Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 26

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"Three cheers for the Excelsiors!" cried the visiting captain, swinging his hat around in the air as a signal to his crowd, after the excitement had somewhat calmed. "Three good cheers, boys! They beat us fair and square! Three big cheers!"

And how they rang out! And how also rang out the return cheers, which Joe and his mates rendered. Never had applause sounded sweeter in the ears of our hero, for it seemed that the school nine had now begun to live in better days, since the dismissal of Hiram and Luke.

Joe kept at his pitching practice, and he himself knew, even had others, including Tom, not told him, that he was doing well.

"You're better than when you pitched for the Silver Stars," said Tom, "and you were no slouch then."

"Yes, I think I am more sure of myself," admitted Joe. "And I've got more speed and better curves." It was natural that he should have. He was growing taller and stronger that Summer, and he had most excellent practice. He had not given up the idea of becoming a professional pitcher, and everything he could do tended that way for him.

He had heard nothing more definite from home, but Mr. Matson said he was still trying to trace the stolen models and papers.

"I'll help you when vacation time comes," said Joe in a letter. "But I'm playing ball for all I'm worth now."

"Keep at it," his father wrote back.

There were many games played that season by Excelsior Hall—many more than the previous Summer—for Spring had now given place to warm weather. The school term was drawing to a close, but there were still many more games to play in the league series.

In succession Excelsior met and defeated Trinity, the Lakeview Preps, and Woodside Hall. She was near the top of the list now, though Morningside was quite a way in advance. It looked as if eventually there would be a tie for first place between the old rivals—a tie for the possession of the Blue Banner, and if there was it meant a great final game. Joe looked forward to it with mingled fear and hope.

"How I hate him!" exclaimed Hiram to his crony, Luke, one day after a close game, when Joe's pitching had won again for Excelsior. "I wish I could get him out of the school, or off the nine, or something."

"Why don't you? I thought you and Sam Morton had some scheme."

"We thought so, too, but it fell through. But I've thought of something else, and if you and Sam will help me carry it out, I think we can put it all over that fresh guy."

"Sure, I'll help; what is it?"

"First we've got to get hold of something belonging to him—his knife, if it's got his name on; a letter addressed to him, that he's opened and read; a handkerchief with his name on; anything that would show he'd been in a certain place at a certain time."

"Suppose we do?"

"Leave the rest to Sam and me, if you can get us something."

"I'll do it!" promised Luke. "I'm on the same corridor with Joe now; I changed my room, you know. I shouldn't wonder but what I could sneak in and get something belonging to him."

"Do it, then. I've got a date with Sam, and I'll go see him. See if you can get something this afternoon or evening, and if you can we'll do it."

"I will," and the two plotters parted, the chief one to keep an appointment with Joe's enemy. Sam's hatred against our hero was increased because Sam was not allowed to pitch for his own team.

"I've got to keep Ted Clay in condition, so that when we meet Excelsior again he'll be on edge," said Captain Dalton of the Morningsides. "That Matson is a wonder and we can't take any chances. I don't dare risk letting you pitch."

"That's another one I owe to Joe!" muttered Sam. "I must certaintly get even with him. Hiram and I ought to pull off something," and then he sent word to the Excelsior bully. That afternoon the three conspirators, with guilty looks, met in a secluded place and talked over their plans.

There was a knock on Joe's door. His chum Tom had gone out that evening to a lecture, and our hero was all alone.

"Come!" called Joe, and from down the corridor Luke Fodick peered out of his slightly-opened door to see what was going on.

"Here's a telegram for you," said one of the school messengers, handing in a yellow envelope.

"A telegram for me," murmured Joe. "It must be from dad. I may have to send an answer. Did the messenger wait?"

"No, he's gone."

"All right, if I do have to wire, perhaps I can get permission to go in to town to do it."

Quickly Joe tore open the message. It was brief, and it was from his father.

"Understand Holdney is somewhere near Cedarhurst," the message read. "Keep a look-out, and if you get trace notify police there at once. Arrest on larceny charge."

"Rufus Holdney near here," murmured Joe. "I must keep my eyes open. I'll wire dad at once, telling him I'm on the job."

He hurried from his room, stuffing the telegram in his pocket as he went, and never noticing as he passed Luke's door that it fell out into the corridor.

"I hope I can get permission to go to the telegraph office," mused Joe as he hastened to the office. "I guess the doctor will let me when I tell him what it's about."

As Joe turned a corner out of sight, Luke sprang out, picked up the message and envelope, and exclaimed:

"This will do the trick! Now to find Hiram and Sam."

He hurried to tell his crony, who was being visited by Sam, and once more the three put their heads together, to work the ruin of our hero.

Joe easily obtained permission to go to town to send his message. He was rather surprised on looking in his pocket for his father's telegram, not to find it, but concluded that he had left it in his room. He did not really need it, anyhow, as he knew the contents perfectly well.

The telegraph office was closed when he reached it, but the operator lived near by, and agreed to open his place, and tick off the message. This delayed Joe, however, and he was rather late getting back to the school. He did not see a teacher to report to him, as he had been bidden to do, but hurried to his own room.

He was tired and soon fell asleep, noting that Tom was already in bed and slumbering. Joe did not look for his lost message.

There was a thundering knock at Joe's door the next morning. It awoke him and Tom.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "Fire!"

"Fire! No. Haven't you heard the hews?" asked the voice of Peaches. "There's a big row on."

"What's up?" demanded Tom, slipping out of bed, and opening the door.

"The Founder Statue has been pulled from its base, and overturned!" said Teeter, who was with Peaches. "Look, you can see it from your window."

Tom and Joe hastened to the casement to look. On the campus, not far from the school, stood a bronze statue of Dr. Theodore Whittleside, the original founder of the institution. It was a fine piece of work, the gift of several of the alumni societies, and was almost sacred. Now some ruthless hand had pulled it from its base, and part of one of the hands was broken off.

For a moment Joe and Tom stood aghast, looking at it. Then the meaning of it came to them. Some sacreligious student, or students, had done the deed.

"There'll be a peach of a row over this!" declared Teeter. "Hurry up and get to chapel. Old Cæsar is sure to spout a lot about it. It's sure dismissal for whoever did it."

"And it ought to be!" exclaimed Joe wrathfully.

"If they catch them," added Tom, thoughtfully. "I wonder who did it?"