Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter and His Classmates



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"I'm sorry you wrote to him," answered Dave, soberly. But how sorry he was to be, and how distressed his sister was to become, he was still to learn.

Not further to mar the joy of the occasion Link Merwell's name was dropped, and Roger and Phil told of some funny initiations into the secret society at Oak Hall, which set everybody to laughing, and then Dunston Porter related the particulars of a hunt after bears he had once made in the Rockies. Thus the afternoon and evening wore away swiftly and all too soon it was time to retire. Laura was given a room next to that occupied by Dave, and long after the rest of the house was quiet brother and sister sat by a window, looking out at the moonlight on the snow and discussing the past.

"You look very much like father," said Laura, "and much like Uncle Dunston, too. No wonder that old sailor, Billy Dill, thought he had seen you when he only saw Uncle Dunston."

"And father tells me you look like mother," answered Dave, softly. "I do not remember her, but if she looked like you she must have been very handsome," and Dave smiled and brushed a stray lock back from his sister's brow.

"It is too bad she cannot see us now, Dave – how happy it would make her! I have missed her so much – it is no easy thing to get along without a mother's care, is it? – or a father's care, either. Perhaps if mamma were alive I'd be different in some things. I shouldn't be so careless in what I do – in making friends with that Link Merwell, for instance, and sending him letters." Laura looked genuinely distressed as she uttered the last words.

"Well, you didn't know him, so you are not to blame. But I shouldn't send him any more letters."

"You can depend upon it I won't."

"He is the kind who would laugh at you for doing it, and make fun of you to all his friends."

"He'll not get another line from me, and if he writes I'll return the letters," answered Laura, firmly.

"Did he say when he was going back to Oak Hall?"

"Inside of two weeks. He said he had had a little trouble with a teacher, and the master of the school had advised him to take a short vacation and give the matter a chance to blow over."

Laura had arrived at Crumville on Thursday, and it was decided that Dave, Roger, and Phil should not return to Oak Hall until the following Monday. On Friday and Saturday the young folks went sleighing and skating, Jessie being one of the party, and on Sunday the entire household attended church. It was a service into which Dave entered with all his heart, and he thanked God from the bottom of his soul that at last his sister, as well as his father and his uncle, had been restored to him.

"After I go back to boarding school where are you and Laura and Uncle Dunston going to stay?" questioned Dave of his father.

Mr. Porter smiled faintly. "I have a little secret about that, Dave," he answered. "I'll tell you later – after everything is ripe."

"I know the Wadsworths would hate to have me leave them – and Professor Potts won't want me to go either."

"Well, you wait, Dave, – and see what comes," answered his father; and with this the lad had to be content.

Bright and early Monday morning the three boys had breakfast and started for the depot, to take the train for Oakdale, the nearest town to Oak Hall.

Laura, Jessie, and Mr. David Porter went along to see them off.

"Now, Dave, I want to see you make the most of this term at school," said Mr. Porter. "Now you have Laura and me, you won't have so much to worry about."

"I'll do my level best, father," he answered. "We want you to come out at the top of the class," said Laura.

"And Dave can do it too – I know he can," remarked Jessie, and gave him a sunny smile of encouragement.

"How about us poor chaps?" asked Roger. "Can't we come in somewhere?"

"Yes, you must come in right after Dave," answered Laura, and this made everybody laugh.

"The higher we get in school the harder the work becomes," came from Phil. "But I am going to peg away at it – provided the other fellows will let me."

"Phil always was very studious," said Dave, with an old-time grin spreading over his face. "He'd rather study a problem in geometry or translate Latin than read a story book or play baseball; wouldn't you, Phil?"

"Not much! and you know it. But if a fellow has got to grind, why – "

"He can grind – and play baseball, too," added Mr. Porter. "My parting advice is: when you study, study for all you are worth, and when you play, play for all you are worth."

"Here comes the train!" cried Laura, and turning, she kissed her brother. "Good-bye, Roger; good-bye, Phil!"

"Good-bye!" came from the others, and a general handshaking followed. Then the three chums ran for the train, got aboard, and were off for school once more.

CHAPTER III
ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL

"There is one thing I've forgotten to mention to you," said Phil, as the train rolled on its way and Crumville was left far behind. "That is that this term Doctor Clay has offered a special set of prizes to the students standing highest in various subjects. There is a prize for history, another for Latin, and a third for English literature and theme-writing. In addition there is to be a special prize for the student who can write the best paper on 'The Past and Future of our Country.' This last contest is open only to those who stand above the eighty per cent. level in their classes."

"That's interesting," answered Dave. "How many reach that level, do you think, Phil?"

