Dave Porter at Oak Hall/Chapter 16

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In less than half an hour the feast was at its height. Each of the students had had his fill of cake, candy, fruits, and drinkables, and all were telling jokes, listening to stories, and doing various "stunts" on the floor, the beds, and on the table and chairs. One lad, who was something of a gymnast, climbed on another's shoulders, while another did a somersault on one of the mattresses. There was likewise a pillow fight, and one student had half a glass of lemonade poured down his back.

"Isn't this great?" asked Roger of Dave.

"It's certainly all right," was Dave's answer. The merriment of his companions pleased him greatly.

"I didn't dream of such a grand reception," said Ben.

"Well, we don't give everybody such a reception. This is something special."

"Oh, for room for more chocolate cake!" came from Buster Beggs.

"Which puts me in mind of something," said Shadow. "No, it isn't a story this time, it's a fact. Once on a time, when I was a kid of ten, I went to a surprise party. The girl—it was on a girl—loved chocolate cake. Says my ma, 'I'll make you a chocolate cake to take along. Mrs. Jones says Bessie loves chocolate cake so.' So I took the chocolate cake. When I got there I handed in the cake, and found out that Bessie had received fourteen chocolate cakes already. Everybody knew she loved chocolate, and everybody wanted to please her."

"Another black mark for Shadow!" cried Phil. "Now then, who wants the last of this root beer? Don't all speak at once."

"Give it to Shadow," suggested Dave. "He must be dry, telling so many yarns." And to Shadow it went, and he drank it quickly.

"Which puts me in mind," he began, after smacking his lips. "Once on a time——"

"Thanks, some other time," interrupted Roger. "Just gather those bottles together and put them in the box,—and go and get that bottle from the corner of the hall, too."

"I'll get that bottle, Roger," said Dave. He motioned to Phil.

"What's wanted?" whispered the latter, coming forward to the door.

"I'd like to know how Chip Macklin is making out, Phil. Supposing I slip down and see?"

"All right—but don't let him go free."

"I won't—unless he's frightened to death."

"Want me to go along?"

"As you please."

The two boys slipped out into the dark hallway, and side by side made their way to the stairs leading into the big cellar.

"There's a light down there!" cried Dave, as they opened the door. "Somebody besides Macklin is there!"

"Perhaps it's Gus Plum!"

"That's true."

The boys came to a halt, and by listening intently made out a low mumble of two voices.

"Let us listen and learn what they are saying," said Phil. "It's fair enough—after what Macklin tried to do."

With caution they descended to the cellar bottom and tiptoed their way toward the coal vault.

"Yes, sir, but I—I don't dare to tell," reached them, in the quivering voice of the sneak. "If I do the—they'll kill me!"

"Unless you tell me just what this means, Master Macklin, I shall leave you here," was the reply, and to the amazement of Dave and Phil it came in Job Haskers's voice. "I have been made a fool of—but never mind that. It is lucky for you that I came back at this time of the night and heard you calling in your fright. Now, tell me what's at the bottom of it all. Who put you here?"

"Why—er—some of the students."

"What students?"

"Oh, sir, I—I really don't dare to tell," whined the sneak.

"And I demand an answer to my question!" thundered Job Haskers.

"Well, you see, some of them were having a spread—a blow-out, you know——"

"A blow-out?"

"Yes, sir—something to eat and to drink, in their dormitory. I stopped at the door to find out what was up, and they captured me and put me down here."

"What dormitory was that?"

"Oh, sir—I—I——"

"If you do not answer, I shall have you punished severely, Macklin. Come, answer, and no more nonsense!" And the assistant teacher shook his long finger menacingly at the sneak.

"If I tell you, sir—you won't—won't let them know, will you?"

"I shall not mention your name."

"They were the boys in dormitory No. 12—— and some from No. 11, too."

"Are they having their feast yet?"

"I suppose so. But, oh, Mr. Haskers——"

"I shall look into this, and without delay."

"Please set me free first, and give me a chance to get back to my room."

"Very well," and Job Haskers began to work over the dog chain with which the sneak was fastened to the iron pipe.

In the meantime Dave and Phil had heard enough. Noiselessly they withdrew to the upper hall once more. This done, they skipped upstairs two steps at a time and rushed into the dormitory.

"The jig is up, fellows," cried Dave. "Out of sight with everything, and get to bed just as fast as you can!"

