The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 35

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What a crowd there was! It seemed to surge all over the grandstands, hiding the boards from sight, so that the structure looked like a solid mass of human beings. Old men there were, and elderly ladies, too, and young men—and maidens—girls, girls, girls, everywhere, their pretty hats and bright wraps making the otherwise dull and cloudy day seem like a fairy garden.

Nearly everyone from Fairview Institute was on hand, and the girls sat together, chanting songs—sometimes for Randall and sometimes for Boxer Hall. The former contingent was led by the friends of our heroes, Miss Tyler, Miss Harrison and Miss Clinton.

It was almost time for the game to start, and Bean Perkins had led his crowd of shouters, cheerers and singers in various calls and melodies. Out on the field were the players, nearly two score of them, for each college had plenty of substitutes.

"It's going to be a game for blood, all right," murmured Tom, who, standing with his three chums, watched Boxer Hall at practice. "Look how they get into play on the jump."

"Oh, we can do it, too," declared Phil.

"They've got some good kickers," announced Sid, critically.

"So have we," fired back Phil, who seemed to resent any implied slight of the Randall team.

"Have you heard where Langridge is going to play?" asked Frank Simpson.

"Against me, someone said," replied Tom. "He's been shifted to right end, I hear, and I wish he wasn't. There'll be some scrapping, sure."

"Don't let him get your goat," advised Phil.

Speculation as to the position of the players was soon set at rest, when the list was announced This was the lineup.

Ford Enderby Left end Tom Parsons
Dave Ogden Left tackle Bert Bascome
George Stoddard Left guard Frank Simpson.
Paul Davenport Centre Holly Cross
Lynn Railings Right guard Billy Housenlager
Ed Dwight Right tackle Dan Woodhouse
Fred Langridge Right end Jerry Jackson
Tom Miller Quarter-back Phil Clinton
Fred Cooper Right half-back Pete Backus
Charles Baker Left half-back Sid Henderson
William Cook Full-back Joe Jackson
It was stated that two halves of thirty minutes each would be played, and it was also known that some of the old-time rules, as regarded play, would be used, for the Tonaka Lake League had their own ideas on this subject.

The crowd continued to increase, and when Captain Miller, of Boxer Hall, and Captain Woodhouse, of Randall, met for a conference, the stands had overflowed into the field, where the officers had trouble keeping the crowd back of the ropes.

Boxer won the toss, and there was a momentary feeling of disappointment at this, but it soon passed away, for there was no wind, and little advantage to be gained by selecting a goal.

"I'm glad we've got 'em on our own grounds," remarked Tom, in a low voice.

"Yes, that's one advantage," agreed Phil. "Oh, if we can only win, old man—if we only can! Then Randall will come into her own again, and down all her enemies."

"We're going to win," said Tom, simply, as if that settled it.

Boxer elected to defend the south goal, which gave the ball to Randall to be kicked off. Holly Cross topped it on a little mound of dirt. He looked to Kindlings for a confirmatory nod, which the captain gave, after a glance at his men. The Boxer Halls were on the alert. The whistle of the referee blew, and Holly's toe made a dent in the new yellow ball. Away it sailed far into Boxer's territory. Langridge made the catch, and started over the chalk marks with speed, protected by good interference. But with a fierceness which it seemed that nothing could stop, Tom Parsons circled in, and made one of the best tackles of his career, as he brought his old enemy down with a thud to the ground, on Boxer's thirty-eight yard line.

"Now the real battle begins," murmured Tom, as he ran to his place, while the opponents of Randall lined up, the quarter-back singing out his signal.

Fred Cooper was given the ball, and made a try at getting around Randall's right end, but Jerry Jackson and his support were right there, and Cooper was nailed, after a gain of about four yards. It was a splendid defense on the part of Randall, and her cohorts were glad, for Boxer had some big players that year, and there was fear that she would smash through. In fact, so fearful was Captain Miller after that first try that he called for a kick.

It was well done, and Cook sent the pigskin sailing far back toward Randall's goal posts. Joe Jackson caught it, and began a run which brought the crowd to its feet as if by magic, while thousands of throats yelled encouragement, and Bean Perkins broke his cane to slivers, in his excitement. Past man after man of the Boxer team did Joe dodge, until he was nearly in the centre of the field before he was downed.

