Produced by Jim Ludwig
THE HIGH SCHOOL LEFT END
or Dick & Co. Grilling on the Football Gridiron
By H. Irving Hancock
I. Sulking in the Football Camp
II. The Start of the Dodge Mystery III. Dick Stumbles on Something
IV. The ‘Soreheads’ in Conclave
V. At the End of the Trail
VI. The Small Soul of a Gentleman VII. The Football Notice Goes Up
VIII. Dick Fires Both Barrels
IX. Bayliss Gets Some Advice
X. Two Girls Turn the Laugh
XI. Does Football Teach Real Nerve XII. Dick, Like Caesar, Refuses the Crown XIII. Bert Dodge “Starts Something”
XIV. The “Strategy” of a School Traitor XV. A “Fear” for the Plotter
XVI. “The Cattle Car for Yours”
XVII. Facing the “School Cut”
XVIII. “Prin.” Gets in the Practice XIX. Laura and Belle Have a Secret
XX. In the Line of Daring
XXI. The Price of Bravery
XXII. The Thanksgiving Day Game
XXIII. Sulker and Real Man
SULKING IN THE FOOTBALL CAMP
“Football is all at sixes and sevens, this year,” muttered Dave Darrin disconsolately.
“I can tell you something more than that,” added Tom Reade mysteriously.
“What?” asked Dick Prescott, looking at Reade with interest, for it was unusual for Reade to employ that tone or air.
“Two members of the Athletics Committee have intimated to Coach Morton that they’d rather see football passed by this year.”
“_What_?” gasped Dick. He was staring hard now.
“Fact,” nodded Tom. “At least, I believe it to be a fact.”
“There must be something wrong with that news,” put in Greg Holmes anxiously.
“No; I think it’s all straight enough,” persisted Tom, shaking his head to silence Holmes. “It came to me straight enough, though I don’t feel at liberty to tell you who told me.”
All six members of Dick & Co. were present. The scene of the meeting was Dick Prescott’s own room at his home over the bookstore kept by his parents. The hour was about nine o’clock in the evening. It was Friday evening of the first week of the new school year. The fellows had dropped in to talk over the coming football season, because the week had been one of mysterious unrest in the football squad at Gridley High School.
Just what the trouble was, where it lay or how it had started was puzzling the whole High School student body. The squad was not yet duly organized. This was never attempted until in the second week of the school year. Yet it was always the rule that the new seniors who, during their junior year, had made good records on either the school eleven, or the second eleven, should form the nucleus of the new pigskin squad. Added to these, were the new juniors, formerly of the sophomore class, who had shown the most general promise in athletics during the preceding school year.
Gridley High School aimed to lead—to be away at the top—in all school athletics. The “Gridley spirit,” which would not accept defeat in sports, was proverbial throughout the state.
And so, though the football squad was not yet formally organized for training and practice, yet, up to the last few days, it had been expected that a finer gridiron crowd than usual would present itself for weeding, sifting and training by Coach Morton. The latter was also one of the submasters of Gridley High School.
Since the school year had opened, however, undercurrent news had been rife that there would be many “soreheads,” and that this would be an “off year” in Gridley football. Just where the trouble lay, or what the “kick” was about, was a puzzle to most members of the student body. It was an actual mystery to Dick & Co.
“What is all the undermining row about, anyway?” demanded Dick, looking around at his chums. Dick was pacing the floor. Dave, Tom and Greg Holmes were seated on the edge of the bed. Dan Dalzell was lying back in the one armchair that the room boasted. Harry Hazelton was standing by the door.
“I can’t make a single thing out of it all,” sighed Dan. “All I can get at is that some of the seniors and some of our class, the juniors, are talking as though they didn’t care about playing this year. I know that Coach Morton is worried. In fact, he’s downright disheartened.”
“Surely,” interjected Dick, “Mr. Morton must have an idea of what is keeping some of the fellows back from the team?”
“If he does know, he isn’t offering any information,” returned Harry Hazelton.
“I don’t see any need for so much mystery,” broke in Dave Darrin, in disgust.
“Well, there is a mystery about it, anyway,” contended Tom Reade.
“Then, before I’m much older, I’m going to know what that mystery is,” declared Dick.
“You’re surely the one of our crowd who ought to be put on the trail of the mystery,” proposed Dalzell, with a laugh.
“Why?” challenged Prescott.
“Why, you’re a reporter on ‘The Blade.’ Now mysteries are supposed to constitute the especial field of reporters. So, see here, fellows, I move that we appoint Dick Prescott a committee of one for Dick & Co., his job being to find out what ails football—to learn just what has made football sick this year.”
“Hear! Hear!” cried some of the others.
“Is that your unanimous wish, fellows?” asked Dick, smiling.
“It is,” the others agreed.
“Very good, then,” sighed Prescott. “At no matter what personal cost, I will find the answer for you.”
This was all in a spirit of fun, as the chums understood. Yet this lightly given promise was likely to involve Dick Prescott in a good deal more than he had expected.
Readers of the preceding volumes in this series know Dick & Co. so well that an introduction would be superfluous. Those to whom the pages of “The High School Freshmen” are familiar know how Dick & Co., chums from the Central Grammar School, entered Gridley High School in the same year. How the boys toiled through that first year as half-despised freshmen, and how they got some small share in school athletics, even though freshmen were not allowed to make the school athletic teams, has been told. The pranks of the young freshmen are now “old tales.” How Dick Prescott, with the aid of his chums, put up a hoax that fairly seared the Board of Education out of its purpose to forbid High School football does not need telling again. Our former readers are also familiar with the enmity displayed by Fred Ripley, son of a wealthy lawyer, and the boomerang plot of Ripley to disgrace Prescott and brand the latter as a High School thief. The same readers will recall the part played in this plot by Tip Scammon, worthless son of the honest old High School janitor, and how Tip’s evil work resulted in his going to the penitentiary for the better part of a year.
Readers of “_The High School Pitcher_” will recollect how, in their sophomore year, Dick and Co. made their first real start in High School athletics; how Dick became the star pitcher for the nine, and how the other chums all found places on the nine, either as star players or as “subs.” In this volume also was told the story of Fred’s moral disasters under the tyranny of Tip Scammon, Who threatened to “tell.” How Dick & Co. were largely entitled to the credit for bringing the Gridley High School nine through a season’s great record on the diamond was all told in this second volume. Dick’s good fortune in getting a position as “space” reporter on “The Morning Blade” was also described, and some of his adventures as reporter were told. The culmination of Fred Ripley’s scoundrelism, and his detection by his stern old lawyer father, were narrated at length. Perhaps many of our readers will remember, the unpopular principal of the High School, Mr. Abner Cantwell; and the swimming episode, in which every High School boy took part, afterwards meekly awaiting the impossible expulsion of all the boys of the High School student body. Our readers will recall that Mr. Cantwell had succeeded the former principal, Dr. Thornton, whom the boys had almost idolized, and that much of Mr. Cantwell’s trouble was due to his ungovernable temper.
During the first two years of High School life, Dick & Co. had become increasingly popular. True, since these six chums were all the sons of families in very moderate circumstances, Dick & Co. had been disliked by some of the little groups of students who came from wealthier families, and who believed that High School life should be rather governed by a select few representing the move “aristocratic” families of the little city.
Good-humored avoidance is excellent treatment to accord a snob, and this, as far as possible, had been the plan of Dick & Co. and of the other average boy at the High School.
“Let us see,” broke in Dick, suddenly, “who are the soreheads in the football line?”
“Well, Davis and Cassleigh, of the senior class, for two,” replied Dave Darrin.
“Dodge, Fremont and Bayliss, also first classmen,” suggested Reade.
“Trenholm and Grayson, also seniors,” brought in Greg Holmes.
“Then there are Porter, Drayne and Whitney,” added Dave. “They’re of this year’s Juniors.”
“And Hudson and Paulson, also of our junior class,” nodded Harry Hazelton.
Dick Prescott had rapidly written down the names. Now he was studying the list carefully.
“They’re all good football men,” sighed Dick. “All men whose aid in the football squad is much needed.”
“Drayne is the stuck-up chap, who uses the broad ‘a’ in his speech, and carries his nose up at an angle of forty-five degrees,” chuckled Dan Dalzell. “He’s the fellow I mortally offended by nicknaming him ‘Sewers,’ to mimic his name of ‘Drayne.'”
“That wouldn’t be enough to keep him out of football,” remarked Dave quietly.
Dick looked up suddenly from his list.
“Fellows,” he announced, “I’ve made one discovery.”
“Out with it!” ordered Dan.
“Perhaps you can guess for yourselves what I have just found.”
