Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: With Mask and Mitt
Author: Dudley, Albertus T.
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 "With Mask and Mitt" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



  WITH MASK AND MITT



BOOKS BY ALBERTUS T. DUDLEY


Phillips Exeter Series

Illustrated. 12mo. Cloth.

  FOLLOWING THE BALL.
  MAKING THE NINE.
  IN THE LINE.
  WITH MASK AND MITT.
  THE GREAT YEAR.
  THE YALE CUP.
  A FULL-BACK AFLOAT.
  THE PECKS IN CAMP.
  THE HALF-MILER.


Stories of the Triangular League

Illustrated by Charles Copeland. 12mo. Cloth.

  THE SCHOOL FOUR.
  AT THE HOME-PLATE.
  THE UNOFFICIAL PREFECT.

  THE KING'S POWDER.


LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON.

[Illustration: Coy was nailed as he scrambled back to the base--and the
game was won.--_Page_ 293.]



  _PHILLIPS EXETER SERIES_

  WITH MASK AND MITT

  BY
  ALBERTUS T. DUDLEY

  AUTHOR OF "FOLLOWING THE BALL," "MAKING THE
  NINE," AND "IN THE LINE"

  _ILLUSTRATED BY CHARLES COPELAND_

  [Illustration]

  BOSTON
  LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.



  Copyright, 1906, by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.
  Published, August, 1906.

  _All Rights Reserved._

  With Mask and Mitt.

  Norwood Press
  J.S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
  Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



  TO MY FRIEND
  HENRY W. ANDERSON
  TO WHOSE INITIAL SUGGESTION
  THIS SERIES OF BOOKS
  IS DUE



PREFACE


The author has but a word to say in offering "With Mask and Mitt" to
his boy readers. The book follows "In the Line" and precedes "The Great
Year" in the sequence of the series. While it repeats no incidents
of previous books and covers wholly new ground in athletics, it will
be found not dissimilar to its predecessors in its general spirit
and character. A good juvenile must be one approved by the parent,
enjoyed by the boy, and read with profit by both. It should, of course,
interest and amuse; it should also help the parent to understand the
impulses and the mental attitude of the boy, and the boy to accept
the ideals of the parent. If "With Mask and Mitt" does not meet these
requirements, it has at least been written with a full knowledge of
their importance.

Thanks must again be expressed to Dr. E.H. Nichols of Boston for
cordially rendered assistance in the technicalities and theory of the
game of which he is an unquestioned master.

  ALBERTUS T. DUDLEY.

  Boston, July, 1906.



CONTENTS


      CHAPTER I

                                                                     PAGE

      Two Apprentices                                                 1

      CHAPTER II

      Hail to the Pitcher                                            11

      CHAPTER III

      Neighborly Attentions                                          23

      CHAPTER IV

      Payner the Marplot                                             35

      CHAPTER V

      The Favors of Fortune                                          43

      CHAPTER VI

      The Third String                                               55

      CHAPTER VII

      Facilis Descensus                                              66

      CHAPTER VIII

      The First Plague                                               74

      CHAPTER IX

      A New Interest                                                 86

      CHAPTER X

      Mr. Carle wants to Know                                       100

      CHAPTER XI

      The Relay Race                                                112

      CHAPTER XII

      An Interrupted Evening                                        122

      CHAPTER XIII

      A Waning Star                                                 136

      CHAPTER XIV

      A Captain's Troubles                                          146

      CHAPTER XV

      Outdoors at Last                                              155

      CHAPTER XVI

      Theories and Plans                                            165

      CHAPTER XVII

      A Set-back for O'Connell                                      175

      CHAPTER XVIII

      Disappointments                                               188

      CHAPTER XIX

      A Misfit Battery                                              200

      CHAPTER XX

      A Sub-Seatonian                                               212

      CHAPTER XXI

      Playing Indians                                               224

      CHAPTER XXII

      A Fair Chance                                                 237

      CHAPTER XXIII

      A Tie Game                                                    252

      CHAPTER XXIV

      Making Ready                                                  268

      CHAPTER XXV

      As Wally saw It                                               276

      CHAPTER XXVI

      Recognition                                                   295



ILLUSTRATIONS


  Coy was nailed as he scrambled back to the base--and
      the game was won (p. 293)      _Frontispiece_


                                                               FACING PAGE

  School Dormitories                                               22

  A Corner of the Yard                                             54

  "There's the rat, sir," said Duncan                             126

  The Chapel Stairs                                               140

  The Principal's House                                           150

  He felt the bonds that held him to the tree loosen              230

  He leaped, and clutched the ball hardly a foot from
      the ground                                                  250



WITH MASK AND MITT



CHAPTER I

TWO APPRENTICES


If, for the beginning of this story, the reader finds himself carried
back to the middle of "In the Line," let him not suspect a twice-told
tale. The current of school life runs swiftly through its short
channel. The present soon becomes the past, the past is soon forgotten.
While the hero of to-day enjoys the sunshine of popularity, fondly
imagining himself the flower and perfection of schoolboy development,
the hero of the future, as yet unrecognized, is acquiring strength and
determination for new records and greater triumphs. The scene shifts
rapidly; new stories are ever beginning while the old ones are still
unfinished.

In those early days of June, while all Seaton was either gloomily
anticipating or dolefully bewailing the disastrous Hillbury baseball
game; while Wolcott Lindsay, fired by Laughlin's example and spirit,
was throwing himself enthusiastically into the captain's projects for
the football season, two lads in a town in western Pennsylvania were
eagerly discussing plans for the next school year. They had sent to
various institutions for catalogues; with the catalogues had arrived
circulars, pictures, and letters. But catalogues and pictures are at
best but lifeless things; they suggest many questions and answer few. A
far better persuader is an enthusiastic alumnus, who puts personality
into dull pages of names, and pours a rosy poetic haze over the groups
of sombre brick barracks called the school. Such an enthusiastic
alumnus had the entrée of the Owen household, with the natural result
that Mr. Owen soon became a convert, and a room was engaged for Robert
in a Seaton dormitory.

Ned Carle was longer in uncertainty. His father was not as well able as
Mr. Owen to bear the expense of boarding-school life, which, like many
other luxuries of these modern days, often seems to cost more than it
is worth. Ned himself had not long manifested an intense ambition to
go beyond the bounds of the Terryville High School for his education.
He was a light-hearted, quick-witted, intelligent fellow, easy-going
and friendly, generally liked in town and liking to be liked. He would
naturally have been popular if he had never had a baseball under
his two fingers; but the fact that he was a pitcher,--and a good
pitcher,--not merely established his popularity on a definite basis,
but made him in a way a public character.

When Ned Carle pitched on the High School nine and Robert Owen
caught, the nine could generally be counted on to win. The battery
was well-known outside the limits of the town, which was, in its way,
a miniature baseball centre. The standard of play in Terryville was
high. Mike McLennan, the famous professional, had once pitched on
a Terryville nine; and Mike, when he was at home, took an interest
in the "kids" of his native place and gave them the benefit of his
instruction. Both Carle and Owen were started in their careers with
professional advice of unquestioned competency.

That Owen received a smaller share of the professional's favor than
Carle does not signify that he was an unpromising pupil. For easily
imagined reasons Mr. Owen did not regard McLennan as a wholly desirable
patron for his son. While he did not object to the boy's learning what
the expert had to teach, he distinctly discouraged an intimacy which
would expose him to questionable associations and false ideals. Robert,
too, was reserved and quiet. The great player valued himself too highly
to waste much of his attention on one who showed but small enthusiasm
for his teacher.

With Ned Carle, however, the case was different. His father cherished
no such inconvenient views as to his son's associations; if he had done
so, it would have made no difference, for it usually happened in the
Carle family that what Ned wanted the rest of the family ultimately
wanted too. Ned took to McLennan and McLennan to Ned as naturally as
if they had been born neighbors with only a low fence and a few years'
difference in age between them. The boy hailed the ball player as
Mike, chatted with him on the street corners, and listened, credulous
and admiring, to all the tales of great deeds on the diamond--McLennan
bragged like a Homeric hero--without being shocked by the language or
dazed by the improbabilities of the narrative. In return, McLennan
laid himself out to make the boy a pitcher, taught him to use his arm
properly and to care for it, helped him to acquire effective curves,
and coached him in many of the devices by which pitchers outwit their
batsmen.

With this tuition and a natural aptitude, Ned Carle made rapid progress
as a pitcher. The arts which he had not mastered, he knew something
about, and he could talk baseball with the best. As citizens of
Terryville will recall, while the "spit-ball" was still in harmless
infancy, and only a few master pitchers were experimenting with it
secretly, before the newspapers had seized upon the mystery as a
means of filling daily paragraphs, Ned Carle was already making sage
prophecies as to the tricky new curve, and the havoc it would wreak on
batting averages and catchers' fingers.

Indirectly Owen profited by this coaching. When McLennan, as
occasionally happened, stopped over a day at his home and gave Carle
a few points behind Fosdick's stable, Owen was, of course, called on
to do the catching. When McLennan was one summer laid off a whole
fortnight for assaulting the umpire, and wished, during this period
of idleness, to keep his own arm in condition as well as assist his
protégé, Owen was given another and more serious privilege. On eight
afternoons the lad faced the professional's fire, guessed at the sweep
of his curves, and bravely struggled to grip the ball. There were times
when the man pitched at his amateur catcher as if he held the latter
responsible for his enforced vacation. The balls came hissing hot, now
a high jump that he had to reach for, now a vicious sweep toward his
feet, now a wide out that threw him off his balance, now a straight,
swift shot that sped like an arrow, looked like a marble in the air
and struck his mitt like a blow from a club. Owen worked hard that
fortnight, and his hands suffered; but he stood up to his task without
a murmur, and had the satisfaction of feeling that he gained from day
to day. He really could not hold McLennan and he knew it, but he had
lost his fear of the man; and he never again faced a pitcher with the
slightest semblance of timidity.

From much of the baseball wisdom that the professional lavished upon
Carle, Owen apparently got little benefit, though the time was to come
when he should try hard to recall details of the coaching. One thing,
however, he had received directly. It was McLennan who showed him
how to snap the ball down to second. The theory only he owed to the
veteran; his mastery of the trick was due to his own long and diligent
practice. It was not a very swift throw, at least in these early years,
but he got rid of the ball with such extreme quickness and placed his
throw so accurately that few base runners whom the Terryville battery
had to watch found it possible to steal second.

One more circumstance as to this Terryville battery, and we are ready
for our story. As a pitcher, Carle, like many another good man, had
one serious weakness. At critical times his judgment was prone to
be at fault. Three balls and one strike, especially if there were
men on bases and not more than one out, worried him badly. He could
usually put the ball where it was wanted even when a failure to do so
meant passing a man; but he possessed a strange faculty for trying the
wrong ball. It was here that Owen's good sense and cool head served
the pair. Owen knew by instinct what kind of a ball promised most in
the particular case; Carle could pitch the ball that Owen wanted,
and, strange enough, was willing to do so. The combination worked so
smoothly, and the pitching was so very effective, that Carle, and even
Owen himself, failed to appreciate how much of the strategy of the
battery originated behind the bat.

When Rob Owen quietly announced one morning in May that his father was
thinking of sending him to Seaton the next year, Carle was immediately
seized with a desire to accompany him. The circulars and letters
arrived with their tempting invitations. Enthusiastic Alumnus performed
his task, cleverly brightening his description of the opportunities of
the school with seductive pictures of school life and sport and joyous
fellowship. To the general ambition of the young American to make the
most of his life was added the particular ambition of the natural ball
player for a wider field for his genius. When Mr. Carle hesitated at
the expense which he could not afford, Enthusiastic Alumnus pointed to
the long list of scholarships offered and to the many opportunities for
self-help open to the earnest student. Ned, grown eager and determined,
vowed to content himself with what his father could supply and earn
whatever more he needed by his own efforts.

There was reason in the boy's hope. In the high school Ned Carle was
counted a good scholar. The teachers were agreed that with equally
faithful work the pitcher of the school nine could have ranked far
above the catcher. In a certain quickness of perception and facility
of expression combined with a memory at least temporarily retentive,
he possessed what boys usually consider the most important elements
of scholarship. Of industry, the great and fundamental essential, he
had as yet shown little development; but as this is the quality least
admired among boys and often the last acquired, neither Ned himself
nor his teachers as a whole considered the fault a serious one.

Ned's persistence, seconded by the fluent superlatives of Enthusiastic
Alumnus, was more than a match for Mr. Carle's doubts. By midsummer the
question was settled. Among the one hundred and twenty-three trunks
distributed by Laughlin and his express wagons on the first day of the
fall term were two marked "Terryville, Pa."



CHAPTER II

HAIL TO THE PITCHER


The two Terryville lads roomed apart. Owen had already engaged his room
in Hale before Carle decided to accompany him to Seaton; the latter
found cheaper quarters in Carter. The difference in character between
the two boys appeared in the experiences of their first days in school.
Before the first Sunday Ned seemed to be on friendly terms with every
fellow in the entry. Rob, on the other hand, hardly knew the names of
the occupants of his own floor.

The most interesting of Owen's neighbors were Donald and Duncan Peck,
two lively specimens belonging to his own class and section, as
indistinguishable and mischievous a brace of twins as ever looked upon
the world as a happy hunting-ground, and on the inhabitants thereof as
fair game. The tales concerning the Pecks passed on by his room-mate
Simmons, Rob considered barefaced attempts to impose on his simplicity.
Later he found that many of them were true. Between the room which
he occupied and that of the twins lay, according to one informant, a
natural feud. At least such had prevailed the year before in the days
of Tompkins, Rob's predecessor. He was advised by Lindsay, the football
man who roomed opposite, to ignore this fact and avoid a continuance
of the custom; and the stories in circulation concerning the amenities
of Tompkins and the Pecks seemed to prove that the advice was both
kindly and sound. Beyond Lindsay came Payner, a little, saturnine,
black-haired, dark-visaged lower middler from the extreme Southwest;
and opposite Payner the two Moons. The other room on the floor was
tenanted by a dull-witted toiler named Smith. With Smith an unfeeling
Faculty had yoked Crossett, a volatile senior, who spent as little time
as possible in the society of his room-mate. Durand shared Lindsay's
quarters.

Payner was no ordinary individual. In recitation, Rob was informed,
he halted and stumbled, pretending to know what he evidently did not
know, and receiving corrections with an ungracious if not defiant air.
Outside he cultivated a morose and forbidding manner, and went his
solitary way as if he scorned society. Whether this unsociability was
due to homesickness or sensitiveness or a naturally ugly disposition,
Rob was for a considerable time in doubt. He was at first inclined
to charge it up against homesickness, feeling himself for a time the
forlornness of his exile from the home circle, and the burden of his
independence. At the end of a fortnight, however, when all trace of
discontent had vanished from Owen's mind, Payner remained as sour and
taciturn as ever. Rob next ascribed the fellow's conduct to shyness,
and put himself to some inconvenience to show himself friendly. All to
no purpose; Payner's only salutation was still a niggardly nod of the
head and a scowl. He then tried to make a call on pretence of borrowing
a book; Payner merely projected his head through the partly opened door
and remarked that he had no books to lend. Thus repeatedly discouraged,
Rob gave up his benevolent attempts in disgust; the fellow was too
disagreeable to waste a thought upon!

With Lindsay he got on much better, though as the football season
advanced the senior became more and more absorbed in the work of the
eleven, and had less time for incidental acquaintances. Lindsay's
visitors especially interested the newcomer; they were such important
characters in the school that he soon came to know them by sight,
though they, of course, had no interest in him. Among them were Ware,
the manager of the eleven, Hendry, a football player, and big, serious
Laughlin, the captain of the team, who appeared but occasionally in
the dormitory until near the end of the season, when the conferences
in Lindsay's room became frequent. Of the non-football players no
one seemed to Owen more wholly desirable as a friend than Poole, the
captain of the nine. He was a straight, dark, wiry fellow of average
height and weight, with an open face and an air of quiet confidence and
simple honesty and unaffected common sense combined visibly with energy
and principle. According to Lindsay, Poole possessed all the admirable
qualities except brilliancy. Being but a fair scholar and compelled
to work hard for whatever he learned, his classroom performances were
not extraordinary and he was not distinguished either as a speaker or
as a writer. At the first school meeting, however, Owen learned that
Poole's utterances, though lacking in finish, were listened to with
greater respect than those of almost any one else; and in all the
sub-surface carping and criticism, which is as prevalent in the school
world as elsewhere, Poole was more often spared than other conspicuous
characters.

"I hear you are a catcher," said the captain one morning, about a
fortnight after the opening of school.

"Yes, I've caught a little," replied Owen, modestly. "How did you find
that out?"

"Why, your friend Carle told me. He says he has pitched a good deal. Is
he good?"

"He's all right!" Owen made haste to say in the hopelessly vague, yet
emphatic phrase of the day. "He's the best pitcher of his age I've
ever seen! He's got speed, curves, and fine control. He's had a lot of
experience, too."

Poole's expressive face beamed with delight. A man who could really
pitch and had had good experience was just what he was on the lookout
for. In a moment, however, the radiance had passed away and a dubious
shade settled into its place. Terryville High School and the famous
Seaton Academy were two very different places. Poole had known other
much-vaunted performers on high school teams who had not "made good" on
the Seaton field. It was a question of standard of play.

"What kind of teams has he faced?" he asked, with doubt showing in both
countenance and voice.

Owen understood very well the suspicion that lay behind the question.
"Good ones, some of them, and some poor," he answered dryly, smothering
the sharp retort that sprang to his lips. "We played other nines
besides the high schools. Carle had as good coaching as any young
fellow can get. Mike McLennan of the ----'s has had him in hand for
several years."

Poole caught his breath, and his eyes danced with joy. A pitcher
coached by the famous professional whose name appeared as often in
the newspapers, if not as honorably, as that of President Eliot or a
member of the cabinet! Here was a find indeed! But suddenly a horrible
suspicion laid hold of him. He seized Owen by the arm and swung him
round so as to bring his face close to his own. "Tell me straight
now," he demanded with an earnestness that was almost stern, and
looking squarely into Owen's eyes. "I want the truth right now and all
the truth. Is his record clear? Has he ever been paid for pitching,
directly or indirectly, or been hired by hotels to play summer ball, or
been given expense money in a lump so that he could clear a margin--or
done anything of the sort? If he's got anything in his record against
him, or if he's the least bit crooked or shady, I want to know it
before I tackle him. We can't have any questionable men on our teams."

Rob's first impulse was to be angry, his second to laugh aloud; but
Poole's earnestness was contagious, and his own second thoughts assured
him that the captain's suspicion was natural and his object wholly
praiseworthy. Rob had seen something of the malodorous borderland that
lies between amateur and professional. McLennan's vulgarity he could
put up with, because of McLennan's marvellous skill in his business.
But the third-rater and the semi-professional, who represents a fair
laborer or mechanic eternally spoiled to make a poor ball player,
and in whom is the essence of all that is lowest and most evil in
athletic associations, he viewed with unwavering contempt. So it was
with cordiality and inward approval that he looked directly back into
Poole's dark, fiercely shining eyes and answered confidently:

"His record's as clear as yours. He's had chances to play for money and
refused them. McLennan advised him to keep clear of it until he was
through school."

Poole dropped his arm. "I'm mighty glad to hear that. Of course we
shall have to look him up, but what you say reassures me. You used to
catch him, didn't you?"

"Yes, usually," replied Owen.

"We've got a good catcher now," said the captain, "but we want good men
for other positions. Did you ever play in the infield?"

"Not much," answered Owen.

"Well, you must come out and try for the nine anyway," concluded the
captain, turning away. "There'll be chance enough for any one who knows
the game and can hit the ball."

Owen had an attack of homesickness after that interview which he found
some difficulty in shaking off. The Terryville battery had always
been Carle and Owen. The Seaton battery was to be Carle and somebody
else! It was only a pitcher that Poole wanted; it evidently had not
even occurred to him to raise the question whether the new man could
possibly be better than the Seaton catcher. And Carle,--well, Carle
was friendly, of course, and wished him well, but Carle could hardly
be depended on to glorify his old catcher at his own expense. Carle
would surely be on the popular side, whatever that was, and would think
pretty much as those in authority thought.

"Try for the infield!" thought Owen to himself, angrily. "What
experience have I ever had in the infield? Here I've been playing
behind the bat ever since I was old enough to hold a ball, and they
tell me to try the infield! I'm willing to try for anything, of
course, or play anywhere they want me, or not play at all; and if
they've got a better catcher than I am, I'm glad of it, but they might
at least say they'd give me a show in the position I'm used to! Well,
it's months to the season anyway. I suppose I came here to study and
not to play ball, so what's the use of worrying? Father would probably
rather have me out of it altogether."

With these inconsequent and not altogether comforting reflections Rob
Owen took down his books.

Poole and Borland, the catcher, soon had Carle out for a trial. The
pitcher took ten minutes to warm up, but by the end of that time he
was throwing all kinds of fast and slow balls as Borland demanded, and
putting them over according to the catcher's suggestions. Poole could
hardly moderate the expression of his joy into reasonably temperate
approval.

"I'm not used to Borland," said Carle, as if to excuse his performance,
as he pulled on his sweater and the trio started down toward the
gymnasium. "Owen has always caught me."

"How is Owen--good?" asked the captain.

"Pretty fair," said Carle, yielding to the temptation to enhance his
own glory by depreciating his mate. "We always worked well together. I
presume I shall do as well with Borland."

"I hope so," said Borland.

And Poole said nothing, but he told Lindsay and Laughlin that night in
secret that he had found the pitcher who was going to win for them the
Hillbury game. Whereat Lindsay and Laughlin congratulated him heartily
and turned again to the problem of guard defensive play on an end run
which they had been eagerly discussing. Seaton brooks but one great
athletic interest at a time.

The football season drew toward its end. As the eagerness of the school
warmed to fever heat, Rob had new lessons as to school enthusiasm, and
old ambitions sprang into new life. As he stood on the benches at the
Hillbury game,--for he stood far more than he sat,--and cheered himself
hoarse over the deeds of his heroes, these ambitions grew stronger
and more definite. He laid his tired head on the pillow after the
evening's celebration with all the separate impressions of the day
focussed in one deep, absorbing longing. What Laughlin and Lindsay and
Durand and Hendry and the rest had done that day for their schoolmates
on the football field, that he would like to share in accomplishing on
the diamond. "Any place, anywhere," he muttered, as his eyes closed,
"just a fair chance to show what I can do!" And he dropped off to sleep
with the words still on his lips.

[Illustration: School Dormitories]



CHAPTER III

NEIGHBORLY ATTENTIONS


There was trouble on the second floor in the east entry of Hale. This
being the Pecks' entry, and the Pecks habitually furnishing the nucleus
for small storm-centres, the mere existence of trouble here would
hardly seem worth noting. As this particular trouble, however, led to
another which in turn produced a general condition affecting all the
occupants of the floor directly, and all the curious of all locations
indirectly,--it seems desirable to make a brief statement of the facts
in the case.

The Pecks, for reasons of their own, had decided that it was essential
to the proper development of the Moons that the latters' room be
"stacked." Stacking a room, or "ripping it up," as will be acknowledged
even by those who disapprove of the process, is, when compared with
its predecessor, hazing, a mild and gentle method of inculcating
humility and modesty. It consists simply in piling together in as big
and promiscuous a heap as possible whatever movable objects the room
contains,--furniture, utensils, clothing, ornaments,--and leaving
this monument as an interesting surprise for the occupants on their
return. It involves, of course, a wanton interference with the property
rights of others. It often results in permanent injury to valuable
possessions, as when books and clothing are soaked with water, or china
is smashed, or some memento dear to the owner's heart is so damaged as
to be rendered wholly incapable of ever again suggesting the slightest
humanizing sentiment. But the wisdom of boys is not the wisdom of the
wise, and the Pecks are not represented in this narrative as models of
considerateness.

The Moons were "preps." Their father was a manufacturer who dominated
the little town in Connecticut in which he lived. Reginald, the
younger, timid and childish, was a "kid"; his brother Clarence, sleek
in figure and dress, and ignorantly pretentious by training, foolishly
sought to make up for the position of insignificance in which he found
himself at school by dwelling upon his importance at home. The Pecks,
sons of a congressman and nephews of a distinguished judge, holding
this method of self-glorification quite out of place in the school
republic, determined to make clear to the Moons, by a plain object
lesson, the value of humility. While the juniors were safely enclosed
for a full hour in the Latin room, the law-breaking twins invaded the
Moon rooms and spent three-quarters of an hour in rearing a heap which,
from its foundations of bed frames to the dome of crockery on top,
showed great promise of architectural ability. Then they displayed
themselves at the gymnasium and fell in with the Moons on the way
homeward, as the swarm of Latinists poured forth from recitation.

They entered the dormitory in pairs, Duncan and Reginald in front,
Clarence delayed by Donald's loitering. At the head of the stairs
Duncan parted from his companion, and, with the air of one who had
important work to do, entered his room and shut the door hard behind
him. Once inside, however, this important work proved to be nothing
more than to glue his ear to the crack of the door and wait. He heard
Reggie walk down the entry to his room, he heard the voices of the
lagging pair rising from the stairs, then quick steps hurrying to meet
them, sudden ejaculations, and the dash of all three toward the preps'
room. There was nothing left for him then but to bottle his impatience
and depend on Donald to give him a fair show.

And Donald proved a safe reliance. The Moons' door opened; voices
and steps approached. Duncan had barely time to dart to his desk and
seize a book when Donald burst in with Clarence at his elbow. In
clumsily feigned surprise, the student looked up at the invaders, his
glance resting but for an instant on the countenance of his brother,
whose look of malicious joy, poorly cloaked by an unnatural trait of
solemnity, would have aroused immediate suspicion in an acute observer.
On Clarence's pink-and-white face anger and fright struggled together
for expression. Both twins found relief in Donald's exclamation:--

"Some one has ripped up the Moons' room. Come in and see it!"

The trio hastened back to the dishevelled room.

"Gee whiz, what a pile!" exclaimed Duncan in a veritable shock of
admiration as he came suddenly in sight of the desolation. He had
looked upon his finished work but a few minutes before and found it
sufficient; but now, as the scene suddenly flashed its fresh impression
upon him, his surprise was almost real. As a monument of havoc the heap
was a work of art.

"They didn't do a thing to you, did they! Who was it, anyway?"

"Some fresh guy!" came in answer from Clarence's trembling lips. "He
ought to be fired!"

"That's right," declared Donald. "The only trouble is to find out who
it is."

"About everything you own seems to be in the thing, doesn't it?"
observed Duncan, throwing a glance about the denuded room. "Did they
wet it down?"

Wet it down! Poor Clarence gasped with horror, but, recovering himself,
sprang forward and felt anxiously about amongst the muddle of bedstead
legs, bureau drawers, books, and blankets. There was no sign of water
there. He dropped upon his knees and examined the floor. It was dry.
Meantime Donald had screwed his face into a grimace and leered across
at Duncan; his double had grinned back and chuckled. This chuckle and
the tail-end of the grin Clarence caught as he picked himself up from
the floor, and lost in consequence any comfort which he might have
derived from his inspection.

"Funny, ain't it!" he cried fiercely. "I guess you wouldn't laugh if it
was your room!"

"No, I shouldn't," returned Duncan, sobering instantly. "It's mighty
mean of me, I know, but I just couldn't help it. The whole mix-up
struck me so hard that the laugh slipped out before I knew it. I won't
do it again."

"When was it done?" asked Donald, making haste to get away from
dangerous ground.

"While we were in Latin," returned Clarence, somewhat mollified. "Were
you fellows at the Gym the whole hour?"

"We were here awhile," confessed Donald, looking hard at the leg of a
chair that pointed reprovingly at him from the depths of the pile.

"Did you hear any one come in here?"

In the classroom Donald answered all questions addressed to the
Pecks which were not indubitably intended for his brother, but under
circumstances like the present, when mother-wit rather than book
learning was required, he had the habit of falling back upon Duncan.

"Did we, Dun?" he asked, apparently trying to recollect.

Duncan hesitated. "I guess we were too much interested in what we were
doing to listen to outside things," he said at length; and, turning
hastily away to avoid his brother's eye, he sauntered around the pile.

Donald likewise sought diversion on his side. "What's this?" he called,
pulling out a wad of striped cloth from under the edge of a blanket.
"Seems to be wet."

"My pajamas!" groaned Clarence.

Now of course Donald knew what the wad was quite as well as Clarence;
but the garments had been so folded and twisted and knotted inside and
out that at first sight they offered a very decent impromptu imitation
of Alexander's famous Gordian puzzle about which the juniors had
been reading that very day in their histories. So it wasn't really
so difficult for the evil-minded Peck to counterfeit surprise and
curiosity as he turned the bundle in his hands and made ineffectual
attempts to snap it out.

The other tormentor was ready with advice. "You'd better get those
knots out right off. If you let 'em dry, you can't blow 'em apart with
dynamite."

Clarence ground his teeth and set to work in silence. Donald was
pretending to assist him. Duncan, with hands in his pockets, strolled
over to the bedroom door, where it was safe to grin and gloat. This
was rare fun! Other fellows had had their rooms stacked,--in fact,
the Pecks' own room had been treated in much the same way the first
year they were in school,--but no one yet had stacked a room and been
present as sympathizer at the moment of discovery. And that fool
Clarence needed the humiliation if ever a fellow did. "Prince of
Bentonville" they called him at home, did they? (This delectable fact
Reggie had imprudently confided to some faithless gossip, who joyously
published it abroad.) There was no place for princes here, or babies
either.

At the threshold of the bedroom the vandal paused and let his exultant
gaze sweep the havoc-stricken room, from the glaring unshaded windows
on the right, over the rectangles of dust on the floor where the
beds had been, along the festoon of knotted neckties strung between
light-fixture and radiator, to the heap of rugs crushed into the
corner. On this corner his look hung, and the smirk of satisfaction
on his pudgy countenance faded abruptly away. Here, on the only
resting-place the dismantled room afforded, lay Reginald, face
downward, sobbing his grief into the dusty folds.

Now Duncan, malefactor that he was, had his heart in the right spot.
The sight of the little chap plunged in woe through his agency stirred
him most unpleasantly. He knew at once that it was not vexation that
produced the spasm of tears, but genuine homesickness, made poignant
by this wanton act of an unknown enemy; and homesickness appealed to
Duncan when weakness and babyishness received no tolerance. He had
been homesick himself once, when Donald with scarlet fever monopolized
the house and Duncan spent dreary weeks of banishment with a boy-hating
aunt in the country. The misery of that exile was still a painful
memory. Poor Reggie! They hadn't meant to discipline that little chap!

He put his hand on Reginald's shoulder. "Come, cheer up, Reggie! It
isn't so bad as it looks. We'll soon make it all right again." But
Reggie, ashamed of his tears, buried his nose still deeper in the rugs.

"Oh, cheer up!" repeated the comforter. "Lots of fellows have had just
as big a stack in their rooms and simply laughed at it. Pluck up, and
put your traps back and say nothing about it. That's the way to manage
a thing like this. You're man enough for that, I know!"

Reggie sat up, struggling to choke back the sobs. The storm was going
by.

"That's the way! Got a handkerchief? Here, take mine. Now let's go out
and tackle the mess. I'll take the things down and you put 'em away,
see?"

Clarence and Donald were still at work on the pajamas when Duncan
appeared in the study, pushing before him the flushed, reluctant
Reginald. Duncan yanked a chair from the side of the pile, and standing
on it began to strip off the top layer and pass the articles down to
Reginald.

"What're you doing, Dun?" demanded Donald.

"Helping these fellows clear up," replied Duncan coolly. "Pitch in,
can't you? Here's a pillow, Reggie, catch! and a blanket, too. Get a
move on you there, Clarence, and pull out that waste-basket of shirts!
We aren't going to do all the work while you stand around with your
hands in your pockets. Here! take this towel rack into the bedroom."

