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Ch. 3: Prisoner of the Sophs

"But if--it's really true--that I've a great arm," faltered Ken, "it won't ever do me any good. I could never get on the varsity."

"Why not?" demanded the coach. "I'll make a star of a youngster like you, if you'll take coachin'. Why not?"

"Oh, you don't know," returned Ken, with a long face.

"Say, you haven't struck me as a kid with no nerve. What's wrong with you?"

"It was I who slugged Captain Dale and caused that big rush between the freshmen and sophomores. I've lived like a hermit ever since."

"So it was you who hit Dale. Well--that's bad," replied Arthurs. He got up with sober face and began to walk the floor. "I remember the eye he had. It was a sight.... But Dale's a good fellow. He'll--"

"I'd do anything on earth to make up for that," burst out Ken.

"Good! I'll tell you what we'll do," said Arthurs, his face brightening. "We'll go right down to Dale's room now. I'll fix it up with him somehow. The sooner the better. I'm goin' to call the baseball candidates to the cage soon."

They put on coats and hats and went out. Evidently the coach was thinking hard, for he had nothing to say, but he kept a reassuring hand on Ken's arm. They crossed the campus along the very path where Ken had fled from the sophomores. The great circle of dormitories loomed up beyond with lights shining in many windows. Arthurs led Ken through a court-yard and into a wide, bright hallway. Their steps sounded with hollow click upon the tiled floor. They climbed three flights of stairs, and then Arthurs knocked at a door. Ken's heart palpitated. It was all so sudden; he did not know what he was going to say or do. He did not care what happened to him if Arthurs could only, somehow, put him right with the captain.

A merry voice bade them enter. The coach opened the door and led Ken across the threshold. Ken felt the glow of a warm, bright room, colorful with pennants and posters, and cozy in its disorder. Then he saw Dale and, behind him, several other students. There was a moment's silence in which Ken heard his heart beat.

Dale rose slowly from his seat, the look on his frank face changing from welcome to intense amazement and then wild elation.

"Whoop!" he shouted. "Lock the door! Worry Arthurs, this's your best bet ever!"

Dale dashed at the coach, hugged him frantically, then put his head out of the door to bawl: "Sophs! Sophs! Sophs! Hurry call! Number nine!... Oh, my!"

Then he faced about, holding the door partially open. He positively beamed upon the coach.

"Say, Cap, what's eatin' you?" asked Arthurs. He looked dumfounded. Ken hung to him desperately; he thought he knew what was coming. There were hurried footsteps in the corridor and excited voices.

"Worry, it's bully of you to bring this freshman here," declared the captain.

"Well, what of it?" demanded the coach. "I looked him up to-night. He's got a great arm, and will be good material for the team. He told me about the little scrap you had in the lecture-room. He lost his temper, and no wonder. Anyway, he's sorry, Cap, and I fetched him around to see if you couldn't make it up. How about it, Kid?"

"I'm sorry--awfully sorry, Captain Dale," blurted out Ken. "I was mad and scared, too--then you fellows hurt me. So I hit right out.... But I'll take my medicine."

"So--oh!" ejaculated Dale. "Well, this beats the deuce! That's why you're here?"

The door opened wide to admit half a dozen eager-faced youths.

"Fellows, here's a surprise," said Dale. "Young Ward, the freshman! the elusive slugging freshman, fast on his feet, and, as Worry here says, a lad with a great arm!"

"WARD!" roared the Sophs in unison.

"Hold on, fellows--wait--no rough-house yet--wait," ordered Dale. "Ward's here of his own free will!"

Silence ensued after the captain spoke. While he turned to lock the door the Sophs stared open-mouthed at Ken. Arthurs had a worried look, and he kept his hand on Ken. Dale went to a table and began filling his pipe. Then he fixed sharp, thoughtful eyes upon his visitors.

"Worry, you say you brought this freshman here to talk baseball?" he asked.

"Sure I did," blustered Arthurs. It was plain now where he got the name that Dale called him. "What's in the wind, anyhow?"

Dale then gravely spoke to Ken. "So you came here to see me? Sorry you slugged me once? Want to make up for it somehow, because you think you've a chance for the team, and don't want me to be sore on you? That it?"

"Not exactly," replied Ken. "I'd want to let you get square with me even if you weren't the varsity captain."

"Well, you've more than squared yourself with me--by coming here. You'll realize that presently. But don't you know what's happened, what the freshmen have done?"

"No; I don't."

"You haven't been near the university since this afternoon when you pulled off the potato stunt?"

"I should say I haven't."

This brought a laugh from the Sophs.

"You were pretty wise," went on Dale. "The Sophs didn't love you then. But they're going to--understand?"

Ken shook his head, too bewildered and mystified to reply.

"Well, now, here's Giraffe Boswick. Look what you did to him!"

