Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter and His Classmates



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"What are we to do?" questioned Sadie Fillmore. "We can't stay here forever."

"Here comes that rowboat!" cried Vera, a moment later.

"Oh, let us signal to them!" exclaimed Mary, and standing up she waved her handkerchief, and then her big sailor hat.

"We don't want those fellows here!" growled Link Merwell. "They can go about their business. We'll get the boat off the sandbar somehow."

"We do want them," answered Vera, and joined her friend in signaling, and Sadie Fillmore did the same.

It was not long before the other boat came within hailing distance. Seeing that the motor boat was stuck on a sandbar, the rowers took care not to ground their craft.

"Help us, won't you, please!" cried Vera.

"Yes, yes, take us off!" added Mary.

"We don't want to stay on this motor boat any longer!" exclaimed Sadie.

"I guess we can take the girls off," said Phil. "But what about Poole and Merwell?"

"We might come back for them," answered Ben. "We can't leave them here very well."

With care the rowboat was brought to the side of the motor boat and the girls were assisted from one craft to the other.

"Can't you take us?" asked Poole.

"Not now," said Roger. "We can come back later."

The rowboat was rather crowded, but this could not be altered. The boys pulled away from the motor boat, and then asked the girls where they wished to be landed.

"We were going to Perry's Point, across the river," explained Vera. "But those boys kept us out so long I think we'd better go home." And then she and the others told how they had been walking toward the place where an old man kept a ferry, when they had been hailed by Merwell, who had offered to take them across.

"But they didn't take us across at all!" cried Mary. "They took us for a ride instead, although we told them we didn't want to go."

"Can that be true?" asked Phil, indignantly.

"It certainly is," said Vera. "Oh, I think they were just too mean for anything!"

"It serves them right that their motor boat ran on the sandbar. I hope they never get it off," added Sadie Fillmore.

"We'll have to look into this," said Dave. "It was contemptible to keep you out on the river against your will, and they ought to be made to suffer for it."

"And they shall suffer – just you wait and see," said Roger, firmly.

CHAPTER XXVIII
LINK MERWELL HAS HIS SAY

As swiftly as they could the four boys rowed the girls to where they wanted to go. During the trip Roger spoke to Vera half a dozen times, and the coldness between them became a thing of the past. Sadie Fillmore was formally introduced, and all three girls said they were going to attend the next baseball game at Hilltop.

"My father has a tally-ho and we are going in that," said Sadie. Her parents were rich and lived in Oakdale in the summer and in New York City in the winter.

"Well, I hope you see a good game," answered Dave.

He said nothing about Roger, Plum, and himself being only substitutes, for he did not wish to place Phil in an awkward position.

As soon as the girls were landed the boys rowed out into the river again, and there they held what might be termed an impromptu indignation meeting.

"Now, what do you think of that?" burst out Roger, referring to the conduct of Poole and Merwell. "I say such actions are a disgrace to Oak Hall."

"Yes, and those fellows ought to be tarred and feathered," added Phil.

"Doctor Clay ought to hear of this," came from Ben.

"I think I have a plan to teach them a lesson," said Dave.

"Let's have it," returned the senator's son, promptly.

"We'll tell them what we think of them and then leave them stuck on the sandbar without sending anybody to their assistance. Maybe they'll have to stay there all night. They won't like that – and without their supper, too!"

"Good! That's the cheese!" cried Ben, slangily. "I hope they have to go without their supper and breakfast, too!"

It was decided to refuse all assistance, and this agreed upon, the four rowed to the vicinity of the stranded motor boat. They found Poole and Merwell still on board, both waiting impatiently for their return.

"It's a wonder you wouldn't come!" cried Poole. "Do you think we want to stay here all night?"

"Can you pull us off?" asked Link Merwell. "If you can't, Nat and I want you to go to Oakdale and get the tug Ella Davis to do the job."

"You talk as if we were hired to work for you," answered Dave.

"I wasn't addressing you, Porter – I was talking to the others."

"Well, we are not in your employ either," answered Phil.

"Look here, Merwell, and you, too, Poole," said Roger. "We've got a big bone to pick with you, but it won't take long to pick it. We think that the way you acted toward those young ladies was disgraceful, and it reflects on the honor of Oak Hall. For two pins we'd tell some of the other students, and you'd be tarred and feathered or run out of the school. We – "

"It wasn't my fault!" interrupted Nat Poole, turning pale. "I – I was willing enough to take them across the riv – "

"Shut up!" growled Link Merwell. "We are not accountable to them for what we do. Don't make a fool of yourself."

"It was certainly an outrageous proceeding," said Ben. "If their folks wanted to make you suffer for it, they could do so."

