Which makes it sound like "Rus" has decided to act the martyr to some adopted cause! Now right here's where a complication enters my story in the shape of Mr. Maxwell Tincup, dignified member of the school board and a political power in the town. Among other things Mr. Tincup is bitterly opposed to football as a sport that's "absolutely barbarious." Football, in Mr. Tincup's exalted opinion, is a machine which manufactures a lot of good-for-nothing rowdies. He's made the air blue at many board meetings, voicing his protest against continuance of the sport as an athletic activity at Burden High but he's never quite been able to get a majority vote against it. Just the same his attitude has stirred up considerable feeling and hasn't exactly made him popular with the boys.
"What Tincup needs is a dose of second childhood," "Butter Fingers" prescribes one day. "He evidently didn't have any the first time!"
Mr. Tincup's home is right on our way to school, a big old-fashioned house that stands on a corner of the street, surrounded by a high picket fence. We often see the anti-footballist's three year old son hanging to the fence and peeking out as though he'd like to investigate the outer world.
"Look at the poor kid," points out Butter Fingers as we're passing one afternoon. "They keep him as spic and span as a children's advertisement. Maxwell Tincup, Junior's sure going to be a chip off the old block if the old block has anything to say about it! I'll bet some day he takes the tiddly-winks championship of South America!"
"Are you sure Mr. Tincup won't consider that too strenuous?" I asks, innocent like.
"Butter Fingers" grins and shrugs his shoulders.
It's not until the Monday before the big game of the year with Edgewood that the something happens which changes the complexion of the whole situation and brings Mr. Tincup's objection to football to a boil's head.
"Butter Fingers" and me are coming back from the athletic field after an extra hard workout. I have a football and we're tossing it back and forth as we're trotting down the sidewalk, me about fifty feet ahead of "Butter Fingers" so we can have plenty of distance to pass. As we cut across the corner toward Tincup's house I spot him out in the yard, washing his front porch off with the stream from the garden hose. "Hello!" says I to myself, "Mr. Tincup's getting industrious in his old age!"
Just then "Butter Fingers" lets loose an extra long throw. I can see at a glance that the ball's going to be over my head unless I can take it on the jump. Nope! I miss it by three feet, banging up against Mr. Tincup's front fence trying to pull it down.
"Look out!" I yells when I see what's going to happen.
If "Butter Fingers" had took aim he couldn't have made a squarer hit. The pigskin spirals over the fence and plunks Mr. Maxwell Tincup smack on the side of the head. The blow's so unexpected it knocks the nozzle of the hose out of his hands and before anybody can say "Ask me another!" the hose squirms around like a snake and soaks him from head to foot. Mr. Tincup begins yelling like he's in the middle of the ocean, going down for the last time. It takes him a couple of seconds to get on to what's hit him, but the minute he sees the football lying on the lawn he lets out a bellow of rage and turns to us, shaking his fist.
"All right, young gentlemen!" he snorts. "That's the end of your ball ... and it's the end of you, for that matter!"
It may be the end of us but it's not the end of our ball so far as "Butter Fingers" is concerned. He's over the fence in a jiffy and streaking for the pigskin as though he's on a football field. Mr. Tincup doesn't suspect any opposition on picking up what "Butter Fingers" regards as a free ball. He's too dripping wet and ripping mad to suspect anything. As he stoops down to pick up the ball which is also wet, it slips out of his fingers. To make matters worse he kicks it accidently with his foot and it rolls along in front of him. It's right then that "Butter Fingers" arrives. He takes a running dive across the wet lawn, skids right under Mr. Tincup's nose, curls himself around the pigskin, bounces up on his feet and keeps on going till he comes to the fence which he hurdles.
Mr. Tincup stares at the human cyclone, his mouth so wide open that you can see all the gold in his teeth.
"Come here!" he shouts, waving his arms.
"I'm sorry!" calls "Butter Fingers," "We didn't mean to do what we did but this is our ball and we got a right to it!"
"You've got no right to be playing football!" raves Mr. Tincup, beginning to shiver now as the air's kind of cold. "And I'm going to see that you don't play football hereafter!"
"Gee!" I says to "Butter Fingers," when we've beat it. "I don't know as that was such a bright stunt—your rescuing that pigskin. We might better have let old Tincup have it. Now he's going to raise a rumpus for sure! He'll probably go to the board."
"Butter Fingers" gives me the laugh.
"Make your pulse behave!" he says. "Everybody knows Mr. Tincup's a great guy to holler. He won't get any further than his echo. Say—I don't hear you mentioning anything about that pickup I made. Speak up, brother! Can't you recognize a masterpiece?"
"Your masterpiece," I answers, "Wasn't the pickup. It was hitting Mr. Tincup on the bean!"
"Just the same," argues "Butter Fingers," "if the old boy'd only had some football experience I'd never have gotten away with the ball. That only goes to show the value of...!"
"Oh, dry up!" I orders. "You're getting unbalanced on that subject...!"
It isn't until the next morning that we get the glad tidings of bad news. Ain't it the truth that everyone's glad to be the first to tell you something sad? And what do you suppose has happened?
That peeved Mr. Tincup has stirred up a special called meeting of the school board and has gone and gotten us suspended from the team! He's raised a terrific rumpus about football in general and has tried to get the big game of the year with Edgewood canceled but he can't get away with that. He's influential enough to put a crimp in the team, though, and to put a crimp in us in particular, by getting the board to have us kicked off the eleven just when we're needed most. I hope you won't think I'm handing myself bouquets on purpose but I'm the best backfield man the team's got and I've already told you how hot "Butter Fingers" is as an end. Are we sore? Are we sick? So is most everyone else but what good does that do 'em? The students get out a petition asking for the school board to meet again and reconsider the matter but the school board pays about as much attention as a deaf ear.
"We're sunk all right," I says to "Butter Fingers" in the middle of the week. "Leave it to Tincup to see that we don't play Saturday! He's got it in for us for fair! And we're going to be treated to the exquisite pleasure of sitting on the sidelines and seeing our team take a nice trimming from Edgewood!"
"Edgewood's going to be plenty tough!" admits "Butter Fingers," soberly. "We wouldn't have been any too strong with our best line-up against 'em. Wouldn't this give you a pain? Especially after all the extra work we've put in so's we'd be in tip top shape for that game!"
