A half-hour or less afterward Ken entered the training-house. It chanced that the boys, having come in, were at the moment passing through the hall to the dining-room, and with them was Worry Arthurs.
"Hello! you back? What's the matter with you?" demanded the coach.
Ken's lips were puffed and bleeding, and his chin was bloody. Sundry red and dark marks disfigured his usually clear complexion. His eyes were blazing, and his hair rumpled down over his brow.
"You've been in a scrap," declared Worry.
"I know it," said Ken. "Let me go up and wash."
Worry had planted himself at the foot of the stairway in front of Ken. The boys stood silent and aghast. Suddenly there came thumps upon the stairs, and Raymond appeared, jumping down three steps at a time. He dodged under Worry's arm and plunged at Ken to hold him with both hands.
"Ken! You're all bloody!" he exclaimed, in great excitement. "He didn't lick you? Say he didn't! He's got to fight me, too! You're all bunged up!"
"Wait till you see him!" muttered Ken.
"A-huh!" said Worry. "Been scrappin' with Graves! What for?"
"It's a personal matter," replied Ken.
"Come, no monkey-biz with me," said the coach, sharply. "Out with it!"
There was a moment's silence.
"Mr. Arthurs, it's my fault," burst out Raymond, flushed and eager. "Ken was fighting on my account."
"It wasn't anything of the kind," retorted Ken, vehemently.
"Yes it was," cried Raymond, "and I'm going to tell why."
The hall door opened to admit Graves. He was dishevelled, dirty, battered, and covered with blood. When he saw the group in the hall he made as if to dodge out.
"Here, come on! Take your medicine," called Worry, tersely.
Graves shuffled in, cast down and sheepish, a very different fellow from his usual vaunting self.
"Now, Raymond, what's this all about?" demanded Worry.
Raymond changed color, but he did not hesitate an instant.
"Ken came in this morning and found me sick in bed. I told him I had been half drunk last night--and that Graves had gotten me to drink. Then Graves came in. He and Ken had hard words. They went outdoors to fight."
"Would you have told me?" roared the coach in fury. "Would you have come to me with this if I hadn't caught Peg?"
Raymond faced him without flinching.
"At first I thought not--when Ken begged me to confess I just couldn't. But now I know I would."
At that Worry lost his sudden heat, and then he turned to the stricken Graves.
"Mebbe it'll surprise you, Graves, to learn that I knew a little of what you've been doin'. I told Homans to go to you in a quiet way and tip off your mistake. I hoped you'd see it. But you didn't. Then you've been knockin' Ward all season, for no reason I could discover but jealousy. Now, listen! Peg Ward has done a lot for me already this year, and he'll do more. But even if he beats Place, it won't mean any more to me than the beatin' he's given you. Now, you pack your things and get out of here. There's no position for you on this varsity."
Without a word in reply and amid intense silence Graves went slowly up-stairs. When he disappeared Worry sank into a chair, and looked as if he was about to collapse. Little Trace walked hesitatingly forward with the manner of one propelled against his will.
"Mr. Arthurs, I--I," he stammered--"I'm guilty, too. I broke training. I want to--"
The coach waved him back. "I don't want to hear it, not another word--from anybody. It's made me sick. I can't stand any more. Only I see I've got to change my rules. There won't be any rules any more. You can all do as you like. I'd rather have you all go stale than practise deceit on me. I cut out the trainin' rules."
"No!" The team rose up as one man and flung the refusal at the coach.
"Worry, we won't stand for that," spoke up Reddy Ray. His smooth, cool voice was like oil on troubled waters. "I think Homans and I can answer for the kids from now on. Graves was a disorganizer--that's the least I'll say of him. We'll elect Homans captain of the team, and then we'll cut loose like a lot of demons. It's been a long, hard drill for you, Worry, but we're in the stretch now and going to finish fast. We've been a kind of misfit team all spring. You've had a blind faith that something could be made out of us. Homans has waked up to our hidden strength. And I go further than that. I've played ball for years. I know the game. I held down left field for two seasons on the greatest college team ever developed out West. That's new to you. Well, it gives me license to talk a little. I want to tell you that I can feel what's in this team. It's like the feeling I have when I'm running against a fast man in the sprints. From now on we'll be a family of brothers with one idea. And that'll be to play Place off their feet."
Coach Arthurs sat up as if he had been given the elixir of life. Likewise the members of the team appeared to be under the spell of a powerful stimulus. The sprinter's words struck fire from all present.
