will stick to him," answered Roger. "At the same time, this will cut him to the heart; and what he'll do if they really prove he isn't Dave Porter, I don't know."
"Maybe the Porters will continue to keep him in the family as an adopted son," suggested Phil. "That is, if this report really proves to be true, which I don't believe will happen."
"I have always thought a great deal of Dave, ever since he saved Jessie from that gasoline explosion," returned Mrs. Wadsworth. "Should they find out that he is not a Porter, I think I would be strongly in favor of my husband adopting him."
"Say, that wouldn't be half bad!" burst out Phil, "and the suggestion does you credit, Mrs. Wadsworth. Personally, I think Dave is the finest fellow in the world."
"I am sure we all think that," added Roger. "Since he went to Oak Hall he has made a host of real friends, and I don't think one of them will desert him."
While this conversation was going on, the other boys were talking to our hero, doing their best to cheer him up and to convince him that, no matter what happened, they would stick to him.
"You take it from me," declared Luke, "this is some scheme gotten up by Link Merwell and this other fellow!"
"Certainly it's a scheme!" added Shadow. "It puts me in mind of a story I once heard about a fellow down South who stole three watermelons, and——But, oh, pshaw! what's the use of trying to tell a story now? I'm going to cut them out until we get this thing settled," he added, in disgust.
"Don't you worry, Dave. I am sure it will come out all right in the end," was what Ben said, speaking with an apparent conviction that he did not by any means feel.
"You're all kind, fellows, and I appreciate it very much," answered Dave. "But this is a blow to me. If you'll excuse me, I'd like to take a little walk by myself and think it over." And thus speaking, the youth withdrew from the crowd, and walked slowly to the lake and along a footpath bordering the shore.
"It's the rankest shame I ever knew!" declared Ben, when the others were left to themselves. "If I had that Ward Porton here I'd wring his neck."
"I guess we'd all like to do that," responded Shadow. "Nevertheless, if he is the real Dave Porter you can't blame him for trying to prove it."
"There is only one thing about it that troubles me," said Luke. "Don't you remember that all of those who saw this Ward Porton agreed that he looked very much like Mr. Dunston Porter?"
"Yes, but Dave looks like Dunston Porter, too," came quickly from Ben.
"It's queer that he resembles his uncle more than he does his father," was Shadow's comment. "Maybe this Ward Porton resembles Mr. David Porter."
"Well, it's fierce; that's all I've got to say," declared Ben. "And what Dave is going to do if they prove he isn't the real Dave Porter is something I don't like to think about. In those days when we first went to Oak Hall, you'll remember how bitter he felt when some of his enemies referred to him as that 'poorhouse nobody,' and how eager he was to clear up the mystery of his identity, even though it cost him a trip to the South Sea Islands."
Dave walked on and on along the lake shore, paying little attention to where he was going. His mind was in a state bordering on bewilderment. In a faint, uncertain way he had anticipated some such calamity, but now that the blow had fallen, the matter looked almost hopeless to him. Had he followed his own inclinations, he would have made preparations to return to Crumville at once.
"But evidently they don't want me there," he told himself, bitterly. "They want to solve this mystery without my interference. And if they do make up their minds that I am not the real Dave Porter, I wonder how they will treat me? Of course, they may be very kind to me—the same as Laura and Jessie and the others up here. But kindness of that sort isn't everything. I don't want any one to support me if I haven't some claim on him." And then Dave shut his teeth hard, clenched his hands, and walked on faster than ever.
Finally tired out because he had been on his feet since early morning, Dave sat down on a flat rock to rest. As he did this, he heard the put-put of a motor, and presently around a bend of the shore showed the headlight of Mr. Appleby's motor-boat.
"I wonder if they are simply going down to the end of the lake, or whether they are going to stop at our place," said Dave, to himself. "I'd rather they wouldn't stop at Bear Camp to-night, when everything is so upset."
As the motor-boat swung around, the headlight flashed full upon our hero and there followed an exclamation from the manager of the moving-picture company, who was at the wheel of the craft, with two men beside him.
"Hello there, Porter! What are you doing—fishing?"
"No, I just came down here to sit on the rock and do a little thinking," answered Dave.
"We are making a little trip around the lake," went on Mr. Appleby. "I was going to stop at your dock and deliver a letter that came in our mail by mistake. It's a letter for you, so I might as well give it to you now."
"A letter for me, eh?" answered Dave.
"Yes, here you are!" went on Mr. Appleby, as the motor-boat came to a standstill close by. "I'll put it in the newspaper and you can have that too, as we have read it;" and suiting the action to the word, the man placed the letter in the folds of the paper and tossed the latter ashore.
"Will you stop?" questioned Dave.
"Not to-night. We are going to make a call on the other side of the lake. I just thought I'd give you the letter, that's all," and then, with a pleasant good-bye, the manager steered his motor-boat out into Mirror Lake again.
It was too dark to read the letter without a light, and as Dave did not happen to have even a match, he walked back to the bungalows. The lanterns were hung out on the porches as was the custom, and under the light of one of these he looked at the communication he had received.
"It's from Crumville!" he exclaimed to himself, eagerly, as he looked at the postmark. But then, as he recognized the handwriting, his face fell. "It's only from Nat Poole."
The communication from the money-lender's son was a long one, containing much news which it will be unnecessary to give here. There was, however, one paragraph in the letter which Dave read with great interest.