Clarence obeyed, though with reluctance. Reginald was hurrying to and
fro on his errands with cheerfulness suddenly restored.

"You big fool!" ejaculated Donald, planting himself before his
brother's chair.

"Thank you!" returned Duncan, unruffled, with a warning squint in the
direction of Clarence. "Why this compliment?"

Donald turned and perceived Clarence staring at the pair with all his
eyes.

"Because you ought to be doing your Latin," he answered. "You haven't
looked at it; you'll flunk it dead."

Duncan grunted. "_A bas_ the Latin. You'll read it to me!"

"Hanged if I will!" retorted Donald, and went out, slamming the door
behind him.

Sad to relate, when Duncan returned to his room an hour later,
having borne the burden of the restoration of the Moons to order and
happiness, Donald read to him not the Latin but a vigorously phrased
lecture, bristling with slang and exclamation points, which naturally
provoked recrimination, and a long and heated argument. And sadder yet,
poetic justice failed to tip the scales in the right direction; the
Latin instructor did flunk poor Duncan dead.



CHAPTER IV

PAYNER THE MARPLOT


Owen might have known nothing of all this had Payner not taken a hand
in the affair. Two months of Seaton had improved Payner. His mental
attitudes were just as twisted and morbid as ever, and his motto seemed
still to be "the world against Payner and Payner against the world,"
but his truculence had modified sufficiently to allow him to reply when
addressed, and occasionally to volunteer a civil remark. He disliked
the Pecks heartily and with much reason, for the pair showed him little
respect, and would sometimes amuse themselves by shouting across the
entry to each other a series of questions and answers on the subject of
New Mexico which were not entirely flattering to the inhabitants of the
territory. Still nothing had as yet occurred which could be counted an
overt act of hostility.

Payner happened along that morning just as Duncan was leaving the
rehabilitated room, receiving as he went, in a curious confusion of
shame and complacency, the blessings of the Moons. Payner fumbled long
at his lock, screwing his head around over his shoulder so as to take
in the whole unusual character of the scene,--unusual because boys
are not likely to be profuse in their expressions of gratitude, but
especially remarkable in that a Peck seemed to have been engaged in a
labor of love.

"Has _he_ been doing something good?" he asked, jerking his thumb in
the direction of the door behind which Duncan had just disappeared.

"Well, I guess!" replied Reggie. "He's just straightened us all out.
He's a brick! You ought to have seen the pile when we came in. It
almost--" The abrupt ending of Reggie's speech was prompted by a side
swing of his elder brother's foot. It must not be inferred that this
was Clarence's usual method of guiding Reginald's conversation. He had
begun with an unheeded nudge. The kick was effectual, but late.

Reggie turned in wonder, and perceived from Clarence's black looks
that he had said something amiss. While he stood gaping in a startled
and uncomprehending manner at his brother, Payner left the door which
he had succeeded in opening, crossed the entry, and peered into the
Moons' room.

"Where's the pile?" he demanded in the rapid, explosive way which the
boys liked to mimic. Payner's phrases were jerked out in diminishing
puffs, like the irregular snorts of a laboring gasolene engine.

Clarence said nothing, and Payner, turning his back upon him, addressed
himself once more to Reggie.

"There isn't any," replied Reggie. "We've taken it all down. It was
right there where the table is."

"Been rough-housed, have you?" asked the visitor, wheeling now upon
Clarence, and breaking into a most unsympathetic snicker. "Who did it?"

Clarence scowled. "How do you suppose I know? We found it here when we
came from Latin, and Duncan Peck has been helping us clear up."

"Wasn't the other one with him?"

"No, he had to study," explained Reginald; "but Duncan stayed till the
last thing was put away. It was awfully nice of him, wasn't it?"

"How'd they happen to be here?"

"Oh, they came up the same time we did, and we called 'em in."

"They'd been at recitation?" persisted Payner.

"No, at the Gym," growled Clarence, who did not see why he should be
questioned in this peremptory fashion.

"They'd been here awhile, too," added Reggie, "but they didn't hear any
one come to this room."

"I reckon they could if they'd wanted to," Payner observed dryly.

Reggie did not understand Payner's meaning at all, and Clarence only
in part. So they stood for a moment in silence; then Reggie spied
Clarence's knotted pajamas in the corner of the sofa and was just
opening his mouth to exclaim over them, when Clarence spoke.

"Do you mean to say that they knew when it was done?"

"They knew when it was done, and how it was done, and who did it,"
asserted Payner, boldly. "It's my belief they did it themselves.
They're just the fellows to do the thing and then look on and laugh
while you grind your teeth. Who else could have done it anyway? I
wouldn't, and I couldn't either, as I can prove to you. Owen wouldn't
and Smith wouldn't and neither would Lindsay nor any of the other
fellows round here. There's only the Pecks left. It's dollars to
doughnuts they would and did."

"I won't believe it!" cried Reginald, indignantly.

Payner sniffed. "Then don't. I'll bet all the same you can't find out
what they were at all the morning."

Clarence explained the case at length, and Reginald protested, but
Payner asserted with undiminished confidence, and departed, leaving
behind the memory of various pungent sentiments, such as "they're
playing you for suckers," "you'll find out sometime," "you're dead easy
for those guys," to work in his absence.

All that afternoon the ferment went on in Clarence's mind. He was
too indolent to seek facts to inculpate or clear the Pecks, too
sensitive to put the experience wholly from his mind as a mishap of
the day which he had fortunately survived. Much more distressed by the
suspicion that the Pecks were deriding him than by the mere fact of
the "rough-housing," he at last decided to lay the matter before an
impartial third person.

Late in the evening, when Owen was busy with the last lines of the
Virgil for the next morning's eight-o'clock, Clarence offered himself
as a caller, bashfully unfolded his tale, and craved an opinion.

The justice heard the case and gave judgment. He liked the Pecks and
did not care for Payner. Like Payner, he judged according to previous
prejudice. The Pecks were, to his mind, innocent objects of another's
malice, and Payner's suspicions wholly groundless. These were not the
judge's words, but they represent fairly well his thought. What he said
was that Payner was crazy, which in a general way may or may not have
been true.

Clarence departed with pride soothed and composure restored. Rob, in
the firmness of his conviction, hurried over to the Pecks to share with
them his laugh over Payner's ridiculous charge. He had hardly broached
the subject when he began to question the correctness of his recently
delivered opinion. The Pecks looked very indignant and protested very
loudly, but the manner of their indignation was so clearly forced and
their underlying glee so obvious, that the unguarded wink which Donald
threw at his brother and which Rob surprised was hardly necessary to
confirm the visitor's growing belief that Payner had been right after
all. And how the gentle-mannered twins did malign the insolent Payner
for his interference! It was none of his business; he was butting in
where he didn't belong; he was a fresh gazabo, an uncivilized cub, an
outlaw in disguise, who would wreck a train for a pipe of tobacco or
shoot a benefactor from behind a fence; he had probably saved himself
from being hanged for horse-stealing by taking refuge in Seaton; he
certainly belonged behind the bars.

Rob returned to his room with the feeling unpleasantly vivid in his
mind that in the matter of the Moons' stacked room he had been guilty
of more than one error of judgment.



CHAPTER V

THE FAVORS OF FORTUNE


When Donald Peck greeted the elder Moon next morning, there was
considerable coolness in the reply; Clarence's suspicions had revived
over night. Later in the day Duncan got hold of Reggie, and succeeded
in extracting from him the confidence that Clarence still nourished the
absurd idea that the Pecks might have stacked the room themselves.

"It's all rot, of course," said the lad, looking trustingly up into
Duncan's face. "I know you wouldn't do a thing like that, and so does
he, but he's so wild about it he can't think straight. I told him that
if you were the ones you wouldn't have come around as you did, and
helped us out."

Duncan glanced away and felt uncomfortable.

"I hate to have him act so," went on the boy; "it seems so much worse
since you were so good about it. He'll get over it in a day or two. I
hope you won't mind."

Duncan answered cordially that he shouldn't, and, putting an abrupt
end to the conversation, went home to upbraid his brother for getting
both into the scrape. Donald jeered at his scruples, averred that it
was all for the Moons' real good, and charged him with entering into
the scheme without raising objections, and then crawling. Duncan flung
back this charge with indignation, and a high-pitched, virulent, and
illogical argument followed, wherein all the disastrous enterprises
in which the pair had ever engaged were reconsidered and the blame
properly apportioned. This scene of mutual recrimination ended only
when the inhabitants of the room above fell to thumping on the floor
and emitting catcalls and dog yelps; and Payner, who happened to be
passing, actually had the effrontery to knock at the door to inquire if
any one was hurt.

The instant effect of this last interruption was to divert the angry
feelings of the brothers from their former course and combine them
against Payner. He was the cause of all the trouble; without him
and his outrageous interference, the Moons would never have had a
suspicion. He should be punished; his room should be ripped up, and
ripped up thoroughly. The discussion of a plan reinfused in the twins
the old spirit of unity and harmony.

But Payner was not so easily caught as the heedless Moons. The twins
obtained a schedule of his recitations and laboratory hours, which they
agreed afforded the only safe occasions to work. At some of these hours
they were themselves employed; at others, when they tried his door, it
proved to be securely locked.

Once, indeed, during a laboratory period, they found the door ajar, and
pushing it open went boldly in to make the most of their opportunity.
Donald was in the van, his eyes eagerly sweeping the walls of the room
in search of material suited to his purpose. Duncan, close behind
him, glanced over the table, and perceived a bristly head of hair
just appearing above the table edge. Before they could draw back, the
bristling scalp rose higher, and two savage little eyes looked straight
into Donald's face. It was Payner himself, who had been sent back from
the laboratory for the note-book which he had neglected to bring with
him.

Donald sprang back speechless. Duncan came forward pulling out his
watch.

"Well?" said Payner. He was not given to long speeches, but he could
put much vigor into short ones.

"Have you the right time about you?" Duncan asked with a certain degree
of composure. "We saw your door open and thought we'd come in."

"So I see," remarked Payner. "He"--jerking his head toward
Donald--"seemed rather surprised to find me in."

"It's enough to surprise any one to have a fellow pop up like a
jack-in-the-box from behind a table!"

"Jack-in-the-box!" repeated Payner, angrily.

"Well, anything you like," said Duncan, smiling. "Did you say you had
the right time?"

"No, I haven't; my time is always wrong."

"Thanks," returned Duncan; "then we won't trouble you any longer. Come
on, Don, let's try Owen."

The brothers turned to go. "The next time you come you'd better knock
first," shouted Payner. "It'll save your nerves!"

"We'll try to remember," said Donald, who had regained his composure.
It was his only part in the interview.

The brothers crept back to their room and there chuckled mightily
over their escape. Payner listened to see whether they really did
visit Owen, and then locking his door carefully, walked over to the
laboratory, far more disturbed by the problem of the Pecks' presence in
his room than by any difficulty which an experiment in physics might
offer. And Payner did not shine in physics.

After this Payner's door was always locked, and, mischievous as the
twins were, they had no heart for breaking and entering. Weeks flew by;
Christmas came, bringing the long recess. Owen and Carle both returned
to Terryville for the holidays, the latter especially elated. He had
got his scholarship. His work in the classroom had flagged a little
toward the end of the term, as the seductive influence of popularity
made itself felt, but his honest efforts in the first two months had
given him a good margin, as well as impressed his teachers. He knew a
lot of fellows, was already patronized by a certain conspicuous set,
and enjoyed, as far as it was possible to anticipate the credit of
great deeds as yet unperformed, the glory of being the master pitcher
who was to win the Hillbury game. It was possible, of course, that
these anticipations might prove unwarranted; that Carle's glory, like
the great Kuropatkin's military reputation before the battles of
Laioyang and Mukden, might not survive the actual test. But at least he
had every prospect of being the school pitcher, and this was in itself
a definite honor.

Owen had not fared as well. He had worked faithfully, had won fair
rank, had made a few good friends; his teachers spoke of him as
steady but slow. He had developed no striking qualities to impress
his boy acquaintances; he was not witty like Rogers, nor literary
like Ware, nor a wonderful scholar like Salter, nor a football hero
like Laughlin or Lindsay, nor a track athlete with a record like
Strong, nor a musician like Truslow, nor clever with a pencil like
Fox, nor a ladies' man like Richmond, nor even a jolly idiot like
Kleinschmidt. To be a candidate for the nine, with the possibility of
becoming substitute catcher if luck served, was not in itself and at
this early day a sufficient ground for distinction. So Rob had few
successes to report to his family on his return. Mr. Owen was satisfied
that the boy had honestly endeavored to do his duty in school, and
follow the principles laid down in the parental code. In the father's
eyes the discouraging outlook for baseball was rather a cause for
congratulation. Mrs. Owen was wholly pleased to have her son at home
again, and to find him a little bigger and a little stronger and a
little more manly than before, but just as fond of his home as ever,
and just as interested in all that concerned it. Except for two things,
Rob himself was completely happy. One was the disappointment about
baseball, which he could not forget; the other, the constant reminder
of his inferiority to Carle. When Carle confessed on the train, with a
certain imposing air of one whose honors were burdensome, that he had
been asked to join the Omega-Omicron fraternity, Rob was smitten hard
with jealousy, but he threw off this feeling in an instant and spoke
eagerly.

"That's an honor, isn't it! Are you going to join?"

"I haven't decided yet," replied Carle, negligently.

"Aren't they rather a rich set?" asked Rob, as he ran over the list of
several who were reputed to be members. He had picked up a good deal
of information during his first term about many things which did not
immediately concern him.

"Most of 'em have money, but they don't insist that every one else
should."

"I should think that it would be hard all the same," returned Rob,
thoughtfully. "You see, there'll be a lot of things these fellows do
that you can't afford. You won't want to refuse if you're with them,
and you can't stand the pace they set. That makes it awkward for you."

"Oh, they make a way for a fellow who hasn't much," Carle replied. "You
see they like to get in fellows that are well known, specially the
athletic men. It's to their interest to sacrifice something, if they
want the important fellows."

"I'm thinking of you, not of the fraternity," said Owen, resisting
another attack of jealousy. It grated on him to hear Carle speak so
confidently of his assured athletic position. "It'll be harder for you
to study and keep your place in the class, if you're going with those
fellows all the time; and then there'll be a temptation to spend more
than you can afford."

At this argument, which was certainly worthy of consideration, Carle's
face clouded and he burst out savagely: "It's mighty mean to be always
kept tied down to figuring on pennies, and have to slave to get a
scholarship, when other fellows who haven't anything to make them
popular can throw money around and loaf, and float along on the top
wave. It isn't right!"

Rob looked at him in surprise. "You don't have to spend money to be
popular. There's Laughlin; he hasn't a cent that he doesn't earn, and
fellows like Poole and Lindsay and Cutting don't make any show of money
if they have it. And who thinks anything of Bowers with all his dough?"

"They have all they need, at least," returned Carle, "and I haven't.
Laughlin's different, but there aren't many like him. All I say is that
it's mighty tough to send a fellow to school, and not give him money
enough to keep him there decently."

Rob listened without knowing what reply to make. He recalled the
eagerness with which Ned had forced his plan upon his parents, his
declaration that he would not let himself be a burden to them, and his
promise to be content with what they could afford to give him, and
rely upon himself for all other needs. Why should he speak as if he
had been sent to school against his will and there neglected, when he
had besought his parents to let him go at his own risk? And why should
he complain at all when he had apparently had complete success, earned
a scholarship, and had such prospects of an important place in school
life?

Ned's successes were soon known in Terryville. Mr. Carle repeated
often and proudly the tale of his son's high rank in his school, and
of the great popularity which he enjoyed among his school-fellows.
Ned added the information that he should probably do the bulk of the
pitching on the school nine; he was to begin pitching practice with the
regular school catcher after the holidays. When people questioned Rob
concerning these statements, as many did, he readily confirmed them;
when they asked him further, as some did, why he had not succeeded as
well, and why he wasn't "good enough to catch Carle," he laughingly
declared his inferiority. When he was safe from observation, however,
and the questions returned to him, he had no heart to laugh. The fact
that he was "outclassed," as Ned calmly explained it, or better that
he had been quietly put aside on the assumption that he wasn't the
equal of Borland, while Carle was taken at his own highest valuation
and given in advance the honors of achievement--this was indeed an
unpleasant subject for reflection. But Rob, though lacking the worldly
experience which might have taught him that in the general sifting
and settling of life, undeserved elevation usually leads to deserved
humiliation, still was fortunate in possessing a modest self-esteem
and reasonably good sense. That he envied Carle's rapid rise cannot be
denied; but that he in any way wished his friend ill on account of it,
or would have liked to pull Carle down that the difference between them
should be less manifest,--this feeling, I am pleased to say, was wholly
absent from his mind. Rob Owen was no cad.

[Illustration: A Corner of the Yard.]



CHAPTER VI

THE THIRD STRING


When the school gathered again after the holidays, Poole called his
candidates for baseball together, and after a vehement harangue in
which he sought to impress upon each man the importance of doing his
utmost to develop a good nine, whether by making it himself or by
spurring on some better man to outdo him, arranged the periods and
combinations for winter practice. As the general routine, or as much of
it as concerns the fielding and batting, has been described in a former
book, the subject must be dismissed here with this passing mention. In
the work of the batteries we are more directly interested.

Carle and Borland were put at the head of the battery combinations,
apparently with as little hesitancy as if they had been veterans
carried over from a triumphant season. The first choice of hours was
theirs, their opinions were listened to with respect; their position
as fixtures seemed almost as well recognized as that of Poole himself.
In spite of all self-preparation, Rob was almost startled to find
what a gap existed between himself and his old battery mate; and as
he remembered how often in past games when bases were full and things
were going wrong with the pitching, he had guided the bewildered Carle
out of his difficulties, he could not help a feeling of pique, nor
avoid wondering whether Borland would succeed as well. After Carle,
O'Connell, one of the class pitchers of the year before, held the next
position of favor, and Poole quietly put down the combination, Owen and
O'Connell, for cage hours together. There were also Patterson, a new
man about whom nothing was known, and Peters, right fielder on the nine
the year before, who was learning to pitch. For these, also, practice
catchers were arranged.

From the outset, Owen found his practice with O'Connell unpleasant. It
could not have been from any prejudice against the pitcher, for Rob,
who was eager for any opportunity which seemed to offer him a "show,"
was at first greatly pleased at the prospect of being mated with the
man who, before the advent of Carle, had been regarded as the most
promising of the school pitchers. Whatever secret hopes he may have
cherished of building up a rival battery were in a fortnight wholly
dispelled. O'Connell couldn't pitch, and wouldn't learn. He couldn't
pitch because his whole idea seemed to be to throw a ball with as big
a curve as possible, without much care as to where it was going, or
how near the plate it was destined to come; the only ball which he
could surely put over was a straight waist ball which any child could
hit. He wouldn't learn, because he thought it a pitcher's business to
pitch, and a catcher's not to give instruction but to catch. To Rob's
suggestions that any kind of a waist-high ball was dangerous, that the
best pitcher he ever saw did not cover a width of more than three feet
in a whole game, keeping the ball constantly at the plate--O'Connell
paid not the slightest attention. He was quite unwilling to suppose
that a man who had enjoyed the privilege of Seaton coaching for a year
could learn anything from a country boy from western Pennsylvania.
The result was that Rob soon ceased to try to help the pitcher, and
contented himself with taking the balls within reach in silence and
letting the rest strike the net. The loungers about the cage could not
have been impressed with the skill of the catching.

One day toward the end of the discouraging fortnight, when Rob was
feeling particularly blue over the situation and wondering whether it
would not be better after all to let the catching go altogether and
take his chances on his hitting for a fielding position, he fell in
with Patterson on the way down street, and asked him casually how he
was getting on with pitching.

"Not very well," answered Patterson, ruefully. "I can't seem to learn
anything."

"Who catches you?" asked Rob.

"Foxcroft," replied Patterson, gloomily. "He's a good backstop, I
suppose, but he never tells me anything, and you can't learn by
yourself. Poole ought to fix it so that we can get some instruction, I
think."

Rob did not answer. He was marvelling at the contrariness of
circumstances. Here was O'Connell who might have instruction but
wouldn't take it, and Patterson who wanted it but couldn't get it!

"A man who ought to know told me once that I had the makings of
a pitcher in me,--the arm swing, snappy wrist, and all that, you
know,--but I've had mighty little chance for coaching and no such
experience as these fellows here get, so I don't know whether he was
fooling me or not. I don't seem to be getting ahead at all now."

"Oh, you mustn't be discouraged," said Rob, unfairly assuming in his
own discouragement the right to blame the other's faint-heartedness.
"It takes time to learn to pitch."

"It takes something more than time," Patterson declared with emphasis.
"A year of the kind of thing I'm getting won't be much better than a
month. You don't have to eat a bushel of apples to find out whether
they're rotten or not. One is enough."

Rob hesitated. An idea had suddenly occurred to him, an idea that
might be good. Why shouldn't he catch Patterson, and let O'Connell
take Foxcroft? He knew nothing of Patterson, it was true, but he did
know about O'Connell, and under the circumstances the unknown seemed
attractive.

"How would you like to take me for a change, and let O'Connell have
Foxcroft?"

Patterson's face spoke instantly a joyful acceptance of the proposal.
His words, which came later, evidently represented second thoughts.

"Wouldn't I! But O'Connell would kick, though. He isn't going to swap
you for Foxcroft."

"I don't believe he'd mind," returned Owen, with a smile of amusement
tinged with sadness. "He can't learn anything from me, so Foxcroft
would do just as well. I'd like to catch some one I could work with,
and feel an interest in and try to push along. A net would be about as
good for O'Connell as I am; all the advantage I have over the net is
that I throw the balls back."

"Let's change, then," said Patterson, eagerly. "If O'Connell doesn't
want your help, I do. You'll find me ready to learn all right. You see
Poole,--no, I'll see him and tell him we'd like to bunk in together. I
don't believe it'll make any difference to him."

Poole was seen, and gave his consent without suggesting any obstacle
except a possible difficulty in arranging new hours. O'Connell growled
a little, not at losing Owen, whom he considered too officious, but at
the notion that he should be given a third-string catcher instead of a
second. But the change was made, and the new pair settled quietly down
into obscurity, an obscurity which was the deeper in contrast with the
glare of publicity in which the first battery displayed itself.

Carle and Borland were the unquestioned athletic heroes of that winter
term. Borland showed himself an excellent backstop. His manner was that
of one whom no ball thrown by human arm could disconcert. He could
take in-curves with his mitt unsupported, tip them jauntily into his
right hand, and toss them back with the best air of a professional
in a great city team showing his tricks to a big audience before a
game. The lads who in a perennial group peered admiring through the
netting would nudge each other and exclaim and wonder; the knowing ones
would talk with wise patronage; the ignorant ask foolish questions
in awe-struck tones. Then the company would exchange places with a
similar squad at the pitcher's end, and, big-eyed with amazement, watch
the unintelligible signals, and try to detect the jump or the break,
the out or the in, the lift or the drop, which the conductor of the
party assured them was to be seen. Those were great days for battery
one at Seaton school. No disillusionizing games to shatter the sweet
ideal with brutal facts, no heartbreaking succession of base hits, no
feverish gift of bases on balls, no missed pop fouls, no overthrown
bases, but just fancy pitching, with opportunity for flourishes
unlimited, and spectators unanimous in admiration. Poole himself, with
all his steady-mindedness and fear of fostering vain hopes, yielded to
the general exultation and looked forward with full complacency to the
contest of batteries in the spring.

Meantime the humble third string was pursuing its unnoticed way. To
his surprise, Owen found Patterson possessed of a very good mastery of
one or two curves, and pitching with apparent ease and considerable
speed. He was very eager to learn, and so modest as to be entirely
distrustful of himself. This fault of timidity Rob sought to overcome
by encouragement and by plain lessons from the successes of pitchers
whom he had known. When once Patterson understood that by good pitching
was meant, not "doing things" with a ball, but merely success in
fooling batsmen; and that to accomplish this object, control and speed
and cleverness in alternating balls, rather than ability to juggle
curves, were of prime importance, the pupil took courage and began to
learn.

It was now that Rob regretted that he had not paid more attention
to McLennan's words of counsel to Carle when the latter had had his
lessons. Much that the professional had said he recalled under the
stimulus of the need. Some things about which he felt uncertain he
found out from Carle, who, as a rule, however, remembered less of the
technical teaching than Owen. But in the main it was the fundamental
principles which Patterson needed, and as to these his catcher was well
informed. They were left much to themselves. The general public had no
interest in the third battery. Poole occasionally looked in on them for
a few minutes, but on these occasions Rob, with a perversity perhaps
excusable, deliberately kept his charge from showing his best work.
With O'Connell and Carle, and others who might be expected to look with
critical eyes, he followed the same course, as if he courted obscurity.
The result was that the two worked on alone during the long winter
practice unmolested by critics, and free from distracting suggestions
of would-be helpers.

With Patterson, Rob soon felt himself on terms of hearty intimacy,
though at times their relation suggested that of patron and client. So
frankly modest was the pitcher, so naturally distrustful of himself and
ready to follow another's lead, that outside the cage he fell naturally
into the position of follower. He studied with Owen, skated with him,
loafed in his room, sided with him in the discussions, profitable and
unprofitable, to which boys' conversation usually runs, and confided to
him the facts as to his home life which one usually reserves for his
most intimate companion. Yet with all his friendliness and willingness
to follow the steps of another better fitted to lead, Patterson was by
no means weak. There was a substantial basis of character and principle
underlying his naturally trustful disposition. He followed only a
presumably wiser guide; he yielded only up to a certain point and in
certain directions. While possessing the unusual faculty of recognizing
his faults before his virtues, when once assured of his power he would
push on undaunted by obstacles. It was this peculiar combination
of traits that so endeared him as a friend and rendered him so apt
as a pupil. Most young athletes need the experience of the contest
to dissipate their conceit, and open the way for development. With
Patterson experience was necessary before a reasonable self-confidence
was possible.



CHAPTER VII

FACILIS DESCENSUS


Carle joined the Omega Omicron. This was evident, even before the
acquisition of the distinctive hatband, from the furious and absorbing
intimacy which he developed with a certain coterie of fellows
belonging to the fraternity. A dispassionate observer--Mr. Graham, for
instance--would have perceived two distinct strains in the membership
of the Omicron: an extravagant set of sports, courting a reputation
for fastness; and a steadier, wiser, more manly group of well-to-do
fellows who fell in naturally with others possessing similar monthly
allowances, without adopting their views or their principles. It was
this latter element which procured for the fraternity the countenance
of the faculty. If any member of the Omicron had been asked--by his
father, let us say, for no student would have ventured upon such
dangerous ground--what kind of fellows belonged to the society, he
would have answered emphatically "mighty nice fellows." And the answer
would have been in the main true, for the tendency toward conformity
is strong in boys, often holding in temporary check the individual
instinct which is destined to make the character of the man; and boy
loyalty is notorious. But between Durand and Hendry, who represented
the best of the Omicron, and Jones and Nicholson, who led the fast set,
there was as much real difference as between blades of wheat and blades
of grass. Poole and Lindsay belonged to another fraternity.

"You'd better look after your pitcher," said Durand one morning to
Poole. "He's getting in debt."

Poole stopped short in his walk and stared in amazement into his
companion's face.

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I say," returned Durand, soberly. "He's borrowing and
running bills."

"Where?"

"Where does he borrow? Well, Jones and Stratton are two he's borrowed
from. There may be more. He's running bills at one drug store anyway,
and I think with two of those out-of-town agents that show things down
at Perkins's."

"Why don't you look after him?" demanded Poole, angrily. "He belongs to
your bunch."

Durand shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not his guardian. I don't run the
Omicron, either, as I've told you before."

"You ought to!" retorted Poole. "What did you get him in there for
anyway?"

"I didn't get him in. In fact, and between ourselves, I voted against
him."

"I should think you might have helped him along anyway, or at least
not let your gang lead him off. You knew he was a scholarship man and
hadn't money to throw away. Why didn't you stop him?"

"I did try to, Phil; honestly, I did," returned Durand, at last
becoming warm; "but what could I do against all you fellows flattering
him and praising him and kowtowing to him as if he were a little tin
god? You don't suppose he cares anything for my opinion, do you? You
don't suppose that Jones and Stratton and Nicholson are going to throw
around less money because he's with 'em, do you? Not on your life!"

Poole thought a few moments in silence. Then he looked up with a smile
and dropped his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I don't believe it's
as bad as you make out," he said. "You always were prejudiced against
the fellow, you and Lindsay too; and I think I know why. Owen's soured
because he can't catch Carle here as he did at home. That made him
throw over O'Connell in a sulky fit; and now, I suppose, he runs down
Carle, and you fellows in Hale take his opinion."

Durand was listening with lips parted and eyes set in a stare of
astonishment. "Well, of all the crazy ideas that is the limit! Owen has
never, so far as I've known, said one word against Carle to any one.
He did say why he changed O'Connell for Patterson. Patterson wanted to
learn, and O'Connell couldn't be taught because he knew it all without
telling. You're entirely off about the whole business."

"I hope I am," said Poole.

"By the way, have you seen Owen catch?"

"Of course. I look in on him every now and then."

"What do you think of him?"

"A good, fair man. I was counting on him and O'Connell as second-string
battery, but he doesn't seem to want the job."

"Have you heard him coaching Patterson?"

"Why, yes, I suppose so. There was nothing remarkable about it."

Durand laughed a provoking, mysterious, sententious laugh, waved his
hand, and disappeared into his dormitory entry, leaving Poole to
meditate on the conversation. The meditation concerned but one subject,
the possible difficulties of the popular pitcher. Of Owen, he did not
think again.

The captain's first active step was to make inquiries among the upper
middlers concerning Carle's standing. The answers were various,
depending largely upon the standard of the boy questioned. A few whose
own records were high, or who remembered some especially striking
failures on the part of Carle, were of the opinion that he was falling
in rank. The great majority of middle weights considered him, in
general, good. After this investigation Poole had an interview with
Carle himself, who protested that he was "all right," declared that
his debts didn't amount to anything, and avowed the most superior
principles.

Poole returned home reassured. When he met Durand in the afternoon he
reported the results of his investigations, and jeered at his little
third baseman as a croaker. And Carle, after sitting silent at his
desk for an unpleasant half hour, and later having performed a little
problem in addition and subtraction which apparently gave him no
relief, accepted unhesitatingly the invitation of Jones to join him and
two others in a drive with a span of horses, though he knew that the
livery charge to be divided would be at least five dollars. You can't
be mean, if you want fellows to like you!

As a matter of fact Carle's classroom work was falling off. He was not
perhaps conscious of the change, and some of his teachers had likewise
failed to perceive the trend. When a boy trots his translations, he
may, if he is quick and observant in the recitation room, deceive his
instructors for a very considerable time. A good teacher necessarily
repeats questions and reemphasizes principles, and Carle was bright
enough to take full advantage of opportunities afforded by the
recitations. But all the time, as his outside interests increased, and
the circle of intimates with whom he idled grew, his study became more
superficial. The translation book was no longer reserved for special
emergency; it lay open on his desk from the first line of the lesson to
the last. His newly developed method in mathematics was to gather all
possible solutions from his acquaintances before trying any problems
himself. He was growing distinctly clever in the art of cribbing. Still
he seemed to be doing fair work, for such a process is one of gradual
and secret undermining rather than of open destruction. One does not
perceive the extent to which the foundations are injured until the
crash comes.

"What is the matter with Carle?" asked Mr. Rice, the young teacher of
history, at a faculty meeting in February. "Isn't he falling off in his
work?"

Mr. Moore turned on him an indulgent smile. "I haven't noticed it," he
said, "and I have him five times a week."