“We can’t,” admitted Hazelton meekly. “Please tell us, and save us racking our brains.”
“Well, it’s curious,” continued Dick slowly, “but every one of these fellows—I believe you’ve given me all the names of the ‘soreheads'”
“We have,” affirmed Tom Reade.
“Well, I’ve just noted that every fellow on my sorehead roll of honor belongs to one of our families of wealth in Gridley.”
Dick paused to look around him, to see how the announcement impressed his chums.
“Do you mean,” hinted Hazelton, “that the soreheads are down on football because they prefer automobiles?”
“No.” Dick Prescott shook his head emphatically.
“By Jove, Dick, I believe you’re right,” suddenly exclaimed Dave Darrin.
“So you see my point, old fellow?”
“I’m sure I do.”
“I’m going to get examined for spectacles, then,” sighed Dan plaintively. “I can’t see a thing.”
“Why, you ninny,” retorted Dave scornfully, “the football ‘soreheads’ have been developing that classy feeling. They wear better clothes than we do, and have more pocket money. Many of their fathers don’t work for a living. In other words, the fellows on Dick’s list belong to what they consider a privileged and aristocratic set. They’re the Gridley bluebloods—or think they are—and they don’t intend to play on any football eleven that is likely to have Dick & Co. and a few other ordinary muckers on it.”
“Muckers?” repeated Harry Hazelton flaring up.
“Cool down, dear chap, _do_!” urged Darrin, soothingly. “I don’t mean to imply that we really are muckers, but that’s what some of the classy group evidently consider us.”
“Why, they say that Cassleigh’s grandfather was an Italian immigrant, who spelled his name Casselli,” broke in Dan Dalzell.
“I believe it, son,” nodded Dave. “Old Casselli was an immigrant and an honest fellow. But he had the bad judgment to make some money in the junk business, and sent his son to college. The son, after the old immigrant died, took to spelling his name Cassleigh, and the grandson is the prize snob of the town.”
“And Bayliss’s father was indicted by the grand jury, seven or eight years ago, for bribery in connection with a trolley franchise,” muttered Greg Holmes.
“Also currently reported to be true, my infant,” nodded Dave sagely. “But the witnesses against the elder Bayliss skipped, and the district attorney never brought the case to trial. Case was quashed a year later, and so now the Baylisses belong to the Distinguished Order of Unconvicted Boodlers. That trolley stock jumped to six times its par value right after the case against Bayliss was dropped, you know.”
“And, from what I’ve heard Mr. Pollock say at ‘The Blade’ office,” Dick threw in, “the fathers of one or two of the other soreheads got their money in devious ways.”
“Why, there’s Whitney’s father,” laughed Dan Dalzell. “Did you ever hear how he got his start thirty years ago? Whitney’s brother-in-law got into financial difficulties, and transferred to the elder Whitney property worth a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. When the financial storm blew over the brother-in-law wanted the property transferred back again, but the elder Whitney didn’t see it that way. The elder Whitney kept the transferred property, and has since increased it to a half million or more.”
“Oh, well,” Dick interrupted, “let us admit that some of the fellows on the sorehead list have never been in jail, and have never been threatened with it. But I am sure that Dave has guessed my meaning right. The soreheads, who number a dozen of rather valuable pigskin men, are on strike just because some of us poorer fellows are in it.”
“What nonsense!” ejaculated Greg Holmes disgustedly. “Why, Purcell isn’t in any such crowd. Of course, Purcell’s father isn’t rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but the Purcells, as far as blood goes, are head and shoulders above the families of any of the fellows on Dick’s little list.”
“If that’s really what the disagreement is over,” drawled Dan, “I see an easy way out of it.”
“Go ahead,” nodded Dick.
“Let the ‘soreheads’ form the Sons of Tax-payers Eleven, and we’ll organize a Sons of poor but Honest Parents Eleven. Then we’ll play them the best two out of three games for the honor of representing Gridley High School this year.”
“Bright, but not practicable,” objected Dick patiently. “The trouble is that, if two such teams were formed and matched, neither team, in the event of its victory, would have all of the best gridiron stuff that the High School contains. No, no; what we want, if possible, is some plan that will bring the whole student body together, all differences forgotten and with the sole purpose of getting up the best eleven that Gridley can possibly send out against the world.”
“Well, we are willing,” remarked Darrin grimly.
“No! No, we’re not,” objected Hazelton fiercely. “If the snobs don’t want to play with any of us on the team, then we don’t want to play if _they_ come in.”
“Gently, gently!” urged Dick. “Think of the honor of your school before you tie your hands up with any of your own mean, small pride. Our whole idea must be that Gridley High School is to go on winning, as it has always done before. For myself, I had hoped to be on the eleven this year. Yet, if my staying off the list will put Gridley in the winning set, I’m willing to give up my own ambitions. I’m going to put the honor of the school first, and myself somewhere along about fourteenth.”
“That’s the only talk,” approved Dave promptly. “Gridley must have the winning football eleven.”
“Well, the whole thing is a shame,” blazed Reade indignantly.
“Oh, well, don’t worry,” drawled Dan Dalzell. “Keep cool, and the whole thing will be fixed.”
“Fixed?” insisted Reade. “How? How will it be fixed?”
“I don’t know,” Dan confessed, stifling a yawn behind his hand. “Just leave the worry alone. Let Dick fix it.”
“How can you fix it?” asked Reade, turning upon their leader.
“I don’t know—yet,” hesitated Prescott. But, like Dan, I believe there’s a way to be found.”
“Going?” asked Hazelton. “Well, I’ll trot along, too.”
“Yes,” nodded Greg. “It’s a shame to stay here, hardening Dick’s mattress when he ought to be lying on it himself. It’s time we were all in bed. Good night, Dick, old fellow.”
Four of the boys were speedily gone. Darrin, however, remained behind, though he intended to stay only a few minutes. The two were earnestly discussing the squally football “weather” when the elder Prescott’s voice sounded from the foot of the stairs.
“Yes, sir,” answered the boy, throwing open the door and springing to the head of the stairs.
“Mr. Bradley, of ‘The Blade,’ wants to talk with you over the ‘phone. In a hurry, too, he says.
“I’ll be right there, Dad. Coming, Dave?”
Darrin nodding, the two chums ran down the stairs to the bookstore. Dick caught up the transmitter and answered.
“That you, Dick?” sounded the impatient voice of News Editor Bradley.
“This is Dick Prescott, Mr. Bradley.”
“Then, for goodness’ sake, can you hustle up here?”
“Of course I can.”
“Ask your father if you can take up a late night job for me. Then come on the jump. My men are all out, and everything is at odds and ends in the way of news. I can’t get a single man, and I wish I had three at this minute.”
“Dave Darrin is here. Can I bring him along?”
“Yes; he’s not a reporter—but he may be able to help. Hustle.”
“I’ll be walking in through the doorway,” laughed Dick, “by the time you’ve hung your transmitter up. Good-bye.” Ting-a-ling-ling! “Now, Dave, get your father on the jump, and ask his leave to go out on a late night story with me.”
Fortunately there was no delay about this. Dave received the permission from home promptly enough. The two youngsters set out on a run.
What healthy boy of sixteen doesn’t love to prowl late a night? It is twenty-fold more fascinating when there’s a mystery on tap, and a newspaper behind all the curiosity.
The longing of these sturdy chums for mystery and adventure was swiftly to be gratified—perhaps more so than they could have wished!
News Editor Bradley was waiting for them in the doorway of “The Blade” office, a frown on the journalistic face.
THE START OF THE DODGE MYSTERY
“This is the way it always goes,” jerked out Bradley, as the two High School boys hurried into the office after him.
“One of my men is sick, and the other two are somewhere—where, I can’t find out.”
“All” his men sounded large enough; as a matter of fact, the only reporters “The Blade” employed were three young men on salary, and Dick Prescott, mainly as gleaner of school news. Dick didn’t receive any salary, but was paid a dollar a column.
“What’s happening, anyway?” Dick asked coolly.
“You know Theodore Dodge?” demanded Mr. Bradley.
“I know him when I see him; he never talks with me,” Prescott replied.
“Theodore Dodge is the father of a fellow in our senior class at High School,” Dave put in, adding under his breath, “and the son is one of our football ‘soreheads.'”
