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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER IV. A BLOW FOR CLARK.
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 “Mr. Horton, can we have the use of this room for an hour or so after school to-day?”  
It was Gordon who asked the question.
“We including—?” said Mr. Horton, inquiringly.
“All the section, I hope,” answered Gordon. “Some of us, Mr. Horton, have made up our minds that there has got to be a change in D section. We don’t like the reputation that we are getting.”
“I am very glad to hear you say so, Gordon,” said Mr. Horton earnestly. “I feel deeply ashamed of it myself, and have been giving most serious thought to the matter for some time past. But if you boys will set yourselves to work in real earnest, you can accomplish far more than is possible for me.”
“I don’t know, sir, how much we shall be able to accomplish,” said Gordon, “but some of us are bound to try. The trouble is, that there are in our section so many that don’t care anything about their either in their studies or in deportment. All they seem to think about is having a good time. We’ve been talking the matter over, Graham, Sherman[34] and I, and we’re afraid that we can’t get a majority to act with us.”
“I hope you will find yourselves mistaken about that,” said Mr. Horton, “and that more than half the class will be ready to join you at once. Certainly, you can use this room; but, of course, you must be very quiet and orderly in your discussions.” “We’ll do our best, sir,” said Gordon, as he turned away and began to distribute slips of paper, laying one on each desk.
Mr. Horton picked one up. It read:—
“You are requested to attend a class meeting in this room at 2.15 this afternoon, for the discussion of matters of great importance to every member of the class.
“Fred Gordon.
Alec. Graham.
Ralph Sherman.“
These notices the liveliest interest and curiosity, and not one boy left the room when school was over, while Mr. Horton departed that there might be no delay in the business of the hour. The door had barely closed behind him when the room was in an , many voices calling upon Gordon, Graham and Sherman to know what was up.
Gordon, having tried in vain to make himself heard amid the , seized a ruler and rapped on his[35] desk, and having thus gained attention for a second, he sprang up on his seat and began rapidly:—
“If you’ll just keep quiet a minute or so, I’ll tell you why this meeting was called. You all know that section D does not bear a very high reputation, but perhaps you don’t all know what a very bad name we have gained, not only in the school, but outside of it.”
“Oh, rats!” called out Henderson; but Green said, “Hush up, Hendy. Let’s hear what the good little boy’s got to say. We can sit down on him easy enough after he gets through preaching.”
Gordon went on, “I heard a gentleman—one of the prominent business men in town—say the other day, that ‘such a set of young toughs as seemed to be collected in section D would be a disgrace to any school,’ and a lady that my mother knows, refused to allow a boy belonging to this section to be introduced to her daughters. Now I think that we’ve all reason to be ashamed of our record when people talk that way about us, and what is more, the school board has taken the matter up, and is to have a change here. So you see we’ve got to behave ourselves anyhow, and so why not take matters into our own hands and do it of our own accord without waiting till we’re forced into it?”
“Oh, shucks! I’d like to see anybody force me to do anything I don’t want to do,” said Crawford.
“Or me, either,” said Henderson.
“Oh, well—if you want to be suspended or dismissed from the school for good, I’ve no doubt that can soon and easily be brought about,” said Gordon.
“They ain’t agoin’ to suspend fifteen or twenty boys, an’ don’t you believe it,” said Coyle.
“’Specially when those fifteen or twenty belong to the brightest section in the school,” added another boy.
“Small thanks to you for that,” retorted Graham, at which there was a general laugh, the speaker being by no means a brilliant scholar.
He joined in the laugh, saying lazily, “Oh well, the rest of you do poling enough without me.”
“But we’re losing ground even in scholarship,” put in Sherman, “another section beat us last quarter, and a girl’s section at that.”
“Oh well, we don’t the pretty dears a few marks,” supplementing his remarks with a coarse laugh, and a word or two that made more than one boy’s cheeks burn.
“There, fellows!” cried Gordon, turning to a group near him, “that’s the kind of thing that has brought our section down so low. It isn’t just fun, or even carelessness and . It is low, talk, and the oaths that some of us use so constantly, that make everybody so down on us, and I don’t wonder at it.”
