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   Chapter 18 FRED SLIDES INTO THE FREEZE

The High School Freshmen; or, Dick & Co.'s First Year Pranks and Sports By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 11316

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Monday's "Blade" contained additional light on the nitroglycerine affair--or what passed as "light."

Len Spencer and the local police had discovered that at least three of the wealthiest men in town had received, during the last few weeks, threatening letters from cranks.

These cranks had all demanded money, under pain of severe harm if they failed to turn over the money.

It now developed that the police chief and Officer Hemingway had, some time before, arrested a nearly harmless lunatic, who, it was believed had written the letters. The man with the unbalanced mind did not appear dangerous, yet, in view of his threats, he had been quietly "railroaded" off to all asylum for the insane.

Now, the arrival of four pounds of nitroglycerine at the local express office was believed to show that the lunatic had had comrades, or else that the crazy man had been used merely as a tool.

Hemingway hurried off to the asylum, to interview the unfortunate one. All the plain clothes man succeeded in getting, however, was a rambling talk that didn't make sense.

Monday's "Blade" announced that the chief of police had been authorized to offer a reward of five hundred dollars for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the party or parties behind the criminal shipment of the giant explosive to Gridley.

Everyone believed that the frightened rich men had combined to offer the reward. Many wondered that the offered reward was not larger.

All of the student body at the High School were busy talking about the affair in the big assembly room before the session opened.

"I see where my parents have made a great mistake," sighed Frank

Thompson.

"How?" demanded Ben Badger.

"Instead of wasting my time at the High School they should have apprenticed me to a good journeyman detective," grumbled Thomp.

"Oh, but couldn't I use that five hundred, if only my training had fitted me for such deeds as running down a nitroglycerine peddler!"

"It isn't anything to joke about," shuddered one of the girls. "It's awful! Would four pounds of the dreadful stuff destroy the town of Gridley?"

"No," Badger informed her; "but it would be enough to blow up several wood-piles and destroy a lot of clean Monday wash."

"There you go joking again," protested the girl, and turned away.

"Oh, well," declared Fred Ripley, "we must possess ourselves with patience. We shall soon know the whole truth."

"Do you really think so?" asked Purcell.

"It's one of the surest things conceivable," railed Ripley. "That bright constellation of freshmen known under the musical title of Dick & Co. will solve the whole affair wit, in forty-eight hours. Indeed, I'm not sure but Dick & Co., even at this moment, carry the secret looked in their breasts."

Fred glanced quickly around him to see how much of a laugh this had started. To his chagrin he found his bantering had fallen flat.

"Oh, well," gaped Dowdell, gazing out of the window near which he stood, "I know one important fact about the mystery."

"What's that?" asked half a dozen quickly.

"None of the five hundred is destined to come my way.

"That jest saddens a lot of us with the same conviction," muttered

Ted Butler, shaking his head.

"But this I do know," continued Dowdell, "if the weather continues cold there'll be some elegant skating before the week is out."

Gridley did not slumber over the nitroglycerine mystery. Len

Spencer, though he could gain no actual information, managed to

have something interesting on the subject in each morning's "Blade."

The people of Gridley talked of the mystery everywhere.

There was one other mild sensation this week that lasted for a part of a day. Tip Scammon came up for his trial. He pleaded guilty to the thefts from the High School locker room, and also guilty to the charge of entering the Prescott rooms in order to hide his loot in Dick's trunk. By way of leniency toward a first offender the court let Tip off with a sentence of fourteen months in the penitentiary. This sentence, by good behavior on the part of Tip, would shrink to ten months of actual imprisonment.

In every way the police and the prosecuting attorney tried to make Tip reveal the name of his confederate. But Tip, for reasons of his own, maintained absolute, dogged silence on this head, and went to the penitentiary without having named the person who met him in the alleyway that evening when Tip himself was caught.

The promise of skating was made good. Wednesday afternoon it was discovered that the ice in Gaylor's Cove was in splendid condition, and strong enough to bear.

Thursday a series of High School racing contests were planned for Saturday afternoon. There was so much money left over in the Athletics Committee's treasury that it was voted to offer a series of individual trophies for boy and girl skaters in different events.

Moreover, in these skating events members of the freshman class were to be allowed to compete.

"Now, see here, fellows," urged Dick, when he had gotten his partners aside, "some of the freshman class ought to be winners of some of the events. We want to give our class a good name. And, out of the six of us, there ought to be one winner for something. I wish you'd all do your best to get in shape. You'll all go over to the cove with me this afternoon, of course."

They did. More than a hundred of the student body, most of them boys, were on the ice that afternoon.

Some went scurrying by for all they were worth. These were training for the races.

Others gathered in the less traveled parts of the cove, which was a large one,

and practiced the "fancy" feats. Tom Reade and Dan Dalzell put themselves in this class. Dick and his other partners went in for speed.

