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´╗┐Title: The Mark of the Knife
Author: Ernst, Clayton H.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Mark of the Knife" ***

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                      THE MARK OF THE KNIFE

                       BY CLAYTON H. ERNST


WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHASE EMERSON

BOSTON
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
1920

_Copyright, 1920_,
By LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

_All rights reserved_

Published October, 1920

Norwood Press
Set up and electrotyped by J. S. Cushing Co.
Norwood, Mass., U. S. A.



[Illustration: IN THEIR EYES, FOR THE TIME BEING AT LEAST, IT SURPASSED
THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE.]



CONTENTS


I THE NEWCOMER

II A BLEMISH

III A PLAN AND A GAME

IV TWO VISITS AND A THEFT

V TEENY-BITS' CHANCE

VI DISCOVERIES

VII ON THE EVE OF THE STRUGGLE

VIII STRANGE CAPTORS

IX THE GREAT GAME

X AT LINCOLN HALL

XI MYSTERIES IN PART EXPLAINED

XII A VISIT TO CHUAN KAI'S

XIII DAYS OF PLEASURE

XIV A TALE OF THE FAR EAST



ILLUSTRATIONS


In their eyes, for the time being at least, it surpassed the battle of
the Marne

At the beginning of the final quarter Coach Murray sent in Teeny-bits to
take the place of White

Only three of them had a chance to reach the Ridgley player

From the foot of the slide they mounted slowly, tracing backward the
five double tracks



THE MARK OF THE KNIFE



CHAPTER I

THE NEWCOMER


Ridgley School, with its white buildings set comfortably among the
maples and the oaks that crown the flat top of the hill a mile to the
west of the village of Hamilton, attracts and holds the attention of all
eyes that fall upon it. Partly perhaps because the dormitories and the
recreation halls fit into the landscape and do not jut boldly and
crudely above the trees--as so many buildings on hilltops do--there is
an air of hominess and informality about the place which new visitors
generally notice and mention to Doctor Wells, its head.

But it is one thing to ride up to Ridgley School in an automobile from
the Hamilton Station with half a dozen other new Ridgleyites, some of
whom have already become your friends, and to get your first view of the
campus while cheerful voices are sounding in your ears, and quite
another thing to walk up the long winding road from the village alone
and to wonder as you come nearer and nearer to those neat white
buildings whether you will succeed in making any friends at all among
the fellows who have come up in the automobiles. Under those conditions
Ridgley School might seem cold and austere and full of unpleasant
possibilities.

That in fact was the situation of the newcomer who was walking swiftly
toward the white buildings one morning late in September. He was
entering upon an adventure that filled him with mingled excitement and
gloom--excitement because of the mystery of the new life opening before
him, gloom because of the necessity of giving up so much that had made
him happy in the past. He went directly to the office of the Head in the
building nearest the road and announced himself to Doctor Wells:

"I am Findley Holbrook."

Doctor Wells, whose face looked young in spite of the gray hair at his
temples, got up from his chair and shook hands gravely. "I'm glad to see
you, Findley," he said; "I hope you're going to like the school and that
the school will like you. We've assigned you to Gannett Hall; I'll have
one of the masters take you over and introduce you to the boys who've
already come. We don't do much to-day except get settled. Did you bring
your things?"

"My father is going to bring them up this noon," Findley replied. "I
thought I'd better come early to start in with the other fellows."

Doctor Wells put him in charge of Mr. Stevens, who took him over to
Gannett Hall, a three-story building with its ivy-covered front to the
campus and its back to the tennis courts. A dozen boys were standing on
the steps; they had been talking and laughing, but as the newcomer
approached them with the master, their voices died away and they paused
in their conversations. A black-haired boy, tall and heavily built,
immediately called out:

"Hello, Teeny-bits!"

The new boy recognized the one who had hailed him as Tracey Campbell,
who had been in the class above him in the public school at Greensboro.
"Teeny-bits" was the name by which Findley Holbrook had been known ever
since he could remember and to hear himself thus addressed brought to
him a momentarily pleasant feeling, even though Tracey Campbell had
never been a special friend of his. When Findley was younger he had been
so small that some one had called him "Teeny-bits" and the name had
stuck. At the public school in Greensboro, in the village of Hamilton,
in his home, every one called him Teeny-bits, and though the name did
not apply to him now as appropriately as it had applied when he was four
or five years younger, it still fitted him so well that no one
questioned it.

Mr. Stevens smiled as he heard it from Tracey Campbell's lips and
glanced at his young companion. A compact, slim body somewhat under the
average height for seventeen, square shoulders, a very youthful mouth,
eyes that seemed older than the rest of him and light brown, almost
tow-colored hair, were the characteristics of Teeny-bits Holbrook that
Mr. Stevens, the English master, saw. He said to himself that Teeny-bits
was an apt nickname.

There were other characteristics that Mr. Stevens did not see; one of
them revealed itself half an hour after the master had introduced
Teeny-bits to the members of the school who occupied the third-floor
rooms in Gannett Hall. The newcomer found himself possessed of a small
and plain, but comfortable room, in which a bed, a chest of drawers, a
table and two chairs were the chief articles of furniture. It looked out
on the tennis courts and commanded a view of Hamilton village with its
twin church spires sticking up through the trees like white spar-buoys
out of a green sea. It made Teeny-bits a little homesick to look down
there. His thoughts were quickly turned in other directions, however.
Several of the boys came into his room, led by a tall, over-grown fellow
who had been standing on the steps of the hall when Teeny-bits had
entered. He came in at the head of the others, grinning confidently as
if he were looking forward to something that would provide amusement.

"Friends," he said in the stagey sort of voice that a person might use
in talking to an audience, "meet Teeny-bits--that's his name."

The boys behind the leader smiled in a way that suggested something else
about to happen.

"Let me introduce myself," said the tall boy. "I'm Bassett, the Western
Whirlwind, manager of Terrible Turner, the fighting bear-cat."

All of the boys laughed or snickered, and Teeny-bits smiled expectantly.

"Here is Terrible Turner himself," said Bassett, laying his hand on the
shoulder of a pug-nosed lad whose freckled face wore a queer look of
combined insolence and friendliness. "For the honor of the school he
will wrestle you to test your mettle--he's a wrestler from way-back. Do
you accept the challenge?"

Teeny-bits looked at Terrible Turner and then at Bassett, the Whirlwind.

"No," he said, "I don't want to wrestle in these clothes."

"Take off your coat, then; we consider it an insult to the whole school
if you don't accept the challenge. Are you afraid of Terrible Turner?
He's no bigger than you are."

Teeny-bits saw that the freckle-faced boy was in fact no larger than he,
but he did not seem any the more inclined to accept the call to combat.

After waiting a moment, Bassett said in a taunting voice: "Friends, let
me introduce you to Teeny-bits, the quitter."

The words had an effect that the Western Whirlwind scarcely expected.
Teeny-bits solemnly pulled off his coat, laid it on the bed, and replied
to the challenge.

"I won't wrestle with Turner," he said. "He's younger than I am. I'll
wrestle with you."

The action that took place during the next few minutes was not quickly
forgotten by the members of Ridgley School who were fortunate enough to
witness it. In their eyes, for the time being at least, it surpassed the
battle of the Marne.

Bassett made a scornful reply to Teeny-bits' challenge and let escape
the remark that he wasn't a "baby-killer" and wouldn't wrestle any
"bantams."

The words were still in his mouth when Teeny-bits launched himself upon
him. There was a brief collision and with a mighty thump Bassett, the
Whirlwind, hit the floor flat on his back.

A mighty howl went up from the onlookers; it carried to the farthest
corners of Gannett Hall,--and there was such a note of pure enjoyment
and hilarious surprise in it that every son of Ridgley upon whose ears
it fell wasted no time in abandoning whatever was at hand and dashing
madly to the scene of combat. As Bassett struggled to his feet all the
roomers in Gannett Hall began to converge on Teeny-bits' room, and by
the time the Western Whirlwind had thrown off his coat and laid hold on
his opponent again, they were crowding in at the door and craning their
necks to get a view of the fracas.

Bassett's face was the color of a ripe tomato; he considered that he had
been caught off his guard, and the hilarious shout of his erstwhile
admiring audience caused chagrin, disgust and rage to sweep over him in
swift succession. He was mad clear through, and he meant to teach this
impudent young Teeny-bits a lesson. He was twenty-five pounds heavier
and half a head taller than the newcomer, and he had no other thought in
his mind than that he could quickly regain his prestige and wipe out his
disgrace,--and he meant to do it in no gentle manner. Teeny-bits should
hit the floor and hit it hard, and if the fall should shake the whole
building he would not care.

With a bull-like rush Bassett made for Teeny-bits, seized him with rough
hands and gave a heave that was intended to finish the bout in one
brilliant coup. But in some clever way his small opponent with quick
work of his hands secured the under holds and though Bassett lifted him
off the floor he clung on like a leech, found his feet after a second
and saved himself from going down. The Western Whirlwind wrenched and
twisted and heaved; he tugged with both hands, striving mightily to
"break the back" of his opponent, he grunted as he worked and left no
doubt in the minds of the howling audience that he meant to put an
effective finish on the combat. The wonder of the crowd was that
Teeny-bits did not immediately fall an easy victim. They gave him the
ready sympathy that is generally accorded to the under dog.

"Hold him off, Teeny-bits!"

"Don't let him get you!"

"That's the way!"

"Look out!"

"Trip him up!"

Those were the shouts that filled the room with pandemonium. One moment
the struggling pair were over against the wall, the next they bumped the
bed or knocked over a chair. Surprise showed on the face of Bassett; he
could not understand how this little chap was able to keep his feet. He
grunted more fiercely and tried to get a new grip, but Teeny-bits
squirmed and shifted and somehow saved himself. The Western Whirlwind
began to puff and wheeze; sweat came out on his forehead and his face
became redder than ever. Then for an instant he let up in his heaves as
if to take breath for a new and more furious attack.

It was a fatal pause. Until that moment Teeny-bits had been content to
cling on and make a defensive fight of it. Now suddenly he changed his
tactics to the offensive. By clever leg-work he got Bassett lurching
backward. He pressed home his advantage and while a shout of amazement
and delight rang in his ears, brought his big antagonist down to the
floor with a jar that made the windows rattle.

Bassett, the Whirlwind, lay on his back, half dazed with amazement and
feeling too weak to rise because most of the wind seemed to have been
knocked out of him. Once more, as of old, David had slain Goliath, and
the victor was receiving congratulations.

At that moment a boy larger than any who had been in the room pushed his
way through the crowd. "No fighting in the dormitory!" he cried. "What's
all this about?" And then he saw Bassett just rising weakly to a sitting
posture and observed the other boys slapping Teeny-bits on the back. He
gazed in doubt from one to the other and then said to the diminutive
conqueror: "Did you put this big lummux down?"

"You bet he did!" cried a dozen voices.

"Well, you did a mighty good job," he declared. "You're new here, but a
lot of these other fellows are not, and they know as well as I do that
we're not supposed to fight or have wrestling matches in the
dormitories. Get on your feet there, Bassett, and mind your own business
hereafter. I know well enough that you started this. You got just what
you deserved, didn't you!"

In an authoritative way that was confident without being "bossy" he
ordered the boys out of the room, and when the last of them had gone and
the sound of their joking remarks to the crestfallen Bassett was
receding, he said to Teeny-bits:

"You must be a whale of a scrapper for your size--and I'm mighty glad
you gave that fresh-mouthed Bassett a good lesson. But don't get into
any more trouble with him. You know we have a sort of self-government
here, and we can't be smashing up things in the dormitory. I room
downstairs in Number 26. Come in sometime soon."

Later in the day Teeny-bits learned that his visitor was Neil Durant,
pitcher on the baseball team, and captain of the football eleven. He was
dormitory leader, which meant that he represented Gannett Hall on the
self-government committee of the school. Turner, who gave Teeny-bits the
information, was only one of many boys who dropped in that day to see
the conqueror of Bassett, the Whirlwind. Turner--the same Terrible
Turner who had been willing enough for combat earlier in the
morning--confessed with a grin that he was pretty glad Teeny-bits hadn't
wrestled with him! "If I'd hit the floor as hard as Bassett did, I'd bet
my backbone would have been broken into forty pieces," he said. "Oh,
what a pippin of a thump!"

Teeny-bits liked Turner's frank, outspoken way. He made up his mind that
he liked him still better when Turner said:

"None of the fellows call me Terrible Turner, you know--that was just
some bunk that Bassett invented. They all call me Snubby--on account of
my nose, I guess."

That noon an incident occurred that some of the roomers in Gannett Hall
noticed: just before lunch Teeny-bits' trunk came. Mr. Holbrook brought
it up from the village in a buggy drawn by a sorrel horse and with
Teeny-bits' help carried it to the room on the third floor. Several of
the boys remembered seeing Mr. Holbrook in the Hamilton station and when
Teeny-bits introduced him as his father they suddenly realized that the
conqueror of Whirlwind Bassett and the bearer of the queer nickname was
the son of the station agent and a native of the little hamlet that
nestled at the foot of the hill.

Mr. Holbrook was white-haired and he walked with a slight limp that made
him seem old. He looked at Teeny-bits' new friends with a kindly twinkle
in his eyes and told them that they were all "lucky boys to go to such a
fine school" and advised them to "study hard so as to be smart men." If
he had not been Teeny-bits' father, they might have thought he was a
queer old duffer.

When Mr. Holbrook had said good-by to Teeny-bits he went over to Doctor
Wells' office and remained alone with the Head for half an hour. At the
end of that time he came out and drove the old sorrel horse through the
campus and down the hill toward the village. One or two of the boys who
saw him wondered what he had been talking about so long with the Head.

Old Daniel Holbrook with the limp and the white hair meant every word
that he had said about the boys being lucky to go to such a fine school,
but he meant it particularly in the case of Teeny-bits, whose situation
in life was entirely different from the situation of most of the other
Ridgleyites. They came to Ridgley from half the states in the
Union--from California and Ohio and the Carolinas and New York and New
England--they came well-equipped and carried themselves with a manner
that suggested the well-to-do homes they had left. Teeny-bits Holbrook
was there because he had won the scholarship that under the terms of the
endowment of the school was awarded each year to a public-school student
who lived within the confines of Sherburne County. Fennimore Ridgley,
whose coal mines had yielded the fortune with which he had founded the
school on the hill above the village of Hamilton, had been born and bred
in Sherburne County. He had long been lying in a peaceful grave with a
tall granite shaft above it, but each year one of the boys of Sherburne
County received a gift from him--the privilege of coming free of expense
to Ridgley. For two years Teeny-bits had been going to the high school
at Greensboro, covering the four miles on his bicycle morning and
afternoon. Then the unbelievable had happened: he had won the Ridgley
scholarship, and father and mother Holbrook, whose hearts were centered
on his future, received the news as a direct gift from Heaven. Their
pride in him made up for the loneliness of the house after he had gone.

The career of Teeny-bits at Ridgley was not to be without its incidents,
it seemed. He had been a roomer in Gannett Hall only ten days and the
feeling of newness had not worn off when the school was treated to a
sensation that caused no little talk and brought him into more
prominence than had the victory in the wrestling match.

On a Wednesday morning before breakfast a sheet of paper was found
tacked to the bulletin board that hung inside the door of the dormitory.
The message that it bore had been typed crudely as if the person who had
done it were a novice in the use of the typewriter. It consisted of two
straggling lines and the words were:

"Beware of Teeny-bits! Holbrook is not his name! He's ashamed to tell
the truth!"

Two dozen boys saw the paper and read the message before Snubby Turner
tore it down and carried it up to Teeny-bits' room. They told other boys
about it and no end of talk went round the school.

"This was on the bulletin board," said Snubby to Teeny-bits. "A lot of
the fellows wonder what the dickens it means."

"You're a good friend of mine, Snubby," said Teeny-bits, "and I'll tell
you what it means. I wonder if Bassett put it up--but I don't see how he
knew anything about me--unless Tracey Campbell told him. Tracey lives
over in Greensboro and went to public school with me."

"Bassett tags around after him like a tame sheep--I don't like either
one of them," said Snubby.

The story that Teeny-bits told his friend was the same story that Mr.
Holbrook had told Doctor Wells.

Teeny-bits had never known who his father and mother were--and yet his
mother, or at least the woman whom he believed to be his mother, lay
buried in the village cemetery. Her grave was marked with a plain slab
of marble in which was cut the brief inscription:

     "An unknown Mother. Died August 9th. 1903."

Teeny-bits remembered well the story of that tragic day as told him by
the man whom he had always fondly known as Dad,--old Dad Holbrook with
the white hair and the limp. On that long-ago day a train had crawled
slowly into the station at Hamilton. There was a hot box on one of the
cars, and while the train waited for the heated metal to cool, a woman
with a small child--a boy of about a year and a half--stepped down to
the track to find relief from the stifling air of the car. The Chicago
express had come hurtling down the track at fifty miles an hour. Warning
shouts had gone up, but the young woman had appeared oblivious of her
danger. Those who saw the tragedy were convinced that she was deaf. At
any rate every one agreed that she was unaware of the oncoming express
until too late. Then, sensing the danger or hearing at last the shriek
of the whistle behind her, she snatched up the child and tried to leap
to safety. The realization that she was too late must have come upon
her, for in the last fraction of a second she tossed the child to one
side. The express, grinding all its brakes in a vain endeavor to stop,
had instantly killed her. The baby escaped with a few scratches.

The matter of identifying the unfortunate mother had at first seemed not
too difficult, but a search of the bag that she had left in her seat in
the car revealed nothing that in any way offered a clue as to who she
was or whence she had come. Daniel Holbrook had attended to the burial
of the unknown mother and had taken the child home, thinking their
relatives would soon appear to claim him. But no one had ever come for
the boy and none of the notices that the Holbrooks had put in the
newspapers had brought a claimant. After a year the Holbrooks had
adopted the child and had put a stone over the unnamed grave in the
cemetery.

When Teeny-bits finished telling his story, Snubby Turner's eyes were
round with wonder. Instead of detracting from the prestige of
Teeny-bits, the story had the effect of enhancing it, and if the person
who put the paper on the bulletin board intended it to effect an injury,
his attempt defeated itself, for the true story of Teeny-bits rapidly
spread by word of mouth and, instead of bringing him into disrepute,
cast about him a certain air of mystery that caused the boys in other
dormitories to seek him out to make his acquaintance. Thus, through no
effort of his own, Teeny-bits Holbrook found himself somewhat of a
character at Ridgley School before he had been there two weeks.



CHAPTER II

A BLEMISH


In the middle of October Teeny-bits surprised every one by going out for
the football team. Even his most loyal friends thought that he had lost
his senses. The team was particularly heavy this year; the first-string
men were big, well-formed, aggressive players of the type of Neil
Durant, who weighed one hundred and sixty pounds with not an ounce of
fat, and who was quite as good a half-back, it was said, as many college
players. The most that Teeny-bits could hope for was a place on the
scrub, but that meant drudgery of the worst sort and a daily mauling
that was enough to take the courage out of larger boys than he.

"They'll make Hamburger steak out of you!" warned Snubby Turner. "You'd
better not do it."

"Good night, Teeny-bits! do you want to commit suicide!" said Fred
Harper. "I'll hang a wreath on your door."

But the first team did not put an end to Teeny-bits' career. They
laughed when the coach gave him a chance on the scrub one afternoon and
laughed harder when he at last got a chance to carry the ball and by
clever dodging succeeded in making a twenty-yard gain. He slipped out of
the grasp of Ned Stillson and nearly eluded big Tom Curwood, who covered
Teeny-bits so completely when he finally had him down that ball and
runner were almost completely out of sight.

"He's as slippery as an eel," said big Tom.

"And so small you can't see him," growled Ned Stillson.

After that the first team watched him like tomcats watching a mouse and
Teeny-bits got no chance to break away.

In the locker room after practice Mr. Murray, the coach, came over and
laid a friendly hand on his arm. "Keep it up," he said; "if you weighed
about twenty-five pounds more, by jingo, I believe you'd make the team."

The members of the eleven also were friendly and treated him as they
might have treated a mascot in whom they had great faith. In the
shower-bath room Neil Durant jumped out from under the cold spray and
shook the water from his lean, firmly-muscled body just as Teeny-bits
came in. The big half-back looked admiringly at the new candidate for
the scrub and said:

"Good work, Teeny-bits! You're the original bear-cat all right."

Teeny-bits grinned appreciatively as he stepped under the shower. Neil
stood near by, drying himself with a Turkish towel. As the smaller boy
turned this way and that under the spattering water the half-back looked
critically at his compact body and firm muscles. To be sure, Teeny-bits
was small, but he was shaped like a young god and modeled with perfect
symmetry. Something else, however, attracted Neil's attention.

"That's a peculiar mark you have on the back of your shoulder," he said,
as Teeny-bits turned off the water.

"It's a sort of birthmark, I guess," said Teeny-bits. "My trademark."

What Neil Durant referred to was a five inch, terra-cotta colored
blemish on Teeny-bits' smooth back. The shape of the mark was what made
it peculiar. It resembled strikingly a dagger-like knife with a tapering
blade and a thin handle. Once seen it was not likely to be forgotten.

In the same manner that the true story of Teeny-bits had spread through
the school after his unknown ill-wisher had tried to injure his name by
posting the notice on the Gannett Hall bulletin board, the news spread
from boy to boy that the conqueror of Bassett and the new candidate for
the scrub bore on the smooth skin of his shoulder a strange and
curiously formed mark, and during the days that immediately followed
Teeny-bits' first appearance on the football field, more than one
candidate for the team made it a point to be present in the shower-bath
room in order that he might cast seemingly casual glances at the unusual
mark. Some of the Ridgleyites were more open in their curiosity and did
not hesitate to question Teeny-bits, but they all received answers
similar to the one that Neil Durant had received. To Teeny-bits there
was nothing strange about the mark, for it had been there from the time
of his earliest memory and he had thought little more about it than he
had of the fact that he possessed hands and feet. Snubby Turner, whose
bump of curiosity was as big as a watermelon, lingered one night in
Teeny-bits' room while the new boy was undressing.

"I want to see that knife-thing on your back that I heard the fellows
talking about," said Snubby frankly. "Come over under the light so I can
get a good look. That _is_ queer--the hilt of the knife is curved a
little just the same on both sides. It looks to me as if somebody had
drawn it on your back--only the color doesn't look like a tattoo."

"Just a freak of nature," said Teeny-bits with a laugh. "I guess I was
born with it."

Sudden popularity has been the downfall of many a schoolboy and many a
man, but it did not seem to have any adverse effect on Teeny-bits
Holbrook.

"It rolls off him like water off a roof!" exclaimed Fred Harper, who was
one of the newcomer's greatest admirers. And so it seemed, for
Teeny-bits went about his work methodically and seemed entirely
unimpressed by the attentions of his numerous followers. He made time to
do his studying and did it well, but he was not what his classmates
called a "shark"; he had to work and work hard for what he got.

One morning during a class in English literature, Mr. Stevens asked
Bassett to tell what he knew about the writings of Walter Pater.

"Well," said Bassett, putting on a look of extreme intelligence, "he
wrote quite a while ago and he didn't succeed at first very much, but
toward the end he was more successful."

"Is that all you can tell me?" asked Mr. Stevens.

"Oh, no!" said Bassett with the manner of one whose knowledge has been
underrated. "He was quite a figure in his time and he wrote a lot of
stuff--I think it was----poetry."

"That's enough, Bassett," said Mr. Stevens. "Holbrook, can you tell me
anything about Walter Pater?"

"No, sir, I can't," said Teeny-bits.

"Thank you," said Mr. Stevens. "I'd rather have an honest answer than an
attempt to bluff!"

Every one in the room looked at Bassett, who scowled back at the smiles
of his classmates. "I didn't try to bluff, sir," he said to Mr. Stevens,
but the English master paid no attention to the denial and every one
knew that the self-styled "Whirlwind" had been guilty of treating the
truth as if it had been a rubber band.

The incident was small, but it increased the enmity that Bassett had for
Teeny-bits and added another score to those scores that he intended some
day to wipe out.

There were others in Ridgley School who bore Teeny-bits no
affection--one of them was Tracey Campbell, who had been the first to
hail the newcomer by his nickname. Tracey Campbell was a candidate for
the football team playing on the scrub; Coach Murray, it was said,
looked with favor upon him and was about to promote him to the first
eleven. But of late Mr. Murray had not paid so much attention to
Campbell; his interest, as far as the scrub was concerned, seemed to be
veering in another direction.

It may have been that Tracey Campbell had something in mind more than
merely playing a prank when he took it upon himself on a Wednesday night
to amuse some of the fellows who were lounging about the steps of the
dormitories.

Old Daniel Holbrook had driven up from the station, sitting erect in the
buggy behind Jed, the sorrel horse. His errand, as he had explained to
Ma Holbrook, was to see how Teeny-bits was "getting along." He arrived
at dusk and, after hitching the sorrel to a post outside Gannett Hall,
mounted the two flights of steps to Number 34. He found Teeny-bits just
beginning to study.

"Well, now, it does seem nice to see you," he said. "Your Ma and I've
been kind o' lonesome, and she allowed as how I ought to pay you a mite
of a call. I said as how she ought to come too, but I couldn't budge
her. She said wimmen folks weren't wanted around boardin' schools."

"It's great to see you," said Teeny-bits. "The fellows here have been
wonderful, but of course it isn't home, you know, and I've missed you
folks a lot. I wish Ma _had_ come; you tell her not to be so bashful
next time."

Old Daniel Holbrook smiled benignly. It pleased him to have Teeny-bits
so obviously glad to see him and so sincerely speaking of Ma and his
wish to see her.

"I suppose wimmin folks _are_ a trifle more timid than men folks about
putting themselves forred," he remarked, "but when it comes to
thoughtfulness you can't get 'em beat. Now take this box that she put
into my hands--I don't know but what I'm entering into a conspiracy to
break some of the rules of this school, but Ma just plain insisted that
I bring it along and I have a _faint_ suspicion that it contains
somethin' to eat. I seen her fussin' round the kitchen with choc'late
frosted cake and some other contraptions, and from the size of the
package I'd say she'd put most of 'em in. The question is: am I breakin'
any regalations if I leave it? Just say the word, and I'll take it back
home."

"Not on your life!" said Teeny-bits fervently. "You're not breaking any
rules, and believe me, whatever it is, it won't last very long. I've
some friends around here who would climb right through the transom if
they knew that there was anything like that in this room."

"That being the case," said the station master, "here she remains. I'll
put it on the table. Now tell me, how's things going?"

"It's so much better than I thought it would be," said Teeny-bits, "that
it hardly seems real. I want to tell you that there are some of the
finest fellows in the world in this dormitory, and the whole school is
just O. K."

While Daniel Holbrook, sitting back comfortably in Teeny-bits' spare
chair, listened to the newcomer's impressions of Ridgley School, a bit
of action was beginning to develop outside on the campus. Tracey
Campbell, strolling across to Gannett Hall with Bassett and three or
four other members of the school, who for one reason or another seemed
to find pleasure in the company of the two, came in sight of the sorrel
horse. There was no question that the station master's steed was
ungainly and that harnessed to the old-fashioned buggy he presented to
persons who were straining their eyes for the ludicrous a more or less
amusing spectacle. The evening was warm and Tracey Campbell had pulled
off his sweater. As he went by the sorrel horse he gave the garment a
snap which sent one of the sleeves flying against the animal's neck.
With a snort of surprise the horse lifted his head and danced backward a
step or two in a manner that called forth laughter from the group of
Ridgleyites.

"Whoa, Ebeneezer!" said Campbell. "Calm yourself," And then an idea came
to his mind. "Here's a chance for a little moonlight ride," he said.
"Who'll come along? We'll borrow this old nag for a few minutes and tour
the campus."

Bassett, who was ready for any excitement that offered itself, climbed
into the buggy after Campbell, while one of the other fellows untied the
hitch-rope.

"All right, we're off," said Tracey, lifting the whip from the socket
and snapping it vigorously.

Old Jed apparently wasn't accustomed to the sound or the feel of the
whip, for when Campbell touched his flank smartly he plunged forward and
began to trot around the driveway that circled the campus.

"Some racer!" said Bassett. "Can't you get any more speed out of him
than that? I'll show you how to drive him."

"No, you won't," said Campbell. "I can get as much speed out of him as
anybody can. I'll bet you that if you'll get out and run, I can beat you
round the campus."

"How much'll you bet?" asked Bassett.

"Oh, I'll bet you a good dinner," said Tracey.

"All right," said Bassett, and jumped over the side of the buggy.

By this time several members of the school who were passing through the
campus had paused and were watching the performance. Some one called
out: "Ready, get set, go!" and Bassett, who had never been much of a
runner, started out at a lumbering pace around the drive. Campbell
immediately brought the whip down heavily upon the sorrel's back, which
so surprised the horse that instead of dashing forward in pursuit of
Bassett, he did what he had never been known to do before,--put his head
down and made his heels rattle a vigorous protest against the
whiffletree and dashboard. Shouts of laughter rose louder and louder
over the campus, and dormitory windows were thrown up here and there
while the occupants of the rooms thrust out their heads to get a view of
what was going on.

"Get up, you bucking bronco!" yelled Campbell, and once more brought the
whip down on the sorrel. By this time, consternation and terror had
taken possession of old Jed; he suddenly abandoned his kicking and set
out at a gallop around the driveway. Campbell stood up like a Roman
charioteer and urged his steed on, but the lumbering Bassett had gained
too much of a start, and although the finish was close, the so-called
Whirlwind passed the steps of Gannett Hall while the sorrel was still a
length or two behind. Tracey Campbell braced himself firmly and jerked
back on the reins so roughly that the horse was brought to a sliding
stop.

"You win," he yelled to Bassett. "I'll buy the dinner."

Attracted by the commotion, Teeny-bits had thrust up the window of his
room, and old Daniel Holbrook had joined him in looking down upon the
scene. At first the station master had laughed a little and said:

"Some of your friends seem to be playing a few pranks on me."

But when he heard the noise of the whip and saw the horse jump with
fright and pain, his expression had changed and he had started down to
the campus. Teeny-bits followed close behind him; they had reached the
steps of Gannett Hall when the spectacular finish of the race occurred.
Tracey Campbell, seeing the owner of the horse, leaped out of the buggy
and said facetiously:

"I just borrowed this animule of yours for a minute. He's some _racer_,
I'll say."

"I'll say to you, young man," said Daniel Holbrook, "that that isn't any
way to treat a horse. I don't mind a mite having you borrow my rig, but
I _do_ mind having you abuse a dumb animal that hasn't any way to come
back at you."

