The Young Pitcher
By Zane Grey
I. The Varsity Captain
II. A Great Arm
III. Prisoner of the Sophs
IV. The Call for Candidates
V. The Cage
VI. Out on the Field
IX. President Halstead on College Spirit
X. New Players
XI. State University Game
XII. Ken Clashes with Graves
XIV. The Herne Game
XV. A Matter of Principle
XVI. The First Place Game
XVII. Ken's Day
XVIII. Breaking Training
THE VARSITY CAPTAIN
Ken Ward had not been at the big university many days before he realized the miserable lot of a freshman.
At first he was sorely puzzled. College was so different from what he had expected. At the high school of his home town, which, being the capital of the State, was no village, he had been somebody. Then his summer in Arizona, with its wild adventures, had given him a self-appreciation which made his present situation humiliating.
There were more than four thousand students at the university. Ken felt himself the youngest, the smallest, the one of least consequence. He was lost in a shuffle of superior youths. In the forestry department he was a mere boy; and he soon realized that a freshman there was the same as anywhere. The fact that he weighed nearly one hundred and sixty pounds, and was no stripling, despite his youth, made not one whit of difference.
Unfortunately, his first overture of what he considered good-fellowship had been made to an upper-classman, and had been a grievous mistake. Ken had not yet recovered from its reception. He grew careful after that, then shy, and finally began to struggle against disappointment and loneliness.
Outside of his department, on the campus and everywhere he ventured, he found things still worse. There was something wrong with him, with his fresh complexion, with his hair, with the way he wore his tie, with the cut of his clothes. In fact, there was nothing right about him. He had been so beset that he could not think of anything but himself. One day, while sauntering along a campus path, with his hands in his pockets, he met two students coming toward him. They went to right and left, and, jerking his hands from his pockets, roared in each ear, "How dare you walk with your hands in your pockets!"
Another day, on the library step, he encountered a handsome bareheaded youth with a fine, clean-cut face and keen eyes, who showed the true stamp of the great university.
"Here," he said, sharply, "aren't you a freshman?"
"Why—yes," confessed Ken.
"I see you have your trousers turned up at the bottom."
"Yes—so I have." For the life of him Ken could not understand why that simple fact seemed a crime, but so it was.
"Turn them down!" ordered the student.
Ken looked into the stern face and flashing eyes of his tormentor, and then meekly did as he had been commanded.
"Boy, I've saved your life. We murder freshmen here for that," said the student, and then passed on up the steps.
In the beginning it was such incidents as these that had bewildered Ken. He passed from surprise to anger, and vowed he would have something to say to these upper-classmen. But when the opportunity came Ken always felt so little and mean that he could not retaliate. This made him furious. He had not been in college two weeks before he could distinguish the sophomores from the seniors by the look on their faces. He hated the sneering "Sophs," and felt rising in him the desire to fight. But he both feared and admired seniors. They seemed so aloof, so far above him. He was in awe of them, and had a hopeless longing to be like them. And as for the freshmen, it took no second glance for Ken to pick them out. They were of two kinds—those who banded together in crowds and went about yelling, and running away from the Sophs, and those who sneaked about alone with timid step and furtive glance.
Ken was one of these lonesome freshmen. He was pining for companionship, but he was afraid to open his lips. Once he had dared to go into Carlton Hall, the magnificent club-house which had been given to the university by a famous graduate. The club was for all students—Ken had read that on the card sent to him, and also in the papers. But manifestly the upper-classmen had a different point of view. Ken had gotten a glimpse into the immense reading-room with its open fireplace and huge chairs, its air of quiet study and repose; he had peeped into the brilliant billiard-hall and the gymnasium; and he had been so impressed and delighted with the marble swimming-tank that he had forgotten himself and walked too near the pool. Several students accidentally bumped him into it. It appeared the students were so eager to help him out that they crowded him in again. When Ken finally got out he learned the remarkable fact that he was the sixteenth freshman who had been accidentally pushed into the tank that day.
So Ken Ward was in a state of revolt. He was homesick; he was lonely for a friend; he was constantly on the lookout for some trick; his confidence in himself had fled; his opinion of himself had suffered a damaging change; he hardly dared call his soul his own.
But that part of his time spent in study or attending lectures more than made up for the other. Ken loved his subject and was eager to learn. He had a free hour in the afternoon, and often he passed this in the library, sometimes in the different exhibition halls. He wanted to go into Carlton Club again, but his experience there made him refrain.
One afternoon at this hour Ken happened to glance into a lecture-room. It was a large amphitheatre full of noisy students. The benches were arranged in a circle running up from a small pit. Seeing safety in the number of students who were passing in, Ken went along. He thought he might hear an interesting lecture. It did not occur to him that he did not belong there. The university had many departments and he felt that any lecture-room was open to him. Still, caution had become a habit with him, and he stepped down the steep aisle looking for an empty bench.
How steep the aisle was! The benches appeared to be on the side of a hill. Ken slipped into an empty one. There was something warm and pleasant in the close contact of so many students, in the ripple of laughter and the murmur of voices. Ken looked about him with a feeling that he was glad to be there.
It struck him, suddenly, that the room had grown strangely silent. Even the shuffling steps of the incoming students had ceased. Ken gazed upward with a queer sense of foreboding. Perhaps he only imagined that all the students above were looking down at him. Hurriedly he glanced below. A sea of faces, in circular rows, was turned his way.
There was no mistake about it. He was the attraction. At the same instant when he prayed to sink through the bench out of sight a burning anger filled his breast. What on earth had he done now? He knew it was something; he felt it. That quiet moment seemed an age. Then the waiting silence burst.
"Fresh on fifth!" yelled a student in one of the lower benches.
"FRESH ON FIFTH!" bawled another at the top of his lungs.
Ken's muddled brain could make little of the matter. He saw he was in the fifth row of benches, and that all the way around on either side of him the row was empty. The four lower rows were packed, and above him students were scattered all over. He had the fifth row of benches to himself.
"Fresh on fifth!"
Again the call rang up from below. It was repeated, now from the left of the pit and then from the right. A student yelled it from the first row and another from the fourth. It banged back and forth. Not a word came from the upper part of the room.
Ken sat up straight with a very red face. It was his intention to leave the bench, but embarrassment that was developing into resentment held him fast. What a senseless lot these students were! Why could they not leave him in peace? How foolish of him to go wandering about in strange lecture-rooms!
A hand pressed Ken's shoulder. He looked back to see a student bending down toward him.
"Hang, Freshie!" this fellow whispered.
"What's it all about?" asked Ken. "What have I done, anyway? I never was in here before."
"All Sophs down there. They don't allow freshmen to go below the sixth row. There've been several rushes this term. And the big one's coming. Hang, Freshie! We're all with you."
"Fresh on fifth!" The tenor of the cry had subtly changed. Good-humored warning had changed to challenge. It pealed up from many lusty throats, and became general all along the four packed rows.
"Hang, Freshie!" bellowed a freshman from the topmost row. It was acceptance of the challenge, the battle-cry flung down to the Sophs. A roar arose from the pit. The freshmen, outnumbering the sophomores, drowned the roar in a hoarser one. Then both sides settled back in ominous waiting.
Ken thrilled in all his being. The freshmen were with him! That roar told him of united strength. All in a moment he had found comrades, and he clenched his fingers into the bench, vowing he would hang there until hauled away.
"Fresh on fifth!" shouted a Soph in ringing voice. He stood up in the pit and stepped to the back of the second bench. "Fresh on fifth! Watch me throw him out!"
He was a sturdily built young fellow and balanced himself gracefully on the backs of the benches, stepping up from one to the other. There was a bold gleam in his eyes and a smile on his face. He showed good-natured contempt for a freshman and an assurance that was close to authority.
Ken sat glued to his seat in mingled fear and wrath. Was he to be the butt of those overbearing sophomores? He thought he could do nothing but hang on with all his might. The ascending student jumped upon the fourth bench and, reaching up, laid hold of Ken with no gentle hands. His grip was so hard that Ken had difficulty in stifling a cry of pain. This, however, served to dispel his panic and make him angry clear through.
The sophomore pulled and tugged with all his strength, yet he could not dislodge Ken. The freshmen howled gleefully for him to "Hang! hang!"
Then two more sophomores leaped up to help the leader. A blank silence followed this move, and all the freshmen leaned forward breathlessly. There was a sharp ripping of cloth. Half of Ken's coat appeared in the hands of one of his assailants.
Suddenly Ken let go his hold, pushed one fellow violently, then swung his fists. It might have been unfair, for the sophomores were beneath him and balancing themselves on the steep benches, but Ken was too angry to think of that. The fellow he pushed fell into the arms of the students below, the second slid out of sight, and the third, who had started the fray, plunged with a crash into the pit.
The freshmen greeted this with a wild yell; the sophomores answered likewise. Like climbing, tumbling apes the two classes spilled themselves up and down the benches, and those nearest Ken laid hold of him, pulling him in opposite directions.
Then began a fierce fight for possession of luckless Ken. Both sides were linked together by gripping hands. Ken was absolutely powerless. His clothes were torn to tatters in a twinkling; they were soon torn completely off, leaving only his shoes and socks. Not only was he in danger of being seriously injured, but students of both sides were handled as fiercely. A heavy trampling roar shook the amphitheatre. As they surged up and down the steep room benches were split. In the beginning the sophomores had the advantage and the tug-of-war raged near the pit and all about it. But the superior numbers of the freshmen began to tell. The web of close-locked bodies slowly mounted up the room, smashing the benches, swaying downward now and then, yet irresistibly gaining ground. The yells of the freshmen increased with the assurance of victory. There was one more prolonged, straining struggle, then Ken was pulled away from the sophomores. The wide, swinging doors of the room were knocked flat to let out the stream of wild freshmen. They howled like fiends; it was first blood for the freshman class; the first tug won that year.
