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Dave Porter and His Double - The Disapperarance of the Basswood Fortune
by Edward Stratemeyer
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"Now will you behave yourself and come with me, or do you want some more?" demanded Dave.

"I'll fix you for that! Just wait!" bellowed Porton; and then he made a savage rush at our hero.

The next instant they were locked in each other's arms and swaying from side to side, each doing his utmost to gain the mastery.



CHAPTER VIII

THE BASSWOOD FORTUNE

Over and over in the snow of the woods rolled Dave and Porton, first one being on top and then the other. Each was encumbered by his heavy overcoat and his gloves, so that to send in a decisive blow was practically impossible.

The former moving-picture actor fought desperately, for he had no desire to go to jail, and he realized that Dave meant to send him to such a place if he could possibly accomplish it.

Dave, on his part, was angered through and through, not only because of what Porton had done at the stores, but also because of the way the former moving-picture actor had threatened him.

The encounter had occurred at a spot where the trees were somewhat scattered and where rocks were numerous. As the two continued their struggle they sent the loose snow flying in all directions and often struck on some of the rocks.

At last Dave managed to get his opponent by the throat, and he forced Porton's head backward against a large stone. In the meantime, however, the rascal managed to double up one of his legs, and he gave Dave a shove in the stomach which sent him rolling over on his side.

"Now I'll fix you!" panted Porton, and, releasing his right hand, he picked up a loose stone which their scuffle had exposed to view. The next instant he brought the stone up, hitting our hero on the side of the head. It was a furious blow, and for the moment Dave was stunned. He let go of the other's throat, and as he did this Ward Porton arose to his feet.

"Now I guess you'll let me alone!" he snarled; and aimed a vicious kick at Dave's head. But the youth, even though somewhat bewildered, had sense enough left to dodge, and the blow landed on his shoulder.

Then Porton turned and dashed wildly along the woods path leading in the direction of Barnett.

It took our hero several seconds to collect himself sufficiently to arise. His ear was ringing from the contact with the stone, which fortunately had been a smooth one, and his shoulder also ached, even though the kick had been delivered through the padding of his overcoat.

He gazed along the path, and was just in time to see Porton disappearing around a bend.

If Dave had been thoroughly angry before, he was now even more so; and, shaking his head to clear his brain, he started on a run after the fugitive. He reached the turn in the path to see Porton emerging from the woods and taking to the highway leading to the railroad depot.

"He must be running to catch a train," thought our hero. "And if that is so I'll have to hustle or he'll get away."

By the time Dave gained the highway leading to Barnett, Ward Porton had reached the vicinity of the first of the houses in the village. Here he paused to glance back, and, seeing his pursuer, shook his fist at Dave. Then he went on about fifty yards farther, suddenly turning into a lane between two of the houses.

"He's afraid to go to the depot for fear I'll get after him before a train comes in," thought Dave. "Well, I'll catch him anyway, unless he takes to the woods."

What Dave had surmised was correct. Ward Porton had thought to get on a train that would stop at Barnett inside of the next ten minutes. Now, however, he realized that to go to the depot and hang around until the cars took their departure would probably mean capture.

"Confound the luck! How did he manage to get on my trail so quickly?" muttered the former moving-picture actor to himself. "Now I'll have to lay low and do my best to sneak off to some other place. I wish it wasn't so cold. When I stop running I'll be half frozen. But, anyway, I had the satisfaction of giving him one in the ear with that rock and another in the shoulder with my foot," and he smiled grimly, as he placed his handkerchief to his bleeding nose.

By the time Dave reached the lane between the houses, Porton was nowhere in sight. There were a number of footprints in the snow, and following these Dave passed a barn and some cow-sheds. From this point a single pair of footprints led over a short field into the very woods where the encounter had taken place.

"He's going to hide in the woods, sure enough," reasoned our hero. "Or else maybe he'll try to get back to Clayton, or Bixter."

"Hi! What's going on here?" cried a voice from the cow-shed, and a man showed himself, followed by two well-grown boys.

"I'm after a fellow who just ran across that field into the woods," explained Dave, quickly. "He's a thief. I want to catch him and have him locked up."

"Oh, say! I thought I saw somebody," exclaimed one of the boys. "I thought it might be Tom Jones goin' huntin'."

In as few words as possible Dave explained the situation to the farmer and his two sons, and they readily agreed to accompany him into the woods.

"But you'll have a big job trying to locate that chap in those woods," was the farmer's comment. "The growth back here is very thick, and my boys have been lost in it more than once."

"Huh! we always found our way out again," grumbled the older of the sons, who did not like this statement on his parent's part.

"Yes, Billy, but the woods are mighty thick," returned his brother. "If that feller don't look out he may get lost and get froze to death to-night, unless he knows enough to make a fire."

It was easy enough to follow the footprints to the edge of the woods. But once there, the brushwood and rocks were so thick that to follow the marks one would have had to have the eyes of an expert trailer. Dave and the farmer, with the two boys, searched around for the best part of a quarter of an hour, but without success.

"He's slipped you, I guess," remarked the farmer, shaking his head. "I thought he would."

"Are there any trails running through the woods in this vicinity?"

"The only trail I know of is the one running to Bixter. There is a woods road used by the lumbermen, but that is on the other side of the railroad tracks."

The struggle with Ward Porton, followed by the run, had put Dave into quite a perspiration, and in the depth of the woods he found it exceedingly cold.

"I'll have to keep on the move or I may get a chill," he told the others, after another look around. "I guess we had better give it up."

"Goin' to offer any reward for capturin' that feller?" questioned the older of the two boys, when the four were on their way back to the cow-shed.

"Yes, I'll give a reward," answered our hero, promptly. "If any of you can catch him and have him held by the authorities I'll give you ten dollars."

"Wow! Me for the ten dollars!" cried the youth. "But say! how'll I know that feller if I do find him?" he questioned suddenly.

"That's right, Billy, you won't want to hold the wrong man," put in the father, with a grin. "If you did that, you might get into hot water," and he chuckled.

"It will be easy to recognize him," answered Dave. "Just take a good look at me. Well, unfortunately, that other fellow resembles me very closely. In fact, that's the reason I want to catch him. That's how he got those goods I said he had stolen. It's virtually stealing to get goods in such an underhand manner."

"All right, I'll know the feller if he looks like you," said Billy. He turned to his younger brother. "Say, Paul, what do you say if we go into the woods later on and lay low for that feller? Maybe he'll come out this way after he thinks the way is clear."

"Sure, I'll go with you," declared Paul. "If we look around very carefully we may be able to pick up his tracks somewhere."

It must be admitted that Dave felt much crestfallen when he bade good-bye to the farmer and his sons, after having left them his name and address.

The farmer had offered to drive him back to Bixter, but our hero had stated that he would rather walk and take the short cut through the woods. When he arrived at the village he found Roger wondering what had become of him.

"Well, did you catch Porton?" queried the senator's son.

"I did and I didn't," answered Dave, with a grim sort of smile. And he related the particulars of what had occurred.

"Great hambones, Dave! you certainly have had an experience!" was Roger's comment. "Let me look at that ear. I declare! it's quite swollen. I hope it didn't hurt anything inside," he added anxiously.

"It rings and aches a little, Roger; but I don't think it is seriously hurt."

"How about your shoulder?"

"That feels a little sore, but that's all. I'll soon get over it."

"And to think you got so close to capturing him and then he got away!" was the sad comment of the senator's son. "It does beat all how slippery some of those rascals are."

"I'm living in hope that those farmer boys will locate Porton," said Dave. "I promised them a reward of ten dollars if they did so. That's a lot of money for lads living around here."

Now that he had rejoined Roger, and had gotten partly over the effects of his encounter with Porton, Dave was rather loath to give up the hunt. They managed to find a store where the proprietor occasionally furnished lunches, and there procured some sandwiches and hot chocolate. Then they drove to Barnett by the regular highway, and there took another look around for the missing evil-doer.

"The boys have gone down to the woods to look for him," announced the farmer when Dave called on him once more. "If they learn anything I'll let you know."

That evening found Dave and Roger back in Crumville, where, of course, they had to relate the details of what had happened.

"Oh, Dave, you must be more careful!" cried Jessie, after he had told of the encounter in the woods. "That wicked fellow might kill you!" and she shuddered.

"Yes indeed, you ought to be careful," said Laura. "Why, he seems to be almost as bad as Merwell and Jasniff were!"

"So he is, Laura. And if I ever get the chance I'll put him where they are—in prison," answered the brother grimly.

As was to be expected, Dave was quite worked up over what had occurred, and that night he did not sleep very well. Both his father and his sister insisted that he go to a physician and have his ear examined.

"No damage done, so far as I can see," said the doctor. "But you had better bathe it with witch-hazel and keep it warm for a day or two."

The next day Dave settled down to his studies as well as he was able. He hoped that word might come in that Ward Porton had been captured, but in this he was disappointed.

"I think he'll steer clear of this neighborhood, for a while at least," was Mr. Porter's comment.

"That's just my idea," added Dave's Uncle Dunston. "He must know that a great many swindled storekeepers and other people are on the watch for him."

Dave had not seen Ben Basswood for several days. On the following evening the son of the real estate dealer came hurrying over to the Wadsworth mansion.

"We've got news about that Mr. Enos's estate!" cried Ben, as soon as he met Dave and Roger. "It's the queerest thing you ever heard of. Mother doesn't know what to make of it, and I don't know what to make of it, either."

"Well, I hope it's a valuable estate if it is coming to your father," said the senator's son.

"I don't know whether it is valuable or not, and neither does father. He says in his telegram it is certainly worth several thousand dollars, and he doesn't know but that it may be worth a hundred thousand dollars or more."

"A hundred thousand dollars!" cried Laura, who had come in to hear what Ben had to tell. "Oh, Ben, that certainly is a fortune!"

"Well, what does it consist of?" queried Dave. "If it may be worth all the way from two or three thousand dollars to a hundred thousand or more, it must be mining stocks or something like that."

"No, it isn't in stocks or bonds or anything like that."

"Then what in the world does the estate consist of?" questioned our hero.

