The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X


THE BIG CALIFORNIAN


Tom saw what was about to happen, and his ready hand fell on his chum's shoulder.

"Not here! Not now!" he whispered into his ear. "Some other time, Phil. Think of your sisiter—of the other girls. A crowd is gathering. Not now! Not now!"

Phil made a motion as if to shake off the restraining grasp, and then thought better of it. In the meanwhile, Sid had casually stepped in front of Langridge. The left half-back motioned to Gerhart to call aside his chum, and the bully's crony was only too glad to do this, for he was somewhat of a coward, and he feared lest he, too, be entangled in the quarrel which seemed imminent.

"Go away, Langridge," advised Sid, in a low voice. "If you want satisfaction later I'm sure our friend will give it to you. But not now."

"Yes, come on," urged Gerhart, linking his arm in that of his friend. He swung him around, and Langridge, with a vindictive look at Phil, allowed himself to be led away. At the same time Tom, with a forced laugh, for the benefit of the crowd, walked Phil to one side.

"Say something!" he whispered, hoarsely. "Laugh, Phil, if you don't want to make it unpleasant for the girls. The people are beginning to ask questions."

The quarter-back at once rallied to save the situation. He clapped Tom on the back, and exclaimed:

"That's pretty good, old fellow! Pretty good. You must tell that story at the next frat. dinner. But it was a great game, wasn't it? Now, come on, Ruth, and we'll all go and have something to drink. Hot chocolate wouldn't be bad."

"Most delightful," chimed in Miss Harrison, with a grateful look at Sid and Tom, as she gallantly threw herself into the breach.

"So good of you," murmured Ruth, smiling, though her paleness belied her meaningless words, and she was trembling.

The three lads, each walking beside one of the girls—Tom with Ruth, Phil with Madge Tyler, and Sid with Miss Harrison—strolled toward the entrance gate of the football field.

"Nobly done, old chap," whispered Tom.

The crowd began to melt away.

"I thought there was going to be a fight," murmured one disappointed lad, whose "loud" clothes bespoke his sporting proclivities.

"There was," answered a companion, "only something stopped it."

"Who are those three fellows?" asked another lad from Boxer Hall—a freshman evidently.

"What—don't you know the three inseparables?" inquired the "sport." "Not to know them argues yourself unknown."

The girls were more at their ease now, and Phil, who had started what had so nearly been trouble, did not refer to it, to the great relief of his sister. Really, the interview with Langridge had been unsought on the part of the girls, and they had done their best to avoid speaking to him, without being downright insulting.

Miss Tyler and Miss Harrison began a series of gay nothings, and Ruth was soon drawn into the conversation, to which Tom, Phil and Sid contributed their share.

"Oh, tell us about the clock and chair mystery, boys," begged Ruth, when they had left the place where they had partaken of hot chocolate. "Phil said something about it, but I had to drag it out of him like a lawyer cross-questioning a reluctant witness.'

"My! Listen to Portia!" cried Madge. "But we should dearly love to hear about the queer happenings."

Thereupon the three young men together and separately, told of the disappearance of their beloved chair, the missing clock, the appearance of the mahogany timepiece, and their ineffectual search for clews.

"And if Langridge didn't have a hand in it, I'll eat my hat, saving the presence of you ladies," declared Tom. "Only I can't get Sid or Phil to agree with me."

"What about, eating your hat?" demanded the quarter-back. "Don't let us interfere with that pleasure. Go ahead. If yours isn't enough, you may have a couple of bites out of mine."

"Oh, you know what I mean," declared Tom, in a little huff.

"If you mean about Langridge, I don't agree with you," put in Sid. "He never had his finger in this pie."

"Right, Oh!" exclaimed Phil, and then the discussion started all over again, and lasted until the girls declared that they must return to Fairview.

"Well, what do you think of it, fellows?" asked Tom, some time later, when the three chums were on their way back to their rooms. "Think Langridge will start anything?"

"No," was Sid's opinion. "I guess he'll be glad to let well enough alone."

"I suppose you think I didn't do exactly right to make the break I did," ventured Phil, "but I couldn't stand it to see him talking to Ruth."

"Me, either!" declared Tom, so heartily that the other two laughed, and the little strained feeling that had manifested itself passed away.

As they strolled down the corridor the three lads nearly ran into a youth who turned the corner of the hall suddenly.

"I beg your pardon, strangers!" he exclaimed, in a full, rich voice. "I sure didn't see you coming, nor yet hear you. I guess I'm in the wrong pew."

Tom and his chums saw confronting them a tall, well-built lad—big would be the more proper term, for he was big in every way. Six feet if he was an inch, and broad in proportion. He stood regarding them without a trace of embarrassment, a stranger in a strange place, evidently.

For a moment Tom had a wild idea that the mystery of the chair and clock was about to be solved. He had not seen the youth before, and he might be a clever thief who had sneaked into the college.

"What did you want?" asked Phil, quickly.

"And who are you?" demanded Tom.

"I beg your pardon," went on the stranger. "I've just arrived at Randall, and Mr. Zane showed me to my room. I left it and went outside, but when I came in again, either someone took my apartment, or, as I said, I'm on the wrong front stoop. Simpson is my name, Frank Simpson. I'm from California, and I've been attending Leland Stanford University, but father's business called him East permanently, and so I decided to come to Randall. I've just arrived," he concluded.

"Simpson," murmured Phil, wondering where he had heard the name before.

"With a capital 'S'," put in the strange student, with a whimsical smile.

"Oh, you're the fellow Jerry Jackson was speaking of," exclaimed Tom, recalling the Jersey twin's reference to some new students who were due to arrive at Randall.

"Much obliged to Mr. Jackson, whoever he may be," spoke the tall youth, "but I haven't the honor of his acquaintance."

"Oh, you'll soon know him," added Sid. "And so you're from California, eh?"

"Yes, but I think I'm going to like it here," was the response. "They tell me there was a Freshman football game to-day. Did our boys win?" he asked, eagerly. "You see, I'm making myself right at home, calling 'em our boys."

"That's the way to do," declared Tom, who, somehow, felt a sudden liking for the stranger. "Are you interested in football?"

"I played—some—at Stanford," was the modest reply, "but I suppose it's too late to get on the team here. You're all made up, I hear."

"Made and unmade," murmured Tom, in a low voice. "Jove!" he added under his breath, as he took in the proportions of the big Californian, "what a guard or tackle he'd make!"