Chapter XIX. Nan's Plea
 

BERT'S heart sank when he saw that it was the school principal who held him by the collar. He remembered what Nan had said about fighting and being expelled.

"It was Bert Bobbsey's fault," blustered Danny, wiping his bleeding nose on his sleeve.

"No, it wasn't," answered Bert quickly. "It was his fault."

"I say it was your fault!" shouted Danny. "He started the fight, Mr. Tetlow."

"He struck first," went on Bert undauntedly.

"He caught me by the arm and wouldn't let me go," came from Danny.

"I told him to keep still," explained Bert. "He was calling, `Afraid of a ghost!' at me and I don't like it. And he said my sister Nan was afraid of it, too."

"Both of you march up to my office," said Mr. Tetlow sternly. "And remain there until I come."

"My nose is bleeding," whined Danny.

"You may go and wash your nose first," said the principal.

With a heart that was exceedingly heavy Bert entered the school and made his way to the principal's office. No one was there, and he sank on a chair in a corner. He heard the bells ring and heard the pupils enter the school and go to their various classrooms.

"If I am sent home, what will mamma and papa say?" he thought dismally. He had never yet been sent home for misconduct, and the very idea filled him with nameless dread.

His eye hurt him not a little, but to this he just then paid no attention. He was wondering what Mr. Tetlow would have to say when he came.

Presently the door opened and Danny shuffled in, a wet and bloody handkerchief held to his nose. He sat down on the opposite side of the office, and for several minutes nothing was said by either of the boys.

"I suppose you are going to try to get me into trouble," said Danny at length.

"You're trying to get me into trouble," returned Bert. "I didn't start the quarrel, and you know it."

"I don't know nothing of the kind, Bert Bobbsey! If you say I started the fight--I'll--I'll--tell something more about you."

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

"What can you tell?"

"You know well enough. Mr. Ringley hasn't forgotten about his broken window."

"Well, you broke that, I didn't."

"Humph! maybe I can prove that you broke it."

"Danny Rugg, what do you mean?" exclaimed Bert. "You know I had nothing to do with that broken window."

The big boy was about to say something more in reply when Mr. Tetlow entered the office.

"Boys," said he abruptly, "this is a disgraceful affair. I thought both of you knew better than to fight. It is setting a very bad example to the rest of the scholars. I shall have to punish you both severely."

Mr. Tetlow paused and Bert's heart leaped into his throat. What if he should be expelled? The very thought of it made him shiver.

"I have made a number of inquiries of the other pupils, and I find that you, Danny, started the quarrel. You raised the cry of `Afraid of a ghost!' when you had no right to do so, and when Bert caught you by the arm and told you to stop you struck him. Is this true?"

"I--I--he hit me in the chin. I told him to let me go."

"He struck me first, Mr. Tetlow," put in Bert. "I am sure all of the boys will say the same."

"Hem! Bert, you can go to your classroom. I will talk to you after school this afternoon."

Somewhat relieved Bert left the office and walked to the classroom, where the other pupils eyed him curiously. It was hard work to put his mind on his lessons, but he did his best, for he did not wish to miss in any of them and thus make matters worse.

"What did the principal do?" whispered the boy who sat next to him.

"Hasn't done anything yet," whispered Bert in return.

"It was Danny's fault," went on the boy, "We'll stick by you."

At noontime Bert walked home with Nan, feeling very much downcast.

"Oh, Bert, what made you fight?" said his twin sister. "I told you not to."

"I couldn't help it, Nan. He told everybody that you were afraid of the ghost."

"And what is Mr. Tetlow going to do?"

"I don't know. He told me to stay in after school this afternoon, as he wanted to talk with me."

"If he expels you, mamma will never get over it."

"I know that, Nan. But--but--I couldn't stand it to have him yelling out, `Afraid of a ghost!' "

After that Nan said but little. But her thoughts were busy, and by the time they were returning to the school her mind was fully made up.

To all of the school children the principal's office was a place that usually filled them with awe. Rarely did anybody go there excepting when sent by a teacher because of some infringements of the rules.

Nan went to school early that afternoon, and as soon as she had left Bert and the two younger twins, she marched bravely to Mr. Tetlow's office and knocked on the door.

"Come in," said the principal, who was at his desk looking over some school reports.

"If you please, Mr. Tetlow, I came to see you about my brother, Bert Bobbsey," began Nan.

Mr. Tetlow looked at her kindly, for he half expected what was coming.

"What is it, Nan?" he asked.

"I--I--oh, Mr. Tetlow, won't you please let Bert off this time? He only did it because Danny said such things about me; said I was afraid of the ghost, and made all the boys call out that we had ghosts at our house. I--I--think, somehow, that I ought to be punished if he is."

There, it was out, and Nan felt the better for it. Her deep brown eyes looked squarely into the eyes of the principal.

In spite of himself Mr. Tetlow was compelled to smile. He knew something of how the Bobbsey twins were devoted to each other.

"So you think you ought to be punished," he said slowly.

"Yes, if Bert is, for you see, he did it mostly for me."

"You are a brave sister to come in his behalf, Nan. I shall not punish him very severely."

"Oh, thank you for saying that, Mr. Tetlow."

"It was very wrong for him to fight--"

"Yes, I told him that."

"But Danny Rugg did wrong to provoke him. I sincerely trust that both boys forgive each other for what was done. Now you can go."

With a lighter heart Nan left the office. She felt that Bert would not be expelled. And he was not. Instead, Mr. Tetlow made him stay in an hour after school each day that week and write on his slate the sentence, "Fighting is wrong," a hundred times. Danny was also kept in and was made to write the sentence just twice as many times. Then Mr. Tetlow made the two boys shake hands and promise to do better in the future.

The punishment was nothing to what Bert had expected, and he stayed in after school willingly. But Danny was very sulky and plotted all manner of evil things against the Bobbseys.

"He is a very bad boy," said Nan. "If I were you, Bert, I'd have nothing more to do with him."

"I don't intend to have anything to do with him," answered her twin brother. "But, Nan, what do you think he meant when he said he'd make trouble about Mr. Ringley's broken window? Do you imagine he'll tell Mr. Ringley I broke it?"

"How would he dare, when he broke it himself?" burst out Nan.

"I'm sure I don't know. But if he did, what do you suppose Mr. Ringley would do."

"I'm sure I don't know," came helplessly from Nan. "You can't prove that Danny did it, can you?"

"No."

"It's too bad. I wish the window hadn't been broken."

"So do I," said Bert; and there the talk came to an end, for there seemed nothing more to say.