Dave Porter at Oak Hall/Chapter 24

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It must be admitted that Dave was startled, for he had no desire to be burned alive, or to suffer in the least from the conflagration so close at hand.

"Can the fire have gotten the better of them?" he asked himself. "Or is this only another test of my nerves?"

The students continued to shout, and a moment later Dave felt a burning brand come down and strike his hand. He was on the point of beginning to struggle, but gritted his teeth and checked himself.

"It's only their fun—Phil wouldn't leave me to burn up," he reasoned, and then began to whistle merrily to himself. At this the members of the society came to a dead halt.

"He whistles," said one. "Great Cæsar! and the house is burning down on his head!"

"Call out the fire department," cried Dave. "Play away, No. 2—bring us a six-story ladder, so we can get into the cellar. This is as good as the toothache when there's a honey tart around! Will somebody be kind enough to lend me an overcoat? I'm getting cold for the lack of exercise."

This sally brought forth an unexpected burst of laughter, and then Dave laughed too. The next instant the bandage was torn from his eyes and he found himself at a corner of the shed, with little bonfires in front and behind him. Several boys had firebrands, which they had been waving near him.

"You're true blue, Dave!" came from Phil, as he stepped forward, and unmasked. "Am I right, fellows?"

"Yes, he's O. K!" was the answer.

"And I welcome you as a member of our society," went on the Right Honorable Muck-a-Muck. "I thought sure, Dave, you'd yell like an Indian when we said the house was on fire."

"Come on and initiate Morr and Basswood," commanded Shadow Hamiltoon. "Here, mask yourself, Dave," and he was given a black hood with a yellow tassel.

Roger was taken next and put through a "water test," as it was termed. Back of the boathouse was a pool, and over this he was suspended head downward and lowered until his eyes were on a level with the water. Then the boys pretended to go away. The rope began to slip, and it looked as if Roger might be drowned. But he held his peace, and so came out of the ordeal "a good fellow."

Ben was given "the sawmill test." One of the lads had a toy which imitated a buzz saw, and after being led through the woods, Ben was tied to a plank placed over an old nail keg.

"Now, boys, be careful," was the command. "Don't let him run too close to the buzz saw, or you'll cut him in half. Just shave off a few of his curly locks, that's all."

And then poor Ben was rolled forward, and the imitation buzz saw was started up. Sawdust had been brought along, and this was showered in the victim's face, and one boy pulled two or three of his hairs. Then of a sudden came a yell!

"Look out! Don't let that board run so fast!"

"I can't hold it!"

"He'll be cut in two!"

"Stop the saw! Stop the saw, quick!" but the buzzing went on all the faster. Yet Ben was grit, and took it calmly, not uttering a single word of protest. Then he, too, was hailed as a fellow member.

"No fun in this," grumbled one of the party.

"What were you going to do to Haven and Poole?" asked Dave.

"Water and fire test," was the reply.

"I've got a plan for Poole, if you'll try it," went on Dave, and told what it was.

"Just the thing! Take the washboiler for the explosion," answered Phil.

Haven came next; and although he squirmed somewhat at being lowered into the water, yet he passed the ordeal fairly well. Then the crowd came to Nat Poole.

"You've kept me waiting long enough," complained the aristocratic youth.

"Grumble not, thy doom is doubly sealed," came the solemn answer. "Away with him to the old powder mill."

"The powder mill?" queried Poole anxiously. "I don't want to go to any powder mill."

No answer was vouchsafed to this, and blindfolded he was hurried around the woods and then back to the shed.

"Hello, here are some kegs of powder, all heaped up," cried Dave, in an assumed voice.

"A pretty big pile of them," said Roger, also in an assumed voice.

"Be careful of that fire," shouted Phil, in a high-pitched, nervous tone. "If you aren't careful you'll blow us all to kingdom-come!"

"See here, I don't want to stay!" cried Nat Poole, in greater alarm than before.

He began to struggle, but was quickly made fast to a post. Then the bonfires were started up once more and the smoke was fanned toward him.

"Let up, I say!" he bellowed. "I don't like this! This fire——"

"The powder! The powder!" shrieked Dave. "It's rolling this way!"

"There goes a keg of it into the fire!" called another.

"Run for your lives, boys! The powder is going to blow up!"

"Save me! save me!" shrieked Nat Poole, shaking like a reed in the wind. "Oh, save me! I—I don't want to be blown up! Save me! I'll give you a—a thousand dollars! Oh, I don't want to die just yet!" And he began to tear at his bonds, in the midst of which the members of the club set up a loud shout of laughter. Then Nat Poole was released and the bandage taken from his eyes.

"Whe—where is the—the powder?" he gasped, staring around wildly.

"In your eye," was the answer, from Shadow. "I guess somebody's sold," he added, and then another shout of laughter went up.

"Why didn't you keep quiet?" said Haven, in disgust. "Nobody was going to hurt you."

"But—but—isn't there any powder?"

"Not a grain."

"Boys, I am afraid he hasn't nerve enough to become a member of the Gee Eyes," pronounced the Right Honorable Muck-a-Muck, seriously.

"His backbone shows remarkable signs of disintegrating," came from another—Polly Vane.

"His knees are too toggle-jointed," added Sam Day.

Nat Poole gazed around, and saw that all present had been making fun of him.

"I don't want anything to do with your old society!" he growled, backing away. "I—I wouldn't join it for a hundred dollars."

"What! do you give up the desire to become a member?" demanded one of the students who had helped to found the Gee Eyes. "If you do that, you can never join later."

"I don't care—I don't want to join," answered Nat Poole, hotly, and then turning, he ran away as fast as his legs could carry him.

"What a pill!" was Buster Beggs's comment, and a great many of the others agreed with him.

The initiation at an end, Dave and the others who had passed were instructed in the grips, signs, and passwords, and then told of the rules and regulations. The initiation fee was two dollars, used principally in the purchase of a red robe and a cap. During the week following each new member had some ridiculous thing to do. Dave had to learn the alphabet backwards, Roger had to ask three shopkeepers of Oakdale if they had any lobster oil to sell, and Ben had to stand in the middle of the road outside of the Hall and ask the first person who came along if he would kindly save him from drowning.

Ben's task came close to getting him into trouble. He went out in the road when he supposed the coast was clear, to stay there exactly ten minutes. Eight minutes had passed, when to his dismay an old farmer came along, driving several cows.

"Excuse me," called out Ben, as cheerfully as he could. "But will you kindly save me from drowning?"

"Save you from what?" asked the farmer.

"Will you kindly save me from drowning?" repeated Ben. He had to make the request three times.

"I guess you are out o' your head," sniffed the farmer. "Drownin', when there ain't no water in sight!"

"Will you kindly save me from drowning?" repeated Ben.

"See here, you can't poke no fun at me!" stormed the farmer, and made at Ben with his cow-whip. But Ben was too quick for him, and ran out of sight with all speed.

"I fancy my task was the easiest after all," said Dave, "although learning the alphabet backwards isn't the easiest thing in the world." When Dave recited before a committee of five, he had to stand on his head and fan himself in the meanwhile. Yet with it all he enjoyed the fun as much as anybody.