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CHAPTER III

AFTER a few hours Rupert Ormsby came to the conclusion that he had treated Harry with too great severity. He had a brief interview with Dorr and Belmont and Francis Stoddard; and then in the half-hour just before bedtime which was allowed the sixth form for visiting, he went to Harry's room.

"Hello!" he said cheerfully, when he entered and found Harry alone. "I guess I was a little rough with you before supper this evening. You need n't think I'm going to take back everything," he added, "because I'm not; but maybe you got more than you deserved."

"I think I did," Harry answered. "Of course I would n't have stood by and let Stoddard be really hurt. I'm sure I'd have—I'd have objected to that, anyway. Herrick hadn't really hurt him, you know—"

"Yes, he was only beginning to hurt him," observed Rupert. "The thing is, a fellow like you, who can in a way create sentiment in this school, ought not to stand by and seem amused when Herrick bullies an inoffensive boy."

"I know it," admitted Harry, growing red. "I just did n't think."

"You're going to be elected president of the athletic association," said Rupert, and at this Harry grew more red and embarrassed, and did not know which way to look. "Now live up to the job, Harry—before as well as after."

"It's not my job, I guess," Harry murmured. "It's more likely yours."

Rupert shook his head and laughed. "Not for me. I don't care about it in the least, and I shan't stand in your way."

"It's mighty good of you to tell me that, Rupe," Harry said, with genuine feeling. "Of course, there's no reason why I should be president. If the fellows want to elect me I'd like to have it, but"—

It was easier for him to stop, leaving the sentence unfinished.

"There's one other thing I came to tell you," said Rupert. "You notice I'm not wearing my pin. You and Herrick and Watson needn't feel much worried about SB. I suppose you thought we were trying to work against the Crown?"

"We did have that idea," Harry admitted.

"I'll tell you about SB," Rupert said. "One day I saw Francis Stoddard snubbed by Bruce Watson, who'd always been his special friend. Watson threw him over—to run with some of you fellows after being taken into the Crown. I saw that Stoddard was feeling pretty sore and lonely, and I thought it would make him feel better to have somebody intimate with him. And then I thought it would be pretty good fun for him and me to pretend we were members of a secret society—that would seem intimate, all right. I thought, too, it would be quite a joke to get the Crown and the other fellows in the school excited about it. At the last moment we decided to take Jerry Dorr and Nat Belmont into our fake society; it would make it look a little more real. But none of us wanted to stir up any bad blood, and apparently we've done that. So we've called the whole thing off, we've thrown away our pins, and you fellows in the Crown"—he laughed—"are still the only real, genuine secret society in the school."

Harry smiled rather sheepishly.

"Then we got so excited over nothing at all?" he said.

"It looks that way to me," Rupert answered, rising to go. "Herrick was so interested in SB, you might tell him now what it was," he added. "And Watson—I think it would be just as well if you told Watson why SB was organized."

"I will," Harry promised. "I—you make me feel quite small, Rupert—and at the same time I 'm much obliged."

Rupert took his hand with a friendly laugh.

"I hoped there would n't be any hard feeling between us," he said. "Good-night, Harry!"

It did not soften Herrick's resentment and mortification when Harry told him the next day that the new society had been all a joke; it was rather more humiliating, if anything, to know he had been deluded as well as rebuked.

But Bruce Watson was more sensitive to Harry's lecture.

"The whole thing about the Crown, Bruce," Harry said to him, "is that if it's to have any influence at all,—and a good influence,—the fellows in it must take an interest in the fellows outside it. For a fellow to join it and then cut the friends he's had before is no way to do."

"I was n't meaning to hurt Stoddard's feelings," Watson said meekly. "I just didn't think how it would look. Of course I like him as well as ever, but now there's so much I can't talk over with him. You can't be quite so intimate with a fellow when you're in a secret society and he's not."

"Well, maybe you can't, but you've got to keep him from seeing it," insisted Harry.

Watson declared an intention of being more discreet in the future, and Harry felt quite virtuous. He believed thoroughly in being a good influence in the school. He even made a point of going round among the members of the Crown and telling them in an emphatic way that they must not act like snobs and ignore fellows who were outside the society; he tried to impress it on them that it was their duty to be genial and friendly with every one.

"That's what we've been this last week," Tom Albree said bluntly. "That's what's going to elect you president."

And at that Frank Windsor and one or two others laughed, and Harry looked annoyed.

"You ought to be that way all the time," he said, "not just when you want to get something out of people."

