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The Wayne varsity was a much-handled, storm-tossed team before it finally escaped the clutches of the students. Every player had a ringing in his ears and a swelling in his heart. When the baseball uniforms came off they were carefully packed in the bottoms of trunks, and twelve varsity sweaters received as tender care as if they were the flimsy finery dear to the boys' sisters.
At six the players were assembled in the big reading-room, and there was a babel of exultant conversation. Worry suddenly came in, shouting to persons without, who manifestly wanted to enter. "Nothin' doin' yet! I'll turn the boys over to you in one hour!" Then he banged the door and locked it.
Worry was a sight to behold. His collar was unbuttoned, and his necktie disarranged. He had no hat. His hair was damp and rumpled, and his red face worked spasmodically.
"Where's Peg?" he yelled, and his little bright eyes blinked at his players. It was plain that Worry could not see very well then. Some one pushed Ken out, and Worry fell on his neck. He hugged him close and hard. Then he dived at Reddy and mauled him. Next he fell all over little crippled Raymond, who sat propped up in an arm-chair. For once Raymond never murmured for being jumped on. Upon every player, and even the substitutes, Worry expressed his joy in violent manner, and then he fell down himself, perspiring, beaming, utterly exhausted. This man was not the cold, caustic coach of the cage-days, nor the stern, hard ruler from the bench, nor the smooth worker on his players' feelings. This was Worry Arthurs with his varsity at the close of a championship season. No one but the boys who had fought at his bidding for Wayne ever saw him like that.
"Oh, Peg, it was glorious! This game gives us the record and the championship. Say, Peg, this was the great game for you to win. For you made Place hit, and then when they got runners on bases you shut down on 'em. You made MacNeff look like a dub. You gave that home-run to Prince."
"I sure was after MacNeff's scalp," replied Ken. "And I put the ball over for Prince to hit. What else could I do? Why, that little chunky cuss has an eye, and he can sting the ball--he's almost as good as Reddy. But, Worry, you mustn't give me the credit. Reddy won the game, you know."
"You talk like a kid," replied Reddy, for once not cool and easy. "I cut loose and ran some; but, Peg, you and Raymond won the game."
"Wull, you make me sick," retorted Raymond, threatening to get up. "There wasn't anything to this day but Peg Ward."
Ken replied with more heat than dignity, and quick as a flash he and Reddy and Raymond were involved in a wordy war, trying to place the credit for winning the game. They dragged some of the other boys into the fierce argument.
Worry laughed and laughed; then, as this loyal bunch of players threatened to come to blows, he got angry.
"Shut up!" he roared. "I never seen such a lot of hot-headed kids. Shut up, and let me tell you who won this Place game. It'll go down on record as a famous game, so you'll do well to have it straight. Listen! The Wayne varsity won this game. Homans, your captain, won it, because he directed the team and followed orders. He hit and run some, too. Reddy Ray won this game by bein' a blue streak of chain lightnin' on the bases. Raymond won it by makin' a hit when we all expected him to fall dead. He won it twice, the second time with the greatest fieldin' play ever pulled off on Grant Field. Dean won the game by goin' up and hangin' onto Peg's jump ball. McCord won it by diggin' low throws out of the dirt. Weir was around when it happened, wasn't he--and Blake and Trace? Then there was Peg himself. He won the game a little. Say! he had Place trimmed when he stepped on the slab in the first innin'. So you all won the big Wayne-Place game."
Then Worry advanced impressively to the table, put his hand in his breast pocket and brought forth a paper.
"You've won this for me, boys," he said, spreading the paper out.
"What is it?" they asked, wonderingly.
"Nothin' of much importance to you boys as compared with winnin' the game, but some to Worry Arthurs." He paused with a little choke. "It's a five-year contract to coach Wayne's baseball teams."
A thundering cheer attested to the importance of that document to the boys.
"Oh, Worry, but I'm glad!" cried Ken. "Then your son Harry will be in college next year--will be on the team?"
"Say, he'll have to go some to make next year's varsity, with only two or three vacancies to fill. Now, fellows, I want to know things. Sit down now and listen."
They all took seats, leaving the coach standing at the table.
"Homans, is there any hope of your comin' back to college next year?"
"None, I'm sorry to say," replied the captain. "Father intends to put me in charge of his business."
"Reddy, how about a post-graduate course for you? You need that P.G."
