Dave Porter at Star Ranch/Chapter 3
AN INTERVIEW OF INTEREST
"Well, I shouldn't go back home until your father and your uncle return," said the senator's son. "Then, if you are arrested, they'll know exactly what to do."
"It's too bad it happened!" murmured Dave. "I wish I had gotten off to the West without seeing Aaron Poole. But I suppose there is no use in crying over spilt milk. I'll have to face the music, and take what comes."
The three lads went on, and presently came in sight of the farm where Caspar Potts and Dave had once resided. The ground was now being cultivated by the man who had the next farm, and the house was tenantless.
"I've got the key of the house," said Dave. "If you'd like to take a look inside I'll unlock the door. But it's a very poor place—a big contrast to the Wadsworth residence."
"And so you used to work here, Dave?" said Phil, gazing around at the fields of corn and wheat.
"Yes, I've plowed and worked these fields more than once, Phil. And in those days, I didn't know what it was to have a nice suit of clothes and good food. But Professor Potts was kind to me, even if he was a bit eccentric."
"It was a grand thing that you found your folks—and your fortune," said Roger.
"Yes, and I am thankful from the bottom of my heart."
The three boys entered the deserted house, and Dave showed the way around. There was the same little cot on which he had been wont to stretch his weary limbs after a hard day's work in the fields, and there were the same simple cooking utensils with which he had prepared many a meal for himself and the old professor. Conditions certainly had improved wonderfully, and for the time being Dave forgot his trouble with Aaron Poole. No one could again call him "a poorhouse nobody."
From the cottage the boys walked to the barn. As they entered this building they heard earnest talking in the rear.
"You are a mean lad, to tease an old man like me!" they heard, in Caspar Potts's quavering tones. "Why cannot you go away and leave me alone?"
"Don't you call me mean!" came in Nat Poole's voice. "I'll do what I please, and you can't stop me!"
"I want you to leave me alone," reiterated the old professor.
"I will—when I am done with you. How do you like that, old man?" And then Nat Poole gave a brutal laugh.
"Oh! oh! Don't smother me!" spluttered Caspar Potts. "Please leave me alone! You have ruined my clothes!"
"I wonder what's up?" said Dave to his chums, and ran through the barn to the rear. There he beheld Caspar Potts in a corner. In front of him stood Nat Poole, holding a big garden syringe in his hands. The syringe had been filled with a preparation for spraying peach trees, and the son of the money-lender had discharged the chalk-like fluid all over the aged professor.
"Nat Poole, what are you up to!" cried Dave, indignantly, and, leaping forward, he caught the other youth by the shoulder and whirled him around. "You let Professor Potts alone!"
"Dave!" cried the professor, and his voice showed his joy. "Oh, I am glad you came. That young man has been teasing me for over a quarter of an hour, and he just covered me with that spray for the peach-tree scale."
"What do you mean by doing such a thing?" demanded Dave. "Give me that syringe." And he wrenched the article from the other youth's grasp. He looked so determined that Nat became alarmed and backed away several feet.
"Don't you—you—er—hit me!" cried the money-lender's son.
"What a mean piece of business," observed Roger, as he came up, followed by Phil. "Nat, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
"Oh, you shut up!" grumbled Nat, not knowing what else to say.
"I always thought you were a first-class coward," put in Phil. "Now I am sure of it."
"This is none of your affair, Phil Lawrence!"
"I should think it was the affair of any person who wanted to see fair play," answered the shipowner's son.
"Nat, you take your handkerchief and wipe off Mr. Potts's clothes," said Dave, sternly.
"Eh?" queried the money-lender's son in dismay.
"You heard what I said. Go and do it, and be quick about it."
"I—er—I don't have to."
"Yes, you do. If you don't——" Dave ended by walking over to a barrel and filling the syringe with the spraying fluid.
"Hi! don't you douse me with that!" yelled the other youth in alarm. Then he started to run away, but the senator's son caught him by one arm and Phil caught him by the other.
"You've got no right to hold me!"
"Well, we'll take the right," said Roger, calmly. "Now, Nat, do as Dave told you."
There was no help for it, and with very bad grace the money-lender's son drew from his pocket a silk handkerchief and removed what he could of the fluid from Caspar Potts's clothing. Many spots remained.
"I am afraid the suit is ruined," said the aged professor, sorrowfully. "Anyway, it will need a thorough cleaning."
"If it is ruined, Nat can pay for it," said Dave, firmly.
"I'll pay for nothing!" grumbled the boy who had done the mischief. He was short of spending-money, and knew how hard it was to get an extra dollar from his parent.
"He certainly ought to pay for it," said Caspar Potts. "Some men would have him locked up for what he has done."
"Humph! Don't talk foolish! It was only a little fun!" grumbled Nat. "I didn't mean any harm. You can easily get those spots out of your clothes."
"Did he do anything else to you?" asked Dave of the professor.
