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   Chapter 1 No.1

'As Gold in the Furnace' By John E. Copus Characters: 8934

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Roy Surprises His Friends

"I TELL you what it is, gentlemen, once for all. I can not go in for baseball next spring, nor even for the few games we have still to play this fall."

Roy Henning was talking to a group of college boys of the upper classes in St. Cuthbert's yard. It was late September and still very warm. The little gathering of friends found the shade of a large elm tree in one corner of the yard very grateful. A hearty burst of laughter followed Roy's announcement. No one for an instant entertained the idea that Henning was in earnest and meant what he said. Was he not passionately fond of the game? Had he not, before vacation, been the very best player on the college diamond?

"Oh! of course not! of course not!" exclaimed Jack Beecham, Roy's truest friend and constant companion. "Of course not! You're no good anyway! You couldn't be center-rush on the eleven if you tried! You don't know a thing about baseball either! Oh! no! And another team wouldn't do a thing to us if you left the pitcher's box! Oh! no, not at all!"

"Look here, Jack," said Henning, "I'm in earnest. I am not going to engage in sports at all this year."

"Not for the money, I know that. It has always cost you a good penny. But let me assure you, you dear old goose, that you can't come any sort of game like that on us-not on me, at least. Let me tell you, Roy boy, that you are most decidedly and most strictly in it, and in it every time."

"Look here, Jack, will you listen to reason--" began Roy Henning.

"With pleasure, when I find evidence that you are in possession of that valuable commodity."

"But--"began Roy again.

"That's all right, old fellow. We know your modesty, and all that. We're also under the impression that you have recently developed a remarkable penchant-that's the word, isn't it, boys-for practical jokes. But this time be so condescending as to remember that joke-day-April 1, you know-is a long way off. See?"

"Yes, I see," replied Henning, "but you fellows will not, nor will you listen to reason. So it is useless for me to talk."

"That's precisely what we wish to do," said Jack-laughing Jack Beecham-who struck an attitude and continued, "but you persist in talking anything but reason. What an incontestably preposterous thing for you to say that you are not going to play ball. Is a fish going to swim?"

"Nonsense or not, boys, I have good reason for saying what I have said. It's a fact. I am not going to play."

Roy Henning's clean-cut, handsome face was flushed at the moment with vexation. His eyes showed his annoyance, and his brows contracted in displeasure. It was vexatious enough for him to make-to be compelled to make-such an announcement to his friends, but his chagrin was rendered four-fold by having his companions receive his statement with incredulity. Not the least part of his annoyance came from the fact that his own particular friend should affect to believe that he was perpetrating a practical joke, especially as he was very much in earnest and the announcement had cost him much effort to make.

When Roy Henning first came to St. Cuthbert's, he was a narrow-chested, weakly boy of very quiet manners and of a retiring disposition, as the readers of the chronicles of St. Cuthbert boys may remember.

Month after month, however, saw him growing stronger and taller and more robust, until now, in his last year at college, he was one of the biggest boys in the yard, with the strength of a giant, and, as some who knew declared, the grip of a blacksmith. The opportunities of acquiring brawn and muscle he had not neglected, resulting in a proficiency in running, jumping, swimming, and boating, and in all the manly and invigorating exercises of school life.

He was well aware how much the success of next summer's baseball season really depended on him. He knew, also, what the boys expected of him. They all regarded it as a foregone conclusion that he would again be the captain and the principal pitcher on next season's team.

No one but himself knew what annoyance it had been to him to make the statement which his hearers had refused to accept otherwise than as the merest joking. Yet he intended to give up sports for this school year. Why? The reason for so doing, and all the consequences that such a course of action brought in its train, will constitute the following narrative.

Roy's eyes, quick to sparkle in fun, quick to soften in sympathy,

yet quicker to glitter with indignation at any exhibition of smallness or meanness, just now had a look in them other than was their wont. Their owner was annoyed because the boys standing around him seemed determined not to take him seriously, and this annoyance could be seen. For a moment he felt a strong throb of anger, such as quickens the pulse, and the hasty word was on the tip of his tongue, but he checked himself in time. Why should he not be believed when he had made a plain statement and had reiterated it? Yet there was a smile as of incredulity on nearly all the faces grouped around him.

The truth of the matter was that Jack Beecham and his companions were hoping against hope. They clearly saw Henning's annoyance, and several of them had more than a suspicion that, after all, he meant exactly what he had said. Beecham's badinage was only a cover for his uneasiness.

A silence fell on the group, during which, to their nimble imaginations, visions of future victories on the diamond grew dim, for every boy there had the most unlimited confidence in the proven prowess of Henning to lead them to victory.

"But, Roy," said Tom Shealey, a short, thick-set, sturdy, whole-souled boy, who had a habit of calling a spade a spade: "Give us your reason. You are not sick?"

"No, not sick, certainly," said Henning, smiling at such an idea.

"What's your reason, then?-supposing you have a reason and are not joking."

"I'm not joking, Tom," said Henning, "but I can not give you my reason."

"Guess he has none," said Andrew Garrett, a youth who affected a blue sweater instead of a coat and vest and whose face was not a healthy-looking one. "Guess he has no reason. He's merely posing."

The remark vexed Henning all the more that it came from his own cousin, to whom in a difficult situation he might have looked naturally for some form of support.

"Stop that, Garrett," said Tom Shealey, hotly. "Do you wish to insult your own cousin? I'd rather believe him than you-there! If Roy says he has reasons for acting as he is doing and does not want to give them to us, I believe he has them anyway. I guess you don't know your own cousin as well as we do."

"Well, why doesn't he give his reasons for not playing?" asked Garrett, sulkily.

"Because," answered Henning, with no little natural dignity, "I do not feel at liberty to do so. If I did I would give them readily. Believe me, boys, it is not by my own choice that I resign my position on the baseball and football teams."

"We believe you, Roy," said Shealey. "Although we regret your action, we believe you have good reasons; don't we, Beecham?"

Jack Beecham nodded affirmatively. "Yes," he replied, after a moment's silence, "I joked at first only because I thought Roy was joking. Sorry he wasn't. Garrett, you had better believe what your cousin says. He is not accustomed to lie into or out of a thing."

This remark was received by Garrett in silence. With a look unpleasant enough to be considered a leer on his face he walked away, but Shealey's innuendo, as we shall see later, had more significance for the one to whom it was directed than the rest of the group realized. Were it not on account of the relationship with Roy, the boys in general would have ignored Garrett. Winters and Hunter and Stapleton and Clavering were gone from St. Cuthbert's, having graduated the previous year. Henning and Ambrose Bracebridge, Rob Jones and Tom Shealey were taking their places, and among these Henning was most popular.

In a few minutes Henning walked away, and his friends began freely to discuss his decision, vaguely guessing at the motive which prompted it, and entirely unsuccessful in arriving at any solution of the difficulty.

"Of course," said Jack Beecham to Shealey, as they strolled about the yard somewhat disconsolately, "Henning must have some good reason for backing out, but I am more sorry than I can say that he has done so. I am afraid things are going to be mighty unpleasant for him in consequence."

"I, too, am afraid they will be."

"Well, I'm going to stick to him, come what may."

"Same here," replied Shealey. "It won't be hard to do that, because he is the soul of honor and a royal good fellow. You might as soon expect anything wrong with him as-as to see--"

"You at the head of your class in next examination," interrupted Jack.

"Thanks! Or to see you heading the philosophers."

"Thanks, too."

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