Don Gordon's Shooting-Box
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“If I did, I should be perfectly willing to take the consequences. But father couldn’t haul me over the coals for it, could he?”
“If father were here now, he wouldn’t think of doing such things.”
“Neither would I if I were a man.”
“But you won’t go to Cony Ryan’s, will you?” pleaded Bert.
“Of course not. Don’t borrow any trouble on that score. I promised mother that I would behave myself, and I am going to do it. But I should like to taste those pies and pancakes, all the same,” added Don, to himself.
That evening, after supper, Don and Bert showed their pass to the sentry at the gate, and set out to pay their long deferred visit to Mr. Packard. Why was it that they did not think to read that pass when it was given to them? If they had, they might have saved themselves from something disagreeable that afterward happened. They passed a very pleasant evening at Mr. Packard’s house, and at half-past ten they took leave of their new friends and started for the academy.
As they were walking briskly along the road that ran around one end of the big pond, they heard an indistinct murmur of voices, and presently saw a crowd of boys, who were walking in a compact body, pass across the road in front of them, and direct their course toward the middle of the pond. They thought at first that it was a skating party; but as they did not stop to put on their skates, Don and Bert became interested in their movements and halted to observe them. Just then a voice, speaking in pleading accents, came to their ears.
“Don’t do it, boys – please don’t,” it said, in piteous tones. “I wouldn’t mind it so much if I could stand it, but I solemnly assure you that I can’t. I have had one attack of pneumonia this winter that was brought on by exposure, and ducking me in this icy water will surely give me another.”
“No it won’t,” replied another voice that Don knew belonged to Tom Fisher. “This is a time-honored custom, and we are not going to give it up; are we, boys?”
“Not much,” answered the others, in concert.
“Our fathers were hazed when they went to this school; they, in turn, hazed others, and we couldn’t think of disgracing them by refusing to follow in their footsteps,” continued Tom. “Everyone of the fellows you see around you – myself among the rest – has been hazed in one way or another; and are you, a New York boot-black, any better than we are?”
“Hurry him on and pitch him in,” said Clarence Duncan, in his deep base tones. “Wash some of the black out of him.”
“Yes, in with him,” piped little Dick Henderson.
“Well, boys, if you must do it to preserve your honor, let me take my clothes off first,” said the pleading voice. “This is the only suit I have in the world, and if I get it wet I shall freeze to death, for I have no fire in my room to dry it by.”
“Then go to bed,” was the rough rejoinder.
“Why, what in the world are those fellows going to do?” said Bert, who had listened in great amazement to this conversation, every word of which came distinctly to the ears of himself and his brother.“I am afraid they are going to do something to somebody.”
“Have you just found it out?” exclaimed Don, who now discovered that the boys were making their way toward a hole that had been previously cut in the ice. “A party of students, led by Fisher and Duncan, are going to haze a Plebe by ducking him in the pond. Now I shall have a word or two to say about that. They are the same fellows who blocked up our path this morning and wouldn’t let us go by. You know they promised to settle with me some day for showing so much ‘independence,’ as they called it, and they might as well do it now as any other time.”
“O Don, mind what you are about,” cried Bert.
“I will. I’ll black the eyes of some of them before they shall stick that boy through the ice. Why, Bert, what would father say to me if he should hear that I stood by and witnessed such a proceeding without lifting a hand to prevent it? He would tell me I wasn’t worthy of the name I bear.”
No one who knew the temper of the academy boys, and the tenacity with which they clung to the “time-honored customs” of the institution to which they belonged, would have thought Don Gordon a coward if he had taken to his heels and made the best of his way to his room. He knew very well that if he attempted to interfere with Tom and his crowd, he stood a good chance of being ducked himself; but the knowledge of this fact did not deter him from promptly carrying out the plans he had resolved upon. It would have been bad enough, he told himself, if the students had selected as a victim a boy who had an extra suit of clothes, a change of linen to put on, and a fire to warm himself by after his cold bath; but to pitch upon one who had none of these comforts, and who ran the risk of being thrown into a dangerous illness by the folly of his tormentors, was, in his estimation, a most cowardly act, and one that could not be too severely punished.
“Bert, you had better stay here where you will be safe,” said Don.
“I’ll not do it,” was the prompt reply. “If you are going into danger, I am going in too.”
Don, knowing that it would be of no use to argue the matter, ran out on the ice, and when he came up with the crowd his coats were off, and he was in his shirt-sleeves. Fisher and his companions stopped when they heard the sound of his approaching footsteps, and some of them acted as if they wanted to run away; but when they discovered that Don and Bert were alone, they waited for them to come nearer, thinking that perhaps they were a couple of the members of their own class who wanted to join in the sport. When they saw Don pull off his overcoat, however, their eyes were opened.
