A half million enthusiastic followers of the Merriwell brothers will attest the unfailing interest and wholesomeness of these adventures of two lads of high ideals, who play fair with themselves, as well as with the rest of the world.
These stories are rich in fun and thrills in all branches of sports and athletics. They are extremely high in moral tone, and cannot fail to be of immense benefit to every boy who reads them.
They have the splendid quality of firing a boy’s ambition to become a good athlete, in order that he may develop into a strong, vigorous, right-thinking man.
Dick Merriwell’s Fighting Chance
THE SPLIT IN THE VARSITY
A GATHERING IN DURFEE.
The comfortable sitting room in Durfee Hall, occupied by Dick Merriwell and his Texas chum, Brad Buckhart, was filled to overflowing. Sprawling among the cushions of the divan was Rudolph Rose, handsome, high-spirited, and rather quick-tempered, but happy in the knowledge that he had at last conquered the latter failing and thereby won a place in Merriwell’s friendship.
Close beside him was Terry Baxter, quiet, almost too serious, but with a keen sense of humor which showed in the appreciative gleam in his brown eyes and the occasional terse, pithy remarks which he uttered in a solemn manner, but which invariably sent the others into an uproar.
Eric Fitzgerald, slim, slight, and curly haired, dangled his legs from one end of the table. He was so full of vim and life and go that he reminded one of a particle of quicksilver, forever on the move; and on the rare occasions when he did settle down for a moment, he usually perched himself somewhere in a temporary manner, as if he were only pausing for an instant before making another flight.
Samp Elwell, the Hoosier, whose dry wit was a source of never-ending delight to his friends, occupied the piano stool. Across the room sat his chum, Lance Fair, who was not nearly so unsophisticated as his smooth, rosy cheeks and almost girlish manner would lead one to imagine.
Buckhart was hunched down on the back of his neck in one of the big easy-chairs near the table, while Merriwell himself was tilted back against the wall in the desk chair, his dark eyes sparkling with mirth and a smile curving the corners of his sensitive mouth.
“You fellows ought to have been in Pierson’s classroom this morning,” he remarked. “After the lecture he started in to quiz us, and happened to spy Hollister gazing dreamily out of the window. I suppose Bob was thinking out some new football stunt. Anyway, he was miles away from Roman history, and Pierson caught him.
“‘Mr. Hollister,’ he said, in that short, snappy way he has, ‘can you mention one memorable date in Roman history?’
“Bob came out of his trance with a jump and snapped back without thinking, ‘Anthony’s with Cleopatra, sir.’ It brought down the house.”
There was a shout of delighted laughter, and when it had died down Samp Elwell looked up, grinning.
“He did,” chimed in Fitzgerald from the table. “Piercy was mad as thunder. It isn’t the first time Bob’s flunked by a long shot, either. He’s been awful punky this term.”
“I’d like to have seen old Pierson’s face,” he chuckled. “I reckon Bob drew a goose egg for that.”
“Too much football, I opine,” growled the Texan. “He can’t get his mind off the game long enough to feed his face, let alone keep track of lectures. He’s plumb locoed about it. You hear me gently warble!”
“Oh, say,” Elwell spoke up suddenly; “how about that new stunt of old Bill’s. That forward——”
The Texan straightened up like a flash, and, grabbing a book from the table, shied it with swiftness and remarkable accuracy at the Hoosier’s head. Elwell ducked, and the book struck the piano, falling to the keyboard with a discordant crash.
“What in time——” began the indignant sophomore, straightening up again.
“You don’t seem to recollect what I tried to drill into that solid ivory skull of yours a brief time back,” Buckhart drawled with perfect composure. “Talking shop has got to be cut out around this bunk house. I’m plumb sick of hearing about football. For six weeks I’ve heard nothing else, and now that Tempest is back on the job I’m going to take a rest.”
“Great Scott, Brad!” Rose exclaimed aghast. “You’re not going to leave the team!”
“Thunderation, no!” the Texan retorted. “I’ll hold down my job till the cows come home; but off the field I’m going to forget it and take a whack at the books I have hardly got a squint at since the term began. So, unless you gents want to start a row promiscuous like, kindly refrain from holding forth on the subject while I’m around.”
“Say, fellows, isn’t it pretty near time we organized a little fishing party up to the lake?” asked Fitzgerald.
Trout fishing was one of his pet hobbies.
“Any trout there?” inquired Fair quickly.
“Thousands of ’em,” returned Fitz.
“Will they bite easily?” asked Lance.
“Will they?” exclaimed the slim chap. “Well, I should say they would! Why, they’re absolutely vicious. A man has to hide behind a tree to bait his hook.”
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Dick remarked. “We haven’t gone on a trip like that this fall. Say, Samp, why don’t you take a comfortable chair? You’ve been holding down that piano stool all evening, and you know you can’t play a note.”
The Hoosier winked significantly and cast a meaning glance at Fitzgerald, one of whose many accomplishments was the singing of popular ditties to improvised accompaniments consisting of a more or less skillful variation of two chords.
“I know that,” Elwell returned composedly, “but neither can any one else while I’m here.”
Fitz instantly took up the gantlet.
“Talk about hogs!” he exclaimed, springing from his seat on the table. “And here I am fairly bursting with a perfectly punk song I just learned this afternoon. Avaunt, creature!”
He made a dive at Elwell, and, before the stalwart Hoosier realized what was happening, the piano stool was deftly upset and he sprawled on the floor. By the time he had scrambled to his feet, the slim chap was seated calmly at the keyboard and had struck an opening chord.
“Come into the garden, Maud,” he began dramatically. He got no farther. A united yell of protest arose which effectually drowned him out.
“Oh, what a chestnut!”
“Noah sang that to the animals in the ark!”
“Give us something that’s not more than two thousand years old!”
Fitz turned slowly around, a look of pained surprise on his freckled face.
“Peace, prithee—peace!” he chided. “I assure you that the song is quite new, save the first line, which may be a little reminiscent. Kindly refrain from any more rude, vulgar interruptions.”
Before the others could recover their breath he struck the chords and began to sing again, this time rather hurriedly:
His voice, dwelling lingeringly and fondly on the last note, was drowned in a shout of laughter.
“Great!” choked Buckhart. “Maud was a wise child, all right.”
“Give us another verse, old fellow,” chuckled Elwell.
“I’m afraid I’m not in very good voice to-night,” simpered Fitz, looking coyly down at the keys. “Such a critical audience always makes me so nervous. However——”
He lifted his voice again in the same serious chant.
This verse was received with equal applause, and Fitz was entreated to give them another.
“Sing another song,” urged Rose. “You must know a pile of them.”
“Well, I’ll give you a very short one,” the slim chap returned with much apparent reluctance. “It’s a little old, but you mustn’t mind a thing like that.”
Striking a single chord, he began the first line.
He paused, and, clearing his throat, glanced around at his audience, plainly surprised that there had been no interruption. Having been caught once, however, the fellows were not going to repeat the performance, and remained expectantly silent.
Seeing that he could not get a rise out of them, Fitzgerald turned back to the piano and began the song over again.
“That’s all,” he announced, springing up and skipping over to the table again. “Somebody else can do parlor tricks now.”
Before any one had a chance to reply, the door was opened rather unceremoniously, and a tall, curly haired, sun-burned fellow, with an attractive face and the figure of an athlete, entered composedly, and closed the door behind him.
From the uproarious nature of the greeting he received, it was quite evident that he was a general favorite.
“Come in and rest your face and hands.”
“How about Anthony’s date with Cleopatra?”
Bob Hollister grinned a little sheepishly.
“Heard about that, have you?” he inquired, as he dropped down on a chair. “I suppose that’ll be rubbed into me for the next six months. What the deuce did I know about Roman history? I was doping out a new around-the-end combination.”
“Sh! Careful!” cautioned Elwell, with upraised finger.
Hollister looked bewildered.
“What’s the matter?” he asked quickly.
“No football talk,” returned the Hoosier, with a grin. “Our esteemed, ex-temporary captain objects to it in the sacred privacy of his apartment.”
“Well, I’ll be hanged!” gasped Hollister. “Not talk about football! What in the mischief else is there to talk about?”
“You have got it bad, Bob,” he remarked. “Don’t you ever think about anything else?”
Hollister shook his head.
“Hardly ever,” he confessed. “I couldn’t keep it out of my head if I tried, with the big game so close. Why, I even wake up in the middle of the night wondering how to work certain combinations, or thinking up some new way of getting the ball through their line. I haven’t had time to open a book in weeks.”
He gave a sudden start, and, diving down into one pocket, drew out a rather crumpled envelope.
“Just look at that,” he remarked, tossing it over to Dick.
Merriwell caught it and extracted a square, printed slip, which proved to be one of the warning notices sent out from the dean’s office when a student has fallen behind the required grade in any particular study.
“A warning in Latin,” he said thoughtfully. “You must have been pretty rotten lately, Bob. Goodhue is one of the easiest profs in college.”
“I have flunked a bunch of times,” Hollister confessed. “And that isn’t all, either. Got one in German day before yesterday. I suppose Schlemmer got on his ear after the mess I made of Heine last week.”
“You want to look out, Bobby,” Fitzgerald put in lightly. “After this morning, you’re due for still another. Dear old Piercy was purple when you made that cute remark about Anthony’s date. I’ll bet he hot-footed to the dean the minute the class was over.”
“And three warnings means a general one,” supplemented Elwell. “By hocus, Bobby! You’ll have to do a little cramming, or you’ll have the whole faculty down on your neck.”
“They are now!” Hollister burst out petulantly. “I believe it’s a put-up job. Every one of them takes a special delight in getting me up every chance they can and making a monkey out of me. They ought to know I don’t have any chance to grind right in the middle of the football season. But what do they care about football! A lot of dried-up fossils! They don’t give a rap whether we’re licked or not. I don’t believe the biggest part of ’em even see one game a season.”
“You’re wrong there, Bob,” Dick put in quietly. “Some of the profs are daffy about the game. The dean wouldn’t miss one for any amount of money.”
“Yes, and old Piercy is the worst of the lot,” chimed in Fitzgerald. “You ought to have seen him Saturday—standing up on the bench, his hat off, hair rumpled, and eyes popping out of his head, waving his arms like a windmill, and yelling like a fiend. He’s a good old sport, even if he does like to catch a fellow napping in the classroom.”
The clock struck ten, and the sound had scarcely died away when Buckhart threw out his arms and yawned, loudly and ostentatiously.
“Humph!” remarked Fitzgerald tartly. “Why don’t you tell us plainly that it’s time to go home?”
“I was waiting to see if you wouldn’t wake up to the fact yourselves,” the Texan returned tranquilly.
The slim chap eyed him mischievously.
“I’ve a good mind to stay here just to spite you,” he said presently.
Buckhart yawned again.
“Stay right along, if you like, little one,” he drawled. “That wouldn’t bother me a whole lot. In about ten minutes I’m going to hit the pillow; but if you gents want to sit here for the rest of the night chinning, you’ve sure got my permission.”
Most of the other fellows were about ready to turn in themselves, and there was a general movement toward the door. Hollister got up with the rest, and then glanced hesitatingly toward Merriwell.
“Got a couple of minutes to spare, Dick?” he asked, in a low tone.
“Sure thing,” Merriwell returned quickly. “Sit down and I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Hollister dropped back onto his chair, and Dick followed the others to the door. With a chorus of good nights, they trooped out in a body and clattered downstairs. Then Merriwell came back into the room and resumed his seat, while Buckhart made tracks for the bedroom.
“You gents will have to excuse me,” he mumbled. “Can’t keep my blinkers propped open another minute. Good night.”
Without waiting for their response, he disappeared, and the next moment the sound of shoes being thrown to the floor was heard, followed with amazing swiftness by the creak of springs as the Texan crawled into bed.
“Gee! I wish I could do that,” Hollister murmured.
Dick raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
“Go to sleep the minute I hit the pillow,” Hollister explained. “I toss around for an hour or more, thinking about all kinds of things. Seems as if I could think better at night when everything’s quiet and there’s no one to disturb me.”
“Football, I suppose?” Dick questioned, looking at him thoughtfully.
“Yes, but that wasn’t what I wanted to talk to you about,” he said quickly. “It’s these confounded warnings. I never got one of them before this fall.”
His tone was almost angry.
“As I remember,” Dick remarked, “you never used to have any trouble keeping up in your studies, but still had plenty of time for almost anything in the line of athletics you wanted to do.”
A frown corrugated Hollister’s forehead.
“Exactly,” he returned. “It looks to me as if the profs did the thing on purpose just to worry me when they ought to know I’ve got to give all my time to football. It’s a rotten shame!”
Dick did not answer for a moment.
“I hardly think that’s it, Bob,” he said presently. “There wouldn’t be any object in their doing that. I don’t believe they like giving a fellow’s name to the dean. I know Goodhue doesn’t, for he’s told me so. He doesn’t have a man warned until it’s absolutely necessary. No, I’m afraid the trouble is altogether with you. You don’t bone enough.”
Hollister smiled wryly.
“I don’t grind at all,” he said quickly. “Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be any time.”
“Shucks! You’ve got as much time as the rest of us. Somehow we manage to make a passable showing.”
Hollister flushed a little.
“I suppose I have got the time,” he said slowly, “but I can’t seem to make use of it. The minute I sit down with a book, my mind flies off to the field as regular as clockwork, and before I know it it’s time to turn in, and I haven’t done an earthly thing with the Latin or math, or whatever it may be; but very likely I’ve thought out some corking new formation or trick play.”
“I see,” Dick said quietly; “but what good does it all do?”
“Good!” exclaimed Hollister, in surprise. “Why, I put the idea up to Tempest or Fullerton, and often they can make use of it.”
“Of course I know that,” Dick returned. “There isn’t a fellow on the team who has a better, broader conception of the strategy of the game; but you’re not in college just to play football and let everything else go to smash. That sounds sort of priggish, I know, but it’s really the truth. What you’ve got to do is to put it out of your mind the moment you leave the field. If you don’t, Bob, you’ll be plucked as sure as fate.
“Brad has realized that, and you know there isn’t a fellow in college who thinks more of the game. But while he was taking Tempest’s place as captain, he just about dropped everything else and got frightfully behind in his work. Since Don came back last week, Brad has been doing his best not to think of football except on the field, and he’s done such a lot of hard grinding that he’s beginning to catch up.”
“That’s what I ought to do, of course,” Hollister agreed. “But I don’t see how I can, Dick. I start in, really intending to study, but somehow, I never get anywhere.”
“That’s all nonsense,” Dick said emphatically. “You can do it if you really make up your mind to. Great Scott, man! You don’t want to develop into a fellow with just one idea, do you? If you keep on this way, you won’t be able to think of another earthly thing but football. And if you don’t take a brace in your real work, you’re more than likely to be dropped. Then where would you be?”
Hollister’s face had grown very serious. He seemed to realize for the first time the gravity of the situation and the end toward which he was rapidly drifting. Somehow it had never occurred to him that there was a possibility of being dropped. If that should happen, what earthly good would his ability to play football be to him? It was not a pleasant thought.
“I expect you’re right, old man,” he said slowly, with a rather futile attempt at a smile. “Looks as if I’d have to take a big brace before something drops. It’s going to be a hard pull, though.”
“Of course, it will be hard, Bob,” Dick said earnestly, “but you’ve got to do it. Just make up your mind that you positively won’t give the game a thought off the field. Banish it entirely from your mind, and take a fresh spurt with the books. Then I think you’ll come out all right.”
Hollister arose slowly.
“That’s what I’ll do,” he said quickly; “at least, that’s what I’ll try to do.”
“Don’t say try,” Merriwell put in swiftly. “Don’t let there be a doubt in your mind of your ability to succeed, and I think you’ll make good.”
“Right you are,” Hollister smiled. “I’ll start in to-morrow morning. I’m awfully obliged, Dick, for your advice. I didn’t seem to realize before how serious a fix I was in, but I’ll pull up now, and I think things will come around in good shape.”
“Of course, they will,” Merriwell answered heartily. “See you to-morrow, old fellow. Good night.”
THE THIRD WARNING.
Bob Hollister played right end on the varsity, and was one of the most valuable men on the team. He was remarkably speedy, quite equaling the Indian, Joe Crowfoot; absolutely tireless, with the added advantage of having played the game ever since his prep school days, so he was familiar with every phase of it.
No matter in what apparently direful straits the team might be, Bob never gave up hope. Not until the final whistle blew, announcing that the game was finished, would he acknowledge that he was beaten, and his cheery optimism always had an inspiring effect on the discouraged members of the team, more than once being the means of pulling them out of the slough of despondency and changing defeat into victory.
Perhaps more than anything else, the quality which made him valuable was the fact that he never lost his head. No matter what might be happening, Bob Hollister could always be depended on to use his brains. And not only did he use them to advantage during the progress of a game, but he was noted for the ingenious combinations and strategic plays which he worked out and submitted to Bill Fullerton, the head coach.
The latter had often remarked that Hollister had either a perfectly phenomenal mind, or else he spent his entire waking hours doping out these plays, so many of which had proved invaluable to the eleven.
His latter supposition had been the correct one. Hollister’s brain did, indeed, work very quickly; and that, together with his perfect knowledge of football, enabled him to work out clever schemes in far less time than the ordinary mortal; but what had at first started as a more or less interesting pastime now reached a point when it absorbed almost every conscious moment.
Dick Merriwell’s words opened his eyes to the truth, and, as he crossed the campus to his rooms in Vanderbilt, he gave them very serious thought and attention.
He would start in the very next day with the necessary reform. He would do as Dick advised, and cut out thinking about football except when he was on the field. It was too bad the profs hadn’t let him alone until after the end of the season, for then he could have turned his attention to his books with a much freer mind; but since they hadn’t, he must simply make the best of it. It would be a hard pull, but he did not doubt his ability to succeed.
He went to sleep that night thinking over a new variation of the forward pass.
Before leaving his rooms next morning, the expected warning from the dean, regarding his extremely poor showing in history, appeared.
Hollister read it with an expression of whimsical annoyance on his pleasant face.
“Darn his buttons!” he muttered. “Why couldn’t Piercy have passed over that break of mine! He might have known I wasn’t paying attention. I suppose he thought I was trying to be funny and cod him. Well, I’ll have to make the best of it. I hope he doesn’t get after me again to-day, though. I haven’t the most remote idea what his lecture was about yesterday.”
Nor had he a much clearer conception of any of the other recitations or lectures he was to attend that day, and his face was rather glum as he ran downstairs and out onto the campus. He was due at the chemical lab at ten o’clock, and, as he hurried across one of the walks, head down and thoughts, sad to say, very far away from chemistry, he suddenly heard some one calling his name.
“What’s your hurry, Bob? Where you rushing to?”
Hollister looked up quickly, and when he saw who the speaker was, his face brightened.
“Hello, Jarv,” he said quickly. “I’m due at the lab at ten o’clock.”
“As it lacks just sixteen minutes of that hour, and you can’t possibly use up more than five getting over there, I fail to see the reason for your hurry,” commented Jarvis Blake, as he continued to advance slowly and leisurely. “I’m going there myself, but I don’t propose to run my legs off.”
He was a big, blond fellow, with thick, straight, almost tow-colored hair, eyelashes and eyebrows so light as to be nearly invisible. He wore a neatly clipped yellow mustache, which was the exact color of corn silk.
His eyes were dark blue and set wide apart, his features clean-cut and handsome, except that his mouth was large and loosely set. He was one of the best subs on the varsity and played an exceedingly good, brainy game.
Men about college said he had a pronounced case of swelled head. Certainly he was not likely to undervalue himself, but for all that he was well liked among a certain class, and Hollister had always found him genial and entertaining, a good fellow in every respect.
“Didn’t know I had so much time,” the latter explained, as they pursued their way along the walk together.
“How are things?” inquired Jarvis. “Strikes me you look a bit glum this morning.”
Hollister hesitated for an instant.
“Oh, it’s those warnings, I suppose,” he said, at length. “I got the third one right after breakfast.”
“Well, what have you been doing to get the profs down on you?” he asked.
“It’s what I haven’t done that’s got them going, I reckon,” Hollister returned. “I don’t know as I blame them much after the way I’ve flunked lately.”
“Rot!” exclaimed Blake emphatically. “You’re no worse than half the other fellows in the class.”
“I don’t know about that,” Hollister said doubtfully. “I’d hate to count up the number of goose eggs I’ve accumulated this term. You heard the fool thing I said to Piercy yesterday?”
“Say, that was sort of funny, wasn’t it?” he remarked. “But anybody could see you weren’t paying attention. You heard from old Pierson, then?”
“That’s the one I got this morning.”
“Well, I wouldn’t let a thing like that worry me,” Blake went on quickly. “The profs don’t seem to realize that a fellow can’t give much time to work during the football season. They get down on a man, too, and, once he flunks, they keep pounding him out of sheer spite. I haven’t got any warnings so far, but I’d be willing to bet that one or two will come along within the next two weeks.”
“Hope you don’t, I’m sure,” Hollister returned absently. “There’s no doubt about it, though, I’ve got to take a brace and cut out thinking about football at all off the field, if I want to stay on with the class.”
A look of dismay came into Blake’s sun-burned face.
“Why, what the mischief are you thinking of, Bob?” he asked quickly. “Stop thinking about football when you’re the brains, practically, of the team! Why, only a couple of days ago I heard old Bill saying that three-quarters of the clever stunts he had made use of this fall were due to you.”
Hollister’s face flushed a little and his eyes gleamed with pleasure.
“Is that straight?” he asked eagerly. “Did he really say all that?”
“He certainly did, and a lot more, which I won’t repeat for fear you’ll have to buy a bigger-sized hat. You can’t stop now, Bob, when we’re all counting on you for so much. The new rules have practically made a different game out of football, and you’ve been one of the few that have risen to the occasion and doped out a bunch of new tricks which will knock spots out of Harvard. All this warning business is tommyrot. They won’t drop you, and after the season is over you can buckle down to work and make up for lost time.”
Blake’s words made a deep impression on Hollister, especially since they coincided exactly with his own ideas. After all, what was the use in worrying himself about the matter when there were only a few more weeks left before the season would be over? He would have no trouble then in recovering the ground he had lost, once his mind was freed from the constant consideration of football problems. And, according to Jarvis Blake, his help was really needed by the team.
“Better reconsider,” Blake urged presently. “Don’t give up the ship just yet.”
They were going into the laboratory as he spoke, and Hollister hesitated an instant in the doorway.
“I will, Jarv,” he said slowly. “Much obliged for all you told me about old Bill. That sort of thing is mighty encouraging, you know.”
A TALK WITH THE DEAN.
Bob Hollister fully expected to find a general warning awaiting him in his rooms, when he returned at noon. He had been surprised that it had not appeared in the morning, but supposed it to have been delayed in the mail.
Consequently, he was not a little dismayed to find, instead, a typewritten note signed by the dean himself, asking him kindly to call at the latter’s office at half-past two.
“What in calamity does he mean by that?” he muttered, crinkling his forehead into a dozen worried wrinkles. “I reckon I’m in for a good roast this time.”
Outwardly calm, but with considerable inward trepidation, he reached the dean’s office five minutes before the appointed time, and, on sending in his name, was at once summoned to the inner office.
The dean looked up from his desk as the senior entered.
“Sit down, Mr. Hollister,” he said, indicating a chair which stood near the desk.
Hollister dropped down in the chair and crossed his legs. There was silence for a moment while the older man reached out to take up several papers which had been pinned together, and glanced them over. Then he leaned back in his chair and surveyed Bob meditatively through his gold-rimmed glasses.
“You are aware, of course, Mr. Hollister,” he remarked presently, “that an undergraduate who has been the recipient of three separate notices warning him that his rank in as many different studies is not satisfactory, has sent to him what is called a general warning?”
“Yes, sir,” Bob returned quietly.
“You know, I suppose, the meaning of this general warning?”
“Yes, sir—er—well, not exactly,” Bob said hastily. “I haven’t had one so far myself, but I always thought that they were a pretty emphatic hint for a fellow to brace up and attend to business.”
The dean’s eyes twinkled.
“You have the right notion,” he remarked. “To deserve a general warning, a man’s record must be pretty bad. I am sorry to say that yours is more than bad. It is atrocious.”
Hollister’s face flushed and he dropped his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured.
The dean placed the tips of his fingers lightly together and surveyed the troubled face of the senior over the tops of them.
“It is in such marked contrast to your record of the past three years,” he went on quietly, “that I decided to have a talk with you and find out what was the matter. Can you tell me, Mr. Hollister, why it is that you seem to have done absolutely nothing in any class this term?”
“I’ve—been thinking—a lot about—football,” stammered Bob.
“Ah! Giving time to it away from the field, you mean?” the older man inquired.
“Is that necessary to a proper performance of the game?” the dean asked quietly. “I do not seem to recall any such complaints as these about the work of other members of the eleven.”
He tapped the papers on the desk in front of him lightly.
Hollister glanced up quickly.
“It isn’t absolutely necessary,” he answered. “But the new rules have changed the game a lot and made it necessary to devise a great many different tricks and combinations to make up for those which have been barred out. I’ve been awfully interested in it, and I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking these things out, which should, no doubt, have been put to better use.”
The older man nodded.
“I understand,” he said slowly. “I have observed your excellent work on the field, and that is one of the reasons why I wished to find out what was the matter. Football, like many other athletic games, is extremely valuable, Mr. Hollister, as an aid to character development. But, like almost every other good thing, it is liable to be done to death. I’m sure you don’t wish to develop into a man with only one idea, one purpose in life.
“Such a man gets into a rut—becomes narrow, ineffective, and finally useless. It’s a common failing in the business world, and has resulted in thousands upon thousands of the merest machines and human automatons. While you’re on the field play the game for all that is in you, but don’t carry the thought of it always with you, to the exclusion of every other duty. I shall not send you the general warning just yet, Mr. Hollister, until I see whether you take this little talk to heart. Your playing on the eleven has earned you a little latitude, but it must be understood that from this moment there has to be a very marked change for the better in your class records, or I shall be obliged to let things take their regular course. I hope you understand my meaning.”
“Perfectly, sir,” Hollister answered gratefully, “and I mean to take it to heart as well. I hope that you won’t have cause for any more complaints.”
The dean smiled.
“Good,” he said quickly. “If you persist in your determination, I am sure I shall not. I think that’s all. No doubt you are eager to get down to the field. Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, sir,” Hollister answered, as he arose and walked toward the door.
Once outside, he dashed out of Lampson Hall, tore across to the car, and in a few minutes was on his way to the field.
“He certainly is a good sort,” he said to himself as he got a seat well forward in the car. “I expected to be handed out a cold calldown, and it was a regular fatherly talk. He’s right, though, I really ought to brace up; but how the mischief can I until the season’s over?”
Once on the gridiron, Hollister was in his element. He flung himself into the practice game with tremendous enthusiasm, playing with all the vim and go and energy which he would have exhibited in a hot contest with another college.
He was not the sort that hold back and do just enough to make a fairly good showing. He must do his best or nothing, and for that reason he was very valuable in practice. He always kept his temper, disdained hard knocks—they were all part of the game; and he was never too tired to try “just one more formation.”
He had worked out his forward pass in detail and Fullerton approved of it so highly that he tried it out with complete success that afternoon, much to Hollister’s delight.
“Great stunt of yours,” Jarvis Blake said, as they were trotting across the field toward the athletic house. “I thought you’d realize that you couldn’t leave off helping the team out just yet a while.”
Again Hollister felt that pleasant, satisfying glow of ability fitly recognized. Fullerton’s commendations had been especially emphatic, too, and they had a long discussion about a new move which the coach had not been able to plan out in detail, and which he was anxious to have Bob think over.
Even Don Tempest, the captain, usually very chary with his praise, had held him up as an example to one or two lagging members of the team; and, altogether, Hollister was feeling pretty good as he entered the house.
He joined Dick Merriwell, who was hastily dressing in front of his locker.
“Did you get that general warning you were expecting?” Dick asked.
“No; but I got a talking to from the dean,” he returned.
“Calldown?” he asked.
“Not so much of a one as I thought it was going to be,” Hollister confessed. “Told me I had to brace up and cut out football off the field. I’d like to have told him that it was just what you advised last night, but I didn’t.”
“Glad to have my judgment confirmed from so eminent a source,” he smiled. “I hope you’ll take some of this advice which is being thrown at you so plentifully.”
Hollister’s face fell.
“After to-night I will,” he said hastily. “I’ve got to think out that combination of Fullerton’s, you know; but to-morrow I really will begin to dig good and hard.”
Merriwell’s face grew a little serious.
“Think that’s wise, Bob?” he asked quietly. “I’ve noticed that the resolutions which we put off until to-morrow never materialize. They always get shoved on to another to-morrow. It’s none of my business, old fellow, but I should hate like the mischief to have anything happen so that you couldn’t keep on with the class.”
“Oh, they won’t drop me,” Hollister said confidently. “Even the dean said he’d noticed my work on the field and thought I ought to have a little latitude. I’ll make it up after the season’s over, Dick. I’ll turn into such a grind you won’t know me. Gee! I’ve got to get a hustle on or I won’t get round to supper.”
He hurried off without giving Dick a chance to reply. It almost seemed as if he were afraid of what his friend might say, but there was no fear of Merriwell’s following him up with advice which was apparently not wanted.
As he glanced after Hollister there was a look of regret in Dick’s dark eyes. He knew just about how far Bob would go with his resolutions of turning over a new leaf, and it worried him a little to think of the chances his friend was taking.
Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he slipped into his coat, slapped a cap on his head, and, gathering in Buckhart, left the house.
FROM BAD TO WORSE.
For the next few days, Bob Hollister saw more of Jarvis Blake than he had in as many weeks before that. The big, blond fellow took to dropping in at his rooms at all hours of the day or night, and, though he usually had some plausible reason for so doing, it might have been observed that he invariably turned the talk into the channel of football matters before he had been there five minutes.
This was not difficult to do. More often than not, he did not have to introduce the matter at all, for Bob was always ready to meet him even more than halfway. But the result was that the occasional half-hearted attempts of Hollister to do a little studying were completely frustrated.
Bob really meant well. He fully intended to take a brace and follow the advice which had been given him by Merriwell, and by the dean himself, and had it not been for these regular visits of Blake, he might possibly have succeeded in occasionally absorbing a few facts from his textbooks which would have staved off for a little while the inevitable smash; for his roommate, Jim Townsend, though a fellow who took an absorbing interest in all branches of athletics, had long ago seen whither his chum was drifting, and had resolutely refused to discuss anything pertaining to football with him during the evenings.
But Blake had no such compunctions. He seemed to take a particular delight in running in about eight o’clock with some idea about the game which had occurred to him, and about which he wanted Bob’s opinion. The natural result was that the entire evening was spent in discussion, and absolutely no studying was done.
As an equally natural consequence, Hollister continued to make a fearful showing in the classroom, accumulating zero after zero with a regularity which was appalling.
Townsend tried persuasion at first, urging his friend to take a brace before it was too late, and pointing out what the extremely unpleasant result would be if he did not. Each time Bob would acknowledge in a good-natured way that he was in the wrong, and vow that he would turn over a new leaf and do some cramming that very night.
But when the evening came and Blake appeared with his insidious questions and arguments on football matters, books would be thrown quickly aside and Hollister would enter joyfully into the discussion which generally lasted until bedtime.
Once or twice Townsend tackled Blake himself, showing him clearly how much harm his visits were doing Hollister; but the big, blond chap laughed down his arguments, treated the matter as something which Townsend’s fears had greatly exaggerated, and calmly went on his way.
Very soon Jim began to have a more than sneaking suspicion that there was some method in Blake’s behavior. The thing occurred with entirely too much regularity for it to be merely accidental, especially as the fellow had not been in the habit of coming into their rooms more than once or twice a week until very lately.
Gradually this suspicion became a certainty, and, before very long, Townsend felt sure that he had hit upon the reason for it all.
The thought made his blood boil, and he lost no time in broaching the matter to his roommate.
Bob was rather late coming in from the training table that night, but the instant he opened the door Townsend, who had been waiting impatiently for him, opened fire.
“Has it occurred to you, Bob,” he remarked, with apparent casualness, “that Blake’s been dropping in here an awful lot lately?”
Hollister threw his hat on a chair and plumped himself down on another.
“Why, I don’t know,” he said carelessly; “perhaps he has. We’ve had a bunch of things to talk over, though. He’s really got some very good ideas and has helped me a lot.”
“Helped you! Humph!” he exclaimed sarcastically. “Yes, I believe it!”
Hollister glanced inquiringly at him.
“What’s the matter, Jim?” he asked. “What you got against Jarv?”
“What’s he come in here every night for, I’d like to know?” Townsend demanded. “He gets you going on football, and the result is you haven’t opened a book since you had that talk with the dean, and your flunks in the classrooms are something fierce.”
Hollister’s face took on an expression of whimsical annoyance.
“Thunder, Jim!” he exclaimed petulantly. “What do you want to start preaching for? You know I’m going to settle down into a fierce grind the minute the last game is over. I just can’t find time to do it now with so much else to think about.”
“Rot!” growled Townsend. “You talk nutty! You’d have time enough if that tow-headed son of a gun didn’t come butting in every night and break you all up.”
Hollister made no reply, but his heavy brows drew down into a scowl. Townsend, too full of his grievance to notice this, presently continued his argument.
“Hasn’t it ever occurred to you, Bob,” he said significantly, “how very nice it would be for Blake if you were conditioned and had to leave the team? He’s one of the best subs for your position, and there’s hardly a question but what he would step into your shoes at once. I’ll bet that’s the reason which brings him here so often, with his football talk and his sneers about there being no danger of the dean doing anything radical. He’s keeping you from boning on purpose. He’d be tickled to death to see you dropped so he could——”
“Stop!” interrupted Hollister, in an angry voice. “Just cut out that line of talk, Jim. You forget that Blake is my friend. You never liked him, I know, but that’s no reason why you should blackguard him this way.”
His face was dark, and there was an angry flash in his usually merry brown eyes; for he was a fellow who was loyal to the very core. Absolutely upright and honorable himself, it never occurred to him that there was the most remote possibility that a fellow he liked as much as he did Jarvis Blake was not entirely fair and square in every way. The idea to which his roommate had given voice was incredible. He refused to tolerate the thought for a single instant, and at once proceeded to thrust it from his mind with the greatest expedition.
Townsend lapsed into a sullen silence. He had done his best to warn his chum, but, if Bob was so thick-headed as all that, he could go his own way without hindrance.
This point of view lasted exactly ten minutes, however. By that time Jim had cooled down and was thinking over some other way by which Hollister could be brought to his senses. Fond as he was of his roommate, he could not bear the thought of his being dropped. There must be some way of making him realize the gravity of the situation.
Not for an instant did Townsend waver in his fixed belief that Blake was deliberately working to bring about Bob’s downfall so that he could step into his place on the varsity; and when the blond chap presently appeared and the usual talk commenced Jim’s temper soon reached a boiling point. He knew that if he remained in the room much longer he would have to blow off steam, and, in the present condition of affairs, that was not at all to be desired.
Consequently, some twenty minutes later, he slammed down his book, and, without a word of explanation, picked up his hat and went out.
Blake glanced up with a curious smile.
“Our friend seems to be somewhat pettish to-night,” he remarked, in a languid drawl.
Hollister flushed a little. He knew quite well why Townsend had departed, and it irritated him to think that his roommate had such a small, narrow nature as to suspect this big, bluff, frank fellow of any sort of double dealing.
“Oh, I suppose he thought of something he wanted to do,” he said, rather lamely. “But about that formation we were speaking of. I’ve doped it all out. Let me show you.”
Reaching for a piece of paper, he drew a few swift lines on it.
“See, it’s that way,” he said eagerly.
Blake leaned over him, a swift gleam of triumph in his eyes.
“Yes, that’s the idea,” he returned quietly.
By the time Jim Townsend reached the campus he was at a white heat.
“Hang him!” he snapped viciously. “I know that’s what he’s up to, but how in the mischief can I make Bob understand? He’s such a softy he simply won’t believe a thing against Blake, just because he likes him. The double-faced skunk!”
The last remark was intended for Blake, but Jim was too wrought up to talk coherently. He wandered around the campus for a few minutes and then decided to take his troubles to Blair Hildebrand, one of his particular chums, whose cool, level-headed advice had helped him out on more than one occasion.
He found the big, blue-eyed senior alone, glancing over the latest issue of the Lit, and evidently very tired of his own company.
“Hello, old man,” he said cordially, as Townsend appeared. “You’re a perfect godsend. George has gone to New York, and I was just thinking of looking up some congenial spirit and painting the town red. How’s everything?”
“Rotten!” returned Townsend shortly, as he dropped onto a chair. “That dub, Jarvis Blake, is over at the rooms jabbering football and keeping Bob from doing an earthly thing with to-morrow’s work. And you know how the dean warned him the other day.”
“Yes, I heard about it,” he returned. “Isn’t that something new—Blake’s coming around, I mean?”
“He’s done it every night this week,” Jim explained morosely. “I’ll bet any money, Blair, that he’s doing it on purpose so Bob will be dropped and he’ll get on the varsity. I told Bob as much to-night.”
“How did he take it?” Hildebrand asked interestedly.
“Wouldn’t listen to a word against the man,” returned Townsend. “Thinks he’s all to the good. You know Bob never will hear anything against a fellow he likes.”
“Yes, he’s a dandy chap that way,” Hildebrand answered absently. “That’s one of the reasons why every one likes him so well.”
He was evidently thinking about something else.
“That’s all very nice,” Jim retorted quickly; “but a fellow can carry it too far. He’s making a fool of himself going on the way he’s been all this term. He’ll be dropped unless he wakes up mighty sudden. And I don’t want him dropped. He’s too good a fellow for that.”
Townsend’s voice was mournful and his face downcast and dejected at the thought of what might happen to his chum.
Presently Hildebrand looked up.
“I shouldn’t wonder a bit if you were right about Blake, Jim,” he said. “He makes a mighty good showing with his frank, hearty manner, but I have every reason to think that he’s far from being above just such a trick as this.”
Townsend sat up suddenly, his face aglow with interest.
“You have?” he exclaimed quickly. “What was it? Anything which Bob would listen to?”
“Just a little experience I had with him last year,” the stalwart guard returned quietly; “but it proved pretty conclusively that Blake was mighty poor stuff. Whether it would have any effect on Bob or not, is quite another question.”
“Can’t you tell a fellow what it was?” Jim asked eagerly.
Hildebrand shook his head slowly.
“What’s the use?” he said, with a quiet smile. “I don’t believe in knocking a man unless it’s necessary, even if he isn’t straight. I haven’t told a soul about this; but if you really think that’s what Blake’s up to, I have no objection to putting Bob wise on the quiet some time.”
“I’m sure it is,” Townsend said decidedly. “He never used to come around, but ever since Bob got that talking to from the dean, he’s been in every solitary night, and insists on jawing football from the time he sets foot in the room until he leaves. I’ll take my oath that he’s got a reason for it.”
“If that’s the case,” Hildebrand returned, “I’ll brace Bob the first chance I get and tell him a thing or two which will open his eyes.”
The opportunity came the very next afternoon. Both Hollister and Hildebrand were late getting away from the field, and it happened that, quite without premeditation on the part of the latter, they came out of the gate together. In the bustle and turmoil of practice, the big guard had quite forgotten his promise to Townsend, but now it suddenly came back into his mind.
“Say, Bob,” he said slowly, “do you mind walking for a few minutes? I just remembered something I wanted to tell you.”
Hollister looked a little surprised.
“Why, no, not at all,” he returned quickly. “Anything about the team?”
Hildebrand hesitated. He had suddenly discovered that what he had to say was not going to be at all easy.
“Partly, yes,” he answered presently. “I hope you won’t think I’m a beastly butter-in, Bob, if I touch on something which is rather personal. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think so much of you and hate to see you knifed.”
Hollister frowned and a puzzled look came into his eyes.
“I don’t see quite what you’re driving at,” he said, a bit shortly; “but go ahead.”
The guard’s pleasant face was flushed. He almost wished he hadn’t promised Jim; but at length, he drew a long breath and took the plunge.
“It’s about Blake,” he said quickly. “Jim tells me he’s been coming in every night and keeping you from your work. I think you ought to know that he isn’t—well, he isn’t quite—a fellow to be trusted. I know, because I caught him cheating in a poker game last spring—a game for money.”
An ominous silence followed. In the light of a near-by street lamp, Hildebrand saw his companion’s lithe figure stiffen and his pleasant face harden.
“Well, is that all?” inquired Hollister at length, in a cold, cutting voice.
“Why, yes,” Hildebrand answered in surprise. “I should think it was enough.”
Hollister was evidently keeping his temper with an effort.
“Entirely too much!” he snapped. “I hope you’re pleased with your attempt to blacken the character of one of my friends. Nice, pleasant occupation, isn’t it, running down a man when he isn’t around to defend himself? However, you’ve had your trouble for your pains. I don’t believe a word of it.”
Hildebrand caught his breath suddenly and his face turned scarlet. Stopping abruptly, he turned fiercely on Hollister, with blazing eyes and clenched fists. Another moment and he would have landed a smashing blow on the face of the man who had called him a liar, but, just in time, he got a grip on himself and realized the utter impossibility of two seniors indulging in a fist fight in the street.
“You’ll be sorry for that, Hollister!” he said, in a voice which quivered with suppressed anger. “I might have known that this would be all the thanks I’d get for trying to do you a good turn. I’ll send you written proof of the statement I just made. Luckily there were two other men in the game.”
Without another word, he walked quickly away, leaving Hollister alone, a feeling of regret that he had been so hasty, struggling with the anger which Hildebrand’s accusation against his friend had aroused in him.
“I suppose I shouldn’t have said that,” he murmured regretfully. “But he made me mad with those rotten insinuations against Jarv.”
Then the thought came to him that Hildebrand had not contented himself with insinuations. He had made a downright, matter-of-fact statement, which he proposed to back with written proof. But even then Bob could not bring himself to believe that Blake would descend so low as to cheat at cards.
There must have been a mistake made somewhere—must be some explanation of the thing. Blake was one of his special friends whom he had known and liked ever since they first entered college together, and in all that time he had never known Jarvis to do anything which was not quite square and honorable.
Hollister was not at all a good judge of character. His likes and dislikes were very strong, but they were governed by his heart and not by his head. If he once came to care for a fellow he was ready to stick to him through thick and thin, stand up for him at all times and places, and refused to listen to a word against him. Once or twice during his college life he had been disappointed in a man who had been admitted to the inner circle of his friendship. One notable instance was that of a perfectly charming fellow who was possessed of almost every known accomplishment and talent, but in whom the sense of right and wrong was strangely, inexplicably lacking.
Hollister had taken to him tremendously from the very first, and the fellow’s charm of manner and personal magnetism had blinded him to a realizing sense of his sinister failings. For months Bob stuck to him, refusing to listen to the advice of other friends who had discovered the man’s real character, and had only been brought to his senses by coming in suddenly one day and catching the fellow in the act of taking money out of the bill case he had left carelessly on the table.
So he had been all through his college career; honest, loyal, true-hearted, but strangely blinded by prejudice, sometimes almost lacking in common sense when it came to judging the real character of a man.
Presently a car appeared, but Hollister let it go. Hildebrand would probably take it, and at the present moment he did not feel like riding back to the campus face to face with the man he had just insulted.
The more he thought over the matter the sorrier he was that he had allowed his temper to get the best of him. He liked Blair, and, now that he had calmed down, he realized that the big guard must have been perfectly sincere when he made the charge against Blake. He had probably done it with the best intentions in the world.
“Though why everybody is so down on Jarv I can’t imagine,” Bob muttered to himself. “He’s a good fellow, and we’ve had some dandy talks about football lately. It’s all rot about his keeping me from work. I can’t get down to boning, anyway.”
The next car was a long time coming, and, as he stood on the curb waiting for it, he remembered his roommate’s somewhat heated talk of the night before. But that was perfectly absurd. There could not be anything in that. Why, Blake had been actually helping him out with some of the football problems, giving him some really clever ideas, and he was not at all likely to do that if he were scheming for his place on the varsity.
“This is worse than trying to study!” he exclaimed presently, in a tone of exasperation. “I wish people wouldn’t take such an infernal interest in what I am doing! Why can’t they let me alone to do as I like?”
The answer was simple, though he would never have guessed it in a thousand years. He was too decent a fellow to be let alone to ruin himself by his own blind folly so long as any of his friends could prevent it.
Just then a car came along and Hollister took it. He did his best to forget his regrettable quarrel with Hildebrand, but all the way back to the campus it kept recurring to his mind, bringing with it curious, disturbing little doubts as to whether there might not be something after all in the statements the stalwart guard had made, and which fitted in so patly with Jim Townsend’s petulant outburst.
Consequently, by the time he reached the training table his condition of mind was not enviable. Hildebrand was already in his place and seemed to have recovered completely from his fit of anger; but, though he was pleasant and genial to the others, he paid no attention to Bob, ignoring his existence quietly, but completely.
In spite of the fact that he had brought it on himself, Hollister was hurt by this, and unconsciously his attitude toward Jarvis Blake underwent a change.
As a result of all these wheels within wheels, a sort of damper was thrown over the whole table which was felt by every one, though few understood the cause. They only saw that the jokes fell flat, laughter was forced, or absent altogether, and the resulting silences long drawn out.
