6. Baseball Talk
 

With so many other affairs to claim our attention, I have purposely avoided going into the details of the baseball season at Brill that year. As my old readers know, the college had a baseball nine and a football eleven, and both had, at various times, done well at one sport or the other.

This particular year, baseball matters had not gone as well as had been expected. In the first place, several of the best players on the nine had graduated the year before and left the college. Then had come a long wet spell, during which time only some indoor practice in the gymnasium could be attempted. Thus, at the opening of the season, the nine possessed four players who had hitherto played only on the scrub, and the whole team lacked the practice that was essential to success. The most serious loss was in the battery, both the pitcher and catcher of the year previous having left the college. Bob Grimes, who played at shortstop, was the captain, and after a good many tryouts, he had put Spud Jackson in as catcher. For pitcher, there were three candidates: a lad named Bill Harney, who was a tall junior; a much smaller chap who had come from Yale, named Dare Phelps; and Tom, who had been pushed forward by a number of his friends. Tom had thought to pay strict attention to his studies for the remainder of the term, but finally agreed to accept the position if it was offered to him.

"I think you are going to make it, Tom," said Songbird one day after Tom had been pitching on the regular team against Bill Harney, who had been pitching on the scrub. Tom had managed to hold the scrub down to three hits, while Harney had allowed fourteen hits, one of which had been turned by the batter into a home run.

"Oh, I don't know about that," replied Tom. "Harney isn't so bad. He had a little ill luck to-day, that's all. And then, don't forget Phelps."

"I'm not forgetting either of them. Just the same, I think you are going to make the nine."

The next day, Tom was put in as pitcher on the scrub, while Dare Phelps occupied the box for the regular nine. For the first six innings, it was a nip-and-tuck battle between the two pitchers. But from that time on, Dare Phelps seemed to go to pieces, while Tom struck out man after man. As a result, the score at the end of the game stood 4 to 10 in favor of the scrub.

"Tom, I think that settles it!" cried his brother, as he rushed up and took the other by the shoulder. "You certainly held them down in great shape."

"And say, didn't the scrub bang Phelps all over the diamond!" broke in another student. "My, he must feel pretty sore!" And evidently this was true, because a minute later Dare Phelps left the diamond and disappeared from view. Nearly everybody in the college had watched the games between the scrub and the regular nine; and that night the concensus of opinion seemed to be that Tom ought to pitch for the regular team.

"You'll have to do it, Tom," said Bob Grimes, when he called on the older Rover in the morning. "Phelps acknowledges that you are a better pitcher than he is, and I think Bill Harney will have to do the same."

"Better wait and see how I pitch in one of the regular games," returned Tom, modestly. "For all you know, I may go to pieces."

"Nonsense, Tom! I know you too well for that," and Bob grinned broadly. "We'll show Roxley College this year what we can do."

Every year there were two contests between Brill and Roxley, a rival college located some miles away. One contest was at baseball, and the other football. During the past Fall, Roxley had suffered its second defeat on the gridiron at the hands of Brill. But the Spring previous, its baseball nine had literally "wiped up the diamond" with Brill by a score of 6 to 0. My, readers can, therefore, well imagine how anxious the baseball management was to win the game scheduled to come off in about a week.

Since returning to college from his trip to New York, and then the longer trip to Alaska, Sam had given almost his entire time to his studies. He was quite a baseball player, but he felt that to play on the regular team would take too much of his time.

"If you are going to leave college this June, it won't make so much difference whether you pass with flying colors or not, Tom," he said. "But if I am to return in the Fall, I want to make sure that I am not going to do so under conditions."

"But, Sam, I don't see why you can't play a game or two," persisted Tom. "It doesn't seem natural for you to keep out of it altogether."

"Well, I have played some on the scrub."

"Oh, I know, but that isn't like going in for the regular thing. You could be on the regular team if you really wanted to."

This matter was talked over several times, but Sam refused to be entirely persuaded. He, however, finally agreed to go on the bench as a substitute, provided Bob would not ask him to play any inside position. By a toss-up, it had been decided that the game should take place on the Roxley grounds. As a consequence, the boys of Brill and their friends would have to go to the other college either by train from Ashton, or in automobiles or some other kinds of conveyances.

"Of course, we'll take the girls, Tom," said Sam, in talking the matter over. "We can go over to Hope in the auto for them, and I think it would be nice if we took Songbird along and stopped at the Sanderson cottage for Minnie."

"All right, that suits me," replied Tom, "Let us ask Songbird about it."

Of course the would-be poet was delighted, and he at once sent a note to Minnie, asking her to be ready when the auto arrived. The girls at Hope were communicated with over the telephone.

