The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 3
ON THE TRAIL
Oppressive silence once more filled the room—a silence unbroken by the ticking of the clock this time, for it was mute, because of the toothpick. But its accusing face seemed to look at the three chums, as though begging to be allowed to speak, even if it did but mark the passage of time.
"Maybe we can prevail on Bricktop to stay until after the big game with Boxer Hall," suggested Tom, hopefully.
Jerry Jackson shook his head mournfully.
"I've tried it," he said. "I knew it would be a bad loss, so I asked Bricktop to stay, but he said his whole future depended on this chance, and he wouldn't feel that he was doing right if he let it slip."
"Talk about futures," murmured Dan, "what of the future of Randall?"
"It does seem sort of tough for Bricktop to leave just when we've all got so we play so well together," commented Sid. "And only to go to another college, too! It isn't like Ed, who has to go with his sick father. I tell you Bricktop isn't doing right! He's deserting in the face of the enemy, for both Boxer Hall and Fairview are after our scalps this fall, because of the walloping we gave them last season. Bricktop's a deserter!"
"Oh, don't be ugly," begged Tom. "Maybe we don't know all the facts. I'm sure Bricktop wouldn't do anything mean."
"Oh, of course not," Sid hastened to say, "but you know what I mean. If Bricktop——"
"Who's takin' me name in vain?" demanded a voice at the door—a voice with just the hint of Irish brogue—and into the room was thrust a shock of auburn—not to say reddish—hair, which had gained for the owner the appellation of "Bricktop." "I say, who's desecratin' me reputation, of which I have but a shred left—who's tearin' down me character behind me back?" and Molloy, with a quick glance at his friends, entered and threw himself beside Sid on the sofa, thereby making the old piece of furniture creak most alarmingly.
"Easy! For cats' sake!" cried Sid, in alarm. "Do you want to deprive us of our only remaining consolation, now that the chair is gone?""Surely not," answered the Irish lad. "Captain, I salute thee," and Bricktop arose and bowed elaborately to Dan. "I gather from what I heard, as I made my entrance, that you have received
the unwelcome news, my captain," and, though Bricktop was smiling, there was a sober look in his blue eyes.
"Yes, we've heard it," answered Kindlings, shortly. "Is it true?"
"It is, my captain, and it's infernally sorry I am to have to confirm it. But I've got to go, and that right soon."
"Urn!" murmured the captain. "Well, the sooner the quicker, I suppose. Kerr goes this week, also."
"What! Kerr going?" Bricktop was manifestly surprised.
"His father's sick—Europe—Ed's going with him," disjointedly declaimed Tom.
"Whew!" whistled the Irish lad. "Now I sure am sorry I'm leavin'. Not that I'm any better than any other player, my captain, but I know what it means to take two men out of the team at this late day."
"You're not throwing any bouquets at yourself," spoke Dan. "It's the worst blow Randall has had in a long time. We were just at the point where we had begun to gain ground after the long practice, and now——" he shrugged his shoulders.
"Is there no way you can stay on?" asked Phil, softly.
Bricktop shook his head.
"It means a big thing to me," he declared. "I know it looks like desertin', as ye call it, but, fellows, believe me, I'm not. It—it goes to me heart as much as it does to yours," and Bricktop swallowed a big lump in his throat. When he was much affected he always "degenerated to the language of his forebears of the Emerald Isle," as he used to say. And he was much affected now—there was no doubt of that. "I wish I could stay—but I can't," he concluded, brokenly.
"Well, Randall will have to do the best she can," spoke Dan, after a pause, and with a heavy sigh.
"Isn't there plenty of good material in the scrub, and some in the Freshman eleven?" asked Sid.
"Oh, it isn't so much a question of material, as it is breaking them in," answered the captain. "The great fault with some of our playing in the past was that we didn't have team work. This season we have it, and after a lot of grind we fellows were playing together like one. Look how we walked away with Dodville Prep in the first game of the season. That showed what we could do. Now the team's going to be disrupted—two of the best men——"
"Thanks, captain," interrupted Bricktop, with a short laugh.
"I mean it," went on Kindlings, energetically. "Two of our best men leave, and it's almost too late to get others to run with the team like the perfect machine it ought to be. But, we've got to do our best. Come on, Bricktop, we'll go see Mr. Lighton, and hear what he has to say."
"There are a couple of new fellows coming soon," remarked Joe Jackson, as he and his brother arose.
"Who are they?" asked Tom.
"One is Frank Simpson. I heard Bascome speaking of him the other day. He's played on some western eleven, I believe, and has quite a name."
"Yes, those western fellows are big and strong," put in Jerry Jackson.
"Oh, you can't tell anything about it," said Dan, despairingly. "A new fellow can't be broken in at this late day. I'll have to depend on some of the scrub. Who else is coming to Randall? Do either of you twins know?"
"I heard Proc. Zane talking to Moses about some new students who were going to enter," replied Jerry, "but Simpson is the only one whose name I heard mentioned."
"Come on, then," urged Dan. "We'll go see the coach. Maybe he has someone in mind, and you can stay on a few days and help break him in, Bricktop."
"Sure, I'll stay as long as I can," agreed the Irish lad. "It ought to be easy to get someone to work in at left guard, where I play."
"We can't get anyone to beat you," spoke Dan, sincerely. "Well, I'm going."
"If you see our old armchair walking around the campus, send it home," requested Phil, earnestly.
"Sure!" chorused his chums.
"Seriously though, fellows," said Tom, when the delegation had left the room, "we've got to do something. Let's go out and make some inquiries. It was a nervy thing for anyone to do, to come in here and carry off our chair. I don't believe it was any freshmen."
"Neither do I," agreed Phil. "Wait until I dress and I'll be with you."
"Same here," added Sid.
"Oh, I can't wait!" cried Tom, impatiently. "I'll go out and see what I can learn. You fellows come when you get ready. We've got plenty of time before grub."
Tom's first act was to seek out Wallops, one of the assistant janitors, or messengers, about the college. From that youth he inquired whether he had seen anyone taking the chair away, or whether he had heard of it being removed in a joke.
"What, you mean that old big chair that was so—so——" and Wallops hesitated, evidently in embarrassment.
"Yes, that's the one—the old rattletrap!" exclaimed Tom. "Don't be afraid to say it, Wallops. The chair was pretty well bunged up, but we think a lot of it, and we wouldn't have it lost for a good deal. Can you give us a clew?"
"Well, Mr. Parsons, I didn't see any one take it, but there was a second-hand dealer around the college to-day. He comes every once in a while, to buy up the things the students don't want any more. He was here, and he took away a wagonload of stuff."
"He did!" cried Tom. "Why didn't you say so before? Was our chair on the wagon?"
"I didn't see that one, though he had some small chairs, and a bureau."
"Who was he? Where's his place? I'll go see him at once!" cried the pitcher. "I'll wager he sneaked in our room, and took it while we were out. Who was he?"
"Isaac Komsky," replied Wallops. "He has a second-hand store on Water street, in Haddonfield. But I don't think——"
"That's the fellow all right!" cried Tom, excitedly. "I'll make him give that chair up, if we have to tear his shop apart!" and he raced back to the room to tell his chums.