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After the events just narrated several days passed quietly enough at Putnam Hall. In the meantime the weather continued clear, and the boys took it upon themselves to clear off a part of the lake for skating. Then, one night came a strong wind, and the next morning they found a space of cleared ice nearly half a mile long.
"Now for some fine skating!" exclaimed Tom, as he rushed back to the Hall after an inspection of the lake's smooth surface. "We can have all the racing we wish."
"It's a pity Sam can't go out yet," returned Dick. Sam was back to the school, but his cold had not entirely left him.
"Never mind; here are several new magazines he can read," returned Tom, who had been to town with Snuggers on an errand and had purchased them at the stationery store.
"I would just as soon read now," said Sam. "The magazines look mighty interesting."
Just then Fred Garrison came in, accompanied by George Granbury. They had been down to Cedarville to purchase some skates and a new pair of shoes for George.
"Hullo, what do you think we saw in Cedarville!" cried Fred, as soon as he caught sight of the Rovers.
"Lots of snow," suggested Tom dryly.
"A mighty dull town," suggested Sam.
"We saw Dan Baxter."
"What was he doing?"
"He was walking down the street. And who do you suppose was with him? Mr. Grinder!"
"Grinder!" came simultaneously from Tom and Dick.
"Yes, Grinder. And they seemed to be on good terms with each other," put in George.
"I could hardly believe my eyes at first," went on Fred. "But there they were, as plain as day."
"It's very odd," mused Dick. "What should bring them together?"
Nobody could answer that question.
"I don't believe they are up to any good," said Tom.
"I hope Grinder doesn't join hands with Baxter in plotting against us," came from Dick.
The matter was talked over for some time, but no satisfactory conclusion could be reached, and presently the boys separated, some to go skating and others to attend to their studies for the morrow.
Down at the lake the scene was an animated one. Boys were flying in every direction, and mingled with them were a dozen or more girls and a few grown persons. George Strong, the head teacher, was there, enjoying himself fully as much as the pupils who loved him.
"I'll race you, Mr. Strong!" sang out one of the older boys, Tom Mardell.
"Done, Master Mardell," was the teacher's answer. "To yonder rock and return." And in a moment more the pair were off.
"Hurrah! A race between Mr. Strong and Tom Mardell!" came in a shout from a number of the students, and soon there was a general "lining up" to see how it would terminate.
"Go in, Tom!" shouted Tom Rover. "Don't let him beat you!"
"Mr. Strong is behind!" came presently. "Tom is going to win out, sure!"
On and on went the skaters, until the rock was gained. Then Tom Mardell turned so suddenly that he ran full tilt into the teacher with whom he was racing. Both spun around and came down on the ice with a crash.
"Oh!" gasped Mardell. "I didn't mean to do that!"
"I--I know you didn't!" panted Mr. Strong. "You have finished the race in fine shape, I must declare!" And then he arose slowly to his feet and Mardell followed. But nobody was seriously hurt, and in a moment more both skated off hand in hand.
Dick was looking for Dora Stanhope, and presently she appeared, in a pretty fur coat and a jaunty fur cap. He put on her skates for her, and they skated off, with many a side wink from some of the boys.
"Dick's head over heels," said one lad, to Tom.
"Well, I guess you'd be, too, Urner, if you could get such a nice girl to notice you," returned Tom dryly. And then he added: "You must remember we are all old friends."
"Oh, I know that; and I was only joking."
A grand race, open to all comers, had been arranged by the students of the Hall and of Pornell Academy, a rival institute of learning, which has already figured in other volumes of this series. The Pornell boys were out in force, and they were sure that one of their number would win the silver napkin ring, which was the first prize, and another the story book, which constituted the second prize.
Of this race a gentleman from Cedarville, named Mr. Richards, was to be the starter and judge. The course was a short mile, down the lake and back again. The Pornell boys to enter were named Gray, Wardham, Gussy, and De Long. The contestants from Putnam Hall were Tom Rover, Fred Garrison, Tubbs, and a lad named Hollbrook.
"Are you ready?" asked Mr. Richards, after lining the boys up and telling them of the conditions of the race.
There was a dead silence.
"Go!" shouted the starter.
Away went the eight skaters, side by side each striking out bravely. Fred was in the lead, with two Pornell boys a close second, while Tom Rover was fourth.
"Go in, Tom, you must win!" sang out Dick excitedly.
"Hurrah for Tubby!" came from several others. "He's crawling up!"
"Go in, Gray!" came in a shout from some Pornell sympathizers. Gray was one of the pair striving for second place. Now he shot ahead, and in a second more was close upon Fred Garrison's heels.
The pace was truly terrific from the very start, and long before the turn was gained De Long and Hollbrook dropped out, satisfied that they could not win.
Gray, the leader of the Pornell contingent, was a tall, lanky, and powerful fellow, and every stroke he took told well in his favor. The turning point was hardly rounded when he began to crawl up to Fred, and then he gradually passed him.
"Hurrah! Gray is ahead!" shouted his friends.
"Here is where Pornell wins the race!" added one enthusiastic sympathizer.
Fred's pace had been too sharp from the very start, and now he slowly but surely dropped back to second place, and then to third.
But then Tom Rover began to crawl up. He had held himself slightly in reserve. Now he "let himself out." Whiz! whiz! went the polished pair of steels under him, and soon Wardham, the fellow who had held second place, was passed, dropping behind Fred, thus taking fourth place. Then Tom came up on Gray's heels.
"Hurrah for Tom Rover!"
"Go it, Tom, don't let him beat you!"
"Go it Gray, Tom Rover is at your heels!"
Gray did not dare to look back, but at the latter cry he did his best to increase his speed. So did Tom, and while the finishing line was still a hundred yards distant he came up side by side with Gray.
"It's a tie!"
"No, Gray is a little ahead yet!"
"Go in, Gray, don't let him beat you!"
"Tom Rover to the front! Go it, Tom, for the glory of old Putnam Hall!"
A wild yelling broke out on every side. On and on went the two boys, with Fred Garrison not two yards behind them. That the finish would be a close one there was no question. The line was but a hundred feet away; now but seventy-five; now but fifty. Still the leaders kept side by side, neither gaining an inch. Surely it would be a tie. The yelling increased until the noise was deafening.
And then of a sudden Tom Rover shot ahead. How it was done nobody knew, and Tom himself couldn't explain it when asked afterward. But ahead he went, like an arrow shot from a bow, and crossed the line six feet in advance of Gray.
"Hurrah! Tom Rover has won!"
"Told you Tom would do it!"
"Three cheers for Putnam Hall!"
"And Fred Garrison came in only one yard behind Gray, too, and Tubby is a pretty good fourth."
"This is Putnam Hall day, thank you!"
The cheering increased, and Tom was immediately surrounded by a host of admirers.
Gray felt very sore, and wanted to leave the pond at once, but before he could do so Tom skated up to him and held out his hand.
"You came pretty close to beating me," he said. "I can't really say how I got ahead at the finish."
"I--I guess my skate slipped, or something," stammered Gray, and shook hands. Tom's candor took away the keen edge of the defeat.
The Putnam Hall boys were wild with delight, and insisted upon carrying Tom on their shoulders around the pond. A great crowd followed, and nobody noticed how this made the ice bend and crack.
"Be careful there!" shouted Mr. Strong warningly. "There are too many of you in a bunch!" But ere he had finished the sentence there came another loud cracking, and in a twinkle a section of the ice went down, plunging fully a dozen lads into the icy water below.
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