As nice a man as ever lived

“There they are!”

“This way, boys! Oak Hall to the front!”

A vestibule door to one of the cars had been opened and a porter had
come down the steps carrying three suit-cases. He was followed by three
young men, who waved their hands gayly at Dave and Roger.

“Here at last!” sang out Phil Lawrence, as he rushed forward to catch
our hero with one hand and the senator’s son with the other.

“Some city you fellows have here,” criticized Ben Basswood, with a broad
grin, as he waited for his turn to “pump handle” his friends.

“Say!” burst out the third new arrival, as he too came forward. “Calling
a little, dinky station like this a city puts me in mind of a story.
Once some travelers journeyed to the interior of Africa, and——”

“Hello! What do you know about that?” sang out Dave gayly. “Shadow has
started to tell a story before he even says ‘how-do-you-do’!”

“Why, Shadow!” remonstrated Roger in an apparently injured tone of
voice. “We heard that you had given up telling stories entirely.”

“Smoked herring! Who told you such a yarn as that?” burst out Phil.

“I don’t intend to give up telling stories,” announced Shadow Hamilton
calmly. “I’ve got a brand new lot; haven’t I, fellows? I bet Dave and
Roger never heard that one about the coal.”

“What about the coal, Shadow?” demanded Roger, shaking hands.

“Don’t ask him,” groaned Ben. “He’s told that story twenty-six times
since we left home.”

“You’re a base prevaricator, Ben Basswood!” roared the former
story-teller of Oak Hall. “I told that story just twice—once to you and
once to that drummer from Chicago. And he said he had never heard it
before, and that proves it’s a new story, because drummers hear
everything.”

“Well, that story has one advantage,” was Phil’s comment. “It’s short.”

“All right then, Shadow; let’s hear it. And then tell us all about
yourself,” said Dave quickly.

“It isn’t quite as much of a story as it’s a conundrum,” began Shadow
Hamilton. “Once a small boy who was very inquisitive went to his aunt in
the country and helped her hunt for eggs. Then he said he would like to
go down into the cellar. ‘Why do you want to go in the cellar, Freddy?’
asked the aunt. ‘I want to go down to look at the egg coal,’ announced
the little boy. ‘And then I want to see what kind of chickens lay it.’”
And at this little joke both Dave and Roger had to smile.

No other passengers had left the cars at this station, and now the long
train rumbled once more on its way. The station master had gone off to
look after some messages, so the former chums of Oak Hall were left
entirely to themselves.

“It’s a touch of old times to get together again, isn’t it?” cried Dave
gayly, as he placed one arm over Phil’s shoulder and the other arm
around Ben. “You can’t imagine how glad I am to see all of you.”

“I am sure the feeling is mutual, Dave,” answered Phil. “I’ve missed you
fellows dreadfully since we separated.”

“I sometimes wish we were all back at Oak Hall again,” sighed Ben. “My,
what good times we did have!”

“I guess you’ll be glad enough to reach Star Ranch, Phil,” went on Dave,
giving the ship-owner’s son a nudge in the ribs. “Probably Belle
Endicott will be waiting for you with open arms.”

“Sour grapes, Dave. I know where you’d like to be,” retorted Phil, his
face reddening. “You’d like to be in Crumville with Jessie Wadsworth—and
Roger would like to be in the same place, with your sister.”

“Have you fellows had your lunch?” questioned Roger, to change the
subject.

“Yes. When we found out that the train was going to be late, we went
into the dining-car as soon as it opened,” answered Ben. “How about
you?”

“We brought something along and ate it while we were waiting for you,”
said the senator’s son. “Come on, it’s quite a trip to the construction
camp. We came over on horseback, and we brought three horses for you
fellows.”

“Good enough!” cried Shadow. “But what are we going to do with our
suit-cases?”

“You’ll have to tie those on somehow,” announced Dave. “We brought
plenty of straps along.”

As the five chums got ready for the trip to the construction camp, Dave
and Roger were told of many things that had happened to the others
during the past few weeks. In return they told about themselves and the
encounter with Nick Jasniff.

“A mighty bad egg, that Jasniff,” was Phil’s comment.

“The worst ever,” added Shadow.

