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CHAPTER XXVIII


LINK MERWELL HAS HIS SAY


As swiftly as they could the four boys rowed the girls to where they wanted to go. During the trip Roger spoke to Vera half a dozen times, and the coldness between them became a thing of the past. Sadie Fillmore was formally introduced, and all three girls said they were going to attend the next baseball game at Hilltop.

"My father has a tally-ho and we are going in that," said Sadie. Her parents were rich and lived in Oakdale in the summer and in New York City in the winter.

"Well, I hope you see a good game," answered Dave. He said nothing about Roger, Plum, and himself being only substitutes, for he did not wish to place Phil in an awkward position.

As soon as the girls were landed the boys rowed out into the river again, and there they held what might be termed an impromptu indignation meeting.

"Now, what do you think of that?" burst out Roger, referring to the conduct of Poole and Merwell. "I say such actions are a disgrace to Oak Hall."

"Yes, and those fellows ought to be tarred and feathered," added Phil.

"Doctor Clay ought to hear of this," came from Ben.

"I think I have a plan to teach them a lesson," said Dave.

"Let's have it," returned the senator's son, promptly.

"We'll tell them what we think of them and then leave them stuck on the sandbar without sending anybody to their assistance. Maybe they'll have to stay there all night. They won't like that—and without their supper, too!"

"Good! That's the cheese!" cried Ben, slangily. "I hope they have to go without their supper and breakfast, too!"

It was decided to refuse all assistance, and this agreed upon, the four rowed to the vicinity of the stranded motor boat. They found Poole and Merwell still on board, both waiting impatiently for their return.

"It's a wonder you wouldn't come!" cried Poole. "Do you think we want to stay here all night?"

"Can you pull us off?" asked Link Merwell. "If you can't, Nat and I want you to go to Oakdale and get the tug Ella Davis to do the job."

"You talk as if we were hired to work for you," answered Dave.

"I wasn't addressing you, Porter—I was talking to the others."

"Well, we are not in your employ either," answered Phil.

"Look here, Merwell, and you, too, Poole," said Roger. "We've got a big bone to pick with you, but it won't take long to pick it. We think that the way you acted toward those young ladies was disgraceful, and it reflects on the honor of Oak Hall. For two pins we'd tell some of the other students, and you'd be tarred and feathered or run out of the school. We——"

"It wasn't my fault!" interrupted Nat Poole, turning pale. "I—I was willing enough to take them across the riv——"

"Shut up!" growled Link Merwell. "We are not accountable to them for what we do. Don't make a fool of yourself."

"It was certainly an outrageous proceeding," said Ben. "If their folks wanted to make you suffer for it, they could do so."

"Oh, don't gas, Basswood. If you don't want to aid us, say so. We are not going to beg you to do so." And Link Merwell's face showed his hatred.

"We are going to leave you here, as you deserve," said Dave.

"No, no! Please don't do that!" pleaded Nat Poole. "I don't want to stay in this lonely part of the river all night!"

"Shut up—we can swim ashore!" whispered his crony.

"The water is too cold yet—I felt of it. It's like ice," answered Nat. He was plainly frightened.

"Listen," said Phil, in a low tone to his chums. "Nat says he wanted to take the girls across the river. Perhaps he isn't to blame as much as we think."

"He stood in with Merwell," answered Phil.

"Oh, don't leave us here!" cried the dudish student. " It looks as if it might rain to-night, and it will be cold, and——"

"Say, you make me sick," growled Merwell. "I wouldn't ask them for a favor now if I was dying!"

"See here, Poole," said Dave, after consulting his chums. "We'll take you off on one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you will promise to write a letter to each of the young ladies, apologizing for your conduct."

"Why, I—er—I——"

"You can take your choice," added Roger. "Apologize or stay here."

"I didn't mean any harm. I was willing to take them across, but Link——"

"That's right, blame it all on me!" burst out Merwell. "Well, I don't care. I'll not crawl to anybody! They can go to Halifax, for all I care! I don't want their aid."

"I'll—I'll apologize, if you'll take me back to the school," faltered Poole.

"All right then, get into the rowboat," said Phil.

"And mind you keep your promise, or you'll catch it! " added the senator's son.

The rowboat was brought close to the stern of the larger craft and the dudish student leaped on board. As he did this, Merwell caught up a boathook, gave the rowboat a shove, and almost capsized it.

"Let up, Merwell!" exclaimed Dave, and raising his oar, he hit the bully a blow on the shoulder and sent him sprawling in the bottom of the motor boat.

Then the rowboat floated away from the larger craft. If Link Merwell had been angry before, he was now in a perfect rage. Scrambling to his feet, he shook his fist at the others.

"Just wait!" he roared. "I'll fix you all for this, and you particularly, Dave Porter, you poorhouse rat! I'll make you wish you had never been born!"

"Come away!" cried Nat Poole, badly frightened. "Don't listen to him."

