Boys of The Central.
A HIGH-SCHOOL STORY.
I. T. THURSTON,
Author of “Ruth Prentice,” “Next-Door Neighbors.”
The Pilgrim Press
By A. I. Bradley & Co.
BOYS OF THE CENTRAL.
A WORD AND A BLOW.
An algebra recitation was in progress in D section.
Reed was on his feet explaining the given problem with his usual quickness and accuracy. Suddenly Mr. Horton interrupted him.
“Very well, Reed, take your seat. Crawford, you may continue the explanation.”
Crawford stumbled to his feet with a confused glance at the teacher.
“I—er—don’t know exactly where Reed left off, sir,” he stammered.
“If you had been paying attention you would have known. Failure, Crawford. Freeman, you may continue,” said Mr. Horton.
Freeman—a slender, pale-faced boy—occupied the seat directly in front of Crawford’s. He rose promptly and began where Reed had left off, but in a moment he stopped, the color rose in his face, he hesitated, stammered and dropped back into his seat, saying, “I can’t do it, sir.”
Mr. Horton, whose eyes had been on some restless boys in another part of the room, turned around with a glance of surprise. Freeman was not an especially quick scholar, and his frequent absences on account of illness kept him from taking the rank in the class that his steady work would otherwise have secured for him, but a failure was a rare thing for him.
“I think you can do that, Freeman. Try again,” said the teacher.
The boy rose, and once more attempted to go on with the problem, but as before, his face flushed and he dropped quickly back into his seat.
“I am sorry, Freeman, but I must give you a failure,” said Mr. Horton; but as he spoke, another boy sitting across the aisle from Crawford rose, and said clearly and distinctly, “Mr. Horton, Freeman can solve that problem, I think, if he can stand by your desk.”
At this, low hisses sounded from different parts of the room, but a glance from Mr. Horton suppressed them, as he said quietly, “Freeman, step forward to my desk and finish the recitation if you can.”
With a look of relief, the little fellow stepped forward, and, without a moment’s hesitation, solved the problem clearly and correctly.
He cast a grateful glance at the boy who had spoken for him as he returned to his seat, but he shivered as he saw the ugly, threatening look in Crawford’s eyes, and caught the words hissed close to his ear, as Crawford leaned over his desk: “I’ll settle with you for that, and with that donkey that brayed for you, too.”
At recess, Mr. Horton kept both Freeman and Clark, the boy who had spoken for him, and questioned them, but he could get no information from either. He was certain however, in his own mind, that Crawford was the one to blame. He believed that Crawford was at the bottom of much of the trouble and disorder in his class-room, but it was all so slyly done that it was next to impossible to fix the blame where it belonged.
“It was real good of you, Stanley, to help me out,” Freeman said gratefully, as, Mr. Horton having dismissed them, the two went down to the playground; “but I’m afraid Crawford’ll serve you some mean trick to pay for it.”
“He served you a mean enough one, this morning,” answered Clark. “Sticking pins into you, wasn’t he?”
“Yes,” replied Freeman; “he had ’em fastened somehow to the toe of his shoe. They must have been big pins too, for they hurt like fury. Look here!” He pointed to some dark spots on his black stockings, below his short trousers.
“Blood?” said Clark, inquiringly, and as Freeman nodded, he added:—
“It’s a shame, Ray. I see him tormenting you in all sorts of ways whenever Horton isn’t looking. You ought to have your seat changed. Why don’t you?”
“Oh no!” said Freeman, quickly. “He’d say I was a coward then, and couldn’t stand a little fun. No, I’ll stick it out—but,” he added, half laughing, “I wish he wouldn’t stick so many things into me. I reckon I know how a pin-cushion feels.”
Crawford, with half a dozen of his particular cronies, stood on the playground near the door. They seized upon Clark and Freeman as they came out.
“Well, Sissies, did you tell the master all about it?” demanded Crawford, scornfully.
“We did not tell him anything,” answered Clark quietly, looking straight into the other’s angry eyes.
“It’s a lie. You did, too!” said Crawford, hotly.
“We didn’t either!” began Freeman, indignantly; but the big fellow who was holding him gave him a shake and told him to “hush up,” while Crawford repeated loudly and distinctly, “It’s a lie!”
A crowd quickly gathered about the group. There was a moment of silence, while all waited to see what Clark would do. His face was very white and his hands were clenched, but still looking straight into Crawford’s angry eyes, he answered steadily, “You can believe me or not, as you like. I have told you the truth.”
“You’re a sneak, a coward and a telltale! Take that!” said Crawford, in reply, and as he spoke he struck Clark across the mouth.
Clark’s eyes fairly blazed then. He took one step forward, and grasped Crawford’s wrists with a grip that made him wince and draw back, but the next instant Clark released him and turned away, saying, “I would not lower myself enough to fight with you.”
“Ha, ha! Coward—coward! You’re afraid, and try to sneak out of it that way,” called Crawford loudly; and more than one voice joined in the cry, and shouted, “Coward! Coward!” as Clark walked swiftly through the hall and up the stairs to his seat. Little Freeman followed him, but as he glanced at his friend’s white, set face, he dared not speak to him, and slipping into his own seat, he opened a book, and pretended to be studying. In another moment, the bell summoned the boys from the playground. Those of section D, as they returned to their seats, cast curious or scornful glances at Clark, but he never raised his eyes to look at one of them, and when school was dismissed he was the first to leave the room, not waiting even for little Freeman, who was his devoted admirer, and counted it a great honor, as well as pleasure, to walk home with him.
Freeman was feeling very badly about the affair. He considered himself to blame for it all, and he longed to tell Clark how sorry he was, but he knew instinctively that his friend could not bear to talk of it then; so he did not attempt to overtake him, but walked slowly on alone, so deep in thought that he did not notice quick footsteps behind him, till his cap was suddenly snatched off and flung into a mud-puddle, while Crawford’s loud, rough voice exclaimed, “Now, little telltale, you’ve got to take your punishment. I told you I’d pay you out, and I meant it.”
“But I didn’t do anything to you,” protested Freeman, shrinking from the other’s rough grasp.
“Didn’t do anything to me!” echoed Crawford harshly. “It was all your fault. That fool of a Clark was standing up for you, wasn’t he?”
“But—” began Freeman.
“You hush up! We’ve had chin enough from you,” interrupted Crawford, and while three or four of his cronies stood by laughing and jeering, he seized the little fellow, who was five years younger than himself, and nothing like his size, and rolled him over and over in the puddle, where he had already thrown his cap. It had rained heavily the night before, and there was water enough to soak Freeman’s clothing pretty thoroughly. Not content with this, Crawford rubbed mud over the lad’s face and hands, and tried to force it into his mouth before he released him.
“There!” he exclaimed at last. “Now run and tell Clark all about it.”
“Telltale! Telltale!” chorused the others, as Freeman, exhausted by his ineffectual struggles, and dripping wet, picked up his cap and books, and hurried off. He looked at no one that he met, but all the same he was keenly conscious of the curious glances at his flushed face and dripping clothes as he went.
When he reached home he found no one there but his twin sister, Edith.
“Why, Ray!” she exclaimed, “what is the matter? How did you get so wet? But don’t stop to tell me,” she added hastily; “run right up stairs, and get on dry clothes first, and I’ll have some hot drink ready when you come down.”
She knew the danger of a chill for the delicate boy, and had the hot drink ready, and made him take it before she would let him tell her a word of what had happened. Indeed, he did not want to tell her at all, but these two had always shared each other’s joys and sorrows, so Edith soon knew the whole story, all except Crawford’s name. That Freeman would not tell for all her urging. She was so indignant, and scolded so long about it all, that her brother at last half forgot his own indignation in laughing at hers.
“I think it’s too shameful for anything, and the boy ought to be suspended—I don’t care who he is!” she declared, her blue eyes flashing. “Ray, I think you ought to let Mr. Horton know about it, just so that this fellow will not dare to treat any other boy as he has treated you.”
“No, no, Edith, they sha’n’t have any grounds for calling me telltale,” Freeman answered, his thin face flushing as he heard again, in imagination, the taunting cry of “telltale,” that seemed still ringing in his ears. “Say, Edith,” he went on, “mind you don’t let mother know anything about this. She’d worry over it, and imagine me suffering all sorts of persecutions, and it isn’t likely that that fellow will trouble me any more, now that he’s had his ‘revenge,’ as he calls it.”
“But, Ray,” said his sister, “we can’t help mother’s knowing. You can’t wear those clothes again until they’ve been cleaned and pressed. They’ll have to be sent away for that, and mother must know about it.”
“Yes, and pay the bill,” groaned the boy. “I tell you, Edith, it’s awful hard on a big fellow like me to be just a bill of expense to mother, instead of being at work, helping her, as I feel I ought to be.”
“But she doesn’t feel that you ought to be,” said Edith. “You know it almost breaks her heart because she can’t send you to college, and I don’t think anything would induce her to let you leave school until you graduate.”
“I know it,” sighed the boy, “and the worst of it is that I am such a weakling that I may never amount to anything in the world when I am through school.”
“Don’t worry over that, Ray. You are certainly stronger than you were a year or two ago, and maybe you won’t have any more sick spells to pull you down. I do hope not, any way,” and Edith laid her hand tenderly on his shoulder as he spoke.
He looked up at her gratefully, as he answered, “I wonder what I should do without you, Edith. You never let me get quite discouraged.”
“And never mean to,” she answered gaily, though her eyes filled with tears as she looked at the blue-veined temples, and the dark circles under the blue eyes so like her own.
HAMLIN SPEAKS HIS MIND.
One boy had been absent from section D that day. This was David Hamlin, a big, handsome fellow, a general favorite, and the acknowledged leader of the better element in the class. He was at school early the next morning, and listened with the greatest interest to the story of the previous day’s happenings, which the boys were eager to tell.
“Well,” he said, looking from one to another when the story was ended, “where were all you decent fellows that you didn’t interfere? If I’d been here, I’d have stood up for Clark. Coward indeed! He showed pluck enough, I should say, in refusing to fight that bully Crawford.”
But at this, a murmur of dissent went around the group. It was plain that for once Hamlin was not to have the popular support even of all his friends.
“No, no, Hamlin,” said one, “you can’t make me believe that a fellow with the right sort of stuff in him would let anybody give him the lie direct and a blow in the face to boot, and not strike back. That’s not my idea of courage.”
“Nor mine. Nor mine,” cried half a dozen voices.
Hamlin looked from one to another, reading the same opinion in every face.
“No,” he said scornfully. “It is quite evident that it is not your idea of courage. Haven’t you sense enough to see that Clark showed a courage as much higher and finer than Crawford’s as his was higher than that of—a mad bull, I was going to say”; he stopped and half laughed, as he added, “That’s a poor comparison however, for I don’t think that Crawford’s courage was one whit higher or better than a mad bull’s.”
Hamlin was standing with his back to the door. A little stir, and a change in some of the faces turned towards the door, made him glance around to find Crawford himself standing just behind him with a scowl on his dark face.
“So,” he said, “I seem to be the interesting subject under discussion. Go on, go on. Pray don’t let me interrupt you.”
“I don’t mean to”; and as he spoke, Hamlin wheeled quickly around so as to face the other. “I’d just as soon, and in fact a little sooner, speak my mind to your face. Crawford, if I’ve heard the story straight, you did some mean, contemptible, cowardly things, yesterday. I think such doings are a disgrace to our section, and I tell you now once for all, that if this sort of thing can’t be stopped I shall ask for a transfer to some other section, and I shall tell Professor Keene just why I want a transfer, too.”
There was a moment of silence while Crawford, choking down his rage, looked from face to face to see on which side were the sympathies of the boys. Had any other than Hamlin said all this, Crawford would have either laughed it to scorn or answered by a sneer and a blow, but Hamlin was too popular and stood too high in the class to be treated in that way. He belonged, too, to a wealthy and influential family, and these facts weighed heavily with Crawford; so, though his eyes were full of sullen anger, he only said gruffly, “Seems to me you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. I gave that cad of a Clark a slap across the mouth which he was too cowardly to return. That’s all there is about it, and I don’t see, for my part, why you are taking it up, and making such a row over it, Hamlin.”
“I don’t know Clark very well,” replied Hamlin, “but I’ve never seen anything sneaky or cowardly about him, and I don’t believe he is either. I know a fellow always gets the name of a coward if he won’t pitch in and strike back like a prize fighter when anybody insults him; but I’m beginning to think that the honor that can only be proven by making a brute of one’s self, isn’t worth very much anyhow. But that blow of yours that Clark had the courage not to return, Crawford, was only one of the things that you were responsible for, yesterday, if all I’ve heard is true. You all know,” he went on, turning to the boys, “how often little Freeman is sick, and how much he is absent on that account. Perhaps some of you don’t know that he has no father, and that his mother is working a good deal harder than any woman ought to work, to keep him in school. Freeman himself is very anxious to get to work and help his mother, and the position he gets after he graduates will depend largely on his school record; yet you, Crawford, deliberately tried yesterday, to make him fail, when he knew his lesson perfectly, and not satisfied with that, you pitched into him after school and rolled him in mud and water in the street. It was a shame, Crawford—a little delicate chap like him, not half your size! I can’t see, for my part, how any decent fellow could have stood by and seen it done without interfering”; and Hamlin’s eyes blazed with righteous indignation as he looked around the circle.
“Oh, come now, Hamlin, you’re putting it on too thick,” said Crawford; “I”—but whispers of “Here comes Bobby!” cut short the talk, and the boys slipped into their seats as Mr. Horton entered the class-room.
“Bobby” was the class name for the teacher of section D.
Clark did not appear until the last moment—just in time to avoid the tardy mark. His face was very grave, and he looked neither to right nor left as he took his seat, so he did not see Hamlin watching eagerly for a chance to give him a friendly smile, and Hamlin had to content himself with the thought, “I’ll have a talk with him at recess.”
But at recess the principal, Prof. Keene, sent for him and kept him so long in his office that the recess was over before he was at liberty, and half an hour before school was dismissed Clark, after a word with Mr. Horton, left the room and did not return.
So Hamlin, breaking away from half a dozen boys who surrounded him when school was out, hurried after Freeman who was walking off alone.
“What’s the matter with Clark? Why did he leave so early?” he asked, as he overtook the little fellow.
“I don’t know,” answered Freeman; then he added, speaking earnestly and quickly, “You don’t believe that it was because he was afraid that he didn’t fight Crawford, do you, Hamlin?”
“Of course not,” was the quick reply. “I don’t believe in fighting any more than Clark does, though I doubt if I should have had the moral courage to do as he did and risk being called a coward.”
“I’m to blame for it all. It was his standing up for me in class that began it,” said Freeman, with a troubled face.
“Don’t worry over that,” said Hamlin kindly. “I’ll stand by him, and I know some of the other fellows will too.”
“If you do, he won’t care much about the rest, I guess,” said Freeman, who, like most of the younger boys, looked up to David Hamlin as a model. He turned off presently at his own corner, and Hamlin walked on alone, saying to himself, “I’ll run around and see Clark after supper.”
But his kindly purpose was not destined to be carried out. When he reached home he was met by his little brother with the announcement, “Papa’s going to London to-morrow, and you’re going with him.”
It was even so. Unexpected business made it necessary for Mr. Hamlin to leave at this short notice, and it had been decided that David should go with him, and so his seat in section D was vacant the next day, and for many days after.
Stanley Clark was the first boy in the school-room the next morning, and he waited impatiently for the teacher’s appearance, as he wanted to speak to him alone; but Mr. Horton was later than usual, and several boys were in the room when he came in. Henderson’s seat was on the front row, and he strained his ears to hear what Clark was saying, but he only caught Mr. Horton’s reply, “You are sure that there is no mistake about this, Clark?” and then, “Very well, I will attend to it later.”
Clark took his seat, and the morning recitations went on as usual till just before the closing hour, when Mr. Horton ordered books put away and the attention of the class given to him. The order was quickly obeyed and all eyes turned toward him, while a most unusual silence reigned.
“It has come to my knowledge,” began Mr. Horton, “that some very mean and contemptible methods have been employed in this class to prevent scholars who are really anxious to do well from making perfect recitations. If anything of this sort is done hereafter, I shall give the offenders the severest possible punishment. The disorderly element in this section shall be put down or put out of the school. In the matter of scholarship I have no fault to find with you as a class, but you are fast getting the reputation of being the roughest and most disorderly section in the school. Surely there are some among you who are, to say the least, too gentlemanly to be willing to have your section so distinguished, and I call upon all such to see to it, that you use all your influence in behalf of law and order, and do your utmost to secure a different reputation for section D.”
Many and various were the opinions expressed, as, school being dismissed, the boys talked over the matter so forcibly presented to them. Crawford’s face was dark with anger as he walked on discussing with his “crowd” the teacher’s severe remarks.
“I believe that sneaking Clark’s at the bottom of it,” he was saying angrily; “he was hobnobbing with Horton before school, and I’ll bet a cooky he put Bobby up to it.”
“Of course he did,” added Henderson. “I heard Bobby say, ‘You’re sure there’s no mistake about this, Clark?’ and then thank him for the information he had given.”
“Do you hear that, fellows?” cried Crawford. “That’s the sort of chap Clark is. Couldn’t lower himself to fight, but he can lower himself to tattle to Bobby.”
“But, Crawford, it might have been something else he was talking about. We don’t know that he was tattling,” said a boy named Graham.
“Know,” repeated Crawford impatiently. “As if there was any question about it. I don’t believe there’s another fellow in the room who would tell tales, and I move that we nip this thing in the bud, and put down blabbing and tattling once for all.”
“So say I,” shouted Henderson, while Graham cautiously inquired:—
“How do you propose to put them down, Crawford?”
“Make it so hot for the tattlers that they’ll get good and sick of it,” replied Crawford savagely.
“But how—tell us how.”
Crawford looked from one to another of the group.
“Henderson, you and Coyle and Green come around to my rooms this evening, and we’ll fix this thing up,” he said, pointedly ignoring Graham, and two or three who had kept silence.
“Wonder what Crawford is up to now,” said one of these boys whom Crawford had not named, dropping back a step or two.
“Some scurvy trick, or other,” replied a second. “For my part, I’m sick of him and his crowd. I believe I’ll side with law and order after this.”
“Don’t know but I’d better, too,” replied the first. “I’ve half a mind to, anyhow.”
“Do,” said the other quickly. “Let’s start in to-morrow and see how many will join us.”
“Pity Hamlin’s away. He’s a power when he takes hold of anything,” put in Raleigh, the third boy.
“So he is,” said Graham, “and I wish he was here too. The only trouble with Hamlin is that he’s so full of fun that he gets to cutting up before he stops to think—but he never does a mean thing.”
“No, there’s nothing sneaky about Hamlin,” said Raleigh, as he turned off towards his home.
SECTION D TAKEN BY SURPRISE.
If a bomb had exploded in the room, the pupils in section D could hardly have been more astounded than they were a few days later, when, after the opening exercises, Mr. Horton quietly remarked:—
“Every boy that owns a key to the algebra we use will please rise in his seat.”
There was a moment’s pause, then Freeman and two other boys arose.
“Freeman,” said the teacher, “how do you use the key?”
“I do the examples first, and then see if I have the correct answers. If I have not, I keep trying till I get them,” said Freeman frankly, but with a very red face.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Horton. “You may be seated, boys. Now, I want every other boy in the room who uses a key, whether it belongs to him or not, to rise.”
Nearly half the school stood then, and Mr. Horton’s keen eyes noted the glances cast at some who did not rise, and read their meaning clearly.
“That will do,” he said. Then he looked about the room slowly and searchingly.
“Clark,” he said, “you never use a key?”
“No, sir,” was the quiet reply.
“And you, Crawford?”
“No, sir,” said Crawford promptly.
The boys did not realize how much the teacher could read in their faces. He read something in several faces as Crawford gave his positive denial, and he thought to himself once more, “Crawford will bear watching.” Then aloud he said:—
“I am sorry to find that so many have been using keys; but with those of you who have frankly and honorably acknowledged it, I have no fault to find, since I have never forbidden the use of them. I do forbid it now, however, and I wish every key that any of you have here or at home, handed to me to-morrow morning. If I find any boy making use of one hereafter, I shall not let him off easily. Now take up your work.”
At recess D section gave attention to nothing but the matter of the keys. Those who had risen at Mr. Horton’s request were inclined to look with scorn and contempt upon those who had used the keys, but had not seen fit to acknowledge it.
“I say, Crawford, you certainly were cheeky! You’ve used my key more than I have myself, and you had the bluff to deny it,” said Barber.
Crawford yawned with pretended indifference, then answered coolly:—
“’Twas none of Bobby’s business what I had done. He said himself that he’d never forbidden it.”
“Humph!” said Barber, and turning, walked off to the other side of the playground.
Crawford had the grace to color a little at this, but he turned to Henderson and shrugged his shoulders as he said, “Huffy—’cause I’ve borrowed his key. He’ll get over it. But now see here—the thing I want to know is, who put Bobby up to this dodge?”
“Of course ’twasn’t any of the fellows that use the keys,” said Henderson.
“Right you are!” exclaimed Crawford, emphatically. “It was some sneakin’ saint who never stains his holy fingers with such polluted literature as algebra keys, and I don’t know anybody so likely to have done it as Clark.”
“Oh no,” cried one, “I don’t believe it was Clark.”
“You don’t, hey! Well I do, then. It takes a coward to do a thing like that.”
“You always blame everything on Clark,” cried Freeman, “and I think it’s mean of you, Crawford.”
“You think,” repeated Crawford, scornfully, then turning to the others, he went on, “Who knows anything about Clark, anyhow? He only entered the school this year. Does anybody know where he came from?”
“I believe he only came to the city just before school opened. Isn’t that so, Freeman?” said one.
Freeman colored, and looked uncomfortable.
“Yes,” he said.
“Where’d he live before?” said Crawford.
“In—in Albany,” stammered Freeman, flushing uneasily.
Crawford looked at him sharply, then turned again to the others.
“I believe it was Clark,” he repeated, “and it just makes one more thing we’ve got to pay him off for. We’ve grounds enough now, Green, for doing what we were talking over the other night.”
Green hesitated, then said slowly, “I think we ought to have some proof that Clark is to blame for this, first.”
Crawford’s face darkened. He leaned over and whispered something in Green’s ear—something unpleasant evidently, for Green shrank, and said hastily, “Oh, well, if you’re so sure he did it, I’ll back you up, of course. If he did it, he deserves all he’ll get.”
“Yes, if he did it. We know well enough he did it,” cried Crawford, “and if the rest of you will let it pass, I won’t.”
“What you going to do about it?” asked another.
“We’ll send Clark to Coventry for one thing. If I see any fellow chumming with St. Clark after this, I shall know what to think of him—that’s all.”
One or two spoke a word in Clark’s behalf, but he had been so little while among them, and was so grave and reserved that he had made no friends. Hamlin had been strongly attracted to him, but Hamlin was so bright and popular that he was always surrounded by a throng of boys, and had seldom had the opportunity to see much of Clark. Freeman’s mother and Clark’s mother were cousins, but the boys, having until recently lived in different cities, had seldom met until Clark entered the school.
Now, the majority of the boys believed that Clark had shown the white feather in refusing to fight Crawford, and cowardice is one of the hardest things to forget or forgive.
Hard days followed for Stanley Clark. The belief quickly gained ground that he had informed Mr. Horton that keys were used in the class, and this added to the cloud already resting upon him. Soon, not a boy in the section spoke to him or noticed him except Freeman. Proud and sensitive, Clark felt this keenly, and withdrew more and more into himself. He would have remained in the school at recess, but this was forbidden, so he was obliged to go out. He never stayed in the playground, however, but spent the twenty minutes walking up and down the sidewalk in front of the school. At first, Freeman used to join him there, but after a little Clark sent him away. Freeman was hurt and grieved at this, never guessing that his cousin was too generous to let him fall under the shadow that rested on himself.
So Freeman went more and more with the other boys as the days and weeks went by.
One day he was on his way home when Crawford overtook him, and to his great surprise, instead of passing him with a rough word or a sneer as usual, fell into step and walked on with him.
“I say, Freeman,” he began, “I’ve been wanting to say a word to you. I used you rather roughly a while ago.”
“’Deed you did,” said Freeman coldly.
“Yes, I acknowledge it, and I’m sorry for it. A fellow can’t say any more than that—can he?”
Freeman looked up in great surprise, half suspecting that Crawford was trying to make game of him; but the big fellow was looking down at him in a friendly fashion, and now held out his hand saying, “Shake hands on it, boy, and let bygones be bygones, won’t you?”
“Of course, if you really mean it,” said Freeman, hesitatingly giving his hand.
“To be sure I mean it, and to prove that I do, I’ll take you for a drive to-morrow—if you’ll go. I’ve a jolly pair of ponies. What time can you go?”
“Why—any time, as to-morrow’s Saturday,” said Freeman, still doubting, unable to understand this sudden change of manner.
He thought of it again and again that evening, and finally talked it over with Edith.
“It’s the queerest thing,” he said; “I don’t yet believe that he really meant it. Don’t believe he’ll come for me at all, to-morrow.”
“I hope he won’t,” said Edith quickly; “I don’t want you to be friends with such a fellow.”
“Not much danger of that,” Ray answered, “but it’s better to have him for a friend than for an enemy, isn’t it?”
“I doubt that, Ray. You know what mother says, ‘You can’t handle pitch without getting sticky fingers.’ From what I’ve gathered, Crawford is pitch of a pretty bad sort.”
“Well,” said Ray discontentedly, “I don’t see what I can do except go with him to-morrow. It isn’t likely he’ll ever ask me again, and if he does I needn’t go; but after I’ve accepted his invitation, he’d be mad if I didn’t go this time.”
“Y—es, I suppose so,” said Edith doubtfully; “but I just can’t bear the thought of your being with such a fellow even for one drive, Ray.” Crawford appeared promptly the next day at the hour appointed, and though his talk with Edith had made Freeman uncomfortable, yet he could not repress a thrill of very real pleasure, as the horses bore the light carriage so swiftly through the wide, smooth streets. Crawford exerted himself to be entertaining, and he could be very entertaining when he chose, and before the drive was over, Freeman wondered how he could ever have considered his companion ugly and disagreeable.
“I’ve had a jolly good time, Crawford,” he said heartily, as the carriage stopped again at his own door. “Thank you ever so much for taking me along.”
“Glad you’ve enjoyed it,” replied Crawford. “We’ll repeat it some day soon.”
As he drove off, he chuckled and said to himself, “Little fool! ’Twill be easy enough to get hold of him. And the innocent way the baby told me about St. Clark. Oh my! If it wasn’t rich!”
He drove around for Henderson, and told him what he had wormed out of the unconscious Freeman, and the two put their heads together and planned that which was to bring shame and deep sorrow upon Clark.
As to Freeman, he was so loud in his praises of Crawford and his kindness, that Edith began to wonder if she could have misjudged him, and to think that it might have been merely thoughtlessness and boyish roughness after all, instead of meanness and cruelty, as she had thought, that had made him treat her brother so.
Freeman looked at Crawford doubtfully when he saw him at school on Monday. Even yet, he could not feel quite sure that his new friendliness would be lasting, but Crawford called out a gay greeting and summoned him to join the group about him, and the others followed Crawford’s lead, wondering somewhat at this sudden friendliness towards “little Freeman,” but ready enough to take him in; and he, flattered by Crawford’s notice, and always too ready to follow, soon began to be counted in as one of “Crawford’s crowd.”
One morning a week or two later, Crawford and Henderson were the first to enter the class-room. After a hasty glance around, Crawford exclaimed, “You stay here at the door, Henderson, to see that nobody comes.”
Whatever Crawford had to do was quickly accomplished, and he and Henderson were lounging in the hall, when the other boys began to come in, and all went into D class-room together, where, perched on desks and backs of chairs, they dropped into lively conversation.
“Come on up here, Hendy. What are you sitting off there for?” called Crawford, for Henderson had taken the seat nearest the door, where he could see any one approaching.
“I’m waiting for Coyle,” he replied, without turning his head.
“Oh, Coyle’s always half an hour behind time. He’ll be late at his own funeral if he don’t look out,” cried Green.
“Say, Green—got your examples done?” asked Crawford, glancing at the clock and keeping an eye on Henderson.
“No, plague it! Bobby gave us a double dose yesterday, an’ it takes such a time to prove ’em all.”
“If we only had the keys now, ’twouldn’t take half so long,” grumbled Barber.
At this moment Henderson coughed, and Crawford, whose back was towards the door, called out loudly, “Well, I say it’s no fair to take away algebra keys and let the Latin class keep their ponies. Clark and some others wouldn’t get the marks they do if Bobby should make a raid on their ponies.”
“Sh-sh-sh” went around the group, and Henderson strolled carelessly back to his own seat as Mr. Horton entered the room.
The other boys looked inquiringly at the teacher, wondering how much he had overheard, but they could gather nothing from his face. They were not left long in doubt, however, for, as soon as the opening exercises were over, he said:—
“When, a short time ago, I called for all the algebra keys, I supposed that I had put an end to the use of helps of that sort, but from a remark that I overheard as I entered the school-room this morning, I am obliged to believe that I have been mistaken. I will give you the same opportunity that I gave on the previous occasion, and ask every boy who has, or who uses, any translation or other such help in preparing his Latin to rise.”
As Mr. Horton ceased speaking, one boy rose. There was a ripple of laughter, for this boy—Vale—was the dullard of the class, but the teacher’s stern voice quickly checked the merriment.
“You may be seated, Vale,” he said. “And now I wish all the members of the Latin class, except Vale, to come forward.”
His order being obeyed, he left his seat, and, walking down the aisles, looked into the desks of all except Vale. Four faces were full of dismay as he passed from desk to desk, but only one was turned toward him in blank surprise as he returned to his seat with five books in his hands.
“Barber, Green, Hopkins, Cox and Clark, remain where you are. The others may return to their seats,” he said.
Then he looked at the five boys before him with mingled sorrow and sternness.
“Boys,” he said, “I am terribly disappointed in you. It is bad enough to find that you have been resorting to such methods to avoid work and secure high marks, but you have added to your guilt by deliberately lying about it. I had thought better of you than this.”
As he paused, Clark, whose face had shown strong emotion, stepped forward and said: “Mr. Horton, did you find one of those books in my desk?”
There was a touch of contempt in the teacher’s voice as he replied:—
“I did, sir, and I hope you will not lower yourself further by useless protestations.”
“Mr. Horton,” said the boy very quietly, “I should be doing wrong if I did not declare that I have never used any help in preparing my Latin except the notes in the book itself. I never saw the book you have there, and do not know how it came in my desk.”
Somebody hissed then, but Mr. Horton promptly checked the demonstration.
“You can hardly expect me to believe you, Clark, with the evidence I have here,” he said, pointing to the fly-leaf of the book, on which were the letters “S. C.” Part of the leaf was torn out, leaving only those two letters.
The look of bewildered surprise in Clark’s eyes turned to one of proud disdain as he saw those letters, and he did not open his lips again, not even when Mr. Horton said:—
“I shall give every one of you five a failure for each Latin recitation during the past week, and for the remainder of the month I wish each of you to write at the top of your Latin exercises these words.” He wrote rapidly on the blackboard:—
“Lying lips are an abomination.”
The other four went to their seats with red faces and shamed eyes, but Clark’s face was very white, and his eyes were proudly uplifted, as if he dared his schoolmates to believe him guilty, in spite of the evidence against him.
“He doesn’t act guilty,” thought Mr. Horton uneasily, as he looked at the boy. “I wonder if it is possible that he is innocent.”
“St. Clark won’t be in good odor for a while to come,” chuckled Henderson on the playground at recess, glancing with malicious eyes at the lonely boy pacing up and down the sidewalk.
“I don’t believe he used that pony, anyhow,” said Freeman. “He didn’t need to use it, for he had read Cicero long before he ever came here. It’s just review to him.”
“Hush up, you!” exclaimed Henderson hastily. “If it’s review to him, he’s no business to be marked higher than the rest of us who never took it before. Hold your tongue, youngster, if you know when you’re well off.” He whispered the last sentence in Freeman’s ear.
“Yes, yes, keep quiet, boy,” said Crawford; and in a lower tone he added, “Don’t you fret. He’ll come out all right enough.”
But in his heart Crawford was thinking, “He won’t come out all right if I can prevent it, and I think I can.”
A BLOW FOR CLARK.
“Mr. Horton, can we have the use of this room for an hour or so after school to-day?”
It was Gordon who asked the question.
“We including—?” said Mr. Horton, inquiringly.
“All the section, I hope,” answered Gordon. “Some of us, Mr. Horton, have made up our minds that there has got to be a change in D section. We don’t like the reputation that we are getting.”
“I am very glad to hear you say so, Gordon,” said Mr. Horton earnestly. “I feel deeply ashamed of it myself, and have been giving most serious thought to the matter for some time past. But if you boys will set yourselves to work in real earnest, you can accomplish far more than is possible for me.”
“I don’t know, sir, how much we shall be able to accomplish,” said Gordon, “but some of us are bound to try. The trouble is, that there are in our section so many that don’t care anything about their standing either in their studies or in deportment. All they seem to think about is having a good time. We’ve been talking the matter over, Graham, Sherman and I, and we’re afraid that we can’t get a majority to act with us.”
“I hope you will find yourselves mistaken about that,” said Mr. Horton, “and that more than half the class will be ready to join you at once. Certainly, you can use this room; but, of course, you must be very quiet and orderly in your discussions.” “We’ll do our best, sir,” said Gordon, as he turned away and began to distribute slips of paper, laying one on each desk.
Mr. Horton picked one up. It read:—
“You are requested to attend a class meeting in this room at 2.15 this afternoon, for the discussion of matters of great importance to every member of the class.
These notices awakened the liveliest interest and curiosity, and not one boy left the room when school was over, while Mr. Horton departed promptly that there might be no delay in the business of the hour. The door had barely closed behind him when the room was in an uproar, many voices calling upon Gordon, Graham and Sherman to know what was up.
