Arthurs returned to the diamond and called the squad around him. He might have been another coach from the change that was manifest in him.
"Boys, I've picked the varsity, and sorry I am to say you all can't be on it. Ward, Dean, McCord, Raymond, Weir, Graves, Ray, Homans, Trace, Duncan, and Schoonover--these men will report at once to Trainer Murray and obey his orders. Then pack your trunks and report to me at 36 Spring Street to-night. That's all--up on your toes now.... The rest of you boys will each get his uniform and sweater, but, of course, I can't give you the varsity letter. You've all tried hard and done your best. I'm much obliged to you, and hope you'll try again next year."
Led by Arthurs, the players trotted across the field to Murray's quarters. Ken used all his eyes as he went in. This was the sacred precinct of the chosen athletes, and it was not open to any others. He saw a small gymnasium, and adjoining it a large, bright room with painted windows that let in the light, but could not be seen through. Around the room on two sides were arranged huge box-like bins with holes in the lids and behind them along the wall were steam-pipes. On the other two sides were little zinc-lined rooms, with different kinds of pipes, which Ken concluded were used for shower baths. Murray, the trainer, was there, and two grinning negroes with towels over their shoulders, and a little dried-up Scotchman who was all one smile.
"Murray, here's my bunch. Look 'em over, and to-morrow start 'em in for keeps," said Arthurs.
"Well, Worry, they're not a bad-looking lot. Slim and trim. We won't have to take off any beef. Here's Reddy Ray. I let you have him this year, Worry, but the track team will miss him. And here's Peg Ward. I was sure you'd pick him, Worry. And this is Homans, isn't it? I remember you in the freshmen games. The rest of you boys I'll have to get acquainted with. They say I'm a pretty hard fellow, but that's on the outside. Now, hustle out of your suits, and we'll give you all a good stew and a rub-down."
What the stew was soon appeared plain to Ken. He was the first player undressed, and Murray, lifting up one of the box-lids, pushed Ken inside.
"Sit down and put your feet in that pan," he directed. "When I drop the lid let your head come out the hole. There!" Then he wrapped a huge towel around Ken's neck, being careful to tuck it close and tight. With that he reached round to the back of the box and turned on the steam.
Ken felt like a jack-in-the-box. The warm steam was pleasant. He looked about him to see the other boys being placed in like positions. Raymond had the box on one side, and Reddy Ray the one on the other.
"It's great," said Ray, smiling at Ken. "You'll like it."
Raymond looked scared. Ken wondered if the fellow ever got any enjoyment out of things. Then Ken found himself attending to his own sensations. The steam was pouring out of the pipe inside the box, and it was growing wetter, thicker, and hotter. The pleasant warmth and tickling changed to a burning sensation. Ken found himself bathed in a heavy sweat. Then he began to smart in different places, and he was hard put to it to keep rubbing them. The steam grew hotter; his body was afire; his breath labored in great heaves. Ken felt that he must cry out. He heard exclamations, then yells, from some of the other boxed-up players, and he glanced quickly around. Reddy Ray was smiling, and did not look at all uncomfortable. But Raymond was scarlet in the face, and he squirmed his head to and fro.
"Ough!" he bawled. "Let me out of here!"
One of the negro attendants lifted the lid and helped Raymond out. He danced about as if on hot bricks. His body was the color of a boiled lobster. The attendant put him under one of the showers and turned the water on. Raymond uttered one deep, low, "O-o-o-o!" Then McCord begged to be let out; Weir's big head, with its shock of hair, resembled that of an angry lion; little Trace screamed, and Duncan yelled.
"Peg, how're you?" asked Murray, walking up to Ken. "It's always pretty hot the first few times. But afterward it's fine. Look at Reddy."
"Murray, give Peg a good stewin'," put in Arthurs. "He's got a great arm, and we must take care of it."
Ken saw the other boys, except Ray, let out, and he simply could not endure the steam any longer.
"I've got--enough," he stammered.
