Dick Merriwell’s Backers
WELL WORTH FIGHTING FOR
BURT L. STANDISH
Author of the famous Merriwell Stories.
STREET & SMITH CORPORATION
79–89 Seventh Avenue, New York
By STREET & SMITH
Dick Merriwell’s Backers
(Printed in the U. S. A.)
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian.
DICK MERRIWELL’S BACKERS.
LACK OF CONFIDENCE.
At the beginning of the sixth inning, Sam Kates went into the box against the Tufts freshmen. The score then stood seven to one, in favor of Yale Umpty-ten. Tufts had shown no ability to connect with Dick Merriwell’s shoots and benders. This was the opportunity to give Sam a good try-out, and so, at Dick’s suggestion, he changed places with Kates, who had been playing first.
At the opening of the game, Tufts had professed a hilarious confidence in its ability to hit Merriwell, but within a short time this confidence oozed away, and the game was proving tiresomely one-sided and monotonous when Yale changed pitchers.
Immediately Tufts braced up and took heart. Kates was nervous, and the visitors seemed to know it. They whooped and barked joyously as the first man to face Sam lined out a sizzling two-bagger.
“Never mind that, Kates,” came reassuringly from Dick. “Those things will happen occasionally. They can’t all do it.”
Nevertheless Kates realized that he was trying to fill the position just vacated by one vastly his superior, and he also knew the Yale men who had been cheering lustily in the stand were aware of the same fact. This placed him at a disadvantage, for he was extremely anxious, and a pitcher who gets anxious in the box is almost sure to be an easy mark for the opposing batters. Kates, under the manly influence of Dick Merriwell, 6had broken away from former undesirable associations and was now putting forth his best efforts to redeem his past mistakes.
The following Tufts man pounded a long fly into the outfield. The ball was caught, but the runner on second advanced to third after the catch.
“It’s all right,” again assured Dick. “They haven’t scored, Sam.”
But, unfortunately, the team had even less confidence in Kates than he had in himself. Therefore, they were likewise anxious, and this anxiety caused Claxton, at second, to let a warm grounder get through him.
The little band of Tufts rooters yelled wildly as another tally was chalked down for their side.
“Keep after him! keep after him!” whooped a coacher, as the next batter pranced out to the pan. “Got him going!”
“We’ll put the blanket on him in a minute,” came from the other coacher. “Knock his eye out, Tompkins!”
Tompkins responded by slamming a hot one into right field, where Bouncer Bigelow fell all over himself, and lost the ball until another run had been credited to the visitors and Tompkins had third safely within his clutch.
“Not your fault, Kates,” said Dick, as the wretched pitcher cast him an appealing glance. “Nobody can blame you.”
Blessed Jones, captain of the team, rushed part way in from left field and called to his players to steady down.
On the bench Robinson, the manager, was fidgeting ponderously, and muttering to himself that Merriwell would have to go back on the slab.
Dick walked out into the diamond, and many 7thought that he was going to change places with Kates once more. Instead of doing so, he placed a hand on Sam’s shoulder and spoke to him in low tones.
“Don’t get worried now because of those errors behind you. They’ve made one clean hit off you, and that’s all. This sort of a thing is likely to happen to any one. It might have happened to me.”
“But I don’t believe it,” muttered Kates. “They won’t back me up, Merriwell, old man.”
“They’ll learn to back you up before the season’s over.”
“Not if I throw away the first game in which I’m given a chance to pitch.”
“But you’re not throwing it away. Don’t look round, Kates. That fellow on third is going to try to steal home. He thinks neither of us sees him. He’s edging off. Now—nail him!”
Kates whirled like a flash, and found the runner well off third, balanced on his toes, and ready to make a sprint for the plate.
With a snap Sam sent the ball to Otis Fitch, who had covered the sack behind the runner’s back.
Nipped just in time, the Tufts man tried to plunge headlong back to third, but Fitch clutched the ball and nailed it onto him.
“You’re out!” shouted the umpire.
This piece of work caused the Yale men to cheer, while the Tufts lad who had been caught in his own attempt to work a bit of craft walked in to the bench shaking his hanging head.
“Rotten! rotten!” snapped one of the coachers. “Why don’t you keep your eyes open? Why don’t you do your sleeping nights? You can’t afford to get dopy on bases.”
“But everybody hits! everybody hits!” came from the coacher at the other side of the field. “We’ll keep 8right on. We’ll pound him off the rubber just the same.”
But, somehow, Sam’s nervousness had disappeared beneath the effect of Merriwell’s touch and words. Having caught the runner in this manner, Kates grew cool and collected, and the next man up promptly bit at two twisters that he did not touch.
“Now you’re pitching, old fellow,” laughed Dick. “The poor boy can’t see the ball. He’s yours, Sam—he’s yours. Eat him up!”
Kates had a huge drop, and this was the next ball he used. As he delivered it, however, he pretended it had slipped from his fingers, and he yelled for Buckhart to “look out.” The batter thought the ball too high, and made no move to swing. The sphere shot down in an astonishing manner and crossed the batter’s chest.
“Three strikes—out!” announced the umpire.
The deceived hitter stood as if dazed for a moment, and then savagely hurled his bat to the ground. Once more the Yale stand cheered, and Merriwell walked in to the bench with Kates, congratulating him with sincere pleasure.
“You’ve got to do your best work to-day, Sam,” said Dick. “You’ve got to prove yourself. I need you. Toleman won’t come out. He’s still sulking. I can’t do all the pitching. The games are coming too thick.”
“It wasn’t wholly my fault, was it, Merriwell?” asked Kates.
“Certainly not. Still, you’d better not kick about your support, for that gets the fellows sore. They know what they did, and they feel as rotten about it as any one can. You’ll hold Tufts down after this.”
“But if you see they’re going to win the game, Dick, you must go onto the slab again. You’ll do this, won’t you?”
9“If you don’t get the idea into your head that it’s necessary, I believe I won’t have to pitch another ball to-day.”
“But if it is necessary——”
“Oh, I won’t see them win the game if I can help it, you may be sure of that.”
The Tufts pitcher, who had improved as the game advanced, now seemed to be at his best, and Yale could do little with his delivery.
Not until the first of the eighth did anything more of a sensational nature occur. In the eighth Tufts got a batter to first by an error, and then Kates had the misfortune to hit the next man. The third batter lifted a long fly into center field, where Spratt made a disgraceful muff and lost sight of the ball. While Jack was spluttering to himself and pawing around wildly in the grass, all three of the Tufts men romped over the sacks and raced across the pan.
There was now great excitement, for Tufts needed only one more run to tie the game.
Kates gave Dick a questioning look.
“No fault of yours,” came once more from Merriwell.
“But they won’t support me, they won’t support me!” muttered Sam, in a disheartened manner.
The uproar was so great that Dick could not hear these words, although he read them plainly by the movement of Sam’s lips. Again he trotted out into the diamond, and once more the spectators fancied it was his intention to resume pitching.
“Don’t you quit, Kates,” was what he said. “If you do, they’ll never give you any backing. Pitch as if your life depended on it, but keep cool—keep cool and use your head.”
There was an audible groan as Dick was seen returning to first.
10The next Tufts man batted a slow grounder at Tucker, who juggled the ball a moment and then made a disgustingly bad throw to first. Dick was forced to leave the sack and leap into the air to get the ball, and the hitter crossed the hassock in safety.
With no one out, Tufts’ prospects of tying the score were bright indeed.
“Look out for a bunt, Sam,” warned Dick, who believed the visitors would try to sacrifice.
The infielders crept in toward the plate, and poised themselves on their toes, every muscle taut.
The intention of the enemy had not been miscalculated. The bunt came, and the runner on first reached second while Kates got the ball and “killed” the batter at first.
But now a fine single properly placed would be almost sure to give the enemy the coveted run to make the score a tie.
More than that, the next hitter was one of the cleverest batsmen on the visiting team. Kates used all his art and skill on the man, but finally the fellow smashed the ball, driving it on a line toward right field.
Dick was playing ten or twelve feet into the diamond. He made an electrified leap, shot out his right hand, and pulled the liner down. The moment his feet touched the ground he was ready to throw to second, but he made sure that Claxton would get the ball. The runner on second had started for third, but he stopped and nearly broke himself in two in an effort to get back.
He was a second too late, and the double play put something of a dampener on Tufts’ elation.
Kates heaved a great sigh of relief, and something like a sickly smile of joy passed over his face.
This was what he needed to put him once more at his best, for he struck out the man who followed.
A HEART-BREAKING FINISH.
But Kates’ troubles were not over. Yale did nothing with the Tufts twirler in the eighth, and Tufts opened the ninth with another two-sack bingle that made the Yale crowd feel sick.
Some one yelled for Merriwell. Kates again cast a questioning glance toward Dick.
“If we pull him out,” Dick thought, “he’ll have no further backbone for pitching.”
Jones started in from the field. Divining the intention of Blessed, Dick hurriedly waved him back.
Buckhart looked disgusted, and shook his head.
“Reckon my pard wants to throw this game away,” he muttered to himself. “We’ll lose it if we let Kates stay on the rubber.”
But Kates stayed. Aware that Dick still had confidence in him, Sam forced the following Tufts man to put up an easy infield fly, which was captured by Tucker.
“All we want is a clean hit, Stroud!” cried a Tufts coacher. “You’re the boy to do it!”
Stroud was a dangerous man with the stick, and the spectators hung poised on a point of painful suspense.
Four times Stroud fouled. Then Sam twisted one round his neck, and he missed cleanly.
“That’s the way! that’s the way!” laughed Dick. “Now it’s all right! That lively lad will pass away on second.”
With two strikes and only one ball called by the umpire, it began to seem as if Kates would mow down the last Tufts batter. But the fellow picked out a corner-cutter and raised it far into left field.
12“All over!” shouted some one. “Jonesy has it.”
Jonesy thought he had it, but as the ball settled it took one of those exasperating curves which are troublesome to handle, and Blessed merely touched it with the fingers of one upthrust hand.
Before the dismayed Yale captain could get the ball back into the diamond the score was tied, and Tufts had another runner on third.
“We’ve got this game—we’ve got it!” barked a coacher. “They’ll never get away from us now!”
“Everybody knew what would happen,” cried a voice. “The game was lost when they changed pitchers.”
Strangely enough, Kates was no longer downcast and lacking in confidence. He told himself that any person with good baseball judgment must know he was not responsible for what had happened. He did not cast any further questioning looks toward first, but placed himself on the rubber, ready to pitch at his best as long as they would let him remain there.
His best proved good enough to fan the next Tufts man, and Yale came to bat in the last of the ninth with the tally tied.
“We’ll do ’em up in the next inning,” announced the Tufts captain, who seemed confident that there would be an extra inning.
It quickly began to look as if there would be such an inning, for the first two Yale batters went out, one on a fly and the other on an easy grounder into the diamond.
Then came a bad error for Tufts. Spratt, who batted ahead of Kates, bumped a bounder toward third, and reached first on an infielder’s fumble.
For an instant Kates seemed benumbed as he realized he was the next person to hit. A strange silence had settled over the field, and Sam fancied he could 13feel the eyes of every spectator fixed upon him as he stepped out, bat in hand.
As if from a great distance he seemed to hear some one say:
“Perhaps he’ll win his own game.”
“If he only could!” said another; but there was only doubt in the words and the voice.
Kates glanced toward Spratt, and a signal told him that the desperate fellow on first would try to steal. To assist Jack, Sam swung wildly at the first ball pitched, although he was careful not to hit it.
Spratt’s thin legs carried him down the line to second with deceptive speed, and a beautiful slide landed him safely on the sack a second before he was tagged.
“Safe!” shouted the umpire.
Spratt leaped up, dusting his clothes and grinning.
“You’re dud-dud-dreadfully slow,” he observed mockingly to the second baseman.
“Oh, never mind,” was the retort. “You won’t go any farther.”
“Th-think so?” said Jack.
“Bub-bub-bet you on it. Kates is gug-going to biff it.”
Sam heard those words. Here, at least, seemed to be one person besides Merriwell who had confidence in him.
“I will biff it!” he decided.
He made good in a way that brought the Yale men up standing. Bat and ball cracked together, and the ball was laced into the field halfway between right and center.
Tucker, on the coaching line near third, waved his arms frantically and shrieked until he was purple in the face as Spratt came straddling on. Jack’s teeth were gleaming, his hands clenched, and his eyes bulging 14out of his head. As he crossed third the breath whistled from his nostrils with a sound that reminded one of a racehorse coming under the wire.
A fielder had the ball. He whipped it to the second baseman. The second baseman turned and lined it to the catcher.
“Slide!” shrieked Tucker and many others.
Spratt flung himself headlong, as if making a dive. Along the ground he scooted in a manner that seemed to proclaim the dry soil greased at that particular point.
Plunk!—the ball landed in the catcher’s mitt. Down he ducked and planted it between Spratt’s shoulders.
But Jack had both hands on the plate, and the umpire yelled: “Safe!”
To Dick Merriwell’s unspeakable satisfaction, Sam Kates had really won his own game.
A SURPRISE FOR DICK.
In the dressing room there was a jabber of youthful voices as the players got into their street clothes. Kates was feeling pretty well, for the fellows who had made errors behind him, one and all, had come forward and offered congratulations over his work, at the same time blaming themselves for repeatedly putting him into a bad hole.
Casper Steele, in a motoring suit, appeared and expressed his appreciation of the hair-lifting game he had witnessed.
“I was really losing interest when you went out of the box, Merriwell, old man!” laughed Casper. “That finish was a heart-breaker, though. How long before you and your friends will be ready to start for Meadwold?”
“On my word,” said Dick, “I’d forgotten about your invitation.”
“But you can go?” questioned Steele anxiously. “You said you’d let me know if you couldn’t get away, and I haven’t heard a word from you.”
“It’s all right, I can go.”
“How about Claxton and Buckhart?”
“They will come along. It’s all fixed.”
“Good! A day off to-morrow will be to the benefit of all of you.”
“How about Tucker?” asked Dick, in a low tone. “I don’t like to go away and leave him to himself for even a day. I’ve taken the liberty of asking him if he’ll join us, providing you don’t object.”
“Now, look here, old man,” said Steele, “didn’t I tell you this was to be your party? Didn’t I tell you to invite any one you wished?”
“I meant it. It’s to be a little housewarming, you know. The gov’nor will have a party of his own down there next week. Just now he has some sort of a business deal on that is keeping him mighty busy. I have my car here, and I’ll take you and your chosen friends to pick up your dunnage. It’s forty miles to Meadwold, and it will be dark before we get there, anyhow.”
“It was mighty fine of you to plan this little outing, Steele,” said Dick.
“Well, I hope you and your friends enjoy yourselves, and I think you will.”
Meadwold was the name given to a large country estate purchased the previous year by Peyton Steele, Casper’s father. Steele was a man who loved the country and country life, and it was his intention to make this newly acquired property an ideal summer home for his occupancy. The old farm buildings had been renovated and enlarged. Broad verandas had been built. A fine stable was put up, and the place was stocked with blooded horses and choice cattle. A complete corps of servants had been installed at Meadwold, and everything was ready for the housewarming.
Blessed Jones had been invited to become one of the party, but had solemnly expressed it as his duty to remain in town and look after those ball players who needed watching. He now came up, with a sad and doleful expression on his face.
“Methinks thou wilt have a high old time, brothers,” he said. “But look here, Steele, you want to remember that these fellows are under training-table regulations. Don’t gorge them with ice cream and cake and such disastrous delicacies.”
“Leave that to me,” said Dick. “We’ll behave, 17Jones. Don’t be afraid. Too bad you don’t feel that you ought to come.”
“It is too bad,” nodded Steele. “I’d enjoy having you.”
“Without doubt,” said Blessed. “I would add immensely to the gayety of the aggregation. I’m generally about as funny as a funeral.”
Tucker was pleased when he learned beyond doubt that he was to be one of the party. Steele took them in his car, and soon they were at the curb in front of the lodging house on York Street.
“I’ll get my things and come back here,” said Rob Claxton, as he sprang from the car.
Thirty minutes later the big touring car was bearing them out of the city.
“It’ll certainly be fine to get out into the country, where we can gambol with the little lambkins,” laughed Tucker. “I need it. My! but wasn’t that a lovely throw I made to you, Dick? I had a spasm when I realized what I’d done. Didn’t think you’d ever touch it, but you raked her in with one paw. Say, how long is your arm? I swear you reached eleven feet into the air for that ball!”
“Please don’t talk about errors, suh,” entreated Claxton. “I’d like to forget that awful mess I made.”
“Kates sure pitched a good game,” observed Buckhart. “But there was one time I thought he had gone to the bowwows.”
“That game reminds me of the last one I played in before coming to college,” said Tucker. “The finish was just about as sensational. We had the other fellows going up to the seventh inning, when they got after our pitcher and bumped him. In the ninth inning they needed one run to tie, and two to win, and they had the bases filled. It was their last turn to bat, and two men were out. I was playing center 18field. Up came the heaviest batter on their team, and he slammed a long fly out into my garden. The ground out there was awfully soft in spots, and when I started for that fly one of my feet got stuck in a hole so that I couldn’t pull it out to save my neck. There was the ball coming down just about six feet beyond my reach, and me held fast by one hoof. I tell you it was awful. Perspiration literally started out on my face in drops as big as gooseberries. But I got the ball.”
“How did you do it, suh?” asked Claxton curiously.
“Why, you see, I just stooped down, cut my shoe laces, pulled my foot out of my shoe, made a lunge, and grabbed the ball.”
“Remarkable!” breathed Rob. “Cut your shoe laces, did you?”
“Do you usually carry a knife around in your baseball suit?”
“Oh, no,” confessed Tommy, looking a bit confused. “I didn’t cut my laces with a knife.”
“What did you cut them with, if you don’t mind telling?”
“With a blade of grass, of course,” snorted Tucker.
Merriwell, Buckhart, and Steele laughed, and, after a moment, Claxton joined in.
“That’ll about do for you, Tommy,” said Dick. “Don’t tell us any more such wonderful yarns. We can’t quite digest them.”
New Haven was now left behind, and the car was humming smoothly over the road. The boys had brought along their heavy coats, and, therefore, were quite comfortable, although it was growing cool as the sun sank in the west. A beautiful sunset filled them all with admiration and delight. The ride in that 19big, easy car was calculated to soothe their overstrained nerves after the excitement of the game.
“Strange,” said Claxton, “I didn’t see Miss Ditson or Miss Midhurst at the game. They usually attend. Were they there, Dick?”
“I didn’t see them myself,” confessed Merriwell.
“Nor I,” said Buckhart. “I reckon they were not there.”
No one observed the faint smile that flitted across the face of Casper Steele as he bent over the steering wheel.
“I fancy you’re right,” he said. “I looked around at the crowd in the stand, and I saw nothing of those girls.”
The sun had vanished, and purple shadows were spreading in the east. They stopped to light the lamps, and then bowled on again. Night enfolded them softly, and the bright glare of the lamps grew more and more effective as the darkness increased.
“We’re getting near Meadwold,” Steele finally announced.
A few moments later they swung in at a gate with high stone posts, and followed a private road that wound between long lines of gnarled old trees.
“We’ll see the lights in a minute,” said Casper.
Surmounting a little rise, they beheld before them the gleam of many lights, and Steele told them that was Meadwold.
“Gee whiz!” piped Tucker. “They’ve certainly illuminated gorgeously for our arrival.”
“I have a party of friends there who are expecting us,” was Casper’s surprising announcement.
He now pressed the pedal, and the Gabriel horn sang sweetly through the spring night.
“That will tell them we’re coming,” he laughed. “They’ll be on the veranda to welcome us.”
20And now the boys discovered that the veranda and the trees in the immediate vicinity of the house were hung with hundreds of Japanese lanterns.
As they swung up the fine road to the front of the house they heard a chorus of youthful voices, and forth from the wide front door came swarming a merry band of boys and girls. There were fully thirty of them, and they crowded to the steps, waving their handkerchiefs and laughingly crying welcome.
“Great horn spoon!” muttered Brad Buckhart. “What are we up against?”
But Dick was speechless, for there, in the mellow light of the many lanterns, standing in front of all the others, her hands outstretched to him, was the one girl he knew best in all the world—June Arlington!
A HEARTY WELCOME.
“Welcome, welcome to Meadwold!” cried the merry voices.
Dick’s eyes swam in a happy, wondering mist. At that moment he feared it was all a dream from which he would quickly awaken. This vision of June—June, radiant and flushed, and more beautiful than ever—could not be other than a dream.
“Dick—Dick, don’t you know me? Dick, aren’t you glad to see me?”
It was her voice. He would have known it had it reached his ears in the heart of darkest Africa. This was no dream; it was a grand, joyous reality. The next instant he was on the steps, both her warm hands clasped in his.
“June, June!” he murmured ecstatically. “June, is it possible? Can it be I’m really awake and this is you?”
“Kiss her! kiss her! kiss her!” shouted a chorus of voices.
June, red as a fresh-blown peony, her voice trembling with excitement, her eyes gleaming like twin stars, answered his questions.
“Of course it is I, and, of course, you’re wide awake.”
“No, he isn’t,” piped another voice, that sounded strangely familiar. “If he was wide awake, he would never pass up an opportunity like that.”
“How is it possible that I find you here?” asked Dick.
“Chester will explain.”
22“Present,” laughed a bronzed youth, stepping quickly down and placing an affectionate hand on Dick’s shoulder. “How are you, Merriwell, old man? On my soul, I’m quivering with delight over seeing you again. Give us a grip at that man’s hand of yours.”
This was June’s brother, who wrung Dick’s hand with all the hearty regard and affection of his soul.
“My head is humming,” laughed the bewildered boy. “I thought you were in Wellsburg, June; and you, Chester—I thought you somewhere away out in the wild and woolly.”
“I’ve shed my chaps, had my hair cut, hung up the riata, and come back to civilization,” said Arlington. “But I don’t suppose we ought to monopolize him, June. He has other friends who are anxious to get at him.”
While June and Chet turned to Brad Buckhart, Dick shook hands with Jack Randall, of Harvard.
“Quite a lively little party this of yours,” smiled the handsome Harvard man.
“Mine?” said Dick. “Why, Steele got up this party.”
“But we all understand it’s for your benefit and entertainment. Here are Barbara and Mabel.”
And now Dick understood why he had not seen Bab Midhurst and Mabel Ditson at the baseball game that afternoon.
“It’s a conspiracy!” he cried. “I have been deceived, and I’m glad of it.”
“I brought another friend of yours along with me,” said Randall. “Where is he? He should have been among the first to attack you.”
“Like the modest, shrinking little violet that I am,” said the voice that had declared Dick was not wide awake when he shook hands with June, “I am content 23to bloom low amid the other gorgeous flowers of this fair garden. Therefore, I am easily overlooked. Hello, Dick! Give us the high wigwag.”
“Dale Sparkfair, you handsome rascal!” cried Merriwell, getting a good hold on the speaker’s hand.
Sparkfair it was, jolly, jovial, scintillating as ever.
“You see, I’m always loth to thrust myself forward, Dick,” said Spark. “I’ve been suppressed and sat on so much since butting into Harvard that my natural timidness and reticence has increased a thousandfold.”
“Suppressed? Sat on?” laughed Randall. “If ever there was a freshman who could not be suppressed and sat on, this fresh freshman is the one. Why, he’s had all Cambridge standing on its head the biggest part of the time since he landed there. A dozen times he’s turned the old place over to look at the bottom side of it. He has more friends and enemies to the square yard than any man at Harvard who is not a senior or a big gun in athletics.”
“Fie! fie!” remonstrated Dale. “I fear much that you will give people a false impression by the careless trippling of your tongue. Trippling is good. I think I’ll copyright it. I’m great at coining words. That’s about the only kind of coin I can get hold of lately.”
Introductions followed, Dick presenting his Yale friends to those friends of his he had unexpectedly found at Meadwold. All were then made acquainted with the young people, youths, and maids who belonged to Casper Steele’s particular set. At the very beginning of these introductions, in a cautious whisper, Sparkfair warned Dick not to exhaust his supply of “hot-air compliments” too quickly, as there were lots of pretty girls in the party, and he would need a liberal supply to go round.
Steele had turned the touring car over to his mechanician, 24who was awaiting the arrival at Meadwold. He now led the way into the renovated house, and the chattering guests flocked after him.
Casper’s mother was there, standing just inside the door and smiling on them all. She gave her hand to Dick and his friends as her son presented her. There were also two other middle-aged ladies who were present as chaperons.
“I’m very glad to meet Dick Merriwell,” said Mrs. Steele. “You won’t mind if I call you Dick, will you? You see, I’ve heard Casper call you that so often that it’s most natural for me.”
“I am genuinely complimented to know that you wish to call me by my Christian name, Mrs. Steele,” he bowed.
“You must make yourself at home—you and your friends. I hope you all have a pleasant time at Meadwold.”
“That is assured already, madam. I’ve had one of the most delightful surprises of my life.”
Steele took Dick, Brad, Rob, and Tommy upstairs to the room they were to occupy.
“You see, we’re a bit crowded,” he explained. “There are two beds here and a bath adjoining. I think you’ll be comfortable.”
“Comfortable!” said the Texan, looking around. “Great horn spoon, I should say so! Why, this is great for a man who has found comfort sleeping in a blanket, with his boots for his pillow and the ground for his bed.”
“Well, I’m certainly glad I came,” said Tucker. “Isn’t it great, boys?”
“It reminds me of hospitality in old Virginia, gentlemen,” came from Claxton. “I didn’t suppose they had anything like it in your cold and reserved North.”
“Oh, we’re not as cold and reserved as we seem, 25once you get under our skins,” chuckled Steele. “Take your time to wash up, fellows. Come down when you get ready. I fancy we’ll have dinner very soon now.”
“A great chap, that Steele,” murmured Tommy, as the door closed behind Casper. “And to think he didn’t get through college—it’s a shame. But then, he has so much money that he doesn’t need a college education to help him spend it.”
“And that’s one of the brightest remarks I ever heard you make, Tucker,” laughed Dick.
“Listen!” exclaimed Buckhart. “I sure hear music! On my word, they’ve got an orchestra.”
It was true, for the soft strains of an orchestra floated up to their ears from some part of the house.
“Steele is certainly doing the thing up brown,” chuckled Tucker. “Go ahead, Dick, and make your ablutions. You’re the one in this bunch who’s most wanted down below. The rest of us won’t be missed if we’re slower in reappearing.”
Dick pulled off his coat, rolled back his cuffs, and disappeared into the bathroom.
“No flies on this party, eh?” grinned Tucker. “Everybody agreeable and congenial.”
Buckhart shrugged his shoulders.
“With one exception, possibly,” he muttered, not wishing Dick to hear. “Chester Arlington might have improved the party had he remained away. He was Dick’s bitterest enemy at Fardale, and I can’t easily forget the dirty tricks in which he was concerned. My pard seems to think the fellow has reformed, but I’m far from satisfied on that point. I doubt if any one as rotten as Arlington has been ever wholly reformed. However, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he shows the cloven hoof again. If he does that, I’ll certain feel like lighting on him all spraddled out. You hear me softly warble!”
The dinner was a grand success. Two long tables had been placed end to end, and around these tables gathered the light-hearted guests, skillfully seated in such a way that each youth found a congenial and charming girl at his elbow.
Of course, June was at Dick’s side. For the time being, Mrs. Steele and the two elderly ladies had withdrawn, and there was no one present to cast the lightest restraint on the innocent mirth of the gathering. Waiters were numerous, silent, and attentive, and the courses came on in a manner that would have done credit to a first-class hotel. Somewhere in a near-by room the orchestra discoursed appropriate music. Beneath the softened lights the china, cutglass, and silverware gleamed, and the girls, flushed with pleasurable excitement, seemed the fairest to be found in all the land.
“Of course, I’m ready to explode with curiosity, June,” said Dick, under cover of the chatter that rose about them.
“I suppose you are,” she laughed tantalizingly, giving him a look with those splendid eyes of hers that shot him through with the old-time thrill.
“But you don’t seem in any hurry to satisfy that curiosity. Don’t tantalize me, June. How did it happen?”
“Your brother brought my brother back with him to Wellsburg when he returned from the West.”
“Yes, I know; but Wellsburg is a long distance from Meadwold. It’s mysterious. I didn’t suppose Casper Steele knew you, yet I find you here at his father’s country home.”
27“My father knows Mr. Payton Steele very well.”
“I see a faint ray.”
“They have often had business relations. At present father is carrying through a business deal in company with Mr. Steele. To do this he had to come on here, and, when he found he was coming, both Chester and myself begged him to bring us along. That’s the explanation, Dick. We met Casper Steele, and as soon as he found out we were your friends he began to plan this surprise party for you.”
“And I never suspected a thing.”
From the head of the table Steele laughed at Dick.
“I was afraid you might get a suspicion of it,” he said, having caught Merriwell’s words.
“I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to get even with you, old chap,” said Dick. “But perhaps I’ll find a way some time.”
Near the foot of the long table sat Mabel Ditson, with Brad Buckhart on her right and Rob Claxton on her left. She was dividing her favors between them, and both seemed satisfied. Her position was a delicate one, and it required art and cleverness to balance her smiles and words so that neither should fancy the other to be the one most favored. Sparkfair was chatting in his airy manner with a beautiful girl by the name of Agnes Locke. Nevertheless, it seemed that he occasionally cast faintly regretful glances in the direction of June and Dick.
Jack Randall talked confidentially with Barbara, and, save Dick himself, it was possible no one present knew their exact relations. Suddenly Steele rose to his feet.
“A toast!” he proposed.
“A toast! a toast!” cried all.
Casper lifted a glass.
“We’ll drink it in water, the favorite beverage of the one to whom it will be given.”
28They all rose, each with an uplifted glass of water. There was a hush, and, with a grave smile, Casper turned his eyes on the lad at June Arlington’s side.
“Here’s to Dick Merriwell,” he said. “Here’s to his friends and his foes; may his friends never falter in their loyalty, and may his foes soon realize their folly and become his friends.”
“Splendid! splendid!” was the cry as they drank the toast.
Dick thanked Casper in a clever little speech, his face flushed and his heart warmed by it all. It was Randall who proposed the next toast.
“Here’s to Yale,” he bowed; “Yale, Harvard’s beloved rival. May the blue ever flutter high above all other colors save the crimson.”
“I’ll have to attach an amendment to that,” laughed Dick. “May the best team win, and, if it does, the blue has no fear of finding itself looking up to the crimson.”
“You wait until your freshman baseball team goes against our freshies!” cried Randall. “You know we have a slab wizard by the name of Sparkfair.”
“Keep it dark, keep it dark!” came in a hoarse whisper from Dale. “Don’t put the enemy wise. Let him march unsuspecting to the slaughter.”
“I think I’ll have to tell how I happened to bring Spark with me to Meadwold,” he said, as the entire party was again seated.
“I can’t bear to have you tell,” objected Dale.
“This reckless young blade,” said Jack, “has injected himself into all sorts of trouble since descending on Cambridge. He seems to enjoy trouble with a keen and fiendish enjoyment. The rackets he has been in would fill a three-volume novel. Repeatedly he has escaped disasters by a hair’s breadth. His last escapade 29proved rather more serious than the others. He stole a cinnamon bear.”
“Tut, tut!” remonstrated Sparkfair. “State the facts, Randall—the bear conceived an overweening affection for me, and insisted on following me like a dog.”
“Insisted on following you after you had fed him a two-pound box of chocolates and bon-bons,” said Jack. “It was this way: An Italian organ grinder brought a tame dancing bear into town. The dago did a lively business around Harvard Square, for the bear was really amusing, and the students coughed up their spare coins to see him do his stunts. Some time in mid-afternoon the bear’s master tied him to a tree on Massachusetts Avenue, and went into a restaurant for something to eat. About this time Sparkfair hove upon the horizon and espied bruin. Dale had purchased an extravagant amount of candy for some one of his numerous lady loves. He took a notion to offer the bear a chocolate drop, and bruin keenly appreciated the favor. For some time Spark continued to deal out confectionery to the beast, and with each fresh chocolate or bon-bon the bear’s liking for Dale increased by leaps and bounds. Just how bruin’s chain came unhitched from the tree I’m unable to say. At any rate, when Spark started to depart the cinnamon waddled after him.”
“It was a frightful moment,” put in Dale. “Imagine my sensation of horror when I realized that I was being pursued by a real bear. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded so much if it had been one of those Teddy things that they sell at a toy store, but this was the real stuff, with genuine hair on it. It had claws and teeth, too. At first I was tempted to fly for my life, but I didn’t know just how fast that bear could sprint, and, therefore, I was afraid to make a start. In order 30to appease the monster I opened up my second box of sweets and handed him out a few more chocolates.”
“That’s right,” chuckled Randall. “Behold Sparkfair, in your mind, backing down Mt. Auburn Street with the bear sniffing along after him and licking its chops for more chocolates. It seems that Spark has a sophomore friend whom he greatly admires that rooms in Claverly. This sophomore’s name is Coakley. Up to date I believe he and Spark have practiced the manly art of self-defense on each other at least four times. Coakley has lost one of his front teeth, and for a week or so Sparkfair was proudly displaying a beautiful black eye. Well, what do you think Spark did? When he reached Claverly he proceeded to decoy that bear into the building and upstairs to Coakley’s room. It happened that Coakley was out, but his door was unlocked. Spark got the bear inside, and then heartlessly abandoned the poor beast.”
“Not until I had fed him the last bon-bon in that two-pound lot,” sighed Spark, with amusing dolefulness. “I know a girl who went hungry for candy that night.”
“Coakley returned to his room in the dusk of early evening,” Randall continued. “He walked right in, without anticipating the welcome he was to receive. The bear was asleep on Coakley’s best Turkish rug. I don’t think Coakley saw him. At any rate, he fell over bruin, who rose with a grunt of disapproval. A moment later other fellows in Claverly were horrified by the most fearsome, heart-rending scream of terror that ever smote mortal ears. Coakley yelled murder and made a scramble to get away from the bear. Evidently bruin fancied his friend with the candied delicacies had returned, for he tried to embrace Coakley. As I room in Claverly myself, I happened to see the finish. Coakley ripped open his door and came gasping 31and tumbling into the hall. A furry figure lumbered after him. Coakley slid downstairs, and the bear imitated his example. Confused and terrified, Coakley made the mistake of dashing into the swimming room. Bruin kept close at his heels until, with a last despairing howl of anguish, Coakley plunged headlong into the tank. The bear sat down on the edge and grinned with pleasure as he watched Coakley splashing and blowing about in the water. I think Coakley was in that tank something like three quarters of an hour before some one brought the bear’s master, who took bruin away.
“Unfortunately, some one saw Sparkfair decoying the bear into Claverly. Coakley has sworn vengeance. An investigation is threatened. There is a tinge of blood on the moon in Cambridge. I thought it would be best for Spark to get away for a couple of days, and therefore I’ve inflicted him on this otherwise respectable party.”
After dinner music and merriment resounded through the many rooms of Meadwold. The guests were free to go wherever they chose, and all seemed to feel perfectly at home. A little group had gathered around a girl who was seated at the piano, and Jack Randall led in the familiar songs of old Harvard, being joined by both boys and girls in the choruses.
One of the servants found Casper Steele and spoke a low word to him. Steele left the room, and was absent a few minutes. Returning, he sought for Sparkfair, whom he found chatting in his airiest manner with Agnes Locke, who was holding her own with him in the way of persiflage.
Begging the girl’s pardon, Casper drew Spark aside.
“There’s a friend of yours in the next room, Sparkfair,” he said. “He’s just arrived, and seems very anxious to see you.”
“That’s natural,” said Dale. “My friends can’t bear to be separated from me. It breaks their hearts. Did he send in his autograph?”
“He told me to tell you that he was a classmate from Cambridge.”
“I will flee to him on the wings of the morning—no, I mean the wings of the evening. It’s too late for this morning, and too early for to-morrow morning. But say, old man, don’t let any giddy youth get away with my find, Miss Locke. We’ve been flinging bon mots and chunks of scintillating conversation at each other, and at the present time she has me pretty nearly backed off the map. After holding converse with my friend from Cambridge I’m going out into the 33cool night air and think up a few neat ones to spring on Miss Locke.”
Spark danced into the adjoining room, but stopped as if shot when his eyes fell on the new arrival. This was a fellow about Dale’s age, with restless black eyes, an unnaturally pale face, and startlingly red lips. He was dressed in a spring suit of the latest cut and most popular style. He wore a bright red necktie.
“Hanks!” breathed Spark, in astonishment.
“That’s me,” nodded the other.
For a single moment Sparkfair had seemed staggered. He recovered quickly, and assumed his usual air of nonchalance.
“Aren’t you lost, strayed, or stolen, Hanksy?” he inquired.
“Oh, I guess not,” was the answer, with a touch of insolence in both manner and tone; “but I was afraid you might become lost if I didn’t take pains to look you up.”
“It was distressingly kind of you, Hanksy.”
“Cut out the Hanksy. You can’t afford to be too flip with me just now.”
“I can’t afford much of anything since the squeezing you gave me,” confessed Spark. “My dear fellow, you’re certainly destined to become a millionaire, or a stone breaker in an institution for people who are too eager to acquire sudden wealth.”
“None of that,” advised Hanks. “It doesn’t sound well from a chap who was caught in a piece of gumshoe work that would have done credit to a second-story man. You can’t throw any stones, Mr. Dale Sparkfair. If you do, you’re liable to get a few of your own windows broken. I don’t wonder that you ducked out of Cambridge in a hurry, but you made a mistake in thinking you could get away without settling with yours truly, Jimmy Hanks.”
34“Didn’t you see Hunnewell after I left?”
Hanks permitted his red lips to curve contemptuously.
“I’m not making any settlement through a third party. I propose to do business with you direct, my boy. Hunnewell chased me round, but I declined to enter into dealings with him. I found out where you had gone, and decided to take a little vacation myself, and look you up. I am here. Now, take my advice and be good. Unless you do, your goose is cooked at Harvard.”
“Why don’t you find an elevated platform somewhere and tell people about it?” chirped Dale. “Hadn’t you better hire a hall?”
“If you don’t want your friends here to hear any of our conversation, you might step outside with me.”
“I’d like to step outside. I’d like to see you in some quiet, secluded spot where I could put a few dents in your face, Hanks!”
“If you want to try that on, you have my permission, but you know what will follow. I have the proofs, Sparkfair—I have witnesses. You were caught with the goods. I’m not choosing this as the proper place to discuss the matter. If you wish to maintain secrecy, there’s a fine veranda and a broad lawn outdoors.”
“This is no time to talk of such things,” protested Dale, doing his best to hide the annoyance and exasperation which threatened to get the upper hand. “If you wish to see me to-morrow——”
“But I don’t. To-morrow I return to Cambridge. We’ll come to an understanding to-night. If not, you’ll be a fool if you ever again show your head at Harvard.”
“As long as you’re so urgent,” smiled Spark, “I suppose I’ll have to give you a modicum of my valuable 35time. Toddle along, Hanksy, and I will follow your lead.”
A couple who happened to be standing on the veranda saw them come out of the house and stroll away on the lawn, chatting freely in a way that was deceptive in its seeming friendliness. It happened, also, that Jack Randall had seen them leave the house, and had recognized the fellow with Sparkfair.
“What the dickens does that mean?” muttered Randall. “That was Hanks. Where did he come from, and what is he doing here?”
Jack was tempted to follow them, but finally decided not to do so. Some twenty minutes later Sparkfair reappeared in the house and sought Jack, whom he drew apart from the others.
“Randall, old man,” said Dale, “I’d like to borrow a little filthy lucre. Have you some molding simoleons in your clothes?”
“What do you want of money?”
“Now, that’s not nice, you know. If a friend asks you for a loan you should submit gracefully and without question to the holdup. I’m sure to pay you if I ever raise the dough. If I don’t, you may rest assured that you have performed a worthy action in contributing to the peace of mind of a distressed comrade.”
“You can’t spend any money here, Spark. How do you expect to get rid of it?”
“I’m going to plug up a rat hole with it. I’ve got to plug that hole, or the rat will eat my cheese. Now, don’t—don’t distress me by further inquiry. Don’t you observe the beads of cold and clammy perspiration upon my noble brow? Can’t you detect the haunting terror in my eye with fine frenzy rolling?”
“I know what you want with the money.”
36“Tell me not in mournful numbers that this can be true.”
“I saw Jim Hanks.”
“Yes, I’m on. Where is he?”
“Lingering near, like the vulture awaiting the feast.”
“He’s under this roof?”
“I expect the shingles of Meadwold shelter him at this moment.”
“The dishonest crook, he ought to be kicked out! I’ll see that he is kicked out at once.”
But Dale grasped Randall’s arm.
“Be not too hasty in your violent resentment against this pernicious person,” implored Spark. “You can’t kick him to-night, Randy, without hitting me. He has me nailed to the wall, and it’s useless to squirm.”
“Are you going to let that blackmailer squeeze money out of you?” indignantly demanded Randall. “I wouldn’t do it.”
“If I refuse, he’ll proclaim to the world my iniquities. I can’t stand for that to-night, Jack. I’ve got to choke him off, and there’s only one way to do it. For goodness’ sake, let me have a paltry one hundred dollars.”
“So he demands a hundred, does he? He’s modest!”
“Modesty is no name for it,” grinned Dale, still endeavoring to be cheerful.
“And this is only the beginning, Sparkfair. If you give in to him now, he’ll suck you dry. You’ll have to pay hush money to that fellow whenever he demands it. You’ll become his slave.”
“Unless I find some way to trip him. All I want is a little time, Randall, and I’ll find a way. In order to get time, I’ve got to hoist the white flag at present. You know where I’d stand if this fellow should tell a 37few things in the presence of the assembled merrymakers. I can get rid of him at once by forking over the sum he demands. If you don’t help me out, I shall have to give Merriwell the touch, and perhaps he hasn’t that amount in his jeans.”
“It certainly galls me to see you stand for blackmail, Sparkfair.”
“It can’t gall you any worse than it does me, but when a fellow’s guilty he has to cough if the blackmailer puts on the screws. Let’s not procrastinate. I want to hasten Hanks forth into the coolness of the outer air. The knowledge that he is beneath this roof hangs over me like a fog.”
“Do you think he’ll go if he gets the money?”
“He says he will.”
“I wouldn’t do this for any one else, Sparkfair. I haven’t the money in my pocket, but I’ll get it for you.”
“Thanks, a thousand thanks,” said Dale. “I’m so deeply moved that I fear I may fall on your bosom and weep. I won’t forget it, Randall. On my word, I won’t. I’m going to get a twist on Hanks if I live, and I’ll find a way to squirm out of his grip. While I’m planning such a coup I’ll have to soothe him with the long green. I’ll tell him he shall have it directly, but don’t be too long in providing the needful, old man.”
“Don’t worry. If he thinks he’s going to get a hundred, he’ll keep his face closed.”
Randall turned away, while Dale once more sought Hanks.
BEHIND THE PALMS.
Ensconced behind some palms, Dick and June were enjoying a delightful chat. They had a hundred things to tell each other, and June was vainly trying to tell it all at once. From their nook they could see Buckhart happily occupied with Mabel Ditson, and apparently satisfied for the time being that he had stolen a lap on Claxton. Chester Arlington seemed to be a favorite with the girls, and he appeared happiest with several of them near.
“Don’t you think my brother is looking well, Dick?” asked June.
“Never saw him looking finer in my life,” was the answer. “The West must have done him good.”
“Oh, I know it did, but Chester says he owes all the benefit he has received to your brother Frank. He has told me of the most wonderful adventures in company with Frank. You know he was seriously wounded down in Mexico. A bullet grazed his skull, and he was out of his mind for some time. Frank took care of him and brought him back to Wellsburg. Chester has been training in Frank’s athletic school, and I feel confident now that he’s finally succeeded in breaking away from his old bad habits.”
“I sincerely hope he has.”
“He says you, Dick, were the one who started him on the right road that summer, up in the Blue Hills. Oh, that summer in the Blue Hills! I’ll never forget it!”
“Nor I,” said Dick. “It was jolly and strenuous and exciting enough to satisfy the most adventurous tastes. How is Madge Morgan?”
39“I knew you’d ask. That was almost the first question Dale Sparkfair had for me. Madge is fine. She’s attending school in Bloomfield, you know. We have rooms together. Oh, she’s a splendid girl, Dick. She’s so kind and thoughtful toward her poor old blind father. He’s there living quietly in a home provided for him by some good people. Madge sees him almost every day. She’s the only person he has to live for now, and I know his one fear is that he will lose her somehow. That fear is groundless, though. She’ll never be parted from him in the world.”
“Not if I understand her as I think I do,” nodded Dick.
“Wasn’t it the greatest fortune that Chester and I succeeded in inducing father to let us come on with him? We planned to surprise you in New Haven, but when we met Casper Steele, and he found we knew you so well, he made arrangements for this surprise party.”
“A surprise it was,” laughed Dick. “The greatest surprise and the most delightful one of my life. Why, I really thought I must be dreaming when we stopped at the door and I saw you there on the steps. I wish you could have seen yourself beneath the light of those Japanese lanterns, June. I used to think you pretty, but I declare when I saw you to-night you looked a thousand times——”
“Now stop—please stop!” she protested, quickly placing a soft palm over his lips. “Don’t try to flatter me like that, Dick.”
“The truth may never be called flattery. I had the queerest feeling as I stared at you. I don’t wonder Sparkfair said I was asleep.”
“But you weren’t, were you?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Dick. “I’m afraid I was. I’m almost afraid I’m still slumbering.”
40“Then you’d better wake up,” laughed the girl.
“I will!” he suddenly exclaimed, and, screened by the palms, he kissed her.
She caught her breath with a little gasp.
“If that’s the way you wake up, hadn’t you better go to sleep again?” she said.
“I don’t think so, for that is the realization of my dreams, June.”
They both tingled with an unspeakable, undefinable pleasure that was wholly innocent and harmless. Tommy Tucker, with a tall, dark-haired girl, peered in upon them.
“Peekaboo!” cried Tommy. “Caught you. Say, Dick, what makes you monopolize the only secluded retreat there is in this room? Can’t you give a fellow a show?”
“Mr. Tucker!” exclaimed the tall brunette reprovingly.
“Call me Tommy, Janette—please call me Tommy,” pleaded the little chap. “And don’t for the love of decorum hitch Mister onto my name. I have to stop and think who you mean when you do. Nobody ever calls me Mister. All my friends insult me by calling me ‘Runt’ and ‘Shaver’ and ‘Sawed-off,’ and offensive names like that. I’ve threatened vengeance on them a thousand times, but it doesn’t seem to frighten them a bit. I wish I was seven feet tall.”
“There’s a chap in Chicago, Tommy, who advertises to increase a person’s height from an inch to two inches,” said Dick.
“Well, if I can’t put on more than an inch or two,” declared Tucker, “I’ll let myself remain a sawed-off. What’s the good of stretching one’s self for a paltry inch of stature? Say, Dick, won’t you give me the signal when you decide to move? I have a secret which I wish to whisper in the shell-like ear of Janette. 41It can’t be told where the morbidly curious would be liable to overhear a word.”
“We’ll move at once,” laughed Dick.
“Don’t permit Mr. Tucker to disturb you,” said Janette. “I think his secret will keep a while.”
“Ah, cruel maiden!” cried Tommy dramatically. “Would you keep the pent-up emotion of my heart burning itself out with a lambent flame? Gee, but that was a good one! Wonder how I happened to think of it? I can’t always trace these brilliant ideas which occasionally flash from the bubbling fountain of my intelligence. They’re really going, Janette. Let’s rest. Let’s ensconce ourselves. Let’s modestly retire from the public gaze.”
But the tall brunette was obdurate, and Tommy could not inveigle her behind the palms.
“I must look like a dangerous devil,” said Tucker fiercely. “Never saw a girl that wasn’t scared to death to get out of sight with me for ten seconds.”
“I’ll give you a pointer,” smiled Janette. “Don’t let them know you’re so dreadfully anxious to get out of sight with them.”
“Never thought of that,” confessed the little chap. “Say, Janette, let’s stand under the chandelier a while. I’m awfully timid, you know. I wouldn’t go behind those palms for the world.”
Then, in a mock whisper, he murmured to himself:
“I wonder if it will work?”
“Oh, you’re the silliest little chap!” exclaimed the amused girl. “I suppose, now, you expect me to seize you bodily and drag you behind the palms. You’ve got a lot to learn, Tommy.”
“Bless you! bless you!” panted Tucker, beaming with gratitude. “You didn’t say mister.”
Again he resorted to an aside in a hoarse stage whisper:
42“I’ve got her coming. She’s mine if I don’t make a misstep.”
Janette began to laugh, and her merriment increased until she almost gasped for breath. Indeed, she seemed to lose her strength to such an extent that Tucker hurried to offer his support, and a moment later they found themselves on the secluded seat behind the palms.
Two of the rooms of the old house had been converted into one, which was now the dance room of Meadwold. This was thrown open, and the alluring strains of the orchestra brought the young people flocking to the polished floor. Having left Mabel Ditson for a moment, Buckhart hastened to look for her at the first strains of the dreamy waltz, and was filled with consternation on discovering her just whirling onto the floor with Claxton. Some one touched Brad on the arm as he stood glowering after the lucky Virginian.
“Don’t give yourself away like that,” said the voice of Barbara Midhurst. “Why, you look ready to eat some one up.”
“I see a gent from Virginia that I feel it my solemn duty to assassinate,” growled the Westerner.
“Is Mabel Ditson the only girl here?”
“She is sure the only one for me,” admitted Brad.
“Haven’t you any finesse?”
“I don’t know. Down in Texas we don’t run to that a great deal.”
“I gave you credit for more artfulness, Brad. The first time you met Mabel you were on your guard, and you upset all her preconceived notions of you. Don’t spoil it all to-night. You can’t keep her to yourself every minute of the time.”
“I notice my pard is hanging onto June Arlington right solid. There they are waltzing together.”
“But he hasn’t seen her for a long time. It’s different with you and Mabel. Now, look at Jack and me. Where is he? I haven’t the remotest idea. Brad 44Buckhart, if you don’t dance with me I shall be a wall flower. You’re going to dance.”
“I reckon I am,” said Brad submissively. “I hope you can stand for it.”
“Why, you’re really a splendid waltzer,” said Bab, after they had swept once round the floor. “Somehow, I didn’t fancy you were.”
“That’s it,” he muttered, “and I’ll bet Mabel thought the same. If that’s the case, I won’t trouble her. I’ll dance with somebody else.”
“You are the most jealous, touchy person I ever saw, Brad Buckhart. Why, you’re worse than the Virginian you dislike so much.”
“I don’t dislike him, begging your pardon. I thought I did once, but I guess he’s all right in his way. We don’t tie to each other a whole lot, but there’s no longer any hard feelings. We have planted the tomahawk. If Mabel likes him better than she does me, she sure can have him as much as she wants.”
Dale Sparkfair and Agnes Locke swung past them. Spark was laughing and chattering as if he had not a care in the world. Certainly, trouble sat lightly on the shoulders of this irresponsible fellow. Nevertheless, Spark caught his breath on passing the wide door of the dance room and discovering Jim Hanks standing there, hands in pockets, serenely following Dale with his dark eyes.
Jack Randall appeared in the door a few moments later. At the conclusion of the waltz Sparkfair excused himself and joined Randall. They moved way. Hanks leisurely turning to watch them.
