Ralph Barbour.

Left Half Harmon





Do you know, exclaimed McNatt quite excitedly, you almost persuade me to try it, Harmon! By golly, you do! This man that is coaching this year I forget his name ; is he the sort you can talk to? You know some of these coaches are so so set! You cant get them to listen to anything at all!

I dont think Mr. Cade is that sort, replied Willard reassuringly. Id say he was quite open to conviction, McNatt. In fact and here Willard smiled to himself in fact, I think I can promise that he will listen to anything that promises success for the team. Theres one thing, though, that might bother you, old chap. Youve been out of training a good while and of course conditions got a heap to do with playing football well.

McNatt shook his head impatiently. My conditions all right, he answered. Ill have to read up on the new rules, though. Theyve made several changes since I played before. I suppose I ought to see Myers and tell him Ive changed my mind.

Ive got a rules book, said Willard, and Ill bring it over to you the first thing in the morning. As for telling Myers, I wouldnt trouble. Im quite likely to run across him myself this evening and Ill pass the good word to him if you like.

Id be very much obliged, answered McNatt gratefully, but dont go out of your way, please. Funny you should turn up here tonight, Harmon. Im glad you did, though, I really am. I wouldnt have realized what an opportunity this thing affords me if you hadnt!

CHAPTER XVII
MNATT JOINS THE TEAM

A great many years before the period of this story Alton Academy manufactured its own illuminating gas from gasoline by means of a machine in the basement of Academy Hall. The machine was connected by pipe with a gasoline tank set in a covered pit some sixty feet from the building. One fine day there was trouble with the gasoline supply and one of the faculty members known as Old Grubby descended into the pit to investigate matters. Just what occurred down there was never known, but shortly after Old Grubby disappeared from sight he reappeared with vastly more celerity, and his reappearance was accompanied by a violent concussion that brought everyone rushing to the scene or to the dormitory windows. A fortunate few gained points of vantage in time to see the teachers ascent interrupted by the force of gravitation and to watch his return to earth. This happened at a point many feet distant from the crater that had once been a brick-lined pit, and was quite spectacular. Fortunately, aside from a severe shaking up, some contusions and a nervous shock, Old Grubby was uninjured, although just at first it seemed to the horrified spectators that he had suffered a direful fate, since he had gone into the pit with a luxuriant growth of dark hair on his head and had subsequently descended from his flight with his scalp as bare and polished as a pale-pink billiard ball! None was more horror-stricken than the unfortunate gentleman himself, however, when he realized his plight.

Clapping both hands to his head, he broke loose from the solicitous rescuers and ran agitatedly around in circles. Such extraordinary behavior on the part of an ordinarily sane gentleman was naturally adjudged to be the result of temporary dementia produced by the accident, and so, of course, all those who had arrived on the scene took up the chase. Old Grubby dodged and eluded, giving vent to inarticulate ejaculations of dismay, and the chase might have continued for quite a while had he not finally, with a cry of relief and triumph, snatched a brown object from a lower branch of a tree, clapped it on his shining head and dashed for his room.

The incident created a remarkable sensation; not so much that portion concerned with the interesting explosion of the gasoline tank as the resultant revelation. For many years Old Grubby had managed to deceive the sharpest eyes in his classes and never had there been the faintest of doubts expressed as to the naturalness of his beautiful dark brown locks. And then before the eyes of the whole school he had been exposed! After the first shock of incredulous surprise, Alton Academy roared and rocked with laughter. Students and faculty gasped and gurgled fraternally, and you may well believe that the spectacle of the Principal seated on the lower step of Academy Hall, swaying rhythmically from side to side and holding his head in his hands, did nothing to quell the contagion. History has it that at the end of that term Old Grubby resigned and took himself to distant fields where his precious secret was not known.

Now this has no place in the present narrative save as a prelude to the statement that not since its occurrence had the School known such a sensation as was caused by the appearance of Felix Adelbert McNatt as a member of the football squad!

