A SLIGHTED OFFER

ONLY a week remained before the first league game—that with Newbury.
Having already had experience in the position, and being a lad who used
his eyes and ears more than his lips, Hardie needed very little coaching
to fit well into the game at left end. Though he lacked Harrison’s
sureness in play, as well as the instinctive readiness in translating
signals into action which is to be expected of one who has practiced
long in a single position, he was better than Harrison in making holes
and quite as fast in getting down the field. Each showed a fine keenness
of scent after the ball in the enemy’s hands; each was master of the art
which belongs especially to a good end, of appearing where he is most
useful, and not somewhere else. Deprived of the support of the first
team and handicapped by the weakness of the second, Dunn made an
inconspicuous figure in the practice. When on the first, he had at
times, under favorable conditions, shown effective dash and vigor;
degraded to the second, he became sulky and listless. Little remained of
the aggressiveness of the early days but a chronic ugliness which
manifested itself in fault-finding and in the practice of certain mean
tricks which he had learned at a former school.

Sumner’s conduct stood out in strong contrast. Having undertaken to
furnish the school a quarter-back better than himself, he pushed his
sacrifice to its full limit. He drilled Mac in signals, schooled him in
receiving and passing—a part of the play in which Sumner himself
excelled—and put him in possession, as far as was possible, of such
facts respecting likely plays and dangers to be avoided as his own
experience had furnished. Harrison immediately made him captain of the
second eleven, and in this capacity he went energetically to work to
build up a team which should give the first the best possible practice.
By this course, it is safe to say, he gained more respect among the boys
whose opinion was worth having than if he had kept his place and won a
game. When kid-brother Dick, who, imp-like, found amusement in his
elder’s misfortune, referred slightingly to Jack as having been “fired,”
Mike McKay threatened to lick him on the spot.

“You’re a big fool, Dick Sumner, or you’d know that it’s a lot harder
thing to get off a team of your own accord when you’re on it, than to
get put on when you’re off. I’d be proud of him if he was my brother.
Besides, he’ll get back.”

“The team’s playing a lot better since he’s off; everybody says so,”
answered Dick, bound to maintain his position, yet secretly pleased at
this authoritative recognition of his brother’s merits.

“It isn’t because he’s off, it’s because Jason Dunn’s off. He never was
any good. I knew it all the time. He’s afraid of any fellow his size.”

Dick had nothing to say in favor of Jason Dunn, so he took another tack.

“Newbury’ll beat ’em anyway, so what difference does it make?”

“It may make a lot of difference,” answered the oracle of the fifth.
“Newbury may beat us, and they may not. If big Bumpus doesn’t bust,
we’re going to have a solid line, and the ends are great! It’ll be a
corking game all right, whichever wins. And you don’t want to go around
saying we’re going to be licked!”

“I don’t say it to anybody but you,” Dick interposed hastily.

“You don’t want to say it to any one,” continued Mike, with a severity
quite judicial. “Just try to make everybody think we’re going to win.
You know how Phillips had us all scared when the fourth played Suffolk,
with his talk about how big and strong they were, and how we couldn’t
possibly down ’em, and all that, till we lost our nerve and almost let
’em beat us?”

Dick remembered.

“It’s the same with the big team; they’ve got to be encouraged. Harrison
deserves it, too, for firing Jason.”

This principle Mike had an opportunity to put into practice the next
morning when he passed a knot of older boys gathered at the corner of
the school building, where they waited for the nine o’clock bell to ring
and meantime swapped news and jokes and covertly watched the girls who
by twos and threes and fours passed on the other side of the street on
the way to Miss Wheeler’s school. Eaton reached out and seized the boy
by the shoulder. “Ticket for the game?” he demanded.

“Got one,” said Mike, coolly, shaking himself free.

“What do you say, Mike,” asked Wilmot; “are we going to beat Newbury?”

“Sure thing, only they’ve got to get those forward passes down better.”

