impelled by excusable curiosity.
Dick, when he came along, heard the news from Hazelton and the others.
“What can be the cause of it all?” asked Tom Reade, wonderingly.
“Oh, some row with his father,” decided Dick slowly. “When I was up on Main Street I saw them both going into Marsh’s clothing store.”
“I asked poor old Rip what the bet was,” chuckled Purcell as he joined the group.
“Say, if you want to have fun at recess,” proposed Dan Dalzell, “let’s about twenty of us, one after the other, go up and ask Rip what the bet is, and how long it’s for?”
“Say,” retorted Dick sternly, eyeing hapless Dan, “I believe, if you got into a fight and knocked a fellow down, you’d jump on him and keep hammering him.”
“Not much I wouldn’t, old safety-valve,” retorted Dan, reddening. “But I see that you’re right, Dick. Rip has never been any friend of ours, and to jump him now, when he’s evidently down at home, would be too mean for the principles of Dick & Co.”
“I’d rather give the poor fellow a helping hand up, if we could,” pursued young Prescott musingly, “Purcell, do you think there’d be any use in trying that sort of thing?”
“Why, I don’t know,” replied Captain Purcell, easy going and good hearted. “Barring a few snobbish airs, I always used to like Rip well enough. He was always pretty proud, but pride, in itself, is no bar to being a decent fellow. The only fellow who comes to harm with pride is the fellow who gets proud before he has done anything to be proud of. At least, that’s the way it always hit me.”
“Ripley certainly looked hang-dog,” commented Hazelton.
“And he must feel mightily ashamed over something,” continued Dick. “I wonder if his father has found out anything about Tip Scammon and certain happenings of last year. That might account for a lot. But what do you say, fellows? If Ripley has been a bit disagreeable and ugly, shall we try to make him feel that there’s always a chance to turn around and be decent?”
“Why, I’d believe in trying to point out the better road to Old Nick himself,” replied Dave Darrin warmly. “Only, I don’t believe in doing it in the preachy way—like some people do.”
“That’s right,” nodded Dick. “See here, Purcell, if Ripley is looking down in the mouth at recess, why don’t you go up to him and talk baseball? Then call us over, after you’ve raised some point for discussion. And we’ll tip two or three other fellows to join in, without, of course, getting a crowd.”
“I’ll try it,” nodded Purcell. “Though I can’t guess how it will turn out. Of course, if Rip gives us the black scowl we’ll have to conclude that no help is wanted.”
It was tried, however, at recess. Purcell went about it with the tact that often comes to the easy going and big hearted. Soon Purcell had Dick and Dave with Fred and himself. Then the other chums drifted up. Two or three other fellows came along. After some sulkiness at first Fred talked eagerly, if nervously. On the whole, he seemed grateful.
When Dick reached home that day he felt staggered with astonishment. Waiting for him was a note from Lawyer Ripley, asking the boy to be at the latter’s office at half-past two.
“I shall take it as a very great favor,” the note ran on, “and, from what I know of you, I feel certain that you will be glad to aid me in a matter that is of vast importance to me.”
“What on earth is coming?” wondered Dick. But he made up his mind to comply with the request.
Promptly to the minute Dick reached the street door of the office building. Here he encountered Dave Darrin and Dalzell.
“You, too?” asked Dick.
“It looks as though all of Dick & Co. had been summoned,” replied Dave Darrin.
On entering the lawyer’s office they found their other three chums there ahead of them. Tip Scammon was there, also, looking far from downcast.
Lawyer Ripley looked very grave. He looked, too, like a man who had a serious task to perform, and who meant to go about it courageously.
“Young gentlemen, I thank you all,” said the lawyer slowly. “I am pursuing a matter in which I feel certain that I need your help. There has been some evil connection between Scammon and my son. What it is Scammon has refused to tell me. I will first of all tell you what I _do_ know. I am telling you, of course, on the assumption that you are all young men of honor, and that you will treat a father’s confidence as men of honor should do.”
The boys bowed, wondering what was coming. Lawyer Ripley thereupon plunged into a narration of the happenings of the day before, telling it all with a lawyer’s exactness of statement.