"Now's our chance," murmured Phil, as he knelt to take the pigskin when Holly should snap it back.

Phil signaled for Sid Henderson to take the ball, and take it Sid did, smashing through the Boxer line for five yards. Joe Jackson was next called upon, and proved a good ground-gainer. Then came the turn of Pete Backus, who got into action on the jump. In less than three minutes of play Randall had ripped out seventeen yards through the hardest sort of a defense, and this exhibition of skill, pluck and line-smashing was a revelation to those who had feared for their favorite college. It was disheartening to Boxer Hall. Randall had had no need to kick.

Another signal came, and Frank Simpson, with a tremendous heave, opened up a big hole for Joe Jackson to dart through. Then, and not until then, did Boxer prove that she could hold, for, in response to the frantic appeals of her captain, his men stopped Joe, after a small gain.

Then came some kicking, and Boxer had the ball again. With desperate energy she began at her smashing tactics once more, and to such advantage that she was advancing the leather well up the field. Something seemed to be the matter with Randall. She was giving way—a slump.

"Hold! hold! Hold 'em!" pleaded Dan Woodhouse.

His men braced, but either they did not work together, or they braced at the wrong moment, for on came Boxer Hall. Right up the field they went, until they were only twenty yards away from the Randall goal line.

There were glum feelings in the hearts of the supporters of the yellow and maroon, and wild, delirious joy in the ranks of the enemies, for the stands were rioting with cheers and songs, while above all came the deep-throated demand for:

"Touchdown! Touchdown!"

"And they'll get it, too, if we don't stop 'em," thought Tom, in despair. He had been playing well, and taking care of all the men who came his way, but that was all he could do.

Then Randall braced, and, in the nick of time, and held to such advantage that Boxer had to kick. Joe Jackson caught the ball, and was gathering himself for a run back, when Langridge, who had broken through with incredible swiftness, tackled him, almost in the very spot where the Randall full-back had grabbed the pigskin. Langridge and Joe went down in a heap, and how it happened, Joe, with tears in his eyes, later, could not explain. But the leather rolled away from him.

Like a flash Langridge was up, had picked the ball from the ground, and amid a perfect pandemonium of yells, was sprinting for Randall's goal, with not a man between him and the last chalk mark.

It was almost a foregone conclusion that he would touch down the ball, and he did, though Tom sprinted after him, with such running as he had seldom done before. But to no avail.

To the accompaniment of a whirlwind of cheers, Langridge made the score, and then calmly sat on the ball, while the others rushed at him. But he was safe from attack.

Oh, the bitterness in the hearts of the Randall lads! It was as gall and wormwood to them, while they lined up behind their goal posts and watched Lynn Railings kick the goal.

"Six to nothing against us," murmured Phil, with a sob in his throat. "Oh, fellows——"

He could not go on, but walked silently back to the middle of the field.

"Now, boys, give 'em the 'Wallop' song!" cried Bean Perkins, with a joyousness that was only assumed, and the strains of that jolly air welled out over the field, mingling with the triumphant battle cries of Boxer.

But the Randall players heard, and it put some heart into them. The game went on, with slight gains on either side, for ten minutes more. There were forward passes and on-side kicks tried, and an exchange of punts. Once Randall was penalized for holding, and twice Boxer had the ball taken from her for off-side plays. The leather was kept near the middle of the field, and it was evident that a most stubborn battle would mark the remainder of the championship game. Yet the advantage of first scoring was with Boxer, and it gave them additional strength, it seemed.

"Fellows, we must get a touchdown!" declared Kindlings, with tears in his eyes, when time was called, as Charles Baker was knocked out, and Ted Sanders went in as the Boxer left half.

Randall had the ball, and with the energy of despair, was rushing it down the field. The loss of Baker, who was one of the mainstays of the Boxer team, seemed to affect Randall's opponents, for they apeared to crumple under the smashing attack directed at them. In turn, Sid, Pete and Joe rushed through the holes torn for them. They seemed resistless, and the sight brought forth a round of cheers.

"Now for the 'Conquer or Die' song," called Bean, hoarsely, leaping to his feet and waving his battered cane and the tattered ribbons. "Now's the time. We need that touchdown they're going to get!"

