“If you do, Joel March, I’ll thrash you!” cried West.
“You can’t!—you can’t, Out!” Then he paused and laid a hand affectionately on the other’s shoulder as he asked softly:
“And it’s really so, Out? You can’t—” West shook his head.
“I’m afraid it’s so, Joel,” he answered apologetically. “You see out in Iowa there isn’t much chance for a chap to learn, and—and so before this afternoon, Joel, I never swam a stroke in my life.”
THE PROBATION OF BLAIR.
Wallace Clausen’s narrow escape from death and Joel’s heroic rescue were nine-day wonders in the little world of the academy and village. In every room that night the incident was discussed from A to Z: Clausen’s foolhardiness, March’s grit and courage, West’s coolness, Cloud’s cowardice. And next morning at chapel when Joel, fearing to be late, hurried in and down the side aisle to his seat, his appearance was the signal for such an enthusiastic outburst of cheers and acclamations that he stopped, looked about in bewilderment, and then slipped with crimson cheeks into his seat, the very uncomfortable cynosure of all eyes.
Older boys, who were supposed to know, stoutly averred that such a desecration of the sacred solitude of chapel had never before been heard of, and “Peg-Leg,” long since recovered from his contact with the bell rope, shook his gray head doubtfully, and joined his feeble tones with the cheers of the others. And then Professor Wheeler made his voice heard, and commanded silence very sternly, yet with a lurking smile, and silence was almost secured when, just as the door was being closed, Outfield West slipped through, smiling, his handsome face flushed from his tear across the yard. And again the applause burst forth, scarcely less great in volume or enthusiasm, and West literally bolted back to the door, found it closed, was met with a grinning shake of the head from Duffy, looked wildly about for an avenue of escape, and finding none, slunk to his seat at Joel’s side, while the boys joined laughter at his plight to their cheers for his courage.
“You promised not to tell!” hissed West with blazing cheek.
“I didn’t, Out; not a word,” whispered Joel.
Many eyes were still turned toward the door, but their owners were doomed to disappointment, for Bartlett Cloud failed to appear at chapel that morning, preferring to accept the penalty of absence rather than face his fellow-pupils assembled there in a body. But he did not escape public degradation; for, although he waited until the last moment to go to breakfast, he found the hall filled, and so passed to his seat amid a storm of hisses that plainly told the contempt in which his schoolmates held him. And then, as though scorning to remain in his presence, the place emptied as though by magic, and he was left with burning cheeks to eat his breakfast in solitude.