"I am sorry if you put yourselves out trying to catch that wild man thinking he was my Uncle Wilbur. As I told you, my uncle got away from the sanitarium and they had quite a job to locate him. They found him up in the vicinity of Oak Hall, at one of the houses where he had once stayed. They got him to return to the sanitarium without any trouble, and the doctors think that he is now doing finely."
"Hello, Dave! what are you reading?" remarked Roger, coming up.
"Here's a letter from Nat Poole," and our hero told how he had received it. "You can read it for yourself. They have found Wilbur Poole, and have put him back in the sanitarium."
"Is that so? Well, I am glad they caught him." And then Roger read the letter, and went off to spread the news among the other boys.
The next day was a long one for Dave. While Ben and Luke went to Carpen Falls with a letter directed to Phil's father, he spent part of the time dressing the two deer. But his heart was not in the work, and his friends noted his absent-mindedness. Several times he looked down in the direction of the trail leading to Carpen Falls, and they knew he was hoping for some messenger to appear, summoning him to come to Crumville.
"It makes me sick to see Dave so downcast," whispered Ben to Roger, that evening. "I wish we could cheer him up."
"I don't see how we are going to do it. We can't lift that burden from his mind. We have simply got to wait until some word comes from the Porters at Crumville. I don't believe they'll keep Dave waiting any longer than necessary."
"But think of the terrible suspense!"
"I know it. It's too bad!"
The afternoon had been cloudy, and late in the evening it began to rain. Then the wind came up, moaning through the forest in melancholy fashion and sending thousands of whitecaps across the surface of the lake.
"It isn't Mirror Lake to-night," said Belle, with a little shiver. "It's more like Foamy Lake."
"I don't think I'd want to go out in a canoe to-night," returned Phil, who was beside her.
"I think we are going to have quite a storm," said Laura. "Just listen to that wind!"
With fitful gusts tearing around the bungalows, no one felt much like going to bed. About ten o'clock came a hard downpour, lasting for half an hour. Then the wind died away, and gradually the rain ceased.
"I guess the worst of it is over," announced Mrs. Wadsworth, presently. "I think we may as well retire." And shortly after that all of the inmates of both bungalows were in bed.
For a long while Dave could not sleep. As had been the case the night previous, he tumbled and tossed on his couch, thinking of the trouble that had come to him. But at last tired nature claimed its own, and he sank into a profound slumber, from which he did not awaken until some time after sunrise.
"Hello! I must have overslept," he declared, as he leaped up, to see that his chums were almost dressed.
Dave was just finishing his toilet, and the other boys and some of the girls had started to walk down to the dock to look at the lake, when a cry came from the kitchen of the bungalow.
"Mrs. Wadsworth! Mr. Porter!" came a call from the hired girl. "Please come here!"
"What is it, Mary?" asked Mrs. Wadsworth, as she appeared from her own room.
"Sure, ma'am, a whole lot of things are missing!" declared the girl.
"Missing! What is missing?"
"Sure, ma'am, almost everything in the kitchen is missing, ma'am!" and the girl pointed around in a helpless sort of fashion. "All the knives and forks and spoons are gone! And so are some of the pots and pans and kettles!"
"Is that possible?"
"Yes, ma'am. And that ain't all, ma'am. Sure, and most of the things in the pantry and in the ice-box are gone, too!" announced Mary, running from one place to another. "Sure, ma'am, we've been burglarized, ma'am!"
DELLA FORD'S STATEMENT
"Did they take any of our valuables?"
"Oh, I wonder if they were in our rooms!"
"Mary, were all the things here when you went to bed?" questioned Mrs. Wadsworth, of the servant girl, who was now in the wildest possible state of excitement, wringing her hands and running from one room to another.
"Yes, ma'am, when I went to bed everything was in its place. I'm sure of it, ma'am."
The boys as well as the girls crowded into the kitchen, and then looked into the pantry, in a corner of which was located the ice-box.
"How about this pantry window, Mary? Did you leave it open last night?" asked Dave, pointing to the window in question.
"Sure, sir, I did not! I always lock up well before I go to bed," answered the girl.
"You didn't open the window this morning?"
"Then that is where the thief must have come in," remarked Roger.
"I think we had better take a look around and see just how much is missing," advised Phil. "The thief may have cleaned us out more than we imagine."
Upon this, a systematic search was made through all the rooms of the bungalow. In the midst of the work Ben came running over from the other place.
"Say, what do you know about this!" he called out. "Somebody visited our bungalow last night and took nearly all our victuals and our tableware and our kitchen utensils!"
"The same thing happened here, Ben," answered Dave. "We are just sizing up the situation, to find out how much is gone."
"The others are at that now over at our bungalow. I thought I'd run over to tell you. I'll go back and tell them you are in the same fix. This is fierce; isn't it?" And then Ben hurried away.
An examination of the premises showed that all the tableware of value had disappeared, along with two rings which Laura had left on the mantelpiece in the living-room. From the kitchen nearly everything used in cooking was gone, and likewise almost everything from the pantry and the ice-box.
"Oh, my two rings!" burst out Laura. "The diamond that dad gave me and the beautiful ruby from Uncle Dunston!"
"It's too bad, Laura!" declared Jessie.
"That's what it is!" said Dave. "We'll have to get after that burglar, whoever he is."
"This looks to me like the work of some of these people who are camping out in the Adirondacks," announced Roger. "What would an ordinary burglar do with a lot of kitchen utensils, not to mention canned goods and stuff from an ice-box?"
