Added Mystery

A number of cadets, clad in the regulation football pants, and blue and
white jerseys of Woodcrest football team ran swiftly around the track
back of the school. It was the custom of Coach Briar to give his men a
single lap around the field after a strenuous workout, and the team was
winding up for the day. Don and Jim held their place well in the front
with the leaders.

The lap completed they rushed down the steps that led into the basement
and with a series of wild whoops piled into the locker rooms. A hissing
sound announced that the showers had been turned on, and a film of steam
vapor spread rapidly over the room. Jerseys came off on the double and
more than one helmet rolled unheeded across the dusty floor.

Coach Brier walked in slowly and looked with approval at his charges.
They were in fine condition and had won every game of the season. At no
time in the year had they been in any danger of losing, and the fighting
spirit was more than gratifying to the athletic coach.

The tumult in the locker room increased with each passing moment. Half a
dozen young huskies had found themselves stripped at the same time and a
wild rush for the showers resulted. There was pushing and shoving and
shouting, which would have disturbed the nerves of someone less stout in
that respect than the popular coach. But he merely smiled and looked on,
wisely confining his talk to football subjects.

“Only one more team to play, coach,” shouted Quarterback Vench, of the
third class. “We ought to be able to take them.”

“Don’t be too sure,” warned the coach.

“We’ll sure take one healthy crack at them,” put in Douglas, who ran in
the backfield for Woodcrest.

“Is there any chance of playing Dimsdale this year, coach?” cried
Hudson, from the back of the room.

A look of gravity spread over the genial face of the coach. As if by
magic the uproar in the room ceased. Hudson had struck a sore point.

In the past Woodcrest had played an annual game with Dimsdale, a
preparatory school close by. The contest had been the big event of the
whole fall season and the rivalry had been keen. But in recent years
there had been no games between the two schools, owing to an unfortunate
affair that took place after one of the games on the Woodcrest home
field. At that time Woodcrest had defeated Dimsdale for five years
straight, and in the game that followed the preparatory school had won.
The fact went to the heads of the students of the rival school, and
besides painting the 12 to 0 score on the side of the school with white
paint they had ruthlessly broken windows and wrecked some school
furniture. The cadets’ battalion had formed and had given the rioters a
severe beating, although they were supposed to merely chase them off the
grounds. From that time forward there had been no games.

However, that had happened years ago and there was no thought that it
would happen again. Each year the cadets clamored to play against
Dimsdale and each year they were refused. As the years went on the
situation became harder. Insolent Dimsdale scholars openly booed the
cadets and the boast was common with Dimsdale students that the
Woodcrest school was afraid to play them. In large bodies the Dimsdale
rooters came to the cadet games and openly cheered for the rivals of the
cadets, no matter who or what they were. It was as much as flesh and
blood could stand, and to old veterans like Hudson and Barnes and Berry,
the flashing backfield men, it was especially bitter to think that they
must graduate without a chance to play their detested foes.

To Hudson’s question the coach looked troubled. “I don’t know, Hudson,”
he said. “You know what the attitude of Melvin Gates is.”

Don stopped tying his shoe to look up. “What has Melvin Gates to do with
it, coach?” he asked.

“Everything,” responded the coach, gloomily. “It so happens that he is
the chief trustee and that he donates the most money to the school.
Although Colonel Morrell owns the school it is really run by a board of
trustees, and the head trustee is Melvin Gates. He has never gotten over
the affair of the last Dimsdale game, and he positively refuses to allow
the school to play the other outfit. As he holds most of the power I
suppose the colonel can’t risk losing his support, so we have to go
without our game each year.”

“Is he the only one against it?” Jim asked.

“Yes,” nodded the coach. “The only one.”

Vench snorted in disgust. “Can you beat that? Just because something
happened long ago he has to act like a spoiled baby about it! That’s
what I call fine, noble sportsmanship!”

“You don’t know much about it,” grumbled Hudson. “This is only your
second year. Wait until you have had to swallow their insults for four
years. Why, look at the Roxberry game, and what those guys did. Started
yelling every time the signals were called, so that we couldn’t get
them. If I had my way I’d turn the whole corps loose to clean ’em off
the field.”

