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   Chapter 23 THE NITROGLYCERINE MYSTERY SPEAKS UP

The High School Freshmen; or, Dick & Co.'s First Year Pranks and Sports By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 13679

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In one phase of its social life Gridley H.S. was especially sensible. Since only a few of the boys could be expected to be able to afford evening dress suits, it was a rule that none, even the seniors, should appear at any of the class functions in these fashionable garments.

Hence, Dick & Co., when they arrived with their girl friends, did not feel out of place on the score of clothes.

Each of the freshmen wore his "Sunday" suit, and each wore a flower at his lapel.

Unfortunately, no limitations were placed on the dress of the girls. Therefore, while some rather plain frocks were in evidence, many of the girls were rather elaborately attired.

Laura Bentley, though her father's means rather permitted, did not "overdo" in respect of dress. Dick felt sure, however, as he offered his arm, and conducted her out on the floor, that Laura was quite the prettiest, sweetest-looking girl there.

All of Dick's chums felt satisfied with their partners of the evening, for each young man had invited the girl whose company he was sure to enjoy most.

Somehow, though they did not feel just out of place at the senior ball, the six young freshmen and their partners, all of the freshman class, happened to come together at one end of the hall.

"What do you all say," proposed Dick, "if, in the grand march, we freshies keep together, six couples all in one section?"

"We'll feel more comfortable, surely," grinned Dave Darrin.

"Why? Are you scared?" asked Laura, looking at him archly.

"Not so that the band-leader could notice it," replied Dave. "Yet I think we'd all be making more noise if this were a freshman dance."

"But the freshmen don't have a dance until just before commencement time," put in Belle Meade, who was there with Dave.

"Anyway, the seniors are not so very important," laughed Laura. "the average age of the freshman class is about fourteen or fifteen. The seniors are only three years older Pooh! Who's afraid?"

"I am," broke in Ben Badger, coming up behind them. "Desperately afraid."

"You? Of what?" asked Laura, turning around upon him.

"Afraid that I'm too late to write my autograph on your dance card," admitted Ben, with a rueful smile.

"But you're a senior," murmured Laura.

"Is that a crime?" demanded Ben, in a tone of wonder.

"Why, we were planning," put in Belle, "that the freshmen boys and freshmen girls should dance together this evening."

"I see a ray of hope," protested Ben. "I'm going to college, so I shall be a freshman again next year. Isn't that enough to entitle me to one--square--dance, anyway?"

Without waiting for another reply, Ben caught up Laura's card, and looked it over.

"May I have number nine, please?" he begged.

"Yes, thank you," Laura answered, so Badger scribbled his name.

"My hopes are rising," cried Frank Thompson, gliding into the group.

Thereupon other seniors and juniors came up. It wasn't long before Dick & Co. had to bestir themselves in order to be sure of having dances enough with the girls of their own class.

"You can retaliate, you know, by going after some of the girls of the two upper classes," suggested Laura.

"I don't believe I'll try that," Dick replied. "It's all right for the upper class boys to want to dance with some of the freshman girls, especially when the freshman girls are such a charming lot---"

"Our thanks!" And six girls bowed low before him.

"But it would be regarded, I'm afraid, as rank impudence, if we little freshmen wanted to dance with senior or junior girls. When a freshman is in doubt the tip is 'don't!'"

The orchestra was playing a lively waltz that made most of the girls and many of the boys tap their feet restlessly.

The perfume of flowers was in the air. Lively chatter and merry laughter rang out.

"This is the brighter side of school life," murmured Dick, enthusiastically.

"One of the brighter sides," suggested Laura. "Your remark, as you made it, sounds ungrateful. It is a delight to be a High School student. There are no really dark sides to the life."

"But some sides are much brighter than others," Dick insisted. "I like study, and am glad I have a chance to go further in it than most young people get. Yet these class dances give us something that algebra, or chemistry, or geometry can't supply us."

