Open main menu

CHAPTER II


WHAT LAURA HAD TO TELL


The train was nearly an hour late, and during that time Dave walked impatiently up and down the railroad platform. Occasionally he thought of school matters, and his friends and enemies, but most of the time his mind was on his sister. His father and his uncle talked together and did not interrupt his meditations.

At last a far-away whistle proclaimed the coming of the Western express, and Dave's face took on a more eager look than ever. His father gazed into his clear eyes and caught him by the arm.

"I trust with all my heart you find Laura all you desire," he said in a low tone, and Dave nodded, for his throat was so choked up that he could not speak.

The long train rolled in and the passengers for Crumville began to alight. "There she is!" cried Dunston Porter and ran forward, with his brother and Dave at his heels. A mist seemed to come over the boy's eyes and his heart thumped furiously. Then he saw a tall girl standing before him, her eyes looking deeply into his own.

"Laura, this is Dave," he heard his father say. Then the girl came closer, reached out her arms, and in a moment more brother and sister were locked in the closest of embraces. It was such a moment Dave had longed for—prayed for—and all on the instant he knew that Laura was what he had hoped she would be and that they should love each other with the sweetest of sisterly and brotherly love as long as they lived.

Laura was handsome rather than pretty. She had an aristocratic air which had come down to her from her mother and grandmother. She was stately in her movements and her voice charmed Dave the moment he heard it.

"Just to think, you are really and truly my brother!" she exclaimed. "Isn't it wonderful!"

"It's wonderful for me to find a sister—and a father," answered Dave. "Sometimes I am afraid I'll wake up and find it all a dream."

"When I got papa's telegram I thought it was a dream. One of the cowboys on the ranch brought it over from the railroad station. At first I thought there must be some mistake, but Mr. Endicott said there couldn't be, and so I arranged to come east at once. A gentleman and his wife, who had been stopping at the ranch, came with me as far as Buffalo. Oh, I really couldn't get here fast enough! Did you get the telegram I sent from Chicago?"

"Yes," answered her father. "And the one from the ranch, too."

"I want to hear the whole of the wonderful story just as soon as possible," continued Laura. "I promised Belle Endicott I'd send her the particulars, for she is dying to know. Belle is my friend, you know. Her father is a railroad president, but he owns that ranch, too, and they go out there whenever they feel like it, winter or summer. Belle said she'd rather read my next letter than a story book." And Laura smiled brightly.

"And I shall want to hear all about you and your travels," answered Dave. "Oh, I guess we'll have enough to talk about to last a week."

The party of four were soon in the sleigh, with Laura and Dave on the front seat. The youth showed how he could handle the team, . and in a short while drove up to the stepping-stone of the Wadsworth mansion. At once there was a rush from within, and the girl was introduced to those who had in the past done so much for her brother, and those who were Dave's chums. Jessie was a trifle shy at first, but this presently wore away, and when Laura heard what the Wadsworths had done for her brother she speedily took mother and daughter to her heart, and Jessie and she became the best of friends.

It was assuredly a grand gathering around the bountiful table which the Wadsworths had supplied, and all lingered long, listening to what the various members of the Porter family had to tell: of Dave's doings on the Potts farm, at school, and in quest of his relatives; of Dunston Porter's treasure hunt in the South Seas; of Mr. David Porter's trip to Europe with Laura; and of the girl's adventures on the ranch and elsewhere.

"Strange as it may seem, I have met two boys who knew Dave," said Laura, during the course of the conversation. "One was that scamp, Nick Jasniff, who tried to make himself agreeable in London."

"Yes, I know about him," answered Dave. "But who was the other?"

"The other is the son of the man who owns the cattle ranch next to Mr. Endicott's, Mr. Felix Merwell."

"Merwell!" cried Dave, Roger, and Phil in a breath.

"Yes. Why do you look so astonished?"

"Do you mean Link Merwell's father?" asked her brother.

"Yes. Link came out there just a few days before I started for the East. He seemed to be a nice sort, and he is one of the best horseback riders I ever saw."

"Did you—er—go out with him?" stammered Dave.

"Yes, twice, but not alone—Belle was along." Laura looked at her brother, whose face was a study. "What makes you look so queer? You know Mr. Merwell, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, we know him," answered Phil, before Dave could speak.

"We'd like to know less of him," added Roger.

"Oh! " And now Laura's face showed her wonder.

"You see, it's this way," continued the senator's son, thinking it might be difficult for Dave to explain. "Link Merwell tried to lord it over a lot of us fellows at Oak Hall. He's a domineering chap, and some of us wouldn't stand for it. I gave him a piece of my mind once, and so did Phil, and Dave did more—gave him a sound thrashing."

"Oh, Dave, did you really!" Laura's face showed her distress. "Why, I—I thought he was nice enough. Maybe it was only a boyish quarrel," she added, hopefully. "I know boys do fight sometimes with hardly a reason for it."

"Dave had a good reason for hitting Merwell," said Phil. "The best reason in the world." He looked at Jessie and Mrs. Wadsworth and the others. "I'll not spoil this gathering by saying what it was. But it was something very mean, and Merwell deserved the drubbing he got."