“Mr. Dunston Porter and the girls didn’t tell you half of the story
about those gypsies,” said Ben. “Those fellows tried to make all sorts
of trouble for us. They tried to prove that they had a right to camp on
that land, and my father and your uncle had to threaten them with the
law before they went away. Since that time several of the gypsies have
been in town, and they have made a number of threats to get square. That
old hag, Mother Domoza, is particularly wrathful. She insists that she
got the right to camp there as long as she pleased from some party who
used to own a part of the land.”

“Where are the gypsies hanging out now?” questioned Dave.

“Somebody told me they were camping on the edge of Coburntown.”

“You don’t say! That’s the place where I had so much trouble with the
storekeepers on account of Ward Porton’s buying so many things in my
name.”

“If I were living in Coburntown, I’d keep my eyes open for those
gypsies,” declared Ben. “I wouldn’t trust any of them any farther than I
could see them. Ever since they camped on the outskirts of Crumville
folks have suspected them of raiding hencoops and of other petty
thieving. They never caught them at it, so they couldn’t prove it. But
my father was sure in his own mind that they were guilty.”

“Yes, and I remember a year or so ago some of the gypsy women came
around our place to tell fortunes,” added Dave. “They went into the
kitchen to tell the fortunes of the cook and the up-stairs girl, and two
days later the folks found that two silver spoons and a gold
butter-knife were missing. We made some inquiries, but we never got any
satisfaction.”

“Looking for stuff like that is like looking for a needle in a
haystack,” was Phil’s comment.

“Oh, say! Speaking of a needle in a haystack puts me in mind of a
story,” burst out Shadow.

“What! another?” groaned Roger in mock dismay; and all of the others
present held up their hands as if in horror.

“This is just a little one,” pleaded the former story-teller of Oak
Hall. “A man once heard a lady speak about trying to find the needle in
the haystack. ‘Say, madam,’ said the man, very earnestly, ‘a needle in a
haystack wouldn’t be no good to nobody. If one of the animals got it in
his throat, it would ’most kill ’im.’”

“Wow!”

“Does anybody see the point?” questioned Roger.

“What do you mean—the point of the needle?” demanded Dave.

“If you had the eye you could see better,” suggested Ben.

“I don’t care, it’s a pretty good joke,” protested the story-teller.

“Hurrah! Shadow is stuck on the needle joke!” announced Dave. “Anyhow,
it would seem so.”

“Jumping tadpoles!” ejaculated Roger. “Boys, did you catch that?”

“Catch what?” asked Phil innocently.

“Phil wasn’t born a tailor, so maybe he never knew what it was to _seam
sew_ anything.”

“Whoop! I’ll pummel you for that!” roared the ship-owner’s son, and made
a sweep at Dave with his suit-case.

But the latter dodged, and the suit-case landed with a bang on Shadow’s
shoulder, sending the story-teller to the ground.

“Say, Phil Lawrence, you be careful!” cried the prostrate youth, as he
scrambled up. “What do you think I am—a punching-bag?”

“Ten thousand pardons, Shadow, and then some!” cried the ship-owner’s
son contritely. “I was aiming to put Dave in the hospital, that’s all.”

“Come on and get busy and let us be off to the camp,” broke in Roger.
“We’ll have plenty of time for horse-play later. We want to show you
fellows a whole lot of things.”

Dave insisted upon carrying one of the suit-cases, while Roger took
another. Soon all of the hand-baggage was securely fastened to the
saddles of the horses, and then the boys started on the journey to the
construction camp. They took their time, and numerous were the questions
asked and answered on the way.

“Yes, I’m doing first class in business with dad,” announced Phil. “We
are going to buy an interest in another line of ships, and dad says that
in another year he will put me at the head of our New York offices. Then
I’ll be a little nearer to Crumville than I was before.”

“I’m glad to hear of your success, Phil,” said Dave. “I don’t know of
any fellow who deserves it more than you do.”

“Sometimes I wish I had taken up civil engineering, just to be near you
and Roger,” went on the ship-owner’s son wistfully. “But then, I reckon
I wasn’t cut out for that sort of thing. I love the work I am at very
much.”

“I suppose some day, Phil, you’ll be settling down with Belle Endicott,”
went on our hero in a low tone of voice, so that the others could not
hear.

“I don’t know about that, Dave,” was the thoughtful answer. “Belle is a
splendid girl, and I know she thinks a good deal of me. But her father
is a very rich man, and she has a host of young fellows tagging after
her. There is one man out in Denver, who is almost old enough to be her
father, who has asked Mr. Endicott for her hand in marriage.”

