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   Chapter 17 DICK'S FIND MAKES GRIDLEY SHIVER

The High School Freshmen; or, Dick & Co.'s First Year Pranks and Sports By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 9968

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


That closed the football season in a blaze of glory. Gridley

H.S. had closed the year without a defeat.

The day after Thanksgiving football is deader than marbles. Gridley H.S. boys and girls settled down to study until the holidays came on.

The next thing of note that happened in the student world jarred the whole town. There might have been a much bigger jar, however.

Dave Darrin often worked, Saturday nights, in the express office.

One night in early December he was employed there as usual. At about nine o'clock Dick Prescott and Tom Reade dropped in.

"Pretty near through, old fellow?" Dick asked.

"I will be when the 8:50 gets in and the goods are checked up," replied Dave. "The train is a few minutes late tonight."

There being no one else at the office, except the night manager and two clerks, Dick and Reade felt that they would not be in the way if they waited for Dave.

Twenty minutes later the wagon drove up with the packages and cases that had arrived on the 8:50 train.

"You two can give a hand, if you like," invited Dave, as the packages were being passed up to the counter, checked and taken care of.

Prescott and Reade pitched in, working with a will.

"Here, don't shoot this box through as fast as you've done the others," counseled Dick, as he picked up a small box, some eighteen inches long and about a foot square at the end. "The label says, 'Extra fragile. Value two hundred and fifty dollars.'"

Dave reached out to receive it, as Dick laid it carefully on the counter.

"Packages of that value have to be handled with caution," muttered Dave. "When a fellow puts on a valuation like that, it means that he intends to make claim for any damage whatever."

"Hold on," muttered Dick, eyeing the counter. "There's something leaking from the box now."

Dave took his hands away, then bent over to have a look with Dick.

A very tiny puddle of some very thick, syrupy stuff was slowly forming on the counter.

"I wonder if the contents have been damaged?" muttered Dave, uneasily. Then added, in a whisper:

"The night manager will blame us, and hold me responsible, if there is any damage."

Both boys carefully inspected the tiny puddle for a few moments.

"Say, don't touch the box again," counseled Prescott, uneasily.

"Do you know what that stuff looks to me like, Dave?"

"What?"

"Do you remember the thick stuff that Dr. Thornton showed us in

IV. Chemistry the other day?"

"Great Scott!" breathed Dave Darrin, anxiously. "You don't mean nitroglycerine?"

"But I do!" Dick nodded, energetically.

"Wow! Don't stir from here. I'll call the night manager."

Night Manager Drowan came over at once, eyeing the box and the tiny pool of thick stuff.

"I never saw nitroglycerine but once," remarked Mr. Drowan, nervously. "I should say this stuff looks just like it. We won't take any chances, anyway. Dave, you go to the telephone, and notify the police. Your friends can stand guard over the box so that no one gets a chance to go near it."

But, while Dave was at the 'phone, Mr. Drowan hung over the box as though fascinated.

"It takes fire to set this stuff off, doesn't it?" he asked.

"No," Dick replied. "If it's nitroglycerine in that box, a light, sharp blow might be enough to do the trick. At least, that was about what Dr. Thornton said."

Dave came back with word that the police would send some one at once.

"They asked me whom the stuff was addressed to," Dave continued, "and I had to admit that I didn't know."

"It's addressed to Simon Tripps, to be called for. Identification by letter herewith," read Dick Prescott, from the label.

"Yes; I have the letter," nodded Mr. Drowan. "It contains the signature of the party who's to call for the box. That's all the identification that's asked."

At this moment Officer Hemingway, in plain clothes, came in, followed by a policeman in uniform.

Hemingway took a look at the stuff slowly oozing out of a corner of the box.

"My bet is nitroglycerine--what the bank robbers call 'soup,'" declared Hemingway, almost in a whisper. "All right; we'll take it up to the station house. Then we'll send for Dr. Thornton, who is the best chemist hereabouts. As soon as we get this stuff to the station house I'll hustle back and hide against the coming of Mr. Tripps. If he comes before I get back, jump on the fellow and hold him for me, no matter what kind of a fight he puts up."

Dave gazed after the retreating figures of the policemen.

"Bright man, that Hemingway," he remarked. "If Tripps shows up, we are to jump on him and nail him--no matter if he hauls out two six-shooter and turns 'em on us"

"We can grab any one man, and hold him," returned Dick, confidently. "All we've got to do is to get at him from all sides. See here, Dave, if a fellow comes in and tells you he's Tripps, you repeat the name as though you weren't sure. As soon as we hear the name, Tom and I can jump on hi

m from behind, and you can sail in in front. Eh, Reade?"