McNatt reported on Friday afternoon, clad in ancient regalia that included the disreputable green sweater, and the news spread like wildfire. Society rooms, studies, tennis courts were deserted, and the stands beside the gridiron were so filled that you would have thought the Big Game was in progress. Disbelief vanished as the unmistakable form of McNatt was descried on the field and amused conviction took its place. Hooray for McNutt! shrilled an irrepressible freshman, and the audience cheered loudly. Regular cheer, fellows! bawled a junior, with nine McNatts! The response was thrilling, even if the McNatts became McNutts in the performance, and after that the new candidate had only to move a hand or a long leg to be greeted by uproarious applause!

Whether McNatt realized the sensation he was producing, or the nature of it, I cant say. At least, he gave no sign. Perhaps he thought that every practice witnessed a similar loyal attendance and that the applause that fell to him was no more than was generally accorded. McNatt, fortunately, was not self-conscious nor sensitive. If he had been he might have found it difficult to perform the duties set him. As it was, he worked hard and faithfully and with surprising ability, proving at once that he had neither forgotten what he had formerly known of football nor had allowed his long absence from the game to put him out of condition. He tackled the dummy with the rest of the squad and showed how it should be tackled, he swung a clever foot against the ball and got thirty-five yards at a punt and he caught the returning pigskin with ease and certainty. In short, McNatt that Friday afternoon caused Coach Cade to stare and shake his head and almost rub his eyes and the audience along the sidelines to change their laughter to enthusiastic, ungrudging applause before the practice session was ended.

A mere five minutes with a squad in formation drill taught McNatt the signals sufficiently for his purpose, and later, when the second team came across, filled with ambition and an overwhelming desire to see what all the laughing and cheering was about, and McNatt was put in at full-back on the first, why, he made good from the first moment. He clung doggedly to that green sweater, though others were down to canvas, and it shone resplendent in every play. Kruger, whose wont it was to take the ball for the second and go rearing through inside or outside of tackle, saw his glory fade. The first time he tried it he ran straight into a green sweater. Those nearest heard an amazed Whoof! from Kruger, and then he was borne back and placed expeditiously on the turf, and a chuckling referee added another yard to the distance to be gained. But the best came when the first team, having wrested the ball from a surprised second, sprang to the assault. Cochran gained three past left guard and then Tarver called on McNatt. Gil said afterwards that the full-back got to him so quick that he almost missed the pass. Bob and Stacey did their part, and then a green streak passed between them, smashed into a luckless second team guard, caromed off a tackle and proceeded down the field, spurning the backs much as a cannon ball might treat the attentions of so many toy terriers, and, with an easy if ungraceful stride, ate up the intervening sixty-seven yards and deposited the pigskin squarely behind the goal. After which McNatt seated himself on the ball and waited for the others to come along.

Not for seasons of football on Alton Field had there been such a wild paean of delight as arose to the blue October sky just then! Reversing the usual order, McNatt had arisen from the ridiculous to the sublime, and Alton loved him for it! Joy and laughter were mingled in that long-continued outburst, continued since the sight of the elongated McNatt seated unconcernedly on the football down there moved the onlookers to new merriment. Cochran kicked a goal and the game went on, and the audience breathlessly awaited another enlivening spectacle. But another such incident would have been too much for the Law of Probabilities. McNatt smashed and wormed and twisted his way through the second teams astonished line time after time for good gains, but when eleven outraged and argus-eyed youths are watching for the appearance of one green-sweatered enemy that enemy hasnt much chance of escaping detection and detention, and for that reason McNatt didnt again get free that afternoon. But he did gain every time he was given the ball, which is glory enough, while the fact that the opponents played for McNatt every time the lines heaved afforded Cochran and Mawson or, later, Willard an absence of attention that enabled them to do wonders.

Before the end of the game McNatt was taken out, not, it appeared, because he was exhausted or had lost any of his enthusiasm, but probably because Jake, the trainer, willed it so. After that he sat on the bench, surrounded by admirers, and explained gravely his views on Science as a Foundation for Football.