Dick Merriwell was quick to see that something unusual had happened, and long before the meal was over he was sure that Hollister and Hildebrand had fallen out in some way. Knowing that there was nothing worse for the discipline of the team or more productive of poor work than internal dissensions, he resolved to find out what the trouble was; and, as they walked back to the campus through “Grub Alley,” he slipped his hand through Hollister’s arm.
“Say, Bob, what’s the trouble between you and Blair?” he asked, in a low tone.
“Oh, we had a run-in this afternoon about Blake,” he said, in a rather pettish tone. “He told me that Jarv had been caught cheating at poker, and I as much as said he was a liar. I reckon I shouldn’t have been so strong, but he made me mad. He had no business to say such a thing about a friend of mine.”
“I see,” Merriwell returned thoughtfully. “Do you mind telling me what his object was in giving you that information?”
“It’s all come about through Jim!” Hollister burst out. “He needs to have his head punched. He’s got the insane idea that Jarv wants to see me dropped so he can cinch my place in the line. He came out with that silly story last night. Said Blake comes around on purpose to keep me from boning so that I’ll flunk in the classes and be thrown out. Of course, I shut him up quick, and I suppose he went to Blair with his fool story.”
“Blake been coming around much lately?” Dick asked casually.
“Quite a little.”
“Almost every night, hasn’t he?” Dick persisted.
“Well—yes,” Hollister acknowledged. “This week, that is.”
There was silence for a few moments, which was broken by Merriwell.
“I’m not much on knocking a man, Bob,” he said quietly; “but if I were you I wouldn’t trust Blake too far. I know of one or two things he’s done which weren’t quite——Well, you wouldn’t have done them yourself, old fellow.”
Without waiting for a reply, he dropped Bob’s arm and walked quickly away, leaving Hollister more of a prey to doubt and suspicions than he had been before.
He knew that Merriwell was a man who almost never said anything against a fellow student. If he did not like a man, or disapproved of him for any reason, he had as little to do with him as possible, but his lips were generally sealed. If he could not say anything good of a fellow, he preferred keeping silent.
It was only on very rare occasions when something important was at stake that he gave an adverse opinion of a man, and, consequently, the few words he had just uttered concerning Blake were especially significant. They must have some foundation or Merriwell would never have given voice to them.
Hollister’s mind was in a turmoil. Unwilling to believe the worst of Blake, it was impossible not to realize that there must be something underhand about him or two such fellows as Merriwell and Hildebrand would never have said what they had against him.
Bewildered and sick at heart, Bob made his way slowly to his rooms. Jim had gone out for the evening, so that he was alone, and, having tossed hat and overcoat aside, he dropped down in a chair.
At any rate, he did not want to see Blake that night. With this thing on his mind, he could not feel at ease with him, and he would rather not see the man until he had come to some final decision as to what his course would be. All at once he glanced quickly at the clock.
“By Jove!” he exclaimed, springing up. “He’s likely to be here any time.”
Snatching up his coat and hat, he was about to hurry out when he heard the muffled slam of the big entrance door below.
“I’ll bet that’s him now,” he muttered.
The next moment he had switched off the light and hurried into the bedroom, where he softly drew the door partly shut and stood behind it.
Presently a step sounded in the hall, followed by a knock at the door. Then the latch clicked and some one entered the room.
“Hello, Bobby,” called a familiar voice.
There was no response. Presently Blake stepped over to the electric light and switched it on.
“Not here,” he murmured, his eyes traveling swiftly about the room. “That’s funny. He was ahead of me crossing the campus.”
There was a pause during which the big, blond fellow whistled softly, as he walked up and down the room.
“What’s the good of waiting?” he muttered at length. “He may not come in for an hour or two. His hash is as good as settled, anyhow. After the exhibition he made of himself to-day, the dean can’t help doing something. Maybe little Jarvie will play in the Harvard game after all.”
He laughed softly; there was a click and the room was shrouded in darkness; the door closed and silence fell.
In the bedroom Bob Hollister stood silent, a rush of bitter anger and regret overwhelming him. Merriwell and Hildebrand and old Jim had all been right. What a blind fool he had been not to have seen through Blake before! What a perfect idiot they must think him!
Presently he came back into the sitting room, and, turning on the light, stood hesitating in the middle of the room. It was up to him to get busy and do something pretty quick. He must not let Blake triumph.
The sudden shock had made him realize his precarious position more clearly than a dozen arguments would have done, and there was now an added incentive to work. He was determined that Blake should not accomplish the purpose for which he had schemed. His blood was aroused to a boiling point. He would not be dropped!
But, first of all, he must see Blair. He had behaved shamefully that afternoon to the fellow who had done a distasteful thing purely for his own good, and Bob felt that he could not rest until he had apologized.
Slipping into his coat, he hurried out of Vanderbilt and made his way swiftly across to Lawrence. It must be confessed that his heart rather failed him as he mounted the stairs and stood before Hildebrand’s door, but without hesitation he raised his hand and knocked.
“Come in,” called a voice.
Hollister opened the door and stood hesitating on the threshold.
Hildebrand sat alone by the table, and, as he glanced up and saw who his caller was, his face darkened.
“Well?” he said curtly.
Hollister flushed and took a step forward.
“I—I’ve been—a fool, Blair,” he stammered. “I beg your pardon for what I said this afternoon.”
“Oh, you’ve found that out, have you?” Hildebrand inquired sarcastically.
He was still sore over the result of his attempt that afternoon to open Hollister’s eyes as to the real character of Blake. It had not been a pleasant nor an easy thing to do, and Bob’s reception of it had cut him to the quick, besides making him furiously angry.
“Yes; he’s all you said of him and more,” Hollister returned in a low tone. “I just found out, and I couldn’t rest until I had told you how sorry I am about the way I talked to you.”
His manner was so dejected, and the look of penitence in his eyes was so very real as he turned toward the door again, that Hildebrand could not help but relent.
“Come back here, you old idiot!” he exclaimed, springing to his feet. “You certainly did made me hot this afternoon, but what’s the use of keeping mad? Give us your fist, and the next time don’t be so infernally set in your way.”
Hollister’s eyes brightened as he gripped the proffered hand.
“You’re all to the good, Blair,” he said quickly. “Most fellows would have felt like kicking me downstairs.”
“I felt worse than that this afternoon,” the big guard grinned. “But nobody can stay mad with you very long, Bobby. Sit down and let’s hear about it.”
Hollister told the story briefly, and then, in spite of his friend’s urging, he departed to put in the rest of the evening in hard studying. Since it was the first time he had really applied himself to his books in weeks, he naturally did not make much progress, but at least it was a beginning.
The blow came the next morning, when the first mail brought him a letter from the dean’s office. He opened it with trembling fingers and glanced through the brief contents. The typewritten communication was short, terse, very much to the point, and bore the scrawly signature of the dean himself.
“Dear Sir: Since you have seen fit utterly to disregard my advice of a week ago, I am forced to tell you that unless you attain a grade of at least sixty in every recitation from now until the beginning of the winter vacation your name will be dropped from the rolls of the senior class.”
In perfect silence, jaws set and face a little pale, Hollister read the short note through the second time.
“Holy cats!” he muttered. “That’s the end of yours truly, all right! Sixty per cent.! Why don’t he say a hundred and be done with it? I stand about as much show of getting it.”
Now that it was too late, he saw with vivid clearness the extent of his amazing folly. Merriwell had done his utmost to make him realize the seriousness of his position a week ago. Jim had been trying his best to help him for a longer time than that. Even the dean had strained a point of college discipline in his favor. And in spite of all this he had gone his way blithely and blindly, living only in the present, with a perfectly suicidal disregard for the future.
What could he do? What was there possible for him to do? He was in despair. He had no more than a glimmering of the work for that day. It would need nothing less than a miracle for him to get the required percentage.
The more he thought over the matter, the more despondent he became. At length, as a last resort, he resolved to go to Dick with his troubles. He did not hope for any happy solution of the difficulty, but there is always a little comfort in talking over one’s miseries with somebody; and Bob knew that Dick would never say, “I told you so.”
Happily, the first recitation was scheduled for eleven o’clock, and Hollister found Dick alone in his rooms working over some math problems. He looked up smiling as the dismayed fellow entered.
“Hello, Bobby,” he greeted. “What’s the matter? You look as if life held no further joys for you.”
Without a word, Hollister thrust the dean’s letter into Merriwell’s hand. Dick read it through with knitted brows, and, having finished, folded it methodically and handed it back.
“Wouldn’t that kill you dead!” he exclaimed. “Sixty per cent.! Let’s see how we can dope that out.”
Hollister looked at him blankly.
“Dope it out!” he exclaimed. “What is there to dope out? I’m done!”
“Rot!” Dick returned emphatically. “You’re not going to give up without an effort, are you? We’ll get you through somehow. But you’ll have to buckle down and work like a terror.”
“I’ll work, all right,” Hollister returned, in a dispirited voice; “but I can’t make that average. Why, I’ve got to start in and make it this very day, man, and I haven’t the haziest notion of what the Latin lesson is, though I did grind some on chemistry last night.”
“Never know what you can do till you try, Bobby,” Dick said cheerily. “Why, we can’t let you be dropped, old fellow. Rather than that, I’ll turn tutor and drag you through by the hair of your head.”
He paused and his face grew serious.
“There’s one thing sure, though,” he went on, his eyes fixed on Hollister’s face; “you’ll have to give up football, and drop it like a hot cake this very day.”
For an instant Hollister looked at him blankly as if he did not comprehend what the other had said. Then he understood, and a look of utter despair came into his eyes.
“Give it up!” he cried. “Oh, Dick, I can’t!”
“You’ve got to,” Merriwell retorted firmly. “Can’t you see that if you don’t you’ll be dropped sure as fate? You can’t play football and study at the same time. You’re not made that way. It’s a question of giving it up voluntarily or of being dropped from the class and, consequently, from the varsity.”
Hollister groaned. How could he give up the thing he loved better than anything else in the world! What would college life be without it? He almost felt as if he’d rather be dropped than voluntarily give it up, except that such a course would mean the same thing in the end.
He looked at Merriwell pleadingly.
“But I could still play in the games, even if I didn’t show up for practice, couldn’t I?” he urged.
Dick shook his head.
“You couldn’t,” he said decidedly. “You’ve got to the point when you have to give every atom of your mind to your work. The minute you begin to think about playing in a game your attention will be distracted. You won’t be able to study. It can’t be done, Bob. You don’t suppose I’m anxious to see you leave the team, do you? Great Scott, man! I don’t know what we’ll do without you. But it’s your only chance. Don’t you see that?”
Hollister saw it only too clearly. He realized perfectly the truth of Merriwell’s words. He knew quite well that if he were going to play in a game he would be thinking for days beforehand about it. Unconsciously his mind would wander and he would cease giving the proper attention to his books. Bitterly he regretted the moment when he first began to let things slide. If he had only not let his enthusiasm for the game get the better of him he would be all right now.
And suddenly into his mind came the thought of Jarvis Blake and his treachery. The fellow would triumph now and would very likely get his place on the varsity. He could not bear the idea.
“If I quit the team Blake will be put on,” he said aloud. “I couldn’t stand that, Dick. It’s what he’s been after right along. Last night—I heard——”
A gleam of combat came into Merriwell’s eyes and his chin squared.
“I thought so,” he said emphatically. “I had a notion that was his game. But it won’t work if I can put a spoke in his wheel. There are a couple of other subs who are as good as he is. I rather think one of them will take your place.”
“If you could only work it, Dick!” Hollister said eagerly. “Of course, I’m not trying to blame him for what’s happened. That’s all up to me. But I do know that he did his best to have me dropped, and if he got my place in the line I couldn’t stand it.”
“Don’t worry,” Merriwell said quickly. “I don’t think he will.”
He paused and looked Hollister keenly in the eyes.
“Well,” he said slowly, “have you made up your mind?”
Still Bob wavered, unwilling to take the step which, deep down in his heart, he knew would have to come.
Merriwell showed no signs of impatience. With rare sympathy, he realized what a struggle must be going on in the man’s mind. The thought of all it would mean to him if, for any reason, he were forced to give up football was appalling, and he knew that Hollister was even more devoted to the game.
“I know how hard it is, Bobby,” he said quietly. “But after a little you’ll come to see that it’s the only thing for you to do. Football—any game, in fact—is a splendid thing when it keeps its proper proportions as something incidental to the college course. But the minute it begins to dominate a man, as it has done you to the exclusion of everything else, it’s time to cut it out. You didn’t come to Yale to play football, but to get your degree and the other benefits which a college course gives a man. Think how you’d feel if you were dropped at the very beginning of your senior year. Think of the humiliation of being thrown out with such a record as you have made this fall.”
“I can’t even play in the Yale-Princeton game on Saturday?” Hollister questioned sadly.
Dick shook his head firmly.
“No, sir,” he returned with emphasis. “You give me your promise never to play football again while you’re in college, and I’ll do my very best to pull you through in your studies. How about it?”
“All right,” Hollister said, in a low voice. “I promise.”
“Good,” Dick smiled. “That’s the stuff. Now let’s get down to business.”
He glanced swiftly at the clock.
“An hour and a half before Latin,” he murmured. “We’ve got to get busy.”
Before Hollister knew what he was doing, Dick had him sitting at the table, the open book before him, and together they proceeded to go through the day’s allotment of Horace.
Merriwell did his work thoroughly, translating slowly and stopping to explain the derivation of every word about which Bob had the least doubt. He had a natural gift of making things plain, and in an hour’s time Hollister had acquired a pretty good notion of what it was all about. Then, after a hurried review of the chemistry lesson, they sallied forth to the lecture room.
“I think you’ll do in the Horace, old fellow,” Dick assured him. “Just keep your head and take it slowly, and you’ll come out all right.”
Such proved to be the case. About halfway through the hour, Professor Goodhue called Hollister’s name in a rather weary tone of voice, fully expecting a repetition of the absolute failures for which the fellow had become noted.
To his amazement, Hollister arose slowly and gave a very good rendering of the passage, even to construing accurately the few words the dazed professor asked him.
“That will do, Mr. Hollister,” the latter managed to say when Bob had finished. “Very good indeed. I should—er—like to congratulate you on the extraordinary improvement in your work.”
“Thank you, sir,” Bob murmured, his face a bit red.
On the campus outside, Dick slapped him on the back.
“Well done!” he exclaimed. “That was more than sixty, all right. You’ll do. Now for the lab. That’s going to be harder, for we didn’t give any time to it.”
As they mounted the steps to the chemical laboratory, Bob happened to catch a glimpse of Blake’s face, and the look of ill-tempered annoyance he saw there was an added incentive to renewed endeavor. The big, blond fellow was evidently not at all pleased with the surprising turn things had taken.
By some fortunate chance, Hollister was not called upon at all in chemistry. Perhaps the professor had grown weary of his constant failures and did not think it worth while. At all events, it gave Bob a little respite. There were no other recitations that day, and by to-morrow, he hoped, with Dick’s assistance, to have made up a little of the lost time.
Merriwell realized perfectly that what he had undertaken was not going to be any easy task. There was no fun at all in coaching a fellow who had done absolutely no work for almost six weeks, and was, consequently, totally ignorant of what had been gone over so far that term. But this fact did not deter him in the least. He knew that it was the only way by which Hollister could be saved, and, though it meant that every spare moment must be devoted to tutoring Bob for a few weeks at least, he was fond enough of the fellow to go to that extreme.
Hollister’s announcement at the training table that he had to leave the team was one of the hardest things he had ever done. It had the effect of a bombshell on the assembled players.
Instantly the room was in an uproar. The fellows all crowded around him, unable to believe their ears.
“You can’t leave, Bobby!”
“Cut it out, old man, and have another think.”
“Stop your kidding!”
“Thunderation! What’ll we do without you?”
These and a dozen other incredulous exclamations were hurled at the wretched fellow, but Bob persisted in his resolve; and when the men saw that he was really in earnest, they were in despair.
All, that is, save Jarvis Blake. Dick, his eye on the fellow, noticed the sudden expression of amazed incredulity which flashed into his face, to be followed instantly by a look of joy and unmistakable triumph. Evidently he had not expected this turn of affairs, but he was none the less more than satisfied with it.
“I’ll put a spoke in your wheel, my bucko,” Dick muttered fiercely. “All your dirty scheming won’t do you a bit of good.”
He put in an hour’s work with Hollister after dinner, and, laying out enough to keep the man busy that afternoon, he got out the car and drove down to the field.
His first move was to seek out Tempest and Bill Fullerton, and for ten minutes the three men remained in close confab. When they separated there was a look of extreme satisfaction on Dick’s face. He hurried into the athletic house to get into his togs.
A little later, when the men were all assembled on the field, Don Tempest held up his hand for silence.
“You fellows all know that Hollister has been obliged to leave the team,” he said quietly. “You also know why. It’s something which can’t be helped, but I’m sure you will agree with me that it hits us pretty hard and will make a big hole in the line. I’m sorry it couldn’t have been postponed until after the game on Saturday, but since that was impossible we’ll just have to make the best of it. In regard to filling his place——”
He hesitated and his eyes wandered over the eager, expectant faces of the subs. Many of them knew that there was no possible chance of their being picked for the important position, but there were three or four who evidently had hopes.
Jarvis Blake had more than hopes, if one could judge from the look of assurance on his face. There was plainly small doubt in his mind that he would be the lucky man, and Dick watched him with a distinct feeling of satisfaction.
“In talking it over,” Tempest continued, “we have decided that Keran had better try out for end until further notice.”
Blake gave a gasp of dismay. The blow was so sudden and so absolutely unexpected that, for an instant, he could not believe his ears.
Then his face turned scarlet, his eyes flashed, and he took a quick step forward. Dick was watching him quietly.
“I think——” began the big, blond fellow, speaking with evident difficulty.
Tempest eyed him coldly.
“I said Keran,” he remarked significantly; “Phil Keran.”
There was an undercurrent of contempt in his voice which cut Blake like the lash of a whip and made him step back involuntarily. Before he could recover his customary poise, the fellows spread out in the regular formation, Keran, grinning from ear to ear, in the coveted place at right end.
Blake had never been so furious in his life. He could not understand how it had all come about. For a moment he was tempted to leave the field. He had even turned and was about to stride off without a word, when he realized that such a move would be folly. He would gain nothing by it, and his chances for ever accomplishing his end would be totally ruined.
With a sullen scowl on his face, he walked over to his place on the scrub. After all, Keran was only in the varsity on sufferance. He might not make good, and then Blake’s chance would come.
THE BEGINNING OF THE GAME.
It must not be supposed that Bob Hollister’s course was an easy one. It was, on the contrary, desperately hard. A dozen times a day bitter thoughts and regrets for what he had given up assailed him, but he managed to thrust these aside, and, with Dick’s help, he kept doggedly at his work, encouraged by the very evident progress he made in his studies.
The story of his renunciation of football and his steady application to his books seemed to have become known to the faculty. Certain it was that, one and all, they realized what an effort he was making to stick with the class, and most of them did their best to help him along.
As for Merriwell, every minute he could spare was devoted to coaching Bob. The latter almost lived in Dick’s rooms. Every evening they went over the work for the next day together, Dick patiently explaining every point, bolstering up Hollister’s failing courage, making a regular hermit of himself for the sake of the other man’s future.
In the afternoons Bob spent his time grinding on the back work, for occasionally the professors had an annoying way of having little quizzes which covered the subjects they had gone over that term.
That was the hardest part of it all, to sit alone with a book before him, knowing all the time that the others were out on the field where he longed to be more than anywhere else in the world. At first he had to grit his teeth and exercise the utmost self-control to keep his mind from wandering; but, after a little, it came easier, though he was never wholly resigned.
At last came the day of the Yale-Princeton game. Hollister wondered desperately whether he would have to stay away from the field that afternoon. It seemed as if that would be more than he could bear. In the morning he broached the subject to Merriwell.
“About the game this afternoon, Dick,” he began hesitatingly. “It don’t seem as if I could study while that’s going on. Couldn’t I go down and watch it, just this once?”
Dick looked at him thoughtfully.
“Do you think that’s a good idea, Bobby?” he asked slowly. “Wouldn’t you feel worse on the field, not being able to play, than you would if you stayed away?”
“Gee, no!” exclaimed Hollister. “Even if I don’t play, there’d be some satisfaction watching it.”
“Come on, then,” Merriwell said quickly. “You’ve certainly done well enough to take the afternoon off.”
Thus it was that Hollister sat in the tonneau of Dick’s car as the Wizard tore down to the field that afternoon. Tempest and Blair Hildebrand sat with him, Rudolph Rose crumpled his long legs in the body of the car at their feet, while Teddy Baxter clung precariously to the running board.
Hollister felt a thrill of the old joyful enthusiasm as the car whirled through the streets. Once more he seemed to be one of them, and, as he entered the grounds and swept his eye over the already filling stands, he sniffed the air like a war horse that scents combat from afar.
But once in the dressing room, the reaction came. He saw the others strip and hurriedly don their togs; listened to their eager, excited discussion of their chances for victory; watched them troop out in a body and lope across to the gridiron; and, as he followed slowly, dispiritedly, he realized with a bitter pang that he was out of it. Instead of plunging into the contest with tingling blood and every sense alert, doing his best for his Alma Mater, straining every nerve to win a victory for the blue, he must stand on the side lines and just watch.
The thrilling, deep-toned cheers of the excited thousands would ring in his ears as before, but they would have a different sound. They would be meant for others, not for him. Somehow, he felt that if he could only have played in this one game he could be resigned about never going on the field again. If he could only show just once more what he could do—play just one more game for all that was in him, and perhaps help to win a victory, it would content him.
But it was too late. He had given his word, and the team was finally made up. With downcast eyes and bitter heart, he entered the inclosure and, walking past the grand stands, dropped down on the side lines with the subs. At least he would watch the game from the field. He couldn’t bear sitting in a stand. He had never done that in all the time he had first come out for the team.
The stands were filled to overflowing, a sea of eager, enthusiastic faces rising, tier upon tier, from the field. Flags fluttered by the hundreds, blue, mostly, but with a liberal sprinkling of the orange and black. The hum of many voices sounded like the drone of a gigantic hive of bees. The flash of many faces turned impatiently toward the closed gates as the hour approached.
At last the gates were flung open and the teams appeared. Princeton came first, and cantered briskly across the field. They were greeted by a round of applause from their adherents.
Then Yale appeared, and the stands rose to them with a yell which sent a thrill through Hollister’s heart—a thrill followed swiftly by a stab of pain. Perhaps Dick had been right when he said it would be harder here than if he had stayed away.
Yale won the toss, and, there being a rather brisk wind blowing, chose the protected goal and gave the enemy the ball. The fellows swiftly took their places to await the kick off. Presently the whistle sounded, and from that moment Bob Hollister was oblivious to time and space, the shouting crowd, the excited subs—everything, in short, except the progress of the contest before him.
Almost at once he saw that Princeton had an unusually strong team. He had expected something of the sort, for all reports agreed in stating that it was the best eleven the New Jersey college had turned out in several years; but Hollister had not thought it would be quite so good as it now appeared.
With knitted brows, he watched the progress of the ball down the field toward Yale’s goal. There was no doubt in his mind that the orange-and-black fellows had made the most of some very efficient coaching. Their teamwork was splendid, and every now and then they made use of some novel play which caused Hollister to bestow upon them a sincere, if somewhat grudging, admiration.
But presently he ceased to watch their good points and bent an anxious, scrutinizing eye upon his former comrades. Something seemed to be the matter with their playing. A subtle, impalpable something, hard to define, but plainly evident to the quick mind of the man on the side line.
There was a slight absence of snap, of unity, which perhaps another might not have seen. Hollister was entirely too modest to realize that his absence from the team could make any difference. He did not see that the lack of his swift, perfect brainwork, his cheering encouragement, would be felt to any appreciable extent. And yet, that was actually the case.
Merriwell was playing a perfect game, Buckhart was at his best; but they could not carry the whole team. Don Tempest, still not perfectly strong after his long illness, and feeling the lack of the practice which he had lost, did not make a very good showing. While Phil Keran, though he was a good steady player and did his best, could never take the place of Hollister, one of the best ends Yale had ever had.
Slowly the ball was forced back. Nearer and nearer it came to the goal. Bob’s heart leaped into his throat and he could not swallow. They must not make a goal—they must not!
Then the line stiffened, the advance ceased. Two downs brought barely five yards gain. Not daring to risk another forward pass, Princeton tried a kick from the field.
The ball soared over the heads of the scrimage line. To Hollister, tense, breathless, it seemed as if it would pass over the bar, and he groaned aloud as the orange-and-black line surged forward in its wake.
The groan changed to a gasp of joy as the pigskin carromed from an upright and a tall, lithe figure leaped into the air, clutched it and dropped back.
It was Merriwell. Bob could have shouted aloud in his relief had he not been too intent on watching the outcome. For an instant the men were so involved in a tangle of flying figures and waving arms that he could not see what had become of the ball.
Then, all at once, a man darted around the end, closely followed by two others, and sped over the ground in an oblique course toward the farther side line.
In an instant Bob recognized him as Crowfoot, and realized that Dick had in some way passed the ball swiftly to the Indian, who, assisted by Elwell and Kenny, the quarter back, was covering the ground like a streak of light.
Kenny was bowled over instantly; Elwell met his Waterloo a minute afterward; but by the time Crowfoot was tackled by one of the Princeton guards he had covered thirty yards and the ball was back out of danger.
Then the whistle sounded and Hollister realized that the first quarter was over.
After the brief three-minute interval, Yale started in with a rush, carrying the ball down the field in a series of brilliant plays which did full credit to every man on the team.
They seemed to have recovered from their strange lassitude and were evidently determined to utterly annihilate their opponents.
But that was not to be done easily. Oddly enough, Princeton blandly refused to be annihilated. And so the hard-fought battle continued. Back and forth surged the lines of tattered, gasping, breathless men. At one moment it would seem that Yale had the advantage, and apparently nothing could prevent her from scoring. Then Princeton would rally and force the blue line slowly, but surely, back from the danger zone.
To the man on the side line it was sheer agony. His trained eye saw the weak points of his team even more swiftly than did Tempest, the captain. His alert brain, feverishly active, took in lost opportunities which the men on the field did not even perceive, and he was constantly thinking of how he would have made a successful play if he had only been out there with the rest.
Then began a series of minor accidents which played havoc with the Yale line. First of all, Rose was knocked senseless and had to leave the field. Then Samp Elwell twisted his ankle so that he could not stand on it; and another sub threw off his enveloping blanket, jerked off his sweater, and raced into the arena in response to Tempest’s peremptory gesture.
Last of all, Phil Keran gave out, and, after a momentary hesitation, Tempest reluctantly summoned Jarvis Blake from the side line. He was the best man left, and, perhaps, had it not been for what he had heard from Dick about the fellow, Tempest might have put him in before; for Blake had always showed up well in practice.
As Hollister saw his enemy race out and take his own place at right end, he clenched his fists so tightly that the nails cut into the flesh of his palm. This was the worst of all. Blake was now just where he had been scheming to get.
Then the teams lined up and Bob forgot even that. It became apparent at once that the change had not been for the better. Princeton had been obliged to put in only one substitute, and her advantage showed very plainly.
Strive as the Yale line did against them, the solid phalanx of the opposing team made its way inexorably down the field. There were occasional rallies, to be sure, but never once did the orange and black fail to make their required gain; and at last, with a sob in his throat, Hollister saw the pigskin forced over the line and heard the Princeton crowd thundering its joy.
The goal was kicked, and, before the second quarter was over, Princeton had scored again on a drop kick, and was nine points to the good.
Things looked very black for Yale.
Hollister did not leave his place on the grass. He could not bring himself to go back to the house with the team. He had not the heart. And so he lay there viciously jabbing the blade of his knife into the ground, his brow drawn into a scowl, his brown eyes full of a strange mixture of longing and pain.
He had been watching Blake’s playing, and it had taken him only a few moments to see how much it fell short of his own. Hollister was not in the least conceited, but he had a keen sense of sizing a fellow up on the field and had always viewed his own good points and shortcomings as dispassionately as he did those of any one else.
Watching Jarvis Blake, he knew that he himself could have done better. Blake was a good player, but he was deficient in some important qualifications, principally initiative and speed in starting.
Time and time again, Bob saw him fail to take advantage of an opportunity which might have meant a gain of yards to his team. Once, in his excitement, he had shouted a warning to the substitute, only to realize what he was doing and choke himself into silence.
The third quarter started off with a fresh swing. The rest had done all the men good, and evidently there had been some straight talk in the athletic house which heartened them and brought them to a realizing sense of the gravity of their position.
The ball was forced down to within the thirty-yard line without a pause. Hollister, watching eagerly, soon saw whose brain was dominating the work. Almost every time the pigskin was passed to Merriwell. And, with quite as much regularity, the brilliant senior responded nobly.
He seemed to be everywhere at once, slippery as an eel, dodging hither and thither in a most bewildering fashion, sometimes passing the ball to Crowfoot, or another on whom he could depend, but always making gains, ever advancing, until Bob found himself sitting erect, his cheeks burning and his eyes sparkling as he watched this amazing exhibition of almost perfect football.
Would he make it? Could he possibly hold out to reach the line? Suddenly his question was answered.
The quarter back ripped out a rapid signal which Bob could not hear perfectly; the ball was snapped back; there was a bewildering, lightninglike, intricate pass. Hollister gasped. It was his improved crisscross play, the last thing he had worked out before he had left the team.
The pigskin seemed to leap from one man to another like a thing endowed with life. For a minute he lost track of it, and then he caught his breath swiftly as Merriwell sprang out of the mêlée, the pigskin tucked under his arm, and raced over the turf as if he were as fresh as the moment he had first set foot on the field.
The Princeton crowd was taken by surprise. The pass had been so cleverly made that most of them thought the ball was being sent around the other end, and there was a surging rush in that direction, which left a comparatively free field for Dick.
Too late they saw their error and trailed after him.
There were but two men between him and the coveted goal. He could easily outdistance the first, who was a little to one side, but the full back would have to be dodged.
As he ran, he watched the man keenly, wondering just what trick he would have to bring into play to get away from him. The fellow stood alertly on his toes, watching, waiting, ready to spring to one side or the other, as the case might be.
Dick came on without slackening his speed, swerved suddenly to the right, whirled, darted the other way, and all in such a brief moment that to this day Princeton’s full back hasn’t the least notion of how he was fooled. He only knew that by the time he had turned Dick was a dozen feet away, speeding on toward the goal.
The next instant the full back gave a grunt of triumph and stretched himself, for the Yale man suddenly staggered, tried wildly to recover, and then fell full length to the sod.
A groan of horror went up from the stands, followed by deathlike stillness.
Then, to the amazement of the onlookers, they saw that, instead of lying where he had fallen, Merriwell spun end over end, and the next instant he was on his feet again. But he ran with an appreciable limp.
It was a tense moment. The full back was gaining. Slowly, but surely, he crept up and the distance between the two lessened. Dick ran with more and more apparent effort, and it was plain to all that he must be suffering tortures.
Now the full back’s fingers touched him, but could find no hold on the smooth canvas. The next instant they clutched his waist, and clung there with a firm, dragging grip.
Five yards more! Could he ever make it?
Struggling, dragging, straining every nerve and muscle, Merriwell flung himself over the line; and, as he did so, a great sigh arose from the spectators, merging into a crashing burst of sound, for they realized that the ball was over.
A BROKEN PROMISE AND A VICTORY.
Despite his sprained ankle, Merriwell kicked the goal, straight and true, and the teams lined up again. But that run had been a last desperate attempt to wrest victory from defeat.
Unable to count longer on Dick, who, though he was still able to play, could not be expected to continue the extraordinary efforts which had made him an object of wonder to every man on the field, the team went to pieces as nearly as any Yale team can.
They played despairingly, doggedly, disputing every inch on the part of the Princeton organization, but for all that being borne slowly down the field.
The ginger was gone out of them. They had no life, and their playing had become more or less machinelike.
Bob Hollister realized this swiftly. He knew the signs only too well.
“They can’t do it!” he almost sobbed. “They can’t beat them that way!”
If he could only go into the game. Just for that last quarter. Surely it could not do any harm. He must do it. He could not sit there and see the fellows beaten.
The third quarter was nearly over when he leaped to his feet, his face white and determined, and ran swiftly toward the house. Dashing inside, he encountered Keran, his face a network of scowling lines, his fists clenched, and one foot tied up in bandages.
“Gimme your clothes!” Hollister exclaimed. “Quick!”
“What——” gasped Keran.
“Blazes!” ripped out the excited fellow. “Your clothes, I tell you! Get ’em off! Mine aren’t here!”
With an exclamation of joy, the other realized what he meant to do. Snatching off his jacket and jersey, he tossed them to Bob, who was already half undressed.
“Glory be!” he cried. “You’re going to play! You’ll brace ’em up!”
Hollister made no answer. His eyes were gleaming. One thought only was in his mind. He must get into those togs and back to the field before the beginning of the last quarter. He meant to play if he never did another thing in all his life. His promise to Merriwell was forgotten. He thought of nothing but that line of gasping, tattered men out there, striving vainly against black defeat.
With eager, trembling fingers, Keran helped him lace his jacket. Rudolph Rose staggered up from where he lay full length on a bench, and, dropping down on the floor, laced up his shoes. Neither of them spoke a word, for words were unnecessary. They understood.
In a miraculously short time Bob was ready, and, snatching up a nose guard, he tore out of the house.
Bill Fullerton, his face black as a thundercloud, was talking to Tempest on the side lines. The brief intermission was almost over as Bob dashed up to them.
“I want to go in, Don!” he exclaimed.
Both men looked at him in astonishment.
“I thought——” Tempest began.
“Never mind that,” Hollister interrupted. “I’ve got to go in! That’s the only way. The fellows have gone all to pieces since Merriwell hurt himself!”
Still the captain of the varsity hesitated. He knew quite well of the promise Hollister had made Merriwell that he would not play football again during his college course.
“I swear to you, Don, by all that’s holy,” Bob said earnestly, “that if you let me play out this game I’ll never touch football again! It’s only fifteen minutes, Don! Just fifteen little minutes! If I sit here watching it, I shall go mad. Let me play, Don.”
His pleading voice quivered with the emotion which was tearing him.
Tempest was in somewhat of a quandary. He wanted to put Hollister in, for he felt that it was barely possible that Bob might succeed in putting spirit into the jaded, discouraged men. He was fresh, too, and wrought up to a white heat of enthusiasm. It would be strange if he did not accomplish something. Don glanced at Fullerton questioningly.
The coach nodded emphatically.
“It’s the only thing that can possible save the day,” he said decidedly. “Better let him in.”
“Blake, of course!” Fullerton said tersely. “He’s rotten!”
Hollister’s face lit up joyfully as he listened to this brief conversation. Then the signal came, and there was a general movement to get out on the field.
Tempest walked rapidly to Blake’s side and said a few words to him in a low tone. The big, blond fellow flushed scarlet and darted a venomous glance at Bob. Then, without a word, he turned on his heel and walked rapidly toward the athletic house, his face sullen, and the angry flush still in his cheeks.
Hollister followed the other men with a springy step and a heart fairly bursting with joy. At last he was back with the boys. It seemed almost as if he had never left them. He did not worry over the fact that, after these brief, fleeting minutes were over, he could never play again. He only knew that the team was in a bad way and needed him, and he resolved that he would play as he had never played before.
One after the other the fellows recognized him and greeted him with short, hurried words, which were an odd blending of surprise, joy, and relief; but all had such a ring of sincerity and truth that Hollister was more touched than he would have thought possible.
He dared not meet Merriwell’s glance. He had broken his promise, and he was not sorry; he hated to think of what Dick’s opinion of him would be from this time forth.
Then, as he crouched in his place, he forgot Merriwell, forgot everything but the fact that he was back in the line again.
“Are you all ready?” asked the referee.
There was no reply. Only here and there a foot moved uneasily as weights were thrown forward, and there was a general, almost imperceptible, tightening of nerves and muscles.
Then the whistle shrilled.
Those who watched the game that day said afterward that, in all their experience, they had never seen such an amazing rallying on the part of any team as was shown by the Yale eleven during that last quarter.
Three minutes before they had gone off the field with dragging steps and gloomy, discouraged faces. The followers of the blue, who crowded the stands, felt a wave of despair sweep over them as they thought of what might happen in that last fifteen minutes. Many of them fully expected to see Princeton make another touchdown, if not two, and they waited with perfunctory, mechanical cheers, and swiftly ebbing spirit for the beginning of the end.
But the sudden, totally unexpected appearance of Hollister seemed to work almost a miracle.
Bob responded nobly. Never had he put up such a game before. Tireless, never failing, swift as lightning, with his brain in splendid working order, he seemed to be all over the field at once. Dodging, slipping through holes in the line where one would not have thought any advance possible, blocking, cutting off opposing runners, and interfering for runners of his own team, it seemed as if all the pent-up, thwarted energy of the last few days of deprivation was being poured out now in this brief, brilliant exhibition.
His work thrilled the other men with a new hope, and stirred them to fresh endeavor, so that they were with him heart and soul; and the pigskin was rushed down the field swiftly and irresistibly, until the forty-yard line was reached.
Here the orange-and-black fellows seemed to recover, and, rallying, presented such a solid line that two downs brought barely six yards; and Yale had to resort to a drop kick, which sent the ball forward thirty yards, but gave it to Princeton.
Then the great struggle of the day began. Inspired by the brilliant Hollister, Yale made a strenuous, dogged effort to score, while her opponents were equally determined that she should not. Back and forth surged the lines of men, never reaching within kicking distance of either goal, and using up the precious minutes in fiercely contesting every inch of progress.
It was a battle royal, and the spectators were so thrilled with interest and excitement that they almost forgot to cheer.
At last, when there were but six minutes left to play, Kenny decided to make use of one of the most intricate and most daring of the combinations of double plays and crisscrossing which the coaches had worked out from Hollister’s suggestion. It was only to be used as a last resort, and Kenny decided that the time had come.
Kenny paused. Merriwell sprang back a yard. Buckhart crept a few feet in.
“Fifty-four—seventeen!” finished Kenny swiftly.
The ball was snapped, Brad ran forward three strides, Kenny turned, and the pigskin flew back. The next instant Merriwell had the ball, and sped toward the right end of the line. The quarter crossed in front of him; the tackle and guard thrust back their opponents; the Princeton line surged forward with a rush.
Hollister plunged forward, too, as if he were intent only on interfering in Merriwell’s behalf; but he had a more important duty than that to perform. Swiftly, before their opponents realized what was being done, he and Dick changed places, Merriwell was blocking with all his might, while Hollister, the ball clutched tightly to him, sped round, shot through and out onto the field, leaving a mass of waving legs and arms many yards behind.
Joy was the supreme sensation in Bob’s breast. Only the Princeton full back threatened. The ball was safely clutched in his right arm, his breath came easily, his legs were strong, and the goal posts loomed down the field and beckoned him on. This, he thought exultingly, was the best moment that life could give.
Behind, although he could not hear it for the din of shouting from the stands, he knew the pursuit to be in full cry. He edged farther out from the dangerous touch line and sped on. The Princeton full back had been deceived by the play, and had gone farther up the field for a kick, and now down he came at full speed.
Hollister seemed to hesitate and falter. The full back prepared to tackle. His broad back was bent far over, his sturdy legs squared themselves, and, when Bob was almost within his reach, he dove forward.
There was a sudden gasp from the spectators, a breathless hush, and then a thunderous roar of joy, as Hollister leaped high in the air, cleared the hooking arms, stumbled, got his balance again, and ran on, free, the ball still cupped in the curve of his arm.
The momentary pause had served to bring the foremost of the other pursuers almost to Bob’s heels.
And now the plucky end began to feel the effects of his strenuous work. His breath came irregularly, his throat was parching, his legs ached with every bound, but still he never wavered. Behind him sounded the thud of relentless feet. He dared not look back lest he stumble. Every second he expected to feel the clutch of the enemy. Presently he gave up trying to breathe; it was too hard. His head was swimming and his lungs seemed bursting.
Then his wandering faculties rushed back at a bound as he fancied he felt a touch—just the lightest fingering—and, gathering all his remaining strength, he increased his pace for a few steps.
The ten-yard line passed, slowly, reluctantly.
“One more,” he thought. “Only one more!”
The great stands were hoarse with shouting, for here ended the game.
Nearer and nearer crept the five-yard line; nearer and nearer crept the pursuers. Once more Hollister called upon his strength, and tried to draw away, but it was useless. And, with the goal line but four yards distant, stout arms were clasped tightly around his waist.
One—two—three strides he made. The goal line writhed before his dizzy sight. Relentlessly the clutching grasp fastened tighter and tighter about him like bands of steel, and settled lower and lower until his legs were clasped and he could move no farther. Despairingly he thrust the ball out at arm’s length, and tried to throw himself forward; the trampled turf rose to meet him, and then blackness came.
Bob’s first waking thought was that he must be back on the rocky shores of Maine, where he had spent the past summer. Surely those were breakers which roared and thundered in his ears. Then he opened his eyes, and found that he was lying on the sod, a sweater under his head, and several vaguely familiar faces swimming above him.
A moment later he knew that it was not surf, but the wild yelling and cheering of excited, enthusiastic thousands. Back and forth rolled the mighty torrents of sound, breaking and crashing in reverberations.
Suddenly there was a pause, and then a fresh outburst, this time deliberate and controlled:
“Rah, rah rah! Rah, rah, rah! Rah, rah, rah! Hollister! Hollister! Hollister!”
No need to tell him in so many words that the ball had gone over. This was enough. They were cheering for him, and, as he opened his eyes again, something like a mist came over them. Presently this cleared away, and he found himself looking into Merriwell’s face.
“How are you feeling, old fellow?” the senior asked anxiously. “Hurt any place? Or is it just wind you want?”
“That’s all,” he said quickly. “Be all right in a minute.”
He hesitated for an instant.
Merriwell bent lower.
“Yes?” he questioned.
“I couldn’t help it, old man,” Bob said in a low tone. “I broke my promise, and I reckon you must think me an awful rotter. I held out as long as I could; but you needed me, Dick, and I couldn’t sit there and see the fellows licked. But it’s the last time.”
“Do you really mean that, Bob?” Merriwell asked slowly. “Don’t you think that the next game you see will tempt you just as you have been tempted to-day?”
Hollister shook his head decidedly.
“No, sir!” he said emphatically. “I’m through. This is the last. I’ll be content now to cut it out for good. I’ve shown what I could do, and——”
Another thunderous burst of cheering came from the stands.
“Hollister! Hollister! Hollister!”
“Not even for that would I break my word to you again, Merriwell. You believe me, don’t you, old fellow?”
For an instant Dick gazed keenly into the anxious eyes of his friend. Then his face cleared and a smile curved the corners of his mouth.
“Sure,” he said simply.
A CHARGE OF BIRD SHOT.
It was late afternoon. Dick and several of his friends were enjoying a brief holiday after the football season. The sun had dropped below the line of forest trees, but its golden rays slanted through the naked ranks of oak and chestnut and hickory, casting long, grotesque shadows on the mottled blanket of dead leaves which covered the earth. Here and there a white birch gleamed with startling distinctness against a dark background of spruce or pine.
The few remaining leaves rustled crisply in the sharp breeze which came from the distant Sound. Now and then one of them, loosened from its hold, sailed slowly and silently downward in many erratic circles, coming to rest at length on the thick carpet of red and yellow and golden brown.
The tang of autumn was in the air. The sense of nature’s decay was evident everywhere. The very smell of fall, subtle and impalpable, but nevertheless unmistakable, was in the nostrils of the five men who rustled, single file, along the scarcely perceptible path which wound through the trees.
Even Lysander Cobmore, the lean, wrinkled, weatherworn farmer who led the way, felt it in his blood, though he was not, perhaps, so acutely conscious of it as were the four Yale men who followed him. He viewed the coming of autumn with more or less mixed feelings. It heralded the approach of a long season of rest and hibernation which would be welcome after the strenuous work of the past summer. But it also meant snow and ice and many days of bitter cold when one would not venture far from the glowing kitchen stove. However, the crops had been successfully harvested and were under cover, and he was content to take things easy until the coming of the spring should start the ball rolling again.
To Dick Merriwell and his three college mates, Brad Buckhart, Eric Fitzgerald, and Teddy Baxter, there was almost a feeling of intoxication in the crisp, cool air which sent their blood racing through their veins; in the delightful, earthy, leafy smell of everything; even in the gaunt, wintry look of the naked trees through which one could follow so easily the whirring flight of the partridge, or the swift, low scurry of a covey of quail.
They had escaped the trammels of work for a few days’ shooting, and were like a party of schoolboys as they left Dick’s car, the Wizard, in one of Cobmore’s barns and followed their guide with springy steps and eagerly sniffing nostrils through the rustling woods toward the spot where they proposed to make their headquarters.
“The house hasn’t been vacant very long, then?” Dick remarked presently.
“Three weeks gone ter-morrer since old man Hickey was buried,” returned Cobmore, without glancing around. “Fur all he lived so long alone, you folks’ll find everythin’ neat’s a pin. I’ve bin over twice sence young Lawrence give me charge of it, an’ thar ain’t a thing out of place.”
“Is that Barry Lawrence?” Merriwell asked quickly.
“Yep. Know him?”