What with the virtuous consciousness of being a good influence in the school and the fresh security that Rupert's avowed purpose not to contest the election gave him, Harry was quite happy. He went about with a brisk cheerfulness and a pleasant smile for the little boys as well as the big; he flattered a lot of small second-formers by kicking a football with them one day during the noon recess; he went round among the quiet, studious boys of the fourth and fifth forms, urging them to write for the "Mirror," of which he was editor, and inviting them to come to his room and talk over with him subjects for stories and essays.

Nat Belmont remarked to Francis Stoddard that Harding was out "swiping" for votes; but this was hardly true. Harry's pleasant face and kind and friendly manner were not assumed for a purpose; they were natural to him when he was as happy as he was now. Everything seemed to be turning out just as he would have it. Rupert's denial of any interest in the election and failure to make any active canvass soothed Harry's conscience and raised his sanguine hopes.

The day before the election a thing took place that contributed more largely than any previous occurrence to his happiness.

The school was divided into two athletic clubs, the Pythians and the Corinthians, each of which had its football eleven. These two elevens contested for the school championship. Afterward the school eleven, which played annually against St. John's, was picked from these two teams.

Harry had been out every day, practicing with the Corinthians, and although his room-mate, Frank Windsor, was captain, Harry had never been given much encouragement. But when the list of the eleven was posted on the school bulletin-board, he was thrilled to find himself assigned to the position of right end. Holder, against whom he had been playing in practice, and who, he had supposed, would be given the place, was written down as substitute.

Harry turned away from the bulletin-board, swelling inwardly with pride. This event certainly vindicated him as a candidate for an athletic presidency. He had a glimpse of Holder's face peering over the circle of boys about the bulletin-board, and saw the shadow of disappointment that settled on it; and that for an instant made him uncomfortable.

"But somebody's always got to be disappointed," he thought, as he walked away.

He would have been less proud and happy if he had heard the consoling speeches that some of the boys round the bulletin-board made to Holder. They charged Frank Windsor indignantly with favoritism.

It was perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that there was some truth in the charge when Windsor came up, and drawing Holder to one side, told him that even though he was down only as substitute, he was sure of playing through part of the game.

On a Saturday night the three upper forms of the school gathered in the auditorium to choose the president of the athletic association.

One of the masters, Mr. Eldredge, opened the meeting by calling for nominations. There was a moment of silence; then Frank Windsor rose and proposed Harry Harding's name. Tom Albree seconded it; and then Francis Stoddard nominated Rupert Ormsby. There were no other names proposed. The tellers were appointed and the voting began.

Harry Harding, sitting in the front row with Bruce Watson and Joe Herrick, tried to appear quite unconcerned. But as he turned round over the back of his chair to talk with some one behind him, his eyes were sparkling with excitement and there was a self-conscious smile on his face.

Rupert Ormsby, in the back of the room, was being disorderly in a juvenile way. With his foot up against the wall, he was jamming a line of chairs together, while everybody down the line resisted, and the two or three fellows nearest him heaved with shoulders and arms against his mighty back—all of them hilarious with laughter.

"Harry pretends he does n't care," said Nat Belmont to Francis Stoddard, "and Rupert Ormsby really doesn't care. That's what I like about him; he does n't give a hoot."

Mr. Eldredge rapped on the table for order; the tellers were ready to make their report. When the room was quiet, one of them read:

"Total number of votes cast, 94; Ormsby, 39; Harding, 55. Mr. Harding is elected."

The applause that greeted this announcement came mainly from the front part of the room, where the Crown adherents were massed, but it was loud and enthusiastic; and when boys began shouting, "Speech! Speech!" Harry rose, blushing, and bowed.

Mr. Eldredge resigned the chair to him, and Harry presided for the rest of the meeting with a confiding shyness and embarrassment that were rather winning. Frank Windsor was elected secretary and Dick Judson was elected treasurer; and then the meeting adjourned.

Boys crowded up on the platform to congratulate Harry, and flocked about him as he made his way out of the hall. Rupert Ormsby was among them, and gave his hand the heartiest grip of any one; and Harry said, "Thanks, old man!" very feelingly.

He sat up late in the schoolroom that evening, writing to his mother and to Clark of his election. The letter to Clark would follow him half-way round the world, and reach him probably somewhere in India. Harry knew that it would please his brother, wherever he might be.

When Harry was mounting the stairs of the dormitory to his room, he met Joe Herrick, clad in a dressing-gown, rushing down to his bath. Herrick flung an arm about Harry's neck, and whispered:—

"The gang is going to the Pie House to-morrow afternoon to drink your health. You've got to come."

"Oh, we'd better not," said Harry anxiously. "Why, if we're caught, you know what it means—fired from school, maybe!"