"Don't cry on my shoulder," I replies, "I got tears enough of my own!"
Saturday comes. It's the one day in the fall that the almanac gets absolutely right. There's a precipitous rain falling. The weather sort of reflects our gloom.
"It's just the kind of a day I've been dreaming about," moans "Butter Fingers," "There's bound to be plenty of fumbles. I ought to be in there to get 'em!"
"Tell that to Tincup!" I answers.
By noon a wind springs up and the clouds lift a little. The downpour begins to let up. But the football field is already a young lake and water is backed up in the streets. It's going to be a grand afternoon for ducks and a splashing time for a gridiron battle.
At one o'clock, an hour before game time, "Butter Fingers" says to me, "Mark, there's one thing old Tincup can't keep us from doing. He can't prohibit our going to the locker room and hanging around with the fellows till they're due on the field. Maybe we can cheer the gang up a bit!"
"Not much chance of that," I replies. "But, I'm with you, nevertheless...!"
So we sets out. And of course our direction takes us right past the house that's owned by the object of our affections! I suggests to "Butter Fingers" that we make a detour but he growls that he'll be darned if the high and mighty Mr. Maxwell Tincup is going to make him take so much as an extra step.
The rain has entirely stopped now and by the breeze that's blowing it looks like the sky is through for the day. As we get near the picket fence we discover something unusual. Mr. Tincup's three-year-old kid is out by the curb trying to sail a toy boat in the water. And standing on the front porch, staring at us with a satisfied grin on his face, is the anti-football member of the school board himself! Mr. Tincup looks at us as much as to say, "Well, how do you young rascals feel now?"
There's nothing we can do but swallow our medicine and parade past with eyes front as though we haven't even seen him. This we start to do when—all of a sudden—a strong gust of wind comes along and takes the kid's hat off, rolling it into the street. "Butter Fingers" sees this, and grins.
"Dadda, look!" says the kid, pointing a finger at his hat which is lying in a puddle of water in the middle of the street. We watch the kid, laughing inside to think of anything happening which might affect old Tincup's dignity. The kid runs along the curb, finds a place where he can step over the stream of water and starts out on the street after the hat.
"Junior, come here!" yells Mr. Tincup, hurrying down off the porch. "Papa'll get it for you!"
But Papa doesn't have a chance. Things commence to take place after that so fast that it leaves me dizzy.
Just as the kid starts off the curb a big, heavy duty truck comes thundering down the side street and turns sharp around the corner. The driver catches sight of the kid, lets loose the klaxon and reaches for the brakes. Seeing the danger, the kid tries to beat it back, slips on the wet pavement and falls! I stop dead, looking on, petrified. I'm so frozen that I don't even see "Butter Fingers" leave my side. My eyes are glued on the kid and the truck, with the brakes set, skidding right down on him! I hear Mr. Tincup scream. Then there's a swishing sound and a body goes sliding along the pavement. It strikes the kid, arms reach out, fingers grab a hold, the body does a roll ... and then you can't tell which is which. Honest, I don't dare look for a second, it's so close! But when I opens my eyes again I see the truck driver crawling down off his seat, wiping perspiration from his forehead. Over on the opposite curb there's a long, lean, lanky bird getting to his feet and helping up a badly scared youngster that's all wet and dirty.
"Who says football doesn't fit you for something useful?" I hear "Butter Fingers" mumble to himself. Then he stoops down. "How are you, kid, all right? We took a nice, wet roll, didn't we?"
The next instant an insane man races across the street and grabs the kid in his arms and sits down on the damp curb and breaks into sobs.
"Boy," said the truck driver, extending his hand to "Butter Fingers," "that was the nerviest stunt I ever seen! Look how far that old wagon skidded past where you were!"
"Butter Fingers" looks.
"Been a bad place for a fumble, wouldn't it?" he says, then glances quick at me. "Say, Mark—we'll have to be legging it or we'll miss out seeing the team!"
"Just a minute!" says a choky voice from the curb. "Where you boys going?"
"To see the game!" I answers, rather short.
"No, you're not!" raves Mr. Tincup, jumping to his feet. "You're going to play!"
He fumbles in his pocket, pulls out a calling card and scribbles on the back.
"Give that to Coach Spilman," he says, handing it to "Butter Fingers." "I'll have to get in touch with the other members of the board before I can get your suspension lifted but I'll do it, boys, if it's humanly possible! Meanwhile, you get to the locker room and get all dressed ready to go in at a minute's notice!"
We're not reinstated till the beginning of the last quarter but it's time enough for "Butter Fingers," with the score 13 to 7 against us, to scoop up an Edgewood fumble on our seventeen yard line and run practically the length of the field for a touchdown! Then I kicks the extra point to make the score 14 to 13 which is the way it stands when the game ends.
As we're going off the field an overjoyed member of the school board comes pushing through the crowd and compliments "Butter Fingers" for his star performance, ending up with, "And young man, I can't ever tell you how grateful I am for that other wonderful thing you...!"
"Don't mention it!" says "Butter Fingers," breaking in modestly. "The thanks are on my side. I didn't have much practice this week and picking up the kid just put me back in trim!"
FOR THE GLORY OF THE COACH
"There's no use talking, Mooney. You've broken training rules and you're through. That's final."
For a pulsating moment Elliott University's star fullback stood facing the great John Brown, acknowledged dean of all football coaches,—facing him as though he had not heard aright. There was stunned surprise evident in the attitudes of his team-mates, too. No one had imagined that John Brown would have the nerve to cross Mooney beyond the giving of a reprimand. Not and hold the reputation which he had slaved so hard to preserve in turning out a winning eleven for decadent Elliott his first year there. The great John Brown might better have remained in permanent retirement, resting on his richly deserved laurels, than risk his halo of "wizard" and "miracle man of the gridiron" by failure to restore Elliott's former football supremacy. The press had been free to predict, when Coach Brown had finally consented to do what he could for Elliott, that this task would prove his Waterloo. "Coach Severely Handicapped by Material and Facilities," one headline read, while another had it, "Sun Now Hardly Destined to Set on Triumph for John Brown," the articles going on to decry the lamentable conditions surrounding Elliott's effort to attain a higher athletic grade. The task was regarded as beyond that of even a miracle man and John Brown was credited with having accepted the crudest of tests.