Two or three of the boys in the crowd tittered, but most of them were
silent. They knew that the station master was right, and they were
ashamed that they had joined in the laughter. But Tracey Campbell still
seemed to take it as a joke; he looked at the station master with a grin
and said in a tone which suggested that he was imitating:

"He's blowin' and puffin' _a mite_, but I guess he ain't injured none,
and I reckon as how he'll pull through the crisis and amble you home if
you drive real calm."

Campbell's attitude and manner of speaking carried an open insult; it
stirred up in Teeny-bits a feeling of intense rage. A great desire came
over him to walk up to his rival for the football team and punch him in
the head. He started forward and said in a voice which trembled a little
in spite of him:

"When you speak to my father I want you"--

Teeny-bits did not finish what he had intended to say, for at that
moment Mr. Stevens came briskly up to the group and in no uncertain
tones demanded to know what was going on. Some one started to explain,
but only a few words had been said before the English master
instinctively, as it were, grasped the import of what had been
happening.

"Campbell," he said, "get up to your room and be quick about it! We've
had enough from you for to-night. And Mr. Holbrook, I'm sorry that there
has been any trouble. I hope it was merely thoughtlessness."

"No damage done, I guess," said the station master. "I don't like to see
young fellows misusing animals, but I suppose it was just a bit of high
jinks, so we'll forget all about it."

The old man's sportsmanship and generosity in this last remark won for
him the respect of the Ridgleyites who had remained on the scene, and
the result of the incident was to make them feel that Campbell had acted
with little or no decency.

Teeny-bits' first appearance on the football field and his rather
spectacular work had not been a mere "flash in the pan." He had gone out
every afternoon with the scrub, and the members of the first team had
learned that it was just as well to keep their eyes wide open and their
heads up when there was any likelihood that Teeny-bits would run with
the ball. In spite of their vigilance he succeeded nearly every
afternoon in making a gain that called attention to his ability to
squirm through a broken field.

He did not approach the skill of some of the first team members,
particularly Neil Durant, the captain, who regularly romped through the
scrub as if they were wooden Indians, but he did seem to have a natural
ability to dodge and to worm his way through opposing tacklers.

An incident occurred on the last Wednesday of October that had a
distinct influence on Teeny-bits' career. That day before practice Coach
Murray talked to the scrub in no mollycoddle terms.

"The first team isn't getting enough competition," he declared. "You
fellows on the scrub go to sleep and take a nap every afternoon; you
don't play the game with any heart; every time you see one of the
first-string backs charging through your line, you act as if you thought
you were a party of snails on a railroad track trying to tackle an
express train. There's nothing to be afraid of; if any of you expect to
be advanced to the first squad you'd better begin to acquire a little
ambition. We have a hard game Saturday with Wilton; I want to see you
chaps come back to life to-day and show me whether you are candidates
for a team or for a grave-yard."

The scrub tried hard; they charged low and fast and for ten minutes
prevented the first team from scoring; they even recovered the ball on a
fumble and in six rushes, in which Tracey Campbell figured largely,
carried the ball forward twenty yards to the middle of the field. Fred
Harper, the scrub quarter-back, then snapped the ball to Teeny-bits, who
eluded the opposing end, slipped out of the clutches of the left
half-back and was finally downed by Neil Durant ten yards from the first
team's goal line.

The scrub was within striking distance and Harper gave his signals with
nervous eagerness; he felt as if his life depended on seeing the ball
placed behind that goal line ten short yards away. But the first team
held solidly and then on the third try Tracey Campbell fumbled the ball.
Neil Durant picked it up and tucking it under his arm was off like a
grey-hound. Two of the scrub tackled him, but he shook them off and ran
on with every chance apparently of covering the length of the field for
a touchdown. Coming from the right was Teeny-bits, but at first no one
gave the new member of the scrub a thought, for Durant was a sprinter
and he was going down field at his best pace. To every one's surprise,
however, Teeny-bits held his position and gradually began to force
Durant nearer the side line. No one else was in the race. The captain
glanced sideways and saw who his pursuer was; he veered further toward
the left and concentrated on speed; still Teeny-bits held his own. Then
suddenly Durant, seeing that the side-line was dangerously close,
shifted direction and tried to pass his pursuer. But Teeny-bits was not
to be evaded; he gathered himself and plunged, and next moment the
captain of the big "team" was down at the fifteen-yard line with his
smaller opponent gripping him tightly around the shins. For the second
time Neil Durant had a word of approval for the younger boy.

"Good work!" he said. "You got me clean."

The scrub endeavored to live up to the pace that Teeny-bits had set, but
they had shot their bolt and the first team pushed the ball over in
three tries and scored two more touchdowns in the course of the next
fifteen minutes.

One result of the day's play was that the scrub received some
well-deserved praise; another was that Coach Murray called Teeny-bits
aside and said some words that sank in deeply and that seemed to the
newcomer at Ridgley to carry an import that presaged the realization of
one of his fondest hopes.

"Teeny-bits," said the coach. "I'm going to pull you up to the first
squad; you may not get a chance to play in many of the games, but I
think I can use you as a substitute back. That was a good tackle you
made and a good run, but you have a lot to learn yet. One thing is
change of pace when you carry the ball. If you sprint the way you do in
a track dash, the men against you have a good target for a swift tackle,
but if you keep something in reserve and turn it on just as you're about
to be tackled, you'll do better. Watch Durant; you can learn a lot from
him."

Teeny-bits walked on air on the way back to his room, but no one knew
it, for it was his way not to show elation in things that concerned
himself, and he told no one of his promotion, for he preferred to let
the news get abroad by other means. Neil Durant overtook him before he
reached the campus and walked with him to Gannett Hall. "You're always
springing surprises, aren't you, Teeny-bits?" said the big half-back
with a smile. "I didn't think you had so much speed."

"I don't believe I could do it again," said Teeny-bits deprecatingly.

"Of course you could," declared the captain. "Coach just told me you're
to join our squad. I'm glad; I'm counting on you to do big things."

Teeny-bits looked up at his companion and said to himself that one of
the biggest reasons why he wanted to do big things was to win the close
friendship of this hard-fighting, clean-playing "regular" at his side.
Aloud he said: "I'm going to try like thunder!"

When Coach Murray at the beginning of practice next day announced that
Holbrook was to leave the scrub and join the first squad there were
murmurs of approval that were joined in by nearly every one. The
exception was Tracey Campbell, who considered that Teeny-bits had been
unjustly promoted over his head. He determined to show up the newcomer
if the opportunity came, and it was noticeable in the practice that
afternoon, when Teeny-bits got a chance to play with the first team for
a few minutes, that Campbell made a tremendous effort to down the new
member of the squad with a crash.

Bassett was watching on the side lines and that evening he came round to
Campbell's room with a proposition.



CHAPTER III

A PLAN AND A GAME


Campbell and the Western Whirlwind had certain qualities in common; both
had ambitions to be "sporty." They shared an inclination for lurid
neckties, fancy socks and striped silk shirts; they believed themselves
wise as to the ways of the world, and each had been heard to express the
opinion that Ridgley School was a "slow old dump." Campbell was the
leader of the two--he dominated Bassett as a political boss dominates
his hench-men. One reason was that Bassett foresaw favors to be had at
the hands of Tracey Campbell.

Tracey's home was only eight miles away--just on the other side of
Greensboro--and within recent years his life had been greatly changed
through the fortunes of war. To many homes in the busy town of
Greensboro the struggle in Europe had brought privation and to some it
had brought tragedy, but to the Campbells it had brought prosperity.
Campbell, Senior, was a wholesale dealer in leather; he had caught the
market just right and, in the expressive words of his neighbors, had
made "a mountain of money." He had moved from his modest home in the
town and had built a pretentious house on a hillock two miles to the
west. Those of the townspeople who had been inside "the mansion"
declared that every chair and every picture on the wall was screaming
aloud, "He got rich quick! He got rich quick!"

Campbell, Senior, did not believe that the son of a man who had made a
million should remain in the public school, and so he had arranged to
have Tracey go to Ridgley. The younger Campbell had come to the school
on the hill with a certain feeling of superiority that was in no small
measure owing to his belief that his father was richer than the father
of any other fellow in sight.

Bassett had been brought up in a somewhat similar home; his father was a
promoter of mines and oil wells and had come naturally by a bombastic
manner which he had in turn passed on to his only son. The elder Bassett
was known behind his back as Blow-Hard Bassett, and it was said of him
that he owned more diamond stick-pins than any other man alive.

On the night after Teeny-bits had practiced for the first time with the
"big team", Bassett knocked on Campbell's locked door.

"Who is it?" demanded Campbell, and slipped the catch when he heard
Bassett's voice. As soon as the "Whirlwind" had stepped inside, Campbell
went over to the window and resumed the occupation in which he had been
engaged when Bassett had interrupted him. From the window sill he took a
smoldering cigarette and, holding it in his cupped hand so that the glow
could not be seen from outside, sucked in, and after a moment cautiously
blew the smoke out into the night air. Bassett watched him in silence
for a moment and then he said:

"They slipped something over on you, didn't they?"

"What can you expect?" was Campbell's reply. "But I can tell you
this--if I don't get a fair show pretty quick, I'm going to quit--and
I'll not only quit playing football, but I'll say good-by for a lifetime
to Ridgley School. I'm not going to be the goat much longer--you can bet
your gold pieces on that."

"You'd have been on the first team already if it hadn't been for
Teeny-bits," said Bassett.

"Some day I'm going to show that fellow up," said Campbell. "It makes me
sick the way the whole crowd falls for him."

"What are you going to do?"

"Well you watch and see!"

"Got any plan?"

"Not yet."

"I have--one that will work this time." Bassett looked at his friend
keenly and seeing that Campbell's face betrayed skepticism he prepared
himself mentally to exercise the same talents that had made his father,
Blow-Hard Bassett, a successful seller of mining stock.

       *       *       *       *       *

The game with Wilton, on the last Saturday in October, was the first
hard test of the season. The outcome of the struggle with Wilton had
always been taken at Ridgley as an indication of the probable result of
the game with Jefferson,--the final athletic event of the year and the
crisis of the football season. If Ridgley pushed back the sturdy Wilton
team and snatched victory from the wearers of the purple, then there
were reasonable grounds for hoping that three weeks later there would be
a bonfire on the campus and a midnight parade to celebrate a victory
over Jefferson, the ancient and honored foe of Ridgley. If, on the other
hand, Wilton showed an impertinent disregard for the best line that
Ridgley could assemble and carried their impertinence to such an extreme
as to romp home with the victory, the situation looked black as ink, and
the tense atmosphere that accompanies forlorn hopes took possession of
Ridgley School and penetrated not merely to the recitation halls, but
even, it was said, to the office of Doctor Wells, the head. In such
times there were mighty efforts to bolster up the spirit of the team, to
feed it concentrated football knowledge and to ward off by Herculean
effort the black shadow of defeat that raised its ugly head like a
thunder cloud pushing itself higher and higher over the white buildings
on the hill.

Before the Wilton game Coach Murray had a few words to say to the team
that made every member tingle with a desire to show what he could do.
When the whistle blew and the game began, Teeny-bits was sitting on the
side lines with the other substitutes.

Ridgley kicked off to Wilton, and immediately received a terrific
surprise. The pigskin went sailing through the air impelled by the heavy
boot of big Tom Curwood; it fell into the purple-covered arms of a rangy
Wilton half-back who, instead of running with the ball, immediately sent
away a long spiral punt that flew over the heads of the charging Ridgley
players. Neil Durant yelled out a quick warning and turned with his
team-mates.

Ned Stillson was nearest the ball when it struck the ground; he intended
to gather it up as it bounced, and then he meant to carry it far back
toward the Wilton goal, but his calculations went wrong. His
outstretched fingers touched the ball and almost grasped it, but the
pigskin oval slipped from him and next instant--to the horror of the
Ridgley watchers--was seized by a swift-footed son of Wilton who had
come tearing downfield as if some weird instinct had informed him that
Ned was to make the fatal error. Before any Ridgley player could
overtake him he was lying between the goal posts with a satisfied grin
on his features. The game was scarcely thirty seconds old and the score
was 6-0 in favor of the invaders! A moment later the Wilton captain
kicked an easy goal and the tally was seven.

Nor was that all of the misery in store for Ridgley; before the
timekeeper had signaled the end of the first quarter, another disaster
had occurred; and this time the element of luck, which might have been
said to enter somewhat at least into the scoring of the first touchdown,
played favorites no more with Wilton than with Ridgley. The home team
was outgeneraled. By a series of strong rushes the visitors carried the
ball sixty-five yards for a well-earned touchdown. The baffling thing
about their play was a sudden shift; the quarter-back began to shout his
numbers, then he yelled "Shift" and with a quick jump several members of
the Wilton team took new positions; almost instantly the pigskin was
snapped and before the Ridgley players had the Wilton runner down, the
ball was five or ten yards nearer their goal line. That had happened
again and again during Wilton's successful march to Ridgley's goal line.
Wilton scored near the corner of the field and failed to kick the goal.
The tally was 13-0.

The brief rest between the first and the second quarters was put to good
use by Neil Durant; he got his players together and so rallied their
spirits that in the second quarter they not only held their own, but
gradually pushed their opponents back and back until they were
threatening the line. But they did not quite succeed in scoring; with
thirty seconds more to play, Ridgley had the ball on Wilton's five-yard
line. It was first down. A rush through tackle failed and while the
Ridgley team was lining up for another try, the timekeeper's whistle
blew. The chance had been lost.

The third quarter started more auspiciously; two forward passes netted
Ridgley forty yards of gain. The ball was far within the enemy territory
again, but Wilton held, and on the fourth down Ned Stillson fell back
and made a successful drop kick.

During the rest of this quarter there was a good deal of seesawing back
and forth and neither side seemed to have the advantage, until Tom
Curwood recovered a fumble on the visitors' twenty-five-yard line. Again
the Wilton line held and again the Ridgley team scored by a drop kick.
This time it was Neil Durant's toe that sent the oval between the
uprights and over the cross-bar. The third quarter ended with the score
13-6, and Wilton's cheering section indulged in vociferous expressions
of glee.

At the beginning of the final quarter Coach Murray sent in Teeny-bits to
take the place of White, the left half-back, who was limping. The Wilton
players glanced at the substitute and exchanged looks of satisfaction;
the newcomer seemed too small to be dangerous. It was the first big game
that Teeny-bits had ever been in; he was quivering with eagerness to run
with the ball. But the opportunity did not seem to come; most of the
time Ridgley was on the defensive, fighting desperately to hold back the
Wilton plungers.

[Illustration: AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FINAL QUARTER COACH MURRAY SENT
IN TEENY-BITS TO TAKE THE PLACE OF WHITE.]

When Ridgley finally did get its chance the time was slipping swiftly
away, and hope was glimmering but faintly in the home stands. There was
to be one more sensation, however. The ball was Ridgley's on its own
twenty-five-yard line. Durant carried it forward ten yards, then Tom
Curwood plunged through for five more. Then Dean called on Teeny-bits.

"Twenty-seven, sixteen, eleven," he called out, and the ball came back
swiftly into his hands. Teeny-bits took it from Dean on the run and
began to circle the right end of the line; a gap opened for an instant;
he was through it like a rabbit diving through a hedge and with a thrill
dashed on. He did not mean to stop until the last whitewashed line was
behind him.

In front, the Wilton quarter-back was crouching tensely to intercept
him. Teeny-bits shifted direction to pass him, but the quarter-back was
not only wily, but swift; he was after Teeny-bits like a cat and began
to force him to run diagonally across the field. Two Wilton players
converged on Teeny-bits from the other side and one of them made a
desperate tackle. Teeny-bits used his straight arm to ward off the
attack and succeeded in slipping from the tackler's clutches, but the
fraction of a second that he lost opened an opportunity to the Wilton
quarter-back. Teeny-bits felt himself tackled heavily; he fell against
the player who had first tackled him and to his utter dismay felt the
ball knocked from his grasp and saw it go bounding over the ground. He
lay sprawling, so tangled with the Wilton players that for the moment he
could not rise. With horrified gaze he saw the leather oval roll free
and he felt the overwhelming shame of one who has failed to be equal to
the demands of a crisis. But his feeling of self-condemnation
immediately gave way to an entirely different emotion, for a swiftly
moving pair of legs incased in the Ridgley red and white came within the
range of his vision. He glanced up and saw that it was Neil Durant. Two
Wilton players were after the ball also, but the Ridgley captain was
before them; he scooped it up and ran swiftly down the field. While the
stands roared in a frenzy of delight, Neil crossed the goal line and
circled round till he placed the ball squarely behind the posts. Tom
Curwood kicked the goal, and two minutes later the game ended with the
ball in mid-field and the score 13-13.

"I'm glad you dropped that ball," said Durant, joining Teeny-bits as the
substitute half-back was walking off the field; "it came just right to
bounce up into my hands."

"It _was_ lucky," admitted the candidate, "but I was mighty ashamed of
myself."

"Well, it was a hard tackle," said Durant. "I don't blame you for
dropping the ball."

Teeny-bits was about to make a reply when he saw coming toward them a
white-haired man who walked with a limp. "There's Dad," he said, "I
didn't know he was coming to the game."

Old Daniel Holbrook approached them with a beaming face. "Well, well,
son!" he exclaimed, "I thought maybe you'd play, so I came to see the
game."

Teeny-bits introduced Durant and tried to smother a feeling of
embarrassment, the source of which he would not have cared to probe.

"Your ma, Teeny-bits, wants you should come down for Sunday dinner
to-morrow," said the station master, "and she's particular for you to
bring a friend. I've killed two young roosters and ma's fixin' 'em up
with the kind of stuffin' you like. Now if this friend of yours here
would like to come down with you I'll drive up and get both of you in
the morning after church. He looks as if he'd have a good appetite."

Teeny-bits expected to hear Neil Durant express courteous regret; he did
not for a moment think that the son of Major-General Durant and the most
popular member of Ridgley School would be interested in visiting the
humble Holbrook home. He was even a little ashamed that Dad Holbrook had
extended the invitation with so much genial assurance.

"I'll be mighty glad to come--if Teeny-bits wants me to," said Durant,
and Teeny-bits looked at him with such a queer expression of surprise
and pleasure that Neil added: "You didn't expect me to refuse an
invitation like that, did you?"

At the steps of the locker building Durant left them, and Teeny-bits
remained outside for a few minutes to talk to the station master. Then
he said good-by and went inside to take his shower.

He found his team-mates discussing the game in detail and bestowing
praise on Neil Durant.

"Well, cap'n, old scout," Ned Stillson was saying, as Teeny-bits came
clamping in, "you sure were Johnny-on-the-spot."

Though there was nothing in the words to signify actual criticism of any
one, Teeny-bits felt that the real meaning behind them was that when
some one else had failed, Durant had saved the day. That some one else
was himself, and, though the members of the team treated him as
cordially as ever, he had the unpleasant feeling that they looked upon
him now as one who had failed in a crisis, and he had to admit to
himself that their opinion--if they held it--was justly founded. He went
back to his room and for half an hour before supper sat by his window,
thinking deeply. The conclusion to which he came was this: if he ever
got another chance to run with the ball for Ridgley he would squeeze
that leather oval so hard that the thing would be in danger of bursting.
He resolved to make no apologies to Coach Murray, but to show by future
deeds that he could be trusted. When he went over to Lincoln Hall for
dinner he found the fellows at his table apparently unchanged in their
attitude toward him. They seemed to have forgotten that he had covered
himself with no glory.

While the soup was being disposed of some one who came in late brought a
bit of news that spread from table to table as if by magic. It seemed to
fly from one end of the room to the other and instantly it became the
topic of excited conversation. Everywhere it went it created looks of
dismay on the faces of the Ridgleyites, for there was a portentous
quality in it that boded bitter things for "the best school in the
world."

While Ridgley had been striving mightily to hold its own against Wilton
and had found its opponent so redoubtable that the tie score seemed to
be fully as much as it deserved--and perhaps a little more--Jefferson,
the big rival of Ridgley from time immemorial, had been winning the
laurels. Jefferson had trampled mercilessly upon Goodrich Academy and
with seeming ease had scored touchdown after touchdown. The final score
was 34-0 and herein lay the menace for Ridgley: only a week before,
Goodrich had defeated Wilton 7-0. If Goodrich were better than Wilton
and Wilton were as good as Ridgley, what chance did Ridgley stand
against Jefferson, which had apparently toyed with the Goodrich eleven
and scored at will? It was a problem that would seem to be answered
correctly only by three dismal words: None at all! A buzz of talk filled
the dining hall and every one knew that Ridgley was face to face with a
forlorn hope.

"Well, we'll have to fight," said Mr. Stevens, who sat at the head of
Teeny-bits' table, "and fight hard--it will never do to get
discouraged."

But discouragement is subtle; there was good need of something to
instill spirit into the Ridgley team, for in the days that followed,
rumors like the fables of old began to reach the school on the hill. It
was said that tacklers found it almost impossible to stop Norris, the
Jefferson full-back. Half a dozen colleges were begging him to bestow
honors upon them by making them his Alma Mater. He could run a hundred
yards in ten and one fifth seconds and he weighed one hundred and
seventy pounds stripped. In the Goodrich game time and again he had made
ten yards with two or more of the Goodrich players clinging to him as
unavailingly as Lilliputians clinging to a giant. No less fearsome tales
were told of Whipple, the Jefferson punter, and of Phillips and Burton,
the two ends.

The punter could send a wickedly twisting spiral sixty yards, and the
ends had an uncanny way of catching forward passes. Through the
newspapers, through word of mouth and by letters the news arrived,--and
it became increasingly disconcerting. Unless Ridgley wished to be
disgraced before the eyes of the world something must be done--and done
soon--to bolster up the team.



CHAPTER IV

TWO VISITS AND A THEFT


True to his word, old Daniel Holbrook drove his sorrel horse up to the
school at noon on Sunday and brought Neil Durant and Teeny-bits down to
the little white house that had been his home for thirty years. "Ma"
Holbrook was a motherly person, plump, gray-haired and smiling.

"I do hope you two are good and hungry," she said, after Teeny-bits had
introduced Neil. "We'll sit right down and keep sittin' till we're
full."

It came over Teeny-bits suddenly as he sat down at the oval table and
faced the familiar array of thick china, glassware and inexpensive
cutlery what a different life he had been leading for the past few
weeks, and he glanced at Neil to see what effect this homely air of
simplicity would have on the son of a major-general. But the football
captain showed by neither word nor sign that he noticed anything crude
or unfamiliar. Dad Holbrook whetted the carving knife briskly on a steel
sharpener and stood up to attack the two roosters. He heaped a bounteous
supply of white and dark meat and "stuffing" on each plate and passed it
to "Ma", who put on brown corn fritters and sweet potatoes baked with
sirup.

"I never saw anything look so good in my life," said Neil, and a moment
later he added: "Or taste so good, either."

Ma Holbrook beamed with pleasure, and said to herself that Teeny-bits'
friend was "real nice." Teeny-bits himself ate with relish and
enjoyment, and at the sight of Neil's contented manner of attacking the
food lost most of his feeling of uneasiness.

"Land of Goshen!" Ma suddenly exclaimed, "I forgot to bring on the
conserve!" And getting up hurriedly from the table she stepped quickly
out into the pantry. From that little room presently came the sound of a
creaking chair, and Teeny-bits knew that Ma was standing on the seat to
reach one of those richly laden jars that adorned the upper shelves, row
on row. There was the scrape of a spoon against glass and then Ma
Holbrook appeared in the door, bearing a dish full of a golden substance
that Teeny-bits recognized as her famous preserved watermelon. No one
had ever failed to become the slave of his appetite when confronted by
this masterpiece of Ma's handiwork, and Neil Durant, after putting one
mouthful to his lips, looked at Teeny-bits with such a blissful
expression that Teeny-bits felt all constraint and uneasiness slip
suddenly away.

"You can't beat it anywhere in _this_ world," he said with a smile.

It was an unpretentious sort of pleasure that Teeny-bits and his friend
shared that Sunday afternoon. When the meal was over they walked lazily
through the village to look at some of the old buildings that were
standing in Revolutionary days and then they came lazily back and Dad
Holbrook harnessed the sorrel horse and drove them up to Ridgley. Neil
Durant spoke sincerely when he said:

"I don't know when I've had such a good Sunday, and as for the dinner--I
could talk a week about it."

While Teeny-bits and the football captain were spending the afternoon in
Hamilton, two of their schoolmates, Campbell and Bassett, were using
their time, as it seemed to them, to no little advantage. Campbell had
telephoned to his mother and had persuaded her to send the family
automobile--a heavy, seven-passenger machine--to the school for him.

The chauffeur brought it to a stop in front of Gannett Hall at twelve
o'clock and Campbell had the satisfaction of ordering the driver to take
the rear seat and, with Bassett at his side, of piloting the big car out
of the campus. He went by the most roundabout way and cut the corners of
the gravel drives at a pace that was intended to make the Ridgleyites
who were lounging in the dormitory windows sit up and take notice. After
a spin out through Greensboro they arrived at the Campbell place in time
for dinner and Bassett had an opportunity to see the "got-rich-quick"
pictures and to eat from plates that were lavishly decorated in the best
style of the shops that cater to the tastes of those persons whose
family crest is the dollar sign. Bassett thought it was "grand and
gorgeous" and he made a mental note of several things that he intended
to have duplicated in his own home at the next available opportunity.

Campbell, Senior, was away on a business trip, but Mrs. Campbell
succeeded in making the dinner sufficiently impressive. She was a large
woman with a heavy, double chin and a high, somewhat whining voice which
she kept in constant use. Obviously she was much attached to Tracey, and
Bassett could see with half a glance that her son could, by using his
talents, persuade her to do almost anything for him.

"I suppose you two are great friends," she said to Bassett. "Every one
likes Tracey."

"Oh, yes, we go around together a lot," said the Whirlwind with his most
winning smile.

"And are you as athletic as Tracey is?" asked Mrs. Campbell.

"Well, you see, I've got flat feet," said Bassett in a tone that implied
that if he were not so afflicted he would be captain of all the major
sports in the school.

"You're on the first team now, I suppose, Tracey," said Mrs. Campbell.

"No," said Tracey, "they're still making me play with the scrub."

"Why?" demanded his mother, raising her shrill voice. "You told me two
weeks ago that the coach was going to promote you. What happened, will
you tell me?"

"They're not giving Tracey a fair show, Mrs. Campbell," declared
Bassett. "The coach has a few favorites and he can't see _anything_ that
any one else does."

Mrs. Campbell let her fork fall into her plate with a clatter. "I'm
going to see Doctor Wells about it!" she declared. "Such a condition is
perfectly shameful! Why, it's--it's----"

"Now, mother, don't do anything like that," warned Tracey. "You'd only
spoil what chances I've got."

"Well, if they can't treat you fairly, I'd rather have you leave the
school. Your father will have something to say about this when he comes
home. I don't doubt that he'll go right up there and make them stand
around a bit."

"By the time he gets home I'll be on the team," said Tracey.

In the afternoon Campbell and his satellite rode out into the country
without the chauffeur and Tracey took occasion to race any automobile
that would accept an obvious challenge. It was his particular delight to
drive alongside a car of one of the cheaper makes and to pretend that he
was doing his utmost to pass and in that way to lure the small-car owner
into competition. Sometimes he succeeded and after he had made his
victim believe that the big car was about to be vanquished he would step
hard on the accelerator and leave the scene of competition in a cloud of
dust. On such occasions Bassett felt called upon to turn and thumb his
nose at the crestfallen driver.

At dusk the pair came back to Greensboro for refreshment and Campbell
declared that he would take Bassett to a "regular place."

Greensboro was a bustling town in which there were department stores,
theaters and restaurants. The stores and theaters were closed, but the
restaurants were open, though Sunday business was dull. Campbell drove
the big car down a side street and stopped in front of a building that
was decorated with an Oriental sign announcing to the world that this
was the Eating Palace of Chuan Kai. "Here's where I feed you the dinner
I owe you," he said.

Tracey seemed to be well known to the Oriental managers of the
restaurant. Chuan Kai himself, a yellow Chinaman in American clothes,
greeted him in with a smile that showed his tusks; he directed the two
to a table set in a little booth that was decorated with panels showing
dragons and temples. Here Tracey and Bassett lolled back at ease, ate
chow mein and chop suey with mushrooms, drank tea from small cups
without handles and smoked till the air of the little booth was blue.

Chuan Kai stole softly in and out and occasionally glanced with
satisfaction at the two students. They were spending money freely and
the wily old Oriental knew that young Campbell would drop a fat tip into
his yellow palm when it so pleased him to leave the restaurant. Silently
the Chinese waiters in their slippers and loose trousers slipped in and
out of the mysterious regions where the strange food was prepared.
Tracey, displaying nonchalance for Bassett's benefit, declared that old
Chuan Kai kept "a dozen Chinks on the job", and that they all slept in
rooms directly above the restaurant. The persons who sat at the inlaid
tables and leaned heavily on their elbows as they scanned the
much-fingered menus were a nondescript lot--some the riff-raff of the
town who found it cheaper to eat at Kai's than to eat elsewhere, others,
more respectable in appearance, who doubtless had been drawn to the
place by curiosity.

"Do you really want to give him a good jolt?" said Bassett to Campbell.

"I told you I did."

"Then why not try my plan? I know it will work."

Bassett leaned forward and talked in low tones as if fearing to be
overheard, but there was no danger of that, for the other persons in the
restaurant were too much interested in their own affairs to eavesdrop on
two young fellows chatting in a booth.

At eight o'clock Campbell and Bassett sauntered out and Chuan Kai
received his fat tip. The big car rolled out to the "mansion" on the
hillock and, when the chauffeur had been found, sped to Ridgley School.
Five minutes before nine it discharged its burden at the doors of
Gannett Hall.

During the week that followed there was a frenzy of football talk in
every Ridgley dormitory. At chapel on Tuesday morning Doctor Wells
granted Neil Durant's request to speak to the school. The football
captain mounted the platform a little nervously, but he made a
straightforward speech in which he appealed for more candidates for the
scrub. "There are a good many likely-looking fellows in this school who
have never tried for the football team," he said. "It's late in the
season, but there's a chance for them now on the scrub and, if they show
any real ability, an opportunity with the team. We've got to do our best
to beat Jefferson this year and we can't afford to overlook good
material even now, so if you want to show your school spirit come down
to the field this afternoon."

The result of the speech and of numerous personal appeals was that a
dozen new players appeared with the scrub that afternoon; they were not
a remarkable addition in respect to quality, however, and after a couple
of days of looking them over Coach Murray remarked to Neil Durant that
he was afraid that none of them would "set the world on fire."

Those were days of feverish activity on the football field; the coach
drove the members of the first team for all they were worth and when he
thought they were in danger of being overworked from too much
scrimmaging he called them together in the locker building and gave them
blackboard talks. In the middle of the week he advanced Tracey Campbell
and Fred Harper to the first squad; he then began to test some new and
intricate formations.

