Tom Fairfield's Pluck and Luck
Working to Clear His Name
AUTHOR OF "TOM FAIRFIELD'S SCHOOLDAYS," "TOM FAIRFIELD AT SEA," "THE DAREWELL CHUMS SERIES," "BOYS OF PLUCK SERIES," ETC.
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
Copyrighted 1913, by
CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
TOM FAIRFIELD'S PLUCK AND LUCK
I. AN INDIGNATION MEETING II. BRAZEN DEFIANCE III. THE ADVICE OF BRUCE IV. HOW SAM TOLD IT V. TOM DECIDES VI. ON THE GRIDIRON VII. A CROSS-COUNTRY RUN VIII. LOST IN THE WOODS IX. AN ANGRY FARMER X. A HAY STACK FIRE XI. HOT WORK XII. ACCUSATIONS XIII. THE POISONED HORSES XIV. SAM HELLER'S EVIDENCE XV. TOM'S SILENCE XVI. TOM SEEKS CLEWS XVII. THE EMPTY BOTTLE XVIII. ON THE TRAIL XIX. DISAPPOINTMENT XX. MORE SEEKING XXI. IN THE STORM XXII. THE RAGGED MAN XXIII. THE PURSUIT XXIV. CORNERED XXV. EXPLANATIONS
TOM FAIRFIELD'S PLUCK AND LUCK
AN INDIGNATION MEETING
"Well, well, by all that's good! If it isn't Tom Fairfield back again! How are you, old man?"
"Oh, fine and dandy! My! but it's good to see the old place again, Morse," and the tall, good-looking lad whom the other had greeted so effusively held out his hand—a firm, brown hand that told of a summer spent in the open.
"Any of our boys back, Morse?" went on Tom Fairfield, as he looked around the campus of Elmwood Hall. "I thought I'd meet Bert Wilson or Jack Fitch on my way up, but I missed 'em. How are you, anyhow?"
"Fit as a fiddle. Say, you're looking as if you had enjoyed your vacation."
"I sure did! You're not looking bad yourself. Able to sit up and take nourishment, I guess."
"You've struck it, Tom. But what did you do with yourself all summer?"
"Jack, Bert and another chum of mine went camping, and, believe me, we had some times!"
"So I heard. I had a letter from Jack the other day. He mentioned something about a secret of the mill, the crazy hermit and all that sort. Say, but you did go some."
"That's right. It was great while it lasted. How about you?" and Tom looked at his friend, Morse Denton, anxious to hear about his good times.
"Oh, I went with my folks to the shore. Had a pretty good summer—motorboating, canoeing with the girls, and all that. But I got a bit tired of it. I came back early to get some of the football material into shape for this fall," and Morse Denton, who had been captain of the Freshman eleven, and who was later elected as regular captain, looked at Tom, as if sizing him up as available pigskin material.
"Well, I guess none of our crowd has shown up yet," went on Tom. "I fancied I'd be a day or so early, as I wanted to have a good pick of rooms. Got yours, yet?"
"Sure thing. I attended to that first. But there are some fine ones left. Come on over to Hollywood Hall, and we'll see what'll suit you. Try and get one next to mine if you can. Are Bert and Jack going to room with you?"
"They are if we can get a place that will hold us."
"That isn't as easy as it sounds with the way you fellows do things. But there's one nice big study near mine."
"Then I'll just annex it. Say! But it's good to be back. The old place hasn't changed any," and Tom looked around admiringly at the groups of buildings that made up Elmwood Hall. His gaze strolled over the green campus, which would soon be alive with students, and then to the baseball diamond and the football gridiron, on which latter field the battle of the pigskin over the chalk marks would soon be waged.
"Well, they've done some painting and fixing up during vacation," said Morse, as he linked his arm in that of Tom and the two walked on together toward Hollywood Hall, the official dormitory of the Sophomore class. "The gridiron has been leveled off a bit and some new seats put up. Land knows we needed 'em! We'll have some great games this year. You'll play, of course, Tom?"
"Maybe—if I'm asked."
"Oh, you'll be asked all right," laughed Morse. "Did you expect Bert and Jack would be here?"
"I didn't know but what they might. I haven't seen 'em for the last two weeks. After we closed our camp Bert went up in the country, where his folks were stopping, and Jack took a little coasting trip on a fishing boat. We were to meet here, but they must be delayed. However, school doesn't open for a day or so. But I want to get my place in shape."
"Good idea. That's what I did. Well, here we are," Morse added as the two came opposite a large building. "Let's go in and see what Old Balmy has in stock."
They advanced into the dormitory, being met in the lower hall by a pleasant-faced German who greeted them with:
"Ach! Goot afternoons, gentlemans. Und it iss rooms vat you are seeking?"
"Rooms it is, Herr Balmgester," replied Morse. "My friend, Tom Fairfield, here, wants that big one next to mine."
"Vat! Dot large room for one lad?"
"Oh, I've got two friends coming," explained Tom. "I had a double room over in the Ball and Bat," he added, referring to the Freshman dormitory, "but there'll be three of us here."
"Ach! Dot iss goot! Two boys makes troubles," and the German monitor of the Sophomore dormitory held up two fingers. "Three is besser—vat one does not vant to do ven der oder two does makes like a safety-valve; ain't it yes?" and he laughed ponderously.
"Oh, we'll be good," promised Tom, with a wink at Morse. "Let's see the room."
It proved all that could be desired in the way of a study and sleeping apartment for three healthy, fun-loving lads, and Tom at once signed for it, feeling sure that his two chums, when they did arrive, would approve of his choice.
"Well, now that's done, come on into town, and I'll treat you to ice cream," invited Morse, for though it was late in September the day was warm. "I'm in funds now," went on the football captain, "and I may not be—later," he added with a grim smile.
"Oh, I don't know," said Tom, hesitatingly. "I rather thought I'd hang around. Maybe Jack or Bert will come, and—"
"They can't get here until the five o'clock train, now," declared Morse. "You've got time enough to go to town and be back again. Come ahead."
"All right," assented Tom. "Wait until I get the porter to fetch my trunk from the station."
The check having been given to the porter, Tom and his chum strolled toward the trolley line that would take them into the small city of Elmwood.
"Here comes the human interrogation point!" exclaimed Morse, when they were almost at the trolley line.
"I thought he wasn't coming back to school," remarked Tom, looking around.
"He did say he wasn't, but I guess his folks made him. He wanted to branch out for himself and be a lawyer, I believe. He sure would be great on cross-examining witnesses with the way he asks questions," finished Morse with a laugh.
A small lad was approaching the two friends on the run, and, as he neared them, he called out:
"Hello, Morse! Say, Tom Fairfield, when did you get in? Did you have a good time? I hear you went camping and discovered a hidden treasure. Did it amount to much? How much did you get? Where's Jack and Bert? Are you going in for football? Where are you rooming?"
Tom and Morse came to a stop. They eyed each other solemnly. Then Tom said gravely:
"Isn't it a shame; and he's so young, too!"
"Yes," assented Morse with a mournful shake of his head. "I understand that his case is hopeless. They are going to provide a keeper for him."
"Say, look here, you fellows!" exclaimed the small lad. "What's eating you, anyhow? What do you mean by that line of talk?"
"Oh, he heard us!" gasped Tom, in pretended confusion. "I didn't think he had any rational moments. But he has. There, Georgie," he went on soothingly. "Go lie down in the shade, and you'll be all right in a little while. Do you suffer much?"
"Say, what's the joke?" demanded George Abbot, the small lad referred to. "Can't I ask you a question, without being insulted and called crazy?"
"Sure you can, Why," replied Tom, giving the lad the nick-name bestowed on him because of his many interrogations. "Of course you can ask one question, or even two, but you can't fire broadsides at us in that fashion. Remember that we have weak hearts."
"And our constitutions are not strong," added Morse.
"Oh, you be hanged!" murmured George. "If you can't—"
"Oh, come along!" invited Tom, catching him by the arm. "We're going to town. It's Morse's treat. Yes, George, I did have a bang-up time on my vacation. I'll tell you all about it later."
The three were soon on a trolley car and, a little later, they had reached the town, heading for a drug store where ice cream sodas were a specialty.
"It goes to the right spot!" exclaimed Tom gratefully, as he finished what was set before him. "What do you say to a moving picture show? It will pass the time until the last train gets in. Then for some fun to-night, if Jack and Bert show up."
The others were willing, and soon, in company with some other Elmwood Hall students whom they met, the boys went to the place of the moving pictures.
"Well, it's almost time for the choo-choo cars to sand-paper in," remarked Tom a little later, looking at his watch as he and Morse paced the depot platform.
"Yes, there she blows," remarked his companion, as a distant whistle sounded.
"There they are!"
"Hello, you old skate!"
"You got here ahead of us!"
"And there's Morse Denton!"
"'Rah for Elmwood Hall!"
"I see Joe Rooney."
"Yes, and there's Lew Bentfield."
"Hello, Bruce! Bruce Bennington," yelled Tom.
"Hello Tom! Didn't expect to see me back; did you?" and a tall, well-browned lad, somewhat older than the others, leaped from the still-moving train, and grasped our hero's hand.
The other remarks, preceding Thorn's, had come so fast and in such confusion that it is impossible to declare who said which or what. Then, when Tom had greeted Bruce, the Senior who owed so much to him—a Senior who had returned for a post-graduate course—our hero spied some others of his chums on the train.