“Here’s the money,” said Randall, slipping the roll into Dale’s hand. “Get that fellow out of here.”
“I’ll chase him out with great alacrity and unspeakable glee,” said Dale. “Leave it to me.”
45But when he signalled for Hanks to follow him the intruder seemed utterly oblivious to his meaning. Dale was compelled to walk up to Hanks and speak to him in a low tone. This was precisely what Hanks wanted.
“Oh,” he said, “here you are, Spark, old chap, Didn’t know what had become of you.”
“I noticed that,” scoffed Dale. “You were looking right at me, but you didn’t see me. If you want to close that business, just stroll outside for a moment.”
Chester Arlington, having abandoned cigarettes, had wandered out onto the veranda to whiff a cigar. Lighting the weed, he was tempted to stroll down across the lawn, and finally seated himself in a shrub-sheltered arbor. Two minutes later two persons stopped near this arbor. They were Sparkfair and Hanks.
“So you succeeded in raising the wind, did you?” chuckled the latter.
“Yes, I succeeded in raising the wind,” answered Dale, “and, having done so, I expect you to fan the wind with your heels. Your room is much preferable to your company.”
“But I’m enjoying myself,” chuckled Hanks. “It’s really a jolly little party. I wouldn’t mind staying and joining the gay throng.”
“But you won’t,” said Dale, with a grimness in his voice. “Having blackmailed me to the tune of a hundred, you’ll promptly hit the high places.”
“But I haven’t seen the hundred yet.”
“Here it is.”
The word blackmail had caused Chester to check himself in the act of coughing, to give them notice that he was sitting near. He now listened with great interest, peering forth at the dark figures to be seen behind the shrubbery.
“It feels like the real stuff,” laughed Hanks, with satisfaction. “Are you certain it’s an even hundred?”
46“I didn’t count it.”
“Then I think I will.”
Hanks struck a match and held it with one hand while he thumbed over the money with his other hand.
“Four twenties, a ten, and two fives,” he said triumphantly. “That’s quite right, Spark, old chap. It looks like good money, too. I need it in my business, you know.”
“I don’t know why you should, for you’ve certainly fleeced enough greenhorns to be good and flush. I caught you at your crooked game and exposed you.”
“You did make something of a fuss,” acknowledged Hanks, as he dropped the expiring match. “You seemed to have me on the hip just then, but a little later you made a bad mess for yourself. Of course, I shall stand by my agreement and say nothing about that. I’ll likewise keep silent the two friends who were with me when we caught you sacking my room.”
“When you caught me trying to recover some of my goods which you had beaten me out of,” said Dale hotly.
“Were the watch and the ring we found on you goods of yours?” sneered Hanks. “If I remember right, the watch bore my monogram, and I think I can prove that I bought the ring with my own money.”
“With the money you had cheated your victims out of.”
“You were doing a little fine burglar work, Spark. You can’t deny that.”
“I took that watch and ring with the idea of holding them until I could force you to give up my property.”
“That’s a nice little excuse, Sparkfair, but it happened that several other fellows who had never obtained any of your property recently lost valuable articles from their rooms. It was believed that the thief 47was a college man, and it was freely stated that he would be expelled and punished if detected. You know well enough what is coming to you if I ever tell or permit my friends to tell how you were caught.”
“I’ll not take the pains to deny that I am the suspected thief,” said Dale. “I have hopes that the real thief will be found.”
“That’s a pretty little bluff,” sneered Hanks, “but it doesn’t go with me. Now, don’t get excited. Don’t make any fighting talk. You won’t fight, because you don’t dare.”
“Not at present,” acknowledged Dale. “But my time will come. I’m going back to the house.”
“And I’ll go with you.”
“Go with me? You agreed to leave the moment I gave you that money! Aren’t you going to keep that agreement?”
“I meant to keep it when I made it,” said Hanks. “But since then I’ve changed my mind. I’m going back to the house with you, and you’ll introduce me to your friends. I think I shall enjoy myself very much.”
“On my word, I’ll wear stripes before I’ll ever introduce you to any of my friends!” flared Dale, as he whirled and strode away.
“We’ll see about that,” muttered Hanks, following promptly. “I think another twist of the screws will bring you to terms.”
ARLINGTON TAKES A HAND.
Arlington rose and stepped out from behind the shrubbery, standing where he could watch the two figures passing beneath the glow of the many Japanese lanterns. He saw Sparkfair mount the steps and enter the house without once turning his head toward the chap who kept so close at his heels. Hanks brazenly followed, and likewise disappeared beyond the hospitable door of Meadwold.
“Well,” said Chet, taking his cigar from his lips and tapping it to knock off the ashes, “my friend Spark seems to have gotten himself into a deuce of a mess. Reminds me of myself in the old days. I was always getting into some sort of a scrape like that. I sympathize with him, hanged if I don’t! Spark is a jolly good fellow. He is reckless and regardless of consequences, and that’s the way I used to be. Used to be? Perhaps I haven’t fully gotten over it yet. I’m hoping I have, but one never can tell. If deviltry is in the blood, it’s liable to break out any old time. Evidently this blackmailer has Sparkfair dead to rights. He caught Dale in a position that makes Spark look like a sneak thief. He’s got Spark going, and he’s bound to squeeze him good and hard. I think I’ll have to take a little interest in Mr. Hanks.
“I think I’ll have to see what I can do for my friend. From what I overheard it’s evident that Hanks is something of a card sharp. I should say he has been skinning Sparkfair and other fellows at Harvard. Probably he thinks he’s too clever to make a slip and be exposed in his crookedness, although Sparkfair claims to have caught him. It’s likely Spark couldn’t prove 49his claim that Hanks was cheating. I’ve been up against card sharps all over the country, and I think I know their tricks. Although I should prefer to forget it, I’ve practiced a few tricks myself. Really, I’d enjoy a nice, sociable little game with Mr. Hanks. I’d enjoy having him try some of his slick tricks on me. Yes, I have decided that I’ll cultivate the acquaintance of Hanks.”
Flinging away his partly smoked cigar, Chester returned to the house. The music of a two-step and the rhythmical sound of gliding feet came from the ballroom. Arlington slowly sauntered in that direction, keeping his eyes open for Hanks. He found the fellow just inside the door, watching the dancers. Without hesitation, Chester spoke to him.
“Hello,” said Chet, “you don’t seem to be dancing.”
Hanks showed some surprise in being addressed in this manner.
“No, I’m not dancing,” he answered. “You see, I’m a late arrival here, and I haven’t met many of the young ladies.”
“Then you weren’t at dinner? Somehow, I didn’t remember seeing you.”
“No. I missed the spread. By Jove! that’s a peach of a pretty girl!”
“The one my friend Sparkfair is dancing with. Do you know her?”
Chester’s eyes found Dale and his partner in the moving throng upon the floor.
“Oh, yes, I know her,” he answered.
“What’s her name?”
“Well, that’s a pretty name. On my word, she’s the queen to-night. I’d like to meet her.”
50“You bet I would!”
“Perhaps your friend Sparkfair will give you an introduction?”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he confessed. “You see, Spark and I have lately been mixed up in an unfortunate tiff. Of course, it doesn’t amount to anything, but he might be narrow and refuse to give me a knockdown to that girl.”
“Have you any other particular friends here this evening?” asked Chet.
“Well, there’s Randall—I know him. He’s a Harvard man. I’m a Harvard man, you understand. I suppose you’re an Eli?”
“Not yet. I expect to enter Yale next fall.”
“Well, say, couldn’t you put me next to that stunning girl with the dark eyes?”
“I might if we were better acquainted,” said Chester. “Let’s go up to the smoking room and have a little chat. There’s plenty of time to dance later. Come on, old man.”
He passed his arm through that of Hanks, and led the fellow away. They mounted the stairs and entered the smoking room, where they found one of Casper Steele’s chums, Fred Harmford, enjoying a cigarette. Harmford was the only fellow in the smoking room.
“Hello, Arlington!” called Fred. “Going to smoke? Have a coffin nail out of my collection.”
He proffered his cigarettes.
“No, thank you,” smiled Chester. “I’ve cut those things out. I prefer cigars when I smoke now, and I’m careful not to hit them up too hard. Getting back into form, you understand. Expect to enter Yale in the fall, and I’m going in for athletics.”
51By this time he had found Steele’s well-filled cigar urn, and offered it to his new companion.
“Excuse me,” said Hanks, as he took a cigar, “did I get your name right when that fellow spoke to you? Is your name Arlington?”
“I believe it is.”
“Any relation to the beautiful girl with the glorious dark eyes?”
“Oh, by Jove! this is one on me!” laughed Hanks. “Here I was asking you if you knew her! Say, a fellow with a sister like that ought to feel proud enough to blow up. I think she’s the handsomest girl I ever set eyes on.”
“You’re quite extravagant in your admiration,” said Chester, waving Hanks to a comfortable chair, although he felt like punching him in the eye. “Sit down, old fellow. But first hadn’t you better shake hands with Mr. Harmford? Harmford, this is Mr. Hanks, of Harvard.”
They made themselves comfortable before the faintly glowing embers on the hearth of the open fireplace. The music, softened and subdued by distance, floated faintly to their ears.
“How does it happen you’re not dancing, Harmford?” inquired Chet.
“Don’t care much for dancing—never did. I prefer some less strenuous form of amusement. Now, if some one would only start up a set at bridge.”
“Or poker,” laughed Arlington. “That’s the game for genuine amusement.”
Hanks had pricked up his ears, and was showing the greatest interest.
“Poker is a good game,” he said. “A man’s game.”
“Do you play?” asked Chester.
“Oh, occasionally—just for amusement, you know.”
52“I understand. Of course, we all play just for amusement. We don’t play to stick our friends, or anything of that sort. If we had a crowd, and were certain of no intrusion, I’d like to play a little game now. Would you come in, Harmford?”
“If the limit was made reasonable, I might sit in for a short time.”
“Well, here’s three of us,” said Chet. “That’s better than no crowd at all. Of course, it isn’t as good a game as more would make, but it will do. None of the girls will come here, and I don’t think we need to mind about the fellows.”
“Steele might object,” said Harmford apprehensively. “I wouldn’t think of starting a game without his permission.”
“Well, you and Hanks make yourselves comfortable and sociable while I look for Casper,” said Chester. “Perhaps he’ll join us.”
“Doubt it,” said Harmford. “He’s too much interested in a certain young lady. I don’t think he would venture to leave her long enough to play poker.”
Arlington left the room, but returned within ten minutes, bringing a fancy poker set, with a full supply of chips and several packs of cards.
“You were right about Steele, Harmford,” he said. “Casper said he couldn’t think of taking a hand. Said he would have to keep around with the guests, as it wouldn’t look well if he secluded himself for an hour or more. He was perfectly willing we should enjoy a little game here in the smoking room as long as we do not pull away enough of the fellows to leave any of the girls pining for partners. You know there are several fellows more than girls in the party. Now, let’s decline to take any one else into the game. Let’s make it a little exclusive, three-cornered go. We’ll play 53for exactly an hour, and then we’ll quit. That’s long enough.”
While speaking he had pushed a card table into position beneath the softened glow of some electric lights. The trio gathered round that table and settled down for the game.
A HOT OPENING.
“What’s the limit?” asked Harmford. “What sort of a game are we going to play?”
“What would you suggest?” inquired Hank.
“Five-cent ante and quarter limit is good enough for me.”
“Tut! tut! tut!” cried Hank. “That’s a piker’s game. You can’t play poker with that sort of a limit. If you attempt to make a bluff, everybody’ll call you for a quarter. If you open a pot, everybody’ll stay in on short pairs. Isn’t that right, Arlington?”
“I’ve noticed,” answered Chester, “that a fellow generally loses as much with a five-cent ante and a quarter limit as he does with the same ante and a dollar limit—that is, if he knows how to play poker. The dollar limit really makes it a good game.”
“Whew!” whistled Harmford; “that’s pretty near the roof for me. Let me see, I don’t believe I’ve got more than twenty-five or thirty dollars in my clothes.”
“That’s good while it lasts,” grinned Hanks.
“Then it’s settled as a dollar limit, is it?” said Chet. “We’ll call the blue chips a dollar, the reds a quarter, and the whites a nickel. I’ll be the banker. We’ll take ten dollars’ worth of chips, each of us, to begin with.”
“Better take enough,” suggested Hanks. “Ten dollars’ worth wouldn’t last a fellow long if he happened to get a good hand and found himself bucking against some one else. Why don’t we take twenty-five dollars’ worth to start with?”
“As much as you choose,” said Chester, “only it’s understood that the chips are paid for when I hand them out. There’ll be no credit business done by the banker this evening.”
55“And if the banker loses I suppose we’re to have some assurance that he also will make good,” said Hanks.
“I’ll do precisely as you do,” assured Chester. “I’ll pay for my chips and put the money in the card box when I take them.”
“Well, that’s all right,” said Hanks, producing his roll. “Here’s a yellow-backed twenty and a fiver.”
“Gee whiz!” grunted Harmford, as he reluctantly counted out twenty-five dollars. “This is plunging for a little game to pass away the time. I’m liable to get skinned to the bone.”
“If you get broke,” said Chester, “I’ll loan you money.”
“That is, if you don’t get busted, too,” grinned Hanks. “Of course, that’s not likely to happen, but still, in a three-handed game I’ve noticed that, as a rule, one man is the winner and the other two are the losers. I hope it’s my evening to win.”
He was skillfully rippling the cards as he spoke. Having done this, he placed them on the table for the cut.
“Lowest deals,” he said, “and ace is low.”
“Then I think I’ll deal,” laughed Harmford, turning up an ace.
He was right, and the game began, Arlington putting up the first ante.
“Now let them dance their heads off,” said Chester. “I’m better satisfied right here.”
Hanks stayed on the very first deal, shoving out two white chips, which raised Chet a nickel. Harmford glanced at his cards and followed the Harvard man’s example.
Arlington promptly made it a quarter.
“That’s interesting,” said Hanks. “Seems to me 56we all caught something right off the reel. Wonder if you could stand another quarter, Mr. Arlington?”
“You might try me and see,” said Chester.
“By Jove, I will!”
Hanks pushed two red chips into the pot.
“That lets me out,” said Harmford. “Can’t chase anything as hot as that on a pair of jacks.”
He threw down his cards and turned to Arlington, wondering what Chester would do. Chester pushed a blue chip into the pile.
“Do you make it a dollar?” inquired Hanks.
“My money talks,” nodded Chet.
“Well, you’re going some! But you’ve just begun. I’ll have to part with one of my blue babies, and I think I’ll send another one along to keep it company.”
“That’s a bit over the limit,” reminded Chester. “If you’ll pull down a couple of red ones, you’ll be right.”
“Oh, yes,” said Hanks, as he secured two red chips, “you’re correct, Arlington. I boost you an even dollar.”
“You must have something good,” observed Chet, with a faltering air.
“The show-down will tell whether I have or not. On my word, I hate to win the first pot, but I have to play these cards for all there is in them.”
“Don’t worry about taking the first pot,” said Chester. “You haven’t taken it yet, have you?”
“Well, I’ll just boost you another blue one.”
“Cæsar’s ghost!” exclaimed Harmford. “You fellows are plunging too sudden, aren’t you?”
“What’s the use to hold back when we have the right stuff to make a hot start?” chuckled Hanks, his eyes beginning to gleam with greed, although he tried to conceal the look beneath his bushy eyebrows. “I 57suppose I’m a fool, Arlington, but you’ve got my dander up. I’ll raise you.”
“And I’ll raise you.”
“And I’ll raise you.”
With each raise they pushed chips representing two dollars into the pot, and before cards were drawn the first twenty-five dollars’ worth of ivories had disappeared from the place in front of them. It was Arlington who finally quit boosting.
“Help! help!” gasped Harmford. “This is awful! This is the worst thing I ever saw! Thank goodness, I didn’t get into that mess!”
“Thank goodness I did,” laughed Hanks. “How many cards will you take, Arlington? Harmford is ready to hand them out.”
“You can give them to Hanks, old man,” said Chester. “I don’t think I need any.”
“Well, wouldn’t that bump you!” grinned the Harvard man. “Here I am in precisely the same fix. I don’t need a card.”
Then they stared at each other as if seeking to read an inkling of the truth in the expression of their faces.
One way in which a poker player seeks to judge the strength of an opponent’s hand is by the opponent’s draw. In this case neither Hanks nor Chet received any such hint.
The Harvard man produced his money, saying:
“I think I’ll have to have twenty-five dollars’ worth of chips, Arlington.”
Chester quietly counted them out, taking the proffered money and making change.
“I’ll have to have the same amount,” he nodded. “I’m bound to keep even with you.”
“Lock the door! lock the door!” palpitated Harmford. “Who’s armed? Who’s got a pistol? Let him give it up before there’s any further betting.”
58“I always carry a pistol,” laughed Hanks, “but I’ve never had occasion to use it. Certainly I can’t think it necessary now.”
Once more the betting was taken up, and not until fully fifty dollars had been put into the pot by each of them was a call made. At length, Chester announced that he was satisfied, and that he would call.
“A touch of cold feet?” murmured Hanks.
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m the one that’s got cold feet,” confessed Harmford. “On my word, my teeth are chattering. Do hurry up and show your hand.”
“Of course you may take it back,” said Hanks, still keeping his eyes on Chester. “You may go on betting if you wish to.”
“I’ve called,” nodded Chester grimly.
“How large is your straight?”
“I haven’t a straight.”
“Oh! Then how large is your flush?”
“I haven’t a flush.”
“Then it must be a full hand!” cried Hanks. “But I think my full house is good enough. Just take a look at it.”
He spread out three aces and a pair of queens.
“How does that look to you?” he inquired triumphantly.
“Pretty good,” nodded Chester. “How do these look to you?”
He lay down a king and four ten spots.
CAUGHT WITH THE GOODS.
Hanks stared at the cards displayed by Arlington, and then he swore.
“Where did you get them?” he finally demanded.
“Harmford dealt them to me.”
“And Harmford is a friend of yours!”
“No insinuation, I hope?” murmured Chester, an ugly flash in his eyes.
“Don’t you think it mighty strange you got a hand like that against this ace full of mine?” rasped Hanks.
“Well, it was rather odd,” admitted Chester. “But still, I must repeat that I hope you’re not insinuating. To begin with, I wish you to understand that Harmford is not a particular friend of mine. I met him for the first time in my life to-day at Meadwold. We have never played cards together before. If you’re not satisfied, Mr. Hanks——”
“I am!” snapped Hanks, picking up the cards and pushing them across the table. “The pot is yours, Arlington.”
“Thank you,” said Chester suavely, as he raked in the chips.
“Now give me fifty dollars’ worth of those chips,” said the defeated chap, as he flashed his money once more. “I want you to understand that I’m after you, Arlington. I’m going to even up for this devilish streak of yours.”
“Forewarned is forearmed,” laughed Chet, counting out the chips. “Here you are.”
“And here’s your money,” said Hanks, tossing it over.
“Why, I won’t dare breathe in this game,” murmured 60Harmford. “I certainly didn’t know what I was getting into.”
“If you want to get out,” said Hanks, “Mr. Arlington and I can continue alone.”
“Don’t get out, Harmford,” entreated Chester. “That would spoil the game. Mr. Hanks will feel better after he’s won a pot or two. He seems to be easily disturbed over a little matter like that.”
“I suppose you’ve seen plenty of games opened with hands just like those,” sneered Hanks. “If you have, you began playing with a cold deck. The cards were stacked.”
“You can’t mean such was the case in this game,” said Harmford, “for you shuffled the cards before we cut for deal.”
“I’m not making any claims whatever. Let’s forget it.”
Three or four hands were played without any further excitement. Harmford won two small pots, which put him slightly ahead. Hanks sat grimly glowering from beneath his shaggy eyebrows. He was biding his time, feeling determined to get back at Arlington by hook or by crook. Finally, on an interesting jack pot, all three players remained, Hanks having opened. Hanks won this pot with three kings, Harmford having three trays, and Arlington two pairs.
“That’s just a flea bite,” observed the Harvard man.
“Well, it leaves me about even,” said Harmford. “Guess I’ve got a couple of dollars of somebody’s money here, but that’s all.”
On Arlington’s next deal things happened. Harmford discovered three sixes in his hand and made a bet. Chester stayed in without taking up his cards. Hanks raised Harmford. Those three sixes looked good, and Fred came back with another raise.
By this time Arlington had examined his hand. He 61now added to the excitement by raising a blue chip. Hanks studied his hand a few moments.
“I think I’ll stay right with you people,” he observed. “I’ll have to see you.”
“But you don’t raise?” inquired Chester.
“Nor I,” said Harmford, making good.
Hanks took one card. Harmford took two, but failed to better his hand.
“I think one will be enough for me,” said Chester.
The card Chet drew would have improved Harmford’s hand, for it was the fourth six spot. It did not improve Arlington’s hand, for Chester already held four eight spots.
Harmford bet a dollar. Arlington raised a dollar. Hanks pushed out three blue ones. Harmford began to look disgusted.
“One or both of you fellows filled your hands,” he observed, glaring at the three sixes he held. “What’s the use for me to stick?”
“We may be bluffing,” grinned Hanks.
“If you’re both bluffing, I’ll let you fight it out between you!” snapped Harmford, flinging down his cards. As he tossed them on the board one of those cards was faced, but he quickly covered it with his hand and turned it down.
“It’s up to you, Mr. Arlington,” nodded Hanks.
“In that case I shall have to give you another boost,” said Chester.
They continued to raise each other until Hanks had exhausted his supply of chips. Plunging down into his pockets, he raked up all the money he possessed.
“Here’s twenty-two dollars,” he said. “Give me that amount in ivories. That’s my last dollar.”
“In such a case,” said Arlington, “I should advise 62you not to press the betting any further. You may need some money to-morrow.”
“Don’t worry about me,” said Hanks. “I have you beaten this time.”
Chester accepted the money and counted out the chips. While he was doing this Jack Randall and Casper Steele wandered into the room and paused near the table.
“How’s the game going?” inquired Steele.
“Too hot for me,” confessed Harmford. “I just dropped threes to let these two crazy chaps buck each other.”
“What threes did you hold?” inquired Casper, leaning over Harmford.
Harmford whispered the answer in Steele’s ear. Having secured more chips, Hanks resumed betting, quite unaware that Jack Randall stood directly behind him. Chester followed Hanks up until the fellow had pushed in his last chip and was compelled to call.
“I’d never call in the world if I could borrow some money,” he said. “I’ve got you beaten, Arlington, old fellow. You’re trimmed this time.”
“Can you beat four eights?” inquired Chester, as he spread out his hand.
“Easy,” laughed Hanks. “Here’s a beautiful straight flush. Just take a look at that dusky array of spades.”
The cards exposed by him were the three, four, five, six, and seven of spades.
“That looks pretty good,” said Chester; “but what card was it you picked up out of the discard?”
Instantly Hanks flew into a rage.
“What do you mean?” he snarled. “Do you accuse me of cheating?”
“I saw you steal a card from the discards,” declared Arlington grimly.
63“It’s a lie!” snarled Hanks fiercely. “It’s a trick to beat me, but I won’t stand for it! I’ve won that money fairly, and I’m going to have it!”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” exclaimed Harmford, who had just made a startling discovery. “Arlington holds four eight spots and a six, doesn’t he?”
“Yes,” nodded Hanks; “but I hold a straight flush, and that wins.”
“Wait,” repeated Harmford. “Let’s examine this pack. There must be too many cards in it.”
“Too many cards? What do you mean?”
“You have the six spot of spades in your hand.”
“What of it?”
“I started the betting on three sixes. When I quit I threw them into the discards. That makes it seem that there are five sixes in the pack, or, as Arlington claims, you secured one of mine from the discards.”
“Harmford just informed me,” said Steele, “that he had dropped three sixes. Let’s take a look at the discards, gentlemen. If there’s cheating here, we want to know it.”
In spite of himself, Hanks turned pale, for he realized that he was trapped. He sought to hide his dismay and alarm by a great amount of bluster, but Steele sternly commanded him to be silent. The discards were inspected, and only two six spots were discovered among them.
“That settles it,” said Steele, his eyes fastened on Hanks. “This fellow came here without invitation, and he has remained without invitation. He’s a card sharp and a cheat.”
“It isn’t true,” protested Hanks. “There’s a mistake somewhere.”
For the first time Jack Randall spoke.
“That’s right, Hanks,” he said. “There’s a mistake, and you made it. You tried your old trick of cheating, 64but you overstepped yourself. Gentlemen, this fellow is known at Harvard as a crook. He’s likewise a contemptible blackmailer. Shall we kick him out, Steele? I’d like the pleasure of booting him myself.”
“Let him get out as quietly as possible,” urged Casper. “We don’t wish to raise a disturbance. We don’t wish to alarm the girls.”
“You’re getting off mighty easy, Hanks,” said Randall. “Hereafter, I think you’ll find Cambridge a most disagreeable place for you. Perhaps you hadn’t better remain there longer than to pack up your belongings and depart quietly.”
Hanks had risen to his feet, and he faced Jack defiantly.
“I’ll go back to Cambridge and stay as long as I please,” he declared. “You can’t drive me out. If you try it, you know what will happen to your freshman friend, Mr. Sparkfair.”
“Do urge him to go hastily, Steele,” implored Randall, “for if he doesn’t, I’ll certainly have to kick him.”
Hanks was followed down the stairs by the entire party. His hat and coat were handed him at the door, and he passed out into the night without a dollar in his pocket and with rage and longing for revenge filling his heart.
RETURNING THE MONEY.
Chester found Sparkfair chatting with June.
“If you don’t mind, sis,” he laughed, “I’ll relieve you of this noisy insect. I’ll take him away and give your ears a rest.”
“You’re wonderfully cocksure about that,” said Dale. “Perhaps I’ll decline to be torn away. This is the first time I’ve been able to find June when she didn’t have Dick Merriwell hanging around her. If I leave her for ten seconds, he’ll swoop down on her again. I don’t know where he is this minute, but I’ll wager he’s watching his opportunity.”
“Perhaps he is with another girl now,” laughed Chester.
“I don’t believe it possible,” said Spark. “There are no other girls for him while June is near.”
“I’d like to see you just a minute or two on a matter of some importance,” said Chet. “June will wait for you.”
“Will you, June?” asked Spark anxiously.
“Oh, yes,” she laughed, “I’ll wait.”
When Arlington had drawn Sparkfair aside, he drew from his pocket a wad of money and began counting it.
“A fellow you know,” he murmured, “sent this money back to you by me.”
“Eh?” exclaimed Spark. “What is it, stage money?”
“Oh, no, it’s the real stuff. Here, I believe that is an even hundred. Take it.”
“You’ll have to enlighten me still further,” muttered Dale, as Arlington thrust the money into his grasp. “You have me a bit twisted, Chet.”
“Impossible! I haven’t had so much money of my own for months.”
“Tut! tut!” remonstrated Arlington. “I happen to know a thing or two. That’s the money you paid a fellow by the name of Hanks in order to keep his mouth closed.”
Sparkfair could not help looking startled.
“Hanks!” he exclaimed. “What do you know about him?”
“I know a great deal about him,” laughed Chet, “and I reckon he knows a few things about me. That’s the very money you coughed up to him. He decided to leave it with me before taking his departure from Meadwold.”
“Is he gone?” asked Spark anxiously.
“Gone. Skidooed. Faded away. Vamosed, as they say in the West. You’ll see no more of him this evening, at least.”
“For which relief I must confess I’m truly thankful,” said Spark. “But you’ve got me guessing, Chester. What do you know about any deal between Hanks and myself?”
Arlington was enjoying the mystification of his companion.
“I know Hanks is a crook and a card sharp,” he answered. “I know he has been cheating you at poker.”
“Hush!” said Dale. “Don’t speak so loud. If Merriwell should find it out——”
“Oh, I won’t blow on you, old fellow,” laughed Chester. “I’ve been there myself too many times. I can sympathize with you, my boy. I know how it feels to be skinned by a cheating poker player, but I haven’t experienced anything like that for some time. After passing through a few experiences, I decided to do 67the skinning myself. With that object in view I learned all the crooked tricks of the game, and since then I’ve had the satisfaction of stabbing several gentlemen who were trying to knife me. It’s disreputable business, Sparkfair. A man who gambles at cards will learn to cheat sooner or later. He has to do it or remain a sucker for the sharks to skin. You found out Jim Hanks was skinning you. It made you hot when you realized how you had been robbed. You had even put up your watch and some other valuables to raise money. Hanks had loaned you the money you wanted, and then won it back from you. When you found out he was dishonest, you boiled with indignation.”
“Boiled, sizzled, steamed, blew up,” said Dale.
“Precisely. You made up your mind that the valuables he had secured from you were still rightfully your property. You slipped into his room to see if you couldn’t find them. You didn’t find them, and this made you still hotter. You decided to take a few trinkets of his and hold them until he coughed up your own property. Unfortunately, Hank and a couple of friends dropped on you before you could get out of his room. They caught you with the goods. Now, Mr. Hanks has been blackmailing you. For some reason he’s short of money of late, and, therefore, he chased you down here, thinking it possible you might not return to college after that cinnamon-bear escapade, and feeling determined to get a last crack at you. He squeezed a hundred dollars out of you this evening under threat of exposing you before the company here. I’ve recovered that hundred, and you have it in your hand. That’s all.”
“No, it isn’t all,” said Dale. “How the dickens do you happen to know so much about this business?”
“I won’t keep you guessing any longer,” said Chet, 68and he told Sparkfair how it was he happened to know so much.
“But how did you get the money from him? How did you force him to give it up?”
“That was easy,” chuckled Chester. “Hanksy thinks himself clever at poker, but he has lots of tricks to learn. I’ve played the game from Fardale to Mexico. I’ve been up against all kinds of crooks, and I’ve learned some tricks never dreamed of by Hanksy. It didn’t hurt my conscience a bit to work some of those tricks on him this evening. I inveigled him into a little three-cornered game, Fred Harmford serving as the dummy most of the time. Most of the fighting was between Hanks and myself. Harmford broke about even. I had luck at the very start, for the first deal gave me a top hand over a full house by Hanks. This enabled me hastily to relieve him of about half the money you had handed over to him a short time before. That made him ugly.
“He was bound to get at me somehow, but he overstepped himself by stealing the six spot of spades from the discards. The stolen card gave him a straight flush against four eights held by me. But you see, Steele and Randall had dropped in on us, and I was able to prove that Hanks stole the card. That was his finish. He had bet his last red cent, and a few moments ago he was quietly escorted outside by Steele. He didn’t make any fuss about it, for he was afraid to do so. He’s gone, Sparkfair. You have the hush money he squeezed out of you, and you needn’t worry about being bothered by him again to-night. There’s June still waiting for you, and the orchestra is starting another waltz. So long, old chap. Enjoy yourself.”
Refusing to hear any words of thanks, Arlington turned away, and Dale hastened back to June.
In spite of herself, June could not help wondering what had become of Dick. After dancing again with Dale, she listened to his suggestion that they should stroll out onto the veranda. There were other couples outside, and, having paused near a corner, June’s keen ears detected the sound of a faint familiar voice. Dick was near at hand, speaking earnestly with a girl.
“You know you can trust me, Bab,” he was saying. “The secret is safe. Have I ever failed you?”
“No, Dick,” was the answer. “You’re a dear good fellow. Really. I feel like hugging you.”
June’s hand closed convulsively on Dale’s arm, and she turned away. Sparkfair had caught a bit of this conversation, which was not intended for their ears, and, strangely enough, instead of feeling elated, he was seized by a sudden paroxysm of indignation toward Merriwell.
“Why, confound him for a scoundrel!” thought Spark. “I didn’t think it of him. He’s got another girl on the string, and there’s a secret between them. If I get a good opportunity, I’ll have to give him my opinion of his conduct.”
“Let’s walk down across the lawn, Dale,” said June, suddenly anxious to get away from the house. “I don’t think I’ll dance any more to-night.”
For the first time in his life Sparkfair, usually glib of tongue, was at a loss for words. He felt awkward and embarrassed, and every moment it seemed that his indignation toward Merriwell increased.
“You should be careful, June,” he finally said. “You are very warm, and your dress is thin. You may catch cold. You may get pneumonia.”
70“I don’t care if I do!” she exclaimed bitterly. “Really, I think it would be fine to have pneumonia.”
“Oh, I say, June, that’s ridiculous. Now you’re talking like me. You’re just saying that to hear yourself say something.”
“I mean it, Dale. I’m never ill, anyhow. Nothing ever happens to me. Occasionally I get thin and ethereal, but that’s all.”
They sauntered past the shrubbery behind which Arlington had listened some time before to the words of Spark and Hanks. Once more some one was hidden behind that shrubbery. A pair of restless dark eyes peered out at Spark and the girl. A pair of very red lips softly whispered:
“It’s Sparkfair, and that’s Arlington’s sister with him. Curse Arlington! I’ll get even with him!”
Crouchingly, the fellow slipped to the shelter of another cluster of shrubbery. In this manner he followed the couple some distance. At last they paused and turned back toward the house. As they passed a thick rosebush a pantherish figure leaped onto Sparkfair’s back and hurled him fiercely to the ground.
Dale was stunned and rendered helpless. The assailant, who had a handkerchief tied over the lower part of his face, whirled and caught June Arlington in his arms. She uttered a scream of terror.
“All right, my beauty—squawk away!” laughed the fellow hoarsely. “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen in a year, and I’m going to kiss you.”
He attempted to lift the handkerchief in order to accomplish his purpose, but she fought him with such fury that he was overcome by surprise. With a snatch she tore the handkerchief from his face and flung it to the grass. Still it was too dark for her to see his features distinctly. By this time the girl’s fight had 71been answered. Voices were calling to her, and running feet were thudding across the lawn.
“Guess I’ll have to lose that kiss!” panted the ruffian. “Never mind, I’ll get it some other time!”
But when he attempted to free himself and take to his heels, the girl held fast and battled him in spite of all he could do.
“Help!” she cried. “Quick! This way!”
A moment later she felt a pair of strong hands tear her free from the scoundrel, who was instantly flung face downward upon the ground and pinned there with the knee of Dick Merriwell driven between his shoulder blades. Steele, Buckhart, Randall, and several others came hurrying to the spot and surrounded them.
Sparkfair had revived and was sitting up, although bewildered and dazed to such an extent that he could not tell what had happened to him. June could tell, however, and she explained in a very few words.
The rage of those lads was boundless. Only for the coolness of Merriwell, the captive might have been vigorously manhandled.
“Strike a match, somebody,” said Dick. “Let’s get a look at his face.”
A match flared in Buckhart’s hands. Protected by Brad’s curving palms, its light was flung on the face of the captured rascal.
“On my word, it’s Hanksy!” breathed Sparkfair. “Why, Hanksy, you shouldn’t get so careless.”
“Attacked you, did he, Sparkfair?” cried Casper Steele. “Assaulted you and Miss Arlington, eh? Had a handkerchief tied over his face when he did it, did he? A pretty serious piece of business. I think it ought to give Mr. Jim Hanks a nice little vacation behind some good strong iron bars. Tie his hands, fellows.”
72“Hold on! hold on!” protested Hanks. “What are you going to do with me? I didn’t mean to hurt anybody but Sparkfair, and I’ve got a grudge against him. Here, Sparkfair, speak up for me. If you don’t, I’ll tell them what I know about you.”
“Go ahead,” said Dale defiantly. “I doubt if any one would believe you now.”
The captured ruffian’s hands were pinioned, and he was marched back to the house. On the veranda the girls were gathered, vaguely and apprehensively speculating on the cause of those startling cries for help. Beneath the light of the Japanese lanterns they made a beautiful group, in dresses of white and pink and light blue.
Randall was sent to reassure the girls, while the captive was marched along toward the stable. Reaching the stable, Hanks was bound and thrust into a box stall, the door being fastened upon him. Steele called one of the stablemen and gave him instructions to guard the captive cautiously and faithfully.
“Now, fellows,” laughed Casper, “we’ll go back to the girls and forget that there’s been anything to mar the pleasure of the evening.”
Returning to the house, Dick inquired for June. He was told that she was in her room, and they assured him that she had not been harmed. It was fully half an hour before June reappeared in the ballroom. He had been watching for her, and hastened without delay to join her.
“I trust you’re all right, June,” he said. “I was afraid that scoundrel had hurt you.”
“I’m all right,” she answered, with surprising coolness. “I was not harmed in the least.”
“You must have been frightened.”
“Naturally, I was frightened somewhat, but I’m all right now.”
73“Will you dance any more?”
“Then this waltz—let’s——”
“I beg your pardon,” she said. “There’s Dale. I am to dance with him.”
She gave Sparkfair a signal and moved toward him, leaving Dick feeling perplexed and hurt.
“You must dance with me this time, Dale,” she said.
“By the ears of Midas, I can’t!” he gasped, in dismay. “I’ve engaged Janette Brice, and she has her eye on me this minute, June.”
“Then get me a partner and be quick about it,” June urged. “Don’t leave me alone more than twenty seconds.”
Out shot Dale’s arm, and he collared Harmford, who was passing.
“Here you are,” said Spark. “Fine girl, fine fellow. Go it. You know Mr. Harmford, June.”
“Goodness!” gasped Harmford, as Spark hustled away. “Is that his style of doing things? Will you dance with me, Miss Arlington?”
June was ready to dance with any one save Dick. She knew Dick was watching her, and as she whirled onto the floor with Harmford she was filled with a feeling of satisfaction, for it seemed that she had retaliated, in a measure, for the deception of Merriwell. As for Dick, he was simply filled with astonishment, being utterly unable to understand what it meant.
“Sparkfair has stolen a march on me,” he decided. “Well, if June is as fickle as that, he may have her. I’ll show her that there are others.”
With this resolution in mind, he found another partner, and, thereafter, during the remainder of the evening he and June did not dance together.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF.
In the morning the hostler came to Steele and sheepishly informed him that some time during the night the captive had slipped his bonds, managed to get out of the box stall, and escape.
“I don’t see how he did it, sor,” said the hostler. “I wisht you’d tell me how he opened the door of the stall from the inside, sor.”
“You must have slept like a log, Killen,” said Casper. “I’m sorry the fellow got away, but perhaps it saved the trouble of prosecuting him. I don’t believe he’ll show his nose in Cambridge again.”
Breakfast, with the morning sun streaming in at the windows of the dining room, was a jolly affair. Of course it was not what might be called an early breakfast, but before nine o’clock every one of the guests was up and ready to sit down at table.
And now Dick found that, in some manner, June’s seat had been changed. She was no longer at his side, but Sparkfair had the pleasure of discovering her beside him. Outwardly, Dick did not seem a bit disturbed. He chatted and laughed as easily as ever. The girl who filled June’s former seat received Dick’s smiling attention.
Plans for the day were freely discussed, and new projects were proposed, until Steele laughingly reminded them that they had suggested enough things to keep them all busy for a week, at least.
“Who’s for a ride?” cried Agnes Locke. “Casper has a stable full of saddle horses.”
“I accept the challenge,” came quickly from Arlington. “You can’t shake me, Miss Locke, I’m with you.”
75“And I think I’ll go, too,” said June. “Will you come along, Dale?”
“Will I? Ask me,” laughed Sparkfair.
“Perhaps you’d like to join them, Merriwell,” said Steele. “I have a fine black thoroughbred that it would do your soul good to mount. I have plenty of riding togs. What do you say?”
“Of course I wouldn’t think of forcing myself on such a satisfactorily arranged party,” laughed Dick. “Still, Steele, I’d like to bestride your thoroughbred.”
“Where’s there another girl to balance the party?” cried Sparkfair.
June touched his arm.
“Hush!” she murmured. “Are you going to insist on inviting Dick Merriwell to join us?”
“Not if you don’t want him,” he whispered.
“I don’t,” she declared.
Therefore, it happened that less than an hour after breakfast two lads and two girls rode out from Meadwold, and Dick was not one of them.
Nevertheless, Merriwell had donned riding clothes offered him by Steele, and the quartet had no more than disappeared when he galloped out from the stable, astride the black thoroughbred.
Sparkfair found June in a nervous, excitable mood. Several times he detected her looking back over her shoulder as if half expecting to discover some one in pursuit of them. In truth, she was looking for Dick, but he had taken another course, and there was no chance that he would come upon them from the rear.
“I can’t get over the nervous feeling caused by that affair last night,” said June. “I was dreadfully frightened when that scoundrel leaped upon us from behind the rosebush.”
“But you proved yourself a heroine, June. You hung to him and yelled bloody murder until the fellows 76came up and nabbed him. At first I was sorry when I learned this morning that he’d escaped in the night. Now I’m rather glad of it. It saves us the trouble of pressing the case against him, and I don’t believe he’ll go back to Cambridge.”
“If he does——”
“If he does, I may have further trouble with him, but I’m not worrying over that.”
After a time Arlington and Agnes fell behind. Beneath some trees by the roadside they halted, and soon Dale and June passed from view. Finally discovering that their companions were not following closely, they drew rein and waited for them to come up. June was seized by a strange desire to be alone for a time, at least.
“I wish you’d go back and look for them, Dale,” she said. “Please do. You can overtake me. I’ll wait for you.”
Thus urged, he finally turned back. She permitted her horse to move along slowly, the rein lying loose upon its neck. She was buried in deep thought when a sheep suddenly started up by the roadside and gave the horse a fright. An inexperienced horsewoman would have been thrown from the saddle by the sidelong leap of the animal. June maintained her seat and caught up the reins. But the horse had the bit between his teeth. With ears set flat back, he was running away. Through a gate he tore, and away across an open field the girl was carried.
Merriwell, cutting across that field to reach the highway, saw what had happened. Immediately he headed the black thoroughbred in pursuit of the runaway. It was a wild and thrilling race, for neither walls nor fences nor ditches could check the frightened animal that was bearing June. Over them all he sailed. The 77girl heard some one shouting to her, and, half turning her head, she caught a glimpse of the pursuer.
“Dick!” she breathed.
But she could not understand his words, although she fancied they contained a warning. Ahead of her loomed another stone wall. She wondered if the runaway would not be turned by it. Not until the animal was sailing over that wall did she realize what lay beyond it. A moment later horse and girl struck with a mighty splash in the placid water of a small river.
Carried from the saddle, June rose to the surface just in time to see the black horse bearing Dick Merriwell come flying over the wall above her.
What followed seemed like a dream to June. She knew Dick clutched her with his strong hand, and she had good sense enough to give herself up without struggle or effort, so that he was finally able to bring her unharmed to the low bank on the far side of the little river.
The horses had swam out and were grazing in companionable contentment upon the grass as Dick and June, dripping wet, sat on the bank and looked at each other.
“Well,” said Merriwell, with a light laugh, “I hope this doesn’t give you a cold.”
“I hope it does!” she cried. “I told Dale last night that I wanted to catch cold and have pneumonia and die. Now this is my chance.”
“It surely is,” agreed Dick. “But why this sudden morbid desire for death? What’s the matter?”
“You ought to know.”
“You’ve deceived me, Dick. I heard you last night—I heard you talking to that girl they call Barbara Midhurst. You were speaking about a secret between 78you. If you like her better than you do me, I’m sure you’re welcome to her. I don’t care. I’m glad of it! I hope you’ll live long and both be happy. I’m going to die, anyhow!”
“And I hope it isn’t quite as serious as that, June,” he laughed. “I’m glad I know what was the matter. Yes, there is a secret between Barbara Midhurst and myself, but I give you my word that the secret concerns a third party. I discovered it by accident, and I’ve kept it for her sake and the sake of the third party. I don’t care for Barbara, June—that is, not as you mean. Don’t you believe me? Did I ever tell you a lie in my life? You’re the girl I care for more than all others in the world. Can’t you trust me? What’s the matter? You’re crying!”
“Oh, I’m all we-wet, and fuf-feel just per-perfectly horrid!” sobbed June.
“And you think I’m a two-faced scoundrel?”
“No-no I don’t. I tried to think that, but now I know I was fuf-foolish. I’m ashamed of myself, Dick. I can’t help crying, and I haven’t even got a dry handkerchief to wipe my eyes with.”
“Nor I,” he said, glancing around to make sure no one was in sight. “Never mind the handkerchief. Let this dry your tears.”
And behind the palms they kissed and the misunderstanding was at an end.
The next day the house party dispersed, Dick and his friends returning to Yale to resume active work in their baseball work.
Dick had not been in New Haven two hours before he heard news that worried him. He learned that some one had sold the baseball team’s signals to the enemy. He quickly discovered the guilty person, and, knowing that no further useful steps could be taken 79in the matter, he told his friends that the incident was closed.
But the incident was not closed. For the guilty man’s friends took the matter up. Not knowing that Dick Merriwell already knew the identity of the traitor, they resolved to capture Tommy Tucker for the purpose of forcing him to sign a supposed confession.
THE ABANDONED CAPTIVE.
Try as he might, he could not make a sound louder than a smothered, choking groan. After repeated attempts to shout he gave it up in despair, although the cords which bound him to the chair had been drawn so tight that they were cutting into his limbs and stopping the circulation of his blood, and the thick cloth tied over his mouth was nearly smothering him.
From the wall at his right projected a feebly fluttering gas jet. The faint light, flickering on the face of the captive, showed him to be a slight, slender, undersized lad some seventeen or eighteen years of age.
It was Tommy Tucker, and the freshman was in a decidedly unpleasant and apparently serious situation.
Returning along a dark block after having seen a charming and interesting girl to the door of her home, Tucker was suddenly pounced upon by three or four fellows, who seized him, flung a blanket over his head, tripped him up, sat on him, and held him helpless until a cab drew up at the curb. The victim was bundled into the cab and carried away. After his first efforts at resistance he made very little struggle, realizing it was folly to fight against such odds.
By the time his assailants had pulled the blanket off him inside the cab Tucker was feebly gasping for breath. The curtains were closely drawn, and it was so dark in the cab that he could not discern anything whatever.
“Gug-golly!” he gasped, catching his breath. “I’d been cooked in ten seconds more. I was almost smothered.”
“I always did like smothered chicken, ta-ra-tum,” sang a hoarse voice in Tommy’s ear.
81“Shut up!” snarled another voice. “Don’t talk—don’t anybody talk! I love silence. I adore silence. I will have silence.”
“Hush-h-h-h-h!” breathed Tommy. “Be still as any mouse. But, say, permit me to inquire what the dickens you fellows are trying to do. Are you kidnaping me with the idea of holding me for a ransom? If you are, permit me to inform you that you’ve captured the wrong kid. There are no millions in my family, and I believe my father would feel actual relief if some one should be foolish enough to take me away where I wouldn’t bother him any more. Or are you some poor, deluded sophomores who contemplate having real fun with me? If such is the case——”
“If he doesn’t shut up, blanket him again.”
“Oh, if you’re going to do that, I’ll keep mum,” said Tucker hastily. “Please don’t put that thing over my head again. Refrain, and I’ll close up like a clam.”
How far he was carried in the cab Tucker had no accurate means of telling. Finally the cab stopped. An instant later the blanket was again wrapped tightly about the captive’s head and shoulders. They dragged him out and forced him along, stumbling and half-falling down a flight of stairs. The sound of their feet echoed gloomily in what seemed to be a big room. The air was damp and stale, as Tucker quickly discovered when the blanket was lifted in order that he might get a breath. It was, likewise, dark as Erebus.
Although he was highly indignant over the treatment, Tucker knew the uselessness of displaying anger and resentment. He permitted them to force him down upon a chair and tie him there, although he made occasional calls for the lifting of the blanket in order that he might breathe. Finally they cast the blanket aside, but he was given no more than a glimpse of them, for a bandage was quickly slipped over his eyes. 82The gas jet had been lighted, and they were working by the aid of the wretched light thus provided.
“I think I’ll raise a howl,” said Tommy. “I think I’ll yell bloody murder.”
“Howl your head off,” said one of the captors huskily. “You’re in the basement of Dinsmore & Hyde’s old warehouse. You might shout for a week without any one happening to hear you.”
“Then I will not rupture my voice,” said Tucker. “But my unquenchable curiosity compels me to inquire your motives and intentions. What are you going to do with me?”
“You’ll find out in time,” was the answer.
“But I’m very impatient.”
This provoked a burst of suppressed, mocking laughter.
“You’ll get a fine lesson in patience to-night,” Tucker was told. “It will do you good.”
“What the dickens is the use to tie those ropes so tight? Old Samson couldn’t get away after being trussed up like this, and I’m no relation to Sam.”
Behind his back one of the captors whispered a hoarse question:
“How long did you say a man could live without food or water, captain?”
“That depends,” was the wheezy answer. “Some live longer and some live shorter. This little runt is one of the kind that lives shorter. He won’t last more than three or four days at most.”
“My golly!” exclaimed Tommy. “Are you going to leave me without anything to eat or drink for three or four days?”
“It’ll be well enough to silence his tongue,” said the wheezy voice. “Art ready, Eros?”
“Sure, Charon,” was the answer.
“Then gag him.”
83Tucker started to object, but his words were cut short as they bound the thick cloth over his mouth.
“’Tis well,” said one, when the task was finished. “Now he is secure and silent. We can leave him, comrades. Our direful work is well did.”
“Indeed I think we have dooded it well,” said another. “But methinks it were best to leave his eyes uncovered, captain. What say ye?”
“’Tis well. Remove the bandage from the wretch’s eyes.”
When this was done Tommy looked around for them, but heard the sound of retreating feet behind him. Turning his head, he caught a glimpse of their dark figures melting from view amid the dim, dusty, and empty boxes at the far side of the room. Seized by something like panic, he would have called to them, but the muffling cloth prevented this. The sound of their footfalls grew fainter and fainter. A door creaked on its rusty hinges. A few moments later the door closed with a slam, and the deserted lad fancied he heard the grating of the bolt as it shot into the socket.
To the unfortunate boy it soon seemed that hours had passed since his abandonment. Vainly he had squirmed and twisted in an effort to free an arm or a leg. Vainly he had worked his head and jaws, trying to get his mouth clear of the bandage which covered it. The silence that surrounded him seemed appalling at first, but in time his ears detected a suspicious rustling, which sent a chill through his body.
Although he would not have acknowledged it, Tucker was a chap who believed in the supernatural. All his life he had been industriously looking to see a spook in the dark. Up to date he had never seen the genuine article, although on various occasions he had fancied many material things to be of a ghostly nature. 84Still, all these failures had not shaken his conviction that some time he would see a real ghost.
And now he remembered the gruesome tale that, after being ruined by his partner, old man Hyde had locked himself up in the basement of the big warehouse and committed suicide. From that day a hoodoo had seemed to hover over the building. Ignorant people asserted that the warehouse was haunted. It was finally abandoned, and for years the heirs of the Dinsmore estate had been vainly trying to get it off their hands at any old price.
“Gee whiz!” thought Tucker; “I’ll bet a cruller old Hyde’s spook is prowling around here to-night. Goodness, I thought I felt the touch of his fingers then! Wish I had eyes in the back of my head. It’s awful being able to see only one way. There it is again! I know I heard something move.”
Nearly twisting his head off, he peered apprehensively into the shadows. The gas jet continued to flicker and flare, and, once when it died down and he fancied it was going out, his heart nearly stopped beating.
Tucker’s hair stood at the sound, but in a twinkling he felt something like relief, realizing at last that the noise was made by a rat. This explained the mysterious rustling he had heard.
