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CHAPTER XI


AT THE OLD GRANARY


There was to be a skating race that afternoon and Dave had thought to take part. But now he was in no humor for mingling with his fellow-students and so took a long walk, along the snow-covered road beyond Oak Hall.

At first his mind was entirely on Link Merwell, and on his sister Laura and the letters she had written to the bully. To be sure, Laura had told him that the letters contained only a lot of girlish nonsense, yet he was more than sorry Merwell held them and he would have given much to have gotten them away from the fellow he despised.

Returning to the Hall some time before supper, Dave went up to his dormitory. Only Bertram Vane was there, translating Latin.

"Come to study, Dave?" he questioned pleasantly, hardly glancing up from his work.

"I've come to work on that essay, Polly," Dave answered.

"You mean the Past and Future of Our Country?"

"Yes. Shall you try for the prize?"

"I may—I haven't got that far yet. It seems to me you are beginning early."

"Oh, I am merely going to jot down some ideas I have. Then, from time to time, I'll add to those ideas, and do the real writing later."

"That's a good plan. Maybe——" And then Polly Vane stopped speaking and lost himself in his Latin lesson. He was very studious as well as girlish, but one of the best fellows in the school.

Dave went to work, and so easily did his ideas flow that it was supper time before he had them all transferred to paper. The subject interested him greatly and he felt in his heart that he could do it full justice.

"But I must work carefully," he told himself. "If I don't, some other paper may be better than mine."

The students were flocking in from the campus, the gymnasium, and the river. Some came upstairs, to wash up before going to the dining room. Among the number was Chip Macklin, the young pupil who had in times gone by been the toady of Gus Plum when Plum had been the Hall bully.

"Oh, Dave Porter!" cried Chip, and running up, he clutched Dave by the arm.

"What is it, Chip?" asked Dave, seeing the little boy was white and trembling. "What's wrong?"

"I—I—I don't know whether to tell you or not," whispered Chip. "It's awful—dreadful!" He looked around, to make certain nobody else was near.

"What is awful?"

Again Chip looked around. "You won't say that I told you, will you? I suppose I ought to tell somebody—or do something—but perhaps Plum wouldn't like it. He can't be left out where he is,—he might freeze to death!"

"See here, Chip, explain yourself," and Dave's voice became somewhat stern.

"I will! I will! But it is so awful! Why, the Doctor may suspend Gus! And I thought he was going to reform!" Chip Macklin's voice trembled so he could hardly frame the words.

"Will you tell me just what you mean?"

"I will if—if you'll try to help Gus, Dave. Oh, I know you'll help him—you did before! It's such a shame to see him throw himself away!"

Dave looked the small student in the eyes and there was a moment of silence.

"I guess I know what you mean, Chip. Where is Gus?"

"Come on and I'll show you."

The pair hurried downstairs. In the lower hall they ran into Shadow.

"I "was looking for you, Dave," said the story-teller of the school. "I want you to do something for me and—and for Gus Plum."

"Why, Shadow, Chip—— What do you know about Gus?"

The three boys stared at each other. On the instant they felt all knew what was wrong.

"Was that what you said you'd tell me about sometime, Shadow?" asked Dave, in a whisper.

"Yes."

"Then it has happened before?"

"Yes, about three weeks after you and Roger went to Europe. I met him on the road, coming to the school after spending several hours at some tavern in Oakdale. He wouldn't say where he got the liquor. I wouldn't let him come to Oak Hall until late at night. Then we got in by a side door and I helped him to get to bed. In the morning he was quite sick, but I don't think anybody suspected the cause. That afternoon he told me he would never touch liquor again."

While Shadow was talking the three boys had left the school buildings and were hurrying around to the rear of one of the carriage sheds. Here was a small building which had once been used as a granary but was now partly filled with old garden implements and cut wood.

It was dark in the building and from a corner came the sounds of somebody breathing heavily. Shadow struck a match and held it up.

There, upon a pile of old potato sacks, lay Gus Plum, sleeping soundly. Close at hand lay a small flask which had contained liquor but which was now empty. Dave smelt of it, and then, going to the doorway, threw it far out into the deep snow.

If Dave's heart had never been heavy before it was heavy now. Gus Plum had promised faithfully to reform and he had imagined that the former bully would keep his word. But, according to Shadow's statement, Plum had fallen from grace twice, and if he would reform at all was now a question.

"It's fearful, isn't it, Dave?" said the story-teller of the school, in a whisper.

"Yes, Shadow, I—I hardly know what to say—I hoped for so much from Gus—I thought he'd make one of the best fellows in this school after all—after he had lived down the past. But now——" Dave's voice broke and he could not go on for a moment.