Ken Ward came to his senses out in the corridor surrounded by an excited, beaming, and disreputable crowd of freshmen. Badly as he was hurt, he had to laugh. Some of them looked happy in nothing but torn underclothes. Others resembled a lot of ragamuffins. Coats were minus sleeves, vests were split, shirts were collarless. Blood and bruises were much in evidence.
Some one helped Ken into a long ulster.
"Say, it was great," said this worthy. "Do you know who that fellow was—the first one who tried to throw you out of number five?"
"I haven't any idea," replied Ken. In fact, he felt that his ideas were as scarce just then as his clothes.
"That was the president of the Sophs. He's the varsity baseball captain, too. You slugged him!... Great!"
Ken's spirit, low as it was, sank still lower. What miserable luck he had! His one great ambition, next to getting his diploma, had been to make the varsity baseball team.
A GREAT ARM
The shock of that battle, more than the bruising he had received, confined Ken to his room for a week. When he emerged it was to find he was a marked man; marked by the freshmen with a great and friendly distinction; by the sophomores for revenge. If it had not been for the loss of his baseball hopes, he would have welcomed the chance to become popular with his classmates. But for him it was not pleasant to be reminded that he had "slugged" the Sophs' most honored member.
It took only two or three meetings with the revengeful sophomores to teach Ken that discretion was the better part of valor. He learned that the sophomores of all departments were looking for him with deadly intent. So far luck had enabled him to escape all but a wordy bullying. Ken became an expert at dodging. He gave the corridors and campus a wide berth. He relinquished his desire to live in one of the dormitories, and rented a room out in the city. He timed his arrival at the university and his departure. His movements were governed entirely by painfully acquired knowledge of the whereabouts of his enemies.
So for weeks Ken Ward lived like a recluse. He was not one with his college mates. He felt that he was not the only freshman who had gotten a bad start in college. Sometimes when he sat near a sad-faced classmate, he knew instinctively that here was a fellow equally in need of friendship. Still these freshmen were as backward as he was, and nothing ever came of such feelings.
The days flew by and the weeks made months, and all Ken did was attend lectures and study. He read everything he could find in the library that had any bearing on forestry. He mastered his text-books before the Christmas holidays. About the vacation he had long been undecided; at length he made up his mind not to go home. It was a hard decision to reach. But his college life so far had been a disappointment; he was bitter about it, and he did not want his father to know. Judge Ward was a graduate of the university. Often and long he had talked to Ken about university life, the lasting benefit of associations and friendships. He would probably think that his son had barred himself out by some reckless or foolish act. Ken was not sure what was to blame; he knew he had fallen in his own estimation, and that the less he thought of himself the more he hated the Sophs.
On Christmas day he went to Carlton Hall. It was a chance he did not want to miss, for very few students would be there. As it turned out he spent some pleasant hours. But before he left the club his steps led him into the athletic trophy room, and there he was plunged into grief. The place was all ablaze with flags and pennants, silver cups and gold medals, pictures of teams and individuals. There were mounted sculls and oars, footballs and baseballs. The long and proud record of the university was there to be read. All her famous athletes were pictured there, and every one who had fought for his college. Ken realized that here for the first time he was in the atmosphere of college spirit for which the university was famed. What would he not have given for a permanent place in that gallery! But it was too late. He had humiliated the captain of the baseball team. Ken sought out the picture of the last season's varsity. What a stocky lot of young chaps, all consciously proud of the big letter on their shirts! Dale, the captain and pitcher, was in the centre of the group. Ken knew his record, and it was a splendid one. Ken took another look at Dale, another at the famous trainer, Murray, and the professional coach, Arthurs—men under whom it had been his dream to play—and then he left the room, broken-hearted.
When the Christmas recess was over he went back to his lectures resigned to the thought that the athletic side of college life was not for him. He studied harder than ever, and even planned to take a course of lectures in another department. Also his adeptness in dodging was called upon more and more. The Sophs were bound to get him sooner or later. But he did not grow resigned to that; every dodge and flight increased his resentment. Presently he knew he would stop and take what they had to give, and retaliate as best he could. Only, what would they do to him when they did catch him? He remembered his watch, his money, and clothes, never recovered after that memorable tug-of-war. He minded the loss of his watch most; that gift could never be replaced. It seemed to him that he had been the greater sufferer.
One Saturday in January Ken hurried from his class-room. He was always in a hurry and particularly on Saturdays, for that being a short day for most of the departments, there were usually many students passing to and fro. A runaway team clattering down the avenue distracted him from his usual caution, and he cut across the campus. Some one stopped the horses, and a crowd collected. When Ken got there many students were turning away. Ken came face to face with a tall, bronze-haired, freckle-faced sophomore, whom he had dodged more than once. There was now no use to dodge; he had to run or stand his ground.
"Boys, here's that slugging Freshie!" yelled the Soph. "We've got him now."
He might have been an Indian chief so wild was the whoop that answered him.
"Lead us to him!"
"Oh, what we won't do to that Freshie!"
"Come on, boys!"
Ken heard these yells, saw a number of boys dash at him, then he broke and ran as if for his life. The Sophs, a dozen strong, yelling loudly, strung out after him. Ken headed across the campus. He was fleet of foot, and gained on his pursuers. But the yells brought more Sophs on the scene, and they turned Ken to the right. He spurted for Carlton Hall, and almost ran into the arms of still more sophomores. Turning tail, he fled toward the library. When he looked back it was to see the bronze-haired leader within a hundred yards, and back of him a long line of shouting students.
If there was a place to hide round that library Ken could not find it. In this circuit he lost ground. Moreover, he discovered he had not used good judgment in choosing that direction. All along the campus was a high iron fence. Ken thought desperately hard for an instant, then with renewed speed he bounded straight for College Hall.
This was the stronghold of the sophomores. As Ken sped up the gravel walk his pursuers split their throats.
"Run, you Freshie!" yelled one.
"The more you run—" yelled another.
"The more we'll skin you!" finished a third.
Ken ran into the passageway leading through College Hall.
It was full of Sophs hurrying toward the door to see where the yells came from. When Ken plunged into their midst some one recognized him and burst out with the intelligence. At the same moment Ken's pursuers banged through the swinging doors.
A yell arose then in the constricted passageway that seemed to Ken to raise College Hall from its foundation. It terrified him. Like an eel he slipped through reaching arms and darted forward. Ken was heavy and fast on his feet, and with fear lending him wings he made a run through College Hall that would have been a delight to the football coach. For Ken was not dodging any sophomores now. He had played his humiliating part of dodger long enough. He knocked them right and left, and many a surprised Soph he tumbled over. Reaching the farther door, he went through out into the open.
The path before him was clear now, and he made straight for the avenue. It was several hundred yards distant, and he got a good start toward it before the Sophs rolled like a roaring stream from the passage. Ken saw other students running, and also men and boys out on the avenue; but as they could not head him off he kept to his course. On that side of the campus a high, narrow stairway, lined by railings, led up to the sidewalk. When Ken reached it he found the steps covered with ice. He slipped and fell three times in the ascent, while his frantic pursuers gained rapidly.
Ken mounted to the sidewalk, gave vent to a gasp of relief, and, wheeling sharply, he stumbled over two boys carrying a bushel basket of potatoes. When he saw the large, round potatoes a daring inspiration flashed into his mind. Taking the basket from the boys he turned to the head of the stairway.
The bronze-haired Soph was half-way up the steps. His followers, twelve or more, were climbing after him. Then a line of others stretched all the way to College Hall.
With a grim certainty of his mastery of the situation Ken threw a huge potato at his leading pursuer. Fair and square on the bronze head it struck with a sharp crack. Like a tenpin the Soph went down. He plumped into the next two fellows, knocking them off their slippery footing. The three fell helplessly and piled up their comrades in a dense wedge half-way down the steps. If the Sophs had been yelling before, it was strange to note how they were yelling now.
Deliberately Ken fired the heavy missiles. They struck with sodden thuds against the bodies of the struggling sophomores. A poor thrower could not very well have missed that mark, and Ken Ward was remarkably accurate. He had a powerful overhand swing, and the potatoes flew like bullets. One wild-eyed Soph slipped out of the tangle to leap up the steps. Ken, throwing rather low, hit him on the shin. He buckled and dropped down with a blood-curdling yell. Another shook himself loose and faced upward. A better-aimed shot took him in the shoulder. He gave an exhibition of a high and lofty somersault. Then two more started up abreast. The first Ken hit over the eye with a very small potato, which popped like an explosive bullet and flew into bits. As far as effect was concerned a Martini could not have caused a more beautiful fall. Ken landed on the second fellow in the pit of the stomach with a very large potato. There was a sound as of a suddenly struck bass-drum. The Soph crumpled up over the railing, slid down, and fell among his comrades, effectually blocking the stairway.
For the moment Ken had stopped the advance. The sophomores had been checked by one wild freshman. There was scarcely any doubt about Ken's wildness. He had lost his hat; his dishevelled hair stood up like a mane; every time he hurled a potato he yelled. But there was nothing wild about his aim.
All at once he turned his battery on the students gathering below the crush, trying to find a way through the kicking, slipping mass on the narrow stairs. He scattered them as if they had been quail. Some ran out of range. Others dove for cover and tried to dodge. This dodging brought gleeful howls from Ken.
"Dodge, you Indian!" yelled Ken, as he threw. And seldom it was that dodging was of any use. Then, coming to the end of his ammunition, he surveyed the battle-field beneath him and, turning, ran across the avenue and down a street. At the corner of the block he looked back. There was one man coming, but he did not look like a student. So Ken slackened his pace and bent his steps toward his boarding-house.
"By George! I stole those potatoes!" he exclaimed, presently. "I wonder how I can make that good."
Several times as he turned to look over his shoulder he saw the man he had noticed at first. But that did not trouble him, for he was sure no one else was following him. Ken reached his room exhausted by exertion and excitement. He flung himself upon his bed to rest and calm his mind so that he could think. If he had been in a bad light before, what was his position now? Beyond all reasoning with, however, was the spirit that gloried in his last stand.
