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   Chapter 6 No.6

'As Gold in the Furnace' By John E. Copus Characters: 9865

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


WHETHER Roy Henning's small donation to the boys' collection for the purchase of the pitching cage for the winter practice was the cause, or whether there was some other occult reason, the subscriptions came in very slowly. Many boys, seeing that Roy, usually the largest contributor to all such schemes, had given so small an amount, measured their own donations by his. The project, consequently, dragged along very slowly. The treasurer-secretary more than once called those interested together, and proposed that they should give up the plan.

To this neither Shealey, nor Beecham, nor Bracebridge would listen. They were boys who, having once taken a project in hand, were determined to carry it through to success. Bracebridge encouraged Henning to continue his work of soliciting, but the latter found that he was working against some impalpable obstacle to success, the nature of which he could not divine.

The boys were as free and as genial with him as ever. Every one appeared to like him as usual, yet withal there was an intangible something in the atmosphere, as it were, which appeared to militate against his success. Roy often tried to discover the cause. Was this silent but unmistakable change toward him, which had lately come over most of the boys, of his own causing? After much introspection he could discover no reason for blaming himself.

His retirement from the field of college sports had been more than a nine-days' wonder. All his friends, not understanding or guessing his motive, expostulated with him, and time and again urged him to reconsider his decision. He had remained firm.

His more immediate friends had long ago ceased to make the matter a subject of conversation in his presence, giving him credit for acting from right intentions, although what these were, now near Christmas, was as much a mystery to them as they were on the September day on which he had announced his withdrawal.

Others were not so considerate. With a savagery often found among thoughtless but not necessarily ill-intentioned boys, they frequently discussed his "going back on his team," as they expressed it, in Roy's presence, with an almost brutal unreserve.

"If I could play ball as you do, Henning," said a coarse-grained youth named Stockley, one day, "I would call myself a dog in the manger."

"And why, please?"asked Henning, who was by this time getting used to such talk from those whose opinion he did not value.

"The old reason. A bird that can sing and won't sing, ought to be made to sing. The honor of the college is at stake."

"Your motto has no application in this case," replied Henning. "If I do any injustice to any one by not playing ball, then I ought to be the bird who should be made to sing. But I think you will have some difficulty in proving that I am acting against justice. As to the honor of the college being at stake, in that you know as well as I do, if you have any sense at all, that you are talking sheer nonsense."

"I don't know whether I am," sneered Stockley. "I am not the only one who thinks there is a nigger in the woodpile in this affair. Your cousin was saying only this morning that he could tell the boys something why you will not play ball that would make things mighty ugly for you."

"Now look here, Stockley," said Henning warmly, "you go and mind your own business and leave me and Garrett alone or-or it will be decidedly unpleasant for you."

Stockley, coarse as he was, was observant. He saw Henning's fist close tightly, and he observed the muscles of his arm swell up for a minute. He discreetly moved some paces away.

"When I want your advice upon my conduct," continued Henning, "I will ask it. Till then, mind your own affairs, and keep your tongue from wagging too freely about mine."

The young fellow walked away, muttering some unintelligible words between his teeth. Roy saw no more of him for several days.

Henning entered the Philosophy classroom with a flushed face and an unpleasant frown.

"What's up, Roy?" asked Ambrose Bracebridge, seeing that his friend had been suffering some annoyance.

"Nothing, Brosie; only I have had to talk pretty freely to one fellow who attempted the mentor business over me."

"Nothing serious, I hope?"

"Oh, no. I merely told him to mind his own business; that's all."

"Do you care to walk?"asked Bracebridge, who saw Henning was very much annoyed.

"Yes, come along," replied Henning.

They walked some time in the face of a cutting wind, such as brings tears to the eyes. While facing it conversation was impossible. Presently they came to the base of a wooded hill which afforded them some shelter. Here they could talk at ease.

"How much money have you collected, Roy, for the cage?"asked Ambrose as soon as both had finished rubbing their chilled cheeks to bring back the circulation.

