"You silly idiot!" laughed Clint.
"And then, Clint, think of following your meteoric career in the papers! As I nibble at my toast of a morning I prop the New York Herald against the water giraffe and read, spilling my coffee down my neck: 'The life of the party was Right Tackle Thayer. Seizing the elongated sphere and tucking it under his strong left arm, Thayer dashed into the embattled line of the helpless adversary. Hurling the foe right and left and biting the Claflin quarter-back in the neck, he emerged triumphant from the melee. Dodging the enemy's bewildered secondary defence, and upsetting the umpire with a dull thud, our hero dashed down the field. Line after line vanished behind his flying feet. Shod with the wings of Mercury, he sped on and on and still on toward the far-distant goal line. Cheers thundered from the encompassing stadium, met overhead, broke and descended upon the head of the speeding runner in a shower of fragmentary vowels and consonants. Still on and on went Right Tackle Thayer. Friend and enemy were far behind. Victory stretched eager arms toward him. With a last, gallant effort he plunged across the goal line and fell unconscious beneath the cross-bar. At a given signal a wreath of laurel descended from above and fitted about his noble brow. The score: Thayer, 98; Claflin, 0!'"
"Just the same," muttered Clint, when he had stopped laughing, "I'm scared. And I do wish Robey had let me alone."
"Coward!" taunted Amy. "Quitter! Youth of chilly extremities!"
"I'll have to learn new signals, too. And that's a beast of a job, Amy."
"Sluggard! Lazy-bones! Dawdler!"
"Shut up! I wish it was you, by ginger!"
"If it was me," replied Amy, "do you think I'd be sitting there clasping my hands agonisedly? Not much I wouldn't be sitting there handing my clasp ango—Well, I wouldn't! I'd be out on the Row with my head up and my thumbs in the pockets of my vest; only I haven't any vest on; and I'd be letting folks know what had happened to me. You don't deserve the honour of making the 'varsity in your fourth year, Clint. You don't appreciate it. Why, look at poor old Freer. He's been trying to make himself a regular for three years and he's still just a substitute!"
"That's what I'll be," said Clint. "You don't suppose, do you, that they're going to put me in the first line-up?"
"Well, not for a day or two," answered Amy airily. "But after that you'll be a regular feature of the day's entertainment. And, zowie, how the second will lay for you and hand it to you! They'll consider you a traitor, a renegade, a—a backslider, Clint, and they'll go after you hard. Better lay in a full supply of arnica and sterilised gauze and plaster, my noble hero, for you'll get yours all right, all right!"
"I don't see why they need to look at it that way," objected the other. "I didn't want to leave the second!"
"But they won't believe it, Clint. I'm sorry for you, but the path of glory is indeed hard!"
And Clint frequently doubted during the next week that glory had anything to do with it. When, on Tuesday afternoon, he reported to Mr. Robey, that gentleman cast a speculative look over him, nodded and said briefly: "See Mr. Detweiler, Thayer."
Clint sought the assisting coach. "Mr. Robey told me to report to you, sir."
"Yes." Mr. Detweiler viewed him much as Coach Robey had, as though trying to see not only what showed but what was inside as well. The only difference was that Mr. Detweiler smiled. "Well, Thayer, now let's see." He walked to the bench which the players were vacating, Clint following, and seated himself. "Sit down a minute," he directed. And when Clint was beside him he went on. "I really don't know much about your playing, Thayer. We had to have a new tackle and I took you because I liked your looks the other day. Maybe I ought to have taken one of the others. What do you think?"
Clint smiled uncertainly. "I reckon I'm not a fair judge," he replied after a moment's hesitation.
"I suppose not. But tell me, can you play tackle pretty well?"
"I've got along all right so far, I think. Of course, Cupples's been at it longer than I have, Mr. Detweiler."
"What in your judgment is the biggest asset a tackle can have, Thayer?"
"Hm; yes, that's so. Now, look here." Mr. Detweiler laid a hand on Clint's knee. "There's a fine chance for a fellow who is willing to work and learn on this team. If you'll make up your mind to it, you can go right ahead and play tackle against Claflin. But you'll have to plug like the dickens, Thayer. It won't be any picnic. I want a chap who is willing to work hard; not only that, but who will take the goad without flinching. Think you're the chap?"
"I reckon so," murmured Clint. "I'm willing, anyway, sir."
"You're not over-enthusiastic," laughed the coach, "but maybe that's just as well. All right, you see what you can do. Get out there now with the second squad. Try to show me that I made a good selection, Thayer. And, by the way, I wish you'd drop around and see me this evening after study. Can you?"
"Good. I'll look for you, then. And bring that friend of yours along, if he wants to come."
"Yes, that's his name, isn't it? Tell him I'll be honoured if he will pardon the informality of the invitation and give me the pleasure of his society from nine to ten. That's his style, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir." Clint smiled. "I think he will be very glad to come, sir."
"All right. Now get in there, Thayer, and set your mind on it. Show what you can do. I expect you to make mistakes, boy; we can correct those; but if I think for a moment that you're not trying—Well, we can't waste time on you in that case, Thayer."
Clint reported to Carmine, who was personally conducting the substitutes around the field. "Hello!" he greeted. "Tackle, you say? All right. Follow along for awhile, will you? Now then, fellows, get this right! Gafferty over! 36—41—17—8! 36—41—17—"
Clint tried to pick up the signals, but it was a hopeless task, and it was not until Mr. Robey detailed one of the substitutes to teach him the 'varsity code that he was able to take part in proceedings. He went in at right tackle for one of the two fifteen-minute periods and, considering that he was still unfamiliar with the shifts and signals, did very well. No one told him so, to be sure, but he knew without being told, and emerged from the afternoon's practice thinking that perhaps, after all, playing on the 'varsity was not such a difficult thing as he had imagined it. But Clint's troubles hadn't begun yet.
That evening when he went in to supper he created an unintentional diversion by proceeding, from force of habit, to the second team table. It was only when he got there and found no seat awaiting him that it dawned on him that he had made a mistake. The second team fellows broke into a roar of laughter as Clint blankly surveyed them and, turning hurriedly, made his way to the other end of the room. The rest of the fellows sensed the situation after a moment and Clint passed table after table of amused faces. Amy, grinning delightedly, reached far across the board where he sat and, pointing at Clint with a baked potato impaled on a fork, announced loudly: "A contretemps, Mr. Thayer, a veritable contretemps!" Clint was blushing when he finally reached the first of the tables occupied by the 'varsity players and found a vacant chair. There, too, amused glances awaited him, and he was heartily glad when Freer laughingly pulled him into the seat beside him.
They got a half-hour's leave from the Hall Master after supper, which allowed them to remain out of the dormitory until half-past ten, and, as soon as study hour was over, set out for the village and Mr. Detweiler's. When they reached his room in the little boarding house they found Mr. Boutelle there, but he left almost at once. Mr. Detweiler made them comfortable, apologising for the unattractiveness of his quarters.
"The fact is, fellows," he explained, "I didn't expect to stay over the week when I came, and so brought nothing but a kit-bag. But Robey thinks I ought to see him through, and, to tell the truth, I'm rather keen to myself. You don't play the noble game of football, Byrd?"
"No, sir," replied Amy modestly. "You see, I developed at the wrong end." He tapped his forehead significantly.
"That's hard on you and me, Thayer," laughed the coach. "Well, what do you do for exercise?
"He won the singles championship this Fall, sir," explained Clint.
"Really? That's fine. I'm a bit of a tennis enthusiast myself. Played on the team three years in college. Some before that. Tennis was about the only thing we specialised in when I was here. By the way, did you get into difficulties over the disciplining of that fellow, whatever his name is?"
"No, sir, we haven't heard anything from it yet. He'd hardly be likely to say much, would he?"
"I fancy not. Have you met him since?"
"Oh, we see him every day. He rooms next door in Torrence."
"And what about the chap whose violin he broke?"
"Durkin? Oh, Penny's making about as much noise as before. He says the fiddle he's using now isn't nearly as good as the one Dreer busted, but I can't see much difference myself. Can you, Clint?"
Clint shook his head sorrowfully. "Sounds even louder to me," he said.
"I must drop around some time and hear him perform," laughed the coach. "He must be something of a character." Amy agreed that he was, and narrated two or three anecdotes concerning Penny to prove it. Mr. Detweiler evidently found Amy's discourse amusing and drew him out until he was in the full flood of his eloquence. But when they had been there a half hour or so their host abruptly switched the conversation.
"I want to talk shop with Thayer a little," he announced. "You won't mind, Byrd? There are some magazines in front of you if you like to read."
"Thanks, I'll just listen, sir. It always amuses me to hear folks get excited about football."
"Oh, we're not going to get excited, Byrd." Mr. Detweiler hitched his chair around a trifle and faced Clint. "How did you get on today?" he inquired.
"Fairly well, I reckon. I didn't know the signals very well. I don't yet, for that matter."