"Miniatures," answered Ben Basswood, simply.



CHAPTER IX

SOMETHING ABOUT MINIATURES

"Miniatures?" came from all of Ben Basswood's listeners in a chorus.

"Do you mean those little paintings that are sometimes so valuable?" continued Laura.

"That's it," answered Ben. "I don't know much about miniatures myself, but as soon as mother and I heard about this queer fortune of ours she asked the minister. You know he is quite interested in art, and he told her that most of these little miniatures, which are about the size of a silver dollar or a small saucer, are usually painted on ivory. Of course, some of them are not so valuable, but others, especially those painted by celebrated artists, are worth thousands of dollars."

"And how many of these miniatures are there, Ben?" asked Roger, with increased curiosity.

"Father didn't know exactly, but said they would number at least fifty, and maybe seventy-five."

"I suppose they are paintings of celebrated individuals—kings, queens, and like that?" was Dave's comment.

"No, these miniatures, so father stated, are made up almost entirely of the great fighters of the world—army and navy men, lieutenant-generals, admirals, and officers like that."

"Well, where in the world did this Mr. Enos get money enough to buy such things?" asked Jessie, who had followed Laura into the room.

"That's the queer part of it," answered the real-estate dealer's son. "It seems, after Mr. Enos and my father gave up business and separated, Enos went South—first to Texas and then into Mexico. There he joined some men who were opening up a gold mine. These men struck it rich, and almost before he knew it Mr. Enos was worth quite a lot of money. He had never been very much of a business man—being wrapped up almost entirely in art—and so he did not know how to handle his money. He had always had a liking for miniatures, so my father stated, and he went in to gather this collection. He didn't want any kings or queens or noted society women, or anything like that, but he did want every miniature ever painted of an army or a navy fighter. Of course, my father doesn't know all the particulars yet, but he has learned that Mr. Enos put himself out a great deal to get hold of certain miniatures, hunting for them all over Europe and also in this country. He even went down to South America to get miniatures of some of their heroes, and also picked up several in Mexico, and one or two in Texas."

"His hobby must certainly have had a strong hold on him," was Dave's comment. "But still, that sort of thing isn't unusual. I heard once of a postage-stamp collector who went all over the world collecting stamps, and finally gave up his last dollar for a rare stamp when he actually hadn't enough to eat. Of course, he was a monomaniac on the subject of stamp collecting."

"Well, my father has an idea that Mr. Enos must have been a little queer over his miniature collecting," returned Ben. "But even so, the fact remains that he left his collection of miniatures behind him, and that they are now the property of my father."

"And what is your father going to do with them?" questioned Roger.

"He doesn't know yet. You see, the settling of the estate is in a very mixed-up condition. He is going to stay in Chicago for a week or so, and then he'll probably bring the miniatures East with him and have some art expert place a valuation on them. After that I suppose he'll offer the miniatures for sale to art galleries and rich collectors."

This was about all Ben could tell concerning the fortune left to his parent. The young folks talked the matter over for quite a while, and were presently joined by the older people, including Caspar Potts.

"Miniatures, eh?" said the genial old professor, beaming mildly on Ben. "Very curious! Very curious indeed! But some of them are wonderful works of art, and bring very good prices. I remember, when a young man, attending a sale of art works, and a miniature of one of the English nobility was knocked down for a very large sum, several thousand dollars if I remember rightly."

"Well, it's very fine to get hold of a fortune, no matter in what shape it is," observed Mr. Wadsworth. "Just the same, Ben, I think your father would prefer to have it in good stocks and bonds," and he smiled faintly.

"No doubt of that, sir," was the prompt answer. "But, as you say, miniatures are much better than nothing. In fact, I'd rather take a fortune in soft soap than not get it at all," and at this remark there was a general laugh.

"Oh, my gracious, Ben! what would you do with a hundred thousand dollars' worth of soft soap?" queried Laura, slyly.

"Oh, I'd go around and smooth down all my friends and enemies with it," the boy returned, and this caused another laugh.

Several more days passed, and during that time Dave and Roger continued to devote themselves to their studies. Mr. Ramsdell, the old civil engineer, was on hand to tutor the two youths, and he declared that they were making satisfactory progress, and that he thought they would pass the coming examinations without much trouble.

"I wish I felt as confident about it as Mr. Ramsdell does," observed our hero to his chum one day.

"The same here, Dave," returned Roger. "Every time I think of that examination I fairly shake in my shoes. Passing at Oak Hall wasn't a patch to passing as a civil engineer."

There had been another fall of snow, and now sleighing was even better than before. Jessie and Laura went out in company with their uncle, and on their return both showed some excitement.

"Oh, Dave—Roger—what do you think!" cried Laura. "I've got a letter from Belle Endicott, and she is coming on from Star Ranch to spend several weeks with me, and she is going to bring along one of her old school chums, Cora Dartmore. What do you think of that? Won't it be fine?"

"It certainly will be, Laura," answered her brother. "When do you expect them to arrive?"

"They are coming on immediately; so I suppose they'll be here in a day or two if they are following this letter." Laura looked inquiringly at Dave. "What a pity Phil Lawrence isn't here," she half whispered.

Both of them knew that during the visit of the young folks to the Endicott ranch the shipowner's son and Belle Endicott had become exceedingly friendly.

"Well, I've invited Phil to come here," answered Dave. "I guess all I've got to do is to mention Belle to him and he'll be on the way without delay."

"Then, by all means, send him word," returned the sister. "Then we can make up a fine little party, for we can pair Cora Dartmore off with Ben."

A letter from Dave to Phil Lawrence was dispatched that evening, and the next day came a telegram from the shipowner's son stating that he would come on that night.

"I knew the mention of Belle would fetch Phil," remarked Dave to Roger, when they were alone. "Phil certainly has got an eye on that girl."

"Well, you can't blame him, Dave. Belle Endicott is a splendid girl and comes from a splendid family. I'll never forget how royally they treated us when we were at Star Ranch."

"Yes, we certainly did have one grand time, in spite of what Link Merwell did to annoy us."

"Oh, drop Link Merwell!" Roger paused for a moment and then went on: "Isn't it queer, Dave, how just as soon as you get rid of one bad egg like Merwell another bobs up like this Ward Porton?"

"It is queer, Roger." Dave heaved a deep sigh. "I wish I could get on the track of that rascal."

"Haven't heard a thing, have you?"

"No."

"Well, you can be thankful that he hasn't been around buying more goods in your name."

"Oh, I think I scared him pretty well when I met him in the woods. He'll probably lay low for a while—at least until he thinks the field is clear again. But I'd give a good deal if I never saw or heard of him again," and Dave heaved another sigh.

The next day the local paper came out with a big article on the front page speaking about the Basswood fortune. Mr. Basswood had returned to town, and had been interviewed by a reporter, and the sheet gave many of the particulars regarding the wonderful miniatures left by Mr. Enos. According to the paper they numbered sixty-eight all told, and were worth from a hundred dollars to five thousand dollars apiece. It was said that they had been placed in a safe deposit vault, being packed in several plush-lined cases.

The paper went on to state that Mr. Basswood thought something of bringing them to Crumville, where they might be judged by a committee of experts in order to ascertain their real value. The real-estate dealer was spoken of as a man well-known in the community, and the article concluded by stating that all the good people of Crumville and vicinity would undoubtedly congratulate him on his good fortune.

"They certainly piled it on a little thick," was Dave's comment, after he and Roger had read the article. "Just the same, I agree with the paper—the Basswoods richly deserve the fortune that has come to them." Dave had not forgotten those days, now long gone by, when he had been a boy just out of the poorhouse living with Caspar Potts, and how Ben Basswood had been his one young friend during those trying times.

As luck would have it, all the young visitors bound for the Wadsworth mansion reached Crumville on the same train. Of course, the others went down to the depot to meet them, and there was a grand jollification lasting several minutes.

"My, Belle, how you have grown!" declared Laura, after the numerous kisses and handshakes had come to an end. "Isn't she growing tall, Dave?"

"She certainly is," returned the brother. And what they said was true—Belle Endicott was now tall and willowy, and exceedingly pretty to look at,—so much so in fact, that Phil Lawrence could hardly take his eyes from her.

"It was mighty good of your folks to invite me down," said the shipowner's son, when the whole crowd was making its way over to where the Wadsworth automobile and sleigh were standing. "I appreciate it, I assure you."

"Oh, my! you don't suppose we could leave you out, Phil, with Belle here," returned Dave, as he gave his chum a nudge in the ribs.

"Good for you, Dave!" Phil blushed a little, and then winked one eye. "How are matters going between you and Jessie?"

"Very well."

"Glad to hear it. And I suppose Roger has that same old eagle eye of his on your sister Laura?"

"Well, you don't find him talking very much to anybody else when Laura is around," was Dave's dry comment.

"Oh, we had a perfectly splendid journey!" cried Belle Endicott. "And wasn't it the strangest thing that we should run into Phil at the junction where we had to change cars to get here?"

"Must be some sort of mutual attraction," cried Laura, mischievously. And then to hide any possible confusion she added quickly to Cora Dartmore: "I hope you enjoyed the trip also."

"Yes, I had a splendid time," answered the newcomer, a girl not quite so tall as Belle but almost equally good-looking. "You see, this is my first trip to the East. Oh, I know I am going to have a perfectly lovely time!" she added enthusiastically.

The young folks piled into the sleigh and automobile, and in a very short time arrived at the Wadsworth mansion. Here Mrs. Wadsworth was ready to receive the visitors, and her gracious manner made them feel at home immediately.

Phil, as was his custom, insisted on rooming with Roger and Dave, while Belle Endicott and her chum were made comfortable in a room next to those occupied by Jessie and Laura.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with you boys," said Mrs. Wadsworth, laughingly. "You always bunk in as thick as fleas."

"We got used to that at Oak Hall," returned Dave. "Besides that, the room is a large one with two single beds in it, and we can easily put in a cot;" and so it was settled.

"My, but I'm mighty glad to be with you two fellows again!" declared the shipowner's son, when the youths were left to themselves. "It seems like a touch of old times."

