Ben Stone at Oakdaleñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
His head hanging, Davis staggered off the field and fell prostrate upon the ground, hiding his face on his curved arm. “I was getting the whole of it,” he mumbled chokingly. “They were bound to do me.” But no one paid any heed to his muttering or to the tears he shed.
Stoker laughed at Walker, but the little chap soon demonstrated that he was on the field to do his handsomest as long as he lasted; and, despite the greater weight of the opposing end, he was able to keep the fellow busy. For a time this change seemed to put a little new life into the Oakdalers; but even though they got the ball, they could not hold it long, and, checked near the center of the field, they found themselves compelled to surrender the pigskin by kicking.
Clearport came back again with the dash and go which had so surprisingly altered the run of the game. Merwin made a successful quarterback run; Boothby gained a little ground through center; and then Stone, breaking through Carney, slammed a runner down for a loss. Right on top of this the locals were penalized for holding, but the rising courage of the visitors was dampened when the home team pulled off a handsome forward pass that yielded double the distance needed.
Even though Oakdale fought every inch of the ground, being at last fully aroused to the danger, Clearport repeatedly worked the crisscross with good effect and brought into play still another well-executed forward pass that landed them up against the goal-line, where, after being held for two downs, they finally pushed the ball over by barely six inches.
Apparently the tide had turned most decisively, and it was not strange that some of the easily discouraged Oakdalers felt that they were surely beaten. If the captain thought so, however, he succeeded marvelously well in hiding his feelings, trying his best all the time to brace his teammates up, encouraging the equally staunch, chiding a few who showed symptoms of wavering, and entreating one or two who apparently had lost heart.
There was a hush as Ramsdal prepared to try for goal. The defenders, lined up behind the posts, crouched, ready to charge; and as Clearport’s full back booted the ball Hayden leaped forward and upward, his open hands stretched high above his head. His fingers barely grazed the leather, but did not check the flight of the ball; if anything, they lifted it a trifle and aided in shooting it over the bar.
The home crowd was still making a terrific uproar as the two teams once more spread out upon the field, and there was every reason why that portion of the spectators should rejoice; for Clearport had won the lead by a single point, and the course of the game in the second half seemed to promise beyond doubt that this lead could be held.
The moment the ball came again into the possession of the locals they retained it and resumed their rushing tactics. Pounding their way into Oakdale’s territory, they marched on by short but sufficient gains toward yet another touchdown, the line of the visitors being pierced at almost every point save that defended by Ben Stone, which had been found practically invulnerable.
Again and again it was the players in the backfield, Eliot, Hayden or Barker, who checked the assaults and prevented still larger gains. Winton’s fears that Oakdale would prove weak in defense had surely been well grounded. To add to the dismay of the visitors, they were penalized for fowling on their own thirty yard line, and the distance thus lost made the situation seem absolutely hopeless. Almost every spectator believed Clearport destined to add further points to her score.
In the darkest moment, however, with the locals beating Oakdale back against the goal-line, Fred Merwin fumbled. The ball, snapped to him by Corbin, twisted out of his fingers and bounded off to one side. Even as he flung himself at it he saw a figure that had cut through Barney Carney flash before him. The ball was scooped from the ground in a marvelous manner, and Merwin, having miscalculated, clutched at the heels of the fellow who had secured the pigskin – clutched but could not hold fast, even though his fingers touched the stocky ankles of Ben Stone.
How it was that Ben got that ball up from the ground and kept his feet no witness could tell. For two or three strides it seemed that he must plunge headlong with it, and then he regained his equilibrium and brought a gasping chorus of cries from the southern side of the field as he ran on toward Clearport’s goal. Nevertheless, he had given his left ankle a wrench, and every step hurt like the jab of a knife. With his teeth set, he hugged the ball beneath one arm, the other thrown out stiffly to fend off a dark figure he saw coming at him; and he left the would-be tackler jarred, dazed and knocked to his knees.
Once more every spectator was standing, and from opposite sides of the field came cries of dismay and wildly palpitant shouts of joyous encouragement.
It was Boothby, the swift left half back of the locals, who slowly but surely cut down the man with the ball. Had Ben found it possible to run barely a trifle faster, he could have carried the pigskin over the line. As it was, he made a thrillingly sensational run, and Boothby, shooting at him from behind, brought him down less than fifteen yards from Clearport’s goal. Slammed to the ground, Stone held fast to the huge yellow egg, and the next he knew Eliot was patting him on the back and telling him how good he was.
With the two teams preparing for the scrimmage, the Oakdale captain moved up and down behind the line, touching first one and then another of his comrades as he urged them to get into the play like fiends.