"The rector would never fire any one just for that," replied Herrick. "Besides, it's the risk that will make the fun. And to-morrow's my birthday, and I 'm setting the crowd up—in your honor. They've all promised, and you've got to come—after all they've done for you!"

There was an unpleasant suggestion in that which stung Harry, and he said, with reluctance, "All right. I think it's foolish, but I'll come. I won't drink anything, though."

"Nobody's really going to drink anything," Herrick assured him. "Just a taste to go round—in your honor."

 
P 058--Harding of St Timothy's.jpg

"THE GANG IS GOING TO THE PIE-HOUSE TO-MORROW AFTERNOON TO DRINK YOUR HEALTH"

"All right," said Harry, and Herrick went bounding in his slippers down the stairs. Harry climbed the rest of the way with a less joyous heart than that which he had had during the first part of his ascent. He had never been to the Pie House in his life, and he was both ashamed and afraid at having pledged himself to this violation of the school rules.

The Pie House, in spite of its innocent name, had a doubtful reputation, and it was generally understood that the three or four reckless and daring youths who had visited it had done so to indulge a taste for other things than pastry. It was also generally understood that the penalty for visiting it was expulsion from the school; and Harry lay awake in bed and miserably pictured the consequences to himself and to his mother and to Clark if he should be caught.

The next morning he found all the other members of the Crown in a whispering, nervous, excited state over the expedition planned for the afternoon. They had all succumbed to Herrick's invitation. None of them had quite dared to hold out against it for fear of being derided as a "softy," and now they were engaged in reassuring one another.

Harry said lightly to Frank Windsor and Tom Albree and Russell Stearns:—

"I'd hate to be snagged. It would n't be much fun getting fired."

"Oh, a crowd like this would n't be fired," declared Frank Windsor. "Why, they could n't fire us all—a crowd of the best fellows in the school—ten of us! And if they don't fire all, they can't fire one. The most they'd do to us would be to soak us with a whole lot of Latin lines for two or three afternoons."

"I guess that's about right," Harry said more cheerfully. "And if we don't really do anything, I don't see the harm in looking into the Pie House."

"I'm not going to touch a drop," Frank Windsor said, "and none of you fellows who are on the Corinthian team can break training. Mind that!"

By giving such instructions Frank felt that as captain of the team he was doing his duty.

It was a fine October afternoon when the members of the Crown started out, disconnectedly as usual, for their rallying place. But instead of stopping at the sacred rock, they continued on across the pasture into the woods. They hurried single file along a path for a quarter of a mile, and then came out upon a lonely, back-country road.

"We've got the start of everybody else in school," said Joe Herrick. "No masters out skulking will have got up as far as this yet, so we're all right going in—and if we're careful we'll be all right coming out."

After a time they came to a lonely, weather-beaten house, with three scrawny horse-chestnut-trees growing in the yard. The shades at the windows were discolored and torn, the stone step at the front door sagged away from the door-sill and left a gaping crevice. Altogether, the Pie House did not look very prosperous. But even in its dejected appearance it filled ten boys with excitement.

"One of you fellows stand down at the bend of the road and keep watch," said Herrick, "and the rest of you pretend to be walking along. I'll see about getting in."

Then, while Tom Albree stationed himself as outpost, Herrick entered the yard and knocked on the door.

It was opened by a small, weak-looking man with a furtive and dejected face. Herrick spoke to him a moment, and then turning, beckoned to the other fellows to come. They crowded hastily into the house, into a bare room with tattered wall-paper and battered chairs, and closed the door.

The sad little man, who seemed to have a mean sort of quietness, set about serving them without speaking a word. He brought out a jug of cider and some glasses, which he filled and passed in silence.

"He's got nothing stronger," said Herrick. "But this is good hard cider, all right, and if you drink enough of it, it will make you feel pretty well."

"I don't think I'll take any," said Frank Windsor. "You fellows that are playing football had better not take any; it's out of training."

"Shucks, Frank!" said Herrick. "I'm giving this party, and I've got to drink with my guests. Besides, a drop of apple-juice won't hurt anybody. Just touch your lips to it, anyway—for the sake of a toast. Now then, fellows, here's to our athletic president, president of the Crown, all kinds of a president, Harry Harding!"

They all raised their glasses and drank in Harry's honor, and cried, "A-ay!"

Then Harry, quite excited and happy, held aloft his glass, and said, "Here's to our host and his birthday!"

But just at that moment Bruce Watson exclaimed in a frightened voice, "Look, fellows, look!" and crouching to one side, pointed out of the window.

Doctor Vincent, the school physician, was coming up the path to the house.