Ben Stone at Oakdaleñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Again Driggs denied everything, and he had covered his tracks so well that it was impossible to find him guilty; but my father was convicted and sentenced to a long term in prison. It was a heavy blow to my poor mother, and she never recovered from it.
“I now found myself an outcast in every sense of the word, despised and shunned by all the boys who knew me. Under such conditions I could not attend school, and I tried to do what I could to help my mother support the family; but no one seemed willing to give me work, and we had a pretty hard time of it.
“The worst was to come. Two months after being sent to prison my father attempted to escape and was shot and killed. Mother was prostrated, and I thought she would surely die then; but she finally rallied, although she carried a constant pain in her heart, as if the bullet that slew my father had lodged in her breast.”
Once more the narrator paused, swallowing down a lump that had risen into his throat. He was a strong lad and one not given to betraying emotion, but the remembrance of what his unfortunate mother had suffered choked him temporarily. When he again took up his story he spoke more hurriedly, as if anxious to finish and have it over.
“It isn’t necessary to tell all the unpleasant things that happened after that, but we had a hard time of it, Eliot, and you can understand why it was that I just almost hated nearly everybody. But most I came to hate Bern Hayden, who was a leader among the village boys, and who never lost a chance to taunt and deride me and call me the son of a jail-bird. I don’t know how I kept my hands off him as long as I did. I often thought I could kill him with a will.
“My little brother could get around amazingly well, even though he was blind, and he had a way of carrying father’s old fiddle with him into a grove not far from our house. One day I came home and found him crying himself sick over the fiddle, which had been smashed and ruined. He told me Bern Hayden had smashed the instrument.
“That night Hayden visited another boy, with whom he was very chummy. This other boy lived some distance outside the village, and I lay in wait for Hayden and stopped him as he was crossing lots on his way home. It was just getting dark, and the spot was lonely. It was light enough, just the same, for him to see my face, and I knew from his actions that he was frightened. I told him I was going to give him such a thumping that he’d remember it as long as he lived. He threatened me, but that didn’t stop me a bit, and I went for him.
“Hayden wasn’t such a slouch of a fighter, but he couldn’t hold his own with me, for I was bursting with rage. I got him down and was punishing him pretty bad when somehow he managed to get out his pocket knife and open it. He struck at me with the knife, and this is the result.”
Roger gave a cry as Ben again lifted a hand to his mutilated ear.
“He cut part of your ear off?” gasped Eliot.
“Then I seemed to lose my reason entirely. I choked him until he was pretty nearly finished. As he lay limp and half dead on the ground, I stripped off his coat and vest and literally tore his shirt from his body. I placed him in a sitting posture on the ground, with his arms locked about the butt of a small tree, and tied his wrists together. With his own knife with which he had marked me for life, I cut a tough switch from a bush, and with that I gave it to him on his bare back until his screams brought two men, who seized and stopped me. I was so furious that I had not heard their approach. I was all covered with blood from my ear, and I sort of gave out all at once when the men grabbed me.
“I tell you, that affair kicked up some excitement in Hilton. My ear was cared for, but even while he dressed the wound the doctor told me that Lemuel Hayden would surely send me to the reform school. My mother fainted when she heard what had happened.
“I believe they would have sent me to the reform school right away had I not been taken violently ill the following day. Jerry told me that Bern Hayden was also in bed. I was just getting up when mother fell ill herself, and in three days she died. I think she died of a broken heart. Poor mother! Her whole life was one of hardships and disappointments.
“Uncle Asher, mother’s brother, arrived the day after mother died. He took charge of the funeral, but almost as soon as he stepped off the train in Hilton he heard what a bad boy I was, and he looked on me with disfavor.
“After the funeral Jerry came to me in the greatest excitement and told me he had heard Lemuel Hayden and Uncle Asher talking, and uncle had agreed that I should be sent to the Reformatory, as Mr. Hayden wished. Uncle said he would look out for Jerry, but I was to be carried off the next morning.
“That night I ran away. I whispered good-by to Jerry and stole out of the house, with only a little bundle of clothing and less than a dollar in money. I managed to get away all right, for I don’t believe any one tried very hard to catch me. I fancy the people of Hilton thought it a good riddance.
“For a long time I was afraid of being taken. I found work in several places, but kept changing and moving until Jacob Baldwin took me to work for him. Both Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin have been awfully good to me, and sometime, if I ever can, I’m going to pay them back for it. They encouraged me to save money to come here to school. I came and found the Haydens here, and now that’s all over.