“We’ve got to do it right now,” said Roger, “and we can.”
Panting, Stone heard Sage calling the signal, and at the sound of the key number every nerve in his body went taut as a bow-string; for it was the play by which the most effective gains had been made in the first half – Hayden was to go through Clearport’s right wing with the ball. Ben knew he was expected to make the opening for the runner. If the work was well done, there was a chance that Bern might cover the remaining distance and secure a touchdown.
The remembrance of what had happened at the very finish of the first half struck Stone like a blow between the eyes. He doubted not that it was Hayden who had slugged him, yet now he was expected to assist that fellow in a play which might give him the glory of winning the game.
Winning the game – that was it! that was everything! Nothing else counted. The fellow who would let a personal grudge interfere was not worthy to wear an Oakdale uniform.
Tuttle snapped the ball, and Stone went at Carney like a thousand of brick. Already the Irishman had been led to respect his opponent, and, even though his backbone had weakened not a whit, he could not withstand the charge which swept him from his pins and spun him aside.
Sleuth Piper did his part by taking care of Morehead, and, his teeth set, Hayden came through that opening. It was Oakes who had seemed to anticipate the play, and Oakes who flung himself at Hayden; but it was Stone, interfering for the runner, who was brought down by the right half back of the locals. He had leaped forward in the tackler’s path just in time to save Bern.
What a shriek of joy went up from those who bore the crimson banners! How those red flags waved! For Hayden had crossed the line, and the touchdown was made.
A SURPRISING MEETING
The game was over; after the third touchdown by Oakdale it had not lasted long enough for Clearport to recover and accomplish anything. The visitors had won, and they were being congratulated by their overjoyed admirers. Hayden was applauded, and his hand was shaken until he repulsed the exuberant crowd that surged around him. Stone likewise came in for his share of applause and praise, and, although his heart was happy, his unfortunate manner might have led many to fancy him stolid and almost sullen. Nevertheless, when, with a hand on Ben’s shoulder, Winton told him that he was the man who had saved the day and won the game, he smiled a little, and there was a blurring mist in his eyes.
Roger Eliot, his face lighted by that rare smile of his, praised them all.
“I see my father is here with his touring car,” he said. “I wish the car were large enough to take you all back to Oakdale, boys; but it isn’t, and so by the way of company I’ll take one of you. Come on, Stone, old chap.”
Ben flushed, surprised because he had been singled out.
“He’s the feller,” cried Chipper Cooper generously – “he’s the feller to take, Roger. Give him a good ride; he deserves it.”
Hayden said nothing; he had not expected to be invited, yet he was angered because Roger had selected Stone.
The boys had left their regular clothes in a room at the hotel, and to this they repaired to shed the dirty, sweat-stained garments of the game. Stone took no part in their light-hearted chatter; when they congratulated him, he simply said he had tried to do his best. Finally, bearing his bundle of football togs, he descended with Roger and found Mr. Eliot’s car waiting at the door. Little Amy was in the car with her father, who sat beside the driver. The child laughed and clapped her hands as her brother and Ben appeared.
“I’m going to ride on the back seat between you,” she called.
Mr. Eliot beamed on the boys. “You pulled out of that game pretty well, Roger,” he said. “I saw only the last of it, for I couldn’t get here sooner. I thought you were done for, son, but Ben saved you with that great run. That was really what won the game, as it gave you a chance to make the touchdown you needed.”
Roger’s father had called Ben by his Christian name, and Stone felt his heart swell. Seated in the tonneau of the automobile with Amy beside him, he was borne out of Clearport and away over the brown, winding road that led to Oakdale. Often he had longed to ride in an automobile and wondered if he would ever have the privilege. The sensation of gliding softly along as he lay back against the tufted leather cushions brought him a feeling of great satisfaction and peace. The sun, peeping redly over the western rim of the world, smiled upon him, and nowhere in all the sky was there a cloud, even as large as a man’s hand.
Amy talked gaily; she told how excited she had been as she watched Ben running with the ball, and, although she did not understand the game, she knew he had done a splendid thing.
“It would have been a frightful calamity for us if you had been knocked out at the finish of the first half, Ben,” said Roger. “I was afraid of it, and we never could have won that game without you.”
Stone recalled his suspicions, and a shadow fell athwart his face, but his lips remained silent. If Hayden had really perpetrated that foul trick, he had failed in his purpose, and Ben, triumphant, had no desire to speak of it.
A soft, tingling, cold twilight came on with the setting of the sun. At their bases the distant hills were veiled in a filmy haze of blue. The engine beneath the hood of the car purred softly as it bore them over the road with the power of fifty horses. As, with a mellow warning note of the horn, they swept around a gentle curve, they came upon a small, dusty human figure trudging slowly in the direction they were traveling. It was a boy, ahead of whom trotted a little yellow dog, held by a line attached to its collar. Over the back of the little lad a violin was swung by supporting strings.