"Jack! Jack Fitch!" he yelled. "Hello, Bert—Bert Wilson! I've been waiting for you!"
"There he is! There's Tom!" yelled Jack, hauling in the head of his chum Bert from one window, only to poke his own cranium out of another. "Hurray!"
There was a rush of many feet, a tossing about of valises and suit cases, the hoarse cries of hack drivers and expressmen, and, above all, the greetings of the students, the smack of meeting palms and the pistol-like reports of clappings on backs and shoulders.
"Three cheers for Elmwood Hall!" cried someone. They were given, and a "Tiger" was called for, followed by the school yell.
"Say, Tom," began Jack Fitch, when he could get his breath. "What about a room? Let's slip off and get one before this mob takes 'em all."
"Go easy, son; go easy," advised Tom calmly. "All is provided for. Just tell the man to send your luggage to Hollywood Hall, and all will be well. Same to you, Bert. I've got a swell apartment for us three, near where Morse hangs out."
"Good for you!" cried Bert.
"Trust Tom to look out for the sleeps and eats," laughed Jack. "Oh, but it's good to be back!"
"Just what I said," declared Tom. "There's lots of good times in prospect."
Together the four chums, followed by others of their acquaintance, moved toward the Sophomore dormitory. The five o'clock train had brought in many students, all of whom were in a hurry to pick out their rooms.
"Say, this is a swell place all right," declared Bert, a little later, when Tom had ushered his two chums into the cozy apartment he had reserved.
"All to the plush furniture," added Jack. "You're all right, Tom. How is it for getting in after hours?"
"Fine. It's right near a rear stairway. Oh, I saw to that all right. And the monitor is Old Balmy—we can work him easy."
"Fine!" cried Bert. "Now let's get things straightened out, and unpack some of our duds," for their baggage had arrived ere they had done admiring their new quarters.
"We're Sophs now—don't forget that," advised Tom. "No more Freshmen!"
"And we can do some hazing on our own account," added Jack. "Oh, glorious!"
There came a knock on the door.
"Come!" invited Tom.
The portal swung open to admit the form and features of little George Abbot.
"Are you all here? When did you and Bert come? Is there any——"
"Stop!" thundered Tom, catching up a heavy baseball glove. "Halt in your tracks, or it will be the worse for you! One more question, and—"
"You wait until you hear this one," said George calmly. "Maybe you don't want to, though," he added mysteriously.
"What is it?" asked Jack, struck by something in the manner of the human question box, and Tom lowered the glove.
"I was going to ask if you'd heard the news," went on George. "But if you don't want to——"
"Go ahead, Why," invited Bert. "I'll listen, anyhow. What's the news?"
"Sam Heller and Nick Johnson just arrived in a big touring car. Sam says it's his."
"Sam Heller here?"
"And Nick Johnson?"
"In a touring car?"
Tom, Jack and Bert asked the questions in turn. They fairly glared at George. The latter, satisfied with the impression he had produced, sank into an easy chair.
"They're here," he went on. "I just saw 'em come, and they're headed this way."
"Sam and Nick going to room in the same dormitory with us!" gasped Bert.
"After what they did?" asked Jack.
"Helping to capture and hold us fellows prisoners," said Tom bitterly.
"We won't stand for it!" declared Bert vigorously.
"I should say not!" came from Jack indignantly. "We will have to do something—protest—make a class matter of it. After what happened at the old mill, for those snobs to have the nerve to come back to Elmwood Hall. Why—"
"It is rather raw," interrupted Tom. "What shall we do?"
"Let's go out and confront 'em," suggested Bert. "If they have the nerve to meet us face to face—well, I don't believe they will have—that's all."
"Come on!" urged Jack, and he caught hold of Tom's arm and led him forth to face their common enemies. The meeting of the chums, that had started off so jollily, was now a session of indignation.
Talking over the unexpected news George Abbot had brought to them, and planning what they would say to the two lads who had done so much to injure them, our hero and his chums hurried out of the dormitory and across the school campus.
"Where did you see 'em, George?" asked Jack, looking at the small youth who had such fondness for asking questions.
"They just got in—fine big auto—they're over at 'Pop' Swab's soda emporium, filling up on ginger ale, and poking fun at some of the new fellows."
"Just like 'em," murmured Tom. "We'll do something more than poke fun at 'em when we see 'em."
"That's what," added Jack.
"Maybe they aren't going to stay—they may have just come here for a bluff, and are going away again," suggested Bert.
"How about that, George?" asked Tom, and the small lad, who was too much engrossed with the possibility of some excitement presently to ask his usual number of questions, replied:
"I guess they're going to stay all right. I heard Sam tell Nick to hurry up and pick out a room in Hollywood Hall, or all the best ones would be gone."
"By Jove!" ejaculated Jack. "They mean to stay all right!"
"If we let 'em," added Bert significantly.
"Come on," urged Tom. "If we're going to have a run-in with 'em, let's have it in the open, before they get in the dormitory."
And while our hero and his chums are thus hastening to meet the lads who had played such a mean trick on them that summer may I be permitted a few pages in which to make my new readers a little better acquainted with Tom Fairfield?
Tom, aged about sixteen, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Brokaw Fairfield. He lived in the village of Briartown, on the Pine river, and had much sport running his motorboat on that stream.
In the first volume of this series, entitled, "Tom Fairfield's Schooldays," I related how Tom's father and mother had to go to Australia to claim some property left by a relative. As it was not convenient to take Tom along he was sent to school—Elmwood Hall—where he boarded and studied.
Tom at once made friends and enemies, as any lad would. But his enemies were few, the two principal ones being Sam Heller and Nick Johnson, and they cordially hated our hero. Tom's chief friend was Jack Fitch, with whom he roomed, though Bert Wilson, George Abbot, Joe Rooney, Lew Bentfield, Ed. Ward, Henry Miller and a host of others were on intimate terms with him. I might also mention Bruce Bennington, a Senior when Tom reached Elmwood Hall, and with whom Tom soon became friendly.
Dr. Pliny Meredith was headmaster at Elmwood. He was sometimes called "Merry" because, as Jack Fitch used to say, he was so glum. But he was a gentleman. Not so Professor Skeel, who was a taskmaster. It was against Mr. Skeel that Tom led a revolt because of the professor's meanness in Latin class.
How the boys went on a strike, how they were made prisoners, how they escaped in a great storm, burned the effigy of Mr. Skeel at the flag pole, and how Tom won the strike—all this is set down in the first volume. There is also told how Tom saved Bruce Bennington from disgrace, and was the means of Mr. Skeel fleeing in fear of discovery.
In the second book, entitled, "Tom Fairfield at Sea," I told how our hero learned that the vessel on which his parents were sailing from Australia had been wrecked. He at once set out to make the long voyage to try to find some news of them or, if possible, to rescue them.
The steamer on which Tom sailed was wrecked, and he and some sailors, together with a little boy, floated for some time on a derelict with which the Silver Star had collided. On the derelict, most unexpectedly, came Professor Skeel, who was on his way to Honolulu when the accident happened.
The dreary days of suffering oh the derelict, and in an open boat, the meanness of Mr. Skeel and how Tom and his companions were finally rescued, is all set down in the second book of this series. Tom finally reached Australia and, setting out again, was just in time to rescue his parents from the savages of one of the South Pacific islands.
Tom reached home in time to go back to school and take his second-year examinations, which he passed, thus becoming a Sophomore.
Then came the long summer vacation, and as Tom had had enough of travel he decided to go to the woods. In the third volume, called "Tom Fairfield in Camp," I told of his experiences in the forest. With him went Jack Fitch, Bert Wilson and a Briartown lad named Dick Jones.
Almost at the first Tom and his chums ran into a mystery. Near where they pitched their tents there was an old mill where there was said to be a treasure hidden. But an old hermit who owned the mill was seeking for the treasure, and he was not the most pleasant character in the world. At the very start he threatened the boys and tried to drive them from the woods.
But they decided to have a hunt for the treasure. It did not add to their pleasure to learn that Mr. Skeel, who had returned from Honolulu, was also camping near the mysterious mill, and, most unexpectedly our friends also learned that Sam Heller and Nick Johnson were also in the same woods.
Tom and his friends had many experiences in camp, and with the old hermit. Finally their motorboat was taken, and they were in sore straits. But still they kept after the treasure.
Then Bert, Jack and Dick mysteriously disappeared from camp. Tom suspected Mr. Skeel, and the two school bullies, Sam and Nick, of having had some sort of a hand in the kidnapping of his chums.
How he traced them, recovered his boat, and found the secret passage into the old mill, you will find told in my third book. Also how Tom accidentally discovered the hidden room and the place where the treasure was concealed. Mr. Skeel and the two Elmwood lads, who had held Jack, Dick and Bert prisoners, fled in alarm, and the old hermit, restored to his right mind through the finding of his wealth, lived a peaceful life thereafter.
Once the secret of the mill was discovered, Tom and his chums had an enjoyable time in camp. They remained until it was almost time for school to begin, and then returned to their several homes.
And now, once more, they were together in Elmwood Hall, and, most unexpectedly, had come the news of the return of the two bullies, Sam and Nick. It was startling news, in a way, for, after the mean fashion in which the two cronies had treated Tom's chums, when they were held prisoners in the old mill, Tom scarcely believed that Sam and Nick would dare show their faces at Elmwood Hall again.