Gordon, having tried in vain to make himself heard amid the din, seized a ruler and rapped on his desk, and having thus gained attention for a second, he sprang up on his seat and began rapidly:—
“If you’ll just keep quiet a minute or so, I’ll tell you why this meeting was called. You all know that section D does not bear a very high reputation, but perhaps you don’t all know what a very bad name we have gained, not only in the school, but outside of it.”
“Oh, rats!” called out Henderson; but Green said, “Hush up, Hendy. Let’s hear what the good little boy’s got to say. We can sit down on him easy enough after he gets through preaching.”
Gordon went on, “I heard a gentleman—one of the prominent business men in town—say the other day, that ‘such a set of young toughs as seemed to be collected in section D would be a disgrace to any school,’ and a lady that my mother knows, refused to allow a boy belonging to this section to be introduced to her daughters. Now I think that we’ve all reason to be ashamed of our record when people talk that way about us, and what is more, the school board has taken the matter up, and is determined to have a change here. So you see we’ve got to behave ourselves anyhow, and so why not take matters into our own hands and do it of our own accord without waiting till we’re forced into it?”
“Oh, shucks! I’d like to see anybody force me to do anything I don’t want to do,” said Crawford.
“Or me, either,” said Henderson.
“Oh, well—if you want to be suspended or dismissed from the school for good, I’ve no doubt that can soon and easily be brought about,” said Gordon.
“They ain’t agoin’ to suspend fifteen or twenty boys, an’ don’t you believe it,” said Coyle.
“’Specially when those fifteen or twenty belong to the brightest section in the school,” added another boy.
“Small thanks to you for that,” retorted Graham, at which there was a general laugh, the speaker being by no means a brilliant scholar.
He joined in the laugh, saying lazily, “Oh well, the rest of you do poling enough without me.”
“But we’re losing ground even in scholarship,” put in Sherman, “another section beat us last quarter, and a girl’s section at that.”
“Oh well, we don’t grudge the pretty dears a few marks,” supplementing his remarks with a coarse laugh, and a word or two that made more than one boy’s cheeks burn.
“There, fellows!” cried Gordon, turning to a group near him, “that’s the kind of thing that has brought our section down so low. It isn’t just fun, or even carelessness and disorder. It is low, filthy talk, and the oaths that some of us use so constantly, that make everybody so down on us, and I don’t wonder at it.”
“Pretty little boy! Does his mammy know he’s out?” said Henderson, tauntingly.
“’Course she does. He’s still tied to her apron-string,” put in Coyle.
“I suppose you think such talk is very smart,” said Gordon, trying hard to look undisturbed, “but I think we are all old enough to begin to act like gentlemen, to say the least, and some of us mean to show that we are gentlemen. We are going to form a law and order society, and elect a president and secretary, and see what we can do to make our section one to be proud of.”
“Suppose one of our crowd should get the most votes for president,” queried Crawford, “what then?”
“I’m perfectly willing one of your crowd should be president, provided he will pledge himself to forward the objects of the society,” said Gordon, as he pulled a book from his desk, and opening it, added, “A few of us who feel pretty deeply on this subject have drawn up a rough pledge which every member joining our association must sign—and keep.”
“Go ahead, Deacon, read it out,” called Henderson.
“Yes, stand up like a little man and read right out,” added Crawford; and Gordon read:—
“We, the undersigned deeply regretting that our section has gained such an undesirable reputation, do pledge ourselves to do all in our power to maintain order in school hours, and to raise the standard of scholarship, of conduct and of conversation in section D.”
To this ten names were affixed—including Gordon, Graham and Sherman.
“You must think we are all fools if you believe we’re going to tie ourselves up like that,” shouted Henderson with his coarse laugh as Gordon finished reading.
“A fellow wants a little fun even in school,” said another.
“Might as well join the church, an’ done with it, as to sign that thing,” said Green.
“Boys,” cried Gordon, trying to make himself heard above the clamor of voices, “I know there are some, whose names are not here, who will join us. Please come on and sign now—all who will—and then we’ll withdraw to some place where we can talk this thing over quietly.”
Six other boys signed their names amid taunts and jeers from Crawford and his cronies.
“Now there are sixteen of us,” said Gordon, “and as there are forty in the section, we lack four of half. I don’t believe that all the rest want to be counted in as opposed to what we all know is right.”
Clark had listened silently to all that had been said. He was heartily in sympathy with Gordon, and wanted much to add his name, but he hesitated, uncertain whether, even in such a case as this, he would be welcome. But he could not endure to be counted in with such fellows as Crawford and Henderson, and so he rose and took the pen to sign his name.
“Hello!” cried Crawford quickly, “St. Clark among the law-givers, eh!”
Clark’s face flushed, but he said nothing.
Then Henderson shouted, “He’s a fine one to be setting up for an example, he—the son of a thief who’d be behind the bars this moment if he hadn’t absconded with his pickings.”
Instantly every voice was hushed and every eye turned on Clark. His face grew deadly white, and the pen dropped from his fingers. He turned towards Henderson and tried to speak, but no sound came from his lips, and in another instant he had turned and rushed from the room.
“Henderson, is that true?” demanded Gordon sternly, as the door closed behind Clark.
For once, Henderson absolutely looked ashamed of himself, and his manner was much less blustering than usual, as he said sulkily, “Yes, ’tis. His father is that Albany fellow who had to leave the country because he had used trust-funds.”
“Well,” exclaimed Gordon, “I don’t care if it is true, it was a contemptibly mean thing for you to blurt it out like that before the whole class. How would you like it if it was your father?”
“My father is a gentleman,” said Henderson, drawing himself up proudly.
“That’s more than can be said for his son,” muttered Sherman with a glance of disgust at Henderson’s coarse face; “I shouldn’t think Clark would ever want to come into this school-room again.”
“Small loss if he didn’t. We don’t want sons of convicts here,” said a hot-headed Georgian.
“Don’t say that, Lee,” said Gordon. “For my part, I’m right down sorry for Clark. He can’t help what his father has done, and isn’t to blame for it, and yet he’s got to have it thrown up at him all his life.”
“Reckon he’s got some of the same blood in his veins. They say if a fellow will lie he’ll steal too, and Clark came mighty near lying over that Latin business,” said a boy who had not before spoken.
“Don’t know about that,” quickly responded a little fellow named Reed.
Crawford looked up hastily at that, but Reed was not looking at him, and he said nothing.
Finally, three more boys signed their names, making nineteen in all, and then Gordon courteously requested those who were not willing to sign, to leave the room, which, after some noise, and not a few disagreeable remarks, they did. Then a vote was taken which resulted in a large majority for Gordon as president, Graham as vice-president, and Sherman as secretary.
“It’s a pity we haven’t two more, then we’d have more than half the class,” said one, as they left the room.
“Hamlin will be back next month; he’ll be on our side,” said Graham.
“Hamlin? Why he’s the biggest monkey in the class,” laughed another.
“Oh, he’s full of jokes and monkey shines, I know,” returned Graham, “but there isn’t a mean streak in him, and you never knew him to deny it if he had cut up any caper.”
“That’s so. He’s true blue every time” added Gordon.
“There’s little Freeman—he was absent to-day. Think he’ll sign?” asked Graham.
“Doubtful,” said Gordon; “he’s getting pretty thick with Crawford’s crowd lately—more’s the pity. He used to be rather a nice little chap.”
“He and Clark are related, aren’t they?” questioned one.
“I believe somebody said they were,” answered Graham. “I did feel right down sorry for Clark to-day,” he added.
“So did I,” said Sherman. “He looked as if he had had an awful blow when he left the room.”
“I say—can’t we be a little more decent to him?” suggested Gordon. “We’ve been sending him to Coventry with a vengeance. I don’t believe a fellow in the class ever speaks to him now, except Freeman.”
“I wouldn’t be hired to come to school if I were cold-shouldered in such a fashion,” said Raleigh.
“If it wasn’t for that Latin business I’d stand by Clark after this,” said Graham.
“I never could get over his taking that blow so meekly from Crawford,” said another.
“Meekly!” echoed Gordon, “Were you there when that thing happened?”
“No, some of the fellows told me about it.”
“Well, if they told you that Clark took that blow meekly, they lied—that’s all! I was standing close by, and I saw the whole thing. When Crawford struck him, Clark’s eyes fairly blazed, and he grabbed Crawford’s wrists, and I thought he was going to lay him out sure. I know he could have done it, but he just held himself in, and the next minute he flung Crawford’s hands away from him and ran up the stairs as if he did not dare to trust himself within reach of that hound.”
“Meaning Crawford?” said a listener.
“Meaning Crawford. He and Henderson are not fit to be among decent fellows, in my opinion.”
“That’s an entirely new version of the fracas between Clark and Henderson,” said the one to whom Gordon had spoken, “and puts another face on that affair; but how about his informing about the algebra keys? Henderson says he heard him talking to Bobby about it.”
“Henderson!” repeated Gordon scornfully. “Don’t quote Henderson to me! Such a foul-mouthed cad as he is, is a disgrace to any school. I’ll admit that I’ve never caught him in a lie, but all the same I haven’t an atom of confidence in him, and I don’t think Clark or anybody else ought to be condemned on no stronger evidence than his word.”
“I don’t know but you’re right,” was the reply, “but I doubt if Clark comes back at all. I wouldn’t if I were in his place.”
But Clark did go back; to the surprise of many of the boys he was in his seat as usual the next morning; he might have been the only boy in the room, however, for all the attention he paid to his classmates.
Several of them, feeling that he had been hardly used, and not feeling at all sure that he deserved all the blame that had fallen upon him, were inclined to make advances, but he met them with a coldness that repelled the most friendly, and after one or two such rebuffs they left him again alone. Not one of them could begin to understand the bitter agony of his proud young soul, and the unspeakable mortification he suffered continually through the father of whom he had once been so proud.
The law and order society met regularly once a week after this, and its influence soon began to be felt, even though it worked against heavy odds, for those who had not joined seemed determined to do all in their power to lessen its influence and to maintain the undesirable reputation that the section had already acquired. On the other hand, the members of the new society, realizing the fact that so many were working against them, were impelled to do their utmost for the improvement of their class record. The result was that the nineteen members soon showed a marked improvement in scholarship, while their orderly and gentlemanly deportment was in striking contrast to the rough, turbulent behavior of the other half of the class.
“Well, Hamlin, are you holding a reception? I’m sure we are all very glad to see you back again,” said Mr. Horton, as he entered the school-room one morning and found Hamlin the center of a merry, noisy group.
“It’s no wonder he’s a favorite. That smile of his is enough to win anybody,” the teacher thought, as from his seat at the desk he glanced again and again at the constantly increasing group about Hamlin; but at a stroke of the bell the group dissolved as if by magic, and each boy dropped into his own seat.
At recess Hamlin was seized almost bodily and hurried off to the playground. Clark had obtained permission to stay in that day, and Mr. Horton chanced to glance towards him just in time to note the expression on his face as he looked after Hamlin and the eager crowd that bore him away. As they disappeared Clark sighed, and opening his book, began to read.
A hand upon his shoulder made him start and glance up in surprise. Mr. Horton was standing at his side looking down at him.
“Clark,” he said, “I have come to the conclusion that I wronged you when I doubted your explanation about the translation I found in your desk.”
“Yes, sir, you did,” said Clark; “I told you the truth.”
“I believe you did, Clark, and I ask your pardon for doubting you,” said Mr. Horton, holding out his hand.
There was a lump in the boy’s throat and his eyes were hot as he took the offered hand, but he did not speak—he could not at that moment.
“I know no more about the matter, my boy, than I did that day,” Mr. Horton went on, “but I have been watching you ever since, and I believe that you can be trusted.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Clark, the first smile that his teacher had seen on his face for many a day flitting across it as he spoke. It was gone in a moment. It seemed as if his lips had almost forgotten how to smile.
“Have you any idea how the book got into your desk, Clark?”
“I have an idea, but it may be a mistaken one, and I would rather say nothing about it,” Clark replied in a low voice.
“You have not made many friends in the school, have you?” asked Mr. Horton after a moment’s silence.
“I don’t quite know why it was so at first, but now—now I don’t wonder at it.” Clark spoke the last words so low that his teacher had to bend his head to catch them.
“I would like a talk with you, my boy. Can you come to my house this evening?” he asked presently.
“I am not at liberty until nine o’clock,” Clark answered.
“Not any evening?” said Mr. Horton in a tone of surprise.
“No, sir—except Sunday. I take notes in shorthand every evening from six to nine.”
“You don’t have very much time for study, then?”
“No, not very much; but I don’t have to spend very much time on the Latin, as I have read Cicero before.”
“Indeed? Then I see you did not need any notes for it.”
“No, sir. I used to go to a private classical school, and most of my time was given to languages and history.”
“Ah, yes. Well, you have had two study-hours to-day; what lessons have you now to prepare for to-morrow?”
“I’ve very little to do—just a bit of work in English literature.”
“Very well, then, can’t you walk home with me after school?”
Clark assented, and the teacher returned to his seat as the bell rang and the boys trooped noisily up the stairs.
In the long talk that Mr. Horton had with Clark that afternoon, he learned the bitter secret in regard to his father—now, alas, a secret no longer—and felt his heart go out to the lad who was bearing so heavy a burden on his brave young shoulders.
“You would be sure to hear it after a while, Mr. Horton,” Clark had said, “and I’d rather tell it to you myself just as it is.”
“And that is why you and your mother came here to live,” said the teacher, voice and eyes full of sympathy he knew not how to speak.
“Yes, sir. An old friend of mother’s got this place for me. I’d learned stenography just because I liked it, not expecting ever to use it to earn my living.”
“And has your mother no means?” questioned Mr. Horton gently.
“No, sir,” he said. “She gave up every dollar of her own private means, and if I live, every penny that was lost thro’ my father shall be repaid, if it takes me a lifetime to do it.”
“Clark,” said Mr. Horton, “I am proud of you. No danger but you will succeed, only,” he laid his hand kindly across the lad’s shoulders—“only you must not allow yourself to grow morbid under it. Remember you are responsible for no one’s wrong-doing but your own. Keep that in mind, and don’t let any chance reference or intentional fling embitter you, or turn you against others. Remember that they can judge only by what they see, and they see but little of the truth.”
“It’s done me no end of good to talk with you, Mr. Horton. It’s a great deal to me to feel that you trust me,” and Clark’s voice would tremble a little, as he added, “I shan’t feel so alone now. You see I’ve had no one to talk to—for of course I couldn’t let mother know how things went at school. She has enough to bear without any worries on my account.”
“There goes a young hero, if there ever was one,” the teacher said to himself as he looked after the tall lad going down the street a little later. “I must try to find some way to make it pleasanter for him at school. I’ll talk to Hamlin about it, the first chance I get.”
It was not long before he made the opportunity, and the few words he felt at liberty to say awakened in David Hamlin a very strong interest in his schoolmate.
Hamlin had already become a member of the law and order society, though he grumblingly declared that he thought it was a shame to make him promise to give up all his fun.
A few days after this, Clark happened to be a little later than usual in getting off to school, and rushing out of his doorway, ran plump into a lad who was standing in the vestibule.
“I beg your pardon,” he said hastily, and would have hurried on, but the other held out his hand, saying:—
“Well, now, if that isn’t a friendly greeting for a fellow that’s been standing here twenty minutes waiting for you! Do you always come out of your front door in such a boomerang style as that?”
“No,” said Clark with a laugh, as he took Hamlin’s offered hand. “I’m not often so late.”
The two walked on together, and in spite of himself, Clark’s proud reserve melted under the sunny friendliness of his companion. Hamlin would not be held off. He persisted in talking as if Clark was “in the swim” of school doings, just as he himself was, and Clark did not know how to undeceive him.
“I didn’t see you at the L. A. O. meeting yesterday,” he remarked as they walked on. L. A. O. was short for law and order society.
“I’m not a member,” said Clark, coldly.
“What! You, the most orderly fellow in the section, not a member of that society!” exclaimed Hamlin. “Why not?”
“They didn’t want me,” said Clark.
“Didn’t want you? Oh, come, now, you can’t make me believe that. Why, I thought every fellow in the room was in the L. A. O. or the Antis.”
“Anti? I hadn’t heard of that. Do you mean that the Crawford crowd has organized an opposition to the L. A. O.?” asked Clark.
“Just that; and I heard Henderson boasting that they’d got half the class on their roll.”
“They haven’t my name,” said Clark.
“Of course I knew that,” said Hamlin, “but they’ve got some fellows that I wouldn’t have believed would join such a gang—little Freeman, for instance. I always thought he was such a nice little chap, and now he’s thick as thieves with Crawford.”
“What!” exclaimed Clark, stopping short in amazement, “Freeman thick with Crawford! Why, I thought he couldn’t endure the fellow.”
“That’s what I thought, but Freeman’s ’round with that crowd every recess, and I saw him out driving with Crawford yesterday.”
“I hadn’t an idea of it. That must be stopped,” said Clark with a troubled face. “Crawford’s no kind of a fellow for a little chap like Ray to be with.”
“You’re right, there,” responded Hamlin. “I wouldn’t have my little brother ’round with such a fellow for a good deal.”
They had reached the school by this time, and Hamlin had only time to say, “I shall propose your name at the next meeting of the L. A. O. We need your help against the Antis.”
The Antis were primed for mischief that day. Before the opening exercises were over, Mr. Horton knew that there was a hard day before him. The spirit of rebellion was abroad in the air. His orders were obeyed, but slowly and reluctantly, as if under protest. There was a continual shuffling of feet, knocking of books against desks, dropping of pencils, and a buzzing and murmuring here, there, and everywhere, impossible to locate, yet plainly distinguishable. The L. A. O.’s were orderly and attentive, every one, but the others did their utmost to keep them from making perfect recitations by coughing, laughing, and interrupting as much as they dared. Finally, Mr. Horton sent Crawford to the board to work out a problem. Crawford was very quick when he chose to be. To-day he pretended to be uncertain about his work and put down the figures very slowly. Mr. Horton had taken his stand in the back of the room, the better to watch the unruly ones. Unfortunately, he was very short-sighted, and Crawford took advantage of this fact. He had considerable artistic ability, and could make a likeness with half a dozen strokes, and he could use his right and left hands with equal facility.
So, as with his left hand he slowly worked out the problem, with his right he drew sketches of Mr. Horton on the board, carefully keeping his own broad shoulders between his work and the teacher. In one sketch, Mr. Horton was represented with a pipe in his mouth, in another with his hair à la Pompadour, and again he had the tonsure of a monk, and so on.
Mr. Horton, standing at the back of the room, tried in vain to discover what was causing so much merriment. At last, suspecting that Crawford was at the bottom of it, he suddenly called out, “Stand aside, Crawford, and let me see your work.”
Crawford obeyed, but as he did so he swept the eraser across his last artistic effort. He had to do it so hurriedly, however, that enough remained to show what had been there, and as the teacher returned to the platform, he saw how Crawford had been amusing himself and the class.
“Crawford,” he said, “you will have a failure for this recitation.”
“I solved the problem you gave me correctly,” said Crawford.
“I know you did,” said Mr. Horton.
“Well then,” persisted Crawford, “I don’t see why I should have a failure.”
“If you have anything more to say you can come to me after school,” said Mr. Horton.
“I call that right down mean,” said Crawford, in a tone that all about him could hear, “and I won’t stand much more such treatment.”
“Crawford, you may go to Professor Keene’s office,” said Mr. Horton, gravely.
Muttering something half aloud, Crawford arose and swaggered across the room, turning at the door to make an elaborate bow, first to Mr. Horton and then to the class. He did not go to the office, however, but straight to his rooms, where he ordered his ponies brought around, and then driving back to the school, sent in a note to Henderson.
Henderson read it, and then passing it to Coyle, he went to the desk and said, “Mr. Horton, I’ve just had word that my father has been taken suddenly ill. Can I be excused?”
Mr. Horton looked at him sharply, but Henderson’s face was grave and troubled, and after a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Yes, you may go.”
He did not see the wink and grimace with which Henderson favored his classmates as he turned away and left the room.
Two minutes later, he was seated beside Crawford, and the horses were bearing them swiftly along, while they chuckled over the neat way in which they had “done old Bobby.”
“Now the ringleaders are out of the way, I hope there will be no more disturbance to-day,” thought the teacher; but his hope was not destined to be realized.
As the door closed behind Henderson, somebody snapped a marble up to the ceiling. As it dropped, it struck Raleigh’s glasses. He started up with the blood streaming from his face where a sliver of glass had cut it.
“Who threw that marble?” said Mr. Horton in a tone that none of them had ever heard from his lips before. Then, as no one answered, he stepped quickly to Raleigh’s side. “Did any of the glass go in your eyes?” he asked anxiously.
“No, sir, I think not,” answered Raleigh, putting his handkerchief up to his cheek, which was bleeding quite freely.
“Come with me to the dressing-room, Raleigh, and Hamlin, you may take charge of the room until I return,” said Mr. Horton, still in that stern tone that boded ill for the one who had caused the trouble.
The room was very quiet while Mr. Horton was absent. When he returned, having sent Raleigh home, he said slowly, “I call upon the boy who threw the marble that injured Raleigh to stand.”
He waited, amid a silence that could almost be felt, but no one moved.
“I understand, of course, that whoever did it, had no intention of injuring anyone. It was simply a piece of the thoughtlessness and lawlessness that prevail in this section, but I intend to find out who is to blame in this instance. Once more—I ask the boy who threw that marble to rise.”
Still no one moved, and the stern look deepened in the teacher’s eyes.
“I am very sorry that he has not manliness enough to acknowledge frankly what he has done. There are some boys in the class that I know are above suspicion. With the exception of these, I shall ask each one separately.
“Green, did you throw that marble?”
“No, sir,” said Green.
“Do you know who threw it?”
“I do not.”
From seat to seat Mr. Horton passed, asking these two questions of each boy. In every case the answer was the same. Hamlin, Graham, Clark, Gordon and Raleigh were among the boys of whom the questions were not asked.
Mr. Horton returned to his seat, and the boys waited breathlessly for what should follow. Without another word he dismissed the class, asking the members of the L. A. O. to remain. He looked surprised as Clark passed out with the Antis, and said to Graham, “Isn’t Clark a member of your society?”
“No, sir,” Graham answered; and Hamlin added quickly, “I want him to join, and I’m almost sure he wants to. There’s not a fellow in the class that keeps the rules as he does.”
“None better, I am sure,” said Mr. Horton; then he added, “I want to say to you that I have noticed with much pleasure a very decided improvement in the class since your society was formed. I believe that every one of you is doing his best in respect to studies, and in trying to raise the general standard of the class. This has been a very trying day to me, but if, as I hope, Raleigh’s eyes have escaped injury, this affair may, in the end, prove a blessing in disguise, for I am sure that some of the lawless ones have been pretty thoroughly frightened, and perhaps you can persuade some of them to join with you after this. I hope so, I am sure. When I discover the boy who threw that marble to-day, I shall make an example of him. If he had confessed, I would not have been hard on him, but he has aggravated his fault by lying about it, and a lie is, to me, next to unpardonable. It is one of the hardest things for me to overlook. I have hope of a boy if he is truthful, even though he has a host of other faults. Now, boys, if I can help you in any way about your association, I shall be most glad to do so. My hope for section D is in you.”
“Bobby’s first-class. I like him,” said Hamlin, as the boys walked homeward together.
“So he is,” said Gordon, “but I tell you what, boys, the L. A. O.’s have a big contract on their hands.”
“To put down the Crawford gang, you mean?” said Hamlin.
“Yes, I believe they grow worse and worse.”
“So they do,” assented Graham. “Have you any idea who threw that marble?”
“It was somebody down in Freeman’s neighborhood,” said Gordon.
“Likely as not ’twas Freeman himself. He’s getting to be as bad as any of ’em,” remarked another.
“Pity, too—I hate to see a fellow change as he has,” said Hamlin. “Why not try to get him into the L. A. O.?”
“Don’t believe you can do it. He’s awfully set up because Crawford makes so much of him now. I see them out driving together often,” said Sherman.
“Queer, too—shouldn’t think a fellow like Crawford would want a little chap ’round with him so much,” said Gordon.
“Shouldn’t think Freeman’s folks would like it, if they know of it,” said another.
“Well, boys, I turn off here. Don’t forget the meeting of the L. A. O. to-morrow. Something’s got to be done,” said Gordon.
“And the question is—what?” added Hamlin.
And that question was often in the minds of them all through the next twenty-four hours.
UNPLEASANT FOR CRAWFORD AND HENDERSON.
Crawford’s mother had died before he was five years old. His father outlived her but a few months, and by the father’s will his lawyer, who was also an old friend, was appointed guardian to the child and trustee of the large property to which the boy was heir.
This lawyer, Mr. Chase, was a scrupulously honorable man, but he was a very busy one, and, being a bachelor, knew little about the bringing up of a boy.
At six, Crawford was sent to boarding-school. His bills were promptly paid, and, from the time he was ten, he received a liberal allowance—far too liberal for his own good. His vacations were spent at school or at some gay summer resort, and he was allowed to do pretty much as he pleased, provided he did not run in debt. So that it was not to be wondered at that the boy had grown up wild and selfish and brutal. He had never had a home since he could remember, and thus far in life he had found that money would secure about everything that he wanted.
Once or twice his guardian had remonstrated with him mildly about his low standing in his classes, or the reports of idleness and mischievous behavior in the school-room, but his private opinion was, “Boys will be boys, and he’ll settle down and be steady enough, after a while.”
It was at Crawford’s own request that he had been sent to the high school. The first year he had gotten on fairly well, but this second year his conduct had been so unsatisfactory, that Mr. Horton and Professor Keene had both written to Mr. Chase, and that gentleman had at last come to the conclusion that he must have a serious talk with his ward.
So, desirous to have it over as soon as possible, he went to Crawford’s rooms the next day after the trouble in section D. He found the boy stretched out in a big easy-chair, a cigarette in his mouth and a novel in his hand.
“Faugh!” the lawyer exclaimed in a tone of disgust, as Crawford sprang up; “do throw away that vile-smelling thing. A good cigar is bad enough, but how anybody can abide the smell of cigarettes, is more than I can understand.”
Crawford tossed the objectionable roll into the grate, as he said, with a laugh, “Pity you don’t smoke, sir. You don’t know how much you miss.”
“Pity you do, I should say,” replied Mr. Chase, sternly. “You’ll ruin your health and spoil your brains if you don’t stop it. In short, my boy, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s high time for you to turn over a new leaf. I am not at all pleased with the reports I have from your teachers.”
“Oh, you know, then,” exclaimed Crawford, in a tone of relief.
“Know what? That you’ve been idling away your time and playing silly tricks here, as you have at the other schools you’ve attended? George, there must be an end of this. You are not a little boy any longer. Here you are seventeen—nearly eighteen years old—almost a man. It is time that you showed some ambition, and set to work to make something of yourself.”
Crawford laughed lazily and indifferently, as he asked:—
“Did you get a note from Keene, to-day?”
“No,” said Mr. Chase, briefly.
“Well, you will to-morrow then, and I’ll tell you beforehand, the contents of it. Prof. Keene will write to inform you that I am suspended for two weeks. At the end of that time I may have the privilege of returning, provided I will make a sufficiently humble apology, and promise to be a good little boy for the future. Much I’ll apologize!” he added, with a scornful laugh. He was wholly unprepared for the way in which his news was received.
“Suspended!” exclaimed the lawyer, starting up. “This is a pretty piece of business. Tell me what you have been doing. You needn’t try to smooth it over. Tell me the whole story, for I shall certainly see Prof. Keene about it to-day.”
Considerably taken aback, but still trying to preserve his careless manner, Crawford told what he had done.
“Well, sir, all I have to say is, that you richly deserve what you have got; and now let me tell you that you may as well make up your mind first as last, to go back at the end of the two weeks, and make the apology and give the promise that Prof. Keene requires—for that is what you’ve got to do.”
“Never! I’ll never do it,” cried Crawford, angrily.
“You will do it, or I’ll put you where you’ll have to behave yourself whether you like it or not,” was the stern reply.
“What do you mean?” questioned the boy.
“I mean, George, that I am beginning to realize that you’ve had altogether too much liberty. It is evident that you cannot be trusted to manage yourself and do as you choose. You do not choose the things or associates that I approve. I hear of you around with that wild young Henderson continually, and in places where you have no business to be; and now you have disgraced yourself and gained a name at school that you ought to be ashamed of. I’ll give you just one more chance. If you attend to your studies for the next two weeks and keep up with your class, and at the end of that time make a suitable apology to your teachers, and hereafter behave yourself and try to redeem your character in the school—very well.”
“And if I refuse to do all this?” questioned Crawford, his face flushed with anger.
“If you refuse,” said the lawyer, slowly, “I will put you in a reform school, if I can’t find any other place where you will be forced to behave yourself.”
Crawford fairly choked with rage.
“I’ll—I’ll run away first,” he sputtered.
The lawyer laughed. “I’ll risk that,” he said. “A very brief experience of roughing it, and earning your own living, would bring you to your senses. No, George, you’ve come to a turning place in your life. Now make up your mind to face the situation manfully, and make a record that you and I can both be proud of. I’ll be around again in a day or two, and I am sure that you will have made up your mind not to be so foolish as to throw away this chance.”
Crawford had never been taught to control his temper, and he gave full vent to his furious anger, after the departure of his guardian. He fumed and raged like an overgrown child, and vowed that he would never “knuckle under to Keene and Horton to please old Chase.” He had just begun to cool off a little when Henderson appeared. His face was as black as Crawford’s as he flung himself into a chair saying:—
“You look about as I feel, Crawford; wonder if you’ve had as pleasant an interview with your old man as I’ve had with mine.”
“I’ve had a sweet lecture from old Chase,” replied Crawford, moodily, “and I’ve been trying ever since he left to decide whether or no I’ll cut the whole business and clear out somewhere. I’ve more than half a mind to go out west and go to work.”
“Oh, no, don’t think of that. You’d be a big fool to clear out when you can have all the money you want here.”
Crawford looked up quickly. “And you,” he said, “are you going to go back and promise to be a good little boy?”
“Expect I’ve got to,” replied Henderson, moodily.
“Well, I never would have believed you’d back down so quickly,” said Crawford, scornfully.
Henderson’s face flushed angrily.
“I’ve no choice in the matter,” he said, shortly. “The old man says if I don’t I can shift for myself hereafter.”
“Well, that’s my case too. Why not go out west together? We’ve heads and hands of our own—why shouldn’t we earn our living for three years? Chase can’t keep me out of my money after I’m twenty-one.”
“Oh, it’s easy enough to talk about earning a living,” said Henderson, impatiently, “but I tell you what, Crawford, you’d sing another tune after you’d tried it a few months. You wouldn’t find it much like living as you do here, driving out when you choose, and always having your pockets full of money.”
“They are anything but full most of the time,” put in Crawford.
“Yes, but you can get all the credit you want. It would be a very different thing, I tell you, if you had nothing but what you earned. Neither you nor I have learned anything by which we could earn a dollar,” said Henderson, gruffly.
“But I say, Hendy, it will be mighty tough to have to go back to school and eat humble pie. Think how the fellows’ll chaff us if we meekly agree to be good little boys and keep the rules hereafter.”
“Let ’em chaff,” growled Henderson. “We’ll soon show them that we mean to play our little games in the future about as we’ve done in the past.”
“But we’ve got to promise not to do anything of the sort before we can go back,” objected Crawford.
“Promise!” echoed Henderson scornfully. “Who cares for a promise? We’ll get back on our promise and then forget all about it. What cuts me in this business,” he went on, moodily, “is that I’ve got to drop out of the company. I was a fool not to think of that before I told that yarn to Bobby.”
“I declare, I haven’t once thought of that. You’ll have to resign, of course,” said Crawford.
“Of course,” echoed Henderson. “It makes me mad as fury to think that I was such a fool to get into a scrape like this just now, when it’s so near the drill. I believe we’d have won the prize sure this year, for the fellows are so wild to get it away from Company A, that every man of ’em has worked with a will. I was going to give them extra drills once or twice a week evenings, for this last month, and now with a new captain they won’t stand half as good a chance.”
“I declare that’s too bad, Henderson. Wish now I’d never sent that note in to you.”
“You can’t wish it so much as I do,” said Henderson. “But there is no use crying over spilt milk. Maybe, Company C will win after all. We must try to think of some way to help their chances. But you see, Crawford, it’s enough sight worse for me to go back than for you—since you’ve no rank to lose.”
Crawford drummed on the table and looked thoughtful. After a moment’s silence he said, “It is harder for you than for me, Henderson, and I suppose if you are going back I must keep you company, since I got you into this fix.”
“Shake hands on it,” said Henderson quickly, holding out his hand. “I was awfully afraid you’d refuse, Crawford, and to have gone back without you would have been altogether too much for me.”
“We shall have to be mighty careful for a while at any rate. Bobby will watch us with all the eyes he has,” said Crawford gloomily.
“Bobby!” said Henderson with a sneer. “I reckon we’re sharp enough to hoodwink Bobby, and if with the help of Coyle and Green and the rest of our crowd we don’t make it lively for those precious L. A. O.’s, I miss my guess, that’s all. But now, see here—the governor says that if I don’t stand as well in class as I have done, or if I give Bobby any cause to complain of me hereafter, then that’s the end of it. I can drop out of high school and go where I like, but never a dollar will he give me if I starve.”
“Whew!” whistled Crawford. “He’s in earnest, isn’t he?”
“I should say so. I never would have believed he’d cut up so rough,” growled Henderson.
“My orders are much the same,” said Crawford; “only, as the money belongs to me after all, Chase can’t carry it with quite such a high hand, you know. I hate the idea of it all, though. Think of going back and pegging away like Clark, and Gordon and that lot, and never have any fun,” grumbled Crawford, gloomily.
“Oh bosh! You’ve brains enough, Crawford, and after all it’s time you did brace up and work a little. It’s just laziness that has kept you so low in class, and if you half try, you can stand as high as Clark or Gordon. Only think how that would grind them.”
