THE HIGH SCHOOL CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM
or Dick & Co. Leading the Athletic Vanguard
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. "Kicker" Drayne Revolts II. A Hint from the Girls III. Putting the Tag on the Sneak IV. The Traitor Gets His Deserts V. "Brass" for an Armor Plate VI. One of the Fallen VII. Dick Meets the Boy-With-A-Kick VIII. Dick Puts "A Better Man" in His Place IX. Could Dave Make Good? X. Leading the Town to Athletics XI. The "King Deed" of Daring XII. The Nerve of the Soldier XIII. Dick Begins to Feel Old XIV. Fordham Plays the Gentleman's Game XV. "We'll Play the Gentleman's Game XVI. Gridley's Last Charge XVII. The Long Gray Column XVIII. The Would-Be Candidates XIX. Tom Reade Bosses the Job XX. When the Great News was Given Out XXI. Gridley Seniors Whoop It Up XXII. The Message From the Unknown XXIII. The Plight of the Innocent XXIV. Dave Gives Points to the Chief of Police XXV. Conclusion
"Kicker" Drayne Revolts
"I'm going to play quarter-back," declared Drayne stolidly.
"You?" demanded Captain Dick Prescott, looking at the aspirant in stolid wonder.
"Of course," retorted Drayne. "It's the one position I'm best fitted for of all on the team."
"Do you mean that you're better fitted for that post than anyone else on the team?" inquired Prescott. "Or that it's the position that best fits your talents?"
"Both," replied Drayne.
Dick Prescott glanced out over Gridley High School's broad athletic field.
A group of the middle men of the line, and their substitutes, had gathered around Coach Morton.
On another part of the field Dave Darrin was handling a squad of new football men, teaching how to rush in and tackle the swinging lay figure.
Still others, under Greg Holmes, were practicing punt kicks.
Drayne's face was flushed, and, though he strove to hide the fact, there was an anxious look there.
"I didn't quite understand, Drayne," continued the young captain of the team, "that you were to take a very important part this year."
"Pshaw! I'd like to know why I'm not," returned the other boy hotly.
"I think that is regarded as being the general understanding," continued Dick. He didn't like this classmate, yet he hated to give offense or to hurt the other's feelings in any way.
"The general understanding?" repeated Drayne hotly. "Then I can tell the man who started that understanding."
"I think I can, too," Prescott answered, smiling patiently.
"It was you, Dick Prescott! You, the leader of Dick & Co., a gang that tries to boss everything in the High School!
"Cool down a bit," advised young Prescott coolly. "You know well enough that the little band of chums who have been nicknamed Dick & Co. don't try to run things in the High School. You know, too, Drayne, if you'll be honest about it, that my chums and I have sometimes sacrificed our own wishes to what seemed to be the greatest good of the school."
"Then who is the man who has worked to put me on the shelf in football?" insisted the other boy, eyeing Dick menacingly.
"What are you talking about?" cried Drayne, more angry than before.
"Don't be blind, Drayne," continued the young captain. "And don't be silly enough to pretend that you don't know just what I mean. You remember last Thanksgiving Day?"
"Oh, that?" said Drayne, contemptuously. "Just because I wouldn't do just what you fellows wished me to do?
"I was there," pursued Captain Prescott, "and I heard all that was said, saw all that was done. There was nothing unreasonable asked of you. Some of the fellows were a good bit worried as to whether you were really in shape for the game, and they talked about it among themselves. They didn't intend you to over hear, but you did, and you took offense. The next thing we knew, you were hauling off your togs in hot temper, and telling us that you wouldn't play. You did this in spite of the fact that we were about to play the last and biggest game of the season."
"I should say I wouldn't play, under such circumstances! Nor would you, Prescott, had the same thing happened to you."
"I have had worse things happen to me," replied Dick coolly. "I have been hectored to pieces, at times, both on the baseball and football teams. The hectoring has even gone so far that I have had to fight, more than once. But never sulked in dressing quarters and refused to go on the field."
"No!" taunted Drayne. "And a good reason why. You craved to get out, always, and make grand stand plays!"
"I suppose I'm as fond of applause from the grand stand as any other natural fellow," laughed Dick good-humoredly. "But I'll tell you one thing, Drayne: I never hear a murmur of what comes from the grand stand until the game is over. I play for the success of the team to which I belong, and listening to applause would take my mind off the plays. But, candidly, what the fellows have against you, is that you're a quitter. You throw down your togs at a critical moment, and tell us you won't play, just because your fearfully sensitive feelings have been hurt. Now, a sportsman doesn't do that."
"Oh, it's all right for you to take on that mighty superior air, and try to lecture me," retorted Drayne gruffly.
"I'm not lecturing you. But the fellows chose me to lead the team this year, and the captain is the spokesman of the team. He also has to attend to its disagreeable business. Don't blame me, Drayne, and don't blame anyone else——-"
"Captain Prescott!" sounded the low, but clean-cut, penetrating voice of Mr. Morton, submaster and football coach of the Gridley High School.
"Coming, sir!" answered Dick promptly.
Then he added, to Drayne:
"Just blame your own conduct for the decision that was reached by coach and myself after listening to the instructions of the alumni Athletics Committee."
Dick moved away at a loping run, for football practice was limited to an hour and a half in an afternoon, and he knew there was no time to be frittered.
"Oh, you sneak!" quivered Drayne, clenching his hands as he scowled at the back of the captain. "It was you who brought up the old dispute. It is you who are keeping me from any decent chance this last year of mine in the High School. I won't stand it! I'll shake the dust from my feet on this crowd. I won't remain in the squad, just for a possible chance to sub in some small game!"
His face still hot with what he considered righteous indignation, Drayne felt better as soon as he had decided to shake the crowd.
In an instant, however, he changed his mind. A sly, exultant look came into his eyes.
"On second thought I believe I won't quit," he grinned to himself. "I'll stay—-I'll drill—-and I'll get good and square with this cheap crowd, captained by a cheap man! Gridley hasn't lost a game in years. Well, you chaps shall lose more than one game this year! I'll teach you! I'll make this a year that shall never be forgotten by humbled Gridley pride!"
Just what Phin Drayne was planning will doubtless be made plain ere long.
Readers of the preceding volumes in this series are already familiar with nearly all the people, young and old, of both sexes, whom they are now to meet again. In the first volume, "The High School Freshmen," our readers became acquainted with Dick Prescott, Dave Darrin, Greg Holmes, Dan Dalzell, Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, six young chums who, back in their days in the Central Grammar School Gridley, had become fast friends, and had become known as Dick & Co.
These chums played together, planned together, entered all sports together. They were inseparable. All were manly young fellows. When they entered Gridley High School, and caught the fine High School spirit prevailing there, they made the honor of the school even more important than their own companionship.
In the first year at High School the boys, being mere freshmen, could not expect to enter any of the school's athletic teams. Yet, as our readers know, Dick and his friends found many a quiet way to boost local interest and pride in High School athletics. Dick & Co. also indulged in many merry and startlingly novel pranks. Dick secured an amateur position as space reporter on "The Blade," the morning newspaper of the little city, and was assigned, among other things, to look after the news end of the transactions of the Board of Education. The "influence" that young Prescott secured in that way doubtless saved him from having grave trouble, or being expelled when, owing to Dr. Thornton's ill-health, Abner Cantwell, a man with an uncontrollable temper, came temporarily to the principal's chair. To everybody's great delight, at the beginning of this their senior year, Dr. Thornton had returned to his position fully restored to his former vigor and health.
In "The High School Pitcher" Dick & Co., then sophomores, were shown in some fine work with the Gridley High School nine, and Dick had serious, even dangerous, Trouble, with mean, treacherous enemies that he made.
In "The High School Left End," Dick & Co., juniors, made their real entrance into High School athletics by securing places in the school football eleven. It was in this year that there occurred the famous strife between the "soreheads" and their enemies, whom the former termed the "muckers." The "soreheads" were the sons of certain aristocratic families who resolved to secede from football in case any of the members of Dick & Co. or of other poor Gridley families, were allowed to make places on the team. As the group of "soreheads" contained a few young men who were really absolutely necessary to the success of the Gridley High School football eleven, the strife threatened to put Gridley in the back row as far as football went.
But Dick, with his characteristic vigor, went after the "soreheads" in the columns of "The Blade." He covered them with ridicule and scorn so that the citizens of the town began to take a hand in the matter as soon as their public pride was aroused.
The "soreheads" were driven, then, to apply for places in the football squad. Only those most needed, however, had been admitted, and the rest had retired in sullen admission of defeat.
Two of the latter, Bayliss and Bert Dodge, carried matters so far, however, that they were actually forced out of the High School and left Gridley to go to a preparatory school elsewhere.
The hostile attempts of young Ripley, of Dodge, Drayne and others to injure Dick & Co. have been fully related in the four volumes of the "High School Boys' Vacation Series." This series deals with the good times enjoyed by Dick & Co. during their first three summers as high school boys. These stories are replete with summer athletics, and a host of exciting adventures. The four volumes of this Vacation Series are published under the titles: "The High School Boys' Canoe Club," "The High School Boys in Summer Camp," "The High School Boys Fishing Trip" and "The High School Boys' Training Hike."
This present year no "sorehead" movement had been attempted. Every student who honestly wanted to play football presented himself at the school gymnasium, on the afternoon named by Coach Morton for the call, including Drayne, who had been one of the original "soreheads." Drayne afterwards returned to the football fold, behaving with absurd childishness at the big Thanksgiving game, as our readers will recall.
Leaving Coach Morton, Captain Prescott hurried away to take charge of the practice.
"Come, Mr. Drayne!" called Coach Morton "Get into the tackling work, and be sure to mix it up lively."
"Just a moment, coach, if you please," begged Drayne.
"Well, Drayne?" asked Mr. Morton
"Captain Prescott has just been telling me that I'm to be only a sort of sub this year."
"Well, he's captain," replied the submaster.
"Huh! I thought it was all Prescott's fine work!" sneered Phin.
"You're wrong there, Mr. Drayne," rejoined the coach frankly. "As a matter of fact, it was I who suggested that you be cast for light work this year."
"Oh!" muttered Drayne
"Yes; if you feel like blaming anyone, blame me, not Prescott. You know, Drayne, you didn't behave very well last Thanksgiving Day."
"I admit that my behavior was unreasonable, sir. But you know, Mr. Morton, that I'm one of the valuable men."
"There's a crowd of valuable men this year, Drayne," smiled the submaster.
