This is Dave

“Then you think the fellow purchased the cigarettes for Jasniff?”
questioned Roger, after our hero had made the declaration concerning the
Wadsworth robbery.

“Either that, Roger; or else the fellow purchased the cigarettes for
himself.”

“Do you mean to insinuate that that chauffeur was Nick Jasniff?”
exclaimed the senator’s son.

“Why not, Roger? It would be an easy matter for Jasniff to disguise
himself. In fact, if he was in any such game as this, I think that is
just what he would do. He could easily stain his skin with some walnut
juice, or something like that, gotten from the gypsies, and then put on
a wig and a false mustache.”

“I believe that’s just what he did!” exclaimed Roger. “I know one
thing—he was a good hand at running automobiles. I have seen him do it.”

“The whole thing fits in pretty closely,” went on Dave. “First, Jasniff
was angry at Mr. Wadsworth and the rest of us for placing him in prison.
Next, he stole those letters and my money. The letters told him all
about the gypsies and their troubles with our folks. He put two and two
together, came on East, and fixed up the plan to kidnap the girls.”

“But how did they get the girls to leave the train at Crandall and then
go from the hotel to where the automobile stood along the road?”

“That is something still to be explained. But that can wait. What we
want to do just now is to find out where they took Jessie and Laura, and
rescue them.”

“It certainly is a great search, Dave. What are you going to do next?”

“I think the best thing we can do is to work our way along to Frytown.
That is quite a place, and it is barely possible that from there we can
get into communication with Crumville on the long distance telephone. If
we can do that, we can tell the folks at home all we have learned, and
get them to send some first-class detectives out this way to assist us
in the search.”

“Let’s run rather slow on the way to Frytown,” suggested the senator’s
son. “We may be able to pick up more clues.”

“Yes, we’ll keep our eyes wide open.”

They presently found themselves on a lonely stretch of the country road,
and here it was so dark they had to turn on all the lights of the
machine.

“I’d give all I’m worth, Dave, if we could catch sight of that other
car,” remarked Roger, after a spell of silence.

“I’m afraid that’s too much to hope for,” answered our hero, with a grim
smile. “We ought to be thankful that we have learned as much as we have.
If we hadn’t met that fellow on the motorcycle down at the Crossing, we
might still be hunting for clues along the line of the railroad between
Crandall and Boston.”

“Oh, yes, I think we’ve done wonderfully well.”

On the way to Frytown they stopped at six or seven farmhouses, but
without learning anything that was to their advantage. Two farmers had
seen the big touring car with the battered mud-guard go by a week or two
before, but could give no definite information as to who had been
driving it or what passengers the automobile had contained.

“So many machines comin’ and goin’ these days, a feller don’t pay much
’tention to ’em,” was the way one farmer expressed himself.

“I know it,” answered Dave. “But we are very anxious to find that car,
so I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to ask.”

“Oh, no harm whatever,” said the farmer.

When the chums reached Frytown it was after nine o’clock. They made
their way at once to the American House, the hotel which the Kapton
storekeeper had mentioned, and there placed their machine in the garage,
engaged a room, and asked if they might be served with something to eat.

“The dining room is closed,” announced the proprietor. “But we don’t let
anybody starve,” he added, with a smile. “Just come this way, and I
guess we can fix you up,” and he led them to a side room, where a
waitress served them with a plain but substantial supper. Before this
was eaten, however, Dave questioned the man about telephone connections.

“You can’t get any out-of-town connections after seven o’clock,” was the
statement made by the hotel keeper. “You’ll have to wait until seven
o’clock to-morrow morning.”

After the meal the two chums questioned the hotel man and several of his
assistants about the big automobile they were looking for, and were
informed that the touring-car had been seen in Frytown a number of
times, moving up and down the main road.

“Once I saw it when it had several people inside besides the chauffeur,”
said one man. “The people seemed to be cuttin’ up pretty well, but what
it was all about, I don’t know. The car was goin’ too fast to give a
fellow a chance to see.”

