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CHAPTER IX


VERA ROCKWELL


Sunday passed, and nothing was said to Dave and Phil concerning the unfortunate snowballing incident; but on Monday morning, immediately after breakfast, both were summoned to Doctor Clay's office.

"I suppose we are in for it now," said the shipowner's son, dolefully.

"Never mind, Phil; we didn't mean to do wrong, and I am going to tell the doctor so. I think he will be fair in the matter."

But though Dave spoke thus, he was by no means easy in his mind. He had had trouble with Job Haskers before and he well knew how the teacher could distort facts to make himself out to be a much-injured individual.

When the two youths entered the office they found Doctor Clay seated at his desk, looking over the mail Jackson Lemond had just brought in from town. Job Haskers was not present, which fact caused the boys to breathe a sigh of relief.

"Now, boys, I want you to give me the particulars of what occurred Saturday afternoon," said the master of the Hall, as he laid down a letter he had been perusing. "Porter, you may relate your story first."

Without unnecessary details, Dave told his tale in a straightforward manner,—how the boys had been having a snowball fight, how somebody had cried out that Horsehair was coming in a cutter, and how they had thought to have a little fun with the school driver by pelting him with snowballs.

"We have often done it before," went on Dave. "Horsehair—I mean Lemond—doesn't seem to mind it, and sometimes he snowballs us in return."

"Then you did not know it was Mr. Haskers?"

"No, sir—not until I had thrown the snowball."

Then Dave told of Haskers's anger, and of how they had been ordered to the office and had gone there.

"I told him I was sorry I had hit him, but he would not listen to me, and he wouldn't listen when Phil apologized. He said he would accept no apologies, but was going to give us the thrashing we deserved. Then he took the whip he carried and tried to strike me. I wouldn't stand for that and I caught hold of the whip. He told me to let go and I said I wouldn't unless he promised not to strike at me again. Then he struggled to get the whip from my grasp and pushed me backward, against the stand with the statue. The stand went over and the statue was broken."

"Wait a moment, Porter." Doctor Clay's voice was oddly strained. "Are you certain Mr. Haskers tried to strike you with the whip?"

"I certainly am, sir. He raised the whip over my head, and if I hadn't dodged I'd have been struck, and struck hard."

"Mr. Haskers tells me that he simply carried the whip to the office to subdue you—that he was afraid both of you might jump on him and do him bodily injury."

"Does he say he didn't strike at me?" cried Dave, in astonishment, for this was a turn of affairs he had not dreamed would occur.

"He says he brandished the whip when you came toward him as if to strike him."

"I made no move to strike him, Doctor Clay—Phil will testify to that."

"Dave has told the strict truth, sir," said the shipowner's son. " Mr. Haskers did strike at him, and it was only by luck that Dave escaped the blow. I thought sure he was going to get a sound whack on the head."

At these words Doctor Clay's face became a study. The teacher had had his say on Sunday afternoon, but this version put an entirely different aspect on the affair.

"Go on with your story," he said, after a pause.

"I am very sorry that the statue was broken," continued Dave. "And I wish to say right here, sir, that if you think it was my fault I will willingly pay for the damage done. But I think it was entirely Mr. Haskers's fault. I always understood that no corporal punishment was permitted in this school."

"Your understanding on that point is correct, Porter. The only exception to the rule is when a student becomes violent himself and has to be subdued."

"I wasn't violent."

"Please tell the rest of your story."

Then Dave told of the wordy war which had followed, and of how he and Phil had been locked up and given bread and milk for supper, and of how he and his chum had found the book-room more than cheerless. He had resolved to make a clean breast of it, and so gave the particulars of taking the door off its hinges, getting extra food, and of finally going upstairs to bed. The latter part of the story caused Doctor Clay to turn his head away and look out of a window, so that the boys might not see the smile that came to his face. In his imagination he could see the lads feasting on the purloined things in the book-room by candlelight.

"Now, Lawrence, what have you to say?" he asked, when Dave had finished.

"I can't say much, sir—excepting that Dave has told you the truth, and the whole truth at that. And I might add, sir, had Mr. Dale or yourself been in the cutter I think the whole trouble would have been patched up very quickly. But Mr. Haskers is so—so—impulsive—he never will listen to a fellow,—and he rushed at Dave like a mad bull. I was ready to jump on him when the whip went up, and I guess I would have done it if Dave had been struck."

"And you are positive you didn't snowball Mr. Haskers on purpose?"

"Positive, sir—and I can prove it by the other boys who were in the crowd."

"Hum!" Doctor Clay was silent for fully a minute. "You can both go to your classes. If I wish to see you further in regard to this—ahem—unfortunate affair I will let you know."

The boys bowed and went out, and quarter of an hour later each was deep in the studies for the day. Occasionally their minds wandered to what had occurred, and they tried to imagine what the outcome would be.