As the young instructor had Carle's section but two hours weekly, this
answer appeared to the questioner equivalent to a rebuke; so, taking
Kipling's advice to the cub, he thought, and was still. The result of
his thinking was first that Mr. Moore, being faculty member of the
Omicron, must know Carle's habits of work much better than he himself
did; and, secondly, that he was but a tyro at the business, with much
to learn, both as to boys and the ways of the school. He did not see
that the Principal made a note of his question, or that Lovering, one
of the Latin men, and Pope, a middle-aged confrère who had sections in
mathematics, exchanged a few words in low tones. Otherwise, he might
have felt less chagrin over his apparent error.



CHAPTER VIII

THE FIRST PLAGUE


The inhabitants of the east entry of Hale were enjoying a season of
unusual quiet. Duncan Peck, because of unacceptable work, lay under
the ban of study hours,--a fact which damped the ardor of both the
brothers. Clarence Moon had apparently learned wisdom from experience,
for he had much less to say about the exalted state in which he lived
at home, and in general bore himself with more becoming modesty.
Lindsay and Owen and their room-mates had other ambitions than to be
disturbers of the peace, and Payner lived solitary and secure in his
fortress. There remained but the conscientious Smith and Crossett the
absentee, neither of whom was likely to spend time in fomenting discord
in the dormitory.

Smith studied continuously. His lamp was lighted at five every
morning, he was always in bed at ten at night; but between these two
periods, except for the time inevitably wasted on meals and devoted
to school exercises, he plodded unweariedly at his books. And did
he accomplish great things? I wish I could answer yes. I would not
willingly detract one jot from the value of habits of industry. They
are rough diamonds which Young America is too prone to throw aside
for the flashing brilliants of smartness and wit. But the truth must
be spoken. Smith's industry earned no apparent dividends. With the
gift of great perseverance, nature had also bestowed on him a very
thick head, through which ideas soaked but slowly. He rarely got a
conception right without having first tried all the possibilities of
error. His influence was ambiguous: some jeered at him as an example of
the ineffectualness of grinding; others, among whom was Owen, felt a
kind of reproof in the patient, untiring, undiscourageable zeal of this
oft-discomfited drudge. To most who knew him he was merely "Grinder
Smith."

Owen came in one day from cage practice with Patterson, who had fallen
into the habit of doing his afternoon study in Rob's room. At the head
of the stairs they met a tall, light-haired boy coming out of Payner's
room. Owen nodded.

"Who was that?" asked Patterson, as soon as they were out of hearing.
"I didn't suppose Payner had callers."

"His name's Eddy," Rob replied. "No, Payner doesn't have many callers.
Eddy and I are about the only ones, I guess."

"Who's Eddy, anyway?"

"He's a senior. I met him once over at Poole's room."

"I wonder what he can find in a freak like Payner," pursued Patterson.

"Payner isn't such a freak as you think," returned Owen. "I couldn't
make anything of him for a long time; but when once you've broken
through his shell you'll find there's something in him."

"I never shall. No fun in a sour apple like him. Give me the Pecks
every time. Payner's just a snapping turtle."

A door slammed in the entry; quick, elastic footsteps, accompanied by a
whistle, passed.

"Lindsay," observed Owen.

"Wasn't it great the way he blocked that kick in the Hillbury game!"
exclaimed Patterson. "If I could play football as he does, I'd be
willing to work a hundred years."

"I'd rather play on a winning nine, myself," observed Rob.

"Would you? I wouldn't. You see, in football you catch the spirit of
the thing, and you're swept right along with the gang. There's a swing
that carries you. You just rush in and give a big drive for all that's
in you. But in baseball it's different. Everybody has to stand around
waiting and watching and quivering while one man does the work. When
you pitch a hard baseball game, every ball's got to go just so. If it's
two inches too high, or two inches wide, or an out when it ought to be
an in, it's all wrong. And then there are about a thousand things that
can happen whenever a man hits the ball."

Rob nodded in agreement. "And you've got to be ready for any one of
those thousand things. That's where the fun comes in, and the skill.
When you know you can handle any ball that's likely to come your way
and handle it right, there's fun just in waiting."

"I suppose that's true. I wish I knew as much baseball as you do.
Honestly, now, do you think I'm ever going to learn to pitch?"

This was one of the times when Patterson needed encouragement.

"Yes, I do," Owen replied earnestly. "You're gaining all the time. If
you're willing to count by the weeks instead of the days, you'll see a
gain yourself. You may never be able to do the things with a ball that
Carle can do,--he's got a wonderful wrist, that fellow!--but you may be
just as good a pitcher."

"As good as Carle!" cried Patterson, with a grin of incredulity.
"You're jollying me!"

"Not a bit!" Owen retorted. "You never will see that it isn't what
you do to the ball, but what the batsman doesn't do to it, that shows
that you are a pitcher. Suppose Carle has ten chances and throws five
of them away, and you have eight and throw away only two, who is the
better man?"

Patterson shook his head doubtfully. "It's one thing to stand in the
cage and put 'em where you say; it's a different thing to face a batter
in a game and feel that he may drive the next one over the fence."

"You can put 'em where I say just the same, can't you?" retorted Owen,
sharply, as he opened his books. There was good promise in Patterson,
but these attacks of despondency were of distinctly bad omen.

"You didn't tell me how Payner got hold of Eddy," said Patterson,
returning again to the topic from which he had been diverted by the
ever recurrent baseball.

"Didn't I? Well, Payner is a great fellow for bugs,--in fact, for every
kind of animal, big or little, that has more than two legs; and Eddy
is cracked on trees and birds. Payner spent all his half-holidays last
fall, when he ought to have been at the football games, up the river
looking for bugs and slugs. He found Eddy up there watching birds. So
they got acquainted."

Patterson emitted a little sniff, midway between a sneer and a chuckle.

"Oh, you needn't laugh! He doesn't loaf away his Saturday afternoons
like the rest of us. Why, he's got one of the best collections of
_coleoptera_ in existence!"

"Oh, has he!" exclaimed the bewildered Patterson.

Owen swung round as if to end the conversation, and raising his book
to the level of his eyes, sniggered covertly into its pages. Opposite
him sat Patterson, awed into silence by the ponderous polysyllable, of
whose meaning he was loth to confess his ignorance. So the study began.

That evening Eddy came in after dinner to see some new specimens that
Payner had just received from Florida. It was lecture night, and the
bell sounded just as Payner opened the case.

"Look here, Eddy, I want to go to that lecture to night. It's on the
Grand Canyon, you know. Are you going?"

"I don't believe I shall," said Eddy, absent-mindedly, as he picked up
a card to which was pinned a beetle with a rainbow stripe down his
back. "That's a beauty, isn't it?"

"Yes, they're all fine. I think I'll hurry over and get a seat. You
won't mind, will you? Look at them as long as you want."

"Thank you!" said Eddy.

"And be sure you latch the door, do you hear?"

"All right," said Eddy, passing on to the next card.

Payner hesitated as if not entirely satisfied with Eddy's answer; then
turned to the door.

"Just let down the catch, see?" he called once more, pausing with his
hand on the fastening.

"Yes, yes, I'll do it," returned Eddy, with a little petulance.
It seemed hardly necessary that the injunction should be so often
repeated. Payner went out, shutting the door behind him.

Duncan Peck stood in the entry hallooing to some one below. He waited
until the steps of the collector of coleoptera died away at the
entrance of the building, then crept softly up to the door just closed,
and gently tried it as he had done many times before. To his surprise
it yielded to the pressure of his hand. Made cautious by a former
experience, Duncan pushed the door very slowly until, through the
widening crack, he perceived Eddy, standing before the table intent on
the specimens. At this sight the evil-doer closed the door as softly as
he had opened it, slipped back to his room, found his brother, and sent
him over to the lecture to make sure of Payner's presence there. With
great foresight, the Pecks had invented a device suited to just such an
emergency as the present. They had prepared a little wooden plug which
would almost fill the socket into which the door-latch springs, leaving
but a thin edge to catch the latch. This slight hold of the latch would
be sufficient to keep the door shut, but quite incapable of resisting
pressure. As the locks of all the rooms were uniform, the plug which
had been made to fit the Pecks' door could be counted on to produce the
same effect on any door in the dormitory. Armed with this burglar's
contrivance, Duncan crept back across the hall, pushed Payner's door
ajar once more, and inserted his plug; then closed the door again and
sneaked back to safety. In a few minutes the twins, secretly watching
from their room, saw Eddy come out, slam the door, and go whistling
downstairs. His whistle was still audible in the distance when Duncan
stole down the entry and gave a hard push at Payner's knob. The door
swung on its hinges. The long-desired opportunity had come at last!

The ripping up of Payner's room was not as thorough a job as that by
which the unhappy Moons had suffered. The twins were too much excited,
and their eagerness to finish was too great to permit much elaboration.
They dragged the chief articles of furniture around the desk; piled
the bedding on the heap, and wet it down with a dash of water; smashed
the lamp-shade in trying to make it sit securely on top, and filled
the fireplace with pictures from the wall. To give distinction to the
effect, the precious beetles were taken from their case, and pinned up
over the fireplace in a hasty attempt to form the letters of the Latin
_Salve_.

When Payner returned from the lecture, half an hour later, he ran into
the outworks of the heap, and sent the ruins of his shade crashing to
the floor. The twins listened through the crack of their door, and
trembled with excitement and eagerness, lashed by guilty consciences
and yet defiant. But this one crash was all they heard. The door
did not reopen, and no other sound came from within to indicate the
feelings of their victim.

Next morning when they went out to breakfast, they noticed that the
card in the indicator at the entrance to the dormitory on which had
been written opposite No. 7, _D. and D. Peck_, now bore the legend _The
D--D Pecks_. It was Payner's defiance, his challenging gauntlet! But
the Pecks, in their vainglory, laughed loudly and feared nothing.

Two nights later when Donald, who was the first undressed, jumped into
bed and thrust his feet down into the depths, he uttered a shriek and
sprang headlong out.

"What is it?" cried Duncan, turning around in amazement.

"Some awful, clammy thing in the bed!" gasped Donald, shivering
convulsively.

Duncan instantly swept down the covers, and displayed a long,
serpent-like, dark thing stretched across the bed.

"What is it?" shrieked Donald, dancing on one foot.

"An eel!" replied Duncan, calmly. "It's the season for eels. I wonder
if I drew one, too."

He threw open his own bed. At its foot lay a similar reptile. To the
neck of each was attached a ribbon of paper bearing in neatly printed
letters the legend: "The First Plague."



CHAPTER IX

A NEW INTEREST


The midweek Seatonian printed a frantic editorial demanding that more
fellows come out to try for the relay team. From the tenor of the
article one would suppose that some calamity threatened which could
only be averted by the timely arrival of a regiment of candidates. The
spirit of the exhortation was worthy of Demosthenes. Ignorant that
the new member of the staff who was trying his hand at editorials was
substituting vehemence for skill after the manner of tyros, Rob was
greatly mystified. He understood neither what a relay team was, nor how
it could be so shockingly unpatriotic not to come out and try for it.
So he asked Strong, the captain of the track team, for information;
and Strong, who treated every inquirer as an over-modest candidate,
promptly added his name to the list.

Rob fell in obediently with the squad, and presently learned what it
was all about. There was to be a team race of one mile with Hillbury
six weeks later, at the great invitation winter meet of the Boston
Athletic Association. Some other events besides this race were open to
Seaton, and a considerable interest in the meeting had been worked up
by Strong and Collins the trainer. Salter, a fat, good-natured senior,
the butt of many a joke, but at the same time a favorite with the
jokers, acted as captain's assistant. It was Salter who undertook to
time Owen on his trial run on the wooden outside track that lies in a
big, uneven oval in the hollow behind the gymnasium.

When Owen, aglow with warmth despite uncovered ankles and the icy air
of February, slowed down a dozen yards beyond the finish line and
turned about to learn his time, the fat boy in the big ulster and
tweed cap was not to be seen. He had hurried off to find Collins,
leaving the runner to take care of himself. This circumstance, taken
with the physical reaction which promptly set in, and the frigidity of
the wind which whistled past his bare legs and bellied out his thin
running trousers with a cold storage blast, did not encourage Rob in
his experiment. He trotted back into the gymnasium, in ill humor with
himself and the authorities, convinced that running was not his proper
athletic forte, and stoutly resolved to have no more of it.

He was still engaged in piling up fresh arguments to this effect,
while he hurried his dressing so as to get back to the tricky geometry
original which had caught him in its time-consuming labyrinth. As he
buttoned his collar, the tweed cap and voluminous ulster hove in sight.

"I stopped to see Collins," said Salter, "and tell him what good time
you made. It's the best any new fellow's done this year!"

Owen stared. "I thought it wasn't any good. I was making up my mind to
cut the whole business; I'm not made for a runner."

Salter looked shocked. "Oh, come now, you don't mean that! Why, I told
Collins that you were just the man he was looking for to make out the
team with Strong, Benton, and Rohrer. You'd be a fool to give up a
chance like that to win against Hillbury."

"Or maybe to lose the race for Seaton," Rob replied with some
bitterness. "No, I thank you. On a short dash I might do something,--I
used to be pretty good at beating out bunts,--but this quarter-mile
business is beyond me."

"Didn't I say your time was better than any other new man has made?"
demanded Salter.

"But what about the old ones?" Owen retorted.

"Strong and Rohrer can beat it, and Benton probably, but that was your
first attempt. You can improve on that."

"So can a lot of other fellows. Here, let me through! I've got to get
home and finish an original."

But Salter still blocked the way. "What is it? Tell me and I'll start
you on it."

Owen gaped incredulous. "You couldn't do it offhand!"

"I'll have a try at it," said Salter. "Look here, will you drop this
quitter's talk about not running if I do the trick?"

Rob hesitated. He knew little of Salter personally, but on general
principles he felt himself safe. No fellow could know the whole four
hundred and fifty originals in the plane geometry, and if Salter was
like the average sport he couldn't know a dozen. Besides, Salter's
geometry dated from the preceding year. To accept would be the easiest
way to get rid of him.

"All right," he rejoined, smiling, "but it's like getting money for
nothing." He stated the theorem slowly and distinctly, so as to take no
unfair advantage. "Want it repeated?" he asked, leering triumphantly
into the serious face of his companion, whose knitted brow and
abstracted expression showed that he was thinking hard.

"No, I don't," replied the senior, suddenly breaking into a satisfied
grin. "It's too dead easy. Look here!"

He drew forth a block of paper from one pocket, a fountain pen from
another, with a single flourish of the pen made an almost perfect
circle on the paper, and rapidly threw in chords and tangents and added
letters.

"That's what you want to prove, isn't it? Well, this is the way it's
done."

At the end of a minute Rob stood with the slip of paper in his hand
blushing to think that he had made so much of a simple matter, while
Salter was calmly replacing his block and pen in his pockets.

"You're in for it, all right. Of course, you know, I don't mean that
you're sure of the team, but you've got a mighty good show, unless
something unusual happens. There's Strong now."

Strong stopped just long enough to congratulate Owen on his trial, and
to tell him he had a good show for a position. The captain was followed
by the trainer. When Rob emerged from the gymnasium a few minutes later
he carried in his hand Salter's notes, and in his mind certain regular
practice appointments with Collins. Startlingly sudden as had been his
precipitation into the ranks of the relay men, he felt less elation on
this account than amazement at the quickness with which the senior had
opened a rift in the obscurity of the geometry. How could a fellow like
Salter, who didn't look remarkably clever and certainly hadn't studied
geometry for at least six months, give an impromptu demonstration like
that! Was that the way in which originals were to be solved? If so,
Rob Owen might as well get accustomed to a back seat; such feats were
hopelessly beyond his slow powers!

Unreconciled to the notion that an hour of his time was not equivalent
to a minute of another's, he stopped at Lindsay's room to ask for
information.

"Salter? Of course I know him,--a good fellow he is, a perfect shark at
lessons. You couldn't expect a man of his build to be athletic. What do
you want to know about him?"

Rob told his tale, adding rather shamefacedly that he suspected there
was some trick about it.

Lindsay laughed. "Not a bit of it. That's just the thing he can do.
He's got a kind of X-ray mind for mathematics; he can see in a flash
through all sorts of obstacles that we have to take a lot of time to
work around. You can imagine what an awfully discouraging fellow he
is to be in a class with. Why, he'll short-circuit a solution that a
teacher's got out of a key, and find an easier way to do it."

Owen felt relieved. He evidently wasn't such a fool after all.

"Salter's best in mathematics, but he's good in everything. Last year
he made a complete card catalogue of all the places and definitions
in ancient history, with abstracts and dates and all that sort of
thing written out on about three hundred separate cards in the neatest
kind of a hand. He might have made a small fortune renting it out the
fortnight before the examination, but he just let it go round, and of
course some fellow was mean enough to take it off with him."

Owen had his hand on the door-knob. "They've roped me in for that relay
business. Strong says I've a show to make the team. Do you think it's
worth while? I can play ball a little, and I'd like to make the nine,
but I don't care for running."

"If Collins wants you, I'd run," advised the senior. "He knows what
he's about. It won't hurt your chances for baseball, and it's worth a
lot to beat Hillbury at anything. They have mighty pretty prizes for
that meet, too. Oh, have you seen what the school gave the football
men?"

It was a little engraved football of gold, bearing Lindsay's name. Rob
handled it with reverence and yearning. How he would like to earn a
thing like that!

"It's pretty," said Lindsay, "but as I don't wear a watch charm, it's
hardly useful. If it were a medal, now, I could put it up somewhere."

Rob's eyes were resting on the mantel. Two silver cups were there which
he had never seen before. Lindsay's gaze followed Rob's while his words
anticipated the visitor's question.

"I brought those two back with me when I went home last week. Got them
both last summer. The two-handled one was for a yacht race, the small
one I got in a swimming match."

"What a beauty!" exclaimed Owen, taking up the heavy, ornate cup by one
of its handles.

"All the same I prefer the other," returned Lindsay, "for I won that
all by myself. Anybody with a fast yacht can win a sailing prize.
I had to beat seven men to win that little swimming cup. Two cups
don't amount to much anyway. It's the running fellows that make the
collections."

"Strong must have a lot," sighed Owen, in the tone a poor man might use
in speaking of a neighbor's millions.

"It takes a college crack to pile them up," Lindsay observed. "Poole
has been in Dickinson's room at Harvard, and he says Dickinson has
a velvet shield two feet square, just thatched with medals, to say
nothing of the cups all around. Just imagine what it must be to go
to a great meet like the intercollegiate, and know in advance you're
going to beat every one of the hundred men in your event! That's what
Dickinson's been doing for the last two years."

Rob tried his imagination, but it would not serve. It was like seeking
to conceive stellar distances!

"I must be getting back to work," he said. "I suppose I may as well go
in for the relay, even if I don't accomplish anything."

He said good-by, and returned to his desk for another attack on the
original. Salter's notes proved an Ariadne's thread for the labyrinth;
in ten minutes he was writing Q.E.D. at the foot of his sheet of paper
with a satisfaction dimmed only by the fact that the demonstration was
not wholly of his own making.

A rattle at the door now announced that he in turn was to be visited.
He knew the rattle, for it always heralded the coming of a Peck; but
to-day he fancied it lacking in assurance, and he looked up at the
door in a momentary thrill of curiosity. There were two Pecks this
time, both unusually grave in aspect. One carried in his hand a covered
pasteboard box.

"More eels?" asked Owen, giving way frankly to the snicker which would
come.

The bearer of the box, whom Rob had provisionally fixed upon as Duncan,
grinned sheepishly and answered: "No; guinea pigs this time."

"Guinea pigs! Where?"

"In the desk drawer, two of 'em," went on Duncan, trying hard to be
jocose. "They are really quite--quite sweet. Want to see 'em?"

Duncan raised the lid of the box a finger's width and Rob peeped in.

"Pretty, aren't they!" observed the grinning Owen. "What are you going
to do with them? I thought animals weren't allowed in the dormitories."

"That's just where the chump's meanness comes in!" burst out Donald.
"We couldn't throw the things out alive, of course, and we couldn't
kill 'em. Lady Jane" (the matron) "came in on us while we had 'em on
the table,--caught us with the goods on us, she thought,--and jawed us
like a stepmother for defying the school rules. When we said some one
put 'em in the desk drawer, she thought we were lying and threatened
to have us fired for breaking the rules and not showing her proper
respect. I call it a low-down trick!"

"Here's what we found with them," interrupted Duncan. "What does it
mean?"

Rob took the slip of paper on which was written in print: "The Second
Plague."

"I suppose it means what it says," he remarked.

"And there are more plagues to follow?"

"Yes."

"How many?"

"How many do you suppose!" exclaimed Rob, derisively. "How many plagues
of Egypt were there?"

"That's the question," replied Duncan. "I say there were three, and Don
says there were seven. Which is it now?"

Owen sniffed. "You fellows had better join Dr. Norton's Bible class,
and learn something."

He took down a Bible from his bookcase and fluttered the leaves to the
chapters in Exodus in which the plagues are described. "The first was
turning the river into blood, so that the fish died, the second frogs,
the third lice, the fourth flies, the fifth--"

"Oh, ring off!" shouted the impatient Donald. "Don't harrow our
feelings with all that. How many were there, can't you tell us? or
don't you know yourself?"

"Ten," answered Rob, curtly, replacing the book.

The brothers stared at each other blankly, each seeking comfort and
finding none.

"You don't really think Payner'd be mean enough to put all those on us,
do you?" Duncan asked after an impressive period of silence.

"There's a whole menagerie to draw from, if he's cussed enough,"
growled Donald.

"Who was cussed enough to rip up his room?" Rob's visitors sought
information, not judicial criticism; but the opportunity was one that
he could not resist.

"How does he know that we stacked his room?" For the moment Donald was
like an unfortunate victim of circumstances pleading "not guilty" to a
false charge.

"How do you know that he is sending the plagues?" Owen replied quietly.

"He's got you there, Don," said Duncan. "We're up against it all right.
There's no use trying to squirm."

"Who's trying to squirm?" retorted Donald. "Let him bring on his
plagues--a bunch of mummies if he wants to. He won't feaze me."

With this the pair departed to continue their analysis of the situation
in their own quarters, and later to endeavor to sell the guinea pigs to
a drug-store man to display in his window.



CHAPTER X

MR. CARLE WANTS TO KNOW


The winter was wearing away. The third battery was plodding steadily
along at its task in the cage, with few critical spectators and almost
no interference from superiors. A more eager, trusting pupil than
Patterson no teacher ever had. So ready was the pitcher to take the
suggestion of his catcher as a maxim, that Rob had to set a watch upon
himself, that he might not overload the docile learner with useless
or questionable directions. He kept to a simple system of coaching,
told Patterson nothing of which he was not himself sure, trusted
him to throw his curves in his own way, but held him inexorably to
accuracy. Owen never would allow practice to begin unless with plate in
position and pitcher's distance well marked; he made his pitcher warm
up thoroughly before he began with curves; he would not permit a pitch
without a distinct understanding as to what the ball was to be.

At the beginning Patterson had but a single ball of which he was
sure,--which he could deliver as he wanted it, and when it was wanted.
On two or three others he was uncertain, sometimes successful, more
often wild. Owen's task was to construct out of these possibilities
the "three bread and butter balls" which form the chief stock in trade
of the good pitcher. Stated thus simply the task would seem simple; in
fact, it was most difficult, although Patterson's implicit confidence
in his catcher and absolute eagerness to take his advice smoothed many
obstacles from the path.

Few boys are willing to believe that the great pitchers achieve their
greatest success through the clever manipulation and variation of a
very small number of curves. When Owen repeated McLennan's assertion
that three or four good balls, with brains, were enough for any pitcher
to use, Patterson believed him and strove for the three good balls;
when Owen explained that the most deceptive ball for a good batsman is
not a new one with an unexpected curve, but a familiar one with speed
disguised, Patterson set to work to acquire a change of pace with the
same apparent method of delivery. In the beginning Owen would hold his
hands where the ball was to come, and hold them there again and again
until the right ball did come. When a certain accuracy with the three
bread and butters was attained, the catcher would place his hands over
the plate shoulder high, and require a certain ball to be thrown at
them, repeating the exercise a foot to the right and to the left at the
same height, and in the three corresponding positions just above the
level of the knee. Sometimes he got in a batter to add distraction to
the problem. Having early discovered that Patterson could throw a very
good jump ball, he made him practise on the "initial cutter," a ball
which just skims the breast of the batsman, and which even an expert
is frequently tempted to strike at, though he knows he cannot hit it
safely.

The mere fact of Patterson's implicit dependence would have been enough
to impress Rob with a sense of responsibility. As the weeks went by,
however, another fact which gradually forced itself into recognition
added seriously to this feeling. Patterson was splendid raw material,
which the catcher was either developing or spoiling in the course
of his lessons. To become a superior pitcher, one must be physically
capable of applying great power suddenly and convulsively. This ability
may be expected only in an intensely nervous temperament, in which
muscles are doubly powerful under excitement, or in one of absolutely
cold blood, which grows colder and more tense and more silently fierce
as the strain of the contest increases. Patterson was of the former
class, quick and snappy in movement, with concentrated impulse and
muscles answering instantly to stimulus. In addition to the right
temperament he was blessed with the ability to "get up," that is, to
start the ball with a full arm swing which makes it possible to bring
the body into the movement and increase greatly the radius of the
throwing arc. His curves, moreover, came easily, and his arm did not
readily lame.

Over against these excellences were to be set lack of experience in
the field, and an inclination to nervousness and faint-heartedness
which only a series of unquestioned successes or the quiet support of a
trusted battery mate would be likely to dispel.

While the third string battery was thus busy with its serious but
unregarded work, Carle was riding hard along the road of popularity.
He was rarely by himself these days, except when he slept. He loafed
away many study hours in other fellows' rooms, spoke contemptuously
of serious work, trotted his lessons whenever possible, loved to show
himself in the company of supposed swells, was frequently seen lounging
in druggists' windows or standing in a group of noisy fellows at the
crossings with hands bulging the pockets of his wide trousers, talking
loudly and swaggering. Though Carle as a scholarship man was expressly
debarred from smoking, Poole neither by admonition nor exhortation
could succeed in keeping the cigarette wholly from the pitcher's
lips--and why indeed? Did not most of the great professionals smoke
even in their playing season!

"He's a dead sport, that Carle!" remarked Duncan Peck one day during an
interval between plagues. "I don't see how he can pitch."

"But he can," replied Owen, to whom the remark was made, "or at least
he could last year."

"Oh, I know he can," Duncan made haste to reply. "Haven't I seen him
do stunts in the cage. It's great, but he doesn't seem quite the kind
of fellow that makes a fine athlete, like Laughlin, for example, or
Lindsay, or Strong, or any of those fellows."

Owen did not reply. He held no brief for his townsman. Carle had long
since ceased to manifest any desire for Owen's society, and Owen,
in natural pique, would make no advances on the basis of their old
friendship. Their ways seemed destined to lie apart.

One day early in March a letter was delivered at Rob's room, addressed
in an unfamiliar hand, yet bearing the well-known postmark "Terryville,
Pa." He had just come in from the gymnasium, where Strong had announced
to him the final decision as to the make-up of the relay team which
was to compete in Boston on the following Saturday. Owen was the
choice for fourth man over Jacobson, who, though perhaps no slower,
had been adjudged less capable of holding up under strain. With
thoughts fluttering excitedly under a variety of emotions, among which
half-hearted regret and a sort of dread had place with elation, Rob
gazed at the address on the envelope, and vaguely wondered who could be
the sender. He felt for the moment actual resentment at being compelled
to exchange the temporarily glorified Seaton atmosphere for the
uninteresting common air of Terryville. The letter, however, had much
more to do with Seaton than with Terryville. It ran as follows:--

 "Dear Robert,--

 "Is anything the matter with Ned? We are worried about him. I have
 just had a letter from the secretary of Seaton saying he has been
 put on study hours, whatever that is, for unexcused absences and for
 neglecting his work. The dining hall also sent me another notice that
 the last bill had not been paid. I sent Ned the money for it more than
 two weeks ago. He keeps writing for money, but don't say much about
 himself, and can't seem to answer any questions at all. We've lived
 awful close this winter to keep Ned away to school, and the last money
 I had to take from the bank, which I really hadn't ought to do. What
 makes the school cost so much more than they said it was going to?
 Are they sticking us, or ain't Ned doing right? I've talked with your
 father, but he don't seem to know. I wish you'd talk with Ned and
 put him straight if there's anything the matter. He thinks a lot of
 you. When he was home Christmas everything was fine; but there's been
 a change somewhere. I'm a poor man, and can't do for him like your
 father does for you, so I wish you'd be careful not to put him up to
 being extravagant. He's free-handed and easy led, and likes to do the
 same as his friends. Now, Robert, just remember his ma and me kind of
 hold you responsible for the boy, and try to help him and us.

  "Yours truly,"

  John H. Carle.

Throwing the letter with a violent snap into the corner of the room,
Rob rested his elbows on the table, dropped his chin into his two
hands, and contemplated the rows of books in the case with eyes that
saw nothing and a mind upheaved in indignant protest. Relay team and
baseball were forgotten, and along with them the French verbs which he
had failed on at the last exercise, and the appointment for an English
conference which it was hazardous to miss. Vehement thoughts like
his insist on sole possession. He tempt Carle to extravagance, have
influence with him, be responsible for him! What an utterly false and
unfair assumption! What right had Mr. Carle to send him that kind of a
letter, or suppose any such thing, when for two months Ned had done no
more than nod to him when they chanced to meet in the street? It was
outrageous! It would be better to write the father plainly the facts in
the case, incredible as they might appear, rather than suffer longer
under the unjust imputation.

To this the feeling of loyalty, strongest and most unreasoning of all
healthy student instincts, interposed its veto. He could not write the
father of the shortcomings of the son, any more than he could declare
them to the school authorities. Indeed, it was not necessary to do
so. He had given Mr. Owen in his yesterday's letter a tolerably full
account of conditions, and his father might tell Mr. Carle as much as
he chose. It was tough business for Mr. Carle.

Rob rose and went to the window, his thoughts now diverted from his own
side of the matter to the sacrifice and disappointment of the Carles.
It was certainly hard on the parents; he felt sincerely sorry for them.
How could Ned play them so false!

Rob turned from the window, picked up the crumpled letter, took his
hat, and went out. Mr. Carle had asked him to have a talk with Ned. He
hated above all things to do it, but sooner or later his conscience
would drive him to it, and it was better to have the disagreeable task
over at once than to worry for days and then do it.--Besides, there was
very little probability that Carle would be at home.

Haynes White was just coming out of Carter 13 as Rob approached. White
was a clever senior who did tutoring in upper middle subjects. The
query flashed into Rob's mind, as he knocked at the door, whether White
was there to help Carle get ready for the history examination which was
due on the following day. There was nothing wrong in this, to be sure,
though it was hardly to be expected that scholarship men would have
money to spend in tutoring.

Carle greeted him with politeness and visible surprise; then waited
to learn the reason of his visit. Rob also, suddenly confronted by
the necessity of putting his plea into fitting words, stood for some
seconds speechless, unable to think of any diplomatic way of broaching
an unpleasant subject. The constraint at last grew too painful to be
endured. Abandoning all hope of devising a proper opening, he held out
Mr. Carle's letter and said: "Read it!"

In silence, but with flushed face and a defiant hardening at the
corners of his mouth, as if he expected reproof, Ned took the letter
and read it through. When he had finished, the flush was deeper, and
anger as well as defiance displayed itself in his face.

"What does he want to write you all that stuff for! I don't see what
business it is of yours."

"He seems to hold me responsible."

"The old man is all off; I should think you'd know enough to let the
thing alone."

"But, Ned, he isn't all off," answered Rob, sailing blindly in. "He's
wrong if he thinks you're following my lead, but he's right about the
main thing. You're living the wrong kind of a life here. A fellow in
your place can't run with the fast gang you're going with. You simply
can't do it; you'll ruin yourself trying to."

"That's easy enough for you to say," retorted Carle, hotly, "when you
can have whatever money you want, and aren't in with anybody. If you're
in the swim you've got to spend something. My old man ought to have
kept me at home if he didn't mean to give me what's necessary. I'm no
long-haired grind."

