The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dick Randall, by Ellery H. Clark This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: Dick Randall The Young Athlete Author: Ellery H. Clark Illustrator: Walter Biggs Release Date: January 2, 2012 [EBook #38471] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK DICK RANDALL *** Produced by Charles Bowen, from page scans provided by Google Books
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|The New Boy.
|Dave Ellis Breaks a Record.
|Dick and Jim Go On a Shooting Trip.
|The Shooting Trip's Unexpected Ending.
|A Question of Right and Wrong.
|A Battle Royal.
|On Diamond and River.
Fall term at Fenton Academy had begun. Dick Randall came slowly down the dormitory steps, then stopped and stood hesitating, as if doubtful which way to turn. Uncertainty, indeed, was uppermost in his mind. He felt confused and out of place in his new surroundings, like a stranger in a strange land.
The day was dark and gloomy. The sky was overcast, and the afternoon sun shone halfheartedly from behind the clouds. A fresh breeze bent the trees in the quadrangle, scattering a shower of leaves about the yard. In spite of himself, Dick felt his spirits flag. 'A' thousand miles lay between him and home; and except for a few brief visits, made close at hand, this was his first real venture into the world. Unaccustomed to the change, unacquainted with his classmates, with the steady routine of work and play not yet begun, he was wretchedly homesick; and strive as he would, he could not keep his thoughts, for five minutes together, from his father and mother, and the white-walled farm-house on the slope of the mountain, looking down over the valley and the meadowland below. He felt ashamed and disgusted with himself, for he was no longer a "kid"; he was almost seventeen, and big and strong for his age; and yet, fight it as he might, the longing for home would not down.
Thus he stood dreaming, gazing unseeingly across the yard, until presently, with a start, he came to himself. A friendly hand smote him between the shoulder-blades, a friendly arm was drawn through his, and he turned to meet the somewhat quizzical glance of his classmate and next-door neighbor in the dormitory--Harry Allen.
Instinctively Dick smiled. He had sat next to Allen at supper the night before and had taken a liking to him from the start. Allen had chattered away steadily, all through the meal, yet his talk had been unaffected, entertaining, and wholly free from any effort at "trying to be funny" or "showing off." He was Randall's opposite in every way--as slight and frail as Dick was big and broad-shouldered, as light as Dick was dark, and apparently, at the present moment, as cheerful as Dick was depressed. "Well, Randall," he asked, "what you got on your mind? Composing a speech?"
Dick flushed a little. "No, nothing like that," he answered; "I don't know just what I was doing. Just thinking, I guess. You see--"
Allen interrupted him. "Oh, I know," he said; "I've been through it, all right. You can bet on that. Don't I remember the first day I came? Golly, I should say I did. Talk about a cat in a strange garret. Well, that was little me. Don't worry, though. Just about three days, and you'll think you've lived here all your life. It's a dandy school. You'll find that out for yourself. And Mr. Fenton! Well, if there's a better master in the state, I'd like to see him. Teach! I guess he can. Languages, you know--that's his branch. He's got Latin and Greek down fine. And English! Why, they say his English course is the best thing outside of college. He starts away back with Chaucer--'well of English undefyled,'--Spenser, you know, Faerie Queene--and he brings us right down to Robert Louis Stevenson. Oh, it's great! No fellow from this school has flunked English for ten years. How's that? Going some?"
He paused, a little out of breath. Dick smiled, finding something humorous in the contrast between his classmate's breezy speech, and the "English undefyled," for which his liking was so evidently sincere. Yet he found Allen's talk acting on him like magic, and by the time they had reached the end of the yard, his gloomy thoughts were forgotten, and he was himself once more.
To the left, they could see the boat-house, and the faint blue of the river, just showing through the trees; to the right lay the athletic field, and it was toward the track that Allen turned.
"Come on," he said; "let's walk down and watch Dave Ellis. He's going to try the Pentathlon. He's been training for it all summer. You met him last night, didn't you?"
Dick nodded. "Yes, I met him," he answered. He had sat opposite Ellis at table, and had admired his rangy and powerful build. Yet something, too, in his manner, had repelled him as well; Ellis had seemed a little patronizing, with a trifle too much of the "Conquering Hero" about him. So that now Dick hesitated for a moment, and then asked, "Say, Allen, if it's a proper question, what sort of fellow is Ellis? Doesn't he seem pretty--well, I don't know just what word I want--pretty--cocksure of himself, somehow?"
Allen did not answer at once, and when at length he did so, it was in rather a guarded tone. "Well, you see, Randall," he replied, "I don't believe I'd better say anything. Dave's a candidate for class president next spring, and he's pretty sure to get it, too. Only--some of the fellows have been sounding me to see if I cared to run, and if I should, why, I wouldn't want you to think, from anything I said--"
Randall's face was scarlet with embarrassment. "Excuse me, Allen," he cried, "I didn't know. I didn't mean--"
Allen hastened to reassure him. "Of course you didn't," He said; "that's all right, Randall. I only thought I'd let you know. And as far as that goes, there's really no reason why I shouldn't say what I think about Dave, if you'll give me credit for being fair about it, and won't think I'm trying to work any electioneering games. Here's just what I think about him. I think Dave's a good fellow. And he's certainly a remarkable athlete--one of the best, I guess, that we've ever had in the school. All I don't like about him is, that he hasn't much school spirit; I think he's for Dave Ellis first, and the school afterward. But still he's all right, you know. He's a good enough sort of fellow in most ways. One thing, though, he's got to look out for. And that's his studies. He had a close shave getting by last year, and I don't believe he's opened a book since school closed. Oh, Dave's all right, but you'll find he's a good deal bigger man outside the lecture room than he is in."
Dick nodded. "I see," he answered; "and I'm much obliged, Allen, for telling me about the election. I won't go putting my foot in it again, in a hurry. I'll know enough after this to keep my mouth shut, till I begin to get the hang of things. Ellis must be a dandy athlete, though. I never saw a better built fellow in my life."
Allen was quick to assent. "Oh, he is," he answered. "He's a corker. He's six feet one, and weighs a hundred and eighty pounds. He's awfully good on the track, and he pulls a fair oar, and I guess he's the best full-back we ever had in the school. Was the best fullback, I mean. You knew we'd cut out football, didn't you?"
"Yes," Dick answered, "I heard about it. Was a fellow really killed, Allen?"
His companion nodded. "Yes, Faulkner, of Hopevale," he said. "It happened in the Clinton game. It was an awfully sad thing, too. His whole family had come on to see the match. It happened in a scrimmage. He was picked up unconscious. But no one thought it was really anything serious. They took him to the infirmary; pretty soon he was in a fever; went out of his head; and two days later he died. Injured internally, the doctors said. So of course we cut out foot-ball, and I'm glad of it, too."
Dick drew a long breath. "That was tough!" he exclaimed. "Think how his father and mother must have felt! And the master at Hopevale, too. I suppose he considered himself somehow to blame, though of course he wasn't, really."
Allen shook his head. "No, of course it wasn't his fault," he answered. "It was just one of those things no one could foresee. But I'm glad they've stopped it, anyway. So now Dave's going to put all his time into the track, because, you see, with foot-ball off the list, it makes the Pentathlon more important than ever. This spring is going to decide who wins the cup, and the way things look now, the Pentathlon may settle the whole business. They've got a dandy Pentathlon man over at Clinton--a fellow named Johnson--he won it last year, and broke the record--made two hundred and eighty points--so if Dave could beat him, it would be great for us, all right. I guess we can tell something from what he does to-day."
They walked on for a few moments in silence; then Dick, with sudden resolve, turned squarely to his friend. "Look here, Allen," he said, "I know you'll think I'm greener than grass, but I read somewhere, once on a time, that if a fellow didn't understand a thing, he might as well own up to it, or else he'd never learn at all. And that's what I'm going to do now. I'm not up to date on school affairs. I don't even know what cup you're talking about. And I don't know what you mean by the Pentathlon. I suppose it's got something to do with athletics, but if you hadn't said anything about it, it might be something to eat, for all I'd know. So if you don't mind, I wish you'd explain things to me, and then, perhaps, I won't feel quite so much like a fool as I do now."
Allen laughed. "Heavens," he said, "it isn't your fault, Randall; it's mine. Here I go rattling on about everything, as if you'd been in the school as many years as I have. No wonder I've got you mixed. Well, now, let's see; I'll begin with the cup. No, I won't either; I'll begin at the beginning; and that's with Mr. Fenton. Do you know anything about what he did in college?"
Dick shook his head. "No, I don't," he answered humbly. "I told you I was green. We don't know much about athletics out our way. Unless plowing, and getting in hay, and chopping wood count for anything. If they do, we might have a show."
Allen laughed again. "Well, they ought to, all right," he answered. "What a bully idea for a Pentathlon! I'm going to speak to Mr. Fenton about it. People couldn't say athletics were a waste of time then. Well, to come back to him. He was a hummer when he was in college. He was awfully popular, and he stood away up in his class, and they say, in athletics, there wasn't anything he couldn't do. They wanted him for the crew, and they wanted him on the nine, but he wouldn't do either. I guess he didn't have any too much money then, and he told them, straight out, that he'd come to college to work, and not for athletics. He wasn't a crank, though; he took his exercise every day, only he didn't waste any time over it. And finally the trainer of the track team spotted him and got him to come out for the jumps. Golly, but he surprised them. He never seemed to take such a lot of pains about it, but I guess he was what they call a natural jumper. Anyway, before he got through, he did six feet in the high, and twenty-three two and a half in the broad. Perhaps that didn't hold them for a while. So you can see he's a good man to be master of a school. He's been through the thing himself, and he's got this whole athletic business down fine.
"I remember the talk he had with me when I first came to the school; it made me take a shine to him right away. He doesn't lecture you, you know, as if you were a kid; he talks to you just as if you were grown up, and knew as much as he did; maybe more. Well, first of all, he told me he didn't think any school could succeed where the master and the boys weren't in harmony; and then he went ahead and gave me his ideas on athletics. He said he liked them, and approved of them, and meant to do all he could to encourage them--but that he was going to keep them in their place. He said athletics were to help out lessons, and not to hinder them; and that there wasn't any need of any conflict between the two. But if there was a conflict, he said--if a fellow got so crazy over athletics that he couldn't study--then the athletics would have to go. And if that made the fellow feel so bad that even then he couldn't study--or wouldn't study--why, then it would be the fellow himself that would have to go. But he meant that more for a joke, I guess; nothing like that's ever happened since he started the school. It's a pretty pig-headed fellow that can't get along with Mr. Fenton. He's got a great way with him, somehow or other; I don't know just how he does it, but he gets lots of fellows interested in studying that you'd think were too lazy even to want to learn the alphabet straight. Oh, I tell you, Randall, he's all right."
Dick nodded. "I'll bet he is," he answered with enthusiasm. He was beginning to feel the genuine esprit de corps; was realizing, for the first time, that a school might be something more than a place where one came merely to "do" one's lessons, and to learn enough to enter college in safety. "Yes," he went on, "that sounds mighty sensible to me. And as you say, Allen, where a man's been an athlete himself, and a scholar, too, why, you can't help feeling a respect for what he thinks about things. I can understand, though, about fellows getting too much interested in athletics. I can see right now where I've got to look out for that, myself. You've seen such a lot of it here that you don't realize how it takes hold of a fellow that's never had any show to go into them. I feel as if I'd like to try everything in sight, if I didn't remember that my father's had to work good and hard to send me here. And he wouldn't care much for cups and medals, I guess. 'Book-learning,' that's what he wants to see me get. Still, I suppose there's time for studying and athletics, too, if a fellow goes at it right."
Allen nodded. "Oh, sure there is," he answered. "And don't get the idea, from what I said, that Mr. Fenton's a crank about it, or that he's the preachy kind, because he isn't. He's keen on physical culture, you know. A fellow's got to take his exercise every day, whether he's a star athlete like Dave, or the worst grind that ever wanted to swallow a Greek dictionary, roots and all. Oh, Mr. Fenton likes exercise, only, as he says, there's a happy medium everywhere--in athletics, just as in everything else. He doesn't want the fellows to underdo; and he doesn't want them to overdo; and he keeps an eye on every boy in the school. He takes just as much pride in having the fellows in good shape physically as he does in having them go into college with honors; and I tell you we don't have much sickness around here. So you needn't worry about exercise; there's no reason why you can't try anything you want. And I should think, to look at you, Randall, you'd make a crack-a-jack at something. How much do you weigh? A hundred and sixty?"
His companion's build, indeed, fully justified his admiration. Randall was strong and sturdy, from much hard work in the open, absolutely healthy, and as rugged and active as a young colt. It was small wonder that Allen, himself a member of the track team, looked him over with an appreciative eye.
Dick flushed with pleasure. "I weigh a little more than that," he answered. "About a hundred and sixty-eight, I guess. That's nothing, though. Think of Ellis."
"Oh, well," returned Allen, "weight isn't everything." Then added, with a smile, "You wouldn't think, to look at me, Randall, that I had any pretensions to being an athlete, now would you? As the song says, 'I'm as thin as the paper on the wall.' I hardly disturb the scales when I weigh myself."
Dick looked at him. "Why, I don't know," he answered frankly, and half-doubtfully, "but I should think, somehow, you look as though you could run pretty well."
Allen laughed. "Good guesser," he rejoined. "You've hit it, first crack. I don't mean, of course, that I'm any good, but running's the only thing I can do anywhere near well. It took a lot of hard work, too. I was certainly a lemon when I started in. But last year I won the quarter in the school games, and I got third in the big meet. So I won my 'F', and that makes a fellow feel good, you know. Shows he's done something for the school."
Dick looked puzzled. "Won your 'F'?" he questioned. "What does that mean, Allen?"
"Why," answered his friend, "if you make the crew, or the nine, or the track team, you get an athletic suit and a sweater. And on the shirt and the sweater there's a big 'F', and a little 'A' on each side of it. A. F. A.--Fenton Athletic Association. The crew fellows get a white sweater, with the letters in red; the nine have gray sweaters, with red letters; and the track team have red sweaters, with the letters in white. And if you're on a winning crew, or a winning nine, you can rip off the 'A. A.' from your sweater, and that leaves just the big 'F', and shows you're a point winner for the school. With the track team, it's a little different, because there it's more a case of every fellow for himself. You can't have the same kind of team work that you can with the nine and the crew. So when the big meet comes for the cup, no matter whether the school wins or not, if you get first, second or third in your event, then you're a point winner, and you've got a right to your 'F'. Now, do you see?"
Dick nodded. "Sure," he answered, "I've got that all straight; but now there's another thing I don't understand. What's the big meet? And what's the cup? You were going to tell me about the cup when we started, and then we got switched off on to something else."
Allen smiled. "I guess 'something else' was Mr. Fenton," he said. "I'm pretty apt to talk people to death about him. I think he's a corker, and I don't mind saying so. I'd rather have him think I was all right than win my 'F,' ten times over, and that's putting it pretty strong, too. Well, about the cup. That's a cinch to explain. It's just like this. There are three schools, you see, right around here, in a kind of ten-mile triangle. There's Clinton Academy and Hopevale and ourselves. We've always had some sort of league with one another, in all kinds of athletics, ever since the schools started, but six or seven years ago the masters and some of the graduates got together, and put things right on a systematic basis. Some rich old chap in New York, who was a graduate of Hopevale, and had a couple of boys in the school, donated a cup--a perfect peach--to be competed for every year until one school won it three times and then it was to be theirs for good. They put five sports on the schedule: foot-ball, base-ball, track and crew, which counted three points each; and the Pentathlon, which counted one. The school that won the most out of those thirteen points held the cup for that year.
"Well, Hopevale made a great start. They had some dandy athletes in the school then--some folks were mean enough to say that was why the old fellow in New York gave the cup--but anyway, however that was, they won, hands down, for two years running. The next year they thought there was nothing to it--they thought they couldn't lose--and I guess they eased up a little, and didn't train quite so hard as they did the other years. Well, they got a surprise all right, for Clinton beat them out. They made six points that year, to four for Hopevale, and three for us. And then, the year after that, Dave Ellis entered school, and we had our turn. We got so, with Dave at full-back, we never thought about the three points in foot-ball at all--we figured them just like money in the bank--all we used to wonder about, was how big the score was going to be. And then, in the spring sports, we had Mansfield pitching on the nine, and Harrison stroking the crew, and of course Dave came in strong again on the track. Oh, we had things easy for the next two years. The second year we won all thirteen points--made a clean sweep of everything. So we began to get cocky--same as Hopevale--but we never let up, you can bet; we worked as though we thought we hadn't a show, unless we kept on doing our darndest.
"And then of course everything had to go wrong. Mansfield graduated that year, and Harrison's father died, and he had to leave school; and then this fellow Johnson came to Clinton, and he was certainly a find. He and Dave had it out, hammer and tongs, in the track meet, and again in the Pentathlon, and Johnson had the best of it both times. And Clinton beat us by four points, and evened things up again. So you can see what a scrap it's been, right from the start--it couldn't very well have been closer--and you can imagine what it's going to be next spring. Each school has won the cup twice, so of course this time's got to settle it. Clinton has it all figured out that they're going to win. They give us the crew, and Hopevale the base-ball, but they say that with Johnson right they're sure to take the track meet, and the Pentathlon, too. But of course no one can tell as far ahead as that--it's foolish to try. Still, that's a pretty good prediction, I think myself, unless Dave can show an improvement over last year on the track. He says he can--he says he's been training all summer, and that he's in the shape of his life.
"I know what he's figuring on. If the three schools should be tied, and it should all hang on the Pentathlon, why, the fellow who won that would be a regular tin god, you know; he'd go down in the history of the school like George Washington in the history of the country. And Dave wouldn't mind being that fellow a little bit. Not that I'm trying to knock him, you understand. That's a good, legitimate ambition. I'd like to be the fellow myself; only I need a hundred pounds of weight, more or less, and about a foot more height, before I'd fit in the Pentathlon. And there's another reason for Dave's practising, too; he wants to get back at Johnson. Dave can't take a licking, you know; he isn't used to it, and it hurts. He claims he's going to square up this spring, but I'm not so sure. Johnson's an awfully good man, and the Pentathlon's no cinch for any one, no matter who he is."
Dick, wholly absorbed in his friend's recital, drew a long breath as Allen concluded. "By gracious," he exclaimed. "That is exciting, isn't it? Suppose it did work out that way. Just think of it. To have it hang on a single point, and then to have our school win--to have Ellis beat Johnson. Oh, that would be great!" He paused a moment, and then added: "Just tell me one other thing, Allen, and I won't bother you any more. I've got everything else straight, but just what's the Pentathlon, anyway?"
Allen laughed. "I'm going to send you in a bill for private tutoring," he said good-humoredly. "This is an awful strain on my mind, giving you so much information free. And it would take a Philadelphia lawyer to explain the Pentathlon straight. We go back a few thousand years, just for a starter, to the days of the Greeks. 'The glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome.' Edgar Allan Poe, Randall. Ever read him? Ever read The Haunted Palace? No? Well, you just waltz into the library some day and take a crack at it. If I could write one poem like that, I'd quit work for the rest of my life; I'd feel I'd done enough. Well, never mind, that's not the Pentathlon, is it? I need a muzzle, I think; that's the only trouble with me. Now, then, reverse the power. Back we go, back to the Greeks. They had a kind of all-around championship in their sports, you know; they called it the Pentathlon. Pente, five; athlos, contest; five-event, I suppose we'd say, now. First, I believe, it was running, jumping, throwing the discus, wrestling and fighting; and then, later, they cut out the fighting and put in the javelin instead. We've got the same kind of thing to-day--the all-around championship they call it. Dave says he means to try it some time when he goes to college. But it's too much for school-boys, of course; it's ten events instead of five, and there's a mile run in it and a half-mile walk.
"So our Pentathlon is modeled on the Greeks. We have five events, too: hundred-yard dash, sixteen-pound shot, high jump, hundred-and-twenty-yard high hurdles and throwing the twelve-pound hammer. You see, it's a pretty good test. You've got to have speed for the hundred and the hurdles, and spring for the high jump, and strength for the shot and the hammer. And something else besides; skill for all five of them. The four S's, Mr. Fenton says, speed, spring, strength and skill. He's a great believer in the Pentathlon; says it develops a fellow all over; arms and legs, back and chest; the whole of him. There's a dandy prize for it, too--a silver shield with an athlete on it, going through all the different events. But the scoring is the ingenious part; the man who thought that up was a wonder. You see it isn't like regular athletics--it's more like a kind of examination paper. Take the hundred, for instance. If you went into the Pentathlon and ran the hundred in nine and three-fifths--that's the world's record, you know--you'd get a hundred points; just the same as if you answered all the questions right in an examination. And then, at the other end, they set a mark so low that the smallest kid in school could beat it; twenty seconds, say. That's the zero mark, same as if you answered every question in the examination wrong. And for every second, and fraction of a second, in between you're marked according to what you do.
"It's the same, of course, with the other events, so you could make a total of five hundred; theoretically, I mean. Of course, really, no man ever lived--I don't suppose a man ever will live--who could be fast enough to be a champion sprinter and hurdler, and strong enough to be a champion weight man, and springy enough to be a champion high-jumper--all at the same time. Johnson made the record last spring--two hundred and eighty points--and that's awfully good for a schoolboy. He isn't such a big fellow, either; I don't believe he weighs much over a hundred and fifty; but he's fast--he can do a hundred in ten-two, all right--and he's a good hurdler and jumper, but he's not quite heavy enough for the weights. Still, Dave's got his job cut out for him; there's no doubt about that. Well, here we are; and, by gracious, we're late, too."
While Allen had been speaking, they had reached the entrance to the field; and as they passed the gateway in the high wooden fence they could see Ellis, on the other side of the track, just getting on his marks for the hundred yards. Ned Brewster, the captain of the track team, stood behind him, pistol in hand. Farther up the track, at the finish, were the three timers: Mr. Fenton, Doctor Hartman, the physical director of the school, and Jim Putnam, the captain of the crew. "Come on," cried Allen, and breaking into a quick run they reached the farther side of the field, halfway up the stretch, just as the pistol cracked, and Ellis leaped away into his stride. They pulled up instantly to watch him. He seemed to run mainly on sheer strength, paying little attention to form. As he flew past them, Dick, gazing at him open-mouthed, was dimly conscious of a number of things. He noticed that Ellis' face was contorted with the effort he was making, and heard his breath coming in short, agonized grunts, "ugh--ugh--ugh--" as he strove to increase his speed. The cinders crunched sharply under his flying feet, and with a thrill of envy Dick saw on his crimson jersey the big white "F" of the school. He felt that Ellis was indeed a hero. "Golly," he said half aloud, "if I could only run like that!"
Allen, more skilled in estimating a runner's speed, and more critical as well, showed little enthusiasm as Ellis, with a final effort, breasted the tape. "I guess that wasn't much," he observed. "I don't believe Johnson would worry a great deal if he saw that. Not better than eleven, anyway, and I don't believe as good. Speed was never Dave's strong point, you know. Let's find out how fast it was."
They walked up to the timers. Ellis, jogging slowly back, shook his head as he neared the group. "Slow," he said. "I knew it, all the way down. Couldn't seem to get going. How bad was it, Mr. Fenton?"
The master, a tall, finely-built man of middle age, with a pleasant, clean-cut face, snapped back his stop-watch, then looked up at the runner. "Why, it wasn't bad, Dave," he said cheerfully enough, "it's a cold day for good time. No one could expect to do much on an afternoon like this. You made it in eleven and two-fifths; all three watches were the same. And that's not bad at all; it gives you sixty-six points, to start with. Take your five minutes' rest now, and we'll try the shot."