"Not more than thirty all told, and of those I don't believe more than twenty will send in papers."

"Dave, you ought to try," said Roger. "You were always good at composition."

"So are you, Roger."

"I'm not as good as you, and I know it. I like history more than anything else, and I guess I'll try for that prize."

"Well, what is the past of our country but history?" continued Dave, with a smile.

"That part might be easy; but what of the future? I'm no good at prophesying."

"Oh, couldn't you speak of the recent inventions and of what is coming – marvelous submarine boats, airships, wireless telegraphy, wonderful cures by means of up-to-date surgery, and then of the big cities of the West, of the new railroads stretching out everywhere, and of the fast ocean liners, and the Panama Canal, and the irrigation of the Western dry lands, and – "

"Hold on, Dave!" cried Phil. "You are giving Roger all your ammunition. Put that in your own paper."

"Oh, there's a whole lot more," was the smiling answer. "The thirty-and forty-storied buildings in our big cities, the underground railways, the tubes under the rivers, the tremendous suspension bridges, the automobile carriages and business trucks, – not to mention the railroad trains that are to run on one rail at a speed of a hundred miles an hour. Oh, there are lots of things – if one only stops to think of them."

"The prize is yours, Dave!" exclaimed the senator's son. "You've mentioned more in three minutes than I would have thought of in three weeks. I'll stick to history."

"And I'll stick to English literature – I'm pretty well up on that, thank goodness!" said the shipowner's son.

After that the talk drifted to other things – of the doings of the students at Oak Hall, and of how Job Haskers, one of the assistant teachers, had caught some of the lads playing a trick on Pop Swingly, the janitor, and punished them severely for it.

"The trick didn't amount to much," said Phil, "and I rather believe Swingly enjoyed it. But old Haskers was in a bilious mood and made the fellows stay in after school for three days."

"Were you in it?" asked Dave.

"Yes; and all of us have vowed to get square on Haskers."

"It's a wonder Doctor Clay doesn't get rid of Haskers – he is so unpopular," was Roger's comment.

"Haskers is a fine teacher, that's why he is kept. But I like Mr. Dale much better," said Dave.

"Oh, everybody does!"

"All but Link Merwell," said Phil. "Isn't it strange, he seems to get along very well with Haskers."

"Two of a kind maybe," returned the senator's son.

After a long run the Junction was reached, where the boys had to change cars for Oakdale. They got off and found they had twenty-five minutes to wait.

"Remember the time we were here and had the trouble with Isaac Pludding?" asked Roger.

"I'll never forget it," answered Dave, with a grin. "By the way, as we have time to spare let us go around to Denman's restaurant and have a cup of chocolate and a piece of pie. That car was so cold it chilled me."

Growing boys are always hungry, so, despite the generous breakfast they had had, they walked over to the restaurant named. The man who kept it remembered them well and smiled broadly as they took seats at a table.

"On your way to school, I suppose," he said, as he served them. "Ain't following up Ike Pludding this trip, are you?"

"Hardly," answered Dave. "What do you know of him?"

"I know he is about down and out," answered Amos Denman. "And served him right too."

The boys were about to leave the restaurant when Dave chanced to glance in one of the windows. There, on a big platter, was an inviting heap of chicken salad, above which was a sign announcing it was for sale at thirty cents a pint.

"Let me try that salad, will you?" Dave asked.

"Certainly. Want to take some along?" And Amos Denman passed over a forkful.

"What are you going to do with chicken salad?" questioned Roger.

"Oh, I thought we might want to celebrate our return by a little feast, Roger."

"Hurrah! just the thing!" ejaculated the senator's son. "Is it good? It is? All right, I'll take a quart."

"I'll take a quart, too," said Dave. "I guess you can put it all together."

"Are those mince pies fresh?" asked Phil, pointing to some in a case.

"Just out of the oven. Feel of them."

"Then I'll take two."

In the end the three youths purchased quite a number of things from the restaurant keeper, who tied up the articles in pasteboard boxes wrapped in brown paper. Then the lads had to run for the train and were the last on board.

It had begun to snow again and the white flakes were coming down thickly when the train rolled into the neat little station at Oakdale. The boys were the only ones to alight and they looked around eagerly to see if the school carryall was waiting for them.

"Hello, fellows!" cried a voice from the end of the platform, and Joseph Beggs, usually called Buster because of his fatness, waddled up. "Thought you'd be on this train."

"How are you, Buster?" answered Dave, shaking hands. "My, but aren't you getting thin!" And he looked the fat boy over with a grin.

