The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII


THE MISSING DEED


Bad news, they say, travels fast, and certainly it must have made a record trip throughout the length and breadth of Randall that afternoon.

Tom and the others had scarcely changed from their football togs into ordinary clothes before half a score of their fellows demanded to know if they had heard the rumors that were flying around.

"We sure have," replied Tom. "How much truth is there in them, Jerry Jackson?"

"I don't know," replied the Jersey twin.

"We only heard as much as you did," echoed his brother.

"Prexy will make an announcement at chapel to-morrow morning, if there's anything in it," declared Dutch Housenlager.

"Then I wish it was chapel time now," murmured Phil. "I don't like this suspense."

"Me either," declared Sid.

"Well, there's one consolation," put in Frank Simpson. "If it's got anything to do with the law there's no present danger that the college will be torn down—not before the football season is over, anyhow."

"Why not?" demanded Tom.

"Because the law is so slow. If it's a question of title to land it can go through several courts before it's definitely decided. I know because my father's a lawyer, and he's had several cases of disputed titles."

"Well, there's something in that," declared Phil. "But I don't like to think of old Randall being in any kind of danger. It makes me uneasy."

The talk became general, and there were many speculations as to what the trouble really was, and what the outcome would be. The conversation continued after our friends had gone to their room, whither flocked a number of their chums to discuss the situation. For the time being football was forgotten, and the trouble of Randall held the centre of the stage.

"Well, there's no use worrying about a bridge, until you hear the rustle of its wings," said Sid at length.

"What we fellows need to do is to get out and make a noise like having some fun," opined Dutch Housenlager. "When the cat's gone on her vacation, the mice eat bread and cheese, you know. Proc. Zane is closeted with the bunch of highbrows, and so what's the matter with cutting up some?"

"Dutch, I'm surprised at you!" exclaimed Tom, reproachfully.

"Why? What's the matter?" asked the fun-loving youth, innocently.

"Wanting to skylark at a time like this, just because the authorities are in statuo quo," went on Tom. "Not on your life, Dutch! It's fun enough to play some tricks when you're taking chances on getting caught. Now it would be like taking pie from a baby in arms."

"I guess you're right," admitted Dutch Housenlager, contritely. "We'll defer the operation," he went on, in solemn tones. "I think the patient will survive until morning."

Seldom had there been such an attendance at service as greeted Dr. Churchill when he stood on the platform in the Booker Memorial Chapel the next morning. The early sun glinted in through the stained glass windows, and seemed to pervade the room with a mystic light that added to the solemnity of the occasion.

The Scriptural selection was from one of the Psalms of David—one of those beautiful prose poems which are such a comfort in times of trouble. And as the vibratant tones of the venerable president's voice rose and fell, when he feelingly spoke the words, it seemed to the boys, careless and happy-go-lucky as they might be ordinarily, that a new dignity and depth of appreciation was theirs.

After the prayer, which was in keeping with the Bible reading, Dr. Churchill arose, and came slowly to the edge of the platform. He stood for a moment, silently contemplating the throng of earnest young faces raised to his, and then he spoke.

"Men of Randall," he began, solemnly, "we are facing a crisis in the history of our college. Men of Randall, it behooves us to meet it bravely, and with our faces to the enemy. Men of Randall, we may be at the parting of the ways, and so, being men together, I speak to you as men."

The good doctor paused, and a sound, as of a great sigh, passed through the assemblage. Usually when the doctor had any announcement to make, he addressed the students as "young gentlemen." They felt the change in the appellation more than any amount of talk would have impressed them.

"Doubtless you have heard rumors of the crisis in our affairs," went on the president, after taking off his glasses, slowly wiping them, and replacing the frames back of his ears, over which the white locks fell. "Whatever you have heard I beg of you to disregard to this extent, that you do not repeat it. In evil times words increase trouble. I will tell you the truth as nearly as I and the gentlemen associated with me can come at it.