"I don't think the doctor will stand for the whip," was the way Dave expressed himself, and in this surmise he was correct. That very afternoon the master of the Hall called the teacher to his office, and a warm discussion followed. But what was said was never made public. Yet one thing the boys knew—Dave was never called upon to pay for the broken statue—Job Haskers had to settle that bill.

With the ice so fine on the river, much of the boys' off-time was spent in ice-boating and skating. One afternoon there was an ice-boat race between the Snowbird from Oak Hall, a boat from Rockville Military Academy, and two craft owned by young men of Oakdale. This brought out a large crowd, and each person was enthusiastic over his favorite.

"I hope our boat wins!" said Roger, who was on skates, as were Dave and Phil and many others.

"So do I," said Dave. "I don't care who comes in ahead so long as it's an ice-boat belonging to Oak Hall."

"That's pretty good!" cried Sam Day, "seeing that we have but one boat in the race."

"Say, that puts me in mind of a story," came from Shadow. "One time a lot of young fellows in a village organized a fire company. They voted to get uniforms and the question came up as to what color of shirts they should buy. They talked it over, and at last an old fire-fighter in a corner got up. 'Buy any color you please,' said he, 'any color you please, but be sure it's red!'" And the story caused a smile to go around.

The four ice-boats were soon ready for the contest, and at a pistol shot they started on the five-mile course which had been laid out. Messmer and Henshaw were on the Snowbird, which speedily took the second place, one of the town boats, named the Whistler, leading.

"Hurrah! they are off!"

"What's the matter with the Military Academy boat? She's a tail-ender."

"The Lark is third!"

So the cries ran on, as the ice-boats skimmed along over the smooth ice, swept clear of nearly all the snow by the wind. Dave and his chums skated some distance after the boats and then halted, to await their return.

"Hurrah, the Snowbird is crawling up on the Whistler!" cried Buster Beggs.

"They are neck and neck!" said Luke Watson.

"Yes, but the Venus is coming up, too," answered Phil. "Gracious, but I'll wager those Rockville fellows would like to win!"

"The Venus must be a new boat," said Ben Basswood. "I never saw her before."

"She is new—some of the Military Academy fellows purchased her last week," answered another boy.

The crowd moved on, Dave stopping to fix one of his skates, which had become loose. As he straightened up, a girl brushed past him and looked him full in the face. He saw that she was one of the two who had been on the ice-boat at the time of the accident. She gave him a sunny smile and he very politely tipped his cap to her.

"I suppose you hope your boat will win," she said, coming to a halt near him.

"You mean the Oak Hall boat, I suppose?"

"Of course, Mr. Porter."

"Yes, I hope we do win," answered Dave, and wondered how she had learned his name. "Don't you hope we'll win, too, Miss Rockwell?" he continued, seeing that the others had gone on and he was practically alone with his new acquaintance.

"Well, I—I really don't know," she answered, and smiled again. "You see, the Whistler belongs to some friends of my big brother, so I suppose I ought to want that to win."

"But if the Snowbird is a better boat——"

Vera Rockwell gave a merry laugh—it was her nature to laugh a good deal. "Of course if your boat is the better of the two—— But I am keeping you from your friends," she broke off.

"Oh, I shan't mind that," said Dave politely, and he did not mind in the least, for Vera seemed so good-natured that he was glad to have a chance to talk to her.

"I wanted to meet you," Vera went on, as, without hardly noticing it, they skated off side by side. "I wanted to thank you for what you and your friend did for us the other day."

"I guess you had better blame us. If we hadn't rolled that big snowball down the hill——"

"Oh, but you said you didn't mean to hit the ice-boat——"

"Which was true—we didn't see the ice-boat until it was too late. I hope you and your friend got home safely?"

"We did. When we reached the road we met a farmer we knew with a big sled, and he took Mary and me right to our doors."

"Do you live in Oakdale?"

"Yes,—just on the outskirts of the town,—the big brick house with the iron fence around the garden."

"Oh, I've seen that place often. You used to have a little black dog who was very friendly and would sit up on his hind legs and beg."

"Gyp! Yes, and I have him yet—and he's the cutest you ever saw! He can do all kinds of tricks. Some day, when you are passing, if you'll stop I'll show you."

"Thank you, I'll remember, and I'll be sure to stop," answered Dave, much pleased with the invitation.

"Here they come! Here they come!" was the cry, and suddenly the youth and the girl found themselves in a big body of skaters. Vera was struck on the arm by one burly man, and would have gone down had not Dave supported her.

"Better take my hand," said Dave, and the girl did so, for she was a little frightened. Then the crowd increased, and they had to fall back a little, to get out of the jam. Dave looked around for his chums, but they were nowhere in sight. Then all strained their eyes to behold the finish of the iceboat contest.