“Do you hear that?” called Wilmot, as the boy trotted away. “Mike says
we’re going to win. That settles it. No use to practice any more. It’s
all up with Newbury.”

“He’s trying to make us win; that’s more than can be said of you,” spoke
Talbot, disapprovingly.

“What’s the matter with me?” protested Wilmot. “Don’t I spend half my
time tagging round after you fellows as manager?”

“A bum manager!” grumbled Horr. “Where are those W sweaters?”

“Mike is doing his little best to build up a school sentiment behind
us,” continued Talbot, “and you—well, you’re laughing at us most of the
time. Mike knows what he’s talking about, too, when it comes to
football.”

Wilmot assumed an indignant manner. “That’s a base libel. I’m trying to
keep you from being over-confident.”

The bell rang and the group began to move. “I’d like to see a few signs
of over-confidence,” said Harrison. “Everything seems to me to be going
the other way.”

For the mid-week practice Yards brought out a team of Westcott graduates
from college, who could furnish to the reorganized school eleven
something sturdy on which to try their plays. Mac ran his game with few
errors and handled punts like a veteran; the ends got three out of four
forward passes; Bumpus wrestled valiantly against a big sophomore in the
line, puffing and blowing and perspiring, but fully holding his own. The
result was in the main encouraging.

Dunn stood on the side-lines, dressed for play and ready to be called in
if necessary. While he waited and observed the game, jesting aloud with
Stover to show the bystanders how little his spirits were affected by
his retirement from the team, Dunn noticed a stoutly built, showily
dressed man, with a square face darkened by a heavy, close-shaven beard,
who, while following the play, seemed at the same time to be interested
in the conversation around him. Presently the stranger, having
apparently made inquiries concerning Dunn from some of the smaller boys,
called him aside and talked with him a few minutes out of earshot of the
spectators. At the close of the conversation he put a slip of paper into
Dunn’s hand and disappeared.

Some time later, as Harrison trotted from the field across toward the
locker house, he passed Stover and Dunn going in the same direction.

“What do you think of Bumpus now?” he called over his shoulder as he
went by.

“You can make a football player out of ’most any fat old thing,”
returned Stover. “It’s different in baseball. I say, stop a minute,
Harry!”

Harrison turned round. “What is it?”

“We want to see you as soon as you get dressed about something
important, very important! We’ll give you fifteen minutes.”

Before the allotted time was up, the captain emerged from the locker
house, pulling on his coat as he came. Dunn followed him. Stover drew
them both into a corner. “Do you know Jake Callahan?” he asked.

“The Newbury coach? I know who he is.”

“He isn’t coach any longer, they’ve fired him,” said Stover. “He was
here this afternoon for a little while watching the game. He picked
Jason out of the crowd and made him a proposition. Go ahead, Jason!”

“He’s terribly sore on Newbury because they haven’t treated him right,”
explained Dunn, eagerly. “He says he can let us have the diagrams of all
their best plays and the signals for ’em. He doesn’t mean to sell ’em,
he’s just going to give ’em to us; but all the same if they help us, and
we _want_ to make him up a purse of a few dollars on the quiet, he’ll
take it. He left his address with me.”

Harrison looked from one face to the other, but said nothing.

“You see, if you had the signals,” continued Dunn, “and knew what the
play was going to be, you could stop ’em wherever you wanted to. Of
course you wouldn’t want to do it too often, or you’d give yourselves
away. It might be better to let only four or five good fellows in on the
thing, and then there wouldn’t be so much danger of getting caught at
it.”

“We could raise ten or twenty dollars for Callahan among a few fellows
who’d keep their mouths shut,” said Stover. “I’ll attend to that. Yards
needn’t know a thing about it.”

“Do you think it’s quite—honorable?” asked Harrison, hesitatingly. He
needed no lessons from either Stover or Dunn to appreciate the
advantages to be derived from knowing an opponent’s signals.

Stover grinned. “Honorable? Sure! Why not? Ain’t it their business to
have signals we can’t discover? Wouldn’t you play for the right side if
some one came and told you the Newbury right tackle was weak? Don’t we
always try to find out what kind of a ball a batter can’t hit?”