"This is the brightest spot of the year," put in Tom Reade, in a low voice. "It must be the brightness of the girls' eyes that fill this part of the room with so much radiance."

"Bravo!" laughed Laura and Belle together.

"Have you been quiet the last fifteen minutes on purpose to think that up?" Dave asked enviously.

"Tom can say lots of nicer things than that," spoke up Bessie

Trenholm, half shyly.

"Oh, can he?" demanded Harry Hazelton. "Please search your memory then, Bessie. Let's have a few specimens of what Tom can say under the influence of luminous eyes."

Bessie blushed. When she tried to speak she stammered.

"I--I guess I can't remember anything," she pleaded.

Freshman laughter rang out merrily at this. But the waltz had ended, and now the prompter was calling for the grand march.

"Let's find our places," urged Dan Dalzell.

"We're on the side, so we might as well remain right where we are," proposed Dick. "That is, unless the floor manager or some aide comes along and chases us to the rear of the procession."

But no one interfered with the freshmen taking their places in the line just where they stood.

As the grand march ended the orchestra drew breath once or twice, then burst forth in a gallop. Dick offered Laura his guidance, and away they flew together. By the time the gallop ended the freshman couples were rather well scattered over the hall.

Dick danced well. He enjoyed himself immensely. So did his partners. Some of the freshman girls finally drifted off with upper class partners.

Toward midnight, Dick, alone, drifted to Dave Darrin and Harry

Hazelton.

"I haven't a thing to do, now, for four dances, unless some senior drops dead," Dick remarked.

"I'm in as bad a plight," admitted Harry.

"And I," nodded Dave.

It wasn't many moments ere the other three partners happened along, all disengaged.

"We don't want to be wall-flowers," muttered Dick. "It's going to be more than half an hour from now before any of us are due to dance again. See here, fellows, what do you say to our getting our hats and coats and getting out into the air for a while? A ballroom, isn't the worst place in the world, but I'm so much a fresh air fellow, that I'm half stifling here."

"Good! Come along to the coatroom, then," nodded Greg Holmes.

"Going home?" asked Laura Bentley, in a tone of protest, as she whirled by on Thompson's arm and saw Dick & Co. headed for the coatroom.

She was gone before Dick could a

nswer by word of mouth. But he saw her regarding him from the other end of the room, and smilingly shook his head.

"Feels good to be out, doesn't it?" asked Dan Dalzell, as the freshman sextette struck the open air.

"Yes; but what has happened to the blooming town?" demanded Greg

Holmes.

Even this Main Street of Gridley presented a curious look. It was a freezingly cold December night and it looked to the freshman as though the senior ball must be the only live thing left in the little city.

All the stores were closed, and had been for some time. All lights were out in the nearest residences. At first the boys thought they beheld held a policeman standing in front of the First National Bank, half a block away, but a closer look revealed the fact that he was only some belated loiterer--the sole human being in sight save themselves.

"Come off this other way, and let's go down the side street," proposed Dick.

"Yes; if we're to find signs of life anywhere, it will have to be on the smaller side streets," observed Greg Holmes.

Music wafted to them from the hall.

"There's life going on up there," remarked Dave. "We left it behind us."

"It isn't life," laughed Dick, "when some other fellow is dancing with your girl."

Along the side street the first corner was at the beginning of a broad back alley that ran parallel with Main Street.

Along this alleyway they turned.

"By looking up at the windows," suggested Prescott, "we may get some glimpses of the dance that are not so apparent when you're up in the hall."

True, as they passed by the rear of the dance hall they caught some glimpses of moving couples going by the windows, but that was all.

"And I want to remark," grunted Tom Reade, "that it's cold outdoors tonight."

"An outdoor fellow like you ought not to mind that," chaffed Dick

"Oh, I'll stand it as long as the rest of you do," challenged

Reade.

Dick and Dave were in the lead, the other chums coming behind them in couples.

So Prescott and Dave Darrin were the first to catch a glimpse down the short lane that led from the alleyway to the back of one of the buildings.

