BEGINNING THE GREAT SEARCH

“Oh, what shall we do—what shall we do?”

It was Mrs. Wadsworth who uttered the words. She sat in the luxuriously
furnished living room of the Wadsworth mansion, wringing her hands while
the tears stood on her cheeks. In front of her was the rich jewelry
manufacturer, pacing up and down and biting his lip in deep thought.

“Don’t take it so hard, Alice, my dear,” said the husband in a husky
voice. “It’ll come out all right—I am sure it will.”

“But, Oliver, I am so frightened! Think of those poor girls in the hands
of those awful gypsies—or somebody just as bad, or worse! It’s dreadful!
I can’t bear to think of it!” and Mrs. Wadsworth’s tears began to flow
afresh.

In a corner of the library sat old Caspar Potts, white-haired and with
eyes that were no longer bright. The professor’s head was shaking from
side to side.

“I wish Davy were here,” he quavered. “I’m sure that boy could do
something.”

“He has telegraphed that he is on the way, along with Roger Morr,” said
Mr. Wadsworth.

“Good! Good! He’ll do something—I know he will! Davy is a great boy!”
and the old professor nodded his head vigorously. Ever since he had
taken our hero from the poorhouse years before, Dave had been the very
apple of his eye.

Oliver Wadsworth walked to a writing-table, and from one of the
compartments drew a much-rumpled sheet of paper, which had come to him
in a dirty envelope several days before. The envelope had been
post-marked, “Halwick,” the name of a town about thirty miles away.

“What are you going to do about that demand for money?” questioned Mrs.
Wadsworth, as she watched her husband peruse the note—something he had
done a great number of times.

“I don’t know,” he answered helplessly. “We have been given at least ten
days in which to raise it, so there is no great hurry about deciding the
question.”

“Is Mr. Porter in favor of meeting the demand?”

“He is like myself, he doesn’t know what to do. He and Dunston Porter
are both of the opinion that this demand for fifty thousand dollars may
be just the forerunner of other demands. They may want every cent all of
us are worth before they give the two girls up,” added the jewelry
manufacturer.

“But, Oliver! if you don’t give them the money——”

“I know, I know, Alice. We’ll have to fix it up somehow,” answered the
husband hastily. Then he sat down beside her and put his arm around her
shoulder. “Please don’t worry so. I am sure we’ll be able to fix this
matter up somehow sooner or later, and that the girls will come back
safely.”

“Oh, I wish I could believe you!” burst out the distressed woman. And
then, unable to control herself longer, she burst into a passionate fit
of weeping, and betook herself away to her bedroom.

From outside came the sound of an automobile rolling along the gravel
roadway, and looking from a window the manufacturer saw Dave’s father
alight, followed by Dunston Porter. Both showed signs of weariness, and
the look on the face of each betokened keen disappointment.

“Any success?” demanded the jewelry manufacturer quickly, as the pair
entered the house.

“Nothing worth speaking about,” answered Dunston Porter. “We hired
another detective and sent him off to Halwick.”

“The authorities have no news whatever,” added Dave’s father. “They have
received telegrams from all the large cities within three hundred miles
of this place, and not a trace of the girls has come to light. They
claim that it’s the strangest disappearance on record.”

“But this demand for money——” began Oliver Wadsworth.

“Yes, they are trying to sift that out, too. But they don’t seem to be
able to get anywhere with it. They have advised that you continue to
keep quiet about it, and they said they would keep quiet, too.
Nevertheless, I think the news has leaked out somehow.”

“Let me see that letter again,” said Dunston Porter, and perused the
communication as carefully as the jewelry manufacturer had done. It was
written in heavy lead pencil in evidently a disguised hand, and was as
follows:

“The to girls Jessie Wadsworth and Laura Porter are safe in our
hands. We will take good care of them but you wil haf to pay the
price and do it inside of ten days or two weeks at longest. We mean
busines so no funy work. We want fifty thousand dollars from you Mr.
Wadsworth and from them Porters. Each of you can pay as much of the
amount as you plese. We want the money in cash and wil send you word
just were it is to be placed and at what time. If you fale us you
will be mighty sory for we mean busines. Dont make no mistak about
that. If you pay the money as we want the girls will be back home
safe inside of two days and not a hare of there head harmed. Now
take warning for we mean busines and wont stand for no nonsence.”

