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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER VII. VERY NEARLY AN ACCIDENT.
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 Hamlin’s failure to induce the L. A. O.’s to admit Clark to their society made him the more determined to show all possible friendliness himself towards his lonely schoolfellow, and he made it a point to walk to and from school with him, or to have a chat with him at recess, as frequently as he could. Clark appreciated the other’s kindness, and understood perfectly well that it was through no lack of effort on Hamlin’s part that he—Clark—was not asked to join the L. A. O.’s.  
Several other boys, Gordon and Graham among them, began to follow Hamlin’s example so far as to nod and say a pleasant word to Clark now and then, but he felt that they were doing this merely to please Hamlin, and did not respond very cordially to their advances.
As to Freeman—Clark’s attempts to draw him away from the Crawford crowd had signally failed. Freeman seemed to have lost all desire for his cousin’s companionship, and coldly and even curtly[78] refused all Clark’s invitations to walk or talk with him.
Clark had little time and less inclination in these days for visiting, but he went occasionally to see his aunt and cousins. One afternoon he found Edith alone, and looking so pale and troubled that he could not help asking what was the matter.
The girl’s lip trembled, and her blue eyes filled with tears as she answered simply, “I’m so worried about Ray, Stanley.”
“What about him, Edith? Is it anything in which I can help you?” he asked kindly.
“Oh, I don’t know. He is so changed lately. He used to be the dearest boy, and now, since he has been with Crawford and Henderson so much, he is so different. He doesn’t seem to care for mamma or me, and he goes out evenings and won’t tell us where he goes, and he seems to have lost all interest in his school work. His last report was the poorest he has ever had.”
“I am so sorry, Edith,” Clark answered, “I’ve tried to get him away from that set, but he doesn’t care to be with me any more. He as much as told me to ‘mind my own business’ and let him alone, the last time I spoke to him.”
“Yes,” sighed Edith, “that’s the way he answers me. But Stanley, Ray isn’t really a bad boy, and I’m sure that something is troubling him, and that is what makes him so cross, lately.”
“Perhaps it is his low rank in class,” suggested Clark.
Edith shook her head. “No, it’s something more than that, I’m sure,” she said. Then she added earnestly, “Don’t give him up, Stanley. He has always looked up so to you, and I’m sure he does care for you a great deal more than for those horrid big fellows that he goes with now, and—and, we must get him away from them somehow.”
Her voice trembled, and Clark’s face expressed the sympathy he felt.
“I’ll do all I can, cousin Edith. If only Crawford and Henderson wouldn’t come back to school, I think there would be much less trouble. They are the evil influence in the class,” he said, thoughtfully.
“Yes, and the evil influence that is leading my brother astray,” said Edith, sadly.
After this conversation, Clark was constantly on the watch for any opportunity to help his young cousin, not only for his own sake, but yet more for that of the sister whose loving heart was so heavily burdened with anxiety on her brother’s account. Clark had the true knightly spirit, and counted it the duty of a boy to care for his mother and sisters, and ward off from them, as far as possible, all sorrow and trouble. No mother ever had a more tender, thoughtful son than his mother had in him, and since he had no sister, he felt himself in duty bound[80] to do for Edith, as far as he could, what her own brother failed to do; and above all, to bring back that brother to the path of duty and uprightness from which he had strayed.
But how to do this was the question—since Freeman avoided him and responded so coldly to all his advances. Clark pretended not to see this, and persisted in being friendly, yet he felt more than a little discouraged, and was often tempted to give it up, and leave the boy to do as he would. It was only the remembrance of Edith’s sorrowful face that kept him from doing so.
Out of school hours, Freeman now spent half his time in Crawford’s rooms, and during the weeks of Crawford’s and Henderson’s absence, he spent every recess with Coyle, Green, and others of like character.
When it was known in school that Crawford and Henderson had been suspended, there was much wondering and speculation among the L. A. O. as to whether or no they would return and make the apology, and give the promise required. After the meeting at Crawford’s rooms, the Antis knew that the two boys would return, but they took good care not to let the L. A. O.’s know anything about the matter.
Every face in the room was full of eager interest and curiosity, as nine o’clock approached on the morning after the two weeks were ended.
When, after the opening exercises, Prof. Keene[81] entered the room followed by Crawford and Henderson, there was a silence that could be felt. Every eye was fastened on the two boys, who stood with downcast faces while Prof. Keene said a few earnest words to the class.
