The Winning Touchdown/Chapter 8

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Making ready as though to greet an old friend who had long been absent, the three lads advanced to the middle of the room in the semi-darkness. Louder ticked the clock, and it was like music to their ears. Tom snapped on the electric lights, and the gaze of our three heroes went together toward the mantle shelf.

Then there came three simultaneous gasps of astonishment, a starting back in surprise, a catching of breaths.

"The clock!" spoke Tom, aghast.

"It isn't ours!" added Phil, gaspingly.

"They've brought back the wrong one!" exclaimed Sid.

Then, as they looked at the new timepiece, a smart one in a new and dull-polished mahogany case—an expensive clock—one they never would have thought of possessing, as they looked at it, there was a musical tinkle of a bell, and five strokes rang out as if in welcome.

"A new clock!" went on Phil, in accents of horror. "A clock that strikes!"

"'Come plump, head-waiter of the cock, to which I most resort. How goes the time? 'Tis five o'clock? Go fetch a pint of port!'" quoted Sid.

"Oh, what are we up against?" cried Tom. "The plot thickens! There is more of the direful mystery here! Talk about the Arabian Nights' tale of new lamps for old! Some one has taken our old clock and left in its place this new choice specimen of the art of the horologiographer."

"The art of whom?" asked Phil, in wonder.

"Clock-maker," translated Tom. "They say a fair exchange is no robbery, but this was an unfair exchange. We don't want a striking clock."

"No, give us back our own fussy little alarm," begged Sid. "I say, though, fellows, this is no slouch of a piece of horologiographic work, though. It must have cost eight or ten bones, and it's brand new. Do you guess some one's conscience smote 'em, after they'd made away with our ticker, and they wanted to make amends?"

"I don't know what to think," admitted Phil.

"Me either," came from Tom. "But if they bring back one of those new-fangled Turkish rockers in place of our old chair, I'll fire it out of the window. We can stand the clock, though I'll be hanged if I like that striking arrangement."

"Me, either," agreed Sid. "But maybe we can get some clew from this clock. Let's have a look."

He turned the clock around on the shelf, thereby disturbing its mechanism and stopping the ticking, but he little minded that. He was looking for the maker's name.

"Say, was our door locked when you fellows got here?" asked Tom, who had been a little in the rear of his companions, due to his injured ankle.

"Sure it was locked," asserted Phil. "I opened it with my key. Whoever sneaked in here and left the new clock while we were at football practice must have had a duplicate key. How are you making out, Sid?"

"The clock, according to a card pasted on back, was made or sold by Amos Harding, of Chicago."

"Chicago!" cried Tom, in some excitement. "That's where Langridge came from! Is it possible that he could have come over from Boxer Hall, and played this joke?"

"It's possible, but not probable," declared Sid. "But we could write to Chicago, and see if Mr. Harding could give us any clew."

"Oh, what's the use?" asked Phil. "Chicago is a big place, and it's hardly likely that a dealer there would remember to whom he sold a particular clock, when there are a whole lot like it. This clock is of fairly common pattern, though it's rather expensive. I'm inclined to think that we'll never get on to the game that way."

"What have you got to suggest?" asked Tom, as he prepared to bathe his ankle, while Sid set the clock going again.

"I was going to say that we might post a notice on the bulletin board, stating that we'd had enough of the joke, and would exchange clocks back again."

"Say, I've just thought of something!" exclaimed Sid. "Maybe there's a thief in college, and he's been going around snibbying things from the fellows' rooms. He's been found out, and made to put the things back. He got our clock mixed up with another, and the other chap has got our ticker."

"Not a bad idea," assented Phil. "In that case a notice on the bulletin board would be all right, and we'll wait about writing to Chicago. But Langridge is out of it, I think."

"Well, I don't," declared Tom, half savagely, for his ankle hurt him when he rubbed it vigorously "You'll find that he's been mixed up in this somehow. The clock is from Chicago, he comes from Chicago, and there's some connection there, you can depend on it!"

"Well, maybe," admitted Phil. "But let's get at the notice, and then it will be grub time. Might as well say something about our chair while we're at it; eh, fellows?"

"No," came from Tom, "let that go. I think the clock and chair were two different propositions. We'll work the chair ourselves."

After some talk his chums were inclined to agree with Tom, so Phil wrote out a notice about the timepiece, while Sid interestedly examined the clock, making various speculations concerning it, while Tom doctored his ankle.

"There, I guess that will do for a while," he announced, with a wry face, as he pulled on his shoe. "I hope I'm not lame for practice tomorrow."

"Well, here's the notice," exclaimed Phil, a little later. "I'll read it. 'For exchange: one mahogany-case clock, new; striking the hours and half hours——'"

"Hold on!" interrupted Sid. "Does it strike the half hours?"

"Sure, they all do," asserted Phil, and as if in confirmation of his words, there tinkled out a silvery stroke at five-thirty. "What'd I tell you?" he asked, in triumph. "Where was I?" as he looked at the piece of paper. "Oh, yes: 'strikes the hours and half-hours. The undersigned will give it bark for their small nickle-plated alarm clock, rather battered, but still in the ring. Doesn't strike at all.' How's that, fellows?"

"All right," said the end, as he laced his shoe loosely, for he had bandaged his ankle. "Let's have it, and I'll put my name down, then you fellows can go down and stick it up. I'm going to stretch out;" and, scribbling his name on the notice, Tom threw himself on the couch, with due regard for its age and weakness.

"I'll fix it up," volunteered Phil.