Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 28

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The anticipation of Teeter, Peaches and the others that there would be a sensation in chapel that morning was borne out. Never, in all their experience, had the boys recalled Dr. Fillmore being more bitter in his denunciation of what he characterized as "sensational vandalism."

He liked boys to have good, clean healthy fun, he said, and an occasional prank was not out of order, but this pulling the statue from its base passed all bounds. More and more bitter the good doctor became. Perhaps part of his feeling was due to the fact that the Founder had written a book on Cæsar that the head of the school considered an authority, and you remember how fond Dr. Fillmore was of the writer of the "Commentaries."

The boys looked at each other as the denunciation proceeded, and there were whispers of:

"Who did it? Why doesn't he name some one?"

The doctor came to that part in a moment.

"We are unable to say who perpetrated this act of sensational vandalism," he went on, "but I may say that once the students are discovered they will be instantly dismissed from Excelsior Hall—this is no place for them. I say we do not know who did it, but we have reason to suspect——"

Here the good doctor paused and there was an uneasy movement among several lads.

"We have reason to suspect that some one knows who did it, but will not tell. I am sorry to say that we have been obliged to inflict the usual punishment on this—ahem—student and he is now on probation. The usual exercises will now be held."

They went on, but it is doubtful if the lads were in a very devotional spirit. Joe's absence was at once noted, and of course it was guessed why he was not there, though being on probation did not bar one from chapel or classes.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Tom, when they were on their way to first lectures. "It's Joe! Who'd ever dream it?"

"So that's why he was wanted in the office," added Peaches.

"I don't believe he had a thing to do with it!" declared Teeter vehemently.

"Of course not!" chorused the other two.

"But they evidently think he does," went on Tom. "Here he comes now; let's ask him."

"Say, what does it all mean anyhow?" inquired Teeter when he had warmly clasped Joe's hand.

The young pitcher told of the finding of the telegram, and its result.

"But, hang it all, that's no evidence!" burst out Tom.

"The doctor thinks so," replied Joe grimly.

"Some one who has a grudge against you—Say!" exclaimed Teeter with a sudden change of manner. "I'll bet it was Luke or Hiram who did it—pulled the statue down and then tried to blame it on you."

"Sure!" chorused Tom and Peaches.

"Wait!" cried Joe. "It's bad enough for me to be suspected of knowing something that I don't, but we can't go to accusing even Hiram or Luke on mere guesswork. It won't do."

"But hang it all, man!" cried Peaches. "You can't play ball."

"No," answered Joe quietly.

"And the league season is closing! How are we going to win without you in the box?"

"You'll have to—that's all. Brown or Akers will have to twirl—they're pretty good at it now."

There were sorrowful shakes of the heads, but so it had to be. It may well be imagined that there was a sensation in Excelsior Hall when it was known that Joe was the one on probation, and he was urged by more than one to tell all he knew, no matter on whose shoulders the guilt would fall.

"But I don't know!" he insisted again and again. "And it wouldn't be fair to guess."

The days went on. Frank Brown was tried out in the box and did fairly well, thanks to the efficient coaching Joe had given him. Excelsior even won a game with him twirling, though by a narrow margin, and against a weak team.

But there were dubious shakes of the heads of the students—especially those on the team—when they thought of the games to come—the important final with Morningside. Still there was no help for it, and Brown and Akers redoubled their practice in anticipation.

There was no objection to Joe practicing, or in coaching the two substitute pitchers, and he did this every day. Our hero did not write home about the disgrace that had come so undeservedly upon him, merely telling general news, and assuring his father that he had kept a lookout, and made inquiries, but had neither seen nor heard anything of Mr. Holdney.

Meanwhile the affairs of Mr. Matson—due to the theft of the models—were in anything but good shape. Still nothing could be done.

Joe bitterly felt his position. So did his chums, and they even tried their hand at amateur detective work, endeavoring to discover who had pulled down the statue and put Joe's telegram where it had been found. That it was put there was certain, for Joe, on the night in question, had not gone near the statue. In the meanwhile the bronze had been put back in place and repaired. Among the students there were those who thought they knew the guilty ones, but nothing definite was disclosed.

The school term was drawing to an end. After the hard work of getting the ball team into shape for championship honors it was hard to see it begin to slip back. Yet this is what took place. Brown and Akers could not keep up the pace set by Joe, and several games were lost.