"I'm afraid it's going to rain," said Spud, on the evening before the great game was to take place. And Spud was right. By nine o'clock it was raining steadily.

"Just our confounded luck!" muttered Songbird, as he paced up and down the room which he and half a dozen others were occupying. "Now, I suppose that game and our nice auto ride will be all knocked in the head."

"Don't worry so early," returned Sam, cheerfully. "I don't think this is anything more than a shower, and we need that to lay the dust." Sam proved to be right, for before some of the boys retired, the rain had stopped coming down, and one by one the stars began to appear. In the morning, the sun came up as bright as ever, and by ten o'clock the ground was as dry as any one could wish. The day was a Saturday, and, of course, a holiday both at Brill and Roxley. By eleven o'clock, a carryall had taken a large number of the students to Ashton, where they were to take a special train for Roxley. All of the automobiles at Brill were in use, and with them all of the turnouts that could be hired in the vicinity.

"No time to spare!" sang out Tom, as he ran the automobile up to the college steps.

"I am ready," said Sam, who had a dresssuit case with Tom's uniform and his own in it.

"Where is Songbird?"

"I don't know, I thought he was with you."

"Here I am!" came the cry, and the would-be poet of the college came rushing across the campus. He was dressed in his very best suit, and wore a rose in his buttonhole.

"Wait! I almost forgot the horns!" cried Sam, and he darted back into the building, to reappear a few seconds later with several long tin horns. Into the automobile piled the boys, and then, with a loud sounding of the horn, Tom turned on the power, and the machine started off in the direction of Hope, soon reaching the spot where the automobile had gone into the river.

"That poor chap didn't hurt his machine much. so I have heard," remarked Sam, as they bowled along over the bridge. "But, I think it might have been better if he had come out of it scott free, and the auto had gone to pieces."

"We ought to call on him, Sam," returned Tom. "I would like to find out whether or not he is related to Jesse Pelter."

"Oh, don't bother about that to-day. Let your, mind rest on the game-- and the girls," and Sam grinned faintly.

The run to the seminary did not take long. The Laning girls stood waiting on the porch, and once they were in the car, the machine was headed in the direction of the Sanderson cottage.

Nellie occupied the front seat with Tom, while Sam was in the tonneau with Grace and Songbird. The younger girl was in her usual happy mood, but Nellie's face showed worriment.

"Have you heard anything more about the missing ring?" questioned Tom, while on the way to the Sanderson farmhouse.

"Not a thing, Tom," answered Nellie, soberly.

"Of course they have questioned the hired help?"

"Yes. And they have also questioned a number of the teachers and the students."

"Has Miss Harrow said anything more about it to you?"

"No, but every time we meet, she gives me such a cold look that it fairly makes me shiver. Oh, Tom, sometimes I don't know how I am going to stand it!" And now the girl showed signs of breaking down.

"There, there! Don't think about it any more, Nellie-- at least, for to-day. Think of the jolly good time we are going to have and how we are going to defeat Roxley."

"Do you think Brill will win, Tom? I heard some of the girls at Hope say that they were sure Roxley would come out ahead. They said they have an unusually strong nine this year, and that they have already won some games from the strongest nines around here."

"Well, that is true. Nevertheless, we hope to come out ahead."

"Sure we'll come out ahead!" cried Songbird. "With Tom in the box it's a cinch."

"Just what I say," broke in Sam. "Tom has got some curves that are bound to fool them."

In order to make time, Tom had put on nearly all the speed of which the car was capable, and in a short while they came in sight of the Sanderson farm. Mr. Sanderson was at work in an apple orchard near by, and waved his hand to them as the machine drew up to the horse-block.

"Better come along," sang out Sam, gaily.

"I wouldn't mind a-seein' the game," returned the old farmer. "But I've promised to pick these early apples and ship 'em. I wish you boys luck." And then he brought over a pail full of apples, and dumped them in the tonneau of the car. Minnie, looking as fresh and sweet as ever, was on the piazza, and when the car stopped she hurried down the garden walk. Songbird leaped out and helped her in beside Grace, shaking hands at the same time.

"Good gracious, Pa! how could you do so?" said Minnie, reproachfully, as she stepped between the apples.

"Oh, I thought as how ye might git hungry on th' way," returned Mr. Sanderson, with a broad grin. "If ye don't want to eat them, you feed your hosses on 'em." And he laughed at his little' joke.

"We'll eat them fast enough don't worry," cried Sam, and then, with a toot of the horn, the automobile proceeded on its way to Roxley.