Among the candidates who had responded to Neil Durant's appeal had been
Snubby Turner. Snubby succeeded Fred Harper as quarter-back of the scrub
and felt an immense elation which he intimated to Teeny-bits one
afternoon on the way back to the campus.

"Keep it up, Snubby," said Teeny-bits. "You're putting life into the
scrub."

"If I'll come up to your room to-night, will you give me a few pointers
about running with the ball?" asked Snubby as the two approached the
Gannett Hall steps.

"Come up right after supper and we'll talk for half an hour; then I'll
have to study," said Teeny-bits.

Snubby Turner came--but not to talk about football. He closed the door
softly behind him and looked at his friend with such a strange
expression on his freckled face that Teeny-bits said:

"What in the name of mud is the matter, Snubby?"

"Do you suppose there's any one in this school mean enough to steal?"
asked Turner. "When I went down to football practice to-day I left my
gold watch and a purse with twelve dollars in it in the top drawer of my
chiffonier. They're both gone!"

"Are you sure?" asked Teeny-bits.

"Yes, I am," declared Snubby. "Absolutely sure."



CHAPTER V

TEENY-BITS' CHANCE


Snubby Turner was not the only member of Ridgley School who lost
property during the days that preceded the game with Jefferson. His gold
watch and the twelve dollars that had mysteriously disappeared from his
chiffonier were the first to vanish, but they were quickly followed by
other bits of jewelry and money--not only from the Ridgleyites in
Gannett Hall but also from those in other dormitories.

Ned Stillson, over in Ames Hall, lost six dollars and a small
gold-handled penknife that a maiden aunt had given him; Fred Harper
reported the disappearance of a silver trophy of which he was
inordinately proud,--a graceful little model of a sailing boat which he
and his brother had won during a season of boat racing with their
twenty-footer. The actual value of the trophy, aside from its
sentimental value, was said to be thirty-six dollars.

In the case of Harper's loss there was an additional interest because of
the fact that Fred nearly succeeded--unwittingly--in discovering the
identity of the thief. His room was on the first floor of Gannett Hall,
and he remembered that on the Wednesday night when the theft occurred he
had left the window wide open at the time he went over to Lincoln Hall
for supper. He had gone from the table early and on arriving at the
dormitory had immediately entered his room. As he opened the door he saw
a dark form outlined in the window and it occurred to him that perhaps
one of his schoolmates was attempting to play a practical joke upon him.

"What's the idea?" he had said. "Why don't you come in the front door
like a human being?"

He had expected an answer in harmony with his question, but to his
surprise the person in the window had immediately scrambled out, jumped
down five feet to the ground and had lost no time in running out of
sight around the corner of the building. Fred Harper had peered out of
the window, still thinking that he had been the victim of a prank, and
had not noticed the loss of his silver sailing trophy until he had
turned on the electric lights and had seen that the place where it stood
on the mantelpiece was vacant. He had then dashed out of the dormitory
in the hope of intercepting the fugitive as he crossed the campus, but
no one was in sight except his schoolmates returning from Lincoln Hall.
To these he reported his loss, and a dozen of the Ridgleyites made a
hurried search of the campus; they investigated all the shaded corners
and unlighted doorways but found nothing that in any way offered a clew
to the identity of the mysterious thief.

Within a week a dozen other thefts had been reported, and no little talk
went the rounds of the school. Poor Jerry, the grizzled old-timer, who
for years had been general helper to Slocum, the head janitor, was an
object of suspicion in the eyes of some of the newcomers at Ridgley.
There was no doubt about it, Jerry did have a most fearsome cast of
features. Mr. Stevens, the English master, once remarked that he
looked like an "amiable murderer." It was an apt description. Jerry
had an expansive smile, but it was bestowed only upon those
Ridgleyites--masters and pupils--who, for some subtle reason, loomed
high in his esteem. All others he glowered upon with an expression
ferocious and uncompromising. It was said that Doctor Wells was head of
the school six months before he gained the reward of the smile that
Jerry bestowed on the elect. But Jerry's heart was in the right place,
and the older members of Ridgley School laughed to scorn the suggestion
that he had any connection with the thefts.

"I'd as soon suspect my own father as Jerry!" said Snubby Turner, "but
that gives me an idea."

What the idea was he revealed to no one except Jerry himself. For some
reason Jerry had taken a great liking to the genial Snubby, and when he
received a call from that young man down in his basement room, his
seamed features took on an expression that might have caused Mr. Stevens
to add the adjectives happy and harmless to the "amiable murderer."

"I have an idea, Jerry," said Snubby. "You know some one's been getting
away with a lot of valuable truck from the fellows' rooms. It would be
an awfully clever stunt to catch him. Why don't you snoop around and
find out who it is?"

"There's ijeers and ijeers," said Jerry. "I got my ijeers too. I ain't
got no need to snoop around. I got eyes an' ears as are uncommon good,
even though I been usin' the same ones for nigh on to seventy year. I
got my own ijeers as to who's sneak-thieving this school and bime-by
somebody's goin' to get ketched."

"What _are_ your ideas?" asked Snubby. "Do you know who's doing it?"

But old Jerry had no further enlightenment for his friend, even when
Snubby pressed him further. "I got eyes an' ears," said the old man,
"an' I got my ijeers too."

Doctor Wells referred to the mystery indirectly one morning at chapel.
"How foolish it is for any of us to believe that we can commit a wrong
and escape the penalty merely because no one sees us," he said. "Every
evil deed leaves its heaviest mark not on the _victim_ of it but on the
misguided person who performs it. Once in a while something happens at
our school that proves anew that old, old truth."

There was absolute silence in the hall; every one knew to what the head
was referring.

But other incidents of more stirring nature were under way at Ridgley
School. As the impending struggle for football honors with Jefferson
drew nearer, each day seemed to be more strongly charged with suspense
and excitement until the very air that wafted itself among the maples
and elms, which were now dropping their red and yellow leaves on the
campus, seemed electric with possibilities both glorious and disastrous.

Since the game with Wilton, Teeny-bits had practiced regularly with the
first squad and more than once had demonstrated that his ability to run
with the ball was above the average. White, whose place he had taken in
the Wilton game, recovered from his slightly sprained ankle, however,
and resumed his old position as left half-back. Teeny-bits continued to
be a substitute.

Tracey Campbell, who likewise had been promoted to the first team,
seemed to have regained the attention of Coach Murray. On the Saturday
that followed the tie game with Wilton, Ridgley journeyed to Springfield
to play Prescott Academy. Ridgley won the game by the score of 17 to 0,
but more than once had to fight to keep the light but active Prescott
team from scoring. Both Teeny-bits and Campbell played through the whole
fourth quarter and, to an impartial observer, might have seemed to
display a nearly equal ability. Five minutes before the end of the game,
however, Teeny-bits brought the spectators to their feet by catching a
punt and dodging through half the Prescott team for a gain of fifty-five
yards before the home quarter-back forced him over the side line. The
spectacular thing about the run was that Teeny-bits somehow wriggled and
squirmed out of the grasp of four Prescott players who successively had
at least a fair opportunity to tackle him. The play did not result in a
touchdown, for Prescott recovered the ball on an attempted forward pass
and the game soon came to an end.

Coach Murray seemed to be pretty well satisfied with the playing of the
Ridgley team. "What I liked best," he said on the way back, "was that
you played an intelligent game--you took advantage of your
opportunities--but let me add in a hurry that you will have to play
better and harder football than you've played yet when you meet
Jefferson."

On the same Saturday, Jefferson performed in a manner that brought no
encouragement to Ridgley. With Norris, the mighty full-back, leading the
team, Jefferson had "snowed under and buried", as one newspaper put it,
the lighter Dale School eleven, which previously had won some little
attention by its development of the open game, especially forward
passing. Against Jefferson, Dale seemed helpless. She was stopped before
she could get started; her players kept possession of the ball only for
brief moments, and as soon as it came again into the hands of the bigger
team another procession toward a touchdown started. The final score was
69-0, nine touchdowns and three drop kicks.

Of the nine touchdowns, Norris had made six, which was said to establish
a record for school games in the state. Three goals were missed.

At Ridgley the name of Norris became a thing of dread; the leader of the
Jefferson team had assumed the proportions of a Goliath.

"I'll bet Neil Durant can stop him," Fred Harper loyally declared to a
group on the steps of Gannett Hall. But there was no great assurance in
his voice and the answer that came back revealed the doubt that was in
every one's mind.

"He can if _any one_ can."

Teeny-bits was walking up from the locker building with Neil Durant
after practice when the captain surprised him by saying:

"I used to know Norris; we used to go to a day school in Washington
together."

"You did!" exclaimed Teeny-bits. "What was he like?"

"It was four or five years ago and we were young kids, but I remember
that Norris was gritty as the dickens; he used to play quarter-back
then; of course he's developed a lot since those days."

Somehow that little incident seemed to change Teeny-bits' state of mind
toward Norris; he had been unconsciously thinking of him as scarcely a
human being, rather as a super-athlete who was virtually invincible. He
began to develop a great desire to play against him, and then suddenly
something happened that seemed to make what had been a remote
possibility almost a certainty.

Ten days before the big game, during a scrimmage in front of the scrub's
goal line, White's weak ankle gave way sharply beneath him with the
result that the bone was cracked and White was out of the game for the
season. It was a heavy blow to the team; White had never been a
spectacular player, but by hard work he had earned the reputation of
being the "Old Reliable" of the team. Neil Durant and Ned Stillson were
better at running with the ball and played perhaps more brilliantly, but
White was steady and sure. His team-mates called him "a bear at
secondary defense." He had an uncanny way of guessing where a play was
coming through, and he made it his duty to plant himself in front of
it,--and to stop it. If he had had more of leadership in his
personality, he might have made as good a captain as Neil Durant made.

Coach Murray and Neil helped him off the field, plainly showing their
disappointment and sympathy.

"Two of you fellows help White over to the locker building and 'phone
for Doctor Peters to come down with his car," said the coach, addressing
a group of substitutes at the side lines.

Teeny-bits jumped forward, but the coach said:

"Let some one else do that, Teeny-bits. I want you out on the field."

Teeny-bits walked back to the scrimmage line with the captain and the
coach. A moment ago he had been a substitute; now suddenly he had become
a regular. The other members of the team had a word of encouragement for
him, but it was impossible for them to hide completely their belief that
a disaster had come upon the eleven. Teeny-bits was a good substitute,
they all acknowledged, but as a regular against such a team as
Jefferson, well, he was too light in spite of his quickness and grit.

After a quarter of an hour of practice, Coach Murray sent Teeny-bits
back to the side lines and called Tracey Campbell out. A few minutes
later he recalled Teeny-bits and put the team through a long signal
drill in which the new plays that he had been developing were practiced
again and again. Those two maneuvers on the part of the coach indicated
plainly enough that he had chosen Teeny-bits as regular left half-back
in the place of White and that he had selected Tracey Campbell as first
substitute.

At the end of practice Mr. Murray asked Neil and Teeny-bits to stay on
the field for a few minutes.

"Three or four weeks ago, Teeny-bits," said the coach, "I looked upon
you as an interesting possibility for the team next year. Now you've
landed on the eleven, and I'm sure you can make good. You're quick and
you've got a good eye for plays, but I want you to make up your mind
that you are going to show us something that you never thought you had
in you. I have an idea for a surprise play that I'm going to build
around you. It may prove to be pretty important in the game with
Jefferson. I want you to work on change of pace and shifting direction.
Neil has both better than you have, and we'll depend on him and Ned to
carry the ball a good part of the time; then if we can trust you to do
the rest, things will look hopeful as far as our offense goes."

For half an hour Neil went through a practice with Teeny-bits that was
intended to give the new member of the team greater flexibility as a
runner with the ball.

"You see," said Coach Murray, "it's like this: if a fellow runs straight
ahead with the ball he makes a clear target for the tackler--in other
words he's an 'easy mark.' But if he's shifty and is able to fool the
enemy by putting on a little extra steam at just the right moment or by
slowing down in such a way that the tackler doesn't know what to expect,
he has a tremendous advantage.

"Now suppose, for example, that the opposing end comes in swiftly toward
you when you have started for all you're worth around his territory. If
you have something in reserve which you can turn on just at the instant
he's reaching for you and if you rely furthermore on a good straight arm
to take care of him when he gets too close, the chances are that you'll
go through to open ground. When I was in college I remember two fellows
who came out for the team. One was the 'varsity sprinter and could cover
a hundred yards in ten flat. The other was a fellow of about the same
build who didn't have as much speed--I think the best he could do in the
century dash was eleven or eleven and a half--yet that first man failed
to make the team and the other fellow, who would have been left far
behind in a sprint, was a regular on the eleven for three years and
could always be relied upon to do his share in carrying the ball. He had
a way of running straight at a tackler and then shifting direction in
such a manner that you couldn't seem to bring him down. And then, of
course, he was clever in using the straight arm and he always ran with
high knee-action. When you tackled him it felt just as if you were
tackling a man with a dozen legs, all of which were going up and down
like the piston rod on a steam engine.

"Now you get down there in the middle of the field, Teeny-bits, and try
to pass Neil and me. See what you can do to keep us guessing and when
you use your straight arm remember to throw your hips; don't stand up
stiff like a wooden Indian target."

Teeny-bits followed directions and again and again came down upon the
coach and the captain, remembering their instructions to shift, to use
his straight arm, to dodge, to change his pace and to exercise every
stratagem that differentiates the skilful back-field runner from the
novice. He felt that he was learning real football and took each bit of
advice that was offered with an intense concentration.

"I wish you could have seen some movie pictures of one of the college
games that I saw last year," said Coach Murray. "It showed better than
any talk could show just what I mean by change of pace. The back that
made the greatest gains of any man on the field had an uncanny way of
eluding tacklers. The films showed how he did it. Again and again he
slowed down just before the opposing tackle reached him--when they were
running the film slowly it looked almost as if he stopped--and then,
when the tackler leaped forward to bring him down, that shifty runner
would slip around like a fox leaping away from a dog, and on he would
go, leaving the tackler sprawling on the ground. Now try it again!"

Teeny-bits put his whole soul into this practice and at the end of the
half-hour felt that he was making real headway.

"You're getting it great," said Neil Durant, as they walked back to the
campus together. "The coach is wonderful on helping a fellow; and you
can always be sure that what he says is exactly right. When he was in
college he made the All-American team two years in succession."

The game at the end of the week--the next to the last of the season--was
played in the midst of a steady drizzle on a muddy field. Dale School,
which had fallen such an easy victim to Jefferson, visited Ridgley and
went home defeated, 21-7. Coach Murray instructed the quarter-back to
use only straight plays--to reveal none of the strategy that he had been
drilling into the team during the past few weeks. Ridgley made three
touchdowns in the first two quarters, one each by Neil Durant, Ned
Stillson and Teeny-bits. At the beginning of the third quarter Mr.
Murray sent in one substitute after another until finally big Tom
Curwood and Teeny-bits were the only regulars left. Tracey Campbell then
took Teeny-bits' place.

With an entire team of substitutes on the field Ridgley was at first
able to hold her own against Dale, but presently the visiting team
seemed to see its opportunity and by persistent rushing crossed the
Ridgley goal line. Had it not been for the strong playing of Tracey
Campbell, the Dale team might have scored at least another goal;
Campbell was the main strength of the substitutes and again and again
stopped the rushes of the Dale regulars. There was no question about
Campbell's right to the place of first substitute back.

After the game, Coach Murray announced the probable line-up of the team
for the Jefferson contest. There were no surprises. Neil Durant, Ned
Stillson and Teeny-bits were to play in the back-field with Dean, the
regular quarter-back.

That week-end Tracey Campbell went home to the "mansion" on the hillock.
After the game with Dale he approached Neil Durant and invited the
captain to be his guest. He did not say that he was acting under orders
from his father. The elder Campbell was ambitious for his son to be
prominent, as befitted the scion of a man who had made a million. He had
written a letter to Tracey that week in which he had devoted two pages
to advice in the matter of "getting ahead." One of his bits of
instruction ran as follows:

     "There's one lesson you've got to learn right now--the lesson of
     politics. Every big man knows how to use his friends to help him
     along. Don't let the other fellow beat you out by getting the
     inside course. Get the _jump_ on him. Now this football business is
     just like any other business--you've got to use friends. I want you
     to ask that Durant fellow home over the week-end. He must have
     influence with the coach. Bring some others too, if you want to."

Campbell put his invitation as casually as he could. "The old man wants
me to bring some one home with me this week-end," he said. "Don't you
want to come? Thought we could go to a show in Greensboro and to-morrow
we'll tour around in the car."

Durant looked at Campbell keenly, but he showed neither surprise nor
indifference. "It's mighty good of you to ask me," said the captain,
"but I can't make it; I've got to study to-night, and to-morrow I think
I'd better stay at the school. Much obliged, though!"

"Sorry. Some other time will be just as good."

Campbell spoke in an off-hand manner, but his words did not express the
thoughts in his mind.

It was the faithful Bassett who finally went home with Campbell and
accompanied him to the theater in Greensboro. At dinner Bassett put in a
few words of praise for Tracey and phrased them in such a way that
without telling any actual falsehoods he gave the impression that the
game with Dale had been an important one and that Tracey had been
chiefly responsible for saving Ridgley from defeat.

Tracey took the compliments gracefully and even denied that he had done
_quite_ as much as Bassett asserted.

"You mustn't be _too_ modest, Tracey," declared Mrs. Campbell in her
shrill voice. "Take the credit that's _due_ you. I suppose this means
you've won the letter that you talk so much about."

"You know about as much football as a porcupine, Ma!" exclaimed Tracey.
"A fellow has to play in the Jefferson game to get his R."

"Well I'm glad you've proved that you've got the goods," declared
Campbell, senior. "If you do as well in the big game I might be
favorable toward giving you that racy runabout you've been nagging me to
buy you."



CHAPTER VI

DISCOVERIES


That third week in November at Ridgley School was like the home stretch
in a mile race. The finish was in sight and the victory could be lost or
won by what was about to take place. The Ridgley team was
trailing--every one admitted that--but by a magnificent burst of speed
it might yet come abreast of its rival--and might even snatch the
victory. Nothing is impossible; we can do it if we have the spirit: that
was the word on every one's lips--spirit not alone in the team but in
the heart of every son of Ridgley,--such a spirit through the whole
school that those eleven fellows in whom rested the entire hope of
several hundred should go on the field with the conviction that however
well the Jefferson team played, the Ridgley team would play better.

There were mass meetings at which Coach Murray and Neil Durant and
prominent members of the team spoke. All of them made the point that
victory depended on the spirit of the whole school as well as on the
team. At the meeting on Monday night in Lincoln Hall after Neil Durant
had spoken, some one in the crowd yelled, "We want Teeny-bits," and the
cry was instantly taken up by others until in the space of a few seconds
the whole hall was resounding to the concerted clamor for the smallest
and the newest member of the eleven.

There was some little delay, for Teeny-bits, surprised and dismayed, had
settled himself lower in his seat, hoping thereby to escape detection
until a demand had started for some other member of the team. But the
Ridgleyites who were sitting beside him yelled, "Here he is!" and Neil
Durant, perceiving him at last, leaped down from the platform and laid
hold on him with vigorous hands. In a second or two Teeny-bits was
standing up there facing the school with such a shout of greeting
ringing in his ears that his head swam a little. There was no room for
the slightest doubt that the sons of Ridgley liked this quiet,
unassuming, new member of the school and that they admired his manner of
saying little but doing much. The school would have excused Teeny-bits
if he had stammered a bit and sat down to cover his embarrassment, but
there was no need for excuses of any sort. Teeny-bits suddenly found
that he had something to say and he said it in a manner that brought the
already enthusiastic crowd to its feet.

"I want to tell you," he said, "that I'm glad Jefferson has such a good
team; every one says it's the best their school has ever produced.
That's something worthy to strive for--to beat their _best ever_--and I
know that every member of our team has his mind and heart and _soul_
made up to meet Jefferson more than halfway and to fight so hard for
Ridgley that when the game is over there'll be shouting and bonfires on
our hill."

That was all Teeny-bits said but he spoke with a manner that almost
brought tears to the eyes of those loyal sons of Ridgley whose faces
were turned up toward him where he stood in the bright lights of the
platform. A hoarse shout of confidence and satisfaction shook the hall.

Instead of jumping down and returning to his seat, Teeny-bits left the
platform by the back way and hurried out of the building by the rear
door. He wanted to be alone just then. The November night air was cool
on his flushed face and he strode swiftly toward his room, thinking of
all the things that had happened to him in the few short weeks since he
had come to Ridgley and of all the friends he had made. Never had he
seen the campus so deserted; every one was at the mass meeting, it
seemed. There were lights only in the entries of the dormitories. He
took a short cut across the tennis courts and approached Gannett Hall
from the rear.

When the grayish-white bulk of the building was only twenty-five yards
away, Teeny-bits heard a sudden sound that caused him to gaze upward.
What he saw instantly dispelled from his mind the pleasant thoughts in
which he had been absorbed. A window in the third story was open;
stretching downward from it was one of the fire-escape ropes with which
each room was equipped. Some one was letting himself downward by sitting
in the patent sling and allowing the rope to slide slowly through his
hands. Teeny-bits stepped behind one of the beech trees that grew close
to the building. While he watched, the person on the rope came down even
with the second story. There he paused, resting his feet on the ledge of
a window. In a moment he had raised the sash and had climbed inside.

Teeny-bits remained behind the tree, peering upward and wondering if he
had hit upon the solution of the mystery of the petty thefts. Inside the
room on the second floor a dim light shone for a moment and then went
out; the thief was using a flashlamp. Teeny-bits' first thought was to
notify some one in authority, but he quickly made up his mind that he
would do better to observe developments and to stay on watch until the
thief should come out.

Close to the wall of the building grew some shrubs which seemed to offer
a better vantage point from which to watch. Teeny-bits stepped quickly
among them and crouched down so that, as seen from above, the dark
shadow of his body would seem to be part of the shrubbery. Looking
upward he could see any object on the side of the building outlined
clearly against the starlit sky. Two or three minutes after he reached
this new place of concealment a foot was thrust out of the second story
window above him; some one climbed out and after closing the window
began to clamber swiftly upward, using his hands on the rope and his
feet against the wall.

Teeny-bits at once recognized the person who was performing this
suspicious-appearing bit of acrobatics but he was astounded by his
discovery. The person who was fast making his way upward, who even now
had reached the third story and was climbing into the open window, was
none other than Snubby Turner, the genial and innocent-appearing
quarter-back of the scrub team. In the first place it was almost
unbelievable that Snubby with his tremendous interest in the approaching
football game should be absent from the mass meeting; in the second
place it seemed even more incredible to Teeny-bits that this friend of
his should be guilty of stealing the property of his schoolmates.

The newcomer at Ridgley remained standing in the bushes as if frozen to
the spot. He was revolving in his mind many things: Snubby's seemingly
frank and happy manner, the fact that it was he who had first reported a
loss, his interest in the subsequent thefts. It seemed impossible; and
yet here was indisputable evidence that Snubby had chosen a moment when
the dormitory was deserted to break into one of the rooms.

Whose room was it, anyway? Teeny-bits, still looking upward, suddenly
realized that the room into which Snubby had broken was Tracey
Campbell's; confusing thoughts were still sweeping through his mind when
he became aware that some one who was stepping swiftly along the walk
that passed close behind the hall was almost upon him. Teeny-bits never
knew just why he followed the sudden impulse that came over him. His
first thought was that he did not want any one to see him standing there
in the shrubbery apparently without reason; he started to crouch, but
his quick movement caught the eye of the person who was passing. The
footfalls came to a sudden pause, and a voice, which Teeny-bits
recognized as that of Mr. Stevens, the English master, called out:

"Who's that?"

With a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, Teeny-bits stepped
out of the bushes and said:

"It's Findley Holbrook--" and then, as if for good measure, he added his
nickname--"Teeny-bits."

"What's up?" asked Mr. Stevens.

The question was put pleasantly, but Teeny-bits knew that behind it
there must be wonder and suspicion--yes, surely suspicion--for it was
not an ordinary circumstance to find a member of the school concealing
himself close to the rear windows of one of the dormitories when all the
rest of the school was absent at a mass meeting. For the life of him
Teeny-bits could think of nothing to say--he had made up his mind
instantly not to tell what he had seen--and there did not seem to be
anything else left. For seconds that seemed like hours he did not answer
Mr. Stevens' question and then he managed to get a few words across his
benumbed lips.

"It's nothing," he said. "I just--I'm--I was coming back from the mass
meeting."

Mr. Stevens looked at him keenly and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"What's the matter, Teeny-bits?" he asked, and the newcomer at Ridgley
knew from the very fact that the master addressed him by his nickname
that he expected a straightforward answer.

Teeny-bits looked at Mr. Stevens in dumb misery and said nothing.

"Can I help you?" asked Mr. Stevens.

"No," said Teeny-bits. "Thanks, but I'm just going up to my room; that's
all."

They walked round to the front of the hall together; Mr. Stevens said
nothing more, and Teeny-bits ran up to his room and sat down to think. A
few minutes before the impending struggle with Jefferson had filled his
mind so completely that there seemed to be room for nothing else; now
suddenly this other thing had come upon him and in an instant had
engulfed his mind. Circumstances had involved him in a situation from
which he would have given a year of his life to escape. He suddenly
realized that he valued his good name above everything else.

Doctor Wells had been away from Ridgley over the week-end, to make an
address in Philadelphia. He came back to the school Monday afternoon and
did not get an opportunity to attend to his mail until evening. One
letter that came to him contained a brief but surprising message. He
read it once and then again, and forgot the rest of his mail. He got up
from his desk chair and walking over to the window looked out into the
night. Voices came to him faintly,--the eager, confident, carefree
voices of youth. He knew that the boys were returning from the mass
meeting. He turned away from the window, drew down the shade and read
again the brief message.

It never took Doctor Wells long to make a decision; the course of action
he determined on now he quickly put into execution. He reached for the
telephone and in a moment was talking with Mr. Stevens, whose room was
situated in Gannett Hall.

"Mr. Stevens," he said, "I want you to go up to Holbrook's room and ask
him to come over here immediately. I'd like to have you stay with him
until he starts."

Teeny-bits was not greatly surprised when Mr. Stevens came into his room
a quarter of an hour after he had said good night to him. When any one
was in trouble Mr. Stevens had a way of dropping round to see how he
could help. Teeny-bits _was_ surprised, however, when the English master
delivered Doctor Wells' message. The first thought that came into his
mind was that Mr. Stevens had reported what he had seen and that Doctor
Wells was calling him to his office to request an explanation. Mr.
Stevens may have read his thought for he looked at Teeny-bits rather
searchingly and said:

"I don't know why Doctor Wells wants to see you; I haven't talked with
him since he returned except to answer the request that has just been
made. If you need me in any way, let me know."

That was the second time the English master had offered himself.

"I guess there isn't anything you can do," said Teeny-bits as he picked
up his hat and started out of the room. "I'll run over to the office and
see what Doctor Wells wants."

Teeny-bits' heart was pounding a little as he mounted the granite steps
of "The White House", as every one called Doctor Wells' home. It was
always an impressive thing to make a call on Doctor Wells--and one
calculated to make the blood run a little faster, whatever the errand.
There was something about this summons, moreover, that gave it an
unusual quality, and to Teeny-bits, who had passed through two
experiences that evening, it seemed to be a climax that held for him
vague and perhaps unpleasant possibilities. He rang the bell and was
ushered immediately into Doctor Wells' study where the soft lamplight,
the paintings on the walls and the garnet-colored rugs, which harmonized
with the mahogany furniture, gave an atmosphere of dignity and
refinement. One always carried himself with a certain feeling of awe--at
least every member of the school did--in Doctor Wells' office. But there
was no unpleasant formality in Doctor Wells' manner. He shook hands with
Teeny-bits cordially, asked him to sit down and came to the point
immediately.

"I received a letter in the mail to-day which has something to do with
you, Holbrook. I thought you'd better see it immediately. It isn't a
pleasant subject and I want you to tell me frankly what you know about
it."

He handed over a sheet of paper on which were three or four lines of
typewritten words. They were simple enough in their meaning, but
Teeny-bits had to read them twice before he completely grasped their
import. There were two sentences:

     Holbrook has the things that were stolen from the dormitories. He
     keeps them hidden under the floor in his closet.

Teeny-bits' face became red with anger and mortification; he looked
Doctor Wells squarely in the eyes and said:

"Whoever sent you this, sir, wrote a lie! He didn't dare to sign his
name!"

Doctor Wells never took his eyes from Teeny-bits' face, but the
expression in them underwent a slight change; it was as if he had been
looking for something that he greatly wanted to see--and suddenly had
seen it.

"I believe in you, Holbrook," he said. "And I want you to know that I
sympathize with you as I would with any one else against whose honesty a
cowardly assault has been made. One has to defend himself sturdily
against such underhand attacks. Have you any enemies who might try to
injure you in this way?"

"I don't know; I shouldn't think that any one in _this_ school would be
mean enough to do it. Doctor Wells, I want you to come over to my room
now, and let me prove that it's a lie."

"I'll be glad to," said the Head, "but we might as well wait a few
minutes until the lights-out bell rings. We don't need to advertise our
business to any of the fellows in Gannett Hall."

For fifteen minutes Teeny-bits sat in the study with Doctor Wells; he
never remembered in detail what they talked about, but he had a vague
memory that it concerned football and the game with Jefferson.

Gannett Hall was dark and quiet when the Head and the newcomer to the
school stole softly up the stairs and stopped at Number 34 on the third
floor. Teeny-bits unlocked the door, reached in to switch on the
electric lights and stood aside to let Doctor Wells enter first. He
followed and led the way directly to the closet where he kept his
clothes. Swinging open the door he looked down.

At first glance it seemed that the boards were not in any way disturbed
from their normal appearance, and Teeny-bits was about to speak when his
eyes fell on a groove at the point where the ends of two boards came
together. He had not for an instant supposed that he and Doctor Wells
would discover anything in the closet, but now suddenly a great fear
came over him.

"There's a mark on this board," he said, getting down closer, "and the
nails have been pulled out."

A minute or two later Teeny-bits and Doctor Wells had pried up the loose
boards with a heavy paper-knife from Teeny-bits' table and were gazing
down at a small pile of loot which consisted of the objects that various
members of the school had reported as lost. It included Fred Harper's
silver sailing trophy, Ned Stillson's gold knife, Snubby Turner's watch
and ten or a dozen other trinkets. Teeny-bits felt stunned. Doctor Wells
had picked out the articles one after another before Teeny-bits found
his voice. Then he said:

"I don't know what you think, Doctor Wells, but the honest truth is that
I didn't know a thing about this. I can't even guess--"

He could say no more; his voice broke a little and he felt as if he were
half a dozen years younger and about to cry in little-boy manner.

