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'As Gold in the Furnace' By John E. Copus Characters: 11424

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

A Pitching Cage

JACK BEECHAM and Tom Shealey were standing at a window in their classroom one dark afternoon in the late fall. They had their heads together, for both were reading from the same letter, which the former had just received. They were evidently much interested in its contents, for neither noticed the entrance of Rob Jones, nor were they conscious of his presence until he, boylike, gave them both simultaneously a thump on the back.

"You must be mightily interested, you two, not to hear me come in," said Jones.

"We felt your presence, Rob, quick enough," said Beecham.

"It was quite striking," added Shealey.

"What's the news? It must be of tremendous importance to cause such absorption."

"It is important," said Shealey. "Jack has just received a nice letter from those nice fellows of Blandyke College. They write elegantly-perfect gentlemen."

"What have they to say?"inquired Jones.

"It isn't a challenge for next spring, or anything of that sort," said Jack, "but a sort of recapitulation of this year's games we played together, and a chat over the prospects of next year. Listen to this: 'We met with few defeats this summer, and I am instructed by the nine to say that if we were to be defeated-and we were once or twice, as you remember-we preferred to have been defeated by no one but the St. Cuthbert's team, not only because you, gentlemen, were considered worthy of our steel, but also because every player on your team was a gentleman whom it was a pleasure and an honor to meet.'"

"Now isn't that nice," exclaimed Beecham. "But let us see what more he has to say. They are capital fellows, these Blandykes," and Jack read on: "'We intend to meet you early next summer, if we can arrange some games with you. We have great pleasure in telling you that we intend to wipe out all defeats of this season. With this in view, we have, already, men daily in the pitching cage, and our captain intends to keep his men in training all the winter months.'"

"They must feel pretty sure of victory to tell us all their plans," remarked Beecham. "Pshaw! isn't it a pity that Henning has gone back on us! I wonder what we shall do without him,"

"I don't know. I can't imagine," remarked Jones.. "Whatever we do, we must not be behind the Blandykes. We, too, must get a cage and practice pitching and catching. We can't afford to dim the glory of last summer's record. You remember we won two out of the three games we played with the Blandykes. Next spring we must capture the three."

"But we have no cage, and they are expensive things," observed Beecham.

"Pass round the hat," remarked Shealey promptly; "of course Roy will help us as usual. He is always generous with his money; just the fellow who deserves to have plenty of it."

"Yes, that's true," said Jones, "and I suppose his cousin, young Garrett, has plenty of cash to spare too, but I doubt whether he will be as generous as Roy has always been. Thanksgiving day will be here in ten days, and we ought to have the pitching cage ready when the football season closes."

"What will Mr. Shalford say about it?" asked Beecham.

"Oh! he will leave it all to us, that's sure; but we may expect his one proviso which he is very strong on, and that is, as you know, that we do not go into debt."

"Very good," said Jack. "Then we had better begin at once. Here comes Garrett. I'll try him first."

Beecham explained the project to Garrett, and then asked him whether he would help them out. His first words rang with a false note.

"Has my cousin given anything?"he asked.

"Not yet. We have not seen him yet. You are the first that has been asked."

"Very well. Put me down for five dollars."

"Thanks; much obliged," said Beecham, without a particle of enthusiasm.

Strange to say, young Garrett did not feel satisfied. He had at once conceived this an opportunity to make himself popular by a liberal donation. The gift, for a college student, was liberal enough; but there was something in the merely civil "Thanks," from Beecham, which told him he had not succeeded, at this time, in his purpose. He thought he detected in the tone a covert sneer. But of this he was not sure. He made another mistake.

"Let me know," he said, "what my cousin subscribes, and if he gives more than I have given, I will increase mine."

A second civil-but colder- "Thanks," greeted this speech, and Garrett walked away in no very pleasant frame of mind. "Why is Roy so popular and I a nonentity?" he asked himself, but it was to be a long time before he would learn the answer to his own question.

Beecham and Shealey started at once on a subscription tour. They caught Henning in the study-hall.

"Hello, Roy! We have come to bleed you, old man. We are going to put up a pitcher's cage in one end of the long playroom for winter practice. How much shall we put you down for?"

Roy Henning blushed slightly and a look resembling pain came over his face. His father's test was beginning to operate. Roy, owing to his restricted capital, had made a resolution to spend only two dollars and a half each month. He made a rapid calculation of the present month's necessary boyish expenses, and he knew that he would have very little to offer them. Before he could speak, however, Beecham remarked:

"Say, Roy boy, we know you won't play next spring; but we want you to be treasurer and secretary of the club."

"Yes, you are the man for the job," said Shealey, "none better. Won't you take it? You can do ten times more with the boys than either Jack or myself."

"I don't know--" hesitated Henning, for several reasons.

