The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 5

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"Fellows, there is just one thing about it," announced Tom, firmly, when a hurried search of the room had only made it more certain that the clock was nowhere in it, "either we are the victims of a practical joke, or there is some mystery here that we will have to fathom."

"I'm inclined to think it's a joke," said Phil.

"Same here," agreed Sid, "only it's a pretty poor sort of a joke. First thing we know we won't have anything left," and he looked down at the sofa on which he was stretched out, as if to make sure that it would not take wings unto itself, and fly out of the window.

"Was the room locked?" asked Phil.

"Sure," spoke Tom. "Whoever came in must have used a false key."

"They're taking lots of risks," was Sid's opinion. "How could they tell but what we'd come back any minute and catch them red-handed?"

"Well, this is no joke," insisted Tom. "We've got to do something. It's too much to have the chair and clock disappear the same day. I'm going to post a notice on the bulletin board, stating that the person who took them is known, and had better return them at once to avoid further trouble. That's how the ladies advertise in the newspaper when they don't know who took their best umbrella at a society meeting. I'll write out a notice.'

"No, don't!" urged Phil, quickly.

"Why not?"

"Because I think this thing is a joke on us, and the more fuss we make over it the more they'll laugh at us. Bascome, or some of that crowd, have had their fingers in this pie, and it's up to us to find out how they did it, and what became of our things. Now, let's work around quietly, get the evidence we need, get back the things if possible, and have the ha-ha on them."

"Good idea," commented Sid.

"I believe you are right," agreed Tom, after thinking the matter over. "We'll keep quiet about it. Now let's get through with our boning, and go to the football meeting. They'll expect us, and, really, it's a serious matter. Randall has got to wake up considerably if she wants the championship this year."

The meeting was held in the gymnasium, and was pretty well under way when our three friends arrived. Ed Kerr was not present, as he had to get ready for his trip to Europe, but Bricktop was on hand, and it required all his Irish wit to stand off the many appeals that were made to him not to desert in the face of trouble.

There were tears in the eyes of the big left guard as he announced that his decision was final, and that he must leave for Columbia in two weeks.

"I'd like to stay and play in the first big game against Newkirk College," Bricktop said brokenly, "but it's impossible, me lads."

"Then we'd better get busy and consider how we're going to make up the team," declared Dan Woodhouse, and when the captain thus gave up hope of keeping Bricktop, his fellow players did likewise.

"Yes," said Mr. Lighton, the coach, "we have none too much time to get at our team work in view of the changes. Now, Woodhouse, we'll hear what you have to say."

"Wait until I make out a list, and do some thinking," spoke the captain, and while he retired to a comparatively quiet corner to do this, the coach gave the lads a little informal talk on the science of the game.

Mr. Lighton illustrated several points. He showed how the guards and tackle could best work together to hold the line with the centre, he impressed on the ends the necessity for speed in getting down the field. To the backs he talked of the need for being ready to get into action on the jump, to take advantage of the holes made for them.

"We have decided to play a game consisting of two halves instead of the four quarters," said the coach. "It is more satisfactory, I think. Of course, there is a certain advantage in three rest periods instead of one, but I believe that a faster, snappier game can be played by halves than by quarters. You don't run the chance of getting stiff, and you can keep limbered and warmed up."

"What about the forward pass?" asked Phil Clinton.

"I don't know that we will work that so much as we did last year," said the coach, "but of course we will have to be guided by what our opponents do in the games. That will be something for the captain and the quarter-back to work out together. Of course we'll practice it."

"Onside kicks," came suddenly from Sid, who had been somewhat quiet. "Are we going to do anything with them?"

"That is another matter that will have to be settled when you play the games," declared the coach. "It will do no harm to try them. I'm for straight football, as near the old-fashioned sort as we can get it under the new rules. We have had some hard practice, and we'll have more, for practice is what you will need in team work, especially if we have two new players. Now has the captain anything to report?"

"Well," remarked Kindlings, coming from his corner, with a puzzled look on his face, "it isn't so easy as you would think, and I just want to say that I hope no fellows feel badly because I don't select them in place of Kerr and Molloy."

"Sure not," came in a chorus.

"'Rah! 'rah! 'rah! for Randall!" yelled Bean Perkins in his loudest grandstand voice. "Wow!"

"Can some of that, and save it for the Newkirk game," suggested Woodhouse, with a grin. "Now I've thought it all over, and I've decided that I'll put Sam Looper in Bricktop's place at left guard, and——"

"'Rah for the Snail!" shouted the irrepressible Bean.

"Oh, I can be quick enough when I want to," declared Sam, his face shining with delight at the honor that had come to him unsought. He had practiced hard on the scrub, and while he was not a bright and shining light, he had grit and stamina, and was very strong. There were some doubtful looks over his selection, but everyone was willing to admit that while he was not as good as Bricktop, he might do after some gruelling practice.

"And to fill Kerr's place I'll name Pete Backus," went on the captain.

"'Rah for Grasshopper!" cried Bean. "He'll jump over their heads and make a touchdown."

"Quiet!" begged Mr. Lighten, for there was a pandemonium of yells and laughter at this.

"And I want Pete to jump into plays when he has the ball," continued Kindlings. "Do you approve of those selections, Mr. Lighten?"

"Certainly, Woodhouse. I only want to say that of course it all depends on how these new candidates make out in practice."

"Oh, sure," assented the captain. "They've got to make good, or we'll put some one else in. You understand that, Pete and Sam."

"Of course," they murmured, and each secretly determined to leave nothing untried that would win for him the coveted honor of playing on the 'varsity eleven.

"Then everybody be on hand for practice on the gridiron at three o'clock sharp to-morrow," announced Kindlings. "We'll run through some hard plays, do some passing and tackling, and play a fifteen minute half against the scrub. Sharp work, everybody!"

"'Rah for Kindlings!" yelled Bean, and the shout that followed, if it did not exactly raise the roof of the gymnasium, at least testified to the regard in which the captain was held.

There was more talk from Mr. Lighton, who had worked out a new system of signals for the present season, and he gave the lads a short drill in it before the meeting adjourned.

Meanwhile Phil, Tom and Sid had been keeping their ears on the alert, and their eyes open for any hint, in talk or action, that would give them a clew to who had taken their chair and clock. But they were not successful. If any of the football squad was guilty, the fact was successfully concealed.