THE HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMEN or Dick & Co.'s First Year Pranks and Sports
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. "The High School Sneak" II. Dick & Co. After the School Board's Scalps III. Not So Much of a Freshman IV. Captain of the Hounds V. The "Muckers" and the "Gentleman" VI. Fred Offers to Solve the Locker Mystery VII. Dick's Turn to Get a Jolt VIII. Only a "Suspended" Freshman Now IX. Laura Bentley is Wide Awake X. Tip Scammon Talks—-But Not Enough XI. The Welcome With a Big "W" XII. Dick & Co. Give Football a New Boost XIII. "The Oath of the Dub" XIV. On the Gridiron with Cobber Second XV. Gridley Faces Disaster XVI. The Fake Kick, Two Ways XVII. Dick's "Find" Makes Gridley Shiver XVIII. Fred Slides into the Freeze XIX. Dick & Co. Show Some Team Work XX. Out for That Toboggan XXI. Thanks Served with Hate XXII. The Only Freshman at the Senior Ball XXIII. The Nitroglycerine Mystery Speaks Up XXIV. The Capture of the Bank Robbers XXV. Conclusion
THE HIGH SCHOOL SNEAK
"I say you did!" cried Fred Ripley, hotly. Dick Prescott's cheeks turned a dull red as he replied, quietly, after swallowing a choky feeling in his throat:
"I have already told you that I did not do it."
"Then who did do the contemptible thing?" insisted Ripley, sneeringly.
Fully forty boys, representing all the different classes at the Gridley High School, stood looking on at this altercation in the school grounds. Half a dozen of the girls, too, hovered in the background, interested, or curious, though not venturing too close to what might turn out to be a fight in hot blood.
"If I knew," rejoined Dick, in that same quiet voice, in which one older in the world's ways might have detected the danger-signal, "I wouldn't tell you."
"Bah!" jeered Fred Ripley, hotly.
"Perhaps you mean that you don't believe me?" said Prescott inquiringly.
"I don't!" laughed Ripley, shortly, bitterly.
A world of meaning surged up in that exclamation. It was as though bright, energetic, honest Dick Prescott had been struck a blow that he could not resent. This, indeed, was the fact.
"See here, Ripley——-" burst, indignantly, from Dick Prescott's lips, as his face went white and then glowed a deeper red than before.
"Well, kid?" sneered Ripley.
"If I didn't have a hand—-the right hand, at that—-that is too crippled, today, I'd pound your words down your mouth."
"Oh, your hand?" retorted Ripley, confidently. "The yarn about that hand is another lie."
Dick's injured right hand came out of the jacket pocket in which it had rested. With his left hand he flung down his cap.
"I'll fight—-you—-anyway!" Prescott announced, slowly.
There were a few faint cheers, though some of the older High School boys looked serious. Fair play was an honored tradition in Gridley.
Ripley, however, had thrown down his cap at once, hurling his strapped-up school books aside at the same time.
"Wait a moment," commanded Frank Thompson, stepping forward. He was a member of the first class, a member of the school eleven, and a husky young fellow who could enforce his opinions at need.
"Get back, Thomp," retorted Ripley. "The cub wants to fight, and he's got to."
"Not if he has an injured hand," retorted Frank, quickly.
"He hasn't," jeered Ripley. "And he's got so fight, if he has four lame hands."
"He can fight, then, yes," agreed Thompson. "But remember, Fred, it's allowable, when a fellow's crippled, to fight by substitute."
"Substitute?" asked Fred, looking uncomfortable.
"Yes; I'll take his place, if Prescott will let me," volunteered Frank Thompson, coolly.
"You? I guess not," snorted Ripley. "I won't stand for that. I'm a third classman, and you're a first classman. You're half as big again as I am, and——-"
"The odds wouldn't be as bad as you're proposing to take out of this poor little freshman with the crippled hand," insisted Thompson. "So get ready to meet me. I'll allow one of my hands to be tied, if you want."
Yet even this proposition couldn't be made alluring to Fred Ripley. He knew Thompson's mettle and strength too well for that.
Dan Dalzell, another freshman, had been standing back, keeping quiet as long as he could.
"See here," proposed Dan, stepping forward, "isn't a freshman allowed to say something when his friend is insulted?"
"Go ahead," nodded Thompson, who knew Dan to be one of young Prescott's close friends.
"Dick isn't in shape to fight, and I know it," continued Dan Dalzell, hotly. "But Ripley wants something easy, like a freshman, so he can have me!"
"And me," cried Tom Reade, also leaping forward.
"He can have one with me, too," offered Harry Hazelton.
"Same here," added Greg Holmes and Dave Darrin.
All five of the speakers were freshmen, and close chums of Dick Prescott's.
"Say, what do you think I want—-to fight a whole pack?" demanded Ripley, hoarsely.
"Oh, you don't have to fight us all at once," retorted Dave Darrin. "But you've insulted our friend, and you've taken a sneaking advantage of him at a time when you knew he couldn't handle anyone as big as you are. So, Ripley, you're answerable to Prescott's friends. I'll tell you what you can do. There are five of us. You can take any one of us that you prefer for the first bout. When you've thrashed him, you can call for the next, and so on. But you've got to go through the five of us in turn. If you don't, I'll call you a coward from now on. You're bigger than any of us."
"See here, Cub Darrin," raged Ripley, starting forward, his face aflame, "I don't allow any freshman to talk that way to me. I won't fight you, but I'll chastise you, and you can protect yourself if you know how."
He made a bound forward, intent on hitting Darrin, who stood his ground unflinchingly. But Thompson seized the third classman by the shoulder and shoved him back.
"Now, stop this, Ripley, and you freshmen, cut it out, too," warned the athletic first classman. "This is descending to a low level. We don't want a lot of bickering or mouth-fighting, and we don't intend to have anything but fair play, either."
"As this is largely my affair," broke in Dick Prescott, who had had time to cool down a bit, "let me have a chance to make an offer."
"Go ahead," nodded Thompson.
"Then," proposed Dick, "since you won't let me fight today, why can't this meeting hold over until my hand is in shape? Then I'll agree to give Ripley all he wants."
"That's the only sensible thing I've heard said in five minutes," declared Frank Thompson, looking about him at other upper classmen. "Is it the general opinion that the fight hold over for a few days, or, say, a fortnight?"
"Yes," came back an eager, approving chorus.
"Then so be it," proclaimed Frank. "And now, remember, Ripley, this fight is not to be pulled off until the school agrees to it. If you pick any trouble with Prescott until you get the word, or if you try to find any excuse for hitting him while his hand's out of shape, then you'll answer to the school for your conduct. You know what that means, don't you?"
"Humph!" snorted Fred Ripley. "All this fuss about the High School sneak!"
Again Dick started forward, but Thompson caught him firmly.
"Hold on, freshie!" advised the older boy. "Save it up. Bottle it. You can have all the more fun out of Ripley when your hand is in shape."
"His hand is in as good shape as it ever was," retorted Ripley, scornfully. "And he lies when he says he didn't do this."
Ripley swung, so as to display the tail of a short topcoat that was one of his treasures. The garment was fashionably made and of the best material, for Ripley's father was a wealthy lawyer in Gridley, and the young Ripley hopeful had all the most costly things a boy can prize.
Along the tail of the coat some miscreant had daubed a streak of fresh white paint. Ripley had found it there when donning the coat to leave school at one o'clock that day. Fred knew that Dick had been in the coat room after recess, and, as he disliked the freshman, Ripley had accused Dick of the deed.
Having fired his parting shot, Fred turned on his heel, sauntering over to where the fluttering group of girls waited. One of them, Clara Deane, stepped forward to meet him.
"Fred, why do you have anything to do with such a low-down fellow as Prescott?" asked Clara, contemptuously.
"He's the sneak of the school," uttered Fred, harshly; "but I can't let even a sneak streak my coat with paint."
"And he never did such a thing, either!" broke in Laura Bentley, disdainfully. "Fred Ripley, you accused Dick Prescott of playing off a lame hand. I know how his hand became crippled. Dick wanted me to promise not to tell how it happened, but now I'm going to. Wait and you can hear, both of you."
"I don't want to, I'm sure," rejoined Clara, with a toss of her head. "Come along, Fred."
This pair of students walked away together. They always did, after school was out. The Ripleys and the Deanes were neighbors.
The other girls, however, followed Laura, as, with quick, resolute step, she marched over to where the High School boys still lingered.
"Boys," began Laura, "Mr. Prescott has been accused of pretending about a hurt hand. I know how he injured it; and, as he did it——-"
"Please don't say any more, Miss Bentley," begged Dick, flushing.
"Yes, I shall," insisted Laura, quietly. "It happened night before last. Dick Prescott didn't want anything said about it, and neither did the police, so——-"
"The police?" chipped in several of the High School boys and girls.
"Yes, the police wanted it kept quiet, so they could have a chance to catch the fellow," Laura hastened on. "But they've had time enough, now, to catch the rascal, if they're ever going to. You see, it happened this way: Mother had forty-five dollars on hand that belonged to the church fair fund. So, night before last, she asked me to take it over to Miss Bond, the treasurer. I was going through Clinton Street, in one of the dark spots, when a man jumped out from behind a tree and made a snatch for the purse that I carried in my hand.
"Well, somehow—-I don't just know how," Laura continued, "I managed to keep hold of the purse and I screamed, of course. Then some one came running down the street as fast as he could—-and Dick Prescott leaped at the rascal. It was a hard fight—-a fearful one."
The girl shuddered even then, in the telling, but she continued: "The wretch was twice as big as Dick Prescott. I thought Dick was going to be killed. Twice the fellow broke loose, and started to run, but what do you think Master Dick was up to?"
"What?" chorused the interested audience.
"Master Dick had his mind set on subduing the robber and holding him for the police. So he tried to stop the wretch from getting away. At last, however, the fellow hurled Dick backward, so that he fell. When he got up he was lame. You all may have noticed that Mr. Prescott limped a bit yesterday?"
"Yes; he did," confirmed Frank Thompson.
"And his hand was hurt, too—-I know that," insisted Laura. "For he escorted me to Miss Bond's, and then home. When we got there, I asked my father, who is a doctor, to take Dick into the office. Father said, afterwards, that Dick's right wrist was sprained, and his ankle wrenched a bit, too. He said Dick would be doing well to have the full use of his wrist in a week. Then the police came, when my father telephoned for them, and the police didn't want anything said for a while."
"So you, a fourteen-year-old freshie, are going about at night trying to waylay footpads, are you?" demanded Thompson, resting a friendly hand on Dick's shoulder. "But why did you keep so close-mouthed, afterwards?" demanded the first classman.
