8. The Colors Contest
 

The next morning Tom was much surprised to find his missing dress- suit case standing in front of his room door.

"Hello! How did this get here?" he cried as he picked up the baggage.

"What's that?" asked Sam, who was just getting up.

"Look!" answered his brother, and brought the case in. "Somebody must have found it and left it here while I was asleep."

"Very kind, whoever he was," said Sam. "Are the contents all right?"

Instead of answering Tom placed the suit case on a chair and started to unlock it.

"Hello, it's unlocked!" he murmured. "I thought I had it locked."

He shoved back the clasps and threw the case open. The contents were much jumbled, but he had expected this from the fact that the bag had been jounced out of the carriage.

"I guess the stuff is all here," he said slowly, turning over the clothing and other things. "Somehow, I thought I had more in the case, though," he added presently.

"Don't you know what you had?"

"Well--er--I packed it in a hurry, you know. I wanted to go fishing, and so I got through as soon as I could. Oh, I guess it's all right."

Tom was too lively a youth to pay much attention to his personal belongings. Often he hardly knew what suit of clothing he had on or what sort of a necktie. The only times he really fixed up was when Nellie Laning was near. Why he did that only himself (and possibly Nellie) knew.

Sunday passed quietly. Some of the boys attended one or another of the churches in Ashton, and the Rovers went with them. Dudd Flockley and his cronies took a walk up the river, and reaching a warm, sunny spot, threw themselves down to smoke cigarettes and talk.

"Well, what did you do about the dress-suit case, Jerry?" asked Flockley with a sharp look at his crony.

"Returned it, as you know," was the answer, and Jerry winked suggestively.

"I'd have flung the bag in the river before I would give it to such a chap as Tom Rover," growled Larkspur.

"You trust me, Larky, old boy," answered Jerry Koswell. "I know what I'm doing."

"Humph!"

"I said I returned the case, but I didn't say I returned all that was in it."

"What do you mean by that?" demanded Flockley. "If you've got a secret, out with it."

Koswell looked around to make certain that no outsider was near.

"I kept a few things out of the bag--some things that had Tom Rover's name or his initials on them."

"And you are going to--" went on Flockley.

"I am going to use 'em some day, when I get the chance."

"Good!" cried Flockley. "I'll help you, Jerry!"

"And so will I," added Larkspur. "If we work it right we can get Tom Rover in a peck of trouble."

On Monday morning the college term opened in earnest, and once again the Rovers had to get down to the "grind," as Sam expressed it. But the boys had had a long vacation and were in the best of health, and they did not mind the studying.

"Got to have a good education if you want to get along nowadays," was the way Dick expressed himself. "If you don't learn you are bound to be at the mercy of anybody who wants to take advantage of your ignorance."

"Dick, what are you going to do when you get out of college?" asked Tom.

"I don't know--go into business, I imagine."

"Oh, he'll marry and settle down," chimed in Sam. "He and Dora will live in an ivy-covered cottage like two turtle doves, and--"

Sam got no further, for a pillow thrown by Dick caught him full in the face and made him stagger.

"Sam is thinking of what he and Grace are going to do," said Dick. "And you and Nellie will likely have a cottage across the way," he added, grinning at Tom.

"Really!" murmured Tom, and got as red as a beet. "Say, call it off," he added. "Do you know we have the necktie rush this afternoon?"

"It won't amount to much," answered Sam. "Too many sophs out of it."

"Don't you believe it," said Dick. "Remember, the juniors come into this as well as the sophs."

"Say, I've thought of a plan!" cried Tom. "Greatest ever! I'm going to patent it!" And he commenced to dance around in his excitement.

"What's loose?" asked Songbird, coming up at that moment, followed by some others. "Tom, have you got a pain in your inwards?"

"No, an idea--it's about the same thing," responded Tom gaily. "We want to get the best of the second and third-year fellows during the necktie rush, and I think I know how we can do it. We'll all sew our neckties fast!"

For a moment there was silence, and then, as the others caught the idea, they commenced to laugh.

"That's it!" cried Sam. "I'll sew mine as tight as a drum!"

"I'll rivet mine on, if that will do any good," added Dick.

  "Oh, the sophs and the juniors will try

  To steal from the freshies each tie;

     But they will not win,

     For we'll fight them like sin--"

  "And bust 'em right plumb in the eye!"

"Sure thing!" came from Songbird, and he commenced to recite: finished Tom. "Oh, say, but will you all sew your neckties fast?"

"Sure!"

"And we'll tell the rest to do so, too," added another freshman who was present.

The news soon circulated, and was kept from all but the first-year students.

It must be confessed that many of the students found it hard to fix their minds on their lessons that afternoon. One boy, Max Spangler, brought on a great laugh when the following question was put to him:

"What great improvement in navigation did Fulton introduce?"

