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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER V. HAMLIN RETURNS.
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 “Well, Hamlin, are you holding a reception? I’m sure we are all very glad to see you back again,” said Mr. Horton, as he entered the school-room one morning and found Hamlin the center of a merry, noisy group.  
“It’s no wonder he’s a favorite. That smile of his is enough to win anybody,” the teacher thought, as from his seat at the desk he glanced again and again at the constantly increasing group about Hamlin; but at a stroke of the bell the group dissolved as if by magic, and each boy dropped into his own seat.
At recess Hamlin was seized almost bodily and hurried off to the playground. Clark had obtained permission to stay in that day, and Mr. Horton chanced to glance towards him just in time to note the expression on his face as he looked after Hamlin and the eager crowd that bore him away. As they disappeared Clark sighed, and opening his book, began to read.
A hand upon his shoulder made him start and[46] glance up in surprise. Mr. Horton was standing at his side looking down at him.
“Clark,” he said, “I have come to the conclusion that I wronged you when I doubted your explanation about the translation I found in your desk.”
“Yes, sir, you did,” said Clark; “I told you the truth.”
“I believe you did, Clark, and I ask your pardon for doubting you,” said Mr. Horton, holding out his hand.
There was a lump in the boy’s throat and his eyes were hot as he took the offered hand, but he did not speak—he could not at that moment.
“I know no more about the matter, my boy, than I did that day,” Mr. Horton went on, “but I have been watching you ever since, and I believe that you can be trusted.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Clark, the first smile that his teacher had seen on his face for many a day flitting across it as he spoke. It was gone in a moment. It seemed as if his lips had almost forgotten how to smile.
“Have you any idea how the book got into your desk, Clark?”
“I have an idea, but it may be a mistaken one, and I would rather say nothing about it,” Clark replied in a low voice.
“You have not made many friends in the school,[47] have you?” asked Mr. Horton after a moment’s silence.
“No, sir—none.”
“I don’t quite know why it was so at first, but now—now I don’t wonder at it.” Clark spoke the last words so low that his teacher had to bend his head to catch them.
“I would like a talk with you, my boy. Can you come to my house this evening?” he asked presently.
“I am not at liberty until nine o’clock,” Clark answered.
“Not any evening?” said Mr. Horton in a tone of surprise.
“No, sir—except Sunday. I take notes in shorthand every evening from six to nine.”
“You don’t have very much time for study, then?”
“No, not very much; but I don’t have to spend very much time on the Latin, as I have read Cicero before.”
“Indeed? Then I see you did not need any notes for it.”
“No, sir. I used to go to a private classical school, and most of my time was given to languages and history.”
“Ah, yes. Well, you have had two study-hours[48] to-day; what lessons have you now to prepare for to-morrow?”
“I’ve very little to do—just a bit of work in English literature.”
“Very well, then, can’t you walk home with me after school?”
Clark assented, and the teacher returned to his seat as the bell rang and the boys trooped noisily up the stairs.
In the long talk that Mr. Horton had with Clark that afternoon, he learned the bitter secret in regard to his father—now, alas, a secret no longer—and felt his heart go out to the lad who was bearing so heavy a burden on his brave young shoulders.
“You would be sure to hear it after a while, Mr. Horton,” Clark had said, “and I’d rather tell it to you myself just as it is.”
“And that is why you and your mother came here to live,” said the teacher, voice and eyes full of sympathy he knew not how to speak.
“Yes, sir. An old friend of mother’s got this place for me. I’d learned stenography just because I liked it, not expecting ever to use it to earn my living.”
“And has your mother no means?” questioned Mr. Horton gently.
“No, sir,” he said. “She gave up every dollar of her own private means, and if I live, every penny[49] that was lost thro’ my father shall be repaid, if it takes me a lifetime to do it.”
“Clark,” said Mr. Horton, “I am proud of you. No danger but you will succeed, only,” he laid his hand kindly across the lad’s shoulders—“only you must not allow yourself to grow morbid under it. Remember you are responsible for no one’s wrong-doing but your own. Keep that in mind, and don’t let any chance reference or intentional fling embitter you, or turn you against others. Remember that they can judge only by what they see, and they see but little of the truth.”
“It’s done me no end of good to talk with you, Mr. Horton. It’s a great deal to me to feel that you trust me,” and Clark’s voice would tremble a little, as he added, “I shan’t feel so alone now. You see I’ve had no one to talk to—for of course I couldn’t let mother know how things went at school. She has enough to bear without any worries on my account.”
“There goes a young hero, if there ever was one,” the teacher said to himself as he looked after the tall lad going down the street a little later. “I must try to find some way to make it pleasanter for him at school. I’ll talk to Hamlin about it, the first chance I get.”
It was not long before he made the opportunity, and the few words he felt at liberty to say awakened[50] in David Hamlin a very strong interest in his schoolmate.
Hamlin had already become a member of the law and order society, though he grumblingly declared that he thought it was a shame to make him promise to give up all his fun.
