Read CHAPTER XVIII - FORCED TO LEND A HAND of Fred Fenton on the Track / The Athletes of Riverport School, free online book, by Allen Chapman, on ReadCentral.com.

“Is that right, Fenton?” the bully finally demanded, turning to look at the dimly seen face of the boy deep down in the hole.  “Did you haul my brother out of the Mohunk waters?”

“That’s just what happened, Buck,” Fred replied, a warm feeling once more taking possession of his heart; for somehow he seemed to know that the coming of this unlooked-for ally would turn the scales in his favor; and, after all, he would not have to spend a horrible night in that damp hole.

“Don’t seem likely you’d do such a thing, and never throw it up at me some time, when I was naggin’ you,” went on the other, doubtfully.

“Oh!  I felt like doing that same more’n a few times, believe me,” said Fred.

“Then why didn’t you?” asked Buck.

“He didn’t just because I asked him as a favor to me not to say a word to a single soul,” broke in the eager Billy, just then.  “You know, Buck, father told me he’d whip me if ever he heard of my tryin’ that cranky canoe of yours.  And I was afraid he’d do it, too, if he heard how near I was to bein’ drownded.”

“Well, that sure just gets me!” muttered Buck, who found it hard to understand how a fellow could hide his light under a bushel, and not “blow his own horn,” when he had jumped into the river, and pulled out a drowning boy.  “Say, is that so too, Fenton; did you keep mum just because Billy here asked you to?”

“That was the only reason,” replied Fred; “but you must give some of the credit to Bristles Carpenter, who couldn’t swim much then; but he waded in, and helped to get us ashore.  And he pulled the canoe in, too.  Then we took it down to the place you keep it; while Billy played by himself in the warm sun till his clothes got dry; didn’t you, Billy?”

“Just what I did,” said the small boy, cheerfully.  “And not a person ever knowed I’d been in the water.  Oh!  I’ve always thought it was mighty nice in Fred; and it used to make me feel so bad when I heard you talkin’ about him the way you did, Buck.  More’n a few times I just wanted to tell you all about it, to show you he couldn’t be the mean boy you said; but I dassent; I was scared you’d think you had to tell father on me.”

As he knelt there Buck was fighting an inward battle; and the enemy with which he grappled was his own baser nature.  Fred did not have a single fear as to how it was bound to come out.  He knew that Buck could not deny the obligation that had been so unexpectedly forced upon him.

Then Buck suddenly reached down.  He had made up his mind, and was even then groping for the end of the vine which Fred was reaching up to him.

Once he got this firmly in his hands, he simply said: 

“Now, climb away, Fenton!”

Fred waited for no second invitation.  He was not foolish enough to decline a favor that came within reach.  Possibly Buck’s new resolution might cool off more or less, if given time; and Fred dared not take the risk.

So he immediately began the task of drawing himself up the short distance that lay between his eager hands and the rim of the pit.

And Buck, having braced himself firmly, with his foot against a solid spur of rock, held through the trying ordeal.  Fred in a short time was clambering over the brink, delighted beyond measure at the chance to once more find himself on the outside of that miserable hole.

He had hardly half raised himself to his knees, when he felt a warm little hand clasp his, while the voice of Billy sounded in his ears.

“Oh! ain’t I glad I was along with brother Buck right now, Fred,” the boy cried; “I’m afraid he’d a left you there if he’d been alone.  But then, you see, Buck never knowed what a good friend you’d been to me that time.  And it was mighty kind of you never to peach on me.  But I guess you’n Buck ain’t a-goin’ to be fightin’ each other after this.  You had ought to be friends right along.”

Fred looked at the bully.  He even half thrust out a hand, as though to signify that he was ready to bridge the chasm that had always existed between them, if the other would come the rest of the way to meet him.

But Buck obstinately kept his hand down at his side.  He was not going to forget all his troubles of the past, many of which he believed he could lay at the door of the boy who had refused to knuckle down to him, as most of the Riverport lads had done in the past.