"By George!" he kept saying. "I wouldn't have missed that—not for anything. They made my life a nightmare. I'll have to leave college—go somewhere else—but I don't care."
Later, after dinner as he sat reading, he heard a door-bell ring, a man's voice, then footsteps in the hall. Some one tapped on his door. Ken felt a strange, cold sensation, which soon passed, and he spoke:
The door opened to admit a short man with little, bright eyes sharp as knives.
"Hello, Kid," he said. Then he leisurely removed his hat and overcoat and laid them on the bed.
Ken's fear of he knew not what changed to amazement. At least his visitor did not belong to the faculty. There was something familiar about the man, yet Ken could not place him.
"Well up in your studies?" he asked, cordially. Then he seated himself, put a hand on each knee, and deliberately and curiously studied Ken.
"Why, yes, pretty well up," replied Ken. He did not know how to take the man. There was a kindliness about him which relieved Ken, yet there was also a hard scrutiny that was embarrassing.
"All by your lonely here," he said.
"It is lonely," replied Ken, "but—but I don't get on very well with the students."
"Small wonder. Most of 'em are crazy."
He was unmistakably friendly. Ken kept wondering where he had seen him. Presently the man arose, and, with a wide smile on his face, reached over and grasped Ken's right arm.
"How's the whip?"
"What?" asked Ken.
"The wing—your arm, Kid, your arm."
"Oh—Why, it's all right."
"It's not sore—not after peggin' a bushel of potatoes on a cold day?"
Ken laughed and raised his arm up and down. "It's weak to-night, but not sore."
"These boys with their India-rubber arms! It's youth, Kid, it's youth. Say, how old are you?"
"What! No more than that?"
"How much do you weigh?"
"About one hundred and fifty-six."
"I thought you had some beef back of that stunt of yours to-day. Say, Kid, it was the funniest and the best thing I've seen at the university in ten years—and I've seen some fresh boys do some stunts, I have. Well... Kid, you've a grand whip—a great arm—and we're goin' to do some stunts with it."
Ken felt something keen and significant in the very air.
"A great arm! For what?... who are you?"
"Say, I thought every boy in college knew me. I'm Arthurs."
"The baseball coach! Are you the baseball coach?" exclaimed Ken, jumping up with his heart in his throat.
"That's me, my boy; and I'm lookin' you up."
Ken suddenly choked with thronging emotions and sat down as limp as a rag.
"Yes, Kid, I'm after you strong. The way you pegged 'em to-day got me. You've a great arm!"
PRISONER OF THE SOPHS
"But if—it's really true—that I've a great arm," faltered Ken, "it won't ever do me any good. I could never get on the varsity."
"Why not?" demanded the coach. "I'll make a star of a youngster like you, if you'll take coachin'. Why not?"
"Oh, you don't know," returned Ken, with a long face.
"Say, you haven't struck me as a kid with no nerve. What's wrong with you?"
"It was I who slugged Captain Dale and caused that big rush between the freshmen and sophomores. I've lived like a hermit ever since."
"So it was you who hit Dale. Well—that's bad," replied Arthurs. He got up with sober face and began to walk the floor. "I remember the eye he had. It was a sight.... But Dale's a good fellow. He'll—"
"I'd do anything on earth to make up for that," burst out Ken.
"Good! I'll tell you what we'll do," said Arthurs, his face brightening. "We'll go right down to Dale's room now. I'll fix it up with him somehow. The sooner the better. I'm goin' to call the baseball candidates to the cage soon."
They put on coats and hats and went out. Evidently the coach was thinking hard, for he had nothing to say, but he kept a reassuring hand on Ken's arm. They crossed the campus along the very path where Ken had fled from the sophomores. The great circle of dormitories loomed up beyond with lights shining in many windows. Arthurs led Ken through a court-yard and into a wide, bright hallway. Their steps sounded with hollow click upon the tiled floor. They climbed three flights of stairs, and then Arthurs knocked at a door. Ken's heart palpitated. It was all so sudden; he did not know what he was going to say or do. He did not care what happened to him if Arthurs could only, somehow, put him right with the captain.
A merry voice bade them enter. The coach opened the door and led Ken across the threshold. Ken felt the glow of a warm, bright room, colorful with pennants and posters, and cozy in its disorder. Then he saw Dale and, behind him, several other students. There was a moment's silence in which Ken heard his heart beat.
Dale rose slowly from his seat, the look on his frank face changing from welcome to intense amazement and then wild elation.
"Whoop!" he shouted. "Lock the door! Worry Arthurs, this's your best bet ever!"
Dale dashed at the coach, hugged him frantically, then put his head out of the door to bawl: "Sophs! Sophs! Sophs! Hurry call! Number nine!... Oh, my!"
Then he faced about, holding the door partially open. He positively beamed upon the coach.
"Say, Cap, what's eatin' you?" asked Arthurs. He looked dumfounded. Ken hung to him desperately; he thought he knew what was coming. There were hurried footsteps in the corridor and excited voices.
"Worry, it's bully of you to bring this freshman here," declared the captain.
"Well, what of it?" demanded the coach. "I looked him up to-night. He's got a great arm, and will be good material for the team. He told me about the little scrap you had in the lecture-room. He lost his temper, and no wonder. Anyway, he's sorry, Cap, and I fetched him around to see if you couldn't make it up. How about it, Kid?"
"I'm sorry—awfully sorry, Captain Dale," blurted out Ken. "I was mad and scared, too—then you fellows hurt me. So I hit right out.... But I'll take my medicine."
"So—oh!" ejaculated Dale. "Well, this beats the deuce! That's why you're here?"
The door opened wide to admit half a dozen eager-faced youths.
"Fellows, here's a surprise," said Dale. "Young Ward, the freshman! the elusive slugging freshman, fast on his feet, and, as Worry here says, a lad with a great arm!"
"WARD!" roared the Sophs in unison.
"Hold on, fellows—wait—no rough-house yet—wait," ordered Dale. "Ward's here of his own free will!"
Silence ensued after the captain spoke. While he turned to lock the door the Sophs stared open-mouthed at Ken. Arthurs had a worried look, and he kept his hand on Ken. Dale went to a table and began filling his pipe. Then he fixed sharp, thoughtful eyes upon his visitors.
"Worry, you say you brought this freshman here to talk baseball?" he asked.
"Sure I did," blustered Arthurs. It was plain now where he got the name that Dale called him. "What's in the wind, anyhow?"
Dale then gravely spoke to Ken. "So you came here to see me? Sorry you slugged me once? Want to make up for it somehow, because you think you've a chance for the team, and don't want me to be sore on you? That it?"
"Not exactly," replied Ken. "I'd want to let you get square with me even if you weren't the varsity captain."
"Well, you've more than squared yourself with me—by coming here. You'll realize that presently. But don't you know what's happened, what the freshmen have done?"
"No; I don't."
"You haven't been near the university since this afternoon when you pulled off the potato stunt?"
"I should say I haven't."
This brought a laugh from the Sophs.
"You were pretty wise," went on Dale. "The Sophs didn't love you then. But they're going to—understand?"
Ken shook his head, too bewildered and mystified to reply.
"Well, now, here's Giraffe Boswick. Look what you did to him!"
Ken's glance followed the wave of Dale's hand and took in the tall, bronze-haired sophomore who had led the chase that afternoon. Boswick wore a huge discolored bruise over his left eye. It was hideous. Ken was further sickened to recollect that Boswick was one of the varsity pitchers. But the fellow was smiling amiably at Ken, as amiably as one eye would permit. The plot thickened about Ken. He felt his legs trembling under him.
"Boswick, you forgive Ward, don't you—now?" continued Dale, with a smile.
"With all my heart!" exclaimed the pitcher. "To see him here would make me forgive anything."
Coach Arthurs was ill at ease. He evidently knew students, and he did not relish the mystery, the hidden meaning.
"Say, you wise guys make me sick," he called out, gruffly. "Here's a kid that comes right among you. He's on the level, and more'n that, he's game! Now, Cap, I fetched him here, and I won't stand for a whole lot. Get up on your toes! Get it over!"
"Sit down Worry, here's a cigar—light up," said Dale, soothingly. "It's all coming right, lovely, I say. Ward was game to hunt me up, a thousand times gamer than he knows.... See here, Ward, where are you from?"
"I live a good long day's travel from the university," answered Ken, evasively.
"I thought so. Did you ever hear of the bowl-fight, the great event of the year here at Wayne University?"
"Yes, I've heard—read a little about it. But I don't know what it is."
"I'll tell you," went on Dale. "There are a number of yearly rushes and scrapes between the freshmen and sophomores, but the bowl-fight is the one big meeting, the time-honored event. It has been celebrated here for many years. It takes place on a fixed date. Briefly, here's what comes off: The freshmen have the bowl in their keeping this year because they won it in the last fight. They are to select one of their number, always a scrappy fellow, and one honored by the class, and they call him the bowl-man. A week before the fight, on a certain date, the freshmen hide this bowl-man or protect him from the sophomores until the day of the fight, when they all march to Grant field in fighting-togs. Should the sophomores chance to find him and hold him prisoner until after the date of the bowl-fight they win the bowl. The same applies also in case the bowl is in possession of the sophomores. But for ten years neither class has captured the other's bowl-man. So they have fought it out on the field until the bowl was won."
"Well, what has all that got to do with me?" asked Ken. He felt curiously light-headed.
"It has a little to do with you—hasn't it, fellows?" said Dale, in slow, tantalizing voice.
Worry Arthurs lost his worried look and began to smile and rub his hands.
"Ward, look here," added Dale, now speaking sharply. "You've been picked for the bowl-man!"
"Me—me?" stammered Ken.
"No other. The freshmen were late in choosing a man this year. To-day, after your stunt—holding up that bunch of sophomores—they had a meeting in Carlton Club and picked you. Most of them didn't even know your name. I'll bet the whole freshman class is hunting for you right now."