Ellis nodded, and walked away into the dressing-room to change his light sprinting shoes for the heavier ones, with extra spikes in the heel, to be used in the shot put and high jump. Five minutes later he came out again and walked across the field to the whitewashed circle, took an easy practice put or two, and then made ready for his first try. The doctor and Putnam stood by to act as measurers, with the tape unrolled along the ground. Mr. Fenton stood near the circle, as judge. "Remember now, Dave," he said, "only three tries. Make the first one safe and sure, and don't forget to walk out the rear half of the circle, or I shall have to call a foul."
Ellis nodded, and at once made ready to put. Dick watched him admiringly, as he stood motionless, his weight thrown well back on his right leg, the toe of his left foot just touching the ground, the big iron shot resting easily against his shoulder. All at once he raised his left leg, balanced for a moment, and then sprang forward. The instant his right foot touched the ground he brought his body around like lightning, his right arm shot forward, and the big iron ball went hurtling through the air, landing a good six feet beyond his practice marks. Mr. Fenton gave an involuntary exclamation of surprise. "Well, well," he cried, "you have improved, Dave; that's excellent form; and good distance, too. That must be thirty-eight feet, at least."
The doctor held the tape against the inner edge of the toe-board; Putnam, at the other end, pulled it tight, and bent critically down over the mark left by the shot. Then he straightened up, waving his arm, with a broad smile on his face. "Bully!" he shouted, "thirty-eight, five and a half."
Ellis laughed, well pleased. "I told you I'd improved, Mr. Fenton," he said, "and I can beat that, too. I guess that's going to make Johnson's thirty-four feet look pretty sick, all right."
He seemed wholly unconscious of the disagreeable boastfulness of his tone. Allen, however, threw Dick a significant glance, which seemed to find a reflection in the rather grim expression on Mr. Fenton's face. The master looked as though he wished he had withheld his words of well-meant praise. "Perhaps, Dave," he said quietly, "Johnson may show improvement, too. It's better to overrate the other man than to underrate him."
If he intended to throw any reproof into his tone it was lost on Ellis, who seemed, indeed, scarcely to heed what the master was saying. "Throw her back, Jim," he called to Putnam. "I'm going to get her out for fair this time."
Putnam rolled back the shot. Ellis grasped it, balanced as before, knitted his brows, stiffened his muscles, and then, with every atom of strength at his command, delivered it. The result was disappointing. Something seemed lacking, and Putnam rose from making his measurement with a shake of his head. "Not so good," he called. "Thirty-seven nine."
Ellis turned to Mr. Fenton. "That was queer," he said disappointedly. "I thought I was going to lose it that time. Wonder what the trouble was."
Mr. Fenton smiled. "You tried too hard," he said. "That's one thing to remember, Dave, in the shot. The more you grit your teeth, and brace yourself for a great attempt, the worse you're apt to do. On your first try you stood up to it naturally, with your muscles relaxed; but on that last put your right arm was so rigid there was no chance to get your body into it. Now make this next try like the first one; only when you land from your hop, then come smashing right through with it; put all your strength on, just in that one second, and we'll see if we don't get results."
Dick laughed to himself. Here, he thought, was a modern master with a vengeance. What would the folks at home think of a teacher, renowned for giving "the best English course outside of college," vigorously telling one of his pupils to come "smashing right through" with a sixteen-pound shot. And yet, while Dick smiled, he felt his respect for Mr. Fenton in nowise diminished, but, indeed, rather increased, by seeing him thus display his knowledge of track and field. For the master, while always in friendly contact with his boys, never for a moment overstepped the proper bounds of the relationship. He was a hundred times more their friend, yet no whit less the master. Dick could scarcely have reasoned it out, step by step, yet with instinctive judgment, he found himself echoing Allen's words of a few moments before, "Mr. Fenton's all right."
Ellis, with a nod of comprehension, made ready for his third try. He started slowly, and then, as the master had suggested, put forth all his strength in one tremendous lunge. The effort was successful; the put was a splendid one. Putnam hurried to the spot, measured with care, and then triumphantly announced: "Thirty-nine, seven and a quarter."
Mr. Fenton nodded. "Very good, indeed," he said cordially. "This is a fine start, Dave." He drew forth his note-book from his pocket, calculated a moment, and then added: "Sixty-four points; that makes one hundred and thirty, in two events. This looks like a record."
With the trials in the high jump, however, Ellis' chances appeared less favorable. Even to Dick's inexperienced eye, it was evident that the big full-back was never cut out for a jumper. He ran slowly at the bar, from the side, clearing it awkwardly, with very little bound or spring. Mr. Fenton shook his head. "Still the old style?" he queried. "I thought you were going to try running straight at the bar in your vacation, Dave?"
Ellis looked a little shamefaced. "Well," he answered, "I did try it, Mr. Fenton, but I couldn't seem to get the knack, so I dropped it. It didn't come natural, somehow."
The master smiled. "How long did you keep at it?" he asked.
Ellis considered. "Oh, quite a while," he answered. "A week, I guess, anyway."
Mr. Fenton's smile broadened. "I think I told you, Dave," he said, "before vacation, that you mustn't get discouraged too soon. It's one of the hardest things in the world when you've once acquired your form in an event, to try to alter it. I know, in my day, I went through the experience. And it took me six months before I began to reap the advantage of the change. Here's a more modern instance, too. I was talking only this summer with the best pole-vaulter at Yale, and he told me that to change from the old-fashioned style of vaulting to the new had meant, for him, nearly a year of steady, monotonous work, with the bar scarcely higher than his head, before he felt satisfied that the knack was so thoroughly a part of him that he couldn't miss it if he tried. Then he put his knowledge into practice, and a thirteen-foot man was the result. So a week wasn't so very long, comparatively, Dave."
Ellis shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I can't jump anyway," he responded. "I'm going to get the agony over with. I'll have to make up what I lose here in the hammer."
The bar was raised, two inches at a time, until four feet ten was reached. Here Ellis missed twice, and just managed to get over in safety on his last try. He had plainly reached his limit, and at four eleven made three disastrous failures. He shook his head ruefully. "I can't jump," he repeated. "It's no good my trying."
Mr. Fenton figured the result. "Forty-two points," he announced. "That brings you up to a hundred and seventy-two. But if you'll practice steadily at the other style, Dave, and not try to do too much at first, until you've really learned the knack, you can jump three or four inches higher, I'm sure. However, never mind that now. The hurdles are next, and I think you'll make a better showing there."
Putnam and Allen had been setting out the hurdles on the track. To Dick, they looked terribly formidable. Ten of them in a row, each three and a half feet high, placed ten yards apart, with fifteen yards of clear running at start and finish. "Gracious," he thought to himself, "how can he ever get over all those without tripping. This Pentathlon looks like a hard proposition to me."
Scarcely, however, had Ellis cleared the first hurdle than Dick felt his enthusiasm return. It was all so different from what he had imagined--the whole race was so pretty and graceful to watch. When Putnam fired the pistol Ellis dashed away at full speed; then, nearing the first hurdle, leaped forward, his body crouched, his legs gathered under him, cleared it handsomely in his stride, and was off for the next. Dick felt like shouting aloud, as Ellis swept down toward the finish. Three strides between each hurdle, and then that quick forward bound; Dick found himself catching the rhythm of it. One--two--three--up! One--two--three--up! Ellis cleared the last hurdle and flashed past the tape.
The three timers consulted, then Mr. Fenton announced: "Eighteen four; fifty-two points; that's a total of two hundred and twenty-four." He figured for a moment with pencil and paper, then turned to Ellis, as he came walking back toward the finish. "First-rate, Dave," he said. "A hundred and forty feet with the hammer, now, and you'll beat Johnson's total. Do you think you can do it?"
Ellis nodded. "I can do that all right," he answered confidently. "Just wait a minute, till I get my breath."
A few moments later he had taken his position in the seven-foot ring, and was preparing to throw. Dick looked with interest at the leaden ball, with the slender wire handle, and the stirrup-shaped grips at the end. "Is that what you call a hammer?" he asked.
Allen nodded. "Sure, that's a hammer," he answered. "It is a kind of misfit name, though, when you come to think of it, isn't it? They really did use a sledge hammer, I believe, once on a time, but they've changed it so much, you wouldn't think the kind they use to-day belonged to the same family. Just watch Dave throw it, though."
Ellis crouched slightly, extending his arms straight out from his body. He swung the hammer around his head, once, twice, three times, constantly increasing its speed; and then, at the third revolution, spun sharply around on his heel and made his throw. It was a splendid try. The hammer went sailing out, high and far, landing with a thud in the soft grass half-way down the field. Dick's eyes kindled. "Oh, say, Allen, but that was pretty," he cried. "That's the best event of all of them. I wonder if he did a hundred and forty."
There was a little delay over the measuring. Then Putnam put his hand to his lips and shouted in across the field, "One hundred and forty-two eleven."
Ellis picked up his sweater. "I'm not going to take my other throws, sir," he said to Mr. Fenton. "I don't think I could better that one much; and as long as I've beaten Johnson's total, I don't care. I think, when I get a good warm-day next spring, I can do twenty points better, too."
Mr. Fenton nodded. "I think you can," he answered. "It's too cold to-day to do your best work. Everything considered, your performance was excellent. If we can increase that high jump a little, you'll be the next Pentathlon winner, unless Johnson shows great improvement over last year. And I hardly think he will. His lack of weight is against him for all-around work."
Ellis, visibly elated, jogged back toward the dressing-room. Mr. Fenton and the doctor started to leave the field. The boys who had been looking on walked after Ellis, in a little group, discussing his performance. Dick turned to Allen. "Any harm in my trying that shot?" he asked.
"No, indeed," Allen answered. "You've got just as much right as any one else. Go ahead!"
Dick, a little shamefaced, picked up the iron ball; stood, as nearly as he could remember, in the same position he had seen Ellis assume; made a cautious hop, and a slow and awkward put. Yet Allen, watching where the shot struck, turned and looked curiously at his friend. "Golly, Randall," he observed, "you must have some muscle somewhere. There wasn't a thing about that put that was right, but it went just the same." He paced back toward the circle. "Close to thirty feet," he said. "That's awfully good for a fellow just beginning. Try another."
Dick, secretly pleased at the impression he had made, determined to give Allen a still greater surprise. Promptly forgetting what he had heard Mr. Fenton tell Ellis, he braced his muscles, made a quick, long hop, tried to turn, caught his foot in the toe-board, and measured his length upon the field. Allen roared. "Oh, bully, Randall," he cried, "I wouldn't have missed that for money. 'Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself.' That's you, all right. Didn't hurt yourself, did you?"
Dick, picking himself up, grinned a little ruefully, as he contemplated the grass-stains which decorated the knees of his trousers. "No," he answered; "I didn't, but I surprised myself a little. I was going to show you something right in Ellis' class that time. I guess I'll own up that's one on me. I'm going to try that high jump, though. That's one thing I did use to do when I was a kid. I don't believe I'll break my neck on that."
They walked over to the jumping standards. "How high will you have her?" Allen asked.
Dick smiled. "Oh, I'm cautious now," he rejoined. "Put her at four feet. Maybe I can do that, if I haven't forgotten how."
Allen adjusted the bar. Dick backed away from the standards, measured the distance with his eye, and ran down the path, increasing his speed with his last three bounds. Then, easily and without effort, he shot up into the air, sailed high over the bar, and landed safely in the pit beyond. Allen gasped. "Good Heavens, Randall," he exclaimed; "what have I struck? Why, man, you went over that by a foot. You've got an awful spring."
Dick laughed. "Well, I had to do something to make up for the shot," he said. "But, honestly, it did feel good. I haven't jumped for a long time, though I used to be pretty fair; or at least they thought so at home. But that doesn't count for very much; it's a big world."
While they stood talking, the door of the dressing-room swung open, and Ellis came out, followed by two or three of his friends. As they passed Allen turned. "Say, Dave," he called; "did you hear about the new Pentathlon champion?"
Ellis stopped. "What's the joke?" he asked, not over pleasantly.
Allen laid a hand on Randall's shoulder. "It isn't any joke," he replied; "Randall here. He's just been beating all your marks. You won't have a show with him by next spring."
He spoke banteringly, but any allusion to a possible rival always had a sting for Ellis. He looked Dick over from head to foot; then slowly smiled. "Guess he'll have to grow a little first," he said cuttingly, and turned on his heel.
Two or three of his followers laughed. Dick felt his face grow red. "Confound him!" he muttered.
Allen's grip on his shoulder deepened. "Don't you mind," he said consolingly. "That's Dave, every time. Only one toad in his puddle, you know. But you wait. If I know anything about athletics, you'll show him something some day."
Dick looked a little vengefully after Ellis' retreating figure. The athlete's words and tone both rankled. "If I could," he said slowly, "I'd like to--mighty well."
Two months of the fall term had come and gone; Thanksgiving Day was close at hand. Dick stood in front of his locker, dressing leisurely after his practice on the track, and chatting with Jim Putnam, the captain of the crew. Athletics were uppermost in their talk. They discussed everything in turn--the arguments, pro and con, for winning the cup; the chances of the crew, the nine, the track team; the rival merits of Dave Ellis and Johnson for the Pentathlon; then all at once Putnam abruptly changed the subject. "Oh, say, Dick," he remarked; "I was going to ask you something and I came pretty near forgetting it. What about Thanksgiving? You're not going home, are you?"
Dick shook his head. "No, it's too far," he answered. "I'm going to wait till Christmas. I suppose, though, most of the fellows do go home."
Putnam nodded. "Yes," he answered, "it's so near for most of them, they can do it all right without any trouble. I guess you and I live about as far away as any two fellows in the school. But I was thinking--as long as we're going to be here--I've got what I call a bully good scheme. Did I ever tell you about the lake, away up north of the village, where they get the ducks?"
Dick shook his head, his interest at once awakened. "No," he answered; "I didn't know that there were any ducks around here, Jim."
"Well, there are," returned Putnam; "but most people don't know it. I didn't get on to it until last spring. I was taking a tramp up through that way in the spring recess, and I stopped at a farm-house for the night. The folks were as nice as they could be. There's a young fellow that runs the farm, and his wife and three or four kids. Well, after supper we got talking about the country around there and the lake, and then he started telling me about the ducks. He says there are a lot of them every fall that keep trading to and fro between the lake and salt water, and that stay around, right up to the time things freeze. They leave the lake at daylight and don't come back till afternoon. And that's the time to shoot them. You set decoys off one of the points, and make a blind, and he's got a dandy retriever that brings in the ducks. He only shoots a few. He says he's busy about the farm, and he lives so far away there's not much use gunning them for market. So he just kills what he can use himself. But he told me any time I wanted to come up, he'd give me a good shoot and I've been meaning to do it all the fall; only the crew has taken so much of my time, I haven't got around to it. It takes a day to do it right, anyway.
"So I figured like this. First of all, we'll ask Mr. Fenton if we can go; but that will be only a matter of form. As long as he knows we're used to shooting, and are careful with our guns, he'll let us go all right; that's just the kind of a trip he likes fellows to take. Then we'll get word up to Cluff--that's the farmer, you know--that we're coming; and then we'll hire a team down in the village and we'll start Thanksgiving morning. It'll take us two or three hours to get up there, and then we'll have dinner, and have plenty of time to get everything ready for the afternoon. Cluff's got decoys, and I suppose, as long as it's Thanksgiving, he'll go along with us, and see that we get set in a good place. Then we'll have the afternoon shooting, and we can get supper there, and drive home in the evening. It's full moon, so if it stays clear it'll be as light as day. How does that strike you, Dick? Are you game?"
"Am I game?" repeated Randall. "Well, I should rather say I was. I haven't fired a gun for a year. They laughed at me at home for packing away my old shooting-iron in the bottom of my trunk; but I'll have the laugh on them now. I do certainly like to shoot ducks. What kinds do they have here, Jim?"
"Why, Cluff says there are lots of black ducks," Putnam answered; "and pintails, and teal. And some years, if there comes a good breeze outside, they have a flight of blackheads and redheads. Oh, if what he said was so, I guess we'll get some ducks all right. Let's make a start, anyway. I vote we go and see Mr. Fenton now."
They found the master in his study, and were forthwith questioned and cross-questioned, with good-natured thoroughness, until Mr. Fenton had satisfied himself that it would be safe to let them take the trip. Then, as Putnam had predicted, permission was readily enough forthcoming, though Mr. Fenton was frankly skeptical as to the amount of game they were going to bring home. "I doubt the ducks, boys," he told them smilingly; "but you'll have a fine time, just the same, no matter how many you kill. And don't forget that I'm trusting you. Take care of yourselves in every way. Don't shoot each other, and don't fall into the lake; and be sure and bring yourselves back, anyway; it won't matter so much about the ducks."
With many promises of good behavior they left him and hastened down to the village to hire their team and to send word to Cluff that they would arrive in time for dinner, on Thanksgiving Day. All that evening they talked of nothing but their plans; and that night, as Dick fell asleep, he was busy picturing to himself the appearance of the lake, seeing himself, in imagination, concealed upon a wooded point, with the retriever crouching at his side, and a big flock of redheads bearing swiftly down upon the decoys. So real did the scene become that half-asleep as he was, he came suddenly to himself to find that he was sitting bolt upright in bed, trying to bring an imaginary gun to his shoulder. Then, with a laugh, and with a half-sigh as well, to find that the ducks had vanished before his very eyes, he lay down again, and this time went to sleep in good earnest.
Thanksgiving Day dawned clear and bright, warm for the time of year, with a fresh breeze blowing from the south, and a faint haze hanging over the tops of the distant hills. By nine o'clock the boys were ready at the door of the dormitory, guns under their arms, shell-bags in hand. Shortly they perceived their buggy approaching, and Putnam gave a shout of laughter at sight of their steed, a little, shaggy-coated, wiry-looking black mare, scarcely larger than a good-sized pony. As the outfit drew up before the door, Putnam walked forward and made a critical examination; then turned to the driver, a rawboned, sandy-haired countryman, with a pleasant, good-natured face, and a shrewd and humorous eye. "Will we get there?" he demanded.
The man grinned. "You worryin' about Rosy?" he asked. "No call to do that. She's an ol' reliable, she is. Ben in the stable twenty-five years, an' never went back on no one yet. Oh, she'll git ye there, all right, ain't no doubt o' that at all; that is--" he added, "'thout she sh'd happen to drop dead, or somethin' like that. No hoss is goin' t' live for ever; specially in a livery stable. But I'll bet ye even she lasts out the trip."
Dick laughed, though there was something pathetic, as well, in the resigned expression with which the mare regarded them, as one who would say, "This may be all right for you young folks, but it's a pretty old story for me." "Well, I guess she won't run away," he hazarded hopefully.
The man shook his head with emphasis. "No, sir," he answered, "I can't imagine nothin' short of a tornado and a earthquake combined, would make Rosy run. But then again--" he added loyally, "she ain't near so bad as she looks. O' course, she couldn't show ye a mile in two minutes, but that ain't what you're lookin' for. Six mile an hour--that's her schedule--an' she'll stick to it all right, up-hill and down, good roads an' bad, till the cows come home. An' that's the kind o' hoss you want."
Putnam nodded. "Yes, sir," he returned, as they stowed away the guns in the bottom of the buggy, "horse or man--we're for the stayers, every time. And if Rosy's been sticking it out for twenty-five years, we'll see she gets treated right now. I guess she deserves it. All aboard, Dick?"
"Sure," Randall answered; then, turning to the man, "You'd better get in behind. We'll be going pretty near the stable, so we might as well give you a lift," and somewhat heavily laden they started, with light hearts, on their journey toward the lake.
They found their passenger decidedly communicative. "It's lucky for you boys," he presently remarked, "that you ain't no older'n ye be. 'F you were men, now, you might fairly be expectin' trouble, 'fore ye git through town."
Both boys looked at him with some curiosity. "Why, what do you mean by that?" asked Putnam. "What's wrong in the village?"
"Big row," the man answered, "over in the paper mills. They ben havin' trouble all the fall, fightin' over wages, an' hours, an' most everythin' else. They'd kind o' manage to agree, an' then, fust thing you know, they'd be scrappin' again, wuss'n ever. They got a passel o' furriners in there now," he added with contempt; "guess they think they're savin' money employin' cheap labor. Mighty dear labor, I expect 't'll be, 'fore they git through with 'em. These dagoes an' sich, a-carryin' knives--I do' know, I ain't got much use for 'em. My opinion, ol' Uncle Sam would do better to have 'em stay home where they b'long."
He paused and spit thoughtfully over the side of the buggy, evidently contemplating with disgust the presence of "dagoes an' sich," on New England soil.
"Well," queried Dick, "what's happened? Have they struck?"
The livery man nodded with emphasis. "Surest thing you know," he answered. "They went out yesterday, the whole gang, an' they ben loafin' round the town ever since. Things look kind o' ugly to me. 'Cause the owners, they got their sportin' blood up, too, an' they sent right out o' town for a big gang o' strike-busters, 'n they got in this mornin'. So there we be; an' as I say, it's lucky you boys ain't no older, or you might see trouble 'fore night. Well, guess this is about as near th' stable as we'll come. Much obliged to ye for the lift. Enjoy yourselves now, an' don't let Rosy git to kickin' up too lively, so she'll run with ye, an' dump ye out in a ditch. You keep her steadied down, whatever ye do."
With a good-natured grin, he jumped from the buggy and disappeared in the direction of the stable. The boys, driving onward through the village, looked around them with interest. The state of affairs appeared, as their friend had said, "kind o' ugly." Little knots of dark-skinned foreigners stood here and there about the streets, sometimes silent and sullen, again listening to the eloquence of some excited leader, haranguing them in his native tongue, accompanying the torrent of words with wildly gesticulating arms. As they turned into the road leading to the north, a dark-browed, scowling striker at the corner glared angrily at them as they passed, muttering words which sounded the very reverse of a blessing. Putnam whistled as they drove on. "Golly, Dick," he observed, "what did you think of that fellow? If looks could kill, as they say, I guess we'd be done for now. I hope they don't have a row out of it. Imagine running up against a chap like that, with a good sharp knife in his fist. I guess it takes some nerve to be a strike-buster all right."
Dick nodded assent, but twenty minutes later, strikes and strike-breakers were alike forgotten, as they left the village behind them, and struck into the level wood road leading northward to the lake. The change from civilization to solitude was complete. To right and left of them, squirrels chattered and scolded among the trees; chickadees bobbed their little black caps to them as they passed. Farther back in the woods a blue-jay screamed; overhead, high up in the blue, a great hawk sailed, circling, with no slightest motion of his outspread wings. The road stretched straight before them, narrowing, in the distance, to a mere thread between the wall of trees on either hand. The wind blew fair from the south; old Rosy settled down to the six miles an hour for which she was famed. Both boys leaned back in the seat, extended their legs ungracefully, but in perfect comfort, over the dashboard of the buggy, and then heaved a long sigh of well-being and content.
Dick was the first to speak. "Jim," he observed, "this is great. This is what I call living. It's just as Mr. Fenton said; this is good enough as it is if we don't get any ducks."
Putnam nodded assent. "You bet it is," he answered, "but we'll get the ducks, too. We'll surprise Mr. Fenton, if we can." He was silent for a moment, then added, "Say, Dick, you've been here two months now. What do you think of the master anyway; and what do you think of the school?"
Dick did not hesitate. "I think they're both bully," he answered promptly. "At first I used to laugh at Harry Allen for the way he went on about Mr. Fenton. I thought it sounded pretty foolish; but everything he said is so. I can't imagine how any one could be much nicer. It's just as Allen told me once--he doesn't preach, you know; I hate the pious kind of talk like anything; but he's just--well, I don't know--just so darned square to a fellow, somehow. And then, if you try to do anything yourself--just in little ways, I mean--you've kind of got the feeling that he's on to it, right away. He never gives you any soft soap, either, but if you're trying to plug along about right, you've got a sort of idea that he knows it; and if you're up to something you oughtn't to be up to, you've got just the same feeling that he's on to that, too. It's hard to explain; it's just like--just as if--oh, well, confound it, Jim, I can't put it into words, but you know what I mean."
