Produced by Jim Ludwig
THE HIGH SCHOOL PITCHER
or Dick & Co. on the Gridley Diamond
I. The Principal Hears Something About Pennies II. Dick Takes Up His Pen
III. Mr. Cantwell Thinks Twice—or Oftener IV. Dave Warns Tip Scammon
V. Ripley Learns That the Piper Must be Paid VI. The Call to the Diamond—Fred Schemes VII. Dave Talks with One Hand
VIII. Huh? Woolly Crocheted Slippers IX. Fred Pitches a Bombshell into Training Camp X. Dick & Co. Take a Turn at Feeling Glum XI. The Third Party’s Amazement
XII. Trying out the Pitchers
XIII. The Riot Call and Other Little Things XIV. The Steam of the Batsman
XV. A Dastard’s Work in the Dark
XVI. The Hour of Tormenting Doubt
XVII. When the Home Fans Quivered
XVIII. The Grit of the Grand Old Game XIX. Some Mean Tricks Left Over
XX. A Tin Can for the Yellow Dog
XXI. Dick is Generous Because It’s Natural XXII. All Roads Lead to the Swimming Pool XXIII. The Agony of the Last Big Game
THE PRINCIPAL HEARS SOMETHING ABOUT “PENNIES”
The barely audible droning of study ceased promptly in the big assembly room of the Gridley High School.
The new principal, who had just stepped into the room, and who now stood waiting behind his flat-top desk on the platform, was a tall, thin, severe-looking man of thirty-two or three.
For this year Dr. Carl Thornton, beloved principal for a half-score of years, was not in command at the school. Ill health had forced the good old doctor to take at least a year’s rest, and this stranger now sat in the Thornton chair.
“Mr. Harper,” almost rasped out Mr. Cantwell’s voice, “stop rustling that paper.”
Harper, a little freshmen, who had merely meant to slip the paper inside his desk, and who was not making a disturbing noise thereby, flushed pink and sat immobile, the paper swinging from one hand.
From the principal’s attitude and his look of seriousness, something unusual was pending. Some of the girls permitted their apprehension to be seen. On the faces of several of the boys rested a look of half defiance, for this principal was unpopular, and, by the students, was considered unjust.
“It being now in the early part of December,” went on Mr. Cantwell, “we shall, on Monday, begin rehearsing the music for the special exercises to be held in this school on the day before Christmas. To that end, each of you found, on returning from recess, the new Christmas music on your desk.”
Mr. Cantwell paused an instant for this important information to sink in. Several slight, little sighs of relief escaped the students, especially from the girls’ side of the great room. This speech did not presage anything very dreadful to come.
“This sheet music,” continued Mr. Cantwell, “is to be sold to the pupils at cost to the Board of Education. This cost price is fifteen cents.”
Again Mr. Cantwell paused. It was a trick of his, a personal peculiarity. Then be permitted himself a slight smile as he added:
“This being Friday, I will ask you all to be sure to bring, on Monday morning, the money, which you will pay to me. Don’t forget, please; each of you bring me his little fifteen pennies. Now, return to your studies until the beginning of the fourth period is announced.”
As he bent his head low behind a bulky textbook, Dan Dalzell, of the sophomore class, glanced over at Dick Prescott with sparkling mischief gleaming in his eyes.
Dick, who was now a sophomore, and one of the assured leaders in sports and fun, guessed that Dan Dalzell was hatching another of the wild schemes for which Dalzell was somewhat famous. Dick even guessed that he knew about what was passing in Dan’s mind.
Though moderate whispering was permitted, at need, in the assembly room, there was no chance for Dick and Dan to pass even a word at this time, for almost immediately the bell for the fourth period of the morning’s work sounded, and the sections rose and filed out to the various recitation rooms.
To readers of the preceding volume in this series, Dick & Co. will need no introduction. All six of the youngsters were very well introduced in “The High School Freshmen.”
Such readers will remember their first view of Dick & Co. With brown-haired Dick Prescott as leader, the other members of this unique firm of High School youngsters, were Tom Reade, Dan Dalzell, Harry Hazelton, Gregory Holmes and Dave Darrin.
The six had been chums at the Central Grammar School, and had stuck together like burrs through the freshman year at the Gridley High School. In fact, even in their freshmen period, when new students are not expected to have much to say, and are given no chance at the school athletics, Dick & Co. had made themselves abundantly felt.
Our readers will recall how the Board of Education had some notion of prohibiting High School football, despite the fact that the Gridley H.S. eleven was one of the best in the United States. Readers will also recall the prank hatched by Dick & Co., by means of which the Board was quickly shown how unpopular such a move would be in the city.
Our readers will also recollect that, though freshmen were barred from active part in sports, yet Dick & Co. found the effective way of raising plentiful funds for the Athletics Committee. In the annual paper chase the freshmen hounds, under Dick Prescott’s captaincy, beat the sophomore hares—for the first time in many years. In the skating events, later on, Dick and his chums captured, for the freshman class, three of the eight events. From the start, Dick & Co. had shown great ingenuity in “boosting” football, in return for which, many of the usual restrictions on freshmen were waived where Dick & Co. were concerned.
In the nearly three months, now, that the new school year had gone along, Dick & Co. had proved that, as sophs, they were youngsters of great importance in the student body. They were highly popular with most of their fellow-students; but of course that very popularity made them some enemies among those who envied or disliked them.
For one thing, neither Dick nor any of his partners came of families of any wealth. Yet it was inevitable that some of the boys and girls of Gridley H.S. should come from families of more or less wealth.
It is but fair to say that most of these scions of the wealthier families were agreeable, affable and democratic—in a word, Americans without any regard to the size of the family purse.
A few of the wealthier young people, however, made no secret of their dislike for smiling, happy, capable Dick & Co. One of the leaders in this feeling was Fred Ripley, son of a wealthy, retired lawyer.
During the skating events of the preceding winter, Dick Prescott, aided by his chums, had saved the life of Ripley, who had gone through thin ice. However, so haughty a young man as Fred Ripley, though he had been slightly affected by the brave generosity, could not quite bring himself to regard Dick as other than an interloper in High School life.
Ripley had even gone so far as to bribe Tip Scammon, worthless, profligate son of the honest old janitor of the High School, to commit a series of robberies from the locker rooms in the school basement while Dick carried the key as monitor there. The “plunder” had been found in Dick’s own room at home, and the young man had been suspended from the High School for a while. Thanks, however, to Laura Bentley and Belle Meade, two girls then freshmen and now sophs, Tip had been run down. Then the police made Tip confess, and he was sent away to the penitentiary for a short term. Tip, however, refused to the last to name his accomplice. Dick knew that Ripley was the accomplice, but kept his silence, preferring to fight all his own battles by himself.
So Fred Ripley was now a junior, in good standing as far as scholarship and school record went.
So far, during this new year, Ripley had managed to smother his hatred for Dick & Co., especially for Dick himself.
Lessons and recitations on this early December morning went off as usual. In time the hands of the clock moved around to one o’clock in the afternoon, at which time the High School closed for the day.
The partners of Dick & Co. went down the steps of the building and all soon found their way through the surging crowds of escaped students. This sextette turned down one of the streets and trudged along together. At first several of the other High School boys walked along near them. Finally, however, the crowd thinned away until only Dick & Co. were together.
“Dan,” said Dick, smilingly, “something struck you hard this morning, when Mr. Cantwell asked us all to bring the music-money on Monday.”
“He didn’t say exactly ‘money,'” retorted Dan Dalzell, quickly. “What Prin. did say was that each one of us was to bring fifteen _pennies_.”
“Yes, I remember,” laughed Dick.
“Now, we couldn’t have held that mob when school let out,” pursued Dan. “And now it’s too late. But say, if the Prin. had only sprung that on us _before_ recess—–“
“Well, suppose he had?” interrupted Greg Holmes, a trifle impatiently.
“Why, then,” retorted Dan, mournfully, “we could have passed word around, at recess, to have everybody bring just what the Prin. called for—_pennies_!”
“Hm!” grinned Dave Darrin, who was never slow to see the point of anything. “Then you had a vision of the unpopular Prin. being swamped under a deluge of pennies—plain, individual little copper cents?”
“That’s it!” agreed Dan. “But now, we won’t see more than a few before we go to school again Monday. Oh—wow! What a chance that takes away from us. Just imagine the Prin. industriously counting away at thousands of pennies, and a long line of boy and girl students in line, each one waiting to pass him another handful of _pennies_! Say, can you see the Prin.—just turning white and muttering to himself? But there’s no chance to get the word around, now!”
“We don’t need to get the word around,” smiled Dick. “If we passed the word around, it might get to the Prin.’s ears before Monday, and he’d hatch up some way to head us off.”
“If you can see how to work the trick at this late hour, you can see further than I can,” muttered Dan, rather enviously.