Homans' clear gray eyes were like live coals. "Boys! One rousing cheer for Worry Arthurs and for Wayne!"
Lusty, strained throats let out the cheer with a deafening roar.
It was strange and significant at that moment to see Graves, white-faced and sullen, come down the stairs and pass through the hall and out of the door. It was as if discord, selfishness, and wavering passed out with him. Arthurs and Homans and Ray could not have hoped for a more striking lesson to the young players.
Dave, the colored waiter, appeared in the doorway of the dining-room. "Mr. Arthurs, I done call yo' all. Lunch is sho' gittin' cold."
That afternoon Wayne played the strong Hornell University nine.
Blake, new at third base for Wayne, was a revelation. He was all legs and arms. Weir accepted eight chances. Raymond, sick or not, was all over the infield, knocking down grounders, backing up every play. To McCord, balls in the air or at his feet were all the same. Trace caught a foul fly right off the bleachers. Homans fielded with as much speed as the old varsity's centre and with better judgment. Besides, he made four hits and four runs. Reddy Ray drove one ball into the bleachers, and on a line-drive to left field he circled the bases in time that Murray said was wonderful. Dean stood up valiantly to his battering, and for the first game had no passed balls. And Ken Ward whirled tirelessly in the box, and one after another he shot fast balls over the plate. He made the Hornell players hit; he had no need to extend himself to the use of the long swing and whip of his arm that produced the jump ball; and he shut them out without a run, and gave them only two safe hits. All through the game Worry Arthurs sat on the bench without giving an order or a sign. His worried look had vanished with the crude playing of his team.
That night the Hornell captain, a veteran player of unquestionable ability, was entertained at Carlton Club by Wayne friends, and he expressed himself forcibly: "We came over to beat Wayne's weak team. It'll be some time till we discover what happened. Young Ward has the most magnificent control and speed. He's absolutely relentless. And that frog-legged second-baseman--oh, say, can't he cover ground! Homans is an all-round star. Then, your red-headed Ray, the sprinter--he's a marvel. Ward, Homans, Ray--they're demons, and they're making demons of the kids. I can't understand why Wayne students don't support their team. It's strange."
What the Hornell captain said went from lip to lip throughout the club, and then it spread, like a flame in wind-blown grass, from club to dormitory, and thus over all the university.
"Boys, the college is wakin' up," said Worry, rubbing his hands. "Yesterday's game jarred 'em. They can't believe their own ears. Why, Hornell almost beat Dale's team last spring. Now, kids, look out. We'll stand for no fussin' over us. We don't want any jollyin'. We've waited long for encouragement. It didn't come, and now we'll play out the string alone. There'll be a rush to Grant Field. It cuts no ice with us. Let 'em come to see the boys they hissed and guyed early in the spring. We'll show 'em a few things. We'll make 'em speechless. We'll make 'em so ashamed they won't know what to do. We'll repay all their slights by beatin' Place."
Worry was as excited as on the day he discovered that Ken was a pitcher.
"One more word, boys," he went on. "Keep together now. Run back here to your rooms as quick as you get leave from college. Be civil when you are approached by students, but don't mingle, not yet. Keep to yourselves. Your reward is comin'. It'll be great. Only wait!"
And that was the last touch of fire which moulded Worry's players into a family of brothers. Close and warm and fine was the culmination of their friendship. On the field they were dominated by one impulse, almost savage in its intensity. When they were off the field the springs of youth burst forth to flood the hours with fun.
In the mornings when the mail-man came there was always a wild scramble for letters. And it developed that Weir received more than his share. He got mail every day, and his good-fortune could not escape the lynx eyes of his comrades. Nor could the size and shape of the envelope and the neat, small handwriting fail to be noticed. Weir always stole off by himself to read his daily letter, trying to escape a merry chorus of tantalizing remarks.
"Gawge, the pink letter has come!"
Weir's reception of these sallies earned him the name of Puff.
One morning, for some unaccountable reason, Weir did not get down-stairs when the mail arrived. Duncan got the pink letter, scrutinized the writing closely, and put the letter in his coat. Presently Weir came bustling down.
"Who's got the mail?" he asked, quickly.
"No letters this morning," replied some one.
"Is this Sunday?" asked Weir, rather stupidly.
"Nope. I meant no letters for you."
Weir looked blank, then stunned, then crestfallen. Duncan handed out the pink envelope. The boys roared, and Weir strode off in high dudgeon.