“If I ever find out for certain just who those fellows were, I’m going to murder the bunch of them,” decided Tommy. “Talk about the tortures of the Inquisition! This is worse! What’s that?”
Something slipped past like a flitting shadow on the cement floor. It was a scampering rat, but it had given the captive an awful start.
“I don’t like rats,” thought Tucker. “They’re nasty creatures, and sometimes they’re dangerous. Let’s see, 85I think it was in ‘Les Miserables’ I read about the sewer rats of Paris, big, hungry, creatures ready to attack a man. Goodness, I hope these rats are well fed! They’re getting altogether too friendly.”
For he had seen two or three others flit past him. He was electrified by a shrill squeal close behind his chair, followed by a scampering rustle.
“Deuce take ’em!” he mentally exclaimed. “They’ll be climbing over me in a minute.”
Indeed it seemed so, for one big fellow advanced boldly before him and sat up to inspect his appearance. Tucker longed to hurl something at this old fellow, who had a full set of grayish whiskers.
The example of the old rat emboldened others, and within a few moments they were frisking about Tucker’s feet.
Only for the gag Tommy would have yelled lustily. He was covered with cold perspiration, while his mouth seemed dry and parched. His eyes bulged with terror.
Of a sudden one of the rats made a leap and landed on Tucker’s knee.
With a convulsive twist, Tommy flung himself, chair and all, over backward.
AN EVIL BAND.
With a terrific squeaking and scampering, the rats fled in all directions. Tommy was both relieved and dismayed. His position was now decidedly awkward and painful.
“If this keeps up long, I can see my finish,” he thought. “Bet my hair’s begun to turn gray now. A few hours more will make it white as the driven snow.”
After a time the rats began to return. He could see them creeping out cautiously from the deeper darkness which the flickering light did not penetrate.
A faint rattling sound made him prick up his ears. His heart throbbed, for something told him that some one was fitting a key to the lock of the door. He was right in this supposition, and soon the old door creaked once more on its hinges.
There was a faint gleam of light, which moved slowly amid the old empty boxes. Tucker heard the sound of many feet, and finally a grotesque figure appeared, bearing an iron pan with a long handle. On the surface of this pan, which seemed half filled with grease, a saturated rag was burning. It was a huge candle.
Tommy blinked rapidly as his eyes perceived the figure which bore the flaring light. Apparently it was a huge bear, walking upright on its hind legs.
A second later Tucker gasped again. Following the bear, a gigantic bird that resembled an owl strutted into view. Behind the owl came a turbaned Turk with a curved sword in his hand. The Turk was followed by a painted and grinning clown. On the heels 87of the clown trod a crimson-clad, cloven-hoofed figure which resembled Satan himself. Then came a somber form in a long black cloak and high-peaked cowl. This last person bore a huge broad-bladed ax in his hands.
Tucker wondered if he was dreaming. As they gathered around him he saw that Satan was carrying a tinsmith’s hand furnace, in which a fire glowed.
“Hoo! hoo!” hooted the owl. “Look! See! He has upset!”
With a fierce growl the bear waved the flaring light in front of Tucker’s eyes.
“Pick him up,” said the Turk, flourishing his sword.
“Let him lie,” said Satan. “It comes natural for him.”
“Let him lie,” said the one in black, as he flourished the ax. “In this position I can easily lop off his head.”
“Restrain yourself, executioner,” chuckled the clown. “We must have fun with him first. He must answer my conundrum. Tell me, thou wretched creature, why is a hen?”
“Back up,” said the bear, elbowing the clown aside. “He can’t talk. Don’t you see he’s gagged?”
“Who gagged him?” cried the clown.
“Hoo? hoo?” hooted the owl.
“Take hold, you imps,” commanded Satan. “Set him upright.”
The chair was lifted and planted on its legs.
“Poor fellow!” said Satan, with mock sympathy. “See how frightened he is! Why, Turk, you could hang your turban on his eyeballs.”
The executioner leaned on the handle of his ax.
“Some one remove the gag,” directed the wearer of the crimson.
“Hoo? hoo?” cried the owl.
88“You! you!” commanded Satan, pointing.
The huge bird complied, and Tommy, with great relief, filled his lungs as the cloth was stripped away.
“Much obliged,” he said, his voice just a bit unsteady. “If you go away again, please don’t close my trap. The rats are a little too thick for comfort around here, and I couldn’t even cuss at them.”
“When we leave you next time your tongue will be silenced forever,” declared the executioner solemnly. “With this good blade I shall sever your head from your body.”
He flourished the ax as he spoke, swinging it with a sidelong movement until the edge touched the captive’s neck.
“Boo! that’s pleasant!” shivered Tucker. “So you’re going to decapitate me, are you?”
“No,” chuckled the clown, “we’re only going to cut your head off.”
“But first,” said the Turk, “we must examine your feet. We have a peculiar notion that you are the unfortunate possessor of extremely cold feet.”
“Even so,” nodded Satan. “Remove his shoes and stockings.”
“Why don’t you take a hand, Sate,” piped the clown.
“Yes, get busy,” said the bear. “I’m holding the light. That’s my job.”
Tommy’s ankles had been bound to the legs of a chair, but now they were set free, and a few moments later his shoes and stockings were stripped from his feet.
“Indeed his tootsies are very, very cold,” said the owl. “Start up the fire in your little furnace, Sate.”
Satan turned a thumbscrew which seemed to open a valve of compressed air, for there was a hissing sound, and the furnace began to glow almost at once.
“What the dickens does all this tomfoolery mean?” 89demanded Tucker. “What are you trying to do with me, anyhow?”
“As Sate hath remarked,” said the Turk, “you’re an easy-going liar. We are prepared to force the bitter truth from your unwilling lips. A short time ago some one sold the baseball signals of Umpty-ten to the manager of a rival team. You, Thomas Jefferson Tucker, were the miserable wretch who did that.”
“You, Turkey, old boy, are a liar by the clock!” flung back Tommy. “I had nothing to do with it. I thought that was proven long ago.”
“Nothing of the sort,” said Satan. “Your fine friend, Richard Merriwell, induced a wretched bummer to shoulder the blame of that piece of treachery, but we happen to know that the bummer was paid to clear you of stigma. While you have been cleared, suspicion has continued to rest on another who is innocent.”
“I suppose you mean Bern Wolfe?”
“You have named him,” was the answer. “We know Wolfe had nothing to do with that dirty business, and we, likewise, know that you did. This very night we caught you in company with the public stenographer who made a typewritten copy of those signals. After you escorted her home you were brought here for treatment.”
“Ha! ha!” laughed the clown. “Treatment is an elegant and appropriate word.”
“We have here,” continued Satan, producing a sheet of paper, “a nice little typewritten confession of your sins, which we expect you to sign. I’ve brought a fountain pen for the purpose. In this document you acknowledge that you are the traitor who gave the signals to Ben Newhouse of the Hudson team. Would you like to read it?”
“I don’t care to waste my time,” said Tucker. “If 90you think you’re going to get my autograph hitched onto the bottom of that document, you’re a bigger fool than I ever took the devil to be.”
“Cold feet,” snickered the clown.
“But we have the facilities for warming them,” said Satan. “Turk, kindly move the furnace a little nearer. We’ll give his tootsies a nice comfortable baking. By the time his toes are well done and crisp he may change his mind and decide to append his signature to this little document.”
TUCKER GETS WARMED.
By this time the tiny furnace was glowing redly. Its heat had reached Tucker, who made a wry face as the Turk seized the handle and started to move the furnace nearer.
“Really,” said Tommy, “I think you kind gentlemen are awfully obliging, but you’re greatly mistaken in fancying me at all troubled with cold feet. I beseech you not to disturb yourselves to warm me up.”
“You’ll do a great deal more begging before we finish with you!” growled Satan. “Push the furnace up close, Turk. Now get him by the ankle, clown—that’s right. You take the other leg, Hooter. Hold his feet extended so the bottoms will be thoroughly warm.”
With a sudden kick, Tucker upset both the clown and the owl.
“What’s the matter with you fellows?” snarled Satan. “Aren’t you strong enough to hold his feet?”
“Hoo? hoo?” cried the owl, scrambling up. “You bet we are! If he kicks me again, I’ll warm his foot by soaking it right plumb against the furnace.”
“Oh, look!” grinned the clown, as Tommy began making both feet fly like paddle wheels.
“He’ll get tired of that in a minute,” said the crimson-clothed imp. “Be ready to grab the instant he lets up.”
In truth, Tommy was unable to keep up those kicking movements for more than a few moments. He soon began to pant, and the instant he ceased snapping his bare feet through the air the owl seized an ankle. On the opposite side the clown did the same, 92and both clung fast with such strength that Tucker could not jerk his feet away.
“Oh, say, I don’t see any fun in this,” protested the little chap. “Ouch! Thunderation, that’s warm! Look out, you’ll have my Trilbys against the old thing! Wow! wow! I can’t stand that. It’s too much! Oh, say, let up, will you? If this is a joke, you’re carrying it too far.”
“It’s no joke,” grimly declared Satan. “We mean business. When you fully understand that, you may come to your senses and decide to sign this little confession of your treachery to the baseball team.”
“Say, give me a chance to think it over, will you?” panted Tucker. “You’re blistering my feet now—on my soul you are!”
“That’s where we intend to blister them, on the sole,” said the leader. “Lower his toddlers a moment, boys. Let’s see if he is coming to his senses. But keep a firm hold on his ankles. If he doesn’t agree to our terms, we’ll warm him up again in a moment.”
“You’re very rude and cruel,” said Tucker. “Jinks, I believe you did blister my feet! If you have, I’m going to murder somebody! I’ll murder the whole bunch of you!”
“Isn’t he dangerous!” mocked the clown.
“Better let me put an end to him,” said the executioner, spitting on his hands and grasping the ax handle.
Beyond the flaring pan of burning grease the bear grinned and yawned.
“Do hurry up,” he said. “This confounded rig is sweating me to death.”
“Evidently you know how I feel,” said Tommy. “I’m perfectly willing to change places with you, Teddy.”
“Come, come!” said Satan, flourishing the paper in 93front of the captive’s eyes. “Are you ready to sign this confession?”
“What would it amount to if I did sign it?” sneered Tucker. “You couldn’t make any use of it.”
“Because I’d tell the truth and let everybody know how I was forced into putting my name onto that lying document. The moment one of you fellows showed it he’d find himself in a lot of trouble.”
“But I don’t think you’ll do anything of that sort,” said the leader of the disguised chaps. “This is a fair and square statement of the truth. You are the traitor who betrayed the team.”
“You are a liar!” said Tommy, slowly and distinctly.
“Wait a minute, Tucker—you’ll get all that’s coming to you if you don’t get humble. I say you betrayed the team. I’m not the only one who believes it. Merriwell saved your pelt by hiring a disreputable character to take the blame on his own shoulders. Every one knows that man Smith lied when he said he was the one who stole the signals and gave them to the manager of the Hudson team.”
“I think he lied myself,” said Tommy. “I’m satisfied that some one on the team gave Smith the signals and paid him to have them copied.”
“And you’re that some one,” declared the Turk.
“I’ll hand you out the same remark I just applied to old Sate,” flashed the captive.
“You’ll have to sign this paper,” asserted the wearer of the crimson.
“If I sign it,” said Tommy, “I’ll lose no time in telling every one under what circumstances I was forced into it.”
94“And if you tell any one that,” threatened Satan, “you’ll get it again, and next time we’ll blister you from your heels to the nape of your neck. We don’t propose to make this confession public, but we’re going to use it to force Merriwell and his friends to give certain fellows of the freshman class a square deal at baseball.”
“And a sillier scheme I never heard of!” derided Tucker. “You can’t force Dick Merriwell’s hand in such a manner, and you ought to know it. Of course I know you’re Merriwell’s classmates and enemies. I think I could name you all. I’m dead sure I can name four or five of you. It seems astonishing to me that by this time you have not learned that Dick Merriwell cannot be forced or browbeaten into anything.”
“Will you sign this paper?”
“Do you mean it?”
“Yes, I mean it because I realize that you’re just fools enough to cook my feet unless I do sign.”
“Release his hands, boys,” directed Satan. “Stand close around him and be ready to jump on him if he makes a scrap of it.”
“I’m not as big a fool as you fellows are,” mocked Tommy. “You’re six to my one, and I have no idea of scrapping.”
In a few moments they set his hands free, and he stretched and rubbed his arms with grunts of relief.
“I hope some time I’ll have the pleasure of giving a few of you fellows some of the same medicine I’ve had to take to-night,” he said.
“Here,” said Satan, placing a short piece of board across Tucker’s knees and spreading the confession upon it. “Get ready to make your autograph. Here’s a fountain pen.”
“Goodness! give me time,” urged Tucker. “How 95do you expect a fellow to write when his blood is stagnated? Why, even my fingers are stiff.”
“Watch him,” warned the Turk. “He’s tricky.”
The executioner lifted and poised the ax.
“If he tries any tricks,” he declared, “I’ll let him have a taste of this where Nellie wore the beads.”
Tucker glanced around at all of those grotesque figures and then twisted his face into a comical look of disgust and resignation.
“Give me the goose quill,” he said. “Here goes my Thomas J. right at the bottom of this lying mess.”
Being a very little chap, Tommy wrote, like most undersized persons, in a large, bold, flourishing hand. In a moment he had dashed off his signature.
“There’s my John Hancock,” he said. “I hope you can see it.”
The leader took the paper with a nod of satisfaction.
“So far everything is satisfactory to us,” he chuckled, folding the document and thrusting it into a pocket.
“So far?” murmured Tommy questioningly. “Well, I wonder how much farther you’re going? Isn’t this about the limit?”
Satan made a gesture, and in another instant the captive was once more seized and pinned fast to the chair.
“Here! here!” he spluttered, in disgust. “What the dickens are you up to now?”
“We’re going to put you on your oath now,” announced the leader. “We’re going to make you swear by all things sacred, by all you hold dear, that you’ll never tell under what circumstances you affixed your signature to that document.”
“Oh, you make me sick, the whole of you!” said the little chap. “I’ll never swear to anything of the sort.”
96“His feet are getting cold again,” snickered the clown.
“Go ahead and warm them up,” directed Satan.
Tommy squirmed and twisted and yelled at the top of his voice. In the midst of his struggles the basement door was hurled open with a bang, and, shouting loudly, a dozen boys, headed by Dick Merriwell, came rushing to the rescue.
“This way! this way!” shouted the clear voice of Merriwell. “Here they are!”
Instantly Tucker was released by the startled and dismayed fellows who had been torturing him. The flaring light of a “slut” candle, aided by the dimly flickering gas jet, showed the rescuers a most remarkable group huddled there in the basement of that old warehouse. The clown looked frightened; the bear seemed ready to run; the Turk was crouching on one knee and feeling blindly for his curved sword; the executioner had dropped his broad-bladed ax; the owl sought to edge away into the shadows.
Only Satan stood his ground boldly and defiantly. In front of them all he stood with clenched fists, glaring at the unexpected and unwelcome rescuers. The flaring lights made him look very fierce and demon-like. Involuntarily the rescuers halted and stared at that remarkable group.
“Come on!” yelled Tucker, giving the Turk a savage jab in the ribs and upsetting the clown by kicking his feet from beneath him. “Get into ’em, fellows! Give ’em fits! They’ve been giving me fits.”
“We’ve got them foul,” declared Dick. “They’ll have to surrender.”
“Surrender?” snarled Satan. “Not on your life! We’ll fight.”
Fight they did. It was a fierce old battle that took place down there in the warehouse basement. Dick signaled out the crimson-clothed leader of the rascals and engaged him. While they were tussling and writhing and squirming, other struggles were taking place 98amid the boxes and bales and dim shadows of the place.
Merriwell found his antagonist strong as a bull, but was finally getting the best of the fellow when some one kicked over the pot of grease, the “slut” candle. The burning stuff ran flaring into a dry mass of straw and excelsior. Fire leaped up in a twinkling, illuminating the entire basement.
Startled, the boys stopped in the midst of their furious struggles.
“Fire!” yelled one, in a tone of great alarm.
“That’s bad business!” panted Dick, tearing away from his antagonist and leaping toward the flames. “Quick, boys, let’s see if we can’t smother it!”
Satan, enraged by what had happened and utterly reckless of consequences, sprang after Dick and grappled with him again.
“You fool!” exclaimed Merriwell, twisting about. “Let me alone! Don’t you see what’s happening? The building will go up in flames!”
“Let it go!” rasped the disguised fellow. “You’re the cause, and I’m going to soak you.”
He struck Dick in the face, although the force of the blow was partly broken by an upthrust arm. This aroused young Merriwell and made him furious as a wild creature. With a shout, he broke the fellow’s hold upon him, seized the chap, snapped his heels into the air, and whirled him headlong against the stone wall. The crimson figure dropped limply to the cemented floor and lay still.
“Fellows, fellows!” shouted Dick, realizing that a great many of the boys were taking to their heels and getting out as quickly as possible. “Don’t run away. We must smother this fire. We must put it out somehow.”
99It was Buckhart who joined him, and they did their best to put out the flames.
“No use, partner,” said the Texan, “she’s got too much headway. She’s bound to go. If we stay here, we’ll be caught, and that will be mighty bad business for us.”
“Come on, Dick—come on!” cried Bouncer Bigelow, making frantic gestures. “Everybody else has skipped. I’m going. You can’t do anything. Let her burn.”
The fat boy ended with a choking, strangling cough, for the place was rapidly filling with a thick volume of pungent smoke. Brad seized Dick by the collar and literally dragged him toward the door. Not until they were in the outer air did Dick remember the crimson-clad fellow he had last seen lying stunned at the foot of the basement wall.
“Follow me!” said Buckhart. “We must get away lively.”
He took to his heels, covering the ground with rapid strides and plunging into the darkness between two buildings. Instead of following his friend, Dick turned and rushed down the rotten basement stairs. A volume of smoke met him, rolling forth from the door and veiling the interior of the place. Through this smoke the fire sent a dull lurid glow.
Stooping low, Dick plunged into the smoke. He ran full against a huge box, but managed to grope his way along until he could see the spreading flames and feel their scorching heat. Through the yellowish light he saw something moving. In a twinkling he had the fellow by the shoulder. It was his crimson-clothed antagonist, who had partly recovered and was blindly trying to find the way out.
“This way!” wheezed Dick, pulling the bewildered chap toward the door. “Hang onto me!”
100They reached the door and started up the steps just as a burst of fire behind them sent its flaring gleam out into the darkness of the night. At the head of the steps stood a huge man, on whose breast gleamed a badge.
It was the night watchman of an adjoining lumber yard. As Dick appeared he whipped out a revolver.
“Hold on, you firebug!” he shouted. “Stop where you are, or I’ll bore ye!”
Then, plainly revealed by the flaring light of the fire, he obtained a view of the demoniac, crimson-clothed figure at Dick’s heels. To the superstitious watchman it seemed like the Evil One himself, and, with a howl of dismay, the man turned and took flight. Merriwell was unspeakably relieved.
“That was lucky for us,” he gasped. “Now we’d better do some tall thinking.”
Thinking the chap he had rescued would follow him, Dick imitated Buckhart’s example by choosing the darkness between two wretched buildings, reached an old board fence, skulked hurriedly along beside it, came to the railroad tracks, and for the first time found himself alone.
“Hello!” he muttered. “That chap didn’t stick by me. Well, I got him out, and I guess he can take care of himself. That watchman will turn in a fire alarm, of course. The healthy thing for me to do is to get as far away from here as possible in a very short time.”
He fled along the tracks until a crossing was reached and he could leave the railroad. As he cut across an open lot and set his course toward York Street he heard the fire engines coming whistling on their way to the fire.
“Bad business! bad business!” muttered the boy. “I don’t suppose any one will feel very sorry to see the 101old warehouse burn, but still, I’d rather it would have happened some other way. What if the lumber yard takes fire also?”
The question brought beads of perspiration out upon his face. On the steps of the York Street house he found Brad Buckhart and Tommy Tucker. The latter was barefooted.
“Lost a good pair of shoes and some beautiful fifty-cent stockings this evening,” said Tommy. “I can’t afford it.”
“Great horn spoon, I’m glad to see you, partner!” breathed the Texan, with unspeakable relief. “I thought you right behind me until I hit the main highway. When I discovered you weren’t with me I didn’t know what to do. I thought of going back to look for you, but that seemed foolish, for I knew you wouldn’t turn round after getting out of that old building.”
“I did turn round, though,” said Dick.
“I happened to think of the fellow I pitched against the wall and left stunned when we made haste to get out. I didn’t really know whether he had escaped or not. I went back to see.”
“Great tarantulas!” exploded Brad.
“You’re referring to old Sate, I presume?” said Tucker. “Well, I really hope he got scorched a little. He didn’t quite blister the bottoms of my feet, but I thought he had.”
“The fellow would have perished in that fire if I hadn’t turned back to look for him,” said Dick. “I got him out, all right, but we came mighty near being nabbed by a night watchman.”
Tucker snickered half hysterically on hearing Merriwell 102tell how the watchman had yelled and taken to his heels at sight of the satanic figure.
“Tommy’s been telling me all about it,” said Buckhart. “Why, those fellows were going to bake his feet. We got there in the nick of time.”
“What I’d like to know,” said Tucker, “is how you happened to get there at all.”
“I’ll have to pledge you to keep it a secret,” said Dick, “but there is a chap who used to be mighty thick with that crowd, and he got onto the plot. He gave me a tip, but made me swear I wouldn’t mention his name.”
“I can guess,” chuckled Tucker. “It was Kid Lee. Am I not right, Dick?”
“Haven’t I just stated,” said Merriwell, “that I promised not to mention his name?”
THE NEXT MORNING.
Early the following morning Tommy Tucker, in pajamas, came bouncing into Dick’s room. Merriwell was already up. He had bathed and was partly dressed.
“Pa-pore! pa-pore!” cried Tommy, flourishing a newspaper. “All about de great fire last night! Dinsmore & Hyde’s old warehouse burned to de ground! Pa-pore! pa-pore!”
“Shut up, you yapping idiot!” cried Dick laughingly. “Where’d you get the paper?”
“Oh, I fixed it with Maggie last night. Bribed her to rise early this morn’ and hustle out for a newspaper. She just left it at our door. See, here’s all about the fire, Dick!”
Blessed Jones turned over in bed, jabbed his head halfway under a pillow, and smotheredly droned:
“‘Him that disturbeth the sleep of the righteous let him be condemned to fire and brimstone and let him burn forever.’”
“Oh, you were there, old snooker!” cried Tommy. “You ought to be interested in this report. You were with the gang last night.”
Buckhart stuck his head into the room.
“Read it, Tucker,” he urged.
Thus requested, Tommy read the account of the fire which had destroyed the old warehouse and which was believed beyond question to be the work of incendiaries. Indeed, it was said that the watchman at Gray S. Walpole’s lumber yard had detected two of the firebugs in the act of leaving the basement of the warehouse. According to the statement of Hatch, 104one of these chaps had been dressed in bright red and looked like the devil himself. The watchman acknowledged that the appearance of this fellow so startled him that he permitted them both to get a flying start, and, in spite of his efforts to run them down, they had managed to avoid him and escaped in the darkness.
Thinking of what had really happened when the watchman saw that crimson-clad figure, Merriwell was compelled to laugh.
“It says here,” said Tommy, “that the old building was fully covered by insurance. I guess the owners are mighty glad it burned.”
“But not the insurance company, Tucker. Of course that fire was an accident and we could prove it, but it’s just as well for us if we can escape getting mixed up in the business. If the fellows are wise, they’ll keep still about it.”
“I’ll have to read this to Big,” said Tommy, rising. “See you later, fellows. Ta! ta!”
Merriwell and Buckhart were ready to start out for their usual morning walk, and Jones was sitting yawning on the edge of the bed when callers arrived. They were Jack Spratt, Otis Fitch, and Rob Claxton. Hearing them come in, Tucker promptly appeared, followed a moment later by Bouncer Bigelow, who was rubbing his eyes and yawning, his uncombed hair standing up like a topknot.
“Have you fellows seen the morning newspaper?” was Claxton’s anxious inquiry.
“Sure,” answered Tucker. “I took pains to provide them with a few morning shivers by reading the report of a fire that occurred last night.”
“I was in hopes the firemen would be able to save the building,” said Claxton. “I dislike very much to think that I was in any way responsible for that fire.”
“You really were not responsible, Claxton,” said 105Dick. “None of us fellows were. The really responsible ones are the chaps who carried Tucker into the basement of that building and attempted to have fun with him.”
“Gwathuth!” lisped Fitch. “I’ll never forget the thtart I got when I thaw thothe fellowth. Wonder where they got their cothtumes?”
“Didn’t you read about that in the paper?” asked Tommy. “The shop of Julius Steiger, the costumer, was broken into and looted last night. A number of valuable costumes and wigs were stolen.”
“Which explains the astonishing disguises worn by Tucker’s captors,” said Dick. “While I don’t fancy being mixed up in this affair, I wouldn’t hesitate to testify against those rascals if they were arrested.”
“I wonder what became of that document they persuaded me to sign?” laughed Tommy. “If they ever try to use that paper, it will be their prompt undoing. Of course, old Sate has it in his possession. Oh, I’ll see that chap again, and I’ll know him, too. I’ve got a nice little razzer hidden up my sleeve for Mr. Sate. If I ever get a good opportunity, I’m going to slice him good and deep.”
“You sus-seemed to cuc-cuc-come out of the bub-business all right,” observed Spratt. “You don’t look any the w-w-worse for wear.”
“Thank you, thank you,” bubbled Tucker. “And you, Spratt, are looking perfectly divine this morning.”
“But I haven’t a cent to my nun-name,” said Jack quickly.
“My dear boy, you misunderstand me!” cried Tommy. “Can’t I pay a man a compliment without wanting to borrow money?”
“I sus-suppose you can,” answered Spratt, “but sus-somehow you nun-nun-never do.”
106“Now that’s an insult!” snapped Tommy belligerently. “I challenge you to a duel. Let’s not lose a moment’s time. Let’s fight a duel right away.”
“You needn’t lose any time,” laughed Dick. “It only takes two seconds to fight a duel.”
Tucker collapsed on a chair.
“I was going to spring that myself,” he said dolefully. “It must be awfully stale.”
“It is,” said Dick. “I thought I was stealing a lap on you.”
“You have certain enemies, Tucker,” observed Jones, “who seem determined that you shall not play on the team.”
“Thus far they’ve simply injured themselves,” said Dick. “They must be disgusted with the way everything has gone against them. We play Brown at Providence, Saturday, and if we win that game it will be the utter discomfiture of our enemies and the enemies of the team.”
“Oh, we’ll win the game, partner,” said Buckhart confidently.
“I hope we do,” nodded Dick; “but Brown has a hot team, they say—the best freshman team she’s had in years.”
“Well, how about uth?” inquired Otis Fitch.
“It has been generally reported that Yale has the weakest freshman team she’s had in years, but I notice we’ve been winning thus far.”
“Even with Sam Kates in the box,” grunted Bigelow. “Of course, you’re going to pitch Saturday, Dick? You wouldn’t think of putting Kates against Brown?”
“I wouldn’t put him against Brown. I shall wait to hear what Captain Jones has to say.”
107“You’ll pitch, all right,” announced Blessed. “And you’ll pitch the whole game, too.”
“Very well,” said Dick, “that seems to be settled.”
“And that settles the game,” asserted Spratt. “I’ll bet my last dollar we win. It’s a sure thing.”
“Better not bet,” said Dick. “There’s nothing like a sure thing in baseball. I may have my off day—I have one sometimes. Anyhow, I shall have to depend on my backers. Without good backing I can’t hope to get away with that game. Only for old Brad behind the pan to steady me and assist me in working the batters I fear I’d make a pretty poor showing. In most cases the success of a pitcher depends on the sort of catcher he works with.”
“Oh, dear, partner, let up on that!” exclaimed the Texan, really confused. “You know you can pitch ball without any old catcher at all behind the pan.”
“Yes, I can pitch, but I can’t win games, Brad. To win games I need the backing of the whole team, and the man I depend on most is the man behind the bat.”
A PAIR OF RASCALS.
At the tinkle of his alarm clock Mike Lynch awoke, opened one eye, squinted at the clock, and growled like a flea-bitten dog.
“Rot it!” he muttered. “I haven’t had thirty minutes’ decent sleep all night long. Whew! whew! I can taste smoke clean down to my toes. Got a bump as big as half a watermelon here on the side of my head, and the cords of my neck are stiff and sore. All I’ve done is dream fire, fire, and twist and snort and make up and try to go to sleep again. Dash it all, I must look like a wreck! I feel like one, anyhow.”
Making an attempt to sit up, he dropped back with a doleful groan.
“Jingoes, but that does pull on my neck!” he murmured, holding his head canted to one side. “What makes my neck so lame? I suppose I know. That whelp Merriwell chucked me headlong against the wall in the basement of that old warehouse. Wonder I didn’t spill my brains all over that wall. Next thing I knew I was getting scorched and everything around me seemed on fire. That brought me to my senses in a hurry, but when I tried to find the way out I was so bewildered that I didn’t know what to do. How did I get out, anyhow? Oh, yes, somebody came back and grabbed me and dragged me toward the door. Somebody—it was Merriwell! That’s right, by Jove, it was Merriwell! The rest of the fellows were gone. They had sneaked and left me, the cowards! They left me to roast in that fire trap. That’s a fine bunch of friends to have!”
He finally succeeded in sitting up, holding both 109hands to his head as he groaned and cursed in mingled pain and anger.
“That was just about the worst night I ever experienced. And to think I might have roasted only for Merriwell! Hang it all! I hate to know I owe him anything. Do I owe him anything? Why, of course not. Didn’t he chuck me against the wall and knock me senseless? Gee! I wouldn’t like to tell anybody that he did, but that’s what happened. I suppose some of those sneaks who skipped and left me will tell. No, they won’t. They don’t dare. They’ll keep their faces closed. But Merriwell’s friends—those who were with him—they’ll tell. Let ’em! let ’em! They don’t know who it was rigged up in those devil togs. Anyhow, if they do suspect, they can’t prove it. I won’t acknowledge it, you bet your sweet life!
“No, I don’t owe Merriwell anything. If he’d left me there, it would have been the same as murder. After chucking me against the wall and sending my wits wool-gathering, it was up to him to get me out. I’m not going to blow up with gratitude toward him.”
Lynch was greatly relieved over the thought that he did not owe the lad he bitterly hated anything like a debt of gratitude. This caused him to grin the least bit, and, with some mumbling and muttering, he painfully dragged himself out of bed.
“Suppose a hot bath would do me good,” he said, “but I’m too stiff to get into a tub. I don’t know when I ever felt this way before. Toleman was the only one who had decency enough to come around last night to find out whether I was alive or had been cooked in that fire. I suppose he told the rest of the bunch that I was here, all right. Confound it! what brought Merriwell and his gang out there to the warehouse? That fellow always turns up and spoils things. How did he know we had Tucker there? He seems to 110get onto every move we make lately. Somebody is giving us away. It can’t be Wolfe, for he wouldn’t dare, and I know it isn’t Ditson or Toleman. I can trust Poland, too. But Daggett—that fellow would do anything for money. If the Merriwell gang tried it, they could buy him easy enough. Still, he seems the fiercest against Dick Merriwell. I don’t trust him. We’ve got to cut him out somehow. It’s pretty hard work doing it now he knows so much, but it’s necessary to find a way. We had to cut Lee out. Only yesterday I gave Wolfe a call-down for telling Lee about our plans. The kid hasn’t any backbone.”
After washing up, Mike began to dress with more or less difficulty. At intervals he paused to touch gently the lump on his head. Every time he did this he growled.
His head still throbbed, and when he stooped over to lace his shoes something like a sledge hammer seemed pounding within it.
“Oh, ache! ache!” he rasped. “You’ll get over it pretty soon—you’ll have to. I’m glad I haven’t any marks on my face, and I won’t wear a bandage round my head. My hat will cover that bump. They can’t spot me. I’ll have to get rid of that devil rig, though. Found my overcoat where we left our clothes when we dressed back of the old warehouse. Only for that I’d never been able to get to this room without being pinched. Lucky my overcoat was good and long and hid my costume. Two fellows did stop to stare at my red ankles, but I took to my heels, and I know they didn’t recognize me.”
Opening his wardrobe door, he found the crimson masquerade suit, which he made into a bundle carefully wrapped in brown paper and securely tied with stout cord. This bundle was hidden away beneath some underclothing in a drawer of the dresser.
111“I’ll dispose of that to-night,” he muttered. “Don’t like to have stolen property on my premises. It was Ditson’s idea to rig up in those costumes. He thought it would frighten Tucker. Hanged if it didn’t seem to amuse the little fool! I’m going to quit taking the foolish advice of Ditson or anybody else. I didn’t see anything like a joke in that business. I was in earnest. But now I suppose we wasted our time. Of course this isn’t any good at all, and I may as well destroy it.”
From a pocket he produced the typewritten confession which Tucker had been forced to sign.
“No, it’s no good now,” he muttered, after reading it over. “The little rat could prove he was compelled to sign against his will. If any one tried to use this document, it would get him into a nasty scrape. This will settle it.”
In front of the fireplace he struck a match and applied the flame to one corner of the paper.
“What are you doing?” cried a voice that made him jump as if struck by a bolt.
The burning paper fluttered to the hearth, and Lynch turned a pale face toward the lad who had softly opened the door and thrust his head into the room.
“Gee!” he breathed, with mingled relief and resentment. “You gave me a jerk. What the dickens do you mean by poking your head into my room and yelling like that? Come in and shut that door.”
Bern Wolfe needed no invitation. Slamming the door behind him, he leaped toward the hearth and placed his foot on the burning paper.
“Get away! get away!” said Lynch, catching the visitor by the collar, and jerking him back. “Let it burn.”
“It’s Tucker’s confession!”
112“Are you crazy?”
“I guess not.”
“We had trouble enough getting that confession.”
“Too much trouble,” confessed Mike.
“And now it’s destroyed!” groaned Bern, as he watched the flames char the sheet and turn it to a black film of ash, which crinkled at a breath and dissolved into fluttering fragments.
“It wasn’t any use after what happened,” declared Lynch. And he proceeded to explain his reason for thinking so. “You see,” he concluded, “that thing might have gotten me into trouble if I had kept it and any one had chanced to find it in my pocket.”
“I suppose that’s right,” muttered Bern, his thin lips pulled back from the points of his sharp white teeth. “Yes, I see you’re right, Mike, but I swear I’d like to get some sort of a twist on that fellow Tucker. He’s playing the position on the nine that I ought to fill. I’m a better shortstop than Tucker ever was or ever will be.”
“Perhaps you are,” nodded Mike, “but you’re not one of Richard Merriwell’s petsy-wetsies. Therefore you have no show to play on the team.”
“That’s not the reason why I’m not playing on the team.”
“Eh? It isn’t?”
“Then what is the reason?”
“You know well enough!” snapped Bern bitterly. “You know I had my chance to get on the team, and I landed there, too. Only for your great scheme to knife Merriwell, I’d be playing on the team now.”
“Now, hold on—hold on. Don’t always try to shoulder everything onto me.”
“I’m telling you the truth, and you know it!” cried Wolfe, smashing his clenched right hand into his open 113left. “If I’d refused to listen to your scheme, I’d be playing shortstop and Tucker would be on the bench.”
“Bah! bah! What are you giving us?”
“Bah! bah! Bleat away. It’s a fact. Merriwell was ready to use me. He did use me. I played in that Hudson game until I got spiked.”
“And you haven’t played since,” grinned Lynch.
“Because Merriwell and his friends are dead sure that I was concerned in the giving away of Umpty-ten’s signals. That was your plan to hurt Merriwell, but it never harmed him a bit. Instead of that, it swamped me, all right, all right.”
“What right has Merriwell to keep you off the team? There’s never been anything proven against you, has there?”
“Not proven perhaps, but——”
“Then you’re not being used right, Bern.”
“Not proven, but established as a conviction in Merriwell’s mind.”
“Rot! rot! You just think it has been established as a conviction in his mind. You don’t know whether it has or not.”
“I do know he is satisfied that Tucker is innocent.”
“And Tucker, being one of his goo-goo boys, gets the chance to play, while you pine on the bench.”
“Merriwell knows I’m friendly with you. He knows you would do anything in this world to hurt him. He doesn’t trust me. If I’d cut loose from you the way Kates did, I’d be on the team the same as Kates is. He’s there, isn’t he? You can’t say Merriwell is keeping one of his particular pets on first to the exclusion of Kates.”
“Merriwell had to have a first baseman and an assistant pitcher. Ambitious as he is, as much as he likes to show off, he can’t do all the pitching. Toleman was sulking, and the team just had to accept 114Kates. That’s plain enough. You didn’t have a chance of forcing yourself in the way Sam did.”
“Oh, don’t tell me that! I don’t believe it. I got there once. What have I made by listening to your plans and plots? I’ve lost the chance I had, and even though they can’t prove anything against me I’m under suspicion. You’ve said you would clear me, but never yet have you made a single promise good.”
“Now, hold on!” snarled Lynch, his red hair seeming to bristle. “That’s just about enough from you. Haven’t I been doing my best? Wasn’t I putting myself out on your account last night, and didn’t it come near being my finish?”
“I told you that was a preposterous scheme before we started in upon it. You were the only one in the crowd who thought it would amount to anything.”
“How do you know so much?”
“Oh, I know—I heard ’em say so.”
“Then why did they take any part in it?”
“For a lark. It was to have some amusement with Tucker that those masquerade costumes were stolen and worn. I was against that piece of business, but Ditson had been drinking, and he was ready for any piece of recklessness. Give him a couple of drinks, and you never know what he’ll do.”
“Well, you’re about as ungrateful a runt as I ever saw!” declared Lynch bitterly. “I wash my hands of it. I’m through trying to help you. If you want to, you can go tell every one that you gave away the team’s signals.”
“You know I’m not likely to do that.”
“I don’t know what you’re likely to do. Why, I’ve even convinced our own bunch that Tucker was the guilty one instead of you. They believe it.”
“They pretend to,” muttered Bern, “but I’m not sure they do.”
115“To tell the truth, a fellow can’t be sure of much of anything with them,” growled Mike. “Look at the way they skipped me last night! Wasn’t that fine? You did the same thing. You dusted out with the rest and left me to the mercies of the Merriwell bunch, or to roast.”
“It was every man for himself then.”
“Oh, was it?”
“And in such a case you’d leave a friend lying unconscious to be burned to death, would you?”
“I didn’t know you were unconscious. I was having troubles enough of my own. I didn’t know what happened to you.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what happened. About four of those fellows, including Merriwell himself, jumped on me in a bunch. One of them hit me over the head with a piece of lead pipe or something like that. That was the last I knew until I found myself lying on the floor, almost choked by smoke and nearly roasted by fire.”
“That was a tough situation,” admitted Wolfe. “How’d you get out?”
“How did I? I wish you’d tell me. I crawled among those boxes and bales on all fours without having an idea where the door was. Just by good luck I found it. Only for that good luck, my bones would be lying this minute in the ruins of Dinsmore & Hyde’s old warehouse.”
“It was a mighty bad piece of business,” breathed Bern, shaking his head. “Only for that accidental fire the Merriwell crowd would have had us all pinched. I can see what would have happened to us. The fire gave us a chance to break away, for they had to take care of themselves, and they were all afraid of being nabbed by the police or some one. You see you can’t 116blame me for leaving you, Mike. I didn’t know what had happened to you, and I don’t think the others did. It was pretty rank of the Merriwell bunch when they skipped out and left you there. Seems to me it was up to some of them to look after you.”
“Well, they didn’t,” lied Mike. “But why didn’t some of you fellows come around last night to find out whether I reached my room or not? Toleman was the only chap who had decency enough to poke his nose in here.”
“We sent him.”
“Oh, you did?”
“Yes. He came back and reported you were here. We didn’t think it best to come around in a bunch just then. I’m the first one to show up this morning, ain’t I? Well, doesn’t that indicate that I take some interest?”
“Oh, yes,” mocked Mike, as he buttoned his collar and began knotting his necktie. “I expect you were so terribly disturbed over me that you didn’t sleep a wink.”
“Well, I didn’t sleep much,” confessed Wolfe. “I haven’t been doing much sleeping for the past two or three weeks. I’m getting thin, and I feel like a leftover jag the most of the time.”
“Don’t tell me how you feel. I’ve got a bump as big as a lemon here on my coconut. My head aches. My neck is stiff. My back is lame, and every breath I exhale smells of smoke. All on your account, too. And you come around here and growl! You make me sick. Get out of my way! Sit down!”
Lynch thrust his companion on a chair just as the door opened and other visitors appeared.
Duncan Ditson was the first to speak.
“Hello, you here, Wolfe?” he said. “We wondered where you were.”
Bill Toleman stalked in behind Dunc.
“I reported last night, Lynch,” he said. “Let them know you were still on earth.”
“And that soothed our disturbed spirits a great deal,” said Jim Poland, finding a chair and gracefully seating himself.
“’Sst!” hissed Mel Daggett, who was the last to enter. “Don’t you know the door’s open? Don’t talk so loud, you fellows.”
Softly and silently closing and latching the door, Mel waddled to the morris chair and squatted on the broad arm of it.
Lynch, hands resting on hips, squared himself in front of Daggett.
“I wish you’d tell me something, Mel,” he said, with an air of unmistakable accusation.
“Will if I can,” whispered Mel.
“How did the Merriwell bunch know where to find us last night?”
Daggett’s froglike mug took on an expression of puzzled blankness.
“That’s something I’d like to know,” he declared.
“Don’t you know?”
“Don’t I know?”
“That’s the question I put to you.”
Mel caught his breath with a hissing sound, glared at Mike with his green eyes, and then slowly rose to his feet.
118“Now, see here,” he snapped, shaking one of his knobby fists at Lynch, “if you mean to insinuate anything about me, you’d better go slow!”
“Aw, sit down,” said Mike, placing his fingers against Mel’s breast and pushing him back upon the chair. “Don’t do that with me, Daggett. Don’t lift your fist to me; you’re liable to get hit if you do.”
“If you hit me, you’ll be sorry.”
“What’ll you do, peach on the crowd?”
“I won’t stand for that—I won’t stand for it!” palpitated Daggett.
“You’re not standing for it—you’re sitting. Somebody gave away our plans to carry Tucker off to that old warehouse last night. Who did it? Who peached?”
“Why do you come at me like this? Am I the only one who knew about your plan? Didn’t the others know? Why don’t you make your talk to them?”
“Because I know Ditson, Poland, Toleman, or Wolfe would not breathe a word of it. I don’t know about you.”
Mel squirmed and tried to rise again, but was once more pushed back by Mike.
“Don’t get up,” said Lynch. “I’ve asked you a question.”
“And I’ve given you all the answer you’ll get from me!” snarled Daggett. “I didn’t peach on anybody. You’ve never seen me trying to get in with the Merriwell crowd. You can’t say as much about some of the rest of your friends. I’m not calling any names, but you know who I mean.”
“Yes, you mean me,” said Wolfe. “Perhaps you think I’m the one who gave it away?”
“I didn’t say so. I’m not accusing anybody. Lynch is making all that sort of talk that’s being made.”
“Because I mean to find out how it happens that 119Merriwell gets wind of everything we plan to do. Of course, if you say you didn’t let anything slip, we’ll have to take your word for it, Daggett.”
“You needn’t take my word for it if you don’t want to. But if you continue to insinuate, I’ll fight you as sure as I live. Perhaps you can do me up, but we’ll see.”
“I hardly believe Dag would go back on us, Mike,” said Poland.
“Of course not,” put in Toleman.
“Anyhow,” said Ditson, “we can’t afford to suspect a fellow unless there are proofs against him. Have you any evidence—any reason to believe Mel squealed on us?”
“No reason beyond the fact that some one must have squealed, and I feel confident the rest of the crowd wouldn’t do that.”
“This is not the first time you and I have had words, Lynch,” said Daggett. “I want you to understand that I’m just as trustworthy as you are.”
“But you’re a greedy hog. A fellow who asks friends twenty per cent a month on money loaned to them would do almost anything.”
“That’s business, that’s business!” snapped Mel. “There’s nothing underhand or sneaky about it. If they borrow, they know what they’re expected to pay. If you mean to insinuate that I would sell my friends out to the Merriwell crowd, let me tell you that you’re a confounded liar. Is that good enough for you?”
It seemed that Lynch would make a lunge for Daggett’s throat, but both Ditson and Toleman interfered and checked him.
“Steady, Mike,” said Dunc. “We can’t afford to have a fuss just now. The very fact that Mel is so indignant over your suspicions ought to satisfy you of his innocence. I’m satisfied.”
120“Of course it was queer that Merriwell got onto the business the way he did,” admitted Toleman; “but I am not willing to think that any one of the fellows here turned traitor. It leaked out through some accident and not through deliberate treachery.”
“You may be right,” admitted Mike, calming down. “I’m in a rotten bad humor this morning. I ought to be after what happened last night. I’ve just been telling Wolfe what I thought of you fellows for quitting me the way you did. Somebody must have seen me knocked out by the Merriwell crowd, yet you all skidooed like a lot of frightened rabbits.”
One and all, they protested that they had not realized he was knocked out. Apparently none of them had seen Merriwell fling him against the wall, at the foot of which he fell stunned and helpless. Satisfied that this was the case, Mike once more repeated his statement that he had been attacked by at least four of the Merriwell crowd and had been knocked senseless by a blow on the head.
“I was having it with Merriwell himself when the others jumped on me,” he said. “If they’d only let me alone about ten seconds more, I’d broken that fellow’s back for him.”
“Perhaps,” nodded Ditson doubtfully; “but he has a very tough back.”
“Have you fellows read the papers this morning?” inquired Poland. “I have. The police say the old warehouse was burned by firebugs. We want to keep mum, fellows.”
“That was not all I read in the paper,” came from Toleman. “Didn’t you notice the account of the burglarizing of Steigler’s costuming shop? I want you to know that I’ve disposed of the outfit I wore last night. You can’t find it anywhere around my 121joint. The rest of you chaps better get rid of your stuff.”
“Oh, don’t be so timid!” mocked Ditson. “Who’ll ever suspect us?”
“Wait! What if some of the Merriwell crowd were seen and recognized? What if they’re cornered and tell all they know? What if they take a notion to tell, anyhow? Although they can’t prove it against us, I’ll venture to say they know every one of us. Now, if the police get next to them and ask them questions, won’t they name us chaps as being responsible for that fire? If we’re named, you can bank on it that the cops will search our rooms for some of the rigs we wore. I’d a hundred times rather be pinched for the fire than the other job. We could swear that the fire was the result of an accident, a lark; and, although we might regard the other business as a lark, the police would not look on it in that light, and the court would be sure to inflict punishment.”
“He’s right,” nodded Lynch. “I’m going to dispose of my outfit just as soon as I can, and the rest of you better do the same.”
“I suppose you’re all so frightened now,” sneered Ditson, “that there isn’t one who’ll dare lift his hand against Merriwell during the rest of the term.”
“What’s the use?” grunted Toleman. “Never anything works right. Fellows, Merriwell is too much for us. He has too much luck or too much something. We’ll never do him any harm by striking at him direct.”
“You may be right about that, Bill,” acknowledged Lynch. “I’ve begun to think so myself. It’s queer how some chaps seem to have a guardian angel, or a genius, or something that always takes care of them. All winter we’ve been saying Merriwell wouldn’t make much of a reputation at baseball with the kind of 122team he’d have behind him this spring. Now he’s attracting any amount of attention. Why, Billings—the great Billings—has written it that Merriwell might coach the pitchers of the varsity. Think of that—a freshman coach for the varsity pitchers! But no one seems to realize the fact that Merriwell himself would be rotten if he didn’t have a catcher behind the bat who knows him and all his peculiarities. Only for Buckhart, Merriwell wouldn’t be such a star on the slab. Where’s there another freshman who could go behind the bat and handle Merriwell’s pitching? Where’s there another chap who could handle the combination ball or any of Merriwell’s queer kinks and shoots? Of course, a professional catcher, a big-league man, would be all right for it; but I’m talking about the freshman ball players to be found at Yale to-day. Don’t think I’m in love with Buckhart—he’s the fellow I dislike most next to Merriwell himself. I’m simply stating the truth. Without Buckhart, Merriwell would be an ordinary dub of a pitcher that any one could hit.”
“I think there’s something in that, Mike,” nodded Ditson.
“I think so, too,” said Toleman promptly.
“Well, can’t you see what I’m driving at?” inquired Lynch.
“Not yet,” was the answer.
“Take Buckhart away from the team, and what will happen to Merriwell? He’ll get his bumps, won’t he?”
“Very likely,” nodded Duncan.
“Sure he will,” persisted Mike. “If he tries to use those effective balls of his, the catcher will fumble them. There’ll be passed balls galore. Every man on the field faces the catcher. Let the catcher go to pieces, and it’s up in a balloon for the rest of the bunch. Now, look here, Umpty-ten Yale plays Umpty-ten 123Brown at Providence next Saturday. Those Brown fellows can bat. If anything should happen to Brad Buckhart to prevent him from catching in that game, Brown would have a cinch. I know of lots of Yale money that is just begging for a chance to back Umpty-ten. Fix it so Merriwell will lose his catcher, and we fellows can line our pockets just as sure as fate.”
“How are you going to fix it?” inquired Ditson.
“Well,” grinned Mike, “if this crowd hasn’t got brains enough to devise a scheme, it’s a mighty poor bunch. Let’s put our heads together and do a little plotting.”
A CERTAIN VISITOR.
Dick gave up trying to grind. It was mid-afternoon and once more his friends who roomed in the house had wandered in upon him and were chattering away regardless of his desire to study.
They had been speaking of disguises and practical jokes. Bigelow was telling them what a fine Irishman Dick became when he wished to represent one and had the necessary make-up.
“Didn’t he fool the cops that night you took in the cock fight, Tucker?” demanded Big. “Didn’t he fool you, too? You know he did. Both you and Jones were scared out of your senses when you got back here. Said you’d been recognized and your names called by a policeman. Felt sure that meant the end of Yale for both of you. Oh, but you were scared! Tommy was white round the gills, and all Blessed could do was groan and quote fake scripture.”
“Verily I was exceedingly distressed,” acknowledged Jones.
“Oh, I confess I was scared blue,” said Tucker. “But out in that old barn with only two or three lanterns to illuminate the place it was easy enough for anybody to fool us. I’m not saying Dick isn’t good at making up and playing a part, but he never could deceive a native of old Erin if he tried to represent an Irishman.”
“Bet he could, bet he could!” spluttered Bouncer. “Couldn’t you, Dick?”
“I don’t know,” confessed Dick, “but I have an idea that I might succeed.”
“I’m willing to bet ten you can’t fool any real Irishman,” cried Tucker.
125“I won’t bet, you know,” laughed Dick, “but I don’t mind trying it. Tell you what I’ll do—I’ll experiment on Maggie Swazey. She’s a good subject, isn’t she?”
They agreed that Maggie, the maid of all work in the rooming house, was acceptable.
“How are you going to experiment on her, partner?” questioned Buckhart.
After a moment’s thought Dick unfolded his plan.