“But Belle doesn’t want him, does she?”

“I don’t think so. But she teases me about him a good deal, and I must
confess I don’t like it. That’s one reason why I am going out to Star
Ranch.”

“Well, you fix it up, Phil—I know you can do it,” answered Dave
emphatically. “You know Jessie and Laura are writing to Belle
continually; and I know for a fact that Belle thinks more of you than
she does of anybody else.”

“I hope what you say is true, Dave,” answered the ship-owner’s son
wistfully.

Naturally a bright and energetic youth with no hesitation when it came
to business matters, Phil was woefully shy now that matters between
himself and the girl at Star Ranch had reached a crisis.

In their letters Dave and Roger had told their chums much about the
Mentor Construction Company and what it proposed to do in that section
of Montana. They had also written some details concerning the camp and
the persons to be met there, so that when the party came in sight of the
place the visitors felt fairly well at home. They were met by Frank
Andrews, who was speedily introduced to them, and were then taken to the
offices.

“I’m very glad to meet all of you,” said Mr. Obray, shaking hands at the
introduction. “Porter and Morr have told me all about you; and I’ve told
them to do what they can to make you feel at home during your stay.
There is only one thing I would like to caution you about,” went on the
manager, who occasionally liked to have his little joke. “Don’t under
any circumstances carry away any of our important engineering secrets
and give them to our rivals.”

“You can trust us on that point,” answered Phil readily. “All we expect
to carry away from here is the recollection of a grand good time.”

“Oh, say! That puts me in mind of a story,” burst out Shadow
enthusiastically. “Once a man——”

“Oh, Shadow!” remonstrated Roger.

“I hardly think Mr. Obray has time to listen to a story,” reminded Dave.

“Sure, I’ve got time to listen if the story isn’t a long one,” broke in
the manager.

“Well—er—it—er—isn’t so very much of a story,” answered Shadow lamely.
“It’s about a fellow who told his friends how he had been hunting
ostriches in Mexico.”

“Ostriches in Mexico!” repeated Mr. Obray doubtfully.

“Yes. A man told his friends that he had been hunting ostriches in
Mexico with great success. His friends swallowed the story for several
days, and then began to make an investigation. Then they went to the man
and said: ‘See here. You said you had been hunting ostriches in Mexico.
There are no ostriches there.’ ‘I know it,’ said the man calmly. ‘I
killed them all.’” And at this story the manager laughed heartily. Then
he dismissed the crowd, for he had much work ahead.

“A nice man to work for,” was Ben’s comment, when the visitors were
being shown to their quarters in the bunk-houses.

“As nice a man as ever lived, Ben,” answered Dave. “Roger and I couldn’t
have struck it better.”

“I know I’m going to enjoy myself here,” announced Shadow. “All of your
gang seem so pleasant.”

“And I want to learn something about civil engineering,” announced Ben.
“Maybe some day I’ll take it up myself.”

The next morning all of the former Oak Hall chums were up by sunrise. As
Dave had said, they wanted to make the most of their time.

“It’s a beautiful location,” was Phil’s comment, as he stood out on the
edge of the camp and surveyed the surroundings.

On one side were the tall mountains and on the other the broad valley,
with the little winding river shimmering like a thread of silver in the
sunlight.

“Nice place to erect a bungalow,” added Ben.

“What are you thinking of, Ben—erecting bungalows and selling off town
lots?” queried Roger slyly.

“Oh, I didn’t get as far as that,” laughed the son of the Crumville real
estate dealer. “Just the same, after your railroad gets into operation
somebody might start a summer colony here.”

The visitors were shown around the camp, and at the ringing of the
breakfast bell were led by Roger and Dave into the building where the
meals were served. And there all did full justice to the cooking of Jeff
and his assistant.

The youths had talked the matter over the evening before, and it had
been decided to take an all-day trip on horseback along the line of the
proposed railroad.

“We’ll show you just what we are trying to do,” Roger had said. “Then
you’ll get some idea of what laying out a new railroad in a country like
this means.”

“I wish I could have gone down to the Rio Grande when Ben went down,”
remarked Phil. “I would like to have seen that new Catalco Bridge your
company put up there.”

“It certainly was a fine bit of engineering work!” cried Ben. He turned
to Dave. “You don’t expect to put up any bridge like that here, do you?”