“Dodge has vanished,” continued Bradley. “He went out early this morning, and hasn’t been seen since. Tonight, just after dark, a man walking by the river, up above the bend, picked up a coat and hat on the bank. Letters in the pocket showed the coat to be Mr. Dodge’s. The finder of the coat hurried to the Dodge house, and Mrs. Dodge hurriedly notified the police, asking Chief Coy to keep the whole matter quiet. Jerry (Chief Coy) doesn’t know that we have a blessed word about this. But Jerry, his plain clothes man, Hemingway, and two other officers are out on the case. They have been on the job for nearly three hours. So far they haven’t learned a word. They can’t drag the river until daylight comes. Now, Prescott, what occurs to you as the thing to do?”
“I guess the only thing,” replied Dick quietly, “is to find Theodore Dodge.”
Mr. Bradley gasped.
“Well, yes; you have the right idea, young man. But can you find Dodge, Dick?”
“When do you go to press?”
“Latest at four o’clock in the morning.”
“I think I can either find Theodore Dodge, or else find where he went to,” Prescott replied, slowly. “Of course, that’s brag—not promise.”
“You get us the story—straight and in detail,” cried Bradley, eagerly, “and there’ll probably be a bit extra in it for you—a good bit, perhaps. If Dodge doesn’t turn up without sensation this is going to be our big story for a week. Dodge, you know, is vice-president and actual head of the Second National Bank.”
“Whew!” thought Dave Darrin, to himself. “It’s easy enough for any suspicious person to imagine a story! But it might not be the right one.”
“Some time ago,” asked Dick thoughtfully, “didn’t you publish a story about some of the big amounts of insurance carried by local rich men?”
“Yes,” nodded Bradley.
“I think you stated that Theodore Dodge carried more than any other citizen of Gridley.”
“Yes; he carries a quarter of a million dollars of insurance.”
“Is the insurance payable to his widow, or others—or to his estate?”
“I don’t know,” mused News Editor Bradley, a very thoughtful look coming into his face.
“Well, it’s worth while finding out,” pursued Dick. “See here, suppose Dodge has been using the bank’s funds, and found himself in a corner that he couldn’t get out of? Then, if the insurance money goes to his widow, it would be hers, and no court could take it from her for the benefit of his creditors. If it goes to the estate, instead, then the insurance money, when paid over, could be seized and applied to cover any shortage of the missing man at the bank.”
“So that—–?” interrogated the news editor, his own eyes twinkling shrewdly.
“Why, in case—just in case, you understand—that Mr. Dodge has gone and gotten himself into trouble over the bank’s funds, then it’s probable that he has done one of two things. Either, in despair he has killed himself, so that either his widow or the bank will be protected. If the missing man didn’t do away with himself, then probably he has put up the appearance of suicide in the hope that the officers of the law will be fooled of his trail, and that either a wronged bank or a deserted wife might get the insurance money. Of course, Mrs. Dodge might even be a party to a contemplated fraud, though that’s not a fair inference against her unless something turns up to make it seem highly probable.”
“My boy,” cried Mr. Bradley admiringly, “you’ve all the instincts and qualities of the good newspaper man. I hope you’ll take up the work when you get through the High School. But now to business!”
“Where do you want me to go? Where do you want me to take up the trail? Where it started, just above the river bend? That’s out in the country, a mile and a half from here.”
“Darrin,” begged the news editor, “won’t you step to the ‘phone and ring up Getchel’s livery stable? Ask the man in charge to we want a horse with a little speed and a good deal of endurance.”
While Dave was busy at the wire Dick and the news editor talked over the affair in low tones.
“With the horse you can cover a lot of ground,” suggested Bradley. “And you’re right about taking up the trail where it started. In half an hour, if you don’t strike something big, you can drive back here on the jump for further orders. And don’t forget the use of the ‘phone, if you’re at a distance. Also, if you strike something, and want to follow it further, you can have Darrin drive in with anything that you’ve struck up to the minute. Hustle, both of you. And, Darrin, we’ll pay you for your trouble tonight.”
Horse and buggy were soon at the door. Dick sprang in, picking up the reins. Dave leaped in at the other side. The horse started away at a steady trot.
“I hope those boys have brains enough not to go right past the story,” mused Bradley, gazing after the buggy before he went back to his desk. “But I guess Prescott always has his head squarely on his shoulders. He does, in school athletics, anyway. Len Spencer is the man for this job, so of course Len had to be laid up with a cold and fever that would make it murder to send him out tonight.”
Horse and buggy were soon at the door. Dick sprang in, picking up the reins. Dave leaped in at the other side. The horse started away at a steady trot.
“I hope those boys have brains enough not to go right past the story,” mused Bradley, gazing after the buggy before he went back to his desk. “But I guess Prescott always has his head squarely on his shoulders. He does, in school athletics, anyway. Len Spencer is the man for this job, so of course Len had to be laid up with a cold and fever that would make it murder to send him out to-night.”
“Dick,” muttered Dave excitedly, “you’ve simply got to make good. This isn’t simply a little paragraph to be scribbled. It’s a mystery and is going to be the sensation of the day. This is the kind of story that full-fledged reporters on the great dailies have to handle.”
“Yes,” laughed Dick, “and those reporters never get flurried. I’m not going to allow myself any excitement, either.”
“No, but you want to get the story—all of it.”
“Of course I do,” Prescott agreed quietly.
“If you do this in bang-up shape,” Dave went on enthusiastically, “it’s likely to be the making of you!”
“How?” queried Dick, turning around to his chum.
“Why, success on a big story would fairly launch you in journalism. It would provide your career as soon as you’re through High School.”
“I don’t want a career at the end of the High School course,” Dick returned. “I’m going further, and try to fare better in life.”
“Wouldn’t you like to be a newspaper man for good?” demanded Dave.
“Not on a small-fry paper, anyway” replied Prescott. “Why, Bradley is news editor, and has been in the business for years. He gets about thirty dollars a week. I don’t believe Pollock, who has charge of the paper, gets more than forty-five. That isn’t return enough for a man who is putting in his whole life at the business.”
“Thirty dollars has the sound of pretty large money,” mused Dave. “As for forty-five, if that’s what Mr. Pollock gets, look at the comfort he lives in at his club; and he’s a real estate owner, too.”
“Yes,” Dick admitted. “But that’s because Pollock follows two callings. He’s an editor and a dealer in real estate. As for me, I’d rather put all my energies into one line of work.”
“Then you believe you’re going to earn more money than Pollock does?” questioned Dave, rather wonderingly.
“If I pick out a career for income,” Dick responded, “I do intend to go in for larger returns. But I may go into another calling where the pay doesn’t so much matter.”
“Such as what?”
“Dave, old fellow, can you keep a secret?”
“Bosh! You know I can.”
“A big secret?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Dave. By and by there are going to be, in this state, two appointments to cadetships at West Point. Our Congressman will have one appointment. Senator Alden will have the other. Now, in this state, appointments to West Point are almost always thrown open to competitive examination. All the fellows who want to go to West Point get together, at the call, and are examined. The fellow who comes off best is passed on to West Point to try his luck.”
“And you think you can prove that you’re the brightest fellow in the district?” laughed Dave good-humoredly.
“There are to be two chances, and I think I can prove that I’m one of the two brightest to apply. And Dave!”
“Why don’t you go in to prove that you’re the other brightest fellow. Just think! West Point! And the Army for a life career!”
“I think I’d rather scheme to go to the Naval Academy, and become an officer of the Navy,” returned Dave slowly. “The big battleships appeal to me more than does the saddle of the cavalryman.”
“Go to Indianapolis?” muttered Dick, in near-disgust. “Well, I suppose that will do well enough for a fellow who can’t get to West Point.”
“Now, see here,” protested Dave good-humoredly, though warmly, “you quit talking about Indianapolis. That’s a favorite trick with fellows who are cracked on West Point. You know, as well as I do, that the Naval Academy is at Annapolis. There’s a vacancy ahead for Annapolis, too.”
“Oho! You’ve been thinking of that?” demanded Dick, again looking into his chum’s eyes.
“Yes; if I can come out best in a competitive examination of the boys of this district.”
“Two secrets, then—yours and mine,” grinned Prescott. “However, it’ll be easier for you.”
“There aren’t so many fellows eager to go to the Naval Academy. It doesn’t draw as hard as the Army does.”
“The dickens it doesn’t!” ejaculated Dave Darrin.
“No; the Navy doesn’t catch young enthusiasm the way the Army does. You won’t have so many fellows to compete with as I shall,” said Dick.
“I’ll have twice as many—three times as many,” flared Darrin. “The Naval Academy is the only real and popular school in the United Service.”
“Well, we won’t quarrel,” laughed young Prescott. “When the time comes we’ll probably find smarter young fellows ahead of us, headed for both academies.”
“If you do fail on West Point—–?” quizzed Dave.