"What for?" queried Ken, weakly.
"Why, I told you. The bowl-fight is only a week off—and here you are. And here you'll stay until that date's past!"
Ken drew a quick breath. He began to comprehend. The sudden huzzahs of Dale's companions gave him further enlightenment.
"But, Captain Dale," he said, breathlessly, "if it's so—if my class has picked me—I can't throw them down. I don't know a soul in my class. I haven't a friend. But I won't throw them down—not to be forever free of dodging Sophs—not even to square myself with you."
"Ward, you're all right!" shouted Dale, his eyes shining.
In the quiet moment that followed, with all the sophomores watching him intently, Ken Ward instinctively felt that his measure had been taken.
"I won't stay here," said Ken, and for the first time his voice rang.
"Oh yes, you will," replied Dale, laughing.
Quick as a cat Ken leaped for the door and got it unlocked and half open before some one clutched him. Then Dale was on him close and hard. Ken began to struggle. He was all muscle, and twice he broke from them.
"His legs! Grab his legs! He's a young bull!"
"We'll trim you now, Freshie!"
"Go for his wind!"
Fighting and wrestling with all his might Ken went down under a half dozen sophomores. Then Dale was astride his chest, and others were sitting on his hands and feet.
"Boys, don't hurt that arm!" yelled Worry Arthurs.
"Ward, will you be good now and stop scrapping or shall we tie you?" asked Dale. "You can't get away. The thing to do is to give your word not to try. We want to make this easy for you. Your word of honor, now?"
"Never!" cried Ken.
"I knew you wouldn't," said Dale. "We'll have to keep you under guard."
They let him get up. He was panting, and his nose was bleeding, and one of his knuckles was skinned. That short struggle had been no joke. The Sophs certainly meant to keep him prisoner. Still, he was made to feel at ease. They could not do enough for him.
"It's tough luck, Ward, that you should have fallen into our hands this way," said Dale. "But you couldn't help it. You will be kept in my rooms until after the fifteenth. Meals will be brought you, and your books; everything will be done for your comfort. Your whereabouts, of course, will be a secret, and you will be closely watched. Worry, remember you are bound to silence. And Ward, perhaps it wasn't an ill wind that blew you here. You've had your last scrap with a Soph, that's sure. As for what brought you here—it's more than square; and I'll say this: if you can play ball as well as you can scrap, old Wayne has got a star."
THE CALL FOR CANDIDATES
There were five rooms in Dale's suite in the dormitory, and three other sophomores shared them with him. They confined Ken in the end room, where he was safely locked and guarded from any possible chance to escape.
For the first day or two it was irksome for Ken; but as he and his captors grew better acquainted the strain eased up, and Ken began to enjoy himself as he had not since coming to the university.
He could not have been better provided for. His books were at hand, and even notes of the lectures he was missing were brought to him. The college papers and magazines interested him, and finally he was much amused by an account of his mysterious disappearance. All in a day he found himself famous. Then Dale and his room-mates were so friendly and jolly that if his captivity had not meant the disgrace of the freshman class, Ken would have rejoiced in it. He began to thaw out, though he did not lose his backwardness. The life of the great university began to be real to him. Almost the whole sophomore class, in squads of twos and threes and sixes, visited Dale's rooms during that week. No Soph wanted to miss a sight of a captive bowl-man. Ken felt so callow and fresh in their presence that he scarcely responded to their jokes. Worry Arthur's nickname of "Kid" vied with another the coach conferred on Ken, and that was "Peg." It was significant slang expressing the little baseball man's baseball notion of Ken's throwing power.
The evening was the most interesting time for Ken. There was always something lively going on. He wondered when the boys studied. When some of the outside students dropped in there were banjo and guitar playing, college songs, and college gossip.
"Come on, Peg, be a good fellow," they said, and laughed at his refusal to smoke or drink beer.
"Molly!" mocked one.
"Willy-boy!" added another.
Ken was callow, young, and backward; but he had a temper, and this kind of banter roused it easily. The red flamed into his cheeks.
"I promised my mother I wouldn't smoke or drink or gamble while I was in college," he retorted, struggling with shame and anger. "And I—I won't."
Dale stopped the good-natured chaff. "Fellows, stop guying Ward; cut it out, I tell you. He's only a kid freshman, but he's liable to hand you a punch, and if he does you'll remember it. Besides, he's right.... Look here, Ward, you stick to that promise. It's a good promise to stick to, and if you're going in for athletics it's the best ever."
Worry Arthurs happened to be present on this evening, and he seconded Dale in more forceful speech. "There's too much boozin' and smokin' of them coffin nails goin' on in this college. It's none of my affair except with the boys I'm coachin', and if I ketch any one breakin' my rules after we go to the trainin'-table he'll sit on the bench. There's Murray; why, he says there are fellows in college who could break records if they'd train. Half of sprintin' or baseball or football is condition."
"Oh, Worry, you and Mac always make a long face over things. Wayne has won a few championships, hasn't she?"
"The varsity ball team will be a frost this year, that's sure," replied Arthurs, gloomily.
"How do you make that out?" demanded Dale, plainly nettled. "You've hinted it before to me. Why won't we be stronger than last season? Didn't we have a crackerjack team, the fastest that ever represented old Wayne? Didn't we smother the small college teams and beat Place twice, shut out Herne the first game, and play for a tie the second?"
"You'll see, all right, all right," replied Arthurs, gloomier than ever; and he took his hat and went out.
Dale slammed his cards down on the table.
"Fellows, is it any wonder we call him Worry? Already he's begun to fuss over the team. Ever since he's been here he has driven the baseball captains and managers crazy. It's only his way, but it's so irritating. He's a magnificent coach, and Wayne owes her great baseball teams to him. But he's hard on captains. I see my troubles. The idea of this year's team being a frost—with all the old stars back in college—with only two positions to fill! And there are half a dozen cracks in college to fight for these two positions—fellows I played against on the summer nines last year. Worry's idea is ridiculous."
This bit of baseball talk showed Ken the obstacles in the way of a freshman making the varsity team. What a small chance there would be for him! Still he got a good deal of comfort out of Arthurs' interest in him, and felt that he would be happy to play substitute this season, and make the varsity in his sophomore year.
The day of the bowl-fight passed, and Ken's captivity became history. The biggest honor of the sophomore year went to Dale and his room-mates. Ken returned to his department, where he was made much of, as he had brought fame to a new and small branch of the great university. It was a pleasure to walk the campus without fear of being pounced upon. Ken's dodging and loneliness—perhaps necessary and curbing nightmares in the life of a freshman—were things of the past. He made acquaintances, slowly lost his backwardness, and presently found college life opening to him bright and beautiful. Ken felt strongly about things. And as his self-enforced exile had been lonely and bitter, so now his feeling that he was really a part of the great university seemed almost too good to be true. He began to get a glimmering of the meaning of his father's love for the old college. Students and professors underwent some vague change in his mind. He could not tell what, he did not think much about it, but there was a warmer touch, a sense of something nearer to him.
Then suddenly a blow fell upon the whole undergraduate body. It was a thunderbolt. It affected every student, but Ken imagined it concerned his own college fortunes more intimately. The athletic faculty barred every member of the varsity baseball team! The year before the faculty had advised and requested the players not to become members of the summer baseball nines. Their wishes had not been heeded. Captain Dale and his fast players had been much in demand by the famous summer nines. Some of them went to the Orange Athletic Club, others to Richfield Springs, others to Cape May, and Dale himself had captained the Atlantic City team.
The action of the faculty was commended by the college magazine. Even the students, though chafing under it, could not but acknowledge its justice. The other universities had adopted such a rule, and Wayne must fall in line. The objections to summer ball-playing were not few, and the particular one was that it affected the amateur standing of the college player. He became open to charges of professionalism. At least, all his expenses were paid, and it was charged that usually he was paid for his services.
Ken's first feeling when he learned this news was one of blank dismay. The great varsity team wiped off the slate! How Place and Herne would humble old Wayne this year! Then the long, hard schedule, embracing thirty games, at least one with every good team in the East—how would an untried green team fare against that formidable array? Then Ken suddenly felt ashamed of a selfish glee, for he was now sure of a place on the varsity.
For several days nothing else was talked about by the students. Whenever Dale or his players appeared at Carlton Hall they were at once surrounded by a sympathetic crowd. If it was a bitter blow to the undergraduates, what was it to the members of the varsity? Their feeling showed in pale, stern faces. It was reported about the campus that Murray and Arthurs and Dale, with the whole team, went to the directors of the athletic faculty and besought them to change or modify the decision. Both the trainer and the coach, who had brought such glory to the university, threatened to resign their places. The disgrace of a pitiably weak team of freshmen being annihilated by minor colleges was eloquently put before the directors. But the decision was final.
One evening early in February Worry Arthurs called upon Ken. His face was long, and his mustache drooped.
"Kid, what do you think of 'em fat-heads on the faculty queerin' my team?" he asked. "Best team I ever developed. Say, but the way they could work the hit-and-run game! Any man on the team could hit to right field when there was a runner goin' down from first."
"Maybe things will turn out all right," suggested Ken, hopefully.
Worry regarded his youthful sympathizer with scorn.
"It takes two years to teach most college kids the rudiments of baseball. Look at this year's schedule." Worry produced a card and waved it at Ken. "The hardest schedule Wayne ever had! And I've got to play a kid team."
Ken was afraid to utter any more of his hopes, and indeed he felt them to be visionary.
"The call for candidates goes out to-morrow," went on the coach. "I'll bet there'll be a mob at the cage. Every fool kid in the university will think he's sure of a place. Now, Ward, what have you played?"
"Everywhere; but infield mostly."
"Every kid has played the whole game. What position have you played most?"