Putnam nodded. "Sure I do," he answered; "and it is hard to put into words just the way you say. That was the reason I asked. I wanted to see how it hit you, coming into the school new the way you have. But it's so, isn't it? He never talks about being good, or about doing your duty, or any of that sort of thing--he only makes a speech once a year, at commencement, and that's a short one. But I'll tell you what I guess the secret is. I could never have expressed it--I'm not smart enough--but my father was up here last year, at graduation, and I asked him afterward, when we got home, what he thought it was about Mr. Fenton that made every one like him so. He said that was an easy one; that every man, who really made a success of his life, had two things back of him. First, he was in love with his work, and second, he had high ideals about his work. And he said you couldn't talk with Mr. Fenton for five minutes, without seeing what an interest he took in his school, and in his boys, and that more than making scholars out of them, or athletes out of them, he wanted to make them into men. And I guess that's about what we were trying to put in words, and couldn't."
Dick thought hard; then nodded. "Well, I guess so, too," he answered, and then, after a pause, "But now look here, Jim, if that's so, what do you think about this business of class president? Because that's an awfully important thing for the school. It shows people at graduation the kind of fellow we want to put forward to represent the class; and the honor sticks to him in college, and really, you might say, in a kind of way all through his life. And you can't tell me that you think Dave Ellis is the fellow Mr. Fenton would honestly like to see elected president, now can you?"
Putnam shook his head. "No, I can't," he answered; "but that isn't up to Mr. Fenton, Dick; he never would interfere in anything like that. And I'll tell you why. I met a fellow last summer who was quite prominent here in the school four or five years ago. We got to talking about different things and finally I told him about Dave and the presidency. He said that the year he graduated there was a lot of feeling in his class over the election and that finally some of the fellows went to Mr. Fenton and asked him if he wouldn't use his influence to try and get the right man in. He told them that was something he couldn't do; that if school life did anything at all it fitted fellows to meet some of the obstacles they'd have to run up against later in their lives and that this was just one of the things they would have to do their best to work out by themselves without coming to him. And, of course, you can see, when you come to think of it, that he was right. It's just like a republic and a monarchy; we wouldn't want even as good a man as Mr. Fenton to rule us like a king. It's his part to get as much sense into us as he can, and if he can't make us smart enough to tell a good fellow from a bad one, why, that isn't his fault. We've got to take the responsibility for that ourselves."
"Yes, I see," Dick assented; "but it's too bad, just the same, if we elect Dave. Because he isn't in it with Allen as a fellow. Harry's white clear through. But it's funny about Dave. He's certainly got an awful following; and I suppose he's dead sure to win."
Putnam nodded. "Yes, I think he is," he answered; "and really you can't wonder at it, either. Athletics count for such a lot nowadays--too much, I think--and somehow if a fellow is a star athlete, that seems to blind every one to his faults. And then you know what they say--that nothing succeeds like success. And Dave's really done a lot for the school in an athletic way. And they all think he'll be the big winner this spring; they think he'll land the Pentathlon, and help win the track meet, and of course that all helps. And then he's got that kind of a don't-give-a-darn manner. It jars a lot of the fellows, of course, just as it does you and me, but then, on the other hand, with a lot of the younger boys, it goes in great style. I think they imagine it's just about the sort of air that a really great man ought to have. It's funny to see some of them trying to imitate it. No, Dave's got the inside track.
"Allen's the better fellow, of course--Harry's about as nice as they come--but I don't see how he can win. And it's queer, too, you know; but his being such a corker in a literary way hurts him just as much as it helps him. He doesn't mean any harm by the way he's quoting his old poets all the time, but it doesn't go with the crowd. You know how it is. If you don't know a thing, and the other fellow does know it, and you have kind of a guilty feeling all the time that you ought to know it and don't, why then you sort of square up with yourself by getting to dislike the other fellow for knowing more than you do. That's sad, but it's true. And yet, of course, as I say, right down at the bottom, there's no comparison between the two fellows. Allen's as fair and square as a die, and the most kind-hearted chap that ever stepped, nice to everybody, big boys and small. And Dave--well, I don't know. I wouldn't slander a fellow for anything, but I don't think I'd trust old Dave very far. Did I ever tell you about Ned Brewster and the daily themes?"
Dick shook his head. "No, I don't think you ever did," he answered. "What about it?"
"Why," said Putnam; "it happened like this. There's an English course in college, you know, where they have to write a theme every day. We have the same thing here, for a month, second half year--English Fourteen. Well, Ned Brewster was talking to a crowd of fellows one day about a letter his brother had written him from college, telling quite a lot about this daily theme business--all about the good ones, and the funny ones, and a lot of things like that. Ned never thought anything more about it, but a little while after that Dave came to him, and asked him if he didn't think it would be an awfully good scheme to get Ned's brother to have copies of all his themes made and sent down to Ned, so they'd be all solid for that month of English Fourteen. Bright idea, wasn't it?"
Dick whistled. "Well," he ejaculated; "the mean skunk! What nerve! What did Ned say?"
Putnam grinned. "Not very much," he answered. "He told me he thought at first Dave was joking, but when he got it through his head that he was really in earnest I guess his language was quite picturesque. Dave hates him like poison now, and it makes it hard for Ned, being captain of the track team, you know, and Dave being the star athlete. It gives Dave all sorts of mean little chances to try to make the fellows think Ned isn't being square about the work, and all that sort of thing. You know what I mean. He keeps grumbling all the time, and saying that Ned shows favoritism to fellows he likes, and a lot of rot like that. And it hurts, too, because there are always some fellows foolish enough to believe it, and the first thing you know, you've got a split in the class. However, we're none of us perfect, so I suppose we can't be too hard on Dave. Maybe we can elect Allen, anyway. Something may happen in the next six weeks. I know one thing, anyway; Dave's got to hustle like a good one if he means to keep up in his work. I understand that he's right on the danger line now, and the mid tears are always pretty stiff, harder than the finals, I always thought. If he shouldn't pass, he wouldn't be eligible for the presidency--and as far as that goes, he wouldn't be eligible for athletics either. Wouldn't that raise the deuce? I suppose the track team would crumple like a piece of paper without Dave in the weights and the Pentathlon. Golly, though, that reminds me, Dick. Ned Brewster says you're the coming man on the track. Is that straight? Did you really do five six in the gym?"
Dick nodded. "Well, yes," he answered; "I believe I did. Only once, though. You know how it is. A fellow will get in a lucky jump, once in a while."
Putnam laughed. "Don't be so ashamed of it," he said good-naturedly. "That's a corking good jump for any one. Some fellows go plugging along half their lives, and don't get that high. Who can beat it, besides Johnson?"
Dick pondered. "Well, I can't think of any one," he said at last; "still, there may be a lot of fellows I don't know about--"
Putnam cut him short. "Oh, nonsense," he cried; "don't we get all the gossip from the school papers, and from the fellows we see? Didn't we know, the very same day, when Johnson broke the Clinton record, that time he did five eight and a half? No, sir, you're good for second place in the high, in the big meet, and that means your 'F.' What more do you want than that? Your first year at the game."
Dick was silent. Finally he said hesitatingly, "Well, Jim, I know I'm a fool, but I'd like awfully well to have some show for the Pentathlon."
Putnam looked at him in amazement. "Well, for Heaven's sake!" he ejaculated. "You don't want a great deal, do you? With Dave and Johnson both in the game? Why, where would you fit with them, Dick?"
Randall reddened a trifle. "Oh, well, probably I wouldn't," he returned; "but you see, they've both got their weak points. Dave's mighty good in the weights--I couldn't touch him there--but then in the jump he's really poor, and in the hundred and hurdles he's no more than fair. And Johnson's a great jumper, and a good man at the hundred and hurdles, but he isn't up in the weights, by a long shot. I don't mean," he added quickly, "that I think I can beat either of them now; maybe I never can beat them; but they could be beaten, just the same, easier than people think. It isn't as if either of them was so good that you'd know right away it was no use tackling them; and I don't know about Johnson, but I don't think Dave's going to improve a great deal on what he did when school began. He's really pretty stupid about athletics, just the way he is about books. He can't learn the knack of that high jump, to save himself. No, they could be beaten, all right, if a fellow could only get good enough."
Putnam considered. "Well, maybe that's so," he doubtfully admitted at last. "What can you do with the shot, Dick? And the hammer?"
"I'm putting the shot around thirty-five," Randall answered; "but the hammer is my weak spot. I can throw it pretty well from a stand, but I can't seem to learn the turn. I can beat Ellis sprinting, though, and I'm pretty sure I can beat him hurdling. But, of course, the hammer and shot would make all the difference. Still, it doesn't matter, anyway--the whole thing--as long as Dave can win for the school, only I figured that since it was so close between him and Johnson, it would be better for us to have two men training, in place of one. But I guess it's only a dream, anyway; I've got to learn to throw a hammer before I can make any sort of show."
Putnam nodded. "Yes, that's so," he answered. "The Pentathlon's an event where you've got to be pretty good at everything; you can't have any one weak spot, where you won't score at all, or you might as well stay out. Still, if you could get the knack with the hammer, I don't see but what you really might have a chance, after all. I didn't realize you could put a shot thirty-five feet. But for goodness' sake, Dick," he concluded, "promise me one thing. If you get to be the best that ever happened, don't go and get a swelled head; I've seen that so many times, where a new fellow makes good. It's natural, I suppose, but awfully painful for his friends."
Dick colored. "Of course I wouldn't," he replied with some indignation. "I don't believe there's much danger of my getting anywhere, in the first place; but even if I ever did, I wouldn't be such a fool as that. There's no sense in it. Mr. Fenton gave me a dandy book the other day--the best book I ever read--Rodney Stone. There's a lot about prize-fighting in it, and it tells about Lord Nelson, and Beau Brummel, and all about those times. But the prize-fighting was the best. There's one chapter, The Smith's Last Fight, why, I could feel the shivers running up and down my back, just as if I'd been there myself. Oh, it was bully! And it comes in, in the book, how every one of the champions, first and last, had to meet his match. 'Youth will be served, my masters,' that's what one old fellow keeps saying, and you can learn something from a book like that, now I tell you. You can learn that no matter how good you are, there's always some one that will beat you and the greatest athlete in the world has to go down with the rest. But it's all right to try to win, just the same. You want to turn out a winning crew just as much as I want to see the track team win, but I don't tell you not to get swelled headed. Come, now, isn't that right?"
Putnam hastened to assent. "Oh, sure," he answered; "I was only warning you; I didn't really believe there was any danger. 'And speaking of the crew, Dick, I think, by gracious, we've got more show than people imagine. Most of the fellows have an idea that Clinton's going to win, because they made a fast time row this fall, but I'm not worrying much over that. They only beat us half a length last year, and we're seconds better now than we were then. This new fellow, Smith, is a dandy at three, and Jimmy Blagden is twice the man he was last spring. He was really the weak spot in the crew, but now he's as good a bow as I'd want to see. So don't think your old track team is the only pebble; you're going to hear from us, too. We want that cup."
For two hours the talk flowed steadily along. Athletics, lessons, the presidency, the ducks, all taking their turn. And then at last, a little before noon, they passed the northern limit of the woods; the lake lay bright and blue before them, and a half mile or so ahead, in the middle of a sunny clearing, they beheld Cluff's farm.
Evidently visitors in this neighborhood were something of a novelty, for there was quite a bustle of excitement as they drew up before the door. Cluff himself came hurrying from the barn to meet them--a sturdy figure of a man, ruddy and bronzed from constant toiling in the open air. Colonel, the retriever, barked himself hoarse, trying vainly to jump up into the buggy, his tail wagging in eager welcome. Cluff's eldest boy, a tow-headed youngster of ten or eleven, came strolling around the corner of the house, barefooted, clad in blue overalls, a straw in his mouth, surveying them with critical interest. The farmer's pretty wife appeared in the doorway, two of the younger children peering forth shyly from behind her skirts. No greeting could have been heartier. Introductions were soon made, and then Cluff turned to his boy. "Now, you, Nathan," he directed, "take the hoss out to the barn. And you boys, you come right into the house, and pretty soon we'll have a bite to eat, and then we'll get started on our cruise."
Putnam could no longer keep from asking the momentous question. "How about the ducks?" he ventured.
The farmer grinned. "Ducks?" he echoed. "By golly, boys, you certainly have struck it right. We ain't had a better flight for twenty years. Lots of marsh ducks, and there's a big raft of redheads and blackheads been trading to and fro, regular, for the last two weeks, and there ain't nobody bothered 'em at all. Oh, you'll see plenty of ducks; there ain't no doubt about that. Only question is," he added humorously, "whether you can hit 'em or not. I ain't ever seen either of you boys shoot, so I don't know. What kind of guns you got?"
They produced them from the rear of the buggy. Jim's was a twelve bore, hammerless; Dick's a more ponderous and old-fashioned ten-gage hammer gun. At the sight of this latter weapon, Cluff nodded in approval, but looked a little askance at the lighter of the two.
"A twelve bore is good for quail and partridges," he remarked, "but you need a ten gage for ducks. You want a big gun to stop those fellers. A ten gage is what I use. Guess I'll put you over in the marsh, Jim. You can do closer range shooting there. And I'll give you my wading boots, so you can pick up your ducks yourself. 'Tain't deep over there, and the bottom's good. Then we'll fit your friend on Pebble P'int, and give him Colonel to fetch his ducks for him and I'll go over across to t'other side of the lake, and fit there, near the cove. That way, we'll keep the birds pretty well stirred up, and it'll make better shooting for every one."
An hour later, fortified with a good dinner of turkey and "fixings," they shoved off from the beach at the easterly end of the lake, Cluff and Putnam at the oars, Dick seated in the stern, and Colonel curled comfortably up forward, on the heap of wooden decoys.
Parallel with the course they were steering, a long strip of land extended out into the lake, wide and well-wooded at its base, narrowing gradually to the westward, and ending in the sloping pebble beach that had given the point its name. Here Cluff backed the boat in close to land, and set Dick and Colonel ashore; showed Dick how best to conceal himself in the blind, half-raised, half-hollowed among the stones; and then, unwinding the cord wrapped loosely around their bodies, he threw overboard some twenty or thirty of the wooden redhead and blackhead decoys, each securely weighted with a lump of iron, and then, with a wave of farewell, again bent to the oars, and rowed off down the lake. Dick made himself comfortable in the blind, and whistled to Colonel, who crept in beside him, and curled up snugly at his side. Dick heaved a sigh of satisfaction. "Now we're ready for 'em, old boy," he said, stroking the retriever's silky ears, "and I suppose, if they come in, and I miss 'em, you'll despise me for the rest of your natural life."
Far down the lake, he watched the boat disappearing against the outline of the western shore. In front of him, his little flock of decoys dipped gaily to the breeze, looking so lifelike, that half-closing his eyes, he could almost persuade himself that they were really alive. He glanced at his watch. It was half-past two, and Cluff had said that the flight would begin by three. Yet eager as he was, he did not grudge the time he had to wait. It was pleasant lying there, with the warm sun shining in his face; pleasant to listen to the wind, as it swept through the tree-tops, and to hear the ripple of the tiny waves against the smooth, clean gray of the beach, flecked here and there with foam.
Presently he could see the boat returning, with one figure only at the oars, and he knew that Putnam must be safely tucked away among the marshy sedges, at the other end of the lake. Cluff made for the cove, a short distance to the south, set his decoys, dragged his boat up into the bushes, and disappeared from sight. All was at last in readiness. For the hundredth time, Dick looked at his watch. Five minutes of three. And then, as he glanced up once more toward the north, he shrank down still lower into the stand. A pair of ducks were winging their way up the lake, heading almost directly for the spot where he lay. He watched them eagerly, hardly daring to breathe, and then, little by little, they swerved, flying closer to the water, and finally passed, just out of reach, keeping on toward the cove where Cluff was concealed. All at once, Dick saw them wheel, set their wings, and sweep gracefully in toward the little flock of decoys. "Why doesn't he shoot?" he wondered, "Why doesn't he shoot?"
A puff of smoke leaped from the bushes; a dull report came down upon the wind. One of the ducks towered straight into the air; the other Dick could not see. Then, in a flash, the survivor crumpled up and dropped headlong, motionless, into the waters of the lake. The second report came borne across the water. Dick drew a long breath. "By gracious," he murmured, "he can certainly hit 'em, for fair."
The minutes passed. Then, from across the lake he heard, very faint and far, the sound of Putnam's little twelve gage; and a moment later he saw three ducks flying toward the cove. Would they decoy again? he wondered. Would Cluff get another shot? They seemed to be coming straight on--
"Whew--whew--whew--whew--whew--" came the whistle of flying wings; on the instant he turned his head, and his heart jumped at the sight. Unperceived, a flock of a dozen blackheads had come down along the point, had swung in to him, and now were fairly hovering over the decoys. Quick as thought, his gun was at his shoulder--Bang! Bang! sounded the double report and one duck fell dead to each shot. Dick felt himself trembling like a leaf at the suddenness of it all. Colonel, awaiting the word, lay quivering at his feet, his eyes, glowing like coals, fixed on the ducks, as they lay floating in the water. "Fetch 'em out, old man," Dick cried, and like a shot, the retriever was down the beach, breasting the waves, head and tail high in air, like the sturdy veteran he was. One at a time, he brought them in, and laid them proudly at Dick's feet; then once more crouched in the stand, waiting until his chance should come again.
Nor did they have long to wait. Now, far off in the northern sky, the ducks began to come in a steady flight, flying singly, in pairs, and in flocks of varying size. The marsh ducks, Dick noticed, made, for the most part, straight down the lake, toward the point where Putnam lay hidden in the reeds, and from time to time, the faint report of his companion's gun came to him over the water, though at such a distance that Dick could only guess at what luck he might be having. It was different with Cluff. The cove was so near that Dick could keep a rough account of the number of ducks falling to the farmer's share, and it was seldom indeed that a flock swung into the cove, without leaving one or more of their number behind.
Dick's own aim was scarcely as good. He put a number of good shots to his credit, stopping a pair of widgeon with one barrel, just as they drew together in the air; again knocking three redheads from a flock of five, passing at full speed overhead, without swinging to the decoys; and twice scoring a clean right and left on blackheads as they lowered handsomely to the blind. Yet his kills were offset by some villainous misses, over which he could only shake his head dejectedly, and turn away in shame from the reproachful glance of the retriever's eye. Once, indeed, just at sundown, a flock of about fifty redheads swung in, at just the proper range, just the proper elevation, just the proper everything; and yet somehow, flurried by the magnitude of the opportunity, he waited too long, sighted first at one bird, then at another, and finally fired one ineffectual barrel, just as the last bird in the flock was getting out of range. For a moment he almost wept, and then found a crumb of comfort in the thought that only Colonel was there to see, and that he could not tell of it, even if he would.
All too soon the sun sank behind the hills at the westerly limit of the lake. Dick left the stand, walked around to relieve his cramped muscles, and then counted up his bag. Eight blackheads, five redheads, two widgeon, a black duck and two teal, eighteen in all. He stood regarding them with pride. Now and again in the dusk he could hear the whistle of passing wings overhead; once, halfway down the lake, Cluff and Putnam, returning, fired at some belated flock, and with the report of their guns two jets of living flame leaped upward against the dark. A little later and he could hear the sound of their oars; then presently a dim black shape loomed up ahead and Cluff's friendly hail sounded through the gloom. "Well, son," he called, "I heard you dottin' it into 'em. And I saw there was some that didn't get away. How many did you kill?"
"Eighteen," Dick called back, "and if I'd shot straight I'd have killed forty. How many did you folks get?"
"Jim got fourteen," answered Cluff, "and I scored up twenty-two. Guess maybe Mr. Fenton's going to be a mite surprised. I told you we'd do well. You just wait, now, till I take in these decoys, and we'll come ashore and get you."
They rowed home through the darkness and trudged up the path, well-laden with their spoils, glad when the lights of the farm-house gleamed cheerfully across the clearing, welcome enough in any case, but now suggesting, as well, the thought of supper preparing within. And what a supper it was! Just comfortably tired and hungry, the boys made an onslaught on the fare which surprised even their host, accustomed as he was to the demands of a healthy country appetite. "Well, I don't know," he remarked at last, "I rather thought I had you fellows beat on shooting ducks, but when it comes to putting away turkey I guess you've pretty well squared up the count."
By seven o'clock their horse was at the door, and putting in their guns and their share of the game, they bade good-by to Cluff and his wife, thanking them again and again for their kindness, and set out on their homeward way. They were scarcely as talkative, after the first few miles, as they had been on the way out, but sat in silence, each living the day over again in his mind. Retrospect had taken the place of anticipation, and their pleasure, while perhaps fully as great, was of a kind more tranquil, and less keen. Perhaps, too, the spell of the night quieted their tongues. The full moon rose high in the heavens, putting the stars to rout, and lighting the long, straight road ahead of them almost as clearly as if it had been day. And thus they jogged steadily along in silence until they had traversed the greater part of their journey home. Scarcely a sound had disturbed the quiet of the drive. Now and again they heard the hooting of an owl; once a fox yapped sharply, and in answer there came a distant, long-drawn chorus of barks and howls, as if every dog within a dozen miles was giving answer to the challenge. But of fellow-travelers, either driving or on foot, they saw no sign until they had come within a mile or so of town. Then Dick, half lulled to sleep by the steady, monotonous thud of the mare's feet on the road, started up suddenly, rubbing his eyes, for ahead of them he saw two shadowy figures, one tall, one short, striding along the path in the gloom. "Look at those men, Jim," he said. "I wonder what they're doing out here at this time of night?"
As he spoke the figures rounded a bend in the path and disappeared from sight. And then, before Putnam could answer, all in the same breath, there arose ahead of them a quick, sharp outcry, the sounds of a scuffle, and then a shrill and frightened scream, echoing wildly through the silent forest, "Help! Help!"
As quick as thought Putnam leaned forward, snatched the whip from its socket and brought it down with all his force across the mare's flanks. Old Rosy bounded forward under the blow and Putnam cried, "Load up quick, Dick! Load up your gun!"
It had been Randall's first thought. Even as Putnam uttered the words he reached down, drew out the ten bore from under the seat, slipped in two shells, and sat alert and ready, his body bent a little forward, his weapon across his knees, as they sped forward, the buggy rocking and swaying beneath them like a ship in a gale of wind. A moment later they rounded the curve and Putnam, with a mighty jerk on the reins, pulled the mare back almost to her haunches to avoid running over the huddled group of figures fighting in the road. At the same instant Dick leaped from the buggy and ran forward.
A quick glance revealed the situation. One man was being attacked by three others, while on the outskirts of the group a little boy hovered, terror-stricken, still crying out for help. The man upon the defensive was holding his own manfully. He was tall and active, and made shrewd play with a stout cudgel, apparently his only weapon, striving constantly to prevent his adversaries from attacking him in the rear. Yet three to one was heavy odds; knives gleamed in the moonlight; and while two of the attacking force advanced warily on him the third was creeping stealthily around behind just as the boys appeared on the scene. With a shout Dick leaped forward, discharging his right hand barrel over the heads of the contestants as he ran. The effect of his shot was well-nigh magical. On the instant the three men broke and ran, diving into the bushes as if they knew the country well. The tall man started to follow, fumbling vainly in his pocket as he did so, then drew up with a suppressed cry of pain and turned to his rescuers. "Much obliged," he said. "Just about in time, I guess; they pretty nearly had me--"
He broke off suddenly, lurching unsteadily toward the buggy. "Don't know but what they've done me, now," he muttered.
Dick could see that his face was deathly pale. "Here, Jim," he called, "take him and the boy. Drive right in to the hospital. I'll get back, all right; it isn't far--" He helped the man into the wagon and lifted the boy in behind. Putnam gave the mare a cut with the whip and the buggy shot forward toward the town.