"Well, for one thing, I guess I was a bit ashamed," confessed Dick, reddening.
"Ashamed of rushing to beauty's aid?" demanded Frank, laughingly.
"Nothing like it," Dick protested, growing redder still. "I was ashamed over having let the footpad get away."
"What? And he twice your size?" gasped Thompson. "Fellows, what do you think of the modest cheek of this freshie! Ashamed because he couldn't bag a full-sized thug!"
"That kid's the mustard!" broke in another first classman, approvingly.
"That's what he is!" came from others.
They began crowding about the confused, blushing freshie, pumping his uninjured left hand. Then some one shouted:
"He's all right, from the ground up. He's a Gridley boy! He's only a freshie in years, but he'll get over that. Now, up with Dick Prescott! On your shoulders! Give him the High School yell!"
Before he could even dodge, this High School freshman found himself going up in the air. With all consideration for his injured hand the upper classmen rushed him out of the school grounds, onto the street, holding him aloft in the post of honor. The other boys followed. Even the few girls followed, waving their handkerchiefs, while a lusty roar went up:
"T-E-R-R-O-R-S! Wa-ar! Fam-ine! Pesti-lence! That's us! That's us! G-R-I-D-L-E-Y—-H.S. Rah! rah! rah! rah! Gri-idley!"
"What's all that racket back there?" asked Clara Deane, turning at the head of the street. "Why, they're yelling and carrying that odious little Dick Prescott."
"Must be dragging him off to give him a ducking, as he deserves," muttered Fred Ripley, gratingly.
"No, no! It's the school yell, and the girls are waving their handkerchiefs."
"Then they must be canonizing the school sneak," returned Ripley, frowning hard.
"Well, don't wait to see," urged Clara. "We don't care about mixing up too much with such a common crowd as the Gridley H.S. students are."
"Prescott is nothing but a mucker, but he spoiled my coat, and I'll make him smart for it!" uttered Fred, his face burning with sullen rage.
"You'll only smirch yourself, Fred, by having anything more to do with such a fellow," Clara warned him.
"When I'm even with the fellow, I won't have anything more to do with him," snorted Ripley. "But I'll wait, watch and plan for years, if I have to, to take all the conceit and meanness out of that sneak. I'll never quit until I can look at myself in the glass and tell myself that I've paid back the lowest trick ever played on me!"
DICK & CO. GO AFTER THE SCHOOL BOARD'S SCALPS
In Gridley High School, sessions began at eight in the morning. School let out for the day at one in the afternoon. The brighter students, who could get most of their lessons in school, and do the rest of the work during the evening, thus had the afternoon for work or fun.
Often, though, it happened that there were parties, or school dances in the evening. Then a portion of the afternoon could be used for study, if need be. Saturdays, of course, were free from study for all but the dullest—-and the dullest usually don't bother their heads much about study at any time.
Gridley was not a large place—-just an average little American city of some thirty thousand inhabitants. It was a much bigger place than that, though, when it came to the matter of public spirit. Gridley people were proud of their town. They wanted everything there to be of the best. Certainly, the Gridley High School was not surpassed by many in the country. The imposing building cost some two hundred thousand dollars. The equipment of the school was as fine as could be put in a building of that size. Including the principal, there were sixteen teachers, four of them being men.
In all the classes combined, there were some two hundred and forty students, about one hundred of these being girls. Nearly all of the students were divided between the four regular classes. There were always a few there taking a postgraduate, or fifth year of work, for either college or one of the technical schools.
With such a school and such a staff of teachers as it possessed the Gridley standard of scholarship was high. The Gridley diploma was a good one to take to a college or to a "Tech" school.
Yet this fine high school stood well in the bodily branches of training. Gridley's H.S. football eleven had played, in the past four years, forty-nine games with other high school teams, and had lost but two of these games. The Gridley baseball nine had played fifty-four games with other high school teams in the same period, and had met defeat but three times in the four years.
Athletics, at this school, were not overdone, but were carried on with a fine insistence and a dogged determination. Up to date, however, despite the fine work of their boys, the citizens of the town had been somewhat grudging about affording money for training athletic teams. What the boys had won on the fields of sport they had accomplished more without public encouragement than with it.
It was now October. Dick Prescott and his five closest friends were all freshmen. They had been in the school only long enough to become accustomed to the routine of work and study. They were still freshmen, and would be until the close of the school year. As freshmen were rather despised "cubs" Dick and his friends would be daring, indeed should they dare to do anything, in their freshman year, to make them very prominent.
According to a good many Gridley people Dick's father, Eben Prescott, was accounted the best educated man in town. The elder Prescott had taken high honors at college; he had afterwards graduated in law, and, for a while, had tried to build up a practice. Eben Prescott was not lazy, but he was a student, much given to dreaming. He had finally been driven to opening a small bookstore. Here, when not waiting on customers, he could read. Dick's mother had proved the life of the little business. Had it not been for her energy and judgment the pair would have found it difficult to rear even their one child properly. The family lived in five rooms over the bookstore.
From the time he first began to go to school it had been plain that Dick Prescott inherited his mother's energy, plus some of his own. He had been one of the leaders in study, work and mischief, at the Central Grammar School. It was while in the grammar school that a band of boys had been formed who were popularly known as "Dick & Co." Dick was naturally the head. The other members of the company were Tom Reade, Dan Dalzell, Harry Hazelton, Greg Holmes and Dave Darrin. These were the same now all High School freshmen who had stepped forward and offered to take Dick's place in fighting Fred Ripley.
Dick was now fourteen, and so were all his partners, except Tom Reade, who was a year older. All of Dick's chums were boys belonging to families of average means. This is but another way of saying that, as a usual thing, Dick and all his partners would have been unable to fish up a whole dollar among them all.
Fred Ripley, on the other hand, usually carried considerable money with him. Lawyer Ripley usually allowed Fred much more money than that snobbish young man knew how to make good use of.
Fred and Clara Deane were undoubtedly the best-dressed pair in the High School, and the two best supplied with spending money. There were a few other sons or daughters of well-to-do people in Gridley High School, but the average attendance came from families that were only just about well enough off to be able to maintain their youngsters at higher studies.
Fred Ripley, despite his mean nature, was not wholly without friends in the High School. Some of his pocket money he spent on his closest intimates. Then, too, Fred had rather a shrewd idea as to those on whom it was safe or best to vent his snobbishness.
From the start of the school year, Ripley had picked out young Freshman Prescott as a boy he did not like. Dick's place in the moneyed scale of life was so lowly that Fred did not hesitate about treating the other boy in a disagreeable manner.
A week after the meeting between Fred and Dick the High School atmosphere had suddenly become charged with intense excitement. The school eleven had come out of training, had played almost its last match with the "scrub" team and was now close to the time for its first regular match. Oakdale H.S. was to be the first opponent, and Oakdale was just good enough a team to make the Gridley boys a bit uneasy over the outcome.
"My remarks this morning," announced Dr. Thornton, on opening school on Monday, "are not so much directed at the young ladies. But to the young gentlemen I will say that, when the football season opens, we usually notice a great falling off in the recitation marks. This year I hope will be an exception. It has always been part of my policy to encourage school athletics, but I do not mind telling you that some members of the Board of Education notice that school percentages fall off in October and November. This, I trust, will not be the case this year. If it is I fear that the Board of Education may take some steps that will result in making athletics less of a feature among our young men. I hope that it is not necessary to add anything to this plain appeal to your good judgment, young gentlemen."
It wasn't. Dr. Thornton was a man of so few and direct words that the boys gathered on the male side of the big assembly room looked around at each other in plain dismay.
"That miserable old Board of Education is equal to shutting down on us right in the middle of the season," whispered Frank Thompson to Dent, who sat next him.
"You know the answer?" Dent whispered back.
"Give the board no excuse for any such action. Keep up to the academ. grind."
"But how do that and train——-"
A general buzz was going around on the boys' side of the room. Several of the girls, too, were whispering in some excitement, for most of the girls were enthusiastic "fans" at all of the High School games.
Whispering, provided it was "necessary" and did not disturb others, was not against the rules. These were no longer school children, but "young gentlemen" and "young ladies," and allowed more freedom than in the lower schools. For a few moments Dr. Thornton tolerated patiently the excited buzz in the big assembly room. Then, at last, he struck a paper-weight against the top of his desk on the platform.
"First period recitations, now," announced the principal.
Clang! At stroke of the bell there was a hurried clutching of books and notebooks. The students filed down the aisles, going quickly to their proper sections, which formed in the hall outside. The tramp of feet resounded through the building, for some recitation rooms were on the first floor, some on the second and some on the third.
Two minutes later there was quiet in the great building. Recitation room doors were closed. One passing through the corridors would have heard only the indistinct murmur of voices from the different rooms. Within five minutes every one of the instructors detected the fact that, though discipline was as good as ever, Dr. Thornton's words had spoiled the morning's recitations. Try as they would, the young men could not fasten their minds on the work on hand. The hint that athletics might be stopped had stung.
Dick & Co. were all sitting in IV. English.
"Mr. Prescott," directed Submaster Morton, "define the principle of suspense, as employed in writing."
Dick started, looked bewildered, then rose.
"It's—-it's——-" he began.
"A little more rapidly, if you please."
"I studied it last night, sir, but I'm afraid I've clean forgotten all about that principle," Dick confessed. He sat down, red-faced, nor was his discomfiture decreased by hearing some of the occupants of the girls' seats giggle.
"I shall question you about that at the next recitation. Mr. Prescott," nodded the submaster.
"Ye-es, sir. I hope you'll have luck," Dick answered, absently.
"What's that?" rapped out Mr. Morton.
Dick, aroused, was on his feet again, like a flash.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Morton," he came out straightforwardly. "That sounded like slang, or disrespect. I beg to assure you, sir, that neither was intended. The truth is——-"
"Your mind is busy with other things this morning, I see," smiled the sub-master.
"Ye-es, sir." Dick dropped once more into his seat. Ralph Morton sighed. That very popular young submaster, only three years out of college, was the hugely admired coach who had led the Gridley eleven to victory during the last three seasons. He was as disturbed as anyone could have been over the rumored intention of the Board of Education to take some unpleasant action regarding High School athletics.
It was a terribly unsatisfactory hour in IV. English. Five minutes before the period was up Mr. Morton dejectedly closed the text-book from which he had been questioning, and remarked, tersely:
Instantly the buzz of whispering broke forth. It was required only that not enough noise be made to disturb the students in adjoining rooms.
