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CHAPTER VIII


THE YOUTH IN THE BALCONY


For a moment Dave stared at Nat Poole in perplexity. He saw that the money-lender's son was in earnest. Like a flash he realized that something was wrong.

"See here, I want no more fooling, Nat," he said, sharply. "My watch and chain, my scarf-pin, and thirty-three dollars in bills were taken from me, either by you or your companion. I want them back, and now!"

"Dave, you—er—you don't mean that you—you were—robbed?" Nat could hardly utter the words. His teeth were fairly chattering with sudden fright.

"I certainly was, if you want to call it by such an ugly name."

"But I didn't touch the things, you know I didn't!"

"Then your companion did."

"No, he didn't, he came away with me, you know that. All we did was to tie you fast and throw that pillow over your face. Then we came away and locked the door. It was only a bit of fun, to pay you back for putting me on the freight car."

"One of you came back and took the things. I couldn't see who it was, for the pillow was still over my head."

"I didn't come back—I give you my word of honor. Shocker must have done it! Oh, the rascal!" And now Nat's face showed his concern.

"Who was that man?" asked the senator's son.

"A fellow I met in Crumville a few days ago. He appeared to be straight enough." And then Nat told his story from beginning to end. He said that he had hung around the depot waiting for Tom Shocker to come, but that the fellow had failed to show himself.

"It's as plain as day," said Phil. "If Nat's story is true, this Shocker went back and robbed Dave."

"Yes, but if he did, Nat is partly responsible, for he left me tied up," said Dave.

"Of course he is responsible," came from Roger.

"I don't see how," grumbled the money-lender's son, but his uneasiness showed that he thought as did the others.

"You'll see how, if that Shocker doesn't show up with my things," said Dave, sternly. "I'll hold you and your father responsible for every dollar's worth."

This threat almost caused Nat to collapse, and he felt even worse when Dave added that the scarfpin and the watch and chain were worth about one hundred dollars.

"I'm going to hunt up Shocker's address as soon as I get home," said Nat. "I'll run him down, see if I don't—and I'll make him give the things up, too!"

"Well, I'll give you a fair amount of time," answered Dave. "After that I'll look to you and your father to make good."

Fortunately for Dave, he could easily get along without the watch and the scarfpin, and his uncle let him have some money in place of that taken. But Mr. Porter told Nat that his father would have to settle the matter if Tom Shocker was not brought to book.

At Buffalo the others separated from Nat Poole, who said he was going to take the early morning train home. Nat felt very bad over the outcome of his joke, and to a certain extent Dave and his chums felt sorry for him.

"I was a big fool to take up with a stranger like Shocker," said the money-lender's son. "You'll not catch me doing it again! I only hope I can lay my hands on him!" Then, just as he was about to leave, he turned back and beckoned Dave to step to one side.

"What do you want now?" asked Dave.

"I want to show you that I—er—that is, I am not the enemy you think, Dave," was the low answer. "I am going to give you a warning. I wasn't going to say anything, at first. It's about a letter I got from Link Merwell."

"Merwell?" And now Dave was all attention.

"Yes, he sent it to me from Chicago, where he is stopping on his way to his father's ranch. He said he had heard that you were going to the Endicott ranch, and he added that if you came out West he would see to it that you got all that was coming to you—those are his very words."

"When did you get this letter?"

"A couple of days ago. Take my advice and beware of him, for he means business. When he left Oak Hall he was the maddest boy I ever saw. He will do something awful to you if he gets the chance."

"I'll be on my guard—and I am much obliged for telling me," said Dave; and then he and Nat separated, not to meet again for many weeks.

The train for Chicago was already standing in the station, and the Porters and their friends were soon on board. The two girls had a private compartment and the others several sections, and all proceeded to make themselves at home.

"I never get into a sleeping car without thinking of old Billy Dill, the sailor who went with me to the South Seas," said Dave to Laura and Jessie. "He thought we'd have to sleep in the seats, and when the porter came and made up the berths he was the most surprised man you ever saw."

"And where is he now?" asked Jessie.

"In a home for aged sailors. Father and Uncle Dunston have seen to it that he is comfortably cared for."

"I must visit him some day," said Laura. "Just think! if it hadn't been for him we might never have met, Dave!" And she gave her brother a tight hug.

The train was a comfortable one, and all of the party slept well. When they arose, they found themselves crossing the level stretches of Indiana. The boys and Mr. Porter took a good wash-up and were presently joined on the observation end of the car by Laura and Jessie.

"What a beautiful morning!" cried Jessie.

"I feel just as if I'd like to get out and walk," added Laura, and this caused the others to laugh.

They had an appetizing breakfast of fruit, fish, eggs, and rolls, with coffee, and took their time over the repast. Then Dunston Porter pointed out to them various points of interest. Before long, they reached a small town and then came to the suburbs of the great city by the lakes.

"Here we are!" cried Roger, at last, as they ran into the immense train shed. Here all was bustle and seeming confusion, and they picked their way through the crowd with difficulty. The boys rather enjoyed this, but it made Laura and Jessie shrink back.