"And yet they're here," said our hero, as he and the others hurried on across the broad campus.
"And they're going to stay, if what George says is true," added Jack.
"Oh, it's true enough," declared the questioning lad.
"There they are!" suddenly exclaimed Bert Wilson, pointing toward a small building just outside of the school property. It was a shack where "Pop" Swab sold soda and "pop," from which he took his name.
"Yes, that's them all right," assented Tom.
"And some car they have," added Jack. "I wonder where they got it?"
"They won't have it long, if they treat it as recklessly as that," commented Bert, for the two lads having leaped into the auto, Sam threw in the gears so clumsily that the machine was stalled, with a grinding that did not augur well for the mechanism.
It was evident that the two cronies, having satisfied their thirst, were about to drive on, but Sam's error made it necessary for him to get out to crank the car again. This gave our friends a chance to come up to them.
Sam had his back to them, as he bent over to take hold of the crank, but something Nick said in a low voice caused him to turn around. Then he saw Tom and the others.
There was something In Tom's manner that caused Sam to take an attitude of defence, though our hero had no intention of coming to blows with the bully.
The oncoming party of lads came to a halt a short distance from the auto, and Sam, straightening up, surveyed them, a shade of wonder, not unmixed with apprehension, passing over his face. Nick, sitting in the car, openly sneered.
"So you've come back," spoke Tom cuttingly.
"Of course we have," answered Sam, breathing a little easier, as he saw that he was in no immediate danger.
"And we're going to stay," added Nick with a laugh.
"You are?" Jack almost yelled.
"We certainly are," was the answer. "This is a free country, you know; and we've paid for our board. See you later, fellows. Crank her up, Sam!"
The brazen effrontery of the two amazed our friends. They had not believed that the two cronies would come back. And that they would dare remain, after what they had done, seemed incredible.
"Are you in earnest?" asked Bert, raising his voice to be heard above the thundering exhaust of the auto which Sam started.
"Of course we are," declared Sam calmly, as he took his seat. "What's the matter with you fellows, anyhow? Why shouldn't we stay?"
"You know why you shouldn't stay!" cried Tom, shaking his finger at Sam and Nick. "After the mean trick you played on Bert and Jack, standing guard over them in the old mill, in league with that scoundrel Skeel—giving Jack and Bert only bread and water—after that you dare come back here and expect to be treated decently? Well, you're expecting too much, that's all I've got to say! We'll make Elmwood Hall too hot to hold you! You'll live in Coventry all the while you're here. You won't get a decent——"
"Oh, get out of my way, Fairfield, or I'll run you down!" snapped Sam, as he threw in the gear and released the clutch, and, had our hero not leaped back, he would have been struck by the heavy touring car.
"Well, of all the gigantic, unmitigated nerve!" gasped Jack, as he stared at the swiftly moving car. "That is the limit!"
THE ADVICE OF BRUCE
The silence amid the group of Tom's friends, punctuated at first by the exhaust from the car, was finally broken by Bert Wilson, who asked:
"Well, Tom, what do you think of that?"
"I don't know what to think," was the answer, given slowly. "It gets me!"
"And it does all of us," added Jack. "In the first place, I never thought Sam and Nick would have the nerve to come back, but since they had, I surely thought they'd cave in when they saw we meant business."
"So did I," agreed Bert. "But since they haven't, what's to be done?"
"There's only one thing," decided Jack. "We've got to expose 'em, that's what!"
"Sure!" cried George Abbot, getting a bit excited. "Let the whole school know what they did to you, and I guess that will end things for them at Elmwood Hall."
"It seems to be the only way," agreed Tom. "Of course I'm out of it, in a way, for they didn't keep me locked up In the old mill, with nothing but bread and water. But they did Bert and Jack, and that's the same thing. And there's Dick to be thought of. Of course he isn't an Elmwood lad, though he may be soon, for he wants to come here. But I feel that I ought to take his part."
"Sure!" chorused Jack and Bert, while the former added grimly: "We're on the job, and can look after ourselves. You can represent Dick, Tom, and we'll form a combination."
"To run them out of this school!" exclaimed Bert with energy.
"That being the case," went on Tom, "we'll have to consider the ways and means of doing it. Of course Nick, being a Junior, isn't in the same class with Sam. If it had been two Juniors who acted the way those fellow did I don't know that we would have such a kick coming, but when a member of your own class turns against you it's time to do something!"
"Hurray!" cried George. "What are you going to do, fellows? Will you let me in on it? Will you haze 'em? Say, you'll let me have part in it; won't you?"
"Hold on, George!" begged Tom with a smile. "Just shut off your gas, throw back your spark, and put on the brakes. You're skidding a bit."
"Aw, say, I want to be in on it," begged the small chap earnestly.
"Oh, you will be all right," Jack assured him.
"The whole Sophomore class will be in it when we give those fellows the lesson they need."
"I'd—I'd like to———" began Bert energetically as he clenched his fists and look at the departing car, which was now almost hidden in a cloud of dust. "I'm going to———"
"Hold on," broke in Tom soothingly. "Let me prescribe for you, Bertie my boy," and taking his arm he steered his chum around and toward the little shack where Pop Swab held forth.
As they filed into the little building two other school lads passed by.
"What's going on?" asked Bruce Bennington, one of the twain.
"Oh, it's Tom Fairfield and some of his chums," answered Morse Denton. "I don't know just what the row is, but I heard that Sam Heller and Nick Johnson played some kind of a mean trick on Tom and Bert and Jack this summer. I don't just know the particulars."
"That's so," agreed Bruce. "I did hear something about it. Feel like having some pop?"
"Not now, and if any of those fellows expect to make the eleven this fall I'll have to make them cut it out."
"Right! How's football coming on?"
"Oh, I've got some good material, and I expect more when the new fellows begin to arrive."
"Going to play Tom Fairfield?"
"I sure am, if he'll train properly, and I think he will. I want him for one of the backs. He's a sure ground gainer, quick on his feet, he holds the ball fast and he can kick well."
"I hope he makes good," went on Bruce. "Well, I'm going to cut away. I want to see the doctor, and arrange about my studies."
The two strolled over the green campus, arm in arm, and they had hardly gone a dozen steps before, from the little store of Pop Swab, there come pouring Tom and his friends, all talking at once.
"That's what we'll do!"
"A class matter of it—sure!"
"We'll work the Coventry game to the limit!"
"And if it comes to a fight——"
"They'll get all they want!"
These were only a few of the remarks that came to the ears of Bruce and Morse.
"Something doing back there," remarked the football captain, nodding his head toward the rear.
"Yes," agreed Bruce, "and I don't like it, either."
"Why not? It's only Tom and his chums talking over what they're going to do to Sam and Nick, I expect."
"Yes, and that's why I don't like it."
"Why not?" asked Morse.
"It may have a bad effect on the whole school. Class disputes always do. If a class doesn't hang together———"
"They'll hang———" began Morse, about to perpetrate the old joke of "hanging separately," when Bruce laughingly interrupted with the remark:
"Now that'll do you. There's a five spot fine for using that classic so early in the season. But you know what I mean. It won't do to have class dissension."
"No, you're right. But maybe it will work itself out."
While Bruce and Morse went their ways, Tom and his chums, talking excitedly, went to Tom's room. He had some new rods and a gun he wanted to exhibit, but, most of all, he wanted to give his friends the whole history of the summer's adventures.
"Now go ahead," invited Joe Rooney, when they were all seated, more or less comfortably, on the beds and chairs in the room of the three chums. "Let's have the whole yarn."
And Tom began, telling the story of the secret of the old mill. He had not proceeded far ere there came a knock on the door.
"Come!" invited Tom, after a moment's hesitation, during which he recalled that, as the term had not officially started, there could be no danger from prowling monitors, or suspicious professors. The door opened and Bruce Bennington entered.
"Hello, Bruce, old stock!" greeted Tom, rising and holding out his hand. "Glad to see you! Here, some of you fellows get up and give one of our betters a seat."
"Not a one! Not a one!" exclaimed Bruce, holding up a protesting hand. "The floor's good enough for me."
But several chairs being offered by admiring Sophomores, who knew how to appreciate one of the best-loved lads in Elmwood Hall, Bruce accepted a seat.
"Go ahead, Tom," he suggested. "Don't let me interrupt the festivities. I don't want to be the skeleton at the feast."
"Oh, I was only telling the fellows how Sam and Nick acted this summer," proceeded our hero. "And, as I was saying," he resumed, "they captured Bert, Jack and my friend, from home, Dick Jones.
"They sneaked up on 'em while I was away from camp, mauled 'em something fierce, and tied 'em up. Then they held em prisoners for several days———"
"On bread and water," interrupted Jack. "Don't forget that, Tommy my boy!"
"That's right," added Bert with a sorrowful sigh at the recollection. "I was nearly starved before you rescued us."
"And that's what they did," concluded Tom, telling the final details. "Now the question is, what had we better do to such cads when they come back to school and expect to be treated decently? What ought we to do?"
There was silence for a moment, and then Bruce Bennington asked quietly:
"May I say something?"
"Surest thing you know!" came promptly from Tom.
"Then I'm going to give you a bit or advice," went on the older lad. "You may follow it, or not, but I feel it's my duty to offer it. And it's this. I've heard the whole story now, and I know how you fellows must feel. But my advice is—to do nothing at all to Sam and Nick."