“The cases aren’t similar,” returned Harrison.

“There’s no use in arguing about it,” said Stover. “It’s nothing to me.
We give you a chance to get the game. You can take it or leave it. I
thought you wanted to win.”

Wanted to win! Was there anything Harrison at that moment wanted more?
He looked up and caught sight of Talbot and Hardie sauntering past the
corner on their way to Hardie’s room. “Here’s Pete,” said the captain;
“let’s see what he says.” And before the emissaries of the disgruntled
coach could interpose an objection, he had called the pair over and was
bidding Dunn repeat Callahan’s offer.

Dunn obeyed with alacrity, happy in the conviction that by the service
which he was now rendering, he was taking a long step forward to the
recovery of his lost popularity. As he spoke, growing more and more
eager in the unfolding of the advantages to be gained and the best
method of using the new information, Hardie dropped his gaze to the
ground, where he kicked away impatiently at a stubby tuft of grass,
while Talbot held his eyes fixed on the narrator’s face, his cheeks
darkening and swelling with rising emotion. Slowly Dunn became aware
that the impression which he was making was not the one intended. His
eloquence wavered; his speech dwindled to an abrupt and confused end.

“Well, what do you think of it, Pete?” asked Harrison, quietly, swinging
round upon his friend.

“I think it would be a dirty, mean trick!” Talbot burst out in wrathful
staccato. “A hundred victories couldn’t wipe out the disgrace of it!”

“That’s just my opinion,” declared Harrison. “As you have the man’s
address, Dunn, you’d better write him what we think of his offer.”

Harrison turned back into the locker house; Talbot and Hardie went off
toward the dormitory. Stover watched the retreating figures for a few
seconds in silence, then emitted a loud, mocking laugh.

“Have it your own way, you angels, you nice boys, and get slaughtered,”
exclaimed Dunn, in deep disgust. “I’m through with the thing.”

He crumpled the envelope on which was written Callahan’s address and
threw it on the ground. Several minutes later, when the coast was clear,
a strange boy who had been watching from the outer fence, strolled
across the yard, picked up the twisted scrap of paper, and thrust it
into his pocket.

STOVER, whisking home in his automobile, turned the incident over in his
mind, and decided that he would say nothing about it,—if the others
didn’t,—at least until after the game. The fellows in the influential
set at Westcott’s were terribly sensitive about points of honor, and it
was hardly worth while to risk position by running counter to the
general sentiment in a matter which really didn’t concern him at all.
After they’d lost the game, they might think more highly of his advice.

Stover himself was firmly imbued with the notion that winning is the
sole test, and reason for existence, of an athletic team. If a team
couldn’t win, in his opinion it might as well disband; there was no
sense in keeping it up. These views he held directly from his father, by
example and precept. Stover, Senior, prided himself on “getting there”
in business. Those who didn’t get there, who got only halfway there, or
refused to sacrifice certain principles in order to get there, were in
his eyes flabby failures. Protests represented but the inevitable wails
of the defeated, criticism the expression of envy; the man who won could
afford to laugh at both. Stover, Junior, accepting fully the idea that
defeat was inherently disgraceful, applied it to his own life in his own
way. He was ashamed to be on a losing team. Low marks in examinations
put him sadly out of humor, for they classed him with the despised
unsuccessful. For the same reason, notwithstanding a bold air of
indifference, it irked him sorely that he was not popular.

Dunn likewise came to recognize that he had made a misstep. He said to
Harrison next morning, “I guess you fellows were right about that
Callahan matter; it wouldn’t have done much good, anyway.” Harrison,
glad to perceive that Dunn understood the falseness of his position,
answered pleasantly, and let the incident slip from his mind. He found
enough material for anxiety in the problem of Talbot’s strained knee,
the perfecting of Mac in the use of signals, and the elaboration of a
new scheme for a forward pass from a fake kick.

