HotFreeBooks.com
Dave Porter and His Double - The Disapperarance of the Basswood Fortune
by Edward Stratemeyer
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Was this Ward Porton alone?" asked Laura. The girls, of course, had listened with as much interest as the boys to what the lady of the house had to relate.

"No, he came in a cutter driven by a man who was so bundled up because of the cold that I could not make out who he was. As soon as I gave him the cases containing the miniatures the young man hurried off in the cutter, stating that the sooner the critic had a chance to see the paintings the better."

"And what happened next?" questioned Dave, as Mrs. Basswood paused in her recital.

"I went back to assist a nurse who had come in, and all that night we had our hands full with my husband. We had to call in the doctor, and he was really not out of danger until noon of the next day. I had wanted to tell him about sending the miniatures over to the Wadsworth house, but he was in no condition to be told anything, so I kept silent."

"But didn't you get worried when noon came and the supposed Dave didn't return with them?" questioned the son.

"Yes, as soon as the doctor said that your father was out of danger I began to worry over the miniatures. I waited until the middle of the afternoon, and then, although it was snowing and blowing something awful, I hailed a passing man—old Joe Patterson—and asked him if he would go on an errand to the Wadsworth house. He said he would try to make it for a dollar, and so I wrote a short note to Mrs. Wadsworth, knowing that she must be at home even though her husband and Dave might be away.

"Old Patterson delivered this message, and Mrs. Wadsworth sent back word that she had not seen anything of Dave since he had gone away on the sleigh-ride, nor had she seen anything of the miniatures. She added that her husband had gone to the jewelry works, but that she would send one of the hired men after him at once and acquaint him with the situation."

"What did you do then?" went on Ben.

"I really didn't know what to do. Your father was so ill that the nurse and I had to give him every attention. I was waiting for the doctor to come again, but he could not get here on account of the snow-drifts. Mr. Wadsworth put in an appearance about two hours later, and then I told him just what I have told you. He declared at once that it must be a trick, stating that Dave had not been near the house since going away with all of you young folks. Mr. Wadsworth was quite put out, and wanted to know how it was that I had not been able to detect the deception."

"Well, I must say—" commenced Ben, and then stopped short, for he could see how his mother was suffering.

"Oh, yes, Ben, I know what you were going to say," she broke in quickly. "Having known Dave so many years I should have discovered the deception. But, as I said before, I was terribly worked up over your father's condition. Then, too, the young man came in bundled up in an overcoat and a cap that looked exactly like those Dave wears."

"They were mine. That fellow stole them from me," interrupted our hero, bitterly.

"Not only that, but he had a tippet placed over his head and around his neck, and he spoke in a very hoarse voice, stating that he had caught a terrible cold while on the sleigh-ride and while coming back to Crumville on the freight train. He spoke about Mr. Basswood's real estate business, and about Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth and Jessie, and so many other things that we are familiar with, that I was completely deceived. Then, too, his turning over that written card to me also threw me off my guard. But I know I was very foolish, very foolish indeed!" and Mrs. Basswood's lips trembled and she wrung her hands once again.

"What did Mr. Wadsworth do?" questioned Dave, in the midst of rather an awkward pause. He agreed with Ben that Mrs. Basswood should have recognized Ward Porton as an imposter, but he did not want to say anything that might add to the lady's misery.

"He said he would set the authorities at work and see if he could not find Porton and his confederate. I was so bewildered that I—well, I might as well admit it—I told him that I couldn't understand how I had been deceived, and that maybe Dave had gotten the miniatures after all."

"Oh, Mrs. Basswood, you didn't really mean that!" cried our hero.

"I was so bewildered I didn't know what I meant, Dave. That young man did look so very much like you. That's the reason, when you folks drove up to the house, I ran out to ask if you had really been here or not."

"Have you heard anything of this Ward Porton since?" asked Roger.

"I haven't heard anything. Whether Mr. Wadsworth has learned anything or not I do not know, for he has not been here and the storm has been so awful, with all the telephone wires down, that I could not send for news."

"Does father know about this now?" questioned Ben.

"No, Ben, I have not had the courage to tell him," answered the mother. "I told the doctor, and he advised that I say nothing for the present."

"I don't think I'd tell him," said Dave. "I think the best thing we can do is to try to follow Porton and this fellow with him and get back the miniatures. Then it will be time enough to tell Mr. Basswood about the affair."

As soon as they had entered the parlor the lady of the house had shut the door, so that none of the conversation might reach the sick chamber overhead. In reply to numerous questions Mrs. Basswood gave all the details as to how the rascally Porton had been able to gain possession of the miniatures.

"I think I'll hurry up and get home," declared Dave, presently. "I want to hear what Mr. Wadsworth has to say; and also find out what he and my folks have done towards getting on the track of Porton and his confederate."

"That's the talk!" exclaimed Roger. "Say! but this is the worst yet, isn't it?" He turned to the lady of the house. "I am awfully sorry for you, Mrs. Basswood."

"I guess we are all sorry," broke in our hero, quickly.

"Oh, I hope they catch that Porton and put him in prison!" cried Jessie.

"That is where he belongs," answered Dave, soberly.



CHAPTER XVII

A VAIN SEARCH

To find out what Mr. Wadsworth, as well as Dave's father and his uncle, had done, Ben accompanied the other young folks to the jewelry manufacturer's mansion. They found that Mr. Wadsworth had gone to business, but the other men were present and were much interested in what Dave and his chums had to relate.

"We've done all we could to get the authorities on the trail of Ward Porton," announced Dave's father; "but we have been much hindered on account of this awful blizzard. The telegraph and telephone wires are down in all directions, so it has been practically impossible to send word any great distance."

"With such a storm it may be possible that Porton and his confederate are still in Crumville," suggested Roger.

"I hardly think that," said Dunston Porter. "More than likely they did everything they could to put distance between themselves and this town after they got their hands on the miniatures."

"I suppose you know we found out that Porton's confederate managed to get a horse and cutter from Bryson's livery stable," said Dave's father.

"No, we didn't know that!" cried Ben.

"Well, it's true. The confederate, who gave his name as Frank Carson, said he wanted the turnout to go for a doctor. He said he had been sent by Mr. Jamison, the minister. Of course, it was all a trick and Mr. Jamison knew absolutely nothing about it."

"Did they return the horse and cutter?"

"They did not. And Bryson is mourning the loss of a good horse. The cutter he says did not amount to so much. He would not have let the animal go out, only the fellow begged so hard, stating that it was practically a case of life or death—and he offered to pay double money for the horse's use."

"Were they seen at all?" questioned Ben.

"Oh, yes! A number of people who were stormbound saw them pass down the street and stop at your house. Then others saw the cutter turn in the direction of Hacklebury."

"Of course you tried to follow?" queried Dave.

"I did that," answered Dunston Porter. "It was tough work getting through as far as the mill town. But I managed it, and made all sorts of inquiries. Two people had seen the cutter pass the mills, but no one could give me any definite information as to which way it headed after that. You see, it was growing dark by that time, and the snow was coming down so thickly that it was next to impossible to see any great distance in any direction."

"Well, we know they went as far as Hacklebury, and that's something," returned Phil hopefully.

"Yes, but it isn't much," came in a rather hopeless tone from Ben. "I'm afraid they've got away and we'll never see them again, or the miniatures either."

"Oh, don't say that, Ben!" cried Laura, sympathetically. "Pictures, you know, are not like money. Porton and that rascal with him will have no easy time disposing of the miniatures."

"I'll tell you what they may do!" burst out Jessie, suddenly. "They may go to some big city and then send you word that they will return the miniatures provided you will pay them a certain amount of money for so doing."

"Say! I believe that's just what they will do!" cried Dave. "Jessie, I think you've struck the nail right on the head!" and he looked at the girl admiringly.

"I hope they do that—if we don't catch them," returned Ben. "If those miniatures are worth anything like a hundred thousand dollars, I guess my dad would be glad enough to give five or ten thousand dollars to get them back."

"I wouldn't give up the hunt yet, Ben," urged Roger. "Just as soon as this awful storm is over I'd let the authorities in all the big cities, as well as the little ones, know about the theft, and then they can be on the watch for Porton and his confederate. By the way, I wonder who the confederate can be."

"I'm sure I haven't the least idea," answered the real estate dealer's son.

With the disappearance of the Basswood fortune in their minds, neither the young folks nor the grown folks could talk about much else. Laura and Jessie told the latter's mother how they had fallen in with Dr. Renwick and his wife, and how the pair had looked after the girls during their stay at the Lamont Hotel.

"It was nice of Mrs. Renwick to do that," said the lady of the mansion; "but it is no more than I would expect from her. She is a very estimable woman."