"But he can't give you more; he says so in the letter. He hasn't it to
give."

This was an unfortunate fact against which argument was as powerless as
acid against oil.

"Is that all you've got to say?" asked Carle, sullenly, after a brief
period of silence. "Because if it is, I've got something I'd like to
do."

Yes, that was all. Owen could think of nothing else to say, and took
his dismissal willingly. It had been an unpleasant scene, but brief;
he had tried to do his duty in the matter, and even if he hadn't been
wholly skilful, he felt relieved that it was all behind him. Poor Mr.
Carle!



CHAPTER XI

THE RELAY RACE


Only the actual competitors were allowed to leave town for the Boston
meet, so unless he could contrive to receive mandatory invitations from
friends to spend Sunday in Boston, or devise especial business to call
him peremptorily to the city, the average student must abandon all hope
of seeing the contest. Wolcott Lindsay, who lived in Boston, went home
for the Sunday, and got an invitation for Durand. One boy had to visit
his dentist, another his guardian, a third a doctor, a fourth to buy
absolutely necessary clothes which could not be procured at Seaton. The
twins, who took an extraordinary interest in the event from the moment
they learned that their neighbor was on the team, canvassed at great
length the prospects of getting away. Duncan was on study hours and
could hope for no favors, but he persuaded his brother that the only
fair way was that Donald, whose scholarship usually secured him the
favor of teachers, should ask permission on certain plausible grounds,
and the two then draw lots for the privilege of going, the one left
behind in any case to represent Duncan. Unfortunately for the scheme,
when Donald applied for his permission he was obliged to confess that
he had received no specific invitation to visit his aunt in Brookline,
and that in the whole course of his stay in Seaton he had never,
until this particular Saturday, felt the serious nature of his family
obligation. So the scheme came to naught, and the Pecks stayed at home.

The huge space of the Mechanics Building on Huntington Avenue was
circled by deep fringes of spectators packed in double galleries and
crowded close to the outer edge of the thirteen-lap track. Here were
phalanxes of boys from Boston schools, straining their throats in
crying up the courage of their schoolmates; college youths in rival
camps, their emulous cheers varying through a wide range, from the
staccato spelling of some college name to the "three long Harvards" of
the Cambridge men; women and girls who brought to the contest tense
interest and strong sympathy, if not expert knowledge; men who loved
athletics for their own sake, who, if they did not "delight in the
strength of a horse," certainly "took pleasure in the legs of a man."
It was like a dozen tournaments and a dozen audiences crowded into one.

Saturated with the feeling that the Seaton-Hillbury struggle was the
event of the day, and new to the whole medley of many institutions
contesting in ceaseless uproar, Owen was at first both bewildered and
discouraged. In the terrific din the crack of the starter's pistol
and the bellowing of announcers were well-nigh drowned by the blare
of band music, the cheers of untiring supporters, and the recurring
waves of general applause. He watched the Harvard-Pennsylvania relay
match, in which veterans ran like blooded race horses amid tremendous
excitement, and felt still more disheartened. The place seemed so
vast, the interests of contestants so diverse, the big college teams
so all-important, that the Seaton-Hillbury race could hardly prove
more than one of the minor details of the meet,--in fact, might be
carelessly managed or neglected. And yet, as he knew well, to the
impatient waiters for a telegram at Seaton, there was but one contest
in the day's programme; and no explanation that it was but a small part
of a great performance would be accepted in palliation of defeat.

There seemed no end of contests and no beginning, but just one long
series of overlapping performances. In the area belted by the big
wooden track a cloud of contestants had been engaged in running off
interminable heats in the forty-five yards dash. Jeffrey, the Seaton
representative, did not reach the semi-finals. Meantime, giants of
many medals and astonishing records, gathered by invitation from all
points of the compass, were tossing the sixteen-pound shot in the
space reserved for that amusement. The six hundred yards handicap men
were strung out, according to the privileges they had received from
the handicapper, a third of the way round the track; but near the
starting-line they were herded like cattle and sent off in a drove.
Rob's courage was at its lowest ebb as he witnessed the wild scramble
at the first corner, where one unfortunate fell against the legs of
another, and put three men out of position. It was hard to obtain a
fair chance under these conditions.

But Rhines of Seaton got a place at the finish, and the waiting relay
man felt better. Immediately afterward, he was pursuing with breathless
attention a fiercely fought contest between two rival Boston schools,
in which the leadership shifted with every lap, and the victor passed
his competitor within ten feet of the finish line. The announcer
shouted out the time, which proved to be but a trifle slower than the
college men had made, the crowd roared, the camp of supporters of the
victorious team just opposite yelled and threw their blue banners in
the air,--oh, no, the big teams weren't the whole thing by any means!

"Good, wasn't it!" said a fat man, beaming at his friend in the corner
of a seat near where Rob was standing. "But if you want to see two
teams fight for their lives, you just wait for the Seaton-Hillbury
race. They're terribly scrappy fellows."

It may not have been a compliment, but Rob took it as such, and held up
his head; yet how he longed to have the whole thing successfully over,
or at least for the return of the old sense of individual security
which he had always felt on the ball field, even under the most
untoward circumstances.

The Seaton-Hillbury men were called. Away over in the distant
corner, a little knot of spectators became suddenly excited; a tall,
broad-shouldered fellow stood forth and swung his arms. Before him were
the boys who had had to visit their tailors, their dentists, their
doctors, their guardians, their dear relatives in city or suburbs. The
familiar Seaton cheers rang out, feeble and far away, yet filled with a
message of confidence and support. Rob felt the thrill of gratitude as
he recognized Wolcott Lindsay leading the cheering, and saw the little
group swelled by recruits from Seatonians in college, who pressed in
about the nucleus. The team was not friendless in the great hall.

The pistol cracked and the first pair were off, Rohrer of Seaton and
Leyland of Hillbury. Neck and neck they ran to the first turn, where
the Hillbury man got the inside and kept it for a whole lap, with
Rohrer close at his heels and just outside. As they flashed by, Rob
counted excitedly _one_, and followed them with his eyes as they swung
round on the second circle. On the back stretch Rohrer tried to pass,
but was crowded out at the turn and for the second time the pair swept
by. This time Rohrer reached the curve even with his man, clung to him
as he rounded the end, and once more on the back stretch drove himself
to gain the inside at the turn. In his intense interest in the contest
Rob had forgotten that his own labor was just about to begin; but
Collins, faithful, watchful Collins, put him on his guard; and as the
exhausted pair came straining in, like horses lashed across the finish
line, Rob stood ready with yearning muscles and quivering nerves to
touch hands with Rohrer and speed away. Rohrer gave him a lead of three
good yards.

Could he keep this lead? For the first hundred yards, yes, or for a
long stretch in which endurance was of equal value with speed; but for
the intermediate distance, for the three hundred ninety yards which was
the length of course he had to run with Kurtz, he had no confidence in
his powers. One thing, however, he was determined on. Whether Kurtz
was ahead or behind, whether he was gaining or losing, he would run his
stretch to the limit of his powers.

Around the first curve he was safe. On the back stretch Kurtz was
gaining,--he knew it from the roars of the crowd,--but he still kept
the pole at the second curve and crossed the starting line still ahead.
Then Kurtz appeared at his elbow, passed by, swung into the curve just
before him, gained on the back stretch, and passed the starting line at
the end of the second lap ten yards ahead. Strong panted and quivered
as he saw the distance grow, and Collins set his lips together and
clenched his hands; but neither had a word of blame for the runner as
he passed them on his last lap. "After him!" cried Collins. "Run it
out!" screamed Strong. And Rob, hopeless but game to the end, dug his
spikes into the track and drove himself steadily forward.

Yes, Kurtz was faster, but--not stronger. At the turn they were still
ten yards apart, on the straightaway beyond but seven separated the
contestants. Around the last curve Rob steadily plodding gained three
more on his weakening antagonist. When some seconds later, Strong,
trembling with eagerness, touched his hand and darted away like a wild
animal after its prey, Hillbury was but three yards ahead.

"I lost it!" gasped Rob, on Collins' shoulder.

"Not a bit of it!" retorted Collins. "You've done all I meant you to
do. Kurtz was their best man. Look at Strong beat the stuffing out of
that Hapgood!"

It was even so. Strong was trying Kurtz's trick of rushing by
his antagonist with a burst of high speed, and trusting then to
discouragement to keep the Hillbury man behind. When he crossed the
starting line for the first time he had a lead of five yards; at the
end of the second lap his margin was twelve. When Benton took up the
race for the final heat, he was indebted to his captain for a ten
yards' start.

And here, to the joy of the crowd and the fright of the Seatonians,
came an unexpected development. Royce of Hillbury went at his task with
startling vigor. On the first round he gained four yards, on the second
three, on the back stretch of the third he was close at Benton's
elbow, but Benton still held the inside as they rounded the curve; and
the yard lost on the outside run the plucky Hillburyite could not make
up. He was still a yard in the rear when Benton breasted the tape at
the finish line.

It was Rob's first and last race. Delighted yet regretful, trembling
in every limb, and suddenly deprived of his strength like Samson under
Delilah's shears, he dragged himself into the dressing rooms for his
bath and rub down. Here he was congratulated and thanked by Lindsay and
Durand and others of the thin cheering line. Here they brought him his
prize, which he received with joy tempered with humility. If Strong and
Rohrer had not done better than himself and Benton, the prizes would
now be in other hands.



CHAPTER XII

AN INTERRUPTED EVENING


The lustre of the victory over Hillbury rested on the quartette about
forty-eight hours. Had Royce got beyond Benton on that last curve, as
he had almost succeeded in doing, and Seaton's portion been defeat
instead of victory, there would have been a cloud over the school for
a much longer period. Owen, having never felt the change in atmosphere
which defeat brings, did not appreciate his escape. The victory seemed
an unimportant matter, taken lightly, soon forgotten. The school looked
up, smiled, and went about its daily routine. Rob put his prize in his
desk drawer, and followed the school's example.

One of his unconfessed ambitions had been to win a prize for
composition. Wolcott Lindsay had put the idea into his head, not by
any direct suggestion, but by the respect with which he spoke of
some of the fellows who had succeeded. Lindsay himself was on the
_Seatonian_, but Owen felt no ambition to enter into competition
before his schoolmates for a position on that paper. The composition
was comparatively secret. If he tried and failed, nobody need know the
fact but the judges who read the compositions.

Owen's production on--let us not say what--was nearly ready to hand
in. He had built no elaborate hopes upon it, but he would have liked
sincerely to surprise his father with some achievement which Mr. Owen
would value. Prowess in athletics was to Mr. Owen but superiority in
play, often shared with the idle and the vicious. In scholarship Rob
could never hope to rank above a low B; he had no gift for public
speaking; no one ever urged him for office. In the composition,
perhaps, he might win some place; it was at least worth trying.

He was busy with this effort one evening after the rest of his work
was done, when his attention was suddenly distracted by a hubbub which
arose at that end of the corridor where lay the abiding-place of the
Pecks. He knew they were both on study hours, Donald having just been
put on along with French and Jacobson, as the result of a series
of petty and apparently accidental annoyances in poor Mr. Payne's
recitation room. It was hardly conceivable, therefore, that the twins
would have attempted any noisy demonstration on their own initiative.
Owen remembered the plagues, and hastened forth to have a part in the
spectacle.

Others were also curious. He noticed, as he hurried past, that Payner's
door was just ajar; and through the six-inch crack to which Smith
cautiously limited the opening of his door, his lank, narrow-shouldered
form was silhouetted against the light of the study lamp in the
background, while curious eyes, doubly protected by glasses and a study
shield, peered wonderingly forth.

Owen knocked at the Pecks' door, but received no response. Instead came
the sound of blows struck with some hard object, of running, jumping
feet, and of heated exclamations, some inarticulate, some distinct
but mysterious, mingled in rapid exchange. "There he goes!" "Look
out!" "I hit him then!" "Never touched him!" "Where is he?" Then more
whacks, more jumps, and more exclamations. Rob pushed the door open
a few inches, and perceived a Peck armed with a golf club sweeping it
beneath the sofa. The wielder of the club seemed to be successful in
his search, for he jumped suddenly back, smote the floor savagely with
the brassey, and catching sight of a face peering in through the crack,
shouted to his twin: "Shut the door, can't you? Lock it!" A command
which was obeyed so promptly that had Owen's nose been longer, or his
disposition more pushing, he must inevitably have suffered personal
injury. While he stood irresolute, uncertain whether to accept the
indignity as deserved, or threaten reprisal, he heard steps ascending
the stairs with labored celerity, and the face of Dr. Mann, swollen
with indignation, appeared at the corner.

"Owen, what is the meaning of this disturbance?" the teacher demanded.

"I don't know, sir," replied Rob. "They seem to be hunting something in
there."

Dr. Mann knocked, but as one of the inmates was at that moment
thrashing wildly at an object in a corner, and the other was
vociferating advice and encouragement, naturally no heed was given to
the summons.

"Open the door!" commanded Dr. Mann. Still no answer. The noise of
blows ceased. Favored by the lull, the teacher again lifted up a voice
of sternness.

"It is I, Dr. Mann. I demand that you open the door instantly!"

At last he had made himself heard. "Coming, sir!" shouted one within,
and the door was thrown open. Dr. Mann strode in, followed by Owen.
Duncan was mopping up ink on the floor with a towel.

"Will you be good enough to explain this outrageous disturbance!" began
the teacher. "Why is it that I am compelled to come up here to secure
for my guests below the privilege of ordinary peace and quiet? And you
are both on study hours!"

Rob turned abruptly away and grinned discreetly at the Indian's head
over the fireplace. Those guests made the case doubly hard for the
rioters. Dr. Mann could not allow his colleagues to suppose that he was
accustomed to put up with such disorder. The ill-starred Pecks were
evidently up against it!

[Illustration: "There's the rat, sir," said Duncan.--_Page 127._]

"We're very sorry, sir, that you were disturbed," Donald was saying,
"but it really wasn't our fault. Some one threw a live rat in at the
door and we've been hunting it. We didn't mean to make any disturbance."

"Incredible!" exclaimed Dr. Mann.

"There's the rat, sir," said Duncan, holding up by the tail the
unfortunate cause of all the trouble. "You can see it yourself."

Dr. Mann could see it. There was unquestionably a dead rat; and the ink
spilled on the floor, the jar knocked from the mantel, the disordered
furniture, scattered books, and the excited faces of the boys attested
the fact that the poor animal had not been an expected guest.

"Who could have played such a contemptible trick!" exclaimed the
teacher, in disgust. "Did you see who threw it in?"

"No, we were studying at the desk, and some one opened the door so
quietly we didn't notice it, and chucked the thing right at us."

"Strange!" mused Dr. Mann. Strange, indeed! Yet after all not so
strange to one who possessed the key. Rob held rolled in his hand a
slip of paper which he had taken from the floor during the discussion.
He glanced at it furtively as he stood listening, and smiled an
involuntary and promptly extinguished smile as he read the expected
legend, "The Third Plague." Even Dr. Mann might have formed a fairly
accurate suspicion if he had considered the manner of the twins. Here
was no wondering indignation, no loud invective against an unknown
perpetrator, but the sullen bitterness of those who nourish a personal
spite. But Dr. Mann, learned in ancient lore, had but slight knowledge
of boys.

"I can't understand it," he said at length. "The matter must be looked
into. It shows a sad misunderstanding of the Seaton spirit. One of you
will please carry the animal to some proper place, and then perhaps we
may have quiet again."

Duncan volunteered for this duty, and Dr. Mann and Owen retired. The
latter reappeared, however, as soon as he heard Duncan's step on the
stairs, in order to deliver the paper which he had secured.

"Oh, you had it!" exclaimed Duncan, as he read the label. "I thought it
must be somewhere. Seven more! Gee whiz! I don't believe I can stand
it."

"You'd better come to terms with him," said Owen.

"I wish we could," sighed Duncan, "but Don's got his back up and he
will never give in. This living in perpetual fear of your life is
wearing. I always pull my bed to pieces every night to make sure there
isn't anything there, and I never can get it together tight again. Go
and see him, won't you, and see what he says."

Owen grinned. The prospect of acting as intermediary pleased him. "All
right," he said cheerfully. "What terms do you offer?"

"None," replied Duncan. "Just sound him and get his terms. And don't
say we sent you."

Duncan returned to his room and Owen knocked at Payner's door.

"Who's there?" demanded the cautious inmate.

"Owen."

"Any one with you?"

"No."

The door was unlocked to admit Rob, the catch being immediately snapped
behind him.

"'Fraid of burglars?" asked Rob, facetiously.

"'Fraid of something, sure enough," replied Payner, quietly. "You can't
be any too careful in this place."

"Payner, how long are you going to keep this thing up?" asked Rob,
coming with most undiplomatic directness straight to his point.

"What up?"

"Oh, all this plague business,--eels and guinea pigs and rats."

Payner snickered. "Did they send you?"

"No, they didn't. That is, not really and officially. I'm just making
inquiries in the general interest of peace."

Payner sniffed. "What business is it of yours?"

Owen hesitated. "Oh, I'd like to help both sides. I don't want to see
either suffer."

"I'm not suffering, I can tell you that. I didn't begin this thing, and
I'm not going to cry baby. Those fellows attacked me without any kind
of provocation, sneaked into my room, ripped it up, and damaged a lot
of valuable specimens. If they've had enough, the least they can do is
to come here and apologize and promise to behave."

"And you'll agree to apologize, too?" asked the mediator.

"Apologize nothing! I'll tell 'em what I'll do, when they come."

Feeling somewhat humble over the failure of his mission, and at the
same time more or less persuaded of the justice of Payner's cause, Owen
returned to Number 7 and called the Pecks to the door.

"Apologize!" cried Donald, when Owen finished his report; "apologize
for having eels put in your bed and rats thrown at you? Never!"

"We did begin it," observed Duncan, in a less violent tone.

"We didn't; he began it," returned Donald. "Didn't he butt in about the
Moons' room?"

Owen turned away in annoyance. "Do as you please," he said, "but you're
fools not to patch up with him some way."

Rob sat down at his desk, less disposed to find excuse for the Pecks
than ever before. "It's that pig-headed Donald that causes the
trouble," he was thinking. "Duncan would settle the thing right off,
but he's scared of his brother;" and while his mind was rebelliously
following the affairs of the Pecks, and refusing to apply itself on the
composition, a knock was heard at the door, and the unfinished work was
again shoved into a drawer out of sight.

"Hello, Ned!" cried Owen, looking up in surprise as Carle appeared.
"Glad to see you," he added cordially; "sit down."

His first impression at sight of Carle's serious face was that the
pitcher had reconsidered the interview of last week and come to make
amends. Otherwise I am afraid his greeting would have been less cordial.

"Is your room-mate in?" Carle asked, looking toward the bedroom door.

"He's getting his Greek with a fellow downstairs. Do you want him?"

"No, I want you. Can you lend me twenty dollars?"

Rob knew that he had not twenty dollars on hand, or half that sum, but
instead of saying so, he answered by a question:--

"What for?"

"I've got to have twenty to settle with a man before to-morrow morning.
If I don't ante up he's going to see Graham, and I'll be fired sure."

"I'm short," said Owen, wondering what this trouble was about. "I might
let you have five."

"That isn't enough," replied Carle, evidently disappointed, turning
toward the door. "I've got to have twenty anyway. I'll try some one
else. Good night."

And before Owen had time for further questions, the door closed behind
his visitor, and Rob was left alone.

And now more time was wasted in considering Carle's case, and guessing
at the cause of his urgent need. The composition at last came out, but
not until Simmons had returned with his Greek books under his arm, and
the lessons for the morning packed away in complete order in his little
brain. Presently another knock was heard, and the literary work was
definitely abandoned.

"Hello, Owen," said Poole, rushing in. "Can I see you a minute?"

Simmons obligingly retired to his bedroom, and Poole began:--

"I've just been talking with Mr. Lovering about Carle. He says the
faculty are very much dissatisfied with him and he's very likely to
lose his scholarship. I heard yesterday that he owed a lot of different
fellows. What are we going to do about it?"

Owen shook his head. "I don't know. I can't do anything with him. His
father wrote me last week, asking me to talk with Ned. I tried it, but
it didn't amount to anything."

"But we must do something," persisted Poole. "A good pitcher is half
the nine, and we haven't any one else within sight of him. I don't
believe O'Connell will come to anything."

"But Patterson will," was on Owen's lips. He checked the words,
however, before they were uttered, and said instead: "Carle was here
just before you came in, trying to borrow some money. He said he must
have twenty dollars before tomorrow morning. I couldn't lend him
anything."

"Where did he go?"

"After some one who could get him the money."

"And he's on study hours. What a fool!" cried Poole, as he clapped on
his hat and started for the door. "He acts as if he'd set his heart on
getting fired. Good night!"

Owen echoed the salutation with emphasis, and got himself ready for
bed. It was depressing to spend so much time on other people's affairs,
and yet be of no apparent use. Then he bethought himself of Patterson,
and felt better. There was one fellow who took his advice!



CHAPTER XIII

A WANING STAR


The next morning, when Rob saw Carle swinging merrily off after chapel
with a pair of irresponsible cronies, he judged that the twenty dollars
had been found and the crisis averted. This was true. Unfortunately,
however, the first successful effort, under spur of special necessity,
to override the school decree as to study hours encouraged him to
repeat the act of contempt a few days later. This time he made the most
of the glamour of heroism attached by some boys to the reckless defier
of authority. His triumph was short-lived. It is a peculiarity of this
unsubstantial tribute of admiration that it is given, not for breaking
the rules, but for daring to break them and for escaping unscathed. The
maladroit who tries the heroic and is detected meets only contempt and
derision. Carle was detected and put on special probation--the last
stage on the outward way.

It is not impossible for a boy, even at this dangerous point, to take
a new grip and by steady pulling draw himself gradually back to a
position of safety. This thought was Poole's only comfort, who now,
desperately anxious for his pitcher, was ready to undergo any sacrifice
if it would but avail to save his man. All forces possible were brought
to bear on Carle himself and his surroundings. His friends were urged
to try to stiffen him up. Mr. Graham's counsel and assistance were
sought. The Principal gladly gave the encouragement to Poole that he
would have given to any boy interested in steadying another in the
right way; but at the same time he suggested that fellows whose moral
energy needs to be bolstered up by extraneous means almost always
prove a poor reliance on the athletic field. He did not say, as he
might have done, that no amount of skill can make up for lack of grit
and determination and honest effort; and that the sooner a trifler
is disposed of, the less the ultimate disappointment will be. Poole,
though himself above reproach, was not ready for such a doctrine.
He saw only that the nine must have a pitcher, and that Carle was
a star who must be kept in school by all fair means. To all other
considerations the captain was blind.

Owen, among the rest, was pressed into this crusade, though as Carle
took very little notice of him, it was hard to see of what use he could
be to the cause. In spite of his pity for Mr. Carle, he could not
arouse himself to the desired pitch either of personal interest or of
patriotic feeling. He knew Ned too well to cherish any delusion about
his character; after four months of drifting in self-indulgence with
the current, it was quite unlikely that Carle would have the strength
to reverse his course and force his way inflexibly against it. And as
for the school's need of a pitcher, Rob had, as we know, his own reason
for regarding Carle as not indispensable.

So the last fortnight of the winter term crept by, with Carle under
watch and ward to prevent critical offence. He was coached in his
lessons, guarded from undesirable visitors, showered abundantly with
moral advice, earnestly admonished of his loyal obligations to the
school. Flattering as this distinction was, it had its unpleasant side.
In the first place Carle had to work--and work had become for him the
least attractive way of spending his time. Secondly, a dreary prospect
stretched before him: he must continue to work like a man pumping for
his life; for if he slackened pace or relapsed into his old habits,
special probation became immediately "severed connection." Thirdly,
there was no fun in it, and no likelihood of fun. His disgust with the
position grew more intense as the days dragged painfully along.

The events of these days which especially concern this narrative may be
briefly enumerated.

Another plague visited the Pecks. Number four was chemical, not
zoölogical in its character, and while its effect lasted it seemed more
severe than any of its predecessors. If you wish to know what it was
like,--I advise strongly against the experiment,--pour two ounces of
sulphuretted hydrogen into an open dish in a closed room. As Duncan
reported sadly to Owen the next day, "It smelt like the concentrated
essence of rotten eggs, as if a whole car-load of 'em had been stewed
down into a spoonful." After this Duncan openly declared for peace,
but Donald hardened his heart. Owen, once more appealed to, approached
Payner again, but the avenger was obdurate. He would not take the
apology of one for both, and he would not undertake to distinguish
between two indistinguishables; they were both bad until both were good.

       *       *       *       *       *

The names of the prize winners in composition were read aloud in
chapel. Two were awarded prizes and one received honorable mention.
When Mr. Graham announced that he was about to read the names, Rob felt
a thrill of sudden emotion, and, dropping his eyes like a timid girl
abashed at public praise, listened expectant, half convinced that the
next moment the glances of his neighbors would be aimed at him. And
when the names of the fortunate were read, with no Robert Owen among
them, and the applause burst forth about him, he kept his gaze still
fixed upon the floor, penetrated through and through with shame at
his presumption. In a moment, however, he held up his head and joined
in the clapping with a vehemence that added a second or two to
its length. Why should he care? He had as much right to try for the
prize as any one. Nobody knew he had tried anyway, except Simmons, and
Simmons would keep quiet.

[Illustration: The Chapel Stairs.]

So Rob jostled his way downstairs with the crowd, and strove to think
no more of his disappointment. It kept recurring, however, in heavy
moments during the Greek recitation, and once he was almost caught
napping by a stray question as he dwelt longingly on the satisfaction
he might have had in making the announcement to his father. A prize for
an essay would have been an antidote for a whole season of parental
objections to baseball!

That morning was blue all through. Simmons's well-meant commiseration
buried him still deeper in the dumps. He brooded in unreasonable
discouragement over the fancied failures of the year. The relay prize,
his only success, had come to him in defeat through the efforts of
another. In baseball he was to be numbered among the substitutes; his
scholarship was mediocre; he possessed none of the qualities which
bring popularity. Then he bethought himself of Carle, and the dangers
of popularity and success as exemplified in the career of that youth,
and felt some comfort. Mediocrity was at least safe.

Meanwhile Carle was losing interest in the cause. He was often sullen,
and gave small and sometimes ungracious coöperation to those who were
trying to help him. The glories of school life were no less attractive
to him; he was as ambitious as ever to be the shining light of the
baseball season, but the seriousness of the obstacles was growing
clearer. To turn square about, work hard, shun extravagant friends,
husband the pennies, do without every luxury,--this was his prospective
life if he held on at Seaton. Was it worth while, even for the sake of
the baseball? Carle, who was possessed of nothing resembling Spartan
fortitude, had his doubts.

During the last week a further change set in. He became secretive
where he had been confidential, and shy where he had formerly courted
attention. He received important letters from his father without giving
a hint of their contents; he had two interviews with the Principal, as
to which the baseball people could get no information. A dealer in
second-hand furniture called on him by appointment when his room-mate
was absent. He cashed a check and paid certain bills.

The school broke up for the short spring recess on Tuesday morning
early enough to permit those fortunate ones who lived at accessible
points to catch the eleven o'clock train out of town. The candidates
for the nine remained behind to take advantage of the recess for
practice. Comans, Carle's room-mate, who lived in Massachusetts, got
off on the first train. In the afternoon Carle had his usual practice
with Borland.

On Wednesday the first mail brought to Robert Owen a letter from one
of his correspondents in Terryville, which contained one short passage
more interesting than all the rest: "They say Ned Carle is coming home
to stay. His father says he's disappointed in the school; it's too
expensive and they don't make the boys work as they ought to."

Could it be true? Was Carle really going to leave? The baseball crowd
surely knew nothing of any such plan.

Rob jammed his hat on his head and hurried over to Carter 13. The door
was locked; his knocks roused only hollow echoes. He ran downstairs and
stampeded across the yard. At the gate he met Poole.

"I was coming to see you," Rob began eagerly. "I've just had a letter
from a friend of mine at home. There's something in it that'll interest
you." He read the passage aloud. "What do you think of that?" he asked,
lifting his eyes in serious question to the captain's face.

"Rot!" exclaimed Poole, contemptuously. "I don't believe a word of it.
Why, he was pitching to Borland yesterday afternoon!"

"But I couldn't raise him this morning," said Rob, his eagerness
somewhat chilled.

"Oh, he wouldn't sneak off like that without a peep. Let's hunt him up
and see what he says about it."

They crossed the yard in silence and ascended the stairs in Carter; Rob
ashamed of his credulity, Poole clinging to his assurance, yet secretly
agitated at the frightful possibility. As they neared Room 13, Poole,
who was ahead, perceived that the door was ajar, and turned about with
a triumphant smile.

"It's all right; he's here," he called, giving a whack at the door that
opened it wide.

But inside stood revealed, not Carle, but Jenks, the second-hand
furniture man. The visitors gaped at him for a moment in speechless
astonishment.

"Where's Carle?" demanded Poole, recovering himself.

"On his way home, I expect. He was going by the early train this
morning."

Rob threw at his companion a significant glance, but Poole was gazing
at the speaker with staring eyes and open mouth.

"Has he sold his things to you?" asked Rob.

"All he didn't take with him. He arranged with me to call for 'em this
morning. He ain't coming back, you know."



CHAPTER XIV

A CAPTAIN'S TROUBLES


Poole stood in the middle of the room, his lips still parted, his eyes
staring. His expression, as Owen saw it, and as it would have appeared
if reproduced by instantaneous photography, was almost idiotic,
so stunned was he by the incredible news. In a moment, however,
intelligence returned.

"Do you mean to say that Carle has sneaked off home for good, and sold
his things to you?" he demanded fiercely, taking a threatening step
forward upon poor Jenks, as if the dealer were to be held responsible
for Carle's disappearance.

Mr. Jenks edged away. "I dunno about sneakin'," he replied resentfully;
"I said he'd gone home for good and sold his things to me. I s'pose
he's got a right to go if he wants to."

"Did he tell you he wasn't coming back?"

"Yes, he did, three days ago, right in this very room. He didn't want
me to come for the stuff till to-day, because he said the boys would
bother him with questions. I'm going to send him the money as soon as I
get the things down to the store."

Poole stood silent, but his eyes, angrily snapping, remained fixed
upon the furniture dealer, and his lips, tightly shut, twitched at
the corners. Mr. Jenks looked puzzled; suddenly a ray of intelligence
flashed over his face. "None of the furniture was yours, was it?" he
asked eagerly, thinking to have found the reason for Poole's emotion.
"He said it was all his except what belonged to his room-mate."

"None of it's mine," returned Poole, turning abruptly on his heel.
"Come on, Owen!"

He went plunging down the stairs, with Owen following closely. At the
outside door he turned on his companion.

"What do you think of that?" he demanded hotly. "That's a fine trick to
play us, isn't it!"

"If his father sent for him I suppose he had to go," remarked Owen,
thinking for the moment rather of Mr. Carle's plight than of that of
the school.

"Why did he have to go?" shouted Poole, whose wrath, already at the
boiling-point, bubbled furiously over at the suggestion of excuse
for Carle's defection. "Why did he have to go? Why couldn't he stay
here and earn his way as well as Laughlin and Jeffrey and White and
Barrington, and lots of other fellows that are better than he is? Why
did he have to join that Standard Oil crowd and play the sport, when he
knew, and everybody knew, that he had no money to spend? Why couldn't
he live within his means, like any decent fellow? Think of his knowing
for a week that he was going to clear out, and letting us tend him and
tutor him and guard him like a confounded little prince! Why, he was in
the cage with Borland yesterday afternoon!"

These were obviously rhetorical questions, to which answers were not
expected. But Rob, though he felt no temptation to undertake the
defence of Carle, could not refrain from remarking: "You fellows were
partly responsible. You've done nothing but flatter him and pet him
since he came."

