E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
The Grammar School Boys in Summer Athletics
or, Dick & Co. Make Their Fame Secure
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. A Jolt on a Quiet Day II. The Vanishing Man III. Dick Marches His Nine On IV. The Story of the Uniforms V. North Grammars Play Real Ball VI. Setting With a Teaser VII. Ted Teall Faces the Storm VIII. Two Rivals Plan Dire Revenge IX. Hi Martin Tries to Make Terms X. "Babbling Butt-in" XI. Ted Feels the Flare-Back XII. The North Grammar Captain Grilled XIII. "Big Injun—-Heap Big Noise" XIV. "Crazy as a Porous Plaster" XV. Bluffing Up to the Bug Game XVI. "Ted's Terrors" Full of Fight XVII. Dodge and Ripley Hear Something XVIII. Hi's Swimming Challenge XIX. Dave Darrin Flashes Fire XX. Arranging the Swimming Match XXI. Old Dut Gives Wise Counsel XXII. Hi Hears Something Elevating XXIII. Who Won the Swimming Matches? XXIV. Conclusion
A JOLT ON A QUIET DAY
"There's just one thing that I keep thinking about on a day like this," Dave Darrin sighed contentedly.
"What's that?" Tom Reade wanted to know. "Supper?"
Darrin turned, favoring Reade with a flash of disgust from his large, dark eyes.
"I'm still waiting for the information," insisted Tom after a short pause.
"You may as well wait," retorted Dave. "You wouldn't understand what I feel, anyway. Any fellow who can keep his mind on supper, on a grand June day like this——-"
"I imagine that you'll keep your mind on the meal when you reach the table," predicted Tom, grinning.
"That'll be time enough," Dave rejoined. "But I'm not going to profane the woods, on a perfect June day, by thinking of kitchen odors."
"Say, aren't you feeling well?" asked Tom gravely.
"That's just the point, I guess," broke in Dick Prescott, with a light laugh. "Dave is feeling so extremely well and happy——-"
"Now, you're shouting," Darrin assented. "But it's no use for poor Reade to ponder over the glories of nature. All he can think of is the region bounded by his belt."
"Glories of nature?" repeated Reade. "If that's what you're talking about, why didn't you announce your subject earlier? Yes, sir; nature is at her greenest best to-day. Just look off through that line of trees, and see how the light breeze moves the tops in that field of young corn, and——-"
"Corn?" flared Dave. "Something to eat, of course! Tom, you're hopeless when it comes to the finer things of life. You ought to have been born in a pen, close to a well-filled trough. Corn, indeed!"
"This country would probably be bankrupt if there were no corn crop, and you'd be digging hard for a living, instead of being a lazy schoolboy," retorted Reade, with an indulgent smile. "Let me see; how many hundred million dollars did Old Dut tell us the annual corn crop brings in wealth to this country?"
All of the other boys, save Dave, glanced at Tom, but all shook their heads. Statistics do not mix well in a Grammar School boy's head.
"Oh, well, it was a lot of money, anyway," Tom pursued his subject. "I wouldn't mind having all the money that the American corn crop brings."
"So you could buy the fanciest kinds of food, I suppose?" jeered Dave Darrin.
"Never mind, Darry; if I had a lot of money I'd buy you the biggest and softest mattress I could find, so that you'd have nothing to do but lie off by yourself, look up at the green leaves and dream your summers away. That lying on your back and looking up at the sky is what you call reverie, isn't it?"
"Quit your kidding!" ordered Dave.
"Is it reverie?" asked Harry Hazelton, "or just plain laziness that ails Dave?"
"Laziness, of course," laughed Tom. "Dave, I guess Harry has more sense in naming things than any of us. Yes; that's it! And Dick thought it was merely poetic temperament."
"Temperament? What's that?" grinned Dan Dalzell. "Is that what you get in June by adding up the column of figures in the thermometer?"
To signify his lack of interest in the talk, Darrin rolled over on his side, turning his gaze away from the other boys. In another minute Dave's eyes were closed, his lips open and his breath coming regularly and audibly.
Such was the droning effect of the warm June breezes on this glorious afternoon.
"Give Dave the chorus of 'He Was the Sleepiest Boy,'" whispered Greg to the others. "Put a lot of steam into every line!"
At a sign from young Holmes the drowsy chorus rolled out, punctuated by timely yawns.
Darry rolled over, yawning, too, an easy-going smile on his face.
"Greg," he charged, "I'm certain that you put the crowd up to that outrage. When I summon up energy enough I'm going to thrash you."
"All right," agreed Greg, "I'll take boxing lessons within a year or two, so as to be prepared for you."
"I wish this were to-morrow afternoon," grumbled Harry Hazelton.
"I'm glad it's to-day," sighed Dave easily.
"But to-morrow will be Monday, and we can play baseball."
"And just because to-morrow will be Monday," retorted Dave, "Old Dut will expect us to bring in those fifteen examples in insurance."
"We'll be all past that, by afternoon," Dan broke in. "Then, as soon as the bell rings to dismiss school, we'll all pile outside and have a ripping practice on the diamond."
"Yes; we'll have to get a lot of practice," Dick assented. "Otherwise, you know, the North Grammar will just wipe up the field with us Wednesday afternoon."
"The North Grammar!" sniffed Greg scornfully. "Hi Martin's crowd? Huh!"
"Those North Grammar boys have been practising," Dick insisted. "Hard work is what tells in athletics."
"Well, hang it, didn't you keep us running all through the spring?" demanded Dalzell. "Didn't you say that would put us away at the top in Grammar School baseball?"
"It will help us a long way," assented Dick. "Yet it won't do everything. Each of us has to be as nearly perfect as possible in the position that he has to play. That's why we really need a lot more practice than we've had on the real field."
"The worst of it is" suggested Tom, "that we've got all of the best players in the school on our regular nine, and the scrub nine isn't made up of fellows who can really give us any work."
"Don't croak, Dick," begged Dave. "This day is too perfect to have it spoiled by any calamity howling."
Presently Darrin rolled over on his side once more. Greg took a peep, became suspicious, and started to hum:
"He was the Sleepiest Boy."
Smack! came a small sod, with which Dave had slyly provided himself in advance.
"Ugh! Gr-r-r-r!" sputtered young Holmes, leaping to his feet and spitting out the stuff from his mouth. It was mostly the grass side of the sod that had struck his teeth, but a little of the loam had gone in with it.
"Good enough for me, I suppose," grimaced Greg, seating himself once more when he had cleaned his mouth fairly well. Dave, who had turned over to grin at Greg, soon rolled back to his old posture on the grass.
Greg, however, was not disposed to let the matter pass as easily as the others imagined. Shortly Holmesy jumped astride of Dave and rolled that youth over on to his back.
"I didn't eat all of the sod," young Holmes announced. "You may have the rest, Darry. How does it taste?"
Dave shut his mouth tightly, but Greg held his nostrils. The instant that Darrin opened his mouth for air Holmes rammed in the piece of sod. Then he jumped up, retreating.
It was now Dave's turn to jump up and work vigorously getting the stuff out of his month.
"Tastes immense, doesn't it, Dave?" called Holmes tantalizingly.
No answer in words came from Darrin, but he suddenly wheeled, charging straight at Greg. Doubtless the latter would have gotten out of the way safely, but that Dick thrust out a foot, tripping Dave as he bounded by.
Darrin came down upon his knees. The hotheaded youth was now very close to being angry in earnest.
"Hold up, Dave!" Prescott advised. "You started it, you know. You will have to show that a joke is just as funny whether it's going or coming."
"That's right, old chap," agreed Dave, halting and beginning to cool. "Greg, come here and shake hands."
"You shake hands with Tom," Holmes retorted suspiciously. "I appoint Tom my substitute, with full powers."
"I'd sooner fight Tom than you," mused Dave, gazing down at Reade, who did not appear to be very much disturbed. "Tom is the fellow who's always bringing his appetite along on the finest days that heaven has sent us."
Dick Prescott lazily drew out his watch and glanced at it. Then he rose, remarking:
"You may stay here and get all the comfort you can out of nature, Dave. But it's half past five and I guess the rest of us will want to be nearer to the source of kitchen odors."
"Whew! If it's any such time as that I'm going to move fast," cried Harry Hazelton, leaping to his feet. "At our house supper is on at six o'clock, and anyone who gets in late has to take what's left."
"Are your folks so poor as that?" laughed Tom.
"Hardly," returned Harry. "But both dad and mother are sticklers for everyone being in his seat on time."
By this time five of the chums had started across the broad, sunny field toward the rather dusty road.
"Coming, Dave?" Dick called, looking back.
"Oh, yes," grunted Darrin. "But I hate to see all of you fellows running as though you didn't know whether you'd ever get another meal."
"I wonder what is Dave's sudden grouch against the eats," Tom mused aloud. "I've seen him at a few meals, and he was always a clever performer."
"Probably Dave has been eating too much for this time of the year, and has a touch of indigestion," Greg laughed.
Darrin overheard the discussion as he came along, but he did not choose to enlighten his friends. However, unintentionally, Greg had touched upon a part of the trouble. Dinner, that Sunday, at the Darrin cottage, had been unusually tempting, and Dave had eaten heavily. For that reason, when he had joined the crowd in the early afternoon, Dave had felt just a bit sluggish. The walk out into the country had roused his digestion a bit, and had left him in just that state where he could contentedly lie on the grass and doze half of the time.
On this bright Sunday all six of our Grammar School boys had attended church and Sunday school as usual. Then, the day being so fine, they had met and gone away on this tramp, which had ended in a "resting match" on the cool grass under the shade of trees.
All of our readers are familiar with these six fine American boys. Our readers were first introduced to Dick & Co., as Prescott and his chums were locally known, in the first volume in this series, "The Grammar School Boys Of Gridley." Therein the reader made the acquaintance of six average American boys of thirteen, and followed them through their sports and adventures—-which latter were many and startling indeed.
In the second volume of the series, "The Grammar School Boys Snowbound," the same six were shown at winter sports just before Christmas. The detection, on Main Street, of a trio of Christmas shopping thieves led to a long chain of rousing adventures. Right after Christmas, Dick & Co., securing permission from their parents, went for a few days of forest camping in an old log cabin of which they had been given the use. Another phase of their adventure with the shopping district thieveries turned up in the woods and contributed greatly to the excitement of their experience. While still camping in the old, but weather-proof cabin, the Grammar School boys found themselves snowbound in one of the greatest blizzards that had happened in that section in years. Being hardy boys from much outdoor life, however, Dick & Co., as our readers know, turned hardship into jolly fun, and incidentally made a great discovery in the woods that turned their camping expedition into the local sensation of the hour. The reader also remembers how some of the poorer specimens of High School boys and a few local young "toughs," under the leadership of Fred Ripley and Bert Dodge, tried to drive them from their forest camp.
