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CHAPTER IV


THE FUN OF A NIGHT


As my old readers know, Oak Hall was a large structure of brick and stone, built in the shape of a broad cross, with wide hallways running from north to south and east to west. All of the classrooms were on the ground floor, as were also the dining hall and kitchen, and the head master's private office. On the second floor were the majority of the dormitories, furnished to hold four, six, and eight pupils each. The school was surrounded by a wide campus, running down to the Leming River, where was located a good-sized boathouse. Some distance away from the river was a neat gymnasium, and, to the rear of the school, were commodious stables and sheds. At the four corners of the campus grew great clumps of giant oaks, and two oaks stood like sentinels on either side of the gateway—thus giving the Hall its name.

As Dave leaped to the piazza of the school he was met by Sam Day, another of his old chums, who gave his hand a squeeze that made him wince. Close by was Chip Macklin, once the toady of Gus Plum, but now "quite a decent sort," as most of the lads would say. Further in the rear was Gus Plum, looking pale and troubled. Evidently something was wrong with him, as Shadow had intimated.

"Sorry I couldn't get down to the depot," said Sam. "But I had some examples in algebra to do and they kept me until after the carryall had left."

There was more handshaking, and Dave did not forget Macklin or Gus Plum. When he took the hand of the former bully he found it icy cold and he noticed that it trembled considerably.

"How are you, Gus?" he said, pleasantly.

"Oh, I'm fair," was the hesitating answer. "I—I am glad to see you back, and doubly glad to know you found your father."

"And sister, Gus; don't forget that."

"Yes, and your sister." And then Gus Plum let Dave's hand fall and stepped back into the crowd and vanished. Dave saw that he had something on his mind, and he wondered more than ever what Shadow might have to tell him.

Soon Doctor Clay appeared, a man well along in years, with gray, penetrating eyes and a face that could be either kindly or stern as the occasion demanded.

"As the boys say, it is all very wonderful, and I am rejoiced for your sake, Porter," he said. "Your trip to Norway certainly turned out well, and you need not begrudge the time lost from school. Now, with your mind free, you can go at your studies with vigor, and such a bright pupil as you ought to be able to make up all the ground lost."

"I intend to try my best, sir," answered Dave.

The only lad at Oak Hall who did not seem to enjoy Dave's reappearance was Nat Poole. The dudish youth from Crumville, whose father had, in times past, caused old Caspar Potts so much trouble, kept himself aloof, and when he met Dave in a hallway he turned his head the other way and pretended not to notice.

"Nat Poole certainly feels sore," said Dave to Ben Basswood, his old friend from home, when Ben came to meet him, having been kept in a classroom by Job Haskers.

"Yes, he is sore on everybody," answered Ben. "Well, he is having a hard time of it, seems to me. First Chip Macklin cut him, and then Gus Plum. Then he got mixed up with Nick Jasniff, and Jasniff had to run away. Then he and Link Merwell became chums, and you know what happened to both. Now Merwell is away and Nat is about left to himself. He is a bigger dude than ever, and spends a lot of money that the doctor doesn't know anything about, and yet he can't make himself popular."

"Well, I'm glad money doesn't count at Oak Hall, Ben."

"I know you feel that way, Dave, and it does you credit. I guess now you are about as rich as anybody, and if money did the trick——"

"I want to stand on my merits, not on my pocketbook. Perhaps Nat would make friends if he wasn't forever showing off and telling how wealthy his father is."

"I believe you there."

"By the way, Ben, do you know anything about Gus Plum? There seems to be a big change in him."

"There is a change, but I can't tell you what it is. Shadow Hamilton knows. He and Plum came home late one night, both having been to Oakdale, and Shadow was greatly excited and greatly worried. Some of us fellows wanted to know what it was about, but Shadow refused to say a word, excepting that he was going to let you know some time, because you appeared to have some influence over Gus."

Ben's words surprised Dave, coming so shortly after what Shadow himself had said. He was on the point of asking Ben some more questions, but reconsidered the matter and said nothing. He could wait until such a time as Shadow felt in the humor to unburden his mind.

Dave and his chums roomed in dormitories Nos. 11 and 12, two large and well-lighted apartments, with a connecting door between. Not far away was dormitory No. 13, which was now occupied by Nat Poole and some others, including Link Merwell when that individual was at Oak Hall. One bed was vacant, that which Nick Jasniff had left so hurriedly.

In a quiet way the news was spread that Dave and his chums had provided some good things for a feast, and that night about twenty boys gathered in No. 11 and No. 12 to celebrate "the return of our leader," as Luke Watson expressed it. Luke was on hand with his banjo and his guitar, to add a little music if wanted.

"Say, boys, we couldn't have chosen a better time for this sort of thing than to-night," announced Sam Day. "Haskers has gone to town and Mr. Dale is paying a visit to a neighbor; I heard the doctor tell Mr. Dale he was tired and was going to bed early, and best of all Jim Murphy says he won't hear a thing, provided we set out a big piece of mince pie for him." Murphy was monitor of the halls.

"Good for Jim!" cried Dave. "I'll cut that piece of pie myself," and he did, and placed it where he felt certain that the monitor would find it.