That day Duncan purchased a box of pink envelopes, and being expert with a pen, he imitated the neat handwriting and addressed pink envelopes to every boy in the training-house. Next morning no one except Weir seemed in a hurry to answer the postman's ring. He came in with the letters and his jaw dropping. It so happened that his letter was the very last one, and when he got to it the truth flashed over him. Then the peculiar appropriateness of the nickname Puff was plainly manifest. One by one the boys slid off their chairs to the floor, and at last Weir had to join in the laugh on him.
Each of the boys in turn became the victim of some prank. Raymond betrayed Ken's abhorrence of any kind of perfume, and straightway there was a stealthy colloquy. Cheap perfume of a most penetrating and paralyzing odor was liberally purchased. In Ken's absence from his room all the clothing that he did not have on his back was saturated. Then the conspirators waited for him to come up the stoop, and from their hiding-place in a window of the second floor they dropped an extra quart upon him.
Ken vowed vengeance that would satisfy him thrice over, and he bided his time until he learned who had perpetrated the outrage.
One day after practice his opportunity came. Raymond, Weir, and Trace, the guilty ones, went with Ken to the training quarters to take the steam bath that Murray insisted upon at least once every week. It so turned out that the four were the only players there that afternoon. While the others were undressing, Ken bribed Scotty to go out on an errand, and he let Murray into his scheme. Now, Murray not only had acquired a strong liking for Ken, but he was exceedingly fond of a joke.
"All I want to know," whispered Ken, "is if I might stew them too much--really scald them, you know?"
"No danger," whispered Murray. "That'll be the fun of it. You can't hurt them. But they'll think they're dying."
He hustled Raymond, Weir, and Trace into the tanks and fastened the lids, and carefully tucked towels round their necks to keep in the steam.
"Lots of stew to-day," he said, turning the handles. "Hello! Where's Scotty?... Peg, will you watch these boys a minute while I step out?"
"You bet I will," called Ken to the already disappearing Murray.
The three cooped-in boys looked askance at Ken.
"Wull, I'm not much stuck--" Raymond began glibly enough, and then, becoming conscious that he might betray an opportunity to Ken, he swallowed his tongue.
"What'd you say?" asked Ken, pretending curiosity. Suddenly he began to jump up and down. "Oh, my! Hullabelee! Schoodoorady! What a chance! You gave it away!"
"Look what he's doing!" yelled Trace.
"Hyar!" added Weir.
"Keep away from those pipes!" chimed in Raymond.
"Boys, I've been laying for you, but I never thought I'd get a chance like this. If Murray only stays out three minutes--just three minutes!"
"Three minutes! You idiot, you won't keep us in here that long?" asked Weir, in alarm.
"Oh no, not at all.... Puff, I think you can stand a little more steam."
Ken turned the handle on full.
"Kel, a first-rate stewing will be good for your daily grouch."
To the accompaniment of Raymond's threats he turned the second handle.
"Trace, you little poll-parrot, you will throw perfume on me? Now roast!"
The heads of the imprisoned boys began to jerk and bob around, and their faces to take on a flush. Ken leisurely surveyed them and then did an Indian war-dance in the middle of the room.
"Here, let me out! Ken, you know how delicate I am," implored Raymond.
"I couldn't entertain the idea for a second," replied Ken.
"I'll lick you!" yelled Raymond.
"My lad, you've got a brain-storm," returned Ken, in grieved tones. "Not in the wildest flights of your nightmares have you ever said anything so impossible as that."
"Ken, dear Ken, dear old Peggie," cried Trace, "you know I've got a skinned place on my hip where I slid yesterday. Steam isn't good for that, Worry says. He'll be sore. You must let me out."
"I intend to see, Willie, that you'll be sore too, and skinned all over," replied Ken.
"Open this lid! At once!" roared Weir, in sudden anger. His big eyes rolled.
"Bah!" taunted Ken.
Then all three began to roar at Ken at once. "Brute! Devil! Help! Help! Help! We'll fix you for this!... It's hotter! it's fire! Aghh! Ouch! Oh! Ah-h-h!... O-o-o-o!... Murder! MURDER-R!"
At this juncture Murray ran in.
"What on earth! Peg, what did you do?"
"I only turned on the steam full tilt," replied Ken, innocently.
"Why, you shouldn't have done that," said Murray, in pained astonishment.
"Stop talking about it! Let me out!" shrieked Raymond.
Ken discreetly put on his coat and ran from the room.
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