"Oh, I am so sorry! That is, I don't mean I am sorry Dave thrashed him—if he deserved it—but I am sorry that I—I went out with him, and that I—I started a correspondence with him. I thought he was nice, by his general looks."

"Oh, he can make himself look well, when he dresses up," said Roger. "And he can act the gentleman on the outside. But if you get to know him thoroughly you'll find him a different sort."

"I don't wish to know him if he's that kind," answered Laura, quickly. "But I thought he was all right, especially as he was the son of the owner of the next ranch. I am sorry now I ever spoke to him."

"And you have been writing to him?" asked Dave. "I thought you said you had met him only a few days before you came away?"

"So I did. But he wanted me to buy something for him in Chicago—a lens for his camera, and asked me to write from there, and I did. And, just for fun, I sent him two letters I wrote on the train—along with some letters to Belle and some other folks I know. I did it to pass the time,—so I wouldn't know how long it was taking me to get here. It was foolish to do so, and it will teach me a lesson to be careful about writing in the future."

"I'm sorry you wrote to him," answered Dave, soberly. But how sorry he was to be, and how distressed his sister was to become, he was still to learn.

Not further to mar the joy of the occasion Link Merwell's name was dropped, and Roger and Phil told of some funny initiations into the secret society at Oak Hall, which set everybody to laughing, and then Dunston Porter related the particulars of a hunt after bears he had once made in the Rockies. Thus the afternoon and evening wore away swiftly and all too soon it was time to retire. Laura was given a room next to that occupied by Dave, and long after the rest of the house was quiet brother and sister sat by a window, looking out at the moonlight on the snow and discussing the past.

"You look very much like father," said Laura, "and much like Uncle Dunston, too. No wonder that old sailor, Billy Dill, thought he had seen you when he only saw Uncle Dunston."

"And father tells me you look like mother," answered Dave, softly. "I do not remember her, but if she looked like you she must have been very handsome," and Dave smiled and brushed a stray lock back from his sister's brow.

"It is too bad she cannot see us now, Dave—how happy it would make her! I have missed her so much—it is no easy thing to get along without a mother's care, is it?—or a father's care, either. Perhaps if mamma were alive I'd be different in some things. I shouldn't be so careless in what I do—in making friends with that Link Merwell, for instance, and sending him letters." Laura looked genuinely distressed as she uttered the last words.

"Well, you didn't know him, so you are not to blame. But I shouldn't send him any more letters."

"You can depend upon it I won't."

"He is the kind who would laugh at you for doing it, and make fun of you to all his friends."

"He'll not get another line from me, and if he writes I'll return the letters," answered Laura, firmly.

"Did he say when he was going back to Oak Hall?"

"Inside of two weeks. He said he had had a little trouble with a teacher, and the master of the school had advised him to take a short vacation and give the matter a chance to blow over."

Laura had arrived at Crumville on Thursday, and it was decided that Dave, Roger, and Phil should not return to Oak Hall until the following Monday. On Friday and Saturday the young folks went sleighing and skating, Jessie being one of the party, and on Sunday the entire household attended church. It was a service into which Dave entered with all his heart, and he thanked God from the bottom of his soul that at last his sister, as well as his father and his uncle, had been restored to him.

"After I go back to boarding school where are you and Laura and Uncle Dunston going to stay?" questioned Dave of his father.

Mr. Porter smiled faintly. "I have a little secret about that, Dave," he answered. "I'll tell you later—after everything is ripe."

"I know the Wadsworths would hate to have me leave them—and Professor Potts won't want me to go either."

"Well, you wait, Dave,—and see what comes," answered his father; and with this the lad had to be content.

Bright and early Monday morning the three boys had breakfast and started for the depot, to take the train for Oakdale, the nearest town to Oak Hall. Laura, Jessie, and Mr. David Porter went along to see them off.

"Now, Dave, I want to see you make the most of this term at school," said Mr. Porter. "Now you have Laura and me, you won't have so much to worry about."

"I'll do my level best, father," he answered.

"We want you to come out at the top of the class," said Laura.

"And Dave can do it too—I know he can," remarked Jessie, and gave him a sunny smile of encouragement.

"How about us poor chaps?" asked Roger. "Can't we come in somewhere?"

"Yes, you must come in right after Dave," answered Laura, and this made everybody laugh.

"The higher we get in school the harder the work becomes," came from Phil. "But I am going to peg away at it—provided the other fellows will let me."

"Phil always was very studious," said Dave, with an old-time grin spreading over his face. "He'd rather study a problem in geometry or translate Latin than read a story book or play baseball; wouldn't you, Phil?"

"Not much! and you know it. But if a fellow has got to grind, why——"

"He can grind—and play baseball, too," added Mr. Porter. " My parting advice is: when you study, study for all you are worth, and when you play, play for all you are worth."

"Here comes the train!" cried Laura, and turning, she kissed her brother. "Good-bye, Roger; good-bye, Phil!"

"Good-by!" came from the others, and a general handshaking followed. Then the three chums ran for the train, got aboard, and were off for school once more.