Crawford laughed. He was secretly pleased at the other’s estimate of his ability, and the idea of standing as high, or possibly higher than Clark and Gordon was an alluring one.
“I’ve half a mind to try it,” he said. “It would be something new under the sun for me to go digging, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” assented Henderson. “I fancy it would astonish some people; and see what an advantage it would give you, too. Bobby comes down on you twice as hard as he does on me, and it’s only because I stand high in class and you don’t. Now, you just go to work, and Bobby will soon be so proud of you, and so delighted at the change, that he will wink at lots of things that now he would not overlook; while Chase will be so pleased that everything will go smoothly in that quarter.”
“Oh, but, Hendy,” objected Crawford, “think how slow and stupid it will be—just deadly dull—all hard work and no fun.”
“No fun? Don’t you believe that. You and I will be models of good behavior in the school-room, but all the same if we don’t make life a burden to Bobby, then I miss my guess.”
“But how, how?” questioned Crawford eagerly.
“Why, this way. We’ll plan the mischief, and let the rest of the Antis execute it, and bear the blame. We’ll see all the fun, and go scot free.”
“They won’t agree to that,” said Crawford.
“You see if they don’t. It will cost something, but if I carry off the honors of the class, I’m sure my dad will be ready enough to increase my allowance, and Chase would do the same for you, wouldn’t he?”
“Probably, but what then?” questioned Crawford.
“Why—a spread for the Antis now and then, or an excursion down the bay—we footing the bills—will buy over all our crowd, I reckon. As to Green and Coyle, they’ve got to do as we say, till they can pay the money we’ve lent ’em.”
“Well, that is a scheme,” said Crawford, thoughtfully; “I wonder if we can carry it out.”
“Don’t see why not,” replied the other; “and by the way there’s another thing,—we must start in on it to-morrow.”
“Studying, you mean?” queried Crawford.
“We must do that, but that was not what I was thinking of. We must stir up a rumpus in the class-room to-morrow.”
“How can we? and why not wait till we go back?”
“Why, don’t you see that if there is no disorder while we’re away, and plenty of it after we come back, Bobby’ll lay it all at our door. As to how—let’s call a meeting of the Antis here this evening. We can plan enough to make things lively in the school-room for a week to come, and if we promise the fellows a spread next week, they’ll be ready enough to carry out our plans.”
So it was that a message reached every one of the Antis before six o’clock that evening, and almost every one responded to the call. Some of them were really bad boys, more were neither good nor bad, but ready to follow any leader who promised them “fun.”
The session that day had been the most quiet and orderly one of the year, and Mr. Horton had thought to himself that he might hope for a continuance of this state of things for two weeks, at least. He found out his mistake before an hour of the second day was over. There was no act of open disorder or disobedience, but the Antis were restless and noisy, ready to laugh at the slightest excuse, and to keep on laughing as long as they dared.
When, in the history recitation, one of them remarked that “Warren Hastings went to the same school and sat on the same seats as the pheasants of his native country,” an uproarious burst of laughter followed, and all through the session similar blunders were made in the gravest and most innocent manner imaginable, by different boys. When the hour came for the algebra recitation, an unusual quiet prevailed in the room, and when Mr. Horton sent Reed to the closet for a piece of chalk, more than one boy waited breathlessly for what was to follow.
Reed flung open the door and reached up to the shelf for the chalk-box, but the next moment it fell from his hands, and with a cry, he sprang back and slammed the door, but not before a snake had slipped out into the room. It was a big black fellow, nearly three feet long, and as it wriggled about under the seats, there was such a commotion in the room, that for a moment the teacher could not make himself heard; and in that moment Green flung open the door, and the snake was quickly hustled out into the hall. A girls’ class-room was directly opposite, and to the delight of the disorderly element, the girls’ door stood ajar, and the boys succeeded in driving the snake accidentally through the opening. Then ensued shrieks and screams as the girls jumped up on desks and seats, some of them even mounting to the window-sills.
But in a moment Mr. Horton, understanding what the noise in the girls’ room meant, appeared there, seized the snake by the tail, and flung it from the window.
When order was restored, and the teacher questioned his own class, every boy denied all knowledge as to how the snake came to be in the closet, and although Mr. Horton had his own opinion on the subject, he had no proof, and could do nothing.
The next day was no better. Never had the class been more trying or more disorderly than in the two weeks that followed, and never had the teacher found it so difficult to decide whom to punish.
The L. A. O.’s were almost in despair. It was in the second week that a meeting was held, and the matter very earnestly talked over.
“It does seem a shame that a few mean fellows should be able to upset everything as they do in this class,” Gordon said indignantly. “I did hope that it would be different at least while Crawford and Henderson were away. I thought that they were at the bottom of it all, but that can’t be, for it has been worse than ever for the last week. Does anybody know who is the ringleader?”
“Seems to me the Antis are all ringleaders,” said Raleigh.
“I’ve found out who put the snake in the closet,” announced Hamlin.
“Who, who?” shouted a dozen voices eagerly.
“Green,” replied Hamlin.
“How’d you find out?” asked Gordon.
“I was in Smith’s bird-store down the avenue yesterday. I’ve bought fancy pigeons of him several times, and he’s a friendly sort of chap, and as I happened to think of that snake, I asked him if he had sold one within a week or two. He said yes—he sold one to a sandy-haired fellow about my size—a fellow with an anchor on his left hand. Well, that fits Green to a T.”
“So it does. So he was at the bottom of that; and I know it was Coyle that mixed up all our overshoes yesterday, so it took us an age to sort ’em out. I don’t see the fun in such tricks, for my part,” said Raleigh.
“Well, say, boys—what are we going to do about it? If every L. A. O. in the class should get a hundred this quarter, it wouldn’t bring our class record up to a decent mark, so long as the Antis cut up as they do.”
“Does every fellow except us here belong to the Antis?” asked one.
“Yes, all except Clark,” said Gordon.
“I say it’s a shame that Clark’s name is not on our roll,” broke in Hamlin. “I believe he’s a splendid fellow, and I don’t think we do right to shut him out just because of what his father has done.”
A silence followed, while the boys looked at one another uneasily.
“It isn’t all—his father,” remarked one.
“No—it’s the things that happened the first of the year,” said another.
“But I, for one, don’t believe that he deserved the blame he got in either of those cases,” said Hamlin boldly; “and no one can deny that he’s the best all-around scholar in the class; and as to deportment, no fellow could do more to help our record than he does.”
“He’s too much of a prig,” muttered one; while the Georgian, saying something about “convicts,” turned away and looked out of the window.
With a disappointed air, Hamlin dropped the so evidently unwelcome subject of Clark’s admission to the society, and the discussion of what should be done was resumed.
“Seems as if we might persuade a few of the Antis to come over to our side,” said Raleigh. “Some of the smaller fellows—Freeman and Vale, for instance.”
“Vale might possibly be talked over, but Freeman seems to be a hopeless case. I’ve done my best, but he’s too much in with the worst ones. I don’t think it’s any use to talk to him,” said Gordon.
“Well, let’s try Vale again. You tackle him, Gordon, and I’ll try Claflin, and the rest of you see if you can talk over anybody else,” said Hamlin.
“I wonder if it would be possible to get Bobby to divide the section, and mark the L. A. O.’s and the Antis separately,” suggested Gordon thoughtfully.
“We might talk to him about it. He’ll do anything he can to help us, I know,” said Hamlin.
For an hour the discussion was continued, but when the boys separated it was with a most uncomfortable sense of the fact that—try as they might—they never could change the reputation of section D so long as nearly half of their number were determined to do all in their power to prevent such a change.
Mr. Horton willingly agreed to keep the records of the Antis separately, but he told the boys that that could make no real difference, since the section must rank according to its marks as a whole.
VERY NEARLY AN ACCIDENT.
Hamlin’s failure to induce the L. A. O.’s to admit Clark to their society made him the more determined to show all possible friendliness himself towards his lonely schoolfellow, and he made it a point to walk to and from school with him, or to have a chat with him at recess, as frequently as he could. Clark appreciated the other’s kindness, and understood perfectly well that it was through no lack of effort on Hamlin’s part that he—Clark—was not asked to join the L. A. O.’s.
Several other boys, Gordon and Graham among them, began to follow Hamlin’s example so far as to nod and say a pleasant word to Clark now and then, but he felt that they were doing this merely to please Hamlin, and did not respond very cordially to their advances.
As to Freeman—Clark’s attempts to draw him away from the Crawford crowd had signally failed. Freeman seemed to have lost all desire for his cousin’s companionship, and coldly and even curtly refused all Clark’s invitations to walk or talk with him.
Clark had little time and less inclination in these days for visiting, but he went occasionally to see his aunt and cousins. One afternoon he found Edith alone, and looking so pale and troubled that he could not help asking what was the matter.
The girl’s lip trembled, and her blue eyes filled with tears as she answered simply, “I’m so worried about Ray, Stanley.”
“What about him, Edith? Is it anything in which I can help you?” he asked kindly.
“Oh, I don’t know. He is so changed lately. He used to be the dearest boy, and now, since he has been with Crawford and Henderson so much, he is so different. He doesn’t seem to care for mamma or me, and he goes out evenings and won’t tell us where he goes, and he seems to have lost all interest in his school work. His last report was the poorest he has ever had.”
“I am so sorry, Edith,” Clark answered, “I’ve tried to get him away from that set, but he doesn’t care to be with me any more. He as much as told me to ‘mind my own business’ and let him alone, the last time I spoke to him.”
“Yes,” sighed Edith, “that’s the way he answers me. But Stanley, Ray isn’t really a bad boy, and I’m sure that something is troubling him, and that is what makes him so cross, lately.”
“Perhaps it is his low rank in class,” suggested Clark.
Edith shook her head. “No, it’s something more than that, I’m sure,” she said. Then she added earnestly, “Don’t give him up, Stanley. He has always looked up so to you, and I’m sure he does care for you a great deal more than for those horrid big fellows that he goes with now, and—and, we must get him away from them somehow.”
Her voice trembled, and Clark’s face expressed the sympathy he felt.
“I’ll do all I can, cousin Edith. If only Crawford and Henderson wouldn’t come back to school, I think there would be much less trouble. They are the evil influence in the class,” he said, thoughtfully.
“Yes, and the evil influence that is leading my brother astray,” said Edith, sadly.
After this conversation, Clark was constantly on the watch for any opportunity to help his young cousin, not only for his own sake, but yet more for that of the sister whose loving heart was so heavily burdened with anxiety on her brother’s account. Clark had the true knightly spirit, and counted it the duty of a boy to care for his mother and sisters, and ward off from them, as far as possible, all sorrow and trouble. No mother ever had a more tender, thoughtful son than his mother had in him, and since he had no sister, he felt himself in duty bound to do for Edith, as far as he could, what her own brother failed to do; and above all, to bring back that brother to the path of duty and uprightness from which he had strayed.
But how to do this was the question—since Freeman avoided him and responded so coldly to all his advances. Clark pretended not to see this, and persisted in being friendly, yet he felt more than a little discouraged, and was often tempted to give it up, and leave the boy to do as he would. It was only the remembrance of Edith’s sorrowful face that kept him from doing so.
Out of school hours, Freeman now spent half his time in Crawford’s rooms, and during the weeks of Crawford’s and Henderson’s absence, he spent every recess with Coyle, Green, and others of like character.
When it was known in school that Crawford and Henderson had been suspended, there was much wondering and speculation among the L. A. O. as to whether or no they would return and make the apology, and give the promise required. After the meeting at Crawford’s rooms, the Antis knew that the two boys would return, but they took good care not to let the L. A. O.’s know anything about the matter.
Every face in the room was full of eager interest and curiosity, as nine o’clock approached on the morning after the two weeks were ended.
When, after the opening exercises, Prof. Keene entered the room followed by Crawford and Henderson, there was a silence that could be felt. Every eye was fastened on the two boys, who stood with downcast faces while Prof. Keene said a few earnest words to the class.
In spite of their bravado, and the hidden purpose that sustained them, both boys found it more of an ordeal than they had anticipated to stand there and acknowledge that they had done wrong and were sorry for it, and to promise that they would endeavor from that time on to keep all the rules of the school, and give no further cause of complaint.
Some of the Antis began to clap, as the two slipped into their seats, but Prof. Keene stopped that instantly, remarking sternly that this was no occasion for applause.
During the remainder of the session, Mr. Horton threw more than one puzzled glance at the two boys. There was something in their faces that he could not understand, but they certainly gave him no cause for complaint, for they were models of good behavior.
The L. A. O.’s cast many curious and wondering glances at them also as the hours passed, and these two, who had so long been ringleaders in disorder, sat apparently unconscious of the half-subdued buzzing and whispering and laughter of their own set, who seemed to be intensely amused at this new state of things. And when not only Henderson, but Crawford as well, had perfect recitations in each study, the surprise of the L. A. O.’s was evident, to the ill-concealed delight of the Antis.
After school, Mr. Horton detained the two boys to say a few earnest words to them, and then to tell them how much pleasure their fine recitations and orderly deportment had given him. As he begged them to use their influence, which he knew to be great, on the side of law and order, Crawford hung his head and a flush of shame dyed his cheeks as he thought how little he deserved commendation; but Henderson looked boldly into his teacher’s eyes and coolly promised to do his best.
“I say, Henderson, you’re a bigger hypocrite than I am,” said Crawford, as they went down stairs.
“Oh, pshaw! What’s one lie more or less?” said the other coolly. “Besides, I’m going to be a model of good behavior now, you know—a perfect little lamb,” and he laughed at the remembrance of “Bobby’s” face, and the way they had “taken him in.”
Never had Mr. Horton been so perplexed and so worried and tormented in his class-room, as in the weeks that followed the return of Crawford and Henderson. Having no clue to the real state of the case, he was completely deceived, and took the greatest satisfaction in the change in these two, while at the same time he was at his wit’s end to understand what caused the increasing disorder and disturbance in the room, and who was at the bottom of it all.
The L. A. O.’s, after much persuasion, had induced three of the Antis to change sides, so that now there were twenty-three L. A. O.’s and thirteen Antis besides Crawford and Henderson. One boy had left the class, and Clark belonged to neither side, so the L. A. O.’s had a large majority; but all the same, thirteen bad boys, especially with two such leaders as Crawford and Henderson, can accomplish a deal of mischief, and this thirteen certainly did.
Could Mr. Horton have been an unseen listener at a spread given to the Antis by Crawford and Henderson at the rooms of the former, he would have understood the matter, for the boys, as they disposed of the feast, laughed and rejoiced over the success of their schemes, and planned yet more and more exasperating trials for their long-suffering instructor.
Among those present at Crawford’s “spread” was Charlie Reed. Thus far Reed had looked upon life as a huge joke, and his one purpose was to get as much fun as possible out of every hour in the day. He had refused to join the L. A. O.’s, because he declared that there was “no fun” in keeping the rules and working for honors. So he was always ready to carry out any mischievous suggestion of the Antis, and not a little of the class disorder might justly have been laid at his door. And after all, he meant no harm. With him it was pure thoughtlessness and love of mischief. One of his favorite amusements was to adorn the blackboard, out of school hours, with absurd sketches of the boys or of the teachers.
One morning before school he had drawn a sketch of a very dudish young man and a lady arrayed in bridal costume; and, lest anybody should fail to recognize the intended likenesses, he had written above this artistic production the legend, “Bobby leading Miss Carr to the altar.”
The boys shouted, as Reed finished his sketch, for Miss Carr was the oldest teacher in the school, certainly twice Mr. Horton’s age, and not at all prepossessing in appearance.
Suddenly a boy at the window called out, “Hi, fellows—look over there. There she comes now, and isn’t she a daisy!”
The boys rushed to the window. It was a rainy morning, and Miss Carr, in waterproof and overshoes, was picking her way through the puddles, and, as it happened, Mr. Horton, who had overtaken her a moment before, was holding his umbrella over her head as they crossed the street.
In watching these two, the boys forgot all about the sketch on the board, even Reed himself never giving it a thought, and there it was when Clark, a moment later, entered the room, Mr. Horton being only a few steps behind him. At that instant somebody cried out in smothered tones, “You’re in for it, Reedy. Look at the board.”
Reed started up with a cry of dismay, but dropped into his seat again as he heard Mr. Horton’s voice in the hall.
Clark glanced at the board, and taking in the situation, instantly snatched the eraser and rubbed out the drawing as he passed the board. It was barely done before Mr. Horton entered the room. He looked in surprise at Clark turning away from the board, but the boy quietly took his seat, while Reed, with a sigh of relief, settled back in his; and as it was almost nine o’clock, the teacher asked no questions.
At recess, Reed joined Clark, who was walking up and down the sidewalk alone, as usual.
“It was awfully good of you to rub out my scrawl, Clark,” he said.
Before Clark had time to reply, Hamlin joined him, and, with a nod, he turned away from Reed, and the latter, after a moment’s hesitation, strolled back to the boys in the playground.
It was that same day that Clark took a roundabout way home for the sake of the air and exercise. He was walking slowly down a shady, pleasant street, when he noticed a pretty little three-year-old girl coming down the steps of a handsome house near the corner. The little thing had evidently escaped from her nurse, for she cast anxious glances back at the open door as she trotted across the sidewalk. She was just in the middle of the street, when a fire-engine came dashing around the corner at full speed. The child, hearing the gong and seeing the galloping horses coming straight towards her, stopped short in a bewildered fashion, too frightened even to cry out. It was impossible for the driver to stop the horses or turn them aside enough to pass her, but in that instant of time Clark sprang forward, his rapid rush carrying both himself and the child just out of the way of the engine. He and the little girl both rolled in the dirt, but neither was hurt beyond a bruise or two.
As he got on his feet and lifted the frightened child, she began to cry and held out her arms to her mother, who, with a white, shocked face, came running down the steps. She held the little one close, and for a moment she could not speak, but then her eyes filled with tears of gratitude as she turned to Clark and tried to thank him. But, boy-like, Clark felt shy and embarrassed now, and tried to slip away through the crowd that had quickly gathered.
“Do tell me your name,” the mother pleaded earnestly.
Clark opened his lips to give it, but seeing a reporter whip out his notebook and pencil, listening eagerly for the answer, and not wanting to figure as a newspaper hero, he said quickly, “I’m very glad that the little girl was not hurt,” and lifting his hat, slipped through the crowd and was gone.
With a disappointed look, the mother carried her little girl into the house, while the reporter, casting an injured glance after Clark, proceeded to gather from the crowd all the particulars of the affair.
When Clark reached the school-room the next morning, Reed was talking away excitedly to a group of the boys, who were listening and questioning him with eager interest.
“And you didn’t find out who the fellow was?” asked Crawford.
“No—he wouldn’t tell my mother what his name was, and the reporter couldn’t find anybody in the crowd that knew him,” said Reed.
“Lucky for your little sister that he happened to be on hand just that minute, whoever he was,” said Sherman.
Reed’s usually bright eyes were suspiciously dim as he answered in a low tone, “Yes—I can’t bear to think of it.” Then he added, “My father says he’d give a hundred dollars to know who the boy was.”
“Queer idea, not to give his name,” remarked Henderson.
“Well—he was a brave fellow, anyhow,” said Crawford. “Tell you what—I wouldn’t care to run in front of a fire-engine, going at the rate they always do go.”
“Nor I,” said Coyle, “He ran the risk of being awfully hurt, if not killed.”
“That’s what I call courage,” remarked Hamlin emphatically, going over to Clark, who had taken his own seat on the other side of the room.
“Did you hear what Reed was telling, Clark?”
“Yes, I saw the account in the paper,” answered Clark quietly, “but I didn’t know until just now that the little girl was Charlie Reed’s sister. I didn’t know where he lived.”
“Yes—it’s his only sister. She’s a beautiful child, and they’re just devoted to her—the whole family. I never saw Reed so stirred up over anything before. You know he generally turns everything into a joke, but he doesn’t feel like joking this morning. Pity they can’t find out who the fellow is—isn’t it?”
Clark muttered some unintelligible reply, and Hamlin, surprised and a little disappointed at the other’s apparent lack of interest, turned away to his own seat.
Even to his mother Clark did not mention the affair; and she, as she read the account in the paper, had no suspicion that her own son was the modest young hero who had refused to give his name; while Reed never dreamed that it was his quiet schoolmate that had saved his home from being a house of mourning. But somehow, he could not forget the affair, or shake off entirely the impression that it had made on him. He began to realize that life is not all “fun,” and the coarse jokes of the Antis began to lose their flavor for him, and finally he amazed and rejoiced the L. A. O.’s by asking for admission to their number. The enthusiastic welcome that he received from those whom he knew to be the “best fellows in the class” was all that was needed to make him heartily glad of the break that he had made.
THE COMPETITIVE DRILL.
Henderson had tendered his resignation as captain of Company C the day after he was suspended. He was surprised that he had received no notice of the acceptance of the resignation, and had more than once questioned the officers of his company since his return to school, but none of them knew anything about the matter; so he was feeling very uncomfortable about it, when, one morning, he received a summons to Professor Keene’s office. He answered the summons promptly. Ten minutes later, he left the office with his face brighter than it had been for many days.
“I say,” he said, as he joined Crawford, who was waiting for him, “would you believe it, Crawford, Keene won’t accept my resignation?”
“And you’re to remain captain?” said Crawford.
“Yes, and if Company C doesn’t win the prizes this time, I’ll know the reason why. There’s Griffin ahead. Come on, I want to speak to him.”
Griffin was first lieutenant of Company C, and was quite as anxious for that company to win as was Henderson himself, and so he entered heartily into the latter’s plans for long and frequent drills during the next four weeks.
Eager as the boys themselves were to win the prizes, some of them were inclined to grumble before the month was over. They didn’t think quite so much practice was necessary; but though they complained, they had to submit to the captain’s orders.
It must be confessed that, as the important day approached, the recitations did not improve, but the teachers were lenient, and made all possible allowances.
This annual drill was always an affair of great interest to all the pupils of the two high-schools. Even the boys not in the battalion, and the girls, were quite as much interested as the cadets themselves, and this year the interest was increased by the offer of a costly and very beautiful gold medal in addition to the prize banner. The banner had been held for the last two years by Company B of the Eastern school, and of course that company and that school were as determined to retain it, as the companies of the Central were determined to win it.
There was no finer company in the battalion than Company D, of which Gordon was captain and Hamlin lieutenant. The boys of this company had a hearty respect and affection for their officers, both personally and officially. It was Gordon’s way to do his best whatever the work in hand might be, and through all the past year he had carried out that principle in regard to his military duties as well as in his work in the class-room; and because he was always fair and just as well as friendly with them, whether in the drill, on the playground, or wherever they were together, the boys of his company were always ready to carry out his wishes. This year, they were one and all determined that their captain should wear the gold medal, and they themselves the red ribbons of the prize company. Gordon himself wanted it too—of course he did—but he would have scorned to win by any but fair means, while Henderson was determined that by fair means or foul, Company C should stand first.
The drill was to take place on the baseball grounds. There were in the two schools seven companies, and each was to drill for thirty or forty minutes, four companies drilling the first afternoon, and the remaining three, the second.
Company C was second on the list of the first day, and Company D was the last on the next day.
Henderson kept his company drilling from eight till ten o’clock on the last night before the drill, and neither he nor any of his men were in their seats in the school-room, the next morning. In fact, very few of the cadets in either school put in an appearance that morning, and no very great interest was manifested in the lessons by any of the pupils, and the classes were dismissed an hour earlier than usual.
The weather was all that could be desired, being clear and cool for a summer day. The gates were not to be opened till four o’clock, but long before that time a great crowd had assembled, and horns, bells and bugles kept up an unceasing din, while gay silk banners bearing the letters of the different companies, and canes and batons wound with ribbons were waving everywhere.
Every high school pupil who could be there was there, and all wore ribbons. The boys wore small strips on which were printed the company letters, but the girls fairly rioted in ribbons. Some wore them as hat-bands, some as shoulder-knots with long streamers. Many had batons wound with two or three colors, with bows and streamers at the end, while yet others, and these usually very bright or pretty girls, wore the colors of two or three, or even more companies, in one big cluster.
As soon as the gates were opened the seats were rapidly filled, and long before the drill began every one of the six thousand places was occupied.
Crawford had hired one of the boxes, and Freeman sat there with him. Edith was there, too, but she sat with some of her friends on the other side. Edith was a very pretty girl, and Crawford would gladly have given her a seat in his box. Indeed, when he saw her, he sent Freeman to ask her to join them, but she returned them a polite refusal, and remained where she was, to Crawford’s secret vexation; nor was this feeling lessened, when, a little later, he saw the cordial welcome she gave to Clark, and the readiness with which she made room for him at her side.
The judges were three army officers, and promptly at the appointed hour they appeared on the field, and a moment later, Company A marched in on the opposite side, welcomed by ringing cheers and shouts from their friends, and ear-splitting horn salutes from their foes—that is, those whose sympathies were with other companies.
Quiet fell upon the throng of spectators as the drill began, and all eyes watched the boys in blue, some in breathless anxiety lest there be some slip or blunder—some in equally great anxiety lest there should not be.
The company did itself credit, and as all went smoothly, its eager well-wishers began to believe that this time A would surely stand first, when, almost at the last moment, the captain dropped his sword. Poor fellow—he felt badly enough about it without the groan that he could not help hearing, from the grand stand, and though not another slip occurred, and he marched his men off the field in fine style, he and they knew well that their chance was gone.
As they passed off, Company C marched on. Henderson’s dark face was full of grim determination, yet there was a shadow of anxiety in his glance as it rested for a second on the last man in the rear rank. That was Baum. If any one blundered, it was safe to be Baum; but Baum had done finely for the past month, surely he would do his best to-day. So ran Henderson’s thoughts, as he led his men forward. No danger of Henderson making a blunder. He meant to go to West Point yet, for all his tastes were for a military life, and he had the manual at his tongue’s end. No danger of his getting rattled. He was sure of himself and sure of his men—all but Baum.
And Company C did well. As Henderson’s strong voice rang out, his orders were obeyed with the promptness and exactness of clockwork. The judges nodded approval, and made memoranda on their programs, as order after order was given and obeyed. Henderson’s eyes shone, and his heart beat high with proud satisfaction, and then—then, at last that wretched Baum blundered. When the company was ordered to load and fire, lying down, his discharge was so far behind the others that a shout of derision broke from some of the rougher boys among the spectators, and Henderson felt an insane longing to seize Baum’s gun and whack him over the head with it.
And Baum, knowing well what was in his captain’s heart, felt his heart sink into his boots as he wondered if he could possibly fire at all the second time. How he did it he never knew, but the second discharge was fine, and the poor fellow drew a breath of relief as he braced himself to meet the storm that he knew would burst upon his head the moment the drill was over. And it did. Henderson hardly waited to get off the field, before he burst into a torrent of angry abuse and vituperation, so bitter and so profane that it shocked the others into silence, and no other boy said anything to Baum about what had happened; and he, dropping into the most unnoticeable place he could find, pulled his cap over his eyes and brooded over his “hard luck.”
Henderson, his face still dark with anger, joined Crawford and Freeman, and sat there glowering at Company E. This being notoriously the worst drilled of the seven companies, he had no fear of its gaining the prize, and he gave but little heed to what passed till Company B came on. Then he roused himself, and hastily scrawling a line on a slip of paper, told Freeman to “Give it to that cub over yonder,” the cub referred to being Baum.
Baum read the message, and his gloomy face lightened a little, as he nodded to Henderson, and then proceeded to tear the note into tiny bits, and presently he slipped away.
Shouts and cheers greeted the appearance of Company B, and banners bearing that letter were raised and waved from every quarter. Pink was the company color, and a large and very beautiful banner of pink silk with B embroidered in the center, was set up in the front row of the bleachers as the company marched forward.
Henderson scowled, and whispered something to a little fellow just then passing his seat with a basket of candies and chewing gum for sale. A silver dollar slipped into the basket, and a few minutes later the candy boy delivered a second message to Baum, who had returned to his seat.
Now all eyes were watching Company B, which seemed in a fair way to win fresh laurels, as one manœuvre after another was swiftly and dexterously executed. There was no blundering Baum to spoil the shooting, and the captain of Company B, easy and self-possessed, was in no danger of dropping his sword or committing any other blunder.
Henderson’s watchful face darkened yet more as the minutes passed, and he cast uneasy glances toward the quarter where Baum now sat among a noisy group.
In one of the manœuvers the company approached quite close to the place where this group was sitting, and suddenly a score of voices shouted an order, quite drowning the voice of the captain as he gave an entirely different one. Only the men nearest to the captain understood his order. The others, confused by the unexpected call from the seats, hesitated, wavered, and obeyed the wrong order, and Company B’s chance for the prize was gone.
“Good, good!” hissed Henderson in Crawford’s ear. “Baum managed that beautifully. I can almost forgive him for his blunder now.”
“Did you tell him to do it?” asked Crawford.
“’Course I did. Didn’t I tell you I’m bound to have that banner by fair means or foul?” replied Henderson. “We’re ahead now, spite of Baum’s blunder,” he added, with his low, cruel laugh.
“Oh, look, look! Somebody’s pulled down their banner,” cried Freeman.
Sure enough, as Company B marched out with flushed and frowning faces, their beautiful new silk banner was suddenly discovered to be missing from the place where it had been raised. Who did it, or where it was, only Henderson, Baum and the candy boy knew; but late that night, the banner, soiled and rumpled, and looking as if it had been trailed in the dirt, was left on the doorsteps of the captain of Company B. The person who left it there rang the bell and disappeared before the door was opened.
A year before, Freeman would have been quick to condemn such mean and contemptible doings as these; but now he said nothing, as Henderson openly rejoiced over the discomfiture of Company B; and Crawford, though he said little, evidently saw nothing amiss in the methods employed.
“Here come the F’s. No danger of their winning,” Freeman said, as the final drill of the first day began.
Company F was the last formed of the seven. It had had but little practice, and nobody expected it to win, and nobody’s expectations were disappointed.
There might about as well have been no school the next day, for so great was the prevailing excitement that it was impossible for the boys to settle down to work.
The interest was even greater than on the first day. Before school and at recess hot discussions were carried on over the first three drills of the previous day, and much sympathy was expressed for Company B.
“It was a contemptible piece of business—calling out the wrong order as those fellows did,” Hamlin said indignantly, “and I, for one, am heartily ashamed that any of our fellows had a hand in it.”
“Who says any of our fellows did have a hand in it?” said Coyle, angrily.
“I know they did, for I saw some of them yelling,” replied Hamlin, “and a fellow that sat right by them gave me the names of some of our fellows who shouted the wrong order.”
“He might have been in better business,” growled Coyle, to which Hamlin quickly responded, “They might have been in better business. And then to pull down B’s flag just then, was too mean for anything.”
“The B’s are all Easterns. It’s time the Centrals got the prize,” cried Green.
“I want the Centrals to win, as much as anybody, I guess,” replied Hamlin, “but if we can’t win fairly I’d rather lose.”
“You would—would you?” said Henderson. “Well, I wouldn’t, then. That banner and medal ought to belong to a Central company. All’s fair in love and war,” he added, winking at Green.
“Well, I know that Company D will do its level best this afternoon, and I don’t believe that anybody wants those prizes any more than we do, but if we win, we’ll win fair,” answered Hamlin, and Gordon, who had just joined the group, added quietly, “So we will, Hamlin.”
“Not much danger of Company D winning,” said Henderson with a sneer. “The good little boys will get left again, this time.”
“Perhaps—if yesterday’s doings are repeated,” said Hamlin significantly, as the bell called them to order.
Gordon and Hamlin were the only members of Company D at school that morning, and Mr. Horton dismissed them at one o’clock.
As they left the building Hamlin said, “Gordon, I believe Henderson means to play us some mean trick like that they served Company B yesterday. He’s bound and determined to win the prizes, and I believe that he’ll stop at nothing to gain his end.”
“I’m a good deal of your opinion, Hamlin,” Gordon replied. “He’s perfectly unscrupulous, but I really don’t believe that he could rattle us as he did them yesterday. You see, we shall be on the lookout for him, now.”
“I don’t think myself that that plan would succeed with our men, but you see he’ll probably hatch up some new scheme that we haven’t thought of,” said Hamlin.
“Well, we won’t borrow trouble, Hamlin,” said Gordon. “We’ve only to do our best, and not worry over what may happen.”
Again, as on the day before, Crawford and Freeman were in one of the boxes, and Henderson was with them, and Clark again joined Edith and her friends, but to-day he was even more grave than usual, and his dark eyes cast quick, searching glances here, there and everywhere, but most frequently at the end of the row, where Baum, Green, Coyle and others of the Antis were gathered.
“Why Edith, you have come out in company colors too, to-day,” Clark said suddenly, noticing the pale blue ribbons she wore.
Edith colored a little. “The girls would make me wear them,” she said. “They are all interested in Company D. Two of them have brothers in that company, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” said Clark, absently.
Edith, following the direction of his eyes, leaned forward, and looked intently at the group of boys he was watching. “Do all those boys belong in your section?” she asked.
“Most of them do,” Clark answered, “and they are no credit to the section either—some of them.”
“I wish Ray would come back here with us,” Edith said, sadly. “He used to go everywhere with me, but he never goes anywhere with me now.”
Clark longed to say something to comfort her, but he did not know what to say, so he was silent.
Promptly at four o’clock, Company E appeared. In spite of her troubled thoughts, Edith could not help laughing, as a woman in the front seat, at sight of her boy in the ranks, cried out, “There he is! There’s Johnny!” and as a welcoming cheer greeted the approaching company, Johnny’s mother not only joined heartily in it, but, rising, swung her umbrella in the air and pounded the rail in front with it, while she shouted, “Hurrah for Company E!”
But the crowd was a good-natured one, and those around her only laughed as they dodged to avoid the blue umbrella that seemed quite likely to hit somebody over the head, so great was its owner’s excitement.
Company E drilled well, and the joyful excitement of “Johnny’s” mother increased as one evolution after another was performed without mishap. But alas! There are so many chances, and so many possible mistakes! The captain of Company E was so unfortunate as to lead his men so near the grand stand in one of the marches, that the commanding officer ordered them off, and this so confused the men that their firing was by no means up to the mark.
