Left Half HarmonŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
Martinís statement that he had been assigned to left tackle position was not believed very implicitly that night, although, in the press of other matters demanding discussion, none expressed doubt. But the next day proved that Martin had spoken no more than the truth, for when the scrimmage commenced he was in Leroyís place, and there he stayed not only for the rest of the day but for the rest of the season. At left half, Willard and Mawson each served, the latter yielding to Willard near the end of the practice. The second team managed a field-goal that afternoon, but the first scored three touchdowns and for once showed plenty of punch.
With Lake at left end and Martin Proctor at left tackle, that side of the line improved remarkably. For a few days Martin fitted none too perfectly into the new position, but he had had much experience, wanted badly to be something better than a second-choice player and worked hard, with the result that long before the Kenly game he was looked on as a remarkably good tackle. The weak spot in the team continued, however, for no satisfactory alternative to Steve Browne had been found. Browne tried pitifully hard to fill the difficult requirements of the full-back position, but he failed utterly and palpably. Linthicum was tried, and so was Austen, a half-back from the second, but none suited. Kenly was developing a stiff line this year, as proved by the last two games she had played, and more weight and aggressiveness in the backfield was sorely needed at Alton. Discounting his possible ultimate failure to find a satisfactory full-back, Coach Cade experimented with plays built on the substituting of Bob Newhall or Stacey Ross for a half or the full-back. The difficulty, however, lay in the fact that the backfield man who played up in the line found it hard to perform his temporary duties satisfactorily. Placing Bob at full-back for straight plunges between tackles worked fairly well and was accountable for some good gains against the second team, but Browne in Bobís place was as ill-fitting as a square peg in a round hole and would doubtless prove in Captain Joe Myersí words, ďeasy meatĒ for Kenly. Coach Cade had a strongly-imbedded dislike for unbalanced formations, anyhow, and, although he used shifts sparingly and was responsible for the play that put Captain Myers behind the line so that he might receive a forward-pass, he wanted no more ďfreaksĒ and frowned on these new inventions even while he used them. And so matters stood on that Wednesday morning preceding the Hillsport game when Willard, having a whole fifty minutes between recitations, took a Latin book over to the first base bleachers and draped himself over three seats in the sunlight. It was a genuine Indian summer day, with no breeze, or only just enough to disturb the straight column of smoke that came from the big chimney behind Lawrence Hall, a very blue sky that melted to a hazy, purplish gray toward the horizon and a flood of mellow sunlight over all.
By occasionally changing his position when the edges of the planks pressed too fervently against him, Willard managed a whole page of his book, making many marginal notes in his very small and extremely neat writing. He was, though, getting somewhat drowsy when the sound of footsteps came to him and he looked up to find Felix McNatt approaching. McNatt had soiled hands and wore a triumphant expression, and both were explained when, having climbed to Willardís side and seated himself there, he lifted the wooden lid of the grape basket he carried.
ďAgaricus pratensis,Ē he announced impressively.
ďThe same to you,Ē answered Willard, ďand many, many of them.Ē
McNatt smiled humoringly. ďI found them over near the farm. They are rather scarce about here.Ē
Willard eyed the contents of the basket unenthusiastically. The five mushrooms made very little appeal to him and he hoped McNatt wasnít going to ask him to help eat them. ďAre they edible?Ē he asked anxiously.