“Yes; he’s a Yale man. You remember him, don’t you, Brad? He graduated three years ago.”
“You bet I do,” returned the Texan promptly. “Didn’t he play end on the varsity? Nice chap, too.”
“What relation was he to Mr. Hickey?” Dick inquired.
“Nephy. Folks was sorter surprised when Hickey left everythin’ to him an’ cut out his darter’s husband, Andy Jellison, but I kinder smelled a rat myself, knowin’ that they wan’t on speakin’ terms sence the darter died three years ago come next spring. They do say he treated her like a dog, an’ she wan’t in her grave two months before he up an’ married another woman. Andy done his best to make up with the old man, but it wan’t no use. Reckon he was thinkin’ o’ the spondulicks the old man would leave—he had a tidy little pile besides the place—an’ I s’pose he was arter his share.
“Well, I remember the first time he come for a visit arter the darter died. He driv over to my place from the village an’ put his team up in the barn. Had a couple of grips with him an’ I nachurally thinks he’d want help to git ’em over, but don’t you believe it. Said he’d go by himself. I wan’t so surprised when I happens to lift up one o’ the grips an’ finds it light’s a feather. Couldn’t have bin nothin’ in it at all, though why he wants to lug two empty grips three miles through the woods, goodness knows.
“Howsomever, that was his business, an’ I didn’t ask no questions, though I couldn’t help wonderin’. He starts off about five o’clock, an’ drat my buttons if he wan’t back about sundown, cussin’, swearin’ mad. He was a turrible profane man, was Jellison, but that night he beat the record. He calls Hickey all the names on the calendar, and got so bad I had to shet the kitchen door so Maria wouldn’t hear him, she bein’ a good church member an’ pious.
“When he calms down a bit I finds that the old man wouldn’t let him in the house. Said he never wanted to set eyes on him ag’in, an’ told him to go to the hot place, I reckon. Andy had to stop with me that night, an’ next mornin’ he went back to the city, where he works in a bank.
“Well, sir, all that summer he kep’ tryin’ to make up with old Hickey. ‘Bout every two weeks he’d show up for another try, but it wan’t any use. I could ‘a’ told him he was wastin’ his time, fer when the old man made up his mind, he stayed sot. But it wan’t none o’ my business, so I jest let him keep on ‘till he found out hisself. As I says, he kep’ comin’ all summer long, an’ then, about this time two years gone, he giv it up, an’ I ain’t seen him sence. I allus wondered though why in time he kep’ packin’ them empty grips along with him; but I ain’t never discovered it, an’ don’t reckon I ever will.”
Merriwell smiled at the old fellow’s tone of regret.
“Maybe he had left some clothes, or something like that, in the house, which he wanted to take away,” he suggested.
Lysander Cobmore considered this for a moment in silence. Then he shook his head slowly.
“That don’t seem nachural, some ways,” he returned. “Old man Hickey was that set agin’ Jellison he’d ‘a’ throwed anythin’ he owned outer the winder.”
“On account of the way he behaved to the daughter, I suppose?” Dick mused.
Cobmore wagged his stubby chin whisker emphatically.
“That’s what,” he returned quickly. “Some said he took to runnin’ with this other woman, an’ that’s what killed her. Waal, I ain’t sorry the way things has turned out. Jellison ain’t the sort of man I like to have dealings with. Tew cantankerous, you know. Now Lawrence is a nice, pleasant-spoken young feller, an’ lets me make what I kin, lettin’ the house to folks as is out huntin’ like you boys. ’Tain’t likely Jellison would——”
He broke off abruptly as the crash of a gun sounded with startling distinctness from the silent woods. The next instant came a pattering shower of fine shot which cut the twigs and branches of the near-by bushes, and caused each man to duck instinctively.
Merriwell was the first of the party to recover his presence of mind.
“Stop that, you lunatic!” he shouted, his face dark with anger.
“Came mighty near losing an eye,” growled Buckhart, wiping away a drop of blood where one of the shots had grazed his face.
“Come out here and show yourself!” cried Fitzgerald, replacing the soft felt hat which had been knocked off.
“Yes, consarn ye!” exclaimed Lysander Cobmore, shaking a lean fist toward the woods. “What in time d’ye mean?”
There was no reply, but Merriwell’s keen ear caught a faint rustling among the leaves.
“I’m going to see who the idiot is,” he said, in a low tone. “If we’re to stay around here, we can’t be running the risk of being shot in the back any minute.”
Without waiting for a reply, he darted through the undergrowth and disappeared. Brad was at his heels, and a moment later the remainder of the party heard a smothered exclamation, followed by the sound of talking, in which they distinguished the tones of a strange voice.
Then the crashing through the bushes was resumed, and presently three figures appeared in sight. Fitzgerald chuckled suddenly.
“Pipe the willie-boy, Teddy,” he said, in a low tone. “Wouldn’t that frost you! Bet he took us for deer.”
“He looks like the kind that would,” Baxter returned, with a grin.
They watched with considerable curiosity the approach of the stranger, who walked between Brad and Dick and was talking in a high-pitched, excited voice.
He was small and undersized, with stooping shoulders and a rather insignificant face. He was dressed from head to foot in khaki, which was very palpably brand new and made him ludicrously resemble one of the wooden dummies which tailors use to show off their goods.
Apparently he had gone into a sporting-goods establishment and purchased everything the clerk offered, even to a revolver which hung in a leather holster at one side of the broad belt, and a large hunting knife stuck into the other. In one gloved hand he held a double-barrel, sixteen-gauge shotgun which he clasped by the end of the barrel, letting the stock drag through the leaves behind him.
“Grathious thakes!” he lisped excitedly, as he came up to the path. “I was never tho dithurbed in all my life. I give you my word I thought ith wath a deer, or I thould never have fired in thith world.”
Brad looked at him contemptuously.
“I should think any fool would know the difference between a deer and five men!” he snapped. “Besides, there aren’t any deer around here; and if there were, how in thunder did you expect to hit one with that gun?”
The stranger’s eyes widened with surprise.
“You don’t thay tho!” he exclaimed in a distressed tone. “Why, I thought there were deer all over.”
“Did you expect to kill one with a sixteen-gauge shotgun?” Dick asked, a twinkle in his eyes.
The hunter looked puzzled.
“What’th the matter with it?” he asked. “Theemth to me the bulletth are big enough to kill anything.”
Fitzgerald shrieked with laughter.
“Bullets!” he cried hysterically. “He don’t know the difference between shells and bullets!”
Merriwell and Baxter smiled broadly. In spite of his anger, the Texan could not repress a grin. Even Lysander Cobmore chuckled dryly.
The stranger glanced from one laughing face to another, and then drew himself up with a comical expression of dignity.
“I can’t thay I thee the point,” he remarked stiffly. “Thomthing theems to thrike you gentlemen ath very funny.”
Fitz looked at his face and went off into another peal of laughter.
“Do you really mean to say you thought the shells you put into your gun consisted of a single bullet?” Dick asked quietly.
“Why, I thuppothed tho,” the small man answered shortly. “I don’t know that I thought much about it.”
He rested one hand over the barrel of his gun as if it were a walking stick.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Merriwell said quickly. “That gun’s loaded, isn’t it?”
“Why, no. I jutht thot it off.”
“Didn’t you have two shells in it?” Dick asked.
The stranger suddenly snatched his hand away with a look of horror.
“Bah Jove!” he cried excitedly. “You’re wight about that. Mercy thakes! I might have thot a hole wight through my hand.”
The thought of his narrow escape seemed to trouble him considerably more than anything which had yet occurred. Dick reached forward, and, picking up the gun, broke it and extracted the shell.
“That’s the safest way,” he said quietly. “It’s much better not to walk through the woods with your gun loaded.”
Holding the shell in his hand, he took out a knife and slit the pasteboard across, exposing the contents.
“There’s what’s inside of it,” he explained, handing it to the stranger.
The latter took it gingerly and inspected it with much curiosity.
“Well, well,” he commented. “Tho thatth what it ith. A lot of little bulletth. Quite a cute idea, ithn’t it? Giveth a chap more chance to hit thomething, I thuppothe.”
Fitzgerald threatening another outburst, Dick abruptly changed the subject.
“Are you stopping near here, Mr. ——”
He paused significantly.
“Jobloth,” supplied the stranger promptly. “Perthy Jobloth, of Commonwealth Avenue, Bothton. No, I jutht came up for the day, but I thuppoth there will be no trouble getting accomodations in the village hotel.”
Merriwell glanced at Cobmore rather dubiously.
“Thar ain’t no hotel,” returned the farmer with twinkling eyes.
Joblots looked aghast.
“No hotel!” he gasped. “Grathiouth thaketh! Whatever thall I do? It’th much too late to get back to the city.”
“Yep,” Cobmore said with a distinct relish. “Ain’t no train now till mornin’. You should hev took the five-ten.”
He seemed to be extracting considerable amusement out of Mr. Percy Joblots’ predicament.
The latter was most distressed.
“That’th what I meant to do,” he explained sadly; “but I got tho interethted in my thooting, and the woodth looked tho lovely, that I mithed it. My goodneth grathouth! I don’t know what to do. Whoever would think there wath no hotel!”
He looked so utterly woebegone and crestfallen that Dick felt sorry for him. Of course they could take him in for the night, but he wasn’t particularly anxious to have a stranger around who was apt to be a damper on their fun. Still the man could not stay out in the woods all night, and it seemed foolish to insist on his going back to Lysander Cobmore’s when their own destination was so close at hand.
He glanced questioningly at his three friends. They had quite as much say as he had.
Buckhart shrugged his shoulders indifferently; apparently it made no difference to him what became of Mr. Joblots. Fitz nodded emphatically, a broad grin on his expressive face. Evidently he saw possibilities for mirth in the presence of the stranger. Baxter seemed not to care one way or another.
At least it would only be for one night, Dick reflected, turning to the dapper little fellow.
“You’d better come along with us, Mr. Joblots,” he said. “We are on our way to a farmhouse which we are going to make our headquarters for a few days. I imagine there will be room enough for you to stay to-night.”
He glanced inquiringly at the farmer, who nodded.
“Room an’ to spare,” he said tersely, “an’ you gents had better be gittin’ on if you want to git thar before dark.”
Percy Joblots was overjoyed.
“That-th extremely kind of you,” he said gratefully. “It relievth me from a motht unpleathant prediciment. I really don’t know what I thould have done but for you, bah Jove!”
“Well, that’s settled,” Dick said shortly, “and we’d better get on. My name is Dick Merriwell, and these are my friends, Brad Buckhart, Eric Fitzgerald, and Teddy Baxter, all of Yale.”
“Delighted, I’m thure,” murmured Joblots, as the party resumed their way along the path. “Of Yale! Dear me! How many dear friendth I have had from New Haven.”
“You didn’t graduate from there yourself, by any chance, did you?” inquired Fitz.
“No, I—er—wath educated at home by—er—tutorth,” returned the little fellow hastily.
“Perhaps you know some one who is there now,” persisted Fitzgerald.
“Well, no, I think not. Motht of my friendth have graduated. Let me thee, though. Do you know a chap named McCormick?”
“Yes, of course,” returned Fitz quickly. “Archie McCormick. Dandy fellow, he is, too. Know him?”
He broke off abruptly as they emerged from the thicket into a wide clearing which sloped gently down from the forest to the shores of a beautiful little lake, whose waters, ruffled by the brisk breeze, reflected the riotous crimson and gold of the autumn sunset until it seemed almost like a radiant opal.
A little way down the slope to their right loomed the spreading bulk of a commodious, weatherworn farmhouse, with big, hospitable, chimneys and many small paned windows, each one of which reflected the sunset in flaming crimson until it looked as if the whole house was ablaze.
“Waal, boys,” remarked Cobmore. “Here we be. This is Cranberry Lake, an’ old man Hickey’s house still stands. I reckon you feel like gittin’ a fire started an’ cookin’ grub. It’s nigh onto supper time.”
“You’re right, there,” Fitzgerald said, smacking his lips. “This air has given me such a thundering appetite I could pretty near eat the soles of my shoes.”
The farmer chuckled.
“Ain’t quite that far gone, I expect,” he said. “You got somethin’ a bit tastier than that to fall to on. Let’s git around to the front door.”
The house faced the lake, and on that side was a narrow veranda which ran the full width of the building. As they turned the corner they were surprised beyond measure to see a tall figure rise from the steps and look inquiringly toward them.
The next instant Buckhart gave a sudden exclamation.
“By thunder! If it isn’t Mac! What the mischief are you doing here, old fellow?”
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.
Archie McCormick hesitated for the fraction of a second and then laughed heartily.
“Well, of all the coincidences!” he exclaimed. “Dick, too, and Fitz and Teddy! That doesn’t happen to be Barry Lawrence behind you, does it?”
Dick looked a little surprised.
“Lawrence? No,” he returned as they reached the steps. “This is Mr. Percy Joblots, of Boston. I had an idea he was a friend of yours.”
McCormick looked frankly puzzled, and, as Dick shot a quick glance at Joblots, he caught an odd expression of keen alertness in his eyes which was so much at variance with their usual blank inanity that the Yale man was puzzled. The next instant it had disappeared and the dapper fellow stepped forward with outstretched hand.
“Delighted, I’m thure, Mr. McCormick,” he said. “I’ve heard about you from thomebody, but at the moment I can’t for the life of me think which of my friendth it wath.”
“Glad to meet you,” McCormick said rather shortly.
Then he turned quickly to Dick.
“I was hoping Barry might be with you,” he said. “I met him in Hartford yesterday, and we planned to come up here for a couple of days’ gunning. You know he owns the shack here, and he was to be here at five o’clock. I’ve been waiting here since a little after four, but haven’t seen hide or hair of him. I was just beginning to think of breaking through a window and making myself as comfortable as I could for the night, when you appeared.”
“That’s funny,” Dick said thoughtfully. “We came over with exactly that same idea in view. Made arrangements with Cobmore here, who is Lawrence’s agent, to take the place for the rest of the week. Did he say anything to you about coming here himself?”
He looked at Cobmore as he spoke, and the farmer shook his head decidedly.
“Nary a word,” he returned emphatically. “It’s news to me. He most generally lets me know a couple of days before he wants it, so thar won’t be nobody else here. Be you sure, young feller, it was Barry Lawrence you made them arrangements with?”
There was a faint, but unmistakable note of incredulity in his voice which brought the color into McCormick’s face.
“Of course it was,” he said tartly. “You don’t think I’d take it upon myself to come here without his invitation, do you? We made all the arrangements last night, and would have come down together, but Barry had to go to New York this morning and wasn’t sure what train he would make back. So we decided to meet here. He said he wouldn’t be later than five, but I suppose something has happened to detain him. Very likely he’ll be down later.”
“It’ll be a hang sight later, then,” the farmer grumbled, as he mounted the steps and drew out a bunch of keys. “There ain’t no train on this branch till te-rmorrer morning.”
“What difference does it make, anyway?” Dick said lightly. “We’ll have a bang-up time together, and if Lawrence shows up he’ll just have to join in with us. After getting this far I don’t feel like turning around and going back, especially when he hasn’t even appeared on the scene.”
Cobmore turned the key in the lock and swung the door open.
“Thar you be, gents,” he said. “Make yourselves to hum. You’ve got all the grub you need to-night, an’ ter-morrer I’ll send Jake over with milk and butter an’ a few eggs. I got to be gittin’ back, or the old lady’ll raise my hair.”
They bade him good night and he disappeared into the rapidly falling shadows, while the young fellows trooped riotously into the house.
On a stand in the hall they found a candle and matches, which they lit at once and commenced a tour of inspection.
It was a typical New England farmhouse of the better class, rather more spacious, perhaps, than the majority, and certainly more rambling. The original central building, square and severely plain, had been added to from time to time, a room here, a wing there, until the size of the house had been more than doubled.
This effect was heightened by the long kitchen extension protruding at the rear, which was connected, through the milk room and woodsheds, to the big barn behind, so that the whole mass of buildings, all weatherworn to a harmonious gray, had quite an imposing appearance.
The explorers passed through a room on the right of the hall, which seemed to have been used as a sitting room, and into the dining room behind, which had evidently been the original kitchen. There was a huge chimney here which was not plastered up as it is in many old houses, but gaped wide, a glorious, cavernous opening so vast that it took up almost the entire end of the room, and could accommodate five-foot logs with ease. The hearth, which extended far out into the room, was made of square stone slabs of varying sizes, all of which had been worn smooth by the feet of many generations.
“Gee! What a dandy fireplace!” Fitzgerald exclaimed, as he paused before it in admiration. “The late Mr. Hickey certainly had good taste. Can’t you imagine toasting your feet here of a cold winter’s night, with the wind howling around outside and a regular blizzard raging?”
“We’ll have to try it after supper,” Dick said. “We can’t scrape up a blizzard for you, Fitz, but I expect it will be cold enough for a fire, all the same.”
“You bet your boots,” Buckhart put in. “I’m cold already.”
“My goodneth, yeth!” agreed Joblots, shivering in his resplendant hunting suit. “No furnace heat, I thuppoth.”
Fitz snickered, and they passed on to the kitchen, which proved to be fitted up with a modern range and all the conveniences. In fact, the whole house was comfortably furnished to the smallest detail, and everything was so clean and neat and attractive that the fellows were highly elated at their good fortune.
“It’s too comfortable altogether,” Baxter said, as they congregated in the kitchen, unpacking the supplies they had brought along. “We won’t feel as if we were camping out at all.”
“You have my full permission to spread a blanket out in the grass, my child, if this is too rich for your blood,” Fitz remarked as he perched himself on the table and proceeded to slice bacon. “Me for the comforts of home, though, when they’re around. Camping out is all very nice when you’ve got to; but I fail to see the fun in waking up so stiff you can hardly move, with a cold in your head, sand all through your clothes, and covered from head to foot with nasty, itching bites from black flies or mosquitoes.”
“Oh, come off, little one!” Buckhart put in. “It’s clear you’re not wise to the real joys of camping out when you talk like that. Who cares for such little things as black flies and sand when you’re lying on a bed of balsam boughs, wrapped up in a good blanket, with your feet to the fire and three or four good chums around to talk to or not, as you like? Nothing but the stars above your head, no walls to keep you from breathing all of God’s clean air you can get into your lungs. I tell you, tender one, that’s the best sort of a life to live. You hear me gently warble!”
“Sounds good,” Fitz retorted airily; “but how about the times when there aren’t any stars above your head and when God’s clean rain washes you off that nice balsam bed and gives you a bath when you’d a heap sight rather stay dirty. Not for this child! I have a foolish preference for a roof over me and some kind of a mattress, even if it’s only corn husks, to sleep on.”
Buckhart was about to make an emphatic rejoinder when he caught Dick’s laughing eyes.
“You’re wasting your breath, old fellow,” the latter said quickly. “Fitz is awfully fond of hearing himself talk, but don’t ever ask him to go camping if you don’t expect to be taken up.”
“Slander,” retorted the slim chap; “vile slander!”
He dived into the basket of provisions and brought forth a bottle wrapped in a newspaper.
“Pickles!” he exclaimed, holding it up. “Joy of my heart! How blessed of you, Richard, to remember my fondness——”
He stopped abruptly as his quick eye caught something on the printed page which was around the bottle. For a moment there was silence. Then his eyes widened alarmingly and his whole face took on an expression of mock horror as he fixed an accusing glare on the placid countenance of Archie McCormick.
“Oh, gay deceiver!” he exclaimed severely. “Oh, sly fox! Oh, foolish mortal to think you could keep a secret from the sharp eyes of Desperate Desmond, the Demon Detective of—er—Duluth.”
“Discovered!” he moaned. “And I thought I had covered me tracks so well! Out with it, Dessy. Keep me no longer in suspenders.”
Fitzgerald rolled his eyes ceilingward.
“All day long have I felt a presentiment of approaching evil,” he groaned. “This morning a perfectly black cat winked at me——”
“The saucy thing!” interrupted Baxter. “I hope it wasn’t a lady cat.”
“Winked at me,” continued Fitz, frowning at him; “and that is always a bad omen. But I never thought of this. Even when you announced your trip to Hartford two days ago upon a most flimsy pretext, I did not suspect, but now I know.”
He paused and glared again at McCormick who was grinning from ear to ear. By this time the others were rather curious; Percy Joblots, in particular, sat gaping in astonishment, apparently not knowing quite how to take the erratic Fitzgerald.
“Spit it out, why don’t you?” demanded Buckhart. “You’ll throw a fit if you don’t.”
Fitz swallowed hard and rolled his eyes again.
“It’s my sympathetic nature struggling with an innate sense of justice,” he explained. “But justice triumphs. I know now why you made that mysterious trip to Hartford. On this scrap of paper placed providentially before my eyes—redeemed thus from the ignomy of being a mere wrapper of plebeian pickles, I see a horrible—an appalling—thing.”
He paused again, dramatically, and Buckhart, exasperated beyond endurance, made a sudden dive for him. The slim chap leaped from the table and slipped around behind it.
“Peace, creature!” he declaimed. “Listen to my news. The Second National Bank of Hartford was robbed last night of thirty thousand dollars in cold cash!”
For a moment there was silence. Then a roar of laughter went up.
“You’re pinched, Mac,” Dick gasped. “Desperate Desmond has found you out.”
“Yes, bucko,” the Texan exclaimed; “better confess and divvy up the swag.”
McCormick flushed a little, and the smile on his pleasant face grew a bit forced.
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” he said, in a bantering tone. “I didn’t know he was so smart.”
At that moment Merriwell, happening to glance at Percy Joblots, noticed that he was watching McCormick covertly, but with a strange intentness. In his eyes was that curious look of keenness which Dick had seen once before that night.
But even as he looked, the expression disappeared and the dapper fellow’s face resumed its customary repose.
“But, I thay!” he exclaimed, turning to Fitzgerald. “Thurely you don’t weally mean that?”
The slim chap choked and turned red, but his face was quite serious.
“Isn’t it an awful thing?” he questioned sadly. “I don’t think I shall ever recover from the shock.”
Merriwell noticed McCormick’s distress, and it suddenly occurred to him that Archie’s only brother had been sentenced unjustly to a term in Sing Sing for embezzlement. Naturally the youth would think of him whenever the subject of bank robberies was broached, and he decided that the joke had gone a little too far.
“Stop your nonsense, Fitz,” he said quickly, “and fry that bacon. You’ve been idling there quite long enough.”
“But how about this robbery?” persisted Buckhart, who had become interested. “Did they get away?”
“See for yourself,” Fitzgerald returned, tossing the paper to him. “I have work to do.”
Brad caught the scrap of newspaper and carried it to the lamp.
“Thirty thousand dollars,” he mumbled. “Regular professional job—confederate—traced to——By thunder, boys! They were traced to Middleberry. What do you think of that? Traced to Middleberry and then lost track of.”
Middleberry being the nearest railroad town and not more than twelve miles away, this announcement created considerable interest. Every one desired to learn all the particulars, which were meager enough; and then they began to speculate on where the robbers would naturally hide themselves. The country thereabouts was sparsely settled, many of the farms having been abandoned, and the thick woods offered plenty of chances for secure retreats.
Fitz was quite excited over the possibility of their coming upon the thieves and had even decided how he would spend his portion of the reward, when the ravishing odor of frying bacon, combined with the equally alluring fragrance of the coffee, drove all other thoughts out of their heads; and presently they settled down to supper with appetites which only a long tramp through the woods in the crisp, bracing air of mid-November can give, and for a time conversation languished, while everything eatable in sight was disposed of with remarkable rapidity and thoroughness.
“There!” sighed Fitzgerald, with a searching look at the empty dishes. “No more worlds to conquer.”
“Thunder, little one!” exploded the Texan. “You sure aren’t looking for anything more to eat! You’ve stowed away twice as much as any man here. Where do you put it all?”
“Where do you suppose?” demanded the slim chap. “I’ve got a good healthy appetite, that’s all. I notice you haven’t been exactly backward yourself.”
Dick sprang up and began gathering the dishes together.
“You fellows go ahead and start the fire in the next room while Mac and I wash up,” he said. “There’s a lot of big logs out in the woodshed.”
Brad, Fitz and Baxter promptly departed thither, while McCormick filled the dish pan with water from the kettle and Merriwell dumped his armful of dishes into it. Percy Joblots hovered about as if he did not know exactly what to do.
“Ithn’t there thomething I can do?” he asked presently, in a helpless sort of manner. “I never wathed dithes, but I might try.”
Dick’s lips twitched, but he managed to keep a straight face.
“Two’s about enough for that, I think,” he returned. “You might see if you can find some newspapers to start the fire with.”
The dapper fellow looked vaguely about the kitchen, but, there being nothing of the sort in sight, his eyes returned blankly to Dick’s face.
“I don’t thee any,” he said plaintively.
“Take a candle, then, and look through the other rooms,” Merriwell retorted rather sharply.
He was beginning to tire a little of the fellow’s absolute thick-headedness.
Joblots still hesitated. It seemed almost as if he did not wish to leave the kitchen, but presently he lighted a candle and departed reluctantly.
“Where in the mischief did you get hold of that?” McCormick asked quickly.
Dick smiled at the other’s tone of contempt.
“Picked him up in the woods about a mile down the path,” he explained. “He fired a charge of bird shot at us, and when we got hold of him we found he’d come out for the day’s shooting, missed the last train back, and hadn’t a notion of where he was going to put up to-night. There’s plenty of room here, so we thought he might as well stay and go back in the morning. He doesn’t know one end of a gun from the other, and I shall feel safer when he’s out of the woods.”
“Humph!” grunted McCormick. “I never ran up against such a chump in all my life. He’s a blockhead.”
Dick did not answer at once. He was thinking of the expression he had surprised on the face of the would-be sportsman a little while ago. It was not in the least like the look of a man lacking in sense. He wondered whether Mr. Percy Joblots was quite such a fool as appeared at first sight.
“He does seem pretty inane, doesn’t he?” Merriwell remarked presently. “Funny thing, though, Mac. He was saying that he knew a lot of Yale men, and, when Fitz asked him if they were still at New Haven, he asked about you!”
“About me?” Archie exclaimed incredulously. “Why I never saw the jackass before in my life!”
“I don’t know that he said he knew you,” Dick returned, “but he gave that impression. Anyway, he knew your name.”
McCormick’s face took on a puzzled look.
“That’s queer,” he mused. “Wonder where the deuce he got hold of it.”
Dick did not answer. His quick ear had caught the sound of a soft footfall in the adjoining room, and the next moment Joblots appeared in the doorway.
“I found thome,” he said, holding up a bunch of newspapers. “Big pile of them in the fwont woom. What thall I do with them?”
“Just crumple them up and put them in the fireplace,” Merriwell answered. “Never mind. Here are some of the fellows now. They’ll fix it up all right.”
As he spoke the door to the woodshed opened and the three men appeared carrying four or five big logs and a lot of kindling. They proceeded at once to lay them in the dining-room fireplace, and by the time the dishes were washed a roaring fire was blazing up the cavernous chimney.
“That’s all to the good,” Dick remarked, as he and Archie joined the circle about the hearth. “It certainly is cold outside.”
“It sure is, pard,” Buckhart agreed. “That woodshed was like an ice house.”
Fitzgerald had dragged a sofa up to one side of the blaze and sprawled full length on it.
“I tell you, fellows, we’ll want to put in the night right here,” he remarked. “I hate to think of leaving this lovely warm spot and crawling in between icy sheets.”
“Humph!” snorted the Texan. “How about that mattress you were making such a time about a while back?”
The slim chap patted the stuffed couch appreciatively.
“This is as good as any mattress,” he retorted.
“Where do we come in?” demanded McCormick. “I suppose we can sit up all night on plain chairs.”
Buckhart’s mouth drew down into a firm line.
“Nix on that!” he said emphatically. “No breaking away from the bunch. When we go to bed, little Fitzy will toddle along, too, if I have to tuck him in myself.”
Fitzgerald lay back comfortably, his eyes fixed dreamily on the dancing flames.
“When we capture those bank robbers and divide up the reward,” he mused presently, “I think I’ll buy just such a place as this with my share.”
Merriwell’s eyes gleamed.
“Counting your chickens a little previously, aren’t you, Fitz?” he smiled. “There hasn’t been any reward offered yet. How do you know there will be?”
“Why, of course there will,” the slim chap blurted. “Who ever heard of a bank robbery and no reward. Absurd!”
“I wonder if that paper got it straight about their being traced to Middleberry,” Baxter put in. “It would be funny if we should run into them while we’re out to-morrow.”
“Hard to tell,” Dick returned. “Personally I’m not going to bother my head about them. We came out to shoot, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
“But still,” persisted Fitzgerald, “if we——”
He stopped abruptly, and his eyes opened wide. Merriwell also stiffened with a look of keen attention, and in the stillness which followed there came the sound of the front door being opened and closed again.
“Barry!” McCormick exclaimed, his eyes brightening.
No one else spoke. They had all turned toward the door of the sitting room and were watching it with intent interest, for, after a momentary pause in the hall, the sound of footsteps on the bare floor was unmistakable, coming nearer and nearer.
The next instant the figure of a man loomed in the doorway and stopped still, his keen, dark eyes flashing swiftly from one surprised face to another. He was fairly tall, and rather dark, with coal-black hair and a crisp, well-clipped, black mustache. His features were good, but his face wore an expression of domineering harshness which did not improve it. It was evident that he was a man accustomed to having his own way. It was equally plain that at the present moment he was restraining his anger with difficulty.
And he was not Barry Lawrence, nor had any one of the party ever laid eyes on him before.
THROUGH THE CRACK OF THE DOOR.
For a moment the silence was unbroken. Then the stranger stepped inside the room and set down the suit case he carried.
“Well!” he snapped. “Might I ask what this means?”
He looked at Merriwell, who happened to be seated nearest the door, and his voice quivered with suppressed rage. Dick returned his glance calmly.
“You are quite at liberty to ask anything you please,” he replied coolly; “but if you expect an answer you’ll have to be considerably more definite.”
The man’s teeth clicked together.
“What do you mean by taking possession of this house?” he ripped out. “How dare you break into another man’s place and make yourselves at home here? A lot of tramps and loafers! It’s outrageous!”
It was true that, excepting the resplendant Joblots, the Yale men were all attired in flannel shirts and rather worn, rough-looking clothes; but any one in his senses would scarcely mistake them for tramps.
Dick arose slowly to his feet, his face calm but his eyes narrowing slightly.
“I think that will be about enough,” he said quietly, but with an ominous undercurrent in his voice. “We’re not tramps, and you know it. Neither have we broken into this house. You ought to know that, too. Before you loosen up any more on that tongue of yours, kindly let us know who you might be and what business you have butting in here.”
The stranger’s black eyes fairly flashed.
“Butting in!” he exploded. “I’ll have you know that I am Andrew Jellison, son of the man who owned this place!”
Merriwell eyed him with a new interest.
“Ah, indeed,” he remarked pleasantly. “Wouldn’t son-in-law be a little more accurate?”
Jellison gave a start and darted a quick look at Dick.
“What difference does that make?” he snapped.
“Quite a little, I should think,” Merriwell returned calmly. “But you haven’t told us what right you have here.”
“Right!” frothed Jellison. “Right! I’m the heir. I own every stick and stone of the place!”
“Really?” Dick questioned. “I was under the impression that it was the property of Barry Lawrence, from whom we rented it for a few days.”
Jellison’s pompous self-assertion collapsed with the swiftness of a pricked balloon. He had evidently tried to bluff the Yale men, having no idea that they knew the truth, and for a moment he was nonplused.
His eyes shifted about the room and he moistened his dry lips with an equally dry tongue.
“Impossible!” he muttered at length. “There wasn’t any will. I am the heir-at-law.”
“I think you have been misinformed,” he said significantly. “There was a will, which left everything to Barry Lawrence, Mr. Hickey’s nephew.”
Jellison dropped into a chair, and, taking out his handkerchief, mopped his forehead.
“You’ll excuse my somewhat hasty words, I’m sure,” he said presently. “I didn’t understand what you were doing here, or I shouldn’t have spoken as I did. This has been a great shock!”
Dick dropped back into his chair without replying. He wondered whether the shock had been as great as Jellison would have it appear. He had a shrewd suspicion that the man was acting. It seemed incredible that he could really be ignorant of the fact that Hickey had cut him off without a cent and that everything had been left to Lawrence.
What was Jellison doing here, anyway? What object had he in appearing at nine o’clock at night, alone, at a probably deserted farmhouse? Such conduct was extraordinary, to say the least.
“You—er—say you have rented the place for a few days?” Jellison inquired at that moment.
“Yes. We have taken it for the remainder of the week.”
“Shooting, I suppose?”
There was silence for a moment. Jellison appeared to be thinking intently.
“I came down for a few days’ rest,” he volunteered. “The late flurry in the Street has pretty well worn me out, and I knew how peaceful and quiet this place was. I had no idea I should find any one here.”
He hesitated and looked questioningly at Dick.
“I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to tolerate me for to-night,” he went on slowly. “There’s no place nearer than Cobmore’s where I could stay.”
Merriwell was not at all pleased with the turn things had taken. He and his friends had come out for a few days’ rest and recreation. They had looked forward for a long time to this little holiday when they would get away by themselves and be absolutely free from cares or worries of any sort, and they had been at considerable pains to arrange things so they could get off.
And now three people had turned up unexpectedly—two of them utter strangers. He did not mind McCormick, for he was a good fellow and one of them; but it was annoying beyond measure to have first Joblots and then this Jellison thrust themselves in. The whole outing would be spoiled.
But he failed to see how he could very well get out of it. It would not be decent to refuse Jellison a bed and make him walk three miles through the forest to Lysander Cobmore, who would, no doubt, be asleep by the time the man got there. And, after all, it was only for one night. They could put up with him for that length of time.
“Why, I guess there’s room enough,” he said slowly. “We haven’t been upstairs yet, but I should imagine there would be no lack of beds in a house of this size.”
“Oh, I don’t care about a bed,” Jellison said, with a sort of suppressed eagerness. “I can turn in on that couch there. Anything like that will be good enough.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to do that,” Merriwell returned quickly. “Suppose we take a look upstairs and see what there is. It’s about time to hit the pillow, anyhow.”
His suggestion was received with much approbation. The other fellows had grown rather restless since the appearance of Andrew Jellison. Joblots was such an insignificant fellow—almost a fool, in fact—that they had not paid much attention to him and had continued their talk and joking quite as if he were not there; but the presence of Jellison seemed, somehow, to throw a damper over everything, and, since the evening was spoiled, they might just as well go to bed.
One and all, they arose with alacrity, and, hunting up candles, lighted them and started in a procession upstairs.
Their discoveries on the second floor were most satisfactory. There were bedrooms enough to give each one of the party a separate one if he wished it, and Fitzgerald observed, on punching the mattresses, that they were all of a good quality of hair.
Here, even more than downstairs, the effect of the hit-or-miss enlarging of the house was apparent. There was very little hallway, most of the rooms opening one out of another; but, with a crowd of this sort, that was no inconvenience.
It being decidedly cold; the fellows at once hunted up sheets and blankets and proceeded with the greatest expedition to make up the beds required.
Andrew Jellison persisted in his desire to spend the night on the sofa downstairs.
“There’s no use in my bothering to make a bed just for one night,” he said. “That sofa is comfortable enough, and I shall sleep very well on it.”
He seemed to make such a point of it that Dick began to wonder whether he could possibly have any ulterior motive in wanting to be away from the rest of the bunch, and he resolved to thwart the man just on the chance of such a thing being the case.
“Nonsense!” he said positively. “There’s no trouble making a bed. It would be perfectly absurd for you to spend the night on a sofa. Just you take this room off ours. It’s got a nice little single bed, and you’ll sleep like a top.”
He was so emphatical that Jellison finally gave way, though it was with a very palpable reluctance, and proceeded to make up the bed in the little room which opened out of the larger bedroom at the head of the stairs, which Merriwell had taken possession of for Buckhart and himself.
Fitzgerald and Baxter slept in one just back of that, and McCormick chose one across the hall for himself and Percy Joblots. When the idea was mentioned to the dapper little fellow, however, he objected strenuously.
“Weally, now, I couldn’t think of thleeping with another perthon,” he said plaintively. “I wouldn’t clothe an eye all night. There’th a nice little room jutht back of thith one. I’ll make the bed all by mythelf.”
He made such a point of it that Dick gave in readily and laughingly told him to take whatever room he chose. It at once became evident, however, that Percy had not the most remote conception of how to make the bed, and McCormick finally took pity on him and did the job up in short order.
At last, when matters were settled satisfactorily, they pulled off their clothes and crawled between the cold sheets with many shivers and gasps, which quickly ceased; and presently, one by one, they dropped off to sleep.
Several hours later Dick Merriwell awoke with a start and lay still listening. Just what had roused him he did not know, but he felt that it must have been some unusual noise, or he would never have been wakened out of a sound sleep.
The house was silent as a tomb, except for the regular breathing which came from the Texan beside him and from the room where Jellison lay. His first waking thought had been that the latter was prowling about the house for some purpose, but the heavy breathing from the room showed that the stranger was either sound asleep or giving a very good imitation of it. At least he was there.
What could it have been? For a long time Dick strained his ears for a repetition of the noise, but nothing came. At last he decided that he must have imagined or dreamed it, and, relaxing himself, he closed his eyes and was just dropping off again when he opened them with a jerk and sat bolt upright in bed.
His quick ear had caught the faint but unmistakable sound of grating, as if two stones were being rubbed against each other, which came from somewhere downstairs.
The next moment Dick crept cautiously out of bed and slipped noiselessly into the hall. Bending over the railing, his eyes lighted up with triumph as he caught the faint gleam of light from the open door of the sitting room.
It was bitter cold, and he was clad in the thinnest of pajamas, but he did not notice this as he crept cautiously downstairs and approached the door. He was too interested in what was going on in that room to think of anything else.
Softly he crossed the lower hall and peered through the crack of the partly opened door. Then he saw that the light was in the dining room, and even as he advanced he heard a labored breathing as if some one was either making a great physical effort, or else was struggling under a tremendous mental strain.
With every nerve tingling and his curiosity at its highest pitch, Dick reached the door of the dining room and looked through the crack.
What he saw fairly paralyzed him with amazement. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he caught himself in time to prevent a gasp of surprise.
The great fire had died down and only a few embers glowed dully in the mammoth opening. The light he had seen came from a candle which was set down on the stone hearth, and close beside it knelt the figure of a man clad only in pajamas. His head was bent so that Merriwell could not see his face, but Dick was not thinking of him at the moment. His eyes were riveted on the gaping hole in the hearth over which the fellow was bending. It had been made by the removal of one of the stone slabs about eighteen inches square, and from where he stood Dick could see the interior quite distinctly.
It was filled almost to the brim with packages of bank notes, packed so tightly together that one could not have inserted a finger between them.
Merriwell could scarcely believe his senses. He rubbed his eyes in bewilderment and looked again. It was quite true. They were bank notes—mostly yellow-backs—and from the way they were packed together they must represent a tremendous sum.
Where had they come from? What were they doing there? The thought of the bank robbery at Hartford flashed into his mind, and at the same instant the kneeling man raised his head and revealed to Merriwell’s amazed gaze the face of Archie McCormick, ghastly white, sweat dewed, the eyes wide and shining, and the pale lips trembling spasmodically.
IN THE SILENT NIGHT.
Dick could not take his eyes off the face of his friend, drawn, pale, stamped with the print of some vital emotion. What did it mean? What could it mean? Why had Archie stolen down here in the dead of night? Where had the money come from?
These, and a dozen other questions, equally unanswerable, flashed through his half-dazed mind in the brief interval before the fellow kneeling on the hearth could move a finger. McCormick was gazing straight at the door, and Dick half expected him to call his name. It did not seem possible that the man could be so blind as not to see who was watching him through the crack.
Then he saw that Archie was absolutely oblivious to his surroundings. His eyes were cloudy and unseeing. He was not walking in his sleep, but his mind was so concentrated on some problem that he was blind to all outward things.
Presently he uttered a shuddering sigh and reached slowly for the stone slab which lay close at hand.
Dick waited until he had replaced it over the hole and was leaning forward for a handful of ashes to dust into the cracks, and then softly made his way back to the hall and upstairs.
His first impulse had been to confront Archie then and there and get the truth from him, but now he shrank from doing that until he had had time to think. He knew that appearances were often deceptive and that there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the position in which he had found McCormick; but the latter had an extremely sensitive, high-spirited nature, and Dick felt that he would be likely to resent any inquiries he himself might make which could not help but show more or less suspicion.
For Merriwell was suspicious. Fight as he might against the thought, he could not help connecting what he had just seen with the robbery of the Hartford bank just twenty-four hours before.
He did not wish to believe anything against Archie McCormick. He had always known him as a perfectly straightforward, truthful fellow with a very keen sense of honor. It was incredible that he could be connected in any way with the robbery, and yet facts were facts and Merriwell could not help putting two and two together.
Archie had gone to Hartford two days before, ostensibly to see a friend who lived there. That was all right, but, unfortunately, he had reached there the very afternoon of the night in which the bank had been broken open. He had suddenly shown up in this deserted spot, and the man at whose invitation he was supposed to have come, had not yet appeared.
Dick remembered Cobmore’s very evident doubt of the story that Barry Lawrence would think of visiting the farmhouse without giving him notice.
The robbers had been tracked to Middleberry and their trail lost. Middleberry was barely twelve miles away, and it would be a very simple matter for any one to make their way unseen through the woods to the house on the shores of Cranberry Lake.
Last, but not least, was the presence of this hoard of bank notes concealed under the stone hearth downstairs. Dick felt sure that they had not belonged to the late occupant of the place. Whatever other eccentricities he might have had, Hickey was not a miser, but a very shrewd old man with a decided belief in the safety of banks. He was not the sort who would keep his savings in the house, and, besides, Merriwell had noticed that the packages of notes had been all neatly tied up just as they had come from the bank. And if they were not the spoil from the late robbery, what were they?
Lying there in the dark, Dick heard McCormick come stealthily back upstairs and slip into his room. And, after that, hour after hour passed as he thought over the problem from every conceivable point of view.
He did not wish to believe his friend guilty. Some how, he could not quite bring himself to that point, and yet every scrap of evidence was strongly against him.
He began to remember little things which he had scarcely noticed at the time, but which now, in the light of this new discovery, came vividly back into his mind.
Archie had not taken Fitzgerald’s joshing about the robbery with anything like his usual good grace. He had been palpably annoyed, and his assumption of careless laughter had seemed a little forced.
Then there was Joblots. Where did he come in? It did not seem possible that any human being could be such an absolute ass, though once or twice in his life Dick had met fellows with mannerisms of which the dapper little fellow had made a very good copy. But Merriwell had an instinctive feeling that he was nothing but a copy. For some reason he was playing a part, and Merriwell felt sure that the real man was something far different from his outward appearance. He had been interested in McCormick from the very first. All evening he had been watching him—covertly, to be sure, but none the less constantly. Was it possible that he could be following Archie?
Jellison, too, was a puzzle. The absurdity of a man’s coming alone to such a deserted spot as this and landing there late at night, simply because he wanted to take a few days’ rest, was palpable. There must be some ulterior motive, and a very strong one at that, to cause him to do what he had done; but, try as he would, Dick could not fathom it. Presently his mind left Jellison and leaped back to McCormick.
Archie’s only brother had been sentenced to two years in State’s prison. He had been at liberty for six months. To be sure, both Archie and his brother swore that the latter had been wrongly convicted, that some one high up in the bank had in reality stolen the money and then succeeded in weaving such a web of false evidence around the innocent man that he had been convicted and sentenced, the thief himself escaping scot-free.
That was possible. It was also possible that both men had lied. They might have inherited a single bad streak—an irresistible tendency to steal, perhaps. Such things had been known. Jim might have committed the actual robbery and Archie helped him get away with the spoils.
So Merriwell tossed about through the long hours of the night, struggling between his innate loyalty and devotion to his friend and the evidence of his eyesight and his common sense. At last, toward morning, he fell into a troubled sleep and dreamed strange, fantastic dreams in which Archie and Jellison and Percy Joblots were mixed up in a vague, shadowy, perfectly idiotic manner with a fountain of silver dollars which spouted out of the stone hearth of the dining room and filled the whole house.
He awoke when the first beams of the morning sun streamed through the open window and slanted across the bed. He was on the floor in a twinkling, dragging the blankets off Brad and causing the Texan to awake with a grunt and a shiver.
“Come out and take a plunge,” Dick invited him. “It’ll clear the cobwebs out of your brains.”
To tell the truth, he felt more need of that process than did his chum; for his cogitating of the night before had brought no satisfactory solution to the problem which was perplexing him, and he was in quite as much of a quandary as ever regarding the stand he sought to take.
“B-r-r!” chattered Buckhart. “I reckon I might as well, pard. I couldn’t be much colder than I am now. Come on.”
Slipping off his pajamas, he snatched up a blanket, and, wrapping it around him, started downstairs.
Dick lingered long enough to arouse the others, and then followed. Together they raced across the grass, silvery with hoar frost, and, without a pause, dashed into the icy water.
Both of them let out a yell which raised weird echoes from across the silent lake, and then settled down to a brisk swim. Presently the other three fellows appeared and took the plunge with even more vociferousness, and five minutes later they all trooped back to the house, glowing from head to foot and feeling ready for anything which the day had to offer.