"So it does," returned Roger, smiling broadly.

"From now on I suppose we won't be able to get together as much as we used to," said Dave; "so while we are together let us make the most of it."

"So say we all of us!" cried Phil and Roger, gaily.



CHAPTER X

THE BIG SLEIGHING-PARTY

Of course, even with so many visitors to entertain, Dave and Roger could not neglect their studies; so it was arranged that every day the pair should apply themselves diligently to their books and to what their tutor had to say from eight o'clock until twelve. Then lunch would be had and the young folks could start out to enjoy themselves in one way or another.

On one occasion the three boys went hunting with Dunston Porter in the woods back of Crumville. They had a most delightful time, and brought back quite a bagful of rabbits, as well as several squirrels, and also a plump partridge, the bird being brought down by Dave.

"And it was a fine shot, Davy," remarked his Uncle Dunston in speaking about the partridge. "As fine a shot on the wing as I ever saw."

Crumville boasted of a good-sized pond; and from this the snow had been cleared, giving the young folks an opportunity for skating, which every one of them enjoyed to the utmost. They also attended a concert given in the church one evening, and even went to a moving-picture show which had recently been opened in the town.

The moving pictures interested the two girls from the Far West more than anything else, for, so far, they had had little opportunity to take in such a form of entertainment.

During those days Dave was continually on the watch for some information concerning Ward Porton, but no word of any kind came in, and he finally concluded that the rascal had left that vicinity.

"Most likely he thought things were growing too hot for him," was Phil's comment, when the boys talked the matter over. "He probably realized that if he continued to go to the stores and get goods the way he did he would be caught sooner or later."

Ben Basswood often went out with the others, pairing off, as had been expected by Laura, with Cora Dartmore. This left Belle Endicott more or less in Phil's care, for which the shipowner's son was grateful.

"Yes, my father has brought the Enos miniatures here," answered Ben, one day, in reply to a question from Dave. "He had them in a safe deposit vault first, but he concluded that they would probably be just as safe at our place. You know, he has a big safe of his own in which he keeps all his real estate documents." Mr. Basswood's office was in a wing of his house, and all the boys had visited it and knew that it contained a massive steel affair about five feet square and probably four feet deep.

"They ought to be safe there, Ben," returned Dave. "I don't see what a thief could do with miniatures, and I don't believe your father's office is liable to catch fire."

"And that safe must be fire-proof," put in Roger.

"I think it is fire-proof," returned the real estate dealer's son. "And I guess you are right about thieves—they would rather steal money or jewelry or silverware, or something like that, every time."

Used to a life in the open air, and to riding and driving, the sleighing in and around Crumville proved to be a constant delight to Belle and Cora. As a consequence, it was arranged by the boys that the whole crowd should go out in a large sleigh, to be procured from the local livery stable and to be drawn by four reliable horses.

"We'll put a lot of straw in the bottom of the sleigh and make it a sort of straw-ride," declared Dave.

"And just to think! it will be moonlight!" cried his sister. "Won't that be the finest ever!"

"It certainly will be!" came from Jessie, her eyes beaming. But then she turned suddenly to Dave, her face clouding a little. "Who is going to drive—you?"

"No, we're going to have a regular man from the livery stable," he answered. And then as his sister turned away, he added in a low tone: "I didn't want to spend my time on the horses—I wanted to spend it on you."

"Oh, Dave!" murmured the girl, and blushed. Then she gave him a look that meant a great deal.

The sleighing-party was to start off about two o'clock the next afternoon, and did not expect to return to Crumville until well towards midnight. They were to go to the town of Lamont, about seventeen miles away. A new restaurant had been opened in this town, in connection with the hotel, and Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth had stopped there for a meal and had pronounced it excellent, the food being of first-class quality and an orchestra being present to liven matters up. Ben had thought at first that he could not accompany the others, his father having been taken sick; but as Mr. Basswood's illness was not of a serious nature, Mrs. Basswood, knowing how disappointed the youth would be, urged that he go along anyhow.

"Your father is resting quite comfortably," she told Ben; "and the doctor says he will be around again inside of a week, so you may as well take in this sleighride while you have the chance."

"But there are those miniatures, mother," returned Ben. "Wasn't father going to let Mr. Wadsworth see them?"

"Mr. Wadsworth is going to have several art critics at his home in a day or two, and then your father is to let all of them examine the miniatures carefully to see if he can get an idea of what they are worth. But you need not bother your head about that. If Mr. Wadsworth sends word that the critics have arrived at his house I'll take care of the matter." And so this was arranged, and Ben went off to prepare for the sleigh-ride.

At the appointed hour, the big sleigh came dashing up to the door of the Wadsworth mansion. All of the young folks, including Ben, were on hand and ready for the trip, each bundled up well for protection against the cold. The sun had been shining in the morning, but towards noon it had gone under a heavy bank of clouds.

"Looks a little to me like more snow," observed Dunston Porter, who was present to see them depart. "I shouldn't be surprised to see you coming back in the midst of another fall."

"Oh, Uncle Dunston, don't say that!" cried Laura. "We want the moon to shine this evening."

"Well, it will shine, Laura," returned the uncle, with a wink of the eye. "It always does shine, even when we don't see it," and then he dodged when she laughingly picked up a chunk of snow and threw it at him.

Into the big sleigh piled the girls, and the boys quickly followed. All the back seats had been removed, and they nestled down in the thick straw and covered themselves with numerous robes.

"Look out that you don't jounce off when you go over a bump," cried Dunston Porter to Phil and Belle, who sat at the back of the turnout.

"Oh, we'll hold on, don't worry!" cried Phil.

"I'm used to hanging on," came from the western girl, quickly. "Riding in this sleigh won't be half as bad as hanging on to the back of a half-broken broncho."

"I guess that's right, too," answered Dave's uncle. "Just the same, you take care. I don't want you young folks to have any accidents on this trip."

"I trust you all have a good time," came benevolently from old Caspar Potts, as he gazed at them and rubbed his hands. "My, my! how I used to enjoy sleighing when I was a young man! And how many years ago that seems!" he added with a little sigh.

"Don't stay any later than midnight," warned Mrs. Wadsworth.

"We'll be back by that time unless something unusual turns up," returned Dave. He turned to the others in the sleigh. "Everybody fixed and ready?"

"All ready!" came back the answering cry.

"Then we're off." Dave turned to the driver, a middle-aged colored man. "Let her go, Wash."

"Yassir," responded Washington Bones, with a grin. "Giddap!" he called to his horses. And with a crack of the whip and a grand flourish the turnout left the front of the Wadsworth mansion and whirled out on to the broad highway leading to Lamont.

The four horses were used to working together, and they trotted along in fine style, causing many a passer-by to stop and gaze at the team and the gay load of young people in admiration. The horses were well equipped with bells, and each of the youths had provided himself with a good-sized horn, so that noise was not lacking as they dashed along past the stores and houses of Crumville. Then they came out on the Lamont road, where the sleighing was almost perfect.

"I hope we don't have any such adventure as we had at Conover's Hill," remarked Jessie to Dave while they were spinning on their way.

"I don't think these livery stable horses will run away," he returned. "They are used every day, and that makes them less frisky than our horses, which sometimes are in the stable for a week. Besides that, Wash Bones is one of the most careful drivers around here. If he does anything, he'll let the team hold back on him rather than urge them to do their best."

On and on flew the sleigh, the young folks chatting gaily and occasionally bursting out into a verse of song.

"Let's give 'em our old Oak Hall song!" cried Dave, presently.

"That's it!" came eagerly from his two chums, and a moment later they started up the old school song, which was sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, the girls joining in:

"Oak Hall we never shall forget, No matter where we roam; It is the very best of schools, To us it's just like home! Then give three cheers, and let them ring Throughout this world so wide, To let the people know that we Elect to here abide!"

"Say, that takes me back to the old days at Oak Hall," remarked Roger, when the singing had come to an end. "My, but those were the great days!"

"I don't believe we'll ever see any better, Roger," answered Dave.

The sleighing party had still three miles to go when suddenly Laura uttered a cry.

"It's snowing!"

"So it is!" burst out Belle. "What a shame!"

"Maybe it won't amount to much," said Ben. "It often snows just a little, you know."

The first flakes to fall were large, and dropped down lazily from the sky. But soon it grew darker, and in a short time the snow was coming down so thickly that it almost blotted out the landscape on all sides.

"Some fall this!" exclaimed Phil. "Looks now as if it were going to be a regular storm."

"O dear! and I wanted it to be moonlight to-night!" wailed Laura.

Dave was peering around and looking anxiously at the heavy, leaden sky.

"If this is going to be a heavy storm, maybe it might be as well for us to turn back," he announced.

"Turn back?" came from several of the others.

"Yes."

"What for, Dave?" questioned Phil. "I don't think a little snow is going to hurt us. Maybe it will help to keep us warm," he added with a grin.

"We don't want to get snowed in, Phil."

"Oh, let's go on!" interposed Roger. "Even if it does keep on snowing it won't get very heavy in the next couple of hours. We can hurry up with our dinner at Lamont and be home again before it gets very deep."

"All right, I'm willing if the rest are," returned Dave, who did not wish to throw "cold water" on their sport. "Lamont it is! Go ahead, Wash, we want to get there just as soon as possible."

On they plunged, the snow coming down thicker and thicker every minute. Then, just as the outskirts of the town were gained, they heard a curious humming sound.

"Oh, Dave! What is that?" queried Jessie.

"It's the wind coming up," he answered. "Listen!"

All did so and noted that the humming sound was increasing. Then the wind came tearing through the woods and down the highway with great force, sending the snow in driving sheets into their faces.

"My gracious, this looks as if it were going to be a blizzard!" gasped Phil, who had started up to see what the sound meant. "We had better get under some kind of cover just as soon as possible."

"We'll be up to dat hotel in anudder minute," bawled Washington Bones, to make himself heard above the sudden fury of the elements. "Say! dis suah is some snowsto'm!" he added.

