Open main menu

CHAPTER VIII


A MYSTERIOUS LETTER


In the morning mail Gus Plum received a letter postmarked London which he read with much interest. Then he called on Dave.

"I've just received a letter I want you to read," he said. "It is from Nick Jasniff, and he mentions you." And he handed over the communication.

It was a long rambling epistle, upbraiding Plum roundly for "having gone back on him," as Jasniff put it. The writer said he was now "doing Europe" and having a good time generally. One portion of the letter read as follows:

"The authorities needn't look for me, for they will never find me. I struck a soft thing over here and am about seventy pounds to the good. Tell Dave Porter I could tell him something he would like to hear—about his folks—but I am not going to do it. I don't think he'll meet that father of his just yet, or that pretty sister of his either. She'd be all right if she didn't have such a lunkhead of a brother. Tell him that some day I'll square up with him and put him in a bigger hole than he got me into. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't have to stay away as I'm doing—not but what I'm having a good time—better than grinding away at Oak Hall."

As may be imagined, Dave read this letter with even greater interest than had Gus Plum. What was said about his father and sister mystified him.

"Can it be possible that Nick Jasniff has met them?" he said.

"To me the letter reads that way, Dave," answered Plum. "He mentions your sister as being pretty and all right, and how could he do that if he hadn't seen her? Yes, I think they must have met."

"Then perhaps my folks have been in London all this time—and I didn't know it. Gus, I'd like to copy part of that letter and send it to my uncle."

"Very well—and I am going to show the letter to Doctor Clay," answered the former bully of Oak Hall. Dave copied that portion of the letter which interested him and forwarded it to Dunston Porter, along with a communication in which he asked his uncle about taking a trip to London. He said he was tired of waiting and would like to start on a hunt for his father and sister without further delay. After sending the letter he talked the matter over with Roger.

"You can't imagine how impatient I am to meet my father and sister," he said. "Why, some days I get so I can hardly fasten my mind on my studies, and I go in for fun just to help me forget what is on my mind."

"I can appreciate your feelings, Dave," answered his chum, kindly. "I'd feel the same way if my folks were missing. If you go to London, do you know I'd like first-rate to go with you."

"I'd like very much to have you, Roger. But how could you get away?"

"Oh, I think I could manage that. My mother thinks I am pushing ahead almost too fast in my studies—the doctor said I was growing too fast and studying too much at the same time. I think she'd be willing for me to take the trip,—and what she says, father always agrees to."

"Where are your folks—in Washington?"

"Yes, they stay at a hotel there during the time Congress is in session."

"Well, I will have to see what my uncle says before I make any move," said Dave; and there the talk came to an end.

Gus Plum had written to the men to whom he owed his gambling debt, and they agreed to meet him at the Oakdale depot on Saturday afternoon at four o'clock. They wrote that if he did not pay up at that time in full they would expose him.

"I believe they are bluffing," said Dave, after he heard of this. "They will not expose you so long as they think there is any chance of getting more money from you. I wish you could prove that you had been swindled,—then you wouldn't have to pay them a cent."

"Well, I can't prove that—although I think it," answered the former bully, with a long sigh.

Saturday noon it began to snow, so that the majority of the students remained indoors or spent the time over at the gymnasium. Dave excused himself to his chums and met Gus Plum at a spot agreed upon, and both set off for Oakdale on foot.

"I suppose I might have asked the doctor for a cutter," said Plum. "But I was afraid he might ask embarrassing questions."

"We can walk it easily enough," answered Dave. "The road is well-broken."

"Dave, you are putting yourself out a good deal for me," answered Plum, gratefully. "Somehow, I'd hate to meet those men alone."

"They must be scamps, or they wouldn't try to lead a student like you astray."

On and on the two boys went, past several places which were familiar to them. The snow did not bother them much, and before long they reached the outskirts of the village.

"There are the two men now!" cried Gus Plum, and pointed across the way.

"They are not going to the depot," answered Dave. "They are turning down Main Street. Supposing we follow them, Gus?"

"I'm willing, but I don't see what good it will do."

"Well, it won't do any harm."