“This was either written by a very illiterate person or else by somebody
who tried to make out he was such,” was Dunston Porter’s comment.

“I think it is just such a letter as one of those young gypsies might
write,” answered Dave’s father. “Most of them have some education, but
not a great deal.”

Both Mr. Wadsworth and Dave’s father had had a great deal of business to
attend to during the past few weeks, and Dunston Porter had been kept
busy assisting Mr. Basswood in turning the vacant land on the outskirts
of Crumville into building plots and offering them for sale. But since
the unexpected and mysterious disappearance of the two girls all
thoughts of business had been brushed aside.

“Dave and Roger ought to be here almost any time now,” remarked Dunston
Porter. “But what good their coming on the scene is going to do, I can’t
surmise.”

“You can’t blame them for wanting to come after receiving such news,”
remarked Mr. Wadsworth. “Dave, I know, thinks a great deal of his
sister, and you all know that he and Jessie think a great deal of each
other.”

“Yes. And I know that Roger has his eye on Laura,” answered the girl’s
father. “And she thinks a great deal of the young man.”

At that moment the telephone rang, and Dunston Porter went to answer it.
A telegram was telephoned to him.

“Dave and Roger are now on their way from Albany,” he announced. “They
will be here in about an hour. I think I’ll run down to the depot in the
auto and meet them.” And so it was arranged.

There were no passengers as eager as Dave and Roger to leave the train
when it rolled into the little station at Crumville. Dunston Porter was
on hand, and they gazed eagerly at his face to see if it bore any signs
of good news.

“No, I’ve got nothing to cheer you with,” he announced, after shaking
hands and conducting them to the auto, into the tonneau of which they
pitched their suit-cases. “We haven’t the least idea where they are or
how they disappeared.”

“But, Uncle Dunston, you must have some news!” pleaded Dave.

“At least you can tell us how and when they left home and what was the
last word you had from them,” said Roger.

“They made up their minds to go to Boston to visit Jessie’s aunt, Mrs.
Brightling, just about two weeks ago,” answered Dave’s uncle. “They
spent two or three days in getting ready; and then a week ago this
Wednesday they started on the trip, Mrs. Wadsworth and the chauffeur
taking them down to the depot. They carried one trunk, which was checked
through to Boston, and Laura had a suit-case, and both of the girls had
handbags. They had through tickets to Boston, and got on the train; and
that was the last we saw or heard of them.

“We had expected to get a letter from Laura, and the Wadsworths expected
a letter from Jessie, stating that they had arrived safely. When no
letters came, Mrs. Wadsworth got nervous, and as a result she asked her
husband to send a telegram to find out what was wrong.

“The telegram had just been sent when a telegram was received from Mrs.
Brightling, asking how it was that the girls had not come on as
expected. Then she telegraphed a little later that she had not seen them
nor heard from them.

“A search was made at the depot in Boston, and the trunk was found just
as it had been checked from here. The suit-case the girls had kept with
them on the train.”

“But didn’t they meet anybody on the train who knew them?” questioned
Dave.

“No one that we have heard from up to the present time. We have been
making a number of inquiries, and, of course, expect to make more. You
see, the people they met on the train were going away from Crumville, so
that makes it difficult to follow them up. And besides that, so much
time was lost in the first place, that I suppose a good many people
would forget, even if they had seen them on the train.”

“But didn’t they have parlor-car chairs?” questioned Dave.

“No. The train had only one parlor car on it, and that was crowded. Mr.
Wadsworth had telegraphed for seats, but there had been some mix-up, and
as a consequence the girls had to put up with seats in one of the day
coaches. Mrs. Wadsworth told them they had better wait for another
train, but they laughed and said that they would rather go into one of
the day coaches than lose the time.”

During this conversation Dunston Porter had started up the automobile
and was on the way to the Wadsworth mansion. In a few minutes more they
rolled up to the piazza, and there Dave’s father and Mr. Wadsworth came
out to greet them, followed by the trembling form of Professor Potts.