"No, it'll take a day or two to forget the others and remember ours. There are two or three things I noticed about your playing this afternoon, Thayer, and I want to speak of them while they're fresh in my mind. In the first place, you played too close to your guard on defence as a general thing. Open up there and, above all, don't play between opponents. I mean by that, don't try to get through on defence between two men. Select one and play him. Usually it will be the outside man, and your game is to put him against his inside man or side-step him. As a general thing your position on defence is a foot or so outside the opposing end player, although there are one or two formations when that isn't so. Another thing I noticed was that, while you watched the ball well, you were liable to let the other man get the jump on you. As soon as the ball is snapped, Thayer, get busy with your arms. There are two main factors in the playing of a tackle position. One is head and the other is arms. Use your head all the time and your arms most of the time. As soon as the ball is snapped, out with your arms, Thayer. Lunge against the opponent. Get him first and hold him off until you can see where the ball's going. Don't try to break through blindly. Hold him at arm's length, keep your legs out of the way and then put him in or out, as the case may be, and go through for the runner. If you can get your arms on the other fellow before the ball is snapped, do it, but don't try it too long before or you won't be able to hold it. Try for the neck and arm position. It's the best. You can swing a man either way if you have that. If he gets under your arms and boxes you don't try to push forward by main force, because you'll be only wasting your strength. Back away and get around him.
"Of course, you know that the play is usually to charge your opponent toward the centre. Play to get around the opposing end on the outside and block the runner. If he finds you've got past and are waiting for him he will likely turn in and try to get through nearer the centre of the line, and the centre of the line is the hardest to gain through. So 'turn 'em in' is the regular rule, Thayer. On attack keep close to your guard and help him on plays inside your position. Learn to work smoothly with him. Usually you'll be able to settle between you whether you're to help him or go out and help the end. It depends on the play and on how strong the guard is. When you make a hole, make it clean; and don't stop when it's made. Keep on playing until the ball is down. And don't trust the horn for it, either. See it down yourself.
"When the runner is through the hole it's often up to you to say whether he's to make three yards or thirty. Look for the man who's in position to stop the runner and get to him and put him out of it. Play the game every minute, Thayer. Be always on the lookout for trouble and try to get a finger in it. And, another thing, and I've been dinning this into the men all the week, don't slow down before tackling. Tackle hard, Thayer. Put on a little extra steam at the last moment and smash into it! Don't merely stop your man; anyone can do that; but put him back when you hit him. Make him fall toward his own goal, and not toward yours. Sometimes there's a difference of two yards right there. And besides, and I say this because I know it to be so, there's nothing that takes the starch out of a backfield man who is catching a punt or running it in like knowing that he's going to be tackled hard. He has it on his mind when he's catching the ball. He knows he's got to get it right and hug it hard or he will lose it. And it's a dollar to a dime he will get over-anxious and nervous. A team that tackles fiercely and for keeps will have its opponents making fair-catches before the second half starts. Well, that's enough for tonight. If I hurl too much wisdom at you you won't remember any of it. Besides, Byrd over there is yawning already."
"Oh, no, sir, I found your discourse most interesting," assured Amy. "And I do hope our young friend will profit by the advice. I sometimes think he shows real promise, Mr. Detweiler."
"Well, we'll hope he will later on show fulfilment, Byrd. I don't want to frighten you, Thayer, but you're likely to hear all this stuff over again, and a heap more like it. These little lectures of mine occur frequently. I hope you weren't as bored as your friend here."
"No, sir, and I'll try to remember what you told me."
"In case you shouldn't I'll tell you again soon," laughed the coach. "Rome wasn't made in a day nor a good tackle in one lecture. Now we'll talk of something that Byrd can come in on."
'VARSITY VS. SECOND TEAM
Saunders, who was going around on crutches those days, viewed the advent of Clint on the 'varsity squad with misgiving, but he was very nice to him whenever the opportunity occurred. The same was true of the older candidates for the tackles positions, Trow, Tyler and Crewe. It was evident to a blind man from the first that Coach Detweiler had made up his mind that if such a thing were possible Clinton Thayer was to be converted into a tackle of 'varsity calibre. Hence the other candidates, especially those who had been practically certain of their positions, could not be blamed for feeling a little resentment toward both Mr. Detweiler and Clint. That they refrained from showing it was creditable. But Clint felt it even if he didn't have optical or auricular evidence of it and for the first few days at least experienced some embarrassment and constraint.
But life was too busy to leave him much time for troubling about whether or not Saunders and the others approved of his presence. His work was cut out for him from the start. Mr. Detweiler was forever at his heels and Mr. Detweiler's voice was forever raised in criticism or instruction. More than once Clint felt like giving up. Toward the end of that first week it seemed to him that the coach paid no heed to anyone but just Clint Thayer and that nothing Clint Thayer did was ever quite right! But he never did give up, however. He was often discouraged, sometimes angry, always tired out when work was over, but he kept on trying.
Mr. Detweiler dogged his footsteps every minute, or so it seemed to Clint. Returning from practice the coach would frequently range himself alongside and deliver one of his brief lectures. Sometimes he would intercept him between locker and shower and tell him something he had forgotten earlier. On Thursday evening Clint found him awaiting him in Number 14 Torrence when he returned from supper, and, punctuated by lugubrious wails from Penny Durkin's violin, the coach delivered a twenty-minute lecture on "The Duties of a Tackle on Offence when the Play is on the Other side of Centre." Clint got so he dreamed of football and neglected his studies wofully until both Mr. Simkins and Mr. Jordan remonstrated. In the Southby game, which was played at Brimfield, Clint started in place of Trow at right tackle, with Tyler at left. Offensively he showed up particularly well, but it must be acknowledged that on the defence he was far from perfect. The Southby left end was a clever player and Clint's efforts to out-guess that youth were not very successful. Several times during the two periods in which he played the runner went over or around Clint for good gains. Considering it afterwards, it was a surprise to him that he had not been taken out before he was. Perhaps, though, the fact that Brimfield scored twice in the first period and so secured a lead that was never threatened had something to do with it. Probably the coaches were willing to sacrifice some yards of territory in exchange for experience for the new tackle. At all events, when, at the commencement of the third quarter, Clint's name was not in the line-up and Clint bundled himself in a blanket and took his place on the bench, Mr. Robey paused long enough to say: "Watch your game, Thayer. You did pretty well."
If Clint did not cover himself with glory, neither, for that matter, did Trow, Tyler or Crewe, all of whom played at some time during the game. With Saunders laid off, the tackle positions were the weakest spots in the line. With most of the line attacks "skin tackle" plays, as they were that year, the tackle positions should have been the strongest of all. Only the fact that Southby was weak on offence saved Brimfield from a beating. Blaisdell and Hall, and, later, Churchill and Gafferty were forced to aid the tackles to such an extent that they were used up very quickly. Tyler made the best showing that day of any of the tackles, but even Tyler was by no means perfect. On forward passes to the opposing end he utterly failed to get his man, and, since the same was true of Trow on the other end, Southby made some alarming midfield gains by that method, while it was Edwards who spoiled a touchdown for the visitors by intercepting a forward pass on his five-yard line in the third period. Southby went down in defeat to the tune of 17-3. As last year's score had been Brimfield 39, Southby 7, there was little encouragement to be discovered, especially as the Southby team was no better than, if as good as, the former one. On the whole, that Saturday's contest was rather disappointing, and when the Sunday morning papers announced that Claflin had run rings around the strong Mendell Hall team, winning by a score of 41-6, Brimfield's stock sank perceptibly.
There was a meeting of the coaches that Sunday evening at Mr. Robey's room in the village. Mr. Robey, Mr. Boutelle, Mr. Detweiler, Andy Miller and Jack Innes were present, and, although the school never learned what was said or done, it was felt that strenuous measures had been decided on. On Monday there was no scrimmage and most of the fellows who had participated in Saturday's game to any extent were sent two or three times around the track and then dismissed for the day. The rest were put through a hard drill in fundamentals, the coaches looking glum and stern and determined. Clint was not one of the fortunate exempts, but went through the hardest afternoon he ever had. Of the tackles only Tyler was absent. The rest of them were bullied and browbeaten and hustled for a solid hour and a half until Clint, for one, scarcely knew whether he was on his head or his heels.
It was rumoured around that afternoon that "S.O.S." calls had been sent out in all directions and that the middle of the week would find an army of assistant coaches on hand. The army failed to materialise, but by Tuesday four specialists had joined the array of coaching talent and there was an instructor for every position on the team. The practice that afternoon was more grim and businesslike than ever before. No one was admitted to that part of the field who was not either a member of the team or a coach. There was thirty minutes of individual instruction, twenty minutes of signal work, and finally two fifteen-minute scrimmage periods with the second team. And what the 'varsity did to the second that day was a pity! With seven coaches urging them on, the 'varsity players performed desperately. The new plays to be used against Claflin were tried out and worked well. The 'varsity scored two touchdowns in the first period and one in the second, and kicked a field-goal when, with only a minute left, it had reached the second team's eighteen yards. On the other hand, the second failed to gain consistently inside the 'varsity's danger zone and both of Martin's drop-kicks went wide. The 'varsity's defence was better than it had been at any time that Fall, and even the tackles showed up well.
Saunders had discarded crutches and managed a slow jog once around the track that afternoon, and it was fully expected that he would be in shape to get back to work the first of the next week. Clint and Tyler played through most of that scrimmage, and Clint, unmercifully prodded by Detweiler—and anyone else who happened to think of it—showed real form on defence. He was opposed to Captain Turner, of the second, and Turner was a crafty end. That Clint was able, more than once, to get around Turner and stop the runner well behind the line spoke well for him. On forward passes, too, he used his head and twice managed to get to the receiver and spoil the play. It was a tired lot of boys who tramped back to the gymnasium that Thursday afternoon at dusk, and there were many bruises to be seen to, for the two teams had battled as fiercely as though they had been the deadliest enemies. Clint fell asleep in the middle of study hour with his head on his Latin book, and Amy sympathetically let him slumber.
