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CHAPTER IV

THE keeper of the Pie House seemed almost as much agitated as the boys.

"Keep still! Keep still!" he adjured them. "It's the doctor come to see my sick wife."

The boys were all crouching in corners and squatting on the floor to get below the level of the very low window-sill in front of which the approaching doctor must pass. The keeper of the Pie House slipped out into the hall and closed the door behind him. Albree, who was nearest, reached up and turned the key in the lock.

They all remained quite motionless, none of them even daring to glance up at the windows. They crouched with lowered heads, on the chance that if Doctor Vincent should look in he might not recognize them.

"We must n't move. In this rattletrap of a house the least sound will be heard," Frank Windsor warned them in a whisper.

"S-sh!" said Harry.

The doctor was entering the hall. Through the thin partition the boys could hear the creak of the boards under his feet, and then his cheerful greeting, "How are you, Shoop?"

They heard everything with the most terrifying distinctness. There was not much relief to the tension, even when they heard him pass the door and go up the stairs. They knew that they were prisoners as long as he remained in the house.

In another moment they heard him in the room above. After moving round for a while he evidently seated himself in a rocking-chair and rocked and rocked.

The boys cautiously, one by one, got themselves into more comfortable positions.

"Whew! That was a narrow escape!" Herrick said, under his breath.

"Do you suppose Shoop will squeal on us?" Albree whispered anxiously.

"No, he'd have no object." But in spite of this assertion, they all felt very distrustful of the furtive, mean-looking little man.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Harry whispered gloomily to Frank Windsor. "Suppose the doctor makes a long call? He may keep us here too late for us to get to sacred studies. Then what?"

This was a possibility which had not been considered, and its seriousness was admitted. If they should be absent from the class which the rector personally conducted, or even be late to it, there would undoubtedly be a searching investigation; and even if this led to nothing, the punishment for the lapse would be severe.

Frank Windsor looked at his watch. They had three quarters of an hour leeway, and they could at a pinch make the distance to the school in fifteen minutes.

"If only Doctor Vincent's coachman were not sitting out there!" muttered Herrick. "It would be easy enough to drop out of the window, run round the house, and get away. But I suppose that coachman would tell."

"He'd probably yell out and give the alarm," said Harry dejectedly.

There seemed nothing for them but to wait in patience and hope.

Meanwhile upstairs Doctor Vincent had concluded his examination of his patient and had given his prescription. He stayed on, talking cheerfully with the woman, who was suffering more from loneliness and overwork and nervous depression than from any bodily ailment. At last he rose and bade her good-by, but instead of going immediately downstairs, he said to her husband:—

"Shoop, I want to have a few words in private with you."

The man looked frightened. "She—she ain't dying, doctor?" he whispered. "Come in here." He led Doctor Vincent into a room across the hall.

"No," said the doctor. "She's doing first rate; she'll be all right in a few days. That's not what I wanted to talk to you about. As I came past your windows downstairs, I looked in, and saw that you had been entertaining some guests."

He looked at Shoop sternly, and the keeper of the Pie House dropped his eyes in distress. Then he glanced up with furtive appeal.

"I ain't doing no harm to those young fellows, honest I ain't, doctor," he said.

"You gave the rector your word, Shoop," Doctor Vincent replied, "that there should be no more of this sort of thing. The school promised to help you. The rector's given you employment, and he promised to do more for you as long as you behaved yourself. You gave him your word. You not only went back on your word—you've done it at a time when you should have had nothing but gratitude to Doctor Davenport. After Mrs. Davenport had come up here herself and visited your sick wife and done things for her! I tell you, Shoop, I have nothing but contempt for such a fellow as you!"

There was a flush on Snoop's weak face, but now he looked at the doctor without faltering.

"You're too hard on me, doctor; honest, you are," he said earnestly. "I had n't a notion of selling stuff to the young fellows no more, and when they came this afternoon I said so. But one of 'em explained it was his birthday, and they just wanted to pretend, anyway, they were having a—a blowout; and I had nothing but cider in the house, doctor, nothing but cider, honest—and that not what you might call real hard. So I thought there could n't be much harm in just pourin' 'em out a little of that. I've got rid of all my other stuff. I'll take you down cellar and show you, if you say so, doctor; I'll take you in and show you what the young fellows have been drinkin', if you don't believe me. But it's the truth I'm tellin' you, and I didn't go to break my word to Doctor Davenport—I did n't go to do it, honest."