It was rather hard for Dave and Roger to settle down to their studies on the following morning, but there was nothing they could do to help along the search for those who had taken the miniatures, and, as both youths were anxious to make up for lost time, they applied themselves as diligently as possible.

Mr. Ramsdell had been away, but the tutor came back that afternoon, and the two students put in a full day over their books, leaving Laura, Jessie and Phil to look after the visitors from the West.

The blizzard had now ceased entirely, and by the end of the week all the roads in the vicinity of Crumville were fairly well broken and some of the telegraph and telephone lines had been repaired. The newspapers came in from the larger cities, and it was found that the blizzard had covered a wide area of the country, extending practically from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic seaboard.

"It's given Ward Porton and his confederate a dandy chance to get away," was Roger's comment.

"You're right, Roger," answered Dave. "And so far it would seem that they have left no trace behind them."

From Ben it was learned that Mr. Basswood was slowly improving in health. He had asked about the miniatures, and the art critics who were to have visited Crumville on the invitation of Mr. Wadsworth.

"We couldn't keep the news from him any longer," said Ben. "When he asked about the pictures my mother broke down and had to confess that she had let Porton take them, thinking he was Dave. Of course, father was very much disturbed, and the doctor had to pay an extra visit and give him something to keep him quiet. I told him that all of us were doing everything we possibly could to get on the track of the thieves, and now he is resting in the hope that sooner or later the miniatures will be recovered."

The loss of the miniatures had taken a good deal of the fun out of Ben, and when the young folks stopping at the Wadsworth mansion went out sleighing again, and for some fun skating, he begged to be excused.

"I wouldn't take the loss too hard, Ben," said Dave, quietly. "Remember, if the worse comes to the worst, you are just as well off as you were before you heard of this Enos fortune."

"That is true, Dave. But it makes me mad to think that we had such a fortune as that right in our hands and then let it get away from us."

"I suppose your mother feels dreadfully about it?"

"She certainly does, Dave. Why, she isn't herself at all. Sometimes I think that her worrying will bring on a regular fit of sickness. She, of course, thinks that it is entirely her fault that the miniatures are gone."

"You'll have to do all you can to cheer her up."

"Oh, I'm doing that! And I do what I can to cheer up my father too. Just the same, I'm mighty blue myself at times;" and the real estate dealer's son heaved a deep sigh.

At last came the day when Belle and Cora must return to their homes in the West. On the evening before, Jessie and Laura gave a little party in their honor, which was attended by over a score of the boys and girls of Crumville. The young people played games, sang, and danced to their hearts' content, and Mrs. Wadsworth saw to it that ample refreshments were served to all.



"Oh, I've had a perfectly lovely time!" declared Belle, when she and the others were on their way to the depot.

"And so have I had a lovely time," added Cora Dartmore. "But I'm so sorry your friend lost that fortune," she added. Ben had said good-bye over the telephone, the wire of which was once more in working order.

"If you ever do hear of those miniatures you must let us know," went on Belle.

"We'll be sure to do that," answered Laura. And then the train came in, and, with a final handshake all around, and with several kisses exchanged between the girls, Belle and Cora climbed on board, Dave and Phil assisting them with their suitcases.

"I'm sorry I'm not going with you," cried the shipowner's son, "But I've promised Dave and Roger to stay a few days longer."

"Be sure to send us a letter as soon as you get back home," cried Jessie.

And then the train rolled out of the station and the visitors from the West were gone.

On the night before Phil took his departure the three chums had what they called a "talk-fest" in Dave's room. They spoke about many things—of how they had first gone to Oak Hall, and of various adventures that had occurred since that time.

"The Oak Hall boys are becoming scattered," said Phil. "I don't suppose they'll ever all get together again."

"Oh, we'll have to meet at some future graduation exercises at the Hall!" cried Dave. "I can't think of letting such fellows as Shadow Hamilton, Buster Beggs, and Sam Day drop."

"Right you are!" came from Roger. "If I can get there at all you can count on my going back to Oak Hall whenever there are any commencement exercises."

"I half wish I was going into this civil engineering business with you two fellows," continued Phil. "But I'm afraid I'm not cut out for that sort of thing. I love the sea and everything connected with ships."

"That shows you're a chip of the old block," announced Dave, clapping his chum on the shoulder. "You take after your father, Phil, and I don't think you could do better than to follow him in his shipping business."

"If I do follow him in that business, I tell you what you've got to do," announced the shipowner's son. "Some time you've both got to take a nice big cruise with me."

"That would suit me down to the shoe-tips," returned Roger.

"It would be fine, Phil," answered Dave. "But just at present, Roger and I have got to bone to beat the band if we want to pass that examination. You must remember that being away from home on account of that blizzard put us behind quite a good deal."

"Well, you won't have me to worry you after to-night," grinned the chum. "Starting to-morrow morning you and Roger can put in twenty-four hours a day over your studies, as far as I am concerned."

"Wow! Listen to that! He's as considerate as old Job Haskers used to be," exclaimed the senator's son. And then, picking up a pillow, he shied it at Phil's head.

Another pillow was sent at Roger in return; and in a moment a so-called "Oak Hall pillow fight" was in full progress in the room, pillows, blankets, books, and various other objects flying in all directions. Then Phil got Roger down on one of the beds and was promptly hauled off by Dave, and in a moment more the three youths were rolling over and over on the floor.

Suddenly there sounded a knock on the door.

"Hello! Who is that?" cried Dave; and at once the three youths scrambled to their feet, readjusting their clothing as they did so.

"Oh, Dave, such a noise!" came from his sister. "What in the world are you doing in there?"

"We are only bidding Phil good-bye," answered the brother, sweetly.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE CIVIL ENGINEERING EXAMINATION

As the days went by, and Dave and Roger continued to prepare themselves for the examination which was rapidly approaching, the authorities did all they could to locate Ward Porton and his confederate. Diligent inquiries were made concerning the identity of the man who had occupied the room at Lamont with the former moving-picture actor, and it was finally discovered that he was Tim Crapsey, a fellow already wanted by the police for several crimes.

"It's queer that a fellow like Porton should throw in his fortunes with a man like Crapsey," was Roger's comment. "From all accounts Crapsey is a thoroughly good-for-nothing fellow with a great liking for strong drink."

"That shows Porton's real disposition, Roger," answered Dave. "If he were any kind of a clean-minded or decent fellow he wouldn't want to put up with such a vile fellow as this Tim Crapsey is represented by the police to be."

"If Crapsey is already known to the police they ought to be able to locate him sooner or later."

"Those slick criminals have a way all their own for keeping out of sight of the police." Dave paused for a moment. "Do you know I've been thinking of something. Maybe this fellow, Crapsey, simply used Porton as a tool."

"I don't quite understand, Dave."

"Why, in this way: when they heard about the miniatures, and Crapsey heard how much Porton looked like me, and how intimate I and the Wadsworths were with the Basswoods, it may have been Crapsey who concocted the scheme for getting possession of the miniatures. And if he did that, it is more than likely that he will be the one to dispose of the pictures or send in an offer to return them for a certain amount."

"You mean and cut Ward Porton out of the deal?" questioned the senator's son, quickly.

"He may not cut Porton out entirely. But the chances are that he'll let Porton have as little of the returns as possible. A professional criminal like this Crapsey isn't going to let an amateur like Porton in on the ground floor if he can help it."

"Maybe he'll do Porton out of it entirely. Wouldn't that make the moving-picture actor mad!" and Roger grinned over the thought.

"It is no more than Porton would deserve," answered our hero. "Just the same, I hope the authorities capture them both and return the miniatures to Mr. Basswood."

Two days before the time when Dave and Roger were to undergo the much talked-of examination in civil engineering, there came news from a country town fifteen miles beyond Hacklebury. A livery stableman there sent in word that he was boarding a horse which he thought might be the one stolen from Mr. Bryson. The Crumville liveryman at once notified Ben and the local police, and the boy and an officer accompanied him to Centertown. Mr. Bryson at once recognized the horse as his own, and wanted to know how the Centertown liveryman had become possessed of the animal.

"He was left here by a man I think was this Tim Crapsey the paper spoke about," announced the livery stable keeper. "He said he was on the road to the next town, but that the storm was too much for him, and that he wanted to leave the animal with me for a few days or a week. He said he was rather short of cash and asked me to lend him ten dollars, which, of course, I did, as I thought the horse was ample security," went on the livery stableman, bitterly.

"Was the fellow alone?" was the question which Ben put.

"He came in alone, but I think after he left the stable he was joined by another fellow down on the corner."

The Centertown livery-stable keeper had not noticed where Crapsey and his companion had gone, but thought they had made their way to the railroad station. It was learned that a train bound for New York City had left Centertown about an hour later. All came to the conclusion that Ward Porton and Tim Crapsey had taken this. The train had been stalled some hours along the road, but had finally reached the Grand Central Terminal of the metropolis.