“How long ago was that?” questioned Dave quickly.

“Oh, I don’t know. Ten days or two weeks—or maybe longer.”

“Do you remember which way the car was going at that time?”

“Sure. It was headed in the direction of Cullomburg.”

“How far is that town?” questioned Roger.

“That’s up in the mountains about eight miles from here. It’s a pretty
fair road, though, all the way.”

After receiving this information, Dave and Roger took a walk around the
town, stopping at several of the stores and making a number of small
purchases just for the sake of getting into conversation with the
storekeepers. From one of these they learned that the man who had driven
the car had come in for some supplies, including some cigarettes.

“Yes, he bought six packages of Turkish cigarettes—all I had,” said the
storekeeper.

From this man they learned that there was a regular public garage in the
place with a machine shop attached.

“Let us go over there. Possibly the fellow with the car stopped for
gasoline or oil, or to get something fixed,” said our hero.

The garage was a short distance up a side street, and they found the man
in charge sitting in a little office with his feet on a desk and smoking
a corncob pipe. They stared at this man for a moment in amazement, and
then both burst out:

“Horsehair!”

“Eh? Wot’s that?” cried the man, and swung his feet down from the desk
and leaped up, taking his corncob pipe from his mouth as he did so.
“Well now, ain’t this jest wonderful!” he ejaculated. “Dave Porter and
Roger Morr! Who would ‘a’ thunk it!”

“And who would have thought of meeting you here, Horsehair?” cried Dave,
shaking hands vigorously, quickly followed by his chum.

“Why, we thought you were still driving the stage-coach at Oak Hall,”
remarked the senator’s son.

For the man they had run across so unexpectedly was indeed Jackson
Lemond, the man who for years had driven the stage-coach and worked
around the stables at the boarding-school. Because of the number of
horsehairs which continually clung to his clothing, the pupils had never
known him by any other name than Horsehair.

“Well, you see, I got a leetle bit old for that job—or else the boys got
a leetle bit too frisky fer me, so I looked around fer something else
that was a bit more quiet; and as my cousin owned this garage, and he
was too sick to tend to business, I come out here and took hold—and here
I be.”

“It’s like a touch of old times, Horsehair!” cried Dave, as he dropped
on a chair, while Roger did the same. And then after a few more words
about their former doings at Oak Hall our hero continued: “I am after
some information, and I know you’ll give it to me if you possibly can.
Have you noticed during the past couple of weeks a big touring-car
around here—a car that has one of the mud-guards badly smashed, and the
wind-shield cracked, and a good deal scratched up?”

“Sure, I know that car,” answered Horsehair readily. “The feller that
runs it was in here to git some new batteries, and also some gas and
oil.”

“Was he smoking cigarettes?” questioned Roger.

“He was—one right after another. But I told him not to smoke while I was
pourin’ in the gasoline. I don’t want to go up to heaven jest yet;” and
Horsehair chuckled over his little joke.

“Have you any idea where that fellow came from or where he went to?”
questioned Dave. “I might as well tell you, Horsehair, it is of great
importance. We suspect that fellow of some serious crimes.”

“You don’t say, Porter! What did he do—steal that machine? Oh, I know
them auto thieves is all over. They told me only last week a car was
stole in and around Boston ’most every day.”

“Never mind what the fellow is guilty of, Horsehair. What we want to do
is to find him, and then you’ll know all about it.”

“Well, I don’t know where he come from, but after he got fixed up here
he turned off in the direction of Cullomburg.”

“Do you know what make of car it was?”

“Yes, although the name-plate had been tore off. It was a Simms-Tecco,
one of them old foreign cars. Must be about eight or a dozen years old.
It had them old-fashioned battery connections on it, and had them old
Horseshoe anti-skid tires on the rear wheels. That’s how I remember it.”

“You must have learned a lot about cars after you left Oak Hall,” was
Roger’s comment.

“Oh, I’m right in the business now, I am!” answered Horsehair proudly.