Joblots, dragging on his clothes with shivering haste, chattering teeth and fumbling fingers, was horror-stricken when he found out what they had been doing.
“My grathiouth thaketh!” he gasped. “How could you do it? I thould have perithed of the cold. My conthtitution would never thtand the thtrain.”
Brad slapped him on the back with a powerful hand which caused Percy to wince and step back.
“Do you good, kiddo!” he grinned. “We’re warm as toast now, and you’re blue with the cold. Better try it.”
“No, thankth,” Joblots returned hastily. “I’ll be all wight ath thoon ath I get my clotheth on.”
When the Yale men got downstairs they found him trying to crawl into the chimney, while Jellison had departed to the woodshed for material with which to build up the fire.
Dick had decided to take no steps in any direction regarding his discovery of the night before. A little delay would do no harm and might be productive of infinite good. The money was safe enough for the present, now that he knew it was there, and while he hustled around getting breakfast ready he kept a keen watch on McCormick.
There was no mistaking the fact that Archie had something on his mind. Always light-hearted and prompt to join in with any joshing or bantering give-and-take which might be going on, he seemed decidedly serious as he helped Dick with the breakfast. More than once Merriwell caught him gazing absently out of the window, and once when he spoke to him suddenly the fellow gave a sudden start and the dish he was holding slipped from his hands and crashed in pieces on the floor.
“I don’t know what’s the matter with me,” he said regretfully as he stooped to pick up the pieces. “I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
“What was the trouble?” Dick asked carelessly. “Didn’t you feel well?”
“Oh, yes, I felt all right. Strange bed, I suppose.”
“You didn’t happen to get up, did you?” Merriwell inquired, as he broke an egg into the frying pan.
McCormick gave a slight start and darted a keen look at Dick, but the latter’s countenance was as free from guile as that of a child-in-arms.
“Did you hear any one?” Archie countered evasively.
“I awoke some time during the night and thought I heard some one walking around downstairs,” Dick explained easily.
“I did get up and go down,” McCormick said, after a moment’s hesitation. “I was restless and finally got up and took a walk through the rooms down there. It was plagued cold, too, I can tell you.”
Merriwell did not ask any more questions. He had given Archie plenty of opportunity to explain what had taken him down to the dining room if the fellow were so inclined, but apparently he did not propose to do any explaining.
Despite McCormick’s absent state of mind and Merriwell’s preoccupation, breakfast proved to be a jovial meal. Fitzgerald was quite lively enough to keep things going, and Buckhart and Baxter were good seconds. Even Percy Joblots, now that he was warm again, piped up now and then with some foolish remark which sent them all into roars of laughter, while Jellison seemed to have recovered from his grouch of the night before and was absolutely genial.
Neither of the two strangers, however, made any mention of leaving the farmhouse that morning. They could not decently stay there much longer, and Dick rather expected them to announce their departure directly breakfast was over. But they did not.
Instead, Jellison took a comfortable seat in front of the fire in the dining room, and, opening a newspaper, which he had brought with him the night before, became instantly absorbed in its contents. Joblots hung around the kitchen while the dishes were being washed, fluttering helplessly about, but really accomplishing nothing.
McCormick evidently had something he wanted to say to Dick, but seemed to find rather difficult. Several times he started a remark, only to break off abruptly; but at last, when he was drying the last plate, he made the break.
“I don’t believe I’ll go out with you fellows this morning,” he said, in a low tone. “I’ve got to go to Middleberry for something special. I’ll be back by noon, though, and perhaps I may run across Barry somewhere. I can’t imagine what’s become of him.”
Dick did not reply at once. He wondered what this unexpected move could mean. What sudden business could take Archie to Middleberry? However, he could think of no plausible objection, and so long as the money remained safely under the hearth McCormick was not likely to stay away permanently.
“Just as you please, Mac,” he said quietly. “You’ll miss some good sport, though. The first day may be the best. I don’t want you to feel that you’re in the way, or that we don’t want you, simply because you didn’t start out with our party.”
“Oh, no, it isn’t that,” Archie returned promptly. “It’s just something which I have got to attend to this morning. I’m sure I’ll be able to get back by lunch time.”
“Well, if you don’t find us here, you’ll have to trace us by the guns,” Dick remarked, drying his hands. “We’ll take some sandwiches with us and probably won’t come back until night.”
A sudden, worried look flashed into McCormick’s face. He glanced swiftly through the open door at Jellison, who sat reading before the fire. Then his eyes returned to Dick’s face.
“Dick,” he whispered softly, “take him along with you, won’t you?”
He made a quick, almost imperceptible motion of his head toward the other room.
Merriwell’s eyes narrowed.
“Jellison?” he asked in the same low tone.
“Yes. Don’t let him stay in the house alone. Give him my gun, if you want to. I can’t tell you just now why I ask this, but it’s very important to me.”
“But he’ll be leaving this morning,” Dick objected.
“No, he won’t,” McCormick returned positively. “You mark my words, he’ll ask if he can’t stay through the day. Tell him yes, and ask him to go out with you. Will you do this much for me, Dick?”
Merriwell looked keenly at the face of the man before him, and Archie returned his gaze steadfastly. His eyes were anxious and pleading, but Dick could see no signs of guilt in them. Either the fellow was innocent, or he had amazing powers of dissimulation.
“Why can’t you confide in me, Mac?” Merriwell asked quickly.
Archie looked distressed.
“I’d like to, but I can’t—now,” he said, in a low tone. “Won’t you take me on faith?”
Dick shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ll have to, I reckon, Mac,” he returned. “All right. I’ll do my best to help you out.”
He walked into the other room where the Yale men were busily engaged in putting together their guns, filling cartridge belts with shells, and making general preparations for the day’s sport. Joblots stood watching them, a look of awed admiration on his face.
“My grathiouth!” he exclaimed. “I with I could do that ath quick ath you do. It taketh me about an hour to fixth my gun wight.”
“I guess you haven’t had much practice with a gun, have you?” he inquired slyly.
“Not much,” Joblots returned sadly. “I with I wath going with you thith morning. I’d learn a lot.”
“Mac’s got to go in to the village,” Dick announced. “Anybody want him to get anything?”
There was a general negative, and Dick turned to Joblots.
“Perhaps you’d like to stay with us this morning and shoot?” he suggested pleasantly.
His tone was quite casual, but he had a distinct object in giving the invitation.
The dapper little fellow seemed suddenly to experience a change of heart.
“Thank you very much,” he returned hastily, “but I think I’d better not thtay. I’d better be getting back, and it will be pleathanter having thome one to go with.”
“Just as you please,” Dick said carelessly.
But he turned away with a feeling of distinct satisfaction. He had found out what he wanted to know. Joblots was evidently determined not to let McCormick out of his sight. And now arose the question: Why was he following Archie? Dick’s thoughts were suddenly broken in upon by Andrew Jellison.
“Perhaps, since Mr. Joblots doesn’t wish to shoot,” he said, in the pleasantest tone of voice, “you wouldn’t mind if I took his place for the morning. I am very fond of shooting, and I don’t suppose you will object to my staying here until this afternoon when I can start back in time to get the last train to the city?”
So Archie was right. Jellison did want to stay, after all.
“No objection whatever,” Merriwell returned. “You can take McCormick’s gun, for he won’t use it till afternoon.”
“Thanks very much,” Jellison said. “You are most kind. Now my little holiday will not be spoiled after all.”
Without further delay, Archie departed, striding across the field toward the woods with Joblots trotting after him, taking short, quick, mincing steps which set Fitzgerald off into a paroxysm of laughter. He at once pranced across the room in a very lifelike imitation of the dapper little fellow, but the exhibition came to an untimely end when he stumbled over one of the spreading claw feet of the mahagony table and nearly fell.
“Drat the thing!” he exclaimed crossly. “What in thunder does any one want to have table legs all over the room for?”
“Peace, brother!” droned a sanctimonious voice from the doorway. “Blessed is he who speaks from a pure heart, but the curser and reviler is an abomination.”
Fitz gave a gasp and whirled round, while the other fellows looked up in astonishment.
Standing on the threshold was a most extraordinary figure of a man. He was very tall and very thin, his lank garments of rusty black clinging to his skinny frame in a manner that gave him a ludicrous resemblance to a scarecrow. His face was long and pointed like a razor edge. His hooked nose curved over his thin-lipped mouth like the beak of a bird, and was of a distinctly fiery hue, especially toward the end. His long hair straggled down from under the broken brim of an ancient silk hat which had weathered the storms of many winters. His eyes were rolled piously upward so that little but the whites could be seen, while both hands were clasped over the handle of a grayish-green umbrella of extraordinary size.
The Yale men gazed at him for a moment in petrified silence.
“Well, who are you?” Fitzgerald inquired presently, in a choking voice.
The strange man slowly withdrew his eyes from the ceiling and looked at the little fellow disapprovingly.
“A rebuker of iniquity,” he returned ponderously, “moved by a direct intervention of providence to bring you to a full perception of the error of your ways.”
“Humph!” snorted Fitz. “I like your cheek. What’s the matter with my ways, I’d like to know? They suit me all right.”
“Confirmed in sin,” murmured the stranger. “Wallowing in profanity. A sad case—very sad.”
Buckhart chuckled gleefully.
“Ah-ha, Fitzy!” he grinned. “I knew you’d sure be pinched some day with your thundering cussing.”
A look of pain came into the face of the tall man and he lifted one thin hand reprovingly.
“Hush, I beg of you,” he said severely. “First search out your own heart and find whether it be clean before you venture to reprove a brother.”
Fitzgerald chortled joyfully.
“That’s right!” he exclaimed. “Go for him, old duck. Pick out your own beams, you Texas steer, before you go hunting for my moats.”
Though the man’s appearance and manner were amusing enough, Dick wanted to get started with the guns, and he felt that time was being wasted.
“Might I ask who you are?” he inquired, struggling to repress a smile, “and what your business here is?”
The stranger glanced at him critically.
“You may, sir,” he returned at length. “I am pleased to observe that you do not appear to be steeped in sin. At least, your language is not sprinkled with the oaths which have cut my sensitive nature to the quick. I am the Reverend Jeremy Pennyfeather, a preacher and expounder of the Word. On my morning ramble through the clean, sweet, dewy world, I chanced to pass this house, and finding the door ajar, I entered, seeking a moment’s rest, and, perhaps—er—a little—er—sustenance, without which these poor carnal bodies of ours cannot uphold the burdens of life.”
Dick gazed at him in astonishment. He certainly did not speak as if he were quite right in the head.
“Your morning ramble?” he repeated. “You live somewhere near here?”
The Reverend Pennyfeather hesitated.
“At the moment I am without a—er—fixed charge,” he explained. “I travel about carrying the Word and doing what little good I can by the way. It sometimes happens, as in the present instance, that I am temporarily without a roof over my head or—only for the moment, I assure you—the necessary fuel to keep this poor machine of mine—er—going.”
Dick’s face cleared. The fellow was some wandering preacher, possibly crack-brained, and apparently little better than a tramp. He had simply come in there for breakfast.
“Oh, I see,” he said quickly. “You want something to eat. Just come out to the kitchen, will you?”
The man followed him slowly, with majestic steps, but there was no mistaking the hungry glitter in his eyes or the suppressed eagerness with which he fell to on the simple fare which Dick laid before him. He certainly ate as if he were half starved, and Merriwell was far from regretting the time wasted in waiting until he had finished.
When there was nothing more left in sight, Pennyfeather arose with a sigh.
“Young man, I thank you,” he said sonorously. “Has it ever occurred to you what a degrading thing it is that these frail bodies of ours cannot long exist without carnal food?”
“I can’t say it has,” he returned promptly. “I have a decided partiality to good things to eat, especially when I come in after a day’s tramp through the woods, with an appetite like a horse.”
“But what a shame it is that our soaring, ethereal spirits should be tied to earth by such carnal bonds,” persisted the preacher. “Were it not for the baleful necessity of food and drink what might not man accomplish!”
He rolled his eyes in ecstasy and then slowly lowered them to Merriwell’s face.
“A painful affliction which I have carried uncomplainingly from the cradle of childhood, compels occasional recourse to—er—stimulant,” he said blandly. “Periods of faintness, you know, from which nothing else seems to revive me. If, by any chance, you have something of the sort at hand——”
The pause was expressive. Dick glanced swiftly at the thin man’s hushed nose. It would seem that the periods of faintness had been more or less frequent.
“Sorry,” he said shortly, “but I haven’t.”
The Reverend Pennyfeather sighed and clasped his hands together resignedly.
“Ah, well, perhaps ’tis better so,” he murmured. “No doubt I shall get along without it. So far none of the attacks have been fatal. Perhaps you have no objection to my resting for a while before I resume my way.”
Dick had a very decided objection. Enough time had been wasted already with this humbug.
“You can take a chair out on the porch and sit there as long as you please,” he said shortly. “We are just leaving the house for the morning, however, and I want to lock up.”
“That will do very nicely,” returned Pennyfeather quickly. “I hope, however, you will allow me a scant five minutes in which to bring to a realizing sense of the evil of their ways, the two very profane young men whom I first talked with.”
He moved swiftly through the dining room as he spoke, with Merriwell at his heels, but when they reached the sitting room, it was found to be quite deserted. Evidently the fellows, scenting a probable continuance of the stranger’s moral lecture, had decamped.
“The wicked flee when no man pursueth,” breathed Pennyfeather. “What is so tormenting as a guilty conscience, my dear sir? I should have liked one more chance to plead with them, but life is full of disappointments, which are always discipline for the soul, sir—discipline for the soul. This chair will do nicely.”
His sudden change of subject was due to a glimpse of Dick’s impatient face as he stood significantly by the door, gun in one hand, ready to be gone.
With a swift judgment which had little of the spiritual in it, the preacher picked instantly the most comfortable chair in the room, and proceeded to roll it out to the veranda with considerable expedition. Dick closed and locked the door behind him, thrusting the key into his pocket.
“Rest yourself as long as you please,” he said briefly, leaping to the ground. “Nobody will disturb you.”
Without waiting for a reply, he started across the open at a brisk pace to join the fellows who were waiting for him at the edge of the woods.
“Blessed is he who sits on a tack, for he shall rise again,” intoned Fitzgerald, rolling his eyes heavenward and drawing down the corners of his mouth.
“Did he start in to give you a jawing, too, pard?” Buckhart inquired, with a grin. “Hope you didn’t say ‘dash it’ in his highness’ presence.”
“What’s he doing in that chair on the porch?” Teddy Baxter asked curiously.
“Resting,” Dick explained. “He’s subject to spells of faintness which need—er—stimulant. Painful affliction from childhood, you know. Nothing else helps. When he found there was nothing doing in that line, he asked for a chair upon which to rest his weary limbs and recover from said spell, so I let him take it. He can’t get away with that. It weighs about a ton.”
“Dotty, isn’t he?” Fitz asked, as he leaped down from the fence rail.
“I guess so,” Dick returned. “Either that, or just plain faker. Come on, let’s get busy. We’ve wasted enough time.”
Leaping the fence, they at once plunged into the woods and started in a northerly direction toward the wilder, rocky country beyond, where Farmer Cobmore had told them the partridges were remarkably thick this fall. Already they were planning to get up with the dawn next morning and try for wild ducks at their feeding ground at the upper end of Cranberry Lake.
Andrew Jellison, carrying McCormick’s gun, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. He was pleasant and genial, entering into the conversation now and then in a perfectly natural way, while not thrusting himself forward too much, and was, in short, so totally different in every way from what he had been—ill-tempered and overbearing of manner—the night before, that he scarcely seemed the same man.
It was almost as if a great load had been removed from his mind and the reaction made him as light-hearted and free from care as a boy. Merriwell wondered at the change. Perhaps he had misjudged the man when he credited him with an ulterior motive in intruding upon them. Possibly the man’s nerves really had been worn to a shred and he had wanted nothing more than a little while in the peaceful quiet of the wilderness to brace him up.
There was no question of his ability to handle a gun, nor of his interest and enthusiasm in the pursuit of game. To him belonged the credit of the first bird bagged, and throughout the morning he kept up to the good record he made at the beginning.
For a time they all kept pretty well together. Then, little by little, they split up, each man taking the route which he thought most favorable, having planned to meet at a certain point about twelve o’clock for lunch.
About eleven Dick started up a covey of birds and became so interested in their pursuit that he forgot all about the time and was consequently late reaching the point of meeting.
When he came out of the bushes to the broad, rocky spur of the low mountain, he found the others seated near at hand busily engaged in devouring sandwiches.
“Better hustle, Richard, if you want anything,” Fitzgerald admonished, rather indistinctly. “We were so hungry we couldn’t wait another minute.”
Merriwell came forward and dropped down on the rock.
“How many?” Buckhart asked.
“Nine,” returned his chum.
“Great! That beats the record so far.”
“Where’s Jellison?” Dick asked suddenly.
He had been conscious of something or some one missing ever since he came out of the thicket.
Fitzgerald shrugged his shoulders.
“Search me,” he returned airily. “Haven’t seen him since we split up.”
There was a little furrow of anxiety on Dick’s brow. He was thinking of McCormick’s very evident worry lest Jellison be left alone in the house. The fellow had come with them that morning quite of his own accord, but that did not prevent his hurrying back there as soon as he could do so without attracting attention. What had Mac to fear from him, anyway? Was it possible that the man knew what lay under the hearth?
As Dick puzzled over the problem, all his doubts and fears and perplexities returned in full force, and did not add in the least to his pleasure in their little outing.
NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON.
As Archie McCormick struck out along the forest path which led to Lysander Cobmore’s farm he was not especially pleased to have Percy Joblots tagging along behind. He would much rather have been alone. There was so much to think of and plan out that he would have liked to be able to give his whole mind to it instead of having to think of this little whipper-snapper who, from the first, seemed to have considerable difficulty in keeping up with the Yale man’s long stride.
“You mutht be in an awful hurry,” he panted, after they had gone about half a mile.
“I am,” snapped McCormick, without looking back.
There was silence for a few moments, broken only by the labored breathing of Percy.
“Grathiouth thaketh!” he gasped presently. “I’m motht dead. Couldn’t you walk a little thlower for jutlit a few minuteth?”
Growling an irritated response, Archie slowed down a little, but very soon was back at the old speed. He really did not intend to hustle so, but his mind was so wholly given over to the problem which he had to solve that, unconsciously, he almost flew over the rough path.
“Merthy!” moaned Joblots, mopping his face with a delicate linen handkerchief. “Thith ith awful!”
McCormick did not hear him, so preoccupied was he, and the dapper little fellow struggled on for a quarter of a mile farther in panting silence.
“Can’t we retht for jutht a minute?” he begged, at the end of that time.
Archie whirled around swiftly.
“Why the dickens do you want to rest?” he demanded fiercely. “I didn’t ask you to come with me! I’ve got to get to Middleberry as quick as I possibly can, and here you drag along and talk about wanting to rest. Gee! It’s enough to try the patience of a saint.”
Joblots shrank back and instinctively put up a defensive arm. Apparently he was afraid Mac was going to hit him, and the look of fear on his puny, insignificant face brought the big Yale man swiftly to his senses.
“Don’t be a fool!” he growled, in an apologetic tone. “You don’t think I’d hit you, I hope? I suppose I was a bit sharp, but you mustn’t mind what I said. I’m worried clean out of my head, almost, about something. We’ll rest a little and then take it slower.”
Joblots instantly plucked up heart at this and became all smiles. They stopped for a few minutes and then went on again at moderate speed, and all the way through the woods he drove McCormick almost wild with his well-meant, but perfectly idiotic, chatter.
At last, to McCormick’s infinite relief, the farmhouse was in sight.
Cobmore was at home, and, after a little persuasion, was induced to let Archie borrow a horse and buggy to take him in to town.
He seemed to be a little curious as to the reason for the trip, but the Yale man was not communicative, so the farmer was obliged to content himself with sly twitting of Joblots, who appeared to be absolutely oblivious to his banter.
It was a little after eight when they left Cobmore’s. At half-past nine McCormick drove recklessly through the long village street, and, pulling up with a jerk in front of the small station building, leaped out and ran inside, leaving Joblots staring in dismay at the reins which had been tossed into his lap, as if he hadn’t the least idea what he was to do with them.
Presently he laid them cautiously on the seat and slipped quietly out of the buggy. Luckily one of the natives lounging by the door, took it upon himself to tie the horse to a hitching post, or there is no telling how McCormick would have managed to return the rig intact.
Percy Joblots, safe from the perilous position alone in the buggy, drew a quick breath and hastily followed Archie into the building. He found him at the window in the act of handing a telegraph message to the station agent, but the latter had read it aloud to verify it so quickly that it was all over before the dapper little fellow could sidle quietly within hearing distance.
“Will you please send it off at once?” McCormick asked, handing the man a dollar bill. “Just keep the change for your trouble.”
The fellow’s eyes brightened instantly, and he lost much of his languid, indifferent manner.
“Yes, sir,” he returned promptly. “If I can get an open wire, I’ll push it right along.”
He dropped down in his chair and the sharp click-click of the instrument sounded through the office.
“It’s all right,” the man said, as he looked up. “She’s gone.”
“How long will it take for an answer to come back?” McCormick asked eagerly.
“All depends. Couple of hours, anyhow.”
The Yale man frowned. Two hours seemed a long time to wait, but there was no help for it. As he turned away from the window, his eyes fell upon the dapper Joblots standing quietly beside him.
“Humph!” he exclaimed in surprise. “What are you doing here? Where’d you leave the horse?”
“Thaketh alive! Outthide, of courthe. You thouldn’t have left me alone with him. I never could thand hortheth.”
“Idiot!” growled McCormick, rushing to the door.
He gave an exclamation of relief as he saw the animal safely tied, and then turned back to Joblots.
“You’ve got about an hour to wait for your train,” he said shortly. “I’m going for a walk, so I’ll say good-by to you now.”
The little fellow seemed reluctant to part company with the Yale man, but Archie had reached the point when very little more of the other’s company would drive him distracted, so he made short work of the parting and hurried out of the station to the street and thence for a tramp along the country road.
His astonishment can better be imagined than described when, returning a couple of hours later, the first thing which greeted his eyes as he pushed open the station door was the familiar form of the little pest he fancied he was rid of for good, sitting complacently on one of the benches.
Joblots smiled quite happily into the frowning countenance of the Yale man.
“Tho glad you’re back,” he lisped. “Motht annoying thing! I actually mithed the beathtly train. I went acroth the stweet to thee if I couldn’t find thome thigaretth, and while I wath talking to the man—motht amuthing perthon, he wath—the bally thing came in and I never thaw it.”
“I never heard of such a fool trick!” snapped McCormick. “Now you’ve got to wait till after one.”
“Yeth,” Percy sighed, “and not a thingle plathe to get a bite to eat.”
“Well, that’s your fault,” Archie said callously. “You’ll have to go without.”
Walking over to the window, he found that the answer to his message had not yet arrived. Consequently he had to put in another half hour in listening to Percy’s idiotic prattle before the agent called to him that the telegram had come.
McCormick sprang up eagerly and snatched the yellow sheet from the man’s hand. His eyes eagerly scanned the contents of the rather long communication and, when he had read it all, they lighted up joyfully.
“I was right,” he muttered under his breath. “I knew it must be so. Now if I can only work it right. Gee! I can hardly wait to get back to the house.”
He hurried to the door, calling a brief good-by to Percy as he passed that amazed person, leaped into the buggy outside, and a moment later the clatter of the flying horse’s hoofs died away down the village street.
He made good time back to Cobmore’s, drove the horse into the stable and left him to the care of the hired man. Then he darted into the woods, found the path and fairly flew along it.
His face was flushed and his eyes shining with eagerness as he hurried along. Everything was coming his way now, if he only used a few precautions.
As he came out of the woods within sight of the farmhouse, he stopped abruptly and looked sharply at the building.
“Who in thunder’s that?” he muttered.
Close against the side of the house, beside one of the windows, was a man, tall, thin, and dressed in frayed, black garments. His back was toward McCormick, and he seemed to be intent on something which he was watching through a crack in the closed blind.
As Archie watched him, not knowing quite what to do, the fellow suddenly turned and saw him. The next instant his flying coat tails were vanishing around the corner of the house.
“Must be a tramp,” the Yale man murmured uneasily.
He did not like the thought of any one spying around that house, particularly around that room. There was entirely too much at stake.
Crossing the field, he reached the front of the house. The door was closed and apparently locked. The big armchair on the veranda puzzled him for a moment, but he swiftly forgot that and everything else as his eyes fell on the partly open window near at hand.
He drew his breath sharply and his face paled.
“By heavens!” he exclaimed. “Somebody’s broken in!”
The next moment he was on the veranda and had slipped through the window. A sound came from the dining room on the other side of the hall which made him stiffen like a hound on the scent.
Three strides took him past the stairs and into the sitting room. A second later he stood in the doorway of the dining room. He was just in time.
The slab had been removed from the hearth, and before the opening knelt Andrew Jellison. Near him was a large suit case, and he was busily engaged in lifting the packages of bank notes from the hole and stowing them away in the case. He was so absorbed in what he was doing that he did not hear the soft approach of the Yale man, nor see him pause in the doorway.
“Caught with the goods, Jellison!” McCormick said, in a tone of triumph.
“You pretty near turned the trick, but not quite.”
Andrew Jellison jerked up his head swiftly and drew his breath with a quick, sharp intake. His face turned the color of chalk, the package of bank notes dropped from his limp hand into the hole, and for an instant he gazed at the Yale man with a kind of horror-stricken fascination.
Then he leaped to his feet.
“Pretty clever, but not quite clever enough,” McCormick went on. “You didn’t know I heard you steal downstairs last night and followed you. You didn’t see me standing behind this very door while you opened up your hiding place to make sure the stolen money was still there. But I was here, Jellison. I watched you put that slab back and slip upstairs again. I even waited a full half hour, though it was the hardest thing I ever did, so that you might have time to go to sleep, before I went to find what you had hidden here. It must have worried you a lot, Jellison, to have to leave it here two years and never have a chance to see whether any one had found it or not.”
The Yale man paused and gazed with brightly gleaming eyes at the sullen face of the man before him.
“How do you think I felt, Jellison,” McCormick went on swiftly, “when I saw the label on the wrappers around those notes? The Metropolis Bank, of New York, Harlem Branch. Your bank, Jellison, and—my brother’s!”
The black-browed man gave a sudden start, and a look of amazed incredulity leaped into his eyes.
“Yes, my brother’s,” Archie repeated. “You didn’t know that I was a brother of the man you ruined and sent to prison, did you? You didn’t know that I had sworn to ferret out the man who was responsible for his disgrace and bring him to justice, if it took all my life. You played your cards cleverly. The evidence you faked deceived even the judge who tried the case. You didn’t neglect a single step to throw the blame from your guilty shoulders to those of an innocent man. I wonder if you’ve ever thought since then about that life you ruined, that reputation you blackened beyond repair. But, thank God, I’ve found you out! All your devilish plotting has come to nothing. Jim will be cleared, and you’ll have a taste of Sing Sing yourself. I hope you’ll like it.”
McCormick’s face was hard and relentless. He loved his older brother better than any one else in the world. The sight of Jim’s agony and disgrace had made him suffer torments. The man’s life had been almost ruined by the fiendish ingenuity of Andrew Jellison.
Released from prison some six months before, Jim McCormick had done his best to live a new life, but the stigma of the ex-convict clung to him wherever he went. No one would trust him. He drifted from place to place, always dropping lower in the social scale, until at last Dick Merriwell had found him and, learning his story, sent him to his brother Frank, in the hopes that the latter might do something toward clearing his name and finding out the real criminal.
It was small wonder, therefore, that Archie felt a bitter, relentless hatred for the man before him and was determined to mete out to him a full measure of justice.
Jellison seemed to read this in the clear, cold eyes of the younger man. He was in a desperate position from which there seemed no possible escape. Unconsciously he drew one hand across his sweat-stained forehead.
“I suppose you wonder why I didn’t nab you this morning,” Archie continued presently. “I wasn’t sure of you. I didn’t know your first name nor what you looked like. I couldn’t afford to make any mistake, so I went to Middleberry and wired my brother for a full description. It came all right, and I was the happiest fellow alive.”
The bank cashier moistened his dry lips.
“I wonder you said nothing to your friends,” he said, in a voice which held a ring of attempted bravado. “They would have kept me here. How did you know I wouldn’t get away before you came back?”
His eyes glittered strangely as he watched the Yale man with an eager, furtive look. Something more than mere curiosity seemed to be beneath the question.
“You wouldn’t leave without the coin,” Archie answered. “There’s no way out of here but by the path through the woods, and I was sure you couldn’t make it before I got back from the village. Besides, I asked Merriwell to get you out shooting with them this morning so as to prevent your doing anything while I was gone. I didn’t tell the boys about it because I wanted to clear Jim myself. I didn’t want anybody else to have a hand in it, and they haven’t. No one else knows yet, Jellison; but they will mighty quick.”
“I think not!” snarled the older man ferociously.
With a lightninglike motion of his arm, his right hand slid into a hip pocket and flashed out again, gripping a very serviceable-looking revolver.
“I think not!” he repeated triumphantly.
McCormick’s face paled a little as he gazed straight into the steady barrel of the weapon. But, though his face remained unmoved, his heart sank within him. What an idiot he had been not to prepare for this! Somehow, the idea that Jellison would be armed had never entered his head. He was so much superior, physically, to the older man that his ability to capture him had seemed a thing beyond question.
“You fool!” sneered Jellison. “Did you think I’d let myself be pinched by a kid like you?”
Archie smiled rather wryly.
“I was careless, I admit,” he acknowledged. “But I don’t see that you’re out of the woods yet. What are you going to do about it, now that you have got the drop on me?”
Jellison did not answer at once. As he stood thinking, a little of the triumph died out of his face and his forehead crinkled with a network of worried wrinkles.
What was he going to do about it? He might get away himself—might even carry off the money; but would he get far? McCormick knew the truth, and, though the cashier might tie him up long enough to get a good start, the fellow would be released the instant his friends came back from their shooting, and the whole lot of them would be on his trail like a pack of hounds.
Even if he did manage to get out of the country, what could he do then? The arm of the law was long. It would reach out inexorably after him over land and sea. He would be hounded from place to place, never resting, never secure, always knowing that he was followed, feeling sure that in the end tireless, never sleeping justice would find him out.
It was maddening. To think that all his carefully laid plans should be thwarted by a mere boy! He had waited so many weary months for this moment only to have his triumph turn to dust and ashes in his mouth. Everything had gone so smoothly, too, from the very first. No one had suspected him for an instant. He had played his cards too well. The only stumbling block had been the sudden, unexpected turning against him of old Hickey. That had worried him intensely, but now Hickey was dead, and he had anticipated no further difficulty. To have the whole carefully reared edifice topple about his head like a ruined house of cards nearly drove him mad.
His mind flashed swiftly on into the future. He saw the grip of the law closing about him inexorably. He would be captured, tried, sentenced. He would be a convict, walled into that hideous gray prison up the river, known only by a number, forced to do menial tasks.
And what of his wife—the only human being in the world that he cared for, besides himself. What would she do? Cling to him? Help and comfort him, and buoy up his broken spirits? Visit him in his cell and wait faithfully for his release? No! Marion was not that sort. She would be furiously angry—hysterical, no doubt. She would bitterly bewail the moment when she first set eyes on him. Her love for him would turn to hate, and he would never see her again.
He writhed inwardly at the thought. He could not stand it—he would not. He glared ferociously at McCormick. But for this fool who had accidentally stumbled upon his secret he would be safe. No one would suspect in a thousand years.
A sudden thought came into his mind, making even his callous nature shrink. He thrust it from him, but it returned again and again, whispering insidiously that it was the only way out.
He stole a stealthy glance at the youth before him. It would be possible. Only one life stood between him and utter ruin. He had an instinctive horror of staining his hands with blood, but what other course was there left him? With this fellow out of the way, he could hold up his head once more—could go his way through the world, apparently without a stigma.
It would be simple, too. He could manage it without suspicion falling upon him, if he used ordinary care. He had heard enough to know that McCormick was not one of the original hunting party. The fellow had gone to Middleberry that morning on an errand which he had not explained to the others. If he did not return, they would not be surprised. They would think he had gone back to New Haven.
It would be easy enough to get him into the woods. He could force him to carry the suit case full of money. That would be natural enough. The fellow would not suspect any other motive. Jellison knew something of the wide extent of the forest thereabouts. A body might lie hidden there for years without any one finding it.
These and a hundred other thoughts flashed through his mind as he stood there silent. Archie wondered what the fellow was thinking about which kept him quiet so long. He was curious to know what step the man proposed taking to escape from the web in which he was involved.
Suddenly Jellison seemed to have made up his mind.
“Put the rest of those bills in the suit case,” he commanded, with a threatening motion of his revolver.
Archie hesitated an instant.
“Do what I tell you!” snapped Jellison. “I’m a desperate man, and I won’t answer for the consequences.”
Then McCormick obeyed him. He could not see just what the fellow was going to do. There was no chance at all for him to escape entirely. Dropping down on the floor, he hastily crammed the rest of the bank notes into the bag and then closed and locked it.
“Now take it up and walk ahead of me,” Jellison said, in an icy voice. “You’ve been so smart butting into my game that I’m going to get a little use out of you. March!”
THE END OF THE GAME.
Having finished lunch and lounged on the rocks for a little while, the four Yale men set out toward the lower fields and thickets in search of quail.
As before, they did not keep together long. Each one had his own ideas as to where the birds were to be found, so presently they broke up and continued on their way alone.
Merriwell did not get much pleasure out of it, however. The day was perfect, the birds fairly abundant, but his mind persisted in flying back to the farmhouse and the mystery it contained, decidedly to the detriment of his gunning.
He kept wondering whether Jellison had returned to the house, and, if so, what he was doing there. Did Jellison know of the money under the hearth? What had taken Mac to the village?
He was so preoccupied with all these questions that he made a number of wretched misses, and at last he broke his gun with a snap and slipped out the shells.
“That’s about all for to-day,” he grumbled. “I can’t do a thing with this on my mind. I’m going back.”
Now that he had at last come to this decision, he wished he had done so long ago. There was no telling what might be going on in the house by the lake. He was a fool to have come out at all and left the treasure unguarded.
As he tore his way through the tangle of briars and undergrowth it seemed as if the very bushes were trying to hinder his progress. He could not get along fast enough, and the result was that when he emerged into the more open forest back of the house he was a mass of cuts and scratches and his hands were full of thorns.
He did not stop for that, however, but kept on his way through the trees at a dogtrot. The woods were pleasantly free from undergrowth, and underfoot the soft, springy moss carpeted the ground as far as the eye could reach and made his progress almost noiseless.
He had almost reached the cleared ground about the house—had just caught a glimpse of the bright sky line ahead, in fact—when he made out the figure of a man slipping through the trees in front of him.
“Who the mischief is that?” he muttered, with a perplexed frown.
It looked a little like Joblots, but he supposed that the dapper little fellow was by this time hundreds of miles away. At any rate, he was determined to find out, and, quickening his pace, he rapidly and noiselessly approached the fellow, whose back was toward him.
A moment later he saw that it was Joblots. There was no mistaking the shape of the little fellow’s back and head, and certainly there could be no duplicate hereabouts of that giddy, gaudy, shiny, new khaki shooting rig.
Percy evidently had some very definite object in view. He did not loiter as one enjoying the beauties of the forest, but pressed steadily forward toward the line of clearing, darting keen glances to right and left in a manner which was not at all like the absurd little creature they had come upon the day before. Moreover, his gun was nowhere to be seen.
As he approached, swiftly and noiselessly, a conviction that this time he was watching the real man, came upon Dick with overwhelming force. The next moment, as he reached Joblots’ side and caught his arm, he was sure. The expression on the fellow’s face, startled and annoyed, but not in the least idiotic, was proof positive.
The next instant a mask fell over the small man’s countenance.
“Grathiouth thaketh!” he gasped. “How you thurprithed——”
“Cut that!” Dick broke in sharply. “That went last night, but there’s no use in trying to fool me now. Who are you? and what are you after here?”
A bewildered look came into the pale-blue eyes.
“I weally don’t know what——”
“Cut it, I say!” Merriwell repeated, his eyes flashing. “Spit out the truth or I’ll knock it out of you! Quick, now! Who are you?”
A slowly dawning expression of keen shrewdness came over the other’s face, and for an instant he eyed Dick coolly and appraisingly.
“You’re no fool, are you?” he said at length, in a totally different voice. “I reckon you’ve got me straight this time.”
He hesitated for an instant.
“Reckon I’ll have to trust you,” he went on quickly. “I’m after the guys who cracked the Hartford bank. Now, the question is, are you going to help me or try to trip me up?”
Dick’s chin squared and his eyes narrowed as the thought of Archie flashed into his mind. It was incredible—impossible. He would not believe.
“Who are you after?” he asked at length.
“That feller McCormick,” returned the detective quickly. “He was seen around the bank just before the robbery. Him an’ his two pals took the train out in the morning. At Milton they separated. He come here with the swag, an’ the other two went on. My partner is following them.”
“What makes you think McCormick has the swag?” Dick asked, though his heart was cold within him.
“I don’t think; I know,” the man answered. “He brought it in a big bag, and last night he hid it under the hearth in the dining room. I heard him sneak downstairs, and I slipped through the kitchen and watched him. There ain’t no doubt about it.”
Dick did not speak. His heart was too full for words. What he had tried not to believe was true. All the time that he had been watching Mac through the crack in the door the detective had been on the lookout from the kitchen. In spite of all, he could not seem to think of Archie as a thief. How had he ever been roped into such a thing?
“Well, what are you going to do?” he inquired presently, in a listless voice.
“Pinch him,” returned the detective tersely. “I’ve been holding off in hopes of getting his pals. Thought he telegraphed ’em this morning, but he didn’t. The agent wouldn’t tell me what was in the message he sent, but I did find out that the reply came from Bloomfield. It ain’t likely his pals are there. It’s too far away.”
Dick caught his breath suddenly.
“Bloomfield!” he exclaimed, and then was silent.
Bloomfield was where his brother Frank’s school was located. Just now Archie McCormick’s brother, the one who had served a term in State’s prison, happened also to be there. What did it all mean? Why was Archie telegraphing to Jim? His thoughts were suddenly broken in upon by the detective’s voice.
“Well,” he said briskly, “what are you going to do, help me or hinder me?”
“Neither one or the other,” Merriwell said shortly. “I can’t hinder you, and I certainly don’t propose to help you arrest a friend of mine, especially when I don’t believe he’s had anything to do with this robbery.”
“That’s all rot,” Joblots said quickly. “The thing’s as good as proved. Well, I’ve got to get busy. There ain’t no time to waste.”
He started on toward the edge of the woods, Dick following him listlessly. His mind absolutely refused to credit the truth of the detective’s assertions, even with the proof seemingly as unassailable as it was. He would not believe that Archie was a thief. There must be some other explanation of his peculiar actions.
Suddenly Joblots, reaching the fringe of trees which bordered the field, stopped short.
“Thunder!” he exclaimed. “Here he comes now with the swag. Jellison, too. What do you think of that! I never suspected Jellison.”
Leaning over his shoulder, Merriwell saw that he was right. Coming toward the woods from the house were two men, walking in single file. The first one, unmistakably Archie, carried a large dress suit case under the weight of which he seemed barely able to stagger. Behind him walked Andrew Jellison. What did it mean? Was it possible that the two were friends and partners in this crime? Had Archie deceived him from the first?
Suddenly his eyes narrowed and he drew a quick breath. The next instant he was slipping back through the trees and doubling toward the point where the path entered the forest. Joblots caught up with him.
“You said you wouldn’t hinder,” he whispered hoarsely. “You’re going to warn them.”
“I’m going to help you,” Dick snapped. “Are you blind, man? Don’t you see what’s happened? Jellison is forcing Mac to go with him. He’s driving him along with a gun! Hush, now! Don’t make a sound.”
Bewildered, incredulous, the detective followed Merriwell closely. He could not believe what the Yale man had said, but there was nothing else to do, except follow in the other’s lead.
In a moment they had reached the edge of the path and crouched in the bushes. They were just in time. Already the feet of the two men rustled in the leaves near at hand.
“How long are you going to keep up this farce?” they heard McCormick say. “You certainly can’t expect to force me to go on to Middleberry.”
“Never you mind!” snapped Jellison. “Shut your face and do as I tell you!”
The next instant Archie passed Dick’s hiding place, staggering under the weight of the heavy bag. A moment later Jellison appeared.
Without a single preliminary sound, Merriwell’s lithe body, launched from the thicket with a spring like that of a panther, struck the cashier full on the back, and the two crashed to the ground together. The shock knocked the revolver from the fellow’s hand, and, though he struggled hard, Dick had no difficulty in holding him down. Then he looked about him.
Archie had dropped the bag and was staring at the tangle of arms and legs in a dazed fashion. As he recognized Dick, he gave a shout of joy.
“Thank Heaven, you came in time, old fellow!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been an awful fool. He was just getting away with all the money.”
A look of triumph appeared on Joblots’ face.
“Ah! ha!” he muttered. “What did I tell you?”
“What money?” Dick demanded. “Quick, Archie! What are you talking about?”
His face was strained with the suspense of waiting.
“The money he stole from the Metropolis Bank two years ago,” McCormick answered eagerly. “He’s the thief. He’s the one who sent Jim to prison. He hid the money under the hearth, expecting to get it after everything was safe, but old man Hickey wouldn’t let him in. He came last night for it. I was awake and heard him slip downstairs. I followed him and saw him take up the stone to see if it was still there. After he had gone, I looked myself. There’s no doubt about it.”
Joblots listened with a growing expression of mortification and chagrin.
“Yah!” he snapped. “I don’t believe it! You stole that money from the Hartford bank two nights ago!”
Archie looked at him in utter bewilderment. Then his face darkened.
“You fool!” he ripped out. “How dare you accuse me of such a thing! Look and see. The wrappers are still around the bills.”
Scowling fiercely at Joblots, he kicked the bag with one foot.
In an instant the detective was on his knees, fumbling with the catch. Then, as it yielded, he threw back the cover and snatched up one of the packages. His face was incredulous. Tossing down the packet he picked up another, and yet another. They were all the same. Presently he arose slowly to his feet.
“By thunder!” he muttered. “Looks like there was something in it.”
Then he looked keenly at Archie.
“What were you doing around the bank in Hartford at twelve o’clock the night of the robbery?” he asked significantly.
“Coming home from a smoker,” the Yale man returned quickly.
“How about those guys you were chummy with on the train yesterday?” persisted Joblots.
“Never saw them before in my life,” McCormick smiled. “We got talking to each other in the train.”
The detective looked nonplused. Before he had time to think of any more questions, a sanctimonious voice sounded from the path behind the little group.
“Behold the wicked man who diggeth a pit and falleth into it himself. Look’s as if you’d got him this time, gents.”
Dick loosened his grip on Jellison and sprang to his feet. The ruddy face of the Reverend Jeremy Pennyfeather grinned at him from a little distance. His eyes were twinkling shrewdly, and he did not look quite so pious as he had that morning.
“Well!” Dick remarked. “Are you another detective?”
The fellow laughed.
“Guessed right the first crack, my friend,” he returned easily. “I was sent out by Mr. Frank Merriwell to keep watch of this here gent.”
He indicated the sullen, lowering Jellison, who had raised himself to a sitting posture.
“Looks like you boys had saved me a lot of trouble. Caught him with the goods, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and I hope he gets the biggest penalty that can be imposed,” he said sternly. “He’s pretty near ruined one man’s life.”
“There ain’t any doubt he’ll git all that’s coming to him,” the lank fellow said, in a tone of satisfaction. “We ought to be able to catch the last train down and give him his first taste of jail to-night.”
“And I’ll go with you,” Archie said decidedly. “I want to see him good and safe.”
They all finally decided to go as far as Lysander Cobmore’s place, from which Archie and the detective could proceed alone with the guilty man. Making their way quickly through the woods, they found the farmer standing by the barn, a yellow envelope in his hand. His eyes lit up as they fell upon the dapper figure of Joblots.
“Waal, waal,” he drawled. “If you ain’t saved me a heap o’ trouble. This here telegram was jest brought from town, and I hadn’t no more notion than a cat what to do with it.”
He handed the envelope to the detective, who tore it open eagerly. As he took in the contents, his face darkened and he bit his lips angrily.
“Two days wasted!” he snapped, crumpling the message in his hand, and tossing it to the ground. “Wouldn’t that frost you!”
The Reverend Pennyfeather made no bones about picking it up, and, when he had spread it out, this was what he read:
“Hartford crooks nabbed at Westfield. Swag recovered. You are on false trail. Report at office at once.”
AS IN A LOOKING-GLASS.
The day was overcast and lowery. It was not actually raining, but the raw wind from the Sound brought with it a heavy mist, damp and clogging, which was almost as bad. The crispness was taken out of everything, the sidewalks were dank and slippery, and pedestrians hurried along the streets with turned-up collars, turned-down hat brims, and a general air of shivery unpleasantness, as if they hated themselves, the people they brushed elbows with, and, above all else, the business which made it necessary for them to be out in such sloppy weather.