"Well, this proves one thing—that Porton and Crapsey got as far as New York City with the miniatures," said Dave, when he heard the news.

"Yes, and New York is such a large place, with so many people in it, that it will be almost impossible for the authorities to trace them there."

"That's it, Roger—especially when you remember that this happened some time ago, so that by now the thieves may be in Chicago, San Francisco, or in London, Paris, or some other far-away place."

At last came the time when Dave and Roger were to go in for the examination which meant so much to them. They had worked hard, and Mr. Ramsdell had assisted them in every way possible; yet both were rather doubtful over the outcome of the affair.

"It isn't going to be like the examinations at Oak Hall," said our hero. "Mr. Ramsdell admitted that it would be stiff from the word go."

"I know that," answered the senator's son. "It seems that several years ago they were a little lax, and, as a consequence, some fellows slipped through that had no right to pass. Now they have jacked the examiners up, so that the test is likely to be fierce."

"Oh, Dave! what are you going to do if you don't pass?" cried Jessie, when he was ready to leave home.

"If I don't pass now, Jessie, I'll simply go at my studies again and keep at them until I do pass," he answered.

The examination which was held in the city was divided into two parts, one taking place from ten to twelve in the morning, and the other from two to five in the afternoon. There were about thirty students present, and as far as possible each was separated from any friends he might have on hand, so that Dave sat on one side of the hall in which the examination occurred and the senator's son sat on the other.

"Well, how did you make out?" questioned Roger of Dave, when the two went out for their midday lunch.

"I don't know exactly, Roger," was the reply. "I think, however, that I answered at least seventy per cent, of the questions correctly. How about yourself?"

"Well, I'm hoping that I got seventy per cent. of them right," returned the senator's son. "But maybe I didn't get above fifty or sixty per cent."

The afternoon questions seemed to be much harder than those of the morning. The students were given until five o'clock to pass in their afternoon papers, and never did Dave and Roger work harder than they did during the final hour. One question in particular bothered our hero a great deal. But at almost the last minute the answer to it came like an inspiration, and he dashed it down. This question proved a poser for the senator's son, and he passed in his paper without attempting to put down a solution.

Following that examination, Dave returned to Crumville. Roger journeyed to Washington, where his folks were staying at a leading hotel, Congress being in session and Senator Morr occupying his place in the Senate.

There was a week of anxious waiting, and then one day Dave received an official-looking envelope which made his heart beat rapidly.

"What is it, Dave?" cried his sister, when she saw him with the letter in his hand. "Is it your civil engineering report?"

"I think it is, Laura," he answered.

"Oh, Dave, how I hope you've passed!"

"So do I," put in Jessie.

Dave could not give an answer to this, because, for the moment, his heart seemed to be in his throat. Passing to the desk in the library, he slit open the envelope and took out the sheet which it contained. A single glance at it, and he gave a shout of triumph.

"I've passed!" he cried. "Hurrah!"

"Oh, good!" came simultaneously from his sister and Jessie. And then they crowded closer to look at the sheet of paper.

"Does it say what percentage you got?" continued his sister.

"Why, as near as I can make out, I've got a standing of ninety-two per cent.," he announced, with pardonable pride. "Isn't that fine?"

"It's the finest ever, Dave!" said his sister, fondly, as she threw her arms around his neck.

"Oh, Dave, it's just glorious!" exclaimed Jessie, her eyes beaming. And when he caught her and held her tight for a moment she offered no resistance. "Oh, won't your father and your uncle be proud when they hear of this!"

"I'm going to tell them right now!" he cried, and ran off to spread the good news.

"My boy, I'm proud of you," said his father. "Proud of you!" and he clapped Dave affectionately on the shoulder.

"I didn't expect anything different from our Davy," put in Uncle Dunston. "I knew he'd pass. Well, now you've passed, I wish you every success in the profession you have chosen."

"Oh, I'm not a full-fledged civil engineer yet, Uncle Dunston," broke in Dave, quickly. "I've got a whole lot to learn yet. Remember this is only my first examination. I've got to study a whole lot more and have a whole lot of practice, too, before I can graduate as a real civil engineer."

Dave lost no time in sending a telegram to Roger. In return, a few hours later came word from the senator's son that he, too, had passed.

"Hurrah!" cried Dave, once more, and then could not resist the temptation to grab Jessie about the waist and start on a mad dance through the library, the hallway, the dining-room, and the living room of the mansion. Mrs. Wadsworth looked on and smiled indulgently.

"I suppose your heart is as light as a feather now, Dave," she said, when the impromptu whirl came to an end.

"Indeed it is, Mrs. Wadsworth," he answered. "Passing that examination has lifted a tremendous weight from my shoulders."

Of course Mr. Ramsdell was greatly pleased to think that both of his pupils had passed.

"Now I can write to my friends of the Mentor Construction Company and see if they can give Dave and Roger an opening," he said. "They promised it to me some time ago in case the boys passed." And he set about sending off a letter without delay.



CHAPTER XIX

OFF FOR TEXAS

"Glorious news!"

"Oh, Dave! have you heard from Mr. Ramsdell?" cried his sister Laura.

"Yes, here is a letter. And it enclosed another from the Mentor Construction Company. They are going to give me an opening with that portion of the concern that is now operating in Texas, building railroad bridges."

"Oh, Dave! then you will really have to go away down there?" burst out Jessie, her face falling a trifle. "It's a dreadfully long way off!"

"Well, it's what I expected," he answered. "A fellow can't expect to become a civil engineer and work in his own backyard," and he grinned a trifle. "This letter from Mr. Ramsdell states that Roger will be given an opening also."

"With you, of course?" queried Laura.

"He doesn't state that. But he knew we wanted to stick together, so I suppose it's all right."

"When do you have to start?" questioned Jessie.

"Just as soon as we can get ready—according to Mr. Ramsdell's letter. He says he is also sending word to Roger."

As was to be expected, the tidings quite excited our hero. Now that he had passed the preliminary examination and was to go out for actual field practice, he felt that he was really and truly on his way to becoming a civil engineer. It was the first step towards the realization of a dream that had been his for some time.

Dave's father and his uncle, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth, were greatly interested in the news.

"There is one thing about it, Dave," said his parent; "I have made a number of inquiries, and have learned that the Mentor Construction Company is one of the largest and finest in this country. They employ a number of first-class engineers; so it is likely that you will receive the very best of instruction, and I sincerely hope that you will make the best of your opportunities."

"I am going to do my level best, Dad," he returned earnestly. "I think I'm a mighty lucky boy," he added, with a smile.

"I think you owe Mr. Ramsdell a good deal," said his Uncle Dunston. "Of course, we have paid him for his services, but that isn't everything."

"I know it," Dave returned; "and I'm either going to thank him in person or else send him the nicest letter that I can write."

Now that he was really going to leave home, Mrs. Wadsworth, as well as Laura and Jessie, took it upon their shoulders to see that Dave should be properly taken care of so far as wearing apparel went.

"But oh, Dave! it's awful to think of your going so far away!" said Jessie, one day, when the two were alone in the library. "The house will be dreadfully lonely after you are gone."

"It won't be much different from when I was at Oak Hall, Jessie," he answered.

"Oh, yes, it will be, Dave. Texas is a long way off. And my father says the construction work that the Mentor Company is doing is close to the Mexican border. What if you should have trouble with some of those awful Mexican bandits?" and the girl shuddered.

"I don't expect any trouble of that kind. Practically all the fighting that has been going on has been on Mexican soil on the other side of the Rio Grande. As I understand it, the nearest point that the Mentor Construction Company reaches to Mexico is some miles from the border."

"Well, that's close enough with so much fighting going on," Jessie pouted. "I don't want any of those awful Mexican revolutionists to fire at you."

"Don't worry, Jessie," Dave answered; and then caught her by both hands and drew her closer. "You're going to write to me regularly, aren't you?" he continued, earnestly.

"Of course, Dave! And don't you forget to answer every letter," she replied quickly.

"Oh, I'll do that, never fear!"

"And do you really think you are going to enjoy becoming a civil engineer?"

"I'm positive of it, Jessie. The more I see of the profession, the more I am in love with it. It's a wonderful thing. Just think of being able to plan out a great big bridge across a broad river, or some wonderful dam, or a tall sky-scraper, or an elevated railroad, or a tunnel under a gigantic mountain, or a tube under some river, or—"

"Oh, my gracious me, Dave! are you going to do all those wonderful things?" gasped the girl, her eyes opening widely.

"I don't expect I'll ever have the chance to do all those things, Jessie; but I'm going to try my best to do some of them. Of course, you must remember that at the present time civil engineering is divided into a great many branches. Now, for instance, I didn't mention anything about mining engineering, and that's a wonderful profession in itself."

