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Ch. 15: A Matter of Principle

Ken found himself running across Grant Field, pursued by a happy, roaring mob of students. They might have been Indians, judging from the way Ken and his fellow-players fled before them. The trained athletes distanced their well-meaning but violent pursuers and gained the gate, but it was a close shave. The boys bounded up the street into the training-house and locked the door till the puffing Arthurs arrived. They let him in and locked the door again.

In another moment the street resounded with the rush of many feet and the yells of frantic students. Murray, the trainer, forced a way through the crowd and up the stoop. He closed and barred the outside door, and then pounded upon the inside door for admittance. Worry let him in.

"They'd make a bowl-fight or a football rush look tame," panted Murray. "Hey! Scotty--lock up tight down in the basement. For Heaven's sake don't let that push get in on us! Lock the windows in the front."

"Who's that poundin' on the door?" yelled Worry. He had to yell, for the swelling racket outside made ordinary conversation impossible.

"Don't open it!" shouted Murray. "What do we care for team-captains, college professors, athletic directors, or students? They're all out there, and they're crazy, I tell you. I never saw the like. It'd be more than I want to get in that jam. And it'd never do for the varsity. Somebody would get crippled sure. I'm training this baseball team."

Murray, in his zealous care of his athletes, was somewhat overshooting the mark, for not one of the boys had the slightest desire to be trusted to the mob outside. In fact, Ken looked dazed, and Raymond scared to the point of trembling; Trace was pale; and all the others, except Homans and Reddy Ray, showed perturbation. Nor were the captain and sprinter deaf to the purport of that hour; only in their faces shone a kindling glow and flush.

By-and-by the boys slipped to their rooms, removed their uniforms, dressed and crept down-stairs like burglars and went in to dinner. Outside the uproar, instead of abating, gathered strength as time went by. At the dinner-table the boys had to yell in each other's ears. They had to force what they ate. No one was hungry. When Worry rose from the table they all flocked after him.

It was growing dark outside, and a red glow, brightening upon the windows, showed the students had lighted bonfires.

"They're goin' to make a night of it," yelled Worry.

"How'll my boys be able to sleep?" shouted Murray. Both coach and trainer were as excited as any of the boys.

"The street's packed solid. Listen!"

The tramp, tramp, tramp of thousands of feet keeping time was like the heavy tread of a marching multitude. Then the tramp died away in a piercing cheer, "Wayne!" nine times, clear and sustained--a long, beautiful college cheer. In the breathing spell that followed, the steady tramp of feet went on. One by one, at intervals, the university yells were given, the broken rattling rally, the floating melodious crew cheer, and the hoarse, smashing boom of football. Then again the inspiriting "Wayne!" nine times. After that came shrill calls for the varsity, for Homans, Reddy Ray, Raymond, and Peggie Ward.

"Come up-stairs to the windows, boys!" shouted Worry. "We've got to show ourselves."

Worry threw up the windows in Weir's room, and the boys gingerly poked their heads out. A roar greeted their appearance. The heads all popped in as if they had been struck.

"Homans, you'll have to make a speech," cried the coach.

"I will not!"

"You've got to say somethin'. We can't have this crazy gang out here all night."

Then Worry and Murray coaxed and led Homans to the window. The captain leaned out and said something that was unintelligible in the hubbub without. The crowd cheered him and called for Reddy, Ward, and Raymond. Worry grasped the second-baseman and shoved him half over the sill. Raymond would have fallen out but for the coach's strong hold.

"Come on, Peg!" yelled Worry.

"Not on your life!" cried Ken, in affright. He ran away from the coach, and dived under the bed. But Reddy Ray dragged him out and to the window, and held him up in the bright bonfire glare. Then he lifted a hand to silence the roaring crowd.

"Fellows, here he is--Worry's demon, Wayne's pitcher!" called Reddy, in ringing, far-reaching voice. "Listen! Peggie didn't lose his nerve when he faced Herne to-day, but he's lost it now. He's lost his voice, too. But he says for you to go away and save your cheers for this day two weeks, when we meet Place. Then, he says, you'll have something to cheer for!"

The crafty sprinter knew how to appeal to the students. All of voice and strength and enthusiasm left in them went up in a mighty bawl that rattled the windows and shook the house. They finished with nine "Waynes!" and a long, rousing "Peggie Ward!" and then they went away.

"By George! look here, Peg," said Reddy, earnestly, "they gave you Wayne's Nine! Wayne's Nine! Do you hear? I never knew a freshman varsity man to get that cheer."

"You've got to beat Place now, after tellin' 'em you'd do it," added Worry.

"But, Worry, I didn't say a word--it was Reddy," replied Ken, in distress.