"Oh, don't gas, Basswood. If you don't want to aid us, say so. We are not going to beg you to do so." And Link Merwell's face showed his hatred.

"We are going to leave you here, as you deserve," said Dave.

"No, no! Please don't do that!" pleaded Nat Poole. "I don't want to stay in this lonely part of the river all night!"

"Shut up – we can swim ashore!" whispered his crony.

"The water is too cold yet – I felt of it. It's like ice," answered Nat. He was plainly frightened.

"Listen," said Phil, in a low tone to his chums. "Nat says he wanted to take the girls across the river. Perhaps he isn't to blame as much as we think."

"He stood in with Merwell," answered Phil.

"Oh, don't leave us here!" cried the dudish student. "It looks as if it might rain to-night, and it will be cold, and – "

"Say, you make me sick," growled Merwell. "I wouldn't ask them for a favor now if I was dying!"

"See here, Poole," said Dave, after consulting his chums. "We'll take you off on one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you will promise to write a letter to each of the young ladies, apologizing for your conduct."

"Why, I – er – I – "

"You can take your choice," added Roger. "Apologize or stay here."

"I didn't mean any harm. I was willing to take them across, but Link – "

"That's right, blame it all on me!" burst out Merwell. "Well, I don't care. I'll not crawl to anybody! They can go to Halifax, for all I care! I don't want their aid."

"I'll – I'll apologize, if you'll take me back to the school," faltered Poole.

"All right then, get into the rowboat," said Phil.

"And mind you keep your promise, or you'll catch it!" added the senator's son.

The rowboat was brought close to the stern of the larger craft and the dudish student leaped on board. As he did this, Merwell caught up a boathook, gave the rowboat a shove, and almost capsized it.

"Let up, Merwell!" exclaimed Dave, and raising his oar, he hit the bully a blow on the shoulder and sent him sprawling in the bottom of the motor boat. Then the rowboat floated away from the larger craft.

If Link Merwell had been angry before, he was now in a perfect rage. Scrambling to his feet, he shook his fist at the others.

"Just wait!" he roared. "I'll fix you all for this, and you particularly, Dave Porter, you poorhouse rat! I'll make you wish you had never been born!"

"Come away!" cried Nat Poole, badly frightened. "Don't listen to him."

"He acts as if he was crazy," was Phil's comment.

"I – I know what it is," returned Poole. "It's – " He hesitated.

"Has he been drinking?" demanded Dave. "Come, tell the truth, Nat?"

"Yes. He had a bottle of stuff with him, and he had one drink before we started and two more while we were waiting for you to come back. He isn't himself at all – so you mustn't mind what he says."

"He's a fool!" came bluntly from Ben.

"I made a mistake to go out with him. He's always that way when he's got anything to drink."

Dave's face was a study. When Merwell had called him "a poorhouse rat" he had gone white and his teeth had closed with a snap, but now, when he heard how the misguided youth was the victim of his own appetite, the lines softened into pity and nothing else.

"It's too bad," he said. "Why can't fellows leave drink alone?" And then he thought of poor Gus and how he had been tempted.

"We ought to take the stuff away from him," said Roger.

"It's too late for that – the bottle is empty, and Merwell threw it overboard," answered Poole.

"I don't think it safe to leave him out on the river alone," said Dave.

But none of the others would agree to go back, and so the rowboat was headed for the Oak Hall dock. They were just coming in sight of the place when they heard a put-put! on the river and looked back.

"Well, I declare, it's the motor boat!" ejaculated Roger.

"He must have got it off the bar somehow," said Phil.

"Maybe it slid off of itself," suggested Ben. "Although I don't see how it could."

Left to himself Link Merwell had started the engine full speed ahead. He was desperate and did not care whether he ruined the motor boat or not. Lightened of the weight of the other passengers, the boat had wormed its way over the bar and into deep water, and then he had started in pursuit of the rowboat.

"You didn't get the best of me, anyhow!" he sang out, as he passed them. Then he ran up to the dock, stopped the engine, and leaped ashore, and without waiting to tie up the craft, walked swiftly toward the school building and disappeared. That evening he left Oak Hall, to be gone for several days, on business for his father, so he told Doctor Clay. Whether this was true or not the boys never found out. They suspected, however, that he went off to have what he called a good time.

Those who had been out in the rowboat saw to it that Nat Poole wrote and mailed the letters of apology to the three girls, and then Dave and Ben gave the lad from Crumville a severe lecture, telling him that it would be to his credit to cut such a fellow as Merwell, who was bound, sooner or later, to drag him down.

"Merwell is by far the worst boy that ever came to Oak Hall," said Dave, "and sooner or later he will be expelled. What will your father say if you are expelled with him?"

