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CHAPTER XIX


AT THE EXPRESS OFFICE


"Dave, we want you to take part in the entertainment we are getting up."

It was Luke Watson who spoke. Luke had been working like a Trojan to get all the talent of the school into line for what he said was going to be "the best show Oak Hall ever put up, and don't you forget it."

"I'm willing to help you out, Luke, but what do you want me to do?" returned Dave. "I am no actor."

"I know what he can do," said Buster. "He and Link Merwell can give a boxing match." And this caused a short laugh.

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story," came from Shadow. "One day a very nice lady——"

"Say, Shadow, remember what I told you," broke in Luke. "If you've got any real good, new stories keep them until the entertainment. You are down for a ten-minutes' monologue, and it will take quite a few yarns to fill the time."

"Huh! Don't you worry—I can tell stories for ten hours," answered the story-teller of the school. "Well, as I was saying, one day a very nice lady called on another lady with a friend. Says she, 'Mrs. Smith, allow me to introduce my friend, Miss Tarnose.' Now, as it happened, Mrs. Smith was rather deaf so she says, 'Excuse me, but I didn't catch the name.' 'Miss Tarnose,' repeated the lady, a little louder. 'I really can't hear you,' says Mrs. Smith. Then the lady fairly bawled, 'I said Miss Tarnose!' But Mrs. Smith only looked puzzled. 'I'm sorry,' she said at last. 'My hearing must be worse. I'd hate to say what it sounded like to me. It was just like Tarnose!'" And then there was another short laugh.

"I asked Plum to take part," went on Luke. "He said he'd like to do a dialogue, if he could get anybody to assist. He said he had a pretty good piece."

"I might do that," answered Dave, readily.

"Would you go on with Plum?"

"Certainly, Luke."

"Well, I thought——" Luke Watson stopped short and shrugged his shoulders.

"I feel that Gus is now one of us, Luke, and I wish the other fellows would feel the same."

"Here he comes now," said Buster, in a low tone, as Gus Plum came into sight at the door of the schoolroom in which the talk was taking place. Gus looked pale and somewhat disturbed.

"Hello, Plum!" sang out Luke. "Come here, we want you."

"Luke says you think of doing a dialogue for the show," said Dave. "What have you got? If it's something I can do, I may go in with you."

"Will you, Dave?" The face of the former bully of Oak Hall brightened instantly. "I'd like that first-rate. The dialogue I have is called 'Looking for a Job.' I think it is very funny, and we might make it still more funny if both of us spoke in a brogue, or if one of us blacked up as a darky."

"Let me read the dialogue," said Dave. "And if I think I can do it, I'll go in with you."

The upshot of this conversation was that Dave and Plum went over the dialogue with care. Between them they made some changes and added a few lines, bringing in some fun of a local nature. Then it was decided that Gus Plum should assume the character of a darky and Dave should fix up as a German immigrant.

"Maybe, if we work hard, we can make our piece the hit of the show," said Dave. That afternoon he wrote a letter to his sister Laura and also one to Jessie, telling them of what was going on and adding he was sorry they would not be there to see the entertainment.

By hard work Luke Watson got over twenty boys of Oak Hall to take part in the show. There were to be several dialogues as well as Shadow's monologue, some singing, and some banjo and guitar playing, also a humorous drill, given by six youths who called themselves The Rough Walkers, in place of The Rough Riders. One student also promised a set of lantern pictures, from photographs taken in and near Oak Hall during the past term.

At first Doctor Clay said the show must be for the students only, but the boys begged to have a few outsiders, and in the end each lad was told he could invite three outsiders, and was given three tickets for that purpose. Dave sent his tickets to his father, but he doubted if any one at home would make use of them.

"I sent one ticket home," said Phil, "and I sent the other two to Mary Feversham. I hope she comes."

"Want her to come with the other fellow?" queried Dave, with a twinkle in his eye.

"Oh, I thought maybe she'd come with Vera Rockwell."

"That would suit Roger, Phil."

"Yes, and it would suit you, too, Dave. Oh, you needn't look that way. I know you think Vera Rockwell is a nice girl."

"That's true, but——"

"No 'buts' about it, my boy. I know a thing when I see it. I guess she thinks a lot of you, too."

"Now, Phil——" began Dave; but just then some other boys appeared and the rather delicate subject had to be dropped.

Dave had procured a theatrical book on how to make up for all sorts of characters, and he and Plum studied this and got their costumes ready. Both were truly comical outfits, and each lad had to laugh at the other when they put them on.

"We must keep them a secret," said Dave. "It will spoil half the fun to let the others know how we are going to be dressed. We don't want a soul to know until we step on the stage." And so it was agreed.

Several of the boys had ordered face paints and some other things from the city, to be sent by mail and express, and when some of the articles did not come to hand, there was a good deal of anxiety. Dave was minus a red wig which he had ordered and paid for, and Phil wanted some paint and a rubber bulldog.

"Let us go to Oakdale and stir up the post-master and the express agent," said Dave, and he and the shipowner's son set out for the town directly after breakfast on the morning of the day that the entertainment was to come off.

