Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter and His Classmates



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"Oh, I'll box you any way you please. Who do you want for timekeeper and referee?"

"Any boy with a good watch can keep time. I think Mr. Dodsworth ought to be the referee."

"Nat Poole can judge it all right," growled Merwell.

"He's not acceptable to me," answered Dave, promptly.

"The gym. teacher is all right," said Roger. "He'll know just what every move counts."

Link Merwell wished to argue, but Dave would not listen, and in the end the services of the new gymnasium teacher were called in. Mr. Dodsworth smiled when told of what was on foot.

"Very well, I'll be referee," he said. "Now, let me warn you against all foul moves. You both know the rules. Let this be a purely scientific struggle for points. Length of each round two minutes, with two minutes intermission. How many rounds do you want to have?"

"To a finish," said Link Merwell, and he glared wickedly at Dave.

"No, I'll not allow that, for it is too exhausting. Let us say ten rounds. That will give you twenty minutes of hot work. Here, I will give my watch to Lambertson and he can keep the time." And he passed the watch over to the student mentioned.

The way matters had been arranged did not suit Link Merwell at all, yet he felt forced to submit or acknowledge that he was afraid of Dave. He had wished for a free-and-easy match and had hoped, on the sly, to get in a foul blow or two which might knock Dave out. Now, under the keen eyes of the gymnasium instructor, he knew he would have to be careful of his every movement.

The preliminaries arranged, the two boxers faced each other, while the students gathered thickly in a large circle around them. The circle was protected by benches, giving to the scene something of the air of a professional boxing ring.

"Ready!" called out Mr. Dodsworth. "Go!" he cried.

But there was very little "go" at the start. Both boxers were on the alert and they circled around slowly, looking for an opening. Then Merwell made a pass, which Dave warded off easily. Then Dave landed on his opponent's breast, Merwell came back with a blow in the shoulder, and Dave, ducking, sent in two in quick succession on the bully's neck and ear. Then time was called.

"How does that stand?" asked some of the boys.

"I'll tell you later," said Mr. Dodsworth, as he penciled something on a bit of paper.

"Oh, tell us now!" they pleaded.

But the instructor was obdurate. And while the lads were pleading round two was called.

The contestants were now warming up, and blows were given and taken freely. Link Merwell was forced back twice, and was glad when time was called by Lambertson.

"Don't get too anxious," said the instructor, during the recess. "Remember, this is for points."

Again the two boys went at it, and the third, fourth, and fifth rounds were mixed up freely. All present had to acknowledge that Link Merwell boxed quite well, but they saw that the points were in Dave's favor.

Dave had perfect control of himself, while the bully was getting excited.

"I'll show you something now!" cried Merwell as they came up for round six. He flew at Dave like a wild animal. But Dave was on the alert and dodged and ducked in a manner that brought constant applause. Then, almost before anybody knew it, he landed on the bully's jaw, his cheek, and then his nose.

"O my! Look at that!"

"Say, that was swift, wasn't it?"

The three blows had thrown Merwell off his balance, and he recovered with difficulty.

"He – he fouled me!" he panted.

"No foul!" answered the gymnasium instructor, and just then time was called.

"Maybe Merwell would like to call it off," suggested Dave.

"Not much! I'll show you yet!" roared the bully. "I'll have you to know – "

"Merwell, you'll do better if you'll keep your excitement down," advised the instructor. "'Keep cool,' is an excellent motto."

"Dave, you're doing well," whispered Roger. "Keep it up and Merwell won't know where he is at by the end of the tenth round."

"I intend to keep it up," was the answer. "I started out to teach that bully a lesson and I'll do it – if it is in me."

And it was in Dave – as the seventh and eighth rounds showed. In the latter round he practically had the bully at his mercy, and boxed him all around the ring. The calling of time found Merwell panting for breath and so confused he could hardly see.

"I think you had better give it up," said the gymnasium instructor. "Merwell, you have had enough."

"Say, are you going to give this boxing match to Porter?" roared the bully.

"Yes, for he has won it fairly. He already has twenty-six points to your seven."

"It ain't fair! I can lick him any day!"

"It is not a question of 'licking' anybody, Merwell. This was a boxing bout for points, and you are no longer in condition to box. I declare Porter the winner, and I congratulate him on his clean and clever work with the gloves."

"He – he fouled me."

"Not at all. If there was any fouling it was done by you in the sixth and seventh rounds. I might have disqualified you then if I had been very particular about it. But I saw that Porter was willing to let you go on."

This was the bitterest pill of all for Link Merwell to swallow. To think he might have been disqualified but that Dave Porter had been given the chance to continue hammering him! He wanted to argue, but no one except Nat Poole would listen to him, and so he strode out of the gymnasium in disgust, accompanied by his crony.