There was some truth in this charge, and Poole was honest enough to
recognize it. He passed abruptly from vituperation to lament:--

"But he could pitch--you know he could. I never saw a fellow in the
cage like him--and he's let us waste all the winter on him, the beggar,
and now crawls off just when we rely on him most. What's O'Connell or
that green Patterson compared with him? Borland's simply thrown his
winter away."

The references to Patterson and Borland were not pleasing to Owen; the
first, because he knew that the contemptuous opinion was not deserved,
the second, because it emphasized once more the contrast between his
own position and that of Borland. It had apparently not occurred to
Poole that Patterson might have developed under Owen's tuition.

"I call Patterson a very promising man," he blurted out, stung by the
captain's slur, and regardless of his secret.

Poole shot a quick glance at his companion.

"Better than Carle, perhaps," he said with a mocking smile.

"Better than Carle two years from now, if not better to-day," Owen
retorted hotly. "I've caught them both and I ought to know something
about it."

Poole sniffed,--in pity rather than contempt. That a fellow who
evidently had seen good ball, and who usually showed common sense,
should group Carle and Patterson together as equals, or likely to be
equals, seemed unaccountable. "He'll do me a heap of good two years
from now, won't he? I want some one for now." And then, after a few
moments of silence, during which he kicked away at the marble entrance
step, while his thoughts dwelt gloomily on the desperate situation, he
added in discouraged tones: "I suppose the first thing to do is to ask
Grim whether the chap has really gone for good, though I haven't any
doubt about it myself."

[Illustration: The Principal's House.]

So they parted, Poole to visit the Principal and receive confirmation
of Jenks's story, Owen to return to his room and upbraid himself for
boasting about Patterson. He felt all the confidence in his protégé
that his words implied, but he had no desire to see his pitcher taken
from his hands and turned over to Borland as Carle had been. When
Patterson was tried out he wanted to be on hand to support him and keep
him up to his best; likewise to receive a just share of the glory of
the achievement, should the achievement prove glorious--but of this he
tried not to think.

Borland's task during the short spring recess was not what he had
imagined it when he had said good-by to his admiring friends, sharing
sincerely in their belief that he was to constitute at least one-half
of the best battery that the school had ever possessed. Instead,
he found himself doomed to partake of the disgrace of O'Connell's
failures. And alas! it was the same old O'Connell, conceited,
obstinate, uncertain as a primitive blunderbuss! He did indeed take
seriously the new responsibility devolving upon him through the
departure of Carle; he really meant to do everything within his
power to "make good." He laid aside the airs of superiority and
self-satisfaction which had been so offensive to Owen; he was not
unwilling to consider Borland's advice; he endeavored to keep his
inflammable temper well shielded from stray sparks. Unfortunately,
however, he was not by nature teachable, nor was Borland a wise
instructor. When two drops in succession landed on the plate, Borland
would protest and O'Connell promise to do better. When, a little later,
O'Connell would persist in shooting his high ones at the batsman's
head, or throwing ridiculous outs that showed themselves clearly wide
long before they came within reach of the bat, Borland would reprove
sharply, O'Connell retort with asperity, Borland sputter and growl,
O'Connell drop all fire protection and let his temper blaze away!
Whether peace was patched up immediately or not, that day's practice
was ruined.

To say that the captain was discouraged would be an understatement
of poor Poole's condition. He was desperate. Laughlin cheered him
somewhat by assuring him on general principles that the opportunity
usually produces the man, and so some one would probably be found to
fill Carle's place, if not better than the renegade, at least as good.
But Laughlin knew nothing of baseball, and Poole had little faith in
general principles. He took the first chance that offered to watch
Patterson and Owen at their practice, hoping to find substantial reason
for Owen's assurance. But Owen, obstinately true to his purpose never
to show off his man, kept Patterson working away on the morning's
task,--a slow ball which was to be thrown with the exact motions used
in throwing a swift one, but about ten feet slower,--and disregarded
the spectator. The captain had at last to ask for something different,
and was of course obeyed. Though what he saw would hardly represent
Patterson's possibilities as a pitcher, Poole left the cage with the
feeling that Patterson was, after all, not so bad.

"Ten feet slower!" he said to himself as he strolled back to his
room. "That's drawing things pretty fine! If it's too slow it's bad,
of course, for a man gets ready to hit, stops himself, makes a fresh
start, and very likely catches it squarely and drives it out. It's got
to be slower than a swift one, and not too slow; but how does Owen know
that the difference is just ten feet? The chap understands handling a
pitched ball all right, and Patterson minds him as a Japanese soldier
minds his officer, but I don't believe that he's so mighty wise that he
knows the difference to a foot between a swift ball and a slow one."

Poole resolved to see the whole of the next pitching practice. But,
unhappily, Patterson was called home the next day because his family
were unwilling to forego the pleasure of his society during the few
days of liberty that the school offered,--so there was no practice
to watch except that of O'Connell and Borland, who quarrelled daily,
and daily made up under the pressure of their joint responsibility,
each blaming the other for lack of progress. It was not pure joy to be
captain of the Seaton nine!



CHAPTER XV

OUTDOORS AT LAST


The boys came rushing back for the final lap of the school year.
Already on the train most of them had heard the startling news: "Carle
isn't going to pitch! Carle has left school!" These brief statements of
undeniable truth were not all they heard; there were additions through
wild rumors and bold surmises transformed to positive facts in the
repeating: Carle left because he wasn't allowed to play ball; Carle
was proved a professional and had to go; Carle was fired because he
left town without permission, because he cut chapel too often, because
he didn't do any work, because he had a row with a teacher, because
he was a scholarship man and smoked, because he had been drinking,
because he played poker. For two whole days Owen was kept busy denying
these rumors. Then the tongues gradually ceased to wag; and Carle faded
ingloriously away into the limbo of the suddenly departed, whose names
when mentioned in the _Seatonian_ always bear the significant "ex"
before the numeral of the class which once claimed them.

With the returning boys, to Poole's great relief, came the baseball
coach, Mr. Lyford. The ground on the upper campus was already hard
enough for practice; the regular diamond was drying. Cutting though the
winds and raw and chill the atmosphere, Rob yet found it an immense
relief to escape from the confining walls of the little cage into the
open, where there was room to throw, and honest, abundant daylight.
He had never taken kindly to the practice in the cage. When he tried
to bat there, he had always been awkwardly conscious of those close
lines of netted wall pressing upon him, of the low ceiling, of the
treacherous shadows, of the impossibility of driving the ball anywhere,
of the whole sham of the situation compared with the open field, where
the sunlight pours down through fifty miles of atmosphere, and the wide
horizon challenges the batsman to his hardest drive. Perhaps this
feeling was responsible for his lack of success as a cage batsman;
perhaps he hated the cage because he couldn't hit there. At any
rate, the facts were connected, and he welcomed his release with the
heartiness of the landlubber when, after his first voyage, he exchanges
the narrow, malodorous, unsteady forecastle for solid, familiar earth.

Not so poor Patterson. He felt as a timid pupil would if snatched
suddenly from a gentle tutor's care and thrust into a lively school,
where independence must be fought for and honors won unaided. His
courage failed him; he dreaded to go forth into public view and face
the test, with eager batters trying for real base hits, and every error
of judgment or delivery counting in the score. The cage was familiar
ground to Patterson. Here he had acquired whatever skill he possessed.
With Owen behind the plate to explain just what to throw and how to
throw it, with no one else at hand to molest or make afraid, he could
handle the ball as well as another. His wrist had the master snap that
yields sharp curves; his shoulder the sweeping swing that makes speed.
But outside--alas! outside was a strange land in which he feared to
trust himself.

"Foolishness!" laughed Owen, when Patterson frankly confided to
him these misgivings. "You'll do better outside. There's all the
inspiration of the game to spur you on, and the fun of working your
man,--putting your wits against his, you know, and making him do things
he doesn't want to do."

"But I don't feel as if I had any wits," said Patterson, "or shouldn't
have any if I got into a close, hard game."

Owen stopped short in his walk and fixed his eyes disapprovingly on his
companion's face. "Look here, Pat," he said sternly, "you've got to cut
that kind of talk and that kind of thinking too. We're going out to
play ball, not to help fight a battle or swim for our lives or anything
like that, but just play ball. There's absolutely nothing to worry
about; we aren't the captain or the coach. We'll do as well as we can,
and if our best is good enough, we'll make the nine. If we don't make
it, it'll be because there are others better, and we shan't have any
responsibility. So there's nothing to worry about in either case. But
if you're all the time scared that you'll do something wrong, you'll
never do anything right. That's as sure as the multiplication table."

Patterson did not answer.

"Isn't that good sense?" demanded Owen.

Patterson drew a long breath. "It's good sense all right, but I don't
know whether I can do it."

Owen snorted. "You can if you've a mind to. Just settle it that you'll
do your best and be satisfied with whatever turns up. Why can't you let
Poole and Lyford do the worrying?"

"I suppose I can," said Patterson, humbly.

"I should hope you could! I tell you, man, you've got the goods! You
have speed and good control and all the curves you need. If you give
yourself half a chance they'll recognize it. If they don't, what do you
care? There are other teams in the country, and this isn't the only
year you're going to play. Just stop thinking, and play your game, and
be satisfied if you make the second!"

"That's all I expect to do," answered Patterson, nettled. He felt for
the moment angry with himself and vexed with Owen, but the talk did him
good. He faced the first practice with an outward show of composure
that did very good duty for confidence.

The coach made no significant comment on the batteries. He had kept
in touch with the work of the winter through Poole's letters, and
doubtless shared the captain's view that with Carle eliminated from
the list, O'Connell must be the chief reliance of the season. At all
events, on the first rally of forces in the open, he spent most of his
time on Borland and his mate. O'Connell did better than usual, having
got at least this measure of good from Borland's browbeating, that he
was more cautious in his delivery, and made better aim for the plate.

Owen exerted himself on the occasion to put his pitcher through his
paces, and give the coach some inkling of what he fondly believed to be
Patterson's great promise. But unfortunately, either from the novelty
of the new conditions or from nervousness, the pitcher was slow in
steadying down; and by the time he was delivering the balls as the
catcher expected, Poole called Owen away to join the outfielders,
who were catching flies, and put Foxcroft in his place. And Foxcroft
blighted the pitcher's inspiration as a hoar-frost blights a hothouse
plant.

"How did it go?" asked Owen, coming in some time later for a brief
batting practice before the net.

Patterson gave a doleful shake of the head. "To pieces," he answered
laconically. "I never could pitch to that fellow!"

"What did Lyford say?"

"Nothing. He didn't need to say anything."

"Owen!" called Poole, and Rob, picking up his bat, took the place
before the net which Peacock had just vacated. He felt disappointed
and irritated; disappointed because, having made Patterson's cause his
own, he was himself hurt by the failure; irritated because he was sure
that if Poole had only left him alone another ten minutes he could
have pulled his friend safely through. He stood at the plate with
his jaw set, and his eyes shining bright, ready to hit and hit hard.
O'Connell was pitching for the batsmen, and O'Connell asked nothing
better than the privilege of striking out this arrogant freshie, who
had presumed to offer instruction to him in the cage, and had dropped
him so contemptuously for not receiving it. So he tried a deceiver in
the shape of a hot outcurve--O'Connell's strongest card--which starts
wide and swings over the plate. Owen felt savage, but not savage enough
to lose his wits. He had learned long since from McLennan that the
great batsmen study the pitcher's motive and try to guess in advance
the ball that he will pitch. Knowing O'Connell's strong and weak
points, he had no difficulty in recognizing the ball that came spinning
threateningly toward him. So he waited unmoved, and swung at it as it
broke over the plate as if the ball itself were the animate cause of
his disappointment.

Bat and ball met squarely with a crash; the ball sped away, not in a
high parabola that gives the lazy outfielder an easy put out, nor in
the regular sharp bounds which a clever baseman may handle, but well
above the reach of any infielder, and striking the ground too soon and
with too hot a pace to be held by the outfield. A hard hit like this,
if it passes between the outfielders on a deep, smooth field, rolls
forever.

"A bully hit!" exclaimed Durand, as Owen, his frown transformed into a
smirk of satisfaction, took his place with the rest. "That's good for
three bases sure."

"I don't know about that," Owen replied modestly, mentally resolving,
however, that if he ever made such a hit in a real game he wouldn't
stop to look round till he had passed third.

"Too hard," was the comment of the coach to Poole, "but good form."

"I'm hoping to get a good hitting outfielder out of him," replied
Poole. "Carle told me Owen's batting average was always high. I suppose
Borland will do all our catching."

Patterson came up for his trial. O'Connell, angry with himself for
having let Owen get a long drive out of him, set himself to fool the
pitcher at least.

"Don't try for big hits!" warned the coach. "Just watch the ball and
make sure you hit it. Wait for the good ones!"

And Patterson watched the ball and waited, letting the good ones go by
and striking at the poor ones. He finally succeeded in poking a feeble
bounder over to the pitcher's position, and thus obtained the privilege
of retiring. Altogether Patterson's first day out gave little promise
that his ambitions would ever be realized.



CHAPTER XVI

THEORIES AND PLANS


"Going to get into the game to-day?" asked Wolcott Lindsay, on the
Saturday morning following the first outdoor practice, as he met Owen
coming out of the Pecks' room. "I understand they've got about twenty
men on the batting list."

Rob laughed constrainedly. "Yes, Sudbury and Tom Riley and I are all
going to play centre field."

"I thought you were down for second base."

Rob shook his head. "They tried me there yesterday, but I didn't make
good, so I've gone further out."

"Well, I hope you'll make good there. Durand says you're a slugger."

"I'm not!" answered Rob, sharply. He had his own opinions as to men
who are always trying for home runs. "I'm no great fielder either,"
he added more moderately, "as you'll see if you come up. Who are these
Seaton Clippers anyway?"

"Oh, just a team made up of townies. We always play the opening game
with the Clippers to try out the men."

They parted, Rob going into his room, where Simmons sat in the corner
of the window-seat, doubled up over a book.

"Poole's been here to see you," said Simmons, looking up. "He says the
Clippers have gone back on him--they couldn't get their pitcher--so
he's going to have a five-inning game between two nines. He wants you
and Patterson as battery for the second. Game starts at three. You're
to be up there as soon after two as possible for preliminary practice.
I told him I'd tell you."

Simmons recited his message as he would a well-studied theorem in
geometry, and, having recited it, buried himself again in his book. He
was a most accurate little person,--tiresomely accurate, Rob sometimes
thought. On this occasion, however, Rob's face lighted up at his
roommate's words; and though he opened his mouth to ask a question,
he closed it immediately with the question unasked. The message was
complete. It was also welcome; if he had planned an arrangement that
would give Pat the best chance to show his powers it couldn't have
been better. And now the opportunity had come unsought! If they did
well, the credit was wholly theirs; if they failed, no hopes would be
disappointed but their own.

"I'm going over to see Pat," he said, clapping on his hat again. There
were some uncertainties about signals which must be cleared up before
the afternoon. Then a new thought came to him, and he dropped into
a chair by his desk to jot down several memoranda on a blank sheet.
When he looked up, he found Simmons's eyes fixed upon him with the
discouraged expression which sometimes haunted them, particularly after
a visit home. Simmons was a most conscientious student, an excellent
scholar in languages, and personally quite unassuming and inoffensive.
But he was not strong physically, and in occasional times of weakness
or weariness was likely to dwell morbidly on the contrast between
his own situation and that of his more robust, lively, and popular
associates. Rob understood at a glance that this was one of Simmons's
homesick days, so he tucked his notes away in his pocket and turned to
his apathetic little chum.

"Going to the game?" he asked in a hearty tone.

"No," replied Simmons, dropping his eyes again to the page before him.
"I don't care anything about baseball."

"Why don't you go up the river, then? You ought to be outdoors
somewhere on a day like this."

"I'd rather stay here. Payner asked me to go up with him, but I don't
think I should enjoy his society."

"Payner!" exclaimed Owen, staring at his companion with an interest no
longer forced. Then he threw back his head and laughed aloud.

Simmons put down his book. "I don't see anything so funny in that. Why
shouldn't he invite me if he wants to?"

"He should, and if I were invited I'd go, if I had to cut ball practice
to do it."

Simmons looked his astonishment, but said nothing.

"You might find out where he gets the things that he bestows on the
Pecks," continued Owen.

"Have they had another?" cried Simmons, eagerly, jumping to his feet
and planting himself in front of Owen. "Tell me, have they had another?
What was it?"

Owen grinned and nodded. "Some queer little olive-green lizards, about
three inches long, with small red spots all over them. I didn't know
the things."

"How did it come? They've kept their door locked for a long time, and
they hardly dare open a window."

"In the laundry bag," chuckled Owen. "It was left outside their door,
and the lizards just went to sleep in it. There was the usual ticket
tied to one of their tails, 'The Fifth Plague.'"

"I don't think that's so awfully bad," said Simmons, after some
reflection. "A lizard wouldn't scare me much."

"That's what Don said," replied Rob, smiling as he recalled the scene.
"He thought it showed Payner was about at the end of his resources.
But Duncan said the season was just opening, and half the plagues were
yet to come, always supposing that Payner would be content with the
biblical number. When I left them they were still arguing--well, I've
got to get over to see Patterson."

Owen took up his hat again. Simmons was standing by the window. The boy
turned around as Owen approached the door, and said apologetically: "I
think I'll go in and tell Payner I've changed my mind. I may as well go
with him after all."

"That's right!" called Owen, from the door. "And be sure you tell me
all about it."

And he ran downstairs with a light heart, eager to see Patterson and
plan the signal service for the afternoon.

Half an hour afterward he was still sitting at one side of Patterson's
table, with the pitcher on the other and the notes between them. The
conversation, however, was no longer concerned with signals.

"I tell you it's so," Owen was declaring. "One of the first two balls
pitched has got to be put over. If not, you're in a hole."

"I don't see that," said Patterson.

"Well, I can prove it to you," said Owen, confidently. "Look here, now.
When you start in with a batter, the chances are four to three in favor
of the pitcher, aren't they? He has four balls to give away, and the
batter has three chances to strike. Really the odds in favor of the
pitcher are much greater, because even if you give the batter a ball
that he can hit, there are eight men lying in wait for it, and one of
'em is likely to get it."

Patterson nodded.

"Now, as long as you can keep the batter uncertain whether the ball
that's coming is good or bad, you have him at a disadvantage, haven't
you? But when you're so fixed that you must put 'em over, he's got you
at a disadvantage."

"I can see that," said Patterson.

"Well, if you give two balls right off, you've changed the chances
from four to three in your favor, to three to two in his; and he feels
pretty certain that the next one will be over, because you've got to
begin to get strikes. After that, if you get a single ball, you must
put every one over, and the batter knows it. So to get two balls at the
start is to put yourself in a hole."

"Then the first ball to pitch to a man is either one that he'll strike
at, thinking it's a good one, or a really good one that he can't hit,
or doesn't think of offering at."

"That's the theory," said Owen. "As a matter of fact, most of these
fellows couldn't hit a straight ball more than half the time, if you
told them where it was coming. McLennan says you can fool most amateurs
with speed alone. He's coached college teams and ought to know."

"And if you can get two strikes on him early, you have him worrying,"
mused Patterson.

"Yes, but it won't do to let 'em think that's your only method. The
idea is, never get into a position where you've _got_ to give a strike.
Always keep them guessing."

Rob batted to the infield of the Second nine before the game, and
came to the conclusion that Patterson would receive little help from
the men behind him. At second base was a short, round, red-headed lad
rejoicing in the name of McGuffy, who fumbled every other grounder,
as if alternation were a rule of the game. At short played another
fatty, most inaptly named Smart, who always threw either over the
first baseman's head or at one side of his feet, and seemed quite
ignorant of the very elementary rule that shortstop covers second on
hits to the pitcher's left. Peacock at third combined the faults of
his two neighbors. The one redeeming feature in the near landscape was
Ames, the tall, raw-boned, awkward junior who crouched on his long
legs like a grasshopper at first base, and flung out his big hands
to incredible distances for the poor throws served up to him by the
trio of incompetents around the diamond. Rob grinned with amusement
as he watched the fellow gathering in the balls, hopelessly clumsy
and inelegant from finger ends to tips of toes. The spectators on the
benches laughed and jeered, until Poole shut them up by a peremptory
message. Long Ames paid no attention to them; he was too busy scooping
Peacock's short bounds out of the dust, and pulling down high sailers
that Smart had started on their way to the bleachers.

Allis at left field was made captain of the Second. It was he who
arranged the batting order, at the head of which Owen was placed,
evidently on account of his success at the net during the two days of
outdoor practice. Allis himself came next, then Rorbach, then Reddy
McGuffy and his antipode Ames. Poole took his team into the field,
and Rob faced O'Connell for the first test of strength. Were he and
Patterson to prove in a class with McGuffy and Peacock? A few innings
would show.



CHAPTER XVII

A SET-BACK FOR O'CONNELL


Absorbed as he was in one phase of the game,--the success of the second
battery,--Rob felt no anxiety at all as to his own personal record
with the bat. He wanted to hit O'Connell, of course, but the chief
thing after all was that Patterson should not be hit. So he stood
coolly at the plate, ready for anything that O'Connell might send in,
but unworried and more than half expecting to get his base on balls.
The first one was high, the second he had to dodge, the third was a
called strike, the fourth a drop that dropped too far, the fifth an
unmanageable in, that hit him in the small of the back as he squirmed
away from it, and gave him the desirable gift of first base and the
undesirable one of a painful bruise.

Allis strode up, pounded the plate with his bat, and squared himself,
with legs apart, for a mighty deed. While Rob knew nothing of Allis's
powers, he did not like this form; and not wishing to be cut off at
second by an infield hit, he determined to make a dash at the first
pitch, when a steal would hardly be expected. So off he scampered at
the first movement of O'Connell's arm, and covered his distance so well
in spite of his bruise that when he slid safely to the bag, McPherson
was in the air taking Borland's high throw. In other respects also the
venture proved a lucky one, for Allis hit two fouls and then struck
out, and Rorbach made a scratch hit to short that would certainly
have cut Owen off at second if he had clung to first base. As it was,
Rorbach was safe at first, and Rob reached third before the ball got
back across the diamond. Then Reddy McGuffy sent up a little pop fly to
the first baseman, and long Ames appeared beside the plate, swinging
his bat like an axe.

The lads on the seats made merry as Ames smote terribly and in vain at
the first one over. The next he let go by; it was a ball. At the third
he smote again, this time with effect. The ball shot out over first
baseman's head, bounced hard on the running track, and made full speed
for the corner of the field.

Then for some seconds the onlookers saw lively running. Peters in right
field sprinted for the ball, the second baseman ran out to support him,
Rob trotted home, Rorbach fled along two bags behind him, and still
farther behind came Ames, galloping like a cart horse and constantly
twisting his head backward to make sure that the ball was not close
at hand. The fellows who had been jeering were now stamping and
yelling, the players of the Second were running up and down the lines,
brandishing their arms and shouting contradictory directions. Ames
rounded third base at full speed, saw the ball bounce into Borland's
hands, stopped, turned,--and was touched ignominiously out by Durand
two feet from third. And then the spectators hooted and jeered more
violently than ever.

"If it keeps up like this, there'll be more fun than practice," thought
Rob, as he buckled on his protector. And to Patterson, as the latter
started for the box, he said: "Don't worry about the bases; I'll throw
to them when it's necessary. Just try your hardest to put 'em where I
want 'em, and don't worry. If a batter's slow or timid, give him full
speed. And don't think because one happens to hit you they all will."

McPherson led off for the First nine. Patterson fixed the ball in his
two fingers and drove it hard and straight over the inner corner of the
plate just below the shoulder line. It struck with a resounding clap
in Owen's big mitt, and as it struck, McPherson realized that he had
lost a chance. As the next one looked exactly like the first, McPherson
whacked valiantly at it, but just before it reached the plate the ball
broke and lifted, while the bat swept the air beneath it. Two strikes!

"It's all his way now," thought McPherson. "This'll be a ball,"--and it
would have been if it had kept its first course. Unfortunately for the
batsman, however, it slanted down and in instead of down and out, and
the umpire called it a strike.

"Astonishing how a man loses his batting eye during the winter!"
thought Poole, as he took McPherson's place at the plate. "If I can't
hit that fellow I must be blind."

Now the captain was considered the best batter in school, and
deservedly so. In the fatal Hillbury game of the year before he had
proved almost the only Seaton man whom the Hillbury pitcher could not
deceive, and he and McPherson were responsible for all the hits the
defeated team had made. He had an excellent eye, watched the ball
closely, and was a patient waiter. All this Owen knew. He also knew
that a waist ball was the kind Poole always longed for, that he was
wary on high ones, and often hit a low one in a long fly. Patterson's
first attempt was clearly wide of the plate; his second was low. Poole
offered at neither, and both were called balls. By the next ball, the
same full-speed straight one which had fooled McPherson, Poole was
caught napping, and the sharp "Strike one!" of the umpire gave comfort
to both members of the battery. Rob now signalled for the slow ball, at
which Poole struck too soon. With two balls and two strikes, Patterson
put a low one over the outside of the plate, hoping to finish with the
captain immediately; but Poole caught it on the end of his bat and
sent it in a long arch to centre field, where Rorbach gathered it in.
Sudbury, who came next, struck at the first pitched ball and raised
a pop fly, which the second baseman, to Owen's surprise and McGuffy's
own immense satisfaction, managed to hold. Reddy tossed the ball over
to the pitcher's box with the best air of a professional, and strutted
complacently in. The first inning had ended with the score two to
nothing in favor of the scrub.

O'Connell pitched six times to strike out Smart. Meanwhile, Owen and
Patterson discussed the situation.

"Great luck, wasn't it!" began the pitcher, eagerly.

"The greatest luck was that McGuffy held that fly," Rob answered with
more coolness. With all his interest in the trying-out process, habit
and experience kept him philosophical. "I didn't believe he'd do it."

"He may be better than he looks," said Patterson.

Rob had no answer for this. "How's your arm?" he said.

"All right. I can give you a little more speed if you want it."

"We shall have to be careful about Durand. The rest ought to be easy."

Smart returned to the bench, having surrendered his place at the bat to
Peacock. Owen took a seat beside McGuffy. "You understand that you are
to cover second if a man on first tries to steal, don't you?"

"Of course!" answered McGuffy, indignantly.

"I simply want to avoid a misunderstanding," retorted Owen. "I don't
care to throw to centre field."

Peacock hit to Hayes, the shortstop, and was thrown out. Fletcher
reached first base on balls, but was left there when Patterson sent a
fly to Durand. The First team came in to bat once more.

Patterson put the first one over, and Durand met it, driving a grounder
to Smart. The shortstop fumbled, and then, when it was too late to
catch the fleet runner, threw wide and low to first. How Ames managed
to get his mitt on the ball was hard to understand, but the mitt was
there and the ball stopped. A new batsman came up, Peters, the right
fielder; and Rob, glancing at the pair at first base, made up his
mind that Durand was going to steal. So he signalled for a high out,
and Peters whacked at it, though it was beyond his reach. Even as the
ball struck in the pocket of his mitt, Rob's fingers clutched it; his
right leg went out and his arm came back simultaneously; like a flash
the arm returned, the wrist snapped forward, and the ball shot straight
and swift in a line for second. But alas! there was no one on second
to receive it! McGuffy was on the way there, but although he arrived
before Durand, the ball was already spinning toward centre field.
Fletcher let it slip between his ankles, and Durand jogged easily home.

This was poor work. Rob pounded his fist into the hole of his mitt,
disgusted and indignant. But Patterson was waiting for the signal, and
there was no chance to give to McGuffy the few forcible suggestions
which Rob felt that he ought to be privileged to make. Patterson
settled Peters with two high ones in succession; the first a poor one
which he struck at, the second a good one which he did not recognize.
Then Hayes hit to Patterson and was thrown out; and Borland, after
two fouls, was caught on a swift jump ball and retired, muttering hard
things at the umpire.

And now Rob had another opportunity at the bat. He still felt the
sore spot on his back where O'Connell had potted him on his first
appearance, but he stood up to the plate just as courageously as
before, confident that O'Connell would not repeat the offence. The
pitcher gave two balls, then put one squarely over, which Rob was
fortunate enough to hit "on the nose." It sped away in a line over
the third baseman's head out into the debatable ground, bounced just
inside the foul line, then out, and rolled away into the far corner
of the field. Rob raced past first and second, and reached third in
safety just before the ball bounded into Durand's hands. Here he stayed
while Allis went out on a hit to the second baseman, and Rorbach,
waiting patiently, heard two strikes and three balls called. O'Connell
dreaded a record of many bases on balls more than an additional run;
so he tried to satisfy the umpire by putting one directly over, and
Rorbach cracked it whizzing by O'Connell's head out over second base.
Rob came home at his leisure. Then stubby McGuffy turned his freckled
face toward the pitcher, and by hitting to O'Connell unintentionally
sacrificed Rorbach to second; and big Ames, with his woodchopper's
swing, drove another long hit into right field and brought Rorbach in.
Smart, with the resignation of a fatalist, struck out.

The tail end of the school batting list now appeared at the plate,
Weaver, first baseman, and O'Connell. Neither proved a hard problem for
the Second battery to solve. Weaver hit a pop foul which Ames caught,
and O'Connell struck three times ingloriously. McPherson, sending a
long fly to Allis, made the last out. So the third inning ended with
the score four to one against the school.

Peacock, Fletcher, and Patterson all went out in the fourth on feeble
infield hits, and Poole came to bat a second time, manifestly disturbed
by the course of events. It was not merely the fact that the Second
hit O'Connell that worried him, but the failure of the First to hit
Patterson. It seemed hardly possible that a man who had so little
experience in actual play should prove so clever in the balls he
used, and so effective in holding off old batsmen. Poole could not or
would not understand it. He came up fiercely eager, determined to turn
Patterson's luck.

The first pitch he let go by, and had the satisfaction of hearing it
called a ball. The second--a straight one--he struck under and fouled.
"One strike!" The third came hot, just at the level of his breast, but
lifted with a sudden break as his bat swung beneath it. The fourth was
obviously a ball, the fifth just as obviously ditto, but it slanted in
over the corner, and from the umpire's sharp "Strike three!" there was
no appeal, even for Captain Poole.

Sudbury followed, and after balls and strikes, tipped a kindergarten
bounder to McGuffy, who, with the air of Little Jack Horner, stopped it
and threw it within Ames's long reach. Durand profited by a fumble of
Smart's to reach first, but he was caught here a minute later by Owen's
quick snap to Ames--and the fourth inning was over.

In the fifth, by an error, a base on balls, and a hit, another run was
added to the Second's score. The First too gained a run on a hit by
Hayes and errors. But the end came when Borland drove the ball right
into Ames's hands; and Weaver, after slashing twice in vain, dropped
a fair ball in front of the plate, and found Ames holding it when he
reached first.

The game was over. The spectators drifted moodily down toward the
school buildings, exchanging sarcastic and pessimistic comments on
the work of the school nine and its prospects: "A lot of duffers;"
"Couldn't hit a balloon;" "The only players on the field were the
Second;" "The Clippers wouldn't have done a thing to 'em;" "Worst
exhibition of baseball ever seen." Some, especially Patterson's
surprised classmates, looked at the matter from a different point of
view and vowed that all the trouble was due to Patterson, who was too
good a pitcher for the school batters. Poole had a short talk with
Lyford, and then called Patterson aside and thanked him for his good
work; he must take good care of himself, for he would certainly be used
frequently in the box. Lyford followed with similar compliments, and a
troop of others followed Lyford. Even O'Connell came heroically with
his meed of praise; and while offering congratulations on his rival's
success contrived to explain that he himself had not felt at his best
that day, and that it always took time for him to get his arm into
shape in the spring. Unquestionably Patterson was the hero of the day.

And what of Owen? He, too, had his share of attention. Lyford assured
him that he had played a good game, Poole informed him that he had hit
well, some one else spoke of his throwing. But this was all. No one
held him in any sense responsible for the pitching, not even those
to whom Patterson protested that the credit belonged to Owen. Such
statements were to be expected from a modest, reticent fellow like
Patterson, who had kept his light hidden under a bushel all the year.