ďOh, yes, although my book says theyíre not so tasty as many other sorts.Ē
ďThey donít look awfully appetizing,Ē murmured Willard. ďDo you cook them or what?Ē
ďTheyíre excellent fried,Ē replied McNatt, gazing almost affectionately into the basket. ďOr you can stew them in milk.Ē
ďNo, thanks.Ē Willard shook his head. ďI donít like the smell of them. They Ė they smell as if they were dead!Ē
ďOf course theyíre dead,Ē said McNatt a trifle impatiently. ďOr I suppose they are. Possibly they continue to live for a certain time after they are picked: I must find out about that: it would be interesting to know.Ē
ďVery,Ē agreed Willard politely. ďAre you going to eat them?Ē
To his great relief, McNatt shook his head. ďNo, there arenít enough to make a mess.Ē
ďArenít there? I should think those would make a mess all right, a beastly mess!Ē
McNatt smiled, even chuckled. ďI fancy you arenít a mushroom lover,Ē he said. ďYou wait, though. Some time Iíll get a fine lot of puff-balls and weíll have a feast. Youíll change your mind then.Ē
ďMaybe Iíll change more than that,Ē said Willard sadly. ďMaybe Iíll change my habitation. Lots of folks have gone to heaven after eating mushrooms, havenít they?Ē
ďNo, not mushrooms,Ē said McNatt, ďtoadstools. Thereís a difference.Ē He covered the basket again, set it carefully between his feet and gazed in silence for a moment across the field. Presently: ďYou are on the football team, arenít you?Ē
ďYes,Ē said Willard, ďsort of. Iím a substitute half.Ē
ďWhat sort of a team have we got this year?Ē
ďPretty fair, I think. Havenít you seen them play?Ē
ďI saw part of the first game, but you canít tell much about a team so early. I havenít followed it very closely since then.Ē
ďWell, weíre sort of getting together, I guess,Ē said Willard. ďThere have been a good many changes made and so the team isnít playing together awfully smoothly yet. Mr. Cadeís having a lot of trouble finding a full-back.Ē
ďA full-back? Is that so?Ē McNatt seemed rather more interested than previously. ďWhatís wrong there, Harmon?Ē
Willard explained as best he could and McNatt nodded assent. ďHeís right,Ē he declared. ďTo my way of thinking the full-back is the most important man on the team. Heís got to be strong and clever and have enough weight to carry him through the first defense. I donít bank much on the very heavy sort, though. They generally lack the proper mental attributes. Do you know, Harmon, itís strange to me that scientists have never made a thorough study of the relation of mind quality to body formation. Now take a type of fellow who is big of torso and neck; large above the waist, you understand; probably he will have a large head, too; most of them do. That fellow will be a persistent, hard fighter when heís started and he will have good sound judgment. But he wonít be resourceful and he wonít be capable of quick decision. See what I mean? I believe that a thorough study of the subject would enable anyone to tell a manís mental character off-hand by observing his physical construction.Ē
ďYouíd better come out this afternoon and look over the substitutes,Ē laughed Willard. ďMaybe you could pick out a full-back for Mr. Cade.Ē
ďFull-backs,Ē answered McNatt solemnly, ďare very scarce. Good ones, I mean. I remember that when I played here two or three years ago it was difficult to find a satisfactory substitute.Ē
ďIt isnít a substitute thatís bothering this year,Ē said Willard ruefully, ďitís the real thing. Where did you play, McNatt? I mean what position.Ē
ďFull-back,Ē answered the other gravely.
ďYes, I played there my first year off and on, although I was only fifteen. I was large for my age, though. The next year I played the position until I was taken sick. After that I sort of fell out of the game. Well, I must get back.Ē He picked up his basket, nodded and went striding off toward Upton.
Willard watched him go thoughtfully. After a minute, though, he tucked his pencil into a pocket, seized his book and hurried across to Lykes. Luck was with him when he knocked at Number 2 and entered. Joe was propped up on the window-seat, half hidden by a newspaper.
ďHello, Brand,Ē he said. ďWhatís on your mind?Ē
ďMore than is on yours, I guess,Ē answered Willard meaningly.