“And now I will ask you,” wound up Mr. Ripley, “whether you can tell me anything about the hold that Scammon seems to have exercised over my son?”
“That’s an embarrassing question, sir,” Dick replied, after there had been a long pause.
“Do you know the nature of that hold?”
“May I ask how you know?”
“I overheard a conversation, one night, between your son and Tip Scammon.”
“What was the substance of that conversation?” pressed the lawyer.
“I don’t quite see how I can tell you, sir,” Dick responded slowly and painfully. “I’m not a tale bearer. I don’t want to come here and play the tittle-tattle on your son.”
“I respect your reluctance,” nodded Lawyer Ripley. “But let me put it to you another way. I am the boy’s father. I am responsible for his career in this world, as far as anyone but himself can be responsible. I am also seeking what is for the boy’s best good. I cannot act intelligently unless I have exact facts. Both my son and Scammon are too stubborn to tell me anything. In the cause of justice, Prescott, will you answer me frankly?”
“That word, ‘justice,’ has an ominous sound, sir,” Prescott answered. “It is generally connected with the word punishment, instead of with the word mercy.”
“I suspect that my son has been your very bitter enemy, Prescott,” said the lawyer keenly. “I suspect that he has plotted against you and all your chums. Would you now try to shield him from the consequences of such acts?”
“Why, sir, I think any boy of seventeen is young enough to have another chance.”
“And I agree with you,” cried the lawyer, a sudden new light shining in his eyes. “Now, will you be wholly frank with me if I promise you that my course toward my son will be one that will give him every chance to do better if he wants to?”
“That’s an odd bargain to have to make with a father,” smiled Dick.
“It _is_,” admitted Lawyer Ripley, struck by the force of the remark. “You’ve scored a point there, Prescott. Well, then, since I _am_ the boy’s father, and since I want to do him full justice on the side of mercy, if he’ll have it—will you tell all of the truth that you know to that boy’s father?”
Dick glanced around at his chums. One after another they nodded. Then the High School pitcher unburdened himself. Tip Scammon sat up and took keen notice. When Dick had finished with all he knew, including the tripping with the pole, and the soft-soaping of the sidewalk before his home door, Tip was ready to talk.
“I done ’em all,” he admitted, “includin’ the throwin’ of the brickbats. The brickbats was on my own hook, but the pole and the soft soap was parts of the jobs me and Fred put up between us.”
“Why did you throw the brickbats on your own hook?” asked Lawyer Ripley sharply.
“Why, you see, ‘squire, ’twas just like this,” returned Tip. “After I’d done it, if I had hurt Prescott, then I was goin’ to go to your son an’ scare ‘im good an’ proper by threatenin’ to blab that he had hired me to use them brickbats. That’d been good fer all his spendin’ money, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, and for all he could steal, too,” replied Lawyer Ripley.
“I didn’t know nothing about his stealin’ money,” retorted Tip, half virtuously. “I jest thought he had too much pocket money fer his own good, an’ so I’d help him spend some of it. But, see here, lawyer, ye promised me that, if I did talk, nothin’ I told yer should be used against myself.”
“I am prepared to keep that promise,” replied Mr. Ripley coldly.
The sound of a slight stir came from the doorway between the outer and inner office. There in the doorway, his face ghastly white, his whole body seeming devoid of strength, leaned Fred Ripley.
“I had almost forgotten that I asked you to come here,” said Mr. Ripley, as he looked up. “How long have you been here?”
“Not very long, perhaps, but long enough to know that Dick Prescott and the rest have been doing all they can to make matters harder for me,” Fred answered in a dispirited voice.
“As it happens, they have been doing nothing of the sort,” replied the lawyer crisply. “Come in here, Fred. I have had the whole story of your doings, but it was on a pledge that I would give you another chance to show whether there’s any good in you. Fred, I can understand, now that you’ve always thought yourself better than most boys—above them. The truth is that you’ve a long way to go to get up to the level of ordinary, decent, good American boyhood. You may get there yet; I hope so. But come, sir, are you going to make a decent apology to Prescott and his friends for the contemptible things you’ve tried to do to them?”