"Teeny-bits," said Doctor Wells--it was the second time that night that
Findley Holbrook had been thus addressed by a person in authority at
Ridgley--"I've said once that I believe in you; this doesn't shake my
confidence in your honesty. I'll take charge of these things; I think
you'd better go to bed now and let me see what I can do to solve the
problem. I'll borrow this empty laundry bag."

After Doctor Wells had gone, Teeny-bits undressed and got into bed, but
for hours he did not fall asleep. He kept thinking of Snubby Turner
climbing down the fire escape. Could it be possible that the genial
Snubby was guilty of stealing from his friends, of professing to have
lost property himself and finally of attempting to throw the blame on
another? It seemed unbelievable. But why had Snubby stayed away from the
mass meeting except to break into the rooms of his classmates? It was
all too confusing. Teeny-bits could evolve no satisfactory explanation.
At two or three in the morning he fell into a troubled sleep during
which he dreamed that he was playing in the Jefferson game and that the
stands were yelling in a tremendous chorus:

"He's a _thief_; he's a _thief_!"



CHAPTER VII

ON THE EVE OF THE STRUGGLE


On the morning after the discovery of the loot hidden under the floor of
the closet at 34 Gannett Hall Teeny-bits awoke with the feeling that he
had been experiencing a nightmare in which disaster and unhappiness had
fastened a death-like clutch upon him. It scarcely seemed possible that
those events with which the evening had been crowded were real.

The speech at the mass meeting, the discovery of Snubby Turner sliding
down the side of the fire rope and breaking into Campbell's room, the
incident with Mr. Stevens, the summons to Doctor Wells' office, the
visit to Gannett Hall and the astounding secret that revealed itself
when the boards of the closet were lifted,--all those events seemed like
strange imaginings. Teeny-bits jumped from bed and opened the door of
the closet. The little marks that he and Doctor Wells had made with the
paper-knife were sufficient evidence to bring back the reality of each
incident and to plunge Teeny-bits into a gloomy perplexity from which
not even the crisp brightness of the November day or the prospect of the
Jefferson game could divert his mind.

The worst of it was that there seemed to be nothing that he could do
except await developments; he thought of going to Snubby Turner and
demanding an explanation of the part that Snubby had played in breaking
into Tracey Campbell's room, but he could not bring himself to make what
would be nothing less than a serious accusation of his friend. He
determined to wait.

Throughout the day it seemed to Teeny-bits that he was leading two
lives,--the one absorbed in the personal problem that had been thrust
upon him, the other concerned with the mechanical performance of the
various duties that came his way. He attended classes, ate his meals and
took part in the regular football practice, but his mind was elsewhere.

Coach Murray was the first to notice that everything was not quite
right. When the practice was two thirds over he spoke to Teeny-bits.

"Aren't you feeling fit?" he asked.

"I'm all right," replied the half-back.

"I'm afraid you've been working a little too hard," said the coach.
"We'll call that enough for you to-day."

Doctor Wells had a habit of conferring with Mr. Stevens in matters that
concerned his personal relationship with the members of the school. He
had a great respect for the English master's understanding of character.
On Tuesday morning he summoned Mr. Stevens to his office and put a blunt
question.

"What do you think of Holbrook--Teeny-bits, as they call him?"

"Why, I've always liked him," said Mr. Stevens.

"Are you quite sure of him?"

For an instant Mr. Stevens did not answer, and then he said quickly:
"Yes, I----, oh, I'm sure he's all right. In fact, I've considered him
as the same type--though, of course, with a different background--as
Neil Durant; and you know what I think of Neil."

If Doctor Wells had noticed the slight pause which preceded the English
master's reply, he gave no sign. "I agree with you," he declared. "But I
want to tell you about a puzzling incident that happened last night."

Briefly, but omitting no important detail, Doctor Wells told Mr. Stevens
of the unsigned letter that accused Teeny-bits, of his conference with
the newcomer and of the visit to Gannett Hall. When the Head described
the discovery of the stolen property beneath the floor of Teeny-bits'
closet, the expression on Mr. Stevens' face changed.

"You actually found those things in his room!" exclaimed the English
master. He was sitting in the same chair in which Teeny-bits had sat
just twelve hours before.

Doctor Wells, sitting opposite, smiled slightly at the surprise in Mr.
Stevens' voice; he had heard just such a quality of surprise mingled
with indignation in the voice of Teeny-bits.

"It astonishes you as much as it did me," said the Head. "What do you
think of it?"

Mr. Stevens sat and looked into the fire and did not answer the
question. The room became so quiet that the clock on the mantel seemed
to raise its voice,--as if suddenly it had become animate and wished to
make itself heard. It ticked out a full minute and sixty seconds more
and then--as it were--became silent, for the voice of the English master
drowned it out.

"That put a real problem up to me," he said. "I didn't know at first
what to do, but I think I see clearly now. Something happened last
night--something I couldn't quite explain; I've been puzzling over it.
Unless I were sure--well sure that you know just what weight to give to
outward appearances, I shouldn't tell you this; everything considered,
however, I think you ought to know it. The incident happened last night
only a few minutes before you asked me to send Holbrook over to you."

While Doctor Wells listened with an intentness that was revealed by the
lines of his contracted brows, Mr. Stevens described how he had found
Teeny-bits crouching in the shrubbery behind Gannett Hall and mentioned
the newcomer's confusion at being discovered.

"I've always believed that character inevitably expresses itself in a
person's face," said Doctor Wells, "and I have come gradually into the
conviction that I can read faces. I _thought_ I had made no mistake in
this case--and I think so still. But they say there _are_ exceptions to
the general rule. I don't know--well, for the present, the only thing to
do is to wait. Time is a great revealer of secrets."

On Wednesday and Thursday the Ridgley football team went through light
signal practice which was intended, as Coach Murray said, to "oil the
machinery" and "polish off the rough spots." Thursday afternoon the
whole school marched down to the field to watch the practice and to test
their cheering and their songs.

At dark when the team was in the locker building Coach Murray announced
that there would be no practice on Friday. "I want you to _forget
football_ from now until Saturday," he said. "Imagine that no such game
ever existed. To-morrow, go on a little walk somewhere or take it easy
in any way you like, but don't bother your brains with any football
thinking."

On Friday afternoon Tracey Campbell, at the suggestion of Bassett,
decided to "forget football" by taking a little tour in his father's
automobile. Tracey telephoned home, discovered that the elder Campbell
was out of town, and had little difficulty in persuading his mother to
send the chauffeur over to Ridgley with the car. Tracey suggested that
he might take along one or two members of the football team, but Bassett
made a remark or two that caused the substitute back to change his mind.
After driving to the "mansion" and leaving the chauffeur, Tracey and
Bassett rode out into the country and came back by the way of
Greensboro. Their conversation had been none too pleasant, for there
were certain things between them that furnished grounds for differences
of opinion. But Bassett was clever--more clever than most of the members
of Ridgley School believed him to be--and he had a way of putting his
finger on weak spots and causing irritation that resulted in action. As
on two previous occasions, the pair stopped at Chuan Kai's Oriental
Eating Palace, and there Bassett gave voice to what he considered as a
finality.

"Well," he said, "if Teeny-bits weren't on hand for the game, of course
you'd play in his place, as you deserve to, and then you'd get your
letter and the runabout."

"Well, he'll be there, so don't worry yourself about that," said
Campbell. "He's on the inside and nothing you can do--got a match? I'm
going to smoke."

"Didn't you tell me one time that Chuan Kai had a regular den upstairs
where no one ever went--except the Chinks?"

"I guess so," said Tracey.

"The trouble with _you_," was Bassett's next remark, "is that you can't
see a real chance when it's right in front of your nose. Now listen, and
I'll tell you something."

The result of the conversation that went on between Bassett and Campbell
during the next quarter of an hour was that Campbell finally got up from
the table and said:

"We'll talk to Chuan Kai."

As an outcome of what passed between the two members of Ridgley School
and Chuan Kai, an agreement was made which involved the payment of a
certain amount of money. Chuan Kai counted the bills and slipped them
out of sight within the folds of his loose-fitting coat. He had more
than one reason for undertaking to help these two young members of the
white race; they had money which moved from their pockets to his pockets
and they had promised him more; the owner of the building in which Chuan
Kai had established the business of the Oriental Eating Palace was
Campbell, the leather dealer. Third reason, and greatest in the Chinese
mind, was the fact that years ago, but not so long but that the memory
of it was as vivid as a lightning flash on a black night, Campbell--who
had not been above turning his hand to various undertakings that, though
murky of purpose, were productive in returns--had circumvented certain
laws that prevented a yellow man from gaining entrance to the land of
the Americans. The father of this youth held Chuan Kai in the hollow of
his hand, and Chuan Kai knew that a few words spoken to the
enforcers-of-law would send him away from these shores, where living
came so easily, back to China where stalked a specter which he had
reason to fear with the fear of one whose heart trembles like the heart
of a field mouse that hears the cry of the long-taloned owl. Those
reasons trooped through the Oriental's mind as his black eyes shifted
from the face of Campbell to the face of Bassett.

"You understand," said Bassett. "It's an initiation for one of our
school societies and it must be always a secret--never tell any one we
had anything to do with it. You understand?"

Yes, Chuan Kai understood; he knew English and he knew well enough what
societies were; this he imagined was a "play" society, the kind with
which young Americans amused themselves, quite unlike some societies he
knew about.

Chuan Kai called out suddenly two words that sounded to Bassett and
Campbell like "_Ka-wah changsee_", and within twenty seconds one of the
Chinese waiters stood in the doorway with an expectant look in his eyes.
More words of Chinese like pebbles rattling over stones and falling into
water flowed from the singsong lips of Chuan Kai. The waiter went away
and came back with a broad-shouldered Chinaman whose sleeves were rolled
up, revealing sinewy yellow muscles. Campbell and Bassett guessed that
he came from the kitchen where he had been cutting meat, for his hands
were red and the apron he wore was stained. Chuan Kai spoke to these two
hench-men at some length; they replied in guttural syllables that
signified understanding.

A little after dark, on that same Friday evening, Teeny-bits came back
from supper at Lincoln Hall and went up to his room. He had taken a walk
with Neil Durant and Ned Stillson and had made up his mind that he would
go to bed early and keep his thoughts away from the things that were
troubling him. He had started to undress and had removed his shirt and
collar, when some one shouted up from below:

"Oh, Teeny-bits, you're wanted on the telephone."

Teeny-bits pulled on a sweater and went downstairs. In answer to his
inquiry he heard a voice--an unnaturally gruff voice, he remembered
afterwards--telling him startling news. His father, old Daniel Holbrook,
had been hurt--a train had struck him at the station--Teeny-bits was
wanted at home at once.

Waiting to hear no more, he hung up the receiver and without pausing to
tell any one where he was going, hurried out of Gannett Hall and ran
across the campus toward the hill-road that led down to the village of
Hamilton a mile away. He had covered half the distance when he saw an
automobile just ahead of him standing beside the road. As he approached,
he noticed that, though the lights were out, the engine was running; he
determined to explain the emergency and ask for a ride to the village.
He never made the request, however, for as he came abreast of the car he
heard a sharp whistle close beside him and was suddenly assailed by two
dark figures that sprang upon him and, almost before he could struggle,
bore him to the ground.

Teeny-bits had been in many a rough-and-tumble wrestling match and was
able to take care of himself in competition with any ordinary opponent,
even when weight was against him; he struggled desperately, but within
the space of a very few seconds he realized that he was helpless. At the
first onslaught something that felt like a voluminous cloth had been
thrown over his head and he found himself enveloped in its folds; he
tried to cry out for help, but his voice was muffled and ineffective.
Though unable to see his assailants, he kicked and struck out with
desperation, but all to no avail. His feet were brought together and
fastened with the same material that covered his head and pinioned his
arms to his body. In a moment he felt himself raised from the ground and
realized that he was being lifted into the automobile. Hands fumbled at
the cloth about his head, tightening the folds over his mouth and eyes,
loosening the folds over his nose so that, though he could neither see
nor talk, he could breathe without difficulty.

The whole attack had been carried out swiftly, and it was so entirely
different from anything that Teeny-bits had experienced that he felt
dazed and bewildered. The automobile was moving rapidly now, as he could
tell by its tremulous motion and its frequent lurches. No sound that
would aid him in identifying his assailants came to his ears, however,
and he could only helplessly await the next development. A cautious
tightening of his muscles convinced him quickly that it was of no use
whatever to strain against his bonds. Whoever these men were who had
bound him in so strange a manner, they had done their work well. Minutes
passed, and still the automobile rolled on swiftly; whither it was
carrying him--north or south or east or west--Teeny-bits had no way of
knowing. Finally it began to move more slowly and after a few moments
vibrated as if passing over cobble-stones.

Teeny-bits knew instantly when it came to a stop, for the vibrations
ceased. Only a moment passed before he felt himself lifted by two pairs
of hands and a moment later realized by the sound and the motion that he
was being carried up a long flight of steps. He heard a door open and
shut and he sniffed a strange odor; food cooking and smoke, it seemed to
suggest, but strange food and strange smoke. Another flight of steps was
mounted, another door was opened, and Teeny-bits felt himself deposited
upon something that seemed like a mattress. He tried to speak, to ask
where he was and what his captors intended, but only muffled mumblings
came from his lips. He heard the door close and knew that he was alone.
A feeling of despair, the equal of which he had never experienced, swept
over him; he was in the power of nameless enemies whose purposes were
unknown and perhaps sinister.

For a long while Teeny-bits lay in dumb misery, while one dismal thought
after another marched through his mind. On the eve of the big game--the
game in which for long weeks his hopes had been fastened, first with
interest and then with an almost feverish anticipation--he had been
mysteriously spirited away. Now he would not even witness the great
struggle between his school and its ancient rival--to say nothing of
playing and winning his R. But there were other thoughts. What of his
father,--old Daniel Holbrook? Teeny-bits now suspected that the
telephone summons was part of a plan to entice him away from the school,
but, of course, there was a possibility that an accident had occurred
and that even now Daniel Holbrook was hovering between life and death,
and wondering why Teeny-bits did not come to him. There was still
another thought: circumstances had cast about him a cloud of suspicion
which was evident to two persons whose respect he wished to
retain,--Doctor Wells and Mr. Stevens. What would their feeling toward
him be when they learned that he had disappeared from the school without
saying a word to any one? They could arrive at only one conclusion: that
he was guilty of stealing from his schoolmates and that, fearing to face
the charges against him, he had run away like a coward. If the worst
should happen--if he should not come out alive from the predicament in
which he now found himself--his name would be remembered forever as that
of one who had neither honor nor courage.

Those thoughts seemed to Teeny-bits more than he could bear, and
suddenly a feeling of bitter rage welled up within him against the
unknown enemy who had caused him all this misery. He could not believe
that Snubby Turner had anything to do with it. The only persons in
Ridgley School whom he had reason to suspect were Bassett and Tracey
Campbell. He made up his mind that if he ever escaped from his present
predicament he would go straight to those two members of Ridgley School
and ask them point-blank if they were at the bottom of his troubles. If
they could not come forth with an answer that rang true, he would give
them both a thrashing that they would never forget. He would welcome a
chance to meet them singly or as a pair. He began to struggle at his
bonds and was soon dripping with perspiration from his efforts. After a
time he saw the uselessness of it and, almost exhausted, lay breathing
deeply the close atmosphere of the room.

The night before the "big game" at Ridgley School resembled the lull
before a storm; word had been passed as usual that the dormitories were
to be quiet and members of the school were to keep away from the rooms
of the football players, who, of course, needed, on this night of all
nights, a sound and long sleep. In Lincoln Hall, at meal time, there had
been a hum of eager conversation: the Jefferson team had arrived in
Hamilton and had gone to comfortable quarters at Grey Stone Inn, three
miles from the school. They would remain at the inn until just before
the game, when they would come to the field in automobiles. Several of
the Ridgleyites who had been in the station at the time of the visitors'
arrival reported that the Jefferson players were "huskies" and that
Norris, the renowned full-back, was the biggest "of the lot." The main
body of Jefferson students would arrive by special train at noon on
Saturday.

Many a member of Ridgley School on this eve of the great struggle was
filled with a feeling of restlessness; it seemed that the minutes were
dragging with indescribable slowness, that the night would never pass
and that the hour would never come when the referee would blow his
whistle to start the contest upon which the Ridgley hopes and fears were
centered.

Among those restless spirits who longed for some way to speed the
minutes was Snubby Turner. He had gone down to the Hamilton Station and
had come away not at all reassured by the sight that had met his eyes.
The representatives of Jefferson School were a formidable looking lot,
and it increased Snubby's peace of mind not at all to have had a close
view of Norris' athletic form. He sensed a feeling of overflowing
confidence in these big sons of Jefferson, and he longed to talk to some
one who could dispel his doubts and drive away the insidious fears that
were gnawing at what he called his "Ridgley spirit." In these
circumstances he would have gone to Teeny-bits, or he might even have
imposed upon the hospitality of Neil Durant,--if he had not known that
loyalty to the school demanded that he should not bother any member of
the eleven. He finally sought consolation by going down to the basement
of Gannett Hall to pay a visit to old Jerry. He found the ancient
janitor's assistant leaning back in a rickety chair reading by the light
of an unshaded electric bulb. The old man put the volume down upon his
knee and looked at Snubby with eyes that seemed to be gazing on distant
scenes.

"What kind of book is that?" asked Snubby. "A novel?"

Old Jerry thrust his head forward slightly, as if seeing his visitor for
the first time, and said:

"There's _ijeers_ in this book, I wanter tell yer. It's about an awful
smart feller who had ways of his own in gettin' at the bottom o'
things--kind of a detecative chap."

Snubby looked at the title and saw that it was "The Mystery of the
Million Dollar Diamond."

"It does a man good sometimes to exercise his brains on meesterious
happenin's," said old Jerry, "and you know we got plenty o' reason to
study up things o' that sort."

"Yes, we have; but I'm not half as much interested in that stuff just
now as I am in the Jefferson game. Who do you think's going to win?"

Old Jerry laid the book carefully aside on his table, looked at his
questioner seriously for a moment and said:

"I got my ijeers about that too, but it don't do no good to tell
everythin' that is millin' aroun' in your head. Now I once heared of a
feller who had a job forecastin' the weather for a noospaper, and he'd
allus say right out _positive_ whether it 'ud rain or shine--it was
allus goin' to be bright and clear or dark and stormy--and along come a
spell o' weather and every day for a week he said it was going to rain,
and I'll be singed if there was a cloud in the sky all through them
seven days--and the feller lost his job. Now the way I look at the game
is this: we got a big chance to win and we got a big chance to lose, and
if we do the things we oughter do it's goin' to be bright and fair, and
if we do the things we hadn't oughter do it's goin' to be dark and
stormy,--and I got my ijeers which is which. But, as I said, it don't do
too much good to tell _everythin'_ you know."

"It'll be an awful fight," said Snubby; "a terrible fight every single
minute of the time, and I'll bet you two cents to a tin whistle that
when that Jefferson crowd of heavy-weights gets through they'll know
they've been playing somebody. I wish there were something I could do.
I'm so doggone restless that I don't believe I'll sleep a wink
to-night."

Old Jerry gave voice to a cackle of mirth. "Bet you'll sleep all right,"
he said. "I never yet seen a feller like you that didn't sleep when the
time come for it, and as for helping, I guess you'll do your part if you
keep on believin' that Ridgley School can't be beat and when the game is
goin' on you yell your dumdest to encourage the team."

"Well," said Snubby, "I suppose you want to go on readin' that
lurid-looking book of yours, so I'll be going up to my room, I guess."

"It ain't so lurid," said Jerry, "but it's interestin' 'cause it's kind
o' teachin' me how to put two and two together so's they'll figger up to
make four, if you know what I mean, and then I'm a mite stirred up
myself about that game to-morrer and it's quietin' to my nerves."

So Snubby Turner left his friend in the little basement room, walked
quietly up the stairs to his room and made up his mind that the best
thing for him to do was to turn in.

Mass meetings, preliminary games and final practice were over and
everything now awaited the climax of the season. By half-past nine
lights were going out in the dormitories and presently quiet reigned
over the white buildings on the hill and the stars, sending down their
radiance from a clear sky, presaged fair weather for the great contest.
The light was out in Teeny-bits' room and no one in the school--with the
exception of two persons--doubted that the smallest member of the eleven
was not sleeping soundly beneath the roof of Gannett Hall.

Saturday morning dawned as fair as the fairest day in the year; there
was a nip in the air that suggested winter, but as the morning wore on,
the mounting sun mellowed the chill until the "old boys"--men who had
played for Ridgley and Jefferson twenty years before and who had come
back to view once again the immortal combat between the "best school in
all the world" and her greatest rival--slapped each other on the back
and said:

"Perfect football weather!"

All roads led to Ridgley--or seemed to--on this day of days. The trains
came rolling into the Hamilton Station, discharged their burdens of
humanity and rolled on. Automobiles by the score climbed the long hill
to the school,--automobiles bearing the fluttering red of Ridgley and
the fluttering purple of Jefferson. There were shouts of greeting and
shouts of gay challenge, honking of horns and a busy rushing here and
there that suggested excitement, anticipation and hopes built high. And
then came the special train from Jefferson--the Purple Express, so
named--bearing hundreds of cheering students and a brass band of twenty
pieces which led the procession into Lincoln Hall to the strains of the
Jefferson Victory Song,--a fiendish piece of music in the ears of
Ridgley's loyal sons, a stirring pean of confidence and challenge in the
ears of those who waved aloft the purple. At Lincoln Hall the Jefferson
guests--according to immemorial custom--sat down to a luncheon that
Ridgley School provided. A year later the compliment would be returned.
The band played, the visitors cheered, the song leader jumped on a table
and swung his arms in time to the latest Jefferson song,--and all
Ridgley School knew that Jefferson was having the time of her life. She
had come to her rival with the best team in her history and she meant to
enjoy every moment of a triumph which she was confident would be
colossal. In all this excitement Teeny-bits' absence was not at first
noticed. At breakfast some one asked for him and some one else said:

"I guess he's already eaten and gone; he probably didn't want to listen
to our football gossip."

During the course of the morning two members of the faculty called for
him--Doctor Wells and Mr. Stevens. They had an identical thought in
mind--though neither knew that the other was thinking it. They were busy
in extending the hospitality of Ridgley to the members of the Jefferson
faculty and in greeting the "old boys" who had returned for the big
game, but both wanted to have a word with Teeny-bits,--to tell him that
they had confidence in him and that they knew everything would turn out
right in the end and that they should watch him with special interest
this afternoon and knew that he would forget everything else and play
his best for Ridgley. They left word for him at the dormitory.

This was no ordinary game of football--Ridgley-Jefferson games never
were ordinary--and this would transcend all past contests between the
two schools. Jefferson was said to be irresistible; the Ridgleyites knew
that the spirit of their team was irresistible, and when two
"irresistible" forces come together something must give way. From
Springfield, the nearest large city, came numerous copies of the
_Springfield Times_ with pictures of all the players and statistics in
regard to age, weight and height. The largest amount of space was given
to Norris, the Jefferson full-back, but Neil Durant came in for his
share and a paragraph was devoted to Teeny-bits who was described in
these words:

"The Ridgley left-half will be the lightest player on the field; he
cannot be expected to do much against the heavy Jefferson line, but he
has gained a reputation as a shifty runner and deserves to be watched on
open plays."

At noon, when Teeny-bits did not appear for the special luncheon that
was served to the members of the team in the trophy room of the
gymnasium, Neil Durant and Coach Murray began to make inquiries.

"Where's Teeny-bits?"

Nobody had an answer.

"He'll probably be along pretty soon," said the coach. "He ought not to
be late to-day, though."

When the luncheon was half-eaten Neil Durant got up and announced that
he was going to send some one to look for the missing member of the
team. He found Snubby Turner and asked him to run up to Gannett Hall and
look for Teeny-bits.

When Snubby came back at the close of the meal with the report that
Teeny-bits was not in his room and that nobody, as far as he could
discover, had seen him all the morning, Neil Durant said:

"Maybe he went home. We'll probably find him down at the locker
building."

But when the members of the team arrived at the field half an hour later
in order to prepare themselves leisurely for the game, Teeny-bits had
not appeared.

"That's mighty queer," Neil said to Ned Stillson. "I can't understand
it. If he doesn't come we'll have to play Campbell in his place--and
somehow I haven't much faith in Campbell. I'm going to call up Mr.
Holbrook at the Hamilton station and find out if he knows anything about
Teeny-bits."

In answer to Neil's call, Mr. Holbrook's assistant reported that Mr.
Holbrook had gone home to dinner and was not coming back till late in
the afternoon; he was going to the game.

"The Holbrooks haven't a 'phone in their house, have they?" asked Neil.

"No, they haven't," came the reply.

"Well, do you know where Teeny-bits is?"

"Why, up at the school, I suppose; I haven't seen him," was the answer.

It was evident that Mr. Holbrook's assistant had no information; Neil
hung up the receiver and said to himself:

"Well, if his father is coming that's a good sign. When Teeny-bits shows
up, I'll give him a lecture that'll make his hair stand on end."

At quarter-past one, when the Ridgley team ran out on the field for
warming-up practice, Coach Murray looked over the squad and yelled
sharply:

"Campbell, get out there in left-half and let me see you show some
_pep_."

The tone of his voice was like a whiplash, and every member of the team
knew that he was angry clear through.

Already the stands were beginning to fill with the friends of Ridgley
and of Jefferson, though the cheering sections were as yet empty. In two
long columns, stepping in time to the music of their respective bands,
the Ridgleyites and the Jeffersonians were marching to the field.



CHAPTER VIII

STRANGE CAPTORS


Teeny-bits Holbrook was not the sort to give up hope quickly. When,
after struggling vainly against his bonds, he had exhausted his strength
and had at last lain back panting for breath, he had begun to think,--to
try in some way to devise a plan that would offer hope of escape. But
there seemed to be no possible loophole, no stratagem or maneuver by
means of which he could win release. Inaction was galling, and, after
lying still for a long time, Teeny-bits again began to struggle and
twist and squirm. These bonds with which his arms and hands and feet and
legs were fastened did not give way under his most violent efforts and,
as previously, he exhausted himself before he had accomplished anything.

For hours Teeny-bits alternated these periods of struggling and resting.
Twice he was aware that some one came into the room and went
out,--evidently after watching him for a few moments. How much time had
passed since his captors had pounced upon him on the hill road to
Hamilton he had no means of knowing, but it seemed likely that more than
half the night had gone.

In one of his struggles Teeny-bits rolled off the edge of the mattress
on which he had been lying; to his surprise he did not fall with a crash
some two or three feet, as he would have fallen from a bed of the usual
height, but merely dropped a few inches before coming in contact with
the floor. Evidently the mattress rested on springs that were laid
directly on the boards. Teeny-bits rolled himself this way and that
until he brought up against a wall. He was about to roll in the other
direction when he realized that the folds of cloth that bound him were
caught against something; from the feeling--the slight pull that was
exerted against the movement of his body--he came to the conclusion that
it was a nail. He wriggled a few inches length-wise along the wall, and
the sound of ripping cloth came to his ears,--a sound that brought a
thrill of hope. If the bonds that imprisoned him were too strong to be
broken by the power of his muscles, perhaps he could tear and rip them
by edging himself back and forth against the sharp projection which,
judging by sound, had already effected the beginning of what he desired.
By twisting and turning, he succeeded, in the course of the next five
minutes, in gaining a certain amount of freedom for his arms.

When Teeny-bits had left his room in Gannett Hall to answer the
telephone call he had pulled on a light sweater. Now it occurred to him
that if he could catch the lower part of the sweater on the nail, he
might, by working his body downward, pull the garment over his head and
carry with it the stout cloth in which he was still swathed. At the cost
of some skin scraped from his back, he got the nail fastened in the
sweater and gradually succeeded in turning it inside out. In a minute or
two he said to himself, exultantly, he would have his hands free, and
then it would be quick and easy work to untie his feet.

At that moment, when escape was almost within his grasp, dreaded sounds
came to his ears,--the opening of the door and the shuffle of running
feet. Teeny-bits was in a hopeless position to make any resistance; the
folds of tough cloth which had been wound about his body, pinioning his
arms, had been pulled upward with the sweater until the whole mass was
bunched across the top of his bare shoulders, and though he was able to
move his arms slightly, he was still so tangled that he could do nothing
except await whatever fate was in store for him. Two persons came into
the room; he heard them speak sharply and knew then that they were
Chinese; there was no mistaking the outlandish inflection of vowel and
consonant. In a second rough hands were laid upon him and he was dragged
away from the wall. He gave a few last futile wrenches and then lay
still, face down, on the floor.

His captors had him at their mercy; they could do with him what they
wished. One of them was pulling at the folds of cloth; Teeny-bits could
feel the man's hands on his bare back. Suddenly the hands paused in
their work; then the sweater was pushed an inch or two higher and there
came to Teeny-bits' ears one of the strangest sounds that he had ever
heard: an exclamation, a startled cry in syllables that, though wild and
meaningless in themselves, conveyed an unmistakable effect,--discovery
and the highest degree of astonishment. This strange cry was answered in
kind by another voice, and Teeny-bits felt the two Chinese fumbling at
his back with trembling fingers. To his surprise he realized, after a
moment, that they were loosening the bonds, that they were freeing his
arms and legs and removing the folds over his mouth and eyes.

In a few moments Teeny-bits sat up and looked about him; he had the same
sensation that a person sometimes experiences on waking at night in a
room away from home and finding the walls too near or too far and
windows where they should not be. He had imagined himself in a wide,
high, dimly lighted room with two villainous-looking desperadoes bending
over him with weapons plainly displayed. He found himself in a
low-ceilinged, box-like, little room lighted by a flaring gas jet, with
two astonished-looking Chinese gazing at him with slant eyes that seemed
to be almost popping from their heads. They were jabbering their
outlandish tongue up and down the singsong scale as if here before them,
sitting on the floor, were a new species of being, newly discovered and
strange beyond imagination. Teeny-bits did not know what to make of
them; he blinked his eyes and remained sitting there, wondering what
would happen next. Both of the Chinese seemed to be asking him questions
and they were pointing at him in a way that brought the thought to
Teeny-bits that they were both insane. Then he suddenly realized what
was the cause of their excitement--one of them came closer and pointed
down at his shoulder--at the terra-cotta colored mark which had excited
comment at Ridgley School because it so strikingly resembled a
dagger-like knife with a tapering blade and a thin handle.

"What's the idea of all this business?" demanded Teeny-bits.