“I’ve told you the whole yarn, Eliot; I haven’t tried to hide anything or excuse myself. I know I was to blame, but you might have done something yourself if you had been goaded and tormented and derided as I was. Then to have Hayden do such a mean thing as to smash my brother’s fiddle!
“You’re the first person I’ve ever told the whole story to, and I suppose, now that you know just the sort of fellow I am, you’ll agree with Hayden that I’m no fit associate for other boys at the academy.”
ON THE THRESHOLD
“On the contrary,” declared Roger earnestly, as he once more rose from his chair, “I hold quite a different opinion of you, Stone. You have had a tough time of it, and any fellow in your place with an ounce of real blood in his body might have done just what you did. Every chap is human, and if you had submitted to insults and injury without resentment you would have been a soft mark. Hayden marked you for life, and he might have killed you when he struck with that knife; in return you gave him just what he deserved. There is nothing in the world I despise more than a fighter who is a bully, and nothing I admire more than a fighter who fights for his rights. I don’t believe there is the least atom of a bully about you, Stone. Put me in your place and I might have gone farther than you did.”
“Thank you, Eliot – thank you!” exclaimed Ben huskily, as he also rose. “But I have learned by experience that any fellow can’t afford to try squaring up scores with an enemy by fighting or any sort of personal violence; I’ve found out he only injures himself the most, and I believe there must be other and better ways of getting even.”
“Perhaps that’s right, too,” nodded Roger; “but I am satisfied that it is your natural impulse to protect the weak and defend them from the strong and brutal. You do it without pausing to think of possible consequences to yourself. That’s why you defended Jimmy Jones from Hunk Rollins, who, by the way, is a duffer for whom I have no particular use. That is why you faced the fangs of old Fletcher’s fierce dogs to save my sister. Stone, I think you’re all right, and I’m ready to tell anybody so.”
Again Ben expressed his thanks in a voice deep with emotion.
“Now,” Roger went on, “I think we understand each other better, and I am satisfied that a chap of your grit and determination will be a valuable addition to the Oakdale Eleven, for there are some fellows on the team who lack sand and can be well spared. Don’t talk to me about leaving school!” he exclaimed, lifting a hand and smiling in that manner which made him so attractive. “That’s all nonsense! You’re not going to leave school.”
“But – but I can’t stay,” faltered Stone. “I don’t want to leave, but – ”
“You shan’t; I’ll see to that. Prof. Richardson shall know just why you sailed into Hunk Rollins, I promise you. When he understands that you were simply protecting a helpless cripple from a bully who was tormenting him he’ll be pretty sure to do you justice. He’ll find out how you defended my sister, too. I tell you it’s all right, old fellow, and you’ll stay right here at school as long as you care to do so.”
A flush came to Ben’s freckled cheeks and his eyes gleamed with growing eagerness.
“That’s fine of you, Eliot!” he exclaimed.
“Fine – nothing! Do you think that will be anything compared with what you did for me? I should say not! If I didn’t do that much I’d be a poor flub.”
“Hayden – he will – ”
“Don’t you worry about Hayden. This is not Hilton, and it’s not likely Lemuel Hayden could succeed in making much out of that old affair if he tried. Besides, I fancy my father has about as much influence in Oakdale as Lemuel Hayden has. He has been here a great deal longer, and the mill business of the place is decidedly more important than the lime industry. I’ll guarantee that father will stand by you like a brick, so, you see, you have some friends of consequence.”
It was difficult for Ben to comprehend at once that the thing which had menaced him and threatened to drive him like a criminal from Oakdale was no longer to be feared. From the depths of despair he was thus lifted to the heights of hope, but the sudden change seemed to bewilder him.
Roger’s arm fell across his shoulders and Roger went on talking to him quietly and convincingly, making it plain that his proper course was to return to school the following day exactly as if nothing had happened.
“Leave it to me; leave it to me,” Roger persisted. “I’ll guarantee to settle the whole matter for you. Say you’ll let me take care of this affair, old chap.”
“You – I – I – ”
“Then it’s settled, is it?” cried the determined boy. “You’ll be there to-morrow? That’s first rate! Give me your hand on it.”
Ben found Roger shaking his hand, and he returned the warm, friendly grip, a mist in his eyes.
“I can’t hardly believe I’m lucky enough to have such a friend,” half whispered the boy whose starved heart had yearned all his life for friendship and comradery. “It’s too good to be true.”