Somehow, Fred Ripley managed to mumble his way through an apology, though he kept his eyes on the floor all the while. Full of sympathy for the father who, if proud, was at least upright, Dick and his chums accepted that apology, offered their hands, then tip-toed out, leaving father and son together.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE SWIMMING POOL
In the next few weeks, if Fred Ripley didn’t improve greatly in popularity, he was at all events vastly quieter and more reserved in his manner.
Tip Scammon had vanished, so far as common knowledge went. Mr. Ripley, feeling somewhat responsible for that scamp’s wrong doing, in that Fred had put him up to his first serious wrong doing, had given Scammon some money and a start in another part of the country. That disappearance saved Scammon from a stern reckoning with Prescott’s partners, who had not forgotten him.
Fred was again a well-dressed boy, also a well-mannered one. He had very little to say, and he kept his snobbishness, if any remained, well concealed.
Dick & Co., after the scene in the lawyer’s office, if not exactly cordial with the unhappy junior, at all events remembered that they had agreed to “forget.” Nor were Prescott and his chums priggish enough to take great credit to themselves for their behavior. They merely admitted among themselves that any fellow ought to have the show that was now accorded to the younger Ripley.
Baseball had gone off with an hurrah this season, though there had been an enormous amount of hard work behind all the successes.
Now, but one game remained. Out of fourteen played, so far, only one had resulted in a tie; the others had all been victories for Gridley.
With the warm June weather commencement was looming near. One Wednesday morning there was a long and tedious amount of practice over the singing that was to be offered at the close of the school year.
“Huh! I thought we’d never get through,” snorted Prescott, as he raced out into the school yard. “And we were kept ten minutes over the usual time for recess.”
“Gee, but it’s hot to-day,” muttered Tom Reade, fanning himself with his straw hat.
“Oh, what wouldn’t I give, right now, for a good swim down at Foster’s Pond!” muttered Purcell moodily.
“Well, why can’t we have it?” suggested Gint.
“We couldn’t get back by the time recess is over,” replied Purcell.
“The end of recess would be when we _did_ get back, wouldn’t it!” asked a senior.
“Let’s go, anyway!” urged another boy, restlessly.
As students were allowed to spend their recess quietly on the near-by streets, if they preferred, the girls generally deserted the yard.
The spirit of mischievous mutiny was getting loose among the young men. Nor will anyone who remembers his own school days wonder much at that. In June, when the end of the school year is all but at hand, restraints become trebly irksome.
Dick’s own face was glowing. As much as any boy there he wanted a swim, just now, down in Foster’s Pond. Oh, how he wanted it!
“See here, fellows,” Prescott called to some of the nearest ones. “And you especially, Charley Grady, for you’re studying to be a lawyer.”
“What has a lawyer to do with the aching desire for a swim?” inquired Grady.
“Well, post us a bit,” begged Dick. “What was it the great Burke had to say about punishing a community?”
“Why,” responded Grady thoughtfully, “Burke laid down a theory that has since become a principle in law. It was to the effect that a community cannot be indicted.”
“All of us fellows—_all_ of us might be called a community, don’t you think?” queried Dick.
“Why—er—aha—hem!” responded Grady.
“Oh, come, now, drop the extras,” ordered Dick. “Time is short. Are we a community, in a sort of legal sense? Just plain yes or no.”
“Well, then, yes!” decided Grady.
“Whoop!” ejaculated Dick, placing his straw hat back on his head and starting on a sprint out of the yard. His chums followed. Some of the fellows who were nearer the gate tried to reach it first. In an instant, the flight was general.
“Come on, Rip! You’re not going to hang back on the crowd, are you?” uttered one boy, reproachfully. “Don’t spoil the community idea.”
So Fred Ripely tagged on at the rear of the flight.
“What is it, boys—a fire?” called Laura Bentley. A dozen girls had drawn in, pressing against the wall, to let this whirlwind of boys go by.
“Tell you when we get back,” Purcell called. “Time presses now.”
It took the leaders only about four minutes to reach Foster’s Pond. Even Ripley and the other tail-enders were on hand about a minute later. There was a fine grove here, fringed by thick bushes, and no houses near. In a jiffy the High School boys were disrobing.