"We want you to make a record," said Ben. "Not only for your own sake, but also for the honor of the town we come from, and for the honor of the school. You'll never gain anything by sticking in with Merwell. Gus Plum has cut him, and so have lots of the fellows, and you ought to do it. There are plenty of other good fellows in this school, even if you don't want to train with our particular crowd. Think it over, Nat."

And Nat Poole did think it over, and, as a consequence, from that day on he turned his back on Merwell and refused to have anything more to do with the dissolute bully.

The day for the second ball game with Rockville was perfect in every respect. The sun shone brightly and there was just sufficient breeze to make the air bracing. Everybody turned out to see the contest, and long before the umpire called "Play!" grand stand and bleachers were crowded.

The Rockville players were rather surprised to see Dave, Roger, and Plum on the bench while strangers filled their positions on the diamond. They asked each other, "What are we up against?" but none could answer that question.

The Military Academy nine went to the bat first, and much to the delight of Oak Hall, Purdy, the new pitcher, struck out two men, while the third knocked a foul that was easily gathered in by the new first baseman.

"That's the way to hold 'em down!" cried several.

"Purdy's a big improvement on Porter, eh?"

"It certainly looks that way."

In this first inning Oak Hall managed to score one run, which caused a wild cheering, in which Dave, Roger, and Gus readily joined. But in the second, third, and fourth they got only "goose eggs," while Rockville came in over the home plate six times. In the fourth inning the second baseman was "spiked" by accident while sliding to third, and had to retire, and Plum took his place. Then came the fifth inning, with a run for each nine, and in that the shortstop was almost knocked senseless by a hot liner.

"Roger, you'll have to cover short," said Phil, and the senator's son ran out to do so, amid a clapping of hands from his friends.

The sixth inning resulted in several hits for the nines, but no runs were made. Then came the seventh, with another run for each, and in this a runner for Rockville bumped into the Oak Hall third baseman and both had to retire.

"This is certainly a slaughter!" cried one spectator. "If they keep on, somebody will be killed before they get through."

The accident took Dave out in the field to cover third. As luck would have it, less than a minute later he caught a man trying to slide to the bag, and when the runner was declared out the Oak Hall boys set up a cheer.

"Good for Dave Porter! That's the way to cover third!"

The end of the eighth inning found the score Rockville 11, Oak Hall 4. It looked as if Oak Hall was beaten, yet the nine resolved to do its best to win out.

CHAPTER XXIX
DAVE MAKES UP HIS MIND

With the score eleven to four against his club, Purdy, the pitcher, got nervous, and as a consequence he allowed the first batter up to walk to first on balls. Then the next player met the sphere for a base hit, and the man on first ran down to second.

"Steady, Purdy, steady!" was the cry.

"Better put in Dave Porter," advised some of Dave's friends.

The next batter got two strikes and two balls and then knocked a short fly, which was scooped in by Plum at second. Then the runner at second, on the next delivery of the ball over the plate, tried to steal to third. Over came the ball from the catcher. It was fully three feet over Dave's head, and many held their breath, expecting the run to come in. But with a high jump, Dave reached the sphere and brought it down with one hand; and the runner was put out.

"Hurrah! What do you think of that for a catch!"

"Talk about jumping! That's the best I ever saw on any ball-field!"

The next man up got to first on balls, and again there was a cry to take Purdy out of the box and substitute Dave. But Dave shook his head to Phil.

"It wouldn't be fair," he said. "Purdy hasn't done so badly – it was a streak of poor luck, that's all."

When the next batter came up he waited until he had a strike and two balls and then knocked a swift liner into the diamond. It came several feet from Roger, but now the former catcher proved his worth. He made a dive, caught the ball, and rolled over, but still held the ball up in his left hand.

"Batter out!"

"That ends it for Rockville."

It did end it for Rockville so far as making any runs was concerned, but it still looked as if the game belonged to them and with it the series.

But the Oak Hall boys went to the bat with a "do or die" look on their faces. Phil started the ball rolling with a two-bagger and Roger followed with a single, taking Phil to third. Then came Shadow with another two-bagger, bringing in the two runners.

What a cheering and yelling! The Oak Hall boys went wild and waved their caps and banners. Then, while the noise was still going on, Dave came up to the bat, swung the ashen stick at the first ball delivered, and sent the sphere down to deep center.

"Hurrah! A home run!"

"That's the way to do it! We'll win out yet!"

Dave had, of course, brought in Shadow, and this gave Oak Hall eight runs. Seeing the runs piling up the Rockville pitcher became rattled, and gave two men their base on balls. Then came another two bagger, and the men on first and second trotted home.