"Oh, Dave! it's wonderful—simply wonderful!" cried the girl. "And you are going to be a wonderful man—I know it!" and she looked earnestly into his eyes.

"If I ever do get to be a wonderful man, it's going to be on your account, Jessie," he returned in a low voice. "You have been my inspiration. Don't forget that;" and he drew her closer than before.

"Oh, Dave!"

"It's true, Jessie. And I only hope that I'll make good—and that too before I am very much older. Then I think you already know what I am going to do?"

"What?" she whispered, and dropped her eyes.

"I am going to ask your folks for your hand in marriage," he continued firmly, reading his answer in her face.

Word had come in from Roger that he too was getting ready to go to Texas, and that both of the youths were to work together, as had been anticipated. As the senator's son was in Washington, it was arranged that Dave was to join him in the Capitol City, and then the two were to journey to Texas.

Ben had heard about Dave's proposed departure for the South, and he came over several times to see his former Oak Hall chum before the latter left home.

"Any news regarding the miniatures?" questioned Dave, during the last of these visits.

"Not much," answered the real estate dealer's son. "The police thought they had one or two clues, but they have all turned out to be false. They arrested one fellow in Pittsburgh, thinking he was Tim Crapsey, but he turned out to be somebody else."

"Then they haven't any word at all about Ward Porton?"

"No, that rascal seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth."

"How is your father getting along, Ben?"

"He isn't doing so well, Dave. This loss of the miniatures was a terrible blow to him. You see, the real estate business lately has not been quite as good as it might be. My father went into several pretty heavy investments, and he needed a little more money to help him through. So when he got word about this fortune in pictures, he at once thought that he could sell some of the miniatures and use the proceeds in his real estate deals. Now that end of the business is at a standstill."

"Is your father actually suffering for the want of some cash?" asked our hero, quickly. "If he is, I think my father or my Uncle Dunston can help him out."

"Your father has already promised to assist him, and so has Mr. Wadsworth, Dave. But that isn't the thing. You know my father is an independent sort of man, and it worries him to think that he can't stand entirely on his own feet in his real estate transactions. Of course, if he were well enough to be around I suppose he could adjust matters without any special assistance. But it's hard lines when things go wrong and you are flat on your back in bed."

"Yes, I can understand that. And it must worry your mother, too."

"Oh, it does! Ma isn't the same woman. She is awfully pale and quite thin. The doctor told her not to worry so, or she'd be down on her back, too."

"Well, you'll have to do what you can to cheer up both of them." Dave drew a long breath. "I do wish somebody would catch those two rascals, not only on your account but on my account also. I'd like to settle matters with Porton, for having impersonated me at those stores, and for taking my cap and overcoat."

"We've offered a reward of five thousand dollars for the return of the miniatures, and another thousand each for the capture of the thieves," announced Ben. "That ought to be a strong inducement for the detectives to do all they possibly can."

"We thought you might possibly get an offer from Porton or Crapsey, or both of them, to return the miniatures for a certain amount," went on Dave. "But you say no such offer has come in?"

"No."

"Would your father consider it if it did come in?"

"I don't know what he would do, Dave. Of course, he'd hate to give up money to a thief; but, just the same, he'd hate it worse if he never got the miniatures back."

At last came the time for Dave to leave home. His trunk had been packed and shipped on ahead. There was still considerable snow on the ground; so he was taken to the depot in the big Wadsworth sleigh, the girls and his father accompanying him.

"Good-bye, Davy, my boy!" cried his Uncle Dunston, when he was ready to leave the house. "Now I expect you to give a good account of yourself while with that construction company."

"I'll do what I can," he answered.

"And do keep away from the Mexicans," added Mrs. Wadsworth with a sigh.

"You trust David to do the right thing," came from old Caspar Potts, his mellow eyes beaming brightly. "David is all right. He's my boy, and I'm proud of him," and he nodded his head over and over again.

For the girls, the drive to the depot was all too short. Laura had so many things to say to her brother that she hardly knew what to speak of first. As for poor Jessie, she felt so bad she could scarcely speak, and when she looked at Dave there were unbidden tears in her eyes.

"Now don't look at it that way," David whispered, when he caught sight of the tears. "I'll be back again before a great while."

"Oh, Dave, I—I—ca—can't help it," she murmured. "I—I—think so—so—much of—of—you!" and then, for the moment, she hid her face on his shoulder.

Mr. Porter had a few words of advice to give, and he had hardly finished when the train rolled into the station. Then Dave shook hands with his father, and kissed each of the girls, and climbed on board.

"Good-bye, my son!" called Mr. Porter.

"Good-bye, Dad! Take care of yourself while I'm gone," he shouted back. "Good-bye, Laura! Good-bye, Jessie!"

"Good-bye, Dave!" returned the sister, waving her hand.

Jessie tried to speak but could not, and so she too waved a farewell.

Then the train rolled from the Crumville station, slowly gathering speed, and finally disappearing in the distance.

At last our hero was off to become a full-fledged civil engineer.



CHAPTER XX

IN NEW YORK CITY

"Dave Porter!"

"Buster Beggs!" cried our hero, his face lighting up. "Where in the world did you come from?"

"Just got off the accommodation coming the other way," announced Joseph Beggs, otherwise known as Buster, a fat youth who had long been one of Dave's Oak Hall classmates.

"Are you alone?" questioned our hero. He had just stepped from the local train to change to the express for New York City; and he had fairly run into Buster, who was standing on the platform flanked by several suitcases.

"No, I'm not alone," answered the fat youth. "Shadow Hamilton and Luke Watson are with me."

"You don't say so!" and our hero's face showed his pleasure. "Are you bound for New York?" he questioned quickly.

"Yes, we are going to take the express."

"Fine! I am going there myself."

"Got a seat in the parlor car?"

"Yes. Number twelve, car two."

"Isn't that wonderful! We have eleven, thirteen and fourteen!" answered Buster Beggs.

"Hello there, Dave Porter!" shouted another youth, as he stepped out of the waiting-room of the depot. "How are you anyway?" and he came up, swinging a banjo-case from his right hand to his left so that he might shake hands. Luke Watson had always been one of the favorite musicians at Oak Hall, playing the banjo and the guitar very nicely, and singing well.

"Mighty glad to see you, Luke!" cried Dave, and wrung the extended hand with such vigor that the former musician of Oak Hall winced. Then Dave looked over the other's shoulder and saw a third lad approaching—a youth who was as thin as he was tall. "How is our little boy, Shadow, to-day?" he continued, as Maurice Hamilton came closer.

"Great Scott! Am I blind or is it really Dave Porter?" burst out Shadow Hamilton.

"No, you're not blind, Shadow, and it's really yours truly," laughed Dave. And then as another handshake followed he continued: "What are you going down to New York City for? To pick up some new stories?"

"Pick up stories?" queried the former story teller of Oak Hall, in perplexity. "I don't have to pick them up. I have—"

"About fourteen million stories in pickle," broke in Buster Beggs.

"Fourteen million!" snorted Luke Watson. "You had better say about fourteen! Shadow tells the same stories over and over again."

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story!" cried the youth mentioned, his face lighting up. "Once on a time there was a—"

"Oh, my, Shadow! are you going to start right away?" demanded Dave, with a broad grin on his face. "Can't you give a fellow a chance to catch his breath? This is a great surprise—meeting you three on my way to the city. And to think we are going to be together in one of the parlor cars, too!"

"Oh, you can't lose the Oak Hall boys!" cried Buster. "Say, let me tell you something," he went on. "Luke has written a song about Oak Hall that is about the finest thing I ever heard."

"It ought to be if it mentions us," answered Dave, with a boldness that took away much of the conceit.

"Say, you haven't let me tell that story!" interrupted Shadow, with a disconcerted look on his thin face. "Now, as I was saying, there was once a—"

"Not now, Shadow!"

"You can tell it on the way to New York!"

"Provided the conductor will give you written permission."

"Not much!" returned the would-be story-teller. "If I can't tell that story now, I'm going to be mum forever." He suddenly looked at Dave. "What is taking you to New York?" he inquired.

"I'm on my way to Texas," answered Dave, and then told his former classmates of how he and Roger had passed the preliminary examination as civil engineers and of how they were now going to take up field work in the Lone Star State.

"Say, that's great!" exclaimed Buster, in admiration. "I wish I was going to do something like that."

"So do I," added Luke, while Shadow nodded in assent.

The other lads had many questions to ask, and in return told Dave much about themselves. In the midst of the conversation the express train for the metropolis rolled in and the four youths lost no time in clambering aboard. They found their seats with ease, and quickly settled themselves.

"That's a fierce loss that the Basswoods sustained," remarked Luke. "I read all about it in the newspapers. That fellow, Ward Porton, must be a peach."