CHAPTER XVIII

DISAPPOINTMENTS


It was "Patterson, Patterson," all over the locker rooms while the ball
men were dressing, with frequent mention of Ames, who had especially
pleased the crowd, and an occasional word for Owen. The disappointment
caused by the poor work of the First glorified by contrast the success
of the Second. Rob had many questions to answer or evade. Wasn't he
surprised at the way Patterson showed up? Was the pitcher really as
good as he seemed? Could he hold his own against a strong nine? How was
it that nobody knew anything about him before to-day? Before he escaped
from the gymnasium Rob had replied to the same question a dozen times.

Patterson was a good man--he told the questioners--who might always be
trusted to give a good account of himself if he had a fair show. Rob
did not explain that a fair show involved a suggestive and resourceful
catcher, one who could guide and cheer the pitcher, as well as hold the
ball and throw to bases. That would have been tantamount to asserting
that Patterson's success had been due to his catcher, and Rob would
never have taken this attitude even in his secret thoughts. Patterson
certainly had the skill and the power; the difficulty was that he
didn't understand how to use them.

Outside the gymnasium Owen was hailed by Poole and Lyford.

"You fellows gave us a shock to-day," said Poole. "I didn't enjoy it
myself, but it's going to do us a lot of good. Lyford and I have talked
things over and have agreed that we've got to make a place for you on
the nine."

Rob's heart was fluttering with a delightful anticipation which was
reflected in his face. Were they really going to recognize the merit of
his work?

"Did you ever play in the outfield?" continued Poole.

From joyful expectation to hopelessness, Rob's plunge was sudden and
cruel. Only by a strong effort of will and by turning his head quickly
away could he prevent his face from betraying him.

"No, never. I've always caught or played first."

"Well, you see, we've got a good catcher in Borland, who's had lots
of experience and is a mighty steady man in a game; and with Weaver,
who played first last year, and big Ames, who showed up so well in the
game to-day, we're pretty well fixed for first basemen. So the only way
seems to be to work you in somewhere in the outfield--say at right--as
a regular thing; and then use you when necessary for substitute
catcher."

"You'd better take Rorbach," said Owen, almost sullenly. "He hits well
and is used to the job."

"We will, if he turns out to be better," returned Poole, with a smile,
"but we'll try you first anyway. We shall have to ask you to turn
Patterson over to Borland. If he gets on well with Patterson, we may
want you to see what you can do with O'Connell."

"If you could help him along as you did Patterson," said the coach,
"you might make a good deal of him."

Rob pressed his lips tight together, with a firmness that pursed them
out and left wrinkles in the corners. It was a habit of his when
angered, as some boys grow red, and others white, and still others gape
and glare. On this occasion his set lips served him well, for they kept
back the retort which in cooler moments he must have regretted. What
he did not say but wanted to was that it would be many moons before
any one would find him wasting himself on a mule like O'Connell, and
that he didn't propose to train pitchers for Borland to use. So he
said nothing, but merely nodded a rather ungracious adieu as the coach
and captain left him and went on down to the basement floor of the
gymnasium. On the way in, Poole remarked that Owen had a queer streak
in him, but was a good fellow all right; and the coach, that the boy
seemed rather sullen. It was too bad, for he was evidently a ball
player.

Rob stamped up to his room and flung himself down into his Morris
chair. There, stretched out, with his hands in his pockets and his
cap slipping down over his nose, he gave himself a prey to most
disagreeable reflections. So they were bound to make him play in the
outfield! He could do it, he supposed, as well as the next man, but it
was like taking a fellow who had always played quarter-back and setting
him to play end. He must learn an entirely new game, crowd out a better
man--Rorbach could field the position twice as well as he could--and
in the end probably do the poorest work of the lot. And to take away
Patterson, who had practised with him all winter and really owed to
his catcher his whole improvement as a pitcher, to take away Patterson
and give him to Borland, who had never done a thing for anybody, was
outrageous. Why couldn't Poole give him as fair a show as he did
Borland? Hadn't he caught just as good a game that afternoon? The
details of the record were still vivid in his memory: against Borland
one passed ball, two missed third strikes, one high throw to second;
for himself not an error, and two as good snaps to bases as he had ever
made in his life, even if that chump, McGuffy, didn't cover! Good work
evidently went for nothing in this place.

And then he fell to thinking of Patterson and his point of view. Would
Pat throw him over without a protest, as Carle had done, when the
chance came to pose as first string pitcher with last year's catcher to
back him? Not if he knew Patterson! Patterson knew where his strength
lay. Pat would be loyal to his catcher to the end. But this, after all,
wasn't the worst feature in the prospect. Supposing they should make
him pitch to Borland against his will, and Borland shouldn't know how
to manage him, and just at the time when encouragement and guidance
and right method were especially important, Pat should slump, would he
be able to recover his courage and speed and skill again? Rob had his
doubts. Pat needed careful nursing.

A knock at the door broke in on these dismal thoughts.

"Come in!" sang out the dejected one from the chair, without troubling
himself to remove his hands from his pockets or lift the cap from his
nose. It was Laughlin's big body that filled the doorway.

"Hello! Seen anything of Lindsay?"

Rob straightened up and brushed off his cap. "No, not since he left the
campus. He spoke to me after the game. Come in, won't you?"

"I guess not," replied the football man. And then, having verbally
declined, he contradicted himself by entering and planting his back
against the door. "I wanted to see him about that debate between the
Laurel Leaf and the Soule Society. You know we're on a committee to
arrange it. Tell him I tried to find him, won't you, when he comes in?"

"Yes, I usually see him after dinner."

"I went up to see your game for a little while this afternoon," went
on Laughlin, settling down into a stout arm-chair opposite Rob. "I
couldn't stay long, for I had a job; but I saw some good back-stop work
the little while I was there."

Rob waited expectant, his eyes on the floor. His pulse was beating a
trifle faster, while under the pleasing warmth that stole into his
heart the morbid depression had fled. Laughlin was not a baseball
authority, but he was a man looked up to and respected and followed not
more for his achievement as captain of a winning eleven than for the
strength of his personal character. His good opinion was in itself a
compliment, all the more desirable as he was known to be a close friend
of Poole.

"I thought both you and Borland caught well," continued Laughlin; "but
while I was there it seemed to me that you were having the best of it.
That throw of yours that Reddy was too slow for just took me. Why, the
ball looked as if it was shooting along a wire! And how quickly you got
it off, too! I don't see how you manage it."

"Oh, I don't always do as well as that," protested Owen, beaming with
delight, "though I'm usually fairly good at getting a man at second.
There's a knack in it, you know, and I've had considerable practice."

"Patterson is a kind of dark horse, isn't he? I hadn't heard anything
about him until lately."

"He's been working with me in the cage all winter," replied Rob, with
some complacency. "I knew he was good, but no one else seemed to get
on to him. He's improved a lot."

"Well, I hope he'll go right on improving. Perhaps it's you two who are
going to win the Hillbury game for us!"

Alas for the catcher's self-complacency! This grouping of Owen and
Patterson and the Hillbury game brought Rob suddenly back from the
delightful vision of what might have been to the reality of the
present. It wasn't to be Patterson and Owen now, but Patterson and
Borland. Owen was relegated to right field, and to catching O'Connell!
The sunlight suddenly disappeared from Rob's ingenuous face, and black
discouragement replaced it. Laughlin observed him with curiosity.

"Only it'll be Patterson and Borland in the Hillbury game," Rob said,
regaining his smile by main force. "Poole's going to have Patterson
pitch to Borland after this."

"How's that?" demanded Laughlin. And Rob explained with an explanation
which suggested a question, and the question in turn produced an
answer involving another question, and so there developed a chain of
questions and answers linked together like the mathematical series
Laughlin had been studying that week in his advanced algebra, but
unlike them in having a definite limit and result. This result was that
Rob threw aside his reserve and told the whole story of his ambition
and disappointment, from the first weeks of the fall when Carle forgot
him, through the months of independent cage work with Patterson, to the
disheartening issue of that afternoon's game.

"It isn't that I'm such a wonder," he concluded, "or that I want to
play whether I'm better than Borland or not; but I don't think it's
right for 'em to assume that I'm no good, and pay no attention to what
I do. And then to take Patterson away from me just when I've got him
into shape, when he wouldn't be worth a cent if I hadn't coached him
all winter--I call that dirty mean!"

Laughlin rose and went to the window, where he stood for a brief time
gazing across the way at the village urchins noisily romping before
their schoolhouse. Then he turned: "It does seem hard luck, but I've
found out that things usually turn out right if you're right yourself.
I, for one, was glad to hear that Carle had gone. He isn't the stuff
good men are made of. If he had stayed, he'd have played us some worse
trick. Poole doesn't think so, but Poole doesn't know such fellows as
well as I do. Another thing Poole doesn't know is that you're really a
better catcher than Borland. It's up to you to go straight ahead and
play your game as well as you can, and he'll see what you are before
the season's over. When he does see, he'll chuck Borland in a minute.
Poole is as straight a fellow as ever breathed, but he makes mistakes
like the rest of us. I know from my own experience as captain that it's
hard always to pick out the best man. There was Wolcott Lindsay last
fall playing on the second eleven up to two weeks of the Hillbury game;
and in the game, light as he was, he turned out the best guard on the
field. Take my advice: just hold on, play your best game all the time,
and keep your courage up."

They stood confronting each other--Laughlin, a square, powerful figure
with sincerity and earnestness apparent in every tone of his voice
and every line of his rugged face; Owen, with eyes aflame and cheeks
flushed, eagerly drinking in his visitor's words. It was appreciation
like this that he had been pining for; it gladdened him and at the same
time thrilled him through and through.

"There's another thing you can learn from Lindsay's experience," the
football man went on. "It pays to work up. The best athletes in the
school have almost always been those who had to make a place for
themselves. The fellows who come with reputations and condescend to
play usually slump early."

He held out his hand. "I must be going; well, good luck to you!"

"Thank you a lot," rejoined Owen, eagerly grasping the big, thick fist.
"You won't say anything to Poole about this, will you?"

"Of course not; you've got to work your own way out."

Laughlin was just reaching for the door-knob, when a scurry of feet was
heard from across the hall, and the door burst open to admit Simmons,
who rushed into the room in a flurry of excitement most unusual in the
quiet little student.



CHAPTER XIX

A MISFIT BATTERY


The moment his foot touched the threshold Simmons began to exclaim: "It
was perfectly great! I'm awfully glad I went! He's got a peach of a
canoe, and what he doesn't know about animals and reptiles and birds--"
He stopped suddenly as he caught sight of the massive form of the
venerated Laughlin looming behind the door. "Oh, excuse me, I didn't
know any one was here."

"No one but me," said the visitor, "and though I'm big, I'm not
dangerous. Who's got the peach of a canoe?"

"Payner," answered Simmons, throwing a questioning look at Owen.

"That's the fellow that's been working the plagues on the Pecks, isn't
it?"

"Yes," replied Simmons, eagerly. "How did you know about it?"

"Oh, everybody knows something about it," returned Laughlin, with a
grin. "I suppose he was after material. What number has he reached now?"

"I think he's getting ready for Number Six," said Simmons, gravely.
"He didn't say what it was to be, but he told me all sorts of things
he might do. If he does everything he talks about he'll have to put
them three at a time to keep within ten. He showed me where he got the
newts he put in the clothes-bag, and where he used to catch turtles and
water-snakes, and the old stumps where he dug out salamanders. He says
that below the falls, on Salt River, you can catch all sorts of things
when the tide's out--dip up young eels by the pailful. They'd do to put
in the water pitchers."

"I shouldn't care for them in mine," observed Laughlin.

"When it gets warmer there are going to be more things," Simmons
continued, growing more confidential and serious as he proceeded. "All
sorts of bugs, for example, and hornets' nests that you can take off
in the night and throw in through the windows. It's easy to get half
a pint of ants from any big ant hill if you only know how, and the
brown-tail moth caterpillars they talk so much about--the hairs fly and
are poisonous, you know--it wouldn't be at all hard to find a nest with
the caterpillars just in the right stage outside the town somewhere.
Then he took me into his room and showed me an enormous spider he had
in a bottle--he got it from home--and asked me how I thought the Pecks
would like it to find such a thing in their pajamas some night. Isn't
it awful!"

Simmons stopped for breath, and looked horror-struck from face to face.

"What's it all for, anyway?" asked Laughlin.

"Why, the Pecks ripped up his room, and spoiled some of his specimens,"
explained Rob. "He wants them to apologize and agree to let him alone.
They won't do it."

"Oh, I remember now," Laughlin said. "One of them came to me about
a month ago, and asked me what to do. I gave him a raking down for
playing such fool tricks, and told him to go and apologize and try to
patch it up with Payner. I don't know which it was. I never could tell
'em apart."

"It was Duncan," said Owen. "I gave him the same advice. He's willing
to do the right thing, but the other one keeps him back."

"Well, let them suffer then, that's all I've got to say," remarked
Laughlin. "I've no sympathy to waste on fools or fellows who won't own
up when they're in the wrong."

The senior departed, leaving Owen comforted and reassured. He could
afford to wait, he told himself after his caller had gone. Let them
give Patterson to Borland if they wished. Borland couldn't manage him,
Rob was convinced, and when the new combination failed, Patterson would
come back to him, and the pair could start again and work up together.
Then it would be clear which was the better catcher, and which battery
was the more useful to the school. Yes, Laughlin was right; it was
better to work one's way up than to claim a high place at the outset
and afterward have to change to the lowest, like the man in the parable
who was bidden to a feast. But it was hard on Pat!

In the meantime Simmons had disappeared. He came in again soon, and
rather shamefacedly confessed that he had been laboring with the Pecks.

"What luck?" asked Rob; "did they bluff you?"

"That's just what they did. Duncan laughed at me and Donald said he
wasn't afraid of anything Payner could produce, either fresh or canned.
I told them I merely wanted to warn them of what was before them, and
Donald said the chief thing before them was to wipe up the ground with
Payner. Then I said they'd better look out, for Payner had a gun, and
Donald said he'd need it. I didn't seem to be getting on, so I cleared
out."

Owen laughed. "You may as well let them alone. They're looking for
trouble, and if they find it it's their own fault."

That evening Duncan stopped Simmons on the way out to Front Street
and thanked him for coming to warn them. "I didn't say anything while
you were there," he added, "because I knew Don and I'd have a big row
about it, and I thought our rows ought to be private. And we did have
it after you went, red hot. I'll tell you on the fair, I'm dead sick
of the whole thing; it's got on to my nerves and spoils all my fun.
We have to keep the door locked all the time, we don't dare open the
windows, some one has to be here when the chambermaid comes in, and
we're always scared that something's going to happen,--that there'll be
some crawly thing in the bed, or under it, or hidden in our pajamas,
or tucked into our shoes, or coming down the chimney. I never open
a bureau drawer without standing back as far as I can, for fear of
something jumping in my face. It's terrible. The sword of Damocles was
nothing to it. If Payner'd be satisfied with my apology, I'd go in a
minute!"

"He wouldn't be," answered Simmons, with a sad shake of his head.
The burden of anxiety for peace in the dormitory lay heavy on poor
Simmons's shoulders!

Does some one ask why the teachers are not called in to adjudicate such
differences, or how a feud like this could go on undetected by Dr. Mann
on the floor below, and Mrs. Gray, the matron, making her daily rounds
among the rooms? To such be it explained that except in story books
and school circulars, or where small children are concerned, teachers
and pupils live in two distinct worlds, between which there is lawful
communication only by regular channels. No self-respecting boy above
the primary age seeks faculty help against his fellows. He may consult
a trusted teacher about his own affairs, his studies, his health,
his morals, his religion; about his relations with other boys he may
sometimes ask advice, but assistance never. In the school life he must
fight fair, and the first rule of fair fighting is: No intervention, no
tale-bearing, keep it among ourselves!

Rob's thoughts did not linger on the affairs of the Pecks. The first
real game was coming on Wednesday with the N----University nine. Rob's
whole attention in the two practice days before was concentrated on
learning about the play of his new position from Poole and Lyford--in
fact from any one who could give him information. He knew, of course,
that in theory a fielder while running for a batted ball is supposed to
keep in mind the positions of the base runners and anticipate their
movements so that when the ball is at last in his hands he need waste
no time in sending it to the right place. In putting this obvious
theory into practice, though suffering from lack of experience, Rob had
the advantage of his catcher's training in watching bases. In throwing
in from the field, however, this catcher's training was distinctly
a handicap, for the short-line throws across the diamond are very
different from the long returns from the outfield. Rob could catch
flies as well as any one, but he despaired of ever feeling at home in
right field.

Patterson took the change of catchers still more to heart. When
Poole informed him of the new arrangement, he stood aghast, too much
astonished to protest. But he immediately made full speed for Rob's
room, and there he vowed that he should not, could not, would not
pitch to Borland or any one else but Owen; they might drop him if they
chose. Here Rob's newly acquired courage served him in good stead. He
explained that Poole was promoting Patterson to a better catcher, that
he had no reason to think that Borland would not do for him quite as
much as Owen could, and that in any case they must both obey orders
and work for the success of the nine. Patterson listened, was half
convinced, and yielded.

So it happened that when the game with N----University opened, there
were two players on the Seaton nine, the pitcher and the right-fielder,
who felt ill at ease in their positions. The Seatonians were in the
field. Big Ames was at first, in place of Weaver. Patterson, seeking
to make up for lack of confidence by enforced deliberateness, slowly
raised his arm and shot in the first ball. The batsman let it go
and the umpire called a strike. Then came a ball and a strike in
succession; and then, following Borland's signal, Patterson threw
a drop, the batsman hit the ball on the upper side, sending a slow
grounder toward third. Durand ran up to meet it and flung it hastily
and wide to first, where Ames, stretching to his full awkward length,
held it and saved an error. The next man went out on strikes, the third
on an easy fly to Owen. The Seatonians came in to bat, and went out as
easily as their predecessors.

Then in the second inning came trouble. The first man up sent a fly to
Poole, and of course was out. The second was given a straight, swift
ball which was called a strike; Borland signalled to repeat, but the
batsman was ready this time and drove the ball out into centre field
so far that he had no difficulty in taking second. The next man bunted
and beat Borland's throw to first. Worried by this, Patterson sent
the third man to first, on balls, and the bases were full. The batter
following fouled out to Durand, and the spectators felt better.

Two men out and the bases full! The new batsman came up, recognizing
his opportunity clearly. The first ball looked poor, and he let it
pass--a strike! The second he struck at but did not hit. Patterson
held the ball and watched his catcher's signal--_Straight over_. It
was risky, he saw plainly, and contrary to the principles laid down
by Owen; but Borland was supposed to know, and it would really be a
feather in his cap to strike out the third man with the bases full.
And he put it straight over.

Crack! sounded the bat. With a start Patterson wheeled about and
watched the ball soar over Sudbury's head and bound far away in the
tennis nets. The batsman raced around the bases, touching the plate
just as the ball reached Patterson once more. Four men had scored on
the hit!

The next man went easily out, but Patterson was not to be comforted. He
blamed himself; but of this he was sure, if Owen had been behind the
plate the thing would never have happened.

"Never take chances with the bases full," Owen had always preached, and
Patterson, as he sat scowling on the bench, thought of his four spare
balls and groaned in bitterness of spirit. Durand got a hit, Owen went
to first on balls, and Ames brought one of them in, but Patterson was
not encouraged. In the next inning he let his opponents make three hits
that yielded two runs, and at the beginning of the fourth O'Connell
appeared in his place in the pitcher's box.

How it happened that Seaton won that game in spite of the handicap of
five runs at the fourth inning was explained in various ways. Some
said O'Connell's pitching had held the enemy down; others that luck and
good fielding by Seaton and bad errors on the part of the visitors were
the chief causes. All agreed that the nine had shown an encouraging
ability to hit the ball and play an uphill game.

Such consolation as Owen was able to give during their intermittent
presence together on the bench, Patterson received with stolidity and
monosyllables. He was meditating a radical move. After the game was
over he sought out Poole.

"Borland told me to pitch that ball," he said abruptly to the captain.
"I could have struck that man out."

"I'm sorry you didn't, then," replied the captain, good-naturedly. "I
don't count it against you. You'll have better luck next time. Besides,
when you've had more practice with Borland you'll understand each other
better."

"I'm not going to have any more practice with Borland," replied
Patterson, quietly. "If you ever want me to pitch again, you must give
me Owen to catch me. I'll pitch to no one else."



CHAPTER XX

A SUB-SEATONIAN


Let it not be supposed that the pleasures and pains of the Pecks, or
Owen's ambition to become recognized as a catcher, or the affairs
of the middle entry of Hale, represent the chief happenings of the
season at Seaton. From the opening of the spring term baseball is
indeed the most absorbing subject of student conversation, and the
nearer the Hillbury game approaches, the more widely discussed are
the prospects of the nine and the more general is the interest in it.
But on the morning of every week-day throughout the school year the
seven-forty-five chapel bell calls together four hundred boys. From
eight to six, with intermission for luncheon, changing squads are
crowding hourly in and out of the recitation rooms, where strenuous
teachers crack their pedagogical whips in mock fury over the heads
of their victims. Each of these four hundred has his own ambitions
and interests; each serves and enjoys the school in his own way. They
group themselves in scores of combinations. There are state clubs,
debating clubs, musical clubs, modern language clubs, college clubs,
fraternities. Boys are laboring for scholarships, for prizes of all
kinds, for positions on school papers and athletic teams, for honors
at graduation, for offices, for entrance to college, for the plain
privilege of staying at school. While Payner is catching bugs, Woodford
is shooting clay pigeons, Thornton playing a mandolin, Ford running
the Assembly Club, Allen preparing to beat the Harvard Freshmen at
debate, and Smith plugging away at Cicero and Homer and history with
the resignation of a holy man of Tibet walled up in a cave. And many
there are who go to and fro in obscurity, mere names on class lists or
voices on the cheering benches. Yet who would venture to assert that
among these insignificants some distinguished man of the future may not
be hidden?

Among the episodes of the year entirely unconnected with baseball was
that of the delayed senior dinner and the presence thereat of the
little thirteen-year-old townie who sat in state at the right of the
toastmaster and consumed ice cream and cake in quantities quite out
of proportion to his size. Robert Owen had nothing to do with the
affair, except to hear of it at first hand from Wolcott Lindsay and
Durand, when the pair came exulting home late at night, eager to find
an upper middler to inform and gloat over. So Rob was routed out and
sat in pajamas blinking at the lamp while the seniors narrated. When at
last it became clear that they had ceased to narrate, and were merely
jeering, Rob rallied his forces, vowed that they were interfering
with his baseball training, and drove them out. Their tale, with the
necessary introductions, is as follows:--

Class rivalry at Seaton is a matter of years and circumstances. At the
time of the class football games in the fall, when the lower middlers
combined with the seniors to rush the field after the senior-upper
middle game, and stole away the ball which the upper middlers had won,
Rob's classmates had indulged in violent talk of retribution. On the
week after, however, had occurred the Hillbury game in which several
members of the offending class had won new laurels for the school. The
feeling of complacency and brotherhood engendered by the victory was
fatal to the spirit of civil strife. The plots for vengeance apparently
died a natural death with no likelihood of revival.

So at least it seemed to the school at large. A few rash spirits, whose
pretended resentment was but an excuse for a lark, thought otherwise.
Acting on the principle that it is easiest to strike when the foe is
least expectant, they prepared for war in the midst of peace. Poole,
who was president of the class, was expected to preside at the senior
dinner. This, of course, the conspirators knew; they likewise knew
his habits and companions. He usually went from his room outside the
yard to the post-office for the evening mail, and thence either to
the school recreation room at Merrill Hall or to some friend's or to
his fraternity house, to spend the hour before evening study began.
On the night of the dinner he would be likely to make his visit to
the post-office somewhat earlier. If he could be caught alone on the
way thither, or while answering some fictitious summons, he might be
seized, crammed into a hack, and driven to a place of security. If he
should mysteriously disappear before the dinner took place, and stay
disappeared a reasonable length of time, the dinner would be spoiled.
For even if the seniors ultimately proceeded without their president,
the feast must have lost much of its savor through delay, and how could
the encomiums on the class be anything but flat with the proof of its
inferiority so crushingly evident?

As Payner and Simmons came paddling down the river again that
afternoon, they overhauled young Wally Sedgwick in his canoe voyaging
homeward. Payner knew Wally, having run across him more than once on
these expeditions, and found him possessed of much local information of
a varied character.

"Hello!" shouted Payner, "been swimming?"

"Nope," answered Wally, poising his paddle. "My mother made me promise
not to till it gets warmer. Have you?"

"Yes," lied Payner; "the water is great."

But Wally either didn't believe him or didn't care. "Say, did you see
those fellows back there on the bank? What were they doing?"

"Oh, I don't know!" replied Payner, ungraciously. He had seen among
them the Pecks and Milliken and Barclay, and that was enough. "Up to
mischief, probably. Come on, we'll race you down."

"Thank you," returned the boy; "I guess I'm in no hurry."

Sloper Stevens, who lay outstretched in the bow, dragging his hands in
the water, was in no hurry either, so, as the students passed out of
sight around the next bend in the river, Wally turned the nose of his
canoe up stream again. The suggestion that the knot of students he had
lately passed were up to something wrong whetted his curiosity. What
crime could they commit here? They weren't stealing wood or cutting
trees.

The students appeared on the river bank beneath some tall pines,
and looked up and down the wood road and pointed at the river and
at some place behind them in the woods. Wally watched them in half
concealment in the shelter of an old stump which projected into the
river. They disappeared now and presently came out into view again
farther up, where they again pointed and surveyed. Such conduct was
incomprehensible, and therefore interesting to Wally, who had seen
students up the river before and knew their ways. They usually came by
twos and threes in boats or canoes, sometimes seriously with books,
more often sprawling on the seats, laughing, singing, innocently
engaged in killing time. If they went ashore they stretched themselves
on their backs under the trees, or stripped and went swimming. These
fellows were different; they seemed to be in search of something.

"Going to stay here all night?" demanded Sloper. "'Cause if you are I'm
going to get out and walk."

"I'm going," answered Wally, swinging the bow again down-stream. He
also had recognized Milliken and Barclay and the two Pecks, the first
because he was the great back in the school eleven, known to every
boy in town, the second as the captain of the upper middle eleven,
and the Pecks--well, just because they were "the two Pecks." Wally's
sympathies were not with the upper middle class. Next fall he was to
be a junior himself, and as a junior would side with upper middlers
against lower middlers and seniors. The present upper middlers would be
the seniors of next year--hence his natural foes. Wally knew where his
allegiance lay.

That night at supper Wally was subdued and meditative. Mr. Sedgwick
asked him first if he were tired, and then if he had been swimming,
both of which questions Wally answered with an indignant negative. The
maternal suggestions were that it was too hard for him in the High
School and that he didn't go to bed early enough. These explanations
also displeased Master Wally, for he did not wish his work in the High
School to be too closely investigated, and no boy likes to be sent
early to bed. So he cut his dessert short--he didn't care much for that
dessert anyway--and got excused to go to the post-office.

On the way he still wrestled with the problem of the students under the
pines. At the supper table he had decided that they must be preparing
for an initiation. On further reflection, however, this theory appeared
untenable. The members of the fraternities wear flat gray hats with
bands of special stripes. Wally had seen two different fraternity
hatbands among the crowd. Besides, the fraternity fellows belong to
different classes, and these were all upper middlers.

He took the letters from the box at the office, pushed them into his
coat pocket, and sauntered up the lane and through the Academy yard.
If he could only run across Eddy, now, or John Somes or French, all
students of his acquaintance, he would ask them. It was just growing
dusk. As he passed through the gate at the upper end he saw a hack
drawn up beside the road. The driver, with his back to the street,
seemed to be very busy with the harness. In the vehicle a man with gray
hair and spectacles sat crowded into a corner.

Ahead Wally caught sight of the familiar figure of the baseball captain
hurrying down the street toward him. He knew Poole, of course, as did
every urchin in town; but he had the advantage of the other urchins
in the fact that Poole knew him. Poole had made Wally's acquaintance
at the birthday party of Wally's older sister. Since that time the
baseball captain had never failed to recognize the boy. To-night,
however, either from preoccupation or because he was hastening to meet
an appointment, Poole passed him by without a word.

The disappointed boy turned and gazed after the retreating senior. The
latter had gone but a few steps when he was apparently summoned by the
occupant of the hack. Wally saw him turn to the carriage door and lean
in as if to hear the words of the old man inside. Then two figures
crept out from the yard of the house near by, stole up behind the
unsuspicious Poole, seized him, threw him into the carriage, tumbled in
themselves, and pulled the door to and the curtain down. Wally stood
with bulging eyes, hearing the throttled yell and the sound of struggle
within the hack, and seeing the driver whip his horses into a sudden
gallop.

"Barclay and Milliken as sure as guns!" thought Master Wally. "They're
running off with Poole!" and forthwith Wally began to run, after the
hack and homeward where the letters must be delivered and where his
bicycle still stood leaning against the fence, as he had left it when
he came from school at one o'clock. As he plied his legs, his thoughts
also were nimble, and he marked well the direction the hack was taking.
That morning on the way to school Jack Sanders had told him that the
seniors were to have a dinner to-night, and asked him if he remembered
the time two years before when the middlers tried to bribe Shorty
McDougal to sneak into the hotel kitchen and pinch the ice cream.
Milliken and Barclay! It wasn't hard to guess now what those fellows
were doing up river!

Wally threw his letters on the hall table--fortunately without
meeting any inconvenient member of the family--and dashed out again.
The entrance to the river road was through the Gilman farm across
the bridge. The hack had gone down Elm Street, evidently taking a
circuitous route to avoid passing through the centre of the town. If he
sprinted, he could beat it to the Gilmans' yet!

Panting from his efforts, trembling with eagerness, Wally leaned his
bicycle against a tree, scrambled behind a stone wall, and crouched
on the ground. He was none too soon. Almost immediately came the sound
of wheels on the highway, and a hack turned into the lane and swept
by him down the incline to the river. At the gate by the lower barn
it stopped, and the sound of voices came back, as of greetings and
exclamations. Then the gate was opened and shut again; and the tread of
horses' hoofs and the rumble of wheels died away in the river mists.



CHAPTER XXI

PLAYING INDIANS


Wally's first impulse had been to get to the scene of excitement at the
earliest possible moment, in order to lose nothing of the spectacle.
Like most boys, he regarded himself as unfairly treated if fun was
going on in which he had no share. But here he had met an obstacle.
He was alone--and, as everybody knows, a boy can have no fun alone.
Moreover, when he came to think of it, he had really done nothing and
seen nothing. He had no tale to tell the boys the next morning that
would not be met with "Then what did you do?" Close on the heels of
these impressions followed the reflection that it was a dirty trick
to play on the captain of the nine in the baseball season, that Poole
was a friend of his, and that the kidnappers belonged to a class to
which by all rules of tradition and custom his own class was to be
antagonistic. Poole's predicament appealed to his sympathy. When he
imagined the insolent delight of the captors at the success of their
raid, they seemed in some way his own enemies, striking at him. Would
the seniors find their president and bring him back? He sincerely hoped
they might.

Wally mounted his bicycle and rode homeward. As he went a great purpose
gradually swelled his heart and put force into his pedal strokes. He
left the bicycle at the usual place, but avoided the front door as too
perilous and crept in through the kitchen and up the backstairs to his
room. There he pulled on a dark jersey, slipped into his pocket the
flash lamp which Uncle Joe had given him at Christmas, and crept out by
the kitchen door again to his faithful wheel.

