Dave Porter at Star Ranch/Chapter 6
NAT POOLE'S LITTLE GAME
It may not be out of place here to relate how Nat Poole happened to be at Niagara Falls, and how he chanced to have with him a man who was willing to do almost anything for the sake of a little money.
When Nat was placed aboard of the freight train by Dave and Phil he was in a great rage, yet powerless, for the time being, to help himself. The train moved so swiftly that he did not dare to jump off, and soon Crumville was left far behind.
As soon as he had cooled off for a little, Nat found out that he was very tired. He had been out the night before with some of the fast young men of the town, playing cards and pool, and had had but two hours' sleep in twenty-four. He found a pile of old bagging in one end of the freight car and sat down to rest. Presently his eyes closed, and before he knew it he was sound asleep. He continued to sleep during the stop at Jack's Junction, and he did not notice another party enter the freight car, nor did he notice the door being closed and locked.
When Nat awoke it was with a sense of pain. The other party in the car had stepped on his ankle. He gave a cry and this was answered by an exclamation of astonishment.
"Who are you?" asked Nat, sitting up and then leaping to his feet.
"I reckon I can ask the same question," returned the stranger.
"Are you a train hand?"
"Neither am I."
There was a moment of silence after this, and then the unknown lit a match and held it close to Nat. Both gave a cry of astonishment.
"Hello! You are Nat Poole, the boy I met at Rally's Pool Parlors," said the stranger.
"Yes, and you are Tom Shocker, the traveling salesman."
"Right you are—but I'm not a traveling salesman any longer," answered Tom Shocker, and gave a short laugh.
"Why?" asked Nat.
"Lost my job."
"I suppose your boss found out that you were spending your time playing cards and pool," said Nat. "How did you make out after I left you?"
"Lost all I had. That's the reason I am stealing a ride on this freight," answered the man. "But what are you doing here?" he continued in curiosity.
In his own fashion Nat related how he had been attacked by two of his former school enemies, dragged to the car and thrown in. He added that he had been next to unconscious, and so was unable to fight off Dave and Phil. Then he asked how Tom Shocker happened to be on board.
"I got on at Jack's Junction," said the man. "I haven't got but fifty cents left and I thought I'd beat my way to Buffalo, where I think I can get some more cash. But I didn't think they'd lock the door of the car."
During the ride to Halock, Tom Shocker managed to learn a good deal about Nat and his trouble with Dave and the others, and he also learned that the youth had considerable spending-money with him. The car was opened at Halock and run off on a siding, and the pair got off.
"Let us take a trolley to Buffalo," said Shocker. "There we can get a room at a hotel—that is, if you'll put up the price."
"All right; I might as well go to Buffalo, now I am so close," answered Nat. "But I'll send word home first," he added, and this was done.
After resting at a hotel in Buffalo, Tom Shocker proposed a trip to Niagara Falls, Nat, of course, to pay the way.
"I'll pay you back some day," said Shocker, offhandedly. "When I strike another situation I'll have plenty of cash. And, in the meantime, if you want me to do anything for you, say the word. I am open for any proposition that you may offer."
On the way to the Falls, Tom Shocker told much about himself, and Nat learned that the fellow was one of those shiftless mortals who change from one situation to another. He had been a salesman on the road for five different concerns, had run a restaurant, a poolroom, and a moving-picture show, and had even been connected with a prize-fighting affair. He did not care what he did so long as it paid, and many of his transactions had been of the shady sort.
Nat did not enjoy the visit to the Falls as much as he had anticipated. He found Tom Shocker rather coarse, and the man wanted to drink whenever the opportunity afforded. From the rapids below the Falls the pair walked to Goat Island, and there Nat was on the point of giving Shocker the slip when he chanced to see Dave and the others of the party.
"What's the matter?" demanded Shocker, who stood close by, as he saw the money-lender's son dart out of sight behind the rocks.
"Do you see that boy?" demanded Nat, pointing with his hand.
"That is Dave Porter, the fellow who put me on the freight car. And over yonder is Phil Lawrence, the other chap."
"You don't say! What brings them here?"
"They are on their way out West, and I suppose they ran up here to see the sights. I—I wish I could do something to 'em!" added Nat, bitterly.
"Maybe you can," answered Tom Shocker, always open for action. "I'll tell you one thing," he continued, in a low tone. "If they had treated me as they treated you, I'd not let them off so easily."
"Will you help me, if I—er—try to fix that Dave Porter?" asked Nat. "He started it. I don't care so much about Lawrence."
"Sure I'll help you. Anything you say goes," answered Tom Shocker, readily. He thought he saw a chance of getting another dollar or two out of Nat.
The two walked behind some bushes and there talked the matter over for several minutes.
