"That's funny," said Kinky, after a pause. "He hasn't been this way up to the last few days. He's played through the whole year...!"
"Sure—the big game's the only one that bothers him this way," grinned Sober. "You know, some fellows can stand every kind of flower but goldenrod ... and that knocks them for a flock of sneezes. Well, for some reason, Speed has the feeling that Hamilton's not to be sniffed at. All the other games are just dress rehearsals but this contest is the real thing!"
"That's bad," declared Kinky, seriously. "Bad for Speed and bad for the team. The other fellows can't help but be depressed by the way he's taking it. And after what happened last year it'll be a wonder if Speed don't have the whole eleven on edge."
"You said it," agreed Sober. "But what can we do about it? That's a neat little problem for Coach Brock to solve!"
Could the two squad members have known it, the Coach was even at that moment turning a rather drastic plan over in his mind. Something certainly had to be done. Practically every fellow at the Varsity and Second Team training tables had observed the sudden funereal atmosphere being radiated by one Speed Bartlett. His sad and solemn conduct had begun to descend like a pall upon a heretofore gay and carefree dining hall. Just why this climax to a Medford season should have such a nervous effect upon her star halfback was as difficult to determine as why some folks got short of breath in the proximity of a cat. "Cat asthma", this was called. There weren't any words exactly descriptive of Speed's disorder for he was courageous to a fault. In the heat of battle he played with an abandon and a drive that usually carried him through to his objectives. It wasn't, then, a matter of his actually being "afraid" of anything. But, still, the seeming mere anticipation of the big game with Hamilton produced a nerve-shattering reaction.
"I can't let this go on," Coach Brock decided, "or I won't have any morale left. Hamilton has a strong eleven this year and we'll need all the fighting spirit we've got. Now if I can just figure out some way to suspend Speed from the team—tell him he's out of the big game—relieve him of his nerve tension and then shove him in the contest at the last minute ... that might turn the trick!"
Phil Doran and Milt Gleeson were as rabid Medford supporters as could be found in college. More than this—they were close chums of Speed Bartlett. Between them they owned a little runabout in which they travelled to the various college towns where Medford's eleven might be playing. The coming Hamilton game, however, was to be played at Medford and, since it was to be the last contest of the season, the boys' football trips were over.
"What do you suppose Coach Brock's sent for us about?" Phil asked Milt as the two were on the way to the athletic director's office.
"Haven't the slightest idea," grinned Milt. "But maybe he wants us to help him work out some new plays to spring against Hamilton!"
"Only play I could suggest would be for him to put in the first and second teams at the same time," declared Phil. "Then we might have a chance to win by sheer weight of numbers!"
"Oh, it's not as bad as that," replied Milt, defensively. "If Speed just holds to his regular form this year, he'll give Hamilton plenty of trouble. He's crazy to make up for his fumble in last season's game. Have you seen him lately?"
"Not in three days. Have you?"
"No. I called around at his dorm yesterday but he wasn't in. About time we got together again. Speed's a great guy."
"And a mighty sweet football player," complimented Phil. "Well, here we are—outside the sanctum of the man who controls the destinies of Medford pigskin chasers. Shall I rap?"
"Sure—don't you see it says 'private'?"
A voice bade the callers to "come in!" and Phil and Milt presently found themselves standing before the genial-faced coach.
"Sit down!" Coach Brock invited, motioning to chairs. And when the two wondering visitors were seated, he came straight to the point with: "I understand you fellows know Speed Bartlett very well?"
Phil and Milt exchanged glances.
"Well ... er ... yes, sir ... we ...!"
"We're pretty good friends," temporized Milt. "Why—what's ... er ... happened?... Is Speed in trouble?"
Coach Brock smiled, amusedly. "Yes, as a matter of fact, he is. Not necessarily serious trouble," he hastened to assure as Phil and Milt looked their concern, "but I want to guard against it getting any worse."
"Good grief!" exclaimed Milt, anxiously. "What's Speed done?"
"We haven't been out with him for some time," volunteered Phil, "so we wouldn't know anything."
"It's nothing like that," declared the Coach. "Speed's simply going to pieces over thoughts of the Hamilton game. I've got to break him of this or he's going to have himself in such a mental stew by game-time that he'll be next to useless."
"Oh—then you want us to brighten him up?" divined Phil.
Coach Brock shook his head. "No, there's only one thing that can have any effect upon Speed," he said, decisively. "He's got to be told that he can't play on Saturday. This will bitterly disappoint him, of course, but it will relieve him at the same time. But the fly in the ointment is how to make Speed believe that he's really not going to play. He knows very well that I wouldn't remove the star of the team without definite reason. Obviously, then, the only way we can put one over on Speed is to catch him breaking one of the strict rules I've laid down for members of the squad."
"Now I 'get' you," cried Phil, eagerly. "You want us to help get Speed in bad!"
"That's precisely it," agreed the coach. "And here's how you can do it. Take him over to Ashby in your car to catch the early evening show. There's a Knute Rockne two-reeler showing at the picture house that I'll recommend be seen. As you fellows know, my orders are for every man on the squad to be in his room and in bed by ten o'clock. Ashby is a good twenty miles from here and, after stalling for time you start back to Medford with just time enough left to get Speed to his dorm within the ten o'clock law. Unfortunately, however, your car breaks down and you are delayed getting back until after midnight."
"Quite a thrilling plot," agreed Milt.
"It calls for some real acting," opined Phil. "And if Speed ever caught on he'd darn near kill us!"
"Aren't you willing to die for your college?"
smiled Coach Brock. "I'll be within sight of the dorm so that I can manage to be passing when you drive up, several hours late, with Speed. What happens after that will be regrettable but hardly any fault of yours. Automobiles do break down ... even in the best of families!"
Phil and Milt grinned.
"But what if Speed doesn't care to see this picture?" queried Milt.
"I think he'll jump at the chance after the send-off I give to it this afternoon at practice," said the coach. "But I'll insist that all fellows who do make arrangements to take in the show, make a point of getting back by their accustomed hour."
"Okay!" accepted Phil. "We'll tackle Speed on the proposition after practice ... tell him we've just learned of the football program ... and that we're leaving in time to catch the seven o'clock show. Wouldn't he like to go along?"
"That's right," Coach Brock approved. "You can explain to Speed that the seven o'clock show will be over around nine o'clock which gives you a whole hour to drive the twenty miles back. Let me know, for sure, if you can make arrangements, and I'll be ready to do my part."
"We'll try our darndest," promised Phil.
"And, of course," the coach added, warningly, "it goes without saying that you are to keep this little matter strictly confidential. You are doing this, remember, for the team!"
Phil and Milt stiffened with a sense of their responsibility.
"You can trust us," they assured.
Speed Bartlett was quite innocent of any plot against him and quite glad to accept the invitation of his two friends to attend the show. In fact, he welcomed the opportunity as a means of possible relaxation. Coach Brock had spoken highly of the Knute Rockne short subject—declaring it to be extremely educational, particularly as pertained to open field running. Since this was supposed to be Speed's specialty, his curiosity was aroused.
"Strange you fellows should be interested in seeing this same show," mused Speed, on the way over. "It's a good break for me since I'm supposed to see it, anyway."
"Listen, Speed," declared Phil. "We're nuts over football. We'd go almost anywhere within reason to see a game or something interesting about it. And when we read in the paper that one of Knute Rockne's pictures was there ... well, that was enough for us!"
"Clever bird, this fellow, Knute," kidded Milt. "I'd place him next to Coach Brock."
Arriving at Ashby, Phil and Milt parked their car on a side street and were surprised to find a crowd waiting to get seats.
"Hello—they're doing some real business. Must be a great show!" exclaimed Milt, with a wink at Phil.
"Ten minutes after seven," said Speed, a bit disturbed.
"Oh, there's plenty of time," said Phil, "but I've got so in the habit of sitting that I hate to stand."
It was seven-thirty before the three patrons from Medford were escorted to seats and then it was to discover that the Knute Rockne feature had just finished.
"Tough luck," Milt whispered. "But it'll start the next show. We're all right."
The three then settled down to enjoy the feature picture and time sped quickly. It was ten after nine that the Knute Rockne short subject next flashed on the screen and its interest was compelling from the start. The two-reeler was over at nine-forty, much to Speed's concern when he discovered the time.
"Holy smoke!" he cried. "We've got twenty minutes to drive twenty miles. You fellows'll never make it!"
"We'll try!" declared Phil, optimistically, as they rushed for the car. "Gosh, where did that time go to?"
"Won't make much diff if we are a few minutes late," said Milt, reassuringly. "Coach won't hold you to account on this."
"But he made a point of saying we had to be back on time if we went," Speed recalled.
"Sure—he's got to keep his discipline up," rejoined Phil, sliding behind the wheel and working the starter. "What's the matter with this thing? Have I flooded the carburetor?"
The engine had refused to respond.
"That's probably what's the trouble," diagnosed Milt. "Turn off your gas entirely."
"Good grief!" groaned Speed, "Get going, you guys! I don't want to be any later than I have to!"
"Keep your shirt on!" soothed Milt. "There she spits! She'll catch hold in a minute. This little old bus hasn't failed us yet."