"It makes me sick," he muttered. "Everybody stands up for Porter, no matter what he does!"

"Well, you see he has a way of worming in with everybody," answered Nat Poole. "A decent chap wouldn't do it, but you couldn't expect anything different from a poorhouse boy, could you?" When alone he and Merwell frequently referred to Dave as "a poorhouse boy," but both took good care not to use that term in public, remembering what punishment it had brought down on their heads.

"He'll crow over us worse than ever now," resumed Merwell. "Oh, but don't I wish I could square up with him and the rest of the Gee Eyes!"

"We'll do it some day, – when we get the chance," said Poole. "Come on and have a smoke; it will help to quiet you." And then he and the bully walked away from Oak Hall to a secluded spot, where they might indulge themselves in the forbidden pastime of smoking cigarettes. Both were inveterate smokers and had to exercise extreme caution that knowledge of the offense might not reach Doctor Clay or his assistants.

Finding a comfortable spot, the boys sat down on a fallen tree and there consumed one cigarette after another, trying to be real "mannish" by inhaling the smoke and blowing it through the nose. As they smoked they talked of many things, the conversation finally drifting around to Vera Rockwell and Mary Feversham.

"I understand Phil Lawrence is daffy over that Feversham girl," remarked Poole. "She is a fairly good sort, but she wouldn't suit me." He said this because Mary had snubbed him on several occasions when they had met in Oakdale.

"Well, I heard Roger Morr was daffy over that Rockwell girl," answered Merwell. "And I heard, too, that Porter was likely to cut him out."

"Porter cut him out!" exclaimed Nat Poole. "Who told you that? Why, Dave Porter is too thick with Jessie Wadsworth to think much of anybody else."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Yes. Why, when Porter is home the two are as thick as can be. I am sure that Jessie Wadsworth thinks the world of him, too, although why is beyond my comprehension," added the dudish student. He had not forgotten how Jessie had also snubbed him, when invitations were being sent out for her party.

"Humph!" Link Merwell puffed at his cigarette in silence for a moment. "You say they are thick, – and still he goes out with this Vera Rockwell. Kind of funny mix-up, eh?"

"Oh, I suppose he has a right to do as he pleases," drawled Nat.

"Say, we might – " Merwell stopped short and blew a quantity of cigarette smoke from his nose.

"Might what?"

"Oh, I was just thinking, Nat – " And the bully stopped again.

"If you don't want me to know, say so," returned the dudish student, crossly.

"I was thinking that perhaps we could put a spoke in Dave Porter's wheel in a manner that he'd never suspect. If he's somewhat sweet on that Wadsworth girl, and at the same time giving his attention to Vera Rockwell, we ought to be able to do something."

"What?"

"Supposing that Wadsworth girl heard he was running around with a girl up here, and supposing Vera Rockwell heard about the Crumville maiden? Maybe Dave Porter would have some work straightening matters out, eh?"

"By Jove, you're right!" cried Nat Poole. "It's a great scheme, Link! If we work it right, we can get him in the hottest kind of water – especially if he thinks a good deal of both girls."

"And that isn't all," added Link Merwell, lighting a fresh cigarette. "Don't forget Roger Morr. If he thinks a good deal of Vera Rockwell we'll manage to put a flea in his ear, – that Porter is trying to cut him out in an underhanded way. I reckon that will split up the friendship between Porter and Morr pretty quick."

"So it will!" Nat Poole's eyes fairly beamed. "This is the best plan yet, Link! Let us put it into execution at once. How shall we go at it?"

"That remains to be seen," said Merwell.

And then and there the pair plotted to get Dave and his friends into "the hottest kind of water," as the bully expressed it, and break up the closest of friendships.

CHAPTER XIX
AT THE EXPRESS OFFICE

"Dave, we want you to take part in the entertainment we are getting up."

It was Luke Watson who spoke. Luke had been working like a Trojan to get all the talent of the school into line for what he said was going to be "the best show Oak Hall ever put up, and don't you forget it."

"I'm willing to help you out, Luke, but what do you want me to do?" returned Dave. "I am no actor."

"I know what he can do," said Buster. "He and Link Merwell can give a boxing match." And this caused a short laugh.

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story," came from Shadow. "One day a very nice lady – "

"Say, Shadow, remember what I told you," broke in Luke. "If you've got any real good, new stories keep them until the entertainment. You are down for a ten-minutes' monologue, and it will take quite a few yarns to fill the time."