Dick Merriwell, who had returned to New Haven, was no exception to the general rule as he walked along Chapel Street toward the campus. His long, loose, tightly buttoned coat, with the collar turned above the ears, was covered with a multitude of tiny drips of moisture, almost like hoarfrost. The brim of his soft felt hat was pulled down over his eyes, and now and then a drop of water gathered at the point and splashed to the sidewalk.
He had been out on a rather important errand and, being anxious to get over to the dining hall on time, he did not dawdle, but strode along, gloved hands deep down in his pockets, growling under his breath maledictions on the weather which would effectually prevent any football practice on the field that afternoon.
He was walking on the inside of the sidewalk, close to the shop windows, and had almost reached the corner of Temple Street when he collided violently with a man who came dashing out of a store without a glance to see where he was going.
Both men staggered a little from the shock and the stranger’s black derby was knocked off. It was rolling toward the gutter when Dick caught it and turned to restore it to its owner.
“Beg pardon,” he said regretfully. “I had no idea——”
He stopped abruptly, his eyes widening with astonishment. For a second he stared in bewilderment at the young man before him.
“Well, I’ll be hanged!” he ejaculated.
The other man looked scarcely less surprised.
“Exactly!” he returned. “You took the very words out of my mouth.”
His keen, dark eyes were surveying Merriwell in much the same way that the Yale man looked at him, and his handsome face wore on it just such a look of whimsical perplexity as distinguished Dick’s countenance.
And smaller wonder. Had the two been twin brothers they could scarcely have been more alike. There was not a fraction of an inch variation in their heights. Both were well set-up, broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, with the lithe grace of carriage which distinguishes the well-developed athlete. Both had dark hair and equally dark eyes, straight noses, and well-shaped, sensitive mouths.
The fellow who had come out of the shop looked a trifle older than the Yale senior, and there were a number of minor points about his face and figure which would be quite apparent to a close observer when the two men were together; but, taken all in all, the resemblance was quite close enough to warrant the surprise which each one manifested at the sight of the other.
Merriwell recovered his customary poise first.
“It certainly does give a fellow a queer feeling to run up against his double in this casual sort of way,” he remarked lightly.
“Doesn’t it?” replied the stranger. “You don’t happen to be some long-lost brother that I’ve never heard of, do you?”
“I doubt it,” he returned. “I never had but one, and he looks less like me than you do. Perhaps somewhere back in the dark ages our ancestors were the same. My name is Merriwell, by the bye.”
The other gave a sudden start and a look of chagrin flashed over his face.
“Merriwell!” he exclaimed. “Dick Merriwell, of Yale! Of course. If I wasn’t the thickest sort of a blockhead that ever walked, I’d have caught on before.”
The Yale man looked puzzled.
“It isn’t possible we’ve ever met before,” he said quickly. “You’re not the sort of man I’d be likely to forget in a hurry.”
The stranger laughed.
“We’ve never met, though I’ve tried to meet you a number of times,” he laughed. “But I’ve seen you more than once. I can’t think why I didn’t recognize you at once. I suppose it’s because I’ve never had a really good, close look at you before. It has always been a long-distance glimpse from the bleachers or the grand stand out on the athletic field, and you know how football paraphernalia disguises a fellow.
“By Jove! I’m glad I was Johnny-on-the-spot just now, even if I did nearly knock you down. My name is Austin Demarest, and I certainly am glad to meet you.”
He held out a slim, brown hand with such an air of pleasure and camaraderie that Merriwell could not help a feeling of satisfaction as he clasped it in his own.
“And I you, Mr. Demarest,” he returned quickly. “I have a notion that I could like you a lot if I ever had a chance. Perhaps that sounds rather conceited, though.”
“Sort of in the nature of self-praise, eh?” chuckled Demarest. “It would be tough if a fellow couldn’t get along pretty well with himself, wouldn’t it?”
Unconsciously they had turned and were walking slowly along Chapel Street. Each one seemed unable to refrain from throwing occasional swift glances at the other, as if to satisfy himself that the odd resemblance was really a concrete fact and not some chance figment of the imagination.
Presently their eyes met and both burst out laughing.
“It doesn’t seem right,” chuckled Demarest. “I can’t get used to looking at you as if I were gazing at a mirror.”
“Nor I,” Merriwell agreed. “What sport we could have if you were only in the university. I can conjure up all sorts of attractive possibilities.”
“Such as substitution in lecture rooms?” suggested Demarest slyly.
“Not so much that as the fun we could have outside,” Dick answered. “By the way, what was the reason you wanted to meet me so much?”
Demarest did not answer at once. His face clouded and the laughter died out of his eyes. It was as if the question had recalled to his mind something disagreeable which had, for the moment, been forgotten. Twice he glanced hesitatingly at Merriwell in a troubled, doubtful sort of way as one who does not know quite what course to pursue.
“It’s a rather long story,” he said, at length; “and yet I think I’d like to tell it, if you have time to listen. Have you got anything on for a couple of hours? Couldn’t you come in and lunch with me?”
He made a quick gesture toward the New Haven House, at the entrance to which they had stopped an instant before.
“Why, yes,” Dick returned readily, “I’ll be very glad to. I was on my way to the dining hall, but this will be much better.”
Demarest’s face cleared.
“Good,” he said tersely. “I’m in the deuce of a hole, and perhaps you can help me out of it. Even if you can’t, there’s always a certain satisfaction in pouring one’s woes into a sympathetic ear.”
Dick smiled as they entered the hotel lobby and walked toward the cloakroom.
“What makes you so sure my ear will be sympathetic?” he asked. “You may get a terrible disappointment.”
“I guess not,” Demarest returned quickly. “We look so much alike that the resemblance can’t possibly stop at that. And I’m so blamed sorry for myself that sometimes I could fairly weep at my own misfortunes. Haven’t you felt sad sometimes without knowing the reason why?”
“Once in a while, yes.”
“I knew it!” Demarest exclaimed. “Those were the times when I was being more severely mauled by the Goddess of Misfortune than usual. Sort of mental telepathy, you know. But come, let’s not waste any more precious minutes. I fairly pine to let loose the floodgates of self-confession, and over there in the corner I see an empty table which had been saved for us by a special dispensation of providence.”
AUSTIN DEMAREST, ACTOR.
As Dick settled down on one side of the cozy little table near one of the windows and unfolded his napkin he felt a pleasant glow of satisfaction stealing over him. Short as was their acquaintance, he already felt a distinct liking for the man opposite him, whose handsome face still impressed him with the odd sensation of looking into a mirror and seeing his own countenance reflected there.
The fellow was very evidently a gentleman by birth and breeding. That had been plain from the first moment of their unconventional meeting. His manners were unexceptionable, and he had a certain air of polished refinement which was manifest to Merriwell’s keen perception in a dozen unobtrusive ways.
But more than all else the Yale man was attracted by the other’s manner of talking. Whimsical, half bantering, almost careless, there was yet about it an undercurrent of seriousness, which gave the barest hint of the real man beneath that disguising mask and made Dick eager for a more thorough knowledge of the character which he felt would prove more interesting by far than that of the majority of men.
Demarest picked up the card and ordered luncheon with the swiftness and taste of a connoisseur. He evidently had the rare art of selecting an attractive meal without spending a half hour at it. Then, folding his arms loosely, he leaned forward.
“Let’s begin at the beginning,” he said with twinkling eyes. “That sounds a little unnecessary, I know, but so few people really do begin a story where they ought. Probably you’ve noticed it, though. For instance, I am strongly tempted to plunge headfirst into the maelstrom of my troubles, and it is only by a strong effort of will that I bring myself to begin where I ought to lead you gradually thence to a consideration of the worst.”
While he was talking, Dick became conscious of the remarkable beauty and purity of his voice. His tones were rather low, and he spoke with just a hint of the fascinating Southern drawl; but every syllable was clear and distinct, and now and then there was a sudden raising or lowering of the pitch which had a distinctly dramatic effect. Merriwell found himself thinking what an admirable actor the man would make, if his histrionic ability only matched his voice. He was consequently almost startled when Demarest went on:
“Know, kind second self, that I am an actor. From my earliest days I longed to tread the magic boards and pour out my soul to vast applauding audiences through the medium of our immortal dramatists. At the age of twelve I had learned the parts of Hamlet and Brutus. Can you fancy it? Two years later I had built a puppet stage in the attic of our country home and organized a company of which I was, of course, the star. In times of need and scarcity of talent, I have been known to play several parts in one performance. The admission to those matchless performances was, I recollect, a penny. You will perceive that those were the good old days before the trust came upon us and before the régime of the ubiquitous ticket speculator.”
Dick smiled appreciatively. There was something fascinating in the fellow’s whimsical, airy manner.
“But why linger on those far-away times?” Demarest went on quickly. “I only touch upon them that you may see beyond peradventure that I was destined for the stage. Sad to say, my esteemed family thought otherwise. What was cute and cunning in a child became mad folly—in their estimation—when I reached the age of manhood and still persisted in my determination. I haunted the theatre, breathing in the indescribable atmosphere of the place as if it were the nectar and ambrosia of the gods. Then my people became seriously alarmed and packed me off to Cambridge. At first I was in despair and planned to run away, but in the end I stuck it out and I have always been thankful. Unknown to my family, who thought I was following the old-fashioned, stereotyped course, I specialized in elocution, English literature, and the modern languages, which have been of inestimable service to me ever since.”
He paused, as the waiter appeared with the first course and deftly placed it before the two men. Dick was much interested in the recital.
“Of course you persisted in your determination to go on the stage,” he said quickly. “I imagine you had a rather strenuous time after you graduated.”
Demarest sighed and made an expressive gesture with his shapely, brown hands.
“Precisely,” he returned. “Over that let us draw a veil. I won out in the end, but it was only by a display of the utmost firmness. My father called it pigheadedness. To this day they are not reconciled, though I fancy they are beginning to be resigned.
“I took a course in the best dramatic school in New York, and, when I left that, got a minor position in the company of one of our leading actor dramatists. It was the merest trifle. I think I had barely half a dozen lines, but I was rejoiced, for it was a foothold. I had reached the bottom rung of the ladder up which I meant to climb to the very top. I worked hard. Before the company left New York I had mastered half a dozen rôles and was letter-perfect. I had a fancy that I could not improve on several of them, but my chance did not come until we were playing in Chicago, where the leading juvenile was suddenly seized with appendicitis. He had no understudy—happily for me. I went at once to Mr. Manton and boldly asked for the part. To my astonishment, almost without word, he agreed to try me out at a rehearsal. I found out afterward that he had been keeping an eye on me ever since I entered the company. He was the best friend I ever had.”
He stopped, took a few sips of his bouillon, and leaned back in his chair.
“You made good?” Dick questioned eagerly. “But of course you must have.”
“Thanks to Mr. Manton, I did,” returned Demarest. “He took infinite pains with me, as he always did with any one he thought worth the trouble. I kept that part for the remainder of the season, and the next fall I had one almost as good, though of a totally different sort. Then came my patron’s sudden death. It was a terrible blow to me, quite apart from the fact that I was thrown out of a job; for I had grown to be amazingly fond of him. But I had little time for repining. I had to find something to do and it did not prove to be so easy as I had supposed. It was then that I had my first experience with the so-called theatrical trust, the members of which control many of the companies and theatres, in this country.
“At last I landed a job, but it was a good deal of a come-down both in salary and importance. But even under their auspices I kept on going slowly upward until I reached a point which would have contented most men. Perhaps it should have contented me, but I knew I hadn’t reached the very top, and that I was determined to do, or perish in the attempt.
“About that time—which was last fall, to be explicit—I suddenly decided to write a play. The germ had been in my mind for a long period, but I lacked the time to follow it out. Happily the company disbanded earlier than usual last spring, and I at once set to work on my pet idea. I succeeded even better than I had hoped, for the play was good stuff and the leading part a crackajack.”
He paused and smiled at Merriwell.
“This is the point where you step upon the stage,” he went on. “It’s taken a long time to get there, hasn’t it?”
Dick’s face was full of puzzled curiosity.
“You are the hero of the play,” Demarest explained, with twinkling eyes.
“I?” gasped the Yale man. “I don’t understand.”
The actor pushed aside his salad and rested one arm lightly on the table.
“It’s this way,” he said, in his low, musical voice. “Though I had never met you, I had heard a lot about you from mutual friends and had seen you more than once on the diamond and gridiron. Consequently, when I decided that the play should be one of college life with the scene laid in New Haven, I felt that you would make an admirable character for the leading man. Of course, I ran you in under a different name, but I took the liberty of using a good many of your characteristics, and while I wrote I had you constantly in mind. I hope you don’t object, for it was rather cheeky.”
“Why, no, I don’t mind; but I’m afraid you’ve been stung. There’s nothing of the hero about me.”
“Oh, modesty, thou rare and precious quality!” murmured Demarest. “I’ve made a hero of you, then, against your will. When you’ve read the play you will see yourself in a different light. But I suppose by this time you, are wondering where my troubles come in.”
“A little,” Dick confessed. “So far your career seems to have been an unqualified success.”
“Listen, and you shall hear the dire story. Having the play, it never occurred to me that I could fail to find an opening. Plenty of actors with no more ability than I have been advanced to stellar rôles. That sounds conceited, but it isn’t. It’s a fact. But when I approached my managers, Buffer and Lane, with the proposition, they turned me down. Said the play was all right and wanted to buy it, but wouldn’t give me the leading part. They wanted that for one of their pets. Of course, I refused to let them have it and went to another firm, who were not supposedly connected with Buffer and Lane.
“It was the same story there. Nothing doing for me. I tried still another man with the same result, and then I got mad. If they wouldn’t bring me out I’d produce the play myself. I knew it would make a hit if it got a chance, and I had lately received a legacy from my grandmother, which was enough to cover all initial expenses of the production. So I went blithely on my way, had the scenery done, engaged the company, got the costumes made. I went to one of the independent managers in New York and got him to promise to put me on at his theatre providing the play tried out successfully. And he insisted that the opening performance should be given in New Haven. Of course, he was right. College men are the best critics in the world, and if a play, especially of this sort, succeeds here, it will go anywhere.”
Dick nodded understandingly.
“Of course,” he agreed quickly. “What’s your trouble, then? Why don’t you produce it at one of the small theatres?”
Demarest shrugged his shoulders.
“Simply because Buffer and Lane object, and the trust, booking Buffer and Lane’s companies, has lent an acquiescent ear. They absolutely refuse to give me a single date at either place. They say every night is booked for the remainder of the season.”
“What nonsense!” Merriwell exclaimed. “Surely there must be some open nights.”
“Of course there are,” Demarest returned quickly. “But not for yours truly. Don’t you see their game? If they can prevent my appearing in New Haven, they figure that I won’t get a show anywhere, and then they probably imagine that I’ll crawl and let them have the play.”
Dick’s face flushed and his eyes flashed angrily.
“What a lot of sharks they must be!” he exclaimed. “By Jove! I wish you could find some place they don’t control and beat them out at their own game.”
“You can’t wish it any more fervently than I do,” Demarest returned seriously.
“Have you tried the Strand?” Merriwell asked presently.
The actor nodded.
“Yes, and was politely but firmly turned down.”
For a few minutes there was silence. Demarest toyed with his ice, while Merriwell gazed thoughtfully at the tablecloth. Suddenly he raised his head and his eyes brightened.
“I’ve got it!” he exclaimed eagerly. “The old Concert Hall. I’ll bet none of the New York managers control that!”
Demarest looked dubious.
“The Concert Hall!” he echoed. “But that’s got a—a—well, a reputation, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, it has,” Dick admitted, “but I don’t see why that should stand in your way. If it was made clear that you were unable to bring out a play at any of the other houses, I don’t think people would stay away on account of the reputation of that house. Certainly the fellows wouldn’t. They go to see everything in the nature of college plays which comes to town. I admit that, more often than not, they go with the idea of picking flaws in the piece, but if it’s what you say it is, it ought to succeed. At any rate, you’d have your audience, and it would be up to you to do the rest.”
Demarest’s eyes brightened and he nodded emphatically.
“You can trust me for that,” he said decidedly. “All I want is the audience. The play’s all right. Buffer and Lane would never have made an offer for it if it hadn’t been pretty good. I don’t know but that idea of yours will prove a life saver, Merriwell. I was just about at my wit’s end, but you’ve put new heart into me.”
Summoning the waiter, he paid the check, and they walked out to the lobby.
“I believe I’ll go down there right away,” Demarest said, after a moment’s consideration. “It’s the only chance left, and I have got to decide one way or another at once. It isn’t fair for me to keep the company on a string any longer if there’s not going to be an opportunity of opening here. Won’t you come along with me? You’ve started the thing going, and it’s only fair to see me through.”
“Of course I will,” Dick said quickly. “I’m so keen about it, I don’t want to miss a single trick.”
Getting into their coats, they hurried out of the hotel and five minutes later had reached the old Concert Hall. It was a house of good size and in its prime had been the scene of many well-known productions, but for years having been given over to vaudeville, moving pictures, and shows of a certain grade, it was in a wretched state of dinginess.
Demarest was almost discouraged as he stood in the centre of the orchestra and looked about him. The place seemed utterly impossible, but presently his trained eye took in the various good points, which included an ample stage, though, at present, it was cluttered with odds and ends and backed with faded, crude, fearfully painted scenery.
“Pretty bad, isn’t it?” he remarked. “I can’t imagine a high-grade audience consenting to spend three hours here.”
“All the same,” Dick said quickly, “a little work will make a wonderful improvement. How’s the stage? Is it big enough?”
“Plenty. My sets will fit all right, but I shudder to think what that drop curtain looks like.”
He smiled wryly as he glanced up at the rolled-up curtain.
“I’ve never seen it, but I should imagine it was the limit,” Merriwell answered. “Couldn’t it be painted over, or something like that?”
“I suppose so.”
After another searching look around, Demarest led the way through a door back of the boxes to the stage itself. It certainly was dilapidated, and the dressing rooms were cramped and bad, but the young actor was at his wit’s end; and when he left the place an hour later he had engaged the house for Thursday night of that week, had the signed lease in his pocket and, more than that, had paid the money down. He had learned to leave nothing to chance. He had a feeling that the moment the members of the trust learned of the step he had taken they would do their best to prevent his opening even at the Concert Hall, and he was determined that they should not succeed.
That afternoon was a busy one. Before dark, Demarest had engaged an army of cleaners, scrubwomen, and painters, to report the first thing in the morning at the theatre. He had gone to the printer’s and ordered special paper printed in which was stated that, owing to the impossibility of obtaining a date at any other theatre, Austin Demarest, the talented young actor who had done such good work in the productions of the late Richard Manton, and latterly under the management of Buffer and Lane, was forced to bring out his new drama of college life, “Jarvis of Yale,” at the Concert Hall, which had been especially renovated and redecorated for the occasion.
These bills were to be spread broadcast on the boards all over the city the next morning, and when Demarest reached the hotel toward five o’clock he had reason to be thoroughly satisfied with the afternoon’s work.
Merriwell had accompanied him on his rounds through the city. His interest and enthusiasm were wrought to a high pitch, and his suggestions on various points had been of much service to the actor.
“It certainly was a lucky moment when I ran you down this morning,” Demarest said, as they dropped down in some chairs in the lobby. “I was simply up against a dead wall, and now things seem to be coming around all right, thanks to your advice and suggestions. I really think we’ll be able to make a halfway decent place out of the old barn. Of course it won’t be anything like one of the other houses, but it will be clean.”
“And the best part of it is that you will get ahead of the fellows who have tried to keep you under,” Dick said quickly. “It makes me hot under the collar every time I think of the way they’ve tried to keep you down so that they can get the play for themselves. By the way, old fellow, I hope you have a copy of it here. I’m no end anxious to read it.”
“And I want you to,” Demarest returned emphatically. “I want your critical opinion of it. I expect there’s a lot of places in it where you can suggest improvements. I’ll give you a copy before you go to-night, and you can read it and let me know what you think of it in the morning.”
As he spoke, he picked up a newspaper which lay on the next chair and glanced carelessly down the columns. Suddenly he stiffened and drew a quick breath.
“Blazes!” he burst out the next instant.
“What’s the matter?” Dick asked quickly.
Demarest’s face was set and a little pale. He was evidently keeping a grip on himself only by a great effort.
“Look at that!” he cried, extending the paper. “Just look at that, will you? If that isn’t a put-up job, I’d like to know what you’d call it.”
Dick snatched the paper from his nervous fingers and bent over the page. As he read the paragraph which the actor had pointed out, his eyes narrowed and a frown appeared on his forehead.
“Friday—Arcadian Theatre,” he murmured swiftly, “first production on any stage—John Tennant’s great drama of college life, ‘Fenwick of Yale’—management Ralph Bryton.”
“Great Scott!” Merriwell exclaimed, looking up swiftly. “They’re trying to get ahead of you! Trying to cut you out by producing a college play with almost exactly the same name! What a dirty trick!”
“Read the rest of it!” Demarest exclaimed angrily.
Unable to contain himself, he took the paper from Dick’s hand.
“Listen: ‘Great football scene. Nothing like it ever shown on the stage.’ My scene, Merriwell, I’ll wager anything! ‘Tremendously strong third act.’ My third act is the climax of the play! ‘The whole play from start to finish is so true to life, and so filled with the atmosphere of a real college town, that the spectator will find it hard to believe he is not watching a concrete segment taken directly from the life in the greatest university in America. The management has been fortunate in securing the services of the following actors and actresses for this important production.’”
Crumpling the paper in a shapeless mass, Demarest tossed it angrily aside.
“I’d be willing to take my oath, Merriwell,” he said bitterly, “that those villains have stolen the very plot of my play; or, if they haven’t, they’ve got something which follows as close on the lines of ‘Jarvis, of Yale,’ as they dared, and still be within the law. They open Friday, you see. I did not intend having my first night until next Monday, until we got the Concert Hall to-day, so they thought they’d get ahead of me. Great Scott, man! If they put their play on first, there wouldn’t be a handful come to my opening. It would be the greatest frost you ever saw.”
“But you’re all right,” Dick said eagerly. “You open Thursday. They’ll be the ones to get the frost.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Demarest said, in a worried tone. “People seeing a college play billed at the Arcadian for Friday are not likely to go to such a hole as the Concert Hall the night before for practically the same thing. They’ll think that I am the one who is copying their play, and Ralph Bryton will do his best to have that impression circulated. He hates me like poison and has been the one more responsible than any one else for the trust turning me down.”
Suddenly the actor gave a start.
“The paper!” he cried. “I never thought! They’ll get theirs out ahead of ours, and there won’t be a square foot of boarding left by the time mine are printed in the morning.”
“But they don’t know about what you’ve done to-day,” Dick objected. “They don’t know you’ve hired the Concert Hall.
“They’ll find out quick enough when they go to Lawford in the morning,” Demarest said despairingly. “He’ll tell them about my bills. The printer won’t have them ready until ten o’clock, and they’ll pay Lawford a bonus to put theirs up instead of mine. I know them and their tricks. And if the town isn’t well papered, we might as well give up on the spot.”
THE POWER OF PERSUASION.
It seemed as if this final catastrophe was the last straw which broke the camel’s back. Austin Demarest had held out bravely against the many blows which fickle fortune had showered upon him. He had deliberately placed himself in opposition to a great power, and, with smiling face and never-failing courage, had resolutely held out against their machinations.
They had shut the doors of most reputable theatres against him, and he had circumvented them. They had threatened members of the theatrical profession with their displeasure if any of them agreed to play for Demarest, but in spite of that, the young actor had gathered together a very fair company, many of whom had signed with him knowing full well that they were spoiling their chances with the syndicate, but trusting to the talented, magnetic young actor-manager to pull things through. The leading lady, Marion Gray, had refused an offer from Buffer and Lane of twice the money Demarest was able to give her, but it was rumored that she was so attached to the latter that she would have played for him without any salary at all. Demarest himself seemed to be the only one of the company who had not observed the significant signs on the part of the very attractive young lady, and had gone on his way seeming serenely unconscious of the state of affairs.
But now this last blow had utterly unnerved him. It was so totally unexpected and had come at a time when he had at last begun to see light through the dark clouds, that it was no wonder he was discouraged. There seemed to be no way by which he could come out ahead this time, and he sat there in the big leather chair, a feeling of hopeless failure in his heart.
Dick Merriwell was not so easily downed. He snatched out his watch and, with a swift glance at it, sprang to his feet.
“Come on, old fellow,” he said incisively. “We haven’t got a minute to lose.”
Demarest stood up slowly, instinctively. His eyes were puzzled.
“What——” he began.
Dick caught him by the arm and drew him toward the door.
“Hustle!” he cried. “Don’t stop to argue!”
“The printer’s!” broke in Merriwell. “We’ve got to get those bills done to-night!”
By this time they were outside the hotel and hurrying down the street. Though he did not quite see what his new friend had in mind, Demarest was unconsciously heartened by the Yale man’s decisive manner, and hope began to dawn again in his breast.
“You can’t give up now,” urged Merriwell, as they dodged around a corner and went down the side street almost at a run. “You’ve got to beat them. You’ve got your regular paper ready. We must get this special work printed and placed before morning. It’s the only way. It’s simply got to be done!”
“But how can you?” objected the actor. “The printers won’t stay over hours. Lawford won’t put them up in the dark.”
“We can try,” Dick ripped out. “If he won’t put them up, somebody else can. It’s a question of your whole future; you can’t lay down now.”
Little by little, under the dominating influence of Merriwell’s personality, Demarest’s courage returned and his face brightened. They reached the printing house just as the whistle blew and, dashing upstairs, encountered a swarm of men hurrying down.
“Stop a minute, fellows, will you?” Dick said quickly.
The men paused, a wondering throng, on the stairs. They could see Merriwell’s face but dimly in the light from the single flaring gas jet.
“That order for the bills of the ‘Jarvis of Yale’ production at the Concert Hall which was brought in this afternoon,” he said rapidly but distinctly. “Have they been started yet?”
There was a moment’s pause, and then a voice from the back of the crowd growled:
“Ain’t mor’n half set up.”
“They’ve got to be done by midnight,” Merriwell went on swiftly. “It’s a matter of life and death to my friend, here, boys. He’s simply got to have them then, or he goes under. Won’t enough of your fellows stay to-night to get them out? Every one who helps us out will get a ten-dollar bill.”
“The day’s work is done,” grumbled one man. “I ain’t goin’ ter work no overtime.”
“Me neither,” growled another.
“Why in thunder didn’t yer bring ’em in this morning, if yer wanted ’em in such a rush?” snapped a third.
“I wants me supper.”
There was a restless, forward movement of the crowd, eager to be gone, and Demarest groaned softly. In that single instant he saw his well-laid plans crumbling into nothingness, his fortune swept away, himself ruined. Then Merriwell began to speak again.
“Just a minute, boys, till I tell you a little more,” he said quickly. “My friend is an actor who has got the theatrical trust down on him. He wanted to bring out his play in New Haven, at the Arcadian. They wouldn’t let him have that theatre—nor any other in town. They shut him out, but they forgot the old Concert Hall. That’s why the show is coming off there. And now the trust is going to put a play on at the Arcadian Friday night which is as near my friend’s play as they can make it. They think they’ll get ahead of him and make him draw a frost. If these bills aren’t up before daybreak that’s what will happen. Won’t you fellow change your minds and help us?”
He had chosen his argument skillfully. The mention of a trust to the average workingman is like a red flag to a bull. They hated the thought of these monstrous creations of modern commerce, and perhaps there was reason for that hate. At any rate, the prospect of foiling a great combination of capital was the only thing which could possibly have induced those printers to work overtime that night, and even at that their consent was rather grudging.
“Well, if yer puts it that way,” one said hesitatingly. “I s’pose I kin stay. How about it, Bill?”
“I’ll stay if you will.”
“Say, mister,” piped up a small boy, one of the devils, “who are you, anyhow?”
“Dick Merriwell,” the Yale man answered.
“Golly!” exclaimed the youngster, open-mouthed. “The twirler! What d’yer think of dat, Pete?”
He grinned engagingly at Merriwell.
“I’ll help yer out, Dick,” he said impudently.
“Good boy, kid,” the Yale man laughed. “You’re the stuff, all right.”
That seemed to be the turning point. Many of the men knew Merriwell, who was a popular idol among all classes of baseball fans, and the prospect of doing him a good turn, and at the same time thwarting a trust, so appealed to the men that the majority of them turned about and went back to the printing rooms.
The foreman was won over without a great deal of trouble. He was a thrifty Scotchman, and the prospect of the twenty dollars which Dick promised him considerably more than overbalanced the inconvenience of going without his supper and curtailing his night’s rest.
Consequently, when Dick and the young actor left the place half an hour later, the men were all busy setting up the bills, which would be ready for the presses in very short order.
The two stopped at a near-by restaurant and ordered a good supply of sandwiches and coffee sent up to the printers, and then hustled off to find Lawford, the billposter.
“By Jove, old fellow!” Demarest said, as they turned into Chapel Street again and walked swiftly past the green. “You certainly did that trick to perfection. I shall be your debtor all my life for having saved the situation.”
“We’re not out of the wood yet, by a long shot,” Merriwell returned. “I have a notion that this Lawford will be more of a proposition to bring around. By this time he must have the bills of the Arcadian play, and your friend Bryton has learned about your leasing the Concert Hall. He’s probably paid Lawford well for running his bills in ahead of yours.”
“I’m afraid so,” Demarest agreed. “But it’s the limit, when I made the bargain with him first.”
“Still, Lawford gets all of his business from the trust, and he can’t afford to have them down on him,” Dick said. “However, I think we can manage it some way.”
Reaching the billposter’s place of business, they found that the proprietor had gone, leaving one of his men to shut up the place.
“You don’t know where he can be found, then?” Dick questioned.
The fellow shook his head.
“He didn’t say. Likely he’s home, though.”
“Where does he live?” Merriwell asked.
“Down to West Haven.”
Dick considered a moment. That was a good ways off, and it was extremely questionable whether the results of a trip down there would repay the effort. He had a pretty accurate notion that the billposter had been primed by Ralph Bryton. As he hesitated, he looked swiftly about the office, and his eyes lit up suddenly as they fell upon the great piles of paper stacked in one corner. On the top sheet he caught a glimpse of the words, “Fenwick, of Yale.”
That was enough. Bryton had been here, and it would be quite useless to approach Lawford.
WHILE OTHERS SLEPT.
After his discovery of the syndicate bills, Merriwell turned back and bestowed a brief, but comprehensive glance at the man before him. He was a young fellow of medium height, with a rather pleasant face and fiery-red hair. He was roughly dressed and his faded overalls were smeared with paste. Dick decided that he was one of the laborers who did the actual work of billposting. He seemed like a pretty good sort, and the Yale man seldom went wrong in sizing up a man. Still he hesitated, wondering whether he had better put into execution the plan which was in his mind.
At last he determined to risk it. He could think of no other way, and the bills must be on the boards before daylight.
“Do you want to earn ten dollars?” he asked presently.
The fellow grinned all over his freckled face.
“That’s me, guv’ner,” he replied promptly. “I sure do.”
“Would you be willing to stay up all night to do it?” Merriwell went on.
The Yale man’s eyes wandered to the big buckets of paste which ranged along the wall.
“How long would it take you to mix up a lot of paste like that?” he inquired.
The billposter looked puzzled.
“About an hour or so,” he returned. “What yer after?”
“I want about that much ready at twelve o’clock sharp,” he returned. “I also want three or four big brushes that you put it on with. Where do you suppose I could get those?”
The fellow waved his hand to where a lot of them hung in rows against the wall.
“What’s the matter with them?” he inquired. “The old man’ll never miss ’em if you get ’em back by six o’clock. He’s got a big job on for to-morrer, an’ he’s going to start at six.”
“I don’t want to use his brushes,” Dick said quickly. “Isn’t there some place around town where I could buy some?”
The billposter shook his head.
“Not as I knows of,” he answered. “Them brushes is made special.”
Merriwell hesitated for a moment. Then he shrugged his shoulders.
“All right,” he said, “we’ll use those, then. I can pay Lawford well for the use of them after the business is over. Got that straight, now? Have the paste and brushes ready for me at midnight. We’d better take a couple of those small ladders, too. And you are to stay here till we bring the things back. See?”
The fellow nodded.
“Yep. But, say, guv’ner, this here ain’t goin’ to do me no harm with the boss, is it?”
“Not unless you tell him yourself about it,” the Yale man answered. “I promise you no one will ever get it from me, but I’ll be frank with you——”
He paused, and looked inquiringly at the fellow.
“Brown’s me name,” the latter informed him. “Bill Brown.”
“Well, Bill,” Dick continued, “I may as well tell you that if Lawford ever found out that you had made paste for me, and loaned me his brushes, he would probably fire you on the spot. But, as I say, I don’t see how he’s going to find it out. I’ll leave the money for the brushes, and all the rest, in his desk, and he’ll have no way of knowing where it came from.”
Brown hesitated, apparently turning the matter over in his mind. Presently he looked up.
“Make it fifteen, and I’m your man,” he said.
“I’ll go you one better. It’s worth twenty to me, and here’s half of it now.”
He handed the fellow a ten-dollar bill.
“T’anks, guv’ner,” Brown said fervently. “You’re a sure-enough gent. I’ll have the stuff ready fur you at eleven. Might a bloke ask what you’re going to do with it?”
“I reckon I’d better not tell you, Bill,” Merriwell smiled. “Then you won’t be forced to hide anything more than necessary.”
As soon as they were out of the building, Demarest gave vent to his enthusiasm.
“By Jove, Merriwell!” he exclaimed admiringly. “You certainly have got a great head. You remind me of a general laying out the details of a campaign. What’s the next step?”
“Get enough of the fellows to put up the bills,” he explained.
Demarest roared with laughter.
“Great,” he gasped; “simply great! That’s a master stroke, getting Yale students to turn billposters! But, say, will they do it, do you think?”
“Do it!” Dick echoed. “They’ll fairly fall over themselves to get the chance. Perhaps you Cambridge boys were too staid for this sort of diversion, but I don’t think I shall have any difficulty persuading some of my friends, especially when it’s in such a righteous cause.”
It took but a short time to reach the campus, and Dick led the way up the stairs of Durfee, taking the steps three at a time, while Demarest followed him more slowly. Bursting into his room, he found quite a crowd of fellows there, who at once set up a shout at the sight of him.
“By thunder!” Brad Buckhart, his roommate, exclaimed. “It’s about time you showed up, you old maverick. Had us worrying our heads clean off wondering whether Harvard had roped you.”
“Yes,” put in Eric Fitzgerald. “We were just about to organize a posse to hunt you up. Where’ve you——”
He broke off abruptly, his eyes fastened with a look of horror on the entering Demarest, while he threw out both hands as if to ward off something unspeakably awful.
“Take him away!” he gasped, rolling his eyes ceilingward. “This is dreadful! I haven’t had a drink in weeks, and yet I see two Merriwells. It’s worse than snakes! For heaven sakes, somebody take one of ’em away!”
Exclamations of astonishment arose from the other fellows at the sight of the amazing resemblance between the two men.
“Stop your nonsense, Fitz!” Dick admonished. “Fellows, this is my friend, Austin Demarest, who is going to bring out a corking Yale play here next Thursday.”
“What’s the relation, pard?” Buckhart grinned, as he shook hands with the actor. “You sure had me guessing for a minute.”
“Me, too,” put in Rudolph Rose. “It’s the greatest thing I ever saw.”
“None whatever,” Dick explained. “I met Mr. Demarest for the first time this morning, but I can assure you he’s the goods, all right.”
Fitzgerald withdrew his gaze from the ceiling, with a profound sigh of relief.
“Delighted to meet you,” he said fervently, as he clasped Demarest’s hand. “For a moment I had a horrid thought—— However, we won’t dwell on that. Jove! I can’t get used to the two of you yet.”
After everybody had met the stranger, and the crowd settled down to comparative quiet, Dick took the floor.
“We’ve got a ticklish job on hand to-night, boys,” he said earnestly, “and I want your help. Demarest has a dandy play, which he has got to bring out in New Haven. He’s up against the trust, and they won’t let him have a decent theatre, so he’s taken the old Concert Hall. We thought everything was settled all right this afternoon, but now it appears that the trust has a play as nearly like Demarest’s as possible, even to the name, which they are going to shove into the Arcadian on Friday. It’s a put-up job, you see, to give him a frost. They’ve hired Lawford to cover the boards with their bills to-morrow morning, though Demarest had a previous understanding with the fellow that his paper would go up as soon as it was printed. We’ve persuaded the printers to work overtime, and the bills will be ready at midnight. Now, what I want to do is to get them on the boards before daylight. Also every dead wall we can get the privilege on. Catch on?”
“You bet!” exclaimed Fitz joyfully. “You want us to turn billposters.”
“Exactly,” Dick nodded. “How about it?”
“Of course we will!”
“Gee! What a circus that will be!”
“Bring on your bills, pard, and we’ll get ’em up or perish in the attempt.”
The assent was perfectly unanimous. Every one seemed to think it a great lark, and was eager for the fun to commence. But there was still two hours before the bills would be ready, so Dick took the opportunity of giving the boys a more comprehensive sketch of what Demarest was up against, and the troubles he had had to get a hearing for the play.
The fellows were all much interested, and then and there they resolved themselves into an informal committee of six to spread the news throughout the university, and collect as large an audience as possible for Thursday night.
About eleven o’clock they all sallied forth in high spirits, and made at once for the printing establishment. Here they found that the presses were all running full blast, and the bills close to completion. The foreman assured Dick that the last one would be run off in about half an hour, so the latter dispatched Buckhart to see if he couldn’t find some sort of a vehicle in which they could transport the paper. That was the one point on which he had slipped up. He had expected that they would be able to carry the bills, but a sight of the volume already printed showed him at once that this was impossible.
While Buckhart was gone, Merriwell and Demarest paid all the men off, and thanked them heartily for the help they had given, besides presenting each of them with two tickets for the show.
Precisely at half-past eleven the last bill was run off, the great presses stopped, and the printers grabbed up coats and hats, and hurried out of the place. The foreman remained a few minutes to show Dick which were the large bills to be posted up, and which the smaller posters to attach to the colored lithographs for the store windows, which they proposed distributing the moment the shops opened in the morning. They were really counting more on these than the announcements on the boards, for they felt pretty certain that the latter would not remain uncovered long, once Lawford got started with his work for the trust in the morning. They would be up long enough, however, to attract considerable attention, and Dick had a little scheme by which he hoped to circumvent Lawford if the latter did cover them.
Presently Brad appeared, with the announcement that he had a cab below, and all hands turned to to carry the bills downstairs. In the street outside they found a rather dilapidated specimen of four-wheeler, which the Texan had picked up at the station, into which they piled the paper until there was room for nothing else.
The driver seemed to take it as some college prank, and, assured of his money, which he had obtained in advance, looked upon them with a tolerant eye.
At the billposter’s, they found Brown on the alert, and the paste and brushes ready for them. His eyes bulged a little when he saw the cab full of paper, but he asked no questions. He rather hoped that the night’s work would hit his boss hard, for Lawford was a hard man to work for, and was cordially hated by the fellows under him.
Several buckets of the paste, the brushes, and two ladders were wedged into the cab somehow, and then the fun commenced.
Merriwell’s plan of campaign was masterly. He avoided carefully the central part of the town, in which the cops were apt to be more or less wide awake, and proceeded at once to the outskirts, where they could work undisturbed.
Quietly and swiftly, board after board was covered with the flaring announcements. Many of them were slapped on crooked, and several times they got the different sections misplaced, so that the bottom part came first, but Demarest was rather pleased at that than otherwise. He thought it would attract more attention than if they had been put on with the customary skill and regularity.
The fellows were having the time of their lives. Before long they were smeared with paste from head to foot, but that did not matter. They slathered the bills on as if their lives depended on their speed, and the little spice of risk—for the cops were pretty sure to question such proceedings if they got onto the game—only added to the enjoyment.
Working with the utmost method, they slowly circled the town, approaching nearer and nearer to the central zone of danger. Several times they had narrow escapes, but they always managed to pull out before the cops actually caught them, though more than once they were obliged to run, leaving only the top section of the bill affixed to the board. It is safe to say, however, that those incomplete sections, breaking off abruptly in the middle of the announcement, attracted more attention from the passers-by in the morning, and stimulated their curiosity to a much greater extent than anything else.
At last they reached Chapel Street, just opposite the campus, and here Fitz conceived the audacious scheme of putting one of their bills on the board in front of the Arcadian Theatre. This was carrying the war into the enemy’s camp with a vengeance, but Dick at once perceived the advertising value of such a thing, and they proceeded to plan it with care.
An officer’s beat took in Chapel Street between York and Orange, a matter of five blocks. Merriwell stationed the cab well around the corner on High Street, and then carried the paste and one of the bills into a doorway nearer the corner. There they thoroughly pasted the first part of the bill, while Buckhart, keeping watch at the corner, gave the word when the cop was well away from the front of the theatre.
As soon as the coast was clear, Dick and Fitz dashed out, carrying the pasted sheet between them, while Rudolph Rose came along with the brush. A few deft dabs with the latter served to fix the paper to the board, and then they darted into concealment again, to await another round on the part of the officer.
He passed the billboard the first time without noticing the change, but on his return trip, he seemed to be attracted by the unfinished look of the thing.
“Begorrah!” the listening fellows heard him mutter. “It’s careless Johnny Lawford’s min is gettin’ to be. Runnin’ off an’ l’avin’ the board half done. ‘Jarvis of Yale.’ A foine show’, I doubt not.”
The moment his back was turned, the next sheet was added to the board, and the announcement completed. The fellows did not stay to hear the officer’s comments on his return trip. But they laughed gleefully as they pictured his astonishment when he saw, the bill of a Concert Hall production before the Arcadian Theatre.
It was nearly five o’clock when the empty pails and brushes were returned to the billposter’s establishment. Bill Brown promptly hung the latter in their place, washed out the pails, and put them away. Then, locking the door, he departed with a hearty good night, one hand clutching two crisp ten-dollar notes, thrust deep in his trousers pocket.
The Yale men accompanied Demarest to the hotel, and helped him carry in what remained of the bills. Then they left him, and made their way to their various quarters in high glee at the success of the night’s work.
THE RAGE OF RALPH BRYTON.
A good many people in New Haven were surprised next morning when they read the bills announcing the production of an apparently decent play at the old Concert Hall. Some of the older inhabitants harked back to the good old days, when that was the only theatre in town, and were thereby moved to read the bill to the very end, thus becoming interested in the contest between the young actor-manager and the trust, which was exactly what Demarest wanted.
John Lawford, the billposter, was more than surprised. He was puzzled, perplexed, and furiously angry. He saw at once that Demarest had stolen a march on him, and he did his best to nullify the advantage gained, by covering the boards as swiftly as possible with the announcements of the Arcadian production. Although he had made a verbal agreement with the young actor to give his paper space, he was able to slide out of it because there had been no written contract, and he dared not disobey the emphatic commands of Ralph Bryton, on whom his bread and butter depended.
But all this took time. It was nearly noon before he had obliterated the greater part of the work of the Yale students last night, and a good many people had seen the original bills, and read them through. Their interest was only stimulated when they noticed them, one by one, being covered by the announcements of the trust. It seemed to bear out Demarest’s statement that he was being hounded by the syndicate men, and a good many citizens decided on the spot to attend the performance of “Jarvis of Yale,” and see what it was like.
While Lawford was working so hard, Austin Demarest was putting in some equally effective licks. Bright and early he started out with two boys and a quantity of lithographing, his regular paper, and in a very short time had obtained points of vantage in all the important shop windows, for which he paid on the spot, and about eleven he returned to the hotel empty-handed, but with a feeling of intense satisfaction at having circumvented Ralph Bryton effectually.
He had scarcely entered the lobby before his eyes fell upon that gentleman himself, and he saw at once that the representative of the trust was not in the best sort of humor. He was striding up and down the floor, pulling his heavy mustache, and scowling fiercely under beetling brows.
He was a man of about forty, heavily built, and a little inclined toward corpulency. His features were good, but his expression was domineering, as if he were accustomed to have his own way, and would fly into a passion when thwarted.
He had slept late that morning, secure in the consciousness that he had done a good day’s work, and effectually prevented the man he hated from having any sort of a success in New Haven, even if he once secured a foothold.
After a leisurely breakfast, he took a stroll down the street, and his astonishment and anger can better be imagined than described when his eyes fell upon the announcement which graced the board in front of the Arcadian Theatre. Lawford had not yet reached that part of the city.
Bryton stormed and raged, and even went so far as to try and tear the paper off, but the paste had been well mixed, and his efforts were in vain.
Fairly foaming at the mouth, he dashed back to the hotel, and tried to get Lawford on the telephone, but no one answered him. He had just come away from the booth after a second attempt when his eyes fell upon the smiling face of Austin Demarest, and he promptly crossed the lobby, and confronted the young actor.
“You young blackguard!” he frothed. “How dare you put up posters in front of my theatre? How dare you use any of the boards which I control for your rotten paper?”
Demarest’s eyes narrowed.
“Just keep a civil tongue in your mouth, Bryton,” he said coldly. “I suppose it is rather difficult for you to behave like a gentleman, but a little more of such talk as that, and I’ll have to hand you something.”
The older man glared at his antagonist, and his face grew purple, but he managed to keep a grip on his temper, for he realized that his anger had carried him farther than he had meant.
“You’ve no right to use the boards in this city, which I control,” he said, in a calmer tone.
