Edward Stratemeyer.

Dave Porter and His Classmates



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"The girls told me about the big snowball affair," said Rob Rockwell. "I told 'em it served 'em right for going out with those Military Academy chaps. Those fellows never struck me right – they put on too many airs. We wouldn't stand for that sort of thing at my college."

"Well, the race was a tie between our boat and the boat of your friend," said Dave, to change the subject. "They'll have to race over again some day."

"Jackson let one of his ropes break at the turn," answered Rob Rockwell. "That threw his sail over and put him behind – otherwise he might have won."

Rob was a college youth, big, round-faced, and with a loud voice and somewhat positive manner. But he was a good fellow, and Dave and his chums took to him immediately, and the two parties did not separate until it was time for the Oak Hall students to return to that institution. At parting Vera gave Dave a pleasant smile.

"Remember the dog," she said.

"I certainly shall," he answered, and smiled in return.

"What did she mean about a dog?" questioned Roger, a minute later, when the chums were skating for the school dock.

"Oh, not much," answered Dave, evasively. "She told me where she lived and I said I remembered seeing her little black dog, and then she said he could do all kinds of tricks, and if I'd stop there some time she'd show me." And hardly knowing why, Dave blushed slightly.

"Oh, that's it," answered the senator's son, and then said no more. But in his heart he was just a little bit jealous because he had not been invited to call too. Vera's open-hearted, jolly manner pleased him fully as much as it pleased Dave.

"They are all-right girls," was Phil's comment, when the boys were taking off their skates. "That Vera Rockwell is full of fun, I suspect. But I rather prefer Mary Feversham, even if she is more quiet."

"Going to marry her soon, Phil?" asked Dave, quizzically.

"Sure," was the unabashed reply. "The ceremony will take place on the thirty-first of next February, at four minutes past two o'clock in the evening. Omit flowers, but send in all the solid silver dollars you wish." And this remark caused the others to laugh.

Two days later Link Merwell came back to school. Dave did not see the bully on his arrival, and the pair did not meet until Dave went to one of the classrooms to recite. Then, much to his surprise, Merwell greeted him with a friendly nod.

"How do you do, Porter?" he said, pleasantly.

"How are you, Merwell?" was the cold response.

"Oh, I'm pretty well, thank you," went on Link Merwell, easily. "Fine weather we are having. I suppose skating is just elegant. I brought along a new pair of skates and I hope to have lots of fun on them." The bully came closer. "Had the pleasure of meeting your sister out West," he continued in a lower tone. "My! but I was surprised! You were a lucky dog to find your father and Laura. See you later." And the bully passed on to his seat.

Dave's face flushed and his heart beat rapidly.

As my old readers know he had good cause to feel a resentment against Link Merwell, and it was maddening to have the bully mention Laura's name. He could see why the fellow was acting so cordially – it was solely on Laura's account. Evidently he considered his acquaintanceship with Laura quite an intimate one.

"I'll have to open his eyes to the truth," thought Dave. "And the sooner it is done the better." Then he turned to his lessons. But it was hard work to get the bully out of his mind, and he made several mistakes in reciting ancient history, much to Mr. Dale's surprise.

"You will have to study this over again," said the head teacher, kindly. And he marked a 6 against Dave's name, when the pupil might have had a 10.

Dave's opportunity to "have it out" with Link Merwell came the next afternoon, when he had gone for a short skate, previous to starting work on the essay which he hoped would win the prize. The two met at the boathouse, and fortunately nobody else was near.

"Going skating, I see," said Merwell, airily. "Finest sport going, I think. I wish your sister was here to enjoy it with us, don't you? I sent her a letter to-day. I suppose she told you we were having a little correspondence – just for fun, you know."

"See here, Link Merwell, we may as well have an understanding now as later," began Dave, earnestly. "I want to talk to you before anybody comes. I want you to leave my sister alone, – I want you to stop speaking about her, and stop writing to her. She told me about her trip west, and how she met you, and all that. At that time she didn't know you as I know you. But I've told her about you, and you can take it from me that she doesn't want to hear from you again. She is very sorry she ever met you and wrote to you."

"Oh, that's it, eh?" Link Merwell's face had grown first red and then deathly pale. "So you put in your oar, eh? Blackened my character all you could, I suppose." He shut his teeth with a snap. "You'd better take care!"

"I simply told her the truth."

"Oh, yes, I know just how you can talk, Porter! And did she say she wouldn't write to me any more?"

"She did. Now I want to know something more. What did you do with the letters she sent you?"

"I kept them."

"I want you to give them to me."