"Scotty, turn on a little more stew," ordered Murray, cheerfully; then he rubbed his hand over Ken's face. "You're not hot yet."
Scotty turned on more steam, and Ken felt it as a wet flame. He was being flayed alive.
"Please--please--let me out!" he implored.
With a laugh Murray lifted the lid, and Ken hopped out. He was as red as anything red he had ever seen. Then Scotty shoved him under a shower, and as the icy water came down in a deluge Ken lost his breath, his chest caved in, and he gasped. Scotty led him out into the room, dried him with a towel, rubbed him down, and then, resting Ken's arm on his shoulder, began to pat and beat and massage it. In a few moments Ken thought his arm was a piece of live India rubber. He had never been in such a glow. When he had dressed he felt as light as air, strong, fresh, and keen for action.
"Hustle now, Peg," said Arthurs. "Get your things packed. Supper to-night at the trainin'-house."
It was after dark when Ken got an expressman to haul his trunk to the address on Spring Street. The house was situated about the middle of a four-storied block, and within sight of Grant Field. Worry answered his ring.
"Here you are, Peg, the last one. I was beginnin' to worry about you. Have your trunk taken right up, third floor back. Hurry down, for dinner will be ready soon."
Ken followed at the heels of the expressman up to his room. He was surprised and somewhat taken back to find Raymond sitting upon the bed.
"Hello! excuse me," said Ken. "Guess I've got the wrong place."
"The coach said you and I were to room together," returned Raymond.
"Us? Room-mates?" ejaculated Ken.
Raymond took offence at this.
"Wull, I guess I can stand it," he growled.
"I hope I can," was Ken's short reply. It was Ken's failing that he could not help retaliating. But he was also as repentant as he was quick-tempered. "Oh, I didn't mean that.... See here, Raymond, if we've got to be room-mates--"
Ken paused in embarrassment.
"Wull, we're both on the varsity," said Raymond.
"That's so," rejoined Ken, brightening. "It makes a whole lot of difference, doesn't it?"
Raymond got off the bed and looked at Ken.
"What's your first name?" queried he. "I don't like 'Peg.'"
"Kenneth. Ken, for short. What's yours?"
"Mine's Kel. Wull, Ken--"
Having gotten so far Raymond hesitated, and it was Ken who first offered his hand. Raymond eagerly grasped it. That broke the ice.
"Kel, I haven't liked your looks at all," said Ken, apologetically.
"Ken, I've been going to lick you all spring."
They went down-stairs arm in arm.
It was with great interest and curiosity that Ken looked about the cozy and comfortable rooms. The walls were adorned with pictures of varsity teams and players, and the college colors were much in evidence. College magazines and papers littered the table in the reading-room.
"Boys, we'll be pretty snug and nice here when things get to runnin' smooth. The grub will be plain, but plenty of it."
There were twelve in all at the table, with the coach seated at the head. The boys were hungry, and besides, as they had as yet had no chance to become acquainted, the conversation lagged. The newness and strangeness, however, did not hide the general air of suppressed gratification. After dinner Worry called them all together in the reading-room.
"Well, boys, here we are together like one big family, and we're shut in for two months. Now, I know you've all been fightin' for places on the team, and have had no chance to be friendly. It's always that way in the beginnin', and I dare say there'll be some scraps among you before things straighten out. We'll have more to say about that later. The thing now is you're all varsity men, and I'm puttin' you on your word of honor. Your word is good enough for me. Here's my rules, and I'm more than usually particular this year, for reasons I'll tell later.
"You're not to break trainin'. You're not to eat anything anywhere but here. You're to cut out cigarettes and drinks. You're to be in bed at ten o'clock. And I advise, although I ain't insistin', that if you have any leisure time you'll spend most of it here. That's all."
For Ken the three days following passed as so many hours. He did not in the least dread the approaching game with State University, but his mind held scarcely anything outside of Arthurs' coaching. The practice of the players had been wholly different. It was as if they had been freed from some binding spell. Worry kept them at fielding and batting for four full hours every afternoon. Ken, after pitching to Dean for a while, batted to the infield and so had opportunity to see the improvement. Graves was brilliant at third, Weir was steady and sure at short, Raymond seemed to have springs in his legs and pounced upon the ball with wonderful quickness, and McCord fielded all his chances successfully.