"I should say he was a lemon so far as Dave was concerned," said Buster, with a slow wink of his eye.

"Speaking of peaches puts me in mind of another story," cried Shadow. "A man had a tree in his garden and—"

"Oh, Shadow, why this infliction!"

"Have we really got to listen?"

"How much will you pay us if we keep still until you have finished?"

"Yes, you've got to listen, and I won't pay you a cent for it, either," retorted the would-be story-teller. "This is a short one. A man had a fruit-tree in his garden, and he told a friend of his that he got three kinds of fruit from it. His friend didn't believe it, so he told his friend: 'Why, it was dead easy. I went out in the garden to pick an apple. I picked one, and then I picked a pair. One was no good, but another was a peach.'"

"Wow! listen to that!"

"Shadow must have had a peach of a time getting up that story," commented Luke, evidently feeling himself justified.

"Good thing there are not a pair of them," came from Dave.

"Such stories are the fruits of idleness," was added by Buster, solemnly.

"Oh, don't you poke fun at that joke," retorted Shadow. "It's a good deal better than any you could get up."

Dave learned that Luke Watson's folks were now living in New York City, and that Luke had invited Buster and Shadow to spend a week with him.

"It's too bad you can't stop off, at least for a day or two," said Luke to Dave. "It would suit me down to the ground to have you join us."

"And I'd like first-rate to do it, Luke," answered our hero. "But I promised to be in Washington by to-morrow, and that means that I've got to take the midnight train from New York City."

"Well, we'll get down to New York by three o'clock this afternoon. That will give us nine hours in which to have a good time. You've got to come up to our house for dinner," continued Luke; and so it was arranged.

"I was wondering what I would do with myself this evening," said our hero. "I don't mind going around the city in the daylight, but after it is dark it is rather hard for a stranger to put in his time, unless he wants to go to some kind of show."

"We might all go to a moving-picture show after dinner," suggested Buster. "I'll blow you to front seats," he added generously.

"You'll have to make it a seat farther back than that for me," put in Shadow. "A front seat at a moving-picture show is no good," and at this there was a general snicker.

"We'll see about the show after we have had dinner," said Luke.

The time on the train was spent in talk about Oak Hall and their numerous classmates, many of them now well scattered throughout the States.

"Polly Vane has gone into business, so I hear," announced Luke. "He's in real estate, and in spite of the fact that he's a regular dude they tell me he is doing very well."

"Well, Polly ought to do well," answered Dave, who had not forgotten that the student who acted so very girlishly had at graduation stood as high in his percentage as our hero himself had done.

"And they say Chip Macklin is doing pretty well, too," put in Buster, referring to a small lad who had once been a toady to Gus Plum, the Hall bully.

"Well, Plum is doing well," returned Dave. "I'm glad he reformed. Evidently there was much better stuff in him than there was in Jasniff and Merwell."

"Oh, Jasniff and Merwell were thoroughly bad eggs," announced Luke. "I'll never forget, Dave, how Jasniff once tried to brain you with an Indian club."

"Say, speaking about bad eggs, puts me in mind of another story," cried Shadow. "A lady went into a store and asked the store-keeper's clerk how much the eggs were. The clerk—Now don't interrupt me, because this isn't a very long story," pleaded the would-be story teller. "The clerk was only a small boy, and he hadn't been in the business very long, so he told the lady, 'The really fresh eggs are fifty cents, and the almost fresh eggs are forty cents, and those that ain't so fresh are thirty-five cents, and the rotten eggs are thirty cents.'"

"Oh, Shadow! what a story!"

"Haven't you got any fresher than that?"

"You can't make anybody believe any such yarn as that."

"That story is absolutely true," returned the story teller, soberly. "If you don't believe it, you come down to the town of Necopopec, Maine, and on the principal street of the town I'll show you the town pump where that boy used to get a drink three times a day," and at this sally there was a general laugh.

At last the train rolled into the Grand Central Terminal at Forty-Second Street, New York City, and, alighting, the lads made their way through the spacious depot to the crowded thoroughfare beyond. Here taxicabs were numerous, and the youths piled into one, leaving the driver to look after their suit-cases. Dave's trunk had been checked through to Washington.

Luke's family lived in the vicinity of Central Park, and it did not take the chums long to reach the home. Here they were greeted by Mrs. Watson, Luke's father being away on business. Then Luke took the lads up to his own room, where all proceeded to make themselves at home.

At a little after five Mr. Watson came in to greet them, and about an hour later all sat down to a sumptuous dinner, to which it is needless to say each of the boys applied himself diligently.

"I see by the papers that they are showing a very fine war spectacle at one of the photo-play houses," announced Luke. "How would you fellows like to go and see it?"

This was agreeable to all, and a little later the chums left the Watson house to go to the theater, which was about ten blocks farther downtown.

"If we get there by half-past seven, we can take in the first show of the evening," announced Luke. "That will give us a chance to do some other things before it is time for Dave to catch his train."

The war spectacle proved very entertaining to all the youths, and they were rather sorry when it came to an end. Then Buster proposed that they walk down the Great White Way, as a certain portion of Broadway has been designated.

The boys had been walking for the best part of half an hour, taking in various sights, including the wonderfully illuminated signs, when suddenly, as they passed through a rather dense crowd, Shadow plucked Dave by the arm.

"What is it?" questioned our hero, quickly, for he saw that the former story-teller of Oak Hall was much excited.

"That fellow we just passed, Dave!" cried Shadow.

"What of him?"

"Why, he looked just like you!"

"You don't mean it!" gasped Dave, and came to a sudden halt. "If he looked like me it must have been Ward Porton!"



CHAPTER XXI

DAVE IN WASHINGTON

"Ward Porton!" exclaimed the other youths in a chorus.

"Let us go after him," went on Dave. "Shadow, which way did he go?"

"Come on, I'll show you," answered the story-teller, and led the way through the crowd as well as he could.

As already mentioned, the crowd at this particular spot on the Great White Way was dense, and the chums had all they could do to force their way along, often elbowing people in a way that was far from polite. Presently they gained a street corner where the pedestrians were being held up by the traffic flowing the other way.

"There he is!" exclaimed Shadow, suddenly, pointing with his hand.

Looking in the direction indicated, Dave saw a well-known form. It was indeed Ward Porton, still wearing the cap and overcoat he had stolen from our hero.

"Hi there, Porton! Stop!" cried Dave, and made a dash for the rascal.

As his hand fell on Porton's arm the other swung around in a startled way. Then, as he caught sight of Dave and his friends, he gave a sudden duck and crowded in between several ladies standing in front of him. The next instant he was dashing out into the street in the midst of a perfect maze of automobiles and wagons.



"I'm going after him!" cried Dave to his chums, and did his best to follow. But an automobile got in his way, and then a large express wagon, and before our hero could get around these, Porton had gained the opposite sidewalk and was darting through the crowd with great rapidity, paying scant attention to those he met and hurling one little girl off her feet and into the gutter.

"Stop! What's the matter here?" cried a voice to Dave; and the next moment a policeman came up beside him.

"That fellow ahead! I want to catch him!" burst out our hero. "He's a thief!"

"Where?"

"There he goes, straight into the crowd!" answered Dave, and then hurried on once more, with his chums trailing behind him.

The chase so suddenly taken up did not, however, prove long. By the time Dave and his friends reached the next corner of the crowded thoroughfare Ward Porton had disappeared once more and none of the youths could tell what direction he had taken.

"I don't know what you're going to do, Dave," said Luke, sympathetically. "He may have gone ahead and then again he may have turned to the right or to the left."

"I don't believe you'll be able to locate him in such a crowd as this," put in Buster. "What a shame that you weren't able to get your hands on him!"

"I did have one hand on him, but he slipped away like a greased pig," announced Dave, dolefully.

"Say, speaking about greased pigs puts me in mind of a story," put in Shadow. "Once there were two boys—" and then, as his chums gave him a sudden cold look, he continued: "Oh, pshaw! what's the use of trying to tell a story just now. I know Dave would rather find this fellow Porton."

"You're right there, Shadow!" answered our hero, quickly. "I'd rather get my hands on him than listen to a thousand stories."

Dave was unwilling to let the chase end there; so he and his friends spent the remainder of the evening walking up and down Broadway, and traversing several blocks of the side streets in the vicinity where Ward Porton had disappeared. But it was all of no avail. The rascal had made good his escape. Then all walked around to the nearest police station, and told the authorities of the affair, so that the detectives of the city might be on the watch for the criminal.

His chums insisted upon seeing Dave off on his journey to Washington, and before going to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station on Seventh Avenue the youths treated themselves to a lunch. During the meal Shadow was allowed to tell several of his best stories, and Luke was called on to hum over the song he had composed in honor of their days at Oak Hall.

