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CHAPTER XXII


FORMING THE BASEBALL CLUB


After it was at an end the entertainment was voted the best yet given at Oak Hall. Of course there had been a few small hitches, such as a wig falling off of one actor and another breaking a guitar string just when he was playing, but those did not count.

"It was splendid!" said Jessie to Dave, when they met.

"I am glad you liked it," he answered. "I know all the fellows did their best."

"That table scene made me nearly die laughing," said Laura.

"That came in rather unexpectedly, Laura. It wasn't on the programme. I think Link Merwell is responsible for it." And then her brother told of what had been discovered—the legs of the table and chairs nearly split in two.

"He must be a thoroughly bad fellow," was Jessie's comment.

"He is, and he would do almost anything to get me and some of the other students into trouble," returned Dave.

Vera and Mary were waiting to speak to some of the boys, and Vera laughed heartily when she saw Dave.

"Oh, but you make a fine German!" she said. "I think you ought to go on the stage." And then she complimented Phil, Roger, and some of the others whom she knew.

Mr. Porter had arranged to remain at the hotel over night with his party. They left for Oakdale shortly after the entertainment, and Vera, Mary, and some others went with them, in carriages of their own. Dave noticed that Jessie was not herself, and when they were alone in a hallway for a moment asked the reason.

"Oh, it's nothing, Dave," she answered, but without looking him squarely in the eyes.

"But I know there is something, Jessie," he said, and his voice showed his anxiety. "Have I offended you in any way?"

"No, not in the least."

"But you are angry with me."

"No, I am not angry." She kept her eyes hidden from his gaze.

"Well, there is something, and I wish you would tell me what it is."

"No, I'll not say a word. If you don't know what it is, it doesn't matter," said the girl, and then rejoined Laura and Mr. Porter. When they went away Dave noticed that her hand was icy cold, and his heart was deeply troubled. Something was certainly wrong and, though he felt sorry, he also felt nettled to think Jessie would not tell him what it was. It was the first break of confidence that had occurred between them.

Although Dave was morally certain Link Merwell had "doctored" the chairs and the table, he could not prove it, and so he said little concerning the episode, although he and Plum talked it over thoroughly. Gus was greatly angered, for the trick had come close to spoiling the playlet, and if Dave had urged it he would have gone and fought Merwell before retiring for the night. Even as it was, he told Merwell that he had been found out and warned him in the future to keep his distance.

"Dave Porter and I are going to watch you," said Gus. "And if we find you trying anything more on, why, we'll jump on you like a ton of bricks, so beware!" And for once Link Merwell was so scared that he walked off without making any reply.

The entertainment the students had given brought the spring holidays to an end, and once more the lads of Oak Hall turned their attention to their studies. But with the coming of warm weather some of the boys got out their kites, balls, and other things, while others took to rowing on the river.

"Have you heard the news about Nat Poole?" asked Buster of Dave and Roger one day.

"I've heard nothing," answered the senator's son. "Has he got a new necktie?" For Nat loved neckties and had a new one on an average every week.

"He is going to get a motor boat—told Messmer all about it. He said his father bought it in New York and it cost four hundred dollars."

"Well, I never supposed Aaron Poole would spend that amount on a boat," was Dave's comment. "He is known as one of the most close-fisted men in the district where I come from."

"Nat says the boat will beat anything on the river," continued Buster. "Wish I had one."

The news that Nat Poole was going to get a motor boat proved true. The boat came early in April, and was certainly very nice-looking and speedy. Nat took out some of the boys, and the ownership of such a beautiful craft made him a new lot of friends, so he was "quite a toad in a puddle," as Ben Basswood declared. Once Nat asked Ben to go out with him, but the latter declined, and then Nat took Link Merwell.

"I don't care if he has got a new motor boat," said Ben to Dave. "I don't want to be in his company. If any of the other fellows want to toady to him they can do it." Merwell was often seen with Poole, and the pair became quite expert in running the motor and steering. Once they had a race with a motor boat belonging to a Military Academy student and came in ahead, and of this victory Nat Poole never got through boasting.

As was to be expected, warm weather brought on talk of baseball. Dave had pitched in more than one game for Oak Hall, with Roger behind the bat, and he was asked if he would again consent to occupy the box for the school, should any outside party send in a challenge.

"We'll most likely get a challenge from Rockville Military Academy," said Phil. "They are aching to make up for old scores."

"I'll pitch if the fellows want me to," answered Dave. "But if they want anybody else——"

"We want you," interrupted Sam Day. "You're the best pitcher Oak Hall ever had."

From that time on all of the boys put in part of their off-time playing baseball, forming scrub nines for that purpose. Link Merwell loved the game and liked to cover first base.

"Why don't you play?" asked Dave of Gus Plum, one afternoon.

"Oh, I—I don't want to push myself in," stammered Plum. He was now as retiring as he had formerly been aggressive.