Dick, Tom and Dan sat in the front row. Directly behind them were the other three members of the "Co."
"Say," muttered Dan, in a low undertone, "Mr. Morton looks half glum and half savage this morning, like the rest of us."
"Seems to," muttered Tom Reade.
"What do you make of that?" challenged Dan.
"There must be strong foundation for the little hint Dr. Thornton let fall this morning," guessed Dave Darrin.
"And Mr. Morton knows it's a straight tip," added Harry Hazelton, sagely.
"It'll be a confounded shame, if the Board does anything like that," glowed Dick Prescott, indignantly.
"They'll be so many dead ones, if they do," flared Tom Reade, hotly.
"Yes," agreed Dave Darrin. "But the worst about that Board of Education is that, though they are dead ones, they're so very dead that they'll never find it out."
"Won't they, thought" whispered Dan Dalzell, hotly. "Say, I'm inclined to think they will! I——-"
"Dan!" whispered Dick, warningly.
"Yep; you've guessed right," grinned Dan. "I am hatching a scheme in my mind. I'm getting up something that will bring even that dummified Board to its senses."
"Then you can achieve the impossible," teased Reade.
"Say, but it's a warm one that's forming this time," whispered Dan, his eyes dancing. "I'll see you fellows at recess. Not a word until then. But you——-"
Ting-ling-ling. The bell connecting with the annunciator at the principal's desk was trilling in IV. English, as it was in all the other recitation rooms. IV. English rose, the boys waiting until the girls had passed from the room. A study-hour in the big assembly room followed for Dick & Co. Yet, had anyone watched Dan Dalzell, it would have been found that young man was in the reference room, and reading, or thumbing—-of all volumes in the English language—-the city directory!
When recess broke, Dick & Co. quickly got together. By twos, Dick and Dave Darrin leading, they marched down through one of the side streets, it being permitted to High School pupils to go outside the yard in the near neighborhood.
Presently Dick halted before a stone wall. He eyed Dan keenly, who had been walking just behind with Harry Hazelton.
"Dan," demanded the leader, "you gave us to understand that your mind is seething again. Is that true?"
"Quite true," Dan averred, solemnly.
"What particular kind of cerebration is oscillating inside of your intelligence?" Dick queried.
"Which?" demanded Dan, suspiciously. "No, I never! I'm not that kind of fellow."
"In plain, freshman English, then, what's your scheme?"
"We'll have to get statistics," announced Dalzell, "before I can come right down to bare facts. When does the Board of Education, otherwise known as the Grannies' Club, meet?"
"Tonight, in the Board Room in the High School building," Dick answered.
"How many members are there?"
"Seven," Dick affirmed.
"That's not too many, then," continued Dan, thoughtfully.
"Not too many?" repeated Dick Prescott. "What do you mean?"
"Why, I've been refreshing my general information about this town by consulting the city directory. From that valuable tome I discovered that there are just nine undertakers in town."
"Now, what on earth are you driving at—-or driveling at?" asked Dick Prescott, suspiciously, while the other partners remained wonderingly, eagerly silent.
"Why," pursued Dan, "we can summon seven of the undertakers for our job, and still leave two available for the public service."
Dick sprang up from the stone wall, tightly gripping Dan Dalzell by the coat collar.
"Help me watch this lunatic, fellows," urged Dick, quietly. "He's dangerous. You've heard him! He's plotting assassination!"
"Undertakers don't assassinate anyone, do they?" queried Dan, with an air of mock innocence.
"What are you plotting, then?" insisted Dick.
Dan's face broadened into a very pronounced grin.
"Why, see here, fellows, there seems to be some fire behind Dr. Thornton's smoke that the Board of Education may get excited over low recitation marks, and actually—-stop football!" finished Dalzell, in a gasp.
The other five chums snorted. Dan Dalzell was presently able to control his feelings sufficiently to proceed:
"No one but actually dead ones would expect an American institution of the higher learning to exist in these days without football. Hence, if the Grannies' Club—-I mean the School Board—-are planning to stop football, or even believe that it is possible, then they're sure enough dead ones. Am I right?"
"Right and sane, after all," nodded Dick.
"Therefore," pursued Dan, "if the board members are dead ones, why not go ahead and bury them? Or, at the least, show our kindly interest in that direction. See here, fellows"—-here Dan lowered his voice to the faintest sort of whisper, while the other partners gathered close about him—-"tonight we fellows can scatter over the town, and drop into different telephone booths where we're not known. We can call up seven different undertakers, convey to them a hint that there's a dead one at the Board Room, and state that the victim of our call is wanted there at once.
"What good would that do?" demanded Dick, after a thoughtful pause.
"Why," proposed Dan Dalzell, "if seven undertakers call, all within five minutes, won't it be a delicate way of conveying the hint that a Board of Education that thinks it can stop football is composed of dead ones? You see, there'll be an undertaker for each member of the Board. Don't you think the idea—-the hint—-would soak through even those seven dull old heads?"
Tom, Harry and Dave began to chuckle, though they looked puzzled.
"Well, if you ask me," decided Dick, after more thought, "I have just one answer. The scheme is too grisly. Besides, we've nothing against the undertakers that should make us willing to waste their time. Moreover, Dan we're in the High School, and we're expected to be gentlemen. Now, does your scheme strike you as just the prank for a lot of gentlemen."
"Say, don't look the thing over too closely," protested Dan, more soberly, "or you'll find lots of bad holes in the scheme. Yet, somehow, we've got to bring it to the attention of the Board that, if they go against High School football, they're real dead ones."
"I've just an idea we can do that," spoke Dick Prescott, reflectively. "We can rig the scheme over, so as to save seven estimable business men from starting out on fools' errands. And we can drive the lesson home to the Board just as hard—-perhaps harder."
At these hopeful words from the chief the partners pricked up their ears, then crowded closer.
"In the first place," began Dick, "Dan's scheme—-beg your pardon, old fellow—-is clumsy, grisly and likely to come back as a club to hit us over the head. Now, you all know Len Spencer, the 'Morning Blade' reporter. He's a regular 'fan' over the football and baseball teams, and follows them everywhere in the seasons. You also know that Len is a pretty good friend of mine. If I put Len up to a scheme that will furnish him with good 'copy' for two mornings, he'll put it through for me, and be as mum as an oyster."
"How can Len help us in anything?" demanded Dave Darrin, wonderingly.
"Listen!" ordered Dick Prescott, with a twinkle in his eyes.
When Dick & Co. hurried back at the close of recess they felt serene and content. All the partners felt that Dick Prescott, the most fertile boy in ideas at the Central Grammar School, was going to be able to save the day for football. For Dick had propounded a scheme that was sure to work—-barring accidents!
That evening the Board of Education met in dull and stately session. These meetings were generally so dull and devoid of real news that the local press was content to get its account from the secretary's minutes. Tonight was no exception in this respect. No reporter was present when Chairman Stone rapped for order. Seven excellent men were these who sat around the long table. Most of them had made their mark in local business, or in the professions. Yet, as it happened, none of these excellent men had ever made a mark in athletics in earlier years. As they appeared to have succeeded excellently in life without football the members of the Board were inclined to reason that football must be a bad thing.
After the session had droned along for three-quarters of an hour, and all routine business had been transacted, Chairman Stone looked about at his fellow Board members.
"Gentlemen," he began, "we have noticed that, during October and November, the High School percentages, especially those of the young men, are prone to fall a bit. There can be but one cause for this—-the football craze. There are signs that this stupid athletic folly will take a greater hold than ever, this year, on our High School students. I thought it best to ask Dr. Thornton to caution the students that any such falling-off of percentages this year might make it necessary for us to forbid High School football."
"It was an excellent idea to give such a warning, Mr. Chairman," nodded Mr. Hegler.
"So I thought," replied Chairman Stone, complacently. "Yet, while we have been in session this evening, I have been wondering why it would not be a good plan to promote scholarship at once by summarily forbidding football."
"Even for the balance of this present season?" asked Mr. Chesbritt, ponderously.
"Even for the balance of this season," confirmed Mr. Stone.
There were murmurs of approval. Just at that moment, however, the door opened suddenly, and Reporter Len Spencer, a bright-faced young man of twenty-two, hurried in on tip-toe. Then, suddenly, he halted, looking unutterably astonished.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen," murmured the reporter. "But I did not expect to find you in session."
"And why not, Mr. Spencer?" demanded the chairman, crisply.
"Why, I—-er—-I—-well, to be candid, gentlemen, 'The Blade' had information that some one had died here."
"Died here?" gasped Chairman Stone. "Upon my word that would be a most extraordinary thing to do in the presence of this Board. Where did you get such very remarkable information, young man?"
"It was telephoned to 'The Blade' office," Len Spencer replied.
"I—-I really don't know," replied the young reporter, looking much embarrassed. "I don't believe our editor, Mr. Pollock, does, either. The news came in over the 'phone. Mr. Pollock told me to rush up here and get all the facts."
"The facts," retorted Mr. Stone, dryly, "would be most difficult for the members of this Board to furnish. Indeed, the only fact in which we are interested would be the name of the person who——-"
Ting-a-ling-ling! As the telephone bell jangled Chairman Stone drew the desk instrument toward him, holding the receiver to his ear.
"Hullo!" hailed a voice. "Is that the Board of Education's office?"
"It is," confessed Chairman Stone.
"Is our reporter, Spencer, there? If so, I would like to talk with him."
"Yes, he's right here, Mr. Pollock. And from the extraordinary information he has brought us, I think he needs a talking-to. Wait a moment."
Chairman Stone passed the instrument to Len Spencer. The members of the Board felt curiosity enough to leave their seats and gather at the head of the table. They could hear Editor Pollock's voice as it ran on:
"Hullo, Spencer. Say, I've just had another 'phone from that same party. He says that he sent in his information a bit twisted. What he meant to tell us was that there are seven dead ones in the Board of Education who know so little about public spirit and pride in our boys that they are even considering the idea of forbidding High School football."
"Oh, that's it, eh?" asked Spencer, solemnly. "Seven dead ones?"
"Yes; of course you've already discovered that there's no real tragedy up at the Board, unless they're actually planning some move against football."
The seven members of the School Board looked at one another blankly, wonderingly.
"Who sent you that message over the 'phone?" questioned the reporter.
The seven Board members pricked up their ears still more keenly.
"I don't know," came Editor Pollock's voice. "But I suspect it came from the Business Men's Club. That's a wide-awake and progressive crowd, you know, and full of local pride, even in our High School boys. But, Spencer, I'm in just a bit of a fix. I had already run out six lines on the bulletin board announcing that a sudden death had taken place in the School Board meeting. Now, I've got to run out another bulletin and explain. Spencer, you'd better come back here on the jump. Good-bye!"