HOW SAM TOLD IT
For a few seconds there was silence in Tom's room. All eyes were fixed on Bruce Bennington, but the latter bore the scrutiny well. Then came gasps of surprise, and one or two mutterings. Bruce heard them, and smiled.
"Come!" he invited with a laugh. "Out with it. I know what you are thinking. Speak up, Tom—and the rest of you."
"Did you—did you really mean that?" asked Tom slowly, "or was it a joke?"
"It wasn't a joke, certainly. I'm in earnest," and the smile faded from the face of Bruce Bennington.
"But what do you mean?" insisted Tom. "After the way those fellows treated Jack and Bert—to say nothing of having practically stolen my motorboat, together with the help of the old hermit and Mr. Skeel—not to do anything to 'em!"
"That's it, Tom. Let it drop, is my advice."
"But why? I can't see why, Bruce."
"Because it will make a heap of trouble in the school, that's why. Look here, Tom. You know you and Sam, to say nothing of Nick, haven't been on good terms from the start; have you?"
"No, but it was Sam's fault. I had no quarrel with him."
"I know that. I'm not saying but what you're in the right. But it's the effect of the thing I'm looking at. Tom, do you want to see two factions in the Sophomore class? Two bunches of fellows, one striving against the other? Do you?"
"No, I don't know as I do. But once we get rid of Sam, Nick will take himself off, too, and then everything will be fine."
"I'm not so sure of that. You might drive Sam out of Elmwood, but I doubt it. And look here, Tom. You know there's going to be a big Freshman class this year."
"So I heard, but what has that got to do with it?"
"Lots. You know, without my telling you, that the Sophs and Freshies are mortal enemies. There'll be hazing to do—whisper it of course—and with the Sophomore class divided against itself, where are you second-year chaps going to be when the Freshies cut up—let me ask you that?"
"How will the class be divided?" inquired Jack.
"Why, if you make this fight against Sam you can't expect his friends to hob-nob with you when it comes to hectoring the Freshies."
"Sam hasn't any friends!" burst out Bert.
"Oh, don't you fool yourself," said Bruce quickly. "Sam has money, and no fellow with cash need be without friends—or at least fellows who call themselves such. Then, too, he's got a big car I understand, and that will go a great ways toward making friends for him. Besides, there's Nick to count on. His friends will be Sam's, and Nick has quite a few, as he isn't such a bully as Sam is. Nick's a Junior now, and the Juniors will side with the Freshmen.
"Now I don't want to be a croaker, or a death's head at this gay party, but you mark my words, if you carry this fight against Sam to the limit it will mean a heap of trouble for the school. And, more than that, the Sophomore class will be torn apart.
"Don't do it!" pleaded Bruce, arising in his earnestness, and addressing Tom's chums. "Let it drop, or, if you feel that you have to get even, do it some other way. I know it's galling to sit still and suffer—but think of the school. You owe something to Elmwood Hall! Besides, I think you'd have your own troubles in getting unanimous class action against Sam."
"How so?" asked Tom quickly. "As soon as I tell the fellows how mean he acted they'll vote to send him to Coventry at once, I'll wager. Not a man will speak to him."
"Don't be so sure," said Bruce quietly. "Tom, I'm going to try a little experiment, if you'll allow me. I guess all you fellows know that I'd stick up for my rights as hard as any one; don't you?"
"Sure!" came the quick chorus.
"And I wouldn't stand for any ill-treatment of my friends, or my class. But I put the school above my own feelings, and my class next. And you ought to, also, Tom. If you feel that you have to take it out of Sam and Nick, do it—er—well—say privately," and Bruce whispered the word with a smile.
There was a murmur of understanding.
"But what's the experiment?" asked Tom, curious to know what his friend would propose.
"It's this," answered Bruce. "If I prove to you that you'd have trouble in rallying the whole Sophomore class under your banner, Tom, to take some action against Sam, will you agree to let the matter drop, for a time, at least?"
Tom did not answer at once. He looked at Bruce, who returned his gaze steadily. Then, somehow understanding that his friend had a deeper meaning than he had yet disclosed, our hero replied:
"Go ahead; Bruce. I'm with you. Lead on to the experiment, as you call it."
"Do you all agree?" inquired the older lad. "Will you let this matter rest until you hear from Tom again?"
"Sure," answered Jack and Bert, and the others chorused an assent.
"Then you wait until I send for you, Tom," went on the post-graduate student. "It may take a day or so to get the experiment in shape."
There were murmurs of surprise as Bruce bowed himself out, and some were still rather in favor of taking summary action against Sam and Nick. But Tom said:
"No, I've passed my word, and that goes. Bruce knows what he's talking about, and we'll wait and see what he has up his sleeve. If his experiment doesn't work, he'll be the first one to admit it, and then he'll say the bars are down, and we can do as we like."
As he finished there came across the campus the sound of a bell ringing.
"Well, I know what I'm going to do right now, and that is get ready for grub!" exclaimed Bert. "Sam and Nick can wait for all of me, but I'm hungry."
Soon a merry party had gathered in the big dining room, for more students had arrived by later trains, or other conveyances, and Tom and his chums were kept busy renewing old acquaintances, or making new ones.
"There are a raft of Freshies," commented Jack to his chum, as they lingered over the dessert. "We'll have our hands full hazing them, all right!"
"Oh, we can do it," declared Bert. "We always have."
"Humph! We've been Sophs such a terrible long time," murmured Tom with a smile.
Discipline was rather lax that night, and there was much visiting to and fro in the rooms. The proctor and the professors were kept busy registering new students and did not pay much attention to the older ones, including Tom and his chums, who made merry.
"Oh, you boys!" exclaimed Demosthenes Miller, or "Demy" as he was called—the studious janitor. "Oh, you boys! Will you ever settle down?"
"I'm afraid not," replied Tom, as he invaded the lower regions of the man who attended to the fires, to borrow a long poker. "We want this for some fun. There's a prof. who has a room just under ours, and he wears a wig. It's out on the window sill to air, and I think I can hook it."
"Oh, young gentlemen, don't, I beg of you!" expostulated the janitor. But they paid no heed to him, and hurried off with the long poker, while the studious janitor, to drown his apprehension, took up a Latin book which he was struggling through, endeavoring to educate himself in the classics.
Tom was engaged in the exciting, if forbidden, sport of trying to lift the wig of the unfortunate professor from the ledge beneath his room window, when there came a knock on his door.
"Oh ho!" ejaculated Bruce Bennington, as he entered. "Up to your old tricks, I see. Well I can't blame you. I did the same thing once. What are you after, a bottle of pop?"
"A wig," explained Tom, briefly. "Want a try for it?"
"Not me. I've got to walk pretty straight you know. I'm regarded as a sort of professor now, and I suppose, if I did my strict duty, I'd report you. But I'm off duty to-night. I say, Tom, are you ready now for that experiment I spoke of?"
"Sure I am. But—" and Tom looked suggestively at the poker and motioned downward to where the wig was still reposing.
"We'll get it up while you're gone," said Jack.
"You will not!" cried Tom. "Do you think I want to miss all the fun? Wait until I get back. Will your experiment take long, Bruce?"
"It may take most of the evening. But the wig will keep, and you may think up a better plan in regard to it. Why not substitute another for it while you're at it?"
"By Jove! The very thing!" cried Jack.
"You can get one while you're in town if you like," went on Bruce dryly, "for I'm going to drag you off to town, Tom."
"Good! I'm with you. Mind now," he cautioned his chums, "don't touch that wig until I get back."
They promised, and, though wondering what Bruce had in mind, they asked no questions.
"I guess it's safe to run the guard to-night," remarked Bruce, as he and Tom crossed the campus on their way to the trolley line running into Elmwood.
"Oh, sure," assented our hero. "But what's in the wind?"
"I'm going to prove to you that it would be bad policy to make a class matter of sending Sam to Coventry, or of trying to run him out of the school. And to do that I invite you to have a little lunch with me in town."
"All right," assented Tom, wondering what his friend had in store for him.
A little later they were seated in a private room in one of the Elmwood restaurants much patronized by the students. Bruce ordered a tasty little lunch, and they were in the midst of eating it when there came the sound of several lads entering the next room. There was talk and laughter, somewhat boisterous, and then a voice exclaimed:
"Sit down, fellows, and make yourselves at home. This is on me and Nick. We'll have a jolly time, and I'll run you back in my car!"
Tom started. "Sam Heller!" he exclaimed, half rising in his seat.
"Keep quiet," advised Bruce. "Of course it's Sam. This is part of my experiment. Now you listen."
There was some more talk and laughter, and then a waiter came to take the orders. Sam called for a rather elaborate lunch, and while it was being gotten ready a voice, which Tom recognized as that of a Sophomore with whom he was slightly acquainted, asked:
"You had great sport this summer, didn't you, Sam?"
"I should say we did! Nick and I helped find a treasure in an old mill."
"Whew!" gasped Tom. "So he found it, did he?"
"Keep quiet," whispered Bruce. "Listen!"
"And what's this I hear about playing a joke on Tom Fairfield, and some of his friends?" asked another voice.
"A joke!" gasped Tom.
"Quiet!" warned his friend.
"Ha! Ha!" laughed Sam. "Yes, it was a joke all right. You know those fellows happened to go camping near where Nick and I were. We met old Skeel—you know, the prof. who used to be here. Well, he had some scheme of finding a hermit's money hidden in the old mill, and we went in with him. Then we found that Tom and his crowd were on the same trail.