“_If_ I do,” declared Dick, with a very wistful emphasis on that “if,” “then, after getting through High School I’ll probably try to put in a year or two of hard work on ‘The Blade,’ to help my parents put me through college. They’re anxious to make me a college man, and they’d work and save hard for it, but I wouldn’t be much good if I didn’t try to earn a lot of the expense money. One thing I’m resolved upon—I’m not going to go through life as a half-educated man. It is becoming more true, every year, that there’s little show for the man with only the half-formed mind.”
Then the two turned back to the subject that had brought them out on this September night—the disappearance of Banker Theodore Dodge.
“In a minute or two we’ll be in sight of the river bend,” announced Darrin.
“There it is, now,” nodded Dick, slowing down the horse and gazing over yonder. “Some one is there, and looking hard for something.”
“Yes; I make out a couple of lanterns,” assented Dave. “Well”—as Dick pulled in the horse—“aren’t you going to drive over there?”
“That’s what I want to think about,” declared young Prescott. “I want to go at the job the right way—the way that real newspapermen would use.”
DICK STUMBLES ON SOMETHING
A few moments later Dick Prescott guided the horse down a shaded lane. “Whoa!” he called, and got out.
“What, now?” questioned Darrin, as his chum began to hitch the horse to a tree.
“I’m going to prowl over by the bend, and see who’s there and what they are doing.”
Having tied the horse, Dick turned and nodded to his friend to walk along with him.
“You know Bradley told us,” Prescott explained, “that the police do not know that Dodge’s disappearance has leaked out to the press. Most folks in Gridley know that I write for ‘The Blade.’ So I’m in no hurry to show up among the searchers. I intend, instead, to see what they’re doing. By going quietly we can approach, through that wood, and get close enough to see and hear without making our presence known.”
“I understand,” nodded Darrin.
Within two or three minutes the High School reporter and his chum had gained a point in the bushes barely one hundred and fifty feet away from where two men and a boy, carrying between them two lanterns, were closely examining the ground near the bank. One of the men was Hemingway, who was a sort of detective on the Gridley police force. The other man was a member of the uniformed force, though just now in citizen’s dress. The boy was Bert Dodge, son of the missing banker, and one of the best football men of the senior class of Gridley High School.
“It’s odd that we can’t find where the trail leads to,” the eavesdroppers heard Hemingway mutter presently.
“I’m afraid,” replied young Dodge, with a slight choke in his voice, “that our failure is due to the fact that water doesn’t leave any trail.”
“So you think your father drowned himself?” asked Hemingway, looking sharply at the banker’s son.
“If he didn’t, then some one must have pushed him into the river,” argued Bert, in an unsteady voice.
“And I’m just about as much of the opinion,” retorted Hemingway, “that your father left his hat and coat here, or sent them here, and didn’t even get his feet wet.”
“That’s preposterous,” argued the son, half indignantly.
“Well, there is the spot, right there, where the hat and coat were found. Now, for a hundred feet away, either up or down stream, the ground is soft. Yet there are no tracks such as your father would have left had he taken to the water close to where he left his discarded garments,” argued Hemingway, swinging his lantern about.
“We’ve pretty well trodden down whatever footprints might have been here,” disputed Bert Dodge. “I shan’t feel satisfied until daylight comes and we’ve had a good chance to have the river dragged.”
“Well, of course, it is possible you know of a reason that would make your father throw himself into the river?” guessed Officer Hemingway, with a shrewd glance at the son.
“Neither my mother nor I know anything about my father that would supply a reason for his suicide,” retorted Bert Dodge stiffly. “But I can’t see any reason for believing anything except that my poor dad must now be somewhere in the river.”
“We’ll soon be able to do the best that we can do by night,” rejoined Hemingway. “Chief Coy has gone after a gasoline launch that carries an electric search-light. As soon as he arrives we’ll go all over the river, throwing the light on every part of the water in search of some further clue. There’s no use, however, in trying to do anything more around here. We may as well be quiet and wait.”
“I can’t stand still!” sounded Dodge’s voice, with a ring of anguished suspense in it. “I’ve got to keep hunting.”
“Go ahead, then,” nodded the detective. “We would, too, if there were anything further that could be looked into. But there isn’t. I’m going to stop and smoke until the launch heaves in sight.”
Both policemen threw themselves on the ground, produced pipes and fell to smoking. But Bert Dodge, with the restlessness of keen distress, continued to stumble on up and down along the bank, flashing the lantern everywhere.
Presently Dodge was within sixty feet of where his High School mates crouched in hiding.
Suddenly the livery stable horse, some four or five hundred feet away, whinnied loudly, impatiently.
Natural as the sound was, young Dodge, in the tense state of his nerves, started and looked frightened.
“Wh-what was that?” he gasped.
“A horse,” called Hemingway quietly. “Probably some critter passing on the road.”
“I wish you’d see who’s with that horse,” begged young Dodge. “It may bring us news. I’m going, anyway.”
With that, swinging the lantern, Bert Dodge started to cut across through the woods with its fringe of bushes.
Dave Darrin slipped away, and out of sight. Before Dick could do so, however, young Dodge, moving at a fast sprint, was upon him.
Bert stopped as though shot when he caught sight of the other boy.
“Dick Prescott?” he gasped.
“Yes,” answered Dick quietly.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to see what news there is about the finding of your father.”
Hemingway had now reached the spot, with the other policeman some yards to the rear.
“You write for ‘The Blade,’ don’t you?” challenged Bert.
“Yes,” Dick assented.
“And ‘The Blade’ people sent you here?” cried Bert Dodge, in a voice haughty with displeasure.
“Perhaps ‘The Blade’ sent me here,” Dick only half admitted.
“Sent you here to pry into other people’s affairs and secrets,” continued young Dodge impetuously. Then added, threateningly:
“Don’t you dare to print a word about this affair!”
Dick looked quietly at young Dodge.
“Did you hear me?” demanded Bert.
“Then what’s your answer?”
“That I heard you, Bert.”
“You young puppy!” cried Dodge, advancing threateningly. “Don’t you address me familiarly.”
“I don’t care anything about addressing you at all,” retorted Prescott, flushing slightly under the insult. “At present I can make allowances for you, for I fully understand how anxious you are. But that is no real excuse for insulting me.”
“Are you going to heed me when I tell you to print nothing about my father’s disappearance?” insisted young Dodge.
“That is something over which you really have no control,” Dick replied slowly, though not offensively. “I take all my orders from my employers.”
“You young mucker!” cried Bert, in exasperation. “You print anything about our family misfortunes, and I’ll thrash you until you can’t see.”
“I won’t answer that,” Dick replied, “Until you make the attempt. But, see here, Dodge, you should try to keep cool, and as close to the line of gentlemanly speech and conduct as possible.”
“A nice one you are, to lecture me on that subject,” jeered Bert Dodge. “You—only a mucker! The son of—–“
“Stop!” roared Dick, his face reddening. He advanced, his fists clenched. “If you’re going to say anything against my father or mother, Bert Dodge, then stop before you say it! Before I break your neck!”
“Stop, both of you,” interjected Hemingway, springing between the white-faced High School boys. “No blows are going to be struck while members of the police department are around. Dodge, of course, you’re upset and nervous, but you’re not acting the way a gentleman should, even under such circumstances.”
“Then drive that fellow away from here!” commanded Bert.
“I can’t,” confessed the officer. “He is breaking no law, and has as much right to be here as we have.”
“Oh, he objects to my saying anything against his father or mother, but he’s out tonight to throw all manner of slime on my father’s name,” contended Bert Dodge. His voice broke under the stress of his pent-up emotion.
“You’re wrong there, Dodge!” Dick broke in, forcing himself to speak calmly. “I’m here to gather the facts on a matter of news, but I am not out to throw any insinuations over your father, or anyone whose good name is naturally precious to you. Sometimes a reporter—even an amateur one—has to do things that are unpleasant, but they’re all in the line of duty.”
“‘The Blade’ won’t print a line about this matter,” raged Bert tremulously. “Mr. Ripley is my father’s friend, and his lawyer, too. Mr. Ripley will go to your editor, and let him know what is going to happen if that scurrilous sheet—–“
Here Bert checked himself, for Dick had begun to smile coldly.
“Confound you!” roared Bert Dodge. He leaped forward, intent on striking the young junior down. But Officer Hemingway pushed Dodge back forcefully.
“Come, come, now, Dodge, we won’t have any of that,” warned the officer. “And, if you want my opinion, you’re not playing the part of a gentleman just now. Prescott understands your state of mind, however. He knows you’re so upset, your mind so unhinged by the family trouble that you’re doing and saying things that you’ll be ashamed of by daylight.”