“You didn’t know who the fellow was, did you?” questioned Dave.

“No, I didn’t. But do you know, he acted awful queer—that feller did. He
come sailin’ in here shoutin’ out fer gasoline, and all at once, when he
seen me, he stopped as if he was shot, and fer a minute or two I thought
he was goin’ to back out and go ’way. Then he seemed to git over it and
bought what he wanted, jest like I said.”

“It is no wonder that he was surprised, if he is the fellow we think,”
answered Dave. “Do you remember a chap who went to Oak Hall, named Nick
Jasniff—the fellow who once attacked me in the gymnasium with an Indian
club and then ran away?”

“O’ course I remember that big overgrown bully,” answered Horsehair.

“Well, that’s the fellow we think it is,” said Roger.

“But it can’t be him! This feller was a furriner. He had real dark skin
and dark hair and a little dark mustache.”

“We think he was in disguise.”

“Gee, sho! you don’t mean it?” ejaculated Jackson Lemond. “Gosh, it does
beat all wot some fellers will do! And I suppose he stole that auto?”

“We don’t know about that. But even if he did, we think he is guilty of
a worse crime,” answered Dave; and thereupon related some of the
particulars concerning the disappearance of his sister and Jessie.

“Well, if that rascal is guilty of sech a measly piece of business as
that, I hope you ketch him,” said Horsehair. “He deserves to be put
behind the bars.”

The two chums talked the matter over with the former stage driver of Oak
Hall for fully half an hour, and then returned to the hotel. Now that
the scent of the trail seemed to grow warmer, it was hard for them to
rest, and they slept but little and were glad when morning was at hand.

“I am going to call up Crumville on the telephone as soon as possible,”
declared Dave, and went to a booth to see if he could get the necessary
connections.

It took some little time, but finally he recognized the voice of Mr.
Wadsworth.

“This is Dave—Dave Porter,” said our hero. “I’ve got some news of
importance.”

“And we’ve got some news, too,” answered the jewelry manufacturer.

The news Mr. Oliver Wadsworth had to impart was to the effect that two
more notes had been received from those who held Laura and Jessie
prisoners.

The first told that it was known Dave and Roger were trying to follow up
those who had committed the crime, and added a warning that it would do
no good and if they persisted in the search they would certainly come to
grief. The second communication had been another demand for the fifty
thousand dollars, stating that the sum must be paid over in cash inside
of the next three days and designating how the transfer was to be made.
With that communication was sent a lock of each girl’s hair and also a
card on which was written: “_We are well_,” and signed by both.

“I’m glad to know they are well,” answered Dave; and then he related the
particulars of what he and Roger had discovered since they had sent
their former messages to Crumville.

“It certainly looks as if you were on the right track!” exclaimed the
jewelry manufacturer. “I hope you will notify the local authorities, so
that they will watch out for that car and those who are running it.”

“We have done that,” answered our hero; “but the local authorities up
here do not amount to a great deal when it comes to running down such
slick criminals. I think the best thing you can do is to notify some of
those city detectives to come up here and get busy.”

“You can rest assured, Dave, that I will do that—and at once,” was the
reply. “Where can they get into communication with you?”

“We are now stopping at the American House in Frytown, but from here we
are going to go up into the mountains to Cullomburg. We have an idea
that the girls are being held somewhere between here and Cullomburg or
beyond. There are not very many good roads around here, and it is
reported that the battered-up touring-car was seen going back and forth
on the road between here and that mountain town.”

Before the conversation over the telephone came to an end, Dunston
Porter broke in on the Crumville end of the wire, and when he heard of
what had been discovered stated that he would come on to Crandall
immediately, bringing several men with him, and there get some kind of
turnout to take him to Frytown and beyond.

“There can’t be too many of us in this search,” said Dave’s uncle.

“If we learn anything new we’ll send word to you at the American House
in Frytown,” announced Dave, “and if we need any signal remember what we
used to use—two shots or two whistles in quick succession”; and
thereupon the telephone conversation came to an end.