In the third volume of the series, "The Grammar School Boys In The Woods," Dick Prescott and his chums, each now fourteen years of age, found the most startling of all the exciting happenings that had been crowded into their short lives. How they came upon two dangerous, tattered specimens of humanity in the woods, how these two contrived to make Dick and Greg take unwilling part in an attempt to rob one of the local banks, the mystery of the haunted schoolhouse, and a host of other lively incidents—-all these are so familiar to the reader of these volumes as to need no repetition. And Dick & Co., through the series of exciting adventures they had encountered, had become the best-known boys in and around the little city of Gridley. Being leaders of other boys, they had naturally made some enemies, but that is to be expected in the case of all who are born to lead, or who fit themselves for leadership.
And now, on this glorious June Sunday afternoon, we find our schoolboy friends enjoying the sacred day quietly, yet looking forward to the opening of the contests on the diamond between the three local Grammar Schools, the North, Central, and South Grammars.
The road they had chosen on this Sunday afternoon was one over which they had seldom traveled. It was not the road to Norton's Woods, to the great forest, nor yet the one that went by the "haunted schoolhouse." It was in a wholly different direction from Gridley.
"It's a long way home, this," complained Tom Reade, as the boys plodded along the dusty highway. "And I'm hungry."
"Hungry?" snorted Darrin. "Of course you are. You fellows sang a verse to me a while ago. Tom, how do you and your fellow-porkers like this lay?"
Taking a deep breath, Dave started to sing a travesty, to the air of "America."
"My stomach, 'tis of thee, Sweet gland of gluttony, To thee I sing! Gland—-"
"Stop it," ordered Tom threateningly, as he advanced upon Darrin.
"Stings, does it?" inquired Dave sarcastically.
"Yes, it does," Reade retorted bluntly. "To my mind 'America' is as sacred as any hymn ever written, and I won't hear it guyed! That's no decent occupation for an American boy."
"That's right," nodded Greg Holmes.
"Well, I won't yield to any of you in being American to the backbone," Dave retorted hotly.
"Prove it," said Tom more quietly.
"I'll prove it by my whole life, if need be," Darrin went on warmly. "Tom Reade, I'll be glad to meet you when we're sixty years old, talk it all over and see who has been the better American through life!"
"Great!" laughed Dick Prescott approvingly. "That'll be a fine time to settle the question. And that time is—-let me see—-forty-six years away."
The other boys were grinning now, and Dave and Tom, catching the spirit of the thing, laughed good-humoredly.
"But this does seem a mighty long way home," Dan complained.
"I can show you fellows a shorter way, if you want it," Prescott proposed.
"We all live on Missouri Avenue. Show us," begged Hazelton.
"It's through the woods," Dick continued. "I warn you that you'll find some of it rough going."
"Then I don't know about it," Greg replied with fine irony. "We fellows are not very well used to the woods."
"It's twenty minutes of six," declared Dan, glancing at his watch. "Some of us are in danger of eating nothing but cold potatoes tonight if we don't get over the ground faster. Find the short cut, Dick."
"It starts down here, just a little way," Prescott answered. "I'll turn in when we come to the right place."
Dick and Darrin were now walking side by side in advance. Right behind them came Greg and Dan, while Tom and Harry, paired, brought up the rear.
"In this way," called Dick, turning sharply to the left and going in under an archway of trees. It was over velvety grass that he led his chums at first. After something like an eighth of a mile the Grammar School boys came to deeper woods, where they had to thrust branches aside in making their way through the tangle.
"My Sunday suit will look like a hand-me-down by the time I get home," muttered Greg Holmes.
"It does now," Dave called back to him consolingly.
"We suspected that Darry's grouch was due to dyspepsia," laughed Holmes. "Now I am sure of it. David, little giant, take my advice—-fast to-night."
"I will, if the rest of you fellows will," challenged Darrin quickly.
"The truth is out," Tom burst out laughing. "Darry, by that slip of the tongue you admitted that you've been eating too much and that you're all out of sorts."
Dave did not deny. He merely snorted, from which sign of defiance his chums could gain no information.
They had gone another quarter of a mile through the woods when Dick, now alone in the lead, suddenly halted, holding up one hand as a signal to halt, while he rested the fingers of his other hand over his lips as a command for silence.
"What is it?" whispered Darrin, stepping close.
"Fred Ripley, Bert Dodge and some of their fellows," Dick whispered, at the same time pointing through the leaves.
"Well, we don't have to halt, just because they're around," retorted Darrin, snorting. "If they try to pick any trouble with us we can give 'em as good as they send. We've done it once or twice already."
"But we don't want to go to fighting on Sunday, if there's any way to avoid it," young Prescott urged, at which four of his chums nodded their heads approvingly.
"I'm not looking for any fight, either," muttered Dave. "Yet it goes against the grain to halt just in order to let that gang slip by without seeing us."
"There are five of us against your single vote, Darry," Dick reminded him. "Let us have our way."
"Well, we don't need to skulk, do we?" queried Dave.
"Oh, no," Dick assured him. "All we will do is to keep quiet and not bring on a fight with that tough lot."
"Huh!" muttered Darrin, as though he could not see the difference between that and skulking.
Presently, after holding a hand behind him to signal silence and stealth, Prescott started on in the lead. He wanted, if possible, to see just where Ripley, Dodge and their crowd went, so that the Grammar School boys would not run too suddenly into them. The "Co." trailed on in Indian file behind their leader.
Finally Dick halted again, his chums crowding on his heels. They looked out into a clearing beyond. There, amid trees, stood a small three-room house, looking still quite new in its trim paint, though the building had stood there idle for some five years. At one time the city had planned a new reservoir site on a hill just above, and this little cottage had been intended for the reservoir tender. Then a better site for the reservoir had been found, and, to date, the cottage had not been removed.
"Ripley and his crew went around that cottage to the door side," Dick whispered.
"Are they in the cottage?" Dave demanded.
"I don't know. They went around to the other side. Let's wait and see if we can guess what's up."
So, forgetful of their suppers for the time being, Dick & Co. waited, screened by the bushes.
"There's smoke coming up out of the chimney," whispered Tom Reade.
"Yes," nodded Dick. "I had just noticed that. I'm wondering what it can mean. No one has any right to break into the cottage."
"Fred Ripley and Bert Dodge, because they have a lawyer and a bank officer for fathers, don't feel that they need any rights when they want to do a thing," muttered Darrin resent fully.
It was impossible to see what might be going on inside the cottage, for the simple reason that all of the windows were shuttered tightly.
"Let's go ahead," begged Dave, after a few more moments spent in idle watching. "I want to know why that crowd has broken into the cottage."
Truth to tell, even the leader of Dick & Co., usually very discreet, felt himself a victim of curiosity.
"Shall we try to find out the secret, fellows?" Prescott inquired.
"That's just what we ought to do," responded Greg. "Especially as Ripley and Dodge have always been so mean to us."
Dick went forward, with his best imitation of the way he imagined an Indian scout would approach a strange house. Greg and Dan were at his heels, while Dave and Harry went around the other side of the cottage, Tom remaining well to the rear to watch.
Some low, vague sounds came from within the cottage. These were not such noises as scurrying rats would make, so the boys were quick to conclude that human beings were moving inside.
But what could possibly be going on? The noises that the Grammar School boys heard were hard to classify.
At last Dick and Dave met before the door of the little cottage. Nor were they much surprised at finding that the door of the cottage stood perhaps a half an inch ajar.
This, however, did not furnish light enough to give a glimpse of what was happening inside.
"Two or three of us may as well slip inside, eh?" whispered Dave to Dick.
"Wait! Listen!" counseled Prescott. "We don't want to please that crowd by stepping right into a trap. And I've an idea that by this time they must know that we're around here."
"If they knew, they'd be out here making faces at us," retorted Darrin wisely.
"And ordering us to get off the earth," supplemented Greg, in a whisper.
"Listen," whispered Dick. "Perhaps we can guess what they're doing."
"I can guess what they're doing," murmured Reade, who had now moved around to the front with his chums. "I've been watching the smoke of that fire come up through the chimney. Humph! I don't believe Rip and Dodge are doing anything worse than a little camping. There must be a stove in there, and they're cooking some supper—-playing at camping out."
"I don't smell anything cooking in there," rejoined Dick with a shake of his head. "We can't hear anything sizzling over the fire, either."
"Then what——-" began Harry curiously.
Bang! interrupted a crashing explosion inside the building. Boom! Then the door flew wide open, followed by a single great belching of white smoke.
Through the center of this cloud was hurled a human figure. A man struck the ground and lay there, senseless or lifeless, a pool of blood quickly forming on the ground beside him.
THE VANISHING MAN
For the first few seconds the Grammar School boys stood as if chained to the ground, their eyes staring with alarm and horror.
They stared at the man, apparently of middle age, who lay there, and they beheld the blood.
What on earth could have happened?
Boom! It was a lesser explosion that now sounded inside, yet it was enough to galvanize the boys into action.
"Come on!" cried Tom Reade, setting off in the lead. "We don't know nor care what's in there!"
"The house may blow up next," added Greg, following him.
All the members of Dick & Co. were now in full retreat. They were courageous lads, but, with the immediate landscape in seeming danger of blowing up, getting away was the wisest possible course.
"Say, what do you make of that?" demanded Greg breathlessly, when the Grammar School boys had halted, well out of sight of the cottage and down in the woods.
"Bang!" replied Tom dryly. "That's all I heard."
"And blood," almost chattered Hazelton.
"But what it means is a big puzzle," Dick added. "If Rip and his crowd are or were in the cottage, they would hardly explode anything purposely and perhaps kill a man. That man appeared to be dead—-he must be dead. Rip and Dodge are mean fellows, but they're hardly up to killing people."
"There was an explosion," remarked Tom judicially, though his voice was still husky. "Now, while I don't know everything, I believe there always has to be an explosive in order to bring about an explosion. Am I right?"
"You stand on ground that no one can dispute," nodded Dick. "But how did the explosive come to be in a building that belongs to the water company, and which is supposed not to have been occupied in some years?"
"What was the man doing in there, for that matter?" demanded Tom.
"He wasn't very well dressed," observed Harry.
"Yet he didn't look like a tramp," Dave put in.
"But the man himself, and the fact that he's hurt or dead, are our two first points to consider," spoke Dick quickly. "If he's hurt we are bound to bring him help. If he's dead, we'll have to notify—-some one."