"On the strongest pledge that I can give you, Mr. Morton, will you allow me to play regular quarter-back this season?" begged the quitter of the year before.
"I would give the idea more thought if Prescott recommended it; but I doubt if he would," answered Mr. Morton slowly. "Personally, Drayne, I don't approve of putting you on strong this year. The quitter's reputation Drayne, is one that can't ever be really lived down, you know."
Though coach's manner was mild enough, there was look of the resolute eyes of this famous college athlete that made Phin Drayne realized how I hopeless it was to expect any consideration from him.
"All right then Mr. Morton," he replied huskily. "I'll do my best on a small showing, and take what comes to me."
Yet, as he walked slowly over to join the tacklers around the swinging figure, the hot blood came again to young Drayne's face.
"I'll make this year a year of sorrow Gridley!" he quivered indignantly. "I'll hang on, and make believe I'm meek as a lamb, but I'll spoil Gridley's record for this year! There was in olden times a chap who had a famous knack for getting square with people who used him the wrong way. I wish I could remember his name at this moment."
Drayne couldn't recall the name at the time, but another name that might have served Drayne to remember at this instant was—-
A Hint from the Girls
There had been nothing rapid in Dick Prescott's elevation to the captaincy of the eleven.
Back in the grammar school he had started his apprenticeship in athletics. During his freshman year in High School he had kept up his training. In his sophomore year he had trained hard for and had won honors in the baseball nine. In his junior year, after harder training that ever, he had performed a season's brilliant work, playing left end in all the biggest games of the season.
So now, in his senior and last year at Gridley High School he had come by degrees to the most envied of all possible positions in school athletics.
The election to the football captaincy had not been sought by Dick. In his junior year it had been offered to him, but he had declined it, feeling that Wadleigh, both by training and judgement, was better fitted to lead the eleven on the gridiron. But now, having reached his senior year, Dick was by far the best leader possible. Coach and football squad alike conceded it, and the Alumni Association's Athletics Committee had approved.
Dick Prescott had grown in years since first we saw him, but not in conceit. Like all who succeed in this world, he had a good degree of positiveness in his make-up; but from this he left out strong self-conceit. In all things, as in his school life, he was prepared to sacrifice himself along whatever lines pointed to the best good.
Dave Darrin, of all the chums, was nearly as well fitted as was Prescott to lead, though not quite. So Dave, with Dick's own kind of spirit, fell back willingly into second place. This year Dave was second captain of the eleven, ready to lead to victory if Dick should become incapacitated.
Beyond these, any of the four other chums were almost as well qualified for leadership. Ability to lead was strong in all the "partners" of Dick & Co.
While they were on the field that afternoon all of the six worked as though football were the sole subject on earth that interested them. That was the Gridley High School way, and it was the spirit that Coach Morton always succeeded in putting into worthy young men. Once back in dressing quarters, however, and under the shower baths, the talk turned but little on football.
As soon as they had rubbed down and dressed Dick & Co. went outside and started back to town—-on foot. Time could be saved by taking the street car, but Dick and his friends believed that a brief walk, after the practice served to keep the kinks out of their joints and muscles.
"What ailed old Drayne this afternoon, Dick?" asked Tom Reade.
"Why, he told me that he had hoped to play quarter this season."
"Regular quarter?" demanded Dan Dalzell, opening his eyes very wide.
"That was what I gathered, from what he said," nodded Dick.
"Well, of all the nerve!" muttered Hazelton.
"The star position—-for a fellow with a quitter's record!"
"I was obliged to say something of the sort" smiled Dick, "though I tried to say it in a way that wouldn't hurt his feelings."
"You didn't succeed very well in salving his feelings, if his looks gave any indication." laughed Greg Holmes quietly.
"Drayne went over to coach afterwards," added Dave Darrin. "Mr. Morton didn't seem to give the fellow any more satisfaction than you did, Dick."
"Who is to be quarter, anyway?" asked Harry Hazelton.
"Why, Dave is my first and last choice," Prescott answered frankly. "But, personally, I'm not going to press him any too hard for the post."
"Why not?" challenged Greg.
"Because everyone will say that I'm playing everything in the interest of Dick & Co."
"Dave Darrin is head and shoulders above any other possibility for quarter-back," insisted Greg, with so much conviction that Darrin, with mock politeness, turned and lifted his cap in acknowledgment of the compliment.
"Then coach and the Athletics Committee are intelligent enough to find it out," answered the young football captain.
"That suits me," nodded Dave. "I want to play at quarter; yet, if I can't make everyone concerned feel that I am the man for the job, then I haven't made good to a sufficient extent to be allowed to carry off the honors in a satchel."
"That's my idea, Darrin," answered Dick. "I believe you have made good, and so good at that, that I'm going to dodge any charge of favoritism, and leave it to others to see that you're forced to take what you deserve."
"Of course I want to play this season, and I'm training hard to be at my best," said Reade. "Yet when it's all over, and we've won every game, good old Gridley style, I shall feel mighty happy."
"Yes," nodded Harry Hazelton, "and the same thing here."
"That's because you two are not only attending High School, but also trying to blaze out your future path in life," laughed Dave.
"Well, the rest of you fellows had better be serious about your careers in life," urged Tom. "It isn't every pair of fellows, of course, who've been as fortunate as Harry and I."
"No; and all fellows can't be suited by the same chances, which is a good thing," replied Prescott. "For my part, I wouldn't find much of any cheer in the thought that I was going to be allowed to carry a transit, a chain or a leveler's rod through life."
"Well, we don't expect to be working in the baggage department of our profession forever," protested Harry Hazelton, with so much warmth that Dave Darrin chuckled.
Tom and Harry had decided that civil or railroad engineering, or both, perhaps, combined with some bridge building, offered them their best chances of pleasant employment in life.
Mr. Appleton, a local civil engineer with whom the pair had talked had offered to take them into his office for preliminary training. because at the High School, Tom and Harry had already qualified in the mathematical work necessary for a start.
No practicing civil engineer in these days feels that he has the time or the inclination to take a beginner into his office and teach him all of the work from the ground up. On the other hand, a boy who has been grounded well in algebra, geometry and trigonometry may then easily enter the office of a practicing civil engineer and begin with the tools of the profession. Transit manipulation and readings, the use of the plummet line, the level, compass, rod, chain and staking work may all be learned thus and a knowledge of map drawing imparted to a boy who has a natural talent for the work.
It undoubtedly is better for the High School boy to go to a technical school for his course in civil engineering; yet with a foundation of mathematics and a sufficient amount of determination, the High School boy may go direct to the engineer's office and pick up his profession. Boys have done this, and have afterwards reached honors in their profession.
So Tom and Harry had their future picked out, as they saw it. As soon as they had learned enough of the rudiments, both were resolved to go out to the far West, and there to pick up more, much more, right in the camps of engineers engaged in surveying and laying railroads.
"You fellows can talk about us going to work in the baggage department of our profession," pursued Tom Meade, a slight flush on his manly face. "But, Dick, you and Dave are in the dream department, for you fellows have only a hazy notion that—-perhaps—-you may be able to work your way into the government academies at West Point and Annapolis. As for Greg and Dan, they don't appear to have even a dream of what they hope to do in future."
"You fellows haven't been spreading the news that Dave and I want to go to Annapolis and West Point, have you!" asked Dick seriously.
"Now, what do you take us for?" protested Tom indignantly "Don't we understand well enough that you're both trying to keep it close secret?"
As the young men turned into Main Street the merry laughter of a group of girls came to their ears.
Four of the High School girls of the senior class had stopped to chat for a moment.
Laura Bentley and Belle Meade were there, and both turned quickly to note Dick and Dave. The other girls in the group were Faith Kendall and Jessie Vance.
"Here comes the captain who is going to spoil all of Gridley a chances this year," laughed Miss Vance.
"Hush, Jess," reproved Belle, while Laura looked much annoyed.
I see you have a wholly just appreciation of my merits, Miss Jessie," smiled Dick, as the boys raised their hats.
"Oh, what I said is nothing but the silly talk of him Dra——-" began Jessie lightly, but stopped when she again found herself under the reproving glances of Laura and Belle.
Dick glanced at one of the girls in turn, his glance beginning to show curiosity.
Laura bit her lip; Belle locked highly indignant.
Prescott opened his month as though to ask a question, them closed his lips.
"I guess you might as well tell them, Laura," hinted Faith Kendall.
"Oh, nonsense." retorted Miss Bentley, flushing. "It's nothing at all, especially coming from such a source."
"Then some one has been giving me the roasting that I plainly deserve?" laughed Captain Prescott.
"It's all foolish talk, and I'm sorry the girls couldn't hold their tongues," cried Laura impatiently.
"Then I won't ask you what it was," suggested Dick, "since you don't like to tell me voluntarily."
"You might as well, Laura," urged Faith.
"It's that Phin——-" began Jessie.
"Do be quiet, Jess," urged Belle.
"Why," explained Laura Bentley, "Phin Drayne just passed us, and stopped to chat when Jessie spoke to him——-"
"I didn't," objected Miss Vance indignantly. "I only said good afternoon, and—-"
"I asked Drayne if he had been out to the field for practice," continued Laura. "He grunted, and said he'd been out to see how badly things were going."
"Then, of course, Laura flared up and asked what he meant by such talk," broke in the irrepressible Jessie. "Then—-ouch!"
For Belle had slyly pinched the talkative one's arm.
"Mr. Drayne had a great string to offer us," resumed Laura. "He said football affairs had never been in as bad shape before, and he predicted that the team would go to pieces in all the strong games this year."
"We have a rule of unswerving loyalty in the history of our eleven," said Prescott, smiling, though a grim light lurked in his eyes. "I guess Phin was merely practicing some of that loyalty."
"None of us care what Drayne thinks, anyway," broke in Dave Darrin contemptuously. "He wants to play as a regular, and he's slated only as a possible sub. So I suppose he simply can't see how the eleven is to win without him. But, making allowances for human nature, I don't believe we need to roast him for his grouch."
"I didn't think his talk was worth paying any attention to," added Laura. "I wouldn't have said anything about it, if it hadn't leaked out."
Jessie took this rebuke to herself, and flushed, as she rattled on:
"I guess it was no more than mere 'sorehead' talk on Phin Drayne's part, anyway. Mr. Drayne said he had saved a good deal of his pocket money, lately, and that he was going to win more money by betting on Gridley's more classy opponents this season."