Company G, the next in order, had a fiery, nervous little captain, who was himself the cause of failure, as, in giving an order, he stepped back too quickly, and ran into one of his men so violently as to throw him down. The man recovered himself well, without throwing anyone else out, but Company G’s chance was lost, and that they realized this was evident from the faces of the boys as they left the field, passing near the entrance, the last of the seven—Company D.
That this company had many friends among the spectators was evident from the noisy welcome that rang out at its approach, and not once during the two days had such a general silence marked the intense interest as now. Edith’s friends had eyes and ears for nothing that was going on around them. They scarcely breathed as Gordon’s clear voice rang out, and his men, as if animated by a single spirit, obeyed his orders.
Gordon’s sister sat next to Edith. Her fair face was flushed with excitement, and her eyes never for an instant turned away from the boys in blue, and their young captain. Once, when a gentleman near exclaimed, “That’s the finest shooting yet,” Bessie Gordon’s hand clasped Edith’s tightly, and her eyes shone with satisfaction, but she spoke no word.
The company had just obeyed the order to lie down and load, when Stanley Clark, with a smothered exclamation, sprang from his place and dashed across to the open seats. As Edith looked after him in surprise, Bessie gripped her hand again, crying out, “Oh Edith, Edith, look!” and Edith looked just in time to see a giant powder-cracker strike the ground not two yards in front of the prostrate boys, where it exploded with a tremendous bang, the sound mingling with the discharge of the guns.
Instantly, there was a medley of shouts, cries, cheers and hisses, but Company D and its captain might have been blind and deaf for all the attention they paid to the uproar. Not a man had flinched when they saw that big cracker coming straight towards their faces, and not a gun had failed to send its volley at the command to “fire!”
Professor Keene and the other teachers quieted the excited crowds in the seats as quickly as possible, and without the slightest interruption the drill proceeded, but when it was over, and Captain Gordon, having saluted the chairman of the judges, turned to lead his company off the field, the audience went wild. Cheer upon cheer rang out. Banners, handkerchiefs, ribbon-decked parasols were waved with reckless disregard of everybody and everything, while the retiring company was literally pelted with flowers.
“It is evident that the audience has decided which is the prize company,” remarked Professor Keene with a smile, to Bessie Gordon, “and I quite agree with the general verdict.”
Bessie’s eyes were full of quiet happiness, now, but her cheeks were still a little pale from the nervous excitement of seeing that blazing cracker flying straight towards those faces that she knew would not move a hair’s breadth to avoid it.
“Here comes the band,” cried half a dozen voices, as the strains of martial music drew all eyes again towards the field, where the regimental drill was now to take place while the judges were making their decision.
But nobody paid very much attention to this. All were awaiting impatiently the announcement of the decision, and when the chairman of the committee declared Company D to have won the prizes, cheer after cheer expressed the satisfaction of the audience; and when the beautiful gold medal was handed to Captain Gordon, his men looked as proud and happy as if each one of them was to wear it himself. It was evident that they did not take half as much pride in their own red ribbons as they did in their captain’s honors.
“Aren’t you proud of your brother?” said a girl near Bessie; and Bessie answered frankly, “Indeed I am, Mollie.”
“You have reason to be, Miss Bessie,” added Professor Keene. “I am proud to have him in my school. His influence is always on the right side.”
Bessie’s eyes shone with delight at this public compliment to her brother; but Edith turned away with tears in her eyes and an aching heart, because her only brother could receive no such commendation.
FREEMAN MAKES A DECISION.
The next morning’s mail carried to every member of Company C, and also to Clark, Freeman and Crawford, a request from Professor Keene to be at his office that morning at ten o’clock. There was some grumbling, as it was Saturday, and the summons interfered with various holiday plans; but more than one face was shadowed with uneasiness and anxiety, and among this number was that of Captain Henderson.
“I’m afraid you’re in for it, Hen,” Crawford said to him on the way to the school.
“They can’t prove anything against me,” replied Henderson, uneasily; “not if you and Freeman don’t blab.”
“I shan’t, of course, and I don’t believe Freeman will. He’s a plucky little chap.”
“I’m not so sure of him as you seem to be, Crawford; but if he does let out anything, I’ll pay him out for it. He may be sure of that,” said Henderson.
When they reached the school, they found most of the company already there, and Clark and Freeman appeared a few minutes later.
The professor told Clark, Crawford and Freeman to remain in his office, while he led Henderson and his company to one of the class-rooms.
Closing the door, he stood for a moment in silence, looking from one to another of the faces before him, and some of the boys felt plainly uncomfortable beneath that searching glance. It seemed an endless time to these before the professor said, “Boys, I was intensely mortified over some of the occurrences at the drill, yesterday. I can make allowances for excitement and high spirits and thoughtlessness; but that any of my boys should have been guilty of such meanness and rowdyism, such shameless and reckless efforts to prevent others from winning the prizes, has pained and shamed me more than I have words to express.
“In the four years that these competitive drills have been held, there has never before been anything like the outrageous affair of yesterday—the throwing of that cracker.”
He paused for a moment, then went on slowly, “When I think what the results might have been had that cracker exploded towards the boys, I feel as if no punishment could be too severe for those who would risk the destruction of eyesight, or even life itself, to keep others from winning a well-deserved prize. It was only God’s mercy that prevented such awful consequences.
“Think, for one moment, boys, how some of you would be feeling to-day, if that deed of yesterday had blinded or killed some of your schoolmates!
“A thorough investigation has been ordered, and no effort will be spared to find out and to punish the guilty persons, unless they confess their guilt. If any boy will confess his share in the matter, I will do my best to lighten his punishment, but anyone who will not confess and who shall be proven guilty need look for no mercy.”
While the professor spoke, some of the boys shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, and some cast furtive glances at Henderson, who stood leaning against a desk, with a hard look in his eyes and his lips close shut.
Suddenly, Professor Keene turned towards him. “Henderson, what do you know about this affair?” he asked.
Henderson looked full into the professor’s searching eyes, and answered calmly, “Nothing whatever, sir.”
“You had nothing to do with it in any way?” pursued the professor.
“No, sir,” said Henderson.
With a disappointed look and a half sigh, the professor turned from him.
“Boys,” he said, “you have heard Henderson’s denial—now I call upon you. If anyone here knows anything about this matter, I beg him, for his own sake, to speak now. Do not let any school-boy notion against telling of another keep anyone silent. This is a very grave affair, and it is your duty to tell whatever you know about it.”
As the professor paused, Baum lifted his head and took a step forward, but the professor did not see him, and a threatening look from Henderson made him drop his eyes and keep silence.
“So,” said the professor sadly, “you all deny any knowledge of this thing? Boys, you don’t know how heartily I wish that I could believe you, but I am sorry to say that there is evidence against some of you, and some of you have not given your teachers reason to put implicit faith in your statements. I sincerely hope, however, that in this case you have told the truth. You will remain here until I return.”
He left the room, closing the door after him.
The boys did not talk much after his departure. Henderson tried to laugh the matter off, but no one responded to his flippant remarks, and, after a little, he sauntered to the window and stood there looking out in silence.
Meantime, the professor questioned Crawford, but, like the others, he steadily denied any knowledge in regard to the affair.
“You may join the others in the class-room,” said the professor, and, as Crawford left the office, he turned to Freeman. Freeman’s face was pale and disturbed, and as he stood before the professor his eyes were downcast, and he looked as if he might himself be the guilty one.
“Freeman, will you answer truthfully the questions that I am going to ask you?” said the professor.
He was feeling greatly disheartened, for he did not believe that the boys that he had questioned were all of them innocent or ignorant, yet every one had declared himself so.
“Yes, sir.” Freeman’s voice was low, and he did not look up as he answered.
“Do you know who called out the wrong order to Company B last Thursday?”
“Do you know who threw the cracker at Company D yesterday?”
“Have you any knowledge whatever about these doings—who suggested them, or who had any part in carrying them out?”
Lower yet dropped the boy’s head, and his voice was almost inaudible, but again the answer was “No, sir.”
The professor’s tone changed then. There was a ring of contempt in it as he said curtly:—
“You may go.” And Freeman went.
Then the professor turned to Clark.
“Clark,” he said, sadly, “I can forgive anything sooner than a lie. Will you tell me the truth?”
“If I can, sir. I will certainly tell you nothing but the truth,” replied the boy. His eyes met his teacher’s as boldly as Henderson’s had done, but with a very different expression in their clear depths.
The professor gave a sigh of relief. He was skilled in reading boys’ faces, and he felt instinctively that he could trust this boy.
“Tell me what you know about this miserable business,” he said.
“I know very little,” replied Clark. “I had been afraid that there might be trouble because of the strong feeling in regard to the prizes; and while Company D was drilling, I saw a lot of the rougher fellows whispering together. Then I saw one of them leave his seat and speak to a boy—not a high-school boy I am sure, certainly not a Central boy—and give him something, and then this boy walked to the back of the stand. He waited a moment, and then I saw him light a match, and it flashed across my mind what he was going to do. I ran across to try to stop him, but the stand was so crowded that I couldn’t reach him in time. He saw me coming, and I think that that made him throw the cracker before he was quite ready, and maybe that is why he threw it as he did, so that it did not explode towards the boys.”
“He was gone, I suppose, before you could get to him?” said the professor.
“Yes, he disappeared. I think he dropped from the back of the seats to the ground.”
“Should you know him if you should see him again?”
“I cannot tell, sir,” replied Clark.
The professor mused for a few minutes, then he asked, “Can you tell me the name of the boy who talked with this fellow, and gave him something?”
“I know who it was, Professor,” he said at last, “but the boys of section D have more than once accused me of telling tales, though I have never once done so. In this case I think that you ought to know who this boy was; but, sir, won’t you try to find out some other way first? If you fail to find out by other means, I cannot refuse to tell you, but please do not ask me now.”
“Very well, my boy, I will not ask you to-day, but I think likely it will be necessary for me to ask you again later. I want to thank you, Clark, for what you have told me. It is a relief to question a boy upon whose word I can rely. I need not ask you to keep silence as to what has passed this morning. I know you will do so.”
He rose, and held out his hand, and Clark grasped it and departed with a breath of relief that that ordeal was over.
Crawford, Henderson and Freeman left the school together, but Freeman turned off at the first cross-street. He was in no mood for Crawford’s careless gaiety and Henderson’s sneers and flings. He was going along with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground, when, turning a corner, he almost ran into his cousin. He would have passed on without a word, but Clark put his arm affectionately across his shoulders, and fell into step with him.
“I was just going around to your house, Ray, to see if you would go with me for a tramp over the hills,” he said; “I don’t feel like settling to work to-day, and I don’t believe you do. Come on—won’t you?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Freeman, wearily.
“Don’t you feel equal to it?” Clark asked.
“Yes, I’m well enough; ’tisn’t that,” replied the boy.
Clark thought that he looked very far from well, but he had his reasons for urging his request.
“You go on home, then, and tell Edith, so she won’t be worrying about you, and I’ll go home and get some luncheon to take along with us, and then I’ll stop for you. We can take the cars up to the end of the line, and walk the rest of the way.”
“Well, I don’t care. Suppose I might as well go as to mope ’round at home,” said Freeman, and with a cheery “That’s good, I’ll be at your house within twenty minutes,” Clark hurried away.
It was cool and restful in the open car, and Clark, seeing that his cousin was disinclined to talk, left him to his thoughts, with only a word now and then. Even after they left the car, and struck into the woods, they spoke but little.
Clark led the way to a cool, shady spot where he knew there was a spring of clear, cold water.
“There!” he said, “sit there and rest, Ray. That big tree trunk makes a splendid support for a tired back. I brought some lemons and sugar, and now I’m going to make some lemonade with this spring water. It’s almost as cold as ice. You can take out the rest of the stuff while I’m gone.”
But when he returned with his kettle of lemonade, the lunch-basket stood, unopened, where he had left it, and his cousin sat with his eyes on the distant hills—his thoughts evidently far away. Clark made no remark, but set out the luncheon himself.
“Come now, pitch in, Ray,” he said, “I’m as hungry as a bear, and I hope you are too. I don’t want to have anything to lug home but the basket and kettle. Here—try my lemonade,” and he filled a glass, and passed it to his cousin.
“I’m not hungry,” objected Freeman, but Clark laughed at him.
“Well, you ought to be. Take hold and keep me company, else I shall be ashamed of my healthy appetite.”
With merry talk and gay jokes he beguiled Freeman out of his despondent mood, and presently the little fellow found himself eating and drinking, and felt much the better for it. When the meal was finished, Clark threw himself down on the grass, and again a silence fell between the two. Clark was wondering how he could win his cousin’s confidence, and Freeman had fallen again into troubled thought.
“Ray, you don’t look happy,” said Clark, suddenly.
“Happy!” echoed the other, “I’m too miserable to live.”
“Can’t you tell me all about it, Ray?” said Clark, in a voice so full of sympathy, that, in spite of himself, Ray’s eyes filled with tears, but he choked them back.
“I’ve nothing to tell,” he said, coldly.
Silence again, and once again Clark broke it.
“Ray,” he said, “do you remember your father?”
Freeman looked up in surprise at the question.
“Yes, I remember him well,” he said. “I was eight, you know, when he died. Oh, Stanley, I wish my father had lived. I believe I’d be a better fellow to-day, if he had.”
“I remember him so well,” said Clark, slowly. “Mother used to tell me stories about him when he was a boy. He was her twin brother, you know, and she was as devoted to him as Edith is to you. I used to think that if I could ever be such a boy as Uncle Raymond was, I should be about right.”
Freeman’s eyes were shining now. He had forgotten all about himself, and was thinking only of the father whose death he had never ceased to mourn.
“Yes,” he said eagerly, “almost the first thing I can remember is walking in the street with him, and feeling so proud because he was so grand and handsome, and even now, it seems to me that he must have been nobler and finer than most men. It makes me proud to think I bear his name.”
“Raymond,” said Clark, earnestly, “are you bearing it so that he would be proud of you—if he were here now?”
The boy threw himself down, and burying his face in his hands, broke into bitter sobs.
“Oh, no, Stanley, no,” he cried; “I’m ashamed—ashamed, when I think how I’ve dragged his dear name in the dirt. Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do!”
The agony of shame and bitter sorrow in that woeful cry, wrung his cousin’s heart. He laid his hand lovingly on the bowed head as he said:—
“Turn right about, Ray, and make a new beginning. Determine that from this time on you will never do or say one thing that you would be ashamed to have Uncle Raymond know.”
“Oh, but you don’t know how bad I’ve been. Why, Stanley, I lied to Prof. Keene this very morning. I did know about that cracker. I carried the message from Henderson to Baum, myself.”
“I knew you did, Ray.”
Freeman sat upright and stared in blank amazement.
“How did you know it?” he said.
“Perhaps I ought to say I guessed it, for of course I did not know what message you carried to Baum, but I saw Henderson speak to you, and then I saw you go to Baum, and I thought you gave him something. Afterward, when I saw him hand something to the rascal that fired that cracker, I guessed at once that Henderson had sent you to do the abominable errand for him.”
“Did you tell all this to the professor?” questioned Ray.
“No, Ray, I gave the professor no names, but I may have to tell him about Baum. I cannot tell him about you.”
Freeman’s head went down on his hands again and he groaned out:—
“That isn’t all, either, Stanley. It was I that snapped the marble that broke Raleigh’s glasses, and I lied about that, too.”
“Did you do that, Ray? I was afraid it was you, but I hoped I was mistaken. Why didn’t you own up when Mr. Horton gave you the chance? He wouldn’t have been hard on you. He knew it was an accident,” said Clark.
“But it wasn’t, Stanley. At least, I meant the marble to hit Raleigh’s head, though of course, I didn’t think of his glasses. I’ve had a hand in all the mischief that has been done in the room these last two terms, and I’ve lied like a trooper right straight through it all. Stanley—I don’t believe I can help lying now.”
“Nonsense, Ray!” Clark spoke sternly, now. “Don’t be so weak as to give up trying to make a man of yourself. I tell you, Ray, your father’s son must be a true, honorable man. You have to take his place in the world—fill his place to your mother and Edith.”
“Oh I wish I could, Stanley. You don’t know how much I wish it sometimes. You think I don’t try, but I do. Lots of times I’ve made up my mind that I would break with Crawford and all that lot, and then he’d come and coax me to go for a drive or a sail, and I’d give in and go and do anything they wanted me to, though I knew all the time I was breaking mother’s heart and Edith’s. I’m just a weak good-for-nothing—I never shall amount to anything in the world,” he added, hopelessly.
“Raymond,” said Clark, solemnly, “I believe that you have come to a turning-point in your life. You’ve been going down hill—you acknowledge it. Now, if you will, you can turn right about, and go up. It will be hard at first, I know, but I’ll stand by you, and Hamlin will too, I’m sure, and when Gordon and the rest see that you mean to do the right thing, they’ll back you up too.”
“Oh, Stanley, I wish I could. I do so wish I could,” cried the boy. “But you forget about the drill. Prof. Keene will find out that I lied to him, and he’ll expel me—and mother”—he broke off, and groaned.
“Ray, if things at school could be made all right for you, would you really break with Crawford and that crowd, and try to live down this year’s doings?”
“Oh, I would, I would so gladly,” cried the boy, “but it can’t be. It can’t be made right about the drill.”
“It can in one way, Ray. If you will go to Prof. Keene and tell him what you have told me, and how sorry you are for it all, I’m sure he will forgive you.”
Freeman fairly gasped. “Go to the professor? Oh, I never could in the world!” he said, “and Henderson—he vowed he’d kill me if I told a soul, and you must never let him know that I’ve told you, Stanley.”
“Ray, you must go to the professor. He told me that he was determined to get to the bottom of the affair, and what he sets out to do, he does. He suspects Henderson, I am sure, and I believe that he will ferret out the whole business. Then you would be punished sure; but if you go and confess of your own accord, it will make all the difference in the world to him; I am certain of it.”
“But Henderson, Stanley. I’ve no right to tell on him,” said the boy.
“I think you have, in such a serious business as this. I think he deserves heavy punishment. But, Ray, you need not mention his name. You can tell what you did without implicating anyone else. Oh, Ray, do it. Your father would tell you to do it, if he could speak to you.”
Freeman turned his face away, and sat silent for many minutes. When he spoke again, his voice was low and firm.
“I’ll do it, Stanley,” he said, “but I must do it right away. Will you come with me?”
“Gladly,” and without another word, Clark picked up the basket and led the way homeward.
An hour later, Professor Keene was informed that two boys wanted to speak to him, and going down to his library, found Clark and Freeman awaiting him there. Clark stayed only until Freeman’s confession was made; then he quietly left the room and waited on the sidewalk for his cousin.
It was a long time that he had to wait. Indeed, it was nearly dark before Freeman joined him, and the two walked on together in a silence that Clark dared not break and Freeman could not.
“Not going home, Ray?” Clark said, inquiringly, as his cousin turned another way.
“I must see Mr. Horton before I go home,” Freeman answered. “I told the professor I would.”
Mr. Horton was quite as much surprised as the principal had been, when he heard what Freeman had to say to him; but he, too, was very kind, and most heartily glad to know that this one, at least, of his troublesome pupils would henceforth cease to be a trial in the class-room.
When Freeman left Mr. Horton’s house, he looked worn and weary, yet there was an expression of relief—of peace even, in his pale face. He looked as if he had laid down a heavy burden that he had long been bearing; and this, indeed, was just what he had done.
“Now I can go home,” he said. “But, oh, Stanley, I can’t be thankful enough that you persuaded me to own up to it all. You saved me from being suspended, if not expelled, for Professor Keene and Mr. Horton had found out all about it.”
“Is that so?” exclaimed Clark, in surprise. “Why, how had they found it out so quickly?”
“Mr. Horton sat where he could see both Henderson and our fellows in the bleachers.”
“Queer that the boys didn’t see him,” said Clark, wonderingly.
“His eyes were troubling him, and he wore dark glasses that day. I suppose that’s why we didn’t notice him. And, Stanley, he even knew that I threw the marble that smashed Raleigh’s glasses, and if I hadn’t acknowledged it to-night, he was going to call me up before the school next Monday. So you see, Stanley, I owe it all to you that I am to be let off so easily.”
“Without punishment, Ray?” questioned Clark.
Freeman’s sensitive face flushed, even in the darkness, as he answered in a voice that he vainly tried to steady, “No—I’ve got to make acknowledgment before the whole school, and apologize to Mr. Horton.”
Clark flung his arm affectionately across the boy’s shoulders.
“It will be a tough job for you, Ray, but I’m sure you’ll brace up and be a man about it; and if you do it in manly fashion, no fellow that amounts to anything will ever cast it up to you again.”
Freeman made no reply, and presently, at his own gate, he bade his cousin “good-night,” adding only, “I’ll never forget this day, Stanley.”
Before Freeman slept, he had to tell his story once more, to his mother and Edith; but he knew them too well to shrink from their verdict, and he knew, too, that they would but too freely forgive and forget all his wrong-doing in the gladness of the assurance that henceforth he would do his best to make up to them for all that he had made them suffer.
A PUBLIC APOLOGY.
The interest and excitement over the drill had by no means died out when the school assembled on Monday morning. Nothing else was discussed by the pupils who were there early, and all sorts of reports as to the punishment of those who had been guilty of such flagrant misdeeds were current.
Eager eyes watched for the appearance of Henderson and the members of his company, but when nine o’clock struck, none of them had been seen, and Freeman’s seat was also vacant.
Crawford did not appear until the last moment, and then he dropped into his seat with an evident desire to avoid notice.
Mr. Horton looked grave and troubled, and his brief morning prayer was so full of deep feeling that it impressed even the most careless of his pupils. As soon as the opening exercises were over, he told the class to form in line and march to the hall, and much more silently than usual, and in perfect order, the boys passed up to the hall, where, in a few minutes, the whole school was assembled.
All the teachers except Professor Keene were on the platform, and every face was grave and sad.
Never had those nine hundred boys and girls gathered there on an occasion like this, and never had such a breathless silence reigned in any of their gatherings as reigned now during the few moments while they awaited the appearance of the principal.
They had not long to wait. He came upon the platform, followed by Freeman and eight of the members of Company C, but Henderson was not among them.
Professor Keene’s words to the school were very brief, but very grave and earnest. Then he turned to the boys on the platform, and gave them such a severe reprimand as he had never before given in public to any of his pupils.
Turning again to the assembled school, he said: “To perform such a duty as this, is almost as hard for me as for those whom I am obliged thus publicly to reprimand, but I am very glad to be able to add that every one of these schoolmates of yours has made to me private acknowledgment of his wrong-doing, and has promised henceforth to do his duty in the school, and to try, by his conduct in the future, to efface from all our memories the dishonorable doings of last week; and similar acknowledgment will now be made before us all.”
As the professor took his seat, Freeman stepped forward. His face was colorless, and his voice so low and husky that only those near the platform could hear him at first. Then he caught sight of Clark’s face, full of loving sympathy and encouragement. He seemed to gather strength from that look, and drawing himself up, he made a frank, manly apology to his teachers and to the school, and earnestly declared that it should be his purpose in the future to do his duty in the school as faithfully as he possibly could. As he dropped into the nearest chair, the professor held out his hand, and said in a low tone, “You did well, Freeman, and I am sure that you will live up to what you have promised.”
Baum was the next to speak, and perhaps to no boy in the school could the ordeal have been more trying than to him. He was one of the most silent of boys, never speaking unless spoken to, and then replying in the fewest possible words. He never originated any mischief in the school-room, and would certainly not have done what he did at the drill, but for his intense and bitter mortification over his blunder, and Henderson’s angry, scathing censure before the company. Desperate over all this, he snatched at the opportunity to redeem himself in his captain’s estimation, without stopping to think about the right and wrong of the services required of him.
But in the two days past, he had had time to think the matter over, and he was sincerely ashamed now of what he had done. As he stood there facing the school his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and his heart beat so that he could scarcely breathe, while the perspiration stood in great drops on his forehead.
“Go on, Baum,” said the professor, in a low tone, and the boy burst out, “I don’t know how to speak, boys, but if I should talk all day, I couldn’t begin to tell you how I despise myself for what I did, and for lying about it afterwards. If I ever cut up so again, hope I may be shot.”
Had the boys dared, they would have given a hearty cheer for Baum, but they knew better than to attempt it; but when, feeling sure that he had made a fool of himself, he dropped into his seat with flushed face and trembling hands, he had really risen many degrees in the estimation of his classmates—though he would not have believed it had any one told him so.
The other seven boys made their apologies with more or less sincerity, and then the classes were sent to their separate rooms. But the intense feeling of the morning had unfitted them for study or recitation, and both teachers and scholars were glad when the bell gave the signal for recess.
“Say, Gordon, let’s go and speak to Baum. He came out like a man in the hall this morning,” said Hamlin. “There’s too good stuff in him to be wasted on that rough crowd he goes with.”
“That’s what I was thinking this morning,” said Gordon, as he followed Hamlin. Baum was leaning against the fence watching the various groups. He looked surprised when the two boys approached him, and when they stopped and spoke to him, his plain face lighted up with pleasure. To be thus publicly sought out by the captain and lieutenant of the prize company was an honor that Baum knew how to appreciate, and from that hour he ceased to find pleasure in the companionship of the Antis, and privately resolved that, if possible, his name should be on the list of L. A. O.’s next quarter.
“Where’s Freeman?” asked Hamlin, as he and Gordon joined Clark.
“He’s gone home. Horton told him to. He was not fit to come to school to-day, anyhow, but he wanted to be in the hall this morning,” answered Clark.
“He spoke well there,” said Hamlin, “and it must have been an awful hard thing for him to do.”
“So he did,” said Gordon, “and,” he added, “I hope that you and he will both join the L. A. O.’s next fall. We want your help, Clark.”
Clark was so taken by surprise, that for a moment he could not speak, and in that moment Gordon and Hamlin passed on.
“I’m glad you said that, Gordon,” Hamlin said, as soon as they were out of hearing; “Clark deserves it, and if the other fellows in the society will only treat him as they ought, he’ll be glad enough to join us, I know, and he’ll be a big help, too. There won’t be more than one meeting of the society this term, will there?”
“That’s all,” answered Gordon, “and I want to give all the Antis one more chance to join us. They are subdued now, and some of them, I think, might join if we ask them now—but if we wait till fall, they will have gotten over all this, and perhaps, be as bad as ever.”
“I’ve not much faith in Green’s promises,” said Hamlin.
“Nor I,” said Gordon. “He looked to me as if he apologized to escape being expelled, and not because he was really sorry for having had a hand in this business.”
“They say Henderson has cleared out. Have you heard anything about it, Gordon?”
“I heard so. Somebody said his father was so furious over his disgrace that he had turned him out of doors.”
“Well, it’s a bad business,” said Hamlin, “but one thing I’m sure of, and that is, that there’ll be a heap less trouble in section D next year if Henderson is not here.”
“I think so, too, though if Crawford is here there’s sure to be trouble enough.”
“Yes, he and Green are a bad team. I hope Freeman will keep away from them now.”
“Clark thinks he will,” said Hamlin.
“I hope he’s right,” replied Gordon; “I believe there’s good stuff in little Freeman.”
The school year was nearly ended now, and for the next two weeks written examinations were held almost every day.
When the last reports were given out, the L. A. O.’s all stood well, and some had excellent records. Clark and Gordon each had a hundred for the quarter, while Henderson and one or two others were well up in the nineties; but in spite of all this, the class record was a very poor one.
At the last meeting of the L. A. O.’s, this was the first subject discussed. Parliamentary methods had not, as yet, been introduced into these meetings to any extent, and all the discussions were perfectly free and informal.
It was Raleigh who began. “I’m about sick of this old school,” he began gloomily. “Just see how we’ve worked and dug these last two terms, and, in spite of it all, section D stands no higher than it did the first quarter. We’re still at the bottom of the heap, and still known in the city as the ‘tough section.’ I’ve made up my mind to cut it all next year and go to a private school. My father says I may.”
“And my father says I must,” said Bates, who had long since joined the L. A. O.’s. “After the doings at the drill, he said I shouldn’t come back here next year.”
“Oh, come, now, fellows, that’s too mean—to back out that way,” said Hamlin. “My father told me I could go somewhere else, if I wanted to, and I said, ‘No, sir-e-e! I’m not going to desert the old Central in that fashion.’ I’m coming back next year, and I’m going to do my best to make D the finest section in the school.”
“Good for you, Hamlin,” said Gordon’s clear, quiet voice. “My father was a high school-boy, and he says that in his time the school stood higher than any private school in the city, both as to scholarship and character. I mean to come back next year, and do all I can to bring the reputation of the school up to that point again.”
“But we can’t do it,” grumbled Raleigh. “See how it is now. After all our hard work, a dozen mean, lazy cubs have spoiled our class record, and, worse than that, made section D the talk of the town.”
“I know—it has been mighty rough on us this year,” admitted Gordon; “but, Raleigh, we won’t have quite so much to fight next year. Henderson won’t be here, and I hope we can win over most of the Antis, and break up their society altogether. Freeman, I’m sure, will join us, and I reckon Baum will, and Ridley. There won’t be so many of the tough fellows left, and they’ve all had a lesson that I think they’ll not have forgotten by next fall.”
“Henderson won’t be back, of course,” said another, “but Crawford will, and Green and Coyle, I suppose, and they can keep us from making any decent class record.”
“Crawford has behaved himself since he came back,” said Hamlin quickly, “and nobody need say anything against his scholarship now. He came near a hundred this last report.”
“He does well enough in class,” admitted Raleigh rather reluctantly, “but he and Henderson have put the Antis up to all sorts of tricks this last quarter. They didn’t deserve the marks they got for deportment.”
“I admit all that, Raleigh,” said Gordon, “but, as I said before, the Antis have had a pretty severe lesson, and I can’t believe that they’ll dare to do much to make trouble next year; and they’re most all bright enough, so, if they do make up their minds to work—I mean, if we can any way arouse their ambition and awaken a feeling of pride in the section and the school—we can make a splendid record without any question.”
“Ambition!” echoed Raleigh scornfully. “I’d like to see Green or Coyle show any pride or ambition in the school.”
“Well, I hope you will see it. Stranger things than that have happened,” said Gordon, and Hamlin added:—
“I’ve too much pride to be willing to give up the fight, and let half a dozen mean fellows run the section and ruin it. I know that both Professor Keene and Mr. Horton are heartily on our side, and I’m pretty sure that if Green or Crawford or any of the rest of that set should undertake to cut up as they have done this year, they’ll find themselves bounced without much ceremony, and I do hope that all you nice fellows will make up your minds to come back and help us make such a record next year as the Central has never had yet.”
“We never could beat A section, no matter how hard we might work,” said one.
“Pooh! Don’t you believe it,” replied Hamlin. “I’m not going to admit that a girl’s section can go ahead of us, if we really set out to win.”
“Well, you see they’ve got first rank, and it’s a sight easier for them to hold it than for us to win it away from them,” said Reed. “Possession is nine points of the law, you know.”
“There spoke our future chief justice,” laughed Hamlin, for Reed’s predilection for the study of the law was well known. “But the girls of section A will find themselves ousted from their possession of first rank in the Central next year, or I miss my guess.”
When this last meeting of the L. A. O.’s adjourned, Gordon and Hamlin felt pretty well assured that all the members except Bates would return in the fall, and they discussed between themselves many and various plans for the enlargement and improvement of the society the coming year.
The graduating class was so large that it was impossible for the members of it to take part in the commencement exercises. Once or twice in recent years, one member had been selected to deliver an oration, or in some other way to represent the class, but it was a difficult matter to select one from among so many without awakening much hard feeling, and so now the class took no part in the exercises except to sit on the platform and receive their diplomas from the hand of some distinguished man who had been invited to honor the occasion. This distinguished gentleman, or some other, was also asked to address the graduates, and such was the program on this year.
But, as the two schools numbered over twelve hundred, they and the friends and relatives of the graduates made a very large assemblage, so that the exercises were always held in one of the great opera houses.
As our boys in section D were to be themselves among the graduates the next year, they were all present on this occasion, it being to them in the nature of a rehearsal.
The girls in their white dresses and ribbons, with the beautiful flowers they carried, made a pretty picture on the platform; but this time, our boys were more interested in the other portion of the graduating class. They watched the boys as they went forward to receive their diplomas, and wondered if they themselves would be able to make as graceful a bow as some did, or if they should be as stiff and awkward as other poor fellows who became sadly embarrassed when they found themselves in such a conspicuous position.
“Now for a good time,” said Hamlin, as he left the opera house when the exercises were over. “Where are you going to spend the vacation, Clark?”
“Right here,” said Clark.
“No!” exclaimed the other. “That’s too bad, Clark. You need a rest, and it’s awful hot here in summer.”
“Expect it is,” replied Clark, “but I’ve no choice, Hamlin. Where are you going?”
“Up in the mountains. We have a summer cottage in the Catskills. I wish you’d go up with me for two or three weeks, Clark—can’t you?”
“No, I can’t possibly, Hamlin, though it’s awfully good of you to ask me,” Clark replied. “But I hope you’ll have a grand time, and come home in prime condition for work.”
“I’ll try to,” laughed the other, “and don’t you forget that we count on you as an L. A. O. next year,” and with a friendly hand-grasp, he said, “good-bye,” and ran to overtake Gordon.
A day or two later, the doors of the Central high school were closed, and the boys and girls gathered there no more, but some at the seashore, and some in the mountains, they sought rest and pleasure, while many others—unable to leave the city, soon found themselves looking forward to September, when they might take up again the school duties that, after all, have so much that is bright and pleasant, mingled with the hard and tiresome round.
NEW PUPILS IN SECTION D.
School reopened the second Monday in September, and long before nine o’clock the boys and girls began to gather about the steps, waiting for the janitor to open the doors.
Hamlin had overtaken Clark and Freeman, and when the three reached the schoolhouse gate they found a goodly number there before them, and many voices called out greetings, especially to Hamlin.