“Not just like that, Ben. Here we are going to put up fifteen or twenty
bridges. None of them, however, will be nearly as long as the Catalco
Bridge. But some of them will be considerably higher. In one place we
expect to erect a bridge three hundred feet long which, at one point,
will be over four hundred feet high.”

A substantial lunch had been packed up for them by the cook, and with
this stowed safely away in some saddlebags, the five youths set out from
the construction camp, Dave, with Phil at his side, leading the way, and
the others following closely.

Every one felt in tiptop spirits, and consequently the talk was of the
liveliest kind, with many a joke and hearty laugh. Shadow Hamilton was
allowed full sway, and told a story whenever the least opportunity
presented itself.

“Some mountains around here, and no mistake,” observed Phil, after they
had climbed to the top of one stretch of the winding trail and there
come to a halt to rest the horses.

“That climb would be a pretty hard one for an auto,” observed Ben. “It’s
worse than some of the climbs we had to take when we were making that
tour through the Adirondacks to Bear Camp.”

“Oh, say! Speaking of climbing a hill in an auto puts me in mind of a
story!” burst out Shadow eagerly. “A man got a new automobile of which
he was very proud, and took out one of his friends, a rather nervous
individual, to show him what the auto could do. They rode quite a
distance, and then the man started to go up a steep hill. He had a
terrible time reaching the top, the auto almost refusing to make it. But
at last, when he did get up, he turned to his friend and said: ‘Some
hill, eh? But we took it just the same.’ To this the nervous man
answered: ‘I was afraid you wouldn’t make it. If I hadn’t put on the
hand-brake good and hard, you would have slipped back sure.’” And at
this little joke the others smiled.

Having rested, the party proceeded on the way once more, and Dave and
Roger pointed out what had been done toward surveying the new line and
where the bridges and culverts were to be constructed; and they even
drew little diagrams on a pad Dave carried, to show how some of the
bridges were going to be erected.

“It certainly is a great business,” was Phil’s comment. “I should think
it would be pretty hard to learn.”

“It is hard, Phil. But we are bound to do it,” answered Dave. “We are
going to learn all about surveying and draughtsmanship, and in the
meantime we are brushing up on geometry and trigonometry, and half a
dozen other things that pertain to civil engineering. We’ve got a great
many things to learn yet, before we’ll be able to tackle a job on our
own hook,” he added, with a little smile.

From time to time the youths talked about the days spent at Oak Hall and
of what had become of numerous schoolfellows. The visitors discussed the
doings of Nick Jasniff in that vicinity, and they wondered what that
rascal would do next.

“Like the proverbial bad penny, he’ll be sure to turn up again sooner or
later,” was Phil’s comment.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” sighed Dave.

Thinking that they might possibly spot a bobcat or some other wild
animal, Dave had brought a double-barreled shotgun along, and Roger
carried old Hixon’s rifle. The others were armed with small automatic
pistols, purchased especially to be carried on the trip to Star Ranch.

“But I don’t suppose we’ll sight anything worth shooting now we’re
armed,” remarked our hero. “That’s the way it usually is.”

Noon found the chums in the very heart of the mountains. They had been
told by Hixon where they could find a fine camping-spot close to a
spring of pure, cold water; and there they tethered their horses and
proceeded to make themselves at home. They had brought along some coffee
and a pot to make it in, and presently they started a small fire for
that purpose.

“A fellow could certainly camp out here and have a dandy time,” remarked
Ben, when the odor of the coffee permeated the camp. “There must be
plenty of game somewhere in these mountains and plenty of fish in the
streams.”

“Yes, the streams are full of fish,” answered Roger. “But about the
game, I am not so sure. There are plenty of birds and other small
things, but big game, like deer, bear, and mountain lions are growing
scarcer and scarcer every year, so Hixon says. He thinks that every time
a gun is fired it drives the big game farther and farther back from the
trails.”

The youths brought out their lunch from the saddlebags, and when the
coffee was ready they sat down to enjoy their midday repast. The long
horseback ride of the morning had whetted their appetites, and with
little to do, they took their time over the meal.

“Let’s take a walk around this neighborhood before we continue the
ride,” said Roger, when they were repacking their things. “I’m a bit
tired of sitting in the saddle, and had just as lief do some walking.”

Seeing to it that their horses could not get away, the five youths
started to climb up the rocks to where the summit of the mountain along
which they had been traveling would afford a better view of their
surroundings. It was hard work, and they frequently had to help each
other along.

