“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.
“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.
“Take your hands off those boys,” said Don, who was in just the right humor to make a scattering among Fisher’s crowd of friends. “Release them both and do it at once, or I will pitch the last one of you into that hole before you can say ‘General Jackson’ with your mouths open. Come over here, Bert.”
He stepped up and took the prisoner by the arm, and his four guards surrendered him without a word of protest. The magical manner in which Don had floored the biggest bully in school, before whom no boy in Bridgeport had ever been able to stand for a minute, either with boxing-gloves or bare fists, and the ease with which he had done it, astounded them. They had never seen anything like it before, and there was something very mysterious in it. Did not this backwoodsman have other equally bewildering tactics at his command which he could bring into play if he were crowded upon? Probably he had, and so the best thing they could do was to let him alone.
“Your name is Sam Arkwright, is it not?” said Don, taking one of the boy’s blue-cold hands in both his own warm ones. “I thought I had heard you answer to that name at roll-call. I am a plebe too, and so we’ll stand together. Put on these gloves and come with me. You will freeze if you stay here any longer. As for you,” he added, waving his hand toward the students to show that he included them all in the remarks he was about to make, “you are a pack of cowards, and I can whip the best man among you right here and now. Pick him out and let me take a look at him.”
“I am good for the best of them if they will come one at a time,” said Sam. “But I give in to a dozen when they all jump on me at once.”
“I will leave that challenge open,” said Don, as he led Sam away. “You know where my room is, and any little notes you may choose to shove under my door will receive prompt attention.”
Tom and his crowd did not speak; they had not yet recovered from their amazement. They stood gazing after the rescued boy and his champion until they disappeared in the darkness, and then they turned and looked at one another.
“I declare, Duncan,” exclaimed Tom Fisher, who was the first to speak. “You’ve met your master at last, have you not?”
The defeated bully growled out something in reply, but his friends could not understand what it was. Like every boy who prides himself upon his strength and skill, he did not like to acknowledge that he had been beaten.
“Did he hurt you?” asked one of the students. “I noticed that you didn’t get up right away.”
“How in the name of all that’s wonderful did he do it?” inquired another. “I didn’t see him clinch or strike you.”
“He did neither,” replied Duncan, “and that’s just what bangs me. I am willing to swear that he did not touch me anywhere except on the hand, and he took hold of that just as though he wanted to give it a friendly shake. It’s a trick of some kind – a boss one, too – and I will give him my next quarter’s spending money if he will teach it to me.”
“Humph!” exclaimed Tom Fisher. “You needn’t expect to him to do that. He doesn’t look to me to be such a fool. You and he may come together in earnest some day – if you don’t, he will be about the only boy you haven’t had a fight with since you have been a student at this academy – and then you will probably find out what his tricks are.”
“He didn’t hurt me at all,” continued Clarence; “but he could if he had been so disposed. If he had used a little more exertion he could have thrown me into that air-hole; and if I had happened to come up under the ice – ugh!” exclaimed Clarence, shivering all over as he looked down into the dark water.
“Is there no way in which we can get even with him?” asked Fisher.
“Is there!” replied Clarence, angrily. “Do you suppose that I am going to submit tamely to an insult like that? We’ll make a way to get even with him. Things have come to a pretty pass if a plebe is going to be allowed to come here and run this school to suit himself.”
The mere reference to such an unheard-of thing was enough to raise the ire of Tom Fisher and all his companions, who with one voice declared that the Planter, having presumed to lay violent hands on an upper-class boy, and to set at defiance one of the old-established customs of the academy, must be made to suffer the consequences. They held a long and earnest consultation there on the ice, and Fisher and Duncan, who were fruitful in expedients, soon hit upon a plan which promised, if skillfully managed, to bring Sam Arkwright’s champion into serious trouble. It was a most dangerous plan, because it was to be carried out under the guise of friendship.
“That’s the only way to do it, fellows, you may depend upon it,” said Duncan, after their scheme had been thoroughly discussed. “We must bring him into trouble with the faculty, and let them do the hazing, for we couldn’t do it if we wanted to. I was nothing but a child in his grasp, and, to tell the honest truth, I have no desire to face him again.”
“I hope we shall succeed,” said Fisher. “But if the Planter turns out to be one of those good little boys who never do anything wrong, then what?”
