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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER IX. FREEMAN MAKES A DECISION.
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 The next morning’s mail carried to every member of Company C, and also to Clark, Freeman and Crawford, a request from Professor Keene to be at his office that morning at ten o’clock. There was some grumbling, as it was Saturday, and the summons interfered with various holiday plans; but more than one face was shadowed with uneasiness and anxiety, and among this number was that of Captain Henderson.  
“I’m afraid you’re in for it, Hen,” Crawford said to him on the way to the school.
“They can’t prove anything against me,” replied Henderson, uneasily; “not if you and Freeman don’t blab.”
“I shan’t, of course, and I don’t believe Freeman will. He’s a plucky little chap.”
“I’m not so sure of him as you seem to be, Crawford; but if he does let out anything, I’ll pay him out for it. He may be sure of that,” said Henderson.
When they reached the school, they found most[108] of the company already there, and Clark and Freeman appeared a few minutes later.
The professor told Clark, Crawford and Freeman to remain in his office, while he led Henderson and his company to one of the class-rooms.
Closing the door, he stood for a moment in silence, looking from one to another of the faces before him, and some of the boys felt plainly uncomfortable beneath that searching glance. It seemed an endless time to these before the professor said, “Boys, I was intensely mortified over some of the occurrences at the drill, yesterday. I can make allowances for excitement and high spirits and thoughtlessness; but that any of my boys should have been guilty of such meanness and rowdyism, such shameless and reckless efforts to prevent others from winning the prizes, has pained and shamed me more than I have words to express.
“In the four years that these competitive drills have been held, there has never before been anything like the outrageous affair of yesterday—the throwing of that cracker.”
He paused for a moment, then went on slowly, “When I think what the results might have been had that cracker exploded towards the boys, I feel as if no punishment could be too severe for those who would risk the destruction of eyesight, or even life itself, to keep others from winning a well-deserved[109] prize. It was only God’s mercy that prevented such awful consequences.
“Think, for one moment, boys, how some of you would be feeling to-day, if that deed of yesterday had blinded or killed some of your schoolmates!
“A thorough investigation has been ordered, and no effort will be spared to find out and to punish the guilty persons, unless they confess their guilt. If any boy will confess his share in the matter, I will do my best to lighten his punishment, but anyone who will not confess and who shall be proven guilty need look for no mercy.”
While the professor spoke, some of the boys shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, and some cast furtive glances at Henderson, who stood leaning against a desk, with a hard look in his eyes and his lips close shut.
Suddenly, Professor Keene turned towards him. “Henderson, what do you know about this affair?” he asked.
Henderson looked full into the professor’s searching eyes, and answered calmly, “Nothing whatever, sir.”
“You had nothing to do with it in any way?” pursued the professor.
“No, sir,” said Henderson.
With a disappointed look and a half sigh, the professor turned from him.
“Boys,” he said, “you have heard Henderson’s denial—now I call upon you. If anyone here knows anything about this matter, I beg him, for his own sake, to speak now. Do not let any school-boy notion against telling of another keep anyone silent. This is a very grave affair, and it is your duty to tell whatever you know about it.”
As the professor paused, Baum lifted his head and took a step forward, but the professor did not see him, and a threatening look from Henderson made him drop his eyes and keep silence.
“So,” said the professor sadly, “you all deny any knowledge of this thing? Boys, you don’t know how heartily I wish that I could believe you, but I am sorry to say that there is evidence against some of you, and some of you have not given your teachers reason to put implicit faith in your statements. I sincerely hope, however, that in this case you have told the truth. You will remain here until I return.”
He left the room, closing the door after him.
The boys did not talk much after his departure. Henderson tried to laugh the matter off, but no one responded to his flippant remarks, and, after a little, he sauntered to the window and stood there looking out in silence.
Meantime, the professor questioned Crawford, but, like the others, he steadily denied any knowledge in regard to the affair.
“You may join the others in the class-room,” said the professor, and, as Crawford left the office, he turned to Freeman. Freeman’s face was pale and disturbed, and as he stood before the professor his eyes were downcast, and he looked as if he might himself be the guilty one.
“Freeman, will you answer truthfully the questions that I am going to ask you?” said the professor.
He was feeling greatly disheartened, for he did not believe that the boys that he had questioned were all of them innocent or ignorant, yet every one had declared himself so.
“Yes, sir.” Freeman’s voice was low, and he did not look up as he answered.
“Do you know who called out the wrong order to Company B last Thursday?”
“No, sir.”