"There's a fine and loyal High School fellow for you!" muttered Greg.
"Suppose we all change the subject," proposed Dick good-humoredly.
Two or three minutes later Dick & Co. again lifted their caps, then continued on their way.
"Dick," whispered Dave, "on the whole, I'm glad that was repeated to us."
"It ought to put us on our guard?"
"Guard? Against whom?"
"I should say against Phin Drayne."
"But he's merely offering to bet that we can't win our biggest games this year," smiled Prescott. "That doesn't prove that we can't win, does it?"
"Oh, of course not."
"Any fellow that will lower himself enough to make wagers on sporting events shows too little judgment to be entitled to have any spending money," pursued Prescott. "But, if Drayne has money, and is going to bet, he won't be entitled to any sympathy when he loses, will he?"
"Humph!" grunted Dave. "I'd like to have this matter followed up. Any fellow who is betting against us ought not to be allowed to play at all."
"Oh, it was just the talk of a silly, disappointed fellow," argued Dick. "I suppose a boy is a good deal like a man, always. There are some men who imagine that it lends importance to themselves when they talk loudly and offer to wager money. I'm not going to offer any bets, Dave, but I feel pretty certain that Drayne is just talking for effect."
"His offering to bet against his own crowd would be enough to justify you in dropping Drayne from the squad altogether," hinted Greg Holmes.
"Yes, of course," admitted Dick. "But we had enough of football soreheads last year. Now, wouldn't it make us look like soreheads if we took any malicious delight in dropping Drayne from the squad just because he has been blowing off some steam?"
"But I wouldn't trust him on the job," snapped Dan Dalzell. "I believe Phin Drayne would sell out any crowd for sheer spite."
"Even his country?" asked Dick quietly.
And there the matter dropped, for the time. Had Dick & Co. and some other High School fellows but known it, however, Drayne would have borne close watching.
Putting the Tag on the Sneak
Anything that Dick Prescott had charge of went along at leaps and bounds. Hence the football eleven was in good shape ten days earlier than Coach Morton could remember to have happened before.
"Your eleven is all ready to line up in the field, now, Captain," announced coach, one afternoon not long after, as the squad came out from dressing quarters for practice.
"I'm glad you think so, sir," replied Dick, a flush of pleasure mantling his cheeks.
"You have every man in fine condition. Condition couldn't be better, in fact, for those of the men who are likely to get on the actual battle line. And all the work is well understood, too. In fact, Captain, you can all but rest on your oars during the next fortnight, up to your first game."
"Hadn't we better go on training hard every day, sir?" inquired the young captain.
"Not hard," replied coach, shaking his head. "If you do, you'll get your men down too fine. Now, there's almost more danger in having your men overtrained than in having them undertrained. Your men can be trained too hard and go stale."
"I've heard of that," Dick nodded thoughtfully.
"Yes," continued coach, "and I've seen school teams that suffered from training down too fine. Boys can't stand it. They haven't as much flesh in training down hard, and they haven't as much endurance as college men, who are older. Captain, you will train your men lightly, three afternoons a week. For the rest, see to it that they stick to all training orders, including diet and hygiene and no tobacco. But don't work any of the men hard, with an idea of getting them in still better shape. You can't do it."
"Then I'd like to make a suggestion, Coach."
"Go ahead, Captain."
"You never saw a school team, did you, sir, that understood its signal work any too well?"
"Never," laughed Mr. Morton.
"Then I would suggest, sir, that most of our training time, from now until the season opens, be spent on drilling in the signals. We ought to keep at practicing the signals. We ought to get the signals down better than ever a Gridley team had them before, sir."
"You've just the right idea, Captain!" cried Mr. Morton heartily, resting one hand around Dick's shoulders. "I was going to order that, but I'm glad you anticipated me."
"Hudson," called out Prescott, "you head a scrub team. Take the men you want after I've chosen for the school team."
Dick rapidly made his choice for the school team. He played center himself, putting Dave Darrin at quarter, Greg Holmes as left tackle and Tom Reade as right end. Dalzell and Hazelton were left out, but they understood, quite well, that this was to avoid showing favoritism by taking all of Dick & Co. on the star team for practice.
"Let me play quarter, Hudson," whispered Drayne, going over to the acting captain of the "scrub."
"Not this afternoon, anyway," smiled Hudson. "I want Dalzell."
Drayne fell back. He was not chosen at all for the scrub team. Yet, as he had nearly a score of companions, out of the large football squad, he had no special reason to feel hurt. Those who had not been picked for either team lined up at the sides. There was a chance that some of them might be called out as subs, though practice in signal work was hardly likely to result in any of the players being injured.
Drayne did not appear to take his mild snub very seriously.
In fact, after his one outbreak before the team captain, and his subsequent remarks to the girls, Drayne had appeared to fall in line, satisfied even to be a member of the school's big squad.
The ball was placed for a snap-back, and Coach Morton sounded the whistle.
"Twelve-nine-seventeen—-twenty-eight—-four!" called Dave Darrin.
Then the scrimmage was on in earnest. As soon as the play had properly developed Mr. Morton blew his whistle, for this was practice only in the signal part.
Then Hudson took the ball and Dalzell called off:
Again the ball was put in play, to be stopped after ten seconds.
So it went on through the afternoon's work. The substitutes on the side lines watched with deep interest, for they, too, had to learn all the signal work.
Within three afternoons of practice Dick had nearly all of his players so that they knew every signal, and were instantly ready to execute their parts in whatever was called for.
But there was no danger of knowing the signals too well. Captain Prescott still called out the squad and gave signal work unceasingly.
"The Gridley boys never jumped so swiftly to carry out their signals before, Captain," spoke Mr. Morton commendingly.
"I want to have this line of work ahead of anything that Tottenville can show next Saturday," Dick replied.
"I guess you have the Tottenville boys beaten all right," nodded Mr. Morton.
Tottenville High School always gave one of the stiffest games that Gridley had to meet. This season Tottenville was first on the list. Prescott's young men knew that they had a stiff fight. It was to take place on the Gridley grounds—-that was comfort to the home eleven.
The entire student body was now feeling the enthusiasm of the opening of the season on Saturday.
The townsmen of Gridley had subscribed as liberally as ever to the athletics fund. There had also been a fine advance sale of seats, and the Gridley band had been engaged to make the occasion a lively one.
"You'll win, if ever the signs were worth anything, Captain," remarked Mr. Morton to Prescott, at recess Thursday forenoon.
"Of course we'll win, sir," laughed Dick. "That's the Gridley way—-that's all. We don't know how to be whipped. I've been taught that ever since I first entered the High School."
"Pshaw!" muttered Drayne, who was passing.
"Don't you believe our chances are good, Mr. Drayne?" asked Mr. Morton, smiling.
"I look upon the Gridley chances as being so good, sir," replied Phin, "that, if I weren't a member of the squad, and a student of the High School, I think I'd be tempted to bet all I could raise on Tottenville."
"Betting is too strong a vice for boys, Mr. Drayne," replied the submaster, rather stiffly. "And doubt of your own comrades isn't very good school spirit."
"I was talking, for the moment, as an outsider," replied Phin Drayne, flushing.
"Change around then, Mr. Drayne, and consider yourself, like every other student of this school, as an insider wherever the Gridley interests are involved."
Drayne moved away, a half-sneer on his face.
"I don't like that young man," muttered Mr. Morton confidentially to the young captain of the team.
"I have no violent personal admiration for him," Prescott answered.
Then the bell sounded, calling all the boys and girls back to their studies.
At just about the hour of noon, a young caller strode into the yard, paused an instant, studying the different entrances of the High School building, then kept straight on and entered.
"A visitor for Mr. Prescott, in the reception, room," announced the teacher in charge of the assembly room.
Bowing his thanks, Dick passed out of the room, crossed the hall, entered a small room, and turned to greet his caller.
A fine-looking, broad-shouldered, bronzed young man of nineteen rose and came forward, holding out his hand.
"Do you remember me, Mr. Prescott?" asked the caller heartily.
"I've played football against you, somewhere," replied Dick, studying the other's face closely.
"Yes, I guess you have," laughed the other. "I played with Tottenville last year. I'm captain this season. Jarvis is my name."
"Oh, I'm downright glad to see you, Mr. Jarvis," Dick went on. "Be seated, won't you?"
"Yes; if you wish. Though I've half a notion that what I have to say may bring you jumping out of your seat in a moment."
"Anything happened that you want to postpone the game?" inquired Prescott, taking a chair opposite his caller.
"No; we're ready for Saturday, and will give you the stiffest fight that is in us," returned Jarvis. "But see here, Mr. Prescott, I'll come direct to the point. Is 'thirty-eight, nine, eleven, four' your team's signal for a play around the left end, after quarter has passed the ball to tackle and he to the end?"
Dick started, despite himself, for that was truly the signal for that play.
"Really Mr. Jarvis, you don't expect me to tell you our signals!" laughed Dick, pretending to be unconcerned.
But Jarvis called off another signal and interpreted it.
"From your face I begin to feel sure that I'm reeling off the right signals," pursued the Tottenville youth. "Now, I'll get still closer to the point, Mr. Prescott."
From an inside pocket Jarvis drew forth four typewritten pages, clamped together and neatly folded.
"Run your eye over these pages, Mr. Prescott, or as far as you want to go."
As Dick read down the pages every vestige of color faded from his face.
Here was Gridley's whole elaborate signal code, laid down in black and white to the last detail. It was all flawlessly correct, too.
"Mr. Jarvis," said Dick, looking up, "you've been a gentleman in this matter. This is our signal code, signal for signal. It's the code on which we relied for our chance to give your team a thrashing on Saturday. I thank you for your honesty, sir."
"Why, I always have rather prided myself on a desire to do the manly thing," smiled Captain Jarvis.
"May I ask how this came into your possession?" demanded Dick.
"It was in our family mail box, this morning, and I took it out on my way to school," replied Jarvis. "You see, the heading on the first sheet shows that the document purports to give the Gridley signals."
"And it does give them, to a dot," groaned Prescott, paling again.
"So I showed it to our coach, Mr. Matthews, and to some of the members of the team," continued Mr. Jarvis. "I would have brought this to you, in any case, and I'm heartily glad to say that every one of our fellows agreed that it was the only manly thing to do."