On a Saturday afternoon, a fortnight after the shooting trip to the lake, Dick Randall and Jim Putnam, on their way across the yard, came face to face with Harry Allen and Ned Brewster, sauntering leisurely over toward the gym. The day, although the month was December, was warm and clear; the ground lay bare of snow; altogether it was an afternoon when out of doors seemed far more attractive than in.
Allen, halting them, struck an attitude, raised one arm, and started to declaim. "Whither away, whither away--" he began, and then, as Brewster planted a well-aimed blow in the small of his back, he came abruptly to a stop. "Confound you, Ned," he said, "that hurt. Can't you appreciate good poetry? I never saw such a fellow. Well, if I've got to descend to vulgar prose, where do you chaps think you're going, anyway?"
Randall laughed, and in a tone of exaggerated deference, answered, "With your kind permission, Mr. Poet, we are 'whithering away' to the rustic cottage of Mr. McDonald, leader of strike-breakers, who has now recovered, and has been out of the hospital for some days. Mr. McDonald has won his fight; the 'passel o' furriners,' as my friend at the livery stable calls them, has been put to rout, and Mr. McDonald wishes to have an opportunity to thank his gallant rescuers in person. Isn't that what we are, Jim? Gallant rescuers? Of course we are."
Putnam nodded. "Sure," he answered, "of course. At least you are. I don't know whether I can qualify or not. I was driving the mare, you know. But still, on the whole, I believe that took more courage than fighting strikers. Oh, yes, we're heroes, all right, and we're going down to be properly thanked."
Brewster groaned. "My, but you're a chesty pair," he scoffed. "I don't suppose you'd let two ordinary mortals come along and breathe the same air with heroes, would you, now? Harry and I were just saying that the gym doesn't seem to offer much attraction on a day like this."
Randall bowed low. "My dear young men," he said, "if my co-hero, Mr. Putnam, the gentleman on my left, has no objection, we will permit you to go. I think that the sight of virtue rewarded would be a most useful lesson to you both. Perhaps Mr. Tennyson here might immortalize the whole thing in what he thinks is verse."
Brewster mournfully shook his head. "Oh, this is awful," he said, "we'll have to go with them, Harry. I wouldn't trust them alone, now. They're so puffed up that one good gust of wind would blow them clear away, and then we'd be minus our best high jumper, and our star quarter miler. So come on and we'll look after them. It's hard on us, I know, but it's our duty to the school."
They left the yard, walked down past the track, and then struck out straight across the fields on their long tramp. As they left the school boundaries behind them Allen turned quickly to Dick. "Well, all jokes aside," he exclaimed, "your friend's recovered, hasn't he?"
"Yes," Randall answered, "he's all right again now. They hit him a pretty good crack on the arm--broke a bone in his wrist, I believe--and he had a nasty cut in the shoulder, and lost quite a lot of blood. But they fixed him up at the hospital. It wasn't really anything serious."
"How did the boy come into it?" asked Brewster.
"Why," returned Randall, "it was quite a story. The boy was a French Canadian. His mother's dead and he was living alone with his father, up north of the village. The father was one of the strikers, but I guess he was rather a chicken-hearted kind of individual, for when the strike-breakers arrived and things began to look squally he got out of town, and left the little boy up there in the shanty, all alone. McDonald was the head man among the strike-breakers, and in the course of the evening he happened to hear about it and he said right away that he was going up to get the boy. His friends told him he was a fool to do it, but he said no one was going to bother him, anyway, and if they did he guessed he could look out for himself. Well, the strikers got wind of it and three of them laid for him when he was coming back with the boy. He said it was the neatest ambush you could imagine. He was on the watch for them, he thought, and he had a revolver in his pocket, and yet he walked right into them before he knew it. And I imagine he was having about all he wanted when we blew along and pulled off the great rescue scene. So that's all there was to that."
It was a good hour later when they finally came in sight of the cottage, standing by itself, far to the southward of the town. Everything about the place looked neat and clean. There was no sign of McDonald, but a little wisp of smoke curled upward from the chimney, seeming to hang motionless against the still, clear air. Putnam turned to Randall. "Think we've struck the right place, Dick?" he asked.
Dick nodded. "Seems to answer the description," he replied, and then, as they started to climb the fence surrounding the field which lay between them and the cottage he gave a little exclamation of surprise. "Why, for Heaven's sake," he cried, "talk about your track sports. What do you think of that, now?"
The others paused to follow the direction of his gaze. Sure enough, in the center of the field, between them and the cottage, were a set of high-jump standards, a take-off board for the broad jump, a shot ring, and three or four circles for throwing the hammer. They walked hastily forward, and then stopped, wondering, for, allowing for the necessary roughness of the field, everything was arranged in excellent style. Dick examined the ground in front of the standards with a critical eye, then voiced his approval. "The fellow who fixed up this place," he said, "knew his business. I believe, on a dry day like this, I could jump as high here as I could on the field at home. Who on earth do you suppose is interested in athletics around here? Couldn't be McDonald, could it, Jim?"
Putnam shook his head. "No, of course not," he answered. "A man who works in a paper mill all day isn't going to bother to build a place to practise jumping and throwing weights. Some of the boys from the village, most likely, I suppose."
They walked on across the field and knocked at the door of the cottage. Immediately they heard footsteps within, and a moment later McDonald himself appeared on the threshold. He was a tall, active-looking man, splendidly proportioned, with a keen and intelligent face. A slight pallor, and a little stiffness in the way he held his left shoulder, were the only signs which he showed of his recent encounter.
"Come in, come in," he cried, "the whole of you. I'm glad to see you, boys. I had considerable courage to ask you to come way over here, but the doctor wouldn't let me walk to the school, and I wanted to see you before I started back to work, to get a chance to thank you, fair and square, for that night. I guess, if you hadn't happened along, I wouldn't be here now. There isn't much I can do, I'm afraid, in return, only to tell you that I shan't forget it, if I ever have a chance to pay you back for what you did. And I thought--" He rose, took from the mantel two small leather cases, oblong in shape, and held them out to Randall and Putnam, one in either hand. "I thought maybe you'd like to have these for a kind of souvenir--most young fellows nowadays are interested in such things--perhaps, though, you boys aren't--"
The boys took the cases from his hand, pressed the spring which opened them, and the next moment were gazing with delighted surprise at the heavy gold medals within. At the same instant they read the inscriptions upon them, and then, both at once, gave a gasp of surprise, for the name, traced in tiny letters on the gold, below the word "Championship," was that of the man who had been known, a dozen years before, through the length and breadth of the country, as the foremost athlete of his day. Both boys cried out in chorus. "Oh, golly!" from Putnam; and from Dick, "Duncan McDonald! Why, for Heaven's sake! We never guessed--"
There was a moment's silence; McDonald flushing a little under the gaze of frank hero-worship which the four boys bent on him. And then, to break the pause, "Yes, I'm Duncan McDonald," he said, "or what's left of him. Not quite so spry, I guess, as when I won those, but I still answer to the same name."
There was another pause, until Brewster suddenly exclaimed, "Then that's your athletic field out there. We were wondering whose it could be."
McDonald smiled. "Athletic field is rather a big name for it," he answered. "It's a little place I fixed up so that I could go out once in a while, on a Saturday afternoon, and throw weights, and jump, just for the sake of old times. Why, do you boys care for that sort of thing?"
"Do we?" cried Brewster. "Well, I should say we did! You see--" and for ten minutes he talked steadily, telling the story of the cup, the Pentathlon, and everything else concerning the rivalries of the schools. As he finished McDonald nodded. "I see, I see," he said. "Well, that's a nice sporting situation, isn't it? Perhaps I could help you boys out a little, after all. When the weather gets better, along toward spring, if you would send your all-around man--Ellis, did you say his name is--over here, I might be able to show him something about his events. I'd be glad to try, anyway."
"Oh, that would be great," cried Brewster, "that would help a lot, I know. And we've another Pentathlon man right here. We think he'll be almost as good as Ellis by spring. Stand up, Dick, and be counted."
Randall laughed. "Don't talk about Pentathlon men," he said, "in present company. I don't believe Mr. McDonald would see much hope for me."
McDonald eyed him critically. "Well, I 'don't know about that," he said at length. "You've a good build for an all-around man. We all have to make a start. No one gets to be a champion all at once. By and by, if you like, we'll walk over to the field; I'll lend you a pair of spikes and we'll see what you can do. How would you like that?"
Dick's face was sufficient answer. "That would be fine," he replied. "You're mighty kind to offer to do it."
"Yes, indeed," chimed in Brewster, "it might make a big difference to our chances. We'd like nothing better;" and then, suddenly changing the subject, "Mr. McDonald," he asked, "if it isn't an impertinent question, why did you give up athletics? You're not old yet; you must be as good as you ever were. And I should think working in a mill would seem awfully slow, after all the fun you've had."
McDonald smiled. "Well, now, I know how it seems to you boys," he answered. "I can remember just how it looked to me when I was your age. But I'll tell you the honest truth. Athletics are a thing you want to go into for fun, and not for money. If I had my life over again, as the saying is, I'd stop right short where I turned professional, and take up some good trade instead. But of course I couldn't see it then. I was crazy about the game, and I had no money to speak of, so it seemed to be a choice between quitting athletics, or turning 'pro.' And I turned. But I've regretted it ever since. It isn't a sensible profession, you see. It's a job where you're best when you're young, and with every year that's added to your age, there's so much of your capital gone. No, professional athletics don't pay."
The boys looked only half convinced. "But think," said Allen, "of all you've done; and all the places you've seen. If I'd won championships in half a dozen different countries I don't believe I'd swap with any one."
McDonald smiled again. "Oh, I did have a good time, when I was an amateur," he replied, "but all the enjoyment that a fellow gets from looking back on pleasant memories stops right there. After you've turned pro, and are out for the stuff, the good sporting spirit is knocked right out of the thing. You think every man who's competing against you is a robber who's trying to take away your bread and butter, and that spoils most of the fun, to start with. And then a man can hardly make a living if he stays right on the square. There's always a cheap crowd of betting men who keep after a fellow, trying to get him to come in on some game that isn't quite on the level. They've pulled off some funny things, too, first and last.
"I remember one chap I knew who was a corking good shot-putter. He joined forces with a couple of betting men and they certainly rigged up a good plant. It was at a big fair in Canada. The two betting men dressed as farmers, and then they fixed this fellow up in a blue smock, and had him drive a cow into the fair. Oh, they staged the thing fine; and when the shot-putting came off this fellow makes a lot of talk about what he can do, and picks up the shot, and puts it around thirty-three or four feet. Then the two betting men make a holler, and work off a lot of farmer talk about 'that there feller with the caow'--oh, they do it slick, all right--and that begins to make fun, and pretty soon there's an argument started, and the two farmers get excited and fumble around in their pockets and pull out some old, dirty bills; and finally, there are so many wise guys in the crowd looking to make an easy dollar, the money's all put up and covered.
"The farmers breathe much easier after that--the rest of it is just a slaughter. The shot man plays the part, though, just to amuse himself. He gets into the finals--they're putting around thirty-seven feet or so--and then he makes a great holler about spiked shoes, 'them shoes with nails in the bottoms of 'em' he says, and at last he pretends to borrow a pair--which are really his own, that he has given to another of the gang to keep for him--and he stamps around in those, and spits on his hands, and goes though a lot of foolishness, and then steps into the circle and drives her out. Forty-four, ten! And then there's an awful silence in the crowd among the fellows who've bet their money against the man with the cow, and they sneak away kind of quietly, and here and there you'll hear one of them murmur to himself, 'Stung!' And that's professional athletics for you."
The boys had listened breathlessly. "Well," cried Allen, "that was a pretty dirty trick, all right, and yet," he added with a chuckle, "there's something funny about it, too. It isn't like taking in innocent people. The other fellows were out to do the crowd they thought were farmers, and they got about what was coming to them."
McDonald nodded. "Oh, yes, it's diamond cut diamond," he said. "If you bet on anything in this world, it's a good idea to get used to being surprised. But the trouble comes in mixing up a nice, clean game like athletics with such dirty business as that." He hesitated a moment, and then went on, "But it's mighty little right I've got to preach. I've done some things that I regret, and that I'd give a good deal to have undone, if I could. Because when you're right square up against it for your next dollar, or maybe your next dime, it beats all how a man will juggle with his conscience to make a scheme seem right. I'll tell you what I did once, away out west, if you care to hear."
The boys' faces, without their eager assent, would have been enough to tell him that he was speaking to listeners who could talk athletics by the hour, with never a sign of weariness. And presently he began. "This happened a good long time ago. It was in the fall of the year. I was quite a ways from home, and I was discouraged. I'd made application for a training job for the winter in three different colleges, and I'd been turned down, for one reason or another, in all three. It was early in September, just the time for the big fairs, and though the weather was beautiful, there was a kind of frostiness about the mornings that made me think of a cold winter coming back home, and reminded me that I had just two hundred dollars in my clothes, and not another cent in the whole wide world. It certainly seemed to be up to me to make some sort of a play, and to make it quick, while I had the chance.
"There were three or four pretty good men around at these games, and a lot of others not so good, but I wasn't particularly afraid of any of them. I didn't have any great reputation then, to speak of; I'd only turned pro a little while before; and I'd grown a mustache, and no one knew me by sight or name. But I had been training all summer, and I was right at the stage where any athlete, amateur or pro, has the chance of his life to make a killing; when he knows just how good he is, and nobody else in the world except himself does know. Well, I worked things about as well as I could. I went into two good-sized meets, under the name of Alan Stewart, and never won so much as a third place. I managed to finish just short of the money in every event I entered, and then, afterward, I mixed with the betting crowd, and took pains to do a lot of cheap talking. I told them that when I was really in form I was the greatest athlete who ever wore a shoe, and that as soon as I got some money from home I was willing to back up what I said.
"Well, I contrived to make the crowd pretty tired. One of the leading gamblers, a shrewd, wiry little chap, called me down one day in front of the whole bunch. 'Young man,' he said, 'you talk a good deal, and it wearies me. Don't you think, if you kept that mouth of yours shut until you'd earned a dollar to bet on yourself, it would be a good thing for every one, and make the town a pleasanter place to live in?' That pleased the boys, but I pretended to get mad over it, and shook my fist in his face. 'You think,' I said, 'that you can insult me, because you've got money and I haven't; but you just wait; I've wired home to San Francisco for some cash and I'll have it for the Atlasville meet, and then my money'll talk as good as anybody else's.' That didn't rattle him a mite. 'Well,' he came back, 'if it talks half as loud as you do they'll know you're betting, away over in China,' and that pleased the crowd more than ever. So, altogether, I had no trouble in making a reputation as a conceited young fool--I've thought sometimes, since then, that wasn't such a strange thing, after all--and I kept under cover, and lay low for Atlasville.
"It was a nice affair all right. There was a local weight man, a fellow named Brown, who was really good; and Harry King, the high jumper, who was making a regular circuit of the western meets, so altogether it was a pretty classy field, and I had every chance in the world to back my good opinion of myself. It was an old game, of course, but I worked it for all it was worth. As I say, when it's win out or bust, a man's wits are apt to move quicker than they do other times. Among my different bluffs, I struck up a great friendship with a fellow whom I knew to be hand and glove with the betting crowd. I was sure he'd keep them posted on everything that happened, so I made him my confidential friend--had him come out to watch me practice, and told him what a wonder I was, and how I was going to get square with the betting gang for giving me the laugh, and all that sort of thing. Only everything that he saw me do, and everything I told him I could do, was on sort of a mark-down scale. I told him, for instance, that I was going to put the shot forty feet, and high jump five feet, eight, and do the other events in proportion, and that I knew the rest of the men couldn't come near those marks; and all the time I could see how he was jollying me along, and laughing at me up his sleeve, for he knew, of course, just what the other chaps could do, on a pinch, and it was bully fun for him to hear me go on about wiring for money and betting on myself, and cleaning out the crowd, and such talk as that, when he supposed, all the time, that separating me from my roll was just like taking candy from a child.
"So the time went by. Presently my money arrived, or I pretended to have it arrive--as a matter of fact, I fished it out of my inside pocket; and then I went out on a hunt for my gambling friends. I couldn't get quite the odds I wanted--I still had to make a bluff at being awfully confident of myself--but I did pretty well, on the whole, for there were so many of them anxious to get a chance at me that it wasn't a hard job, after all. I put the bulk of the money on the shot and the high jump--I happened to be right at my best in both of those events just then--but I had five or ten dollars on about everything, and some of it at mighty long odds. Well, the day came. I shall never forget it, one of those perfect autumn days, warm without being hot, cool without being cold, if that doesn't sound like a fool way of trying to describe it, and the whole county was at the games. Oh, what wouldn't I have given for a thousand dollars, to keep company with my two hundred, but I didn't know a soul in the place, and I wasn't looking for any free advertising, either. So I let it go at the two hundred.
"I've had days before and since when I've felt good, but that day--well, I was fit to compete for my life. I began the fun with the hammer and broad jump; I kept it up with the pole vault, the caber and the fifty-six; and I finished it with the high jump and the shot-put. I'll never forget the look on my gambler's face when I got down to work on my first try in the shot, and the man at the other end of the tape called out, 'Forty-five eight and a half.' It was a study. And the high jump. They couldn't believe, out that way, that there was a man on earth who could trim Harry King. And he was jumping good, too. We kept together up to six feet, but at six, one and a half, he failed and I got over, on my second try.
"Well, I raked in my prize money, and my bets--I'd cleaned up between seven and eight hundred dollars, all told--and the next day I started east. I was feeling pretty good till I'd got about ten miles from town, and then I took the local paper out of my pocket and started to read the sporting news. Right there was where my good opinion of myself experienced a shock. For what should I find but a very nice write-up on Mr. Alan Stewart, describing him as the most promising young athlete yet seen in the West, and going on to say that as a matter of local pride, it would be an interesting thing to see Mr. Stewart matched for a series of events with Mr. Duncan McDonald, the eastern champion. Just at first I laughed, and then I stopped and began to think. And the more I thought, the less I seemed to fancy myself. I never did a thing like that again, and I can tell you, boys, once more, the pro game in athletics is no good."
His audience had sat listening with the keenest interest. There was a little pause and then Allen spoke. "Well," he said, "it was the same principle, of course, as the man with the cow. But, somehow, I don't think that was such a terrible thing to do. You weren't deceiving innocent people. You were up against a crowd of gamblers who wouldn't have had any scruples about doing you out of your money, and you relieved them of theirs, instead. And I think," he added, "that the part about matching you against McDonald was great. I call that really humorous."
McDonald nodded assent. "It did have kind of a funny side," he admitted. "And I don't mean I felt ashamed of myself because I considered it really a wicked thing to do, because I didn't. But look here--well, it's hard to express--those two medals I gave you boys to-day were won when I was an amateur, good and straight. There's no taint to them. I was in the game then for the fun of it. And I certainly liked athletics. I don't believe any man who ever lived liked them better than I did. And so, to get mixed up in the pro game, well, I felt the way I did once about a man I knew--a big, fine-looking chap, brave as a lion--who served in the British army. He got into trouble, no matter how, and disappeared, and I never heard of him again for years, until a friend of mine ran across him down in South America--a soldier of fortune, waiting for some little tuppenny rebellion to come along, to put a job in his way. Well, you know, that seemed bad to me--I didn't like to hear it--and so, about myself, I felt as if getting into this betting game, and all that, I was kind of disgracing my colors--you know what I mean--"
The boys nodded in quick sympathy. McDonald rose. "Well, I'm getting to be a regular old woman," he said apologetically. "My tongue's running away with me. Let's step over to the field and try a little athletics, for a change. Here's my outfit, in here."
He threw open a closet door, disclosing upon the floor three or four shots, two hammers, a fifty-six pound weight, several pairs of spiked shoes--clear evidence that he still retained, as he had said, his native love of the game. "Now, then," he said, "if one of you will take a shot, I'll take the light hammer, and Randall here can pick out a pair of shoes; then we'll be all right to start. Hullo, here's Joe."
As he spoke, the door opened, and a little boy of nine or ten, dark and swarthy, with big, wide-open, black eyes, peered into the room; then, seeing the visitors, promptly dodged out again. McDonald laughed. "That's the little fellow you heard yelling for help that night," he explained. "No one seemed to want him, and his father hasn't been heard from since, so I've kind of adopted him, for the present. He's a good little chap, and smart as a steel-trap. But shy as a squirrel when he sees strangers around."
Once arrived at the field, McDonald proceeded to put Dick through his paces. He watched him high-jump with great approval. "Good, man, good!" he cried. "You've got an elegant spring, and a very nice style, besides. I'll have you jumping fine, by next May." But over Dick's shot-putting he was not so enthusiastic, and at the hammer-throwing he shook his head. "No, no," he cried, "you haven't got the first principles. You stand wrong. Your weight is wrong. You swing wrong. You do everything wrong. Here, let me show you. I wish I dared throw, myself, but I suppose I'd rip my shoulder open. Now look--"
For ten minutes he explained, illustrated, had Dick throw, again and again. And finally he good-humoredly gave it up. "I can show you," he said. "But you've thrown the wrong way so long that it's going to be a job. Let the hammer go, for the next month or two, and when spring comes we'll go at it. I'll have you so you'll be throwing a hundred and seventy feet. No reason in the world why you shouldn't. It's like all the other things. It's knack--knack--knack--that counts. You've got weight and size enough to throw it, and when I get the double turn drilled into you we'll surprise some of these boys from the other schools. You see if we don't."
The afternoon shadows were lengthening across the fields as the boys started on their homeward way. And all through the tramp their tongues wagged ceaselessly of their new friend, his accomplishments, his interest, the medals he had given his rescuers, and most of all, how much his knowledge might mean to them, and to their chances in carrying off in triumph the coveted cup. Truly, it had been an eventful day.
An air of gloom hung over the breakfast-room. Search as one might, up and down the long tables, it would have been hard to find one smiling countenance. Most of the boys were eating absent-mindedly, as if they had small relish for their food; their foreheads were wrinkled and knotted, as if their thoughts were far away. To any one at all acquainted with school affairs, the trouble was not far to seek. The first day of the mid tear examinations was at hand.
Of all these troubled faces, perhaps Dave Ellis' was the most moody and depressed. English Thirteen--how he dreaded it! He had sat up almost all night, in defiance of the rules, stealthily flashing an electric bull's-eye on his notes, and now, with aching head and jaded nerves, he was paying the penalty. His brain was in confusion. Names of books and authors sang themselves over and over in his mind. Now an absurd, annoying jingle, "Fielding, Smollett, Richardson; Fielding Smollett, Richardson;" and then, no sooner had he managed to stop the monotonous refrain than off it went again, "Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray; Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray." He groaned, turned desperately to his cup of coffee, gulped down half of it at once, scalded himself, and then--it was all of no avail--the tune began once more. Suddenly, and without warning, he thought of another name, and to his horror, everything connected with it had gone wholly from his mind. He glanced despairingly across the table at Allen. "Harry," he cried, "for goodness' sake, what school did Jane Austen belong to? And what did she write?"
Allen gazed gravely back at him. "Jane Austen?" he repeated. "Why, she was the head of the Romantic school. She wrote The Maniac's Deed, and Tracked to his Doom, and The Bandit's Revenge. She's been called the founder of the Modern Romance--Old Sleuth, you know, and Nick Carter--"
Ellis had sat listening, his mouth a little open, his eyes troubled, his whole expression a study in amazed bewilderment. Two or three of the boys snickered, and at once he came to his senses. "Oh, shut up, Harry," he cried, "that's an awfully dirty trick--to jolly a fellow that way. If you felt as rotten as I do--"
Allen relented. "Well, excuse me, Dave," he said, "but you know what she wrote, just as well as I do, if you'd only stop to think. She was the great realist. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, all that list."
Ellis' face cleared. "Oh, yes," he said hastily, "of course. Mansfield Park, Emma, and some kind of an Abbey; I've got 'em all in my notes. But what if it had come on the exam? I never would have remembered it in the world. Confound English Thirteen. I'm going to flunk; I know I am."