The Oriental who stood beside him bent down and touched the mark as if
trying to discover if it were real. He called out something to his
companion and a flow of words passed between them.

Teeny-bits stood up stiffly and began to pull on his torn sweater, while
the two Chinese watched him with fascinated eyes.

"Why did you bring me here?" he demanded. "Are you _crazy_, or what _is_
the matter with you?"

The two Chinese blinked at him vacantly; either they did not understand
English or pretended not to. Suddenly one of them got down on his knees
and began a queer song-like jabbering in which his companion joined.

Teeny-bits did not wait to listen, but began to move toward the door; he
expected the men to jump in front of him and bar the way, but neither of
them stirred until he was actually stepping out of the room. Teeny-bits
ran stiffly down a dimly lighted flight of steps, then down another
flight and out into a dark alleyway. Behind him he could hear the soft
pattering of feet; the two Chinese were not far in the rear. Determined
to waste no time in escaping, he dashed down the alley and came into a
dark street; he ran faster and faster as the stiffness in his legs
lessened, turning into one street after another, and he did not stop
until he was breathing hard and had left the place of his captivity
several hundred yards behind. He looked back then and listened.
Apparently he had distanced pursuit, for no sounds of pattering feet
came to his ears and he caught no glimpse of the two Chinese who had
acted so strangely.

At any rate he was free,--though he did not know where he was; the
streets down which he had been running were deserted; the houses were of
brick tenement structure and stood close together. He went on at a swift
walk, turning every few steps to look over his shoulder, and presently
he came to a building which he recognized. It was the market that faced
Stanley Square in Greensboro, a yellow brick building with a tall tower
and a clock. As Teeny-bits gazed upward, trying to read the position of
the hour hand in the half-light of the street lamps, the big timepiece
boomed out two strokes. It was two o'clock.

Teeny-bits turned south along Walnut Street in the direction of
Hamilton. When he had attended the high school in Greensboro he had gone
twice each day on his bicycle over the four miles of road between the
village and the bustling young city. He now set out at a swift walk, and
as soon as he had passed the outskirts of Greensboro, he jogged along at
a pace that kept him warm, in spite of his scanty attire and the nipping
air.

Twice, while still on the city streets, he had passed belated
pedestrians and once he had glimpsed a policeman under a street lamp. He
had not paused, however, for his one desire was to get home and to
discover if his father had been injured. It had occurred to him that
perhaps he should report his experience to the police, but the thought
then came to him that they might detain him,--and the one thing that he
wanted now was freedom. So he went on swiftly toward Hamilton and before
three o'clock was approaching the house that he had always known as
home. All of the windows were dark,--a reassuring sign. If anything
terrible had happened, surely there would be a light in the house.

Teeny-bits went round to the rear and tried the kitchen windows till he
found that one was unlocked. Cautiously he let himself in; he did not
intend to waken father and mother Holbrook unless there was evidence
that something had happened. The kitchen was warm, and the cat, which
always slept in a chair beside the woodbox, jumped down softly to the
floor and came over to rub her body against his leg. Teeny-bits reached
down and stroked the cat's soft coat; somehow, the contented purring of
the creature convinced him that nothing was wrong in the house. He
unlaced his shoes and tiptoed upstairs; in the hall he paused to listen;
the quietness of the house was broken only by a faint but regular
breathing; it came from the bedroom where old Daniel Holbrook slept. So
all was right, after all.

With a great feeling of relief, Teeny-bits groped his way along the hall
to the rear and opened the door to his own room. Suddenly he felt very
tired and it seemed to him that he could not get into bed quickly
enough. He pulled off his clothes, raised one of the windows, and in a
moment had settled down upon the comfortable mattress and had pulled the
covers up to his chin. He said to himself that he would sleep a little
while and early in the morning hurry up to the school. A pleasant
feeling of relaxation stole over him, his thoughts merged into drowsy
half-dreams and almost immediately he sank into a slumber deeper than
any he had experienced for many days.

He slept on and on; morning light came softly in at the curtained
windows; in the front of the house his father and mother rose and went
downstairs, and after a time old Daniel Holbrook went leisurely to his
duties at the station. Still Teeny-bits slept his deep sleep and only
the cat knew that he was in the house.

Just after twelve o'clock Daniel Holbrook came home to dinner; he
stopped in the back yard for an armful of wood and entering the kitchen,
dropped it in the box beside the stove. The rumble penetrated to the
rooms above, and Teeny-bits sat up abruptly in bed, wide awake in a
flash. This was the day of the big game; it was morning; he must hurry
up to the school; he began hunting in the closet for fresh clothes and
pulling them on in desperate haste. He was two thirds dressed when his
door was pushed slowly open and father and mother Holbrook peered
cautiously in; the look that he surprised on their faces was so
ludicrous that he laughed.

"Land sakes alive, Teeny-bits!" cried Ma Holbrook. "What a tremulo you
gave me. How'd you get here? Your pa and I heard you movin' around and I
thought sure it was burglars!"

Teeny-bits sat on the edge of the bed and laughed and laughed,--it
seemed so good to see them both alive and well; and old Daniel Holbrook,
holding the dangerous-looking stick of wood that he carried up from the
kitchen to use in dealing with burglars, slapped his thigh and laughed
harder than Teeny-bits.

"Don't tell me you've been here all night!" he said at last.

"I came in through the kitchen window after you were asleep and I didn't
want to disturb you," said Teeny-bits. "I was looking for a good sleep
before the big game."

"I guess you got it _all right_," said Daniel Holbrook.

"What time is it?" asked Teeny-bits.

The station agent hauled out his big silver watch, looked at it
critically and announced: "Twenty-nine minutes past twelve."

"Past _twelve_!" repeated Teeny-bits. "It can't be."

Daniel Holbrook swung round the face of the watch and proved the
correctness of his statement. "Kinder late for a boy to be gettin' up,"
he remarked with a chuckle.

Teeny-bits had made an instant resolve that this kindly couple who were
father and mother to him should not be burdened with his troubles. He
jumped to his feet and cried:

"The game starts in an hour and a half; I've got to hustle up there."

"Not until you've eaten," said Ma Holbrook, firmly. "Dinner's ready this
minute."

Teeny-bits did a bit of swift mental calculation; the team was already
at lunch; he could not reach the gymnasium in time to be with them; it
would be better to eat here and join the squad at the field.

"I don't want much," he said. "Just a little and then I'll have to go."

"I'll hitch up Jed," said Daniel Holbrook, "and we'll all ride up
together; your ma and I were intendin' to start pretty soon, anyway."

Thus it happened that Teeny-bits Holbrook rode up to the game behind the
sorrel horse and arrived at the locker building fifteen minutes before
the contest was scheduled to begin. While the sound of the preliminary
cheering and singing rang in his ears he pulled on his football togs in
frantic haste, dashed out of the building and ran along behind the
stands until he came to the opening that led underneath to the field
itself. He appeared at the players' shelter just as Coach Murray was
about to shout out the order for Neil to bring the team in off the
field.

Mr. Murray's features wore an expression that was sterner than any that
had been seen on his face that fall. The Ridgley team had been
experiencing a species of stage fright. It seemed that Neil Durant was
the only one of the back-field who could hold the ball. Campbell and
Stillson and Dean had fumbled again and again, and Campbell was the
worst of the three. When the coach saw Teeny-bits he closed his mouth
with a click and looked the left-half back through and through with eyes
that blazed; he laid rough hands on the newcomer's shoulders and said in
a voice that rasped:

"Do you want to play in this game?"

As Teeny-bits had come running from the locker building and heard the
volume of cheering, the fear had grown larger and larger that he was too
late--that the game had started, that he had lost his chance. He felt an
overwhelming eagerness and he meant every word of his answer to Coach
Murray's question.

"I think I'll _die_ if you don't let me," he said, and his face wore
such a look of earnestness and appeal that the coach's grim expression
relaxed a little.

"Don't stop to explain why you 're late--I hope you have a good
excuse--but run out there and tell Campbell to come in."



CHAPTER IX

THE GREAT GAME


Teeny-bits raced out on the field as if he had been shot from a cannon.
The greeting that the team gave him was very different from the one that
they had accorded him that day a few weeks before, when he had run out
to take his place as a regular after the injury to White.

"Here's Teeny-bits!" some one yelled.

A chorus of shouts greeted the half-back, and Neil Durant came running
to meet him halfway.

"I ought to _murder_ you right now," said the captain, "but I'm so glad
to see you I'll wait till after the game. Gee, I'm _glad_ you've come."

By this time half a dozen of the team were slapping Teeny-bits on the
back and he had slipped into his position behind the line. Campbell had
needed no word to inform him that he was relieved of his duties at
left-half; he had given Teeny-bits one startled glance and had headed
for the side line. Dean called out the signals while the team ran
through a series of plays. "Come on now; we're all here; let's go,"
cried Neil, and the team responded with a snap. The Ridgley cheering
section had noticed the advent of Teeny-bits and a buzz of conversation
went around, for his absence during the warming-up had been the subject
of increasing comment.

Down at the other end of the field the Jefferson team was running
through signals and trying punts and drop kicks. Simultaneously the
teams ceased their practice and gathered at the two benches at opposite
sides of the field. Neil Durant, Norris and the referee then met in
mid-field and flipped a coin for choice of goals. There was little
advantage, for almost no wind was stirring, but Norris, who won the
toss, quickly chose the south goal and a moment later the two teams ran
out and took their places. Ridgley was to kick off to Jefferson.

Neil Durant helped Ned Stillson set the ball on the mound of earth and
Ned drew back a few yards. A hush had settled over stands and field;
down in the shadow of the south goal posts stood Norris, bending
slightly forward, eager to get the ball in his arms; in front of him
were his team-mates spread out to cover their half of the field. Just
beyond the center was the line of Ridgley players. Suddenly these eleven
players moved, the referee's whistle cut the hush, the ball went sailing
down the field and shouts arose from every quarter of the stands. The
moment had at last arrived; the big game was on.

Teeny-bits felt keen and fit; his long sleep had completely refreshed
him. As he raced down the field one thought was in his mind: to get into
the play and tackle whatever Jefferson man caught the ball. Ned Stillson
had made a clever kick-off; the leather oval flew to the right of Norris
and settled into the arms of one of his team-mates, who had dashed
forward only ten yards when Neil Durant met him with a clean, hard
tackle and brought him solidly to earth. Even such a small incident as
that evoked a howl of delight from the Ridgley stands, for such was the
reputation of Jefferson that there were those who fearfully expected to
see the wearer of the purple dash through the whole Ridgley team and
score a touchdown at the first effort. The cheer leader ordered the
short Ridgley yell for the team and the stand responded with a hoarse
roar. There was scarcely a son of Ridgley gazing down on the field but
whose teeth were gritted together, whose breath was coming fast, and
whose voice as he shouted encouragement to the team was like the voice
of a man hurling defiance to a mortal enemy.

As the two teams lined up for the first scrimmage, Teeny-bits got his
first close view of Norris. The famed full-back of the purple was of
about Neil Durant's height, of an impressively powerful build, but not
so heavy as to appear sluggish. He looked the Ridgley team over with
steady, appraising eyes; his face was keen and determined,--the very
look of him indicated that he was on the field for business.

The Jefferson quarter was snapping out the signals; his voice cut the
medley of shouts that echoed back and forth across the field like the
shrill voice of a dog barking in a tempest. Suddenly the ball moved and
the first scrimmage was on. The Jefferson right half-back had the ball
and the play was aimed at center; big Tom Curwood, however, was equal to
the occasion; he stopped the play before the purple-clad son of
Jefferson had covered a yard beyond the Ridgley line.

A second wild howl of delight went up from the Ridgley stands; those two
small incidents, the quick downing of the runner after the kick-off and
the stiff stand of the Ridgley line on this first play from regular
formation, had brought a sudden feeling of confidence. Down there on
that white-lined field the wearers of the red had begun to show that
they could hold their own. But the next play--an end run by the
left-half, who made seven yards and advanced the purple within two yards
of first down--brought a thunderous roar from the other side of the
field.

The Jefferson captain now stepped back into kicking position. The ball
was snapped as if for a punt, but Norris, instead of kicking, started
around the Ridgley right end. Neil Durant went over swiftly, but one of
the Jefferson backs formed perfect interference and the big wearer of
the purple, evading the Ridgley end and the captain went through into an
open space,--and almost before the Jefferson stands had begun to shout
encouragement to him had covered twenty yards.

It was Teeny-bits running diagonally across the field who finally made
the tackle. To the Ridgley left-half a strange feeling had come as he
saw Norris break away; it had seemed to him, for a brief instant, that
anything he could do would be of no use whatever. In the next moment he
found himself almost upon Norris and before he had time to think he had
made a tackle that turned the despairing groans of the Ridgley
supporters into a yell of relief. The great Jefferson full-back had been
stopped dead by the smallest man on the field. Norris got to his feet
and looked at Teeny-bits with the same expression of interest that had
appeared on the faces of the Ridgley regulars weeks before when
Teeny-bits had made his first appearance with the scrub.

"Some tackle!" he exclaimed, and grinned, as much as to say: "Well,
well, that's pretty good for a little fellow."

In the scheme of plays as outlined before the game by Coach Murray,
Ridgley when on the defensive was always to keep an eye open for Norris.
Neil Durant had been told off to watch the Jefferson captain; it was his
duty to shift his position always in accordance with any shift that
Norris made. Of course the Ridgley ends--and every member of the team
for that matter--had been drilled to be "in" on every play; upon Neil,
however, had been placed the responsibility of seeing that the purple
leader did not escape into an open field. But if Ridgley was watching
Norris, Jefferson was watching Durant, and Neil found himself, as the
game went on, more and more the target of Jefferson players who were
quick to realize that Durant had been given the responsibility for
stopping their captain. When Norris carried the ball, Neil, coming in
swiftly to intercept him, time and again found his way blocked by a
Jefferson player who flung himself across his path.

After the twenty-yard run by the Jefferson captain there was a
succession of line plunges which gained first down for the purple; then
came another end run by Norris which brought the ball beyond the middle
of the field. Here the Ridgley team made a stand that the newspaper
reporters later described as a "stone-wall defense"; after three tries
Jefferson had succeeded in advancing the ball only five yards. Whipple,
of the purple team, then sent a long spiral punt down the field; the
leather oval flew over the head of Dean, rolled across the goal line and
was brought out twenty yards to be put in play by the Ridgley team.

For the first time Ridgley had an opportunity to carry the ball, and the
cheer leader, who had been gyrating frantically in front of the stands
where the red color was waving, called for a cheer with three "Teams" on
the end.

Dean gave the signal for Ned Stillson to carry the ball. Ned responded
by dashing into a hole that big Tom Curwood made for him at center and,
to the unmeasured delight of every son of Ridgley, advanced seven yards
before he was brought to earth. On the next play Neil Durant slid around
right end for a first down and it was now the turn of the red to wave
aloft its colors. The Ridgley quarter-back then gave the signal 7, 16,
11, which indicated a double-pass play. The ball came back to Stillson
who, after starting toward the right end, passed to Neil Durant who was
going at a terrific pace in the opposite direction. Teeny-bits' duty was
to form interference for his captain and he suddenly found himself
"Indianizing" the captain of the Jefferson team. It was perfect
interference and although Teeny-bits felt somewhat as if he had come in
contact with a charging locomotive he experienced a thrill of utter joy
as he felt the big Jefferson captain come down upon him and saw Neil
Durant break through. The Ridgley captain used his straight arm on one
Jefferson player, dodged another, and crossed line after line with two
wearers of the purple fiercely pressing him. No Ridgley player was
within reach to form interference, however, and after one of the
Jefferson men had made a desperate attempt to tackle and had rolled on
the ground, the other coming up swiftly brought Neil down on the
thirty-yard line.

Every one on the west side of the field was standing up, and here and
there hats--not always those which belonged on young heads--were being
thrown into the air. More than one gray-haired man was yelling like a
red Indian on the war path. A feeling of confidence that the victory
would rest with Ridgley swept from one end of the stands to the other.
Friends and strangers were making happy remarks to each other to the
effect that this would be a glorious day for the school on the hill.

The triumphant feeling was short-lived, however, for on the next play
the Jefferson left end came in swiftly and downed Ned Stillson, who was
carrying the ball, for a loss of three yards.

A forward pass, Dean to Durant, gained five yards, but the next play met
with a stiff defense and Neil Durant determined that the time had come
to attempt a drop kick. He fell back a few yards, looked for a smooth
spot upon which to drop the ball and a second later delivered the kick.
The Jefferson ends had come in so fast, however, that Neil was forced to
send the ball away hurriedly, and the leather flew wide of the goal
posts.

While the ball was being brought out to the twenty-yard line, Norris
gathered his players around him for a few seconds. What he said
apparently had an immediate effect, for when the play continued,
Jefferson seemed to be filled with a new spirit. From the twenty-yard
line the eleven invaders advanced down the middle of the field, mostly
by line rushes. At that point they tried a forward pass, and the ball,
when it came to a stop, rested on the Ridgley thirty-five-yard line.

Teeny-bits was breathing hard; he had thrown himself into each play with
every ounce of strength and determination at his command and more than
once had helped retard the advance of the purple. Neil Durant, too, had
been strong in defense, but the Jefferson team could not be denied. From
the thirty-five-yard line the purple started a play which brought gloom
to the Ridgley stands. Norris ran with the ball round right end, somehow
succeeded in evading the Ridgley primary defense, dodged both Durant and
Teeny-bits and before the horrified eyes of the members of Ridgley
School dashed madly down the field, over the goal line and round until
he had placed the ball squarely behind the goal posts. On the black
scoreboard a white figure 6 appeared after the name of the visiting
school and a few moments later it was replaced by a 7.

Jefferson kicked off to Ridgley and the game was on more fiercely than
ever, for Neil Durant's team meant to lose no time in winning back the
superiority which had seemed to be theirs in the opening moments of the
quarter, and the Jefferson players, for their part, meant to amplify
their advantage until it assumed the proportions of the triumph, upon
the attainment of which they had set their hearts.

All other games--their long succession of victories--were forgotten; the
result they achieved against their ancient rival would overshadow
everything else.

Ridgley was forced to kick after gaining one first down, by means of a
forward pass, and the ball, once more possessed by Jefferson, was soon
making an advance which influenced some one with a raucous voice in the
purple stands to yell out in a lull of the cheering:

"It's all over, boys. Bring the undertaker!"

It did appear that Ridgley was in for a sorry time. Norris was living up
to his reputation and seemed, in spite of the valiant efforts of every
Ridgley player, to have luck always on his side. Once Stillson and
Durant collided as they were about to tackle the Jefferson captain and
the result was a twenty-yard gain which placed the ball again within the
shadow of the Ridgley goal posts. Straight line plunges in which all of
the Jefferson backs shared brought the ball to the Ridgley five-yard
line for first down. Here the team that represented the school on the
hill made a stand for three downs, but on the fourth attempt Norris,
unexpectedly trying the end when a line plunge was anticipated, gained
across the Ridgley goal line and brought the score to 13.

"Make it a lucky number," Teeny-bits heard the Jefferson captain say to
Whipple who was preparing to kick the goal.

The Jefferson player followed the instructions of his captain to the
letter,--and the man at the Scoreboard put up the number 14.

Certain weak spirits in the Ridgley stands now looked at each other with
faces which showed plainly that hope had fled from them, that they now
knew that the Jefferson menace which had been built up week after week
by rumor and also by fact, as represented in scores, was real,--that the
purple team was invincible, that Ridgley had met the irresistible force
and could not by any alchemy of spirit turn defeat into victory.

Old football players, veterans of school and college struggles, looked
down admiringly on the finely-polished team-work of the Jefferson eleven
and said to themselves that this was _good football_ judged by _any_
standard.

A few minutes after the kick-off following the second score of the
Jefferson team, the quarter came to an end and the teams exchanged
goals. In the short rest period Neil Durant gathered his players about
him and said a few things that every member of the eleven long
remembered.

"Is there any one here," he asked, "who hasn't _more_ fight in him than
he has shown yet?"

No answer.

"We've just _begun_ this game and we haven't had our chance to show them
what we can do when we carry the ball. We're going to _hold_ them first
and then we're going to _show_ them something they've never learned."

They were commonplace words, but they came from the bottom of Neil
Durant's heart and were delivered in such a manner that every member of
the team gained fresh confidence and put back out of the realm of his
thoughts the growing fear of defeat.

The ball was in Jefferson's possession at the middle of the field. On
the very next play the purple left-half fumbled, and Neil Durant swooped
down on the bouncing ball like a hawk on a sparrow.

The error seemed to "rattle" the Jefferson team. Dean called for an end
run by Neil Durant and the captain responded by dashing forward for a
fifteen-yard gain. Stillson then added five, and Teeny-bits, who was
called upon to carry the ball for the first time, wriggled and dodged
through the Jefferson team to the fifteen-yard line before he was
stopped. In an attempt to surprise the enemy, Dean called upon
Teeny-bits again, but this time the half-back was stopped almost before
he was under way. Stillson, who carried the ball next, did better and
reached the ten-yard line. Neil Durant then made a line plunge through
an opening that the reliable Tom Curwood created and planted the oval
five yards from the goal line for a first down. Jefferson made a strong
stand, but in four tries the Ridgley team advanced the ball until it
rested a few inches over that last white line, the crossing of which
spelled a score.

The old-timers in the stands now settled into comfortable positions and
said to each other: "This _is_ a game!"

Neil Durant's trusty toe sent the ball between the uprights and the game
stood 14 to 7. Through the rest of the second quarter the red team and
the purple team combated each other on equal terms. Neither seemed able
to break the defense of the other and when the whistle sounded for the
close of the first half they were fighting on equal terms in the center
of the field.

While the stands were singing their songs and exchanging cheers between
the halves the two teams rested in the locker building and listened to
what their respective coaches had to say.

Coach Murray made his remarks short and to the point. He was entirely
satisfied with the way the team had been playing; he knew that they
could win. He warned them to watch Norris on every play and at the same
time to beware of the Jefferson half-backs, who had proved their ability
to carry the ball. He once more repeated one of the first things that
belonged to his football creed: to watch the ball all of the time and to
be ready, as Neil had been in the case of the Jefferson fumble, to take
advantage of any "break." He also remarked on Dean's good judgment in
running the team and said that he was glad the quarter-back had not
attempted the trick play which the team had practiced during the last
three weeks.

"The time will arrive for that in this second half," he said. "Be ready
when it comes."

So deeply was Teeny-bits absorbed in the game that he had failed to
notice that Campbell was not with the team until Curwood called
attention to the fact that the substitute half-back was not in the
locker building.

"I guess he's sore," some one remarked. "He thought he was going to play
until Teeny-bits showed up."

All those events that had taken place during the past week seemed to
Teeny-bits more like dreams than realities; the one thing that filled
his mind now was the game and the conviction that Ridgley, in spite of
the score against her, could and _would_ win. He had thrilled to Neil
Durant's and Coach Murray's words and could hardly wait for the second
half to begin.

Within a few minutes they were on the field again, spread out to receive
the kick-off from Jefferson. The whistle sounded and the ball was in the
air, whirling end over end; it fell into the arms of Ned Stillson, who
ran swiftly behind the interference formed by his mates only to come to
earth with a thump as a heavy Jefferson guard broke through and made the
tackle.

On the next play Dean exhibited a bit of good judgment that worked to
the advantage of the Ridgley team: noticing that the Jefferson quarter
was dangerously close to the line he saw the chance to slip a punt over
his head. The stratagem worked; the punt that Neil Durant sent away
quickly sailed over the quarter-back's head and rolled down the field to
the Jefferson five-yard line. The quarter ran after it, made a quick
scoop, and attempted to come back but was stopped before he had taken
half a dozen steps.

Fighting hard, the Ridgley team prevented the visitors from advancing
and forced them to kick from their own goal line. Neil Durant caught the
punt at mid-field and dashed forward ten yards before he was checked.
The moment seemed ripe for a strong Ridgley advance, but Norris and his
men met the attack with a stiff resistance and threw back the first two
attempts for a loss of three yards. Dean, in glancing over the enemy's
line, then saw the opportunity for which he had been waiting; the time
had arrived to try the surprise play. He gave a signal which brought a
thrill to Teeny-bits.

In the two forward-pass formations that the Ridgley team had used
earlier in the game Neil Durant both times had been the man to receive
the ball from Dean. The members of the team now took somewhat obvious
positions and the Jefferson eleven immediately assumed that a forward
pass was being contemplated. One of the tackles even voiced his warning:
"Look out for a pass!" and Norris shifted his position slightly to keep
an eye on the Ridgley captain. Teeny-bits' duty was to dash through to
the left and to get into the open space beyond the Jefferson line.

The preliminaries of the play worked to perfection. At the snap of the
ball Neil Durant started swiftly to the right and drew after him the
major part of the Jefferson secondary defense. For the moment Teeny-bits
seemed to have been forgotten: it did not occur to the purple players
that, with the big captain running swiftly into position to take the
pass, his smaller back-field team-mate would be the one to receive the
oval.

As Dean seemed to be in the act of hurling to his captain, Teeny-bits
won through to an open space; suddenly the quarter-back shifted and shot
the ball, bullet-straight, into the hands of the half-back. Teeny-bits
was running toward the Jefferson goal almost before he felt the hard
leather touch his fingers; now or never was the instant to use every
atom of his body in the one purpose of reaching the goal posts that were
straight in front of him,--so near and yet so far away.

The whole Jefferson team realized in that fraction of a second when they
saw the ball sail into the half-back's arms that their advantage, their
prestige and their hope of glory in the annals of Jefferson football
were at stake. They were after Teeny-bits like wolves on the trail of a
rabbit, but only three of them had a chance to reach the Ridgley player.
The first of these--the quarter-back--made the fatal mistake of
underestimating Teeny-bits' speed. The half-back shifted direction
slightly and eluded the grasp of the purple player. The other two were
slightly in the rear and their only chance was to come up from behind
and overtake the runner by superior swiftness. But they were not equal
to it, and, although they tried valiantly and held their own, they did
not succeed in gaining on the carrier of the ball as he crossed one
white mark after another.

[Illustration: ONLY THREE OF THEM HAD A CHANCE TO REACH THE RIDGLEY
PLAYER.]

A roar like the pounding of a mighty sea against a craggy shore sounded
in Teeny-bits' ears, but it seemed to him distant and detached from the
thing he was doing. For the moment he was a living machine of speed with
only one thought in his mind,--to reach that last white line, to cross
it and to plant the pigskin ball behind the padded goal posts. He did
it,--and lay panting on the ground while Neil Durant came running up and
slapped him on the back and said words to him which Teeny-bits never
remembered.

The captain kicked the goal which tied the score while a continuous din
of unorganized shouting rose from the Ridgley stands. It was no moment
for organized cheering. The cheer leader himself was leaping up and
down, throwing his megaphone into the air and emitting war whoops which
were drowned and assimilated by the volume of shouts that echoed back
and forth.

The old-timers up there in the stands now began to breathe fast; this
was not merely a _good_ game of football, it was a _wonderful_ game, a
struggle in which extraordinary playing and fine spirit and brains and
courage were united to make a combat that would live long in the memory
of every person who witnessed it.

Up where the red was waving aloft, a white-haired man who did not
understand the plays of football very well suddenly found that he had
grasped the idea of this magnificent game. He was thumping the back of
some one whom he had never seen before and giving voice to such yells of
delight that the motherly-looking woman who sat beside him said to
herself that he must suddenly have gone out of his senses.

"Teeny-bits did something wonderful, then, didn't he?" she shouted in
his ear, and old Daniel Holbrook, her husband, shouted back:

"You bet your _life_ he did; it was Teeny-bits; he ran all the way over
the home plate or whatever they call it and made a score. I dunno but
he's won the game _all by himself_."

In another part of the stands Doctor Wells was sitting beside Mr.
Stevens.

"That was a magnificent run!" exclaimed the Head. "Magnificent! I
declare--well--now we're even."

"Yes, we're even!" said the English master. "And I've discovered
something."

"What?"

"Well, they say that the head of this school never gets excited, but
just now when Teeny-bits was running you nearly pushed me out of my
seat--and I _think_ I heard a yell that came from your direction."

"Did I shout?" asked the Head.

"'Shout' isn't the word," said the English master. "_Yell_ with a
capital Y describes it."

"Back in '86, I used to play half-back myself," said Doctor Wells. "Here
we are; they're at it again."

Ridgley kicked off to Jefferson and immediately was subjected to a
fierce assault that taxed the utmost powers of endurance to withstand
it. The Jefferson team was fighting harder than ever and playing with
machine-like smoothness. They carried the ball for twenty-five yards and
then punted, and downed Neil Durant in his tracks. Ridgley fought hard
to advance the ball and gained a first down, then, meeting with no
further success, punted. And so the ball see-sawed back and forth until
the piping whistle of the timekeeper announced the close of the third
quarter.

A feeling of great happiness and determination had been filling
Teeny-bits' mind during these last few minutes. At the same time a
curious impression had been making itself felt upon him,--an admiration
for this big captain of the Jefferson team who fought so hard and so
cleanly, who rallied his men after each successful assault by the
Ridgley team, and like Neil Durant, inspired them to fight harder and
harder.

There was no need for talking now. In the brief interval before the last
period of the game began, Neil Durant, looking at his team-mates, saw in
their faces determination and confidence. Nothing that he could say or
that _any one_ could say would alter their conviction that victory
_must_ rest with the red.

That last period was a phase of the game that could justly be called a
climax. It began with a steady and determined march of the Jefferson
team which, starting from the twenty-yard line, carried the ball forward
by line plunges, by forward passes, by end runs and by sheer, dogged
determination on and on until the purple eleven was within the very
shadow of the Ridgley goal posts and Jefferson seemed to have the
victory within her grasp. A terrific run by the captain planted the ball
on the Ridgley four-yard line for a first down, and there was no person
shouting for the purple who did not believe that he was about to witness
that most glorious of football events--a well-earned touchdown, after a
magnificent march the length of the field.

Big Tom Curwood was battered, the guards beside him were battered and
the tackles crouched low as if they would welcome a chance to lie down
flat on the brown earth and rest. Neil Durant spoke a word and they
stiffened, the secondary defense moved closer to the line and the whole
team in one mass met the Jefferson charge. Once, twice, and three times
the purple backs plunged into the red line and each time they carried
the ball forward a little more than a yard.

On that third try the referee dived into the mass in a manner that
suggested to the watchers that the score had been made, but when he
finally got his hands on the ball it was apparent that Jefferson still
needed a few inches. The signal came quickly and the two avalanches of
bone and muscle plunged against each other. The pile subsided and one
after another the players on the fringe drew away until the referee
could see the ball. There was a moment of tense expectancy and then the
official waved his arm in a direction that brought forth a vast yell of
joy from the Ridgley stands. Jefferson had been held; that leather oval
had failed by inches to cross the last thin smear of white.

