The Rover Boys at School/19
THE SKATING RACE—DAN BAXTER IS CORNERED.
The wind had been with the racers thus far, but as one after another of the skaters turned the mark they found the wind now full in their faces, and it was blowing freshly.
"Mumps will win, beyond a doubt!" was the cry, as the lad from the Hudson River forged still further ahead.
"My skate is loose!" cried Larry, and a second later the skate came off and flew fifty feet away.
By this time Dick and Fred were coming up, slowly but surely. It seemed to be nip-and-tuck between them, and the friends of each cheered wildly.
"Go it, Dick; you can come in second anyway!"
"Make him follow you, Fred! You can do it if you try!"
On and on went the racers, Mumps still ten feet ahead, Fred and Dick side by side, and the others in a bunch just back of them.
But the strain was now beginning to tell upon Mumps, who had pushed himself too much from the start. Halfway to the finish from the turning point Dick and Fred began to crawl up, until they were less than a yard behind him, one at either hand.
"Go it, Mumps! They are catching you!"
Mumps did try to increase his speed, but his wind was gone and he could hardly strike out. The finish was now in sight, and the boys began to shout on every side:
"Go it, every one of you!"
"Hurrah! Mumps, Dick, and Fred are a tie!"
It was true the three boys were side by side. But presently both Dick and Fred made extra efforts and forged ahead.
"It's your race, Fred!"
"It's yours, Dick!"
But it was neither's race—for with a shout both whizzed over the line at the same instant.
"And Mumps aint in it!"
"Three cheers for Dick and Fred!" shouted Frank Harrington, and the cheers were given with a will. By this time the playhour was over, and all of the skaters rushed back to the Hall, to get ready for the drill previous to supper. It is needless to add that each lad brought an extra big appetite with him.
All of the Rover boys noticed that Dan Baxter did not turn up at roll call, nor did the bully put in an appearance that night. "Got a day off," said Mumps, but that was all he could tell.
Late on the following day Tom was walking toward the gymnasium when he caught sight of Baxter just entering the school grounds. He at once ran toward the bully.
"Baxter, I want to have a talk with you," he said sharply, as he looked the bully squarely in the face.
"Do you?" was the uneasy answer. "All right, fire ahead."
"Hadn't you better come up to the dormitory? We can have it all to ourselves, for the others are either in the gymnasium or on the lake."
"Well, I was going up to our dormitory anyway," answered Baxter, and stalked off, leaving Tom to follow him. Once they were in the dormitory occupied by the bully and his set, Baxter locked the door.
"Now out with what you have got to say, and be quick about it," he growled.
"I want to know who that man was you met at the tavern in Cedarville."
"Didn't meet any man in particular. Met half a dozen in general."
"You know the man I mean—the tall fellow, with a scar on his chin."
"Oh, that fellow? I think his name is Nolly. He's a book agent, and I promised to buy some histories from him," and Baxter pretended to yawn, as if he was not especially interested.
"You are not telling the truth, Baxter," answered Tom, undaunted by this show of nerve.
"Do you mean to say I lie, Rover? Take care, or you may be sorry for what you say!"
"You can't pull the wool over my eyes, Baxter. That man's name is no more Nolly than mine is George Washington or yours William McKinley."
"Isn't it? Then perhaps you know his real name."
"I do. His name is Arnold Baxter."
Had a bomb exploded at Baxter's ear he would not have appeared more astonished.
"Say, who told you that?" he demanded fiercely and caught Tom by the arm.
"Let go of me, Dan Baxter."
"I say, who told you that?"
"I heard his name in the woods. He was with the man who robbed my brother Dick of his watch, when we were at home."
"Stuff and nonsense!" growled the bully, but he was very pale, and his voice shook with emotion. "That man's name is William Nolly. He used to know my father. That is why I helped him along by giving him an order for the histories. I don't really want the books."
"If you was helping him, how is it that Sam and I saw you taking a roll of bills from, him down at the tavern?"
Again Baxter started. "You didn't see no such thing! " he roared, regardless of his grammar. "I—that is—he gave me some change, that is all. Here are the books I bought," and he pointed to a package he had been carrying.
"It's a made-up story," retorted Tom. "He gave you money, and my opinion is that that man is your father, and that he is no better than the man with whom he associates."
The words had scarcely left Tom's lips than Baxter leaped upon him like an enraged animal and hurled him to the floor. "I've a good mind to—to kill you for that, Rover!" he hissed. "Take it back, or I'll choke you to death!" and his strong hand sought Tom's throat.
"Will you!" came in a gasp, and now Tom turned over and threw the bully to one side. "I guess two can play at this game. Take that!" and he struck Baxter a heavy blow on the side of the face. In a moment they had clinched and were trying their best to throw each other.
Suddenly came a rattle of the door knob. "Boys! boys! what does this mean?" It was George Strong's voice. "Open the door instantly."
"Keep your month shut!" whispered Baxter, as he again shook his fist in Tom's face. "Not one word—on your life!"
Then he disengaged himself, adjusted his collar and tie, which had become rumpled, and unlocked the door. At once the head assistant strode into the dormitory.
"Have you two been fighting?" he demanded.
"We were only boxing a bit, sir," answered Baxter, before Tom could speak. "No harm, intended, sir."
"You were making a good deal of noise," answered George Strong dryly. "What have you to say, Rover?"
"I have this to say, Mr. Strong," answered Tom boldly. "I would like to interview Captain Putnam without delay."
"Don't you dare——" began Baxter, when a wave of the teacher's hand cut him short.
"About what, Rover?"
"About this affair, and about Baxter, sir. I am not a telltale, but certain things have happened which I think Captain Putnam should know for his own sake and for the reputation of his school."
"You—you imp!" hissed Baxter. He wanted to spring at Tom, but now George Strong caught him and held him fast.
"Baxter, you had best come with me—and you too, Rover."
"To see Captain Putnam?" queried Tom.
"I don't want to go," blustered the bully. "Let Rover tell his yarn—I don't care. It will be only another of his lies."
"Then you shall go to the guardroom," said the teacher. "Rover, you may go to see the captain alone."
"I will, sir—at once," and Tom made away. He had no sooner departed than George Strong marched Baxter off to the guardroom previously described. As the pair passed down the stairs they encountered Mumps coming up.
"Hullo, Dan, what does this mean?" asked Mumps in wonder.
"I'm under arrest," laughed Baxter bitterly. "And for nothing, too."
"Silence!" commanded George Strong. "If you have done nothing wrong, you will soon be released."
"You bet I will," rejoined Baxter insolently, and then, watching his chance, he made a sign which Mumps well understood. The sign meant "Come and help me if you can."
Mumps nodded to show that he understood. Then he pretended to go up to the dormitory, while the head teacher conducted Baxter to the guardroom, locked the impudent one in, and walked away with the key.