Again he cracked his whip, and once more the four horses ploughed along as well as they were able. They had to face both the wind and the snow, and these combined made progress slow. By the time the party came into sight of the hotel with the restaurant attached, the wind was blowing almost a gale, and the snow seemed to be coming down in driving chunks.

"Drive us around to the side porch," ordered Dave. "It will be a little more sheltered there."

"Yassir," came from the colored driver; and soon they had come to a halt at the spot mentioned. From under the snow and robes crawled the boys and the girls and lost no time in running into the hotel. Then the colored man drove the turnout down to the stables.



"My! did you ever see such a storm!" was Roger's comment. "And how quickly it came up!"

"If it isn't a blizzard, it is next door to it," returned Dave. And then he added quickly: "It looks to me as if we were going to be snowbound!"



CHAPTER XI

HELD BY THE BLIZZARD

"Snowbound!" The cry came from several of the party.

"Yes, snowbound, if this heavy fall continues," answered Dave. "Just see how the chunks of snow are coming down, and how the wind is driving them along."

It was certainly an interesting sight, and all the young people watched it for some time before they took off their wraps and prepared to sit down to the meal, which had been ordered over the telephone before leaving Crumville.

"My, just listen to the wind!" was Phil's comment. "You'd think it was a regular nor'-wester."

"If it keeps on it certainly will be a blizzard," put in Roger. "In one way we can be glad we are under shelter, even though we are a good many miles from home."

"Yes. And snow or no snow, I move that we sit down to dinner," continued Phil. "We can't go back while it is snowing and blowing like this, so we might as well make the best of our stay here."

After having ordered a meal for the colored man, which was served in another part of the hotel, Dave joined his friends in the restaurant. A special table had been placed in a cozy corner, and that was decorated with a large bouquet of hothouse flowers, with a smaller bouquet at each plate.

"Oh, how lovely!" burst out Jessie, when she saw the flowers.

"You folks in the East certainly know how to spread yourselves," was Cora Dartmore's comment. "Just look at those beautiful flowers and then at the fierce snowstorm outside."

"Oh, let us forget the storm!" cried Laura. "It will be time enough to think about that when we have to start for home."

"That's the truth!" answered her brother, gaily. "Everybody fall to and do as much damage to the bill-of-fare as possible;" and this remark caused a general smile.

Then the first course was served and soon all of the party were eating and chatting with the greatest of satisfaction.

In the meanwhile, the blizzard—for such it really was—continued to increase in violence. The wind tore along through the woods and down the streets of the town, bringing with it first the heavy chunks of snow and then some hard particles not unlike salt in appearance. The fine snow seemed to creep in everywhere, and, driven by the wind, formed drifts which kept increasing in size steadily.

After the first course of raw oysters, came some cream of celery soup with relishes, and then some roast turkey with cranberry sauce and vegetables. After that the young folks had various kinds of dessert with hot chocolate, and then nuts with raisins.

"What a grand dinner!" remarked Belle, when they were finishing. "Dave, you certainly know how to order the good things."

"Oh, I had Roger and Phil to help me on that," returned our hero. "Trust them to order up the good things to eat."

"And trust Dave to help us get away with them," sang out the senator's son, gaily.

"There is only one time when those fellows can't eat," retorted Dave. "That is when they are asleep."

At a small table not far away from where the young people were seated, sat an elderly man and a lady.

"There is Doctor Renwick and his wife," said Laura, when the meal was finished. "They must have been sleighing, too. I am going to speak to them." For Dr. Renwick came from Crumville, and had often attended the Porter family, as well as the Wadsworths.

"We are staying here for a few days," said Mrs. Renwick to Dave's sister, after they had shaken hands. "You see, the proprietor of this hotel and restaurant is my cousin."

"Oh, I didn't know that," said Laura. "They certainly have a very nice place here, and the dinner we had was just too lovely for anything."

"Are you folks calculating to drive back to Crumville now?" questioned Dr. Renwick.

"That was our expectation," replied Dave, who had followed his sister; "but it looks pretty fierce outside, doesn't it?"

"I should say so, Porter. Just listen to that wind, and see how it is driving the snow! I shouldn't like to face it for any great distance."

The others came up, and all the strangers were introduced to the doctor and his wife, and then the entire party left the restaurant and entered the parlor of the hotel, from the windows of which they could watch the storm.

"It certainly is fierce!" remarked Phil, as they gazed at the furious onslaught of the elements.

The wind was blowing as hard as ever, rattling the windows and sending the snow against the panes as if it were so much hail. It was impossible to see across the street, and, although Lamont boasted of a limited electric light service, all the lights upon the street corners were out.

"This storm is going to break down a lot of the wires," announced Roger.

"What do you think about our trying to get back to Crumville?" questioned Dave.

"To tell the truth, Dave, I don't see how we are going to make it. You don't want to face that wind, do you? And going back we'd have to head into it nearly all the way."

"I think I'll go outside and have a talk with the driver," answered our hero, and went out accompanied by Roger and Ben.

"I'd like to get home on account of my father's being sick," announced the real estate dealer's son. "Otherwise I would just as lief stay here until to-morrow."

"That's all right enough for us boys," put in Roger, "but how about the girls?"

"We can leave them in Mrs. Renwick's care if we have to," announced Dave. "Laura and Jessie know her very well, and I am sure she'll be only too glad to play the chaperon. She's a very nice lady, and the doctor is a very fine man."

They found that Washington Bones had had his supper and had returned to the stable to feed his horses. When they questioned the colored man about getting back to Crumville he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

"Might try it if you say so," he said; "but it ain't gwine to be no easy job, boss, and we may git stuck somewheres so as you cain't git to not even a house. Then we might all be froze to death."

"What do you think it is, Wash, a blizzard?" questioned Roger.

"Dat's jest what dis is, boss. And my opinion is it's gwine to be a heap sight wo'se before it gits bettah," added the driver.

"I guess you're right there," answered Dave. "And that's one reason I think we ought to try to get back to Crumville. But just the same, I'd hate to get stuck somewhere along the road, as he says. We boys might be able to get out of it along with Wash, but we couldn't expect the girls to do any tramping in such deep snow and in such a wind."

There was an old-fashioned covered walk from the hotel to the stables, so that the boys in going from one place to the other had not had to expose themselves to the elements. Now, to get an idea of how bad the storm was, Dave walked out as far as the street, followed by his chums.

"Great Caesar's ghost!" puffed the senator's son, as they stood where they could get the full benefit of the storm. "This is frightful, Dave! Why, it would be nothing short of suicide to try to go anywhere!"

"I—I—guess we h-had better g-go in and telephone that we c-c-can't come!" panted Ben; and then lost no time in returning to the stable, followed by the others.

They had been outside less than five minutes, yet the fury of the blizzard had nearly taken their breath away.

"We won't attempt it, Wash; so you can make arrangements to stay here to-night," announced Dave. He turned to his chums. "Come on back to the hotel, and we will do what telephoning is necessary."

They returned to the parlor, and there the situation was explained to the girls and to Dr. Renwick and his wife.

"Oh, you mustn't think of trying to get back to-night!" cried the doctor's wife, quickly. "There are plenty of vacant rooms here, and I'll see to it that my cousin gives you good accommodations."

"And will you look after the young ladies, Mrs. Renwick?" questioned Dave.

"I certainly will, Dave," she answered graciously. "Don't let that worry you in the least. I'll be glad to take charge of such a nice family," and she smiled sweetly at all the girls.

"We are going to telephone to Crumville and let the folks know how matters stand," announced Ben; and then he and Dave hurried to where there was a telephone booth.

Here, however, they met with no success so far as getting into communication with their folks at Crumville was concerned. It took a long time to get Central, and then it was announced that the storm had taken down all the wires running to Crumville and beyond. One wire that was down was still connected, but, try their best, neither of the boys was able to understand anything of what was said over it. Then this line snapped; and that ended all efforts to send any messages.

"I wish they knew we were safe," said Dave. "Now that they don't know it they may worry, thinking we are snowed in somewhere along the road."

"Well, we've got to make the best of it," answered Ben. "I did hope to speak to mother, to ask her how father was, and to let her know that we were all right."

"It looks to me, Ben, as if this blizzard might last for several days or a week."

"So it does. But sometimes these storms clear away almost as rapidly as they come."

The two youths returned to the others and announced the failure of their effort to get into communication with Crumville. This was disheartening to Laura and Jessie, but as it could not be helped the girls said they would make the best of it. Then Laura and Dave went off with the doctor and his wife, to obtain accommodations for the whole party.

It was learned that Dr. Renwick had a fine apartment on the second floor, and that there were two rooms adjoining which were vacant. These were turned over to the four girls. The boys were accommodated with two rooms on the floor above.

"Not quite as good as they might be," observed Dave, when he and his chums inspected their rooms, which were directly under the roof of the country hotel. "But they are much better than nothing, and, as the sailors say, 'any port in a storm.'"

"Oh, this is plenty good enough," returned Phil. "But I am glad the girls are on the floor below. Those rooms are much better than these."

As the boys had no baggage, there was nothing for them to arrange in the rooms which had been assigned to them, so after a hasty look around they started to go downstairs again, to rejoin the girls in the parlor. As the boys passed the room next to the one which Dave and Ben had elected to occupy, the door of the apartment was opened on a crack. Then, as the youths left the corridor to descend the stairs, the door was opened a little wider, and a young man peered out cautiously.

"Well, what do you know about that!" muttered the young man to himself, after the four chums had disappeared. "Right here at this hotel, and going to occupy the room next to the one I've got! Could you beat it?"

The young man was Ward Porton.



CHAPTER XII

TIM CRAPSEY'S PLOT

"Who are you talking to, Port?" questioned a man who was resting on the bed in the room which Ward Porton occupied.

"Didn't I tell you not to call me by that name, Crapsey?" returned the former moving-picture actor, as he closed the door softly and locked it.

"What's the difference when we're alone?" grumbled the man called Crapsey, as he shifted himself and rubbed his eyes.

"It may make a whole lot of difference," answered Porton. "I've just made a big discovery."