"Oh, yes, you do, Roy,"urged Jack. "You are a capital beg

gar, you know, and with your own big donation at the head of the list you will be irresistible."

"Call him a good solicitor," laughed Shealey, "it's more euphonious."

"I think I can act as treasurer and secretary for you, if the boys are willing. It is the least I can do if I don't play."

"Of course it is. Thanks. That's good of you," said Beecham, and Shealey nodded approvingly.

"Now, Roy, how much shall I put you down for before I hand over to you the subscription list? Twenty is too much, I suppose," said Shealey.

Roy looked out of the window in a perplexed sort of way. He had always been a liberal contributor. What would his friends think of him now? The paternal test was certainly a hard one in more ways than one.

"I am afraid I shall disappoint you," he said.

"In what?"asked Beecham. "In book-agent assurance? Never fear. I am willing to certify that beneath all your laughing good humor, you are possessed of an unlimited amount of-of-well-to put it without circumlocution-an unlimited amount of cheek. No one can withstand your winning smile and drawing manner. But what is your own gift? Let us head the list with that. I must tell you that your cousin Garrett has promised to equal your subscription, so make it large, if you please. He has already given--"

"How much?"asked Henning uneasily.

"Five dollars."

"Oh," said Henning, with something very like a sob in his throat.

"Better make it twenty-five, Roy; you can spare it, and it's practically giving an extra twenty which comes out of the pocket of that beg-Oh! I beg your pardon. I am constantly forgetting that he is your cousin. I wish he wasn't."

Beecham spoke the last sentence in blunt, boyish fashion. Roy understood him, but just now he was not inclined either to defend his cousin, or discuss his friend's desires.

"I am afraid I shall disappoint you this time, boys," said Roy.

"You never have yet," remarked Shealey.

"But I shall this time, I am sure."

"Well, let's see the amount of the disappointment," said Beecham laughingly.

Jack Beecham, of late, could not, as he himself expressed it, "make out" his friend Roy. Several times since the beginning of September he had surprises from Henning. He was beginning to regard him as an uncertain or even an unknown quantity. Was his friend becoming miserly? This idea made Jack Beecham laugh. Roy misanthropical! The clever, bright, jolly Roy doing aught but loving all mankind was absurd to think of, but yet-There certainly had come over his bright, genial friend a change which was puzzling. What could--

But his thoughts, as he stood expectantly, with his pencil and notebook in hand, were interrupted by what Roy said next:

"You may put me down for two dollars and fifty cents." Shealey only partly suppressed a giggle, supposing that Roy, as usual, was hoaxing. Roy saw the laugh and was deeply hurt.

"Phew," began Jack Beecham, and he was about to make a very straightforward remark when he caught a side view of poor Roy's face, which was suffused with the blushes of mortification. There was a look of positive pain there.

Good, sensible Jack at once saw there was something wrong somewhere. Hastily changing his pencil from right hand to left, he took Roy's hand and pressed it warmly, sympathetically. The action told more than words could do. Beecham gave a quick glance toward the door for Shealey, which that individual understood and immediately departed.

When they were alone Jack said:

"You are in trouble, Roy. Is there-is there any financial difficulty at home?"

"None whatever, Jack; but I can't explain."

There was another silent pressure of the hand.

"Nor will I ask you to do so. But there is something wrong somewhere. Oh, Roy! If I could do-if I could share-look here, Roy," he at last blurted out, boy-fashion, "look here. I intend to give twenty dollars-let me put ten of it under your name-do let me."

"No, no, Jack," said Roy, after a few moments of silence which his emotion compelled him to observe; "no, you must not do that. I can't explain, but come what may I want you not to misunderstand me. Whatever you may hear or see I want you not to lose faith in me," and Roy Henning held out his hands to his friend, while there was a hungry, eagerly hungry, look in his eyes.

There was, of course, no absolute reason why Roy Henning could not have given his entire confidence to his friend. His father had made no such restriction in the test he had imposed. It was Roy's own peculiar temperament which prevented him from confiding in any one; in consequence his trials were in reality much more severe than even his father could have foreseen.

"Have faith in you! Believe in you! Well, I should guess. I don't understand it all-your refusing to play, and this-this small donation, and everything; but, believe in you! Roy, I would as soon cease to believe in myself."

Roy's eyes were hot, and his lips were dry.

"Thanks, old man. I knew you would. I can't explain-yet. But as long as you have confidence in me I'll go through it all right. God bless you, Jack."

Young Beecham was more mystified than ever at this exhibition of emotion, but he felt at the moment something like the knight of old who sought quarrels to vindicate the fair name of the lady of his heart. To make the simile more in accordance with our own more prosaic times, Jack Beecham became Henning's champion, and went around for several days with a metaphorical chip on his shoulder, daring any one to come and knock it off. Of course, the chip represented Roy Henning's actions and intentions.

After this interview, Roy looked a long time out of the study-hall window.

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