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CHAPTER II


A STRAY SHOT


Dave soon returned to the field with a rope, and the representation of a bear was swung from the lower limb of an old apple tree. Then another smaller line was fastened at one side, so that the "bear" could be swung to and fro.

"You can do the first shooting," said Dave to his chums. "I'll play bellman." And he pulled on the side rope, so that the door swung like the pendulum of a clock.

"Hi! don't swing too fast!" called out Phil. "Sixty seconds to the minute, remember."

He took his position, and watching his chance, fired.

"How's that?" he asked, after the report had died away.

"Hit his bearship in the left ear," announced Dave.

"Humph! I aimed for his right eye!"

The senator's son now tried his luck and managed to hit the representation of a bear in the tail.

This made all the lads laugh, and Roger and Phil called on Dave to show his skill.

"I don't think this revolver works very well," said the senator's son, handing the weapon to Dave. "The trigger seems to catch in some way."

"Oh, don't blame the pistol for your poor shooting, Roger!" cried Phil, good-naturedly.

"Well, examine the pistol for yourself, Phil."

Dave took the weapon and snapped the trigger. There was no report, and he tried again, aiming at some brushwood not far from the apple tree. The brushwood was close to the back road.

"It's all right now, I guess," he said, as the pistol went off with ease. "But that trigger ought to be looked after," he added. "You wouldn't want it to miss fire at a critical moment."

He stepped forward and, while Roger swung the representation of a bear, he fired another shot.

"Good for you!" exclaimed the senator's son in admiration. "You took him right in the throat, Dave!"

"Hold up there! Stop that! Do you hear me, you young rascals! Do you want to kill me?"

The call came from the back road, and looking in that direction, the three boys saw a well-dressed man coming toward them on the run. He was carrying a whip, and his face was full of sudden passion.

"It's Aaron Poole, Nat's father!" said Dave, as he lowered the pistol in his hand.

"I say, are you trying to kill me? " cried the miserly money-lender of Crumville, as he came closer, and he shook his whip at Dave.

"Why, no, Mr. Poole," answered Dave, as calmly as he could. "What makes you think that?"

"Oh, you needn't play innocent," snarled Aaron Poole. "You just fired a shot at me! It went through my buggy top." And the money-lender pointed to the back road, where stood his horse and carriage. "Nice doings, I must say!"

"Mr. Poole, I didn't fire at you," answered Dave. "I didn't know anybody was out there on the road,—and I didn't fire in that direction."

"You fired into the bushes, when you tried the pistol," said Roger, in a low voice.

"Maybe the bullet went through the bushes," suggested the shipowner's son.

"You fired at me—I heard the shot and saw you with the pistol!" stormed Aaron Poole. "I've a good mind to have you arrested!"

"Mr. Poole, why should I fire at you?" asked Dave. "I——"

"Oh, you needn't try to smooth it over, you young rascal! I know you! You are down on me because I made Caspar Potts pay me what was due, and you are down on my son Nat because he is more popular at Oak Hall than anybody else."

"Well, to hear that!" whispered Phil. He knew, as well as did the others, that overbearing Nat Poole had scarcely a friend left at the school the lads attended. On several occasions Nat had tried to harm Dave, but each time he had gotten the worst of it.

"I didn't fire at you—didn't know anybody was on the back road," protested Dave. "If a bullet went through your buggy top I am sorry for it, but I am also glad it didn't go through your head." And Dave had to shudder as he thought of what might have happened. "After this I'll be more careful when I shoot."

"Oh, don't you try to smooth it over!" snarled Aaron Poole. "I know you of old, Dave Porter! You are always up to some underhanded tricks. Nat knows you, too! Maybe you didn't mean to kill me, but you meant to scare me, and you took a big chance, for I might have been hit. I think I'll swear out a warrant for your arrest."

"Oh, Mr. Poole, don't do that!" cried Phil, in alarm. "Dave didn't know anybody was back there. It was purely an accident."

"Humph! Who are you, I'd like to know?"

"I am Phil Lawrence. I go to Oak Hall with Dave. I think we have met before."

"Oh, yes, I've heard of you—through my son, Nat. You sided with Porter against my son. Of course you'll stick up for Porter now. I think I'll go right down to town and get a warrant, and have it served." And the money-lender made as if to walk away.

"If you have Dave arrested we can testify that it was nothing but an accident," said Roger.

"Bah! it was no accident—he either meant to hit me or scare me! I'll have the law on him!" stormed Aaron Poole, and then he hurried away. Dave followed, wishing to argue the matter, but the money-lender would not listen, and leaping into his buggy he drove off at a rapid gait in the direction of Crumville Center.

"Now, I wonder what I had better do?" said Dave, soberly, after the angry man had departed.

"Do you really think he'll have you arrested?" questioned the senator's son.