"It's worry that's doing it," answered Buster, calmly. "Haven't slept a night since you went away, Dave. So you really found your dad and your sister! Sounds like a regular six-act-and-fourteen-scene drama. We'll have to write it up and get Horsehair to star in it. First Act: Found on the Railroad Tracks; Second Act: The Faithful Farm Boy; Third Act: The King of the School; Fourth Act – "

"Waiting for the Stage," interrupted Dave. "Keep it, Buster, until we're on the way to Oak Hall. Did you come down alone?"

"Not much he didn't come down alone!" cried a voice at Dave's elbow, and Maurice Hamilton, always called Shadow, appeared. Maurice was as tall and thin as Buster was stout. "Let me feel your hand and know you are really here, Dave," he went on. "Why, your story is – is – what shall I say?"

"Great," suggested Roger.

"Marvelous," added Phil.

"Out of sight," put in Buster Beggs.

"All good – and that puts me in mind of a story. One time there was a – "

"Shadow – so early in the day!" cried the senator's son, reproachfully.

"Oh, you can't shut him off," exploded Buster. "He's been telling chestnuts ever since we left the Hall."

"This isn't a chestnut, it's a – "

"Hickory nut," finished Phil; "hard to crack – as the darky said of the china egg he wanted to fry."

"It isn't a chestnut or a hickory nut either," expostulated the story-teller of the school. "It's a brand-new one. One time there was a county – "

"If it's new you ought to have it copyrighted, Shadow," said Roger.

"Perhaps a trade-mark might do," added Dave. "You can get one for – "

"Say, don't you want to hear this story?" demanded Shadow.

"Yes, yes, go on!" was the chorus.

"Now we've had the first installment we'll have to have the finish or die," continued Phil, tragically.

"Well, one time there was a county fair, with a number of side shows, snakes, acrobats, and such things. One tent had a big sign over it, 'The Greatest and Most Marvelous Wonder of the Age – A man who plays the piano better with his feet than most skilled musicians can play with their hands. Admission 10 cents.' That sign attracted a big crowd and brought in a lot of money. When the folks got inside a man came out, sat down in front of a piano that played with paper rolls, and pumped the thing for all he was worth with his feet!"

"Oh, what a sell!" roared Phil. "Shadow, that's the worst you ever told."

"Quite a feat," said Dave.

"But painful to the understanding," added Roger. He looked around. "Hello, here's Horsehair at last."

He referred to Jackson Lemond, the driver for the school, who was always called Horsehair because of the hairs which invariably clung to his clothing. The driver was coming down the main street of the town with a package of harness dressing in his hand.

"Had to git this," he explained. "How de do, young gents? All ready to go to the Hall?"

"Horsehair, we're going to write a play about Dave's discoveries," said Buster. "We want you to star in it. We know you can make a hit."

"No starrin' fer me," answered the driver, who had once played minor parts in a barn-storming theatrical company. "I'll stick to the hosses."

"But think of it, Horsehair," went on Buster. "We'll have you eaten up by cannibals of the South Seas, frozen to death in Norway snowstorms, shooting bears as big as elephants, and – "

"Oh, Buster, do let up!" cried Dave. "None of those things are true, and you know it. Come ahead, I am anxious to see the rest of the fellows," and Dave ran for the carryall, with his dress-suit case in one hand and one of the packages from the restaurant in the other.

Soon the crowd had piled into the turnout, Phil on the front seat beside the driver, and away they went. The carryall had been put on runners and ran as easily as a cutter, having two powerful horses to pull it.

All of the boys were in high spirits and as they sped over the snow they sang and cracked jokes to their hearts' content. They did not forget the old school song, sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," and sang this with a vigor that tested their lungs to the uttermost:

 
"Oak Hall we never shall forget,
No matter where we roam;
It is the very best of schools,
To us it's just like home!
Then give three cheers, and let them ring
Throughout this world so wide,
To let the people know that we
Elect to here abide!"
 

"By the way, how is Gus Plum getting along these days?" asked Dave of Shadow Hamilton, during a pause in the fun. He referred, as my old readers know, to a youth who in days gone by had been a great bully at the Hall.

"Gus Plum needs watching," was the low answer, so that none of the other boys might hear. "He is better in some ways, Dave, and much worse in others."

"How do you mean, Shadow?"

"I can't explain here – but I'll do it in private some day," answered Shadow; and then the carryall swept up to the school steps and a number of students ran forth from the building to greet the new arrivals.

CHAPTER IV
THE FUN OF A NIGHT

As my old readers know, Oak Hall was a large structure of brick and stone, built in the shape of a broad cross, with wide hallways running from north to south and east to west. All of the classrooms were on the ground floor, as were also the dining hall and kitchen, and the head master's private office. On the second floor were the majority of the dormitories, furnished to hold four, six, and eight pupils each. The school was surrounded by a wide campus, running down to the Leming River, where was located a good-sized boathouse. Some distance away from the river was a neat gymnasium, and, to the rear of the school, were commodious stables and sheds. At the four corners of the campus grew great clumps of giant oaks, and two oaks stood like sentinels on either side of the gateway – thus giving the Hall its name.