“I’m glad to learn your uncle is coming up here and that he will bring
two or three men with him,” said Roger, when told of what had been said
over the wire. “As your uncle says, it would be impossible for us to
round up those rascals alone, even if we were fortunate enough to locate
them.”

“I don’t want to round them up so much as I want to rescue Jessie and
Laura,” was the reply.

“I’m glad to learn that they are well, Dave.”

“But we can’t be sure of that, Roger. That card may have been signed
under compulsion, or it may have been signed some days ago. There is no
telling what condition the girls are in just now. They may have been
dreadfully mistreated,” and the look on Dave’s face showed his great
anxiety.

The chums explained the situation to the hotel proprietor, who promised
to aid them in every way possible. Then they had breakfast, paid their
bill, and rode away from the hotel. They stopped at the garage where
Horsehair was in charge, and there purchased some gasoline and oil and
had a little more air put in their tires.

“Now don’t forget, Horsehair,” said Dave. “If that fellow puts in an
appearance with that battered-up car—or anybody else comes with that
car—be sure to have the fellow held. I don’t care how you do it—just see
to it that he doesn’t get away. If he talks about damages, or anything
like that, don’t pay any attention to him. We’ll foot the bill, if
there’s anything to pay.”

“All right, Porter, you leave it to me,” answered the former
stage-driver of Oak Hall. “If I git my claws on ’im, you bet your boots
he ain’t goin’ to git away, nohow.”

“And remember, if you see any of those people, or see any people who
look like gypsies around here, either let me know, or else leave word at
the hotel for my uncle, Dunston Porter.”

“Is he here?”

“Not yet. But I expect him up here before to-night.”

Dave had questioned Horsehair about the road to Cullomburg, and had been
told that it was a winding highway, passing over two small hills, and
then going up into the mountains beyond. There were a number of
cross-roads, but none of these was in very good condition, and that to
travel them in an automobile would be difficult.

“I wonder if we had better take somebody along?” remarked Roger, when
they were about to leave. “We might get a constable, or somebody like
that.”

“I think we had better make this search on our own hook,” answered our
hero. “Outsiders might be more in the way than anything else.”

“I wish we had brought along some sort of disguises, Dave. They might
come in handy.”

“We can put on our auto goggles and pull our caps down pretty well over
our foreheads and button our dust-coats tight up around our necks, just
as Jasniff did. That will help to disguise us.”

A little while later found them on the road to Cullomburg. The highway
was a winding one, passing a number of farms, where, however, the houses
sat back a considerable distance from the road. Here and there they had
to pass through patches of woods, and at one point they crossed a
rickety bridge that spanned a small mountain torrent.

“That bridge isn’t any too good for a heavy auto,” announced Roger,
after they had rattled over it. “Some day some fellow with a heavy load
will break through.”

So far they had met nobody on the road, but now they heard the rattle of
a wagon, and presently a sleepy-looking farmer, drawing a load of hay,
appeared. He was willing enough to stop and talk, but could give them no
information concerning the battered touring-car.

“I belong on the other side of Cullomburg, an’ I don’t git down on this
end o’ the road very much,” he explained.

“Do automobiles use the road on the other side of Cullomburg?”
questioned Roger.

“They do when they don’t know where they’re at,” answered the farmer,
with a chuckle. “A feller from Boston come through that way this spring,
an’ he vowed he’d never come ag’in. He got stuck in the mud twice, an’
he cut two tires all to pieces on the rocks, an’ I guess it was too
expensive fer ’im.”

“Then the good road ends at Cullomburg?” said Dave.

“That’s right, mister. An’ the last half-mile into town ain’t none too
good at that.”

“And the side-roads are all poor, too?”

“Yes, sir, every blame one o’ them. We ought to have ’em fixed up, but
the folks aroun’ here don’t want to pay the taxes for doin’ it.” And
then the farmer with the load of hay rattled on down the road.