And now, after Elliott had risen toward glory by defeating Hale, first of the Big Three, thus repudiating in part the commonly accepted opinion that the University could not hope to win any of her big contests that year—now, when all eyes were upon John Brown as never before; when it seemed as though this wily old fox, in some uncanny manner, had juggled another victorious eleven out of athletic chaos,—the coach was cutting off his nose to spite his face by dismissing Tim Mooney from the team!
Why it had been Mooney who, almost single-handed, had accounted for Hate's defeat. The backfield had been built around him; his experience had been relied upon as a stabilizer for the entire eleven which was comprised mostly of green, untried material. Removing Mooney from the team was like jerking the center pole out from under a tent and expecting the tent to remain standing upright. At least that is the way members of the eleven felt about it.
And the reason Coach Brown was kicking Mooney off the team was because he had stayed out past midnight on several occasions with his co-ed sweetheart, Ruth Chesterton. One of John Brown's rules was that every football man must be in bed by ten and those acquainted with his usually strict disciplinary measures had become accustomed to obeying. But Mooney's case had somehow been regarded as different. Folks had come to consider him, because of his outstanding athletic prowess, a law unto himself. In fact, Tim had become obsessed with the same impression.
"You—you're not joking?" he asked, still unable to believe John Brown's stern edict.
"Joking!" blazed the coach, "What would I be joking about? I warned you what would happen ... and the same thing's going to happen to anyone else who wilfully violates rules. You're through, Mooney, and you're through for good. Turn in your togs at the clubhouse!"
A hurt expression crept into the eyes of Elliott's star fullback. He took a step forward, intreatingly.
"Aw, say, Coach ... honest, I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd ... that is, I ... I ... it won't happen again, sir."
"No, you can bet it won't," said John Brown in a voice of quiet coldness. Then, deliberately turning his back, "All right—first and seconds out for fifteen minutes' scrimmage!"
At Naylor College where Coach Brown had Inaugurated and made famous his football system, he had been loved and respected by players as well as student body. Resigning his seat of honor at Naylor had been one of the hardest things John Brown had ever done. But, even though the announcement of his resignation had been met at once by staggering offers from big schools East and West, the noted coach had refused them all. He had retired to gain what he felt to be a much needed rest from years of strenuous yet highly enjoyed activity. And newspapers throughout the land, devoting columns to his eulogy, extolled the unbroken string of victories which his teams at Naylor had scored over the most powerful elevens in the country. Quitting the game at the zenith of his career, it was a widely known fact that Coach Brown could have fixed his own price for services with at least six of the biggest institutions of learning in America. Here was a man who had coached football for the sheer love of it, immune to the earning possibilities of his tutoring.
But two years in retirement had done much to lessen Coach Brown's resolve. It had remained for a small group of loyal Elliott alumni to approach the coach on a new tack. These men believed that John Brown might be landed if the proper appeal were made. They had studied out that the other schools had failed in striving to outbid one another, a point which seemed to prove that money to John Brown was no object. All right then—the way to reach him must be through sentiment—if he could be reached at all.
For years Elliott had been embarrassed through its position as a leading university and its inability to put winning athletic teams on the field. This condition was particularly true of the football elevens. The touch of a master hand was needed; the application of such a system as John Brown had put into effect at Naylor; the guidance of a coach who could command not only the respect of his players but the enthusiastic support of the student body.
Carefully planning their verbal assault, the committee of Elliott alumni swooped upon Brown. They found the great coach apparently as determined as ever not to re-enter the football limelight, but they presented him with a picture, so graphically and despairingly setting forth the sorrowful condition of athletics at Elliott, and so feelingly playing upon his love for the game that John Brown, wavering, finally consented to take charge of Elliott for one year!
Immediately the press, so glowing in its accounts before, had leaped to the conviction that John Brown, despite all he had said to the contrary, had actually been a hold-out until some college had reached the figure he demanded. This conviction had been given wings with the rumor that Elliott University was to pay him the unheard of amount of $50,000 for a yearns services although, it was grudgingly admitted, if John Brown could bring Elliott out of the slough of athletic degeneracy, he would probably be worth every cent of that sum.
Thoroughly appreciating the huge job cut out for him, John Brown, in taking over the reins of football government at Elliott, had signed up Red Murdock, one of the stars he had developed in other years at Naylor, to act as assistant coach. And one of his first official acts had been to put into force a rigid rule of discipline. He knew that he must demand the utmost in every way from whatever or whoever there was at hand in order to even approach what he hoped to accomplish. But the mere fact that Brown had come to the head of things at Elliott was cause for the schools on Elliott's schedule to regard their proverbially weak opponent with new respect and wonderment.
The game with Hale had been a genuine eye-opener. Elliott's 20 to 6 victory had hardly been looked for and neither had the startling performance of one Tim Mooney whose open field running had made two touchdowns possible and whose talented toe had kicked two field goals. A new star had arisen to add to Coach Brown's constellation of developed gridiron heroes.
On the strength of Mooneyes work alone, football authorities were now willing to concede Elliott a chance against Larwood, second of the Big Three, which was to be met the following Saturday. But Delmar, last and bitterest enemy of Elliott—a college noted for the consistent power of its football elevens and this season rated as possessing the greatest team in the country—was considered a good thirty to forty points better than Coach Brown's aggregation at its strongest.
"What! Mooney banned off the team!"
When the news of Coach Brown's drastic action flashed through the Elliott student body it was greeted by a storm of indignant and growing protest. A petition was immediately drawn up and sent the rounds asking John Brown to reconsider his expelling of Mooney. The petition was as nearly one hundred per cent as a petition could be. But the petition failed to move the coach. Those who reflected on his past history reported gloomily that once the coach took a stand on anything he was like several rocks of Gibraltar.
Ruth Chesterton, the girl indirectly responsible for Tim Mooney's dismissal, felt greatly upset over the whole affair. She had thought Coach Brown's bed time regulation a silly old rule until it had operated against her hero. Now she was one of the most rebellious in her attitude toward the man whom many people referred to familiarly as J. B. So, the petition had failed to do any good? Well, she knew what she would do! She would go to him and tell him what she thought about the matter and then what could he do but rescind his action?
But when the irate Miss Chesterton came into the presence of the great John Brown she suddenly quailed. She couldn't tell exactly why she quailed but she found it exceedingly difficult to look into the crystal-pointed blue of J. B.'s eyes and say the things she was going to say. Instead, she felt somehow like a foolish little girl who had been used to having her own way at all costs and who had now met up with a man who knew her better than her own father.
