Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 18

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"Where are you fellows taking us?" demanded Joe, as they walked softly down the corridor.

"Toot-Toot!" was all the answer he received.

"Say, we don't mind having fun," added Tom, "but if you fellows are going to cut up any, we want to know it."

"Toot-Toot!" came again in imitation of a whistle. It was evident that this was a sort of signal or watchword among the members of the Order of Choo-Choo.

"These aren't Peaches, Teeter, and our fellows," spoke Joe into Tom's ear as they were forced to descend a back and seldom used staircase.

"That's right," agreed Tom. "I wonder who they are?"

"Some of the seniors, maybe," suggested the young pitcher. "I wish I knew where they are taking us."

"The candidates who are about to be initiated into the Mystic and Sacred Order of the Choo-Choo will kindly keep quiet!" came the quick command from the leader. " Silence is imperative to have the spell work."

"Oh, you dry up!" retorted Joe.

"Silence!" came the command again, emphasized this time by a dig in the ribs.

"You quit——" began our hero, but his voice ended in a grunt, for some one had hit him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He was indignant, and had half a mind to make a fight for it then and there. But he was practically helpless, and was descending a flight of stairs which made it dangerous to chance a scuffle. He made up his mind to fight when the time came.

"If you fellows——" began Tom.

"Silence over there!" hissed one of the white-robed figures. "If they talk any more, Master of Ceremonies, gag 'em."

"Right, Chief Engineer," was the hollow answer.

Tom thought it best to keep quiet. Silently the little crowd advanced. They halted at the door of one of the many store-rooms in the basement of the largest of the school dormitories. One of the lads opened the portals with a key. It was as black as pitch beyond.

"Enter, timid and shrinking candidates," commanded some one. "Enter into the sacred precincts of the Choo-Choo."

"Not much I won't!" declared Joe. "I can't see my hand before my face, and I'm not going into a dark room, not knowing what is there."

"Me either!" declared Tom.

"It is so ordered," came the deep voice of the leader. "Enter or be thrown in!"

Joe turned, trying in vain to pierce the disguise of the black mask. He struggled to free his arms from the rope that bound them, but could not. He was half-minded to strike out with his feet, but he was now so surrounded by the initiators that he could not. Besides, if he did that he might lose his balance and fall hard. Tom was in like straits.

"Forward, march!" came the command.

"I'm not going in I tell you!" insisted Joe.

"If he doesn't go in, shove him," came the command.

Joe, as he felt that resistance was useless, started forward. It was better to keep his own footing, if he had to go in the room and not run the risk of being shoved down.

Advancing cautiously, followed by Tom, the young pitcher stepped over the threshold. Almost instantly he felt cold water spurting up around his ankles, and he sought to draw back. He did not want to fall Into a deep tank, with his arms bound.

"Go on! Go on in!" was the command and he felt himself being shoved from behind. There was no help for it, but to his relief he found, as he advanced, that the water did not come higher than his knees.

"Great Scott! What are we up against?" asked Tom.

"Search me," responded Joe.

"Silence! Blindfold 'em!" came a command, and before they could have prevented it, had they been able, Joe's and Tom's eyes were covered with big handkerchiefs.

"Keep on!" was the order again, and the candidates did, soon stepping out of the water upon the solid floor.

"Tie their feet," was the next order, and this was done. "Now, candidates," spoke the leader, "you have crossed the river of blood and the first part of your journey is over. But, to be good and loyal members of the Mystic and Sacred Order of Choo-Choo, it is necessary that you make a noise like a locomotive. Go ahead now, puff!"

For a moment Joe and Tom hesitated and then, absurd as it was, they entered into the spirit of the affair and gave as good an imitation as possible of a steam locomotive in operation.

"Very good! Very good," was the comment. "Now go up grade," and the blindfolded candidates were forced to go up a steep incline of boards, slipping and sliding back half the time.

"They are coming on," commented some one. "At the next stop they take water. Hose-tender, get ready!"

"Hold on! What are you going to do?" demanded Joe.

"You'll see," was the answer. Joe and Tom were led to another part of the room. It was dimly lighted now, as they could see, for a faint glow came under the handkerchiefs.

A moment later each of the luckless candidates felt a cold stream of water strike him full in the face. They tried to duck, and to turn their heads away, but the others held them until the upper part of their bodies were thoroughly soaked.

"That's enough for steam," came the order from one of the party. "Now to see how they can carry passengers. Off with their bonds, but keep the blinders on."

This was done.

"Down on your hands and knees, candidates," came the order, and Joe and Tom had nothing for it but to obey.

A moment later some one sat on each back and again came the order:

"Forward march!"

Now Joe, while liking fun as well as any lad, thought there was a limit to it, and to the indignities of the initiation, especially in a mythical society which they did not care about joining. When a heavy lad, therefore, sat down on our hero's back Joe made up his mind that matters had gone far enough.

"Go ahead! Carry your passenger!" was the command.

"Not by a jugful!" cried Joe, and with a quick motion he stood up, spilling off the lad on his back. The latter hit the floor with a resounding whack. The next instant Joe had torn off the blinding handkerchief, and made a grab for the lad whom he had upset. He tore off his mask and there was revealed the scowling face of Hiram Shell.

At the same moment Tom had done the same to his tormentor, discovering Luke Fodick under the black mask.

"Oh, so it's your crowd, is it Hiram?" asked Joe.

"Yes, and by Jove, you'll suffer for this! Why aren't you sports enough to take your initiation as the others do?"

"Because we don't choose to," replied our hero.

"Then I'll make you!" cried Hiram, doubling up his fists and leaping at Joe. "Come on, Luke, give 'em what's coming to 'em!"

"Two can play at that game," spoke Joe coolly. He noted that the room had been roughly fitted up as a sort of society meeting chamber. At the entrance was a long, narrow and shallow tank of water. It was through this that Joe and Tom had waded.

"I'll fix you!" cried Hiram.

"All right," agreed Joe easily. "As well here and now as anywhere, anytime."

He threw himself into a position of defense as Hiram came on. Luke was advancing toward Tom, while the others, still wearing their masks, looked on in anticipation.

There might have been two stiff fights the next moment had there not suddenly sounded from without a series of startled cries. Then came the clanging of bells, and above the riot of noise the lads heard some one shouting:

"Fire! Fire! Fire!"