Callahan’s offer cropped up again on Friday night, as Wilmot and
Harrison sat in Pete’s bedroom, drawing out a long good night. The pair
had brought in a rubber to work on the injured knee, distrusting Pete’s
fiercely repeated assertion, “It’s all right and doesn’t need any
rubbing.” Determined to see that their trouble was not taken in vain,
they stayed on during the process, in the face of rudely inhospitable
suggestions from Talbot that they go home and let him alone. They
lingered still after the masseur had departed.

“Anything new about Jason’s friend, the coach?” asked Wilmot, making a
try with his cap at the top of a brass candlestick which stood on the
mantel. The cap fell short, and Talbot put his foot on it. Wilmot flung
himself back in his chair.

“What coach?”

“The one that blew in at Adams’s the other day and offered to sell state
secrets. Harrigan or Cullinan or Hooligan—I don’t remember his name.”

The look of disgust on Harrison’s face showed that he understood. “I
don’t know. I hadn’t thought of him since.”

“I wonder if Jason wrote him,” mused Wilmot. “You ought to have given me
the job, Harry. I’d have done it in slick style.”

Harrison shook his head. “It would be taking too much notice of him.
Jason came up next day and acknowledged that it was all wrong. I don’t
think he did anything more about it.”

“Jason doesn’t know right from wrong, anyway,” observed Wilmot.

“You could say that of some others I know,” interposed Talbot, with a
significant emphasis. Wilmot, however, showed no curiosity to learn who
these others might be.

“Why can’t you get the other fellows’ signals right in the game?” he
proposed, suddenly alert. “Four-eleven-forty-four!—right half-back
outside left tackle. Two-eleven-twenty-three-six-million-and-six!—right
half-back crawls between centre’s legs. Deduction: right half-back is
eleven. Keep this up through the game, and you’ll have the whole system.
You win by mental superiority—solve cryptograms on the run. Sherlock
Holmes applied to football!”

Talbot smiled with complacent contempt. “That shows how much you know
about football. You’re in the class with the person who wrote a football
story that I read once in a weekly paper. The two elevens played the
game, and after it was over and the one team had beaten the other, it
was discovered that some one on the winning team had broken training
before the game. The winners, therefore, forfeited the game to the
losers.”

“No, seriously,” insisted Wilmot, “why couldn’t it be done?”

“Because it takes all your attention to play your game,” said Pete. “You
can’t be puzzling out conundrums when you’re watching with all your soul
to see the ball move. I suppose you’d have us call time to rub a leg,
and sit down with a pencil and figure the thing out.”

“No, not that, but I should think a few of the old hands like you and
Harry and Jimmy Eaton, and quick wits like McDowell—”

“McDowell stands ’way back on the defence, you idiot!” interrupted Pete.
“He can’t even hear the other team’s signals!”

“Like somebody else, then,” continued Wilmot, unabashed by the
compliment. “I should think a few fellows might each get a hint, and
then all together would have enough to amount to something. What do you
say, Harry?”

“It’s possible, but not worth while,” answered Harrison. “You’d lose in
trying to do it more than you could gain by anything you could find out.
The best way is to play a hard, safe game and be ready for whatever
happens along. Come on, I want to go to bed!”

The school turned out in force for the game. Though hidden within lay
the expectation of defeat, the older boys were assured that the team had
a chance, and gathered gladly, the gambler’s hope in their hearts. To
the younger ones the spectacle was in itself all-attractive, to say
nothing of the joy of sharing the new responsibility of supporting a
team which belonged to them. If some, in ignorance of their privilege,
needed persuasion, there was Mike McKay to furnish it, through the
potent influence of himself and his crowd. Two urchins of the sixth, who
had guilelessly announced their intention of seeing the
Harvard-Dartmouth game instead, were threatened by Mike with
excommunication; he would cut them off, from that time on, from all help
on lessons from their classmates, unless they performed their duty. They
were ready in their places. Papas and mammas were there, everybody’s
sister and her girl friends; and swarms of recent graduates from across
the Charles, vigorous aids to school cheer-leaders and stayers-up of
faint hearts. An extended line of autos was stalled along the fence. Nor
were the Newburyites behind in the demonstration. It was confidence (a
stronger force than hope) that swelled their numbers and gave vigor to
their voices.