Dave Porter Classmates p299.jpg

Raising his oar, he hit the bully a blow on the shoulder.
Page 274.


"He acts as if he was crazy," was Phil's comment.

"I—I know what it is," returned Poole. "It's——" He hesitated.

"Has he been drinking?" demanded Dave. "Come, tell the truth, Nat?"

"Yes. He had a bottle of stuff with him, and he had one drink before we started and two more while we were waiting for you to come back. He isn't himself at all—so you mustn't mind what he says."

"He's a fool!" came bluntly from Ben.

"I made a mistake to go out with him. He's always that way when he's got anything to drink."

Dave's face was a study. When Merwell had called him "a poorhouse rat" he had gone white and his teeth had closed with a snap, but now, when he heard how the misguided youth was the victim of his own appetite, the lines softened into pity and nothing else.

"It's too bad," he said. "Why can't fellows leave drink alone?" And then he thought of poor Gus and how he had been tempted.

"We ought to take the stuff away from him," said Roger.

"It's too late for that—the bottle is empty, and Merwell threw it overboard," answered Poole.

"I don't think it safe to leave him out on the river alone," said Dave.

But none of the others would agree to go back, and so the rowboat was headed for the Oak Hall dock. They were just coming in sight of the place when they heard a put-put! on the river and looked back.

"Well, I declare, it's the motor boat!" ejaculated Roger.

"He must have got it off the bar somehow," said Phil.

"Maybe it slid off of itself," suggested Ben. "Although I don't see how it could."

Left to himself Link Merwell had started the engine full speed ahead. He was desperate and did not care whether he ruined the motor boat or not. Lightened of the weight of the other passengers, the boat had wormed its way over the bar and into deep water, and then he had started in pursuit of the rowboat.

"You didn't get the best of me, anyhow!" he sang out, as he passed them. Then he ran up to the dock, stopped the engine, and leaped ashore, and without waiting to tie up the craft, walked swiftly toward the school building and disappeared. That evening he left Oak Hall, to be gone for several days, on business for his father, so he told Doctor Clay. Whether this was true or not the boys never found out. They suspected, however, that he went off to have what he called a good time.

Those who had been out in the rowboat saw to it that Nat Poole wrote and mailed the letters of apology to the three girls, and then Dave and Ben gave the lad from Crumville a severe lecture, telling him that it would be to his credit to cut such a fellow as Merwell, who was bound, sooner or later, to drag him down.

"Merwell is by far the worst boy that ever came to Oak Hall," said Dave, "and sooner or later he will be expelled. What will your father say if you are expelled with him?"

"We want you to make a record," said Ben. "Not only for your own sake, but also for the honor of the town we come from, and for the honor of the school. You'll never gain anything by sticking in with Merwell. Gus Plum has cut him, and so have lots of the fellows, and you ought to do it. There are plenty of other good fellows in this school, even if you don't want to train with our particular crowd. Think it over, Nat."

And Nat Poole did think it over, and, as a consequence, from that day on he turned his back on Merwell and refused to have anything more to do with the dissolute bully.

The day for the second ball game with Rockville was perfect in every respect. The sun shone brightly and there was just sufficient breeze to make the air bracing. Everybody turned out to see the contest, and long before the umpire called "Play!" grand stand and bleachers were crowded.

The Rockville players were rather surprised to see Dave, Roger, and Plum on the bench while strangers filled their positions on the diamond. They asked each other, "What are we up against?" but none could answer that question.

The Military Academy nine went to the bat first, and much to the delight of Oak Hall, Purdy, the new pitcher, struck out two men, while the third knocked a foul that was easily gathered in by the new first baseman.

"That's the way to hold 'em down!" cried several.

"Purdy's a big improvement on Porter, eh?"

"It certainly looks that way."

In this first inning Oak Hall managed to score one run, which caused a wild cheering, in which Dave, Roger, and Gus readily joined. But in the second, third, and fourth they got only "goose eggs," while Rockville came in over the home plate six times. In the fourth inning the second baseman was "spiked" by accident while sliding to third, and had to retire, and Plum took his place. Then came the fifth inning, with a run for each nine, and in that the shortstop was almost knocked senseless by a hot liner.

"Roger, you'll have to cover short," said Phil, and the senator's son ran out to do so, amid a clapping of hands from his friends.

The sixth inning resulted in several hits for the nines, but no runs were made. Then came the seventh, with another run for each, and in this a runner for Rockville bumped into the Oak Hall third baseman and both had to retire.

"This is certainly a slaughter!" cried one spectator. "If they keep on, somebody will be killed before they get through."

The accident took Dave out in the field to cover third. As luck would have it, less than a minute later he caught a man trying to slide to the bag, and when the runner was declared out the Oak Hall boys set up a cheer.

"Good for Dave Porter! That's the way to cover third!"

The end of the eighth inning found the score Rockville 11, Oak Hall 4. It looked as if Oak Hall was beaten, yet the nine resolved to do its best to win out.