"It sounds good," nodded Tom. "I'll take a chance on it, Dick, with you to engineer the job."

In ten minutes Officer Hemingway was back. He stepped into a cupboard close to the counter, prepared for the coming of Tripps.

Half an hour later the police station's officer in charge telephoned that Dr. Thornton had carefully opened the box, and had declared that it contained four pounds of nitroglycerine. Nor had Dr. Thornton taken any chances of mistake. He had taken a minute quantity of the suspected stuff out in the yard back of the station house, and had exploded it.

At a moment when the office was empty of patrons Mr. Drowan stepped into the cupboard for a moment, as though searching for something.

"How late do you stay open?" whispered Hemingway.

"Ten o'clock, usually, on Saturday nights, but we'll keep open as late as you want, officer."

"Better keep open until midnight, then."

So they did, Dick telephoning his parents at the store to explain that he was at the express office helping Dave.

Midnight came and went. A few minutes after the new day had begun

Hemingway came out of the cupboard.

"You may as well close up, Drowan," the plain clothes man decided.

"The fellow who calls himself Tripps isn't going to show up.

If he had been going to claim his box he'd have been here before

this."

"You think he got scared away?" asked the night manager.

"The fellow was probably keeping watch on this office. He saw what happened, and decided not to run his neck into a noose. You'll never have any word from Tripps."

"Isn't it just barely possible," hinted one of the clerks, "that the man wanted the stuff for some legitimate purpose?"

"A man who knows how to use nitroglycerine," retorted Hemingway, gruffly, "also knows that it's against the law to ship nitroglycerine unlabeled. He also knows that it's against the law for an express company to transport the stuff on a car that is part of a passenger train. So this fellow who calls himself Tripps is a crook. We haven't caught him, but we've stopped him from using his 'soup' the way he had intended to use it."

"Wonder what he did want to do with it?" mused Dick Prescott.

"There are any one of twenty ways in which the fellow might have used the stuff criminally," replied the plain clothes man. "Of course, for one thing, it could be used to blow open a safe with. But safecracking, nowadays, is done by ordinary robbers, and they're able to carry in a pocket or a satchel the small quantity of 'soup' that it takes to blow the lock of a safe door, or the door off the safe."

After thinking a few minutes, Hemingway went to the telephone, calling up the chief of police at the latter's home. The plain clothes man stated the case, and suggested that the story be told to "The Blade" editor for publication in the morning issue. Then, if anyone in town had any definite suspicion why so much nitroglycerine should be needed in that little city, he could communicate his suspicions or his facts to the police.

"The chief agrees to my plan," nodded Hemingway, leaving the 'phone.

"Me for 'The Blade' office."

"See here," begged Dick, earnestly, "if there's to be a good newspaper story in this, please let me turn it over to Len Spencer. He's one of our best newspaper men. He'll write a corking good story about this business--and, besides, I'm under some personal obligations to him."

"So I've heard," replied the plain clothes man, with a twinkle in his eyes. Hemingway heard a good deal in his saunterings about Gridley. He had picked up the yarn about Dick & Co., Len Spencer and the "dead ones."

"So that 'The Blade' gets it, I don't care who writes the story," replied the policeman, good-humoredly.

Dick swiftly called up "The Morning Blade' office. Spencer was there, and came to the telephone.

"How's news tonight?" asked Prescott, after naming himself.

"Duller than a lecture," rejoined Len.

"Would you like a hot one for the first page?" pursued Dick.

"Would I? Would a cat lap milk, or a dog run when he had a can tied to his tail? But don't string me, Dick. There's an absolute zero on news tonight."

"Then you stay right where you are for two or three minutes," Dick begged his reporter friend. "Officer Hemingway and some others are coming down to see you. You'll want to save three or four columns, I guess."

"Oh, now, see here, Dick---" came Reporter Spencer's voice, in expostulation.

"Straight goods," Dick assured him. "When I say that I mean it. And, this time, I not only mean it, but know it. Wait! We'll be right down to your office."

Nor did it take Len Spencer long to realize that he had in hand the big news sensation of the hour for the people of Gridley.

Everyone in Gridley either wondered or shivered the next morning at breakfast table.

Four pounds of nitroglycerine are enough to work fearful havoc and mischief.

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