The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 25

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CHAPTER XXV


BITTER DAYS


"Shall we look up the girls?" asked Phil softly, as he clasped his arm in that of Tom's, and limped with him from the rooms under the grand* stand. "They'll want to see us."

"But I don't want to see them!" exclaimed the end, half fiercely. "I don't want to see anybody. I want to go off in the dark somewhere, and——"

He stopped, for he felt a raging spirit within him that he knew was not good.

"It's tough, old man," spoke Phil, softly, "but maybe it will be best for old Randall in the end."

"Best nothing! It never would have happened if we'd had you and Sid on the team."

"Oh, yes, it might."

But Tom would not have it so, and clung to the dispute until someone started an argument about the referee's ruling on a certain point, and then the subject was quickly changed.

"Better come over and see the girls," urged Phil again, as he walked along on his crutch. "Sid will want to know what they said, and you know he can't get out for a couple of days."

"Oh, all right," Tom almost snapped.

"They won't rub it in—they'll know how we feel," went on the quarter-back. And to the credit of Ruth, Madge and Mabel, be it said that though they were Fairview girls, and their college had downed Randall, which had not happened in a blue moon before, they never so much as "looked" the triumph they must have felt. They knew the bitterness of defeat, and—well, they were wise little damsels.

They talked of anything but football, though the reference to Phil's injury and to Sid's illness naturally verged on it. Then they got on safer ground, and, as Tom walked along with Ruth, while Phil had Madge Tyler on one side and Mabel Harrison on the other, the bitterness, in a measure, passed from them.

"We'll do up Boxer Hall twice as bad!" predicted Tom.

"That's right," agreed Phil. "I'll play then, and——"

"Don't boast!" called his sister, with a laugh.

The girls sent messages of condolence to Sid. Tom and Phil hurried to tell their chum all about it. Sid had improved enough to enable him to be moved to their room, and there, with him in bed, the game was played all over again.

"It wasn't the poor playing of any one man, or any two or three men," declared Tom. "It was the fault of the whole team. We're crippled, that's what we are, and we've got to get in shape for the rest of the season, or——"

The possibility was not to be mentioned.

"I don't suppose anything like this would happen again in years, that we'd lose so many players," spoke Phil. "We can't always play in luck."

"Kindlings feels it pretty fierce," said Tom. "He couldn't talk when he came off the field."

"Yes, it's got him bad," agreed Phil. "Well, we'll have to do better, that's all. I think Simpson is booked for good on the 'varsity, after the dandy game he put up in the second half."

"Yes," came from Tom. "The Snail means all right, but he's too slow. Frank will help the team a whole lot."

'Tell me about his playing," urged Sid, and they gave it to him, point by point.

There were bitter days for Randall following the Fairview game, and for a time it seemed that the defeat would work havoc with the team. But Mr. Lighton was a wise coach, and he only laughed at the gloomy predictions.

"Oh, we'll come into our own, soon," he declared. "Get right into practice, and keep it up."

Phil was able to be in his old place a couple of days later, and Sid was soon off the sick list, so that the team was once more in shape. Simpson was voted a "find," and showed up well at guard. Bascome also improved under the influence of the presence of the big Californian.

"Well, I think we're gradually getting into shape again, captain," remarked the coach to Kindlings one day, after some hard practice, during which the scrub had been "pushed all over the field, and had its nose rubbed in the dirt," as Holly Cross picturesquely expressed it.

"Yes," agreed Dan Woodhouse. "We miss Bricktop and Ed Kerr, but what can't be cured must be put up in pickles, as the old woman said when she kissed the broom."

"Cow, you mean," corrected the coach.

"I make my own proverbs," replied Kindlings, with a laugh. "They keep better. But, seriously, I think we will shape up pretty well for the Boxer game. We've got a couple of contests in between, one with the Waram Prep, and the other with Duncan College. We will take both of those, and that will make the boys feel better."

"Yes, a little victory, now and then——"

"Makes good dressing on your salad," finished Dan, with a laugh.

Though football took up much of the time of our heroes, with Phil and Sid again on the active list, they had not forgotten their quest after their beloved chair, nor had they given up their plan of discovering who took the clock.

But, as the days passed, our friends were no nearer a solution than they had been in the past. They kept watch on Bascome and Lenton, but nothing developed, and they did not like to make any inquiries.

The bitterness of the Fairview defeat still lingered like a bad taste, in the mouth of the Randall gridiron knights, but it was being overshadowed by the game which would soon be played with Boxer Hall. This season they would clash but once with those doughty warriors, and according to the games that had thus far been played in the Tonoka Lake League, the championship was practically a tie between Randall and Boxer Hall.

"If we win all our other games, and we're likely to do that," said Kindlings, "all we need to do is to wallop Boxer Hall, and the championship is ours."

"Yes, that's all," remarked Dutch Housenlager. "It's easily said, but not so easy to do."

"Get out, you old catamaran!" cried Holly Cross.

It was one morning at chapel, following the annual reunion of the "Old Grads" of Randall, that President Churchill made an announcement that caused quite a sensation.

"I have bad news to announce," he said, as he stood on the platform after the devotional exercises. "There has been a conference between our lawyers and those representing the claimants to our land. They demand twenty thousand dollars in settlement."

There was a gasp of surprise that went around the chapel like a wave of hysteria among a lot of girls.

"Twenty thousand dollars!" whispered Tom Parsons.

"Randall can never pay it," remarked Sid, who sat next to him.

Dr. Churchill waited for the murmurs to cease.

"I need hardly add," he continued, "that it is out of the question for us to pay this sum. Yet, if we do not, we may lose all that we hold dear," and the president seemed much affected. "However, we have not given up the fight, and there may yet be a loophole of escape. You may now go to your classes."