Dave Porter at Oak Hall/Chapter 28
At Dave's accusation the sneak of the school turned pale, and for the moment did not know what to say. There was a painful silence, broken by Gus Plum, who advanced upon the boy from the country with clenched fists.
"See here, I ain't going to stand for this!" he blustered. "Chip is no thief."
"I have spoken the truth," answered Dave, calmly. "I dare Macklin to deny it."
"Ho—how can you prove that I to—took the composition," came faintly from the sneak.
"Never mind, I can prove it, and that's enough. It was a mean piece of business. I had to use another composition not so good in its stead, and it brought down my percentage."
"Don't you let him bulldoze you. Chip," interposed the bully. "I don't believe he can prove it." And he winked suggestively at his toady.
"Do you know what I think, Plum?" continued Dave, hotly. "You and Macklin are in league with each other in this, just as you are in with each other on other shady transactions."
"Really?" sneered the bully. He squared off. "Look here, Porter, I owe you a thrashing and I said I'd give it to you. I reckon the time is ripe for it."
"I told you I'd be ready whenever you were ready, Plum. But that hasn't anything to do with this affair. I ask you, Macklin, what you have to say for yourself."
"Don't answer him. Chip. He can't prove anything. It's only bluster on his part. Keep your mouth shut."
Again there was a painful pause. Then without warning Dave stepped forward and caught the sneak by the ear.
"Did you hear me?" he asked, sharply. "Did you hear me?"
"Oh! oh!" shrieked the sneak. "Oh, let go. Porter, please let go!" And he began to squirm.
"Answer my question."
"I—I can't answer. I—I didn't do anything. I—I found some sheets of a composition that had—had blown out of a window—"
"That's a fairy tale, Macklin, you—"
Dave got no further, for Gus Plum was on him and catching him by the arm, flung him backward. Instantly the two squared off. Plum struck at the country boy, and hit him in the shoulder, and Dave retaliated with a sharp crack on the bully's jaw that sent Plum staggering against a table.
"I told you to keep out, Plum," said Dave, warmly.
"I'll—I'll fix you!" growled the bully, and leaped forward once more. He managed to strike Dave on the forehead, a blow that hurt not a little.
Dave was now thoroughly aroused, and he sprang at the bully with vigor, and blows were given and taken with astonishing rapidity. Around and around the dormitory went the two boys, knocking over a chair, and a shelf containing a number of books. Once they bumped into Macklin, but the sneak lost no time in getting out of the way. He wanted to trip Dave up, but could see no chance for so doing.
Dave had been struck half a dozen times, and it must be confessed that he was fast losing his wind. Yet the thought of giving up never once occurred to him. He continued to strike at Plum, and the bully caught a stinging blow in the eye that made him see stars. Then gathering his strength, Dave sent in one awful blow on Plum's chin that raised the bully from his feet and sent him crashing over a bed and on his back.
"No—now, have you had enough?" Dave asked, coming up to Plum with his fists still clenched tightly.
In a dazed fashion the bully of Oak Hall looked up. He saw something in Dave's eyes that made him shiver—that look which made the country boy at times truly dangerous.
"Here comes somebody!" cried Macklin, at this juncture, and a second later the door swung open and Job Haskers strode in.
"What is the meaning of this noise up here?" demanded the assistant teacher, sharply. "It sounds as if you were pulling the school building down. Ha! you have been fighting!"
"No—no, we weren't fighting," panted Plum, sitting up on the bed.
"No—no, sir,—we were only having a—er—a little wrestling match."
"That's it," came from Macklin, who was anxious to shield his champion. "It didn't amount to anything."
"Sorry we made so much noise, Mr. Haskers," continued the bully, smoothly. He was fast recovering.
Job Haskers looked at Dave.
"What have you to say, Master Porter?"
"I haven't anything to say, Mr. Haskers."
"Were you simply wrestling with Master Plum?"
Dave was silent.
"Of course, we were wrestling—quite a friendly affair," came from the bully. And he looked suggestively at the country boy.
The assistant teacher continued to look at Dave, and caught him by the arm.
"Then it was a strictly friendly affair, eh?" he went on, searchingly. "I did not know that you and Master Plum were such great friends."
"We are not friends, Mr. Haskers. I don't want the friendship of such a fellow as Plum. I came here on business, and—well, I don't care to say anything more. But we are not friends, and I don't want anybody to think so."
As these words issued from Dave's lips Gus Plum glared at him, in anger. Macklin was also disturbed.
"Then it was a fight, eh?"