His voice carried to the struggling players, for there was a moment of silence. Then, as the grand Latin strains broke forth, they seemed to electrify Tom and his chums. The players fairly jumped at the opposing line.

Within two yards of the goal chalk mark Pete Backus was given the ball. With tremendous strength, the big Californian opened a hole for him. Pete slipped through, and staggered forward. Cook, the Boxer full, tried to tackle him, and did get him down, but, with a wiggle and a squirm, Pete was free, and the next instant had made the touchdown.

Randall's supporters went wild with delight, and Bean could not shout for some time after the fearful and weird yells he let loose. He had to take some throat lozenges to relieve the strain.

There was some disappointment when the goal was missed, leaving the score six to five, in favor of Boxer. But Randall felt that she now had the measure of her opponents.

The rest of the half was finished, with neither side scoring again, and then came a period of much-needed rest, for the lads had played with fierce energy.

The opening of the second half was rather slow. The ball changed hands several times, and it seemed as if both sides were playing warily for an opening.

"Fellows, we've just got to get another touchdown," declared Kindlings. "That one point may beat us."

"We'll get it," asserted Phil, when time was being taken out to enable Sid Henderson to get back his wind, for he had been knocked out by a fierce tackle.

Then the battle was resumed. Up to now, Tom and his old enemy, Langridge, had not clashed much, though Langridge kept up a running fire of low-voiced, insulting talk against Tom, to which our hero did not reply.

"He's only trying to get my goat," Tom explained to Frank Simpson. Then came a play around Tom's end, when Boxer had the ball, and Langridge deliberately punched his opponent. Like a flash, Tom drew back his arm to return the blow, and then he realized that he was in the game, and he got after the man with the ball. Following the scrimmage, he said, with quiet determination:

"Langridge, if you do that again, I'll smash you in the eye," and from the manner of saying it, Langridge knew he would carry it out. Thereafter he was more careful.

Try as Randall did, she could not seem to get the ball near enough to make an attempt for a field goal, or to rush it over for a touchdown. On the other hand, Boxer was equally unable to make the needful gains. There was much kicking, and the time was rapidly drawing to a close.

"We've got to do it! We've got to do it! We've got to do it!" said the captain over and over again. He begged and pleaded with his men. The coach urged them in all the terms of which he was master.

There were but two minutes more of play, and Randall had the ball. It was within twenty-five yards of the Boxer goal, and one attempt to rush it through guard and tackle had resulted in only a little gain.

It was a critical moment, for on the next few plays depended the championship of the league. Phil was doing some rapid thinking. Sid had just had the ball, and had failed to gain. In fact, the plucky left half-back had not fully recovered from the effects of a fierce tackle.

"They won't expect him to come at them again," thought Phil. "But I wonder if old Sid can do it. I'm going to try him."

The quarter-back was rattling off the signal. Somewhat to his surprise, Sid heard himself called upon for another trial. He almost resented it, for he was very weary, and his ears were buzzing from weakness.

And then he heard that song—the song that always seemed to nerve Randall to a last effort. The Latin words came sweetly over the field from the cohorts on the big stand—"Aut Vincere, Aut, Mori!"—"Either We Conquer, or We Die!"

"Might as well die, as to be defeated," thought Sid, bitterly. The ball came back to him. Like a flash he was in motion. The big Californian, as he had done before several times in the game, opened a hole so fiercely that the opposing players seemed to shrink away from him.

Forward leaped Sid, with all the power of despair. Forward! Forward!

"There! See!" cried Bean Perkins. "He's through the line! He's going to make a touchdown—the winning touchdown!"

Sid was through. Staggering and weak, but through. Between him and the coveted goal line now was but one player—the Boxer full-back—William Cook. He crouched, waiting for Sid, but there were few better dodgers than this same Sid. On he came, wondering if his wind and legs would hold out for the race he had yet to run—a race with glory at the end—or bitter defeat on the way.

Cook was opening and shutting his hands, in eager anticipation of grasping Sid. His jaw was set, his eyes gleamed. On came the half-back, gathering momentum with every stride, until, just as Cook thought he had him, Sid dodged to one side, and kept on. There was now a clear field ahead of him, and he was urged forward by the frantic yells of his fellow players and the wild, shouting crowds on the stands. Not a person was seated. They were all standing up, swaying, yelling, imploring, or praying, that Sid would keep on—or fall or be captured before he crossed that magical white line.

