Dave Porter and His Rivals/Chapter 24



"Go it, everybody!"

"May the best skater win!"

"Don't try to skate too fast, Ben. Remember, the race is two miles long!"

"Hello, there goes one fellow down!"

"It's Luke Watson. He has lost his skate."

The last report was correct, and as the skate could not be adjusted without the loss of some time, Luke gave up, and watched the others.

Nat Poole was exceedingly anxious to win the race, and he had been partly instrumental in getting up the contest. His new skates were of the best, and it must be admitted that Nat was no mean skater.

Phil had good skates and so had Roger. Dave's skates were only fair, and were very much in need of sharpening.

Away went Nat at top speed, soon drawing half a dozen yards ahead of his competitors. Behind him came a student named Powers, and then followed Ben, Roger, Phil, Dave, and the others.

"I don't think I can win!" sang out Dave to his chums. "These skates slip too much. But I'll do my best."

"Come on, you slow-coaches!" cried Ben, merrily, and then he shot forward until he was abreast of Nat. Seeing this, the money-lender's son put on an extra burst of speed, and went ahead again.

"Say, Nat Poole is certainly skating well!" cried one of the onlookers. "He'll make a record if he keeps it up."

"I don't think he can keep it up," answered another.

In a very few minutes the turning point was gained, and Nat made a sharp curve and started back. The turn brought him directly in front of Dave.

"Clear the track!" he roared. "Clear the track, I say!"

"Clear the track yourself!" answered Dave. Nevertheless, as Nat came closer, he swerved a little to one side so that the money-lender's son might pass. As Nat swept on he swung his arms freely, and one fist took Dave in the side.

"Foul! foul!" cried several who saw the move.

"It was his own fault!" Nat retorted. "I told him to get out of the way! " And off he started for the finishing line.

Dave said nothing, but kept on, reaching the turning point a few seconds later. Phil and Roger were just ahead of him, and Plum was beside him.

"Go on and win!" he shouted. "I can't keep up with these skates!"

"Here goes for a finish!" yelled Phil, and darted ahead, with Roger at his heels. Then Plum flashed forward, and soon the three were side by side, with Dave about three yards to the rear, followed by Powers.

Coming down the homestretch, Nat Poole thought he had it all to himself. He was glad of it, for he had set such a fast pace at the start that he was becoming winded, and he had to fairly gasp for breath. He looked over his shoulder, and as nobody was near he slackened his speed a little.

"Keep it up, Nat!" yelled one of his supporters. "Go it, old man!"

"Morr and Lawrence are crawling up!"

"So is Plum!"

These last cries startled Nat, and he sought to strike out as he had at the start. But his wind was now completely gone—and the finishing line was still a quarter of a mile away.

"There goes Morr to the front!"

"Lawrence is after him, and so is Plum!"

"Here comes Basswood!"

"What's the matter with Porter? He is dropping behind."

"He said his skates were dull."

"Oh, that's only an excuse!" sneered one of the students who had been put off of the football eleven that term.

"It's true," answered Tom Hally. "I saw the skates myself. Can't you see how he slips when he strikes out?"

On and on went the skaters. Nat was still ahead, but now Roger and Phil came up on one side, and Gus Plum on the other, while Ben came up close in the rear. Behind Ben was Dave, determined to see the race out even if he did not win.

With the finishing line but a hundred feet away, Phil, Roger, and Gus Plum shot to the front. Then Ben followed. Nat Poole tried to keep up, but could not. Then of a sudden Dave went ahead also.

"Nat is dropping behind!"

"He put on too much steam at the start!"

"There goes Porter ahead of him!"

"See, Morr, Lawrence, and Plum are even!"

"Yes, and there comes Ben Basswood up to them!"

"Here they come! Clear the way, everybody!"

With a rush the skaters came on. For one brief instant Roger was ahead, but then the others put on a burst of speed, and over the line they came, amid a great yelling and cheering.

"A tie between Morr, Plum, and Lawrence!"

"And Basswood and Porter tied for second place!"

"Nat Poole wasn't in it, after all."

"My skate got loose," grumbled Nat, as he came up slowly. "If it hadn't been for that I would have won."

"That's an old excuse, Nat!" shouted a boy in the rear of the crowd. "Invent something new! " And a laugh went up, that angered the money-lender's son greatly. He took his defeat bitterly, and lost no time in leaving the ice and disappearing from view.

"A fine race!" declared Mr. Dodsworth. "But I don't know how I am to award the prize."

"Cut it in three parts," suggested Buster.

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story," came from Shadow. "An old Irishman was dying and wanted to make his will. 'How do ye want to lave yer money, Pat?' asked his friend. 'Sure,' says Pat; 'I want to lave it all to me woif an' me four childer, equal loike, so ivery wan gits a quarter!'"

"We might have another race," suggested Mr. Dodsworth. "That is, if you are not too tired—I mean, of course, a race between those who were tied."