"Nick and I decided to have some fun with 'em. So one day we sneaked into their camp, when Tom was out, and just took Bert, Jack and a fellow named Dick something-or-other prisoners. Say! but they did kick and struggle, but we managed 'em.
"We carted 'em off to the old mill, and there we put 'em in a secret room. It was jolly fun, until Tom came, made quite a row, and got 'em out. But it was all a joke."
"By Jove! and a good one, too!" cried several laughing voices.
"Did you get the treasure?" someone wanted to know.
"Yes, it was there all right. The old hermit got it. I don't know just how that was, for Nick and I left. But I think Tom and the old chap had a row, and part of a wall fell down, showing a secret room. Oh, but you should hear how indignant Jack and Bert got when they found we were standing guard over them! It was as good as a hazing."
"It must have been!" agreed his friends, laughing heartily.
"Aren't they sore on you?" someone asked.
"Oh, well, maybe a bit," admitted Sam, with a show of frankness. "But if a fellow can't take a joke what good is he?"
"That's right!" came in a chorus. "If they make any trouble for you, Sam, let us know."
"I will, but I don't think they will. Ah! here comes the eats! Pitch in, fellows!"
"You're the stuff, Sam!" came from several. "And that sure was a joke on Tom Fairfield and his crowd," added a voice. "A corking good joke!"
There was more laughter and talk, and in the next room to the jolly party sat Tom, looking at his friend Bruce in wonder.
"Well?" asked Bruce questioningly, after a pause. "What do you think of my experiment, Tom?"
"Is this it?"
"It is. Are you ready now to go on with your plan of reading Sam out of the class, so to speak?"
Tom did not answer for a moment.
"Take time to think it over," advised his friend. "You have heard Sam's version of the affair. And it's reasonable to suppose that many will believe him—as many perhaps as would believe you and your chums."
"But he treated Jack and Bert miserably," declared Tom, "he and Nick."
"Of course he did," admitted Bruce. "He isn't denying that. But he makes a joke of it, and it will be hard to convince the Sophomore class that it wasn't done in fun. That's what you're up against, Tom. I rather suspected it would be that way from the first, and that's why I wanted you to hear for yourself just how Sam would tell his side of the story. He makes himself out in rather a better light than you and the others shine in, Tom. And you've got to consider that. I was waiting for a chance to let you hear him talk to some of his friends, but I didn't think I'd have the opportunity so soon. Now, what are you going to do about it?"
Again Tom was silent, while from the next room there came the sound of jolly laughter, mingling with the clatter of the dishes and cutlery.
"Here's to Sam Heller!" cried someone, toasting the bully.
"And Nick Johnson!" added another.
"The fellows who know how to play jokes!" put in a third voice, and the toast was drunk amid laughter.
"You see how it is," went on Bruce. "There are a lot of Sophomores in with him—probably some of your own intimate acquaintances, if not friends. They'll side with Sam, after this, no matter how much of a case you make out against him."
"I suppose so," admitted Tom ruefully. "Well, I guess I'll have to let things go by default. There's no use splitting the class in twain."
"That's the way I look at it," said Bruce eagerly, "I'm glad you see it in that light, Tom. Save the class. But if you feel that you are entitled to revenge———"
"I sure do!" interrupted Tom.
"Then take it privately—some other time," went on Bruce. "Football is coming on now, and you may play on the team—so may Sam. It wouldn't do to have bad feeling———"
"I understand," said Tom. "I'll let the thing slide for the time being."
"And Jack and Bert?" queried Bruce.
"I'll get them to do the same thing. But there'll be a day of reckoning for that bully all right!" and Tom clenched his fists.
"I don't blame you a bit," admitted Bruce. "Now go ahead with the meal. My experiment is over."
"Come on," suggested Bruce when he had paid the bill. "What do you say to a walk back to the Hall? It's a fine night, and the tramp will do you good."
"I'm for it," agreed Tom, and they set out.
"Hark!" exclaimed Bruce a little later, pausing in the middle of the road, which was flooded with moonlight. "What's that noise?"
"Auto coming," replied Tom. "Let's pull over here where we won't get so much dust."
As they shifted to the side of the highway they heard the sound of singing from the rear, mingling with the exhaust from a car.
"Elmwood Hall fellows," spoke Tom briefly, as he recognized one of the school songs. "I wonder who they are?"
"Don't know," answered Bruce. "Joy-riders, I guess. The fellows are getting more and more sporty every year."
"Get out!" laughed Tom. "You were as bad as any of us!"
The car came nearer. Tom and Bruce were well over to one side of the road, but in a spirit of mischief the lad at the wheel yelled:
"Get out the way! Give us room! We're the cheese!"
"They've got all the room they're entitled to," murmured Tom, for he and Bruce were on the extreme left of the highway, and the auto should have been on the right.
"Look out!" yelled a voice suddenly. "Pull that wheel over, Sam!"
But it was too late. A moment later Tom felt something strike him on the hip, and he went down in the dust.
"Put on the brakes!"
"You've hit someone, Sam!"
These cries followed the striking of Tom. There was a screech from the brake bands and the car came to a quick stop.
"You knocked him down," someone said.
"I don't care. Served him right. No business to get in my way!" snapped Sam.
"Are you hurt, Tom?" asked Bruce anxiously, as he bent over his friend. "Were you hit hard?"
Tom's head cleared. It had struck rather heavily as he went down, yet it was but a passing faintness. He struggled to his feet, with the aid of Bruce, and some of the lads who leaped from the auto.
"I—I guess I'm all right," Tom answered slowly. "What happened?"
"Sam Heller's car struck you," said Bruce quietly. "And it was on the wrong side of the road. Where's Heller?" he asked of some of that lad's friends.
"Here I am," blustered the bully. "What's the matter? I didn't mean to hit him. The steering gear is stiff. I tried to turn out. Anyhow, only the mud guard brushed him. Who is it?"
There was no need to answer for, as the group about our hero parted, Sam Heller came face to face with Tom.
ON THE GRIDIRON
Sam started back, almost as though he expected Tom to strike him, but our hero did not raise his hand. There came a grim tightening of his lips, and into his eyes that had been dazed by the fall there was a look of anger, but that was all.
"By Jove! Fairfield!" exclaimed Sam. "I—I didn't know it was you. I wouldn't for the world have———"
"I suppose if it had been someone else you'd have ridden right over him," said Tom quietly.
"No, indeed. But—er—I guess I was going a bit too fast. I didn't see you—or—rather, I thought you'd step over a bit more."
"Step over more!" exclaimed Bruce. "What do you want; the whole road? We were on the proper side for you to pass. What's the matter with you, Heller?"
"Oh, I didn't mean to do it I tell you. My car is a new one, and the steering gear is a bit stiff. I wouldn't have done it intentionally for the world."
"That's right!" exclaimed Frank Nelson, a Sophomore who had been riding on the front seat with Sam. "I thought Tom would get out of the way."
"Thanks," responded Tom briefly. "I would have, if I'd known what was going to happen."
"Are you—are you hurt—much?" faltered Sam.
"No, it was only a glancing blow," and Tom began to brush the dust from his clothes, assisted by Bruce and some of those with Sam.
"I—I'm sorry," faltered the owner of the car. "I wouldn't have done that for anything, and———"
"Especially after the 'trick' you played on my friends this summer," cut in Tom.
"Oh, I say now," began Sam. "Look here, Fairfield, I'm as sorry as can be over this. Will you—will you shake hands?" and he advanced with outstretched palm.
"I will—not!" said Tom sharply, turning aside.
There was a moment of tense silence, and then Sam went on:
"Well, if you won't—you won't—that's all. I've done my share."
"That's right," chimed in some of his cronies, including Nick Johnson.
"It was an accident, anyhow," the latter added.
"An avoidable accident," put in Bruce quietly. "You are lucky it was no worse, Heller. Tom might have been seriously injured."
"A miss is as good as a mile," quoted someone. "Better give him a lift back, Sam. I'll walk."
"Will you ride in the car?" asked Sam, half eagerly, for he realized how popular Tom was, and he knew how thin was the ice on which he was skating. "Come on, there's lots of room."
"No—thank you," said Tom between his teeth, and it was an effort to add the last two words. "I can walk."
There was a little pause—an embarrassed silence, and then Nick said:
"Well, we might as well go on, Sam."
"Yes, I guess so. We can't do any good here. Come on, fellows."
They piled back into the car. There were some good-nights in which Sam and his crony did not join, and then the auto rolled off in the moonlight.
"Can you walk, Tom?" asked Bruce, with his arm around his friend's shoulders.
"Oh, yes. I'm a bit stiff, that's all."
"Too bad. This is my fault. You may be lame for football practice now."
"No, I guess not. I'll use some liniment when I get back. It wasn't your fault at all. It was that Heller's confounded meanness, and I've a good notion to———"
"You're not going to make a row over it; are you!" asked Bruce quickly. "You won't go back on what you said?"
"No, but I'll watch my chance for getting back at him. I almost believe he did it deliberately."
"I hardly think so, though it was mighty careless of him. But we might as well be getting on. It isn't far to the Hall now."
Tom found himself a trifle stiff and lame but he could walk all right, though with a slight limp. Bruce bade him good-night and passed on to his own dormitory, while Tom silently made his way to the room he had picked out for himself and his chums. There was a light burning in it, though it was after hours.