"That's a fine song, Luke, and you ought to have it published," declared Dave, heartily. "I believe every lad who ever went to Oak Hall would want a copy of it."

It may be mentioned here that later on Luke Watson did have the composition brought out by a metropolitan music publisher. He dedicated it to the senior class of which he had been a member, and the song sold very well.

Dave had already secured his berth on the train, so that when his friends left him he lost no time in retiring. But the novelty of the journey, and his thoughts concerning Ward Porton, kept him awake for some time. Finally, however, he went sound asleep and did not awaken until some time after the Capitol City was reached.

Senator Morr and his family were staying at the New Willard Hotel in Washington, and Dave soon found a street car that passed the door of that place. When he entered the hotel, he found Roger in the lobby waiting for him.

"I thought you'd come right up," cried the senator's son. "I told the folks I'd meet you. Of course, you haven't had any breakfast? The folks will be down in a little while and then we'll all go to breakfast together."

Roger was much interested to learn that Dave had met three of their old chums, and wanted to know all that had been said and done. The fact that our hero had also seen Ward Porton was a surprise.

"What a shame you didn't capture him, Dave! Maybe you might have got on the track of that Basswood fortune."

"Just what I was thinking, Roger. I did my best, but you know what a New York crowd is. Porton slipped through it and disappeared almost like magic."

Senator Morr and his wife greeted Dave warmly. The four had breakfast in a private dining-room, and during the course of the meal the senator had much to say regarding the departure of his son and Dave for Texas.

"I know one or two of the men connected with the Mentor Construction Company," said the senator. "They are very fine fellows, and I think they will see to it that you are treated rightly."

"Dad, of course, has some influence with them," broke in Roger, "being a senator, you know."

"I don't use my influence that way, Roger," answered the father, shortly. "You must not expect special favors because I happen to be a United States senator. I expect you to make your way on your own merit."

"And that's what I'm going to do," answered the son, promptly.

"I do hope both of you boys keep out of trouble," said Mrs. Morr. "You are going close to the border of Mexico, and there has been fighting going on along that border for many months."

"We are not going down there to get into any fights," answered Dave. "We are going down there to attend strictly to business. If the Mexicans will only leave us alone, we'll leave them alone."

Dave and Roger had at first thought to go to Texas by the way of New Orleans and Houston, but after some thought they decided to take the journey by the way of St. Louis, Kansas City and San Antonio. Their train was to leave on the following morning, so that the two youths had a whole day practically to themselves.

"Now I am in Washington I'd like to take a look around," said Dave.

"I knew you'd like to do that, so I got everything ready beforehand," announced his chum. "We'll spend to-day in sightseeing."

They visited the Capitol and the White House, and numerous other buildings, and almost before they were aware it was evening. Then Mrs. Morr insisted upon it that her son retire early, knowing what a hard journey was before him.

The senator's son had received word that the Mentor Construction Company had opened a temporary office at San Antonio, and the two youths were to report there before proceeding farther. The engineering corps to which they had been assigned was on the point of moving from one place to another, and they were to get definite instructions at San Antonio regarding their further movements.

"Well, good-bye and good luck to you!" said the senator, who came down to the depot with them to see them off.

"Good-bye, Dad," answered Roger, shaking hands warmly. Dave, too, shook hands with his chum's father.

Then, in a moment more, the two youths were off on their long journey to Texas.

"This kind of traveling is rather different from what the pioneers put up with," remarked Roger, as the two settled themselves in their comfortable seats, they having a whole section of the sleeper to themselves. "Think of what it must have been to travel thousands of miles in a boomer wagon behind a team of mules or oxen!"

"Yes, Roger, and think of being on the lookout constantly for unfriendly Indians and wild beasts," added Dave. "I'll tell you, when you come to consider the luxuries we enjoy these days we have much to be thankful for."

The day's run was a pleasant one, and the youths enjoyed it greatly. They spent the time in chatting about the prospects and in gazing at the swiftly-moving panorama to be seen from the car window.

"It's a pity we have to sleep when there is so much to see," was Dave's comment, as, after having passed through Cincinnati, it grew time to retire. "I'd like very much to see what this section of the country looks like."

The following morning found them crossing the Mississippi River. They passed through St. Louis, and then the train headed for Kansas City, where they were to change for Fort Worth and San Antonio.

The train for San Antonio proved to be much less crowded than the other had been. As before, the youths had a section to themselves, and none of the sections near them was occupied. But when, on the following day, the train stopped at a way station several passengers got aboard, including a man who took the section opposite to that occupied by our friends.

This man was a tall, heavy-set and red-faced individual, having reddish hair and a heavy reddish mustache. He looked the youths over rather coldly, and then, throwing himself down in his seat, proceeded to read a newspaper.

"Doesn't look like a very friendly fellow," whispered Roger to Dave. "I was hoping we might meet somebody who would warm up a little and tell us something about this part of the country."

"You've got to go slow in making friends out in a strange place like this," answered Dave.

"Oh, I don't know about that, Dave," was the quick reply. "My father tells me that folks in the West and Southwest are usually very friendly. We found them so on our way to Star Ranch."

The boys continued to talk of the prospects ahead, and during the conversation the Mentor Construction Company was mentioned several times. Then Dave noticed that the burly man opposite had dropped his newspaper and was looking at them curiously. Finally the man arose and stepped across the aisle.

"Did I hear you young fellows speaking about the Mentor Construction Company?" he asked, not unpleasantly.

"You did," answered Dave.

"Are you connected with that concern?" went on the man.

"We are going to work for them," answered Roger. "We have just been appointed to the engineering department."

"You don't say!" cried the man in surprise. "I'm with that company myself. My name is William Jarvey. What is yours?"

The boys told him, and all shook hands. Then, as Roger crossed over to sit down beside Dave, the man sank down in the seat opposite.



CHAPTER XXII

IN TEXAS AT LAST

"So you are going to join our engineering department, eh?" queried William Jarvey. "Do you know anybody in that department?"

"We don't know any one down here," answered Dave. "We are utter strangers. We obtained our positions through a Mr. Ramsdell, who was our tutor."

"Oh, I see." The man had been looking rather sharply at Dave. "May I ask where you come from?"

"We come from New England. I live in a town called Crumville. My friend here is the son of United States Senator Morr."

"Oh, indeed!" William Jarvey showed increased interest. "The son of a United States senator, eh? Well, that ought to help you a great deal. The Mentor Construction Company often has to ask the government for favors, you know," and he laughed lightly.

"I'm not going to trade on the fact that my father is a United States senator," remarked Roger, somewhat shortly. "I am going to make my own way."

"And I guess you will. You look like a pretty bright young man," returned William Jarvey, hastily.

"Are you a civil engineer?" questioned Dave.

"Oh, no! No such luck for me. I am connected with the bookkeeping and the blue-print department. I wish I were a first-class civil engineer. I might be earning a much larger salary;" and the man drew down his mouth as he spoke. Evidently he was a fellow who was not at all satisfied with his position in life.

"We are to report to a Mr. Perry Watson at San Antonio," explained Roger. "He is to tell us where to go and what to do."

"Perry Watson, eh?" and the man scowled and showed his teeth in an unpleasant manner.

"What's the matter—don't you like Mr. Watson?" asked Dave.

"Not much. Very few of the men do. He's terribly sharp on watching everything a man does."

"I sincerely hope we don't have any trouble with him," was Roger's comment. "We'd like to start right, you know."

"Well, you'll have to watch yourselves pretty closely," announced William Jarvey.

The talk then became general, and the burly man told the youths much about the work being done by the Mentor Construction Company. It seemed that there were four gangs in the field, two operating south of San Antonio, and the others to the westward.

"It's more than likely you'll be sent to the west," he said. "I think the gangs in the south have all the helpers they need. I am going west myself; so if you are sent that way perhaps we'll see more of each other."

"Perhaps," answered Dave. He was not particularly elated over the thought, for there was something about William Jarvey which did not appeal to him. The man was evidently very overbearing and had an exceedingly good opinion of himself.

"I'm going back to have a smoke," said the man, presently. "Will you come and join me?"

"Thank you, but neither of us smokes," answered Roger.

"What! not even cigarettes?"

"No," returned Dave.

"Humph! I don't see how you can resist. I would feel utterly lost without a cigar. Well, I'll see you later." And thus speaking William Jarvey took himself off.

"I sincerely trust the rest of the men we meet will be of a better sort than that fellow," remarked Roger. "I don't like his make-up at all."

"I agree with you, Roger," answered Dave. "He looks like a chap who would be very dictatorial if he had the chance—one of the kind who loves to ride over those under him."

"I can't get over the way he kept looking at you, Dave. He acted as if he had met you before and was trying to place you."

"I noticed he did look at me pretty closely a number of times," answered our hero. "But I took it that he was only trying to size me up. You know some strangers have that habit."

