Ben Stone at Oakdaleñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
As he was leaving the academy on the afternoon of his third day at school in Oakdale, Ben Stone was stopped by Roger Eliot, the captain of the football team. Roger was a big, sturdy chap, singularly grave for a boy of his years; and he could not be called handsome, save when he laughed, which was seldom. Laughter always transformed his features until they became remarkably attractive.
Compared with Ben, however, Roger appeared decidedly comely, for the new boy was painfully plain and uncouth. He was solid and stocky, with thick shoulders and rather big limbs, having a freckled face and reddish hair. He had a somewhat large nose, although this alone would not have been detrimental to his appearance. It was his square jaw, firm-shut mouth, and seemingly sullen manner that had prevented any of the boys of the school from seeking his acquaintance up to this point. Half of his left ear was gone, as if it had been slashed off with some sharp instrument.
Since coming to Oakdale Ben had seemed to shun the boys at the school, seeking to make no acquaintances, and he was somewhat surprised when the captain of the eleven addressed him. Roger, however, was not long in making his purpose clear; he took from his pocket and unfolded a long paper, on which were written many names in two extended columns.
“Your name is Stone, I believe?” he said inquiringly.
“Yes, sir,” answered Ben.
“Well, Stone, as you are one of us, you must be interested in the success of the football team. All the fellows are, you know. We must have a coach this year if we expect to beat Wyndham, and a coach costs money. Everybody is giving something. You see, they have put down against their names the sums they are willing to give. Give us a lift, and make it as generous as possible.”
He extended the subscription paper toward the stocky boy, who, however, made no move to take it.
Several of the boys, some of them in football clothes, for there was to be practice immediately after school, had paused in a little group a short distance from the academy steps and were watching to note the result of Roger’s appeal to the new scholar.
Ben saw them and knew why they were waiting there. A slow flush overspread his face, and a look of mingled shame and defiance filled his brownish eyes. Involuntarily he glanced down at his homespun clothes and thick boots. In every way he was the poorest-dressed boy in the school.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” he said, in a low tone, without looking up. “I can’t give anything.”
Roger Eliot showed surprise and disappointment, but he did not immediately give over the effort.
“Why, of course you’ll give something,” he declared, as if there could be no doubt on that point. “Every one does. Every one I’ve asked so far has; if you refuse, you’ll be the first. Of course, if you can’t afford to give much – ”
“I can’t afford to give a cent,” interrupted Ben grimly, almost repellantly.
Roger slowly refolded the paper, looking the other over closely.
He took note of the fellow’s well-worn clothes and poverty-touched appearance, and with dawning comprehension he began to understand the meaning of the flush on Ben’s cheeks. Instead of being offended, he found himself sorry for the new boy.
“Oh, all right!” he said, in a manner that surprised and relieved Stone. “You know your own business, and I’m sure you’d like to give something.”
These words, together with Eliot’s almost friendly way, broke down the barrier of resentment which had risen unbidden in the heart of the stocky lad, who suddenly exclaimed:
“Indeed I would! I’m powerful sorry I can’t. Perhaps – by an’ by – if I find I’m going to get through all right – perhaps I’ll be able to give something. I will if I can, I promise you that.”
“Well, now, that’s the right stuff,” nodded Roger heartily. “I like that. Perhaps you can help us out in another way. You’re built for a good line man, and we may be able to make use of you. All the candidates are coming out to-day. Do you play?”
“I have – a little,” answered Ben; “but that was some time ago. I don’t know much about the game, and I don’t believe I’d be any good now. I’m all out of practice.”
“Never you mind that,” said the captain of the team. “Lots of the fellows who are coming out for practice have never played at all, and don’t know anything about it. We need a good lot of material for the coach to work up and weed out when we get him, so you just come along over to the field.”
Almost before Ben realized what was happening, Roger had him by the arm and was marching him off. They joined the others, and Roger introduced him to “Chipper” Cooper, Sile Crane, Billy Piper, and the rest. He noticed in particular the three named, as each was characteristic in his appearance to a distinct degree.
Cooper was a jolly chap, with mischievous eyes and a crooked nose. He had the habit of propounding ancient conundrums and cracking stale jokes. Crane was a long, lank, awkward country boy, who spoke ungrammatically, in a drawling, nasal voice. Piper, who was addressed as “Sleuth” by his companions, was a washed-out, colorless fellow, having an affected manner of keenness and sagacity, which were qualities he did not seem to possess to any great degree.