“And the fellow who ‘chaws’ anyone else’s clothes, to-day,” proposed Dick, “is to be thrown in and kept in, when he’s dressed!”
Dick was one of the first to get stripped. He started on a run, glided out over a log that lay from the bank, and plunged headlong into one of the deepest pools. Then up he came, spouting water.
“Come on, in, fellows! The water’s _grand_!” he yelled.
Splash! splash! The surface of the pond at that point was churned white. The bobbing heads made one think of huckleberries bobbing on a bowl of milk.
Splash! splash! More were diving in. And now the fun and the frolic went swiftly to their height.
“This is the real thing!” vented one ecstatic swimmer. “Down with ‘do-re–mi-fa-sol!”
“As long as we’re all to be hanged together, what say if we don’t go back at all to-day?” questioned Purcell.
There were some affirmative shouts, but Dick, who had just stepped back on the bank for a moment shook his head.
“Don’t be hogs, fellows!” he urged. “Don’t run a good thing into the ground. We’ll have our swim, get well cooled off—and then we’d better go back looking as penitent as the circumstances seem to call for.”
“I guess it’s the wise one talking,” nodded Purcell, as he climbed to the bank preparatory to another dive.
For at least twenty minutes the High School boys remained at their delightful sport. Then cries started here and there:
“All out! All out!”
Reluctantly the youngsters began to leave the water.
“Now, don’t let anyone lag,” begged Purcell. “As we ran away together, we ought all to go back together.”
So dressing went on apace. Then the fellows began to look at each other, wonderingly. To be sure, they didn’t stand so much in personal awe of the principal. But then Mr. Cantwell had the Board of Education behind him. There was Superintendent Eldridge, also, and back of it all, what parents might—oh, hang it, it began to look just a bit serious now.
“Who are the heroes here?” called out one fellow.
“Why?” demanded another.
“Well, we need our assured brave ones to lead going back.”
“That’s where the baseball squad comes in, then,” nodded Purcell. “School nine and subs first, second team following. Then let the chilly-footed ones bring up the rear.”
“We can go back in column of fours,” proposed Dick, as he fastened on his collar, “with no leaders or file-closers. Then it will be hard to guess at any ring-leaders.”
“That’s the best idea yet,” agreed Purcell. “Then, fellows, a block from the school, let the baseball squad form first, and then all of the rest of you fall in behind in column of fours, just as you happen along.”
“And keep good ranks, and march the best you know how,” urged Dick. “Unyielding ranks may suggest the community idea to Prin.”
“Then we won’t have to explain it,” laughed Grady.
“Oh, come, now,” shouted another, “don’t flatter yourselves that we’re going to get out of some tall explaining.”
A block from the school the order was given to form fours. This was quickly done. Purcell, Dick, Darrin and Dan Dalzell composed the first four as the line turned into the yard.
There at the main doorway the culprits beheld the principal. And that gentlemen certainly looked almost angry about something. The weather indications were for squalls in the High School.
“Go to your seats in the assembly room,” said the principal, coldly, as the head of the line neared him. As the boys wore no overcoats it was not necessary to file down to the locker rooms first. They marched into the hat room just off of the assembly room. And here they found Mr. Drake on duty.
“No conversation here. Go directly to your seats,” ordered Mr. Drake.
The few girls who were not at classes looked up with eyes full of mischievous inquiry when the boys entered the big room. The principal and Mr. Drake took their seats on the platform. The late swimmers reached for their books, though most of them made but a pretense of study. Almost at once there was another diversion made by the girls who were returning from recitations.
Then the bell was struck for the beginning of the next period. Out filed the sections. The boys began to feel that this ominous quiet boded them no good. Not until closing time did the principal make any reference to the affair.
“The young ladies are dismissed for the day,” he remarked. “The young gentlemen will remain.” Clang!
Then a dead silence fell over the room. It was broken, after a minute, by the principal, who asked:
“Where were you, young gentlemen, when the end of recess bell rang this morning!”
No one being addressed, no one answered.
“Where were you, Mr. Purcell?”
“Swimming at Foster’s Pond, sir.”
“All of you?”
“All of us, sir, I think.”
“Whose idea was it?”
“As I remember, sir, the idea belonged to us all.”
“Who made the first proposal?”
“That would be impossible to say, now, sir.”
“Do you remember anything about it?”
“What was it?”
“I believe the fellows voted that Mr. Grady, who is studying to be a lawyer, should represent us as counsel.”
“Ah! I shall be very glad, then, to hear from Judge Grady,” the principal dryly remarked.
“Judge” Grady bobbed up, smiling and confident—or he seemed so. As for the rest of the fellows, the principal’s frigid coolness was beginning to get on their nerves.
“Mr. Principal,” began Grady, thrusting his right band in between his vest buttons, “the illustrious, perhaps immortal Burke, once elucidated a principle that has since become historic, authoritative and illuminating. Among American and English jurists alike, Burke’s principle has been accepted as akin to the organic law and the idea is that a community cannot be indicted.”
It was a fine speech, for Grady had real genius in him, and this was the first chance he had ever had. The principal waited until the budding legal light had finished. Then Mr. Cantwell cleared his throat, to reply crisply:
“While I will not venture to gainsay Burke, and he is not here to be cross-examined, I will say that the indictment of the community, in this instance, would mean the expulsion of all the young men in the High School. To that form of sentence I do not lean. A light form of punishment would be to prohibit absolutely the final baseball game of the school season. A sever form would be to withhold the diplomas of the young men of the graduating senior class. I think it likely that both forms of punishment will be administered, but I shall not announce my decision to-day. It will come later. The young men are dismissed.” Clang!
Dismay would have been a mild name for what the fellows felt when they found themselves outside the building. Of the principal, in a rage they were little afraid. But when the principal controlled his temper he was a man in authority and of dangerous power.
After his own meal, and some scowling reflection, Mr. Cantwell set out to find his friend and backer in the Board of Education, Mr. Gadsby. That custodian of local education heard Mr. Cantwell through, after which he replied:
“Er—um—-ah—my dear Cantwell, you can’t very well prohibit the game, or talk of withholding diplomas from the young men of the graduating class. Either course would make you tremendously unpopular. The people of Gridley would say that you were lacking in—era sense of humor.”
“Sense of humor?” raged the principal, getting up and pacing the floor. “Is it humorous to have a lot of young rascals running all over one’s authority?”
“Certainly not,” responded Mr. Gadsby. “You should—er—preserve discipline.”
“How am I to preserve discipline, if I can’t inflict punishments?” insisted Mr. Cantwell.
“But you should—er—that is—my dear Cantwell, you should make the punishments merely fit the crimes.”
“In such an outrageous case as to-day’s,” fumed the principal, “what course would have been taken by the Dr. Thornton whom you are so fond of holding up to me as a man who knew how to handle boys?”
“Dr. Thornton,” responded Mr. Gadsby, “would have been ingenious in his punishment. How long were the boys out, over recess time?”
“Then,” returned Mr. Gadsby, “I can quite see Dr. Thorton informing the young men that they would be expected to remain at least five times as long after school as they had been improperly away from it. That is—er—ah—he would have sent for his own dinner, and would have eaten it at his desk, with scores of hungry young men looking on while their own dinners went cold. At three o’clock—perhaps—Dr. Thornton would have dismissed the offenders. It would be many a day before the boys would try anything of that sort again on good old Thornton. But you, my dear Cantwell, I am afraid you have failed to make the boys respect you at all times. The power of enforcing respect is the basis of all discipline.”
“Then what shall I do with the young men this time?”
“Since you have—er—missed your opportunity, you—er—can do nothing, now, but let it pass. Let them imagine, from day to day, that sentence is still suspended and hovering over them.”
Wily Dick Prescott had been to see Mr. Gadsby, just before the arrival of the principal. In his other capacity of reporter for “The Blade” the High School pitcher had said a few earnest words to his host. Mr. Gadsby, with his eye turned ever toward election day and the press, had been wholly willing to listen.
THE AGONY OF THE LAST BIG GAME
“Ya, ya, ya! Ye gotter do somethings!”