“I suppose, next, you’ll be inviting this reported fellow to go on the boat with us when it comes,” sneered Bert Dodge.
“That would be for the chief to say. Reporters are, usually, allowed to go with the police. Come, come, Dodge,” urged Hemingway, laying a kindly hand on the young man’s shoulder, “calm down and understand that Prescott is not offering to make any trouble, and that he has been very patient with a young fellow who finds himself in a heap of trouble.”
“I can cut this short,” offered Dick quietly. “I don’t believe it would be worth my while, Mr. Hemingway, to ask the chief’s permission to go on the boat with you. ‘The Blade’ can find out, later, whether you discover anything on the river.”
“Where are you going, now?” demanded Bert unreasonably, as Prescott turned away.
“Back to the horse and buggy,” Dick replied coolly.
“Then I’m going with you, and see you start back to town,” asserted Bert Dodge.
Hemingway did not interfere, but, leaving his brother policeman at the river’s edge, accompanied young Dodge. In a few minutes they arrived at the spot in the lane where Dick had tied the horse. Here they found Dave Darrin seated in the buggy. Dave glanced unconcernedly at them all, nodding to Hemingway way, who returned the salutation.
“Now, I’ll watch you start away from here,” snapped Bert.
“All right, then,” smiled Dick, climbing in, after unhitching, and picking up the reins. “I won’t keep you long.”
With that, and a parting word to the policeman, Dick Prescott drove away.
“I saw Hemingway coming, and knew you wouldn’t need me,” Dave explained with a laugh. “So, to save Bert a double attack of nerves, I slipped off in the darkness, and came here. But what on earth ails Dodge, anyway?”
“Why, for one thing, he’s worried to death about the disappearance of his father,” replied Dick Prescott.
“I’ve seen people awfully worried before, and yet it didn’t make madmen of them,” snorted Darrin.
“Well—-?” Darrin insisted, rather impatiently.
“I’m half inclined to think that Bert Dodge has been leading the soreheads who sulk and won’t play football in the same team with some of us common fellows,” Dick laughed. “If so, the very fact of my being sent to look into the news side of his father’s disappearance would make Bert feel especially sore at me.”
“By George, you’ve hit the nail right on the head there,” cried Dave. “That’s the trouble. Bert has been leading a kick that was aimed very largely at Dick & Co., and now it almost puts him out of his head to find that Dick Prescott, of all the fellows in the school, has been sent by ‘The Blade’ to gather the facts concerning Theodore Dodge’s mysterious disappearance—or death.”
“Mr. Dodge isn’t dead,” replied Prescott slowly.
“What? And say! Do you realize, Dick, that you’re letting the horse walk?”
“I intended to,” returned Dick. “Whoa!”
“There’s a boat coming up the river and showing a search-light,” broke in Dave, pointing.
“I saw it. That’s why I stopped the horse. It must be Chief Coy’s launch that he went after. Yes; there it is, putting in where we first saw Bert Dodge and the officers.”
“Well, if you’re not going to keep track of the launch, why don’t you hit a fast gait for the office?” queried Darrin.
“There is plenty of time yet,” Dick replied, “and we’ve nothing to report to the office yet. I’m just waiting for that boat to take on its passengers and get well away from the spot.”
“Oh!” guessed Dave. “Then you’re going back and make your own search of the place?”
“You’re clever,” nodded Prescott, with a low laugh. “Yes; it may be that Hemingway and his companion have made a fine search. Or it may be that they’ve missed clues that a blind man ought to see.”
So the two High School boys sat there, in the buggy drawn up at the side of the road, for the next fifteen minutes. In that time the launch took on the waiting passengers, and the light played over all that part of the river, then started down stream.
Dick slowly headed the horse about, this time driving much closer to the river’s bank than he had done before.
“There’s a lantern under the seat, Dave. I saw it when we started from ‘The Blade’ office. Haul it out and light it, will you?”
For some minutes the two High School boys searched without much result. At last Dick and Dave began to move in wider circles, away from the much-tramped ground. Then, holding the lantern close to the ground, Prescott moved nearer and nearer to the railway track, all the while scanning the soil closely.
“Look there, Dave!” suddenly called Prescott. “No—–Don’t look just yet,” he added, holding the lantern behind him. “But tell me; you’ve often seen Mr. Dodge. What kind of boots did he wear?”
“Narrow, pointed shoes, and rather high heeled for a man to wear,” Darrin answered.
“Exactly,” nodded Dick. “Look there!”
Darrin bent down over a soft spot in the soil close to the railway roadbed. There were three prints of just such a boot as he had described.
“You see the small heel print,” continued Prescott, in a whisper. “And you note that the front part of the foot makes a heavy impression, as it would when the foot is tilted forward by a high heel.”
“I don’t believe another man in the town ever wore a pair of boots such as made these prints,” murmured Darrin excitedly. “And they’re headed away from the river, toward the railroad! And look here—other footprints of a different kind!”
“You’re right!” cried Prescott, holding the lantern closer to the ground and scanning some additional marks in the soil. “Coarse shoes; one pair of ’em brogans! Mr. Dodge had companions when he went away from here.”
“They may have been forcing the man somewhere with them,” quivered Darrin, staring off into the black night about them.
“No; not a sign of a struggle,” argued Dick, still with his gaze on the ground. “No matter who Mr. Dodge’s companions were, he went with them willingly. Gracious, Dave, but we were right in believing the banker to be still alive! Coat and hat at the water’s edge were a blind! Mr. Dodge has his own reasons for wanting people to think him dead. He has sloped away. Here’s the track. Which way did he and the fellows go?”
“Away from Gridley,” declared Darrin, sagely. “Otherwise, Mr. Dodge would have been seen by some one who would remember him.”
“We’ll go up along the track, then.”
This they did, but the roadbed was hard. Besides, anyone walking on the ties would leave no trail. It was slow work, holding the lantern close to the ground and scanning every step, besides swinging the lantern out to light up either side of their course. Yet both lads were so tremendously interested that they pushed on, heedless of the flight of time.
They had gone a mile or more up the track, “inching” it along, when they came upon an unmistakable print of Mr. Dodge’s oddly pointed boot and narrow, high heel. They found, too, the print of a brogan within six feet of the same point.
“This is the way Dodge and his queer companions came,” exulted Dave.
“But I don’t believe they followed the track much further,” argued Prescott, pointing ahead at the signal lights of a small crossing station. “If Mr. Dodge were trying to get away from public gaze he wouldn’t go by a station where usually half a dozen loungers are smoking and talking with the station agent.”
“We’re lucky to have the trail this far,” observed Dave Darrin. “But we can’t follow it accurately at night. Say—gracious! Do you know what time it is? Half-past one in the morning!”
“Wow?” ejaculated Prescott, halting and looking dismayed. “It’ll take us a good many minutes to get back to where we left the horse. It’ll be after two o’clock when we hit ‘The Blade’ office. Dave, we simply can’t follow the trail further tonight. But we must strike it first thing in the morning. It’ll be a big thing for ‘The Blade’ to be the folks to find the missing banker and clear the mystery up.”
“Unless Dodge just kept on until he came to one of the stations, and took a train. Then the trail would be a long one.”
“He didn’t take a train tonight,” returned Prescott, shaking his head. “If he wanted to disappear that would be the wrong way to go about it. He’d be recognized from the descriptions that will go about broadcast. No, sir! Mr. Dodge must be hiding in some of the big stretches of woods over yonder. A regiment could hide and be lost in the great woods.”
“It’s a trail I hate to leave,” muttered Dave Darrin.
“But we’ve got to wait until daylight. We can’t do much in the dark, anyway. I’ve got to get back to ‘The Blade’ office. Get your bearings here, Dave. To make doubly sure I’ll cut a slice out of this tie to mark the place where we found this print, for it may be indistinct by daylight.”
Marking the location Dick Prescott wheeled and began to hurry back, followed by Darrin. In due time they reached the buggy, took the light blanket from the horse, unhitched and jumped in. Fast driving took them to “The Blade” office.
“You didn’t learn anything, did you?” questioned Bradley.
“Yes; we did,” Dick informed him. “The police, with their launch didn’t get any trace of Mr. Dodge, did they?”
“No,” admitted the news editor. “I’ve talked with Hemingway within the last hour. The police will begin dragging the river by daylight.”
“They won’t find the banker that way,” chuckled Dick. “He’s alive.”
“Have you seen him?” demanded the news editor.
“No; and I’m not going to say too much now, either,” returned Dick, with unusual stubbornness. “But ‘The Blade’ wants to take the keynote that Theodore Dodge is alive, and will turn up. I believe Dave and I are going to make him turn up during the next spell of daylight.”