"Yes, he plagued me a good deal, and he shoved me down in the cow-yard," was the reply. "I was hoping some one would come to drive him away. I said I'd have the law on him, but he laughed at me, and said nobody else was around and his word was as good as mine."
"If that isn't Nat to a T!" murmured the senator's son. "Doing the sneak act every time!"
"Well, we are witnesses against him," put in Phil. He looked at Dave and suddenly began to grin. "Oh, but this is great!" he cried.
"What's struck you?" queried Dave.
"Oh, nothing, only I reckon we've got a good hold on Mr. Aaron Poole now—in case he tries to make a complaint against you."
"To be sure we have!" burst out Roger. "He won't dare to do it—after he knows what Professor Potts can do."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Nat, curiously. "Is my father going to make a complaint against Dave? What is it for?"
"Maybe you'll learn later—and maybe you won't," answered the senator's son. "But if you see your father you had better tell him to call it off as far as Dave is concerned—if he wants to save you."
"Then you've had trouble, eh?"
"No worse than this—if as bad."
"Humph! In that case my father won't believe what you say about me!" cried Nat, cunningly. And then of a sudden he leaped back, turned, and ran around a corner of the barn at top speed. He made for the road, and was soon hidden from view by trees and bushes. Phil and Roger attempted to catch him, but Dave called them back.
"No use in doing that," said Dave. "Let him go. It will be time enough to say more when Mr. Poole makes his complaint."
The three youths assisted Caspar Potts in rearranging his toilet, and in the meantime the aged professor told the lads the details of his trouble with Nat. The money-lender's son had certainly acted in a despicable manner, and he deserved to be punished.
"I will leave the matter to Mr. Wadsworth, and to your father and your uncle," said Professor Potts to Dave. "They will know better what to do than I."
On the way back to the Wadsworth mansion the boys told of the pistol incident and the professor became much interested. He agreed with Phil and Roger that Nat's doings were much worse.
Dave's father and his uncle had returned, and the youth went straight to them with his tale. Then Mr. Wadsworth came in and was likewise told. All the men were also informed of what had happened to Caspar Potts.
"I think I see a way of clearing this matter up—if Mr. Poole attempts to act against Dave," said Mr. Wadsworth. And then he had a long talk with Professor Potts.
The folks at the mansion had just finished dinner when visitors were announced. They proved to be Aaron Poole and an officer of the law, brought along to arrest Dave.
"I think you had better let me engineer this affair," said Mr. Wadsworth, and so it was agreed. He entered the reception room and shook hands formally with Aaron Poole.
"I came to get Dave Porter," said the money-lender, stiffly. "I am going to have him locked up."
"Mr. Poole, will you kindly step into the library with me?" answered Mr. Wadsworth.
"I wish to have a little conversation with you."
"It won't do any good. I'm going to have that Porter boy arrested, and that is all there is to it."
"I wished to see you about your son, Nat. Do you know that he stands in danger of arrest?"
"Arrest! Nat?" queried the money-lender, and the officer of the law looked at the rich manufacturer with interest.
"Yes. Come into the library, please."
"Want me?" asked the officer.
"No," returned Mr. Wadsworth, shortly, and the man settled back in his chair, his face showing his disappointment.
Once in the library the manufacturer shut the door with care. He motioned his visitor to a chair. But Aaron Poole was too impatient to sit down.
"Now, what's this about my son, Nat?" growled the money-lender.
"I'll tell you," was Mr. Wadsworth's reply, and he related what had occurred at the old Potts place.
"You expect me to believe this?" snarled Aaron Poole.
"Believe it or not, it is the truth, and I have the three boys to prove it, and likewise Professor Potts's ruined suit of clothing. Now," continued the manufacturer, "I know all about your charge against Dave. I'll not say that he wasn't careless, because he was. But he meant no harm, and it is going too far to have him arrested. It would be much fairer for Professor Potts to have your son locked up, and make you pay for the suit of clothing in the bargain. Now, the professor thinks a great deal of Dave, and he is willing to drop his complaint against Nat if you'll drop your complaint against Dave."
"Oh, so that's the way the wind blows, eh?" snarled Aaron Poole. "Well, I won't do it!" he snapped. "I'm going to have Dave Porter arrested!"
"If you do, Professor Potts will have Nat arrested, and we'll push our case just as hard as you push yours, Mr. Poole."
"Humph! I guess this is a plot to free Dave Porter!"
"You can think what you please. This is the way I look at it: Dave was careless, and his father can give him a lecture on his carelessness. Nat was brutal, and it is up to you to take him in hand. If he were my son, I'd give him a good talking to—and maybe I'd thrash him," added the rich manufacturer, warmly.
"Oh, you are all down on my son—just as you are down on me! " cried Aaron Poole. "I'll look into this! I'll—I'll——"
"Don't do anything hasty," advised Mr. Wadsworth. "Better talk the matter over with Nat."
"I'll do it. But I'll not drop this matter! I'll get after Dave Porter yet!" cried Aaron Poole, and then he stalked out of the library, and, motioning for the officer of the law to follow him, he left the mansion.