On Friday, contrary to established custom, practice was hard as ever and the scrimmage with the second was drawn out to forty minutes of actual playing time. The game with Cherry Valley on the morrow was not looked on as a difficult one and it was noised about that Coach Robey meant to put in a full set of substitutes in the second half. The Varsity was severely tested in defence that day. Five times the second was given the pigskin inside the 'varsity's fifteen-yard line and instructed to take it across by rushing and four times they failed. The fifth time, with the ball on the three yards, they were given two extra downs and finally piled through Tyler for the last needed six inches. Tyler went out after that, pretty well worsted, and Trow took his place. Clint had escaped damage so far, but had been called on to repel many an attack, and was glad enough when time was called and they were allowed to return to the bench for a five-minute intermission.
After the rest—if it could be called a rest when seven coaches were criticising and instructing every minute—the scrimmage developed into straight football. The second kicked off and, after the 'varsity had failed to get its distance in three downs, Harris fell back to punt. Harris was a left-foot kicker and was accustomed to taking a pretty long stride to the left side before he swung. He was very deliberate about it, too, and the line had to hold hard and long in order to enable him to get the ball off safely. When it did go it went well and accurately, but in the present instance it didn't go. Cupples, of the second, had no difficulty in getting through Trow, and it was Cupples who knocked the ball down just as it left Harris' foot. Fortunately Marvin fell on the pigskin for a fifteen-yard loss.
Harris raged and sputtered and the coaches stood over the unfortunate Trow and read him the riot act. But two minutes later the same thing happened again, although on this occasion Cupples only tipped the ball with his upstretched fingers. There was a hurried conference of the coaches and Clint was yanked out of the right side of the line and put in place of Trow, the latter going to left tackle. Mr. Robey demanded a punt at once in order to test the new arrangement and Cupples, grinning wickedly at Clint, prepared to repeat his act. But Cupples had the surprise of his life, for the first thing he knew Clint's right hand was on the side of his neck and Clint's left hand was under his armpit and he found himself thrust around against his guard. And that was as near to breaking through as Cupples came for the rest of the scrimmage.
Four coaches thumped Clint on the back and excitedly praised him, and Clint felt suddenly that to defeat the wicked machinations of the ambitious Cupples was the biggest thing in life. After that it was a battle royal between them, Cupples using every bit of brain and sinew he possessed to outwit his opponent and Clint watching him as a cat watches a mouse and constantly out-guessing him and "getting the jump" time after time. Cupples had a bleeding lip and a smear of brown earth down one cheek and was a forbidding looking antagonist, and for hours after practice was over Clint had only to close his eyes to visualise the angry, intense countenance of his opponent. Had Clint but known it, he was not a very pretty object himself just then. Someone's boot had rubbed the skin from his left cheek and the blood had caked there, well mixed with dirt, until he looked quite villainous.
The 'varsity scored twice by straight football and once by the use of tricks which were designed to outwit Claflin a week later. The second managed a field-goal from the fifteen yards. Toward the end the 'varsity used substitutes freely, but Clint played through to the last, emerging with many an aching bone, a painful shortness of breath and a fine glow of victory. Mr. Detweiler, red-faced and perspiring, caught him on the side line as he dragged his tired feet toward the blanket pile. "All right, Thayer?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes, sir," panted Clint.
"Good! Get in as soon as you can and have a good rub. You played real football, boy, and I'm proud of you! Keep it up!"
"You bet I will!" murmured Clint to himself, as he turned toward the gymnasium. "I'll show Cupples that he can't come through me, the big guy!"
Ten minutes later, refreshed by his shower, he ran into Cupples outside the door to the rubbing room. Cupples, a piece of surgeon's plaster adorning his lip, grinned. Clint grinned back.
"Some game," he said.
"Was it!" agreed Cupples. "Clint, you've got the rest of them all backed off the map! Saunders hasn't a thing on you, old man, and I've played against him and know. I hope they keep you there."
"Thanks, Cupples, but if the Claflin chap is any tougher than you are I guess Saunders is welcome to his job whenever he wants it back."
"Well, say," chuckled the other, "we had a good time, didn't we?"
"Great!" assented Clint.
And, he reflected as he went on, now that it was all over so they had!
THE LETTER THAT WASN'T WRITTEN
The Cherry Valley game came off the next afternoon, and the school turned out with songs and cheers and marched across to the gridiron to watch the last contest before the final and supreme test. It was a cold, cloudy day, with a biting northeast wind sweeping down the field. Most of the assisting coaches had gone away over the week-end, Mr. Robey and Andy Miller had journeyed to Claflin to see the game there and Mr. Detweiler was left in charge at home. Cherry Valley had been defeated 27-6 last year and was not looked on as at all dangerous. Her team was light in weight and looked even less competent than it proved, since whatever might have been said in criticism of it, it was fast. Brimfield started the game with her best foot forward. With the exception of Clint at left tackle, the line-up consisted of first-string players. Tyler played in his old place at right tackle. Brimfield was not to show anything in the way of new plays, in case Claflin had thought it worth while to send scouts, and to that extent the Maroon-and-Grey was handicapped.
The first period ran along without a score on either side. Brimfield couldn't seem to get started. There was more fumbling on both sides than was necessary, even when the wind was taken into consideration, and each team lost the ball twice at critical moments. Brimfield worked down to the Cherry-Red twenty-two yards, lost a couple of yards by a fumble, tried the left end for no gain and essayed a goal from the field. But distance and wind were too much for Harris. After that there was much punting on Cherry Valley's part, evidently in the hope that a Brimfield back would fumble. And Brimfield backs did fumble, for the wind made certain judgment of kicks impossible, but fortunately the ball was recovered each time without much loss. The first period ended with the ball in midfield in Cherry Valley's possession.
Carmine went in for Marvin, since, with the wind against her, Cherry Valley would not be likely to do much punting and Carmine's backfield unsteadiness would not count. He managed to get more speed into the Maroon-and-Grey and toward the end of the period two long punts, poorly returned, put her within scoring distance. On the thirty yards Brimfield uncorked her real offence and Kendall and Harris and St. Clair hammered the line and skirted the ends and finally plugged through for a hard-earned touchdown. The punt-out was missed and so Brimfield was not able to add a 1 to the 6.
Thirty seconds after the kick-off Carmine faked a forward pass and started around his own left end and, eluding most of the Cherry Valley team by some of the best dodging that had been seen that season, put the pigskin back on the Red's twenty-four yards. A forward pass, Harris to Edwards, gained eight, and Harris made it first down past left tackle. Kendall worked the centre for three and Harris romped around the right for six more. Carmine plunged through centre for the distance. Harris went back as if to kick and the ball shot to St. Clair and that elusive youth fairly streaked across the field and, finding a hole, shot through and over the line for the second score. This time Innes kicked the goal and the tally was 13-0. There was no more scoring in that period, although Cherry Valley sent the spectators' hearts into their throats by getting a back off away on a long run down the side of the field which, but for a splendid tackle by Kendall, would have resulted in a touchdown. With the pigskin in Cherry Valley's possession on the home team's sixteen yards the half ended.
Mr. Detweiler and "Boots" scolded and threatened during half-time. The team had played, declared the latter, like a lot of helpless idiots. What was the matter with them? Did they think they were there to loaf? For two cents Mr. Boutelle would yank the whole silly bunch off the field and finish the game with the second team! He would, by Ginger!
After that Mr. Detweiler more quietly pointed out some dozen or fifteen of the most glaring faults displayed and read a new line-up. With the exception of Clint, Hall, Carmine and Tyler every fellow was new. "And now," said Mr. Detweiler, "let's see what you can do this half. Do something, anyway! Stop loafing! If you can't play football, wave your arms and make a noise!"
Brimfield wisely chose to play a kicking game at the beginning of the third period, since, with the wind behind her, Freer's high corkscrews were particularly effective. Freer didn't try for much distance with his punts. What he did was to send them well into the air and let the wind do the rest. The result was that the pigskin sailed down the field for anywhere from thirty-five to fifty yards and came down in the most unexpected places. Cherry Valley very sensibly made no effort to run back punts, but signalled a fair-catch every time, which made it easier for the Brimfield ends and tackles, since they, no more than the enemy, could tell where the erratic ball was going to descend. Cherry Valley attempted to run the ends and succeeded now and then, punting only on fourth down when everything else had failed. After a dozen plays Brimfield had gained half the distance to the Red's goal without having put her new backfield to the test. There, however, a fumble by Still changed the complexion of things, for the ball was recovered by a tall Cherry Valley guard and that youth eluded the opponents and carried the pigskin past the centre of the field and was pulled down on Brimfield's forty-two yards by Carmine.
That seemed to give the visitors the encouragement they had lacked, for they at once started in with a bewildering set of fast criss-crosses and double-passes and so deceived the substitute backfield that they made two first downs before a halt was called. Then, with six yards to go on third down, the Red pulled off a forward pass of startling length and precision and the catcher was run out at the Maroon-and-Grey's twenty-five-yard line. Cherry Valley tried Brimfield's left end and gained four, slid off Clint for three more, tried the same place again and was stopped for no gain and punted short and across field to Carmine on his eight yards.