"To you?"

"Yes, and I will send them to her."

"Not much! They are my letters and I intend to keep them!" cried Link Merwell. His face took on a cunning look. "If you think you are going to get those letters away from me you are mistaken."

"Maybe I can force you to give them up, Merwell."

"What will you do – fight? If you try that game, Porter, I'll let every fellow in this school know what brought the fight about – and let them read the letters."

"You are a gentleman, I must say," answered Dave. He paused for a moment. "Then you won't give them up?"

"Positively, no."

"Then listen to me, Link Merwell. Sooner or later I'll make you give them up. In the meantime, if I hear of your letting anybody else read those letters, or know of them, I'll give you a ten times worse thrashing than I did before I left this school to go to Europe. Now remember that, for I mean every word I say."

"You can't make me give up the letters," said Merwell, doggedly. He was somewhat cowed by Dave's earnest manner.

"I can and I will."

"Maybe you think I've got them in my trunk? If so, you are mistaken."

"I don't care where you have them – I'll get them sometime. And remember, don't you dare to write to my sister again, or don't you dare to speak to her when you meet her."

"To listen to your talk, you'd think you were my master, Porter," sneered the bully, but his lips trembled slightly as he spoke.

"Not at all. But I want you to let my sister alone, that's all. All the decent fellows in this school know what you are, and it is no credit to any young lady to know you."

"Bah! I consider myself a better fellow than you are," snarled the bully. "You are rich now, but we all know how you were brought up, – among a lot of poorhou – "

Link Merwell stopped suddenly and took a hasty step backward. At his last words Dave's fists had doubled up and a light as of fire had come into his eyes.

"Not another word, Merwell," said Dave, in a strained voice. "Not one – or I'll bang your head against the wall until you yell for mercy. I can stand some things, but I can't stand that – and I won't!"

A silence followed, during which each youth glared at the other. Merwell had his skates in his hand and made a movement as if to lift them up and bring them down on Dave's head. But then his arm dropped to his side, for that terrible look of danger was still in the eyes of the youth who had spent some years of his life in the Crumville poorhouse.

"We'll have this out some other time," he muttered, and slunk out of the boathouse like a whipped cur.

CHAPTER XI
AT THE OLD GRANARY

There was to be a skating race that afternoon and Dave had thought to take part. But now he was in no humor for mingling with his fellow-students and so took a long walk, along the snow-covered road beyond Oak Hall.

At first his mind was entirely on Link Merwell, and on his sister Laura and the letters she had written to the bully. To be sure, Laura had told him that the letters contained only a lot of girlish nonsense, yet he was more than sorry Merwell held them and he would have given much to have gotten them away from the fellow he despised.

Returning to the Hall some time before supper, Dave went up to his dormitory. Only Bertram Vane was there, translating Latin.

"Come to study, Dave?" he questioned pleasantly, hardly glancing up from his work.

"I've come to work on that essay, Polly," Dave answered.

"You mean the Past and Future of Our Country?"

"Yes. Shall you try for the prize?"

"I may – I haven't got that far yet. It seems to me you are beginning early."

"Oh, I am merely going to jot down some ideas I have. Then, from time to time, I'll add to those ideas, and do the real writing later."

"That's a good plan. Maybe – " And then Polly Vane stopped speaking and lost himself in his Latin lesson. He was very studious as well as girlish, but one of the best fellows in the school.

Dave went to work, and so easily did his ideas flow that it was supper time before he had them all transferred to paper. The subject interested him greatly and he felt in his heart that he could do it full justice.

"But I must work carefully," he told himself. "If I don't, some other paper may be better than mine."

The students were flocking in from the campus, the gymnasium, and the river. Some came upstairs, to wash up before going to the dining room. Among the number was Chip Macklin, the young pupil who had in times gone by been the toady of Gus Plum when Plum had been the Hall bully.

"Oh, Dave Porter!" cried Chip, and running up, he clutched Dave by the arm.

"What is it, Chip?" asked Dave, seeing the little boy was white and trembling. "What's wrong?"

"I – I – I don't know whether to tell you or not," whispered Chip. "It's awful – dreadful!" He looked around, to make certain nobody else was near.

"What is awful?"

Again Chip looked around. "You won't say that I told you, will you? I suppose I ought to tell somebody – or do something – but perhaps Plum wouldn't like it. He can't be left out where he is, – he might freeze to death!"

"See here, Chip, explain yourself," and Dave's voice became somewhat stern.

"I will! I will! But it is so awful! Why, the Doctor may suspend Gus! And I thought he was going to reform!" Chip Macklin's voice trembled so he could hardly frame the words.