The next event in this struggle between the red and the purple was a
kick from behind the goal line by Neil Durant,--the longest punt that
had ever been seen on the Ridgley field. It flew for sixty yards, went
over the head of the Jefferson quarter and rolled down the field end
over end. The purple player finally overtook it and attempted to recover
the lost ground, but Ned Stillson checked his career and Jefferson lined
up on her own thirty-yard line. She bravely attempted to repeat her
heartbreaking advance and gained a first down; but the Ridgley team
suddenly became an impenetrable barrier. A punt a moment later fell into
the arms of Teeny-bits, who carried it back fifteen yards to his own
forty-yard line.

As the teams lined up Neil Durant said, loud enough for the whole two
elevens to hear, "Now comes our turn," and the fight for a decision
began anew. Three substitutes came in now to bolster the Jefferson line,
and Coach Murray sent in two Ridgley players to take the place of the
left tackle and the right end, who were evidently pretty far gone.

In eight plays Ridgley advanced the ball thirty-five yards with
Teeny-bits figuring in two, Stillson in two and Neil Durant in four. The
captain then made a plunge through center and before he was stopped had
planted the ball on Jefferson's eight-yard line. Teeny-bits tried to
squirm through the purple line but was thrown back. Stillson gained two
yards and Dean, who had reserved his captain for the final efforts, then
gave the signal that called upon the full-back to carry the ball. Neil
went into the line as if he had been hurled from a catapult. He dove
into the opening that Tom Curwood, with a last burst of desperate
strength, had made, took three steps and was astride the goal line.
Norris made the tackle, but he was an instant too late; the big captain
of the Ridgley team fell across the line and hugged the leather oval
close to the brown earth while pandemonium reigned and the members of
the red team hurled their headgears into the air.

Neil limped when he got to his feet and motioned to Tom Curwood to make
the kick. Big Tom wobbled out in front of the goal posts and tried his
best to add a point for the glory of Ridgley, but his foot wavered and
the ball flew to the left of the goal posts. On the Scoreboard the
figures remained: Ridgley 20--Jefferson 14.

The kick-off, two or three plays,--and then the timekeeper blew his
piping note which brought to an end the struggle that was the true
climax of all the games that had been played by the red and the purple
since one school had stood on the hill above the town of Hamilton and
another school had stood among the elms that sheltered the sons of
Jefferson.



CHAPTER X

AT LINCOLN HALL


For a few seconds after the game ceased members of the two elevens sat
or lay in the positions that they had occupied when the whistle had
announced the expiration of time. They felt somewhat dazed,--on the one
side overwhelmed with the wonderful thought that victory was theirs; on
the other stunned with the bewildering thought that the impossible had
happened, bringing defeat and disappointment.

Teeny-bits felt as if he wanted to rest where he had fallen in the last
scrimmage with his body against the brown earth and let the happiness of
victory sink in slowly, but suddenly he was aware that a howling mob had
descended from the stands, that the members of the Ridgley team were
surrounded by frenzied schoolmates who were insisting on lifting them up
on their shoulders and carrying them off the field. He saw Neil Durant
struggling in the grasp of half a dozen yelling Ridgleyites and the next
moment felt himself lifted bodily and carried forward jerkily. He tried
to resist but did not have the strength; and so he let them raise him up
and transport him where they wished. It was a queer sight that met his
eyes as he looked round him and saw his team-mates' heads and shoulders
bobbing up and down above the milling crowd.

Never had Ridgley enjoyed a triumph more. Old-timers and young fellows
alike were joining in the snake dance. Old Jerry, the janitor, was there
prancing about in a comical, stiff-legged way; Mr. Stevens and half the
faculty were there and every member of the school, while mothers,
sisters and friends looked down from the stands and wished that they too
might join the whirling mob.

The members of the team finally escaped from those who wished to honor
them and made their way to the locker building where they sat and talked
for a few minutes, regained their breath, rubbed their bruises and
looked each other over. Outside they could hear the howling of the
paraders and the booming of the bass drum as a line was being formed to
march from the field to the school.

Meanwhile the Jefferson team, occupying another part of the locker
building, was making ready to leave. In the shower-bath room the members
of the two teams came together and exchanged such words as befit losers
and winners when the fight has been fair and square and fast from
beginning to end. While Neil Durant was dressing, Norris came over and
held out his hand.

"Neil," said the captain of the Jefferson team, "I didn't believe that
you could get away with it and I want to tell you that I think you have
a great team. I never played against an eleven that could begin to equal
it."

It was not easy for the Jefferson captain to say those words and it was
not easy for Neil to reply.

"Oh," said the Ridgley captain, "I guess the breaks came our way. I feel
as if I had been playing against a bunch of Bengal tigers. If we ever
played again you'd probably trim the life out of us."

"I'd like to meet that little chap who played left-half for you," said
Norris. "I never quite saw his equal."

Neil Durant called Teeny-bits, and the half-back shook hands with the
captain of the Jefferson eleven.

"When you came on the field," said Norris, "I said to myself, 'I guess
we can stop that fellow all right,' but before we got through I dreaded
to see the quarter pass you the ball."

Teeny-bits did not know what to say, but he laughed and looked the big
fellow in the eyes and remarked that he had had a "lot of luck" and that
every time he tried to tackle Norris he felt as if he were trying to
hold up a steam engine.

"Well," said Norris, "it's all over and I wish I were going to see more
of you fellows. Why don't you come down to see me, Neil, and renew old
times, and bring Holbrook along?"

After he was gone Teeny-bits turned to Neil and said, "I call that one
fine fellow. He ought to have come to Ridgley."

According to its immemorial custom the Ridgley team, whether or not it
was victorious in the struggle with its ancient rival, met in Lincoln
Hall for a banquet a few hours after the close of the game. On this
night while the rest of the school was busily engaged in heaping up
piles of wood, rubbish, barrels and every imaginable kind of inflammable
material, the members of the team gathered to discuss the victory and to
hear the speeches that Coach Murray, as toastmaster, called for with the
voice of authority. Any member of the eleven whom Mr. Murray singled out
knew that it was his duty to get up on his feet and attempt to make a
speech, although it probably was a much more difficult thing for him to
do than to break through the Jefferson line.

Neil Durant had his say and thanked the members of the eleven for their
loyalty and courage in a way that made them feel more than ever that he
was the best captain in all the history of Ridgley football. Ned
Stillson tried to keep out of sight by slumping down in his seat and
getting behind big Tom Curwood, but Coach Murray singled him out and
ordered him to stand up and make a speech. Every one laughed at Ned, and
big Tom Curwood thought that the right half-back's attempt at oratory
was so funny that he laughed louder than any one else until he heard
Coach Murray's fatal words: "All right, Tom, you're next!" whereupon his
features "froze" in a look of embarrassment. The roar that went up when
Tom's face became suffused with red nearly caused the big center to claw
his way out of the room and escape to the outer air. He cleared his
throat two or three times and then, much to the surprise of every one,
went through the ordeal as if he had prepared his speech hours in
advance.

"I want to tell you fellows," said big Tom, "that I was scared pink,
blue and green when that game started--those Jefferson linesmen and
those husky back-field runners of theirs looked so fierce. I really
wasn't afraid of them but I _was_ afraid of the thought that we were
going to get licked. What really woke me up and made me feel that those
fellows couldn't do a thing to us was to see the way Neil Durant and
young Teeny-bits got going. I want to tell you that when I saw the
captain go larruping into that bunch and when I heard the thump that
Norris made when Teeny-bits brought him down I said to myself that I
ought to be in a nursery for infants if I couldn't do a little rampaging
on my own account. I know I didn't do a thing except let 'em walk over
me, but I wasn't scared after that first minute and I knew that we
couldn't lose if Neil and Teeny-bits didn't get laid out."

To Teeny-bits it was a surprise to hear his name linked in this way with
that of his captain. In his own opinion he had, aside from the one
fortunate play in which he had crossed the Jefferson goal line,
contributed very little to the Ridgley victory, but as the evening went
on and one player after another joined his name with that of Neil
Durant, he saw that these big fellows with whom he had been so closely
associated during the past few weeks felt, for some miraculous reason,
that he had helped them to maintain their spirit and to carry the fight
to Jefferson.

When it came Teeny-bits' turn, Coach Murray said: "We'll now hear from
the chap who nearly gave us nervous prostration by forgetting that
Ridgley was going to play a little game of football to-day."

As Teeny-bits stood up he thought of telling the members of the team why
he had been late to the game, but he instantly decided that it was
better to make his explanation alone to Neil Durant or the coach. He
merely said:

"I had a pretty good reason for not getting to the field before I
did,--I am going to tell Mr. Murray and Neil about it later. I haven't
much to say regarding the game except that I knew we could win because
we had the spirit to do it and because Neil was showing us the way all
the time. To play on the eleven which beat a team that fought as hard
and as clean as the Jefferson crowd is an honor that makes me dizzy. I
began to dream about it a few weeks ago; now that it's come true I can
hardly believe it."

Teeny-bits sat down and a few moments later the balloting began to elect
a new captain for the Ridgley team. It was Neil Durant's last year and
the big leader of the red eleven, before starting the procedure that
would result in the choosing of his successor, said to his team-mates:

"It is our custom, as you all know, to choose a football captain at the
dinner following the Jefferson game. It has always been done without
nominations--simply by balloting. I'll pass around these slips of paper
and I want you to write on them the name of the man who in your opinion,
regardless of friendship, will make the leader who will best carry on
Ridgley football tradition."

All of the members of the team knew that this was coming, of course, and
they took it solemnly and in silence. There were no suggestions passed
from one to another; each received a paper from the captain, wrote down
a name and returned the folded slip to Neil, who made a second round of
the big table. The captain turned the ballots over to the coach who
quickly unfolded and counted them. When he was through, of the fifteen
ballots--one for each member of the team who had played in the big
game--fourteen were piled in front of his right hand and one remained in
front of his left hand. He whispered a word to Neil Durant who
immediately got to his feet and said:

"Fellows, you have elected a _real_ leader; one who has grit and spirit
and who always thinks of the team before he thinks of himself, a fellow
who does much and says little; Teeny-bits Holbrook is the captain of the
Ridgley eleven. In view of the fact that he is the only one here who
voted for some one else we'll call it a unanimous election."

Teeny-bits looked from one face to another with such an expression of
bewilderment and astonishment that every one knew that he was dazed with
surprise. They were all looking at him and he realized that they counted
on him to say something. He got up and attempted to fulfil their
expectations but he never was quite sure what he said, although he knew
that they cheered and yelled and that presently he sat down. Within a
few minutes Coach Murray brought the banquet to a close and they all
went out to watch the celebration which was already well under way.

The band that had done almost continuous service during the afternoon
had been retained and was now engaged in booming out--somewhat raucously
and discordantly but nevertheless effectively--the Ridgley songs,
principally the Ridgley victory song. Above the din sounded the _boom_,
_boom_ of the bass drum--not always in time with the music--and the
members of the team discovered that Snubby Turner had persuaded the
"artist" who wielded the padded sticks to relinquish his noise-producing
instruments and that Snubby, at the head of the band, was drumming away
to his heart's content and every few seconds giving voice to a yell that
expressed his supreme happiness in the outcome of the afternoon's
struggle. Every one laughed at Snubby and felt himself inspired by the
example to yell louder and contribute with more abandon to the
demonstration around the fire.

As Teeny-bits looked at Snubby, he said to himself again that it was
impossible that this genial and loyal son of Ridgley was guilty of
stealing from members of the school or being in any way connected with
the incidents that had contributed to his own former unhappiness. He
made up his mind that he would, within the next twenty-four hours, have
a talk with Snubby and attempt to arrive at an explanation of the
mysterious events which were still puzzling his mind.

Until midnight the red sparks mounted above the tops of the Ridgley
maples,--mounted until they seemed to join with the stars that on this
crisp autumn night looked down from clear skies upon the scene of
revelry.

Only two members of Ridgley School were absent from the celebration and
no one at the time missed them,--Tracey Campbell, substitute left
half-back of the football team, and Bassett, the self-named Western
Whirlwind.

Parades and speeches and cheering, torchlight wavering against the white
buildings, huge banners held aloft with the stirring figures, 20 to 14,
emblazoned in red upon them, and then gradually as the night grew old, a
lessening of sound and a dimming of light,--that was the way of
Ridgley's festivity. Finally the members of the school made their way
back to the white dormitories; the great day was over; the pleasure that
remained was the pleasure of retrospection, of thinking over each detail
of the victory, of re-living the struggle and of reading the accounts of
the game in the newspapers. In those papers the sons of Ridgley were
destined to find not only the glowing account of the game, which they
knew would greet their eyes, but also news of a startling and unexpected
nature.



CHAPTER XI

MYSTERIES IN PART EXPLAINED


On the morning following the Jefferson game, Ridgley School, somewhat
stiff after the strenuous hours of struggle and victory, but feeling
utterly contented with the world and more than ever convinced that there
was no school quite like the one that stood on the hill among the
maples, awoke and prepared to settle itself leisurely to the enjoyment
of glorious memories. The first person who opened a newspaper intended
to undergo the pleasant experience of allowing the lines of printed
words to recall to mind the deathless moments of Ridgley accomplishment
and triumph. After his eyes had taken in the headlines that announced
the victory of the red, however, they were arrested by heavy type that
announced a tragedy. Two members of the school had been the victims of
an accident and one of them had lost his life. The reporters' story of
the occurrence read as follows:

"On Saturday afternoon while Ridgley was earning its triumph over
Jefferson and while the sounds of cheering echoed across the field,
death came to one member of the school and serious injury to another. No
one witnessed the tragedy. Mr. Osborne Murchie, while driving along the
State road from Greensboro to Springfield yesterday at about three
o'clock, came upon a seven-passenger car which had crashed through the
railing and had rolled down the embankment at the beginning of Hairpin
Turn and lay at the bottom of the gulch in a demolished condition, with
two young men pinned beneath the wreck. With the aid of a friend who
accompanied him, Mr. Murchie pried up the car and removed from beneath
it the dead body of a young man which was later identified as that of J.
M. Bassett, a student at Ridgley, whose home is in Denver, Colorado. The
other young man, Tracey Campbell, son of the prominent leather dealer,
who was unconscious and suffering from severe injuries, was conveyed to
the hospital at Greensboro, where it is said that he has a fair chance
of recovery.

"There are certain matters in regard to the tragedy that have not yet
been explained: first, why on this day when all members of the school
were attending the game at Ridgley Field were these two students driving
_away_ from the school? No one has been able to tell where the young men
were going or how the accident occurred. The assumption is that while
traveling at high speed they attempted to take the sharp turn too
swiftly. The machine, which was wrecked beyond repair, belonged to the
father of Tracey Campbell."

The news flew from room to room, from dormitory to dormitory, with the
rapidity of wireless. It was as if the story had suddenly been blazoned
across the clear November sky above the Ridgley campus; in one moment,
it seemed, the whole school knew that Whirlwind Bassett had come to his
end under tragic circumstances and that Tracey Campbell was lying in the
Greensboro hospital with an even chance of recovery. It was difficult at
first for many a member of Ridgley School to believe that the tragic
news was true,--so vivid is life, so unreal seems death. They could not
quite imagine Bassett--Whirlwind Bassett--lying dead out there at the
bottom of Hairpin Gulch.

Certain incidents which previously had seemed quite unworthy of
attention now assumed proportions of importance. A third-year student
named Gilmore who had sat in the Ridgley stands beside Bassett
recollected that the self-styled "Whirlwind" had risen from his seat at
the start of the game, had made his way out of the stands and had not
returned. Fred Harper and one or two others of the Ridgley football
substitutes remembered that Campbell, after coming off the field when
Teeny-bits had arrived, had slipped out through the opening under the
stands and had not returned. Most of the members of the squad remembered
that Campbell had not appeared at the locker building during the
rest-period between the halves and recollected that it had occurred to
them that he was "playing baby" because of the fact that he had lost his
chance to start the game. There seemed to be no sufficient explanation,
however, of the simultaneous exit of Bassett and Campbell. The last
person who had seen them, according to rumor, was one of the
ticket-takers at the field-gates who said that just after the game began
he caught a glimpse of Campbell driving his father's big car down the
street toward Hamilton with some one beside him in the front seat.

To certain members of Ridgley School the tragedy served as a last link
in a chain of circumstantial evidence that had gradually been involving
Campbell and Bassett. Among those persons were Neil Durant and Snubby
Turner.

On the previous evening Teeny-bits Holbrook had not been so absorbed in
the celebration that he had not found time to say to the captain and the
coach what he had in his mind. While the sounds of the revelers still
rose over the campus the three had gone into Neil Durant's room, and
there Teeny-bits had told of the false telephone message, of the
struggle in the road, of how his unknown assailants had carried him away
and kept him prisoner, of his fight to escape, of the strange action of
his Chinese captors when they discovered the mark of the knife, of his
escape and finally of his return to the Holbrook home and his long
sleep.

"It sounds like a pretty wild story, I know," he had said to his two
friends, "but it's true, every word of it, and I don't know why in the
world it all happened or whatever made those Chinamen let me go when
they saw my birthmark."

Coach Murray and Neil Durant had readily admitted that they thought it
was an extraordinary story but the idea did not enter their minds that
it was not true in every detail, for they knew that what Teeny-bits
Holbrook said could be relied upon to the minutest detail. For half an
hour they sat talking it over, suggesting possible motives and trying to
fathom the meaning of the mystery. Two things Teeny-bits did not
mention: the incident of finding Snubby Turner breaking into Campbell's
room and the accusatory letter that had led to the discovery of the
stolen loot. Those things, he felt, were matters not to be discussed
even with two such good friends as Mr. Murray and Neil Durant. There was
one person, however, with whom he wished to discuss that phase of the
strange circumstances in which he had become involved; he had already
made up his mind that very few hours should pass before he would have a
heart-to-heart talk with Snubby Turner. He was weary, however--bone and
muscle and brain weary--and as the sounds of the celebration diminished
he mounted the stairs to his room for a well-earned sleep.

In the morning Teeny-bits went to see Snubby Turner early,--before the
newspapers brought the first information of the tragedy. Snubby, still
in his pyjamas, let the new captain of the Ridgley eleven into his room
and blinked happily at his visitor.

"Oh, what a _day_, and oh, what a _night_!" he said. "It was the best
thing that ever happened and I'm glad I didn't miss it." Then genial
Snubby held out his hand to Teeny-bits and added: "Ridgley owes you a
lot and I'm _mighty glad_ that the fellows made you captain. Every one
says that you're the man for the job."

Teeny-bits was embarrassed by Snubby's words, for they made it all the
more difficult to say what was in his mind.

"Thanks, Snubby," he said, and paused,--"I came down here because I
wanted to ask you a question that has been bothering me for nearly a
week. You remember last Monday night when we had the mass meeting?"

A queer look came over Snubby's face. "Yes, I remember that night all
right."

"Well," said Teeny-bits, "you know the fellows got me up on the platform
and made me say something, and then, instead of sitting down, I went out
and started to come back to the dormitory. That was about nine o'clock
and no one was stirring on the campus because all the fellows had gone
to the mass meeting."

Teeny-bits was silent for a moment as if waiting for Snubby to say
something, but Snubby only continued to look at him with the same queer
expression of expectation that had come into his face at first mention
of the mass meeting.

"Well," continued Teeny-bits, "you know, something happened. I was
coming along pretty close to Gannett Hall when I saw some one sliding
down a fire-escape rope and getting into Campbell's window. Of course,
that made me think of the things that had been stolen from the fellows'
rooms and so I stepped into the bushes out there behind the dormitory
and waited until the fellow came out and I saw who it was."

"Yes," cried Snubby, whose face had suddenly become red, "and of course
you've been thinking all this time that I was the one who got away with
the money and things?"

"No!" said Teeny-bits. "There's where you're wrong; I haven't been
thinking any such thing. I _know_ that there's some other explanation
and I want you to give it to me, Snubby,--for more reasons than one.
I'll tell you something that I'm sure you don't know. That same night,
Doctor Wells called me over to his office and showed me a letter that
some one had written, saying that _I_ was the one who had stolen the
things."

"That _you_ were the one?" echoed Snubby with a look of amazement.

"Yes," declared Teeny-bits, "that I was the one, and of course I told
Doctor Wells that it wasn't true and he believed me, but it said in that
letter that the things were hidden under the floor of my closet and when
Doctor Wells and I went up to my room after the lights were out in the
dormitories, we found all that stuff, including Harper's sailing trophy,
Ned's gold knife, your watch and all the other trinkets that anybody has
missed ever since things began to disappear!"

"But that didn't make Doctor Wells believe that you had stolen the
stuff!" cried Snubby. "_He_ wouldn't think just because----"

"But something else happened, too," said Teeny-bits. "When I was
crouching in the bushes behind the dormitory and just after you had
crawled back into your room that night, Mr. Stevens came along and found
me there, and I couldn't make any explanation, you know, and so I don't
see how they could help thinking that I did it--because Doctor Wells
always talks things over with Mr. Stevens."

"Why didn't you tell them that you had seen me coming down that
fire-escape?" demanded Snubby.

"You know why I didn't do that," Teeny-bits replied, "and you know that
I knew you were all right, but for _heaven's sake_ tell me what it's all
about, because I want to get this mystery out of my mind and have it
over with."

"I can see the whole thing as clear as crystal now!" exclaimed Snubby,
"but I guess I was an awful fool to take such a chance in breaking into
Campbell's room. It was Campbell and Bassett that I was after. Old Jerry
put me wise to something he had overheard them say, and, like a chump, I
was trying to do a little private detective work because I wanted to get
back my watch and all those other things. Now _this_ is all I know about
it and I am terribly sorry that I went butting into things and was
responsible for bringing trouble to you----"

Snubby Turner was not destined to continue his explanation at that
moment, for before he had time to go on with what he had in mind the
sound of excited exclamations came from the corridor, and some one,
after knocking loudly on the door, turned the knob and thrust in his
head. Teeny-bits and Snubby saw that it was Fred Harper.

"Have you heard the news?" the newcomer cried. "Bassett's been killed
and Campbell's in the hospital pretty nearly done for, too! It's in the
newspapers. Look here!"

Behind Fred Harper were half a dozen other Ridgleyites, and Snubby
Turner's room quickly became crowded with members of the school whose
attention had been attracted by the exclamations. Meanwhile Snubby
Turner slipped out of the room and ran down to the basement to consult
Jerry, the janitor's assistant; he remained in the old fellow's box-like
room for several minutes.

The result of the conversation that went on between them was that old
Jerry pulled a celluloid collar out of a pasteboard box and announced
gruffly and with unmistakable determination that he was "goin' over to
see the Doctor." It was not often that old Jerry adorned his neck in any
manner, and now he felt that it was entirely unnecessary to put on a
tie. The shining collar itself fastened with a button which, if not gold
at least had the appearance of the precious metal, was evidence that he
was bound upon an important mission and when he arrived at Doctor Wells'
house and rang the door bell his fearsome features wore such a murderous
expression that the maid who came in answer to his summons was startled.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"I wanter see the Doctor!" said Jerry and glowered so fiercely that the
girl started to close the door.

With surprising agility the old man thrust his foot into the crack and
when the girl said: "The Doctor is very busy; he's received some bad
news and he won't want to talk with you," old Jerry repeated: "I wanter
see the Doctor!" and added an imperative "_Now!_" which caused the girl
to come to the conclusion that here was a determined and desperate man.
She announced to Doctor Wells that "that terrible looking old janitor"
was outside and that he was "bound to come in."

Doctor Wells immediately came out to the door and ushered old Jerry into
his office where the grizzled janitor's assistant sat on the edge of one
of the big chairs and, holding his hat in his hand, announced to the
head of the school the following:

"I got my ijeers and they ain't no _common_ ijeers either, Doctor."

"I know you have, Jerry," said Doctor Wells, who from twenty years'
acquaintance with the old-timer was aware that no small matter had
induced him to invade what he had always considered as no less than
sacred territory.

"Yes," said Jerry, "ijeers are common until they get backed up by
_facts_, Doctor, and then they's uncommon. The boys was tellin' me the
news about Bassett and Campbell. I says I knew them birds wouldn't come
to no good end. I ain't one to talk agin one of them as has passed on,
Doctor, but them was bad birds. Here's how I come to know it. I got eyes
and ears sharper'n Tophet, even if I be nigh on to seventy and perhaps a
little more, and I heard things along back that sot me to suspicionin'
them two, and I kind o' says to myself it was my duty to the school to
detect around a mite and find out what was goin' on. They didn't like
Teeny-bits at all--not at all. They had it in for Teeny-bits (for some
reason old Jerry added an l to Findley Holbrook's nickname) from the
very start, and one night when I was standin' in a dark corner of the
corridor I heared Bassett sayin' he'd get even with him. And then after
the money and contraptions begun to disappear from the rooms I
overheared 'em talkin' again and what they says, Doctor, was this: 'I
got 'em in there all right. Now all you need to do is write the letter
on your father's typewriter. No one'll know.'"

"Who said that?" demanded Doctor Wells.

"Them two birds I'm tellin' yer about,--Bassett, the feller they called
the Whirlwind, and Campbell. Now I ain't no reg'lar detecative, Doctor,
but I got my _ijeers_, and that sot me to thinkin' hard and I knew
somethin' uncommon suspicious was goin' on. A friend o' mine who was
kinder detecatin' round as my assistant, you might say, slid down a
fire-escape rope about that time and climbed into Campbell's room, but
he didn't find nothin' and come away empty-handed."

"Who was that friend of yours?" asked Doctor Wells. "Was it Teeny-bits?"

"Now, Doctor," said old Jerry, "I ain't aimin' to keep anythin' back
twixt you'n me, but there's certain things, you understan', that I
can't--it wan't Teeny-bits----but further'n that----"

"All right, Jerry," said the Head. "I respect your point of view. Go on
with your story."

"Well," said Jerry, "this friend of mine come to me this mornin' and
says that Teeny-bits got accused of stealin' them things from the boys
and that somehow or other all those gold trinkets and contraptions got
found under his closet floor, and I wanter tell you, Doctor, that this
Teeny-bits _didn't do it_ and that them two bad birds, Campbell and
Bassett, was at the bottom of all this deviltry, and there ain't been
two sich underhanded, reckless, _good-for-nothin'_ fellers in this
school sence I took position here twenty year ago."

"Jerry," said the Doctor, "I value your judgment and I thank you for
coming to me in this frank way and giving me the benefit of your ideas."

The interview was over. Old Jerry left the office of the Head mumbling
to himself: "I got my ijeers and sometimes, by gorry, they's _uncommon_
ijeers."

While Jerry had been talking with the Head, Snubby Turner, who had
finished his explanation to Teeny-bits, had sought out Mr. Stevens and
had said to him:

"I have just been discovering some things that make it necessary for me
to tell you that last Monday night, while the football mass meeting was
going on, I slid down a fire-rope and crawled into Tracey Campbell's
room to see if I could discover if he was the one who had been stealing
things from the fellows' rooms and that while I was doing it Teeny-bits
came along and saw me, though I didn't know it at the time,--and that is
the reason why you found him out there behind the dormitory."

"Turner," said the English master, "you've told me something that I am
more than glad to hear. It clears up one element in a puzzling
situation. I'm beginning to see light."

On this Sunday, Ridgley School, expecting to settle down into a
comfortable enjoyment of the football triumph, found itself involved in
a sensation which was the source of rumors that flew from dormitory to
dormitory and from room to room with incredible rapidity. All day long
hints, suggestions, stories--the product of fact, hearsay and
fancy--were exchanged by every son of the school. At the morning service
in the chapel Doctor Wells referred to the tragedy in grave terms.

"Unexpectedly," he said, "while we have been rejoicing over our victory,
death has taken toll from among us; one of our number has passed
suddenly from this world into the world beyond. By this tragic
circumstance our thoughts are sobered and we find ourselves face to face
with a sad and bitter incident--the termination of a life while it was
still incomplete and unformed. I hope that the whole school will refrain
from useless comment and will form no harsh or unjust judgments. This is
a time for charity of thought."

Doctor Wells found many duties to perform in connection with the
tragedy. Not until evening was he able to do what he had had in his mind
to do from the moment when old Jerry called at his office. Another bit
of news that came from Mr. Stevens--information that concerned Snubby
Turner--had given him additional incentive to finish one phase of an
unpleasant matter quickly. After the evening meal that night he summoned
Mr. Stevens and Teeny-bits to his office, and there put certain
questions to the new captain of the Ridgley eleven that brought out the
whole story of the incidents that had occurred on the night before the
big game.

Sitting in front of the open fire, Doctor Wells put his fingers together
in the pose that was characteristic of him when he was deeply immersed
in thought. The clock on the mantel piece ticked loudly in the silence
of the room and Teeny-bits and Mr. Stevens sat pondering as profoundly
as the Head. After a time Doctor Wells spoke, slowly, as if he were
alone and were merely voicing the thoughts that flocked through his
mind:

"This is the strangest series of circumstances that has come to my
attention since I have been at Ridgley. It is hard to understand why two
young fellows should harbor such an animosity for any other member of
the school."

"Well," said Mr. Stevens, breaking in when the Head paused, "this
Bassett was a strange character; there seemed to be something lacking in
his nature; I shall have to admit that, although I made it a point to
study him, I quite failed to understand him. I don't think you knew that
on the day when Holbrook arrived at Ridgley, Bassett did certain things
which resulted in a struggle, and that Holbrook got the better of him in
a way that humiliated him before most of the roomers in Gannett Hall.
Almost any young fellow would recover from a thing like that and very
likely become good friends with his conqueror; in this case, however, it
seems to have started a germ of jealousy and desire for revenge which
grew out of all proportion to the incident. And then, of course,
Campbell was displaced on the team by Holbrook. From what I know of
those two young men I have come to the conclusion that Bassett, in his
crafty way, had a certain strength of character which allowed him to
dominate Campbell, whom I have always thought of as much the weaker
mentally of the two. A psychologist could probably have told us strange
things about Whirlwind Bassett."

"What is done can't, unfortunately, be undone," said the Head. "I regret
more than I can say that we were not able to nip all this trouble in the
bud--catch it at the beginning and prevent the tragic ending of it all."
Doctor Wells sat up a little straighter in his chair at that moment and
looked at Teeny-bits. "Holbrook," he said, "I want to tell you that I
appreciate the fine sense of loyalty to a friend that prevented you from
telling Mr. Stevens that you had seen Turner breaking into Campbell's
room. That would have explained something that puzzled us. But we
respect you for your silence."

"I knew that Snubby was honest," said Teeny-bits, "and, although I
couldn't imagine why he was doing it, I couldn't suspect him."