"Neckties," answered Max abstractedly.

"Neckties?" queried the instructor in astonishment.

"I--er--I don't mean neckties," stammered the German-American student, "I mean steamboats."

When the afternoon session was over the students hurried to their various rooms. The sophomores and the juniors who were to take part in the contest talked matters over, and as far as possible laid out a plan of action. It was decided that the largest and heaviest of the second and third-year students were to tackle the smallest freshmen first, while the others were to hold the rest of the first-year men at bay.

"We'll get fifteen or twenty neckties first clip that way," said one of the sophomores, "and it doesn't matter who we get them from. A little chap's tie counts as much as that of a two-hundred pounder."

In the meantime the freshmen were busy following Tom's advice and sewing their ties fast to their collars, shirts, and even their undershirts. Then Dick, who had, unconsciously almost, become a leader, called the boys into an empty recitation-room.

"Now, I've got a plan," said he. "We want to bunch up, and all the little fellows and lightweights get in the center. The heavy fellows can take the outside and fight the others off. Understand?"

"Yes!"

"That's a good idea!"

"Forward to the fray!" yelled Stanley, "and woe be to him who tries to get my tie! His blood be on his own head!" he added tragically.

"Forward!" cried Sam, "and let our watchword be, 'Die, but no tie!'"

"Now don't get excited," said Dick. "Take it coolly, and I'm certain that when the time is up we'll have the most of our ties still on."

It was the custom to go out on the campus at a given time, and when the chapel bell sounded out the hour Dick led the freshmen forward. They came out of a side door in a body and formed around the flagstaff almost before the sophomores and juniors knew they had appeared.

The seniors took no part, but three had been "told off" to act as referees, and they stood around as if inspecting the buildings and the scenery. The instructors, who also knew what was coming, wisely kept out of sight.

"Come on, and at 'em!" called out Dudd Flockley, and this cry was quickly taken up by all the others who were to take part in the contest.

"Hello! They know a thing or two," said Frank Holden, who was the sophomore leader in the attack. "They've got the little fellows in the middle."

As tightly as possible the freshmen gathered around the flagstaff. Each wore a necktie of the college colors and it was fastened as tightly as strong thread could hold it.

"At 'em!" was the yell of the second and third-year lads. "Tear 'em apart! Pull the ties from 'em!"

And then they leaped in at the big freshmen, and on the instant a battle royal was started. Down went four boys on the campus, rolling over and over. Others caught each other by the hands and shoulders and wrestled valiantly.

Dick and Tom were in the front rank, with Sam directly behind them. Dick was caught by Frank Holden, and the two wrestled with might and main. Frank was big and strong, but Dick managed to hold him so that all the sophomore leader could do was to get his finger tips on the sought-for necktie.

Flockley tackled Tom, and much to his surprise was tripped up and sent flat on his back. Mad with sudden rage, Flockley scrambled up and let out a savage kick for Tom's stomach. But Tom was too quick for the sophomore, and leaped to one side.

"Foul!" cried Tom.

"Don't do that again!" called one of the seniors to Dudd. "If you do you'll be ruled out." Kicking and punching were prohibited by the rules. All the boys could do was to wrestle and throw each other, and either try to pull the neckties away or hold on to them.

On and on the battle waged, each minute growing hotter. Many of the students were almost winded, and felt that they could not endure the struggle much longer. Dick, Tom and Sam managed to keep their neckties, although Sam's was torn loose by two sophomores who held him as in a vise until Stanley came to his assistance. When the time was half up eleven neckties had been captured--two of them almost torn to shreds.

"At 'em!" yelled Frank Holden. "We haven't begun yet!"

"Hold 'em back!" was Dick's rallying answer. "Don't let 'em get near the little fellows!"

Again the contest raged, and this time with increased bitterness. In the melee some few blows were exchanged, but it must be admitted that one side was about as much to blame for this as the other. Three additional neckties were captured, making fourteen in all. As thirty- seven freshmen were in the contest, the sophomores and juniors had to capture five more neckties to win.

"Only three minutes more!" sang out one student, looking at his watch. "At 'em! Rip 'em apart!"

"Three minutes more!" yelled Dick. "Hold 'em back and we'll win!"

The enemy fought with increased fury, and one more necktie was taken- -the collar and collar band coming with it. But then of a sudden the chapel bell tolled out the hour.

"Time's up!" was the cry.

"And we win!" came from a score of freshmen in huge delight.

"Look out! Look out!" cried several small youths in the center of the crowd.

Crack! It was the flagstaff, and all looked in that direction. The pole, old and decayed, was falling. It looked as if it would crush all who stood in its path.