"I'd like to go back there and have a look at him," quoth Tom, "but the biggest explosion of all may come out of that cottage at any moment now."
"Yet the facts are that another explosion hasn't come, and that the man ought to have help, as a matter of common decency," Dick urged.
"I'll run to the nearest house where people are living," suggested Tom, pulling off his jacket and making ready for a run.
"What are you going to tell the folks?" Prescott queried. "That the poor fellow is living or dead? I'm going back to find out which."
"We'll all go," offered Dave.
"But what happened to Rip and his mean crew?" asked Hazelton.
"We haven't seen any signs that they were in the cottage at all," Dick responded. "If they were, as none of them came out, they must be badly hurt—-perhaps worse."
As a matter of fact, Ripley and his party had not gone into the cottage, but had continued directly towards their homes.
That grisly thought gave all the boys a shudder as they plodded up the slope, between the bushes and thence stepped into the clearing.
"Talk about dreaming!" muttered Dick, halting abruptly and staring hard at the ground around the cottage.
In the first place, the cottage door was closed. There was no smoke now coming out of the chimney, and all looked peaceful and deserted, save for the presence of the Grammar School intruders. There was no injured man lying on the ground.
"Crackey!" gasped Greg. "Yet we didn't all dream together, did we?"
"Certainly not," muttered Dick, again starting forward. The others followed him.
"This is where we saw the man fall, isn't it?" asked Dick.
"Yes," nodded Greg.
"But there was blood on the ground then," urged Dave. "I don't see any now."
"It must have been goblin blood, then," laughed Tom rather unsteadily, for this mystery began to look unearthly.
"Hold on," hinted Dick. "Doesn't it look as though fresh earth had been sprinkled here?"
"Of course it does," nodded Harry. "And the earth has soaked up the blood."
"I don't see any soaked-up blood," objected Greg.
"No; because it's so well covered and soaked up," argued Hazelton. "But wait until I find a stick, and we'll stir up that dirt. Then we'll find the red stuff mixed to a sort of mud, and——-"
"Come along out of this, you ghoul!" uttered Tom almost wrathfully, as he seized his friend by the arm.
"We'll go to the door," Dick suggested. "Perhaps we can get inside. At any rate, we can find out whether there is any one inside who wants help."
Dick put his hand on the doorknob, giving it a turn and a hard push.
"Door's locked tightly now," he announced.
"And it takes human hands to lock a door," Reade observed sagely.
"Is there anyone inside who needs any help?" Prescott called loudly.
All was silent inside. Then Dick played a tattoo on the locked door with his fists. Still no sound from inside.
"All together, now," urged Dick. "Any—-one—-want—-help?" bawled six lusty young voices in unison.
"There is only one voice that answers," continued Dick, after a pause, as he turned to the others. "That's the silent voice of good sense."
"What does it say, then," challenged Dave.
"That we've done about all we can do here," Dick replied. "All we know is that a man seemed to have been hurt here. If he was, he was able to take himself away, and to conceal the signs of his hurt before going. Therefore we've no further excuse for meddling around here that I can see."
"Let's get along then," Tom urged. "And—-whew! It's after half past six!"
"You'd better run, then," jeered Dave. "Your stomach won't allow any more fooling!"
"Now, what ought I to say to a crank like Darry?" demanded Reade, turning to Prescott.
"You'd better overwhelm him, by saying what the man on the clubhouse steps said," urged Dick.
"And what was that?" asked Tom eagerly.
"We-ell," hesitated Dick, "I believe that's still a secret."
The Grammar School boys were now walking rapidly through the woods, but at mention of the clubhouse topic all had gathered close to their young leader.
"Aren't you going to tell us now?" demanded Greg.
"I'm afraid not right away," responded Prescott slowly.
"See here, Dickins," growled Dave Darrin, "for months you've been stringing us about what the man on the clubhouse steps said. Time and again you've sprung that on us, and you've never given us the slightest satisfaction. Now, you'd either better tell us, or shut up about the man on the clubhouse steps."
"All right," sighed Dick. "I'll——-"
"Well?" insisted five boys in the same breath.
"I reckon I'll shut up," Dick rejoined.
"Say, somebody ought to hit Dickins!" grunted Reade.
"That's right," grinned Dan. "Well—-let Tom do it."
Dick continued to smile mysteriously. He enjoyed this good-natured teasing of his chums.
"What are we going to tell folks about what we saw at the cottage?" queried Dan after another five minutes of trudging.
"If we tell anything at all," suggested Prescott, "I'll tell you how we can win a prize."
"How?" demanded Tom innocently. "By telling the truth," Dick smiled. Soon after the Grammar School boys came out on the road.
"See that group 'way ahead there?" asked Tom, pointing down the road.
"Yes," nodded Dick. "That's Rip's crowd, so we know they didn't get hurt."
"Then the only one who did get hurt," Tom added, "was the man who was very soon able to take mighty good care of himself."
"So we don't need to bother about the matter any more," Greg hinted. "And, gracious! I hope mother has saved some supper for me."
"It'll be a cold hand-out for me," groaned Hazelton.
The Grammar School boys were soon on Main Street now. They hurried along, as they had not yet come to the point of parting.
"Look at that crowd down the street," called Dave. "There's some excitement in the wind."
"I'm not nosey," observed Tom.
"No," scoffed Darrin; "you're too hungry."
"I'm going to see what the excitement is about, anyway," muttered Hazelton, starting forward off a run.
One by one the other boys yielded to curiosity and started at a jog-trot for the corner where the crowd was gathered.
"No; the poor fellow isn't crazy in the ordinary sense of the word," Dick heard a tall man, finely dressed in black, say to some of the bystanders. "He's harmless enough, and his mind isn't permanently astray, if only he can have prompt and good care. But he's inclined to get away by himself and ponder over his inventions. If he leads a too solitary life long enough he may be past the possibility of a cure one of these days. That is why Colonel Garwood is so anxious to find his son, and offers such a handsome reward for information."
"Some one missing?" asked Dick in a low voice.
"Yes," nodded a man in the crowd. "A crazy inventor is lost, or he's loose, at any rate, and his old father is trying to find him. There is a reward of twenty-five hundred dollars for the lucky fellow who finds this inventor with the monkey wrenches in his brain."
"What does the man look like?" asked Dick.
The tall man in black overheard the question and wheeled quickly.
"Amos Garwood is the missing man," said the tall man. "He is forty-seven years of age, about five feet eight in height, slightly stooped, very pallid and with cheeks slightly sunken. When last seen Amos Garwood was rather poorly dressed. He has just escaped from a sanitarium, and the only person who has seen him since reports that he looked 'hunted' and anxious, and that his cheeks were considerably sunken. Garwood has dark hair, slightly gray at the temples. He probably weighs about——-"
"Pardon me, sir," Dick interposed. "What kind of beard does the missing man wear?"
"Dick Prescott has found him," laughed one man in the crowd.
"Garwood has no beard at all, save for what there may be for three or four days' lack of shaving," quickly replied the tall man.
"Where is the missing man, Dick?" laughed another man in the crowd.
"Yes; Dick has found him," called another.
"I rather think so," Dick nodded. "At least, I believe our crowd has seen Garwood very lately."
Prescott's evident confidence aroused instant curiosity.
"Where?" demanded a dozen voices quickly.
"I wish you young men wouldn't answer, but just come with me," spoke the tall man quickly. "If your information proves correct, and we find the missing man, the reward will be yours."
Dick turned to nod to his companions, as the tall man in black turned to lead the way. Their guide, after making sure that Prescott was at his side, walked rapidly down the street a few doors, halting before the street door of one of the office buildings.
"Come upstairs and tell Lawyer Ripley whatever you know," requested the tall man.
"I don't believe you'll find him in Sundays," replied Dick.
"We shall to-day," responded their guide confidently. "Mr. Ripley is helping us in this search."
This, then, looked like proof that the Garwood family was well-to-do, for Lawyer Ripley seldom worked for small fees.
Running ahead, the tall man threw open the door of the lawyer's office.
"Mr. Ripley," he called, "here are some boys who think they have seen Amos Garwood. Probably these youngsters are half dreaming, yet they may have some information of value."
"I know these boys," nodded the lawyer, looking up, "and they are dependable. They are good, bright boys. Prescott, come forward and tell me just what you know, or think you know."
"First of all, sir," urged Dick, "let me give the best description I can of the man we've seen."
"A good idea," nodded Mr. Ripley. "Go ahead."
Nor had young Prescott been engaged very long in his task of description before the tall man broke in excitedly:
"That's our man, beyond a question! Where did you see him? When?"
Dick hastily recounted the strange happenings at the supposedly untenanted cottage of the old water-works project.
"We must get there without delay," called the tall man to two other men who, so far, had kept in the background in the lawyer's office, but who had been deeply interested hearers. "One of you boys must go up there with us. How far is it from here?"
"Come through into my rear office," suggested Mr. Ripley, "and I can show you the spot from a window. Come along, Prescott, and tell me if I'm right. Hello! There seems to be some trouble up that way," added Mr. Ripley, as he reached one of the windows at the rear.
"There's a fire up there under the hill," cried Dick Prescott, as he pressed forward to another window. "Mr. Ripley, from the location of the smoke, I should say that the cottage itself is afire!"
"And I believe you're right," agreed the lawyer.
"Poor Amos!" groaned the tall man. "The poor fellow may have set fire to the place to destroy himself! Ripley, I can't wait here, inactive, another second. We must start! Can I get a cab here?"
"I think I can get an automobile for you inside of five minutes," replied the lawyer, hurriedly leading the way to the front office.
"Five minutes?" groaned the stranger. "Why not wait a year?"
"An automobile will save you much more than five minutes' time on the way," returned the lawyer, snatching up his desk telephone. "Central, give me 163-J in a hurry!"
A few minutes later the automobile was at the door. The tall stranger and two other men who had been in the lawyer's office were now on the sidewalk.
"Crowd on all the speed you can, my man," appealed the tall stranger. "If you get into any trouble with the authorities I'll pay all the fines you incur. This is a matter of life and death."
The speaker and his two men crowded into the car.
"You come, too," called the tall one to Dick.
"Is there room for one other boy?" asked Dick.
"Yes; we can squeeze him in."
"Want to come, Dave?" Dick inquired.
Darrin was by his chum's side in an instant.
"Let out the speed!" ordered the tall man. "Prescott will tell you where to go."
Four members of Dick & Co. had been worrying about their suppers, but now not one of them but would have waited indefinitely for a chance to go on that one especial auto trip.
"Greg, tell my folks where I've gone, and why," Dick shouted back.
Then—-whizz! The automobile was down the street and around a corner before anyone could say "Jack Robinson!"
DICK MARCHES HIS NINE ON
The automobile party arrived just in time to see the blazing roof of the little cottage crash inward, sending up a shower of sparks against the sky of the dying day.
"I hope Amos wasn't inside, hurt and helpless!" gulped the tall stranger, leaping outside. "But why hasn't the fire department been out here?"
"The Gridley fire department doesn't respond outside of city limits, except on request and by permission of the mayor, sir," Prescott answered.
"I'll drive down and telephone any message for you," offered the chauffeur, who had left his ear behind and had traveled on foot up to the cottage.
"Firemen would be of little use now," replied the man in charge of the party. "We can do nothing until the blazing embers cool, which won't be for hours yet. Still, We might go as close to the blaze as possible, and see if there are any signs of a human body in the embers."
While this was being done darkness came down over the summer day. There was plenty of light, however, around the destroyed cottage.
For some time the searchers explored as well as the heat of the glowing embers would permit.
"I am satisfied," said the tall man at last, "that no human being was consumed in this fire. If so, we would certainly see some evidences of remains. Still, these ashes, when cool, must be searched."
"You don't need me any more, do you, sir?" asked Dick.
"Is it near your bedtime yet?" smiled the stranger.
"I haven't had my supper yet," Prescott smiled. "Neither has Darrin."
"Bless me! What a brute I am to forget a boy's stomach!" cried the tall one. "Here," taking a banknote from his pocket, "I will have the chauffeur drive you back to town and then return for us. Take this money and get the best supper you can for two, at the best restaurant in Gridley."
"Thank you, sir," replied Dick, shrinking back; "our parents wouldn't allow us to do that."
"Are your parents any easier on such questions?" smiled the stranger, turning to Darrin.
"Not a bit, sir, thank you," Dave responded.
"I may at least pay you something for your kindness and trouble in coming out here with me," urged the stranger, still offering the cash.
But both boys shook their heads, declining with thanks. Neither had been reared to accept money for doing a human kindness.
"If you don't need us any more," Dick went on, "we'll just find the road and jog back."
"If you won't accept anything else," retorted the tall man, "you will at least allow me to send you back in the auto. And you will also accept the thanks of John Winthrop, and of Colonel Garwood, whom I represent."
Both boys protested, with thanks, that they were able to get home on their own feet. Mr. Winthrop, however, insisted on their going in the car. Truth to tell, both youngsters had used their feet so much that day that they did not object to being taken home.
"I hope you will find your man, sir, and alive," Dick called, as he and Dave were leaving.
"I believe that we shall," replied Mr. Winthrop. "Yet it will be by beginning the search from this point."
The chauffeur drove them home in good time, for he was under orders to report back to Mr. Winthrop as speedily as possible.
Neither Dick nor Dave had any trouble in getting a late supper served at home.
"You've brought home a good tale, as you often do, to pay your mother for her extra trouble," laughed Mr. Prescott.
"I hope that poor, half-witted fellow didn't destroy himself in his own fire," murmured Dick, as he fell to at the meal.
By morning the people of Gridley knew that the ruins of the abandoned water-works cottage had been explored, and that the remains of Amos Garwood had not been found there.
But an editorial in the "Blade" suggested that the cottage was not very likely to have taken fire unless the blaze had been started by Garwood. While the latter was declared not to be dangerous, the "Blade" hinted that his malady might suddenly have taken a dangerous turn.
"The good people of this section will feel much easier," concluded the editor, "when they know that Garwood has been found and returned to the sanitarium that awaits him. A cash reward of twenty-five hundred dollars should be incentive enough to set many people to the task of finding the unfortunate man."
Yet, for Dick & Co., the adventure of the afternoon before dropped very quickly into the background. Here was Monday; on Wednesday the boys of the Central Grammar must meet the boys of the North Grammar on the diamond. Then the first of a series of baseball games was to be played for the local Grammar School championship. The South Grammar would also enter a nine.
Intense rivalry prevailed between the schools. The fact that the respective nines were made up almost wholly of boys who were soon to be graduated from the Grammar Schools did not in any sense lessen the rivalry. Each young player was proud of his own school and anxious to capture the laurels.
"Are you going to win Wednesday's game from the North Grammar, Dick?" asked Len spencer, when that reporter met Prescott on Main Street at noon on Monday.
"Of course we are," Dick replied instantly.
"You seem very positive about it," quizzed Len.
"That's the only way to go into athletics," claimed Dick. "A team must enter with the determination and the knowledge that it is going to win. Then there's little left to do but to walk home with the victory."
"But Hi Martin was telling me, this morning, that Central hasn't a ghost of a show against North," pursued Len.
"Hi Martin will know better, day after tomorrow, won't he, Dave?" queried Dick, appealing to Darrin, who had just come along.
"He surely will," nodded Dave.
"By the way," asked Len, "have you seen any of the new uniforms of the North Grammar?"
"No," Dick admitted, his face falling a trifle. "I understand that Martin's fellows are going to wear pretty dandy uniforms, though."
"They are," Len nodded. "I've had a look at the uniform."
"Well, North Grammar is attended by a lot of sons of pretty well-to-do men," Dave put in. "Our boys don't come from as wealthy families, so we have to be content with less of the showy things in life."
"What are your uniforms going to be like?" inquired Len Spencer.
"We haven't any," Dick replied promptly.
"No uniforms at all?" demanded the "Blade" reporter.
"None at all," Dick continued. "Neither have the South Grammar boys. In the glories of uniform the North Grammar nine will be all in a class by itself."
"It's too bad," muttered Len.
"No, it isn't," Prescott retorted. "We fellows from Central are going to show that uniforms don't necessarily make players. We don't mind—-that is, not very much—-the absence of uniforms."
"We'll try to show that we have something uniform about our team play, and let it go at that," said Dave cheerily. "Come along, Dick, or we'll be late at school."
Away the pair raced. Lessons went about as usual that afternoon with Old Dut's class, which was surprising, as nearly every boy in the room had his mind much on baseball.
Captain Dick Prescott, of the Central Grammar nine, had called practice for that afternoon, from half past four to six o'clock.
At recess, that afternoon, a pleasant, somewhat rotund-looking man was seen engaged in conversation with Old Dut in a corner of the schoolyard. At the close of the afternoon session that same man stepped into the schoolroom, accepting the principal's offer of a chair on the platform.
"Attention!" called Old Dut, striking the bell. "I am glad to be able to state that no pupil has incurred the penalty of remaining after school to-day. However, I am going to ask the members of the Central Grammar baseball nine and their substitutes to remain for a few minutes. I pledge myself not to interfere with the scheduled practice," continued the principal dryly. "All other pupils will file out promptly, and not loiter in coatrooms or corridors."
Within two minutes the place had been cleared of all but Dick's baseball squad.
"I now wish, young gentlemen," began Old Dut, "to introduce to you Mr. Edson Brown, who is interested in baseball, and who has a slight favor that he wishes to ask of you."
"It's very simple," declared Mr. Brown, rising and stepping down from the platform. "I have been greatly interested in baseball for a number of years. Among other things I have a considerable collection of figures concerning school teams, their sizes and weights, I would like, with your permission, young gentlemen, to take a few measurements. I won't detain you more than a few moments."
"Do you want a suggestion, sir?" asked Tom Reade.
"Of course," nodded Mr. Brown, smilingly.
"Then the real crowd that you ought to measure are the fellows of the North Grammar nine. You'd get a fine lot of chest measurements there, I can promise you."
"Why?" asked Mr. Brown. "Are the North Grammar boys better developed physically?"
"I can't say about that," Reade replied seriously, "but they're the only Grammar School fellows in Gridley that have baseball uniforms, and I understand that they're the chestiest lot of young fellows that any one ever saw."
"I'll consider the North Grammar boys later, then," nodded Mr. Brown, smiling. "Now, will each young man oblige me by removing his coat and vest and stepping forward for the measurements that I want to take?"
In a notebook Mr. Brown jotted down the measurements that he made. There being five substitute players, there were fourteen boys in all whose measurements he recorded.
"That is all," nodded Mr. Brown finally, snapping his notebook and tucking it away in a pocket. "I am deeply indebted to all of you young men.
"And now I beg to add," said Old Dut, "that, as all of you youngsters are in a hurry, there will be no criticism if you see fit to race through the corridors."
Out on the field, just before half past four, Captain Dick Prescott lined up his squad of fourteen, himself included, and quickly added four more to the number, thus organizing two nines.
"Now, play ball," he called.
"Do it in a hurry," supplemented Tom Reade.
"Speed is all right," Dick retorted. "But we want to play with care, even more than with speed. The scrub nine will go to bat."
Dick himself ran quickly out to the pitcher's box, twirling his ball impatiently. A High School boy had been secured for umpire, and all was in readiness.
Of course the school nine won over the scrub. Never mind the score, which looked badly for the scrub. Dick was satisfied that his nine was doing the best that was in it.
Tuesday afternoon there was more practice, though Captain Dick did not allow it to continue too long.
"Now, don't take a single chance with yourselves," called Prescott, in dismissing the squad on the field near the schoolhouse. "Don't any one of you get a sore toe or strain a 'wing' before to-morrow afternoon. Fellows, I believe that we are going to be able to put it all over the North Grammar to-morrow afternoon. But we can't do it unless we are all in the best of shape. Be careful at table. Don't any one of you overeat between now and the game. And all get into bed early to-night and have a long sleep."
"I put every young man in this room on honor for to-day," stated Old Dut, facing his class, the next morning. "No matter what the disorder or breach of discipline, no boy will be kept in after school this afternoon, for I know that every one of you, whether player or 'booster,' wants to be at the inter-school ball game this afternoon. So remember, young men, that you are all on your honor to-day. Prove yourselves worthy of it."
Never had discipline been better preserved in the eighth grade classroom than during that day.
Soon after four o'clock scores of Gridley schoolboys had found their way to the big vacant field not far from the Central Grammar, the owner of which permitted its use freely by schoolboy athletes.
The principal of the South Grammar, too, was there, flanked by rough-and-tumble Ted Teall and the South's baseball delegation. Captain Ted had to play the Centrals on Saturday, and he wanted to view their style. Though North Grammar was well represented, the principal of the school did not appear, being "detained by pressure of important duties."
"Old Dut will know enough to be here," remarked one of the Central boys proudly. "Nothing but disaster could keep him from showing interest in our work."