She was conscious almost at once of the smooth tufts of silvery hair about this man's temples and the great furrowed line across his forehead, the firmly set mouth, the broad shoulders—the trace of a smile as he leaned toward her and said, in a kindly inquiring manner, "Well?"
And that one word, peculiar as it may seem, had unnerved her or disarmed her, she didn't know which. There crept over Ruth Chesterton a sense of guilt. She found herself stammering and stumbling.
"Please, sir ... I'm the girl that Mr. Mooney went out with when he broke the rules."
An embarrassed pause.
"Well—what of it?"
"Why, I ... I thought perhaps you'd like to see me."
That wasn't the right thing to say. Ruth knew it the moment she had uttered it but she had never felt more uncomfortable in her life.
"Me—like to see you? Why should you have thought that?" There was a trace of ironic amusement in the coach's voice.
"Why—why because I was sort of responsible for Mr. Mooney's breaking the rules."
"Did he send you here?"
This question did much to bring Ruth back en her feet.
"No, sir! I came of my own free will. He doesn't know anything about it. He isn't that kind, Mr. Brown. He's taken all the blame—and it's really more my fault than his—lots more. I—I encouraged him to—to go out with me those nights ... I didn't think it would do any harm ... and you'll have to admit yourself that ten o'clock is pretty early," Ruth added, as she gained courage.
"Sorry, young lady, but the question of time is not debatable. Mr. Mooney broke the rules and that ends it..."
"But, Mr. Brown ... won't you ... I mean ... the team ... or rather, the game with Larwood. Won't he be needed?"
The coach nodded, frankly.
"I shouldn't be surprised."
"Then perhaps—well, maybe if folks understood just how he came to break the rules... I'd be glad to..."
John Brown raised his hand in a waving gesture.
"It's done now—and what's done cannot be helped. The time for you to have thought of the consequences was before you tempted your friend to ignore the restrictions."
Ruth, sensing that she was getting nowhere, decided to throw herself entirely upon John Brown's sympathy.
"Mr. Brown ... if I tell you that I'm awfully, awfully sorry and that I'll never, never interfere with anyone keeping rules again, would you...?"
The coach shook his head, giving a sharp, deep-throated laugh. Then the lines in his face hardened, the furrowed crease stiffened—ridge-like—and he leaned forward compellingly.
"You are not sorry because Tim Mooney's loss to the team may mean the loss of the game—or games. You are sorry only for Mr. Mooney and the limelight his playing might reflect upon you. Pardon my frankness but I know your type well. You are a disciple of this individual freedom cult which has swept the world. You have regarded rules as being made only for the thrill and pleasure of breaking. It has pleased your vanity that Mr. Mooney should have chosen your company rather than the observance of football regulations, A loyal Elliott girl, having a friend on the team, would have insisted on keeping training rules with him. But, not you! You've been a thoughtless traitor to your college. And now perhaps your joy will be complete when I tell you that your act may come close to costing me the ambition of my life. Good day!"
Shocked by the sudden, burning reprimand and the blunt abruptness of her dismissal, Ruth sat for a few prickly seconds staring at the coach. Then she arose and, in place of being indignant, walked sobbingly from the room!
The following Saturday, minus the services of Tim Mooney, Elliott went down to a bitter, heart-rending defeat at the hands of Larwood, losing by the hard-fought score of 7 to 0. Five times during this blood-tingling conflict, Elliott drove the ball down inside the enemy's ten yard line but somehow, every one of these times, just missed the punch which would have taken it over. Throughout the game, and especially at the moments when Elliott was in possession of her golden scoring opportunities, the stands had madly implored for Mooney.
"Mooney! Mooney! Give us Mooney!" they had chanted.
And after the game Elliott fans took occasion to warmly denounce Coach Brown for the discipline he had employed which had deprived Elliott University of what would have been one of her most notable victories in years. The press of the nation was full to overflowing of newsprint that day either attacking or defending the great John Brown. Most sport writers were of the opinion that the famous coach had only himself to blame for the defeat, poking much fun at his ten o'clock law. A few of the more orthodox ones, however, credited John Brown with having put law and order above victory, and lauded the personal sacrifice he had made in so doing. But Elliott, crazed at having been given a taste of athletic fruits after so long a time of starving, could not reconcile herself at not having been able to eat the whole apple. As time ticked on, Larwood's defeat of Elliott seemed more and more uncalled for ... and the abuse of John Brown grew and grew.
What Coach Brown's thoughts were on the situation no one knew. He had scarcely been seen since the game and he had stayed so close to his room—it had been reported—that he had even had his meals sent up to him, refusing all interviews as well as callers. This in itself was unusual—but that was John Brown. Eccentricity was expected of a man who had been in the habit of accomplishing such astounding results with raw human material and a football. To those who flattered themselves that they reasoned, it was decided that John Brown, incurring popular disfavor, had taken the simplest and most effective course of curbing drastic comment by giving his antagonists no object to shoot at. After all, right or wrong, Coach Brown was in charge of the team and it had been through his efforts solely that Elliott had been able to even give Larwood a fight.
Every Monday, following a game, it was a custom among coaches to review the previous Saturday's struggle, calling attention to the errors of omission and commission as well as stressing the strong points of play. Coach Brown's analyses of games had been regarded by many as classics—some even called them scholarly treatises—but, at any rate, the Monday hour in the Elliott clubhouse was recognized as the education period par excellence of the entire week in football circles and everyone who could possibly command a right to attend was there to hear the contests cussed and discussed play by play.
"Wonder what thunderbolt J. B. will have up his sleeve for us this time?" every Elliott football man was asking himself as he headed for the clubhouse the Monday after the Larwood battle.
It was certain that John Brown would say something distinctly significant. His stone silence over the week-end would indicate that. Whatever his reactions to the boiling pot of criticism which had been stewed over him, the team could expect to get most of these reactions in the form of sharply defined lightning thrusts at weaknesses which—to Coach Brown—had been responsible for Elliott's failure to win. Team members instinctively knew that, so far as Tim Mooney was concerned, John Brown would regard him as though he had never lived. The coach would chalk up the defeat—not against Mooney's absence from the line-up—but against the team individually or collectively failing to come through in some particular. They knew this because John Brown had emphasized, in some outstanding past instances, that "Games are never won by the men on the sidelines but by the eleven on the field."