Sid kept on. Then there came a different yell. It was from the Boxer stands. Tom, picking himself out from a heap of players, saw Langridge sprinting after Sid. And how the former bully of Randall did run!

"Oh, Sid! Go on! Go on!" implored Tom, in a whisper, as if the youth could hear him.

And Sid went on. After him, fiercely, came Langridge. The distance between them lessened. Sid was staggering. His brain was reeling. His legs tottered. The ball seemed about to slip from his grasp, and he found himself talking to it, as to a thing alive.

"Stay there, now—stay there—don't fall out. And—and you legs—don't you give way—don't you do it! Keep on, old man, keep on! You can do it! You can do it!"

Thus Sid muttered to himself. He heard the patter of the running feet behind him. He did not look to see who was coming—he dared not. He felt that if he took his eyes off the last white line ahead of him that he would stagger and fall.

The line was like the crystal globe that hypnotizes one. It held his gaze.

On, and on, and on——

Sid fell in a heap. His breath left him. There was a darkness before him. Down he went heavily.

But, oh, what a shout came dimly to his ears! What a wild riot of cries! He tried to look down and see whether he had crossed the line before he stumbled, but he could only see the brown earth and green grass. He heard someone still running after him. He lifted his head. There, just before him, was the goal line.

With the energy of despair, he raised the ball in his arms, and placed it over the chalk mark, holding it there with all his remaining strength, when someone threw hhnself fiercely upon him.

It was Langridge, eager, wrathful and almost beside himself with rage. But he was too late. The ball was well over the last line, and, knowing from the attitude of the Boxer player that it was there, the great throng of Randall men and women, young men and maidens, joined in one great cry:

"Touchdown! Touchdown!"

It was—the winning touchdown, for, as the other players, some fearful, some hoping, came rushing up, the final whistle blew, ending the contest that had resulted in championship for Randall.

And then, welling over the field once more, came softly the song: "Either We Conquer, or We Die!"

There were bonfires that night at Randall—bonfires in which the football suits were burned, for the eleven broke training in a blaze of glory. Also there were feastings, for there was no ban on eating now. And, likewise, there was much rejoicing. For was not Randall champion again? Had not her loyal sons again won a victory on the gridiron? Therefore, let the gladness go on!

Sid was the lion of the hour. It was his great run—his struggle against long odds—that had won the big game, and he was carried on the shoulders of his mates, and his name was heralded in song and story.

"Oh, it was great, old man, great!" cried Tom, as they walked together from the gymnasium, where there had been a sort of impromptu joy-meeting after the feast.

"Nothing like it ever seen at Randall," declared Phil.

"Nothing like it ever seen anywhere," put in the big Californian.

"I never could have done it, if you hadn't opened the hole for me, Frank," spoke Sid, gratefully.

"I just had to open that hole," was the retort. "I felt that I'd tear those fellows limb from limb if they didn't give way, and——"

"They did," finished Phil, with a laugh.

They had met their girl friends after the game, and had received their congratulations. Then had come a happy time, walking with them, then the feasting, and now our friends were on their way to their room.

"There are only two things that are bothering me," remarked Tom, thoughtfully.

"What's that—Langridge?" asked Phil. "Say, he must have felt sick when he got to where Sid was, and saw that it was a touchdown, all right! Did he hurt you, Sid?"

"Well, he knocked the wind out of me—that is, what there was left to knock. But I guess he didn't mean to."

"Oh, he meant it, all right," declared Tom. "But I wasn't thinking of Langridge. I was going to say that the two things that bothered me was the mystery of the chair and the clock."

"That's so," came from Phil. "I wonder who that fellow was, and how the deed came to be in his chair?"

"We must tell Prexy about it," decided Sid. "It may have a bearing on the case."

They were deep in a discussion of possible explanations of the various problems that vexed them, when they turned down the corridor that led to their room. There was so much noise going on out on the campus—shouts and yells, and the students circling about the bonfires—that the footsteps of our friends made no sound. That is why they were close upon a figure crouched in front of their door before the kneeling one was aware of their presence. Then the figure started away. But Phil was too quick, and grabbed it.