As Dave leaped to the piazza of the school he was met by Sam Day, another of his old chums, who gave his hand a squeeze that made him wince. Close by was Chip Macklin, once the toady of Gus Plum, but now "quite a decent sort," as most of the lads would say. Further in the rear was Gus Plum, looking pale and troubled. Evidently something was wrong with him, as Shadow had intimated.

"Sorry I couldn't get down to the depot," said Sam. "But I had some examples in algebra to do and they kept me until after the carryall had left."

There was more handshaking, and Dave did not forget Macklin or Gus Plum. When he took the hand of the former bully he found it icy cold and he noticed that it trembled considerably.

"How are you, Gus?" he said, pleasantly.

"Oh, I'm fair," was the hesitating answer. "I – I am glad to see you back, and doubly glad to know you found your father."

"And sister, Gus; don't forget that."

"Yes, and your sister." And then Gus Plum let Dave's hand fall and stepped back into the crowd and vanished. Dave saw that he had something on his mind, and he wondered more than ever what Shadow might have to tell him.

Soon Doctor Clay appeared, a man well along in years, with gray, penetrating eyes and a face that could be either kindly or stern as the occasion demanded.

"As the boys say, it is all very wonderful, and I am rejoiced for your sake, Porter," he said. "Your trip to Norway certainly turned out well, and you need not begrudge the time lost from school. Now, with your mind free, you can go at your studies with vigor, and such a bright pupil as you ought to be able to make up all the ground lost."

"I intend to try my best, sir," answered Dave.

The only lad at Oak Hall who did not seem to enjoy Dave's reappearance was Nat Poole. The dudish youth from Crumville, whose father had, in times past, caused old Caspar Potts so much trouble, kept himself aloof, and when he met Dave in a hallway he turned his head the other way and pretended not to notice.

"Nat Poole certainly feels sore," said Dave to Ben Basswood, his old friend from home, when Ben came to meet him, having been kept in a classroom by Job Haskers.

"Yes, he is sore on everybody," answered Ben. "Well, he is having a hard time of it, seems to me. First Chip Macklin cut him, and then Gus Plum. Then he got mixed up with Nick Jasniff, and Jasniff had to run away. Then he and Link Merwell became chums, and you know what happened to both. Now Merwell is away and Nat is about left to himself. He is a bigger dude than ever, and spends a lot of money that the doctor doesn't know anything about, and yet he can't make himself popular."

"Well, I'm glad money doesn't count at Oak Hall, Ben."

"I know you feel that way, Dave, and it does you credit. I guess now you are about as rich as anybody, and if money did the trick – "

"I want to stand on my merits, not on my pocketbook. Perhaps Nat would make friends if he wasn't forever showing off and telling how wealthy his father is."

"I believe you there."

"By the way, Ben, do you know anything about Gus Plum? There seems to be a big change in him."

"There is a change, but I can't tell you what it is. Shadow Hamilton knows. He and Plum came home late one night, both having been to Oakdale, and Shadow was greatly excited and greatly worried. Some of us fellows wanted to know what it was about, but Shadow refused to say a word, excepting that he was going to let you know some time, because you appeared to have some influence over Gus."

Ben's words surprised Dave, coming so shortly after what Shadow himself had said. He was on the point of asking Ben some more questions, but reconsidered the matter and said nothing. He could wait until such a time as Shadow felt in the humor to unburden his mind.

Dave and his chums roomed in dormitories Nos. 11 and 12, two large and well-lighted apartments, with a connecting door between. Not far away was dormitory No. 13, which was now occupied by Nat Poole and some others, including Link Merwell when that individual was at Oak Hall. One bed was vacant, that which Nick Jasniff had left so hurriedly.

In a quiet way the news was spread that Dave and his chums had provided some good things for a feast, and that night about twenty boys gathered in No. 11 and No. 12 to celebrate "the return of our leader," as Luke Watson expressed it. Luke was on hand with his banjo and his guitar, to add a little music if wanted.

"Say, boys, we couldn't have chosen a better time for this sort of thing than to-night," announced Sam Day. "Haskers has gone to town and Mr. Dale is paying a visit to a neighbor; I heard the doctor tell Mr. Dale he was tired and was going to bed early, and best of all Jim Murphy says he won't hear a thing, provided we set out a big piece of mince pie for him." Murphy was monitor of the halls.



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