“We surely are!” laughed Darrin.
Mr. Bradley pressed them close with questions, but neither boy was inclined to reveal the secret of the trail along the railway roadbed.
“We’re going to keep it all as our own scoop,” Dick insisted. “And please, Mr. Bradley, don’t post the police about our idea. If you do, the police will get the credit. If we keep quiet, ‘The Blade’ will get all the credit that is coming.”
The news editor laid before Dick all the proofs and copy that had been prepared so far on the absorbing mystery of the night. Prescott made some newsy additions to the story, and through it all took the confident keynote that the vanished banker would soon be heard from in the flesh.
The work done, and Bradley having already seen to the return of the horse to the livery stable, Dick and Dave went into an unused room, where they threw themselves down on piles of old papers. Tired out, they slept without stirring. But they had left a note for the office boy who was due at six o’clock to sweep out the business office.
That office boy came in and called the High School pair at a few minutes after six. Dick’s first thought was to instruct the boy to telephone the Prescott and Darrin homes at seven in the morning, sending word that the two boys were safe but busy. Then Dick hastily led the way to a quick-order restaurant near by. Here the boys got through with breakfast as quickly as they could. That done, they bought sandwiches, which they put into their pockets.
As they came out of the eating house the streets were still far from crowded. Laborers were going to their toil, but it was yet too early for the business men of the city to be on their way to offices, or clerks to the stores.
“Now, let’s get out of the town in a jiffy,” proposed Dick. “We don’t want to have many folks observing which way we go. We’ll travel fast right up along the railway track.”
Once started, the two boys kept going briskly. Both had been drowsy at the outset, but the impulse of discovery had them in its grip now, and fatigue was quickly forgotten.
Something more than half an hour after the start the boys halted beside the tie that Prescott had whittled in the dark a few hours before.
“There are the footprints,” quivered Dave, staring hard.
“They’re not as distinct as they were a few hours ago,” replied Dick. “Still, I think we can follow them. I’m glad they lead toward the woods.”
“Yes,” Darrin agreed. “The direction of the footprints shows that Mr. Dodge and his companions didn’t have any notion of boarding a train and getting out of this part of the world.”
Yet, though both of these young newspaper hounds were keen to follow the trail, they did not find it any easy matter. Dick and Dave reached the edge of the woods. Then, for a short time, they were obliged to explore carefully ere they came again upon one of the bootmarks of fastidious Banker Dodge. It was a hundred feet further on, in a bit of soft mould, that the next bootprint was found. Had these two High School boys been more expert trackers they would have found a fairly continuous trail, but their untrained eyes lacked the ability to see other signs that would have been evident to a plainsman.
So their progress was slow, indeed. They could judge only by the direction in which each last footprint was pointed, and they had to remember that one wandering through the woods might travel over a course whose direction frequently changed.
“Dave,” whispered Prescott, “I think we had better separate a little. We might go along about a hundred feet apart. In that way there is more chance that we’ll come sooner upon the next print.”
There were perhaps six hundred feet into the woods, by this time, and stood looking down at the fifth footmark they had found.
“All right,” nodded Darrin. “We’re a pair of rank amateurs at this kind of work, anyway.”
“Amateurs or not,” murmured Dick, with a smile? “we seem to be the only folks in Gridley who are on the right track in this mystery at present.”
“I’m full of misgivings, anyway,” muttered Dave.
“I can’t help feeling that we should have turned our news over to Chief Coy or Hemingway.
“Well, if we lose our man now, we’ll soon feel that we ought to have turned the whole thing over to the police while the trail was fresh.”
“Dave, don’t you know, well enough, that newspapers do more than the police, nowadays, in clearing up mysteries?”
“This may be more than a mystery,” hinted Dave. “Even if we get through to the end of this trail—or mystery we may find a crime at that end.”
“All the more need, then, for moving on fast. See here, Dave, I’ll follow just the way this footprint points. You get out a hundred feet or so to the right. And we’ll move as fast as we can, now.”
The wisdom of this plan was soon apparent, for it was Dave Darrin who discovered the next footprint. He summoned Dick Prescott with a sharp hiss.
“Yes; all right,” nodded Dick, joining his comrade and gazing down at one of the narrow bootmarks. “But don’t send a long signal again, Dave. We might be close, and warn some one out of our way.”
“What shall we do, then?”
“We’ll look frequently at each other, and the fellow who discovers anything will make signs to the other.”
Three minutes later Dick Prescott crouched low behind a line of bushes, his eyes glistening as he peered and listened. Then he began to make wildly energetic signals to Dave Darrin.
The head partner of Dick & Co. had fallen upon something that interested him—tremendously!
THE “SOREHEADS” IN CONCLAVE
Dave Darrin came stealing over, as soft-footed as any panther.
Dick did not turn around to look at his chum. He merely held up a cautioning hand, and Darrin moved even more stealthily.
In another moment Dave’s head was close to his chum’s, and both young men were gazing upon the same scene.
“Davis and Fremont—–” whispered Darrin in his chum’s ear.
“Bayliss, Porter and Drayne,” Dick nodded back, softly.
“Trenhold, Grayson, Hudson,” continued Darrin.
“All the ‘soreheads,'” finished Dick Prescott for him.
“Or nearly all,” supplemented Dave.
Indeed, the scene upon which these two High School boys gazed was one that greatly interested them.
On a little knoll, just beyond the line of bushes, and on lower ground, fully a dozen young men lounged, basking in the morning sun, which poured through upon this small, treeless space.
Though the young men down in the knoll were not carefully attired, there was a general similarity in their dress. All wore sweaters, and nearly all of them wore cross-country shoes. Evidently the whole party had been out for a cross country run.
Now, the dozen or so were eagerly engaged in conversation.
“It’s too bad Purcell won’t join us,” remarked Davis.
“Yes,” nodded another fellow in the group; “he belongs with us.”
“Oh, well,” spoke up Bayliss, “if Purcell would rather be with the muckers, let him.”
“Now, let’s not be too rank, fellows,” objected Hudson slowly. “I wouldn’t call all the fellows muckers who don’t happen to belong in our crowd.”
“What would you call ’em then?” growled Bayliss angrily. “Time was when only the fellows of the better families expected to go to High School, on their way to college. Now, every day-laborer’s son seems to think he ought to go to High School—–“
“And be received with open arms, on a footing of equality,” sneered Porter.
“It’s becoming disgusting,” muttered Bayliss. “Not only do these cheap fellows expect to go to the High School, but they actually want to run the school affairs.”
“I suppose that’s natural, to some extent,” speculated Porter.
“Why?” demanded Bayliss, turning upon the last speaker in amazement.
“Why, the sons of the poorer families are in a majority, nowadays,” returned Hudson.
“Say, you’re getting almost as bad as Purcell,” warned Porter.
“If I am, I apologize, of course,” responded Hudson.
“I’ve no real objection to the sons of poorer men coming to the High School,” vouchsafed Paulson, meditatively. “But you know the cream, the finer class of the High School student body, has always centered in the school’s athletic teams. And now—–“
“Yes; and now—–” broke in Bayliss harshly.
“Why, these fellows, who are not much more than tolerated in the High School, or ought not to be, make the most noise at the meets of the training squads,” continued Paulson.
“And some of ’em,” growled Fremont, “actually have the cheek to carry off honors in scholarship, too. Take Dick Prescott, for instance.”
“Oh, let the muckers have the scholarship honors, if that’s all they want,” retorted Bayliss “A gentleman hasn’t much need of scholarship, anyway, if he’s an all-around, proper fellow in every other respect. But the, gang that call themselves Dick & Co. are a fair sample of the muckers that we have to contend with.”
“No,” objected Fremont; “they’re the very worst of the lot in the High School. Why, look at the advertising those fellows get for themselves. And not one of them of good family.”
“Fellows of good, prominent families don’t have to advertise themselves,” observed Bayliss sagely.
It was plain that by “good” family was meant one of wealth. These young men had little else in the way of a standard.
“It makes me cranky,” observed Whitney, “to see the way a lot of the girls seem to notice just such fellows as Prescott, Darrin, Reade, Dalzell—fellows who, by rights, ought to be through with their schooling and earning wages as respectful grocery clerks or decent shoe salesmen.”
“But this talk isn’t carrying us anywhere,” objected Bayliss. “The question is, what are we going to do with the football problem this year? We don’t want to play in the same eleven with the cheap muckers, and have ’em think they’re the whole eleven. The call for the football training squad is due to go up some time next week.”
“Bert Dodge says—–” interrupted Paulson.