"Well, he didn't look at me that way," continued the senator's son. "I believe he was doing his best to try to place you."

"I wish I had asked him where he was from. Maybe that might have given us some sort of clue to his identity."

"Let's ask him if we get the chance."

On the journey to San Antonio they had an opportunity to speak to William Jarvey a number of times, and once they sat at the same table with him in the dining-car. When asked where he came from, he replied rather evasively that he had lived for a great number of years in the Northwest, but that he had left that section of the country to try his fortunes in Mexico.

"I was interested in the mines down there, and then I got mixed up in one of their revolutions and got shot in the leg," he added. "That was enough for me; so I crossed the Rio Grande into Texas, and by luck got the position I am now holding with the Mentor Company."

"Are the Mexican revolutionists interfering at all with the work of the construction company near the border?" questioned Dave.

"Not very much. One gang, that was working on one of the railroad bridges not many miles from the Rio Grande, had a little run-in with some raiders who came across the river to steal cattle. They helped the ranchmen drive the raiders away, and in the fight one fellow was shot through the shoulder."

"Well, that was trouble enough!" cried Roger. "It's more than I'd like to see."

"That's right," returned Dave. "We didn't come down to fight the Mexicans. We came down to become civil engineers."

"Oh, I don't think you'll run into any fighting," answered William Jarvey. "But, of course, a good many of those greasers are very treacherous and there is no telling what they will do. They shoot down and rob anybody they meet in their own country, and then, when there is nothing in sight on that side of the river, they watch their chance and come over on this side. Of course, United States soldiers are on the lookout for them; so they don't dare to make their raids very public."

It developed that William Jarvey had been sent up to Denison on business for the construction company. He carried with him a heavy valise, and also a large roll of blue-prints.

"I should have been back to San Antonio yesterday," he exclaimed. "But I was delayed in Denison. I suppose Perry Watson will be as mad as a hornet when I get back because I didn't make it as quick as he expected. He expects an awful lot from those working under him."

To this neither of the youths replied. They had noticed that William Jarvey smoked a great deal and that his breath smelled strongly of liquor, and they concluded that he was not a man who would be likely to kill himself with overwork.

"From what Jarvey has told us of Mr. Watson I am inclined to think the superintendent is a hustling sort of fellow," remarked Dave, when he and Roger were left alone. "And, being that kind of man, he probably can't stand for a fellow who wants to loaf around and drink and smoke."

"I guess you've sized it up about right, Dave," answered the senator's son. "In these days the watchword seems to be 'keep moving'; and a fellow has got to 'get there' if he wants to hold down his job."

At last the train rolled into the city of San Antonio. Before this place was reached William Jarvey had met a number of other men who had boarded the train at a station some miles away; and he was so interested in what the newcomers had to tell him that he seemed to forget completely the presence of Dave and Roger.

"And I'd just as lief he would forget us," said our hero to his chum. "I'd rather go to Mr. Watson alone than have that man introduce us."

"Exactly the way I feel about it," returned the senator's son. "Come on, let's see if we can't slip away from him through the crowd." This they did easily, and soon found themselves walking along one of the quaint streets of San Antonio bound for the building in which the Mentor Construction Company had its temporary offices.

Contrary to what William Jarvey had told them, they found Mr. Perry Watson a very pleasant man with whom to deal. There was little of nonsense about him, and he lost no time in finding out who the youths were and for what they had come. But his manner was courteous, and he made both Dave and Roger feel thoroughly at home.

"I know Mr. Ramsdell very well. He's a fine fellow," said the superintendent of the construction company. "I had a personal letter from him in regard to you, and I'm going to put you out under one of the best men we have down here in Texas, Mr. Ralph Obray, who is now working on the construction of the new Catalco bridge to the west of this place. He is expecting some new helpers, and he asked me to send him the two best fellows I could find, so I am going to send you," and Mr. Watson smiled slightly.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Watson," answered Dave.

"Oh, you don't have to thank me, Porter," returned the superintendent, quickly. "You just go out and make good. That is all this company asks of any one it employs."

"When do you want us to start, Mr. Watson?" questioned Roger.

"You can suit yourselves about that, although the sooner you report to Mr. Obray the better I think he'll be pleased."

The superintendent walked to a back door of his office and called to some one without.

"I'll turn you over to one of our clerks and he will give you all the details regarding your positions," he explained.

The clerk proved to be a young man only a few years older than Dave and Roger, and the youths took to him at once. He explained in detail where they were to go and what the construction camp located near the new Catalco bridge consisted of, and also told them what their work would probably be for the first few months.

"Of course, you've got to start at the bottom of the ladder," he explained. "But you'll find Mr. Obray a splendid man to be under, and you'll probably learn more under him than you would under any of our other head engineers."

"In that case I'm mighty glad Mr. Watson assigned us to Mr. Obray's gang," answered Dave.

It was arranged that Dave and his chum should start westward early the following morning. This would give them a part of an afternoon and an evening in San Antonio in which to look around and take in the sights of that quaint town.

During the conversation with Mr. Watson and the clerk, Dave had been rather surprised because William Jarvey had not shown himself, because on the train he had said he was behindhand; and they had naturally supposed he would come to the offices without delay. Just as they were preparing to leave they heard an angry discussion going on in Mr. Watson's private office, and they heard the voices of the superintendent and the man they had met on the train.

"I gave you strict orders to come right back, Jarvey," they heard Mr. Watson say. "You knew we were waiting for those blue-prints."

"I was delayed," growled William Jarvey in return. "You see, there were some things about the prints—"

"I don't want any excuses," broke in Mr. Watson. "The blue-prints were all right and were waiting for you. You took a day off simply to go and have a good time. Now I want to warn you for the last time. If such a thing happens again I'll discharge you."



CHAPTER XXIII

AT THE ENGINEERING CAMP

"I can understand now why that man Jarvey spoke against Mr. Watson," remarked Dave, as he and his chum walked along the main street of San Antonio. "Mr. Watson evidently has no use for a fellow who doesn't attend to business."

"I think he's all right, Dave," returned Roger. "Of course, he's business clean through. But that is what you've got to expect from a man who holds such a position."

"Exactly, Roger. The fellow who takes his own time and does things about as he pleases has no place in the modern business world."

The two youths had received full instructions regarding what they were to do. They were to take a train westward early in the morning for a small place known as Molona, situated but a short distance from the Rio Grande. There they were to report to Mr. Ralph Obray. Mr. Watson had asked them regarding what they had brought along in the way of baggage, and on being questioned had advised them to purchase several other things before starting for the engineering camp.

"This is certainly an odd sort of place—quite different from a New England town," was Dave's comment, as he and his chum went from one shop to another in San Antonio in quest of the things they wished to buy.

"Seems to me that it has quite a Mexican flavor to it," remarked Roger. "Just see all the big hats and the fringed trousers."

Now that they had come so far the chums were eager to get to the camp, and they could scarcely wait until the following morning. They found a comfortable hotel, had an early breakfast, and by seven o'clock were on their way westward.

"Now we are almost on the border," remarked Roger, as they stopped at a place called Del Rio. He was studying a railroad map. "At the next place, called Viaduct, we will be on the Rio Grande, with Mexico just across from us."

"It isn't such a very grand river after all," remarked Dave, when they came in sight of the stream. "It looks more like a great big overgrown creek to me."

"You can't compare these rivers with the Hudson or the St. Lawrence, Dave. But I suppose at certain seasons of the year this river gets to be pretty big."

Soon their train rolled into Molona and the youths alighted. The station was a primitive affair, consisting of a small platform and a building not over ten feet square.

Word had been sent ahead that they were coming, and among the several Texans and Mexicans who had gathered to watch the train come in, they found a middle-aged man on a burro with two other burros standing behind.

"Are you the young fellows for the Mentor camp?" he questioned, as Dave and Roger approached him.

"We are," returned our hero, quickly. "Did you come for us?"

"I did. Mr. Watson sent a wire that you were coming, so the boss sent me here to get you, thinking you wouldn't know the way. Porter and Morr, I believe—but which is which?"

"I am Dave Porter," answered Dave, "and this is my chum, Roger Morr."

"Glad to know you. My name is Frank Andrews. I am from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I suppose you can ride?"

"Oh, yes," answered Roger. "We did more or less riding when we were out on Star Ranch."

"Good enough! Some of the young fellows who come out here can't ride at all, and they have some trouble getting around, believe me! This, you know, is the country of magnificent distances," and Frank Andrews laughed.

"How many have you in the camp here?" questioned Dave, after he and Roger had mounted the two waiting burros and were riding off beside the man from the engineering camp.

"There are twenty of us in the engineering gang, and I think they have about seventy to eighty men in the construction camp, with forty or fifty more on the way. You see, they have been bothered a great deal for hired help lately on account of the trouble with the Mexican bandits and revolutionists. Lots of men are afraid to come down here to work for fear some bandits will make a raid across the border and shoot them down."