“Perhaps I’m a bit selfish about it, too,” said Eliot. “I have my eye on you for the eleven, as we’re bound to do up Wyndham this year. You ought to be a stiff man in the line. I want you to come out for practice to-morrow night. We’ll have our coach next week, and then we’ll have to settle right down to business and get into trim. He’ll make us toe the scratch.”
Later, on the way back to his bare room at Mrs. Jones’, Ben wondered if he had not been dreaming. It did not seem possible that such good fortune could come to him at last, just when, to all appearances, his hard luck had culminated in blighting disaster.
As he thought of his visit to Roger Eliot’s home, of his reception by Roger’s family, of that dinner in the handsome dining room, and of Roger’s earnest pledge on hearing his story to stand by him and be his friend, a strange and wonderful feeling of lightness and exuberant happiness possessed him and made him long to shout and sing. An inward voice seemed whispering that he had left behind him all the dark shadows, and now stood on the threshold of a brighter and better life.
Still it was not wholly without a feeling of dread and misgiving that he approached the academy the following morning, and the fear that somehow things might not go right after all left his face pale, although his heart beat tumultuously, as he came up the gravel walk.
As usual at such an hour on warm and pleasant days while school was holding there was a group of boys near the academy steps. Chipper Cooper had just finished telling for the thirteenth time that morning how Stone had defended Amy Eliot and “knocked the stuffing out of Fletcher’s dogs,” his every statement having been confirmed by Chub Tuttle, who was making a sort of after-breakfast lunch on peanuts.
Every boy in the gathering turned to look at Ben as he drew near, and had he observed he must have seen there was nothing of unfriendliness in their faces. When he would have passed them to enter the academy Chipper called to him.
“Hey, Stone!” he cried; “hold on a minute, will you? Where did you hit Old Tige’s big dog when you knocked him stiff? We fellows have been wondering how you did it.”
“I hit him on the back of his neck,” answered Ben, pausing a bit.
“Well, that was a dandy trick!” declared Cooper. “You ought to have a reward of merit for that.”
Chub Tuttle approached Ben and held out a handful of peanuts.
“Have some,” he urged, his round face beaming. “Fresh roasted. Got ’em at Stickney’s store.”
“Thank you,” said Ben, feeling his face flush as he accepted two or three of them.
At that moment Roger Eliot came from within the building, saw Ben and seized him immediately, saying:
“Just the fellow I’m looking for! Prof. Richardson wants to see you before school begins. Come in.”
Then, with his arm about Ben, he drew him into the academy.
“By Jinks!” exclaimed Sile Crane; “I guess that pretty nigh settles things. When Roger Eliot takes up with a feller like that, Bern Hayden nor nobody else ain’t goin’ to down him much.”
“’Sh!” hissed Sleuth Piper, assuming an air of caution and mystery. “I have been piping things off this morning, and I’ll stake my reputation on it that Eliot has been fixing it for Stone. He has revealed to the professor the whole tragic tale of that encounter with Fletcher’s dogs, and, besides that, the professor has been questioning some of the fellows who were on the scene of action when the go between Stone and Rollins took place. My deduction is that Stone will come out of this affair with flying colors.”
“You’re almost too knowing to live, Sleuth,” said Cooper sarcastically. “As for me, I rather hope Stone does come out all right, for if he stays in the school he may play football, and I reckon a stocky chap like him will just about fill an aching void in the right wing of the line.”
“An aching void!” sneered Piper, who had not relished Cooper’s words or manner. “Will you be good enough, Mr. Smarty, to tell us how a void can ache?”
“Why, sure,” grinned Chipper promptly. “You have a headache sometimes, don’t you?”
“Smarty! smarty!” cried Sleuth, as he fled into the academy to escape from the laughter of the boys.
THE SKIES BRIGHTEN
Having opened school that morning in the usual manner, Prof. Richardson rose beside his desk, on which he tapped lightly with his knuckles, and surveyed the scholars over his spectacles, which seemed to cling precariously to the tip of his thin, aquiline nose. There was a slight bustle of expectancy all over the room, and then the scholars settled themselves down almost breathlessly to hear what the principal would say.
Having cleared his throat, Prof. Richardson began speaking slowly and distinctly, as if weighing every word. He did not look at first in the direction of Stone, who sat there flushed and chilled by turns, keeping his eyes on an open book which lay before him. There was sternness as he expressed his sentiments regarding the person with a bullying inclination who took pleasure in abusing those physically weaker than himself; and, although Sam Rollins’ name was not mentioned, every one knew at whom those open remarks were directed.
Hunk knew, and in an effort to appear unconcerned and a trifle defiant he was openly brazen. Soon, however, his eyes drooped before the accusing gaze of the old professor.
