The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 1

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"Great Cicero's ghost!"

That was Tom Parson's exclamation.

"It's gone!"

A horrified gasp from Sid Henderson.

"Who took it?"

That was what Phil Clinton wanted to know. Then the three college chums, who had paused on the threshold of their room, almost spellbound at the astounding discovery they had made, advanced into the apartment, as if unable to believe what was only too evident. Tom came to a halt near his bed, and gazed warily around.

"It's sure enough gone," he went on, with a long breath.

"Somebody pinch me to see if I'm dreaming," begged Sid, and Phil gave him such a vigorous nip on the fleshy part of his leg that the tall youth howled.

"Turn over; you're on your back," advised Tom, as he got down on his hands and knees to peer under the beds.

"What are you looking for?" demanded Phil.

"Our old armchair, of course. I thought maybe some of the fellows had been in here trying to be funny, and had hidden it. But it isn't here—it's gone."

"As if it could be under a bed!" exploded Sid, rubbing his leg reflectively. "You must be getting batty!"

"Maybe he thought it could be reduced to fractions or acted on by chemicals, like some of the stuff in the laboratory test tubes," went on Phil.

"That's all right!" fired back the varsity pitcher, rather sharply, "it's gone, isn't it? Our old armchair, that stood by us, and——"

"And on which we stood when we couldn't find the stepladder," interrupted Phil.

"Oh, quit your kidding!" expostulated Tom. "The old chair's gone; isn't it?"

"You never said a truer word in all your life, my boy," declared Sid, more gravely.

"Sort of queer, too," declared Phil. "It was here when we went out to football practice, and now——"

"Well, all I've got to say is that I'd like to find the fellow who took it!" broke out Tom, dramatically. "I'd make a complaint to the proctor about him."

"Oh, you wouldn't do that; would you, Tom?" and Phil Clinton stepped over to a creaking old sofa, and peered behind it, brushing up against it, and causing a cloud of dust to blow out about the room. "You wouldn't do that, Tom. Why, it isn't Randall spirit to go to the authorities with any of our troubles that can be settled otherwise."

"But this isn't an ordinary trouble!" cried the pitcher. "Our old chair has been taken, and I'm going to find out who's got it. When I do——"

He clenched his fists suggestively, and began to strip off his football togs, preparatory to donning ordinary clothes.

"It isn't back there," announced Phil, as he leaned upright again, after a prolonged inspection behind the big sofa. "But there's a lot of truck there. I think I see my trigonometry." Getting down on his hands and knees, and reaching under the antiquated piece of furniture, he pulled out not one but several books.

"Oh, come out and let the stuff back of the sofa alone," suggested Tom. "We can clean that out some other time," for the big piece of furniture formed a convenient "catch-all" for whatever happened to be in the way of the lads. If there was anything they did not have any immediate use for, and for which room could not be found in, or on, the "Chauffeurs," as Holly Cross used to call the chiffonniers, back of the sofa it went, until such time as the chums had an occasional room-cleaning. Then many long-lost articles were discovered.

"Yes, there's no use digging any more," added Sid. "Besides, the chair couldn't be there."

"Some of the fellows might have jammed it in back of the sofa, I thought," spoke Phil. "But say, this is serious. We can't get along without our chair!"

"I should say not," agreed Tom, who was almost dressed. "I'm going out scouting for it. Bascome, Delafield or some of those fresh sports may have taken it to get even with us."

"They knew we cared a lot for it," declared Sid. "Ever since we had that row about it with Langridge, the time we moved into these dormitories, some of the fellows have rigged us about it."

"If Langridge were here we could blame him, and come pretty near being right," was Phil's opinion. "But he's at Boxer Hall yet—at least, I suppose he is."

"Yes, he's on their eleven, too, I hear," added Tom. "But this sure is a mystery, fellows. That chair never walked away by itself. And it's too heavy and awkward for one fellow to carry alone. We've got to get busy and find it."

"We sure have," agreed Phil. "Why, the room looks bare without it; doesn't it?"

"Almost like a funeral," came mournfully from Sid, as he sank into the depths of the sofa. And then a silence fell upon the inseparable chums, a silence that seemed to fill the room, and which was broken only by the ticking of a fussy little alarm clock.

"Oh, hang it!" burst out Tom, as he loosened his tie and made the knot over. "I can't understand it! I'm going to see Wallops, the messenger. Maybe he saw some one sneaking around our rooms.'

"If we once get on the trail——" said Phil, significantly.

"It sure is rotten luck," spoke Sid, from the depths of the sofa. "I don't have to do any boning to-night, and I was counting on sitting in that easy chair, and reading a swell detective yarn Holly Cross loaned me. Now—well, it's rotten luck—that's all."

"It certainly is!" agreed a voice at the door, as the portal opened to give admittance to Dan Woodhouse otherwise Kindlings. "Rotten luck isn't the name for it. It's beastly! But how did you fellows hear the news?"

"How did we hear it?" demanded Tom. "Couldn't we see that it wasn't here as soon as we got in our room, a few minutes ago? But how did you come to know of it? Say, Kindlings, you didn't have a hand in it, did you?" and Tom strode over toward the newcomer.

"Me have a hand in it? Why, great Cæsar's grandmother! Don't you suppose I'd have stopped it if I could? I can't for the life of me, though, understand where you heard it. Ed Kerr only told me ten minutes ago, and he said I was the first to know it."

"Ed Kerr!" gasped Phil. "Did he have a hand in taking our old chair?"

"Your chair?" gasped Dan. "Who in the world is talking about your fuzzy old chair?"

"Hold on!" cried Tom. "Don't you call our chair names, Kindlings, or——"

"Tell us how you heard about it," suggested Sid.

"Say, are you fellows crazy, or am I?" demanded Dan, looking about in curious bewilderment. "I come here with a piece of news, and I find you firing conundrums at me about a chair that I wouldn't sit in if you gave it to me."

"None of us is likely to sit in it now," spoke Phil, gloomily.

"Why not?" asked Dan.

"Because it's gone!" burst out Tom.

"Stolen," added Sid.

"Vanished into thin air," continued Phil.

"And if that isn't rotten luck, I don't know what you'd call it," put in the pitcher, after a pause, long enough to allow the fact to sink into Dan's mind. "Isn't it?"

"Say, that's nothing to what I've got to tell you," spoke Dan. "Absolutely nothing. Talk about a fuzzy, musty, old second-hand chair missing! Why, do you fellows know that Ed Kerr is going to leave the football team?"

"Leave the eleven?" gasped Phil.

"What for?" cried Tom.

"Is that a joke?" inquired Sid.

"I only wish it were," declared Dan, gloomily.

"It's only too true. Ed just got a telegram stating that his father is very ill, and has been ordered abroad to the German baths. Ed has to go with him. I was with him when he got the message, and he told me about it. Then he went to see Dr. Churchill, to arrange about leaving at once. That's the rottenest piece of luck Randall ever stacked up against. It's going to play hob with the team, just as we were getting in shape to do Boxer Hall and Fairview Institute. Talk about a missing chair! Why, it simply isn't in it!"

Once more a gloomy silence, at which the fussy little alarm clock seemed to rejoice exceedingly, for it had the stage to itself, and ticked on relentlessly.