As the bell rang off, and the reporter laid the instrument back on the table, he said:
"Gentlemen, I am ordered back to my office in haste. Yet, before I go, as a matter of news interest, I think I'd better ask you whether any action is going to be taken forbidding football in the High School?"
"N-n-not to the best of our knowledge," stammered Chairman Stone. "We have—-taken no action along that line."
"Are you likely to take any such action tonight?"
"Thank you, and goodnight, gentlemen. I offer you my apology and 'The Blade's' for having intruded on you in this fashion."
As soon as the members of the Board were alone Chairman Stone glanced about him, and remarked:
"So, it appears, gentlemen, that, if we do not favor High School football, we shall be regarded as what are termed 'dead ones'!"
NOT SO MUCH OF A FRESHMAN
The next morning's "Blade" contained a column and a half, written in Reporter Spencer's most picturesque vein. The headlines ran: "School Board Hoaxed. Gentle Jokers Convey a Needed Hint. Football Not to Be Barred in High School. 'Blade' Reporter a First-off Victim in the Service of Public Spirit."
It was a fine article, from a High School boy's point of view. It was an article, too, which, in a city ruled by a lively public spirit, was likely to tie the hands of a Board of Education that did not care to fly in the face of public opinion.
Dick Prescott, before he went in to breakfast, read the article in secret, with many a chuckle.
"You seem much interested in the newspaper, Richard," said his father, when the young freshman came to table, still holding 'The Blade.'"
"Yes, sir. You know I have set my heart on making the H.S. eleven just as soon as I strike a higher class. I was afraid the School Board would abolish the game from our school. Now, I know they won't."
"Hm! Let me see 'The Blade.'"
Mr. Prescott glanced through the article, a faint twinkle showing in his eyes.
"The School Board may stop High School football," commented Mr. Prescott, laying aside the paper. "They may, but it would take a good deal of courage, for that article will start Gridley on a furor of enthusiasm for the game. I wonder who got up that hoax."
"Why, Dad, 'The Blade,' hints at some one down at the Business Men's Club."
"Hm! I wonder who wrote the article."
"Perhaps Len Spencer," replied Dick. "You know, Dad, he's a great fan for all our H.S. sports."
"I can just see Jason Stone reading that article at his breakfast table this morning," smiled Mr. Prescott. "Stone is a great sail-trimmer, always afraid of the man who casts a vote."
"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Prescott, coming in breezily from the kitchen.
Dick explained the news to his mother.
"Abolish football at the High School!" echoed Mrs. Prescott, indignantly. "And I've been sharing your great wish Dick, to make the team when you're old enough. They shan't do it, anyway, Dick, until you've had your chance on the eleven!"
"No, mother," replied the boy, very quietly; "I don't believe they will."
With a sudden rush of recollection of other pranks in which she had known her son to be engaged in the grammar school days, Mrs. Prescott shot a sudden, wondering glance at him. But Dick, looking utterly innocent, was chewing his food.
Frank Thompson, Ben Badger and Ted Butler, all seniors, and stars on the H.S. football team, had risen early that morning, every one of them feeling glum over the dread that the great sport might be "killed" for them. They were the only members of the eleven who happened to see "The Blade" early. In consequence, these three husky young Americans were on the street early. Just as naturally they ran into each other.
"Whoop!" yelled Thompson, when he came in sight of his pals.
"Wow!" observed Ben.
"And some more!" glowed Butler.
"Will they stop football now?" demanded Thompson.
"Not while anyone is looking," averred Butler.
"But say, it was great of the Business Men's Club to make such a stroke for us," went on Badger, enthusiastically.
"Yes," admitted Frank Thompson, "if that was where it came from. I guess it was, all right."
Arm in arm the three went off down the street, feeling as though the world had turned right side up once more.
Dick met his partners on the way to the High School. All were grinning quietly.
"You're the genius, Dick," admitted Dan Dalzell, cordially. "My undertaker scheme would have been ghastly. It would have taken all the edge off the joke—-would have spoiled it, and the joke would have been a club that would have hit us over the head. But, say! I wonder if the Grannies' Club will dare to touch our sacred football now!"
"Don't waste any time wondering," chuckled Tom Reade. "They wont."
It was a happy day in the famous old Gridley High School. Actually, the recitations went off better than they had done on any day since term opening.
Dick Prescott was out on the street rather early that afternoon. He wanted to run across Len Spencer, and chose Main Street as the most likely thoroughfare for the purpose. He met the reporter at the head of a little alleyway.
"Well, Dick, how did you like it?" was the reporter's greeting.
"Say, it was great!" Dick bubbled over.
"What do they think down at H.S.?"
"Think?" repeated young Prescott. "Why, everybody is in ecstasies. The gloom of yesterday has vanished like the mist from a cheap cigar. You're suspected of writing the article, too, Len. If the High School students can find any proof that you did you'll get a rouser in the way of handsome treatment."
The two had stepped down just off the street into the alleyway.
"Does everyone seem to believe that the job was put up at the Business Men's Club?" Dick asked.
"Sure thing," nodded Len Spencer. "And no member of the Club will deny it, either, for the thing has struck the popular side of the town. Why, by tonight, there'll be at least a dozen of the members, each confidentially telling his friends that he conceived the whole trick."
"That'll make it all the stronger," nodded Dick. "Good thing."
"Glee!" chuckled Len. "Wouldn't the whole town—-including the Board members—-wake up, if they only knew that the whole thing was planned out by a fourteen-year-old freshie, by name Dick Prescott!"
"You won't let it out, Len, that I had any hand in it?" asked Dick, quickly.
"Oh, not I," promised Len, quickly. "I gave you my word on that, son, didn't I?"
"Now, see here," Dick went on, "why can't you push this thing along one day further? Why don't you interview a lot of the prominent business men on the absolute necessity of football for keeping up the H.S. spirit and traditions?"
"Good idea as far as it goes," assented Len, dubiously. "But a lot of the business men might prove to be fossilized, and be against the grand old game."
"Leave that sort out," hinted Dick, sagely, "and go after the right kind."
"How'll I know the right kind?" asked reporter Spencer, thoughtfully.
"Why, use your head a bit. There's Beck. He's a millionaire, and one of the big men of the town, isn't he?"
"Yes; but he may not believe in football."
"Shucks! Of course Beck believes in football," retorted Dick. "Doesn't his lumber yard furnish all the wooden goods that are needed for fences, seats, and all that sort of thing up at the athletic grounds? Doesn't Beck know that, if he said a word against football, he never get another order for lumber from the H.S. Alumni association. Then there's Carleson. He's one of the directors of the railroad, therefore a big enough man to interview."
"Where does Carleson come in on hot interest in football?"
"Use your head," jibed Dick. "Doesn't his railroad have lots of jobs transporting the football teams to other games, and bringing other teams here? Don't mobs of fans follow the teams and pay fare? Why, H.S. football is a dividend-payer to Carleson. Your own editor, Pollock, will come out for us. Besides the news football makes for 'The Blade,' just think of the profit from doing all the poster and ticket printing for us. Then there's Henley, who sells the team uniforms and other athletic goods and he's one of the aldermen! Why, man alive, there are a score of big men in town who can't afford to see H.S. football stopped. Here are some of their names——-"
Dick rattled it along, giving a long list to Len Spencer, who jotted down the names.
"Thank you; old man," said the reporter, cordially. "I'll get these interviews, and it'll make a corking good second-day story. Pollock says I can push this as far as I like, for it has struck a popular vein. But Pollock says he wouldn't have thought of it, Dick, if you hadn't set the ball rolling."
"Then he knows the big part that my chums and I took in the game?" asked Dick, his face showing his concern.
"Yes; but don't worry. Old Pollock is as mum as the grave about such things. Now, so long, Dick, old fellow. I've got to run down to the end of this alley to call on a sick friend. Then I'll hustle out and get a barrelful of interviews that will cinch and rivet football on Gridley H.S. for a century to come!"
As Len Spencer vanished through one of the doorways Dick Prescott turned toward the street. As he did so, he jumped back.
"We want you, freshie!" declared Frank Thompson, grimly. "And we want you badly."
Badger and Butler, who were just behind the speaker, closed in firmly around the freshman.
"We heard, and we didn't feel ashamed to listen," declared Thompson. "So you're the genius that has been doing giant's work for football? You are under arrest, freshie—-and I hope you'll come along without making any row."
Despite the severity of the looks in the faces of these three seniors, Dick Prescott did not feel very uneasy. He submitted to walking between Thompson and Butler, while Ben Badger brought up the rear. The unafraid prisoner was marched along and into another street, to where the football eleven had its "club room." This was an unoccupied store, the agent of which allowed the boys the use of the place, rent free, as long as it remained idle.
When near this headquarters Ben Badger darted ahead, throwing open the door, while Frank and Ted marched in with their prisoner.
"Attention!" roared Ben.
Nearly all the members and substitutes of the eleven were present. They were sorting over various bits of football paraphernalia. Several of them stopped work to look up as Ben Badger slammed the door shut again.
"Well, what are you making so much noise about?" demanded one of the second classmen. "You come in with a roar, and all you bring with you is—-just a poor, insignificant little freshie."
"Oh, but what a freshman!" thundered Frank Thompson. "Listen, fellows, what do you suppose this freshman has done?"
"Lynch him for it, anyway, whatever it is," retorted another.
"Wait!" commanded Thompson. "And listen."
There upon Frank detailed what he and his two comrades had overheard at the head of the alleyway. Instantly the complexion of things changed. There were cheers and hoarse yells, as the football men rushed forward, crowding about Dick Prescott.
"Now I've told all that I heard," wound up Thompson. "We'll have to ask Mr. Prescott to favor us with the further details, which I trust he will be inclined to do."
"Mr. Prescott!" That, instead of "cub," "kid" or "freshie." Had the enthusiasm been less intense Dick would have been sure that they were having fun with him.
"Go on," ordered Ben Badger briefly. "Talk up!"
To have refused plain orders from a first classman might have been serious. Dick knew better. Clearing his throat he related all he could recall of how the plot came to be hatched. Nor was Dick glory-hunter enough to give himself any more credit than he did his partners. In his brief account the freshman spread all the credit for the invention equally over the six members of Dick & Co.
"'Twas a great thought, and carried out like a campaign," declared Ben Badger. There was more cheering. Then Frank Thompson dragged Dick forward once more before the lined-up team.