"I've caught you!" cried the quarter-back. "So you sneaked back, to see if you could find the deed, eh?" for he thought he had the stranger who had before visited them.

"By Jove, it's Lenton!" cried Tom, catching a glimpse of the face of the captive. And indeed it was the odd student who was such an expert with the file.

"And he's got a false key!" added Sid, as he saw a bit of brass in the lad's hand. "Here, you little shrimp, what do you mean?" and Sid shook the lad.

"I—please—I didn't mean anything," was the stammering answer.

"Weren't you trying to get into our room?" demanded Tom.

"Yes, I—I was, but——"

"Where's our chair?" came fiercely from Phil.

"I haven't got it! I never had it."

"Did you take our clock, and afterward exchange it?" asked Tom, determined to solve part of the mystery, if not all.

"Yes, I had it, and I—I was coming back to borrow it again," answered the odd student.

"Borrow it?"' repeated Sid.

"Yes, that's all I did with your alarm clock. Oh, fellows, I didn't mean anything wrong. I'll tell you all about it."

"You'd better," said Phil, keeping a hold of the intruder's collar. "Come inside."

They entered the room, and Tom locked the door.

"Well?" asked Phil, suggestively, as he pointed out a chair to Lenton. "We're ready to hear you."

"I borrowed your clock to take a wheel out," said the odd student, simply.

"To take a wheel out?" repeated Sid, in amazement.

"Yes. In an alarm clock there is a certain size cog wheel that I could find nowhere else. Fellows, I am making a new kind of static electric machine, and I needed a certain sized wheel. I tried everywhere to get one, and I couldn't afford to pay for having one made. Then, one day, I happened to see your alarm clock in here. I thought, perhaps, that it would have in it the wheel I wanted. I made a false key, sneaked in, and took the clock out. Then I happened to think you'd want a timepiece, so I brought in that mahogany one—it was a present to me from a friend in Chicago, but I didn't care for it. The wheels weren't right."

"I guess you've got wheels," murmured Phil.

"Your alam clock had just the right size wheel in it," went on the odd student, "so I took it out, and made my electrical machine. Then I made another wheel that would answer as well in your clock, and I made the exchange back again. Now my electrical machine is broken, and I need another wheel from your clock, and——"

"You were going to sneak in again and take it," broke in Sid.

"Yes. I made another false key, for I accidentally left the first one in the door when you came and surprised me, the day I brought your clock back."

"Why didn't you ask us for the clock?" inquired Tom.

"Because I was afraid you wouldn't let me take it. I heard the fellows say how fond you were of it. I thought you wouldn't miss a wheel from it, if I gave you a better clock."

"Another one—not a better," insisted Phil. "But did you drop a letter in here one day?"

"Yes, I did, to Bert Bascome, and I wondered what had become of it."

"We found it," said Tom. "Was there something in it about a clock.

"Yes, I bought an expensive alarm clock from Bert, but I wrote rather sharply to tell him it wasn't any good. It had the wrong kind of wheels. Bascome was mad at me for not keeping it to pay off some of the money he owes me. That's all there is to tell."

"And it's enough," declared Sid. "I guess that explains everything. Bascome's denial was justified."

"And we thought Langridge had a hand in it," went on Phil. "But there is still the chair and deed to be explained."

"I don't know anything about the chair," insisted Lenton, and they believed him. "But could I have——" he hesitated.

"Do you want the clock?" asked Tom.

"I—I just want to take out one of the wheels. I'll put in another just as good," promised Lenton, eagerly. And they let him have the battered timepiece.

"Now, if we could only explain the chair matter as easily, all would be well," commented Phil, when Lenton had gone.

They had not long to wait. A little later a message summoned them to the office of Dr. Churchill. The president greeted them pleasantly.

"I have just had the lawyers here," he said, "and they state that the quit-claim deed which you boys found is genuine, and the very one that was missing. It brings to an end the suit against the college, and I wish to once more thank you lads. The prohibition of silence is now removed, and you are at liberty to tell your friends the good news."

"But you have not heard it all," said Tom, and he told about the visit of the excited stranger just before the game.