"Guess all rules are suspended for a while yet," mused our hero as he entered. "Well, we'll pass the wig joke for a while. I forgot to get one anyhow."
"Hello, what's up?" demanded Bert, who was getting ready for bed.
"Steam roller hit you?" inquired Jack. "Why, your head is cut, Tom!"
"Yes, I had a little go with Sam Heller's auto, and I got the worst of it," and our hero told his story of the evening.
"The cad!" cried Jack. "We'll fix him for this. I almost wish you hadn't given Bruce that promise, Tom."
"Oh, that's all right. There are more ways of getting back at Sam than making a class matter of it. Let's forget all about it. Whew! but I'm stiff. Any of you fellows got any liniment?"
"I have," declared Bert, producing a bottle of highly-flavored compound. "It's home-made but it goes to the spot," and Tom was soon bathing his injured hip, and telling the story of Bruce's "experiment." Much against their desires his chums promised with Tom not to proceed against Sam and Nick.
Elmwood Hall began to buzz and hum with activities, not alone of lessons and lectures, but of sports and the rumors of sports. There were also whispers of hazings to come, and the luckless Freshmen cowered in their rooms, and trembled at the sound of a knock on their portals.
"Did you see the notice?" exclaimed Jack one afternoon as he rushed into the room he shared with Tom and Bert.
"What notice?" asked Bert. "Has that sneak Heller left? If he has it will save trouble later."
"No such luck," was the answer. "But football practice starts to-morrow on the gridiron. Hurray! Let's get out our suits, and see how many holes there are in 'em."
Books were tossed aside, and from the trunks were pulled the jackets and trousers that had seen yeoman service.
"Mine are all right," announced Tom.
"Whew! There's an all-fired big rip here," declared Jack, as he viewed his trousers. "Anyone got a needle and thread with 'em?"
"Use some wire," suggested Bert. "That's what I do. Thread won't hold."
And then began a busy session for the chums.
It was the day of the first football practice. Out on the field assembled half a hundred lads from whom the leading school team would be picked. There were at least a dozen lads for every position, and only a few positions to fill, for many of the former players had come back.
"What are you going to try for, Tom?" asked Bert, as he delivered a beautiful drop kick down the field.
"One of the backs—left half for choice."
"Here comes Morse," remarked Jack, as the captain came into sight, surrounded by a score of lads seeking to curry favor.
"And there's Jackson, the coach," added Tom. "He's got a suit on. Guess he'll go in for practice."
The field soon became a scene of activity. From one side two lads strolled from under the grandstand where some of the dressing rooms were, and advanced toward the coach and captain.
"There are Heller and Johnson," said Bert in a low voice. "They're going to have a try, too."
"Did you hear where Sam wants to play?" asked Tom.
"No," answered his chums.
"Come on now, boys, line up!" called the captain. "We'll play a scrub game. Hecker, Miller, Jones, Reilley, you'll be on the scrub for a while," and Morse called on other names to make an eleven.
"Regular team over here!" went on the young captain—"that is what's left of 'em. Tom Fairfield, you'll be left half, I guess. Bert, get in at guard, though I may change you later. Jack, you'll do at tackle, I think."
"Where am I to play?" asked Sam Heller as though it was all settled—that is all but naming his position. "I'd like to go in at quarterback."
Morse looked at him. So did the coach, and the latter nodded at the captain.
"Very well, Heller. Try it at quarter," assented Morse, "though I can't promise to always play you there in matches. Now then line up. Tom will take the ball for a try through the scrub. Be careful in passing it, Heller."
There was rather a gasp of astonishment from the other players and some of the spectators as the two enemies were thus brought into the limelight. As for Tom, he felt a sinking at his heart, for he realized that Sam had it in his power to make or mar his play by the manner in which he passed the ball.
"But they shan't say it was my fault!" said Tom grimly to himself. "I'll play a straight game, and if Heller wants to do any crooked work—well, let him, that's all!"
A CROSS-COUNTRY RUN
"Line up! Line up!"
It was the call of the coach and captain to the improvised regular eleven and the scrub. Twenty-two rather nervous lads faced each other—no, not all of the twenty-two were nervous, for there were some veterans—warriors of past battles—who were as cool as the proverbial cucumber. But the new lads—those who hoped to make the first eleven—were undoubtedly nervous. And so, too, were some of those who had played before, for they had not yet found themselves this season, and they did not know but what their playing might be so poor and ragged that they would be ordered to the side lines.
"Line up! Line up!"
Again came the stirring cry. The scrub team, under the leadership of their captain, withdrew for a short consultation regarding signals, and to plan how best to stop the rushes of the regular lads. The latter, under the guidance of Morse, were ready to put the ball into play, for the captain and coach had decided to see what value their side was in rushing tactics, before going on the defense.
"All ready now, boys!" exclaimed the coach briskly. "Get into the plays on the jump. You can do twice as well if you have speed than if you have not. Hit the defense hard, get some momentum back of you. A moving body, and all that sort of thing you know, that you learn in your physics class.
"Jump into the plays. Meet the ball; don't wait for it to get to you. That applies to you backs," and he nodded at Tom and his two mates. "Quarter, don't fumble when you pass the ball back. Be accurate. Don't make a mistake in the signals.
"You guards and tackles, hold hard. Tear holes big enough for the man with the ball to get through. Don't be afraid. Ends, you want to get down like lightning on kicks. Nail in his tracks the man who catches the ball, but don't, for the love of the pigskin, touch him until he has it, or you'll be offside. Watch out for fake kicks, forward passes, double passes—watch out for all tricks. If there's a fumble, fall on the ball and stay there, unless you see a chance to run with it. You fellows who expect to do any toe work, don't get nervous. The boys will hold the others back until you get a chance to boot the ball away. And you fellows in the line, see that you do hold.
"There!" concluded the coach with a sigh. "I've given you enough football instructions to last all season. Now get busy and let's see how much of it you remember."
"Line up!" cried Captain Morse Denton, and, the preliminaries having been arranged, the ball was kicked off by the scrub, as the other players wanted to see how well they could rush it back.
It was Tom's luck to capture the yellow spheroid as it descended, and, well protected by interference, he raced down the field.
"Get him, fellows! Get him!" appealed the scrub captain, and several made an effort to break through to tackle Tom. Our hero noticed that Sam Heller was running interference for him on the left, and for a moment Tom felt that perhaps he had misjudged Sam in one particular.
"He certainly is making good interference for me," mused our hero. "Maybe he won't play me false after all. But I'm going to be on the watch."
There was now but the scrub fullback between Tom and the opposite goal line, though it was some distance away. Most of the leading team lads, streaming and straggling along, were shouting to encourage Tom.
"Go on! Go on!"
"Good run, Tom old man!"
Tom was getting into his stride. Sam was just ahead of him seemingly getting ready to bowl over the scrub fullback, who was racing down the field, eager-eyed, to tackle Tom.
"If Sam disposes of him I will make a touchdown," mused Tom, and then Sam and the fullback came together. Sam went down in a heap at the first impact, and the fullback—who was Henry Everett—came on, scarcely hindered.
The next moment he tackled Tom and threw him heavily, though Tom kept possession of the ball.
"Down!" gasped Tom, as he felt the weight of his opponent. The latter arose.
"Got you; didn't I?" he asked, grinning.
"Yes," replied Tom, looking to where Sam Heller was leisurely getting to his feet. Our hero watched his enemy narrowly. Was it only a fancy, or was it true that Sam had not made half a try to throw off the interference of the fullback?
"You were easy," laughed the scrub lad. "I thought I was going to have trouble with you, Sam, but you were easy."
"Aw, my foot slipped, and I fell, or you wouldn't have gotten me," asserted Sam, but to Tom's ears, somehow, the words did not ring true.
"I believe he deliberately let Everett get me so I wouldn't have the honor of making a touchdown," thought our hero.
The players ran up to Tom.
"Good work, old man!" complimented Coach Jackson.
"Some run, Tom," added the captain. "Come on now, line up boys, and we'll walk through 'em!"
"Yes you will—nit!" jeered the scrub captain.
As Tom was panting from his long run, the other halfback was sent at the line with the ball. He did not gain much, and then the fullback was allowed to try. He gained a few feet.
"We'd better kick," whispered the captain to Sam, who was giving the signals.
"No, keep the ball," advised the coach. "I want the boys to have practice in bucking the line. Let Fairfield try again. He has his wind back now."
"All right," assented Morse, nodding at Sam, who began to give the signal.
Tom stiffened, ready to take the pigskin, and, at the same time he moved up a little nearer Sam, for somehow, he felt that the passing of his enemy might not be just accurate. And it was well that he did, for the quarterback threw the ball short.
"Look out!" cried the captain, but his warning was not needed, for Tom made a jump and met the pigskin. With it safely tucked under his arm, he made a jump between guard and tackle in the hole made for him by his players, and completed the gaining of the necessary distance.
"Down!" he panted, as nearly half a score of lads threw themselves on top of him. "Down!"
"Good work, old man!" the captain shouted in his ear. "Great line-bucking!"
"But almost a fumble!" came the sharp voice of Coach Jackson. "What was the matter, Fairfield? You nearly dropped the ball."
"It wasn't passed accurately," asserted Tom.
"Aw, go on! It was so!" snapped Sam.