“Oh, Dick has the scheme hatching, or he wouldn’t talk about it,” declared Dave Darrin, confidently.
“Why, if all you want is to send the whole student body on Monday morning, each with fifteen copper cents to hand the Prin., that can be fixed up easily enough,” Dick pronounced, judicially.
“How are we going to do it?” asked Dalzell, dubiously.
“Well, let us see how many pennies would be needed? There are close to two hundred and fifty students, but a few might refuse to go into the trick. Let us say two hundred and forty _times_ fifteen. That’s thirty-six hundred, isn’t it? That means we want to get thirty-six dollars’ worth of pennies. Well, we’ll get them!”
“_We_ will?” demanded Dan, with a snort. “Dick, unless you’ve got more cash on hand than the rest of us then I don’t believe a dragnet search of this crowd would turn up two dollars. Thirty-six? That’s going some and halfway back!”
“There are three principal ways of buying goods of any kind,” Dick continued. “One way is with cash—–“
“That’s the street we live on!” broke in Harry Hazelton, with a laugh.
“The second way,” Dick went on, “is to pay with a check. But you must have cash at the bank behind the check, or you get into trouble. Now the third way is to buy goods on credit.”
“That’s just as bad,” protested Dan. “Where, in the whole town, could a bunch of youngsters like us, get thirty-six dollars’ worth of real credit?”
“I can,” declared Dick, coolly.
“You? Where? With your father?”
“No; Dad rarely takes in much in the way of pennies. I don’t suppose he has two dollars’ worth of pennies on hand at any time. But, fellows, you know that ‘The Morning Blade’ is a one cent paper. Now, the publisher of ‘The Blade’ must bank a keg of pennies every day in the week. I can see Mr. Pollock, the editor, this afternoon, right after luncheon. He has probably sent most of the pennies to bank today, but I’ll ask him if he’ll have to-morrow’s pennies saved for us.”
“Say, if he’ll only do that!” glowed Dan, his eyes flashing.
“He will,” declared Dave Darrin. “Mr. Pollock will do anything, within reason, that Dick asks.”
“Now, fellows, if I can put this thing through, we can meet in my room to-morrow afternoon at one o’clock. Pennies come in rolls of fifty each, you know. We’ll have to break up the rolls, and make new ones, each containing fifteen pennies.”
Dave Darrin stopped where he was, and began to laugh. Tom Reade quickly joined in. The others were grinning.
“Oh, say, just for one look at Prin.’s face, if we can spring that job on him!” chuckled Harry Hazelton.
“We can,” announced Dick, gravely. “So go home and enjoy your dinners, fellows. If you want to meet on the same old corner on Main Street, at half-past two to-day, we’ll go in a body to ‘The Blade’ office and learn what Mr. Pollock has to say about our credit.”
“_Your_ credit, you mean,” corrected Dave.
After dinner Dick & Co. met as agreed. Arrived at “The Blade” office it was decided that Dick Prescott should go in alone to carry on the negotiation. He soon came out again, wearing a satisfied smile and carrying a package under one arm.
“If I’m any good at guessing,” suggested Dave, “you put the deal over.”
“Mr. Pollock agreed, all right,” nodded Dick. “I have fourteen dollars here. He’ll let us have the rest to-morrow.”
They hurried back to Dick’s room, over the bookstore that was run by Mr. and Mrs. Prescott.
“Whew, but this stuff is heavy,” muttered Dick, dumping the package on the table. “Mr. Pollock sent out to the pressroom and had some paper cut of just the size that we shall need for wrappers.”
“Did you tell Pollock what we are going to do?” asked Greg Holmes.
“Not exactly, but he guessed that some mischief was on. He wanted to know if it was anything that would make good local reading in ‘The Blade,’ so I told him I thought it would be worth a paragraph or two, and that I’d drop around Monday afternoon and give him the particulars. That was all I said.”
Inside the package were three “sticks” of the kind that are used for laying the little coins in a row before wrapping.
“Now, one thing we must be dead careful about, fellows,” urged Dick, as he undid the package, “is to be sure that we get an exact fifteen coins in each wrapper. If we got in more, we’d be the losers. If we put less than fifteen cents in any wrapper, then we’re likely to be accused of running a swindling game.”
So every one of the plotters was most careful to count the coins. It was not rapid work, and only half the partners could work at any one time. They soon caught the trick of wrapping, however, and then the little rolls began to pile up.
Saturday afternoon Dick & Co. were similarly engaged. Nor did they find the work too hard. Americans will endure a good deal for the sake of a joke.
Monday morning, shortly after half-past seven, Dick and his chums had stationed themselves along six different approaches to the High School. Each young pranker had his pockets weighted down with small packages, each containing fifteen pennies.
Purcell, of the junior class, was the first to pass Dick Prescott.
“Hullo, Purcell,” Dick greeted the other, with a grin. “Want to see some fun?”
“Of course,” nodded the junior. “What’s going?”
“You remember that Prin. asked us, last Friday, to bring in our fifteen pennies for the Christmas music?”
“Of course. Well, I have my money in my pocket.”
“_In pennies_?” insisted Dick.
“Well, no; of course not. But I have a quarter, and I guess Prin. can change that.”
Dick quickly explained the scheme. Purcell, with a guffaw, purchased one of the rolls.
“Now, see here,” hinted Dick, “there’ll be such a rush, soon, that we six can’t attend to all the business. Won’t you take a dozen rolls and peddle them? I’ll charge ’em to you, until you can make an accounting.”
Purcell caught at the bait with another laugh. Dick noted Purcell’s name on a piece of paper, with a dollar and eighty cents charged against it.
All the other partners did the same with other students. With such a series of pickets out around the school none of the student body got through without buying pennies, except Fred Ripley and Clara Deane. They were not asked to buy.
Meanwhile, up in the great assembly room a scene was going on that was worth looking at.
Abner Cantwell had seated himself at his desk. Before him lay a printed copy of the roll of the student body. It was the new principal’s intention to check off each name as a boy or girl paid for the music. Knowing that he would have a good deal of currency to handle, the principal had brought along a satchel for this morning.
First of all, Harper came tripping into the room. He went to his desk with his books, then turned and marched to the principal’s desk.
“I’ve brought the money for the music, Mr. Cantwell.”
“That’s right, Mr. Harper,” nodded the principal.
The little freshman carefully deposited his fifteen pennies on the desk. They were out of the roll. Dick & Co. had cautioned each investor to break the wrapper, and count the pennies before moving on.
Two of the seniors presently came in. They settled with pennies. Then came Laura Bentley and Belle Meade. Their pennies were laid on the principal’s desk.
“Why, all pennies, so far!” exclaimed Mr. Cantwell. “I trust not many will bring coins of such low denomination.”
A look of bland innocence rested on Laura’s face.
“Why, sir,” she remarked, “you asked us, Friday, to bring pennies.
“Did I?” demanded the principal, a look of astonishment on his face.
“Why, yes, sir,” Belle Meade rattled on. “Don’t you remember? You laughed, Mr. Cantwell, and asked each one of us to bring fifteen pennies to-day.”
“I had forgotten that, Miss Meade,” returned the principal. Then, as the sophomore young ladies turned away, a look of suspicion began to settle on the principal’s face. Nor did that look lessen any when the next six students to come in each carried pennies to the desk.
Twenty more brought pennies. By this time there was a stern look on the principal’s white face.
During the next few minutes after that only two or three came in, for Dick had thought of a new aspect to the joke. He had sent messengers scurrying out through the street approaches with this message:
“We’re not required to be in the assembly room until eight o’clock. Let’s all wait until two minutes of eight—then go in a throng.”
So the principal had a chance to catch up with his counting as the minutes passed. So busy was he, however, that it didn’t quite occur to him to wonder why so few of the student body had as yet come in.
Then, at 7.58, a resounding tread was heard on the stairs leading up from the basement locker rooms. Some two hundred boys and girls were coming up in two separate throngs. They were still coming when the assembly bell rang. As fast as any entered they made their way, with solemn faces, to the desk on the platform.
As Mr. Cantwell had feared, the pennies still continued to pour in upon him. Suddenly the principal struck his desk sharply with a ruler, then leaped to his feet. His face was whiter than ever. It was plain that the man was struggling to control himself against an outburst of wrath. He even forced a smile to his face a sort of smile that had no mirth in it.
“Young ladies and young gentlemen,” Mr. Cantwell rasped out, sharply, “some of you have seen fit to plan a joke against me, and to carry it out most audaciously. It’s a good joke, and I admit that it’s on me. But it has been carried far enough. If you please—_no more pennies_!”
“But pennies are all I happen to have, sir,” protested Dave Darrin, stepping forward. “Don’t you want me to pay you for the music, sir?”
“Oh, well,” replied the principal, with a sigh, “I’ll take ’em, then.”