On the afternoon of the game Worry waited at the training-house until all the players came down-stairs in uniform.
"Boys, what's happened in the past doesn't count. We start over to-day. I'm not goin' to say much or confuse you with complex team coachin'. But I'm hopeful. I sort of think there's a nigger in the woodpile. I'll tell you to-night if I'm right. Think of how you have been roasted by the students. Play like tigers. Put out of your mind everything but tryin'. Nothin' counts for you, boys. Errors are nothin'; mistakes are nothin'. Play the game as one man. Don't think of yourselves. You all know when you ought to hit or bunt or run. I'm trustin' you. I won't say a word from the bench. And don't underrate our chances. Remember that I think it's possible we may have somethin' up our sleeves. That's all from me till after the game."
Worry walked to Grant Field with Ken. He talked as they went along, but not on baseball. The State team was already out and practising. Worry kept Ken near him on the bench and closely watched the visitors in practice. When the gong rang to call them in he sent his players out, with a remark to Ken to take his warming-up easily. Ken thought he had hardly warmed up at all before the coach called him in.
"Peg, listen!" he whispered. His gaze seemed to hypnotize Ken. "Do you have any idea what you'll do to this bunch from State?"
"Listen! I tell you I know they won't be able to touch you.... Size up batters in your own way. If they look as if they'd pull or chop on a curve, hand it up. If not, peg 'em a straight one over the inside corner, high. If you get in a hole with runners on bases use that fast jump ball, as hard as you can drive it, right over the pan.... Go in with perfect confidence. I wouldn't say that to you, Peg, if I didn't feel it myself, honestly. I'd say for you to do your best. But I've sized up these State fellows, and they won't be able to touch you. Remember what I say. That's all."
"I'll remember," said Ken, soberly.
When the umpire called the game there were perhaps fifty students in the bleachers and a few spectators in the grand-stand, so poor an attendance that the State players loudly voiced their derision.
"Hey! boys," yelled one, "we drew a crowd last year, and look at that!"
"It's Wayne's dub team," replied another. They ran upon the field as if the result of the game was a foregone conclusion. Their pitcher, a lanky individual, handled the ball with assurance.
Homans led off for Wayne. He stood left-handed at the plate, and held his bat almost in the middle. He did not swing, but poked at the first ball pitched and placed a short hit over third. Raymond, also left-handed, came next, and, letting two balls go, he bunted the third. Running fast, he slid into first base and beat the throw. Homans kept swiftly on toward third, drew the throw, and, sliding, was also safe. It was fast work, and the Wayne players seemed to rise off the bench with the significance of the play. Worry Arthurs looked on from under the brim of his hat, and spoke no word. Then Reddy Ray stepped up.
"They're all left-handed!" shouted a State player. The pitcher looked at Reddy, then motioned for his outfielders to play deeper. With that he delivered the ball, which the umpire called a strike. Reddy stood still and straight while two more balls sped by, then he swung on the next. A vicious low hit cut out over first base and skipped in great bounds to the fence. Homans scored. Raymond turned second, going fast. But it was Ray's speed that electrified the watching players. They jumped up cheering.
"Oh, see him run!" yelled Ken.
He was on third before Raymond reached the plate. Weir lifted a high fly to left field, and when the ball dropped into the fielder's hands Ray ran home on the throw-in. Three runs had been scored in a twinkling. It amazed the State team. They were not slow in bandying remarks among themselves. "Fast! Who's that red-head? Is this your dub team? Get in the game, boys!" They began to think more of playing ball and less of their own superiority. Graves, however, and McCord following him, went out upon plays to the infield.
As Ken walked out toward the pitcher's box Homans put a hand on his arm, and said: "Kid, put them all over. Don't waste any. Make every batter hit. Keep your nerve. We're back of you out here." Then Reddy Ray, in passing, spoke with a cool, quiet faith that thrilled Ken, "Peg, we've got enough runs now to win."