Carmine slipped past the Red's left end and started on a wide run, looking for a chance to cut in. But advance was blocked thoroughly and he was finally down on his ten-yard line. A plunge by Rollins gained two and Freer got past the right tackle for three more. Then Freer was sent back to his goal line to punt. Thursby, at centre, passed low, and Freer was hurried, with the result that the ball went almost straight into the air, was caught by the wind and landed out of bounds at Brimfield's eighteen yards. Cherry Valley started in again with grim determination. A weak spot was discovered at right guard, where Gafferty was in Hall's place, and two gains were made there, bringing the pigskin to the twelve yards. Another attempt, this time on Tyler, produced two more. With two to go on fourth down, Cherry Valley elected to kick and her right half-back, who performed the drop-kicking, fell back to the eighteen yards.
The ball was opposite the left-hand goal post and a three-point tally appeared inevitable. Carmine and Still, the latter acting-captain in Jack Innes's absence, implored the forwards to block the kick. There was an instant of comparative silence, broken only by the quarter's hoarse voice as he gave the signal, and then the two lines heaved at each other and the ball sped back to the kicker. His eyes sought the goal, the ball dropped, his leg swung and through the din of cries and the rasping of canvas came the thud of foot and ball. But it was followed by another thud, the hollow sound of the pigskin striking the chest of the Maroon-and-Grey's left tackle, and back up the field bounded the ball. Clint had chosen the opposing tackle as his prey, had swung him out and broken through somehow between him and guard. A half-back had thrown himself in his way, but Clint had staggered over or past him and leaped desperately into the path of the ascending ball. He had felt the resounding smack of it under his chin and, recovering from the force of the impact, had, even as he found his feet again, seen it bound away past the frantic kicker, seen that youth go down under the sturdy Holt, and had started instantly in pursuit. Behind him thudded friend and foe, from one side darted the Cherry Valley quarter-back. The ball was wobbling left and right a dozen yards away. Clint strove to put himself in the way of the quarter, but that player, with a burst of speed, ran free and dived for the ball. Clint toppled on top of the quarter. And then, just how he never knew, he had the ball snuggled under his chest, the quarter ineffectually seeking a hold on it!
"Brimfield's ball!" announced the referee, heeling. "First down right here!"
That was Cherry Valley's last threat. Later, in the fourth quarter, she reached the Maroon-and-Grey's twenty-seven yards but was forced to punt after two attempted forward passes had failed. Brimfield secured two more touchdowns, one in each period, and twice failed at field-goals, Rollins's drop-kicking proving far from first-class. Freer took the ball over for the first score in the second half, and Marvin, who replaced Carmine toward the end of the last period, squirmed through from the four yards for the second. Freer failed to convert his touchdown into a goal, but Marvin very neatly added a point to his, and the final score read Brimfield, 26; Cherry Valley, 0; which was a more satisfactory result than last year's.
The school showed a strong disposition to lionize Clint for his blocking of Cherry Valley's drop-kick, and when he entered the dining hall that evening he received more applause than, any of the other players. It was his first experience of being clapped to his seat and he found himself heartily wishing that the 'varsity training-tables had been located nearer the door!
The football mass-meeting that night was enthusiastic to a degree, and even the news that Claflin had beaten Larchville that afternoon 11 to failed to dampen the fervour of the songs and cheers that rang through the hall. It was recalled that a year ago Larchville, who had then held the same position on Claflin's schedule, had defeated the latter 12 to 6, and that subsequently the best Brimfield had been able to do with Claflin was 6 to 0. Consequently it would seem that Claflin was stronger this year than last. Unfortunately, however, Brimfield had not played Larchville this season, owing to the fact that Larchville, having beaten Brimfield 17 to 3 last year, had insisted that the next meeting should be at Larchville, an arrangement Brimfield had not been willing to consent to. For this reason it was not possible to compare the strength of Brimfield and Claflin with any certainty. Andy Miller, who was prevailed on to address the mass-meeting, declared it to be his conviction that Claflin had a slightly stronger team than she had had last Fall.
"I think," he explained, "that it is a little more evenly developed. She is surer in all departments than she was a year ago. Like us, the Blue started the season with five of her old men in the line-up, and, like us, she had a good crowd of substitutes to pick from. Her captain and quarter-back, Ainsmith, is one of the best in the game today, and in her full-back, Atkinson, whom you probably remember, she has another star. Her halves are new men, but they're fast and hard to stop. In the line, tackle to tackle, I think we'll even up with them. As for our ends, I believe we can show better goods than they can, although Mumford, who played with them last year, is a very good man. I'm not telling you this to discourage you, for I firmly believe we're going to win, but I don't want you to think that it's going to be a walk-over, for it isn't, not by any manner of means. We've got to work hard and use everything we know if we're to have the long end of the score a week from today. That's what our team has got to do. As for you fellows, you've got to stand right up behind it every minute and make it feel that you have confidence in it. I can't be here to see the game myself; I wish I could; but I fully expect to take up the paper a week from tomorrow morning and read that Brimfield has turned the trick again. And I expect to read, too, that a notable feature of the contest was the whole-souled, hearty support given the Maroon-and-Grey by their fellows! That's all I've got to say to you. The team's going to do its part. You do yours."
The next day dawned fair and warm, with an almost imperceptible haze in the atmosphere, a veritable Indian summer day if ever there was one. After dinner, a rather more hearty meal than was served to the football players on week-days, Clint went back to his room with the noble intention of writing a fine long letter to his father and mother. There had been complaints from Cedar Run of late to the effect that Clint's epistles were much too brief. Today he resolved to send at least eight pages. He would tell them all about the fine weather and yesterday's game—mentioning quite incidentally his own part in it—and the football spirit that prevailed throughout the Academy and—and—About this time Clint found himself smothering a yawn and viewing distastefully the writing pad in front of him. Through the open windows came the sound of voices borne on the still, soft air, and he pushed back his chair and wandered to the casement. Across the field the Autumn woods were brown and sunlit and their depths filled with a purple haze. Boys were strolling in couples and groups across the yellowing turf. After a minute Clint went back to the table, looked indecisively at the still clean sheet of paper awaiting his pen, picked up his cap from the chair and, with a guilty backward glance, stole out of the room. He felt very much as though he was playing hookey, a feeling which perhaps naturally increased his pleasure as he ran down the stairs and issued forth on the Row.
Penny Durkin was seated on the steps with a text-book in hand, but Clint noted that Penny's gaze was fixed on the distance. The fact acted as a salve for Clint's conscience. If Penny couldn't study today, Penny who had been known to play his fiddle even while he stuffed Greek or Latin or mathematics, surely no one else could rightfully be expected to fix his mind on letter-writing! Clint halted a moment on the walk and Penny's gaze and thoughts came back from afar and he blinked up at the other.
"Hi!" said Penny dreamily.
"Hi," returned Clint.
"Warm, isn't it?"
"I thought I'd study a little, but I guess I was almost asleep."
"Day-dreaming," suggested Clint. There was a moment's silence, during which an odd idea occurred to Clint. He didn't much care to walk by himself, and he didn't know where to look for Amy or any of the other fellows who might care to join him. Why not, then, ask Penny Durkin? Before he had thoroughly weighed the merits of the scheme he found himself making the suggestion.
"Come on for a walk, Durkin," he said. "Bring your old book along if you like. We'll find a place in the woods and, as Amy says, commune with Nature."
Penny looked first surprised and then pleased, and, "I'd love to," he said. So they set off together around the corner of Torrence and past the little brick building which held the heating plant and made off across the field. The sun was gloriously warm and the air was like that of a June day, and after the first minute or two of progress they discovered that they had no inclination toward hurrying, that, in short, they felt decidedly lazy and drowsy, and that the sooner they reached that place in the woods where they were to commune with Nature the pleasanter it would be.
Conversation was fitful. Penny spoke hesitantly of Clint's good work in yesterday's game, ventured a vague prediction that Brimfield would win from Claflin on Saturday and then seemed to fall asleep. Clint made no effort to arouse him and presently they climbed over the stone wall that divided the school property from the woodland and made their way through the trees until they were half-way up the slope. There, in the lee of an outcropping grey ledge of weathered granite, they subsided on a bed of leaves with sighs of contentment. Through the nearer trees and above the more distant ones, they could see the further side of the field and the sunlit buildings.
"I reckon," said Clint, propping his shoulders against a convenient surface of the ledge, "this is the place we were looking for. Now, bring on your Nature and we'll commune."
"I used to come up here when I was a First Former," said Penny. "Two or three of us kids would sneak stuff from dining hall and build a fire back of this rock and picnic. One day we went off and forgot about the fire and that night someone looked over and saw a blaze and they had to fight it for almost an hour with brooms and buckets of water. We had a fine time! Everyone turned out. We never told what we knew about it, though!" And Penny smiled reminiscently.
"You're in the sixth form this year, aren't you?" asked Clint.
"Yes, this is my last year."
"And you've been here five already!" Clint marvelled. "My, that's a long time, isn't it? You'll feel queer, won't you, when you don't come back next Fall?"
