Read CHAPTER VI - THE NEWS CORNEY BROUGHT of Fred Fenton on the Track / The Athletes of Riverport School, free online book, by Allen Chapman, on ReadCentral.com.

The big roller-skating rink had been turned into a splendid gymnasium for the boys and girls of Riverport school; for certain days were to be set aside when the latter should have their turn at basketball and kindred athletic exercises, calculated to make them healthier, and better fitted for their studies.

The headmaster of the school, Professor Brierley, was very much delighted with the way things had gone.  He was an advocate of all healthful sports, when not carried to excess.  And this spirit which had been awakened in Riverport, was bound, he believed, to make for the betterment of the town in every way.

“Perhaps there’ll be less work for Dr. Temple,” he remarked, at a meeting of the best citizens, when the gymnasium was handed over to the school trustees; “because there’ll be far less sickness among our young people.  Though possibly a few accidents, as the result of indiscretion in exercising too violently, may make amends to our physicians.”

Meanwhile the young athletes belonging to Riverport school had been as busy as the proverbial bee.  Saturdays were devoted to all sorts of work, each class being represented by aspiring claimants for honors.

And when the really deserving ones had finally been selected to do their best for the honor of the school, everyone watched their work with pride, and the hope that they might make the highest pole vault, the longest running jump, the quickest time in the hundred yards, quarter-mile, half mile and five mile races known to amateur athletic meets in that part of the country at least.

Merchants talked with their customers about the coming tournament; and the mildest looking women, whom no one would suspect of knowing the least thing about such affairs, surprised others with their store of knowledge.

The bookstore in town where sporting goods were kept did a land-office business during those days, and had to duplicate their orders to wholesalers frequently.

Stout business men were buying exercisers to fasten to the bathroom doors; or perhaps dumb-bells and Indian clubs, calculated to take off a certain number of pounds of fat.  Others boasted of how deftly they were beginning to hit the punching bag; and how much enjoyment the exercise, followed by a cold shower bath, gave them.

Representatives from Mechanicsburg, who wandered down to get a few points that might be calculated to give their athletes renewed confidence, took back tales of the spirit that had swept over the other town on the Mohunk.

And they even said that Paulding was striving with might and main to get in line with the other two places.  Her boys expressed a hope that when the favors were handed around, steady old Paulding might not be left entirely out of the running.  There were even broad hints that some people were going to get the surprise of their lives when the great day arrived.  Paulding always had been a difficult crowd to beat, and would never confess to defeat until the last word had been said.

It was the day just preceding that on which the athletic meet was slated to be held.  As before, luck seemed to dwell with Riverport, since the drawing of lots decided that the tournament must be held on her grounds, outside of town.  And it seemed about right that this should be the case, since Riverport lay between her two rivals on the Mohunk, one being three, the other seven miles away.

Nothing else was talked of those days, after school, but the proposed meet.  On the field itself there gathered crowds of boys and girls who hovered in groups while the various candidates went through their work; and either praised, or criticised; for it is always easy to do the latter.

So on this morning of the day preceding the great event, whenever boys ran across each other on the street, it was always with questions concerning the condition of those upon whom Riverport depended to win the most points in the tournament.  At no time in the past had the state of health of these lads interested more than a very small portion of the community.  Now everybody heaved a sigh of satisfaction upon learning that Colon was said to be in better trim than ever before in all his life, or that Sid Wells, Fred Fenton and Bristles Carpenter were just feeling “fine.”

Whenever one of those who were expected to take part made his appearance on the street he had a regular following, all hanging on every word he spoke, “just as if he might be an oracle,” as Bristles humorously remarked.

“Wait till Sunday morning, and then see if some balloons haven’t busted,” he went on to remark, as several fellows gathered around him that bright autumn morning, when there had been a sharp tang of frost in the air; “a lot of us will fail to score a beat, and then see how quick they drop us.  Some will even be cruel enough to say they always knew that Bristles Carpenter was a big fake; and that when it came right down to business he never was able to hold up his end; and they never could see why the committee put him on the roll of would-be heroes.”

“Sure! and the next day it rained!” called back little Semi-Colon, whose size debarred him from taking any part in the athletic contests, a fact he deplored many times, for he had the spirit of a warrior in his small body.

“Anyhow, Sunday will be a good day to rest, and stay indoors, to avoid all the cruel things that will be fired at a fellow Monday,” grinned Bristles.