As Dick & Co. had disposed of every one of their little rolls of fifteen, few of the students were unprovided with pennies. So the copper stream continued to pour in. Mr. Cantwell could have called any or all of his submasters and teachers to his aid. He thought of it presently, as his fingers ached from handling all the pennies.
“Mr. Drake, will you come to the desk?” he called.
So Submaster Drake came to the platform, drawing a chair up beside the principal’s. But Mr. Cantwell still felt obliged to do the counting, as he was responsible for the correctness of the sums. So all Mr. Drake could do was check off the names as the principal called them.
Faster and faster poured the copper stream now. Mr. Cantwell, the cords sticking out on his forehead, and a clammy dew bespangling his white face, counted on in consuming anger. Every now and then he turned to dump two or three handfuls of counted pennies into his open satchel.
Gathered all around the desk was a throng of students, waiting to pay. Beyond this throng, safely out of range of vision, other students gathered in groups and chuckled almost silently.
Clatter! By an unintentional move of one arm Mr. Cantwell swept fully a hundred pennies off on to the floor. He leaped up, flushed and angry.
“Will the young—gentlemen—aid me in recovering the coins that went on the floor?” he asked.
There was promptly a great scurrying and searching. The principal surely felt harassed that morning. It was ten minutes of nine when the last student had paid and had had his name checked off. Mr. Cantwell was at the boiling point of wrath.
Just as the principal was putting the last of the coins into his satchel Mr. Drake leaned over to whisper:
“May I make a suggestion, sir?”
“Certainly,” replied the principal coldly. “Yet I trust, Mr. Drake, that it won’t be a suggestion for an easy way of accumulating more pennies than I already have.”
“I think, if I were you, sir, I should pay no heed to this joke—–“
“Joke?” hissed the principal under his breath. “It’s an outrage!”
“But intended only as a piece of pleasantry, sir. So I think it will pass off much better if you don’t allow the students to see that they have annoyed you.”
“Why? Do the students _want_ to annoy me?” demanded Mr. Cantwell, in another angry undertone.
“I wouldn’t say that,” replied Mr. Drake. “But, if the young men discover that you are easily teased, they are sufficiently mischief-loving to try other jokes on you.”
“Then a good friend of theirs would advise them not to do so,” replied Mr. Cantwell, with a snap of his jaws.
That closed the matter for the time being. The first recitation period of the morning had been lost, but now the students, most of them finding difficulty in suppressing their chuckles, were sent to the various class rooms.
Before recess came, the principal having a period free from class work, silently escaped from the building, carrying the thirty-six hundred pennies to the bank. As that number of pennies weighs something more than twenty-three pounds, the load was not a light one.
“I have a big lot of pennies here that I want to deposit,” he explained to the receiving teller.
“How many?” asked the teller.
“Thirty-six hundred,” replied Mr. Cantwell.
“Are they counted and done up into rolls of fifty, with your name on each roll?” asked the teller.
“Why—er—no,” stammered the principal. “They’re just loose—in bulk, I mean.”
“Then I’m very sorry, Mr. Cantwell, but we can’t receive them in that shape, sir. They will have to be counted and wrapped, and your name written on each roll.”
“Do you mean to say that I must take these pennies home, count them all—again!—and then wrap them and sign the wrappers.”
“I’m sorry, but you, or some one will have to do it, Mr. Cantwell.”
Then and there the principal exploded. One man there was in the bank at that moment who was obliged to turn his head away and stifle back the laughter. That man was Mr. Pollock, of “The Blade.” Pollock knew now what Dick & Co. had wanted of such a cargo of pennies.
“I can’t carry this infernal satchel back to school,” groaned the principal, disgustedly. “Some of the boys, when they see me, will realize that the satchel is still loaded, and they’ll know what has happened to me at the bank. It will make me look fearfully ridiculous to be caught in that fashion, with the joke against me a second time! And yet I have a class immediately after recess. What can I do?”
A moment later, however, he had solved the problem. There was a livery stable not far away, and he knew the proprietor. So to that stable Mr. Cantwell hurried, changing the satchel from one hand to the other whenever an arm ached too much.
“This satchel contains a lot of currency, Mr. Getchel,” explained the poor principal. “I wish you could do me the favor of having a horse hitched up and take this to my wife. Will you do it?”
“Certainly,” nodded the liveryman. “Just lock the satchel; that is all. I’ll have the bag at your home within fifteen minutes.”
So during the first period after recess Mrs. Cantwell was visited by Getchel, who handed her the satchel, merely remarking:
“Mr. Cantwell left this at my office, ma’am, and asked me to bring it down to you. It contains some money that your husband sent you.”
Money? The good woman, who “loved” money too well to spend much of it, hefted the satchel. Gracious! There must be a big lot of the valuable stuff. But the satchel was locked. Mrs. Cantwell promptly hunted until she found another satchel key that fitted. Then she opened the bag, staring at the contents with big eyes.
“What on earth can my husband have been doing?” she wondered. “Surely he hasn’t been robbing the Salvation Army Christmas boxes! And the idea of sending me money all in pennies!”
The more she thought about it the more indignant did Mrs. Cantwell become. Finally, a little after noon, Mrs. Cantwell decided to take the stuff to the bank, have it counted and turned over into greenbacks. So she trudged up to the bank with it. The journey was something more than a mile in length. Mrs. Cantwell arrived at the bank, only to make the same discovery that her husband had made about the need of counting and wrapping the money before it could be deposited or exchanged. It was close to one o’clock, and the High School not far away. So, full of ire, Mrs. Cantwell started down to her husband’s place of employment.
Once school let out for the day, a quarter of a thousand members of the student body went off, full of glee, to spread the news of the joke. As they hurried along many of the students noticed that Mrs. Cantwell was standing not far from the gate and that, at her feet, lay her husband’s black satchel. Several of the students were quick to wonder what this new phase of the matter meant.
After school was dismissed Fred Ripley remained behind, strapping several books together. Then, as he passed the principal’s desk, he remarked:
“I suppose, Mr. Cantwell, that some of the students thought that a very funny trick that was played on you this morning. While I am speaking of it, I wish to assure you, sir, that I had no hand in the outrage.”
“I am very glad to hear you say that, Mr. Ripley. Some day I hope I shall have a notion who _did_ originate the practical joke.”
“I don’t believe you would have to guess very long, sir,” Ripley hinted.
“What do you mean?”
“Why, sir, whenever anything of that sort is hatched up in this school, it’s generally a pretty safe guess that Dick & Co. are at the bottom of it all.”
“Dick & Co.?” repeated Mr. Cantwell.
“Dick Prescott and his chums, sir,” replied Ripley, rapidly naming the five partners. Then, having accomplished what he wanted, Fred sauntered out.
“I’ll look into this further,” thought Mr. Cantwell, angrily. “If I can satisfy myself that Prescott was at the bottom of this wicked hoax then I—I may find it possible to make him want to cut his High School course short!”
Mrs. Cantwell was waiting at the gate.
“What on earth, Abner, did you mean by sending me this great cartload of pennies?” demanded the principal’s spouse. “Here I’ve taken it up to the bank, and find they won’t accept it—not in this form, anyway. Now, I’ve carried it this far, Abner, and you may carry it the rest of the way home.”
“Why—er—er—” stammered the principal.
“Mr. Getchel brought the satchel to me, and told me it was money you had sent me. But I want to say, Abner, that of all the—–“
At this moment the principal picked up the hateful satchel and the pair passed out of hearing of four young freshmen who had hidden near to learn what the mystery of the satchel meant. It was not long, either, before the further joke had become known to a great many of the students.
DICK TAKES UP HIS PEN
Dick had no sooner ventured out on the street after dinner than he encountered the news of Mrs. Cantwell’s meeting with her husband.
But Dick did not linger long to discuss the matter. His pockets now contained, in place of pennies, a few banknotes and many dimes, pennies and nickels, amounting in all to thirty-six dollars. He was headed for “The Blade” office to settle with Mr. Pollock.
“I think I can tell you a little story now, that may be worth a paragraph or two,” Dick announced after he had counted out the money and had turned it over to the editor.
“You played a little joke on your new and not wholly popular principal, didn’t you?” Mr. Pollock asked, his eyes twinkling.
“Yes; has the thing reached you already?”
“I don’t know the whole story of the joke,” Mr. Pollock replied, “but perhaps I can tell you one side of it that you don’t know.”
Thereupon the editor described Mr. Cantwell’s visit to the bank. “Now, I’ve got a still further side to the story,” Dick continued, and repeated the story told by the freshmen of how Mrs. Cantwell also had carried the money to the bank, and then, still carrying it, had waited for her husband at the school gateway.
Editor Pollock leaned back, laughing until the tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry for the good lady’s discomfiture,” explained the editor, presently. “But the whole story is very, very funny.”
“Now, I guess you know all the facts,” finished Dick Prescott, rising.
“Yes, but I haven’t a single reporter about.” Then, after a pause, “See here, Prescott, why couldn’t you write this up for me?”