Ken faced the plate all in a white glow. He was far from calmness, but it was a restless, fiery hurry for the action of the game. He remembered the look in Worry's eyes, and every word that he had spoken rang in his ears. Receiving the ball from the umpire, he stepped upon the slab with a sudden, strange, deep tremor. It passed as quickly, and then he was eying the first batter. He drew a long breath, standing motionless, with all the significance of Worry's hope flashing before him, and then he whirled and delivered the ball. The batter struck at it after it had passed him, and it cracked in Dean's mitt.
"Speed!" called the State captain. "Quick eye, there!"
The batter growled some unintelligible reply. Then he fouled the second ball, missed the next, and was out. The succeeding State player hit an easy fly to Homans, and the next had two strikes called upon him, and swung vainly at the third.
Dean got a base on balls for Wayne, Trace went out trying to bunt, and Ken hit into short, forcing Dean at second. Homans lined to third, retiring the side. The best that the State players could do in their half was for one man to send a weak grounder to Raymond, one to fly out, and the other to fail on strikes. Wayne went to bat again, and Raymond got his base by being hit by a pitched ball. Reddy Ray bunted and was safe. Weir struck out. Graves rapped a safety through short, scoring Raymond, and sending Ray to third. Then McCord fouled out to the catcher. Again, in State's inning, they failed to get on base, being unable to hit Ken effectively.
So the game progressed, State slowly losing its aggressive playing, and Wayne gaining what its opponents had lost. In the sixth Homans reached his base on an error, stole second, went to third on Raymond's sacrifice, and scored on Reddy's drive to right. State flashed up in their half, getting two men to first on misplays of McCord and Weir, and scored a run on a slow hit to Graves.
With the bases full, Ken let his arm out and pitched the fast ball at the limit of his speed. The State batters were helpless before it, but they scored two runs on passed strikes by Dean. The little catcher had a hard time judging Ken's jump ball. That ended the run-getting for State, though they came near scoring again on more fumbling in the infield. In the eighth Ken landed a safe fly over second, and tallied on a double by Homans.
Before Ken knew the game was half over it had ended--Wayne 6, State 3. His players crowded around him and some one called for the Wayne yell. It was given with wild vehemence.
From that moment until dinner was over at the training-house Ken appeared to be the centre of a humming circle. What was said and done he never remembered. Then the coach stopped the excitement.
"Boys, now for a heart-to-heart talk," he said, with a smile both happy and grave. "We won to-day, as I predicted. State had a fairly strong team, but if Ward had received perfect support they would not have got a man beyond second. That's the only personal mention I'll make. Now, listen...."
He paused, with his eyes glinting brightly and his jaw quivering.
"I expected to win, but before the game I never dreamed of our possibilities. I got a glimpse now of what hard work and a demon spirit to play together might make this team. I've had an inspiration. We are goin' to beat Herne and play Place to a standstill."
Not a boy moved an eyelash as Arthurs made this statement, and the sound of a pin dropping could have been heard.
"To do that we must pull together as no boys ever pulled together before. We must be all one heart. We must be actuated by one spirit. Listen! If you will stick together and to me, I'll make a team that will be a wonder. Never the hittin' team as good as last year's varsity, but a faster team, a finer machine. Think of that! Think of how we have been treated this year! For that we'll win all the greater glory. It's worth all there is in you, boys. You would have the proudest record of any team that ever played for old Wayne.
"I love the old college, boys, and I've given it the best years of my life. If it's anything to you, why, understand that if I fail to build up a good team this year I shall be let go by those directors who have made the change in athletics. I could stand that, but--I've a boy of my own who's preparin' for Wayne, and my heart is set on seein' him enter--and he said he never will if they let me go. So, you youngsters and me--we've much to gain. Go to your rooms now and think, think as you never did before, until the spirit of this thing, the possibility of it, grips you as it has me."
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