"You have won the Gridley gratitude," protested Dick. "This code couldn't have been tabulated by anyone but a member of our own squad. No one else had access to this list. There's a Benedict Arnold somewhere in our crowd," continued Dick, with a sudden rush of righteous passion. "Oh, I wish we could find him. But this typewriting, I fear, will give us no conclusive evidence. Was the address on the envelope in which this came also typewritten?"
"No," replied Mr. Jarvis. "I opened this communication on the street, while on my way to school. I tossed the envelope away. Then I fell to studying this document."
"You must have thought it a hoax," smiled Dick wearily.
"I did, at first, yes," continued the Tottenville football captain. "In fact, I was half of that mind when I left Tottenville to come here. But I was determined to find out the truth of the matter. Mr. Prescott, I'm very nearly as sorry as you can be, to have to bring you this evidence that you have a sneak in Gridley High School."
"I'd far rather have lost Saturday's game," choked Prescott, "than to discover that we've such a sneak in Gridley High School. I'm fearfully upset. I wish I had any kind of evidence on which to find this sneak."
"Have you any suspicions?"
"That would be too much to say yet."
"Of course, Mr. Prescott," continued the Tottenville youth, "you'll now have to revise all your signals. It will be a huge undertaking between now and Saturday. If you wish to postpone the game, I'll consent. Our coach has authorized me to say this."
"I think not," replied Dick, "though on behalf of the team I thank you. I'll have to speak to our coach, and Mr. Morton is in his classroom, occupied until the close of the school session."
"I'll meet you anywhere, Mr. Prescott, after school is over."
"You're mighty good, Mr. Jarvis," murmured Dick gratefully. "Now, by the way, if we're to catch the sneak who has done this dastardly thing, we've got to work fast. We ought not to let the traitor suspect anything until we're ready to act. Mr. Jarvis, do you mind leaving here promptly, and going to 'The Morning Blade' office? If you tell Mr. Pollock that you're waiting for me, he'll give you a chair and plenty to read."
"I'm off, then," smiled Jarvis, rising and reaching for his hat.
"I want to shake hands with you, Jarvis, and to thank you again for your manly conduct in bringing this thing straight to me."
"Why, that's almost insulting," retorted Jarvis quizzically. "Why shouldn't an American High School student be a gentleman? Wouldn't you have done the same for me, if the thing had been turned around?"
"Of course," Dick declared hastily. "But I'm glad that this fell into your hands. If we had gone into the game, relying on this signal code——-"
"We'd have burned you to a crisp on the gridiron," laughed Jarvis. "But what earthly good would it do our school to win a game that we got by clasping hands with a sneak and a traitor? Can any school care to win games in that fashion? But now, I'm off for 'The Blade's office—-if your Mr. Pollock doesn't throw me out."
"He won't," Dick replied, "I'm a member of 'The Blade' staff."
"Don't go back into assembly room with a face betraying as much as yours does," whispered Captain Jarvis, over his shoulder.
"Thank you for the tip," Dick responded.
When young Prescott stepped back into the general assembly room his face, though not all the color had returned to it, wore a smiling expression. He stepped jauntily, with his head well up, as he moved to his seat.
For fifteen minutes or more Dick made a pretense of studying his trigonometry hard. Then, picking up a pen with a careless gesture, he wrote slowly, with an appearance of indifference, this note:
_"Dear Mr. Morton: Something of the utmost importance has come up in connection with the football work. Will you, without mentioning this note, and without doing anything that can sound the warning to any other student, meet me at 'The Blade' office as soon as possible after school is dismissed? I shall go to 'The Blade' office just as soon as I get away from here, and I shall await you in the greatest anxiety.
This note Dick carried forward and left on the general desk. It was addressed to Mr. Morton, and marked "immediate."
When the reciting classes returned, and the teachers followed, Mr. Morton read his note without change of expression.
A moment later school was dismissed.
"In a hurry, Dick?" called Dave, racing after his leader as the young men made a joyous break away from the school building.
"Yes," breathed Prescott. "Come along, Dave. But I don't want the others, for I don't want a crowd."
"Quiet, now, old fellow," murmured Dick. "You'll have a big enough surprise in a few moments."
They got away together before their other chums had a chance to catch up.
"From the look in your face, I'd say that there was something queer in the air," guessed Dave.
"There is, Darrin. But wait until the moment comes to talk about it."
Walking rapidly, the two chums came to "The Blade" office. Jarvis, who had been sitting at the back of the office, rose as the two Gridley boys entered. Dick quietly introduced Dave to the young man from Tottenville who greeted him cordially.
"Now, we're waiting for one more before we talk," smiled Dick anxiously.
At that moment the door opened again, and Mr. Morton entered briskly.
"Now, Captain, what is your news?" called coach, as he came forward.
"Why, this is one of the Tottenville team, isn't it?"
"Mr. Morton, Captain Jarvis, of the Tottenville High School team," replied Dick, and the two shook hands.
Then Dick drew the typewritten document from his pocket. They could talk here, for Mr. Pollock had been the only other occupant of the room, and that editor has just stepped out to the composing room.
"Captain Jarvis received this in the mail this morning, sir," announced Prescott, in a voice that quivered with emotion.
Coach glanced through the paper, his face showing plainly what he felt. Then Dick took the paper and passed it to Dave Darrin, who sat consumed by curiosity.
"The abominable traitor—-whoever he is!" cried Dave, rising as though he found his chair red hot. "And I think I can come pretty near putting the tag on the sneak!"
The Traitor Gets His Deserts
Mr. Morton hesitated a moment, ere he trusted himself to speak.
"Yes," he murmured. "I fear we all suspect the same young man."
"Phin Drayne!" cried Dave, in a voice quivering with anger.
"I didn't intend to name him," resumed the coach. "It's a serious thing to do."
"To sell out one's school—-I should say 'yes'!" choked Darrin.
"No; I meant that it is a fearful thing to accuse anyone until we have proof that can't be disputed," added Mr. Morton gravely, though his muscles were twitching as though he had been stricken by palsy.
"Listen," begged Dick, "while Mr. Jarvis tells you all he knows of this dastardly business."
The Tottenville captain repeated his short tale. Then Coach Morton asked several rapid questions. But there was no more to be told than Dick Prescott already knew.
"I'm tremendously sorry about that envelope," protested Jarvis. "I'd give anything to be able to hand that envelope over to you, but I'm afraid I'll never see it again."
"We appreciate your anxiety to help, Mr. Jarvis, as deeply as we appreciate your manliness in coming to us without an instant's delay," replied Mr. Morton, earnestly.
At this moment the office boy entered with the mail sack.
"Mr. Pollock!" he bellowed, tossing the sack down on the editor's desk. Then the office boy hurried to the rear of the building, intent on other duties.
Mr. Pollock returned to his desk, opening the mail. The football folks in the further corner lowered their voices almost to whispers.
"Letter for you, Dick," called Mr. Pollock, tossing aside an envelope.
Excusing himself, Dick darted over to get his mail. In an instant he came back, with a flushed face.
"Here's something that may interest you all," whispered Dick, shaking as though fever had seized him.
Mr. Morton took the sheet of paper, from which he read:
"Dear Old Gridleyites: If the enclosed is a fake, it won't work. If there's really a traitor in your camp you ought to know it. Milton High School doesn't take any games except by the use of its own fair fighting devices. Decker, Captain, Milton High School Football Team."
"And here's a duplicate set of our signals, returned by our Milton friends," went on Dick, with almost a sob in his voice. "Fortunately, Mr. Decker thought to preserve the envelope that contained our signal code. Here is the envelope, addressed in some person's handwriting."
Coach Morton seized the envelope, staring at it hard. He studied it with the practiced eye of a school teacher accustomed to overlooking examination papers in all styles of handwriting.
"The writer has tried to conceal his handwriting," murmured the coach, rather brokenly. "Yet I think we may succeed in tracing it back and fixing it on the sender."
"Oh!" growled Dave Darrin savagely. "I believe I know on whom to fasten this handwriting right now."
"I have a possible offender in mind," replied Mr. Morton more evenly. "In a case of this kind we must proceed with such absolute caution and reserve that we will not be obliged to retract afterwards in deep shame and humiliation."
"I think I've done all that I can, gentlemen," broke in Mr. Jarvis. "I think it is my place, now, to draw out of this painful business, and leave it to you whom it most concerns. But I am happy in the thought that I have been able to be of some service to you. I will now state that I am authorized to offer to postpone Saturday's game, if you wish, so that you may have time in, which to train up under changed signals."
"If you consent, sir," proposed Dick, turning to the coach, "we'll go on with Saturday's game just the same. There has been a big sale of tickets, the band has been engaged, and a good many arrangements made that will be expensive to cancel."
"Can you do it?" asked Mr. Morton, looking doubtfully at thee young captain of the team. "It's Thursday afternoon, now."
"I feel that we've got to do it, sir," Dick replied doggedly. "Yes, sir; we'll make it, somehow."
So the matter was arranged. The Gridleyites followed Jarvis out to the sidewalk, where they renewed their assurances of regard for the attitude taken by Tottenville High School. Then Jarvis hurried away to catch a train home.
"Now, young gentlemen," proposed Mr. Morton, "we'll go home and see whether we can engender the idea of eating any lunch, after this unmasking of villainy in our own crowd. But at half past two promptly to the minute, meet me at the High School. Remember, we've practice on for half past three."
"Of all the mean, contemptible——-" began Darrin, after the submaster had left them.
"Stop right there, Dave!" begged his chum. "This is the most fearful thing we've ever met, and we both want to think carefully before we trust ourselves to say another word on the shameful subject."
So the two chums walked along in silence, soon parting to take their different ways home.
At half-past two both chums met Mr. Morton at the High School. The submaster led the way to the office, producing his keys and unlocking the door. They had moved in silence so far.
"Take seats, please," requested Mr. Morton, in a low voice. "I'll be with you in a moment."
The submaster then stepped over to a huge filing cabinet. Unlocking one of the sections, he looked busily through, then came back with a paper in his hand.
"I think I know whom you both suspect," began coach.
"Phin Drayne," spoke Dick, without hesitation.
"Yes. Well here is Drayne's recent examination paper in modern literature. It is, of course, in his own handwriting."
Eagerly the two football men and their coach bent over to compare Drayne's handwriting with that on the envelope that had come back from Milton.
"There has been an attempt at disguise," announced Mr. Morton, using a magnifying glass over the two specimens of writing. "Yet I am rather sure, in my own mind, that a handwriting expert would pronounce both specimens to have been written by the same hand."
"We've nailed Drayne, then," muttered Darrin vengefully.