In spite of their bravado, and the hidden purpose that sustained them, both boys found it more of an ordeal than they had anticipated to stand there and acknowledge that they had done wrong and were sorry for it, and to promise that they would endeavor from that time on to keep all the rules of the school, and give no further cause of complaint.
Some of the Antis began to clap, as the two slipped into their seats, but Prof. Keene stopped that instantly, remarking sternly that this was no occasion for applause.
During the remainder of the session, Mr. Horton threw more than one puzzled glance at the two boys. There was something in their faces that he could not understand, but they certainly gave him no cause for complaint, for they were models of good behavior.
The L. A. O.’s cast many curious and wondering glances at them also as the hours passed, and these two, who had so long been ringleaders in disorder, sat apparently unconscious of the half-subdued buzzing and whispering and laughter of their own set, who seemed to be intensely amused at this new state of things. And when not only Henderson, but[82] Crawford as well, had perfect recitations in each study, the surprise of the L. A. O.’s was evident, to the ill-concealed delight of the Antis.
After school, Mr. Horton detained the two boys to say a few earnest words to them, and then to tell them how much pleasure their fine recitations and orderly deportment had given him. As he begged them to use their influence, which he knew to be great, on the side of law and order, Crawford hung his head and a flush of shame dyed his cheeks as he thought how little he deserved commendation; but Henderson looked boldly into his teacher’s eyes and coolly promised to do his best.
“I say, Henderson, you’re a bigger hypocrite than I am,” said Crawford, as they went down stairs.
“Oh, pshaw! What’s one lie more or less?” said the other coolly. “Besides, I’m going to be a model of good behavior now, you know—a perfect little lamb,” and he laughed at the remembrance of “Bobby’s” face, and the way they had “taken him in.”
Never had Mr. Horton been so perplexed and so worried and tormented in his class-room, as in the weeks that followed the return of Crawford and Henderson. Having no clue to the real state of the case, he was completely deceived, and took the greatest satisfaction in the change in these two, while at the same time he was at his wit’s end to[83] understand what caused the increasing disorder and disturbance in the room, and who was at the bottom of it all.
The L. A. O.’s, after much persuasion, had induced three of the Antis to change sides, so that now there were twenty-three L. A. O.’s and thirteen Antis besides Crawford and Henderson. One boy had left the class, and Clark belonged to neither side, so the L. A. O.’s had a large majority; but all the same, thirteen bad boys, especially with two such leaders as Crawford and Henderson, can accomplish a deal of mischief, and this thirteen certainly did.
Could Mr. Horton have been an unseen listener at a spread given to the Antis by Crawford and Henderson at the rooms of the former, he would have understood the matter, for the boys, as they disposed of the feast, laughed and rejoiced over the success of their schemes, and planned yet more and more exasperating trials for their long-suffering instructor.
Among those present at Crawford’s “spread” was Charlie Reed. Thus far Reed had looked upon life as a huge joke, and his one purpose was to get as much fun as possible out of every hour in the day. He had refused to join the L. A. O.’s, because he declared that there was “no fun” in keeping the rules and working for honors. So he was always ready to carry out any mischievous suggestion of[84] the Antis, and not a little of the class disorder might justly have been laid at his door. And after all, he meant no harm. With him it was pure thoughtlessness and love of mischief. One of his favorite amusements was to adorn the blackboard, out of school hours, with absurd sketches of the boys or of the teachers.
One morning before school he had drawn a sketch of a very dudish young man and a lady arrayed in bridal costume; and, lest anybody should fail to recognize the intended likenesses, he had written above this artistic production the legend, “Bobby leading Miss Carr to the altar.”
The boys shouted, as Reed finished his sketch, for Miss Carr was the oldest teacher in the school, certainly twice Mr. Horton’s age, and not at all prepossessing in appearance.
Suddenly a boy at the window called out, “Hi, fellows—look over there. There she comes now, and isn’t she a daisy!”
The boys rushed to the window. It was a rainy morning, and Miss Carr, in waterproof and overshoes, was picking her way through the puddles, and, as it happened, Mr. Horton, who had overtaken her a moment before, was holding his umbrella over her head as they crossed the street.
In watching these two, the boys forgot all about the sketch on the board, even Reed himself never[85] giving it a thought, and there it was when Clark, a moment later, entered the room, Mr. Horton being only a few steps behind him. At that instant somebody cried out in smothered tones, “You’re in for it, Reedy. Look at the board.”
Reed started up with a cry of dismay, but dropped into his seat again as he heard Mr. Horton’s voice in the hall.