By hard work, and more due to errors on the part of their opponents, Excelsior won victories over Trinity and the preparatory school. This made her percentage just high enough so that if she should win from Morningside in the final game the Blue Banner would come to her. But could Excelsior win? That was what every lad there asked himself.

It was rumored that Morningside was never in better shape. Ted Clay, the pitcher, was twirling in great form it was said, and Sam Morton, as substitute, was sure to go in for several innings in the final contest.

"They say he's a wonder for a short time," Peaches confided to Joe.

"He is," frankly admitted our hero. "I know his style. He can't last, but he's good for part of a game. With him and Ted against us I'm afraid it's all up with our chances."

"Oh, Joe, If you could only play!"

"I want to as much as you want me, Peaches, but it's out of the question."

"Maybe if we were to put it up to the doctor—that we would lose the Blue Banner without you—he'd let you play."

"I couldn't play that way. Peaches—under a ban. I want vindication—or nothing."

"Yes, I suppose so—only it's hard."

At last came the night before the final game with Morningside. There was a spirit of unrest and a sense of impending disaster abroad in Excelsior. Every student was talking of it, even Hiram and Luke. The latter, for some days past had not been his usual self, and his crony could not understand it.

"What's the matter with you, anyhow?" Hiram asked. "Aren't you glad we did that chump Matson up good and brown?"

"Oh, well, I don't know," answered Luke slowly. "I didn't think it would mean that we'd lose the Blue Banner."

"How do you know we are going to lose it?"

"Of course we are. Morningside will win, with no good pitcher to hold her down, and Joe is a good pitcher, no matter what hand he had in getting us out of the nine. I'm sorry I got out anyhow. I'd like to be on it now."

"You're sorry?" gasped Hiram.

"Yes, I wouldn't have resigned only you made me."

"I made you! Say, what's eating you, anyhow? You were as hot against Matson and his crowd as I was."

"No, I wasn't, and while we're on this subject I'll tell you another thing. I'm mighty sorry I had a hand in that statue business."

"You didn't do anything—Sam and I yanked it down."

"I know, but I put Joe's telegram there—I'm responsible for him being on probation, so he can't play to-morrow."

"Oh, you are; eh?" sneered Hiram. "Then you'd better go tell the doctor that."

"By Jove I will!" suddenly exclaimed Luke with a change of manner. "I haven't had a decent night's sleep since I did it. I am going to tell. I can't stand it any longer. I want to see Excelsior win the Blue Banner. I'm going to tell the doctor!"

"Hold on!" Hiram fairly hissed. "If you squeal I'll make it so hot for you that you'll wish you'd never seen me—and so will Sam."

"I'm not afraid! Besides I'm not going to tell on you—only on myself. I'll say I put the telegram there. The doctor can think what he likes about who pulled down the statue. He can put me on probation for I won't tell, but it doesn't matter, for I don't play ball. But that will let Joe play, and it's not too late for him to get in shape—in fact, he's at top notch, for I saw him practice to-day. I'm going to tell, and you can do as you like, Hiram."

"I say you shan't tell. I'll——"

But Luke slipped from Hiram's room, where the talk had been going on, and made his way to the doctor's office.

Dr. Fillmore, as may well be imagined, was surprised to see Luke at that late hour, for it was past eleven. He laid aside a book on the immortal Cæsar, looked over his glasses at the conscious-striken lad, and asked in his kind voice:

"Well, Fodick, what is it?"

"I—I—Doctor Fillmore, I've come to—confess. I put that telegram by the statue. Joe Matson didn't do it. He dropped it—I picked it up. He had nothing to do with pulling down the statue and doesn't know who did it. But he's got to play ball to-morrow or we'll lose the Blue Banner again. I'm the guilty one, Doctor—not of pulling the statue down—I won't tell who did that, no matter what you do to me. But I want Joe to play. Oh, I—I couldn't stand it any longer. I haven't slept, and—and—"

Poor Luke burst into a fit of weeping—hot, passionate tears of real sorrow—the best thing he had done in many a long day—and Dr. Fillmore, understanding a boy's heart as few heads of schools do, put his big arm over Luke's shoulder. Thus was the confession made, and of its effect you shall soon hear.

That night Luke slept soundly.