Cheering was started by a big group of North Grammar boys. A stage had just been sighted, and this bore the North Grammar's diamond champions. A few moments later the stage drew up at the edge of the field, and Hi Martin and his fellows piled out, each proudly resplendent in showy uniform of red and white, with red caps and stockings. The North Grammar boys were dandies, and they appeared to want, everyone to realize the fact. They formed at the roadside and marched on to the field in step.
"Halt!" commanded Captain Hi Martin. Then he looked around curiously.
"If the Centrals are here yet, why don't they come out of the crowd and receive us?" inquired Martin rather pompously. His insinuation that Dick's fellows might be mixed with the crowd was a slur on the Central boys not possessing uniforms.
"Our fellows are not here yet, but they will be soon, you bet," called back a Central boy. "It's only twenty minutes past four."
"Spread out, men, and practice," directed Hi Martin.
"Yah! yah!" jeered a Central boy. "Get all the practice you can—-you'll need it."
"These ragamuffins are pretty full of brag," observed Hi scornfully to one of his lieutenants.
"They're just the kind of fellows that always do brag," returned the player addressed. "Their brag will all be gone within a half an hour. You'll see."
"Yes," agreed Hi thoughtfully. "If we can't trim this crowd to-day, then they're some wonders at ball. They don't have any idea how long we've been training in order to give them this trimming."
Some of Hi's players had already spread out over the field, and were doing some rapid passing. Certainly Hi's fielders promised well, from the little glimpse of their skill that was now had.
Then one of their best batsmen took up the willow, driving a few long, swift fielders.
"This will get the Centrals nervous before they start, if they see any of our work," laughed one of Hi's players.
Truth to tell, the North Grammar boys did show some pretty work. Ted Teall looked on approvingly.
"Prescott has met his match to-day," remarked Ted to a friend.
"These Norths will bother you, too, won't they, Ted?"
"Us? No; not a bit. We can play all around the Norths. But Central will have to take third place when the series is done."
"The Centrals haven't got rattled and skulked, have they?" called Hi Martin at last.
A disdainful yell came back from the assembled Central boys.
"Then some one hurry over and tell 'em that it's time to hustle on to the field and take their medicine," urged Hi. "We don't want to have the game called for darkness before we're half through."
"The Centrals will be here on time," called back one of Old Dut's boys. "Don't you worry any about them. Dick Prescott is holding the watch over our crowd."
"It's four twenty-seven," announced Hi, consulting his gold watch.
"Four twenty-five and a half," corrected a Central boy.
"Go get your watch fixed," retorted Hi scornfully. "And some one else run and see if he can find out where the Centrals are hiding."
"Here they come!" yelled one excited Central boy. "Whoopee! They will answer for themselves!"
In an instant the Central cheering became tumultuous. Even Ted Teall rubbed his eyes and gasped.
For the Central Grammar School squad was marching toward the field, having just left the schoolhouse. At the head of all, chin well up, marched Old Dut. Back of him, two and two, marched Dick Prescott and his players. What marvel had been worked? For the Central boys wore uniforms that made Hi Martin's fellows look like so many gaudy figures on a cheap poster!
THE STORY OF THE UNIFORMS
"Great Scott!" gasped Hi Martin, in sheer dismay, his gaze fixed on the approaching Centrals.
"Where in the mischief did they get those uniforms?" demanded Tom Percival, of the North Grammars, his mouth agape.
"Well, they have 'em, anyway," added Bill Rodgers. "And they certainly look more than fine, don't they?"
"The uniforms are made of cheap stuff, I'll wager," muttered Hi hoarsely. There was a choke in his throat over seeing his own nine so badly eclipsed in appearance by the despised Central Grammars.
Not less astonished were the Central Grammar boy spectators themselves. Not one, outside of the baseball squad, had known that any uniforms were to be worn on the field.
"Huh!" remarked Ted Teall, captain of the South Grammars, to one of his lieutenants. "We are the only school nine in town now without a uniform. When we get on the field to play we'll look like a lot of rag-pickers, won't we?"
"I know where they got 'em," choked Hi at last. "Their principal, Old Dut Jones, wouldn't see his boys look too badly compared with us, so he bought 'em as good uniforms as he could afford. It's a shame. That's what it is."
If Captain Dick and his baseball players walked rather proudly onto the field, it may have been partly due to the fact that they now knew that their uniforms were anything but "cheap." In point of fact, their uniforms had cost more than twice as much as those worn by Hi Martin's players.
"How did they get such uniforms?" That was the question that passed from lip to lip.
The answer was very simple, though as yet none of the onlookers knew what it was.
Not until one minute past four did the Central Grammar players know anything about the uniforms. Old Dut had dismissed the rest of the school, detaining Dick's players.
"Young men, we shall now hasten up to Exhibition Hall," announced the principal. He marched them up there, where they found the smiling Mr. Brown, backed by an assistant. Several boxes, opened, lay upon the floor.
"Now, young men," called Mr. Brown jovially, "let us see how quickly you can take your baseball uniforms and get into them."
"But what——-" began Dick, then paused in absolute bewilderment.
"It's all right," Mr. Brown cheerily assured the dazed boys. "The uniforms are all paid for—-won't cost you a cent."
"But you—-you told us," protested Captain Dick Prescott, "that you were collecting measurements of members of schoolboys' baseball clubs."
"Well, that's the truth," protested Brown, with a mock air of injured innocence. "I'm a traveling salesman for the Haynes Sporting Goods Company, one of the biggest baseball outfitting companies in this part of the country. It's my business to travel and take orders."
"But we didn't give you any orders," gasped Dave.
"Some one did," laughed Mr. Brown.
"Who did?" blurted Tom Reade.
"Did you, Mr. Jones?" cried Dick.
"Not I," laughed the principal. "But I'll tell you, boys, who did. Prescott, you remember Mr. Winthrop, who is acting for Colonel Garwood in trying to find the latter's son? Amos Garwood hasn't yet been found, but Mr. Winthrop is satisfied that they are close at his heels, and that they will soon find him. Colonel Garwood is a very wealthy old man, and very fond of his missing son. Mr. Winthrop inquired how he could best serve the boys who had brought him the first word. Some one, I believe it was Len Spencer, the 'Blade' reporter, told about your not having uniforms. Mr. Winthrop wired the Haynes Company, placing an order for the best of uniforms, provided they could be finished to be delivered this afternoon. And here they are."
"When do you youngsters play?" called out Brown laughingly. "To-day or some other day?"
"I would recommend you to make good time," Old Dut urged. "You don't want to start the season by being late, do you. Besides the North Grammar boys might then claim the game by default."
That was enough to set Dick Prescott and his dazed comrades at work in earnest.
The uniforms were of blue, and of fine texture. Even baseball shoes had been provided. The stockings were blue. Then came the trousers. The blue jersey shirts bore proudly in front two golden letters each, "C.G." This inscription stood, of course, for "Central Grammar." Then there were coats of blue, to slip on over the jersey shirts; caps of blue and belts of blue, the latter edged with golden yellow to match the shirt initials.
Besides there were a catcher's mask, gloves for the different field players, half a dozen baseballs and an even dozen of bats.
"Finish dressing as quickly as you can," urged Old Dut. "Your time is slipping away."
At last they were ready. Carrying masks, bats, gloves, they fell in by twos, Principal Jones marching them from the building, along the street and into the field where their arrival had created such a furor.
Yet, excited as he was, Dick had not forgotten to ask both Mr. Brown and Old Dut not to fail to express their deepest thanks to Mr. Winthrop and to Colonel Garwood.
Ben Tozier, of the High School baseball nine, had been accepted as umpire for the day. He now came forward to meet Captain Dick's company.
"My, but you youngsters look about the finest ever," announced Ben. "I hope you can play as well as you look. Captain Prescott, do you claim any time for practice?"
"Not if it's time to begin playing," Dick answered.
"Yes; it is. I'll call Martin, and you two will attend me for the pitch of the coin."
"Wait a moment, please," called Hi, from across the field.
"What's the matter?" shouted a spectator.
"The North Grammars want to go home and change their uniforms," shouted another onlooker.
There was a great laugh at this, which caused Hi Martin to color and look belligerent. He came stalking across the field.
"Ladies and gentlemen," shouted Ted Teall, affecting the manner of an announcer, "I beg to state that the game about to begin will be between two famous nines, known as the Gentlemen and the Chromos."
At this there was more laughter, while Hi Martin shook with rage. Looking at the bright red so prominent in the North Grammar uniforms, there could be no doubt as to which nine had been dubbed the "Chromos."
"Mr. Umpire," called Hi angrily, "have you power to preserve order here to-day?"
"I'll do my best," agreed Tozier. "But this is an open field that any one may enter, and there are no police here."
"Play ball, you red-heads!" jeered a boy, referring to the bright red caps of the North Grammars. "Don't holler for the police until you find out whether you can stand up to the Centrals."
"Now, let us stop all guying of the players and all other nonsense," called Tozier firmly, as he held up his right hand. "Remember that we are here to see a game and not to listen to cheap wit."
That held the unruly ones back for a few moments. Tozier drew a coin from one of his pockets, exhibited it to the captains, and asked:
"Who will call the toss?"
"Martin may," nodded Captain Dick.
Ben Tozier sent the coin spinning skyward. When it turned to fall Hi called out:
"Heads win," declared Umpire Tozier.
"Captain Martin, have you any choice?" inquired Prescott politely.
"I didn't win the toss," Hi returned sulkily.
"But we'll give you your choice if you have any," Dick insisted.
"We'd rather go to bat," Hi observed.
"Then, Mr. Umpire," continued Dick, turning to Tozier, "the Centrals choose the field."
"Get to your places," nodded Ben. "Martin at bat; Percival on deck," called the score-keeper.
Dick ran down to the pitcher's box, while Greg, slipping on mask and glove, took up his position behind the plate.
Tozier carelessly broke the seal on the package enclosing a ball, inspected it, and dropped it into Dick's hands. Dick threw an overshoot to Greg, who mitted it neatly.
But Ted Teall could not let the occasion go by without some nonsense.
"Whack!" shouted Teall. "Woof! Did you hear it strike? And it hurt, too. Who has the arnica bottle?"
There was laughter, but Dick ignored it, sending in a neat drive over the plate. Greg caught it and sent the ball back.
As it once more reached Dick's hand Umpire Tozier shouted:
"Ready! Play ball!"
Greg Holmes signaled what he wanted. Dick gave the ball a twist, and the game was on.
NORTH GRAMMARS PLAY REAL BALL
"Say, dress a kid up swell, and send him on the street—-did you ever know him to be any good?" demanded Ted Teall scornfully of those who stood near him. "Well, that's what ails the Centrals. They're wearing a bale of glad dry goods and they can't keep their eyes off their togs long enough to find the ball."
Dick and Dave heard this as they went to grass at the end of the third inning.
So far, though the Centrals had made some bases, none of their players had succeeded in scoring at the plate. One of Hi Martin's players had scored a run in the first inning and another in the third.
"Teall is a torment, isn't he?" whispered Dick.
"He is now," muttered Dave. "He won't be after this game is finished."
"I'm going to trim some of the funny talk out of him after the game."
"Don't do anything foolish, Dave," urged Dick.
"That won't be foolish. It's necessary."
"Don't do it, Dave, or even think of it. You'll give the Centrals the name of not being able to stand defeat."
Then Dick ran over to the box to begin pitching for the fourth inning. His arm had not given out. Prescott had been doing some pretty good pitching, and Greg had backed him up well. But the North Grammars had a few batsmen who seemed to guess the ball in advance.
"Hey, Mr. Umpire," shouted a boyish onlooker, as Dick faced the plate, ball in hand, "better call the game and let the Centrals play some weak primary school team."
Even at this cheap witticism there was considerable laughter. It made Dick's face flush.
"I'll show 'em whether we can play or not," he muttered to himself, as he caught the signal from Greg. "We've got to start, too, for we've got to match those two runs and then pick up this game for our own."
Hi Martin was again at the plate. He swung his bat idly, grinning mockingly at Prescott.
"I'll let you off without trying, if you'll give me second base," offered Hi tantalizingly.
"If the batsman talks again he will be ordered off the grounds," declared Umpire Tozier sternly.
But Dick felt the sting of his opponent's taunt and longed to be even. Greg signaled for a drop ball—-a difficult one for a schoolboy to throw. It was the first time in the game that Greg had asked for this.
Dick "made up" the ball with extra care, then let it go. It looked like a chest-high ball as it came, and was so slow that Hi threw back his bat to slam it.
"A home run on this!" thought Hi exultantly.
From the sides of the field came a mocking laugh, for the ball had dropped, leaving Hi pounding wildly at the air.
"Strike one!" called Ben Tozier, slipping a pebble to his other hand.
Dick smiled quietly as the ball came back to him. Greg signaled for an outshoot. But Dick "made up" the ball and imitated his delivery of the throw before.
"I'll get down and get it, this time!" flashed Martin resentfully. He did, only to find himself no nearer the ball than before.
Tittering came from the sides now, also some applause. The spectators had just begun to understand that Dick Prescott was pitching better ball.
Hi felt a bit better for a moment. Then:
"Strike three! Out!"
With a muttered growl of disgust, Captain Martin gave up his post to Percival.
"What has got into Prescott?" demanded Rodgers, of the Norths, anxiously.
"Oh, we'll pound him to pieces soon," muttered Hi.
"Strike one!" sounded the umpire's steady, low voice.
In a moment or two more it was: "Strike three. Out!"
Then a third batsman took post. Dick Prescott, his face now flushed with pleasure, not humiliation, and his eyes flashing battle, put the third man out for the Norths.
Yet, though the Central Grammars put two of their men on bases, they, too, went back to grass ere a run could be scored.
The fifth inning was almost a duplicate of the fourth; no ground gained. In the sixth, after having two men struck out, the Norths took two base hits away from Prescott, and had men on first and second. In an unwary moment for the Centrals the man at second made third just ahead of the ball.
"We'll have a third run in a moment, if our boys keep their heads," murmured Hi Martin confidently. "That will keep us at three to nothing."
At that instant Dick delivered a ball that the North batsman tapped, but just hard enough to drive it for a fair catch into Prescott's hands.
"You idiot!" glared Martin at the offender, as the Norths took the field.
However, all predictions were still in favor of the North Grammars, who had two runs put away while they had kept Prescott's men from scoring.
"Fellows, we've got to do something, and we must make it strong!" muttered Dick, as his side came in.
Reade went to bat—-was struck out.
"That wasn't very strong," sighed Tom, as he passed Dick going to the plate.
Dick Prescott had his favorite bat in his hand. He gripped it a little harder for an instant, then relaxed and waited for Hi's puzzling delivery.
Dick swung for the next one that came. Almost mechanically Tozier opened his mouth to call:
But Dick's willow cut in with a "whack!"
"Woof! Whoop!" Central boys among the spectators sent up an expectant yell, then watched breathlessly. Was the luck about to change?
"Go it! Go it! Go it!" yelled the Central boys in three different pitches of enthusiasm.
Dick, as he struck first and turned, took a fleeting look at the North's right fielder, still in pursuit of the long fly that had gone by him and was rolling over the field. Then, straining lungs and nerves, Dick sprinted toward the second bag.
"Go it! Hustle!"
Behind him Dick heard the whistle of the coming ball. Just ahead of him was the plate. He took a long leap, then slid. Second baseman held up the ball in his right hand.
"Safe, safe!" yelled the gleeful Central spectators.
"Out! That was out!" hoarsely declared the boosters for the North Grammars.
"Safe at second," called Ben Tozier steadily.
"Oh, you ape of an umpire!" grunted Hi Martin disgustedly, as he mitted the ball from second. For an instant he watched Dick, who was edging away from second. Then he turned to send in a drive past Greg, who now hovered over the plate.
Greg Holmes went to two strikes and three balls, Hi all the time alertly watching Prescott at second.
Crack! And now Greg was running. Norths' left-fielder muffed the ball, then recovered and threw like a flash to third. But Dick was there a shade of a second ahead of the leather.
"Safe" declared the umpire.
Hi Martin flashed a warning look at the catcher for his nine, then sent a sweeping glare around the bases. Greg and Dick smiled sweetly back.
"Play ball!" ordered Umpire Tozier.
Dan Dalzell was now at bat, tingling with anxiety, though his grin seemed a yard wide.
"Oh, you Danny Grin! Eat the leather!" appealed a Central rooter from the side.
Dan grinned again, his look seeming to say, "Watch me!"
Two strikes, with no called balls. Dick, dancing away from third, felt himself on tenterhooks. Not all of his perspiration was due to the heat of the day.
Again Dan offered. Crack! A wild, gleeful whoop went up from some of the Central rooters, while others held their breath. The ball went high, and right field came running in for it. As it happened, the fielder underestimated the length of the flight. It struck the ground to his rear and rolled. Before the outfielder could pick it up Dan had kicked the first bag.
Dick was in, scoring the first run, while Greg was at second, and Dan hugging first as though he dared not be found two yards away from that bag.
Henderson now went to bat, accompanied by the grave anxiety of the members of his nine, for Spoff was not one of the star players. True to expectations Spoff struck out.
"Do it, Hazelton! You've got to do it!" yelled the Central fans despairingly. "Don't miss any tricks!"
Harry, however, could find nothing safe to hit at. He took first on called balls, advancing Greg to third and Dan to second.
Wrecker Lane now swung the willow. On his face was a do-or-die, dogged expression. Wrecker was not a brilliant player, though he was one to whom defeat came hard.
"Go after it, Wrecker. Put it over hard! Slam!"
After two strikes and one ball had been called Wrecker let go in deadly earnest. Bang! The blow split the leather, which went in an erratic though by no means short course. Greg dashed in over the plate amid wild cheers. Dan, hotfooting as he had never before done in his life, crossed the plate also. Wrecker, panting, reached first, looked at the fielder almost on the ball, sped on, then prudently turned and make back for first.
Toby Ross now went to bat, and struck out in crisp one-two-three order.
"Wrecker, that was a bully liner!" glowed Dick, grasping the hand of the boy who had saved the score in its critical moment. "You seemed to have Hi Martin's delivery down to a certainty."
"Yes, and it was a wonder, too," confessed Wrecker, still a bit dazed. "I couldn't see the ball at all, but I knew that it was up to me to do something."
"How do you feel now, Chromos?" bawled Ted Teall at the beginning of the seventh.
The score was now three to two in favor of Central Grammar.
It was still there when the seventh ended, and also at the finish of the eighth. Then the North Grammars went to bat for the first half of the ninth.
"You fellows simply must do something—-do a lot," had been Hi's almost tearful urging as be addressed his fellows at the bench.
It was Bill Rodgers who stood before him as Dick twirled the ball, awaiting Greg's signal, which came a second later—-a drop ball.
Bill swung for it, then looked foolish. Two more bad guesses, and he was out.
A second man was soon out, and then a third. Not one of the trio had been able to judge Dick's ball.
Central Grammar had won the first game by the close score of three to two. That, however, was as good for all purposes as any other could possibly be.
"What ails you Norths?" amiably remarked Ted Teall. "Is it the gayness of your uniforms? The red gets in your eyes and keeps you from seeing the ball."
"You're not funny," glowered Hi Martin. "You're merely a clown."
"Wait until my nine plays yours," retorted Teall genially. "Then we'll see who looks more like a clown—-you or I."
But now there was time, and Dick Prescott and his fellows had to tell scores of eager inquirers how they came by their new uniforms, when they had not expected to have any.
"Just what I thought, or as bad, anyway," muttered Martin when the news was brought to him. "These muckers couldn't buy their uniforms, as our fellows did. They had to depend upon charity to make a good appearance on the field."
"Hold on, there, Martin," angrily objected one of the Central fans. "I suppose it was charity, too, when you gave our fellows the game, eh? It was mighty kind of you, too."
"Huh!" retorted Hi. "This is only one game lost, and by a hair's breadth. Wait until the end of the season, and see who carries the laurels."
"Prescott, what do these letters mean on your jersey?" asked Ted Teall, halting and squinting at the golden yellow emblems.
"C.G.?" smiled Dick. "That's for Central Grammar, of course. But the letters have been put on so that they can be easily changed around to read G.C."
"What'll that stand for?" quizzed Teall, winking at some of the other fellows.
"Why, we'll change the letters around after we've played this series, and then the letters will stand for Grammar Champions."
"Oh, I see," grinned Ted. "My, but that will be kind of you, to give our fellows the jerseys."
"You haven't won them yet," retorted Dick. "The Centrals will keep their own jerseys and wear the G.C. by right of conquest."
"Perhaps they will, and perhaps they won't," muttered Hi Martin angrily to himself and Tom Percival.
SETTLING WITH A TEASER
Saturday morning, about eight o'clock, the entire team of the Central Grammar met at Dave Darrin's house. In the front yard they waited for their captain.
"Queer Dick should be a bit late," muttered Torn Reade. "He's our model of punctuality."
"You'll see him come around the corner 'most any minute," Greg predicted.