“Yes, Dodge is the fellow I wish we had here with us today,” interposed Bayliss. “Dodge is the one we ought to listen to.”
“Poor Dodge has his own troubles today,” murmured Hudson.
“Yes; I know—poor fellow,” nodded Bayliss. “I wish we fellows could help him, but we can’t.”
“I was talking with Dodge yesterday, before his own troubles broke loose,” went on Hudson. “Dodge’s idea is that we ought all to keep away when the football squad is called. Then Coach Morton may get an idea of how things are going, and he may see just what he ought to do.”
“But suppose the muckers all answer the call in force?” inquired Trenholm. “What are we to do then?”
“We’re to keep out of the squad this year,” responded Bayliss promptly. “See here, either we fellows organize the Gridley High School eleven ourselves, and decide who shall play in it, or else we stay out and let the muckers go ahead and pile up a record of lost games this year.”
“That’s hard on good old Gridley High School,” murmured Hudson.
“True,” agreed Fremont. “But it’ll teach the town, the school authorities, the coach and after this year, that only the prominent fellows in the school should have any voice in athletics. Let the muckers be content with standing behind the side lines and rooting for the real High School crowd.”
“Shall we put it to a vote?” asked Bayliss, looking about him.
“Yes!” answered several promptly.
“Then, as I understand it,” continued Bayliss, “when the football call goes up, we’re all to ignore it. We’re to continue to ignore the call, and keep out of the school football squad this year, unless the coach and the Athletics Committee agree that we shall have the naming of the candidates. Is that the general agreement among ourselves?”
“Yes!” came the chorus.
“Any contrary votes?”
Momentary silence reigned in this conclave of “soreheads.”
“Yet,” continued Bayliss, “we’ve started training among ourselves. This morning’s cross-country is part of our daily training. If we have to refuse the football call, and stay out of the squad, are we to drop our present training?”
“Hardly, I should say,” responded Fremont. “I have something to suggest in that line. If we can’t go into what is really a gentleman’s eleven under the High School colors, I propose that we organize an eleven of our own, and call ourselves simply the Gridley Football Club. We can bring out an eleven that would put things all over any school team that the muckers could organize without our help.”
“We wouldn’t play the muckers, would we?” demanded Trenholm.
“Certainly not!” retorted Bayliss, with contemptuous emphasis.
“We won’t even know that a mucker High School team is on earth,” laughed Porter.
“I think we understand the plan well enough, now, don’t we?” inquired Blaisdell, rising.
“We do,” nodded Porter. “And we’ll all do our full share toward bringing control of High School affairs back to the aristocratic leadership that it once had.”
“Hoist our banners, and let them proclaim: ‘Down with the muckers!'” laughed Hudson, rolling up the hem of his sweater.
“We want a good, not too fast but steady jog back to town,” announced Bayliss.
At the first sign that the “soreheads” were preparing to leave the spot Dick had taken advantage of their noise to slip away. Dave had followed him successfully.
Then, from another hiding place these two prowling juniors, grinning, watched the “soreheads” move away at a loping run.
“We certainly know all we need to about that crowd,” muttered Dick, a half-vengeful look in his eyes. “The snobs!”
“Oh, they’re cads, all right,” assented Dave. “Yet that bunch of fellows contains some of the material that is needed in putting forth the best High School team this year!”
“Humph!” commented Dave disgustedly. “Yet, Dick, I was almost surprised that you would stop and listen, without letting the fellows know you were there.”
“It does seem sneaky, at first thought,” Prescott admitted, almost shamefacedly.
“Hold on there!” ordered Dave. “I don’t believe you’d do a thing like that, Dick Prescott, unless you had an honorable reason for it.”
“I did it because the honor of the High School is so precious to me—to us all,” Dick replied. “We want to put forth a winning team, as Gridley High School has always done. Now, these ‘soreheads’ aim to defeat that by keeping a few of the best players off the eleven. I listened, Dave, because I wanted to know what the trouble was, and just who was making it. Now, I guess I know how to deal with the ‘sore-heads.’ I’ll make them ashamed of themselves.”
“One thing at a time, Dave. In our excitement we’ve almost forgotten that we started out to find Theodore Dodge and clear up the mystery of his disappearance.”
AT THE END OF THE TRAIL
“The further we go the more mysterious this becomes,” mused Dick, as he and Darrin stood together over a clump of faintly-marked footprints, a quarter of an hour later.
“How does the mystery increase?” Darrin inquired.
“For one thing, we don’t always find the bootmarks of the men who were with Mr. Dodge. Yet once in a while we do. There are the prints of all three. When Theodore Dodge passed by this way the other two men were with him, or had him in sight. And our course shows that the three were plunging deeper and deeper into the woods. But come along. There must be an end to this, somewhere.”
Ten minutes later Prescott and Darrin felt that they had come to the end of the mystery. For the faint trail had led them up a slight, stony slope, and now the two boys lay flat on the ground.
Below them, in a bush-clad hollow, two miles from the world in general, stood a little, old, ramshackle shanty. The location was one that seekers would hardly have found without a trail to lead them to it.
To the door of this shanty a broad-shouldered, rough-looking and powerful fellow of forty had just come. The man, who was poorly clad, wore brogans, and held in his right hand a weighty, ugly-looking club. The fellow was smoking a short-stemmed pipe, and now stood, with his left hand shading his eyes, peering off at the surrounding landscape.
Dick and Dave hugged the ground more closely behind their screen of bushes.
“It’s all right, Bill,” announced the lookout in the doorway.
“‘Course this,” growled a voice from the inside. “Too far from the main line o’ travel for anyone to be spying around. Besides, no one guesses—–“
“Well, you can go to sleep if ye wanter, Bill. I’m goin’ ter sit up and smoke.”
With that the brogan-shod man disappeared inside the shanty. Dick and Dave glanced at each other with eager interest.
“I wonder whether they have Mr. Dodge in there with them?” breathed Dick, in his ear.
“If Mr. Dodge is in there he’s keeping amazingly quiet,” Darrin responded doubtingly.
“Within a very few minutes,” Prescott rejoined, “I’m going to know whether Mr. Dodge is in that shanty.”
“We found his footprint close enough near here,” argued Dave.
“Yes, and I feel sure enough that Mr. Dodge is there. But why don’t we hear something from him? The whole business is so uncanny that it gives one that creepy feeling.”
For a full quarter of an hour the two chums remained hidden, barely stirring. From the shanty, at first, came crooning tones, as though the man in brogans were humming over old songs to himself. Occasionally there was a snore; evidently Bill was drowsing the day away.
“Now, I’m going down there,” whispered Dick.
“Look out the big fellow doesn’t catch you,” warned Darrin. “I’ve an idea he’d beat you to a pulp if he caught you.”
“I’m not as big as he is,” admitted Dick, grinning, “but I think I might prove as fast as he on my feet.”
As Prescott started to steal down into the hollow Dave reached about him, gathering all the fair-sized stones within reach.
“If Dick has to come from there on the rim,” soliloquized Darrin, “a few stones hurled at the face of that ugly-looking customer might hold him back for a while. And I used to be called a pretty fair pitcher!”
Prescott, in the meantime, was stealing around the shanty, applying his eyes to some tiny cracks.
At last he turned, making straight and cautiously up the slope.
As he came near, Dick sent Dave a signal that made that latter youth throb with expectancy.
“Yes! We’ve found Theodore Dodge!” whispered young Prescott eagerly. “He’s in there, lying on the floor, bound and gagged.”
“Whew! And what is Mr. Brogans doing?”
“Sitting on the floors smoking and playing solitaire with a dirty pack of cards. The other rascal, Bill, is sleeping at a great rate.”
“What are we going to do now?”
“Dave, are you willing to stay here, hiding and keeping watch on the place?”
“Surely,” nodded Darrin, with great promptness.
“If the wretches should try to take Mr. Dodge away from here—–“
“I’ll follow ’em, of course.”
“And leave a paper trail,” nodded Dick.
“Here is all the paper I have in my pockets,” he added.
“I have some, too,” muttered Dave.
“I’ll be back as speedily as I can get help.”
“You ought not to be gone more than an hour.”
“Not as long as that, I hope. Goodbye, Dave, and look out for yourself.”
After going the first hundred yards Dick Prescott let himself out into a loping run, very much like that used by the “soreheads” in getting back to town. With a trained runner the cross-country style of running is suited for getting over long distances at fair speed.
Twenty minutes later young Prescott reached a farm house in which there was a telephone. He asked permission to use the instrument.
“Go right in the parlor, and help yourself,” replied the farmer’s wife.