“There’s a newcomer,” Clark said; “up there near the door.”
“The chap with the rosy locks?” answered Hamlin. “Yes, he’s new, but he seems to be making himself very much at home. He’s talking away with the old fellows as if he had known them all his life. There! Jimmy’s opening the doors. Let’s wait here a bit. I don’t care to hustle through that crowd.”
“Evidently, he of the rosy locks doesn’t either,” remarked Clark, noticing that the red-haired boy had not passed in with the throng, but remained on the upper step with two or three other boys.
“Look at him, will you! Well, if he isn’t a cheeky cad!” exclaimed Hamlin a moment later, as the boy they were watching pulled off his hat and made a low bow to a group of girls passing to the other door. Among these girls was Gordon’s sister, and Grace Harlan, a cousin of Hamlin’s.
“I’d like to punch his head for him. He doesn’t know those girls—not one of them spoke to him,” Hamlin added.
“Wonder if he’ll be in our section,” said Clark, as the three boys passed up the steps.
“Hope not,” replied Hamlin. “We don’t want any of his sort in section D.”
A shout of welcome met them as they entered their own class-room, and Clark felt happier than he had ever felt before in that school-room as one and another called out a friendly greeting. Several took pains to speak to Freeman, whose sensitive face showed his appreciation of the kindness.
“Wonder if Green isn’t coming back,” said Gordon, noticing his vacant seat.
“No,” volunteered Coyle, “he’s gone to work.”
Gordon and Hamlin exchanged glances of satisfaction at this information, and both thought, “One less of the Antis.”
Green had been one of the most disagreeable boys in the class, and very few felt sorry that he would come among them no more. Several other seats were vacant, but only one of the L. A. O.’s had failed to return. That one was Bates, who had gone to boarding-school.
Soon after the opening exercises were over, Prof Keene appeared with four new boys, and Hamlin threw a doleful glance at Clark, for the first of the new-comers was the red-headed boy whom they had seen on the steps. The second was a tall, handsome lad of perhaps seventeen, and the other two were ordinary looking boys of ordinary ability, not destined to have much influence one way or the other on the standing of section D.
Of course the school could not get into smooth running order that first day, and the recess was prolonged to nearly twice its usual length. A group of the L. A. O.’s quickly got together in a corner of the playground, and, as Hamlin, Gordon, Raleigh and Sherman were among the number, the talk soon drifted to the subjects dear to all their hearts—the L. A. O. and the standing of D section.
“Say, fellows,” Hamlin began, “with Green and Henderson gone, seems to me we might get the few Antis left to join us now. If they’d only do their best, we could easily put old section D at the top this year.”
“There’s Crawford left—and Coyle,” remarked one, doubtfully.
“Coyle’s a bad lot, I know, but he’s only one; and somehow, I’ve a notion that Crawford has come back with different ideas, this term,” said Gordon.
“Why—what makes you think that?” questioned Raleigh.
“I don’t know really,” answered Gordon, thoughtfully, “only somehow there’s a different air about him. There he is over there, now.”
Every eye in the group followed Gordon’s glance to where Crawford stood leaning against the fence. There was no one near him, and something in his attitude, and in the expression of his face, convinced more than one of the boys that Gordon was right, and that Crawford was changed somehow.
“Suppose there’d be any use in asking him to join the L. A. O.?” questioned Sherman, after a moment’s silence.
“I should say ask him, by all means. He can’t do more than refuse,” said Gordon; “and we must ask the new fellows, of course. Hamlin, will you interview Rosy or the black-eyed chap?”
“Neither. I’ll take the other two fellows,” said Hamlin, promptly.
“All right, then I’ll see to the black-eyed fellow; and Sherman, you might interview Rosy. I’m going to speak to Crawford, now.”
Crawford looked greatly surprised as Gordon approached, and yet more surprised when the latter made known his errand. He dropped his eyes, the color mounted in his dark cheeks, and for a moment he was silent. Then he looked Gordon full in the face and said slowly:—
“Do you really want me, Gordon?”
“I certainly do, or I would not have asked you,” was the quiet reply.
“And the other fellows?” questioned Crawford.
“I think we shall all be glad to have you join us, Crawford,” said Gordon.
“Gordon—I don’t suppose you know what it is to be ashamed of yourself through and through. I do—and I don’t enjoy the feeling.” There was a ring of pain in Crawford’s voice as he spoke, and Gordon could not question his sincerity. He held out his hand saying, heartily:—
“The best of us go wrong so often that we can’t afford to be hard on anybody who is honestly sorry, Crawford. I want you on our side this year to help us make the old Central proud of section D.”
Crawford grasped the offered hand and then turned away without another word, but Gordon felt that the look on his face was more eloquent than any words could have been.
When he went back to the group in the corner and reported his success, some of the boys looked doubtful. They found it hard yet to believe that Crawford was in earnest, but at least they were glad to be able to hope that he would no longer lead the idle and troublesome element into fresh mischief.
“If Coyle could only be gotten rid of, now,” remarked Raleigh, “we might hope to make a fine record this year, so far as deportment goes. It remains to be seen what kind of students these new fellows are.”
“That black-eyed chap looks as if he had brains,” remarked Reed.
“Looks to me as if he thought he had the monopoly of brains,” put in Hamlin.
“He does have rather a high and mighty air,” said Sherman. “May be only shyness, though. Some fellows put on airs like that when their hearts are in their boots.”
“He isn’t troubled with shyness—anything but,” retorted Hamlin.
“Neither is Rosy, for that matter,” remarked Clark laughingly.
“You’re right there, Clark,” said Hamlin; “but there goes the bell. Say, Gordon,” he added, as they moved towards the door, “can’t we have a meeting of the L. A. O. to-morrow, to let these new fellows get an idea of what we want to do this year?”
“All right,” responded Gordon, “we’ll say after school to-morrow, then.”
When, the next day, Gordon called the meeting to order, his face beamed with satisfaction as he looked around and saw that almost the entire section was present. The only exceptions were Coyle, Barber, one of his special friends, and the black-eyed boy whom Gordon was to have invited to join them.
This was the first of these meetings at which Clark, Freeman or Crawford had been present, but certainly no one in the room was more interested than these three, who for such different reasons had hitherto been absent.
Gordon was usually very quiet and rather reserved, but he was very fond of the Central high school, as his father had been before him, and he had come back full of the desire that it should stand as high, if not higher, this year, than in the old days when his father was so proud of its reputation. So, to-day, he was so eager and so full of enthusiastic plans for raising the standard of the class, and gaining for it first rank in the school, that before long the other members of the L. A. O. caught something of his spirit, and all sorts of plans and propositions were made. It was unanimously resolved that every member should do his very best in class, and that not even the drill or ball games should be allowed to interfere with the great object.
Three of the new boys were present at this meeting, but only Dixon, or “Rosy,” as he was already dubbed in the class, made any remarks. He was on his feet half a dozen times, asking questions, making suggestions, or offering amendments.
When the meeting was over, and all but Gordon and Hamlin had left the room, the latter threw himself into a seat exclaiming, “Well, I reckon we’ll get enough of that Rosy before the year is ended! He’s of a retiring disposition, isn’t he?”
Gordon laughed. “He won’t have so many questions to ask next time,” he said.
“Won’t? Don’t you believe it. He’ll always have a raft of ’em to reel off. He may be a very nice chap, but deliver me from having anything to do with any more of the sort. But how about his royal highness with the black eyes? Wouldn’t he condescend to accept the invitation?”
“No,” said Gordon quietly, though his face flushed at the question.
“Oh, come, Gordon, you might as well out with it. Your face gives you away. What did he say?”
“Well,” said Gordon with a half laugh, “he drew himself up and looked at me as if I were a toad or a snake, and remarked that he had come here to study—not to fool away his time in clubs or any such nonsense, and that he would thank me to leave him alone.”
“Whew!” whistled Hamlin, “he’ll be pretty popular here, won’t he?” Then he added, indignantly, “Well, if he isn’t a cool customer! I reckon he’ll be let alone emphatically, hereafter.”
“Yes,” said Gordon, “but there’s one good thing. If he’s a fine scholar, and I fancy that he is, he’ll help the section that way, in spite of himself; and certainly, that sort of a fellow won’t be cutting up or getting others into mischief, so he won’t work against the L. A. O.”
“That’s so,” answered Hamlin; “but what a chump he is to take such a stand as that, and lose all the good times he might have here.”
“Yes,” assented Gordon, “but see here, Hamlin, let’s not tell the other fellows anything about this. It would turn them all against him, and I don’t think he’s likely to make many friends anyhow.”
“Evidently he does not care to make any,” said Hamlin.
“It seems not, but you know if the fellows get set against him, some of them will do their best to make it hot for him. You and I don’t want to have any hand in that sort of thing, so we’ll keep mum about this—shan’t we?”
“Oh, I suppose so,” grumbled Hamlin. “I feel as if I’d like to kick him myself, and I reckon most of the boys would feel the same way. We’ll let his royal highness severely alone, since that’s his pleasure. By the way, what is his name, anyhow?”
“Somebody said it was Everett St. John. Perhaps it’s on the strength of his aristocratic name that he puts on so many airs,” replied Gordon.
On the outer steps a group of boys stood talking and laughing—among them, Rosy. He stepped forward, and slipped his arm familiarly through Hamlin’s, as the latter came down the stairs with Gordon.
“I say, Hamlin,” he began, not in the least disconcerted at Hamlin’s straightening out his arm like a poker, “I wish you’d introduce me to Grace Harlan. She’s a cousin of yours, isn’t she?”
“Miss Harlan is my cousin,” answered Hamlin coldly, “but I never introduce boys to her except at her own request.”
“Ho, ho, Rosy—got squelched that time,” snickered Coyle, as Hamlin and Gordon passed on.
“Oh, that’s nothing. I’ll get somebody else to introduce me. Miss Harlan is the prettiest girl I’ve seen in an age,” responded Rosy serenely, while Hamlin was growling in Gordon’s ear, “Introduce him to Grace, indeed! I think I see myself doing it.”
Being a little late next morning, Hamlin took a short cut to school, passing through a side street where he seldom went. He was going along at a rapid pace when he saw Dixon come out of a door half-way down the block. When Hamlin reached the place he glanced up at the still open door. It was a low saloon.
“Dear me,” he thought, “I wish that fellow had never come near the Central. It was bad enough before, but now that I know that he goes into such holes as that—what am I to do about it? He’ll probably get other fellows in there, too. Wonder if I ought to tell Bobby.”
But to “tell on a fellow,” even in a case like this, was very repugnant to Hamlin.
“I can’t do it yet a while,” he decided, “but I’ll keep a sharp eye on him, and if I ever see him in such a place again, I’ll warn him that I’ll report him unless he stops it.”
Dixon was standing by the school gate, and greeted Hamlin with the utmost cordiality, seeming not to notice the coldness with which the other responded. It was impossible to freeze Dixon—he simply would not be frozen.
On this morning the regular recitations were to begin, and Gordon, Clark and Hamlin were eager to hear the new boys recite, that they might judge whether they would be helps or hindrances in that which our boys were so anxious to accomplish this year—to make D the banner section of the school.
They knew that two other sections, at least, were as eager and as determined as they to hold the first place, and one or two poor scholars might bring the record down in spite of all that could be done by others in the class. So eyes and ears were alert that morning in section D.
The first recitation was that of the Latin class. Clark had easily held first rank in this, though Hamlin, Gordon and Sherman were all excellent scholars. The lesson this morning was from Virgil, and according to the usual custom, the class was seated, each boy standing only during his own recitation.
“Reed, you may begin,” Mr. Horton said, “and when you have read five lines, the next may continue.”
One after another, the boys rendered the lines, and, though some had blundered, nobody had failed when it came to Clark. Clark never had been known to fail in Latin translation. The others attended to his recitation only because it was sure to be better than their own; but to-day they wanted him to get through so that they might listen to Everett St. John, who was the next in order.
The lesson was from Virgil, and Clark’s lines ended with the words of Æneas, which he translated thus:—
“By its own fortune, a tempest drove us, carried over different waters, to the Libyan shores—if by chance, the name of Troy has come through your ears. I am the pious Æneas, known by fame above the air, who carry with me in my ship the Penates torn from the enemy. I seek Italy, my country, and a race from greatest Jove.”
As Clark took his seat, St. John rose and said coolly:—
“Those last lines were very roughly rendered, Mr. Horton. It is much better this way:—
“A tempest, by its own chance, drove us, borne from ancient Troy (if, perchance, the name of Troy has reached your ears), over various waters, to the African shores. I am the pious Æneas, known by fame above the sky, who bear with me, in my fleet, the Penates snatched from the foe. I seek Italy, my fatherland, and an ancestry that sprang from sovereign Jove.”
Then, without noticing in the least the astonished and indignant glances of the boys, who resented the criticism on Clark, not so much because it was Clark, but because it was the finest Latin scholar in the class, St. John proceeded with his own five lines, translating not only very correctly, but into choice and elegant English.
Mr. Horton’s face expressed his satisfaction at such an acquisition to the classical department. He even forgot the rudeness shown to Clark, who had come to be one of his favorite pupils, so greatly did he enjoy the thought of teaching such a scholar, and he turned with a sigh to the next boy, whose lame, halting sentences formed so great a contrast to St. John’s.
Nobody except the one reciting paid much attention then, until Dixon arose. It was impossible to ignore Dixon anywhere. Already he had succeeded in making both friends and enemies, and now the eyes of all the class were fixed on him.
“Good!” thought Gordon, as Dixon read smoothly on. “He won’t pull us down, and if St. John’s as good in other things as he is in Latin, he’ll help us up in spite of himself. Guess he’ll go ahead of Clark. I’m sorry for Clark, though.”
And much the same thoughts were in the minds of many of the boys when the recitation was over. Slowly, but surely, the feeling that had been so strong against Clark was dying out. Some few of the boys still stood aloof from him, however, and recalled, at intervals, the charges made against him early in the previous year. But Hamlin’s strong friendship for him, and his own quiet, steady doing of his duty, and holding himself apart, yet without any show of enmity or ill-feeling, had had their effect upon his schoolmates, and most of them were ready now to be friends with him; while all, whether friends or not, were proud of his scholarship, and had come to look upon him as the leader of the class in that line. So they were inclined to resent St. John’s arrogant assumption of superiority, and to wish that Clark could “dig in and get ahead of him,” as Reed expressed it.
In mathematics it was much the same, though here Hamlin and Gordon stood almost as high as Clark; would have stood quite as high, if they had had Clark’s power of concentration and application.
“I’ve had to learn how to study,” he had said once to Hamlin. “If you and Gordon had been obliged to do it, as I have, I shouldn’t be a bit ahead of you.”
With Everett St. John, it was not necessity, but the instinct of a born student that gave him the power to grasp and master whatever he studied. In the geometry class, his clear, concise demonstrations awakened at once the despair and the admiration of most of the class, while they aroused in our three boys an eager determination to work as they never had worked before over those lines and angles.
Gordon drew a long breath, as he joined Clark and Hamlin at recess.
“Well, one thing is certain, and that is that St. John is bound to help our record, if he keeps on as he has begun,” he said.
“Yes, and carry off all the prizes, too,” grumbled Hamlin.
“That’s so,” said Freeman, who was standing by. He spoke sadly, for his only chance of a college education lay in his gaining one of the scholarships offered as prizes to the senior class.
“Well,” laughed Hamlin, “he may win all the scholarships, but he certainly can go to but one college, so somebody else is bound to have a chance.”
“That reminds me,” said Clark, “I heard last evening that two new scholarships had been offered.”
“Where?” asked half a dozen voices.
“One to Lehigh, and one to Jamestown College, I believe.”
“Good!” said Hamlin. “That makes six scholarships, and if his royal highness—Mr. Everett St. John—should come out No. 1, as likely as not he would not go to any college that offers us a scholarship. He’s so high and mighty that he’d probably go only to the toniest and most expensive college in the country.”
“Rosy came out pretty well, too,” said Reed.
“Yes, better than I thought he would,” said Gordon. “Anyway, I’m glad that neither of ’em is likely to pull us down. I believe old section D has a fair chance to come out No. 1 this year.”
“Certainly looks like it,” responded Hamlin, “and nobody has worked harder to bring it about than you have, Gordon.”
“I’m so glad that Raleigh concluded to come back this year,” was all Gordon answered.
For several weeks things went smoothly in section D. Mr. Horton was delighted, for a more orderly class-room could not be desired. Once in a while, Coyle and Barber would try to start some mischief, but they were in far too great a minority for anything of that sort to prosper. By the first of November, they and St. John were the only members of the class who were not also members of the L. A. O.; and to be a member of the L. A. O. this year meant to be not only pledged to use all one’s influence for good order in the class-room and gentlemanly deportment in all places and at all times, but it also meant now to be fully determined that no effort should be spared on the part of each member to place section D at the head of the old Central.
In short, Gordon and Hamlin had succeeded in imparting their enthusiasm, in greater or less degree, to every boy in the class with the exception of the three mentioned; and this enthusiasm received fresh impetus at the weekly meetings of the L. A. O.
Besides, the duller boys of the class were continually watched and helped by the class leaders, and helped in such friendly fashion, and so thoroughly, that their pride was not hurt, and a healthy ambition to help themselves was being awakened in them.
Decidedly the most unpopular boy in the class was Everett St. John, but this fact troubled him not at all. So long as his schoolmates let him alone, he cared not the least what they thought of him, and they did let him severely alone, for, after a week or two no one ever spoke to him. Those who had ventured to do so had been met so coldly, not to say rudely, that they had no desire to repeat the experience. But however much they might dislike him, they could not fail to appreciate and admire his ability. Never before had section D had such fine recitations as St. John’s in Latin and English literature.
The inevitable result was that those who had stood highest in the class heretofore were stimulated to fresh effort, and soon found themselves doing much better work than they had supposed themselves capable of doing—to Mr. Horton’s great satisfaction.
Nor was the spirit of ambition limited to section D. It spread to other sections, and other teachers began to be encouraged by increased application, and consequently, better recitations in their classes.
It was a singular fact, that this most unusual improvement in the spirit of the school should have been so largely due to a new scholar who cared nothing whatever about the school, and was solely interested in himself and his own work; but so it was.
WHO SHALL BE CAPTAIN OF COMPANY C?
In October, there came a sudden stir of interest and excitement of a different sort, namely, the appointment of Henderson’s successor in the battalion.
Gordon was now major, and Hamlin had taken his place as captain of Company C.
The appointments had heretofore been made by Prof. Keene, and the liveliest interest was awakened when he announced that, this time, the captain was to be elected by vote of the officers of the battalion and all the members of Company C.
No one was eligible for the captaincy except those members of the senior class whose average during the previous years had been ninety or more, and of these there were but eight, and of these, two—one of whom was Clark—had not been in the battalion at all, and so of course could not be candidates. The names of the remaining six were put on the bulletin board, and Prof. Keene announced that the vote would be taken after school on Friday of that week.
Graham and Raleigh stood highest on the list, each having averaged ninety-four for the previous years. Then came Griffin, the first lieutenant of Company C, with an average of ninety-two; then Fry, Cole and Edson, with averages of ninety-one and ninety. The last three belonged to another section.
Prof. Keene had supposed that the choice would lie between Graham and Raleigh, and as he was perfectly willing that either should hold the position, he had decided that the one that the boys preferred should be captain. He had not imagined that any one of the other four would be considered at all, and was wholly unprepared for the strong feeling and sharp rivalry that was soon developed. Neither was he fully aware of the character of some of the boys in Company C. There were a few fine fellows in the company, but there were more who were idle and indifferent to everything but “fun,” and a few who were really bad, and who would not hesitate to sacrifice the best interests of the school to carry out their own schemes. Some of these last had been friends of Henderson, and these had by no means forgotten the occurrences at the competitive drill. They resented Henderson’s enforced departure, and the disgrace that had fallen upon the company rankled in their minds. To these, the idea of having Graham or Raleigh for a captain was most distasteful.
Coyle was second lieutenant of Company C, and he and Barber, who belonged to another company, quickly made up their minds that, if possible, these two should be defeated on Friday.
Monday was “drill day,” and when the drill was over, Coyle privately asked all of Company C except the first lieutenant, who was a particular friend of Graham’s, to stop and talk the matter over. The discussion was held with closed doors, and a lively one it was.
Coyle was the first speaker.
“I say, fellows,” he began, eagerly, “we’ve got a chance now to choose our captain, and I move that we boom Griffin. I, for one, don’t want any such prig as Graham or Raleigh put over us. Griffin here is worth a dozen such chaps.”
All eyes were turned on Griffin as Coyle sat down, and somebody called, “Speech, speech.”
“I’m not much of a speechifier,” said Griffin, rising, “but I appreciate the honor you have done me, and if I’m elected, I’ll do my best to help you win the red ribbons next June.”
Then Barber sprang up.
“Griffin hasn’t got quite such high marks as those other fellows,” he said, “but he’s no end better up in tactics, and I’d rather have him for captain if he wasn’t.”
Coyle started vigorous applause at this, but now another spoke up.
“I haven’t a thing to say against Griffin,” he began. “He’s well up in the drill, and understands the duties of a captain; but the same is true of Graham, and I’m sure that most of the officers will vote for him. I don’t believe we could elect Griffin.”
“Oh, shucks! We can elect him if we all hang together,” cried Coyle, springing to his feet again. “Now see here—there are twenty-two officers, and in Company C there are forty men. Now if the company will go solid for Griffin, even without a vote from a single officer, we shall elect him by a big majority.”
Carr, a boy with a quiet, resolute face, now rose and said quietly, “I shall vote for Graham, because I believe that he can do more for Company C than any other on the list.”
Barber hissed then; whereupon another boy sprang up and cried, “I move that any fellow that hisses be put out. If we can’t discuss this matter like gentlemen, we’d better adjourn right now. Every fellow here has a right to his own opinion, I take it—and I’ve just as much right to vote for Graham as Barber has to vote for Griffin, and I intend to do it.”
Barber, seeing that the tide of feeling was with the last speaker, jumped up, and, with a good-natured laugh, exclaimed, “Don’t lay that little hiss up against me, boys. It was only a whistle that slipped up on my front teeth.”
The laugh that followed scored one for Barber and the candidate that he favored.
But Coyle’s quick eyes had been watching the faces of the boys, and now he sprang up again.
“It’s getting late,” he said, “and I move that we adjourn, and meet again Wednesday after drill. That will give us all time to think the matter over, and make up our minds whom we’ll vote for. But see here,” as a general movement expressed the approval of the motion to adjourn, “don’t forget that Griffin stands A No. 1 in tactics, and we all want to win the gold medal and red ribbons next June.”
“Three cheers for Coyle and Griffin,” shouted somebody, and in two minutes the room was empty; but as the boys hurried homeward, the talk was all about the election.
Coyle and Barber were the last to leave the room.
“I’d like to punch the heads of some of those fellows,” growled Coyle. “If the company would only go solid for Griffin, it wouldn’t matter how the officers voted.”
“No, we’d have nearly two-thirds majority,” answered Barber, “and I’d give something to see Graham and Raleigh defeated. I believe I care more for that than to put Griffin in. They’re all so mighty high and tony in section D this year, a fellow can’t have a bit of fun. Might as well be in a reform school, and done with it.”
“Right you are,” responded Coyle. “Gordon and Hamlin have managed somehow to get hold of about all the section except you and me, and they’ve set ’em all to digging. Not much like last year, is it? Who’d ever have believed that Crawford would go over to the L. A. O.! He’s as meek as Moses now-a-days.”
“So he is,” echoed Barber, “an’ if we have Graham or Raleigh for captain, the drill will be as bad as the school-room. They’ll make the fellows toe the mark and be down on ’em like sixty for the least thing wrong.”
“We just won’t have Graham or Raleigh,” cried Coyle, positively. “You and I must see the fellows we’re sure of before to-morrow night, and find some way of putting Griffin in.”
“I don’t see how we’re going to do it, if some of the company vote for Graham, and you see they will, from what they said to-day,” replied Barber.
“I see that they mean to now,” said Coyle, “but it does not follow that they will be of the same mind next Friday. It’s our business to make ’em change their minds. Now go home and think hard, Barber, and I’ll set my wits to work, and see if we can’t fix up some plan that will win the day for ‘we, us and Company’ C,” said Coyle, as he stopped at his own home.
Usually Coyle was asleep two minutes after his head touched his pillow, but that night he lay awake more than an hour or two, his thoughts busy with plots and plans to accomplish his purpose.
He was at Barber’s door soon after eight o’clock next morning, and that young gentleman, swallowing the last of his breakfast with most unhealthy rapidity, joined him in response to his impatient whistle.
“I’ve thought of a way to spike Graham’s guns,” Coyle began, and while his companion listened with eager interest, he proceeded to unfold his scheme.
“That’s fine,” Barber exclaimed, slapping Coyle on the shoulder, as the latter ceased speaking. “I’m sure our crowd will catch on to that little game, and I believe we can rope in most of the Grahamites without much trouble.”
Coyle looked pleased at the other’s hearty approval.
“You and I must let the fellows we’re sure of into our scheme, and then we’ll tell the doubtful ones enough to secure their votes, and no more,” he said.
Before school, at recess, and after school that day, Coyle and Barber were busy boys. Barber gathered in a corner of the playground, at recess, all the members of Company C whom he knew to be strongly in favor of Griffin, and to them unfolded Coyle’s plan.
Meantime, Coyle joined another group of the members of Company C. After listening for a few minutes, to what one and another had to say, he remarked casually, “I’ve been thinking it over, and I’d about made up my mind to let Griffin go, and vote for Graham. He’s a prime fellow if he is a little too stiff—but something I heard this morning made me rather inclined to stick to Griffin.”
“What was it you heard?” questioned several of the group.
“Why, that Gordon and Hamlin are working for all they are worth, to get self-government into the battalion.”
“Self-government? What do you mean by that?” queried one, while all listened for the reply.
“Don’t you know how they manage in some of the military schools? The boys elect a judge and jury from their own number, and if any boy does anything contrary to rules, they try him and pronounce sentence themselves, subject of course to the principal’s approval.”
“Well, what’s the matter with that? We’d have it all in our own hands, and we could make our punishments as light as we pleased,” laughed one.
“Not much—if Graham or Raleigh was captain, and Gordon judge, as he would be. Those fellows are both right under Gordon’s thumb, and he thinks it’s a sin to smile in school hours. He’s crazy on the subject of the reputation of the Central, and he’s got every fellow in our section, except Barber and me—and his royal highness, St. John—to work for honors. You can see how it will be if his candidate, Graham, is elected—no more jolly times for Company C. All but three or four of the officers are ready to back Gordon and Hamlin, whatever they propose, and if they put their self-government scheme through, we fellows in Company C, that like a bit of fun now and then, won’t have any show at all. Cigarette smoking will be a capital crime, and if a fellow happens to say ‘by ginger’ he’ll be in disgrace for a month. We’ll get no favors—you’ll see. It will be the fellows that dig into Latin and geometry day and night, that will be favored, and those of us that like to see a little of life and have a good time now and then, will get sat upon every time.”
“But are you sure that Graham favors this self-government scheme, Coyle?” questioned one.
“Heard Graham himself say to Hamlin that if he was elected, that’s the thing he’d work for—another form of the L. A. O. they’re so proud of in our section,” replied Coyle.
“If that’s so, I’m inclined not to vote for Graham. How about Raleigh? Is he of the same mind?” questioned another.
“Like as two peas in a pod,” replied Coyle, promptly.
“Well, then, I’ll vote for Griffin. He’s as good in the drill as either of the others, and who cares for two or three credits less in his average?” said a third.
“That for his average,” cried another, snapping his fingers. “This is our last year in the old battalion, and I’d rather Company C would carry off the prizes in the next annual drill than to come out number one in the school myself.”
“Well,” said Coyle, “You know Griffin can’t be beat as a drill-master, and he’s a jolly good fellow besides, and not the one to be always snooping around to see if a man happens to have a cigarette or a pack of cards in his pocket. We don’t want a straight-laced parson like Graham put over Company C. Why not all vote for Griffin and done with it? I think it would be fine, anyhow, to carry the election against Gordon’s candidate. Gordon thinks he’s a bigger man than Professor Keene himself, and it would take him down a peg or two to see Griffin put in place of his shadow, Alec Graham.”
“’Twould be a good joke on Gordon, wouldn’t it!” remarked one.
“Make him open his eyes a little.”
“And show him that somebody else in the school besides himself has a little influence,” added Coyle, cunningly fanning the flame that he saw he had kindled.
Before the bell rang, all in the group had agreed to vote for Griffin. This made thirty so pledged, besides Griffin himself, Coyle and Barber, and one of the other captains, thirty-four in all, which would give Griffin the majority. Coyle and Barber were outwardly quiet, but inwardly jubilant.
The next morning, Coyle went to school with a new suggestion, over which he and Barber chuckled delightedly before they talked it over with the Griffin faction.
After drill that day, a meeting was held to talk over the election, the officers being anxious to get an idea of what the boys of Company C meant to do. Their surprise was unbounded when Coyle announced that he could speak for thirty-three who would vote for Graham.
“For Graham,” repeated Hamlin, incredulously, “Why, that’s fine. Looks as if Graham would have a unanimous vote.”
“No, sir, I’m going to vote for Raleigh,” cried one, and three or four others shouted, “So am I.”
But at this Raleigh, who was the only one of the candidates present, sprang to his feet.
“I’m awfully obliged to you,” he cried, “but I came in just on purpose to say that I’d rather remain lieutenant of Company D; honest, I would. I fit in there pretty well, I believe, and I’m not sure that I’d make a good captain; and anyhow, I’ve made up my mind to have my name withdrawn, and I do hope that those of you who would have voted for me, will vote for Graham as I’m going to do. I’d be just pleased to have a unanimous vote for him.”
“Three cheers for Lieutenant Raleigh,” shouted one of his friends, as Raleigh, very red in the face, dropped into his seat.
Then Gordon arose. “You see how it is,” he said; “Raleigh absolutely refuses to be a candidate for promotion, and the matter seems to rest between Graham and Griffin; or at least, I supposed it did, until Coyle made his statement just now. I think with Raleigh, that it would be fine to have a unanimous vote for Graham. He would be sure then that he would have the support of Company C, and I know how much it means to a captain to feel that his men are all friendly, and ready to back him up in whatever he plans for the good of his company.”
Here Coyle winked at Barber, and scowls and grins were noticeable among Griffin’s friends. Hamlin’s quick eyes noted this little by-play, and a vague feeling of distrust and uncertainty began to trouble him. He sprang up and said, “You all know, I am sure, that it is because the school has taken a higher stand this year, that Professor Keene decided to let us choose the captain of Company C, and he’s sure to be satisfied if we elect Graham, for you all know that we haven’t a finer all-around fellow in the school. For myself, I’ve only one objection to him as captain of Company C, and that is, that I’m awfully afraid that, under his training, you will be so perfect in drill that you’ll get the red ribbons away from Company D next June.”
“You bet we mean to,” shouted a coarse voice from Company C, as Hamlin sat down, and there was something in the rude tone that stirred the anger of more than one of Graham’s friends.
When the meeting was over, Hamlin said to Gordon, “Do you suppose Coyle meant what he said, or is there some trick under it?”
“Why, how could there be any trick? He said positively that thirty-three of them were pledged to vote for Graham, and none of the rest denied it.”
“I know he did,” said Hamlin doubtfully, “but I was watching the faces of those fellows while you were speaking, and I believe there’s something underhanded going on. I don’t trust Coyle. He’s tricky.”
“I know he is,” responded Gordon, “and he’d as soon lie as tell the truth any time; but if he’d been lying to-day, some of those fellows would have contradicted him, I’m sure.”
“Well, I hope it’s all right, but somehow I don’t feel sure of it,” was Hamlin’s response.
The next day, Thursday, when Hamlin reached the school-room, he found there a group of boys eagerly discussing the election and the sudden and unaccountable change in the sentiments of Company C.
“I can’t see through it,” Raleigh was saying as Hamlin entered. “Yesterday morning one of the boys told me that thirty-three of the company were pledged to vote for Griffin, and in the meeting after drill you know that Coyle declared that thirty-three were pledged to vote for Graham. There’s something snaky about it all, I believe.”
“So do I,” declared Hamlin. “Coyle’s up to mischief. You know he hates all of us who have tried to put down disorder in the class, and I don’t believe he means to vote for Graham any more than he means to vote for his royal highness, St. John.”
“So I say,” cried Reed. “Coyle’s awful slippery, and he’ll stop at nothing when he’s made up his mind to put a scheme through.”
Freeman, though not in the battalion, was as deeply interested as those who were, in the matter under discussion. As he listened to the talk, he was idly turning the leaves of a copy of the school catalogue which was lying on his desk.
Suddenly he sprang up and held the book open before Hamlin’s eyes, while he pointed excitedly to a name in the list of senior pupils. Hamlin looked at it in a perplexed way for an instant, then he cried out, “I say, fellows,” but stopping suddenly, he looked keenly around the room, and then ran and shut the door into the hall.
“Well, what’s the matter with Hamlin? Evidently he’s not all right,” cried one wonderingly, as Hamlin began:—
“There’s not one of Coyle’s crowd here, so I’ll tell you what’s the matter with Hamlin. I believe we’ve got hold of Coyle’s scheme, thanks to Freeman. Look here!”
He held up the catalogue and pointed to one of the names. It was Thomas Graham Griffin.
“Don’t you see?” he went on. “Coyle and his crowd are going to vote for Graham, as he said, but it’s Graham Griffin, not Alec Graham. He counted on our not remembering that Griffin’s middle name is Graham.”
“That’s it, sure as sneezing!” exclaimed Reed, “and Coyle said it to keep us from trying to get votes for Graham. Well, I call that a right down mean trick.”
“Here comes Gordon,” cried Freeman, as the door opened, and at once Gordon was surrounded by the excited group, all trying to tell him the story at once. He listened with a troubled face.
“Oh, it’s too bad,” he said, when the clamor subsided a little. “If this is so, Graham won’t be elected at all, and Griffin is no kind of a fellow to be captain of Company C.”