"A discovery?" The man sat up on the edge of the bed. "Discovered how to git hold of some money, I hope. We need it."

"You remember my telling you about that fellow who looks like me—the fellow named Dave Porter?" went on the former moving-picture actor. "Well, he's here in this hotel. And he and three of his chums have the rooms next to this one."

"You don't mean it?" and now Tim Crapsey showed his interest. "Did they see you?"

"Not much! And I don't intend that they shall," was the decided reply.

"Did you know the other fellows?"

"Yes, they are the regular bunch Porter travels with. I've got to keep out of sight of all of them. From what they said they are evidently snowbound here on account of this blizzard, so there is no telling how long they will stay," added the former moving-picture actor in disgust. "Confound the luck! I suppose I'll have to stay in this room a prisoner and let you get my meals for me."

"This fellow's being here may not be such a bad thing for you," remarked Tim Crapsey. "Maybe you can impersonate him and touch the hotel clerk for a loan of ten or twenty dollars."

"I am not going to run too many risks—not with so many of those fellows on hand. If I had only Porter to deal with it might be different," returned Ward Porton. "Just the same, I'm going to keep my eyes open, and if I can get the best of him in any way you can bet your boots I'll do it."

In the meanwhile Dave and his chums had rejoined the girls and Dr. Renwick and his wife in the parlor of the hotel, and there all made themselves as much at home as possible. There was quite a gathering of snowbound people, and a good deal of the talk was on the question of how long the blizzard might last.

"Some of the people here are going to try to get over to Pepsico," said one man. "That is only a mile and a quarter from here, and they are hoping to get the train that goes through that place about one o'clock in the morning."

"The train may be snowbound, too," returned another; "and if it is those folks will have their hard tramp to Pepsico for nothing."

Outside it was still snowing and blowing as furiously as ever. All the street lights were out, and so were the electric lights in the hotel, so that the hostelry had to depend on its old-time lamps for its illumination. But the lamps had been discarded only the year before so it was an easy matter to bring them into use again.

Not to keep the good doctor and his wife up too long, Laura told Mrs. Renwick that they would retire whenever she felt like it. About half past ten good-nights were said and the girls went upstairs with the lady, followed presently by the doctor. The boys remained below to take another peep out at the storm.

"It's a regular old-fashioned blizzard," announced Dave.

"And no telling how long we'll be stalled here," added Roger. "Quite an adventure, isn't it?" and he smiled faintly.

"Well, we can be thankful that we weren't caught somewhere along the road," broke in Phil.

"That's it!" came from Ben. "Why, if we had been caught in some out-of-the-way place, we might be frozen to death trying to find some shelter."

The two rooms which the chums occupied on the third floor of the hotel were connected, and before they went to bed the youths all drifted into the one which was to be occupied by Dave and Ben, for here it was slightly warmer than in the other room, and the lamp gave a better light. It seemed good to be together like this, especially on a night when the elements were raging so furiously outside. The former school chums talked of many things—of days at Oak Hall, of bitter rivalries on the diamond, the gridiron, and on the boating course, and of the various friends and enemies they had made.

"The only one of our enemies who seems to have made a man of himself is Gus Plum," remarked Dave. "He has settled down to business and I understand he is doing very well."

"Well, Nat Poole is doing fairly well," returned Ben. "I understand his father owns stock in that bank, so they'll probably boost Nat along as rapidly as his capabilities will permit."

"Nat was never the enemy that Plum and Jasniff and Merwell were!" cried Phil. "He was one of the weak-minded kind who thought it was smart to follow the others in their doings."

"This storm is going to interfere with our studies, Dave," announced Roger. "Not but what I'm willing enough to take a few days' rest," he added with a grin.

"We'll have to make up for it somehow, Roger," returned our hero. "We've got to pass that examination with flying colors."

"I'm afraid this storm will interfere with the art critics who were to look at those miniatures," put in Ben. "Oh, dear! I wish we knew just what those little paintings were worth."

"I hope they prove to be worth at least a hundred thousand dollars," said Phil. "That will be a nice sum of money for you folks, Ben."

"Right you are!" answered the son of the real estate dealer.

The youths were tremendously interested in the miniatures, and a discussion of them ensued which lasted the best part of half an hour. Ben described some of the pictures as well as he was able, and told of how they were packed, and of how they had been placed in the Basswood safe, waiting for the critics that Mr. Wadsworth had promised to bring from the city to his home to inspect them.

"Well, I suppose we might as well turn in," said Roger, presently, as he gave a yawn. "I must confess I'm tired."

"Come ahead, I'm willing," announced Phil; and then he and the senator's son retired to the next room.

"O pshaw! what do you suppose I did?" exclaimed Dave to Ben, while the pair were undressing. "I left my overcoat and my cap on the rack in the lower hallway. I should have brought them up here."

"I did the same thing," answered his chum. "I guess they'll be safe enough. All the folks in this hotel seem to be pretty nice people."

"I don't suppose there are any blizzard pictures among those miniatures, Ben?" observed Dave, with a laugh just before turning in.

"There is a picture of one army officer in a big, shaggy uniform which looks as if it might be worn because of cold weather," answered Ben; and then, as the miniatures were very close to his heart, the youth began to talk about them again.

This discussion lasted for another quarter of an hour, after which the chums retired and were soon deep in the land of slumber.

Although none of our friends knew it, every word of their conversation had been listened to eagerly by Ward Porton and the man with him. They had noted carefully all that had been said about the Basswood fortune, and about the miniatures having been placed in the real estate dealer's safe awaiting inspection by the critics who were to visit Mr. Wadsworth at his mansion. Both had noted also what Dave had said about leaving his overcoat and his cap on the rack on the lower floor of the hotel.

"A hundred thousand dollars' worth of miniatures!" murmured Tim Crapsey, after the sounds in the adjoining room had ceased. "Say, that's some fortune, sure enough!"

"But pictures! Humph, what good are they?" returned Ward Porton, in disgust. "I'd rather have my fortune in something a little more usable."

"Oh, pictures are not so bad, and miniatures can be handled very easily," answered Tim Crapsey. His small eyes began to twinkle. "Jest you let me git my hands on 'em, and I'll show you wot I kin do. I know a fence in New York who'll take pictures jest as quick as anything else."

"And what would he do with them after he got them?" questioned Ward Porton curiously.

"Oh, he'd ship 'em 'round to different places after he got 'em doctored up, and git rid of 'em somehow to art dealers and collectors. Of course, he might not be able to git full value for 'em; but if they're worth a hundred thousand dollars he might git ten or twenty thousand, and that ain't bad, is it?" and Tim Crapsey looked at Ward Porton suggestively.

"Easy enough to talk, but how are you going to get your hands on those miniatures?" demanded the former moving-picture actor, speaking, however, in a low tone, so that none of those in the next room might hear him.

"I jest got an idee," croaked Tim Crapsey. He was a man who consumed a large amount of liquor, and his voice showed it. "Didn't you hear wot that chap said about leaving his coat and hat downstairs? If you could fool them shopkeepers the way you did, then, if you had that feller's hat and coat, and maybe fixed up a bit to look like that photograph you had of him, you might be able to go to the Basswood house and fool the folks there."

"I don't quite understand?"

"I mean this way: We could go to Crumville and you could watch your chance, and when the coast was clear you could git a rig and drive over to the Basswood house and go in quite excited like and tell 'em that this Mr. Wadsworth was a-want-in' to see them miniatures right away,—that a very celebrated art critic had called on him, but couldn't stay long. Wanted to ketch a train and all that. You could tell 'em that Mr. Wadsworth had sent you to git the miniatures, and that he had said that he would return 'em jest as soon as the critic had looked 'em over. Do you ketch the idee?" and Tim Crapsey looked narrowly at his companion.

"It might work, although I'd be running a big risk," said Ward Porton, slowly. Yet his eyes gleamed in satisfaction over the thought. "But you forgot one thing, Tim: We are snowbound here, and we can't get away any quicker than they can."

"That's where you're mistaken, Port—I mean Mr. Jones," Crapsey checked himself hastily. "I heard some folks downstairs talkin' about going over to Pepsico to ketch the one o'clock train. That goes through Crumville, and if we could ketch it we'd be in that town long before mornin'. We could fix up some story about the others bein' left behind here, and Dave Porter comin' home alone. They can't send any telephone message, for the wires are down, and I don't know of any telegraph office here where they could send a message that way."

"If we were going to try it we'd have to hustle," announced Ward Porton. "And it's a fierce risk, let me tell you that,—first, trying to get to the railroad station, and then trying to bluff Mr. and Mrs. Basswood into thinking I am Dave Porter. You must remember that since I got those things in Porter's name at those stores, the whole crowd are on their guard."

"Well, you can't gain anything in this world without takin' chances," retorted Tim Crapsey. "If I looked like that feller I'd take the chance in a minute. Why, jest see what we could make out of it! If you can git your hands on those miniatures, I'll take care of the rest of it and we can split fifty-fifty on what we git out of the deal."

Ward Porton mused for a moment while Tim Crapsey eyed him closely. Then the former moving-picture actor leaped softly to his feet.

"I'll do it, Tim!" he cried in a low voice. "Come ahead—let us get out of this hotel just as soon as possible. And on the way downstairs I'll see if I can't lift that cap and overcoat."



CHAPTER XIII

WHAT WASHINGTON BONES HAD TO TELL

Dave was the first of the four chums to awaken in the morning. He glanced toward the window, to find it covered with frost and snow, thus leaving the room almost dark. The wind was still blowing furiously, and the room was quite cold. Without disturbing Ben our hero looked at his watch and found that it was almost eight o'clock. He leaped up and commenced to dress.

"Hello! getting up already?" came sleepily from his roommate, as Ben stretched himself and rubbed his eyes. "It must be pretty early."

"That's where you're mistaken, Ben," was Dave's answer. "In a few minutes more it will be eight o'clock."

"You don't say so! How dark it is! But I suppose it's the frost on the window makes that," went on the real estate dealer's son, as he, too, got up. "Phew! but it's some cold, isn't it?" and he started to dress without delay.