As the roads were in fairly good condition, the strong winds having dried them up, the two lads made the trip to town on their bicycles. This did not take long, and reaching Oakdale they left their wheels at a drug store, where they stopped to get some red fire that was to be burned during a tableau.

At the post office they were in luck, for two packages had just come in, containing some things for which they had been waiting.

"I hope we have as good luck at the express office," said Phil.

The office mentioned was located at one end of the depot. Here they met Mr. Goode, the agent, with whom they were fairly well acquainted.

"A package for you?" said the agent, looking speculatively at Dave. "Why, yes, I've got a package for you. Come in. I was going to send it up some time to-day or to-morrow."

"To-morrow would have been too late," answered Dave. "I need the stuff to-day."

The boys followed the agent into the stuffy little express office. Mr. Goode walked to a heap of packages lying in a corner and began to turn them over.

"Hum!" he murmured. "Don't seem to be here. I had it yesterday."

He continued to hunt around, and then went to a receipt book lying on his desk. He studied several pages for some minutes.

"Why, you must have gotten it," he said.

"No, I didn't."

"It's signed for."

"Well, I didn't sign for it," answered Dave, positively. And then he added, "Let me see that signature."

Mr. Goode shoved the receipt book toward him and pointed out the signature. It was a mere scrawl in leadpencil, that might stand for almost anything. It was certainly not in the least like Dave's handwriting.

"I was out yesterday afternoon," continued the express agent. "Went to a funeral. Dave Case kept office for me. Maybe he can tell you about it. Probably some of the other students got the package for you."

Dave Case was the driver of the local express wagon. He was out on a trip and would not be back for half an hour. This being so, there was nothing for Phil and Dave to do but to wait.

"If some of the other fellows got that package it's queer they didn't say anything," said Dave, as he and his chum walked slowly down the main street. "They must know I am anxious—with the show to come off to-night. If I don't get that wig my part won't be nearly so good."

The boys reached a corner and were standing there, not knowing what to do, when two girls crossed over, coming from a dry-goods store.

"Hello!" cried Phil, and his face lit up with pleasure. "Here are Mary Feversham and Vera Rockwell."

He stepped forward, tipped his hat and shook hands, and then Dave did the same.

"I must thank you for the tickets, Mr. Lawrence," said Mary, sweetly. "It was very kind of you to send them."

"I hope you will come," returned the shipowner's son, eagerly.

"Yes, I shall be there, for I do want to hear you boys sing and act. I am coming with my mother."

"I am going, too," added Vera. "Roger Morr sent my brother two tickets and invited us. Bob is home for a couple of days, so it comes in real handy." And Vera smiled at both Dave and Phil. "I suppose you are going to give us something fine—a real city vaudeville show."

"We are going to do our best," answered Dave, modestly.

"Dave is in a little trouble," continued the shipowner's son, and told about the missing express package.

"Oh, I hope you get the wig!" cried Vera. "A red one will look so becoming!" And she laughed heartily.

"And he is to have a big red mustache, too," said Phil.

"Hold on, Phil, you mustn't give away any professional secrets!" cried Dave.

"Oh, I just dote on red mustaches," exclaimed Vera. "They make a man look like a—a—— Oh, I don't know what!"

"Oh, Vera, you're awful!" interposed Mary. "What do you know about red mustaches, anyway?"

"She never had one, did she?" remarked Dave, calmly, and at this both girls shrieked with laughter. "But never mind," he went on. "After I am done with it, she can have mine." And this brought forth more laughter.

The girls and boys had come to a halt directly in front of a new candy and ice-cream establishment, and it was but natural that Phil should suggest to Dave that they go in and get some candy. The girls demurred at first at being treated, but then consented, and all went into the store. Dave purchased some assorted chocolates and Phil some fancy fig pastes, the girls saying they liked both.

"As it's a new store, the candies ought to be fresh," remarked Dave.

"Well, I like them best that way," answered Vera, as she helped herself to a chocolate. "I don't care for them when they are stale—and it is sometimes hard to get them fresh in a small town like this. The stores——"

She stopped short, for at the door of the candy establishment they almost ran into a party of two girls and a man. One of the girls—the younger—was staring very hard at Dave.

"Why, father!" cried Dave, in astonishment. "And you, too, Laura and Jessie! Why, this is a surprise!" And he hastened to shake hands all around. "I didn't dream of your coming."

"I just made them come," said Laura, giving him a kiss. "How are you, Phil?" and she shook hands with the shipowner's son.

When Dave took Jessie's hand he felt it tremble a little. The girl said a few commonplace words but all the time kept looking at Vera.

"Let me introduce our friends," said Phil, and proceeded to go through the ceremony. "We have just been buying some candy. Come, have some," and he held out the box he had bought. Laura took some, but Jessie shook her head.

"Thank you, not to-day, Phil," Jessie said, and there seemed to be a little catch in her throat. Then Dave looked at her fully in the eyes, and of a sudden she turned her head away. Somehow he suspected that Jessie wanted to cry, and he wondered why.