A few days after this, Clark happened to be a little later than usual in getting off to school, and rushing out of his doorway, ran plump into a lad who was standing in the vestibule.
“I beg your pardon,” he said hastily, and would have hurried on, but the other held out his hand, saying:—
“Well, now, if that isn’t a friendly greeting for a fellow that’s been standing here twenty minutes waiting for you! Do you always come out of your front door in such a boomerang style as that?”
“No,” said Clark with a laugh, as he took Hamlin’s offered hand. “I’m not often so late.”
The two walked on together, and in spite of himself, Clark’s proud reserve melted under the sunny friendliness of his companion. Hamlin would not be held off. He persisted in talking as if Clark was “in the swim” of school doings, just as he himself was, and Clark did not know how to undeceive him.
“I didn’t see you at the L. A. O. meeting yesterday,” he remarked as they walked on. L. A. O. was short for law and order society.
“I’m not a member,” said Clark, coldly.
“What! You, the most orderly fellow in the section, not a member of that society!” exclaimed Hamlin. “Why not?”
“They didn’t want me,” said Clark.
“Didn’t want you? Oh, come, now, you can’t make me believe that. Why, I thought every fellow in the room was in the L. A. O. or the Antis.”
“Anti? I hadn’t heard of that. Do you mean that the Crawford crowd has organized an opposition to the L. A. O.?” asked Clark.
“Just that; and I heard Henderson boasting that they’d got half the class on their roll.”
“They haven’t my name,” said Clark.
“Of course I knew that,” said Hamlin, “but they’ve got some fellows that I wouldn’t have believed would join such a gang—little Freeman, for instance. I always thought he was such a nice little chap, and now he’s thick as thieves with Crawford.”
“What!” exclaimed Clark, stopping short in amazement, “Freeman thick with Crawford! Why, I thought he couldn’t endure the fellow.”
“That’s what I thought, but Freeman’s ’round with that crowd every recess, and I saw him out driving with Crawford yesterday.”
“I hadn’t an idea of it. That must be stopped,”[52] said Clark with a troubled face. “Crawford’s no kind of a fellow for a little chap like Ray to be with.”
“You’re right, there,” responded Hamlin. “I wouldn’t have my little brother ’round with such a fellow for a good deal.”
They had reached the school by this time, and Hamlin had only time to say, “I shall propose your name at the next meeting of the L. A. O. We need your help against the Antis.”
The Antis were primed for mischief that day. Before the opening exercises were over, Mr. Horton knew that there was a hard day before him. The spirit of rebellion was abroad in the air. His orders were obeyed, but slowly and reluctantly, as if under protest. There was a continual shuffling of feet, knocking of books against desks, dropping of pencils, and a buzzing and murmuring here, there, and everywhere, impossible to locate, yet plainly distinguishable. The L. A. O.’s were orderly and attentive, every one, but the others did their utmost to keep them from making perfect recitations by coughing, laughing, and interrupting as much as they dared. Finally, Mr. Horton sent Crawford to the board to work out a problem. Crawford was very quick when he chose to be. To-day he pretended to be uncertain about his work and put down the figures very slowly. Mr. Horton had taken his stand in the back of the[53] room, the better to watch the unruly ones. Unfortunately, he was very short-sighted, and Crawford took advantage of this fact. He had considerable artistic ability, and could make a likeness with half a dozen strokes, and he could use his right and left hands with equal facility.
So, as with his left hand he slowly worked out the problem, with his right he drew sketches of Mr. Horton on the board, carefully keeping his own broad shoulders between his work and the teacher. In one sketch, Mr. Horton was represented with a pipe in his mouth, in another with his hair à la Pompadour, and again he had the tonsure of a monk, and so on.
Mr. Horton, standing at the back of the room, tried in vain to discover what was causing so much merriment. At last, suspecting that Crawford was at the bottom of it, he suddenly called out, “Stand aside, Crawford, and let me see your work.”
Crawford obeyed, but as he did so he swept the eraser across his last artistic effort. He had to do it so hurriedly, however, that enough remained to show what had been there, and as the teacher returned to the platform, he saw how Crawford had been amusing himself and the class.
“Crawford,” he said, “you will have a failure for this recitation.”
“I solved the problem you gave me correctly,” said Crawford.
“I know you did,” said Mr. Horton.
“Well then,” persisted Crawford, “I don’t see why I should have a failure.”
“If you have anything more to say you can come to me after school,” said Mr. Horton.
“I call that right down mean,” said Crawford, in a tone that all about him could hear, “and I won’t stand much more such treatment.”
“Crawford, you may go to Professor Keene’s office,” said Mr. Horton, gravely.
Muttering something half aloud, Crawford arose and swaggered across the room, turning at the door to make an elaborate bow, first to Mr. Horton and then to the class. He did not go to the office, however, but straight to his rooms, where he ordered his ponies brought around, and then driving back to the school, sent in a note to Henderson.