At the clubhouse the hands of the old wooden-faced clock pointed to five minutes after four. This was fifteen minutes past the time that the Monday talk usually began. Players, lounging in the locker room, looked at one another in silent wonderment and then strolled toward the windows and gazed out down the walk which led through a lane of trees to the campus. As the clock droned the quarter hour, Red Murdock—assistant coach—got up, with an air of uneasiness, and sauntered to the door and stood, peering. An unnatural quiet fell upon those present. Coach Brown had never been late before. Punctuality had been one of his iron-clad rules. And now he had kept them sitting there, in growing impatience and suspense, some twenty-five minutes!
Suddenly the assistant coach straightened up and stepped from the door. Automatically the players changed from lounging positions to attitudes of expectant attention. And every face cried to heaven of the exclamation, "Ah,—he's coming!"
There followed the sound of feet on the sidewalk—a firm, measured tread which grew methodically nearer until it stopped abruptly at the threshold. A moment more and a figure filled the doorway. But such a figure! John Brown to be sure—yet a different John Brown, an older John Brown; a sadder John Brown. His face looked white—not so white as the chalk lines on the gridiron—but unusually white. And there was a drawn quality about it with a certain weariness under the eyes. All this no one could help but notice as he stood in the doorway, facing them. Yet, when the face relaxed into the smile that everyone had grown to love, its white, drawn weariness was forgotten. The coach was himself again.
"Well, boys, you've got one on me this time. Sorry to have kept you waiting."
John Brown advanced into the room, nodding a greeting to Red Murdock. He lifted a foot and placed it upon the empty end of a bench on which some players were seated, leaning over to rest his elbow on his upraised knee and his chin upon the palm of his hand. He stood thus, the thumb of his other hand run in under his belt strap, his cap pulled well down so that the band of the rim seemed almost to press against the furrowed line of his forehead. Just a simple, unaffected pose perhaps—but somehow, this tardy Monday afternoon, it held a touch of the dramatic.
"Team—I have a little surprise for you to-day," said the great John Brown. "We're not going to discuss Saturday's game with Larwood, The game itself has been discussed enough by everyone who saw it. But I would like to say to you and let it be heralded as coming from me, that I never hope to see a more perfect game of football than you men of Elliott played against Larwood!"
Could the roof have crashed in unexpectedly at that instant it could have caused no more profound astonishment than this most surprising of tributes from the lips of John Brown. Was he suddenly gone crazy—or was he about to perpetrate some biting joke?
A substitute, anticipating a sarcastic follow-up, let out a mirthful cackle.
"All right, you're through for the day." The coach gave the order without raising his voice nor even looking at the culprit. He waited until the chagrined disturber had slunk out before resuming.
"I mean it, men. My idea of perfect play Is when a team performs strictly as it has been coached to perform ... following a system through to the very last regardless of the breaks of the game or the preconceived notions of the individual players. That is team-work in the fullest—that is genuine football. That you failed to win does not alter the fact that you gave a faultless exhibition insofar as your experience and training permitted. Saturday you were by no means the greatest team I have ever coached, but you were by all odds the fightingest, willingest bunch of grid warriors that, in my estimation, ever wore moleskins!"
The coach paused and shifted his position to the other knee while the Elliott men sat like a group of badly fussed and dumbfounded school boys. Even Red Murdock could not conceal a look of frank bewilderment. What on earth was the great John Brown driving at? He had never heard the coach extol an eleven before. This was a most radical departure....
"A comparatively green line and a green backfield and yet you held Larwood to one touchdown and threatened her goal five different times! There is victory enough for me in that achievement...."
Forgetting their embarrassment at the praise which was being heaped upon them, a change began to creep over the team members—a sort of magical change which stiffened spines and raised heads with a growing pride. Gone was the inward despondency which had gripped them since their gruelling loss to Larwood. And in its place...?
Quick to note this rousing transformation, Red Murdock—assistant coach—fought back a smile and the simultaneous inclination to kick himself.
"Strike me for a dumb-bell! J. B. sure knows his stuff. He realizes he's dealing with practically new and little seasoned men ... and he's trying to save their morale and bolster it up for the biggest game of the year—against Delmar. Criticism at this stage of development would eat their hearts out. He's feeding them... but oh, aren't they eating it? They've turned to putty in his hands right now!"
This much Red Murdock told himself while Coach Brown was pacing impulsively across the room and back. The wily old fox still! And the Elliott men leaning forward breathlessly, hanging upon his every word.
"But what you have done is nothing as compared to what you can do! This week you are going to learn how to beat Delmar ... and next Saturday you are going to do it!"
An involuntary gasp escaped the lips of John Brown's listeners.
"You are going to do it because I have faith in you and I am going to see you through. I..."
The face of John Brown returned suddenly back to its chalk-like white; the flash sunk out of his eyes, leaving weary rings; the drawn quality took hold of his cheek muscles—and his foot slipped off the bench to the floor as he clutched impulsively at his shirt front.
A dozen hands caught the great John Brown as he slumped forward and fell.
There was the mad moment of bringing water, of applying restoratives, of sending out a rush call for Doctor Landon. Then the quieter, more chilling moment when the doctor had come ... and had looked up ... and shaken his head.
Newspapers were kindly enough now. They told how the great John Brown had been stricken down at the height of his brilliant career. They intimated that the strain of developing a winning team at Elliott had taken its toll, together with the loss of the Larwood game and its attendant unjust criticism. Colleges throughout the country went into mourning. Football practices were curtailed as a mark of respect and memorial services were held. At Naylor there was talk of a monument to place in their Hall of Fame. The sporting populace at large sincerely grieved over the passing of this nationally revered figure who had contributed much to football in particular and all athletics in general.
But it was natural that Elliott should take Coach Brown's passing hardest of all. A difference of opinion sprung up at once as to whether the last game of the season should be played. Some argued that the game should be cancelled as a tribute to John Brown's memory, while others—who claimed to know J. B. the best—wondered if this were the sort of tribute that the famous coach would have appreciated. Had he not left his body with the message to "carry on" on his lips? Had not his dying words been a fervent exhortation to the team to buckle down to the strenuous task of preparing to meet and, if humanly possible, to defeat Delmar? In the light of Delmar's imposing season's record, the coach's last talk may have seemed preposterous for the colossal faith he was seemingly placing in his system and his ill-experienced but fighting team. Yet John Brown had died with his face to the front—ready to meet his biggest test head-on, and—under these circumstances it would be a good thing for Elliott and the entire football world if the game were gone through with on schedule.