The principal continued by commending with some warmth the individual whose impulses led him, regardless of personal danger or the chance of being misunderstood, to stand up in defense of one who was being mistreated and abused. He went on to say that such a thing had occurred upon the previous afternoon, and that through undue haste on his own part, which he now regretted, he had been led to misunderstand the situation and condemn the wrong person. He even displayed his own moral courage by offering an apology.
Ben Stone’s cheeks were burning now, and his heart pounded so heavily that he fancied every one near him must hear it. He did not move as his grinning little seatmate reached over slyly to pinch him, whispering:
“That’s for you, old feller.”
Prof. Richardson was still speaking, and now he was telling of the remarkable heroism of a lad who had rushed to the defense of a little girl beset by two huge and vicious dogs. The principal’s words were simple and straightforward; he made no effort at eloquence, and yet his language was singularly graphic and effective. He made them shiver at the picture he drew of little Amy Eliot besieged by Tige Fletcher’s ugly pets. He caused them to see in imagination the dauntless defender of the child rushing to the spot and beating the brutes off.
“It was a very fine thing to do,” said the professor, who was at last looking straight at the lad whose eyes remained fixed upon that open book. “It was something not a few men might have hesitated about doing, or, at least, might have done in fear and trepidation. It is really marvelous that the heroic lad escaped untouched by the fangs of those snarling beasts. By this deed he established beyond question the fact that he is a boy of fine courage, possessing the instincts which lead him unhesitatingly to face gravest peril in defense of those who are unable to defend themselves. I have certainly learned a great deal concerning this lad, who apparently has been much misunderstood in the past, and I am proud of the fact that he is a student in this school. I am speaking of Benjamin Stone.”
A sudden hand-clapping broke out all over the room, and the professor did not check them nor reprove them for it.
There was, however, at least one who did not join in the burst of applause. Bernard Hayden’s face was pale and cold, but in his bosom there was a raging fire of wrath and resentment.
Ben was overcome. His head bent lower, and he blinked his eyelids rapidly to scatter the blurring mist which threatened to blind him. His effort to smile simply contorted his plain face a trifle, and there was nothing noble or heroic in the picture he made.
“Gee!” whispered Ben’s seatmate. “I never knew the old Prof. to get so enthusiastic before.”
As the regular routine of the day was taken up, Ben still sat there without daring to look around. He did not know when Bern Hayden, complaining of illness, asked permission to go home. Like one in a trance, he tried to study, and finally succeeded in forcing his attention upon his lessons. It truly seemed that the last shadow had been dispelled.
At intermission the boys came flocking around him, and some of the girls smiled upon him in a friendly manner. They found, however, that he disliked to talk of his exciting encounter with Fletcher’s dogs.
“The town fathers orter present you with a medal for killin’ old Tige’s big cur,” said Sile Crane.
“It may not oc-cur to them to do it,” chuckled Chipper Cooper.
“Permit me,” grinned Chub Tuttle, “as a token of my high appreciation and gratitude, to present you with a genuine fresh roasted, double-jointed California peanut.”
Even Spotty Davis hung around and sought to be familiar and friendly. Seizing Davis by the elbow, Sleuth Piper drew him aside and whispered mysteriously behind his hand:
“Listen to the deduction into which I have been led by the present surprising turn of affairs,” pleaded Sleuth. “Take it from me that this man Stone will become a member of the great Oakdale eleven, which will be much strengthened by his marvelous prowess and undaunted courage.”
“Mebbe so,” nodded Spotty; “but it ain’t going to set well in Bern Hayden’s crop.”
Walker, Ben’s seatmate, who had once felt it a sore affliction to be placed beside him, now hovered near, seeking to enjoy a little irradiated glory.
It was all very strange and unusual for Stone, and in spite of his pleasure in it his natural shyness continued to make him appear distant and somewhat sullen.
When midday intermission arrived Ben hastened to leave the academy, rushing away before any of the boys could join him. That day his cold lunch tasted sweet indeed, and his little bare room looked strangely attractive and homelike.
He returned late to the academy, arriving barely in time to escape being tardy. All the afternoon he studied hard, and in his recitations he was well prepared.
School over for the day, he was not given time to get away before the others, Eliot capturing him on the steps.
“Come on over to the gym, old fellow,” urged Roger. “This time you’re going to practice. I know the place for you in the line.”
“Come on, come on,” called several others; “we must get at it early to-night.”
Hayden was not with them; he had not returned to the academy since leaving on the plea of illness.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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