"Fellows," proposed Thompson, "we owe this freshie——-"
"Stop that!" roared one of the fellows. "Prescott may be young—-painfully young—-but he's no freshie."
"Then," amended Thompson, with grave dignity, "we owe a handsome reward to this—-upper classman. May I tell him what the reward is to be?"
"Go ahead, Thomp!" came an answering roar.
"Then, listen, Prescott. For the great deed you have done for Gridley H.S. football every member of Dick & Co. deserves undying fame. As I can't be sure of our ability to confer that, we'll do the next best thing. In years and class you're all six of you freshmen. Now, what is expected of a freshman?"
"Why," laughed Dick, "as I understand it, a freshman is a fellow who doesn't dare to be fresh."
"Hear! hear!" yelled a dozen voices.
"In that respect," proclaimed Thompson, solemnly, "Dick & Co. shall no longer be freshman at Gridley H.S.! If the spirit seizes any of you, then go ahead and be fresh—-of course, not too fresh! Mix in with the upper classmen, all of you, if you want to. Have your opinions, and don't be afraid to let 'em out—-if you can't hold in any longer. To the upper class dances this winter Dick & Co. shall have a bid—-if you'll all learn how to walk and glide across a waxed floor. Remember, when you're among the fellows, you don't have to keep in the back freshmen row—-but see to it that you don't encourage general mutiny in your class against the superior upper classes. Finally, you can get sassy with all upper classman whenever any of you six want to—-all you'll have to do, further, will be to fight."
Another round of cheers confirmed Thompson's declaration.
"Now, fellows, get a move on!" bawled Sam Edgeworth, captain of the football eleven. "We've barely time to get to the field and meet Coach Morton punctually."
"Will you let me make one request?" shouted Dick, over the hubbub.
"Yes. Go ahead! Get it out quick!"
"Then please don't let out a word," begged young Prescott, "about Dick & Co., as we fellows are called, being at the bottom of the plot against the Board of Education."
"Not a word!" promised Captain Edgeworth, gravely.
Then Dick was hustled good-naturedly to the door, Ben Badger once more springing forward to hold it open. As Dick hurried out onto the sidewalk a hurricane of cheers followed him. Then, as the door was closing, came a fierce burst of the High School yell.
Just as it happened, this parting salute couldn't have been worse timed. Within four doors Dr. Thornton, the principal, was sauntering slowly along. He heard tine hubbub, of course, and looked up, to see Dick Prescott coming out alone, a pleased look on his flushed face.
Across the street, just coming out of a store, was Chairman Jason Stone of the Gridley Board of Education.
"Young Prescott! Bless my soul!" murmured Dr. Thornton. "Why are the football team making such a row over that young freshman?"
In another instant the principal's question all but answered itself.
"Why, I wonder," muttered the good doctor, "if the enthusiasm in any way relates to the hoax on the Board. Was Prescott at the bottom of it? I'll keep it in mind and try to find out!"
"If the football crew are making all that row over a mere freshman," thought Chairman Stone, "then young Prescott must be the inventor of the yarn that has made Gridley wonder whether we of the Board are so many 'dead ones.' Hm! hm! I'll find out if that's the case. Such a trick is clearly one that would call for expelling the young man from the High School!"
CAPTION OF THE HOUNDS
"Is that mucker going to run today?"
The questioner was Fred Ripley, and his voice was full of disgust. He glared at Dick Prescott, who was seated unconcernedly on a stone wall, awaiting the arrival of Tom Reade and Dan Dalzell, the only other members of Dick & Co. who were to figure in today's event.
"Is who going to run?" asked Ben Badger.
"That little mucker, Prescott?" insisted Fred.
"Yes," returned Badger, shortly.
"Gridley H.S. is getting worse and worse," growled Ripley. "Athletics ought to be confined to the best sort of fellows in the school. These little muckers, these nobodies, ought to be kept out of everything in which the real fellows take part."
"Don't be a cad, Ripley," retorted Badger, half angrily.
"Oh, I'm no great stickler for caste, and that sort of thing," Fred grumbled on. "I'm democratic enough, when it comes to that, and I associate with a good many fellows whose fathers don't stand as high in the community as mine does."
"That's really kind of you," mimicked Ben Badger, with another look of disgust at the rich lawyer's son. "Of course, you feel just as though anything that your father may have accomplished puts you in a rather more elect lot."
"Of course, it does," retorted Fred, drawing himself up stiffly. "Still, you know as well as anyone does, Badger, that I'm not stuck up just on account of family or position. I'm ready to give the friend's hand to any of the right sort of fellows. But what is that little mucker, Prescott? His parents peddle books and newspapers."
"They run a book and periodical shop, if that is what you mean," rejoined Ben, disgustedly, as he looked the young snob over for the third time. "Some mighty big people have done that in times past. As to position, Prescott's father isn't a rich man, nor a very successful one, but I wish I could look forward, some day, to being half as well educated as Dick's father is."
"A dreamer, a fool, a man who couldn't and didn't succeed," sneered Fred. "And his son will be a bigger mistake in life. I don't have anything to do with that kind of people and their friends."
"I'll wish you good-day, then," broke in Badger, crisply, and moved away. "I want to be reckoned as one of Dick Prescott's friends. He's one of the most promising young fellows in Gridley H.S."
Ripley let loose an astounded gasp. He stood still where Badger had left him, boiling over with rage. Had Ripley been wise, he would have chosen another time for anger. Any trainer or physician could have told this young snob that just before going off on a long race is the worst possible time for letting anger get the best of one. Anger excites the action of the heart to a degree that makes subsequent running performance a thing of difficulty.
Gridley H.S. was out for the October paper chase. This was an annual event, in which the sophomores, or third classmen, acted as the hares, while the freshmen played the part of the hounds. The course was six miles across country. Three courses, of equal length, were laid down, each with a different terminal. It was known, in advance, only to the hares, which course would be run over. But, which ever course was taken, it must be followed to the end. Five minutes' start was allowed to the hares. Then the hounds were sent after them in full yelp. By starting time for the hounds the hares were sure to be out of sight. An official of the first class, who followed the hares at the outset, gave the call when the five minutes were up. Beginning with that call the hares were obliged to scatter bits of paper, as they ran, all the way to the finish of the run.
All three of the courses were somewhat parallel during the first five minutes of the run, but, as the hounds had no means of knowing which course was the right one, the hounds had to divide their forces until the first of the paper trails was struck. Then the "baying" of the hounds who found the trail brought the other two parties of freshmen to them. Usually, four or five upper classmen ran with the hounds to decide upon "captures" in case of dispute. A hound overhauling a hare had to throw his arms around the prize, stopping him fairly for at least fifteen seconds. Then the hare was sent back, out of the race. Each hound was credited with the hare he captured.
Twelve hares ran, also twelve hounds. If the hounds captured seven or more of the hares ere the race was finished, then the hounds won. If they captured less than six, the hares won. If six hares were captured, then the race was a "tie." But, as will be seen, with the five minutes' start, and the hares averaging a year more of age, the sophomore class usually won this chase.
These rules had originated at Gridley, where the High School boys considered their form of the game superior to the rules usually followed.
This year, as in previous years, the sophomores felt confident of winning. The freshmen hounds averaged rather small in size, though little was known as to the freshmen running powers or wind. The sophomores were all good runners.
The contestants for positions on both teams had been tried out three days before, by a committee of men from the first class. The sophomores had not been allowed to see the freshmen run at these trials.
The start was to be made at three o'clock on this Monday afternoon. All the runners were now here, Reade and Dalzell having been among the last of the freshmen to come up. It was ten minutes before three.
"Half of the freshmen are a pretty mucky looking lot, aren't they?" asked Ripley, as he and Purcell, of the hares, strolled by.
"I hadn't noticed it," replied Purcell pleasantly. "I thought them a clean and able looking lot of young fellows."
"Humph! A pretty cheap lot! I call 'em," rejoined Ripley.
Dick Prescott heard and flushed slightly. He understood the allusion, coming from the source that it did. But Dick was bent on making a good run this afternoon, and kept his temper.
"Hares on the line!" shouted Frank Thompson, finally. He was to fire the shots that started the two teams, then was to run with the hounds to act as one of the judges of possible captures.
Purcell, who was captain of the hares, led his men forward to the line laid across the grass. Just before they formed, the captain gave some whispered instructions. Ben Badger was already at the line. He was to run with the hares during the first five minutes, then give the final signal for beginning to scatter the paper trail.
"On the line there, quick!" called Thompson, watch in his left hand, pistol in his right. "Ready!"
The hares, each with a bag of torn paper hanging over one hip, bent forward.
Crack! At the report of the pistol the hares bounded forward. In barely more than a minute afterwards they were out of sight.
Then followed some minutes of tedious waiting for the Gridley freshmen.
"Hounds to the line!"
Dick, who had been elected captain of the freshmen team, led his men forward on all easy lope. Dick took his place at the extreme left of the pursuing line, with Tom Reade next to him; then Dan Dalzell.
"Ready!" A pause of a few seconds. Crack!
The pistol sent the hounds away. They did not attempt to run fast. Captain Dick Prescott's orders were against that. The hounds moved away at an easy lope, for there were miles yet to be covered. Six miles, in fact, is more than average High School boys of the lower classes can make at a cross-country jog. A go-as-you-please gait was therefore allowed. Either hare or hound might walk when he preferred.
But for the first five minutes the hounds, who divided into three squads almost immediately, moved along at an easy jog. Every eye was alert for the first sign of a paper trail. There were six upper classmen running with the hounds. Ben Badger was somewhere ahead, hiding in order not to betray the trail. But, when he had been passed, Badger would jump up and run with the hounds, making the seventh judge.
"I wonder if we've a ghost of a show to win," muttered Tom Reade.
"Every show in the world—-until we're beaten!" replied Dick, doggedly. "It isn't in the Gridley blood to wonder if we can win—-we've got to win!"
After that Dick closed his lips firmly. He must save his wind for the long cross-country.
On the left the runners were now in a field. The center was moving along the highway, the right wing being in a field over beyond.
"Wow-oo! wow-oo! wow-oo!" sounded a deep, far-away chorus.
"There's the trail, away over to the right!" shouted Captain Dick. "Come on, fellows!"
On an oblique line he led them, toward the road. They took a low stone wall on the leap, vaulting the fence at the other side of the road. The center squad had already overtaken the discoverers of the trail.
"Run easily. Don't try to cover it all in a minute. Save your wind!" admonished Dick to his own squad.