Doctor Wells' comment was short. "You did right. A suspicious nature is
one of the meanest things in the world." Again the Head was silent for a
time and then the expression of his face changed. "Now about this
Chinese business," he said; "I can understand the motive that was behind
spiriting you away, but when I come to the rather extraordinary means of
your escape, Holbrook, I will admit that my abilities as an amateur
Sherlock Holmes are too feeble. As I understand it from what you have
told us, these two Chinese in this Greensboro place seem to have been
strangely affected by the mark on your shoulder. Have you any
explanation of that?"

"I don't know whatever got into their heads," said Teeny-bits. "It's
beyond me. They jabbered away at a terrible rate in Chinese and acted as
if they were frightened."

"What is the nature of this mark?" asked Doctor Wells. "If you don't
mind telling me."

"Why, it's nothing," said Teeny-bits, "except a mark that looks like a
knife; a lot of the fellows have thought it was queer when they saw it
in the shower-bath room, but I never thought much about it because it's
always been there and didn't seem particularly strange to me."

"Mr. Stevens," said Doctor Wells, "I think you and Holbrook might go
over to Greensboro sometime this week and see what you can find. It
won't do any harm at least to try a little amateur detective work. I
wonder----"

Doctor Wells paused as if he thought it would be better not to say what
was in his mind. He had been about to mention something in regard to the
information that old Daniel Holbrook had given him on the opening day of
school,--the story of the accident at Hamilton station which had caused
the sudden death of the unknown woman who was supposed to be Teeny-bits'
mother. It had occurred to the Head that it might be just as well not to
talk over those matters in the presence of Teeny-bits.

When Mr. Stevens and Teeny-bits got up to go Doctor Wells shook hands
with them gravely.

"Holbrook," he said, "I haven't told you something that was in my mind
last night when I heard the news that came from the football banquet. I
was greatly pleased to learn that the Ridgley eleven had chosen you as
captain. I know that you will make a leader of whom we can be as proud
as we have been of Neil Durant."

Later Doctor Wells found occasion to tell Mr. Stevens the thing that he
had omitted: the history of Teeny-bits' unexplained origin. With this
information stimulating his mind to solve the mystery, the English
master suggested to Teeny-bits that they lose no time in visiting
Greensboro.



CHAPTER XII

A VISIT TO CHUAN KAI's


On Monday afternoon Mr. Stevens and the new football captain journeyed
to the thriving young city. They went first to Stanley Square. Starting
from the yellow brick market building with the tower and the clock,
Teeny-bits attempted to retrace the steps that he had taken on that
night when he fled from the place where the Orientals had held him
prisoner. They went down one street and up another, turning this way and
that, until Teeny-bits finally stopped and said:

"I'm afraid I can't remember just which way I came. I was pretty excited
and I ran down these streets as fast as I could and it was dark, and I
didn't think much about remembering where I came."

"Well," said Mr. Stevens, "there's one thing we can do. We'll ask the
officer over there on the street corner where the Chinese places are,
and perhaps that will lead us somewhere."

"At any rate," said Teeny-bits, "it must be very near where we are now,
because I know I came from this general direction and I covered about
the same amount of ground that we have covered since we left the
square."

In answer to their inquiry the police officer informed them that there
were four Chinese establishments in the city--two laundries and two
restaurants.

The laundries proved to be near the center of the town, one on Main
Street, the other on Clyde Street. Mr. Stevens, and Teeny-bits looked
both of these establishments over, but Teeny-bits quickly announced that
neither of them could be the place they were seeking. They were small
and both were across the electric car tracks from Stanley Square.
Teeny-bits remembered that on the night of his escape he had crossed no
tracks until he reached the square.

The first of the restaurants which they visited backed up to the
Greensboro River, a shallow stream which wound through the town. There
was an alley in the rear which to Teeny-bits looked somewhat like the
one down which he had hastened while the two Chinese had come pattering
after him, but he did not remember that he had seen any water. They went
inside, however, and questioned the wrinkled yellow man who, thinking
them customers, came to take their order. He answered them in pidgin
English, and Teeny-bits became convinced, after they had looked about
the place, that this was not the scene of his imprisonment on Friday
night.

They then went to the Oriental Eating Palace of Chuan Kai, but at Mr.
Stevens' suggestion, before entering the restaurant, made a complete
circuit of the building and examined its outward appearance. In the rear
there was an alley.

"This looks like it!" declared Teeny-bits, and then he added: "But I
couldn't swear that it's the one."

"Why don't we go up those stairs there and see what we find," said Mr.
Stevens. "It's trespassing, I suppose, but all in a justifiable cause."

Quickly they let themselves in the rear door and began to mount the
steps.

"That night," said Teeny-bits, "I remember that I came down two flights;
this might be the place, but of course I didn't stop much to look
around."

At the top of the second flight Mr. Stevens and Teeny-bits came to a
narrow hallway from which opened two doors. Mr. Stevens knocked softly
on the one at the right and, receiving no answer, pushed it open. They
had expected to find no one in the room; to their surprise, a Chinese
who had been lying on a "double-decker" bunk jumped down to the floor
and stood looking at them with astonishment and fear in his face.

"This isn't the room, and I don't think I ever saw this fellow before,"
Teeny-bits whispered to the English master.

"We're looking for two Chinese who were in one of these rooms last
Friday night," said Mr. Stevens to the Oriental. "Perhaps they're in the
other room."

It was evident that the Chinaman who confronted them with startled eyes
did not understand much English. He made no reply and continued to stare
at them as if he thought it inexplainable that two white men should
suddenly invade his sleeping quarters.

Mr. Stevens backed out of the room and somewhat to Teeny-bits' surprise
immediately tried the other door. It opened upon a small square room,
empty except for a table and four chairs which were arranged as if for a
game of cards. Teeny-bits had expected to see a mattress lying on the
floor, but nothing of the sort greeted his eyes and no one was in the
room.

"This looks like the place, but somehow it seems changed," he said to
Mr. Stevens.

At that moment they both heard a cry in Chinese and, as they whirled
round, an answer came from the floor below and the sound of feet
pattering down the stairway.

"There!" exclaimed Mr. Stevens, "I'm afraid your friends are running
away. That fellow in the other room has given the alarm. Let's go down
to the restaurant quickly and see what we can find."

Chuan Kai met the two with an inscrutable countenance. There was
something about his eyes, however, that suggested to Teeny-bits and Mr.
Stevens that he was not wholly unprepared for their call.

"Last Friday night," said the English master, "this young man was kept
for several hours in one of the rooms upstairs. We should like to talk
to the two Chinese who were kind enough to permit him to escape."

"No unne'stan'," said Chuan Kai, wrinkling his lips in a manner that
showed his yellow teeth.

Mr. Stevens was patient. He repeated his request, laid his hand on
Teeny-bits' shoulder, pointed toward the ceiling as he mentioned the
room above and then held up two fingers as he spoke of the Chinese who
had been present when Teeny-bits escaped. The only answer was a puzzled
frown on Chuan Kai's wrinkled features; either the old man was
bewildered by the request of his visitors or he was a good actor.
Suddenly Mr. Stevens decided the latter, for he spoke rapidly and with
considerable force:

"I think you understand English all right. Now tell me, where are those
two men of yours? If you will let me see them quickly perhaps we can
agree not to trouble you further. Now then, where are they?"

Chuan Kai smiled with such ingenuousness as he could summon. "Ai," he
said. "You like to see my boys?"

He turned away from them quickly and cried out something in Chinese, at
the same time throwing back a door which led to the kitchen.

"Come, look, _see_," he said as he turned back to Teeny-bits and Mr.
Stevens. "You like see all boys."

In the kitchen which was disclosed to view were four Chinese in
loose-sleeved shirts and aprons. They were engaged in cutting up meat
and in mixing food over the fire. Among them Teeny-bits did not
recognize either one of the Orientals who had acted so strangely at the
sight of the knife mark.

"I don't think they're here," he said to Mr. Stevens. "As I remember it
they were bigger than these fellows."

The English master turned to Chuan Kai and said, "We don't intend to
cause you any trouble. This young friend of mine has a mark on his
shoulder which looks like a knife. Two of your men acted strangely when
they saw it. What can you tell me about it? Don't be afraid to speak
up."

Chuan Kai and his four employees looked at their American visitors with
every semblance of frank amazement and bewilderment.

"Well, we'll try one thing more," said Mr. Stevens. "Pull off your coat,
Teeny-bits, and let them take a look at that mark."

Teeny-bits quickly threw off his coat and unbuttoned the soft collar of
his shirt until he could pull back the linen and show the mark of the
knife. The effect was more than the English master or Teeny-bits
expected. The four Chinese, who had been observing in apparent
astonishment this sudden performance on Teeny-bits' part, gazed at the
mark and began to jabber among themselves in a manner that showed
plainly enough their excitement and agitation. One of them even took a
step nearer as if to obtain a clearer view. Chuan Kai, however, quickly
brought their demonstration to an end. He exclaimed sharply in his
singsong language and stepped toward them in a manner that had only one
meaning,--a threat of violence. Instantly the four Chinese resumed their
work over the meat and the kettles, and although they rolled their black
eyes furtively toward Teeny-bits and the English master they said
nothing more, nor could they be induced to show further sign of
excitement.

Chuan Kai himself muttered in Chinese. Finally he smiled craftily,
shrugged his shoulders and said to Mr. Stevens, "Where did boy get mark?
These fellas (pointing to the four Chinese) think it's funny."

"Why do they think it's funny?" asked Mr. Stevens. But the Oriental had
no answer to that and took refuge again in his assumed or actual
unfamiliarity with English. For several minutes Mr. Stevens tried to get
something further from the Chinamen but was unsuccessful and finally
said to Teeny-bits who had buttoned his shirt and put on his coat:

"Well, I guess we've found out as much as we are able to from these
fellows. Let's be going."

Chuan Kai, following them out to the street, was obsequiously polite. He
even gave them a little box of Chinese nuts and candied fruit and
pressed it upon them when they at first refused to accept it.

The result of the visit had not been satisfactory. Teeny-bits had been
unable to discover either of the Orientals who had held him prisoner.
Perhaps, as Mr. Stevens had suggested, these two had escaped down the
alley when the young Chinese whom they had encountered in the upper room
gave his cry of warning. The only significant incident had been when the
four Chinese had shown excitement on viewing the mark on Teeny-bits'
back.

"Of course, we could swear out a warrant and have the police investigate
this whole matter," said Mr. Stevens, "but I am afraid that that would
get us nowhere, for as you say, it would be pretty difficult for you to
identify those men and we couldn't even prove that it was at Chuan Kai's
place that you were held prisoner. I guess the next thing for us to do
is to wait for some word to come from Tracey Campbell."

But no word of explanation came. For a few days Tracey Campbell lay in a
semiconscious condition; he then grew rapidly better and at the end of
the week was removed to the Campbell home.

The leather dealer, who had been away on a business trip at the time of
the Ridgley-Jefferson game, had, of course, been summoned back to
Greensboro by telegram. Twice he came to Ridgley School for a conference
with Doctor Wells. His attitude on the occasion of his first visit was
one of indignation and arrogance. He indicated to the Head that Ridgley
School was responsible for the whole tragic incident and that
explanations were in order. When he learned that his son was under
accusation and that there was evidence to give weight to the case, his
attitude underwent somewhat of a change. He was still in a warlike mood,
however, and left Doctor Wells with the promise of getting at the root
of the whole matter and exonerating his son. On the occasion of his
second visit, however, his attitude was quite different. He now wished
to hush up the whole affair and treat the thing as an unfortunate
incident which could not be too quickly forgotten. Tracey Campbell would
not return to Ridgley School. As soon as he recovered sufficiently to
travel his father intended to send him to Florida. From certain remarks
that the leather dealer made, it was evident to Doctor Wells that Tracey
had confessed his part in the theft of the trinkets and money. In regard
to the charge of being implicated in the kidnapping of Teeny-bits, Mr.
Campbell declared that nothing had been proved against his son and in
his opinion it was doubtless "all a story made up by that young
Teeny-bits fellow in order to curry favor and win popularity."

And so the matter was left as far as the Campbells were concerned,
though it was said that Mrs. Campbell called Doctor Wells on the
telephone and in her shrill voice denied vigorously that her son had
acted in any manner unbecoming to "the son of a gentleman" and that for
her part she thought that the school was a poor one and that she wished
they wouldn't have such games as football "which work the boys up to
excitement and get them into a dangerous state of mind." No one took the
pains to ascertain whether Tracey Campbell was actually expelled from
the school or had merely been withdrawn. At any rate Ridgley School
would see him no more and as the days went on, it seemed less and less
worth while to investigate the circumstances which preceded the
Jefferson game by calling upon Tracey Campbell to confess further
details.

The visit of Bassett Senior to the school--Blow-Hard Bassett as he was
known in certain sections of the West--was sadder and more pathetic. He
was a big man who dressed gaudily; even the tragedy had not served to
remove wholly from his appearance the garish quality that proclaimed his
type. To Mr. Stevens and Doctor Wells his visit was a startling
exemplification of that old saying: "Like father, like son." When they
talked to him it was as if they were talking to Whirlwind Bassett grown
into a man of fifty. His visit was an unpleasant incident,--he showed so
plainly that he had made a failure of his duties as a father and he
groped so helplessly in his grief for the reason why his boy, whose body
he would carry back to the West, had by his own acts brought an unhappy
termination to his career.

"I never understood him," he said to Doctor Wells, "and I suppose I
haven't been just the right kind of father for him. He didn't have any
mother after he was four years old, and even when he was a little feller
I never seemed to have much luck in making him mind me. He was always
doing something to cause a commotion of some sort, like running away or
getting into mix-ups--nothing very bad, you know, just such things as
young fellers are apt to do. Sometimes I talked to him but it never made
much impression."

As Blow-Hard Bassett looked out of Doctor Wells' shaded windows there
was a hint of moisture in his eyes. "He was a determined little feller,"
he remarked after a moment, "and when he'd get a notion in his head it
seemed like nothing would shake it out. I remember one time when a
mongrel dog that they had out on a ranch where we were staying bit him
on the wrist and the little chap--I guess he was only eight years
old--came bawling to me and says, 'He bit me, Pa; you've got to kill
him!'

"I said, 'Don't you see, it was your fault; the dog wouldn't of bit you
if you hadn't been teasin' him,' but he kept on begging me to kill the
mongrel and when I wouldn't do it, he decided to take matters into his
own hands--and what do you suppose he done? He got a six-shooter out of
a holster that one of the cowboys had left lyin' around an' come up
behind that dog while he was sunnin' himself beside the ranch house and
blowed out his brains! You see, he just made up his mind to settle with
that dog, and nothing that any of us could say made a bit of difference.
I always thought he was going to be a smart man, but I never could get
close to him, so to speak. It was just as if he belonged to some other
man, and now, of course, I can't help wishing that I had somehow got to
understand him better."

There was not much that Doctor Wells could say after that except to
extend his sympathy and to express the wish that it had been possible
for others as well as the father to understand and help the youth who
had come to his untimely end.

November, with each day crisper than the last, slipped into December and
one morning the school awoke to find a thin sifting of snow over the
brown grass of the campus and the bare branches of the maple trees. The
Christmas vacation suddenly became the subject of conversation, and to
Teeny-bits it seemed that every one had a plan that promised pleasure
and recreation. He felt a little lonely at the thought of seeing all
these friends of his depart for the holidays and leave him to spend the
vacation alone in the quiet little village of Hamilton; and then one
evening after the last mail, Neil Durant came into his room with two
opened letters in his hand.

"A couple of invitations," he said. "It's all fixed up, Teeny-bits.
You're going home for Christmas with me and we're going up to Norris'
place in the mountains for some winter sports. You remember he spoke
about getting together, after the game. I thought then that I'd like to
renew old times and now he writes that he wants us to come up to his
place, which is a wonder, way back in the hills where there's great
skiing and snowshoeing."

To Teeny-bits it seemed suddenly as if he had been dreaming and hoping
for a long time that this very thing would happen. It was a wonderful
chance for a good time--but it was to prove more than that for the new
captain of the Ridgley football team.



CHAPTER XIII

DAYS OF PLEASURE


The holiday migration from Ridgley School began six days before
Christmas. Within a few hours the dormitories on the hill, which for
months had resounded to the sound of voices, suddenly became silent and
almost deserted; a few members of the school lingered and half a dozen
of the faculty remained to spend a part or all of the vacation on the
hill, but the great majority set forth to the four quarters of the wind.
Among those who took the morning train on that day of great exodus were
Neil Durant and Teeny-bits Holbrook. Within three hours, as the engine
dragged its load westward, the Ridgleyites who at the start had crowded
two cars had diminished in number to no more than a score. Every large
station along the way claimed two or three and as they left they shouted
back farewells and, loaded down with suitcases, went out to greet the
friends and relatives who had come to meet them. They all had a word for
Neil Durant and Teeny-bits--a special word it seemed--for there was no
question that recent events had ripened the friendships and enhanced the
popularity of these two members of "the best school in the world."

What happiness this was, Teeny-bits said to himself, to be going on a
vacation with a fellow like Neil Durant and to have evidence at every
moment of the friendship of such a "good crowd" as these fellows who
were piling off the train and yelling out their good-bys. It all made
him feel how much the last three months had brought into his life, how
much he owed to the generosity of old Fennimore Ridgley who, though long
ago laid to rest in his grave, had made it possible by his gift for
Teeny-bits to come to Ridgley School.

At two o'clock the train pulled into the station of Dellsport where
Teeny-bits and Neil said good-by to the half dozen of their schoolmates
who were going farther west. They found waiting for them in a closed car
Mrs. Durant and Sylvia Durant, Neil's sister, who immediately made
Teeny-bits feel at ease by talking about school affairs. It had been a
tremendous disappointment, it seemed, to both Mrs. Durant and Sylvia
that they had been unable to come to the football game which had
resulted so gloriously for Ridgley.

"If it hadn't been for the influenza," said Sylvia, "you would have
heard some terrible shrieking on the day of that game--I know I'd have
yelled loud enough so that every one would have heard me, because there
was nothing in the world that I wanted quite so much as to have Ridgley
come through. And when we got Neil's telegram maybe I didn't make the
windows rattle! And mother _almost_ yelled, too."

"We had a terrible quarrel over the newspaper the next day," said Mrs.
Durant, "and I finally compromised by letting Sylvia read the whole
story aloud, so we know just what happened and how one of you evened the
score at the crucial moment and how the other fellow carried the ball
across at the end of the game."

Almost before Teeny-bits realized it he was talking to these two
pleasant persons as if he had known them all his life.

"I want you to act just as if this were your own home," said Mrs. Durant
when she had led the way into the Durant house on Bennington Street. "I
shall have to call you Teeny-bits--and I hope you won't mind--because
Neil has always spoken of you that way in his letters and 'Mr. Holbrook'
_would_ sound formal, wouldn't it?"

"It would make me feel like a stick of wood," said Teeny-bits. "I don't
think any one ever called me that in my life. I've just been Teeny-bits
and I guess I always shall be."

But Teeny-bits Holbrook could not help contrasting this luxurious home
where every reasonable comfort was in evidence, where there were
fireplaces and soft rugs and rich paintings, with his own poor little
home in Hamilton where Ma Holbrook did the work and with her own hands
kept everything shining and clean.

For six days he lived a life that he had never lived before. They skated
at the country club where the new ice had formed over an artificial
pond, drove out in the car over frozen roads to Waygonack Inn for dinner
and danced in the evening, went to the theater and "took in", as Sylvia
called it, two or three parties that were important incidents of the
holiday festivities at Dellsport. Everywhere they encountered jolly
crowds of young fellows and girls.

"Every one seems to fall for you, Teeny-bits," said Neil to the new
captain of the Ridgley team one day, "and they all call you by your
nickname. If you stayed round here very long you'd have them all wearing
a path to our front door."

"You know why it is," replied Teeny-bits, "it's because I'm a friend of
_yours_."

"You're off the track," said Neil, "you're _wild_, man. You've got a way
with you without knowing it, and as for the girls around here--oh, my
heavens!"

"I never realized before what an awful kidder you are, but anyhow I know
I'm having the time of my life," said Teeny-bits.

But in spite of the gayety, Teeny-bits thought often of Ma Holbrook and
old Dad Holbrook who for the first time in many years were spending
Christmas alone. Early in the week he went down to the Dellsport shops
with Neil and selected presents which he thought would please them both.

On the day before Christmas, Major-General Durant, who had been
attending a conference in Washington, came home. Teeny-bits had expected
to stand in awe before this high official of the United States Army; he
was therefore somewhat surprised to find him a genial, easy-to-talk-to
man who took obvious delight in getting back to the freedom and
informality of his home. He was full of stories and keenly interested in
Ridgley School affairs. He himself was the most prominent alumnus of
Ridgley and had many an incident to tell Neil and Teeny-bits about the
days when he himself had played on the football team.

Christmas passed all too quickly. The Durants celebrated it in the good,
old-fashioned manner with a big tree in the living room where a roaring
fire of logs sent myriads of sparks leaping up the chimney. There were
gifts from all the family to Teeny-bits and not the least appreciated of
the presents that came to the visitor was a pair of fur-lined gloves
from Ma and Pa Holbrook, just such a pair as they would select,--warm
and substantial.

Sylvia Durant seemed to have a way of understanding what a person was
thinking about. "Isn't that a good present!" she said. "They're so warm
and comfortable feeling. They'll be just what you'll need for the winter
sports up at the Norris place."

There was not so great a difference after all, Teeny-bits said to
himself, between this Christmas and other Christmases; though the
surroundings were different, the same genial, kindly spirit brooded over
this luxurious home in Dellsport as always brooded at Christmas time
over the humble home in Hamilton. He could shut his eyes and imagine
that Ma and Pa Holbrook were in the room taking it all in and looking
about them with beaming faces.

And then it was all over. On the morning after Christmas Major-General
Durant went back to Washington and Mrs. Durant and Sylvia went with him
to spend the rest of the holidays in the Capitol City.

Neil and Teeny-bits, having seen them off, prepared to start northward
to the Norris place in the Whiteface Mountains. Teeny-bits felt none too
glad to leave the Durant home; those six days had been filled to
overflowing with happiness.

"You're coming again," Sylvia had said, and when Teeny-bits had replied,
"I hope so," she had added, "Why, of course you are. Every one wants you
to."

It was a four-hour run by train to Sheridan and an hour by sleigh to the
Norris cabin at Pocassett, a little settlement of camps and cottages at
the foot of the Whiteface range of mountains. In the early afternoon
Neil and Teeny-bits had arrived in the snow-covered country and were
receiving the greetings of their Jefferson School friends. Ted Norris
had driven down to the station to meet them in a two-seated sleigh and
had brought with him Whipple, whom both Teeny-bits and Neil remembered
as the Jefferson punter.

"How do you fellows feel--pretty husky?" asked Norris as they were going
back toward the mountains. "Some of the crowd up at the camp want to
tramp over the range on snowshoes to-night if it's clear and I didn't
know but what we'd join them."

"That sounds good to me," declared Neil. "Teeny-bits and I have been
leading the social life down in Dellsport and we're all fed up with
parties and so on."

"Sounds good to me, too," said Teeny-bits, although he had to admit to
himself that he wasn't exactly "fed up" with the good time in Dellsport.

The Norris place was a cabin built of spruce logs with an immense stone
fireplace at one end of a long living room,--a comfortable backwoods
place where one felt very close to the out-of-doors. Here the new
arrivals found awaiting them Phillips, another member of the Jefferson
eleven, and an athletic looking middle-aged man whom Norris introduced
as his uncle, Wolcott Norris. There was no one else at the cabin except
Peter Kearns, the cook and helper.

"It's all fixed up for to-night," said the older Norris; "we're going up
the gulf and over the shoulder of Whiteface and then down to the Cliff
House, where a sleigh will meet us and bring us back."

That evening tramp over the slopes of Whiteface Mountain was the
beginning of a wonderful series of winter sports at Pocassett. The party
that made the climb consisted of the six from the Norris place and twice
as many more from other cabins and cottages that nestled in the snow at
the foot of the mountains. While the growing moon hung overhead and shed
its silver radiance over the white world, the snowshoers climbed the
gulf by way of a trail that led among spruces and hemlocks, then up and
out to the great, bare shoulder of the mountain. Gaining the ridge, they
crossed and went plunging, sliding and leaping down in the soft snow
that clothed the farther slope. It was a night to make one's blood run
fast, and the whole crowd came back to the settlement at Pocassett in
high spirits. The days that followed were filled with similar
sports,--skating where the snow had been cleared from the surface of the
Pocassett River, snowshoeing in all directions over the hills, fishing
through the ice at Lonesome Lake and Wolf Pond and, on one or two
nights, get-togethers with the crowd of young people who were occupying
other camps near by.

Teeny-bits soon discovered that the vigorous, middle-aged man who had
been introduced to him that first day as Ted Norris' uncle was in
reality taking the place of the Jefferson football captain's father, who
had died several years before. It seemed to him that here was the most
intensely interesting man he had ever met. He was a mining engineer, and
from little things that were said now and then it was evident that there
was scarcely a quarter of the world into which he had not penetrated. A
casual remark about India aided by a question or two from Phillips and
Neil Durant brought forth a story of a trip into the jungles of that
distant country; at another time the sight of a bare mountain-side
called forth reference to a snow-covered range in China and led to
interesting details of life in the Far East.

"Sometime you will have to take us on a trip to Japan or China or India
or somewhere," said Ted Norris one night when the six of them were at
supper.

"Well," said the mining engineer, "I'd like to do it. Who knows, perhaps
sometime I can."

Teeny-bits Holbrook would have liked nothing better than to "pump" this
man who had traveled so much, for he found stories of far lands
intensely interesting, and when the first mishap of the vacation
occurred he was somewhat envious of the victim, to whom it opened up an
opportunity for closer acquaintance. On Thursday Neil Durant, in trying
out a pair of skis on a steep slope behind the camp, crashed into a
thicket of young pine trees and, although he came through with a grin on
his face, he discovered that he had sprained his ankle and would not be
able to join the crowd on the ski party that had been planned for
Thursday evening. Wolcott Norris announced at supper that he also would
stay behind; and thus it happened that the former captain of the Ridgley
team sat with his bandaged ankle propped up on a chair in front of the
fireplace while Wolcott Norris settled back comfortably to enjoy an
evening of conversation. They talked about many things--travel,
business, college and sports--before the subject got around to the
Ridgley-Jefferson game.

"You know I was there," said the mining engineer, "and I don't think I
ever spent a more interesting two hours. You fellows certainly had the
game developed to a fine point and though of course I, as an old
Jefferson boy, was yelling hard for the purple, I couldn't help handing
you chaps a bit when you came through. And your friend Teeny-bits--now
that I know him--measures up to the idea of what he was like, which I
got from watching him play."

"Yes," said Neil, "he comes through--you can always count on him. Every
one down at school fell for him from the start, partly, I suppose,
because he was different from most of the fellows and then, of course,
because he made good. Certain things about him attracted attention
before he'd been in school very long."

"What things?"

"Well," said Neil, "a lot of things--one is the knife mark on his back."

"The what?" asked Wolcott Norris.

"Why a sort of birthmark that looks like a knife."

The mining engineer had been looking into the embers of the fire rather
dreamily and talking in a low tone to Neil. He now half turned round and
said in a voice that showed more than casual interest, "Tell me about
it. It sounds interesting."

"Well," said Neil, "it's a mark, sort of brick colored, on his shoulder,
that looks exactly like a knife or a dagger. I noticed it one day in the
shower-bath room when Teeny-bits first came out for the football team."

"Has he always had it?"

"Yes, I guess so. I suppose it's just chance--the shape of it, but it is
such an unusual looking thing that the fellows got interested in him and
then of course there was the story about his mother being killed in a
railroad wreck. That got around school some way; Teeny-bits himself told
it, I think; so there isn't any harm in my repeating it. Some mighty
nice people in Hamilton picked him up after a train accident which
killed his mother and took him home. They finally adopted him, and gave
him their name when they weren't able to find any of his relatives, and
of course the mystery of that made the fellows all the more interested
in him."

While the former captain of the Ridgley team had been saying these words
the mining engineer had looked at him with an intentness that Neil had
attributed to the fact that Teeny-bits' story was as interesting to him
as it had been to the sons of Ridgley.

"You said that it was his mother who was killed in the railroad
accident?"

"Yes," replied Neil, "I guess they never found out what her name was.
That seems pretty horrible, but the Holbrooks, who adopted Teeny-bits,
are mighty fine people. Daniel Holbrook is the station agent at
Hamilton."

The mining engineer settled back in his chair, sighed rather heavily and
gazed once more into the embers of the fire. "Well, Teeny-bits is a fine
chap," he said finally, "and I don't wonder that the fellows fell for
him."

"He nearly caused me nervous prostration," said Neil, "when he didn't
show up at the game until the last minute, and the story about what
happened to him and how the Chinese who had kidnaped him acted when they
saw the knife mark on his shoulder is one of the strangest things I ever
heard."

Wolcott Norris got out of his chair so quickly that Neil looked up in
surprise. "What happened about these Chinese?" asked the mining
engineer. "When did they come into it and _how_ did they act?"

"That's another bit of mystery," said Neil. "There were a couple of
fellows at school who didn't like Teeny-bits for one reason or
another--jealousy, I guess--and according to general belief they patched
up some kind of ridiculous plot to get Teeny-bits away from the school
while the big game was being played. One of them was Teeny-bits'
substitute and would have played if Teeny-bits hadn't been there. Maybe
you read in the papers about the accident in which a fellow named
Bassett was killed and another named Campbell got pretty badly hurt.
Those were the two fellows--they wrecked a big machine running away
after Teeny-bits showed up at the game. At least every one supposed they
were trying to make a get-away. All Teeny-bits knows about the thing is
that some one sent him a fake telephone message that his father--that
is, old Daniel Holbrook--had been hurt, and when Teeny-bits was on the
way home some men pounced on him and carried him over to Greensboro and
shut him up in some sort of Chinese place. They had him all tied up and
fixed so that he couldn't get away, they thought; but Teeny-bits
squirmed around and tore his sweater half off and finally got almost
loose, when back came two of these Chinamen and were tying him up again
when they saw this mark on his back and they began to act as if they'd
been mesmerized or something. They jabbered away and pointed at the
thing, and while they were going through these tantrums Teeny-bits just
walked out of the place and came home."

"That _is_ strange," said the mining engineer, "_mighty_ strange. Didn't
he find out why they were frightened or what was behind it all?"

"No," said Neil, "I think the matter was sort of hushed up. They did a
little investigating and it didn't seem to get them anywhere, and I
guess the people at the school thought it wasn't worth while to follow
it up any more. No one doubts that this Campbell fellow and Bassett were
behind the business, and as far as the Chinese go I guess they were just
superstitious or something. You must know them pretty well--you've
traveled over there so much. Don't you?"

