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   Chapter 2 DICK & CO. GO AFTER THE SCHOOL BOARD'S SCALPS

The High School Freshmen; or, Dick & Co.'s First Year Pranks and Sports By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 24230

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In Gridley High School, sessions began at eight in the morning. School let out for the day at one in the afternoon. The brighter students, who could get most of their lessons in school, and do the rest of the work during the evening, thus had the afternoon for work or fun.

Often, though, it happened that there were parties, or school dances in the evening. Then a portion of the afternoon could be used for study, if need be. Saturdays, of course, were free from study for all but the dullest--and the dullest usually don't bother their heads much about study at any time.

Gridley was not a large place--just an average little American city of some thirty thousand inhabitants. It was a much bigger place than that, though, when it came to the matter of public spirit. Gridley people were proud of their town. They wanted everything there to be of the best. Certainly, the Gridley High School was not surpassed by many in the country. The imposing building cost some two hundred thousand dollars. The equipment of the school was as fine as could be put in a building of that size. Including the principal, there were sixteen teachers, four of them being men.

In all the classes combined, there were some two hundred and forty students, about one hundred of these being girls. Nearly all of the students were divided between the four regular classes. There were always a few there taking a postgraduate, or fifth year of work, for either college or one of the technical schools.

With such a school and such a staff of teachers as it possessed the Gridley standard of scholarship was high. The Gridley diploma was a good one to take to a college or to a "Tech" school.

Yet this fine high school stood well in the bodily branches of training. Gridley's H.S. football eleven had played, in the past four years, forty-nine games with other high school teams, and had lost but two of these games. The Gridley baseball nine had played fifty-four games with other high school teams in the same period, and had met defeat but three times in the four years.

Athletics, at this school, were not overdone, but were carried on with a fine insistence and a dogged determination. Up to date, however, despite the fine work of their boys, the citizens of the town had been somewhat grudging about affording money for training athletic teams. What the boys had won on the fields of sport they had accomplished more without public encouragement than with it.

It was now October. Dick Prescott and his five closest friends were all freshmen. They had been in the school only long enough to become accustomed to the routine of work and study. They were still freshmen, and would be until the close of the school year. As freshmen were rather despised "cubs" Dick and his friends would be daring, indeed should they dare to do anything, in their freshman year, to make them very prominent.

According to a good many Gridley people Dick's father, Eben Prescott, was accounted the best educated man in town. The elder Prescott had taken high honors at college; he had afterwards graduated in law, and, for a while, had tried to build up a practice. Eben Prescott was not lazy, but he was a student, much given to dreaming. He had finally been driven to opening a small bookstore. Here, when not waiting on customers, he could read. Dick's mother had proved the life of the little business. Had it not been for her energy and judgment the pair would have found it difficult to rear even their one child properly. The family lived in five rooms over the bookstore.

From the time he first began to go to school it had been plain that Dick Prescott inherited his mother's energy, plus some of his own. He had been one of the leaders in study, work and mischief, at the Central Grammar School. It was while in the grammar school that a band of boys had been formed who were popularly known as "Dick & Co." Dick was naturally the head. The other members of the company were Tom Reade, Dan Dalzell, Harry Hazelton, Greg Holmes and Dave Darrin. These were the same now all High School freshmen who had stepped forward and offered to take Dick's place in fighting Fred Ripley.

Dick was now fourteen, and so were all his partners, except Tom Reade, who was a year older. All of Dick's chums were boys belonging to families of average means. This is but another way of saying that, as a usual thing, Dick and all his partners would have been unable to fish up a whole dollar among them all.

Fred Ripley, on the other hand, usually carried considerable money with him. Lawyer Ripley usually allowed Fred much more money than that snobbish young man knew how to make good use of.

Fred and Clara Deane were undoubtedly the best-dressed pair in the High School, and the two best supplied with spending money. There were a few other sons or daughters of well-to-do people in Gridley High School, but the average attendance came from families that were only just about well enough off to be able to maintain their youngsters at higher studies.