“I?” repeated Dick, astonished. “I never wrote a line for publication in my life.”
“Everyone who does, has to make a start some time,” replied Mr. Pollock. “And I believe you could write it up all right, too. See here, Prescott, just go over to that desk. There’s a stack of copy paper there. Write it briefly and crisply, and, for delicacy’s sake, leave out all that relates to Mrs. Cantwell. No use in dragging a woman into a hazing scrape.”
Dick went over to the desk, picking up a pen. For the fist three or four minutes he sat staring at the paper, the desk, the floor, the wall and the street door. But Mr. Pollock paid no heed to him. Then, finally, Dick began to write. As he wrote a grin came to his face. That grin broadened as he wrote on. At last he took the pages over to Mr. Pollock.
“I don’t suppose that’s what you want,” he said, his face very red, “but the main facts are all there.”
Laying down his own pen Mr. Pollock read rapidly but thoughtfully. The editor began to laugh again. Then he laid down the last sheet.
“Prescott, that’s well done. There’s a good reporter lurking somewhere inside of you.”
Thrusting one hand down into a pocket Mr. Pollock brought out a half-dollar, which he tendered to Dick.
“What am I to do with this?” asked the young sophomore.
“Anything you please,” replied the editor. “The money’s for you.”
“For me?” gasped Dick.
“Yes, of course. Didn’t you write this yarn for me? Of course ‘The Blade’ is only a country daily, and our space rates are not high. But see here, Prescott, I’ll pay you a dollar a column for anything you write for us that possesses local interest enough to warrant our printing it. Now, while going to the High School, why can’t you turn reporter in your spare time, and earn a little pocket money?”
Again Dick gasped. He had never thought of himself as a budding young journalist. Yet, as Mr. Pollock inquired, “Why not?” Why not, indeed!
“Well, how do you think you’d like to work for us?” asked Mr. Pollock, after a pause. “Of course you would not leave the High School. You would not even neglect your studies in the least. But a young man who knows almost everybody in Gridley, and who goes about town as much as you do, ought to be able to pick up quite a lot of newsy stuff.”
“I wonder if I could make a reporter out of myself,” Dick pondered.
“The way to answer that question is to try,” replied Mr. Pollock. “For myself, I think that, with some training, you’d make a good reporter. By the way, Prescott, have you planned on what you mean to be when you’re through school?”
“Why, it isn’t settled yet,” Dick replied slowly. “Father and mother hope to be able to send me further than the High School, and so they’ve suggested that I wait until I’m fairly well through before I decide on what I want to be. Then, if it’s anything that a college course would help me to, they’ll try to provide it.”
“What would you like most of all in the world to be?” inquired the editor of “The Blade.”
“A soldier!” replied young Prescott, with great promptness and emphasis.
“Hm! The soldier’s trade is rather dull these days,” replied the editor. “We’re becoming a peaceful people, and the arbitrator’s word does the work that the sword used to do.”
“This country has been in several wars,” argued Dick, “and will be in others yet to come. In times of peace a soldier’s duty is to fit himself for the war time that is to come. Oh, I believe there’s plenty, always, that an American soldier ought to be doing.”
“Perhaps. But newspaper work is the next best thing to soldiering, anyway. Prescott, my boy, the reporter of to-day is the descendant of the old free-lance soldier of fortune. It takes a lot of nerve to be a reporter, sometimes, and to do one’s work just as it should be done. The reporter’s life is almost as full of adventure as the soldier’s. And there are no ‘peace times’ for the reporter. He never knows when his style of ‘war’ will break out. But I must get back to my work. Are you going to try to bring us in good matter at a dollar a column?”
“Yes, I am, thank you,” Dick replied, unhesitatingly, now.
“Good,” nodded Mr. Pollock, opening one of the smaller drawers over his desk. “Here’s something you can put on and wear.”
He held out to the boy an oblong little piece of metal, gold plated.
“It’s a badge such as ‘The Blade’ reporters wear, and has the paper’s name on it,” continued the editor. “You can pin it on your vest.”
“I guess I’d better leave that part out for a while,” laughed Dick, drawing back. “The fellows at school wouldn’t do a thing to me if they caught me wearing a reporter’s badge.”
“Oh, just as you please about that,” nodded Mr. Pollock, tossing the badge back into the drawer. “But don’t forget to bring us in something good, Prescott.”
“I won’t forget, Mr. Pollock.”
As Dick went down the street, whistling blithely, he kept his hand in his pocket on the half-dollar. He had had much more money with him a little while before, but that was to pay to some one else. This half-dollar was wholly his own money, and, with the prospect it carried of earning more, the High School boy was delighted. Pocket money had never been plentiful with young Prescott. The new opportunity filled him with jubilation.
It was not long, however, before a new thought struck him. He went straight to his parents’ bookstore, where he found his mother alone, Mr. Prescott being out on business.
To his mother Dick quickly related his new good fortune. Mrs. Prescott’s face and words both expressed her pleasure.
“At first, mother, I didn’t think of anything but pocket money,” Dick admitted. “Then my head got to work a bit. It has struck me that if I can make a little money each week by writing for ‘The Blade,’ I can pay you at least a bit of the money that you and Dad have to spend to keep me going.”
“I am glad you thought of that,” replied Mrs. Prescott, patting her boy’s hand. “But we shan’t look to you to do anything of the sort. Your father and I are not rich, but we have managed all along to keep you going, and I think we can do it for a while longer. Whatever money you can earn, Richard, must be your own. We shall take none of it. But I trust you will learn how to handle your own money wisely. _That_ is one of the most valuable lessons to be learned in life.”
To his chums, when he saw them later in the afternoon, Dick said nothing of Mr. Pollock’s request. The young soph thought it better to wait a while, and see how he got along at amateur reporting before he let anyone else into the secret.
But late that afternoon Dick ran into a matter of interest and took it to “The Blade” office.
“That’s all right,” nodded Mr. Pollock, after looking over Dick’s “copy.” “Glad to see you have started in, my boy. Now, I won’t pay you for this on the nail. Wait until Saturday morning, cutting all that you have printed out of the ‘The Blade.’ Paste all the items together, end on end, and bring them to me. That is what reporters call a ‘space string.’ Bring your ‘string’ to me every Saturday afternoon. We’ll measure it up with you and settle.”
Dick hurried away, content. He even found that evening that he could study with more interest, now that he found he had a financial place in life.
In the morning Gridley read and laughed over Dick’s item about the High School hoax. But there was one man who saw it at his breakfast table, and who went into a white heat of rage at once. That man was Abner Cantwell, the principal.
He was still at white heat when he started for the High School; though, warned by prudence, he tried to keep his temper down. Nevertheless, there was fire in Mr. Cantwell’s eyes when he rang the bell to bring the student body to attention to begin the morning’s work.
MR. CANTWELL THINKS TWICE—OR OFTENER
“Young ladies and young gentlemen,” began the principal, “a very silly hoax was perpetrated on me yesterday. I do not believe you will have any difficulty in understanding what I mean. But the matter went beyond this school room. An account of the hoax was published in the morning paper, and that holds me up to severe ridicule. I trust that we shall not have any repetition of such childish, so-called jokes. I do not know yet what action I may or may not take in this matter, and can promise nothing. I can and do promise, however, that if any more such hoaxes are attempted I shall do all in my power to ferret out and summarily punish the offenders!—–“
Here the principal’s own sense of prudence warned him that he had gone quite as far as was necessary or prudent. So he choked down his rising words and called for the morning singing. Yet, as Mr. Cantwell uttered his last words his glance fell very sternly on one particular young member of the sophomore class. Dick Prescott.
“Prin. has it in for you, old fellow!” whispered Dave Darrin, as he and Dick jostled on the way to a recitation. “But if he has—humph—it won’t be long before he finds out that you had some help. You shan’t be the scapegoat for all of Dick & Co.”
“Don’t say anything,” Dick whispered back. “I’ll find a way to take care of myself. If any trouble is to come, I think I can take care of it. Anyway, I won’t have anyone else dragged into it.”
But the principal said nothing more during that school session. In the afternoon, however, when Mr. Cantwell took his accustomed walk after dinner, he met several acquaintances who made laughing or casual references to the yarn in the morning’s “Blade.”
“I’ve got to stamp this spirit out in the school,” decided the principal, again at a white heat. “If I don’t I’ll soon have some real trouble on hand with these young jackanapes! The idea of their making me—the principal—ridiculous in the town! No school principal can submit to hoaxes like that one without suffering in public esteem. I’ll sift this matter down and nip the whole spirit in the bud.”
In this Mr. Cantwell was quite possibly at error in judgment. Probably the High School boys wouldn’t have played such a prank on good old Dr. Thornton, had he still been their school chief. But, if they had, Dr. Thornton would have admitted the joke good-humoredly and would have taken outside chaffing with a good nature that would have disarmed all wit aimed at him. Mr. Cantwell, as will be seen, lacked the saving grace of a sense of humor. He also lacked ability in handling full-blooded, fun-loving boys.