"Same thing," rejoined the coach. "Now, boys, let's quiet down and talk over the game. I won't waste any time jollyin' you. I couldn't praise you enough if I spent the rest of the season tryin' to. One and all, by yourselves and in a bunch, you played Herne off their feet. I'll bet MacNeff and Prince are dizzy figurin' what'll happen Saturday week. As to the score, why, scores don't mean much to us--"

"What was the score, anyway?" asked Ken.

The boys greeted this with shouts of doubtful laughter, and Worry glanced with disapproval at his star.

"Peg, you keep me guessin' a lot. But not to know how much we beat Herne would be more 'n I could stand. On the level, now, don't you know the score?"

"Fair and square, I don't, Worry. You never would let me think of how many runs we had or needed. I can count seven--yes, and one more, that was Reddy's home-run."

"Peg, you must have been up in the air a little; 14 to 4, that's it. And we didn't take our bat in the last of the ninth."

Then followed Worry's critical account of the game, and a discussion in which the boys went over certain plays. During the evening many visitors called, but did not gain admission. The next morning, however, Worry himself brought in the newspapers, which heretofore he had forbidden the players to read, and he told them they were now free to have any callers or to go where they liked. There was a merry scramble for the papers, and presently the reading-room was as quiet as a church.

The account that held Ken Ward in rapt perusal was the Morning Times-Star's. At first the print blurred in Ken's sight. Then he read it over again. He liked the glowing praise given the team, and was shamefully conscious of the delight in his name in large letters. A third time he read it, guiltily this time, for he did not dream that his comrades were engrossed in like indulgence.



Wayne defeated Herne yesterday 14 to 4, and thereby leaped into the limelight. It was a surprise to every one, Herne most of all. Owing to the stringent eligibility rules now in force at Wayne, and the barring of the old varsity, nothing was expected of this season's team. Arthurs, the famous coach, has built a wonderful nine out of green material, and again establishes the advisability of professional coaches for the big universities.

With one or two exceptions Wayne's varsity is made up of players developed this year. Homans, the captain, was well known about town as an amateur player of ability. But Arthurs has made him into a great field captain and a base-getter of remarkable skill. An unofficial computing gives him the batting average of .536. No captain or any other player of any big college team in the East ever approached such percentage as that. It is so high that it must be a mistake.

Reddy Ray, the intercollegiate champion in the sprints, is the other seasoned player of the varsity, and it is safe to say that he is the star of all the college teams. A wonderful fielder, a sure and heavy hitter, and like a flash on the bases, he alone makes Homans' team formidable.

Then there is Peg Ward, Worry Arthurs' demon pitcher, of freshman bowl-fight fame. This lad has been arriving since spring, and now he has arrived. He is powerful, and has a great arm. He seems to pitch without effort, has twice the speed of Dale, and is as cool in the box as a veteran. But it is his marvellous control of the ball that puts him in a class by himself. In the fourth inning of yesterday's game he extended himself, probably on orders from Coach Arthurs, and struck out Herne's three best hitters on eleven pitched balls. Then he was taken out and Schoonover put in. This white-headed lad is no slouch of a pitcher, by-the-way. But it must have been a bitter pill for Herne to swallow. The proud Herne varsity have been used to knocking pitchers out of the box, instead of seeing them removed because they were too good. Also, MacNeff and Prince, of Place, who saw the game, must have had food for reflection. They did not get much of a line on young Ward, and what they saw will not give them pleasant dreams. We pick Ward to beat the heavy-hitting Place team.

Other youngsters of Arthurs' nine show up well, particularly Raymond and Weir, who have springs in their feet and arms like whips. Altogether Arthurs' varsity is a strangely assorted, a wonderfully chosen group of players. We might liken them to the mechanism of a fine watch, with Ward as the mainspring, and the others with big or little parts to perform, but each dependent upon the other. Wayne's greatest baseball team!

Ken read it all thirstily, wonderingly, and recorded it deep in the deepest well of his memory. It seemed a hundred times as sweet for all the misery and longing and fear and toil which it had cost to gain.

And each succeeding day grew fuller and richer with its meed of reward. All the boys of the varsity were sought by the students, Ken most of all. Everywhere he went he was greeted with a regard that made him still more bashful and ashamed. If he stepped into Carlton Club, it was to be surrounded by a frankly admiring circle of students. He could not get a moment alone in the library. Professors had a smile for him and often stopped to chat. The proudest moment of his college year was when President Halstead met him in the promenade, and before hundreds of students turned to walk a little way with him. There seemed not to be a single student of the university or any one connected with it, who did not recognize him. Bryan took him to watch the crew practise; Stevens played billiards with him at the club; Dale openly sought his society. Then the fraternities began to vie with one another for Ken. In all his life he had not imagined a fellow could be treated so well. It was an open secret that Ken Ward was extremely desired in the best fraternities. He could not have counted his friends. Through it all, by thinking of Worry and the big games coming, he managed to stay on his feet.