“Be careful, Shadow, or you may get a nasty tumble,” cautioned Dave,
just before the summit was gained.

“Don’t worry about me, Dave,” panted the former story-teller of Oak
Hall. “I know enough to hang on when I’m climbing in a place like this.
I’m not like the fellow in the story who let go to spit on his hands.”

From the summit of the mountain they could see for many miles in every
direction, and here Ben, who had brought along a pocket camera, insisted
upon taking a number of views—two with the others seated on several of
the nearby rocks. Then Dave made Ben pose and took two more pictures.

“It’s too bad we can’t take a picture of Ben shooting a bear or a
wildcat,” remarked Roger. “That would be a great one to take home and
show the folks.”

“I’d rather have a picture of you and Dave building one of those big
bridges you spoke about,” answered the other youth. “Then we could have
a couple of copies framed and shipped to Jessie and Laura;” and at this
dig Ben had to dodge, for both Dave and Roger picked up bits of rock to
shy at him.

“Let’s walk across the summit of this mountain and see what it looks
like on the other side,” suggested Shadow. “I suppose we’ve got time
enough, haven’t we?”

“We’ve got all the time there is, Shadow,” answered Dave. “It won’t make
any difference how late it is when we get back to camp.”

One after another they trudged along through the underbrush and among
the loose stones on the mountain summit, which was a hundred yards or
more in diameter. In some places they had to pick their way with care,
for there were numerous cracks and hollows.

“A fellow doesn’t want to go down into one of those cracks,” remarked
Phil, after leaping over an opening which was several feet wide and
probably fifteen or twenty feet in depth.

“He’d get a nasty tumble if he did,” answered Roger.

“And he’d have a fine time of it getting out if he chanced to be alone!”
broke in our hero.

With the sun shining brightly and not a cloud obscuring the sky, the
five chums presently reached the other side of the mountain. Looking
down, they saw a heavy wilderness of trees sloping gently down to the
hollow below them and then up on the side of the mountain beyond.

“Isn’t that perfectly grand!” murmured Ben. “Just think of the thousands
upon thousands of feet of timber in that patch!”

“Yes. And think of all the masts for ships!” added Phil, with a little
laugh.

“And flagpoles!” exclaimed Dave. “I guess there would be enough
flagpoles in that patch to plant a pole in front of every schoolhouse in
the United States.”

“Well, every schoolhouse ought to have a flagpole, and ought to have Old
Glory on it, too!” cried Roger. “My father says that people generally
don’t make half enough display of our flag.”

The youths walked along the edge of the summit for quite a distance,
looking off to the northward and southward. Then, after Ben had taken a
few more pictures, they started back for where they had left the horses.

“Come on, let’s have a race!” cried Ben suddenly. “First fellow to reach
the horses wins the prize!”

“And what’s the prize?” queried Phil.

“Won’t tell it to you till you win it!” broke in Dave.

With merry shouts, all of the chums started on a run for where they
supposed the horses had been left. They soon found themselves in the
midst of the underbrush and many loose rocks, around which they had to
make their way. Some thought the horses were in one direction and some
another, and as a consequence they soon became separated, although still
within calling distance.

“Hi! Be careful that you don’t go down in some hole and break a leg,”
cautioned Dave.

“That’s right!” sang out Roger, who was some distance off. “Some of
these rocks are mighty treacherous.”

Forward went the crowd, and in about ten minutes Dave and Roger found
themselves in sight of the former camping spot. Phil and Ben were also
coming on from around some rocks on the left, and each of the crowd put
on an extra burst of speed to reach the horses first.

“I win!” cried Roger, as he caught hold of one of the saddles.

At the same moment, Phil touched another of the animals, and a few
seconds later Dave and Ben did the same.

“Pretty close race for all of us!” cried Ben; and then, of a sudden, he
looked around. “Where is Shadow?”

The four who had reached the horses looked back toward the brushwood and
the rocks around which they had made their way. They waited for several
seconds, expecting each instant that the former story-teller of Oak Hall
would show himself. But Shadow failed to appear.

“Hello, Shadow! Hello! Where are you?” sang out Dave, at the top of his
lungs.

No answer came to this call, and one after another the others also
summoned their missing chum. They listened intently, but not a sound of
any kind broke the quietness of the mountain top.

“Something has happened to him, that’s sure,” remarked Roger, his face
growing grave.

“I guess we had better go back and look for him,” announced Dave.