But now the boys came trooping in, as it was approaching nine o’clock, and with a hasty word of caution to let no hint get to Coyle of their understanding of the real state of things, Gordon took his seat.
It was not easy for him and some others, however, to give their usual attention to their studies, and they were glad when recess set them free to think and speak of all that was in their thoughts.
Gordon asked permission for a few of the boys to remain in the school-room during the intermission, and then the situation was earnestly discussed. The list of members of Company C was carefully scanned. Some, they knew, would vote for Griffin; some, they were sure, would not. But there were twenty doubtful ones.
“We must manage to see every one of these twenty,” Gordon said. “Some of them, probably, are pledged to Griffin, but some, I’m sure, would rather have Graham over them.”
“Unless Coyle has managed somehow to set them against Graham,” interposed Hamlin.
“How could he set them against Graham?” said Gordon.
“I don’t know how, but he’s capable of lying to any extent to do it. We all know that,” answered Hamlin.
“That’s so,” cried several voices.
“Why can’t we go to some of the nice fellows in the company and ask them point-blank about it?” suggested Clark.
“Yes, why not? Seems to me that’s the thing to do,” said Reed.
“Who’s the best one to do it, then?” questioned Gordon. “If Coyle has told ’em a lot of stuff to set ’em against Graham, likely he’s said as much about Hamlin and me, and all the rest of us.”
“Yes, but all the same, some in Company C are real good fellows, and if they found that Coyle had been lying to them about Graham, they wouldn’t stand by him or his candidate,” said Hamlin.
“I should think four or five of us could do the business. Each one of the four, say, might see five of the twenty fellows between now and school time to-morrow and try to get to the bottom of this, and at the same time try to get as many as possible of the twenty to vote for Graham,” said Sherman.
“It’s the best thing we can do,” said Gordon, “though, if they’ve promised Griffin their votes—” he added doubtfully.
“If they’ve promised because of false statements made to them, they have surely a right to change their votes,” said Clark.
“That’s so,” said Raleigh; “but see here, can’t we keep this thing quiet, so that if we do succeed in making enough fellows change their votes to elect Graham, that Coyle and his crowd shall not suspect it?”
“It would be fine if we could keep them in the dark and turn the tables on them to-morrow at the election,” laughed Hamlin.
“Wouldn’t it, though!” chuckled Reed. “Let’s try for it, do!”
“I’ll be only too thankful if we can put Graham in, anyhow,” said Gordon in a troubled voice. “Griffin’s influence is bad—a good deal worse than Professor Keene suspects, or he’d never in the world allow him to be a candidate.”
“If that is so, Professor Keene ought to know it,” said Clark.
“Nobody in this crowd goes in for telling tales,” cried Lee, with a look at Clark that pointed the remark.
Clark colored and turned away, but instantly Hamlin’s arm was thrown across his shoulders, and Hamlin’s clear voice rang out indignantly:—
“For shame, Lee,” he cried. “We all know that Clark does not deserve that. I’d like to know if you consider it more honorable to keep still and let a bad fellow lead a dozen others into evil ways, than to warn the professor and so save them. For my part, I’d rather be called a telltale than to feel that I’d had a hand in any boy’s downfall.”
Lee’s face darkened, and he muttered something, under his breath, about “cowards and cheats.”
It was Gordon who broke the silence that followed.
“I can bear witness that Clark was anything but cowardly in that affair last year,” he said; “and since I’ve become better acquainted with him, I’ve been convinced that there was some underhanded work about that pony business. I mean that somebody else, and not Clark, was the one to blame.”
“And I know who it was,” added Reed.
At this, all eyes were turned on him, and half a dozen voices cried out:—
For a moment Reed hesitated, then he said, “Henderson had a hand in it.”
“Well, who else? Why don’t you out with it?” questioned Hamlin, eagerly.
“Bet a cooky ’twas Crawford,” cried Raleigh. “It was, it was!” he added, as Reed colored, and remained silent.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Gordon. “It’s too bad to have anything more come out against Crawford, now when he’s trying to live down last year’s record.”
“That’s so,” said Reed, earnestly, “and I’m sorry I spoke, but I’ve felt for a long time that it wasn’t fair to Clark to keep still about that. Say boys, if I tell you the whole story, will you all promise not to repeat a word of it to anyone?”
“Yes, yes,” cried every boy except Clark and Gordon. The latter, less excitable and more thoughtful than most of the others, said:—
“Hold on—I don’t promise till I’ve thought it all out. If we’ve been wronging Clark, we owe it to him to let the truth be known.”
But now Clark spoke. “Boys,” he said, “you have been wronging me, for I never saw that pony until Mr. Horton held it up before me; but if all of you here believe me, I’m perfectly willing to let the matter rest. Crawford is having a hard enough time as it is, this year. If he had a hand in this thing, I’m only too glad to forget it all, if the rest of you will do the same.”
“Three cheers for Clark!” cried Reed, but Clark interposed quickly:—
“No, no, don’t! We’ll have a crowd in here to know what it’s all about.”
Gordon walked over to Clark and held out his hand as he said:—
“I, for one, have perfect confidence in Clark’s honor, and I know he’s no coward.”
Clark’s eyes were not so clear as usual as he wrung the offered hand, but he knew that from that hour no shadow would rest on his name in the minds of those present. No shadow? Ah yes—even in that the happiest hour of his school life, the shadow of his father’s sin fell upon him—and the light faded from his eyes and his lips took their old sad curve, as he turned to Reed, and said:—
“Reed, you know that someone put that pony in my desk without my knowledge?”
“I do,” said Reed, promptly; “I heard the whole thing planned.”
“Well then, for my sake, I beg that you will never tell anyone anything more about it. And boys, once more for my sake, don’t let what Reed has said make any difference in your treatment of anyone in the school. Will you all promise?”
Very reluctantly was the promise given, but it was given.
After school it was decided that Gordon, Hamlin and Reed should see that day as many as possible of the twenty boys referred to, in Company C. Then the three were to meet at Hamlin’s house to compare notes and see if there was any chance of Graham’s election. If not, they must decide whether or not they should refer the matter to Prof. Keene.
At ten o’clock that night, Hamlin was walking impatiently back and forth in the library, listening for quick footsteps or a whistle outside. He heard the steps at last, and had the door open before the whistle had fairly sounded, and in another moment he had pushed Gordon and Reed into a couple of easy-chairs, and was saying, eagerly:—
“Well, what luck did you have? I’m dying to know, as the girls say.”
“Prime luck,” cried Reed, while Gordon added, “We’ll put Graham in, unless I’m much mistaken.”
“But what did you find out?” questioned Hamlin, impatiently.
“I saw six of the best fellows in Company C. Two of them were going to vote for Graham, anyhow. The other four were determined not to vote for him,” said Gordon.
“Because Coyle had told them that Graham wanted to get the captaincy in order to work up a new scheme that they called self-government?” broke in Hamlin, rapidly.
“Yes, that was it,” assented Gordon. “If they did but know it, that self-government scheme is just about the best thing that I’ve heard of for boys; but they’ve gotten the idea that it means all work and no play—no freedom or good times of any sort—and when Coyle stuffed ’em up with the idea that we, you and Graham, and I, had got a goody-goody sort of plan all fixed and ready to spring on them as soon as Graham was elected, they all kicked, of course, and agreed to vote for Griffin—those that didn’t favor Raleigh.”
“Yes, that’s what I found out, too,” said Hamlin, “and that cad of a Coyle had actually told them that he heard Graham and me talking the thing over, and, true as you live, I hadn’t heard a word of it until to-day.”
“Well, Gordon talked some of them over,” put in Reed.
“And Reed talked more of them over,” added Gordon. “He got all the four he interviewed to promise to vote for Graham, while I only secured three votes.”
“And I, two. That’s nine out of their thirty-three,” said Hamlin, exultantly. “So we’ll put Graham in, won’t we!”
“Don’t be too sure. There’s many a slip, you know,” quoted Gordon; “but I hope the election will go all right now.”
“And won’t Coyle and Barber be mad,” laughed Reed. “I want to sit where I can see ’em when the vote is announced.”
“If the fellows only keep their word, and don’t let on that they’ve changed their minds, it will be a big surprise for Coyle. He’ll be caught in his own trap, for the boys will vote for Graham as he said, only it will be the other Graham,” said Gordon, rising. “I’ve got to study till midnight to make up for the time I’ve spent electioneering,” he added, “but I won’t grudge it if we put in our candidate. I shouldn’t wonder if, before we get through with this business, Coyle should find himself doubly caught in his own trap.”
He would not stop to explain his words, but hurried off with Reed, leaving Hamlin, also, to “burn the midnight oil,” lest he be found wanting in the class next day.
Lessons suffered the next day, always excepting St. John’s. He, serenely unmoved by the excitement about him, rendered his Virgil as smoothly and poetically as ever, while Hamlin and Gordon listened ruefully, and even Clark felt less ready than usual to take his turn. But Mr. Horton, whose keen eyes and quick ears kept him better informed than the boys realized, was very lenient that day. He could not help enjoying such recitations as St. John’s, but he realized that character and influence were of far more importance than mere scholarship, and he knew which boys he had to thank for the change in section D.
When school was dismissed that afternoon, there was a rush for the hall. Only those belonging to the battalion were allowed to enter there, but so great was the interest in the election, that very few of the boys who were not in the battalion went home. They hung about the corridors and class-rooms, waiting to know the result.
In the hall, an intense interest was manifested as the boys assembled there. Coyle and Barber looked exultant, but Griffin was nervous and uneasy, and many of Graham’s friends were nervous and uneasy too. Even Gordon, Hamlin and Reed, who had most reason to be confident, were not yet assured of success. They knew not what unexpected turn affairs might take at the last moment.
Slips of paper and pencils were distributed, and as soon as all were ready, the slips were collected, and Gordon appointed Hamlin and two other captains as tellers. The slips were divided into three piles, and each pile was counted by one captain, and then passed over to a second to be recounted.
Nobody talked while the tellers worked, and when one of them stepped forward and handed Gordon a slip of paper, many eyes watched Gordon’s face, seeking to read there the result. But Gordon’s face told no tales. There was an intense silence as he rose with the paper in his hand.
“It gives me pleasure to announce that, by a majority of ten votes, you have elected Captain Alec Graham,” he said slowly.
Coyle sprang to his feet, with flushed face and angry eyes.
“It’s no such thing!” he shouted; “I charge fraud.”
“You are hardly the one to make such a charge,” said Gordon, quietly; then he added, “Will all those who voted for Captain Graham, please stand and be counted?”
At once forty-one boys rose.
“Will Lieutenant Gray please call the names of those standing, and all who choose can count as the names are called,” said Gordon.
Not even Coyle could deny that forty-one boys acknowledged that they had voted for Graham. He dropped into his seat looking furiously angry; nor was this feeling lessened when Gordon quietly remarked:—
“It is singular that you should be so surprised at this result when, a few days ago, you yourself announced, right here in this room, that thirty-three of Company C were pledged to vote for Graham.”
Coyle cast a vindictive glance at nine of those thirty-three who had stood to be counted a moment before, but his reply was muttered too indistinctly for any but Barber to hear.
The moment the doors were thrown open, the room was filled with a crowd of eager boys, and the cheers that greeted the new captain were as gall and wormwood to Coyle. He had burst into a flood of angry blame against the nine whose change of vote had carried the election so differently from what he had planned and expected.
“But, Coyle,” one of these said, as soon as he could make himself heard, “we promised to vote for Graham, and we did.”
“Much you did!” shouted Coyle; “I call it right down sneaky to go back on your word like that.”
“And what do you call it to lie about a fellow as you did about Graham?” asked another. “Hamlin says there wasn’t a word of truth in it.”
“Oh, Hamlin!” retorted Coyle scornfully. “You fellows’ll get enough of Hamlin, and of your precious new captain. Won’t he make you toe the mark, though—and I hope he will!” he added, viciously grinding his teeth as he thought how the tables had been turned on him.
But how completely his boomerang had rebounded, he did not know until two months later.
From the very beginning, Graham won favor with the majority of his company, but the minority that had wanted Griffin for captain did all in their power to make it hard and unpleasant for Graham. In this they were ably seconded, or, more truly, led, by Griffin, who was lieutenant of the company. He tried in every way to set the men against Graham, and instigated them to all sorts of trying, vexatious blunders and disobediences, hoping thus to force Graham to resign. But they did not know their man. All this fretted and rasped Graham, but never for a moment inclined him to resign. Instead, the more the boys rebelled against his authority, the more determined he became to compel their obedience.
From Company C, the spirit of insubordination began to spread until it could no longer be ignored, and at last Professor Keene called a special meeting of the officers to consider what should be done.
During the summer vacation, Gordon had visited a cousin of his who attended a military school where the self-government plan had been for some time in force, with great success. Gordon had been several times on the point of speaking to Professor Keene about this method, but the remembrance of Coyle’s story, and the effect it had had upon Company C, had restrained him.
But at this meeting the professor himself introduced the subject, saying that he had been talking with the principal of one of the large military schools where this plan was employed, and had been so much interested in what this gentleman had told him, that he was strongly inclined to try the method in the battalion.
“One thing is certain,” he said, “and that is, that unless there is a great improvement in the order and discipline of the companies, something must be done speedily, even if that something is the disbanding of the battalion. To disband it would be a disgrace to the school, and especially to those in the battalion, many of whom, I know, have done all in their power for order and discipline. It is a shame for a few, comparatively, to work so much harm to all; but you can see for yourselves that the present state of things cannot continue.”
“Professor,” said the captain of Company A, “I’ve heard something about that self-government plan, and I’d like to know more. Can’t you tell us all about it?”
“I could,” answered the professor, “but I prefer to let you know about it from someone better informed. Suppose I send a committee, composed of officers of the battalion, to the school I have mentioned. There you can see and hear for yourselves.”
Here Gordon stepped forward and said a few words in a tone too low to reach any but the professor’s ears. The professor nodded, and Gordon returned to his seat.
Then the professor dismissed the boys, saying that he would appoint the committee the next day.
“I’d like to be on that committee,” said Graham. “I never heard of that self-government plan until the day before I was elected. The talk about it then set me to inquiring about it, and I’ve heard a good deal of it lately.”
He spoke clearly and distinctly, so that Coyle, Griffin, and several of the men of Company C, who stood near, could not help hearing him. One of the latter looked at Coyle significantly, and whispered, “Regular boomerang—that scheme of yours, Coyle.”
Coyle scowled, and muttered angrily, “You hush up, Black, if you know when you’re well off!”
NEW METHODS IN THE BATTALION.
Professor Keene had no need to ask for attention when, the next day, he was ready to announce the names of the committee. There was great surprise and some disappointment among the officers when it was found that only two of them were of the number, the other two being privates of Company C. These last were Knox, one of the most troublesome fellows in the battalion, and Carr, one of the most faithful and reliable.
Knox, after the first shock of surprise, was immensely elated at having been selected. He would not have been quite so jubilant over it if he had been present at a conference between the professor, Gordon and Graham the night before.
Gordon’s whispered words to the professor had been a request for a talk with him before the names of the committee should be announced, a request which was readily granted. The hour that the two lads spent at the professor’s house that evening had given him a clearer understanding than he had had before of the state of affairs in Company C, and indeed in the whole battalion. He saw that these two boys had given very serious thought to the situation, and he appreciated the wisdom of Gordon’s suggestion that Knox, who, though one of the most troublesome in the company, was really one of the most soldierly boys, and one who, if his enthusiasm could once be aroused, might do perhaps more than any other to raise the standard of feeling and purpose in the battalion, should be one of the visiting committee. Carr was appointed partly to make it pleasanter for Knox than it would have been had the other three been officers.
Graham had wanted very much to be on the committee, as, owing to the trouble he had had with his company, he was extremely anxious to see for himself if the new method was one likely to work well in the high-school battalion; but he saw that it might not be best for three out of a committee of four to be taken from Company C. So Hamlin and one other captain were appointed.
There was a good deal of grumbling over the proposed innovation, and many of the boys declared that they would not stay on if any such scheme was carried out; but all the same, the four members of the committee were regarded with not a little envy and scarcely a boy but wished that he had been lucky enough to be selected, especially as the fortunate four were to be excused from recitations and given perfect marks for the time of their absence. Coyle and Griffin, even, would have liked to visit that school, even though they scoffed at the idea of the plan proposed.
Before the departure of the committee, Professor Keene wrote a long letter to his friend, the principal, explaining to him the reason for the sending of this committee, and for the selection of Knox as a member of it, and asking him to give the boys every possible opportunity to learn all about the working of the system under consideration. Also he begged the principal to make the visit of the boys as enjoyable as might be, and proposed that, a week or two later, a similar committee from the military school be sent down to return the visit. “And be sure and put on that committee some of your most enthusiastic boys, who will talk the thing up, and make our boys wild to try it,” the professor had added.
A royal good time indeed those four boys had during the two days they spent at the Institute.
The principal was one who knew how to get hold of boys and win their affection as well as secure their obedience. Understanding thoroughly the situation of affairs at the high school, he told his boys just enough to interest them, and incline them to further Professor Keene’s plans. The boys needed only a hint. In the first place, they were exceedingly proud of their school and their military discipline, and, in the second, they were always ready to respond to any appeal from their principal.
So they gave our committee of four a cordial, boyish reception that swept away in a moment every shadow of stiffness or shyness. They treated them like comrades and old friends, and took them into class-room and drill, gave them a dinner, and, in short, filled every hour of the two days with something that would please and interest their guests. Of course, they interlarded all this with information about their method of government and its eminently satisfactory results, until even Knox, who had intended to have a good time on the trip and laugh the new plan to scorn when he returned to the Central, became so interested that he found himself asking eager questions, and admitting to himself that perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to try at the Central, after all.
When, on the last day of the visit, the principal told the assembled school of Professor Keene’s invitation, and asked those who would like to accept it, and visit the Central school, to rise, instantly every boy in the room was on his feet.
The principal smiled as he turned to Gordon, and said, “You have taken the citadel by storm, you see. I think you will have to select your committee for yourselves.”
“Very well, sir,” was Gordon’s quick response, “we shall be satisfied if the committee includes all the gentlemen that are now standing.”
A cheer broke from the students at this reply, but at a sign from the principal every boy took his seat, and in an instant the most perfect order prevailed.
But nearly the whole school accompanied the high-school boys to the station that night, and the cheers that followed them as the train moved off could have been heard for a mile around.
The visitors supposed that was the end of it, but when they reached the next station, there were a hundred or more students drawn up in line on the platform. In perfect order they stood till the train started on, when again the night resounded with the Central high-school cry, followed by that of the Institute. That was the end, for there was no such short cut to the next station as there had been to this.
Was it any wonder that our committee returned overflowing with enthusiasm for the methods that turned out such boys as these? Even Knox gave up all thought of carping criticism and opposition, and instead, gave his comrades such a glowing description of the drill he had witnessed and the splendid results of the self-government plan, as shown at the Institute, that they looked at him in amazement and thought there “must be something in it to convert Knox so completely,” and they began to look forward with eager curiosity and interest to the coming of “those Institute chaps.”
So full of interest and enthusiasm was the committee of four, that Professor Keene decided to have them give their report before the entire school. At first the boys objected strongly to this. They did not so much mind speaking before all the boys, but the girls too—that was another thing!
But after all, it was not so bad, for their interest soon made them forget the gentler portion of their audience, and when they had each spoken of the points that had most impressed them, and told of the cordial hospitality they had enjoyed—they could not help speaking of that—the professor said that the committee would answer any questions that might occur to any one.
A storm of eager questions followed, and not all of them were asked by the boys.
Many of the pupils saw at once the advantages of the method proposed, and many were eager to have it adopted, at least in the battalion, but some still fought against it, and none more bitterly than Coyle and Griffin.
A week or two later, a delegation came from the Institute, and the four members of the committee had an opportunity to return the hospitality that had been shown them; an opportunity which they were not slow to improve. Either there was an exceptionally fine class of boys at the Institute, or else the principal had shown great wisdom in his selection, for they made friends of everybody, from Professor Keene down to the roughest and rudest boys in Company C. Even Coyle and Griffin were forced to acknowledge that they were “good fellows enough.”
But amid all the good times crowded into these two days, the boys did not forget the purpose of their coming. They were always ready to talk self-government to anyone who was interested, but they did it so wisely that nobody was bored or offended, while most were so convinced of the advantages of the system that, to the great satisfaction of the Institute boys, the battalion voted by a large majority to try the plan for the remainder of the year.
Of course, the entire battalion escorted their guests to the depot when the visit was ended, and though they could not be in waiting at a station further on, they did the best they could. They engaged a brass-band to meet the committee at the station nearest the Institute, and give the boys a welcome home with all the martial music that they could render.
It is needless to say that the most friendly relations continued between the two schools from this time on, each manifesting a strong interest in the doings of the other.
At the Central, after a spirited meeting, an election was held, resulting in the appointment of Gordon as judge, with a jury of twelve boys, two from each company.
Singularly enough, the first offender brought before this court was Coyle himself, and his disgust at this was in no wise lessened by the knowledge that he himself had actually been the one largely instrumental in bringing this new court of justice into being, in the Central.
Coyle had deteriorated steadily as the weeks passed. He was a thorn in the flesh to Gordon, Hamlin and Clark, for his frequent failures in class brought down the record, in spite of the good work of the majority. Coyle rejoiced that this was so. In no other way could he have so effectually annoyed and tormented these three, whom he hated more and more as he saw how their influence was growing in the school. They had even succeeded in arousing a feeble ambition in Barber, and consequently, Barber was “no fun at all,” these days. He insisted on pegging away at his lessons, and wouldn’t, half the time, help Coyle “make things a bit lively in class.” In short, Coyle considered himself decidedly aggrieved because the boys of section D were working for honors, or for solid acquirements, this year, instead of wasting their time in foolish tricks, or idling the hours away without accomplishing anything. True, there were still in Company C a few jolly chaps who went in for good times, but most of the fellows had taken up with that fol-de-rol about self-government, and wouldn’t so much as wink or “crack a smile” in drill, nor answer back, no matter what ridiculous order an officer might give them. All this was contrary to Coyle’s ideas, and he came to the conclusion at last that he would let them all see that he, for one, had a little spirit and independence, and didn’t choose to be ordered about by any of them. Wasn’t he battalion quartermaster, ranking as high as any of the captains? Long he pondered and planned, but he could not hit upon any way of asserting his independence and humiliating his brother officers at the same time.
He not only neglected his studies and fell steadily behind the class, but he attended so poorly to his duties as quartermaster that Gordon was finally obliged to speak to him on the subject, and though he took pains to speak privately, and in the most courteous way possible, Coyle was very angry, and answered so insolently that Gordon had hard work to control his temper.
A few days after this, the quartermaster’s accounts were sent to Gordon for approval, and finding several errors in them, he sent them back for correction. Without stopping to look over the accounts, Coyle went directly to Gordon and angrily accused him of picking flaws in the accounts on purpose to bring him—Coyle—into disgrace.
“The accounts are right to a penny, and you know it,” he shouted furiously. “You’ve been trying to find something against me all this year, and now you’ve hatched this up. If there is any error in the books you’ve changed the figures yourself, that’s all.”
Gordon turned fairly white in the strong effort he made to control himself, while Hamlin started to his feet with an indignant exclamation, and another officer who was standing by clenched his fists and took a step forward, looking as if he longed to knock the impudent fellow down.
There was a moment of silence, then Gordon turned to his adjutant, and said very quietly, “You will consider Mr. Coyle under arrest.”
“I’d like to see you try to arrest me,” blustered Coyle, who had lost all control of himself by this time. As he spoke, Prof. Keene entered the room.
“What is that, Coyle?” he said, sharply, “please repeat what you said.”
Coyle shrank a little before the professor’s stern eyes, but he repeated still angrily, “I said that I’d like to see Gordon arrest me. He’s finding fault with me about—”
“Silence, sir,” interrupted the professor; “if Major Gordon has ordered you under arrest, he must have had good reasons for so doing, and your case will be tried by court-martial.” And without another word, the professor left the room.
So it came about that Coyle was the first offender tried and sentenced under the new rules. Prof. Keene was not present during the trial, but a full account of the proceedings, in shorthand, was submitted to him, and he fully approved the sentence, which was that Coyle be degraded to the ranks or permitted to resign, whichever he chose. He chose the latter, and did not appear again in the school, which was altogether the most satisfactory ending to the matter, since, with such a boy, there was no hope of any real reform.
This affair of Coyle’s had a good effect upon the worst element in the battalion. The boys saw that the majority were determined to put down disorder and insubordination, and that Prof. Keene was ready to second their efforts at reform. They did not want to be suspended from the battalion or the school, or told that their permanent absence was desired—and so they concluded that it would be wisest for them to obey orders and do their best, instead of worst, in drill and class-room, and the result was soon seen in better recitations, and much more orderly class-rooms, and a steady improvement in the drill.
WHO IS THE THIEF?
“You fellows in the battalion have all the good times. I just wish I’d entered the high school first year, then I’d have been an officer by this time,” said Dixon to Reed, one day, with an admiring glance at the other’s neat uniform and shoulder straps.
“Oh, yes,” said Reed, “it’s such fun to drill three times a week, especially when the thermometer climbs up among the eighties—say about next May. We generally have a hot wave along that time.”
“It’s no fun to carry those heavy muskets,” put in Freeman. “I joined the cadets first year, but the guns were too heavy for me, and I had to quit.”
“Oh, well, you’re a little chap,” and Dixon glanced half-contemptuously at the slender lad. Freeman’s cheeks flushed at the look.
“Well, I never fainted, anyhow,” he said; “and some fellows a good deal bigger than I fainted more than once that year.”
“That was when we had heavy guns. We use lighter ones, now,” said Reed.
“I’d like to wear that uniform,” went on Dixon; “I notice how the girls watch you fellows; girls like a uniform, you know.”
A shout of laughter greeted this remark, and one boy said:—
“Too bad you can’t wear a uniform, Rosy. You might try to get on the police force next year. Maybe the girls would watch you, then.”
Rosy joined in the laugh that greeted this suggestion. He was never backward about acknowledging to an interest in the girls, and was forever begging some boy to introduce him to one or another girl of his acquaintance. Sometimes his interest in the feminine portion of the school got him into trouble, as was the case a little later on this same day.
When school was dismissed, the boys formed in line, and were expected to go through the corridors, and down the stairs in this order.
But there are always disorderly boys, and noisy ones too, and very often Professor Keene would be on the stairs, or in one or other of the corridors, to take note of any such; and not seldom would he send a boy back to his class-room, there to wait until all the others had passed out.
On this occasion, as the boys were standing in line in the upper hall, waiting for the signal to move on, “Rosy” noticed that the door of one of the girls’ rooms, near which he stood, was ajar. He glanced quickly to right and left. The professor was nowhere in sight, so he leaned over and softly pushed the door open a little farther so that he could look in. As he did so, a hand dropped heavily on his shoulder, and the professor’s voice sounded in his ears.
“Dixon,” he said, “I see you are anxious to make the acquaintance of Miss Bent and her class. Step right in, and I will introduce you”; and with his hand still on the boy’s shoulder, he threw open the door, and led him to the platform.
“Miss Bent,” he said, “this young gentleman was so very eager to meet you and the young ladies of your class, that I took the liberty of bringing him in. Allow me to introduce Mr. Dixon.”
For once, Dixon was too confused to be equal to the occasion. His face was as red as his hair, and the bow with which he acknowledged the introduction was not a model of ease and grace. No wonder—when forty girls sat there enjoying his discomfiture, and laughing at the haste with which he departed.
Shouts of “Here comes Rosy!” “Did you have introductions enough, Rosy?” “Say, which was the prettiest girl?” “Why didn’t you stay longer?” greeted him, as he reached the playground, where most of his own classmates were waiting for him; but, by this time, he had recovered his self-possession, and only laughed good-naturedly at the sallies of the boys.
When he entered the school-room next morning, two or three voices called out, “Wrong room, Rosy. The girls’ room is on the other side.”
Dixon grinned, as he perched on the top of his desk, and looked about, saying:—
“Some of you chaps must have gotten up before breakfast this morning. Never saw so many here at half past eight, before.”
“Written exam. to-day, sonny,” said Barber.
“Looks as if ’twas house-cleaning, to-day,” replied Dixon, glancing at the pile of books and papers Barber was hauling out of his desk.
“Does look rather that way,” said Barber. Then he glanced about the room, and added:—
“Say, if any of you fellows have jagged my notebook, give it back, will you. It’s a new one, and I know I left it here last night.”
“You’re dreaming, Barber,” somebody remarked. “Nobody’s been near your desk.”
“But somebody has, though,” persisted Barber; “an’ ’tisn’t the first time, either. My knife vanished last week—the third one I’ve lost this quarter.”
“Better have your mother sew up the holes in your pockets,” suggested Raleigh.
“Or you might fasten a string to your knife and tie it into your pocket,” added another.
“I tell you, the things are taken out of my desk,” insisted Barber, “and somebody does it after school. I like fun as well as anybody, but I’m sick of this kind, and I think it’s time now for whoever did it to hand over my notebook.”
“Is it so, for a fact, Barber?” said Hamlin, walking over to the other’s seat. “Have you been losing things out of your desk—honest Injun?”
“I have so,” replied Barber.
“And I, too. I left a gold pen in my desk last week, and the next morning it was gone,” said Lee.
Upon inquiry, it proved that nearly all the boys present had lost something from their desks within a few weeks, and several had lost small change or car-tickets from the pockets of overcoats left in the dressing-room during school hours.
“We must tell Mr. Horton,” said Hamlin. “It won’t do to have this sort of thing going on.”
“Oh, I say!” broke out Dixon, “you don’t really believe that anybody’s been thieving here, do you? I’m always thinking I’ve lost something, and finding it a week or two later, where I’d poked it away, an’ forgotten all about it.”
Barber shook his head.
“I poked my new notebook into my desk yesterday just before I went home,” he said, positively. “I can’t be mistaken about that.”
“Crawford, you look melancholy. Have you lost something, too?” called out Dixon.
“No,” said Crawford, shortly.
“Not even your temper,” suggested Dixon, who seemed to be in a tormenting mood that morning.
Crawford was standing with his hands in his pockets, and looking moodily out of the window. He made no reply to Dixon’s last remark.
“Clark seems to be the only one who has lost nothing,” remarked Lee, with a significant emphasis that implied more than the words themselves.
Clark looked up inquiringly, while Hamlin exclaimed quickly:—
“What do you mean by that, Lee?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Lee, carelessly, “only some things that happened last term have never been really cleared up.”
Before the words were fairly out of Lee’s mouth, Crawford had wheeled around and caught him by the shoulder. Lee never flinched, and, for an instant the two boys stood gazing angrily into each other’s eyes.
Hamlin, too, had started towards Lee, but stopped as he caught sight of Crawford’s white, set face.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” demanded Lee coolly of Crawford.
“I am going to knock you down if you accuse Stanley Clark of doing anything mean or underhanded since he’s been in this school,” said Crawford, while Clark looked from one to the other in blank amazement, and the rest of the boys gathered about the two.
“So?” said Lee, tauntingly. “Perhaps, then, you know more than the rest of us about some of these underhanded performances.”
The perspiration gathered on Crawford’s forehead in big drops, and the hand that still clutched Lee’s shoulder, trembled perceptibly, but he faced the wondering group, and said slowly, and distinctly:—
“I do know something about at least one underhanded performance that concerns Clark. I’ve been longing to make a clean breast of it for weeks, and now I’m going to do it. I put that pony in Clark’s desk last year. The letters S. C. were the initials of—someone else, and Clark told the truth when he said that he had never seen the book until Mr. Horton held it up before him. I hated Clark last year, and I wanted to do anything I could to injure him. Clark,” he left Lee and turned towards the other, “Clark, it isn’t much to say I’m sorry—but that’s all I can say.”
Clark instantly held out his hand, and said cordially:—
“It is all forgotten from this moment, Crawford,” and then, catching sight of Mr. Horton, who had entered the room while Crawford was speaking, Clark added quickly, “It can end right here, can’t it, sir?”
But Crawford spoke before the teacher could reply.
“No,” he said, “I want all the class to know the truth. Then perhaps I can respect myself a little more.”
“Very well, Crawford,” said Mr. Horton, “it shall be as you wish. I think you are right, and one who can so frankly and manfully acknowledge his fault, cannot fail to win back the respect of his classmates.”
Crawford dropped into his seat with a flush of pleasure at these words, and the boys separated, but more than one glanced coldly at Lee, and Hamlin could not refrain from saying, as he passed Lee’s seat:—
“I hope you are satisfied now, and will stop hounding Clark for the future.”
Lee made no reply, but he thought to himself, “Clark didn’t cheat that time, it seems, but he’s the son of a defaulter; and no Southern boy would take a blow as he did last year.”
Mr. Horton was much disturbed when he learned of the petty stealings that had been going on in the school. Soon, not from section D alone, but from all over the school came complaints of losses of greater or less value. The teachers were very much troubled over the matter. They could not bear to suspect any pupil in the school, but no one else had access to class-rooms and dressing-rooms except the janitor, and he had been in charge of the building for years, and nothing of this kind had ever before occurred. A strict watch was kept over the dressing-rooms through the day, and no scholars were allowed to enter the class-rooms until the teachers came in the morning, or to remain after the departure of the teachers in the afternoon. In spite of these rules however, the losses continued.
One wet day, Raleigh, who lived a long way from the school, was obliged to walk home because the car-tickets he had carelessly left in his overcoat pocket, were missing. The next morning, he appeared wearing an old shabby overcoat in place of the new one he had had the day before.
“What’s the matter, Raleigh? Has your new coat been jagged?” questioned Barber, overtaking him near the school gate.
“No,” said Raleigh, “but if you’ll keep mum, I’ll tell you why I wore this.”