The noise the two boys made in moving around the room aroused the others, and soon they too were getting up.

"Wow! Talk about Greenland's Icy Mountains!" commented Phil, with a shiver. "How'd you like to go outside, Roger, just as you are, and have a snowball fight?"

"Nothing doing!" retorted the senator's son, who was getting into his clothing just as rapidly as possible. "Say, fellows, but this surely is some snowstorm!" he continued, as he walked to the window and scraped some frost from a pane of glass so that he could catch a glimpse of what was outside. "It's still snowing to beat the band!" he announced.

"And listen to the wind!" broke in Ben. "Why, sometimes it fairly rocks the building!"

"Doesn't look much as if we were going to get back to-day," said Dave. "I suppose the roads are practically impassable."

"They must be if it snowed all night," answered Ben. "Let us go down and take a look around."

"I wonder if the girls are up yet?" questioned Roger.

"It won't make much difference whether they are or not," returned Dave. "If we can't get away from here they may as well sleep as long as they please. There certainly isn't much to do in this small hotel."

The youths were soon washed and dressed, and then all trooped below. They passed the rooms occupied by the girls and by Dr. Renwick and his wife, but heard no sounds coming from within.

"They are taking advantage of the storm to have a good rest," commented Phil. He gave a yawn. "I almost wish I had remained in bed myself. We won't have a thing to do here."

"I noticed a bowling alley next door, Phil," announced Roger. "If we can't do anything else to-day we can bowl a few games. That will be fine exercise."

"Do the girls know about bowling?" questioned Ben.

"Not very much," answered Dave. "Laura has bowled a few games, I believe. But it will be fun to teach them, if we don't find anything better to do."

The boys walked through the small lobby of the hotel and into the smoking room. Here several men were congregated, all talking about the storm and the prospects of getting away.

"The snow is nearly two feet deep on the level," said one man; "but the wind has carried it in all directions so that while the road is almost bare in some spots there are drifts six and eight feet high in others."

"Looks as if we were snowed in good and proper," returned another man. "I wanted to get to one of those stores across the way, and I had about all I could do to make it. In one place I got into snow up to my waist, and it was all I could do to get out of it."

"Doesn't look like much of a chance to get away from here," observed Roger.

"We are booked to stay right where we are," declared Phil; "so we might as well make the best of it."

"Let us go out to the barn and see what Wash Bones has to say," suggested Dave. "He has probably been watching the storm and knows just how things are on the road."

"All right," returned Ben. "But I am going to put on my cap and overcoat before I go. It must be pretty cold out there even though they do keep the doors shut."

"Yes, I'll get my cap and overcoat, too," said Dave. Phil and Roger had taken their things up to the third floor the night before, and now had their overcoats over their arms.

The large rack in the hallway of the hotel was well filled with garments of various kinds, so that Ben had to make quite a search before he found his own things. In the meantime, Dave was also hunting, but without success.

"That's mighty queer," remarked the latter. "I don't seem to see my cap or my overcoat anywhere."

"Oh, it must be there, Dave," cried his chum. "Just take another look. Maybe the overcoat has gotten folded under another."

Both youths made a thorough search, which lasted so long that Phil and Roger came into the hallway to ascertain what was keeping them.

"Dave can't find his overcoat or his cap," explained Ben. "We've hunted everywhere for them."

"Didn't you take them up-stairs last night?" questioned Phil.

"No, I left them on this rack. And Ben left his things here, too," replied Dave. "I can't understand it at all;" and he looked worried.

"Maybe Laura saw them and took them upstairs, thinking they wouldn't be safe here," suggested Roger.

"I hardly think that, Roger. However, as the coat and cap are not here, maybe I'd better ask her."

Another search for the missing things followed, Dave looking through the parlor and the other rooms on the ground floor of the hotel, and even peeping into the restaurant, where a number of folks were at breakfast. Then he went upstairs and knocked softly on the door of the room which Laura and Jessie were occupying.

"Who is it?" asked his sister, in a somewhat sleepy tone of voice.

"It's I, Laura," answered her brother. "I want to know if you brought my cap and overcoat upstairs last night."

"Why, no, Dave, I didn't touch them. What is the matter—can't you find them?"

"No, and I've hunted high and low," he returned. "I don't suppose any of the other girls or the doctor touched them?"

"I am quite sure they did not." Laura came to the door and peeped out at him. "Are you boys all up already?"

"Yes, we went down-stairs a little while ago. We were going out to the barn, and that's why I wanted my overcoat and cap. They seem to be gone, and I don't know what to make of it;" and now Dave's face showed increased anxiety.

"What's the trouble?" came from Jessie, and then Laura closed the door again. Dave heard some conversation between all of the girls, and then between Laura and Mrs. Renwick. Then his sister came to the door once more.

"None of us touched your cap or overcoat, Dave," she said. "Isn't it queer? Do you suppose they have been stolen?"

"I hope not, Laura. I'm going down and see the hotel proprietor about it."

The proprietor of the hostelry was not on hand, but his son, a young fellow of about Dave's age, was behind the desk, and he listened with interest to what our hero had to say. Then he, too, instituted a search for the missing things.

"I can't understand this any more than you can," he announced, after this additional search had proved a failure. "I didn't know we had any thieves around here. Are you sure you left the coat and cap on this rack?"

"Yes, I am positive," announced Dave.

"I saw him do it, when I placed my own things on the same rack," declared Ben.

"But you found your coat and cap all right?"

"Yes."

"It's mighty queer," declared the young clerk, shaking his head. "I guess I'd better tell my father about this."

The hotel proprietor was called, and he at once instituted a number of inquiries concerning the missing things. But all these proved of no avail. No one had taken Dave's wearing apparel, and none of the hired help had seen any one else take the things or wear them.

"You should have taken your things up to your room last night," declared the hotel proprietor, during the course of the search. "It's a bad idea to leave things on a rack like this, with so many strangers coming and going all the time."

He agreed to lend Dave a coat and a hat, and, donning these, the youth walked through the little shelter leading to the stables, accompanied by his chums.

"If those things are not recovered I think you can hold the hotel man responsible," remarked Roger.

"Just what I think," put in Ben. "That overcoat was a pretty nice one, Dave; and the cap was a peach."

"I'll see what can be done, in case the things don't turn up," returned our hero.

They found Washington Bones down among the stablemen, taking care of his horses.

"Well, Wash, what are the prospects for getting away this morning?" questioned Roger.

"Ain't no prospects, so far as I kin see," declared the colored driver. "This suah am one terrible sto'm. I neber seen the like befo' aroun' heah."

"Then you don't think we're going to get back to Crumville to-day?" questioned Ben.

"No-sir. Why, if we was to try it we'd suah git stuck befo' we got out ob dis town. Some ob de drifts is right to de top of de fust story ob de houses." Washington Bones looked questioningly at Dave. "How did you like your trip outside las' night?" he queried. "Must ha' been some walkin', t'rough sech deep snow."

"My trip outside?" questioned Dave, with a puzzled look. "What do you mean, Wash? I didn't go out last night."

"You didn't!" exclaimed the colored driver in wonder. "Didn't I see you leavin' de hotel las' night 'bout half pas' 'levin or a little later?"

"You certainly did not. I was in bed and sound asleep by half past eleven," answered Dave.

"Well now, don't dat beat all!" cried the colored man, his eyes rolling in wonder. "I went outside jest to take a las' look aroun' befo' turning in, and I seen a young fellow and a man leavin' de hotel. Dey come right pas' where a lantern was hung up on the porch, and when dat light struck on de young fellow's face I thought suah as you're bo'n it was you. Why, he looked like you, and he had on de same kind of cap and overcoat dat you was a-wearin' yeste'day. I see you've got on something different to-day."

"A fellow who looked like me and who had on my cap and my overcoat!" ejaculated Dave. He turned to his chums. "What do you make of that?"

"Maybe it was Ward Porton!" cried Roger.

"If it was, he must have run away and taken Dave's cap and overcoat with him," added Ben.



CHAPTER XIV

MOVEMENTS OF THE ENEMY

As my readers doubtless surmise, it was Ward Porton who had made off with Dave's overcoat and cap.

Leaving the room which they occupied on the third floor locked, the young moving-picture actor and his disreputable companion had stolen down the two flights of stairs leading to the lower hallway. Fortunately for them, no one had been present, and it had been comparatively easy for Porton to find Dave's things and put them on. Tim Crapsey already wore his own overcoat and hat.

"We might as well provide ourselves with rubbers while we are at it," remarked Crapsey, as his gaze fell upon a number of such footwear resting near the rack, and thereupon each donned a pair of rubbers that fitted him.

Thus equipped they had stolen out of the hotel through a side hallway without any one in the building being aware of their departure.

"We're going to have a fight of it to get to the railroad station," muttered Ward Porton, as the fury of the storm struck both of them.

"It's lucky I know the way," croaked Tim Crapsey. And then, as they passed over the porch in the light of the lantern by which Washington Bones had seen Porton, the man went on: "Say, what's the matter with us stoppin' at some drinkin' place and gittin' a little liquor?"

"Not now," interposed his companion, hastily. "We want to make our get-away without being seen if we possibly can."

"Oh, nobody will know us," grumbled Crapsey, who had a great fondness for liquor, "and the stuff may prove a life-saver if we git stuck some place in the snow."

The realization that they might become snowbound on the way to Pepsico made Porton pause, and in the end he agreed to visit a drinking place several blocks away, which, by the light shining dimly through the window, they could see was still open.

"But now look here, Tim, you're not going to overdo it," said the former moving-picture actor, warningly. "If we are going to pull this stunt off you are going to keep perfectly sober. It's one drink and no more!"

"But I'm goin' to git a flask to take along," pleaded the man.

"You can do that. But I give you fair warning that you've got to go slow in using the stuff. Otherwise we are going to part company. In such a game as we are trying to put over, a man has got to have his wits about him."

Having procured a drink, and also a package of cigarettes and a flask of liquor, the two set off through the storm for the railroad station, a mile and a quarter away. It was a hard and tiresome journey, and more than once they had to stop to rest and figure out where they were. Twice Tim Crapsey insisted upon it that he must have a "bracer" from the flask.

