Dave Porter at Oak Hall/Chapter 30
A RACE ON THE ICE
"Hurrah, Dave, the ice is six inches thick on the river, and Dr. Clay says we can go skating as much as we please during off hours!"
It was Roger who brought in the good news, as he entered the general library of Oak Hall, where Dave, Ben, and a number of others were reading. It was a clear, sunshiny day, but nipping cold.
"Good!" answered Dave, throwing down his book. "I'm going to see if my skates are O. K. They are rather old, but I've had lots of fun out of them."
"I've got a new pair," said Roger. "Got them for a birthday present."
The boys soon had their skates, and a crowd of a dozen or more started for the river. It was three days after the snowballing, and though Job Haskers had tried his best to find out who had attacked him, nothing had come of the investigation.
When they arrived on the ice, they found Gus Plum and Nat Poole already there. Each of the rich lads had a pair of silver-plated skates of which he was very proud. Dave's skates were of the plainest kind of steel, having cost but sixty-five cents, and Nat Poole stuck up his nose at them.
"My! look at the gunboats," he observed, to Gus Plum, but loud enough for Dave to hear. "Made of cast-off railroad iron, I guess."
"Let's take up a collection for a new pair," answered the bully of Oak Hall.
"If Dave is satisfied with his skates you ought to be," came sharply from Ben.
"Who is talking to you?" demanded Plum, roughly.
"I'm talking to you, Gus Plum."
"Oh, don't mind him, Ben," interposed Dave. "His talk isn't worth listening to. His skates may have cost more money than mine, but, just the same, I don't think he can skate any faster on them than I can on this old pair."
"Do you want to prove that?" cried Gus Plum, eagerly. He was really a good skater.
"A race! A race!" was the cry.
"I'll race you, too," put in Nat Poole.
"All right, I'd just as lief beat two as one," answered Dave, and said it so dryly that the crowd began to laugh.
The details of the race were quickly arranged. Up the river about half a mile was a small island. The three racers were to start from the boathouse dock, round the island, and come back to the starting point.
"You've got to hump yourself, Dave," whispered Phil. "Plum is a dandy skater. He has won more than one match."
"And Nat Poole is a good skater, too," added Ben. "He won the race at Bedloe Lake last winter."
"I think I can beat them," returned the country youth, confidently. As he had said before, he did not attempt fancy skating, but loved long stretches, and his wind was good, as had been proved on the football field.
The three contestants lined up, and at the word from a youth selected to act as starter they were off like a shot, side by side.
"That's a fine start," observed Buster Beggs.
A hundred yards were quickly covered, and then Dave shot ahead like an arrow from a bow.
"Porter is in the lead!" was the cry.
"Never mind, the race is young yet!" came back from one of Gus Plum's cronies.
On and on went the contestants, their skates making a sharp grinding on the glassy surface of the river. A few of the boys went after them, to see that each rounded the Island properly.
By the time the island was gained Plum and Poole made a spurt and came up abreast of Dave. The latter was on the outside, and so had to make the largest sweep around, and this made him lose about a yard.
"Plum is ahead!"
"Yes, but Nat Poole is a close second!"
Down the homestretch came the three skaters, the steel runners grinding into the glassy surface more furiously than ever. The pace was a terrific one, and Poole was beginning to lose his wind.
"See, Dave Porter is creeping up!"
It was true, and at the same time Poole began to lose his place beside Gus Plum. The aristocratic youth was now almost winded, while both the bully and Dave were comparatively fresh. Inch by inch the country boy drew forward, until he and Poole were abreast.
"Poole and Porter are tied!"
There now remained but two hundred yards more, and Gus Plum put on an extra spurt which carried him still further in the lead.
"It's Plum's race!"
"With Porter as second!"
It was true that Dave was now ahead of Nat Poole, who, as soon as he was out-distanced, gave up completely. Dave saw that the bully was at least five yards ahead of him. Could he close in on such a lead?
"I must!" he told himself, and shut his teeth hard. He bent forward for another spurt, and like a flash he was almost on Plum's heels.
"Porter is crawling up!"
"Hurry up, Dave!" screamed Roger. "You can do it, old man! Go it!"
"He can't catch Gus Plum," came back from another student, but even as the lad spoke, Dave gave another spurt, and came up alongside of the bully.
"It's a neck-and-neck race!" was the shout.
The line was now less than twenty yards away and still Dave and Plum were side by side. The pace was terrific, and the country boy felt as if something must burst within him. But now he made another spurt, and shot ahead fully a yard—and then the line was crossed.