“Do you know who threw the cracker at Company D yesterday?”
“No, sir.”
“Have you any knowledge whatever about these doings—who suggested them, or who had any part in carrying them out?”
Lower yet dropped the boy’s head, and his voice was almost inaudible, but again the answer was “No, sir.”
The professor’s tone changed then. There was a ring of contempt in it as he said curtly:—
“You may go.” And Freeman went.
Then the professor turned to Clark.
“Clark,” he said, sadly, “I can forgive anything sooner than a lie. Will you tell me the truth?”
“If I can, sir. I will certainly tell you nothing but the truth,” replied the boy. His eyes met his teacher’s as boldly as Henderson’s had done, but with a very different expression in their clear depths.
The professor gave a sigh of relief. He was skilled in reading boys’ faces, and he felt instinctively that he could trust this boy.
“Tell me what you know about this miserable business,” he said.
“I know very little,” replied Clark. “I had been afraid that there might be trouble because of the strong feeling in regard to the prizes; and while Company D was drilling, I saw a lot of the rougher fellows whispering together. Then I saw one of them leave his seat and speak to a boy—not a high-school boy I am sure, certainly not a Central boy—and give him something, and then this boy walked to the back of the stand. He waited a moment, and then I saw him light a match, and it flashed across my mind what he was going to do. I ran across to try to stop him, but the stand was so crowded that I couldn’t reach him in time. He saw me coming, and I think that that made him throw the cracker before he was quite ready, and maybe that is why[113] he threw it as he did, so that it did not explode towards the boys.”
“He was gone, I suppose, before you could get to him?” said the professor.
“Yes, he disappeared. I think he dropped from the back of the seats to the ground.”
“Should you know him if you should see him again?”
“I cannot tell, sir,” replied Clark.
The professor mused for a few minutes, then he asked, “Can you tell me the name of the boy who talked with this fellow, and gave him something?”
Clark hesitated.
“I know who it was, Professor,” he said at last, “but the boys of section D have more than once accused me of telling tales, though I have never once done so. In this case I think that you ought to know who this boy was; but, sir, won’t you try to find out some other way first? If you fail to find out by other means, I cannot refuse to tell you, but please do not ask me now.”
“Very well, my boy, I will not ask you to-day, but I think likely it will be necessary for me to ask you again later. I want to thank you, Clark, for what you have told me. It is a relief to question a boy upon whose word I can rely. I need not ask you to keep silence as to what has passed this morning. I know you will do so.”
He rose, and held out his hand, and Clark grasped it and departed with a breath of relief that that ordeal was over.
Crawford, Henderson and Freeman left the school together, but Freeman turned off at the first cross-street. He was in no mood for Crawford’s careless gaiety and Henderson’s sneers and flings. He was going along with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground, when, turning a corner, he almost ran into his cousin. He would have passed on without a word, but Clark put his arm affectionately across his shoulders, and fell into step with him.
“I was just going around to your house, Ray, to see if you would go with me for a tramp over the hills,” he said; “I don’t feel like settling to work to-day, and I don’t believe you do. Come on—won’t you?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Freeman, wearily.
“Don’t you feel equal to it?” Clark asked.
“Yes, I’m well enough; ’tisn’t that,” replied the boy.
Clark thought that he looked very far from well, but he had his reasons for urging his request.
“You go on home, then, and tell Edith, so she won’t be worrying about you, and I’ll go home and get some luncheon to take along with us, and then I’ll stop for you. We can take the cars up to the end of the line, and walk the rest of the way.”
“Well, I don’t care. Suppose I might as well go as to mope ’round at home,” said Freeman, and with a cheery “That’s good, I’ll be at your house within twenty minutes,” Clark hurried away.
It was cool and restful in the open car, and Clark, seeing that his cousin was disinclined to talk, left him to his thoughts, with only a word now and then. Even after they left the car, and struck into the woods, they spoke but little.
Clark led the way to a cool, shady spot where he knew there was a spring of clear, cold water.
“There!” he said, “sit there and rest, Ray. That big tree trunk makes a splendid support for a tired back. I brought some lemons and sugar, and now I’m going to make some lemonade with this spring water. It’s almost as cold as ice. You can take out the rest of the stuff while I’m gone.”
But when he returned with his kettle of lemonade, the lunch-basket stood, unopened, where he had left it, and his cousin sat with his eyes on the distant hills—his thoughts evidently far away. Clark made no remark, but set out the luncheon himself.
“Come now, pitch in, Ray,” he said, &ldquo............
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