But the proudest, most important, most conspicuous figure was that of
President John Smith. Increased in height by a brown derby, swelled in
girth by a fat fur coat,—he had meant that the day should be
cool,—with an alderman and two newspaper reporters in his train and the
officials of the game his employees, he paced to and fro within the
side-lines and enjoyed his greatness and the greatness of the day. Only
a badge was lacking to complete happiness. In the reporters he had two
friends on whose helpful services he could count. Alderman Skillen was a
political power in President John’s district, with a son on the Newbury
team. If only young Skillen would distinguish himself; if only
Westcott’s would put up a stiff but not victorious game; if only the
reporters could give the right turn to their laudatory phrases, and the
alderman be properly impressed with the power and the influence and the
potential value of the mainspring of it all,—the day might well mark
the beginning of a strong upward twist in the life curve of John Smith.
The suspicion whispered into his ear that morning by the Newbury captain
that the renegade coach might have betrayed the game to Westcott’s had
not so much as ruffled the surface of his optimism.

The game began. Hexam, the Newbury half-back, drove the ball on the
kick-off down into the hands of Mac,[1] who clutched it tight, and with
his jerky, darting see-saw, threaded his way up the field behind Talbot
and Hardie and Eaton and any one else he could use as a cover, for
thirty good yards. He went down buried deep, like a greased pig finally
swamped by numbers. Then when the small Westcottites were chirping over
the prospect of a quick advance to the goal line, Talbot, without trying
a single rush, punted long and low, sending the ball out of bounds on
the twenty-yard line.

Footnote 1:

The Westcott line-up: Hardie, Eaton, Bumpus, Ford, Channing, B. Tracy,
Harrison; quarter-back, McDowell; half-backs, Horr and Talbot;
full-back, Bradford.

The Newburyites now had their chance, with the length of the field
before them, and hammered away with moderate success, now on this side,
now on that, till Eaton broke through on a slow-starting end-play and
nabbed the runner yards behind the line. Forced to kick or try a forward
pass, Newbury chose the second alternative and lost the ball. Again Pete
punted, to the disappointment of the eager Westcott spectators, and
again Newbury started near her goal line on the slow pound-pound down
the field.

A half-dozen short gains had been made, when, on a second down, Talbot
pulled Roger aside. “Seven in third place means outside Eaton,” he
panted. “Watch out!”

“Six, four, seven, twenty-two, forty-four!” sang out the Newbury
quarter. Hardie crept in a double pace; Talbot, line half-back, advanced
a step; and Eaton nerved himself for a spring. The ball moved; Eaton,
moving with it, evaded his opponent and smashed into the interference
behind the line. The bearer of the ball, seeing Talbot in the gap in
front and Hardie swinging in upon him from outside, tossed the ball to a
mate behind who let it slip through his hands. Roger threw himself at it
as it fell. When the heap was split open, there lay the Westcott end at
the bottom, curled round the ball like a rat around an egg.

Now, within striking distance of the Newbury goal line, Westcott’s
abandoned the kicking game and took to aggressive, fast play. Sequence B
carried them forward fifteen yards, a fortunate try at right end gave
them five yards more, Eaton and Hardie twice opened a clean lane for
Bradford through the sputtering Skillen. Even Bumpus succeeded in
getting some kind of a lift from underneath on big Firman, and assisted
to establish a first down. The unexpectedly fast and furious attack
confused the Newbury resistance. Within the ten-yard line Mac gave
himself a chance, and scurrying to the right the proper measure,
squirmed over the last eight yards under Harrison’s protection and dived
home past clutching hands and struggling bodies. Westcott’s had scored a
certain five!