"Fargo's is the place to go to," said Shocker, presently. "I know we can trust him."
"Of course, I don't want to hurt Porter," said Nat, nervously. "I only want to scare him."
"Sure, I understand. We'll scare the wits out of him," returned Tom Shocker. "Now, let me see. I have it—we'll catch him on the bridge. His carriage is bound to come that way, to get off Goat Island."
Dave and his friends spent the best part of a quarter of an hour around the Three Sisters Islands and then returned to their carriage.
"Now we can go to the hotel and have dinner," said Dunston Porter. "And then we can take a local train back to Buffalo."
The carriage was just crossing the bridge that connects Goat Island with the city of Niagara Falls when a man stepped up and stopped the turnout. It was Tom Shocker.
"Excuse me, but I reckon this is the number, 176," he said. "Is there a young man here named David Porter?"
"Yes, I am Dave Porter," answered Dave, and looked at Shocker curiously. The fellow was a total stranger to him.
"Got a note for you," went on Shocker, and produced it. It was sealed and marked Private in plain letters.
Wondering what the note could contain, Dave opened and read it. His face changed color and he gave a little gasp.
"Excuse me, I'll have to—to leave you for a little while," he stammered to the others.
"What's the matter?" asked Roger.
"I—I can't tell you just now." Dave turned to his uncle. "Where will you get dinner, Uncle Dunston?"
"At the International."
"All right I'll be there before long," answered Dave, and sprang to the ground.
"But what's up?" cried Phil. He could see that his chum was much disturbed.
"I—I can't tell you, Phil. But I'll be back before you finish your dinner."
"Don't you want some one along?" asked Laura, who did not like to see her brother depart in the company of such a looking stranger as Tom Shocker.
"No, Laura. Oh, it's all right. I'll be at the International on time," said Dave, and then he hurried over the bridge and down a side street of the city, in company with Tom Shocker.
The note Dave had received was written in a cramped hand and ran as follows:
"Dear Dave:—You will be surprised to receive this, but I saw you in town to-day and noted the number of your carriage. I am in deep trouble and would like you to come and see me in private, if only for five or ten minutes. You can aid me a great deal. Please don't tell any of the others of your party. The man who brings this to you will take you to me. Please, please don't disappoint me.
Andrew Dale was the first assistant teacher at Oak Hall, and an instructor who had made himself very dear to Dave and some of the other boys. He had sided with Dave when the latter was termed "a poorhouse nobody," and this had made teacher and pupil close friends.
"What's the matter with my friend?" asked Dave, as he and Tom Shocker hurried through several side streets of the city.
"I don't know exactly," was the reply. "Money matters, I think, and the gent is sick, too. He wanted it kept very quiet—said it might ruin his reputation if it got out."
"Well, I didn't say anything to anybody," answered Dave. "How much further have we to go?"
"Only a couple of blocks."
But the "couple of blocks" proved to be five, and they had to make another turn or two. Then they came to the side door of a building used as a lodging house and a pool and billiard parlor. This resort was run by a man named Bill Fargo, a sport who had once had dealings with Shocker in a prize-fighting enterprise.
"He's got a room here up on the third floor," said Shocker, as he saw Dave hesitate. "Come on, I'll show you."
He went ahead, up the somewhat dilapidated stairs, and Dave followed. In the pool and billiard parlors below some men were laughing and talking, and clicking the ivory balls together, but upstairs it was silent, and nobody seemed to be around.
During the past few years of his life Dave had had a number of stirring adventures, and he was by no means as green as he had been when first he had set out for Oak Hall. He did not like the looks of his surroundings, and he resolved to keep his wits about him and be on his guard.
"Why should Mr. Dale come to a place like this?" he asked himself. He knew the teacher to be a model man, who did not drink or gamble.
"Here we are," said Tom Shocker, as he stopped in front of a door at the back of the hallway on the third floor of the building. "I guess you can go right in. He's on the bed with his broken ankle."
"His broken ankle?" repeated Dave. "Why didn't you tell me of that before?"
"I thought I did," returned Shocker, smoothly. "Here you are. It's dark, isn't it? I'll light the gas," and he commenced to fumble in his pocket, as if hunting for a match.
It was dark, and for several seconds Dave could see little or nothing. He heard a faint groan.
"Is that you, Mr. Dale?" he asked, kindly.
A low reply was returned—so low that Dave could not make out what was said. He went into the room a few steps further. As he did so Tom Shocker closed the door and locked it. Dave heard the click of the lock's bolt and wheeled around.
"What did you do?" he demanded sharply.
"I guess I've got you now, Dave Porter!" cried another voice, and now Dave recognized the tones of Nat Poole. "You played me a scurvy trick by putting me aboard the freight train. I guess it's about time I paid you back; don't you think so?"