Ralph Barbour.

Left Half Harmon





CHAPTER XVI
DIPLOMACY

Martins 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 Leroys 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 Bobs place was as ill-fitting as a square peg in a round hole and would doubtless prove in Captain Joe Myers words, easy meat 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 freaks 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 Willards side and seated himself there, he lifted the wooden lid of the grape basket he carried.

Agaricus pratensis, he announced impressively.

The same to you, answered Willard, and many, many of them.

McNatt smiled humoringly. I found them over near the farm. They are rather scarce about here.

Willard eyed the contents of the basket unenthusiastically. The five mushrooms made very little appeal to him and he hoped McNatt wasnt going to ask him to help eat them. Are they edible? he asked anxiously.

Oh, yes, although my book says theyre not so tasty as many other sorts.

They dont look awfully appetizing, murmured Willard. Do you cook them or what?

Theyre excellent fried, replied McNatt, gazing almost affectionately into the basket. Or you can stew them in milk.

No, thanks. Willard shook his head. I dont like the smell of them. They they smell as if they were dead!

Of course theyre dead, said McNatt a trifle impatiently. Or 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.

Very, agreed Willard politely. Are you going to eat them?

To his great relief, McNatt shook his head. No, there arent enough to make a mess.

Arent there? I should think those would make a mess all right, a beastly mess!

McNatt smiled, even chuckled. I fancy you arent a mushroom lover, he said. You wait, though. Some time Ill get a fine lot of puff-balls and well have a feast. Youll change your mind then.

Maybe Ill change more than that, said Willard sadly. Maybe Ill change my habitation. Lots of folks have gone to heaven after eating mushrooms, havent they?

No, not mushrooms, said McNatt, toadstools. Theres a difference. He covered the basket again, set it carefully between his feet and gazed in silence for a moment across the field. Presently: You are on the football team, arent you?

Yes, said Willard, sort of. Im a substitute half.

What sort of a team have we got this year?

Pretty fair, I think. Havent you seen them play?

I saw part of the first game, but you cant tell much about a team so early. I havent followed it very closely since then.

Well, were sort of getting together, I guess, said Willard. There have been a good many changes made and so the team isnt playing together awfully smoothly yet. Mr. Cades having a lot of trouble finding a full-back.

A full-back? Is that so? McNatt seemed rather more interested than previously. Whats wrong there, Harmon?

Willard explained as best he could and McNatt nodded assent. Hes right, he declared. To my way of thinking the full-back is the most important man on the team. Hes got to be strong and clever and have enough weight to carry him through the first defense. I dont bank much on the very heavy sort, though. They generally lack the proper mental attributes. Do you know, Harmon, its 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 hes started and he will have good sound judgment. But he wont be resourceful and he wont be capable of quick decision. See what I mean? I believe that a thorough study of the subject would enable anyone to tell a mans mental character off-hand by observing his physical construction.

Youd better come out this afternoon and look over the substitutes, laughed Willard. Maybe you could pick out a full-back for Mr. Cade.

Full-backs, answered McNatt solemnly, are 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.

It isnt a substitute thats bothering this year, said Willard ruefully, its the real thing. Where did you play, McNatt? I mean what position.

Full-back, answered the other gravely.

Full-back!

Yes, 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. 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.

Hello, Brand, he said. Whats on your mind?

More than is on yours, I guess, answered Willard meaningly.

Joe laughed. Think so? Well, thats the first paper Ive seen in a week. I was looking over the Saturday games. Yales coming back all right, isnt she? That fellow Loughlin who played left tackle for awhile is an Alton fellow. Wasnt considered much good here, though, as I remember.

Say, Joe, suppose a fellow played football this year and then didnt play for two years more. Would he be any good?

Good for what?

Football. I mean, could he could he come back?

Oh! I dont know, Brand. I guess it would depend on the fellow. Arent thinking of giving up the game, are you?

No. Look here, Joe, suppose a fellow was a corking good full-back three years ago and then didnt play any more. Suppose he was to go back to the game tomorrow. How long would it take him to to remember what hed forgotten and and find himself again?

Brand, its too early in the day for hypothetical questions, replied Joe, stretching and yawning. It 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?

Ive got someone in mind, answered Willard earnestly. Theres 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.

Whos that? demanded Joe, sitting up.

McNatt, answered Willard.

McNatt! Oh, I thought youd discovered someone, Brand. I guess McNatts a joke.

He did play, though, didnt he? Willard persisted.

Joe nodded. Yes, he did, and thats a fact. He paused and kicked thoughtfully at the paper on the floor. He 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 dont remember much about him, though. But, great gosh, the fellows no football man! Just just look at him!

Hes out of training, of course, agreed Willard, but seems to me if he was good enough to be regular full-back three years ago he might be worth trying now.

Thats so, Brand! Look here, you tell him to come on out and well give him a fair show, as late as it is. It would be worth a dollar of any fellows money to see McNutt playing football!

Willard shook his head. Im not sure hed do it, Joe.

Why not? Whats the idea?

Well, I dont believe he cares for it any more. Hes a funny duck, McNatt. I guess it would take a lot of persuasion to get him back.

But I thought from what you said that he wanted to try it, said Joe, puzzled. What does he want?

To be let alone, I think, answered Willard, smiling. No, the idea was mine, Joe. McNatt hasnt any more ambition to play football than I have to 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.

Well, dog my cats, exploded Joe, if the fellow can play football its his duty to do it! Doesnt he know that? Where is he? Ill have a talk with him. I dont suppose hes worth bothering with, but theres always a chance! And we cant afford to miss it!

What are you going to say to him? asked Willard.