“Mum’s the word,” said Barber, promptly, and Raleigh went on:—
“My car-tickets vanished yesterday. Served me right, I suppose, for being such a ninny as to leave them in my overcoat pocket; but it made me mad to have to foot it all the way home in the wet, so I planned a little scheme to put a mark on the stealer. My sister has some shoe blacking that stains like fury—worse than any ink I ever got hold of—and I’ve soaked a sponge with it, and put it in my side pocket, here. See?”
“Well,” said Barber, “how’s that going to mark the thief?”
“Why, I’ve put half a dollar—a counterfeit one, you understand, that somebody shoved off on my mother—I’ve put it into that same pocket, and if anybody puts a hand in to haul out that half-dollar, he’ll get a mark on his fingers that he can’t scrub off in one day, now I tell you.”
“Well, that is a scheme,” laughed Barber, “but you ought to let one fellow in every room into it, for you and I can’t examine all the paws in the school, ourselves.”
“That’s so; I never thought of that,” said Raleigh.
So the two decided upon one boy in each room who should be the one to keep an eye on the hands in his class-room in case that fifty cents should be missing later in the day.
Mr. Horton having given Raleigh permission for himself and Barber to remain in the room that morning, during recess, as soon as the other boys had gone down to the playground, the amateur detectives began operations. They borrowed from the dressing-room a mirror which they hung on the wall in such a way that it reflected the hall and the door of the dressing-room to them, while they, having set open the door of the class-room, were out of sight behind it.
Five minutes of the recess had slipped away—ten, and not a person had passed through the hall.
“I don’t believe,” began Barber in a whisper, but at that instant Raleigh gave him a poke, and pointed to the mirror. Through the hall a boy was passing quickly, glancing furtively about him as he went.
While they looked, he slipped noiselessly into the dressing-room and softly closed the door behind him.
Raleigh and Barber looked at each other with astonished faces.
“I can’t believe it,” whispered Barber, and:—
“I never would have believed it,” said Raleigh, in the same breath.
Then he added:—
“His going in there is no proof, though it’s against the rules now.”
In silence then the two sat, their eyes fixed on the telltale mirror.
“There goes the bell,” whispered Barber. “He’s probably going to wait there and drop in at the end of the line. We must get out of this corner before the boys come up.”
“Let’s go out and wait near the stairs; then we can see him when he comes out, without his suspecting.”
This they did, and without seeming to look, saw Dixon suddenly and silently fling open the door of the dressing-room as the last boy passed by, and follow quickly to the class-room.
Then Raleigh hurried into the dressing-room, slipping an old glove on to his right hand as he went. He rejoined Barber in a moment, saying:—
“The half-dollar?” questioned Barber.
Raleigh nodded, and the two went into the class-room. Each cast a quick glance at Dixon as they passed his seat, and both saw that he was rubbing his right hand with his handkerchief.
As they took their seats, Barber glanced at Raleigh with a quick gesture towards St. John. He, too, was rubbing his handkerchief over his right hand, and eyeing with a disgusted expression some black stains that showed conspicuously on his slender white fingers.
Presently, Raleigh went to the desk, and told Mr. Horton, in a tone too low for any other ears, the result of their watch.
Mr. Horton was greatly disturbed.
“There must be some mistake,” he said. “I cannot believe it of either of them.”
Then placing Gordon in charge of the room, he went to confer with Professor Keene. The result was that when the class was dismissed, St. John, Dixon, Raleigh and Barber were told to remain.
Then Mr. Horton took St. John into the dressing-room alone. The boy followed him with evident bewilderment, and when the teacher said:—
“St. John, will you tell me how you got those stains on your hand?” he looked as if he thought himself the victim of some practical joke, and drawing himself up, answered haughtily and coldly, “That is my affair, sir.”
“Ordinarily, it would be your affair, St. John,” answered Mr. Horton patiently, “but, unfortunately, to-day I must insist upon an answer to my question.”
The boy bit his lip and hesitated, evidently half inclined to refuse to answer, but there was something in Mr. Horton’s face that puzzled and rather awed him, and after a moment’s silence he said sulkily:—
“The janitor did not fill my inkstand, and I had to go down to that beastly old cellar and fill it myself, and I got the ink on my hand. I never went to a school before where I had to do servant’s work,” he added with his haughtiest air.
“Did anyone see you filling your inkstand?” asked the teacher.
“The janitor was muddling around there,” answered the boy. “I told him it was his business to do it for me, and he had the impudence to tell me that it was as much my business as his.”
Mr. Horton half smiled, understanding that St. John’s overbearing manner would not be likely to incline the somewhat crusty old janitor to save him any trouble; but remembering the serious question at issue, his face grew grave again.
“Have you been in the dressing-room to-day?” he asked.
“No, sir,” said the boy.
“Very well; you may go,” and, as St. John went down the stairs, Mr. Horton returned to the school-room, where he found the three boys sitting in a sort of embarrassed silence.
“Dixon,” he said at once, “I see you have stained your hand. How did you do it?”
Dixon glanced at his fingers, and the color suddenly flamed in his freckled cheeks.
“I—I—hit it against something black,” he stammered.
“Evidently,” said Mr. Horton. “Dixon, were you in the dressing-room at recess?”
The boy hesitated, glanced half appealingly at the teacher, and then at the boys.
“Would you rather see me alone?” asked Mr. Horton, and as the boy nodded, he signed to Raleigh and Barber to leave the room. Then he said:—
“Dixon, it will be best for you to tell me the whole truth frankly; best for your own sake, I mean.”
“Oh, I’m not thinking about myself, you know,” said Dixon. “It’s—” then he stopped.
“Well?” said Mr. Horton, inquiringly.
“Oh, dear!” said Dixon desperately, “I don’t know what to do,” and putting his head down on his desk, he actually sobbed.
The teacher’s hand was laid kindly on the rough, red hair, as he said:—
“A fault confessed is half forgiven, Dixon, and though this is more than a fault, for it is a most grave and serious matter, yet a frank and full acknowledgment will incline us to deal as leniently as possible with you.”
Dixon raised his head. There was a bewildered expression in his blue eyes which changed to one of indignant astonishment as the meaning of his teacher’s words dawned upon him. He started up, dashing the tears from his freckled cheeks as he exclaimed:—
“You don’t mean that you suspect me of stealing!”
“Well, really,” said Mr. Horton, actually moving back a step before the indignant flash of those blue eyes. “Well, really, I begin to think I do not, though I must confess that I did a few moments ago. Tell me all about it, Dixon. Evidently you know something about the matter.”
“Oh, yes; I wish I didn’t,” and again the freckled face was hidden by the stained fingers. After a moment’s silence, he went on:—
“Mr. Horton, if I can promise you sure that nothing else will be taken, won’t that do?” he asked imploringly.
“I’m afraid that won’t do, Dixon. I see that you are trying to shield the guilty person, but it is not fair to those who have been robbed, nor do I believe that it would be best for the one who deserves punishment to go scot free. It would encourage him to repeat the crime. Yes,” as Dixon started at the word, “it is a crime, and one that will put the guilty person behind the prison bars, if continued.”
“Oh, Mr. Horton, you won’t put him in prison, will you? Promise me you won’t, or I’ll never tell. I’ll go to prison for it myself first,” he cried excitedly.
“Easy, easy, my boy,” and Mr. Horton laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “If you do not tell what you know, we shall surely find out for ourselves who is the guilty person, and then it may be too late for any word of yours to be of any benefit to him. Be persuaded, Dixon, and tell me all you know about the matter, now.”
“Well—I will,” said the boy, after a moment’s thought; “only, Mr. Horton, I shall depend on you to save him from prison, if you anyway can. You see he’s a little fellow, only thirteen, and it will break his mother’s heart if he’s sent to prison. His mother is an old friend of my mother’s, and when I came in to the city to go to school, last year, I went to her house to board. She’s a widow, and keeps a boarding-house ’way up town. Well, sir, the very day after I went there, I was taken sick with typhoid fever, and my mother was sick at home, so she couldn’t come to me, and Mrs. Gray took care of me just as if I had been her own boy. She sat up nights with me, and oh, I can’t tell you how good she was through all those weeks. The doctor told mother afterwards that I owed my life to Mrs. Gray’s care and nursing, so you see, I can’t help thinking a lot of her, and I’ve tried my best to keep Willie straight; but lately, he’s got to going with one or two bad fellows in the school, and I think, Mr. Horton, that they make a cat’s-paw of him, and make him do things that he’d never think of doing himself, for he isn’t a bad boy really—Willie isn’t—and he’s all his mother has left.”
Again the rough red head went down on the desk, and the boy’s low sobs proved the depth of his sympathy for the widowed mother.
Mr. Horton’s own eyes were dim as he looked down at the lad.
“You haven’t told me how you came to be in the dressing-room at recess,” he said gently, after a little silence.
“Why, I hunted all over the playground for Willie, and when I found he wasn’t there, I felt somehow that I must find him, and be sure he wasn’t doing anything wrong. You see, I only found out about this a few days ago, and he had promised me solemnly that he’d never take another thing that did not belong to him. You know there’s another dressing-room adjoining ours, and the windows of the two are only a foot apart. As I came through the hall, I saw Willie slip into that other room, and I got to the door just in time to see him climb up on the window sill. I didn’t dare speak, for fear he’d fall, but I waited till he’d climbed from one window to the other, and slipped down into our dressing-room, and then went in, and shut the door after me. Willie had his hand in the pocket of an old overcoat, one I never saw before. I snatched his hand as he drew it out, and it was all wet with what looked like ink, and that’s the way mine got daubed.”
“And Willie kept the half-dollar he found in the overcoat?” said Mr. Horton.
“Oh, no, I made him give it up, and I put it back in the pocket.”
“And then?” questioned the teacher.
“Then he cried, and said that those fellows had threatened to tell Professor Keene that he was a thief, unless he’d keep on taking things. He hasn’t kept a single thing himself, Mr. Horton. They lent him some money a while ago, and because he couldn’t pay it back, they kept at him, telling him that he could easily pick up loose change enough in the dressing-rooms to pay the debt, and after he had taken one piece of money, then you see, they held that over him to make him keep on.”
“And these boys; who are they?” said Mr. Horton sternly.
Again Dixon hesitated, but in his heart he knew that such boys were too dangerous to be suffered to remain in the school to lead weak boys astray, and so he gave the names.
When at last Raleigh and Barber were called in, they were glad enough to learn that their classmate was not the thief; and Dixon, his mind relieved by having passed the responsibility over to Mr. Horton, could even laugh at his stained fingers, while he appreciated Raleigh’s ingenious plan.
“Funny what became of that coin, though,” the latter said, as he took his old coat from the nail where it hung.
“I rather think there’s a hole in this pocket, Raleigh,” said Mr. Horton, feeling at the bottom of the coat “See here!” and he held up the side where the coin could be plainly felt between the outside and the lining.
Dixon told the two boys enough of Willie Gray’s story to explain his own connection with the affair, and awaken their sympathy for the widowed mother.
There were no more losses that year, in the Central school.
Willie Gray’s interview with Professor Keene, and his suspension from the school for a month proved a lesson that he did not care to have repeated, but his severest punishment was in seeing his mother’s bitter shame and sorrow when she heard the story. He wore very shabby clothes the rest of that year, and so did his mother, but by the end of the school year every scholar’s loss had been made good, and from that time on no more scrupulously honest boy than Willie Gray could have been found in all that city.
As to Dixon, Raleigh and Barber conceived a new respect and regard for him after this affair, and even his openly expressed liking and admiration for “the girls,” awakened amusement instead of scorn.
“For you see, boys,” Dixon said one day confidentially to the two, “You see, boys, I’ve got a lot of sisters at home—half a dozen of ’em—and a right pretty lot they are too. You wouldn’t think they were any relation to a freckled carrot-head like me. But, bless you—they have never found out how homely I am, and, as I’m the only brother they’ve got, I’ve been kind of spoiled, I reckon. Anyhow, you wouldn’t believe how I miss those girls, and I like all girls for their sakes, don’t you see?”
St. John never found out that a suspicion had rested upon him. Indeed, it is doubtful if he knew that there had been any losses, since, as it happened, nothing had been taken from his desk; and Hamlin never again saw Dixon hanging about a saloon, since he no longer had to look for Willie Gray in such places.
A SNOWBALL FIGHT.
Just after New-Year came a very heavy snowstorm. It lasted two days, and when the boys went to school on the third morning, they had to wade through drifts in some places as high as their shoulders. Even on a level the snow was up to the knees of the smaller boys.
It was a huge frolic to most of them, and the best part of it was when they found that, owing to some trouble with the furnace, there would be no school in the boys’ department that day.
“Hurrah for a holiday!” shouted half a dozen voices, as the boys tumbled pellmell down the stairs, not considering it necessary, under the circumstances, to keep in line as usual.
“Won’t the girls envy us, though,” chuckled Dixon, lifting his cap with great politeness as he saw two or three girls looking out of one of their windows. “I’ve half a mind to go and smash their furnace, so they can get out too.”
“I would,” said Hamlin, dryly. He had long since arrived at the conclusion that “Rosy” had “plenty of good points,” but even yet Dixon’s frequent references to “the girls” were apt to vex him, and he had never been willing to introduce his red-haired schoolmate to his cousin Grace or any other of his girl friends.
“Say, fellows, why can’t we build a fort and have a snowball fight instead of going home,” cried Reed. “The snow’s in prime condition. Just see what balls it makes,” he added, catching up a handful of snow and hastily fashioning it into a ball which he flung at Hamlin, who dodged just in time to avoid it, and it landed full in Dixon’s mouth, as he opened it to speak. He spluttered and gasped for a moment, but as soon as he could get his breath, he dashed at Reed and rolled him in the snow, rubbing a handful of it into his mouth.
“Ouch! ouch!” yelled Reed; “help, help, boys!” whereupon two or three ran to his rescue, and the next moment, Dixon was treated to a dose of his own medicine. He took it very good-naturedly; he always did take everything good-naturedly. Even the boys that disliked him could not deny that.
“Say we do have a snowball fight. We may not have another chance this year,” said Sherman.
“Professor would order us off. The girls couldn’t recite if we were yelling outside here,” suggested Graham.
“That’s a fact! I forgot about the girls,” murmured Rosy, at which somebody remarked:—
“First time in your life you ever forgot ’em, ain’t it, Rosy?” and there was a general laugh at Dixon’s expense.
“Well, let’s go out on the vacant lots, then. No hospital or old ladies’ home around there, is there?” said Barber.
“Never heard of any. Come on, then,” cried Hamlin, leading the way. Presently he turned, and inquired:—
“What’ll we do for shovels and brooms? We can’t build a fort without ’em.”
“So we can’t,” said Reed, ruefully. “I forgot all about them.”
“Let’s borrow some,” suggested Graham.
“Where?” said Lee, with the touch of scorn in his voice that always irritated the boys.
“Right here on this block,” retorted Graham promptly.
“As if the people in these houses would lend us their snow shovels,” said Lee.
“If I get the shovels, will you agree to pay your share of the price?” asked Graham.
“Of course; don’t I always pay my share of anything that’s going,” said Lee, haughtily.
“All right,” said Graham as, with a grin at Hamlin, he ran up the steps of the nearest house and rang the bell.
“Want your walk cleared?” he inquired of the servant girl who opened the door.
“How much do you charge?” said the girl; “And where’s your shovel?”
“Where’s yours? Have you one?” replied Graham.
“Ye—yes,” said the girl, doubtfully.
“Well, tell your mistress that we’ll clear the steps and walk in fine style, if she’ll lend us her shovel for an hour afterward.”
“Get along with ye,” said the girl, “we’d never set eyes on the shovel again!”
At this, the crowd of boys on the sidewalk set up a shout of laughter, but Graham persisted:—
“Ask the lady to come to the door a minute, please do! We’ll clear the walk; honor bright, we will.”
As Graham spoke, the mistress appeared in the hall, and inquired of the girl what the boys wanted. Graham’s face lighted up as he caught sight of her, and he stepped forward, with his cap in his hand, saying:—
“I didn’t know that you lived here, Mrs. Hayes, but we boys want some shovels and brooms to make a snow fort on the vacant lots over yonder. We’ll clear off all the steps on this block, and the sidewalk too, if we can have the use of half a dozen shovels for an hour, to build our fort.”
“You can have ours, and welcome,” said Mrs. Hayes, “and I’ll give you a note to the other people on the block. Of course you won’t forget to bring back the shovels,” she added smiling. “You see I have several brothers, and have known them to forget such things, now and then.”
“We’ll return them, sure, before we begin our snowball fight,” Graham answered; and soon, thanks to Mrs. Hayes’ note, half a dozen shovels had been handed out to the boys, who took turns at using them, and so quickly had the walks beautifully cleaned. Lee did his share under protest, but he did it, and some of the boys would have done twice as much themselves for the fun of seeing the Southern lad obliged to handle the shovel.
Then the boys trooped over to the vacant lots, and set to work to build their fort. The many hands made short work of it, even though the fort they fashioned was of goodly dimensions; and as soon as it was finished, Graham and another lad carried back the borrowed shovels. Then the two came racing back, to take part in the choice of leaders for the two parties.
A dozen names were proposed by different boys, but finally, Hamlin and Griffin were selected. They at once proceeded to choose their followers by first one, and then another, calling out a name.
In Hamlin’s party were Clark, Gordon, Freeman, Graham, Raleigh, Sherman and Reed, while Griffin’s included his own friends, with Lee, Dixon, and a few others. In all, there were sixty boys. The leaders tossed up a penny for choice of position, and it fell to Griffin and his party to hold the fort.
Then he and his men were allowed ten minutes to make and carry into the fort as many snowballs as they could, for ammunition. Meantime, Hamlin’s party was similarly employed, while he was discussing with one or two of them the best plan of attack. It was decided to first make a rush all together, and try to scale the walls all along the line. This was done, but the attempt was a failure. The walls were too high to be readily scaled, and such a storm of snowballs was showered down upon the attacking party, that Hamlin was forced to call off his men, amid exultant shouts from those in the fort.
Then Hamlin divided his men into two parties, ordering one, under Clark’s leadership, to attack one end of the fort, while he himself led the other half against the other end, thus obliging Griffin to divide his force to repel the attack.
The two parties advanced all together against the fort until they were quite near, then suddenly dividing, half turned to the left and the other half to the right. Griffin hastily sent half of his men to repel Clark’s party, while he, with the rest, beat back Hamlin and his followers. Again and again the boys outside would succeed in climbing almost to the top of the wall of snow, only to be met by a shower of balls that filled eyes, ears and mouths, while strong hands pushed and shoved them down the slippery walls, shouts and yells of derision following them as they descended.
At last, Hamlin again called off his men to rest and gather a new stock of ammunition.
“’Tisn’t much use, though, for us to snowball them,” grumbled Reed, trying to get some of the snow out of his neck. “They can throw right into our faces when we’re climbing their walls, but we can’t hang on to those slippery snow banks, and throw up into their faces. They can dodge and we can’t.”
“Dodge! I should say we couldn’t,” echoed Freeman. “Much as ever I could hang on at all while Lee was dashing snow into my face for all he was worth.”
“We’ll never take that fort by direct attack,” said Hamlin. “We’ve got to use stratagem.”
“Any sort of gem you say, so long as it’s a taking sort,” responded Reed.
“We might tunnel under, and so let them down unexpectedly,” suggested Clark.
“But they’d see us doing it,” objected Graham.
“Mustn’t let them,” answered Clark.
“What’s your idea, Clark? How would you do it?” asked Hamlin.
“I’d make another attack at two points, so as to divide their force, and make such a desperate fight that Griffin would need every man he has, at those two points. Then, while the fight was going on, one fellow might drop down at the bottom of the fort, and keeping below those who were climbing the walls, so that those above in the fort couldn’t see him, he might dig under the bottom of the wall. It wouldn’t take many minutes for him to dig out a hole that he could crawl into. Then he could loosen the snow above him, so that a little extra stamping or pushing would break the wall through and let some of those fellows down where we could capture them. And then we could pile up through the opening, and so into the fort.”
“What do you say, Gordon? Think we could do it?” cried Hamlin eagerly.
“Looks as if we might, if we can find the right chap for that burrowing trick.”
“If we only had a big mole here, now,” remarked Reed.
“I’ll be the mole, if nobody else cares to try it,” said Clark.
“I don’t believe that plan will hold water,” remarked one boy, scornfully.
“It’s snow we want it to hold, not water,” was Reed’s quick response.
“We’ll give it a trial anyway,” said Hamlin. “Now then—are you all ready? Well then, we’ll go for those walls again. Forward, march!”
On went the attacking party at a full speed, while those in the fort braced themselves to repel the charge. Fast and furious flew the balls, and in the cloud of snow, and amid the shouting, squirming, struggling crowd trying to climb the walls, it was easy for Clark to drop unnoticed at the bottom, where he had taken care to kick out an opening as he approached the wall. Now, using his hands in decidedly mole-like fashion, he began to burrow under, throwing the snow out behind him as he dug.
Meantime, above and around him, the struggle went on, and so many hard knocks were given and received, that some of the boys began to get angry. The fun was changing to earnest.
Finally, Hamlin again called off his men, and as they gathered about him, out of earshot of those in the fort, he said to Clark:—
“Couldn’t carry out your plan—eh, Clark? I was afraid it wouldn’t work.”
“But it did work,” said Clark, quietly.
“Do you mean that you succeeded in undermining the wall?” cried Hamlin, eagerly.
“Yes,” said Clark, “and it would only take a little more digging to make it mighty unsafe for those fellows to dance any more jigs up there.”
“But I don’t see any opening,” said Hamlin.
“No—I kicked some snow into the opening so they wouldn’t discover it if any of ’em should come outside the fort.”
“Good for you, Clark,” cried Reed joyfully. “I tell you what, Hamlin, I began to think I was getting tired of plain fighting up there. Some of those chaps don’t fight fair. They whack altogether too hard about a fellow’s head.”
“That’s so,” assented several.
“Yes, I think myself they pommeled us too severely this last time,” said Hamlin; “but if Clark’s plan is a success, we’ll snake ’em out of their snug quarters before long. How do you think we’d better go at it, Clark?”
“I should think it would be best to make an attack at each end as we did last time, and while you keep them busy so, I’ll go through my tunnel again and pull down a little more snow under the middle. Then I’ll back out and give a signal to let you know I’m ready, and then both parties might drop down and make a dash for the walls in the middle. Of course Griffin and his men will rush there, and the sudden rush and weight will break through what’s left of the wall and down they’ll tumble, and up we’ll scramble and swarm over the walls before they can pick themselves up.”
“Tiptop plan,” said Gordon, and Hamlin added:—
“Yes, and we’ll carry it out, too. Now, boys, remember—pitch in and carry the walls if you can, but keep your ears open for a whistle from Clark, and when you hear it, follow me to the center.”
Derisive hoots and yells from Griffin and his men greeted the approach of Hamlin and his party, but the latter went steadily on in silence. Not a shout or a cry answered the taunts of the defenders, and again the struggle was renewed, the boys scrambling up the walls, fighting their way inch by inch, only to be thrust and pushed back as they neared the top. Two did succeed in scrambling over the wall, but a dozen strong arms seized them, and promptly rolled them over the slippery barrier to the ground below.
In the midst of the struggle, a clear whistle sounded, and at the signal, Hamlin’s voice rang out calling his followers to retreat. They slipped down the walls and joined their leader, but instead of retreating as before, they instantly made a dash for the walls in the center.
Griffin shouted to his men, and all but two rushed to the threatened spot to repel the enemy. As they did so, the walls gave way, and more than half of the defenders rolled through the breach to the ground, while yells and shouts of a different sort announced their surprise and disgust at their unexpected descent.
The few who had not gone down in the slump, fought bravely, but they were quickly overpowered by numbers, as over the walls scrambled Hamlin and his men. It was their turn now to shout exultantly, as they seized and made prisoner every boy that they could catch. Griffin’s men looked rueful enough as they found themselves so cleverly trapped, and some were not only rueful, but bitterly angry.
“Where’s Griffin,” cried Hamlin.
“There he is. Catch him—catch him!” shouted Lee, pointing to a white figure just crawling out from under the mass of fallen snow.
“Surrender! Surrender!” shouted a score of voices, as the boys surrounded Griffin.
“Oh, well, of course we must surrender, since you’ve got possession of the fort; but you had to take it by trickery—not in fair fight,” Griffin said, sullenly.
“All’s fair in love and war,” quoted Graham, gaily. “It was a perfectly fair stratagem, and certainly a successful one, I think.”
“Who cares what you think! Take that for a last shot!” and Griffin, losing all control of his hot temper at these words from Graham, whom he had never forgiven for winning the election, suddenly raised his arm and flung a snowball he was holding in his hand—straight at Graham’s face.
Clark was standing near Griffin, and as his quick eye saw the look on the latter’s face and the sudden movement, he sprang forward, and struck up Griffin’s arm, and the ball, instead of knocking Graham over, went crashing through a big window in a fine house across the street.
A change came over every face, as the rattle of the falling glass was heard.
“You’re in for it, now, Grif,” said one.
“’Twasn’t my fault. ’Twas Clark’s. What did you knock my arm up for?” he added, turning angrily on Clark, and looking more than half inclined to strike him.
Clark did not flinch, as he answered gravely:—
“That ball might have hurt Graham pretty badly, Griffin.”
“Hurt him! I should say so!” cried Hamlin. “A ball that would break a window at this distance would have killed a fellow, sure. You must have thrown it with tremendous force, Griffin.”
Griffin dropped his eyes and said, sulkily:—
“Well, what’s to be done about it? I’ve no money to pay for plate-glass windows, and anyway, I think Clark’s the one to foot the bill—unless we bluff it out. Here comes the man, now.”
The gentleman who was coming quickly towards the group might have been excused for feeling that the limit of patience was reached in his case, since this was the third time that season that his windows had been broken by boys playing on the vacant lots. He was plainly very angry, as he began abruptly:—
“Which of you broke my window?”
For a second, nobody answered, and the man was about to express his opinion pretty freely, when Clark stepped forward.
“I am partly responsible for it, sir,” he said.
“Oh, you are—are you? Well, are you going to pay for it?”
“It shall certainly be paid for,” Clark replied, “but I can’t pay for it to-day.”
“Oh, yes, I understand that,” said the man. “You can’t pay it to-day, and if I let you off, you never will pay it. I’ll see your father about it. Where is he?”
Clark’s face grew suddenly white, and his clear eyes fell, while many of those rough boys felt a most unusual thrill of pity and sympathy for him. But he recovered himself quickly, and answered in a low voice:—
“I have no father to pay my bills, sir, but if you will not take my word for it, I will give you a note to the firm I work for, and they will see that you are paid.”
By this time the man’s anger had begun to cool off a little. He was a shrewd reader of faces, and Clark’s straightforward glance and manly air began to make an impression on him.
“What’s your name?” he asked gruffly.
“Well, Mr. Stanley Clark, I suppose I’m a fool, but I’m going to trust you. How long do you expect me to wait for my money?”
“How much will the glass cost?” inquired Clark.
“Five dollars; the glass and the putting in. It’s a big window, you see.”
“Yes, I see,” said Clark. “Well, sir, you shall have the money before the first of February. Will that do?”
“That will do,” and without another word the man turned away, saying to himself, “I may be mistaken, but I believe that young chap is honest. Anyhow, if he doesn’t keep his word, I’ll see the principal of the high school. They were high school boys, and I could pick that one out among a thousand.”
As the man departed, all eyes were turned on Griffin, and Hamlin voiced the feeling of many when he said:—
“I call that right down mean and sneaky, Griffin. It is really you who ought to pay that bill.”
“Here’s the man coming back again,” said Reed. And sure enough, the man was returning, looking at something he held in his hand, as he came.
Facing Clark, he demanded:—
“Did you throw that snowball?”
“No, sir,” said Clark, “but if it hadn’t been for me, it would probably not have gone through your window.”
“Ah!” said the man, “I’m glad you didn’t throw it, and if it was aimed at any boy’s head, that boy owes you a debt of thanks, at least. See here; this was inside the ball. I was so mad before that I forgot to show it to you,” and he held out a rough, jagged piece of brick. “That would have knocked the breath out of a boy, if it had hit him full in the face”; and leaving the brick in Clark’s hand, the man again departed.
There was more than scorn and contempt now in the eyes that turned towards Griffin, who, for the life of him, could not help cowering under the fire of indignant glances and the words that followed.
“You’d better blame Clark for knocking up your arm,” said Hamlin, and the man crossing the street smiled grimly as the clear, ringing voice reached even his ears. “You might have slept behind prison bars to-night, if it had not been for Clark’s quick eye and hand.”
“I wouldn’t have believed there was a fellow in the Central mean enough to do a thing like that,” added Gordon.
“Well, see here now, fellows.” It was Graham who said this. “Are we going to let Clark pay that debt for Griffin? I can’t, for one,” and the look he gave Clark said what his tongue could not say before all those listening ears.
“No! No!” shouted a score of voices.
“I can’t pay it, ’n that’s all there is about it,” said Griffin, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground.
There was a moment of silence. Many of the boys knew that Griffin belonged to a family that had no money to spare.
“Well,” said Graham, “if Griffin really can’t pay it, I’m the one to do it, and I will, though I can’t do it just now. Christmas cleared me out entirely.”
“And me, too, of course,” said Hamlin; “that and the school dues that I paid yesterday.”
“See here, boys, neither Clark nor Graham ought to foot that bill, and I reckon we’re all pretty short just now. Say we all chip in and earn it to-day,” was Reed’s suggestion.
“Earn it, how?” cried several voices.
“Shoveling snow,” was the prompt reply. “This snow is so heavy that the fellows that usually go around to clear walks can’t begin to cover the ground that they generally do. You see they haven’t cleared anywhere about here yet. What’s the matter with our borrowing shovels again over yonder, or anywhere we can get ’em, and each of us clearing one sidewalk. At ten cents each, we’d raise six dollars that way in a jiffy.”
“Three cheers for Reed. His head’s level!” called out one; and in two minutes not a boy was to be seen on the vacant lots; not one except Griffin. He stood there biting his nails, and scraping a hole in the snow with the toe of his shoe. When the boys passed the lots with their borrowed shovels, Griffin was gone.
Late that afternoon, somebody left at Hamlin’s door twenty-five cents done up in a bit of paper, on which was scrawled the one word, “glass.”
“Griffin left that, I’m sure,” Hamlin said as he read the word. “I’m glad he had grace enough to do that much.”
He did not know that the boy had earned that quarter clearing off snow with a shovel that he had manufactured himself out of a broom-handle and a piece of a soap-box. Even Griffin was not all bad.
A much astonished gentleman was the one who was called to his door that evening to meet a delegation of high-school boys, one of whom handed him a five-dollar bill to pay for his broken window.
HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE.
One morning, St. John, on his way to the class-room, stopped before a bulletin-board on which had been written the names of the institutions offering scholarships to the pupils of the high school.
He had overheard an occasional word about these scholarships, but really knew very little about them. So he stood there reading the list.
Then up the stairs behind him came half a dozen boys of section D. As they caught sight of St. John, they, too, stopped to see what he was reading. St. John, who seemed never to want any boy within a yard of him, turned to go, but, with a mischievous glance at the other, Reed stood still, and the others pressed closely together, penning St. John in to the little space between them and the board. Seeing their purpose, St. John’s face took on its haughtiest expression, and leaning against the board, he waited in angry silence for them to move aside and let him pass. But they, enjoying his discomfiture, stood laughing and chaffing one another, but never saying a word to him.
More and more boys joined the group, and, each one taking in the situation, stood there as if he had no intention of going farther that day.
Finally Dixon called out:—
“Say, boys, who’s going to take these prizes?” glancing at the board.
“Gordon—Clark—Hamlin—Raleigh,” shouted the crowd.
“Yes,” said Reed, thoughtfully, “they’re the only ones that have the ghost of a chance.”
“But they can’t take ’em all,” somebody suggested.
“Well, the girls have a go at two of them. Aren’t you going to give the girls a chance?” said Dixon.
“We didn’t say that those fellows would accept the scholarships—but they’ll win ’em sure.” This from Barber.
“Yes,” said Reed, with one eye on St. John’s angry face, “they’ll win ’em sure, and they ought to. They’ve worked hard enough for them, and they deserve all they’ll win. The rest of us must play second fiddle this year. Not but what second fiddle is pretty fair, when it puts a chap up in the nineties.”
“Here comes Bobby!”
The word ran through the crowd, and the group dissolved like magic, leaving St. John free to enter the class-room.
Of course he knew that the boys had only been trying to tease him, for his high rank in the class could not be denied; but all the same it made him furiously angry to be ranked with the “second fiddles,” and counted out entirely in the prize competition.
All but one of the six scholarships were to be given to the pupils having highest averages in all or in certain studies, during the three years’ course; but one, and that the highest prize—or the one so considered in the school—was offered to the boy who should rank first in the classical course during the senior year, and should also write the best Latin essay. If, as had sometimes happened, two or three boys should stand equally high on the year’s average, then the quality of their essays would decide to whom the prize should go. But if one boy should stand first in the class, and another not ranking as high should hand in a better essay—for any boy who chose was free to compete—then the prize would not be given at all that year.
“I’ll win that scholarship if it kills me to do it, just to make that crowd mad. It would make them mad enough to see their precious four worsted in the fight. And they shall see it, sure as fate!”
So ran St. John’s thoughts during that morning’s exercises. From that day, this one thought and purpose ruled him. He had never cared for athletic sports, and riding and driving were all the exercise he ever took, but now, the time spent in going to and from school was all that he was out of doors; and almost every moment of his waking time was given to study. Long after midnight he worked, going over and over what he already knew, lest possibly, some point might have been forgotten or slighted.
The other four boys were working hard too, but they were so accustomed to out-of-door sports and exercise, that it never occurred to them that they could give them up. So they kept their brains and bodies in good working order, while St. John grew, week by week, more worn and weary.
“His royal highness looks rather seedy—eh,” Reed said one day to Clark, and the latter answered:—
“I think he’s working too hard.”