Fred Ripley, despite his mean nature, was not wholly without friends in the High School. Some of his pocket money he spent on his closest intimates. Then, too, Fred had rather a shrewd idea as to those on whom it was safe or best to vent his snobbishness.

From the start of the school year, Ripley had picked out young Freshman Prescott as a boy he did not like. Dick's place in the moneyed scale of life was so lowly that Fred did not hesitate about treating the other boy in a disagreeable manner.

A week after the meeting between Fred and Dick the High School atmosphere had suddenly become charged with intense excitement. The school eleven had come out of training, had played almost its last match with the "scrub" team and was now close to the time for its first regular match. Oakdale H.S. was to be the first opponent, and Oakdale was just good enough a team to make the Gridley boys a bit uneasy over the outcome.

"My remarks this morning," announced Dr. Thornton, on opening school on Monday, "are not so much directed at the young ladies. But to the young gentlemen I will say that, when the football season opens, we usually notice a great falling off in the recitation marks. This year I hope will be an exception. It has always been part of my policy to encourage school athletics, but I do not mind telling you that some members of the Board of Education notice that school percentages fall off in October and November. This, I trust, will not be the case this year. If it is I fear that the Board of Education may take some steps that will result in making athletics less of a feature among our young men. I hope that it is not necessary to add anything to this plain appeal to your good judgment, young gentlemen."

It wasn't. Dr. Thornton was a man of so few and direct words that the boys gathered on the male side of the big assembly room looked around at each other in plain dismay.

"That miserable old Board of Education is equal to shutting down on us right in the middle of the season," whispered Frank Thompson to Dent, who sat next him.

"You know the answer?" Dent whispered back.

"What?"

"Give the board no excuse for any such action. Keep up to the academ. grind."

"But how do that and train---"

A general buzz was going around on the boys' side of the room.

Several of the girls, too, were whispering in some excitement,

for most of the girls were enthusiastic "fans" at all of the

High School games.

Whispering, provided it was "necessary" and did not disturb others, was not against the rules. These were no longer school children, but "young gentlemen" and "young ladies," and allowed more freedom than in the lower schools. For a few moments Dr. Thornton tolerated patiently the excited buzz in the big assembly room. Then, at last, he struck a paper-weight against the top of his desk on the platform.

"First period recitations, now," announced the principal.

Clang! At stroke of the bell there was a hurried clutching of books and notebooks. The students filed down the aisles, going quickly to their proper sections, which formed in the hall outside. The tramp of feet resounded through the building, for some recitation rooms were on the first floor, some on the second and some on the third.

Two minutes later there was quiet in the great building. Recitation room doors were closed. One passing through the corridors would have heard only the indistinct murmur of voices from the different rooms. Within five minutes every one of the instructors detected the fact that, though discipline was as good as ever, Dr. Thornton's words had spoiled the morning's recitations. Try as they would, the young men could not fasten their minds on the work on hand. The hint that athletics might be stopped had stung.

Dick & Co. were all sitting in IV. English.

"Mr. Prescott," directed Submaster Morton, "define the principle of suspense, as employed in writing."

Dick started, looked bewildered, then rose.

"It's--it's---" he began.

"A little more rapidly, if you please."

"I studied it last night, sir, but I'm afraid I've clean forgotten all about that principle," Dick confessed. He sat down, red-faced, nor was his discomfiture decreased by hearing some of the occupants of the girls' seats giggle.

"I shall question you about that at the next recitation. Mr.

Prescott," nodded the submaster.

"Ye-es, sir. I hope you'll have luck," Dick answered, absently.

"What's that?" rapped out Mr. Morton.

Dick, aroused, was on his feet again, like a flash.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Morton," he came out straightforwardly. "That sounded like slang, or disrespect. I beg to assure you, sir, that neither was intended. The truth is---"

"Your mind is busy with other things this morning, I see," smiled the sub-master.

"Ye-es, sir." Dick dropped once more into his seat. Ralph Morton sighed. That very popular young submaster, only three years out of college, was the hugely admired coach who had led the Gridley eleven to victory during the last three seasons. He was as disturbed as anyone could have been over the rumored intention of the Board of Education to take some unpleasant action regarding High School athletics.