In the intermission Harrison contributed an outside-right-tackle signal
which he had learned from the repetitious Newbury quarter, and Bumpus
the number which usually preceded onslaughts on centre.

“Don’t try to find out anything more!” commanded Yards. “Put your whole
soul into the play. You’ve got the game if you can only hold them.”

Back they trotted, with smirched faces and tired limbs, but eager and
determined. Their schoolmates on the cheering benches howled joyfully at
them as they passed, but a certain gentleman wearing a brown derby and
fur overcoat, and accompanied by a short, rotund man, easily
recognizable by his diamond shirt-stud, thick mustache, and fat,
red-veined face, gave them but ungracious looks. These looks presaged
words equally ungracious to be uttered after the game, but the players
passed on, unaware that the eye of President John Smith rested on them
in disapproval.

I wish I might relate all the feats of heroes performed during the
second half of this game which seemed to Mike McKay the most wholly
satisfying contest he had ever witnessed. The chapter, however, has
already run its length, and more football is coming. The ball made many
futile journeys to and fro. Thrice the Newbury captain forced his
quarter to alter the signals because Westcott’s change showed that the
coming move was understood. Twice a Newbury man got an on-side kick
behind the Westcott secondary defence, only to go down in McDowell’s
grasp. Once Mac risked a long forward pass in the middle of the field on
a first down, and Harrison, getting it near the side-line, made a
forty-yard run to a touch-down. Once Skillen hit Hardie a swinging blow
with his fist as the Westcott end _would_ interfere between him and the
ball; and escaped the eye of the umpire. Once more he tried the same
pretty trick and retired from the field in consequence. Time slipped
away, and with it Newbury’s chance and Newbury’s courage. At the last
blast of the referee’s whistle the score stood eleven to nothing in
favor of Harrison’s team.

THE delighted Westcott lads poured after their team to the dressing
rooms in a turbulent stream. The forward ones thronged the limited space
within, interfering with the progress of the players toward cleanness
and respectability, and wearying them with fierce clutches of the hand
and much repetition of exclamations and idle questions. Dunn served his
companions a good turn—unintentionally, to be sure—by standing near
the door and delivering to a densely packed circle a disquisition on the
game, which included not merely the true explanation of the weakness of
the Newbury team and the faults of their playing, but a candid setting
forth of the errors on the Westcott side. According to Dunn, the score
might have been doubled if Westcott’s hadn’t thrown the ball away so
much by punting, and had gone systematically to work at the outset to
use up Thorne, the Newbury tackle who did half the defensive work of his
team.

“Didn’t McDowell put up a great game,—and Hardie?” exclaimed some
inconsiderate enthusiast in the circle.

“Yes, they both did pretty well on the whole,” answered Dunn. “It was a
cinch for Hardie. He had nothing against him.”

Mike and Dickie Sumner came edging by.

“If Jason had only been there, you’d have seen something doing,” said
Mike, in a low tone to his companion. They both laughed aloud. Dunn
turned at the sound and caught a glimpse of the roguish faces, and felt,
though he could not hear, the insult of their words.

“Get out of here, you kids!” he called angrily. “You’ve no business here
at all.”

“We’re going, Jason, as fast as we can,” returned Dick, feeling safe in
the crowd. “You played a corking game, Jason!” added Mike.

The two went their way to the quarters of the other team to see how the
Newburyites were taking it, leaving Dunn to wax violent over the
necessity of having these “little fresh mutts” hanging round all the
time, and the foolish encouragement they received from older fellows who
ought to know better. Some of these fellows who ought to know better
were at the other end of the room preparing for the shower. Jack Sumner
held Talbot’s foot in his lap—the knee was stiffening again—and worked
at the knot in a shoe-lace, exclaiming with delight over the playing of
the team and dwelling with especial enthusiasm on McDowell’s
performance.

“It was just perfect,” he said, relaxing his efforts on the knot to look
into the faces of his hearers. “Those tackles in the second half when
Thorne got the on-side kicks and came down on him, just saved
touch-downs. He’s the greatest find of the year!”