Ken's glance followed the wave of Dale's hand and took in the tall, bronze-haired sophomore who had led the chase that afternoon. Boswick wore a huge discolored bruise over his left eye. It was hideous. Ken was further sickened to recollect that Boswick was one of the varsity pitchers. But the fellow was smiling amiably at Ken, as amiably as one eye would permit. The plot thickened about Ken. He felt his legs trembling under him.

"Boswick, you forgive Ward, don't you--now?" continued Dale, with a smile.

"With all my heart!" exclaimed the pitcher. "To see him here would make me forgive anything."

Coach Arthurs was ill at ease. He evidently knew students, and he did not relish the mystery, the hidden meaning.

"Say, you wise guys make me sick," he called out, gruffly. "Here's a kid that comes right among you. He's on the level, and more'n that, he's game! Now, Cap, I fetched him here, and I won't stand for a whole lot. Get up on your toes! Get it over!"

"Sit down Worry, here's a cigar--light up," said Dale, soothingly. "It's all coming right, lovely, I say. Ward was game to hunt me up, a thousand times gamer than he knows.... See here, Ward, where are you from?"

"I live a good long day's travel from the university," answered Ken, evasively.

"I thought so. Did you ever hear of the bowl-fight, the great event of the year here at Wayne University?"

"Yes, I've heard--read a little about it. But I don't know what it is."

"I'll tell you," went on Dale. "There are a number of yearly rushes and scrapes between the freshmen and sophomores, but the bowl-fight is the one big meeting, the time-honored event. It has been celebrated here for many years. It takes place on a fixed date. Briefly, here's what comes off: The freshmen have the bowl in their keeping this year because they won it in the last fight. They are to select one of their number, always a scrappy fellow, and one honored by the class, and they call him the bowl-man. A week before the fight, on a certain date, the freshmen hide this bowl-man or protect him from the sophomores until the day of the fight, when they all march to Grant field in fighting-togs. Should the sophomores chance to find him and hold him prisoner until after the date of the bowl-fight they win the bowl. The same applies also in case the bowl is in possession of the sophomores. But for ten years neither class has captured the other's bowl-man. So they have fought it out on the field until the bowl was won."

"Well, what has all that got to do with me?" asked Ken. He felt curiously light-headed.

"It has a little to do with you--hasn't it, fellows?" said Dale, in slow, tantalizing voice.

Worry Arthurs lost his worried look and began to smile and rub his hands.

"Ward, look here," added Dale, now speaking sharply. "You've been picked for the bowl-man!"

"Me--me?" stammered Ken.

"No other. The freshmen were late in choosing a man this year. To-day, after your stunt--holding up that bunch of sophomores--they had a meeting in Carlton Club and picked you. Most of them didn't even know your name. I'll bet the whole freshman class is hunting for you right now."

"What for?" queried Ken, weakly.

"Why, I told you. The bowl-fight is only a week off--and here you are. And here you'll stay until that date's past!"

Ken drew a quick breath. He began to comprehend. The sudden huzzahs of Dale's companions gave him further enlightenment.

"But, Captain Dale," he said, breathlessly, "if it's so--if my class has picked me--I can't throw them down. I don't know a soul in my class. I haven't a friend. But I won't throw them down--not to be forever free of dodging Sophs--not even to square myself with you."

"Ward, you're all right!" shouted Dale, his eyes shining.

In the quiet moment that followed, with all the sophomores watching him intently, Ken Ward instinctively felt that his measure had been taken.

"I won't stay here," said Ken, and for the first time his voice rang.

"Oh yes, you will," replied Dale, laughing.

Quick as a cat Ken leaped for the door and got it unlocked and half open before some one clutched him. Then Dale was on him close and hard. Ken began to struggle. He was all muscle, and twice he broke from them.

"His legs! Grab his legs! He's a young bull!"

"We'll trim you now, Freshie!"

"You potato-masher!"

"Go for his wind!"

Fighting and wrestling with all his might Ken went down under a half dozen sophomores. Then Dale was astride his chest, and others were sitting on his hands and feet.

"Boys, don't hurt that arm!" yelled Worry Arthurs.

"Ward, will you be good now and stop scrapping or shall we tie you?" asked Dale. "You can't get away. The thing to do is to give your word not to try. We want to make this easy for you. Your word of honor, now?"

"Never!" cried Ken.

"I knew you wouldn't," said Dale. "We'll have to keep you under guard."

They let him get up. He was panting, and his nose was bleeding, and one of his knuckles was skinned. That short struggle had been no joke. The Sophs certainly meant to keep him prisoner. Still, he was made to feel at ease. They could not do enough for him.

"It's tough luck, Ward, that you should have fallen into our hands this way," said Dale. "But you couldn't help it. You will be kept in my rooms until after the fifteenth. Meals will be brought you, and your books; everything will be done for your comfort. Your whereabouts, of course, will be a secret, and you will be closely watched. Worry, remember you are bound to silence. And Ward, perhaps it wasn't an ill wind that blew you here. You've had your last scrap with a Soph, that's sure. As for what brought you here--it's more than square; and I'll say this: if you can play ball as well as you can scrap, old Wayne has got a star."

Zane Grey