"Huh! Don't you worry – I can tell stories for ten hours," answered the story-teller of the school. "Well, as I was saying, one day a very nice lady called on another lady with a friend. Says she, 'Mrs. Smith, allow me to introduce my friend, Miss Tarnose.' Now, as it happened, Mrs. Smith was rather deaf so she says, 'Excuse me, but I didn't catch the name.' 'Miss Tarnose,' repeated the lady, a little louder. 'I really can't hear you,' says Mrs. Smith. Then the lady fairly bawled, 'I said Miss Tarnose!' But Mrs. Smith only looked puzzled. 'I'm sorry,' she said at last. 'My hearing must be worse. I'd hate to say what it sounded like to me. It was just like Tarnose!'" And then there was another short laugh.

"I asked Plum to take part," went on Luke. "He said he'd like to do a dialogue, if he could get anybody to assist. He said he had a pretty good piece."

"I might do that," answered Dave, readily.

"Would you go on with Plum?"

"Certainly, Luke."

"Well, I thought – " Luke Watson stopped short and shrugged his shoulders.

"I feel that Gus is now one of us, Luke, and I wish the other fellows would feel the same."

"Here he comes now," said Buster, in a low tone, as Gus Plum came into sight at the door of the schoolroom in which the talk was taking place. Gus looked pale and somewhat disturbed.

"Hello, Plum!" sang out Luke. "Come here, we want you."

"Luke says you think of doing a dialogue for the show," said Dave. "What have you got? If it's something I can do, I may go in with you."

"Will you, Dave?" The face of the former bully of Oak Hall brightened instantly. "I'd like that first-rate. The dialogue I have is called 'Looking for a Job.' I think it is very funny, and we might make it still more funny if both of us spoke in a brogue, or if one of us blacked up as a darky."

"Let me read the dialogue," said Dave. "And if I think I can do it, I'll go in with you."

The upshot of this conversation was that Dave and Plum went over the dialogue with care. Between them they made some changes and added a few lines, bringing in some fun of a local nature. Then it was decided that Gus Plum should assume the character of a darky and Dave should fix up as a German immigrant.

"Maybe, if we work hard, we can make our piece the hit of the show," said Dave. That afternoon he wrote a letter to his sister Laura and also one to Jessie, telling them of what was going on and adding he was sorry they would not be there to see the entertainment.

By hard work Luke Watson got over twenty boys of Oak Hall to take part in the show. There were to be several dialogues as well as Shadow's monologue, some singing, and some banjo and guitar playing, also a humorous drill, given by six youths who called themselves The Rough Walkers, in place of The Rough Riders. One student also promised a set of lantern pictures, from photographs taken in and near Oak Hall during the past term.

At first Doctor Clay said the show must be for the students only, but the boys begged to have a few outsiders, and in the end each lad was told he could invite three outsiders, and was given three tickets for that purpose. Dave sent his tickets to his father, but he doubted if any one at home would make use of them.

"I sent one ticket home," said Phil, "and I sent the other two to Mary Feversham. I hope she comes."

"Want her to come with the other fellow?" queried Dave, with a twinkle in his eye.

"Oh, I thought maybe she'd come with Vera Rockwell."

"That would suit Roger, Phil."

"Yes, and it would suit you, too, Dave. Oh, you needn't look that way. I know you think Vera Rockwell is a nice girl."

"That's true, but – "

"No 'buts' about it, my boy. I know a thing when I see it. I guess she thinks a lot of you, too."

"Now, Phil – " began Dave; but just then some other boys appeared and the rather delicate subject had to be dropped.

Dave had procured a theatrical book on how to make up for all sorts of characters, and he and Plum studied this and got their costumes ready. Both were truly comical outfits, and each lad had to laugh at the other when they put them on.

"We must keep them a secret," said Dave. "It will spoil half the fun to let the others know how we are going to be dressed. We don't want a soul to know until we step on the stage." And so it was agreed.

Several of the boys had ordered face paints and some other things from the city, to be sent by mail and express, and when some of the articles did not come to hand, there was a good deal of anxiety. Dave was minus a red wig which he had ordered and paid for, and Phil wanted some paint and a rubber bulldog.

"Let us go to Oakdale and stir up the postmaster and the express agent," said Dave, and he and the shipowner's son set out for the town directly after breakfast on the morning of the day that the entertainment was to come off.

As the roads were in fairly good condition, the strong winds having dried them up, the two lads made the trip to town on their bicycles. This did not take long, and reaching Oakdale they left their wheels at a drug store, where they stopped to get some red fire that was to be burned during a tableau.

At the post office they were in luck, for two packages had just come in, containing some things for which they had been waiting.

"I hope we have as good luck at the express office," said Phil.