Joe laughed. ďThink so? Well, thatís the first paper Iíve seen in a week. I was looking over the Saturday games. Yaleís coming back all right, isnít she? That fellow Loughlin who played left tackle for awhile is an Alton fellow. Wasnít considered much good here, though, as I remember.Ē
ďSay, Joe, suppose a fellow played football this year and then didnít play for two years more. Would he be any good?Ē
ďGood for what?Ē
ďFootball. I mean, could he Ė could he come back?Ē
ďOh! I donít know, Brand. I guess it would depend on the fellow. Arenít thinking of giving up the game, are you?Ē
ďNo. Look here, Joe, suppose a fellow was a corking good full-back three years ago and then didnít play any more. Suppose he was to go back to the game tomorrow. How long would it take him to Ė to remember what heíd forgotten and Ė and find himself again?Ē
ďBrand, itís too early in the day for hypothetical questions,Ē replied Joe, stretching and yawning. ďIt would depend on so many things, boy: on how well the chap had kept himself in condition, principally. Got any fellow in mind, or are you just doing this for exercise?Ē
ďIíve got someone in mind,Ē answered Willard earnestly. ďThereís a chap here who used to play football three years ago, and from what he says he must have been pretty good. Anyway, he was regular full-back on the team. Then he was taken sick and had to quit, and he never went back.Ē
ďWhoís that?Ē demanded Joe, sitting up.
ďMcNatt,Ē answered Willard.
ďMcNatt! Oh, I thought youíd discovered someone, Brand. I guess McNattís a joke.Ē
ďHe did play, though, didnít he?Ē Willard persisted.
Joe nodded. ďYes, he did, and thatís a fact.Ē He paused and kicked thoughtfully at the paper on the floor. ďHe played all one year, I think, either on the second or on the first as substitute. The first year I was here he played for awhile. That was his second year. Seems to me he stopped about the middle of the season. I donít remember much about him, though. But, great gosh, the fellowís no football man! Just Ė just look at him!Ē
ďHeís out of training, of course,Ē agreed Willard, ďbut seems to me if he was good enough to be regular full-back three years ago he might be worth trying now.Ē
ďThatís so, Brand! Look here, you tell him to come on out and weíll give him a fair show, as late as it is. It would be worth a dollar of any fellowís money to see McNutt playing football!Ē
Willard shook his head. ďIím not sure heíd do it, Joe.Ē
ďWhy not? Whatís the idea?Ē
ďWell, I donít believe he cares for it any more. Heís a funny duck, McNatt. I guess it would take a lot of persuasion to get him back.Ē
ďBut I thought from what you said that he wanted to try it,Ē said Joe, puzzled. ďWhat does he want?Ē
ďTo be let alone, I think,Ē answered Willard, smiling. ďNo, the idea was mine, Joe. McNatt hasnít any more ambition to play football than I have to Ė to collect mushrooms! But when he told me about having played full-back I remembered that we are hard up for a fellow for that position, and so I came over here to speak to you about it.Ē
ďWell, dog my cats,Ē exploded Joe, ďif the fellow can play football itís his duty to do it! Doesnít he know that? Where is he? Iíll have a talk with him. I donít suppose heís worth bothering with, but thereís always a chance! And we canít afford to miss it!Ē
ďWhat are you going to say to him?Ē asked Willard.
ďSay to him? Why, that we need his services, of course. Iíll tell him that if he shows up decently he will stand a good chance of playing against Kenly. I guess that ought to fetch him.Ē
ďThat might fetch some fellows, Joe, but Iím afraid it wouldnít fetch McNatt.Ē Willard shook his head gently. ďI may be wrong, but I guess heís about as stubborn as they make them. You know you can tell a lot about a fellowís Ė er Ė character by his physical formation, Joe, and McNattís got long legs and Ė and everything.Ē
ďI donít know what youíre talking about,Ē answered the other impatiently, ďbut, stubborn or not, he will play football if I get after him!Ē
ďAll right.Ē Willard shrugged his shoulders. ďIf I were you, though, Iíd go at him sort of easy.Ē
ďOh, Iíll be easy enough,Ē said Joe untroubledly. ďHeís in Upton, isnít he? Whatís the number? Forty-nine?Ē Joe looked at his watch and got to his feet. ďIíve got twenty minutes before French. Iíll run over and see him. Of course nothing will come of it, though. A fellow whoís been out of training as long as he has canít come back in three or four weeks. Besides, I dare say heís forgotten all the football he ever knew.Ē
Willard parted with Joe at the entrance. ďGood luck,Ē he called as Joe went off. ďTry diplomacy first, Joe!Ē
Joe smiled back confidently and waved a careless hand.