"More than likely."

"But you didn't shoot at him. It was nothing but an accident."

"You can trust Mr. Poole to make out the blackest kind of a case against me," answered Dave, bitterly. "He has been down on me for years, and you know how Nat is down on me, too. He'll have me sent to prison, if he can!"

"We'll stand by you," said Phil. "We know you didn't shoot at him—or at anybody."

"I think I had better tell my father about this," went on Dave. All his interest in target-shooting had ended. "He will know what is best to do."

"We'll leave the target where it is," said Roger. "Then we can explain just how the thing occurred."

With downcast heart Dave left the field and approached the mansion, and his chums went with him. Just as they reached the piazza the door opened and Laura came out, accompanied by Jessie Wadsworth.

"Oh, are you coming back?" aeked Laura. "We were just going to join you."

"Maybe you've killed the bear!" cried Jessie, with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "I heard that Phil had manufactured one."

"No," answered Dave. "We—that is, I—had some trouble with Mr. Poole." He turned to his sister. "Where is father?"

"Gone out of town on business. He'll be back this evening."

"And Uncle Dunston?"

"Uncle went with him."

"Oh, that's too bad!" And Dave's face showed more concern than ever.

"What was the trouble about?" asked Jessie, who was quick to see that Dave was ill at ease.

"Oh, Mr. Poole thought I shot at him—but I didn't," replied Dave, and then told the story.

"Oh, Dave, do you really think he'll have you locked up!" burst out his sister, while Jessie's face showed her deep concern.

"I don't know what he'll do," was the slow answer.

"Oh, maybe he won't do anything—after he calms down," said the shipowner's son. "He'll realize that Dave wouldn't do anything like that on purpose."

"You don't know Mr. Poole," said Jessie. "Father says he is one of the most hard-hearted men around here."

"Well, let us hope for the best," said the senator's son. He wanted to cheer up Laura and Jessie quite as much as Dave.

The boys put the pistols away and then went out in a summerhouse to talk the affair over.

"If he has me arrested, I suppose that will stop my going out to Star Ranch," said Dave, gloomily. "Too bad! And just when I was counting on having the time of my life!"

"Oh, don't take it so to heart, Dave!" cried Phil. "Maybe you'll never hear of it again."

"He'll hear of it if Mr. Poole tells Nat," said the senator's son. "Nat will want his father to make all the trouble possible for Dave."

"Where is Nat now? At home?"

"Yes," answered Dave. "I saw him yesterday, down at the post-office."

"Then he'll surely hear about it."

At first Dave thought to tell Caspar Potts about the affair, but then he realized that the professor was too old to aid him. Besides, the aged man was not well, and the boy hated to disturb him.

The middle of the afternoon came and went, and nothing was heard from Aaron Poole. Mrs. Wadsworth went out carriage-riding, taking the girls with her.

"Let us take a walk," proposed Phil. "No use in hanging around the house for nothing."

"I don't want Mr. Poole to think I ran away," answered Dave.

Nevertheless, he agreed to go with his chums, and they started off, leaving word that they would be back in time for dinner, which was served at the Wadsworth mansion at half-past six.

"I'd like to see that place where you used to live with Professor Potts," said the senator's son to Dave. "Is it far from here?"

"Quite a distance, but we can easily walk it," was the reply.

They passed out on the country road and were soon tramping along in the direction of the old Potts place. As they went on they talked over the proposed trip to the West.

"We ought surely to have the time of our lives," said the shipowner's son. "Just think of riding like the wind on some of those broncos!"

"Or getting flung heels over head from a bronco's back," added Roger. "I rather think we'll have to be careful at first."

"One thing I don't like about this trip," said Dave.

"The fact that Link Merwell's father owns the next ranch to the Star?"

"Exactly."

"Oh, ranch homes out there are sometimes miles apart," said Roger. "You may not see the Merwells at all."

"That will just suit me,—and I know it will suit Laura, too. She is awfully sorry that she once corresponded with Link."

"Well, she didn't know what he was," answered the senator's son. Ever since he had met Laura he had been much interested in Dave's sister.

The three chums had covered about half the distance to the old Potts place when they saw a horse and buggy approaching. As it came closer they saw that it contained two men.

"It's Mr. Poole!" cried Dave, and then, as he caught sight of the other man's face, he turned a trifle pale. "Step behind here!" he called to Phil and Roger, and pulled them back of some handy bushes.

The horse and buggy soon came up to them and passed on, the three boys keeping out of sight until the turnout was gone. Dave gave a deep sigh.

"I guess Mr. Poole means business," he said.

"What do you mean?" questioned the senator's son.

"I mean he is going to have me locked up."

"Why?" asked Phil.

"That man in the buggy with him was Mr. Mardell, the police justice."