"Worry, come to think of it, I really believe my college education would not be complete without that P.G.," replied Reddy, with the old cool speech, and a merry twinkle in his eye.
At this the boys howled like Indians, and Worry himself did a little war-dance.
"Raymond, you'll come back?" went on the coach.
The second-baseman appeared highly insulted. "Come back? Wull, what do you take me for? I'd like to see the guy who can beat me out of my place next season."
This brought another hearty cheer.
Further questioning made clear that all the varsity except Homans, Blake, and McCord would surely return to college.
"Fine! Fine! Fine!" exclaimed Worry.
Then he began to question each player as to what he intended to do through the summer months, and asked him to promise not to play ball on any summer nines.
"Peg, you're the one I'm scared about," said Worry, earnestly. "These crack teams at the seashore and in the mountains will be hot after you. They've got coin too, Peg, and they'll spend it to get you."
"All I've got to say is they'll waste their breath talking to me," replied Ken, with a short laugh.
"What are you goin' to do all summer?" asked Worry, curiously. "Where will you be?"
"I expect to go to Arizona."
"Arizona? What in the deuce are you goin' way out there for?"
Ken paused, and then when about to reply Raymond burst out.
"Worry, he says it's forestry, but he only took up that fool subject because he likes to chase around in the woods. He's nutty about trees and bears and mustangs. He was in Arizona last summer. You ought to hear some of the stories he's told me. Why, if they're true he's got Frank Nelson and Jim Hawkins skinned to a frazzle."
"For instance?" asked Worry, very much surprised and interested.
"Why stories about how he was chased and captured by outlaws, and lassoed bears, and had scraps with Mexicans, and was in wild caves and forest fires, and lots about a Texas ranger who always carried two big guns. I've had the nightmare ever since we've been in the training-house. Oh, Ken can tell stories all right. He's as much imagination as he's got speed with a ball. And say, Worry, he's got the nerve to tell me that this summer he expects to help an old hunter lasso mountain-lions out there in Arizona. What do you think of that?"
"It's straight goods!" protested Ken, solemnly facing the bright-eyed boys.
"We want to go along!" yelled everybody.
"Say, Peg, I ain't stuck on that idee, not a little bit," replied the coach, dubiously.
"Worry has begun to worry about next season. He's afraid Peg will get that arm chewed off," put in Reddy.
"Well, if I've got to choose between lettin' Peg chase mountain-lions and seein' him chased by 'em fat-head directors, I'll take my chances with the lions."
Then all in a moment Worry became serious.
"Boys, it's time to break trainin'. I ain't got much to say. You're the best team I ever developed. Let it go at that. In a few minutes you are free to go out to the banquets and receptions, to all that's waitin' for you. And it will be great. To-morrow you will be sayin' good-bye to me and to each other and scatterin' to your homes. But let's not forget each other and how we plugged this year. Sure, it was only baseball, but, after all, I think good, hard play, on the square and against long odds, will do as much for you as your studies. Let the old baseball coach assure you of that."
He paused, paced a few steps to and fro, hands behind his back, thoughtful and somewhat sad.
The members of the varsity sat pale and still, faces straight before them, eyes shining with memory of that long up-hill struggle, and glistening, too, with the thought that the time had come for parting.
"Homans, will you please see to the election of the new captain?" said Worry.
Homans stepped out briskly and placed a hat, twelve folded slips of paper, and a pencil upon the table.
"Fellows, you will follow me in our regular batting order," directed Homans. "Each man is to write his name on one side of a slip of paper and his choice for captain on the other side. Drop the paper in the hat."
Homans seated himself at the table and quickly cast his vote. Raymond hobbled up next. Reddy Ray followed him. And so, in silence, and with a certain grave dignity of manner that had yet a suggestion of pleasure, the members of the varsity voted.
When they had resumed their seats Homans turned the slips out of the hat and unfolded them.
"These votes will be given to the athletic directors and kept on record," he said. "But we will never see but one side of them. That is Wayne's rule in electing captains, so the players will not know how each voted. But this is an occasion I am happy to see when we shall all know who voted for who. It shall be a little secret of which we will never speak."
He paused while he arranged the slips neatly together.
"There are here twelve votes. Eleven have been cast for one player--one for another player! Will you all please step forward and look?"
In an intense stillness the varsity surrounded the table. There was a sudden sharp gasp from one of them.
With a frank, glad smile Homans held out his hand.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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