"I'm froze through and through," he declared.

"Well, I'm half frozen myself," retorted Ward Porton, and when he saw the man drinking he could not resist the temptation to take some of the liquor himself.

"We'll be in a fine pickle if we get to Pepsico and then find that the train isn't coming through," remarked the former moving-picture actor, when about three-quarters of the journey had been covered and they were resting in the shelter of a roadside barn.

"That's a chance we've got to take," returned his companion. "But I don't think the train will be stormbound. Most of the tracks through here are on an embankment, and the wind would keep them pretty clear."

It was after one o'clock when the pair finally gained the little railroad station at Pepsico. They found over a dozen men and several women present, all resting in the tiny waiting-room, trusting that the train would soon put in an appearance.

"The wires are down so they can't tell exactly where the train is," said one of the men, in reply to a question from Porton. "They are hoping, though, that it isn't many miles away."

From time to time one of the would-be passengers would go out on the tracks to look and listen, and at last one of these announced that a train was on the way.

"But I can't tell whether it's a passenger train or a freight," he said.

"Let's git on it even if it's a freight," said Tim Crapsey to Ward Porton. "She'll take us to Crumville jest as well."

"All right, provided we can get aboard."

Slowly the train puffed in and proved to be a freight. On the rear, however, was a passenger car, hooked on at the last station.



"The regular passenger train is stalled in the cut beyond Breckford," announced the conductor of the freight, "and there's no telling when she'll get out. If you folks want to risk getting through, get aboard;" and at this invitation all those waiting at the station lost no time in boarding the mixed train. Then, with a great deal of puffing and blowing, the locomotive moved slowly away from Pepsico, dragging the long line of cars, some full and some empty, behind it.

Long before Crumville was reached it became a question as to whether the train would get through or not. The snow was coming down as thickly as ever, and the wind whistled with increased violence.

"I don't believe we'll get much farther than Crumville," announced the conductor, when he came through to collect tickets. "We should have passed at least two trains coming the other way. But nothing has come along, and that would seem to show that the line is blocked ahead of us."

As a matter of fact, the mixed train did not get even as far as Dave's home town. Running was all right so long as the tracks were up on the embankment, but as soon as they reached the level of the surrounding country the snow became so deep that several times the train had to be backed up so that a fresh start might be made. Then, when they came to a cut not over three feet deep, just on the outskirts of the town, the engineer found it utterly impossible to get any farther.

"We'll have to have a snow-plough to get us out," he declared, "or otherwise we'll have to remain here until the storm clears away."

By listening to the conversation of some of the people in the car, Porton and Crapsey learned that it was only a short distance to the town, and they followed several men and a woman when they left the train to finish the journey on foot.

"I know where we are now," said Porton, presently, as he and his companion struck a well-defined road leading past the Wadsworth jewelry works. "We'll be right in Crumville in a little while more."

Ward Porton knew very well that he must not show himself in Crumville any more than was necessary. Consequently, as soon as they came within sight of the town proper, he suggested that they look around for some place where they might remain until daybreak.

"Right you are," answered Tim Crapsey. And a little later, coming to a large barn, they tried the door, and, finding it unlocked, entered and proceeded to make themselves comfortable in some hay, using several horse blankets for coverings.

Here both of them, being thoroughly exhausted, fell sound asleep and did not awaken until it was daylight.

"Now we've got to lay our plans with great care," announced Ward Porton. "We can't go at this in any haphazard way. Even though it may prove comparatively easy to get our hands on those miniatures, it will be another story to get away with them in such a storm as this, with the railroad and every other means of communication tied up."

"This storm is jest the thing that's goin' to help us," answered Crapsey. "With all the telegraph and telephone wires down the authorities won't be able to send out any alarm. And with the snow so deep, if we git any kind of a start at all it will be next to impossible for 'em to follow us up."

A discussion of ways and means followed that lasted the best part of an hour. Then, with money provided by Porton, and with many an admonition that he must not for the present drink another drop, Tim Crapsey was allowed to depart for Crumville.

"And you be very careful of how you go at things," warned Porton.

Tim Crapsey had a delicate mission to perform. First of all he was to size up matters around the homes of the Wadsworths and the Basswoods, and then he was to do what he could to hire a cutter and a fast horse at the local livery stable. This done, he was to procure something to eat both for himself and for his companion.

As time went by Ward Porton, on the alert for the possible appearance of the owner of the barn, became more and more anxious, and twice he went out in the roadway to see if his companion was anywhere in sight.

"It would be just like him to go off and get full of liquor," muttered the young man, with a scowl. "I really ought to part company with him. But when he is perfectly sober he certainly is a slick one," he continued meditatively.

To pass the time the young man made a thorough search of the overcoat which he had stolen from Dave. He had already discovered a fine pair of gloves and had worn them. Now, in an inner pocket, he located a card-case containing half a dozen addresses, some postage stamps, and some of Dave's visiting cards. There were also two cards which had been blank, and on each of these, written in Dave's bold hand, was the following:

Signature of David Porter, Crumville.

"Hello! what's this?" mused the former moving-picture actor, as he gazed at the written cards. Then suddenly his face brightened. "Oh, I see! It's one of those cards that I heard about—the kind he has been distributing among the storekeepers in an effort to catch me. Say, one of these may come in handy when I go for those miniatures!" he continued.

At last he heard a noise outside, and looking in that direction saw Tim Crapsey approaching in a somewhat dilapidated cutter, drawn, however, by a powerful-looking bay horse.

"Had a fierce time gittin' this horse," announced the man, as he came to a halt beside the barn. "The livery stable man didn't want to let him go out, and I had to tell him a long yarn about somebody bein' sick and my havin' to git a doctor. And I had to offer him double price, too!" and at his own ruse the man chuckled hoarsely.

He had brought with him some sandwiches and doughnuts, and also a bottle of hot coffee, and on these both made a somewhat limited breakfast, the man washing the meal down with another drink from his flask.

"I kept my word—I didn't drink a drop when I was in town," he croaked. "But say, this is mighty dry work!"

"You keep a clear head on your shoulders, Tim," warned Porton. "Some day, drink is going to land you in jail or in the grave."

"Not much!" snorted the man. "I know when to stop." But Porton knew that this was not true.

Another conference was held, and Crapsey told of having taken a look around, both at the Wadsworth place and the Basswood home.

"There is no one at the Basswood place but Mr. and Mrs. Basswood; and I understand the man is sick in bed," he said. "All the telephone wires are out of commission, but to make sure that the Basswoods couldn't telephone I cut the wire that runs into his real estate office—and I also cut the wire up at the Wadsworth house."

"Good for you, Tim!" returned Ward Porton, and then he told of having found the two cards, each containing Dave's signature.

"That's fine!" cried the man. "That ought to help you a great deal when you ask for the miniatures."

"I hope it does," answered Ward Porton, thoughtfully. "Now let us go; the sooner we get at this affair the better." And then both left the barn, entered the cutter, and drove rather slowly in the direction of the Basswood home.



CHAPTER XV

THE RETURN TO CRUMVILLE

"If Ward Porton got my cap and overcoat he must have been staying at this hotel," said Dave, after the announcement made by Ben. "Let us interview the proprietor without delay."

He and his chums hurried back into the hotel and there met not only the proprietor but also his son.

"See here, have you anybody staying here who looks like me?" demanded our hero of both of them.

"Sure, we've got a fellow who looks like you," declared the hotel-keeper's son before his father could speak. "It's a Mr. Jones. He has a room up on the third floor. He's here with an older man named Brown."

"I wish you would take me up to their room!" cried Dave, quickly.

"Why! what's the matter now?"

"I want to find out whether that fellow is still here. If he is I want him placed under arrest." And then Dave related a few of the particulars concerning Ward Porton and his doings.

"That certainly is a queer story," remarked the hotel proprietor. "I'll go upstairs with you."

He led the way, followed by Dave and his chums. The youths were much astonished to see him halt at the door next to their own.

"They don't seem to be there, or otherwise they are sleeping pretty soundly," remarked the hotel proprietor, after he had knocked on the door several times.

"I guess you had better unlock the door," suggested Dave. "I rather think you will find the room empty."

A key was secured from one of the maids and the door was opened. The proprietor gave one look into the apartment.

"Gone!" he exclaimed. "Say! do you think they have run away?"

"That's just exactly what I do think," answered Dave. "And that fellow who looks like me most likely took my cap and overcoat."

"And you say his name is Porton? He signed our register as William Jones."

"Here's his hat and coat," announced Phil, opening the door to a closet. "Pretty poor clothing he left you in return for yours, Dave," continued the shipowner's son, after an inspection.

The hotel proprietor was very wrathy, declaring that Porton and his companion owed him for three days' board.

"They're swindlers, that's what they are!" he cried. "Just wait till I land on them! I'll put them in jail sure!"

"I'd willingly give you that board money just to get my hands on Ward Porton," announced Dave. He turned to his chums. "This sure is the limit! First he goes to the stores and gets a lot of things in my name and then he steals my hat and overcoat right from under my nose!"

"Yes, and that isn't the worst of it," declared Roger. "There is no telling where he has gone; and even if you knew, in this awful storm it would be next to impossible to follow him."

All went below, and there they continued to discuss the situation. In the midst of the talk the girls came down, accompanied by Dr. Renwick and his wife.

"Oh, Dave! you don't mean to tell me that that horrid Ward Porton has been at more of his tricks!" cried Laura.

"Isn't it perfectly dreadful!" put in Jessie. "And to think he was right in this hotel with us and we never knew it!"

"That's what makes me so angry," announced Dave. "If only I had clapped my eyes on him!" he added regretfully.

"Well, there's no use of crying over spilt milk," declared Roger. "He is gone, and so are Dave's overcoat and his cap, and that is all there is to it."

"Speaking of milk puts me in mind of breakfast," put in Phil. "Now that the others are downstairs don't you think we had better have something to eat?"

All were agreeable, and soon they were seated at a large table in the dining room, in company with the doctor and Mrs. Renwick. Here, while eating their breakfast, they discussed the situation from every possible standpoint, but without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.