Penny nodded soberly. "It'll be—funny," he agreed. "I don't suppose you'll quite understand it, Thayer, but—well, this school is more like a real home than any other place I know. You see, my mother died a long while ago; I was just a toddler then; and my father married again. Then, when I was eleven, he died and now I live with my stepmother and her brother. He's not a bad sort of man, Uncle Steve. I just call him uncle, of course. But my stepmother never liked me much, and then, besides, father didn't leave much money when he died and she sort of feels that she can't afford to pay my education. I've always had to fight to get back here every year. Uncle Steve helped me some, but he's kind of scared of ma and doesn't dare say much. That's why school seems like home. When I go back to Parkerstown it's more like going on a visit than going home. And after this year it's going to seem funny, unless I go to college."
"But you are going, aren't you?" asked Clint anxiously.
"If I can. Mr. Fernald says he's hoping to get me a scholarship that will pretty nearly see me through my freshman year, but there's nothing certain about it, because there are always a lot of folks after those scholarships and there aren't very many of them. I guess that's about the only way I'll manage it."
"I do hope you get it," said Clint with genuine sympathy. "I suppose you couldn't—couldn't find any way to work through, Durkin."
"I've thought of that. I don't know. I've done pretty well here, buying and selling all kinds of things. You wouldn't think there'd be much money in it, would you? But since my second year I've done a lot of it and made nearly enough each year to pay my tuition. That's the only way I've been able to stay. I guess ma argued that I'd cost her less at school, making most of the money myself, than I would at home. Fellows sometimes call me a 'Yankee' and a 'Shylock' and things like that because I try to get all the money I can for a thing. But I've never cheated anyone; and—and I've really needed the money. But I don't believe a fellow could do that in college. There might be another way, though. I've heard of fellows making a lot of money in college."
"Seems to me," said Clint, "it's your step-mother's duty to look after you and pay for your schooling. It's your father's money she's using, isn't it?"
"Yes, but there's not a great deal of it, I suppose. I never knew how much he did leave. And ma's fond of nice things and it costs a good deal to live, I guess. Oh, if I can get that scholarship I'll be all right. You see, though, don't you, why I didn't want to scrap with Dreer? It might have just queered everything for me."
"Yes, I see," asserted Clint. "You did the right thing. You'd have been mighty silly to risk it, Durkin. What about playing? You—you play pretty well, don't you? Couldn't you make any money that way?"
"No." Penny shook his head. "I don't play well enough. You see, I've kept thinking that some day I'd be able to get instruction, but I never have yet; except a few lessons a fellow in Parkerstown gave me one Summer. I just scrape; that's all."
"I've always thought," fibbed Clint stoutly, "that you played finely!"
"I've always thought I could if I'd had instruction," replied Penny wistfully. "I sort of love it. Maybe some day—" His voice dwindled into silence, and for several minutes the two boys, each busy with their separate thoughts, stared through the bare branches up to the blue afternoon sky. They were aroused from their dreaming by the sound of voices and rustling of leaves under the feet of the speakers. Clint, peering around, saw Harmon Dreer, and another boy whom he didn't know by sight, climbing the slope toward them.
DREER LOOKS ON
"There's Dreer now," said Clint softly.
"And Beaufort," added Penny.
"He lives the other side of the village. His father owned a lot of land around here and made heaps of money selling it off. They call him 'Babe' Beaufort; this fellow, I mean, not his father; probably because he's so big."
"He looks like a walrus," commented Clint. Further confidences were impossible, for the approaching couple were now within earshot and had caught sight of the boys by the rock. Dreer spoke to Beaufort softly and the latter turned a quick, curious look toward the boys under the ledge. Then, without speaking, they passed on up the hill and out of sight amongst the trees. Penny gave a sigh of relief.
"He's a scrapper, and I thought maybe Dreer would try to start something," said Penny.
"Who is? Beaufort?"
"Yes, he's a sort of village bully. He's been in trouble two or three times. His father has so much money 'Babe' thinks he's the whole thing in Brimfield. He and Hatherton Williams had a row in front of the post-office a couple of years ago and it took the whole police force to separate them."
"What does the Brimfield police force consist of?" asked Clint with a laugh. "One constable with a tin star?"
"Two," replied Penny, smiling. "We were sorry the cops butted in, for Williams would have given him a fine licking, I guess. He's just the sort of chap Dreer would naturally take up with."
"Listen!" commanded Clint. "They're coming back, I guess."
Someone was certainly approaching down the hill. Penny frowned.
"If it is they," said Clint anxiously, "don't have any words with them, Durkin."
"Not me," replied Penny resolutely. "Can't afford to."
Just then Dreer and his friend came into sight. Clint watched hopefully. They were headed straight down the slope and he was just going to lean his head back against the rock again when Beaufort suddenly hunched his shoulders and turned angrily toward Clint and Penny. "Here!" he shouted. "What did you do that for?"
"Do what?" asked Clint in genuine surprise as Beaufort and Dreer, the latter a good pace behind, strode toward them through the trees.
"You know what," replied "Babe" Beaufort with an ugly scowl that increased his resemblance to a ferocious walrus. "You shied a stone at me!" His eyes, however, fixed themselves on Penny.
"Shied a stone!" exclaimed Clint incredulously. "Why, we haven't moved. Besides, there aren't any stones around here. And we couldn't have thrown one through the trees if we'd tried."
"You keep out of this," said Beaufort. "When I want a lawyer I'll hire one. This fellow here threw it and I saw him."
"Oh, no, you didn't," contradicted Clint, "for I was looking and your head was turned away until you jumped. There wasn't any stone thrown, and you know it. You're just trying to pick a scrap, Beaufort."
"Call me a liar, do you? I'll attend to you when I'm through with this long-haired galoot!" Beaufort contemptuously kicked Penny's shoe.
"Get up and fight, you! You can't shy rocks at me and get away with it!"
Penny had so far said nothing, but, although there was a gravely amused smile on his thin face, his eyes held a dangerous sparkle.
"It can't be done, Beaufort," he answered. "I'm not fighting today. You come around the day after school closes in the Spring and I'll talk with you."
"You're a coward," sneered the big youth. "You'll either get up and fight or I'll kick you down the bank!"
Clint was too angry now to remain longer diplomatic. "You're a fine one, Dreer," he declared hotly. "Why don't you fight your own battles and not bring a hired bully to do it for you?"
"Hired bully!" exploded Beaufort, who was working himself into a fine imitation of a rage. "For two cents I'd knock your head off, you fresh kid!"
Harmon Dreer only smirked. "It's no business of mine," he said. "If you fellows throw stones you've got to take the consequences, Thayer."
"When we do, we will, but you know well enough we didn't throw a stone, Dreer. You're picking on Durkin because Byrd knocked you down the other day. Why don't you go after him if you want trouble?"
"You keep out of this," said Beaufort. Then, turning to Penny again, "Will you get up and take your licking?" he demanded.
"No, he won't!" exclaimed Clint, jumping to his feet. "If you've got to fight someone, you fight me, you big overgrown bully!"
"Shut up, Thayer." Penny pulled his long length from the ground. "This is none of your business."
"I'm making it my business," replied Clint hotly. "You keep out of it, Durkin. I'll look after this fellow. If he wants a scrap he can have it." Clint peeled off his coat and tossed it aside.
But Penny calmly and good-naturedly thrust him away. "It's my row, Thayer," he said. "Thanks, just the same." He took off his coat and vest, exposing a pair of purple cotton suspenders. "Throw those down somewhere, will you? Look out for the watch in the vest."
"Don't be a fool, Durkin," begged Clint. "You can see it's a put-up job! Let me attend to it, won't you?"
Penny shook his head. "No, I've got to do it," he answered. He turned to Dreer. "Will you promise to keep mum about this?" he asked. "If you don't promise, I won't fight."
"It's nothing to me," muttered Dreer, maintaining a safe position.
"All right. Remember that. If I ever find you've spoken of it I'll half kill you, Dreer!"
"I guess I'd have something to say about that," said Dreer, blustering weakly. Beaufort cut in impatiently.
"Aw, stow the gab!" he said. He tossed his coat aside and skimmed his cap after it. "Come on, you runt, and take your medicine!"
For answer Penny sprang forward and landed a blow on Beaufort's shoulder that almost upset him because of its unexpectedness. Beaufort grunted angrily and swung back. But Penny was quick on his feet and handy with his arms and the blow was blocked, and Beaufort's jab with his left fell short. There was little space between the trees and the ledge, and what there was was uneven and covered with leaves which made the footing uncertain. It was long-distance sparring for a minute, during which time the two boys, watching each other intently, stepped back and forth across the little clearing, feinting and backing.
Beaufort looked to be fully eighteen and was heavily built, with wide shoulders and hips and a deep chest. Clint, studying him, felt that one of his blows from the shoulder, if it landed, would be more than enough for poor Penny. Penny was of the same apparent age, but he was thin and fragile looking beside the other. And yet he was certainly quicker of movement and had an advantage in reach, and there was a certain careful precision about Penny's movements that encouraged Clint. Dreer had moved well away from the scene and was looking on with eager, excited face, a cruel smile twisting his thin lips.