It was a terribly unsatisfactory hour in IV. English. Five minutes before the period was up Mr. Morton dejectedly closed the text-book from which he had been questioning, and remarked, tersely:

"At ease!"

Instantly the buzz of whispering broke forth. It was required only that not enough noise be made to disturb the students in adjoining rooms.

Dick, Tom and Dan sat in the front row. Directly behind them were the other three members of the "Co."

"Say," muttered Dan, in a low undertone, "Mr. Morton looks half glum and half savage this morning, like the rest of us."

"Seems to," muttered Tom Reade.

"What do you make of that?" challenged Dan.

"There must be strong foundation for the little hint Dr. Thornton let fall this morning," guessed Dave Darrin.

"And Mr. Morton knows it's a straight tip," added Harry Hazelton, sagely.

"It'll be a confounded shame, if the Board does anything like that," glowed Dick Prescott, indignantly.

"They'll be so many dead ones, if they do," flared Tom Reade, hotly.

"Yes," agreed Dave Darrin. "But the worst about that Board of Education is that, though they are dead ones, they're so very dead that they'll never find it out."

"Won't they, thought" whispered Dan Dalzell, hotly. "Say, I'm inclined to think they will! I---"

"Dan!" whispered Dick, warningly.

"Yep; you've guessed right," grinned Dan. "I am hatching a scheme in my mind. I'm getting up something that will bring even that dummified Board to its senses."

"Then you can achieve the impossible," teased Reade.

"Say, but it's a warm one that's forming this time," whispered Dan, his eyes dancing. "I'll see you fellows at recess. Not a word until then. But you---"

Ting-ling-ling. The bell connecting with the annunciator at the principal's desk was trilling in IV. English, as it wa

s in all the other recitation rooms. IV. English rose, the boys waiting until the girls had passed from the room. A study-hour in the big assembly room followed for Dick & Co. Yet, had anyone watched Dan Dalzell, it would have been found that young man was in the reference room, and reading, or thumbing--of all volumes in the English language--the city directory!

When recess broke, Dick & Co. quickly got together. By twos, Dick and Dave Darrin leading, they marched down through one of the side streets, it being permitted to High School pupils to go outside the yard in the near neighborhood.

Presently Dick halted before a stone wall. He eyed Dan keenly, who had been walking just behind with Harry Hazelton.

"Dan," demanded the leader, "you gave us to understand that your mind is seething again. Is that true?"

"Quite true," Dan averred, solemnly.

"What particular kind of cerebration is oscillating inside of your intelligence?" Dick queried.

"Which?" demanded Dan, suspiciously. "No, I never! I'm not that kind of fellow."

"In plain, freshman English, then, what's your scheme?"

"We'll have to get statistics," announced Dalzell, "before I can come right down to bare facts. When does the Board of Education, otherwise known as the Grannies' Club, meet?"

"Tonight, in the Board Room in the High School building," Dick answered.

"How many members are there?"

"Seven," Dick affirmed.

"That's not too many, then," continued Dan, thoughtfully.

"Not too many?" repeated Dick Prescott. "What do you mean?"

"Why, I've been refreshing my general information about this town by consulting the city directory. From that valuable tome I discovered that there are just nine undertakers in town."

"Now, what on earth are you driving at--or driveling at?" asked Dick Prescott, suspiciously, while the other partners remained wonderingly, eagerly silent.

"Why," pursued Dan, "we can summon seven of the undertakers for our job, and still leave two available for the public service."

Dick sprang up from the stone wall, tightly gripping Dan Dalzell by the coat collar.

"Help me watch this lunatic, fellows," urged Dick, quietly.

"He's dangerous. You've heard him! He's plotting assassination!"

"Undertakers don't assassinate anyone, do they?" queried Dan, with an air of mock innocence.

"What are you plotting, then?" insisted Dick.

Dan's face broadened into a very pronounced grin.