One morning, when he was at the height of this enjoyable popularity, he read a baseball note that set him to thinking hard. The newspaper, commenting on the splendid results following Wayne's new athletic rules, interpreted one rule in a way astounding to Ken. It was something to the effect that all players who had been on a team which paid any player or any expenses of any player were therefore ineligible. Interpretation of the rules had never been of any serious moment to Ken. He had never played on any but boy teams. But suddenly he remembered that during a visit to the mountains with his mother he had gone to a place called Eagle's Nest, a summer hotel colony. It boasted of a good ball team and had a rival in the Glenwoods, a team from an adjoining resort. Ken had been in the habit of chasing flies for the players in practice. One day Eagle's Nest journeyed over to Glenwood to play, and being short one player they took Ken to fill in. He had scarcely started in the game when the regular player appeared, thus relieving him. The incident had completely slipped Ken's mind until recalled by the newspaper note.

Whereupon Ken began to ponder. He scouted the idea of that innocent little thing endangering his eligibility at Wayne. But the rule, thus made clear, stood out in startlingly black-and-white relief. Eagle's Nest supported a team by subscription among the hotel guests. Ken had ridden ten miles in a 'bus with the team, and had worn one of the uniforms for some few minutes. Therefore, upon a technicality, perhaps, he had been on a summer nine, and had no right to play for Wayne.

Ken went to Homans and told him the circumstance. The captain looked exceedingly grave, then getting more particulars he relaxed.

"You're safe, Peg. You're perfectly innocent. But don't mention it to any one else, especially Worry. He'd have a fit. What a scare you'd throw into the varsity camp! Forget the few minutes you wore that Eagle's Nest suit."

For the time being this reassured Ken, but after a while his anxiety returned. Homans had said not to mention it, and that bothered Ken. He lay awake half of one night thinking about the thing. It angered him and pricked his conscience and roused him. He wanted to feel absolutely sure of his position, for his own sake first of all. So next morning he cornered Worry and blurted out the secret.

"Peg, what're you givin' me!" he ejaculated.

Ken repeated his story, somewhat more clearly and at greater length. Worry turned as white as a ghost.

"Good gracious, Peg, you haven't told anybody?"

"No one but Homans."

Worry gave a long sigh of relief, and his face regained some of its usual florid color.

"Well, that's all right then.... Say, didn't I tell you once that I had a weak heart? Peg, of course you're an amateur, or there never was one. But 'em fat-head directors! Why, I wouldn't have 'em find that out for a million dollars. They're idiots enough to make a shinin' example of you right before the Place games. Keep it under your hat, see!"

This last was in the nature of a command, and Ken had always religiously obeyed Worry. He went to his room feeling that the matter had been decided for him. Relief, however, did not long abide with him. He began to be torn between loyalty to Worry and duty to himself. He felt guiltless, but he was not sure of it, and until he was sure he could not be free in mind. Suddenly he thought of being actually barred from the varsity, and was miserable. That he could not bear. Strong temptation now assailed Ken and found him weak. A hundred times he reconciled himself to Worry's command, to Homan's point of view, yet every time something rose within him and rebelled. But despite the rebellion Ken almost gave in. He fought off thought of his new sweet popularity, of the glory of being Wayne's athletic star. He fought to look the thing fairly in the face. To him it loomed up a hundredfold larger than an incident of his baseball career. And so he got strength to do the thing that would ease the voice of conscience. He went straight to the coach.

"Worry, I've got to go to the directors and tell them. I--I'm sorry, but I've got to do it."

He expected a storm of rage from Worry, but never had the coach been so suave, so kindly, so magnetic. He called Homans and Raymond and Weir and others who were in the house at the moment and stated Ken's case. His speech flowed smooth and rapid. The matter under his deft argument lost serious proportions. But it seemed to Ken that Worry did not tell the boys the whole truth, or they would not have laughed at the thing and made him out over-sensitive. And Ken was now growing too discouraged and bewildered to tell them. Moreover, he was getting stubborn. The thing was far from a joke. The cunning of the coach proved that. Worry wound the boys round his little finger.

At this juncture Reddy Ray entered the training-house.

More than once Ken had gone to the great sprinter with confidences and troubles, and now he began impulsively, hurriedly, incoherently, to tell the story.

"And Reddy," concluded Ken, "I've got to tell the directors. It's something--hard for me to explain. I couldn't pitch another game with this hanging over me. I must--tell them--and take my medicine."

"Sure. It's a matter of principle," replied Reddy, in his soft, slow voice. His keen eyes left Ken's pale face and met the coach's. "Worry, I'll take Peg up to see the athletic faculty. I know Andrews, the president, and he's the one to hear Peg's story."