The upper classmen judges ran well behind the hounds. It was needful only that they be near enough to see and decide any disputed point of capture.
It was all of twenty-five minutes over a course that led across fields and through woods, ere the hounds caught the first glimpse of their quarry. Yet, all along, the paper trail was in evidence. One of the hares was required to strew the small bits of paper. When his bag was empty another hare must begin dropping the white bits.
"I'll bet Ripley dropped along here—-the trail is so mean and difficult," grunted Reade, disgustedly.
"There are the hares ahead—-I see two of them!" bellowed Dan Dalzell, lustily.
A chorus from the hounds responded an instant later. Yes; they had come in sight of the chase. But the rearmost hares were still a good half mile away. Then the hares disappeared into a forest, leaving only the paper trail as evidence of their presence.
"Brook ahead!" sang out Captain Dick. "Go easily and save some of your wind for jumping."
In a minute more they came to it. Most of the hounds knew when to start on the faster run that must precede the running jump.
Four of the freshmen floundered in the knee-deep water. Well doused, they must none the less dash out of the cold water and continue on the chase.
"Keep a-moving, and you'll soon be dry and warm," Dick called backward over his shoulder. The four who had been badly wet ran heavily now, yet afraid of ridicule if they fell out. They were having their first taste of High School sports, which made no allowance for quitters.
Twenty minutes later a low hurrah went up from the freshmen hounds. Dawson, of the hares, found the pace too swift for him. With a slight pain in his side he lagged so that one of the hounds put on an extra spurt, then wound his arms around the sophomore.
"Fair capture!" bawled one of the judges, and Dawson, dropping out, sat down until he could get his wind back.
Within the next twenty minutes four more of the hares fell into the maws of the hounds.
Five captures! That was fine. Only two more needed, and less than two miles to cover.
The hares were, at this time, again out of sight in the woods ahead. But Captain Dick, having saved his wind well, now put on a slightly better spurt and jogged ahead, full of the purpose of capturing his second hare. One of the "catches" was already recorded to his credit.
"There's one of the hares," Dick flashed to himself, as he caught an indistinct glimpse of a sweater and a moving pair of legs ahead. "He seems to be losing his wind, too—-that fellow."
In a minute more Dick gave another gasp of discovery.
"It's Fred Ripley. I suppose it will be bitter medicine for him, if I make the catch," thought the young captain of the hounds.
Though he was too manly, too good a sportsman to allow malice to creep in, Prescott certainly did do his best to overtake the lagging Fred.
Gradually, the young captain left the hares behind. But Badger, who was an easy runner, forged ahead so as to keep the leading hound in full sight.
Hearing some one running behind him, Fred Ripley glanced backward over his shoulder.
"The mucker!" gritted the lawyer's son. "He mustn't catch me—-he shan't!"
Yet vainly did Ripley try to put on more speed. He kept it up for a few yards, then knew that he was failing. That ill-advised anger before the start was surely telling on him now. Dick still kept forward, gaining a yard or so every few minutes.
"Keep back! Don't you dare touch me, you mucker!" hissed Fred sharply over his shoulder.
"Mucker?" retorted Prescott. "I'll pay you for that!"
At a bound he covered the distance, throwing first one arm, then the other, fairly around Ripley. Fred fought furiously to break the clasp, but was so winded that he couldn't.
"Let go of me! Your touch soils!" he cried, hoarsely.
But Dick still kept his hold, counting: "—-twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen!"
"Fair capture!" rumbled Ben Badger.
The other hounds, or their leaders, were stripping by now. Dick, at the judge's words, loosed his hold on Fred.
"You cur!" snarled Fred. Then, summoning all his remaining strength, Ripley hauled off and struck astounded Dick on the face, sending the captain of the hounds to the ground.
"Take that, mucker!" shouted the assailant.
Those of the hounds who had not shot by, halted in sheer amazement.
Like a flash Dick was on his feet, his eyes flashing, cheeks flushing crimson.
"Go on, hounds, go on!" he shouted. "I can take care of this one disgrace to Gridley H.S.!"
THE "MUCKER" AND THE "GENTLEMAN"
Ben Badger gave Captain Dick a shove. "Go on, Prescott! Go on, hounds!" roared Badger. "You've only one more capture to make. Run along, Dick! I'll take care of Ripley. He'll stay right here until you come back, or else he'll never have the nerve to show his face at Gridley H.S. again! Run, you hounds!"
Dick needed no farther urging.
Though he was naturally wild with anger, inside, he managed to keep that feeling down and back. He was captain of the hounds. He had his duty to his team and his class first of all to think about.
"Come on, hounds!" he shouted to those who had lagged at sight of the knock-down. "One more hare in our trap—-then we'll be back here!"
What he meant by being "back here" everyone present could guess. In fact, many wondered why there had not sooner been a fight between the freshman and his determined sophomore enemy.
Truth to tell, Dick, after that day in the school grounds, had been inclined to overlook the whole affair.
He was not afraid of Ripley. It was only that Dick's ordinary good nature had triumphed. He was not a brawler, yet could stand out for his rights when a need came.
A third of a mile further on another yell of triumph floated back to young Prescott, who had not yet regained the lead.
In a few moments more the last of the hounds came upon a flushed, joyous group of freshmen runners. With them were two of the judges and a sheepish-looking hare.
The freshmen hounds had won, and had bagged all the hares for which the game called. Let the five remaining hares keep on running to the finish, if they would. For the first time in seven years the freshmen hounds, led by Captain Dick Prescott, had won.
"Ki-yi-yi-yi-yi!" howled the exultant fourth classmen. "And another for Dick Prescott."
"Dick Prescott has other game on his hands now," spoke up Dan Dalzell, one of the late arrivals.
"What's the row?" demanded the freshman who had just bagged the seventh hare.
"Row? That's just it," nodded Dan. "Prescott caught Ripley—-"
"We saw that."
"But you didn't see the finish. Ripley, as soon as he was released, knocked Dick down."
"And you came on with the hounds, Dick!" demanded Tom Reade, incredulously.
"Badger is keeping Ripley on ice until we get back," Dan supplied, hastily.
"Then let us get back quick!" begged Reade.
"Not too fast, though," objected Dan. "Remember, Ripley has been getting his wind back since he stopped. Give our Dick the same show."
No one thought of asking why Dick would need his wind now. To those who had heard the brief recital of facts it was plain that there could be but one finish to the afternoon's sport. Prescott's hand was sound, at last, and he could give an account of himself.
"Walk slowly, all hands," insisted Dan. "Dick, old fellow, on the way back, amuse yourself by getting in all the full, deep breaths that you can."
"I'll be all right," spoke Dick confidently.
It did not look that way to many of them. Dick was shorter, and weighed much less than did the sophomore who was waiting back there under the trees. Ripley had had a good deal of training in boxing, and was not a coward when he thought the odds on his own side. What none of the fellows knew, though, was that the lawyer's son, ever since that scene in the school yard, had been at his boxing lessons again with renewed energy.
"Play him for delay, at first, Dick," whispered Dan. "If Ripley can rush you, and get you excited, he'll have a better chance to win out. If you hold him off, hinder him and delay him, before long he'll lose some of his nerve. A fellow like Ripley will begin to go all to pieces, once he gets it into his head that he has a long and hard job before him."
"I'll do my best," Dick promised. "Hang it, if he hadn't knocked me down so treacherously, I wouldn't care about fighting. I don't care so much what he says. Fred Ripley's mouth is the weakest part of him."
The sophomore was waiting, a sulky frown on his face. A few feet away Ben Badger, a grim look on his usually good-humored face, leaned against a tree, his arms folded.
Even had he wanted to get away from this, Ripley couldn't have done it. For a sophomore to find any excuse for getting out of a fight with a freshman would bring down upon the soph all the wrath and disgust of the disgraced third class.
"Come on, mucker! Take off your sweater and get ready to take your real medicine!" snarled Fred, harshly.
But Dick Prescott, young as he was, was much too wise to allow himself to be betrayed into anger. Instead, he halted a few feet away, looking with a significant smile at his enemy.
"As I understand it," replied Prescott, "the festivities that are soon to commence are to decide which is the mucker—-which will go down to the ground to eat his fill of dirt."
Badger, Thompson and Butler took upon themselves the direction of the coming "affair."
"See here, Ted, you look after Ripley's interests," proposed Badger.
"It's a mean job. I'd sooner have the other side of the bet," grumbled Ted Butler, in an undertone.
"I'll look after young Prescott," continued Ben Badger. "Thomp will do all the honors as referee."
Ripley was already peeling off his sweater.
"Get down to your fighting rig, Prescott," urged Badger, leading his principal to one side. "How are you, boy?" he whispered, anxiously. "Feeling right up to the fighting pitch?"
"I hate fighting," Dick answered, simply, speaking so that only his second could hear him.
"Of course it's necessary sometimes, but I can never quite help feeling that, at best, it's low-down business."
"So it is," assented Bed Badger, heartily enough. "But what about it in the case of a sneak like Ripley? If he didn't have other fellows' fists to fear he'd be unbearable."
"He is, anyway," muttered Dick, just before his head was covered by the sweater that Badger was helping him remove.
"You've been doing a lot of running this afternoon, gentlemen," declared Thompson, as the two combatants came toward him. "Do you each feel as though you had fighting wind left?"
"I've got as much as the other fellow," replied Dick.
"Don't you dare refer to me as a 'fellow'!" ordered Ripley, scowling.
"I'll call you a girl, then, if you prefer," proposed Dick, with a tantalizing grin.
"You don't know how to talk to gentlemen," retorted Fred, harshly.
"Be silent, both of you," ordered Thompson, sternly. "You can do your talking in another way.
"Can't begin too soon for me," uttered Ripley.
"One minute rounds for you, gentlemen," continued Thompson, then turned to another upper classman, requesting him to hold the watch. "Now are you ready?"
Ripley grunted, Dick nodded.
"Ready, then! Shake hands!"
"I won't," replied Dick, sturdily, ere Fred could speak. The latter, though he, too, would have refused, went white with rage.
"Take your places, then," directed Thompson, briskly. "Ready! Time!"
Fred Ripley put up a really splendid guard as he advanced warily upon the freshman. Dick's guard, at the outset, was not as good. They feinted for two or three passes, then Ripley let out a short-arm jab that caught Dick Prescott on the end of the nose. Blood began to drip.
Ripley's eyes danced. "I'll black both eyes, too, before I put you out," he threatened, in a low tone, as he fought in for another opening.