“Well, the trail seems to be shortening,” announced Dave, as they
continued on their way up a steep grade where he had to throw the clutch
into second gear. “If that car couldn’t use the road beyond Cullomburg
and couldn’t use any of the side-roads, those rascals must be hanging
out somewhere on this road between Frytown and Cullomburg.”

They were passing up a rocky bit of the roadway when suddenly there came
a loud report from one of the back tires. Dave turned off the power and
put on the hand-brake, and they came to a stop.

“A blow-out,” he announced laconically.

“I was thinking we might get something of that sort after what that
farmer said,” answered the senator’s son. “Well, it’s all in the day’s
work, Dave. We might as well get out and see how much damage has been
done.”

The cut in the back tire was not a large one, and at first they thought
to use the same tire again by putting in a patch. Then, however, Dave
changed his mind, and said he would put on another shoe.

“The tube might blow out through the patch just when we wanted to use
the car the worst way,” he said. “If we have to, we can fall back on
this old shoe later on.”

The chums were used to putting on tires, so the task did not take them
very long. There was a device attached to the engine for blowing up the
inner tube, so they were saved the trouble of this exertion.

“Suppose you let me run the car for a while?” suggested the senator’s
son.

“All right, Roger; go ahead,” was the ready reply. “Only don’t run too
fast. I’ve got another idea. Perhaps we’ll be able to trace that other
car by the marks left in the roadway. Don’t you remember Horsehair said
that the back wheels of the car were equipped with the old-style
Horseshoe anti-skid tires?”

“Yes, I remember his saying that.”

They proceeded along the mountain road with care, doing this not only to
look for some trace of the car they wanted to locate, but also in order
to avoid the rough stones which seemed to crop up most unexpectedly. A
quarter of a mile farther on, they came out on a level stretch, and just
beyond was a cross-road. Here the woods were thick on all sides, and the
roadway was covered with dirt and decayed leaves.

“Certainly a rather lonely place,” announced Roger.

“A splendid place in which to hide,” answered Dave, and then, as they
came closer to the cross-road, he added: “Let us stop here, Roger, I
want to take a look around.”

The touring-car was brought to a halt, and the chums got out and began
to inspect the wagon and other tracks to be seen both on the highway
which they had been traveling and the narrow cross-road. A few minutes
later Dave uttered a cry.

“Here are the marks of auto tires, Roger! Just look in this muddy
stretch. Wouldn’t you say that those were the marks of the Horseshoe
anti-skid shoes?”

“That’s just what they are, Dave!” answered the senator’s son, after a
brief examination.

The marks had been discovered on the side-road to their left. The road
was a winding one, leading through the thick woods, and what was beyond
they could not surmise.

“It seems to me this proves their hiding-place must be up on that road,”
said Roger.

“Let us go down the road on the other side and see if any of the marks
are there,” returned our hero.

This was done, but no automobile marks of any kind were to be discerned
in the soft soil. Then they came back to the cross-road, and after a
long hunt found traces where the other touring car had come around the
corner from the side-road into the main road leading down to Frytown.

“That settles it in my mind,” announced Dave. “I don’t believe they ever
went through to Cullomburg or that they ever went up that side road on
our right. They took this side-road to the left, and it’s my opinion
that leads to where they have got Laura and Jessie prisoners.”

“What do you think we ought to do, Dave? Go back to town and get help
and round them up?”

Our hero mused for a moment. “Maybe we had better go ahead, Roger, and
do a little more investigating.”

“But suppose those rascals come on us all at once and surprise us? For
all we know there may be half a dozen or more in this gang.”

“I’ve got another idea. I don’t believe this road is very long. As we
came up I saw through the clearing below that there was quite a mountain
on our left, and this road probably ends right there. Now, if you are
willing, we’ll run our machine up past the cross-road a little distance,
and then see if we can’t hide it behind the bushes. Then we can tramp up
on the side road on foot.”

“All right, Dave. Let us do it—and at once!”