Clark glanced at the board, and taking in the situation, instantly snatched the eraser and rubbed out the drawing as he passed the board. It was barely done before Mr. Horton entered the room. He looked in surprise at Clark turning away from the board, but the boy quietly took his seat, while Reed, with a sigh of relief, settled back in his; and as it was almost nine o’clock, the teacher asked no questions.
At recess, Reed joined Clark, who was walking up and down the sidewalk alone, as usual.
“It was awfully good of you to rub out my scrawl, Clark,” he said.
Before Clark had time to reply, Hamlin joined him, and, with a nod, he turned away from Reed, and the latter, after a moment’s hesitation, strolled back to the boys in the playground.
It was that same day that Clark took a roundabout way home for the sake of the air and exercise. He was walking slowly down a shady,[86] pleasant street, when he noticed a pretty little three-year-old girl coming down the steps of a handsome house near the corner. The little thing had evidently escaped from her nurse, for she cast anxious glances back at the open door as she trotted across the sidewalk. She was just in the middle of the street, when a fire-engine came dashing around the corner at full speed. The child, hearing the gong and seeing the galloping horses coming straight towards her, stopped short in a bewildered fashion, too frightened even to cry out. It was impossible for the driver to stop the horses or turn them aside enough to pass her, but in that instant of time Clark sprang forward, his rapid rush carrying both himself and the child just out of the way of the engine. He and the little girl both rolled in the dirt, but neither was hurt beyond a bruise or two.
As he got on his feet and lifted the frightened child, she began to cry and held out her arms to her mother, who, with a white, shocked face, came running down the steps. She held the little one close, and for a moment she could not speak, but then her eyes filled with tears of gratitude as she turned to Clark and tried to thank him. But, boy-like, Clark felt shy and embarrassed now, and tried to slip away through the crowd that had quickly gathered.
“Do tell me your name,” the mother pleaded earnestly.
Clark opened his lips to give it, but seeing a reporter whip out his notebook and pencil, listening eagerly for the answer, and not wanting to figure as a newspaper hero, he said quickly, “I’m very glad that the little girl was not hurt,” and lifting his hat, slipped through the crowd and was gone.
With a disappointed look, the mother carried her little girl into the house, while the reporter, casting an injured glance after Clark, proceeded to gather from the crowd all the particulars of the affair.
When Clark reached the school-room the next morning, Reed was talking away excitedly to a group of the boys, who were listening and questioning him with eager interest.
“And you didn’t find out who the fellow was?” asked Crawford.
“No—he wouldn’t tell my mother what his name was, and the reporter couldn’t find anybody in the crowd that knew him,” said Reed.
“Lucky for your little sister that he happened to be on hand just that minute, whoever he was,” said Sherman.
Reed’s usually bright eyes were suspiciously dim as he answered in a low tone, “Yes—I can’t bear to think of it.” Then he added, “My father says he’d give a hundred dollars to know who the boy was.”
“Queer idea, not to give his name,” remarked Henderson.
“Well—he was a brave fellow, anyhow,” said Crawford. “Tell you what—I wouldn’t care to run in front of a fire-engine, going at the rate they always do go.”
“Nor I,” said Coyle, “He ran the risk of being awfully hurt, if not killed.”
“That’s what I call courage,” remarked Hamlin emphatically, going over to Clark, who had taken his own seat on the other side of the room.
“Did you hear what Reed was telling, Clark?”
“Yes, I saw the account in the paper,” answered Clark quietly, “but I didn’t know until just now that the little girl was Charlie Reed’s sister. I didn’t know where he lived.”
“Yes—it’s his only sister. She’s a beautiful child, and they’re just devoted to her—the whole family. I never saw Reed so stirred up over anything before. You know he generally turns everything into a joke, but he doesn’t feel like joking this morning. Pity they can’t find out who the fellow is—isn’t it?”
Clark muttered some unintelligible reply, and Hamlin, surprised and a little disappointed at the other’s apparent lack of interest, turned away to his own seat.
Even to his mother Clark did not mention the affair; and she, as she read the account in the paper, had no suspicion that her own son was the modest[89] young hero who had refused to give his name; while Reed never dreamed that it was his quiet schoolmate that had saved his home from being a house of mourning. But somehow, he could not forget the affair, or shake off entirely the impression that it had made on him. He began to realize that life is not all “fun,” and the coarse jokes of the Antis began to lose their flavor for him, and finally he amazed and rejoiced the L. A. O.’s by asking for admission to their number. The enthusiastic welcome that he received from those whom he knew to be the “best fellows in the class” was all that was needed to make him heartily glad of the break that he had made.

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