Another valuable minute shot past ... and another.
"Say—there goes the interurban!" said Medford's star halfback, nervously. "It makes Medford by ten-thirty. I'd better catch it!"
"Don't be foolish!" cried Milt, grabbing Speed and holding him in the car. "We'll be back in Medford before that traction! It's a concrete road most all the way!"
"Here we go!" announced Phil as the engine finally took hold. "Now—just as soon as we get beyond the city limits...!"
At ten o'clock, when all good little football players were supposed to be tucked in their beds or, at least, safe in their rooms, a runabout containing the outstanding star of Medford's eleven was whizzing along the highway with the indicator wavering between fifty and fifty five miles an hour.
"Nine miles in fifteen minutes!" figured Phil, eyes intent on the road ahead. "At that rate we'll be in Medford around ten-sixteen. You don't see that interurban do you?"
"It's just about leaving Ashby now!" grinned Milt. "How's this for traveling, Speed? This is just a little faster than you go down the field. Say—what did you think of that Rockne picture anyhow? Pick up any pointers?"
"Very interesting," admitted Speed. "But what's that I hear—is it a knock in the motor?"
"Careful, Phil!" warned Milt. "The old engine's getting too hot again. Better slow up!"
"What's the matter?" asked Speed, anxiously.
"Nothing much," answered Milt, "Only we can't hit it up too fast for too long a time. Might burn out a bearing or something!"
Phil reduced the speed from fifty to twenty miles an hour and still the knocking persisted.
"Sounds like it's almost out of gas," said Speed. "It's commencing to cough now!"
"Maybe it caught cold standing out there to-night," suggested Milt. "It is acting strangely. Wouldn't you say so, Phil?"
"Something's gone wrong," was Phil's grave comment. "I think there's some foreign substance clogging the carburetor!"
Pulling to the side of the road, Phil stopped the car.
"Now what?" gasped Speed, glancing at his watch.
"Have to take a look," said Phil, getting out and raising the hood. "Pass out the flashlight, Milt!"
"Which seat is it under?" asked the confederate in the dire conspiracy.
"How do I know?" was Phil's rejoinder.
A half hour of tinkering with the engine followed, during which an agitated Speed Bartlett paced up and down the highway, returning every few minutes to inquire the progress made.
"We can't even get the engine started now," was Milt's cheerful report. "It's a good thing we stopped when he did!"
"That's where you made your mistake," said Speed, irritably. "You never should have stopped!"
"No!" retorted Phil, caustically. "You should burn out a bearing on your car!"
"I haven't any car!" replied Speed, sharply.
"That's just the point!" returned Milt, smothering a chuckle. "But, don't worry, Speed, we'll explain to the Coach! Have a chocolate bar—there's one in my coat in the car."
"I can't eat anything," was Speed's glum rejoinder. "My stomach's on the blink."
A flashing headlight suddenly appeared from around a curve in the road.
"Heigho!" exclaimed Phil. "Here comes the interurban!"
"Quick—your flashlight!" cried Speed, with sudden resolution. "I'll flag it!"
Medford's football star dashed forward but Milt fumbled the flashlight in handing it over and by the time Speed got hold of it the interurban was whizzing past.
"I knew I ought to have gone home by traction!" he lamented, loudly. "Something told me not to go back with you guys! This is terrible!"
"Listen, Speed—you're getting all worked up over this," consoled Milt. "You crawl in the car there and curl up on the seat and get your sleep. That's why the Coach wants you to turn in at ten—so you'll get the right amount of sleep. If he should find out about this, we'll tell him you got your sleep just the same!"
"Sleep?" bellowed a greatly aggravated! Speed. "I haven't slept for four nights as it is! How can I sleep now?"
"Hey, Phil!" cried Milt, insinuatingly. "I'll fix this bird. Where's the monkey wrench?"
It was a quarter to one o'clock before a familiar looking runabout appeared in front of the MacDaniel Dormitory and the door popped open to let a highly exasperated and greatly worried athletic figure out. There was not a sign of another soul upon the campus, nor was there a light visible save the flickering street lamps.
"Coast is clear!" whispered Milt. "Awfully sorry, old boy, but nobody will be any the wiser. You sneak in to your room and...!"
"Hello, there!" sounded a voice. "Is that you, Speed?"
"Blue murder!" exclaimed an agonized fellow, under his breath, as he cringed against the side of the car. "That's Coach now!"
"It can't be!" said Phil, punching Milt knowingly with his elbow. "What would Coach be doing out this time of night?"
There were the sounds of footsteps approaching.
"Make a break for it!" advised Milt, hoarsely.
"I can't," moaned Speed. "I—I'm caught—cold!"
"Well!" addressed Coach Brock, as he got within real hailing distance. "Is this the time for you to be turning in? Who are these chaps with you?... Oh, yes—I see. Doran and Gleeson. Where have you been?"
"It's all our fault, Coach," Phil spoke up. "Milt and I took Speed over to see the Rockne picture at Ashby and ... and our car broke down on the way back."
"I've heard that story before," was Coach Brock's unfeeling reply. "What did I tell you, Speed, about being in by ten o'clock?"
"But, sir ... I ... er ... it was unavoidable," stammered Medford's star half-back. "I fully intended ..."
"Sorry, Speed!" cut short the Coach, severely. "Orders are orders. I'd like to make an exception but this wouldn't be fair to the other members of the squad. From now on you're under suspension and this act removes you from the game on Saturday!"
"No, Coach, no!" pleaded Speed. "You can't keep me out ... not for this! It's the first time I ever broke regulations and it wasn't intentional...!"
"Then why were you trying to sneak in the house?" demanded Coach Brock. "You didn't intend to report this infraction to me did you?"
"Well, er ... don't suppose I did," Speed was forced to confess. "I was afraid maybe you wouldn't understand."
"Hmm! It's a good thing I worked late at the office tonight," was the Coach's comment. "As it is, I understand only too perfectly. You'll turn in your suit tomorrow!"
Medford campus was thrown in a turmoil the next day, which was Tuesday, with the news of Speed Bartlett's suspension. The report was first treated as a rumor but when a crestfallen Speed himself would not deny it and when he did not appear on the field for practice, the awful truth finally dawned.
"It's good-bye game now!" mourned Medford fans. "Did you hear what Coach kicked Speed off the team for? Being out late! Can you fathom that? And Speed had a good reason, too ... he was in a car that broke down."
A wave of indignation swept the college that the star player should be ruled out of the big game of the year on a technicality, but Coach Brock, in issuing a brief statement, stood by his guns, declaring that discipline was necessary and the owners of the car, on further cross-examination, could not prove that anything was or had been wrong with the car. It was natural that such an excuse would be offered when the fellows were caught flat-footed. But none of the three, under questioning, would tell where they had been after leaving the theatre at Ashby.
The affect of Speed's removal on his fellow team members was to eliminate any possible tendencies toward over-confidence. In its stead a grim determination was born. Medford would have to make up for the loss of its star by a greater fighting spirit.
Speed himself, as disappointed as he was, suddenly discovered that his appetite had returned. Stomach muscles which had contracted under the nervous anticipation of the coming conflict, now relaxed and set up a cry for food to work upon. And, while Speed no longer reported to the training table, it was observed by a spying Phil and Milt that he ate abundantly but wisely.
"Coach sure knows his psychology," Milt said to Phil as they were crossing the campus the day before the game. "All that was the matter with Speed was a bad case of nerves...."
At the moment of this remark, the fellow in question was hurrying in an attempt to overtake his two friends, and had just gotten within earshot. Discovering that he was being talked about, Speed lagged curiously behind.
"Speed's got sand all right," he overheard Phil say. "But he worries too much before hand. You can imagine how bad it must have been for the training table with Speed sitting there like a guy with a load of lead in his stomach. The whole eleven's better off. It's a blow to have Speed suspended but Medford'll take the field tomorrow with a world of fight.
"And when Coach sends Speed into the game—maybe Medford spirit won't rise sky high!" chuckled Milt. "Boy, I guess maybe we didn't play our parts to perfection! We ought to get letters for this!"
Medford's star halfback stopped in his tracks and let his two friends continue on their way, not realizing that he was anywhere near them. He was burning with humiliation and resentment. So—this had all been a put-up job! Coach Brock had enlisted the services of his two chums to frame him ... to save his nerve for the big battle!
"I'll go to the Coach and tell him what I think of him!" was Speed's first reaction.
But more sober thought decided Speed against this step. There was truth in what Phil and Milt had said about him. He had been painfully conscious of his feelings toward the coming game. Even now, since he knew that Coach Brock intended reinstating him at the last moment, all the old nervous symptoms had returned, worse than ever. There was that heavy feeling in his stomach, the quickening of his pulse, the strained sensation in his head....
"I guess I wasn't such a good influence around the fellows in this condition," Speed reflected glumly. "But Coach put me off the team and I'm going to stay off the team. I'll fix him—I'll leave town tonight so he can't get hold of me!"
Saturday morning found the campus of Medford alive with old grads and loud-mouthed Hamilton rooters who told everyone who would listen, in no uncertain terms, what their eleven was going to do to the home team.