“Pretty little boy! Does his mammy know he’s out?” said Henderson, .
“’Course she does. He’s still tied to her apron-string,” put in Coyle.
“I suppose you think such talk is very smart,” said Gordon, trying hard to look undisturbed, “but I think we are all old enough to begin to act like gentlemen, to say the least, and some of us mean to show that we are gentlemen. We are going to form a law and order society, and elect a president and secretary, and see what we can do to make our section one to be proud of.”
“Suppose one of our crowd should get the most votes for president,” Crawford, “what then?”
“I’m willing one of your crowd should be president, provided he will pledge himself to forward the objects of the society,” said Gordon, as he pulled a book from his desk, and opening it, added, “A few of us who feel pretty deeply on this subject have up a rough pledge which every member joining our association must sign—and keep.”
“Go ahead, Deacon, read it out,” called Henderson.
“Yes, stand up like a little man and read right out,” added Crawford; and Gordon read:—
“We, the undersigned deeply regretting that our section has gained such an reputation, do pledge ourselves to do all in our power to maintain[38] order in school hours, and to raise the standard of scholarship, of conduct and of conversation in section D.”
To this ten names were affixed—including Gordon, Graham and Sherman.
“You must think we are all fools if you believe we’re going to tie ourselves up like that,” shouted Henderson with his coarse laugh as Gordon finished reading.
“A fellow wants a little fun even in school,” said another.
“Might as well join the church, an’ done with it, as to sign that thing,” said Green.
“Boys,” cried Gordon, trying to make himself heard above the clamor of voices, “I know there are some, whose names are not here, who will join us. Please come on and sign now—all who will—and then we’ll withdraw to some place where we can talk this thing over quietly.”
Six other boys signed their names amid and from Crawford and his cronies.
“Now there are sixteen of us,” said Gordon, “and as there are forty in the section, we lack four of half. I don’t believe that all the rest want to be counted in as opposed to what we all know is right.”
Clark had listened silently to all that had been said. He was in sympathy with Gordon, and wanted much to add his name, but he hesitated,[39] uncertain whether, even in such a case as this, he would be welcome. But he could not endure to be counted in with such fellows as Crawford and Henderson, and so he rose and took the pen to sign his name.
“Hello!” cried Crawford quickly, “St. Clark among the law-givers, eh!”
Clark’s face flushed, but he said nothing.
Then Henderson shouted, “He’s a fine one to be setting up for an example, he—the son of a thief who’d be behind the bars this moment if he hadn’t with his pickings.”
Instantly every voice was hushed and every eye turned on Clark. His face grew deadly white, and the pen dropped from his fingers. He turned towards Henderson and tried to speak, but no sound came from his lips, and in another instant he had turned and rushed from the room.
“Henderson, is that true?” demanded Gordon sternly, as the door closed behind Clark.
For once, Henderson absolutely looked ashamed of himself, and his manner was much less than usual, as he said sulkily, “Yes, ’tis. His father is that Albany fellow who had to leave the country because he had used trust-funds.”
“Well,” exclaimed Gordon, “I don’t care if it is true, it was a mean thing for you to it out like that before the whole class. How would you like it if it was your father?”
“My father is a gentleman,” said Henderson, drawing himself up proudly.
“That’s more than can be said for his son,” muttered Sherman with a glance of disgust at Henderson’s coarse face; “I shouldn’t think Clark would ever want to come into this school-room again.”
“Small loss if he didn’t. We don’t want sons of convicts here,” said a hot-headed Georgian.
“Don’t say that, Lee,” said Gordon. “For my part, I’m right down sorry for Clark. He can’t help what his father has done, and isn’t to blame for it, and yet he’s got to have it thrown up at him all his life.”
“Reckon he’s got some of the same blood in his . They say if a fellow will lie he’ll steal too, and Clark came near lying over that Latin business,” said a boy who had not before spoken.
“Don’t know about that,” quickly responded a little fellow named Reed.