Here stood a man, with cap drawn well down over his forehead.

He was beside an automobile--a big black touring car.

Dick saw and guessed. He almost jumped. Giving Dave's arm a quick squeeze, Prescott marched by without appearing to pay any heed to the man and the autocar.

Once past the lane, Dick kept on walking, but he turned and walked backwards. He signed to the other four, putting a finger to his lips for silence.

All six of the chums had guessed swiftly what the man and the auto, at that particular point, must mean!

"Keep walking, fellows," whispered Dick, as the other startled freshmen reached him. "And laugh--loudly!"

Their forced laughter rang out. Then Dick, again at the head with Dave, started in on the first bars of the latest popular song. Again the chums understood, and joined in with a will.

When he had gone two hundred feet further, Dick countermarched his little force. Still singing they went back by the head of the lane, but not one member of Dick & Co. allowed himself to glance down the lane at man or automobile.

Then the song died out.

"I say, fellows," called Dave Darrin, banteringly, "we'd better get back to the hall if we don't want to find other fellows going home with our girls."

"I'll fight before I'll let that happen," proclaimed Dick Prescott.

"Hustle, then!" urged Dan.

Once out of the alleyway and into the side street the freshmen halted for an instant.

"Fellows," spoke Dick Prescott, "you all know what that means? One lookout in front of the bank, and another at the rear. An auto at the rear, too. Greg, you hustle to the police station as fast as you can make your feet fly. No use trying to find a place open where you can telephone. Come, the rest of you fellows."

There was a side entrance to the hall from the side street.

Dick and his four remaining chums ran in at this side door, that the man in front of the bank might not see them.

Up the stairs the freshmen rushed.

"Dave, take care of the orchestra," panted Dick. "The music mustn't stop for an instant after we get the fellows out."

Something in the looks of the five freshmen, as they burst into the hall attracted the attention of nearly everyone present.

Dick held up his hand as a sign for the dancing to stop. But Dave Darrin was already up on the platform, talking in the leader's ear, and the music did not cease.

As quickly as could be Dick got the upper classmen away from the girls, at the lower end of the hall.

"What is it? What can be the matter?" all the girls wanted to know.

But Dick called out, loudly enough to make himself heard:

"Young ladies, it is highly important that the music and the sounds of moving feet be kept up. Won't you young ladies please dance with each other until we bet back? Then we'll tell you an interesting story--if you're good."

In the meantime Tom Reade was telling Thompson, Badger and Edgeworth, and as many more as could get close enough, what had happened.

"See here, fellows," spoke Thomp, "there's a big chance fer the crowd to win fun and glory for good old Gridley H.S. Seniors and Dick & Co. will steal down the alleyway, and be upon that lookout before he can say 'batter-cakes and coffee.' Juniors and sophs go in a bunch, prepared to catch the lookout on Main Street. All get your coats and come softly down the side stairs!"

In many gatherings the speed and comprehension with which all the Gridley High School boys acted would have been regarded as marvelous. But they were always in training for athletics. Team work and the spirit of speed and discipline prevailed among them.

Almost in a jiffy, so it seemed, the masculine part of the senior dance party was out on the sidewalk of the side street.

"Don't you juniors and sophs show yourselves on Main Street for a full sixty seconds, unless you hear us raise a row at the back of the bank," advised Dick.

Somehow, none of the upper classmen seemed to think it strange for young Prescott thus to take command. He and his chums had discovered the attempt on the bank, and it seemed natural, just now, for the freshman leader to lead the whole school.

On tiptoe Dick and his chums led the way into the alley, the seniors following just as stealthily.

When the freshmen were within thirty feet of the lane Dick Prescott held up his hand, then signed to all hands to make the grand rush forward.

Just an instant before the High School boys could start, the earth suddenly shook and swayed under them, while on the frosty night air there came a great, sullen, fearsome--

BOOM!

That was the explosion designed to blow open the door of the bank's vault.

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