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CHAPTER XII


GUS PLUM'S STORY


"You may think it strange when I tell you that I come by my appetite for liquor naturally, yet such is a fact," began Gus Plum, after a pause, during which he seemed to collect his thoughts. "You fellows who don't know what such an appetite is are lucky—far more lucky than you can realize. It's an awful thing to have such an appetite—it makes one feel at times as though he were doomed.

"We always had liquor at our house and my folks drank it at meals, just as their folks had done before them, so I heard. When I was a small boy I was allowed to have my glass of wine, and on holidays we had punch and I got my share. Sometimes, I can remember, friends remonstrated with my folks for letting me have the stuff, but my father would laugh and say it was all right—that he had had it himself when he was a boy and that it wouldn't hurt me. My father never drank to excess, to my knowledge, but his brother, my uncle, did, and once when Uncle Jim was under the influence of liquor, he slipped under a street car and had his arm crushed so badly he had to have it amputated.

"My uncle's losing that arm scared me a little. I was then about ten years old, and I made up my mind I wouldn't drink much more. But the stuff tasted good to me and I didn't want to break off entirely. So I continued to drink a little and then a little more, until I thought I couldn't have my dinner without wine, or something like that, to go with it.

"When I was about thirteen a lady I knew well gave a New Year's party to a lot of young folks, and I was invited. I was one of the youngest boys there. The lady had punch, set out in a big cut-glass bowl on a stand in a corner of the hall, with sandwiches and cake alongside. I tried that punch and liked it, and I drank so much that I got noisy, and the lady had to send me home in her carriage.

"I guess that woke my father up to the fact that matters were going too far, and he told me I mustn't drink liquor away from home. He couldn't stop me from drinking at our house, for he had it himself there. But he had helped me to get the appetite, and I couldn't stop. On the next Fourth of July I spent my money in a tavern some distance away from where we lived, and there some rascals—I can't call them men—treated me liberally, just to see me make a fool of myself, I suppose. The fellows teased me until I got in a rage and I took up a bottle and cracked it to pieces over one fellow's head, injuring him badly.

"This brought matters to a climax and my father told me he was going to send me to boarding school. I did not want to go at first, but he said he felt sure it would do me good, and finally I went to Sandville, and then came to Oak Hall.

"At first all went well, for I saw no liquor and got little chance to get any, but after a while the appetite forced itself on me once more, and—and you know what followed."

As Gus Plum concluded he covered his face with his hands and looked the picture of misery and despair. Dave had sunk down on the rock beside him and he placed a hand on the other's shoulder.

"Is that all, Gus?" he asked, quietly.

"About all," was the low answer. "But I want you to know one thing more, Dave. When you went away to Europe I intended to keep my promise and make a man of myself. I got along all right at first, but one Saturday afternoon Link Merwell asked me to go to Rockville with him."

"Merwell!"

"Yes. I don't care for him much, yet he was very friendly and I said I'd go. We visited a place where they have a poolroom in the rear, and he urged me to play pool with him, and I did. Then he offered me a cigar, and finally he treated to liquor. I said I had stopped drinking, but he laughed at me and held a glass of strong stuff to my face and dared me to take it,—said I was a baby to refuse. And I took it,—and then I treated him, and we both took too much. I came back to school alone, for we got into a row when he spoke of you and said mean things about you. When I got to Oak Hall I might have gotten into more trouble, only Shadow Hamilton cared for me, as maybe you know. Merwell wasn't under the influence of liquor very much, but he had enough to be ugly, and he got into a row with Mr. Dale and came pretty near to being sent home. Then he had another row with the teacher and went off on his vacation. He somehow blamed Phil Lawrence, but Phil had nothing to do with it."

"Yes, Phil wrote to me about that last row," answered Dave. "But to come back to yourself, Gus." His face grew sober. "You've certainly had a hard time of it, and, somehow, I don't think you alone are to blame for all that has happened. I have no appetite for liquor, but I think I can understand something of what it means. But let me tell you one thing." Dave's voice grew intensely earnest. "It's all nonsense to say you are not going to reform—that you can't do it. You can reform if you'll only use your whole will power."

"But look at what I've tried already!" Plum's tone was utterly hopeless. "Oh, you don't know how I've fought against it! People who haven't any appetite for liquor don't know anything about it. It's like a snake around your neck strangling you!"

"Well, I wouldn't give up—not as long as I had any backbone left. Just make up your mind from this minute on that you won't touch another drop of any kind, no matter who offers it. Don't say to yourself, 'Oh, I'll take a little now and then, and let it go at that.' Break off clean and clear,—and keep away from all places where liquor is sold."

"Yes, but——" Plum's voice was as hopeless as before.

"No 'buts' about it, Gus. I want you to make a man of yourself. You can do it if you'll only try. Won't you try?—for your own sake—for my sake—for the honor of Oak Hall? Say yes, and then thrust liquor out of your mind forever—don't even let yourself think of it. Get interested in your studies, in skating, boating, gymnastics, baseball,—anything. Before you know it, you'll have a death grip on that habit and it will have to die."

"Do you really believe that, Dave?"