The dog turned aside, pulling at the line, and the boy followed him, as if led and guided in this manner.
Ben Stone uttered a sudden shout. “Stop,” he cried wildly – “stop quickly! Please stop!”
“Stop, Sullivan,” commanded Mr. Eliot; and the chauffeur responded by bringing the car to a standstill as soon as possible. Even before the wheels ceased to revolve Stone had vaulted over the side door of the tonneau and was running back toward the boy they had passed. “Jerry!” he called. “Jerry! Jerry!”
The little yellow dog barked at him, but, paying no heed to the animal, Ben swooped down on the lad who held the line and scooped him up in his arms.
“Who is it, Roger?” asked Urian Eliot in surprise.
“Jerry,” said Roger – “he called him Jerry. Why, father, it must be Ben’s own brother.”
“His brother? Why, I didn’t know – ”
“He told me about his brother,” explained Roger. “They were separated after Ben’s parents died. Jerry is blind.”
“Oh!” murmured Amy. “Isn’t that just dreadful! Blind and walking all alone with only a dog for company! We must take him in the car, papa.”
“Certainly,” said Mr. Eliot, opening the door and stepping out. “This is a most remarkable occurrence.”
In the meantime, Ben and Jerry – for it was indeed Ben’s unfortunate younger brother – were transported by the joy and surprise of the unexpected meeting. They clung to each other, laughing, crying and talking brokenly and incoherently. The little dog, who had at first seemed to fear some harm threatened its master, frisked back and forth before them, barking frantically, finally sitting up on its haunches with its forward paws drooping, its mouth open and its protruding tongue quivering; for at last it appeared to comprehend that there was really no danger, and this affair was one over which even a small yellow dog should laugh and be happy.
Roger had left the automobile likewise, and he came back to them, waiting near at hand until they should recover from the distracting excitement of the moment.
“Oh, Jerry!” choked Ben. “To find you here – I don’t understand it, Jerry.”
“I’ll tell you all about it, Ben, as soon as I can. I’ve been searching for you everywhere, but I was afraid I’d never, never find you.”
“Stone,” said Roger, “take him into the car.”
Jerry shrank against his older brother. “Who – who is it, Ben?” he whispered.
“A friend – the best friend – besides you, Jerry – that I’ve ever known. We’ve been playing football, and we’re going back to Oakdale now – going back in a big, fine automobile. This is Roger Eliot, Jerry.”
Roger stepped forward and took one of the little lad’s soiled hands. “I’m very glad to meet Ben’s brother,” he declared with such sincerity that Jerry’s alarm was instantly dispelled and his sympathy won. “My father’s auto is waiting, and there’s room to spare.”
“You never rode in an automobile, Jerry,” said Ben. “It’s corking.”
Through the dusk Roger saw the smaller lad’s sightless eyes turned upon him.
“But – but my little dog, Pilot?” said Jerry questioningly. “I must take him. I know he’s tired, the same as I am, and I wouldn’t leave him for – ”
“Certainly we’ll take him,” assured Roger. “Come on.”
To the sightless wayfarer it was a marvel beyond words, almost beyond comprehension. He heard them speak of Roger’s father and felt the reassuring touch of Urian Eliot’s strong but gentle hands, while the voice of the man sounded in his ears. He was lifted into the tonneau of the car, the dog whining nervously at the end of the line until bidden follow, upon which, with a single sharp yap of thankfulness, he sprang up. He heard also the voice of a child, who spoke softly and seemed glad to welcome him. It was not strange that his head swam with the wonderment of it.
While waiting, the chauffeur had lighted the gas lamps of the car, and, with the machine again under way, they blazed a golden path through the deepening autumn darkness. The sharp, cold air whipped Jerry’s cheeks, but the strong arm of the brother he loved was about him, and his heart beat with happiness so intense that it was like a keen, sweet pain.
A SYMPATHETIC SOUL
Both Roger and his father urged Ben and Jerry to come home with them for dinner, but the older brother declined, saying that they had many things to talk over between them. Already Ben had found that Jerry was disinclined to answer his eager questions in the presence of the strangers, and he was consumed with curiosity to know what singular chance had brought the blind boy thither.
When the automobile stopped in front of the house, Jimmy Jones, his eyes big with wonderment, peered forth through the darkness and saw the two boys alight and the little dog hop out after them. Then good nights were called, the big car swung slowly round and rolled away, and Jimmy came hopping forth, palpitant to know about the game.