“I wasn’t aware that you controlled any of them,” Demarest returned coolly. “I labored under the impression that they were the property of John Lawford, with whom I made arrangements early yesterday afternoon to post my paper.”
“But I told him not——” he began, and then stopped abruptly.
“Exactly,” put in the actor. “You ordered him to throw me down after he had explicitly agreed to do my work. That’s like you, Bryton. You can’t blame me for taking things into my own hands.”
Bryton’s eyes flashed angrily.
“Much good it will do you!” he snapped. “By noon your stuff will be covered.”
“Just the same, my purpose will have been accomplished,” Demarest smiled tauntingly. “People will have all morning to see the announcements, and then they will wonder why your paper is plastered over them. I shall take care that they find out. I have a friend or two on the New Haven press. You slipped up on the shop windows, didn’t you?”
His voice held a note of malicious satisfaction. The older man gave a sudden start.
“Lawford was to go around after——”
“Too late,” the actor returned quickly. “I have the best locations cinched. They’re paid for, and an agreement signed. If any of them try to take out my lithographs, or cover them up with yours, I’ll sue for breach of contract.”
If looks could kill, Demarest would have been slain on the spot by the ferocious glare from the older man’s eyes. Bryton knew that he had suffered a serious check, for the window advertising had always been considered of equal or greater importance than the billboards.
He realized, however, that he could accomplish nothing by going off his head, so he made a great effort, and managed to get control of his temper.
“After all, I don’t know why I’m going to all this trouble,” he said sarcastically. “You’re a fool if you think anybody will go to the Concert Hall. Why, the place is rotten!”
“That’s my business,” Demarest retorted. “I rather think if you drop in to the opening Thursday night you’ll be surprised. But I really must tear myself away. This has been a great pleasure, and I trust I shall see you again.”
Without waiting for an answer, he turned on his heel, and started toward the door. The next minute he stopped and looked back.
“Can’t I give you a couple of seats for Thursday?” he smiled. “I should be delighted to have your critical opinion of the performance.”
“Bah!” snarled Bryton, his face purpling dangerously.
The young actor shrugged his shoulders.
“Too bad you’re feeling that way this morning,” he said airily. “You really ought to take something—a bromo seltzer might do.”
Bryton gazed loweringly after the graceful figure of the young man as he disappeared through the door.
“I’ll get you yet, my young cockerel!” he muttered fiercely. “You think you’ve got the best of Ralph Bryton, but you’re mistaken. You won’t crow so loud before I’m through with you.”
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM.
Happily his work was so arranged that morning that Dick Merriwell was through for the day at eleven o’clock. Truth to tell, he might just as well have absented himself altogether for all the good the lectures did him, for his mind was so full of the brave struggle his new friend was making for success that he gave little thought to anything else.
Chancing upon G. Grossman, editor in chief of the Comet, he took the opportunity of giving him a full account of Demarest, his play, and the trouble he was having to get a hearing. Grossman was much interested, and promised to write the matter up for the paper, which was exactly what Dick wanted.
The moment he escaped from the Chemical Lab, he made his way as quickly as he could to the Concert Hall, which he found a scene of the utmost bustle and confusion.
An army of scrubwomen were busy in the auditorium and balcony; painters were at work on the boxes, and in various other parts of the house, while from the flies came the sound of sawing and hammering.
Demarest seemed to be everywhere at once, directing, advising, joking with the workmen, and generally hustling things along. His eyes brightened as he saw Dick.
“The top of the morning to you, Richard!” he cried from the stage. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. Come up and hear the news.”
Vaulting over the orchestra space, the Yale man leaped lightly to the stage, and joined his friend.
Demarest narrated with gusto his success in placing the lithographs, and then went on to tell about the interview with Bryton.
“It was a bitter pill for him to swallow,” he concluded. “He looked as if he could have knifed me with all the pleasure in the world. He’s always hated me like poison, you know, ever since I came to Buffer and Lane.”
“What’s he got against you?” Merriwell asked curiously.
“Search me,” Demarest returned. “The only reason I can think of is that I played opposite to Marion Gray all last season. He’s stuck on her, you know, and I suppose he got jealous seeing me make love to her every night, and twice on Saturday. They said he nearly went off his head when she refused to sign with them this season, but came to me instead. Marion’s a jolly good sort, and one of the best leading women in the country. I was mighty lucky to get her. She’ll be here with all the rest of the company this afternoon.”
Dick was about to inquire further about Bryton, when the drays appeared at the stage entrance with the scenery, which had, up to this time, been left in the cars on a siding.
“I couldn’t rest till I got them safely here,” the actor explained, as he hurried over to direct the unloading. “It would be just like Bryton to hire somebody to slash them up, and ruin them. He’d do anything to prevent this performance, but I think we have him in a hole. I’ve got the stuff here before he’s had time to think.”
The arrival of the sets added considerably to the general confusion, but nothing could daunt Demarest. In spite of the fact that he had had practically no sleep the night before, he was in the highest of spirits over his success, for which he gave Merriwell every credit, and all afternoon he did not stir from the theatre, with the result that a tremendous amount of work was done before the workmen left the place. The young actor was confident that another two days would see a remarkable transformation in the dingy edifice.
On account of football practice, Dick could not be with him after three o’clock, but he stopped at the theatre on his way back from the field, and found Demarest on the point of leaving.
“Jump in, and I’ll take you back to the hotel,” he said, without leaving his seat at the wheel of his car. “How have things gone?”
“Splendidly!” Demarest exclaimed enthusiastically, as he stepped into the tonneau. “Another two days will see everything in first-class shape. The men have caught on to what I want, and are going at it with a will, for they understand the need for haste. I shan’t have to spend so much of my time looking after them to-morrow.”
“Company come yet?” Dick inquired.
“Yes; they arrived at four-fifty,” the actor returned. “Haven’t seen them yet, but they phoned me from the hotel. Yes, thanks to you, I think we’re going to pull through in fine shape.”
The car drew up before the New Haven House, and the actor leaped out.
“Come in, won’t you?” he urged. “I’d like to have you meet the people. They’re a nice lot.”
“Guess I’d better wait until to-morrow,” Merriwell said. “We’ve got a football meeting on hand right after supper, and I’ll have to hustle to get through in time. I wish you’d let me have that manuscript of the play you spoke about, though. I want to read it to-night, if I can manage to stay awake.”
“Of course!” Demarest exclaimed. “I’d forgotten all about it. Just wait a second while I get it.”
He disappeared into the hotel, returning five minutes later with a square, flat parcel, which he handed to Dick.
“There. Don’t hesitate to blue pencil it wherever you find any faults,” he said. “We’ll have the dress rehearsal Thursday morning, and can introduce any changes then. We’ve rehearsed so much that the people are all letter-perfect, and there isn’t any need for holding one until Thursday to give them an idea of this stage. Well, good night. If you feel as weary as I do, you’ll sleep like the dead. See you to-morrow.”
Merriwell and Buckhart returned his greeting, and he stood for a moment on the sidewalk, while the car slid on down the street. Dick had a last, swift glimpse of his handsome, happy face, with the sensitive lips curved in a smile of perfect friendliness, and then the car rounded a corner, and the picture vanished.
If the Yale man could have had any conception of the extraordinary events which were to take place before he set eyes on Austin Demarest again, he would have been amazed beyond measure.
Luckily, however, he was troubled with no premonitions of evil. He ate his usual hearty supper with his customary appetite, took part in the football meeting afterward, and helped decide several important points relative to the great Yale-Harvard game, which was coming off the following week. Then he went promptly back to his rooms, and, getting out the manuscript of “Jarvis of Yale,” settled himself by the table, and commenced to read.
Here Buckhart found him an hour later, oblivious to everything but the typewritten sheets before him. His lips were parted, his eyes bright, and a faint flush of excitement was on his cheeks.
The Texan paused in astonishment.
“By the great horn spoon!” he ejaculated. “What in thunder is the matter with you, pard?”
“Don’t bother me!” muttered Dick, without raising his eyes. “I’m almost through.”
“Humph!” grunted Buckhart, dropping into a chair.
Ten minutes later his roommate looked up, with a sigh.
“That’s a dandy play!” he exclaimed, with satisfaction. “A perfect corker! If that don’t go with the people hereabouts, it’ll be because they’re a lot of dead ones. The part of Lance Jarvis is a peach, but I don’t see where I come in.”
“Huh?” questioned the Westerner.
“Oh, nothing,” Dick said hastily.
He did not want even Brad to know that Demarest had taken him as a model for the hero of the play. Excepting in a few minor points, he could see no resemblance whatever to himself. The clever young actor had made Jarvis a wonderfully attractive character, fascinating, wholly sympathetic, and lovable. It was what actors term a “fat part,” and, strangely enough, Demarest had succeeded in hitting Merriwell off to a T, in spite of the fact that he had never actually met the Yale man. But Dick, keen as he was in sizing up the character of another man, would never see the resemblance in a hundred years. He was too modest. It seemed to him the height of conceit to imagine for a moment that he was anything like this fellow in the play, who had interested and fascinated him. Consequently he evaded Brad’s question.
“So you think it will go, do you?” the Texan inquired presently.
“I certainly do,” Merriwell answered. “You want to get all the fellows you can to see it. We must fill the house full for Demarest.”
Buckhart looked a little doubtful.
“It’s got to be pretty darned good, you know, pard,” he said slowly, “for the boys to keep from guying. You know how many performances have been broken up that way.”
Dick stood up, and laid the manuscript on the table.
“I know,” he agreed; “but you do your best to fill the theatre, and I’ll guarantee they won’t waste much time guying. They’ll be too much interested in the play.”
He yawned. Now that the tension was over, he felt desperately sleepy.
“I’m going to bed,” he announced. “I’d have to prop my eyelids up to keep them open five minutes longer.”
MARION GRAY PLAYS FAIR.
Marion Gray was a very charming young woman. Slight, and rather tiny, she had a piquant face which was fascinating. Taken separately, scarcely one of her features would be found quite perfect, but one never scrutinized Marion Gray’s face that way. The ensemble disarmed criticism.
Some one had once said that had she been positively ugly she would still have remained none the less attractive; for she had that wonderful, illusive quality of magnetism, without which there is no real success on the stage.
And, more than that, she had brains, and knew how to use them. In the comparative short space of three years she had made a place for herself, alone and unaided, in the hearts of the theatre-going public of New York, which is about as difficult as a passage through the eye of a needle by the proverbial camel.
In three years she had acquired a personal following, and a large one, at that. When Buffer and Lane had threatened her with their displeasure if she persisted in going with Austin Demarest, she had laughed at them. She knew, and so did they, that such threats amounted to nothing. The moment she was at leisure—and probably long before—they would be after her on bended knee, begging, beseeching, offering a fabulous salary, to secure the actress for which New York was clamoring.
But she had reasons of her own for wishing to play for the talented young actor-manager. Perhaps the reasons were no longer her own. During the long rehearsals of “Jarvis of Yale,” it had been almost impossible to hide from the penetrating eyes of the other members in the cast the interest she felt in the person of the author and star. They had long ago sized up the situation, and confided to each other that Marion was daffier than ever about “Demmy.” They had all seen it but the one she cared more for than any one else in the world.
This morning, as she sat alone at breakfast in the dining room of the New Haven House, she sighed a little as she thought of it. He was very blind. They had always been good pals. Once she thought that his feeling for her was something more than that, but now she was not sure.
They had been separated all summer. He was writing his play, and she resting in the mountains. Since their return to the city he had been so full of his wonderful new venture that he seemed scarcely to have time to eat and sleep.
All at once she glanced toward the door, and her eyes brightened. He had entered the room, and was striding toward her table. In one hand he held an open telegram. His face was full of perplexity and annoyance.
“I can’t understand it!” he exclaimed, dropping down opposite her. “Hemingway wants me to come to town at once. Has something important to talk over. I don’t dare put him off, for all our chances of getting a New York date depend on him, and yet it’s deucedly inconvenient with so much here to look after.”
Marion Gray hesitated an instant.
“How very provoking,” she agreed presently. “But, of course, you must go. It would never do to offend Hemingway, and you know how erratic he is sometimes. Is there anything here to do except keep an eye on the theatre?”
“Not much,” Demarest returned. “They have a good start there, and know what to do next, but I had expected to run over two or three times to be sure they were getting things straight.”
“Why don’t you ask that nice Mr. Merriwell you were telling me about to look after things for you?” she suggested.
Demarest’s face brightened.
“That’s a good idea,” he returned quickly, “only it seems cheeky. However, I know he’ll do it if he can, and it’s the only way out. I’ll phone him.”
He pushed back his chair, and stood up.
“Well, I’ll be off. Just about time to make the train. Don’t worry if I’m not back to-night. There might be something to detain me, but I’ll make the first train out in the morning at the latest. Dress rehearsal at eleven, you know. Look after that for me, will you? And be sure everybody understands. By-by.”
She nodded gayly to him, but her face sobered as she went on with her breakfast. The success of this venture meant almost as much to her as it did to Demarest, and she was wrapped up in it.
Presently she finished, and arose from the table. She meant to go for a little stroll, and for that reason she wore her hat, and carried a long fur coat on her arm. One of the bell boys held this while she slipped into it, and then she turned toward the door, drawing on her gloves as she made her way slowly toward it.
All at once she gave a quick little gasp, as her eyes fell upon a man standing by the desk, and turned her head swiftly the other way. But she was too late. The next instant Ralph Bryton had spied her, and stepped to her side.
“Good morning, my dear,” he said, with an attempt at geniality. “I saw by the register that you had arrived last night.”
The girl did not glance at him, but went steadily on her way.
“Good morning, Mr. Bryton,” she returned frigidly.
There was a disagreeable note in the man’s laugh.
“How very formal we are,” he said sarcastically. “I can remember the time, not so very long ago, when it was Ralph.”
“You know perfectly well that was on your father’s account,” she retorted. “Brought up as I was in his house, I could scarcely have called you anything else while he was alive. Now I can follow my own inclinations.”
The man’s face darkened. They had reached the door, and, as she was about to pass out, he put out one hand swiftly, and held the knob.
“One moment,” he said shortly. “I must have a few minutes’ talk with you before you go out. Oh, it’s about business,” he went on bitterly, as a repugnance flashed across her face. “I want to talk to you about Demarest and this fool play of his.”
She glanced at him.
“What is it you wish to say?” she inquired briefly.
Bryton indicated with his hand a couple of chairs in a corner near by, and, after a moment’s hesitation, she took one of them.
“You’ve got to pull out of this company of his at once,” he said, in a hard voice, as he dropped down beside her.
Marion Gray’s eyes widened, and a little color crept into her face.
“You’re a cool proposition,” she remarked, “to tell me what I must, or must not, do. Do you imagine for an instant that I would break a contract, and desert a man the very day before the opening? I thought you knew that I always played fair.”
“Yah!” snarled Bryton. “You—play fair! A lot you do! Where’s your gratitude? Tell me that! You owe everything you’ve got—the very clothes on your back—to my father. Didn’t he take you in when you were starving, and treat you like a daughter? Didn’t he give you his name, which wasn’t good enough for you when you took to the stage? Didn’t he leave you a pile of money, which kept you till you got a job with Rosenbaum? That was my money! It should have come to me! You practically robbed me of it. And now you stick by Demarest, who doesn’t care a hang about you, and let me go——”
The girl’s face was pale, but her eyes flashed angrily.
“You’ve said quite enough, Ralph Bryton,” she went on, in a cold, cutting voice, “to show me what sort of a man you really are, even if I hadn’t a pretty good notion of it before. A good deal of what you have said is true, but no one but a contemptible hound would have said it in the way you did. Your father did adopt me, and as long as he lived I loved him. He was more of a man than you’ll ever be. The money he left me wasn’t much, but it enabled me to live until I found something to do. The reason I didn’t take your father’s name was because it was yours, too.”
Bryton winced at the contempt in her voice. She caught her breath, and went on swiftly:
“Now, not content with pestering me to marry you, when you know I loathe the very sight of you, you want me to do a dishonorable thing which would make me hate myself all my life long. But I won’t do it! You knew that long ago, didn’t you? I’d play my part to-morrow night if I was dying, and I mean to play it for all that is in me. If ‘Jarvis of Yale’ isn’t a success, it won’t be because Marion Gray hasn’t done her best to make it so.”
With the last word, she sprang swiftly to her feet, and, before the angry man realized what had happened, she reached the door and disappeared.
OUT OF A CLEAR SKY.
Dick Merriwell was rather surprised to get a note from Demarest—the latter had not been able to reach him on the telephone—saying that he had been unexpectedly called to New York for the day, and asking Dick if he would not keep an eye on the workmen at the theatre that afternoon, if possible.
This Merriwell was, of course, very ready to do. He made three trips down there before going to the field, and found matters progressing as well as could be expected.
He was amused, and, for an instant, surprised, at being mistaken for Demarest, but he did not disabuse the men of their error. It would be just as well for them to think that he was the actor. They would perhaps work the better while he was looking on. Knowing the work which had to be done, he was able to straighten out several doubtful matters, and when he stopped again on his way home from practice, he was more than pleased at the strides they had made during his absence. The place was neat as a pin, and only a few more hours’ work was necessary to finish everything up.
He rather expected that Demarest would call him up that evening, but no message came. Finally, about half-past eight, he got the hotel on the wire, and found that the actor had not returned.
“He’ll probably get the early train in the morning,” he said to himself. “I’ll hear from him then.”
Having no lecture until ten o’clock, he spent the time getting up back work. He was just slipping into his coat to leave the room when the telephone bell rang insistently, and, stepping over to the instrument, he took down the receiver.
“Is this Mr. Merriwell?” came in a woman’s voice.
“This is Miss Gray—Miss Marion Gray. I’m dreadfully worried about Mr. Demarest. Two trains are in, and he hasn’t appeared. The rehearsal is set for eleven, and I don’t know what to do. I phoned Hemingway’s office, and they said he hadn’t been there since last night, late. Could you—would you come over to the hotel for a few minutes? You see, there’s no one I can get to advise me what to do, and I knew you were Mr. Demarest’s friend, so I thought——”
The sweet voice trailed off in a questioning silence.
“Certainly, I’ll come, Miss Gray,” Merriwell answered promptly. “Be over in three minutes.”
Hanging up the receiver, he took up his hat and left the rooms.
“I don’t understand it,” he murmured, as he ran downstairs. “He should have been here two hours ago. Great Scott. I hope nothing’s happened to him. If he didn’t show up in time for the performance, everything would be ruined. But he must show up—he will!”
Flinging open the outer door, he almost fell over a telegraph boy. His heart gave a sudden throb of fear.
“Merriwell live here?” inquired the boy.
“Yes,” Dick said quickly. “That’s my name. Give it to me.”
He snatched the ominous yellow missive from the other’s hand, and tore it open in breathless haste. The boy saw his face pale suddenly, and heard him draw his breath swiftly as his eyes flew rapidly over the crowded lines on the single sheet. But experience had calloused him to such sights as these, and, eager to be gone, he drawled out:
“No,” Dick said, in a strange voice; “none.”
The boy departed, whistling carelessly, but Merriwell still stood on the stone steps, gazing blankly at the paper in his hand. Presently he drew one hand across his forehead in a bewildered manner.
“I can’t!” he breathed. “I could never do it in this world! What is he thinking of?”
He turned mechanically and went back to his room.
Dropping down in a chair, he spread the telegram out on his knee, and read it aloud.
“Arrested here on absurd charge. Cannot be tried until to-morrow. Put-up job to hold me, and ruin performance. You must take my part, and save play. Otherwise I shall be ruined. Jarvis is really you. If you can only learn the lines it will be all right. Business will take care of itself. Do this as you love me, Richard, and I shall be your debtor forever. Don’t tell a soul where I am. I can’t afford to have my name smirched, even by false charge.
For a moment or two Dick sat looking at the paper blankly. Then he suddenly crumpled it into a ball, and thrust it into his pocket. At least, that was what he meant to do, but, instead of going into the pocket, it slipped through the slit in his overcoat, and lodged in the chair seat, close against one of the arms.
The next moment Merriwell had sprung to his feet, and was striding back and forth across the room.
The prospect which had at first appalled him was gradually becoming more reasonable, more possible, as he recovered from the suddenness of the shock, and swiftly regained his poise and self-control. He had a remarkably retentive memory, and felt that if he put his mind to it, excluding every other thing, he might be able to get the part before night, or possibly even in time for a hasty dress rehearsal that afternoon.
As for doing anything more than that, he would have to trust to luck. He had no idea what Demarest’s conception was of the character of Lance Jarvis. All he could do would be to forget that he was acting, and simply be himself. It was the only way by which the young actor’s reputation could be saved, and his success assured; for, if the performance did not come off on Thursday, Dick had a feeling that Ralph Bryton would see that it was indefinitely postponed. He had seen enough of the man’s methods not to realize that no stone would be left unturned to thwart Demarest.
Presently he yanked off his overcoat, and tossed it on a chair.
“I’ll do it!” he muttered. “I’ve got to do it! There’s no other way out!”
Then, springing to the telephone, he called up the New Haven House, and asked for Miss Gray. In a moment he heard her voice at the other end of the wire.
“This is Mr. Merriwell, Miss Gray,” he said quickly. “I’ve heard from Austin. He’s unavoidably detained, and cannot get here before two o’clock. Can the dress rehearsal be postponed until then, do you think?”
She gave a gasp of relief, which was almost a sob.
“Yes, of course,” she said swiftly. “That will give us time enough to get through before the evening performance. Oh, I’m so glad everything is right with him! I was so afraid something had happened. You know, Bryton would stop at nothing to prevent this opening.”
“Yes, I understood that from Austin,” Merriwell returned quietly. “But I don’t see what he can do now. You’ll have every one at the theatre at two, will you?”
“Surely. Thank you so much, Mr. Merriwell, and do forgive me for putting you to so much trouble.”
“It hasn’t been any trouble at all,” Dick assured her. “I was terribly worried about Austin myself, but everything will be all right now. If you don’t mind, I won’t come over just now. I have some rather important work to do, but I’ll meet you later, I hope.”
“Of course. You must come behind the scenes to-night, and meet the company. Thank you again. Good-by.”
As he hung up the receiver, a whimsical smile flashed into Merriwell’s face.
“Yes, I certainly expect to come behind the scenes, and meet the company,” he murmured. “I’m glad she didn’t ask any more questions. As it was, I escaped without telling an actual untruth. I suppose Demarest is wise in not wanting any one to know. It would probably break them all up; but I wonder if I can possibly keep up the deception. Gee! It makes me cold all over to think about it! Just have to trust to luck, I reckon. Now for it.”
Snatching up the manuscript of the play, he dragged a chair close to the window, and started to work.
In something over an hour, he got up, and, dropping the play, began to walk the floor, reeling off the part at lightning speed. When he came to the end of the first act, he gave a sigh of relief.
“One gone,” he muttered. “Pretty superficial, but it will have to do. I must see that the prompter is on the job to-night.”
When he next came to himself another act had been memorized, and it was half-past twelve. He had expected Brad to come in and interrupt, but happily the Texan did not appear. He must have gone directly to the dining hall from his last recitation.
By a quarter of two the last words had been committed, and Dick snatched overcoat and hat, stuffed the manuscript into his pocket, and flew downstairs.
Not ten minutes later the door was flung open, and Brad Buckhart entered hastily.
“Not here!” he exclaimed, with a swift look about the room. “Where in thunder is he? Cut everything this morning, without a word of explanation! Didn’t even show up to dinner! It sure beats everything, the bad ways he’s getting into!”
He plumped down in the chair beside the table, his brows drawn down into a scowl. A moment later he slid his hand down the arm of the chair, and drew forth a crumpled wad of yellow paper.
“Humph!” he grunted. “What’s this?”
Smoothing it out, he saw that it was a telegram, and, scarcely realizing what he was doing, his eyes took in the first line. After that nothing could have prevented his reading it to the very end, so interested was he.
“Suffering catamounts!” he exclaimed. “If that don’t beat all! Arrested! Wants Dick to take the part! Great tarantulas! That’s what the old galoot’s been up to all morning—learning the stuff. It’s sure it!”
For a moment he sat there in thoughtful silence. Then a slow smile broke out all over his face, and the next moment he threw back his head, and laughed till the tears came into his eyes.
“By the great horn spoon!” he cried. “That’s the best thing I ever heard. Think of old Dick going on the stage, and half of Yale College looking on, and not knowing it’s him. Gee! If we don’t have a circus to-night with Richard I’ll eat my hat!”
He broke off, and glanced again at the telegram.
“I can’t tell ’em, though, can I?” he muttered. “Dick never meant I should see this. But you bet the Untamed Maverick of the Pecos will have his share of joy out of it. You hear me talk!”
THE CURTAIN RISES.
Dick slipped cautiously into the stage entrance of the Concert Hall, and went directly to Demarest’s dressing room. No one must see him until he was made up, or the fat would be all in the fire.
Swiftly lighting the gas jets, he locked the door, and opened the make-up box, which stood on a bare table underneath a large mirror. It was not the first time he had disguised himself so that his best friend did not know him, but he found that the very strength of the likeness between Demarest and himself was more a hindrance than a help.
His keen sense of observation, however, had taken in the several important differences in their faces, and he proceeded to skillfully make his own an exact duplicate of the actor’s. It was delicate work, but he did it well; and, ten minutes later, after he had rearranged his hair in the manner Demarest wore it, it would have taken an amazingly keen eye to see that he was not the actor himself. He had scarcely put down the brushes, when there came a light, quick knock at the door.
Inwardly a little nervous, but to all appearances perfectly at ease, he stepped across the room, turned the key, and flung the door open. Marion Gray was standing on the threshold, her face worried and anxious, but, as she saw him, her eyes brightened, and she gave a gasp of relief.
“Oh, Austin, I’m so glad!” she cried. “What a fright you have given us! I’ve been worried nearly to death for fear you wouldn’t get here in time. What in the world kept you?”
“I’m sorry, Marion,” Dick returned, “but it really couldn’t be helped. There isn’t a question now about Hemingway giving us a show if we make good here.”
Putting all his powers of mimicry into play, Merriwell reproduced the tones of Austin Demarest’s voice with an accuracy which surprised even himself. The girl evidently had no suspicion of the substitution, for she went on quickly:
“Austin, I’m afraid of Bryton. I’m afraid he’ll try to prevent the performance in some way. I saw him in the street outside just now, and yesterday he did his best to persuade me to throw up my part.”
“What a scoundrel he is!” Dick exclaimed. “But, of course, I have no fear of his succeeding. You’d never throw me down that way.”
Marion Gray caught her breath suddenly. Her eyes were full of tears, and she was evidently in a very nervous condition.
“I’m glad you realize that much,” she faltered. “I couldn’t do such a thing as that, though sometimes it’s dreadfully hard——”
She broke off abruptly, and Merriwell looked at her questioningly.
“Hard?” he repeated.
Her face was turned away from him.
“Yes—hard to have you—make love—to me—on the stage,” she whispered chokingly.
Dick drew a quick breath. Great heavens! The girl was madly in love with Demarest, and she was as much as telling him so. There was no mistaking the tones of her voice. He had not thought of this complication, and for a moment he did not know what to do or say. He had no idea what the actor’s general attitude was toward this extremely attractive young woman, and, even if he had, he could never bring himself to behave in a sentimental manner toward the girl who was mistaking him for another man.
“There, my dear,” he ventured presently, in Demarest’s whimsical tones, “you’re worried sick over this fellow Bryton. There’s nothing to be afraid of. He can’t stop the performance now. Come, it’s time we started the ball moving. The stage must be waiting for us.”
Drawing her arm gently through his, he led her out of the dressing room, and a moment later they were upon the stage, which was thronged with the members of the company, who greeted him enthusiastically, and in tones of distinct relief. They, too, had been worried, and with good reason. Capable actors as they were, they well knew that if Demarest’s play failed to make a hit, many of them would be in a pretty bad way for a job. Unlike Marion Gray, they were far from being indespensable to the trust.
It was a trying moment for Dick. He did not even know one name from another, though he had thoroughly memorized the cast, and as soon as the rehearsal commenced, he would find out their various identities from the parts they took. Consequently, he plunged at once into the business at hand.
“Howdy, everybody,” he began cheerily. “Beastly sorry to have kept you all on the fence this way, but it couldn’t be helped. We’ll have to make up for lost time by hustling things along. Let’s get busy at once. Clear the stage for the first act.”
Once the plunge was taken, things came easier. The first act went through with a rush. Dick made few slips, and covered them so skillfully that no one noticed them. The cast was letter-perfect in their parts, and had rehearsed so often that they had the business at their finger ends.
Merriwell made several changes in the latter, which were all improvements. It was evident that Demarest knew Cambridge, and the ways of Harvard men to perfection, but he had slipped up a number of times in transplanting those ways to New Haven and Yale. They were little things, but Dick knew that the boys would notice them and probably josh, so he took it upon himself to do a little altering.
The big scene in the third act went with a dash which brought exclamations of enthusiastic appreciation from the actors. It was a scene which the star practically carried on his own shoulders, and they had never seen Demarest do better.
The last act followed swiftly, and, with a sigh of thankfulness, Dick realized that this ordeal was over.
He had decided not to go back to his rooms. In fact, he could not separate himself from the company now without creating suspicion. There was barely time for a hurried dinner before they would have to be back at the theatre, so every one made a swift rush to their dressing rooms, and in ten minutes they began to leave by the stage entrance.
Merriwell waited for Marion Gray. He felt that Demarest would have done that, and while she was changing her gown, he stepped out to the box office to see what the chances for a good house that evening were.
The ticket seller was enthusiastic. With the exception of a few seats in the rear of the orchestra and balcony, the entire house was sold out. Applications were constantly coming in over the phone, and he predicted that in half an hour only standing room would be left.
“By Jove!” Merriwell muttered, as he went back to the stage. “I’ve got to do it now!”
A moment later he was sitting beside Miss Gray in a cab, being borne rapidly toward the hotel. The girl did not say much, but she seemed to have recovered her self-control, and was rejoiced when Dick told her of the splendid audience they would have to play to.
Entering the hotel, they went directly to the dining room. As he passed the desk, Merriwell saw a tall, dark, rather imposing-looking man start suddenly, and glare at the Yale man with open mouth and swiftly paling face, as if he could not believe the evidence of his eyes. At the same moment he heard the girl beside him draw her breath quickly, and in that instant he felt intuitively that the man must be Ralph Bryton. No wonder the manager was astounded to see Demarest here, if, as the latter supposed, he was responsible for the actor’s detention in New York.
Dick raised his head, and sent a taunting, irritating smile toward the fellow. Then he passed on into the dining room.
From that moment things went with such a rush and dash that there was no time at all to grow nervous. The meal was hurried along at breakneck speed. The actors were all more or less nervous, for any first night is an ordeal, and this one particularly so.
Dick did his best to cheer them up, as he knew Demarest would have done. He told them of the sold-out house, and kept up a continual string of whimsical, amusing comment all the time they were at table.
Dinner over, they returned to the theatre again, and at once dressed for the first act.
Presently the doors opened, and the house began to fill. Dick had finished dressing, and was strolling about the stage, resolutely trying to keep his thoughts from what was coming. Seat after seat in the auditorium without banged down. The low murmur of conversation gradually grew louder as the house filled. Presently he heard the sound of tramping, followed swiftly by jest and laughter, as a crowd of college fellows made their way to the front.
He shivered a little. They would do their best to break him up, he knew. They always did. Then suddenly a wave of obstinate determination swept over him. He would not let them guy him. He would spite them all, and play the part so well that they would have no time for that.
Presently the musicians began to tune up, and a little later the first bars of a popular air crashed out. Demarest had had the forethought to secure an especially fine orchestra, and he was wise. The boys would have hooted into silence anything less good. As it was, they contented themselves with keeping time with their feet, and when the chorus of the song began, they joined in, singing the words.
The thunderous burst of voices was awe-inspiring—almost terrifying. Those of the company upon the stage shivered, and several turned pale under their rouge as they realized what they would have to face.
Dick noticed it, and turned swiftly toward them.
“You mustn’t mind them,” he said reassuringly. “They may josh a little at first, but don’t pay any attention to them. Play your parts for all that is in you, and they’ll stop pretty quick. We can’t fail, you know, with such a play as ‘Jarvis of Yale.’”
A moment later he realized that this must sound decidedly conceited, but apparently the others did not notice the break. They were too much intent on their own feelings to think of anything else, but Merriwell’s cheery words put heart into them, and braced them up.
The music stopped with a crashing bar, and was followed by loud applause.
“Clear the stage!” Dick said swiftly. “All ready for the first act?”
The first set was on the campus, with Farnum Hall on the drop, and Battle Chapel looming to the left. A crowd of fellows were sitting on the steps of the hall, singing in the moonlight. The men took their places, while the other actors scurried into the wings. Dick was with them. He did not appear until after the curtain was up. He raised his hand in a signal, and instantly the trained voices of the quartette broke the stillness. Softly, at first, they crooned the words of the familiar college air. Gradually it grew louder and louder, until the volume filled the wings. Dick felt his heart beating unevenly.
There was another signal, and the curtain slowly lifted, and revealed the stage.
A prolonged burst of genuine applause greeted the beautiful set, which had been painted by one of the best artists in New York. The fellows had found nothing so far to guy. They were fair enough according to their lights. They never jeered a performance simply for the sake of breaking up the play. It was only their method of showing displeasure for inferior acting.
The quartette finished the last verse of the song, and, taking a quick breath, Dick walked quietly onto the stage.
He spoke the first few words of his lines uninterrupted. Then there came a prolonged burst of hand-clapping, which seemed to continue indefinitely. Either this was simply a mode of expressing their approval of the actor who had produced the play under such disadvantages, or else the fellows were trying to break him up.
But they did not succeed. Dick waited until the applause had died away, and then continued his lines as if there had been no interruption.
After a first swift glance at the audience, which seemed to him like nothing else but a sea of faces rising, tier upon tier, to the very roof, the Yale man had not felt a particle of nervousness. And with his first lines he plunged himself into the part he was taking, and from that moment there was not the least sign of hesitancy in his manner.
In truth, he was not acting at all. He was simply himself, and the college fellows in the audience became instantly plunged into a controversy as to whether it was Dick Merriwell or some one else, which lasted off and on to the end of the play.
Once the plunge was taken, the first act went smoothly, gathering interest as the plot developed. At first Dick’s lines were punctuated by bursts of applause, which usually started from a certain quarter of the orchestra where Buckhart was seated, but, as the play progressed, these became less frequent, until at length the Texan sat gaping at the stage, growing more and more certain that there had been some mistake, and this was not his chum at all.
The first act finished with a brisk round of clapping, which did not cease until the curtain had risen upon the stage several times, and was only stilled by Dick’s leading Marion Gray before the footlights. Evidently the boys were very well pleased. That was plain from the buzz of talk and favorable comment which arose after the curtain finally dropped.
“You were splendid, Austin!” Marion Gray exclaimed, as they hurried off the stage. “I never saw you do better. Oh, I’m so glad! It can’t help but go now.”
“They seemed to like it, all right, didn’t they?” Merriwell smiled. “We must keep up the good work.”
“Wait till they see the third act,” she smiled, as she slipped into the dressing room. “That’ll fetch them.”
The next act went with rush and vim. Demarest had written better than he knew. There was not an unnecessary word. The plot unfolded swiftly and naturally, with an ever-increasing interest. The business was splendid, thanks to Merriwell’s blue-penciling of the afternoon, and more than one burst of applause greeted some particularly apt sally. The scene ended with a dramatic encounter between the heroine, played with grace and spirit, by Marion Gray, and the villain, in which the girl heard the latter plotting to have Jarvis thrown off the team by means of false statements that he had betrayed signals to Harvard, and vowed that she would save Jarvis, whom she loved, by going to the captain of the eleven with what she had just learned.
The curtain fell to a prolonged burst of applause, and again Dick had to go before it with Miss Gray. Then he hustled back to get into his football rig for the great scene.
This took place in the track house on the field. Through a great window at the back could be seen one end of a tier of seats crowded with spectators, in which the real actors blended into the figures painted on the drop so perfectly that the effect was one of a vast, shouting, flag-waving mob of people.
As the curtain rose, the entire football team was on the stage, receiving final instructions from the coaches before the game. Hicks, the villain, accused Jarvis of selling their signals to Harvard. The latter indignantly denied it, and was only restrained from pitching into his enemy by the efforts of the other men.
Hicks produced his forged proofs, and Jarvis was thrown off the team. The team rushed off to the field, and Jarvis, left alone, threw himself into a chair, and dropped his head on his arms, outstretched across a table, in an agony of heartbroken despair.
It was a thrilling moment. The whole vast audience was so still that one could almost have heard a pin drop. Then a shrill whistle from the field outside the window split the silence, and the mimic crowd on the grand stand burst forth into a roar. Still Jarvis did not raise his head.
Then came the sounds of the game. The thudding of many feet upon a mimic turf, the shrill cries and shouts of the excited spectators, the waving of many flags.
Slowly Jarvis lifted his head, and looked toward the window. The game was going on, and he was out of it. He would not look! He did not want to, but, little by little, against his will, he crept to the window. The game was in full swing; his blood was thrilled as his eyes were riveted on the field; unconsciously he followed the progress of the struggle aloud.
Dick Merriwell’s work in this scene was masterly in its simplicity. He had forgotten that he was playing a part—had almost forgotten that he was on the stage. For the time he really was Lance Jarvis, and his expression of the heartbreaking agony of the man ruled off his team at the crucial moment, watching the progress of the game with straining eyes and sweating brow, seeing the weakness of his team, and yet not able to help, was something which could never be forgotten.
The crowded house was thrilled into silence. Men sat on the edges of their seats, with eyes riveted on that single figure at the window, scarcely daring to breathe, for fear they would break the spell.
Presently the game began to go against the Yale team. Slowly the line was forced down the field. The vivid words of the unconscious actor painted the scene for the excited audience as clearly as if they had been looking on the game itself.
“They’re gaining!” he cried desperately. “They’re going through the line with every rush! Lawrence is groggy! They’re hammering him! Another ten yards and they’ll make a touchdown!”
As if unable to longer watch the failure of his team, Merriwell turned from the window, and put one hand over his eyes.
This was the cue for the newsboy to rush in with word that the heroine had been intercepted by the villain’s friends while on her way to save Jarvis, but to Dick’s surprise the boy did not appear. He waited a moment, and then, turning back for an instant to the window, improvised a line or two.
Suddenly the door burst open, and the belated boy appeared. His face was white, his eyes shining with excitement, a smear of blood trickled from a cut on his face.
Leaping across the stage, he caught Dick’s arm.
“They’ve got her!” he shrilled. “They’re trying to get Miss Gray into a cab. Hurry! Hurry, or you’ll be too late!”
These were not the proper words at all, but they seemed very appropriate to the audience, who burst into applause. Dick, knowing full well that something was wrong, rushed from the stage, with the boy at his heels.
Outside he stopped, and faced the actor.
“What is it?” he demanded. “What are you talking about? What’s the matter?”
“They’ve got Miss Gray!” gasped the boy. “Down at the stage door. They’re carrying her off. One of ’em hit me a crack——”
He found himself talking to empty air. Merriwell rushed through the wings, flung himself down the short flight of stairs, and burst out into the street.
The boy was right. A cab was drawn up close to the curb, into which two men were trying to force Marion Gray. The girl was struggling desperately, and trying to drag away the hand of one of them, which was pressed close against her mouth to prevent her crying out.
Like a panther, Merriwell sprang at them. With a grip of iron he seized the collar of one, and tore him away from the girl, planting a smashing blow on his face as he did so. The next minute the other was stretched on the ground, and Marion was free.
The Yale man would like to have stayed to complete the job, but he knew that there was not a moment to lose. They must get back to the stage. Half lifting, half supporting the girl, who was sobbing hysterically, he carried her through the stage door, back to the wings.
“It’s all right,” he soothed. “You must brace up, Marion. You’ve got to think of the play. We’ll have to go on in a minute.”
She caught her breath, and brought all her will to bear to calm herself.
“You’re right,” she faltered. “I mustn’t fail. That’s what he wanted to carry me off for—to spoil the play.”
“It was Bryton, I suppose?” Dick questioned.
She put her hand up, and mechanically smoothed her hair. As she did so, Dick heard their cue to enter.
“There’s the cue,” he said quickly. “Can you go on?”
“Yes, I’m all right now.”
They hurried to the entrance, and stepped onto the stage. Luckily the situation in the play was enough to account for any signs of emotion which Marion Gray displayed, but she was very soon herself again.
The first half of the game was over. The men came into the track house, worn and exhausted by their struggles, discouraged by their failure—for Harvard had scored. Marion Gray told her story, swiftly, dramatically. The villain was unmasked, and Jarvis restored to the team to play out the second half.
The curtain dropped to the sound of thunderous applause. The audience fairly broke loose. Yells and catcalls made bedlam of the place. Time and time again Merriwell came before the curtain with Miss Gray. At length he was forced to appear alone, and shouts of “Speech! Speech!” rent the air.
This nearly broke him up, but he managed to say a few words of thanks before he backed out of sight.
The last act was a short one, which simply rounded things out, and tied up loose ends. The game was over. Jarvis had won a victory for Yale by a phenomenal play, and appeared on the stage, borne on the shoulders of his enthusiastic comrades. The play ended with a pretty bit of love-making between the heroine and Lance Jarvis, which Marion Gray played with all the fascination and art she possessed. It fairly brought down the house, and Dick found himself wondering how Austin Demarest could go through that every night of the week without falling head over heels in love with the attractive actress.
When the curtain dropped it was past eleven o’clock, but no one made a move to leave the theatre. They simply sat in their seats, thundering on the floor with their feet, clapping their hands sore, and raising such a din that the actors on the stage could not hear a spoken word.
The curtin rolled up again and again, revealing the long semicircle of smiling faces, happy in the knowledge that they had helped score a phenomenal success. Already they saw themselves booked for a long run at a Broadway playhouse.
Up and down the curtain went, almost continuously, and still the crashing bursts of sound reverberated from orchestra to gallery, and back again.
Presently there was a momentary pause, and then came the deep, thunderous, blood-stirring roar of marshaled cheering, from a thousand throats:
“Demarest! Demarest! Demarest!”
As he stood in the centre of the stage, with Marion Gray at his side, Dick felt an odd lump in his throat, and something like a mist came before his eyes. He had never known such a sensation before.
“Aren’t you happy?” whispered the girl.
Dick looked down into her eyes, which were bright with tears.
“Yes,” he said simply.
And he was. He had won out for his friend. He had also done a piece of good work which Demarest would find it hard to equal, but the Yale man did not realize that at the time. He had simply done his best, and had succeeded.
At last, after Merriwell had appeared alone before the curtain eight or ten times, the enthusiastic audience seemed to be content, and, leaving their seats, began to file slowly out of the theatre. But throughout the college buildings that night, and in a good many other parts of New Haven, “Jarvis of Yale,” and the superb acting of Austin Demarest, were the sole topics of conversation.
About eleven o’clock next morning Merriwell sat alone in his room, waiting for Demarest. A wire had come two hours before, saying that he was at liberty, and would take the next train to New Haven, so that Dick momentarily expected to see him.
He was feeling a little of the mental strain which he had undergone, but otherwise was in splendid shape. His one reply to the inquiries as to where he had been last night was to tell the fellows that he had had a chance to go behind the scenes, and had stayed there throughout the play. One and all, his friends had commented on the amazing resemblance between himself and the author of the play, and he had agreed with them that it was most extraordinary.
He was a little annoyed to find out that Buckhart knew the truth, but, after all, it mattered very little now, especially when he knew that the Texan would never divulge the secret. Brad’s utter astonishment when he found that Dick really had played the part of Jarvis was very funny. He pronounced the performance as the very “corkingest” thing he had ever seen.
Suddenly Dick’s quick ear caught the sound of hurried feet on the stairs, a moment later the door was burst open, and Demarest, his face aglow with joyous enthusiasm, dashed into the room.
With a sweep of his arms, he caught Dick about the shoulders, and gave him a great hug.
“Oh, you brick!” he cried. “I didn’t know there was such a bully fellow alive! As long as I live I’ll never forget what you did for me last night. It was splendid! But what an old bluffer you are.”
He took a step backward, and gazed at the Yale man affectionately.
Dick looked a little puzzled.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Why, pretending you couldn’t act, of course.”
“But I can’t,” Dick objected. “At least, I didn’t think I could.”
“That’s good!” laughed Demarest. “Why, your performance last night is the talk of the town. Have you seen the papers yet?”
Dick shook his head smilingly, and the actor raised his eyes to the ceiling.
“Great Scott!” he cried, in astonishment. “Not looked at the papers! What do you think of that!”
He dragged a large bundle of newspapers from his pocket and held them up.
“Notices in every decent New York daily!” he cried triumphantly. “And such notices! Listen to this!”
