Dick merriwells trap; or.., p.13
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       Dick Merriwell's Trap; Or, The Chap Who Bungled, p.13
 

          
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  CHAPTER XIII--THE PROMPTINGS OF CONSCIENCE

  Brad Buckhart disappeared at once. When Dick reached his room he foundBrad there, sitting like a wooden image and staring at the wall.

  "Well, old man," said Dick pleasantly, "that was what I call a hotmeeting."

  The Texan did not stir. From his appearance, it did not seem that he wasaware Dick had entered the room.

  "In a trance, Brad?" asked Dick.

  Still Buckhart remained motionless, staring at the wall, a hard look onhis face.

  "What's the matter?" asked Dick, stopping in front of his roommate."What ails you, old man?"

  Brad looked at Dick, and there was a mingling of reproach, shame, andanger in that look.

  "Why didn't you let me alone?" he demanded. "That dirty dog won!"

  "You mean----"

  "Arlington--you know whom I mean! He's on the committee now, and he willshow you in short order that he has power there. Just you wait and seewhat he does!"

  "But he was fairly elected, Brad."

  "Was he? I'm not so sure of that."

  The Texan's voice was harsh and his manner toward Dick new and strained.He felt deeply the shame of his position. More for Dick's sake than hisown, he had sought to keep Chester Arlington from getting on thecommittee. Dick had detected him in the act of filching the two ballotsthat gave Chester the position, and had compelled him to put them backwhile the votes were being counted again. No one else knew of this, butBuckhart felt that he had lowered himself in the eyes of his friend androommate.

  "I'm not so sure his election was fair," he repeated.

  "What do you mean? Why wasn't it?"

  "What made Savage pull out just when he did? What made him try to throwhis votes to Arlington? There was something behind it, and you know it."

  Although Brad had not noted the incident observed by Dick, when Savagewas approached by a fellow who seemed to make a demand on him, againstwhich he rebelled at first, but to which he finally succumbed, still theTexan had sense enough to reason it out that there had been an unusualcause back of the action of Savage in stepping out in favor of Arlingtonat that critical juncture.

  "What do you think there was behind it?" asked Dick, curious to learnBuckhart's opinion on the matter.

  "Crookedness, crookedness!" exclaimed the Westerner, rising to his feetand beginning to tramp up and down the room. "I know it! I'm sure of it!I was sure of it all the time," he went on, eager to say something tomake his own act seem less heinous. "That is why I was determined thatArlington should not win if I could help it. I could have prevented it."

  "Dishonestly! Look here, Brad, I don't think you realized just what youwere doing."

  Dick attempted to place a hand on Buckhart's shoulder, but it wasbrushed aside, and the Texan continued his excited striding up and downthe room.

  "Yes, I did!" he declared grimly. "I knew I was cheating--I knew it! Imeant to cheat! I meant to beat Chet Arlington at his own game!"

  "Which would have placed you on the same level with him."

  "No! I would have beaten him! Look here, Dick, when you go against aslugging football-team, when the other side plays rough-house, how doyou meet them?"

  "I try to call the attention of the umpire."

  "What if the umpire will not punish them?"

  "Well, as a last resort, I give the boys instructions to make the gamehot in the same fashion as the other fellows."

  "As a last resort! That's it! Do you think I'm a fellow to choose to doa dishonest thing?"

  "I know you would not choose it because your inclination was that way."

  "But, in a case like this, I would choose it as a last resort. It wasthe last resort! It was the only way to keep Arlington from winning."

  "Then, Brad, if a man robs your chicken-coops persistently, you know herobs it, yet you cannot get proof to punish him by the aid of the law,you think it just that you should turn about and rob his chicken-coops,thus making yourself a hen-thief, just to get square with him?"

  Buckhart was staggered for a moment, but he recovered quickly.

  "Oh, that doesn't apply! That is a different degree of retaliation."

  "Then your application does not fit a football-game. Brad, you know itis not right to meet dishonesty with dishonesty. That is not the way tocombat it."

  "It's about the only way to combat it successfully."

  "I don't know about that."

  "You'll find it is."

  "I don't believe any fellow can afford it, Brad."

  "Afford it?"

  "Yes."

  "Why, what----"

  "Every little dishonest thing a chap does weakens his moral nature. Itis not often a burglar becomes a burglar at a single step. He descendsto that level by degrees. He does some little crooked act in the firstplace; then he does something worse, and step by step he goes down thehill, until at last he is a thorough criminal."

  "Great goodness!" exploded Brad. "You didn't fancy I was taking my firststep in crime, did you?"

  "No; but I knew it was not right, even to defeat an enemy. I knew youwould regret it afterward."

  "Not by a blamed sight! You were plumb wrong there, Dick!"

  Dick shook his head.

  "I was right," he said, with positive assurance. "I sought to save youfrom the secret shame you must have felt in future when you thought ofit."

  "Secret shame. How do you know I----"

  "I'll tell you how I know. Any fellow is liable to slip once. I did,Brad."

  "You?" gasped the Texan incredulously. "What are you giving me?"

  "Straight goods, old man. Once on a time I did a mean and dishonestthing."

  "I can't believe it!"

  "It is true. I did it impulsively, and no one but myself ever knew aboutit. It was not anything of great importance, but, when my blood hadcooled and I came to realize just what I had done, I felt like acriminal. I suffered such intense shame and anguish as I have neverknown at any other time. I resolved to make reparation, butcircumstances placed it beyond my power to do so, and to this day I havethe unpleasant memory of wronging a fellow being. It taught me mylesson, Brad. It does not pay for a fellow to stoop to anything of thesort, no matter how petty."

  This confession from Dick's lips made Brad feel better. Why, here wasDick, who had detected him on the point of filching the votes--Dick hadbeen tempted and had fallen. Dick was not holding himself coldly aboveBrad as his moral superior; instead, he freely acknowledged that he hadstumbled.

  Buckhart's feelings about the affair began to undergo a change. A littlewhile before he had been thinking of his roommate as looking down on himin pity from a moral height far above him; but now Dick had made itplain that he had no thought or desire to exalt himself in the least.

  "You may be right," said Brad.

  "I know I am," came positively from Dick's lips. "You will see it in thesame light when you are cooler. Besides, there was another reason why Icould not afford to let you get rid of those votes."

  "What other reason?"

  "I saw you--I knew what you had done."

  "Well?"

  "With that knowledge, had I permitted you to work the scheme, I shouldhave been just as guilty as you. It was to save myself from regret andshame, as well as you, that I told you you must put the votes back."

  This confession drew Brad still closer to his friend. In all thesethings Dick was perfectly honest with his companion, and the Texantrusted and relied in him.

  "I never thought of it that way," he said.

  "But you see I am right," said Dick. "I was compelled to ask you to putthe votes back in order to save my own feelings."

  "Then, if you had not seen me----"

  Dick interrupted with a laugh.

  "Why, I should have known nothing about it. But," he added soberly, "Iam glad I saw you, even though Arlington won."

  "Well," acknowledged the Texan, brought round at last, "I believe I amglad of it, too; but it was a howling shame to have that greaser get onthe committee
! It was, I know!"

 
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