"Maybe they took the stuff from the ice-box to eat," suggested Dave. "It might be that they would rather camp out than run the risk of going to Carpen Falls, or to some of the hotels, for their meals."
Having completed the search in the bungalows, the boys, followed by the others, went outside. Here they discovered a great number of footprints leading back and forth from the pantry window to the edge of the forest. Among some jagged rocks, the trail was lost.
"Looks to me as if there must have been half a dozen fellows in this raid," announced Roger. "What do you think of it, Dave?"
"Either that, or else the fellow who did the job made a dozen trips or more. To me, the footprints look very much alike."
Presently the crowd went over to the Basswood bungalow, and there learned that, among other things, some solid silver tableware which Mrs. Basswood had brought along had vanished.
"I was foolish to bring such expensive silver," declared the lady of the house. "But I thought we could use it if we happened to have visitors. I never dreamed of being robbed up here."
At the Basswood bungalow an entrance to the kitchen and pantry had been effected through the woodshed, the door of which had been broken open. From this shed a trail led up to the jagged rocks previously mentioned.
"The same rascal or the same crowd that did one job did both," declared Dave.
"I don't know what we are going to do for breakfast," declared Mrs. Wadsworth, rather helplessly. "We have next to nothing to cook, and nothing to cook it in."
"We are in the same fix," answered Mrs. Basswood. "It certainly is a terrible state of affairs. I wish my husband was here to tell us what to do."
"Oh, don't worry about something to eat!" cried Dave. "We can go down to Carpen Falls and get whatever we want, and also get some extra kitchen utensils, and don't forget the deer-meat. What worries me is the loss of Laura's rings and Mrs. Basswood's silverware."
"We might go up into the woods and look around," suggested Ben, "although it's mighty wet up there from the rain."
The matter was talked over for a while longer, and in the meantime the ladies and the girls, aided by the hired help, made an inventory of what was left in the way of eatables.
"We can give all of you some coffee and some fancy crackers," said Mrs. Wadsworth.
"And we have found two cans of baked beans," added Mrs. Basswood. "They'll go some distance toward filling up the boys," and she smiled faintly.
"I'll tell you what we might do!" cried Roger. "Supposing four of us fellows jump into the four-oared boat and row up to the Appleby camp? I am sure they have plenty of provisions, and they'll lend us some until we can get in a new lot from Carpen Falls. And maybe they'll lend us a few cooking utensils, too."
"That's the thing to do!" returned Ben. "Come on, let's go up there at once;" and so it was settled.
Dave and Luke accompanied Ben and Roger on the trip; and as the four youths had often rowed together on the Leming River at Oak Hall, they soon covered the distance to the camp of the moving-picture people. They saw the crowd getting ready to depart for the enacting of the final drama in that locality.
"Hello, you're out bright and early in your boat!" cried Mr. Appleby, as he waved his hand to them. "Taking a little exercise, eh?"
"No, we came for assistance," called back Ben.
"Assistance!" repeated the manager. "What's the trouble?"
"We have been burglarized, and we have hardly anything left to eat!" broke in Luke, and at this announcement all of those in the Appleby camp came down to the dock to learn the particulars of what had occurred.
"In one way you have come at just the right time to get those things," said the manager of the moving-picture company to the boys. "We are going to leave here to-morrow to go back to Boston, so we shall want but little of the food that is on hand. And you'll be welcome to use our tableware and kitchen utensils. They belong here in the cottage, so all you'll have to do when you get through with them will be to bring them back."
While rowing to the Appleby camp, Dave had been giving serious thought to his own affairs. He remembered what he had heard concerning Ward Porton and Della Ford, and resolved to question the young lady and the other members of the moving-picture company about the young man who claimed to be the real Dave Porter. Our hero's chance came when the other boys were busy placing some provisions and cooking utensils in the rowboat. He motioned Della Ford and her aunt to one side, and the three walked out of hearing of the others present.
"If you don't mind, I would like to ask you something about Mr. Ward Porton," said our hero, to the girl.
"O dear, I thought I was done with that young man!" cried Della, with a toss of her head.
"He bothered my niece so much while he was a member of the company she got quite sick of him," declared Mrs. Ford. "He was a very forward young man."
"I'd like very much to find out about his past history: where he came from, and all that," went on Dave. "It's something very important."
"I know more about Mr. Porton than he thinks I do," announced Della. "That's one reason why I dropped him."
"But Della, you don't want to get into any trouble," interposed the girl's aunt, quickly.
"If you'll tell me what you know about Ward Porton, I'll promise that it won't get you into any trouble," answered Dave, quickly. "I want, if possible, to find out where he came from, and who brought him up."
"Who brought him up?" queried Mrs. Ford. "Didn't he live with his parents?"
"He says not. He claims to have come from a poorhouse in a town down in Maine."
"Why, you don't tell me, Mr. Porter!" exclaimed the lady, in astonishment. "He told me once that he had lived with his folks up to the time he was about ten years old, and that then his parents had died and he had gone to live with an uncle."
"Yes, and he did live with an uncle—or at least some man he called his uncle," added Della.
"Are you certain of this?" asked our hero, eagerly.
"I am, Mr. Porter."
"And may I ask what the thing was that you knew about him that caused you to drop him?" continued Dave.
"Wait a minute, Della, before you answer that question," interposed Mrs. Ford, hastily. "I think we ought to know why Mr. Porter is after this information."