"Oh, let us cut sticks for it," suggested Phil.

"That will suit me," said Plum.

tired to race again."

So the three lads drew sticks for the prize, and Gus Plum won.

"Hello! I'm in luck!" cried Gus, and looked much pleased. The silver lead-pencil sharpener was passed over to him, and he thanked the gymnastic instructor warmly for it.

"I am glad he got it, since it pleases him," said Phil to Roger, and the senator's son nodded in agreement.

The only boy who felt sore over the race was Nat Poole, and he continued to declare that he would have won had his skate not come loose.

"But just wait," he said, to some of the students. "I'll show 'em what I can do when we get to playing hockey." And that very night he started in to organize an ice-hockey team. He did not consult Mr. Dodsworth or Andrew Dale, fearing that they would not favor his selection of players.

"They have nothing to do with hockey," Nat explained to his friends. "All they have to look after is baseball and football, and track athletics. Doctor Clay didn't say a word about ice hockey, or field hockey, either." This was true, the master of the Hall having probably forgotten all about those sports. Nevertheless, it was understood by the majority of the students that all games and contests held with parties outside of Oak Hall were to come under the supervision of the gymnastic instructor and Andrew Dale.

"What are you going to do with yourself tomorrow afternoon?" asked Roger of Dave, on going to bed Friday.

"I have a little business to attend to in Rockville, Roger."

"Is that so? Want me to go along?"

This was a question Dave had dreaded to have asked, and he hardly knew how to answer. He determined to be as frank as possible.

"No, Roger. I am sorry, but the party I am going to see asked me to come alone."

"Oh, all right. I just thought I'd mention it."

"If it hadn't been for that I should like very much to have you and Phil along," continued Dave, earnestly. "But I can't take anybody."

"Must be going to see a girl," and the senator's son looked at his chum quizzically.

"No, it is not a girl. Now please don't ask me any more questions."

"Just as you say, Dave," answered Roger, and then began to get ready to go to bed. He could not help but wonder what the business was, and why Dave was so secretive about it.

In the morning Dave had to go through the same kind of a scene with Phil. The shipowner's son was as much mystified as Roger, and after Dave had departed, the pair walked into the warm gymnasium to talk the matter over.

"Dave has something on his mind," said Roger. "I noticed it yesterday."

"So did I, Roger. What is it, do you suppose?"

"I don't know, excepting it may be about Merwell and Jasniff. He said it wasn't about those girls."

"Do you think he is going to meet Merwell and Jasniff in Rockville?"

"Possibly. I can't think of anything else."

"If Dave got into trouble, I'd like to be on hand to help him."

"So would I. But I guess Dave knows how to take care of himself." And then the subject was dropped, and the two students began to exercise with some Indian clubs.

In the meantime, Dave was on his way to Rockville. As the road was clear of snow he used his bicycle, and soon covered the distance to the town. He passed along the river road to the sawmill, and then kept his eyes open for Mrs. Dunn's house.

"This must be the place," he said to himself, as he reached a dilapidated residence, located in what had once been a fine flower garden, but which was now a tangle of rank bushes and weeds. The gate was off, and leaping from his wheel, he trundled his bicycle along the choked-up garden path to the front piazza. Then leaving his wheel against a tree, he mounted the steps and rang the old-fashioned turn bell.

Dave had approached the house boldly, thinking that possibly somebody might be watching him from behind the blinds of the windows, all of which were closed. Yet he was on his guard, and in the lining of his overcoat he carried a stout stick, with which to defend himself should such a course be necessary.

No one answered his first summons, and he rang the rusty bell a second time. Then the front door was opened, and Doctor Montgomery showed himself.

"Ah, how do you do!" he said, with a bland smile. "Walk right in, Mr. Porter. I see you are on time."

Dave hesitated for a moment, and then entered the broad hallway of the house. In front of him was a long flight of stairs leading to the second floor, and on either side were doors leading to the parlor and to a dining-room.

"Mrs. Dunn isn't feeling very well, so I had to come to the door myself," explained Hooker Montgomery, smoothly. "She used to take some drug-store medicine and it did her no good. Now she is taking my remedies, and she will soon be herself." He said this so naturally that Dave was thrown a little off his guard. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Dunn was not at home, having gone away to visit a sister in Albany. It was because of her absence that the tricky doctor had invited Dave to come to the house. Had she been at home his schemes would have necessitated meeting Dave somewhere else.

"Doctor, I haven't much time to spare, so I hope you will get at the bottom of what you want without delay," said Dave, after the door had been closed and locked by the physician. It was so dark in the hall he could hardly see.

"I'll not take much of your time, sir,—not over half an hour at the most," was the reply from Hooker Montgomery. "But all of the documents and letters and photographs are in my room, on the second floor. Kindly come up there and look at them." And the man started up the stairs. Dave hesitated for a moment, wondering if it would be best to go up, and then followed.