“I know where to get a policeman’s uniform that will fit me unless those fellows who robbed Steiger’s place got away with the outfit. I’ll rig up as an Irish cop this evening, and I’ll stroll around here and call on Maggie shortly after eight o’clock. Tell you what I’ll do, fellows—I’ll make love to Maggie. That ought to be a satisfactory test. If I can fool her to that extent, I ought to be able to fool any one.”
“Truly thou art taking thy life in thy lily-white hands,” said Blessed. “If Maggie ever tumbles to the trick, she’ll split your skull.”
“Oh, say, that ought to be a circus!” shouted Tucker hilariously. “I’d give anything if I could see the sport.”
“Can’t you find a way to see it?”
“I’d like to be in it, too,” grinned Bigelow. “Oh, I wouldn’t want to miss that.”
“Miss it?” said Buckhart. “You bet your boots I don’t propose to miss it!”
“What’ll you do?” asked Tommy and Bouncer in a breath.
“It’s the pantry for mine!” announced the Texan. “I’ll ensconce myself in the pantry where I can take in the doings.”
“Maggie has an old couch down there that she rests on when she’s very tired,” grinned Tucker. “I speak for a snug berth beneath that couch.”
“But where can I conceal my slight and sylphlike 126form?” asked Bigelow. “Say, Buckhart, you ought to let me have the pantry.”
“Then where would I fit in?”
“The sink,” cried Bigelow; “you can get under the sink.”
“Aw, no, that won’t do,” protested Brad. “Think of me hiding under a sink! Great horn spoon!”
“But you’re selfish,” declared Bouncer. “Yes, you are selfish, Buckhart. I can’t get under the sink to save my neck—you can. I could hide in the pantry or the cold room. If you’re going to have the pantry, I’ll take the cold room.”
“I’ll see more of the fun than either one of you,” laughed Tucker. “Next to my chosen retreat beneath the couch, I’d choose the sink, for then I could keep the door open on a crack and watch everything that was going on.”
“This don’t seem to be a time for dignity,” said Brad, “so I’ll take the sink for mine. But, however are we going to get to our retreats, gents?”
“You’ve got sort of left me out,” observed Jones. “I suppose you think I don’t enjoy life, anyhow, and there’s no use in trying to amuse me.”
“Tell you what you can do,” cried Tommy.
“That’s kind, indeed.”
“You can help us out.”
“If Maggie ever catches you stowed around the kitchen, she’ll help you out.”
“You can call her upstairs for something, Jonesy, and give us a chance to sneak into the kitchen. Will you do it? Sure you will.”
“Oh, certainly!” grunted Blessed. “That’s all I’m good for. Work me, work me.”
“If you fellows want to be sure of seeing the sport,” smiled Dick, “don’t fail to have yourselves properly concealed in the kitchen by eight o’clock. I shall arrive 127within five or ten minutes after the hour. That’s settled now. You chaps skidoo. Yes, I mean it. Your room is preferable to your company for the next hour. I’ve got to study.”
According to the arrangement, Jones appeared at the kitchen door some five minutes before eight that evening, and requested Maggie Swazey to do him a little favor. He was studying hard, he said, and couldn’t spare the time to run out to the nearest stationery store for a couple of notebooks. Would she mind getting them for him?
The sight of a silver quarter in the way of emolument for her services quickly banished any sign of hesitation on Maggie’s part.
“Certainly, sir—certainly I’ll git ye the books,” she smiled.
“You know what I want,” said Blessed. “If you don’t, here’s a sample—here’s one of my old books. You can take that along. When you come back bring them up to my room, but get them right away—don’t lose a minute. Time is precious with me this evening.”
The moment the door closed behind Maggie three chuckling lads scudded into the kitchen and prepared to conceal themselves. At the last moment Buckhart seemed inclined to rebel against hiding beneath the sink.
“You can sure get in there, Big,” he said. “Try it.”
Bouncer dropped on all fours and quickly demonstrated the impossibility of seeking to stow himself away beneath the sink.
“It’s a slick place, Brad,” he gurgled. “If I could only get in there, I’d take it in a jiffy. You can back in all right, and here’s a nice little knot hole through which you can see everything that’s going 128on. Cricky, that knot hole must have been made on purpose.”
“That certain is a right fine knot hole,” agreed the Texan, with a grin. “Don’t know but I’ll make use of it.”
With more or less clattering and banging, he finally succeeded in backing in amid the pots and pans and settling himself in a comfortable position with the knot hole convenient to his eye if he lifted his head a bit. But even after getting in there he was again struck by the thought that his position was most undignified, and he started to crawl out.
“No, you don’t!” spluttered Bouncer, slamming the sink door and turning the little wooden button that held it. “You just keep still. It’s me to the pantry, and I won’t have you spoiling my fun.”
“You wait till I do get out!” growled Buckhart’s smothered voice. “I sure will spank you good and plenty.”
“Hurry up, Big!” hissed Tucker, thrusting his head out from beneath the couch. “If you keep on puttering around, Maggie will come back and catch you.”
The fat boy made a dash for the pantry. Five minutes after the return of Maggie Swazey there came a familiar tapping at one of the kitchen windows.
“Good gracious!” exclaimed the girl; “it must be Dennis. I didn’t expect him to-night.”
She hastened to the door and opened it wide in a welcoming manner.
“Good avenin’, Dennis,” she laughed. “How does it happen you’re here so early?”
“It’s not Dinnis Oi am,” announced a voice, as a man wearing the uniform of an officer stepped into the room. “Me name is Patrick McGee, and Oi’ve been app’inted to the beat lately hild by me lamentid fri’nd Dinnis Maloney.”
129“Your lamented friend?” gasped Maggie. “Why, what do you mean, sir? Oh, tell me, has anything terrible happened to Dennis?”
“Sure and there has,” was the sad and solemn answer.
Maggie seemed ready to faint.
“He isn’t dead, is he?” she almost shrieked.
“Worse thon thot,” answered the visitor.
Maggie stiffened up in astonishment.
“Worse than dead?” she gasped. “Why, how can that be possible? What do you mean?”
“He’s married,” said the stranger, in a heart-broken manner.
And now Maggie did utter a shriek. After swaying a moment, she fell limply into the arms of Patrick McGee, who unhesitatingly supported her.
He was a queer-looking, medium-sized man with a face which, using the hackneyed phrase, “looked like a map of Ireland.” He had bushy eyebrows, a fringe of chin whiskers, sand hair, and a plentiful spattering of freckles. On finding himself clasping the limp form of Maggie, Patrick twisted his mug into a comical expression of dismay so that Tommy Tucker, eagerly peering forth from beneath the couch, was forced to stuff his handkerchief into his mouth to hold back a shout of laughter.
“Howld on, howld on, mavourneen!” spluttered Pat. “Don’t yez be afther floppin’ over loike this, me darlint.”
“Married?” choked Maggie, in the greatest anguish. “Oh, it can’t be true!”
“Av it ain’t true, Oi’m a liar!” said McGee.
“When did this happen?” asked the girl, attempting to brace up.
“This marnin’,” was the answer. “Yer see she caught him, and he had to marry her.”
“She caught him? Who caught him?”
“Wan of his girruls.”
“One—one of his girls?”
“Yis, my dear.”
“One of them? How many did he have?”
“Well, my dear, Oi don’t think he really knew himsilf. Wan toime he towld me he was shpooning around some sexteen or seventeen girruls.”
131Maggie popped up straight and stiff as a ramrod, flinging the visitor’s supporting arms aside.
“Sixteen or seventeen girls?” she cried furiously. “Impossible! I can’t believe that! You are deceiving me!”
With his hand to his chin and his head canted sidewise, Patrick McGee gave her a look of injured reproof.
“Desaving ye, me darlint?” he said. “I wouldn’t do that for the worruld!”
“Now hold on right where you are,” commanded Miss Swazey. “Don’t you dare to ‘darlint’ me. Why, you scoundrel—to think of you coming around here with such terrible inflammation and then calling me darlint! And you tried to hug me—you know you did! There’s the door, sir!”
“A foine door it is,” said Patrick, as he closed it. “Exchuse me av Oi forgot to shut it behoind me. Now phwats the use av gittin’ dishturbed loike this over a little thing, Maggie, dear?”
“Maggie, dear; Maggie, dear? How do you know my name is Maggie?”
“Phwoy, me fri’nd Dinnis towld me, av course.”
“Your friend! your friend! So you shamelessly confess you’re the friend of that deceiving monster! Oh, I wish I had him here. I wouldn’t do a thing to him! I’d scratch his eyes out! I’d pull his carroty hair out by the roots! The monster! Deceiving a poor trusting girl like me!”
“Hush now,” protested McGee. “Don’t be too harrud on Dinnis, the poor bhoy. He couldn’t hilp it, you know.”
“Couldn’t help it? Couldn’t help having sixteen or seventeen girls at the same time?”
“But ye see he was such a fascinating divvil,” whispered Pat, with a grin and a wink. “The girruls, the 132darlints, wouldn’t let him alone at all, at all. But it nearly broke poor Dinnis’ heart whin Katie nabbed him and led him to the praste. She meant business, and there was nivver a bit av a chance for him to escape. Whin it was all over he says to me, says he: ‘Pathrick, I lave it to yez to break the news to me Maggie. It’s me Maggie Oi loved most of all other girruls in all the worruld. It’s me Maggie Oi meant to marry. Tell her, the swate crather, that me heart do be breaking. Oi’ll nivver see her again. Oi’m done wid me job, and ye’ve got it, Pathrick. Oi’m going to lave this city and go far away to some foreign country. Oi think Oi shall go to New Jersey.’ Then the poor bhoy broke down and placed his head on me breast and sprinkled me bosom wid his tears. Exchuse me, Miss Swazey, but Oi have to wipe me eyes.”
Not only did he wipe his eyes but he blew such a bugle blast with his nose that Maggie was actually frightened.
Something like a smothered snicker seemed to come from some part of the room, but Patrick coughed loudly and Maggie failed to detect the suspicious sound. Miss Swazey was affected in spite of herself. She began to choke and sob into her apron, which she now held before her eyes.
“Dennis was a fine gent,” she said. “He used to bring me candy and peanuts, and sometimes he brought me banannies and other fruit. I don’t know what I will do without Dennis.”
At this Patrick placed his hand over his heart and lay his head sidewise upon his own shoulder, while a sickly languishing light filled his eyes.
“Av ye’ll not take it amiss, Miss Swazey,” he murmured, “you nade nivver go wanting for candy and peanuts and banannies as long as Pathrick McGee remains on this bate. Av course Oi know Oi’m not such 133a handsome mon as Dinnis, but Oi’ve got a heart in me bosom, Oi have. Besoides thot, not being handsome, there’s no danger thot Oi’ll have sixteen or seventeen other girruls. Oi’m ready to do me bist to take the place of Dinnis.”
“Oh, but I’ll never trust another man—never! never!” moaned Maggie. “They’re all deceivers, every one of them!”
“Oi wouldn’t desave yez for the worruld,” assured the visitor earnestly. “Just give me one trial, Maggie, me darlint. It’s awful lonesome ye’ll be now without Dinnis to come round and tap at yer windy. Ye’ll be afther broodin’ over yer throubles, and maybe ye’ll pine away and doie.”
“I hope I do!” sighed Maggie. “I’d like a quiet resting spot in the cold, cold ground. If I die, perhaps Dennis would come to my grave some time and place a flower upon it.”
“Or a bananny,” said Patrick. “But yez couldn’t ate a bananny then.”
“If Dennis could only see me in my coffin, I know he’d have remorse. I know—boo, hoo!”
Maggie broke down completely, and the visitor made bold to slip an arm around her waist again.
“Ye poor choild!” he murmured, leading her toward the couch. “Do be afther sitting down, me dear. Oi’ll sit besoide yez. Rist yer head on me shoulder. There, there, don’t cry loike thot! It’ll make yer nose red.”
At this moment Tommy Tucker who had discovered one of Maggie’s hatpins beneath the couch proceeded to jab the instrument up between the springs.
“Ow! wow!” howled Patrick McGee, making an electrified spring into the air. “Bumblebees and hornets! phwat were thot?”
With one hand he industriously rubbed the spot that 134had been reached by the hatpin. At the same time, he danced round the room in the most grotesque manner imaginable. Maggie lowered her apron and stared at him in surprise.
“What’s the matter with you?” she asked. “Have you gone crazy?”
“It’s just a bit of neuraligy,” spluttered Patrick. “Did yez iver have it, Maggie? It’s worse thon the jumpin’ toothache. Whin it gives me a twinge loike thot Oi am liable to yell the top av me head off, so I am.”
While making this explanation he walked back to the couch and kicked beneath it in the vain hope of hitting the mischievous rascal concealed there.
“Do sit down again,” urged Maggie.
“Oi don’t dare.”
“Oi fear Oi’d have another attack of the neuraligy. Shtand up, me darlint—sthand up and look into me eyes. You remind me av Kate Kearney. Did ye iver hear of Kate Kearney?”
Then he sang:
“Oh, did yez not hear of Kate Kearney?
She lives on the banks of Killarney;
From the glance av her eye shun danger and fly,
For fatal’s the glance of Kate Kearney.”
“Oh, you’re a perfectly lovely singer!” exclaimed Maggie, rising with clasped hands. “You have the most beautiful voice!”
“Indade Oi have,” agreed Pat. “Unfortunately thot’s the ownly thing beautiful about me. Oi can sing loike a birrud.”
At this moment there was a slight rattling amid the pans beneath the sink.
“Goodness me, there’s that rat again!” cried Maggie. “I’ll set the trap for that rat this very night.”
135“Oi hope ye catch him,” said Pat. “Oi wish ye’d be after telling me whether me voice is tenor eleven.”
Once more he sang:
“O the days of the Kerry dancing,
O the ring of the poiper’s tune!
O for one of those hours av gladness,
Gone, alas! like our youth, too soon.”
“Lovely! lovely! lovely!” gushed Maggie. “A man who can sing like that must have a beautiful disposition.”
“Oi have,” assured McGee. “Av Oi iver git married, Oi’ll trate me wife roight. Av she cooks me meals, washes the dishes, split the wood, brings in the coal, takes in washing, and kapes the household running dacently, Oi’ll nivver hit her.”
At this moment there came a sudden crash from the cold closet.
“Good heavens!” cried Maggie. “What’s happened now? Has the old cat got in there again?”
She sprang to the door and flung it open. Out rolled Bouncer Bigelow covered from head to heels with buttermilk, a panful of which he had upset and brought down upon his head.
“Land of wonders!” gurgled Maggie, aghast. “What was you doin’ in there?”
“I was just looking for something to eat,” spluttered Bouncer feebly. “I was starving to death, Maggie.”
Officer McGee promptly pounced on Bigelow.
“Ye spallpane!” he cried. “Ye thafe of the worruld, it’s a burglar ye are! Oi place ye under arrist. Not a worrud, ye villain! Oi’ll take yez to the station house. Ye can talk to the sargint.”
Bigelow appealed to Maggie.
“If you let him pinch me,” said he, “I’ll tell Mrs. 136Watson what’s going on here in her kitchen night after night.”
Maggie grasped Patrick by the arm.
“It’s nothing, only one of the stujents that rooms in the house,” she explained. “Do let him go.”
McGee looked doubtful.
“The scoundrel has been listenin’ to phwat we’ve been sayin’, me darlint. He’ll be afther tillin’ on us.”
Bigelow pretended that he was very much alarmed. In Bouncer’s ear the pseudo officer whispered:
“Come on, Big. It’s time I got out of this. I think I’ve made good, all right.”
But as he was dragging the fat boy toward the door that door suddenly opened and in it appeared Officer Dennis Maloney himself.
Dick stopped in his tracks.
“Stung!” he muttered.
Officer Maloney wore an expression of puzzled astonishment.
“Phwat’s going on here, Oi dunno?” he inquired, fixing a jealous eye on Patrick McGee.
Maggie Swazey seemed flabbergasted for a moment, but she quickly recovered, and, pointing an accusing finger at the new arrival, she shrieked:
“How dare you show your face here, you wretch?”
“Hey?” grunted Maloney, in astonishment.
“You scoundrel! You reprobate! You base deceiver! You breaker of innocent hearts! You—you—you——”
She could find no epithet that expressed her intense emotion. Behind the excited girl’s back Tommy Tucker thrust his head out from beneath the couch and cried:
“Hit the high places, Dick! Hump yourself!”
Beneath the sink there was a crash as Buckhart inadvertently brought down one of the tin pans. Bouncer Bigelow was fruitlessly trying to mop some of the buttermilk off his clothes with his handkerchief. It was an interesting tableau, and, in spite of himself, the disguised boy laughed.
“Phwat do ye mane by laughing?” roared Officer Maloney. “Phwat’s your name? How did yez happen to come on my bate? Ye shnake, ye’re trying to steal me girrul!”
The hot blood mounted to the face of the speaker, and he stepped belligerently into the room.
138“Skip, Dick!” said Tucker, once more. “It’s your last chance!”
“Get out!” cried Maggie, waving Maloney back. “I don’t want to see your treacherous features. Don’t show your face to me! You’ve broke my poor heart! you’re a monster! Go back to your wife!”
“Me woife?” shouted Dennis, astounded. “Go back to phwat?”
“Back to your wife, you monster! Had seventeen girls on the string at once, did you? Bragged about it, did you? If I’d ever found that out in time, I’d served you the way the other one did: I’d married you!”
“Sure, darlint, Oi don’t undershtand yes,” faltered Maloney. “It’s not married Oi am at all, at all.”
“Not yit, and Oi nivver will be onless ye have me yersilf.”
“But—but—but your friend—your friend, Officer McGee—he told me you were married this morning.”
Maloney glared at the disguised boy, at the same time reaching for his club.
“Me fri’nd, Officer McGee?” he rasped. “So thot’s phwat he’s been telling ye, is it? Well, now Oi think Oi’ll hav a bit to say to Officer McGee, a mon phwat Oi nivver saw before in all me loife. Ye lyin’ shnake! Oi’m goin’ to break yer head, so Oi am!”
He meant it, too, for he charged at Dick, who barely escaped with a nimble duck and a quick dodge to one side.
“Hold on, hold on!” spluttered Bigelow, managing to get in the enraged policeman’s way. “Let’s have an understanding.”
“An ondershtandin’?” howled Maloney. “Oi’ll give him an ondershtandin’!”
Tucker started to crawl from beneath the couch, but 139the enraged Irishman hurled Bigelow staggering to one side, and, getting his feet tangled, the fat boy spun like a top and finished by sitting down heavily on Tucker’s head.
Thump! thump! thump! It was Buckhart pounding furiously on the sink door in an effort to get out.
“Yow! yow!” squawked Tucker smotheredly; “my nose—you’ve smashed my nose!”
Having clung fast to the hatpin, he now jabbed it fiercely into Bigelow, who gave a wild yell of pain and rolled out into the middle of the room just in time to catch Officer Maloney’s foot and send him sprawling.
“Heaven sakes!” palpitated Maggie Swazey, with uplifted hands. “This is terrible!”
Dick saw his opportunity now and embraced it. He did not wait for Maloney to rise, but promptly ducked for the back door and disappeared into outer darkness.
REFUGE IN THE RIVER.
Although he did not fully understand the rather surprising affair, Policeman Dennis Maloney was now satisfied that his sweetheart, Maggie Swazey, had been outrageously imposed upon by the scrubby-bearded, red-faced, blue-coated, brass-buttoned individual he had accidentally discovered there in the kitchen. What part the three boys had taken in the affair he could not understand. In fact, he was decidedly bewildered and vexed, but, at the same time, his fighting blood was aroused and he vowed terrible vengeance on Patrick McGee if he could but once get his hands on that deceiving scoundrel.
With a furious imprecation, Maloney gave Bigelow a fierce kick in the ribs, which brought another howl of pain from the lips of the fat chap. Scrambling to his feet, the policeman dashed toward the door unmindful of the imploring shriek which came from Maggie’s lips. Forth into the darkness he hustled in pursuit of the disguised and fleeing lad, swearing the most terrible vengeance as he vanished.
Scuttling along the alley, Dick paused to peer out upon the street. He did not fancy Maloney would pursue him closely, and therefore he was startled by the sound of thudding feet and turned to see the dark figure of the policeman charging upon him.
“Cæsar’s ghost!” gasped the boy. “Here’s where I take Tucker’s advice and hit the high places.”
He knew it would be a serious thing for him if he fell into the hands of the enraged officer. Confident of his ability to outrun Maloney, he laughingly skipped away. Behind him the policeman raised a great shouting.
141“Stop thafe! stop thafe!”
Looking back, Merriwell saw the bluecoat, club in hand, covering ground with wonderful speed.
The boy dodged to the right at the first corner. He collided with another policeman who had heard Maloney’s shouts, and was rushing to discover the meaning of the uproar. Down they went.
“What in blazes——”
Dick stopped the policeman by savagely interrupting:
“What do you mean by interfering with me? Why didn’t you nab that thief?”
“The one who just dodged round this corner.”
“I didn’t see any one,” said the surprised officer.
“Then you were asleep!” snorted Merriwell, scrambling up just as Maloney came panting and shouting round the corner.
“Stop thafe! stop thafe!” howled Dennis.
“Stop thief! stop thief!” shouted Dick, taking up the cry and leading Maloney by barely a few yards in the breathless rush down the street.
Into the very heart of town they raced, and the crowds upon the lighted street scattered to give them room. People stared in wonderment, seeking to catch a glimpse of the fleeing thief whom those two policemen seemed pursuing. A crowd of men and boys fell in behind Maloney, joining in the cry of, “Stop thief!”
“There he is, the spallpane!” panted Dennis, pointing at Dick, who was gradually increasing the distance between them. “Shtop him! shtop him!”
But no one fancied that he meant the blue-coated person who seemed to be leading this wild and desperate pursuit of the unseen thief. Pointing ahead, Dick took up the cry of the Irish cop.
“There he is! there he is! Stop him! stop him!”
142At the very first opportunity Merriwell made haste to escape from the more-crowded and better-lighted streets. Round first one corner and then another he whisked. Behind him came the hounds in full cry, led by the persistent Irishman, who seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that already he was far off his beat.
“Evidently Maloney will follow me as long as there’s the slightest chance of overtaking me,” decided Dick. “I’ve got to shake him and that mob.”
Nevertheless, not until the vicinity of the Quinnepiac was reached did the boy feel that he had succeeded in his purpose. Resting beside the river a short distance above the drawbridge, Merriwell chuckled over his adventure.
He did not remain long undisturbed. Through the darkness two skulking figures moved toward him, and, fancying they were pursuers searching for him there, he hastily crouched beside a pile of timbers.
The two figures paused a short distance away and began speaking in low tones. Peering through the gloom, the boy made out that each carried a bundle in his hand.
“I’m going to chuck my outfit in right here,” said one.
“I wanted to burn mine,” whispered the other hoarsely, “but I couldn’t find an opportunity.”
“Hello, hello!” thought the hidden boy. “I fancy I know those chaps. I wonder what it is they’re going to chuck into the river. My curiosity is too much for me.”
Suddenly he leaped out and was right upon them before they became aware of his presence.
“Surrender, ye raskills!” he cried. “Don’t thry to resist an officer av the law.”
With gasps of dismay, both dropped their bundles 143and took to their heels, running as if their very lives depended upon it.
“Thanks,” laughed Dick, picking up the bundles. “Now I’ll find out what you were so anxious to dispose of.”
Returning to the lumber pile, he settled himself on a stick of timber and began to open the bundles, both of which had been tightly rolled and securely tied with cords. The knots bothered Dick, and he felt in vain through the pockets of his unusual clothing in search of a knife.
“Of course I haven’t a knife,” he muttered. “Didn’t think to put my own in a pocket of this suit. I’ll have to untie those knots.”
It was a long and tiresome task, but he finally succeeded with one of the bundles which was untied and spread out on the ground at his feet.
“Clothing of some sort,” he decided, “but it’s too dark to see just what it is. I need a match.”
Once more he searched through his pockets, finally discovering the brimstone end of a broken match.
“This will have to do,” he said, as he carefully struck the match on his trousers leg.
Shading it with his hands, he threw the light upon the clothing outspread before him. It was a masquerade suit of crimson.
“Ah-ha!” muttered Dick. “I think I have seen this rig before. I think it was worn by Satan the night the old warehouse burned, and if I’m not greatly mistaken I recognized the voice of Satan just now.”
He was startled by the sound of footsteps, and, turning to glance over his shoulder, discovered three dark figures rapidly coming down upon him. The match was dropped.
One of the three figures had appeared between the 144boy and a distant electric light. He saw it was a policeman.
“Cornered!” thought Dick. “Jingoes, if they catch me with this rig, I’ll be in a bad scrape! I can’t deny that I was at the warehouse, and it’ll look as if I was concerned in robbing the costumer’s shop.”
Catching up the crimson suit and the bundle, he sought an opening by which he could escape, but the trio had spread out and were hemming him in so that there seemed absolutely no chance to dodge them.
“Begobs, we have him now!” shouted an exultant voice—the voice of Dennis Maloney.
“Not yet!” cried the boy.
Splash!—he flung himself into the cold Quinnepiac. Freeing himself of the bundle and the crimson masquerade suit, the boy struck out into the river.
“Come on!” he challenged. “Follow me! Catch me! I dare you!”
“Come back here, ye spallpane!” roared Maloney, pausing at the water’s edge and vainly shaking his club at the dark head which bobbed like a cork on the surface of the river.
“In a minute—I don’t think,” was the answer. “Why don’t you come in for me?”
“He’ll have to come ashore somewhere,” said another one of the trio. “The current is carrying him down toward the bridge. Keep watch of him. We’ll nab him when he tries to get out.”
“I’m afraid they will,” thought the boy. “I’m still in a nasty scrape. What’ll I do?”
Suddenly he flung up his arms and uttered a painful cry for help.
“Cramps! cramps!” he shouted, floundering and splashing in the current which was sweeping him toward the bridge. “Help! quick! Ah——”
145Down he went, the water seeming to cut short that last gasping cry for assistance.
“The poor devil is drowning,” chattered one of the officers.
“He’s gone!” cried another.
“And Oi nivver aven put the weight of me hand on him,” muttered Maloney regretfully.
The dark current swept on into the black shadows, beneath the bridge, but they watched in vain for the fugitive to rise to the surface.
“He’s gone,” muttered Dennis. “Oi’ll howld no grudge. May the saints rest his sowl.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO BRAD.
The boys waited in Dick’s room for him to reappear. They were confident he had escaped Maloney. With tears of merriment streaming down his cheeks, Tucker rehearsed every particular of the preposterously amusing affair that had taken place in the kitchen. Tommy’s version of it was sufficient to bring a ghastly smile to the solemn face of Jones.
“Oh, yes, it was funny, wasn’t it?” sneered Bigelow. “I ruined a good suit of clothes, and then Tucker stuck a butcher knife into me about a foot and a half, and that Irish policeman wiped his feet on me and broke a couple of ribs.”
“What I want to know,” said Buckhart, “is who fastened me under the sink. Had to brace and push with all my strength in order to break that door open.”
“When Dick skipped and Maloney went after him, howling like a madman,” laughed Tommy, “Maggie promptly collapsed. About that time Mrs. Watson came down on us, and I expect we’ll all get fired out in the morning.”
“Do wish my pard would show up,” muttered Buckhart, glancing at the clock. “It’s strange he doesn’t come back. Been more than an hour and a half now. If he doesn’t get in before eleven, I’m going out looking for him.”
The restlessness of the Texan finally led him to slip downstairs, and, hearing the murmur of voices coming from the kitchen, he tiptoed to the door and listened. A few minutes later he came charging into the room where the boys were gathered.
“Great horn spoon!” he gasped, his face pale and 147his eyes betraying the greatest excitement. “That Irish cop is in the kitchen this minute. Just heard him telling Maggie how they chased Dick clean to the river, and he tried to get away by swimming. Maloney says he got cramps and went down. Maloney said he sure was drowned. I don’t believe it, but I’m going to find out what I can about it. Who’s with me?”
Seizing their hats, they followed the Texan; but on the front steps they encountered Merriwell, who was getting out his latchkey.
“Hello, fellows,” said Dick coolly. “Where are you bound in such a rush?”
“Well,” breathed Brad, in relief, “this sure is some satisfying, partner. Just heard you were last seen hollering for help in the river. You’re supposed to be drowned.”
“That’s right,” laughed Dick, “and I’m willing they should continue to cherish that delusion. It was the only way I could escape. I pretended to sink, but when the current carried me under the bridge I clung to a pier until I could swim ashore without being seen. It was hard work reaching the costumer’s without attracting undesirable attention in my dripping clothes, but I finally got there and made a change for my own garments. I’m here, and I guess I’m all right unless I get cold from that ducking.”
In his room he told them about the two chaps who had brought bundles of clothing with the evident intention of casting those bundles into the river.
“One of the fellows was Ditson,” said Dick. “I think the other was Lynch. Either Ditson or Lynch wore that satanic masquerade outfit. Of course, I have no proof against them, and they could give me the laugh if I accused them; but those chaps were 148concerned in the game to amuse themselves at your expense, Tucker.”
“I’ve thought so right along,” said Tommy. “They’ll overstep themselves yet and get into a scrape they can’t squirm out of.”
In spite of the exciting events of the evening, Merriwell slept well that night and did not catch cold from his ducking. Shortly before one o’clock the following day Brad Buckhart came hurrying into Dick’s room and found Merriwell on the point of going out.
“Pard,” said the Texan, “I’m in a scrape. Just met Mabel Ditson and Bab Midhurst. Mabel was feeling rather blue and downcast. It seems that Rob Claxton invited her to attend Professor Oblong’s lecture on Japan and then found out he couldn’t get seats. I thought I knew where I could get a couple of seats, and it seemed to me a good chance to get ahead of our friend, the Virginian, and so I asked her if she would go with me. She said she sure would, and I’ve been round to the scalpers’ after those seats. There isn’t one to be had for love or money. Now what do you think of that? She’s going to be a whole lot disgusted when I tell her I fizzled the same as Claxton did.”
“Let’s see, when is this lecture?”
“And Friday afternoon we leave for Providence. It’s just as well you didn’t get seats, Brad. You’re supposed to turn in at ten o’clock Thursday night.”
“Oh, I could make it pretty near that,” said the Texan.
“Those lectures never last later than ten. I’d have a cab take Mabel home, drop her, and have cabby land me at this ranch in double-quick order.”
“Well, you ought to thank your luck that you’re not 149compelled to listen to that lecture. Don’t you hear lectures enough?”
“Listen!” snorted Buckhart. “What’s the matter with you, pard? You don’t suppose I was going to that lecture with the idea of listening to it, do you? I was going to take a girl—the girl—the only girl. I was going to steal a lap on Claxton. I wouldn’t care if the old lecture was about the Hottentots or the Zulus. Partner, I’m going to get into that lecture if I have to pay a ten-dollar premium on tickets. You hear me warble!”
“You’d better forget it,” said Dick.
But the Texan did not forget it, and on Thursday he triumphantly announced that he had secured tickets by paying double price for them.
“Well, you’d better consult Jones about staying out after ten to-night,” advised Dick.
Brad consulted Blessed and was given permission to attend the lecture on his pledge to lose no time about getting to bed after it was over.
“Going to do this thing up brown, partner,” chuckled Buckhart, as he dressed that evening. “My carriage will call for me at seven-thirty. If you happen to see Claxy this evening, be good enough to find a way to tell him that I’ve taken Miss Ditson to the lecture. That sure ought to bump him some.”
In spite of his promise to seek the mattress as quickly as possible after the lecture was over, Brad permitted himself to be lured into the house by Mabel, who told him that Barbara wished to see him. He did not stop many minutes, but came out in high good spirits, bounded down the steps, reached the waiting cab, flung open the door, and jumped in.
He sprang into the enfolding arms of some one who was sitting inside the cab. Those arms, clasped about his own, held him like bands of steel.
150“Whoop!” roared the Texan, in astonishment. “Whatever does this mean?”
Over his shoulder a voice said:
“Lively with that stuff! Come on, quick!”
Then Brad perceived a dark figure in front of him and suddenly a sickly, pungent odor assailed his nostrils. A handkerchief saturated with chloroform was held over his mouth and nose.
The Texan put up a savage fight, but his efforts were futile, and in the end he was overcome, sinking helpless in the arms of the fellow who had clung to him with such fierce tenacity through it all.
When Brad revived he found himself in a basement room, stretched upon a wretched cot, with a rough table near at hand and a smoking lamp burning on the table. It was some time before he could realize his situation. Gradually he recalled what had happened, and, with a groan, he started up from the couch. He was still dressed in evening clothes, although his collar and necktie had been torn away. There was a sensation of nausea at the pit of his stomach and his head swam. After a moment he was forced to sink back upon the couch.
“What does it mean?” he muttered. “Where am I, anyhow? How did I get here?”
There were no windows save a small, narrow transom above the one heavy door of the room. He was impressed with the belief that the room was sunken deep beneath the ground and no sounds he made could be heard outside. Nevertheless, finally summoning his strength, he raised an outcry.
When there was no answer he succeeded in dragging himself to his feet, reeled across the cemented floor, and tried to open the door.
It refused to move before his efforts.
151“No use,” he muttered, stumbling back to the couch and dropping upon it. “I’m bagged. I can’t understand it, and I suppose I’ll have to wait until somebody comes around to explain. If it’s a joke, it’s a blamed poor one. You hear me gurgle!”
FROM THE BAR Z RANCH.
Although he had promised to return early that night, the Texan did not return at all. Dick was highly vexed over Buckhart’s failure to come in as soon as he had promised, finally falling asleep with the intention to give Brad a piece of his mind in the morning.
In the morning the Texan was still absent. Dick became alarmed. As soon as possible he telephoned to Mabel and learned that Brad had bidden her good night before ten-thirty the previous evening.
What had become of Buckhart? This was the question which soon stirred up no end of excitement, but midday delivery brought Dick a letter which he anxiously opened, reading the following message:
“Dear Pard: Suppose you’re a heap worried about me. You needn’t be. I’m all right. Will explain on meeting you in Providence. I’ll be there in time to do the backstopping in that game. Depend on me.
Not thirty minutes behind the letter arrived a startlingly picturesque individual who nearly pulled the door bell out by the roots and scared Maggie when she appeared at the door by yanking off his broad-brimmed hat, making a sweeping bow and huskily saying:
“How are yer, miss? Is this yere the ranch where Brad Buckhart can be found?”
Maggie was tempted to close the door in the face of that bewhiskered, sunburned, booted, and spurred man. From his Stetson hat to his high-heeled boots he looked like the burlesque Western desperado seen on 153the stage. Around his waist he wore a loose belt which supported a pistol holster, the latter, however, being empty.
“Mr. Buckhart—he—rooms here,” faltered Maggie, “but you see, sir—he—ain’t to home now.”
“Waal, that’s all right, my gal,” said the fierce-looking man, “I’ll just walk in and wait for him. You see I’m from his father’s ranch, the Bar Z, and the old man axed me to look up Brad while I was on yere. You can show me his room, little gal. I’ll squat thar.”
Shiveringly Maggie led the way to Buckhart’s room, into which the visitor strode with an air of perfect self-assurance.
“I—I’m afraid you’ll have to wait an awful long time, sir,” said the girl. “I understand Mr. Buckhart he has gone away somewhere, sir.”
“Waal, whar’s he gone?”
“I dunno, sir. I dunno’s anybody knows, sir.”
Dick Merriwell looked in from the adjoining room. He had the singular letter in his hand, for he was still puzzling over it.
“Do you want to see Buckhart, sir?” he inquired.
“I sure do,” answered the visitor. “Mebbe you can tell me when he’ll git back. My name is Bill Bugle, and I’m a cow-puncher from the Bar Z. You see the boy’s old man axed me would I drop round and see him and bring back a report as to how he was gittin’ along here. Who are you?”
“My name is Merriwell, and I’m——”
“Put her thar!” shouted Bugle, extending his hand. “Why, you’re Brad’s kid pard. You’re the youngster he’s writ so much about to his old man. I’m certain powerful glad to meet up with you.”
Maggie retreated, leaving them together, and in a very short time Dick and the visitor became surprisingly friendly. The door into the hall was closed, and, 154listening from the stairs some minutes later, Miss Swazey heard Dick and Bugle laughing in the most friendly manner. They seemed to be enjoying something like a joke.
A little later Dick gave out the contents of the letter he had received. When its genuineness was doubted he asserted that the writing looked like that of Buckhart, and he was confident the Texan would show up in Providence according to his promise.
Among the freshmen who accompanied the team to Providence were to be seen the entire Ditson crowd. On reaching the city they took a suite of rooms at a medium-priced hotel, and immediately pooled every dollar they could raise for the purpose of betting against Yale.
“It’s a dead cinch!” Mike Lynch asserted. “Without Buckhart behind the bat Merriwell will be hammered out of the box.”
“But how do you know for a fact that he won’t have Buckhart?” inquired Mel Daggett. “Of course we all know that the Texan isn’t with the team, but they say Merriwell has heard from him and he’s promised to be in the game.”
“That’s all right, Mel,” smiled Duncan Ditson knowingly. “We have reasons to know that Buckhart won’t show his nose on the field to-morrow. He won’t be in the game, so don’t you worry about your money. Here’s where we fellows make a clean-up that will put us on our feet again.”
“If we don’t,” said Jim Poland; “if we lose, I’m ruined this time. I don’t know how I’m going to raise another dollar.”
That night Ditson and Lynch slept well after drinking to their good luck, which they believed was assured. The following forenoon the Yale men put in some light practice on the field. They waited in vain 155for the appearance of Buckhart, although Dick remained confident that Brad would show up.
But when the time arrived for the team to dress and proceed to the field Buckhart was still missing. No one seemed more disappointed over this than Bill Bugle, who hung around the boys, and, through Dick’s intercession, was finally given permission to ride to the field on the barge with the players.
“I used to play this yere game some myself,” he announced. “I wonder if you youngsters wouldn’t let me git holt of the ball. I’d like to do some batting for ye when ye practice.”
“We’ll have to take you for a mascot,” said Robinson. “If you can bat for us, we’ll let you do so.”
There was more or less laughter and joshing from the Providence boys as the Yale team marched onto the field with Bugle at the side of Blessed Jones. Every one watched with intense curiosity to see what the man would do when he seized a bat and prepared to take part in the practice. To the surprise of all, he hammered the ball in a scientific manner, driving it wherever he chose and in whatever manner he chose.
But Buckhart was still absent and the Yale players were downcast. They were talking about a substitute catcher when Bugle announced that he was going to do the catching himself. They gave very little heed to this until Tucker called attention to the fact that the Westerner was shedding his garments. The man had stepped out into an open space near the Yale bench where he proceeded to kick off his high-heeled boots, skin his shirt over his head, and snap himself out of his trousers before a hand could be lifted to prevent. These movements produced a most astonishing metamorphosis, for beneath those outer garments Bugle wore the baseball uniform of Yale Uumpty-ten. Not only that, but his whiskers and long hair vanished with 156the rest of his outfit, and, as he turned toward the bench, Dick Merriwell observed:
“I told you Brad would arrive on time, boys. Here he is.”
The astonishment of the Yale lads was unspeakable, for before them stood Buckhart, smiling and wiping some of the grease paint from his face with a soiled handkerchief.
“Just a little joke,” explained Brad, with a wink. “We’ll talk it over later, fellows. Now let’s get into this game and eat Brown up.”
In the midst of the universal excitement the consternation of the Ditson crowd failed to attract particular attention. As for Lynch and Duncan, both seemed to fancy themselves dreaming. They were aroused by Daggett, who snarled at them:
“You know a lot, don’t you? You knew Buckhart wouldn’t be here, but there he is!”
“Yes, there he is,” muttered Poland, who had lost heart at once, “and Yale will win this game. Fellows, we’re busted, every blamed one of us.”
Jim was right, for Yale put up a great game against the clever Brown freshmen. Nevertheless, it was nobody’s game until the eighth inning, when, with the bases filled, Buckhart smashed out a home run that proved to be the undoing of Brown. Among Dick’s backers the man behind the bat was the one who really won the game.
It was true the entire Ditson crowd was unspeakably disgusted and sore. That night they quarreled among themselves, and Mel Daggett wore a black eye for some days thereafter.
Of course Dick had known for a certainty that Buckhart would be in the game, having penetrated the disguise of the young Texan shortly after he appeared as Bill Bugle. The letter was a clever forgery. Brad 157had succeeded in escaping through his own efforts, having broken the lock on the door of the wretched room in which he found himself confined.
Although the Texan believed there had been no intention to perpetrate serious injury upon him, he thirsted for revenge upon the fellows who had sought to carry through such a rascally piece of business. This led him to visit the costumer so often patronized by Dick, where he secured the cowboy outfit and made himself up to pass as a cattleman from the Bar Z.
“But the fact that they lost their bets doesn’t satisfy me by a whole lot,” he declared. “I’d like to have proof of the identity of those two gents who nabbed me in the cab. If I ever do get such proof, I’ll light on them all spraddled out. You hear me softly warble!”
A few days later, Dick was pitching for practice, when a number of the members of the varsity nine happened along and were at once struck with the wondrous way in which Dick manipulated the ball.
“The varsity nine is mighty weak as to pitchers,” said one of the spectators of Dick’s skill. “I wish it were possible to get Merriwell to help us.”
The others laughed at the idea of the possibility of a mere freshman giving instructions to the men of the varsity nine. Yet this chance remark made by a junior classman led on to very practical results. For not long after that Dick was called upon to give a practical demonstration of his cleverness with the ball for the edification of the varsity nine.
A PITCHER NEEDED.
For some time, indeed, there had been a feeling of uneasiness and apprehension on the varsity nine. This feeling culminated following the game with Williams in which the youngsters from the hilly country came near administering a most disgraceful trouncing to Yale. Pitcher after pitcher was tried in the box by the Elis, but the Williams lads seemed to find every blue twirler an easy mark. Only for the terrific batting of Henderson, and Cunningham’s freak home run that sent in three men ahead of him, Williams would have scooped the game.
That there was something the matter with Yale’s pitching staff the critics acknowledged. Efforts had been made to keep this fact out of the newspapers, and in some way influence had succeeded in gagging Walter Billings, the college reporter, whose opinions in regard to Yale athletics were highly respected and universally conceded to be remarkably astute. But Billings could be choked off no longer. He grimly declared that it was for the good of the nine and forthwith proceeded to express his opinion in print. From him it became universally known that Yale was far from satisfied with her pitching staff.
“Pumper” Welch, the chief pitcher of the team, was so sore over this that he refused to recognize Billings for several days. Welch claimed that a slight lameness in his arm had prevented him from doing his best in the Williams game. No one could remember of hearing him mention this lameness before he was batted out of the box. More than that, he seemed to have unusual speed that day, but the Williams lads had a taste for speed and simply ate up his fast ones.
159In order to do its best a team must have confidence in its pitcher. Without such confidence the players are liable to make the most outrageous errors and in many cases the entire team will get rattled and go to pieces at a critical moment.
Yale dreaded the games that lay before her. The harder ones were to come. If Williams could be defeated only by a fluke home run, what would happen when the blue went up against the crimson? Harvard had the pitchers, and everything seemed to indicate that her team was stronger than it had been the season before when she snatched the championship from Yale in two straight.
Manager, captain, and coaches were worried. Consultations were frequent There was any amount of guarded talk and argument and a great deal of dubious head-shaking. Something must be done, but what?—that was the question.
One balmy morning Dick Merriwell met Billings on the campus. Walter squinted at Dick through his spectacles and then stopped short and called to him.
“Hello, Merriwell,” he said, shaking the freshman’s hand. “How’s trix? Everything going all right?”
“First-rate,” was the cheerful answer.
“But you’re pitching your arm off, boy. Now don’t tell me you’re not. You’re doing too much. You’ll hurt yourself.”
“I’m pretty careful of that arm,” laughed Dick. “I watch it and care for it as if it were a baby. I don’t think I’ll injure it, Billings.”
“But you’re doing more than half the pitching for your team. You’re winning the games, too, and I know you’ve got a third-rate bunch behind you.”
Some fellows would have swelled up and looked flattered over a compliment like this, but not so with Dick. Instead of that he gravely protested that he thought 160the Umpty-ten team very good indeed. Billings grinned but failed to provoke the freshman into the slightest display of amused sarcasm.
“You talk as if you meant it,” said the reporter.
“I do,” repeated Dick. “No pitcher can win right along unless he has good backing.”
“Oh, but there are a lot of soreheads who are not playing on your team.”
“I know that, and we’re better off without such fellows. Their jealousies and ambitions make them detrimental to the good of any team they get on.”
“Well, I guess that’s right,” nodded Billings.
“I’d rather have nine men who are not quite so brilliant, but who have the right spirit and the determination to play the game for the glory of their team or college than to have a team made up of stars, every one of whom is looking for his own glory.”
“You’ve got a level head, young fellow,” said Billings. “You’re all right. I’ve been watching you some time. You’re a comer, and I bet my life you’ll get there.”
“Thank you,” murmured Dick, blushing.
“I’m sorry you’re a freshman this year. Wish you weren’t barred from varsity baseball. The varsity needs you.”
“Oh, I don’t think——”
“I know,” interrupted Billings quickly. “You’d be a great help to the varsity nine. It’s no secret now that we are weak on the slab.”
“There are candidates enough.”
“Candidates enough, such as they are. Never in my life saw such a swarm of fellows trying to pitch. They’ve been culled out and sifted down to five or six at the present time, but out of what remains there’s 161not a single steady, cool-headed, reliable man with real talent for pitching. Of course, I don’t want to be quoted, Merriwell. I wouldn’t say this to every one, but it’s a fact.”
“There’s no danger that I’ll repeat it, Billings. It’s a shame.”
“It is a shame!” growled Walter. “Already we’ve been beaten by some of the smaller teams. What will happen to us when we go up against some of the better ones? It makes me sick to think what Harvard is sure to do to us.”
“What’s the matter with Welch for a pitcher?”
“The trouble is right here,” answered Billings, tapping his forehead. “Welch has speed and kinks and all that, but he doesn’t use his head.”
“Well, there’s Swett. Every one seemed to think him a wizard.”
“He’s a spit-ball pitcher, and that’s all you can say about him. He hasn’t another thing but the spit ball, and some days he’s liable to throw that straight up into the air.”
“How about Dud Towne?”
“All he knows anything about is a drop. Give him a hard game, put him up against good batters, and he insists on pitching that drop all the time. Result, a lame arm constantly. He’s been told that he’ll ruin his wing.”
“Well, there’s Wilbur Keene.”
“In my opinion he’s the most promising man we have. He’s the youngest and the least experienced, but he’s in earnest and he has a splendid inshoot which is frightfully hard to hit; but he lacks confidence, and there’s always a chance that he’ll blow up in a tight place.”
“With proper coaching some of these fellows ought to make good men.”
162“With proper coaching—there’s the rub. Welch resents coaching. Towne is too opinionated, and set to improve by it. Swett is so sensitive that he can’t accept criticism. Besides that, it takes a peculiar talent to coach a pitcher properly. I say, Merriwell, why don’t you come out to the field this afternoon? I suppose you’re busy with your own team, but you might get off for an hour. Come along with me, will you? I’d like to have your ideas concerning the practice and the men. You might give me some hints that I can use.”
“I wouldn’t like to do that,” said Dick. “Not for the world would I let any one get the impression that I had criticized the varsity.”
“All right, then, don’t give me any hints, but come out to the field. It won’t do you any hurt to stay away from your own team’s practice to-day—it’ll do you good. Will you come if I’ll fix it? I’ll speak to Jones about it.”
“Well, if you’re so eager for my society and you can arrange it,” laughed Dick, “I’ll come.”
DICK ACCEPTS A CHALLENGE.
The field presented a lively appearance when Billings and Merriwell arrived that afternoon. Three or four coachers were hard at work with the regular players and the substitutes. Of the pitchers three were limbering their arms while two more batted for the practicing fielders. The manager and the head coach were standing apart from the other men on the field, engaged in an earnest argument. Captain Emery was working like a Trojan, and it was plain by the expression on his face that he was not wholly without worry. Some forty or fifty students were scattered about in little groups on the bleachers, watching the practice.
Billings was recognized the moment he appeared, but the sudden show of interest, the sudden craning of necks—Billings’ companion caused all this.
“What’s he doing here?”
“There’s a pitcher.”
“It’s a shame we can’t use him.”
“Oh, I don’t know. He might not prove so much in real fast company.”
At this the fellow who had expressed regret because the varsity was not permitted to use Dick proceeded to straighten up and assert his belief that the freshman was just about the hottest thing in the way of a twirler that had been seen at Yale since the days of his famous brother.
“Mark what I say,” said this chap, shaking a finger in the air, “that boy is a wizard. I’ve watched him pitch, and I know what I’m talking about. He has some kinks up his sleeve that no one ever saw before.”
164“Can he throw the double shoot?” laughed a sarcastic chap with a cigarette. “You know Frank Merriwell had the reputation of pitching such a ball. Why, there are fellows right here in college who really believe he could throw a ball that would curve two ways.”
“Of course you don’t believe anything of that kind?”
“Do I look like an idiot? I admit that Merriwell had some kind of a deceptive twist, but common sense will tell any one that the double shoot is a rank impossibility.”
“There was a time,” said the other, “that common sense seemed to tell every one that any kind of a curve was an impossibility. Even at the present time there are lots of curves and shoots that cannot be explained by the wisest seers. Who can give an acceptable theory of the erratic actions of the spit ball? Sometimes it curves slowly, sometimes it doesn’t curve at all, and sometimes it breaks at a sharp angle.”
“What’s Billings doing with Merriwell?” inquired a curious chap. “He’s taken him over to the bench. They’re talking with Leyden.”
Leyden was the head coach. It happened that Billings was simply introducing Dick to the man.
“How are things going to-day, Mr. Leyden?” inquired the reporter.
The coach regarded him suspiciously.
“Now don’t come to me for material,” he said. “You’ve made trouble enough already, Billings. Go ahead and write your stuff, but don’t expect assistance from me.”
“I think I’ve taken pains never to give away any confidences or secrets,” he said. “No one has the good of the team more at heart than I have. Sometimes it becomes necessary to tell the truth. I kept still until 165outsiders began to get onto the actual condition here. It’s no secret that Yale needs pitchers. I wish we were in position to give this boy a trial, Leyden.”
He placed his hand on Dick’s shoulder as he spoke, causing the lad to flush and look embarrassed.
“Of course you know we can’t do that, and he might not prove the man we need if we could.”
“This boy,” said Walter, “is a natural pitcher. He’s made a study of it, and he has a few original curves of his own.”
“There are no original curves nowadays, Billings. There’s nothing new in that line.”
“Say, why don’t you give Merriwell an opportunity to pitch for batting practice? Your batting practice is rather tame in my estimation. Can’t get a pitcher to go out there and pitch the way he would in a game, you know. They simply go out and throw the ball straight over. This doesn’t do much good for the batter.”
“I didn’t come out to take any part in the practice, Billings,” said Dick hastily.
Discovering Merriwell, Pumper Welch came slouching up, a sarcastic smile on his face. Welch had never liked Dick, and he now seized the opportunity to be nasty.
“Hello, Merriwell,” he said. “I suppose you’ve come out to show us how to pitch?”
There was something absolutely insulting in the way these words were spoken.
“How do you do, Welch,” bowed the freshman, his eyes snapping a bit. “I didn’t come out to show you how to pitch. I presume you know it all.”
