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CHAPTER XI


A HUNT FOR AN ICE-BOAT


"It's gone!

"Where in the world could it have gone to?"

"It was too far on the shore to be blown away."

"Can anybody have stolen the craft?"

Such were some of the words uttered as the students stood on the shore of the lonely island, gazing first in one direction and then in another. Darkness had now settled down, and they could see but little at a distance.

"I really believe somebody took the ice-boat," remarked Dave. "As the sail was down I don't see how she could budge of herself."

"Exactly my way of thinking," answered Roger. "And I've got an idea who took the craft, too."

"Those Rockville cadets?" queried Henshaw.

"Yes."

"They wouldn't be above such a piece of mischief," said Messmer. "They feel mighty sore over the way we outsailed them that time we raced."

"They'll be likely to sail the boat to our dock and leave her there," said Shadow. "Puts me in mind of a story I once heard about——"

"I don't want to hsten to any stories just now," grumbled Henshaw. "I want to find that ice-boat. If we can't find her we'll have to walk home."

"What a pity we didn't bring our skates!" cried Dave. "The wind is very light, and if we had them we might catch up with whoever took the craft. I am by no means certain the Rockville cadets are guilty. When we met them they were going home, and they didn't know we were coming here."

"Nobody knew that," said Messmer.

"Who was the last person we met on the river before landing?" questioned the senator's son.

All of the boys thought for a minute.

"I saw Link Merwell," said Shadow.

"Yes, and Nat Poole was with him," answered Henshaw. "Merwell has become quite a crony of Nat Poole's since Gus Plum dropped out."

Link Merwell was a new student, who had come to Oak Hall from another boarding school some miles away. He was a tall, slim fellow with a tremendously good opinion of himself, and showed a disposition to "lord it over everybody," as Sam Day had expressed it. He was something of a dude, and it was their mutual regard for dress that caused him and Nat Poole to become intimate.

"Then I believe Poole and Merwell are the guilty parties," declared Dave. "They must have seen us land, and Poole, I know, Is Itching to pay us back for the way we have cut him."

"All of which doesn't bring back the ice-boat," observed Messmer. "The question is, What are we to do?"

"Hoof it back to Oak Hall—there is nothing else," answered the senator's son, sadly.

Hardly had Roger spoken when Dave heard a peculiar sound on the rocks behind the crowd. He looked back and saw Mike Marcy's mule, nibbling at some bushes.

"The mule—I'm going to catch him!" he ejaculated, and made a leap for the animal. Just as the mule turned he caught hold of the halter.

"Whoa there! Whoa, you rascal!" he cried, and then, watching his chance, he flung himself across the mule's back. The animal pranced around in a lively fashion.

"Look out, Dave, he'll throw you!"

"He'll kick you to death If he gets a chance!"

"Remember, he's a vicious beast!"

The mule continued to dance about and kicked high in the air, throwing Dave well forward. But the boy who had been brought up on a farm clung on, grasping the mule's ears to steady himself. Then of a sudden the mule turned and dashed away through the bushes.

"He's running away with Dave!"

"Look out for the tree branches!"

Dave paid no attention to the cries. He had all he could do to keep from falling under the animal. Away went boy and mule, over the rough rocks in a fashion which nearly jounced the breath from the rider's body. Then, just as they came close to some low-hanging trees where Dave felt certain he would be hurt, the mule turned again, leaped for the shore, and sped out on the ice of the river.

"So that's your game!" cried Dave, between his set teeth. "All right; if you want to run you can carry me all the way to Oak Hall!"

Away went the mule, as if accustomed to run over the ice all his life. He was a sure-footed creature and took only one or two slides, which amounted to nothing. The boys on the shore saw Dave and mule disappear in the darkness and set up a cry of wonder.

"Hi! come back here, Dave!" sang out Roger.

"If you are going to ride to the Hall take us with you!" yelled Shadow.

"He won't stop till he's tired out," said Henshaw. "And goodness only knows where he'll carry Dave."

"Trust Dave to take care of himself," answered the senator's son. "I never saw him get into a hole but that he managed to get out again."

Dave Porter Far North p121.jpg

The mule shied to one side and sent Dave sprawling on the ice.—Page 101.


"I hope the mule doesn't land him in some crack in the ice," said Messmer.

On and on through the gathering darkness sped the mule, with Dave clinging to his back with a deathlike grip. The animal was young and full of go and seemed thoroughly to enjoy the run.

"Talk about mules being slow," panted the boy. "The chap who thinks that ought to be on this steed. Why, he'd win on a race-track sure!"

A half-mile was quickly covered, and then the mule neared the bank of the river, where the latter made a long curve. Here there was a fair-sized creek, and up this the animal dashed, in spite of Dave's efforts to stop him or get him to keep to the river proper.

"Whoa, you rascal!" sang out the youth for at least the fiftieth time, and then he caught sight of a white sail just ahead of him. The next moment the mule bumped into the edge of the sail, shied to one side, and sent Dave sprawling on the ice. Then the animal steadied himself and made tracks for the road which led to Mike Marcy's farm. Evidently he was tired of roaming around and of being ridden, and was now going home.