"Too bad your star is out of the game!" Hamilton lamented. "You'll be using that for an alibi—but we'd have beaten you either way!"
At noon, Coach Brock sent word by second team member, Kinky Doyle, that Speed Bartlett was to report to him at once. The Varsity had just left training table, having had an early lunch. In two hours they would be dressing for the game.
"Hey, Coach!" cried an excited Kinky fifteen minutes later. "I've just come from Speed's room. He's not there ... but I found this note—addressed to you!"
Coach Brock took the note, wonderingly, opened it, and read:
To Coach Brock, Medford College, Medford.
Since I have been removed from the team, I couldn't bear to stay and see the game, so I have left town.
"Great jumping Jehoshaphat!" swore Coach Brock, crumpling the paper. "The boy's gone crazy! Get hold of Doran and Gleeson at once!"
"Yes, sir!" blinked a wondering Kinky Doyle, hurrying off.
With Phil and Milt delivered to him, post haste, Coach Brock took them privately aside and showed them the note. Phil gasped and Milt whistled.
"Where would Speed have gone?" demanded the coach.
"I haven't the slightest idea," replied Milt. "Have you, Phil?"
"There's four different directions," Phil answered. "And one's as good as another!"
"Well, you've got to find him!" the Coach ordered. "You got him in this mess!"
"Us?" mumbled Phil and Milt, all but overcome.
"Don't argue!" snapped the Coach. "Get out and hunt him up! If Speed Bartlett doesn't play today, the game's as good as lost!"
"End of first half!" cried the radio announcer. "And what a game this has been!... But Hamilton's great team is proving too much for Medford today. They're out in front, two touchdowns, thirteen to nothing, which just about indicates the difference in playing strength. Medford's offensive hasn't been able to get going ... no doubt due to the loss of their backfield star, Speed Bartlett... Stand by, folks, we're to have a word now from Coach Brock of Medford...!"
There was a moment of prickling silence, then the sound of someone clearing a husky throat.
"I hope you will pardon me, radio football fans, for this brief intrusion," spoke Coach Brock. "But I am addressing this appeal to Speed Bartlett with the hope that he may be within the reach of my voice. I herewith apologize to him. Further ... er ... facts have just come to light in regard to his violation of the rules and were he here in Medford today he would be offered his place in the line-up. It is self-evident that Medford needs him...!"
A certain young man, standing in front of a radio store in Ashby, waited to hear no more. He rushed over to a taxi stand at the curb and hailed a driver who had been listening in on the game.
"What'll you charge to take me to Medford?"
The taxi driver almost fell from his seat.
"That's a fifteen dollar ride, son!"
"Okay!" accepted Speed, "And there's an extra five in it for you if you break all records getting there!"
"Have you got that much money?" asked the driver, incredulously.
"No," answered Speed, truthfully. "But Coach Brock has...!"
"Oh—be you Speed Bartlett?" exclaimed the driver, starting his car. "Suffering cats, boy! Then I'm gonna turn this old bus into a flyin' machine!"
"Good!" cried Speed, jumping in. "Oh—wait a second! I want to run in this telegraph office!"
A messenger boy, twenty minutes later, with the third quarter about four minutes under way, reached Coach Brock's side. The coach was intent upon the game inasmuch as his team was being pushed once more into the shadow of its own goal posts. Hardly realizing what he was doing, he took the yellow envelope and thrust it in a side pocket.
"Hey, Coach!" cried a substitute, grabbing his mentor by the arm. "That was a telegram!"
"Read it to me!" snapped Coach Brock, handing the wire over and not taking his eyes off the field.
The sub slit the envelope open and gazed at the message in bewilderment.
"Why—why—this is funny!" he exclaimed. "There's no name signed or anything—just one word...!"
"What is it?" asked the Coach. "Hold 'em out there! What's the matter with you fellows? Gordon, go in for Ochs at left tackle!... What did you say that one word was...?"
"The word is 'coming'!" announced the substitute.
Coach Brock whirled, interest quickening, and seized the yellow piece of paper.
"Coming?" he repeated. "Coming?... By George—this is from that goofy Speed Bartlett!... Jerry, you go in for Maltby at right guard. Get Pete to take a time-out and tell the team that Speed's on the way here. Tell those guys to buck up! Speed'll be in the game now ... he's due any minute!"
A second substitute raced out on the field and Coach Brock now excitedly examined the telegraph blank.
"Ashby!" he groaned, as he saw the office from which the wire was sent. "Twenty miles... He had ten minutes of the intermission minutes for time-outs ... plus two minutes' for the third quarter plus another ten to fifteen minutes for time-outs ... plus two minutes' intermission between quarters ... how much does that make? Can he get here before the game's over?... Why did that galoot have to go so far away?... Come on, team—the old fight!"
News that their backfield star was due to appear any second proved a tremendous bracer to a beaten team. Medford braced on her ten yard line and held the mighty Hamilton for downs, then punted out of danger. Medford did even more than this. As the third quarter drew to a close, she drove deep into Hamilton territory on her first sustained offensive of the day.
"Save the game for Speed!" became the slogan. "Put the old ball in scoring position!"
But the fourth quarter got under way with no sign of Speed Bartlett and Coach Brock was forced to wave a yellow slip of paper as proof that he hadn't been pulling a ruse on his team.
"He's coming!" the coach megaphoned. "This wire says so!"
"He must be coming from Florida!" growled quarterback Pete Slade. "Let's go, guys!... Maybe we can score without him!"
A taxi suddenly wheezed into the stadium, steam and water frothing from the radiator, the cap of which had been blown off. A figure leaped from the taxi before it had come to a stop and went racing toward the Medford bench. A section of the Medford crowd recognized the figure and set up a great hue and cry. The Medford team, hearing the outburst, immediately called for "Time out!"
"Pay this man twenty bucks!" Speed panted, pointing to the taxi driver, as Coach Brock embraced him, wildly. "How about my togs?"
"They're right here!" said the Coach. "Gather around him, you fellows. He'll have to change on the field ... no time to chase to the locker room!"
Clothes were fairly thrown at Medford's star halfback and willing hands helped strip him while other willing hands, almost too willing, fairly jerked on his moleskins. Meanwhile Coach Brock had shoved two ten dollar bills in the taxi driver's hand, wrapped a blanket around him and pushed him down on the bench alongside the substitutes.
"What's he doing this for?" asked the bewildered driver.
"Don't know," grinned the sub next him. "If he finds he needs you, he'll probably send you into the game!"
The time-out period exhausted, Medford resumed play with third down and eight to go on Hamilton's fifteen yard mark. But, so stimulating was the knowledge that Speed Bartlett was actually on the field, Medford opened up a hole which sent quarterback Pete Slade galloping through for a first down!
And then the top of the stadium all but lifted as Speed dashed out on the gridiron, buckling his belt. Team-mates greeted him like a long lost brother and Medford went into a huddle. The stands were in an uproar. Fullback Ned Turner went through for two yards to Hamilton's five yard mark.
There was nothing nervous about Speed Bartlett as he crouched in his position, waiting to hear his signal called. He had been given so much to think about on his wild ride from Ashby to Medford that the nerve strain had left him. He was coldly calm and grimly determined, obsessed with a desire to make up for lost time. An enthused Medford, having taken a severe battering from Hamilton earlier in the game, now tore into the enemy and made a slicing opening for her backfield star who flashed through and over the line for a touchdown on his first play.
Phil and Milt, just entering the stadium after a fruitless search for Speed, could not believe their eyes as they looked out on the gridiron.
"What's Coach been doing—kidding us?" they gasped. "Speed's been in the game all the time!"
Greater cheers as Speed kicked goal for extra point and the scoreboard changed to read: Hamilton, 13, Medford, 7.
"Six more minutes to play!" someone announced, hysterically. "Do it again, Speed, old boy!"
Team members exchanged words with Speed as they lined up to kick off to Hamilton.
"Boy, we thought you'd never get here!"
"So did I!" Speed grinned. "Been softening Hamilton up for me all this time, eh? Well, let's get another touchdown!"
A worried Hamilton, receiving the kick-off, was downed on her twenty-two yard mark. But three yards were gained on two tries and Hamilton punted, desperately resolved to hold the touchdown lead to the finish. It was Medford's ball on her own thirty-three yard line. But Medford now was playing with a frenzy and yet with a precision which it had not shown all season. Mixing line plays, end runs and lateral passes, with Speed Bartlett being given the ball three-fourths of the time, quarterback Pete Slade drove his warriors down to Hamilton's twenty yard mark with two minutes remaining.
"Listen, fellows!" said Speed, in a huddle, "I saw a play in a movie the other day ... one of Knute Rockne's ... and there's a weakness in Hamilton's line ... right where this play's supposed to go. It's an off-tackle smash ... and if the man with the ball gets through into the open field it's almost impossible to stop him...!"
"Give us the dope!" ordered quarterback Slade. "We're entitled to one more time-out!"
"Now what's Speed up to?" wondered Coach Brock, who, for the past five minutes had been biting off fingernails at a rapid rate. "Looks to me like he's been knocked goofy and is delivering the boys an oration!"