This from Mr. Schimmelpodt. That gentleman was waving one of his short, fat arms wildly. It may as well be stated that from the smaller extremity of that arm, namely, his hand—a small crimson and gold banner attached to a stick cut circles in the air.
“Go to it, Gridley!”
“Get busy! You can’t take a black eye at this end of the season.”
Gridley High School with a season’s record of one tied game and a long tally of victories, seemed now in dire straits.
Sides were changing for the last half of the ninth inning.
Gridley had taken seven runs. Wayland High School, with six runs already to their credit, was now going to bat for the last inning unless the score should be tied.
The perfect June day, just before commencement, had brought out a host. Wayland had sent nearly four hundred people. The total attendance was past four thousand paid admissions.
Herr Schimmelpodt, who, since his first enthusiasm, had not missed a game, was now among the most concerned.
The band was there, but silent. The leader knew that, in this state of affairs the spectators wanted to make the noise themselves.
“Oh, you Dick!”
“Strike ’em out as fast as they come up.”
“Aw, let somebody have a game,” roared a voice from the Wayland seats, “and we need this one!”
“Prescott, remember the record!”
“No defeats this year!”
“Don’t give us one, now!”
Dick & Co. were in full force on the nine today. True, Dave Darrin sat only on the sub bench to-day, but he was ready to give relief at any moment if Gridley’s beloved pitcher, Prescott, went under.
Holmes was out in left field; Hazelton was the nimble shortstop; Dalzell pranced at the first bag on the diamond; Tom Reade was eternally vigilant on second base.
Gridley’s High School girls, devoted feminine fans as any in the world, were breathing soft and fast now. If only Dick, backed at need by the outfield, could keep Wayland from scoring further, then all was well. If Wayland should score even once in this inning, it would make a tie and call for a tenth inning. If Wayland scored twice—but that was too nerve-racking to contemplate.
Then a hush fell. The umpire had called for play.
Dick let drive with his most tantalizing spitball. The leather fell down gracefully under the Wayland’s batsman’s guess, and Purcell mitted the ball.
A hopeful cheer went up from Gridley seats, to be met with one word from Wayland fans:
Dick served the second ball. Swat! There it went, arching up in the air, a fair hit. As fast as he could leg it went Holmes after it, and with good judgment. But the ball got there before Greg did. In a twinkling, the young left fielder had the ball up and in motion. Tom Reade caught it deftly at second, and wheeled toward first. But the runner saw his error in leaving first, and slid back in season.
Turning back, with his lips close together, Dick tried a new batsman. Two strikes, and then the visitor sent out a little pop-over that touched ground and rolled ere Harry Hazelton could race in and get it, driving it on to first base.
“Safe at first,” called the umpire, and the other Waylander had reached second.
“Don’t let ’em have it, Dick—_don’t_!”
The wail that reached his ears was pathetic, but Prescott paid no heed. He was always all but deaf to remarks from the spectators. He knew what he was trying to do, and he was coming as close as a hard-worked pitcher could get to that idea at the fag-end of the game.
The fatigue germ was hard at work in the young pitcher’s wrist, but Dick nerved himself for better efforts. Despite him, however, a third batsman got away from him, and from Greg, and now the bases were full.
It was a wail, full of despair. Though he paid no direct heed to it the sorely pressed young pitcher put up his left hand to wipe the old sweat out of his eyes. His heart was pounding with the strain of it. Dick Prescott, born soldier, would have died for victory, _just_ then. At least, that was what he felt.
The Wayland man who now stood over the plate looked like a grinning monkey as he took the pitcher’s measure.
“Go to it, Dickson—kill the ball!” roared the visiting fans. “Just a little two-bagger—that’s all!”
Dick felt something fluttering inside. In himself he felt the whole Gridley honor and fame revolving during that moment. Then he resolutely choked down the feeling. The umpire was signaling impatiently for him to deliver.
Dick essayed a jump ball. With a broadening grin Dickson of Wayland reached for it vigorously. He struck it, but feebly. Another of those short-winded, high-arched pops went up in air.
