Dave Porter on Cave Island/Chapter 13

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CHAPTER XIII


DARK DAYS


Oliver Wadsworth listened to Dave's words with deep interest. Then he shrugged his shoulders.

"That sounds pretty good, Dave, were it not for one thing. Do you imagine that two masked fellows, bent on blowing open safes, would stop to light and smoke cigarettes?"

"I think Merwell and Jasniff would, Merwell especially. When Link is nervous the first thing he does is to take out a cigarette and light it. It's an almost unconscious habit with him."

"This story about what that doctor said interests me most of all," went on the manufacturer. "I think we ought to have a talk with him. For all we know, he may be one of the guilty parties."

"No, I don't think he is that kind. Besides, he was very angry at Merwell and Jasniff and wanted nothing more to do with them."

"The detective who was here thought he had a clew against a professional bank burglar. Personally, I think this looks more like the work of professionals than fellows just out of school," said the manufacturer; and there, for the time being, the matter rested.

During the day two more detectives appeared and went over the ground, as the other officials had done. One thought he saw in the robbery the hand of a criminal known as Red Andrews.

"This is just the way Red Andrews would go at a job," said the detective. "He was sent up for robbing a private banker some years ago, and he got out two months ago. He was in New York—I saw him on Fifth Avenue, not far from the Carwith mansion. He may have heard about the jewels there. I am going to look for him." And he departed on a hunt for Red Andrews.

It was not until two days later that Roger came back to Crumville. His face showed his disappointment.

"Such mean luck!" he exclaimed, when he met Dave, Phil, and Ben. "I went to four towns, looking for Hooker Montgomery, and at last I found out that he had left the east several days ago."

"Where did he go to?" questioned our hero.

"The folks I met couldn't tell exactly, but they thought to visit a rich aunt in the far west."

This was a great disappointment, for they had hoped to learn much more concerning the plans of Jasniff and Merwell, from the fake doctor.

"We might send him a letter, to his last residence. Maybe the post-office authorities will forward it," suggested Phil.

"I did that," answered the senator's son. "I told him that I wanted to hear from him at once, and that it would be money in his pocket to write or to telegraph to me. I didn't mention your name, Dave, for I thought he might hear of this robbery and get suspicious."

It was ideal weather for skating and sleighing, but none of the young folks at the Wadsworth mansion felt like going out for fun. All could see that the older folks were much worried, and consequently, they were worried, too.

"Oh, Dave, what if those jewels are never recovered?" said Laura to her brother, when they were alone. "It will just about ruin Mr. Wadsworth, Uncle Dunston says."

"Let us hope for the best, Laura."

"I heard you and the other boys talking about Nick Jasniff and Link Merwell."

"Yes?"

"Do you really imagine they had something to do with it?"

"Yes, I think so, and so do Phil, Ben, and Roger. But the detectives and Mr. Wadsworth think the work was done by professionals. They don't think that fellows like Nick and Link would be equal to the job."

"But if you think Merwell and Jasniff guilty, why don't you go after them and find out?"

"We don't know where they are."

"Aren't they with their folks?'

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. The Jasniffs are traveling aboard and Mr. Merwell is in Philadelphia. We sent to Mr. Merwell—through an outsider—and learned that he didn't know where Link was just now, said he had written that he was going on a tour south for the winter. My private opinion is that Mr. Merwell finds Link hard to manage and is glad to get rid of him."

"Do you suppose he did go south? "

"He might—after this affair here."

"They didn't say what part of the south he went to?"

"They said Florida. But Florida is pretty big, you know," and Dave smiled faintly.

"Jessie is awfully downcast over this, and so is Mrs. Wadsworth—in fact, we all are."

"I know it, Laura." Dave drew a long breath. "It's awfully hard to sit still and do nothing. I imagine Mr. Wadsworth can't sleep for thinking of the affair."

"I heard Mrs. Wadsworth talking last night to him. I didn't mean to listen, Dave, but before I could get away I heard her say that if it was necessary she would give up this house to live in and move to a smaller place! Think of it! Why, her very heart is set on this house and these fine grounds! And Jessie thinks the world of them, too!"

"It would be awfully hard if they did have to give them up, Laura."

"Dave, can't father or Uncle Dunston help them, if they need help? "

"They have helped Mr. Wadsworth already—loaned him twenty thousand dollars so that he could put that new addition to the works. They also indorsed his note covering the safe return of the jewels. If those jewels aren't gotten back, and Mr. Wadsworth can't make good on that note, father and Uncle Dunston will have to pay the money."

"All of it?"

"As much as Mr. Wadsworth can't pay. And the worst of the whole matter is, Laura, just at present father and Uncle Dunston have their ready money tied up in such a manner that they can't get hold of it excepting at a great loss. Oh, it certainly is a terrible state of affairs!" And Dave shook his head, gravely.