"Why, see here, fellows, there seems to be some fire behind Dr.

Thornton's smoke that the Board of Education may get excited over

low recitation marks, and actually--stop football!" finished

Dalzell, in a gasp.

The other five chums snorted. Dan Dalzell was presently able to control his feelings sufficiently to proceed:

"No one but actually dead ones would expect an American institution of the higher learning to exist in these days without football. Hence, if the Grannies' Club--I mean the School Board--are planning to stop football, or even believe that it is possible, then they're sure enough dead ones. Am I right?"

"Right and sane, after all," nodded Dick.

"Therefore," pursued Dan, "if the board members are dead ones, why not go ahead and bury them? Or, at the least, show our kindly interest in that direction. See here, fellows"--here Dan lowered his voice to the faintest sort of whisper, while the other partners gathered close about him--"tonight we fellows can scatter over the town, and drop into different telephone booths where we're not known. We can call up seven different undertakers, convey to them a hint that there's a dead one at the Board Room, and state that the victim of our call is wanted there at once.

"What good would that do?" demanded Dick, after a thoughtful pause.

"Why," proposed Dan Dalzell, "if seven undertakers call, all within five minutes, won't it be a delicate way of conveying the hint that a Board of Education that thinks it can stop football is composed of dead ones? You see, there'll be an undertaker for each member of the Board. Don't you think the idea--the hint--would soak through even those seven dull old heads?"

Tom, Harry and Dave began to chuckle, though they looked puzzled.

"Well, if you ask me," decided Dick, after more thought, "I have just one answer. The scheme is too grisly. Besides, we've nothing against the undertakers that should make us willing to waste their time. Moreover, Dan we're in the High School, and we're expected to be gentlemen. Now, does your scheme strike you as just the prank for a lot of gentlemen."

"Say, don't look the thing over too closely," protested Dan, more soberly, "or you'll find lots of bad holes in the scheme. Yet, somehow, we've got to bring it to the attention of the Board that, if they go against High School football, they're real dead ones."

"I've just an idea we can do that," spoke Dick Prescott, reflectively. "We can rig the scheme over, so as to save seven estimable business men from starting out on fools' errands. And we can drive the lesson home to the Board just as hard--perhaps harder."

At these hopeful words from the chief the partners pricked up their ears, then crowded closer.

"In the first place," began Dick, "Dan's scheme--beg your pardon, old fellow--is clumsy, grisly and likely to come back as a club to hit us over the head. Now, you all know Len Spencer, the 'Morning Blade' reporter. He's a regular 'fan' over the football and baseball teams, and follows them everywhere in the seasons. You also know that Len is a pretty good friend of mine. If I put Len up to a scheme that will furnish him with good 'copy' for two mornings, he'll put it through for me, and be as mum as an oyster."

"How can Len help us in anything?" demanded Dave Darrin, wonderingly.

"Listen!" ordered Dick Prescott, with a twinkle in his eyes.

When Dick & Co. hurried back at the close of recess they felt serene and content. All the partners felt that Dick Prescott, the most fertile boy in ideas at the Central Grammar School, was going to be able to save the day for football. For Dick had propounded a scheme that was sure to work--barring accidents!

That evening the Board of Education met in dull and stately session. These meetings were generally so dull and devoid of real news that the local press was content to get its account from the secretary's minutes. Tonight was no exception in this respect. No reporter was present when Chairman Stone rapped for order. Seven excellent men were these who sat around the long table. Most of them had made their mark in local business, or in the professions. Yet, as it happened, none of these excellent men had ever made a mark in athletics in earlier years. As they appeared to have succeeded excellently in life without football the members of the Board were inclined to reason that football must be a bad thing.

After the session had droned along for three-quarters of an hour, and all routine business had been transacted, Chairman Stone looked about at his fellow Board members.

"Gentlemen," he began, "we have noticed that, during October and November, the High School percentages, especially those of the young men, are prone to fall a bit. There can be but one cause for this--the football craze. There are signs that this stupid athletic folly will take a greater hold than ever, this year, on our High School students. I thought it best to ask Dr. Thornton to caution the students that any such falling-off of percentages this year might make it necessary for us to forbid High School football."