"Ten to eleven! One more run, fellows, and you'll tie 'em!"

"Change the pitcher! He's no good!" called out some of the Rockville supporters. And another pitcher was sent to the box.

Sam Day was now at the bat. Sam was a cautious player, not easily rattled. He allowed two balls to pass him, and they were called such by the umpire. Then, seeing just what he wished coming, he "swatted it for keeps," as Phil said, and ran for dear life. He reached third and the fellow at second came home, tying the score.

Pandemonium now broke forth in earnest, while the catcher walked forward to confer with the pitcher. Gus Plum was up, and his face was deathly white as he faced the pitcher. He felt as if the fate of a nation depended upon him.

In came the ball and with unerring judgment Plum struck at it. Down he went to first, safe, and in came Sam from third.

The game was won! The supporters of Oak Hall rushed upon the field, and the nine was warmly congratulated. The Rockville club was bitterly disappointed and left as soon as possible.

"Don't tell me that Porter, Morr, and Plum are poor players," said Luke Watson. "They did more than their share to win this game," and in that opinion even Mr. Dale concurred.

The result of the game hit Nat Poole heavily. He had counted upon Oak Hall losing, and in secret had made several wagers against the school. Now all his pocket-money was gone and he was about twenty dollars in debt. He wrote to his father for money, but, as my old readers know, Aaron Poole was very miserly at times, and now he pulled his purse-strings tight and declared that Nat spent too much entirely, and must do without more funds until the summer vacation came.

When Link Merwell came back to Oak Hall his general manner was worse than before, and even Nat was glad that he had cut away from the fellow. Merwell was getting to be a thorough sport, and a few, but by no means all, of his doings reached Doctor Clay's ears. As a consequence the master of the school sent a long letter to Merwell's father and gave Link himself a stern lecture. The lecture was not appreciated, for Merwell made no effort to reform.

During the week following the second game of ball with Rockville, Dave put the finishing touches to his essay on The Past and Future of Our Country. It was his masterpiece so far, and when it was finished he breathed a sigh of commingled relief and satisfaction. He handed in the essay to Mr. Dale, and it was filed away with sixteen others for examination.

"I hope you win, Dave," said Roger. "I am sure you deserve the prize – you have worked so hard."

Roger was now as "chummy" as ever, which pleased Dave very much. After the second ball game the senator's son and Phil and Shadow had sought out Mary, Vera, and Sadie, and the young people had spent a pleasant hour together. In a roundabout way Roger learned that Mr. Greene was nothing more to Vera than an old friend, and this, somehow, eased his mind exceedingly.

There was a good deal of talk about putting Roger, Dave, and Plum back on the regular nine, but the backers of Purdy and Barloe were so insistent that they be retained that only Plum was allowed to take his old place.

"But I want you two to be substitutes as before," said Phil, to Dave and Roger. "I'll feel safer if I know you are at hand."

"All right, I'll be there," answered Dave, cheerfully, and the senator's son nodded to show that he agreed to the request. If both were bitterly disappointed at not being chosen to pitch and to catch at this last game they took good care not to show it.

As soon as Link Merwell heard that Gus Plum had been put back on the regular nine, he commenced to lay plans to make trouble. Since Plum had given him the cold shoulder he hated Gus exceedingly. He thought he knew Plum's weak point, and he acted accordingly.

By the request of the Rockville manager the final game of the series had been postponed from Saturday to the following Wednesday. On Thursday the students of Oak Hall were to have their final exercises, and on Friday school was to break up for the term. Many visitors had been invited to attend the exercises and some of them arrived in Oakdale the day before, so as to witness the ball game.

Among the latter were Mr. Porter and Laura, Mr. Wadsworth and Jessie, and Mr. Lawrence and Senator Morr. They had already engaged rooms at the Oakdale hotel, and Dave, Phil, and Roger went there to meet them on the morning previous to the game. There was a general handshaking, and then the students were asked a hundred and one questions about their studies, games, and school life generally.

"It is too bad you are not to pitch, Dave," said his sister, when they were alone. "Why don't you get Phil to give you the place back?"

"Because it wouldn't be fair, Laura. Purdy has as much right to pitch as I have."

"But you are the better pitcher – Roger says so – and I heard so from Ben Basswood, – through a letter he wrote to his sister."

"Well, maybe I'll get a chance to pitch a few innings – if Purdy breaks down. But I trust he doesn't break down – it's hard luck for any pitcher to do that."

There was a pause, and Laura pulled her brother further into a corner, away from the others.

"I want to speak to you about something," she continued in a low tone. "Do you know that Jessie got an awful letter about you?"



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