“I won’t come to you to learn what I don’t know,” was the instant retort.
Dudley Towne came forward. Like Welch, Towne 166had no love for Dick. He had not forgotten how, in the fall games, the freshman had outpitched him.
“Why aren’t you practicing with your team this afternoon, Merriwell?” he inquired. “I presume you’re such an expert that you really don’t need to practice much of any?”
Frank Emery came trotting forward.
“We’re going to get some batting practice now,” he said. “You pitch first, will you, Towne? Wake up a little and give ’em something to hit. Don’t simply lob over some lazy straight ones. You haven’t got to pitch your arm off, but you can use a few curves, you know.”
Towne scowled and looked sulky.
“My wing is lame, cap,” he said. “Don’t you think I’ve used it about enough this afternoon? Of course, I’ll pitch if you say so, but——”
“If your arm is lame, I should think you’d keep it covered up when you get through working,” said Emery warmly. “Why, you don’t even put on a sweater, Towne. A man without sense enough to take care of his arm is bound to have a lame wing the most of the time. We can get along without you. Where’s that freshman, Toleman? He’s the only fellow who really does give the batters any practice that’s worth while.”
“Toleman hasn’t been out this afternoon,” said Leyden. “Billings was just proposing that we should use this youngster in batting practice.”
“Oh, hello, Merriwell!” cried Emery cordially. “What are you doing here? All right, come ahead and pitch a while, will you?”
“This was not my proposition,” said Dick. “I simply came round to look on. Thought I might pick up some points for my own benefit, you know.”
At this Welch laughed unpleasantly.
167“Just peel off and pitch a while, Merriwell,” he said. “I wish you would. I’d like to bat against you. I’ve never had a chance. You’re pretty clever at striking out freshmen, but you’ll find it different against real batters. I’m a fairly good hitter myself, and I don’t think you could strike me out in a week.”
“Perhaps not,” admitted Dick.
Thinking Merriwell frightened, Welch proceeded to rub it in by offering to give the boy ten dollars every time he struck out if Dick would give him a dollar for every clean hit he made.
“Which is the same as betting,” said Dick. “I never bet.”
“Of course he doesn’t,” chuckled Towne. “He hasn’t sand enough. I don’t believe he has the nerve to get out here and pitch for batting practice.”
“What sort of batting practice is this to be?” demanded Dick sharply. “Under ordinary circumstances the pitching is not made too difficult for the batter. It’s not customary in such practice for the pitcher to deceive the batter in any possible way. Instead of that, he is to put the ball over if he can.”
“If you’ll pitch, I shall be highly pleased to have you deceive me in any possible manner,” said Welch. “Just show what you can do, will you? They say Manhattan College has a pitcher after your style, and I just want to show the boys what I’m going to do to him.”
“Go ahead, Merriwell,” urged Emery.
Thus challenged, Dick proceeded to pull off his coat and get ready for business.
THE FRESHMAN PITCHER.
Dick had not come out for that purpose, and he gave Billings a good-natured frown, receiving in return an equally good-natured smile of satisfaction. Things had happened exactly the way Billings had hoped they would. It was his belief that Merriwell could show the varsity pitchers a few tricks, but the boy was not the kind voluntarily to show off, and the pride and prejudice of the varsity pitchers would prevent them from seeking any tips of a freshman.
It must be confessed that Merriwell’s blood had been warmed a little by the unconcealed sneering of Welch and Towne. He knew both of these fellows disliked him heartily, and, to tell the truth, he was not inclined to waste any love on them.
Having practically stated that he would do all sorts of things to Dick’s delivery, Welch sought permission to lead off in the batting and was given a nod by Emery.
For the first time Billings was a trifle worried, for he feared the freshman might not be up to his usual form. If this should be the case and the boy was batted freely and heavily, Billings knew he would “get the laugh” from those chaps who were eagerly watching for him to make a mistake in judgment.
“As this is not to be ordinary batting practice, Emery,” he said, “why don’t you appoint an umpire to call balls and strikes? That’s the only way to make a fair test of it.”
“You might do that, Leyden,” suggested Emery. “It will give you a chance to watch the kid’s curves. You can tell in a few moments if he has anything up his sleeve.”
169The coach jogged out and took his position back of the pitcher’s stand. A few of the regulars and a number of subs were placed on bases and in the field. Del Cranch, the catcher, leisurely sauntered into position some twenty-five feet behind the batter. There was no reason why he should get under the stick where he might be hurt, just to limber his arm a bit, Dick threw a few balls to the chap on first.
“Now watch me pound this wonderful freshman’s curves,” invited Welch, in a low tone, as he walked out to the plate.
“Pumper is too confident,” muttered Dudley Towne. “I’ve batted against Merriwell, and he isn’t easy, although I wouldn’t tell him so for the world.”
The first ball delivered by Dick looked good to Welch, but it took a queer inward twist, passing close to his knees, and he did not even foul it.
“One strike,” called Leyden. “You’ll have to use better judgment than that, Welch. It didn’t even cross the inside corner.”
Pumper shrugged his shoulders and grinned.
“Just wanted to encourage him, that’s all,” he said. “Now he’ll have to put ’em over.”
But the next two balls were wide, which made it seem that Dick’s control was rather poor.
“Oh, come! come!” cried the batter. “You can’t fool me, kid. Don’t wear yourself out. Don’t waste your strength. Get ’em over, get ’em over.”
Even as Pumper was speaking Dick delivered a speedy one that seemed to make the air sizzle.
Welch struck under it at least a foot.
“Hello, hello,” muttered Leyden, “that was a pretty jump ball. Can you throw it when you wish, youngster?”
“If I’m in proper form, I can. Occasionally I can’t make it jump as much as I would like. It’s one of the 170hardest balls to pitch, because there seems to be no regular way to throw it that will give positive and consistent results. Sometimes when I try hardest to make it jump it pans out to be merely a high straight ball.”
“Do you pitch a raise ball the same as you do the jump?”
“Oh, no,” answered Dick quickly. “The two are pitched in entirely different ways. The jump is the result of extreme speed with an overhand delivery. I’ll pitch the raise ball now.”
These final words were spoken in such a low tone that they did not reach the ears of Welch. Grasping the ball exactly as if he meant to pitch an outcurve, Dick swung his arm, dropping his hand nearly to the level of his knee. The ball left his hand and came floating up toward the batter’s shoulder in a most deceptive manner. There was no great speed, and it seemed easy enough to hit the ball. Nevertheless, Welch struck under it, for, even though he knew it was a rise, he found it something he could not accurately gauge.
“One strike-out,” called Leyden. “Try again, Pumper. Perhaps you’ll do better next time.”
A tinge of red leaped into the cheeks of Welch, and he bit his lips angrily.
“Yes, that’s once,” he admitted. “I’m all through encouraging the kid.”
“You’ve been very kind,” said Dick, with mock gratitude.
“He’s laughing at you, Welch,” whispered Towne behind his outspread hand.
Pumper set his teeth and squared his jaw, gripping the bat fiercely. An outcurve nearly led him into reaching, but he checked himself just in time for Leyden to call a ball instead of a strike. Another outcurve 171followed and Welch edged up close to the rubber, his toes almost touching it.
Dick now grasped the ball firmly with two fingers, while his curved thumb touched it very lightly. Keeping his hand in an upright position as he swung, he let the ball go over the tips of his fingers with a lateral motion. All the speed he could command was put into this delivery. When the ball left his fingers it was turning from right to left and apparently aimed to cross the outside corner of the plate.
Just as Welch swung the sphere took a sudden inshoot, and he actually felt its breath as it twisted past his ear.
Realizing he had been deceived by a high inshoot that had nearly hit him, Welch snarled at the freshman:
“Look out there! You came near hitting me in the head then! You want to be careful!”
“If you’d been hit in the head, Pumper, you might have blamed yourself,” said Leyden. “You’re standing on top of the rubber. Get back the proper distance.”
By this time Welch was both angry and ashamed. He sullenly moved back from the plate, feeling his blood leaping hotly in his veins.
“I’ve got to hit the next one I swing at,” he thought. “I’ve got to—and I will.”
In spite of this determination, he merely fouled the next ball he went after.
“Saved yourself by touching it,” said Leyden. “You still have a chance.”
Thus far, with the single exception of the raise ball, Dick had been using speed. He now swung overhand as if intending to throw a swift one, but when the ball left his fingers it seemed to hang in the air as if some invisible force was retarding it. Welch 172saw it coming and knew it would cross the pan fairly. He was impatient to hit at it, and, in spite of himself, he could not wait until the ball was near enough. Swinging far too soon, he missed it entirely. Some of the spectators laughed.
Welch longed to send his bat spinning at Dick Merriwell’s head, for there is nothing so provoking to a batter as to be fooled by a slow ball. It makes him feel foolish, and the laughter that invariably greets his ears arouses his ire.
“That’s two strike-outs, and you haven’t even hit a little one into the diamond, Welch,” reminded Leyden. “The youngster is fooling you.”
Welch was at a loss for words.
“Where’s Henderson?” cried some one. “Carl’s the man to bump that sort of pitching.”
Carl Henderson was the most reliable batter on the Yale team. The pitcher who could strike him out had good reason to plume himself on his feat.
“I’m not through yet,” declared Welch hastily. “I’m just getting his measure. In batting practice we always have three hits at the ball.”
“But there are others who wish to try their skill some time this afternoon, you know,” drawled Billings. “If they wait for you to get three hits, Welch, I’m afraid they won’t have a chance to try their luck at all.”
“Yar!” muttered Pumper to himself. “That bighead Billings always did make me sick! He says the varsity is weak in the box. I suppose the next thing that will happen he’ll write an article claiming the freshmen have a better pitcher than the varsity.”
“Don’t go off in a trance, Welch!” cried Leyden, as the ball whistled past the batter. “That ball was straight over the heart of the pan, but you didn’t see it, and I won’t call a strike on you.”
173Again Pumper heard a titter, and by this time his blood was being pumped through his veins in such a manner that it caused a hammering sound in his ears. He glared at Dick with the most malicious hatred.
“Come on! come on!” he snapped. “I’m waiting! When you get through showing off and playing your monkey tricks perhaps you’ll settle down and pitch in a decent manner!”
Merriwell made no retort, but deliberately tossed up a straight ball that cut the plate in two equal halves.
Welch, however, could not believe Merriwell had thrown a straight one, and swinging in anticipation of a curve, he made another clean miss. After all his boasting he was making a sorry spectacle of himself.
Following this Pumper managed to foul the ball twice, but he ended by biting at another jump and being again declared out by Leyden.
“Here, give somebody else a chance, Welch,” called Captain Emery. “Let’s see if the freshman is invincible. Come on, Henderson, show us what you can do.”
Pumper turned and savagely flung his bat toward the pile lying near the bench. Even Towne joined in the chaffing that was tossed after him as he retired from the plate.
THE GREAT REBELLION.
Two of the pitchers, Sweet and Keene, were now behind Cranch, watching the freshman’s curves.
“I don’t see that he has anything in particular, do you?” muttered Swett.
“Nothing remarkable,” said Keene.
“He has good control for one thing,” observed Cranch. “He can put the ball just where he wants to.”
“I don’t know,” came from Swett. “He doesn’t put them all over.”
“He doesn’t want to.”
“Most pitchers try to in batting practice.”
“But you seem to forget that the freshman was up against a challenge. Pumper made some talk about pounding him all over the field.”
“Oh, Pumper’s great on making talk,” said Swett. “He doesn’t mean half he says.”
“But he’s sore now,” declared Keene, as Welch hurled his bat aside and walked toward the bench.
“Now take a lesson by that fellow,” muttered Cranch. “I’ve told him time after time that his temper spoiled his pitching. When things go wrong in a game he acts just as he’s acting now. A pitcher who permits himself to get wrathy never can do his best.”
“Well, we’ll see what Henderson can do to the freshie,” said Swett. “Old Hen ought to biff him some.”
Dick knew he was up against the crack batter of the varsity, and his first inclination was not to attempt to strike Henderson out. The first ball he delivered was straight over, and Carl smashed it out on a line.
175“Clean hit!” cried Leyden.
“Oh, it’s different now! it’s different now!” shouted a voice. “The freshie will find he’s pitching against a real batter!”
“What fool said that?” snarled Welch, glaring around in search of the speaker.
Whoever it was, the fellow kept himself out of sight for the time being.
Dick saw Swett and Keene laughing behind Cranch. There were other players behind those fellows, all eager to watch the work of young Merriwell. The boy was now spurred to do his best.
When the ball was returned to him Dick settled himself for business. Three times he pitched the jump to Henderson and three times Henderson fouled. Then a sharp twisting drop caused the batter to make a clean miss, and Merriwell secured the credit of a strike-out.
“Well! well! well!” shouted a fellow on the bleachers. “What’s the matter with Hen?”
Welch sat up and took notice.
“If he can strike Henderson out again,” thought Pumper, “I won’t feel so bad over my own batting.”
The great Yale hitter leaned over the rubber plate and thumped it with the end of his “slugger.”
“That was first-rate, Merriwell,” he nodded. “You certainly caught me napping.”
A moment later Henderson batted a slow grounder into the diamond. It was gathered cleanly and snapped to first.
“No hit,” came from Leyden. “That would have been an easy out at first.”
“Well, what do you think of that, Swett?” muttered Wilbur Keene. “Hen doesn’t seem to be hitting the freshman very hard.”
176“Wait,” said Swett, “Carl is taking Merriwell’s measure. I reckon he’ll baste it next time he swings.”
But Dick was taking Henderson’s measure, and by this time he had learned something of the great batter’s weak points. Two fouls followed, and then, for the first time that day, Dick used the combination ball. It started like a rise, but shifted into a drop, and once more Henderson experienced the mortification of striking out.
“Here, give me a chance,” laughed Captain Emery, seizing a bat and trotting out to the plate. “Of course I don’t expect to do any better than you fellows, but I want to see why it is you can’t hit him. He looks easy enough.”
Emery was a left-hand hitter. The moment he saw this, Dick shifted his position, took the ball in his left hand, and pitched in that manner.
“Hold on! hold on!” cried Emery. “You’re right-handed. What are you doing, anyhow, Merriwell?”
“I pitch with either hand,” smiled Dick. “As a rule, I use my left hand when I find myself up against a left-hand hitter.”
“Well, by Jove, I knew that, but I’d forgotten it!” said Emery. “You’re the only pitcher I ever saw who could really do that trick. Have you any speed with your left?”
“Not much,” answered Dick; but a moment later he sent over a left-hander that seemed to make the air smoke.
“Oh, not a bit of speed—not a bit!” cried Emery, who struck and missed.
Having struck the Yale captain out, Dick seemed satisfied, for he made no further effort to secure strike-outs, although he continued pitching for ten minutes or more. Once in a while he would send in a queer shoot or curve that would bewilder the man 177at bat, but he did not keep himself constantly at his best.
Bill Toleman had arrived on the field as Dick walked out to pitch. After watching Merriwell a while, Toleman retired to the bleachers and listened to the comments of the spectators. What he overheard did not seem to please him, and finally, in a surly manner, he left the field. Keene was called out to pitch when Dick stopped. Leyden walked in to the bench with the freshman.
“Well, what do you think about the boy, Bill?” asked Billings, who was smiling with a great deal of satisfaction.
The coach scratched his head.
“He certainly has the kinks and the control,” he admitted. “I’ve never seen him pitch in a game, but if he has a level head I should say he’s all the mustard.”
This pleased Billings, who proceeded to call Emery and Leyden aside where he could speak to them privately.
“I don’t want you gentlemen to think I’m butting in,” he said, “but, of course, you know that I have the interest of the team at heart just as much as any one. I’m not here to give you any advice, but if you won’t be offended, I’ll make a suggestion.”
They exchanged glances, and then Emery said:
“We’ll listen to your suggestion, Billings.”
“Sure,” nodded Leyden. “We don’t have to accept it.”
“Certainly not,” said Walter quickly. “It’s rather unusual, I will admit; but why not get Merriwell to coach the varsity pitchers?”
Emery looked astounded.
“Unusual?” he cried. “I should say so. Whoever 178heard of such a thing? Whoever heard of a freshman coaching men on the varsity nine?”
“But there’s no reason why a freshman should not do such a thing if he’s capable, is there? I don’t know of any reason.”
“Nor I,” admitted Emery, turning to Leyden. “What do you think of this peculiar proposition, Bill?”
Leyden was a Yale grad. Had he been a professional coach, it is likely he would have received Billings’ proposal with scornful derision; but, really having the good of the team at heart, he now admitted that there was, to his knowledge, no reason why a freshman should not coach any member of any varsity team.
“Will he do it?” asked Emery.
“I think he’ll do anything in his power to help his college. He has the right spirit. He’s a true Yale man.”
“He must be pretty busy on his own team,” said Leyden.
“He is,” nodded Billings. “Still, I think he would find a little time to do this work I’ve suggested.”
“If he undertook to coach all our pitchers, it would take his entire time,” said Leyden. “We must pick out a man and turn him over to Merriwell.”
“A good suggestion,” nodded Emery. “Let’s see what the youngster can do with one man.”
“Whom will you choose?” questioned Billings.
“Welch is our best pitcher. If he could get some of Merriwell’s kinks, it would make us strong in the box. I suggest Welch.”
A moment later Pumper was called by Emery. Wondering what they wanted, he sauntered up and joined them.
The captain of the nine quickly explained Billings’ 179proposal. Before Emery had finished speaking the lips of Welch had begun to curl disdainfully.
“Preposterous!” he exclaimed, giving Walter a scornful look. “Why, there isn’t a man on the team who’ll be coached by that freshman. The fellow has a terrible swelled head, anyhow. If he got a chance to coach a member of the varsity nine, he’d be simply intolerable.”
Billings surveyed Pumper from head to heels.
“Welch,” he said, “I’ve never yet seen a fellow as capable as Merriwell who was so absolutely modest and unassuming. When you say he has a swelled head you do so without reason.”
“Perhaps I do,” growled Welch. “But what made him come out here and show off to-day?”
“I induced him to come, and as for showing off he was literally baited into doing what he did. I believe that you announced that you were going to show what you would do to some pitcher who resembles Merriwell. Well, you demonstrated precisely what you will do. If you ever get up against a pitcher like Merriwell, you’ll strike out. If that boy wasn’t a freshman and barred from the varsity on that account, Yale would have a cinch at the college baseball championship this year.”
The flush had left Pumper’s face, and he was now quite pale.
“I don’t know what business you have to meddle with baseball affairs, Billings!” he cried hotly. “You’re always spying around to get hold of something you can write up for the papers. You betray Yale’s athletic secrets in order to get a few paltry dollars for your greedy pockets. It’s mighty contemptible business, I think. This coaching idea was suggested by you, and, therefore, I wouldn’t accept it, anyhow.”
180“Hold on, Welch,” came quickly from Emery; “you forget yourself. I’m captain of the team. What I say——”
“What you say goes, captain,” interrupted Pumper. “It goes with me as long as I remain on the team; but if you attempt to put that freshman over me as a coach, I’ll get off the team. I beg your pardon for speaking like this, but I was forced into it.”
Dick was crossing the campus.
“Hello, Merry!” cried one of the group near the fence. “They tell me you’re pitching for the varsity now.”
“Not yet, Peterson,” smiled Dick, unruffled.
“Not yet, but soon, I suppose. Toleman says you were out for practice with the varsity team.”
“Note the haughtiness of his manner,” cried another chap. “I suppose the rules will be suspended in order to permit him to pitch.”
There was much more of this sort of chaffing, but Dick took it all good-naturedly and passed on his way. Buckhart was sitting on the steps of the house on York Street.
“Hey, pard!” he cried. “Waiting for you. She’s a baby!”
“Who’s a baby?” asked Dick, in surprise.
“Sallie. She’s a trim little girl. Light and airy and just my size.”
“Say, what ails you?”
“Come on and let’s hit the grub pile,” said Brad. “After we fill our baskets I’m going to introduce you to Sallie. You’ll love her, I know you will.”
“I think you had better excuse me,” said Dick. “I’m too busy just now to make the acquaintance of your Sallie, whoever the delightful damsel is.”
The Texan chuckled but continued to insist that Dick must meet Sallie. Nor would Brad accept no for an answer. In the soft twilight they made their 182way down to the harbor front, and there, lying among other boats at a float, was one toward which the Texan led his chum.
“There’s Sallie,” said Brad, with a proud wave of his hand. “I told you I was going to buy a boat, and I’ve done it. Paid thirty-five dollars for her. How do you like her, Dick?”
“So this is Sallie?” laughed Merriwell. “Well, by Jove! I expected to meet a fair damsel with golden hair and heavenly blue eyes. She looks good to me, Brad.”
“Get the oars, boy,” said the Texan, turning to a rather tough-looking youngster who had charge of the boats. “Bring both pair.”
In a few moments the oars were brought and placed in the boat.
“Now,” said Brad, “we’re going to be able to enjoy a row every night. Three times we’ve been down here after a boat and couldn’t get anything better than an old scow. There’ll be no more of that.”
There was a soft haze on the harbor as the boys swung out from amid the piers. Both handled the oars skillfully, and the light rowboat seemed to glide over the surface of the water with scarcely a ripple. Here and there a light was commencing to gleam along the shore. On the vessels red and green lights were also being hoisted. Still, there was a golden afterglow in the western sky, which flung its orange reflection over the water. From one of the vessels at anchor came the sound of singing. Other rowboats were gliding hither and thither amid the shipping. The air was cool and refreshing.
“This is great!” exclaimed Dick, with satisfaction. “By Jove! this will be a good thing for us every night, Brad. I’m glad you bought Sallie, and I agree with you that Sallie is a peach.”
183“If it wasn’t for baseball,” said the Texan, “I’d sure go in for rowing. A fellow can’t do both and cut much ice at either.”
“Look out!” called Dick, looking over his shoulder. “There’s a small steam launch cutting our course ahead of us. Let’s not try to run her down.”
They shifted their course, but a moment later, to their surprise, they found that the launch had also changed its course and was heading almost directly for them.
“Wonder what they’re trying to celebrate?” growled Buckhart. “Can’t they see us?”
“Starboard, pull—pull hard!” cried Dick.
But Brad misunderstood and pulled hard with his port oar, which offset the efforts of Merriwell.
With a rushing swish, the tiny steam launch puffed down upon them.
“Look out!” roared the Texan. “Keep off! You’ll run us down!”
Apparently the pilot of the launch did not hear this cry, for an instant later, with a cutting crash, the sharp prow of the craft struck the rowboat.
The Texan had dropped his oars and risen to his feet. With an electrified spring, he seized the gunwale of the launch and held fast as the rowboat melted beneath his feet.
Twice the Texan shouted for help. His feet and ankles were caught by a rushing current of water and this brought a strain upon his hands which threatened to break his grip.
It seemed that at last his cries were heard, for some one looked over the gunwale and discovered him clinging there. Looking upward, the Texan found himself gazing straight into the evil, malicious eyes of Mike Lynch.
THE RED STAIN.
For a moment Lynch seemed to leer triumphantly at Brad, who realized only too well his own desperate plight. The Texan knew the probable result of losing his hold and being carried beneath the swiftly moving launch. In a moment almost the boat would pass over him and the whirling screw would cut and mangle him with its churning blades. It was sure death to let go.
And still he knew his hold would be broken unless he received aid within a very few seconds. He could feel his fingers slipping on the smooth, moist rail of the launch—slipping, slipping, slipping. Above him bent the face of a fellow who hated him with an intensity that was really deadly. Lynch was a vindictive, revengeful fellow, who would stop at nothing in order to injure a person who had aroused his enmity. In those moments of distress and anxiety, Buckhart was struck by the thought that this malicious young ruffian had deliberately brought about the running down of the Sallie. Having seen Dick and Brad in the rowboat, Mike had deliberately cut them down.
But where was Dick? As this question flashed through the Texan’s brain he was seized with a shuddering, sickening sensation of horror. Merriwell had vanished as the launch smashed into the rowboat, which was cut in two like a frail eggshell. If overwhelmed and carried beneath the launch, of course Dick had been struck by the propeller.
That meant death. It meant that the boy’s mangled body might be found drifting at the will of the harbor tides. It meant that he might be left lifeless, gruesome, and ghastly, upon the muddy flats when the tide 185receded. Perchance he might be carried out into the great Sound, the blue waters of which were traversed by hundreds of sailing vessels, huge white passenger steamers, and the magnificent pleasure yachts of money-squandering millionaires. It was murder, and this creature Lynch had committed the crime!
With a snarl, a showing of his strong teeth, a fire gleam of his eyes, the Texan strained and lifted himself in the effort to swing over the rail and reach the wretch who hovered above him.
Little chance he had of doing that through his own efforts. Apparently Mike understood what Buckhart was trying to do, for in a moment he seized the Texan’s hands and tore them from the slippery rail.
“You cur!” groaned the helpless boy.
But even as he expected to be dropped into the hissing water Mike shouted for assistance, and a second person joined him, bending over the rail and getting a grip on Brad’s coat between the shoulder blades of the Texan.
“Hoist away!” cried Lynch.
An instant later the bewildered boy was dragged over the rail and found himself floundering in the bottom of the launch.
There were four persons in the boat. The one at the wheel was a rather rough-looking, bearded man. The others were Mike Lynch, Duncan Ditson, and Harold Du Boise.
Ditson had assisted Lynch in lifting Buckhart to safety. Du Boise, sitting in the stern, stared at the rescued youth with an air of dopey comprehension. Lynch swore, and Ditson expressed his feelings by crying:
“Well, what do you think of that? What the dickens were you trying to celebrate, Buckhart?”
“Just pulled right in front of me,” said the man 186at the wheel. “Couldn’t help hitting his boat. She’s gone, and he can consider himself mighty lucky that he didn’t go under with her.”
The Texan sat up.
“You lunatic at the wheel!” he roared. “You deliberately ran us down! My pard—where is he? You’ve killed him! You’ve murdered him!”
“What’s that?” exclaimed Lynch. “Was there any one with you in the boat we struck?”
“You know there was.”
“We didn’t see you at all,” asserted Ditson. “We were sitting aft when we heard the crash and felt a slight shock. Even then I didn’t know what had happened. Berger said we’d hit a rowboat.”
“I sprang forward and looked over,” said Lynch. “Saw you clinging to the rail. This is mighty bad business.”
“Turn back—turn back!” cried Buckhart. “Dick Merriwell was carried down when you smashed my boat.”
“Turn back at once, Berger,” commanded Ditson. “By Jove! this is bad. There are the pieces of the boat, but I can’t see a sign of Merriwell.”
The débris of the wrecked boat lay floating on the orange-tinted waves, but Duncan spoke truly when he said there was no sign of Dick. Buckhart rose to his knees and stared heart sick along the wake of the launch.
“Gone!” he said. “He could swim like a fish, and we’d see something of him if he had not been injured.”
The man at the wheel brought the launch round with a sharp, sweeping curve.
“Slower, Berger,” commanded Duncan. “Here, let me have that wheel. You look after your steam. Keep your eyes open, Mike. Can you see anything of Merriwell?”
187In the stern Du Boise stirred slightly and drawled:
“Didn’t you say you were going to hit the boat before we struck it, Mike? I thought you said something about a rowboat.”
“You’re dreaming!” snapped Lynch. “You didn’t hear us say anything of the sort. Did he, Berger? We didn’t see the boat, did we?”
“Not until it was too late to avoid it,” answered the bearded man, who was now monkeying with the steam valves. “I’m not running down rowboats for pleasure, although it’s a wonder the fools who row around the harbor don’t get run down oftener than they do.”
Buckhart was saying not a word now. With his strong hands gripping the rail, he leaned forward, gazing at the placid water where the golden tint was gradually changing to a dull reddish color like stagnant blood. They slipped past a huge black hulk that lay anchored near the spot where the catastrophe had occurred. Under the eastern rail of this vessel the shadows were almost inky black.
“We’ve passed the spot, Lynch,” muttered Ditson. “I’m afraid Merriwell’s gone down for good.”
“I’m afraid he has,” whispered Mike huskily.
“Turn back,” came hoarsely from Buckhart’s lips. “We’ll cruise around this locality as long as there’s a ghost of a hope left.”
Duncan brought the boat round, and they retraced their course. This was repeated over and over until the afterglow of sunset had faded in the west and darkness shrouded the entire bosom of the harbor. Not until Buckhart huskily confessed that he no longer hoped did Lynch or Ditson propose abandoning the search. They had been questioned by other persons, and a number of boats were moving about in 188that vicinity, while the report of a collision and a drowning had been carried to the shore.
The Texan seemed completely overcome by the horrible thing that had happened. Not a word did he speak after the search was abandoned until the launch swung alongside a float where they were to disembark.
“You’ve tried all sorts of tricks to down my pard and myself,” he observed, fixing his gaze on Lynch and Ditson. “At last you’ve succeeded in murdering one of the whitest lads who ever lived. I said murder, and that is the word I meant to use. Don’t tell me you didn’t see our boat. Don’t tell me you didn’t run us down intentionally. And don’t you think for an instant that you’re going to escape paying the penalty for the crime. You can’t lie out of it. There are four of you in the secret, and some one of you will make a false step and trip you all up. This thing shall be investigated, I give you my word. If the body is found, you’ll have a chance to face the coroner’s jury. If it isn’t found, you’ll have a chance to face a jury just the same.”
“Why, you’re daffy, Buckhart!” exclaimed Ditson. “You must be bughouse to think we’d deliberately do anything like that.”
“I know you wouldn’t stop at anything. Perhaps you didn’t mean to drown either one of us when you ran us down. Perhaps you thought it would be a fine joke to smash our boat and give us a ducking. Well, you see what’s come of your fine joke. Dick Merriwell is at the bottom of the harbor, and you, you miserable spawn of the earth—you have his blood on your hands! You can’t wash it off. The stain will cling there even as it clung to the hands of Lady Macbeth. And retribution is as sure for you as it was for her.”
THE UNSEEN SHADOW.
He left them there shivering in the launch with a sudden chill that came not wholly from the cool breath that crept in over the dark surface of the harbor. They watched his dark bulk as he mounted the steps from the float, nor did they speak until the sound of his feet died out upon the pier.
Lynch was the first to break the silence. He forced a laugh as he turned to Ditson.
“We’ve got something interesting to look for,” he observed, with an air of bravado. “Mr. Buckhart was very theatrical in his threats.”
“If I’d ever thought it would end this way——”
Mike checked his companion by suddenly gripping Dunc’s arm and hissing:
“Shut up! Don’t talk like that now! Of course we didn’t mean to drown either one of them.”
Berger stepped forward.
“There’s something coming to me, gents,” he said. “Don’t forget it. You made me a proposition to run down that boat.”
“And you want to forget all about that, my man!” remarked Mike. “You’ll get the money, all right, but you don’t want to tell any one that there was any understanding between us. The whole thing was an accident. Nobody saw the rowboat until just as we struck it. Say so and stick to it—unless you want to do a turn in the stone jug.”
Lynch stepped close to Du Boise, to whom he spoke in a low tone.
“Got to have some more money, Hal,” he said.
190“We’ve got to put a plaster over that man’s mouth. Cough up.”
“Now, hold on,” protested Hal, after reaching into his pocket. “Seems to me you’re inclined to push this thing too far. I’ve coughed up enough already. I’ve been paying your bills for the last three days.”
“Ever since I caught you skinning a bunch of easy marks with marked cards,” said Mike. “I saved you from exposure by getting away with those cards and substituting another pack when I found two of the fellows were planning to make an investigation. You ought to be grateful, Du Boise. You’re not as clever as you were once. There was a time when you didn’t have to use ordinary markers to win at poker. The pace you’ve been hitting has proved too much for you. But you made a fine haul off those suckers, and when they insisted on examining the cards not a thing could be proved against you, thanks to me. It was lucky I had a pack in my pocket with backs almost exactly like those markers. The resemblance was sufficient to fool the most of those chaps. Why, you thought you were cornered yourself until you picked up one of the cards and examined it closely.”
“That’s right,” nodded Du Boise. “Even then I wondered if I wasn’t dreaming. I didn’t know how it happened until you got me alone and explained. I think I’ve shown my appreciation. It’s cost me over a hundred dollars already.”
“I tell you I’ll square with you when I’m flush again. I went broke on that Providence game, and I had to raise money by hook or crook. You came like a delivering angel, Hal. I’ve got to pay Berger twenty-five dollars before we leave him this evening. Hand it over, old chap.”
With a sigh, Du Boise drew forth his money, and, 191holding it close to his eyes, separated four bills from the roll, three fives and a ten.
Lynch took this money and gave it to Berger.
“There it is,” he said, in a low tone. “Now let that keep your tongue still. If you don’t, you’re liable to find yourself in a nasty scrape. You were doing the steering, and, therefore, you were the one most responsible.”
“That’s right,” agreed Ditson quickly. “If you think to get out of this business by turning State’s evidence, we’ll swear we were not in earnest when we suggested you should run that boat down. We’ll say we were only joking. We’ll deny we ever gave you a cent of money for that piece of work.”
“Now you’d better hold up right where you are,” growled the man, with an intonation of disgust. “I’m no fool.”
“I don’t know about that,” muttered Lynch. “If I’d been in your place, twenty-five dollars never would have tempted me to run down a rowboat containing two persons.”
“You heard the threat of the chap who escaped,” said Ditson. “He’s the kind of a fellow to make good. He talks a whole lot, but he means what he says. You want to stand on your guard all the while. Don’t let any one pump you. Of course you’ll be questioned about the affair.”
“I don’t have to have no advice from youngsters like you,” growled Berger, as he thrust the money deep into a safe pocket. “You take care of yourselves, and I’ll take care of myself. You want to look out that you don’t get tripped up. I reckon you’d better report this business to the authorities. I’m going to see the harbor master myself. Good night.”
Silently they mounted the steps from the float and paused, a shivering group, on the unlighted pier. 192The little launch, with lights set, swung out from the float and puffed away. Ditson stood gazing out over the inky harbor, a feeling of horror threatening to take possession of him and turn his blood to ice water.
“Bad! bad!” he muttered. “If I’d only thought what might happen! But I knew Merriwell could swim like a fish.”
“Oh, cut that out!” growled Mike. “It’s no use getting sloppy now. What I want is a drink, and I want it right away.”
Du Boise buttoned his light overcoat and shrugged his shoulders.
“I need a bracer myself,” he said. “Let’s get one quick.”
They patronized the first saloon they came to, which proved to be a rather disreputable-appearing sailors’ resort. Lynch and Ditson ordered whisky, but Hal called for absinthe.
“We don’t have none of dat here,” said the barkeeper. “Dem fancy drinks don’t go wit’ our customers.”
“Then I suppose I’ll have to take the same as my friends,” murmured Du Boise.
The whisky was of the vilest sort, and he shuddered and gasped after it had passed down his throat.
“A man who can drink that can stand anything,” he said, as he paid the bill.
In spite of the fiery drink they had swallowed, their blood remained chill and sluggish, and a terrible load seemed weighting down their hearts. Ditson could not help thinking of Dick Merriwell lying beneath the dark waters of the harbor. The gruesome vision haunted him, and finally he fiercely exclaimed:
“Let’s go where we can get some decent whisky. Confound it all, I’m frozen clean to my marrow.”
“Where’ll we go?” inquired Du Boise.
193“Let’s go to Fred’s.”
“And let’s get off this dark street,” said Lynch, who had been casting occasional glances over his shoulders. “I can’t shake off the feeling that some one is following us.”
“Perhaps some one is following us,” said Du Boise.
“Eh?” exclaimed Duncan, also glancing round. “I don’t see anybody. There’s no one behind us.”
“Perhaps there is,” said Hal. “Maybe you can’t see him even though he is there.”
“What do you mean? Who do you think is following us?”
“A ghost,” was the whispered answer. “I don’t dare to look round, fellows, but I can feel it. It’s right at our heels.”
“Oh, rats!” sneered Lynch, forcing a hoarse laugh. “If you believe in ghosts, you’re a big fool, Du Boise. There are no such things. I’m not the least bit superstitious myself.”
“Not a bit?”
“Not a bit.”
“Then what makes you look round? You know there’s no living thing behind you, yet you keep turning your head to peer over your shoulder. You don’t see anything, but you can feel it just the same as I can. Ditson feels it, too. We all know it’s there, fellows. I’m afraid the thing will follow us the rest of our lives. I’m afraid we’ll never be able to get away from it.”
“For Heaven’s sake, cut that out!” entreated Ditson. “Like Lynch, I’m not superstitious, but I swear you’ve got my teeth chattering by your silly talk. I agree with you, Mike. This street is too dark.”
Hasten their footsteps as they might, they could not 194escape from the uncanny conviction that something silent and ghostly and terrible was hovering at their very heels. Even the better-lighted streets did not banish that feeling, and by the time they reached Fred’s the three were in a terrible state of funk.
Not a little to their satisfaction, they found that one of the card rooms upstairs was unoccupied. Not wishing to be seen at the bar by acquaintances, as they were beginning to feel that their faces bore the stamp of guilt, they made haste to mount the stairs to that little room where they could seclude themselves and order such drinks as they fancied might steady their shaken nerves.
Mike and Duncan stuck to whisky, but Du Boise called for an absinthe frappé.
“There’s nothing like it,” he asserted. “I’ve tried everything when my nerves needed bracing.”
“It’s a deadly poison,” said Ditson. “I see they’re trying to pass a law in France that will make the manufacture of absinthe unlawful in one year and the sale unlawful in two years. Absinthe is one of the most potent influences in the degeneracy of the drinking people of France. Why, man alive, if you were to give a horse an ounce or two of absinthe, it would throw the animal into convulsions and might cause its death. If you yourself were to drink it the way you would swallow a drink of whisky, the chances are it would knock you stiff.”
At this Harold simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled a pale, bloodless smile.
“But that’s not the way to drink absinthe,” he said. “The man who drinks whisky that way simply throws it down his throat in order to get the effect. To get the effect of absinthe, you sip it slowly. If your nerves are in a bad state, if your luck is rotten, if the world has turned its face against you, just try a little absinthe. 196I need it this minute. It works like a magic charm. Gradually all the shadows disperse and flee away, the sun smiles upon you and the weeds beneath your feet blossom into the most lovely flowers. A sensation of peace and buoyancy and confidence and contentment gradually pervades your entire being. From a dark and dreary cave the world changes into a glorious, heaven-smiling paradise. There’s nothing quite like absinthe to accomplish this marvelous change.
“I don’t mind telling you, fellows, that I’ve tried almost everything. Opium works nicely in a way, but it seems to interest you rather too much in other people. Their pleasures become your pleasures. The most trivial things are sufficient to amuse you. You watch a laborer and his wife marketing on a Saturday night, and somehow it is better than the finest theatrical performance you have ever witnessed. Your heart goes out to those humble people, and you accept them as kin to you, blood relatives as it were. A child playing with a top fills you with unspeakable satisfaction and sympathy. A dove building its nest may chain your attention for hours. Through such trivial things you are made supremely content and satisfied.
“Other drugs with which I have experimented produce different effects, but they all bring about a relapse in time, and you suffer the most horrible tortures as retaliation for the pleasures that have been yours. With absinthe I have not yet reached the point where it retaliates and inflicts torments. It has helped me shake off the grip opium had upon me. I prefer absinthe to opium.”
“It’s simply a case of taking one poison as an antidote for another,” said Ditson. “The time will come, Du Boise, when you’ll find your blood entirely eaten up by the poisons you have absorbed.”
“And by your looks,” said Lynch, “I should say 197that is not very far away. Never knew a chap to change the way you have in the past four months. It’s a wonder to me that you’ve managed to stick in college this long. Don’t you realize what is coming to you? Can’t you see your finish?”
“I think I did realize it in time to escape,” said Hal. “I began experimenting with opium for amusement. I wanted to experience the effect. I had no idea of letting the stuff get a hold on me, but when I found it had I fled to absinthe, and absinthe has proved my salvation.”
“It will prove your destruction,” declared Duncan. “You’re its slave to-day, and you’ll never break away from it. Here are our drinks.”
In the wall a sliding panel shot back, and through the opening could be seen the face of the waiter who had brought the drinks. He pushed in a tray, which Lynch received. The drinks were removed from the tray and placed on the table. Du Boise tossed some money on the tray, which was then passed back through the opening. The sliding panel closed softly, and they were again alone.
“Here’s to forgetfulness,” said Du Boise, lifting the glass, which was filled with fine cracked ice and a greenish-amber liquid. “Here’s to forgetfulness, but I fear you’ll not find it in the stuff you are drinking.”
Ditson’s hand shook a bit as he lifted his glass of whisky and literally tossed it down his throat. Du Boise sipped softly at the absinthe. In a moment a dreamy light seemed creeping into his faded eyes. Before long a bit of color mounted into his cheeks.
“Why should we worry about anything in this world or the next, my friends?” he murmured. “Let’s have another drink. I need just one more.”
In a short time another drink was brought. It was strange to note the effect of the stuff on those youths. 198Ditson and Lynch became flushed and excited, talking with a sort of reckless and fictitious hilarity. Du Boise, calm, placid, smiling, lay back in his chair and watched them as if studying them sympathetically, graciously, almost pityingly.
“Now, here,” said Duncan, shaking an uplifted finger, “we’ve got to stick together on this business. Of course it was an accident, for we didn’t think either of those fellows would be drowned when we ran them down. There’s only one way to protect ourselves, and that is to swear that neither one of us saw the boat until there was no chance to avoid hitting it. I feel like the devil about this business. To tell you the truth, I feel like what Buckhart called me—a murderer.”
“Don’t talk that way!” growled Lynch, shrugging his thick shoulders. “I don’t like it. Even if I didn’t have any love for Merriwell, I wouldn’t want to kill him, would I? We’re going to have lots of trouble over this.”
Again Du Boise smiled.
“Don’t worry, my friends,” he said. “Nothing really matters, anyhow. This life is of no consequence. Perhaps Merriwell is better off this minute than he would be if he were living. Perhaps he’s thankful for what happened. I’m sure the dead are better off than the living. Why should he haunt us? We were foolish to fancy we could feel him following us through the streets to-night. And even if he were following us, he could do us no harm. The spirits of the departed cannot harm the living. Why, I wouldn’t be afraid this minute to stand face to face with Merriwell’s ghost. If such a thing happened, I would greet the spirit pleasantly and without the least emotion of terror or dread.”
“The blazes you would!” growled Lynch.
199“You’d be scared to death,” asserted Ditson.
“I wish I had power to summon the spirit of Merriwell,” said Du Boise. “I would show you how mistaken you are. If by a mere incantation I could bring his wraith before us, I’d joyfully do so.”
Barely were these words spoken when suddenly the electric lights in the room went out, plunging the place into deep darkness. This was rather startling and caused the trio to utter exclamations of surprise. Apparently the electric current had been suddenly turned off.
Lynch made a move to rise from the table. Ere he could do this the lights began to glow dimly, illuminating the room with a faint radiance that gradually grew stronger.
A sudden scream burst from the lips of Hal Du Boise. Flinging up his hand, he pointed toward the panel in the wall.
“Look!” he cried chokingly. “Great heavens, look! There it is!”
The panel had been silently opened, and through that opening the trio could see the deathly white face of Dick Merriwell, whose dark, staring eyes were fixed upon them with an accusing gaze that made their very souls seem to shrivel within them.
A TERRIFIED TRIO.
Duncan Ditson tried to speak, but his dry tongue clove to the roof of his mouth and his heart seemed on the point of bursting in his throat.
Lynch, having turned to look over his shoulder, sat like an image of stone, the color slipping from his usually ruddy face and leaving it almost as ghostly as that dead-white face seen beyond the open panel. One of Mike’s hands lay half-closed upon the table. It began to shake, causing his finger nails to rattle upon the uncovered top of the table like the faint far-away tapping of castanets.
From the lips of Du Boise, who had lately boasted that he would feel no terror were he brought face to face with the wraith of Dick Merriwell, there issued a sibilant hissing breath followed by a quavering whisper:
“It’s the dead! It’s Merriwell’s ghost! We are haunted—haunted!”
There was a thud as he slipped from the chair on which he had been sitting and fell limp and fainting upon the floor. The lights came on with full force. An unseen hand closed the sliding panel, hiding that death-white face from the staring eyes of Lynch and Ditson.
Still those two frightened fellows sat immovable, their bodies cold as ice for some moments after the apparition vanished.
Ditson was the one who broke the spell. Grasping the edge of the table, he rose to his feet, upsetting his chair, which fell with a clatter upon the floor.
“Lynch,” he whispered hoarsely; “Lynch, for Heaven’s sake tell me what you saw!”
201Mike gave himself a little shake and turned his horrified eyes toward his companion. His face was ashen, and there was a purple ring around his mouth. At the corners of his nose, extending downward, were two deep lines. His voice was husky and unsteady as he answered:
“I don’t know what I saw, but it looked like the dead face of——”
He paused, apparently unable to speak Merriwell’s name.
“And I saw it, too!” groaned Duncan. “So did Du Boise. He’s fainted, Mike. We must call assistance.”
At this juncture, however, Hal began to show symptoms of reviving. He gasped and moaned, moving his limbs weakly. Ditson stooped and bent over him, seizing his collar and breaking it loose with a twisting jerk. The touch of Duncan’s hand seemed to revive Hal, but apparently it filled the fellow with unspeakable terror, for he shrank away, choking forth a cry and beginning to quiver violently in every limb.
“Why, don’t you ring a bell, Lynch?” said Duncan. “Du Boise is having a fit. He may be dying for all I know.”
But Lynch, leaning forward with his elbows on the table, had covered his face with his hands as if seeking in that manner to shut out a terrible vision which he could not otherwise dismiss. There was a strange stooping slouch to his broad, thick shoulders—a droop throughout his entire figure like that which assails an old man or a younger one who has felt the crushing hand of some fearful calamity.
With his legs beneath the table, Du Boise began to mutter and mumble incoherently. Although he seemed suffering from terror, he finally fell to laughing in a hysterical manner, whereupon Duncan once more clutched him by the shoulder and gave him a shake.
202“Stop it! stop it!” commanded Ditson. “Are you losing your senses? Get up!”
“Don’t! don’t! don’t!” gasped Hal, shrinking away. “I’m all right. I’ll be all right in a minute. Did I faint? I’m a fool! That’s right, Ditson, give me a hand. Help me up. Oh, how ridiculous! Oh, what a fool I am!”
But the moment he was lifted he turned his eyes fearsomely toward the panel in the wall. On seeing it closed he seemed inexpressibly relieved. With Duncan’s aid he regained his seat at the table, although he still seemed dizzy and weak.
“Never did that before in all my life,” he whispered apologetically. “Wasn’t it a silly trick? Don’t laugh at me—don’t laugh!”
“I’m not laughing, Du Boise.”
“I beg your pardon if I frightened you by yelling the way I did. I thought I saw something. Of course I know I was deceived. It must have been a hallucination. Perhaps it was the effect of what I’ve drank. Perhaps the absinthe is beginning to go back on me. If it is, what can I turn to next? What’s the matter with Mike?”
At this moment all three were given another frightful start, for the panel was shot back with a rattling sound, causing them to turn with a jerk and face it. The face of the waiter who had served their drinks appeared at the opening.
“What’s the matter in there?” he inquired. “T’ought I heard somebody give a yelp. T’ought I heard somet’ing bump on the floor. Didn’t know but youse chaps was havin’ a mix-up.”
“Say, Martie, come in here a minute,” invited Duncan, quickly rising and unfastening the door.
The waiter stepped into the room, still wearing a suspicious air as he eyed the pale-faced trio.
203“Anyt’ing wrong?” he interrogated.
“I guess not,” answered Duncan slowly. “You see we were talking over private matters, and so we fastened the door. We didn’t want any one to come in on us.”
“Dat’s all right. We know youse fellers here, and if yer want ter use dis room dat way when dere’s no game nor nuttin’ goin’ on, dere’s no objection.”
“We didn’t wish any one to overhear what we had to say. While we were talking somebody sneaked up there and slid open the panel. They must have turned off the lights, too.”
“Turned off der lights?”
“Yes. The lights went out and then came on again, although they were dim at first. There’s a switch outside the door, I believe?”
“Sure t’ing, dere’s a switch out dere, but I don’t see who it was dat monkeyed wit’ it.”
“Didn’t you encounter any one on the stairs?”
“Any fellows in the other room?”
“Dey just went out about five minutes ago.”
“Of course you know Dick Merriwell by sight?”
“I t’ink I do. Everybody knows him.”
“Has he been in the place to-night?”
“He don’t come around this place much of any unless he’s lookin’ for some of his friends.”
“Have you seen him to-night?”
“Where were you when you thought you heard a scream and a fall in this room?”
“I was out back tappin’ a barrel of ale.”
“And you came upstairs at once?”
“Soon as I could. ’Twan’t more dan a minute.”
“But that was time enough for an eavesdropper to slip downstairs without being caught by you. Somebody 204was listening there at the panel. We all saw the person. That’s why we raised a rumpus. There’s no trouble between us, Martie. Everything’s all right. But if you catch anybody listening around that slide, jump on ’em and kick them downstairs. Bring us another round of drinks. I reckon we need them. I’ll have the same, and Lynch will, too. You’d better switch off that stuff you’re drinking, Du Boise. It isn’t good for you.”
“Can’t switch now,” said Hal. “Just one more, Martie. It’ll be my last to-night. Just one more.”
When the waiter had disappeared and the door was fastened behind him Ditson came back and stood by the table, looking inquiringly at his two companions.
“Well, what do you think of it?” he finally forced himself to inquire, ineffectually trying to assume an air of nonchalance. “It certainly looked like the real thing to me, and it scared Du Boise out of his senses.”
“Then you saw something, did you?” whispered Hal. “Tell me what it was.”
“I thought I saw a face.”
“I know I saw a face,” said Lynch. “Fellows, we’re haunted! This is the first time I’ve ever acknowledged a belief in ghosts, but I’ve got to acknowledge it now. The face I saw was that of Merriwell, and we know he is lying at the bottom of the harbor.”
“Don’t talk that way—don’t!” implored Du Boise. “It was a hallucination. It could have been nothing else.”
“How does it happen that we were all deceived by the same hallucination?” questioned Ditson. “There’s something you can’t explain, Hal. You saw it first and uttered a yell. We turned and looked. I confess that I saw it as distinctly as I ever saw anything in my life. It was ghastly pale with wide-open eyes which struck terror to my heart. By Jove! I got such 205a start that I’m afraid I’ll never have any more nerve. I wish Martie would hurry up with those drinks. I’m still cold from my head to my heels.”
To the relief of the agitated trio of rascals, Martie now appeared with a tray that bore the ordered drinks. Ditson relieved the waiter, handing out the money supplied by Du Boise. When Martie had vanished and they were again sitting around the table, Duncan lifted his glass with a quivering hand.
“Here’s hoping we’ve seen it for the last time,” he muttered.
“For the last time,” echoed Lynch hoarsely. “I hope so, but I fear it’s only the beginning.”
PANGS OF CONSCIENCE.
Having sipped a little of the absinthe, Du Boise began to smile in a silly, satisfied manner. He surveyed his companions with a superior air of knowledge, in which there was unmistakable pity.