"It looks like it," assented Mr. Morton. "However, we'll go slowly. For the present I'll put this examination paper with our other 'exhibits' and secure them all carefully in my inside pocket. Now, then, let us make our pencils fly for a while in getting up a revised code of signals."
It was not a long task after all. From the two typewritten copies Dick copied the first half of the plays, Dave the latter. Then Coach Morton went over the new sheets, rapidly jotting down new figures that should make all plain.
"Ten minutes past three," muttered coach, thrusting all the papers in his inside pocket and buttoning his coat. "Now, we'll have to take a car and get up to the field on the jump."
"But, oh, the task of drilling all the new calls into the fellows between now and Saturday afternoon!" groaned Dave Darrin, in a tone that suggested real misery.
"We'll do it," retorted Captain Dick. "We've got to!"
"And to make the boys forget all the old calls, so that they won't mix the signals!" muttered Dave disconsolately.
"We'll do it!"
It was Coach Morton who took up the refrain this time. And it was Prescott who added:
"We've got to do it. Nothing is impossible, when one must!"
It was just twenty-five minutes past three when the coach and his two younger companions turned around the corner of the athletic grounds and slipped in through the gate.
Most of the fellows were in the dressing quarters.
Phin Drayne sat on the edge of a locker chest. One of his feet lay across the knee of the other leg. He was in the act of unlacing one of his street shoes when Coach Morton called to him.
"Me?" asked Phin, looking up quickly.
"Yes," said Mr. Morton quietly. "I want to post you about something."
"Oh, all right; right with you, sir," returned Phin, leaping up and following the coach outside.
"What is it?" asked Phin, beginning to feel uneasy.
"Come along where the others can't hear," replied Mr. Morton, taking hold of Drayne's nearer elbow.
Phin turned white now. He went along, saying nothing, until Mr. Morton halted by the outer gate.
"Pass through, Drayne—-and never let us see your face inside this gate again."
"But why? What——"
"Ask your conscience!" snapped back the coach. "You'd better travel fast! I'm going back to talk to the other fellows!"
Mr. Morton was gone. For an instant Phin Drayne stood there as though he would brave out this assertion of authority. Then, seized by another impulse, he turned and made rapidly for a town-bound street car that was heading his way.
"What's up?" asked two or three of the fellows of Dick Prescott. Perceiving something out of the usual, they spoke in the same breath.
"Oh, if there's anything to tell you," spoke Prescott, suppressing a pretended yawn, "Mr. Morton may tell you——some time."
But Mr. Morton was soon back. Knocking on the wall for attention, he told, in as few and as crisp sentences as he could command, the whole story, as far as known.
"Now, young gentlemen," wound up the coach, "we must practice the new signals like wild fire. There's mustn't be a single slip not a solitary break in our game with Tottenville. And that game will begin at three-thirty on Saturday!
"In reverting to Drayne, I wish to impress upon you all, with the greatest emphasis, that this must be treated by you all with the utmost secrecy until we are prepared, with proofs, to go further! If it should turn out that we're wrong in our suspicions, we'll turn and give Phineas Drayne the biggest and most complete public apology that a wronged man ever received."
"All out to practice the new signals!" shouted Prescott, the young captain of the team.
"Brass" for an Armor Plate
Thursday night and Friday morning more copies of the betrayed signals poured in upon Captain Dick.
Wherever these signals had been received by captains of other school teams, it soon appeared, these captains of rival elevens had punctually mailed them back. It spoke volumes for the honor of the American schoolboy, for Gridley High School was feared far and wide on the gridiron, and there was not an eleven in the state but would have welcomed an honorable way of beating Prescott's men.
Moreover, working on Dick's suggestion, Mr. Morton busied himself with securing several letters that had been received from Drayne's father.
These letters were compared, Friday evening, with the copies of the signals that had been sent to other elevens. Under a magnifying glass these collected papers all exhibited one fact that the letters and the copies of the signal code had been struck off on a machine having the same peculiarities as to worn faces of certain types. It was thus rather clearly established that Phin Drayne must have used the typewriting machine that stood in his father's office.
Drayne was not at school on Friday. Instead, an excuse of illness was received from him.
Nor did Mr. Morton say anything to Dr. Thornton, the principal, until the end of the school week.
Just after school had been dismissed, at one o'clock Friday afternoon, Mr. Morton called Dr. Thornton to the private office, and there laid before him the charges and the proofs.
That fine old gentleman was overwhelmed with grief that "one of his boys" should have done such an utterly mean, wanton and dishonorable thing.
"This can't be passed by, Mr. Morton," exclaimed Dr. Thornton brokenly. "If you will kindly leave the proofs in my hands, I will see that the whole matter is taken up officially."
Friday afternoon the football squad met for more practice with the new signals. Friday evening each young man who was scheduled as being even likely to play the next day studied over the signals at home, then, under orders, burned his copy of the code. Saturday morning the squad met for some more practice, though not much.
"I believe all of us are in trim now, sir," Captain Prescott reported to the coach. "I am rather sure all of our men know the new signals by heart, and there'll be no confusion. But, of course, for the first game, the old snap of our recent practice will be missing. It has been a hard blow to us."
"If we have to lose to-day's game," muttered Mr. Morton, "I'll be almost satisfied to lose it to Tottenville, after the manly and straightout conduct of Mr. Jarvis!"
"That same line of thought would make us content to go through a losing season, for all the fellows in other towns who received that betrayed code sent the information right back to us," smiled Prescott. "But we're not going to lose to-day's game, Mr. Morton, nor any other day's. Drayne's treachery has just about crazed the other fellows with anger. They'll win everything ahead of 'em, now, just for spite and disgust, if for no better reason."
"Sometimes anger serves a good purpose," laughed Mr. Morton. "But it was pitiful to look at poor old Dr. Thornton yesterday afternoon. At first I thought he was going to faint. He seemed suddenly to grow ten years older. It cut him to the quick. He loves every one of his boys, and to have one of them go bad is just as painful to him as to see his own son sent to the penitentiary."
"Is Dr. Thornton coming to the game this afternoon, sir?"
"Yes; he has never missed one yet, in any year that he has been principal of Gridley High School."
"Then we'll make that fine old American gentleman feel all right again by the grand game that we'll put up," promised Dick vehemently. "I'll pass the word, and the fellows will strain themselves to the last drop."
Orders were issued to the gate tenders to throw Drayne out if he presented himself at the gate.
Drayne did put in an appearance, and he got through the gate to a seat on the grand stand, but it was no fault of the gate tenders.
Drayne had spent some of his spare money at the costumer's. With his trim, rather slim figure Phin Drayne made up rather well as a girl. He wore black—-mourning throughout, perhaps in memory of his departed honor—-and a heavy veil covered his face. In this disguise Drayne sat where he could see what would happen.
At the outset it was Gridley's kick off, and for the next ten minutes Tottenville had the ball, fighting stubbornly with it. But at last, when forced half way down the field between center and its own goal line, Gridley blocked so well in the three following plays that the pigskin came to the home eleven.
Dick bent over, holding the ball for the snapback, while his battle front formed on each side of him.
Dave Darrin, quarter-back, raced back a few steps, then halted, looking keenly, swiftly over the field.
Phin Drayne drew his breath sharply. Then his heart almost stopped beating as he listened.
"Thirty-eight—-nine—-eleven—-four!" sounded Darrin's voice, sharp and clear.
"That's the run around the left end!" throbbed Phin Drayne.
But it wasn't. A fake kick, followed by a cyclonic impact at the right followed.
"They've changed the signals!" gulped the guilty masquerader behind the black veil. "Then they've found out."
With this came the next disheartening thought:
"That's the reason, then, why the coach ordered me out of the field Thursday afternoon. Morton is wise. I wonder if he has told it all around?"
Gridley High School was doing some of its brilliant, old-style play now. Prescott was proving himself an ideal captain, quick-witted, full of strategy, force, push and dash, yet all the while displaying the best of cool judgment in sizing up the chances of the hard battle.
But that which Phin Drayne noted most of all was that every signal used had a different meaning from that employed in the code he had mailed to the captains of the other school teams.
"It was all found out, and Gridley wasn't hurt," thought Phin, gnashing his teeth. "Good luck always seems to follow that fellow Prescott! Can't he be beaten? We shall see! Prescott, my fine bully, I'm not through with you yet."
The first half ended without either side scoring. Impartial onlookers thought that perhaps formidable Tottenville had had rather the better of it, but no one could tell with certainty which was the better team.
When neither side scores in the first half that which remains to be determined is, which side will show the bigger reserve of vitality in the second half.
And now the ball was off again, with twenty-two men pursuing and fighting for it as though the fate of the nation hung on the result. Dick, too, soon had things moving at a gait that had all Gridley standing up and boosting with all the powers of lungs, hands and feet.
All that remained to interest Phin Drayne was to discover whether his late comrades had sufficiently mastered their new signals not to fail in their team work.
Once in the second half there was a brief fluster. Two Gridley men went "woozy" over the same signal. But alert Dave Darrin rushed in and snatched a clever advantage out of momentary confusion.
After that there was no more confusion. Gridley took the game by a single touchdown, failing in the subsequent kick for goal. Five minutes later time expired.
Feeling doubly contemptible now, and sick at heart, Phin Drayne crawled weakly down from the grand stand. He made his way out in the throng, undetected. He returned to the costumer's, got off his sneaking garb and donned his own clothing, then slipped away out through a back door that opened on an alleyway.
Not until Sunday afternoon did Drayne yield to the desire to get out of doors. His training life had made outer air a necessity to him, so he yielded to the desire. But he kept to back streets.
Just as luck would have it, Drayne came suddenly face to face with Dr. Thornton.
The good old principal had a fixed belief which followed the practice of American law, to the effect that every accused man is innocent until he has been proved guilty.
In addition, the doctor had recovered a good deal from his first depression. Therefore he was able to meet this offending pupil as he would want to under the circumstances.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Drayne," was Dr. Thornton's courteous greeting. "It is beautiful; weather to be out, isn't it?"
"It is a perfect day, sir," Drayne replied.
Once he had gotten past the principal the young wretch gave way to his exultation.
"No charge has been made, then," he told himself gloatingly. "If I had been denounced, the Prin. could hardly have been as gracious. Well, hang it all, what are charges going to amount to, anyway?"
At the High School Monday morning, both before school and at recess, the members of the football squad cut Drayne dead.