There were two individuals at Elliott who mourned as one—a big-framed, well proportioned fellow and a slender-lined, sweet-faced girl. Their sorrow over J. B.'s loss had been made all the more inconsolable because of certain previous events now stamped indelibly upon their minds and magnified to the point of causing them much remorse. Perhaps they should not have taken the happening quite so much to heart but Tim Mooney and Ruth Chesterton somehow felt as though they had been condemned in the eyes of the coach and his demise now offered them no opportunity to redeem themselves.
When the Elliott board of control, after a special called session of great solemnity, announced its decision to permit the looming contest with Delmar to be played there was much sober rejoicing. The athletic world figuratively wore a mourning band on its arm but there had been born a sense of thrill in its heart such as the prospects of no other gridiron battle had aroused. The demand for seats at the Elliott stadium became unprecedented. Authorities, harassed from all sides by the frenzied petition for pasteboards, ordered the construction of temporary stands but the clamor soon outgrew all bounds of accommodation.
It was estimated that some fifty thousand fans must be denied the spectacle of Coach John Brown's last team meeting the tartar of all football elevens in Delmar. There was little doubt as to what would be the outcome of the game but the conditions under which the game was to be played were such as to raise interest to the highest human pitch.
It had been decreed that there should be no vying of rival cheering sections with one another—a rather foolish decree, some thought—finding it hard to imagine a football contest devoid of the familiar and on-spurring "Rah, rahs." But this was an idea that the faculty had devised as a mark of respect and no one could criticize the spirit which had prompted the formulation of the decree. No, if the game were to be played the proper tribute to John Brown must, at the same time, not be lost sight of. And what could be more significantly impressive than a crowd numbering upwards of seventy thousand, watching a football contest in profound silence?
Wednesday night, after Red Murdock had got back to his room from the services held for his beloved leader, he was surprised by a tap on the door.
"Don't wish to be disturbed," he said.
"But I—it's very important, sir," intreated a voice from the other side.
"Can't help it!" he snapped, his irritation being due to the enormous responsibility which had fallen upon him. "See me tomorrow."
For answer the doorknob turned and the door swung inward. The assistant coach raised his head, about to make angry protest, but the protest melted on his lips at what he saw. Standing in the hallway was the grim and resolute figure of Tim Mooney.
"I beg your pardon, sir—but I've just got to see you tonight!"
"Well,—all right. Come in."
The former Elliott fullback stepped through the doorway and pushed the door shut after him, nervously. He came over toward the man who had been forced into the unenviable role of trying to fill Coach Brown's great shoes, and stood—fumbling with his cap. There was an awkward moment, broken finally by Red Murdock.
"You said you had something important. Let's get it over quickly. I don't feel like...."
Tim Mooney crumpled the cap in his large right hand and raised the fist in an appealing gesture.
"It's just this, sir... I didn't have to—being off the squad—but I've kept every regulation since. And I want to go in. I'd give my right arm to go in. I—I—somehow I feel like I'd been partly responsible for J. B.'s death!"
"You shouldn't feel that way, Mooney."
"Perhaps not ... but I can't help it.... If we'd only won from Larwood. But we can't lose to Delmar, Mr. Murdock. We can't! No matter how strong Delmar is we've got to beat 'em ... for J. B.'s sake. Please, sir ... won't you reinstate me just for this game? After that I'm through. I'll never play again so long as I live..." Mooney choked. "I guess there's no flowers our coach would like better than a victory over Delmar. Won't you let me help try to give 'em to him?"
There was something in Tim Mooney's appeal that was heart-rending. Tears glistened in the former Elliott fullback's eyes and found their reflection in the eyes of John Brown's assistant coach.
"Mooney," spoke Red Murdock, with difficulty, "I know just how you feel. I played for J. B. once and I'd have given as much for him in life as you're now willing to give to him in death. I can't refuse you, boy. You play. Report for practice tomorrow night!"
Outside the brown-stoned house and across the street from the place in which Red Murdock had his room, a girl paced up and down, taking care to keep within the gathering shadows. Every once in a while she would stop, just opposite the house, and gaze anxiously at the entrance. The time of her waiting seemed a young eternity to her though in all it could not have been more than ten minutes. And then the figure she had been looking for emerged. He glanced about, saw her, and both started toward each other.
"What did he say?" she cried, breathlessly.
The former Elliott fullback did not attempt a verbal reply. He simply reached out and gripped the hands of the girl, as they met, and nodded his head.
"Pm so glad," she murmured, tears splashing down upon his rough knuckles. "I really think J. B. misjudged me ... and I haven't any way of making up to him ... except through you.... It's our chance, Tim ... to make good!"
He smiled and patted her arm and the two of them went off, hand in hand, through the dusk.
No one saw the sun rise the morning of the momentous day as Saturday dawned behind a bank of dark, somber-looking clouds. Highways early became choked with lines of automobiles and railway schedules slowed under the running of football specials. The vicinity about Elliott University soon resembled a vast ant hill, swarming with sport-crazed humans. By noon the little college town was transformed into a huge outdoor garage with every available space, even front lawns, taken up by autos, many of which bore licenses from distant states. The throng milled up and down the streets, impelled by a restless curiosity. Delmar students, on hand six thousand strong, felt almost lost without the tuneful services of their famous band. An uncanny absence of boisterous sound prevailed as though everyone was impressed with the peculiar nature of the occasion. And because of this strained sort of reverent silence the atmosphere was gradually being made so tense as to be almost unbearable.
Members of the Elliott team, confined to their rooms until noon by order of Red Murdock, reflected—to a much more trying degree—the feelings of the multitude. Outside they could hear the tramp and shuffle of feet and occasionally an outcry, but their ears recorded no blare of music or outburst of jostling gaiety. And, as minute crawled after minute, their irritation grew so that they took to pacing up and down—up and down—figuratively frothing at the mouths to be out and clawing into Delmar ... anything to get the torture of waiting over!