"I have collected sixty-four dollars in cash, but

about eighty-seven has been subscribed. Why do you ask?"

"Please do not think me impertinently curious if I ask you where you keep it."

"Certainly not. It is in the drawer of the table in the dressing-room of the gymnasium. That room just off the playroom. You know, Ambrose, that is the place of meeting of all committees of the various college associations. It's safe there; don't you think so?"

"Yes-perhaps," answered Bracebridge, with evident hesitation. "I would rather you keep it there than in your desk, or in your trunk."

"Why? You appear uneasy. What's the matter?"

"It may be foolish of me, but, Roy, I can not help thinking there is some ugly work being concocted. No doubt you think I am fanciful, but I have accidentally overheard here a word and there a word which I do not like."

"From whom?"

"I can not tell you from whom, because it is all too vague, and if I mentioned any name I may be doing an innocent boy a grave injustice. There is a good deal of talk against you. Many silly fellows have taken it as a personal affront that you refuse to play ball."

"Pshaw! I--"

"Wait, old fellow: of course that is all nonsense. It is no one's business except your own, and their talking is not worth your consideration. Nevertheless there are a few restless spirits here this year, and it is my opinion they are only waiting their chance to make trouble for you."

"What would you advise me to do, Brosie?"

"Why not put all the money you have collected into the hands of the college treasurer? He will take care of it for you. It will be safer in the office vault than in the committee room."

"I think it would be the better plan, but really I do not think there is any necessity for it. There is no one here who would attempt a robbery."

"Maybe there is not; but as I said, it is better to be on the safe side."

"All right. Much obliged. I guess I'll take your advice. Jack Beecham, only yesterday, hinted something similar to what you have just said about the ugly spirit against me. I wonder why it should have arisen, Ambrose, if it really does exist outside of your imagination. I have done nothing small or mean to any one. The head and front of my offending seems to be that I have withdrawn from next year's ball team. I happen to be a good player. Personally I regret having to take the course, but circumstances have occurred, which, in a way, compel this action. I can not divulge my reasons for so doing, even to my nearest friends-not even to Jack or you, Ambrose."

"Nor do we wish to know them," replied Ambrose, "it is quite sufficient for us to know that you do not wish to give them. Both Beecham and Shealey, and of course, myself, have every confidence in you, and you may rely on our staunch support in anything that may happen. By the way, how does the prefect, Mr. Shalford, regard you?"

"I do not know exactly," said Henning, cautiously. "You see, he is a great enthusiast for sport and games among us boys. I know I have vexed him by my decision. More than once he asked me to retract it. When I refused to do so, and told him I could give him no reason, he seemed, or at least I fancied he seemed, to be cool toward me."

"Don't misjudge him, Roy," said the other, warmly. "It was only yesterday that he advocated your cause to half a dozen pessimistic baseball malcontents. He's all right. Before he had done with these fellows, they held very different views concerning you. Still, he has not influenced all in your favor, for, as you know, not all will take a common-sense view of things, nor listen to reason."

Henning nodded assent.

"The fact is," Ambrose continued, "the yard seems to be dividing or divided into two camps. One is pro-Henning, the other contra. Therefore, and I know you will take what I say in the right spirit, I want you to watch yourself and be quite careful in what you say and do."

"Do you think I shall be attacked?"

Ambrose glanced over the big form of his friend, and laughed loudly.

"Not much. There is no one such a fool as to invite corporal punishment. But there are a dozen means of annoying and vexing without resorting to the lowest means-physical force."

"I am really very grateful, Ambrose, for the interest you take in me. Be sure that, come what may, you shall never be ashamed of having done so. It seems to me that, without the slightest fault of my own, I am placed in a most awkward position. Come what may, I'll try to do nothing I should afterward regret."

"That's right. I know you will be careful."

The two shook hands with the warmth of confident friendship, as they began to retrace their way to the college.

On their way home they were joined by Garrett, who still affected the sky-blue sweater, although he now wore it under his coat. In the presence of Garrett the two friends dropped the subject of their confidences, and the conversation became general.

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