Dave Porter in the Far North/Chapter 13
AN INTERRUPTED INITIATION
"He's full of grit this time," whispered Phil to Dave.
"Oh, Plum isn't the boy he used to be, I am certain of that," was the low answer.
Before long the students reached a point on the river front where there was a heavy clump of bushes. In a hollow between the bushes a fire had been built, and on the bushes had been hung some horse blankets, to keep off the wind.
As the members of the Gee Eyes reached the hollow they saw two boys wrapped up in overcoats stealing away into the woods close by.
"Hello, who are those chaps?" cried Roger.
"One of them looked like Nat Poole to me," answered Dave.
"Wonder what they are doing here?"
"Came to see what was going on, I suppose."
"I don't like fellows like Nat Poole to be hanging around," remarked Buster Beggs.
The fire had been burning low, but now it was stirred up and more dry branches were piled on top, creating a roaring blaze. By the flickering glare the masked figures looked decidedly fantastic.
Up to that moment the club members had been undecided what to do with Gus Plum. Some were in favor of taking off his shoes and socks and letting him down into the river through a hole in the ice, wetting him up to his knees. Others wanted him to crawl on his hands and knees to another spot on the river, quarter of a mile away. Still others wanted to make a snow house and shut him inside for awhile, letting him breathe through a piece of gaspipe which had been brought along. Others wanted him to make a ten minutes' speech on "What Mackerels Have Done for Astronomy," or some subject equally "deep."
"Let us have the speech, at least first," suggested Dave.
"All right, give us the subject," answered Phil, after a consultation with the other officers.
"All right, I will," answered Dave, after a moment's thought. "Better take the bag off his head first."
This was quickly removed, and Gus Plum was made to stand up on a rock close to the fire.
"Wretch, listen!" came from one of the masked figures. "It is decreed that thou must speak for ten minutes by the second-splitting watch on a subject that shall be given to thee. Shouldst thou fail, it will be a whacking with staves for thine. Dost thou agree?"
"Speak on what?"
"Here is the subject," said Dave, in a disguised voice that was thin and piping: 'If a Pail Lets Out Water When it Leaks, Why Doesn't a Boat Do the Same Thing?'" And a snicker went round at this question.
"Thou hast heard the subject. Art prepared to discourse?" asked one of the Gee Eyes.
"Sure thing," answered Gus Plum, after a moment of thought. He struck an attitude. "My subject is a most profound one, first broached by Cicero to Henry Clay, during the first trip of the beloved pair to Coney Island."
"Hurrah! Hooroo!" came from one of the club members.
"Cicero had been speaking to just such a crowd of convicts as I am now addressing—thieves, murderers, and those who had failed to shovel the snow from their sidewalks during the months of July and August," continued Gus Plum.
"Convicts is good," murmured Roger.
"The boat running to Coney Island had slowed up to a walk, which caused Cicero to grow impatient, as he wanted a ride on the shoot-the-chutes. Henry Clay, along with Napoleon and a Roman sausage-maker named Hannibal, were in the bow of the craft trying to solve the fifteen puzzle by the aid of a compass and a book on etiquette. Suddenly a great commotion arose to a height of a mile or more. The boat sank to the bottom of the sea, turned over three times, and came to the surface again. A shriek arose from one of the ladies, Cleopatra's waiting-maid: 'I have lost my knitting overboard.' 'Man the pumps!' cried Cicero, and then tied his sandals around his neck for a life-preserver. Henry Clay drew a Henry Clay from his pocket and began to smoke vigorously. Hannibal said he would turn cannibal if the boat went down again. Cleopatra said she would die happy if only they would start up the phonograph, and Homer did so, with that beautiful ode entitled, 'Why Eat Turkey When Corned Beef Is So Cheap?'"
"Where's the pail that leaked?" came from the crowd.
"Stick to the subject."
"Is the boat leaking yet?"
"Be not afraid," answered Gus Plum, solemnly. "By the chronometer I have still seven minutes before the boat and pail sink out of sight forever. However, the pail was there, sitting, like a hen, on the larboard mast, filled with gooseberries, which Pocahontas had picked at dawn, in company with General Grant and King Henry the Sixty-second. Looking at this pail, John Paul Jones slapped his sailor thigh and asked, 'Why is a gooseberry?' a question which has come resounding down the ages—— Oh, thunder! Do you want to blow me to pieces!"
Crack! bang! crack! boom! came four loud reports, and the fire was scattered in all directions. Bang! came another report, and Dave received some burning fagots in the face. Gus Plum was hurled from the rock upon which he had been standing. Boom! came a report louder than any of the rest, and what was left of the camp-fire flew up in the air as if a volcano were under it.
All of the club members were dumfounded, for nobody had expected anything of this sort. Half a dozen of the boys had gone down and in a twinkling the robes Roger and Ben wore were in flames. The fire lay In all directions, and now came two smaller reports and Dave saw a fairsized fire-cracker fly apart.