"Hurrah! Dave Porter wins the race!"
At once Dave was surrounded by his admirers, who shook hands with him, patted him on the back, and led him to a seat in the warm boathouse.
"It was great!" said Shadow, enthusiastically. "Simply great!"
"I congratulate you, Dave," put in Phil. "My! but that will make Plum feel sick all over."
"My skate came loose," said Nat Poole to the crowd on the ice. "If it hadn't been for that, I should have won."
"I got caught in a crack," said the bully.
"Poor excuses are worse than none," said Sam Day, and slipped away to join his friends. The race was the talk of the school for several days, and
for the time being Dave was looked up to as the champion skater of Oak Hall. Nothing more was said about his owning nothing but an old pair of skates.
"The skates don't count as much as the fellow who wears 'em," said Ben, and the others agreed with him.
"I'm awfully glad you won, Dave," said Chip Macklin, in private. "It will help to take the conceit out of Plum and Poole."
"Maybe, but I doubt it," was Dave's reply. "They are too thick-skinned to be affected so easily."
The skating continued good, and on the following Saturday, Dave, Roger, Ben, and Phil arranged for a long outing up the river. They expected to be gone all day and took their dinners with them.
"This is just the kind of an outing I love," said Dave, as they spun along over the ice. "We ought to cover a good many miles before we get back."
"Let us skate as far as the old castle," said Phil. "I haven't visited that spot for years."
"What sort of a place is it?" questioned Ben.
"It's a tumbled-down brick-and-stone building that was erected during the Revolutionary War, so they say. It's on a branch of the river, and I think it's deserted. We can build a fire in the old place and have our dinners there."
So it was arranged, and the party proceeded on its way. The river made many turns, and in spots they had to bend low to escape the overhanging branches. But, generally speaking, the skating was good, and by half-past eleven they came in sight of the old building Phil had described.
"It does look a little like a castle," said Ben. "Who owns it?"
"It belongs to some estate, I think," answered Phil. "Some of the heirs are missing, so the matter has never been settled."
"And nobody lives here?"
"So I've been told. Once a gang of tramps took possession, but the folks over at Riverdale chased them away."
"There is somebody at the place now," said Dave. "Don't you see the smoke pouring from that half tumbled-down chimney?"
"Dave is right," said Roger. "It's too bad! I thought that we'd have the place all to ourselves."
"Perhaps some other boys are here," said Phil. "Let us find out, anyway."
They skated to the lower end of the old building and there took off their skates. Then they entered through a wide-open doorway, and found themselves in a long hall, dark, dingy, and covered with cobwebs. At one side was a stairway leading to an upper floor, and on the other, and to the rear, various doors leading to the lower rooms.
"This is certainly gloomy enough," remarked Dave. "And cold enough, too."
"Feels to me like a vault, or a tomb," said Ben. "Any ghosts around? Every first-class old castle has its ghosts, you know."
"This isn't first-class enough to have one," answered Phil, with a grin.
From one of the rooms they heard a murmur of voices. Two men were talking earnestly. They also detected the odor of something cooking.
"They must be tramps," whispered Ben.
"Yes, but as there are only two of them, there is nothing to be afraid of," returned Roger.
"I don't think they'll like to be disturbed," said Dave.
"They haven't any more right here than we have," put in Phil. "If they—Hark!"
He stopped short and the four boys listened intently.
"They are quarreling," exclaimed Roger.
"Yes, and it's over some money. I believe they'll be fighting in another minute," added Dave.
"I say I want the money you promised to me," said one of the men in the room. "You can't put me off any longer."
"Now, just keep cool, Billy," was the answer in a cold, smooth voice. "There is no use of your getting excited."
"Ain't there? Well, hang my toplights, but I think there is! You think because I'm nothing but an old seadog an' not used to land ways you can pull the wool over my eyes, don't you, Tag Dutch? But you ain't goin' to git the best o' old Billy Dill, not by a jugful!"
"I don't intend to get the best of you, Billy."
"Yes, you do. You're a slick rooster, you are, an' I've a notion ye ain't honest nuther. I want my money, an' then we'll part hawsers, an' you can sail your course an' I'll sail mine."
"I think I know one of those men!" whispered Dave, excitedly. "Let me look through the keyhole of that door." He knelt down and did so. "Just as I thought, Roger! One of those men is the rascal who robbed your father's summer home!"