"Since we have gone so far, I may as well tell you," returned Dave. And in as few words as possible he related how it had come about that Ward Porton was now claiming to be the real Dave Porter.
"Why, what a queer story!" declared Mrs. Ford. "It sounds like some novel."
"I don't believe it's true, Mr. Porter!" cried Della Ford. "I believe he is a faker! At first I thought he was quite nice, but I soon discovered otherwise. He is addicted to gambling, and when he gets the fever he gambles away the very clothing on his back."
"Then that is why you broke with him?"
"That was one reason. But as I said before, I know more about Mr. Porton than he imagined. One day we had been out walking, and after he left me I picked up a letter which must have dropped from his pocket when he pulled out his cigarette case. As the letter had no envelope, I did not know whose it was, and read it. It was evidently written by a very angry man. The writer, who signed himself Obadiah Jones, said that he was sick and tired of putting up for Ward; that Ward could no longer expect any assistance from him; that he cast the young man off, and never wanted to hear from him again."
"And you say that letter was signed by a man named Obadiah Jones?" asked Dave, eagerly.
"Yes. Rather an old-fashioned name; isn't it?"
"Did the man give his address?"
"No, there was no address of any kind on the letter," answered Della Ford.
"Was this Obadiah Jones the man he said was his uncle?" continued our hero.
"I don't know about that," answered the girl.
THE BIG BEAR
Dave was very thoughtful as the four boys rowed back to the bungalows with the things procured from Mr. Appleby. His talk with Della Ford and her aunt had lasted until the others were ready to depart, but he had gained little information beyond that already known to the reader.
"If only I had the address of that Obadiah Jones, I might go and see him and listen to what he has to say about Ward Porton," he told himself. "Of course he may not be Porton's uncle at all—I know lots of children taken from poorhouses and orphan asylums who call the folks aunt and uncle. But even if he isn't, he may be able to give me some information that will put me on the right track regarding this affair."
The morning was spent by those at the bungalows in getting settled once more. The provisions brought from the Appleby camp were divided between the two places, and likewise the kitchen utensils.
"I'd like to set some sort of a trap and catch those burglars," declared Ben.
"I don't see how you're going to do it," returned our hero. "I doubt very much whether they will show themselves in this vicinity again. More than likely they are miles away."
"Dave, do you think Link Merwell had anything to do with this?"
"It's possible, Ben, although I don't see how he would have the nerve to come back here after what happened. I should think he would feel like quitting this territory entirely."
Another day went by, bringing no word from Crumville. Our hero and Roger had tramped all the way to Carpen Falls, hoping for letters, but the only one to come in was a re-directed epistle for Ben, inviting him to become a subscriber to some local charity.
"O shucks! I suppose the charity is all right," said Ben, when he got this letter, "but I'd like to get some real news from dad or somebody else at home."
Dave said little, but he felt more downcast than ever. He had thought that a letter would surely come by now. Roger noticed how he felt, and placed a kindly hand on our hero's shoulder.
"Don't you worry, Dave, old man," he said feelingly, "this will come out all right in the end."
"I hope so, Roger," was the answer. "But this suspense wears on a fellow."
"Perhaps if you went to Maine to that town where the poorhouse is located that Ward Porton says he came from, you might be able to find out something about that Obadiah Jones," went on the senator's son, who had been told of what the Fords had revealed.
"I was thinking something of that, Roger, and if I can't get on the track any other way, I'll go there," was the reply. "But I hate to think of leaving here until I get some kind of word from Crumville."
"Well, some things move slowly, Dave, don't forget that. More than likely your unc—I mean the folks down in Crumville—are doing all they can to get to the bottom of the matter. Most likely they are investigating the proofs that Ward Porton said he was willing to present."
On the following morning there was something of a surprise. About eleven o'clock, while some of the lads were fishing, and Dave had Jessie out in a canoe, there came a shout from up the brook, and looking in that direction our hero saw Phil approaching, with his uncle beside him, leaning on the youth's shoulder.
"Hello, Mr. Lawrence's ankle must have got better quickly!" cried Dave.
"And is that the so-called wild man?" returned Jessie. "He doesn't seem to be very wild now."
"You've heard us tell why he acted in that outlandish way," was the answer, as Dave paddled toward the dock.
Soon the boys were surrounding the new arrivals, and Mr. Lawrence was led to a couch, upon which he was glad to sit down and thus rest his injured ankle. The ladies and the girls were introduced, and the man shook hands with them rather shamefacedly.
"I'll have to apologize to you for acting so rudely," said Lester Lawrence, after the introductions were over. "I suppose the boys have told you why I did it?"
"Yes, Mr. Lawrence," answered Mrs. Wadsworth, kindly. "And under the circumstances we are quite willing to let bygones be bygones."
"Can we do anything for your ankle?" questioned Laura, who was a natural-born nurse.
"I guess about all it needs is rest," answered Lester Lawrence. "It was quite a journey from my shack to this place. But I saw that Phil was getting anxious to rejoin you, so I told him we might as well make the venture to-day rather than wait. He has been hoping that you would have some word for him from my brother."
"No word yet, Phil," answered Dave, "but there may be in the mail to-day."
"Say, we had some scare this morning just before we left the cabin!" declared the shipowner's son. "I was nearly frightened into a fit!"
"What was that?" came from several of the others.
"I was cleaning the dishes after breakfast, and I went outdoors to throw some scraps in a heap behind some bushes. Just as I got there with my panful of stuff, up jumped—what do you think?—a great big bear!"