Somewhat dazed, Dave picked himself up and gazed at the ice-boat. It was the Snowbird, and on it were Nat Poole and Link Merwell.

"Hullo, if it isn't Dave Porter!" muttered Poole, in amazement.

"Where did he get that mule?" questioned Merwell.

"I'm sure I don't know. But this makes a mess of things. I didn't want that crowd to know we had taken the ice-boat," went on the dudish youth.

Dave picked up the cap which had fallen on the ice and ran up to the ice-boat. Those on board had run into the creek by mistake and were trying to turn the Snowbird around.

"What are you doing with that craft?" asked Dave.

"That's our business," retorted Nat Poole.

"I think it is my business. That boat belongs to Messmer and Henshaw."

"We found it, and we are going to have a sail back to Oak Hall," said Link Merwell.

"I don't think so," answered Dave, decidedly.

"What's that?" cried Merwell, sharply. He was a fellow used to having his own way.

"I want that boat. I was with Messmer and Henshaw, and we left the craft on the shore of an island. It's my opinion you two chaps ran off with her."

"See here, do you take me for a thief?" cried Link Merwell. And in his aggressive fashion he swaggered up to Dave.

"Not that, Merwell, but I think you took the ice-boat. I am going to take her back, so I can get our crowd aboard."

"And what do you expect me to do?" asked Nat Poole.

"You can skate back to the Hall."

"I lost one of my skates."

"Then let Merwell tow you on one foot."

"Oh, you needn't boss us around, Porter," growled Link Merwell. "I'm not used to it, and I won't stand for it. Poole and I are going to the Hall on the ice-boat, and that is all there is about it."

He drew himself up to his full height—he was four inches taller than Dave—and glared down defiantly. This gave Nat Poole a little courage, and he ranged beside Merwell, and both doubled up their fists.

They fancied they could make Dave back down, but they were mistaken. The lad who had been brought up on a farm faced them fearlessly.

"There is no use of fighting about it," he said, as calmly as he could. "You have no right to this ice-boat, and you know it. If you don't give it up perhaps I'll report you."

"Oh, you're a squealer, are you?" sneered Link Merwell. "It's about what I would expect from a boy brought up in a poorhouse."

At this uncalled-for and cutting remark Dave's face flamed. He took one step forward and caught the tall youth by the arm, in a grip that seemed to be of steel and made Merwell wince.

"Are you going to bring that up?" he asked, in a low voice. "I should have thought your friend Poole would have cautioned you that it wasn't healthy to do so."

"Let go of my arm, Porter," and Merwell tried to pull himself free, but in vain. Dave's eyes were blazing like two stars and seemed to look the tall youth through and through.

"I am not letting go just yet, Merwell. I want you to answer my question."

"If you don't let go I'll knock you down!" cried Link Merwell, in a rage.

"If you do, you'll get well punished for it. I allow nobody to talk to me as you have done."

"Want to fight?"

"No; but I can defend myself—I guess Nat Poole knows that."

"Don't soil your hands on him. Link," said Poole. Even though they were two to one, he knew Dave's power and was afraid of him.

"He can't come it over me," answered Merwell. "Let go!" and then he hauled off and tried to hit Dave in the face.

The boy from the country was on guard, and ducked with a quickness that surprised his antagonist. Then he gave Merwell's arm a twist that sent the tall youth sprawling on the ice.

The new pupil was amazed, and it took him several seconds to recover himself. He had not dreamed that Dave was so powerful, yet he threw prudence to the winds and rushed in, trying again to reach Dave's face with his fist. But Dave skipped to one side, put out his foot, and again Merwell went down, on his hands and knees.

"I'll fix you!" he roared, scrambling up, his face red with rage. "I'll show you what I can do! How do you like that, you poorhouse rat!"

This time he hit Dave in the breast. The blow was a heavy one, but it did not hurt nearly as much as did the words which accompanied it. They made Dave shiver as if with ague, and, all in a blaze he could not curb, he sprang towards Link Merwell. Out shot first one fist and then the other, the blows landing on the eye and chin of the tall youth. They made him stagger back against the ice-boat. Then came a third blow, and Merwell gave a gasp, swayed from side to side, and would have fallen had not Nat Poole caught him as he was going down.

"Stop, Porter; don't hit him again!"

"Merwell, do you take back what you just said?" demanded Dave, paying no attention to Nat Poole's remark.

There was an instant of silence. Link Merwell Avanted to answer, but was too dazed to do so. Slowly and painfully he stood erect. His head was in a whirl and one eye was rather rapidly closing.

"Merwell, are you going to take back what you said?" demanded Dave, again. And he held his fist ready to strike another blow.

"Ye—yes," stuttered Link Merwell. "Do—don't hit me again!" And then he collapsed in a heap at Dave's feet.