"Well, don't let it happen again," advised the coach. "Fumbles are costly—they mean the loss of a game many a time. Watch yourselves!"
The play went on, with the luckless scrubs being shoved slowly back toward their own goal. There they took a brace, and held for downs, getting the ball. They quickly kicked it out of danger, and then the regulars went to work to do it all over again.
Tom was called on several times, and, though he watched Sam narrowly, there was no further cause for complaint about the passing of the ball.
"Maybe it was a mistake," thought Tom, "but I'm going to be on the lookout just the same. I don't trust Sam Heller."
"That will do for to-day," called the coach, after two touchdowns had been rolled up against the scrub, Tom making one of them. "Take a good shower and a rub now, all of you, scrub included, for there's no telling when I may want one of you scrub lads on the first team. You're doing pretty well," he allowed himself to compliment them. "But there's lots to be done yet. We're only beginning. Morse, come here, I want to talk to you," and captain and coach walked off the gridiron, arm in arm.
"Well, what do you think of it?" asked Jack of Tom, as the two came out of the gymnasium, glowing from a rub and shower.
"Oh, it seemed to go all right."
"Heller try any mean tricks?" asked Bert.
"I thought he did, but maybe I was mistaken. Oh, but I got one beaut kick on the shin," and Tom gently massaged the leg in question.
"Some lad tried to gouge out one of my eyes," added Bert.
"And if I have any skin left on my nose I'm lucky," asserted Jack, trying to look cross-eyed at his nasal member.
"It's just a little sunburned," said Tom, with a laugh. "I guess we'll have a team after a bit."
"Sure!" chorused his chums.
Practice went on for several days after this, and there were a number of changes of position made, though Sam was still at quarterback, and Tom held his same place.
"Now, fellows, we're going to have a little different form of exercise to-morrow," announced the coach, at the conclusion of a short game one afternoon. "I want you all to take part in a cross-country run. It will improve your wind, and work some of the fat off you fellows that can stand losing it. It will be good for your legs, too.
"We'll start from the gym after last lectures, hit the turnpike for Aldenhurst, cross the river at Weldon, circle up the hill through Marsden, and come back along the river road. You can go in bunches, or singly as you choose, but you must all make those towns, and there'll be checkers at each one to see that you don't skip. It's only fifteen miles, and you ought to do it in four hours without turning a hair. There'll be a five-hour time limit, and those who don't make all the checking points, and report back by eight o'clock will be scratched off the active football list. That's all."
A silence followed the announcement of the coach, and then came several murmurs of disapproval.
"Fifteen miles!" came from Sam Heller. "That's a stiff run all right."
"I should say yes," agreed Nick Johnson.
"Can't we shorten it in some way?" asked Sam of his crony in a whisper, but not so low that Tom did not overhear him.
"Dry up!" commanded Nick. "I'll see. Maybe we can cut off a few miles. Fifteen is too much!"
"He sure is working us," said Jack to Tom.
"And a time limit," added Bert, with a note of grievance in his voice.
"Oh pshaw!" exclaimed, Tom. "Anyone would think you fellows had never tramped before. Why in camp you thought nothing of doing twenty miles in a day."
"But we could take our time," asserted Bert.
"Nonsense! We always did better than four miles an hour and never minded it. Come on, be sports! We'll go together, won't we?"
"Sure," said Bert. "Well, if it has to be, it has to—that's all. Hang it! I wonder if I want to play football anyhow?"
"Of course you do," said Tom. "We'll have some fun on the run. And think of the supper we will eat after it. I'm going to see if we can't have a little something extra."
And he went to the kitchen of the eating hall where he and his chums dined, to wheedle the chef into serving generous portions after the cross-country run.
LOST IN THE WOODS
"Fairfield, Fitch, Wilson, Abbot," remarked the official checker-out, as Tom and his three chums trotted out of the door of the gymnasium on the afternoon of the cross-country run. "All right boys. Getting away in good time," and the Senior student who was acting in the official capacity smiled in rather a patronizing manner. "Now if you check in together you'll be doing well. Take it easy. You haven't got much of a run, and you've oceans of time to do it in."
"Huh! I guess you think this isn't much of a Marathon," remarked Jack, pausing to address the checker, who had marked their names down on a slip of paper.
"Neither it is, son," came the answer. "In my day we had lots of stiffer ones."
"And did the fellows all make good?" asked Tom, for though he and his chums had spent one year at Elmwood Hall this was the first big run they had taken part in, and on it depended much—their chance to play on the big eleven.
"Oh, most of 'em did," replied the Senior. "Of course some couldn't stand the pace, and others wouldn't. But, as I say, it was stiffer in those days. I don't know what the world is coming to, anyhow," and he looked as though he had on his shoulders a large share of the responsibility of regulating the universe. "You'd better cut away, fellows," he added, "for, though you've got lots of time, it's better to loaf on the other end of the run than on this one. Hike!"
"He doesn't give himself any airs; does he? Oh no!" exclaimed Bert sarcastically, as he jogged along beside his chums.
"Oh, that's the way with all Seniors," said Jack.
"I hope we'll not be," murmured Tom.
"Do you think we will?" asked George Abbot. "I wonder what makes Seniors think they're so high and mighty? Do you think we'll make this run? Will———"
"Foolish question number six thousand four hundred and twenty-one!" interrupted Tom, with a laugh. "Now if you're going to start on your interrogatory stunt, Georgie my lad, you'll make this run alone. I'm not going to get dry in the roof of my mouth answering questions."
"All right, I won't ask any more," promised the lad who was such a questioner.
"I wonder who are just ahead of us?" asked Bert, as he stopped a second to tie a loose shoe lace.
"Let's ask," suggested Tom.
He halted and hurled back this question at the checking Senior, who sat near the door of the gymnasium.
"Who's ahead of us, Rockford?"
"Let's see," and the checker consulted his slips. "Oh, Sam Heller and Nick Johnson," he answered. "They've got four minutes start of you."
"All right; thanks!" shouted Tom, as he again took up his stride.
"Say, let's pass 'em," suggested Jack. "I'd rather be ahead of 'em, than behind, anyhow."
"All right," assented Tom. "Shall we pass 'em now, or later?"
"Oh, wait a bit," said Bert. "Let's get our second wind, first."
This suited the others, and they jogged along at an easy pace. The day was pleasant, not too warm, and there was a refreshing breeze when one got on the hilltops. The run was through a rolling country, and the roads were in good condition.
"Say, this is fun!" exclaimed Bert, when they had covered the first half mile. "I like it better than I thought I would."
"Wait a bit," advised Jack. "It hasn't half started yet. When you've done about ten miles the next five will seem twice as long."
On they swung, down a slope that made for easy going. When they topped the next rise Jack uttered an exclamation:
"There are a couple of lads just ahead of us," he said, pointing down in a small valley into which the runners must now descend.
"And if they aren't Sam Heller and his crony I'm a goat!" said Tom. "That's Sam's run, all right."
"So it is," agreed Bert. "Shall we make a sprint and pass 'em?"
"Oh, there's time enough yet," said George. "Don't let's rush things."
They accepted this easy way out of it, and, as a matter of fact, none of them cared very much about passing Sam and Nick. They jogged down the slope, to strike a level stretch, and, by this time, Sam and his companion were out of sight beyond a turn in the road.
"There's Aldenhurst!" exclaimed Tom at length, as they came in view of a small but pretty village.
"And if there isn't a soda water stand in it I'm going to make a complaint to the police!" gasped Bert. "I'm as dry as a fish."
"Don't fill up on trash," advised Tom. "The rules said that was bad to do;" for a few simple directions as to the best way of making the run had been circulated by Coach Jackson.
"Well, I'm going to swab out with seltzer, anyhow," declared Jack, "rules or no rules."
"Oh, I guess that won't hurt," admitted Tom, and a little later they had lined up before a crossroads grocery, in front of which was the magical sign: "Ice Cold Soda!"
"Ginger ale! Birch beer! Sasp'rilla! Cream sody!" rattled off the snub-nosed and freckle-faced lad behind the counter, when our four friends filed in and asked for some cool drink. "That's all I've got."
"Any seltzer?" asked Tom, who knew the risk of taking into an over-heated system the artificially flavored and colored concoctions that pass current as summer drinks.
"Seltzer?" queried the lad. "Do you mean that there fizzy stuff that squirts all over when you press down on the handle of the bottle?"
"That's her!" laughed Jack. "Pass it out—if it's cold."
"Oh, it's cold all right, but nobody around here likes it," volunteered the lad. "I took some once, and it tasted like salt water with needles in it. I'd rather have strawberry pop."
"Seltzer's good for your system, son. Pass it out," ordered Tom, with a laugh at the description of the mineral water, and the lad went to a big refrigerator where, after moving out some tubs of butter, and some bottles of milk, he came upon the seltzer which he set before our heroes.
"That's good!" exclaimed Tom, as he drained his glass, and then, after a brief rest, they started off on the cross-country run again, waving farewell to the lad who had so aptly characterized the seltzer.
They crossed the river at Weldon, and circled up the hill to Marsden. There the going was stiff, and they realized why Jackson had given them such leeway in time, for the slope was a steep one.
"This is good for our legs," remarked Jack, as he plodded on.
"Yes, and Sam and Nick seem to be still ahead of us," remarked Tom. "They're keeping up well—better than I thought they would."
"Unless they've taken a short cut," suggested George.
