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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 8
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    A GATHERING OF OAK HALL BOYS

    "Well, they are gone, that's certain!"

    "Yes, and there is no telling where they went to."

    "Must have slipped out by a back way."

    "They sure are a slick pair."

    It was some time later, and Dave and the other boys stood on the broad piazza of the hotel discussing the situation.

    Following the talk with the observation car agent they had looked into the reading-room only to discover that Job Haskers and Link Merwell had vanished. At once they had rushed into the building, looking through the hallways and other rooms that were open to the general public. Not a trace of the two evildoers was to be found anywhere. Then they had consulted the clerk at the desk, and through him had learned that only Job Haskers was stopping at the place.

    "But he has a young friend here, a Mr. Smith--Jackson Smith," the clerk had told them. And then he had described the fellow called Jackson Smith, and Dave and his chums had felt assured that it was Link Merwell under an assumed name. Finally a visit had been paid to the rooms Haskers and Merwell had occupied, and both had been found vacated, with the keys sticking in the locks.

    "And neither of 'em stopped to pay his bill," the clerk had told them, mournfully.

    "I am not surprised," Dave had answered. "They are a bad pair."

    The clerk had wanted to know the particulars, and the boys had told him as much as they deemed necessary. Then they had come out on the piazza of the hostelry, wondering what they ought to do next.

    "I don't think it is worth while trying to follow them up," said the senator's son. "If you caught Merwell you would have to appear in court against him, and you know what a lot of trouble you had appearing against Jasniff;" and this statement was true.

    "Oh, let them go!" cried Phil. "Say," he added, "did you hear what Link said about bleeding his dad for money? Isn't he the limit!"

    "That proves he isn't working for a living," remarked Dave. "And to think that he told me he was going to reform!"

    "That sort of a chap doesn't reform," asserted Roger.

    "Oh, I don't know. Gus Plum reformed."

    "Yes, but Plum isn't like Merwell, or Jasniff. He was simply overbearing. These other fellows are downright dishonest."

    The four boys walked back to the automobile, and soon they were returning to the hotel at which Bert was staying. By that time it was close to the lunch hour and so the visitors were invited to stay over for something to eat.

    "Didn't catch that man Haskers, eh?" remarked Mr. Passmore, as he came up, in company with Mr. Fordham.

    "No, he ran away," answered Roger, and then he and the others told of what had occurred.

    "I am very thankful to you for saving me from a bad investment," said Mr. Fordham. "I shall not forget it." And he kept his word, for later on, after he had consulted with his son and found out just how worthless was the stock in the Sunset Milling Company, he sent each of the boys a fine pair of gold cuff-links.

    After lunch the lads remained with Bert for about an hour and then took their departure for Roger's home, where they arrived some time before dark. As they rolled up the driveway a surprise awaited them.

    "Look who's here!" exclaimed Dave. "Hello there, Luke!"

    "Hello yourself," answered Luke Watson, with a broad grin. "I thought you chaps would be along soon."

    "And Shadow!" cried Roger, as another form came into view, from the Morr piazza. "This is a surprise! I didn't expect to see you quite so soon."

    "Oh, we hadn't anything special to do, so we came ahead," answered Luke. "Hope it won't put you out?"

    "Not at all, glad you are here." There was a general handshaking, for the automobile had now come to a stop and the boys had piled out to greet their former schoolmates.

    "Say, that puts me in mind of a story!" burst out Shadow Hamilton. "A fellow made a date with a girl for six o'clock. Well, at five----"

    "Wow!"

    "Shadow is onto the game already!"

    "Say, Shadow, give us a chance to say how-do-you-do first, won't you?"

    "I believe Shadow would try to tell a story if he was going to a funeral."

    "Oh, say!" burst out the former story-teller of Oak Hall. "That puts me in mind of another. Two Irishmen went to a funeral and----"

    "Shut him off!"

    "Put a popcorn ball in his mouth!"

    "Make him apologize on the spot!"

    At once the four others surrounded the would-be story-teller and pushed him from the gravel path to the green lawn. Then followed something of a wrestling match, all the lads taking part.

    "Let up, will you!" panted Shadow, breaking away at last. "I won't tell any stories if you don't want to listen to 'em. But just the same, that story about the Irishmen was a good one. And that about the fellow who went to see the girl at five o'clock is a corker. You see his watch had stopped and he----"

    "Jump him!"

    "He can't stop, no matter how hard he tries!"

    "Let's stand him on his head and make him tell it backwards!"

    Again there was a rush, but this time poor Shadow took to his heels and rushed up on the piazza, just as the door opened and Mrs. Morr came out to greet the boys.

    "Roger!" exclaimed the lady of the mansion, turning to her son, "what in the world----"

    "Only a little horse-play, Mom," replied the son, with a smile. "We are so glad to see the fellows that we have to let off a little steam."

    "It looked like a fight to me."

    "Oh, nothing like that, Mrs. Morr," said Dave, quickly. "Only fun; isn't that so, fellows?"

    "Of course!" was the quick reply.