"They suspect me, but they can't prove anything, anyway," chuckled the traitor to himself. "Brass, Phin, my boy! Brass! That is bound to win out when the clodhoppers can't prove a blessed thing."
As none of the students outside of the squad showed any especial inclination to cut him, Phin felt almost wholly reassured.
"It would be libelous, anyway, if the gang passed around a word that they couldn't prove," chuckled Drayne. "So I guess those that may be doing a heap of thinking will have caution enough to keep their mouths shut, anyway,"
That afternoon, after luncheon, Phin Drayne took a long tramp over country roads at the back of the big town. It was five o'clock when he returned.
"Here's a note for you, on High School stationery," said Mrs. Drayne, putting an envelope in her son's hand. "It came some time ago."
Something warned the fellow not to open the envelope there. He took it to his room, where he read the letter. It was from Dr. Thornton, and said only:
"You are directed to appear before the Board of Education at its stated weekly meeting to-night. This is urgent, and you are warned not to fail in giving this summons due heed."
In an instant Phin was white with fear. His legs trembled under him, and cold sweat stood out on his neck, face and forehead.
For some moments the young man acted as though in danger of collapse. Then he staggered over to the tap at his washbowl, and gulped down a glass of water. He paced the room restlessly for a long time, and finally went over and stood looking out of the window.
"Young man," he said to himself severely, "you've got to brace, and brace hard. If you haven't any nerve, then getting square is too strenuous a game for you? Now, what can that gang prove? They can suspect, and they can charge, but my denial is fully as good as any other man's affirmation. Go before the Board of Education? Of course I will. And I'll make any accuser of mine look mighty small before that august board of local duffers!"
Brave words! They cheered the young miscreant, anyway. Phin ate his supper with something like relish. Afterwards he set out for the High School building, in which the Board had its offices. Nor did his courage fail him until he had turned in through the gate.
A young man, whistling blithely, came in behind him. It was Dick Prescott, erect of carriage, and brisk and strong of stride, as becomes a young athlete whose conscience is clear and wholesome.
"Hullo, Prescott, what are you doing around here to-night?" hailed Drayne.
But Dick seemed not to have heard. Not a note did he drop in the tune that he was whistling. Springing up the steps ahead, Dick vanished behind the big door.
"Oh, of course he goes here to-night," thought Phin, with sudden disgust. "Prescott scribbles for 'The Blade' and the Board of Education is one of his stunts each week."
One of the Fallen
For a few moments Drayne hung about outside, irresolute. Then his native shrewdness asserted itself.
"Not to go in, after having been seen here in the yard would be to confess whatever anyone wants to charge," muttered Phin. "Of course I'll go in. And I'll just stand there and look more and more astounded every time that anyone says anything. Brass, Phin—-brass! Oh, I'd like to see anyone down me!"
So, with all the swagger he could put on, this young Benedict Arnold of the school stepped into the Board room. As he entered, the clerk of the Board hastened toward him.
"Step into this anteroom at the side, Mr. Drayne, until you're called," the clerk directed. "There will be some routine business to be transacted first. Then, I believe, the Board has a few questions it desires to ask you."
Left by himself, the young man began to be a good bit frightened. He was brave enough in matters requiring only physical courage. But in this instance the culprit knew that he had been guilty of a contemptibly mean act, and the knowledge of it made a moral coward of him.
"What are they doing? Trying to sentence, me to solitary confinement?" wondered the young man, when minute after minute went by without any call for him. In the Board room he could hear the droning of voices.
"And that Dick Prescott is out there, sitting at a reporter's table, ready to take in all that happens," muttered Phin savagely. "Won't he enjoy himself, though?"
At last it seemed to Phin as though a hush fell over those in the next room. But it was only that voices had been much lowered.
Then a door opened, the clerk looking in and calling:
"Mr. Drayne, will you come before the Board now?"
Phin passed into the larger apartment. Seated in one chair was Dr. Thornton; in another chair Mr. Morton. And Dick Prescott was there, but gathering up his writing materials as though about to go.
The chairman waited in silence until Prescott had passed out of the Board room. After the clerk had closed the door the chairman announced:
"The Board is now in executive session. Dr. Thornton, we will listen to the matter which we understand you wish to bring before us for consideration."
Composedly Dr. Thornton stepped to the edge of the table, standing there, resting his left hand on the table as he began to speak.
In simple words, without any visible emotion, the High School principal stated what he understood of the receipt of copies of the football signal code by the captains of rival football elevens.
Next Mr. Morton took the stand, so to speak, and went much more into detail. He told what the reader already knows, producing several of the copies returned by the honorable captains of other school teams.
Then Mr. Morton put in evidence, with these copies of the code, copies of business letters received from Drayne's father, and presumably written on the Drayne office machine.
"If you examine these exhibits, gentlemen, I think you will agree that the betrayed code and the business letters were written on one and the same machine. The use of the magnifying glass makes it even more plain."
Then Mr. Morton sat down.
"Now, young Mr. Drayne, what have you to say?" demanded the presiding officer.
"Why should I say anything, sir?" demand Drayne, with an impudent assumption of swaggering ease.
"Then you admit the truth of the charges, Mr. Drayne?"
"I do not."
"Then you must really have something to say."
"I have heard a charge made against me. I am waiting to have it proved."
"Do you admit," asked the presiding officer, "that these copies of the code were written on your father's office machine?"
"I do not, sir. But, if it be true, is that any proof that I made those copies of the signal code? Is it argued that I alone have access to the typewriter in my father's office. For that matter, if I have an enemy in the High School and I must have several—-wouldn't it be possible for that enemy, or several of them, to slyly break into my father's office and use that particular typewriting machine?"
This was confidently delivered, and it made an undoubted impression on at least two or three members of the Board. But now Mr. Morton broke in, quietly:
"I thought some such attempt as this might be made. So I waited until I saw what the young man's line of defense might be. Here is an envelope in which one of the copies was received by the captain of a rival football team. You will note that the sender, while understanding something about the use of a type machine, was plainly a novice in directing an envelope on the typewriter. So he addressed this envelope in handwriting. Here is the envelope in question, and here is one of Mr. Drayne's school examination papers, also in his own handwriting. I will ask the members of the Board to examine both."
There was silence, while the copies passed from hand to hand, Drayne losing color at this point.
"Be brassy!" he whispered to himself. "You'll pull through, Phin, old boy."
"I am sorry to say, Mr. Drayne, that the evidence appears to be against you," declared the chairman slowly.
"It may, sir," returned the boy, "but it isn't conclusive evidence."
"Have you anything more to say, Mr. Morton?" asked the chairman, looking at the submaster.
"Plenty, Mr. Chairman, if the Board will listen to me."
"Proceed, Mr. Morton."
The football coach thereupon launched into a swiftly spoken tirade against the "brand of coward and sneak" who would betray his school in such a fashion. Without naming Phin, Mr. Morton analyzed the motives and the character of such a sneak, and he did it mercilessly, although in the most parliamentary language. Nor did he look toward the boy, but Phin was squirming under the lash, his face alternately red or ghastly.
"For such a scoundrel," continued Mr. Morton, "there is no hope greater than the penitentiary! He is fit for nothing else. Such a traitor would betray his best friend, or his country. Such a sneak would be dead to all feelings of generosity. The smallest meannesses must envelop his soul. Why, sir, the sender of these copies of the signal code was so mean, so small minded, so sneaking and so utterly selfish"—-how Phin squirmed in his seat!—-"that, in sending the envelopes through the mail he was not even man enough to pay full postage. Four cents was the postage required for each envelope, but this small-souled sneak, this ungenerous leech actually made the receivers pay half of the postage on 'due-postage' stamps."
"I didn't!" fairly screamed red-faced Phin, leaping up out of his chair. "I stuck a four-cent stamp on each envelope myself! I remem——-"
Of a sudden he stopped in his impetuous burst of language. A great hush fell in the room. Phin felt himself reeling with a new fright.
"Then," demanded Mr. Morton, in a very low voice, his face white, "why did you deny having sent out these envelopes containing the copies of the code?"
There was a shuffling of feet. Two or three of the Board laughed harshly.
"Oh, well!" burst almost incoherently from the trapped boy. "When you employ such methods as these you make a fellow tell on himself!"
All his 'brass' was gone now. He looked, indeed, a most pitiable object as he stood there, his lower jaw drooped and his cheeks twitching.
"I think you have said about all, Mr. Drayne, that it is necessary for you to say," interposed the chairman. "Still, in the interest of fair play we will allow you to make any further statements that you may wish to make. Have you anything to offer?"
"No!" he uttered, at last, gruffly.
At a sign from the chairman the clerk stepped silently over, took Phin by one elbow, and led him to the door. Phin passed on out of the building, stumbling blindly. He got home, somehow, and into bed.
In the morning, however, even a sneak is braver.
"What can they do to me, anyway?" muttered Phin, as he dressed. "I didn't break any of the laws of the state! All anyone can do is to cut me. I'll show 'em all how little I care for their contempt."
So it was not wholly in awe that Phin Drayne entered the general assembly room the next morning, a few minutes before opening time. Several of the students greeted him pleasantly enough. Phin was quick to conclude that the news had not leaked anyway, beyond the members of the football squad.
Then came the opening of the session. The singing books lay on the desks before the students. Instead, however, of calling out the page on which the morning's music would be found, Dr. Thornton held his little gavel in his hand, after giving a preliminary rap or two on his desk.
"I have something to say to the students of the school this morning," began Dr. Thornton, in a low but steady voice. "It is something which, I am happy to state, I have never before been called upon to say.
"One of the most valuable qualities in any man or woman is loyalty. All of us know, from our studies in history and literature, many conspicuous and noble examples of loyalty. We have also, in our mind's eye, some examples of the opposite qualities, disloyalty and treachery. Outside of sacred history one of the most conspicuous examples of betrayal was that of Benedict Arnold."
Every boy and girl now had his eyes turned fixedly on the old principal. Outside of the football squad no student had any idea what was coming. Phin tried to look wholly unconscious.
Dr. Thornton spoke a little more on the meanness of treachery and betrayal. Then, looking straight over at the middle of the third aisle on the boys' side of the room, the principal commanded:
"Mr. Drayne, stand by your desk!"
Phin was up, hardly knowing how he accomplished the move. Every pair of eyes in the room was focused on him.
"Mr. Drayne," continued the principal, and now there was a steely glitter of contempt in the old man's eyes, "you were displeased because you did not attain to as high honors on the football eleven as you had hoped. In revenge you made copies of the code signals of the team, and mailed a copy to the captain of nearly every team against which Gridley High School is to play this year."
