Morgan Scott.

Ben Stone at Oakdale





Again in the dressing room, Ben was supplied with football togs from Eliots locker. He dressed silently, listening to the chatter of the boys around him. They were all talking football now.

I wonder where Bern is? said Berlin Barker. I should think he would want to get out with us to-night.

He was taken suddenly ill, grinned Chipper Cooper. Wonder if he has had a doctor?

Stone felt a chill at the mention of his enemys name. He was congratulating himself over Haydens absence when something like a shadow seemed to come over him, and he looked up quickly to discover the fellow in the open doorway.

Eliot, called Bern, stepping into the room, I want a few private words with you.

CHAPTER XIII.
HAYDENS DEMAND

As he passed, the fellow cast a single malignant glance of hatred in Stones direction. Through the door which opened into the big, long main room of the gymnasium he strode, grimly inviting Eliot to follow him.

Gee! sibilated Sleuth Piper. I scent trouble. Bern is mounted on his high horse.

Some folks who ride high hosses git a fall, drawled Sile Crane, making a wry face as he pushed his left foot into a cleated shoe. Drat that corn! If it dont stop botherin me purty soon, Ill whittle the whole toe off.

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.

Look here, Eliot, said Bern, I want to know what you mean to do. I want an immediate understanding.

What is it, Bern? asked Roger. What are you talking about?

About that son of a stripe wearer, Stone. Are you going to attempt to ram him down my throat?

Not at all. If you fancy you have any just reason for not wishing to be friendly with Stone, thats your business, and Im not going to dip into the affair.

Fancy! grated Hayden resentfully. Theres no fancy about it. Friendly with him friendly with such a low-bred, worthless cur? To suggest friendship between us is an insult to me.

I have no wish to insult you, old fellow. Doubtless you believe you have honest reasons for your dislike toward Stone. Nevertheless, its a fact that many persons hate others from no just cause.

Youre insinuating that Im 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 Fletchers dogs youre ready to take sides with him against me.

I dont propose to take sides at all unless compelled to do so.

Youve done so already.

How?

By going to Prof. Richardson and interceding in Stones behalf. You cant deny that. You certainly did it.

Will you wait until I attempt to deny anything? requested Roger coldly.

I did go to the professor and tell him a few plain facts which I happened to know.

Facts! sneered Bern. Lies which Stone had poured into your ears. Its remarkable that you should take the word of a creature like that instead of mine.

You dont know what youre talking about, Hayden. I spoke to the professor about the encounter between Rollins and Stone, and likewise told him of Stones 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 Rollins 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; Id be a fine fellow if I wasnt.

Hes a cheap dog, and all your efforts to patch him up and make him appear decent wont succeed; his real nature cant help coming to the surface. Why, its only necessary for one to take a look at him to size him up. What has he told you about me?

I prefer not to speak of any private conversation that may have taken place between Stone and myself.

Oh, then he has told you a mess of stuff. I knew it. If you wish to know what people think of Stone in Hilton, Ill furnish evidence enough. His father was convicted of counterfeiting, sent to prison, and

Do you believe that the errors of a parent should blight the life of his son?

Like father, like son, is an old saying, Eliot. Water wont run up hill. But Stones 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 hadnt run away. The people of Hilton regard it as a good riddance, too.

Its hard for a fellow when his own relatives turn against him.

Its plain where your sympathies lie! exclaimed Hayden resentfully. Youre ready and willing to take up for this fellow against me. Youve brought him here to make him a member of the eleven. Go ahead, but let me repeat that Ill never disgrace myself by playing on the same team with him.

Do you think thats the proper spirit, Hayden? You know the team is decidedly weak in several spots. Were particularly anxious to beat Wyndham this year, and in order to do so weve 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 dont have to accept him as a friend, and its not necessary that you should associate with him off the field. Youre unreasonably angry now, Bern, but if youll take time to cool off and think it over, Im confident youll perceive the mistake youre disposed to make.

Hayden lifted his clenched fist in a passionate gesture. I tell you, Eliot, you cant ram him down my throat. You ought to know whether or not Im of especial value to the team. If I was willing to try, I couldnt play upon it and do myself justice with that fellow a member. Youll have to choose between us.

I dont wish to do anything of the sort. Im captain of the team, and, even though I disliked Stone as bitterly as you do, Id accept him as a member if I knew he would strengthen our forces.

Yes, youre captain of the team, sneered Bern, and youre 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. Youll find Im not the only one who cant swallow Stone. If you want harmony on the team and thats rather important just send him scooting. He cant play football, anyhow. Hes a big, lumbering, dull-witted creature who will be an incumbrance.

I cant see how we can tell about that until he has been tried out.

Again the indignant lad made that passionate gesture with his clenched fist. Try him out then! he snarled. Have your own way and see what comes of it, but youll be sorry for your obstinacy. With which he stepped past Roger and walked swiftly back through the dressing room, his dark face pale with pent-up exasperation.

I say, Bern, called Berlin Barker, where are you going? Arent you going to stay for practice?

Not to-night, Hayden flung over his shoulder, nor any other night until Eliot comes to his senses.

CHAPTER XIV.
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.

Eliot, he said in a low tone, I think Id better get out. Im making a lot of trouble.

Before them all Roger placed a hand on Bens shoulder. Stone, he retorted, the trouble is not of your making. I invited you to come out for practice, and I hope you wont go back on me now.

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 Haydens place in the backfield with a substitute and placing Stone at left guard.

Youre good and solid, smiled Roger, and when you wake up you ought to strengthen this wing of the line. Remember to start low and quick at the signal.

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.

Youll get onto it all right in time, declared the captain. Perhaps this code of signals wont be used at all after we get our coach. Im just trying the fellows out to get them used to the formations.

My deduction is 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.

I dont know how were going to get along without him in the backfield, said Barker. Hes fast, and he knows the game right down to the ground. His place cant be filled.

Oh, hell get over it, prophesied Cooper cheerfully. He will come round in a day or two.

You dont know him, returned Berlin. Hell never change his mind.

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 Eliots persistence he would have taken himself away already.

Roger is a fine fellow, he whispered. Hes 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.

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.

Barker stands by Hayden, he muttered, and I suppose there are others.

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 the struggle that had brought upon him the great trouble of his life.

Saturday morning Ben sought Roger Eliot at the latters 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.

Shes a beaut, Ben, said Roger, admiring the polished, glittering automobile; but father is queer and wont let me drive it. He had to discharge our chauffeur; the man drank. Its 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 fathers whims. If we get hold of another chauffeur before the season is over, Ill take you out for a ride that youll enjoy.

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. Eliots fine car gave him a thrill.

Thank you, he said; I know I shall enjoy it.

He found it difficult to introduce the topic which had led him there, but presently he succeeded, and Roger listened calmly to his argument.

Stone, said the captain of the eleven, youre not looking at this matter from the proper angle. Ive 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. Hell 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.

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 bone of contention 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.

Oh, cheer up, he said. You aint to blame. Of course Haydens pretty sore, but Roger is bound to have his way, and he wont give in to anybody.

Thats it, said Ben; I feel like an intruder. I feel that Im doing positive harm to the team. Why didnt Barker come out?

Oh, hes one of Berns friends, and I guess hes going to stand by him. It will be pretty hard luck to lose em both. I dunno how Rogers ever going to fill their places.

Im breaking up the team, muttered Ben. Id like to play football, but

Most of the fellers dont seem to think youd ever be much of a player, grinned Spotty frankly. Now 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 hes going to wire for him to-night. Hes got enough money pledged.

It will give me no more pleasure than it will Hayden to play on the same team, declared Ben; but Id be willing to do anything for the good of the school. Thats why I thought I hadnt better play. Im not anxious to make trouble.

Bern says youve always been a trouble maker. Oh, hes got it in for you, all right. But youve won a lap on him, the best he can do. Its bitter medicine for him to swaller. He tried to down you, and hed done it, all right, if you hadnt put yourself on top by defending Amy Eliot. That was lucky for you. Urian Eliot has got about as much pull as anybody round these parts. You just better let things simmer along, and theyll come out all right.

Nevertheless, Spottys words added to Stones disquietude of mind, for he also believed that the loss of Hayden from the team to say nothing of Barker 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.

Im not at all interested in your team, Eliot, said Bern repellently.

My team, cried Roger mine? Why, you ought to be as much interested in it as I am. I took you for a fellow who would be loyal and

Hayden cut him short. I dont want to hear any more of that talk from you. Youll find me loyal enough to the team when you do what I ask of you. If you dont do it, I doubt if youll have any team in another week.

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.

CHAPTER XV.
THE FELLOW WHO WOULDNT 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:

Mr. Roger Eliot,

Capt. Oakdale Academy Football Team,

Dear Sir:

Replying 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.

Yours truly,
John Merwin, Capt. Clearport Eleven.

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.

Look here, Rollins, he questioned. I want to know why you failed to come out for practice to-day?

Hunk shrugged his thick shoulders. Why, I had some work to do, he faltered.

Did 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.

Ho! grunted Rollins. Thats all right. Sometimes a feller has to do some things.

Why didnt you tell me you werent coming out to the field? You should have given me notice, and you could have done so without any trouble at all.

I didnt think of it, lied Hunk.

You 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.

Was I the only one who didnt come? asked the fellow, with a leer.

The grim expression of Rogers face did not change in the least. Im 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.

Well, what are you going to do about it if I dont come out? was Hunks insolent question.

Ill tell you what Im going to do, Rollins, and youd better pay close attention. Youre 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.

Oh, perhaps you can fill the places of some other fellers.

Perhaps so; but, as I just remarked, Im telling you what will happen in your individual case. If you want to play on the academy eleven, youll come out for practice regularly, or youll give a good and sufficient excuse in case you cant appear and give it in advance, too. If youre not at the field to-morrow afternoon when practice begins youll be dropped for good.

Say, youre a regular autocrat, aint ye? Youre going to try to run things your way with an iron hand, aint ye? Mebbe youll find out

Thats enough. Youve heard all I have to say. Think it over. If you dont come out to-morrow night it wont be any great loss to the team. 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.

Sage, he called sharply, Im looking for you.

The fellow paused, and then slowly recrossed the street toward the determined captain of the eleven.

That you, Roger? he asked in pretended surprise. I didnt recognize you.

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:

Have you decided not to play football this season?

Why why, no, stammered Fred. Howd you get that idea?

You werent 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.

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:





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