"Brag's a good dog," retorted Dick, quietly. The blow, though it had stung, had served to make him only the more cool. He was watching, cat-like, for Ripley's style of attack. That style was a good one, from the "scientific" view-point, if Ripley could maintain it without excitement and all the while keep his wind.
But would he? The freshman, though not much of a lover of fighting, had made some study of the art. Moreover, Dick had a dogged coolness that went far in the arena.
Suddenly, Dick let go such a seemingly careless shoulder blow with his left, straight for Ripley's face, that Fred almost lazily threw up his right arm to stop it. But to have that right out of the way was just what Prescott was playing for. Quick as thought Dick's right flew out, colliding with Ripley's mid-wind with a force that brought a groan from the taller fighter. Dick might have followed it up, but he chivalrously sprang back, waiting for Fred to make the first sign of renewal of combat.
"Time!" came from the boy with the watch.
"Kid, you're going to be all right; you've got your horse-sense with you," glowed Ben Badger, as he hurried Dick back under a tree. "Let me see what I can do to stop your nose running quite so red."
Soon the summons came that took the combatants back to the imaginary ring. Again they went at it, both sides cautious, for Ripley was puzzled and a bit afraid. He had not expected this little freshman to last for a second round. Before the second call of "time" came Ripley had managed to land two stinging ones on Dick's left cheek, but the freshman did not go down, nor even wilt under this treatment. He was proving the fact that he could "take punishment." Yet Dick did not land anything that hurt his opponent.
"You didn't half try this time," whispered Ben, as he attended his man in the "corner" under the tree.
"Come on, mucker!" yelled Ripley, derisively, when the two were summoned for the third round.
"Speak for yourself, fellow," Dick answered, coolly.
"I'm a gentleman, and a gentleman's son," proclaimed Fred, haughtily. "You're a mucker, and the son of a mucker!"
Dick could stand an ordinary insult with a fair amount of good nature, when he despised the source of the insult. But now there was a quiet flash in his eyes that Badger was glad to see.
Ripley started in to rush things. In quick succession he delivered half a dozen stout blows. Only one of then landed, and that glancingly. Ripley was puzzled, but he had no time to guess. For Dick was not exactly rushing, now. He was merely fighting in close, remembering that he had two striking hands, and that feinting was sometimes useful.
"A-a-a-h!" The murmur went up, eagerly, as the onlookers saw Prescott land his right fist in solid impact against Ripley's right eye. Bump! Before Ripley could get back out of such grueling quarters Dick had landed a second blow over the other eye. Ripley staggered. A body blow sent him to his knees. Dick backed off but a few inches.
"One, two, three, four, five, six——-" droned off the timekeeper.
Fred Ripley tried to leap up, but, as he did so, Dick's waiting left caught him a staggering one on the nose that toppled him over backwards to the ground.
"One, two, three——-" began the timekeeper, but suddenly broke off, to call time.
"Prescott, you're a bird!" declared Ben Badger, exultantly, as he led his man away.
"I wouldn't have gone for him so hard," muttered Dick. "But the fellow started to get nasty with his mouth. Then it was time to let him have it."
Frank Thompson went over to Ripley, to see whether the latter wanted to continue the fight.
"That mucker took an unfair advantage of me, hitting me when I was getting up," grumbled Fred, who now looked a good deal battered.
"Prescott was right within the rules," declared Thompson. "You would have done the same thing if you had had the chance."
Fred growled something under his breath.
"Are you coming back to the ring?" demanded the referee.
Ripley hesitated. The yellow streak was strong in him, but he dreaded letting the others see it.
"I'd rather finish this up some other day," he proposed.
"You know you can't do that," retorted Thompson, disgustedly. "You either have to come up to the scratch, or admit yourself beaten."
"Admit myself beaten—-by that mucker?" gasped Ripley, turning livid.
"Then come up at the call of time," directed Thompson, and strode back to the battle ground.
The timekeeper called. Dick Prescott returned to his ground. Ripley stood back, leaning against a tree. He tried hard to look dignified, but one glance at his nose and eyes was enough to spoil the effect.
"Coming, Ripley?" demanded Thompson.
"Brace up, man, unless you want to admit your thrashing," urged Ted Butler.
"I'll attend to that mucker when I feel like it," growled Fred Ripley.
The form of the remark was unfortunate for the one who made it, for it caused one of the freshman class to call out exultantly:
"He sure doesn't feel like it just now. Look at him!"
"Come, if you don't hurry in you've get to admit the beating," muttered Ted Butler.
Ripley's reply being only a snort, Butler suddenly drew forth his handkerchief, rolling it rapidly into a ball.
"In default of a sponge," called Butler, "I throw this up for my man—-I mean principal."
"Ripley being unable to come to the scratch, the fight is awarded to Prescott," announced Frank Thompson.
"Whoop! Hoo-oo-ray!" The freshmen clustered about were wild with excitement.
"You'll have a fine time squaring this with the sophomore class," uttered Ted Butler, disgustedly. "Your class, Ripley, will be sore enough, anyway, over losing the paper chase for the first time that any of us can remember. Now, for a soph to be thrashed, in three rounds, by a little freshman——-"
Butler didn't finish, but, turning on his heel, walked over to join the rest.
There were two sophomores there who had come over at the end of the paper chase, but neither went to the assistance of his defeated classman. Ripley, alone, got his sweater back over his head. The crowd was around Dick Prescott, who felt almost ashamed of the fight, unavoidable as he knew it to have been.
When he had finished getting his clothes on, Ripley stalked moodily past the main group.
"You mucker," he hissed, "I suppose you feel swelled up over having had a chance to fight gentleman. You——-"
"Oh, Ripley, dry up—-do!" interjected Ted Butler. "You call yourself a gentleman, but you talk and act more like well, more like a pup with the mange!"
"A pup with the mange! Great!" came the gleeful chorus from a half score of freshmen.
"I'm not through with you, yet, Prescott!" Fred Ripley called back over his shoulder. "I'll settle my score with you at my convenience!"
Then, as he put more distance between himself and the other Gridley High School boys, Ripley added to himself:
"That settlement shall stop at nothing to put Dick Prescott in the dust—-where he belongs."
"Oh, freshie, but you've coolness and judgment," cried Thompson, approvingly. "And you've broken one cad's heart today."
"I'm sorry if I have," declared Dick, frankly, generously. "I wouldn't have had any heart in the fight if he hadn't started in to humiliate me. I wouldn't have cared so much for that, either. But he started to say something nasty about my parents, and I have as good parents as ever a boy had. Then I felt I simply had to fit a plug between Ripley's teeth."
Fred Ripley had pain in his eyes to help keep him awake that night. Yet he would have been awake, anyway, for his wicked brain was seething with plans for the way to "get even" with Dick Prescott.
FRED OFFERS TO SOLVE THE LOCKER MYSTERY
For a week Gridley High School managed to get along without the presence of Fred Ripley. That haughty young man was at home, nursing a pair of black eyes and his wrath.
Yet, in a whole week, a mean fellow who is rather clever can hatch a whole lot of mischief. This Dick & Co., and some others, were presently to discover.
All outer wraps were left in the basement in locker rooms on which barred iron doors were locked. In the boys' basement were lockers A and B. Each locker was in charge of a monitor who carried the key to his own particular locker room.
As it happened Dick Prescott was at present monitor of Locker A.
If during school hours, one of the boys wanted to get his hat out of a locker the monitor of that locker went to the basement with him, unlocking the door, and locking it again after the desired article of apparel had been obtained.
Thus, in a general way, each monitor was responsible for the safety of hats, coats, umbrellas, overshoes, etc., that might have been left in the locker that was in his charge.
Wednesday, just after one o'clock one of the sophomore boys went hurriedly up the stairs, a worried look on his face. He went straight to the principal's office, and was fortunate enough to find that gentleman still at his desk.
"What is it, Edwards?" asked the principal, looking up.
"Dr. Thornton, I've had something strange happen to me, or to my overcoat, if you prefer to put it that way," replied Edwards.
"What has gone wrong?"
"Why, sir, relying on the safety of the looker, I left, at recess in one of my overcoat pockets, a package containing a jeweled pin that had been repaired for my mother. Now, sir, on going down to my coat, I found the pin missing from the pocket."
"Did you look thoroughly on the floor, Edwards?"
"Yes, sir; hunted thoroughly."
"Wait; I'll go down with you," proposed the principal.
Both principal and student searched thoroughly in the locker. Dick, as in duty bound, was still there, on guard at the door.
"Mr. Prescott," asked puzzled Dr. Thornton, did any student have admittance to the locker after recess today?"
"None, sir," answered Dick promptly.
"Hm! And you're absolutely sure, Mr. Edwards, that you left the little package in your overcoat pocket?"
"Positive of it, Dr. Thornton."
"It's so strange that it startles me," admitted the good principal.
"It startles me a good deal," confessed Edwards, grimly, "to think what explanation I am to offer my mother."
"Oh, well, it must turn up," replied Dr. Thornton, though vaguely. "Anyway, Edwards, there has been no theft. The door is locked, and the only two keys to it are the one carried by the monitor and a duplicate which is kept locked in my own desk. You'll probably find it in one of your pockets."
"I have been through every pocket in my clothes at least seven times, sir," insisted the dismayed Edwards. "And that is a rather valuable pin," he added; "worth, I believe, something, like fifty dollars."
"Rest assured that we'll have some good explanation of the mystery before long," replied the principal as soothingly as he could.
Edwards went away, sore and disheartened, but there was nothing more to be said or done.
Thursday morning Dr. Thornton carried the investigation further, but absolutely no light could be shed on the missing pin.
But at recess it was Frank Thompson who came upstairs breathless.
"Dr. Thornton," he cried, excitedly, "it's my own fault, of course, but I'm afraid I've seen the last of my watch. It's one that father carried for a good many years, and at last gave me. The works are not very expensive, but the case was a gold one."
"How did you lose it?" inquired the principal, looking up over the gold rims of his spectacles.
"Why, I had to hurry to make school this morning, sir, and, as you know, it's a rather long walk. So I carried my watch in the little change pocket in my reefer in order to be able to look at it frequently. I reached the locker just in time not to be late, and forgot and left my watch in the reefer. When I went down just now I found the watch gone."
"Oh, but this is serious!" gasped Dr. Thornton, in dismay. "It begins to look like an assured fact that there is some thief at work. Yet Prescott alone has a key to that locker."
"Prescott is all right. He's no thief," put in Thompson, quickly.
"I agree with you, Mr. Thompson. I consider Mr. Prescott too manly a fellow to be mixed up in anything dishonest. Yet something is wrong—-very wrong. For the safety and good name of us all we must go to the bottom of this mystery."