Friday afternoon there was an even larger attendance.

Gaylor's Cove was about half a mile long, with an average width of a quarter of a mile. At the middle the cove was open for a long way upon the river.

At some points on the river proper the ice was strong enough to bear. Near Gaylor's Cove, however, the river current was so swift that the river ice at this point looked thin and treacherous. No one ventured out on the ice just beyond the cove.

Friday night many a High School boy and girl studied the sky. There was no sign of storm, nor did the conditions seem to threaten a thaw. Saturday morning was cold and clear. The temperature, at noon, was just above freezing point, though not enough so to bring about a "thaw" in the ice.

By one o'clock Saturday afternoon Gaylor's Cove was a scene of great activity. Two thirds of the High School students were there, most of them on skates. There were three or four hundred other youngsters, and more than a hundred grown-ups.

"All we need is the band," laughed Dick Prescott, as he skated slowly along with Laura Bentley.

"The click-clack of the skates is enough for me," Laura replied.

"You are not down in any of the girls' contests, are you?" he asked.

"No; does that disappoint you, Dick?"

"N-no," he said, slowly. "Still, it's fine to see every event all but crowded."

"In how many events are you entered?" asked the girl.

"Only one, the freshman's mile. That will be swift work, and there are two turns, the way the course is to be laid out."

"Why didn't you enter more of the freshman events?" Laura asked.

"Well, it will take a lot of good wind to keep going at a swift pace for a mile. I want to save all my strength and wind for that one event."

"What is the prize in the freshman's mile?" asked Laura, fumbling in her muff for the card of the day's events.

"You noticed that handsome Canadian toboggan, didn't you?"

"The one with the side hand-rails?" Laura asked, looking up brightly into his face. "Yes; that ought to have been one of the prizes in the girls' events."

"Why?" queried Dick, looking a bit disconcerted.

"Why, those hand-rails are meant for timid girls to take hold of. A boy would never want a toboggan with hand-rails."

"Perhaps the fellow who's going to win the freshman's mile expects to invite some of the young ladies to go out tobogganing with him," hinted young Prescott.

"Is it fixed who shall win that race?" demanded Laura, teasingly.

"Hardly that," Dick rejoined, dryly.

"Then how do you know the coming owner's intentions, if you don't know who is going to win the race?" Miss Bentley insisted.

"Well, you see, it's this way?" Dick admitted, "I've made up my mind to win that race."

"So you regard the race as being as good as won by yourself?" smiled the physician's daughter.

"It's one of the rules of Dick & Co.," Prescott answered, as they turned and skated slowly back toward the center of the cove, "when we go into anything we consider it as good as won from the outset."

"Well, I like that spirit," Laura admitted. "Faint heart never yet won anything but a spill."

Laura had her card out by this time, and was studying it leisurely, trusting to her companion to guide her.

"I see Fred Ripley is entered for the grand event in fancy skating," she observed.

"Yes; are you interested in him?"

Something in the directness of the question caused the girl to bite her lips.

"Now, that's hardly fair, Dick," she cried, flushing with vexation.

"No; the fact is, I'm hoping he'll lose."

"Why?"

"Because, Fred has never been very nice to you, Dick."

That was direct enough, and Dick flushed with pleasure.

"Thank you, Laura; that's more handsome than what I said to you."

"I accept your apology," she laughed. "Look! There goes Fred

Ripley now! How foolish of him."

Fred was heading straight out of the cove toward the river. He was a fine skater, and now he was showing off at his best. He had adapted a "turn promenade" step from roller skating, and was whirling along, turning and half dancing as he sped along. It was a graceful, rhythmical performance. Despite the fact that young Ripley was not widely liked, his present work drew considerable applause from the spectators.

That applause acted like incense under the young man's nostrils. He determined to go farther out, maintaining his present step unbroken.

"Look out, Ripley!" warned Thomp. "The ice won't bear out there."

Fred didn't reply by as much as a look. He kept on out toward the thin ice.

Cra-a-ack! Splash! The thin ice had broken. Ripley, moving backwards, did not realize his fix until his feet; shot into the water. Down he came on his back, breaking more of the ice.

A yell, and he was gone below the surface.

And now everybody seemed shouting at once. A hundred people ran to and fro, shouting out what ought to be done.

"Get a rope! Run for a doctor! Bring fence rails! Telephone for the police!"

That's the usual way with a crowd, to think up things that others ought to do.

Dick Prescott espied Dave Darrin ahead. Dropping Laura's arm without a word, Dick skated swiftly up to Dave, called Darrin, then lightning. As he worked young Prescott shot out a few hurried orders.

Then another great cry went up. Dick Prescott was sprinting fast toward the thin ice. Close to where Fred Ripley had gone down there was another great rent in the ice.

Dick Prescott was "in the freeze," in quest of his enemy!

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