"I think I can explain that," went on the president, with a smile, "and also tell you where to find your chair."

"Can you?" cried the three, eagerly.

"Your visitor was a Mr. James Lawson," continued Dr. Churchill, "and he was the one who made the claim against the college, being a distant heir of Simon Hess. Without the quit-claim deed being available to us, he was the ostensible owner of our property. How he got possession of the deed he would not say, though the lawyers and I questioned him."

"Was he here?" asked Phil.

"Yes, your actions evidently frightened him, for he called a little while ago to say that he gave up all claims to the land. He stated that he thought he had a right to the deed."

"How did it get in the old chair?" asked Tom.

"Being an heir of Simon Hess," went on the doctor, "this Mr. Lawson had some of the old family furniture. Among the pieces was a chair, similar to yours, which I understand was also a Hess heirloom. Your chair was taken by a man whom we engaged temporarily to do some janitor work. He sold it to a second-hand dealer, and I have only to-night learned his name and address. The janitor was dismissed shortly after being hired, as it was found that he was dishonest. To-day I received a letter from him, begging forgiveness, and telling about the chair he sold from your room. But he did not mention a clock, for I understand you also lost a timepiece."

"Oh, we have that back," said Tom. "But about the chair?"

"I'll come to that, and tell you where to get yours. It seems that Mr. Lawson retained possession of the quit-claim deed, which he would not tell how he obtained.

"One night, when looking it over in his home, near Rosedale, he was interrupted by an unexpected visitor. Not wishing his caller to see the deed, he slipped it under the lining of the seat of the old chair. Business matters came up immediately afterward, and he went out, forgetting about the document, which was left in the seat.

"The next day his wife, who liked new instead of old furniture, sold the old armchair to a secondhand dealer, deed and all, though, of course, she did not know of the paper. Naturally, when Mr. Lawson heard of his loss, he was frantic, for on the deed his whole claim depended. He intended to destroy the document to prevent it ever being found by anyone so that it would benefit Randall. But he reckoned without fate, which stepped in most opportunely. He sought the old chair, but it had gone from dealer to dealer, until finally a Mr. Rosenkranz got it.

"You obtained it from him just before Mr. Lawson called to claim his furniture, and later he came on to the college. The rest fits in with what you already know."

"Well, wouldn't that——" began Tom, and then he happened to remember that he was in the president's presence, and he stopped.

"Your old chair is at this place," went on Dr. Churchill, giving the address of a small dealer in a nearby city. "You may go and get it any time you like," the good doctor concluded. "And now I think that this clears up the mystery. But, before you go, let me congratulate you on the magnificent victory of this afternoon. The nine did exceedingly well."

The president smiled benignly, unconscious of the "break" he had made in calling the eleven a "nine," and the boys, joyful over the prospect of an early recovery of their chair, left the office. At last the mystery was ended.

There was more rejoicing in Randall when the facts regarding the quit-claim deed became known, and the next day formal notice of the withdrawal of the suit was filed. There was some talk about prosecuting Mr. Lawson, but there was a doubt as to his real criminality, so nothing was done.

And thus ended the troubles of Randall, not only from a legal standpoint, but also from an athletic, for her title to the championship of the gridiron was firmly established. But there were other battles of the field to come, and those who are interested in them may read thereof in the next volume of the series, to be called: "For the Honor of Randall; a Story of College Athletics."

"They look like twins, don't they?' remarked Tom, a few evenings later, when, having recovered their own chair, it was placed beside the one left by Mr. Lawson, for he did not come to claim it.

"Yes, if we had two more, we'd have a collection, and there'd be one apiece," added Phil.

"Oh, the sofa's good enough for me," came from Sid. "I hope nobody borrows that to take out a wheel, or some of the stuffing."

"And the clock ticks as naturally as it always did," commented Phil, as he took a seat in one of the easy chairs, for Lenton had returned the timepiece.

"And they lived happily forever after," murmured Tom, now half asleep, for it was warm in the room. "I say, are you fellows going to the next Fairview frat. dance?"

"Are we? Wild horses can't hold us backl" cried Sid, with energy.

"Good!" murmured Tom, still more sleepily, and then, as the chums lapsed into silence, there sounded the loud and insistent ticking of the battered alarm clock.