It was a sorry home-coming for our hero, and Roger was equally affected.
They shook hands with those who were there to greet them, and for the
moment the emotions of all were so deep that nobody trusted himself to
speak. All went inside, and it was old Caspar Potts who broke the
silence.

“If I were only a younger man!” he said in a trembling voice. “Davy,
it’s up to you to do something—you and your friend Roger.”

“I’m going to do it if I possibly can, Professor,” answered the youth,
huskily.

All sat down and the Crumville folks gave to the young civil engineers
all the particulars they had concerning the strange disappearance of the
two girls.

“And are you quite sure it is the work of those gypsies?” queried Roger.

“I don’t see who else would play such a dirty trick,” responded Mr.
Wadsworth.

“Dave has another idea,” went on the senator’s son.

“What is that?” asked Dunston Porter quickly, while the others looked up
questioningly.

“I’ve been wondering if Nick Jasniff wasn’t connected with this affair,”
answered Dave.

“Nick Jasniff!” exclaimed Oliver Wadsworth. “You mean the fellow I
helped to put in prison?”

“Yes.”

“What makes you think he could have had anything to do with it?”

“I’ll tell you,” answered our hero. And thereupon he related how he and
Roger had first seen Nick Jasniff in the vicinity of the construction
camp, and how, later on, he had been instrumental in having Jasniff sent
away from the camp, and then how he had met the rascal on the road, had
a fight, and lost the two letters and the contents of his pocketbook.

“I ought to have written about this, but I didn’t want to worry you
folks too much,” he concluded.

“Dave, you may have struck the truth!” burst out Mr. Wadsworth
excitedly. “It would be just like that rascal to do such a thing as
this. And besides that, you must remember one thing—Jasniff was not
pardoned.”

“Not pardoned!” burst out our hero and Roger simultaneously.

“No, he was not pardoned,” answered the jewelry manufacturer. “His case
came up before the Board of Pardons, and after a hearing they
recommended a pardon for him to the governor. But before the governor
signed the order to let him go, Jasniff made his escape from the prison
and ran away. Then, of course, the recommendation for a pardon was torn
up and thrown in the waste-basket; so if the fellow is ever captured he
can go back to prison and serve his term over again.”

“Well, what do you know about that!” cried Roger.

“No wonder Nick Jasniff wanted to leave the vicinity of the construction
camp,” remarked Dave. “He must have reasoned that sooner or later we
would learn that he hadn’t been pardoned and was wanted at the prison.”

“That must be it,” answered the senator’s son.

“If this Nick Jasniff is interested in the affair, we want to know it,”
said Mr. Wadsworth. “I shall at once give the authorities the
particulars of Jasniff’s doings, so that they can go on the hunt for
him. They have his picture in the Rogues’ Gallery, and that can be
copied and circulated, so that the authorities in different cities, and
especially in this vicinity, can be on the lookout for him.”

“But why weren’t the authorities on the lookout for him before?”
questioned our hero.

“They were at first. But then they got word that Jasniff had sailed for
some port in South America, so they gave it up. Evidently the report was
a false one.”

“Yes, and probably circulated by Nick Jasniff himself,” added Roger.

“Of course you have been over to Coburntown, where the gypsies went
after they left here,” remarked Dave.

“We have been all around that territory,” answered his Uncle Dunston.
“The gypsies have disappeared entirely, one report stating that they
were bound south. I had them stopped at a town about fifty miles away,
and those in the camp were closely questioned. They said that Mother
Domoza had been left behind on account of sickness, and that two
gypsies, one named Tony Bopeppo, and the other Carlos Vazala, had
remained with her to take care of her. They said the three were to go to
another gypsy camp some twenty or thirty miles away. But at that camp it
was said that they knew nothing about the old hag and her followers.”

“Were the two gypsies, Bopeppo and Vazala, the two with whom you had
trouble about the land?” questioned Roger.

“Yes, they were the leaders in the quarrel,” answered Dunston Porter.
“Bopeppo was particularly furious, and one day threatened to strike Mr.
Basswood. I stopped him, and told him if he didn’t behave himself I’d
have him placed under arrest. Vazala was also very vindictive, he
asserting, along with Mother Domoza, that they had the right to occupy
the land as long as they pleased.”

“Then it is more than likely that Bopeppo and Vazala, assisted by Mother
Domoza and perhaps by Nick Jasniff, are guilty of this kidnapping,” went
on our hero.

“We had figured it out that way—of course leaving out Jasniff.”

“Have you any sample of the handwriting of Bopeppo or Vazala?” asked
Roger. “If you have you might compare them with the note sent to Mr.
Wadsworth.”

“We have managed to get one note written by Bopeppo, and we have two
samples of Vazala’s signature. But neither of them seem to be in the
handwriting used in the note,” answered Dave’s father.

“Then it would seem as if the note had been written by somebody else!”
cried Dave. “How about Mother Domoza?”

“We don’t believe the old hag can read or write English.”

“I’d like to see the note,” said Roger. Thereupon the communication was
brought forth and the two young civil engineers scanned it very closely.

“I wish I could remember Nick Jasniff’s handwriting, but I can’t,” said
Roger. “How about it, Dave?”

“If my memory serves me, he wrote rather a heavy hand,” answered our
hero. “But I am not willing to say whether this is in his style or not.
This looks to me as if it was a disguised hand, for it is very
irregular.”

“We all thought the handwriting was disguised,” answered Mr. Wadsworth.
He heaved a deep sigh. “Too bad! All this talk doesn’t seem to get us
anywhere.”

“Well, one thing is certain,” said Dave. “The girls got on board that
train, and the train went to Boston, making all of its usual stops. In
that case, they must have gotten off at one of the stop stations,—that
is, unless the train made some other stops which were not scheduled.”

“We have found out that the train did make a number of other stops,”
answered his father. “Shortly after it left Hemston they discovered a
hot box, and they had to stop four times on the way to fix that—twice
near some water tanks, and twice at some cross-road signal towers. As a
consequence of the delay, the train was also held up at two little way
stations to let two express trains pass, and did not get into Boston
until nearly two hours behind its regular time.”

“Have you got a list of all those stopping places?” questioned Roger.

“We have.”

“Then I know what I’m going to do,” cried Dave. “I’ll take the
automobile and go along the line of the railroad and stop at every one
of those places and make inquiries, and see if we can’t find out whether
the girls left the train, or if they were met by the gypsies, or anybody
else.”

“I’ve already been along the line, Dave,” answered his father. “Your
uncle and I went over the route, not by automobile but by a way train,
and we made inquiries at every station; but without the least success.”

“Yes, but the train couldn’t have stopped long enough for you to ask
many questions,” put in Roger.

“That is true,” returned Dave’s parent slowly. “Probably you would have
a better chance of getting some particulars if you went along the route
in the automobile. Of course it would take considerable time—several
days in fact—to follow the route in that manner all the way into
Boston.”

“It’s the only thing I can think of to do,” answered Dave. “And it will
be much better than sitting here and doing nothing.”

“Right you are!” cried Roger. “I’m willing to start this minute if you
say so,” and he jumped to his feet.

“I don’t think you can do much to-day,—it is too late,” answered Mr.
Wadsworth. “But you might get ready for a start early to-morrow
morning,” and he looked rather hopefully at the two young civil
engineers.

“We’ll do it!” answered Dave.

After that the discussion became general, and our hero and his chum got
all the particulars possible concerning the stops the train upon which
Jessie and Laura had taken passage had made on its trip to the Hub. They
put all these names and locations down on a sort of map that they drew
up, and then consulted an automobile Blue-Book, so that they might get
familiar with the roads to be taken on their tour.

“This is certainly going to be some search, Dave,” remarked Roger, after
the conference had come to an end and the two chums had gone up-stairs
to fix up for dinner.

“I know it, Roger. It will probably take us several days, and maybe a
week. But I won’t mind that, and neither will you, if only we learn
something of advantage.”

It was a quiet party that sat down to the table that evening in the
large dining room of the Wadsworth mansion. In a voice that trembled
more than usual with emotion, old Professor Potts asked a blessing on
the meal, and the repast was well on its way before anyone felt like
talking. Then Roger questioned Mr. Wadsworth concerning the automobile
to be taken for the trip.

“I think you had better take the four-passenger car,” announced the
jewelry manufacturer. “That will leave us the large car in case we need
it. The smaller car is in just as good a condition and is just as
speedy.”

“We’ll look over the car as soon as we have finished eating,” said Dave.
“I want everything to be in the best of order, so that we shall not be
delayed by any breakdown. Of course, we’ll carry along an extra shoe or
two, and three or four inner tubes.”

The two chums had already decided on what they were to wear on the trip
and what to take along in the way of extra clothing. They spent the
entire evening in going over the four-passenger car, and, with the aid
of the Wadsworth chauffeur, put the machine in the best possible order,
and then filled it up with oil and gasoline.

“Oh, boys, you’ll do your best to find them?” said Mrs. Wadsworth, when
they came in rather late and were ready to retire.

“You can rest assured of that, Mrs. Wadsworth,” answered Dave.

“We won’t give up until we have found them, or found out something about
them,” broke in Roger. And then the lady kissed each of them
affectionately. The strain had been terrible, and she looked ten years
older than usual.

Dave and Roger had expected that no one would be around when they were
ready to depart in the morning, for it was but a little after sunrise.
But in this they were mistaken. Both Dave’s father and his Uncle Dunston
had come down to see them off.

“I want to caution you about one thing,” said Dave’s parent. “You take
care of yourselves, and if you do chance to run into those gypsies, or
anybody else who has any connection with this crime, do your best to
keep out of trouble.”

“We’ll be on our guard, Dad, don’t fear,” answered the son.

“Of course you are armed?” questioned Dunston Porter.

“Yes, we’ve each got a pistol, and Dave’s shotgun is under the back
seat,” answered Roger. “You see, we weren’t going to take any chances,”
and he smiled grimly.

“If you discover anything at all, send us word at once,” went on Dave’s
father. “Use the telegraph or the telephone—whichever is handiest.”

“You can depend on it we will,” said Dave.

“And don’t forget that we want to hear from you folks here in Crumville
if you hear anything,” added Roger. “You can send a message to any of
the railroad stations along the line. We’ll stop at each station and ask
for messages.”

Dave was at the wheel of the car, with Roger alongside of him. In the
back the two had their suit-cases, and also a number of wraps and a
hamper filled with lunch, for there was no telling where they could stop
along the road for something to eat.

With scarcely an effort, the touring-car rolled away from the Wadsworth
mansion, the men left behind waving their hands to the two on board.
They waved in return, and a moment later the machine left the grounds,
headed for the Crumville railroad station. This was soon passed, and
they took the highway leading to the next station on the line; and thus
the great search was begun.

The first place they reached was a small way-station, and they soon
learned that the particular train Laura and Jessie had taken had not
stopped there for a month or more. The station master had, however,
heard about the kidnapping, and was anxious to hear more. But Dave and
Roger did not waste time on him.

In the course of the next couple of hours, they stopped at six more
stations, and made various inquiries. The train had stopped at just one
of these places, but the station agent was positive that only two of the
local residents had gotten on board, and no one but a drummer from the
city had alighted.

The way to the next station was up a long hill, and near the top Dave
had to bring the car to a sudden halt. The regular road was being
repaired, and a sign was up showing where a detour might be made.

“That side-road doesn’t look very inviting,” was our hero’s comment, as
he surveyed it.

“Oh, it must be all right,” answered Roger. “If it were not, they
wouldn’t have that sign up.”

They proceeded on their way, and soon found the side road both rough and
uncertain. They had some difficulty in getting to the bottom of the
hill, and here they had to make a sharp turn to the left in an endeavor
to get back to the main highway.

“Look out for the puddles, Dave!” cried the senator’s son, as they
splashed into one pool of water.

Dave did what he could to keep out of the next puddle, and in doing this
ran pretty well off to one side of the roadway. The next instant he
found himself in mud almost up to the hubs, and here the car threatened
to come to a standstill. He immediately threw the gear into second, and
then into low, and thus they chugged on for a distance of ten or twelve
feet farther. Then the car came to a sudden standstill.

“Stuck?” remarked Roger laconically.

“So it would seem,” answered Dave.