"Randall College, as you know, was built many years ago. The land was purchased from a fund left by a gentleman who had the good of the youth of this land at heart. Other endowments enabled buildings to be put up. In all these years no hint of trouble has come to us, but now we are confronting a fact, not a theory, as your political science teaches you.

"The land whereon Randall and the various buildings stand, yes, where there is laid out the fields for the pursuit of baseball and football, and I think I am right in assuming this to be the football season?"

The president paused, and glanced questioningly at the proctor, whom he evidently took for an authority on sports. For Dr. Churchill, while an enthusiastic supporter of every team in the college, knew rather less about the various terms, and times of games than the average baby. The proctor nodded in acquiescence.

"Even the very football field is under suspicion," continued the president, and there was another great sigh, mainly from that section of the chapel where sat Tom and his chums. "In fact the entire ground on which the college is built has been claimed by outsiders.

"The facts, in brief, are these: When the land was purchased there were several persons who had interests therein. From them releases, in the form of quit-claim deeds, were obtained, and then it was thought that the corporation of Randall had a clear title. Now it develops that a certain Simon Hess was one of the persons who gave a quit-claim deed, after being paid for his share in the land.

"That deed, I regret to say, can not be found, and in the absence of it, it is as if it never existed. Simon Hess is dead, but he left several heirs, and they are now making a claim against the college. Perhaps they might not be so eager, were it not for certain lawyers who are apparently urging them on.

"An attempt was made to settle with them when they made their claim known, but the lawyers insisted that their clients prosecute their suits, and so the hope of compromise was abandoned. It seems that they want the life's blood of our college, and, as you know, we are not a wealthy institution.

"Yesterday I received from Mr. Franklin Langridge, the lawyer who represents the claimants, a demand for a large cash settlement if their claim was abandoned. I need hardly say that Randall is in no position to pay a large amount in cash. I called a meeting of the faculty, and we came to that conclusion. I have so notified Mr. Langridge."

At the first mention of that name there had been an uneasy movement among the students. At its repetition, when it was whispered around that this was the father of Fred Langridge, the former bully of the college, the movement became more pronounced.

"Mr. Langridge," went on the president, when he was suddenly interrupted by a series of hisses. Dr. Churchill started. Mr. Zane hurriedly whispered to him, explaining that it was only the name of Langridge that thus met with disapprobation. The venerable president raised his hand for silence.

"Men of Randall," he said, solemnly, "that was unworthy of you."

The hissing stopped instantly.

"And so our college is in danger," continued the good doctor, after a pause, "but we must face it bravely. We will not give way to it. We will meet it like men! We will fight the good fight. We will——"

"Three cheers for Randall College and Dr. Churchill!" yelled Bean Perkins, leaping to his feet and forgetting that he was in chapel—forgetting that it was a solemn occasion—forgetting everything save that he was wrought up to the point of frenzy. "Three cheers, and the biggest tiger that ever wore stripes, fellows!"

Oh, what a shout there was! Every student was on his feet in an instant, yelling at the top of his voice. Even some of the faculty joined in, and Dr. Emerson Tines was observed to be wildly Waving his hands. How the cheers rang out! And then the tiger!

Dr. Churchill blew his nose violently, and wiped his glasses several times, for there was a mist of tears on them. He tried to speak—to go on—but he was too affected.

Slowly he turned, and walked back to his seat amid the faculty. And then Bean Perkins did what forever covered him with glory, wherever, in after years, the stories of Randall College were told.

Jumping up on one of the pews, he raised his hand for silence. Then, in a voice that was singularly sweet and clear, he started that school song: "Aut Sincere, Aut Mori!"

Welled out the strains from hundreds of throats—the song of songs—the song that was always sung in times of victory, or when the teams on diamond or gridiron seemed to be putting up a losing fight—the song that had snatched many a victory from defeat.

Forth it rolled, deep-voiced and solemn, sung in the original Latin, in which it had been composed years ago by a gifted graduate: "Aut Vincere, Aut Mori!"—"Either We Conquer, or We Die!"

It was the rallying cry to the battle that confronted the college.