Dave Porter and His Rivals/Chapter 19
SNEAK AGAINST SNEAK
It was a time of extreme peril for the boys in the sawdust pit at the bottom of the wooden slide, and nobody realized this more thoroughly than did Dave. In some manner the wooden bracings had become loosened, and the ponderous slide was in danger of coming down with a mighty crash on their heads. If it did this, more than likely some of the lads would be seriously injured, if not killed.
"Jump from the pit!" yelled Dave, and caught Phil by one hand and Roger by the other. All made a wild scramble, kicking the sawdust in all directions.
"Let me get out of here!"
"Confound this robe, I'm all tangled up in it!"
"My foot is caught! Help me, won't you?"
Such were some of the cries that arose, as, in a bunch, the boys tried to get out of the sawdust pit. All succeeded but Buster Beggs, who, while on the rim of the pit, slipped and fell back,—just as another brace snapped, and the ponderous wooden slide sagged still more.
"Help me!" yelled Buster. "Don't leave me, fellows!"
"Here, give me your hand!" cried Dave, turning back, and as the hand was thrust towards him, he gave a jerk that brought Buster out in a hurry. By this time most of the boys had run to a safe distance, and Dave and Buster lost no time in following.
"All here?" demanded Ben. The lanterns had been left behind, so that they could see only with difficulty.
A rapid count was made, and it was learned that all were safe. One student had scratched his face, and another had wrenched his ankle, but in the excitement these minor injuries were scarcely noticed.
"Thank fortune we are out of that!" panted Phil.
"I'm mighty glad I wasn't killed," added Luke.
"I wonder if the slide is really coming down after all," remarked Sam. "It doesn't seem to be moving any more."
All peered forth in the semi-darkness at the big wooden affair. It had sagged in the middle, and the top had twisted several feet to one side. Another brace looked as if it was on the point of breaking and letting it down still further.
"Better get out of here," said Nat Poole. "If the owner of the ice-houses finds this out he'll make you pay for the busted slide."
"Well, I think we ought to pay for it, anyway," answered Dave, quickly. "We broke it."
"Huh! I wouldn't pay a cent unless I had to," grumbled the money-lender's son.
"What about our lanterns?" asked Roger.
"That's so!" exclaimed Ben. "They are all up in the ice-house, or down in the sawdust pit."
"We can't leave them there,—they may set fire to something," said Phil.
"We'll have to get them," decided Dave.
"Oh, but that's dangerous!" cried one of the students who had just been initiated. "Why, the slide might come down just as we were getting the lanterns!"
"Yes, and I don't want to be killed for the sake of four or five lanterns," added another.
"It's not a question of the worth of the lanterns," said Dave. "We mustn't leave them here because of the danger of fire. If we left them, and the ice-houses burnt down, we'd have a nice bill to pay!"
"Oh, don't croak so much!" growled Nat Poole. "I'm going back to school. It's cold here."
"You stay where you are, Nat!" cried Ben, catching him by the arm. "You'll go back with the rest of us, and not before."
With caution Dave, followed by Phil and Shadow, approached the ice-house, and climbed up one of the ladders nailed to the side of the building. Then they ventured out on a corner of the slide, and secured two of the lanterns.
"We'll have to go down part of the slide for that other," said the shipowner's son.
"No, don't do that, for your weight may bring the slide down," returned Dave. "I'll get a long stick and see if I can't get the lantern with that."
A stick was handy, and fixing a bent nail in the end, Dave reached down, and after a little trouble secured the lantern. Then the boys went below and secured the lanterns in the sawdust pit.
"Hi! what are you boys doing here?" demanded an unexpected voice from out of the darkness, and by the light of the lanterns the students saw a man approaching. He had a stick in one hand and an old-fashioned horse-pistol in the other.
"Who are you?" questioned Buster, as leader of the Gee Eyes.
"Who am I? I am Bill Cameron, the owner of these ice-houses, that's who I am! And I know you, in spite of them tomfoolery dresses you've got on. You're boys from Oak Hall."
"You've hit the nail on the head, Mr. Cameron!" cried Phil. "Glad to see you!" And he walked forward and held out his hand.
"Who be you?" demanded Bill Cameron, and peered at the shipowner's son curiously. "Well, I declare, if it ain't the young man as stopped the runaway hoss fer my wife! Glad to see you!" And the ice-house man shook hands cordially. "Up to some secret fun, I suppose."
"I thought I heard a yellin' around the icehouses, and I told my wife I'd dress and come over and see what it meant. Hope you ain't done no damage," the man continued, somewhat anxiously.
"We have done a little damage, I am afraid," answered Phil. "But we are willing to pay for it."
"What did ye do?"
In as few words as possible Phil and some of the others explained the situation. They were afraid Bill Cameron would be angry, but instead he broke into a laugh.
"Ain't it the greatest ever!" he cried. "You ain't done no damage at all. The carpenters put that wooden slide up wrong, and I told 'em they'd have to take it down, and they started to-day. That's what made them bracin's bust. The hull thing is comin' down,—so what you did don't hurt, nohow."