"Come on out," went on Dave, and literally dragged him forth. Then he asked Gus to play first base, which the latter did in a manner that surprised many of the others.

"He's quicker than he used to be," was Phil's comment. "I rather think he'll make a good one if he keeps on practicing."

One Saturday afternoon a regular match was arranged, with Phil as captain on one side and a student named Grassman as captain on the other. Now, Grassman loved to go out in Nat's motor boat and so he put both Nat and Merwell on his nine—the former to cover third base and the latter first. He himself pitched, while Dave filled the box for Phil.

It was certainly a snappy game from the start and at the end of the fourth inning the score stood three to three. Then Grassman's nine "took a brace" and brought in two more runs, and thus the score remained five to three until the end of the seventh inning.

"Come, we must do something this trip!" cried Roger, who was on Phil's side, and he knocked a three-bagger. He was followed by Shadow with a single that brought in one run, and then came Buster with a hit that took him to second and brought in another run. The next man to bat knocked a liner to shortstop. The ball was sent over to Merwell on first, but he allowed it to slip through his fingers, and another run came in. Then Merwell muffed a pop fly, and after that the Grassman nine got rattled, so that when Phil's nine retired they had ten runs to their credit. To this they added three more runs in the ninth. In that inning Dave struck out two men and sent a third out on a foul; and thus the game ended with a score of thirteen to five in favor of Phil's aggregation of players.

"Hurrah for Phil Lawrence's nine!" called out little Frank Bond, and a great cheer went up. Dave was complimented for his pitching and Gus Plum also received much praise for catching a hot liner ten feet away from the base.

On the following Saturday the Oak Hall Baseball Club was formally organized for the season, by the election of Phil as president and manager, Ben Basswood as secretary, and Shadow as treasurer. It was voted to make the manager captain of the nine. After much talking Dave was declared the choice for pitcher and Roger for catcher, while, to the surprise of some, Gus Plum was made first baseman, something that greatly pleased the big youth. Merwell wanted to be first baseman, but he was not even chosen as a substitute, much to his disgust. Nat Poole was also left in the cold, but this did not worry him so much, for he preferred to dress in style and lounge around, rather than go in for anything which might dirty his hands or make them callous. When he ran his motor boat he always wore gloves.

"It's an awful shame they put Gus Plum on the nine," said Nat Poole to Merwell. "You ought to have that position—you can cover first base better than he can."

"I know it—but it's all the work of Porter, Lawrence, and that crowd," growled Link Merwell. "As long as Plum will only toady to them they are willing to do anything for him. It makes me sick." And he began to puff away vigorously on a cigarette he was smoking.

"Well, maybe, if they play Rockville or some other club, they'll lose," said Poole. "Then they'll be sorry they didn't put on some better players."

The baseball club soon got more challenges than they had expected. One came from Rockville Military Academy, for a series of three games, to be played during June, and two others from clubs belonging to Oakdale. The latter were for single games, and, after some consultation, all of the challenges were accepted.

The games with the Oakdale clubs were played on the outskirts of the town, where a field had been inclosed and a grand stand erected. The first was with an aggregation known as the Comets, and resulted in a tie—8 to 8.

"Well, we can't complain about that," was Dave's comment. "They were all big fellows."

"Yes, and two of them have played on college nines," said Shadow. "We were lucky to hold them to a tie;" and in this opinion many of the others agreed, and so did Mr. Dale and Doctor Clay, both of whom were present. Job Haskers never went to games of any sort, for he considered athletic contests a waste of time and muscle.

Vera Rockwell and Mary Feversham were at the game, and after the contest was over, Phil went to talk with them, taking Dave with him. While the girls were asking some questions, Roger came up, to speak to Vera. He did not see Dave at once, but when he did his face fell, and merely raising his cap he passed on.

"Oh, I thought Mr. Morr was going to stop," said Vera, pouting. "I wanted to tell him how nicely he did the catching."

Phil and Dave remained with the girls until it was time to return to the school. Then they learned that Roger had gone to Oak Hall in company with Chip Macklin.

"It's queer he didn't wait for the crowd," was Dave's comment.

"He's acted queer half a dozen times lately," returned the shipowner's son. "I don't understand it myself."

The next game was to take place on the following Saturday, and the students practiced several times during the week. Dave noticed that Roger took but little interest, yet he said nothing, until he felt it his duty to speak up.

"Roger, what's wrong?" he asked, very much in the way he had put that question to Jessie.

"Nothing, that I know of," grumbled the senator's son.

"You're not catching as well as you did."

"Perhaps you think the club ought to have another catcher!" flared up the other, suddenly. "If you do, say the word, and I'll step down and out."

"Now, Roger, I know something is wrong——" began Dave.

"Of course you know—and I know, too!" cried the senator's son, and now his cheeks grew crimson. "I guess I'll resign from the club—and then you can run things to suit yourself," and to Dave's amazement he walked out of the room, banging the door after him.