"It was an excellent idea to give such a warning, Mr. Chairman," nodded Mr. Hegler.

"So I thought," replied Chairman Stone, complacently. "Yet, while we have been in session this evening, I have been wondering why it would not be a good plan to promote scholarship at once by summarily forbidding football."

"Even for the balance of this present season?" asked Mr. Chesbritt, ponderously.

"Even for the balance of this season," confirmed Mr. Stone.

There were murmurs of approval. Just at that moment, however, the door opened suddenly, and Reporter Len Spencer, a bright-faced young man of twenty-two, hurried in on tip-toe. Then, suddenly, he halted, looking unutterably astonished.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen," murmured the reporter. "But I did not expect to find you in session."

"And why not, Mr. Spencer?" demanded the chairman, crisply.

"Why, I--er--I--well, to be candid, gentlemen, 'The Blade' had information that some one had died here."

"Died here?" gasped Chairman Stone. "Upon my word that would be a most extraordinary thing to do in the presence of this Board. Where did you get such very remarkable information, young man?"

"It was telephoned to 'The Blade' office," Len Spencer replied.

"By whom?"

"I--I really don't know," replied the young reporter, looking much embarrassed. "I don't believe our editor, Mr. Pollock, does, either. The news came in over the 'phone. Mr. Pollock told me to rush up here and get all the facts."

"The facts," retorted Mr. Stone, dryly, "would be most difficult for the members of this Board to furnish. Indeed, the only fact in which we are interested would be the name of the person who---"

Ting-a-ling-ling! As the telephone bell jangled Chairman Stone drew the desk instrument toward him, holding the receiver to his ear.

"Hullo!" hailed a voice. "Is that the Board of Education's office?"

"It is," confessed Chairman Stone.

"Is our reporter, Spencer, there? If so, I would like to talk with him."

"Yes, he's right here, Mr. Pollock. And from the extraordinary information he has brought us, I think he needs a talking-to. Wait a moment."

Chairman Stone passed the instrument to Len Spencer. The members of the Board felt curiosity enough to leave their seats and gather at the head of the table. They could hear Editor Pollock's voice as it ran on:

"Hullo, Spencer. Say, I've just had another 'phone from that same party. He says that he sent in his information a bit twisted. What he meant to tell us was that there are seven dead ones in the Board of Education who know so little about public spirit and pride in our boys that they are even considering the idea of forbidding High School football."

"Oh, that's it, eh?" asked Spencer, solemnly. "Seven dead ones?"

"Yes; of course you've already discovered that there's no real tragedy up at the Board, unless they're actually planning some move against football."

The seven members of the School Board looked at one another blankly, wonderingly.

"Who sent you that message over the 'phone?" questioned the reporter.

The seven Board members pricked up their ears still more keenly.

"I don't know," came Editor Pollock's voice. "But I suspect it came from the Business Men's Club. That's a wide-awake and progressive crowd, you know, and full of local pride, even in our High School boys. But, Spencer, I'm in just a bit of a fix. I had already run out six lines on the bulletin board announcing that a sudden death had taken place in the School Board meeting. Now, I've got to run out another bulletin and explain. Spencer, you'd better come back here on the jump. Good-bye!"

As the bell rang off, and the reporter laid the instrument back on the table, he said:

"Gentlemen, I am ordered back to my office in haste. Yet, before I go, as a matter of news interest, I think I'd better ask you whether any action is going to be taken forbidding football in the High School?"

"N-n-not to the best of our knowledge," stammered Chairman Stone.

"We have--taken no action along that line."

"Are you likely to take any such action tonight?"

"I--I--think not."

"Thank you, and goodnight, gentlemen. I offer you my apology and 'The Blade's' for having intruded on you in this fashion."

As soon as the members of the Board were alone Chairman Stone glanced about him, and remarked:

"So, it appears, gentlemen, that, if we do not favor High School football, we shall be regarded as what are termed 'dead ones'!"

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