During that week Ben had Shadow Hamilton and Buster Beggs visit him. Of course, the new arrivals had to hear all about the robbery, and they came over with Ben to call on the other boys, and on the girls.

"This is fierce!" was Buster's comment. "And Ben says you rather suspect Merwell and Jasniff," he added, in a whisper.

"We do, but don't say anything to any outsiders about it," answered Dave.

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story," said Shadow. "A little girl once——"

"Wow! Cut it out, Shadow!" burst out Phil.

"Stories don't go with robberies," supplemented Roger.

"Let him tell it," put in Dave, with a faint smile. "It will relieve his mind, and I guess I need a little fun to brace me up—I've been so depressed lately."

"This isn't so very much of a story," went on Shadow, as all looked at him. "Dave telling Buster not to let outsiders know put me in mind of it. Once the mother of a little girl told her that her uncle had been naughty and had been put in prison for it. Said the mother, 'Now, Lucy, don't tell anybody.' So Lucy went out to play and pretty soon, when she had all her companions around her she said, 'What do you think my ma said? She said that when anybody has an uncle in prison, like my uncle is, you mustn't tell anybody. So I'm not going to tell a single person!'"

"Well, I guess the boys know what I mean," said Dave, after a short laugh. "I want you to keep this to yourselves. Don't spread it any further. It may be that I am mistaken, and if so, and Merwell and Jasniff heard of what I have said, they would come down on me like a ton of bricks—and I'd not blame them."

In the afternoon, urged by Mrs, Wadsworth, the boys went skating, taking the girls with them. On the ice they met Nat Poole, but the moneylender's son did not speak to them, indeed he did his best to keep out of their way.

"He hasn't forgotten New Year's Eve," said Ben. "He had better keep his distance, unless he wants to get into more trouble."

"Wonder what he thinks of the robbery?" mused Dave.

"We might get Buster to pump him," suggested Phil. "He is on pretty good terms with Nat,—that is, they are not open enemies."

Buster was appealed to and he readily agreed to do the "pumping," provided the money-lender's son had anything to say. He skated off by himself and then threw himself in Nat's way, and was gone the best part of half an hour.

"Well, did you learn anything?" queried Roger, when the stout youth returned.

"I guess I did!" cried Buster. "Say, I think Nat Poole is about as mean as they make 'em!" he burst out. "And he hasn't a grain of good, hard common-sense!"

"What did he say?" demanded Phil.

"Oh, he said a lot of things, about the robbery, and about the Wadsworths and the Porters. First he said he didn't believe the jewels were nearly as valuable as Mr. Wadsworth represented them to be, and the manufacturer was kicking up a big fuss just as a sort of advertisement. Then he said there was a report that Dave had been seen in front of the works just a few minutes before the explosion, and that that looked mighty suspicious to him."

"The mean fellow!" muttered Roger.

"I told him that you and Roger were going to the Wadsworth house at the time, and were home when the watchman telephoned, but he only tossed his head as if he didn't believe a word of it, and said he guessed Dave could tell something if he was of a mind to talk."

"If that isn't Poole to a T!" cried Phil.

"If I were you, Dave, I'd punch his head for him," was Shadow's advice.

"That wouldn't do any good," said Ben. "You can't stop Nat from talking any more than you can stop water from running out of a sieve."

"Which puts me in mind of another story," burst out Shadow, eagerly. "Once two men——"

"Oh, Shadow, another?" cried Buster, reproachfully.

"I know that story—it's moss-covered with age," announced Roger.

"What is it?" demanded the story-teller of Oak Hall.

"Two men—bet—carry water in a sieve—bet taken—water frozen. Ha! ha! Shadow, I got you that time."

"Well, it's a good story anyway," answered Shadow, ruefully.

"I shan't attempt to stop Nat unless he makes some direct accusation," said Dave, calmly. "What would be the use? It would only make matters worse."

"If you took notice of what he says, some folks would begin to think there was something in it," said Phil. "Yes, better drop Nat. He isn't worth bothering about, anyway. Just the same, it is mean for him to speak in this fashion."

"He wouldn't be Nat Poole if he didn't," retorted Roger.

Despite this incident, the boys and girls managed to have a good time on the ice, and for an hour or two Dave forgot his troubles and those of his friends.

"What are you going to do for the rest of the vacation, Dave?" said Roger, that evening. "You know you promised to come to my home."

"Yes, and you promised to visit me, too," added Phil. "You haven't been to our house in a long time."

"To tell the truth, I haven't the heart to go anywhere," answered Dave, soberly. "I guess I had better stay here and see if something doesn't turn up."

"Well, I can't blame you," said the senator's son, and Phil said the same.