The two men were burly individuals who had evidently seen better days. Each was shabbily dressed and each had a nose that was suspiciously red. Plum said that one was named Blodgett and the other Volney.

"I believe they came here from Hartford," the big youth added. "I wish I had their record from that city."

The men turned into a resort that was half tavern and half restaurant. At the doorway they met another burly fellow who had evidently been drinking pretty freely.

"Hello, Blodgett!" cried this man. "Glad to see you again. Hello, Volney!"

"How are you, Crandall," answered Blodgett, while Volney nodded pleasantly. "What brought you to town?"

"Was looking for you two chaps."

"Why?" questioned Volney, quickly.

"Oh, I've got news that will Interest you."

"About Sadler?"

"Yes."

"Tell me about it," demanded Blodgett, hoarsely. "What has he found out?"

"A whole lot."

"Does he suspect us?"

"I don't know as to that. He suspects somebody."

"You didn't tell him anything, did you?" asked Volney, catching Crandall by the arm.

"No, but he is satisfied that he was swindled. He was going to the Hartford police about it."

"Hang the luck!" muttered Blodgett. "Tell us the particulars."

"Come inside and I will—it's too cold out here," was the answer; and then the three men entered the tavern.

Dave and Gus Plum had not heard all of the talk, but they had heard enough, and each looked at the other inquiringly.

"I believe they are thorough rascals," said Dave. "I wish we could hear the rest of what that Crandall has to say."

"Come with me—I've been in this building before," answered the former bully of Oak Hall.

He led the way to an alley halfway down the block. This ran to the rear of the tavern, where there was a door communicating with a hallway and a back stairs. Under the stairs was a closet filled with discarded cooking utensils. The closet had two doors, one opening into a drinking-room behind the main bar-room of the tavern.

Looking through a crack of the door, they saw that the three men had seated themselves, the proprietor of the resort spending his time with some men in front.

"Now give us the straight of the story," Blodgett was saying.

Thereupon Crandall launched into a tale that took him the best part of ten minutes to relate. From his talk it was clear that a man named Dodsworth Sadler, of Hartford, had met the three men at Albany and gambled with them on three different occasions. Sadler had lost several hundred dollars one night and nearly a thousand the next, and then Blodgett and Volney had come away. Now Sadler had discovered that marked cards were in use at the place he had visited, and he was satisfied that he had been swindled, if not in all the games at least in some of them.

"Well, we did him up, that's certain," said Blodgett, with a coarse laugh. "But I don't want him to learn the truth if it can be helped."

"No, we want to keep him in the dark—hold him down like that boarding-school chap here," chuckled Volney.

"Never mind about that," said Blodgett, sharply.

"Got somebody else on the string here, eh?" observed Crandall. "You always were the boys to keep things moving."

"Oh, this is only a small affair—mere pocket money," answered Blodgett.

At this point the conversation changed, and it came out that Crandall was out of money and wanted a loan of fifty dollars.

"We can't give it to you now," said Volney. "But wait till to-night and I'll let you have ten dollars."

"And I'll let you have the same," said Blodgett. "We've got to collect a trifle first."

"All right. Twenty is little enough, but it will tide me over until I hit my streak again," answered Crandall. And after a little more talk the men arose and prepared to separate.

"We've heard enough," whispered Dave to Gus Plum. "Come on," and he led the way out of the building and down the alley.

"What do you think?" demanded the former bully, when they were on the street again.

"Just as I suspected, Blodgett and Volney are nothing but sharpers. They undoubtedly swindled you. I shouldn't pay them a cent."

"But they may expose me to the doctor, Dave."

"I don't think they will—not after you talk to them."

"I hardly know what to say."

"Then suppose you let me do the talking, Gus?"

"You?"

"Yes, I fancy I know how to handle them," answered Dave, confidently.

"Well, I don't want to get into any hole," said the big boy, doubtfully.

"You won't get into any hole. When I get through with them, I'm sure they will be only too glad to leave you alone."

The two boys talked the matter over, and at last Gus Plum agreed to let Dave conduct the affair as he thought best. Then both walked to the Oakdale depot, there to await the arrival of the two swindlers.