“Here comes an intruder, boys,” exclaimed one of the students, “and judging by the way he acts, he is getting ready for a rumpus.”
“Let him get ready,” said Fisher. “There are a dozen of us. If he turns out to be a Plebe, we’ll stick him in too. The more the merrier, you know. Who comes there?” he added, raising his voice.
“A peace-maker,” replied Don, throwing his coats on the ice.
“Yes, you look like it,” sneered Clarence Duncan. “If that is so, what did you pull your duds off for?”
“Because I did not know how you would receive my overtures, and I thought it the part of wisdom to be prepared for any emergency,” answered Don.
So saying, he walked boldly into the crowd, which gave way right and left as he advanced, and took his stand by the side of the prisoner, who was firmly held by two of the largest and strongest students, while two others stood close behind him, in readiness to lend their assistance in case he made any attempt at escape. Although Don had never exchanged a word with the boy, he knew him at once, for they belonged to the same company. It was the new student whose presence, if we are to believe Fisher and his friends, was a disgrace to the academy and everybody belonging to it. He wore the same thin clothes in which he had shivered as he walked up the path that morning, and the keen wind that swept across the icy surface of the big pond must have chilled him to the very marrow. He had no muffler about his face nor any gloves on his hands, which he held clasped one within the other, as if they were very cold. Don looked at him and then at the comfortably clad boys who were standing around, and his blood, which was none of the coolest at any time, boiled with indignation.
“You are a pack of contemptible cowards,” said he, pulling off his gloves and slamming them down on the ice.
“Why, bless our royal heart, it’s the Planter!” exclaimed Tom Fisher, who now, for the first time, recognized the intruder. “Here’s luck, boys. Grab hold of him, some of you, and we’ll wash him too.”
“If that’s the Planter, this must be his brother,” said Dick Henderson.
“Why, so it is,” said Fisher, after he had taken a sharp look into Bert’s face. “Here’s more luck. Take hold of him too, boys; and since they have had the assurance to push themselves in among us without being asked, we will give them the post of honor. We’ll duck them first.”
In obedience to these orders three or four pairs of hands were laid upon Bert’s arms; but when the rest of the crowd moved forward to lay hold of Don, Duncan stepped up and stopped them.
“Stand back, all of you,” said he. “I want to have a little talk with this fellow before he is put into that air-hole. Gordon, you insulted me this morning in the presence of my friends, and I want you to apologize for it at once. If you don’t do it, I will give you a thrashing right here on this ice that you won’t get over for a month.”
“How did I insult you?” asked Don, and the bully was somewhat surprised to see that he did not appear to be at all alarmed.
“You said you would make a spread-eagle of me. Now, which will you do, apologize or fight?”
“Well, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll fight.”
Duncan was fairly staggered by this reply. Remembering the exhibition of strength he had witnessed in the gymnasium that afternoon, he had no desire to come to blows with the stalwart youth who stood before him. He had hoped to frighten an apology from Don, and when he found that he could not do it, he wished he had not been in such haste to make overtures of battle to him. But it was too late to think of that now, for his reputation was at stake. Besides he did not believe that his friend Fisher would stand by and see him worsted.
“You need have no fear of these fellows who are standing around,” said Duncan, who wanted to put off the critical moment as long as he could. “They will not double-team on you.”
“If they do they will take the consequences,” said Don, confidently. “I think myself that they had better keep their distance.”
These bold words astonished everybody.
“Why I believe he thinks he can whip the whole crowd,” said Henderson, who was one of the four who were holding fast to Bert’s arms. Bert was a little fellow, like himself, and consequently Dick was not very much afraid of him.
“Come on,” said Don, impatiently. “I am getting cold standing here in my shirt-sleeves. Give me a little exercise to warm me up. Remember I wasn’t born as near the Arctic Circle as you fellows were, and for that reason I can’t stand the cold as well. Hurry up, somebody —anybody who thinks he was insulted by the words I uttered this morning.”
Driven almost to desperation by this challenge, which he knew was addressed to himself, and which seemed to imply that his prospective antagonist placed a very low estimate upon his powers, Duncan pulled off both his coats, assumed a threatening attitude and advanced toward Don, who extended his hand in the most friendly manner. The bully, believing that Don wanted to parley with him, took the proffered hand in his own, and in a second more arose in the air as if an exceedingly strong spring had suddenly uncoiled itself under his feet. When he came down again he measured his full length on the ice, landing in such dangerous proximity to the hole that had been cut for the poor student’s benefit, that his uniform cap fell into it.
Everybody was struck motionless and dumb with amazement. The bully was so bewildered that he did not get upon his feet again immediately, and the poor student forgot to shiver.