“Say, don’t talk like that, old man,” remarked another of the group; “seems like you might be getting all ready for a funeral.  I don’t like it.  Better do some boasting, and give us a chance to feel we’re going to carry Mechanicsburg right off her feet.”

“Oh!  I’m only taking out a little extra insurance, that’s all,” remarked Bristles.  “They all do it, you know.  Never knew a feller to get licked but he began to explain how it happened; and tell how if his foot had been all right, or that stitch in his side hadn’t caught him, he’d have swept up the ground with all his rivals.  I’m wondering what I’d better mention right now as troubling me.”

“But you just said you felt as fit as a fiddle?” protested Semi-Colon.

“So I do,” answered Bristles; “but that don’t matter.  A feller may feel fit, and yet have a sore toe; can’t he?  But, boys, if I get beaten you’re not going to hear me put up a whine.  It’ll only be because the other feller is the better man.”

“Bully for you, Bristles;” remarked a tall student, vigorously; “I always knew you’d stand up and be counted.  And just you make up your mind you’re going to bring home the bacon.  We want every point we can get, to beat Mechanicsburg out.”

“Nobody seems to take poor old Paulding seriously,” remarked Fred, who was one of the noisy, enthusiastic group on the way to the recreation field for a spell of warming up exercise; for school had been dismissed on Thursday afternoon, giving this Friday preceding the meet as a holiday for the scholars, owing to the great interest taken in the affair, the trustees said, and also the fact that the other towns had decided upon the same thing.

“Well, you never can tell,” declared Dick Hendricks, who had come up just in time to catch the last remark.  “I’ve got private information from below, and let me warn every fellow not to be cocksure about Paulding.  That fellow they’ve got coaching them is no slouch.  He was a college grad. just the same as our Mr. Shays; and they say he coached Princeton for several years, away back.”

“Oh! he’s an old man, and a back number,” observed Bristles, contemptuously.  “I heard he hasn’t kept up with the procession, and that his methods are altogether slow compared with the more modern ones.”

“Well, I believe in never underestimating an enemy,” Fred went on; “and if all of us feel that we’ve got to do our level best in order to win, even against Paulding, that ends the matter.”

“Who’s seen Colon this morning?” asked Dick Hendricks.

“Not me,” replied Bristles, “and it’s kind of queer too, because he said he’d drop in for me at eight this morning, and now it’s half-past.  Reckon he forgot, and went on with another bunch.  There’s always a lot of boys trailing after Colon nowadays, you know.  They just hang around his door, his mother told mine only yesterday, like a pack of hounds, calling for him to show himself.”

“Well, I guess Colon is the best card in our pack,” declared Fred, stoutly.  “You see, he’s slated to run in all the shorter sprints, and we expect him to leave the other fellows at the post, for he’s as fleet as a deer ­Bristles says kangaroo, because of that queer jump he has.  They haven’t got a ghost of a show in any race Colon takes part in; and I guess they know it up at Mechanicsburg.”

“I was talking with a boy from there the other day,” spoke up the tall student.  “I think he was sent down here as a sort of spy, to see just what we were doing, and get tabs on our men.  He owned up to me that if Colon could do that well in a regular race it would be a procession, because nobody could head him.  They’d just run on in the hope he might be taken with cramps, or something.”

“Who’s that hollering back there; looks like Corney Shays?” remarked Semi-Colon just then, so sharply that the entire group paused to look back.

“It is Corney, late as usual, and with his nerve along; because he wants us all to stop and wait for him,” declared Dick Hendricks.  “Come along boys, and let him catch up if he can.”

“But he acts mighty queer,” said Fred.

“You’re right he does,” added Bristles, taking the alarm at once.  “Look at him waving his arms.  Say, fellers, something’s gone wrong, bet you a cooky.  I just feel it in my bones.  Oh! what if Colon’s been taken sick right now the day before?”

They stood there, silent and expectant, until the running Corney had drawn near.

“What ails you, Corney?” demanded Dick.

“It’s Colon!” gasped the other, almost out of breath, and much excited in the bargain, they could see, for his eyes seemed ready to pop out of his head.

“Don’t tell us he’s sick!” cried Bristles, in real horror.

“Disappeared ­never slept in his bed last night, his ma says!  Gone in the queerest way ever, and just when Riverport depended on him to win the prize to-morrow!” was what the almost breathless Corney gasped.