wager your dad and Mr. Wadsworth would like to wring those chaps’ necks!”
“Wait, you haven’t heard it all yet,” went on Dave, with a sickly smile. “Yesterday I received a notice from the express company here to call for a package on which eighteen dollars was due. I was expecting some things that I am going to take home for Christmas presents, although they were to come to fifteen dollars and a half. I paid for the package, thinking I had made a mistake in footing up my purchases, and when I got it home I found out it wasn’t what I had bought at all, but a lot of junk nobody can use. Then my own package came in by the next express, and, of course, I had to pay again. I sent a telegram to the city about the first package and they answered that David Porter had purchased the same and had it sent C. O. D. Then two other packages came, one calling for six dollars and the other for twenty-four dollars. But I refused to have anything to do with them, and said I could easily prove that I hadn’t been to the city to order them. But it is going to cause a lot of trouble.”
“I believe you,” returned the senator’s son.
“Anything more, Dave?” queried Phil.
“Yes. Last night, if you will remember, an old man came to see me. He said that two young men had sent him to me, saying that we wanted a man in Crumville to take care of a certain young lady who was slightly out of her mind. He said he had once worked in an asylum and knew he could give satisfaction, even if he was getting old. It was another of Merwell and Jasniff’s mean tricks, and I had quite a time explaining to the old man and getting him to go away. He said he had spent two dollars and a quarter in car-fare to come to see me, and I felt so sorry for him that I gave him five dollars to help him along.”
“Dave, where is this going to end?” cried Roger.
“That is just what I want to know,” returned Dave. “Perhaps by the time we get back to Oak Hall there will be more packages waiting for me—or potatoes, or a horse, or something like that.”
“You could have Merwell and Jasniff arrested for this,” was Phil’s comment.
“Yes, if I could catch them. But they know enough to keep shady. But that isn’t all. Yesterday I got a letter, or rather a note. It was postmarked from Rocky Run, about fifteen miles from here. Inside of the envelope was a card on which was written: ‘We’ll never let up until we have ruined you.’”
“Was it signed?” asked the senator’s son.
“Oh, no. But I am sure it came from Merwell and Jasniff.”
“They are certainly sore,” was Phil’s comment.
“Traveling around must cost them money. Where do they get the cash?” asked Roger.
“From Mr. Merwell most likely,” answered Dave. “He got a good price when he sold his ranch, and he seldom denies Link anything.”
“Have you any idea who the girls were who were in the auto in Crumville?”
“Not exactly, but I think they must have been some of the girls Nat Poole goes with. When Jasniff and Merwell were there with Nat, I saw the whole crowd out with some girls from the cotton mills. They were nice enough girls in their way, but they were very boisterous and not the kind Laura and Jessie care to pick for company. I suppose those girls played their part thinking it was nothing but a good joke. One had a hat on with feathers such as Jessie wears and the other wore a coat and veil like Laura’s. I guess a good many who saw them riding in the auto and cutting up like wild Indians thought they were Laura and Jessie.” And Dave heaved a deep sigh.
“And what are you going to do, Dave?” asked Phil, after a short silence, during which the three chums continued to skate in advance of their friends.
“What can I do? We are trying to locate the rascals, and when we do we’ll make them stop. But in the meantime——”
“They may cause you no end of trouble,” finished the senator’s son.
“I don’t care so much for myself as I do for Laura and Jessie, and for Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth. I hate to see them suffer because of my trouble with those rascals. I don’t see why Merwell and Jasniff can’t fight it out with me alone.”
“You forget one thing, Dave,” returned Phil. “Merwell was once sweet on your sister. I suppose it made him furious to be turned down by her.”
“Well, then, why does he annoy Jessie? She never harmed him, or Jasniff either.”
“Huh! As if you didn’t know why!” replied Roger, with something like a chuckle. “Don’t they both know that Jessie is the very apple of your eye, and that anything that brings trouble to her will cut you to the heart? Of course they know that, Dave, and you can rest assured that they will try to hurt you quite as much through Jessie as they’ll try to hurt you direct.”
“Perhaps, Roger. If I was sure——”
“Low bridge!” shouted Phil at that instant, as a bend of the river was gained, and then the whole crowd of students swept under the lowhanging branches of a number of trees. Those ahead had to go slowly and pick the way with care.
“How much farther have we to go?” called out Sam Day.
“Only a couple of miles,” replied Dave. He turned to Phil and Roger. “That’s about all,” he whispered. “Keep it to yourselves.”
“We will,” they replied.
“Somebody else going to carry this hamper?” cried Chip Macklin. “It’s getting rather heavy.”
“I’ll carry one end,” said Ben Basswood.
“And I’ll take the other,” added Phil. “Dave, you and Roger go ahead and bring down a couple of deer, and a bear, and one or two tigers, or something like that,” he continued, with a grin, for he wanted to get Dave’s mind off of his troubles.
“Nothing but an elephant for mine,” answered Dave, with a forced laugh. “I don’t want to waste my powder.”
“As the society belle said when she left the mark of her cheek on the gent’s shoulder,” remarked Buster Beggs, the fat lad of the group.
“Say, that puts me in mind of another story,” came from Shadow. “Once on a time a Dutchman heard that a certain lady was a society belle. He wanted to tell his friend about it, but he couldn’t think of the right word. ‘Ach, she is von great lady,’ he said. ‘She is a society ding-dong!’”
“There’s a ringer for Shadow!”
“Shadow, you want to frame that joke and hang it in the woodshed.”
“Put it down in moth-balls until next summer, Shadow.”
“Oh, say, speaking about moth-balls puts me in mind of another story. A man——”
“Was it a young man, Shadow?” asked Dave, calmly.
“Maybe it was a very old man,” suggested Phil.
“Was he clean-shaven or did he have a beard?” queried Roger.
“Never mind if he was young or old, or clean-shaven or not,” cried the story-teller. “This man——”
“Was he an American or a foreigner?” demanded Gus Plum. “That is something we have simply got to know.”
“And if he was knock-kneed,” put in Sam. “I hate love stories about knock-kneed men. They aren’t a bit romantic.”
“Who said anything about a love story about a knock-kneed man?” burst out Shadow. “I said——”
But what Shadow was going to say was drowned out in the sudden report of a shotgun,—a report so close at hand that it made nearly every student present stop in alarm.
CHAPTER IV—THE SCHOOLBOY HUNTERS
“Dave, what did you shoot at?”
It was Phil