"Good! You've the arm for that. Well, I'm anxious to see you work, but don't exert yourself in the cage. This is a tip. See! I'll be busy weedin' out the bunch, and won't have time until we get out on the field. You can run around the track every day, get your wind and your legs right, hold in on your arm. The cage is cold. I've seen many a good wing go to the bad there. But your chance looks good. College baseball is different from any other kind. You might say it's played with the heart. I've seen youngsters go in through grit and spirit, love of playin' for their college, and beat out fellows who were their superiors physically. Well, good-night.... Say, there's one more thing. I forgot it. Are you up in your subjects?"
"I surely am," replied Ken. "I've had four months of nothing but study."
"The reason I ask is this: That faculty has made another rule, the one-year residence rule, they call it. You have to pass your exams, get your first year over, before you can represent any athletic club. So, in case I can use you on the team, you would have to go up for your exams two months or more ahead of time. That scare you?"
"Not a bit. I could pass mine right now," answered Ken, confidently.
"Kid, you and me are goin' to get along.... Well, good-night, and don't forget what I said."
Ken was too full for utterance; he could scarcely mumble good-night to the coach. He ran up-stairs three steps to the jump, and when he reached his room he did a war dance and ended by standing on his head. When he had gotten rid of his exuberance he sat down at once to write to his brother Hal about it, and also his forest-ranger friend, Dick Leslie, with whom he had spent an adventurous time the last summer.
At Carlton Hall, next day, Ken saw a crowd of students before the bulletin-board and, edging in, he read the following notice:
CALL FOR CANDIDATES FOR THE VARSITY BASEBALL TEAM
The Athletic Directors of the University earnestly request every student who can play ball, or who thinks he can, to present himself to Coach Arthurs at the Cage on Feb. 3rd.
There will be no freshman team this year, and a new team entirely will be chosen for the varsity. Every student will have a chance. Applicants are requested to familiarize themselves with the new eligibility rules.
Ken Ward dug down into his trunk for his old baseball suit and donned it with strange elation. It was dirty and torn, and the shoes that went with it were worn out, but Ken was thinking of what hard ball-playing they represented. He put his overcoat on over his sweater, took up his glove and sallied forth.
A thin coating of ice and snow covered the streets. Winter still whistled in the air. To Ken in his eagerness spring seemed a long way off. On his way across the campus he saw strings of uniformed boys making for Grant Field, and many wearing sweaters over their every-day clothes. The cage was situated at one end of the field apart from the other training-quarters. When Ken got there he found a mob of players crowding to enter the door of the big barn-like structure. Others were hurrying away. Near the door a man was taking up tickets like a doorkeeper of a circus, and he kept shouting: "Get your certificates from the doctor. Every player must pass a physical examination. Get your certificates."
Ken turned somewhat in disgust at so much red tape and he jostled into a little fellow, almost knocking him over.
"Wull! Why don't you fall all over me?" growled this amiable individual. "For two cents I'd hand you one."
The apology on Ken's lips seemed to halt of its own accord.
"Sorry I haven't any change in these clothes," returned Ken. He saw a wiry chap, older than he was, but much smaller, and of most aggressive front. He had round staring eyes, a protruding jaw, and his mouth turned down at the corners. He wore a disreputable uniform and a small green cap over one ear.
"Aw! don't get funny!" he replied.
Ken moved away muttering to himself: "That fellow's a grouch." Much to his amazement, when he got to the training-house, Ken found that he could not get inside because so many players were there ahead of him. After waiting an hour or more he decided he could not have his physical examination at that time, and he went back to the cage. The wide door was still blocked with players, but at the other end of the building Ken found an entrance. He squeezed into a crowd of students and worked forward until stopped by a railing.
Ken was all eyes and breathless with interest. The cage was a huge, open, airy room, lighted by many windows, and, with the exception of the platform where he stood, it was entirely enclosed by heavy netting. The floor was of bare ground well raked and loosened to make it soft. This immense hall was full of a motley crowd of aspiring ball-players.
Worry Arthurs, with his head sunk in the collar of his overcoat, and his shoulders hunched up as if he was about to spring upon something, paced up and down the rear end of the cage. Behind him a hundred or more players in line slowly marched toward the slab of rubber which marked the batting position. Ken remembered that the celebrated coach always tried out new players at the bat first. It was his belief that batting won games.
"Bunt one and hit one!" he yelled to the batters.
From the pitcher's box a lanky individual was trying to locate the plate. Ken did not need a second glance to see that this fellow was no pitcher.
"Stop posin', and pitch!" yelled Arthurs.
One by one the batters faced the plate, swung valiantly or wildly at balls and essayed bunts. Few hit the ball out and none made a creditable bunt. After their turn at bat they were ordered to the other end of the cage, where they fell over one another trying to stop the balls that were hit. Every few moments the coach would yell for one of them, any one, to take a turn at pitching. Ken noticed that Arthurs gave a sharp glance at each new batter, and one appeared to be sufficient. More and more ambitious players crowded into the cage, until there were so many that batted balls rarely missed hitting some one.
Presently Ken Ward awoke from his thrilling absorption in the scene to note another side of it. The students around him were making game of the players.
"What a bunch!"
"Look at that fuzzy gosling with the yellow pants!"
"Keep your shanks out of the way, Freshie!"
"Couldn't hit a balloon!"
Whenever a batter hit a ball into the crowd of dodging players down the cage these students howled with glee. Ken discovered that he was standing near Captain Dale and other members of the barred varsity.
"Say, Dale, how do the candidates shape up?" asked a student.
"This is a disgrace to Wayne," declared Dale, bitterly. "I never saw such a mob of spindle-legged kids in my life. Look at them! Scared to death! That fellow never swung at a ball before—that one never heard of a bunt—they throw like girls—Oh! this is sickening, fellows. I see where Worry goes to his grave this year and old Wayne gets humbled by one-horse colleges."
Ken took one surprised glance at the captain he had admired so much and then he slipped farther over in the crowd. Perhaps Dale had spoken truth, yet somehow it jarred upon Ken's sensitive nature. The thing that affected Ken most was the earnestness of the uniformed boys trying their best to do well before the great coach. Some were timid, uncertain; others were rash and over-zealous. Many a ball cracked off a player's knee or wrist, and more than once Ken saw a bloody finger. It was cold in the cage. Even an ordinarily hit ball must have stung the hands, and the way a hard grounder cracked was enough to excite sympathy among those scornful spectators, if nothing more. But they yelled in delight at every fumble, at everything that happened. Ken kept whispering to himself: "I can't see the fun in it. I can't!"
Arthurs dispensed with the bunting and ordered one hit each for the batters. "Step up and hit!" he ordered, hoarsely. "Don't be afraid—never mind that crowd—step into the ball and swing natural.... Next! Hurry, boys!"
Suddenly a deep-chested student yelled out with a voice that drowned every other sound.
"Hard luck, Worry! No use! You'll never find a hitter among those misfits!"
The coach actually leaped up in his anger and his face went from crimson to white. Ken thought it was likely that he recognized the voice.
"You knocker! You knocker!" he cried. "That's a fine college spirit, ain't it? You're a fine lot of students, I don't think. Now shut up, every one of you, or I'll fire you out of the cage.... And right here at the start you knockers take this from me—I'll find more than one hitter among those kids!"
A little silence fell while the coach faced that antagonistic crowd of spectators. Ken was amazed the second time, and now because of the intensity of feeling that seemed to hang in the air. Ken felt a warm rush go over him, and that moment added greatly to his already strong liking for Worry Arthurs.
Then the coach turned to his work, the batting began again, and the crack of the ball, the rush of feet, the sharp cries of the players mingled once more with the laughter and caustic wit of the unsympathetic audience.
Ken Ward went back to his room without having removed his overcoat. He was thoughtful that night and rebellious against the attitude of the student body. A morning paper announced the fact that over three hundred candidates had presented themselves to Coach Arthurs. It went on to say that the baseball material represented was not worth considering and that old Wayne's varsity team must be ranked with those of the fifth-rate colleges. This, following Ken's experience at the cage on the first day, made him angry and then depressed. The glamour of the thing seemed to fade away. Ken lost the glow, the exhilaration of his first feelings. Everybody took a hopeless view of Wayne's baseball prospects. Ken Ward, however, was not one to stay discouraged long, and when he came out of his gloom it was with his fighting spirit roused. Once and for all he made up his mind to work heart and soul for his college, to be loyal to Arthurs, to hope and believe in the future of the new varsity, whether or not he was lucky enough to win a place upon it.
Next day, going early to the training-quarters, he took his place in a squad waiting for the physical examination. It was a wearisome experience. At length Ken's turn came with two other players, one of whom he recognized as the sour-complexioned fellow of the day before.
"Wull, you're pretty fresh," he said to Ken as they went in. He had a most exasperating manner.
"Say, I don't like you a whole lot," retorted Ken.
Then a colored attendant ushered them into a large room in which were several men. The boys were stripped to the waist.
"Come here, Murray," said the doctor. "There's some use in looking these boys over, particularly this husky youngster."
A tall man in a white sweater towered over Ken. It was the famous trainer. He ran his hands over Ken's smooth skin and felt of the muscles.
"Can you run?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Ken.
"Are you fast?"
Further inquiries brought from Ken his name, age, weight, that he had never been ill, had never used tobacco or intoxicating drinks.
"Ward, eh? 'Peg' Ward," said Murray, smiling. "Worry Arthurs has the call on you—else, my boy, I'd whisper football in your ear. Mebbe I will, anyhow, if you keep up in your studies. That'll do for you."
Ken's companions also won praise from the trainer. They gave their names as Raymond and Weir. The former weighed only one hundred and twenty-two, but he was a knot of muscles. The other stood only five feet, but he was very broad and heavy, his remarkably compact build giving an impression of great strength. Both replied in the negative to the inquiries as to use of tobacco or spirits.
"Boys, that's what we like to hear," said the doctor. "You three ought to pull together."