They passed down the gravel walk to the street, and crossed over to the gymnasium, which stood on the shore of the lake, close behind the fenced field that served for both a football and baseball ground.
The gymnasium was a big, one-story frame building, that had once been used as a bowling alley in the village. The man who built it and attempted to run it had failed to find business profitable, and in time it was purchased at a low price by Urian Eliot, Roger’s father, who moved it to its present location and pledged it to the academy as long as the scholars should continue to use it as a gymnasium.
Inside this building Ben was introduced to many more boys, a large number of whom had prepared or were making ready for football practice. There was Charley Tuttle, called “Chub” for short, a roly-poly, round-faced, laughing chap, who was munching peanuts; Tim Davis, nicknamed “Spotty,” even more freckled than Ben, thin-legged, sly-faced, and minus the two front teeth of his upper jaw; Sam Rollins, a big, hulking, low-browed fellow, who lost no opportunity to bully smaller boys, generally known as “Hunk”; Berlin Barker, a cold blond, rather good-looking, but proud and distant in his bearing; and others who did not impress the new boy at all with their personalities.
Few of these fellows gave Ben any attention after nodding or speaking to him when introduced. They were all busily engaged in discussing football matters and prospects. Stone heard some of this talk in the big dressing-room, where Eliot took him. The captain of the eleven opened a locker, from which he drew a lot of football clothing.
“I have my regular suit here, Stone,” he said; “and here are some other things, a lot of truck from which you can pick out a rig, I think. Take those pants and that jersey. Here are stockings and shoes. My shoes ought to fit you; I’m sure the rest of the stuff is all right.”
Ben started to object, but Roger was in earnest and would not listen to objections. As he was getting into the outfit provided by Eliot, Ben lent his ear to the conversation of the boys.
“We’ve got to beat Wyndham this year,” said one. “She buried us last year, and expects to do so again. Why, they have a regular Harvard man for a coach over there.”
“Beat her!” cried another. “You bet we will! Wait till we get our coach. I say, captain, how are you making it, gathering the needful?”
“First rate,” answered Roger, who was lacing his sleeveless jacket. “I’ll raise it all right, if I have to tackle every man, woman and child in town with that paper.”
“That’s the stuff!” whooped Chipper Cooper. “Being captain of a great football team, you are naturally a good man to tackle people. Rah! rah! rah! Cooper!” Then he skipped out of the dressing-room, barely escaping a shoe that was hurled at him.
“Bern’s home,” said a boy who was fussing over a head harness. “Came on the forenoon train with his folks. I saw him as I came by. Told him there’d be practice to-night, and he said he’d be over.”
“He’s a corking half-back,” observed a fellow who wore shin guards. “As long as we won’t have Roger with us next year, I’ll bet anything Bern is elected captain of the team.”
“Come on, fellows,” called Eliot, who had finished dressing in amazingly quick time. “Come on, Stone. We want to do as much as we can to-night.”
They trooped out of the gymnasium, Ben with them. A pleasant feeling of comradery and friendliness with these boys was growing upon him. He was a fellow who yearned for friends, yet, unfortunately, his personality was such that he failed to win them. He was beginning to imbibe the spirit of goodfellowship which seemed to prevail among the boys, and he found it more than agreeable.
Fortune had not dealt kindly with him in the past, and his nature had been soured by her heavy blows. He had come to Oakdale for the purpose of getting such an education as it was possible for him to obtain, and he had also come with the firm determination to keep to himself and seek no friends; for in the past he had found that such seeking was worse than useless.
But now circumstances and Roger Eliot had drawn him in with these fellows, and he longed to be one of them, longed to establish himself on a friendly footing with them, so that they would laugh and joke with him, and call him by his first name, and be free and easy with him, as they were among themselves.
“Why can’t I do it?” he asked himself, as he came out into the mellow afternoon sunshine. “I can! I will! They know nothing about the past, and they will never know.”
Never had the world looked more beautiful to him than it did as he passed, with his schoolmates about him, through the gate and onto the football field. Never had the sky seemed so blue and the sunshine so glorious. He drank in the clear, fresh air with his nostrils, and beneath his feet the springy turf was delightfully soft and yet pleasantly firm. Before him the door to a new and better life seemed flung wide and inviting.