"Very well," said Doctor Vincent, "I believe you. I believe you enough to make these terms: You give me your word that hereafter you'll turn away any boys who come to you, and that you'll not sell them even cider, and we'll let this matter pass."

"I'll give you my word, doctor—honest," said the man.

"All right. But remember! If you don't keep it this time, the school's done with you."

Doctor Vincent went slowly down the stairs, and then, with a faint smile on his face, walked up to the locked door, and stood there, putting on his gloves. He did this very deliberately, enjoying the thought of the consternation he must be causing the culprits within.

For a moment, kind-hearted man though he was, he had a boyish impulse to open the door, just for the fun of seeing how scared they would be. But he contented himself with chuckling at the thought as he left the house.

He climbed into the buggy and drove rapidly away, but at the bend in the road he stopped his horse. Rupert Ormsby and Francis Stoddard were passing, and Doctor Vincent had an idea.

"Ormsby," he called, "may I have a word with you?" And then, as Stoddard was considerately walking on, he added, "No, you too, Stoddard, please." But he addressed his words to Rupert.

"I've just been making a call at the Pie House—and there are some fellows there who ought not to be. Now I don't like to report boys. I think, anyway, that for fellows as old as these are, the discipline ought to come from among themselves. I had just a glimpse, but I think some of them, anyway, are football-players. I wish, Ormsby, that you'd be on hand when they come out, and then pitch into 'em—for breaking training and all that, you know; give them a good dressing down and make them ashamed of themselves. I don't intend to push the matter any farther. You'll handle it for me?"

"Yes, indeed. It will be great sport. I love to scold," said Rupert, and the boy and the doctor laughed at each other in a way that Francis Stoddard did not quite understand.

"You'll have to keep a straight face or you won't do any good," said Doctor Vincent.

"Oh, I'll be harsh enough with them. If I find any football fellows in the gang I will work myself up into a perfect rage," Rupert assured him.

"You'd better be going along, then. They'll be coming out pretty soon." The two boys touched their hats and the doctor drove rapidly away.

Stoddard and Rupert walked on in silence, and came in sight of the Pie House just as the lawless revelers, who thought they had allowed a sufficient time to elapse after the doctor's departure, were emerging. Herrick and Albree and Frank Windsor had already come out, and two others were in the doorway; and when they saw the two figures approaching along the road, they betrayed for an instant the most ludicrous consternation. One of the boys darted back into the house and banged the door, and the others stood dismayed.

"Oh, it's all right, fellows; it's only Ormsby and Stoddard!" Herrick exclaimed, after a moment, with contemptuous relief.

And at just the same moment Rupert was saying to Stoddard:—

"You've never seen me really fierce; you watch me."

Stoddard did not know quite what to make of the humorous gleam in Rupert's eyes, so oddly followed by the heavy, determined settling of his jaw.

Harry Harding and Bruce Watson and the other members of the Crown came flocking out of the Pie House. Rupert and Stoddard sat down on the stone wall by the roadside and awaited them. They approached with an air of bravado. Coming out into the road, they nodded to the two boys indifferently, and were on the point of sauntering past, when Rupert observed, in an audible tone:—

"I see that the Crown has a new meeting-place."

He got down from the wall, and in his most leisurely manner and with his hands in his pockets, but wearing an expression that was as grave as that of the other boys was troubled and resentful, he walked up to Frank Windsor.

"Look here, fellows!" His voice had the sharp, abrupt tone of command which they had never heard from him before except on the football field; and reluctant though they were, they stopped sullenly to listen. "Windsor and Herrick and Harding and Albree and Stearns!" He enumerated the names with slow disdain. "Five fellows who are on the two first elevens—five fellows who are candidates for the school team! And right in the middle of the football season to sneak off and break training, and run the risk of being fired from the school, when you know how you're needed to help build up the school team! I want to congratulate you five. I want especially to congratulate you, Windsor, as captain of the Corinthian eleven, and you, Harding, as president of the athletic association."

"We did n't really break training," said Frank Windsor. "And they'd never have fired such a crowd of us."

"No, they'd never have fired a crowd of the best fellows in the school, as I think Harding once described you to me," said Rupert. "Perhaps not. But they would have suspended you—or put you on probation, anyway. You'd not have been allowed to play on any school team. You must have known that, all of you, and yet you deliberately ran the risk—ran the risk of crippling the school team and spoiling its chances! Five of the best fellows in the school—who would have bragged of their loyalty! Five of our first eleven men, the Corinthian captain, the athletic president—and all that noble, noble institution, the Crown!"