With a sigh he returned to his half-finished breakfast. Then, looking around him, "Pass the salt, Randall," he said, none too pleasantly.
On Dick, himself in none too amiable a frame of mind, the tone jarred. He paused, his hand on the salt-cellar. "Did I hear you say 'please?'" he questioned.
Ellis' face flushed. "Oh, don't be a fool," he cried, "if you had the things to bother you that I have, you wouldn't be so particular. Please--please--please--as many times as you like, only pass it, anyway."
Dick complied. "Well, you needn't make such a row about your hard times," he retorted. "I can't see that you're any worse off than any one else. These confounded mid-years. They put us all in the same boat."
Ellis scowled. "Oh, you don't know everything," he grumbled. "I guess if you--"
He pulled himself up sharply, and went on with his breakfast. Five minutes later, as they filed out of the hall, Allen drew Dick to one side. "Say," he whispered, "what's our friend Dave got on his mind? He's awfully down in the mouth lately. Has he ever tried to borrow any money of you?"
Dick looked at his friend in some surprise. "Why, yes," he answered rather unwillingly, "he has. I told him I was sorry, but I didn't have any I could spare. Why, has he tried you, too?"
Allen nodded. "Sure," he answered briefly, "and Steve Lindsay, and Ned Brewster. I guess that's where the trouble is. He must be in some sort of a money scrape, and that and the mid-years together have got him feeling pretty blue. Anyway, it looks like that to me."
Half an hour later the unfortunates who took English Thirteen assembled in the upper hall. It was Dick's first examination of importance since he had been in the school, and he felt extremely nervous. His mouth was dry; his heart was pounding against his ribs. To divert his mind he looked around the room to see where his friends were seated. Brewster and Putnam were far away, across the room. Lindsay was three seats to his right. Dave Ellis was in the next seat, on his left, and Allen was stationed directly behind Ellis.
The nine o'clock bell rang, and Mr. Fenton mounted the platform. "Now, boys," he said cheerfully, "just a word, before we begin. This paper, for the period which it covers, is fully as hard as the average of the college entrance examinations. Yet, as a test, it is a perfectly fair one, in every way; an honest attempt to find out how much you know of the course. There are no catch questions, or anything of that sort. So go to work in good earnest. Read the paper through from beginning to end before you touch pencil to paper; don't lose your heads; take your time in thinking out your answers. And if there are questions which you can't answer, they will at least show you where your weak points are, before the final examinations next spring."
A minute later, the last paper had been distributed. Dick read the questions through, slowly and deliberately, as the master had suggested, and then drew a long breath of relief. It was a "fair" paper, as Mr. Fenton had said; none too easy, but to a boy who had taken an interest in the course, and had kept up with references and outside reading, one almost certain to be passed, and to be attacked with real interest and enthusiasm. Allen and he had prepared for the examination together, and Dick saw more than one question where his classmate's devotion to his "old poets," as Jim Putnam called them, was now to serve him in good stead. For the better part of an hour, he wrote steadily; and then, with the easier questions out of the way, used greater deliberation in answering those which remained.
Once or twice, as Dick glanced up from his work, he noticed, half abstractedly, that Ellis, on his left, was sitting always in the same position, gazing straight before him at his paper, without writing a word. And then, a little later, as he was about to begin on the question next the last, a faint cough from his neighbor, three or four times repeated, attracted his attention. He looked up from his book, and the next instant a little ball of paper came spinning along the bench, so well aimed that it stopped just at the left of his examination book, lying almost within his grasp. Dick hesitated for a moment, leaned forward a trifle, unfolded the pellet, and read. At the top, three times underlined, were the words, "Help, please," and then, underneath, "Who wrote Barry Lyndon? When was Fielding born? Did Trollope write The Moonstone?" Below each question Ellis had left a little space for the answer.
Dick felt himself flush, almost as if he himself had been detected in something wrong. With a quick movement, he thrust the telltale slip into his pocket; then waiting until he caught Ellis' eye, he frowned slightly, shook his head in decided negative, and bent again to his task.
He finished the paper some twenty minutes before the time had expired, re-read his answers with care, and made up his mind that no matter what his mark would be, he had at least done as well as he could. He sat back in his chair, and looked around him. Most of the boys were still hard at work. And then, as his glance fell upon his neighbor, he gave an involuntary start of surprise. Ellis was writing busily, as if his very life depended on it, yet even as Dick looked, he saw him pause, and tug gently at his left sleeve with the fingers of his right hand. Gradually, he pulled a long slip of paper into view, studied it carefully for a moment, then relaxed his hold, and the paper, evidently fastened to an elastic of some sort, slid smoothly back again out of sight. Dick looked quickly away, a feeling of disgust overcoming him. He had heard of such things, but this was the first time he had seen actual cheating taking place before his very eyes. Ten minutes later the bell clanged, papers and books were gathered up, and the test was over.
The mid-years lasted for a week; at the end of that time the results were made known. Dick did fully as well as he had expected. Out of a total of seven subjects, he had one A, three B's, two C's, and one D. Harry Allen topped the list with five A's and two B's; Brewster did a trifle better than Dick; Putnam and Lindsay not quite so well. But the surprise of the whole affair was Ellis' good showing. It was nothing brilliant, compared with the records of the really fine scholars in the class, but he did far better than any one had supposed he would do, and in those subjects where memory played an important part, his marks were fully equal to the average. Thus all doubts of his being eligible for the spring games were removed, and Brewster, as captain of the track team, heaved a sigh of relief that this anxiety was off his mind.
Dick found himself unable to share in Brewster's pleasure. The thought of that strip of paper, and those cautious fingers pulling it gently downward, rankled in his mind. He wondered what a fellow ought to do in such a case. He ought not to tell tales, of course; that wasn't right; and yet--it was such a downright, dirty trick on Ellis' part--such a sailing under false colors--
And then, one morning, he found his perplexities increased. In the excitement of the mid-years, he had forgotten another matter of importance, and now, on the bulletin in the hall, appeared the notice that in a fortnight the election for class president would be held. Only two names were put in nomination--those of Dave Ellis and of Harry Allen--and suddenly Dick felt his doubts increase. Ought he to keep silence, after all? It was a mean thing to tell on a fellow--he had always known that--but on the other hand, where could you draw the line. If he saw a man commit a murder, he would certainly tell the authorities. There was a duty in both directions, it seemed. And so he thought and thought, until finally, on one rainy afternoon, he gathered his four most intimate friends--Allen, Putnam, Brewster and Lindsay--together in his room, and proceeded to unburden his mind.
"Look here, you chaps," he began, "I want your advice. This is my first year in the school, and the last thing I want to do is to butt in, or to make a nuisance of myself. But I'm in a mix-up about this business of class president, and I want to put the thing up to you fellows, and see what you think of it. Of course, I'm with Harry, as you all know, just as the rest of you are, but we're not the school--I'm afraid, this time, we're not even a majority of the school--and I suppose the chances are all in favor of Dave's getting it."
Allen nodded. "Sure thing," he replied, "I think I know the sentiment pretty well. There are forty-two fellows in the class, who are entitled to vote, and I should say that just about twenty-five were for Dave, and seventeen were for me. Of course you never can tell, for sure, until the last vote is counted, but I guess that's a pretty fair estimate. What do you fellows say?" and he turned to Putnam, Lindsay and Brewster.
"That's about it, I think," Putnam answered, and the others nodded assent.
"Well, then," Dick continued, "here's the question. In the first place, Dave Ellis isn't a fit fellow to be president of the class. I know it, for a fact. A class president is supposed to represent the school; it's really the highest honor the class can give; and the fellow we elect, whatever else people might find to say about him, ought at least to be square. Now, I'll admit that I'm prejudiced against Dave, because he rather rubbed it into me when I came here first, and it didn't make things any too agreeable, for a while. But that's got nothing at all to do with what I'm telling you now. This is something more than prejudice. Dave isn't on the square, and I can prove it. He cheated in the English Thirteen exam."
There was a chorus of surprised ejaculation. Allen alone said nothing. And then Brewster asked, "How, Dick? Are you sure? That's a pretty serious charge to make against a fellow, if you can't back it up."
But Dick seemed in nowise disposed to retract what he had said. "Oh, I can back it up, all right," he answered. "First, he threw me a note, asking for help. And after that I saw him pull a paper out of his sleeve--you know the kind I mean, the ones they fasten to an elastic--and he was cribbing his answers from that. I saw him as plainly as I ever saw anything in my life. I'd swear to it, on my oath. There's no doubt of it at all."
There was a long silence. Then Dick spoke again. "Well," he asked, "what ought I to do? What ought we to do, rather? Because it's up to you fellows now, just as much as it is to me. You represent the element that stands right back of Mr. Fenton here in the school. What's the best way to act? We can't go to Mr. Fenton, of course; that would be a kid trick; worse than what Dave did. But oughtn't we to tell the fellows? Isn't it only fair, if they want to elect him president, to let them know first what kind of fellow they're picking out to represent the class? Or ought we to go to Dave himself, before we do anything else, and tell him that if he'll withdraw from the election, and promise not to cheat again, we'll keep our mouths shut on the whole thing? I don't know. I've thought about it a lot. People always tell you to do what's right, but they forget to explain how you're going to know what is right, and what's wrong. So I've come to you fellows to help me out. Now what do you say?"
There was a little silence before Brewster spoke out impulsively, "I vote we tell the whole school. It isn't right that a thing like that should happen, and a fellow get away with it. It's a downright dirty trick, I think. I move we tell the whole crowd, right away."
Putnam shook his head. "No," he objected; "that would be foolish. It's the worst mistake you can make to blaze ahead too quick, before you've figured out the things that may happen. Suppose Dave denies the whole business, what then?"
Dick's cheeks flamed. "Why, Jim," he cried; "you don't think I'm lying, do you? You don't mean to say you doubt my word?"
Putnam smiled. "Of course I don't, Dick," he answered. "I know you too well for that. But I was thinking of what I've heard my father say, when he's been talking about his law cases. 'Put yourself in the other fellow's place,' is his great expression, 'and see what you'd do then. That will help you in working up your side of the argument.' And that's a good idea, isn't it, Harry?"
Allen nodded. "Sure," he replied; "they do something like that in literary criticism. 'Playing the devil's advocate,' they call it. Which means thinking up all the possible objections any one might make, and then going ahead and demolishing them. Yes, that's a good principle to go on."
"Well, then," continued Putnam, "here's what occurs to me. Suppose we do as Ned says, and spread the story through the school. Some one of Dave's friends will come running to him with it right away, and what's Dave going to do then? What's to prevent him from saying that Dick is lying--that Dick's a friend of Harry's, and that this is all a dodge to get Harry elected? And if he does do that, then how does Dick stand? Dave's got an awful following here in the school, and there are some of the fellows, I'm afraid, who wouldn't care a great deal whether he cheated or not. They might consider it was rather a brave thing to try a dodge like that, and carry it through without the master seeing him. And even the decent fellows, who wouldn't stand for such a thing--what are they going to believe? It's Dave's word against Dick's and if they believe Dave, it puts Dick in an awful hole. They're going to say, 'Here's a new boy in the school, who's trying to make all the trouble he can. And he picks out the best athlete we've got, and tries to blackmail him. That's an awfully mean trick, and we'll see that we make the school too hot to hold him?' What do you say to that, Dick?"
Dick looked a little staggered. "Well, I hadn't thought of anything like that," he reluctantly admitted. "I hated to mix up in this thing anyway; yet it didn't seem right to let it slide, without saying a word. And if you go through the world on your principle, Jim, you'll always be keeping quiet, unless you're sure you can prove what you set out to prove. And there are times, I should think, even when you know you're going down to defeat, where you would have to speak out, just because it's the right thing to do. At least, I should think that was what Mr. Fenton would say."
Lindsay, usually a boy of the fewest possible words, spoke up quickly. "You're right, Dick," he said. "This is too important a thing for us to let go. Whether you get into trouble or not, isn't the point. It's a question of our duty to the school. Let's get Dave in here, now, and see how he acts. He may get scared, and own up to everything. If he doesn't, then we can make up our minds what we ought to do next. What say, Harry?"
Allen had been unusually silent, although listening with the keenest interest to all that was being said. Now he nodded. "I think that's a good idea," he said.
Lindsay rose. "Any objection?" he asked of the room in general. No one answered, and he went out, and a few moments later returned, bringing Ellis with him.
If the boy who was about to be accused had any suspicions of what was going to take place, he concealed them admirably. "Hullo, fellows," he said; "what's this gathering for? Track team, or crew?"
Lindsay, acting as spokesman, wasted no time in beating about the bush. "It's neither, Dave," he said at once, "it's a meeting on the class presidency."
Ellis smiled. "Rather an Allen crowd, I guess," he remarked. "I don't see what you want me for. I'm going to vote for myself, I'll tell you that now. So Harry needn't waste any politeness on me; he can vote for himself, too, and then we'll be square."
He had thrown himself back into a chair, perhaps a little too elaborately at his ease. Lindsay spoke again. "We're not here in Harry's interests, Dave," he said quietly, "we're here in the interests of the school. We believe you have the better chance of being elected president, but there's a matter that we should like to have explained. We want the president of the class to be a fellow above suspicion in every way, and we want to ask you whether it is true that you were seen to cheat in the examination in English Thirteen?"
Ellis looked at him with well-assumed indignation. "I? Cheat?" he echoed; "well, I guess not. Who the devil dares to say such a thing as that about me? I'll punch his head for him."
Lindsay turned to Randall. "Fire away, Dick," he said.
Dick did not flinch, but looked Ellis squarely in the eye. "I was telling these fellows, Dave," he said, "that I didn't think you were the man to represent the class as president. I've told no one else, but I've told them, in confidence, what you did in the English Thirteen exam. That you first asked me for help, and then cribbed from that paper up your sleeve--"
He got no further. Ellis leaped to his feet, his face white with wrath. "You liar!" he cried.
Dick in his turn started from his seat, his face as angry as Ellis' own. "Hold on," he cried sternly. "I don't like that word, Dave. You'd better take that back."
Ellis sneered. "Not by a long shot," he answered, "that's what you are. And how you've got the nerve to start a story like that--"
Dick drew a little piece of paper from his pocket, and handed it to the boy he was accusing. "You didn't pass me that in the exam?" he demanded.
Ellis' denial was almost too ready. "Of course I didn't," he flung back, "that's not my writing. I never saw the paper before. I never cheated in an examination in my life. You're playing dirty politics, Randall, to help Allen; that's what you're doing. But you can go ahead. It won't hurt me. I'll tell the story myself, to every boy in the school, and they can judge who's lying, and who isn't. You'd like to see me in a scrape, I guess, so you might have a chance at the Pentathlon, with me out of it. Oh, I'm on to you and your schemes--"
He was storming on, half beside himself with rage. But as he uttered the words, Allen looked quickly up at him, as if taking a sudden resolve. "Just a minute, Dave," he said. His tone was quiet, but there was that in his voice which made Ellis pause, half against his will.
"Well?" he queried, "what have you got to say?"
Allen turned to the others. "Fellows," he said, "this is a dirty business--the whole thing. It makes me sick and disgusted to be mixed up in it. But I've no choice now. I've kept my mouth shut, because, since I was running against Dave, it put me in rather a queer position, and I thought I'd better not speak. But now that Randall's good name is brought into it, I'll tell you what I know. Dave did cheat. I sat behind him in English Thirteen. I saw him write the note and pass it. I saw him use the paper up his sleeve. And he worked the same trick again in History Four." He swung around to Ellis. "Dave," he said, "you have no right to be running for president, and you know it. You'll withdraw right away, or I'll give this story to the school myself. And one thing more. You're trying to make Dick Randall out a liar. Dick's gone into this thing against his will and risked a chance of getting into trouble, for the sake of the school. It was a plucky thing for a fellow to do, and if you breathe one little word to slander him, I'll do something that I wouldn't do in any other case for anything under the sun. I'll go straight to Mr. Fenton with the whole story. And you can take your chance on an investigation. Now then, will you pull out, or not? You can have your choice."
There was a tense silence. An utter change had come over Ellis' face. He had the look of an animal hunted down. "You're mistaken, Harry," he said at last, with an effort at composure, "you're mistaken, I assure you. You don't understand--"
His stammering sentences died away on his lips. No one spoke, and presently Ellis seemed to make up his mind. He raised his head with an expression of resolve. "Look here, you fellows," he said, "I don't want to make any trouble over this thing. But there's something else comes into it, that you don't know. I'm in a row over some money I--lost--and if I don't get it pretty soon, I'm going to be in an awful hole. I might have to leave school," he added craftily, "and then I'd be out of it for the Pentathlon. Let's compromise this, all around. I'll pull out of the presidency, and give Harry a walk-over, and we'll let the business of the English exam drop. It will be the best for every one. If I did anything I ought not to have done, I'm sorry. I was doing it for the school, so that I wouldn't be cut out of the spring athletics. Why don't you fellows, among you, raise me two hundred dollars, and we'll let things go on, just as if nothing had happened at all."
The very effrontery of the proposal almost took away his listeners' breath. Finally Allen spoke. "No, Dave," he said, "that isn't quite the way we do things here. We don't buy our athletes. We want the cup, all right, but we want it on the square. And if you cheated for the sake of the school, I'll only say that's the most remarkable way of showing school spirit that I've heard of yet. No, you will have to withdraw from the presidency, and give us your word never to cheat again. And if you'll do that, we'll let this whole matter rest. I don't know whether that's the fairest way or not, but I think it is. If you're not up for office, it's a private matter then, and one that there's no need of publishing around. So it's up to you, Dave. Quit or not. We'll meet you half-way, whatever you do."
Ellis scowled, and bit his lip. He thought for some moments in silence, then turned to go. "I'll let you know in two days," he said. "You keep quiet till then, and so will I."
He took his departure, leaving the group behind him busy with speculations as to what he meant to do. Yet no one even dreamed what his final decision would really be, and it came to them with a shock of surprise and disgust. For two days later, they learned that Dave Ellis had suddenly left school, and a week after that, Jim Putnam burst quickly into Dick's room, where he and Allen sat studying. "Golly, fellows," he shouted; "what do you think now? Dave's got it in for us, all right. He's entered Hopevale, and I'll bet a dollar it costs us the cup."
It was four o'clock on a bright, warm afternoon in early May. Mr. Fenton, walking briskly toward the athletic field, stopped for a moment at the entrance, to gaze at the scene before him. In the ball-field, beyond the grandstand, the nine was playing a practice game against the subs. The tennis courts were filled, and the track and field men were putting the finishing touches to their afternoon's work. Ned Brewster, captain of the track team, was standing by the side of the high-jump path, and Mr. Fenton, as he crossed the field, stopped for a moment to talk with him. "Well, Ned," he queried, "what are our prospects? Will we draw first blood in the track meet next week, or will Ellis' desertion cost us the games?"
Brewster hesitated. "I don't really know, sir," he said at last. "A week ago, I should have said that everything looked fine, but now I'm not so sure. You see, Greenough's injury makes a big difference. I think he would have been certain of the hundred, and would have taken second in the two twenty, besides, but pulling that tendon puts him out of everything. The doctor says he can't possibly go into the meet.
"And then there's Dick Randall--I was never more disappointed in a fellow in my life. A fortnight ago, he was coming fast--his friend McDonald was simply doing wonders with him. Why, one Saturday afternoon I went over there with Dick, and he was certainly in great form. I measured everything myself, or really I could hardly have believed it. He did five seven in the high, and he cleared the bar by an inch and a half at that. He did twenty feet ten and a half in the broad, on his first try, and McDonald told him not to jump any more-- that that was good enough. And then he took his six tries with the shot, and did thirty-eight three. McDonald told me that day that if he could bring Dick up a little in the hammer, and if he'd get a little faster at the hundred and the hurdles, that he'd give Ellis and Johnson the fight of their lives in the Pentathlon. And then, just when all he needed was a little improvement, instead of going ahead, he started to go back, and he's been growing steadily worse ever since. It doesn't seem to be his fault, you know; he feels more disappointed about it than any one. He never sports at all, and he's the most conscientious worker on the squad. But there's something wrong. He isn't nearly so good as he was two weeks ago. You just watch him now. The bar is only five feet four."
Mr. Fenton looked on attentively, as Randall prepared to jump. There seemed to be a nervous hesitancy about his style. He started twice on his run before he could seem to catch step correctly, and even then, he ran more slowly than usual, as if he lacked confidence in himself, and rose awkwardly at the bar, without much of his former spring. Yet even with these faults, the attempt was none the less a good one. His body was higher than the stick, and he seemed, indeed, just on the point of clearing it in safety; but the necessary momentum was lacking, and despite his efforts, he fell heavily on the bar, knocking it off for the third successive time. He walked dejectedly out of the pit, and stood gazing at the uprights with wrinkled brow, as if striving to figure out the reason for his failure. Mr. Fenton walked over to him. "That was a good try, Randall," he said cheerfully. "A little more speed, and you would have had it. How are you feeling these days? Pretty well?"
Dick paused a moment before answering. "Well, to tell the truth, sir," he said at last, "I don't know what's got into me lately. I was doing quite well, two weeks ago, but now I'm no good at all. My weight is all right, and I feel all right, but I don't seem to have any ginger about me. Why, a month back I should have laughed at five feet four; I should have called that just a practice jump; and now today I try my hardest, and miss it three times running. And I've gone back in the broad jump--I can't do twenty feet now--and I'm not up to standard with the shot, either. The hammer is the only thing I've improved with, and I was so bad with that I couldn't very well have grown worse. Taking everything together, I'm really doing about as badly as a fellow could; and I don't see what the trouble is. I never practised so hard; I never thought so much about my events; I'm really discouraged."
Mr. Fenton glanced him over critically, from head to foot. He seemed worried and anxious, and while he appeared to be well up in weight, and while his muscular development was better than ever, his color was none too good, and his face looked somewhat drawn. Mr. Fenton gave a little nod, like a doctor who diagnoses a patient's condition. "Well, you look pretty well," he said, "but of course you've been doing quite a lot of work. I should say, in the trainers' language, that you were a little 'fine.' Why don't you take a rest, a complete rest, from now until the day of the games?"
Dick shook his head, without intending it, a little impatiently. "Oh, I couldn't, Mr. Fenton," he answered. "There's so much to learn yet, if I go into the Pentathlon. There's a knack I'm trying to work out in the broad jump, and that confounded hammer does bother me so. I think and think about it, and finally I imagine I've got the idea, and then I go out the next day and practise, and find I'm worse than ever. Why, one night, I even dreamed about it. I thought I threw it two hundred and fifty feet, and broke the world's record. Oh, but it felt fine. I was taking three turns, and spinning around like a top, and when I let it go, it went sailing off as high as the roof of a house. So the next morning I tried to remember how I stood in my dream, and how I swung the hammer, and everything, and then I went out in the afternoon and tried to put it all into practice and what do you suppose? I fouled about a mile, and got all tangled up in my feet, and fell down, and pretty nearly broke my neck; so I've lost all faith in dreams."
Mr. Fenton smiled. "I don't blame you," he answered, then added, "How have you been sleeping this last week or two, Randall? As well as when you came here first?"
Dick hesitated; then a little unwillingly replied, "Why, I haven't been sleeping so awfully well. It seems to take me a long time to get to sleep, to start with, and then I usually have some crazy nightmare or other about athletics, and then I wake up with a jump about three or four in the morning, and can't get to sleep again. But I feel all right, just the same. I'm not sick, sir."
Mr. Fenton laughed. "No, you look fairly rugged to me," he answered; "but take a rest from now on, Randall. Don't do any more work to-night; go in and get your rub; and forget all about athletics for a while."