“Oh, cut it!” exploded Talbot, punning without intent. He meant that
Jack should drop that talk about McDowell. It was honest, without doubt,
and generous, but it hurt Pete none the less, for he understood well
Sumner’s disappointment.

“I haven’t any knife,” said Sumner. “Here, Steve, give us a knife!”

And Wilmot, interrupting his discourse on how he had saved the game by
suggesting that they learn the signals during play, dug down into his
trousers pocket and produced a battered thing with a single broken
blade, which he kept on purpose to lend.

“Be sure you give it back to me,” he said. “It’s the only lender I’ve
got.”

Meantime in the Newbury quarters, outside of which stood Mike and Dickie
with wide-open eyes and most receptive ears, were to be heard laments
and reproaches and an indignant clamor of foul play. Westcott’s knew the
Newbury signals, there was no doubt about it.

“Why, that Hardie would move right up on the signal for outside-tackle
play, and go right back again when it was called off. He knew the signal
all right.” Skillen’s assurance had personal interest behind it. He
wanted it understood that he had been laboring under a handicap.

“And on the centre plays in the second half,” said Firman, “Ford came
right up into the line, and Talbot got in behind him. Of course I
couldn’t make a hole.”

“That miserable Callahan gave them away,” declared Newbold, the captain.
“You wouldn’t suppose Westcott’s would play such a dirty trick, would
you?”

“These high flyers are always the worst grafters,” said Skillen.
“They’ll cheat fast enough when they have to.”

“But we changed some of the signals,” remarked Thorne, “and that
outside-tackle signal that they knew was one of the new ones.”

“That was only one,” said Newbold. “They knew at least half a dozen.
Callahan sold us, that’s the fact. We’ve got proof. Fritz Schaefer saw
him at the Westcott grounds last Wednesday, talking with one of their
men. It’s a steal. We’ll protest the game.”

“I don’t believe they did it,” said Thorne. “I know one or two of their
fellows, and they aren’t that kind. Williams (the quarter-back) always
gives the same numbers, anyway. No one who kept his ears open could help
hearing some of them.”

“That’s right, stand up for ’em!” said Hexam, bitterly. “Go back on your
own school and try to get the Westcott fellows’ favor! They may let you
into one of their societies when you get to college.”

“I don’t feel as if I’d gone back on my own school much to-day,”
returned Thorne, quietly. “It’s bad enough to be beaten without playing
the baby.”

“It’s a steal!” Newbold reiterated. “They got our signals and won
unfairly. Smith says so.”

Smith was saying so at that very moment, in strongly rhetorical
language, to an eager crowd outside the quarters, including in its front
rank a stout man with a diamond pin, and—on the outskirts—Mike McKay
and Dickie Sumner. The high-minded president was sorely pained—not at
the defeat of his school—oh, no! Nor by the anti-climax of his first
gala day—certainly not! Nor by his loss of prestige with Alderman
Skillen. He was pained, but only impersonally and officially, as the
offended guardian of the moral majesty of the league.

“They was too smart for you, that’s about the size of it,” Mr. Skillen
was saying. “If the’ isn’t any rule against buying up a coach, why,
they’ve got you pinched.”

“No rule is needed,” answered President John, pompously. “The league
stands for the highest ideals in sport. It won’t countenance low tricks
or dishonorable methods of winning or anything at all in the games that
isn’t absolutely fair and right.”

“It wasn’t fair and right to kick Jerry off the field, that’s a sure
thing,” declared the alderman. “The other fellow got into him first with
his shoulder. I saw him do it time and again.” An irrepressible titter
ran round the circle at this ingenuous view of football etiquette.

“We have to leave that to the officials,” President John hastened to
say. “I think they roasted us several times, but we can’t help that. The
other matter is one for the league itself to handle. It’s one of the
most disgraceful performances in the annals of football!”