With the calling of time the team snapped back into position and a new formation took shape before an astounded Coach's eyes. The ball was passed and a hole was suddenly cracked open off left tackle. Through this hole a dashing Speed disappeared and then, as suddenly, reappeared in the face of Hamilton's surprised secondary defense. Two would-be tacklers were shunted out of the way by vicious Medford interference and Speed side-stepped another. The rest of the way to the goal line was unmolested and he romped across for his second touchdown of the quarter to tie the score at thirteen all!
"I never gave the boys that play," said Coach Brock. "But it's vaguely familiar. I've seen it some place before!"
"That play was shown in the Rockne picture!" informed a substitute.
Coach Brock blinked a moment, then put a hand to his head, staggered dizzily, and sat down. But he did not remain seated long for Speed Bartlett coolly toed the ball between the uprights for the point that sent Medford into the lead, fourteen to thirteen, just as the gun banged for the game's end, in one of the greatest last quarter finishes ever witnessed in the home stadium.
Phil and Milt were the first wild-eyed rooters to reach Medford's star halfback as other supporters swarmed on the field with one idea in mind—to tear down the goal posts. They hoisted a protesting Speed on their shoulders and hurried him across the field toward the Medford bench.
"Why carry me this way?" Speed shouted, looking down at them. "How about your car—is it broken down again?"
Something in the way Speed said this caused Phil and Milt to glance up suspiciously.
"How did you get wise?" Phil wanted to know.
"Never mind!" rejoined Speed. "Keep moving! Don't let this crowd catch me ... and keep me away from Coach Brock!..."
"Why?" gasped Milt. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing!" said Speed, "except I haven't had anything but a malted milk all day—and I'm darned hungry!"
"Can you beat that!" groaned Phil. "Hold up your side of him, Milt! He's getting darned heavy!... Here we've sacrificed ourselves to save this guy's nerves ... and then, in this last five minutes, we get all upset ourselves! My stomach's tied up in such a knot that I couldn't even digest a soda wafer."
"Don't mention stomach to me," said Milt. "I'm a nervous wreck!"
"Hey!" shouted a jubilant Coach Brock, who saw that a gathering crowd was carrying the star of the game in triumph to the locker room. "Wait for me, Speed!" Then, grinningly, he held up a yellow slip of paper and signalled with it. "Don't you see—you boob—I—I'm coming!"...
THE BRIGHT TOKEN
"Here, take this—it's your token of good luck," she had said. That was twenty years ago, when she was a wistful, dark-eyed slip of a girl and he a wiry, sandy-haired bundle of nerves that football authorities insisted on dubbing the best quarterback in Harvard history, a man who would certainly be accorded All-American honors at the conclusion of the season.
It was a bare hour before the game that he had met her in a secluded spot in the shadow of the stands. A cold rain was falling which, most every one admitted, made a Yale victory look overwhelmingly certain. He could remember how the delicately traced fingers had clung to the lapel of his sweater, and how, when he had started to take leave of her for the locker room, she had restrained him.
The fingers had gone to her throat, had fumbled there an instant, and had undone the slip of a crimson bow which had been caught at the collar of her waist. Tinglingly he could recall how she had commanded him to hold out his right wrist, how sheepish he had felt when she had tied the bow about it—and yet how proud! He had kissed it then and she had laughed, a laugh of nervous admiration, and patted him on the arm. And he had gathered her into one last, impulsive embrace and whispered, "My darling wife!"
Ah, that was twenty years ago! Twenty years! And yet memory made it yesterday; for to-day Carrington R. Davies was going back—back to the scene of it all—back to witness the annual clash with the Yale Bulldogs, and to sit in the stands where he would be pointed out as one of Harvard's greatest old-time football heroes.
Every year since his graduation, C. R. D. had gone back on the occasion of the Yale game—gone either to Cambridge or New Haven—and he intended to keep on doing it as many years as he was permitted to draw breath.
As Davies took the train at the Grand Central Station, New York, he glanced apprehensively at the gray sky overhead and hoped that the weather man who had prophesied rain was wrong. Harvard would need a dry field this year to stand an even chance at winning. Her back field was light, fast, and shifty. It depended on a quick get-away and a sure under-footing. Yale's eleven was solid, heavy from end to end, with a stubborn defense that had allowed but two touchdowns so far that season, and a pile-driving back field that moved slowly but surely behind a battering forward wall. If it rained, Davies reflected, Harvard's last vestige of hope was due to be trampled in the mud.
And yet twenty years before, almost to the day, with a driving rain falling and Yale dangerously near Harvard's goal in the last quarter, the game locked in a grim nothing-nothing tie, a bespattered, sandy-haired youth with a crimson bow encircling his right wrist, had scooped up a fumble at his very goal line and dodged and slipped through the whole Eli team for a frenzied touchdown.
The final score of that heart-blasting contest had been five to nothing, and the sensational length-of-the-field run had clinched for the Harvard quarterback his right to All-American honors. The feat was talked about yet, wherever Harvard men gathered who had witnessed the spectacle of victory jerked from the grinning jaws of defeat. At the Harvard Club on Forty-fourth Street, New York, Carrington frequently ran into brother alumni who said, "I remember you when——" and then he was forced to listen to their versions of his crowning football achievement.
Davies found solace in going over old times. The Harvard Club was his haven of refuge. He was one of the best known men there. To enter the dining room was to nod to men at practically every table. There was a joy in feeling that he was among friends; in having his praises sung to younger grads by those who had chummed with him in college; to have his football prowess perpetuated by retelling.
It was nothing to C. R. D. that he was recognized also as one of the leading architects in New York City. He had worked hard the past twenty years, but perhaps it was not so much because he had yearned to go forward as it was to keep him from thinking too much on certain closed incidents of his life.
At times, like this morning, he found himself trying to piece together what his father, Martin S. Davies, would have told him had he not died with the words on his lips. It was only four years back. The elder Davies had been stricken suddenly while Carrington was in the West, and a wire had brought the son on the first train. He was told, on arrival, that the father was desperately ill; that he had held to the weakening thread of life and consciousness because of a strong-willed desire to impart some vital information to his son.
However, when Carrington Davies had been led into the sick room, the father, overcome with emotion, died from the shock, his fingers clutching the arms of his son, his eyes set upon his son's face, and the words: "Your wife—I—she's at——" trailing off into the darkness with him.
For days after, when all his father's effects had been painfully gone over, Davies had sat in frenzied study. It had been years since he had given serious thought to the brief, tragic romance of his college days. He had suffered keenly for a time, but his father's counsel had held weight with him, held weight even though he could never forget the girl, nor that day of days when she had plighted her faith in him with the dainty crimson bow and he had gone out on the field of battle feeling like a gladiator. A silly, lovesick fool he had been, perhaps, on that glorious day; but no incident in his entire life thereafter quite came up to this.
When he had become older and more mature, when he had reached an age at which he could better judge the sort of woman he should marry, Davies, as his father said he would, had come upon the discovery that all feminine creatures were hopeless bores. Thus his unattached state grew to be recognized as perennial, and whatever romance he enjoyed came to him through the cultivated channels of his memory.
How angry his father had been when he had found that Davies had secretly married! The boy had written home for the family blessing and had received, by return mail, the family curse. Carrington Davies came of too good and wealthy a stock to have been inveigled into marrying a nobody, his proud parents told him. Why, the girl was an orphan, her parents had been dead some years, and she was employed at serving in a quaint little tea room under the brow of the university.
It was quite natural that a girl of her circumstances should have roped Davies in. Any girl who had really cared would have insisted that he wait until after graduation. Should this marriage become known to college authorities, Davies would be expelled. And then where would he be? Disgraced! His career ruined! And ruined by a girl who had cleaved to him only for the money that he represented!
Martin S. Davies made a special, hurried trip to Cambridge to make his son see all these points. And the elder man brought plenty of money to make any others concerned see as he wanted them to see. The affair was successfully hushed up. Carrington Davies, threatened with being disowned if he did not do exactly as his father dictated, had stood by powerless.
He reflected now that this had been the biggest mistake of his life. But years of strict obedience to his parent had awed him, awed him into letting his father approach Hazel Nubbins, the girl who had so shortly before become his wife. What the elder Davies said to her or what proposition he made, the son never knew. But he recalled the satisfied expression his father wore on returning from the interview, when he said:
"It's all right, son. I've fixed everything. Now, for God's sake don't ever get into a jam like this again!"
And the next day Carrington Davies heard that the girl had left the place of her employ, pleading ill health. Weeks later, when he had come out of the daze occasioned by these happenings, Davies had been unable to obtain any information as to Hazel's whereabouts. And gradually, as the weeks stretched out into months, the whole affair shaped itself into the memory of a vaguely pleasant dream which had turned out a blundering nightmare.
Now, as he sped over the rails on the football special bound for Cambridge, his thoughts came racing back to the present at the dash of something against his window, a something that left a running streak.
"Rain!" exclaimed Davies disappointedly. "Drizzling, cold rain! The devil hang the weather man, anyhow!"