Dick nodded, picked up his sweater, and jogged off across the field. The master walked back to where Brewster was standing. "Well, Ned, there's no mystery about your Pentathlon man," he said, "it's as clear as day. He's going 'stale,' as the trainers say; he's been doing too much work. I don't mean too much for his health. That's all right, or the doctor would have notified me. But Randall's a fellow with nerves, in spite of his strength. And he's lost just enough energy, with all the work he's been doing, to take the edge off his speed and his spring. You must tell him to quit, right where he is; to lock up his spikes and his athletic clothes; and not to come near the track again until the day of the games. If he will do that, you will have him ready for the meet, in as good shape as he ever was in his life. I feel sure of it."
That evening Brewster went over the whole situation with Dick, and gave him his orders, to be carried out to the very letter. Dick promised to obey, and yet to keep from worrying was no easy task. The whole school could talk of nothing but the coming games. Every one was going around, with paper and pencil, figuring the final distribution of the points. There were twelve events altogether; first place counted five, second two, and third one; a total of ninety-six. School spirit ran high, and no one figured in any other way except to give Fenton the victory. Forty points was the favorite figure, and about thirty each for Hopevale and Clinton. It was an interesting, if rather unprofitable employment. And for Dick to keep out of the prevailing excitement was next to impossible, especially when his schoolmates would say, "We've got you figured for second in the high, Dick," or "Do you think you can get third in the broad?"
Again, the program of resting, and keeping away from the field, worried him more than anything else. Accustomed as he was to his daily exercise, his muscles, after the first day's lay-off, began to stiffen, and lacking the experience to know that this was something which would disappear with his rub-down, and his first trial jump in the competition, Dick fretted over it as if it had been some serious muscle strain. Yet somehow, the week went by, and the day of the games came at last.
It was a perfect afternoon, just pleasantly warm and still, with no wind to trouble the distance runners on either stretch. The games were scheduled for two o'clock. By one, the Clinton athletes had arrived; shortly afterward, the Hopevale team put in an appearance; and by half-past one the grandstand and the bleachers were filled, and the boys were beginning to limber up on the track. Dave Ellis, with the blue "H" of Hopevale on his chest, seemed in nowise embarrassed at thus revisiting his old quarters, but came out to practise with the rest, and put the shot well over thirty-eight feet in a preliminary try. Shortly afterward, Dick had his first glimpse of Johnson, the mainstay of the Clinton team. He was a good-looking, pleasant-faced boy, who went about his "warming-up" so quietly and unobtrusively that one would scarcely have selected him, at first, for an athlete of prominence. Yet Dick, watching the play of his long, smooth muscles, and noting how easily and springily he moved up and down the track, knew that he was looking at a first-class man.
Promptly, at five minutes before two, the clerk of the course came hurrying across the field. "All out for the hundred," he called, "hundred yards, last call. All out for the hundred." The games had begun at last.
Dick took his seat on the balcony of the dressing-room, and gazed out at the animated scene. All at once it occurred to him that if he were only a spectator, and not a contestant, he should be thoroughly enjoying the whole affair. It was an inspiriting sight; the level green of the field, the darker oval of the track, the grandstand, bright with color; and now, walking slowly over toward the start of the hundred, the six contestants, two from each team, each bound to do his utmost to score for his school. He could distinguish Steve Lindsay; the tall figure of Harris of Clinton, the favorite, conspicuous in his striped jersey of red and black; and the figures of the two Hopevale men, of whom little was known, with the light blue "H. A. A." on their shirts. There was the usual warming-up, a word or two of caution from the starter, and then his whistle blew loud and shrill. There came an answering wave of a handkerchief from the spot where the judges and timers stood grouped around the tape.
In the hush that followed, Dick could hear the starter's voice sound sharp and clear across the field. "On your marks!" The six figures crouched. "Get set!" They bent forward, tense, expectant. And then a puff of smoke from the starter's upraised pistol--"Bang!" and they were off, to a perfect start. Dick's hands clenched; his eyes strained to distinguish the entries from his school. For a moment the crowd was silent, and then, as the first thirty or forty yards were covered, and the runners began to separate and draw apart, there arose a tumult of shouts and cheers, above it all the cries from Fenton, "Lindsay! Lindsay! Lindsay!" It was true enough. Lindsay was ahead, a foot or two in front of Adams of Hopevale, with Harris several yards behind. At fifty yards it was the same--and at sixty--and then all at once Harris seemed to settle to his stride. He drew up on the leaders with a rush, at eighty yards was on even terms, and then, forging steadily ahead, crossed the line a safe winner, with Lindsay just beating out Adams for second place. In a moment, Dick could hear the scorer's stentorian tones echoing over the field. "Hundred yards dash--won by Harris of Clinton; Lindsay of Fenton, second; Adams of Hopevale, third; time, ten and two-fifths seconds." And then, on the big score board at the end of the field, the huge figures were hoisted that all might see.
5 2 1
With the cheers of the Clinton delegation still ringing out on the air, the runners came jogging back to the dressing-rooms, and the next event--the hundred and twenty yards high hurdles--was called. Already the men employed on the field were setting out the obstacles on the track. There were but four entries, for Barker and Jones, the Hopevale hurdlers, so far outclassed their field that Arnold of Clinton, and Taylor of Fenton had been entered with no hope of first or second, but merely to battle for the single point which would reward third place. Yet the race displayed the uncertainties of athletics in general, and of the high hurdles in particular; for while Barker, the winner of the previous year, took the lead at the start, and was never headed, Jones, his team-mate, loafing comfortably along in second place, got in too close at the sixth hurdle, struck it heavily, staggered a few steps, and plunged headlong into the seventh, bringing it down with him to the ground. After this disaster, there was no hope of a recovery, and Arnold took second place, and Taylor third, making unexpected and welcome additions to the winnings of their schools. The figures on the blackboard were shifted, and Clinton's lead was reduced, while the Fenton score looked somewhat small beside the other two.
7 3 6
So ran the totals, and even as Dick studied them, the clerk's cry sounded quick and sharp, "All out for the quarter; all out for the mile; all out for the pole vault, hammer throw, broad jump." Dick started. For the moment he had almost forgotten that he was to compete at all. Quickly coming to himself, he rose, picked up his spikes, and made his way down-stairs and across the field. Just ahead of him were Harry Allen, Jack Morrison and Jim Egan, the three Fenton entries in the quarter, and Brewster himself, rated as sure winner of the mile, came jogging up behind him, and fell into step by his side. "How's your courage, old man?" he asked.
"Oh, pretty fair," Dick answered, "we haven't made much of a start, though."
Brewster shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, never mind the hundred and the hurdles," he said, "we didn't count on much there, anyway. But we'll score big in the quarter, I think; and if I don't go to pieces in the mile, we might get something there, too. You tear down at that old take-off, now, Dick, and we'll rip those A's off your shirt for you to-night. You get us a point, anyway."
"I'll do my best," Dick replied, and an instant later he was answering to his name, with the half-dozen other contestants in the event. Stripping off his sweater, he took an easy practice jump, and as he did so, a great load seemed lifted from his mind. He knew that he had recovered his spring, and the excitement of the competition made him feel that he could beat anything he had done in practice. "I guess Mr. Fenton knew what was the matter with me, all right," he murmured to himself.
His name was the first called. He made his mark at exactly fifty feet from the take-off, laid the sleeve of his sweater at the edge of the path, and walked back another forty feet or so for his preliminary run. He tried to remember all the instructions that McDonald had given him, but in his excitement, he could think of little more than of hitting his mark correctly, and of getting a good lift into the air. "All ready," cried the scorer, "Randall, Fenton, first try."
Dick stood erect, drew a long breath, and then, with muscles tense and rigid, began his run. One--two--three--four--five--six-- seven--eight--came his preliminary strides, and he sensed, rather than knew, that he had brought the toe of his jumping shoe just even with the sweater's crimson sleeve. And then, for the last eight strides, he ran with every ounce of energy he possessed; bang, he hit the take-off fair and square, and landed far out in the pit, his knees thrown well in front of him. There was a ripple of applause from the grandstand, and he knew that the jump must at least have been a fair one. He stood waiting at the side of the pit, while the measurers did their work. Then the man at the farther end of the tape straightened up, announcing, "Twenty feet, six and one-quarter."
Dick jogged back, well satisfied. The distance was nearly as good as his best, and he felt confident of qualifying for the finals. Two or three of the other contestants jumped in the neighborhood of nineteen feet, and then Harding of Hopevale jumped twenty feet, three. No one else equalled Dick's mark until Johnson's name was called. The Clinton athlete stood waiting for the dirt to be raked over in the pit, and Dick found himself, half against his will, admiring the Pentathlon man's graceful, clean-cut build. He was an inch or two taller than Dick, not so broad-shouldered or so muscular, but with that indefinable stamp of the athlete, which for want of a better word, we characterize as "rangy." As he started for his jump, Dick watched him critically, noticing that he ran hard, with his knees lifted well into the air, and then, as Johnson struck the take-off, and leaped, he gave a little gasp of surprise. Here was form, indeed, beside which the efforts of the others appeared as nothing. This was no mere run from the board; it was a real jump. Johnson shot into the air, feet in front of him, sailing along like a cannon ball. Instantly, the grandstand burst into a shout of applause. From the Clinton section came a continued burst of organized cheering, and the announcer threw an extra impressiveness into his voice as he shouted, "Mr. Johnson jumps twenty-one, three and three-quarters."
Johnson came walking back, a smile on his face. Dick accosted him good-naturedly. "That was a dandy," he said. "You can have this event, I guess. You won't have to jump again."
Johnson took the other's speech in good part. "Oh, I don't know," he answered, sitting down at Dick's side and drawing his bath-robe around his knees. "You can't ever tell till the last man's had his last try." Then, after a little pause, he added, "Are you going to try the Pentathlon, Randall?"
Dick nodded. "I think so," he answered, "though I don't expect to do much against you and Ellis. Still, I guess I'll give it a try, anyway. There doesn't seem to be any one else to represent the school. But if I can't win," he added, "I tell you, right now, I hope you give Ellis the worst licking he ever had in his life."
Johnson nodded. "I know just how you fellows feel about Ellis," he said, "and I don't blame you a bit. A chap that will leave his school in the lurch like that can't have much of the right stuff in him. But I don't know about licking him. He's awfully good in the weights. And the Hopevale crowd say that since he came there he's improved a lot, too. I don't know whether it's so or not, but they claim he's beating forty feet with the shot, right along. And that he's throwing the hammer a hundred and sixty. But you can't tell. They may be trying to scare us, so we'll think it's no use to enter, even. Never can tell beforehand--that's my motto in athletics."
Dick nodded, and was about to answer, when the scorer called, "Randall, second try." Dick rose, and was making ready for his run, when the scorer waved him back. "No, don't jump, Mr. Randall," he cried. "Sit down again, please. Wait till they run the quarter mile."
Dick nodded, and complied. Every eye in the field was turned on the start of the quarter. The nine athletes stretched straight across the track. Dick saw that Morrison of his own school was on the pole; that Harry Allen was sixth in line, and that their third entry, Egan, was on the extreme outside. "Bang!" went the pistol, and the runners were off, in a mad burst for the lead to the first turn. There was little to be distinguished for a moment or two, and then, as they rounded and squared away for the back stretch, Dick's heart gave a great leap of excitement. Morrison had held his lead, Egan had cut clean across in front of the others, and was second; only Allen lay back, in seventh position, apparently "pocketed" and unable to extricate himself. Up the stretch they swung, in steady, rhythmical procession; from across the field one would have said that they scarcely moved; so greatly did the added distance deceive the eye. Once a Hopevale runner spurted and tried to pass the leaders, but they quickened their pace in turn, and he fell back into the ruck, beaten and exhausted. Dick could not take his eyes from Allen's figure. He hardly realized, until that moment, how much he cared for his friend; he felt as if he himself were running the race; under his breath he was muttering, "Go it, Harry! Go it, old man!"
Around the curve they swung, and squared away for home. A great shout came from the grandstand "Fenton, Fenton, Fenton!" and then "Morrison! Egan!" "Go it, Morrison! Go it, Egan!" again and again.
It was a Fenton victory; there was no doubt of that. The two runners were yards ahead of the field, and though both were tiring, they seemed certain of keeping their lead to the tape, well ahead of the rest. Dick felt a mixture of emotions. He was glad, first of all, of course, for the school, and yet, mingled with his joy, there was a tinge of sorrow for his friend. For he knew Allen's ambition had been to wind up his last year with a win, and he felt that after all the work he had done, it would be only a fair reward. Yet, barring the impossible, Allen was beaten. And then, while all these thoughts were flashing through his brain in a hundredth part of the time it takes to put the words on paper, the seemingly impossible did happen. All at once, as Dick sought for his friend's figure in the struggling ruck, he caught sight of him, running wide on the outside of the field, but cutting loose at last, with all the energy which he had held in reserve, while he had been forced to wait and hang back, pocketed, against his will. He did not merely pass the wearied runners from the other two schools; he flashed by them as if they had been standing still. It was a sight to bring a crowd to its feet, and to its feet it came.
Never for one instant did Allen's splendid stride relax. His eyes were half closed, his head was thrown a little to one side, his lips were drawn back from his teeth, but he ran like a race-horse, true, steady, and game to the core, putting out the last ounce in him in a finish such as Fenton Field had rarely seen. Twenty yards from the tape he passed his schoolmates, still locked shoulder to shoulder, and keeping still to his tremendous pace, swept by the post--a winner.
The whole Fenton section of the stand was in an uproar. First, second and third; a clean sweep--all eight points in the quarter--here was something to buoy up their hopes at last. Nor did this end their good fortune. A moment later the mile runners were started on their long four circuits of the track, and Ned Brewster justified all the predictions that had been made for him. He had the rest of the field outclassed, and saving himself for the half-mile which was to come later, made no effort at fast time, winning easily in four minutes and forty-eight seconds, with Sheldon of Clinton second, and Marshall of Hopevale third. The scorer at the bulletin board again shifted his big figures, and now they read:
9 16 7
Dick went back to his broad jump trials with a light heart. It seemed that the meet was as good as won. On his second trial he stepped over the take-off and made a foul jump, and on his third, in his anxiety not to repeat the mistake, he fell short of the board by almost a foot, and though the actual distance was greater than anything he had yet done, in measurement it amounted to but twenty feet and one-half an inch. Yet he qualified for the finals, for Harding of Hopevale was the only man who bettered his mark to any extent. On his second attempt he cleared twenty feet, eight inches; while Johnson, after his first good jump, waived his next two trials, watching the work of the others to see whether he need jump again, or could save himself for the high.
Dick had felt himself grow more limber with each successive jump, and now felt sure that if he could once catch the take-off correctly, he could improve his mark. On his first trial, in the finals, he accomplished what he wished, and knew, even while still in midair, that he had excelled his first performance. The measurer pulled the tape up carefully to the mark left by Dick's heels in the soft, well-rolled earth, and then announced, "Twenty-one one and a half." Dick grew suddenly elated. It was the best jump he had ever made. He was ahead of Harding; almost up to Johnson himself. For a moment he even dreamed that he might prove the winner, after all. But his triumph was short-lived. Johnson pulled off his sweater and took his second try, and this time, putting a trifle more speed into his run, cleared twenty-one, seven and a quarter. Dick failed to improve on his second and third tries, yet he seemed sure of second place until Harding's last jump. The Hopevale man put all his energies into his attempt, and even from where Dick stood he could tell that the jump was a good one. A moment later the announcer called, "Mr. Harding jumps twenty-one, five," and Dick was put back to third. Yet he had won a point for the school, and with it the right to wear his "F."
And now the clerk came running up with two sheets of paper in his hand. He gave them to the announcer, who forthwith called out, "Throwing the sixteen-pound hammer--won by Ellis of Hopevale--second, Merrihew of Hopevale--third, Robinson of Fenton. Distance, one hundred and fifty-eight feet, eleven inches."
There followed a storm of cheers from the Hopevale section, and the announcer, raising his hand for silence, continued, "Pole vault, won by Garfield of Fenton--second, Amory of Hopevale--third, Hollingsworth of Hopevale--height, ten feet, six inches." Applause from Fenton, and again from Hopevale, for the second and third had not been looked for. And now the score board showed:
14 23 19
Decidedly, matters were growing interesting. The next three track events were run off quickly, and without making much change in the relative positions of the schools. Brewster won the half for Fenton, in the good time of two, two and a quarter, with Cartwright of Hopevale second, and Donaldson of Clinton third. The two-twenty, as is so often the case, resulted exactly as the hundred had done, Harris of Clinton winning in twenty-two and four-fifths, with Lindsay of Fenton second, and Adams of Hopevale third. In the low hurdles Fenton was shut out altogether, while Hopevale was deprived of two points on which she had counted, for though Barker, who had been first in the high, repeated his victory in the longer race, and won handily in twenty-six and three-fifths, Jones' injured knee was too stiff to allow him to start, and Ballantyne and Salisbury of Clinton took second and third for their school. Thus but two events--the shot and the high jump--were left, and the score board showed:
23 30 27
The shot was called first, and Brewster, his eyes gleaming with excitement, came hurriedly up to Dick. "Do your best, old man," he whispered. "Every point is going to count now. If you could get second it would be great; even third would help a lot. This is going to be the closest meet we ever had."
Dick nodded, though feeling little confidence in his chances. Ellis and Merrihew, he considered, were practically sure of first and second; with Ross of Clinton he felt that he had a fighting chance for third. Every eye was turned on the shot ring, and the scorer called, "Ellis of Hopevale, first try."
Ellis, big and strong and brawny, stepped forward with perfect confidence, poised for a moment, and then leaped into his put. Even Dick, much as he disliked the performer, could not repress a thrill of admiration for the performance. It was a splendid try--clean, fast, with a fine follow--and all done so easily that Dick could scarcely credit his ears when the measurer gave his result to the announcer, and the latter shouted, "Mr. Ellis puts thirty-nine, four and a half."
Two other contestants made tries which fell five or six feet short of Ellis', and then Ross put thirty-seven, four. Directly after him Merrihew, big and ungainly, with brute strength enough to move a mountain, made a slow, awkward put of thirty-eight, two. Then Dick's name was called. Again Brewster whispered, "Do your best, old man," and Allen slapped him encouragingly on the back. "Remember not to try too hard, Dick," he said. Both meant their advice in the kindest possible way, but it was a mistake of inexperience. Dick, for the first time in his athletic career, in a really tight place, felt as if he were moving in a dream, and his schoolmates' words only served to increase his nervousness. He took his place in the ring. The shot seemed to have grown terribly heavy, and forgetting everything that McDonald had been drilling into him for the past weeks, he put blindly, and walked out of the circle, scarcely knowing whether he had done well or ill. There was an ominous silence, and then the scorer announced, "Mr. Randall puts thirty-two, ten and a half."
Dick felt himself flush. There was a sneer on Ellis' face. He spoke loudly enough for every one around the circle to hear. "That's the Pentathlon man from Fenton," he said to Merrihew. "He's all right, isn't he? He's a dandy."
With an effort Dick kept control of himself. And then the second round began. It resulted in a general improvement. Ellis put forty feet and one inch; Ross thirty-seven, eleven; Merrihew thirty-eight, nine. When it came Dick's turn he forced himself to imagine that he was practising alone in McDonald's field, with no crowd to trouble him. He put his whole mind on his form, and as a result, did better, getting in a try of thirty-six, seven. Yet he felt far from satisfied, and all at once it flashed upon him that he was doing the very thing which McDonald had told him, long ago, was his besetting fault, that he was stiffening up too soon in his effort, and not getting the powerful, sweeping drive which made Ellis' trials so successful.
The third round began. Ellis fell back a few inches, putting thirty-nine, ten and a half; Ross improved to thirty-eight, four; Merrihew put an even thirty-nine feet. "Thirty-eight four to beat," Dick kept thinking to himself. He had never done it in practice, but now, if ever, was the time. His name was called. He was perfectly cool by this time; he knew exactly what he wished to do; and poising easily at the back of the ring, he swung into his put, and finished through with every bit of strength he possessed. It was a better try than his others--he knew that, on the instant--but was it good enough for the point. The measurers seemed to take longer than usual over their task. Finally the announcer cried, "Thirty-eight, three and a half." Dick turned away, sick at heart. He had failed; the point was lost.
Brewster and Allen were at his side in an instant, cheering him as best they could. "That's all right, old man," Brewster cried; "don't you care. You beat your record. You can't do impossibilities. Don't you mind." But Dick refused to be comforted. "A half an inch," he kept repeating to himself, over and over again. "The least little bit more ginger; the least little bit better form; a half an inch; confound the luck!" and he sat gloomily watching the finals, which resulted as expected, Ellis first, Merrihew second, Ross third. And the score board showed:
24 30 34
The high jump alone remained. Brewster figured for a moment, and then came over to Dick. "I don't want to rattle you, old man," he said, "but there's just one chance in a hundred still. Hopevale hasn't a man that's any good in the high; Clinton's got Johnson and Robinson. If you could get a streak of jumping and beat Johnson, we'd win by a point."
Dick nodded. "I'll do everything that's in me, Ned," he said quietly, and Brewster felt satisfied with the reply.
The high jump was soon under way. At five feet, two, only Johnson, Robinson and Dick were left. At five four, Robinson failed, scoring a single point for Clinton. And then ensued a duel between Johnson and Dick. Dick was jumping in his old time form, with plenty of speed and spring, and all the stimulus of knowing that he might yet save the day. Both boys cleared five, five, and five, six, in safety. At five, seven, Johnson failed on his first trial, and the Fenton supporters felt a sudden gleam of hope. Dick made ready for his try, every muscle working in unison, every fiber in his body intent on clearing the bar in safety. He ran down easily, quickened his pace on his last three strides, and leaped. It was a splendid effort, save that he had taken off a trifle too far from the bar. He was almost over and then, in a last effort to work his body clear he lost his balance, just grazing the bar, and fell into the pit, landing with one leg under him. There was a moment's suspense; the bar hung undecidedly, springing up and down under the impact of Dick's body--and then, just as the Fenton crowd were getting ready to cheer, it gave one final shiver and dropped into the pit at Dick's side. The cheers were changed to a groan of disappointment, and then the silence grew almost painful as Dick did not rise. Brewster hurried over to him; Randall's face was white with pain. "Ankle, Ned," he said. "Give me a hand up, please."
A moment later the doctor was examining him. "No break," he announced at last, "and nothing really serious. But that ends it for to-day. Another wrench, and you can't tell what would happen. Sorry, but it's the fortune of war."
Dick protested vigorously. "I can get around on it," he cried, "let me jog up and down, Doctor, and then take one more try. I don't care what happens."
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "Don't be foolish, Dick," he said. "You couldn't jump three feet with that ankle. Don't walk on it, either, you must give it absolute rest."
Yet Dick insisted, and gamely tried to hobble back to the jumping path. The effort was vain. Things swam around him, and with a long sigh of disappointment he sank back on the ground. "All right, I'll quit," he said, and a moment later Johnson cleared the height, and the games were done.
30 32 34
It had been the closest meet in the history of the schools. Half an hour later, as Dick left the locker-room, leaning on Allen's shoulder, he heard Dave Ellis' voice, holding forth to a knot of admiring supporters from Hopevale.
"Turn his ankle? Not a bit of it," he was saying. "That's an old gag. He knew when he was licked. He's got no sand. He won't go into the Pentathlon now."
Dick shook off Allen's detaining hand and thrust open the door. "Sounds natural, Dave," he said, meeting Ellis' surprised glance with a rather grim smile, "but if it interests you to know it, he will go into the Pentathlon, and perhaps he'll make you hustle, too." He banged the door behind him and limped away, his hand on Allen's shoulder, down the stairs.
The track meet was over, and Hopevale had scored three points toward the cup. Another victory, either in the ball game or the boat race, and the competition would be ended. And this victory they were bent on winning, while the other two schools were equally determined to wipe out defeat, and to overcome their rival's lead, in the three contests which remained.
On the Saturday after the track games came the first round in the base-ball league. Luck was with Fenton; they had the good fortune to draw the bye, and the small party of boys who went to see the game between Clinton and Hopevale was composed largely of experts, anxious to "get a line" on the opposing teams, and to note the strong and weak points in their play.