"Porton must have seen us when we came up to the rooms," said Dave to his chums. "He probably heard me speak about leaving my cap and overcoat downstairs, and he just took a fiendish delight in walking off with them and leaving his old duds behind. Oh, he certainly is a peach!"

Had there been the slightest let-up in the blizzard, Dave and his chums would have gone out on a hunt around the town for Porton and his unknown companion. But with the wind blowing almost a hurricane, and the snow coming down as thickly as ever, Dr. Renwick told them that they had better remain indoors.

"It isn't likely that they stayed anywhere around here, fearing detection," said the physician. "They probably put a good distance between themselves and this hotel. And to go out in such a storm as this might make some of you sick."

"Oh, well, what of that? We have a doctor handy," answered Dave, whimsically. "Just the same, I guess we had better remain where we are," he added, with a deep sigh.

It was not until the following morning that the wind died down and the snow ceased to fall. In the meantime, the young folks did what they could to entertain themselves, the girls playing on the piano in the hotel parlor, and the boys later on taking them to the bowling alleys next door and initiating them into the mysteries of the game. Dave was a good bowler and so was Roger, each being able occasionally to make a score of two hundred. But Ben and Phil could not do much better than one hundred, while none of the girls got over eighty.

"Now that the snow has stopped falling, I suppose we had better try to get back to Crumville," said Laura to her brother.

"Yes, we ought to get back," put in Jessie. "I suppose our folks are dreadfully worried about us."

"It was too bad that you couldn't send some sort of word," came from Belle. "If you could only do that we could stay here until the roads were well broken."

"In the West we don't pretend to go out in such a storm," remarked Cora Dartmore. "But, of course, our distances are greater, and we have so few landmarks that it is an easy thing to get lost."

"I don't think we are going to get away from here in any great hurry," replied Dave. "It is true the snow has stopped coming down and the sun is breaking through the clouds; but I am quite sure the drifts on the road between here and Crumville are much higher than we can manage, even with the powerful horses we have. We'll have to wait until the roads are more or less broken."

Our hero was right about not getting away. They went down to the stables and interviewed Washington Bones and several of the other drivers present, and all agreed that it would not be possible to get very far beyond the town limits. This news made the young folks chafe considerably, but there was nothing to be done; so for another day they had to content themselves as best they could. During that time the boys did their best to send some message to Crumville, but without success, for all of the telephone and telegraph wires were still down and nothing had been done to mend them.

The next morning, however, things looked a little brighter. The weather continued to improve, and several horse teams, as well as an ox team, came through on the road from the direction of Crumville.

"The road ain't none too good so far as I could see," announced one of the drivers to Dave. "But if you take your time and watch where you're going, maybe you can get through."

"Oh, let us try it anyway!" cried Laura, who was present. "If we find we can't make it we can come back here, or else stop at some other place along the way."

It was finally agreed that they should make the effort, and they started about ten o'clock. The sun was shining with dazzling brilliancy on the snow, and with no wind blowing it was considerably warmer than it had been on the journey to Lamont. All of the young folks were in good humor, Dave for the time being dismissing from his mind the trouble occasioned by the loss of his cap and overcoat.

As they drove away from the town they could see the effects of the great wind. In some spots the road was almost bare of snow, while in others there were drifts ten and twelve feet in height. To drive through such drifts was, of course, impossible; so they had to make long detours through the surrounding fields. At such places the horses, of course, had to be driven with extra care, for no one wanted the sleigh to land in some hole or be overturned. Occasionally, when the turnout was on a dangerous slant, the girls would shriek and the boys would hold their breath; but each time Washington Bones was equal to the occasion and brought them through safely.

By noon they had covered five miles, and then they stopped to rest at a village where all procured a good hot dinner. Then they went forward once again, this time through a long patch of timber.

"If we gits through dat, we'll be all right," declared the colored driver.

The snow lay deep in the woods, but the horses proved equal to the occasion, and at last the timber was left behind and they came out on a ridge road where the snow was only a few inches in depth. Here they were able to make fairly good time, so that three o'clock found them almost within sight of the outskirts of Crumville.

"We're going to make it easily," declared Ben. But he proved to be mistaken, for a little distance farther on they ran again into the deep snow and had to pass around one drift after another, finally going clear across several fields to another highway. As a result it was well after dark before they gained the road leading past the Wadsworth jewelry works.

"Well, this looks like home, anyway," declared Dave to Jessie, as he nodded in the direction of her father's establishment.

"Yes, and I'm glad of it," returned the girl. "Gracious! it seems to me that we have been on the road for a week!"

"We can be thankful that we got through so easily, Jessie. Wash is certainly some driver."

On account of another big drift they had to pass to still another road, and this brought them finally to the street leading past the Basswood home.

"If it's all the same to you folks, I'll get off at my place," announced Ben. "I suppose my father and mother are worrying about me."

"Go ahead, Ben," returned Dave. And then he added quickly: "I trust you find your father is better."

With a flourish Washington Bones drew up the panting horses in front of the Basswood place. Just as Ben leaped from the sleigh the front door of the house opened and Mrs. Basswood appeared.

"Ben! Ben! is that you?" cried the youth's parent, quickly.

"Yes, Mother," he answered cheerily. "Don't worry. I am all right."

Forgetful that she had on only thin shoes, and no covering over her head or shoulders, Mrs. Basswood ran directly down to the big sleigh. She glanced over the occupants and her eyes fastened instantly on Dave.

"Dave, have you been with Ben since you went away?" she queried. "You haven't been to our house?"

"Why certainly I haven't been here, Mrs. Basswood," he returned promptly.

"Then it's true! It's true!" she wailed, wringing her hands.

"What's true, Mother?" demanded the son.

"The miniatures! They're gone! They have been stolen! That young man who looks like Dave was here and took them away!"



CHAPTER XVI

HOW THE MINIATURES DISAPPEARED

"The miniatures are gone?" came from Ben Basswood in astonishment.

"Yes, Ben, gone!" and the mother wrung her hands in despair.

"Do you mean to say Ward Porton dared to come here and impersonate me and get them?" cried Dave.

"It must have been that fellow, Dave. He looked exactly like you. That is why I just asked you if you had been to our house."

"I have been with Ben and the others since we went on our sleigh-ride," said our hero. "This is terrible! How did it happen?"

"Come into the house and I'll tell you all about it," answered Mrs. Basswood. Her face was drawn with anxiety, and all could see that she was suffering keenly.

"And how is father?" questioned Ben, as the party trooped up the piazza steps and into the house.

"He isn't so well, Ben, as he was before you went away. Oh, dear! and to think how easily I was duped!"

Dave had told Washington Bones to wait for them, and, entering the parlor of the Basswood home, the others listened to what the lady of the house had to tell.

"Your father had just had another bad turn, and the nurse and I were doing what we could for him when the door-bell rang," she began. "I went downstairs, and there stood somebody that I thought was Dave. I asked him into the house and he at once wanted to know how Mr. Basswood was getting along."

"When was this?" questioned Ben.

"This was two days ago, and just about noon time."

"Two days ago!" repeated Roger. "Then Porton must have come here right after leaving the hotel in Lamont. How ever did he get here?"

"Maybe he took that train that got through from Pepsico," answered Phil. "You remember we heard that quite a few people made that train."

"Let us hear about the miniatures," broke in Ben, impatiently.

"Well, he came in, as I said, and asked about Mr. Basswood's health. Then he told me that he was in a great hurry—that a certain famous art critic had called on Mr. Wadsworth, and, having heard about the Enos miniatures, was very anxious to see them. He told me that the art critic had thought of coming over with him, but Mr. Wadsworth had said that it might disturb Mr. Basswood too much to have the miniatures examined in our house. The art critic did not want to become snowbound in Crumville, so he was only going to stay until the four o'clock afternoon train. The young man said Mr. Wadsworth wanted to know if we would allow him to take the miniatures over to the Wadsworth house, and that he would bring them back safely, either that evening or the next morning."

"Oh, Mother! didn't you suspect it might be a trick?" questioned Ben, anxiously. "You knew how this Ward Porton has been impersonating Dave."

"Yes, yes, Ben, I know," answered Mrs. Basswood, again wringing her hands. "And I should have been more careful. But you know I was very much upset on account of the bad turn your father had had. Then, too, the young man threw me off my guard by asking me if I had one of those cards which Dave had distributed among the storekeepers—the one with his autograph on it.

"I said 'no,' but told him I was very well acquainted with his handwriting. Then he said he would write out a card for me, adding, with a laugh, that he wanted me to be sure he was really Dave. He drew a blank card out of his pocket and turned to a table to write on it and then handed it to me. Here is the card now;" and, going to the mantelpiece, the lady of the house produced it.

"One of the cards that I left in the overcoat that was stolen!" exclaimed Dave. "He didn't write this at all, Mrs. Basswood. That rascal stole my overcoat and some of these cards were in it. He simply pretended to write on it."

"Well, I was sure it was your handwriting, and that made me feel easy about the fellow being you."

"But you knew I was with Ben and the others on the sleigh-ride," broke in Dave.

"Oh, I forgot to state that when he came in he explained that you were all stormbound at the hotel in Lamont and that, as the telephone and telegraph wires were all down, he had managed to get to Pepsico and reach Crumville on a freight train, doing this so that we and the Wadsworths would not worry, thinking the sleighing-party had been lost somewhere on the road in this awful blizzard."

"And then you gave him the miniatures?" questioned Ben.

"I did. Oh, Ben, I know now how very foolish it was! But I was so upset! At first I thought to ask your father about it; but I was afraid that to disturb him would make him feel worse, and I knew he was bad enough already. Then, too, I knew that Mr. Wadsworth was expecting some art critics to look at the miniatures, so I concluded it must be all right. I have always known the combination of your father's safe, so it was an easy matter for me to open it and get the miniatures out. I told the young man to be careful of them, and he told me not to worry—that the miniatures would be perfectly safe, and that Mr. Wadsworth had promised to get the critic to set a fair value on each of them."

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