"Will you tell me just what you mean?"

"I will if – if you'll try to help Gus, Dave. Oh, I know you'll help him – you did before! It's such a shame to see him throw himself away!"

Dave looked the small student in the eyes and there was a moment of silence.

"I guess I know what you mean, Chip. Where is Gus?"

"Come on and I'll show you."

The pair hurried downstairs. In the lower hall they ran into Shadow.

"I was looking for you, Dave," said the story-teller of the school. "I want you to do something for me and – and for Gus Plum."

"Why, Shadow, Chip – What do you know about Gus?"

The three boys stared at each other. On the instant they felt all knew what was wrong.

"Was that what you said you'd tell me about sometime, Shadow?" asked Dave, in a whisper.

"Yes."

"Then it has happened before?"

"Yes, about three weeks after you and Roger went to Europe. I met him on the road, coming to the school after spending several hours at some tavern in Oakdale. He wouldn't say where he got the liquor. I wouldn't let him come to Oak Hall until late at night. Then we got in by a side door and I helped him to get to bed. In the morning he was quite sick, but I don't think anybody suspected the cause. That afternoon he told me he would never touch liquor again."

While Shadow was talking the three boys had left the school buildings and were hurrying around to the rear of one of the carriage sheds. Here was a small building which had once been used as a granary but was now partly filled with old garden implements and cut wood.

It was dark in the building and from a corner came the sounds of somebody breathing heavily. Shadow struck a match and held it up.

There, upon a pile of old potato sacks, lay Gus Plum, sleeping soundly. Close at hand lay a small flask which had contained liquor but which was now empty. Dave smelt of it, and then, going to the doorway, threw it far out into the deep snow.

If Dave's heart had never been heavy before it was heavy now. Gus Plum had promised faithfully to reform and he had imagined that the former bully would keep his word. But, according to Shadow's statement, Plum had fallen from grace twice, and if he would reform at all was now a question.

"It's fearful, isn't it, Dave?" said the story-teller of the school, in a whisper.

"Yes, Shadow, I – I hardly know what to say – I hoped for so much from Gus – I thought he'd make one of the best fellows in this school after all – after he had lived down the past. But now – " Dave's voice broke and he could not go on for a moment.

"We can't leave him here – and if we take him into the school – " began Chip Macklin.

"How long has he been here?"

"Not over an hour or two," answered Shadow.

"He must have gone to town for the liquor."

"Unless he had it on hand – he went to town a couple of days ago," said Chip.

"We've got to do something quick – or we'll be missed from the dining hall," continued Shadow.

"You fellows can go back, Shadow; I'll take care of him. Make some kind of an excuse for my absence – say I didn't care for anything to eat."

"But what will you do, Dave?"

"I don't know yet – but I'll fix it up somehow. This must be kept a secret, not only on Gus's account but for the honor of Oak Hall. If this got out to the public, it would give the school a terrible black eye."

"I know that. Why, my father would never let me attend a school where there was any drinking going on."

"Doctor Clay isn't responsible for this – nobody is responsible but Gus himself, – unless somebody led him on. But go on, there goes the last bell for supper."

Shadow passed over half a dozen matches he carried and went out, followed by Chip Macklin. Dave stood in the dark, listening to Gus Plum's heavy breathing. He did not know what to do, yet he felt he had a duty to perform and he made up his mind to perform it. At any hazard he must keep the former bully from public exposure, and he must do his best to make Plum reform once more. He uttered a prayer that Heaven might help him to do what was best.

Lighting another match, Dave espied an old lantern on a shelf, half filled with dirty oil, and lit it. Then he approached Plum and touched him on the arm. The sleeping youth did not awaken, and even when Dave shook him he still slumbered on.

To take him into the school in that condition was out of the question, yet it would not do to let him remain in the old granary, where during the night he might freeze to death. Dave thought of the barn, with its warm hay, and blowing out the lantern, left the granary and walked to the other buildings.

Fortune favored him, for neither Lemond nor the stableman was around, both being at supper in the servants' quarters. There was a back door and a ladder to the hayloft which might be used. He ran back to the granary, picked up Gus Plum and the lantern, and started on the trip. The former bully of the school was no light weight and Dave staggered under the load. Once he slipped in the snow and almost went down, but saved himself in time and kept on. Then came the tug up the ladder. During this Plum's hand was pinched and he uttered a grunt.

"Shay – don't touch me," he muttered thickly, but before Dave could answer he was slumbering again.