"A bear!" shrieked the girls.
"Did you shoot him?" broke in Shadow.
"Shoot him? What with—a frying-pan?"
"Then the bear got away?" asked Roger.
"I don't know whether the bear got away or I got away. I dropped that frying-pan, and I legged it for the cabin for all I was worth. In the meantime the bear disappeared among the trees just back of the cabin. I got my uncle's rifle and went out to look for him, but it was no use."
"O dear, a bear!" murmured Jessie. "Suppose he comes down here?" and she gave a slight shiver.
"Why, that would be fun!" declared Belle. "I'd like to see that bear, and get a shot at him, too," went on the girl from Star Ranch.
"If that bear is anywhere in this vicinity we might organize a hunt for him," suggested Luke, who, on the day previous, had gone out with Ben and Shadow and brought down a partridge.
"That's the talk!" cried Roger. "Come on, let us go on a hunt! It will give us something to do."
The matter was discussed for a quarter of an hour, and during that time Roger and Ben managed to take Phil to one side and tell him about the news from Crumville. The shipowner's son was, of course, much astonished.
"I believe it's a fake!" he declared, flatly. "Dave is Dave Porter, and no mistake! We cleared that matter up directly after our return from the South Seas."
"Just what I said, Phil," responded Roger. "At the same time, I suppose the Porters have got to listen to Ward Porton's claim."
"Bah! it's a conspiracy I tell you—a conspiracy gotten up by this fellow, Porton, and by Link Merwell! You can't tell me any different!" and Phil's face showed his earnestness.
It was decided that all of the boys should go out directly after lunch, in a hunt for the bear. The number of shotguns and rifles on hand was enough to go around, so that each of them would be armed. They also provided themselves with some provisions, not knowing how late it would be before they got back.
"Oh, Dave, do be careful!" pleaded Jessie, when the boys were ready to depart. "Don't let that bear eat you up!"
"Don't worry," he answered. "I'll take care of myself." And then he added with something of a sigh: "I hope you have good news for me when I get back."
"I hope so too, Dave. But just remember what I said," she went on, looking him straight in the eyes. "I'll think just as much of you even if they prove that you are not Dave Porter."
Phil was with the crowd, and all headed up the brook, and then along the trail leading to the cabin which had been occupied by Lester Lawrence. Arriving there, a hunt was made through the forest back of the cabin.
"It's a good deal like hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack," remarked Roger.
"Where did you see the bear last, Phil?" questioned Luke.
"Just about here," was the reply, and the shipowner's son pointed with his hand. "I think he went in that direction," he added.
The boys spread out in a long, straight line, and in this fashion proceeded through the forest for the best part of a mile. During that time they thought they saw a deer in the distance, and Roger might have taken a shot, but Dave imperatively stopped him.
"We can't shoot at anything if we want to get close to that bear," announced our hero. "Bears are very scary creatures, and if you make too much noise that beast will run for miles and miles before he stops."
Late afternoon found the boys still on the search. They had seen nothing to shoot at, and some of them were growing disheartened. Luke was limping slightly, having caught his foot between a crevice in the rocks.
"I move we rest and have something to eat," announced Ben, and this suggestion was quickly seconded by the others. Then, when the sun was well down in the west, they decided to turn back toward the bungalows.
It was a tramp of over a mile and a half, and as the footing in many places was uncertain, they had to proceed with great care.
"Such a hunt!" grumbled Ben. "It's been all hunting and no shooting."
"Which puts me in mind of a story!" cried Shadow. "Oh, this is a short one, so you needn't frown at it," he went on quickly, glancing around. "It's about a fellow who came along and saw an old man fishing in a lake. 'How's fishing?' he asked of the old man. 'Couldn't be better,' was the answer. 'Catch anything?' 'No.' 'Then what do you mean by saying the fishing is good?' 'So it is. I didn't say anything about the catching.'" And at this a grin went around.
"We ought to be getting in sight of the bungalows soon," remarked Roger, after they had climbed over some rough rocks and were walking through a dense patch of the forest.
"Say, this is a fine place to get lost in," remarked Phil.
"It will be all right as long as the sunlight lasts," answered Dave. "I am using that for a compass."
Soon they came to the edge of a clearing, on the other side of which were a series of rocks with vines and brushwood. The boys were about to advance across the clearing when suddenly Shadow's arms went up into the air.
"St—st—stop!" he spluttered, in a low tone. "Dr—dr—drop down, all of you!"
The others saw that he was much in earnest, and immediately sank down behind the trees and rocks. Then all gazed inquiringly at the former story-teller of Oak Hall.
"It's the be—be—bear!" spluttered Shadow. "Sa—say, don't you think we had be—be—better run for it?"
"The bear! Where is it?" demanded Dave.
"I saw him just lift his head up among the rocks yonder," returned Shadow. "Say, he looked like an awful big fellow!"
"Well, if he is there, you bet we are not going to run away from him!" declared Phil. "Come on, let's see if we can't shoot him."
"Wait a minute, Phil," advised Dave. "If the bear is among yonder rocks, as Shadow says, we had better spread out a little, and thus get a better chance at him."
Seeing that his companions were not frightened, Shadow regained some of his composure and followed them, although keeping a little to the rear. With great caution, and holding their firearms ready for use, the whole crowd of boys crossed the clearing and gained the first of the rocks beyond. Fortunately, the breeze was coming from ahead of them, thus carrying their scent away from where the bear was supposed to be.