As the trip progressed the rain did likewise, true to forecast. At twelve fifteen, when the special arrived at Brighton, a stop one mile from the stadium, Davies stepped into a sullen, sweeping downpour. There was little hilarity among the detraining football followers, and crimson colors gave way to the somber black of umbrellas. Davies raised his coat collar and pulled down his hat brim, making a dash for a store front that carried a light-lunch sign.
It seemed that almost every one else made a dash for the same place at the same time, and the race proved a dead heat with the first fifty. These just managed to squeeze inside, Davies being about the forty-seventh by half an elbow and several sore toes. It made him feel as if he was bucking the line again; only there was little relish to it this time, with the general pell-mell and every one calling out his order in place of the familiar, "Rah, rahs!"
Just how Davies at last came by a Swiss-cheese sandwich and a cup of pleasantly hot and fragrant coffee he never quite knew. He just found himself jostled along, automatically holding out his hands when he came up against the counter, taking what was thrust into them, putting it out of sight as quickly as possible, while some one behind him was fighting for his place, and then following the path of least resistance, which led to the cashier's perch where the extent of his hasty appetite was checked up in so many cents.
After that Davies discovered himself once more in the rain, feeling strangely alone and just a little bit dazed. It was early yet. He had half a notion to go up to the locker room and see the boys. He had done this in other years, had even sat in the dugout with them and had thrilled at the imagining that his presence had inspired them; but somehow, this day, Davies felt his inadequacy. It was a sort of left-out feeling; more than that, a sensing that his sun had set, that perhaps he had worn the halo of gridiron hero too long, and that his friends might have been humoring him.
It was such dampening, disconsolate thoughts as these that prompted Davies to hail a taxicab and go directly to the stadium. He would refrain from his usual haunts this year and, through this refraining, see if he was missed. It was quite possible, did he not remind Harvard, year by year, as to just who he was, that the old college would forget him. He must remember that the world lived largely in the present while he had been living largely in the past.
The rain had abated somewhat when Carrington emerged from the taxi and joined the wet line of Harvard and Yale enthusiasts crowding through the main entrance. There was life here; the atmosphere of expectancy that was bred by the very outline of the stadium, the concrete sides of which had rocked with throat-tearing sounds, time on time. How could one's blood help but warm, even under the pelting of rain, at the memories intrusted to the historic amphitheater of sport in which so many athletic classics had been staged? Davies' heart leaped as he came inside the stadium and got his first glimpse of the green-sodded gridiron, now spotted with pools of water, the goal posts looking sleek.
Already the stands were alive with huddled humanity and bobbing umbrellas. Yellow slickers, dotted through the field of black, made Davies think of a checkered taxicab. He cursed himself for not having brought his own raincoat along. In years gone by he could have been wet to the skin and not minded it, but now he was conscious of a desire for dry comfort. Certainly he couldn't be getting old!
By game time the stadium was a howling, wet mass. The rain had subsided to a spraylike drizzle, and Carrington, after a minute study of the sky line, decided that this improvement was the best which could be hoped for.
The conditions underfoot were bad. The sod was soggy and slippery. Punters, in practice, stationed themselves with great care before getting off their kicks. Even then the punting experts were observed to retain their footing, at times, with difficulty. Davies shook his head forebodingly. There was nothing encouraging to the Crimson in the outlook.
The sons of Old Eli were cheering their steam-roller eleven to the echo. As Davies compared the heavy Yale line with the noticeably thinner Harvard wall, he shuddered instinctively as he thought of these men taking the impact of what was due to come. He was seized with a sense of futility at the very outset, and a ready sympathy for the Harvard back field. He had been in just such a position years before when it seemed as though he was battering his head against the side of a brick building, and all for naught, it seemed, too—only that he knew he should keep on battering, battering, just for the Crimson, the dear old Crimson.
Plunk! The hollow, wet sound of toe meeting pigskin and a mud-spattered object turning end over end, with beneath it—jerseyed figures charging! Harvard had kicked off!
Davies rose spontaneously from his seat and added his puny voice to the maelstrom of noise. On the Yale ten-yard line a blue-clad man pulled down the mud-spattered object and, clutching it firmly against his chest, took a few slipping side-steps to dodge an eager tackler. The Eli succeeded in this, only to crash directly into the arms of a second Harvard tackler, who bore him to the sodden earth on the Blue's fifteen-yard stripe. Davies sank back into his seat with a sigh of relief. The first prickling moment of the game was over.
There were, though, further prickling moments to come. On the first play Yale launched a line-smashing offensive, aiming her backfield men at different points on the Harvard forward wall. It was slip-slosh-bang, slip-slosh-bang! There were slow, heavy shiftings, then a mud-smeared man with the ball diving through a hole for one, two, three, or five yards—sometimes ten. Yielding, always stubbornly, but always yielding, the slender Harvard line bent back and back under the savage, relentless onslaught of unmuzzled Yale Bulldogs thirsting for the blood of victory. Davies wore his voice to shreds trying to stop Yale's advance.
It was no use. This was one of those days when all the cheering that could be martialed, and all the resistance that could be offered against the foe, availed but little. Thwarted from a touchdown by the Crimson's grim stand on their very goal line, Nixon, Yale's star kicker, dropped back and booted the dripping-wet ball between the uprights for a spectacular field goal which shot the Elis into a three-point lead.
In the second quarter, facing the same bitter opposition and impeded by the slow, heavy conditions underfoot, Yale satisfied herself with battering the Crimson eleven back until, clawing at one another on the Harvard twenty-yard mark, Nixon mechanically duplicated his first field goal to bring his team's score for the half up to six points. Yale supporters shrieked their joy. The Harvard stands roared loyal encouragement, then lapsed into mournful silence.
During the intermission, Davies confessed to himself that he had never seen a "fightinger" team except, perhaps, the eleven that had fought that memorable battle back in 1905. Here were Crimson gridiron gladiators who made the heart burst with pride; who, though being slowly ground into defeat, were displaying Spartanlike valor; who, by the inspired nature of their resistance, were putting gnawing lumps in the throats of their ardent followers. Ah, this was a contest worth watching, a combat which would go down in history, a story of how a slight Harvard eleven, struggling against tremendous odds, had all but wrested victory from one of the most powerful Yale machines of all time!
When the teams reappeared on the field for the second half, Davies felt the years fall away as in a strange dream. He began to wax exultant about the weather, remembering with what grim satisfaction he had rubbed his nose in the wet dirt behind Yale's goal line after his sensational dash the length of the gridiron twenty years ago—yesterday? No, twenty years——
A frenzied cheer brought Davies back to the present. Yale had kicked off, and Harvard, receiving, had run the ball back fifteen yards. First down on their twenty-one yard line! Broadhurst, slim-figured Harvard quarterback, seemed a dynamo of pep from the way he was barking out signals and urging the utmost from his men. Another cheer, more frenzied than the first, burst out as a Crimson back slid around right end for a four-yard gain. The next play netted seven yards around the same end and a first down. Harvard rooters went crazy and Davies went with them.
Given cause for hope in the first worth-while ground gained against the powerful Yale eleven, the Harvard team threw its whole remaining force into the drive. For seven pulsating minutes it seemed as though the Crimson could not be denied a touchdown. Yard after yard was torn off on slipping end runs and slashing plunges through the line. Davies forgot some of the sympathy he had felt for the team of his Alma Mater. It was now risen to the heights of David against Goliath.
Alas, though, with the ball on Yale's five-yard mark and the Harvard, stands wildly intreating a touchdown, Broadhurst, trying to carry the ball himself, fumbled! The pigskin was seen to strike the ground and then to be swallowed up by a cloud of flying forms. When the referee had dug through the confused mass of arms and legs, he found the ball in Yale's possession, and Harvard's big glimmer of hope immediately vanished. Broadhurst, who but a second before had been credited with putting the driving force into Harvard's great attack, was now roundly censured as the blunderer who had blown the golden opportunity. The quarterback was a sophomore, Davies learned from the talk of some of the more recent Harvard graduates near by.
Overjoyed at having brought a stop to the one serious threat of the enemy, the Yale team lined up on their four-yard mark and held like a stonewall while the great Nixon got off a forty-yard punt from behind his own goal line.
With the punch gone from Harvard's attack, the Crimson made but a scant yard in two downs; then the little Broadhurst threw a long forward pass. The play was well screened; but an alert son of Yale, keenly on the job, managed to intercept the ball. He was thrown in his tracks.
It was growing dark, with the lowering clouds threatening a genuine deluge. A chilling gust of wind whistled through the stadium. Some of the less hardened "rooters" got up and began forcing their way toward the exits. A gloomy silence hung over the field.
Once more in swing, the Yale steam roller got under way. It took up its old battering tactics—slip-slosh-bang, slip-slosh-bang. There was nothing sensational in its movement, just methodical. And back—ever back—though courageously resisting, went the Crimson line. A flock of substitutes came running out now. The ball was on Harvard's twenty-three yard line, four minutes more to play. The substitutes brought a new, if hopeless touch of spirit to the Harvard eleven. They were ambitious, almost pathetically so in the circumstances, to make a good showing in their fleeting chance for glory.
"Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown!" the Yale supporters began to chant in monotonous fashion. It was not a question now of who would win, but could Yale go over the goal line in the time that was left? Harvard had put up a surprising battle against an eleven which had been favored to defeat her by at least twenty points. And Yale was a bit miffed at this, sternly desirous of adding to the score by hammering through for a touch down. A victory won solely through the talented toe of the great Nixon was hardly sufficient tribute to the supposed offensive power of the team itself.
There were two minutes left to play when Yale brought up on Harvard's three-yard line for a first down. Behind the battered and tottering Crimson wall a figure raved and ranted and roared, entreating his teammates to stave off the Bulldog's advance. He stamped from end to end in the churned up sod, prodding each player in a vicious manner. But there was no visible stiffening of the Harvard defense at the savage barking of its quarterback. The team was crushed after having done its best to no avail.
"Look at that bird begging his line to hold and he the one who made that costly fumble!" cried a Yale supporter, who somehow had obtained a seat in the Harvard sections. It was next to that of Davies'. "Wonder if he thinks they'll pay any attention to him now?"
Davies felt like making some hot retort to this, but he didn't. He decided to salve his feelings in a cigar and to escape the agony of watching Old Eli crush the Crimson under the added weight of a touchdown. As Davies lighted up, the lowering clouds spread wide apart, letting down sheets of driving rain.
"A good thing it's almost over," he told himself. "About time for one more play. Well, I don't suppose we could have expected anything different, with the odds against us, and the weather, but if Broadhurst had only——"
Settling back in his seat, Davies was gloomily conscious of the hosts of Yale rising to their feet with a stupendous din. His view was blotted from the gridiron by flashing arms and wildly lurching forms. But Davies was no longer interested. There was no use, he thought, in getting excited over a Yale touchdown.
While all was confusion about him, Davies sat still, puffing on his cigar.
But the cheering kept up! There was a different note in it now, a great, heart-rending groan that was drowned out by an ear-bursting, joyous roar.
Davies looked up wonderingly. "Say, what's happening?"
Just how Davies got to a standing position on his seat he never knew. But he was suddenly and overwhelmingly conscious of a most unusual sight. Crossing the Harvard thirty-yard line, running toward the distant Yale goal with head down, straight into the driving rain, was the slim-lined figure of the Harvard quarterback—the ball tucked under his right arm.
Behind the speeding man with the ball, trailed three desperate Yale players, while another was cutting across the gridiron in the hope of intercepting the Crimson runner from in front. Back near the Harvard goal line, teammates on both sides, now completely out of play, yelled encouragement to pursuers and the one pursued.
Davies, eyes glued on Broadhurst, jabbed out an arm and grabbed the Yale supporter by the shoulder. "Yea! How'd we get the ball?" the hero of twenty years before demanded.
"Let go my collar bone!" The Yale fan winced, trying to jerk away.
"All right; but how'd we get the ball?" persisted Davies.
"Nixon fumbled on your goal line. What's the matter, you poor fish! Why don't you watch the game?"
Davies was watching it now for dear life. The slender Harvard quarterback was being pressed from front and back. He had been forced close to the side line in an effort to evade the tackler who was lumbering at him across water-soaked sod. But, it was now evident that Broadhurst must face this peril. The soggy condition underfoot had made it impossible for him to evade the Eli even by keeping close to the side line. There was no turning outward. To do so would carry the ball out of bounds. And any hesitancy or slowing up would close the distance between the Crimson runner and the three Yale men who kept doggedly pounding along after him.
Instinctively Davies stiffened his right arm and pushed it out violently. For one heart-quaking second it seemed to him that the years had rolled back and that he was carrying the ball. He sensed acutely the sensation that must be Broadhurst's, and he suddenly found himself shrieking: "Give him the straight arm! Give him the straight arm! Give him the——!"
And as if, from out that mad pandemonium of sound, Broadhurst had heard and heeded, the Harvard quarterback ran directly at the oncoming tackler; then, when it appeared as though Broadhurst must go down with arms reaching out to encircle him, he jabbed a mud-stained hand straight from the shoulder, catching the Yale man in the face.
The impact almost threw Broadhurst from his feet, but he saved himself by a quick jump to the side and, a slipping lurch which shook a foot loose from the last frantic grab of the tackler as he dived head foremost into a muddy sheet of water.
"Atta boy! Atta boy!" cried Davies, no longer accountable for what he might say or do.
The man with the ball now had a clear field and was crossing the fifty-yard line. The going was difficult, each step uncertain. Several times he all but fell, the ground was so heavy and sodden that it seemed almost as if Broadhurst were running in one spot, his feet slipping under him. And with the tread-mill effect it looked as though the three frenzied pursuers were gaining.
In Yale territory now, the bleak goal posts looming up in front of him, Broadhurst chanced a glance back over his shoulder. What he saw was none too reassuring. The Yale stands broke into a roar of insane entreaty. A Yale man was at Broadhurst's very heels, and Broadhurst was crossing Old Eli's ten-yard line with a touchdown in sight! It was but a matter of seconds. If the Crimson runner could be overtaken, Harvard's last bubble of hope would be punctured.
"Yea! He's got him!" yelled the Yale supporter, crashing Davies over the head.
"He hasn't, either!" the Harvard grad shouted, with a shove which all but upset the rival rooter. "Look at that, will you?"
At the four-yard line the Yale tackler left his feet in a frantic dive. He struck the man with the ball just below the knees, and Broadhurst crumpled forward, giving a tugging leap. It may have been due to the fact that he was soaked to the skin and that the tackler's hands were wet and chilled; at any rate, the Eli's grip slipped to one leg, and, instead of going down, Broadhurst strained along, dragging his tackler after him. As he reached the goal line the two other Yale men sailed through the air and hit him. All four went down in a splashing fall. Then every one in the stands went wild.
With the strength of a team gone delirious with joy, the Crimson players took their positions in front of the Yale goal and prepared for the play which would give them a try at the extra point after touchdown. The stands rocked with tributes of noise, bestowing upon Broadhurst one of the most deafening ovations ever accorded a gridiron hero. He had fittingly redeemed himself. His blood-tingling length-of-the-field run in the last minute of play had tied the score at six to six.
Davies waited only long enough to see the water-soaked ball sail between the uprights for the winning point. Then he clambered over the seats and cut across the outraged gridiron in the direction of the clubhouse, unmindful of the fact that the mud had sucked off both his rubbers.
At the clubhouse, Carrington Davies encountered unexpected opposition in gaining admittance. It seemed that no one had known who he was and, what was more, no one seemed to care after being informed. Such crass ignorance irritated Davies greatly, but he held his patience. The disregard shown him was only due to the prevailing excitement. If any one of them had only stopped to think!
At last Davies rushed to the door and slid past, picking a hole between the burly door-tender and a rather uppish young substitute who C. R. D. ardently hoped would never become a regular.
Once inside, the going was easier. Players in different stages of dressing, and others still under the showers, glanced at him curiously as his eyes sought out but one individual—the Harvard quarterback.
"Where's Broadhurst?" Davies asked of the Crimson man nearest him.
"Other side of the lockers," the individual addressed answered gruffly. Then, as Davies followed the direction, he mumbled: "Who let that bird in?"
The latest Harvard hero was lacing a shoe when the former All-American quarterback came upon him. Davies paused a moment, looking down at the slim-lined figure sitting on the bench. He watched the slender fingers as they plucked feverishly at the shoe strings.
Evidently the boy was in a great hurry, Davies thought. He probably wanted to get out—to meet his sweetheart and to hear her tell him how wonderful she thought he was. Davies felt a gripping pang. He knew all about it. He had been there—exactly in Broadhurst's shoes—twenty years before.
After what seemed a dragging century, the young fellow finished lacing the shoe, looked up, and started. "Oh! I—I beg your pardon. Did you want to see me?"
Now that his opportunity for congratulation had come, Davies for some unknown reason, felt suddenly small and insignificant. He felt the clear blue eyes of the new Harvard star boring into his with kindly inquiry, and for once in his life old C. R. D. found himself stammering.
He did manage to extend his hand.
"I—I just wanted to tell you how much I—that is—it did me lots of good to see—— Oh, hang it! Signals over! What I mean to say is that I've followed Harvard football for over twenty years. You see, my name's Carrington R. Davies."
The Harvard quarterback continued shaking the stranger's hand politely; but there was no sign of recognition at mention of the name, only a slight frowning of the eyebrows.
C. R. D. noted this and his stammering became several degrees worse. "I—I—used to play quarterback on the Crimson, too."
The other's eyebrows lifted at this.
"And I—and I—— Well, of course you wouldn't remember; but it was just such a day as this—twenty years ago—that I—— Perhaps you've heard tell of it?" C. R. D. brought up lamely, loath to relate the entire incident and hoping that Broadhurst would recall hearing of it.
The Harvard quarterback shook his head, but there was an interested gleam in his eyes. "Why, no. I'm sorry, sir; but I——"
"Well," the former All-American quarterback broke in desperately, "I made a ninety-five-yard run for a touchdown in the last minute of play and won the game against Yale, much as you did—to-day."
