It was a characteristic of Paul Douglas to go straight at a difficulty or a question and make a frank and honest attempt to clear away all mystery and trouble.
He saw plainly that some unusual thing was agitating Walter. The boy was under some great stress of feeling and could not conceal it.
So when the two were back in Walter's room, Paul at once began to seek the cause of the boy's trouble.
"What is the matter with you, Walter? You have not been yourself all day."
Walter was very white, and what he said to his father's question was so inaudible that Paul could not understand it.
"What is the matter with you, Walter? Are you sick? Tell me," said his father sharply.
"I can't, father, I can't," Walter stammered and looked so wretched that his father said more gently:
"Don't be afraid of me. Speak out if you are in any trouble. I want to help you. Don't you know that, Walter?"
"Has it any thing to do with money matters? Tell me."
"Yes, I can't! Can't do it, father. I don't mean–"
And then Walter broke down completely. He laid his head down on his arms and cried hysterically. Paul sat looking at him sternly. For the first time that day an inkling of the truth began to dawn on him. At first it did not seem possible to him that his boy could do such a thing. It was so incredible to him at first that he sat silently eyeing the bowed head with an entirely new and bitter feeling.
When he finally spoke it was with a slow and steady measure of speech revealing great self-restraint.
"Did you bet on the race? Is that what's the matter?"
Walter lifted up his head and looked with a terrified face at his father.
"O father, don't be hard on me! I felt so sure we would win! I didn't see any risk! And all the fellows in Burrton bet on the race. A fellow isn't considered loyal to the school unless he bets something."
"How much did you lose?"
"I put up that last one hundred you sent me and fifty more."
"When do you have to pay?"
"I suppose at once. That's the rule."
"What other debts have you?"
Walter hesitated; then he said feebly, "I owe five week's board and some items at the men's furnishing."
"How much will it all come to?"
"I don't know."
"About how much?"
"About seventy-five dollars."
"When do you have to pay that?"
"There's no hurry. It can wait."
"Do you mean to say that a bet, a gambling debt, an obligation made on a dishonourable basis, takes precedence in time over honest claims for food and clothing?"
"It's the rule here in Burrton," said Walter sullenly. "If a bet is not settled at once the fellows lose their standing. The same is true at all the eastern schools. You have got to meet debts of honour promptly."
"Debts of dishonour, you mean."
"That isn't the standard here, father. The standard at Burrton is different from the one at home."
"I see it is," replied Paul, drily. "But the one at home is–" he paused, rose from his seat and went over by the window and stood there looking out over the school campus.
Paul Douglas had had in his fifty years of life many interesting and profoundly moving experiences, but it is doubtful if in all his life he had faced anything which stirred him so deeply as this. His high standard of conduct made him loathe the entire gambling transaction. It was agony to him to find that his own son was swept off his feet by a custom which had nothing except common custom to excuse it. Above all, Paul felt the bitterness that comes to a father when he realises that the careful teaching of years has been deliberately disobeyed or ignored. There was a mingling of bitterness and shame and anger and sorrow and heartache in Paul that Walter could not possibly understand as he sat there looking dully at his father's broad back and wondering what his father would do.
After what seemed like an hour, Paul turned around.
"Give me an itemised account of your obligations outside of your gambling expenses."
"I don't call it gambling to bet on the races," said Walter half defiantly.
"It make no difference what you call it," said Paul sternly. "What is all betting but trying to get something for nothing, and what is that but gambling? Every boy in Burrton who bet on the race is a gambler?"
"The authorities never say anything against it," said Walter sullenly. "The president knows that thousands of dollars are put up at every race and he never has said a word about it."
"We will not argue about it," said Paul coldly. "Give your accounts, your honest accounts, with the tradesmen here and then pack up your things."
"O father, you don't mean–"
"Pack up your things. We leave for Milton in the morning."
Walter took out of a drawer the bills which had accumulated there and without a word handed them over to his father. Paul summed up and found a total of $81.
"Is that all?"
"Yes, except my tuition for this last half."
"How much is that?"
"Is that all?"
"I'll settle this all up. You can begin packing while I am out."
Paul took the bills and went out abruptly, not concealing from Walter, what was very apparent, that he was tremendously angry.
He went to the various tradesmen and settled the accounts, went to the boarding place and paid the arrears and after some difficulty on account of the holiday, finally succeeded in settling the tuition at the school office.
He then asked the way to the president's house, and on presenting himself at the door was invited to go into the reception room and wait for a few moments.
The president was having a call from some old classmates who had come down to Burrton to see the race. When they went out, the president accompanied them to the door. Paul could not avoid hearing one of the visitors say, "I put up my last dollar on Burrton. May have to borrow to get out of town."
"Don't borrow of me," said the president, laughing. "I've never been able to get back what you owed me at Cambridge."
There was some jesting reply in the familiar language of old college chums and the visitors went out.
The president came into the reception room and greeted Douglas heartily. He had heard of him, had read some of his stories and was glad he had a son at Burrton.
"It's my son I came to see you about, President Davis," said Paul quietly, when he had returned the president's hearty greeting. "I am going to take him out of the school and I thought it was only fair to you that I tell you frankly why."
"Going to take him out! I'm sorry to hear it."
"But the atmosphere of Burrton does not seem to agree with my son." Paul frankly told the president the incident of Walter's bet and the consequences, without any care to hide the facts of his own intense convictions on the matter of betting which he mentioned several times as "gambling."
President Davis listened gravely and before Paul was through, his face had reddened deeply more than once. Paul spoke very bluntly and it was plain to be seen that he was under a great stress of feeling in which was mingled a real, deep, strong anger, a part of which was directed against the Burrton