"I do. Why, look at it—some men right down in the gutter have reformed, and they didn't possess any more backbone than you. All you want to do is to exert your will power. Fight the thing just as you used to fight me and some of the other fellows, and let that fight be one to a finish. Now, come, what do you say?"

"I'll fight!" cried Gus Plum, leaping to his feet and with a new light shining in his eyes. "I'll fight! Oh, Dave, you're a wonderful fellow, to put new backbone in me! I felt I had to give up—that I couldn't win out, that everything was against me. Now I'll do as you say. I won't even think of liquor again, and I won't go where I can get it."

"Give me your hand on that, Gus." The pair shook hands. "Now let us continue our skate. Perhaps we'll meet Shadow and Chip. I know they'll be glad to hear of what you intend to do. They want you to turn over a new leaf just as much as I do. And after this, take my advice and drop Link Merwell."

"I'll do it. As I said, I never cared much for him."

The two left the spot where the conversation had ensued and skated up the river for a considerable distance. As they disappeared another youth stole forth from behind some bushes near by and skated off in the opposite direction. The youth was Link Merwell.

"So that was the trouble with Gus Plum last night, and that is what he has got to say about me!" muttered the bully, savagely. "Well, I am glad I know so much of his history—it may come useful some time! He may get under Dave Porter's wing, but I am not done with him yet—nor done with Porter either!"

It was not long before Dave and Plum met Shadow, and a little later the three saw Chip Macklin. All four went off in a bunch, and Dave with much tact told of what Gus proposed to do.

"It is very nice of you to keep this a secret," said Plum. "I shall always remember it, and if I can ever do anything for any of you I'll do it. You are all good friends, and Dave is the best fellow I ever met!"

They skated on for fully a mile, the fine snow pelting them in the face. But nobody minded this, for all felt happy: Plum to think that he was going to have another chance to redeem himself, and the others over the consciousness that they had done a fellow-being some good.

"Time to get home!" cried Shadow, looking at his watch. "What do you say to a race back?"

"How much of a start will you give me?" asked Chip. "I've got no chance otherwise against you big fellows."

"We'll give you fifteen seconds," answered Dave. "One, two, three—go!"

Soon the race was on in earnest. Chip Macklin was well in the lead and the others started in a bunch. Gradually Shadow went ahead of Dave and Gus Plum, but then Plum drew closer, and when they reached the school dock, Plum and Dave were a tie, with Shadow and Chip close on their heels.

"That puts new life in a fellow!" declared Dave. "Gus, you came pretty near to beating me."

"Your wind is better than mine," was the answer. Plum felt he might have won had it not been for the dissipation of the day previous. Dissipation and athletic supremacy of any kind never go well together.

A week slipped by quietly and during that time Dave, Roger, and Phil got the chance to go rabbit hunting and brought in twelve rabbits. Gus Plum stuck to his resolve to do better, and during school hours gave his studies all his attention. When not thus employed he spent his time in skating, snowballing, and in the gymnasium. He avoided Link Merwell, and for the time being the bully left him alone.

During those days Dave received a letter from his sister Laura, to whom he had written after his talk with Merwell. Laura stated that all was going along finely at the Wadsworth home and that their father was thinking seriously of buying a fine mansion located across the street, which would keep the friends together. She added that she had received a letter from Link Merwell and had sent it back, writing across the top, "Please do not send any more."

"No wonder Merwell looks so sour," mused Dave, after reading his sister's communication. "I suppose he is mad enough at me to chew me up."

As my old readers know, there was at Oak Hall a secret society known as the Gee Eyes, this name standing for the initials G. I., which in their turn stood for the words Guess It. The society was kept up almost solely for the fun of initiating new members. On coming to the school Dave had had to submit to a strenuous initiation, which he had accepted without a murmur. All his chums were members, and the boys had gotten much fun out of the organization.

"Call for a special meeting of the Gee Eyes to-night," said Ben Basswood, one afternoon. "Going to initiate three new members—Tom Atwood and the Soden brothers. Be on hand early, at the old boathouse."

"What are we going to do to 'em?" asked Dave, with a grin.

"That is something Sam, Buster, and some of the others want to talk over. They'd like to do something brand-new."

"I think I can tell them of one thing to try," said Dave.

"What?"

"Make one of 'em think he is crossing Jackson's Gully on a narrow board."

"Good, Dave; that will do first-rate!" cried Ben. "I hope we can think of two other things equally good."

About an hour later Dave met some of the others, and a general discussion regarding the initiations for that evening took place. A score of "stunts" were suggested, and at last three were selected, and the committee got ready to carry out their plans.

Link Merwell was not a member of the Gee Eyes. He had once been proposed and been rejected, which had made him very angry. In some manner he heard of the proposed initiations, and he did his best to learn what was going on. As we know, he was not above playing the eavesdropper, and now he followed Dave and his friends to learn their secrets.

"So that is what they are up to," he said. "Well, let them go ahead. Perhaps I can put a spoke in their wheel when they least expect it!" And then he chuckled to himself as he thought of a plan to make the initiations end in disaster.