There was a deep-throated chuckle from young Broadhurst. "Then it's you, sir, who deserve congratulations!"
"No, no. That's not the point," insisted Davies, with a sense of giddy bungling. "That's really not the point. I just mentioned it because I—because I couldn't help thinking of it, that's all. I couldn't help thinking of myself from the moment I saw you out there, free, with the game at stake, making for the Yale goal. It was just like looking at a moving picture of myself—twenty years ago. You'll pardon me, Broadhurst, I know. Nothing's ever gripped me like that run of yours this afternoon. Nothing!"
Davies was in the swing of things now. He had recovered from his embarrassment and was pouring out his feelings in a flow of words which tumbled over themselves to get expressed. Broadhurst was the one who was embarrassed this time. He looked down at the floor and shifted his feet awkwardly and tried to draw away his hand, but the stranger only gripped it the tighter.
The Harvard quarterback shot a glance about the locker room, relieved to see that no one appeared to be noticing them. Every one was interested in his own business, anxious to get outside and join the victory-crazed celebrators.
"I was with you every step of the way," Davies went on. "When you slipped, I slipped. When you straight-armed the Yale man, I straight-armed him, too. Everything you did all the way to the goal line, I did. It was almost uncanny. Even when they tackled you as you went over for a touchdown and pounded you into the mud—that's just what happened to me. So I have you to thank more than to congratulate, Broadhurst, for we both know what it means to have done our best for the good old Crimson. And you have helped me to live over one of the happiest, most thrilling moments of my life!"
The Harvard quarterback withdrew his hand. The stranger turned away to hide eyes which brimmed with tears.
"I—I'm glad, sir," was all that Broadhurst could think of to say.
Davies stiffened, chagrined at himself for his show of feeling. He was a silly, sentimental old fool, inflicting his childishness upon a gentlemanly young fellow who was too kind and sportsmanlike to show distaste or offense. But why should any one else be interested in his, Carrington R. Davies' feelings, or the fact that, twenty years before, he had scored a touchdown?
"Well, I'm keeping you from going out. I'll be taking leave," remarked the All-American quarterback, backing off apologetically.
"Don't be in a hurry," Broadhurst said, reaching out for his dress shirt, but obviously glad to be about his business. "I'll be through in a minute and then——"
Whatever else the Harvard quarterback may have said was lost upon Davies. He was quite instantly, unexpectedly, and acutely made conscious of something extremely coincidental. The arm that reached out to take the shirt from the locker had the slip of a crimson bow tied about the wrist.
Davies rubbed a hand across his eyes and looked again. How he had missed seeing that bow before he could not understand. But it was certainly there. Infernally peculiar! It was certainly there.
Broadhurst, noting the stranger's stunned expression, stopped, his shirt half on, to inquire what was the matter.
"Why—why nothing—only that bow. You—you'll probably think me odd—but, do you mind my—my taking a good look at it?"
The Harvard quarterback held out his arm with a slight gesture of impatience. Davies took the hand and studied the bit of ribbon. Of course, it wasn't—but didn't it beat the devil how everything had worked out this day? Either that or he was suddenly losing his mind. Perhaps that was it. He had brooded so long over the affair of his youth that at last it had affected his brain.
The ribbon was wet—and soiled—and—this, he thought, could easily be his imagination—it was actually a trifle faded. But it did look strangely familiar, strangely like the one that a dear, trusting girl had tied about his wrist, and that he had sealed there with a kiss twenty years before. It was infernally peculiar. That was all there was to it. Infernally peculiar!
Davies straightened up, to find the Harvard quarterback at the point of exasperation.
"I don't blame you for thinking me out of my mind," sympathized C. R. D. "And I may be, for all I know. So many ungodly things have happened to me to-day. But—if it's not being too personal—where did you get that bow? From your sweetheart?"
There was almost a contemptuous note in Broadhurst's voice as he started to button his shirt. "No! My mother."
Davies felt his knees give way beneath him and he dropped down heavily upon the bench, staring up at the Harvard quarterback, unbelievingly. "Your—your mother?"
"Yes. What's wrong with that?" demanded Broadhurst, picking up collar and tie. "It's a good-luck charm," he explained curtly; then he added with a smile: "And it sure worked to-day!"
"A—a good-luck charm?" echoed Davies weakly. "A good-luck—— Say! Your mother—I mean, is your father—living?"
The Harvard quarterback paused in his tying of a four-in-hand to shoot a puzzled glance at the evidently insane stranger. "No, sir. He died before I was born."
"Oh, I see," Davies mumbled, conscious of his heart thumping in his ears. "But your name—Broadhurst? Was that your father's?"
This question was almost too much for the latest Harvard hero. He spun his locker door shut with a bang. "Why certainly!" Then, wheeling upon his questioner, he asked: "Why wouldn't it be?"
"I—I thought perhaps your mother might have married again and that you—you took the name of your—your stepfather," hazarded Davies.
"See here. I don't know what you're driving at, but I don't like your insinuations. My mother was married only once, and she——"
"Listen!" broke in Davies excitedly. "If I'm not badly mistaken, your real name's Carrington R. Davies. I mean—perhaps not Carrington R.—but Davies anyway!"
"You don't know what you're talking about. My name's Carrington Nubbins Broadhurst!"
"Carrington Nubbins. It is! Well, why didn't you say so? But you're all wrong on the last name. Where's your mother? I've got to see her. Why, confound it, old boy, I'm your father!"
Five palpitating seconds of electrifying silence followed Davies' fervent outburst. Then C. R. D. spoke again, in a voice that was husky with pent-up emotion and the shock of it all.
"Where's your mother? I've been twenty years trying to find her. Oh, God, this is wonderful! You—my son!"
Still the young man who went by the name of Broadhurst stood, unspeaking, undecided as to what to make of this rabidly serious personage who, not alone satisfied with claiming prestige for performing a gridiron feat similar to his, was now trying to claim a part in his parentage.
"It was twenty years ago," explained Davies appealingly, "almost to the day, when, just before the game with Yale, I met your mother—met her in a secluded spot under the stands. There was a cold rain falling, and I can remember how we pressed up close against the stands to keep from getting soaked. And she took that little crimson bow from about her neck and tied it around my wrist. I can even recall exactly what she said. It was, 'Here, take this—it's your token of good luck.'" Davies' voice broke at this and tears glazed the eyes of even the Harvard quarterback.
"I—I guess there must be something to it, all right," confessed the youth who had been surnamed Broadhurst, the name his mother had taken. "That's just what mother did this afternoon—insisted on meeting me under the stands, and—and tied on this bow—and said those same words!"
It was a peculiar sight—had any one been there to see it—a grown-up man and a growing man clasping hands, their faces wet and streaked.
"I'm taking mother to dinner tonight," said the younger man softly, after what seemed like an hour of understanding silence.
"No—you mean that I'm taking mother and you," corrected the old-time player firmly. Then, leaning over, he touched the crimson bow reverently and asked: "I—I wonder if you'd let me wear that to-night? I want her to see me with it on. I want her to know that Davies played the game!"
How did "Rus" Lindley get his nickname, "Butter Fingers"? Now I'll ask you one! "Why did the guys call six foot Harry Tibbits, 'Shorty'?" Answer that and you've answered your own question about "Rus."
I guess, if you'd go into the science of nicknames far enough you'd find that the name you can pick which comes the furtherest from fitting who you're picking it for is the one that suits the best! There—how's that for getting rid of an involved sentence?
At any rate, if "Rus" really deserved to be dubbed "Butter Fingers" then the moon is really made of green cheese and the cow really did jump over it and all that stuff. Because if there was one thing that "Rus" wasn't, it was butter fingers.
"Rus" was a lean, lanky, long-armed, awkward, thin-nosed cuss that you'd think, to look at, didn't have an ounce of ambition or a pint of sense. The next minute you'd wake up to find the ounce a hundred pounds of condensed lightning and the pint a couple of gallons of trigger thinking. That's the kind of a surprise package "Rus" was. And, brother, look out!! If "Rus" ever had occasion to lay hands on you he didn't let go until he got good and ready. Try your durndest and you couldn't shake loose the grip he carried in those long, slender fish hooks of his. "Butter Fingers"?
What a laugh! "Rus" was never known to have muffed anything in his life!
It was "Butter Fingers" who climbed the greased pole and took down the Senior colors his Freshman year. It was "Butter Fingers" who untied the wet knots in the fellows' clothes the time we Sophies got caught swimming in the Old Bend, thus saving us from a most embarrassing situation. It was "Butter Fingers" who hung by his digits from a window sill on the fourth story of our dorm when she was burning down ... hung there ten minutes till the firemen got a ladder under him after he'd been cut off from the stairs. He saved seven roommates by that sure-grip of his, swinging them from a window where they were trapped and sending them down the stairs ahead of him before the fire put the stairs out of commission.
And who but "Butter Fingers" could have "human-fly-ed" it up the front of the old stone chapel, clear up into the belfry? Of course he did it on a dare but those wonder fingers of his just pulled him up, catching hold of places that the ordinary person would tear their finger nails on and cry thirteen bloody murders from the strain of hanging to crevices by the finger tips.