Apparently the mining engineer did not hear Neil's question, for he had
turned again to the fireplace and was gazing into the embers in an
abstracted manner. Neil did not feel like interrupting. For several
minutes the room was silent, then Wolcott Norris suddenly turned and
asked:

"When was that crowd coming back?"

The ski party on that night consisted of the three Jefferson football
players, Teeny-bits and two brothers by the name of Williams who were
from a camp a quarter of a mile down the valley. They planned to go up
over the shoulder of Whiteface in the brilliant moonlight and shoot down
a long, bare slope which was known as The Slide, where years before an
avalanche had torn its way downward leaving bare earth in its wake. This
V-shaped scar on the face of the mountain was now covered with a smooth
expanse of snow--an ideal avenue for a swift and thrilling descent of
the mountain. Teeny-bits had done more skiing in the last few days than
he had done before in all the years of his life and had become
enthusiastic over the sport. The sensation of sweeping down a slope and
of speeding on with increasing swiftness until it seemed as if one were
actually flying filled him with exhilaration and the real joy of living.
He had never tried anything as steep as The Slide, but he had no fear of
the place, and when, after a somewhat laborious climb, they had reached
the peak and stood gazing down on the white way that stretched before
them, he was eager to be off for the descent.

"Don't take it too fast," said Norris, "the slope is steeper than it
looks. If you should want to slow up you can shoot over to the side and
work against the slope a little."

The moon, now almost at the full, was shedding its ghostly light over
the snow-covered mountains; by its brilliance the ski runners could see
the surface of the slide, unbroken save for an occasional spruce which,
having taken root in the scarred soil, was now thrusting up its dark
branches through the blanket of white. Norris was the first to take off.
He shot downward and as he gained momentum sent back a cry that floated
up eerily. Teeny-bits poised at the edge and took a deep breath. This
was living. Down there, growing smaller and smaller, a moving speck that
seemed a mere shadow on the snow, was a new friend of his. It seemed
strange that this was one of the outcomes of the Jefferson-Ridgley game:
that from so desperate a struggle had arisen this opportunity to know
the leader of the purple for whom he held a growing admiration. A fellow
who fought so hard and so cleanly, who took defeat so wonderfully and
who made such a good pal was only a little less to be admired than Neil
Durant. Perhaps there was not any real difference in Teeny-bits' feeling
for the two.

"I'm off," cried Teeny-bits; "see you at the bottom," and giving a
strong thrust with his pole sent himself out upon the smooth surface.

With body bent slightly forward he took the first gentle slope and felt
the exhilarating sensation of gathering speed as his skis carried him
away from his friends. It was something between flying through the air
and riding on the top of an undulating wave of water. Following Ted
Norris' example he sent a shout back to the group on the crest and then
gave himself completely to the joy of meeting each surprise of the snow
with the proper adjustment of body and limbs that would enable him to
make the descent in one unbroken slide. He had never taken so swift a
flight,--it was as if he were rushing through space with scarcely any
realization of the landscape round him.

Midway in The Slide, Teeny-bits suddenly found himself dodging a thicket
of small spruce trees. He escaped them by swerving quickly, but he went
too far to the left. Other small trees confronted him; his body brushed
sharply against the branches, and then looming before him was an old
monarch of the forest that somehow had escaped when the slide had
scarred the mountain-side. Its gnarled branches, standing out vaguely in
the half-light of the moon and stars like the arms of an octopus, seemed
to Teeny-bits to rise up and seize him. He had the feeling that
something was lifting him into the air, that he was going up and up into
the silver face of the moon. It seemed also that at the same time there
was a flash of light followed immediately by darkness.

One after another the ski runners at the top of The Slide took off and
shot swiftly down the slope. None of them saw the huddled form at the
foot of the ancient oak and it was only when the four had joined Ted
Norris at the bottom of The Slide that they realized that something must
have happened to Teeny-bits.

"Didn't any of you see him on the way down?" asked Ted Norris. "Maybe he
broke his skis."

"He would have yelled at us, wouldn't he?" said one of the Williams
brothers; "we'd better go back and look around."

It was not a difficult matter even in the indistinct night light to
follow the marks of the skis. From the foot of the slide they mounted
slowly, tracing backward the five double tracks and finally coming to
the sixth, halfway down from the crest.

[Illustration: FROM THE FOOT OF THE SLIDE THEY MOUNTED SLOWLY, TRACING
BACKWARD THE FIVE DOUBLE TRACKS.]

"Here they are," said Norris. "Here's where Teeny-bits swerved over
toward the left."

Almost before the words were out of his mouth he gave a startled
exclamation that brought the other four quickly to the foot of the oak
tree, where, with arms stretched out in front of him, lay Teeny-bits. He
had fallen in such an apparently comfortable position that it seemed to
the five ski runners that he could not be badly injured, but when they
turned him over they saw the dark mark of blood on the snow and became
assailed with a great fear that the worst thing they could imagine had
happened. Ted Norris' voice trembled a little as he said to the others,
"We must get him down to the house as quickly as we can. Here, help me
pick him up."

It was a strange procession which went down the slope of old Whiteface
Mountain on that winter night,--an awkward looking group that made
progress slowly because of the burden which it bore.

"You'd better go ahead to the Emmons place and get Doctor Emmons to come
up to our camp quickly," said Norris to the older of the Williams boys.
"You ought to get there about the time we do, and tell him to bring
stimulants and everything that he may need."

Back in the Norris cabin Neil Durant had found that conversation between
himself and the mining engineer lagged. For half an hour the elder
Norris had sat apparently absorbed in his thoughts, and twice when Neil
had made remarks he had answered in a manner that showed his mind to be
far away. Neil himself was indulging in reveries when the sudden
interruption came,--a sound of voices outside the cabin, an exclamation,
a quick thrusting in of the door, and then the noise of persons talking
awkwardly, as those who carry a heavy burden. The two at the fireplace
turned in their chairs and saw immediately that something serious had
happened.

"He crashed into a tree on the big Slide," said Ted Norris. "His body
seems warm but we're afraid that--well, just look at his neck; it moves
so queerly. Doctor Emmons ought to be here any minute. Bert Williams
went down ahead to get him."

Within the space of a second, it seemed, Wolcott Norris had taken charge
of the situation. Teeny-bits Holbrook was laid out on a cot which they
brought in from one of the sleeping rooms and placed in front of the
fire, and here a quarter of an hour later Doctor Emmons made his
diagnosis.

"No, his neck isn't broken," said the surgeon, "so you needn't worry
about that, and you can see from the color of his face that he isn't in
immediate danger. He has a concussion, which isn't necessarily
serious,--though that's a pretty bad blow he received on his head. Now
with your help, Mr. Norris, we'll look him over for further injuries.
There may be some broken bones to contend with also."

Without loss of time the surgeon, aided by the mining engineer, removed,
most of Teeny-bits' clothing and began the process of examination by
which he quickly established the fact that no bones had been broken and
that the only injury from which Teeny-bits was suffering was the one to
his head. During this examination one slight incident attracted the
attention of Neil Durant and his friends who stood about speaking to
each other in whispers. It occurred when Wolcott Norris, following
instructions from the surgeon, with trembling hands uncovered
Teeny-bits' back and revealed the dagger-like, terra-cotta mark upon his
bare shoulder. For an instant the mining engineer had seemed about to
faint; he wavered on his feet and groped suddenly for the support of a
chair-back. To the watchers it had appeared that he had become
momentarily unnerved by the unexpected accident, or that perhaps he had
seen something in Teeny-bits' condition that was unfavorable. The
surgeon, however, had quickly reassured them as they pressed forward a
little closer by saying:

"He's sound from top-knot to toe except for that ugly smash on the head.
Now we'll put these blankets over him and keep him quiet. If the
concussion isn't bad he'll become conscious before very long."

But hour after hour passed and Teeny-bits did not regain his senses. He
lay in a stupor, occasionally muttering thick and unintelligible words.

"There's no need of you fellows staying up," said Wolcott Norris at
midnight. "The doctor and I will be here with Teeny-bits and the best
thing you can do is go to bed."

After a time the Williams brothers went home and Whipple and Phillips
followed the mining engineer's advice. Neil Durant and Ted Norris,
however, refused to leave the room where Teeny-bits lay. They sat
together by the fireplace and waited for an encouraging word from the
surgeon.

"I know he'll pull through," said Neil. "He's as tough as a wildcat."

"Some boy!" said the big son of Jefferson. "He's the real goods. Oh,
he's got to come out of it."

Finally these two friends, who had fought each other so valiantly only a
few weeks before, dozed off sitting there side by side, with the ruddy
light of the fireplace on their faces.

They awoke simultaneously. The gray light of morning had begun to
penetrate the camp windows, and Teeny-bits was sitting up on the couch,
looking about him as if he had been awakened from a puzzling dream.

"What did I do with the skis?" he asked and, raising his hands to his
bandaged head, gazed at his friends in bewilderment.

The doctor and Wolcott Norris, Neil and Ted were beside the cot in an
instant.

"It's all right, old man!" said Neil. "You got a thump on your head
coming down the slide."

"It feels----" Teeny-bits began. But his head was too heavy; the
shadow of a smile crossed his face and lying back on the pillow he
closed his eyes.

"We must keep very quiet," said the surgeon. "He'll sleep now and be the
better for it."



CHAPTER XIV

A TALE OF THE FAR EAST


It was as Doctor Emmons predicted: Teeny-bits slept half the morning
through and awoke with a clear look in his eyes that indicated at once
to his friends that his dazed condition had passed.

"What did I hit?" he asked.

"A big oak tree," said Ted Norris.

"I knocked it down, didn't I?" asked Teeny-bits. "My head feels as if I
did."

His friends laughed with a happy abandon in which there was a quality
that expressed release from a great fear.

Under the doctor's orders Teeny-bits remained in bed the rest of the
week, though he declared on the second day that he was feeling fit and
wanted to get up. Meanwhile the holidays came to an end. Phillips and
Whipple departed for Jefferson School and at the same time most of the
other vacationers in the Pocassett settlement went their various ways.
Neil Durant and Ted Norris, however, insisted on staying until
Teeny-bits was entirely recovered. A part of each day they sat about the
cabin talking over school and college life.

"If you fellows would only wait a year I might go to college with you,"
Teeny-bits said one day, half jokingly.

"I might do it at that," said Neil Durant. "Father has been talking to
me about staying out a year and working before I start in."

"That's not a bad idea," said Wolcott Norris. "Most of the fellows
to-day enter college with a pretty vague notion of what they're going to
do and it might help a lot to get out and work for a year or so before
you continue your education. I think it would be time well spent."

The conversation was brief, but it began something which was destined to
come to pass.

During these days while he was recovering, Teeny-bits had the
opportunity to accomplish the thing for which he had envied Neil Durant
on the night of the accident,--to become better acquainted with Wolcott
Norris. While Ted and Neil, who had recovered from his sprained ankle,
were out on snowshoes and skis, the mining engineer and the new captain
of the Ridgley team spent many hours together. The admiration that
Teeny-bits had felt for this man with the straight figure and the keen
eyes steadily increased. Here, he said to himself, was a man whose
character showed in his face and whose life any one would do well to
imitate. There was something about Wolcott Norris that inspired
Teeny-bits with a feeling of confidence, and somewhat to his surprise he
found himself telling the mining engineer things that he had never told
even to such good friends as Neil Durant or Snubby Turner,--confidences
about his own feeling toward the other members of the school, hopes for
the future and something of the ambitions for the attainment of which he
meant to strive. For some reason which he could not analyze it seemed
entirely natural to be conversing intimately--even after such a short
acquaintance--with Wolcott Norris.

"You two fellows seem to be getting pretty chummy," said Ted Norris one
afternoon when he and Neil came in and found Teeny-bits and the mining
engineer engaged in conversation. "What's all the deep talk about?"

"Why don't you pull up some chairs and sit down?" asked Wolcott Norris.

It was just at the beginning of twilight and the flickering fire was
already making shadows on the beamed ceiling of the cabin. Neil and Ted
Norris pulled off their leather coats and stretched themselves out
comfortably with their feet toward the blaze.

"Now," said Ted, looking at Wolcott Norris, "is the time for you to spin
us a yarn."

"Yes," replied the mining engineer gazing at the three of them with an
expression that they later remembered, "I guess this _is_ the time to
spin you a yarn."

To their surprise he got up abruptly from his splint-backed chair and
went out to his bedroom. As he returned he was thrusting something into
his coat pocket.

"After I got through Jefferson," he said, when he was sitting in front
of the fireplace once more, "I went to technical school to study
engineering--mining engineering--which meant that when I started out to
work I traveled round the country from one place to another, and within
a short time I had a commission to go to China. When I went I took some
one with me."

Wolcott Norris paused and for a minute or two gazed straight before him.
None of the three listeners interrupted the silence; there had been a
quality in the mining engineer's voice which had made them feel that
they were about to hear something unusual.

"Here's her picture," he said, and took from his pocket the object he
had placed there on entering the room a few moments before. He handed it
to Teeny-bits, who bent forward a little so that the glow from the
firelight fell on the photograph. Neil Durant and Ted Norris leaned
toward him and the three of them saw the likeness of a young woman with
smiling eyes and fine, clear features.

"Mighty nice looking," said Neil Durant. "She reminds me of some one
I've seen before, I can't think where."

There was a slight unsteadiness in Wolcott Norris' voice when he spoke
again, but he overcame it and went on with his story rapidly.

"We were married just after I got my new job, went out to San Francisco
and sailed for China on the Japanese steamer _Tenyo Maru_. It was a
wonderful world to us then--more wonderful than I can describe to you.
Rain or shine, every day was a perfect day, and we sailed on and on in
that little old steamer out across the Pacific until we came at last to
Asia. For several months we were in Shanghai at the headquarters of the
company, then they sent me up into the province of Honan to a little
place called Tung-sha on a tributary of the Yangtse in a country that
was pretty wild.

"There was gold and copper back in the hills and the company intended to
carry on extensive operations if the ground proved worth while. How
strange it seemed to us to find a bit of a foreign colony--a handful of
Americans and British and French, missionaries and representatives of
the company--set down in a region that for no one knows how many
thousand years had belonged to the yellow men. You go about in China and
you see those old, old temples and the weather-worn houses and the
ancient hills, bald and bare, and you feel as if antiquity were casting
a spell over you. A person who hasn't lived among the Chinese can't
imagine what a strange, superstitious people they are; more than any
other race on the face of the earth they are bound to the past--and I
suppose when we came up there to Tung-sha and began to dig tunnels in
their hills we were breaking the precedent of the past. Still we didn't
really expect any trouble--and for many months all went smoothly. Some
wonderful things happened up there in that out-of-the-way corner of the
world. We lived--Marion and I--in a three-room bungalow with a roof that
sloped like the roof of a temple, and here that first springtime
something very fine came into our lives--a son was born to us. He was a
husky little youngster--and maybe he couldn't yell!"

Wolcott Norris laughed.

"I remember that Ho Sen, my Chinese servant boy, used to say when the
baby howled 'Nice stlong lung; he'll glow nice, big man! And by Jingo!
How that little chap did grow! Those were days crowded with happiness
and before we knew it we'd been in Tung-sha more than a year. The mine
was beginning to require additional machinery and everything looked good
for the future. We were so contented there in our bungalow that I
suppose we never thought of anything happening to burst our bubble of
happiness--at least I don't remember that any worries troubled our
minds."

The mining engineer paused in his story and passed his hand across his
brow. A minute went by, during which the hushing sound of the fire alone
broke the stillness of the room. Teeny-bits, Neil Durant and Ted Norris
sat without moving; their eyes were on the red and yellow fireplace
flames, but what they saw was a bit of the old Chinese Empire, in-land
on a tributary of the Yangtse--and a bungalow at Tung-sha. The mining
engineer was silent so long that finally they looked up--and, seeing the
expression on his face, looked quickly down again--as those turn away
their faces who look by mistake too deeply into the intimate thoughts of
another.

"Bad water and Red Knife wrecked Tung-sha," said Wolcott Norris
abruptly. "The water was contaminated somehow--typhoid got into it. Our
little colony was hard hit and when that second summer was over the
youngster I told you about didn't have any mother--she was sleeping the
long sleep out there at the foot of the Tung-sha hills."

The mining engineer's voice had grown thick--it was as if another person
were speaking.

"I should have told you more at the start about Red Knife," he said. "He
was a Chinese robber--the chief of a gang of hill-men who for years had
levied tribute from those poor, ignorant people of Honan. His name was a
living terror--I have never seen such abject fear on the faces of human
beings as one day when a rumor passed among our mine workers that Red
Knife was in the hills near by waiting to pounce down upon them. They
reminded me of sheep huddling together to escape wolves.

"From the time when the company first started operations at Tung-sha we
realized that this bandit was working against us--for the reason, of
course, that he knew we would lessen his power. I questioned Ho Sen one
day and learned that Red Knife had sent word around that if the 'foreign
devils', as he called us, dug further into the hills man-eating dragons
would come out and destroy the villages. We had to pay extra to get
labor after that."

"Why did they call him Red Knife?" asked Neil Durant.

"Because that was his symbol--a red knife--and his followers were said
to carry red-bladed daggers.

"Red Knife chose his time well. He came down on our little settlement at
the height of the typhoid scourge. It was only a few days after Marion
had been buried and I was up at the mine attending to some last
arrangements so that I could leave. I had made up my mind to take
Winslow--that's what we'd named the little boy--out to Shanghai, for
Tung-sha was no place for a motherless youngster. In broad daylight I
heard the natives wailing and yelling, and then the mine workers began
to cry out that Red Knife had swooped down from the hills. The white men
who were with me pulled out their guns and we ran down to the bungalows.
We were too late, however; Red Knife had come and gone--and with him had
gone Ho Sen and the boy. Three or four of the natives lay in the street
with their throats cut and the rest of them were so frightened that at
first I couldn't get them to tell me anything, but finally I made out
that Red Knife's men had carried the baby away in a basket and that Ho
Sen had gone with them, voluntarily or as a prisoner I did not know.

"I can't tell you just how crazy I was. I remember that I grabbed up a
handful of shells for my revolver and ran up toward the Hai-Yu Gap where
the natives said Red Knife and his gang had disappeared. I remember also
that Hartley, the surgeon, and a Frenchman ran after me and tried to
pull me back, and when I wouldn't come with them that they ran along
beside me. But I guess I out-distanced them, for after a time I was
running alone up the dry bed of a stream where the Hai-Yu Gap cut the
hills. I meant to get the boy and bring him back, but I suppose I might
as well have tried to follow a black tracker into a tropic jungle as to
follow the trail of Red Knife through those Tung-sha hills.

"I don't know how far I went. When night came I was lost--scrambling in
the dark over bare rocks, slipping into gulleys and fighting my way out
again. I suppose I made a terrific clatter and that Red Knife's men
heard me coming when I was a long way off. At any rate they got me when
I was off my guard--the yellow men pounced on me from behind the rocks
and, though I think I did for one or two of them with my gun, they
knocked me over the head. When I came to I was in the dusky interior of
a stone house, bound and utterly helpless."

Wolcott Norris got up abruptly from his chair and, walking over to the
window, looked out into the twilight at the snow-covered Pocassett
landscape. When he came back to the fireplace he said to the three
listeners who had followed them with their eyes but had not stirred:

"Maybe you've read of the devilish ingenuity of some of these Chinese
brigands--there are wild stories and some are true and some are not, but
the torture that Red Knife put me to in that stone house up beyond the
Hai-Yu Gap was worse than death--or so it seemed to me.

"He was a short, broad-shouldered wretch with a thin, hairy mustache
that curled round the corners of his mouth. That mouth of his and his
black, slant eyes were the most vivid expressions of cruelty that I have
ever seen. When I first saw him I thought of Genghis Khan, that ancient
conqueror who is said to have slaughtered five million persons while he
ruled over China. Red Knife brought in Ho Sen and my little boy and he
made Ho Sen, who was trembling like a leaf, interpret the things he
wanted me to know.

"'Foreign devil,' he said, 'what is worth more than your life to you?
Ai, I know. This child is worth to you more than your life, therefore
will I take him away.' And then he uncovered the baby's back and showed
me a livid mark on the little chap's shoulder. 'See,' he said, 'he
belongs to Red Knife now; he wears Red Knife's mark. My women will be
_very_ good to this little son of the foreigner. We will bring him up in
our band; he will be clever like the white man. Who knows, perhaps he
will be as good a thief as Red Knife himself!'

"I tried to think of something that I could say or do that would move
this wretch's heart, but it was of no use. Poor Ho Sen was frightened to
death, and when I begged him to try to escape and bring help from the
village I little thought that he could do anything.

"'Take the boy back to the village,' I said to Red Knife through the
interpreter, 'and do with me as you will.'

"'Yes, I will do with you as I will,' was his answer. 'I think I will
put you in a hole in the ground and perhaps I will give you a toad and a
lizard to keep you company. Red Knife wants no one to be lonely.'

"Red Knife--I've always supposed--did intend to put me out of the way by
some diabolical method of his own. And then the idea of holding me for
ransom apparently occurred to him, for he kept me in the stone house
back in the hills day after day. Two or three times when I saw Ho Sen I
begged him to run away from the bandits and take the little boy with him
and tell my friends in the village where we were, but Ho Sen only looked
at me and trembled. I couldn't much blame him for being terrified.

"One night there was a jabbering and yelling round the stone house and I
thought Red Knife had killed Ho Sen, for I saw him no more. Two days
later there was more commotion and the whole band began to prepare to
depart. I hoped that an expedition had come from the town--and that in
fact was actually what happened. Some of the Imperial Government troops
led by the white men were on Red Knife's trail, but Red Knife knew those
hills too well. He and his gang went farther back and took me along,
helpless. The horrible part of it all was that the little boy seemed to
have disappeared, and when I asked what had become of him these yellow
men only jabbered at me in their outlandish tongue. We traveled all day
and all night and finally camped in some limestone caves. There I became
very sick and I hoped that I should die because the future didn't seem
to hold anything at all for me. I know I was delirious for a long time;
things seemed very hazy--a confused coming and going of the natives and
the jabbering of their singsong voices. Perhaps that sickness was what
saved my life, for when I came to the end of my delirium I was lying
there deserted in the limestone cave. I suppose Red Knife thought that
the 'foreign devil' was dying and that I was only an encumbrance in his
retreat. I don't know how long I had remained in the cave and I can't
tell you how I managed to make my way out of that wilderness of hills
and dry river beds, but Providence must have guided me, for I finally
stumbled down into the village of Tung-sha and found Hartley, the
surgeon, and three or four of the Europeans still there.

"I was delirious again for a time and didn't know what went on around
me. But Hartley pulled me through and I found myself asking what had
happened. They told me that the native troops of the Imperial Government
had come up and that the foreign colony had led an expedition back into
the hills. They hadn't been able, however, to overtake Red Knife and had
finally abandoned the expedition partly because of the doubtful loyalty
of the Chinese troops, who weren't over eager to chase Red Knife. That
whole region in those days needed only a spark to set it aflame against
all foreigners.

"There was one surprising bit of news, something that gave me a great
desire to live. Ho Sen, poor, faithful Ho Sen, had escaped from Red
Knife. He had come crawling to Hartley's bungalow at midnight several
days after the raid, carrying in his arms the boy, and had fallen
unconscious at the doorsteps. Hartley took them in and found the boy
little the worse for his experiences, but Ho Sen died that same night
and had been in his grave more than two weeks when Hartley told me the
story. Meanwhile they had given up hope of ever seeing me alive again,
and when the colony decided that it was unsafe for the women to stay at
Tung-sha any longer they sent the boy down to Shanghai with an American
missionary by the name of Singleton, who was going back to the United
States. She had become deaf during her service in China and was
returning to the States for treatment.

"Of course I started for Shanghai as soon as I was able to get about,
going down the Yangtse in a river boat. But again I was too late. When I
arrived I discovered that this Miss Singleton had gone to the office of
the company and on their advice, after she had reported my death, had
taken the baby with her when she sailed for San Francisco. She had the
address of my brother--Ted's father--and said that she would deliver the
child to them in New York. That's about the end of the story, except
that I was never able to trace Miss Singleton beyond San Francisco. In
Shanghai I came down with typhoid and was delayed three months in
getting back to America. Then I discovered that my little son never
arrived in New York--as far as any one knew--and the result of the
investigations that I carried on through the police and private
detective agencies established only the fact that the young missionary
was on the steamer when it arrived at San Francisco and that she and the
baby disembarked with the other passengers.

"I said that was pretty nearly the end of the story--but you know I've
never quite given up hope of sometime finding that boy of mine."

"Will you let me look at that picture again?" asked Neil Durant.

As the mining engineer took the photograph from his pocket and handed it
to Neil, Teeny-bits asked a question:

"That mark," he said in a voice that was peculiarly tense, "what was it
like--was it--?"

"Yes," said Wolcott Norris, "it _was_ like the mark that I saw on your
shoulder when Doctor Emmons...."

"Look!" Neil Durant suddenly broke in. "I know _now_ where I've seen the
person that resembles this picture--it's _you_, Teeny-bits! Her eyes and
mouth--just look!"

Teeny-bits gazed at the picture and finally raised his eyes to those of
Wolcott Norris. He opened his lips to speak, but no sound came from
them. For the moment his thoughts were too full to find expression in
words.

"It seems--" he said unsteadily after a time, "like something I've been
dreaming, and now I know why I've had such a strange feeling toward
you--just as if you were my older brother--or my--my father. To-morrow
when Neil and I go back to Ridgley, will you come?"

"Yes, Teeny-bits, I'll come," said Wolcott Norris, "and we'll go over to
Greensboro and have a talk with those Chinese that Neil told me about."

Ted Norris jumped to his feet as if he had suddenly come out of a
trance. "By thunder!" he cried, "my head is swimming round in circles,
but I've just enough of a grip on my brains to see that you and I--that
we--oh, shucks!--put it there!" And the big fellow thrust out his hand
to Teeny-bits.

Next day the Norris cabin at Pocassett was closed. Ted Norris went back
to Jefferson and the other three traveled on toward Ridgley School. At
the Greensboro station Teeny-bits and Wolcott Norris left the train and
made their way to the Eating Palace of Chuan Kai. There the mining
engineer, who knew how to talk to an Oriental, very quickly discovered
that the proprietor of the establishment was a native of the Honan
Province; that Shanghai and the Yangtse and Tung-sha were places not
unknown to them, and then suddenly he put the question toward which he
had been leading the conversation. When Chuan Kai had left China was Red
Knife, the robber, alive? Chuan Kai started at the name and answered
quickly:

"He is a devil! He will never die."

"And that was why your men acted strangely when they saw the mark on the
young man's shoulder? They are from your region, too, and they know Red
Knife's mark. It frightened them to find it on an American over here on
this side of the world. That's all right. We've learned all we wish to
know and you need have no fear, Chuan Kai, that any harm will come to
you."

The Oriental had shown clearly that the mining engineer had hit upon the
truth; there was no necessity of wasting more time in Greensboro. A
little later Teeny-bits and Wolcott Norris were in the Hamilton station
greeting Pa Holbrook, who insisted on taking them home to supper. No one
could be more hospitable than this kindly old couple who made no excuses
for the humbleness of their home and who gave to every one who entered
it the true feeling of welcome. They accepted the mining engineer as a
friend of Teeny-bits. Ma Holbrook said to herself that here was "a real
fine man" and Pa Holbrook's mental comment was that he was a "genuwine
gentleman." Teeny-bits could see that these two persons, to whom he owed
so much, approved of Wolcott Norris, but he was filled with uneasiness
at the thought of telling them what he knew must be told.

It all came out very simply after the meal was over. The story seemed to
tell itself. Teeny-bits started it and Wolcott Norris helped him out,
and when it was all done and Ma and Pa Holbrook grasped the full import
of its meaning, there was no unpleasant scene.

Ma Holbrook put her handkerchief to her eyes, and the station agent
said, "There, there, mother, don't cry."

"I'm not really crying," declared Ma Holbrook. "I'm just a little bit
weepy, I'm so glad for Teeny-bits."

Pa Holbrook took the mining engineer's hand in his two old, gnarled ones
and said something that made Teeny-bits very happy:

"Ma and I are old folks and we've kind of worried, you can understand,
about Teeny-bits not having any family when we pass on. He's
_everything_ to us, and of course this coming so sudden sort of works Ma
and me up a mite, but when we're used to it we'll be the happiest people
on the face of the globe to know that our boy has a real dad like you."

"I know what we'll do," said Ma Holbrook suddenly, "Pa and I will sort
of adopt you, too, Mr. Norris. It don't really seem that you're much
more than old enough to be Teeny-bits' brother, anyway."

At that the mining engineer got up and stood over by the window blowing
his nose. When he turned round there was a redness about his eyes, and
his voice was husky:

"It's a wonderful thing to me to know that Teeny-bits has had you two to
look out for him all these years, and it's the best compliment I ever
had for you to say that you'd like to adopt me too. We'll share
Teeny-bits together and I'll be satisfied if I can make him care as much
about me as he cares about you."

Teeny-bits felt that he ought to say something, but for the life of him
he could not speak a word. He looked at these three persons who meant so
much to him, he thought of all the things that had come to him since
that first day when he climbed the hill to Ridgley School. The whole of
it seemed to pass before his eyes like a panorama suddenly displayed.
How much had happened! How many new friends he had made! How much life
held in store for him!

Ma Holbrook broke the trend of Teeny-bits' thoughts.

"Now," she said, smiling through the tears that still gathered in her
eyes, "what are we going to call you?"

Teeny-bits laughed. He could speak now. "Why, Ma," he said, "there's
only one thing to call me; I've been Teeny-bits all my life and I want
to be Teeny-bits still."

THE END



_By_ CLAYTON H. ERNST

BLIND TRAILS

_Illustrated by G. A. Harker_


"Clayton H. Ernst has avowedly written his story, 'Blind Trails,' for
'Boys from 12 to 18,' but the blood of any grown up who fails to find a
thrill in the adventures of young Hal Ayres must be thin indeed. 'Blind
Trails' is a far more interesting and better written story of adventure
than many of those recently offered for full grown readers."--_The New
York Sun._

"A story full of thrills that will keep the boy of 12 years or more
curled up in the chair before the fire long after bedtime."--_The
Philadelphia North American._

"A well-written and exciting story of a fight over the possession of
valuable lumber lands. It is a book far better than the usual run of
those intended for boys in the 'teens."--_The Saint Louis Star._

"'Blind Trails' is one of the best of the season's tales for big boys of
sub-college age. It is well written, with real conversations and
skillfully suspended interest, and more character-drawing than is usual
in such stories."--_The Boston Herald._





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