“The psychology of the mind is a mysterious and perplexing thing,” he observed. “As yet the phenomena of mental telepathy is but faintly understood. Like electricity, we know it exists and we experiment with it, but the real vital force and power is beyond the comprehension of the human mind in its present state of development. I think, gentlemen, we have this evening experienced a most remarkable case of mental suggestion. I think we all have been deluded by our own overwrought imaginations. There is no other reasonable explanation which we, as sane and sensible men, can afford to accept.”
Lynch gazed at him blankly, while Ditson sharply demanded:
“What are you driving at now?”
“Perhaps I may not succeed in arousing your comprehension. Perhaps you may not agree with me if you do catch my theory and fully comprehend its significance.”
“Come down to earth and talk plain English.”
“I acknowledge that I was frightened by what I fancied I saw,” said Hal, “but I’ve put that aside. I’m no longer alarmed in the least. I now believe beyond question that I was deluded by a hallucination conjured before my mental vision by my own unwitting efforts. I was in precisely the proper psychological condition to deceive myself into believing that I saw 207something which did not exist. We had been talking of supernatural things. This, following the unfortunate tragedy which we lately witnessed, was enough to place us all in a mental condition that made us peculiarly susceptible to a certain delusion.
“We were speaking of ghosts. We had fancied while walking on the street that something was following us, although we could discover nothing when we looked round. I assure you that I was sincere when I stated a willingness to conjure up the spirit of Dick Merriwell. At that moment I longed for the ability to bring his ghost before me. I even fancied it as appearing. With this powerful fancy overcoming me, I lifted my eyes and looked toward yonder panel. The lights were turned off at that moment. As they came on dimly my overwrought fancy made me believe I beheld the pale and ghostly face of Merriwell peering in upon us. It was nothing in the world but a hallucination.”
“That might be true were it not for the fact that Lynch and myself beheld the same white, ghostly face,” said Ditson. “I’d like to think you have hit on the real explanation of the affair, Du Boise, but I can’t accept it. Had you been the only one to see that apparition, your explanation would be received by us both; but how can you account for the fact that we also saw what you believed you saw—and we saw it at precisely the same time.”
“Telepathy,” said Du Boise, nodding his head. “Mental transmission of thought. Did I not cry out that I saw it as I pointed toward the panel?”
“I thought so. Being thus firmly convinced that I really beheld such an apparition, I transferred the conviction to both of you, and you, too, were deluded into believing you saw it.”
Again Dunc shook his head.
208“That’s too much for me to accept,” he said. “It’s barely possible such a thing might have happened between two persons, but when three individuals are involved, it’s wholly beyond acceptance.”
Harold shrugged his shoulders and sipped a little more of the cool absinthe.
“Of course I cannot compel you to accept my explanation,” he said, “but I am certain you will come to it in time. At present you are both overcome by unreasoning fears. As time passes and you are not again visited by such an apparition you will gradually be forced to confess that my explanation of this strange phenomenon is the only one that can be given. You still remain frightened, both of you. Lynch looks ten years older than he did three hours ago. Your nerves are quivering in your bodies. Look—look at my hand, it’s steady as a rock.”
He lifted his glass and held it unquivering above the table.
“That’s not you,” said Duncan. “You couldn’t do that yourself.”
“Then what is it?”
“The absinthe. Only for the stuff you’ve drank, you’d be a pitiful, cowering, cringing creature this very minute.”
“Then here’s to absinthe!” laughed Hal, with a wave of his glass. “Here’s to absinthe, the magic potion which makes every man the commander of his own soul!”
“Until the cursed stuff takes command and wrecks both soul and body,” said Ditson. “I fear that time is not far away for you, Du Boise.”
Lynch now filled his lungs with a deep breath, betraying 209a sudden restlessness and an eager desire to leave the place.
“Let’s get out of here,” he urged. “I’m going to my room. I’m going to turn in. It’s a wonder we haven’t had newspaper reporters after us already. Of course by this time they all know of Merriwell’s drowning. We’ll have to tell the story until we’re sick of it in the morning. We’ll have to face both reporters and police. I’ve got to rest in order to do that.”
“Rest?” said Duncan. “I hope you can. I’m afraid I shall get very little rest to-night.”
Nor was Lynch to experience any genuine refreshing rest. In his room, with the door locked, he paced the floor for hours, pausing at intervals to listen, with shuddering heart, to every faint sound of the night. His face was drawn and lined like a graven mask. His eyes rolled restlessly in their sockets. The passing footsteps of a night watchman caused him to stand with quivering hand pressed to his bosom, his jaw drooping, his breath suspended, waiting, waiting—for what?
He had closed his window and drawn the shade so that not even a crack remained at the bottom. Even though every light in the room was at full blast, he whirled now and then to peer nervously into the corners and behind the morris chair. The sudden scampering of a mouse somewhere in the wall dropped him nerveless upon the couch, where he sat mopping the beads of cold perspiration from his face. Once as he walked the length of the room he caught a glimpse of a phantomlike figure which gave him a sidelong leap and brought a gasping “Ah!” from his lips. Half crouching and staring across his shoulder, he realized that the thing he had seen was his own reflection in a mirror.
210“Fool! fool!” he huskily whispered. “Why don’t you go to bed? Are you trying to wear your own nerves to a frazzle? What a coward you are, Mike Lynch! If your friends knew, they’d be disgusted with you. You didn’t mean to drown the poor devil when you suggested that Berger should run down that cockle shell of a rowboat. It was an accident—I say it was an accident. You can’t make anything else of it. No one can make anything else of it. Even if they prove we smashed the boat intentionally, we can swear we meant it for a joke. What if they do say it was a crazy, foolhardy joke? We’ll stick to it that there was no malice in it. That ought to save us. Perhaps we may have to leave college, but I don’t see how anything worse is going to happen.
“But Merriwell’s friends will know it was not meant for a joke. They’ll swear it was malicious. They’ll swear it isn’t the first time I’ve tried to injure him. The fact that there was bad blood between us is going to make it rather unpleasant for me. But I’m not alone in this. Ditson is as deep in the mud as I am in the mire. Du Boise—I’m sorry we had him with us. He’s the fellow I fear. Unsupported by either drink or drug, Du Boise is a shivering, weak-kneed, spineless creature. There’s no reliance to be placed upon him. But I don’t believe even he is fool enough to think we intended to drown Merriwell. I’m going to bed now. I’ve got to go to bed. Why, I’ll be a wreck in the morning if I don’t get a little sleep.”
But there was no sleep for Mike. He dared not turn off his lights, and when he attempted to woo slumber with them blazing at full blast he soon found his efforts vain. Groaning and cursing, he tossed to and fro upon the bed. Gradually the ticking of his little clock beat in his ears louder and louder until it sounded like hammer-strokes upon an anvil. Whenever 211he closed his eyes a ghastly white face seemed to rise before him, and he fancied he beheld an outstretched accusing finger pointing at him.
Finally in despair he rose, drew his bathrobe about him, and sat down near the study table. Seizing a novel, he tried to read. The sentences ran into a meaningless jumble before his eyes, and his tortured mind continued to wander to the thing he longed to forget. Repeatedly he started up and turned to look behind him, shuddering and cold with the conviction that some ghostly thing was hovering at the back of his chair.
And thus the long night passed. Between three and four o’clock in the morning Lynch opened his window and waited for dawn. He joyously hailed the first faint streaks of gray in the eastern sky.
“It’s morning,” he said. “Now perhaps I can sleep.”
But no, even daylight could not bring him rest. The sun was tinting the east with a delicate blush when Mike slipped downstairs and hurried away, filling his lungs with long, deep breaths. The streets were silent and deserted. Not even a policeman seemed stirring at this hour, for which he was sincerely thankful. Without knowing whither he was bound, he turned his face toward the outskirts of the city and with long strides made for the open country.
An hour later Lynch was lying exhausted by the roadside in the midst of a strip of woods. All around him the young day was fresh and beautiful and joyous. In the thickets the birds were singing happily. The air was clean and sweet with the fragrance of springtime.
Mike had been there before. He remembered the very cluster of bushes beside which he now lay. At one time, with two companions, he had hidden himself 212there to await the appearance of Rob Claxton, against whom he entertained a feeling of hatred and whom he was determined to thrash in a fist fight. With some bitterness he recalled the fact that Claxton had whipped him in that fight which took place not far from this spot.
“And Merriwell was responsible for it!” he snarled. “For a long time he had been secretly training that haughty Virginian in order that the fellow might do me up in a scrap. No wonder I hated Merriwell! I had good reasons to hate him! I had good reasons to wish him dead! I’m a fool to be upset like this! I’m a fool to run away from investigation and questioning! Wait, after I’ve rested a while I’m going back. Never anything took hold of me the way this business has. On my word, I’m done up!”
He rolled over upon his back and lay there, with his hat covering his eyes, until a faint far-away sound led him to lift his head and listen.
“Runners!” he said. “They’re coming this way. Great Scott! are they after me?”
Jerking himself to his feet, he cautiously peered over the cluster of bushes.
Far along the road where it wound through the woods some lightly clad figures came into view. His relief was intense, for he saw at a glance that they were college lads out for an early morning run. Their white clothes, swinging bare arms, and churning legs cut moving silhouettes against the dark background of the woods.
“I mustn’t be seen,” muttered Lynch, sinking down and creeping close behind the bushes. “I’ll lie here and watch them as they pass. They won’t notice me.”
The runners were Mike’s classmates. First came Claxton, the Virginian, and Sam Kates almost shoulder 213to shoulder. A short distance behind them Brad Buckhart appeared.
Then came another, at sight of whom Lynch uttered a hoarse, choking cry, sought to rise and then fell back, his head swimming, his senses deserting him, completely overcome by the fearful strain and the second appearance of the “apparition.”
For he had again seen Dick Merriwell.
Dick heard a cry and caught a glimpse of the figure which dropped back behind the bushes. Shouting to his companions, he whirled to the roadside and knelt over Lynch, whom he found stretched unconscious upon the ground.
When Mike revived he found them working over him, and the boy he had so bitterly hated, the boy he had fancied dead, was one of them.
“Take him away! take him away!” cried Lynch, struggling weakly and staring at Dick with unutterable horror. “He’s dead! Don’t let him touch me!”
“He means you, partner,” said Buckhart. “I sure reckon he’s some disturbed to see you alive and kicking.”
“He’s dead!” groaned Mike. “I killed him, but I didn’t mean to do it. I wanted to run him down and let him swim for it. That’s all. I didn’t think he would drown, but I killed him, and I’m a murderer! There, I’ve confessed it now! You all hear me—I’ve confessed it! I killed him! Hang me! I suppose they will. Don’t let him look at me like that. Take him away—please take him away! Don’t look at me, Merriwell! I can’t bear those eyes. I felt you following at my heels last night. I saw you when you appeared to us at Fred’s. Even after I locked myself in my own room I knew you were near. I couldn’t stand it long. It was too much for me. You’ve forced me to confess at last. You’ve made me put my neck in a noose. Now you should be satisfied.”
In vain they had tried to check his panting flow of words, but now Dick managed to make his voice heard, speaking quietly and soothingly.
215“I’m no ghost, Lynch. I’m here in the flesh. You didn’t drown me. I’m glad to know that you didn’t really try to drown me. I couldn’t think that of you, revengeful as I know you to be. Look here, touch my hand and satisfy yourself that I’m living.”
But when he held out his hand to Lynch the fellow writhed and squirmed and rolled away, shrieking with fear until his lips were covered with froth.
“Great horn spoon!” muttered the Texan. “That gent is pretty near daffy, partner. Never expected to see him go to pieces like that.”
“Keep him away from me!” shrieked Mike. “Don’t let him touch me! Let me go! Help me to my feet!”
It was with the utmost difficulty that they prevented him from rising and taking flight. Indeed he did get upon his feet and stagger out to the road, fighting them all off as they sought to assist him.
A farm wagon, bound for town, came along, drawn by two scraggy horses. On the seat sat a bewhiskered old fellow who regarded the boys with no small curiosity.
“Hey!” he called, pulling up the horses. “What’s the matter with that fellow, anyhaow? Goshfry mighty, he acts as if he was purty nigh crazy! Guess he must have been hittin’ up somebody’s hard cider, hey? Jerusalem! but they do git an awful jag when they fill up on cider. I know haow it is, for I’ve been there myself. The gosh-derned stuff makes ye act like all thutteration. What’s he sayin’ a-yappin’ about spooks and dead folks and things like that? By gum! I guess you fellers better take keer of him. Be you his friends? Waal, you better git him to a doctor jest as soon as you ken. Put him in my waggin? ’Course you ken. Jest ketch right holt and h’ist him aboard. Couple of ye better come along with him to keep him 216quiet. I’ll only charge ye twenty-five cents apiece to take you clean into the city, and that’s cheap enough, by gum!”
So Lynch was tossed aboard the old farm wagon, and two of the boys clambered in after him. Not until the strip of woods was left far behind did Mike quiet down and become amenable to reason. Even then when they attempted to explain he grew violent and shriekingly forbade them to mention Merriwell’s name.
Brad Buckhart remained with Dick and the others who decided to complete the morning run ere retracing their steps.
“Partner,” said the Texan, as they were again jogging along the road, “I sure reckon you have accomplished your object with that gent. He’s just about as near bughouse as any galoot I ever saw.”
“Yes,” agreed Dick, “I think he has been properly punished. I’m willing to let up on him now, and I hope he comes out without going clean daffy.”
A moment before the sharp prow of the steam launch struck Buckhart’s Sallie, Dick realized the collision could not be averted, rose to his feet, and made a headlong dive into the water. His action was not seen by Buckhart, whose eyes were fastened on the launch.
Understanding the danger of being hit by the whirling propeller of the launch, Merriwell dove as deep as possible. With powerful strokes he swam some distance beneath the water. When compelled to rise to the surface, he turned his head and found that the launch had passed over him and was some distance away.
He wondered what had become of Brad and looked around in vain for some sign of his companion. Near at hand swung a vessel at anchor. Toward this Dick 217swam, reaching its side and seizing a hawser which dangled to the water’s edge.
As he clung there in the deep shadow of the vessel he discovered that the launch had slackened its speed and was swinging round on its course. Across the intervening water came the sound of excited voices. Brad Buckhart was hotly denouncing the fellows who had cut down the rowboat.
A great wave of relief swept over Dick, for he knew now that in some manner the Texan had escaped and was on board the launch.
Dick’s first inclination was to raise a shout and announce that he also was safe and unharmed. This was suppressed almost instantly by a desire to wait and see what would happen, and so, clinging to the hawser there in the dark shadow of the vessel with only his head above the surface of the water, the boy watched and listened.
Like Brad, Merriwell believed the rowboat had been cut down by deliberate intent. On discovering that Lynch and Ditson were aboard the launch, this belief became a fixed certainty in Dick’s mind.
The launch slid slowly past, with Buckhart vainly straining his eyes for some glimpse of his chum.
“It’s awfully tough on Brad,” thought Dick; “but I’m more than willing those other fellows should think I’ve been drowned. If they have a conscience, it ought to prick them a little.”
Pulling at the hawser, he found that it was secure, and when the launch had passed he lost little time in lifting himself up by the rope, hand over hand, and, rolling over the rail of the vessel, dropped to the deck.
From the vessel Dick watched the launch as the afterglow of sunset died in the west, and night spread its sable wings above the world. He saw other boats 218join in the search, but still he declined to make known the fact that he had escaped.
A huge colored man, stretching his arms, and yawning, appeared on deck from below.
“Mah golly!” he muttered. “Ah must hab slept like a log. Why, it’s gone got dark areddy, and Ah ain’t lit dem lights. If de cap’n evah foun’ dat out, Ah’d ketch it. Ah guess Ah’ll hurry up about gittin’ dem lights lit. Yes, sah!”
“That’s right, Sambo,” said Dick, in a low tone, as he stepped out and confronted the negro. “You better get onto your job.”
“Fo’ laws sake!” gasped the colored man, starting back. “Where yo’ come from, maan? How’d yo’ git on dis yere vessel? What yo’ doin’ on dis yere vessel? By golly! Ah guess yo’ one ob dem pirate thieves dat goes round stealin’ from vessels, ain’t yer? Now, yo’ keep yo’ distance. Don’ come near dis nigger, fo’ Ah’ll crack your skull jes’ as sure’s yo’ do. Ah’s a baad maan, Ah is. Mah name is Thomas Jefferson Jackson Jones, and Ah’s dangerous when Ah gits mah mad up. If Ah eber hits yo’ wif one of dese mauls ob mine, dat will be yo’ funeral, maan. Yo’ll ride along wif de flowers in de front carriage, and yo’ won’t hear none of de music. Yes, sir; yes, sir! Ah’s dangerous!”
“You look it,” laughed Dick, for through the darkness he could see the darky’s eyes rolling with terror, and it seemed that the fellow’s shaking knees would melt beneath him. “Don’t let my accidental presence on board the vessel disturb you.”
“Oh, Ah’s not disturbed in the slightes’ declivity,” hastily retorted Thomas Jefferson Jackson Jones. “Ah’s puffeckly caam and placated, Ah is. Ah’s a maan dat nebber takes no chances. Always carries a razzor in mah pocket for ’mergencies. Yes, sah!”
219“Well, let your razor stay in your pocket,” said Dick. “You won’t have to use it. Be kind enough to do me a favor—don’t speak quite so loud. I’ll explain how you came to find me here.”
The darky listened with an air of doubt to Dick’s words, but the boy called his attention to the fact that the launch and a number of small boats were moving about near the spot where the collision had occurred.
“They’re still searching for me,” said Merriwell. “For certain reasons I don’t want them to know I escaped. I want them to think I was drowned. Now, Sambo, I’m going to make you a proposition.”
“Ah beliebe Ah ’stinctly tol’ you mah name is Thomas Jefferson Jackson Jones. Yo’ll kindly deflane from callin’ me Sambo, sah.”
“All right, Thomas,” laughed Dick. “I see you’re very sensitive. I have no desire to hurt your tender feelings. Instead of that, I feel very friendly toward you. After you have lighted those lamps you can make five dollars by taking a boat and setting me ashore.”
“Ah ain’t s’posed to leabe dis vessel, sah,” said the colored man, “but if Ah saw a five-dollar bill a-comin’ mah way, Ah might be injewsed to leave it fo’ a short time.”
The boy brought out some money, and finally succeeded in peeling a dripping five-dollar bill from the small roll.
“It’s the real stuff, Thomas,” he said. “If you give me your word that you’ll set me ashore, and say nothing about it, the money is yours.”
“Mah word is jes’ as good as mah bond,” chuckled the negro, “and dey ain’t either one wuth a tinker’s rap. Yah! yah! yah! But when Ah see a five-dollar William comin’ mah way, Ah’s ready fo’ almos’ anything. 220Yo’ hol’ up, maan, till Ah gets dem lamps lighted. Ah’ll be wif yer in jes’ about two seconds.”
Made secure by a painter, a boat lay floating under the stern of the vessel. When the colored man had set the lamp he returned and drew this boat up on the port side of the vessel and dropped into it along with Merriwell. It was now dark, so Dick was not recognized by any of the searchers, and therefore his plan of deception was carried through successfully.
THE GHOSTLY FACE.
The Texan stopped in his tracks as a dark figure stepped out before him. Brad had just left the pier, having told Lynch, Ditson, and Du Boise what he thought of them and what he meant to do.
A queer, quivery sensation shot along Buckhart’s spine. He stood quite still and stared at the dark figure which promptly strode toward him.
“Don’t raise a shout, old man,” said the voice of Dick Merriwell. “Don’t let those fellows hear you. It is I.”
Brad deliberately pinched himself to make sure he was awake.
“It sounds like you, and it looks like you,” he said, “but it can’t be you. You’re drowned!”
“Hardly,” said Merriwell, as he dropped a hand on the shoulder of his chum. “But I want those fellows still to think I’m drowned. I’m in hopes it will worry them some. That’s why I didn’t let you know I hadn’t gone to the bottom.”
Realizing at last that Merriwell was there in the flesh, the Texan suddenly caught Dick’s wet figure in his arms and gave him a bear hug.
“Oh, great horn spoon, I’ve got to yell!” he panted. “If I don’t, I’ll sure blow up. Say, partner, can’t I yell just once? Can’t I let off steam a little? Gophers and jack rabbits, I thought you were dead! Oh, say, what a funny feeling I’ve got! I don’t know how to express it. Hang it all, didn’t you know I was searching for you with the rest of the bunch? Didn’t you realize how I felt about it? Partner, I wouldn’t 222go through that thing again for fifty thousand dollars! I sure reckoned you were food for the fishes.”
The Texan’s voice was quivering with emotion, and he trembled in every limb.
“It was rough on you,” agreed Dick, “and perhaps I’m mistaken in thinking it will disturb those rascals to fancy me done for. Let’s wait here until they pass. We can tell by what they are saying whether they are disturbed or not.”
Hidden in the narrow space between two of the old buildings, the boys waited until the trio of rascals came along and passed on their way. Falling in behind but taking pains not to be seen, Dick and Brad followed the three to the first saloon and from thence to Fred’s place of business.
“They’ve taken a private room,” said Brad, after peering between the swinging doors. “They’ve gone upstairs, partner. I reckon they intend to drown their remorse with plenty of booze. If you should appear before them now, they’d certain think you a spook.”
Dick laughed softly.
“I have a fancy to play the spook,” he said. “Come with me.”
In a near-by restaurant he purchased a few cents’ worth of flour, which was given him in a paper bag. Slipping this into his pocket, he led the way back to Fred’s.
There were a very few patrons in Fred’s as the boys entered. Spofford, a sophomore, was leaning lurchingly on the bar and telling a story. Two or three of Spofford’s chums were with him. The barkeeper was listening and the waiter was opening a barrel in the back room. No one paid any attention to Dick and Brad, who sauntered through and quietly ascended the stairs.
There were two rooms above. Listening, Merriwell 223soon learned which of these was occupied by the fellows he hoped to frighten. Having located them, he brought forth the bag of flour, which he proceeded to smear over his face until his features were well coated with it.
“Do I look rather ghostly, Brad?” he whispered.
“Your face looks that way,” softly chuckled the Texan, “but there’s nothing very ghostly about the rest of you.”
“Then I’ll show only my face,” decided Dick. “Here’s the panel through which drinks are passed into that room.”
“They shouldn’t see you in too strong a light,” murmured Brad.
Merriwell’s fingers found the switch and turned it. This cut off all the lights in the upper part of the building.
“That’s too much,” he whispered quickly. “Turn off that one over your head, Brad. Hurry up.”
There was a faint click, and the Texan announced that he had found the electric bulb and turned off the current. Then Dick softly pushed back the panel and manipulated the electrical switch. He did not turn it on at once, but moved it gradually, getting the result hoped for as the lights glowed dimly at first.
The startled fellows within that room saw the white, ghastly face at the open panel and Du Boise shrieked and fell to the floor in a faint. Dick closed the panel at once.
“Skip, Brad!” he hissed. “We must make a sudden duck.”
Spofford and his friends had left, and only the barkeeper was found in the lower room.
“What’s that yell I heard?” he asked, as the boys appeared.
“Nothing but a little practical joke,” said Dick, as 224he mopped the flour from his face with his handkerchief. “Those fellows upstairs are hitting the booze too hard. It’s time they swore off. They may think they’ve seen a ghost. Perhaps you’ll help them reform if you fail to undeceive them.”
“Don’t say a word,” said Brad, tossing a silver dollar on the bar.
“You sure gave those gents something of a start, partner,” said Brad, as they hurried away.
“I think I did,” agreed Merriwell. “You should have seen them, Brad. Their eyes stuck out of their heads. Du Boise collapsed like a pricked bladder. It was really amusing. I’ve been well paid for the ducking I received.”
“Perhaps you have!” growled the Texan. “But I’ve got a bill to settle with those gents. They still have to pay me for my Sallie, and you bet your life I’ll make them cough up. You hear me gently chirp!”
A QUEER DELUSION.
Mike Lynch was placed under the care of a doctor, who found it necessary to give the fellow opiates in order to quiet him. The doctor fancied Lynch would come around all right in case he could get some sleep, which he seemed to require. Mike’s friends took turns in watching him through the day.
Toward nightfall Lynch awoke and discovered Ditson and Wolfe in the room. He announced his intention of getting up and proceeded to do so in spite of their remonstrances.
“I’m all right,” he declared. “The trouble with me was that I couldn’t seem to sleep after the unfortunate drowning of Merriwell last night. I’ve been troubled with hallucinations I suppose. Never had anything like that before. I’m nearly starved, fellows.”
“I should think you would be,” said Ditson, exchanging glances with Wolfe. “Come on with us and get something to eat. You know we all thought Merriwell drowned, and even now I don’t know how he escaped. Of course we’re glad he did escape.”
“What are you talking about?” cried Lynch, beginning to show excitement. “Merriwell’s dead. Don’t think you can soothe my feelings by giving me the impression that he escaped. Don’t try to deceive me, Ditson.”
“Now listen to reason, Mike,” urged Duncan. “Here’s Bern—he’ll tell you that Merriwell’s all right. We’ve both seen him several times to-day.”
But at this Lynch fell into such a state of excitement that both his friends were startled and alarmed. He beat the air with his clenched fists and cried out that Merriwell was dead and would have to remain so.
226“By Jove!” whispered Wolfe, in Ditson’s ear. “We’d better let up on this. The only way to satisfy him is to show him Merriwell alive and in good health.”
“And that may not satisfy him,” murmured Dunc. “They say the thing that threw him into a fit was the sight of Merriwell this morning. Mike’s the last person I’d ever fancied would get this way. I didn’t suppose he had any nerves. He’s literally gone to pieces.”
They soothed him by changing the subject of their conversation. By the time he was dressed and ready to go out he again seemed in his normal condition.
On their way to a restaurant they met Merriwell, who, with several friends, was coming from the gymnasium.
At sight of Dick, Lynch turned ghastly pale and trembled. Not a word came from his lips, but he turned his head away and walked on with averted eyes.
“Merriwell is looking pretty healthy for a dead man,” observed Wolfe, winking at Ditson.
“Stop!” cried Mike, with a snarl. “Don’t try any more of that! I won’t have it. I know he’s dead, and that ends it.”
His companions looked at each other in wonderment, deciding that, although Lynch seemingly had recovered, he was a subject for the care of a physician.
But even the doctor who attended Lynch could not quite understand the condition of the fellow’s mind. In everything else Mike seemed rational, but the mere mentioning of Merriwell’s name in his hearing threw him into a state of excitement that bordered on frenzy. At sight of Dick, whom he occasionally encountered, he invariably turned pale and averted his eyes. Some of the fellow’s friends insisted that he ought to go home and take a rest, but this caused Lynch to grin 227and declare that he was in “the finest condition ever.” He simply refused to acknowledge that Dick Merriwell was not dead.
Ditson and Du Boise raised money to settle for Brad Buckhart’s boat and felt that they were getting out of the affair very cheaply. Of course Dick was told of Mike Lynch’s singular mental delusion, but he, like nearly every one else, believed Lynch would get over it in time.
These were busy days for Dick. Baseball absorbed nearly all his spare time. He was not a little surprised when Wilbur Keene came to him and asked to be coached in pitching. At first Dick thought the fellow joshing, but Keene was in sober earnest, and therefore day after day Merriwell spent thirty minutes or more time instructing the varsity pitcher.
When Welch and the rest of the varsity twirlers learned that Keene was being coached by Dick they unbottled their scorn upon Wilbur. He was compelled to endure all sorts of jeers and sneers. Nevertheless, he persisted, for from the very start he was convinced that Dick’s tutoring would be beneficial to him. Within a few days he could see an improvement in his work.
The first thing Dick insisted on was that Keene should persist in obtaining control of the ball. This he declared was far more essential than speed or curves. The man who possessed perfect control and had a good head on his shoulders could often deceive a batter who could not be deceived by the chap whose control was imperfect, even though the latter had everything else that a pitcher needs.
The moment Keene could, put the ball where he wished to put it Dick began on other things, and from that time the pupil made rapid progress.
In practice on Friday, the day before the scheduled 228game with Cornell, Keene did some pitching for batting practice. It happened that Dick was present and on the bench. Wilbur decided to try his newly learned kinks upon his comrades, and did so with the most surprising and satisfying results. Safe hits were few and far between. When hit at all the ball had a nasty way of popping into the air or rolling punkily along the ground. To the exasperation of the players, they could not seem to get their bats squarely against the ball.
“What do you think of that, Leyden?” inquired Emery, trotting up to the coach. “Keene seems to be in pretty good trim to-day, doesn’t he?”
“And you know why, don’t you?” said Leyden. “He’s the only pitcher who has taken the freshman Merriwell as a coach. The rest are prejudiced against Merriwell or else they have too much foolish pride. Keene is certainly improving. You’d better consider putting him into the box to-morrow. It would be a good time to try him out.”
“Welch expects to pitch to-morrow.”
“But you haven’t told him that he’s to pitch, have you?”
“Hardly. I don’t choose a pitcher so far ahead of a game.”
“Well,” said Leyden, “I urge you once more to consider my suggestion. Keene hasn’t been given much real work. Start him on the slab to-morrow. If they pound him, pull him off.”
Mike Lynch dropped into an old curio shop and inspected an old-fashioned powder-and-ball pistol.
“Will it shoot all right?” inquired Mike, as he snapped the weapon.
“Vy, certainly, mine frendt—vy, certainly it vill,” answered the Jew proprietor. “It vos a goot pistol. It vos choost as goot as it efer vos. But you don’t vant it to shoot vid, do you? Most beople buy such dings as a decorations. Dey put dem up on der vall to look ad.”
“That’s what I want it for,” said Mike; “but, still, I want to know that the old thing will really shoot. If it was properly loaded, would it kill anything?”
“Vy, certainly, mine frendt—certainly. Dot pistol vent through der Revolutionary Var. Heer vos der bullet mold dot goes vid it.”
“You don’t say so! Why, I thought they used flintlocks then. This is a percussion cap pistol. Do you suppose I could get any caps to fit it?”
“Right over at der hardware store,” said the old Jew. “You vill find plenty of dem, mine frendt.”
“What’s the price of the pistol and mold?”
“I’ll give you a dollar.”
“Oh, mine cootness! Do you vant to rob me? I pay four tollar for dat pistol.”
“All I have is a dollar,” said Mike, taking out a bill. “Here it is. Take it or not just as you please.”
“Cootn’t you make it two tollar?” whined the old Jew. “I vill lose money on it at dot, but I vant to get rid of it.”
230“Take it or not,” repeated Mike, waving the dollar bill in front of the shopkeeper’s face.
He got the pistol and left with it in his pocket. Visiting the hardware store, he secured a box of caps and a small supply of powder. In the hardware store Lynch found a tinsmith to whom he made a most peculiar proposition.
“Do you see this?” said Mike, producing the bullet mold. “I want you to mold me a few silver bullets.”
The tinsmith gazed at him in surprise.
“Silver bullets?” he questioned doubtfully. “Why aren’t lead bullets good enough?”
“I want silver bullets,” persisted Mike. “A silver bullet is the only thing that will destroy a ghost.”
“Look here, young man,” said the tinknocker, “is there anything the matter with your head, or are you talking to hear yourself?”
Mike winked gravely.
“Never mind,” he said. “You have a nice little furnace there, and here is a couple of silver dollars. Can’t you melt that money and mold me some bullets?”
“It’s against the law to destroy United States money.”
“But no one besides ourselves will know anything about it. I’ll give you five dollars to do the job for me.”
“Five dollars is an inducement. Have you got it?”
“Here it is,” said Mike, handing it over. “I’ll pay you in advance, and I’ll wait for those bullets.”
When he left he had several fresh-molded silver bullets in his pocket.
The night, in the privacy of his room, with the door securely locked, Lynch carefully loaded and capped the old pistol. Two of the silver bullets were rammed down on top of the powder.
“It’s my only way to get rid of Merriwell’s spook,” 231he muttered. “My grandmother used to say that a silver bullet would always lay a spook. Unless I get rid of this one it will drive me crazy. I’ll find an opportunity to do the job to-morrow.”
During the game between Yale and Cornell, Dick Merriwell sat on the Yale bench. He did so at the request of Keene, who had been sent in to pitch. Wilbur believed the presence of the lad who had coached him would serve to steady his nerves and carry him through the critical points of the game.
Keene astonished and delighted the Yale crowd, pitching a masterly game from start to finish. Had he failed in any inning, Yale would have been defeated, for the score was running close and Cornell had a team that would not be likely to yield any advantage it might secure.
Mike Lynch sat on the bleachers with several of his classmates. Having discovered Dick on the Yale bench, Mike stared at him through inning after inning, paying very little attention to the conversation of his companions or the excited cheering of the great crowd.
Ditson nudged Bern Wolfe and called his attention to Lynch.
“Mighty queer about Mike,” he whispered. “I was talking with the doctor to-day. He seems to think Mike has received some severe shock from which he will not recover unless he gets a counter shock. Just look at him, Bern. See his eyes. See him glare. Why, he looks absolutely dangerous to-day.”
“It isn’t right for him to stay in college,” muttered Wolfe. “He ought to get away and take a rest.”
In the seventh inning Lynch rose from his seat and announced that he was going to leave the field. Although his friends felt that some one should accompany 232him, the game was at such an exciting point that not one of them wished to miss any of it. Therefore Mike was permitted to depart alone.
Instead of leaving the field, Lynch descended from the bleachers, followed the walk round toward the locker house, and let himself in by the gate onto the field. He was wearing a light overcoat, although the day was very warm. Beneath that coat there was a strange bulge over his hip pocket.
“I’ll do it now!” he whispered huskily, as his eyes fell on Dick Merriwell’s back. “I’ll end it right here!”
His hand found and gripped the stock of the old pistol. Swiftly advancing toward the unconscious lad, Mike produced the weapon and softly cocked it.
Just then a foul tip carromed from the bat of a Cornell man, came whistling through the air, and struck Lynch near the temple, dropping him unconscious to the ground.
When Mike opened his eyes he was in the locker room and Merriwell was the first person he saw. Several others were there, but Dick was on his knees, working over Lynch.
Mike caught his breath and lifted a hand to his head.
“What—what happened to me?” he muttered huskily.
“You were hit by a baseball,” answered Dick. “It knocked you senseless. It hit you in a bad place, too—close to the temple.”
“Hit by a baseball!” muttered Lynch. “Knocked me out, didn’t it? Isn’t it queer, but I seem to have been dreaming. I seem to remember the queerest things, but they’re all hazy like the visions of a dream. I thought you were drowned, Merriwell. I thought we ran you down in a steam launch, and then it seemed 233that your ghost was haunting me. What a ridiculous dream, wasn’t it?”
“Ridiculous, indeed,” nodded Dick. “But you see I’m not drowned, and you realize I can’t be a ghost in my present material condition.”
“Oh, yes, I realize that,” said Mike. “Of course I know there’s no such things as ghosts. What’s that cheering?”
The sound of the cheering spectators came to their ears. Into the room rushed several bronzed, healthy-looking baseball men all in a hilarious condition of triumph. One of them espied Dick and cried:
“You’ll have your hands full coaching the rest of our pitchers now, Merriwell! By Jove, Keene pitched a corking game! And he says you made him fit for the job! We won, four to three! Hurrah for our new coach!”
“Rah! rah! rah! New coach! new coach! Merriwell,” cried another chap, flinging his sweater into the air.
“Congratulations, Merriwell,” said Lynch. “You’re a winner at anything you attempt. You always come out on top.”
Dick now coached Keene for the great forthcoming game with Cornell. When the two teams met, Yale came out victorious and again Merriwell was hailed as a hero and the credit for the victory freely given him.
Meantime, however, the pistol carried by Mike Lynch on the day he was struck senseless by a foul ball had been found, and trouble was brewing for Mike.
Wilbur Keene, bronzed, flushed, well satisfied, yet modest in bearing, entered the locker house, surrounded by his comrades of the varsity nine, which had just defeated Cornell in the game for which Merriwell had coached Keene and which proved to be one of the closest and most exciting games of the season.
Every one was congratulating Wilbur and telling him what a wonderful game he had pitched. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say nearly every one was congratulating him. Two of the varsity pitchers, Pumper Welch and Dudley Towne, had not expressed themselves. Towne seemed wavering, but Welch wore a sullen, half-sneering look upon his not unhandsome face. Hitherto Pumper had been considered the leading pitcher for Yale, and now he realized that a rival who might snatch some of these honors from him had suddenly arisen.
“You certainly held ’em down in the tight places, Keene, old man,” cried the tall Scotchman, Greg McGregor, slapping Wilbur on the shoulder. “You pulled out of the bad holes in beautiful shape.”
“It was control—control that did it,” asserted Cranch, the catcher. “On my word, Wilbur seemed able to put that ball precisely where he wanted to put it. Never caught a fellow with better control in all my life. And, say, Keene, where did you get that queer hinkey-dink curve that you use for a strike-out?”
“I got that where I got my control,” answered Keene. “I’m not too proud to acknowledge that I owe it all to Merriwell’s coaching. The first thing he 235did was to keep at me about perfect control. Said it was more important than speed or curves. Said it was the first thing a pitcher ought to work for. As for that little hinkey-dink curve, as you call it, I got that trying to throw Merriwell’s combination ball. I didn’t get the combination, but I did get a queer little quirky shoot, which I used in the game to-day.”
At this moment Greg McGregor made a lunge through the crowd and seized a lad who was trying to slip out.
“No, you don’t!” shouted Greg triumphantly. “Hi, fellows! Here he is! Here’s Merriwell! He was making a sneak.”
The freshman was dragged back into the room and surrounded by the bronzed, bare-armed, laughing youths.
“I take off my hat to you, Merriwell,” said Bill Leyden, with mocking seriousness. “When it comes to coaching pitchers, you seem to have me skinned a mile.”
Leyden was the baseball coach.
“Hi, Merriwell!” cried Ben Carter. “Heard about the horrible calamity that happened to your class team this afternoon? It’s simply awful.”
Now, the Yale freshmen had been playing Highbridge High, and, regarding the game as a cinch, the class of Umpty-ten had sent out a wretchedly small aggregation of rooters.
“What did they do?” laughed Dick. “Did they win by a score of about twenty to nothing?”
“Hardly that,” returned Carter. “Highbridge ate ’em up.”
“Go on!” mocked Dick.
“It’s a fact.”
“Oh, you’ll have to tell that to some one else.”
“I’m not joshing,” persisted Carter. “That’s the report. 236Umpty-ten was trimmed by Highbridge. Horrible doings. Two pitchers knocked out of the box.”
“I can’t believe it,” said Dick, the smile slowly disappearing from his face. “Why, no one regarded Highbridge as dangerous. Both Jones and Robinson told me I would not be needed with the team to-day. That’s how I happened to be here.”
“You never can tell,” chuckled Carl Henderson. “Sometimes these things happen when they’re least expected. It’s possible you might have saved the game if you’d been with the team, Merriwell.”
“And it’s possible I might have lost this game if he had been with his own team,” confessed Wilbur Keene. “Every time I found myself in a hard hole I got a nod of encouragement from Merriwell, and it seemed to stiffen my backbone.”
“Well, will you hear that blamed fool?” muttered Welch, in Dud Towne’s ear. “He makes me sick at the stomach.”
“If this keeps up,” said Towne, “Merriwell will have the credit for winning the game, not Keene.”
“It was a fluke, anyhow,” growled Welch. “Keene never pitched like that before, and I doubt if he ever will again.”
“What was that fellow trying to do who got hit by the ball in the seventh inning?” inquired Towne. “How did he happen to be on the field? I know him. He’s a freshman by the name of Lynch.”
“Oh, I suppose he’s one of Merriwell’s chums,” answered Welch, with scornfully curling lips. “He was sneaking in to get a word with Merriwell when that swift foul tip caught him and stretched him out cold.”
“There he is now,” said Dud, jerking his head toward Lynch. “If I remember right, he’s no friend of Merriwell.”
“Then why did Merriwell take such an interest in 237him after he got knocked silly? Why did Merriwell come here and work over the fellow the way he did?”
“Did he do that?”
“Sure. I wouldn’t stay on the bench, you know. I was here, and I saw them lug Lynch in. A doctor came along, but he wasn’t needed. Merriwell had the fellow’s shirt torn open at the throat and was chafing his wrists and moistening his forehead. By the time the doctor got ready to do something his assistance wasn’t needed.”
“That’s like Merriwell. He does those things for friends and foes alike. Let any one need assistance and he doesn’t stop to ask whether the person is a friend or an enemy.”
“Haw!” grunted Welch. “He’s a great poser. He’s always trying to show off. Of course he’s all swelled up now because he’s been coaching a varsity pitcher. They wanted me to let him give me points. Think of that! I’m not taking any coaching from a freshman. I notice that you didn’t grab at the proposition. Keene was the only one who——”
“And Keene pitched the game to-day and won it,” interrupted Towne, with a shade of regret in his voice.
“Any one would think you were sorry that you didn’t let Merriwell coach you.”
“Perhaps I am.”
This was too much for Pumper Welch.
“You make me sick, too!” he said. “Go ahead and coax Mr. Merriwell to coach you. Perhaps you’ll pan out a great pitcher under his instructions. Oh, thunder, what fools some fellows are!”
With this final exclamation, Welch strode disgustedly away. As soon as possible Dick escaped and made his way from the field. He was disturbed over the rumor that Umpty-ten had lost to Highbridge High, 238and at the gymnasium he sought for confirmation of this report. Apparently it was true, for every one who had heard anything at all about it said the same thing. As Dick was leaving the gym he encountered Bertie Lee.
“Hello, Kid,” he called. “What do you know about the Highbridge game?”
“Only what I’ve heard. I was out to watch the Cornell game.”
“That report must be a josh,” said Dick. “Highbridge couldn’t beat Umpty-ten.”
“It doesn’t seem possible,” said Lee, swinging in at Dick’s side and stretching his short legs to catch Merriwell’s stride. “Say, I want to tell you something, Dick. I saw Lynch when he sneaked in onto the field to-day and I followed him. I think I was the first fellow to reach him after the ball stretched him out. Do you know what made me follow him?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“Well, I’ll tell you. I got a look at his face, and I knew he was up to some trick. If ever I saw a sneaky, bloodthirsty mug, it was that of Mike Lynch. You know I’ve had trouble with him, and I don’t love him any. I’m scared to death of him now. He’d cut his grandmother’s throat, that fellow would. Funny nobody noticed what he had in his hand when he was hit by the ball.”
“What he had in his hand?”
“What did he have in his hand?”
“I can’t show you here. I’ve got it. It’s in my pocket. I picked it up. I want you to have it. You better find out what Mike Lynch was going to do. He was sneaking up behind you.”
“I’ve wondered what he was trying to do,” said Dick. “Lee, you’ve got my curiosity aroused. Come 239on over to the house and show me what it was you picked up.”
Bertie followed Dick to his room on York Street. The moment the door was closed behind them Dick expectantly faced the little fellow, who had once been prominent in the Ditson set, but who was now practically ostracized.
“I’m liable to get hurt for this,” said Lee, who now appeared genuinely alarmed. “Those fellows have threatened me. They suspect I’ve told you about several of their sneaking plots and schemes against you.”
“It’s too late to back out now, Kid,” said Dick. “You know I won’t betray you. You may as well tell me the whole business. What was it you picked up on the field after Mike Lynch was knocked senseless?”
Bertie unbuttoned his coat and produced something from beneath it.
“This is what I found,” he announced, handing it over to Dick.
It was an old-fashioned percussion-cap pistol.
THE SILVER BULLETS.
“Look out!” exclaimed Bertie; “it’s loaded.”
Dick held the queer old pistol in his hand, turning it slowly and looking at it with a puzzled expression on his face.
“This is mighty queer,” he muttered. “I don’t understand it. Did you see Lynch with this weapon in his hand?”
“He dropped it when he was knocked out by the ball,” persisted Bertie. “He was sneaking up behind you with that pistol, Dick.”
Merriwell shook his head.
“Why should Mike Lynch, or any one else for that matter, carry a weapon like this?” speculated Dick. “It’s an ancient relic.”
“You know Mike has been rotten queer lately.”
“Yes, I know,” nodded Dick. “He’s been troubled with hallucinations. Of course, you know about the running down of Buckhart’s boat in the harbor. At that time Lynch and his friends fancied I was drowned. Strangely enough, Mike was the one most affected by this belief. It seemed to upset him mentally, and no one could convince him that I was not dead. On other things he appeared rational enough, but he certainly was queer on that point. Whenever he met me he refused to look at me. They told me he invariably flew into a passion if any one spoke of my escape from drowning. After being hit by that baseball to-day Lynch seemed rational for the first time in many days. You know I did what I could to restore him to consciousness. When he came round he stated that he seemed to have dreamed that I was dead. I fancied 241the shock had knocked the delusion out of his head and restored him to his normal condition.”
“Well, I don’t know what sort of condition he was in,” said Bertie; “but I do know he was sneaking up behind you with this loaded pistol in his hand. You can imagine what he meant to do. I don’t like to think of it.”
“If he meant to shoot me,” muttered Dick, “the fellow was certainly crazy. There’s no other explanation. No chap in his right mind would attempt such a deed.”
“Probably he meant to plead brain storm as an excuse,” said Lee.
Dick shook his head decisively.
“I must refuse to believe that Lynch contemplated any such dastardly act. Perhaps there’s nothing but powder in this pistol. Perhaps he had some freakish scheme in his befogged mind. Lee, I’m going to find out whether there’s anything more than powder in this pistol. I haven’t anything to draw the charge, but there’s another way to settle the point. Come down into the back yard with me.”
They descended the stairs and passed through the kitchen into the back yard. Finding a heavy block of wood, Merriwell placed it close to the fence, retreated a few feet, and leveled the pistol at it. When he pulled the trigger there was an explosion like the report of a shotgun. Springing forward to the block of wood, Dick examined it.
“Great Scott!” he cried, his face paling. “Look here!”
His finger pointed to the spot where two bullets had entered the wood close to each other.
“I see it! I see it!” spluttered Lee. “That settles it! Now you know the old thing was loaded with something more than powder.”
242Dick took out his handkerchief and wiped beads of perspiration from his forehead.
“Mike Lynch must have been crazy,” he said huskily. “Only a crazy man would think of using such a weapon as this, anyhow. Any one in his right senses would have chosen an up-to-date revolver. Kid, I wish you’d ask the kitchen girl for a hatchet. I’m going to get those bullets or slugs out of this block.”
But Maggie herself was on hand, having been brought out by the report of the pistol.
“Heavings save us!” she gasped, holding up her hands. “What air you doing, Mr. Merriwell? You nearly scat me to death a-shootin’ out here in the yard.”
“Bring me the hatchet, Maggie!” called Dick. “I want to use it right away.”
The girl reëntered the house and reappeared with a heavy, broad-bladed hatchet in her hand. Seizing this implement, Dick split off a piece of the bullet-pierced block.
“Say, but there was a heavy charge of powder in that old thing,” observed Lee. “Look how deep the bullets went in.”
Merriwell hacked at the block until finally one of the bullets was uncovered. Cutting away around it, he pried it out with a corner of the hatchet.
“Fresh-molded,” he muttered, holding it up. “See how bright it is.”
Lee seized the hatchet and hacked away at the block to bring the other bullet to light. While Bertie was doing this, Dick produced his jackknife and tried the blade on the bullet he had secured.
“This is not lead,” he announced. “It’s too hard and too bright. If it were lead, it would have flattened out. By Jove, Kid, this looks like silver to me!”
243“Here’s the other one!” cried Lee. “They’re mates, Dick. Say, if you’d ever got those through your head, it would have been your everlasting finish.”
Dick took the second bullet, inspected it, compared it with the first, and dropped them both into his pocket.
“Bertie,” he said, “I want you to keep a close mouth about this business. Don’t mention it to any one—at least, don’t mention it until I give you permission.”
“I’m not liable to mention it,” said Bertie quickly. “I don’t want Mike Lynch on my neck. I don’t know what you think about it, Dick, but it seems to me that Lynch had something mighty nasty in his mind when he was sneaking up behind you. If he’s daffy, he should be placed in confinement where he’ll do no injury to any one. It isn’t right to let a crazy fellow run loose. I’m afraid of him. If they don’t take care of Lynch, I’m liable to get out of New Haven myself, I tell you that.”
“Don’t hurry, Kid. If Mike Lynch is crazy enough to attempt murder, I’m going to see that he is taken care of. But first I think I shall talk with Lynch myself.”
Having arrived at such a decision, Dick wasted little time. He proceeded straight to the room occupied by Lynch and unhesitatingly knocked for admission.
A voice called, “Come in!”
Lynch was sitting in a morris chair with a bandage around his head. He was wearing a dressing gown and looked pale and listless.
“Hello, Merriwell!” he said, with an intonation of surprise as Dick appeared. “I didn’t suppose it was you. Thought it might be some of my friends, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry about calling to find out whether I’m seriously injured or not. Won’t you sit down?”
244“I’m not going to make a long call,” said Dick. “I dropped in to ask you about this queer old pistol. Have you ever seen it before?”
He produced the weapon and held it up before Lynch as he spoke.
At sight of the pistol Mike started violently, betraying much agitation. It seemed that his pale face grew still whiter. For a moment he sat quite still, but finally, summoning command of himself, he extended a hand and took the weapon from Dick.
Merriwell stood watching every shade of expression that flitted across the face of the sandy-haired youth. He was wondering if Mike would deny having seen the pistol. In such a case Dick was ready with a hot denouncement. In fact, he had practically determined to make public the truth of the affair and force Lynch out of college. Why not? Certainly there was no reason why he should permit the fellow to remain there after this second attempt to commit murder. The running down of the rowboat might be called a piece of reckless maliciousness without any deliberate desire to take human life, but when, with a loaded pistol in his hand, a man creeps up behind another man whom he hates, it certainly looks like premeditated crime of the most bloodthirsty sort.
Twice Lynch sought to moisten his lips with his tongue before speaking. When he did speak his voice was husky and faltering.
“Where did you get this, Merriwell?” he asked.
“You haven’t answered my question,” reminded Dick coldly. “When you do answer it I’ll answer yours. Have you ever seen that pistol before?”
“I—I think I have,” muttered Mike.
“Well, it was picked up on the baseball ground after you were knocked senseless by that foul ball. It was found where you dropped when the ball hit you.”
246Lynch drew a deep breath and a shiver seemed to run over him from his head to his feet.
“Then it was no dream,” he whispered huskily. “I was thinking about that when you came in. I was trying to clear up things in my mind. I was wondering what had really happened and what I had dreamed as happening.”
Still holding the pistol and fixing his gaze upon it, Mike lifted one hand to his bandaged head, apparently seeking to get a grip on his disturbed and scattered thoughts.
“Merriwell,” he said, “I wish you would tell me a few things. We ran down a rowboat containing you and Buckhart, didn’t we?”
“Buckhart escaped and was pulled on board our launch.”
“But you—we saw nothing of you after the rowboat was wrecked. We believed you were drowned. Buckhart thought so. We searched for your body until long after it was dark. Others joined in the search. Finally we gave it up. That night in Fred’s saloon we saw your white face through the panel hole in the wall. We were drinking heavily. Du Boise fainted. I’m sure both Ditson and myself believed we had seen an apparition, a ghost. Du Boise tried to explain it by saying it was a hallucination. I didn’t sleep much that night—in fact, I don’t think I slept at all. I never passed through such a night. At daybreak I started out into the country, seeking to get away from myself and my haunting thoughts. Perhaps you don’t believe me, Merriwell, but I was the most wretched fellow in the world. I didn’t think there was any real danger that we would drown you when we ran your boat down. I wanted to give you a ducking. There was 247malice in my heart perhaps, but not murder. I hope you believe this.”