But Fred was not caring in the least.  Things had worked almost like a miracle in his favor.  That these two, perhaps heading across lots for the humble home of Arnold Masterson, to hide from the wrath of the Squire, should happen within earshot of his cries for help, was in the nature of a chance in a thousand.

“You won’t shake hands, Buck, and be friends, then?” Fred asked.

“What, me?” exclaimed the other, once more showing signs of anger, and drawing Billy away from Fred as if the sight of them close together was unpleasant to him; “not in a thousand years.  That would mean I’d have to knuckle down, and crawl before the mighty Fred Fenton, like some of the other ninnies do.  You go your way, and I’ll go mine.  We’ve always been enemies, and that’s what we’ll be to the end of the chapter.”

The old vindictive part in Buck’s nature had apparently still a firm grip on him.  Fred no longer offered his hand.  If the other chose to call it square, he must be satisfied, and accept things as they came.

“All the same,” he said, positively; “I’m obliged to you, Buck, for helping me out.  You’ve saved me from a bad time.  And I’m going to tell about it too, whether you want me to or not.  Some of the good people in Riverport will believe they’ve been wrong when they thought you wouldn’t lift a hand to do a single decent thing.”

“Oh! rats, don’t give me any of that sort of taffy, Fenton!” exclaimed the other in a disgusted voice.  “And I’ll see to it that they don’t believe I’m working the reformed son racket, either.  I did this ­well ­just because I had to, that’s all, and not because I wanted to.  If Billy hadn’t been along, and told what he did, you’d ’a spent your night in that hole, for all of me; understand?”

“Well, just as you will, Buck.  Have it as you want.  Billy, I’m obliged to you for standing up for me like you did.  It was a lucky day for me, as well as for you, when I chanced to get you out of the Mohunk.”

“Oh! come along, Billy,” Buck called out, pulling at the sleeve of his younger brother; “we’ve got no more time to waste here, jawing.  Right now I’m some twisted in my bearings, and we might have a tough time gettin’ to that farmhouse.”

Fred took it for granted that Buck was heading in a roundabout way for the home of Arnold Masterson; the same place where he and Bristles had saved Sarah, the sick farmer’s daughter, from the well, into which she had fallen when trying to hide from the three rough tramps.

He was on the point of directing Buck, so that the other might reach his destination, when something within seemed to bid him hold his tongue.  Arnold Masterson was not friendly with his rich uncle, Squire Lemington.  He had been worsted by the latter in some land deal, and would not even come to Riverport to trade.  Perhaps Buck knew something about this, and it may have influenced him when running away from home, with Billy in his company.

He saw the two go off, Buck talking in low tones to his brother.  Once Billy insisted on turning, and waving his hand toward Fred; though Buck immediately gave him a rough whirl, as though to make him understand that he would not allow of any more friendly feelings between his younger brother and the fellow he chose to look upon as his worst enemy.

“Well, it’s too bad Buck feels that way,” Fred said to himself, as he turned his back on the hole that had given him such an unpleasant half hour.  “But just as he says, the score is even now, and the slate cleaned off.  We can start fresh; and chances are, he’ll find a way of trying to get a dig at me before many suns.  But I’m lucky to get out of that scrape as I did.  Whew! what if I just had to stay there?  Makes me shiver to think of it.”

He started on a run, to get up a circulation; for, despite all his labor while in the pit, his blood seemed to have become fairly chilled.

At first he thought he would head straight home, as he was only a couple of miles or so away from Riverport.  Then suddenly he found his thoughts going out in the direction of Arnold Masterson and his daughter, Sarah.  He had not been to see them for several days now, since the man was able to leave his bed and hobble about the house, in fact.

A sudden notion to drop in on them, and explain about Buck’s coming, seized upon Fred, though he never was able to tell why he should give way to such a strange resolution.  But changing his course he headed toward the Masterson farm.