Crawford looked up hastily at that, but Reed was not looking at him, and he said nothing.
Finally, three more boys signed their names, making nineteen in all, and then Gordon requested those who were not willing to sign, to leave the room, which, after some noise, and not a few disagreeable remarks, they did. Then a vote was taken which resulted in a large majority for Gordon as president, Graham as vice-president, and Sherman as secretary.
“It’s a pity we haven’t two more, then we’d have more than half the class,” said one, as they left the room.
“Hamlin will be back next month; he’ll be on our side,” said Graham.
“Hamlin? Why he’s the biggest monkey in the class,” laughed another.
“Oh, he’s full of jokes and monkey shines, I know,” returned Graham, “but there isn’t a mean in him, and you never knew him to deny it if he had cut up any .”
“That’s so. He’s true blue every time” added Gordon.
“There’s little Freeman—he was absent to-day. Think he’ll sign?” asked Graham.
“Doubtful,” said Gordon; “he’s getting pretty thick with Crawford’s crowd lately—more’s the pity. He used to be rather a nice little chap.”
“He and Clark are related, aren’t they?” questioned one.
“I believe somebody said they were,” answered Graham. “I did feel right down sorry for Clark to-day,” he added.
“So did I,” said Sherman. “He looked as if he had had an awful blow when he left the room.”
“I say—can’t we be a little more decent to him?” suggested Gordon. “We’ve been sending him to Coventry with a . I don’t believe a[42] fellow in the class ever speaks to him now, except Freeman.”
“I wouldn’t be hired to come to school if I were cold-shouldered in such a fashion,” said Raleigh.
“If it wasn’t for that Latin business I’d stand by Clark after this,” said Graham.
“I never could get over his taking that blow so from Crawford,” said another.
“Meekly!” echoed Gordon, “Were you there when that thing happened?”
“No, some of the fellows told me about it.”
“Well, if they told you that Clark took that blow meekly, they lied—that’s all! I was standing close by, and I saw the whole thing. When Crawford struck him, Clark’s eyes fairly blazed, and he grabbed Crawford’s wrists, and I thought he was going to lay him out sure. I know he could have done it, but he just held himself in, and the next minute he flung Crawford’s hands away from him and ran up the stairs as if he did not dare to trust himself within reach of that hound.”
“Meaning Crawford?” said a listener.
“Meaning Crawford. He and Henderson are not fit to be among decent fellows, in my opinion.”
“That’s an new version of the between Clark and Henderson,” said the one to whom Gordon had spoken, “and puts another face on that affair; but how about his informing about the[43] keys? Henderson says he heard him talking to Bobby about it.”
“Henderson!” repeated Gordon scornfully. “Don’t quote Henderson to me! Such a foul-mouthed cad as he is, is a disgrace to any school. I’ll admit that I’ve never caught him in a lie, but all the same I haven’t an atom of confidence in him, and I don’t think Clark or anybody else ought to be on no stronger evidence than his word.”
“I don’t know but you’re right,” was the reply, “but I doubt if Clark comes back at all. I wouldn’t if I were in his place.”
But Clark did go back; to the surprise of many of the boys he was in his seat as usual the next morning; he might have been the only boy in the room, however, for all the attention he paid to his classmates.
Several of them, feeling that he had been hardly used, and not feeling at all sure that he deserved all the blame that had fallen upon him, were inclined to make advances, but he met them with a coldness that the most friendly, and after one or two such rebuffs they left him again alone. Not one of them could begin to understand the bitter agony of his proud young soul, and the unspeakable he suffered continually through the father of whom he had once been so proud.
The law and order society met regularly once a[44] week after this, and its influence soon began to be felt, even though it worked against heavy , for those who had not joined seemed determined to do all in their power to its influence and to maintain the undesirable reputation that the section had already acquired. On the other hand, the members of the new society, realizing the fact that so many were working against them, were to do their utmost for the improvement of their class record. The result was that the nineteen members soon showed a marked improvement in scholarship, while their orderly and gentlemanly deportment was in striking contrast to the rough, turbulent behavior of the other half of the class.

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