It had been agreed that when necessary Dave should give the signal to fire. He was slightly in advance, and now with great caution he looked over some rocks just ahead of him. The sight that met his gaze was an interesting one. There was a slight depression there, partly filled with brushwood, and in the midst of this stood a big bear. He had his head down in a hole, and was digging out various things with his forepaws, flinging them to one side and behind him. Out came a kettle, a frying-pan, some knives and forks, cups, saucers, a pie-plate, a dishpan, and numerous other articles, which clattered over the rocks.
"Great hambones, Dave! what kind of a noise is that?" asked Phil, who was beside our hero.
"It's our stolen stuff, that's what it is, Phil!" cried Dave. "Those burglars must have thrown the stuff in that hole!"
"But what would the bear be doing among that stuff?" questioned Luke.
"He's after grub," answered our hero. "They must have thrown some of the food in there with the other stuff. Come on, boys, get ready to fire!"
Fortunately for the lads, the bear was so interested in what he was trying to accomplish that he did not notice their approach. The noise of the flying kettles and pans drowned out the voices.
"What's the matter with all taking a shot at him at the same time?" questioned Phil.
"All right, I'm willing," responded Dave, quickly. "We might as well all have the glory of killing him—if we have that luck."
Every rifle and every shotgun was quickly raised and aimed at the bear. Just as Dave was on the point of giving the order to fire, the beast came out of the hole and looked around. Then in alarm he raised up on his hind legs, a truly terrifying animal to behold.
Bang! Crack! Bang! went the rifles and shotguns in an irregular volley. And then, as the report died away, the huge beast gave a leap into the air, and coming down, sprang directly toward the boys.
"Here he comes!"
"Give him another shot, boys!"
Crack! Bang! Crack! Again the shotguns and rifles rang out.
Whether the shots were absolutely necessary or not it would be hard to say, for just as the boys discharged their various weapons the huge bear was seen to stumble and fall. He gave several convulsive shudders, and then lay still.
"Is he—is he de—dead?" gasped Shadow, who was still a few feet in the rear of the others.
"I think he is," responded Dave. "Load up again as quickly as you can and we'll watch him," and then he proceeded to take care of his own firearm.
But watching was unnecessary, for the huge beast had breathed his last. It was a proud crowd of boys that surrounded the game.
"Say, that's some shooting!" declared Phil, his eyes glistening. "Won't the others be surprised when they hear of it?"
"He certainly is a big one!" said Ben. "I don't believe they grow them much bigger than that anywhere around here." And this assertion proved true, as the boys learned when, later on, Tad Rason saw the game at the bungalows.
"Well, we've got our kitchen utensils and most of the tableware back, anyway," declared Roger, after an inspection of the hollow where they had first discovered the bear at work. "Hello, here's the stuff Mr. Bruin was after!" he added, holding up a chunk of meat which still lay in a pan in the hollow. This meat had been taken from the Wadsworth ice-box; but why it had been placed in the hollow was a mystery.
"But it's a good thing the burglars put it there," declared Luke. "That is what attracted the bear and made him dig."
A careful search of the hollow revealed nearly everything that had been taken from the two bungalows except Laura's rings and Mrs. Basswood's silverware.
"I guess they thought those things too valuable to leave here," was Dave's comment. "I am convinced of one thing," he added.
"What is that?" questioned Ben.
"I believe Link Merwell is at the bottom of this. No ordinary burglar would bother his head about that kitchen stuff. Merwell did it, just to cause us trouble. Maybe he thought we'd have to give up camping here for the time being."
"By Jove, Dave, I think you have solved it!" declared Roger.
"All of which doesn't give my mother her silverware nor Laura her rings," returned Ben.
A sapling with some stout branches attached was cut down, and on to this the boys rolled the bear and tied him fast. Thus they managed, after a good deal of hard labor, to haul the carcass down to the bungalows.
"Oh, here they come, and they've got a bear!" shrieked Belle, who saw them first, and all the inmates of the bungalows hurried to the scene, even Mr. Lawrence hobbling up with the aid of a cane.
"Yes, we got a bear, and we got more than that!" cried Ben, excitedly. "We've found all the kitchen stuff!" and he and the other youths gave the particulars.
A little later some of the boys returned to the hollow and transferred the stolen stuff back to the bungalows. A good deal of the canned provisions was still in perfect condition. The other things, including the meat the bear had scented, were thrown away.
"Oh, Dave!" cried Jessie, as soon as she could motion our hero to one side, "I've got something I want to tell you! I think maybe it will be of assistance in proving your identity," and the girl's eyes glowed with anticipation.
"What is it, Jessie?" he asked, quickly. "Have you heard something from home?"
"No, but I've heard something from Mr. Lawrence, Phil's uncle. Isn't it the strangest thing ever! I was talking to him after you left, and told him what trouble you were having, and mentioned Ward Porton and that man the Fords told you about, Obadiah Jones. And, would you believe it! years ago Mr. Lawrence had some business dealings with a man named Obadiah Jones, and he is quite sure that man had a nephew who was named Ward!"
"Jessie! can this be true?" exclaimed Dave, with pardonable excitement.
"That's what Mr. Lawrence told me. I think you had better speak to him, and without delay."
"I certainly will!" declared our hero, and going up to the crowd that was still around the bear, he touched Phil's uncle on the arm.
"What is it, Porter? Oh! I suppose you want to see me about that man, Obadiah Jones. Well, I'll tell you all I know. Come on back to where I can sit down. This lame ankle of mine is still rather weak." And thus speaking Mr. Lawrence led the way around to the front porch of the bungalow.