Suddenly Beaufort lunged forward with his right and then shot his second under Penny's guard. The blow sent the latter staggering against a tree. Fortunately, though, it had landed on his ribs, and after the first instant of breathlessness, during which he managed to side-step further punishment, he showed no damage. Again Beaufort feinted and swung, but this time Penny sprang back out of the way. Then, before the other could recover, he went into him, left, right and left again, and Beaufort gave way. Only one blow took effect, but that reached the bigger boy's face and brought a veritable howl of rage from him. Like a windmill, thick arms swinging, he bored in to Penny. The latter retreated, guarding well, but Beaufort's blows were heavy ones, the ground was slippery with fallen leaves, and Penny, missing his footing, measured his length, his head narrowly escaping collision with a tree as he fell. With a grunt of triumph, Beaufort sprang toward him and aimed a blow. But Clint, boiling with rage, dashed between.
"Let him up!" he cried.
"Get away!" growled Beaufort, leading at Clint. Clint swung his shoulders aside and the blow passed harmlessly. Penny scrambled to his feet.
"My fight, Beaufort!" he panted. "Let him alone!"
Beaufort turned to Penny again, and again they went at it. It was in-fighting now. Short, quick jabs for the face and head followed each other in rapid succession. Then they clinched, Beaufort's stout right arm holding Penny against him and his left fist seeking lodgment against Penny's face. But Penny, squirming, kept his head down and the blows fell harmlessly on his skull. Then, wrenching himself free, Penny stumbled out of the way, pale and dizzy. Beaufort plunged toward him again wildly. Penny stood still then. A feint at the stomach, and Beaufort for an instant dropped his guard. Then, and it all happened too quickly for Clint to follow, Penny's left shot out, there was a grunt from Beaufort, another lightning-like blow straight from Penny's shoulder and the bully went down on his back, one big leg waving in air as he tumbled. And in the same instant a voice, cold and measured, broke the stillness.
"Durkin! That's enough of that!"
Mr. Daley and Mr. Conklin stepped onto the scene.
CLINT HAS STAGE-FRIGHT
The instructor and the physical director had approached without a sound of warning, and Penny, Clint and Dreer, the latter exhibiting an evident desire to efface himself, stared in surprise for a moment. And at the same time Beaufort, raising himself weakly on one elbow, gazed bewilderedly from Penny to the faces of the newcomers.
"I'm not through," he muttered thickly. "Wait—a minute!"
"I think you are through, Beaufort," said Mr. Daley coldly. "Pick up your coat, please, and put it on. Durkin, do the same."
Silently they obeyed, Mr. Conklin helping the dazed Beaufort to his unsteady feet. He had a bleeding nose and one eye looked far from its best. For his part, Penny, although evidently distressed, showed only a bruised cheek.
"Don't go, Dreer," said Mr. Daley. Dreer halted in his elaborately uninterested departure. "Now, then, boys, what does this mean? Don't you know that fighting is barred here? And don't you think that, if you had to try to kill each other like two wild animals, you might—er—have chosen some day other than the Sabbath?"
No one had any reply to make. "Well," continued the instructor in his careful way, "why don't you—er—say something? Who began this and what was it about?"
"Durkin shied a stone at us as we were going down the hill," said Dreer, "and when we told him to stop it he—he wanted to fight."
"That was the way of it, Beaufort?"
"Aw, find out," growled Beaufort. "I don't have to account to you for what I do."
"Keep a civil tongue, Beaufort," counselled Mr. Conklin, "or it may prove bad for you, my boy."
"You've been told before that you must keep off school property," said Mr. Daley, otherwise known as "Horace."
"I'm not on school property," replied Beaufort defiantly.
"You're not now, but you have been or you wouldn't be here. After this kindly remain away from the school entirely. We've had trouble with you before."
"Sure and you'll have more if you get gay," answered the other with a grin. "When anyone throws stones at my head he gets licked for it."
"Did you do that, Durkin?"
"No, sir," replied Penny quietly. "Thayer and I were lying under the rock here when those fellows came up the hill. They saw us and went on up. Then, pretty soon, they came down again and Beaufort pretended I'd thrown a stone at him and came over here and insisted on a scrap."
"Pretended you threw it? What for?"
"Oh, it's some of Dreer's funny work," replied Penny. "He had it in for me because—for something that happened a while back, and he got Beaufort to pick a quarrel with me."
"What was the something that happened, Durkin?"
"I'd rather not say, Mr. Daley. It—it had nothing to do with this."
"What do you say, Thayer?"
"Penny's told it just the way it happened, sir. Beaufort wanted to fight and Penny wouldn't until Beaufort made him. There wasn't any stone thrown, Mr. Daley."
Mr. Daley looked puzzled. "Well," he said, "you'd better all return to hall for the rest of the day. You'll—er—you'll probably hear from this later." Beaufort took his departure non-chalantly, whistling as he made his way through the woods. Dreer stood not on the order of his going, but was over the wall almost before the instructor had finished speaking. Penny and Clint followed more leisurely, leaving Mr. Daley and Mr. Conklin in possession of the field of battle. They too, however, presently continued their interrupted walk.
"What do you make of it, Jim?" asked Mr. Daley. Mr. Conklin smiled and shook his head.
"Oh, I fancy Durkin told it straight. It's some private feud we happened on. Too bad we didn't follow our first intention and go toward the village."
Mr. Daley looked doubtful. "I'm sorry about Durkin," he said regretfully. "Mr. Fernald has been trying to secure a scholarship for him at one of the colleges, and this—er—affair will, I fear, displease him."
Mr. Conklin shot a quick glance at the other. "Oh, so you think you'll have to report it, eh?"
"Hm. Well, all right. Only it somehow seems to me that as they were off of school property and were settling an affair in a perfectly regular way it might be overlooked without any harm, Horace. You know best, of course. That's just my notion."
"But that would be encouraging fighting here, Jim, and you know what the rules are. I—I wish I might—er—forget it, but I don't think I conscientiously can."
Mr. Conklin nodded. After a moment he said, with a chuckle: "That was a clever punch of Durkin's. I'm glad we got there for the knock-out."
"Durkin appeared much lighter than Beaufort, too," replied Mr. Daley, unwilling admiration in his voice. "I wonder how he happens to be so—er—clever."
"Because he took boxing lessons with me for two years," answered Mr. Conklin unhesitatingly. "We used to have boxing, you know. That was before your time, though. I remember now that Durkin, although a mere kid, was very quick and took to it like a duck to water. It was a great mistake to abolish boxing. There's no better exercise, and none more useful."
"But doesn't it—er—encourage just this sort of thing?" asked Mr. Daley, with a backward tilt of his head.
"Not a bit," replied the other stoutly. "On the contrary, if a boy can put on a pair of gloves and harmlessly pound another boy about a bit—or get pounded about—it satisfies the desire for fistic encounter that's a part of every fellow's make-up, and he's a lot less likely to be quarrelsome. Besides, Horace, it's a fine exercise for the body and brain and eyes."
"Brain?" questioned Mr. Daley smilingly.
"Undoubtedly! Try it some time and see if it isn't. You've got to think quick, look quick and act quick. If I had my way boxing would be compulsory, by George!"
Mr. Daley shook his head doubtfully. "You may be right," he said, "but it seems to me that teaching a boy how to fight is going to make him want to. That's the way it goes with other things, Jim. Give a boy lessons in swimming and he wants to swim; teach him—er—how to jump—"
"Teach him how to box and he wants to box. Certainly, but that doesn't mean that he wants to go around picking quarrels and fighting with bare fists. You might as well say that learning to fence makes you want to go out and stab folks with a rapier! And look at the evidence presented awhile ago. Beaufort undoubtedly picked that quarrel. There can't be any doubt of that. We know his record. Beaufort, I'll wager, never took a boxing lesson in his life. He showed it. The chap who knew how to box, Durkin, had to be forced to fight."
"You'll convince me in a minute," laughed Mr. Daley, "that if I want to keep out of trouble I'll have to learn to use my fists!"
"It would be a good thing if you did," responded the other. "Come over to the gym some afternoon and have a go at it!"
"That would be setting a fine example, wouldn't it?"
"As a matter of fact, it would," replied Mr. Conklin earnestly. "I wish I could convince Fernald of it!"
Meanwhile, Clint and Penny, both chastened and uneasy, were reviewing the episode in Penny's room.
"I suppose he will report it," said Penny. "If he does, and Mr. Fernald believes Dreer's story, it'll cost me that scholarship."
"I don't see why he should believe Dreer any more than you and me," Clint objected.
"I'm afraid he will want to. He hates to have fellows fight. I'm glad you kept out of it, anyway."
"I'm not! It wouldn't have made so much difference with me, Durkin."
"You might have been put on probation Thayer, and that would have kept you off the football team."
"Probation just for—for that?" exclaimed the other incredulously.
"Wouldn't be surprised," replied Penny. "Josh is rabid on the subject. Well, there's no use crying over spilled milk. And, anyhow, I'm glad I did it! Only I wish it had been Dreer instead of Beaufort!"
"So do I," muttered Clint.
Amy, when he heard of it, was devastated with sorrow. "And I wasn't there!" he wailed. "Just my silly luck! Tell me about it. You say Penny knocked him out!"