The boys were allowed to do as they pleased until half-past nine, and they sang songs and cracked jokes innumerable. But then the monitor stuck his head in at the door.

"Got to be a little quiet from now on," he said, in a hoarse whisper and with a broad grin on his face. "I'm awfully deaf to-night, but the doctor will wake up if there's too much racket."

"Did you get the pie?" questioned Dave.

"Not yet, and I'll take it now, if you don't mind."

"Jim, do you mean to say you didn't get that pie?" demanded Dave.

"Oh, he's fooling," interrupted Phil. "He wants a second piece."

"That's it," came from Shadow. "Puts me in mind of a story about a boy who——"

"Never mind the story now, Shadow," interrupted Dave. "Tell me honestly, Jim, whether you got the pie or not? Of course you can have another piece, or some chicken salad "

"I didn't get any pie,—or anything else," answered the monitor.

"I put it on the bottom of the stand in the upper hallway."

"Nothing there when I went to look."

"Then somebody took it on the sly," said Roger. "For I was with Dave when he put it there. Anybody in these rooms guilty?" And he gazed around sternly.

All of the boys shook their heads. Then of a sudden a delicate youth who looked like a girl arose in astonishment and held up his hands.

"Well, I declare!" he lisped.

"What now, Polly?" asked Phil.

"I wonder if it is really possible," went on Bertram Vane.

"What possible?" questioned Dave.

"Why, when I was coming through the hall a while ago I almost ran into Nat Poole. He had something in one hand, under his handkerchief, and as I passed him I really thought I smelt mince pie!"

"Nat Poole!" cried several.

"Oh, the sneak!" burst out Roger. "He must have been watching Dave. Maybe he heard us promise Murphy the pie."

"Bad luck to him if he stole what was coming to me," muttered the monitor. "I hope the pie choked him."

"If Nat Poole took the pie we'll fix him for it," said Dave. "Just you leave it to me." Then he got another portion of the dainty and handed it to the monitor, who disappeared immediately.

"What will you do?" questioned Roger.

"Since Nat has had some pie I think I'll treat him to some chicken salad," was the reply. "Nothing like being generous, you know."

"Why, Dave, you don't mean you are going to let Nat Poole have any of this nice salad!" cried Phil. "I'd see him in Guinea first! "

"He shall have some—after it has been properly doctored."

"Eh? Oh, I see," and the shipowner's son began to grin. "All right then. But doctor it good."

"I shall make no mistake about that," returned Dave.

While Shadow was telling a story of a little boy who had fallen down a well and wanted somebody to "put the staircase down" so he could climb up, Dave went to a small medicine closet which he had purchased during his previous term at Oak Hall. From this he got various bottles and powders and began to "doctor" a nice portion of the chicken salad.

"Say, Dave, that won't hurt anybody, will it? " asked Ben, who saw the movement.

"It may hurt Nat Poole, Ben."

"Oh, you don't want to injure him."

"This won't do any harm. I am going to give him what Professor Potts called green peppers. Once, when he was particularly talkative, he related how he had played the joke on a fellow-student at college. It won't injure Nat Poole, but if he eats this salad there will surely be fun, I can promise you that."

"How are you going to get it to him?"

"Take it to him myself."

"You! He'll be suspicious at once and won't touch it."

"Perhaps not—we'll wait and see."

When the feast was practically at an end, Dave put the doctored salad in a dessert dish, topping it with some that was sweet and good. On all he laid some fancy crackers which one of the boys had contributed.

"Now, here is where I try the trick," he said, and put on a sweater, leaving the upper portion partly over his face. Then, leaving his dormitory, he tiptoed his way to No. 13 and pushed open the door softly.

As he had surmised, Nat Poole had gone to bed and had just fallen asleep. Going noiselessly to his side, Dave bent over him and whispered into his ear:

"Here, Nat, is something I stole for you from that crowd that was having the feast. Eat it up and don't tell the other fellows."

"Eh, what? The feast?" stammered Nat, and took the plate in his hand. "Who are you?"

"Hush!" whispered Dave, warningly. "Don't wake the others. I stole it for you. Eat it up. I'll tell you how I did it in the morning. It's a joke on Dave Porter!" And then Dave glided away from the bed and out of the room like a ghost, shutting the door noiselessly after him.

Half asleep, Nat Poole was completely bewildered by what he heard. In the semi-darkness he could not imagine who had brought the dish full of stuff. But he remembered the words, "eat it up" and "don't tell the other fellows" and "a joke on Dave Porter." That was enough for Nat. He sat up, looked at the fancy crackers and the salad, and smacked his lips.

"Must have been one of our old crowd," he mused. "Maybe Shingle or Remney. Well, it's a joke on Dave Porter right enough, and better than taking that pie he left for Murphy." And then he began to munch the crackers and eat the salad, using a tiny fork Dave had thoughtfully provided. He liked chicken salad very much, and this seemed particularly good, although at times it had a bitter flavor for which he could not account.

Peering through the keyhole of the door, Dave saw his intended victim make way with the salad. Then he ran back to his dormitory.

"It's all right," he said. "Now all of you undress and go to bed,—and watch for what comes!"