The bystanders listened greedily. Mr. Skillen gave a sharp nod of
approval. “That’s the way to put it—make it good and strong and stick
to it. Your friends can give us a nice little story about it in the
papers to-morrow. But what’ll come of it all, that’s what I want to
know? Will there be anything doin’?”

“We shall protest the game before the committee and demand that it be
played again or declared forfeited.”

“Forfeit!” decided Mr. Skillen, promptly. “Forfeit’s the thing. It
wouldn’t help any to play it again. They’ve got too many trumps.”

“Forfeited, then,” agreed Mr. Smith. “I’ll see Newbold about it at
once.”

President John disappeared through the door leading to the Newbury
quarters, whither the curious young Westcott lads had not the audacity
to follow. They hung about, however, hoping that he might reappear, and
talked over the startling news in indignant whispers. They didn’t
understand it all, but it was clear that their admired heroes were
charged with buying signals from a Newbury coach and winning the game
through the knowledge thus acquired.

“It’s all rot,” decided Mike. “Somebody’s been kidding ’em. They’d
believe any old lie, if they thought they could make anything by it.”

“Why, my brother Jack would no more do such a thing than he would pick
pockets!” said Dickie. “He’s awfully particular about those things, and
Pete is just the same.”

“They’re all the same, except Jason,”—there was nothing evil Mike
wouldn’t believe about Jason,—“and Jason doesn’t count any more.”

The president came forth, mopping his face with his handkerchief and
setting his hat firmly on his head. From the window of the dressing room
he had seen Mr. Westcott, lingering with three of his old boys near the
entrance to the grounds. Toward this group he set a straight course,
while the two lads fell in unnoticed behind him.

“Mr. Westcott!” called the high official, sharply, as he drew near. The
college boys lifted their hats and went their way. Mr. Westcott turned
with a pleasant look on his face, and in his heart a kindly feeling for
all the world, including this man Smith. The afternoon had brought him a
full measure of happiness; first the splendid playing of his team, then
a shower of hearty greetings from old boys—and tokens of regard from
former pupils, be it understood, are the sweetest morsels an honest
schoolmaster can roll beneath his tongue.

“Mr. Westcott!” came in a loud, contentious voice from beneath the brown
derby. “We shall protest that game,—I mean the captain of the Newbury
team has protested it.”

Mr. Westcott’s smile vanished in a flash, and an expression of
bewilderment overspread his face. “Protested!” he repeated. “I do not
understand. On what ground, pray?”

“Your team, it appears, bought or at least got the signals which Newbury
was to use from a discharged coach, and so were able to anticipate and
block the Newbury plays.”

“It appears from what?” asked the schoolmaster, coldly.

President John hesitated. “Well, from the game itself and—from other
facts.”

“Mr. Smith,” said Mr. Westcott, speaking with head thrown back, in tones
resonant with indignation, “you probably do not realize the insulting
character of the charge which you are bringing. If I understand you to
mean that the Westcott management plotted to win the game with stolen
signals, I assure you the charge is both false and slanderous. There is
a bad mistake somewhere. I know my boys, as you do not; they are
incapable of such an act.”

“I didn’t want to believe it myself, sir,” said President John, for the
instant abashed, “but the facts are such—” He stopped and tried to
think what the facts really were.

“The facts?” persisted Mr. Westcott.

“They will be stated fully at the meeting of the committee which I shall
call,” answered John, recovering himself. “I merely desired to give you
notice that I had received the protest.”

He turned and bent his steps toward his allies at the dressing rooms,
driving two urchins in flight before him. Long before his pompous strut
brought him to the Newbury end of the locker building, the two young
scouts had burst in among the Westcott players with a whoop and a yell,
had gathered about them in a trice an elbowing crush of the dressed and
half-dressed, and with mutual support and interruption, were devoting
themselves to the delectable task of relating the news. The audience
listened wild-eyed, questioned, and exploded in exclamations. When the
fire of questions slackened and the exclamations began to pop, Dunn
seized his suit-case and silently stole away. This crowd was no place
for him.

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