The office mentioned was located at one end of the depot. Here they met Mr. Goode, the agent, with whom they were fairly well acquainted.

"A package for you?" said the agent, looking speculatively at Dave. "Why, yes, I've got a package for you. Come in. I was going to send it up some time to-day or to-morrow."

"To-morrow would have been too late," answered Dave. "I need the stuff to-day."

The boys followed the agent into the stuffy little express office. Mr. Goode walked to a heap of packages lying in a corner and began to turn them over.

"Hum!" he murmured. "Don't seem to be here. I had it yesterday."

He continued to hunt around, and then went to a receipt book lying on his desk. He studied several pages for some minutes.

"Why, you must have gotten it," he said.

"No, I didn't."

"It's signed for."

"Well, I didn't sign for it," answered Dave, positively. And then he added, "Let me see that signature."

Mr. Goode shoved the receipt book toward him and pointed out the signature. It was a mere scrawl in leadpencil, that might stand for almost anything. It was certainly not in the least like Dave's handwriting.

"I was out yesterday afternoon," continued the express agent. "Went to a funeral. Dave Case kept office for me. Maybe he can tell you about it. Probably some of the other students got the package for you."

Dave Case was the driver of the local express wagon. He was out on a trip and would not be back for half an hour. This being so, there was nothing for Phil and Dave to do but to wait.

"If some of the other fellows got that package it's queer they didn't say anything," said Dave, as he and his chum walked slowly down the main street. "They must know I am anxious – with the show to come off to-night. If I don't get that wig my part won't be nearly so good."

The boys reached a corner and were standing there, not knowing what to do, when two girls crossed over, coming from a dry-goods store.

"Hello!" cried Phil, and his face lit up with pleasure. "Here are Mary Feversham and Vera Rockwell."

He stepped forward, tipped his hat and shook hands, and then Dave did the same.

"I must thank you for the tickets, Mr. Lawrence," said Mary, sweetly. "It was very kind of you to send them."

"I hope you will come," returned the shipowner's son, eagerly.

"Yes, I shall be there, for I do want to hear you boys sing and act. I am coming with my mother."

"I am going, too," added Vera. "Roger Morr sent my brother two tickets and invited us. Bob is home for a couple of days, so it comes in real handy." And Vera smiled at both Dave and Phil. "I suppose you are going to give us something fine – a real city vaudeville show."

"We are going to do our best," answered Dave, modestly.

"Dave is in a little trouble," continued the shipowner's son, and told about the missing express package.

"Oh, I hope you get the wig!" cried Vera. "A red one will look so becoming!" And she laughed heartily.

"And he is to have a big red mustache, too," said Phil.

"Hold on, Phil, you mustn't give away any professional secrets!" cried Dave.

"Oh, I just dote on red mustaches," exclaimed Vera. "They make a man look like a – a – Oh, I don't know what!"

"Oh, Vera, you're awful!" interposed Mary. "What do you know about red mustaches, anyway?"

"She never had one, did she?" remarked Dave, calmly, and at this both girls shrieked with laughter. "But never mind," he went on. "After I am done with it, she can have mine." And this brought forth more laughter.

The girls and boys had come to a halt directly in front of a new candy and ice-cream establishment, and it was but natural that Phil should suggest to Dave that they go in and get some candy. The girls demurred at first at being treated, but then consented, and all went into the store. Dave purchased some assorted chocolates and Phil some fancy fig pastes, the girls saying they liked both.

"As it's a new store, the candies ought to be fresh," remarked Dave.

"Well, I like them best that way," answered Vera, as she helped herself to a chocolate. "I don't care for them when they are stale – and it is sometimes hard to get them fresh in a small town like this. The stores – "

She stopped short, for at the door of the candy establishment they almost ran into a party of two girls and a man. One of the girls – the younger – was staring very hard at Dave.

"Why, father!" cried Dave, in astonishment. "And you, too, Laura and Jessie! Why, this is a surprise!" And he hastened to shake hands all around. "I didn't dream of your coming."

"I just made them come," said Laura, giving him a kiss. "How are you, Phil?" and she shook hands with the shipowner's son.

When Dave took Jessie's hand he felt it tremble a little. The girl said a few commonplace words but all the time kept looking at Vera.

"Let me introduce our friends," said Phil, and proceeded to go through the ceremony. "We have just been buying some candy. Come, have some," and he held out the box he had bought. Laura took some, but Jessie shook her head.

"Thank you, not to-day, Phil," Jessie said, and there seemed to be a little catch in her throat. Then Dave looked at her fully in the eyes, and of a sudden she turned her head away. Somehow he suspected that Jessie wanted to cry, and he wondered why.



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