The hayloft gained, Dave deposited his burden in a far corner, where nobody was likely to see or hear him. He lit the lantern and made Plum a comfortable bed and covered him up, so that he might not take cold. Then he took a card from his pocket and wrote on it in leadpencil:

"Gus:

"I brought you here from the old granary. Nobody but Chip and Shadow know and they will keep silent. Please, please brace up and be a man.

"Dave."

This card he fastened by a string to Plum's wrist. Then he put out the lantern, left the barn, and hurried back to the school. As he entered he found Shadow on the watch.

"Just got through with supper," whispered the youth. "Nobody asked about you. I guess you can slip into your seat and get something, anyway." And Dave did this without trouble. That Job Haskers should miss a chance to mark him down for tardiness was remarkable, but the fact was Haskers was in a hurry to get away and consequently did not notice all that was taking place.

Dave did not sleep well that night, and he roused up a dozen times or more, thinking he heard Gus Plum coming in. But all the alarms were false, for Gus Plum did not show himself until breakfast time. He looked flushed and sick and ate scarcely a mouthful. Some of his dormitory mates wanted to know where he had been during the night, but he did not tell them.

At first Dave thought he would go to the former bully and talk to him, but then he concluded to let the matter rest with Plum. The latter came to him just before the noon session.

"Will you take a skate with me after school, Dave?" he asked, very humbly.

"Certainly, Gus."

"I – I want to go with you alone," faltered the big lad.

"Very well – I shan't tell any of the others," returned Dave.

A fine snow was falling when the school session was over, but none of the pupils minded this. Dave took his skates and went to the river, and Plum followed. Soon the pair were skating by themselves. When they had turned a bend, Plum led the way to a secluded spot, under the wide-spreading branches of an oak, and with a deep sigh threw himself down on a rock.

"I suppose you've got your own opinion of me," he began, bitterly, and with his face turned away. "I don't blame you – it's what I deserve. I hadn't any right to promise you that I'd reform, for it doesn't seem to be in me. My appetite for liquor is too strong for me. Now, don't say it isn't, for I know it is."

"Why, Gus – "

"Please don't interrupt me, Dave; it's hard enough for me to talk as it is. But you've been my one good friend, and I feel I've got to tell you the whole truth. I want you to know it all – everything. Will you listen until I have finished?"

"Certainly. Go ahead."

CHAPTER XII
GUS PLUM'S STORY

"You may think it strange when I tell you that I come by my appetite for liquor naturally, yet such is a fact," began Gus Plum, after a pause, during which he seemed to collect his thoughts. "You fellows who don't know what such an appetite is are lucky – far more lucky than you can realize. It's an awful thing to have such an appetite – it makes one feel at times as though he were doomed.

"We always had liquor at our house and my folks drank it at meals, just as their folks had done before them, so I heard. When I was a small boy I was allowed to have my glass of wine, and on holidays we had punch and I got my share. Sometimes, I can remember, friends remonstrated with my folks for letting me have the stuff, but my father would laugh and say it was all right – that he had had it himself when he was a boy and that it wouldn't hurt me. My father never drank to excess, to my knowledge, but his brother, my uncle, did, and once when Uncle Jim was under the influence of liquor, he slipped under a street car and had his arm crushed so badly he had to have it amputated.

"My uncle's losing that arm scared me a little. I was then about ten years old, and I made up my mind I wouldn't drink much more. But the stuff tasted good to me and I didn't want to break off entirely. So I continued to drink a little and then a little more, until I thought I couldn't have my dinner without wine, or something like that, to go with it."

"When I was about thirteen a lady I knew well gave a New Year's party to a lot of young folks, and I was invited. I was one of the youngest boys there. The lady had punch, set out in a big cut-glass bowl on a stand in a corner of the hall, with sandwiches and cake alongside. I tried that punch and liked it, and I drank so much that I got noisy, and the lady had to send me home in her carriage."

"I guess that woke my father up to the fact that matters were going too far, and he told me I mustn't drink liquor away from home. He couldn't stop me from drinking at our house, for he had it himself there. But he had helped me to get the appetite, and I couldn't stop. On the next Fourth of July I spent my money in a tavern some distance away from where we lived, and there some rascals – I can't call them men – treated me liberally, just to see me make a fool of myself, I suppose. The fellows teased me until I got in a rage and I took up a bottle and cracked it to pieces over one fellow's head, injuring him badly.

"This brought matters to a climax and my father told me he was going to send me to boarding school. I did not want to go at first, but he said he felt sure it would do me good, and finally I went to Sandville, and then came to Oak Hall.



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