Ten minutes later Wally sat in his canoe, paddling vigorously up the
river. Dusk had faded into darkness, but the stars gave appreciable
light, and the river was familiar to him. He knew every turn and
shallow in the stream, every clump of bushes on the banks, every group
of trees, every leaning stump. He passed the wide mouth of Little
River, lying silent at the foot of the new Playing Field, and entered
the straight stretch beside the Park, where the tall, overhanging trees
on either side and the sluggish, murky water beneath formed a gloomy
tunnel through which the wind blew, chill and dispiriting. But Wally
was not one to be frightened by the bugaboo of darkness; the mysterious
depths had no terrors for him. His work kept him warm, despite the
wind, while the strip of stars above his head cheered with their
friendly presence. He could see, too, on the water, not clearly but
well enough to make his course; and his thoughts, set eagerly on his
destination, were unaffected by the perils of the way.

So the little craft pushed its nose steadily upward against wind and
current, while the gurgle of water from the paddle was hardly audible
above the sighing of the wind through the naked branches.

And now he was abreast of the entrance to the cove, a broad inlet
stretching deep into the woods, and crossed midway by a causeway and
bridge. Over the bridge led the forest road along which the kidnappers
had taken their victim. It came out close to the river again beyond the
next point, and Wally, fearful that hostile eyes might peer at him from
the darkness, put into practice the trick of silent paddling he had
learned the summer before,--dipping the blade vertically into the water
and lifting it cautiously at the end of the stroke. Another bend would
bring him in sight of his goal!

The sound of voices and of laughter reached his ears and set his
heart beating hard. Some one was thrashing about in the undergrowth,
sticks were being broken; as he advanced the glint of fire flashed
occasionally past the tree trunks. They were there! As he rounded the
last point, the scene was partially revealed. He worked his way still
farther along the bank to a tree which sagged over the river, affording
a protecting shadow. From here he had a satisfactory view.

They had built a fire near the bank. Some one--it looked like
Barclay--was piling fuel on. Around were standing or moving a dozen
fellows, while against a big oak in the background, standing as if
his hands were tied behind him, was Poole. The flames, flaring up
through a fresh armful of brush, threw a bright light on the faces of
those beyond, behind whose moving figures Poole's form was alternately
eclipsed and revealed. The whole scene reminded Wally of an incident in
one of his favorite Indian tales, in which young braves dance around
their camp-fire and jeer at their captive bound to a tree.

When Wally played Indians with his boy friends he always chose the
part of the white man taken captive rather than of the Indian captors.
He chose the same part now. Over behind Poole's tree was a clump of
spruces in which he and another boy had once hidden for an hour, while
the Indians vainly searched the woods all about them. A big rock was
there, with side sloping outward in an overhang and a group of young
spruces growing close against the edge. If Poole could escape like the
white captive in the story, what an elegant hiding-place lay ready at
hand! Wally slipped his moorings and let his canoe drift back around
the point. Then he made fast the painter to a root, and went cautiously
ashore.

Poole had obeyed the false summons to the telephone office without a
suspicion. Even when the elderly stranger in the hack had beckoned
to him, he had hesitated only from reluctance to waste time already
pledged to other uses, not from any fear of treachery. When, therefore,
he felt himself precipitated into the carriage, he was for the moment
too much surprised by the sudden attack to reason about the situation.
Instinctively he turned to strike back at the fellows who were amusing
themselves in this cheap way by shoving him into a carriage. As he
fell, he brought down the old man's beard, and the old man's very
muscular arms folded about him, while Milliken and Barclay came diving
in upon them both. Then when it was too late the true explanation
flashed upon him.

They held him securely pinioned, with Milliken's big hand covering
his mouth, and all three urging continuously their great regret at
being compelled to use such rough measures, the folly of any attempt
to escape or make outcry, and the wisdom of submitting calmly to the
inevitable, during the rapid but somewhat roundabout drive to the
Gilman barn. Once out of hearing of the street they stopped the hack,
got out with their burden, and took the remainder of the way on foot,
the exulting company surrounding the captive in a mock bodyguard and
paying sarcastic homage. Puzzle his brains as he would, Poole could see
no chance of escape. His only hope was that his classmates would not
wait long for his appearance.

Among the pines, while some prepared material for the fire, others
argued with the prisoner. If he would give his word not to escape,
they would leave him unbound. But Poole was not to be persuaded. He
was there by force, and force alone should keep him. He would make
no promises; they must take full responsibility for their action.
So they tied his hands behind him and fastened him to the oak tree
by a stout rope. After this they danced about the fire, and made
sarcastic comments on the course which the dinner was probably taking,
and facetiously invited him to partake of certain dishes which were
presumably being served. Soon, however, chilled by Poole's silence and
show of dignity, the kidnappers abandoned this form of baiting also,
and devoted themselves to keeping up the fire, to smoking and lively
chatter.

[Illustration: He felt the bonds that held him to the tree loosen.

_Page 231._]

A half-hour may have passed when Poole heard a low, softly repeated
hiss behind the tree, which evidently was not made by the wind. He
turned his head slightly and hissed in return. Then a low, boyish voice
which Poole did not recognize whispered: "I'm going to cut the rope;
sneak round the tree and come with me. Don't say anything."

Poole's heart leaped with joy at this sudden offer of aid, unknown
though the source; but he tried hard to make no movement and show no
change of expression. He felt the bonds that held him to the tree
loosen. He did not start, because Barclay's eyes were resting on him
from across the fire, and he wanted the advantage of the second or two
which he should gain by slipping away when the attention was elsewhere.
Presently Duncan Peck offered an impersonation of Reddy McGuffy
speaking from the floor in a debate at the Laurel Leaf. This drew all
eyes, and was accompanied by such running fire of laughter and comment
that no one noticed the slight rustle made by their prisoner as he
detached himself from the tree and crept around it.

A small boy rose before him and led the way straight through the shadow
of the tree into the deeper darkness of the woods. Poole followed
blindly, hampered by his tied hands, fearing to run lest he fall and
flounder, expecting at every step to hear behind the shout and plunge
of swift pursuers.

"We're almost there!" whispered the guide. "Hurry!"

Where _there_ was Poole had no idea, but he found out a dozen steps
farther on, for just as a frightful yell rose from the camp, his guide
suddenly whispered, "Wait a second!" and disappeared, apparently
swallowed by the earth.

But before Poole could move, a momentary flash of the pocket light
behind a rock showed him a hole toward which he threw himself and
wriggled in.

"Turn over and I'll cut the rope," the boy breathed in his ear. Poole
obeyed. "Gee, here they come!" whispered the unknown with a giggle of
joyful excitement.

The pursuers had at first flocked to the oak, hoping to find their
victim close at hand. Then for a moment they stood dazed.

"Perhaps he's up the tree," suggested Robins.

"Why, his hands are tied, you fool," retorted Milliken. "He can't climb
and he can't run; he's lying somewhere on the ground. Spread out and
find him!"

So they spread out, yelling, scolding, groping, stumbling. The
fugitives heard them brushing by. One fellow tripped over the edge of
their sheltering rock and picked himself up, muttering imprecations.
Wally strove to suppress a giggle, but Poole nerved himself for a dash
in case he was discovered. His hands were free now and he felt ready to
take any chance.

"Let's sneak for the cove bridge," whispered Poole. "We can get by them
in the woods."

"Not on your life! They've got two guys watching down there. Wait a
little longer. I've got a canoe here on the river."

"Come back! Come back!" shouted in unison a trio of wiser heads who
perceived that their search in the darkness was both useless and
dangerous. The rest came scrambling back, each demanding eagerly as he
came: "Have you got him?" "Where is he?" "Who found him?"

"Nobody's found him," said Milliken, "but we don't want to lose the
rest of you. Let him stay in the woods all night if he wants to. As
long as he don't get to the dinner, what do we care? What we've got to
do is to watch the bridge and the road from here to High Street, and
see that he doesn't sneak round us and get out."

"Why, he couldn't do it if he tried all night," said Brown. "It's a
mile round the cove, through the worst kind of woods and swamp, and
high-water too. He never could do it."

"That's what I say," replied Milliken. "If we guard the cove bridge and
the two bridges in town we've got him anyway."

The squad took the one lantern they had brought with them and marched
off to guard duty, making their first halt at the cove bridge. The
fire had died down; silence reigned under the pines. Wally crept out
to reconnoitre, and returned with the news that the coast was clear.
He thought with some uneasiness of the anxiety his absence might be
producing at home. He devoutly hoped they wouldn't worry; perhaps they
supposed he was at the library. At any rate, he was eager to get away.
Poole, of course, was no less eager.

They reached the canoe without mishap. Each took a paddle and, with the
spring current to help them, pushed rapidly down. As they slid past the
entrance to the cove they looked across and chuckled to see the gleam
of the lantern at the cove bridge.

"Let 'em stay there all night," said Poole. "I shan't trouble 'em."

A few minutes later Wally swung the bow in toward his landing and
together they carried the canoe up, turned it over, and left it for
the night. Wally took his bicycle and started for home, divided in
his mind between delight at the adventure and fear of the parental
reception which he was to face. Poole ran beside him until they reached
the Squamscott, and, when they parted, showered upon his head such
expressions of gratitude as no little townie had ever received from a
baseball captain since ever baseball captains existed.

Wally's account of his adventures was the only excuse he had to
offer for his absence to his reproachful parents. He had been over
the whole narrative once, and was explaining more in detail about
his hiding-place beside the rock, when a committee from the dining
seniors appeared and craved the pleasure of Master Wally's company at
the banquet. Mamma, of course, demurred, but Mr. Sedgwick opined that
he might as well make a night of it, and the seniors bore him away
in triumph. They planted him beside the recovered president, fed him
royally on ice cream and cake, mentioned him in their speeches, and
sent him home with a cheer at ten o'clock.

On the morrow Wally had no great appetite for breakfast, and he found
his legs somewhat heavy as he trotted down to school--but he had great
things to tell the boys!



CHAPTER XXII

A FAIR CHANCE


Patterson's resolution to pitch no more except to Owen was speedily
known in school and variously judged. Poole himself said little about
it, thinking that the pitcher's rebellious attitude was caused by a
temporary fit of discouragement which would soon pass away. Others
were less charitable, particularly Borland's friends, who declared
that Patterson was trying to shift upon Borland's shoulders the
responsibility for his own poor work. Rob, likewise disapproving,
upbraided him most frankly for disloyalty and insubordination; it was
rank treason to refuse to do what one could for the cause just because
the authorities did not select the team to suit him. Wasn't Rob himself
playing in an entirely strange position because they wanted him there?

But Pat remained politely obdurate. "I suppose I'm all wrong," he
concluded stubbornly after Rob had instructed him in his duty with
great emphasis and detail; "but if I am, it can't be helped, for I'm
going to do what I said I would and nothing else. Either you catch me
or I don't pitch. I don't see what treason there is in that. You know
you're a better catcher than Borland, now, don't you?"

"No, I don't," retorted Owen, hotly. "If I were, they'd take me without
your forcing them into it. You're just making a fool of me."

At this Patterson merely smiled and said nothing, and acted as if the
judges had given a unanimous verdict in his favor. What can you do with
a fellow who listens and grins like an idiot and won't argue, and yet
refuses to be convinced? Rob gave him up.

But neither Poole nor Lyford could forget that first game in which the
second team had so easily and so completely trounced the first. Explain
it as they might,--as a freak of chance, as due to lucky hitting by
two or three of the second, to temporary blindness of the batting eye
on the part of the first, to O'Connell's wildness,--the fact still
remained that Patterson had pitched an excellent game and might do so
again. Lyford therefore was inclined to yield a point; let Patterson
practise with Owen, if he cherished the fancy that Owen was necessary
to him. After a time they would try the pair in a game, and then, when
it was shown that Owen did no better for him than Borland had done, he
would drop the notion that he must depend on his catchers, and learn to
depend on himself. So Owen continued to catch Patterson in practice,
while Borland caught O'Connell and threw to bases; and after his
catching practice Rob would go out and try his new position at right
field.

The Dartmouth nine stopped at Seaton on its way to Boston and gave
the schoolboys a game. It was early in the season for both teams, and
neither was satisfied with the score. O'Connell was not hit hard by the
collegians, but he gave several bases on balls; and when a Dartmouth
runner got to first he had little difficulty in reaching second and
third. The college players seemed to hit at necessary times, and when
the base-runner tried to steal a base, either Borland received the ball
in bad position to throw, or the throw went high and wide; the runner
was usually safe. The Seatonians, on the other hand, though they made
nearly as many hits, were far behind in runs. Rob played at right field
and accepted one easy chance; he also satisfied the authorities by
making two hits. They were not so well satisfied with the six at the
foot of the Seaton error column, and Lyford, at least, was not blind to
the mistakes in judgment shown by the battery. But the school, which
expected defeat from the college team, criticised leniently. They felt
somewhat different two mornings later, when the papers reported the
Dartmouth-Hillbury game, which the Hillburyites all but won.

Another week of training passed. Rob occasionally relieved Borland in
throwing to bases now, and a new party had arisen on the bleachers, a
party which asked persistently, "Why doesn't Owen catch?" The party
was small, but its strength was considerably augmented by the cautious
support of the four or five players of the infield whose duty it was to
receive the catcher's throws. When Borland threw to second, he stepped
back with one foot, at the same time pulling back his arm, and with a
violent swing of arm and body drove the ball down, as if it were thrown
by a catapult. If it struck fair it struck hard, and fortunate was the
baseman if he was braced to receive it. Rob's throw was different. He
stepped forward instead of back, and his throw was with the arm alone,
a quick, hard snap which ended with the wrist forward. The ball thus
got an upward twist which lifted it just enough to counteract the force
of gravity and to keep it parallel with the ground. A throw like this
carries well and lands in the hands like a feather.

Hayes the shortstop and McPherson, who played at second, discovered
immediately this difference between the balls thrown by the two
catchers. After experience with Owen's easily taken snaps it was hard
to go back to Borland's cannon balls.

"They are twice as easy to handle as Borland's," said Hayes, as he
walked down with McPherson after the practice; "and you don't lose your
balance trying to hold 'em, either."

"And as far as I can see they travel just as fast," replied the second
baseman, "or else he gets them off a lot quicker."

Lyford and Poole also noticed Owen's throwing and recognized his skill.

"He may beat Borland out after all," said the coach.

"There's a good deal more to catching than throwing to bases," Poole
returned thoughtfully. "Borland has a lot of good points. He's a good
backstop, is sure on fouls, and doesn't rattle; and he's used to our
game. He was good last year and ought to be better this. I won't throw
him over until I find some one surely better."

"I shouldn't, either," said the coach; "though, to tell the truth, I
never thought him remarkable in inside work.[1] With green pitchers
this year, a good deal will depend on what the catcher gets out of
them."

[Footnote 1: The term applied to the catcher's strategy in directing
the pitching.]

The truth of this last remark was so obvious that no reply could be
made to it except to assent, or perhaps to add as a corollary that,
other things being equal, the best catcher was the one who could get
the most out of the pitcher. Poole was an excellent ball player and
a just captain. To put an inferior man on the nine because he was a
friend or a fraternity mate would have been impossible for him. But
Poole had a way of planning things in advance, and then trying hard
to make his plans succeed. In this he was almost obstinate. Carle and
Borland as the school battery had been an important part of his plan.
When this scheme miscarried, he had fixed on O'Connell and Borland, or
Patterson and Borland--always Borland. Owen, he had decided, should go
to right field to make a part of the heavy-hitting outfield which he
had dreamed of producing. The suggestion that Borland's strategy was
faulty did not please him, because it interfered with his plans. At the
same time, if there was some one better he wanted to know it.

"Well, let us try the other battery," said the coach, at last. And the
captain agreed.

The opportunity came soon. After the Dartmouth game O'Connell
complained of a lame arm and asked for a rest. Borland was laid off
with him. Patterson and Owen were slated for the next game.

The Fryeburg school was on the schedule for Saturday, and Poole was
eager to win the game. The year before the manager had induced this
team to come to Seaton to substitute for a nine which had been obliged
to cancel its game. In the spirit of superiority which the boys of
Seaton and Hillbury often assume toward the athletic teams of other
schools, the Seaton manager had seen fit to urge upon the Fryeburg
captain that he bring up his best team and give the Academy nine a
good game. The Fryeburger had responded by bringing up so excellent
a team, and giving the Seatonians so stiff a game, that the latter
were supremely thankful for the base on balls, the three-base hit, and
the muffed fly which yielded them their two runs to match against the
seven which the visitors achieved. Seaton doesn't easily forget that
kind of a surprise. Next to the great Hillbury contest, the climax of
the athletic year, there was no game in the schedule which captain and
school desired so ardently to win. This year these fellows must be
soundly thrashed!

To his men Poole appeared most confident as he ordered them to their
places for the opening of the game. He tried to persuade himself that
he really felt all the hopefulness he showed, but it was harder to
deceive himself than to encourage other people. If there was another
whose manner and words helped to stay the captain's courage, it was
the new catcher. Owen had long ago learned that as the catcher's
every movement is watched by the eight men before him in the field,
so his whole bearing and his work are both in a marked degree either
encouraging or discouraging to the rest of the nine. He must never show
faint-heartedness or uncertainty. He must do hard things as if they
were easy, must keep the whole play always before his eyes, direct the
pitcher, watch the base-runner, throw instantly when necessary, take
hard knocks with indifference, sprint for sudden fouls,--this and more
is involved in the work of his position; but above all and everywhere
he must have courage and inspire it.

Rob could do this because he had done it many times before, and because
he trusted his infield. He had arranged with Ames at first for the
throwing signal, with Hayes, the shortstop, and McPherson, second,
as to covering second base; they were trusty men. Patterson was in
good condition, asking nothing better than to follow the catcher's
directions. Poole had given him from his last year's note-book certain
facts about the Fryeburg hitters. It was just such an opportunity as
this that Rob had longed for. Why shouldn't he feel confidence?

The three Fryeburg batters were soon disposed of, one striking out,
one putting up a pop foul, which Durand found easy to handle, and the
third catching a wide out on the end of his bat and rolling a grounder
to Ames. When Seaton came to the bat, McPherson, perceiving that
Simms, the Fryeburg pitcher, was nervous, waited patiently and went to
first on balls; and Poole, a little later, put a clean hit over the
shortstop's head. With two men on bases things seemed promising, but
Sudbury struck out, Durand forced McPherson by a hit to third base,
and Owen, to his great disappointment, sent a long fly into the centre
fielder's hands.

In the second inning nothing was accomplished by either side. In the
third a Fryeburger got first, only to be caught napping there on the
first pitch by a sharp throw from the catcher, which called out from
the well-filled benches the clear staccato "individual" cheer, "Owen,
rah! Owen, rah! rah, rah, rah, Owen!" Rob might have appreciated the
compliment if he had not been so intent on his work. A ball close in
by a timid batsman drove him away from the plate; the next starting in
apparently the same course, curved over; the third was the swift jump
which Patterson threw as naturally as a left-hander throws an inshoot;
the fourth, a teasing slow ball which made the third strike. Then with
an easy fly to Rorbach, who was taking Owen's place in right field, the
side was out.

McPherson came to the bat again and sent a liner over second base.
Poole, who was an experienced bunter, tapped a weak bounder along the
line to third, and, being a left-hander and quick, beat the ball to
first. Sudbury struck out again. Durand drove a ball toward the second
baseman which that fielder found too hot to manage, and the bases were
full. Owen waited patiently until three balls were called, and then
cracked another out into the field between right and centre, and two
men came home. Ames hit a long fly to centre field, on which Durand
scored. Then Hayes and Patterson went meekly out.

In the first half of the fourth Fryeburg got a run on a hit and errors
by Durand and Patterson. From then until the eighth no more runs were
made. Fryeburg reached first base thrice and second but once, and
Seaton fared little better. After Larkin, the Fryeburg shortstop,
essaying to steal second, ran into the ball in McPherson's hands a good
three yards from the base, the Fryeburg base-runner clung to first if
once he reached there, and waited for some one else to help him along.
Patterson was following his catcher's signals like clockwork. Pitchers
have days when the ball works with them, and this was Patterson's day.
His jump balls really jumped; his inside ones cut the corners of the
plate; into the straight, swift balls he put a powerful body swing. The
fellows on the benches, the anxious captain, the critical coach, all
felt the spirit that prevailed, perceived that the men were playing a
game worth while, and were elated.

Then in the eighth came the events that caused the sympathetic
spectators first to grieve, then to revile their foolish optimism, and
finally in one big howl, that carried fully half a mile, to pour forth
their new emotions. It happened in this wise.

Lufkin, the first Fryeburg batsman, hit a long fly to Sudbury, who
dropped it, thus presenting the runner with a two-base hit. Morris, who
followed him, hit the ball in a low arch over third baseman's head, and
reached first. The next Fryeburger hit to Hayes, who, in overhaste,
threw home, while Lufkin stayed at third. No one out and the bases
full! Poole stamped his spikes into the ground, rubbed his bare hand
nervously into his glove, and asked himself with sinking heart whether
Patterson wasn't going up in the air.

"One ball!" cried the umpire on the next pitch. Owen walked toward
the pitcher's box and said a few words to Patterson as he tossed him
the ball at short range. Patterson nodded and went back. Owen stooped
on the plate and tied his shoe, readjusted his glove, and took his
position once more. The batsman struck, lifting the ball in a low pop
foul hardly a dozen feet above the catcher's head.

"Over your head!" shouted Patterson.

In an instant Rob had turned, flipped the mask from his head, looked up
and caught sight of the ball. It was already falling, two yards ahead
of him! He leaped, as a football player makes a flying tackle, and
clutched the falling object hardly a foot from the ground.

One out! but the three bases were still full. Patterson had calmed
down. Ross, the Fryeburg catcher, usually struck over the ball;
Patterson sent him a low one. The bat clipped the top of the ball and
drove it into Patterson's hands.

"Here!" cried Rob, standing on the plate. Patterson threw, Rob received
the ball, turned and cut it to Ames at first, where it beat the runner
by ten feet. Not till they saw Rob toss aside his mitt and Ames and
Patterson start in, did the crowd realize that Lufkin had been
forced at the plate and Ross thrown out at first. After that the game
was no longer in danger--nor the battery's reputation. In the ninth
the Seatonians made a rally and batted in four runs. So that the final
score of seven to one represented a very fair vengeance for the defeat
of the preceding year.

[Illustration: He leaped and clutched the ball hardly a foot from the
ground.--_Page 250._]



CHAPTER XXIII

A TIE GAME


Robert Owen received many attentions from enthusiastic schoolmates that
afternoon. They hovered around him while he was dressing; they dropped
in on him after he reached his room. But it was Patterson who got the
credit for the pitching performance; and Rob, you may be sure, let fall
no hint that would lessen the pitcher's glory. It was encouragement
that Pat needed to bring out the best that was in him; he was getting
it now in full measure.

But after all, the voluble flatteries of the ignorant were of little
value to Rob compared with the opinions of captain and coach. They
accosted him on his way up from the gymnasium, just where he had met
them three weeks earlier, after the game between the First and Second.

"Well, Owen," began the coach, "it was a great game you caught to-day."

Rob's modest smile and quiet "Thank you" represented but poorly the
delight he felt.

"I really was surprised at Patterson's work," went on Lyford. "I didn't
imagine he could do so well. It looked as though he was going up in the
eighth, but you pulled him down handily. You played in luck there, too,
for it isn't often that a man is forced at the plate."

"How much of that pitching did Patterson really do?" demanded Poole,
abruptly.

Rob glanced keenly at the captain. "All of it," he answered quickly.
"It was good pitching, too. The ball came right where it was wanted."

"But you ran the thing, didn't you?"

"Why, yes, in a way. When I called for a ball he put it over as
I wanted it unless he had something better. He usually took my
suggestions."

Lyford nodded agreement. "There should be but one head in a battery,"
he said, "and it's my opinion that if you've got a good, wideawake
catcher, it's better to let him do the head-work."

"We've decided to keep Rorbach at right," said Poole. "You're too
valuable a man to waste in the outfield. And you may as well go on
catching Patterson."

Rob scampered ecstatically up to his room. There is nothing like a
victory which you have worked and waited and longed for through months
of discouragement, and, finally, in spite of every obstacle, actually
won. This day's work had brought the authorities over to his side.
After this there could be no more taking for granted that the old
catcher must be the best catcher, and that experience elsewhere must be
inferior to that acquired at Seaton. Borland was on the defensive now;
if he would hold his place, he must prove his claim to it. And to do
that he must accomplish something more than make a steady backstop and
occasionally catch a man at second. Rob chuckled aloud as he recalled
Poole's question about running the pitcher. Twice only in the game had
Patterson ventured to pitch a ball different from what his catcher had
called for. One of these had been fouled close to the line; and the
other--a straight over after two strikes and a ball, which Pat had
tried in hopes of a quick strike-out--the batter had smashed to centre
field for two bases. As a strategist, Patterson could be improved
upon, but it certainly was not the catcher's business to say so,
especially as Pat had vowed that afternoon after the two-bagger that
he'd never interfere again.

Then the congratulating friends began to drop in--Lindsay, Laughlin,
Duncan Peck, Strong, Ware, Hendry, Salter. Simmons appeared in the
midst of the bustle and retired shyly into a corner, whence he looked
on at the demonstration with smiling but silent approval. He evidently
had something on his mind. Duncan Peck also showed himself unusually
subdued; and though he had that day been permitted to remove from his
door the hateful inscription "Duncan Peck, Study Hours, 8-1, 4-6, 8
P.M.--" which had adorned it these four months, he yet manifested no
exuberance of joy at his freedom.

The visitors went their ways before dinner-time, leaving to Simmons
his opportunity. "I didn't go to the game--" he began, as if about to
excuse himself for disloyalty.

"Up the river again with Payner?" asked Rob, smiling.

Simmons nodded.

"Have a good time?"

"Fine! Up the river, Payner's very different from what he is here. He's
as jolly as can be, and tells you lots of things."

"Well, what's the matter, then? What makes you look glum?"

"I'll tell you. When we got home he took me into his room to show me a
new specimen. Then he asked me what the Pecks were going to do about
the plagues, and I told him that there wasn't any change so far as I'd
heard. At that he looked fierce, and said they'd get the full number
then; they'd better look out, for he'd put them to the bad before he
got through with them. Then he asked me if I didn't want to see what
the next one was going to be. I said Yes, and he unlocked the closet
door and let me look in. What do you think I saw?"

Simmons paused and gazed at Owen with big, horrified eyes.

"Well, what was it?" demanded the ball player. "I'm not going to guess
through the whole zoölogy. Spit it out, can't you?"

"In the back of the closet was a kind of wire-levered box like a big
rat trap, and in the box was an awfully big, shiny, black snake, all
coiled up!"

"Dead?" asked Owen.

"Alive!"

"How did you know?"

"I saw it move its head, and the eyes shone, and there was food for it
sticking through the wires."

"That's about the limit!" exclaimed Rob. "What then?"

"He pulled me out and locked the door, and said, as quietly as if he
were talking about a common _bug_, that he was going to wait a day or
two and see if they were coming round. If they didn't, he'd give 'em
the snake; he didn't know how yet, but they'd surely get it. Then he
wanted me to promise not to let on about it to any one."

"Did you promise?"

Simmons straightened up. "No, I didn't," he declared proudly. "I just
let him know what I thought of him and cleared out!"

"You told Duncan about it, didn't you?" asked Rob.

"Yes; how did you know?"

"I could see it in his face when he was here a few minutes ago. You'd
better not worry over it. Payner wouldn't put a snake like that into
their room."

"Oh, yes, he would," answered Simmons, wisely, with a doleful shake of
his head. "You don't know that fellow. He's all right if you let him
alone; but when he's mad, he's terrible. Why, he doesn't care any more
for a snake like that than I do for an angleworm!"

It was nearly time for dinner, and as both preferred to be on hand at
Alumni when the doors were opened, the conversation came to an end. Rob
half resolved to have a serious talk with the Pecks that evening and
see if he could not induce them to put an end to the unseemly feud.
But after dinner he was unexpectedly called to a baseball meeting, and
after that there were two lessons to prepare; so it happened that with
his work and his natural weariness from the game, and the excitement of
his new prospects, he forgot completely the Pecks and Payner and the
snake.

But Duncan did not forget. He was thoroughly sick of the whole affair.
Of what use was it to be off study hours, if one must forever be
watching and dodging and locking up, never free from fear and never
able to placate the enemy? Why must he suffer because Don was a mule?
And the big snake! He shuddered at the thought of the coiling, crawling
thing. He began to see it in the dark corners, to hear it in the rustle
of papers on the floor. It was like a waking nightmare.

By evening he was ready for a decisive step. He went resolutely to
Payner's room and made a complete apology. Payner listened and nodded
approval. "I thought it was about time you fellows came down off your
perch," he said. "Next time perhaps you won't be in such a hurry to
roughhouse a new fellow. It's all right now as far as you've gone; but
where's the other one of you?"

"My apology will do for both, won't it?"

"No, sir!" returned Payner, with decision. "You've both got to toe the
scratch and say your little pieces, or it's no go. Two or nothing.
Send along your brother with the same story, and then mebbe I'll call
off the dogs."

"I will if I can," replied Duncan, dismally.

It was a badly discouraged lad who sneaked back to the Peck quarters
and threw himself on his couch. It was no use. Don would never
yield. He might fight, or get up a counter demonstration, but
apologize--never. Duncan lay for some time on his back, throwing his
knife into the air and catching it again. This process always had a
soothing effect. It also served to clarify his thoughts and stir his
imagination. After half an hour's practice with mind and hand, a new
idea dawned upon him.

Pocketing his knife with a slap, Duncan pulled open the closet door
and fumbled among the garments hung thick upon the crowded hooks. Yes,
there was Donald's variegated waistcoat which he had been sporting
of late, and which, in the excitement of the morning's scramble
for breakfast and chapel, he had mourned his inability to find.
Duncan stowed it away in a corner under a box, where only a thorough
overhauling of the contents of the closet could bring it to light;
then much easier in mind he took up the work of the evening.

On the next morning there was another burst of sputtering on the
part of Donald, for this time his flat-topped gray hat, adorned with
the hatband of the fraternity which he had recently joined, had
likewise disappeared. He could find it nowhere, although he stole four
minutes for the search from the short allowance for breakfast, and
notwithstanding Duncan's remarkably unselfish assistance. A cap was
near at hand, however, and taking this, Donald at length hurried over
to the dining hall, vowing to complain to Dr. Mann downstairs that Lady
Jane was swiping his things.

For two hours at least he could not execute his threat, for at eight
came Greek, and at nine Rushers' Math. Duncan, who was in the Flunkers'
section, recited an hour later, and thus was free between nine and ten.
Once the "nine o'clocks" were well under way, Duncan arrayed himself
in his brother's favorite necktie, donned the resplendent waistcoat,
fished out the flat-topped hat with its striking hatband from beneath
his bureau, and giving to the brim the rakish tilt which Donald
affected, put it carefully upon his head. Thus panoplied he rapped
confidently on Payner's door.

"I've come to see you about that room business," began Duncan, looking
down at the hat which he held in front of him, and yet in such a way
that the waistcoat was largely visible.

Payner had risen from his chair. "So you're the other one, are you?
Well, what do you want?"

"Didn't you send for me?" asked the visitor.

"No, I didn't," retorted Payner, sharply. "I said I wouldn't receive
any apology until you both came."

"Well, I'm ready to apologize," announced the Peck. "I'm very sorry we
did it."

This was a true word if Duncan had ever spoken such! His tones were
likewise sincere. Payner, who at present sought victory rather than
vengeance, and was not at heart bloodthirsty, felt immediately
mollified. "How did you happen to do it?" he asked. "I'd never done
anything to you fellows."

"Well, you see, you put the Moons wise about their room, and we thought
you'd no business to butt in. We didn't hurt the Moons any. It did them
lots of good."

"It didn't do me any good," replied Payner, significantly.

"Nor us," said Duncan, with his eyes on the floor.

There was a brief silence which the visitor found most irksome. "Is
that enough?" he asked.

"I guess so," responded Payner. "I don't believe you'll be troubled by
any more plagues."