He swept them with a look of scorn. Then, after a moment of silence, he walked slowly past them with his hands in his pockets and the faintest smile of contempt curling his lips, and as he passed he looked squarely into each sober, downcast face. Not one of the boys answered him a word, and he walked on and left them.

Stoddard accompanied him in a subdued silence. When they got out of sight and hearing of the others, Rupert turned to him with a broad grin.

"How about it? Was I fierce all right?"

Stoddard looked at him wonderingly. Then he answered, with a faint, half-comprehending smile:—

"Well, I should say! I'm scared yet."

Rupert chuckled. "It was more fun than a goat. To see 'em all lined up there like little kids, waiting for a licking! Once I thought I was going to laugh and spoil it all."

"But were n't you—did n't you mean what you said to them?"

"Oh, I felt quite badly about their actions," Rupert replied. And then he became more serious. "Why, yes, if I'd just seen them coming out of the Pie House and the doctor hadn't given me any tip, I'd have had to talk to them, of course—sort of sad and sorry because they did n't have more sense. That's the way I'd have felt—and talked. But when the doctor told me to light into them—well, it was easy enough. Maybe it was better for them. Anyway, it was more fun for me. I guess they won't break training again in a hurry. Poor old Frank Windsor and Harry Harding! Did you notice them? They looked as woebegone as if they'd just been fired from the school."

"Some of 'em looked pretty mad," Stoddard said. "Herrick was mad."

Rupert laughed. "Well, I don't wonder," he acknowledged. "I guess maybe I was pretty
 
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"AND ALL THAT NOBLE, NOBLE INSTITUTION, THE CROWN!"

 
insulting. We'd better be hurrying along now, to get back in time for sacred studies."

Harry Harding "flunked" his recitation in the Bible lesson that Sunday afternoon. He could not remember for what Gibeon was distinguished. He stood for a few moments in silence and with a reddening face, and then began, "He was a great general."

"That will do," said the rector, and the class tittered. The rector made a mark on his form list with deliberation. He had a way of imparting to such a note of delinquency a dismal solemnity. Harry, the prize scholar of the class, sat down.

Rupert answered the question, and Harry was enraged to find that Gibeon was a city, and that the sun had stood still over it a whole day. It seemed to him that he had always known that. He had of course just confused it with Gideon.

It was hardly fair that he should get zero for the lesson, and be humiliated besides, for so small a slip. And then the fact that Rupert had answered so correctly and completely irritated him. Rupert seemed to have a faculty for being always right and for making a fellow who made a slip of any kind feel needlessly small. Harry sat through the rest of that recitation in a mournfully resentful mood.

After the class was dismissed he avoided Rupert; but later in the day, just before supper, he came upon him and Doctor Vincent talking together in the hall.

Harry tried to slip by unnoticed; but Rupert, who had been laughing over something that he had been telling the doctor, turned and nodded with a casual good-humor, and said, "Hello, Harry!"

That evening, after the prayers in the common room, when the boys were getting ready to go down to the study for the hour of reading and letter-writing, Rupert, standing by the door, grabbed Harry's arm.

"Look here," he said, "you first eleven men are all candidates for the school team. You want to make it if you can, Harry. I'm going to keep watch of your playing from now on."

Harry felt that it was a kind and friendly and encouraging speech, and that for Rupert, at least, the unpleasant episode of the afternoon was all past and forgotten. So his heart was softened, and he walked meekly and alone down to the study, thinking that, after all, Rupert was a mighty good fellow.

Joe Herrick, however, was implacable, and that evening expressed himself to Harry bitterly about Rupert.

"He's the kind that loves to go round spying on a fellow," he declared. "He's a goody-goody boy; he's always parading to show how much better he is than anybody else; and I don't care if he is a good football player, he's a stiff. He's bigger and stronger than me, and when I play end against him in the game between the Pythians and Corinthians next Saturday, I suppose he'll do me up; but would n't I like to show him how to play football! I bet it would take some of the superiority and conceit out of him if I only could. I'm going to practice hard this week all right, and may be I'll surprise him yet—the chump! He thinks because he's captain of the school eleven he owns the earth!"

Herrick went on raving in this intemperate fashion, while Harry attempted to put in a mild, persuasive defense of Rupert.

"Oh, you're too good-natured, Harry!" said Herrick scornfully. "You ought n't to forgive a fellow so easily that's been a chump. If I only get a good chance," he added, as he and Harry separated in the corridor of the dormitory, "I'll show him yet!"