"I am very glad to hear that!" cried Phil, and the others said practically the same. Then they bade good-night to the ice-houses' owner, and hurried in the direction of Oak Hall.
"It's a good thing, Phil, that you knew Mr. Cameron," said Dave, on the way. "But you never told me about stopping a runaway horse for Mrs. Cameron."
"Oh, it wasn't much!" answered the shipowner's son, modestly. "It happened last June, just before we started for Star Ranch. The horse was running along the river road, and I got hold of him and stopped him, that's all. Mrs. Cameron was going to tell Doctor Clay about it, but I got her to keep quiet."
"Phil, you're a hero!" And Dave gave his chum's arm a squeeze that made Phil wince, but with pleasure.
Murphy, the monitor, was on the watch for them, and let them in by a back door. All lost no time in getting to their dormitories and in undressing and going to bed. Everybody in the crowd was satisfied over the initiations but Nat Poole. His plot to expose Dave and his chums had failed, and he was correspondingly sour.
"But I'll fix them yet," muttered the moneylender's son, to himself. "Just wait till they start to play Rockville, that's all!" And the thought of what he had in mind to do made him smile grimly.
It must be confessed that some of the football players felt rather sleepy the next morning. Dave was sleepy himself, and this alarmed him not a little.
"If we lose the game with Rockville to-day it will be our own fault," he said, to the crowd that had participated in the Gee Eyes' doings. "We should have gotten home at least an hour earlier than we did last night—or rather this morning." And then he made each player take a good rubbing down and just enough exercise to limber up his muscles.
Dave had not forgotten what had been said about Nat Poole, and directly after breakfast he called Chip Macklin to one side. As my old readers know, Chip had once been the sneak of the school, and he knew well how to hang around and take notice of what was going on.
"Chip, I've got some work for you," said Dave, in a low voice. "I may be mistaken—in fact, I hope for the honor of the school that I am. But I don't trust Nat Poole. He is down on some of us because we have gotten back on the eleven, and you'll remember how chummy he used to be with Jasniff and Merwell, who are now going to Rockville,—and with Rand and Frapley, and they are now going to the academy also. I am afraid that Nat——"
"That Nat will try to sell you out?" finished Chip, his little eyes snapping expectantly.
"Yes. He may give our signals away, or something like that."
"I see. And you want me to watch—and report, if I see anything wrong?"
"I'll do it. I'd like to catch him—for he never treats me decently," added Chip.
It had been decided that some of the boys should go to Rockville by boats and others by carriages and on their bicycles and motor-cycles. The eleven were to go in the school carryall, and Mr. Dodsworth and Andrew Dale were to go with them.
Owing to the change in the academy management, but little had been done to the athletic field, and when the Oak Hall club arrived, they found the grounds rather uneven and poorly marked.
"Bad for really good playing," remarked Dave.
"You'll have to be on your guard," warned Andrew Dale. "This field should have been rolled down after the last storm."
The grandstand was rather a small affair, and it speedily became filled with visitors, for the annual football game between the two schools was always a great drawing card. Flags and banners were much in evidence, and so were horns and rattles.
"I wonder if any outsiders we know are present?" remarked Roger to his chums, as they walked across the field.
"Somebody is waving from the corner of the stand," answered Phil. "I think it is Miss Rockwell."
"It is, and Miss Feversham is with her, and so is Mr. Rockwell," answered Dave, and then the boys took off their caps in salutation. And then they recognized a number of other friends.
The eleven had just turned into its dressing-room, to prepare for the game, when Chip Macklin came running in all out of breath.
"I want to see Dave!" he gasped, and then, as soon as the pair had walked to a corner, he went on: "I caught Nat."
"What doing?" demanded Dave, quickly.
"Giving all of your signals away to Merwell, Jasniff, and one of the Rockville football players. He started to tell about your trick plays when he saw me standing near, and shut up."
"Where is he now?"
"In the grandstand, with some girl."
"I will attend to this at once, Chip. Come with me."
Dave led the small student out of the dressing-room, and called Andrew Dale and Mr. Dodsworth. Quickly the situation was explained. The school teacher looked shocked, and the gymnastic instructor was disgusted.
"I will take care of Poole," said Mr. Dale, in a strained voice. "Mr. Dodsworth, you had better arrange for a change of signals."
"I will," answered the gymnastic instructor. And then Andrew Dale hurried off, and Dave returned to the dressing-room, accompanied by Mr. Dodsworth. The signals were re-arranged, and so were the signs for some of the new trick plays.
"Now then, boys, let me give you a bit of advice," said Mr. Dodsworth, when they were ready to go out on the field for practice. "From what I have heard Rockville has good staying powers, and will try to tire you out. Your move is to go at them with a jump and make your points early in the game—and then hold them down. Now do your best—and don't give in until the last whistle blows!"