"Thank you," said Duncan, humbly; "and I hope you won't say much about
the affair. It would be pretty tough to have all the fellows guying us."

Payner grinned. "That's a good deal to ask, but I shan't talk about it
if you don't."

Five seconds later, with the door of his own room safely closed behind
him, Duncan was laughing and capering and tossing his brother's show
hat into the air, and rolling on the couch in the gorgeous waistcoat.
Presently, however, he bethought himself that time was passing, threw
the hat under the sofa, hung the waistcoat in the closet under Donald's
light overcoat, and returned the borrowed necktie to the drawer. Then,
after resuming his regular costume, he stole forth to waylay Donald
after the latter's recitation and inform him that a hat which looked
like his was lying under the sofa, and that if he would take the
trouble to remove the top layer of garments in the closet he might find
his vest. It was with real regret that he refrained from rehearsing
certain events of the morning, but the usually appreciative twin was
the last person of whom in this case he could make a confidant.

Toward noon Duncan, who was bursting with his secret, espied Owen
coming up the stairs, and forthwith haled him into his room. "I say,
Bobby, what do you think has happened?" he demanded eagerly.

Rob glanced around the room. "Another plague, I suppose," he said,
"though I don't see any signs of it. You look pretty happy for a fellow
who's been seeing snakes."

"No snakes and no more plagues!" cried Duncan, gleefully.

"How's that?" demanded Owen.

"We've come to terms. From now on Mr. Payner and we are friends. He's a
great fellow for bugs, but when you really want help in time of need,
just call on old Odysseus!" Whereupon he slapped himself on the chest
and his visitor on the back and danced around the table. Later, after
trying to exact a pledge of secrecy, he told his story with much detail
and scroll-work; and finally he stuck his thumbs in the armholes of his
waistcoat and strutted up and down before his visitor, declaring that
if he was not as great as Cicero who saved a state, he was at least the
equal of the infant Hercules who killed a snake, and certainly greater
than Laocoön, who let the snakes do him up. The sudden arrival of
Donald threw the actor into some confusion.

An hour later Rob sat at his table staring vacantly at an open book,
and musing on the adventures of the Peck family. A knock at the door
was followed by the appearance of Payner on the threshold.

"Simmons out?" asked the caller, laconically.

"Yes," Rob replied. "What's up?"

"Oh, nothing. I just wanted to tell him he needn't worry any more about
that snake. I suppose he told you about it?" he added with a shrewd
grin.

"Yes, he did."

"I knew he would. And he told the Pecks too?"

Rob laughed but said nothing.

"Oh, he told them all right. You needn't pretend he didn't. I knew he
would, or I shouldn't have shown him the thing. I meant him to tell
them."

"You really wouldn't have put that snake in their room!" said Rob,
severely.

"Why not? It wasn't alive."

"A dead snake wouldn't be much better than a live one."

"It wasn't dead either," chuckled Payner. "It was made of an old black
necktie stuffed, with glass eyes, and its head worked with a string. I
got it up to scare the Pecks through Simmons. I knew he'd go and tell
them just as soon as he saw it, and I thought that would bring 'em
round. You see, the plague business was playing out, anyway. The last
time I tried it the housekeeper came pretty near getting on to it, and
I didn't dare take any more risks. And yet if I stopped without getting
the apology, they'd have me beaten! So I tried this scheme, and won
out. They've both apologized."

"I see," said Rob. As a matter of fact, he did not see, for he was
trying to determine for himself who had outwitted the other.

"Just tell Simmons I've given up my plan of the snake, won't you?" said
Payner, turning to go with the air of a victor. "And don't let on about
the rest of it. I shouldn't want it to get back to the Pecks."

For some seconds Rob sat looking blankly at the door through which the
self-satisfied face of Payner had just disappeared. Then he threw back
his head and laughed loud and long.



CHAPTER XXIV

MAKING READY


In the next Wednesday's game, O'Connell and Borland composed the school
battery, and on the following Saturday, Patterson and Owen. O'Connell
won his game; Patterson lost his. And none the less, after the second
game, Poole let it be definitely known that Patterson and Owen were
now considered the regular battery. This decision was not based on the
scores.

O'Connell won his game because he played against an inferior team,
whose pitcher the Seaton men could hit. Patterson lost an uphill game
against a clever pitcher whom his men could do little with, while the
Seaton players behind him failed to support him at critical moments.
O'Connell's friends maintained that the results of the two games showed
the comparative merits of the pitchers. Lyford and Poole took the
opposite view. Patterson at two several points had saved his game when
there were men on third and second with but one out. It was lost in the
seventh, after a two-base hit and an error had put men on first and
third, and another error permitted one of them to reach the home plate;
but the very play through which the game was lost enhanced Owen's
reputation. It happened thus:--

With members of the visiting team on first and third, and one man
out, Rob, who had analyzed a similar situation more than once before,
made up his mind that the man on first base would try to steal at the
earliest opportunity; first, because against a school team like Seaton
there was more than an even chance that a double steal would rattle
the catcher and bring in a run; secondly, because a single with men
on second and third would yield two runs, while if the man remained
at first it would score but one. So Rob signalled to his infield, and
called on Patterson for a wide, unreachable out. The ball came true,
while the runner on first started hard down, and Rob snapped in a
straight line for second, which Hayes ran to cover; but McPherson, who
had his eye on the runner at third, seeing him start for home, ran in
behind Patterson, cut off Owen's throw to second, and shot the ball
back home. So far the play had been perfectly carried out.

Unhappily, however, its very perfection interfered with its success.
Rob and McPherson had done their work so rapidly that the base-runner
was only about halfway between third and home when Rob received
the ball at the plate. The runner stopped and turned back. Rob ran
down toward him and threw to Durand. The man doubled again, and
Durand--trusty, capable, but over-eager Durand--returned the ball
about a foot above Owen's reach, while Patterson, who should have been
backing up the catcher in the line behind, stood halfway over from his
box gazing fascinated at the play.

So at the same time the game was lost and the catcher glorified--at
least in the eyes of those who knew what it meant to have a man behind
the bat who could keep the game in hand, recognize opportunities when
they came, and perform his part in the plays. Poole and Lyford belonged
to this number, and most of the members of the nine. Poole was
inclined to be obstinate, and he disliked to be proved wrong; but when
once satisfied that he was wrong, he turned promptly and finally about.
From this time forth there was no more uncertainty about the catcher in
Poole's mind. He was for Owen through and through, without wavering or
question. Borland must give way to a better man.

But there were many who could not follow the captain in his change of
view; who, in fact, could see no sufficient reason why the old catcher
who had proved himself competent should be laid aside for a new man.
The "inside work" of a catcher is not apparent to the occupants of the
bleachers; they cannot measure accurately the comparative merits of two
men playing in different games; they do not count assists. When Borland
made his three-base hit in a game in which his battery played, his
friends made sarcastic comment: "That's the man who couldn't hit well
enough for the First!" When in the next game Patterson pitched an in
instead of the out that was called for, and Owen, after losing time in
getting the ball still tried to catch the runner at second, and sent a
short bound at McPherson's toes, the same critics added: "--and that's
the star thrower who put poor Jack out of play. The old man could do
better than that with his eyes shut!" These, let it be understood, were
Borland's friends. Borland himself never said a word.

The Hillbury game drew on apace, and the nine settled to its work.
The play was improving; the infield was coming, quick and true, the
men trusting each other and working well together under the catcher's
direction. Patterson had learned to value himself aright. Throughout
the school the doubters had grown fewer as the days went by. Poole
paid no attention at all to them, but Rob knew of their existence and
understood full well how their number would be suddenly multiplied by
ten if he should disappoint the hopes of the school in the great game.
To lose a Hillbury game is a calamity; the single man who loses it by a
single error is unforgivable.

And yet to win under the circumstances seemed more than the school had
a right to expect. There had never been a poor nine in Hillbury since
school nines began to be. This year the blue team was largely veteran,
with the identical pitcher who had last year mown down the Seaton
hitters as a well-aimed bowling ball clears away the pins from their
triangle. The scores of the nines which had played with the two school
teams compared unfavorably for Poole's team. Patterson, a mere green
apprentice, was a wholly uncertain quantity. Such considerations fairly
weighed gave little promise to the Seatonians; but in the Seaton breast
hope springs eternal, and a game may always be won until it is actually
lost.

A week before the game, the whole school journeyed to Hillbury for the
track meet. Before the contests both sides had counted probabilities.
According to Seaton reckoning, if Rohrer beat Royce in the high
hurdles, and Benton won the half mile, and Laughlin and Lindsay took
seven out of eight points in the shot-put, Seaton would have twelve
points to spare. By Hillbury count, only accidents could keep the blue
from beating the red by at least twenty. Each side regarded the results
as ominous for the more important contest of the following Saturday.

And that was why Seaton took the defeat so to heart. Rohrer did beat
Royce in the hurdles, and Laughlin and Lindsay won their seven points;
but there were unexpected offsets, and Benton did not even get a place
in the half-mile. Six points is not a bad defeat, but any defeat is bad
when you expect victory. If omens counted, the ball game was as good as
lost.

But Owen's hopes never wavered. He had seen hard games before, games
which he had won and games which he had lost; and never had he felt
such a spirit of keenness and unity as animated this raw Seaton nine.
If Hillbury beat them, Hillbury must play good ball, far better ball
than any team which had come that season to Seaton. If only Patterson
kept up!

On the Friday before the great day, as the decorations were blossoming
out on the houses, and in recitations the game was crowding the lesson
matter hard for possession of the minds of the pupils, Poole and Owen
were hailed from across the street by Wally.

"Hello, Wally," called Poole, "come over here!"

The boy hastened across.

"Could you get us the seats?" asked Wally.

"Only two," said Poole, "and you'll have to let your father and sister
have those."

Wally's countenance fell.

"But as you helped me out of a scrape once, I'm going to pay you back.
I'm going to let you have a seat on the players' bench."

"On the players' bench!" cried the delighted lad. "Great Scott! do you
mean it?"

Poole laughed and nodded.

"You've got to bring us luck," said Owen.

"Oh, I will," returned the boy, "but you don't need it. You're going to
win anyway. I've got my red fire all ready."

"I wish I felt as he does," said Poole, as the boy scampered across the
street to inform his friends of his good fortune.

"I do," replied Owen, promptly.



CHAPTER XXV

AS WALLY SAW IT


Proud as a king, and happy as a king rarely is, Wally sat on the
players' bench and stared at the throngs pouring in through the
entrances and flooding the seats. On the fence over by the woods,
like sparrows crowded close on a telegraph wire, was strung a line
of twittering and jostling youngsters, let in by a wise manager who
preferred to have them safely quiet inside rather than uproariously
disorderly without. And every one of the shrill flock sooner or later
fastened his eyes on Wally and demanded the reason for their comrade's
elevation to the company of the gods.

Such a question must, of course, be answered. Whether the answer is
correct or not is of minor consequence. Some said Wally was a mascot;
others that Poole was sweet on his sister; while still others were able
to give melodramatic accounts of Wally's rescue of the captain from
the desperate gang of upper middlers who had "pinched" him. While the
argument on these points was going forward, the advance scouts of the
fence brigade discovered signs of the arrival of the nines, and Skinny
Flick, waving his tattered cap, led a high-pitched imitation of the
long Seaton cheer, weirdly shrill and yet true and even and united.

"How can those little boys do it so well?" asked Margaret Sedgwick,
amused at the unexpected prelude.

"Practised it, I suppose," replied Mr. Sedgwick, indifferently.

And Wally not being on hand to set forth the true relations of things,
Miss Margaret accepted her father's explanation, and gave the soprano
cheerers full credit for patriotic forethought. As a matter of fact
their facility had been as unconsciously acquired as the street ragtime
which a dignified adult is shocked to find himself whistling. The
Seaton urchin begins to hear the school cheers as soon as his legs
are strong enough to take him where students gather or heroes battle.
Classes pass before him as the generations of men before the aged
Nestor. There were boys on that fence who could already have repeated
the Seaton battle cries when fellows who were now leaders of elevens
and nines in Yale and Harvard and Princeton and Dartmouth had just set
foot in the Seaton streets. The gamin's term of instruction is long; so
the cheer from the fence had the true ring.

It was likewise well timed. A minute later the four cheer-leaders on
the Seaton side were swinging their arms and swaying their bodies in
a convulsion of energy, as they led in the first great welcome to
their team; while at the heels of the Seaton players came the Hillbury
nine, waking into enthusiasm the whole solid phalanx of blue. And here
unquestionably was the first evil omen for Seaton hopes. Every Hillbury
student produced a megaphone and turned it toward the Seaton side; the
volume of Hillbury's cheer was multiplied by three. What a handicap!
What a depressing evidence of Hillbury superiority!

But something more than noise was necessary to depress Wally; his
optimism was not to be extinguished by megaphones. The Seaton players
went out for their preliminary practice. Lyford batted to the
outfield, Borland to the in-; Rob stood at the plate, caught the
returns, and joined in the cross-diamond throwing. Lyford was directing
the practice, but even Wally could see how the infield followed the
catcher's leading and instinctively looked for his suggestion. Nor was
this remarkable. The players were feeling the strain of the situation.
Sudbury had just missed an easy fly that he ought to have held; Hayes
had made a bad mess of a grounder; Durand had sent a ball to first
that had defied Ames's long reach. Nervousness was in the air, but
Owen stood smiling and steady, taking the balls with an easy grace
that had in it no sign of ostentation, throwing straight and swift,
cheering into confidence by his very presence and attitude. "We've
got an awfully good catcher, anyway," thought Wally, proudly, as he
squirmed on the seat and tried at the same time to watch all the Seaton
fielders, and the Hillbury players tossing the ball to and fro near
their bench, and the two captains talking with the umpire.

Presently Hillbury took the field and Wally now had a harder task, for
there were the Hillbury men to be observed and compared with their
predecessors, while Patterson was warming up with Owen over by the
backstop, and must have sympathetic attention. Rob had borrowed Ames's
mitt to use as a plate, and over this Patterson was pitching, unsteady
at first with the tension of the strange conditions, but soon settling
down under Owen's soothing guidance. When Rob found that his pitcher
had himself sufficiently in hand to be able to place the ball pretty
accurately over one side of the mitt or the other, he called to him to
stop.

"You're all right, Pat!" he declared, dropping his arm on his
companion's shoulder as they walked back to join their mates on the
bench. "It's all there; you'll pitch your best game to-day. Don't hurry
now, and don't worry; and don't forget to back up first whenever you
can get over there."

Patterson nodded; there was nothing for him to say. He was content to
leave the results in Owen's hands.

"We go out!" announced Poole, coming up with a smile on his face. "All
ready, Pat?"

Patterson gave a sign of assent. "Yes, he's ready," said Owen. "Here's
your mitt, Ames. This is one of the days when we can cut it every time."

The Hillbury players came in, the Seatonians scattered to their
positions. The supporters cheered for their school and their captain;
then for the captain of the other team. 'Tis a fine custom of the
Seaton-Hillbury rivalry which the colleges might well imitate. The
Hillbury megaphones bellowed a response. The umpire threw down a new
white ball which Patterson coolly scrubbed in the dirt outside the box,
while Michael, the head of the Hillbury batting list, took his place by
the plate. The game was on!

Owen crouched and signalled with his fingers between his knees.
Patterson answered with an out that threatened to strike Michael on
the shoulder, but swung in over the inside of the plate. The batsman
stepped back and the umpire called a strike. The next one was high and
wide and out of reach; Michael did not bite. One ball! For the third
effort Patterson stepped to the left and threw a swift one that cut the
inside corner of the plate at an angle--or would have cut it, if it
had been allowed to take its course. Michael struck at it and knocked
it into Patterson's hands. Long Ames had the ball before Michael was
halfway down the line.

Hood, the Hillbury shortstop, who had been standing by, swinging two
bats like a professional, now strode up, thumped the ground with his
chosen stick, and looked valiantly at the pitcher. The first ball, a
drop, he struck at and fouled. The second he misjudged and let go by.
"Strike Two!" The third and fourth were tempters which he resisted.
Then came one which he fancied. With sudden impulse he struck hard at
it, but even as he struck, the ball slammed in Owen's trusty mitt.

A strike out! Two men gone! The Seaton cheer-leaders were busy again,
and with contorted faces and fierce arm swings goaded on their company
of howlers. Hillbury answered with a blast of megaphones, as Coy, their
centre fielder, appeared at the plate. The first ball pitched appealed
to him; he struck at it and sent a low bounder toward third. For just
an instant Durand juggled it and then threw straight to Ames, but Coy
was fast and the umpire called him safe.

Kleindienst, the Hillbury captain, came up, eager to make a hit that
would help the runner round the bases. Thanks to Poole's note-book, and
information gathered from many sources, Owen knew what to call for.
The first pitch was a swift breast-high ball off the inner corner of
the plate; Kleindienst smote and smote in vain. "Now Coy will steal,"
thought Rob, and signalled for an out. Coy did steal and Kleindienst
tried to hit at the same time, but all he succeeded in accomplishing
was to catch the ball on the end of his bat and drive it in easy bounds
to Ames, making the third out.

"You've got to get a hit, Mac," said Poole, as McPherson picked up his
bat. "Don't bite at the teasers. Make 'em put 'em over!"

Now McPherson meant to do that very thing, but the first one was so
plausible that even though it wasn't just what he wanted, McPherson
could not resist the temptation to try it. The result was a pop foul
that Kleindienst gathered in off third base.

Poole was second on the list, and Poole waited; one ball! two balls! a
foul! three balls! two strikes! At the next Poole dropped his bat and
started for first, and the umpire did not say him nay.

And now it was Owen's turn to face O'Brien, and he tried to sacrifice,
but the bunt rolled over the line, and his attempt came to naught.
O'Brien was careful now, and gave him high balls that he could not
bunt, and kept them well out of his reach. Two had been called balls
and one a strike, when Rob's chance came. The ball was a trifle too
far in, but he drew back a little as he struck, and drove a liner over
second baseman's head out into the ground between centre and right.
Poole went to third, and Rob was safe at second.

It was Rorbach's turn. He knew what he was expected to do without the
spur implied in the sudden roar of greeting from the benches, followed
by tense, expectant silence. O'Brien sought to work him with seductive
outs, but Rorbach waited. Three balls and one strike brought the
pitcher to reason; he couldn't afford to pass a man with two on bases.
So Rorbach got one where he could hit it, and lifted the ball in a
splendid long arch far out into right field. The cheer-leaders caught
their breath and, forgetful of their duties, silently watched it fly.
Was it a home run? It would have been if some one else than Furness had
guarded the Hillbury right field. Furness started almost as soon as the
ball, and racing backward toward the fence, turned as the ball was just
going over his head and pulled it down. Rorbach was out, but Poole came
home easily on the throw-in, and Owen wisely paused at third.

Long Ames now appeared at the plate, brandishing his bat in the clumsy
fashion which had aroused so much merriment along the benches in that
first game of the season. No one made merry over it to-day. The anxious
Hillburyites thought only of the possibility of another hit, while
the Seatonians' hopes now hung on the derided man's bat. And Ames,
who cared nothing whether they derided or not, fixed his eyes on the
pitcher and waited. One he let go by without offering at it; the second
he fouled; the next proved a second ball, the fourth another strike.
Still he waited, clutching his bat a hand's-breadth from the end, with
his lank figure bent awkwardly forward toward the plate. The fifth
pitch was to his liking; with a short, quick stroke he chopped the ball
in a safe little liner over third baseman's head, and galloped away to
first, while Owen gleefully trotted home. Then Durand went out on an
infield hit, and the first inning was over.

Such luck, of course, could not last, but the exhilaration engendered
by these two runs carried the Seaton players safely through several
innings. The second, with the tail-end of the list at bat on either
side, was quickly over. In the third Poole led off with a hit, reaching
second on an error, but got no farther. In the fourth sprinter Coy got
to first on balls, but was thrown out by two yards when he tried to
steal second; and the Hillbury captain, after making a clean hit, was
forced at second by Webster's unlucky drive to Hayes, which resulted
in a double play. By this time O'Brien had settled down into his best
gait, and his best Poole's company found far too good.

On the other hand, Hillbury seemed to be finding Patterson less
puzzling. The Seaton fielders had work a-plenty. In the sixth Poole
ran far back for a long fly from Michael's bat, cutting off what to the
uproarious rooters on the Hillbury side seemed surely a three-base hit;
and Hood's hard liner, that promised almost as much, was gloriously
taken just inside third by Durand. The third Hillburyite hit over
Ames's head, and reached second only to be left there when his
successor was retired on a foul fly. The Seatonians in their turn went
tamely out in order; not a single one reached first.

A thrill of apprehension passed through the ranks of red and gray
as Webster opened the seventh with a slow grounder to Hayes, which
the Seaton shortstop fumbled. Two runs are not great margin when a
heavy-hitting team opens up on a pitcher, especially if that pitcher
be, like Patterson, comparatively inexperienced. A couple of good
hits, with an error or two and a base on balls, would quickly wipe
out the slight advantage. Only steady playing and the steadiest kind
of pitching could save the game, if the Hillbury sluggers showed
themselves at all equal to their reputation. So thought many a timid
Seaton sympathizer, whose hopes of victory had been excited by the
success of the first inning. Wally was not of these doubters. He knew
full well that a man who reaches first does not necessarily reach
second or third. Webster was at first; the only question was how and
where he was to be stopped.

Now Wally did not see Owen signal to Ames, nor recognize the object of
the swift, wide ball which Patterson next threw; but he did see Owen's
arm come back like a spring and snap instantly forward; he likewise
saw Ames gather in the ball and swing with it suddenly on Webster, who
was leaping back to first; and he understood well the gesture by which
the umpire called Webster in. The Seaton crowd shouted with unexpected
joy, but Wally's surprise was only partial; he had expected to see the
runner thrown out at second.

Then Ribot struck under one of Patterson's jumps and sent the ball far
up in the air. Rob snatched off his mask and watched the returning
sphere, relieved to see it descending on McPherson's side of second.
Ribot was out, and O'Brien brought the inning to a close by giving
Durand a chance at another pop fly.

The Seaton hitters had no better luck. Hayes got his base on balls, but
Patterson forced him at second, and was himself put out on the play,
while McPherson flied out. Here was little encouragement for those who
looked for more Seaton runs!

Furness started the eighth with a drive past second, which by bounding
over Sudbury's shoulder enabled the runner to make two bases. Rounds,
the last man of the Hillbury list, was counted an easy victim, but
instead of striking out as he was expected to do, he hit the ball over
Durand's head. Poole got it back in season to cut off any attempt at
crossing the plate, but the awful fact remained that with only two runs
needed to tie the score, Hillbury had men on first and third, with
no one out and the heavy hitters coming on. A double now would bring
in two men. Even Wally acknowledged to himself that he did not see
how they were going to get out of that hole, while the dubious on the
Seaton benches were sadly thinking that the game was lost. The fatal
eighth was here!

A ball! two balls! Then Michael's bat cracked and the ball shot toward
Hayes, struck well, and bounded into his hands. He gave but a glance
at third--where Furness was lingering, hoping to draw a hasty throw to
the plate, and so get Michael safely to first--then threw to McPherson,
who had covered second. Rounds was thus forced out. Meantime Furness
had made a late start for home, trusting to McPherson's slowness and
probable confusion. But McPherson, who was neither slow nor confused,
sent the ball directly to the plate, where Owen received it safely.
Furness, while still ten feet away, stopped and wheeled about; but Owen
ran him down, then turned sharply, steadied himself, and drove the
ball with all his strength to McPherson. Michael had passed first on
the plays and was sliding into second; the ball in McPherson's hands
touched him before he reached the base.

In a fraction of a minute it was all over. The umpire was signalling to
Michael that he was out; Poole and Rorbach had started in from their
positions; Owen was unbuckling his protector. Still Patterson stood and
stared, unable to believe that his rescue was complete. And then, like
the explosion set off by an electric spark, the audience waked to the
situation. The whole Seaton company rose _en masse_, waving arms and
hats and banners, and sent forth a formless, exultant roar; while the
recreant cheer-leaders turned their backs on their chorus and danced
frantic jigs before the benches.

So ended the first half of the eighth, with the score two to nothing.
The Seatonians were soon disposed of. Poole, over-eager, struck out.
Owen hit to O'Brien and was thrown out at first. Rorbach made a pretty
single into centre field, but came to grief when he tried to stretch it
into a two-bagger. Hillbury came in for the last trial!

"Only three outs!" thought Wally, complacently. "Only three outs now!"
ran the whisper along the Seaton benches, but expressed in timid
hope rather than in confidence. Runs might precede those outs; these
Hillbury men could not forever be checked on the bases. The courage
rose when Hood sent Durand an easy chance, and was out at first. Then
Coy bunted safely, and took second when Patterson threw wide to Ames.
Kleindienst hit to Patterson, and was put out at first, while Coy was
held on second. Two out, but a man on second! The spectators drew
labored breaths; the cheer-leaders on either side, fearing to add to
the strain upon their champions, hung silent on the scene before them.

Webster, after two balls and two strikes, caught one on the end of
his bat and sent it just out of Hayes's reach. On this scratch hit
Coy was advanced to third. Again men on first and third, this time
with two out! Ribot was at bat, nerved and resolute; and Rob felt a
dread--almost a conviction--that a ball within his reach would be hit
safely. On the other hand, in the desperate situation in which Hillbury
stood, Webster was bound to steal, so as to make two runs possible in
case of a hit. Patterson waited for his catcher's signal. The game
hinged on Owen's decision. An error in judgment, a fault in execution,
and the peril which had been warded off for nine long innings would be
upon them. A tie at this stage, Rob knew, would mean defeat.

He called for a swift, wide ball. Webster feinted a start, hoping to
draw a useless throw to second that would let Coy in. Rob hesitated,
took a step forward, and pretended to throw; then wheeled and sent the
ball to Durand. Coy was nailed as he scrambled back to the base--and
the game was won.

The score:--

Seaton

                         ab  r bh po  a  e
  McPherson, 2 b          4  0  1  4  3  0
  Poole, lf               3  1  2  2  0  0
  Owen, c                 4  1  1  4  4  0
  Rorbach, rf             4  0  1  1  0  0
  Ames, 1 b               3  0  1 10  0  0
  Durand, 3 b             3  0  1  4  1  1
  Sudbury, cf             3  0  0  1  0  0
  Hayes, ss               2  0  0  1  3  1
  Patterson, p            3  0  0  0  3  1
                         -- -- -- -- -- --
         Totals          29  2  7 27  14 3

Hillbury

                         ab  r bh po  a  e
  Michael, lf             4  0  0  1  0  0
  Hood, ss                4  0  0  2  3  0
  Coy, cf                 3  0  2  1  1  0
  Kleindienst, 3 b        4  0  0  1  2  1
  Webster, 1 b            4  0  3 11  0  0
  Ribot, c                3  0  0  4  0  0
  O'Brien, p              3  0  0  1  3  0
  Furness, rf             3  0  1  1  0  0
  Rounds, 2 b             3  0  1  2  2  1
                         -- -- -- -- -- --
         Totals          31  0  7 24 11  2

  Seaton              2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0  --2
  Hillbury            0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0--0



CHAPTER XXVI

RECOGNITION


Was there a celebration?

Ask Wally Sedgwick, who ought to be able to furnish a detailed account
of it, for he followed the procession from its formation, and having
stayed out an hour longer than the time set in the parental permission
was in consequence compelled to go to bed at seven every day during the
following week. He didn't complain; it was inconvenient, of course;
but, after all, the celebration was worth it.

Rob saw three of the newspaper accounts of the game. The first paper,
which had previously predicted an easy victory for Hillbury, declared
that Seaton played in great luck, "bunching hits for tallies and being
helped out of several deep holes by stupid Hillbury base-running." The
second asserted that the victory was due to "Patterson's steadiness
and the fine all-round work of the Seaton infield, in which McPherson
was the bright and particular star." The third, after commenting on
the fact that Hillbury men were frequently on bases but seemed unable
to get round to the home plate, added: "Patterson showed himself, if
not a great pitcher, at least one who can use his head as well as his
arm. Men on bases never fazed him; the more there were, the better he
pitched. Coach Lyford deserves great credit for the excellent team
work. Owen threw well to bases."

Owen threw well to bases! And only one paper had discovered that! Rob
laughed scornfully as he tossed the papers down. So this trifling
mention was all the glory his achievement was to yield him. For a
moment he felt hurt--but only for a moment. Soon his good sense and
natural modesty reasserted themselves. He had not sought glory; he had
not striven to display himself. His ambition had been first to help win
the game for Seaton and then to vindicate himself as against Borland.
Both these objects had been attained; what more could he fairly ask?
Poole and Patterson and Lyford evidently appreciated his work; his
friends and acquaintances, from Lindsay and Laughlin down through a
whole range to the Pecks and the Moons and even Payner, had all, in
one form or another, expressed to him their admiration. That ought to
satisfy him.

"Who's going to be captain next year, Rob?" asked Simmons, a few days
afterward.

"I don't know yet--probably McPherson. He's been two years on the nine,
and after that bully game he put up on Saturday, he deserves it."

"The fellows were saying it would be McPherson," said Simmons, looking
up into Rob's face with an expression of keen regret. "I was hoping
you'd get it. You know so much about the game, and have helped them all
so."

Rob flushed. The suggestion touched him in a sensitive spot.
"Nonsense!" he retorted sharply. "What put that idea into your head?
I'm no better than any one else. For heaven's sake don't suggest that
to any one outside; they'd think it came from me."

On his way over to the baseball meeting that afternoon Rob was waylaid
by Laughlin and Ware who insisted that they had something important to
say to him.

"Well, what is it?" demanded Rob.

"You're coming back next year, aren't you?" asked Ware.

"Of course, if they'll let me," Owen replied in a tone of surprise.
"Why?"

"We were just talking about the prospects of the teams for next year,"
said Ware, smiling shrewdly. "When our class goes, there'll be a pretty
big hole to fill."

"Oh, a few poor sticks will be left," Owen observed sarcastically. "In
baseball McPherson and Ames and Patterson and I form quite a bunch.
Then there's Hendry and Milliken and Buist as a foundation for the
eleven. They're about as good as you find 'em. Rohrer and Wolfe are
pretty respectable left-overs for the track. If any one can get new
material out, Rohrer can. We might be worse off."

"That's a fact," nodded Laughlin. "You've got two good captains in
Hendry and Rohrer anyway."

"And McPherson will be just as good," added Rob, promptly. "That makes
three."

"Yes, that makes three," repeated Laughlin, with a look of amusement
stealing over his broad face. "Only I'm not so sure about McPherson."

"Well, the baseball men are, and we ought to know," retorted Rob.
"What's this important thing you wanted to tell me?" he added, turning
on Ware.

Ware grinned across at Laughlin. "What was it, Dave? I can't think, can
you?"

"I'm sure I don't know," replied the football man.

"Here! let me through!" commanded Rob, who now perceived that the pair
were holding him up for their own amusement. "I'm ten minutes late for
the meeting already." And he charged past the two triflers toward the
room at the end of the corridor.

"You're late!" declared Poole, as Rob opened the door of Number 7. "The
election's over."

"I'm sorry. Dave and Ware tackled me outside and wouldn't let me by."

"Your vote wouldn't have been any use, anyway," remarked Durand. "It
was a unanimous vote."

"All right, then," said Rob, looking round at the row of smiling faces.
He didn't see why they should all grin so and stare at him. "I'm with
the rest."

"Glad to hear it," said Poole, with a wink at his neighbor. "Here's the
result."

Rob took the slip of paper and read with a thrill of astonishment and
joy that for a few seconds deprived him of the power of speech:--

"Unanimous choice for Captain of the Nine--Robert Owen."

And here we leave our embarrassed catcher vainly struggling for fitting
words in which to express his gratitude. His experiences as a Seaton
senior, with the vicissitudes of the captains three, are recorded in
the chronicles of "The Great Year."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With Mask and Mitt" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home