Wednesday, just before one o’clock, the principal electrified the assembled students by saying, in a voice that was ominously quiet and cool:
“When school is dismissed I shall be glad to have Mr. Prescott remain for a few words with me.”
“Now it’s coming,” thought Dick, though without any particular thrill of dismay.
He waited while the others filed out. Somehow the big building didn’t empty as fast as usual. Had Mr. Cantwell known more about boy nature he would have suspected that several of Dick’s friends had remained behind in hiding places of their own choosing.
Dick remained in his seat, coolly turning the pages of his text-book on ancient history.
“Mr. Prescott,” called the principal sharply.
“Yes, sir,” responded Dick, closing the book, slipping it into his desk, and rising as though to go forward.
“No, no; keep your seat until I am ready to speak with you, Mr. Prescott. But it isn’t necessary to read, is it?”
“I was looking through to-morrow’s history lesson, sir,” Dick replied, looking extremely innocent. “But, of course, I won’t if you disapprove.”
“Wait until I come back,” rapped out the principal, leaving the room. He went out to see that the building was being emptied of students, but of course he failed to discover that a few were hiding as nearly within earshot as they could get.
Two or three of the teachers who had remained behind now left the room. The last to go was Mr. Drake, the submaster. As he went he cast a look at Dick that was full of sympathy, though the submaster, who was a very decent man and teacher, did not by any means intend to foster mutiny in the heart of a High School boy. But Mr. Drake knew that Mr. Cantwell was not fitted either to command respect or to enforce discipline in the High School.
When Mr. Cantwell came back he and the young soph had the great room to themselves.
“Now you may come forward, Mr. Prescott,” announced the principal, “and stand in front of the platform.”
As Dick went forward there was nothing of undue confidence or any notion of bravado in his bearing. He was not one of those schoolboys who, when brought to task by authority, try to put on a don’t-care look. Dick’s glance, as he halted before the platform and turned to look at Mr. Cantwell, was one of simple inquiry.
“Mr. Prescott, you are fully informed as to the hoax that was perpetrated on me yesterday morning?”
“You mean the incident of the pennies, I think, sir?” returned the boy, inquiringly.
“You know very well that I do, young man,” retorted Mr. Cantwell, rapping his desk with one hand.
“Yes, sir; I am fully informed about it.”
“And you know who was at the bottom of it, too, Mr. Prescott?”
The principal bent upon the boy a look that was meant to make him quail, but Dick didn’t quail.
“Yes, sir,” he admitted, promptly. “I know at least several that had a hand in the affair.”
“And you were one of them?”
“Yes, sir,” admitted the young soph, frankly. “I think I had as much to do with what you term the hoax, sir, as anyone else had.”
“Who were the others?” fired the principal, quickly and sharply.
“I—I beg your pardon, sir. I cannot answer that.”
“You can’t? Why not, Mr. Prescott?” demanded the principal.
Again the principal launched his most compelling look.
“Because, sir,” answered Dick, quietly, and in a tone in which no sign of disrespect could be detected, “it would strike me as being dishonorable to drag others into this affair.”
“You would consider it dishonorable?” cried Mr. Cantwell, his face again turning deathly white with inward rage. “_You_, who admit having had a big hand in what was really an outrage?”
But Dick met and returned the other’s gaze composedly.
“The Board of Education, Mr. Cantwell, has several times decided that one pupil in the public schools cannot be compelled by a teacher to bear tales that implicate another student. I have admitted my own share in the joke that has so much displeased you, but I cannot name any others.”
“You _must_!” insisted the principal, rising swiftly from his chair.
“I regret to have to say, sir,” responded Prescott, quietly, “that I shall not do it. If you make it necessary, I shall have to take refuge behind the rulings of the Board of Education on that point.”
Mr. Cantwell glared at Dick, but the latter still met the gaze unflinchingly.
Then the principal began to feel his wrath rising to such a point that he found himself threatened with an angry outburst. As his temper had often betrayed him before in life, Mr. Cantwell, pointing angrily to Dick’s place, said:
“Back to your seat, Mr. Prescott, until I have given this matter a little more thought!”
Immediately afterward the principal quitted the room. Dick, after sitting in silence for a few moments, drew his history again from his desk, turned over the pages, found the place he wanted and began to read.
It was ten minutes later when the principal returned to the room. He had been to one of the class rooms, where he had paced up and down until he felt that he could control himself enough to utter a few words. Now, he came back.
“Prescott, I shall have to think over your admission before I come to any decision in the matter. I may not be able to announce my decision for a while. I shall give it most careful thought. In the meantime, I trust, very sincerely, that you will not be caught in any more mischief—least of all, anything as serious, as revolutionary, as yesterday’s outrageous impudence. You may go, now—for to-day!”
“Very good, sir,” replied Dick Prescott, who had risen at his desk as soon as Mr. Cantwell began to talk to him. As young Prescott passed from the room he favored the principal with a decorous little bow.
Dave Darrin, Tom Reade, Greg Holmes, Harper and another member of the freshman class, came out of various places of hiding. As he went down the stairs Dick was obliged to tread heavily enough to drown out their more stealthy footfalls.
Once in the open, Harper and the other freshman scurried away, their curiosity satisfied. But, a moment later, when Mr. Cantwell looked out of the window, he was much surprised to see four members of Dick & Co. walking together, and almost out through the gate.
“Have they been within earshot—listening?” wondered the principal to himself, and jotted down the names of Darrin, Reade and Holmes. The two freshmen, by their prompt departure had saved themselves from suspicion.
On Thursday nothing was said or done about Dick’s case. When Friday’s session drew toward its close young Prescott fully expected to have sentence pronounced, or at least to be directed to remain after school. But nothing of the sort happened. Dick filed out at the week’s end with the rest.
“What do you imagine Prin. can be up to?” Dave Darrin asked, as Dick & Co. marched homeward that early Friday afternoon.
“I don’t know,” Dick confessed. “It may be that Mr. Cantwell is just trying to keep me guessing.”
“If that’s his plan,” inquired Reade, “what are you going to do, old fellow?”
“Perhaps—just possibly—I shall fight back with the same weapon,” smiled Dick.
Mr. Cantwell had, in truth, formed his plan, or as much of it as he could form until he had found just how the land lay, and what would be safe. His present berth, as principal of Gridley H.S., was a much better one than he had ever occupied before. Mr. Cantwell cherished a hope of being able to keep the position for a good many years to come. Yet this would depend on the attitude of the Board of Education. In order not to take any step that would bring censure from the Board, Mr. Cantwell had decided to attend the Board’s next meeting on the following Monday evening, and lay the matter before the members confidentially. If the Board so advised, Mr. Cantwell was personally quite satisfied with the idea of disciplining Dick by dropping him from the High School rolls.
“I’ll protect my dignity, at any cost,” Mr. Cantwell, murmured, eagerly to himself. “After all, what is a High School principal, without dignity?”
Monday afternoon Dick Prescott stepped in at “The Blade” office.
“Got something for us again?” asked Mr. Pollock, looking around.
“Not quite yet,” Dick replied. “I’ve come to make a suggestion.”
“Prescott, suggestions are the food of a newspaper editor. Go ahead.”
“You don’t send a reporter to report the Board of Education meetings, do you?”
“No; those meetings are rarely newsy enough to be worth while. I can’t afford to take up the evening of a salaried reporter in that way. But Spencer generally drops around, at the time the Board is expected to adjourn, or else he telephones the clerk, from this office, and learns what has been done. It’s mostly nothing, you know.”
“Spencer wouldn’t care if he didn’t have to report the Board meetings at all?”
“Of course not. Len would be delighted at not having anything more to do.”
“Then let me go and report the meetings for you, on space.”
“My boy, a reporter would starve on that kind of space work. Why, after you put in the whole evening there, you might come to the office only to learn that we didn’t consider any of the Board’s doings worth space to tell about them.”
“Will you let me attend a few of the meetings, and take my chances on the amount of space I can get out of it?”
“Go ahead, Prescott, if you can afford to waste your time in that fashion,” replied Mr. Pollock, almost pityingly.
“Thank you. That’s what I wanted,” acknowledged Dick, and went out very well contented.
When it lacked a few minutes of eight, that evening, all the members of the Board of Education had arrived. It was the same Board as in the year before. All the members had been re-elected at the last city election, though some of them by small majorities. Mr. Gadsby, one of the members who had won by only a slight margin over his opponent, stood with his back to a radiator, warming himself, when he saw the door open.
Mr. Gadsby nodded most genially to Mr. Cantwell, who entered. The principal came straight over to this member, and they shook hands cordially. Mr. Gadsby had been one of the members of the Board who had been most anxious about having Cantwell appointed principal; Cantwell was, in fact, a family connection of Mrs. Gadsby’s.