By fifteen minutes before game time every possible nook and cranny of Elliott field was jammed with heart-palpitating humanity. The great stadium was packed, aisles and all, with the greatest crowd its historic confines had ever held. And thousands more stormed the gates outside, beseeching entrance.
In the clubhouse, eleven Elliott men—the choice of Red Murdock to start against Delmar—sat in a rigid circle while their assistant coach delivered his last admonitions.
"And one word more," said Red, as the shrill whistle of the referee called impatiently for Elliott's appearance on the field. "It was just last Monday that John Brown stood in this room, precisely as I am standing now, and voiced his confidence in you. He declared that Saturday you were going to beat Delmar. He said you were going to do it because he was going to see you through. Outside there, to-day," with a wave of the hand toward the stadium, "There are eighty thousand people, one of the greatest football gatherings that ever attended a game in America, hushed and waiting to see what account John Brown's team gives of itself. Throughout the country telegraph keys will click your every play and radios will tell the story to countless thousands. To-day you hold within your palms the opportunity for achieving Elliott's greatest athletic triumph and at the same time immortalizing the name of Coach John Brown. Does John Brown live ... or does John Brown die...?"
Another urgent blast came from the referee's whistle. A motion from Red Murdock and eleven grim-jawed men shot from the club-house. A great murmuring hum arose as the team burst upon the field—then an involuntary cheer as the game got under way with Delmar kicking off.
Highly strung and nervously eager, Elliott took the kick-off on her seven yard line and advanced the ball, under splendid interference, for nineteen yards before being downed. The man with the ball had been Tim Mooney and the stands echoed his name though the cheering sections were dumb. On the first play, as a price for her over-anxiety, Elliott was penalized five yards for being off-side. The next play netted but two yards, an attempt through Delmar's sturdy line. Then the ball was snapped to Elliott's star fullback and Mooney—every nerve pulsating with the desire to give his all—fumbled. A mad commotion of flying legs and arms ... a moment of breathless suspense as the arms and legs were untangled ... a mighty groan of disappointment from the crowd—scarcely three minutes of play over and Delmar in possession of the ball but twenty-three yards from Elliott's goal!
The recovered fumble was too good an advantage for Delmar to pass up. Employing a crushing style of attack, directed furiously and unmercifully at the lighter Elliott line—Delmar commenced her first march toward a touchdown. It took just five plays to put the ball across despite the most heroic efforts of Elliott to resist Delmar's steam roller offensive. Delmar added the point after touch down by a kick from placement, giving her an early lead of 7 to 0.
Convinced now that they were in for the witnessing of a massacre, the stands sat dejectedly considering how foolish it had been to hope that the late John Brown's eleven could possibly prove a match for Delmar—cream of the country's football teams. There were some who even callously began to remark, as Delmar launched her second ground-gaining onslaught against Elliott, that Providence had been kind to John Brown in calling him home, thus saving the great coach from the ignominy of seeing his last efforts crowned by a crushing and devastating defeat.
But passing such quick judgment upon Elliott was hardly fair in the light of the terrific strain under which the eleven was playing. Temporarily shot to pieces by the disheartening fumble, it was not until Delmar had swept into Elliott territory again that John Brown's team found itself enough to brace and rock the stadium with the thrill of stopping Delmar's smashing advance by taking the ball on downs! Even this sudden flare-up of spirited defense was lightly regarded by the stands who saw in Elliott's improved play but the last spent effort of a dying ember whose light is always brightest before it fades into oblivion. And Tim Mooney's fifty yard punt, putting Elliott out of danger for the time being, was the ember at full glow. Delmar would soon get going once more and Elliott would be beaten back until the team, burning itself out against a mightier foe, became as so many ashes underfoot.
But oh, how that ember clung to the light ... and life! All through the first half it persisted, shining brightest when fanned most by the tempest, and standing out as a bulwark which Delmar, with all her relentless battering, could not surmount. Time upon time Delmar pounded dangerously near Elliott's goal yet each time the Elliott spark of resistance was somehow equal to the occasion with Tim Mooney's toe doing Herculean work toward driving the invaders well back into their own territory from whence they were forced to begin all over again.
Gradually there stole upon the eighty thousand humans the throbbing realization that they were witnessing a sample of raw-handed courage such as men display only when under some great, compelling influence—an influence inspired by a necessity equalling a Marne or an Argonne to them—an influence which cried out above the bruising tide of battle, "They shall not pass! They shall not pass!"
Between halves the stands arose and stood two minutes, with heads uncovered and bowed, as a tribute to Coach John Brown's memory. The tribute was of involuntary nature, started by students in the Elliott section and quickly copied by the crowd.
"You're a great team today, boys," was Red Murdock's greeting as the Elliott warriors lurched drunkenly into the clubhouse for their precious ten minutes of rest. The players eyed him soberly, chests heaving, shirts mud-grimed and torn, bodies sore and weary from blocking the path of the Delmar tornado. And Red Murdock, looking them over, felt how hollow would be the saying of another word. He devoted attention instead to treating their various minor hurts and giving an encouraging slap here and there to the back of a man whose shoulders inclined to droop.
Furious at having been held to one lone and practically fluke touchdown, Delmar opened the second half with a drive of even greater power, calculated to put Elliott speedily to rout. The cream of the country's football teams had hammered steadily enough at Elliot's line to have worn it to shreds by now. No other eleven had stood up so long under Delmar's terrific charging and John Brown's team must crack wide open soon. But all through the third quarter, calling upon an almost uncanny reserve force, Elliott managed to stave the enemy off. True, whenever Elliott came into possession of the ball she found herself unable to launch an offensive of her own. This was due to a Delmar line of equal stone-wall quality—a line which had not permitted a touchdown to be scored against it that season. And Elliott was not going to be the first team to do it either. There was humiliation enough for Delmar in the fact that victory was being won by so small a margin.
Going into the last quarter, the stands could notice a perceptible wilting of the Elliott team. There were no expressions of surprise at the sight, only wonderment that John Brown's eleven had withstood the gruelling attack that long. A wave of sympathetic feeling passed over the stadium. The crowd did not care to see the pathetic spectacle of a team which had acquitted itself so nobly in the face of odds, crumbling in the final fifteen minutes of play and falling a helpless, exhausted victim to the ravages of a foe already maddened at having been so bitterly repulsed.