"Why, it's as bad as New York!" said Jessie.

"Almost," answered Dunston Porter. "Come, we'll soon find a couple of carriages to take us to the hotel."

That the girls and the others might see something of Chicago, it had been arranged to remain in that city two days. They were to stop at a new and elegant hotel on the lake shore, and thither they were driven with their baggage.

"It certainly is as bustling as New York," was Roger's comment, as they drove along. "Just look at the carriages, and autos, and trucks!"

"This afternoon we'll hire an automobile to take us around," said Dunston Porter. "It is the only way to see a good deal in a little time."

They were fortunate in getting good accommodations at the new hotel, and the boys and girls were struck by the elegance of the rooms, and, later, by the sumptuousness of the dining-hall.

"Why, it's fit for a palace!" declared Jessie.

"Beats the Crumville Hotel, doesn't it?" said Dave, dryly, and this caused the girls to giggle and the other boys to laugh.

An automobile was engaged at the stand in the hotel, and immediately after lunch the whole party went sightseeing, visiting the lake front, Lincoln Park, and numerous other points of interest. At the park they alighted to look at the animals, and this pleased the girls especially.

"To-morrow morning I'll have a little business to attend to," said Dunston Porter, "and I'll have to let you take care of yourselves for a few hours. I propose that you boys take the girls around to some of the big department stores."

"Oh, yes!" cried Laura, who had a woman's delight for finery. Jessie was also interested, for her opportunities for visiting big stores were rare.

Mr. Porter had already purchased tickets for one of the theaters, where they were playing a well-known and highly successful comedy drama, and this they attended that evening after dinner at the hotel. Their seats were on the right in the orchestra, so they had more or less of a chance to view the opposite side of the auditorium.

"They certainly have a full house," said Roger, who sat on one side of Dave, while Jessie sat on the other. "I believe every seat is taken."

"That shows that a good drama pays," answered Dave. "This is clean as well as interesting." His eyes were roving over the sea of faces, upstairs and down. "I wonder how many a theater like this can hold?"

"Two thousand, perhaps."

"It certainly looks it, Roger. That gallery—Well, I declare!"

"What is it?" asked the senator's son.

"Do you see that fellow in the front row in the balcony? The one next to the aisle?"

"Yes. What of him?"

"Looks to me like Link Merwell."

"Oh, Dave, you must be mistaken."

"I don't think so. It looks like Merwell, and Nat Poole said he was in Chicago."

"So he did. New you speak of it, he does look like Merwell. Wish we had an opera glass, we might make sure."

"I'll see if we can't borrow a glass," said Dave.

He looked around and saw that a lady directly in front of Jessie had a pair of glasses in her lap. He spoke to Jessie, and the girl asked the lady to lend her the glasses for a minute, and the favor was readily granted, for it was between the acts, and there was nothing on the stage to look at. Dave adjusted the glasses and turned them on the balcony.

"It's Merwell, right enough," he announced.

"Let me see," said the senator's son, and took the glasses from Dave. As he pointed them at the youth in the balcony, the latter looked down on Roger and those with him. He gave a start and then leaned forward.

"It's Merwell, and he sees us!" cried Roger.

"What's up?" asked Phil, who was some seats away.

"Link Merwell,—up in the balcony," answered Dave, and pointed with his finger. Phil turned in the direction, and as he did so, Link Merwell doubled up his fist and raised it in the air for an instant.

"Merwell, sure as you're born," said the shipowner's son. "And full of fight!"

"Oh, Dave, you mustn't quarrel here!" whispered Laura, who sat on the other side of Roger.

"We'll not quarrel here," answered her brother. "But I am glad I saw him," he added to his chums. "Now we can keep on our guard."

The play went on, and, for the time being, the boys and the girls paid no further attention to Link Merwell. Just as the final curtain was being lowered, Dave looked up toward the balcony.

"He has gone," he announced.

"Perhaps he was afraid we'd come after him," suggested Phil.

"Maybe he came downstairs to watch for us," added Roger. "Keep your eyes open when we go out."

They did as the senator's son suggested. They saw nothing of Merwell in the foyer, but came face to face with the former student of Oak Hall on the sidewalk. He glared at them, but then seeing Dunston Porter at Dave's side, slunk behind some other people, and disappeared from view.

"My, what an ugly look!" said Laura, with a shiver.

"He looked as if he wanted to eat somebody up," was Jessie's comment. "Oh, Dave, you must be careful!"

"I wish his father's ranch wasn't so close to Mr. Endicott's," continued Dave's sister. "I declare, the more I think of it, the more nervous it makes me!"

"Don't you worry, Laura, or you either, Jessie," answered Dave. "We'll take care of Link Merwell. If he tries any of his games, he'll get the worst of it—just as he got the worst of it at Oak Hall."

But though Dave spoke thus bravely, he was much disturbed himself. He could read human nature pretty closely, and that look in Merwell's face had showed him that the fellow meant to do harm at the first opportunity that was afforded.