There were some boys already on the field, kicking and passing a football. One of these – tall, handsome, supple and graceful – was hailed joyously as “Bern.” This chap turned and walked to meet them.
Suddenly Ben Stone stood still in his tracks, his face gone pale in an instant, for he was face to face with fate and a boy who knew his past.
The other boy saw him and halted, staring at him, astonishment and incredulity on his face. In that moment he was speechless with the surprise of this meeting.
Ben returned the look, but there was in his eyes the expression sometimes seen in those of a hunted animal.
The boys at a distance continued kicking the football about and pursuing it, but those nearer paused and watched the two lads, seeming to realize in a moment that something was wrong.
It was Roger Eliot who broke the silence. “What’s the matter, Hayden?” he asked. “Do you know Stone?”
The parted lips of Bernard Hayden were suddenly closed and curved in a sneer. When they parted again, a short, unpleasant laugh came from them.
“Do I know him!” he exclaimed, with the utmost disdain. “I should say I do! What’s he doing here?”
“He’s attending the academy. He looks to me like he might have good stuff in him, so I asked him out for practice.”
“Good stuff!” cried Hayden scornfully. “Good stuff in that fellow? Well, it’s plain that you don’t know him, Eliot!”
The boys drew nearer and gathered about, eager to hear what was to follow, seeing immediately that something unusual was transpiring.
Not a word came from Ben Stone’s lips, but the sickly pallor still clung to his uncomely face, and in his bosom his heart lay like a leaden weight. He had heard the boys in the gymnasium talking of “Bern,” but not for an instant had he fancied they were speaking of Bernard Hayden, his bitterest enemy, whom he felt had brought on him the great trouble and disgrace of his life.
He had come from the gymnasium and onto the football field feeling his heart exulting with a new-found pleasure in life; and now this boy, whom he had believed so far away, whom he had hoped never again to see, rose before him to push aside the happiness almost within his grasp. The shock of it had robbed him of his self-assertion and reliance, and he felt himself cowering weakly, with an overpowering dread upon him.
Roger Eliot was disturbed, and his curiosity was aroused. The other boys were curious, too, and they pressed still nearer, that they might not miss a word. It was Eliot who asked:
“How do you happen to know him, Hayden?”
“He lived in Farmington, where I came from when we moved here – before he ran away,” was the answer.
“Before he ran away?” echoed Roger.
“Yes; to escape being sent to the reformatory.”
Some of the boys muttered, “Oh!” and “Ah!” and one of them said, “He looks it!” Those close to Stone drew off a bit, as if there was contamination in the air. Immediately they regarded him with disdain and aversion, and he looked in vain for one sympathetic face. Even Roger Eliot’s grave features had hardened, and he made no effort to conceal his displeasure.
Sudden rage and desperation seemed to swell Ben’s heart to the point of bursting. The pallor left his face; it flushed, and from crimson it turned to purple. He felt a fearful desire to leap upon his enemy, throttle him, strike him down, trample out his life, and silence him forever. His eyes glared, and the expression on his face was so terrible that one or two of the boys muttered their alarm and drew off yet farther.
“He’s going to fight!” whispered Spotty Davis, the words coming with a whistling sound through his missing teeth.
Ben heard this, and immediately another change came upon him. His hands, which had been clenched and half-lifted, opened and fell at his sides. He bowed his head, and his air was that of utter dejection and hopelessness.
Bern Hayden observed every change, and now he laughed shortly, cuttingly. “You see, he doesn’t deny it, Eliot,” he said. “He can’t deny it. If he did, I could produce proof. You’d need only to ask my father.”
“I’m sorry to hear this,” said the captain of the eleven, although to Ben it seemed there was no regret in his voice. “Of course we don’t want such a fellow on the team.”
“I should say not! If you took him, you couldn’t keep me. I wouldn’t play on the same team with the son of a jail-bird.”
“What’s that?” cried Roger. “Do you mean to say his father – ”
“Why, you’ve all heard of old Abner Stone, who was sent to prison for counterfeiting, and who was shot while trying to escape.”
“Was that his father?”
“That was his father. Oh, he comes of a fine family! And he has the gall to come here among decent fellows – to try to attend the academy here! Wait till my father hears of this! He’ll have something to say about it. Father was going to send him to the reformatory once, and he may do it yet.”