Until the last two innings it was a close and interesting contest. Prescott, the Clinton pitcher, proved a puzzle to his opponents, but his support was none of the best; and thus, while the Clinton team hit the Hopevale pitcher freely, the home nine, on the other hand, put up a splendid fielding game, and for seven innings the score was a tie, five to five. And then, in the eighth, there came, for Hopevale, one of those unhappy times, when things go from bad to worse with the rapidity of lightning. A base hit, a base on balls, and a sacrifice put men on second and third, with only one out; and then a clean two-bagger between center and right scored them both. After which the Hopevale team, in the slang of the game, "went up into the air."
On the next play their short-stop, in an endeavor to catch the runner coming from second base, threw wild to third; another base on balls followed; and then, just at the psychological moment, Ferguson, the heavy hitter of the Clinton team, sent a screaming three-bagger far over the center-fielder's head. Altogether, by the time Hopevale had steadied again, and the inning had ended, they found the score eleven to five against them; and although they made one run in the eighth, and another in the ninth, that was all, and it was Clinton's game, eleven to seven. Supporters of both Fenton and Clinton breathed again. One of them would win, and the other lose, but Hopevale, their common enemy, had not yet secured the cup.
The succeeding Saturday was the banner day of the sports. Ten o'clock in the morning was the time set for the final ball game; and the boat race was scheduled for three in the afternoon. The ball game was played on the Clinton grounds, yet four carloads of spectators went down from Fenton to cheer for their nine, and filled a good-sized section of the grandstand with their crimson flags. Jim Putnam, with the rest of the crew, stayed at home, to store up the last final ounce of energy for the afternoon. Dick, Allen, Brewster and Lindsay sat together, watching the tall and ungainly Prescott going through his gyrations as he warmed up for the game. He appeared, as Allen remarked, to be a "tough proposition." His delivery was so deceptively easy that one scarcely realized the speed and power behind it, until the ball struck, with a vicious "thut," in the catcher's glove. And his curves looked as formidable as his speed. Brewster sighed as he watched him. "Now how are they going to hit a fellow like that?" he asked.
Allen, the optimistic, made haste to answer, "Oh, you can't tell," he said, "he may get tired before he gets through. And we've got a better fielding team than they have, I know. Besides, when you're talking about pitchers, Ed Nichols is no slouch. You can bet they won't knock him out of the box. Our show is as good as theirs."
As he spoke, the umpire consulted for a moment with Jarvis, the Fenton captain, and Crawford, the leader of the Clinton team. Then the coin spun upward into the air, and immediately the Clinton players scattered to their positions in the field, and the Fenton nine took their places on the visitors' bench. "There," said Brewster, "bad luck to start with. We've lost the toss."
There followed the tense hush which always precedes the beginning of a championship game. The umpire tossed out a new ball, which the elongated Prescott at once proceeded to deface by rubbing it around, with great thoroughness, in the dirt. Abbot, the Fenton short-stop, stepped to the plate, and the umpire gave the time-honored command, "Play ball!"
The redoubtable Prescott eyed the batsman for an instant with what seemed to the Fenton crowd a glare of hate, held the ball extended before him, then, in Allen's phrase, "tied himself up into a number of double bow-knots," and let fly. Abbot made no attempt to strike at the ball; it appeared to be traveling too high; yet just before it reached the plate it shot quickly downward, and the umpire called, "Strike--one."
At the second ball Abbot made a terrific lunge, but met only the air, and a moment later, as Stevens, the Clinton catcher, moved up behind the bat, a fast inshoot neatly cut the corner of the plate, and with the words, "Strike--three--striker out," Abbot walked dejectedly back to the bench.
Crosby, the second man up, had slightly better fortune, for, as Allen remarked, in an endeavor to keep up the courage of the others, "he had a nice little run for his money," hitting an easy grounder to second base, and being thrown out at first. Sam Eliot, the third man to face Prescott, followed Abbot's example, and struck out. The Fenton half of the inning ended in gloom.
Now came Clinton's turn at the bat. Bates, the first man up, had two strikes called on him, and then hit a clean, swift ball over second base, and reached first in safety. Crawford, the Clinton captain, bunted, advancing Bates to second. Then Nichols settled down to work, and Davenport, the third batsman, was retired on strikes. Two out, a man on second, and Ferguson, the much-dreaded heavy hitter, at the bat, Nichols and Jarvis held consultation, and as a result Ferguson was given his base on balls. It seemed good generalship, yet in the sequel, it proved unfortunate, for Gilbert, the next man up, made a tremendous drive far out into center field and never stopped running until he had reached third, while Bates and Ferguson crossed the plate. The Clinton section of the grandstand became delirious with enthusiasm, in the midst of which Manning, the sixth man at bat for the home team, hit weakly to Nichols, and was thrown out at first. Two to nothing. It looked like Clinton's day.
Nor did Fenton's chances seem brighter in the second. Again three men came to bat, and again they were retired, without one of them reaching first. Yet there was comfort in the latter half of the inning, for Nichols steadied down, and proved as much of a puzzle as Prescott himself. The Clinton men, in their turn, went out in one, two, three order, and the hopes of the Fenton supporters faintly revived.
Four more innings passed without another run being scored. It was a genuine pitchers' battle, man after man, on either side, striking out, hitting easy grounders to the infield, or popping up abortive flies. The beginning of the seventh, however, brought a change. Jarvis was the first man at bat for Fenton, and he started things auspiciously by making a pretty single, close along the third base foul line. It seemed like the time for taking chances, and on the next ball pitched, he started for second, and aided by a poor throw by Stevens, the Clinton catcher, made it in safety. Taylor, the next man at bat, struck a sharp, bounding grounder toward second base, and the Hopevale second-baseman ingloriously let it go through his legs. The Fenton crowd in the grandstand, long deprived of a chance to cheer, shouted themselves hoarse. A man on third, and one on first, and no one out. The chances for tying the score looked bright.
At this point, however, Prescott exerted all his skill. Warren, coached to hit the ball at any cost, tried his best, but in vain. One strike--one ball--two strikes--two balls--three strikes, and out. It was Clinton's turn to exult. Nichols, the weakest batsman on the Fenton team, was next in order, and to the surprise of friends and foes alike, he made as pretty a single over short-stop's head as one could have wished to see, scoring Jarvis and advancing Taylor to second. Then came Abbot's turn, and this time he had his revenge for two successive strike-outs by making a long drive between left and center, good for two bases, and bringing Taylor and Nichols home. Fenton was in the lead, and the grandstand became a mass of blazing crimson. Such a batting streak, however, was too good to last. Crosby hit a pop fly to Prescott, and Eliot struck out. Yet Fenton was well content. Three to two; and only two innings and a half to play.
Clinton's half of the seventh resulted in no score; and in the eighth both sides retired in order, Prescott and Nichols again on their mettle, and pitching as if their very lives depended on the outcome of the game. In the ninth Fenton made a splendid effort to increase their lead. With two out, and with men on second and third, Crosby hit a liner that looked good enough to score both men, and then Bates, the Clinton short-stop, pulled off the star play of the game, leaping high into the air, and getting his right hand on the ball just at the one possible moment--a clean, sensational catch that set the followers of both schools cheering, and stopped the Fenton scoring where it stood.
Then came the last of the ninth. The inning opened well for Fenton. Prescott hit a long fly to center field, which Irwin captured without difficulty. Bates bunted, and aided by his fleetness of foot, beat the ball to first. Crawford struck out. The game was almost won, and then came one of those sudden plays, that in a flash changes a defeat into a victory. Davenport swung on the first ball pitched, met it fair and square, with a crack that sounded like a rifle shot, and lifted it, as if on wings, clear over the left field fence. Red and black had its turn; flags waved; throats grew hoarse with cheering; Bates jogged home, and Davenport made the circuit of the bases at sprinting speed, while the crowd poured out on the field and bore him away on their shoulders in triumph. The game was ended--four to three--and Clinton was even with Hopevale for the cup. It was a silent procession of Fenton followers who walked down from the field, to take the train for home.
An hour later Dick entered Putnam's room, to find his classmate stretched, resting, on the bed. He looked up eagerly. "Well?" he queried.
Dick shook his head. "They licked us," he answered, "but there's no kick coming. It was a dandy game. I never want to see a better one. It looked as if we had it--" and he went over the whole story for Putnam's benefit, detailing every play, as it had occurred. "And so they licked us," he concluded, "and now, Jim, it seems to be most everlastingly up to you."
Putnam rose and began to pace up and down the room. "That's about the size of it," he answered, "and, thank goodness, we've got no hard luck stories to tell. We're in good shape--every one of us--and right on edge, too. If we're licked, it's because they've got better crews. But, by golly," he added, "they've got to go some, Dick. I don't care if I row the whole crew out, and we don't come to for a week, but we'll do our darndest, anyway. It's make or break, now."
Dick nodded. "Yes, it's win or nothing," he said; "but I'm glad of one thing. I guess Clinton's got a better crew than Hopevale, and if we can't win, then the cup goes to Clinton. And our old friend, Dave, can win all the Pentathlons he likes; it won't do him any good then. But we won't back down till we have to. You may lick 'em, after all."
Putnam squared his shoulders. "Dick," he said solemnly, "you watch us in the last half-mile, and if you can come to me afterward, and tell me that I didn't hit things up to the last notch, then you can hold my head under water till I drown. If I don't do my level best, and then some, I'm a Dutchman."
Dick laughed. "I'll watch you, all right," he answered, "but not to criticize; only to yell for all I'm worth, whether you're ahead or behind. We're with you, Jim, win or lose. The crowd of us have hired a launch, so if our moral support is going to help you any, on your way down the river, why you'll know you've got it."
The time before the race dragged away somehow, and shortly before three, the launch, with Allen, Brewster, Lindsay and Dick on board, came to a halt, with a dozen other craft, off the starting buoys, marking the beginning of the two-mile course. It was the perfection of racing weather, the water calm and smooth as a mirror, yet with the sky overcast, so as to temper the heat of the sun. One by one the crews came paddling out from the big boat-house on the shore. First came Hopevale, their blue-bladed oars dipping prettily together, and the blue cap on their coxswain's head making them easy to distinguish from the others. After them came Clinton, the winners of the previous year, a rangy, speedy-looking crew, their red and black jerseys looming up more prominently than the quieter colors of their rivals. And last of all, their own boat left the shore, Blagden at bow, Selfridge at two, "Big" Smith at three, and Putnam at stroke. Little "Skeeter" Brown, the eighty-pound coxswain, sat in the stern, megaphone strapped around his head, his big, long-visored crimson jockey cap pulled down about his ears.
The referee's launch tooted a warning blast. The three crews increased their speed a trifle, and one by one took up their positions, Hopevale on the outside, Clinton in the middle, Fenton nearest the boat-house shore. The coxswains gripped the starting-lines, the referee talked briefly to the three captains in turn, and then, backing his launch, made ready to give the signal for the start. It was a pretty sight: the rival crews, tense and ready, awaiting the word; the little fleet of pleasure craft which was to follow in their wake; on shore the eager enthusiasts who were to pursue them on bicycles or in motors along the bank. And Dick, as he gazed around him, could not but think of that other crowd, waiting so eagerly at the finish, two miles away, and turning the sober old river into a garden of variegated color, with the flags and ribbons of the different schools.
The referee's right arm was outlined in silhouette against the sky. A moment's silence and then the pistol cracked, the little wreath of smoke curled upward, and the twelve oars caught the water like one. A tooting of whistles, a medley of shouts and cheers; the race was on.
The boys stood well forward, as the bow of their launch cut through the water, their eyes fixed on the three crews, as they shot away down stream. Clinton had the lead, that was already evident. They had gained it in the first half-dozen strokes, and had increased it, first to a quarter length, then to a half, Hopevale and Fenton fighting, bow and bow, for second place. For a quarter-mile they kept the same positions, and then, all at once, Hopevale--the crew the boys had rated as the least dangerous--took a sudden spurt. Quickening their stroke perceptibly, they drew away from Fenton, then came even with Clinton, and finally were a clear length in the lead. "Look at 'em!" cried Lindsay. "I didn't know they could row like that. Look at 'em go!"
Allen eyed them critically. Their boat did not move as smoothly as the others; there was a perceptible roll from side to side; there was some splashing by bow and two; yet for all that, the crew was made up of big, strong oarsmen, and despite their evident lack of form, they drove their shell ahead at a tremendous pace. But Allen shook his head. "They won't last," he said. "They'll be rowed out at a mile."
Dick hastened to dissent. "I don't believe it, Harry," he replied. "A two-mile race isn't like a four-mile. I think they can hold that pace, and if they do, they'll win. Look at 'em 'dig. There! There goes Clinton after 'em! Why doesn't Jim hit 'er up, too? There! Now he's quickened. Oh, good boy, Jim! That's the stuff! Soak it to 'em!"
He was shouting as if he fancied Putnam could hear every word he said, unmindful of the fact that every one else around him was shouting as well. Hopevale had drawn away still more, and then, as a half-length of open water showed between them and Clinton, the Clinton crew had at last begun to quicken in their turn. Slowly they drew up on the leaders, and then, just as Dick had begun his yells of encouragement, for the first time Putnam had raised his stroke, and the three boats passed the mile-post with Hopevale a length ahead, and Clinton a half-length in front of the Fenton crew.
For another quarter-mile there was practically no change. Brewster began to worry. "Why doesn't Jim spurt?" he cried. "If Hopevale keeps it up, they win. It's only a quarter-mile to the turn."
Sure enough, they could see, ahead of them, the bend that marked the last half-mile of the course. Yet still Putnam did not quicken; in fact, he dropped back a trifle, and the boys' hearts sank like lead. Only Dick, remembering what Putnam had said to him that morning, kept repeating to himself, "The last half-mile; the last half-mile."
And now, into the swarm of boats along the banks, into the noise and din of the crowds, the three crews steered around the bend, and squared away for home. The race between Clinton and Hopevale was so close and pretty to watch that for a moment the boys had taken their eyes off their own crew; and then, suddenly, Dick began shouting like a maniac, "Oh, Jim, give it to 'em! That's the boy, Jim! Give it to 'em! That's the boy!"
With one accord the others turned, and the next moment were joining in Randall's frenzied cries. For the spurt had come at last. Putnam had cut loose with every ounce of power at his command; Big Smith at three was backing him gallantly, passing forward the heightened stroke, and Selfridge and Blagden were quickening like heroes in their turn. Nor were the boys in the launch the only ones to note the change. All the shouts of the crowd had been, "Hopevale! Clinton!" Yet now there came a roar from the banks, "Oh, well rowed! Well rowed, Fenton! Go in! Go in and win!"
Never did Randall forget that last half-mile. Gallantly the Hopevale boys stuck to their work, yet the smooth, persistent power of the Clinton boat was not to be denied, and a quarter-mile from home Hopevale was a beaten crew. And then, as they fell back, defeated, but game, all eyes were turned on the boys from Fenton. Never for an instant did Putnam falter; such a stroke as he was setting had not been seen on the river for many and many a year. And strive as Clinton would, they fell back, inch by inch, foot by foot, and the finish but two hundred yards away. Now the bows of the shells were even, now for an instant Clinton showed again in the lead, and then, with one final effort, the Fenton shell leaped forward again and again. A wild burst of whistles, shrieking horns, shouting hundreds on the shore, and by a quarter boat length, the Fenton crew had won.
Half an hour later, Putnam was riding home with his friends, tired, exhausted, but happy as a boy could be. "Well, old man," Dick said to him, "I'm not going to drown you. You did what you said you'd do. The last half-mile; that's where you fixed 'em."
Putnam nodded. "Thank goodness," he said, "for once I rowed just the race I meant to. I couldn't have beaten that time a second for a million dollars. And, golly, wasn't it close? I don't see how we did it. But we did. Three points apiece, and only the Pentathlon left. Dick, old man, the rest of us have done our darndest. And now it's your turn; it's up to you."
It was nearing sunset on Friday, the fourteenth of June; the Pentathlon was scheduled for ten o'clock on the following day. Dick Randall, dressed in his street clothes, but with his spiked shoes on his feet, stood, hammer in hand, listening to McDonald's final words of explanation and advice. McDonald's protťgť, Joe, the little French Canadian, lay stretched on the grass, near the edge of the field, looking on.
It was a bright, clear evening, and the sun, now almost level with the horizon, smote blindingly across the field. McDonald shifted his position to escape its glare. "Now then, Dick," he said, "just one more try, to be sure we've got it. That's all I'm going to let you take. We'll run no risk of damaging that ankle of yours again."
"Oh, the ankle's all right," Dick answered. "I honestly couldn't feel in better shape. And you don't know what a load it takes off my mind to have the hammer coming right at last. It makes me feel as if I really had something of a show."
McDonald nodded. "Of course, you have a show," he answered. "Now take your try, and remember the two things I've been telling you! Pull away from it, all the time, as if you were hauling tug-of-war on a rope; and don't start to turn too quick. But when you do start, spin fast, and the rest will come by itself. And if you don't throw within ten feet of Dave Ellis to-morrow, I'm a liar."
Dick took his stand within the circle, and made ready for his trial. After weeks of disappointment, there had finally come a day when the whole theory of the double turn had worked itself out satisfactorily in his brain, and had remained there, so that for the past fortnight he had kept his form, and had steadily increased the distance of his throws. Yet McDonald, although a great believer in light work before a competition, knew from experience how easily the knack with the hammer may be lost, and while he had made Dick stop his running and jumping, he had kept him at light practice with the weight, taking half a dozen throws a day, until his pupil had acquired a method that was almost mechanical in its certainty. Now he found little to criticize as Dick spun around quickly and smoothly, keeping well within the circle, and sending the missile far down the field. He nodded approval. "All right," he called, "that's enough. We'll stop right there. Let's put the tape on it."
While they were measuring, Joe, from his position near the fence, happened to glance into the woods beyond the field, and having looked once, he seemed to take no further interest in the hammer throwers, but lay still, and without appearing to do so, kept a watchful eye on the spot of light which had gleamed from the branches of the big oak tree on the border of the wood. The last rays of the sunset streamed gloriously across the field; in answer, flash after flash came sparkling from the oak; and then the sun dipped behind the hills, and the soft shadow of the twilight crept downward toward the town.
Dick and McDonald, talking earnestly together, started to leave the field. At the corner of the wood, Dick turned, gazing out at the darkening west. "Fine day to-morrow, I guess, all right," he said.
"Yes," McDonald assented, "it looks like it. And we're going to have you in shape to do a good performance, Dick. Wait till you've eaten the steak I've got for you. That's going to put the muscle on. It'll mean a foot in the hammer, I know."
Dick laughed. "Well, you were good to invite me to stay," he answered. "I told Mr. Fenton we had a few last things to talk over, and that I'd come back after supper. And he said that would be all right. Now, about that high jump--"
They walked on toward the cottage. As they passed the angle of the woods, Joe, who had been walking along behind them, hurried up to McDonald, spoke a few quick words to him in an undertone, and darted away among the trees. Dick looked after him in surprise. "What's struck the kid?" he asked.
McDonald shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know myself," he answered, "he takes queer notions sometimes. Something, he said, about a big bird in a tree. But he's all right. He's a smart youngster, and he knows the woods like a book. He'll be back by supper-time."
They walked on again, still discussing the all-absorbing topic of the morrow's meet. In the meantime, Joe's little figure was flitting onward through the woods, slipping silently from tree to tree, from time to time stopping to listen, until finally, ahead of him, he heard the murmur of voices. Dropping quickly on his hands and knees, he crept forward through the underbrush. Then, reaching the edge of a little clearing, he peered cautiously through the bushes, and saw before him the figures of two men, standing talking together in the fading light. One of them was slight and dark, and fashionably dressed, and as Joe saw the pair of field-glasses slung over his shoulder, his eyes gleamed, and he gave a quick little nod to himself, as if now sure of something which he had only suspected before. The other man was short, broad, powerful, his thick chest and long arms suggesting a strength far above the average. It was he who was speaking, and Joe strained his ears to listen to every word.
"I don't like it," he was saying; "the whole thing's too big a risk. You're safe, I guess, if you play it straight. Ellis is going to win."
"No, he isn't going to win," the dapper young man replied. "I've climbed that cursed tree every afternoon for the last week, and I know how far Randall's getting that hammer, and I tell you again that, barring accidents, he's going to lick Ellis on the show-down. It will be close, but Randall wins."
His companion grunted. "Humph," he said, "this Dave Ellis must be a beaut. He makes you lots of bother. First he loses two hundred to you at poker, and then he cries baby, and says he can't pay, and then he puts you on to this athletic business, to get square, and now at the last minute, when your money's on, it turns out you've backed the wrong man. Don't blame you for being a little worked up. That comes close to being what I should call a pretty raw deal."
"No," the younger man answered, "hardly that. Ellis meant all right. He thought he could win. He thinks now he can win. But he can't. I'm sure of it. Because, as long as I've got five hundred dollars on him, I've taken pains to find out how things stand. He can beat Johnson, all right, but he can't beat Randall. The men I got my money up with, were pretty wise guys--they had the tip from McDonald, I believe. Anyway, it's too late to hedge, and so--I wrote you. And, as I tell you, it's a hundred dollars in your pocket, and as easy as breaking sticks. So don't go back on me now."
The older man appeared to hesitate. "I don't like it much," he said again, then added, "When do you mean to pull it off?"
"Right away," answered the other. "I meant to do it later to-night, but now I find he's going to stop at McDonald's for supper, and then walk back. It's a straight road, and a lonely one. There's a patch of woods about half-way home. It's easy. We've got the team. And there's no harm done to any one. You're the gainer, and so am I, and so is young Dave. The whole thing's no more than a joke, except that it means five hundred dollars to me, and five hundred dollars is money, these times. So let's get going."
Still his companion hesitated. "Here's two things I want to know," he said at length; "first, where do I take him?"
"Smith's old barn," answered the other promptly; "pleasant and retired health resort. No bad neighbors. Quiet and peaceful. Keep him till about noon to-morrow, and then let him stray back any way you please. Oh, the thing's a cinch. I almost hate to do it. It's too easy. But, as I say, I need the money."
"Oh, yes, it's all a cinch," grumbled the older man, "where I do the work, and you do the heavy looking on. It's always easy for the fellow that's superintending. But now look here. Here's question number two. Suppose Randall doesn't show up to-morrow, at ten o'clock, what happens then? Won't they postpone the whole darn business? I'm not going to live in Smith's old barn for ever, you know. I'm not as strong for this rest-cure idea as you seem to think I am. I like some action for mine."
His companion smiled. "You don't seem to give me any credit for working out this scheme," he complained. "I thought of the chance of their postponing it, the first thing, so I asked a lot of innocent questions of Dave, and found out there wasn't any danger in that direction. They make a lot of fuss over this athletic business, you know, just as if it really amounted to something. And one of the 'points of honor,' as Dave calls 'em, is never to postpone. Kind of 'play or pay' idea. They've had a base-ball game in a rainstorm, and a foot-ball game in a blizzard, and once they tried to row a boat race in half a gale of wind, and swamped all three shells. Oh, no, if Randall isn't there, they'll go ahead without him; that's all there is to that. He can explain afterward, but it's going to sound so fishy, they'll think he's lying. It isn't bad, really, the whole plan. Hullo, what's that?"
At the edge of the clearing, a twig snapped sharply. Joe, in his eagerness to hear all that was being said, had crept nearer and nearer, and now the accident nearly betrayed him. Both men listened intently, and Joe hugged the ground, hardly daring to breathe. "Guess 'twasn't anything," said the older man, at last. "Don't believe these woods is very densely populated. Well, let's get out. We want to be in time," and a moment later Joe heard their footsteps growing fainter and fainter in the distance.
