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CHAPTER X


DAVE SPEAKS HIS MIND


"Here they come!"

"The Whistler is ahead!"

"Yes, but the Snowbird is crawling up!"

"See, the Venus has given up."

So the cries ran on, as the ice-boats drew closer and closer to the finishing line of the contest. It was true the Venus, the craft from the Rockville Military Academy, had fallen far behind and had given up. The third boat was also well to the rear, so the struggle was between the Oak Hall craft and the Whistler only.

"I hope we win!" cried Dave, enthusiastically.

"Oh, how mean!" answered Vera, reproachfully. "Well, I—er—I don't mean that exactly, but I'd like to see my brother's friends come in ahead."

"One thing is sure—it's going to be close," continued Dave. "Can you see at all?"

"Not much—there is such a crowd in front."

"Too bad! Now if you were a little girl, I'd lift you on my shoulder," and he smiled merrily.

"Oh, the idea!" And Vera laughed roundly. "I can see the tops of the masts, anyway. They seem to be about even."

"They are. I think——"

"A tie! a tie!" was the cry. Then a wild cheer went up, as both ice-boats crossed the line side by side. A second later the crowd broke out on the course and began skating hither and thither.

"Is it really a tie?" asked the girl.

"So it seems."

"Well, I am glad, for now we can both be satisfied." Vera looked around somewhat anxiously. "Have you seen anything of Mary Feversham? She came skating when I did."

"You mean the other young lady who was with you on that ice-boat?"

"Yes."

"No, I haven't seen her. Perhaps we can find her if we skate around a bit."

"Oh, but I don't want to trouble you."

"It is no trouble, it will be a pleasure. We might——"

At that moment a number of skaters swept by, including Nat Poole. The dudish student smiled at Vera and then, noticing Dave, stared in astonishment.

"Do you know him?" asked Vera, and for a moment she frowned.

"Yes, he belongs to our school."

"Oh!" She drew down the corners of her pretty mouth. "I—I didn't know that."

"We are not very friendly—he doesn't belong to my set," Dave went on, for he had not liked that smile from Poole, and he was sure Vera had not liked it either.

"He spoke to us once—Mary and me—one day last week when we were skating. He was dressed in the height of fashion, and I suppose he thought we would be glad to know him. But we didn't answer him. Ever since that time he has been smiling at us. I wish he'd stop. If he doesn't I shall tell my big brother about it."

"If he annoys you too much let me know and I'll go at him myself," answered Dave, readily. "I've had plenty of trouble with him in the past, but I shan't mind a little more." And then he told of some of the encounters with the dudish student. Vera was greatly interested and laughed heartily over the jokes that had been played.

"You boys must have splendid times!" she cried. "Oh, don't you know, sometimes I wish I were a boy!" And then she told something of her own doings and the doings of Mary Feversham, who was her one chum. Along with their relatives, the girls had spent the summer on the St. Lawrence, and the previous winter they had been to Florida, which made Dave conclude that they were well-to-do.

They skated around a little more and soon met Mary Feversham, who was with Vera's big brother. Then Roger and Phil came up; and all were introduced to each other.

"The girls told me about the big snowball affair," said Rob Rockwell. "I told 'em it served 'em right for going out with those Military Academy chaps. Those fellows never struck me right—they put on too many airs. We wouldn't stand for that sort of thing at my college."

"Well, the race was a tie between our boat and the boat of your friend," said Dave, to change the subject. "They'll have to race over again some day."

"Jackson let one of his ropes break at the turn," answered Rob Rockwell. "That threw his sail over and put him behind—otherwise he might have won."

Rob was a college youth, big, round-faced, and with a loud voice and somewhat positive manner. But he was a good fellow, and Dave and his chums took to him immediately, and the two parties did not separate until it was time for the Oak Hall students to return to that institution. At parting Vera gave Dave a pleasant smile.

"Remember the dog," she said.

"I certainly shall," he answered, and smiled in return.

"What did she mean about a dog?" questioned Roger, a minute later, when the chums were skating for the school dock.

"Oh, not much," answered Dave, evasively. "She told me where she lived and I said I remembered seeing her little black dog, and then she said he could do all kinds of tricks, and if I'd stop there some time she'd show me." And hardly knowing why, Dave blushed slightly.

"Oh, that's it," answered the senator's son, and then said no more. But in his heart he was just a little bit jealous because he had not been invited to call too. Vera's open-hearted, jolly manner pleased him fully as much as it pleased Dave.

"They are all-right girls," was Phil's comment, when the boys were taking off their skates. "That Vera Rockwell is full of fun, I suspect. But I rather prefer Mary Feversham, even if she is more quiet."

"Going to marry her soon, Phil?" asked Dave, quizzically.

"Sure," was the unabashed reply. "The ceremony will take place on the thirty-first of next February, at four minutes past two o'clock in the evening. Omit flowers, but send in all the solid silver dollars you wish." And this remark caused the others to laugh.