As Dick rang on, and stood waiting, transmitter at his ear, he first thought of calling for the police station.
“No, I won’t, either,” he muttered. “This belongs to my paper. Let them tip off the police. Hello! Give me ‘The Blade’ office, Gridley, please.”
Dick waited patiently a few moments. Then:
“Hullo! ‘The Blade?’ This is Prescott. Is Mr. Pollock there? He is? Good! Tell him I want to speak with him.”
Then Mr. Pollock’s voice sounded over the wire.
“Hullo, Prescott! Why aren’t you on hand, with that big Dodge story hanging over our heads? Why, it brought me down hours before fore my time.”
“Pollock, I’ve found Dodge,” replied Dick Composedly. “At least, Darrin and I—–“
“What’s that!” broke in the editor’s excited voice. “You’ve found Dodge? Alive?”
As rapidly as he could young Prescott told the story. Mr. Pollock listened gladly.
“Now, where are you, Prescott?”
Dick told Mr. Pollock the name of the farmer from whose home he was telephoning.
“Just you wait there, Prescott. And, oh!—pshaw! I came near forgetting to tell you the biggest news of all—for you. Mrs. Dodge this morning offered a thousand dollars’ reward for the finding of her husband, dead or alive. You’ll get that reward—you and Darrin! But I’ve no more time to talk. Stay right where you are until I reach you.”
Nor was it long before Dick, pacing by the farmyard gate, saw an automobile approaching at a lively clip. In it were the chauffeur and Editor Pollock.
The latter waved his hand wildly when he caught sight If his High School reporter.
Right begged this automobile sped another, in which sat Chief Coy, Officer Hemingway and a uniformed policeman, in addition to the chauffeur.
“We didn’t lose much time, did we?” hailed Mr. Pollock, as the first auto slowed up “Jump in, quick! Show us the way.”
“I suppose there’s some excitement down in Gridley, about this time?” laughed Dick, as the two autos raced along once more.
“Not a bit,” replied the editor. “And for the very simple reason that no one knows that Dodge has been found.”
“His family know it, of course?” queried Dick.
“No; not a word. Chief Coy kept it quiet, and asked me to do the same. He didn’t want the Dodge family all stirred up by false hopes in case you had made a mistake. The silence will keep ‘The Evening Mail’ from learning the news for a while. And I’ve had our forms left standing. We’re all ready to run out an extra —in case you haven’t made a mistake, Prescott,” added Mr. Pollock quizzically.
Dick smiled resignedly at this implied doubt. But the autos were making fast time, and soon the machines had gone as far on the way as they could be used.
“Now we’ll have to get out and strike across country, through the woods,” Prescott called.
So far Dick had resolutely tried to keep out of his mind any thought of that thousand-dollar reward. It sounded too much like “Blood money” to take pay for helping any afflicted family out of its troubles. Besides, it had been the glory of doing a piece of bright newspaper work that had allured the two High School boys at the outset.
“Yet a thousand dollars is—a thousand dollars!” Dick couldn’t help feeling, wistfully, as he piloted his party across fields and through the woods. “A thousand dollars! Five hundred apiece for Dave and me! What a fearful big lot of money! What we could do with it, If we had it! I wonder whether it would be right and decent to take it?”
Then, as he neared the place where he had left his chum on post Dick Prescott found other and anxious thoughts crowding into his mind.
Was Dave Darrin, staunch and reliable Dave—still there, on post, and unharmed?
Was Theodore Dodge there? Were his captors still with him?
THE SMALL SOUL OF A GENTLEMAN
A few minutes later all fears and doubts were dispelled.
Dave Darrin rose to greet the newcomers informing them, in a whisper, that all was still well in the old shanty below.
He of the brogans and club heard a slight noise outside. Swiftly he rose and darted to the door, ready to pounce.
But he beheld the policemen, with the newspaper trio just behind them. More, Chief Coy and his subordinates had their revolvers drawn.
“Howdy, gents?” was Mr. Brogans’ greeting as he dropped his club and tried to grin.
“Take care of him, Hemingway,” directed Thief Coy, briefly.
“Me?” demanded Brogans, in feigned astonishment. “What have _I_ done?”
The noise roused Bill, who sprang up. But Bill must have found the police wonderfully soothing, for he quieted down at once.
Both rascals were taken care of. Then Theodore Dodge was found lying bound and gagged on the floor. A ragged, foul-smelling coat had been substituted for the one that had been left at the river’s bank. The banker looked up at the intruders with a stupefied leer, betraying neither alarm or pleasure.
As soon as the two rough-looking fellows had been handcuffed Mr. Dodge was freed, and his tongue also, but Chief Coy, after raising the banker and questioning him, muttered:
“Clean out of his head. Daffy. Must have wandered away from Gridley during a loony streak. He isn’t over it yet.”
The two rough-looking ones protested loudly against being deprived of their liberty.
“I don’t really know that you fellows have done anything,” admitted Chief Coy. “But I’m taking you along on suspicion that it was you, and not Mr. Dodge himself, who bound and gagged him.”
This retort, given with a great deal of dry sarcasm, silenced the prisoners for the time being.
“We ought to have this out an hour before ‘The Evening Mail’ people,” exulted Editor Pollock. “Prescott, my boy, you’re a born reporter! And, Darrin, you’re not much behind.” “Theodore Dodge found by two “Blade” reporters! That won’t sound bad!”
The briefest questioning was enough to show that Theodore Dodge was in no condition to give any account of himself. He did not reply with an intelligible word. His eyes held only a vacant stare. It was as though memory and reason had suddenly snapped within his brain.
“The doctors will want him,” commented Chief Coy. “And we can’t be hustling back a bit too soon.”
It had been a gloomy morning at the home of Banker Dodge.
Through the night, none had slept. Anxiety had kept them all on the rack.
Mrs. Dodge, a thin and nervous woman, had gone from one spell of hysterics into another, as morning neared. A trained nurse had to be sent for.
Then in a calm lull Mrs. Dodge had telephoned for Lawyer Ripley, who lost his breakfast through the speed with which he obeyed the summons of the distracted wife.
As a result of the lawyer’s visit the reward of a thousand dollars had been offered.
The house was quiet again. Dr. Bentley, having been called for the third time, had administered an opiate, and Mrs. Dodge was sleeping. The other members of the family tip-toed restlessly about.
Bert Dodge felt in a peculiarly “mean” frame of mind that morning. The young man simply could not remain in one spot. The more he had thought, through and through the night, the more he had become convinced that his father had killed himself because of some entanglement in the bank’s affairs.
“And I’ll be pointed out as the defaulter’s son,” thought Bert bitterly. “Oh, why couldn’t the guv’nor think of some one besides himself! We’ll have to move away from Gridley, of course. But the disgrace will follow us anywhere we may go. Oh, it’s awful—awful! Of course, I’m not in any way to blame. But, oh! What a disgrace!”
It was well along in the forenoon when Bayliss, returning homeward in sweater and running togs, espied Bert’s white, wan face near the front door. Bayliss signaled cordially to young Dodge, who, glad of this kindliness at such a time, went down the walk to the gate.
“No news of your father yet, I suppose?” asked Bayliss.
“No,” sighed Bert.
“Too bad, old fellow!”
“Yes; the uncertainty is pretty tough on us all,” Dodge replied.
“Oh, you’ll hear before the day is out, and the news will be all right, too,” declared Bayliss, with well-meant cheeriness. “Then you’ll be with us on the morning cross-countries again. We missed you a whole lot this morning, Bert.”
“Did you?” asked young Dodge, brightening.
“Yes; and, by the way, we’ve decided on our course—for our set, you know. We’re going to ignore the football call next week. If Coach Morton asks us any questions, then we’ll let him know how the land lies. We won’t try to make the High School team if the muckers are allowed the same show. We’ll have a select crowd on the eleven, this year, or else all of our set will stay off.”
“The muckers have some good football men among them, too,” grumbled Bert. “Of course for that gang that call themselves Dick & Co we can’t any more than make guesses. But some of them would be handy on an eleven I guess.”
“Yes; if they were not muckers,” agreed Bayliss loftily. “But there are enough of our own kind to make as good an eleven as Gridley High School ever had.”
“It’s a pity we can’t get up our own eleven play the muckers, just once, and beat them out for the right to represent Gridley.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad an idea. But they might beat us,” retorted Bayliss dryly. “So, on the whole, our fellows have decided not to pay any heed whatever to Dick & Co. or any of the other muckers. After this the line must be drawn, at High School, between the gentlemen and the other kind.”
“All plans looking in that direction will have my hearty support,” pledged Bert Dodge.