Dave continued to remain silent.
"If you must know the truth, Mr. Haskers, I'll tell you," cried Gus Plum. "Porter came in here and accused Macklin and myself of something we didn't do. He called Macklin a thief, and a lot more, and flocked it into me, too. I stood as much as I could, and then talked back. Then he pitched into me; didn't he, Chip?"
"He certainly did," answered Chip, catching the cue. "It was all Porter's fault, if you must know."
"Mr. Haskers—" commenced Dave, and then stopped short. He knew it would be useless to try to defend himself in the eyes of the second assistant.
"Come down to Dr. Clay's office," thundered the teacher. "Come down, all of you."
There was no help for it, and in a few minutes more the three students were in the office, and the doctor was listening to what his assistant had to say. Then, much to that individual's astonishment, he told Job Haskers he might go.
"But, Dr. Clay—"
"You can go. I will settle this myself," said the doctor, and the assistant walked out, much chagrined, for he had hoped to remain and see Dave punished.
Neither Dave nor Plum was in the best of condition, so far as appearances went. The bully had a black eye and a cut chin, while Dave's nose was swollen and his collar and necktie were torn. Dr. Clay looked from one to the other curiously, and also at Macklin, who was trembling.
"You must have had quite a fight," said he, shortly. "Who struck the first blow?"
"He did," said Plum, pointing to Dave. "And abused Macklin, too; didn't he, Chip?"
"What have you to say. Porter?"
"Dr. Clay, will you allow me to tell my whole story?" asked the country boy, earnestly. "I didn't expect to expose anybody, but I suppose it can't be helped—now."
"Go ahead, but don't take too long," was the brief reply.
In as few words as possible Dave told him how he had missed the composition and seen Macklin coming from the dormitory. Then he told of finding the bits of half-burned paper, and he brought them forth. He also told of how the bully and the sneak had treated him in general.
"I didn't intend to fight when I went after Macklin," he continued. "I wanted him to know that I had found him out, and I was going to make him promise to do better in the future. But Plum stood up for the sneak, and pitched into me, and I had to defend myself. Then I—well, I guess I lost my temper, and I knocked Plum over the bed."
After this the bully and the sneak were closely questioned, and the doctor looked over the bits of burnt paper which Dave had in his pocket.
"Macklin, I want you to answer me truthfully," said Dr. Clay, looking the youngest boy closely in the eyes. "Did you, or did you not, take that composition?"
The sneak tried to evade that gaze, but could not. He started to speak several times, but the words would not come.
"I—I thought it was some old composition—I didn't think it was of much value!" whined Macklin, at last.
"Did you try to burn it up as soon as you took it?"
"No, sir, I—I kept it. I was going to put it back the next day, but—but—"
"But what?" thundered the doctor.
"Oh, please don't ask me, Dr. Clay."
"I demand an answer, Macklin. Do you want to be dismissed from the Hall?"
"No! no! But if I answer Plum will kill me, I know he will," whined the sneak.
"Did Plum tell you to burn it?"
"We—we burned it together—along with some old writing of my own."
"I didn't have anything to do with it," burst out the bully. "Just you wait, Chip—"
"Silence, Plum! So, then, you burned it together?"
"Yes, sir. I was—was scared—but Gus said it would be all right, that nobody would find it out!" Macklin burst into tears. "Oh, Dr. Clay, please don't send me home, please don't! I won't do such a thing again, I promise I won't! Please don't send me home! My stepfather will kill me if I'm sent home!"
Macklin was on his knees, and the bitter tears were streaming down his face as he clutched at Dr. Clay's frock coat. The master of the Hall was affected and looked at Dave.
"Dr. Clay, please don't punish him on my account," said Dave, swallowing a lump that arose in his throat. "I—I don't care about the composition—let it pass, won't you? If he's got a stepfather—" He did not finish.
"You are quite sure you will behave yourself in the future, if I do as Master Porter suggests, Chipham?"
"Yes, sir—oh, yes, sir!" came eagerly.
"It was a wicked thing to do, and I do not wonder that Master Porter was angry when he found it out. You can go now. I will talk it over with you later—after I have finished with Master Plum. Porter, you can go, too. After this, if you have any more troubles, bring them to me before you try to settle them yourself."
A moment later Macklin left the office, and Dave followed, leaving the bully alone with the master of Oak Hall. What was said or done to Gus Plum never became known to the outsiders, but half an hour later he came forth looking very humble, and for some weeks after that he kept himself well within bounds and attended strictly to his studies.