"What I want to know is if this Ward Porton was really a nephew of Obadiah Jones," said Dave.
"Yes, that's what Miss Jessie wanted to know, too. Of course I don't know for sure, but I do know the boy's name was Ward and that he called Jones, Uncle Obadiah. You might write to Obadiah Jones and find out. He lives in Burlington, Vermont, and that's not so very far from here—just on the other side of Lake Champlain. His full name is Obadiah L. L. Jones. We used to always call him Old L. L. About everybody in Burlington knows him."
"Perhaps I'd better go and call on Mr. Jones," suggested Dave. "I'd hate to wait for an answer to a letter."
It was not long before the others in the camp knew what Dave had learned concerning Ward Porton and his supposed uncle, Obadiah L. L. Jones. The boys agreed with Dave that it might pay to make a trip to Burlington to see him, and Phil and Roger volunteered to go along.
"You might want a witness or two," declared the senator's son.
The upshot of the matter was that the following day found the three boys bound for Burlington. The other lads helped to row them to the upper end of the lake, and there, at a camp belonging to a rich New Yorker, they managed to obtain a horse and buckboard on which they rode to the nearest railroad station. They were in time to catch the midday train for Plattsburg, where they had to remain over night. Then they caught the first boat across Lake Champlain to the city for which they were bound.
Dave had been told by Mr. Lawrence where they might find Obadiah Jones, who was interested in a coal, lumber, and real estate business. Our hero, accompanied by his two chums, found the man in his office, a small, dingy coop of a place surrounded by huge piles of lumber. He was a short, stout, bald-headed individual, wearing large spectacles, and he looked up rather uninvitingly as they entered.
"Is this Mr. Obadiah Jones?" questioned Dave, politely.
"That's my name, young man. What can I do for you?" demanded the lumber dealer, brusquely.
"I came to get a little information from you, Mr. Jones, if you'll give it to me," went on our hero. "My name is Dave Porter. I came to see if you have a nephew named Ward Porton."
"Well, I did have a nephew by that name, but he's a nephew of mine no longer!" cried Obadiah Jones, his face showing sudden anger. "If you came here in his behalf, the sooner you get out the better! I wrote to him and told him I never wanted to see him nor hear from him again!"
"I didn't come in his behalf, Mr. Jones. I came on my own account," answered Dave. "All I want to know is: Is he a real nephew of yours or not?"
"Yes, he's my real nephew—the son of my youngest sister, who married a good-for-nothing army man. But that doesn't make any difference to me, young man. I won't do a thing more for him, nephew though he is. He's a young scamp, and as I said before, I never want to see him nor hear from him again."
"The reason I ask is, because there has come up a question regarding Ward Porton's identity," continued Dave, who could scarcely conceal his satisfaction over the turn the conversation had taken. "Porton declared to me that he had been brought up in a Maine poorhouse."
"That's all tommy-rot, young man! It isn't so at all!" stormed Obadiah Jones. "After his father ran away, to join some revolutionists in Mexico, his mother was hard put to it to support herself, and when she took sick and died, he was placed in the Lumberville poorhouse by some neighbors. As soon as I heard of it I sent for him to come to Montpelier, where I was then doing business. After that I brought him here. I gave him a good education and did everything I could to set him on his feet, but he began to smoke and drink and gamble, and get into bad company generally, and finally he left here and went on the stage as an actor. I heard he didn't do very well at that business, and so he got into the moving-picture business." Obadiah Jones looked sharply at Dave. "But what do you want to know all this for?" he questioned, quickly.
"I'll tell you why, Mr. Jones," answered Dave. And without waiting to be invited he sat down on a chair beside the lumber dealer and told the man the particulars of the trouble Ward Porton had caused him.
"Humph!" snorted Obadiah Jones at the conclusion of the recital. "That sounds just like one of Ward's fairy tales. Don't you take any stock in that story, because there is absolutely nothing in it. I have disowned him, it is true, but, nevertheless, he is my nephew, the son of my youngest sister, Clarice Jones Porton. Her good-for-nothing husband was Lieutenant Jarvey Porton of the army, who was discharged because of irregularities in his accounts. I never wanted her to marry the lieutenant, but she wouldn't listen to me for a minute."
After this a conversation lasting the best part of half an hour ensued. The lumber dealer became quite interested in Dave's case, and readily consented to sign a document stating the facts concerning Ward Porton as he knew them. Roger, Phil and an office clerk witnessed the lumber dealer's signature, and then the boys bade Obadiah Jones good-bye and left.
"Dave, let me congratulate you!" cried Roger, grasping our hero's hand warmly.
"Oh, I knew it would all come out right in the end!" cried Phil, as he placed a loving arm over Dave's shoulder. "Say, you'll have one on Ward Porton when you show him that document!" he continued, with a chuckle.
"You don't know what a weight this has lifted from my shoulders," murmured Dave. And despite his efforts to control himself, two tears stood in his eyes. "The thought that I might not be the real Dave Porter after all was something terrible!" he murmured.
"What will you do; send word to Crumville and then go back to camp?" asked Roger.
"I suppose that would be best," answered Dave. "I'll first send word home and wait in Burlington for a reply."
It was not long after this when they entered a local telegraph office, and there Dave wrote out a telegram addressed to his father at Crumville. He asked that a reply to the communication be addressed to a leading hotel of Burlington, where the three lads afterwards went for dinner.