It was not until he reached the gymnasium in the afternoon that Willard learned the result of Joeís visit to Number 49 Upton. Joe was still angry. ďThe fellowís a perfect fool,Ē he snapped in reply to Willardís polite inquiry. ďAnd heís as stubborn as a mule! Sat there and talked for ten minutes about how the full-back position ought to be played and then calmly told me he wouldnít try for the team for a thousand dollars!Ē
ďAnd then you bullied him,Ē laughed Willard.
ďI told him what I thought of him,Ē answered Joe grimly. ďHe made me so blamed mad I could have punched his head. Just sat there and blinked and shook his silly bean! And when Iíd flayed him alive he wanted to know if I wouldnít like to see his mineral collection. Oh, the chapís plain nutty!Ē
ďHe is sort of peculiar,Ē agreed Willard soberly.
ďPeculiar!Ē Joe laughed mirthlessly. ďHeís crazy in the head. Know what I think? Well, he showed me a lot of mushrooms he had there; nasty, smelly things they were, too; and Iíll bet he eats íem and theyíve affected his mind. I donít know what to do with him!Ē
ďGuess youíll have to forget it and just let him alone,Ē said Willard soothingly.
ďI canít afford to let him alone,Ē protested Joe impatiently. ďWhy, gosh, if that fellow can play full-back the way he can talk it heíd be a wonder! Look here, Brand, you see what you can do. I talked my head off and it didnít have any effect on the poor fish. You Ė you have a go at him, will you? And do it today. Honest, that fellow ought to show whether heís any good or not. Itís his duty! Of course we canít make him play, but youíd think heíd want to!Ē
ďAll right,Ē agreed Willard, ďIíll see what I can do, Joe, but I havenít much hope. If your diplomacy failed, why, Iím not likely to succeed.Ē
Joe looked at Willard suspiciously. ďHang it, I was diplomatic,Ē he protested. ďI was as sweet as sugar to him until he shut his mouth tight and said he wouldnít do it.Ē
ďIf he had his mouth shut,Ē said Willard, ďI donít see how he could say anything, Joe. Maybe he hummed it, though?Ē
ďOh, go to the dickens!Ē growled the other.
There was an unusually hard and protracted practice game that afternoon, and Willard played at left half through fifteen strenuous minutes during which the second, given the ball over and over to test the first teamís defense, hammered and banged until she finally got across the line for a score. Willard, like most of the others, got some hard knocks and when he was released he felt very little ambition for the task that Joe had set him. But supper helped a lot, and at half-past seven he set out for McNattís room. Even when he knocked at the door of Number 49 he hadnít decided what he was to say.
Not only McNatt was in this evening, but his roommate, Winfred Fuller. Fuller was a sophomore, a smallish, anemic-appearing youth who, or so Willard fancied, wore a harried, apprehensive look, as though life with McNattís toads and beetles and strange messes was gradually affecting his mind. Fuller sat, straightly uncompromising, on the edge of a chair and gazed at Willard with owlish fixity during the first ten minutes of the latterís visit, and Willard was heartily glad when, muttering some excuse, the boy took himself off. McNatt was most hospitable and offered to cook a few choice mushrooms that he had picked that afternoon under someoneís stable if Willard fancied them. But Willard explained that, being on a diet, mushrooms were a forbidden luxury, and McNatt was not offended. After that the talk turned to the subject of football ďsituationsĒ and McNatt was reminded that he had found the memorandum of which he had spoken on the occasion of Willardís last visit, and stretched a hand toward the littered table. But unfortunately the paper had again disappeared, and although McNatt searched long and determinedly, making the confusion more confused, it refused to be discovered. Finally, giving up the quest, McNatt sat down again, stretching his long legs across the floor and thrusting a pair of large, very chapped hands into his pockets.