Swiftly unfolding one, he found the right place and read unctuously:
“‘Jarvis of Yale,’ produced last night—um—um—— The acting of Austin Demarest in the title part was a treat which has not been our privilege to witness in many moons. His rendering of Lance Jarvis was masterly in its simple directness, its naturalness and truth, while at the same time his emotional range was wide and his pathos quite distinguished from bathos. He seemed, more than almost any actor which we can at present recall, to get under the skin of the character he was portraying. He was the typical college man. Manly, true-hearted, generous, full of the eternal joy of youth. One would almost have supposed that he had stepped directly on the stage from the college campus so near at hand. A tremendous, and widely enthusiastic audience crowded the old theatre to the very doors. It is quite safe to predict that ‘Jarvis of Yale’ will settle down very shortly for a long Broadway run. Certainly it would be hard to find a more clean-cut, dramatic, thoroughly wholesome play, without a dull moment from start to finish, than this maiden effort of the most popular and able leading man of the past season, who received much of his early training in the company of the late Richard Manton.”
Demarest tossed the paper aside and turned to Dick.
“There! What do you think of that? There’s a lot more about you and the rest of the company that I skipped. Not act, indeed!”
Merriwell’s face was serious and his eyes very bright.
“But I didn’t act at all,” he said quickly. “I just learned the lines and left the rest to luck. All I did was to try and imagine what I would feel like and what I’d do if I were in Lance Jarvis’ place.”
The young actor laughed.
“That’s what we all try to do,” he returned; “but we don’t always succeed. It’s a shame, though, that I should get all the credit of this! It doesn’t seem a bit fair. People ought to know that I wasn’t the fellow who played last night. I tell you it makes me feel pretty mean to take another man’s laurels.”
“But that’s the only reason why I did it,” Dick objected. “It was to save you.”
“And you succeeded,” the other put in quickly. “I builded better than I knew when I sent you that wire. Now tell me all about it. How did everything go off? Did any one suspect? How did Marion take things?”
Two months later, when “Jarvis of Yale” was at the height of its metropolitan success, Dick Merriwell received the following note:
“Dear Old Boy: Perhaps you won’t be awfully surprised when I tell you that Marion and I have agreed to travel henceforth through this weary world in double harness. She knows the secret of my first performance in New Haven, and when I told her that you took my place she was perfectly horrified. She won’t tell me anything, but I gather that something happened that night which wasn’t on the program. She did say she’d never be able to look you in the face again. If I didn’t know you so well, I should be writhing in the grip of the green-eyed monster. As it is, I’m only curious. Perhaps you’ll put me wise next time you see me. Yours ever, Austin.”
But Dick never did, and was soon back deep in the athletic sports of the college.
THE FELLOW WITH A GROUCH.
Jack Kenny was sore. He had been out of humor for a long time—to be exact, ever since the football election last year, in which Don Tempest had been chosen captain of the varsity—but he had done his best to hide this feeling from those about him.
Dick Merriwell, himself the best all-around athlete in college, had more than once expressed his belief that many of the triumphs of the very satisfactory season of a year ago had been due to Kenny’s amazingly clever headwork.
But the quarter back was not a fellow to foster a long-continued grouch if he could help it. He had a decided strain of real sporting blood in his make-up, and, after the first flare-up of rage and disappointment when he learned the result of the election, he had calmed down and tried to take things philosophically.
But with the return of Don Tempest to the helm just before the Princeton game, the old feelings of doubt and resentment came back with renewed force, in spite of the plucky efforts on Kenny’s part to take his medicine like a man.
Tempest himself was not a fellow to help matters much. He was a splendid player, and, what was more, a born general in his ability to plan out a game and play it scientifically; but, like many generals in the bigger game of life, he had a supreme belief in his own ability, an intolerance of criticism and advice, and a certain lack of sympathy and tact in his handling of the other players, which resulted in his being far from popular.
Men recognized his ability and appreciated the value of his generalship, while they did not care for him personally, which was well enough so long as everything went along without a hitch and there were no fall-downs.
All this did not help Jack Kenny in his effort—quite determined and sincere—to conquer the feeling of resentment and sense of having been used unfairly, which kept constantly cropping up in his mind. Hearing now and then little jibes and flings against the captain from other fellows only confirmed his own impression that Tempest was unfit for the position.
This belief was fostered by his own keen observation during the progress of a game or on the practice field. More than once he saw opportunities which Tempest seemed to miss. Latterly they had had several run-ins about certain plays and formations, of which Kenny could not see the value, but which Tempest insisted should be used.
The result was that the quarter back’s usually even temper had become more and more rasped as time went on, until he reached a point when the slightest admonition from Tempest irritated him almost beyond endurance, and a decided coolness had developed between the two men.
This afternoon had been a particularly trying one. Tempest had seemed even more unreasonable and domineering than usual, compelling Kenny to exercise every bit of will power he possessed to refrain from flaring up and causing an open outbreak.
He did not want to do this. He knew the fatal nature of a team playing at loggerheads, and the great game of the season—the contest with Harvard—was too close at hand to run any chances. But he felt that if Tempest continued in his present course very much longer no power on earth could prevent an explosion.
“He’s so darned thick-headed and set in his ways that it makes a fellow wild,” he grumbled to himself as he crossed the field toward the track house. “If it wasn’t for the game Saturday, I’d have let him have a piece of my mind to-day, and he could have done what he liked about it. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to hear what some of the boys really think about him.”
Still scowling fiercely, he entered the house and found several of the fellows there ahead of him. They were gathered in a little group on the farther side of the locker room, and had evidently been discussing something with a relish; but as Kenny entered they all stopped abruptly and glanced swiftly toward the door.
“Oh, it’s only Ken,” remarked Phil Keran, who had taken Hollister’s place at right end. “He’s all right. We were just talking about the crazy stunts Tempest went through this afternoon.”
“Yes,” chimed in Rudolph Rose; “did you ever see anything more senseless than that fool double pass he wasted half the afternoon on. Why a child would catch on to it, and it couldn’t be used more than once during the entire game.”
“And that crisscross play with Baxter and Merriwell,” spoke up Bud Baulsir, who played centre. “You didn’t like that for a cent, did you, Ken? I heard you kicking about it to Tempest, but a fellow might as well argue with a stone wall as to try and convince him he’s wrong.”
“He’s so thick-headed and stuffed full of conceit that it drives a man wild!” Kenny burst out, unable to contain himself any longer. “He seems to think nobody but himself knows anything about the game. It was all I could do to keep from giving him some talk straight from the shoulder, when he spent the whole afternoon on those two pet stunts of his.”
“Why didn’t you?” Rose asked quickly. “Might have done him good.”
Kenny’s lip curled.
“Him—good!” he exclaimed sarcastically. “Take another guess, Rudie. Bah! The only thing that would do him good would be to have Harvard wipe up the field with us, and then he’d blame it on some one else. I’m sick of his high and mighty airs, and I tell you one thing, fellows, if he nags me to-morrow the way he did to-day there’ll be something doing.”
“That’s the way to talk!” Baulsir said approvingly. “What business had he got interfering with the quarter, anyhow?”
“He hasn’t any, if I show results,” retorted Kenny. “It’s all right to tell me what he wants before we start, but I can’t stand this nag, nag all through the playing. If he’s so crazy about deciding every play himself, why doesn’t he take my place?”
“I notice things went pretty well while Brad was at the helm,” Rose commented; “and he didn’t try any tricks like that. He played the game as it should be played, and not——”
“’Sh!” interrupted Keran. “Here they come.”
The thud of feet sounded on the turf outside, and a moment later the rest of the team appeared, filling the room with the sound of talk, argument, and discussion. The group by the window melted away, and Kenny made haste to appropriate one of the showers before they were all taken.
At the training table that night the football squad was not in the liveliest sort of humor. Kenny still retained symptoms of his grouch of the afternoon, and, besides that, there was a subtle undercurrent of discord which made itself felt insensibly.
Dick Merriwell noticed the symptoms at once. He had, in fact, realized for some days past that things were not as they should be with the team, and that afternoon he had quite expected an outburst from Kenny over the rather exacting ways of Tempest.
When it had not come, he was rather sorry, though he gave the quarter back full credit for his admirable self-control. An angry outbreak or open flare-up is much easier to contend with than the grudge which is nursed and fostered in secret, ever gaining in strength and volume like a snowball rolling downhill, until at length it proves a serious menace to discipline and effectiveness.
He had noticed Tempest’s methods of running the team and had observed with regret some of the mistakes the fellow made in handling the men. But he realized that it was Tempest’s way of doing things. It was as much a part of his make-up as his admirable executive ability, and quite as impossible to change.
Merriwell’s keen sense of observation took in what Kenny either would not or could not see—that Tempest was the better man of the two for the place. His judgment was sounder and his knowledge of the tactics and stratagem of the game better than Kenny’s. It was only his methods of handling the men which were at fault and which prevented him from obtaining perfect results.
Dick had worried a good deal over the matter, for he knew how much depended on there being perfect concord among the members of the team. To do their best, it was necessary for each individual to throw aside all personal feelings and subordinate himself to the general good. The slightest rift in the lute showed itself promptly in the lowered esprit de corps of the organization.
As yet he had not said anything definite to Tempest. He knew the fellow was doing his best to secure results. His whole heart was fixed on gaining a victory in the great game of the season, and to that end he strained every effort. Merriwell had tried several times by means of gentle hints to bring about an improvement in the condition of affairs, but he was afraid that he should very soon feel like seeking recourse in other methods.
Thinking the matter over at the table that night made him, too, rather silent, and added to the general impression of uneasiness and disquiet which prevailed.
Kenny was one of the first to finish supper and leave the table. Phil Keran caught up with him as he was walking back through “Grub Alley.”
“What’s your hurry?” he questioned.
“Oh, nothing special,” the quarter back returned shortly. “I just didn’t feel like hanging around there and hearing Tempest shoot off his face.”
“I should think you had had about enough of him for one day,” he rejoined. “Got anything on to-night?”
“No. What’s up?”
“I just thought you might like to come around to our rooms and meet Clarence Carr, Archie’s brother,” Keran answered. “You remember Archie Carr, who graduated two years ago, don’t you?”
“Surest thing you know,” Kenny returned, brightening up a little. “He substituted on the varsity the year I was captain of the scrub. I don’t ever remember his brother, though.”
“Nice chap,” commented Keran. “Broker, I understand, and is taking a few days off to rest up after a bear raid on the market. He’s stopping at the New Haven House.”
“Nope, Brown. But he’s all for old Eli on his brother’s account. Crazy about football, and is going to stay over for the game Saturday.”
They crossed Elm Street and struck into the campus by Durfee. Keran and Kenny both had quarters in Vanderbilt, and five minutes later they were settled in the latter’s comfortable sitting room on the third floor. Carr had not yet arrived, but presently a couple of other fellows strolled in, and about half-past seven there came a brisk knock on the door.
Keran at once sprang up, and, opening it, ushered in a slim, erect man of about thirty, with keen, dark eyes, rather good-looking features, and fairly bubbling over with vim and good spirits.
“How are you, old fellow!” he exclaimed, shaking Keran’s hand. “Great of you to have me here. Archie said I mustn’t lose any time in looking up ‘Old Phil,’ as he calls you, the minute I set foot in New Haven.”
“Glad to see you again, Mr. Carr,” Keran returned cordially, as he took his guest’s coat and hat. “I recognized your voice perfectly over the phone this morning.”
“Really?” exclaimed Carr. “You’ve got a good memory. Why, we only met once, and that was three years ago.”
He greeted Kenny and the other men with a smile and hearty handclasp, and then settled down in an easy-chair and pulled out a cigar case.
“I won’t offer you one, Keran,” he smiled, “because I know you shouldn’t take it, but perhaps your friends will indulge. I’ll guarantee they’re pretty good.”
He extended the case to Kenny, who sat nearest him. The quarter back shook his head.
“No, thanks. I’m in Phil’s class.”
“Don’t you believe it,” grinned Keran. “He’s a sight more important to the varsity than I ever could be. Why, I only got in after the Princeton game by the skin of my teeth, whereas he’s been quarter back for two years running.”
Mr. Carr seemed much interested. Proffering the case to the other two men, who each took a cigar, he selected a weed himself and returned the rest to his pocket.
“Well, well,” he remarked briskly. “Quarter, eh? That’s a pretty responsible job. In my day the quarter back was the brains of the team.”
“So he is to-day,” Keran said quickly. “He would be at New Haven if we didn’t have a fellow like Tempest trying to——”
He stopped abruptly, and his face flushed a little. In his haste he had said rather more than he had intended, considering that Carr was a comparative stranger.
The latter held the lighted match suspended in the air about six inches away from his cigar, while he surveyed Keran’s embarrassed face with his keen black eyes.
“Tempest?” he questioned. “He’s the captain, isn’t he?”
There was a momentary pause, during which Carr applied the match to his cigar and took a puff or two to make sure that it was well lighted. Then he leaned back comfortably on his chair.
“It’s always a mistake for the captain to butt in too much with the quarter back,” he remarked casually. “Of course, if the quarter isn’t onto his job he should be coached; but if he can’t stand on his own legs at this stage of the game he ought to be dropped and some one found who could. Constant nagging of the quarter back has been the cause of a good many defeats. Why, I remember just such a case in my last year at Brown. I was one of the subs in the game with Cornell. The captain had a grudge against the quarter, and his continual interference got the fellow so on his ear that we lost the game. Ballard—that was the captain—certainly got his when it was all over with. Coaches, alumni, and about all the team landed on his neck and roasted him good and plenty. He never repeated the trick.”
Kenny felt a sort of warming toward his new acquaintance. He seemed to be a man of a good deal of understanding, and the instance he had cited fitted Kenny’s own case exactly.
“Of course, a fellow doesn’t mind suggestions, or even orders, when they’re given at the proper time and place,” he put in hastily. “I hope I haven’t got such a case of swelled head as to think that nobody can give me points; but what’s the use of being quarter if you can’t do a little thinking now and then on your own hook?”
Carr nodded understandingly.
“Exactly my point of view,” he returned quickly, exhaling a cloud of smoke as he spoke. “I fancy the trouble with this Tempest is that he wants to have his finger in everything.”
There was a momentary pause. Neither Kenny nor Keran seemed inclined to pursue the subject farther. Presently Carr looked up at the latter.
“Of course you boys are going to wipe up the gridiron with Harvard on Saturday?” he smiled.
“Oh, sure,” he returned quickly. “There won’t be anything left of them to carry back to Cambridge.”
Carr laughed heartily; then his face sobered.
“But honestly, haven’t the crimson boys got a crackerjack eleven this year?” he questioned seriously. “The splendid game they put up the other day got me a little worried. I certainly don’t want to see old Yale thrown down.”
“I don’t think you need have any fear of that,” Keran said slowly, “unless——”
He hesitated. Carr’s bright eyes were fixed questioningly on his face.
“Unless—— Oh, well, you can’t tell what might happen,” Keran finished with an attempt at carelessness. “When Bob Hollister dropped out just before the Princeton game it was the very last thing that any of us expected.”
A gleam of comprehension flickered across Carr’s mobile face and was gone.
“True,” he murmured, “one never can tell what might turn up. But we’ll certainly hope nothing does. If I were betting on the game, I think I should have no hesitation in putting my money on the blue.”
The talk drifted to other subjects, and for half an hour Carr entertained the fellows with stories and amusing anecdotes. He was a good talker and had apparently had all sorts of interesting experiences, but he also knew when to leave off. As the clock struck half-past nine he arose briskly to his feet.
“Well, boys, I must be running along,” he said, with a smile. “Had a bully evening, Keran, and no end glad to meet these friends of yours. I’ll see you all again before Saturday, I hope.”
He slipped into his overcoat and started toward the door. At that moment Kenny recollected that he ought to do some studying that night, so he followed the older man out.
At the head of the stairs they said good night again, and, as they shook hands, the quarter back said carelessly:
“If you’d care to drop in and see me some night, I’d be awfully glad to have you. My rooms are on the next floor.”
“Thanks very much,” returned Carr. “I’ll take you up some night and smoke a cigar with you. By-by.”
Jack Kenny, arrayed in his well-worn, faded football togs, sat lacing up his shoes. He was feeling fine. His grouch of the night before had pretty well worn off, and, as he pulled the laces tight, he warbled a little ditty which had just been going the rounds of New Haven:
The air was insidiously catchy, and, without realizing it, most of the dozen fellows who thronged the locker room in various stages of undress, hustling to clothe themselves for the afternoon practice, began to hum it.
Kenny stood up and stamped each foot hard. Then, in his droning, monotonous undertone—he had very little voice and less ear—he commenced the second verse:
Then the fellows woke up.
“Cut it out!”
“Close your trap, you old idiot!”
“You sound like a scissor grinder!”
Kenny ceased his musical efforts and looked around in wild-eyed surprise.
“Thought you liked it,” he grinned. “You were all humming it to beat the cars.”
“Of course we were!” retorted Rudolph Rose. “Why wouldn’t we when you start us going?”
“I’d just got the beastly thing out of my head after whistling it the whole blessed morning,” grumbled Teddy Baxter, “when you had to go and begin it again.”
“Too bad,” Kenny sighed with suspicious meekness. “I won’t do it again.”
But the mischief was already done. All the way out to the gridiron some one would burst out every now and then with a few bars, and then suddenly close his jaws with a vicious snap and glare at the innocent quarter back.
The latter took his place in the line quickly. He had resolved to keep a good hold on his temper, and if Tempest was only halfway decent things would go all right. He did not want to precipitate an outbreak, for he knew that it would only make a bad matter worse.
“There are only a few days more,” he thought to himself, “and then it will be all over. I’ll try and be good unless he shoves me too hard.”
Unfortunately, the captain of the varsity was not in the best of humors. He had been worrying over a certain complicated pass, which he wanted to use in the great game, but of which he felt rather doubtful. He knew its value if it were only properly done, but he wasn’t at all sure that the fellows were familiar enough with it to have it at their fingers’ ends.
Consequently he was a bit short in his manner when he ordered Kenny to start out with that play.
“Fool!” grumbled the quarter back to himself. “Don’t he give me credit for any sense? He might have known after the way things were left yesterday that I’d start out with that pass. You might think this was a kindergarten!”
He crouched, ripped out the signal, took the ball from Baulsir, and slammed it to Baxter, who passed close behind him. It was a fair pass, and the play went through successfully.
“Try it again,” ordered Tempest, as they lined up after the down. “Little more ginger, Kenny. Don’t hold onto the ball quite so long this time.”
“What the mischief do you want me to do with it?” he snapped. “I can’t very well pass it until Baxter gets within reach.”
“You know what I mean,” returned the captain shortly. “All ready, now.”
Kenny ground his teeth and bit his lips to keep back the retort which was trembling on them.
“Gee! I’d like to give you one that would spoil that ugly mug of yours!” he thought angrily.
This time his movements were like chain lightning. Snatching the ball from Baulsir, he slammed it back so swiftly that Baxter, who was not quite ready for it, clutched wildly for it, stumbled, staggered, and only retained his hold on the slippery pigskin by a tremendous effort. There was a momentary delay which gave the scrub a chance to lunge forward, and the result was that the pass netted barely a yard, before the down.
Tempest’s eyes flashed.
“Worse than before!” he exclaimed. “Why don’t you use a little judgment, Kenny?”
The quarter back whirled around and faced him.
“Why don’t you give me a chance?” he retorted. “The way you’ve been playing the game lately, it looks to me as if you didn’t expect any one to have a grain of sense except yourself.”
Tempest’s face hardened. He opened his lips as though he were about to make a sharp retort and then shut them with a snap.
“That’ll about do for you!” he said, in a hard voice. “Go over that pass again, and do it right this time.”
Jack Kenny’s face was scarlet. His lips trembled and he was evidently having a struggle to contain himself. Finally, with tightly clenched fists, he turned his back to the captain and crouched in his place.
“By thunder!” he muttered. “I can’t stand much more of that. Just about one more of those remarks and something will happen.”
This time the pass went through without any criticism on the part of Don Tempest. He seemed to realize that he had been rather too hasty, and for a time he restrained his very evident desire to dictate to the quarter back.
Kenny kept at the pass until the fellows had it down like clockwork. For a time he was obstinately determined not to leave it until Tempest gave the word. The latter had been running things to suit himself. Let him decide what he wanted done.
Presently, however, the quarter back realized the childishness of such methods of procedure. Tempest’s interference was the very thing which had made him so sore, and now he was simply playing into the captain’s hands by his foolishness.
Consequently, when he was sure that the pass had been thoroughly mastered, he gave the signal for the crisscross play which had used up so much time the day before. He did not consider it of very much value. From its very nature, they could not use it more than twice at the most, during the entire game; but so much stress had been laid on it yesterday that he went through it a number of times until he felt that the men had it thoroughly in their heads. Then he branched out into something else.
For a time Tempest made no comment, though the fellows noticed that he was getting more and more uneasy. They could see no particular reason for it. Kenny seemed to be doing well enough. He was going through all the passes and runs and formations which had been practiced so much for two weeks back, alternating them with skill and judgment. It was a sort of general review of the plays which they would use against Harvard, and the quarter back felt that it was good season they went through it; instead of spending all their time on one or two formations.
The shadows began to lengthen across the field. Presently the sun dropped behind the west grand stand, and twilight swiftly gathered. Still Kenny kept up his general tactics without returning to the double pass or the crisscross which had used up so much of the afternoon. At length, just as they were lining up after a round-the-end run, Tempest spoke up again.
“Give us that crisscross again,” he said shortly.
“Bah!” grumbled Kenny, without turning. “You and your old crisscross!”
Tempest’s ears seemed to be abnormally sharp.
“What did you say?” he snapped.
His nerves were a little on edge from the mental strain and worry he had been under for the past few weeks, and probably his voice was sharper and more domineering than he realized. At all events, it was the last straw. Kenny straightened up and turned slowly around to face the captain. His face was a little pale and his lips firmly set.
“I said, ‘Hang you and your old crisscross,’” he returned deliberately. “We’ve wasted three-quarters of an hour on it already this afternoon, and the fellows couldn’t get it any smoother if they tried.”
Tempest’s face grew hard and set.
“Who’s running this team, Kenny?” he demanded. “You or I?”
“You seem to be making a pretty good stab at running the team and everybody on it!” the quarter back burst out, throwing caution to the winds. “You make me sick with your eternal butting in. You don’t give a fellow credit for a grain of sense. It’s ‘Kenny do this, Kenny do that,’ the whole enduring time. You might think I was a machine that wouldn’t work until you turned the crank. How do you expect to make out in the game, I’d like to know? You’ll have to keep your mouth shut then. If you don’t think I’m good enough for the job, why in thunder don’t you throw me out and take it yourself? But no, that wouldn’t do. The trouble with you, Don Tempest, is that you want to run the whole lot of us as if we were a flock of sheep without any ideas of our own, and a nice mess you’ll make of it. Look at the Princeton game! I’ve stood about all of your domineering ways I’m going to for one afternoon. You can turn to and be quarter yourself, and see how you like it!”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and started toward the track house at a rapid stride.
For a moment not a sound broke the stillness. Tempest glared after the retreating Kenny as if he would liked to throttle him. The other members of the team stood silent, shifting from one foot to the other, waiting for the explosion with mixed expressions. Some seemed rather pleased than otherwise at the turn things had taken, while others, realizing the gravity of the situation, looked serious.
“You blamed little runt!” exploded Tempest as soon as he got his breath. “If I don’t——”
He broke off abruptly as Dick Merriwell stepped quickly to his side and touched his arm warningly. A few swift, whispered words passed between the two. Dick seemed to be urging something to which the captain at length reluctantly agreed.
“That’ll do for to-day,” he said shortly, his eyes sweeping over the faces of the waiting men. “Three o’clock to-morrow, sharp!”
The group instantly melted away, most of the men being eager to get out of earshot to talk over this new, and not altogether unexpected, development. Dick, Tempest, and the coaches remained behind.
“It’s a case of insubordination, pure and simple!” the captain burst out. “He’ll have to go!”
There was no word of acquiescence from the men around him, and Tempest flashed a swift glance of surprise at their serious faces.
“You don’t agree with me?” he questioned shortly.
“Where are you going to get another quarter at this stage of the game?” growled Bill Fullerton, the head coach.
“Why, Gillis, of the scrub,” Tempest answered. “He knows all the signals and has the plays down pat.”
Almost in spite of himself, however, there was an undercurrent of doubt in his voice.
“Punk along side of Kenny,” Fullerton said tersely.
“But I can’t take that line of talk and do nothing,” protested Tempest. “In twenty-four hours there wouldn’t be any discipline left.”
He glanced at Merriwell questioningly, expecting confirmation of his views, but Dick slowly shook his head.
“It wouldn’t do, Don,” he said slowly. “At least, not at this late day. If we had a couple of weeks before the game, Gillis might be hammered into shape; but it would be suicidal to put him in Kenny’s place now.”
He hesitated a moment and then went on quietly:
“I hate butting in, old fellow, but once in a while a chap’s got to. You don’t mind if I speak rather freely, do you, Don?”
Tempest shook his head, but it was plain from the expression on his face that advice was not especially palatable.
“Spit it out, Dick,” he returned shortly.
“It’s just this, Don,” Merriwell explained. “I think that, in a way, you’re a little to blame for Kenny’s flare-up. He’s been sore for quite some time. I’ve been watching him closely, and I rather expected the outbreak would come before this. The reason why it didn’t was because Jack was doing his best to keep his temper. I think he realized, as well as you or I could, the folly, even danger, of a split in the team at this juncture; and I honestly believe that he kept a grip on himself until he simply couldn’t hold in any longer.”
Tempest’s face darkened.
“That’s a pretty hard one on me, Merriwell,” he said quickly. “You imply that I practically drove him to the wall.”
“In a way, yes,” Dick answered. “Of course it wasn’t intentional on your part. I don’t mean that, at all. I don’t suppose you’ve realized it, old man, but you have been putting in your oar lately a little bit more than is wise. No doubt you’ve seen the value of certain plays, which, perhaps, haven’t appealed to Kenny, and have consequently harped on them more than you have any idea of. You’ve lost track of the fact that Jack is one of the ablest, most brainy quarters we’ve ever had, and that he should be entitled to do a little thinking on his own hook. Besides, no fellow, no matter how much of a dub he may be, likes to be constantly pounded and hammered at before the whole team. Most men have to be handled with a little diplomacy and tact—taken aside, you know, and perhaps asked their advice as to the value of a certain play or formation, instead of being ordered to do thus and so without having any reason given them. Perhaps that method doesn’t appeal to you, but I have found it much the simplest and effective way of getting results.
“The fellow is a bit flattered at having his opinion consulted. He does what you want willingly, and half the time he thinks that it is his own idea. Everybody is happy and the goose hangs high. Of course, you haven’t realized it, but really, Don, you’ve been pretty sharp and domineering for the past two weeks. I have a notion that the big game has got on your nerves a trifle, and that, in your anxiety to prepare against any contingency, you’ve gone at the fellows in a way which has made others than Jack Kenny sore.”
He stopped, and for a time no one spoke. Then Bill Fullerton nodded his head emphatically.
“That’s the talk!” he said decidedly. “Lead ’em, don’t try to drive ’em, and you get better results. Let me do the driving when it is necessary.”
Tempest’s face was a study. Chagrin and anger struggled with a dawning realization that Merriwell had spoken the truth. He was a fellow who hated to be given advice, but he was also fair-minded enough to know that Dick was not the sort who would speak as he had unless there was a great need for it.
“I suppose you’re right, Merriwell,” he said slowly, at length. “A fellow looking on can get a much better idea of the real state of affairs than one who is taking part in them. Perhaps I have been too sharp and quick in the way I’ve handled the boys, but, somehow, it isn’t my way to get around a man in the manner you suggest. If I’m running the team, well and good. But if the fellows begin to question my orders, it’s about time I stepped out.”
“Nonsense!” Merriwell exclaimed. “You don’t get what I mean at all. I hadn’t the slightest notion of your submitting to dictation from anybody in your management. But there are more methods than one of getting your way, and I think you’ll find that a little persuasion will go considerably farther than downright bullyragging. You don’t mean it that way, of course, but that’s how it appears to some of the men. Don’t let’s have any more talk about your stepping out. Nobody’s going to do that. This thing has got to be patched up or we’ll lose the game on Saturday, the surest thing you know. All you’ve got to do is to take things a little easier. Don’t try to run the whole team. It’s a wonder you’re not a wreck now, the way you’ve tried to take everything on your shoulders.”
“But I can’t help worrying about things,” Tempest protested. “I can’t help seeing where they don’t go right, and trying my best to remedy them.”
“You try too hard,” Dick retorted. “If you think it over, you’ll realize that Kenny’s got brains enough to come out all right if he’s let alone. You’re not going to try any more new stunts, and the boys have got the others down to a point where their work couldn’t be very much improved on. At least, try my plan, Don. Let Jack have his own way for a day or so, and see if I’m not right—see if he doesn’t show results. He’s got to play the game practically alone on Saturday. And it’s only fair that he have his chance for the rest of the week.”
In his eagerness to make his point of view plain, Dick had spoken rather more emphatically than he intended. He realized this, and went on quickly:
“You mustn’t mind if I’m a bit sharp, Don. I haven’t minced matters because I wanted to put things plainly to you. If we can only keep things running smoothly and prevent such disagreements as this, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that we’ll put it all over Harvard. But you know yourself that with a team at loggerheads, when every fellow is taking sides and questioning the ability of the man at the helm, there isn’t a ghost of a show for good work. Think it over, old fellow, and see if I’m not right. It’s only three days now before the game. See if you can’t manage to hold in for that short time, and we won’t have any more trouble.”
Tempest looked up with a wry smile on his face.
“I reckon I’ll have to,” he said slowly, “or there won’t be any team left. How about Kenny, though? Will he come back?”
Merriwell’s lips straightened out in a firm line.
“I’ll see to him,” he said quickly. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
Fullerton gave a grunt of relief as they started toward the track house. Thanks to Merriwell, it looked as if serious trouble had been averted.
Jack Kenny did not appear at the training table that night. His absence was not commented upon by the other men, who knew the reason quite well.
There was an atmosphere of doubt and suspense over everything, which persistently refused to be cleared away. Had the quarter back left the team for good? Had he been fired off? What had taken place between Merriwell, Tempest, and the coaches after the majority of the men had left the field that afternoon?
These and a dozen other vital questions were whispered by various fellows to their neighbors; but no one felt like propounding them to the principals in the affair, who did not volunteer any information.
Directly the gloomy meal was over, Dick hurried across the campus to Vanderbilt and ascended to Kenny’s rooms. He found the quarter back sunk into the depths of a big chair, his face black as a thundercloud.
He looked up quickly as Merriwell entered in response to his gruff invitation, and shook his head emphatically.
“Isn’t a bit of use, Dick,” he said positively. “You’re just wasting your time.”
“You old idiot!” he exclaimed, dropping down in a chair opposite Kenny. “Have you any idea what you’re talking about?”
The quarter back pursed up his lips firmly.
“You’re after me to make it up with that fool Tempest,” he returned quickly. “But I won’t do it! I’ve stood about all of his lip that I’m going to. It’s nearly drove me insane.”
Dick crossed his legs and linked his hands loosely over one knee.
“It was pretty trying, wasn’t it?” he said quietly. “But you know, old man, Tempest didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just his way. He’s so keen about the game Saturday, and so afraid we won’t get those plays into our nuts, that he forgets everything else.”
“The deuce he does!” retorted Kenny. “He’s done nothing but hammer and pound at me since he came back on the field. You might think I didn’t have any sense at all. It’s nag, nag, nag the whole time. ‘Do this, do that,’ without giving a fellow a chance to do it himself. What am I quarter for, I’d like to know, if I can’t use a little judgment? I’ve played football as long as he has, and been on the varsity longer, yet he treats me like a perfect kid. I tell you, Dick, I won’t stand for it any longer. I—don’t care if I am—out of the game—Saturday.”
Despite his accents of bravado, Kenny’s voice faltered a little at the end. Merriwell leaned forward earnestly.
“Jack, you don’t mean that,” he exclaimed; “you can’t mean it!”
The quarter back nodded emphatically.
“Yes, I do,” he said.
But there was almost a sob in his voice. Angry and excited as he had been up to this point, leaving the team seemed the only natural thing to do.
Merriwell’s face grew very serious.
“You can’t realize what you’re saying, Jack,” he said, in a low, clear voice. “You can’t possibly be in earnest when you talk about leaving the team four days before the great game of the season. Surely you know, old fellow, that such a step would give Harvard the victory as certain as fate. We haven’t any one who could possibly take your place and run things the way you do. Gillis hasn’t got the head. That isn’t soft soap; it’s the truth.”
Kenny’s slim fingers were busy tracing intricate patterns on the upholstered arm of the chair. His eyes were averted.
“Gillis could do what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks,” he muttered, in a low tone. “Any dub could do that. Tempest don’t want a fellow to think for himself.”
“Did you ever try and put yourself in Don Tempest’s place, Jack?” Dick asked swiftly. “Did you ever try and figure out what sort of a man he was—what kind of a mind he has, I mean?”
The quarter back shot a swift glance at Merriwell’s face and then dropped his eyes.
“He’s got a cursed domineering mind, I know that much,” he growled.
“That’s the way it might appear sometimes,” Dick returned; “but you haven’t got deep enough. He’s a fellow with splendid executive ability, with a wonderfully far-seeing mind and immense talent for the strategy of football. Surely you’ll admit that.”
“He has doped out some pretty good stunts,” Kenny acknowledged grudgingly.
“Of course he has. He’s amazingly clever at that. And it’s about those very stunts that he makes his great mistake. His mind is so wrapped up in the results he wants to get that he doesn’t care how he gets them. Moreover, he’s intolerant of advice——”
“And mighty quick about giving it to others,” flashed Kenny viciously.
Dick repressed a quick smile. The quarter back’s manner was so like that of a peevish child that he could not help being amused. But the feeling was only momentary. The situation was far too serious for trifling.
“I know that,” he returned quickly, “and that’s what I told him this afternoon.”
“Humph!” grunted Kenny, looking up swiftly. “I’m glad you did that much. I’m glad he realizes that somebody besides me has noticed the way he’s been going on. What did he say to that?”
“He hadn’t realized how far his enthusiasm and earnestness had carried him,” Merriwell explained. “You see, Jack, Don is a fellow who commands by sheer force of will. We have made him captain of the team, and he expects to be obeyed implicitly and without question when he has decided what he thinks is the right course. Another man might get his way by a more sympathetic, tactful appeal; but Don can’t—he doesn’t know how. That quick, sharp manner, which seems so imperious and domineering, is unfortunate, but it’s just as much a part of his make-up as any unpleasant traits of character which you or I possess are parts of ours, and it’s just as hard to overcome. He doesn’t really mean anything by it, and I think after the talk we had to-day he’ll do his very best to modify it, if not cut it out altogether. I’ve been expecting you’d flare up before this, Jack. If you hadn’t had great self-control, you would have, for there was every provocation in the world; but you’ll find things pleasanter from now on. You’re not thinking about deserting the bunch now, are you?”
Kenny hesitated an instant and then looked up at Merriwell, with a rather shamefaced expression.
“No, I reckon not,” he replied, in a low tone. “I don’t suppose I really could have left the team in cold blood, but I was so blazing mad with Tempest I was ready to do anything. Besides, I was pretty sure he’d fire me off after what I said on the field.”
Dick wisely refrained from telling him that such had been Tempest’s first intention. Springing to his feet, he gave the quarter back a hearty slap on the shoulders.
“I knew you weren’t the sort to throw us down that way,” he smiled. “Well, I must run along. Practice at three to-morrow.”
“All right, I’ll be there,” Kenny said, with a return of his usual cheerful manner; “only, Dick——”
He paused, and Merriwell turned back from the door.
“Yes?” he questioned.
“You know I can’t promise to behave myself if Tempest starts in on his old tricks,” the quarter back said hesitatingly. “I’ve held in so long that my nerves are worn to a frazzle, and it wouldn’t take a whole lot to start me going.”
“Don’t worry,” Dick smiled. “I don’t think there’ll be any more trouble, but if Don should get a little aggravating try and remember what I told you. It isn’t really his fault, and he doesn’t mean anything by it. Just grin and bear it. We all have our troubles, you know.”
“Sure,” grinned Kenny. “Well, I’ll try my best. Good night.”
When the door had closed behind Merriwell, Kenny dropped back into his chair, a smile still on his lips. The change of heart which Dick had brought about was a distinct relief to the quarter back.
Looking at it in cold blood, he shuddered at his narrow escape. What an awful thing it would have been if he had really thrown up his place on the varsity. The thought of having the contest with Harvard take place, and he not on the team, was appalling and sent an icy shiver up and down his spine. That was the event to which they all looked forward eagerly from the very beginning of the season. It was the culmination—the finish of all things; and this game would indeed be the finish for him. It was his last year. Never again would he have a chance to face the wearers of the crimson. Not to have played on Saturday would have broken his heart.
He was still turning the matter over in his mind when there came a quick knock at the door.
“Come in,” he called.
The door swung open and Clarence Carr, blithe, brusque, and smiling, entered the room.
“Hello!” greeted Kenny, springing to his feet. “Come in and rest your face and hands.”
“Didn’t expect to see me quite so soon, did you?” smiled the older man. “But I had an hour to spare, so I thought I’d take advantage of your invitation and look you up.”
“Glad you did,” Kenny returned cordially, taking the other’s overcoat and hat. “Sit down and smoke one of your own cigars. That sounds pretty inhospitable, but, not indulging in them, I don’t keep any on hand.”
Carr dropped into a chair and took out a weed.
“You didn’t put your foot into it the way one of the boys down in Wall Street did the other day,” he remarked. “He’s a pretty gay bird generally, but doesn’t happen to smoke. One of the brokers offered him a cigar, which he declined with a virtuous air. ‘No, thanks,’ he says, ‘I’m not addicted to the vice.’ That naturally got the other fellow’s goat. ‘It isn’t a vice,’ he snapped back, ‘or you probably would be.’ The drinks were on Harry that time.”
Kenny laughed and settled down comfortably on the couch. He had taken a decided fancy to this fresh, breezy man of the world, who seemed to go through life in such a jolly, good-tempered way.
“Well, how’d things go to-day?” Carr asked presently, in a casual tone. “Any more rows?”
Kenny hesitated and a slow flush crept into his face.
“We did have it pretty hot toward the end,” he confessed. “I flared up and gave Tempest a piece of my mind, and then left the field just about ready to throw the whole thing up.”
A look of genuine anxiety flashed into Carr’s face.
“Oh, thunder!” he exclaimed quickly. “You wouldn’t do that, would you? Why, it would just about give Harvard the game!”
“I’m not going to—no,” Kenny returned. “I’ve seen since then that I couldn’t, of course; but I was so blooming mad at the time that I was ready for anything.”
The broker sank back in his chair with a sigh of relief.
“Gee! You gave me a start,” he confessed. “I thought for a minute you still meant that, and I certainly don’t want to see old Yale licked.”
He took a meditative puff on his cigar and then went on rather casually:
“Well, what was the trouble to-day? That captain of yours been interfering again?”
“He sure has,” Kenny returned. “It would take the patience of Job to put up with him.”
His face darkened at the remembrance of Tempest’s nagging. Though he had promised Dick he would remain with the team, and was more than thankful he had done so, his dislike for Tempest was not in the least lessened. The feeling of soreness and sense of unfair treatment had grown so gradually, and had been resolutely repressed for so long, that when it finally broke forth into a flame it was far too strong to be quenched readily, and, almost before he knew it, the quarter back found himself narrating the whole unpleasant series of incidents to this new friend who seemed so interested and so sympathetic.
“Great Scott!” exclaimed Carr, when the story was finished. “I certainly don’t blame you for raising a row. This Tempest must be a fearful aggravating blade. What are you going to do about it?”
“Well, I’ll have to put up with it, I reckon,” Kenny said hesitatingly. “Merriwell says he gave him a good talking to and thinks he’ll hold his jaw and keep his hands off for a while; but I tell you this much, if he starts in with his nagging to-morrow I shan’t be responsible for what I do.”
“I should say not!” the broker exclaimed. “It’s a wonder to me you’ve held in as long as you have. I’m afraid I’d have blown up when he first started in to bulldoze.”
“I felt like it, you’d better believe,” Kenny returned; “but I didn’t want to start a row. That sort of thing doesn’t do any good to the work of a team.”
“No, of course not,” agreed Carr.
He smoked for a few moments in thoughtful silence.
“How’d he ever come to be made captain?” he mused presently. “I should think your temperament was much better suited for the position than his.”
Kenny flushed with pleasure at this remark.
“It was pretty close,” he answered; “but the fellows must have thought he was better qualified. There’s certainly no doubt about his ability as a strategist, or his thorough knowledge of the game.”
“But that’s very far from being everything,” Carr said quickly. “The captain of a football team, or any other, for that matter, should have tact. He should know more than anything else, almost, how to handle his men to get the best results from their working together as a single unit. Apparently Tempest doesn’t possess this qualification, but, from even the little I know of you, I should imagine you would have no such difficulties as he has run up against in that regard. You don’t mind my talking in this frank way, I hope. You see, I’m very much interested in it all.”
“No, of course not.”
Again the quarter back felt that pleasant glow of satisfaction stealing over him. Clarence Carr was evidently a man of keen insight and understanding. It was gratifying to meet a fellow of such perfect appreciation.
The broker stayed somewhat later than he had at Phil Keran’s rooms the night before. A good part of the time was spent in discussing the football situation. Clarence Carr was a wonderfully clever man, and, moreover, he had a distinct object in view.
Little by little, his insidious words penetrated to Jack Kenny’s mind and stayed there. It was all so cleverly done that the quarter back did not realize for a single moment that there was anything underneath the pleasant, jovial broker’s discourse, punctuated now and then by witty stories and amusing anecdotes.
But the result was that, by the time Carr took his leave, Kenny’s dislike for Don Tempest had been fanned into a flame of hatred. His sense of unfair treatment rankled bitterly, while his contempt for the captain’s methods reached a point where he began to entertain serious doubts of the fellow’s ability as a leader. Under such a man’s guidance, he reflected, how was it possible that the team could work to any advantage? Already the fellows were grumbling against his exactions. What would it be like on the day of the game, when nervousness and self-doubt is always rampant?
Carr’s hearty “good night” floated upward from the stairs, and Kenny closed the door with a sigh and stood thoughtfully by the table. Nothing seemed sure, now. He was even growing doubtful of their ability to wrest a victory from the crimson.
As Clarence Carr left Vanderbilt Hall he seemed to be in even higher spirits than usual. Swinging briskly down the drive with a smile on his face and humming a little tune under his breath, he passed through the ornate gateway and turned to his left down Chapel Street.
He had good reason to be satisfied with the evening’s work. He had been even more successful than he had hoped. The ball had been started rolling, and there was nothing left for him now but to watch it carefully and make sure that it kept on its way.
It took but a moment to reach the New Haven House, where he paused in the lobby, keenly scrutinizing the occupants of the comfortable leather-covered chairs.
“Not here,” he murmured under his breath. “But I hardly expected he would be.”
Without delay, he passed on to the bar, and he had scarcely stepped inside the doorway before his eyes fell upon the figure of the man for whom he was looking.
He was rather under medium height, and very fat. The striking, violet-colored waistcoat covered a vast expanse of rotundity, and across the front was looped a massive gold chain which looked almost like a cable, hanging pendant from which, at the point where it passed through the buttonhole, were half a dozen fobs, lockets, and diamond-studded trinkets.
In the scarf of violet silk, which just matched the waistcoat, sparkled a large diamond. On several of the pudgy fingers were a plentitude of rings—also set with diamonds. But the most remarkable feature of the man was the face which topped the barrel-like figure, and which had the grotesque appearance of being set directly upon the broad, check-clad shoulders without the usual formality of a neck.
It was smooth-shaven, round, and jolly, merging imperceptibly into the bat-wing collar by a series of double chins. The eyes were small, deep-set and blue, and had in them an expression of such infantile innocence as to be almost incongruous. This, together with the soft, smooth, pink-and-white skin, gave him the look of a plump, good-natured cherub, who had allowed his taste for rather vivid colorings and effects in the matter of dress to run riot.
But J. Harry Edgerton was very far from living up to his appearance. There was nothing whatever of the innocent cherub about his personality, though he had often found it expedient and profitable to allow that impression to prevail. It had been invaluable in leading strangers to stay with him in a stiff poker game, under the impression that the pouting, childlike look of dismay as he surveyed his hand was a true reflection of the cards themselves. Too late they would discover that Edgerton was simply bluffing, and they would retire from the game sadder, wiser, and poorer men.
J. Harry had thus acquired a manner which was in perfect accord with his looks, and gradually this had become so fixed a habit that he rarely put it aside, except in moments of great excitement or tension, when his true self came to the surface. At other times he was the bland, jolly, good-tempered and careless individual which his appearance implied. A good deal of a sport, to be sure, but full of bright, witty stories, which he narrated in a droll way that was irresistible, and altogether a most desirable fellow to take a hand at poker or make a fourth at bridge.
His small, bright eyes lit up and a wide smile wreathed his fat countenance as he saw Clarence Carr advancing toward his position at the end of the bar.
“Well, well,” he chuckled, holding out a plump, pink hand. “My old college chum! How are you, Clarence, old boy? What’ll you take?”
Carr grinned as he clasped the bejeweled fingers.
“Glad to see you, old sport,” he returned. “Make it a rye high ball.”
“Scotch for me,” nodded the stout cherub to the waiting attendant. “And say—bring them over to a table. I want to rest my bones.”
“Didn’t know they needed resting, Harry,” smiled Carr, as they crossed the room to a little table in the corner. “They’re so bolstered up and supported with blubber, you know.”