That was "Butter Fingers"!
But, using the words of Al Jolson, "You ain't heard nothin' yet!" What I've just got through telling you was just practice exercises for the bird with the muscular mitts, the uncanny grip, the steam shovel hands and the never-break-clutch.
Say, I hope you're not getting this "Butter Fingers" wrong. He was long, lean, lanky, awkward, thin-nosed and all that ... but he wasn't built like a foundry. His hands weren't extra large, either ... excepting that the fingers were extra long. He only weighed a hundred and fifty-one pounds which isn't much when you're thinking in terms of football and so much for so tall. That's where "Butter Fingers" had you fooled. You had to see him in action before you'd believe what "Rus" Lindley could do.
Was he modest? He was so quiet and unassuming that you could hear his watch ticking in his vest pocket! Was he athletic? Don't be ridiculous! If he wasn't athletic anywhere but in his fingers he'd have been athletic enough. As it was, he was the best end that ever played on a football eleven representing Burden High!
What makes you think "Butter Fingers" was a freak? He wasn't born strong-fingered. Naw. He had to develop it. What made him do it? Well, I don't know as I could answer that exactly. I remember "Butter Fingers" saying once he'd gotten a kick out of chinning himself ever since he was a baby. Sure! You don't chin yourself with your chin ... you chin yourself with your ... anyhow it's mostly done with your grip! You get a hold of a bar or something and pull your body up rigid! All right, then! Why didn't you say you'd tried it? Ain't so easy, is it? Especially after the tenth time!
Can you imagine what sort of an end a guy with a powerful grip could make? Can you figure what would happen to a football if "Butter Fingers" ever laid his grapplers on it? And can you picture a runner trying to get away from a tackle by a bird like "Rus"? A fly might as well try to pull its feet off a sheet of sticky fly paper as a runner to jerk loose from "Butter Fingers" once he's got him.
Would you like to hear how "Butter Fingers" won his undying fame? Have I got the time? No, but I'll take time. This story's worth it!
Just make yourself as comfortable as possible. You'd better sit on the edge of your chair, though, because that's where you'll be before very long anyway. And I'll start right in at the beginning so you won't miss any of the picture.
First, you got to get a close-up of this fellow, "Rus" Lindley. He's the kind they describe in the movies as "Oliver, who takes everything seriously—including football." Before any of the guys nicknamed him "Butter Fingers," "Rus" was just an ordinary, awkward candidate for the team ... but while he was picking up bumps in practice he was likewise putting on bumps of knowledge. "Rus" had one of them scientific slants of mind and he always had to figure why he was supposed to do a certain thing a certain way. Once he'd found out the reason he was satisfied. Professor Tweedy, our "math" teacher, used to say that "Rus" was a "natural born thinker." But geometry and trigonometry weren't the only subjects that "Rus" approached from all angles. He used his bean at all times and places.
That's why, when "Rus" went out for football, he felt called upon to exercise his gray matter. It was perfectly obvious to him, for instance, after a careful study of the rudiments of the game, that the weather might seriously alter one's style of play.
"Take the difference between a dry field and a wet field," he says to me, one afternoon, "I'm surprised the coach doesn't make us practice with a wet ball and the field soaked down. The almanac indicates rain three Saturdays this fall and the signs couldn't be any worse for torrential precipitation on the Saturday we play Edgewood. What's that going to mean? Simply that the luckiest team wins! But if the coach used the little mechanism inside his bean it might mean that the smartest team would win. What made Napoleon great was his dry land operations. But, oh boy, didn't he get soaked at Waterloo! Of course that's a rather far-fetched illustration. Just the same, you've got to know how to handle yourself under all conditions or you're practically sunk before you start!"
I agreed with "Rus" not feeling equal to stacking my brain up against his, and besides he has a way of making things sound darn logical. Seeing as how the coach seemed to be overlooking a good bet, "Rus" decides that he's going to get the training he should have anyway. So we meet one night after football practice in his backyard.
"This is what I'd call a laboratory experiment," explains "Rus" as he soaks down the back lawn with the garden hose, "The other boys would probably give us the merry ha ha if they saw what we're going to do but if my theory's right we'll see the day when we can laugh up our own sleeves!"
When the lawn's nice and oozy and slippery from super-saturation, "Rus" turns the water on the football and gets it just as wet as though it had fallen in a lake.
"All right, Mark," he says to me, "I'll hit the dirt first. This kind of practice isn't exactly going to be pleasant but it has a good chance of proving profitable. Now you stand over there and roll that football across the grass. I'm going to try to fall on it!"
It's easy enough for me to do what "Rus" directs. But it's not so easy for "Rus" to do what he intends. We're dressed in our football togs, of course, right down to the cleated shoes. But even at that the grass is so sleek that the footing's as treacherous as a polished ball room floor. On his first try, "Rus" slips and falls flat before he gets to the ball and the pigskin rolls to the fence.
"There went the chance to save the game!" he points out as he gets to his feet. "Let's try her again!"
Honest, you never saw anybody that's such a glutton for punishment! "Rus" gets sopping wet and all grass-stained and dog-tired but he keeps me throwing that football in all sorts of zig-zag bounces across the lawn till it's so dark that the street lights come on. And then he apologizes for not having traded off with me so's I could have got some of the same experience. "I'm just as well satisfied," I answers. "You don't need to feel bad about that!"
"We'll do it again, every chance we get," says "Rus," not seeming to notice my lack of enthusiasm, "I'm rotten! I missed at least half my dives. And as for scooping the ball up on the run, wasn't I pitiful? But that's what an end's got to be able to do and yours truly isn't going to make a bad muff in a game if he can help it!"
Being a friend of "Rus's" and practically a next door neighbor as well as a team-mate, I can't really turn the serious-minded bird down. Besides, I have to admit to myself that it's darn interesting watching the vim that "Rus" puts into this secret practice. Some nights it's mighty chilly and with the grass wet down it's enough to make your spinal column wriggle, but "Rus" never seems to mind.
"The most annoying part of this thing for me," says "Rus," "is 'Mom's' objection to my draping these wet togs over her radiators. She claims the house smells like a Chinese laundry every night. I tell her she must be a good sport and put up with it for the good of the team!"
Say, you'd be surprised, after a couple of weeks, to see how "Rus" improves! It gets to be marvelous the way he can tear across the lawn, reach down with those long fingers, scoop that slippery pigskin up and keep right on going toward what he imagines is the enemy's goal!
"Preparedness!" he'd smile at me. "That's one of the greatest words in the English language! I want to be ready when the fumble comes!"
Sometimes "Rus" would hit the lawn like an India rubber ball and almost seem to wrap his lean, lanky frame around the pigskin, bouncing up on his feet on the roll and untangling his legs from the knot to be streaking away almost before you could tell what was happening. Once he put so much steam behind it that he couldn't stop in time and plowed into the back fence, busting two boards loose and bruising his shoulder.
"Zowie! I ran into some real opposition that time!" he grinned.
It isn't long before all this extra practicing that "Rus" is doing begins to show up on the football field. In scrimmage he gets the reputation of being "sure-fingered" because he drags down passes, recovers fumbles and handles the ball so smoothly that it seems like he can't miss getting hold of it no matter how wild it goes. In comparison the rest of us look pretty sick, all excepting me ... and I'm a little better than average because of my experience with "Rus." Several times, while I'm playing my position at left half, there's a poor pass back from center and I have to drop on the ball. Believe me, I'm mighty thankful then for the special training I've picked up!
"This game of football is just a matter of following the ball," "Rus" airs to me one night, "I don't care what these wise birds say. There's breaks in every game that, if we could take advantage of 'em, would do more than all the fancy plays ever invented. Look at last week when we played Madison. We have 'em down on their own ten yard line and we break through and block the punt and two of our fellows dives for it. Do they get the ball? Yes, they do not! A Madison back, who knows his onions, shoots in—picks the ball up off his shoe tops after it's bounced out of our fellows' arms—and runs forty yards before he's stopped. That's what I call converting good fortune out of disaster! Either one of our boys ought to have downed the ball on Madison's eight yard line but both of 'em muffed it. On a dry field, too...! Inexcusable!"
"But you must realize, Rus," I argues, "that your attitude on this matter is very exceptional. You can't expect all football players to pay the attention you've been paying to developing themselves to a fine point on picking up loose balls!"
"Razzberries!" retorts "Rus," "Then they're not worthy of the name of football players!"
And there the arbitration rests. But the season doesn't get much older than "Rus's" mania begins to break out in a new channel. He's so anxious to see all the boys proficient in the gentle art of falling on the ball that he takes to ragging them every time they miss out.
"Butter fingers!" he yells, and gets a glare in return for his trouble.
"Butter fingers, yourself!" cries the guy who's just looked foolish.
And the first thing you know, the name that "Rus" has branded his team-mates with, comes back on him like a boomerang. So, the only fellow who doesn't deserve the title of "Butter Fingers" is the one who gets it!
"That's all right," "Rus" says to me. "Let 'em call me 'Butter Fingers.' I'll make 'em eat that word twenty times a day. And they'll be trying extra hard to keep from being 'Butter Fingers.' You see!"