Nor was Holmes wrong in this. When Prescott arrived he came on a jog trot.
"We wondered what kept you, our right-to-the-minute captain," announced Dave.
"Well, you see," replied Dick quizzically, "I've been thinking."
"Thinking?" repeated Tom. "Oh, I understand. You've been thinking about what the man on the clubhouse steps said."
"Well, hardly anything as big as that," teased Dick. "I'm afraid that you fellows are growing impatient on what is, after all, not a very important matter."
"So, then, the speech of the man on the clubhouse steps wasn't very important?" inquired Tom, seeking to pin their leader down.
"Why, that would depend on how you happened to regard what the man on the clubhouse steps said," Dick laughed.
"Is that what you're going to tell us?" almost bowled Hazelton.
"I don't know that I am going to tell you much of anything," Prescott continued.
"What did the man on the clubhouse steps say?" asked Dan, advancing with uplifted bat.
"You'll never drag the secret from me by threats or violence," retorted Dick, with a stubborn shake of the head.
"We're getting away from the point," Tom went on. "You said you had been thinking."
"You've made the claim of having been thinking, but you haven't offered the slightest proof."
"What I was thinking, fellows, was that we are obliged to meet the South Grammar nine on the diamond to-day."
"We're not afraid of them," scoffed Dave.
"No," Dick went on, "but I've an idea that we're up against an ordeal, after a fashion. You all know what a guyer Ted Teall is—-how he nearly broke up our match with the Norths last Wednesday afternoon."
"Ted can't do any guying this morning," declared Greg readily. "If he does, the umpire will rule him out of the game, and that would snap all of Ted's nerve. No; Ted won't guy us to-day."
"But I'll tell you just what will happen to us," Dick offered. "The spectators who come from the South Grammar aren't under the umpire's orders. You may be sure that Ted has posted the fellows from his school on a lot of things that they can yell at us. Oh, we'll get guyed from the start to the finish of the game."
"If they go too far," hinted Dave, "we can thrash some of the funny ones afterwards."
"I shan't feel like thrashing anyone for having a little fun with us," remarked Reade.
"Thrashing wouldn't do any good, anyway," Dick continued. "Besides which, we might just happen, incidentally, to be the fellows that got the worst thrashing if we started anything like that going. I don't object to good-natured ridicule. But the South Grammar fellows may have some things to yell at us that will rattle our play. That's what I want to stop."
"How can you stop it?" queried Greg.
"That's what kept me home a little later than I intended to stay there," Dick replied. "I have been thinking, since last night, how I could take some of the starch out of Ted Teall, and have some way of throwing the horse laugh back on the South Grammar boys in case they start anything funny enough to rattle us."
"How did the thinking get on?" Tom wanted to know.
"I believe I've something here that will do it," Prescott replied, taking an object from one of his pockets and holding it up.
"It looks like a home-made ball for babies to play with," remarked Dan Dalzell, grinning.
"It's a home-made ball, all right," Dick nodded. "Yet I don't believe that I'd let a baby have it to play with."
"What's the matter with it?" Tom asked. "Loaded?"
"Some one told you," protested Prescott, pretending to look astounded.
"What are you going to do with that thing?" Dave insisted.
"If I have a chance I'm going to get Ted Teall up in the air, and before the crowd, too," Dick asserted.
"With this ball?" Greg asked, taking it from his friend's hand.
"Hm! I don't see anything about it to shatter the nerves of a hardy youth like Ted Teall," Greg muttered. "This ball is just wound with string and covered with pieces of old glove. Why, it's so soft that I don't believe I could throw it straight."
Greg raised the home-made ball to throw it.
"Here! Don't toss it, or you may put it out of business," objected Prescott, taking it away from his friend.
"If the ball can't be thrown, then what on earth is it good for?" questioned Darrin.
"I'll come to that by degrees," Dick promised. "Did you know that dad has secured a license this year to sell fireworks at his store?"
"Yes," nodded several of the boys.
"Well, yesterday, Dad had a lot of samples come in from the manufacturers. There were a few of the extra big and noisy torpedoes," Dick explained. "I got one of them and wrapped this string and leather around it."
Then, in low tones, Dick confided to his comrades the use to which he hoped to put the ball. There were a good many grins as the plot dawned on the young diamond enthusiasts.
"That'll be a warm one, if it works," grinned Reade.
"Say, but I shall be hanging right around to see it happen," declared Darrin.
Originally this Saturday game had been scheduled for two in the afternoon. However, so many of the schoolboys in town wanted to have Saturday afternoon for other fun that the time had been changed to nine in the forenoon.
"Hadn't we better be starting?" asked Dick, looking at his watch.
"Yes; I want to be in at the death of Teall," agreed Reade.
All in uniform the Central Grammars started down the street, though this time they did not march. As they moved along other boys joined them, some from the Central and others from the North Grammar. By the time that Dick's nine and substitutes neared the field more than a hundred fans trailed along with them.
Nearly three hundred other boys were walking about on the field, or lying down under the trees.
Already the South Grammar boys were on the field, practicing by way of warming up.
"Hello! Here come the bluebells!" yelled a group of South Grammar fans and rooters.
"Blue? You bet they'll be blue when the game is over!"
"Hey, Prescott! What'll you take for the letters on your shirt?"
"Gimme that yellow curl over your forehead? I saw it first."
"Oh, my, don't the Little Boys Blue look sweet?"
In silence the Central players marched by their tormentors. Dick gazed across the field to see Ted Teall swinging a bat at the home plate.
"Teall!" called Dick, as he and the others dropped their jackets at the batters' benches.
"Hello!" returned Ted. "I'm glad to see that you fellows really had the nerve to come to-day."
"I saw you doing some pretty wild batting, Teall," laughed Dick Prescott. "That kind of work won't save you when I get started. Shall I throw you in a few real ones—-hard ones—-before we get at it in earnest?"
"Go on!" retorted Ted scornfully.
"Oh, I won't hurt you," Prescott promised.
"You bet you won't," boasted Teall.
"He's afraid, even before the game starts," jeered a group of Central Grammar boys. "That's right, Ted. Guard your life."
"Don't be afraid, Teall," Dick urged tantalizingly. "Trying to hit some of my deliveries will be something like an education for you."
"Bosh!" sneered Teall.
"Then why won't you try a few?"
"I will, if you really think you can throw a ball that will rattle me any," Teall agreed, grinning broadly.
"Go at him, Dick!"
"Whoop! Show him what a cheap batter he is."
Laughing, balancing a ball in his hands, Dick glided out on to the diamond.
"Ready, Ted? Just see what you can do with one like this," Dick mocked.
It was a swift ball, but a straight one. To a batsman of Teall's skill it was not a difficult one to hit. Ted swung his bat and gave the ball a crack that sent it far out into outfield.
"Is that the best you can do?" jeered Ted.
"Oh, I've one or two better than that," replied Dick, pretending to feel flustered.
Again Prescott sent in a swift one, and once more Teall sent the leather spinning over the field. Hoots and cat-calls from the Souths filled the air. The Central fans began to look a bit uneasy. What was their champion pitcher doing, to let Teall get away with his deliveries as easily as this?
A third ball Dick drove in, with the same result as before.
"Say, what you fellows need is practice," leered Ted.
"Look out that I don't catch you yet," mocked Dick Prescott, bending to scoop up the returning ball from the ground. Then he wheeled like a flash to confront the batsman.
This time, by a quick substitution, Dick held the home-made ball. He twirled it for an instant, then sent it in toward the plate.
"Just—-as—-easy!" scoffed Ted, whirling his bat, then reaching out for the ball.
Crack! Teall hit it soundly.
Bang! With such force had the batsman struck that he exploded the large torpedo inside the home-made ball. There was a rattling explosion, and Teall, unable to figure, in that first instant, what had happened, sent the bat flying.
"Ow-ow-ow!" yelled startled Ted, leaping up into the air. When he alighted he ran a dozen or more steps as fast as he could go, then halted and looked around him. For an instant Teall's face expressed panic.
Then mocking laughter from hundreds of throats greeted him.
"I knew any little thing out of the ordinary would rattle you," smiled Dick. "Don't lose your nerve. It wasn't anything."
"Just a fresh idiot's attempt to be funny!" growled Teall, his face now red with mortification.
"Laugh, Ted, confound you!" urged Tom Reade. "Laugh! Don't be a grouch."
"What you need, Teall," teased Dave Darrin, "is some nerve tonic. You ought not to let yourself get into such bad shape that you almost faint when you hit the ball."
For once Ted Teall's ready tongue went back on him. He could think of nothing to say that would not make him look still more ridiculous.
"I guess he'll be good, for one game at least," grimaced Dick as he turned to his teammates.
TED TEALL FACES THE STORM
The game had gone into the third inning, with the Centrals retired from the bat and the Souths now in from the field.
In the second inning Greg, backed splendidly by Tom and Dick, had scored a run for his side—-the only run listed as yet.
In this third inning, with South Grammar now at the bat, two men were out, and one on second when Ted Teall stepped to the plate.
"Put a real slam over on 'em, Ted!" shouted a South fan.
"Drive a ball over into Stayton and then fill up the score card while the Centrals are looking for it!" advised another Teall partisan.
"Centrals?" jeered another boy from the South. Grammar. "Centrals? Show 'em they're just plain hello-girls!"
Ted grinned broadly at this "hello-girls" nickname. Just then another fan from the southern part of Gridley piped up:
"Ted, eat 'em. They're only nine pieces of blue cheese!"
That was going too far, and it was time for Central Grammar to take notice effectively.
"Bang!" roared one half of the Central fans.
"Ow-ow-ow!" yelled the other half of the Central boosters, leaping up into the air.
Even Ted Teall had to laugh at this mortifying reminder of his terror when he had struck the torpedo ball. The next instant his face went deep red, for everyone on the field appeared to be laughing and jeering at him.
"Confound Prescott and his tricks!" muttered Teall under his breath. "It'll take a lot of thinking for me to get even with that trick."
Whizz-zz! went the ball by Ted's body, just below shoulder-high.
"Strike one!" called the umpire sharply.
"Centrals will get me rattled with that bang-ow-ow! of theirs every time they spring it on me," thought Ted savagely.
Again Ted had failed to realize that the ball was coming. In his anger be wondered whether he'd rather throw his bat at the umpire or at smiling Dick Prescott.
"Strike three!" called the umpire's steady voice. "Side out."
Then Ted, in sheer exasperation, did hurl his bat a score of feet away.
"Bang!" came in a volley of Central voices.
"Ow-ow-ow!" wailed the other half of Old Dut's boys while the North Grammars joined in.