For an instant or two, he thought hard. He did not understand all that he had heard, but the main points in the scheme were clear enough to his mind. He must warn Dick at once, before it was too late. And rising to his feet, he started to run. Yet his very haste proved his undoing. It had grown dark. The woods, even by daylight, were hard to traverse; and now, in his hurry and excitement, he momentarily bore away too far to the right, and missed his way. Then, striving to make up for lost time, he became more and more confused; and finally, catching his foot in a clinging vine, at the top of a little ravine, he pitched forward, half fell, half rolled, down the slope, struck his head violently against some hard substance at the bottom, and lay still, his face upturned to the sky, over his forehead a little trickling stream of blood.
An hour later, Dick came out of McDonald's cottage. "Well, we've got everything straight now," he said, "and you'll be there tomorrow. Hopevale Oval, ten o'clock sharp."
McDonald nodded. "I'll be there," he answered, "and remember my words, Dick; you're going to win. Good night, and good luck."
He watched Randall's form vanish in the darkness; then turned his face toward the wood. "Oh, Joe," he called, "supper's ready," and then again, more loudly, "Oh, Joe," but no answer came back to him, and with a puzzled look on his face, he reŽntered the cottage.
Dick walked leisurely along through the gloom of the summer night. He felt happy, knowing that he was in the very pink of condition, and now that his chance to do something for the school had really come, he was determined to meet the crisis as gamely and as resolutely as his classmates on the crew had done. Far away, in the distance, the lights of the school shone out across the fields. He gave a sigh of anticipation, feeling alive in every nerve and muscle; fit to do battle for his very life.
Half-way home, he entered the patch of woods which bordered the road, for some little distance, on either hand. And then suddenly he gave a start of surprise, for midway through the thicket, a dark figure loomed up ahead of him, advancing through the gloom. In spite of himself, Dick felt a thrill of uneasiness, but the stranger hailed him cordially enough. "Beg pardon," he said, "but have you a match about you? My pipe's gone out."
Dick moved to one side, to let the man pass, his muscles on the alert to make a dash for liberty, if the need should come. "Sorry," he answered, "I don't carry 'em--"
He got no further. Suddenly, even as he became conscious that the man was still advancing, a brawny arm was thrown about his neck from behind; his head was jerked violently backward; he choked and gasped for breath; and then, before he could struggle or utter a cry, he was gagged, bound, and lying helpless as a log, was borne swiftly away down the road.
The following morning, at seven o'clock, Mr. Fenton heard a hurried knock at his study door. "Come in," he called, and Harry Allen hastily entered, his face pale. "Mr. Fenton," he said, "here's trouble. I just went into Dick Randall's room, and he's not there. His bed hasn't been slept in. What do you suppose can have happened to him?"
Mr. Fenton looked at him in surprise. "I can't imagine, Harry," he replied. "He told me, yesterday, he would take supper with McDonald, and come home shortly afterward. He might have stayed there overnight, I suppose. Still, that's not like Randall. He would have telephoned me from the village, I think. It seems curious, doesn't it? I'll send to McDonald's at once, and we'll see. Will you ask Peter to slip the mare into the buggy, please; and you go with him, Harry, and show him the way? I don't doubt you'll find Dick there."
It was an hour later when Allen reŽntered the room, the lack of good news showing in his face. "He wasn't there," he cried, "and what's stranger still, McDonald wasn't there either, or the boy. What can it mean, Mr. Fenton? You don't suppose McDonald--"
Mr. Fenton finished the sentence for him. "Would have caused Dick to vanish?" he said. "I don't know, Harry. Your guess is as good as mine. Probably it's some very simple circumstance which we're not bright enough to see. But I confess I'm puzzled. I shall go down to the village directly after breakfast, and see what I can discover there. But I've no doubt everything's all right. McDonald and Dick must be together, wherever they are."
Allen paused, with his hand on the knob of the door. "Shall I tell the fellows, sir?" he asked.
Mr. Fenton deliberated. "I think not," he said at last. "We don't wish a tempest in a teapot. You know what the newspapers are, these days. No, I think you'd better say nothing, for the present. Perhaps Dick will turn up at Hopevale, if he doesn't come back here before then. No, I think, on the whole, I wouldn't alarm the boys," and Allen, nodding, left the room.
At the selfsame hour that this conversation was taking place at the school, Dick Randall sat moodily in a chair, in what had been the harness-room of Jim Smith's big barn, now long disused, and falling to decay. The gag had been taken from his mouth, but his arms and legs were still bound. Opposite him sat his captor, the brawny thick-set man whom Joe had seen in the woods on the previous night. He had coaxed a fire into an unwilling start in the old, rusty stove, and was laboring hard to produce a dish of coffee in an old tin dipper. A couple of sandwiches lay on the floor beside him. Finally, with the fire going to his satisfaction, he turned to Dick. "Well, now," he observed, "I call this doing pretty well. Real nice and sociable like. Two regular old pals, we're getting to be. You've promised not to holler, which is sensible, because no one would hear you if you did, so you've got your jaws free to eat; and if you'd only promise not to try to get away, I'd untie them arms of yours, and you'd be as fine as a fiddle. Come now, give me your word, and I'll cut that rope in a minute. That shows what a trust I've got in you."
Dick made no answer. His face was drawn and anxious, there were dark circles under his eyes; he was thinking desperately, as he had thought all through the long summer night. Some means of escape he must find--and yet--how was it possible? And then, even as he recklessly considered the giving and breaking of his word, and the chance of a struggle with his jailer, the man pulled his watch from his pocket, and yawned.
"Ten minutes past eight," he said. "Just a little longer, and them games will be going on, over at Hopevale. Too bad you can't see 'em; I guess they'll be a fine sight. They tell me this Dave Ellis is a likely man at all such things as that. I suppose most likely he'll beat."
Dick did not deign a reply. In their long, solitary sojourn together, he had become accustomed to his captor's ideas of humor. So that now, he did not even permit his eyes to meet those of his tormentor, but gazed steadily past him, toward the door of the carriage house. "Ten minutes past eight," he reflected; "it is too late--nothing could help me now."
And then, like lightning from a clear sky, came the climax to all this startling series of events. For even as he looked, slowly and cautiously he beheld the door of the harness-room slide back, and the next instant there appeared in the doorway the figure of Duncan McDonald, a revolver in his outstretched hand.
The look of amazement in Dick's eyes must have warned his jailer, for he wheeled sharply, to find himself looking into the muzzle of McDonald's pistol. Then came the quick command, "Hands up, lively," and as he reluctantly obeyed, McDonald called sharply, "All right, Joe. Come on. Go through his pockets, now."
Dick started with surprise and pity, as the little French Canadian limped forward into the room. His face was deathly pale, and streaked and matted with blood. Yet he went resolutely at his task, and a moment later drew out from the man's pocket a big revolver, and handed it to McDonald. The latter smiled grimly. "Now cut Dick loose," he directed, and Joe quickly obeyed. With a long sigh of relief, Randall managed to struggle to his feet, walking haltingly around till the thickened blood began once more to stir into life. McDonald motioned to the door. "Hurry, Dick," he said, "Joe will show you. Down the path. I've got a team. And food, and a set of my running things. Hurry, now. I'll be with you in a minute. I'm going to keep a watch on your friend here, till you give a yell to show you're ready to start."
Fifteen minutes later they had left the woods and were speeding down the road toward Hopevale. Dick's face was transfigured. With every turn of the wheels, he was coming back to himself. A chance was left him after all.
"How did it all happen, Duncan?" he asked, and hurriedly and disjointedly McDonald told him the tale.
"Joe saw something shining up in a tree, last night," he said; "thought it was queer. Went to investigate. Man had been up there, watching us with a field-glass. Joe stumbled on him, talking with another fellow--this chap that had you tied up there in the barn. Joe can't tell me the whole thing, but I gather they had something in for you, about the Pentathlon. I guess they wanted Ellis to win. So Joe heard 'em say they were going to get you, and carry you off to Smith's old barn. He started home to put us wise, and as bad luck would have it, he pitched down a gully, and cracked his head open. I went looking for him about ten o'clock, and I was in the woods all night. Never found him till five this morning. He'd come to, poor little rascal, and was trying to crawl home, but he was so weak he could hardly stir. But he got out his story, and you can bet I did some quick thinking.
"First, I was going up to town, to telephone the school, and see if you were all right. And then I thought, if I did that, it might waste too much time, and if things had gone wrong, I might be too late, after all. So I went back to the house, got together my running things and the grub you've just been eating, and then hustled off to my nearest neighbor's, and did a little burglar act. This is his favorite colt we're driving; I knew this fellow could eat up a dozen miles in jig time, and so--I took him. The old man had gone up to town with a load of garden truck. His wife tried to stop me taking the horse, but I brandished my revolver at her, and she ran. I suppose she thought I was crazy, And then Joe piloted me to the barn--I'd never have found it by myself in a hundred years--so here we are." He pulled out his watch. "Ten minutes of nine, and ten miles to go. We're all right on time. But you must feel pretty stiff, Dick; I don't know whether you can do yourself justice or not."
Dick stretched himself. "Oh, I'm limbering up a little," he answered, "I think a good rub will help a lot. And I don't feel tired. The excitement, I suppose. I guess I'll last through, all right. But oh, I'm grateful to you and Joe, Duncan; thank Heaven, you came when you did. If I'd missed the Pentathlon, I'd never have got over it in the world."
McDonald smiled, the smile of a man looking back over his own boyhood. "We get over a lot of things, Dick, in a lifetime," he answered, "but I know just how you feel. I guess Joe did all he could to square up with you for helping him, and I'm mighty glad we got there in time."
Doctor Merrifield, the elderly, gray-haired principal of Hopevale, turned with a smile of satisfaction to his guest. "A record day, Mr. Graham," he said, "and a record crowd. I think we may mutually congratulate ourselves."
The head master of Clinton nodded in reply. "Indeed we may, Doctor," he answered. "Of course the fact that it's graduation week: has something to do with it, but even then, I have never seen a gathering like this, in the history of the schools."
There was good reason for their words. Mid-June had made its most graceful bow to the world. A warm sun shone down over Hopevale Oval; a cool breeze blew pleasantly across the field. The track itself had never looked so well. It had been rolled, scraped, re-rolled once more; the whitewashed lines had been neatly marked at start and finish; the lanes for the hundred freshly staked out. Altogether, the track keeper had done his work to perfection, and a man beaten in the Pentathlon, whatever other reason he might have given for his defeat, could scarcely have complained of the conditions under which he was competing.
Equally good were the arrangements on the field. The high-jump path was hard and smooth as a floor; a new cross bar was stretched across the standards; a dozen extra ones lay ready at hand, in case of accident to the one in use. The ring for the shot put was in first-class shape; two shots, one iron, one lead, lay close by. Three or four hammer rings were clearly marked on the smooth, closely-cropped green turf. The most critical old-timer who ever wore a shoe could not have found fault with the preparations for the meet.
And many a man, indeed, who had been famous in his day, sat in the rows of seats which surrounded the Oval, eager to see the final contest for the cup, whose possession meant so much to the school victorious in this hard and well-fought fight. Fathers, uncles, elder brothers, small boys looking forward to the day when they, in turn, would take their places in the family procession, and come to Clinton, Fenton or Hopevale, as the case might be; all were present in the stands. Nor was it, by any means, a gathering of men and boys alone. Mothers, aunts, sisters, most of whom knew little of athletics, and had but the haziest idea of all that was going forward, lent, none the less, a charm of bright dresses and brighter faces, to the scene. And though the games were held at Hopevale, it was no mere local crowd of spectators which had assembled to watch them. The colors of the home school were naturally enough in the ascendant, but train after train had brought its cheering followers of the two rival academies, and the red and black of Clinton, and the crimson of Fenton, vied with the Hopevale blue.
Doctor Merrifield looked across the track. "Here comes our friend Fenton," he observed, "and evidently in a hurry, too."
Mr. Fenton walked rapidly up to them, his face puzzled and anxious. "Good morning, gentlemen," he said. "I find myself involved in a most unaccountable mystery. I don't suppose either of you has heard any word of Randall, our entry in the Pentathlon?"
Both of his colleagues gazed at him in astonishment. "Are you serious?" said Mr. Graham, while the doctor said, "You don't mean to tell us he isn't here. Why, it only lacks five minutes to ten."
Mr. Fenton sighed. "I can't understand it," he said, "and I can't help being a little bit worried. I've notified the authorities, but haven't heard a single word of him since yesterday afternoon. It's a most extraordinary thing. And apart from my anxiety for Randall, it seems hard to say good-by to our chances for the cup. However, the fortunes of war--"
Mr. Graham interrupted him. "Why, we don't want anything like that to happen," he said, "we'll waive our rule, I'm sure. Won't we, Doctor? We can postpone the meet for a time."
Mr. Fenton made an eloquent gesture toward the crowded stands. "I couldn't ask it," he said decidedly. "You're very kind to suggest it, Graham, and I appreciate it. But if the positions were reversed, I shouldn't expect you to ask the favor of me. It would never do to interrupt the order of exercises, and disappoint a gathering of this size. It would be a reflection, it seems to me, on our ability to conduct our schools. No, I thank you, but, as I said before, it's the fortune of war. Your boys must fight it out between themselves. I suppose some day this will all be explained--"
An outburst of Hopevale cheers broke in on him. Dave Ellis, looking in the very top-notch of condition, was walking leisurely across the field. A moment later, Johnson's lithe figure emerged from the dressing-room, and Clinton applauded in their turn. And then, even as they stood listening to the tumult, they were aware of a growing confusion at the entrance to the field, out of which presently emerged two rather disheveled looking figures, making toward the locker building at a hurried pace. At the same instant broke forth a roar from the Fenton section, "Randall, Randall, Randall!" and Mr. Fenton, taking an abrupt leave of his associates, started across the field, as fast as his legs could carry him. "Thank Heaven," he muttered to himself, "nothing serious has happened to him. But what can the trouble have been?"
He found Randall hastily dressing. Dick looked up at him with what was meant for a smile. "Can't explain now, Mr. Fenton," he said hurriedly. "It wasn't my fault. I'm lucky to be here. If it hadn't been for McDonald and Joe, I shouldn't be. But I'll tell you the whole story later. I've got just time for my rub-down now."
For five minutes, McDonald's skilful hands worked over the stiffened muscles, and as Dick jogged across to the start, he felt that his speed and spring were in some measure returning. Yet the hundred yards was disappointing. Johnson ran first, and moved down the track like a race-horse, traveling in first-class form, and making the distance in ten and three-fifths. Ellis ran second, and did eleven flat. Dick, a little unnerved by all he had been through, made a false start--something most unusual for him--and was set back a yard. Then, in his anxiety not to commit the same fault a second time, he got away poorly, and finished in the slowest time of the three--eleven and one-fifth. It was excellent scoring, for a start, and Johnson was credited with eighty-three points, Ellis with seventy-five and Dick with seventy-one.
With the shot put, the lead changed. Johnson, considering his lighter weight, performed splendidly, making an even thirty-six feet. Dick found that his stiffness did not bother him nearly so much as it had done in the dash, and made his best put of the year, thirty-eight, nine. But Ellis surpassed himself, and on his last attempt, broke the league record, with a drive of forty-one, two. His seventy-two points loomed large, by the side of Dick's sixty and Johnson's forty-seven, and the score-board showed:
|Ellis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Randall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Johnson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Next, the high jump was called, and all three boys kept up the same good work. There was small reason, indeed, why they should not have been at their best. School spirit was rampant; it was to watch them that these cheering hundreds had crowded the field; every successful jump, from the lowest height of all, was applauded to the echo. Ellis, as was expected, was the first to fail, but he managed to clear five feet, two, and added fifty-four points to his score. Dick, a little handicapped by the strain of the preceding night, could feel that his muscles were not quite at their best, yet his long period of careful training had put him in good shape, and helped out by the excitement of the competition, he finally cleared five feet, eight. Johnson did an inch better, and only just displaced the bar at five feet, ten, scoring seventy-seven points to Dick's seventy-four. The three competitors were now practically tied, and volley after volley of cheers rang out across the field from every section of the crowd.
|Johnson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Randall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Ellis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The record was going to be broken, not by one man alone, but by all three. So much was evident, and the crowd awaited the hurdle race with the most eager expectancy. Dick ran first, and finished in seventeen and two-fifths; Ellis, his heavy build telling against him, in spite of his efforts, could do no better than eighteen, two, and then Johnson electrified the crowd by coming through, true and strong, in sixteen, four. His eighty-four points put him well in the lead, while Randall's seventy-three gave him a clear gain over Ellis, who, with fifty-eight, now brought up the rear.
|Johnson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Randall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Ellis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And yet, in spite of the score, Hopevale was jubilant. For the one remaining event was the hammer throw, where Ellis was supreme, and here they expected to see their champion wipe out his opponents' lead, and finish a winner, with plenty to spare.
Each contestant was allowed three throws, and on the first round it seemed as though the predictions of the home man's admirers were coming true. Johnson threw one hundred and twenty-two feet and seven inches; and then Ellis, taking his stand confidently inside the circle, made a beautiful effort of one hundred and fifty-nine feet. McDonald figured hastily in his score book, and came up to Randall. "Don't be scared, Dick," he said, "one hundred and forty-five feet, and you'll still be ahead of him. And that's only a practice throw for you now."
Dick nodded. And yet, although he kept his own counsel, he knew only too well that the worry and anxiety of his long night's captivity were at last beginning to make themselves felt. His head felt heavy; his legs weak; he doubted whether he could make the hundred and forty-five. And then, taking his turn, his worst fears were realized. He made a fair throw, indeed, staying well inside the circle, but there was little dash behind it, and when the scorer announced, "One hundred and thirty-eight eleven," Dick knew that Ellis was in the lead.
In the midst of the Hopevale cheering, Johnson took his second throw, and improved on his first trial by a couple of feet. McDonald shook his head. "He's out of it," he said. "A great little man, too, but not heavy enough for all-round work. It's you or Ellis, now, Dick. Johnson won't bother either of you for first."
Dick nodded. Ellis made ready for his second throw with the greatest care. There was little to criticize in his form. And backed by his great strength, the hammer seemed scarcely more than a toy in his hands. As the missile went hurtling through the air, the cheers redoubled. Even from the spectators' seats it was easy to see that he had bettered his previous try, and soon the scorer shouted, "One hundred and sixty-five feet, one inch."
McDonald whistled. "He's a good man with the weights," he admitted with reluctance; then figured again. "Dick," he said, "you'll have to get in one good one. You've got to fetch a hundred and fifty feet, if you're going to win. Don't stiffen up now. Keep cool, and think it's only practice. You've done it for me. You can do it now."
Dick walked forward, and picked up the hammer for his second try. Out from the grandstand came the Fenton cheer, and then, at the end, his name "Randall, Randall, Randall!" thrice repeated. Where other stimulants would have failed, this one was successful. Dick felt his muscles grow tense as steel. He thought of Putnam, and the race on the river. "Be game," he whispered to himself, under his breath, and stepped forward into the ring, his brain clear, his nerves under control. Once, twice, thrice, he swung the hammer around, his head, and then, with splendid speed, turned and let it go. Clearly, he had improved on his former throw. The measurers pulled the tape tight, and then the announcer called, "One hundred and forty-nine, three."
McDonald calculated hurriedly; then gave a little exclamation of astonishment. "A tie," he cried; "that puts you just even, and one more throw apiece. Three hundred and forty-seven points each. A tie; that's what it is."
Near Ellis' side stood a slender, dark young man, who had watched Dick's appearance on the field with an expression of utter amazement. Although the day was warm, he had worn, all through the games, a long, loose coat, of fashionable cut, and now he crowded closer to Ellis' side. "Pick it up, when I drop it, Dave," he whispered. "It's your only show. You can't beat one hundred and sixty-five without it."
A moment later he walked away. And Ellis, stooping, put his hand on a hammer apparently identical with the two which had been so carefully weighed and measured before the games had begun. He held it uncertainly, as if not overjoyed at his burden. Once he turned, and looked imploringly at the man who had spoken to him. The man frowned back at him savagely, and Ellis sighed, as if persuaded against his will.
And now Johnson made his last throw. He tried desperately, and improved his record to one hundred and thirty feet. But his chance was gone, and he knew it, taking his defeat gamely enough, with a smile and shrug of his shoulders. He had done his best; it was not good enough; that was all.
"Ellis; last try," called the clerk of the course. Ellis walked quickly forward, and got into position. Dick, watching him, seemed to see a new power and skill in the way in which his rival swung, and when he delivered the weight, Dick felt his heart sink like lead. Out, out, it sailed, as though it would never stop. Hopevale was cheering itself hoarse. It looked like a record throw. And finally the announcer, scarlet with excitement, cried, in the midst of the hush that followed his first words, "Mr. Ellis throws one hundred and seventy-three feet, eight and a quarter inches, a new record for the league."
Dick turned to McDonald, but McDonald was no longer at his side. He was striding away down the field. The man who brought in the hammer, after each throw, was just starting back with it, when a slight, dapper fellow accosted him. "I'll carry that in for you," he said pleasantly, "I'm going that way," and the man, thanking him, gladly enough relinquished his burden.
Face to face came the kind-hearted stranger and Duncan McDonald. McDonald reached out his hand. "I'll thank you for a look at that weapon," he said grimly.
The stranger looked at him blankly. "What do you mean?" he asked.
McDonald grasped the wire handle. "Just exactly what I say," he rejoined. "You're a wise guy, Alec, but you're up against it this time. Hand over now; I haven't forgotten old times."
The young man forced a smile, and then, as McDonald wrenched the hammer from his grasp, he turned and made off across the field, swearing fluently under his breath.
McDonald hurried back to where the judges were standing, arriving just as Dick was making ready for his last try. "One minute, gentlemen," he called; "I wish to protest Mr. Ellis' throw, and the hammer it was made with. I don't believe the hammer is full weight."
The chief judge looked indignant. "Mr. McDonald," he said, "this is most unusual. The hammers were carefully weighed before the competition began. And were found correct. In fact, both of them were a trifle overweight."
"But you didn't weigh this one," McDonald insisted. "This one has been rung in on you. I must ask you to weigh it, please."
Somewhat grudgingly, the judge complied; then started in astonishment. He was a partisan of Hopevale, but he was an honest man, and he knew his duty. "Mr. Announcer," he said quickly; "say at once, please, that there was a mistake in Mr. Ellis' last throw; that an accident to the hammer will necessitate giving him another trial." Then, turning to the officials, he added, "This is exceedingly unfortunate, gentlemen; this hammer weighs but ten pounds and three-quarters. Does any one know how it got here?"
No one answered, and Ellis stepped forward to take his last throw, this time with a hammer of correct weight. His face was troubled; his former confidence seemed lacking, and his try fell well short of one hundred and sixty feet. And then Dick came forward in his turn. The controversy over the light hammer had given him just the rest he needed; he made ready for his throw with the utmost coolness, and got away a high, clean try, that looked good all the way. There was the beginning of a cheer and then a hush, as the announcer called, "One hundred and fifty-two, five."
The cheering began again, yet the result was so close that every one waited breathlessly for the official posting of the score. A moment's delay, and then up it went.
|Randall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Ellis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
|Johnson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And then came the avalanche of wildly cheering spectators. Putnam, Allen, Brewster and Lindsay were first at Dick's side, and it was on their shoulders that he was borne across the field, a little overcome, now that the strain was over, with everything appearing a trifle dream-like and unreal, yet with three thoughts mingling delightfully in his mind: that he had won, won in spite of obstacles, fair and clean; that the Pentathlon shield was his, and best and most glorious of all, that the challenge cup would come to Fenton--to stay.
Thus, through the shouting and the cheering, he was carried along in triumph, and in the midst of it all, one other thought still came to him--the best thought, perhaps, that can ever come to a boy's mind. Hopevale Oval had vanished, and in spirit he was a thousand miles away. "I wonder," he said to himself, with a sudden thrill of happiness, "I wonder what they'll say at home."