Ken wondered what the doctor would have said if he had seen the way these three boys glared at each other in the dressing-room. And he wondered, too, what was the reason for such open hostility. The answer came to him in the thought that perhaps they were both trying for the position he wanted on the varsity. Most likely they had the same idea about him. That was the secret of little Raymond's pugnacious front and Weir's pompous air; and Ken realized that the same reason accounted for his own attitude toward them. He wanted very much to tell Raymond that he was a little grouch and Weir that he looked like a puffed-up toad. All the same Ken was not blind to Weir's handsome appearance. The sturdy youngster had an immense head, a great shock of bright brown hair, flashing gray eyes, and a clear bronze skin.
"They'll both make the team, I'll bet," thought Ken. "They look it. I hope I don't have to buck against them." Then as they walked toward the cage Ken forced himself to ask genially: "Raymond, what're you trying for? And you, Weir?"
"Wull, if it's any of your fresh business, I'm not trying for any place. I'm going to play infield. You can carry my bat," replied Raymond, sarcastically.
"Much obliged," retorted Ken, "I'm not going to substitute. I've a corner on that varsity infield myself."
Weir glanced at them with undisguised disdain. "You can save yourselves useless work by not trying for my position. I intend to play infield."
"Wull, puff-up, now, puff-up!" growled Raymond.
Thus the three self-appointed stars of the varsity bandied words among themselves as they crossed the field. At the cage door they became separated to mingle with the pushing crowd of excited boys in uniforms.
By dint of much squeezing and shoulder-work Ken got inside the cage. He joined the squad in the upper end and got in line for the batting. Worry Arthurs paced wildly to and fro yelling for the boys to hit. A dense crowd of students thronged the platform and laughed, jeered, and stormed at the players. The cage was in such an uproar that Arthurs could scarcely be heard. Watching from the line Ken saw Weir come to bat and stand aggressively and hit the ball hard. It scattered the flock of fielders. Then Raymond came along, and, batting left-handed, did likewise. Arthurs stepped forward and said something to both. After Ken's turn at bat the coach said to him: "Get out of here. Go run round the track. Do it every day. Don't come back until Monday."
As Ken hurried out he saw and felt the distinction with which he was regarded by the many players whom he crowded among in passing. When he reached the track he saw Weir, Raymond, and half a dozen other fellows going round at a jog-trot. Weir was in the lead, setting the pace. Ken fell in behind.
The track was the famous quarter-mile track upon which Murray trained his sprinters. When Ken felt the spring of the cinder-path in his feet, the sensation of buoyancy, the eager wildfire pride that flamed over him, he wanted to break into headlong flight. The first turn around the track was delight; the second pleasure in his easy stride; the third brought a realization of distance. When Ken had trotted a mile he was not tired, he still ran easily, but he began to appreciate that his legs were not wings. The end of the second mile found him sweating freely and panting.
Two miles were enough for the first day. Ken knew it and he began to wonder why the others, especially Weir, did not know it. But Weir jogged on, his head up, his hair flying, as if he had not yet completed his first quarter. The other players stretched out behind him. Ken saw Raymond's funny little green cap bobbing up and down, and it made him angry. Why could not the grouch get a decent cap, anyway?
At the end of the third mile Ken began to labor. His feet began to feel weighted, his legs to ache, his side to hurt. He was wringing wet; his skin burned; his breath whistled. But he kept doggedly on. It had become a contest now. Ken felt instinctively that every runner would not admit he had less staying power than the others. Ken declared to himself that he could be as bull-headed as any of them. Still to see Weir jogging on steady and strong put a kind of despair on Ken. For every lap of the fourth mile a runner dropped out, and at the half of the fifth only Weir, Raymond, and Ken kept to the track.
Ken hung on gasping at every stride. He was afraid his heart would burst. The pain in his side was as keen as a knife thrust. His feet were lead. Every rod he felt must be his last, yet spurred on desperately, and he managed to keep at the heels of the others. It might kill him, but he would not stop until he dropped. Raymond was wagging along ready to fall any moment, and Weir was trotting slowly with head down. On the last lap of the fifth mile they all stopped as by one accord. Raymond fell on the grass; Ken staggered to a bench, and Weir leaned hard against the fence. They were all blowing like porpoises and regarded each other as mortal enemies. Weir gazed grandly at the other two; Raymond glowered savagely at him and then at Ken; and Ken in turn gave them withering glances. Without a word the three contestants for a place on the varsity then went their several ways.
OUT ON THE FIELD
When Ken presented himself at the cage on the following Monday it was to find that Arthurs had weeded out all but fifty of the candidates. Every afternoon for a week the coach put these players through batting and sliding practice, then ordered them out to run around the track. On the next Monday only twenty-five players were left, and as the number narrowed down the work grew more strenuous, the rivalry keener, and the tempers of the boys more irascible.
Ken discovered it was work and not by any means pleasant work. He fortified himself by the thought that the pleasure and glory, the real play, was all to come as a reward. Worry Arthurs drove them relentlessly. Nothing suited him; not a player knew how to hold a bat, to stand at the plate, to slide right, or to block a ground ball.
"Don't hit with your left hand on top—unless you're left-handed. Don't grip the end of the bat. There! Hold steady now, step out and into the ball, and swing clean and level. If you're afraid of bein' hit by the ball, get out of here!"
It was plain to Ken that not the least of Arthurs' troubles was the incessant gibing of the students on the platform. There was always a crowd watching the practice, noisy, scornful, abusive. They would never recover from the shock of having that seasoned champion varsity barred out of athletics. Every once in a while one of them would yell out: "Wait, Worry! oh! Worry, wait till the old varsity plays your yanigans!" And every time the coach's face would burn. But he had ceased to talk back to the students. Besides, the athletic directors were always present. They mingled with the candidates and talked baseball to them and talked to Arthurs. Some of them might have played ball once, but they did not talk like it. Their advice and interference served only to make the coach's task harder.
Another Monday found only twenty players in the squad. That day Arthurs tried out catchers, pitchers, and infielders. He had them all throwing, running, fielding, working like Trojans. They would jump at his yell, dive after the ball, fall over it, throw it anywhere but in the right direction, run wild, and fight among themselves. The ever-flowing ridicule from the audience was anything but a stimulus. So much of it coming from the varsity and their adherents kept continually in the minds of the candidates their lack of skill, their unworthiness to represent the great university in such a popular sport as baseball. So that even if there were latent ability in any of the candidates no one but the coach could see it. And often he could not conceal his disgust and hopelessness.
"Battin' practice!" he ordered, sharply. "Two hits and a bunt to-day. Get a start on the bunt and dig for first. Hustle now!"
He placed one player to pitch to the hitters, another to catch, and as soon as the hitters had their turn they took to fielding. Two turns for each at bat left the coach more than dissatisfied.
"You're all afraid of the ball," he yelled. "This ain't no dodgin' game. Duck your nut if the ball's goin' to hit you, but stop lookin' for it. Forget it. Another turn now. I'm goin' to umpire. Let's see if you know the difference between a ball and a strike."
He changed the catcher and, ordering Ken to the pitcher's box, he stepped over behind him. "Peg," he said, speaking low, "you're not tryin' for pitcher, I know, but you've got speed and control and I want you to peg 'em a few. Mind now, easy with your arm. By that I mean hold in, don't whip it. And you peg 'em as near where I say as you can; see?"
As the players, one after another, faced the box, the coach kept saying to Ken: "Drive that fellow away from the plate... give this one a low ball... now straight over the pan. Say, Peg, you've got a nice ball there... put a fast one under this fellow's chin."
"Another turn, now, boys!" he yelled. "I tell you—stand up to the plate!" Then he whispered to Ken. "Hit every one of 'em! Peg 'em now, any place."
"Hit them?" asked Ken, amazed.
"That's what I said."
"See here, Peg. Don't talk back to me. Do as I say. We'll peg a little nerve into this bunch. Now I'll go back of the plate and make a bluff."
Arthurs went near to the catcher's position. Then he said: "Now, fellows, Ward's pretty wild and I've told him to speed up a few. Stand right up and step into 'em."
The first batter was Weir. Ken swung easily and let drive. Straight as a string the ball sped for the batter. Like a flash he dropped flat in the dust and the ball just grazed him. It was a narrow escape. Weir jumped up, his face flaring, his hair on end, and he gazed hard at Ken before picking up the bat.
"Batter up!" ordered the coach. "Do you think this's a tea-party?"
Weir managed by quick contortions to get through his time at bat without being hit. Three players following him were not so lucky.
"Didn't I say he was wild?" yelled the coach. "Batter up, now!"
The next was little Raymond. He came forward cautiously, eying Ken with disapproval. Ken could not resist putting on a little more steam, and the wind of the first ball whipped off Raymond's green cap. Raymond looked scared and edged away from the plate, and as the second ball came up he stepped wide with his left foot.
"Step into the ball," said the coach. "Don't pull away. Step in or you'll never hit."
The third ball cracked low down on Raymond's leg.
"Oh!—Oh!—Oh!" he howled, beginning to hop and hobble about the cage.
"Next batter!" called out Arthurs.
And so it went on until the most promising player in the cage came to bat. This was Graves, a light-haired fellow, tall, built like a wedge. He had more confidence than any player in the squad and showed up well in all departments of the game. Moreover, he was talky, aggressive, and more inclined to be heard and felt. He stepped up and swung his bat at Ken.
"You wild freshman! If you hit me!" he cried.
Ken Ward had not fallen in love with any of his rivals for places on the team, but he especially did not like Graves. He did not stop to consider the reason of it at the moment, still he remembered several tricks Graves had played, and he was not altogether sorry for the coach's order. Swinging a little harder, Ken threw straight at Graves.
"Wham!" The ball struck him fair on the hip. Limping away from the plate he shook his fist at Ken.
"Batter up!" yelled Arthurs. "A little more speed now, Peg. You see it ain't nothin' to get hit. Why, that's in the game. It don't hurt much. I never cared when I used to get hit. Batter up!"
Ken sent up a very fast ball, on the outside of the plate. The batter swung wide, and the ball, tipping the bat, glanced to one side and struck Arthurs in the stomach with a deep sound.