"What have you learned?" asked Roger.

"Job Haskers is back, and somehow he heard Macklin in the cellar and went to him," answered Phil. "Macklin just told him that we were having a spread."

Very rapidly all the evidences of the feast were shoved out of sight. What to do with the box of root-beer bottles nobody at first knew.

"Here, tie them to this," said Dave, producing a bit of fishing line, and by this means the box was suspended from the catch of one of the window blinds. The rubbish was cast out of the window and the breeze that was blowing soon carried it from sight. Then the students undressed, rearranged their beds, turned out the light, and crawled under the covers.

Scarcely had the boys settled themselves than there came swift footsteps through the hallway, and the door to dormitory No. 12 was opened by Job Haskers. Behind the assistant stood Dr. Clay, clad in a dressing gown and slippers.

The assistant turned on the light, and then gazed about him in a dismayed fashion. He had anticipated finding all in disorder. As it was, not even a chair was out of place. He turned to one clothes closet after another, but nothing unusual met his view.

"What do you find, Mr. Haskers?" asked the doctor, in rather a hard tone of voice. The master of the school did not relish being aroused out of a sound sleep to look after his pupils.

"Why—er—this appears to be in order," stammered the second assistant.

"So I should say myself,—and all of the boys appear to be asleep," added the doctor, and listened to the heavy breathing and the snoring.

"They may be shamming."

Job Haskers walked from one bed to another and gazed keenly at each occupant. Dave felt like laughing outright, but managed to keep a sober face, and continued to snore as if he was enjoying the soundest sleep of his life.

From dormitory No. 12, the assistant and Dr. Clay passed to No. 11, only to find the same orderly appearance and the same apparent sleepers.

"X goes into b minus 12bz——" murmured Buster Beggs, as if talking in his sleep. "Oh, what a sum to do! 24a plus ab square——" and the rest was lost in a mumble.

"He is certainly asleep," was the worthy doctor's comment. "His algebra has been too much for him."

The assistant did not reply, but gazed into some more of the clothes closets, only to find everything in perfect order. Then he looked under the beds and tables.

"Well?" demanded the doctor, in even a harder voice than that previously employed.

"I—do not seem to find anything wrong, sir," admitted the second assistant, humbly.

"Then your informant must have been mistaken."

"Well, there was no mistake about his being where I found him," returned Job Haskers, grimly.

"It was some small lark, probably, and the boy magnified it," was Dr. Clay's answer, as he stalked into the hall again. A moment later he and the assistant took their departure.

For fully a minute the dormitories remained perfectly silent—each boy straining his ears to catch the sounds of the retreating footsteps; then one cover after another was flung back and all sat up.

"Are they gone," whispered Sam Day.

"They are," answered Roger.

"We've had a close shave of it," remarked Dave. "We didn't get into bed any too quick."

"Be careful," came guardedly from Ben. "They may come back."

Hardly daring to breathe, the boys arose and several gazed out into the hall and remained on guard. While they did this, others put away such things as had not yet found their proper places.

"What a beautiful snore you did give, Dave," said Phil, with a little laugh.

"And I had this under my back, too," answered Dave, and held up an empty soda water bottle.

"What got me was Buster doing algebra in his sleep," came from Shadow. "I felt like roaring right out. Put me in mind of a story our old hired man used to tell me of a——"

"No more to-night," came from Sam Day. "Clean up, and go to bed, before we spoil it all by being pinched."

"I don't know that we are out of this yet," said one of the other pupils. "Remember, Macklin was found in the cellar, just as old Haskers said."

"That sneak ought to be made to leave the school," came from another. "So long as he remains here he will do his best to spoil all our fun."

At that instant one of the boys in the hall came back into the dormitory.

"More steps on the stairs and coming this way!" he announced. "Better get to bed and stay there!"

"Right you are," returned Roger. "Is everything all right?"

"Here's a piece of layer cake if anybody wants it," came from Phil.

"Layer away until another day," said Roger, and gave a yawn. "To tell the truth, I'm sleepy."

"That pun is enough to make anybody tired," retorted Phil. "Where did you get it from, the ark?"

"Just 'ark to that now!" interposed Dave.

"Worse and worse!" came from several. "Come, let's get to bed."

And in a few minutes more all were sleeping soundly, as if nothing out of the usual order had occurred.