"A telegram for Mr. David Porter!" called out one of the hotel boys, just after the lads had finished eating; and he passed the communication over to our hero.
"It's from Crumville, and from my father," said Dave, as he glanced at the communication, which ran as follows:
"Your telegram received. Glad to know the truth. We had suspected Porton of trickery. Merwell is in the game."
"It's just as I thought," said Dave, when he allowed his friends to read the communication. "Link Merwell told Porton about how I had come from the poorhouse, and then the pair hatched up this game between them. I only hope my folks catch them and give them what they deserve."
That afternoon found the lads again on the way to Plattsburg, and early on the following morning they set out on the return to Bear Camp.
"Oh, Dave! did you learn anything?" cried Laura, when the boys appeared.
"Yes, Laura, it's all cleared up!" he exclaimed, in a voice filled with joy. "Ward Porton is nothing but a faker. He is the real nephew of Obadiah Jones, and the son of Jones's youngest sister. I've got a document in my pocket to prove it."
"Oh, Dave, I'm so glad! so glad!" was the cry of the sister, and she threw herself into his arms and kissed him several times. Then Jessie came up and kissed him too, and so did Belle, followed by Mrs. Basswood, and finally Mrs. Wadsworth, who held him closely to her.
"I'm very, very glad for your sake, Dave," said the wife of the jewelry manufacturer. "But if you hadn't proved to be Dave Porter, I should have been only too glad to have adopted you as my son."
It was certainly a happy return, and that evening both bungalows were lit up brightly in honor of the occasion. Shadow was allowed to tell some of his best stories, Luke played on his banjo and his guitar, and the young folks sang one familiar song after another.
Three days, including Sunday, passed, and then came another surprise. Late in the evening Dave heard a well-known whistle on the trail leading to Carpen Falls, and a little later one of the old stage coaches came into view. All in the bungalows ran out to meet the newcomers, who proved to be Dave's father, his uncle, Mr. Wadsworth, and Mr. Basswood.
"Dad!" yelled Dave, and rushing to his parent he caught him tightly in his arms.
"My boy! my boy!" murmured Mr. Porter. "How very glad I am that this black cloud has passed away. But, Dave, don't think that I believed that story. I thought it was a fake from the start."
"And so did I," said Dunston Porter. "There couldn't be any Dave Porter but you!" and he gave Dave a good-natured thump between the shoulders that nearly knocked the wind out of the youth.
"We've got more news," declared Mr. Wadsworth, as he, too, came up for a handshake, followed by Ben's father. "They have collared Link Merwell at last."
"Is that so!" cried our hero.
"Yes, they caught him in a pawnbroker's shop," said Mr. Basswood. "And the best part of it is that they caught him trying to pawn my wife's silver spoons and Laura's two rings. The pawnbroker got suspicious, and as he happened to be an honest man, he called in a detective. This detective remembered the picture he had seen printed of Link at the time he and Jasniff stole the jewelry, and he at once placed Link under arrest."
"And then I went to see Link in prison," broke in Dave's father. "I had a long talk with him, about the burglary up here, and he admitted that he had thrown all that other stuff in the hollow just to inconvenience you. Then I made him confess that he and Ward Porton had concocted this scheme concerning Porton's identity between them. Merwell tried to bribe me by saying he wouldn't tell the truth about Porton unless I aided him to get clear of the charge made against him by Mr. Wadsworth. Of course I wouldn't agree to do that."
"It won't be necessary to have Link Merwell testify against Porton," declared Dave. "I've got a document here that shows up Porton for just what he is;" and later on he allowed his father and the others to read the paper which he had had Obadiah L. L. Jones sign.
"Oh, to think I'm to have my rings back, and Mrs. Basswood is to have her silverware!" cried Laura, with satisfaction. "Isn't it perfectly lovely?"
The days to follow at Bear Camp were happy ones indeed. The boys went hunting and fishing to their hearts' content, and often took the girls out in the boats or in the canoes. In the meanwhile some of the men folks returned to Crumville, and Phil took his uncle home.
It may be stated here that Phil's father and mother were filled with joy to have Lester Lawrence once more with them, and later on the land that the rival railroads wanted was sold to one of the roads for an even sixty thousand dollars, three-quarters of which amount went to Phil's father and the other quarter to the boy's uncle.
"I don't believe Ward Porton will ever bother you again, Dave," said Roger, one day, but the surmise of the senator's son proved incorrect. When Ward Porton learned that our hero had visited Obadiah Jones he lost no time in disappearing for awhile. But then he got back to his old tricks, and what he did will be related in another volume, to be entitled, "Dave Porter and His Double; Or, The Disappearance of the Basswood Fortune."
When Link Merwell was brought to trial, his father came forward and did everything he could for the wayward son. But it was proved beyond a doubt that Merwell had been as guilty as Jasniff, and he received an equal sentence of imprisonment.
"Poor Link! I feel sorry for him," was Dave's comment. "He might have made quite a man of himself."
The weather was now growing colder every day, and soon there was a trace of snow in the air.
"We'll have to leave Bear Camp very soon unless we want to be snowed in," declared Mrs. Wadsworth. And then after a conference, it was decided by all hands to pack up and go home.
"Well, in spite of our troubles, it's been a grand outing!" declared Roger.
"One of the best ever!" added Phil.
"I've had a perfectly lovely time!" came from Jessie. "But I do hope Dave never again runs into such trouble as he had up here."