St. John’s ears, sharpened by his nervous anxiety, caught both question and answer, and resented anyone’s thinking that he needed to work harder than any of the others. Up to this time he had been coldly indifferent to his classmates, but now he began to hate them all. He told himself that they were all banded against him, and that not one of them wanted him to win. And this was true. He had made not the slightest effort to gain their friendship, while the others were all prime favorites. Even Clark was happily conscious that the boys were friendly to him now; all except St. John and Lee. Lee’s Southern prejudice had not yet died away, and in his heart he still regarded Clark as a coward.
The competition for the prize scholarships was not confined to section D. There were two girls’ sections, and one other boys’ section in the senior year, and in each of these there were scholars who were quite as eager to win the prizes as were the boys in section D.
And in section D also there were other competitors besides the five who stood highest in the class. These were what Reed had called the “second fiddles,” and their chance lay in the fact that neither St. John, Gordon, nor Hamlin would accept the scholarships, should they win them, as all three of them were planning to enter some of the larger and more prominent colleges. They wanted the honor of winning the prizes, but it was generally understood that the prizes themselves would go to the next lower in class, while the whole class to a boy, always excepting St. John, was now determined that D should be the banner section this year. None were more eager for this last than Crawford and Freeman. Both of them were trying to live down the previous year’s record. They could hope to win no prizes, but they could do their share towards raising the general record, and this they were trying to do.
As the sunny May days slipped away and examination time approached, the strain of the competition began to tell upon many of the pupils. Four in section D stood so nearly together that Mr. Horton himself could not see that one had any better chance than the others.
“I never had four such students in one class,” he said to Professor Keene one day. “So far as perfect recitations go, there is nothing to choose between them. When St. John first entered, he was away ahead in Latin, but the other three have been steadily overtaking him, and now it all rests on the examinations.”
“And the Latin essay,” added the professor.
“Yes. That, of course, decides one prize.”
“St. John going to win there?” questioned the professor.
Mr. Horton shook his head doubtfully:—
“I’m afraid the lad is not well,” he said. “I notice that he doesn’t think as quickly as he did, and one of the others may write a better essay. His will be couched in elegant Latin, but the matter of it may not be equal to some one of the others. There’s no telling; anyhow, it is going to be a very close contest, and I shall be glad when it is over.”
“Yes, so shall I,” responded the professor. “There’s always more or less ill-feeling, and too great strain in these prize competitions.”
A carriage stood before the schoolhouse gate when school was dismissed that day. A lady and little girl sat within it, watching the throng of boys passing down the steps.
“There’s Charlie, Mamma! Charlie! Charlie!” called the child’s clear voice, as Reed, with Hamlin and Clark, came down the steps.
Reed hurried to the carriage, but his mother was looking not at him, but at one of the other two.
“Who is that boy, Charlie—the one that you were talking to?” she cried breathlessly.
Reed paused, with his hand on the carriage door.
“That’s Clark—Stanley Clark. You’ve heard me speak of him times enough,” he answered, wonderingly.
“Oh, Charlie, that is the boy that saved Nellie’s life. Don’t let him get away. Bring him here quick. I must speak to him.”
With a mixture of delight and amazement on his face, Reed raced after the two boys, and seizing Clark by the arm, cried:—
“Come, Clark, my mother wants to see you. You must come,” he added imperatively, as Clark held back, unwillingly. “I’ll tell you what it’s all about to-morrow, Hamlin”; and he began to pull Clark toward the carriage.
Clark knew why he was wanted, for he had recognized the two, but he would far rather have risked his life again than to have been marched up to that carriage. But there was no help for it, so he submitted with the best grace possible.
Mrs. Reed seized both his hands, and her eyes were dim as she said:—
“To think that it was you who saved my little girl, and all this time we have never suspected it! You must have seen our advertisements?”
“Oh, yes,” said Clark, looking mightily uncomfortable, “but I didn’t want any more thanks, you know. Any fellow would have done what I did on the impulse of the moment. If I’d stopped to think, I should probably have stood still.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Mrs. Reed promptly. “A boy who acted on such an impulse as you did, couldn’t be a coward. It is not in him. But step in; we’ll take you home. I must know where you live, for I want to call on your mother. I know she was proud of her boy that night.”
Clark laughed a little. “No,” he said, “she never knew anything about it, except what she read in the paper.”
“Well, she will know about it to-morrow,” said the little lady decidedly.
When the carriage stopped at Clark’s door, she again took the lad’s hand.
“Think what a shadow would be upon our home to-day, but for you,” she said, with a glance at her little daughter. “It is a debt that we can never repay, but, at least, let us have the pleasure of seeing you and your mother sometimes, at our home. I have often asked Charlie why you never came to our house, as so many of the other boys do; I know the reason, now.”
Mrs. Clark wondered a little when her son told her that Charlie Reed’s mother would call upon her the next day. She was not at all pleased, since she was living in the utmost seclusion, feeling almost as keenly as did her son the cloud of disgrace that rested upon them. But when she learned from Mrs. Reed what Stanley had done, when she saw the tears of deep feeling in the eyes of her visitor, and felt the warm pressure of her hands, how could she help being proud and happy?
Clark would have liked to stay away from school that next day, but it would never do to bring down his record by an absent mark. He went as late as he dared, however, but the instant he entered the room he saw that the boys were waiting for him, and in spite of the fact that Mr. Horton was already at his desk, a shout broke from the whole class at sight of the schoolmate, whom they were now as eager to honor as a year ago they had been to hurt and annoy.
“Three cheers for Clark!” shouted the irrepressible Reed, actually jumping up on his seat in his excitement, and the cheers were given with a will, while Clark, blushing and confused, bowed his thanks and dropped hastily into his seat.
“Well,” remarked Mr. Horton, looking slowly about the room, “may I ask what this means? What have you been doing, Clark, to awaken all this enthusiasm?”
“Nothing at all, sir. It’s just the boys,” stammered Clark.
“Yes,” said Mr. Horton dryly, “I’m quite aware that it was just the boys.” But now Reed, trying to keep his enthusiasm within bounds, told the story in a few graphic words.
Mr. Horton listened with as great an interest as even Reed could desire, and when the story was ended, said only:—
“Boys, you are perfectly excusable for this once; only remember that this is not a precedent,” but the look he gave the quiet lad whom he had learned to love, assured the boys that their teacher was in fullest sympathy with them.
From this time, Clark’s popularity in the school was very great. Even hot-headed Lee blotted from his memory that unreturned blow, the year before, and not even in the depths of his own heart did he ever again call Stanley Clark “coward.”
Before that day was over, section D had another sensation.
As usual near the close of the year, the rules were relaxed, especially in the senior class, and often some of the boys would remain in the room during part of the recess, talking over their work and surmising about the questions likely to be asked in the examinations. Half a dozen or more were busily talking about the dreaded Latin essays, when Reed came rushing upstairs, exclaiming:—
“I say, you fellows, you missed a picnic, staying in to-day. Didn’t you hear us all yelling outside?”
“Why, yes, we heard you, but it’s nothing unusual for you little chaps to be noisy,” said Hamlin, loftily. Then he added, “but if you’re very anxious to tell us what it was about, this time, we can listen, I suppose,” and with an air of patient endurance, he dropped into his seat.
Reed picked up a book and flung it at him, but he was too full of his story to pursue the mock quarrel, especially as two or three voices called out:—
“Go on, Reedy—tell us what ’twas all about.”
“Why, we were all out there on the sidewalk—a whole crowd of us,” said Reed, “when a fellow came along driving a heavy cart with the worst-looking old rackabones of a horse you ever laid eyes on. The creature didn’t look as if it had had a good meal in six months, and it was so weak that it could hardly crawl. Just before it got opposite our gate, the horse stopped, and the big brute that was driving began to lash it unmercifully—to get past us, I expect.
“Some of us yelled at him to ‘hold up,’ but, bless you, before the words were fairly out of our mouths, Crawford had dashed out and was pitching into that driver, and giving him as pretty a pommeling as you’d want to see; put him right down there in the street and licked him well. Then he yanked him up, and ordered him to take the horse out of the shafts. The fellow refused at first, and threatened to ‘have the law’ on Crawford; but that didn’t scare Crawford a bit, and then the rascal began to whine and swear by turns; and finally asked how he could get his cart home without the horse.
“‘I’ll fix that,’ said Crawford, ‘but that horse is going to have a rest for one week, and all he wants to eat, and he’s going to have ’em in the stable where my horses are kept.’
“‘An’ phwat will I be doin’ ahl that week, with niver a hoss to me cart?’ said the man.
“‘I’ll hire a horse for you to use that week,’ said Crawford.
“The man looked at him.
“‘An’ phwat if I say No?’ said he, looking as if he would like to give Crawford a black eye, if he dared.
“‘Then I’ll go this moment, and enter a complaint against you. Any officer of the Humane Society would order that poor brute killed rather than see him driven as he is now, to say nothing of seeing him beaten as shamefully as you beat him just now,’ said Crawford.
“The man looked around at us all. Of course, we’d crowded ’round to see the thing out—and then he began slowly to unfasten the poor old nag. It was so weak that I thought it would have to be propped up against a fence or something, but it did manage to stand.
“‘Now phwere’ll I take him?’ said the man, and I know he added some hot words under his breath.
“‘You’ll come along with me,’ said Crawford. ‘I’m not going to trust that horse out of my sight’; and I just wish you’d seen ’em going up the street together, almost holding up that poor old skeleton between ’em, with a crowd of street boys who had gathered, tagging on behind, hooting and yelling.”
Confrontation over horse.
As Reed stopped to take breath, Gordon exclaimed:—
“Well, I’d never have believed that of Crawford. I didn’t think he was that sort at all.”
“Oh, he loves horses,” broke in Freeman. “You ought to see him pet those ponies of his. I heard him say once, that his ponies were all the folks he had, for his nearest relative is a cousin that he hasn’t seen in ten years.”
A sudden silence followed Freeman’s words, and more than one boy’s thoughts flew to his own home and those who loved him there, and a new feeling of sympathy for Crawford was awakened.
“Section D should be proud of Crawford, to-day,” said Clark. “Let’s show him that we are.”
“So we will,” said one and another.
“But won’t Mr. Horton mark him off for breaking bounds?” said Dixon, as the bell sounded.
“Not he; trust Bobby to do the fair thing when he hears the story,” said Graham, and Reed added:—
“Bobby’s all right. Crawford asked me to tell him, and he said it would be all right.”
But for Mr. Horton’s warning in regard to a precedent, Crawford would have received almost as enthusiastic a greeting when he returned half an hour later as had been given to Clark that morning; but, as it was, he slipped quietly into his seat, and the boys only showed their appreciation of the stand he had taken, by surrounding him after school, and asking all sorts of questions about the affair. From this time however, Crawford was “counted in” to whatever was going on, as he never had been before.
In the midst of the strain of approaching examinations, and essays to be prepared, came the annual drill, and though our senior boys had felt, a few weeks before, as if they could hardly spare the time for the extra drilling, yet, after all, Company D did want to keep those red ribbons one more year, and every other company wanted just as much to capture them and that beautiful gold medal; and so, when the great day came, lessons took a second place for once, and the boys in blue came to the front.
This time, there was no disorder, and no unfair dealing. The judges gave high praise to the battalion as a body, and Company D retained the red ribbons. It was the last company on the list, and when, with the little silken badges fluttering in the breeze, it marched off the field, all the other companies united in a cordial cheer for Company D; which unexpected demonstration from the disappointed competitors so pleased Captain Hamlin that, the next day, every boy in the battalion received an invitation to a steamboat trip down the bay, with a shore dinner—all at the expense of Company D, though Hamlin himself paid the bill. And if he thereby deprived himself of a special pleasure trip that his father had promised him, the boys never knew it, and Hamlin was content.
GLADNESS FOR CLARK.
“Who enters here, leaves hope behind.”
This legend, in huge, shaded letters, adorned the blackboard one morning, when a written examination in geometry was to take the place of the usual recitations.
Mr. Horton glanced at Dixon with a smile as he read the sentence, for Dixon was apt to get badly tangled up over those perplexing lines and angles, and was always in the depths of melancholy when an examination in geometry was impending.
Just then Dixon was saying:—
“Wish I could borrow your head this morning, Clark. You wouldn’t mind lending it, would you?”
Clark, buried in the depths of a big lexicon, answered in an absent-minded way:—
“Certainly not. Help yourself.”
The shout of laughter from the boys who had heard both question and answer brought Clark back to his surroundings, and he joined in the laugh against himself, while Dixon grumbled:—
“Only wish I could hold him to his word.”
When inkwells had been filled, pens and paper distributed, and the boys were taking last, lingering peeps at the knottiest theorems before their geometries should be collected, as was the custom, they were taken entirely by surprise, for, instead of telling two boys to bring the books to the desk, the teacher said:—
“Boys, we are going to carry the self-government principles into the examinations this year. If you will all promise to be perfectly fair and honorable in this examination, your books may remain on your desks, and I shall leave the room without a monitor until the examination is over. As many as would like me to do this will please rise.”
It seemed to Mr. Horton that every boy in the room was on his feet the next instant. In reality, several rose slowly, and only because they were not willing to say that they preferred not to be so trusted.
Mr. Horton looked much pleased, as he bade the boys be seated.
“I am very glad to have such an unanimous response,” he said, “and I shall leave you without the slightest doubt. I know that my boys can be trusted this year, and it is a pleasure to me to show you how thoroughly I do trust you. Now, has any one any question to ask about the examination before I leave the room?”
After answering a few questions, Mr. Horton went out, and the boys settled down to work. To many of them, it seemed strange to be left so. These were the boys who had been used to whisper, and take sly peeps at bits of paper which they had tucked into various pockets. More than one had such aids to memory about him at that very moment, but they were ashamed, now, to use them.
As the boys looked over the list of questions, many a sigh or frown showed that that list contained precisely the questions that one or another had hoped would not be there.
But most of the boys settled down at once to steady work, and for a while nothing was heard but the scratching of pens and the rattling of paper, or the uneasy movements of some lad who was trying in vain to recall a forgotten theorem.
As Gordon laid aside a written sheet, he happened to glance towards a seat occupied by Blake—one of the boys who had entered that year, and he saw Blake softly lift the lid of his desk, and peep at something on the inside.
Leaving his seat, Gordon marched directly to Blake’s, and, without a word, suddenly lifted the lid of his desk, in spite of the other’s efforts to prevent it On the inside of the lid was pinned a brief explanation of several of the toughest problems in the geometry.
With a look of scorn in his blue eyes, Gordon snatched the paper and tore it into bits; then, still without a word, he returned to his seat. As he did so, several boys, whose quick eyes had taken note of the whole performance, clapped their approval, and at this, Blake, who had started up angrily, dropped back into his seat, and went on with his work in sulky silence.
One or two other boys attempted to cheat that day, but their attempts were put down by the rest as promptly as Blake’s had been.
Blake tried to slip out of the room unnoticed after the examination was over, but Gordon had kept an eye on him, and speedily overtook him in the hall.
“Blake,” he said, “I’m sure you are glad, now, that you did your work honestly. You wouldn’t have liked Mr. Horton to know that you went back on your word.”
“He wouldn’t have known it, if you’d minded your own business,” growled Blake, “and I should have had a hundred on the examination, and now I shan’t get above eighty, thanks to your meddling.”
“I’m sorry for that, Blake, but I’d rather have an honest eighty than a dishonest hundred, and I’m sure Mr. Horton would say so, too.”
“Oh, you’re too high-toned in this school,” said Blake. “I never was in a school before where we didn’t cheat in examinations. The teachers wink at it. They know we do it.”
“Well, I don’t believe in it,” said Gordon. “I mean to be honest after I leave school, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be honest in school, too. I couldn’t respect myself, if I did mean, underhanded things.”
“Respect your grandmother!” muttered Blake, walking off at such a pace that Gordon did not attempt to keep up with him, but turned back to wait for Hamlin, who came down the stairs a moment later.
Hamlin was looking very happy.
“Such a relief to get that exam. over,” he said, as he joined Gordon; “and I knew every problem like a book. Wasn’t it fine, though, to have Bobby put the class on honor so!”
“Yes,” said Gordon, “though two or three didn’t live up to it.”
“Oh, of course not. There are always a few sneaks in every crowd, but on the whole they did splendidly, I think. But what’s the matter with St. John?”
“Matter? What do you mean?” asked Gordon.
“Why, he’s still pegging away up there, and usually he’s one of the first to finish up,” replied Hamlin.
“Haven’t you noticed how much slower he’s been lately than he was the first of the year? I think the fellow’s worked out,” said Gordon. “Too bad, too, for it will spoil his whole year’s record, if he doesn’t get through these exams. in good shape.”
“Oh, he’ll get through all right enough,” said Hamlin, carelessly.
“Who else was up there when you left?” asked Gordon.
“Only Dixon, Freeman, Lee and Clark. Clark had handed in his paper and was waiting for Freeman. Here they come now.” And the two boys stopped and waited for the other two.
“Bobby certainly is working the self-government plan for all it is worth to-day,” said Freeman, as he and Clark joined the others.
“Anything new?” asked Hamlin.
“He’s left those three, St. John, Lee and Dixon, up there in the room to finish, and told ’em to put their papers in the lower drawer in his desk when they get through; and the last one is to lock the drawer and give him the key in the morning.”
“He certainly is putting them on honor,” said Gordon; “but I guess it’s safe enough with those three fellows.”
The three boys left in the class-room worked on in silence for half an hour. Then Lee had finished his work, and putting his paper in the drawer, he departed, followed a few minutes later by Dixon. Both boys cast wondering glances at St. John, who was usually among the first to pass in his papers, but he paid no attention to them, not seeming even to notice when they left the room.
He had finished all but one of the problems given. That one he had tried in vain to solve. His tired brain would not recall the theorem required. As Dixon left the room, St. John dropped his head on his desk with a weary sigh, but in a moment he started up again, and bent over the question-paper.
“Why can’t I think of it?” he said half aloud. “Of course I know it. I’ve solved that problem no end of times.”
His eye fell on his geometry. He stretched his hand towards it, then drew it back, a hot flush burning on his cheek.
“On honor!” he murmured, and pushing the book aside, he tried again to think out the solution required, but in vain. For half an hour he sat there fighting against the temptation that assailed him. Once he folded his unfinished paper, and started to put it in the drawer; then, remembering how Gordon, Clark and Hamlin had gone off an hour before—with every question correctly answered, he was sure—he dropped back into his seat with a groan.
“I can’t let them get ahead of me, so,” he thought. “I’m really a better scholar than anyone of the lot. It’s just that my head is so dead tired! I really do know every page of that geometry, if I only could think of it—if only I could.”
But he could not, try as he would. Then the janitor looked in at the door, and St. John knew that he wanted to clean the room. He began wearily to put away his papers. Suddenly he reached forward, snatched his geometry, and hurriedly turning the leaves, looked at the theorem that he had been trying to recall. Then, flinging the book aside, he hastily wrote out the explanation on his examination paper, folded it, and flung it carelessly into the drawer, and, forgetting entirely that he was to lock the drawer and keep the key until morning, he picked up his cap and left the room. His paper was all right, he was sure, but already he felt that he had paid too high a price for it.
The examinations that followed were conducted on the same principle as this first one, and Mr. Horton was so well satisfied with the result that he determined that he would never go back to the old watching method again. The Latin examination was held the next week, and, so far as was known, not one boy attempted underhanded methods.
St. John was so thoroughly at home in Latin, that he was among the first to complete his work, and he left the room with a sigh of relief that one more task was over, for he had reached that stage of mental and physical exhaustion when the smallest task seems a load too heavy to be borne, and he was gathering all his energies to finish the Latin essay that was to decide who should hold first rank in the class.
For weeks he had been working at that essay, writing and rewriting; one day pleased with his work, the next so dissatisfied that he would throw it aside and begin anew. But now, the time was short, and in a few days the essay must be handed in to the judges.
Gordon, Hamlin and Clark were also more than a little concerned about their essays.
“It isn’t the putting it into Latin; it’s getting the ideas in English that sticks me,” Hamlin said to Clark one day. “I’ve been cudgeling my brains, and it does seem as if I haven’t an idea worth writing down, on any subject whatever.”
“Queer, how a fellow’s ideas do vanish the minute he tries to write ’em out on paper,” said Clark. “I couldn’t get to sleep the other night for thinking about that essay, and while I lay awake, I thought of a subject, and one idea after another came to me, till I jumped out of bed and went to scribbling. Then I went back to bed and to sleep, and in the morning, when I read over my bright ideas, they seemed just about as near nothing as anything I ever read. So I flung the whole thing into the waste-basket, and began over again.”
“I’ve begun about a dozen times, and all my efforts, thus far, seem to me to be fit for the same receptacle,” laughed Gordon; “but there’s so little time left, that all I can do is to pick out the best of the lot—if there is any best—and make a smooth copy of it, and let it go at that.”
“Oh, yes, that’ll do for you to say,” grumbled Hamlin; “but all the same you’ll hand in an essay all trimmed up and polished off in tip-top style. That’s what you’ll both do. I know you two chaps; seen you before.”
Any boy in the Latin class was free to hand in an essay in competition for the prize scholarship; but it was well enough understood who were the six sure to stand at the head of the class, and there was small likelihood that any other boy could produce a better essay than any one of these six could write. Nevertheless, a few made the attempt, and nine essays were given to the judges. The decision was not to be made known, however, until Commencement day; so, when their papers had been handed in, the boys tried to forget all about the matter until the decision should be announced.
The day before Commencement was always one of intense interest, because then the results of all the examinations were announced, and not till then could the scholars know their marks on the whole year’s work, and for those who had been in the school through the entire three years, their standing for the whole period. Those who hoped to win one of the scholarships were especially anxious to know their standing, to see what their chances might be.
Rules were relaxed on this day. There were no more recitations. The work of the senior year was ended, and this last day was really more in the nature of a final friendly meeting as a class, than anything else.
When Mr. Horton, who had been down to Prof. Keene’s office, returned to his class-room with a paper in his hand, the merry chatter ceased, and the boys dropped into their seats, prepared to give him their undivided attention.
He began by telling them that never since he had been teaching had he had a class that had done, on the whole, so satisfactory work as this class had done during the past year. He spoke of the marked improvement, both in scholarship and moral character of the class as a whole, and told them that their influence had not been confined to their own section, but had extended to the whole school, so that Prof. Keene declared that the school stood much higher in reputation than it had done a year ago. “And he attributes this,” said Mr. Horton, “to the influence of the Law and Order Society of section D.”
A round of applause greeted this, but it was quickly hushed, as the teacher went on:—
“It gives me much pleasure to say, as it will give you to hear, that section D is the banner section of the Central, this year.”
The applause that followed this announcement was so enthusiastic and prolonged that it reached the ears of Prof. Keene, in his office, but he only smiled as he listened.
But Mr. Horton raised his hand, and silence instantly succeeded, for the boys were longing to know what was written on that paper which he held, and now he unfolded it, and read the result of the examinations.
Number 1. Stanley Clark.
Number 2. Hugh Gordon, and Everett St. John.
Number 3. David Hamlin.
Number 4. Alec Graham, and so on.
Each name was greeted with a round of cheers, and as soon as the list was ended, the boys crowded around the prize-winners with congratulations. Only St. John sat apart, and spoke to nobody. To stand second was nothing to him. If he could not stand first, he said to himself that he might as well be at the bottom of the list; and besides, deep in his heart, he knew that he had not gained honestly even the second rank. So he answered coldly, even rudely, the congratulations of Clark and Hamlin, and intimated so plainly that he wanted to be let alone, that no one else ventured to approach him.
In the midst of the hubbub of talk, Mr. Horton called Reed to the desk.
“You are wanted in the professor’s office,” he said.
Wondering “what was up,” Reed hurried down to the office. When, half an hour later, he returned, his face was fairly radiant. A tall, fine-looking gentleman followed him, and the whisper went around that that was Charlie Reed’s father.
Reed did not go to his own seat, but slipped into one beside Clark, and, as he did so, he seized Clark’s hand and wrung it till the latter fairly winced, as he whispered:—
“Whatever is the matter, Reed?”
But Reed, with that same happy smile, answered only:—
“Father’s going to make a speech. You just listen.”
At this moment Mr. Reed, who had been talking to Mr. Horton, rose and faced the boys.
“I have a story to tell,” he began; “a story in which, I am sure, you will all be interested, as it deeply concerns one of your number. It is a true story—true in every detail.
“In a neighboring city there lived, not long ago, a man who stood very high in the community. He was wealthy, he held positions of trust—of honor, and no man in the land seemed less likely to fall than he; yet he did fall. Not satisfied with the wealth and station he had gained, he wanted to double his millions. He speculated—risked all that he had, and lost. Then he used the trust-funds in his hands, and again he lost.
“Then, with wealth gone, with honor gone, he would have taken his own life, but for one thing. His wife was very, very ill, and she had no one in the world but him, for they had no children.
“While he sat in his office, trying to decide whether he could leave his dying wife alone in the world, and commit this last great crime, there came to him one who was associated with him in business, one to whom he had years before given a helping hand. This man had never forgotten the help he had received, and the other knew that he could count upon help and sympathy from him in this hour of his shame and trouble.
“He told his friend the whole story, and asked of him what I believe no man has a right to ask of another. It could be made to appear to the world as if this other were the one who had betrayed his trust, and the guilty man proposed to let the world believe this. He asked his friend to bear in his stead the shame and dishonor that rightfully belonged to himself.
“‘It is only for a few days,’ he pleaded. ‘You know how very ill my poor wife is. The doctors say it is a question of but a few hours now. It is only for her sake—that she may die in peace—and, as soon as she is gone, the world shall know the whole story, and your name shall be fully cleared.’
“That was an awful sacrifice to ask of an upright, honorable man.
“At first the man refused utterly, but the other reminded him of past kindness received not only from himself, but from the wife whose life was so near its end—and at last he yielded. He agreed to bear the blame and the shame for the little time she had to live, only making the condition that his own wife should know the truth.
“Think, boys, what it was to that man to have the papers full of the story, to see friends pass him coldly by—even when he believed that in a few days all would be made right again!
“But, contrary to all expectations, the apparently dying woman rallied, and slowly, very slowly, began to recover.
“Then, what was to be done? The guilty man selfishly refused to own the truth, and clear the name of his friend, and that friend was obliged to leave the country, or go to prison and serve a sentence for a crime he had never committed.
“He went to another land, and there devoted his time and strength to winning back enough to repay all that had been lost through his partner’s sin.
“A few days ago, the invalid wife died—died in blissful ignorance of the sad truth. When she was gone, all interest in life for her husband was ended. He felt that he could no longer bear the burden of his own guilt, and the knowledge of what another was suffering through him. He told the whole story, gave up every dollar he had left, and only asked that the name of the noble man who had suffered shame for his sake be cleared at once.
“The papers, to-night, will tell the story to all the world, and from this day forth no shadow will ever rest on the name of Stanley W. Clark.”
There was a moment of intense silence as Mr. Reed ceased speaking. Then came a perfect burst of cheers.
Clark’s face was buried in his hands, and when he lifted it to see Mr. Reed standing beside him, the glad tears were rolling down his cheeks, and more than one boy found his own eyes dim.
As for Charlie Reed—he declared that he was “’most too happy to live.”
All through the year Clark had been winning his way into the hearts of his schoolmates, and now they went wild over him, and shook his hands till his arms were lame, and showed so much sympathy and gladness for him, that, at last, he broke down entirely, and cried like a baby for pure joy.
From that day no shadow rested on his strong young face, and never again did he need to shrink from others, or dread a reference to the father who was, more than ever, his ideal.
The next day was Commencement.
A brief, informal session was held in the morning, but it was a session from which none wished to be absent, for then the names of the prize-winners were to be announced.
There were many anxious hearts, and a few hopeful ones, for though the rank-list read the day before told each boy his standing in class, it did not settle the matter of the prize scholarships.
It is safe to say that only one boy grudged Stanley Clark the first rank that he had so fairly won by his steady, thorough work. That boy was Everett St. John. He would not have been present at all, that morning, but for the Latin essays. He had still a lingering hope that his might be adjudged the best.
But now Mr. Horton was writing on the blackboard, and every boy gazed eagerly forward to read what was written. In his clear hand, they read the names of the six colleges offering the scholarships. Then, with the chalk in his fingers, he faced the school.
“You all heard the rank-list read yesterday,” he said, “so you know that Clark, St. John and Gordon would have the first claim on the second, third and fourth of these scholarships, but as these three are to enter other colleges, these scholarships go to the next in rank, Graham, Griffin and Bent; the two last named being members, as you know, of section A.
“The last two scholarships on the list have, I am happy to say, been won by girls. And now there remains but one—the first—which will be awarded to the boy whose Latin thesis has been considered by the judges to be the best. That thesis I hold in my hand, but I do not know what name it bears, as it was handed to me in this sealed envelope.”
Every eye watched as he tore open the envelope and read the name of Stanley Clark, and hearty cheers expressed the satisfaction of his classmates at the result.
As soon as he could secure silence, Mr. Horton went on:—
“The judges desire me to say that they have awarded the prize to Stanley Clark because of the high character of his essay, and they also wish me to state that, in elegance of style and choice of words, the essay submitted by Everett St. John is decidedly superior.”
It was Clark who led applause for St. John, but the latter only scowled in response to it. His pride and ambition were too bitterly hurt to appreciate any expression of kindly feeling.
“There is one more prize to be given this year,” Mr. Horton went on, taking a small case from his desk. “It is a gold medal which has never been given before, but the donor has made it a perpetual gift from this time. It is to be given to the boy in the senior class who has made the greatest advance in moral character during the year. Of course, we can only judge from what we see, and therefore this is the most difficult prize to award; so you, to whom the decision is left, must think carefully before you decide. This is to be awarded by vote of the class. I should have added that, by express desire of the gentleman who gives this prize, it is to be, this year, awarded to some member of section D. After this year, it is not to be so limited.”
The boys looked wonderingly at one another. They did not quite like the responsibility laid upon them.
“May I speak to some of the boys, sir?” Clark asked, and as Mr. Horton gave assent, he quickly turned to Hamlin, and whispered:—
“I think Crawford ought to have it, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Hamlin, promptly. “I had thought of Freeman, but though he has improved immensely this year, he hasn’t made such a jump as Crawford, because he never got so far down.”
“And I’m sure it will help Crawford to know how we feel about it,” suggested Clark.
From one to another the suggestion passed, and, when Mr. Horton called for the decision, it was almost an unanimous one for Crawford. He was taken utterly by surprise. Not one thought of the possibility of its being awarded to him had entered his mind, and he was prepared to vote most heartily for Freeman; but he was honestly pleased to know that his efforts to “do the square thing,” as he would have expressed it, had been appreciated, and that shining gold medal was a constant incentive to fresh effort thereafter. It was many a year before he discovered that it was his stern guardian, Mr. Chase, who had given this prize, earnestly hoping that Crawford would be the winner.
The Commencement exercises were held in the evening in one of the largest opera-houses.
Never had the decorations on such an occasion been so beautiful as this year, for never before had so many outside friends lent a helping hand. There was Gordon’s father, so proud that the old high school was regaining its old reputation, and so proud and happy because of the share his boy had had in bringing this about; and there was Reed’s father, who was but too happy to spend some of his abundant means to make the occasion a memorable one, not only for his own boy’s sake, but also for the sake of Stanley Clark, whom he had taken right into his big heart. And, by the way, he had carried matters with a high hand, and when he made arrangements for his boy at Yale, he had made arrangements for Stanley Clark to go with him, and no refusals would he listen to for a moment. Clark had been obliged to give in, and accept the generous provision, though he did it with a mental vow that he would pay it all back one of these days.
Then there was Mr. Chase, who was so relieved and delighted at the improvement in his ward, that he, too, insisted on “lending a hand” at these Commencement arrangements. And so it happened that no graduating class had ever had such beautiful decorations, such perfect stacks of flowers, or such fine music as graced this occasion.
And it was Clark who, much against his will, delivered the oration for the class. He did his best to get out of it, declaring that it should be given by Gordon, or Hamlin or St. John; but it was Clark himself that his classmates now delighted to honor, and it seemed as if they could not do enough to make up to him for what was past.
His story had spread through the school, and he was the unanimous choice of the senior class, so there was no escape for him, and he was obliged to be the orator of the evening.
He performed his duty well, as was testified by the applause that followed, and so many floral tributes were sent to the stage, that Reed laughingly told him that he’d have to hire an express wagon to “tote ’em home.”
But the boy’s glad eyes sought out the spot where his mother sat with a tall man beside her, a man whose strong, noble face bore the marks of the sufferings of the past years.
When it was whispered about that Clark’s father was there, every boy was wild to see him, and not one who looked into his face that night but felt that he was a father to be proud of.
The exercises were over at last. The address to the graduating class had been made by an eminent lawyer. The diplomas had been received with more or less grace and ease, or more or less shyness and awkwardness.
“Rosy” had distinguished himself by darting out of the line, as the boys passed forward to receive their diplomas, and picking up Grace Harlan’s handkerchief, which he presented to her with his most fascinating smile.
Then the benediction closed the exercises, and in a burst of martial music from the orchestra, the crowd began to disperse.
But the boys of section D lingered still. They realized now that they could never be all together again, and Mr. Horton, as he clasped one after another by the hand, found it harder to say “Good-bye” to this than to any class he had ever before taught.
“I am afraid I shall dread to go back next year,” he said, holding Hamlin’s hand, while he laid his arm affectionately across Clark’s shoulders. “You boys are going into new scenes, and you will soon forget the old high school, but I shall be there with all new faces. Boys—you don’t know how I am going to miss you.”
They crowded about him then, realizing, as they had not done before, how real and true was his interest in them—his friendship for them—realizing, too, that the great days of our lives, though full of sunshine, have yet their shadows.
But they were boys, strong, healthy, happy boys, and life was all before them, with ever new heights to reach, new prizes to win, and no shadow could rest long on their young hearts on that glad day.
In the years that followed they made no mean record in college and in the world, and often Mr. Horton would read with a happy smile of what one and another of his boys—the boys of section D—had accomplished out in the great world.