Without speaking, Dick motioned for him to continue.
“I say I started out early the following morning, but I’m not sure of that. I don’t seem to know just what happened. I have fancied it was nothing but a dream. I have fancied that I remained and dreamed that I rose and took a long walk into the country. In a strip of woods I stopped to rest. Along came some fellows taking a morning run. You were with them. This seems to be a part of my dream. Tell me, Merriwell, did such a thing happen?”
“Yes, such a thing happened. You seemed terribly excited at sight of me. You were brought back to town and placed under the care of a doctor. To all outward appearances, you recovered in a very short time; but ever since then up to the present day you have maintained that I was dead, and whenever you met me you have refused to look at me.”
Gripping the edge of the table, Lynch slowly rose to his feet.
“Perhaps you’ll not believe it, Merriwell,” he said, “but I think I’ve been slightly deranged. Getting hit by that baseball seems to have straightened out my mind and brought me round.”
Merriwell pointed sternly at the pistol.
“What were you doing with that weapon?” he demanded.
Lynch shook his head.
“I can’t tell you,” he answered hoarsely.
“Was the pistol loaded?”
“It’s not loaded now, is it?”
“Was it loaded when you started to creep up behind me with it in your hand?”
“I think it was.”
248“What were you going to do?”
“Heaven help me! I am afraid I meant to shoot you.”
Once more Mike was trembling, and it seemed necessary for him to cling to the study table in order to stand.
“I’m glad you see fit to tell me the truth,” said Dick grimly. “Here are the bullets with which the pistol was loaded.”
He produced them and held them in the hollow of his hand.
“Silver bullets!” whispered Mike.
“To destroy a ghost.”
“To what?” cried Dick.
“It sounds foolish, doesn’t it?” muttered Lynch. “It’s an old superstition. I heard my grandmother tell of it when I was a mere child. My grandmother came from Ireland. She said the only way to lay a spook was to shoot it with a silver bullet.”
“And you—you believed such a ridiculous thing, Lynch? That’s too much!”
“I don’t know whether I believed it or not,” muttered Mike. “You understand that I was somewhat daffy. Whenever I saw you I fancied I beheld a ghost. I thought myself haunted. In this state of mind I remembered the words of my grandmother and resolved to exorcise you with the aid of silver bullets. I seemed to remember some crazy conviction that you would vanish instantly if shot with a silver bullet.”
In spite of himself, Dick smiled. It seemed unspeakably preposterous, and yet had not this fellow crept upon him with a pistol containing such bullets?
“I bought that old pistol,” Lynch went on. “You 249see an ordinary pistol wouldn’t do. I had to get one that used powder and ball. I bought a bullet mold and had a number of silver bullets made. At first I thought I would creep up behind you some time when no one else was near, but after a while I decided that, as long as you were a ghost, it made no difference when I put an end to you. Certainly it could not be a crime to destroy a ghost. I went to the game to-day little thinking that I would find you there. When I discovered you I couldn’t keep my eyes off you. I don’t remember anything at all about the game. At last I became so worked up that I resolved to do the thing without loss of time. You know what followed. This is the whole story, Merriwell. I don’t ask you to believe a word of it. I don’t expect you to believe it. I don’t think I would believe it if I were in your place. I’ve made a confession. I acknowledge I tried to shoot you. Under any circumstances I shall not deny it. You have all the evidence you need against me. I’ll wait here for the officers.”
It must be confessed that Merriwell was puzzled and felt himself in a peculiar position. If Lynch spoke the truth, Dick had no desire to punish him, as he now seemed genuinely penitent. Furthermore, his actions had been those of a deranged man.
“Hadn’t you better take a vacation, Lynch?” suggested Merriwell. “Don’t you think you need it?”
“I suppose you mean that I must leave college for good? You are going to force me out?”
“No. I mean exactly what I said—I think it will be beneficial to you if you take a vacation without waiting for the term to close. I have not accepted your story as true, and yet I hope it is true. I’ve always fancied you to be a person with an ordinary amount of common sense. No person with ordinary intelligence would have thought of shooting an enemy, but 250if your mind was in a condition that led you to try such a thing, it’s high time that you gave up studying and sought rest and quiet in the country. If you don’t, you’re liable to break down entirely and go to pieces beyond cure.”
“I presume you’re afraid I’ll get another daffy streak, and repeat the attempt on your life. I don’t blame you, Merriwell. Still, I’m not going to leave college now. I’m all right at the present moment, and I believe I’ll remain so. You know I’ve been dreadfully worried over my bills here, for I ran deeply in debt. I didn’t know what would happen to me. I thought I was swamped. As a last resort, I wrote a letter to my mother, making a full confession. This morning I received her answer. She sent me a check. It was large enough to enable me to pay all my debts and have something left over. For the first time in weeks I’m straightened out and ready to go ahead without worry. The only thing that will prevent me is this business to-day. If you proceed against me, my college career is ended. I have been a rather nasty enemy toward you, Merriwell. I know that. I’ve hated you bitterly, and I’ve tried my best to injure you. It was wrong. Now I throw myself on your mercy. Do whatever you like.”
With a sigh, Lynch sat down.
MIKE PUTS IT ON PAPER.
It is a simple matter to imagine what would have happened to Lynch had he, under similar circumstances, thrown himself on the mercies of almost any other boy whom he had hated and plotted against as he had against Dick.
At the outset Merriwell’s intention had been to force the truth from Mike’s lips, and then give him the alternative of leaving college or being arrested at once. Even now Dick hesitated and wondered if that was the only course to pursue. He stood meditating, with his eyes fastened upon Mike’s face.
Somehow, a most remarkable change seemed to have come over Lynch. His face wore a sad, resigned expression that was genuinely pathetic and appealing. It had lost its usual grim and half-brutal aspect. Indeed, as Dick watched, Mike’s chin began to quiver, and two tears started from his eyes and rolled slowly down his cheeks, although no sound came from his lips. Indeed, he bowed his head, seemingly seeking to hide these tokens of weakness.
Was the fellow faking, or was he genuinely repentant? This question troubled Dick. Under any circumstances, Merriwell believed the fellow needed the attentions of a competent physician, for surely he must have been mentally unbalanced for a time. It was not reasonable to suppose he had been cured instantly.
“I am going to think this matter over, Lynch,” said Dick, after a few moments. “I want to do what is right. If I decide to keep this thing quiet and make no move against you, you must promise me one thing.”
“Anything,” murmured Lynch, without lifting his head.
252“You must be examined by an expert in mental disorders. If he says your mind is in such a condition that you should quit college for a time, you must accept his decision.”
“You agree, do you?”
“Yes, I’m ready to agree to anything that will give me a fair chance. I don’t want to leave college. I believe I am all right now. Perhaps I need a little medicine to tone me up, but that’s all. I appreciate this, Merriwell. I can’t say much about it now, but I think I’ll prove to you that I’m not ungrateful. I know what would have happened to me had you been almost any one else. I confess I was depending on your generosity. You have been generous with all your enemies—almost too generous. In the end you overcome their enmity and win their respect. If you were afraid of them, such would not be the case. At first I thought you were afraid, but now I know my mistake. I doubt if you fear any one in the world. Tell me the truth, Merriwell. Were you really ever afraid of anything?”
“Yes, indeed,” was the prompt answer. “No credit for courage may be given a person who has never known fear. It is the one who has experienced fear and overcome it who is really brave. I’m going to take this pistol, Lynch. I shall also keep these bullets. I did not pick up this weapon after you dropped it. Another person did that. In case I find you’re not sincere in your seeming repentance, I’ll have evidence enough against you to put you out of college in a hurry.”
Mike made no objection as Dick took the pistol and thrust it into an inner pocket.
“I’ll prove to you that I’m sincere,” he suddenly exclaimed, once more rising to his feet. “You wait; 253I’ll place the proof in your hands this very night. I’ll fix it so that you won’t need that pistol as evidence.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Dick wonderingly.
“Never mind,” said Lynch. “You’ll find out soon. I would offer to shake hands with you, but——”
“Prove to me beyond doubt that you’re genuinely repentant and ready to do what’s right in future, and you’ll find my hand open to you,” said Dick, as he turned toward the door.
“I’ll prove it!” cried Mike, following him across the room and letting him out. “You’ll be convinced sooner than you think. Good night, Merriwell.”
When Dick was gone Lynch turned back to his study table, produced a paper pad, seized a pen, and prepared to write.
Across the top of the first page he wrote these words: “Voluntary Statement of M. J. Lynch, Student at Yale, Class of Umpty-ten.” This was followed by the date.
At this point Lynch paused, with uplifted pen, and a queer, crafty look flitted across his face.
“I shall ask Merriwell to destroy this paper when he is satisfied that I am sincere in my repentance. But what if he forgets to destroy it? What if it falls into other hands, and is read by some one for whose eyes it is not intended? I must be cautious. I must look out for that.”
Pulling the sheet from the pad, he tore it up and flung the pieces into his waste basket. Then he arose, crossed the room, and opened a drawer of his dresser, from which he took a very small bottle of ink. Returning to the table, he sat down, selected a fresh, clean pen, and prepared to use the small bottle of ink. For fully thirty minutes Lynch wrote.
254“There,” he said at last, “there’s a full confession of my connection with the running down of Buckhart’s boat, and of my attempt to destroy Merriwell’s ghost with silver bullets. Now, what I need is a witness for my signature.”
The witness appeared directly, for Bern Wolfe entered without pausing to rap.
“Thought I’d come round to find out how you are, Mike,” said Wolfe. “By George, you got a bump! What the dickens were you doing, anyhow? You left us on the bleachers, and went hustling away, after announcing that you couldn’t stay there any longer, and had decided to leave the field. How’d you happen to get in there where you could be hit by that ball?”
“Never mind that,” said Lynch. “You’re just the fellow I want to use. I have a little document here that I’m about to sign. I want you to attach your name as witness.”
“What’s the document?”
Wolfe started to pick up the confession, but Lynch hastened to prevent him.
“It’s private,” he said. “I can’t let you read it, you know. All I wish of you is that you put your name on as a witness to the genuineness of my signature.”
“That’s funny,” muttered Bern. “I don’t often sign anything unless I know what I’m hitching my name to.”
“I’m not asking you to sign it. I’m asking you to append your name as a witness to my signature. I give you my word that it won’t get you into any trouble. Here, I’m going to put my name to it.”
Mike did so, writing his name in big, flourishing letters.
“Sit down,” he said, getting up from the chair and covering the paper with a blank sheet which left no 255more than the bottom line and his own signature in view.
Wolfe took the chair and picked up a pen, dipping it into the larger ink bottle.
“Hold on!” cried Mike, catching his wrist and checking him. “Don’t use that ink.”
“Eh? Why not?”
“Well, for certain reasons that I won’t name. Take that other pen, please, and use the ink from this smaller bottle.”
“Aren’t you rather fussy?” grunted Wolfe, as he complied. “Where do you want me to write and what do you want me to write?”
“Write here,” indicated Mike. “Write these words: ‘Witness for M. J. Lynch.’ Then sign your name.”
Bern followed instructions, and then paused, with pen suspended.
“Hey? What’s this?” he muttered, staring at the exposed line of writing. “What’s this about ‘a full and complete confession?’”
“That’s all right,” said Lynch, hastily catching up the sheets of paper. “Don’t be such a rubberneck, Bern.”
Having made sure that the ink was dry upon the paper, Mike carefully placed the sheets together, folded them, and slipped them into an envelope.
“Now, if you’ll let me sit there a moment, Wolfe,” he suggested.
Once more sitting down, Lynch addressed the envelope, using the ink from the larger bottle. Bern peered inquisitively over Mike’s shoulder.
“Eh?” he ejaculated. “Richard Merriwell? Say, what the dickens are you writing to Dick Merriwell?”
With a queer, grave smile, Lynch found a stamp and affixed it to the envelope.
256“It won’t hurt you if you don’t know, Bern,” he answered.
“But I have a right to know,” spluttered Wolfe. “If I had thought you were writing anything to him, you’d never got my autograph on it.”
“Make yourself comfortable,” said Mike, as he tossed aside his dressing gown and took a coat from his wardrobe. “I’m going to step down to the mail box.”
“Needn’t trouble yourself so much,” said Wolfe, with sudden eagerness. “You’re not feeling well, Mike. Give me the letter. I’ll mail it.”
But Lynch shook his head.
“I wouldn’t trust you,” he said. “I wouldn’t trust any one. I’m going to mail it myself. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Well, what does it mean?” growled Wolfe, as Lynch went out with the letter in his hand.
TURNING A NEW LEAF.
When Mike returned he was accompanied by Duncan Ditson and Mel Dagett. The moment they were in the room and the door was closed, Dunc turned fiercely on Mel.
“Confound you!” he cried. “I tell you I haven’t any money! I tell you I can’t pay! I’m broke—dead broke! You know it! You know what happened at Providence. I raked up every dollar I could raise to bet against Umpty-ten, and lost.”
“Oh, yes, I know that,” sneered Dagett. “I let you have part of the money. Didn’t I lose, too? That’s why I want you to pay me. I need it. I’m strapped.”
“Tell that to your grandmother,” sneered Dunc. “You’re not strapped. Why, you’ve been loaning money at twenty per cent a month for the last five months. You’ve bled everybody you could.”
“But I’ve been unfortunate,” whined Mel. “I took your advice on that Brown game, and you see what happened. You agreed to pay me a week ago. I’ve been putting it off to give you time. You said you’d have money to-day.”
“Because I thought I’d get some from home. It hasn’t come. Do you know how I’ve managed to scrub along the past week? Well, I’ll tell you: I’ve borrowed from my sister. Yes, borrowed from my sister, and she gets what little money she has by teaching music. It comes hard enough, and she needs every dollar.”
“I’ve got to have ten,” hissed Mel, wagging his head from side to side. “I won’t wait any longer. Can’t you borrow that of her?”
258“Say, I’d like to choke you! No, I can’t; see?”
“Well, then, there’s only one thing for me to do,” said Mel, with a shrug of his shoulders and an upward toss of his hand.
“I’ll have to raise money on the securities you let me have. That was according to the agreement. I’ll have to find out what they’ll bring.”
“If you sell my stuff, I’ll knock the head off you!” shouted Duncan.
“Don’t yell like that in this room,” remonstrated Lynch. “I can’t have it, Ditson.”
“But look at that cursed Shylock!” panted Dunc, pointing at Mel. “He’d steal coppers off a dead man’s eyes.”
“You have no right to say that,” complained Dagett. “Simply because I do business in a businesslike fashion you insult me. I suppose you think I ought to let you have the money for nothing. I suppose you think I ought to give it to you. Mike has paid me what he owes me.”
“Has he?” exclaimed Ditson, in surprise. “Why, I didn’t know——”
“Sit down, both of you fellows,” directed Lynch. “Sit down, I say. That’s right, Dagett, back yourself into that chair. Now, look here, Dunc, how much do you owe Mel?”
“I agreed to pay him ten dollars this week.”
“How much is the full amount that you owe him?”
“What security has he?”
“Two rings, a watch, and my scarfpin.”
“Worth how much?”
“Oh, the rings are worth thirty or forty dollars. The pin is worth about ten. I don’t suppose I could 259get more than fifteen or eighteen on the watch, but to me it’s worth twice that, as it was a present.”
“Can you get those things and bring them here right away, Dagett?” asked Mike.
“Why, yes, if——”
“Then hustle—hustle, I say! Get them! Go ahead now!”
“But what’s the use if he can’t pay?”
Lynch smote the table with his huge fist.
“If he can’t pay, I can!” he roared.
Duncan Ditson gasped with astonishment, for this was the last thing he had expected from Mike.
“If he can’t pay, I can,” repeated Lynch. “We have been friendly, and I’m going to get him out of your greedy clutches, Dagett.”
“Oh, you needn’t pay the whole of it,” said Mel quickly. “I only want what’s due this week.”
“You only want to keep him indebted to you, so you can continue to squeeze him. If he can’t pay what’s due next week, then you’ll threaten to sell his stuff. I know your game, Dagett, and it’s a mighty dirty one.”
“Now, don’t you start to preach to me,” sneered Mel. “I guess you’ve been in some dirty jobs yourself.”
“I have,” acknowledged Lynch instantly. “I’ve been in a number of them, but that’s past now, and I’m done with it. Understand, I say I’m done with it. I’ve turned over a new leaf, and in future I’m going to conduct myself differently. Don’t grin, Dagett; I mean business. Your warped and distorted mind may not be able to comprehend me, but I mean just what I say. Heretofore I’ve carried around a grouch that has made me ugly and disagreeable even toward my own friends. I haven’t enjoyed life. I’ve 260been getting little satisfaction out of it. From now on I’m going to follow a different plan. I begin here and now by helping one chap to get out of your clutches, Dagett, even though it leaves me practically broke. Now get those things and bring them here just as quick as you can.”
Ditson and Wolfe exchanged wondering glances. When Mel had left the room, Duncan started to express his thanks, but Mike cut him short.
“Why shouldn’t I do it?” he said. “Haven’t we been on friendly terms? What’s a friend good for if he won’t help another out in a time of need?”
“Gee! is this Mike Lynch?” muttered Wolfe. “Say, Dunc, what do you think I caught him doing? You can’t guess, so don’t try. I caught him writing a letter to Dick Merriwell, and he induced me to hitch on my name as a witness to his signature.”
“What were you doing, Lynch?” grinned Ditson. “Telling Merriwell to go to the dickens?”
“No,” was the answer. “I was telling him something entirely different. You heard me inform Dagett that I have turned over a new leaf. I wasn’t talking to hear the sound of my own voice. Did you ever hear me admit that I consider Merriwell the whitest man in college? You never did, but I admit it now. I’m through trying to throw him down.”
Both Ditson and Wolfe seemed thunderstruck. At first Duncan was inclined to ridicule Lynch, but he quickly discovered that Mike would not endure ridicule on that point.
By the time Dagett returned with the valuables belonging to Duncan, Ditson was satisfied that some remarkable change had taken place in Lynch.
Mike paid the money due Dagett. With his own hands he destroyed the agreement held by Mel and 261signed by Ditson, by which Duncan was bound to meet the extortioner’s demands or suffer the penalty of having his valuables disposed of to raise the cash.
This done, Mike took Mel by the collar, led him to the door, and ejected him from the room.
A BITTER DOSE.
When the freshman team arrived in New Haven that night, Dick Merriwell was the only one who appeared at the station to meet them.
A sorry, downcast-looking bunch they were as they left the train, carrying their bat bags and satchels. Blessed Jones had a face nearly a yard long. Jack Spratt looked as if he had shed tears and had a reserve supply on tap and ready for delivery. Rob Claxton carried his head high, but could not disguise the fact that he was very much disgusted. The round face of Bouncer Bigelow wore a moonish expression of mingled regret and shame. Brad Buckhart looked ugly enough to eat railroad spikes. Even Tommy Tucker seemed upset and downcast.
Of them all, however, Sam Kates appeared to be the most wretched. He lingered behind, being the last one to reach the platform, and showed an inclination to slip away from the others if he could do so without being detected.
Although they saw Dick waiting for them, the most of the boys declined to meet his inquisitive eyes. Truly, it was with no small difficulty that Merriwell repressed a rising inclination to shout with laughter. In spite of himself, a faint smile crept over his face, and this he tried to conceal by covering his lips with his hand. Buckhart had observed it, however, and he stopped at Dick’s side, glaring at his friend as he muttered:
“If you laugh, you certain take your life in your hand, partner. You’ll have the whole blamed bunch on your back like a lot of catamounts. They are sure the ugliest crowd I ever traveled with. We’ve had 263three scraps on the way here, and if you’ll take a look at Otis Fitch, you’ll discover that he’s wearing a handsome black eye. He made some uncomplimentary remark about Spratt’s fielding, and Spratt punched him.”
“Well, you must have had a hot time,” observed Dick.
“Hot sure is no name for it. Don’t ask any questions now. Wait till we get under cover. I want to sneak in by the back way. Think of being walloped by a lot of high-school kids. Waugh!”
Never had the Texan expressed greater disgust than he threw into that final exclamation. Swinging on his heel, he strode away, regardless of Merriwell.
Failing to accept Brad’s warning, Dick took Jones by the arm and began to question him.
“A wise head containeth a silent tongue,” muttered the disgruntled captain of the freshman team.
“But he that seeketh diligently after wisdom shall obtain it,” reminded Dick.
“And he that is devoured by much inquisitiveness causeth disturbance,” retorted Blessed. “Let us seek the shelter of our roof tree before we prattle of our disgrace.”
“Evidently you all take it sorely to heart,” said Merriwell. “I never saw such a cut-up looking bunch of ball players.”
“Cut up? If I’d let them scrap on the train, they’d be worse cut up than they are now. Dick, I’m afraid harmony on the team is a thing of the past. This has been a fatal day. And they all blame Robinson and me for letting you stay behind. Don’t talk of it now.”
That was all he could get out of Jones until they were in their room. With his door open, Buckhart could be heard prowling about in the adjoining room, 264but he seemed quite willing to let Blessed explain how the thing had happened.
According to Jones, it was a case of overconfidence by Umpty-ten, followed by the rattles when Highbridge fell on Kates and batted him out of the box.
“Who filled Sam’s place?” inquired Dick.
“Oh, Spratt helped the suffering along,” groaned Blessed. “He’s been wanting to show what he could do on the slab, and I gave him a chance. Every one of those kids got a bingle off him. So help me, Joshua, it was an unspeakable relief when the game finally dragged to an end!”
Buckhart stuck his head in at the door.
“When Highland can do us up,” he said, “we’ll make a fine showing against those Manhattan College sons of Erin. If those husky Irishmen don’t eat us up Wednesday, it will certain be a miracle. You hear me murmur!”
“Dick will pitch that game,” said Jones.
“And he’ll have a fine team behind him,” said the Texan. “Unless some one pours oil on the troubled waters, I don’t believe we’ll get out more than half the team next week.”
“Well, you were to blame for a good deal of the trouble,” declared Jones. “You told Kates he was bum, you reviled Spratt, you derided Bigelow, and Claxton was about the only man you didn’t insult. I suppose you realized you’d have a fight on your hands if you said much to him.”
“It was enough to make anybody sit up on his haunches and howl like a wolf,” said the Texan, as he stepped through the doorway. “I won’t get over it in a month.”
“Oh, forget it! forget it!” piped a voice, as Tommy Tucker pushed open the door and peered in. “Still chewing it over? What’s the use? Say, Dick, have 265you heard the story about the powdered sugar? Haven’t heard it? Well, it’s fine.”
Bang!—a shoe flew past Tucker and struck the half-open door, which was knocked against the nose of Bouncer Bigelow, who had just started to peer into the room.
“Oh, wow!” cried the fat boy, grabbing his nasal organ with both hands. “Be careless, will you? What are you trying to do, anyhow?”
“Shoe fly, don’t bother me!” cried Tucker. “Come in quick and close the door. These people seem violent. We may have to sit on them, and you’re the proper size and weight for that job.”
“Wonder you didn’t make my nose bleed,” grunted Bigelow, as he came in and leaned against the closed door. “What is it, another fight? Jerusalem! there hasn’t been a thing doing but fights ever since the middle of that game. Never saw such a scrappy crowd. But, say, there were a lot of pretty girls out to the game. They enjoyed it immensely seeing Highland rub it into us. They kept squealing their class cheer and waving their flags until I was afraid they would all have spasms. I can’t seem to get the sound of that yell out of my ears. It was a sort of a hiky-yi! ye-yo! yow! wow! wow! Even when they were yelling their loudest they were pretty. I tell you, fellows, the fair sex is beautiful.”
“That’s natural,” said Dick.
“Not always,” grinned Tucker. “Sometimes it’s artificial.”
“But really,” said Bouncer, “I can’t understand girls. I don’t believe any fellow ever does. Somehow, they seem to understand us better than we do them.”
“That began with the first woman created,” said Tommy. “See how well old Mother Eve understood old Father Adam.”
266“That was because she was on the inside at the beginning,” said Dick.
“Somebody loan me a brick, please,” begged Tucker. “I’ll give it to Merriwell—good and hard!”
“You seem to have recovered from your recent depression,” said Dick.
“Oh, he doesn’t know enough to remain depressed long,” sneered Bigelow. “He told me he was coming in to punch Buckhart for insulting him. I came to save his life if he tried it.”
“We’ll have to assemble the braves and smoke the pipe of peace,” said Dick.
“How can you show such unseemly merriment?” snarled Jones. “I believe you’re pleased because we were beaten.”
“You’ve got another guess coming,” said Dick. “But there’s no use crying over spilled milk.”
“‘Doth not wisdom cry and understanding put forth her voice?’” mocked Blessed. “I think we’d better call the team together and choose a new captain.”
“Choose a new captain?” exclaimed Merriwell, in surprise.
“Sure. I couldn’t seem to do anything with that crazy bunch after Kates went to pieces. The more I talked to them, the worse they played. They wouldn’t pay any attention to my orders, yet the wise in heart will receive commandments, but prating fools shall fall.”
“Weren’t you too harsh in your manner of reproving them?” asked Dick.
“Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge, but he that hateth reproof is brutish.”
“I’m afraid you all lost your heads,” said Dick. “It may do the team some good.”
“How can that be?”
“A team that can’t take defeat isn’t fit to win victories. 267An occasional failure acts like tonic on an ambitious person. Let’s call this a good dose of tonic for the team.”
“Call it that if you like,” muttered Brad. “It tasted bitter enough, anyhow.”
WAS HE SINCERE?
The following day being Sunday, the boys were given a chance to rest. It was a gloomy, sullen set that appeared at training table, and all efforts to arouse them seemed wasted. One fellow was missing. Kates was reported ill.
Dick found an opportunity to hunt Sam up and talk to him. Kates would have avoided Merriwell, but he could not do so, and he faced Dick with a crestfallen air of shame.
“Are you really ill, Sam?” Dick questioned.
“You bet I am,” was the answer. “I’m downright sick. I haven’t been right for a day or two, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know it.”
The fact was Dick had fancied Kates in the very best of health and in fine spirits the day before the game with Highland.
“Well, it’s true,” persisted Sam; “there’s something the matter with me. I can’t stand for training-table feed. It makes me sick. All I can think of is rare roast beef and stuff like that. I’d like to sit down and make a square meal off cake and pie and ice cream and strawberries and chocolates and bon-bons. I think it’s all rot this tying a fellow down on a certain line of diet. One man’s food is another’s poison, you know. How’s any one going to tell me what I need to eat unless he’s an expert physician, and I’m ill with dyspepsia, or something of that sort? No wonder I couldn’t pitch yesterday. Jones is too blamed rigid with the team. It needs some one more liberal. Then there’s Robinson—he keeps watch of us as if we were criminals or a jury sitting on a murder case. Some 269day—some day I’m going to punch that man Robinson. I tell you I’m in revolt, Merriwell.”
“Let me tell you something, Sam,” said Dick quietly: “You’re trying to make unnecessary excuses for yourself. You’re disgusted because you were batted hard Saturday, and so you think you’ve got to lay the blame to something. Shoulder it, shoulder it—that’s the only way. Evidently you were not wholly to blame. According to what I’ve learned, there were some rotten errors made.”
“But they did hit me hard,” groaned Kates, shaking his head. “Merriwell, I believe there were some ringers in that bunch. I don’t believe they were all high-school boys. I never saw a high-school team hit the way they did. The more I’ve thought about it, the sicker I’ve grown. It took the heart out of me.”
“Well, I’m sorry to know that you’ll let a thing like that take the heart out of you, Kates. You’ve got to have more backbone.”
“I suppose Buckhart told you all about our trouble?”
“I don’t know as he mentioned any particular trouble with you, Kates. It seems that the whole team was fussing and quarreling.”
“But Buckhart called me a few names that I couldn’t swallow. I told him I’d never pitch to him again until he apologized, and I meant it. He’s got to apologize, Merriwell, or I’m done.”
“A better way would be to drop it—to forget all about it,” said Dick. “This demanding an apology for every hasty and unintentional word is a poor business. The rest of the fellows have practically dropped it, and you should do the same, Kates.”
“Suppose you say that because Buckhart is your particular friend. I suppose you think I ought to apologize to him, don’t you?”
“I don’t think either of you should demand an 270apology from the other. Nor should you hold a grudge. You’re not playing for Buckhart; you’re playing for the team. Think it over, Kates. I’ll expect to see you out with the others to-morrow afternoon. We’ve got to get together and play ball if we hope to defeat Manhattan.”
“We’ll have to play different ball than we did Saturday,” said Sam, as Dick departed.
On Monday morning Dick received a letter that surprised him unspeakably. It was the confession of Mike Lynch.
“Well, that beats!” he cried when he had finished reading it.
“What is it?” questioned Jones.
“I’d like to show this to you,” said Dick. “I’d like to have you read it.”
But when Jones reached for the letter, Merriwell drew it away, shaking his head.
“No, I can’t, old man,” he said. “It’s confidential. The fellow who wrote this has trusted me. He has placed himself in my hands. With this document I could have him expelled from college. He has thrown himself on my mercy. The fellow must be sincere. He certainly protests that he is, and he urges me to keep this letter, to be used against him in case I ever find he is not in earnest. I think I’ll take him at his word.”
Returning the confession to the envelope, Merriwell placed it in a drawer which he always kept locked, and the key of which he carried constantly. From this drawer he took the queer old horse pistol and the two silver bullets.
“What the dickens have you there?” asked Jones.
“It looks like a young cannon, doesn’t it?” smiled Dick, as he procured a sheet of wrapping paper and carefully wrapped the pistol.
271“What are you going to do with it?”
“I’m going to return it to its owner. Remember he that is devoured by much inquisitiveness causeth disturbance.”
Carrying the carefully wrapped pistol under his arm, Dick knocked at the door of Mike Lynch’s room. Mike was on the point of going out. He flushed as Merriwell entered.
“Here’s that pistol you asked for,” said Dick, handing the weapon over. “Here are also the silver bullets. What do you propose to do with these things?”
“So you got my letter, did you?”
“Yes, I received it.”
“And read it?”
“I’m going to hang this pistol on the wall yonder. I’m going to keep it there as a reminder of my pledge to you. It will be a warning of what my folly led me into. It will also remind me of your generosity toward me. That letter ought to convince you that I mean business when I say I’ve turned over a new leaf.”
“It begins to look as if you do, Lynch,” said Dick.
“Were you surprised by the contents of the letter?”
“I was surprised, perhaps; but you told me nothing I did not already know.”
“Perhaps I told you nothing you did not suspect. But you had absolutely no proof that I was really the one who betrayed the team some weeks ago. That was a dirty piece of business, Merriwell, and I’m heartily ashamed of it. I did it out of spite toward you. You see, I am in your power now. If I do another dirty trick, you can publish that confession, and that will be my finish. Not many fellows in my place would dare trust any one as I’ve trusted you, for not many fellows in your place would treat their enemies with 272the generosity you show them. I wish you would promise me one thing, Merriwell.”
“What is it?”
“Unless something happens to convince you that I’m insincere in my resolve to behave in future, I hope you’ll never read the contents of that letter again. You’ve perused it once, and you know what there is in it. This may sound like a queer request, and I don’t know as I can make you understand my reason for it. You think badly enough of me now. If I behave, and you begin to believe there is a decent streak in me, you may get the belief knocked out of you if you reread that confession. That’s why I hope you’ll never look at it after this day. When you’re satisfied—thoroughly satisfied—that I mean to do right, I wish you would return that confession to me, that I may destroy it. While it remains in existence there’ll always be the danger that it may fall into the hands of some one who’ll use it against me. Oh, I realized this when I wrote it. I’m taking all the chances. I’ve asked you to keep it where it will be safe.”
“It’s under lock and key at this moment.”
“But that’s not always safe. Don’t think I’m sorry I wrote it. Don’t think I want to squeal. I could see no other way to convince you that I meant to do the right thing. I wanted a chance to prove myself.”
“You shall have it, Lynch,” said Dick earnestly. “But don’t forget your promise to consult a physician.”
“I’ve done so already. I was thoroughly examined yesterday. The doctor says he sees no reason why I should leave college at the present time. He thinks I’ll go through the term all right. I’m certain there’s nothing the matter with me now, Merriwell. That bump on the head straightened me out.”
273“I have just one question to ask,” said Dick. “Wolfe’s name was hitched to that confession as a witness. Did he read it?”
“Oh, no; he simply saw me sign my name. I didn’t permit him to read it.”
“I thought not,” nodded Dick.
A WASTED WARNING.
Another surprise followed. Lynch came out to watch the team practice that afternoon. When Kates failed to appear, Mike asked permission to cover first.
“Let me try it, Merriwell,” he begged.
“You’re asking the wrong man,” said Dick. “I’m not captain of the team. You’ll have to call on Jones.”
“But he won’t give me a show unless you say something. Won’t you say something? You know I can play baseball. The rest of them know I can play, too, but they won’t trust me. It wouldn’t do any hurt to let me practice with the team. Just say a word to Jones, won’t you, Merriwell?”
Thus importuned, Dick trotted over to Blessed and told him of Mike’s appeal.
“That fellow!” growled Jones. “Forwardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.”
“But he has promised——”
“Put no dependence in the promises of such as he. I wouldn’t trust him, Dick.”
“He can do no particular harm in practice to-day. We’re not trying out any signal work. Let him cover first.”
“All right,” growled Jones.
So Lynch got his chance to practice. Although he was not in uniform, he stripped off coat and vest, rolled up his sleeves; and went at it in earnest. His work at first was of an order to cause some favorable comment from the spectators. Not a man in the infield 275entertained a friendly feeling toward Mike. For this reason, all sorts of erratic throws were sent over to him. The stops he made were simply marvelous. Time after time he stretched himself on the ground with his toe clinging to the sack and scooped the low ones. Again and again he leaped into the air and pulled down high ones which seemed far beyond his reach. Hot grounders and whistling liners he took whenever they came in his direction. Not only that, but his throwing to second and third and to the plate was little short of perfect.
“There’s the man to cover that hassock,” some one finally cried. “He’s needed.”
Jones, at work in the field, did not fail to notice what was happening, and began to regret that Lynch had been tried.
“If we don’t give him a show, there’ll be a fuss,” muttered Blessed. “Jerusalem! this old baseball team is worrying me to death.”
The report that Lynch had been tried on first reached the campus ahead of the players that night. It caused something of a sensation among the freshmen.
As soon as the news reached the ears of three fellows, they made haste to Mike’s room, seeking confirmation. Bern Wolfe came upon Ditson and Du Boise upon the steps, and the trio sailed in upon Lynch without announcement.
“Say!” cried Ditson challengingly; “what’s this yarn that’s come to our ears?”
Mike, with a towel bound round his head, rose from his chair by the window.
“What yarn?” he asked quietly.
“Why, we understand you’ve been out practicing with the Merriwell crowd.”
276“Yes, and we want to know about it!” snapped Wolfe.
“I’ve been out practicing with the team.”
“Oh, you have?” snarled Ditson. “Now, what do you mean by that?”
“I suppose he’s going to try to get onto the team,” sneered Wolfe.
“You couldn’t make a better guess if you had several more tries,” said Lynch coolly.
This seemed to be a staggerer for Bern.
“Wh-what?” he gasped. “You don’t mean it?”
“Oh, yes, I do.”
“Lynch, you’re plumb daffy,” said Ditson. “Why, you’re the last fellow in the world to strike his colors and surrender to that bunch.”
“You’re crazy!” shouted Wolfe furiously. “You know what happened to me.”
“Yes, I know what happened,” remarked Mike.
“They kicked me off the team after giving me a show.”
“For excellent reasons.”
“And you were frothing mad with me because I thought of getting onto the team in the first place. You were furious with Kates, and now you’re going to try for it. That’s too much, Lynch. I won’t stand it.”
“I don’t see how you can help it.”
“I’ll—I’ll tell a few things.”
“You can’t tell anything that’ll hurt me.”
“Oh, can’t I?”
“Not a thing. Do you remember I had you affix your name to a document I had just completed Saturday. Well, that’s a full confession, and it’s now in Merriwell’s hands. In that I took all the blame for 277a certain affair in which you and I were concerned. You ought to know what I mean.”
“You can tell these fellows about it if you wish,” interrupted Mike hastily.
“If you’ve told Merriwell, everybody’ll know it. Lynch, you’re daffy. You’re crazy as a March hare.”
“I don’t think so. You’ll observe that I was given a chance to practice with the team to-day. I believe I’ll have still further opportunities. Unless I’m mistaken, I’ll be playing on the team before the end of the season.”
“And where will I be?” cried Wolfe. “It was your scheme that threw me off the team.”
“I’ve explained that, Bern. I’ve shouldered everything.”
Duncan Ditson whistled wonderingly as he sank upon a chair.
“What the devil has happened to you, Lynch?” he asked. “I swear I can’t comprehend it. I agree with Wolfe that you’re bughouse. You’d better hold up right where you are. You’d better not try to get in with the Merriwell crowd. If you do, you’ll find yourself in trouble.”
“Wait a minute, Duncan,” urged Mike quietly. “You’ve called yourself my friend, haven’t you?”
“But now you threaten to quit me. Have you forgotten what I did for you Saturday? Have you forgotten how I saved you from the grip of Shylock Dagett? I am still your friend, Ditson. You may need me again. Wolfe may need me. If either of you need assistance, don’t hesitate to come to me. I’ll do what I can for you. But I can’t listen to your talk now. I’ve got a headache. I wish you would both get out.”
278Ditson sprang up.
“I’ll go,” he snapped. “By Jove! I don’t know what the class of Umpty-ten is coming to. Every man in it will be prostrating himself at Merriwell’s feet if this thing keeps up. It’s simply disgusting.”
“That’s what it is!” cried Wolfe, as he followed Ditson from the room, slamming the door behind him.
Mike returned to his chair and sat down with a weary expression, resting his head on his hand.
“I think I’d better go, too,” murmured Du Boise.
“Wait a minute,” said Lynch. “Were you ever troubled with headaches, Hal?”
“I should say so.”
“Had them bad, did you?”
“I certainly did.”
“Ever use any headache powders?”
“What kind would you recommend?”
“No kind,” answered Du Boise, at once. “They’re good things to let alone.”
“Eh? Don’t they stop the headache?
“Sure they do.”
“Why let them alone? I’ll tell you. Almost all of them contain cocaine. I acquired the drug habit by using headache powders, to begin with, Lynch. Don’t touch the things. The kind that seem to do you the most good are the most dangerous, for they invariably contain the most cocaine. Cure your headaches in some other way.”
“Much obliged, Du Boise,” said Lynch.
But ten minutes after Hal had left, Mike put on his coat and hat and proceeded to the nearest drug store, where he purchased some headache powders. And in 279twenty minutes after taking the first powder his headache had vanished, and he was feeling like a fighting cock.
The warning of Du Boise, himself a wreck from the use of drugs, had fallen on barren ground.
WOLFE HAS AN IDEA.
Reaching the street after leaving Mike Lynch’s room, Wolfe and Ditson paused and looked at each other.
“Well, what do you think of it?” asked Bern, in a disgusted way.
“It beats me,” declared Dunc. “There’s something the matter with the fellow. There’s been something the matter with him ever since the night we accidentally ran down Merriwell and Buckhart as they were rowing on the harbor.”
“Accidentally?” murmured Bern, with a crafty wink. “Are you sure it was an accident, old chap?”
“Well, we didn’t take particular pains to avoid hitting their boat. I don’t understand now how it was Merriwell escaped. He disappeared, and we saw nothing of him. Even Buckhart thought for a time that he was drowned. You see, Lynch got a foolish idea into his head that he was haunted by Merriwell’s ghost. When the rest of us learned that Merriwell was still alive, Mike persisted in fancying him dead. That was the first indication of an unbalanced mind. He seems to have thrown off that delusion, but with its disappearance he has suddenly changed in a most astonishing way. He was the bitterest and most persistent of Merriwell’s enemies. Now he’s joined the ranks of the Merriwell toadies. All of a sudden he’s got good. Think of Mike Lynch doing anything like that!”
“When the devil a saint would be, the devil a saint was he,” quoted Wolfe. “I can’t believe he’s in earnest.”
“Somehow, I think he is. He’s not the sort of fellow to try deception on us.”
281“Well, confound him!” snapped Bern. “If he’s really in earnest, I’d like to punch him. Only for him I might be playing on the baseball team now. I’d like to tell you a few things, Ditson. Where can we go?”
“There’s my room,” suggested Dunc.
“The very place,” said Bern eagerly.
Among the anti-Merriwellites Ditson was something of an aristocrat. He was a fellow who regarded himself as very exclusive and well-bred. He roomed alone, and his rooms were furnished with something like luxury. There were fine rugs on the floors, plenty of books, easy lounging chairs, athletic pictures on the walls, and the usual Yale flags, crossed foils, boxing gloves, Indian clubs, and so forth.
“You’ve got slick rooms,” observed Bern, as he flung himself on Duncan’s comfortable, cushion-piled couch.
“Oh, they don’t satisfy me,” said Ditson. “I’m going to have something decent next term. I’ve got the rooms spotted now.”
“Of course, you’re going to leave this locality?”
“Well, I should say so. You don’t suppose I’d hang around Freshman Row in my sophomore year? I’ll be glad when I get into a dormitory. Have a smoke, Wolfe?”
Bern accepted a cigarette, and lighted it.
“This is my only consolation for being dropped from the baseball team,” he said. “I can smoke as much as I choose.”
“You were going to tell me something,” reminded Duncan, who had likewise fired up, and was now standing with his elbow resting against the mantelpiece. “Go ahead.”
Wolfe sat up and eyed his companion askance.
“I don’t know just how to begin,” he hesitated. “You remember that Hudson A. A. business—the giving away of our signals, don’t you?”
282“As if I’d forget it!” exclaimed Ditson.
“Well, you always thought Tommy Tucker betrayed the team, didn’t you?”
“I believe that was practically proven, although Merriwell hired a cheap bum to shoulder the blame, and Tucker is still on the team.”
“Tucker didn’t do it,” announced Wolfe.
“Then who did?”
“Wha-a-at?” Duncan dragged forth the exclamation with an intonation of great astonishment.
“Yes, I did it,” repeated Wolfe defiantly. “I was forced into it.”
“How did he force you into it?”
“Oh, he knew something about me that I wouldn’t have come out for the world, and he threatened to expose me unless I went in with him on his plan to throw down the team. You see, I had a good chance to do that. Tommy Tucker had quit, and I was almost the only man who could come anywhere near filling his place at shortstop. They had to have as good a man as they could get. I believe I can play the position all around Tucker. I went out and showed them what I could do. Merriwell advised Jones to give me a chance on the team, and Jones decided to do so.”
“Oh, of course!” sneered Ditson, exhaling a blue smoky breath while his lips curled with scorn. “Jones is a mere figurehead. He agrees to everything Merriwell proposes. Manager Robinson is another dummy. Manager? Why, he couldn’t manage a chicken hatchery. He’s about the biggest slob in the whole bunch.”
283Ditson’s doubled disgust for Robinson came principally from the fact that big Rufe had at one time seemed inclined to favor the anti-Merriwell crowd. After becoming manager of the team Robinson had flopped, cutting out Duncan and his associates.
“Well, I had my chance to make good and nail myself fast to the team,” Wolfe hastily continued. “I meant to do it. I was in earnest, for I love baseball more than any other sport. Lynch became infuriated with me. You know what he thinks of Sam Kates. Kates got his chance on the team the same time I did. He’s stuck there.”
“But he made a beautiful mess pitching that Highbridge game,” smiled Duncan, filliping a bit of ash from his cigarette.
“Oh, as a pitcher Sam is erratic. He’s a wizard one day and a slob the next. That experience will teach them better than to rely on him, even against the weaker teams. As I was saying, Lynch put up that Hudson job. He got me to make out a list of the teamwork signals. He told me how we could make money by handing the signals over to Newhouse, the Hudson manager. But I didn’t propose to have those signals turning up in my handwriting, and so we engaged a bummer to get them typewritten for us. In order to doubly cover our tracks, we actually fooled Newhouse into believing that Tucker was the one who gave him the signals.
“Lynch made the bargain with Newhouse, and arranged that I should meet the man on a certain dark corner, and give him the typewritten document. I kept the appointment, wearing an old ulster, with the collar turned up, and a wide-brimmed hat pulled low down over my eyes. When Newhouse inquired if my name was Tucker I said yes. That’s the way the trick was worked. It was a mighty rotten piece of business, but 284Lynch was to blame for it all. He drove me into it. I’m satisfied that Merriwell got at the truth, and that’s why I was bounced from the team and Tucker taken back. You can’t blame me, Ditson. You see the kind of a fix I was in. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to.”
Duncan tossed the butt of his cigarette into the open grate.
“I see,” he said, with a shrug of his shoulders; “and I’ve been thinking all the time that Tucker did it. I’ve been despising Merriwell because he kept Tucker on the team. I must acknowledge that you and Lynch fooled me, all right. I’m sorry to learn that Tucker was not the traitor.”
“I didn’t want to be a traitor,” said Wolfe. “Do you wonder I’m sore on Mike Lynch? I tell you I love baseball. I’m not playing, and Lynch is to blame for it. Now he suddenly has a spasm of virtue, and it looks as if he might get a chance to play on the team himself. Think I’m going to stand for that? Not on your life! Say, I’m going to make a howl. I’m going to rip up things generally.”
“Are you?” smiled Ditson, as he selected and lighted a second cigarette. “I wonder how you’re going to do it. It seems to me you’re in a tight corner, and you haven’t much chance to make a disturbance. Didn’t I understand Lynch to say he had written a full confession of his errors and sent it to Merriwell?”
“That’s what he says.”
“Well, there you are. Merriwell has read that confession, and yet this very day Lynch was given a chance to practice with the team. What does that look like to you, Wolfe? Doesn’t it strike you that Merriwell has accepted Mike Lynch’s protestations of regret and promises to reform as genuine? If Merriwell didn’t believe Mike in earnest, the contents of that confession would be public knowledge now. Merriwell 285is going to keep still until he can satisfy himself whether Lynch means what he says or not. If Mike proves that he’s sincere, that confession will be destroyed.”
“And Mr. Lynch will come out on top of the heap, while you and I will remain in the soup,” snarled Wolfe, leaping up and excitedly pacing the floor. “You’d like to play baseball yourself, Ditson. Have you had a chance to play this spring?”
“Oh, I suppose I might have played if I had bowed the suppliant knee to the great mogul, Merriwell.”
“But you wouldn’t do that.”
“Nearly all the rest of the crowd have squealed and given in to him.”
“I’ll never squeal. The squealers make me sick! Mike Lynch was the last one I’d ever thought would lie down. I’m more disgusted with him than any one else.”
“I’m glad you are—I’m glad of it!” said Bern exultantly. “I hate him! I’d like to get a good twist on him! I’d like to hold his nose to the grindstone! It would do my soul good! And to think I witnessed his signature to that confession! To think Merriwell has that document with my name attached as a witness! I’d give something to get hold of that paper.”
“It would be rather valuable,” murmured Duncan, as if struck by a sudden thought.
“You bet it would! With that document in his possession, a fellow could just about make Mike Lynch do as he pleased. Mike said that he had shouldered all the blame for the betraying of those signals. If that’s true, and I could get hold of that document, I’d have the power to drive him out of college. Say, Ditson, isn’t there any way we can get our hands on that paper?”
286Duncan meditated a moment, puffing softly at his cigarette.
“It’s not easy to get anything away from Merriwell,” he said. “I presume Merriwell will carry that paper in his pocket. If some fellow could find an opportunity to go through his pockets——”
“At the gymnasium, say?”
“Not so easy there, for he has a locker into which he puts his valuables. Of course, a man might find an opportunity to break open that locker, but it’s dangerous trying such a thing.”
“He might be held up on the highway and robbed.”
“That gives me an idea,” muttered Dunc, scratching his head. “Saw my sister this afternoon, and she told me that Merriwell and Buckhart were going to call on her this evening. Unless they’re taking the girls out, those chaps usually walk when they call there. The Midhursts live pretty well out toward the outskirts of the city. I suppose a man might be held up out that way. It would be much easier, though, if one of those chaps was going out there alone.”
“Don’t you suppose that we could do it?” asked Wolfe. “We could wear masks and turn our coats, and have a couple of pistols, and I’ll bet we could pull off the job.”
“I don’t know,” murmured Dunc, rubbing his chin. “It would be better to have two more fellows with us.”
“But we don’t want to let anybody else in on this. Besides, I don’t know whom you’ll get. The most of our crowd wouldn’t have nerve enough to tackle the job. They got pretty well upset after that racket with Tucker, when the old warehouse burned.”
“I wouldn’t try to get any of the old crowd,” said Dunc. “I think I know one chap we might induce to take a hand. He’s a tough customer, and I don’t suppose 287it would be the first holdup he’s ever participated in. More than that, he has a grudge against Merriwell. It would be well enough to take him into the game in case he’ll work for a reasonable sum. I think he will, as he’s on his uppers at the present time. He’s a big brute, and he might make some impression on Buckhart and Merriwell. Unless we can get some one like that, I hardly think we had better tackle the job.”
“If—if you can—get hold of this—this person,” faltered Wolfe.
“I’ll try it,” said Duncan promptly. “Meet me at Fred’s about eight this evening. I’ll let you know, what success I’ve had and whether we’ll try this holdup scheme or not.”
“All right,” said Bern, turning toward the door; “I’ll be there.”
Dick and Brad, in a jovial mood, were returning from their evening call. It was about nine-thirty, and the night was dark, with a raw wind from Long Island Sound.
“This is a rather dark old corner,” observed Dick, as they started to turn into another street. “Wonder what’s the matter with the street light here? It doesn’t seem to be attending to its duties this evening.”
“Gone on a strike, perhaps,” observed Brad, with a chuckle. “This would be a good place to——”
“Hold up your hands!” commanded a hoarse voice, as two masked figures suddenly sprang out before them.
One seemed to be a big man, while the other was a rather undersized chap. Both held their arms outstretched, and, despite the darkness, the boys fancied they caught the gleam of nickel-plated revolvers held in the hands of the masked men.
“Be quick about it, youse fellers!” growled the one who had ordered them to put up their hands. “H’ist your paws if you don’t want to git the tops of yer heads blew off! Put ’em up, I say!”
“Yes, put ’em up!” wheezed the little chap, shaking his pistol. “Don’t try no funny business, fer dere’s two udder fellers behind ye, see?”
“Great horn spoon!” exploded the Texan. “Partner, it’s a holdup!”
“We’re right here,” announced a voice behind them, “We’re not going to hurt you unless you make a foolish move. Better act sensible.”
In spite of this warning, the Texan made a sudden 289duck and lunged at the small man who had confronted him. With a sidelong sweep of his arm, Buckhart struck the pistol aside. Evidently, this caused the man’s finger to contract on the trigger, for there was a sudden spurt of fire and a sharp report.
This astonished Brad, who had more than half fancied the holdup was a practical joke. Realizing that the masked men were carrying real pistols which were loaded, the Texan gave a snarl and grappled with the little fellow.
In the meantime, Dick Merriwell had sought to imitate his chum’s example, but had been clutched from behind and flung to the ground.
