Dave Porter and His Rivals/Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI


A TALK WITH AARON POOLE


As the boys halted their touring cars and gazed at the racing car and its owner, they could not help but smile, and Phil laughed outright.

"How did it happen?" asked Dave, in as kindly a tone as he could assume, for he saw that Pete Barnaby was in serious trouble. The turnout had landed in a particularly soft spot, and was settling deeper and deeper every minute.

"None of your business!" growled the sporty man, wrathfully.

"Oh, all right!" returned Dave, coldly. "I thought maybe you would want us to help you."

"Precious little help I'd get from you chaps!" grumbled Pete Barnaby.

"You might get some if you would act half civil," answered Dave.

"Humph! I suppose you want me to ask you to help me, so that you can have the pleasure of refusing me, eh?"

"No, if I can aid you I will," answered Dave, promptly.

"He doesn't deserve any help," whispered Phil.

"I know that, Phil," answered Dave. "But I'd hate to leave him in the lurch. Why, that machine may sink so deep nobody could get it out."

"If you'll haul me out I'll pay you for your trouble," said Pete Barnaby, gruffly. "It's an easy way to earn ten dollars."

"I don't want your money," replied Dave. "I'll do what I can."

"So will I," added Roger. "The two machines together ought to be able to do the trick."

"Do you really mean it?" asked the sporty man, and now his voice had a ring of hope in it.

"Yes," said the senator's son, and Dave nodded.

The boys got out, and from the three cars ropes were produced and tied together, and the two touring cars were hooked one in front of the other, and then made fast to the racing car.

"Don't haul too hard at the start," begged Pete Barnaby. "If you do you may pull my car apart."

"We'll be careful," answered Dave. He turned to his chum. "Remember, Roger, we've got eighty horse-power hooked up here."

"I'll be on my guard," answered the senator's son. "But remember," he added to Pete Barnaby, "we are not to be responsible if the hauling breaks your car."

"I'll run that risk—only go slow," answered the man in trouble.

The rope had been made as long as possible, so that the stalled car could be drawn out of the ditch lengthwise instead of sidewise. The two cars in the road started up on low speed, and gradually the rope grew taut.

"Look out, everybody, in case that rope snaps!" cried Ben. "I once heard of a rope like that snapping and killing a house-mover."

"You are cheerful, I must say," was Sam's dry comment. Nevertheless, all were on their guard as the rope grew as tight as a string on a bow.

"She ain't moving yet!" cried Pete Barnaby. He stood by the side of his machine watching the rope closely.

Hardly had he spoken when there came a slow, sucking sound, as the wheels left their bed of soft mud. Then the racing machine moved forward slowly.

"Hurrah! she's coming!" cried Sam. "Put on a little more steam and you'll have her!"

Dave and Roger turned on more power, and the racing machine continued to move. Soon it was at the edge of the ditch, and then, with something of a jerk, it came up on the roadway, leaving a trail of dirty water and slimy mud behind it.

"Say, you did it all right enough!" cried Pete Barnaby, in delight. "I was afraid she was too deep down to budge."

"She would have been too deep if you had left her there very much longer," answered Dave. "Now, if you'll untie those ropes and clean them off for us, we'll be on our way again."

"Sure, I'll clean them off." And the sporty man set to work with alacrity. "Say, don't you really want me to pay you for this?" And he made a move as if to draw a roll of bills from his pocket.

"I don't want a cent," answered Dave.

"It's all right," added Roger; "only, Mr. Barnaby, I'd advise you after this not to stand in with Nat Poole and his crowd."

"I'm sorry I did, now; honest I am," was the sporty man's answer. "I—er—I only did it as a favor for Nat, because his father is holding one of my notes. How did you make out after I went away? I see you must have got through."

"We did," replied Dave, and then mentioned how Jed Sully had come to their aid. At this news Pete Barnaby began to grin.

"It was sure a neat way of turning the trick," he said, "and seeing how you young gentlemen have helped me, I'm glad you did it. You can be sure I'll never lay a straw in your way again, never!" And then, the ropes having been put away, the two touring cars proceeded on their way once more, leaving Pete Barnaby to clean up his machine and put it in running order again.

"Dave, that was a real nice thing to do!" declared Jessie, and gave him a bright look.

"He must have felt awfully small, for you to be so generous after the way he acted," was Laura's comment.

"Maybe it will be a lesson to him, to do what is square in the future," said Belle.

They were soon in the town of Lester, and there stopped at the main drug store, where the boys treated the girls to ice-cream "sundaes," as they are sometimes called. Then they took a roundabout way back to Crumville, arriving there at sundown.

"Oh, what a nice day we have had, in spite of the drawbacks!" cried Jessie, dancing into the mansion.

"Drawbacks?" queried her mother. "Did you get a puncture, or a breakdown?"

"Oh, no; nothing happened to the cars," answered the curly-haired miss. And then she turned to the boys, to let them tell the story. While they were doing this, Mr. Wadsworth came in, followed by Dave's father and his uncle, and Caspar Potts.