“Coming to make some report, or some suggestion, I take it, eh, Cantwell?” murmured Mr. Gadsby in a low voice. “Most excellent idea, my dear fellow. Keeps you in notice and shows that your heart is in the work. Most excellent idea, really.”
“I have a report to make,” admitted Mr. Cantwell, in an equally low voice. “I—I find it necessary to make a statement about the doings of a rather troublesome element in the school. Suspension or expulsion may be necessary in order to give the best ideas of good discipline to many of the other students. But I shall state the facts, and ask the Board to advise me as to just what I ought to do in the premises.”
“Ask the Board’s advice? Most excellent idea, really,” murmured Mr. Gadsby. “You can’t go wrong then. But—er—what’s the nature of the trouble? Who is the offen—–“
Mr. Gadsby was rubbing his hands, under his coat tails, as he felt the warmth from the steam radiator reach them.
“Why, the principal offender is named—–“
Here Mr. Cantwell paused, and looked rather astonished.
“Tell me, Mr. Gadsby, what is Prescott, of the sophomore class, doing here?”
The principal’s glance had just rested on Dick, who sat at a small side table, a little pile of copy paper on the table, a pencil in his hand.
“Oh—ah—Prescott, Richard Prescott?” inquired Mr. Gadsby. “Some of us were a bit surprised this evening to learn that Prescott, though he will continue to attend High School, has also taken a position with ‘The Morning Blade.’ Among other things to which he will attend, after this, Cantwell, is the matter of school doings in this city. He is to be the regular reporter of School Board meetings. Rather a young man to wield the power of the press isn’t he?” Mr. Gladsby chuckled at his own joke.
“‘Power of the press’?” murmured Mr. Cantwell, uncomfortably. “Surely you don’t mean, Gadsby, that this mere boy, this High School student, is going to be taken here seriously as representing the undoubtedly great power of the press?”
“To some extent, yes,” admitted Mr. Gadsby. “‘The Blade,’ as you may know, is a good deal of a power in local politics. Now, some of us—er—did not win our re-elections by any too large margins. A little dangerous opposition to—er—some of us—would mean a few new faces around the table at Board meetings. Mr. Pollock is—er—a most estimable citizen, and a useful man in the community. Yet Mr. Pollock is—er—Cantwell—er—that is, a bit ‘touchy.’ No matter if Pollock’s reporter is a schoolboy, if we treated the boy with any lack of consideration, then Pollock would most certainly take umbrage at what he would choose to consider a slight upon himself, received through his representative. So at these Board meetings, young Prescott will have to be treated with as much courtesy as though he were really a man, for Pollock’s hostility would be most disastrous to us—er—to some of us, possibly, I mean. But, really, young Prescott is a most bright and enterprising young fellow, anyway—a very likable boy. _You_ like him, don’t you, Cantwell?”
“Ye-e-es,” admitted the principal, though he added grimly under his breath:
“I like him so well that I could eat him, right now, if I had a little Worcestershire sauce to make him more palatable.”
“The Board will please come to order,” summoned Chairman Stone, rapping the table with his gavel. “Mr. Reporter, have you good light over at your table.”
“Excellent, thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Dick replied.
“Er—aren’t you going to stay, Cantwell?” demanded Gadsby, as the principal turned to leave the room.
“No; the fact is—I—well, I want to consider my statement a little more before I offer it to the Board. Good evening!”
Mr. Cantwell got out of the room while some of the members were still scraping their chairs into place.
Dick Prescott had not openly looked in the principal’s direction. Yet the amateur reporter had taken it all in. He was grinning inside now. He had taken upon himself the work of reporting these meetings that he might be in a position to block any unfair move on the part of the principal.
“I wonder what Mr. Cantwell is thinking about, _now_?” Dick asked himself, with an inward grin as he picked up his pencil.
That Board meeting was about as dull and uneventful as the average. Yet Dick managed to make a few live paragraphs out of it that Guilford, “The Blade’s” news editor, accepted.
It still lacked some minutes of ten o’clock when young Prescott left the morning newspaper office and started briskly homeward.
“I didn’t catch that Board-reporting idea a day too soon,” the boy told himself, laughing. “Mr. Cantwell was certainly on hand for mischief to-night. But how quickly he made his get-away when he discovered that his culprit was present as a member of the press! I guess Mr. Gadsby must have passed him a strong hint. But I must be careful not to have any malice in the matter. Some evening when Mr. Cantwell does come before the Board with some report I must take pains to give him and his report a nice little notice and ask ‘The Blade’ folks to be sure to print it. Then—gracious!”
Utterly startled, Dick heard and saw an ugly brickbat whizz by his head. It came out of the dark alley that the sophomore was passing at that moment. And now came another, aimed straight for his head!
DAVE WARNS TIP SCAMMON
There wasn’t time to jump out of the way of that second flying missile.
By an instinct of self-preservation young Prescott, instead of trying to leap out of the way, just collapsed, going down to his knees.
As he sank the missile struck the top of his cap, carrying it from his head.
“Hi! Stop that, you blamed rascal!”
It was Dave Darrin’s voice that rang out, as that young man came rushing down the street behind Prescott.
Dick in another second was on his feet, crouching low, and running full tilt into the alleyway.
It was Dick’s way—to run at danger, instead of away from it.
At his first bound into the alley, Prescott dimly made out some fellow running at the further end.
There was an outlet of escape down there—two of them, in fact, as the indignant pursuer knew. So he put on speed, but soon was obliged to halt, finding that his unknown enemy had gotten away. Here Dick was joined by breathless Dave Darrin, who had followed swiftly.
“You go through there, Dave; I’ll take the other way,” urged Dick, again starting in pursuit.
The unknown one, however, had taken advantage of those few seconds of delay to get safely beyond chase. So the chums met, soon, in a side street.
“His line of retreat was good,” muttered Dick, rather disgustedly.
“Who was it, anyway?” Dave indignantly inquired.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see.”
“Do you suppose it could have been Tip Scammon?” asked Dave, shrewdly.
“Is Tip Scammon back from the penitentiary?”
“Got back this afternoon, and has been showing himself around town this evening,” nodded Dave. “Say, I wonder if he could have been the one who ambushed you?”
“I don’t like to throw suspicion on anyone,” Dick replied. “Still, I can’t imagine anyone else who would have as much temptation to try to lay me up. Tip Scammon acted as Fred Ripley’s tool, last year, in trying to make me out a High School thief. Tip was sent away, and Fred didn’t have to suffer at all, because Tip wouldn’t betray his employer. But Tip must have felt sore at me many a time when he was breaking rock at the penitentiary.”
The two chums walked slowly back to Main Street, still talking.
“I saw you ahead of me, on the street,” Dave rattled on. “I was trying to overtake you, without calling, when that thing came whizzing by your head. Say, Dick, I wonder—“
“What?” demanded Prescott.
“Oh, of course, it’s a crazy notion. But I was wondering if Mr. Cantwell could have it in for you so hard that he’d put anyone up to lying in ambush for you.”
Dick started, then thought a few moments. “No,” he decided. “Cantwell may be erratic, and he certainly has a treacherous temper, and some mean ways. But this was hardly the sort of trick he’d go in for.”
“Then it was Tip Scammon, all by himself,” declared Darrin, with great conviction.
“But to go back to Mr. Cantwell,” Dick resumed, with a grin, “I must tell you something really funny. Prin. went to School Board tonight with a long, bright knife sharpened for me. But he didn’t do a thing.”
Then Prescott confessed to being a “Blade” representative, and told of the principal’s visit to the Board, and of his hurried departure.
Dave laughed heartily, though what seemed to amaze him most of all was that Dick had found a chance to write for pay.
“Of course you can do it, Dick,” continued his loyal friend, “but I never thought that anyone as young as you ever got the chance.”
“It came my way,” Dick went on, “and I’m mighty glad it did. So—–“
“Wow!” muttered Dave, suddenly, then started off at a sprint, as he muttered:
“Here’s Tip Scammon now!”
Both boys moved along on a hot run. Tip was walking slowly along Main Street, giving a very good imitation of one unconcerned.
He turned when he heard the running feet behind him, however. His first impulse seemed to be to take to his heels. But the young jailbird quickly changed his mind, and turned to face them, an inquisitive look on his hard cunning face.
“Good evenin’, fellers. Where’s the fire?” he hailed.
“In my eyes! See it?” demanded Dave Darrin. His dark eyes certainly were flashing as he reached out and seized Tip by one shoulder.
“Now don’t ye git festive with _me_!” warned Tip.
“Oh, we don’t feel ready for anything more festive than a lynching party,” muttered Dave, hotly. “See here, you—–“
“I s’pose ye think ye can do all ye wanter to me, jest because I’ve been doin’ my stretch?” demanded Tip, aggressively. “But don’t be too sure. Take yer hand offen my shoulder!”