    "Have you met Luke and Shadow, Mom?" asked Roger.

    "Yes, about an hour ago. I told them that you had telephoned that you were on the way home, so they said they'd remain out here, watching for you. I showed them what room they were to occupy," added the lady of the mansion.

    "Fine!" cried Roger. "I'll put the car away for the present, and then we'll fix up for dinner and listen to those stories Shadow had to tell."

    "Somebody said Buster Beggs was coming," said Luke.

    "Yes, he'll be here the night before the Fourth."

    Quarter of an hour later found the whole crowd of boys upstairs in the house. In anticipation of the Fourth of July party, as she called it, Mrs. Morr had turned over one wing of the second floor of the big house to the youths. There they could "cut up" to their hearts' content.

    "Say, this is something like old times at Oak Hall!" cried Phil, as the youths gathered in one of the bedrooms and proceeded to distribute themselves in various attitudes on the chairs and the bed. "Somehow, I think we are going to miss that school!"

    "Miss it! Well I guess yes!" answered Dave. "And that puts me in mind of something. I was thinking----"

    "Whoop! Is he going to tell stories, too?"

    "Say, Dave, that act belongs to Shadow."

    "No, I wasn't going to tell a story," answered Dave. "I've got an idea for a club."

    "A club? What do you mean?" asked Roger. "Do you mean for us to get up a club?"

    "Yes, the Oak Hall Club, to be composed of fellows who attended Oak Hall for a year or more."

    "Great!"

    "Let us do it!"

    "We'll make Dave president," cried Roger.

    "And you treasurer," added Phil.

    "And Shadow chief story-teller," put in Luke, with a grin.

    "Huh! What's the use of being chief story-teller when you won't let me tell a story?" grumbled Shadow. "But I know what I'll do," he added, with a sudden twinkle in his eye. "If you won't let me talk, I'll write it down. And I'll write a sentence none of you can read and be sure of," he went on.

    "What's that?" asked Phil, curiously. "A sentence none of us can read? Maybe you'll write it in Choctaw, or Chinese."

    "No, I'll write it in plain, every-day United States, and none of you will be sure how to read it."

    "What's the riddle?" demanded Dave, who saw that the story-teller had something up his sleeve.

    "Give me a sheet of paper and a pencil and I'll show you," returned Shadow.

    Paper and pencil were furnished by Roger, and the story-teller quickly wrote down the following:

    "After a row the sailors had a row!"

    "Now read it out loud!" cried Shadow, as he passed the paper to the others. All gazed at it for several seconds.

    "I pass," remarked Dave, calmly.

    "Why, that's easy!" cried Phil. "After a ro----Say, Shadow, what do you mean, did they quarrel or row the boat first?"

    "Maybe they rowed the boat twice," suggested Roger, with a grin.

    "Or had two quarrels," suggested Luke. And then a general laugh went up.

    "You've got us this time, Shadow!" cried Dave. "Give him a lemon, somebody, for a prize," and then another laugh went up.

    "That idea of an Oak Hall Club is a good one," said Luke. "But you can't organize it now--the fellows are too scattered."

    "Oh, I was thinking we might do it later on--perhaps this winter," answered Dave.

    The newcomers were much interested in what Dave, Phil, and Roger had to tell about Job Haskers and Link Merwell, and various were the opinions advanced as to what had become of the pair.

    "They are both mighty sore, because they had to leave Oak Hall in disgrace," said Luke. "Every one of us had better keep his eye peeled, for they'll make trouble if they get half a chance." And then the bell rang for dinner and the boys went downstairs.

    The next day the lads were all busy getting ready for the Fourth of July. It had been arranged that they should have quite a display of fireworks on the lawn of the senator's home, and many folks of that vicinity were invited to attend.

    "Here is Buster Beggs!" cried Roger, that evening, and the youth who was so fat and jolly hove in sight, suit-case in hand. He shook hands all around and was speedily made to feel at home.

    "Glad you are going to have fireworks," he said to Roger. "I don't care much for noise on the Fourth, but I dote on fireworks. Let me set some of 'em off, won't you?"

    "Of course," was Roger's reply. "We boys are going to give the exhibition, while the older folks, and the girls, look on."

    "But we are going to have a little noise--at sunrise," put in Phil.

    "What kind of noise--a cannon?"

    "No, some firecrackers."

    "Oh, that will be all right," answered Buster, thinking the firecrackers were to be of ordinary size.

    So they were--all but one. But that one was a monster--the largest Phil and Roger had been able to buy. They had not told the others about this big fellow, not even Dave, for they wanted the explosion of that to be a surprise.

    "It will sure make them sit up and take notice," said Phil to Roger, as the pair hid the big cannon cracker away in the automobile garage.

    "We'll set it off back of the kitchen," answered Roger. "It won't do any harm there."

    On the night of the third the boys retired somewhat early, so as to be up bright and early for the glorious Fourth.

    They had been sleeping less than an hour when a sudden cry awakened them.

    "Fire! Fire! Get up, boys! The garage is on fire, and I am afraid the gasoline tank will blow up!"
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