There came, from all parts of the room, a gasp of incredulous amazement.
"Your infamy, your treachery and betrayal, Mr. Drayne, were traced back to you," continued the principal. "You were forced to admit it, last night, before the Board of Education. That Board has passed sentence in your case. Mr. Drayne, you are found utterly unfit to associate with the decent manhood and womanhood to be found in the student body of this High School. By the decision of the Board you are now expelled from this school. You will take your books and belongings and leave instantly. You will never presume to enter through the doors of this school again. Go, sir!"
From Phin came an angry snarl of defiance. He tried to shout out, to tell the principal and his late fellow students how little, or less than little, he cared about their opinions.
But the words stuck in his throat. Ere he could try again, a hiss arose from one quarter of the room. The hiss grew and swelled. Phin realized, though he dared not look about him any longer, that the hissing came as much from the girls as from the boys.
Drayne did not attempt to bend over his desk. Instead, he marched swiftly down the half of the aisle, then past the platform toward the door.
"Mr. Drayne," called Dr. Thornton, "you have not taken your books, or paper or other desk materials."
"I leave them, sir," shouted Phin, above the tumult of hissing, "for the use of some of your many pauper students."
Then he went out, slamming the door after him. He darted down to the basement, then waited before the locker door until one of the monitors came down, unlocked the door, and allowed Phin to get his hat. But the monitor never looked at him, or spoke.
Once out of the building, Phin could keep back the choking sob and tears no longer. Stealing down a side street, where he would have to pass few people, Phin gave way to his pent-up shame. Yet in it all there was nothing of repentance. He was angry with himself—-in a fiendish rage toward others.
Afterwards, he learned that the books and other contents of his desk were burned in the school yard at recess, to the singing of a dirge. But, even for the purpose of making a bonfire of his books the students would not touch the articles with their hands. They coaxed the janitor to find a pair of tongs, and with this implement Phin's books and papers were conveyed to the purifying blaze.
Behind the door in the privacy of his own room Phin Drayne shook his fist at the surrounding air.
"I have one mission in life, now, anyway!" raged the boy. "I've got some cruel scores to pay. You, Dick Prescott, shall come in for a large share of the payment! No matter how long I have to wait and plan, or what I have to risk, you shan't get away from me!"
Dick Meets the Boy-with-a-Kick
Evil thoughts can never be cherished, day after day, without leading the more daring or brutal into some form of crime.
Phin, the first three or four times he tried to appear on Main Street, was "spotted" and hissed by High School boys.
Even the boys of the lower schools heard the news, and took up the hissing with great zest.
So Phin was forced to remain indoors during the day, which drove him out by night, instead.
Had he been older, and known more of human nature, he would have known that the hissing would soon die out, and thereafter he would meet only cold looks.
At home, be sure Phin was not happy. His mother, a good woman, suffered in silence, saying little to her son.
Phin's father, a hard-headed and not over scrupulous man of business, looked upon the incident of expulsion as a mere phase in life. He thought it "would do the boy good, and teach him to be more clever."
Gridley met Milton High School and scored another victory, Milton taking only two points on a safety that Gridley was forced to make.
And now the game with Chester was looming up ahead. It was due for the coming Saturday.
Three times a week, Dick Prescott had his squad out for drill and practice, though he was careful to follow Mr. Morton's suggestion not to get the young men trained down "too fine."
Early one evening in mid-week, Dick sat at his desk in "The Blade" office, "grinding out" some local copy. He was in a hurry to finish, for he was due to be in bed soon. Every member of team and squad was pledged to keep early hours of retiring on every night but Saturday.
In another chair, near by, sat Dave Darrin, who dropped in to speak with his chum, and was now waiting until they could stroll down Main Street together.
"I've just thought of something I want to do, Dick," muttered Dave suddenly. "I'll jump out and attend to it, now. Walk down Main Street, when you're through, and you'll run into me."
Prescott, nodding, went on with his writing, turning out page after page. Then he rose, placing the sheets on News Editor Bradley's desk.
"I'm pretty sure you'll find it all right, Mr. Bradley," declared Dick. "Now, I must get home, for I'm due in bed in half an hour."
"Training and newspaper work don't go well together," laughed the news editor. "However, your football season will soon be over. This time next year you'll be through with High School, and I hope you'll be with us then altogether."
"I don't know about that, Mr. Bradley," smiled Dick, picking up his hat and starting for the door. "But I do know that I like newspaper work mighty well. When a fellow is writing for a paper he seems to be alive all the time, and right up to the minute."
"That youngster may come to us for a while, after he gets out of High School," called Mr. Pollock, across the room, after Prescott had, gone out. "But he won't stay long on a small daily. A youngster with all his hustle is sure to pull out, soon, for one of the big city dailies. The country towns can't hold 'em."
Dick went briskly down the street, whistling blithely, as a boy will do when he's healthy and his conscience is clear.
A block below another boy, betraying the hang-dog spirit only too plainly, turned the corner into Main Street.
It was Phin Drayne, out for one of his night walks. Fearing that he might be insulted, and get into a fight with some one, Drayne had armed himself with one of his father's canes. The stick had a crook for a handle.
Prescott caught a glimpse of the other boy's face; then he turned away, hastening on.
"I'm not even worth looking at," muttered Phin to himself.
Just as Dick went past, Phin seized the cane by the ferule end, and lunged out quickly.
The crook caught neatly around one of Dick's ankles just as the foot was lifted.
Like a flash Prescott went down. One less nimble, and having had less training, might have been in for a split kneecap. But Dick was too much master of his body and its movements. He went down to his hands, then touched lightly on his knees.
Phin laughed sneeringly as Dick sprang up, unhurt.
"Keep out of my way, after this—-you less-than-nothing!" muttered Dick between his teeth. "I don't want to have to even hit a thing like you!"
"You'll show good judgment, Mr. Big-head, if you don't try it," jeered Drayne, menacing Dick with the cane.
The color came into Dick's face. Leaping forward, with all the adroitness of the born tackler, he caught that cane, just as it descended, and wrenched it out of Phin Drayne's cowardly, hand.
Crack! Dick broke it in two across his knee, then tossed the pieces into the street.
"You'll never be able to do anything better than a sneaky act," muttered Dick contemptuously, turning to walk on.
With a smothered cry Phin Drayne leaped forward to strike Prescott down from behind.
Dick was around again like a flash, one fist striking up the arm with which the sneak had aimed his blow.
"Stand off, and keep away," advised Prescott coldly.
"I won't; I'll thrash you!" hissed Phin.
There was nothing for Dick to do but put up his guard, which he did with great promptness. Drayne danced around him, seeking a good point at which to close in.
Prescott had no notion of fighting; neither did he propose to take an assault meekly.
"Look out!" yelled Drayne, suddenly rushing in.
"Certainly," mocked Prescott coolly.
He shot up Phin's arm as easily as could have been desired. With his right he parried another blow.
"Get out of this, and go about your business," advised Dick sternly.
"Think I'll take any orders from you?" snarled Phin. "I'll——-"
He continued to crowd in, hammering blows. Dick parried, but did not attempt to retaliate. The truth was, he felt secretly sorry for the fellow who had fallen as low as Phin.
But Drayne was no coward physically, when his blood was up. It drove him to fever heat, now, to see how easily the captain of the football team repulsed him.
"I'll get your wind going, and then I'll hammer you for fair!" snarled Drayne.
"Mistake there, somewhere," retorted Dick coolly.
But Drayne was coming in, harder and harder. Dick simply had to do something. So, after he had parried more than a score of blows the young football captain suddenly took a springy step forward, shot up Phin's guard, and landed a staggering blow on the nose. Phin began to reel. Dick hit him more lightly on the chest, yet with force enough to "follow up" and send to his knees.
"Here, what's this?" called a voice, and a heavy hand seized Dick by the collar behind, pulling him back.
It was Heathcote Drayne, Phin's father, a powerful man, who now held Prescott.
Phin was quickly upon his feet and start forward.
From across the street sounded a warning cry, followed by footsteps.
"Now, I've got you!" cried Phin exultantly. He struck, and landed, on Dick's cheek.
"Stop that, Phin!" shouted his father, without letting go of Dick's collar, however. Phin, however, instead of obeying, aimed another blow, and would have landed, had not another figure bounded in and taken the blow, next hurling Phin back against a brick wall.
It was Len Spencer, "star" reporter of "The Blade," who had thus interfered. And now Dave Darrin was dancing in front of Heathcote Drayne, ordering:
"Let go of Prescott! What sort of fair play is this?"
"Mind your own business!" ordered Mr. Drayne. "I'm stopping a fight."
Not an instant did impulsive Darrin waste in arguing the matter. He landed his fist just under Heathcote Drayne's left eye, causing that Heathcote to let go of Dick in a hurry.
"You young scoundrel!" glared Mr. Drayne, glaring at Dave.
"Opinions may differ as to who the scoundrel is," retorted Dave unconcernedly. "My own notions of fair play are against holding one of the parties in a fight so that the other may hammer him."
"I'll have you arrested for this assault," stormed Mr. Drayne, applying a handkerchief to the bruised spot under his eye. "Both you and Prescott—-your ruffian friend for assaulting my son.
"Go ahead and do it," retorted Dave. "As it happens, your son did all the assaulting, and Prescott, who didn't care about fighting with such a thing, only defended himself. We saw it all from across the street, but we didn't come across to interfere until we had to."
"I'll take some of your impudence out of you in the police court," insisted Mr. Drayne.
"Yes, I would, if I were you," broke in Len Spencer coolly. "I saw this whole business, too, and I'll take pleasure in testifying against you both. Mr. Drayne, you didn't see the start of this thing, and I did. But you, at least, know that your son is a moral leper kicked out of the High School because he was not decent enough to associate with the other students. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets some of his bad qualities from you, sir"
"You'll sing a different tune in court," asserted Heathcote Drayne heatedly.
"So will you," laughed Len Spencer. "By the way, I see a policeman down the street. If you want to prefer a charge, Mr. Drayne, I'll blow my police whistle and bring the officer here."
Spencer took a whistle from his pocket, moving it toward his lips.
"Do you want the officer!" challenged the reporter.
But Mr. Drayne began to see the matter in a somewhat different light. He knew much about the nature of his son, and here were two witnesses against him. Besides, one was a trusted staff writer for the local paper, and the whole affair was likely to result in a disagreeable publicity.
