It took the High School onlookers a few seconds to gather the full importance of what they had seen. Then a wild cheer broke loose:
“Ripley? Oh, Ripley’ll pitch for the nine!” surged up on all sides.
DICK & CO. TAKE A TURN AT FEELING GLUM
“What’s the matter with Ripley?” yelled one senior.
And another answered, hoarsely:
“Nothing! He’s a wonder!”
Fred Ripley was unpopular. He was regarded as a cad and a sneak. But he could pitch ball! He could give great aid in bringing an unbroken line of victories to Gridley. That was enough.
By now Coach Luce was a bit red in the face. He realized that his momentary relapse into the old college enthusiasm had made him look ridiculous, in his other guise of High School submaster.
But when the submaster coach turned and saw Parkinson butting his head against the punching bag he called out:
“What’s the matter, Parkinson?”
“Subbing for you, sir!”
That turned the good-natured laugh of a few on Mr. Luce. Most of those present, however, had not been struck by the unusualness of his speech.
Dick and Dave looked hard at each other. Both boys wanted to make the team as pitchers. Yet now it seemed most certain that Fred Ripley must stand out head and shoulders over any other candidates for the Gridley box.
Dick’s face shone with enthusiasm, none the less. If he couldn’t make the nine this year, he could at least feel that Gridley High School was already well on toward the lead over all competing school nines.
“I wish it were somebody else,” muttered Dave, huskily, in his chum’s ear.
“Gridley is fixed for lead, anyway,” replied Dick, “if Ripley can always keep in such form as that.”
“Can Ripley do it again?” shouted one Gridley senior.
“Try it, and see, Ripley,” urged Mr. Luce, again swinging his bat.
Fred had been holding the returned ball for a minute or two. His face was flushed, his eyes glowing. Never before had he made such a hit among his schoolmates. It was sweet, at last, to taste the pleasures of local fame.
He stood gazing about him, drinking in the evident delight of the High School boys. In fact he did not hear the coach’s order until it came again.
“Try another one, Ripley!”
The young man moistened his fingers, placing the ball carefully. Of a sudden his arm shot out. Again the coach struck for what looked a fair ball, yet once more Mr. Luce fanned air and the catcher straightened up, ball in hand.
Pumph! The lazily thrown ball landed in Ripley’s outstretched left. He moistened his fingers, wet the ball, and let drive almost instantly. For the third time Mr. Luce fanned out.
Then Fred spoke, in a tone of satisfied self-importance: