Ben Stone at OakdaleŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
Again in the dressing room, Ben was supplied with football togs from Eliotís locker. He dressed silently, listening to the chatter of the boys around him. They were all talking football now.
ďI wonder where Bern is?Ē said Berlin Barker. ďI should think he would want to get out with us to-night.Ē
ďHe was taken suddenly ill,Ē grinned Chipper Cooper. ďWonder if he has had a doctor?Ē
Stone felt a chill at the mention of his enemyís name. He was congratulating himself over Haydenís absence when something like a shadow seemed to come over him, and he looked up quickly to discover the fellow in the open doorway.
ďEliot,Ē called Bern, stepping into the room, ďI want a few private words with you.Ē
As he passed, the fellow cast a single malignant glance of hatred in Stoneís direction. Through the door which opened into the big, long main room of the gymnasium he strode, grimly inviting Eliot to follow him.
ďGee!Ē sibilated Sleuth Piper. ďI scent trouble. Bern is mounted on his high horse.Ē
ďSome folks who ride high hosses git a fall,Ē drawled Sile Crane, making a wry face as he pushed his left foot into a cleated shoe. ďDrat that corn! If it donít stop botheriní me purty soon, Iíll whittle the whole toe off.Ē
After hesitating a moment, Roger Eliot slowly followed Hayden, who had paused with an air of impatience to wait for him in the big room. Through the open doorway Ben saw them standing close together, Hayden beginning to speak in low tones in a manner of mingled demand and threat.
ďLook here, Eliot,Ē said Bern, ďI want to know what you mean to do. I want an immediate understanding.Ē
ďWhat is it, Bern?Ē asked Roger. ďWhat are you talking about?Ē
ďAbout that son of a stripe wearer, Stone. Are you going to attempt to ram him down my throat?Ē
ďNot at all. If you fancy you have any just reason for not wishing to be friendly with Stone, thatís your business, and Iím not going to dip into the affair.Ē
ďFancy!Ē grated Hayden resentfully. ďThereís no fancy about it. Friendly with him Ė friendly with such a low-bred, worthless cur? To suggest friendship between us is an insult to me.Ē
ďI have no wish to insult you, old fellow. Doubtless you believe you have honest reasons for your dislike toward Stone. Nevertheless, itís a fact that many persons hate others from no just cause.Ē
ďYouíre insinuating that Iím unjust and dishonest in this matter. Doubtless Stone has told you a clever lie, and now simply because he defended your sister when she was attacked by Fletcherís dogs youíre ready to take sides with him against me.Ē
ďI donít propose to take sides at all unless compelled to do so.Ē
ďYouíve done so already.Ē
ďBy going to Prof. Richardson and interceding in Stoneís behalf. You canít deny that. You certainly did it.Ē
ďWill you wait until I attempt to deny anything?Ē requested Roger coldly.
ďI did go to the professor and tell him a few plain facts which I happened to know.Ē
ďFacts!Ē sneered Bern. ďLies which Stone had poured into your ears. Itís remarkable that you should take the word of a creature like that instead of mine.Ē
ďYou donít know what youíre talking about, Hayden. I spoke to the professor about the encounter between Rollins and Stone, and likewise told him of Stoneís heroic defense of Amy. Prof. Richardson believed Ben had attacked Hunk without reasonable provocation; he was not aware that the affair had been brought about by Rollinsí bullying abuse of little Jimmy Jones. I was not the only one who gave him the straightforward facts; an eye-witness of the whole thing had spoken to him about it before I mentioned it. Naturally, I am grateful toward Stone; Iíd be a fine fellow if I wasnít.Ē
ďHeís a cheap dog, and all your efforts to patch him up and make him appear decent wonít succeed; his real nature canít help coming to the surface. Why, itís only necessary for one to take a look at him to size him up. What has he told you about me?Ē
ďI prefer not to speak of any private conversation that may have taken place between Stone and myself.Ē
ďOh, then he has told you a mess of stuff. I knew it. If you wish to know what people think of Stone in Hilton, Iíll furnish evidence enough. His father was convicted of counterfeiting, sent to prison, and Ė Ē
ďDo you believe that the errors of a parent should blight the life of his son?Ē
ďĎLike father, like son,í is an old saying, Eliot. Water wonít run up hill. But Stoneís own record is enough to ban him from decent company. His own uncle admitted that he ought to be sent to the reform school, and he would have been if he hadnít run away. The people of Hilton regard it as a good riddance, too.Ē
ďItís hard for a fellow when his own relatives turn against him.Ē
ďItís plain where your sympathies lie!Ē exclaimed Hayden resentfully. ďYouíre ready and willing to take up for this fellow against me. Youíve brought him here to make him a member of the eleven. Go ahead, but let me repeat that Iíll never disgrace myself by playing on the same team with him.Ē
ďDo you think thatís the proper spirit, Hayden? You know the team is decidedly weak in several spots. Weíre particularly anxious to beat Wyndham this year, and in order to do so weíve got to put our strongest team into the field. A fellow who is loyal to his school and his team puts aside personal prejudices and is ready for almost any sacrifice. If Stone becomes a member of the eleven you donít have to accept him as a friend, and itís not necessary that you should associate with him off the field. Youíre unreasonably angry now, Bern, but if youíll take time to cool off and think it over, Iím confident youíll perceive the mistake youíre disposed to make.Ē
Hayden lifted his clenched fist in a passionate gesture. ďI tell you, Eliot, you canít ram him down my throat. You ought to know whether or not Iím of especial value to the team. If I was willing to try, I couldnít play upon it and do myself justice with that fellow a member. Youíll have to choose between us.Ē
ďI donít wish to do anything of the sort. Iím captain of the team, and, even though I disliked Stone as bitterly as you do, Iíd accept him as a member if I knew he would strengthen our forces.Ē
ďYes, youíre captain of the team,Ē sneered Bern, ďand youíre trying to work for your own advantage; but let me inform you that if you persist in this course it will be to your decided disadvantage. Youíll find Iím not the only one who canít swallow Stone. If you want harmony on the team Ė and thatís rather important Ė just send him scooting. He canít play football, anyhow. Heís a big, lumbering, dull-witted creature who will be an incumbrance.Ē
ďI canít see how we can tell about that until he has been tried out.Ē
Again the indignant lad made that passionate gesture with his clenched fist. ďTry him out then!Ē he snarled. ďHave your own way and see what comes of it, but youíll be sorry for your obstinacy.Ē With which he stepped past Roger and walked swiftly back through the dressing room, his dark face pale with pent-up exasperation.
ďI say, Bern,Ē called Berlin Barker, ďwhere are you going? Arenít you going to stay for practice?Ē
ďNot to-night,Ē Hayden flung over his shoulder, ďnor any other night until Eliot comes to his senses.Ē
THE BONE OF CONTENTION
For a few moments the boys looked at one another in silence, their faces expressive of dismay. To a fellow, they understood what it meant, and presently some of them glanced toward Ben Stone. He likewise knew, and, rising, he stepped forward to meet the captain of the eleven.
ďEliot,Ē he said in a low tone, ďI think Iíd better get out. Iím making a lot of trouble.Ē
Before them all Roger placed a hand on Benís shoulder. ďStone,Ē he retorted, ďthe trouble is not of your making. I invited you to come out for practice, and I hope you wonít go back on me now.Ē
As long as he put it that way, it was impossible for Ben to quit.
Minus Hayden, the boys repaired to the field. They lacked their usual exuberance, however, and Ben detected some of them speaking together in low tones. In spite of everything, he felt that he was an intruder, and his self-consciousness made him particularly awkward and slow about the work he was given to perform. He fumbled punts, he fell on the ball in wretched form, and there seemed to be leaden weights in his shoes. Occasionally he detected some of the boys watching him in anything but a manner of approval.
Finally Eliot made up the team, filling Haydenís place in the backfield with a substitute and placing Stone at left guard.
ďYouíre good and solid,Ē smiled Roger, ďand when you wake up you ought to strengthen this wing of the line. Remember to start low and quick at the signal.Ē
But although the signals, which were very simple, had been fully explained to Ben, he could not grasp them quickly, and he was more or less confused when the time came to act. Roger, however, seemed to consider this very natural, and laughed at him in a good humored way.
ďYouíll get onto it all right in time,Ē declared the captain. ďPerhaps this code of signals wonít be used at all after we get our coach. Iím just trying the fellows out to get them used to the formations.Ē
ďMy deduction is Ė Ē began Piper; but no one listened to him.
Practice over, Ben returned to the gymnasium to change his clothes, feeling far from pleased with himself. His discomfiture was increased when he heard Berlin Barker telling some of the boys that he considered it a great misfortune that Hayden should become huffed and leave the team.
ďI donít know how weíre going to get along without him in the backfield,Ē said Barker. ďHeís fast, and he knows the game right down to the ground. His place canít be filled.Ē
ďOh, heíll get over it,Ē prophesied Cooper cheerfully. ďHe will come round in a day or two.Ē
ďYou donít know him,Ē returned Berlin. ďHeíll never change his mind.Ē
Ben sat alone in his room, thinking it all over. He felt that Barker was right in believing that as long as he remained on the team Bern Hayden would not return to it. That Hayden was a good player and a valuable man he had no doubt. What did it matter whether he himself played football or not? True, he would have enjoyed doing so, but, to a certain extent, he had triumphed over the fellow who had tried to drive him out of school, and might it not be best if that satisfied him? Discord on the team was a serious misfortune, and only for Eliotís persistence he would have taken himself away already.
ďRoger is a fine fellow,Ē he whispered. ďHeís a friend worth having. Still, in order to show his friendliness toward me, he should not produce disruption on the eleven. For the good of the school I must withdraw.Ē
He went out for a walk in the open air. Passing the post office, he saw in the light which shone from the open door Berlin Barker and Bernard Hayden talking together.
ďBarker stands by Hayden,Ē he muttered, ďand I suppose there are others.Ē
He did not sleep well that night; he was disturbed by dreams, in which he lived over again that desperate struggle with his malignant enemy Ė the struggle that had brought upon him the great trouble of his life.
Saturday morning Ben sought Roger Eliot at the latterís home and was given a hearty welcome. Roger invited him in, but the visitor preferred not to enter, and they went into the garage, where Urian Eliot kept his big touring car.
ďSheís a beaut, Ben,Ē said Roger, admiring the polished, glittering automobile; ďbut father is queer and wonít let me drive it. He had to discharge our chauffeur; the man drank. Itís a shame for the car to be hung up just now, with the roads in elegant condition. I can drive a car as well as any one, but I have to consider my fatherís whims. If we get hold of another chauffeur before the season is over, Iíll take you out for a ride that youíll enjoy.Ē
Ben flushed; there was no halfway business about Roger, who had taken his stand and was ready to let every one know that he regarded Stone as a worthy friend. Ben had never set foot in an automobile, and the promise of a ride in Mr. Eliotís fine car gave him a thrill.
ďThank you,Ē he said; ďI know I shall enjoy it.Ē
He found it difficult to introduce the topic which had led him there, but presently he succeeded, and Roger listened calmly to his argument.
ďStone,Ē said the captain of the eleven, ďyouíre not looking at this matter from the proper angle. Iíve told Hayden what I think of a fellow who would allow personal prejudice to lead him into deserting his team. Hayden wants to be captain next year, and he will be if he stands by the team. Otherwise, some one else will be elected. Heíll think this over when he cools down, and I prophesy that he will come back. It would be a mistake for you to quit now, for it would weaken my authority. Why, Hayden would be the man who was running the team, not I. I want you out for practice this afternoon. By Monday, perhaps, Bern will come to his senses.Ē
Roger was indeed a grim and determined fellow, and Ben was finally compelled to yield to his judgment.
That afternoon, however, Barker, as well as Hayden, failed to come out for practice. This made it necessary to use two substitute half-backs, in neither of whom the boys had any confidence whatever. On the whole the practice was of the most unsatisfactory sort, and, if possible, Stone appeared at greater disadvantage than ever, something caused almost wholly by his knowledge that he was a ďbone of contentionĒ and his firm belief that the majority of the boys were greatly displeased by the trouble he had caused.
On his way home he was in a downcast mood when Spotty Davis overtook him. Spotty had suddenly betrayed an unwelcome inclination to extreme friendliness.
ďOh, cheer up,Ē he said. ďYou ainít to blame. Of course Haydenís pretty sore, but Roger is bound to have his way, and he wonít give in to anybody.Ē
ďThatís it,Ē said Ben; ďI feel like an intruder. I feel that Iím doing positive harm to the team. Why didnít Barker come out?Ē
ďOh, heís one of Bernís friends, and I guess heís going to stand by him. It will be pretty hard luck to lose íem both. I dunno how Rogerís ever going to fill their places.Ē
ďIím breaking up the team,Ē muttered Ben. ďIíd like to play football, but Ė Ē
ďMost of the fellers donít seem to think youíd ever be much of a player,Ē grinned Spotty frankly. ďNow if we was going to lose Bern and you could fill his place, it would be different. Anyhow, mebbe Hayden and Barker will come back when the coach gets here. Roger says heís going to wire for him to-night. Heís got enough money pledged.Ē
ďIt will give me no more pleasure than it will Hayden to play on the same team,Ē declared Ben; ďbut Iíd be willing to do anything for the good of the school. Thatís why I thought I hadnít better play. Iím not anxious to make trouble.Ē
ďBern says youíve always been a trouble maker. Oh, heís got it in for you, all right. But youíve won a lap on him, the best he can do. Itís bitter medicine for him to swaller. He tried to down you, and heíd done it, all right, if you hadnít put yourself on top by defending Amy Eliot. That was lucky for you. Urian Eliot has got about as much pull as anybody íround these parts. You just better let things simmer along, and theyíll come out all right.Ē
Nevertheless, Spottyís words added to Stoneís disquietude of mind, for he also believed that the loss of Hayden from the team Ė to say nothing of Barker Ė could not be compensated for.
Sunday passed quietly. Not having a suit of clothes to satisfy him, Ben did not attend church. He spent much of the day with Jimmy, and was invited to supper by Mrs. Jones, who had heard all about his bravery and persisted in talking of it. Mamie, however, snubbed him mercilessly.
When Roger appeared at school on Monday morning he informed the boys that he had heard from Winton, who would arrive early enough in the afternoon to begin the work of coaching that day. He even took particular pains to tell Hayden.
ďIím not at all interested in your team, Eliot,Ē said Bern repellently.
ďMy team,Ē cried Roger Ė ďmine? Why, you ought to be as much interested in it as I am. I took you for a fellow who would be loyal and Ė Ē
Hayden cut him short. ďI donít want to hear any more of that talk from you. Youíll find me loyal enough to the team when you do what I ask of you. If you donít do it, I doubt if youíll have any team in another week.Ē
That night in addition to Hayden and Barker there were two other deserters, Rollins and Sage. Eliot was compelled to explain the situation to the coach. Winton listened and asked a few questions. In the end he advised Roger to drop Ben Stone.
THE FELLOW WHO WOULDNíT YIELD
Through the mail that night Roger received a letter from Jack Merwin, captain and manager of the Clearport eleven, which he read ere leaving the post office. The letter was as follows:
ďMr. Roger Eliot,
ĒCapt. Oakdale Academy Football Team,
ďDear Sir: ó
ďReplying to yours of the 13th regarding the
scheduling of one or more games between Oakdale and Clearport, would say that we have an open date on next Saturday, the 29th, and will play you here in Clearport if you care to come.
After the usual custom, we will, of course, defray the expenses of the visiting team. I trust you will inform me without delay whether or not this proposal is acceptable to you.
ďJohn Merwin, Capt. Clearport Eleven.Ē
With the letter still in his hand, Roger met Sam Rollins on the postoffice steps. Hunk would have hurried on into the building, but Eliot stopped him.
ďLook here, Rollins,Ē he questioned. ďI want to know why you failed to come out for practice to-day?Ē
Hunk shrugged his thick shoulders. ďWhy, I had some work to do,Ē he faltered.
ďDid you, indeed? How long since you have become ambitious to work? You know, according to your reputation, you never lift a hand to do any labor if you can avoid it.Ē
ďHo!Ē grunted Rollins. ďThatís all right. Sometimes a feller has to do some things.Ē
ďWhy didnít you tell me you werenít coming out to the field? You should have given me notice, and you could have done so without any trouble at all.Ē
ďI didnít think of it,Ē lied Hunk.
ďYou know better than that, Rollins. At any rate, you should have thought of it. You were told that our new coach would be on hand, and you knew well enough that I wanted every man out at the field.Ē
ďWas I the only one who didnít come?Ē asked the fellow, with a leer.
The grim expression of Rogerís face did not change in the least. ďIím talking to you about what you did, and not speaking of the acts of any one else. I shall say what I have to say directly to them, as I do to you.Ē
ďWell, what are you going to do about it if I donít come out?Ē was Hunkís insolent question.
ďIíll tell you what Iím going to do, Rollins, and youíd better pay close attention. Youíre not such a valuable man to the team that any one would think of chasing you up and coaxing you. Your place can be filled, and it will be filled if you play any more such tricks.Ē
ďOh, perhaps you can fill the places of some other fellers.Ē
ďPerhaps so; but, as I just remarked, Iím telling you what will happen in your individual case. If you want to play on the academy eleven, youíll come out for practice regularly, or youíll give a good and sufficient excuse in case you canít appear Ė and give it in advance, too. If youíre not at the field to-morrow afternoon when practice begins youíll be dropped for good.Ē
ďSay, youíre a regular autocrat, ainít ye? Youíre going to try to run things your way with an iron hand, ainít ye? Mebbe youíll find out Ė Ē
ďThatís enough. Youíve heard all I have to say. Think it over. If you donít come out to-morrow night it wonít be any great loss to the team.Ē With which Eliot left Rollins there on the steps, muttering and growling beneath his breath.
At the very next corner Roger saw a fellow who had been coming toward him cross over suddenly to the opposite side of the street, which was darker. He recognized the figure and movements of Fred Sage, the quarter back, who had likewise absented himself without excuse or explanation of any sort.
ďSage,Ē he called sharply, ďIím looking for you.Ē
The fellow paused, and then slowly recrossed the street toward the determined captain of the eleven.
ďThat you, Roger?Ē he asked in pretended surprise. ďI didnít recognize you.Ē
Eliot despised him for the prevarication and was tempted to give him the same advice about lying that he had given Rollins. Instead of that, however, he asked:
ďHave you decided not to play football this season?Ē
ďWhy Ė why, no,Ē stammered Fred. ďHowíd you get that idea?Ē
ďYou werenít at the field this afternoon, and I told you our coach would be there, for which reason I desired every man to be on hand. You are filling an important position on the team. Of course we have a substitute who can take your place if you are injured in a game, but that will make it necessary to shift the line-up. If you have any thought of quitting, I want to know it now.Ē
Sage shifted his weight from one foot to the other and twisted his heel into the ground. Twice he started to speak; twice he stopped; then he suddenly blurted:ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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