"I'll think this all over before I act," returned Mr. Drayne stiffly, as he took his son by one arm. "Come along, Phin."
As the Draynes moved away each held a handkerchief to his face.
"I don't think much of fighting, and I don't like to do it," muttered Darrin, who was beginning to cool down. "But if Heathcote Drayne had had to do more fighting when he was younger he might have known how to train that cub of his to be more of a man."
Dick Puts "A Better Man" in His Place
Of course Dick heard no more from the Draynes. He didn't expect that he would.
Phin, however, was noticed no more on the streets of the little city. Then, in some way, it leaked out that his father had sent him to a military boarding school where the discipline was credited with being very rigid.
"I guess papa has found that his little boy was none too much of an angel," laughed Dave Darrin when discussing the news with his chums.
The first four games of the season went off successfully for Gridley, though all were hard battles in which only fine leadership and splendid team work by all saved the day.
Two of these games had been played on the home grounds, two away from home. The fifth game of the season was scheduled to be played on the home grounds. The opponent for this game was to be Hallam Heights High School. The Hallam boys were a somewhat aristocratic lot, but not snobbish, and the Gridley young men looked forward to an exciting and pleasant game. It was the first game ever played between Gridley and Hallam Heights. Coach Morton talked about the strangers one rainy afternoon in the gymnasium.
"I believe you're going to find yourselves up against a hard proposition," declared coach slowly "These young men attend a High School where no expense is spared. Some of the wealthy men of the town engage the physical director, who is one of the best men in his class. Speight, who was at college with me, is engaged in addition as the football coach. I remember Speight as one of the cleverest and most dangerous men we had at college. He could think up a whole lot of new field tricks overnight. Then again, most of the Hallam Heights boys are young fellows who go away for athletic summers. That is, they are young fellows who do a lot of boating, yachting, riding, tennis, track work, and all the rest of it. They are young fellows who glory in being in training all the year around. Speight writes me that he thinks he has the finest, strongest and most alert boys in the United States."
"We'll whip them, just the same," announced Dick coolly.
"Gridley will, if anyone can—-I know that," agreed Mr. Morton. "You've won all four games that you've played this season. Hallam Heights has played five games and won them all. The Hallam youngsters are out to capture the record that Gridley has held for some time that of capturing all the games of the season."
"Bring 'em on!" begged Darrin. "I wish we had 'em here to play just as soon as the rain lets up."
"Don't make the mistake of thinking that, because the Hallam boys have rich fathers, they're dudes, who can't play on wet ground," laughed Mr. Morton.
"If Hallam sends forth such terrors," grinned Dick, rising from the bench on which he had been sitting, "then we must get in trim for 'em. Come on, fellows; some of the light speedy exercises. I'll work you up to all the speed you can take care of, this afternoon."
For the next ten minutes Dick was as good as his word. Then, after a brief breathing spell, Prescott ordered his men to the running track in the gallery.
"Three laps at full speed, with a two-minute jog between each speed burst, and a minute of breathing between each kind of running," called out Dick.
Then, after he had seen the fellows started, he turned to the coach.
"If I never learned anything else from you, Mr. Morton, I think I've wholly absorbed the idea that no man is in condition unless he can run well; and that nothing will make for condition like judicious running."
"As to what you've learned from me, Captain Prescott," replied the coach, "I fully believe that you've learned all that I have to teach. I wouldn't be afraid to go away on a vacation and leave the team in your hands."
"Him!" smiled Dick. "Without you to back me up, Mr. Morton, I'm afraid some of the fellows might kick over the traces."
"They wouldn't kick over but once," laughed the coach. "The first time any fellow did that you'd drop him from the team. And the fellows know it. I haven't noticed the young men attempting to frisk you any."
"I know whom you mean," replied the submaster, his brow clouding. "But he got out of the team, didn't he?"
"Yes; but I didn't put him out."
"You would have put him off the team if it had been left for you to do it."
As soon as he thought the squad had had enough exercise to keep them in tone, Dick dismissed them.
"But every one of you do his level best to keep in condition all the time until we get through with Hallam Heights," urged the young captain. "That applies, too, not only to team members, but to every man in the squad. If the Hallam fellows are swift and terrific, we can't tell on whom we may have to pounce for substitutes."
This was to be a mid-week game, taking place Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday morning word reached school that Hudson, who was down to play right guard, and Dan Dalzell, right end, were both at home in bed, threatened with pneumonia. In each case the doctor was hopeful that the attack would be averted, but that didn't help out the afternoon's game any.
"Two of our prize men out," muttered Dick anxiously to Dave at recess.
"And it's claimed that misfortunes always travel by threes," returned Darrin, half mournfully.
"Don't!" shivered Prescott. "Let us off with two misfortunes."
Afternoon came along, somewhat raw and lowering. Rain might prevent the game. Less than three quarters of the people who bought seats in advance appeared at the grounds. The sale of spot seats was not as brisk by half as it would have been on a pleasanter day.
But the Hallam Heights boys came along early, bounding and full of fun and dash.
They were a fine-looking lot of boys. The Gridley youngsters took to their opponents instantly.
"I wonder what's keeping Dick?" muttered Dave Darrin, half anxiously, in dressing quarters.
"Anyway, we won't worry about him until we have to," nodded Mr. Morton. "Our young captain is about the promptest man, as a rule, in the whole squad."
"That's just why I am uneasy," grunted Dave.
Hardly had he spoken when Dick Prescott came in—-but limping slightly!
And what a rueful countenance the young captain of the team displayed!
"Suffering Ebenezer, man, but what has happened?" gasped Dave.
All the other Gridley youngsters stopped half way in their togging to listen for the reply.
"Nothing much," grunted Dick. "Yet it came near to being too much. A man bumped me, as I was getting on the car, and drove me against the iron dasher. It was all an accident, due to the man's clumsiness. But it barked my knee a good bit."
"Let me see you walk about the room," ordered Coach Morton. He watched closely, as Dick obeyed.
"Sit down, Prescott, and draw the trousers leg off on that side. I want to examine the knee."
While Mr. Morton went to work the other members of the team crowded about, anxiety written on all their faces.
"Does it hurt more when I press?" asked the submaster keenly. "Ah, I thought so! Prescott, you're not badly hurt for anything else; but your knee is in no shape to play this afternoon!"
A wail of dismay went up from the team members. The rueful look in Dick's face deepened.
"I was afraid you'd bar me out," he confessed. "I never felt so ashamed in my life."
"It wouldn't be of any use for you to play, for that knee wouldn't stand it in any rough smash," declared the coach, shaking his head solemnly.
"It's all off with us, then," groaned one of the fellows. "We may as well ask Hallam if they'll allow us to hand 'em a score of six to nothing on a platter, and then stay off the field."
"Hush your croaking, will you?" demanded Dave Darrin angrily, glaring about him. "Is that the Gridley way? Do we ever admit defeat? Whoever croaks had better quit the team altogether."
Under that rebuke the boy who had ventured the opinion shrank back abashed.
"You're sure I'll be in no shape to go on, Coach?" asked Dick anxiously.
"Why, of course you could go on," replied Mr. Morton. "And you could run about some, too, unless your knee got a good deal stiffer. But you wouldn't be up to Gridley form."
"Have I any right to go on, with a knee in this shape?" queried Dick.
"You certainly haven't," replied Mr. Morton, with great emphasis.
"Dave," called the young football chief, "you're second captain of the team. Get in and get busy. Put up the best fight you can for old Gridley!"
"Aye, that I will," retorted Dave Darrin, his eyes sparkling, cheeks glowing. "I'll go in like a pirate chief, and I'll break the neck of any Gridley man who doesn't do all there is in him this afternoon."
"Listen to the fire eater," laughed Fenton. Dave grinned good-humoredly, but went insistently:
"All right. If any of you fellows think I take less than the best you can possibly do, try it out with me."
Then Darrin came over to rest a hand on Prescott's shoulder.
"Dick, you'll give me any orders you have before we go on, and between the halves, won't you?"
"Not a word," replied Dick promptly. "Dave, you can lead as well as ever I have done. If you're going to be captain to-day you'll be captain in earnest. I'll hamper you neither with advice nor orders."
With so important a player as Dick Prescott out of the team Dave had a hard task in rearranging the eleven. In this he sought direction from Mr. Morton. Rapidly they sketched the new line-up.
Darrin himself would have to drop quarterback and go to center. For this latter post Dave was rather light, but he carried the knack of sturdy assault better than any other man in the team after Prescott.
Tom Reade was called to quarter. Shortly afterwards all the details had been completed.
"As to style, you'll gather that from the signals," muttered Darrin. "The only rule is the one we always have—-that we can't be beat and we know we can't."
There came a rap at the door. Then a bushy mop of football hair was thrust into the doorway.
"Talking strategy, signals or anything we shouldn't hear?" asked the pleasant voice of Forsythe, captain of the Hallam Heights boys.
"Not a blessed thing," returned Dave. "Come in, gentlemen."
Captain Forsythe, in full field toggery, came in, followed by the members of the visiting team, all as completely attired for work.
"We're really not intruding?" asked Forsythe, after he had stepped into the room.
"Not the least in the world," responded Dave heartily. "Mr. Forsythe. let me introduce you to Mr. Morton, our coach, and to Mr. Prescott, the real captain of this tin-pan crowd of pigskin chasers."
"Oh, I mistook you for Prescott," replied Forsythe, as he acknowledged the introductions.
"No; I'm Darrin, the pewter-plate second captain—-the worst you've got to fear to-day," laughed Dave, as he held out his hand.
"Why—-what——anything happened?" asked Captain Forsythe, looking truly concerned.
"Captain Prescott has had his knee injured, and two of our other crack men are in bed, sick," replied Mr. Morton cheerfully. "Otherwise we're all quite well."
"Your captain and two other good men out?" asked Forsythe in real sympathy. "That doesn't sound fair, for we came over here prepared to put up the very best we had against you old invincibles. I'm awfully sorry."
"Captain Forsythe, we all thank you for your sympathy," Dick answered, "but Captain Darrin can lead at least as well as I can. I believe he can do it better. As for the team that we're putting in the field to-day, if you can beat it, you could as easily beat anything we could offer at any other time. So, as far as one may, with such courteous opponents as you are, Gridley hurls back its defiance and throws down the battle gage! But play your very best team, Captain Forsythe, and we'll do our best in return."