There was no hope or chance for Hazelton to get to the spot in time—and Wayland’s man away from third was steaming in while Purcell made the home plate at a bound.
Dick raced—raced for all he was worth, though his heart felt as if steam had shut down.
Across the grass raced Prescott, as though he believed he could make history in fifths of seconds.
In his speed he went too far. The ball was due to come down behind him.
There was no time to think. Running at full speed as he was, Pitcher Dick rose in the air. It looked like an incredible leap—but he made it. His hands pulled the slow-moving popball down out of the air.
Barely did Dick’s feet touch the ground when he simply reached over and dropped the ball at Purcell.
The captain of the Gridley nine dropped to one knee, hands low, but he took the leather in—took it just the bare part of a second before the Waylander from third got there.
For an instant the dazed crowd held its breath just long enough to hear the umpire announce.
“Striker out! Out at home plate. Two out!”
Then the tumult broke loose.
For an instant or two Dick stood dizzy just where he had landed on his feet.
Umpire Davidson came bounding over.
“Do you want to call for a relief pitcher, Prescott?”
“No—Wayland pitched all through with one man!”
Back to the box marched Dick Prescott, but he took his time about it. He had need of a clear head and steadier nerves and muscles, for Wayland had a man again at third, and another dancing away from second. There was plenty of chance yet to lose.
“Prescott ought to call you out,” whispered Fred Ripley to Dave.
“And I’d get out there on the dead run, just as you would, Rip. But you know how Dick feels. Wayland went through on one man, and Dick’s going to do it if he lives through the next few minutes!”
While that momentary dizziness lasted, something happened that caused the young pitcher to flush with humiliation. Sandwiched in between two strikes were called balls enough to send the new batsman to first, and again the bases were full. One more “bad break” of this kind and Wayland would receive the tie run as a present. And then one more—it would be the High School pitcher handing the only lost game of the season as a gift to the visitors!
Dick braced himself supremely for the next man at bat.
It wasn’t the batter’s fault. A very imp had sat on the spitball that Prescott bowled in.
The batsman was sweating nervously, but he couldn’t help it. Dick Prescott had fairly forced himself into the form of the first inning. But it couldn’t last.
Gink! It was only a little crack at the ball, struck rather downward. A grounding ball struck the grit and rolled out toward right infield. There was no shortstop here. The instant that Prescott took in the direction he was on the run. There was no time to get there ahead of the rolling leather. It was Dick’s left foot that stopped it, but in the same fraction of a second he bent and swooped it up—wheeled.
Wayland’s man from third base looked three fourths of the way in. Captain Purcell, half frantic, was doubled up at the home plate.
Into that throw Dick put all the steam he had left in. The leather gone from his hand, he waited. His heart seemed to stop.
To half the eyes that looked on, ball and runner seemed to reach the home plate at the same instant. The umpire, crouching, squinting, had the best view of all.
It was an age before Dick, with the mists before his eyes, heard the faraway words for which thousands waited breathlessly:
“Out at home—three out!”
Three disheartened base runners turned and slouched dispiritedly toward the dressing rooms.
“You could have hit that ball a better swipe,” growled Wayland’s captain to the last man at bat. The victim of the rebuke didn’t answer. He knew that he had faced a pitcher wholly rejuvenated by sheer grit and nerve force.
At its loudest the band was blaring forth “At the Old Ball Game,” and thousands were following with the words. Wayland fans were strolling away in dejection, but Gridley folks stood up to watch and cheer.
The whole nine had done its duty in fine shape, but Dick Prescott had made himself the idol of the Gridley diamond.
When the band stopped, the cheers welled forth. The lion’s share was for Prescott, but Darrin was not forgotten. Even Ripley, who had pitched three of the minor games, came in for some notice.
With the strain and suspense gone he felt limp and weak for a few minutes. Under the cold shower he revived somewhat. Yet, when he started homeward, he found that he ached all over. With the last game of the season gone by, Dick half imagined that his right wrist was a huge boil.