Two days later Link Merwell came back to school. Dave did not see the bully on his arrival, and the pair did not meet until Dave went to one of the classrooms to recite. Then, much to his surprise, Merwell greeted him with a friendly nod.

"How do you do, Porter?" he said, pleasantly.

"How are you, Merwell?" was the cold response.

"Oh, I'm pretty well, thank you," went on Link Merwell, easily. "Fine weather we are having. I suppose skating is just elegant. I brought along a new pair of skates and I hope to have lots of fun on them." The bully came closer. "Had the pleasure of meeting your sister out West," he continued in a lower tone. "My I but I was surprised! You were a lucky dog to find your father and Laura. See you later." And the bully passed on to his seat.

Dave's face flushed and his heart beat rapidly. As my old readers know he had good cause to feel a resentment against Link Merwell, and it was maddening to have the bully mention Laura's name. He could see why the fellow was acting so cordially—it was solely on Laura's account. Evidently he considered his acquaintanceship with Laura quite an intimate one.

"I'll have to open his eyes to the truth," thought Dave. "And the sooner it is done the better." Then he turned to his lessons. But it was hard work to get the bully out of his mind, and he made several mistakes in reciting ancient history, much to Mr. Dale's surprise.

"You will have to study this over again," said the head teacher, kindly. And he marked a 6 against Dave's name, when the pupil might have had a 10.

Dave's opportunity to "have it out" with Link Merwell came the next afternoon, when he had gone for a short skate, previous to starting work on the essay which he hoped would win the prize. The two met at the boathouse, and fortunately nobody else was near.

"Going skating, I see," said Merwell, airily. "Finest sport going, I think. I wish your sister was here to enjoy it with us, don't you? I sent her a letter to-day. I suppose she told you we were having a little correspondence—just for fun, you know."

"See here, Link Merwell, we may as well have an understanding now as later," began Dave, earnestly. " I want to talk to you before anybody comes. I want you to leave my sister alone,—I want you to stop speaking about her, and stop writing to her. She told me about her trip west, and how she met you, and all that. At that time she didn't know you as I know you. But I've told her about you, and you can take it from me that she doesn't want to hear from you again. She is very sorry she ever met you and wrote to you."

"Oh, that's it, eh?" Link Merwell's face had grown first red and then deathly pale. "So you put in your oar, eh? Blackened my character all you could, I suppose." He shut his teeth with a snap. "You'd better take care!"

"I simply told her the truth."

"Oh, yes, I know just how you can talk, Porter! And did she say she wouldn't write to me any more?"

"She did. Now I want to know something more. What did you do with the letters she sent you?"

"I kept them."

"I want you to give them to me."

"To you?"

"Yes, and I will send them to her."

"Not much! They are my letters and I intend to keep them!" cried Link Merwell. His face took on a cunning look. "If you think you are going to get those letters away from me you are mistaken."

"Maybe I can force you to give them up, Merwell."

"What will you do—fight? If you try that game, Porter, I'll let every fellow in this school know what brought the fight about—and let them read the letters."

"You are a gentleman, I must say," answered Dave. He paused for a moment. "Then you won't give them up?"

"Positively, no."

"Then listen to me, Link Merwell. Sooner or later I'll make you give them up. In the meantime, if I hear of your letting anybody else read those letters, or know of them, I'll give you a ten times worse thrashing than I did before I left this school to go to Europe. Now remember that, for I mean every word I say."

"You can't make me give up the letters," said Merwell, doggedly. He was somewhat cowed by Dave's earnest manner.

"I can and I will."

"Maybe you think I've got them in my trunk? If so, you are mistaken."

"I don't care where you have them—I'll get them sometime. And remember, don't you dare to write to my sister again, or don't you dare to speak to her when you meet her."

"To listen to your talk, you'd think you were my master, Porter," sneered the bully, but his lips trembled slightly as he spoke.

"Not at all. But I want you to let my sister alone, that's all. All the decent fellows in this school know what you are, and it is no credit to any young lady to know you."

"Bah! I consider myself a better fellow than you are," snarled the bully. "You are rich now, but we all know how you were brought up,—among a lot of poorhou——"

Link Merwell stopped suddenly and took a hasty step backward. At his last words Dave's fists had doubled up and a light as of fire had come into his eyes.

"Not another word, Merwell," said Dave, in a strained voice. "Not one—or I'll bang your head against the wall until you yell for mercy. I can stand some things, but I can't stand that—and I won't!"

A silence followed, during which each youth glared at the other. Merwell had his skates in his hand and made a movement as if to lift them up and bring them down on Dave's head. But then his arm dropped to his side, for that terrible look of danger was still in the eyes of the youth who had spent some years of his life in the Crumville poorhouse.

"We'll have this out some other time," he muttered, and slunk out of the boathouse like a whipped cur.