There were four of the assailants, two of whom had come upon the unsuspecting boys from the rear. These two sought to give their attention to Merriwell, and the trio went flopping and twisting and writhing into the gutter, striking against the electric-light pole with such violence that the stick of carbon in the globe far above their heads was loosened, a contact was made, and, with a spluttering, hissing sound, the light came on.
The big ruffian who had first commanded the boys to put up their hands now turned his attention to Buckhart, who had the smaller rascal pinned fast to the ground.
Reversing the pistol in his hand, the man lifted it and struck Brad a stunning blow upon the head. With a faint, gasping groan, the Texan fell across the little man.
“Come on here, Cully!” said the thug who had dealt the blow, as he kicked Brad one side with his foot, and attempted to lift his comrade.
Evidently, Cully was also knocked out, for he made no effort to rise.
Merriwell had seen Buckhart struck down. With a 290shout of fury, he smashed one of his antagonists a staggering blow, torn free from the other, whirled, and hurled himself upon the thug with the revolver.
“You whelp!” he said, seizing the fellow’s wrist and giving it a twist which caused him to drop the weapon.
Ditson and Wolfe were the two fellows who had come upon the waylaid boys from the rear. Like the thugs whom they had paid to assist them, they were masked and otherwise disguised. But they carried no weapons.
Duncan had made a bargain with the big man, Slugger Shea, who had proposed bringing along Cully as a companion.
Shea had ridiculed the idea that the boys might put up a fight. It was his belief that he could scare any two Yale men blue, and relieve them of their valuables without assistance. Still, he acknowledged that Cully would come in handy to go through the pockets of the victims. Besides that, Slugger had a friendly feeling for Cully, and he wanted his friend to share in the profits of the job. It was understood, however, that, under any circumstances, the two ruffians should be paid five dollars apiece, and they agreed to give up to their employers whatever papers, letters, or other documents they might secure.
Dunc and Bern had decided that it would be well enough for them to take a hand in the business, as they could then make certain of getting possession of such plunder as they desired. Besides that, they fancied Merriwell and Buckhart would be doubly frightened on finding themselves trapped between two fires. But the boys had upset the calculations of these rascals by unexpectedly showing resistance.
“Good gracious!” gasped Wolfe, in dismay. “Hadn’t 291we better hit the high places, Dunc? The police—that shot is liable to——”
“Buckhart is down and out!” hissed Ditson. “Give a hand here! We’ll have Merriwell down in a jiffy!”
Again he hurled himself on Dick’s back. He did this just as Merriwell, having secured a Japanese wrestling hold on Slugger Shea, sent the big ruffian sprawling.
Dick was nearly upset by Ditson’s weight, but he managed to keep his feet, squirm around, and get a hold on Duncan. Wolfe rushed in, seeking to render such assistance as possible. By this time Merriwell’s fighting blood was thoroughly aroused.
“The more the merrier!” he cried, with a strange, reckless laugh. “Call up your friends! Get them into it!”
In some manner he succeeded in slamming his elbow against Wolfe’s jaw, and Bern staggered backward, nearly knocked out.
Shea was a man with a violent temper, and without an oversupply of brains. By this time his fury was thoroughly aroused. Snarling like a madman, he rose to his feet, drawing from beneath his coat a long, keen knife, on which the cold white light of the street lamp glinted and gleamed.
“Hold him, cuss him!” cried the slugger, rushing at Dick. “I’ll cut him open!”
But, with a cry of horror, Ditson gave Dick a sidelong thrust, at the same time releasing his hold on the boy.
Merriwell tripped over Buckhart, tried to recover his balance, and went down heavily on his right shoulder. Shea followed the boy like a bloodthirsty panther, and pounced upon him as he struck the ground.
“For Heaven’s sake, let’s get out of this!” gasped Bern Wolfe, as he wheeled and took to his heels.
292“I think we’d better,” muttered Ditson, imitating Wolfe’s example.
But, having fled a short distance, something caused Duncan to stop and cast a fearsome glance over his shoulder.
What he saw chilled him to the core. With Dick Merriwell still pinned to the ground, Shea had lifted that gleaming knife to plunge it into the boy’s breast.
“Murder!” thought Duncan, turning again to run as if his life depended on it.
Behind him a pistol shot ruptured the night, followed by a scream of pain.
ROUTING THE RUFFIANS.
Buckhart’s senses had been sent wool-gathering, but he recovered in time to see the ruffian with the knife pinning Dick to the ground a short distance away. Merriwell was fighting for his life, but the injury to his shoulder had seemed to benumb his entire body and rob him of his strength. Snarling, spluttering, swearing, the ruffian lifted the deadly knife.
Within reach of his hand, Buckhart saw the pistol that Dick had wrenched from the man’s grasp. Quick as thought, the Texan seized the weapon. The double click of a hammer was followed an instant later by a sharp report and a cry of pain.
Brad had fired at the uplifted hand of the thug. The bullet struck and shattered two of the man’s fingers. The knife dropped harmlessly. Holding up his injured hand, the slugger sprang to his feet.
“Stop—stop right where you are!” commanded Buckhart, leveling the pistol. “If you don’t, I’ll sure run a tunnel through you! I’ll ventilate you good and proper!”
But Shea turned and fled.
“I don’t want to kill him,” said the Texan, who was sitting up, “but I think I’ll try for his legs.”
Crack! crack! crack! crack!
The weapon was emptied, but the fleeing wretch kept on and disappeared into the darkness.
“Well, I sure am a rotten bad shot,” observed the Texan, in disgust. “Reckon that’s because I got a bump on the head that made me see a few stars and comets. I say, partner, how are you?”
“Alive, thanks to you,” answered Dick. “You 294chipped into the game at the right moment. I believe that brute meant to knife me.”
“It certain seemed that he had some such intentions. Where are the rest of the gents?”
“They’ve skipped—all but one. One of them should be here.”
But the little man Cully, who had been knocked down, had crawled off into the darkness and could not be found.
“Evidently they’re all gone,” said Dick, rubbing his right shoulder with his left hand. “I’m afraid that shoulder is hurt pretty bad.”
“And I’m a whole lot unsteady on my pins,” muttered the Texan. “That was a joyous old scrimmage, but it didn’t seem to wake up the neighborhood much.”
“Some one is coming now,” said Dick. “I can see a row of brass buttons dancing this way.”
“Well, it’s about time!” said Brad, as a policeman came up panting. “You’re rather late, officer.”
“What’s the matter here?” demanded the officer. “What are you doing with that pistol? What do you mean by firing a pistol? You’re both drunk! I think I’ll take you in.”
Dick gave his chum a whimsical look of disgust.
“What do you think of that, Brad?” he said. “He’s going to take us in. We get held up and nearly murdered, and after it’s all over a gallant policeman appears and arrests us.”
“What’s that you’re saying?” snapped the officer. “What kind of a fairy-story have you invented? You’re a couple of students, and I’m onto your game. You fellows are forever making trouble. Give me that pistol.”
“Sure,” growled Brad, handing over the weapon. “You’re welcome to it.”
“Perhaps you’d better take this knife, also, officer,” 295said Dick, picking up the knife and holding it out to the policeman. “You may find a little blood on the handle, and it strikes me that there’s a man’s finger lying there on the ground. Perhaps you’ll want that.”
The cop bent over and stared in amazement at the bloody human digit which lay on the ground.
“So help me, it’s a finger!” he gasped, as if unable to believe his eyes. “What’s it mean? How—why—when——”
“As long as you’re determined to arrest us,” said Dick, “we’ll explain to the sergeant at the station house. Of course, you won’t believe our fairy-story about a holdup.”
“By Jupiter! I’ll believe anything now!” cried the policeman. “Tell me about it.”
While they were telling him, several citizens from the neighboring houses come out and surrounded them. One, a timid, nervous man, substantiated their statements, shamefacedly acknowledging that he had rushed out immediately after the first shot, and had witnessed the encounter between the lads and their assailants.
“I didn’t feel like dipping in,” he said, “so I jest stood back and looked on. It was the hottest fight I ever witnessed. By Jove, these young fellers did put up a fearful scrap! There was four against them, and I don’t know but more than that. I saw four myself. I tried to holler ‘murder’ when one of the masked men got this young feller down and lifted a knife to stab him. Couldn’t seem to make a sound. Then I saw the other chap grab up a pistol and shoot. The fellow with the knife gave a howl and then jumped to his feet. I could see blood running off his hand when he held it up in the light. When he took to his heels, the fellow with the pistol banged away at him, 296but he kept on running. I’m ready to swear to every word of this statement.”
The policeman now sought to obtain a description of the holdup men from the boys. Of course, this description was vague and unsatisfactory, as the masks of the ruffians had prevented Dick and Brad from seeing their faces.
The citizens crowded around the two lads and insisted on shaking hands with them and congratulating them over their nerve and success in beating off the holdup men.
“If you don’t mind, young gentlemen,” said the policeman, now addressing them with the greatest respect, “I’d like to have you come to the station and tell the sergeant all about it. This is my beat, but I was down at the other end when I heard the shooting. I came as soon as I could. I think we’ll take this along as a bit of evidence.”
He displayed the human finger, which he now held partly wrapped in a handkerchief. The timid citizen who had witnessed the encounter gave his name and address, stating that he was willing to tell what he knew of the affair at any time.
It happened that there was a police reporter at the station house, and the morning papers contained a complete account of the attempted holdup, the courage of the boys being lavishly praised.
But, with the Manhattan College baseball game only one day away, Dick found himself with a very lame shoulder and an almost useless right arm.
THE ODDS AGAINST YALE.
“No use, Kates,” said Dick soberly. “You’ve got to pitch this game. I can’t.”
The time for the game with Manhattan to begin had arrived. Yale Umpty-ten was ready to take the field. The sturdy, bronzed, healthy-looking visitors were on their bench and ready for the fray. O’Mora, the first batter, was swinging two heavy clubs, in order to make one seem lighter when he stepped up to the plate.
Dick had been vainly trying to work the lameness out of his shoulder. His comrades of the team had watched him anxiously, for on him they relied. Unless Dick could pitch, they could not believe there was any chance of defeating the visitors.
But Dick could not pitch. He realized it, and at the last moment he told Kates to go in. Blessed Jones, captain of the team, heard Merriwell’s words, and his long, doleful face suddenly looked longer and more doleful than ever.
“All right, Dick,” he said soberly. “If you can’t, you can’t, and that settles it. Go ahead, Sam, and do your best.”
“Now, that’s encouraging!” muttered Kates, with a touch of bitterness, as he turned to Dick. “What show have I, Merriwell? There is not a man on the team who has any confidence in me.”
Dick seized Sam’s hand, held it with a firm grip, and looked straight into his eyes as he said:
“I haven’t lost confidence in you, Kates. Do your level best, old fellow. Do it for my sake—and for Yale.”
298“I will!” exclaimed Sam, in a low tone, as he strode out to the pitcher’s position.
Of the teams dreaded by the Yale freshmen, the one they now faced had been regarded as among the most dangerous. The Manhattan College lads always played the game for all there was in it, and fought it out to the last gasp. There were no quitters among them, and therefore they were always dangerous.
On the scorers’ books the two teams were recorded as follows:
MANHATTAN FRESHMEN. YALE FRESHMEN.
O’Mora, 2d b. Tucker, ss.
Bestock, cf. Lynch, 1st b.
Hanley, rf. Buckhart, c.
Marone, ss. Claxton, 2d b.
Snaith, 1st b. Jones, lf.
Carney, lf. Spratt, cf.
Halloran, 3d b. Bigelow, rf.
McDougal, c. Fitch, 3d b.
Hogan, p. Kates, p.
Dead silence fell on the assembled spectators as Kates walked into the box. Sam’s keen ears fancied this silence was broken by a number of repressed groans. Involuntarily, he flashed a look of resentment toward his classmates on the seats. Then he threw a few to Mike Lynch, just to give his wing a last limbering, whirling and facing O’Mora as the umpire called: “Play.”
Sam’s first ball was far too high. O’Mora grinned and held his bat above his head in a derisive manner after the ball had passed.
The next one was straight over, and the Manhattan headliner met it with a sharp, snappy swing. It was a pretty line drive, which whistled past Kates ere Sam could thrust out a hand for it. With anxiety in his heart, the pitcher whirled like a flash, making the relieving 299discovery that Rob Claxton had seized the ball and clung to it like grim death.
“Clever work, Clax—clever work!” cried Buckhart heartily. “That’s the way to do it.”
Kates grinned approvingly, and received the ball tossed to him by the Virginian. O’Mora had started for first, but he turned back, shaking his head in a disgusted manner.
“Never mind,” called Captain Mike Marone, of the visitors. “That was a case of horseshoe. Get after him, Bestock! Start us off now!”
Bestock, one of the clever hitters of the visitors, waited until Kates bent one over, and then nailed it with terrific force.
It was a scorching hot grounder, but, with an electrified sidelong leap, Tommy Tucker forked the sizzling ball with his bare right hand. Tucker was whirled round in his tracks with a toplike motion, but managed to keep his feet, recovered, and sent the ball across to Lynch.
It was a bad throw, and Mike was compelled to leap high into the air to get the ball. He got it, however, and down upon the sack he dropped, just in time to secure a put-out.
“More horseshoes!” yelled Marone. “Whose hunch did you rub, old man?” This question was directed at Lynch, who retorted with a satisfied grin, but made no answer in words.
Hanley looked dangerous as he squared himself at the plate, poising his bat over his shoulder. He was a big fellow, and he wielded a heavy club. He had a reputation as a hard hitter.
Kates was afraid of this man, and, in working desperately to prevent Hanley from hitting, Sam got himself into a bad hole. One strike and three balls were called.
300“Make ’em be good!” cried Marone. “He can’t put it over!”
After glancing toward the bench, on which sat Merriwell, Kates steadied himself, and carefully sent over a swift, straight ball. Hanley let it pass, and the second strike was called.
“That’s the talk, Sammy,” chirped Tucker encouragingly. “Now he’s got to hit. Make him do it. Don’t let him walk.”
Sam wisely decided to depend on his backing, and quickly whistled over another straight one.
Hanley smashed it far into the field, but, after an astonishing run, Captain Jones smothered the ball and held it.
“Well, what do you think of that?” asked Mel Dagett, who was sitting on the bleachers, between Toleman and Poland. “That’s a good start for us, isn’t it? We ought to be cheering with the rest of the bunch.”
“It was luck—nothing more,” said Poland. “I don’t wonder Marone is howling ‘horseshoes.’”
“With that kind of backing, Kates may be able to hold the score down, don’t you think?” questioned Bern Wolfe, at Toleman’s elbow.
“Never,” answered Bill promptly. “Those Manhattan fellows are not going to bat the ball right at somebody every time they hit it. Notice every man did hit it. Kates never can win this game in the world.”
“Between us four,” said Poland, in a low tone, “I don’t believe Merriwell’s shoulder is as lame as he pretends it is. He’s afraid of Manhattan, that’s what’s the matter. That was quite a fine and fancy story about the holdup, but it sounded too fancy for me to believe.”
“Oh, but the police say the story is all right,” snickered Dagett. “Have you forgotten that Officer Jordan, 301who arrived on the scene after the holdup men had escaped, picked up a human finger that had been shot from one of the ruffians’ hands by the wonderful cowboy, Bradley Buckhart? Say, I wonder how much those two fellows paid the cops and the reporters to get such a yarn into the papers?”
“Then you don’t take any stock in that holdup story?” questioned Wolfe quickly.
“I don’t,” answered Dagett. “Do you?”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Bern. “It doesn’t seem to me that the yarn can be wholly a fake.”
“Why not?” questioned Poland.
“I should fancy some one would expose the deception.”
“I don’t know whether it’s a fake or not,” said Toleman, “but I agree with Jim in thinking Merriwell has a case of cold feet, and is getting out of pitching this game by pretending his shoulder is lame. It’s an outrage to shove Kates in there to-day. Manhattan has Hogan, their very best pitcher, against us. He’s on the slab now. Watch him. Note what he does to our boys.”
“Our boys! He! he! he!” scoffed Dagett. “Do you mean Mike Lynch? I suppose you’re dead stuck on Mike now that he’s become a Merriwellite? Yah! He makes me sick! What do you think of a fellow like him posing as the soul of generosity and paying other fellows’ debts? I don’t blame Ditson for taking advantage of his attempt to fool people, but I guess we all know the kind of a fellow Lynch is.”
“By the way, Wolfe,” questioned Toleman, “where is Ditson? Is he here?”
“I don’t know,” answered Bern. “I haven’t seen him to-day.”
But Wolfe lied. He had seen Duncan, and he believed he knew what the fellow was doing that very 302hour. Both Ditson and Wolfe felt that they were hovering over a volcano that might burst forth any moment. They were frightened, and had agreed that they must take certain precautions to protect themselves.
Hogan now opened up on Tommy Tucker, who was the first batter for Yale. The visiting pitcher had a great assortment of shoots and benders which seemed too much for Tommy to fathom. As a result, Tucker slashed the air twice, fouled a couple of times, and then lifted a little pop-fly which Halloran gathered in.
Mike Lynch looked grim enough as he strode forth to the plate. He had been placed second on the batting order because of his ability as a hitter. Realizing, however, that he was not a popular man in his own class, Mike now seemed distressingly self-conscious, and, as a result, he fell an easy victim to the wiles of Hogan, who struck him out.
Brad Buckhart did little better than the two who had preceded him. He hit the ball, and, for a moment, it seemed that he had popped out a “Texas Leaguer.” But the infielders of the visiting team could cover lots of territory, and cover it in a hurry. Both Marone and O’Mora went after Brad’s ball.
“I’ll take it!” yelled O’Mora. And he caught it beautifully while running at full speed, with his face toward the outfield.
While the little crowd of visiting rooters were cheering this play, Wolfe espied Duncan Ditson, who was looking over the crowd in search of Bern. Immediately Wolfe waved his cap at Duncan, who clambered up over the seats and found room at the side of his fellow conspirator.
“Well, how did you succeed?” whispered Bern, under cover of the noise.
“I succeeded,” answered Duncan grimly. “I had to.”
303“You raised the money?”
“I pawned my sister’s watch and rings.”
“Did she let you have them?”
“I took them. Couldn’t wait to ask her in an emergency like this. Shea had to get out of New Haven. The police were looking for a man who had lost a finger, and they were bound to nab Slugger sooner or later if he remained in town. He knew it as well as I did. He was willing to go, but he had to have the money to get away. I put the money in his hands myself, and he says he’ll be out of the city before midnight.”
“Do you think he can get away? Won’t they nab him? The cops are on the watch, you know.”
“If they don’t corner him before dark, I think he’ll get away. He’s been a hobo, and he knows how to bum his passage on freight trains. As soon as it’s dark he’ll stow himself away aboard some freight bound for New York or Boston. If he’s not caught to-day, there’s every prospect that he’ll not be caught at all. I’m not going to worry about it any more. How’s the game going?”
MANHATTAN IN THE LEAD.
A most astonishing thing was the manner in which the team backed up Kates this day, while on the previous Saturday it had gone to pieces behind him in an exasperating manner the moment the Highbridge School boys began to hit him. As inning after inning progressed, with the infielders making the most astonishing stops and throws, and the outfielders pulling down hard-batted flies which seemed good for two or three bases, Kates got a hold on himself, and gradually improved in his box work. In the fifth inning Yale made her first runs, two scores, secured through a clean hit by Buckhart, a sacrifice by Claxton, a base on balls handed out to Jones, and Manhattan’s first error, the fielder dropping Spratt’s hit to right and losing the ball, while Brad and Blessed tore over the plate.
But in the sixth the visitors retaliated with a vengeance. Three men hit safely in succession. Then, for the first time, Yale showed symptoms of going to pieces, for a couple of errors followed, and the Manhattanites had tallied three times when the smoke cleared away.
“I told you what would happen!” exclaimed Bill Toleman. “It’s all off now. Kates is useless from this time on. Look at him! See him crawling in to the bench like a yellow dog with its tail between its legs.”
“Evidently you love Kates,” snickered Dagett.
“Well, if I can’t pitch better than he can, I’ll eat my boots. Has any one seen me asking Merriwell or Jones or Robinson for a chance to pitch on their great 305team? I fought against them at the outset, and I’ve taken my medicine. I haven’t squealed. I hate a squealer. That’s why I’m disgusted with Mike Lynch. I’m not saying that he isn’t sincere now, but I do say that he has squealed. After blowing and bleating around about Merriwell, and making so much talk, he suddenly threw up the sponge. I swear I didn’t know he was a quitter, but I know it now. He has disgusted me more than any chap I know of. I’d like to see him kicked out of college.”
At this Wolfe gave Ditson a nudge.
“There are others,” whispered Bern. “Oh, if I could only get hold of that confession! If I knew how to put my hands on it! Do you suppose Merriwell carries it round in his pocket all the time?”
“I don’t know,” muttered Dunc, absent-mindedly.
“Well, I’ve got an idea that he may keep it somewhere in his room,” said Wolfe. “I’d like to get into his room and make a search. I’d dig it out if it was there.”
“Better forget it,” said Duncan. “That blamed old confession got us into a nasty scrape. I’m worried.”
“But I thought you said Shea would get out of town all right.”
“I’m in hopes he will, but you never can tell what will happen.”
“Think he’d squeal if he was nabbed?”
“Of course he would. That would be the easiest way for him to get a light sentence. He’d say he was paid to do the job by a couple of Yale men. He’d ring us in as sure as fate.”
“How about the other man?”
“Cully? Oh, he’s sneaked already. He’s gone. He didn’t wait until morning.”
Having obtained the lead, Manhattan seemed determined to hold the home team down. Hogan pitched 306as if everything he held dear depended on the result. Nevertheless, Yale was warmed up, and the visiting twirler had his troubles. But the Blue could not push a runner past third. Fast fielding behind Hogan terminated the sixth inning, with the score three to two, in favor of Manhattan College.
“Now get after that pitcher and pound him to death!” fiercely urged Marone, as the visitors trotted in to the bench. “This ought to be our inning. We ought to pile up some more runs right here.”
Merriwell had talked encouragingly to Kates, and, to the surprise of every one, Sam opened the seventh by striking out a man. Even though the next fellow hit safely, Kates did not seem disturbed, and he forced the following chap to put up an easy infield fly.
“All right, Katesy—all right!” piped Tucker. “They thought they had you going, eh? Well, they’ve got another think coming!”
But the next man hit, and the fellow on first made third by fast running.
“We’ll do it right here,” announced Marone, from the coaching line. “Everybody run on a hit.”
Merriwell smiled at Kates and nodded. Sam toed the slab without a tremor, and quickly put the batter in a hole, two strikes and one ball being called.
“That’s all right! that’s all right!” yapped Marone. “You can hit him just the same! He’s easy!”
The batter did hit, but it proved to be an easy fly to right field, and Bouncer Bigelow did his duty nobly by gathering it in.
“Well, if that wasn’t crawling out of a small hole!” exclaimed Bill Toleman. “Kates certainly is lucky to-day.”
“But the boys can’t seem to hit Hogan,” said Wolfe. “Do you think they have a chance to win, Bill?”
307“Not much of a chance, I imagine,” was the answer. “Still the score is mighty close.”
“I’d like to leave,” whispered Wolfe, in Ditson’s ear, “but I hate to quit this game. I want to see it out.”
“Why do you want to leave?”
“I have a scheme.”
“What sort of a scheme?”
“Think I know how I could get a chance to rustle round in Merriwell’s room. I’d just rush up to the house, ring the bell, and tell the girl that Merriwell had sent me after something he’d left in his room. If she let me upstairs, I’d come pretty near finding that confession if it’s stowed away there. What do you think of that plan?”
“If you want to take the chances——”
“Don’t talk about that after the chances we took trying to hold those fellows up. I wouldn’t touch anything else but the old confession. What could Merriwell do about it if he did prove I got that? What value could he put on such a paper? Besides, I’d give the girl at the house a fictitious name. I’d like to try the trick.”
“I advise you against it. Better be careful until the clouds roll by.”
In spite of this advice, Wolfe grew restless every minute, and when the seventh inning ended, with the score three to two, Bern whispered a good-by to Duncan, told the others he would be back in a short time, and left the stand.
A BEAUTIFUL BINGLE.
In the eighth inning Manhattan betrayed dangerous symptoms, for she made a run and filled the bases, with two men out. Kates then struck out the last batter.
But the score was now four to two. Jones urged his men to get after Hogan without delay, and they responded in a promising manner. In a sharp batting rally, they drove in a score, but a fancy double play cut short their chances of tying or taking the lead.
Manhattan abated none of its fierceness when the ninth opened. The first batter landed on Kates for a safe single. Following this, came a fierce drive that got away from Tucker, and two men were on bases.
A moment later Sam hit a batter on the hip, and the sacks were filled.
Marone coached jubilantly, announcing his belief that something like a dozen runs would be chalked down to Manhattan’s credit in the ninth.
It was the critical point of the game, and Kates got the rattles at last. Try as he might, he could not find the plate, and, as a result, he walked the next batter, forcing in a run.
“It’s all off,” announced Bill Toleman, to his companions in the stand. “He couldn’t find the rubber now to save his life.”
Dagett seized Toleman’s wrist.
“Look!” he said. “What’s that mean?”
“By Jove! Kates is going to the bench!” exclaimed Ditson. “Who’ll pitch?”
309“Merriwell,” said Poland. “He’s going into the box as sure as fate.”
“But he has a lame shoulder,” snickered Dagett.
“He’s let Kates lose the game,” said Toleman, “and now he’s going to show off. It’s too late for him to do anything.”
“That’s right,” nodded Ditson. “The game is over. Merriwell ought to be batted after sitting on the bench and letting those fellows have their own way.”
Mike Marone stood, hands on his hips, and laughed as Dick walked out to pitch.
“Like to limber up a little, Merriwell?” he inquired. “Give you all the time you want.”
“Thanks for your generosity,” said Dick. “I don’t believe I’ll bother to limber up.”
“Wow! wow! wow!” barked O’Mora. “He don’t have to limber up! He thinks we’re easy.”
Dick received the ball, and toed the slab in a position to pitch with his left hand. He could not use his right, but he hoped to check the enemy, just the same. The first ball delivered was so wild that it came near getting past Buckhart, who stopped it by a marvelous sidelong leap.
“Wow! wow! wow!” came again from O’Mora. “What do you think of that? Better use your other hand, Merriwell. You can’t find the pan with your left.”
“Everybody run!” shouted Marone. “Score on the first passed ball!”
“There won’t be any,” muttered Buckhart, as he resumed his position behind the bat and gave Dick a signal.
The next ball pitched by Dick came over the plate. It looked good to the batter, but he simply popped up an easy fly that was taken by Otis Fitch.
310“Don’t try to kill the ball!” shouted Marone. “Don’t try to knock the cover off! You can all hit it!”
“Sure you can hit it,” said Buckhart, in a low tone; “but hitting it safe is what counts.”
When Dick had fooled the next batter with two elusive benders, it began to look as if hitting the ball was not such an easy thing, after all. Forced into a corner, the batter finally lifted a high foul, which Buckhart got under and gathered in.
“That’s two, partner,” laughed the Texan, as he tossed the ball to Dick. “Why, they couldn’t hit you safely if you pitched with your feet.”
“Get in there, now,” urged Marone, as O’Mora trotted to the plate. “A little single is all we want. A little safety is the goods. You know where to put it, Mat.”
But suddenly Dick bored over a fast one, and O’Mora literally threw himself off his feet in the effort to get against it.
“Wow! wow! wow!” he yapped, as he picked himself up. “Where’d you get that speed, Merriwell? How can you do it with your little left? Be gentle! be gentle! Give me a chance to look at the ball when it comes over.”
“All right,” said Dick. “How’s this?”
He lobbed up a slow one, and O’Mora nearly broke his back reaching out to hit the ball before it was anywhere near the plate.
Marone snapped at the batter, and O’Mora shook his head with a comical look of dismay.
“I won’t strike out!” he muttered to himself. But that was precisely what he did do. Dick worked with all the craft at his command, and finally led O’Mora into reaching for a nasty curve which he could not touch.
311Yale came to bat in the last of the ninth, with the score four to two against them.
“We’ve got to have two to tie and three to win,” said Dick cheerfully. “Here’s where we get them.”
But the wrong end of the batting list was up. Jones was to be followed by Spratt, Bigelow, and Fitch, the three weakest hitters on the team.
“Get to first, Blessed,” urged Merriwell. “Get there somehow.”
Although the captain felt that it might not do any good, he stalked forth and smote the ball a terrific crack that landed him on the initial sack.
“Hit and run, Spratt—that’s the game,” murmured Merriwell, as Jack walked out to the pan.
But Spratt simply lifted a high infield fly that was captured by Marone.
“Looks bad, partner,” whispered Buckhart, in Dick’s ear.
Merriwell made no reply. Claxton and Tucker were coaching. Bouncer Bigelow, looking pale and shaking like a jellyfish, walked out and swung with all his might at the first ball pitched by Hogan. The ball struck on the under side of the bat, shot down to the ground, and twisted off to one side with a queer, toplike motion.
Without the remotest idea as to what he had done, Bigelow hurled the bat straight up into the air and let himself out for first, while Jones went to second. It was a lucky stab, for the ball, after threatening to roll foul, stopped inside the base line, and Bouncer got a safe hit in this manner.
“Two to tie and three to win, Fitch,” said Dick, as the next batter left the bench.
Fitch had not touched the ball for the day. Hogan regarded the fellow as an easy mark. Otis surprised 312every one by smashing a hot grounder toward Marone, who made a startling stop, but juggled the ball and permitted the bases to fill. It was Merriwell’s turn to strike.
“Two to tie and three to win, partner,” said Buckhart, as Dick picked out a bat. “You’ve got to do it for us! You’ve got to save this game! Give us a bingle.”
Dick forgot his lame shoulder. He forgot everything except the necessity of getting a clean hit. After missing one of Hogan’s curves, he found the ball with a sharp, snapping swing, and lined it far into right field.
The Yale stand rose with a roar as it was seen that Hanley could not touch that long line drive. The ball struck the ground and went bounding away, away to the far extremity of the field, while man after man romped joyously over the plate. Dick had won the game by this beautiful bingle.
When Merriwell entered his room, followed by Jones and Buckhart, he discovered that everything was in disorder. The drawers of his desk had been pulled out and their contents emptied on the floor. This was likewise the case with his dresser.
“Hello!” he cried. “What’s this mean? Some one has been here while I was gone.”
A moment later he had reached the private drawer which he always kept locked. One glance showed him that it had been pried open and the lock broken. The contents of this drawer, however, had not been scattered upon the floor. Everything was there—everything save one thing.
The confession of Mike Lynch was gone.
It was about the time when Merriwell made this discovery 313that Duncan Ditson entered his own room and found Bern Wolfe waiting for him there.
“Hello!” exclaimed Dunc, in surprise. “Forgot about you in the excitement. Say, do you know what happened? Well, Merriwell went into that game and won it with a corking hit in the ninth inning. Isn’t that just his luck?”
“Don’t talk to me about luck!” snarled Wolfe. “I’m sore! I’m disgusted!”
“Eh? What’s happened? Did you try to get hold of that confession?”
“Try?” rasped Bern, producing an envelope and flinging it on the study table. “I should say I did! There it is!”
“There it is? Then what’s the matter? What ails you?”
Wolfe caught up the envelope, and drew forth the sheets of paper it contained.
“What ails me?” he hissed. “Just take a look at this! Here’s that valuable confession!”
He spread out the sheets of paper, and Ditson gazed at them in surprise, for apparently there was not a line of writing upon them.
“Confession?” muttered Duncan. “What are you talking about? There’s nothing there.”
“There was once. Look here—look close. Here, you can see the faintest tracing of a word. There, you can see part of another word. There was writing on this paper once. Why, I can even see a bit of my own signature down in this corner, but it’s gone. It’s faded. It’s no good to any one now.”
Looking intently at the paper, Ditson was able to make out the faint tracing of a few detached words upon it.
Suddenly Duncan smote his clenched right fist into his left palm.
314“Well, if that wasn’t a slick trick on the part of Lynch!” he cried. “He wrote his confession with sympathetic ink.”
“With what? Sympathetic ink?”
“Yes. That’s ink that will fade and vanish entirely, a few days after it is used. I was with him when he bought it. He told me he had a girl to whom he was writing letters, and, as he feared she might not destroy his letters, he was taking care to use the kind of ink that would prevent those epistles from ever rising like ghosts to haunt and confuse him. Wolfe, we’re a couple of blamed fools!”
No. 150 of the Merriwell Series is entitled “Dick Merriwell’s Best Work,” by Burt L. Standish. Admirers of Mr. Standish will find this story up to his usual high standard—and this is the highest praise we can give it.
BOOKS FOR YOUNG MEN
ALL BY BURT L. STANDISH
Stories of Frank and Dick Merriwell
Fascinating Stories of Athletics
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.
ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT
1—Frank Merriwell’s School Days
2—Frank Merriwell’s Chums
3—Frank Merriwell’s Foes
4—Frank Merriwell’s Trip West
5—Frank Merriwell Down South
6—Frank Merriwell’s Bravery
7—Frank Merriwell’s Hunting Tour
8—Frank Merriwell in Europe
9—Frank Merriwell at Yale
10—Frank Merriwell’s Sports Afield
11—Frank Merriwell’s Races
12—Frank Merriwell’s Party
13—Frank Merriwell’s Bicycle Tour
14—Frank Merriwell’s Courage
15—Frank Merriwell’s Daring
16—Frank Merriwell’s Alarm
17—Frank Merriwell’s Athletes
18—Frank Merriwell’s Skill
19—Frank Merriwell’s Champions
20—Frank Merriwell’s Return to Yale
21—Frank Merriwell’s Secret
22—Frank Merriwell’s Danger
23—Frank Merriwell’s Loyalty
24—Frank Merriwell in Camp
25—Frank Merriwell’s Vacation
26—Frank Merriwell’s Cruise
27—Frank Merriwell’s Chase
28—Frank Merriwell in Maine
29—Frank Merriwell’s Struggle
30—Frank Merriwell’s First Job
31—Frank Merriwell’s Opportunity
32—Frank Merriwell’s Hard Luck
33—Frank Merriwell’s Protégé
34—Frank Merriwell on the Road
35—Frank Merriwell’s Own Company
36—Frank Merriwell’s Fame
37—Frank Merriwell’s College Chums
38—Frank Merriwell’s Problem
39—Frank Merriwell’s Fortune
40—Frank Merriwell’s New Comedian
41—Frank Merriwell’s Prosperity
42—Frank Merriwell’s Stage Hit
43—Frank Merriwell’s Great Scheme
44—Frank Merriwell in England
45—Frank Merriwell on the Boulevards
46—Frank Merriwell’s Duel
47—Frank Merriwell’s Double Shot
48—Frank Merriwell’s Baseball Victories
49—Frank Merriwell’s Confidence
50—Frank Merriwell’s Auto
51—Frank Merriwell’s Fun
52—Frank Merriwell’s Generosity
53—Frank Merriwell’s Tricks
54—Frank Merriwell’s Temptation
55—Frank Merriwell on Top
56—Frank Merriwell’s Luck
57—Frank Merriwell’s Mascot
58—Frank Merriwell’s Reward
59—Frank Merriwell’s Phantom
60—Frank Merriwell’s Faith
61—Frank Merriwell’s Victories
62—Frank Merriwell’s Iron Nerve
63—Frank Merriwell in Kentucky
64—Frank Merriwell’s Power
65—Frank Merriwell’s Shrewdness
66—Frank Merriwell’s Setback
67—Frank Merriwell’s Search
68—Frank Merriwell’s Club
69—Frank Merriwell’s Trust
70—Frank Merriwell’s False Friend
71—Frank Merriwell’s Strong Arm
72—Frank Merriwell as Coach
73—Frank Merriwell’s Brother
74—Frank Merriwell’s Marvel
75—Frank Merriwell’s Support
76—Dick Merriwell at Fardale
77—Dick Merriwell’s Glory
78—Dick Merriwell’s Promise
79—Dick Merriwell’s Rescue
80—Dick Merriwell’s Narrow Escape
81—Dick Merriwell’s Racket
82—Dick Merriwell’s Revenge
83—Dick Merriwell’s Ruse
84—Dick Merriwell’s Delivery
85—Dick Merriwell’s Wonders
86—Frank Merriwell’s Honor
87—Dick Merriwell’s Diamond
88—Frank Merriwell’s Winners
89—Dick Merriwell’s Dash
90—Dick Merriwell’s Ability
91—Dick Merriwell’s Trap
92—Dick Merriwell’s Defense
93—Dick Merriwell’s Model
94—Dick Merriwell’s Mystery
95—Frank Merriwell’s Backers
96—Dick Merriwell’s Backstop
97—Dick Merriwell’s Western Mission
98—Frank Merriwell’s Rescue
99—Frank Merriwell’s Encounter
100—Dick Merriwell’s Marked Money
101—Frank Merriwell’s Nomads
102—Dick Merriwell on the Gridiron
103—Dick Merriwell’s Disguise
104—Dick Merriwell’s Test
105—Frank Merriwell’s Trump Card
106—Frank Merriwell’s Strategy
107—Frank Merriwell’s Triumph
108—Dick Merriwell’s Grit
109—Dick Merriwell’s Assurance
110—Dick Merriwell’s Long Slide
111—Frank Merriwell’s Rough Deal
112—Dick Merriwell’s Threat
113—Dick Merriwell’s Persistence
114—Dick Merriwell’s Day
115—Frank Merriwell’s Peril
116—Dick Merriwell’s Downfall
117—Frank Merriwell’s Pursuit
118—Dick Merriwell Abroad
119—Frank Merriwell in the Rockies
120—Dick Merriwell’s Pranks
121—Frank Merriwell’s Pride
122—Frank Merriwell’s Challengers
123—Frank Merriwell’s Endurance
124—Dick Merriwell’s Cleverness
125—Frank Merriwell’s Marriage
126—Dick Merriwell, the Wizard
127—Dick Merriwell’s Stroke
128—Dick Merriwell’s Return
129—Dick Merriwell’s Resource
130—Dick Merriwell’s Five
131—Frank Merriwell’s Tigers
132—Dick Merriwell’s Polo Team
133—Frank Merriwell’s Pupils
134—Frank Merriwell’s New Boy
135—Dick Merriwell’s Home Run
136—Dick Merriwell’s Dare
137—Frank Merriwell’s Son
138—Dick Merriwell’s Team Mate
139—Frank Merriwell’s Leaguers
140—Frank Merriwell’s Happy Camp
141—Dick Merriwell’s Influence
142—Dick Merriwell, Freshman
143—Dick Merriwell’s Staying Power
In order that there may be no confusion, we desire to say that the books listed below will be issued during the respective months in New York City and vicinity. They may not reach the readers at a distance promptly, on account of delays in transportation.
To be published in July, 1926.
144—Dick Merriwell’s Joke
145—Frank Merriwell’s Talisman
To be published in August, 1926.
146—Frank Merriwell’s Horse
147—Dick Merriwell’s Regret
To be published in September, 1926.
148—Dick Merriwell’s Magnetism
149—Dick Merriwell’s Backers
To be published in October, 1926.
150—Dick Merriwell’s Best Work
151—Dick Merriwell’s Distrust
152—Dick Merriwell’s Debt
To be published in November, 1926.
153—Dick Merriwell’s Mastery
154—Dick Merriwell Adrift
To be published in December, 1926.
155—Frank Merriwell’s Worst Boy
156—Dick Merriwell’s Close Call
Round the World Library
Stories of Jack Harkaway and His Comrades
Every reader, young and old, has heard of Jack Harkaway. His remarkable adventures in out-of-the-way corners of the globe are really classics, and every one should read them.
Jack is a splendid, manly character, full of life and strength and curiosity. He has a number of very interesting companions—Professor Mole, for instance, who is very funny. He also has some very strange enemies, who are anything but funny.
Get interested in Jack. It will pay you.
ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT
By BRACEBRIDGE HEMYNG
1—Jack Harkaway’s School Days
2—Jack Harkaway’s Friends
3—Jack Harkaway After School Days
4—Jack Harkaway Afloat and Ashore
5—Jack Harkaway Among the Pirates
6—Jack Harkaway at Oxford
7—Jack Harkaway’s Struggles
8—Jack Harkaway’s Triumphs
9—Jack Harkaway Among the Brigands
10—Jack Harkaway’s Return
11—Jack Harkaway Around the World
12—Jack Harkaway’s Perils
13—Jack Harkaway in China
14—Jack Harkaway and the Red Dragon
15—Jack Harkaway’s Pluck
16—Jack Harkaway in Australia
17—Jack Harkaway and the Bushrangers
18—Jack Harkaway’s Duel
19—Jack Harkaway and the Turks
20—Jack Harkaway in New York
21—Jack Harkaway Out West
22—Jack Harkaway Among the Indians
23—Jack Harkaway’s Cadet Days
24—Jack Harkaway in the Black Hills
25—Jack Harkaway in the Toils
26—Jack Harkaway’s Secret of Wealth
27—Jack Harkaway, Missing
28—Jack Harkaway and the Sacred Serpent
29—The Fool of the Family
31—Mischievous Matt’s Pranks
32—Bob Fairplay Adrift
33—Bob Fairplay at Sea
34—The Boys of St. Aldates
38—Too Fast to Last
In order that there may be no confusion, we desire to say that the books listed below will be issued during the respective months in New York City and vicinity. They may not reach the readers at a distance promptly, on account of delays in transportation.
To be published in July, 1926.
40—Spider and Stump By Bracebridge Hemyng
41—Out for Fun By Bracebridge Hemyng
To be published in August, 1926.
42—Rob Rollalong, Sailor By Bracebridge Hemyng
43—Rob Rollalong in the Wilds By Bracebridge Hemyng
44—Phil, the Showman By Stanley Norris
To be published in September, 1926.
45—Phil’s Rivals By Stanley Norris
46—Phil’s Pluck By Stanley Norris
To be published in October, 1926.
47—Phil’s Triumph By Stanley Norris
48—From Circus to Fortune By Stanley Norris
To be published in November, 1926.
49—A Gentleman Born By Stanley Norris
50—For His Friend’s Honor By Stanley Norris
To be published in December, 1926.
51—True to His Trust By Stanley Norris
52—Facing the Music By Stanley Norris
A CARNIVAL OF ACTION
Splendid, Interesting, Big Stories
This line is devoted exclusively to a splendid type of adventure story, in the big outdoors. There is really a breath of fresh air in each of them, and the reader who pays fifteen cents for a copy of this line feels that he has received his money’s worth and a little more.
The authors of these books are experienced in the art of writing, and know just what the up-to-date American reader wants.
ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT
By WILLIAM WALLACE COOK
1—The Desert Argonaut
2—A Quarter to Four
3—Thorndyke of the Bonita
4—A Round Trip to the Year 2000
5—The Gold Gleaners
6—The Spur of Necessity
7—The Mysterious Mission
8—The Goal of a Million
9—Marooned in 1492
10—Running the Signal
11—His Friend the Enemy
12—In the Web
13—A Deep Sea Game
14—The Paymaster’s Special
15—Adrift in the Unknown
16—Jim Dexter, Cattleman
17—Juggling with Liberty
18—Back from Bedlam
19—A River Tangle
20—Billionaire Pro Tem
21—In the Wake of the Scimitar
22—His Audacious Highness
23—At Daggers Drawn
24—The Eighth Wonder
26—The Cotton Bag
27—Little Miss Vassar
28—Cast Away at the Pole
29—The Testing of Noyes
30—The Fateful Seventh
33—The Sheriff of Broken Bow
34—Wanted: A Highwayman
35—Frisbie of San Antone
36—His Last Dollar
37—Fools for Luck
38—Dare of Darling & Co.
In order that there may be no confusion, we desire to say that the books listed below will be issued during the respective months in New York City and vicinity. They may not reach the readers at a distance promptly, on account of delays in transportation.
To be published in July, 1926.
39—Trailing The Josephine By William Wallace Cook
40—The Snapshot Chap By Bertram Lebhar
To be published in August, 1926.
41—Brothers of the Thin Wire By Franklin Pitt
42—Jungle Intrigue By Edmond Lawrence
43—His Snapshot Lordship By Bertram Lebhar
To be published in September, 1926.
44—Folly Lode By James F. Dorrance
45—The Forest Rogue By Julian G. Wharton
To be published In October, 1926.
46—Snapshot Artillery By Bertram Lebhar
47—Stanley Holt, Thoroughbred By Ralph Boston
To be published in November, 1926.
48—The Riddle and the Ring By Gordon MacLaren
49—The Black Eye Snapshot By Bertram Lebhar
To be published in December, 1926.
50—Bainbridge of Bangor By Julian G. Wharton
51—Amid Crashing Hills By Edmond Lawrence
BOOKS THAT NEVER GROW OLD
Clean Adventure Stories for Boys
The Most Complete List Published
The following list does not contain all the books that Horatio Alger wrote, but it contains most of them, and certainly the best.
Horatio Alger is to boys what Charles Dickens is to grown-ups. His work is just as popular to-day as it was years ago. The books have a quality, the value of which is beyond computation.
There are legions of boys of foreign parents who are being helped along the road to true Americanism by reading these books which are so peculiarly American in tone that the reader cannot fail to absorb some of the spirit of fair play and clean living which is so characteristically American.
In this list will be included certain books by Edward Stratemeyer, Oliver Optic, and other authors who wrote the Alger type of stories, which are equal in interest and wholesomeness with those written by the famous author after which this great line of books for boys is named.
ALL TITLES ALWAYS IN PRINT
By HORATIO ALGER, Jr.
1—Driven from Home
2—A Cousin’s Conspiracy
5—Tony, the Tramp
6—The Five Hundred Dollar Check
8—Making His Way
9—Try and Trust
10—Only an Irish Boy
11—Jed, the Poorhouse Boy
13—Grit, the Young Boatman of Pine Point
15—From Farm Boy to Senator
16—The Young Outlaw
19—In a New World
20—Both Sides of the Continent
21—The Store Boy
22—Brave and Bold
23—A New York Boy
25—The Young Adventurer
26—Julius, the Street Boy
27—Adrift in New York
30—The Adventures of a New York Telegraph Boy
32—The Young Acrobat
33—Bound to Rise
35—Do and Dare
36—The Tin Box
37—Tom, the Bootblack
38—Risen from the Ranks
39—Shifting for Himself
40—Wait and Hope
42—Striving for Fortune
43—Phil, the Fiddler
44—Slow and Sure
45—Walter Sherwood’s Probation
46—The Trials and Triumphs of Mark Mason
47—The Young Salesman
48—Andy Grant’s Pluck
49—Facing the World
51—Strive and Succeed
52—From Canal Boy to President
53—The Erie Train Boy
54—Paul, the Peddler
55—The Young Miner
56—Charlie Codman’s Cruise
57—A Debt of Honor
58—The Young Explorer
60—The Errand Boy
61—Frank and Fearless
62—Frank Hunter’s Peril
63—Adrift in the City
64—Tom Thatcher’s Fortune
65—Tom Turner’s Legacy
66—Dan, the Newsboy
67—Digging for Gold
69—In Search of Treasure
71—Bernard Brook’s Adventures
72—Robert Coverdale’s Struggles
73—Paul Prescott’s Charge
74—Mark Manning’s Mission
76—Sink or Swim
77—The Backwoods Boy
78—Tom Temple’s Career
80—The Young Musician
81—The Telegraph Boy
82—Work and Win
83—The Train Boy
84—The Cash Boy
85—Herbert Carter’s Legacy
86—Strong and Steady
87—Lost at Sea
88—From Farm to Fortune
89—Young Captain Jack
90—Joe, the Hotel Boy
91—Out for Business
92—Falling in with Fortune
93—Nelson, the Newsboy
94—Randy of the River
95—Jerry, the Backwoods Boy
96—Ben Logan’s Triumph
97—The Young Book Agent
By EDWARD STRATEMEYER
98—The Last Cruise of The Spitfire
99—Reuben Stone’s Discovery
100—True to Himself
101—Richard Dare’s Venture
102—Oliver Bright’s Search
103—To Alaska for Gold
104—The Young Auctioneer
105—Bound to Be an Electrician
107—Fighting for His Own
108—Joe, the Surveyor
109—Larry, the Wanderer
110—The Young Ranchman
111—The Young Lumberman
112—The Young Explorers
113—Boys of the Wilderness
114—Boys of the Great Northwest
115—Boys of the Gold Field
116—For His Country
117—Comrades in Peril
118—The Young Pearl Hunters
119—The Young Bandmaster
120—Boys of the Fort
121—On Fortune’s Trail
122—Lost in the Land of Ice
123—Bob, the Photographer
By OLIVER OPTIC
124—Among the Missing
125—His Own Helper
126—Honest Kit Dunstable
127—Every Inch a Boy
128—The Young Pilot
129—Always in Luck
130—Rich and Humble
131—In School and Out
132—Watch and Wait
133—Work and Win
134—Hope and Have
135—Haste and Waste
136—Royal Tarr’s Pluck
137—The Prisoners of the Cave
138—Louis Chiswick’s Mission
139—The Professor’s Son
140—The Young Hermit
141—The Cruise of The Dandy
142—Building Himself Up
143—Lyon Hart’s Heroism
144—Three Young Silver Kings
145—Making a Man of Himself
146—Striving for His Own
147—Through by Daylight
152—Bear and Forbear
153—The “Starry Flag”
155—Seek and Find
156—Freaks of Fortune
157—Make or Break
158—Down the River
159—The Boat Club
161—Now or Never
In order that there may be no confusion, we desire to say that the books listed below will be issued during the respective months in New York City and vicinity. They may not reach the readers at a distance promptly, on account of delays in transportation.
To be published in July, 1926.
163—Poor and Proud By Oliver Optic
164—Little by Little By Oliver Optic
165—The Sailor Boy By Oliver Optic
To be published in August, 1926.
166—The Yankee Middy By Oliver Optic
167—Brave Old Salt By Oliver Optic
To be published in September, 1926.
168—Luck and Pluck By Horatio Alger, Jr.
169—Ragged Dick By Horatio Alger, Jr.
To be published in October, 1926.
170—Fame and Fortune By Horatio Alger, Jr.
171—Mark, the Match Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
To be published in November, 1926.
172—Rough and Ready By Horatio Alger, Jr.
173—Ben, the Luggage Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
To be published in December, 1926.
174—Rufus and Rose By Horatio Alger, Jr.
175—Fighting for Fortune By Roy Franklin
176—The Young Steel Worker By Frank H. MacDougal
Although literature is generally regarded as more or less of a luxury, there is such a thing as getting your money’s worth, and a little more, in the way of literature.
For seventy years the firm of STREET & SMITH has specialized in the publication of fiction. During all this time everything bearing our imprint represented good value for the money.
When, about thirty years ago, we began the publication of a series of paper bound books, which has since become world famous by the name of “The S & S Novel,” we did our best to publish the right sort of fiction. The sales of these books proved that we have succeeded in interesting and pleasing the American reading public.
There are over 1,800 different titles in our catalogue, and every title above reproach from every standpoint. The STREET & SMITH NOVEL has been rightly called the fiction of the masses.
Do not be deceived by books which look like the STREET & SMITH NOVELS but which are made like them only in looks. Insist upon having paper covered books bearing the imprint of STREET & SMITH, and so be sure of securing full value for your money.
STREET & SMITH CORPORATION
79 Seventh Avenue :: New York City