That, of course, was all the satisfaction Thompson could expect at the moment. He went out to the remainder of his recess, feeling decidedly blue. Nor was Dr. Thornton any less disturbed.
When recess was over, the entire body of students was questioned in the general assembly room, but no light was forthcoming.
"Of course, in view of what has happened," counseled Dr. Thornton, "the young gentlemen will do well to leave nothing of value in their coats in the locker rooms. And while nothing distressing, has yet happened in the young ladies basement, I trust they will govern themselves by what has happened on the young men's side."
Dick Prescott felt much concerned over it all, though he did not imagine that anyone suspected him of any share in the disappearance of articles of value.
Friday there were no mishaps, for the very simple reason that no one left anything of value in the locker rooms.
On Monday Fred Ripley was back again. With the aid of a little help from the druggist the haughty young man presented two eyes that did not show any signs of having been damaged. Fred himself offered no comment on his absence. He seemed anxious to be on especially good terms with all of the upper classmen with whom he usually associated.
During the first period of the morning Ripley had no recitation on. He sat at his desk studying. Presently as permitted under the rules, he whispered softly with the boy seated behind him.
Then, suddenly, Ripley rose and tip-toed down the aisle to the desk. The principal himself sat there in charge.
"Dr. Thornton," began Ripley, in a low voice, "I was away last week, and so didn't hear all the school news. I have just learned about the locker room thefts, and so I'm uneasy. Just as the bell rang I was having trouble with the pearl and diamond scarf-pin that I often wear. There wasn't time to adjust it, so I dropped it in my overcoat pocket. I would like to go down to my coat, now, and get it."
"Prescott is reciting in IV. Physics," replied Dr. Thornton, rising. "However, in view of all that has happened, I think we shall do well to go down and call him out of class. I don't want any more valuable articles to be missing."
Principal and student went quietly to the floor below. Dr. Thornton thrust his head into the physics laboratory and quietly called Dick out, explaining what was wanted.
"You'll come, too, won't you, doctor?" asked Ripley.
The principal nodded without speaking. As the three reached the barred door, Dick inserted the key, then threw open the door. Fred marched over to his coat, thrusting his hand into a pocket.
"By thunder, it's gone!" gasped Fred.
In an instant Dr. Thornton bounded into the locker room. He himself explored every pocket in the boy's coat.
"Strange! strange!" muttered the bewildered principal.
"All the other thefts happened in this locker, didn't they?" inquired Ripley, suspiciously.
"Yes—-if thefts they were," admitted Dr. Thornton.
"Nothing missing from the other locker room?"
"Doctor," went on Ripley, as though loath to utter the words, I hate to suggest anything of the sort. But—-er—-but—-has the monitor of this locker been searched after any of the—-er—-disappearances?"
"Ripley, you forget yourself!" cried the principal.
"What do you mean!" flared Dick, in the same breath, turning crimson, next going very white.
"Doctor, I'm sorry," spoke Ripley, with great seeming reluctance, "but that pin is a costly one. I ask that the monitor be searched!"
DICK'S TURN TO GET A JOLT
"Ripley, you don't realize what you are saying!" cried Dr. Thornton, gazing at the sophomore in very evident distress.
"I only know that I'm all broken up, sir, over losing my costly pin," persisted Fred. "And I know my father will be angry, and will raise a row at the School Board's meeting."
Dick Prescott, standing by, had turned from scarlet to white, and back again.
"But Ripley," explained the principal, almost pleadingly, "the act would be illegal. No one has a lawful right to search the person of anyone except a properly qualified police officer. And even the police officer can do so only after he has arrested a suspected person."
"Oh, then I suppose, sir, there's no show for me to get any real justice done in this matter," muttered Fred, with an air of feigned resignation.
But by now Dick Prescott felt that he must speak—-or explode.
"Dr. Thornton," he cried, chokingly, "the charge made against me, or, at least, implied, is an outrageous one. But, as a matter of justice to me, now that the hint has been cast, I ask that you, sir, search me right here and now."
"Then you've had time to hide the pin!" muttered Fred, in a very low voice.
Dick Prescott heard, but he paid no heed to the fellow.
"Dr. Thornton, will you search me—-now?" insisted the young freshman.
"But I don't want to, Prescott," appealed the principal. "I haven't the remotest suspicion of you, anyway, my dear boy."
"I ask the search, sir, just as a matter of justice," Dick insisted. "If it were not too strong a word, then I would say that I demand to be searched here and now."
Suiting the action to the word, Dick Prescott, standing proudly erect, raised both arms over his head.
"Now, please, doctor, just as a matter of simple justice," begged the young freshman.
"Oh, very well, then, Mr. Prescott," sighed the principal. "But I never had a more distasteful task."
Into one of the side pockets Dr. Thornton projected a shaking hand. He drew out only some scraps of paper, which he promptly thrust back. Then he inserted a hand in the jacket pocket on the other side.
"Ouch!" suddenly exclaimed the principal, in very real pain.
He drew the hand out, quickly. A drop of blood oozed up at the tip of his forefinger.
"Mr. Prescott," demanded Dr. Thornton, "what is that pointed object in your pocket?"
"What?" demanded Fred Ripley, tensely.
Dick himself thrust a hand into that pocket, and drew forth—-Fred Ripley's missing pin.
"What—-why—-who——-" gasped the freshman, suffocatingly.
"Oh, yes, of course," jeered Fred Ripley. "Astonished, aren't you—-you mucker?"
The last two words Ripley uttered in so low a tone that the principal, gazing in horrified fascination at the pin that he now held in his own hands, did not hear.
"You coward!" cried Dick, hotly, and clenched his fist, intent on driving it against the sophomore's face.
But Dr. Thornton knew enough about High School boys' fights, to galvanize himself into action. Like a flash he bounded between the two boys.
"Here, here, Prescott, none of that!" he admonished.
"I—-I beg your pardon, sir," gasped Dick, in a tone which made it very plain that he did not include his enemy in that apology.
"May I trouble you for my pin, sir, now that it has been recovered?" asked Fred, coolly.
"Why—-um!—-that depends," replied Dr. Thornton, slowly, speaking with a painful effort. "If you, or your father, have or would have any idea of a criminal prosecution, Ripley, then it would be improper to return your pin. It would have to be turned over to the police as an exhibit in evidence. But do you intend anything of that sort, Mr. Ripley?"
"Why, that's as you say, doctor," replied the sophomore, quickly. "It's a matter of school discipline, and belongs to your province. Personally, I know that I would rather not have this matter go any further."
"I—-I don't know what to do," confessed Dr. Thornton, in anxious perplexity. "In any event, before doing anything, I think I had better consult the superintendent and the Board of Education. Mr. Prescott, I will say, freely, that I am most loath to believe anything of this sort against you can be possible. There must be—-must be—-some—-er explanation. I—-I—-don't want you to feel that I believe your guilt as yet assured. I—-I——-"
Here Dr. Thornton broke down, dabbing at his eyes with his handkerchief. Almost unconsciously he passed the pin, which he was yet holding, to Fred Ripley.
"Lock the locker door, Mr. Prescott—-and give me the key," requested the principal.
Dick passed over the key, then spoke, with more composure than might have been expected under the circumstances:
"Dr. Thornton, I am as innocent of any thieving as you yourself can be. Sooner or later the right of this will come out. Then you will realize that I didn't steal anything. I'll prove myself innocent yet, sir."
"I hope so, my boy, I—-I—-hope so," replied the principal.
As they ascended, Fred Ripley stepped aside to let the other two go first. He was afraid to have Dick Prescott behind him just then.
No sooner had the trio entered the general assembly room than it quickly dawned on all the students of both sexes that something was unusually wrong.
Dick's face was red as fire. Had he been guilty of the thefts, he might have been cooler about it all. Conscious innocence often puts on the appearance of guilt.
Somehow, Dick got to his seat. He picked up a book, mechanically, and pretended to be deeply absorbed in study.
"What's up?" whispered the fellow seated behind Fred.
Ripley turned enough to raise his eyebrows significantly and let his questioner see him do it. Instantly all seated near the lawyer's son became intensely curious.
Wondering glances strayed from over book-tops, even from the far corners of the big assembly room.
Then the curious glanced at Dr. Thornton so often that the much disturbed principal soon called another teacher to the desk and left the room.
At recess, Purcell, of the sophomore class, was found in charge at the door of Dick's old locker room. Ripley held his tongue until he was out in the school yard. Then he broke loose before those who would listen to him—-and the number was large.
Dick & Co. had gathered by themselves in another corner of the yard. Here, however, they were soon joined by a small mob of the fellows, especially of the freshman class. Dick had his say. He didn't want to say much, but he related, in a straightforward way, what had happened.
"It's one of Fred Ripley's mean tricks," declared one of the freshmen. "Fred Ripley can't fool anyone. He put that pin in Dick's pocket himself."
"But two thefts—-two things were missed last week, when Ripley wasn't at school at all," spoke one boy, in an undertone.
"Yes; that's the queer part of it," agreed another boy. "Ripley couldn't have had anything to do with those other cases."
This latter was the view that was occurring to Mr. Thornton, as he sat in the principal's room, poring and pondering over the whole distressing matter.
Thompson and the other football leaders came trooping over to Dick & Co. as soon as they heard the noise. Prescott was a hero with the football crowd. There was no use in telling them anything against their little freshie hero.
"Prescott, it would look foolish to talk much," declared Thompson, in a voice that was husky from real emotion. "Just give me your hand, old man!"
Dick took the proffered hand, pressing it hard and gratefully. Then the rest of the football squad pressed forward, each insisting on a hearty handshake.
"Nobody except those who want to, will stomach this silly charge against Dick," grunted Tom Reade to Dan Dalzell. "See how it's turning out? Our old pal and leader is holding a regular reception."
"'Scuse me," begged Dan, hastily. "There's Laura Bentley beckoning to me."
He hastened over to the girl's side. There were tiny drops in the corners of Laura's eyes that looked like suppressed tears.
"Dan," she said, coming straight to the point, "we have heard, of course. What a silly charge! See here, you pals of Dick's are going to walk home with him from school this noon?"
"Surest thing that ever happened in the world," declared Dalzell, fervently.
"Just so," nodded Laura. "Well, if you won't think it strange or forward, six of us girls want to walk along with you boys. That will be a hint that the freshman class, if not the whole H.S., passes a vote of confidence in Dick Prescott, the most straightforward fellow in the class or the school."
"Bully for you, Miss Bentley!" glowed Dan. "We shall be looking for you young ladies when school lets out."