Yes, the advent of Felix Adelbert McNatt was certainly a sensation, and as such it served as a topic of conversation for not only the rest of that day but for many days following. After the first flush of delight occasioned by the finding of such a wonder, captious ones asked why McNatt hadnt been discovered before, dwelling on the fact that he had been there right along and could have been discovered as long ago as the season before last if those in charge of football had known their business! But on the whole the School was much too well pleased to indulge in criticism. The one weak position on the team had been strengthened and a victory over Kenly loomed large. Willard received almost tearful thanks from Joe and warm commendations from the coach. The latters evident gratitude gave Willard the courage to offer advice. You see, sir, he confided, McNatts got a lot of queer ideas about how football ought to be played, and he really agreed to join the team because he hopes to to sort of reform things. He asked me if you were the sort of man he could explain his theories to and I said you were. So, if you dont mind, I guess it would be a pretty good plan to sort of sort of humor him, Mr. Cade, and let him tell you about Science.

He can tell me about Science and Art, too, if he will play the way he played yesterday! replied the coach emphatically. And if he can talk the way he tackles Ill listen to him all night. And you may tell him so!

But McNatt was biding his time. He didnt mean to spoil his chances to put the game of football on a proper scientific basis by introducing his ideas too early. He meant to erect a firm basis first, to show by the scientific playing of a single position the plausibility of his theory that all positions were capable of like treatment, both individually and collectively in the form of the team. Also, he wanted to establish cordial relations with the powers, the coach and captain, before beginning his proselytism. Meanwhile, as Willard learned later, he devoted much time to further study of the subject, collecting much data and drawing interesting if not altogether convincing conclusions from it. As it turned out, McNatt was far too busy playing his position as it should be played to do much more that season than drive the entering wedge of reform into the football situation. He spent all one evening in Mr. Cades rooms on one occasion and expounded to his hearts content, referring at intervals to a wealth of memoranda, and was listened to courteously and patiently. And on numerous other occasions he held forth to such as would listen, and, while his audience was secretly amused, outwardly his remarks met sober and reverent attention. Perhaps some day even when you are reading this story for all I know McNatt will be hailed as the Prophet of Scientific Football and the game will be played according to his ideas. In which case, all I can say is that I shant care to see it!

The day after McNatts first appearance with the team was the day of the Hillsport game. Hillsport School was a much smaller institution than Alton Academy, but it made up for lack of numbers by self-esteem and aggressiveness. It had held a place on Altons football schedule for four years, during which time it had met with one defeat, had played one tie and had won one victory.

The victory had come to it last year, on Alton Field, and in the ecstasy of triumph the Hillsport supporters had tarried in town long enough to record that triumph for posterity. Loyal Altonians on their way to church Sunday morning found to their horror and indignant surprise that the legend: H. S. 14, A. A. 6, appeared in large green characters on a dozen hitherto blank walls and boardings! The worst of it was that the insulting inscriptions were there to stay. Perhaps the elements would, in the course of years, subdue, perhaps obliterate, those vivid brush streaks, but today they looked as glaring as they had on that first calm Sabbath morning. Alton had viewed and exclaimed and muttered vengefully for some days, but as time passed familiarity bred indifference, and now it was only when a visiting relative innocently asked the meaning of the cryptic signs that indignation and a thirst for revenge welled again in the Alton breast.

Last years defeat and those insulting green painted symbols of disgrace combined to form a mad desire for revenge this fall in the heart of every Alton fellow. There were some whose outraged sensibilities even induced the opinion that a victory over Hillsport was more to be desired than a triumph over that arch-enemy, Kenly Hall. This, however, was an extreme view held by only a few, although among the few were several representative minds: as, for instance, Mr. Robert Wallace Newhall and Mr. Calvin Grainger. Mr. Newhall stated distinctly and with much feeling, in the presence of Mr. Grainger, Mr. Myers, Mr. Proctor and Mr. Harmon, that if we dont lick the tar out of those fresh mutts tomorrow I wont come back here! Mr. Grainger, who had earnestly striven the preceding spring to wreak revenge on Hillsport on the baseball diamond, and had failed, applauded the sentiment, but others, frivolous-minded persons like Martin Proctor and Joe Myers, expressed only derision.

What would you do, Bob? asked Martin. Stay over in Hillsport and blow up the school buildings?

He knows blamed well, laughed Joe, that hes safe. With old Felix McNutt tearing holes in the line, Hillsports got about the same chance to escape a walloping as Bob has to get to heaven!

I hope youre right, said Cal Grainger. Id feel disgraced if those fresh guys licked us again.