Dave didn’t show any sign of immediate intention of complying.
“_Take it off_!” insisted Tip.
But Dave met the fellow’s baleful gaze with a cool, steady look. Tip, muttering something, edged away from under Dave’s extended hand.
“Now, ye wanter understand,” continued young Scammon, “that I can’t be played with, jest because some folks think I’m down. If you come fooling around me you’ll have to explain or apologize.”
“Tip,” questioned Dave Darrin, sharply, “why did you just throw two brickbats at Dick Prescott’s head?”
“I didn’t,” retorted Tip, stolidly.
“Tip,” declared Dave, solemnly, “I won’t call you a liar. I’ll just remark that you and truth are strangers.”
“I ain’t interested in what you fellers got to say,” flared Tip, sullenly. “And I don’t like your company, neither. So jest skate along.”
“We’re not going to linger with you, Tip, any longer than seems absolutely necessary,” promised Dave, coolly. “But what I want to say is this: If you make any more attempts to do Dick Prescott any harm our crowd will get you, no matter how far we have to go to find you. Is that clear?”
“I s’pose it is, if you say so,” sneered young Scammon.
“We’ll get you,” pursued Dave, “and we’ll turn you over to the authorities. One citizen like Dick Prescott is worth more than a million of your stamp. If we find you up to any more tricks against Dick Prescott, or against any of us, for that matter, we’ll soon have you doing your second ‘stretch,’ as you have learned to call a term at the penitentiary. Tip, your best card will be to turn over a very new leaf, and find an honest job. Just because you’ve been in jail once don’t go along with the notion that it’s the only place where you can find your kind of company. But whatever you do, steer clear of Dick Prescott and his chums. I think you understand that. Now, go!”
Tip tried to brazen it out, but there was a compelling quality in the clear, steady gaze of Dave Darrin’s dark eyes. After a moment Tip Scammon let his own gaze drop. He turned and shuffled away.
“Poor fellow!” muttered Dick.
“Yes, with all my heart,” agreed Dave. “But the fellow doesn’t want to get any notion that he can go about terrorizing folks in Gridley!”
RIPLEY LEARNS THAT THE PIPER MUST BE PAID
Scammon, however, knew one person in Gridley whom he thought he could terrorize. He started in promptly to do it.
At three the next afternoon young Scammon loitered under a big, bare oak on one of the winding, little-traveled streets that led from Gridley out into the open country beyond.
In summer it was a favorite thoroughfare, especially for young engaged couples who wanted to loiter along the road, chatting and picking wild flowers.
In winter, however, the place was usually deserted, being more than a mile out of the city.
As Tip lingered he caught sight of haughty Fred Ripley coming down the road at a fast walk. Fred looked both angry and worried. Tip, as soon as he caught sight of the young fellow who imagined himself an “aristocrat,” began to grin in his evil way.
A dull, sullen, red fired Fred’s cheeks when he caught sight of the one who was waiting for him.
“Ye’re most nearly on time,” Tip informed the other.
“See here, Scammon, what in blazes did you mean by sending me a note like the one I got from you” demanded Fred?
Tip only grinned.
“What did you mean, fellow?” Ripley insisted angrily.
“I meant to get ye here, to let ye know what I had to say to ye,” Scammon retorted.
“Why, confound you, fellow—” Fred began, stuttering a bit, but the other cut in on him in short fashion.
“None o’ that to me, now, Fred Ripley. D’ye hear? Me an’ you used to be pretty good pals, once on a time.”
At this charge, Fred winced very plainly.
“And maybe we’ll be pals, now, too,” Tip pursued, with the air of one who believed himself to be able to dictate terms. “That is, for your sake, I hope we are, Ripley.”
“What are you talking about? What do you want to see me about? Come to the point in mighty few words,” Ripley commanded, impatiently.
“Well, now, first-off, last year, before I went away for my health—” Tip grinned in ghastly fashion ‘ye hired me to do a certain job for ye. Right, so far, ain’t I?”
“Possibly,” assented Fred, coldly.
“Ye hired me to get hold of keys that could be used on one o’ the High School locker rooms,” Tip went on, cunningly. “Ye hired me to steal some stuff from the coats o’ the young gents that study there. Then ye hired me to break inter Dick Prescott’s room and get the loot inter his trunk. Right, ain’t I?”
Tip spoke assertively, making no effort to keep his voice low.
“For goodness’ sake don’t shout it all over four counties,” protested Fred Ripley, glancing apprehensively about him. His face was paler, now, from uneasiness.
“Oh, I ain’t afraid about anyone hearing me,” Tip went on, unconcernedly. “D’ye know why, Fred, my boy? Because I done my stretch for the trick, and there ain’t nuthin’ more comin’ to me on that score. If _you’re_ ‘fraid, jest go an’ do yer stretch, like I did, an’ then ye won’t care who hears or knows!”
Tip laughed cunningly. Fred’s face darkened. He squirmed, yet found himself afraid to show anger.
“So I dropped ye that note, tellin’ ye to come here at three this aft’noon,” Scammon continued. “I told ye I hoped ye’d find it convenient to come, an’ hinted that if ye didn’t, ye might wish later, that ye had.”
“I’m here,” retorted the Ripley heir. “Now, what do you want to say to me?”
“I’m broke,” Tip informed Ripley, plaintively. “Stony! Understand? I hain’t got no money.”
“You don’t expect me to furnish you with any?” demanded Fred, his eyes opening wide in astonishment. “I paid you, in full, last year.”
“Ye didn’t pay me fer the stretch I done, did ye?” demanded Tip, insolently. “How much did ye pay me for keeping my mouth closed, so you wouldn’t have to do your stretch?”
Fred winced painfully under that steady, half-ugly glance of the other.
“And now,” continued Scammon, in a half-hurt way, “ye think it’s hard if I tell ye that I want a few dollars to keep food in my insides.”
“You’ve got your father,” hinted Fred.
“Sure, I have,” Tip assented.
“But it’s mighty little he’ll do for me until I get a job and settle down to it.”
“Well, why don’t you?” asked Fred Ripley. “That’s the surest way to get straight with the world.”
“When I want advice,” sneered Scammon, “I won’t tramp all the way out here, an’ ask _you_ for it. Nope. I don’t want advice. What I want is money.”
“Oh, well, Tip, I’m sorry for you and your troubles. Here’s a dollar for you. I wish I could make it more.”
Fred Ripley drew out the greenback, passing it over. Tip took the money, studying it curiously.
“Ye’re sorry just a dollar’s worth—is that it? Well, old pal, ye’ll have to be more sorry’n that. I’ll let ye off fer ten dollars, but hand it over quick!”
Fred’s first impulse was to get angry, but it didn’t take him more than an instant to realize that it would be better to keep this fellow quiet.
“I haven’t ten dollars, Tip—on my honor,” he protested, hesitatingly.
“On yer—what?” questioned Scammon, with utter scorn.
“I haven’t ten dollars.”
“How much have ye?”
There was something in Tip’s ugly eyes that scared the boy. Fred went quickly through his pockets, producing, finally, six dollars and a half.
“I’ll give you six of this, Tip,” proposed Fred, rather miserably.
“Ye’ll give me _all_ of it, ye mean,” responded Scammon. “And ye’ll meet me to-morrow aft’noon with five more—something for interest, ye know.”
“But I won’t have five dollars again, as soon as that,” argued Fred, weakly.
“Yes, you will,” leered Tip. “You’ll have to!”
“What do you mean?” demanded Fred, trying to bluster, but making a failure of the attempt.
“It’ll take five more to give me lock-jaw,” declared Scammon. “I’m jest out of prison, and I mean to enjoy myself restin’ a few days before I settle down to a job again. So, to-morrow, turn up with the five!”
“I don’t know where to get the money.”
“Find out, then,” sneered the other. “I don’t care where you get it, but you’ve got to get it and hand it over to me to-morrow, or it’ll be too late, an’ Gridley’ll be too hot a place for ‘ye!”
“I’ll try,” agreed Ripley, weakly.
“Ye’ll do more’n try, ’cause if ye fail me ye’ll have no further show,” declared Tip, with emphasis.
“See, here, Scammon, if I can find another five—somehow—that’ll be the last of this business? You won’t expect to get any more money out of me?”
“The five that you’re goin’ to bring me tomorrow will be in full payment.”
“Of all possible claims to date?” Fred insisted.
“Yes, in full—to date,” agreed Scammon, grinning as though he were enjoying himself.
“And there’ll never be any further demands?” questioned Fred.
“Never again!” Scammon asserted, with emphasis.
“You promise that, solemnly?”
“On my honor,” promised the jailbird, sardonically.