If Tom had only known it, he need not have bothered his head on this point. Unfortunately for Don, something happened that very night which made it comparatively easy for the conspirators to carry out the plans they had formed regarding him.
Meanwhile Don and Bert were walking briskly toward the academy in company with the rescued boy, who was somewhat protected from the keen wind by Bert’s muffler, which the latter had wrapped about his neck, and by Don’s gloves which he wore upon his hands. He was lost in admiration of his new friend’s prowess, and complimented him in the best language he could command.
“Are you an Irishman, sir?” Sam asked, at length.
“Look here,” answered Don, “my name is Gordon – there’s no ‘sir’ about it. No, I am not an Irishman. I am an American, I am proud to say; but I understand the Irish ‘hand and foot’ well enough to give it to such fellows as that Clarence Duncan. I can throw a man weighing two hundred pounds in that way if he will let me take hold of his hand.”
“It was well done,” said Sam. “I never saw it done better.”
“I learned it of one of my father’s hired men – a discharged Union soldier who came to our plantation penniless and hungry, and asked for work,” said Don. “I always make it a point to pick up any little thing of that kind that happens to fall in my way. It may come handy some day, you know.”
Perhaps you will now understand how Don had managed to throw the bully of the school so easily; but if you do not, we can only say that it cannot be described on paper so that you can gain even a faint idea of it. If you want to know just how it was done, the easiest way to learn is to ask some Irishman – the fresher he is from the old sod the better – to give you a practical illustration of the “hand and foot.” Simply give him your hand, and if his feelings toward you are friendly, he will send you flying through the air without hurting you in the least; but if he is not friendly, we would not advise you to go to him for information, for he can turn you heels up in an instant, and land you on your head with force enough to knock all your brains into your boots. Don had become so expert in this novel way of wrestling, and so prone to put it into practice at every opportunity, that none of the boys about Rochdale could be induced to shake hands with him.
“How did you ever happen to find your way to this school!” inquired Don, after Sam had exhausted his vocabulary in praising his new friend’s skill as a wrestler. “Were you really a New York boot-black?”
“Yes, I was,” answered Sam, hesitatingly.
“It is nothing to be ashamed of,” said Bert, who thought from the way Sam spoke that he did not like to confess that he had once occupied so lowly a position in the world.
“Of course not,” Don hastened to add. “Any honest work is honorable. Your presence here proves that you didn’t want to remain a boot-black all your days.”
“No, I didn’t. I was ambitious to be something better,” said Sam, who then went on to give Don and his brother a short history of his life. He said that his father, who followed the sea for a livelihood, had gone down with his vessel during a terrific storm off Cape Hatteras; that his mother had survived him but a few months; and that after her death a grasping landlord had seized all the household furniture as security for the rent that was due and unpaid, turning him (Sam) into the streets to shift for himself. He spent the days in roaming about the city, looking in vain for work, and his nights in a lumber-yard to which he had been invited by a friendly boot-black, who found free lodgings there every night, and who, seeing Sam’s forlorn condition, gave him a plate of soup to eat and furnished him with a plank to sleep on. Finding that work was not to be had, Sam at last ran in debt for a boot-black’s “kit,” which he procured from one of the fraternity who had saved money enough to open a corner peanut stand, and after a score or more of battles with boys whose “claims” he unwittingly “jumped,” he succeeded in establishing himself in front of a popular hotel in the city, where he was to be found early and late. It was there he met the Superintendent of the Bridgeport Military Academy, who patronized him twice every day, never failing to give him a quarter for each “shine,” or to spend a few minutes in conversation, with him after the boy’s work was completed.
From the day he was six years old up to the time his father was lost at sea, Sam attended the district school regularly; and as he was a very faithful student, and tried hard to learn, he knew more about books than boys of his age generally do. He felt that he was out of place among the ragged, ignorant little gamins with whom he was daily and hourly thrown in contact, and they, realizing that he was not one of them, and that he believed himself to be fitted for something better than the life of a boot-black, tormented him in every conceivable way. He was so often called upon to protect his brush and his box of blacking from the young rowdies who would have despoiled him of them, that he became an adept at fighting, and it is probable that he would have opened the eyes of Tom Fisher and his crowd, had they not pounced upon him while he was asleep, and overpowered him before he could raise a hand to defend himself.