"Have you had any trouble lately?" questioned Roger, quickly.

"We had trouble about two weeks ago. A couple of dirty Mexicans came into camp and were caught trying to steal away that night with some of our belongings. One of the fellows got a crack on the head with a club, and the other we think was shot in the side. But both of them got away in the darkness."

"That's interesting, to say the least," remarked Dave, drily. "I guess we've got to sleep with our eyes open, as the saying is."

"You've certainly got to watch yourself while you're down here," answered Frank Andrews. "There is more talk about trouble than anything else, but the talk gets on some of the men's nerves, and we have had one civil engineer and two helpers leave us just on that account. They said they would prefer to work somewhere in the United States where they wouldn't be worried thinking the greasers might attack them."

As the party rode along they had to cross a bridge which was comparatively new, and their guide explained that this structure was one erected by the Mentor Company. Then they went over a slight rise, and finally came into view of a long row of one-story buildings with several rows of adobe houses behind them.

"Here we are at the camp!" announced the guide. "The engineering gang lives and does business in these houses here, and those huts at the back are used by the construction gangs."



It was all so new and novel to Dave and Roger that they were intensely interested. With their guide they rode up to the main building and dismounted. In a moment more they found themselves inside and confronted by Mr. Ralph Obray, the head of the camp.

"Glad to see you," he said, shaking hands after they had introduced themselves. "We are rather short of helpers just now; so you'll find plenty to do. I understand Mr. Ramsdell has given you a first-class recommendation. I hope that you'll be able to live up to it," and he smiled faintly.

"I'm going to do what I can, Mr. Obray," answered Dave.

"And so am I," added Roger.

Frank Andrews had already told them that a man with a wagon would be sent down to the station for their trunks and suitcases, all of which had been left in charge of the station-master. The youths were taken to one of the buildings not far from the office, and there assigned to a room containing two cots.

"Of course, this isn't the Biltmore Hotel or the Waldorf Astoria," remarked Frank Andrews, with a grin. "If you stay out here you'll have to learn to rough it."

"We know something about roughing it already," answered Dave. "If the other fellows can stand it I guess we can."

"You won't find it so bad when you get used to it," answered the man. "Of course, it's pretty hot during the day, but the nights are quite comfortable. We've got a first-class colored cook, so you won't find yourselves cut short on meals."

"That's good news," answered the senator's son. "I always thought that a good meal covered a multitude of sins," and at this misquotation Frank Andrews laughed heartily.

The man had already been despatched to get the baggage, and after it arrived Dave and Roger proceeded to make themselves at home, each donning such clothing as they saw the others of the engineering corps wearing.

"It's good-bye to boiled shirts and stiff collars," said Roger, "and I'm not sorry for it."

"Nor am I," returned Dave. "I'll feel much more like working in this comfortable outfit."

Almost before they knew it, it was noon, and presently they saw a number of men, some of them quite young, coming in to dinner. Through Frank Andrews they were introduced to all the others, and then placed at one of the tables in the mess hall where a helper of Jeff, the cook, served them with a meal which, if not exactly elegant, was certainly well-cooked and substantial.

"I want you two young men to stay around the offices for the rest of this week," announced Mr. Obray to them after the meal. "That will give you a chance to familiarize yourselves with what we are doing in the way of constructions in this vicinity. Then next week you can go out with the gang and begin your regular field practice."

The youths soon found that practical work in the office was quite different from the theoretical work done under Mr. Ramsdell. Still their tutor had instructed them faithfully, so that they soon "caught on," as Roger remarked.

When they did not understand a thing they did not hesitate to ask questions, and they found the other persons present very willing to explain and to help them. There was a spirit of comradeship throughout the whole camp that was as comforting as it was beneficial.

"It isn't everybody for himself here," explained Frank Andrews. "It is one for all. You are expected to do all you can for the other fellow, and in return it's understood that he will do all he can for you."

"It's a fine method," answered Dave; "and I don't wonder that the Mentor Construction Company is making such a success of its undertakings."

One day our hero asked Frank Andrews if he knew William Jarvey. At the question the man drew down the corners of his mouth and shook his head in disgust.

"Yes, I know Bill," he answered. "He's over in the offices at San Antonio mostly, but he occasionally comes out here on business for Mr. Watson. I must say I don't like him very much, and I don't think the other men do either. He's a fellow who likes to drink now and then, and I understand he often gambles. That is, when he has the money. He's usually strapped long before pay-day comes around."

"I thought he might be that sort of fellow," answered Dave.

"He got into a row with Mr. Watson while we were at San Antonio," put in Roger, and related a few of the particulars.

"If Bill doesn't look out he'll lose his job, and it will be too bad," answered Frank Andrews, "because he won't be likely to get another such easy berth in a hurry. He gets good money for what little he does. He hired with the company as a first-class bookkeeper, but I understand he is only ordinary when it comes to handling big masses of figures."

"Well, I didn't like him when I met him, and I'd be just as well satisfied if we didn't meet again," said Dave.

But Dave's wish was not to be gratified. He was to meet William Jarvey in the future, and that meeting was to bring with it a great surprise.



CHAPTER XXIV

A MIDNIGHT ALARM

"Well, Dave, we have been in this camp just a month to-day. How do you think you like it?"

"I like it first-rate, Roger—in fact, better than I first thought I would. All the engineers and assistants are so kind and helpful."

"That's what they are," returned the senator's son. "And I think we are getting along famously. Do you know, I am actually in love with the construction of this new Catalco bridge. I think it's going to be a dandy when it's completed."

"Not only a dandy, Roger, but, unless I miss my guess, it will be a monument to the skill and ingenuity of the Mentor Construction Company. I've been reading up on all kinds of bridges, and I think the construction of this particular bridge goes ahead of most of them."

"One thing is sure—Mr. Obray is very proud of the way things are going. I heard from Andrews that some of the other construction companies thought we would never be able to build this bridge the way it is going up."

The talk between the two chums was held in the evening after work for the day had come to an end. Dave and Roger stood on an elevation of ground surveying the unfinished bridge—or rather chain of bridges—which spanned a river and the marshland beyond. It had been a great engineering feat to obtain the proper foundations for the bridge where it spanned the marshland, and make them impervious to the floods which came with great force during certain seasons of the year.

The first week at the camp had been spent in the offices, but all the other time had been put in with the engineering gang that was superintending the construction of the far end of the bridge, and also the laying out of the railroad route through the hills and cuts beyond. The work had proved fascinating to the chums, and they were surprised to see how quickly the time passed.

Dave and Roger had made a number of friends, but none more agreeable than Frank Andrews. Andrews occupied a room close to their own, and often spent an evening with them.

About the end of the second week they had received word concerning William Jarvey. The bookkeeper in the offices at San Antonio had had a violent quarrel with Mr. Watson and had been discharged. He had gone off declaring that his being treated thus was unjustifiable, and that he was going to bring the Mentor Construction Company to account for it.

"I guess he's nothing but a bag of wind," was Roger's comment, on hearing this. "The company is probably much better off to have such a chap among the missing."

"I don't see what he can do to hurt the company," had been Dave's answer. "He was probably discharged for good cause."

Although so far away from home, it must not be supposed that Dave and Roger had forgotten the folks left behind. They had sent numerous letters telling of their various experiences and of what they hoped to do in the future. In return Roger had received one letter from his father and another from his mother, and Dave had gotten communications from his sister Laura and from Jessie, and also a long letter from Ben.

Of these the letter received from Jessie was to our hero the most important, and it must be confessed that he read it a number of times. The girl was greatly interested in all that he had told her about his work, and she said she hoped he would become a great civil engineer, and that she certainly trusted he would not have any trouble with the Mexicans.

The letter from Ben Basswood had been rather a disheartening communication. Ben wrote that his father did not seem to regain his health as rapidly as the doctor had anticipated, and that nothing new concerning Ward Porton or Tim Crapsey had been uncovered. Ben added that he had written to the authorities in New York City concerning Porton and had received word back that they had been unable to locate the former moving-picture actor.

"I believe the loss of those miniatures has had its full effect on Mr. Basswood," remarked Dave, when speaking of the matter to his chum. "I suppose it makes him feel blue, and that retards his recovery."

"More than likely," answered Roger. "A person can't very well throw off a heavy spell of sickness when he is so depressed in spirits. It's too bad! And I suppose Mrs. Basswood feels dreadful to think she was the one to let the fortune slip out of their hands."

"No doubt of it, Roger. Of course, it's easy enough to blame her, and I suppose a great many of their neighbors do. But, just the same, place yourself in her position—worried half to death over the sickness of her husband—and you might have done the same thing."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse