ON THE WAY EAST

On the following day the two young civil engineers were sent with the
rest of the gang under Frank Andrews to do some work located along the
line about half way to the railroad station.

“That will give us a chance to send off a telegram,” said Dave to the
senator’s son. “We can ask Andrews to let us off an hour earlier than
usual and ride over to the station and get back to camp in time for
supper.”

So it was arranged; and as soon as they quit work, the two young men
hurried off on a gallop so that they might reach the station before the
agent, who was also the telegraph operator, went away.

“We want to send a telegram to the East,” announced Dave, as they
dismounted at the platform where the agent stood looking over some
express packages.

“All right, I’ll be with you in a moment,” was the reply. “By the way,
you are from the construction camp, aren’t you? I just got a telegram
for one of the fellows over there.”

“Who is it?” questioned Roger.

“I forget the name. I’ll show it to you when we go inside. Maybe you
wouldn’t mind taking it over for the fellow.”

“Certainly we’ll take it over,” declared Dave readily.

When they passed into the office, the agent brought the telegram forth
from a little box on the wall, and gazed at it.

“David Porter is the name,” he announced.

“Why, that is for me!” cried our hero quickly.

“You don’t say! Well, there you are. It’s paid for.”

Hastily the young civil engineer tore open the flimsy yellow envelope
and gazed at the message inside. It read as follows:

“Do you or Roger know anything about Jessie and Laura? Answer
immediately.

“DAVID B. PORTER.”

“What is it?” questioned the senator’s son eagerly; and without replying
our hero showed him the message. Then the two youths stared at each
other blankly.

“What in the world——” began Dave.

“Something has happened!” burst out his chum. “Dave, this looks bad to
me.”

“They want to know if we know anything. That must mean that Jessie and
Laura are away from home, and they are without news about them.”

“It certainly looks that way.”

Each of the youths read the telegram again. But this threw no further
light on the mystery.

“And to think we didn’t get any letters! That makes it look blacker than
ever,” murmured Roger.

“I’m going to answer this at once and see if we can not get further
information!” exclaimed our hero. He turned to the station agent. “How
long do you expect to remain open?”

“I generally shut down about seven o’clock, but to-night I expect to
stay open until the five-forty gets here, which will be about
seven-thirty.”

“You haven’t got to go away, have you?” continued Dave. “The reason I
ask is that I want to send an important telegram off, and I’d like to
wait here for an answer for at least a couple of hours. Of course, I am
perfectly willing to pay you for your time.”

“I haven’t anything very much to do to-night after I close up, and if
you want me to stay here I’ll do it,” announced the agent, who was not
averse to earning extra money.

The two young civil engineers held a consultation, and soon after wrote
out a telegram, stating they had heard nothing since the receipt of the
last letters from home, the dates of which were given. They asked for
immediate additional information, stating they would wait at the
telegraph office for the same.

“Nothing wrong, I hope?” ventured the station master, after the telegram
had been paid for and sent.

“We don’t know yet. That is what we wish to find out,” answered Dave.
And then, to keep the man in good humor, he passed over a dollar and
told the agent to treat himself from a small case full of cigars which
were on sale in the depot.

After that there was nothing for Dave and Roger to do but to wait. The
agent sat down to read some newspapers which had been thrown off the
last train that had passed through, and even offered some of the sheets
to them. But they were in no humor for reading. They walked outside, and
a short distance away, and there discussed the situation from every
possible angle.

“If we don’t get any news, what shall we do?” queried the senator’s son.
“I’m so upset that I know I won’t be able to sleep a wink to-night.”

“Upset doesn’t express it, Roger,” returned Dave soberly. “When I read
that telegram it seemed fairly to catch me by the throat. If anything
has happened to Jessie and Laura——” He could not finish.

“Dave, do you suppose those gypsies——”

“I was thinking of that, Roger. Such things have happened before. But
let us hope for the best.”

Slowly the best part of two hours passed. Then the station master,
having looked through all the newspapers, came out of his office,
yawning and stretching himself.

“How much longer would you fellows like me to stay?” he questioned. “You
know I open up here at six in the morning, and I live about a mile away
and have to hoof it.”

“Oh, don’t go away yet,” pleaded Roger. “The message may come in at any
minute. They’ll be sure to send an answer as soon as they get what we
sent.”

“Wait at least another half-hour,” added Dave.

“All right;” and the agent went back into his office, to settle himself
in his chair for a nap.

Ten minutes later the telegraph instrument began to click. The station
agent jumped up to take down the message.

“Is it for me?” questioned Dave, eagerly, and the station master nodded.
Then the two youths remained silent, so that there might be no error in
taking down the communication that was coming in over the wire.

“Here you are,” said the agent at last, handing over the slip upon which
he had been writing. “I’m afraid there is trouble of some kind.”

Like the other message, this was from Dave’s father, and contained the
following:

“Laura and Jessie left on visit to Boston four days ago. Thought
them safe. They did not arrive and no news received. Suspect
gypsies. Everybody upset. Mrs. Wadsworth prostrate. Will send any
news received.”

Dave’s heart almost stopped beating when he read this second telegram,
and he could not trust himself to speak as he allowed his chum to peruse
the communication.

“Oh, Dave, this is awful!” groaned the senator’s son.

“So it is,” responded our hero bitterly. He read the message again. “I
wonder what we can do?”

“I don’t see that we can do anything—being away out here.”

“Then I’m not going to stay here—I’m going home,” announced Dave firmly.

“What!”

“Yes, Roger. I’m going home. Why, you don’t suppose I could stay here
and work with such a thing as this on my mind! This looks to me as if
Jessie and Laura had been abducted—or something of that sort.”

“Well, if you go, Dave, I’ll go too!” cried the senator’s son. “If
anything has happened to Laura——” He did not finish, but his face showed
his concern.

“Do you want to send any more telegrams?” questioned the station agent.
“If you don’t, I’ll lock up.”

“I think I will,” answered Dave. “They’ll want to know whether this
telegram was received.” And then, after he and Roger had consulted for a
moment, they sent the following:

“Second telegram received. Both too worried to remain. Will come
East as soon as possible.

“DAVE AND ROGER.”

Having listened to the operator sending the message off, the two young
civil engineers lost no time in leaping into the saddle and setting off
for the construction camp. They rode at as rapid a gait as possible, and
on that stony trail there was but little chance for conversation.

“It must be the gypsies,” said Roger, when he had an opportunity to
speak. “I can’t think of anything else.”

“The gypsies certainly promised to make trouble for them,” answered Dave
bitterly. “But to go so far as kidnapping——Why, Roger! that’s a terrible
crime in these days!”

“I know it. But don’t you remember what they wrote about the gypsies—how
that Mother Domoza and the others were so very bitter because they had
to give up their camp on the outskirts of Crumville? More than likely
your Uncle Dunston, and Mr. Basswood, and Mr. Wadsworth, didn’t treat
them any too gently, and they resented it. Oh, it must be those gypsies
who have done this!” concluded the senator’s son.

When they arrived at the construction camp, they found that most of the
men had gone to bed. But there was a light burning in the cabin occupied
by Ralph Obray and several of the others, and they discovered the
manager studying a blue-print and putting down a mass of figures on a
sheet of paper.

“What do you want?” questioned the manager, as he noted their excited
appearance. “Have you struck more bears?”

“No, Mr. Obray. It’s a good deal worse than that,” returned Dave, in a
tone of voice he tried to steady. “We’ve got bad news from home.”

“You don’t say, Porter! What is it? I hope none of your relatives has
died.”

“My sister is missing from home, and so is the daughter of the lady and
gentleman with whom my family live,” announced our hero. And then he and
Roger went into a number of particulars, to which the construction camp
manager listened with much interest.

“That certainly is a strange state of affairs,” he declared. “But I
don’t see what you can do about it.”

“I can’t stick here at work with my sister and Jessie Wadsworth
missing,” declared Dave boldly. “I’ve come to ask you to give me a leave
of absence. I want to take the very first train for home.”

“But what can you do after you get there, Porter? If anything has really
gone wrong, you can rest assured that your folks and the others have
notified the authorities and are doing all they possibly can.”

“That may be true, Mr. Obray,—more than likely it is true. Just the
same, unless I get word by to-morrow morning that they are found or that
some word has come from them, I want to go home and join in the search.”

“And I want to go with him!” broke out Roger.

“I might as well explain matters to you, Mr. Obray,” said Dave. “For a
number of years Jessie Wadsworth and myself have been very close
friends, and now we have an understanding——”

“Oh, I see. That’s the way the wind blows, does it?” And the camp
manager smiled.

“Yes, sir. And the same sort of thing holds good between Roger here and
my sister Laura. That’s the reason he wants to go with me.”

“Oh!” The construction manager nodded his head knowingly. “I understand.
Well, I suppose if I were situated like that, I’d feel just as you do.”

“Please understand we’re not going away to shirk work or anything like
that,” declared Roger. “You ought to know me well enough by this time,
Mr. Obray, to know that I am heart and soul in this thing of making a
first-class civil engineer of myself.”

“And that’s just the way I feel about it, too,” affirmed Dave.

“Oh, I understand. I have been very well satisfied so far with the
showing both of you have made. It has been very creditable. I know you
haven’t shirked anything.”

“Of course, it’s too bad we have got to go right on top of having that
vacation when our friends came to visit us,” was Dave’s comment.

“That is true, too, Porter. But some things can’t be helped. I take it
that you would rather know that your sister and that other young lady
were safe, and stick at work, than you would to lay off on account of
such an errand as this.”

“You’re right there, Mr. Obray!”

“I’d give all I’m worth this minute to know that Dave’s sister and
Jessie Wadsworth were all right!” burst out the senator’s son.

“Well then, if you think you ought to go back home, you may do so,”
announced Ralph Obray. “But I sincerely hope that by the time you get
there this matter will have straightened itself out. And if that proves
to be true, I shall depend upon your coming back immediately.”

“We’ll do it,” answered Dave readily. “We’ll come back the very first
thing after we find out that everything is all right.” And Roger
promised the same.

It can easily be imagined that the two chums did not sleep much that
night. They spent the best part of an hour in packing some of their
belongings and in informing Frank Andrews of what had occurred. The head
of their gang was even more sympathetic than Mr. Obray had been, and
said he would do anything in his power to help them.

“I suppose you would like to take the eight o’clock morning train East,”
he remarked.

“That’s our idea,” answered Dave.

“Then I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” went on Frank Andrews. “I’ll order up
an early breakfast for you, and I’ll have old Hixon ride over to the
station with you to bring back your horses.”

And so the matter was arranged.

“Well, boys, I certainly wish you luck.”

It was John Hixon who spoke, as he shook hands with Dave and Roger at
the railroad station on the following morning.

As arranged, the party of three had had an early breakfast and had lost
no time in riding over to the railroad station. They had found the train
half an hour late, and Dave had lost no time in sending a telegram to
Crumville stating that he and Roger were on the way, and asking that if
there was anything of importance to communicate, to send them word
either at St. Paul or Chicago.

The two youths had no accommodations on the train, which was made up of
sleeping-cars, an observation-car and a diner. They had made up their
minds that they would journey on the train even if they had to sit up in
a smoking compartment. But the cars proved to be less than
three-quarters filled, and they had but little trouble in obtaining a
section. Then they settled down as best they could for the long journey
to Chicago, where, of course, they would have to change for the train to
the East. They paid for their passage only as far as St. Paul, so that
they might leave the train at that city if a telegram was received
assuring them that everything was all right.

“But I’m afraid we won’t have any such luck, Roger,” observed Dave, in
speaking of this possibility.

“You can’t tell,” answered the senator’s son hopefully. “It’s just
possible that Laura and Jessie may have returned home and explained
their disappearance.”

“They’d never stay away so long without sending some word, I’m certain
of that,” answered our hero emphatically. “They are not that kind of
girls.”

“It certainly would seem so, Dave. But you must remember they may have
sent some kind of word, and it may not have been received. They may have
met some friends, sent a message, and gone off on an automobile tour or
a motor-boat voyage.”

Dave shook his head. “It won’t do, Roger. I know Laura and Jessie too
well. They would want to make sure that the folks at home knew where
they were. And they would send us word too. Besides that, they wouldn’t
go off on any extended trip, such as you mention, unless they had
permission from my father and Mrs. Wadsworth.”

All through the morning the two young civil engineers discussed the
situation from every possible angle, but without arriving at any
satisfactory conclusion. At noon they partook of lunch in the
dining-car, making this repast last as long as possible, “just to kill
time,” as Roger expressed it.

“It’s going to be a long-winded trip,” sighed the senator’s son, after
they had finished their meal and had walked back to the end of the
observation car.

“Well, we’ve got to make the best of it, Roger,” was Dave’s reply.
“Ordinarily such a trip as this would be fine. Think of what grand
scenery there is to look at!” and he pointed out with a sweep of his
hand.

The long train rumbled onward hour after hour, and the two youths passed
the time as best they could, talking, looking at the scenery, and
reading the various papers and magazines contained in the car library.
At seven o’clock they had dinner, and then sat outside once again until
it grew so dark that nothing could be seen.

“Well, we might as well go to bed,” remarked Dave finally. “Which berth
do you want, Roger—the upper or the lower?”

“It is immaterial to me, Dave,” was the answer. “To tell the truth, I
don’t think I’m going to do much sleeping.”

“We’ll toss up for it,” was the answer. And the toss of the coin gave
Dave the lower berth.

It proved to be a long, wearisome night for both of them. Dave tumbled
and tossed on his pillow, trying in a hundred ways to account for the
mysterious disappearance of his sister and Jessie. Were they captives of
the gypsies? Or had some other dreadful fate overtaken them? Then, at a
sudden thought, Dave sat up in his berth so quickly that he hit his head
on the bottom of the berth above.

“I wonder if it’s possible,” he murmured to himself.

He had suddenly remembered how he had lost the two letters from home at
the time he had been robbed by Nick Jasniff of the contents of his
pocketbook. If Jasniff had read those letters he had learned much about
the trouble in Crumville with the gypsies, and he had also learned from
Jessie’s letter that she and Laura were contemplating a trip to Boston.

“Jasniff is bitter against Mr. Wadsworth for having had him sent to
prison,” Dave reasoned; “and he is equally bitter against me and my
family for what I did in capturing him. He took a train for the East.
Can it be possible that he is mixed up in this affair?”

This thought sent Dave off on a new chain of reasoning, and he became so
restless that, instead of trying to go to sleep, he pulled up the shade
of one of the windows, propped his pillow close against the glass, and
lay there thinking and looking out on the star-lit landscape. But at
last tired nature asserted itself, and he fell into a fitful doze, from
which he did not awaken until it was about time to get up.

“I’ve got a new idea,” he announced to his chum, after the two had
washed and dressed and were on their way to the dining-car for
breakfast. And thereupon he related his suspicions against Jasniff.

“It may be so,” mused the senator’s son. “It would be just like that
rascal to go in with those gypsies and try to do your folks and the
Wadsworths harm.”

On the train the two young civil engineers met several very agreeable
people, but they were in no frame of mind to make friends just then.
Though they did their best to be pleasant, they were glad enough when
the train, after a stop at Minneapolis, finally rolled into the station
at St. Paul. Here, with only a few minutes to spare, they rushed out to
the telegraph office. There was a message for them, and Dave tore the
envelope open eagerly. One glance at the contents, and his face fell.

“No news of importance,” he announced. “Come on. We’ll have to go on to
Chicago.” And then the journey to the great City of the Lakes was
renewed.

At Chicago another message awaited them. This was a little longer than
the other had been, but gave them scant satisfaction, reading as
follows:

“Strong suspicions against gypsies who have disappeared. Demand for
fifty thousand dollars.

“DUNSTON PORTER.”

“That settles one thing. The girls have been kidnapped,” remarked Roger.

“Yes. And the kidnappers want fifty thousand dollars,” added Dave. He
drew a long breath. “Well, there’s one satisfaction about this, Roger.
We know the two girls must be alive.”

“Yes, Dave. But think of them in the hands of those dirty gypsies!”

“I can hardly bear to think of it, Roger. I wish I had those rascals by
the neck! I think I could willingly shake the life out of them!”

“So could I! But come on, let us see if we can’t get on the next train
bound for Albany. There is no use of our going down to New York City.”

The chums were fortunate in getting two upper berths on a train to leave
in less than an hour. The run to Albany would take less than twenty-four
hours, and there they would be able to change to a local train running
to Crumville.

On the train a surprise awaited them. They ran into two of their old
school chums, Buster Beggs and Sam Day. Both of these lads were fat and
full of fun, and, having been close chums at school, had gone into
business together in the city.

“We’re in the book and stationery line,” announced Buster Beggs, after a
cordial handshaking all around. “We’re doing fine, too. Aren’t we, Sam?
But say, I thought you fellows were learning to be civil engineers and
were away out West.”

“We have been out West,” answered Dave. “But we are going home on a
special errand just now.” And then there was nothing to do but to
acquaint Buster and Sam with what had occurred.

“You don’t mean it!” burst out Buster in excitement. “Why, that reads
like a regular old-fashioned novel!”

“I thought kidnappings like that were a thing of the past,” was Sam
Day’s comment. “I certainly hope you round up those gypsies and rescue
the girls.”

“We’ll do it or else know the reason why,” answered Roger determinedly.

From Buster and Sam the two young civil engineers learned much
concerning a number of their other school chums. In return, they told a
great deal about themselves; and thus the hours passed a little more
quickly than they would otherwise have done. The four former Oak Hall
students dined together, and managed to make an exchange of berths with
some others on the train, so that they were all together in opposite
sections that night.

“We’re certainly getting some touches of old times,” remarked Dave.
“First Phil, Ben, and Shadow, and now you two!”

“I’ll tell you what—we ought to organize that Oak Hall club we once
talked about,” said Buster Beggs. “Then we could hold a reunion once a
year.”

“It certainly would be fine,” answered Roger, his eyes lighting up with
pleasure. “We’ll have to remember that, Dave.” And to this our hero
nodded approval.

Buster and Sam left the train at Utica, while the two young civil
engineers continued on their way to Albany. Here they had a wait of an
hour and a half, and during that time they purchased a couple of
newspapers.

“Hello, here’s an account of the affair now!” cried Roger, pointing to
the top of one of the pages.

There was an account nearly a column long, telling of how a search was
being instituted for the missing girls and how it was supposed that a
demand for money had been made upon Mr. Wadsworth and Mr. Porter. It was
added that neither of the gentlemen would affirm or deny the report.

“That looks to me as if they were warned to keep quiet about the demand
for money,” announced Dave.

“Possibly they were told that if they did not keep quiet something would
happen to the girls,” added Roger. He closed his teeth with a snap. “Oh,
I just wish I had my hands on those rascals!”

“It’s maddening, isn’t it, Roger, to stand around here and not be able
to do anything?” groaned Dave. In his mind’s eye he could picture the
misery endured by Jessie and his sister while they were being held
captives.

At last the train for Crumville came in, and they lost no time in
jumping on board.

“Thank heaven, we are on the last leg of this journey!” breathed Roger,
as they settled down in a seat.

“Right you are, Roger!” answered Dave.

But then their faces grew exceedingly thoughtful. What dire news might
await them at their journey’s end?