Worry groaned and sank into a chair crushed and beaten. Then he swore, something unusual in him. Then he began to rave at the fat-headed directors. Then he yelled that he would never coach another ball team so long as he lived.

Ken followed Reddy out of the training-house and along the street. The fact that the sprinter did not say a word showed Ken he was understood, and he felt immeasurably grateful. They crossed the campus and entered College Hall, to climb the winding stairway. To Ken that was a long, hateful climb. Andrews, and another of the directors whom Ken knew by sight, were in the office. They greeted the visitors with cordial warmth.

"Gentlemen," began Reddy, "Ward thinks he has violated one of the eligibility rules."

There was no beating about the bush with Reddy Ray, no shading of fact, no distortion of the truth. Coolly he stated the case. But, strangely to Ken, the very truth, told by Reddy in this way, somehow lost its terrors. Ken's shoulders seemed unburdened of a terrible weight.

Andrews and his colleague laughed heartily.

"You see--I--I forgot all about it," said Ken.

"Yes, and since he remembered he's been worrying himself sick," resumed Reddy. "Couldn't rest till he'd come over here."

"Ward, it's much to your credit that you should confide something there was never any chance of becoming known," said the president of the athletic faculty. "We appreciate it. You may relieve your mind of misgivings as to your eligibility. Even if we tried I doubt if we could twist a rule to affect your standing. And you may rest assured we wouldn't try in the case of so fine a young fellow and so splendid a pitcher for Wayne."

Then Andrews courteously shook hands with Ken and Reddy and bowed them out. Ken danced half-way down the stairway and slid the rest on the bannister.

"Reddy, wasn't he just fine?" cried Ken, all palpitating with joy.

"Well, Peg, Andrews is a nice old thing if you approach him right," replied Reddy, dryly. "You wouldn't believe me, would you, if I said I had my heart in my throat when we went in?"

"No, I wouldn't," replied Ken, bluntly.

"I thought not," said Reddy. Then the gravity that had suddenly perplexed Ken cleared from the sprinter's face. "Peg, let's have some fun with Worry and the boys."

"I'm in for anything now."

"We'll go back to the training-house with long faces. When we get in you run up-stairs as if you couldn't face any one, but be sure to sneak back to the head of the stairs to see and hear the fun. I'll fix Worry all right. Now, don't flunk. It's a chance."

Ken could not manage to keep a straight face as they went in, so he hid it and rushed up-stairs. He bumped into Raymond, knocking him flat.

"Running to a fire again?" growled Raymond. "Got a fire-medal, haven't you? Always falling over people."

Ken tried to simulate ungovernable rage and impotent distress at once. He waved one fist and tore his hair with the other hand.

"Get out of my way!" roared Ken. "What'll you say when I tell you I'm barred from the varsity!"

"Oh! Ken! No, no--don't say it," faltered Raymond, all sympathy in an instant.

Ken ran into his room, closed the door and then peeped out. He saw Raymond slowly sag down-stairs as if his heart was broken. Then Ken slipped out and crawled down the hall till he could see into the reading-room. All the boys were there, with anxious faces, crowded round the coach. Worry was livid. Reddy Ray seemed the only calm person in the room and he had tragedy written all over him.

"Out with it!" shouted Worry. "Don't stand there like a mournful preacher. What did 'em fat-heads say?"

Reddy threw up his hands with a significant gesture.

"I knew it!" howled Worry, jumping up and down. "I knew it! Why did you take the kid over there? Why didn't you let me and Homans handle this thing? You red-headed, iron-jawed, cold-blooded wind-chaser! You've done it now, haven't you? I--Oh--"

Worry began to flounder helplessly.

"They said a few more things," went on Reddy. "Peg is barred, Raymond is barred, I am barred. I told them about my baseball career out West. The directors said some pretty plain things about you, Worry, I'm sorry to tell. You're a rotten coach. In fact, you ought to be a coach at an undertaker's. Homans gets the credit for the work of the team. They claim you are too hard on the boys, too exacting, too brutal, in fact. Andrews recited a record of your taking sandwiches from us and aiding and abetting Murray in our slow starvation. The directors will favor your dismissal and urge the appointment of Professor Rhodes, who as coach will at least feed us properly."

Reddy stopped to catch his breath and gain time for more invention. Of all the unhappy mortals on earth Worry Arthurs looked the unhappiest. He believed every word as if it had been gospel. And that about Professor Rhodes was the last straw.

Ken could stand the deception no longer. He marvelled at Reddy's consummate lying and how he could ever stand that look on Worry's face. Bounding down-stairs four steps at a jump, Ken burst like a bomb upon the sad-faced group.

"Oh, Worry, it's all a joke!"

Zane Grey