28. Dark Days
 

The Rovers and Stanley Browne were kept in the rooms until Monday morning. During that time their meals were sent to them, and Professor Sharp came to see them twice.

"Doctor Wallington will dispose of your case on Monday," said the instructor.

"I think we should have had a doctor," said Dick. "All of us were sick, and needed medical attention."

"Nonsense!" cried Abner Sharp. "You have sobered up, and that was all that was needed."

This assertion led to a war of words, and Tom came close to whacking the unreasonable teacher over the head with the water pitcher. As a consequence, Abner Sharp ran out of the room in fear and reported to the head of the institution that he had been assaulted.

On Monday morning the four boys were told to go down and report at the president's office Previous to this they had held a "council of war," as Sam expressed it, and made Dick their spokesman.

"Now, then, as you appear to be sober, I will listen to your story," said Doctor Wallington. He was the only other person present, "And remember," he added sharply, "I want nothing but the truth. You cannot hope for any leniency on my part unless you tell me everything."

"That is what we propose to do, sir," answered Dick, looking the doctor full in the eyes. "My brothers and Stanley have asked me to do the talking for all of us. Shall I tell my story now?"

"Yes."

Thereupon Dick told his tale from beginning to end, very much as I have set it down here. He, of course, could tell nothing of the actions of Koswell and his crowd, for he had been unconscious most of the time.

"Certainly a remarkable story," mused Doctor Wallington, when the oldest Rover had finished, "And you mean to say you did not drink any of the liquor?"

"Not a drop, sir; and neither did the others,"

"And this vapor? What was it, and how do you account for it?" The doctor's tones were very sceptical.

"I can't account for it, excepting by thinking it was part of a plot against us."

"Hum!" The doctor turned to Stanley. "Have you anything to add to Rover's story?"

"Nothing, sir, excepting that it is absolutely true, Doctor Wellington."

After this the boys were questioned for the best part of an hour, but without shaking their testimony in the least. Then Songbird was called in, and he told what he knew.

"If your story is true, it is a most extraordinary occurrence," said the head of Brill at last. "But I must confess that I can scarcely credit such a tale. However, I will, for the time being, give you the benefit of the doubt, and in the meantime make some investigations on my own account. If I find you have not told the truth I shall dismiss you from the college. Do you understand that?"

To this the students bowed.

"One thing more. All of you may return to your classes but Thomas Rover. He has an extra charge against him, that of assaulting Professor Sharp. Thomas Rover, you will remain here. The rest of you can go."

With strange feelings in their hearts Dick, Sam and Stanley, accompanied by Songbird, left the office. They had been heard, but had not been believed.

"We may be dismissed from here, after all," said Sam bitterly.

"What a shame!" cried Songbird. "Oh, if you could only find out who did it, and expose them!"

The boys went back to their classes with heavy hearts. They saw a number of the other students looking at them questioningly.

Jerry Koswell saw them return, and was much astonished. Had his plot to put them in disgrace miscarried, after all? Larkspur, too, was perplexed. Flockley was a bit relieved, and half hoped the whole matter would blow over and nothing more be heard of it.

The day went by, and the other lads did not see Tom. But they saw him in the evening, just before supper.

"Well, how did you make out?" asked Dick eagerly.

"Got a vacation," was Tom's laconic answer.

"Dismissed?" asked the others in concert.

"No, suspended until Doctor Wallington can investigate the whole matter more thoroughly. He wanted me to apologize to Sharp, and I said flatly that I wouldn't do it, because I hadn't anything to apologize for. He got mad at first, and threatened me with instant dismissal. Then I warmed up, and said I was innocent of all wrongdoing, and perhaps I'd be able to prove it some day, and if so, and I was dismissed, I'd sue the college for loss of reputation. That brought matters to a head, and I guess the doctor saw I was in deadly earnest. He told me I could consider myself suspended for two weeks, or until he could get to the bottom of the affair. So I've got a holiday."

"I'm glad you didn't apologize to Sharp," said Sam.

"What are you going to do with yourself--go home?" asked Dick.

"No. I am going to move to Ashton, and then try to get to the bottom of this matter."

"The doctor will send a letter home."

"So will I, and you must do the same. I think father will believe us."

Tom left that night, and established himself at the leading hotel in Ashton.

News travels swiftly, and Koswell and his cohorts took care that the girls at Hope should hear the story about the Rovers and Stanley and their supposed disgraceful doings. Dora, Nellie and Grace could scarcely believe their ears when they heard it.

"This is awful!" murmured Dora, and the tears came to her eyes.

"I don't believe one word of it!" cried Nellie with spirit.

"But Tom has been suspended," said Grace. "And think of poor Sam and Dick!" And her heart sank like lead within her bosom.

"I am going to send Dick a note right away," said Dora. "I cannot bear this suspense."

"But you don't think Dick is guilty, do you?" asked Nellie.

"No. But--but the disgrace! It is terrible!" And now Dora burst out crying in earnest.

The note from Dora reached Dick the following day, in the afternoon mail. It was short, but to the point, reading as follows:

"dear dick: We have just heard something awful about you and Tom and Sam. Tell us what it means. Of course we don't believe you have done anything wrong.

"Yours,

"DORA."

This note disturbed Dick and Sam greatly, for they could understand how the evil report concerning them had been circulated at Hope Seminary, and how the girls had suffered in consequence.

"I am glad they think we are innocent," said Sam.

"They couldn't do anything else, knowing us as they do," returned his brother. And then he sent a note back stating that the reports were all falsehoods, and asking them to meet Tom and themselves on the following Saturday at Ashton.

"Perhaps Tom will have something to report by that time," said Dick.

The time to Saturday dragged miserably. The boys could not set their minds on their lessons, and as a consequence got some poor marks. For this Professor Blackie gave them a lecture.

"You ought to show your appreciation of what Doctor Wellington has done in your case," said the instructor.

"We can't settle down to lessons with this cloud hanging over us," answered Dick frankly. "It has got to be cleared away, or--" he did not finish.

"Or what, Rover?"

"Or I'm afraid we'll have to leave, even if we are not dismissed," was the slow answer, and Dick breathed a deep sigh.