Young Major Rhodes, former cadet captain of the senior class and now
chief drill instructor, drifted in just then. “I agree with Hudson,” he
said, quietly. “I had to put up with it for four years and then finally
graduated without getting a chance to play against them. I think we’ve
been wrong about the whole thing from start to finish. Suppose a
delegation of you fellows go and see the colonel and tell him that the
whole school wants to play Dimsdale.”

“What good will that do?” asked Coach Brier.

“I don’t know that it will,” confessed Rhodes. “But I do know that there
will be a meeting of the trustees on Friday and at that time the colonel
can put it up to them again.”

“And get turned down once more,” snapped Berry, to whom Dimsdale was a
nightmare.

Rhodes shrugged his broad shoulders. “I don’t know, but you can at least
try. Someday the break has got to be made, and the sooner the better.”

“Do you think this year would be a good one to play Dimsdale?” inquired
a substitute, timidly. “They are Class A champions, you know, and they
have a powerful team.”

“I wouldn’t care how big their team is,” declared halfback Barnes. “Just
put me where I can rip holes in their line, that’s all!”

The coach looked at the boys silently for a time. “All right, boys,” he
said. “I guess there is no harm in trying out Rhodes’ suggestion.
Suppose you three veteran backfield men consider yourselves a committee
and approach the colonel on the subject. Let’s see if we can get any
action this year.”

That night Don consulted earnestly with Jim and the result was a letter
which he wrote to his father. After that they waited, with the rest of
the school, for the decision of the trustees.

What the young substitute had said about Dimsdale was true. They were at
present occupying the exalted position of champions of the Class A
divisions, and they boasted a powerful, line-smashing team. In one sense
it was not a wise year to start playing the old rivals again, for the
Woodcrest team was small and fast, but in no way compared with the other
school as far as bulk of players was concerned. But the cadets were mad
clean through and did not hesitate to take on the other school, in
anticipation at least.

The colonel received the committee of three and expressed with them the
desire of renewing relations with the preparatory school. He promised to
take the matter up with his board of trustees and see what he could do
with the one obstinate member.

“It is time that Mr. Gates got over his prejudice,” he admitted. “We’ll
see what we can do.”

On the day of the trustee meeting Don received a letter from home and he
and Jim read it over with satisfaction. Don nodded across the table to
Jim as he finished it.

“I guess it won’t make any difference which way the meeting goes now,”
he stated.

On the following day when the team finished their workout, the coach was
not with them. He had gone into the school building to find out the
result of the trustee meeting. The players stood around with sweaters
and coats as protection against the sharp November wind. Before long
they saw the coach come from the main hall and walk slowly toward them.

“Walks very slowly, something like a funeral march,” observed Hudson,
with a gloomy shake of his head.

When Brier reached them he did not waste any words. He shook his head
and spread out his hands with a gesture that told the whole story.

“Same as ever, boys,” he announced briefly. “Gates refuses to allow us
to play Dimsdale.”

Barnes and Berry took off their helmets at the same moment and slammed
them on the ground viciously. Hudson turned away, a lump in his throat.
His last ambition, that of playing against Dimsdale, was frustrated, and
the fact hurt. Growls came from the rest of the squad. Vench gritted his
teeth and sneered at the narrow-minded attitude of the chief trustee.
Only Don and Jim kept silent, and as they were new members on the
football team the fact was not noticed.

“That means giving it up for at least another year, I suppose,” shrugged
Rhodes.

“Maybe until Gates dies, I don’t know,” returned the coach.

“Blessings on him and all his money!” murmured Barnes, sarcastically.

After the customary lap around the field the boys went back to dress,
annoyed and growling at the situation. It was not until they were in
their own room that Don spoke his mind.

“Jim, I believe that there’s something more to this than we can see on
the surface,” he said.

“What do you mean?” his brother asked.

“I mean that I don’t think Melvin Gates is keeping us from playing
Dimsdale simply because of the after-game riot of years ago. Why in the
world should he be so particular? Every student wants to play and every
trustee wants to let us, but still he holds out. I think there is some
added mystery in it all, and that he has some deep and secret reason for
not wanting us to play Dimsdale!”