Arthurs' round face went red; he gurgled and gasped for breath; he was sinking to his knees when the yelling and crowing of the students on the platform straightened him up. He walked about a few minutes, then ordered sliding practice.
The sliding-board was brought out. It was almost four feet wide and twenty long and covered with carpet.
"Run hard, boys, and don't let up just before you slide. Keep your speed and dive. Now at it!"
A line of players formed down the cage. The first one dashed forward and plunged at the board, hitting it with a bang. The carpet was slippery and he slid off and rolled in the dust. The second player leaped forward and, sliding too soon, barely reached the board. One by one the others followed.
"Run fast now!" yelled the coach. "Don't flinch.... Go down hard and slide... light on your hands... keep your heads up... slide!"
This feature of cage-work caused merriment among the onlookers. That sliding-board was a wonderful and treacherous thing. Most players slid off it as swift as a rocket. Arthurs kept them running so fast and so close together that at times one would shoot off the board just as the next would strike it. They sprawled on the ground, rolled over, and rooted in the dust. One skinned his nose on the carpet; another slid the length of the board on his ear. All the time they kept running and sliding, the coach shouted to them, and the audience roared with laughter. But it was no fun for the sliders. Raymond made a beautiful slide, and Graves was good, but all the others were ludicrous.
It was a happy day for Ken, and for all the candidates, when the coach ordered them out on the field. This was early in March. The sun was bright, the frost all out of the ground, and a breath of spring was in the air. How different it was from the cold, gloomy cage! Then the mocking students, although more in evidence than before, were confined to the stands and bleachers, and could not so easily be heard. But the presence of the regular varsity team, practising at the far end of Grant Field, had its effect on the untried players.
The coach divided his players into two nines and had them practise batting first, then fielding, and finally started them in a game, with each candidate playing the position he hoped to make on the varsity.
It was a weird game. The majority of the twenty candidates displayed little knowledge of baseball. School-boys on the commons could have beaten them. They were hooted and hissed by the students, and before half the innings were played the bleachers and stands were empty. That was what old Wayne's students thought of Arthurs' candidates.
In sharp contrast to most of them, Weir, Raymond, and Graves showed they had played the game somewhere. Weir at short-stop covered ground well, but he could not locate first base. Raymond darted here and there quick as a flash, and pounced upon the ball like a huge frog. Nothing got past him, but he juggled the ball. Graves was a finished and beautiful fielder; he was easy, sure, yet fast, and his throw from third to first went true as a line.
Graves's fine work accounted for Ken Ward's poor showing. Both were trying for third base, and when Ken once saw his rival play out on the field he not only lost heart and became confused, but he instinctively acknowledged that Graves was far his superior. After all his hopes and the kind interest of the coach it was a most bitter blow. Ken had never played so poor a game. The ball blurred in his tear-wet eyes and looked double. He did not field a grounder. He muffed foul flies and missed thrown balls. It did not occur to him that almost all of the players around him were in the same boat. He could think of nothing but the dashing away of his hopes. What was the use of trying? But he kept trying, and the harder he tried the worse he played. At the bat he struck out, fouled out, never hit the ball square at all. Graves got two well-placed hits to right field. Then when Ken was in the field Graves would come down the coaching line and talk to him in a voice no one else could hear.
"You've got a swell chance to make this team, you have, not! Third base is my job, Freshie. Why, you tow-head, you couldn't play marbles. You butter-finger, can't you stop anything? You can't even play sub on this team. Remember, Ward, I said I'd get you for hitting me that day. You hit me with a potato once, too. I'll chase you off this team."
For once Ken's spirit was so crushed and humbled that he could not say a word to his rival. He even felt he deserved it all. When the practice ended, and he was walking off the field with hanging head, trying to bear up under the blow, he met Arthurs.
"Hello! Peg," said the coach, "I'm going your way."
Ken walked along feeling Arthurs' glance upon him, but he was ashamed to raise his head.
"Peg, you were up in the air to-day—way off—you lost your nut."
He spoke kindly and put his hand on Ken's arm. Ken looked up to see that the coach's face was pale and tired, with the characteristic worried look more marked than usual.
"Yes, I was," replied Ken, impulsively. "I can play better than I did to-day—but—Mr. Arthurs, I'm not in Graves's class as a third-baseman. I know it."
Ken said it bravely, though there was a catch in his voice. The coach looked closely at him.
"So you're sayin' a good word for Graves, pluggin' his game."
"I'd love to make the team, but old Wayne must have the best players you can get."
"Peg, I said once you and me were goin' to get along. I said also that college baseball is played with the heart. You lost your heart. So did most of the kids. Well, it ain't no wonder. This's a tryin' time. I'm playin' them against each other, and no fellow knows where he's at. Now, I've seen all along that you weren't a natural infielder. I played you at third to-day to get that idea out of your head. To-morrow I'll try you in the outfield. You ain't no quitter, Peg."
Ken hurried to his room under the stress of a complete revulsion of feeling. His liking for the coach began to grow into something more. It was strange to Ken what power a few words from Arthurs had to renew his will and hope and daring. How different Arthurs was when not on the field. There he was stern and sharp. Ken could not study that night, and he slept poorly. His revival of hope did not dispel his nervous excitement.
He went out into Grant Field next day fighting himself. When in the practice Arthurs assigned him to a right-field position, he had scarcely taken his place when he became conscious of a queer inclination to swallow often, of a numbing tight band round his chest. He could not stand still; his hands trembled; there was a mist before his eyes. His mind was fixed upon himself and upon the other five outfielders trying to make the team. He saw the players in the infield pace their positions restlessly, run without aim when the ball was hit or thrown, collide with each other, let the ball go between their hands and legs, throw wildly, and sometimes stand as if transfixed when they ought to have been in action. But all this was not significant to Ken. He saw everything that happened, but he thought only that he must make a good showing; he must not miss any flies, or let a ball go beyond him. He absolutely must do the right thing. The air of Grant Field was charged with intensity of feeling, and Ken thought it was all his own. His baseball fortune was at stake, and he worked himself in such a frenzy that if a ball had been batted in his direction he might not have seen it at all. Fortunately none came his way.
The first time at bat he struck out ignominiously, poking weakly at the pitcher's out-curves. The second time he popped up a little fly. On the next trial the umpire called him out on strikes. At his last chance Ken was desperate. He knew the coach placed batting before any other department of the game. Almost sick with the torture of the conflicting feelings, Ken went up to the plate and swung blindly. To his amaze he cracked a hard fly to left-centre, far between the fielders. Like a startled deer Ken broke into a run. He turned first base and saw that he might stretch the hit into a three-bagger. He knew he could run, and never had he so exerted himself. Second base sailed under him, and he turned in line for the third. Watching Graves, he saw him run for the base and stand ready to catch the throw-in.
Without slacking his speed in the least Ken leaped into the air headlong for the base. He heard the crack of the ball as it hit Graves's glove. Then with swift scrape on hands and breast he was sliding in the dust. He stopped suddenly as if blocked by a stone wall. Something hard struck him on the head. A blinding light within his brain seemed to explode into glittering slivers. A piercing pain shot through him. Then from darkness and a great distance sounded a voice:
"Ward, I said I'd get you!"
That incident put Ken out of the practice for three days. He had a bruise over his ear as large as a small apple. Ken did not mind the pain nor the players' remarks that he had a swelled head anyway, but he remembered with slow-gathering wrath Graves's words: "I said I'd get you!"
He remembered also Graves's reply to a question put by the coach. "I was only tagging him. I didn't mean to hurt him." That rankled inside Ken. He kept his counsel, however, even evading a sharp query put by Arthurs, and as much as it was possible he avoided the third-baseman.
Hard practice was the order of every day, and most of it was batting. The coach kept at the candidates everlastingly, and always his cry was: "Toe the plate, left foot a little forward, step into the ball and swing!" At the bat Ken made favorable progress because the coach was always there behind him with encouraging words; in the field, however, he made a mess of it, and grew steadily worse.
The directors of the Athletic Association had called upon the old varsity to go out and coach the new aspirants for college fame. The varsity had refused. Even the players of preceding years, what few were in or near the city, had declined to help develop Wayne's stripling team. But some of the older graduates, among them several of the athletic directors, appeared on the field. When Arthurs saw them he threw up his hands in rage and despair. That afternoon Ken had three well-meaning but old-fashioned ball-players coach him in the outfield. He had them one at a time, which was all that saved him from utter distraction. One told him to judge a fly by the sound when the ball was hit. Another told him to play in close, and when the ball was batted to turn and run with it. The third said he must play deep and sprint in for the fly. Then each had different ideas as to how batters should be judged, about throwing to bases, about backing up the other fielders. Ken's bewilderment grew greater and greater. He had never heard of things they advocated, and he began to think he did not know anything about the game. And what made his condition of mind border on imbecility was a hurried whisper from Arthurs between innings: "Peg, don't pay the slightest attention to 'em fat-head grad. coaches."
Practice days succeeding that were worse nightmares to Ken Ward than the days he had spent in constant fear of the sophomores. It was a terribly feverish time of batting balls, chasing balls, and of having dinned into his ears thousands of orders, rules of play, talks on college spirit in athletics—all of which conflicted so that it was meaningless to him. During this dark time one ray of light was the fact that Arthurs never spoke a sharp word to him. Ken felt vaguely that he was whirling in some kind of a college athletic chaos, out of which he would presently emerge.