ďMyers came to see me this morning,Ē he remarked placidly. ďHeís captain of the football team this year. But you know him, of course. I forgot you were on the team, Harmon. Queer fellow, Myers: awfully obstinate and opinionated, donít you think?Ē
ďWell, heís likely to have rather pronounced views on any subject that heís very much interested in,Ē replied Willard cautiously. ďFootball for instance.Ē
McNatt chuckled. ďIt was football he came to see me about. He wanted me to play full-back. It seems the fellow theyíve got isnít very satisfactory. You told me that, too, I think.Ē
ďYes, I did,Ē said Willard, ďand Iím mighty glad youíre going to help us out, McNatt!Ē
McNatt frowned and shook his head. ďOh, but Iím not. I told Myers I couldnít, you know. He Ė I donít think he liked it.Ē
ďYouíre not!Ē exclaimed Willard incredulously. ďBut Ė but why?Ē
McNatt stared a moment as though a trifle surprised. ďWhy, Iím out of football, Harmon! I thought I told you that. I havenít played since my second year here. Iíve given it up completely. You see, I hadnít any patience with the fuddling way they taught it. Everythingís so hit-or-miss. No science at all. You acknowledged that yourself, Harmon.Ē
Willard nodded. ďYes, thatís true. But, look here, McNatt, it seems to me the game of football needs fellows like you; fellows, I mean, who Ė er Ė who realize whatís wrong with it and have the Ė the courage and brains to remedy it.Ē
McNatt tilted back and shook his head slowly. ďThey wonít listen, Harmon,Ē he said. ďI tried Myers today. He couldnít see what I meant at all. Just got very impatient and told me I was a slacker. Iím afraid Myers has a one-track mind, Harmon.Ē
ďJoe is awfully anxious to beat Kenly,Ē replied Willard, ďand he takes it for granted that every other fellow is just like he is. He loses sight of the fact that there are fellows here in school like you, McNatt, who donít give a whoop whether Alton wins or doesnít.Ē
McNatt shook his head almost violently. ďYou mustnít say that,Ē he protested. ďAlthough not actively participating in football any longer, Harmon, I am still vastly interested in it and follow it very carefully. And, naturally, I want Alton to defeat Kenly. Yes, indeed, decidedly! You mustnít Ė ah Ė consider me unpatriotic.Ē
ďOh,Ē murmured Willard. ďI didnít understand. I thought Ė Ē
ďYes?Ē encouraged McNatt.
ďWhy, only that, not being willing to help the School out by going back to the team, you didnít Ė didnít care very much!Ē
McNatt smiled gently. ďIím afraid youíre rather like Myers,Ē he chided. ďYou can only see whatís directly in front of your eyes. Myers couldnít understand that I might find other things more important than football. I explained that my scientific pursuits meant more to me than playing full-back on the eleven.Ē
ďThen Iím not like Joe,Ē responded Willard, smiling, ďfor I can understand it. I suppose what does puzzle me, McNatt, is your not being willing to apply your science to the bettering of the game and the defeat of the enemy. Seems to me youíve got a big chance to demonstrate your theories and to help the School at the same time.Ē
McNatt looked surprised. ďBut Iíve explained that they wonít listen!Ē he said.
ďDonít ask them to listen,Ē replied Willard smilingly, yet very earnestly. ďShow them!Ē
ďShow them? You mean Ė Ē
ďExactly! Go out and play full-back as it should be played. Scientifically. According to your ideas. Prove thereís something in it, McNatt. Afterwards you can talk and theyíll listen.Ē
McNatt drew his hands from his trousers pockets and rubbed them thoughtfully together. ďI wonder if it could be done,Ē he muttered. ďYou see, Harmon, it isnít the playing of one position that counts, but the conduct of the whole game, the Ė the modus operandi. And yet Ė Ē He relapsed into silence again.
ďBeing there, though, right on hand, would help, wouldnít it?Ē Willard asked. ďI mean, youíd be in a better position to offer your advice and aid. And maybe you might play full-back so well that theyíd realize that Ė that science has its place in football.ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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