"They have to check in at Marsden," said Bert.
"Well, they may take a cut there. However, it doesn't matter," said Tom.
It was beginning to get dusk now, the September days being short. There were about five miles of the run left when the four lads paused at a wayside farmhouse located at the fork of the highway to make sure they were on the right route to reach the river road.
"Yes, you kin git to it this way," remarked a tall, lanky lad, who was hanging over the front gate, seemingly waiting for someone. "There's a bad hill, though."
"Is there any other road to the river?" asked Tom.
"Yes, you kin cut through the woods, and it's level all the way," was the answer. "I'd take that road."
"But we don't want a shorter way," said Tom quickly. "We're doing a school endurance run," he explained, "and we have to cover just so many miles. We don't want to cheat."
"Oh, you won't cheat," chuckled the farm lad. "If any thing it's longer through them woods," and he pointed to a patch of forest just ahead. "There's a wagon road through them trees, that comes out on the river road. The only difference is that it cuts off the hill."
"Then let's take it!" suggested Jack. "I hate hills, and it's all right as long as we cover the distance. There's no more checking to be done until we hit the gym. I say let's take to the woods."
"All right," agreed Tom. "Is the path a plain one?" he asked the lad. "We don't want to get lost."
"Oh, yes, it's plain enough. A couple of other fellows passed here a while ago, and I told them about it."
"Sam Heller, and Nick, I'll wager!" exclaimed Bert.
"Sure," assented Jack. "Much obliged," he called to the farm lad, as the four struck off toward the woods.
"Maybe you won't be—after a bit," murmured the lad, as he turned away from the gate, a twinkle coming into his pig-like eyes. "I earned that dollar easy enough—jest directin' 'em to the wood-road," and he looked at a bill crumpled in his hand. "I never made money any easier. Them two fellers, jest ahead, who told me to direct the next bunch into the woods, must have lots of coin. I guess it'll be a while afore them four lads strike the river, goin' through the woods," and, chuckling, he went into the house, after a look at Tom and his chums.
"Say it's going to be dark before we get back," remarked George, when they were well within the woods. "I wonder if we can see?"
"Sure," asserted Tom. "The trees are cut away at the top and it's going to be moonlight a little later. This is a good road, and, even if it's longer than the other, we cut off a big hill. We can explain how we came to take it, and it's fair as long as we do the distance."
"If we only get in on time," murmured Bert.
"Oh, I guess we will," said Jack.
Together they jogged on. It became more and more dark, and, as the wood road was not in the best of condition, they stumbled over roots and tree branches. But, as Tom said, it was light enough to see their way fairly well.
"Say!" exclaimed Jack, after nearly an hour spent in tramping the woodland path, "this doesn't seem just right. The road is narrower than it was at first."
"Let's strike a match and take a look," suggested Tom.
"And we ought to have been at the river some time ago," added Bert. "I wonder if we came right?"
Tom lighted a match, and set fire to a wisp of bark. It blazed up brightly, and as he held it to the ground he cried out:
"Fellows, we're off the main road. We must have made a turn in the dark. We're on some by-path."
"Then turn back right away!" exclaimed Bert.
They did, using the torch to see by. But, after they had retraced their steps for fifteen minutes, Tom again called a halt.
"Fellows!" he said, "there's no use going on.
"Why not?" asked Jack.
"Because we're lost. We've been going around in a circle. There's the same fallen beech tree we passed a little while ago. We're lost!"
AN ANGRY FARMER
Everyone had come to a halt, and, while the bark torch burned dimly his three companions gazed blankly at Tom.
"What's that you said?" asked Jack, as if he had not comprehended.
"We're lost!" repeated Tom.
"Come again!" invited Bert. "You're jollying us!"
"Indeed I'm not!" exclaimed Tom indignantly. "You can see for yourself that we've passed this place before. Here are some of the ashes I knocked off the bark torch," and he showed his chums the place where he had hit the burning bark against a stone.
"That's right," Bert and the others were forced to admit.
"Well, what are we going to do about it?" asked Jack. "We're lost—that's evident and we don't need a pair of opera glasses to see it. But how are we going to get back to school? Or even on the right road? I wish we'd stuck to the way, even if it did go up hill. This taking of short cuts never did appeal to me, anyhow."
"But we didn't take a short cut," insisted Tom. "We took a long cut, and that's the trouble."
"I wonder if that farm fellow directed us wrong on purpose?" asked George.
"He might have," said Jack. "And yet what would have been his object?" If he could have seen that same farm-hand gloating over a crumpled dollar bill about that time, Jack might have found an answer to his inquiry.
"Well, there's no use going into that part of it," spoke Tom. "The question is, what are we going to do?"
"Get back on the main road as soon as we can," suggested Bert, "and stick to it, hills or no hills, I never wanted to come this way anyhow."
"Neither did I," asserted Tom, a bit nettled.
In a short time they had several improvised torches, made of bark, and, each one lighting his own, and holding it down close to the ground, they started off again.
"Here comes a shower!" exclaimed Tom, as he felt the first drops of a September storm. "Lucky we got the dry bark in time."
"Say, but this is punk!" grumbled Bert, as he stumbled on in the half-darkness.
By carefully noting the path, and keeping to it, they managed to avoid going in a circle again. Their torches smoked and spluttered, as the rain increased, and, though they were under the shelter of trees, they soon were quite wet.
"Cross-country runs!" murmured Jack, as he stepped into a bog-hole up to his ankles. "No more for yours truly!"
"It's all in the game," said Tom, with a laugh. "We'll soon be out of it."
"We're out of it now," snapped Bert, looking at his watch. "We've got half an hour to make the gym, for it's half-past seven now, and I'll wager a can of beans that we're five miles from it."
"Not as bad as that," asserted Tom. "We may make it yet, if we can strike a good road. This looks like something here, fellows," he added, as he emerged from the woodland path upon a firm footing. "It is!" he cried a moment later. "I guess we can make it now! Come on!"
Holding his torch of bark above his head, Tom led the way. He was quite sure of himself now, even though he did not know just where the path was coming out. It was broadening as he advanced, and he was positive it did not lead deeper into the woods.
"Ugh!" suddenly grunted Tom, as he came to an abrupt halt.
"What's wrong?" asked Jack.
"I ran into a fence, or something. Yes, It's a fence," Tom went on. "We must have struck some sort of a farm."
"I wish it was the one where that fellow works," put in Jack. "I'd like to rub his nose in the mud for sending us on the wrong path."
"There's a light over there!" cried Bert, as he and the others came up to where Tom had come to a halt at the barrier. It was a rail fence of the "snake" variety, and Tom had run full tilt into it in the darkness, his torch having burned out.
"A light!" cried Bert. "That means a house, or some sort of human habitation. Let's head for it, fellows, and maybe we can get on the right road."
"Over the fence is out!" cried Jack, as he leaped the barrier. "Come on, fellows!"
The others followed him, the torch of George being the only one aglow.
"It's a cornfield!" cried Tom, as he landed in it. "Look out, and don't trample too much of it down."
"Oh, it's only late fodder corn, and I guess it won't matter much," was Jack's opinion, as he floundered on through the field. They could hear him crashing down the corn stalks, and being wet, tired and miserable, and perhaps a little unthinking, the others did the same thing.
"Head for the light!" called George. "My torch is on the blink."
It went out a moment later, and in the darkness and rain the lads stumbled on. The light grew plainer as they advanced toward it, and, in a little while, trampling through the corn, they saw a farm house just beyond the field through which they had come.
"That's not where the fellow lives who sent us wrong," asserted Jack, and the others agreed with him.
"Now to see where we are," suggested Tom, as he vaulted another fence, and found himself in the big front yard of a farmhouse. There was a barking of dogs, and, as Tom's chums followed his lead, a door opened, letting out a flood of light, and a rasping voice asked:
"Who's there? What d'ye want this time of night?"
"We're from Elmwood Hall," replied Tom. "We were out on a cross-country run, and we lost our way. Can you direct us to the river road?"
"Which way did you come," the rasping voice went on, and a man, with a small bunch of whiskers on his chin, stood in the lamp-illuminated doorway.
"Through the woods," said Tom. "We got lost there."
"And then we cut through a cornfield," went on Jack.
"Through a cornfield!" cried the farmer in accents of anger. "D'ye mean t' say you tromped through my field of corn?"
"I—I'm afraid we did," answered Tom ruefully. "We couldn't see in the dark, and it was the only way to come. I hope we didn't do much damage."
"Well, if ye did ye'll pay for it!" snapped the man, as he came from the doorway. "I don't allow nobody t' tromp through my prize corn. I'll have th' law on ye fer this, that's what I will! Knocked down my corn; did ye? Well, ye kin find th' road the best way ye like now. I'll never tell ye. And I want t' see how much damage ye done. You wait till I git a lantern. Tromped through my corn! That's jest like you good-fer-nothin' school snips! I'll fix ye fer this all right, or my name ain't Jed Appleby!"
A HAY STACK FIRE
Cold, wet and altogether miserable, Tom and his chums stood in the farmer's yard, waiting for they scarcely knew what. Their reception had been anything but cordial, and, considering that they were unaware that they had done any damage to the field of corn, it was almost unwarranted.
"Well, what do you know about this?" asked Bert, as he took off his cap and dashed the rain drops from it.
"I don't know much," replied Jack, dubiously as he turned the collar of his coat closer up around his neck.