"Go it, you boobs!" muttered Ted, shaking his fist at the spectators.
"Hurrah!" cheered Spoff Henderson from the subs' bench. "We know how to stop Ted Teall's mouth now!"
Teall happened to hear the remark.
"Oh, you fellows are a lot of boobies!" sputtered Ted wrathfully.
"Anyway," Toby Ross leered back at him, "we're not so young that we yell when we hit a ball by mistake."
In the fourth and fifth innings the Central Grammars, though they booked some base hits, did not succeed in getting any runs through. However, they succeeded in preventing Teall's nine from scoring, which kept the score still at one to nothing. In the first half of the sixth Harry Hazelton was brought home from third by a good one by Dan. Then the side went out. In this inning Teall again had a chance at bat. Before batting he stalked over to where a lot of his schoolfellows were grouped and muttered:
"Don't you fellows shoot any funny remarks in this inning. Keep quiet."
"Huh!" shot out one of the boys. "What's the matter with you, Ted?"
"No matter. But I don't want any funny line of talk steered over to the Centrals to-day."
"Seems to me you've changed a lot, Ted," grinned one of his classmates. "Yesterday afternoon you put us up to a lot of funny things to holler to-day."
"Forget 'em," ordered Ted.
"Dick Prescott certainly stabbed you with that torpedo," grinned another South. "Ted, your nerve is gone for to-day."
"Don't get too funny with me, or I'll see you after the game," threatened Teall, as he stalked away, for he was now on deck, and due to go next to bat.
The second man for the Souths struck out.
"Teall at bat!" called the score-keeper.
Hi Martin and a lot of the North Grammar boys had come to the field late. Hi didn't like to see the score two to nothing in favor of the Centrals. He would have preferred to have the Souths win.
"Let's get Prescott rattled?" whispered Martin.
"I don't believe you can do it," replied Bill Rodgers. "Prescott is a mighty cool one."
"Yes, we can," insisted Hi. "I'll tell you what to boiler just the instant that Teall picks up the stick and Prescott starts to twist the ball."
Ted, all unsuspicious, and believing that he had stilled his own band of teasing torments, picked up his bat and went to the plate.
"Put it over the robbers, Ted!" came from Hi Martin's crowd. "Don't be afraid of the Centrals—-the fellows who stole their uniforms from a lunatic in the woods."
Dick heard the senseless taunt and understood it. But it didn't anger or confuse him. Instead, the ball left his hand with surer guidance.
But a crowd of Central fans also heard, and imagined that the yell came from one of the groups of Souths.
"Bang! bang!" yelled a lot of Central Grammar boys with enthusiasm.
"Ow-ow-ow! Ow-ow-ow!" came the response.
"Strike one!" called the umpire. Ted, his face crimson and his eyes flashing fire, threw his bat from him.
"Teall, pick up your bat," ordered the umpire. "If you do that again I'll order you from the game."
"I don't care if you do!" trembled on Ted's lips, but he caught the words in time. He gulped, swallowed hard, hesitated, then went tremulously to pick up his stick. However, his grit was gone for the day. He struck out and retired.
"Ow-ow-ow!" yelled a few of the Central fans in the eighth, and Dave Darrin struck a two bagger, bringing Prescott in safe from second, scoring a third run and landing Darrin on second. Had not Ross struck out immediately afterward there would have been other runs scored. The count was now three to nothing in favor of the Central Grammars.
"Prescott's fellows are playing some ball," declared Bill Rodgers.
"Hub! You mean that the Souths don't know how to play," sneered Hi Martin.
"Teall's fellows are playing well," argued Rodgers. "If you watch, you'll see that the luck of the Centrals depends a lot on the way they run the bases. Whew! They go like greased lightning when they're sprinting around the diamond."
"Well, why shouldn't they run?" demanded Hi. "Prescott and his fellows have been running every day since the snow went away."
"I wish our Norths had been running all the time, too," sighed Bill.
The Souths were playing desperately well in the field. Dick's side came in for the ninth, but did not succeed in getting another run.
"Now, watch 'em closely, fellows," counseled Dick, as, from the benches, he started his men out to the field. "The Souths are mad and game, and they may get runs enough in this last half to beat us. Play, all the time, as if you didn't know what it was to be tired. Keep after 'em!"
Dick struck the first South Grammar fellow out. The next man at bat took first on called balls. The next hit a light fly that was good for a base. The player who followed sent a bunt that Dave, as short-stop, fumbled. And now the bases were full.
"Oh, you Ted!" wailed the South fans hopefully. "Do your duty now, Teall!"
Ted gripped the bat, stepping forward. As he reached the plate he shot at his schoolmates a look of grim resolution.
"I'll bring those three fellows in, if I have to kill the ball, or drive it through a fielder!" muttered Ted resolutely. "If we can tie the score then we can break this fearful hoodoo and win the game yet."
"Don't let that pitcher scare you, Ted!" yelled a South encouragingly. "He hasn't a wing any longer. It's only a fin."
"Codfish fin, at that," mocked another.
"Bang!" retorted a dozen Central fans.
Before the answering chorus could come Dick Prescott held up a hand, looking sternly at his sympathizers.
"Strike one!" called the umpire, and once more Teall reddened.
"I've got to brace, and work myself out of this," groaned red-faced Teall. "There's too much depending on me."
"Now, I hope the next one will be good, and that I can hit it a crack that will drive it into the next county," muttered Ted, feeling the cold sweat beading his forehead.
He judged wrongly, on a drop ball.
"Drive a plum into that pudding in the box, Ted," sang out one of his classmates.
"Ow-ow-ow!" shrieked a score of watching Central Grammar boys. That was the last straw. Ted felt the blood rush to his head and all looked red before him.
"Strike three! Side out! Game!" came slowly, steadily from the umpire. Then the score-keeper rose to his feet.
"Central Grammar wins by a score of three to nothing."
This time Ted Teall didn't throw his bat. Gripping it savagely, he stalked over to a group of his own schoolmates.
"What fellow was it that started the yelling?" demanded Ted huskily.
"Why?" challenged three or four of the Souths.
"I want to know who he is—-that's all," muttered Ted.
In a moment there was a mix-up. But Teall wasn't popular at that moment. A captain who had led his men into a whitewash was entitled to no very great consideration.
"Let go of that bat!" roared Ted, as he felt it seized. "Let go, or I'll hit some one with it."
"That's what he wants to do anyway," called out one of the boys. "Yank it away from him!"
The bat torn from him, Ted Teall was fighting mad. He was so ugly, in fact, that he was borne to the ground, three of his own classmates sitting on him.
"You're all right, Ted," announced one of his classmates. "All that ails you is that you've got a touch of heat. Cool off and we'll let you up."
"There's one guyer who has lost his hold on his favorite pastime of annoying other people," remarked Tom Reade grimly.
"Dick's trick was the slickest that ever I saw done in that line," chuckled Dave Darrin. "But I wonder how our fellows tumbled to the idea of calling 'bang' first, and then following it up with 'ow-ow-ow'?"
"Want to know very badly?" Tom questioned.
"I surely do," Darry nodded.
"Well, then," Tom declared, "I put some of the fellows up to that trick."
TWO RIVALS PLAN DIRE REVENGE
"I wonder what Ted Teall will do after this when he wants to play rattles on the other side?" inquired Harry.
Dick & Co. were now making the most of Saturday afternoon. Having no money to spend, and no boat in which to enjoy themselves on the river, they had gone out of Gridley some distance to a small, clear body of water known as Hunt's pond.
When sufficient time after dinner had passed, they intended to strip and go in swimming, for this pond, well in the woods, was, by common understanding, left for boys who wanted to indulge in that sport.
"I don't believe Ted will get very funny, in the immediate future," replied Tom reflectively. "His fellows came to the field, all primed with a lot of funny remarks they were going to shoot at us during the game. Yet the only fellows who got hit by any flying funny talk were the Souths themselves. I have been wondering if 'Bang—-ow-ow' was what cost the Souths the game?"
"I don't quite believe that," replied Dick. "Yet I am certain that it took a lot of starch out of Ted himself. Do you remember that time when he went over and spoke to his fellows?"
"Yes," nodded Greg.
"Well," Dick pursued, "I've heard since that that was the time when Ted went over and begged his fellows to 'can' all funny talk until the game was over."
"But they didn't," chuckled Dan.
"That was why Ted was so angry at the end."
"Anyway," Tom insisted, "Teall isn't likely to bother us any more."
"Either he'll quit on the funny talk," agreed Prescott, "or else he'll go to the other extreme and be more tantalizing than ever."
It would greatly have interested these Central Grammar boys had they known that the subject of their conversation was even then listening to them. Ted Teall, sore and angry, had come away from town all by himself. He wanted a long swim in the pond, to see if that would cool off the anger that consumed him.
Hearing voices as he came through the woods, Ted halted first, then, crawling along the ground, made his way cautiously forward. And now the captain of the South Grammar nine lay flat, his head hidden behind a clump of low bushes.
"Having fun over me, are they?" growled Ted.
"It was a rough trick to play, of course," laughed Dick. "But I felt so wholly certain Ted's fellows would start in to break us up that I felt I had to spring that torpedo trick in order to shut the other crowd up in advance."
"Oh, you did, did you?" thought Teall angrily.
"But now there's something else to be thought of," Prescott went on. "Teall is bound to feel sore and ashamed, and he won't rest until be has done his best to get even with us."
"Teall had better leave us alone," replied Tom, shaking his head. "Ted's brain isn't any too heavy, and he'll never be equal to getting the better of a crowd with a Dick Prescott in it."
"We won't do any bragging just yet," Prescott proposed.
"That's right. You'd better not," Ted growled under his breath.
"Fellows," announced Dan Dalzell, "I've made an important discovery."
"I wonder if he saw me?" flashed through Teall's mind, as he tried to lie flatter than before.
"Name the discovery," begged Hazelton.
"Look at your watches, fellows," Dan continued, "and I think you'll find that it's now proper time for us to go in swimming."
"So it is," Darrin agreed. "Hurrah!"
Little more was said for a few moments. All the fellows of Dick & Co. were busy in getting their clothing off.
"Say, but I hope you fellows get far enough away from your duds!" breathed Teall vengefully, as he watched through the screen of leaves.
"Do you fellows think we had better leave a guard over our clothes?" queried Dick, as they stood forth, ready for swimming.
"Not!" returned Dalzell with emphasis. "If I agreed to it, it would be just my luck to have the lot fall to me. For the next half hour I don't want to do a thing but feel the water around me all the way up to my neck."