Roger’s mind seemed made up now. “You know where my locker is, Stone,” he said. “You can leave there the stuff I loaned you.”
For a moment it seemed that the accused boy was about to speak. He lifted his head once more and looked around, but the disdainful and repellant faces he saw about him checked the words, and he turned despairingly away. As he walked slowly toward the gate, he heard the hateful voice of Bern Hayden saying:
“Better watch him, Eliot; he may steal those things.”
The world had been bright and beautiful and flooded with sunshine a short time before; now it was dark and cold and gloomy, and the sun was sunk behind a heavy cloud. Even the trees outside the gate seemed to shrink from him, and the wind came and whispered his shame amid the leaves. Like one in a trance, he stumbled into the deserted gymnasium and sat alone and wretched on Roger Eliot’s locker, fumbling numbly at the knotted shoestrings.
“It’s all over!” he whispered to himself. “There is no chance for me! I’ll have to give up!”
After this he sat quite still, staring straight ahead before him with eyes that saw nothing. Full five minutes he spent in this manner. The sound of boyish voices calling faintly one to another on the football field broke the painful spell.
They were out there enjoying their sport and football practice, while Ben found himself alone, shunned, scorned, outcast. He seemed to see them gather about Hayden while Bern told the whole shameful story of the disgrace of the boy he hated. The whole story? – no, Ben knew his enemy would not tell it all. There were some things – one in particular – he would conveniently forget to mention; but he would not fail to paint in blackest colors the character of the lad he despised.
Once Ben partly started up, thinking to hasten back to the field and defend his reputation against the attacks of his enemy; but almost immediately he sank down with a groan, well knowing such an effort on his part would be worse than useless. He was a stranger in Oakdale, unknown and friendless, while Hayden was well known there, and apparently popular among the boys. To go out there and face Hayden would earn for the accused lad only jeers and scorn and greater humiliation.
“It’s all up with me here,” muttered the wretched fellow, still fumbling with his shoestrings and making no progress. “I can’t stay in the school; I’ll have to leave. If I’d known – if I’d even dreamed Hayden was here – I’d never come. I’ve never heard anything from Farmington since the night I ran away. I supposed Hayden was living there still. How does it happen that he is here? It was just my miserable fortune to find him here, that’s all! I was born under an unlucky star.”
All his beautiful castles had crumbled to ruins. He was bowed beneath the weight of his despair and hopelessness. Then, of a sudden, fear seized him and held him fast.
Bern Hayden had told the boys on the football field that once his father was ready to send Stone to the reformatory, which was true. To escape this fate, Ben had fled in the night from Farmington, the place of his birth. Nearly two years had passed, but he believed Lemuel Hayden to be a persistent and vindictive man; and, having found the fugitive, that man might reattempt to carry out his once-baffled purpose.
Ben thrust his thick middle finger beneath the shoestrings and snapped them with a jerk. He almost tore off Eliot’s football clothes and flung himself into his own shabby garments.
“I won’t stay and be sent to the reform school!” he panted. “I’d always feel the brand of it upon me. If others who did not know me could not see the brand, I’d feel it, just as I feel – ” He lifted his hand, and his fingers touched his mutilated left ear.
A few moments later he left the gymnasium, walking out hurriedly, that feeling of fear still accompanying him. Passing the corner of the high board fence that surrounded the football field, his eyes involuntarily sought the open gate, through which he saw for a moment, as he hastened along, a bunch of boys bent over and packed together, saw a sudden movement as the football was passed, and then beheld them rush forward a short distance. They were practicing certain plays and formations. Among them he caught a glimpse of the supple figure of Bern Hayden.
“I’d be there now, only for you!” was Ben’s bitter thought, as he hastened down the road.
Behind him, far beyond Turkey Hill, the black clouds lay banked in the west. They had smothered the sun, which could show its face no more until another day. The woods were dark and still, while harsh shadows were creeping nearer from the distant pastures where cowbells tinkled. In the grass by the roadside crickets cried lonesomely.
It was not cold, but Ben shivered and drew his poor coat about him. Besides the fear of being sent to a reformatory, the one thought that crushed him was that he was doomed forever to be unlike other boys, to have no friends, no companions – to be a pariah.
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