The next forenoon the summons came from the Office and at twelve o'clock Penny, Clint and Dreer were admitted to the inner sanctuary one at a time and grilled by Mr. Fernald. Penny's forebodings were none too dismal, as events proved. Probation was awarded to Penny and Dreer, while Clint was unmercifully lectured. Unfortunately, their sense of honour kept both Penny and Clint silent as to the underlying cause of the affair, and the principal's efforts to find out why Dreer should have set Beaufort to pick a quarrel with Penny, as both Penny and Clint claimed, were unsuccessful. Naturally enough, Dreer himself failed to throw light on this matter. Mr. Fernald refused to believe that any boy would deliberately seek the help of another to administer punishment to a third. He was willing to exonerate Penny and Clint from the charge of throwing stones, but insisted that it always took two to make a quarrel and that if Penny had chosen to observe the rules of the school he could have done so. For his part, Clint left the inner office feeling that he had been extremely lucky to have escaped hanging or life imprisonment, to say nothing of probation! Poor Penny was pretty downcast, Amy was furious and declared his intention of going to Mr. Fernald and telling the real truth of the whole affair. But Penny wouldn't listen to that.
"You can't do it, Byrd," he said.
"Why can't I?" Amy demanded.
"Because it wouldn't be decent," replied Penny earnestly. "You know that. A fellow can't—can't tell tales, you see."
"But, hang it all, you're letting Dreer get away with it! He busted your fiddle and set Beaufort on you and all he gets is a month's pro! And he doesn't care whether he's on pro or not. It doesn't make any difference to him. You're the one who's getting the short end of it. You're losing your scholarship as sure as shooting!"
"Yes, but a fellow can't blab," still insisted Penny.
Amy argued and stormed and threatened to go into Number 15 and knock Harmon Dreer into a cocked-hat, but in the end he had to subside. Penny insisted on taking his medicine.
Clint was as sorry as possible for Penny, but he didn't have much time for sympathy. With practice on Monday afternoon football affairs at Brimfield started on their last lap. Only Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were left for real work. After that only signal practice and blackboard lectures remained. Andy Miller showed up again, and with him two other coaches who had absented themselves for a few days, and life became once more terrifically strenuous for the 'varsity players. Saunders got back into practice that afternoon, but it was plain that his injury still inconvenienced him and he was not allowed to take part in the forty-five-minute scrimmage. Clint held down the left tackle position and held it down pretty well. Although he had no suspicion of it, his performance that afternoon settled definitely his status, and on the way to the gymnasium afterwards Mr. Detweiler ranged himself alongside, slid an arm over Clint's shoulder and said:
"Thayer, we're going to play you on Saturday. Saunders isn't in shape, I'm sorry to say, and won't be able to do more than take your place for awhile if necessary. You've done well. I want to give you credit for that. You're not a perfect tackle yet, my boy, but we've all got hopes of you and we expect you to give a good account of yourself against Claflin. And I expect to see you play better Saturday by fifty per cent than you've played yet. How do you feel about it?"
Clint couldn't have said just how he did feel, and was relieved when, seeing his embarrassment, Mr. Detweiler went on encouragingly. "Whatever you do, don't get scared. Just remember that, while winning from Claflin is a bigger thing than winning from any other team we've met, Claflin isn't very different, after all. They may play a little better football, but they're just as liable to make mistakes, just as liable to go to pieces in a pinch. Make up your mind that we've got a better team than they have and that we're going to everlastingly smear them! And then go ahead and prove it. You'll be up against a good man on attack, this fellow Terrill, but don't let that make you nervous. Remember that he's probably just as much afraid of you as you are of him, Thayer. If you can get around him a couple of times at the start you'll have him on the run for the rest of the game. So jump into him the minute the game begins and let him see that he's up against a real hard proposition. Meanwhile, do your level best to smooth down your playing. You've got the right ideas; just develop them. Make them go. Put a little more hump into your work. You'll find you can do about twice as well as you've been doing, if you put your mind on it. And remember too, Thayer, that I'm looking to you to vindicate my choice of you. Don't give anyone a chance to say after the game that I'd have done better if I'd picked Cupples or Trow for the place. All right. Take care of yourself." And Mr. Detweiler gave Clint a parting thump at the gymnasium door.
Events passed at an amazing speed for the next few days. Clint moved at times in a waking dream, and Amy, tapping his head significantly, spoke to him soothingly and hoped that the trouble would not prove permanent. Clint had a way of suddenly waking, at the most inopportune moments, to the fact that he was due to play left tackle on the Brimfield Football Team against Claflin School in a few days, and when he did he invariably experienced an appalling sick feeling at the pit of his stomach and became for the moment incapable of speech or action. When this occurred in class during, say, a faltering elucidation of the Iliad, it produced anything but a favourable impression on the instructor. Fortunately, while actually engaged in out-guessing Lee, of the second, or breaking through the none too vulnerable Pryme, or racing down the field under one of Harris's punts, he had no time to think of it and so was spared the mortification of suspended animation at what would have been a most unfortunate time. His appetite became decidedly capricious. And the capriciousness increased as Saturday drew near. Also, the sinking sensations to which he had become a prey attacked him more often. He drove Amy to despair by predicting all sorts of direful things. He was sure that he wouldn't be able to do anything with Terrill, the Claflin right end. He was morally certain that he was going to disgrace himself and the school. He was even inclined to think, rather hopefully, as it seemed to Amy, that he would be taken violently ill before Saturday.
"You'll make me ill!" declared Amy. "Honest, Clint, you talk like a demented duck! Buck up! What's the matter with you? Anyone would think you were going to be hung Saturday instead of play football!"
"I almost wish I were," murmured Clint dejectedly.
But if Clint was troubled with forebodings, not so the school at large. Enthusiastic mass-meetings were held alternate evenings and the new songs were rehearsed and the cheers which were to bring terror to the enemy were thundered with a mighty zest. Brimfield refused to even consider defeat. Parades became a frequent proceeding. By Wednesday it was only necessary for a fellow to step out on The Row and shout "Brimfield!" to have a procession form almost instantly!
The last practice took place Wednesday afternoon and for a solid forty-five minutes the 'varsity did its level best to totally annihilate the second team, and almost succeeded. Things went with a most encouraging bang that day. Even Coach Robey was seen to smile, which, during practice, was a most extraordinary thing for him to do. The 'varsity had to work for what it got, but got it. Three touchdowns and a field-goal was the sum of its attainment, while the second, fighting fiercely, managed to push Otis over for a score in the third period. Afterward the second cheered the 'varsity, was heartily cheered in return and then trotted back to the gymnasium no longer existent as a team.
The most enthusiastic meeting of the Fall was held that evening and was followed by a very riotous parade during which much red-fire was set off. The procession invaded the village and brought the inhabitants to their doors in alarm. It paused at Coach Robey's boarding place and cheered and demanded a speech. Coach Robey, however, was not at home. Neither was Mr. Detweiler, to whose abode the fellows next made their way. But they didn't care much. They greatly preferred hearing themselves to listening to anything the coaches might have to say. Finally they returned to Main Hall, indulged in one final burst of tumult and disbanded. Clint, hearkening from his room, where, quite alone, he was supposed to be diligently pursuing his studies, had another and worse attack of nerves!
There was signal practice Thursday for a short time in the afternoon, and in the evening a blackboard talk in the gymnasium. After that Clint returned to Torrence and made believe study until he could crawl into bed. Amy did what he could to take his mind from football, but his efforts were not very successful. Just when he thought he had Clint thoroughly interested in his conversation Clint would give a sudden start and blurt out: "I'll never remember the signals, Amy! I know I won't!" or "Gee, I wish it was over!"
Those were trying times in Number 14.
IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY
And then, suddenly, it was Saturday morning!
Clint, rousing from disturbed, uneasy slumber, stared at a patch of sunlight shimmering on the white ceiling and tried for just that moment that lies between sleep and consciousness to account for the fluttering condition of his nerves, the sense of impending doom that lay like a dark shadow at the back of his brain. Then full recollection came, his heart turned completely over twice, raced like a propeller out of water and sank dejectedly to somewhere near the pit of his stomach. After that he was very, very wide awake.
He turned and looked enviously at Amy, who, one bare arm over his touselled head, slept on untroubledly. A door banged in the corridor, the sound of rushing water came from the bathroom at the end, someone across the way began to sing "Tipperary" joyously, and through the open window came the shrill voice of an early First Former:
"Hi, Terry! Terry Brainard! Oh, Ter-ry!"
Clint would have liked to have buried his head in the pillow and gone back to sleep and slept until—well, say five o'clock that afternoon. For by five o'clock the Claflin game would be over with. But even a five-minute cat-nap was denied him by restless nerves, and, after a moment or two, he put his legs out and sat up yawning, feeling strangely tired and listless. His bath helped some, however, and later on he was surprised to find that as long as he kept his mind off the game he was able to do full justice to a chop, two soft-boiled eggs, three slices of toast, a dish of stewed apricots, a baked potato and three glasses of milk! After that he felt better still!
There was a studied effort on the part of the players to keep away from the subject of football that morning. Many of the fellows looked nervous and drawn, and said little. Others were, or appeared to be, in high spirits, and laughed a good deal and rather stridently, and talked loudly of all kinds of things—except football. Jack Innes was even more quiet than usual and almost jumped out of his chair when a boy at the next table dropped a knife on the floor.
There were no recitations after eleven that day. There might just as well have been none before that, for it's quite useless to expect a boy to put his mind on his studies only a few hours before the Big Game! At eleven the 'varsity players and substitutes assembled at the gymnasium and, escorted by Mr. Detweiler and Mr. Boutelle, took a walk across the fields and hills at an even though moderate pace. They were back a little before twelve. Dinner was at noon, and by a quarter to one they were climbing into coaches in front of Main Hall and at one-eight they, together with most of the school, were pulling out of the Brimfield station on their journey to Westplains, twelve miles distant.