“I’ll try to get you the money, Tip. But see here, I’ll be in front of the drug store next to the post office, at just three o’clock to-morrow afternoon. You stop and look in the same window, but don’t speak to me. If I can get the five I’ll slip it into your hand. Then I’ll move away. You stand looking in the window a minute or so after I leave you, will you?”
“Sure,” agreed Scammon, cheerfully.
“And don’t do anything so plainly that any passerby can detect the fact that you and I are meeting there. Don’t let anyone see what I slip into your hand.”
“That’ll be all right,” declared Tip Scammon, readily enough.
“And mind you, that’s the last money you’re ever to ask me for.”
“That’ll be all right, too,” came readily enough from the jailbird.
“Then good-bye until to-morrow. Don’t follow me too closely.”
“Sure not,” promised Tip. “Ye don’t want anyone to know that I’m your friend, and I’m good at keepin’ secrets.”
For two or three minutes young Scammon remained standing under the bare tree. But his gaze followed the vanishing figure of Fred Ripley, and a cunning look gleamed in Tip’s eyes.
Fred Ripley, when he had heard of Tip going to prison without saying a word, had been foolish enough to suppose that that incident in his own life was closed. Fred had yet to learn that evil remains a long time alive, and that its consequences hit the evil doer harder than the victim.
THE CALL TO THE DIAMOND—FRED SCHEMES
Recess! As the long lines filed rhythmically down from the second floor, thence to the basement, the leaders of the files quickly discovered something new posted on the bulletin board near the boys’ locker rooms.
As quickly as the files broke, there was such a rush to see the new bulletin that those who got the best places had to read aloud to others. This was what the bulletin proclaimed:
_The gymnasium will be open at 2.30 this afternoon for the gathering of all male students, except freshmen, who may be interested in trying to make either the school or second baseball teams for the coming season. Gridley will have some notable rivals in the field this next year. Information comes that several of school baseball teams will have better material and longer training for next season. It is earnestly desired that all members of the three upper classes who consider themselves capable of making either of the Gridley High School baseball teams be on hand this afternoon, when as full plans as possible will be made.
By order of the Athletics Committee of the Alumni Association.
(signed) Edward Luce,
A shout of approval went up from half of those present as Purcell, of the junior class, finished reading.
Many of those who had no thought of making the school or second teams were filled with delight at thought of the training season being so soon to open.
One of the boys who was pleased was Fred Ripley. He had handed that five-dollar bill to Tip Scammon the afternoon before, and now felt rather certain that he had closed the door on the whole Scammon episode.
Like many another haughty, disagreeable person, Ripley had, in spite of his treatment of others, a keen desire to be well thought of. The year before, in the sophomore class, Fred had played as one of the pitchers in the second team, and had done fairly well on the few occasions when he had been given a chance.
“There’s no good reason why I can’t make the post of pitcher on the school team this year,” thought young Ripley, with a thrill of hope and expectant delight.
“Going to show up this afternoon?” asked Dave of Prescott.
“Of course I am, Darrin,” answered Prescott, as Dick & Co. met out on the sidewalk.
“Going to try to make the regular team?”
“Of course I am,” declared Dick, smiling. “And so, I hope, are every one of you fellows.”
“I’d like to,” agreed Tom Reade.
“Then don’t say you’d _like_ to; say you’re _going_ to,” admonished Dick. “The fellow who doesn’t quite know never gets much of any place. Just say to yourself that you’re going to be one of the stars on the school team. If you have to fall into the second team—don’t be cast down over it—but make every possible effort toward getting on the top team. That’s the spirit that wins in athletics,” finished Dick, sagely.
“I’m going to make the school team,” announced Dave Darrin. “Not only that, but I’ll proclaim it to anyone who’ll be kind enough to listen. The school nine, or ‘bust,’ for me.”
“Good enough!” cheered Dick. “Now, then, fellows, we’ll all be on hand this afternoon, won’t we, and on every other afternoon that we’re needed?”
Dick & Co. carried that proposition by a unanimous vote.
“But see here, fellows,” urged Dick Prescott, “just try to keep one idea in mind, please. There’s a good deal of objection, every year, that athletics are allowed to interfere with studies. Now, as soon as the end of recess is called to-day, let’s every one of us go back with our minds closed to baseball. Let us all keep our minds right on our studies. Why can’t we six help to prove that interest in athletics puts the scholarship mark up, not down?”
“We can,” nodded Dave Darrin. “Good! I like that idea. We’ll simply go ahead and put our scholarship away up over where it is at present.”
To this the other chums agreed heartily.
Luce, the coach for baseball, was one of the under submasters. He had made a record at college, for both baseball and scholarship. He was a complete enthusiast on the game of the diamond. The year before he had trained the school nine to a record that beat anything in the High School line in the whole state. His bulletin announced that he intended to try to make the coming nine the best yet. It didn’t say that, in so many words, but the bulletin implied it.
Fred Ripley did not hit upon the idea of improved scholarship. Instead, that young man went into two classes, after recess, and reported “not prepared.” Then he settled back into a brown study of his chances in baseball.
“I don’t suppose Dick & Co. will have the nerve to try for anything better than the second nine,” muttered Fred to himself. “Still, one can never tell what that crowd will have the nerve to do!”
School out, Fred hurried home faster than was his wont. He caught his father just as the latter was leaving the lunch table.
“Dad, can I have a few minutes’ talk with you about one of my ambitions?” pleaded Fred.
“Certainly, my boy,” replied the wealthy, retired lawyer. “I’m glad, indeed, to hear that you have any ambitions. Come into the library, if you can let your luncheon go that long.”
“If you don’t mind, Dad, I’d rather eat while I talk,” urged Fred. “I have to be back at school before three.”
“What—under discipline?” inquired the lawyer.
“No, sir; it’s baseball that I wish to talk about.”
“Well, then, Fred, what is it?” asked his father.
“Why, sir, we’re going to get together on baseball, this afternoon. The start for the season is to be made early this year. Gridley expects to put forth the finest High School nine ever.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” nodded the lawyer. “School and college athletics, rightly indulged in, give the budding man health, strength, courage and discipline to take with him out into the battle of life. We didn’t have much in the way of athletics when I was at college, but I appreciate the modern tendency more than do some men of my age.”
Fred, though not interested in his father’s praise of athletics waited patiently until his parent had finished.
“I’m pretty sure, Dad, I can make the chance of being the star pitcher on the school team for this coming season, if only you’ll back me up in it.”
“Why, as far as that goes,” replied Lawyer Ripley, “I believe that about all the benefits of school athletics can be gained by one who isn’t necessarily right at the top of the crowd.”
“But not to go to the top of the crowd, and not to try too, Dad, is contrary to the spirit of athletics,” argued Fred, rather cleverly. “Besides, one of the best things about athletics, I think, is the spirit to fight for leadership. That’s a useful lesson—leadership—to carry out into life, isn’t it, sir?”
“Yes, it is; you’re right about that, son,” nodded the lawyer.
“Well, sir, Everett, one of the crack pitchers of national fame, is over in Duxbridge for the winter. He doesn’t go south with his team for practice until the middle or latter part of February. Duxbridge is only twelve miles from here. He could come over here, or you could let your man take me over to Duxbridge in your auto. Dad, I want to be the pitcher of the crack battery in the school nine. Will you engage Everett, or let me hire him, to train me right from the start in all the best styles of pitching?”
“How much would it cost?” asked the lawyer, cautiously.
“I don’t know exactly, sir. A few hundred dollars, probably.”
Fred’s face was glowing with eagerness. His mother, who was standing just behind him, nodded encouragingly at her husband.
“Well, yes, Fred, if you’re sure you can make yourself the star pitcher of the school nine, I will.”
“When may I go to see Everett, sir?” asked Fred, making no effort to conceal the great joy this promise had given him.
“Since you’re to be engaged for this afternoon, Fred, we’ll make it to-morrow. I’ll order out the car and go over to Duxbridge with you.”.
It was in the happiest possible frame of mind, for him, that Fred Ripley went back to the High School that afternoon. He didn’t arrive until five minutes before the hour for calling the meeting; he didn’t care to be of the common crowd that would be on hand at or soon after two-thirty.
When he entered, he found a goodly and noisy crowd of some eighty High School boys of the three upper classes present. Ripley nodded to a few with whom he was on the best terms.
Settees had been placed at one end of the gym. There was an aisle between two groups of these seats.
“Gentlemen, you’ll please come to order, now,” called out Coach Luce, mounting to a small platform before the seats.
It took a couple of minutes to get the eager, half-turbulent throng seated in order. Then the coach rapped sharply, and instantly all was silence, save for the voice of the speaker.
“Gentlemen,” announced Mr. Luce, “it is the plan to make the next season the banner one in baseball in all our school’s history. This will call for some real work, for constantly sustained effort. Every man who goes into the baseball training squad will be expected to do his full share of general gymnastic work here, and to improve every favorable chance for such cross-country running and other outdoor sports as may be ordered.