Henderson read it, and then passing it to Coyle, he went to the desk and said, “Mr. Horton, I’ve just had word that my father has been taken suddenly ill. Can I be excused?”
Mr. Horton looked at him sharply, but Henderson’s face was grave and troubled, and after a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Yes, you may go.”
He did not see the wink and grimace with which Henderson favored his classmates as he turned away and left the room.
Two minutes later, he was seated beside Crawford,[55] and the horses were bearing them swiftly along, while they chuckled over the neat way in which they had “done old Bobby.”
“Now the ringleaders are out of the way, I hope there will be no more disturbance to-day,” thought the teacher; but his hope was not destined to be realized.
As the door closed behind Henderson, somebody snapped a marble up to the ceiling. As it dropped, it struck Raleigh’s glasses. He started up with the blood streaming from his face where a sliver of glass had cut it.
“Who threw that marble?” said Mr. Horton in a tone that none of them had ever heard from his lips before. Then, as no one answered, he stepped quickly to Raleigh’s side. “Did any of the glass go in your eyes?” he asked anxiously.
“No, sir, I think not,” answered Raleigh, putting his handkerchief up to his cheek, which was bleeding quite freely.
“Come with me to the dressing-room, Raleigh, and Hamlin, you may take charge of the room until I return,” said Mr. Horton, still in that stern tone that boded ill for the one who had caused the trouble.
The room was very quiet while Mr. Horton was absent. When he returned, having sent Raleigh home, he said slowly, “I call upon the boy who threw the marble that injured Raleigh to stand.”
He waited, amid a silence that could almost be felt, but no one moved.
“I understand, of course, that whoever did it, had no intention of injuring anyone. It was simply a piece of the thoughtlessness and lawlessness that prevail in this section, but I intend to find out who is to blame in this instance. Once more—I ask the boy who threw that marble to rise.”
Still no one moved, and the stern look deepened in the teacher’s eyes.
“I am very sorry that he has not manliness enough to acknowledge frankly what he has done. There are some boys in the class that I know are above suspicion. With the exception of these, I shall ask each one separately.
“Green, did you throw that marble?”
“No, sir,” said Green.
“Do you know who threw it?”
“I do not.”
From seat to seat Mr. Horton passed, asking these two questions of each boy. In every case the answer was the same. Hamlin, Graham, Clark, Gordon and Raleigh were among the boys of whom the questions were not asked.
Mr. Horton returned to his seat, and the boys waited breathlessly for what should follow. Without another word he dismissed the class, asking the members of the L. A. O. to remain. He looked surprised[57] as Clark passed out with the Antis, and said to Graham, “Isn’t Clark a member of your society?”
“No, sir,” Graham answered; and Hamlin added quickly, “I want him to join, and I’m almost sure he wants to. There’s not a fellow in the class that keeps the rules as he does.”
“None better, I am sure,” said Mr. Horton; then he added, “I want to say to you that I have noticed with much pleasure a very decided improvement in the class since your society was formed. I believe that every one of you is doing his best in respect to studies, and in trying to raise the general standard of the class. This has been a very trying day to me, but if, as I hope, Raleigh’s eyes have escaped injury, this affair may, in the end, prove a blessing in disguise, for I am sure that some of the lawless ones have been pretty thoroughly frightened, and perhaps you can persuade some of them to join with you after this. I hope so, I am sure. When I discover the boy who threw that marble to-day, I shall make an example of him. If he had confessed, I would not have been hard on him, but he has aggravated his fault by lying about it, and a lie is, to me, next to unpardonable. It is one of the hardest things for me to overlook. I have hope of a boy if he is truthful, even though he has a host of other faults. Now, boys, if I can help you in any way about your association,[58] I shall be most glad to do so. My hope for section D is in you.”
“Bobby’s first-class. I like him,” said Hamlin, as the boys walked homeward together.
“So he is,” said Gordon, “but I tell you what, boys, the L. A. O.’s have a big contract on their hands.”
“To put down the Crawford gang, you mean?” said Hamlin.
“Yes, I believe they grow worse and worse.”
“So they do,” assented Graham. “Have you any idea who threw that marble?”
“It was somebody down in Freeman’s neighborhood,” said Gordon.
“Likely as not ’twas Freeman himself. He’s getting to be as bad as any of ’em,” remarked another.
“Pity, too—I hate to see a fellow change as he has,” said Hamlin. “Why not try to get him into the L. A. O.?”
“Don’t believe you can do it. He’s awfully set up because Crawford makes so much of him now. I see them out driving together often,” said Sherman.
“Queer, too—shouldn’t think a fellow like Crawford would want a little chap ’round with him so much,” said Gordon.
“Shouldn’t think Freeman’s folks would like it, if they know of it,” said another.
“Well, boys, I turn off here. Don’t forget the[59] meeting of the L. A. O. to-morrow. Something’s got to be done,” said Gordon.
“And the question is—what?” added Hamlin.
And that question was often in the minds of them all through the next twenty-four hours.

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