"That is just on a par with Aaron Poole's actions in general," said Mr. Wadsworth. "He would claim the earth, if he dared. I think the other property owners along that road will have something to say if he tries to close it up."

"I heard about the new paper company this morning," said Dave's father. "Some of the stockholders are not in sympathy with the way Mr. Poole is managing affairs, and they talk of putting him out."

"I hope they do put him out!" cried Dave. "He tries to carry things with too high a hand altogether."

"I am glad people are finding out what sort of folks the Pooles are," said Caspar Potts. He had not forgotten how in the past Aaron Poole had driven him to the wall, and tried to get his little farm away from him.

After the automobile outing, Phil, Roger, and Sam left Crumville to pay their folks a brief visit before departing for Oak Hall. This left Dave and Ben to get ready by themselves, and to take out the girls, which they did on several occasions. They thought they might meet Nick Jasniff and Link Merwell, but did not do so, and later on heard that the pair had departed for Rockville Military Academy. They saw Nat Poole, but he kept out of speaking distance.

"I wish Nat was going to Rockville, too," said Ben. "He'd never be missed at Oak Hall."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that, Ben," returned Dave. "Nat spends considerable money—although how he gets it from that miserly father of his I don't know—and that makes him some friends. But I, too, wish he wasn't going back to our school."

"Do you suppose he'll take the same train we take?"

"Perhaps, although I hope not."

On the day before departing for Oak Hall, Dave and Ben went down to the railroad station to purchase their tickets. There they saw Nat, with a new dress-suit case and a new fall overcoat, talking to his father.

"He must be going to take the train this afternoon," said Dave, and he was right. When the train came in Nat got aboard, along with a number of other passengers. As he did this, he espied the others, and spoke a few words to his father in a whisper. Then the train rolled away, and Aaron Poole strode over to where Dave and Ben were standing.

"See here, young man, I want to talk to you!" cried the money-lender, gazing sourly at Dave.

"What do you want, Mr. Poole?" asked Dave, as calmly as he could.

"You tried your best to get my son into trouble the other day."

"No, I didn't—Nat got himself into trouble."

"Bah! You needn't try to tell me! I know all about it."

"I don't care to discuss the question," went on Dave, a trifle sharply.

"Nat was to blame—if you don't believe it, ask Mr. Sully, the roadmaster," put in Ben.

"Don't you try to tell me!" fumed Aaron Poole. "I know both of you boys only too well! You did your best to get my son and his friends into trouble. Now, I want to warn you about something. I understand both of you are going back to Oak Hall, Nat is going there, too, and I give you fair warning that you must treat him fairly. If you don't I'll come to the school and have it out with Doctor Clay, understand that?" And the money-lender shook his long finger into the faces of the boys.

"Mr. Poole, just let me tell you something," answered Dave. "It is something you ought to know, and I feel it is my duty to tell you, even though you are not treating us as you should. Come out of the crowd, please."

"I don't want to listen to your talk."

"Well, you had better,—unless you want a lot of trouble later on."

"What do you want?" And rather unwillingly the money-lender followed Dave and Ben to a secluded corner of the railroad station.

"I want to warn you about the company Nat is keeping. The two boys he is going with, Nick Jasniff and Link Merwell, are bad characters. You don't have to take my word for it—write to Doctor Clay and see what he says. Nick Jasniff ran away from school and he got hold of some money that didn't belong to him and used it. Link Merwell got mixed up with some horse-thieves, on his father's ranch out West, and his father had to foot the bill to hush the matter up. I feel it my duty to tell you this, so that you can warn Nat. That's all." And Dave caught Ben by the arm and started to walk away.

"Humph! So that is your game, eh? Trying to blacken other boys' characters!" sneered Aaron Poole. "Well, it won't work with me, for I know you too well, Dave Porter. Don't I know where you came from—the Crumville poorhouse? I guess I can trust my son to pick out the right kind of friends. You are jealous of him, because those other boys won't go with the like of you! Don't talk to me! Only——" And Aaron Poole raised his forefinger again. "Remember my warning, when you get to Oak Hall!" And then he strode away, his thin lips tightly drawn, and his sharp chin held high in the air.

"Well, wouldn't that make you groan!" was Ben's comment, after the man had disappeared. "Dave, you had your trouble for your pains."

"I don't care, Ben—I just felt I had to tell him. It's a shame to let Nat cotton to fellows like Jasniff and Merwell. They will drag him down as sure as fate."

"I believe you there. But if Nat's father won't listen—why, I'd drop the matter. Besides, you must remember that those fellows are going to another school, situated quite some distance from Oak Hall. Nat won't see them, excepting on special occasions."

"He can meet them whenever he goes to Rockville—the town I mean—and Jasniff and Merwell will get him to drink and smoke, and maybe gamble, and worse. Nat is easily led at times."

"Yes, I know that." Ben drew a long breath. "Well, let's drop the subject, Dave. We have our own battles to fight." And then the boys separated, each to finish the preparations for his departure.