"We can't leave him here—and if we take him into the school——" began Chip Macklin.

"How long has he been here?"

"Not over an hour or two," answered Shadow.

"He must have gone to town for the liquor."

"Unless he had it on hand—he went to town a couple of days ago," said Chip.

"We've got to do something quick—or we'll be missed from the dining hall," continued Shadow.

"You fellows can go back, Shadow; I'll take care of him. Make some kind of an excuse for my absence—say I didn't care for anything to eat."

"But what will you do, Dave?"

"I don't know yet—but I'll fix it up somehow, This must be kept a secret, not only on Gus's account but for the honor of Oak Hall. If this got out to the public, it would give the school a terrible black eye."

"I know that. Why, my father would never let me attend a school where there was any drinking going on."

"Doctor Clay isn't responsible for this—nobody is responsible but Gus himself,—unless somebody led him on. But go on, there goes the last bell for supper."

Shadow passed over half a dozen matches he carried and went out, followed by Chip Macklin. Dave stood in the dark, listening to Gus Plum's heavy breathing. He did not know what to do, yet he felt he had a duty to perform and he made up his mind to perform it. At any hazard he must keep the former bully from public exposure, and he must do his best to make Plum reform once more. He uttered a prayer that Heaven might help him to do what was best.

Lighting another match, Dave espied an old lantern on a shelf, half filled with dirty oil, and lit it. Then he approached Plum and touched him on the arm. The sleeping youth did not awaken, and even when Dave shook him he still slumbered on.

To take him into the school in that condition was out of the question, yet it would not do to let him remain in the old granary, where during the night he might freeze to death. Dave thought of the barn, with its warm hay, and blowing out the lantern, left the granary and walked to the other buildings.

Fortune favored him, for neither Lemond nor the stableman was around, both being at supper in the servants' quarters. There was a back door and a ladder to the hayloft which might be used. He ran back to the granary, picked up Gus Plum and the lantern, and started on the trip. The former bully of the school was no light weight and Dave staggered under the load. Once he slipped in the snow and almost went down, but saved himself in time and kept on. Then came the tug up the ladder. During this Plum's hand was pinched and he uttered a grunt.

"Shay—don't touch me," he muttered thickly, but before Dave could answer he was slumbering again.

The hayloft gained, Dave deposited his burden in a far corner, where nobody was likely to see or hear him. He lit the lantern and made Plum a comfortable bed and covered him up, so that he might not take cold. Then he took a card from his pocket and wrote on it in leadpencil:

"Gus:
"I brought you here from the old granary. Nobody but Chip and Shadow know and they will keep silent. Please, please brace up and be a man.

"Dave."

This card he fastened by a string to Plum's wrist. Then he put out the lantern, left the barn, and hurried back to the school. As he entered he found Shadow on the watch.

"Just got through with supper," whispered the youth. "Nobody asked about you. I guess you can slip into your seat and get something, anyway." And Dave did this without trouble. That Job Haskers should miss a chance to mark him down for tardiness was remarkable, but the fact was Haskers was in a hurry to get away and consequently did not notice all that was taking place.

Dave did not sleep well that night, and he roused up a dozen times or more, thinking he heard Gus Plum coming in. But all the alarms were false, for Gus Plum did not show himself until breakfast time. He looked flushed and sick and ate scarcely a mouthful. Some of his dormitory mates wanted to know where he had been during the night, but he did not tell them.

At first Dave thought he would go to the former bully and talk to him, but then he concluded to let the matter rest with Plum. The latter came to him just before the noon session.

"Will you take a skate with me after school, Dave?" he asked, very humbly.

"Certainly, Gus."

"I—I want to go with you alone," faltered the big lad.

"Very well—I shan't tell any of the others," returned Dave.

A fine snow was falling when the school session was over, but none of the pupils minded this. Dave took his skates and went to the river, and Plum followed. Soon the pair were skating by themselves. When they had turned a bend, Plum led the way to a secluded spot, under the widespreading branches of an oak, and with a deep sigh threw himself down on a rock.

"I suppose you've got your own opinion of me," he began, bitterly, and with his face turned away. "I don't blame you—it's what I deserve. I hadn't any right to promise you that I'd reform, for it doesn't seem to be in me. My appetite for liquor is too strong for me. Now, don't say it isn't, for I know it is."

"Why, Gus——"

"Please don't interrupt me, Dave; it's hard enough for me to talk as it is. But you've been my one good friend, and I feel I've got to tell you the whole truth. I want you to know it all—everything. Will you listen until I have finished?"

"Certainly. Go ahead."