“Did you play, Ben – did you play?” he asked. “Who won?”
“We did, and I played, Jimmy.”
“Oh, good! I wish I could ‘a’ been there to see it. Mother she’s kept some hot bread for you and some coffee. She said you’d be hungry.”
“That’s right,” confirmed Mrs. Jones, her ample figure appearing in the doorway. “You’re young and strong, and I don’t b’lieve hot bread will do no damage to your dejesshun. Joel, my late departed, he was a master hand for hot bread and presarves. We had baked beans for supper, an’ I’ve left the pot in the oven, so they’re piping hot. Joel, he used to eat about four heapin’ plates of beans, an’ then he’d complain because every little morsel he put into his stummick disagreed with him. Who’s that with ye?”
“This is my brother, Mrs. Jones – my brother Jerry. We haven’t seen each other for a long time, and he’s been walking far to-day, so he’s very tired. Step up, Jerry.”
Ben grasped the little chap’s arm and guided him as the steps were mounted. In an aside he whispered for the ear of Mrs. Jones, “He’s blind.”
“Land sakes!” breathed the good woman, putting up both hands. “Come right in and set down to the table. Mamie, she’s gone out somewhere, an’ Sadie’s having one of her chills. Don’t stumble on the doorstool. Right this way.”
Gently but firmly she swept them into the room, where the table still sat with the white cloth and some dishes upon it. Jerry clung to the line, and now the little dog followed at his heels.
“This is a surprise,” said the widow, as she hastened to place another plate and another chair. “Y’u never told me about your brother, Ben; fact is, y’u never told me much about y’urself, nohow. I s’pose y’u’ll want to wash up. There’s the sink an’ soap an’ water an’ a clean towel. Did y’u come all the way from Clearport in Mr. Eliot’s automobile? My goodness! that must ‘a’ been grand. I don’t cal’late I’ll ever have no opportunity to ride in one of them things, an’ I guess I’d be scat to death if I did, ’cause they go so fast. Don’t it ’most take a body’s breath away?”
“Not quite as bad as that,” answered Ben, smiling; “but it’s splendid, and I enjoyed it.”
“So did I,” said Jerry. “It ’most felt like I was kind of flying through the air. I hope I ain’t making nobody a lot of trouble, coming so unexpected this way.”
“Trouble!” beamed Mrs. Jones. “My gracious! I should say not! Why, Ben he’s gittin’ to be ’most like one of my fambly, though sometimes it’s hard work makin’ him come down to eat with us when I ax him. I ain’t like some folks, thank goodness, that’s put out and upsot over every little thing that happens; an’ if I’d been so, livin’ so many years with an ailing husband, they’d had me dead an’ buried long before him. I never can endure folks that’s always complaining about the hard time they have to get along, when there’s so much to enjoy in this world an’ so much to be thankful for. Every time I git sorter billious and downcast an’ dejec’ed I look ’round till I find somebody that’s wuss off than I be, an’ then I take holt an’ try to give them a lift, an’ that cheers me up an’ makes me feel thankful an’ content with my lot.”
As she talked she brought forth the beans and poured them, steaming, upon a huge platter. Hot bread, fresh butter and a dish of preserves were likewise placed on that table, after which the coffee was poured.
“Now,” said the widow, “I want to see y’u two youngsters make a hole in the vittles.”
“I think we can,” laughed Ben. “I know I’m mighty hungry, and I expect Jerry is, too.”
Jerry was hungry, indeed; really, the little fellow was almost starved, and it was with no small difficulty that he repressed the eager desire to gulp his food. Watching him, the widow understood, and covertly, even while she talked in the same cheerful, optimistic strain, she wiped her eyes more than once with the corner of her apron. There was something about these two boys that appealed to her big, motherly heart, and the thought that the thin, weary-looking little chap was doomed never to enjoy the precious privilege of sight gave her a feeling of regret and sorrow that she found difficult to disguise.
“You see,” said Ben suddenly, thinking it courteous and necessary to make some explanation – “you understand, Mrs. Jones, that if I’d known Jerry was coming I’d told you about it. He gave me a regular surprise. I hope you won’t mind if he stops with me to-night, for there’s plenty of room, and – ”
“Land sakes! what be y’u talkin’ about, Ben?” interrupted the widow protestingly. “Mind – ’course I don’t mind! I’m glad he’s come. I’m glad y’u have got some comp’ny to cheer y’u up, for sometimes y’u do sort of seem to need it, an’ I know I can’t just fill the bill; for old folks never do jibe in proper an’ sympathetic with young folks. Then I’m so busy I don’t have the time to look arter y’u the way I’d like to.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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