Say to him? Why, that we need his services, of course. Ill 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.

That might fetch some fellows, Joe, but Im afraid it wouldnt fetch McNatt. Willard shook his head gently. I may be wrong, but I guess hes about as stubborn as they make them. You know you can tell a lot about a fellows er character by his physical formation, Joe, and McNatts got long legs and and everything.

I dont know what youre talking about, answered the other impatiently, but, stubborn or not, he will play football if I get after him!

All right. Willard shrugged his shoulders. If I were you, though, Id go at him sort of easy.

Oh, Ill be easy enough, said Joe untroubledly. Hes in Upton, isnt he? Whats the number? Forty-nine? Joe looked at his watch and got to his feet. Ive got twenty minutes before French. Ill run over and see him. Of course nothing will come of it, though. A fellow whos been out of training as long as he has cant come back in three or four weeks. Besides, I dare say hes forgotten all the football he ever knew.

Willard parted with Joe at the entrance. Good luck, he called as Joe went off. Try diplomacy first, Joe!

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 Joes visit to Number 49 Upton. Joe was still angry. The fellows a perfect fool, he snapped in reply to Willards polite inquiry. And hes 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 wouldnt try for the team for a thousand dollars!

And then you bullied him, laughed Willard.

I told him what I thought of him, answered Joe grimly. He made me so blamed mad I could have punched his head. Just sat there and blinked and shook his silly bean! And when Id flayed him alive he wanted to know if I wouldnt like to see his mineral collection. Oh, the chaps plain nutty!

He is sort of peculiar, agreed Willard soberly.

Peculiar! Joe laughed mirthlessly. Hes 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 Ill bet he eats em and theyve affected his mind. I dont know what to do with him!

Guess youll have to forget it and just let him alone, said Willard soothingly.

I cant afford to let him alone, protested Joe impatiently. Why, gosh, if that fellow can play full-back the way he can talk it hed be a wonder! Look here, Brand, you see what you can do. I talked my head off and it didnt have any effect on the poor fish. You you have a go at him, will you? And do it today. Honest, that fellow ought to show whether hes any good or not. Its his duty! Of course we cant make him play, but youd think hed want to!

All right, agreed Willard, Ill see what I can do, Joe, but I havent much hope. If your diplomacy failed, why, Im not likely to succeed.

Joe looked at Willard suspiciously. Hang it, I was diplomatic, he protested. I was as sweet as sugar to him until he shut his mouth tight and said he wouldnt do it.

If he had his mouth shut, said Willard, I dont see how he could say anything, Joe. Maybe he hummed it, though?

Oh, go to the dickens! 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 teams 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 McNatts room. Even when he knocked at the door of Number 49 he hadnt 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 McNatts 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 latters 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 someones 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 situations and McNatt was reminded that he had found the memorandum of which he had spoken on the occasion of Willards 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.

Myers came to see me this morning, he remarked placidly. Hes 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, dont you think?

Well, hes likely to have rather pronounced views on any subject that hes very much interested in, replied Willard cautiously. Football for instance.

McNatt chuckled. It was football he came to see me about. He wanted me to play full-back. It seems the fellow theyve got isnt very satisfactory. You told me that, too, I think.

Yes, I did, said Willard, and Im mighty glad youre going to help us out, McNatt!

McNatt frowned and shook his head. Oh, but Im not. I told Myers I couldnt, you know. He I dont think he liked it.

Youre not! exclaimed Willard incredulously. But but why?

McNatt stared a moment as though a trifle surprised. Why, Im out of football, Harmon! I thought I told you that. I havent played since my second year here. Ive given it up completely. You see, I hadnt any patience with the fuddling way they taught it. Everythings so hit-or-miss. No science at all. You acknowledged that yourself, Harmon.

Willard nodded. Yes, thats true. But, look here, McNatt, it seems to me the game of football needs fellows like you; fellows, I mean, who er who realize whats wrong with it and have the the courage and brains to remedy it.

McNatt tilted back and shook his head slowly. They wont listen, Harmon, he said. I tried Myers today. He couldnt see what I meant at all. Just got very impatient and told me I was a slacker. Im afraid Myers has a one-track mind, Harmon.

Joe is awfully anxious to beat Kenly, replied Willard, and 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 dont give a whoop whether Alton wins or doesnt.

McNatt shook his head almost violently. You mustnt say that, he protested. Although 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 mustnt ah consider me unpatriotic.

Oh, murmured Willard. I didnt understand. I thought

Yes? encouraged McNatt.

Why, only that, not being willing to help the School out by going back to the team, you didnt didnt care very much!

McNatt smiled gently. Im afraid youre rather like Myers, he chided. You can only see whats directly in front of your eyes. Myers couldnt 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.

Then Im not like Joe, responded Willard, smiling, for 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 youve got a big chance to demonstrate your theories and to help the School at the same time.

McNatt looked surprised. But Ive explained that they wont listen! he said.

Dont ask them to listen, replied Willard smilingly, yet very earnestly. Show them!

Show them? You mean

Exactly! Go out and play full-back as it should be played. Scientifically. According to your ideas. Prove theres something in it, McNatt. Afterwards you can talk and theyll listen.

McNatt drew his hands from his trousers pockets and rubbed them thoughtfully together. I wonder if it could be done, he muttered. You see, Harmon, it isnt the playing of one position that counts, but the conduct of the whole game, the the modus operandi. And yet He relapsed into silence again.

Being there, though, right on hand, would help, wouldnt it? Willard asked. I mean, youd be in a better position to offer your advice and aid. And maybe you might play full-back so well that theyd realize that that science has its place in football.





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