Toward the close of March the weather grew warm, the practice field dried up, and baseball should have been a joy to Ken. But it was not. At times he had a shameful wish to quit the field for good, but he had not the courage to tell the coach. The twenty-fifth, the day scheduled for the game with the disgraced varsity team, loomed closer and closer. Its approach was a fearful thing for Ken. Every day he cast furtive glances down the field to where the varsity held practice. Ken had nothing to say; he was as glum as most of the other candidates, but he had heard gossip in the lecture-rooms, in the halls, on the street, everywhere, and it concerned this game. What would the old varsity do to Arthurs' new team? Curiosity ran as high as the feeling toward the athletic directors. Resentment flowed from every source. Ken somehow got the impression that he was blamable for being a member of the coach's green squad. So Ken Ward fluctuated between two fears, one as bad as the other—that he would not be selected to play, and the other that he would be selected. It made no difference. He would be miserable if not chosen, and if he was—how on earth would he be able to keep his knees from wobbling? Then the awful day dawned.
Coach Arthurs met all his candidates at the cage. He came late, he explained, because he wanted to keep them off the field until time for practice. To-day he appeared more grave than worried, and where the boys expected a severe lecture, he simply said: "I'll play as many of you as I can. Do your best, that's all. Don't mind what these old players say. They were kids once, though they seem to have forgotten it. Try to learn from them."
It was the first time the candidates had been taken upon the regular diamond of Grant Field. Ken had peeped in there once to be impressed by the beautiful level playground, and especially the magnificent turreted grand-stand and the great sweeping stretches of bleachers. Then they had been empty; now, with four thousand noisy students and thousands of other spectators besides, they stunned him. He had never imagined a crowd coming to see the game.
Perhaps Arthurs had not expected it either, for Ken heard him mutter grimly to himself. He ordered practice at once, and called off the names of those he had chosen to start the game. As one in a trance Ken Ward found himself trotting out to right field.
A long-rolling murmur that was half laugh, half taunt, rose from the stands. Then it quickly subsided. From his position Ken looked for the players of the old varsity, but they had not yet come upon the field. Of the few balls batted to Ken in practice he muffed only one, and he was just beginning to feel that he might acquit himself creditably when the coach called the team in. Arthurs had hardly given his new players time enough to warm up, but likewise they had not had time to make any fumbles.
All at once a hoarse roar rose from the stands, then a thundering clatter of thousands of feet as the students greeted the appearance of the old varsity. It was applause that had in it all the feeling of the undergraduates for the championship team, many of whom they considered had been unjustly barred by the directors. Love, loyalty, sympathy, resentment—all pealed up to the skies in that acclaim. It rolled out over the heads of Arthurs' shrinking boys as they huddled together on the bench.
Ken Ward, for one, was flushing and thrilling. In that moment he lost his gloom. He watched the varsity come trotting across the field, a doughty band of baseball warriors. Each wore a sweater with the huge white "W" shining like a star. Many of those players had worn that honored varsity letter for three years. It did seem a shame to bar them from this season's team. Ken found himself thinking of the matter from their point of view, and his sympathy was theirs.
More than that, he gloried in the look of them, in the trained, springy strides, in the lithe, erect forms, in the assurance in every move. Every detail of that practice photographed itself upon Ken Ward's memory, and he knew he would never forget.
There was Dale, veteran player, captain and pitcher of the nine, hero of victories over Place and Herne. There was Hogan, catcher for three seasons, a muscular fellow, famed for his snap-throw to the bases and his fiendish chasing of foul flies. There was Hickle, the great first-baseman, whom the professional leagues were trying to get. What a reach he had; how easily he scooped in the ball; low, high, wide, it made no difference to him. There was Canton at second, Hollis at short, Burns at third, who had been picked for the last year's All-American College Team. Then there was Dreer, brightest star of all, the fleet, hard-hitting centre-fielder. This player particularly fascinated Ken. It was a beautiful sight to see him run. The ground seemed to fly behind him. When the ball was hit high he wheeled with his back to the diamond and raced out, suddenly to turn with unerring judgment—and the ball dropped into his hands. On low line hits he showed his fleetness, for he was like a gleam of light in his forward dash; and, however the ball presented, shoulder high, low by his knees, or on a short bound, he caught it. Ken Ward saw with despairing admiration what it meant to be a great outfielder.
Then Arthurs called "Play ball!" giving the old varsity the field.
With a violent start Ken Ward came out of his rhapsody. He saw a white ball tossed on the diamond. Dale received it from one of the fielders and took his position in the pitcher's box. The uniform set off his powerful form; there was something surly and grimly determined in his face. He glanced about to his players, as if from long habit, and called out gruffly: "Get in the game, fellows! No runs for this scrub outfit!" Then, with long-practised swing, he delivered the ball. It travelled plateward swift as the flight of a white swallow. The umpire called it a strike on Weir; the same on the next pitch; the third was wide. Weir missed the fourth and was out. Raymond followed on the batting list. To-day, as he slowly stepped toward the plate, seemingly smaller and glummer than ever, it was plain he was afraid. The bleachers howled at the little green cap sticking over his ear. Raymond did not swing at the ball; he sort of reached out his bat at the first three pitches, stepping back from the plate each time. The yell that greeted his weak attempt seemed to shrivel him up. Also it had its effect on the youngsters huddling around Arthurs. Graves went up and hit a feeble grounder to Dale and was thrown out at first.
Ken knew the half-inning was over; he saw the varsity players throw aside their gloves and trot in. But either he could not rise or he was glued to the bench. Then Arthurs pulled him up, saying, "Watch sharp, Peg, these fellows are right-field hitters!" At the words all Ken's blood turned to ice. He ran out into the field fighting the coldest, most sickening sensation he ever had in his life. The ice in his veins all went to the pit of his stomach and there formed into a heavy lump. Other times when he had been frightened flitted through his mind. It had been bad when he fought with Greaser, and worse when he ran with the outlaws in pursuit, and the forest fire was appalling. But Ken felt he would gladly have changed places at that moment. He dreaded the mocking bleachers.
Of the candidates chosen to play against the varsity Ken knew McCord at first, Raymond at second, Weir at short, Graves at third. He did not know even the names of the others. All of them, except Graves, appeared too young to play in that game.
Dreer was first up for the varsity, and Ken shivered all over when the lithe centre-fielder stepped to the left side of the plate. Ken went out deeper, for he knew most hard-hitting left-handers hit to right field. But Dreer bunted the first ball teasingly down the third-base line. Fleet as a deer, he was across the bag before the infielder reached the ball. Hollis was next up. On the first pitch, as Dreer got a fast start for second, Hollis bunted down the first-base line. Pitcher and baseman ran for the bunt; Hollis was safe, and the sprinting Dreer went to third without even drawing a throw. A long pealing yell rolled over the bleachers. Dale sent coaches to the coaching lines. Hickle, big and formidable, hurried to the plate, swinging a long bat. He swung it as if he intended to knock the ball out of the field. When the pitcher lifted his arm Dreer dashed for home-base, and seemed beating the ball. But Hickle deftly dumped it down the line and broke for first while Dreer scored. This bunt was not fielded at all. How the bleachers roared! Then followed bunts in rapid succession, dashes for first, and slides into the bag. The pitcher interfered with the third-baseman, and the first-baseman ran up the line, and the pitcher failed to cover the bag, and the catcher fell all over the ball. Every varsity man bunted, but in just the place where it was not expected. They raced around the bases. They made long runs from first to third. They were like flashes of light, slippery as eels. The bewildered infielders knew they were being played with. The taunting "boo-hoos" and screams of delight from the bleachers were as demoralizing as the illusively daring runners. Closer and closer the infielders edged in until they were right on top of the batters. Then Dale and his men began to bunt little infield flies over the heads of their opponents. The merry audience cheered wildly. But Graves and Raymond ran back and caught three of these little pop flies, thus retiring the side. The old varsity had made six runs on nothing but deliberate bunts and daring dashes around the bases.
Ken hurried in to the bench and heard some one call out, "Ward up!"
He had forgotten he would have to bat. Stepping to the plate was like facing a cannon. One of the players yelled: "Here he is, Dale! Here's the potato-pegger! Knock his block off!"
The cry was taken up by other players. "Peg him, Dale! Peg him, Dale!" And then the bleachers got it. Ken's dry tongue seemed pasted to the roof of his mouth. This Dale in baseball clothes with the lowering frown was not like the Dale Ken had known. Suddenly he swung his arm. Ken's quick eye caught the dark, shooting gleam of the ball. Involuntarily he ducked. "Strike," called the umpire. Then Dale had not tried to hit him. Ken stepped up again. The pitcher whirled slowly this time, turning with long, easy motion, and threw underhand. The ball sailed, floated, soared. Long before it reached Ken it had fooled him completely. He chopped at it vainly. The next ball pitched came up swifter, but just before it crossed the plate it seemed to stop, as if pulled back by a string, and then dropped down. Ken fell to his knees trying to hit it.
The next batter's attempts were not as awkward as Ken's, still they were as futile. As Ken sat wearily down upon the bench he happened to get next to coach Arthurs. He expected some sharp words from the coach, he thought he deserved anything, but they were not forthcoming. The coach put his hand on Ken's knee. When the third batter fouled to Hickle, and Ken got up to go out to the field, he summoned courage to look at Arthurs. Something in his face told Ken what an ordeal this was. He divined that it was vastly more than business with Worry Arthurs.
"Peg, watch out this time," whispered the coach. "They'll line 'em at you this inning—like bullets. Now try hard, won't you? Just try!"
Ken knew from Arthurs' look more than his words that trying was all that was left for the youngsters. The varsity had come out early in the spring, and they had practised to get into condition to annihilate this new team practically chosen by the athletic directors. And they had set out to make the game a farce. But Arthurs meant that all the victory was not in winning the game. It was left for his boys to try in the face of certain defeat, to try with all their hearts, to try with unquenchable spirit. It was the spirit that counted, not the result. The old varsity had received a bitter blow; they were aggressive and relentless. The students and supporters of old Wayne, idolizing the great team, always bearing in mind the hot rivalry with Place and Herne, were unforgiving and intolerant of an undeveloped varsity. Perhaps neither could be much blamed. But it was for the new players to show what it meant to them. The greater the prospect of defeat, the greater the indifference or hostility shown them, the more splendid their opportunity. For it was theirs to try for old Wayne, to try, to fight, and never to give up.