At the gateway Schimmelpodt, that true devotee of sport, waited. As the young High School pitcher came forth Herr Schimmelpodt rested a fat hand on the boy’s shoulder, whispering in his ear:
“Ach! But I know vere is dere a _real_ jointed fishpole. It was two dollar, but now it stands itself by, marked to one-nineteen. In der morning, Bresgott, it shall be yours. Und listen!”
Dick looked up into the blinking eyes.
“Dot fishpole for der summer use is goot fine! Und venever you see me going by bis my vagon, don’t you be slow to holler und ask me for a ride!”
For a large percentage of High School boys and girls, the end of the sophomore year marks the end of their schooling.
This was true at Gridley as elsewhere. When the crowd came forth from commencement exercises at the Opera House on this bright, warm June afternoon, there were not a few of the sophomores who were saying good-bye to the classic halls of instruction.
Not so, however, with Dick & Co. They were bound all the way through the course, and hoped to take up with college or other academic training when once good old Gridley High School must be left behind.
“What are you going to do this summer, Prescott?” asked Dr. Bentley, gripping the lad’s arm, as Dick stood on the sidewalk chatting with Dave Darrin.
“Work, mostly, doctor. I’m getting near the age when fellow should try to bear some of the expense of keeping himself.”
“What will you work at?”
“Why, reporting for ‘The Blade.’ I believe I can capture a good many stray dollars this summer.”
“Good enough,” murmured Dr. Bentley, approvingly. “But are you going to have any spare time?”
“A little, I hope—just about enough for some rest.”
“Then I’ll tell you where you can take that rest,” went on the medical man. “My family are going into camp for the summer, in three days. They’ll be over at the lake range, on a piece of ground that I’ve bought there. You can get over once in a while, and spend a night or two, can’t you? Mrs. Bentley charged me to ask you and Darrin,” added the physician. “Belle Meade is going to spend the summer in camp with Laura.”
Both boys were prompt with their thanks.
“Confound it,” muttered Dr. Bentley, “I’m forgetting two thirds of my message at that. The invitation includes all of Dick & Co. Now remember you’ll all be looked for from time to time, and most heartily welcome.”
Both boys were most hearty in their thanks. This took care of whatever spare time they might have, for Dave, too, was to be busy a good deal of the time. He had work as an extra clerk at the express office.
Then the two girl chums came along. Dick and Dave strolled along with Laura and Belle. The other partners of Dick & Co. were soon to be seen, their narrow-brimmed straw hats close to bobbing picture hats.
“Your father gave us a message, Laura,” Dick murmured to the girl beside him.
“And you’re going to accept it?” asked the girl quickly.
“At any chance to be honestly away from work,” Dick promised fervently. “Yet at my age a fellow must keep something of an eye toward business, too, Laura.”
“Yes,” she answered slowly, glancing covertly at the bronzed young face and the strong, lithe body. “You’re nearing manhood, Dick.”
“Just about as rapidly as you’re growing into womanhood, Laura,” answered the boy.
Dave and Belle were chatting, too, but what they said wouldn’t interest very staid old people.
Gridley was prouder than ever of its athletic teams. The great record in baseball, with Dick & Co. in the team, was something worth talking about.
Lest there be some who may think that a season of baseball with no defeats is an all but impossible record, the chronicler hastens to add that there are, through the length and breadth of these United States, several High School teams every year that make such a showing.
Yet, in baseball, as in everything else, the record is reached only by nines like the Gridley crowd, where the stiffest training, the best coaches and the best individual nerve and grit among the players are to be found.
Did Fred Ripley truly make good?
What else happened?
These and various other burning questions must now be answered in the chronicle of the time to which they belonged. So the reader is referred to the next volume in this series, which is to be published at once under the caption: “_The High School Left End; Or, Dick & Co. Grilling on the Football Gridiron_.”
At the same time, no interested reader will allow himself to overlook the second volume in the “_High School Boys’ Vacation Series_,” which runs parallel with this present series. All the wonderful summer vacation adventures that followed the sophomore year of Prescott and his chums will be found in the volume published under the title, “_The High School Boys’ In Summer Camp; Or, The Dick Prescott Six Training for the Gridley Eleven_.” It is a thrilling story that no follower of the fortunes of these lads can afford to overlook.