With a sigh, Edgerton relapsed carefully into a creaking chair.
“Same old joker, I see,” he chortled. “Wait till you tip the scales at three hundred odd and you’ll feel the need of resting something. Whether it’s bones or not, I can’t say.”
The drinks being set before them, each man poured out a generous three fingers and filled the glasses with carbonated.
“Here’s how,” remarked Carr, raising his glass.
The stout man nodded and took a long swallow.
“Fair stuff,” he remarked, setting the glass down on the table.
Then he looked keenly at his companion, his fat lips pursed up a little.
“Well?” he questioned significantly.
Carr took out a handkerchief and wiped his mouth deliberately.
“I think it’s going to work,” he returned in a somewhat lower tone. “Tempest and Kenny pretty near came to blows this afternoon. In fact, Kenny was so mad that, for a while, he proposed leaving the team altogether. That scared me when I first heard about it, but luckily Dick Merriwell talked him into staying.”
“Humph!” grunted Edgerton. “I should think that would have been the best thing possible. There’d be no question then about the result of the game.”
“No, of course not,” Carr said quickly; “but in that case the odds would be in Harvard’s favor instead of being five to six against her as they are now.”
Edgerton nodded comprehendingly.
“I see,” he returned, taking another sip from his glass. “That’s true enough. I’m not very well up on this football business, so I have to trust to you. But are you sure you can work this boy so there’ll be enough of a split in the team to make any material difference in their playing.”
“I think so,” he answered. “He’s got a pretty hot temper, though he has kept it under control until now. He’s a bit sore, too, that he wasn’t elected captain instead of this Tempest. If the latter only keeps on with his bullyragging, even a little, the game is ours. Already the team is taking sides in the quarrel. Some are for Tempest, some for Kenny; and that means reduced efficiency in their playing. I can keep the quarter back stirred up, all right, and by Saturday they ought all to be at sixes and sevens.”
“Don’t he suspect your game?” queried the stout man.
“Trust me for that,” he returned. “He thinks I’m all for Yale winning. He hasn’t a notion that there’s any motive in what I’ve said to him, except the natural dislike of a man to see a good fellow thrown down.” His face clouded swiftly and his heavy brows drew down into a frown.
“Blow me if I’m stuck on the job, though, Edge!” he went on in a petulant tone.
The fat fellow’s smooth forehead puckered anxiously.
“What’s the matter?” he asked quickly. “Not getting cold feet, I hope.”
“Oh, it’s not that,” Carr exclaimed; “but the boy is such a decent fellow and thinks I’m all to the good. I feel like a snake when I think of what I’m trying to bring about. If Yale loses, it will be blamed on him, in a way. Why, I believe the fellow really likes me!”
“Tut, tut!” clucked Edgerton impatiently. “Never let your sympathies get control. It’s better not to have any; but if you must, why, keep them under, Clarence—keep them under. We’ve got to pull this through, or where will we be? Don’t let’s have any more talk like that. What’s the boy to you, anyhow? You’ll never see him again.”
“Oh, I suppose not,” Carr said petulantly. “But I can’t help feeling the way I do. Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to back out. I can’t afford to. That last slump in the Street left me high and dry. But if it wasn’t for that I’d never put my hand to a dirty deal like this.”
An expression flashed across the fat fellow’s face which was far from cherubic.
“Cut it out, Clarence,” he snapped; “cut it out! Stop thinking about it, or the whole thing will slump. Take a brace, for goodness sake! There’s nothing to be so squeamish about. You’ve been in lots worse things than this.”
“I know that,” returned the broker quickly. “Don’t worry, I tell you. I’m not going to back out. I’ve simply got to follow it through to the end, or we’ll both be stony.”
The placid look returned to Edgerton’s countenance and, with a sigh of relief, he picked up his glass and drained it.
“That’s right,” he murmured, setting it down; “that’s sensible. And now about the bets. When can we start placing them? That’s where my work begins, and I don’t want to be losing valuable time. How about to-morrow?”
“Better wait until Thursday,” Carr returned thoughtfully. “That’ll give you plenty of time, and I’ll be able to see how things go on the field to-morrow afternoon. Of course, they won’t let me watch the practice, but I can sound Kenny afterward. I’ve got him now so he loosens up and confides everything to me.
“Well, Thursday it is, then,” chuckled Edgerton, his good humor quite restored. “That’ll give me two full days to make a killing in New York, and Saturday morning to do a little placing here. Let’s have another drink. Same for you?”
The broker nodded, and Edgerton struck the bell sharply. The high balls were ordered and swiftly brought. By the time Carr had finished, his life took on a rosier hue. His momentary scruples had quite vanished, and he flung himself into the game with renewed zest, laying out an effective campaign for the morrow.
THE BREACH WIDENS.
Dick Merriwell appeared on the athletic field the next afternoon in a somewhat anxious state of mind. After the straight talk he had given Tempest the day before, and his subsequent interview with Kenny, he hoped that things would go smoothly, but he knew that nothing was ever certain.
He was too good a judge of character to imagine that a mere quarter of an hour’s talk, no matter how emphatic it was, could be the means of changing utterly the methods and point of view of a fellow like Tempest. He felt sure that the captain of the varsity would do his best to follow the advice which had been given him, but whether he would succeed was quite another matter.
He had less anxiety in regard to Kenny. He felt that the quarter back was sincere in his desire to have peace and harmony in the team, and after their talk last night he was sure that the hot-tempered, good-hearted chap would even put up with a little of Tempest’s nagging without breaking out again.
But, strangely enough, the practice had barely begun, before he found prevailing a condition which was quite the opposite from what he had confidently supposed would be the case.
Almost at once he perceived that Tempest had a firm grip on himself and was doing his best to preserve harmony, whereas Kenny acted as if he had a chip on his shoulder which he was almost anxious for the captain to knock off.
He was as nearly sullen as such a naturally good-tempered fellow could be, taking his part in the game in a perfunctory manner without his usual snap and vim; and, instead of going ahead on his own hook with the various plays which had to be practiced, he was constantly pausing and asking Tempest’s advice in a pointed, sarcastic manner which would have driven anybody wild.
Naturally the latter got hot under the collar. Here he was straining every effort to keep the peace, and Kenny, instead of meeting him halfway, was doing his best to aggravate him and provoke a verbal battle.
The result was that, before an hour had passed, the two were at daggers’ points, and a feeling of unrest and uneasiness had come over the whole team, which seriously interfered with its efficiency, and prevented it from doing anything like the good work it should have done.
Merriwell was puzzled as well as decidedly angry. What in the world possessed Kenny? What had come over him since their talk of the previous evening, when the quarter back had shown such a very evident and sincere desire to see things go well, and, more than that, had promised that he would do his best to that end.
Instead of keeping his word, he had gone to quite the opposite extreme and was very evidently bent on rousing Tempest to a fury. Merriwell could not understand it, and he was so angry with the little quarter back that it would have given him the greatest pleasure to take the sulky fellow by the shoulders and shake him, as one would a spoiled child.
Luckily Tempest refused to be dragged into a verbal encounter. It was evident to him that Kenny was deliberately working to that end, and, his blood aroused, the captain strained every effort to keep a grip on himself. It was one of the hardest things he ever did. His words grew sharp and snappy, his face flushed and angry; but he tried to ignore the quarter back, and managed to get through the afternoon without an open clash.
Dick saw all this with regret, and, also, with an infinite admiration for Tempest’s surprising self-control; and, as soon as the practice was over, he stepped to the captain’s side.
“That was bully, Don,” he said, in a low tone. “You held in splendidly. But that little rat ought to be turned up and spanked. I never saw anything so aggravating in my life.”
“Aggravating!” foamed Tempest, who, now that he was alone with Merriwell, gave full vent to his fury. “Aggravating isn’t the word for it! By thunder, Dick, it was all I could do to keep my hands off the little devil! I wouldn’t go through another afternoon like this for a thousand dollars!”
Merriwell’s face wore a puzzled look.
“I can’t think what’s got into him,” he said thoughtfully. “I had a long talk with him last night, and he promised to stop his foolishness and behave himself.”
“And you see how he’s kept that promise!” Tempest said bitterly. “He’s worse than I ever knew him to be. Honestly, old fellow, I can’t go on this way. I’d go off my nut. Look here, Dick, let me hand in my resignation and you take my place. You can pull things together and do something with them. They’ll do anything you want them to, but if I try to stick it out Heaven knows what will happen. Another day like this and they’ll all be up in open rebellion.”
“Great Scott, man!” Dick cried aghast. “Why, you’re crazy! The idea of changing captains at such a time as this! It couldn’t be done, even if I’d consider it—which I won’t for a minute. You’ve got to keep on, Don, and pull things through. And we’ve got to win that game Saturday. It would be better for Kenny to go than you, but we can’t afford to lose either of you. You must stick it out, old fellow. I’ll see Jack again and give him fits. He’s got something on his mind which wasn’t there last night, and I mean to find out what it is.”
Without delay he proceeded to the track house and hustled into his other clothes. He couldn’t tackle the quarter back in the midst of the crowd who thronged the place, but he meant to catch him as he was leaving.
Quick as he was, however, he barely managed to get into his things before he saw his man hurrying out of the door.
“Jack!” he called, snatching up his overcoat and hat. “Wait a minute.”
Kenny turned rather reluctantly. It almost seemed as if he wanted to avoid Merriwell, but the latter did not propose to let him get away.
“What’s your hurry?” he inquired, as he joined the other outside the door.
“Oh, nothing,” returned Kenny, his eyes averted. “I just wanted to get back to the dorm, that’s all.”
They were out in the street by this time, and, as they turned and walked along the high board fence, Dick looked his companion squarely in the face.
“What in the mischief has got into you, Jack?” he asked quickly. “You told me you’d behave, and yet you’ve acted like a perfect kid all afternoon.”
“I can’t stand that Tempest!” he burst out the next moment. “He makes me daft.”
“Makes you daft,” repeated Dick. “Why, you’re the one who makes him, and all the rest of us, hot, going around with a sour face and a chip on your shoulder. If I’d been Don I’d have felt like giving you a good thrashing. You never gave him a chance to be decent.”
The quarter back looked a little sheepish.
“I knew he couldn’t be,” he returned quickly, “so I just got in my licks first. I thought I’d give him a dose of his own medicine and see how he liked it.”
“You little idiot!” Merriwell retorted. “Do you know what you’re going to do if you keep on this way? You’re going to lose the game for us Saturday. If you can’t take a brace, we’ll be licked as sure as fate, and there won’t be a person to blame for it but yourself.”
Kenny’s face flushed and he made a quick, dissenting motion with one hand.
“Look here, Dick,” he protested. “That’s putting it pretty strong, isn’t it?”
“It’s a fact,” Merriwell returned emphatically.
His words seemed to sober Kenny and bring him to a partial realization of the gravity of the situation. All the way back to the campus Dick kept up his argument, and by the time they got off the car at Church and High Streets he had brought the quarter back into a contrite and fairly repentant frame of mind.
At the same time, it seemed to him that Kenny was not so pliable as he had been the night before. It had been harder to bring him to a realization of the error of his ways. Somehow, Dick felt almost as if there was a counter influence which was pulling against his own—something which was encouraging Kenny in his rebellion and egging him on in the disagreement with Tempest.
What it could be he could not imagine. Who among the quarter back’s friends or acquaintances could encourage him in his fatal folly? For any sane person must realize that if the fellow persisted in his course a victory on Saturday would be seriously imperiled.
He was turning this over in his mind all through supper, and afterward, walking along Church Street with Brad, Keran, and several others, it was still puzzling him.
All at once his eyes fell on Kenny himself, walking down the street on the other side, in earnest conversation with a slim, brisk man of about thirty.
“Who’s that fellow with Kenny?” he asked quickly.
They all glanced over the way, and Phil Keran answered the question.
“Clarence Carr,” he said readily. “He’s Archie Carr’s brother. He came in to see me the other night, and Kenny met him there. Nice chap, too. Crazy about football. He played at Brown. He and Jack seem to hit it off pretty well.”
Dick took in the man with a swift, appraising glance. He remembered Archie Carr perfectly as a good football player and red-hot Yale man. There was absolutely no reason why he should question his brother’s loyalty and integrity, but still a tiny germ of doubt was generated in his mind at that moment—something which sprang into being quite without rhyme or reason, and which persisted in remaining despite its seeming absurdity and incongruity.
IN DESPERATE STRAITS.
Twenty-four hours later Dick Merriwell was confident that some malign influence was at work on Jack Kenny’s mind combating his own strenuous efforts to bring about concord between him and Don Tempest. Some one was doing his level best to keep the quarter back constantly stirred up in his ire against the captain of the varsity, so that it required every bit of Merriwell’s patience and perseverance to prevent an open break.
He had arrived at this conclusion simply from a keen sense of observation. He knew Jack Kenny well enough to be perfectly sure that he was not the sort of fellow to harbor a grudge to the extent which he was fostering this one. He was a man who would be apt to flare up in a swift outburst of wrath, but it was not at all like him to develop this sullen, sneering, backbiting streak which had been apparent for the past few days.
Some one must be egging him on; some one was deliberately encouraging him to combat Tempest at every possible point; and that person must be going about his underhand work with amazing skill and forethought. His method of procedure must be so insidious that Kenny himself had no idea he was being worked; for at no time did Dick question for an instant the quarter back’s loyalty to his team or to his college.
Who this some one was, Merriwell had no idea. It must be a man who either had a personal grudge against Tempest himself, or else had some vital reason for bringing about an open rupture in the Yale team before the great contest of the season.
Dick could not close his eyes to the fact that this last condition of affairs was in a fair way to be brought about unless something speedily intervened to prevent it. Little by little the fellows had been taking sides in the unfortunate disagreement between the captain and the quarter back.
The strain of having to keep a constant watch on his tongue was beginning to tell on Tempest and showed in a loosening of the grip he had on the team and a resulting decrease in its efficiency.
Quick to notice this, many of the fellows blamed it altogether upon Tempest. They began to question his ability among themselves and wonder whether his methods were right and whether he was going to lead them to victory on Saturday.
Doubt and hesitation and suspicion were rife on all sides. It would take but the merest breath to add discouragement to their number; and once a team starts in with a doubt as to its ability to win the handicap against it is tremendous.
Merriwell did his best to instill encouragement and hope into their failing spirits, but, under the peculiar condition of affairs, he was almost helpless to do any good in that line. Kenny had started the ball rolling, and he was the only one who could stop its progress. If he could only be brought to his senses and grant to Tempest his cheerful, willing obedience and coöperation, the trouble might possibly be stopped.
Men would see that his confidence in the captain was restored, and, in their turn, might be inspired to renewed hope and consequent endeavor.
To this end, therefore, Dick bent every effort; but he was unsuccessful. Kenny listened to his words, but was not convinced; and Merriwell knew that some one else was working against him.
By Friday night he was almost certain that this some one was Clarence Carr, who, for the past few days, had been spending every possible moment in the company of the quarter back. He was the only unknown quantity among Kenny’s acquaintance. The others were all beyond reproach, and at last, incredible as the thought was, Dick became convinced that Carr was doing his very utmost to bring about a rupture in the Yale team, so that Harvard would gain the victory.
What the broker’s motive was he could not guess. There were a dozen reasons why he might wish to bring such a thing about, and Dick did not waste much time over that. The great thing was to convince Kenny that Carr was meddling, and that he had an ulterior motive for wishing the defeat of Yale; and this was almost impossible.
The man’s manner was frank and open. He spoke enthusiastically of Yale’s chances for victory, even offering to lay a little money on the blue. He referred often, though with apparent casualness, to his brother’s intimate connection with the university, and with football; and more than once he had been heard to wish that he had taken his degree at New Haven instead of Providence.
Dick easily found an opportunity of meeting him; for he seemed to have no friends in town except the college boys, with whom he had grown to be rather popular. He found the fellow a keen, shrewd man of the world, likewise an interesting and amusing talker, and possessed of a certain degree of attractiveness. It seemed almost incredible that such a man as he—polished, refined, and gentlemanly—could stoop to the underhand methods which Merriwell suspected. And yet, if he were not to blame for influencing Kenny, who was?
Having met Carr, Merriwell realized full well the utter impossibility of convincing the quarter back of his double-dealing, without absolute proof. And where was he to get that proof, when all he had to go by was his own intuition?
Supper on Friday night was a dismal meal. The practice that afternoon had been particularly dispiriting and lacking in vim and go. Fullerton had bellowed himself hoarse and had been reduced to open wrath at the wretched showing made by many of the team. Don Tempest, white-faced and with set teeth, had struggled desperately to prevent himself giving way to a furious outburst of rage at the aggravating Kenny, who seemed even more possessed of the devil than usual.
Everything seemed to be at sixes and sevens, and it was scarcely to be wondered that gloomy, discouraged faces were the rule that night, as the fellows thought of what the morrow might bring forth and groaned inwardly.
Merriwell, Buckhart, and one or two others tried to combat the persistent gloom, but without avail. They, themselves, were not feeling any too sure about things, and their cheering words were not of the most convincing order.
Consequently, the meal went on to a silent finish; and then, as chairs were pushed back, and the men arose, Tempest stopped them with a quick gesture.
“Just a minute, fellows,” he said, in a low tone. “There’ll be a short meeting of the team and subs in the gym at eight o’clock. Please be there, all of you.”
At Merriwell’s suggestion there was to be a last effort made to rally the failing spirits of the men and make them realize how grave was the situation. It was all he could think of at the moment, and he meant to take the floor himself and bring all his power of eloquence to bear to try and brace them up. But, first, he intended to have another whack at Kenny and see if by hook or crook he couldn’t bring him to his senses.
“If I could only prove something against that traitor, Carr,” he said to himself, as he crossed the campus with Brad.
Suddenly he gave a start.
“By Jove!” he exclaimed aloud. “I might try that!”
“Try what?” inquired Buckhart. “What are you talking about, anyhow, pard?”
“Nothing much,” Merriwell answered, as he quickened his pace. “I was just thinking.”
He did not speak another word until they reached the rooms. The moment the door was closed he dashed into the closet, and, fumbling around for a few minutes in the dark, presently emerged with an armful of clothes and a flat, oblong box.
With wondering eyes the Texan watched him swiftly strip off his suit and array himself in the one he had resurrected from the depths of the closet. With ever-growing curiosity, he saw his chum open the box and take out a jar of cold cream and some sticks of grease paints. Then he could contain himself no longer.
“What in thunder are you up to now?” he exploded.
“I’m going to make a last effort to bring that little idiot Kenny around,” he replied. “If it succeeds, I’ll tell you all about it. If it don’t——”
He finished the sentence with a shrug of his shoulders and caught up a stick of grease paint. Brad’s face was a picture of bewilderment as he watched the rapid transformation going on before his eyes. A touch here, a line there, worked wonders. Some false eyebrows, skillfully attached, made the disguise still more perfect.
At last, throwing down the hand glass in which he had been inspecting the whole effect, Dick snatched up a disreputable derby from the chair, and, clapping it on his head, tore open the door and disappeared, leaving his chum staring at the closed portal in a dazed fashion.
“Well, I’ll—be—hanged!” he exclaimed presently.
DICK MAKES A DISCOVERY.
J. Harry Edgerton had spent such a busy day in town that he missed the Merchants’ Limited and was obliged to take the 5:30 train from the Grand Central, which did not get him to New Haven until after seven. It was, in fact, exactly twenty-five minutes past when he stepped out of the cab at the entrance to the New Haven House and made his way leisurely into the lobby.
As his smiling, cherubic countenance loomed like a full moon in the doorway, Clarence Carr, who had been waiting impatiently for some time, stepped quickly forward.
“Well!” he said, rather shortly, “I expected you an hour ago, at the latest. What under the sun kept you so long?”
“Patience, my sweet Dromio,” gurgled the fat fellow, with a pacifying wave of his hand. “Don’t fly at me like an angry cat. All is well. Better than we hoped for, in fact. But let us lubricate. I cannot—simply cannot—orate in my present parched condition of throat. It feels like the desert of Sahara—I give you my word it does.”
The broker’s face relaxed considerably.
“Well, come along, then,” he returned. “I could manage one or two myself.”
He linked his arm with that of Edgerton, and together they passed into the bar and took their seats at one of the small tables. An attendant was quickly summoned and brought glasses, bottles, and a siphon. Then he withdrew, leaving them on the table at a sign from Edgerton.
Two high balls were mixed and promptly swallowed. Then J. Harry leaned back in his chair with a contented sigh and took a comprehensive survey of the room.
There were half a dozen men congregated at the other end of the bar, while farther along, at a point nearly opposite their table, a rather seedy individual, with flushed face and dented derby, had just slouched in and ordered gin. The stout gentleman saw the drink poured out, with a grimace of disgust.
“Pah!” he exclaimed. “Such a coarse drink, and so extremely deleterious to the lining of the stomach! Never indulge in crude gin, Clarence. That fellow is half seas over as it is. He’ll be put out directly.”
He watched the man drain his glass at a swallow and barely touch his lips with the chaser. Then, dismissing the fellow from his mind, he returned to the matter in hand, first, however, mixing himself another high ball, which he consumed in leisurely sips while he talked.
He would have been somewhat astonished had he known that the object of his criticism at the bar had performed a swift substitution of the glasses under his very eye, and, instead of drinking the gin, he had swallowed the chaser; and presently, when his order was repeated, the full glass of gin was dumped into the slops by the bartender under the impression that it was water, and another glassful poured out.
“Splendid success,” Edgerton chuckled. “I laid out every cent I could beg, borrow, or steal, at bully odds. I should say about two thousand odd, including everything. Now, if you’ve only done your part as well, we’ll be in Easy Street this time to-morrow night.”
Carr’s eyes sparkled.
“Great!” he exclaimed. “Don’t be afraid, Edge. I’ve got things fixed so that the whole team is at loggerheads. I’ve worked Kenny every minute I could be with him, and kept that grouch of his nursed as if it was a precious hothouse flower. The poor fool has never suspected me for an instant. Thinks I have a sweetly sympathetic nature. I think there’s hardly a doubt that we’ll win out, and then for another try at that game of the Bluebell mining stock.”
Edgerton chuckled, and raised the glass to his lips.
“Good! We’ll place a few little bets here and there to-morrow among the confiding village people, providing, of course, they don’t insist on being shown the coin. Altogether, it ought to be a pretty nice little rake-off.”
The man at the bar seemed to have had enough gin. With unsteady gait and leering eye, he passed the table and made his way toward the door. As he reached it, he caught his foot and nearly fell. The next moment he had lurched out into the darkness.
On the pavement outside a surprising transformation took place. The fellow straightened up suddenly, and, with a sweep of his hand, pushed his hat up from where it hung over one ear. Then he started down the street at a rapid walk, which was almost a run. There was not the slightest sign of intoxication in his gait.
“By Jove!” he muttered. “That’s their game, is it? Thank Heaven I’ve found it out! What a pair of blacklegs!”
He glanced swiftly at a near-by clock. It was almost eight.
“Gee!” he exclaimed, under his breath. “I’ve got to catch him before he leaves for the meeting.”
The next instant he turned into one of the gates of Vanderbilt, dashed up the drive, and cleared the steps at a bound. Upstairs he went, lickety-split, and reached Kenny’s floor just as the quarter back opened the door and stepped out.
“Wait a minute, Jack,” he said quickly. “I’ve got something to tell you.”
“The deuce you have!” Kenny growled. “Who in thunder are you, anyhow?”
For an instant Dick had forgotten the disguise. No wonder the quarter back didn’t know him!
“It’s Merriwell,” he said, smiling. “Quick! Give me a towel and some water. I’ll get rid of this stuff while we talk. I’ve got my cold-cream jar in my pocket.”
Pushing the bewildered Kenny before him, he entered the room and closed the door.
“Hustle, boy!” he exclaimed. “A wet towel first, and then we’ll go at the other.”
Still dazed, but under the influence of Dick’s dominating personality, Kenny brought the moistened towel, which Merriwell snatched from his hands. Already he had rubbed cold cream over his face. With the first vigorous rub off came the eyebrows and most of the paint. Kenny gasped as the familiar face of his friend appeared swiftly and strangely. Then Dick plunged into his story, for there was no time to lose.
“This Clarence Carr,” he began rapidly; “you’ve been pretty chummy with him lately, haven’t you?”
Kenny looked astonished.
“Why, he’s been in to see me several——”
“Exactly,” Dick cut in. “Talked football a lot, didn’t he? Said you were being badly used on the team, I’ll bet? Perhaps he said you should have been captain?”
The quarter back’s jaw dropped at this volley of questions. A rush of color stained his face.
“Why, how—how—did you——”
“Never mind how I found out,” Dick flashed back. “Jack, he’s a crooked scoundrel! He’s been egging you on to buck against Tempest for the sole purpose of ruining the team and giving the game to Harvard.”
The flush died out of Kenny’s face, leaving it pale and set. His eyes flashed indignantly.
“How dare you say that, Merriwell?” he exclaimed angrily. “He couldn’t do such a thing. Why, his own brother went to Yale and played on the varsity!”
“I know all that, but it’s true just the same,” Dick flung back. “Would you believe it if you knew he and a pal of his had put up over two thousand dollars on Harvard?”
“But how could he?” expostulated the quarter back. “He’s crazy for us to win. He’s even——”
“I know all that,” Merriwell returned swiftly; “but this very night—not ten minutes ago—I heard the truth from his very lips. He was talking over it with his pal in the bar of the New Haven House. I was there, made up this way. I had suspected him before. They didn’t know me, of course. The bets were all placed in New York. They’re no better than a couple of crooks. Listen!”
Swiftly, a little brokenly, but quite clearly, he poured into Kenny’s ears the story of what he had discovered. The quarter back’s face was pale and his eyes horror-stricken when the brief recital was finished. For an instant he could not speak.
“His very words,” repeated Dick. “I’ve worked Kenny every minute I could be with him, and kept that grouch of his nursed as if it was a precious hothouse flower. The poor fool never suspected me for an instant. Thinks I have a sweetly sympathetic nature.”
Suddenly the slim fellow’s face grew purple.
“Blazes!” he almost shouted. “The thundering, double-faced liar! I’ll smash up that face of his so his own brother won’t know him! I’m going down there this minute. I don’t care where he is.”
Without waiting to pick up his hat, he started toward the door, his fists clenched and his eyes wild with rage. Dick caught his arm in a grip of iron.
“Stop, Jack!” he said sternly. “You’ve got something more important than that to do.”
Kenny struggled to release his arm.
“Let me go, Dick!” he pleaded. “The dirty scoundrel used me! I’ve got to——”
“You’ve got to come to the gym with me,” Merriwell broke in swiftly. “You’ve got to set things right with Tempest. The fellows are all in a blue funk because of what you’ve done. They don’t believe in Don any more, and you’ve got to make them believe. I don’t care what you do to this sneak after to-morrow, but until then your duty is to Yale. I tell you, Jack, the very game is at stake, and you’re the only man who can stir the fellows up and give them back the confidence in Tempest which you have taken away. Perhaps it’s too late now. I don’t know, but you’ve got to try.”
While he was speaking, Kenny’s face grew calmer, and into his eyes crept a look which was like fear. What if he had spoiled Yale’s chances for victory by his idiotic behavior? What if it were too late for reparation? A bitter pang, sharp as a dagger point, pierced him to the heart. He saw himself branded as a traitor to the alma mater which he loved so well, and for whose success he would have willingly given up his last breath. The thought sobered him like a dash of icy water and made him forget everything but the desperate need for reviving the drooping spirits of the team and restoring their confidence in Don Tempest, the man he had wronged.
The quarter back ceased his struggles instantly.
“You’re right, Dick,” he said, in a strained voice. “I’ve been a blind, beastly fool; but I understand now. I’ll do my best to straighten things out with the boys. It can’t be too late—it simply can’t!”
He looked imploringly at Merriwell, whose face was very serious.
“I hope not,” the latter said soberly. “Lost confidence is a pretty hard thing to restore, sometimes but we’ve got to do it to-night. Come, let’s hurry.”
Without a word, Kenny snatched up his hat, switched off the light, and together the two hastened down the stairs and out into the street.
THE MORNING OF THE GAME.
Breakfast at the training table the next morning was a strange meal, to which the fellows loitered in at whatever hour best pleased them. Many showed signs of restless slumber, and the trainer was as watchful as an old hen with a brood of chickens.
The principal topic of conversation was the surprising shift about at the meeting last night on the part of Jack Kenny. He and Merriwell had appeared in the gym so late that some of the fellows were about to sally forth and hunt them up. They saw at once that he was very much wrought up and excited, though Merriwell seemed as calm and steady as usual.
After the meeting was called to order, the quarter back got on his feet and made a really impassioned speech in which he acknowledged what a fool he had been in questioning for a moment Tempest’s ability as captain, then besought the fellows to forget how he had been behaving for the past week and do their best to pull things through to-morrow.
There was no doubt of his earnestness and sincerity, and great was the speculation as to what had happened to bring about the change of heart. Many laid it to Merriwell, but no one could be certain; for Kenny made no explanation beyond acknowledging that he had been in the wrong.
Dick followed him with a few well-chosen, emphatic words, in which he pointed out the need of organized teamwork, and cautioned every man to put aside all thoughts of personal glory and work with all his might for Yale.
His tone was hopeful and encouraging. He did not allow the fellows to think for an instant that he had any doubts of their ultimate success, and the results of the meeting were distinctly for the better.
Notwithstanding this, however, there were many signs of nervousness and unrest the following morning. There always are on the day of a great game. Men who never give a thought of their ability to win out at any other time are seized with all sorts of absurd doubts and fears when the crucial moment is so near at hand, which luckily vanish the instant they line up on the field. It is only the long, anxious period of waiting which is so trying.
Those who had Saturday morning recitations attended them, though it is quite safe to say that they were little benefited thereby. The others were sent out to the field, where they went through a short, brisk signal practice.
Kenny showed up splendidly at this, and, as Dick watched him, he wished to Heaven that he might have been brought to his senses before the eleventh hour. It would have been so much better in every way. For Merriwell could not help but feel a certain amount of worry and uneasiness as to how the men would show up in the afternoon. Though he preserved a smiling face and confident demeanor, he was inwardly not a little doubtful of results. He knew, better, perhaps, than any one else, how difficult it is to restore confidence once lost. Kenny’s awakening had had a good effect, but whether it would prove a lasting one time alone would show.
So much depended on how the game went at the start, and he resolved to strain every effort to prevent Harvard from scoring in the first quarter.
The short practice over, the fellows trotted a few times about the gridiron and then returned to the campus, where they wandered about, awaiting the arrival of the Harvard boys, who were momentarily expected.
Dick was detained by a consultation with Fullerton and Tempest, which took place in his rooms. He did not, in fact, realize how the time had flown, and was consequently surprised when the door was burst open unceremoniously and his old friend Dale Sparkfair, now captain of the Harvard varsity, rushed into the room.
“Richard, my boy, how are you?” he exclaimed, advancing with outstretched hands. “You’re a sight for sore eyes!”
Dick’s face lit up with pleasure as he gripped Sparkfair’s fingers.
“Great, old fellow,” he smiled. “How’s yourself? Haven’t seen you since that day last summer on the lake when we had a pick-up game of ball.”
“And you came so blamed near being licked,” the Harvard man put in. “You were pretty bad, that day, old man. So very punky that I got careless and let you in. Of course, had I been in my usual form, such a thing would never have happened. I hope you’re prepared for a drubbing this afternoon? Despite my native modesty, I am forced to admit that we have collected such a team as Harvard—or, I may say, any other college—never before turned out.”
His blue eyes were mirthful and his lips curved in a smile.
“It’s a shame to disappoint you, but we’ve just about made up our minds to take the trick ourselves. You know Tempest and Fullerton, don’t you?”
Dale turned and shook hands with the two men.
“Sure thing,” he said. “Met Tempest last year, and everybody knows old Bill. So you think you’re going to do us? What a shock you’ll have. It almost makes me sad to think of it. The Philistines may walk up and down the earth, puffing out their chests and making a mighty noise of brazen trumpets, but great will be their fall. Timothy, tenth-sixteenth.”
“Same old fake Scripture quoting,” Dick smiled. “Stolen from Blessed Jones, too. One would never suppose you were such a religious duck to look at you, Spark.”
“Many of my best qualities are kept hidden from the vulgar eye,” Dale returned airily. “Say, I hear you boys have doped out a great line of tricks. Got something up your sleeves for us, have you?”
“We have,” Dick said promptly.
“You don’t say! What’s the nature of it, if I may ask? Perhaps you object to putting me wise, though.”
“No objection whatever,” Dick answered gravely. “It’s muscle.”
“Aren’t you the cute thing!” grinned Sparkfair. “Never mind. You’re safe to get licked, secret or no secret. Where’s that bucking broncho of a Buckhart? I’d like to shake his big paw.”
“Down on the campus somewhere,” Dick answered. “We’ll go down and look him up. We’re all through here.”
“Plots, I suppose,” Dale remarked, glancing from Tempest to Fullerton. “Too bad, but they won’t do you a particle of good.”
ON THE FIELD.
High up against a fair blue sky, studded with fleecy clouds, streamed a mammoth banner of blue bearing in its centre a great white Y—a flare of intense color visible from afar over the topmost branches of the empty elms, and a beacon toward which the stream of spectators set their steps.
Derby Avenue was filled from curb to curb with a slowly moving procession of motor cars, horse-drawn vehicles of all kinds, street cars, loaded to the very steps with a laughing, chattering mob of humanity, all making their way toward the athletic field.
As two o’clock approached, the throngs at the gates moved faster, swaying and pushing past the ticket takers and streaming out onto the field toward the stands already piled high with enthusiastic humanity. Under the great flag stretched a long bank of somber grays and blacks, brightened here and there by lighter feminine apparel, and everywhere was a multitude of smaller fluttering flags of blue, which looked from a little distance as if the big banner had dripped its dye upon the crowd beneath.
Violets were everywhere. Great masses of them pinned upon the tailor-made coats of charming, eager girls. Smaller bunches in the buttonholes of their escorts; and their perfume wafted out over the field, filled the air with a sweet, penetrating odor which was far more like that of a day in June than one in brisk, blustering late November.
Opposite, the rival tiers of crowded seats were picked out in vivid crimson, and between stretched a smooth expanse of russet-hued turf, ribbed with white lines that glared in the afternoon sun.
The great band played blithely; the thousands of eager spectators talked, laughed, or shouted ceaselessly; and the cheering sections were loudly contending for vocal supremacy.
Suddenly onto the field trotted a little band of men in blue sweaters with white Y’s; and quite as suddenly the Yale stands arose and the Harvard cheers were blotted out by a mighty chorus that swept from end to end of the structure and thundered impressively across the field.
“Yale! Yale! Yale! Rah, rah, rah! Rah, rah, rah! Rah, rah, rah! Yale! Yale! Yale!”
It was repeated over and over again, and then the crimson-clad youths trotted into view and it was Harvard’s turn to make a noise.
The substitutes of both teams retired to the side lines, and the players who were to start the game warmed up. The cheering on the stands gave place to songs which drowned the music of the band, until, at length, three persons, a youth in blue, a youth in crimson, and a man in everyday attire, met in the middle of the field and watched a coin spin upward in the sunlight and fall to the ground.
Then swiftly the contending forces took their positions, the linesmen and timekeeper hurried forward and the great stands were almost stilled.
Yale had the ball and the west goal. Baulsir placed the pigskin to his liking and drew back. Tempest shouted a last word of warning. The referee raised his whistle.
The next instant it sounded shrilly, the ball sped away, and the game began.
Within the first five minutes it became evident to the excited thousands that the game was to be a desperate struggle from start to finish. Sparkfair had not been altogether jesting when he told Merriwell that his team was the best which had ever been turned out at Cambridge. What little they lacked in weight, compared with the brawny Yale line, they made up in cleverness and teamwork, and they played the game from the beginning with a snap and vim which was a joy to see.
Yale was not noticeably behind them. Animated by the contagious optimism of Merriwell, Buckhart, and some of the older players, they met the rush of the crimson line like a wall of rock and contested every foot of advance.
Jack Kenny was doing wonders. Thrilled by the necessity of making up for the harm he had wrought unconsciously, he played for all that was in him, and the result was an exhibition of brilliant headwork and resource such as is seldom seen.
Back and forth surged the lines of men. Now and then one side or the other would bring into play some unexpected, spectacular stunt which drew forth shouts of delight from the stands and gave them the momentary advantage, only to have their opponents retaliate in kind.
The first quarter passed without either side scoring. The crowds were wild with excitement, and during the brief three-minute pause they cheered themselves hoarse and nearly stamped the grand stands down in their efforts to show their enthusiastic appreciation.
At the beginning of the second quarter Harvard rushed the ball down the field in a determined, irresistible effort to score. They were opposed with equal determination, and the battle was on again.
Back and forth, back and forth surged the lines. Now one side had the advantage and then the other. At length, Kenny tried the much-practiced double pass with Baxter and Merriwell on Harvard’s thirty-yard line, and it worked.
Swiftly the pigskin flew through the air into Teddy Baxter’s waiting arms. Without a pause he dashed on, crossing behind Merriwell, shooting out into the field around the end, guarded by Crowfoot and Blair Hildebrand. The crimson line plunged forward and to the left, sure of their man.
Then, like a flash of light, the ball flew from Baxter into the waiting arms of Merriwell, and Teddy lunged to block their opponent’s guard, while Dick kept on without a pause toward the goal.
He made it, and the spectators on the Yale stand went wild. It was the first moment since the start of the game that the tension had been released, and, surging to their feet, they sent roar after roar of cheering which thundered across the field in great crashes of sound, stupendous in their volume.
Then came a breathless hush while the goal was being kicked, and after that the noise commenced again, dying away gradually as the game was resumed.
Nothing more happened in that quarter. The crimson-clad men, undeterred by their opponents’ vantage, worked like tigers; but there was not enough time left for them to accomplish anything, and the shrill sound of the whistle left them on Yale’s forty-yard line.
“How about it, Dale?” Dick asked, as he passed the Harvard captain on their way to the track house.
Sparkfair grinned cheerfully.
“That was only my generous spirit giving you boys a little needed encouragement,” he returned airily. “Wait until the next quarter, Richard, and see us wipe up the field with you fellows. We’re only just beginning to get warmed up.”
Merriwell caught up with Jack Kenny, who was a little ahead.
“That was corking, Jack,” he said warmly. “You rang that double pass in at exactly the right moment. They weren’t expecting it, and it couldn’t have worked better. Keep it up, old fellow. You’re playing the game of your life.”
Kenny flushed with pleasure.
“I’m trying to make up,” he said, in a low tone.
“And you’re succeeding,” Dick said swiftly. “We’ve got them going, and now we want to hold them from making a score.”
In the track house, Fullerton gave the boys a short, pithy talk, cautioning them not to lose their grip now that they had scored, and to bend every energy toward keeping the crimson line away from the goal. There was a vast deal of rubbing lame shoulders, ankles, and wrists, until the rooms fairly reeked with witch-hazel and arnica; a perfect babel of excited talk and speculation and laughter; and then they trotted out to the field again and took their places on the gridiron.
Dale Sparkfair made good his joking words to Merriwell by means of as pretty a round-the-end dash as had ever been seen on the field, and then it was Harvard’s turn to let loose their pent-up flood of enthusiasm. More than one undergraduate—and staid alumnus as well—could not speak above a whisper for a good many hours.
The third quarter ended with the scores even. The excitement had risen to a fever heat. With only fifteen minutes of play left, what was going to be the result? Would the game remain a tie? That seemed incredible, and yet it looked to a good many as though it would be the case.
The brief intermission was almost over. The spectators settled back into their seats and the cheering started in once more. The sun was almost behind the west corner of the stand. The shadows were lengthening and a brisk, sharp wind, straight from the Sound, caused overcoat collars to be turned up and furs to be drawn closely around fair necks. From the crowded tiers of seats came the steady tramp-tramp of chilled feet, hinting their owners’ impatience.
The players took their places; the breathless silence was suddenly split by the shrilling of the referee’s whistle, and the battle was resumed.
Jack Kenny played the game during that last quarter as he had never played before. His clever work rose to the point of brilliancy, for the winning of that game had become an absolute monomania with him. He felt that in no other way could he make up for his behavior of the past week, which had come so perilously near bringing disaster upon his beloved college.
It would be a triumph indeed if he could personally make another run for the blue, but he felt that such a thing was too much to hope for.
But brilliant as was his manœuvring, which was ably seconded by every man on the team, the splendid work of Harvard made it barren of results. They were evidently determined that, if they could not score again, neither should their opponents; and the hands of the big clock above the stand moved inexorably forward without either side having the advantage.
Desperately Kenny tried every trick at his command, without avail. Back and forth surged the gasping, ragged, tattered lines of men, battling in those last few minutes as if their very lives, and more, depended on their efforts.
The vast throng of spectators were thrilled into silence so absolute that it seemed almost as if they had ceased breathing, as they bent forward with staring eyes riveted on the field, oblivious to all else but the struggle taking place before them.
There were but four minutes left when the quarter back suddenly ripped out a signal and snatched the ball from Baulsir. This time he did not pass it, but darted toward the left end. Tempest sprang forward and swung in beside him; the left tackle and end interfered strenuously as the crimson line plunged forward.
Kenny ran as he had never run before, and Tempest kept pace with him barely a few feet away. In an instant they had cleared the opposing guard and tackle, running free with only the full back and left half in the way.
Kenny thrilled with joy and exultation. His chance had come. Tempest would take care of the half back, and, somehow, he could manage to get past the other. He would make a goal and win the game. Thus his self-respect would be restored and reparation made for his amazing folly.
But swiftly on the heels of this thought came another. What of Tempest? If he made goal the fellows would think that he had been right all along and the captain wrong. Would that be the sort of reparation he had wished to make? Would it be the really generous thing to do? There was but a second in which to answer the question, for the half back was almost upon them.
Kenny stumbled suddenly, and uttered a sharp, stifled cry.
“Quick, Don!” he gasped. “Take it!”
Tempest was not slow. Without hesitating an instant, he caught the pigskin skillfully and sped on; Kenny recovered himself with amazing swiftness and lunged toward the Harvard half. A moment later they rolled to the ground together, while the man with the ball flew on toward the beckoning goal posts.
By the time the quarter back had staggered to his feet Tempest had passed the full back. An instant later he crossed the line and pandemonium broke loose.
Kenny felt a lump in his throat as he heard Tempest’s name hurled across the field in great crashes of sound which thrilled him to the very core. It might have been his own, but he did not care.
“I’m glad I did it,” he muttered. “It was the decent thing to do.”
Then he remembered that he ought to limp a little to account for his stumble, and promptly developed a very realistic lameness, which lasted until they were going back to the track house, surrounded by a yelling, shouting, capering mob of fellows, who had poured out of the stands and presently insisted on hoisting every one of the players up on their shoulders and carrying them on their way in triumph.
Tempest headed the procession, and it was his name which sounded most frequently from the mouths of the triumphant marching throngs. The quarter back would have been more than human had he not felt a momentary longing to be in the captain’s place, but he quickly smothered it.
“I’m glad!” he muttered emphatically—he might have shouted the words aloud and no one would have heard him. “I’d do it again, too. I’ve been dirty mean to Don, but this sort of squares us up.”
Reaching the track house, he slipped lightly to the ground and started to go inside.
All at once he felt a hand on his shoulder, and, turning swiftly, looked into Dick Merriwell’s eyes.
“That was a clever pass, Jack,” the latter said quietly. “Did you hurt your ankle much?”
Kenny flushed and dropped his eyes.
“Not very,” he returned, in a low tone. “I—I stumbled, and—er—er——”
“I thought it couldn’t be very bad,” Merriwell put in quickly. “You seem to have gotten over it pretty soon.”
“It wasn’t so very bad,” the quarter back answered. “But I didn’t want to run any chances, so I passed the ball to Don.”
There was a momentary pause, during which the slim fellow seemed to find an absorbing interest in arranging with his foot three loose pebbles in a triangle.
“You old bluffer!” Merriwell exclaimed suddenly.
With a gasp, Kenny raised his head and looked straight into Dick’s eyes, which were watching him with an expression of satisfaction and perfect friendship.
“Wh-what do you mean?” the quarter back faltered weakly.
“Just what I say,” retorted Dick.
He threw one arm over Kenny’s shoulder and smiled.
“You’re an old bluff!” he repeated. “There wasn’t an earthly thing the matter with you out there. You stumbled on purpose to give Don the ball and let him make the goal. It was a corking thing to do, Jack, and not one fellow in a thousand could have brought himself to it. Didn’t you start out with the idea of making it yourself?”
Kenny nodded slowly.
“Yes,” he said, in a low tone.
“But you saw your chance, and you’ll never regret it,” Dick went on softly. “You’ve evened up the score with Tempest now, and the fellows will never have a chance to say that you were right and he was wrong. It was generous, Jack, and I’m proud of you.”
A keen sense of pleasure and satisfaction thrilled Kenny to the heart. Suddenly he looked anxiously at Merriwell.
“You won’t tell Don?” he questioned hastily.
“Not I!” laughed Dick.
His arm still about the quarter back’s shoulder, he turned, and together they disappeared into the track house.
“Frank Merriwell’s Tact,” is the next title, by Burt L. Standish, No. 193 of the Merriwell Series. It is an unusually good story.
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