"Somebody put fire-crackers under the fire," he cried. "Big ones and little ones." And then, seeing Ben in flames, he rushed to the assistance of his chum.
It was no easy matter to put out the fire, and before Ben was out of danger Dave got a blister on one hand. In the meantime Gus Plum had leaped towards Roger."Roll over!" he cried, and tripped the senator's son up. Then he began to beat the flames out with his hands and with the bag that had been over his
head. Roger had gotten some hot ashes in his face, and he was confused and half blinded thereby.
The excitement lasted nearly five minutes, and when it was over the boys stood there with their hoods and robes off, gazing at each other nervously.
"Who did this?" demanded Phil.
"That was too much of a good thing," said Shadow. "Why, some of us might have been burned to death."
"Kind of rough initiation," remarked Gus Plum, dryly. "But I didn't catch it as much as Roger and Ben."
"That wasn't down on the programme," returned Dave. "At least, it wasn't so far as I am concerned."
"I didn't know of it!" cried Buster Beggs.
"Nor I!" "Nor I!" came from one after another of the other members of the Gee Eyes.
"Who started the fire?" asked Phil.
"I did," answered Sam Day. "I just got some wood together and lit it, that's all."
"Was there anything on the ground?"
"Not a thing, so far as I noticed."
"Here is part of a big cannon cracker," said Dave, holding up the still burning paper. "That was big enough to blow off a fellow's hand or foot."
"Say, don't you remember those fellows we saw running away!" exclaimed Roger.
"To be sure!" was the quick answer. "Nat Poole was one."
"Who was the other?"
"He looked like Link Merwell to me," said Buster Beggs.
"Then we've got an account to settle with Poole and Merwell," said Roger. "Just look at how my hands and my neck are blistered!"
"And my hand," said Ben. "Oh, how it smarts! ril have to put some oil and flour on it."
"Let us declare Plum's initiation finished," said Phil. "Then we can hunt up those fellows who played this dirty trick on us."
Phil's suggestion was at once adopted, and the club members scattered through the woods, to look for those who had hidden themselves. In a very few minutes Sam Day set up a shout:
"Here is one of them!"
"And here is the other!" called out Gus Plum and Ben, simultaneously.
"You let go of me, Sam Day!" came in the voice of Nat Poole. "I didn't do anything! Let me go!"
"You come along with me, Nat Poole," answered Sam, sternly. "Just look how that hand is burnt!" And in his anger Sam gave the other boy a smart box on the ear.
"Oh! Don't, please don't."
"You'll yell worse than that when we are through with you," answered Sam.
"You bet he will," said Buster Beggs. "I got a hot cinder in my right eye."
"Don't, please don't!" shrieked Nat Poole. He was a coward at heart, and the attitude of those around filled him with sudden terror. "I didn't do it, I tell you."
"Then who did?" demanded Dave.
"Oh, I—I can't tell you. I—I——"
"Yes, you can tell," said Shadow, and gave Poole's ear a twist. The story-teller of the school had gotten some hot ashes in his mouth, which had put him in anything but a gentle humor.
"It was Link Merwell. He put the crackers under the fire and let the fuses stick up," said Poole.
"You're a fine sort to blab!" sneered Merwell. "Since you're willing to tell so much, I'll tell something too. He bought the fire-crackers."
"Is that true, Poole?" questioned Roger.
"Ye—yes, but I—I didn't know——"
"He knew what I was going to do with them," broke in Link Merwell. "It was only a joke."
"So is that a joke, Merwell," answered Roger, and hauling off he boxed the tall youth's right ear. "If you want to make anything out of it, do so. Look at my hands and neck. You went too far."
Merwell's face blazed and he looked as if he wished to annihilate the senator's son.
"Humph! I suppose you think you can do as you please, with your own crowd around you," he muttered. "You don't know how to take a joke."
"I can take a joke as well as anybody, but not such a perilous trick as that."
"It's on a par with the joke of the fellow who put gunpowder in a poor Irishman's pipe," broke in Shadow. "It put the Irishman's eyes out. I don't see any fun in that."
"I think we ought to give them both a good licking!" cried a boy named Jason, and without more ado he took his wooden sword and gave Poole a whack across the back. Then he turned and whacked Merwell.
It was a signal for a general use of the wooden swords and stuffed clubs, and in a moment the two unlucky students were surrounded, and blows fell thick and fast. Poole yelled like a wild Indian, but Merwell set his teeth and said nothing, only striking back with his fists when he got the chance. Dave took no part in the onslaught, nor did Ben and Phil. As soon as he saw a chance Nat Poole ran for his life. Link Merwell stood his ground a little longer, then he too retreated, shaking his fist at the members of the Gee Eyes.
"Just wait!" he fairly hissed. "I'll get square for this, if it takes me a lifetime!"