Claflin was an older school than Brimfield and had a much larger enrolment. Until last year the Blue had won three football games from the Maroon-and-Grey, all, in fact, that the two schools had played together. Last year the tide had turned and Brimfield had nosed out her rival by one touchdown. This year—well, what was to happen this year was still on the lap of the gods, but Brimfield set out confident of victory.
Coaches met the players at the Westplains station and rolled them away along the tree-lined, winding road to the school, while the rest of the Brimfield invaders followed on foot or, if their pockets afforded it and they hankered for luxury; in the little station-wagons which, patriotically decorated with blue bunting and flags, sought patronage.
Claflin School was set down in the very middle of the town, a quiet, rambling, overgrown village too near New York to ever become more than a residence place. The school was spread over many acres and its buildings, most of which had been there many years, had a look of mellow antiquity which the newer Brimfield halls had not had time to acquire. Wide-spreading elms shaded the walks in Summer and even today their graceful branches added beauty to the campus. Brimfield, nearly a hundred and fifty strong, took possession of the school grounds and went sight-seeing before they poured out on the further side and made their way to the athletic field.
Amy and Bob Chase, pausing to translate a Latin inscription over the entrance to one of the buildings, became detached from the others and were discovered by Mr. Detweiler, who, having made an unsuccessful attempt to find a college friend who was instructing at Claflin, was on his way to the gymnasium. He listened, unseen, for a moment to Amy's extremely literal and picturesque translation, and then a laugh revealed his presence and Amy looked around a bit sheepishly.
"That's fine, Byrd," said Mr. Detweiler. "You certainly reflect credit on 'Uncle Sim'!"
"I guess," observed Bob Chase, "'Uncle Sim' would have had a fit if he'd heard that!"
They strolled on together, speaking of the buildings they passed, until, opposite the gymnasium, Mr. Detweiler started to leave them, thought better of it and said: "By the way, Byrd, I wonder if I was pledged to secrecy the other day."
"The other day?" repeated Amy questioningly.
"The day I met you and Thayer and—" He looked doubtfully at Chase.
"Bob's all right," Amy reassured him. "I know when you mean, sir. But I don't understand about being pledged—"
"I'll tell you." Mr. Detweiler looked hurriedly at his watch. "I happened to hear from Mr. Daley yesterday that your friend Durkin had got in trouble. You knew that?"
"Well, it seemed that Mr. Fernald thought Durkin had either picked the quarrel or—well, we'll say welcomed it. Daley told me Durkin was on probation and stood a pretty fair chance of losing a scholarship he was after. So, as I hadn't been, as I thought, pledged to secrecy, I told Daley what I knew of the start of the trouble. That seemed to put a different complexion on the matter and Daley went to Mr. Fernald and told him about it. Since then I've wondered whether I ought to have kept my mouth closed. Do you mind?"
"Not a bit," declared Amy heartily. "I'm mighty glad you did tell. I wanted to, but Penny wouldn't hear of it. He said it would be sneaky, or something like that. What—what did Mr. Fernald say, sir?"
"I haven't heard. I hope, though, he will see that your friend Durkin couldn't very well avoid that row on Sunday. It seemed to me rather too bad that he should lose his chance at the scholarship. That is why I 'butted in,' Byrd."
"I'm very glad you did, Mr. Detweiler. I'll find Penny and see if he's heard anything."
Penny, however, was very elusive, and it was not until a few minutes before the game started that Amy finally located him in the top row of the temporary grand-stand. Even then Amy could only get within shouting distance, but shouting distance sufficed.
"Penny!" called Amy. "Hi, Penny!"
Penny smiled and waved.
"Had any news?" asked Amy in a confidential shout.
Penny looked blank for an instant. Then a slow smile lighted his face and he nodded vehemently.
"Yes," he called. "This morning, Byrd! It's all right about—you know!"
"Awfully glad," replied Amy. "Mr. Detweiler just told me! See you after the game."
"Sit down, Amy!" said a friend in the stand.
"Yes, clear the aisle, please, Byrd," called another.
Amy smiled and hurried back to his seat next to Bob Chase just as the two teams, having warmed up and experimented with what little breeze was cutting across the gridiron, withdrew to their respective sides of the field. A final long-drawn cheer for Brimfield issued from the south stand, was answered by a more thunderous one from the opposite seats, the teams lined up, the captains waved their hands to the referee and Claflin's left guard sent the nice new yellow ball arching away against the sky.
It is to be presumed that more than one heart under a canvas jacket was thumping loudly at that moment, but I doubt if any was trying harder to turn somersaults than Clint Thayer's as he hustled across to where Kendall was gathering the pigskin in his arms. But in the next moment Clint forgot all about his heart, forgot he even had one, for Kendall was plunging forward through the fast-gathering Claflin warriors and his work was cut out for him. Back to the fifteen-yard line went the pigskin before the referee called it down, and Brimfield's supporters cheered.
It is always something of a shock to realise that an event which has been dreaded for days has at last arrived. During that tense moment wherein the blue-stockinged Briggs had cuddled the ball into position on the tee Clint had experienced just such a shock. Only yesterday the Claflin game had been of the future, only this morning he had still viewed it uneasily as a thing impending, and now—presto!—it was here. He endured for a long minute more kinds of stage-fright than he had ever dreamed of! But action was a panacea for his malady, and the instant he thrust himself in the path of a plunging Claflin man, felt the impact of the hard-muscled body against him, recovered and fell into his place in the quickly-formed wedge of interference, the thrill of battle drove out fear.
Now Marvin was calling his signals, the Brimfield forwards were poising themselves for the assault, and Clint, hands on the ground, feet apart, head up, was watching every movement of his opponent. And, simultaneously with the snapping of the ball, he was lunging upward and forward with both hands, all the muscles of his tense body behind that quick thrust, and the Claflin opponent, caught unawares, spun sideways and crashed into his guard, while Harris, the ball clutched to his stomach, smashed through and past and, stumbling, twisting, panting, pushed three yards of turf behind him before the Claflin backs pulled him down.
And so it went until Brimfield, taking the enemy by surprise, had won her way to the thirty-seven yards. There someone mistook the signals, three yards were lost on second down, and, with seven to go, Harris punted high and far. Clint found his opponents too much for him that time and was hurled aside. Claflin caught on her thirty-three and ran back six.
Then Clint had a chance to prove himself on the defence, and prove himself he did on the second play. The renowned Terrill, striving to draw Clint out from his guard, suddenly found himself nicely fooled, and Clint, swinging through inside, smeared the play well behind the Claflin line. There was a vast feeling of satisfaction when his arms wrapped themselves around the legs of that blue-stockinged left half and held like a vise. The fact that a vengeful Claflin forward dropped his hundred-and-seventy pounds on Clint's neck didn't matter a mite!
It was nip and tuck for the rest of that first period. Claflin regularly made from four to eight yards on three plays and then punted. Brimfield made similar gains and punted. Kendall missed a catch and recovered the ball for a ten-yard loss. To equalise things, Ainsmith of Claflin fumbled for almost as much. The quarter ended with the ball in Brimfield's possession in the middle of the field.
In the second period Marvin began to work the ends, sending St. Clair and Kendall around the wings for short gains. Once, when Kendall, almost stopped, wriggled himself free and dashed on along the side line, the Brimfield supporters leaped to their feet in the stand with ecstatic visions of a touchdown dancing before their eyes. But Kendall was forced out on Claflin's thirty-five yards and the yells of triumph subsided. From there Harris made it first down through a hole as wide as a door in the centre of the Claflin line, reeling off twelve yards before he was upset. The Blue's centre-rush was hurt in that encounter and a substitute took his place. Marvin tested the new man on the next play, but Kendall was stopped. A second attempt, with Harris plunging straight ahead from kicking position, produced three yards. St. Clair slid off left tackle for two more and Harris punted to the Blue's twelve yards. A penalty for off-side brought the ball back to the seventeen. Claflin rounded Edwards for six yards, pounded Clint for two more, was held on the next down and punted to the Maroon-and-Grey's forty-seven. There Marvin caught and was toppled in his tracks. Roberts was hurt in a missed tackle and Coach Robey sent Holt in.
Both teams had slowed up in their playing now, for the pace had been unusually fast. Claflin was caught holding and the ball went once more into her own territory. Harris and Kendall hammered the tackles for a first down and St. Clair got off around the right end for seven yards more. Marvin fumbled and Harris fell on the ball. Harris punted to a corner of the field and the ball rolled out at the fifteen yards. Claflin braced then and pushed through for a first down, following it with a long forward-pass that took the pigskin to her forty-three yards. A fake-kick failed to gain and her full-back was brought up standing when he tried Jack Innes's position. A punt was caught by Kendall on his twenty-five-yard line and, behind good interference, he dashed back nearly ten before he was nailed. St. Clair made three off the Blue's right tackle and Marvin kicked from position, the ball rolling past the Claflin quarter to his thirty-yard line, where he managed to secure it just an instant before Steve Edwards reached him. Two tries netted but four yards and a punt followed. Marvin caught near midfield and the half ended.