Now, as the vast throng looked through half-closed eyes, it saw the mighty Delmar slowly corning into her own. Taking the ball on her forty-two yard mark, Delmar sent her backfield men galloping through holes which began to yawn open in the Elliott defense. Five, ten, fifteen yards were reeled off on every play. Time was called while the Elliott line was patched up by three substitutes. But with play resumed, the Delmar steam roller continued unaffected on its way, rumbling and pounding over the ground which separated it from the Elliott goal. Six minutes of play remained as the country's leading football eleven drew up for a first down on their stubborn opponent's ten yard line.
"Touchdown, Delmar!" called its six thousand rooters, uttering the first real blast of sound which had come from the stands all day.
Up in the Elliott section a white-lipped girl strained forward, silently intreating. Her face was tear-streaked. There was something desperately compelling about her attitude. The spectre of defeat to her was as grim as the spectre of death. Almost unconsciously her lips parted and she started to sing in a low, wavering voice:
"John Brown's body lies a mould'ring in the grave ..."
Spectators on either side of her looked at the girl queerly as if they thought she had suddenly gone out of her head.
"John Brown's body lies a mould'ring in the grave,"
Now some of the people near her became conscious of a strange, tingling sensation that seemed to cut to their very marrow as the voice, gaining in strength so that it carried out over the stand, repeated once more:
"John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave,"
And, in a magnetic sort of way there arose a spontaneous response of voices from all parts of the stand, joining in on the next line:
"His soul goes marching on!"
Down on the gridiron, their bodies weary from battle, crouched the battered Elliott eleven. The players glanced up curiously as the first swells of the song reached them. Then they were seen to stiffen as the chorus, gaining volume, chanted out to them:
"Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! His soul is marching on."
The Delmar line crashed forward and the man with the ball dashed around the end. But he got little more than started when it seemed as though the entire Elliott team had torn through and nabbed him. There was a roar in the stands and the great crowd was on its feet, men with their heads uncovered, while the song leaped to the lips of all and welled into a mighty dirge as the girl—lifted to the shoulders of those nearby—led by a waving of her arms.
"The stars of heaven are looking kindly down, "The stars of heaven are looking kindly down, The stars of heaven are looking kindly down, On the grave of old John Brown."
A great cheer went up as Elliott, suddenly transformed into men of steel, took the ball on downs and snapped into its first play. Another cheer as Tim Mooney tore through the hitherto invincible Delmar line for fourteen yards. On the next play Mooney charged through for five more.
"Glory, glory hallelujah...!"
As though there had come into each Elliott player a superhuman force, the Delmar team was pushed back and back, resisting stubbornly but ineffectively. It was a driving offensive against time. If Elliott could go over for a touchdown in the three minutes left and kick goal, it could at least earn a tie with the mighty Delmar. On its seventeen yard line Delmar braced desperately. Thirty valuable seconds were taken in two setbacks for a four yard loss. Then Mooney broke through for a run that carried the ball over the goal line. Feverishly the teams lined up for the kick after touchdown.
"He's gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord, He's gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord, He's gone to be a soldier in the army of the Lord, His soul........"
And Mooney missed the attempt at goal after touchdown! The song broke into a great heart-broken moan. Score—Delmar 7; Elliott 6. The one stupendously inspired chance gone.
The teams lined up again for the kick-off with Mooney sobbing like a baby at his failure. Delmar kicked ... and the ball settled into Mooney's arms. He started down the field with a grimness born of despair. Past chalk mark after chalk mark he ran while the words of the song, now sung in frenzied fashion, roared in his ears:
"Glory, glory hallelujah!' His soul is marching on ..."
At Delmar's forty yard line Mooney was stopped. He was thrown heavily after having completed the longest run of the game—fifty yards. The time-keepers consulted their watches. Mooney shouted hysterically at the quarterback ... the quarterback barked a signal ... Mooney lunged back and planted his feet in the rough sod, holding out his hands...
"John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back, John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back, John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back, His soul is marching on!"
Standing on Delmar's forty yard line, as charging Delmar linesmen broke through and plunged at him, Mooney's toe swung up and booted the ball. As the ball took the air there came the shrill shriek of the time-keeper's whistle.
Then the throbbing notes of the song, swelling on in a burst of fervent hope as the ball turned end over end, straight for the goal posts....
"Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory, glory hallelujah!"
A moment more and the Elliott players fell upon Mooney, hugging and kissing him with mad joy, while the song roared into a mighty harmony of heart-bursting sound:
"GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH!"
And then, as if with a sudden thought of overwhelming reverence, the voices died into a soft refrain:
"His soul is marching on!"
The eighty thousand spectators poured from the stands with a solemnity which bespoke their attendance at a memorial service. They had just looked upon and been party to a miracle. The last second field goal from the forty yard line had given Elliott a 9 to 7 victory over the great Delmar eleven.
At the corner of the field a girl cried happily, her head unashamedly against Mooney's shoulder.
"Whatever made you think of that?" Mooney asked her, tenderly.
"I—I don't really know," she answered, looking up at him with just a trace of embarrassment, "but somehow ... you'll think I'm foolish for saying this ... I had the feeling it was John Brown!"
ALL AMERICAN SPORT SERIES
Harold M. Sherman, one of the most popular authors of boys' books needs no introduction to the vast majority of young readers.
To boys who like, as every red-blooded boy must, these high type sport stories, we dedicate this series.
FOOTBALL . . . . . INTERFERENCE FOOTBALL . . . . . ITS A PASS! FOOTBALL . . . . . OVER THE LINE BASKETBALL . . . . UNDER THE BASKET ICE HOCKEY . . . . DOWN THE ICE BASE BALL . . . . STRIKE HIM OUT TENNIS . . . . . . THE TENNIS TERROR FOOTBALL . . . . . CAPT. OF THE ELEVEN
The Goldsmith Publishing Co.
HAROLD M. SHERMAN
IT'S A PASS INTERFERENCE DOWN THE ICE OVER THE LINE STRIKE HIM OUT UNDER THE BASKET THE TENNIS TERROR CAPTAIN OF THE ELEVEN TAHARA—BOY MYSTIC OF INDIA TAHARA—AMONG AFRICAN TRIBES TAHARA—BOY KING OF THE DESERT TAHARA—IN THE LAND OF YUCATAN THE FUN LOVING GANG—IN WRONG RIGHT THE FUN LOVING GANG—ALWAYS UP TO SOMETHING