They wont, Joe assured him. Not this year. Boy, weve got a team now! With McNutt in there, thats a mighty pretty backfield, and Kenlys going to know it three weeks from tomorrow!

Three weeks! exclaimed Willard. Not really?

Why not?

But but thats so soon! Gee, I thought the Kenly game was lots further off!

It isnt, though, answered Joe, shaking his head. And those three weeks will be gone before you know it, too. Its funny about that. One day youre in the middle of the season, and then, seems like it was the next day, you wake up and the Big Games right on top of you! It it sort of scares you, too!

Say, Joe, whats the real dope on Kenly this year, anyway? asked Bob thoughtfully.

Joe shrugged. You know as much as I do. Shes had about an average season, I guess. Shes played five games, one more than we have, and has lost two, won two and tied the other. You cant tell much about Kenly until along toward the end of the season, any more than you can about us. Last year she didnt look very good until the Lorimer game. Then she walked all over Lorimer to the tune of twenty-something to nothing. That was the week before we played her, you know, and it made us sit up and take notice. But taking notice didnt do us much good, for she walloped us when our turn came.

The papers speak pretty well of her backs, observed Cal. She has one fellow, I forget his name

Puckhaber? asked Joe.

Thats it, Puckhaber! Some name, Ill say! Hes good, isnt he?

Hes all right, but he wasnt anything remarkable last fall. We stopped him as well as we stopped any of her backs. Shes got a good man in Timmons, though, her left end. Hell bear watching, fellows. Well, its nine-thirty, Bob. Time to turn in. This may be your last night in the old school, son: better make the most of it!

CHAPTER XVIII
REVENGE!

Alton played the enemy at Hillsport this year, a small town some twelve miles to the south. The distance, however, didnt measure up to the time it took for the journey, for team and supporters had to take the train to Darlington, nine miles away, and then cross to Hillsport by trolley, consuming all of an hour and ten minutes on the way. Saturday was what Martin called a mushy day. The sun came and went from beyond a haze of gray clouds and a light, damp breeze blew inland from the sea. It was too warm for an ideal football day, but those who were to look on found no fault with it. Most of the School accompanied the players and, since Manager Ross when providing for the teams transportation had failed to make any arrangement for the followers, a lamentable lack of conveyances developed at Darlington. There was a special car waiting for the players, but the single regular car which was due to make the trip to Hillsport ten minutes later could not possibly be made to hold more than eighty of the nearly three hundred fellows who fought for places. A hurry call was telephoned to Hillsport for extra cars, but before they came several scores of good-natured but impatient youths had set forth on foot to cover the last two-and-a-half-mile leg of the journey. Fortunately for these, the game was not started until nearly fifteen minutes after the advertised time and the last flushed and perspiring Altonian had dragged himself to a seat before the Green kicked off to the Gray-and-Gold.

There is no good reason for devoting much space to the contest, for, although the final score was not as one-sided as early evidences promised, it was plainly to be seen from the first moment that the visiting horde was certain of victory. Save that McLeod was in Macons place at right end for Alton, the line-up was quite as expected. McNatt was at full-back and Mawson at left half. Gil Tarver held the helm. There were no substitutes introduced by Coach Cade until the third inning was well along. Then Jack Macon, who had been suffering from a mild attack of tonsillitis, went back to his position, and Willard and Moncks were sent in to replace Mawson and Cochran. Still later, Hutchins ousted Gil Tarver and Cravath replaced Nichols at center. Both teams found the weather uncomfortable and toward the last the play slowed up until it fairly dragged.

There were no spectacular incidents. Alton used few plays and made them go. There was never at any time necessity for uncovering anything new. Hillsport, encouraged by much excellent support from the east side of the field, started off very confidently to make gains through the opposing line. After several failures she shifted her attention to the ends, and still later attempted a kicking advance. To the latter, to the surprise and delight of the visiting spectators, McNatt replied and replied eloquently. Substitutions had deprived the Alton team of her usual punters and the task of returning Hillsports kicks devolved on the full-back, and the full-back accepted the task untroubledly and, while he was too much out of practice to quite equal the best efforts of the rival punter, he performed some very satisfactory feats in aerial warfare. McNatt was held back today, being afforded few chances to shine lest his fame reach Kenly too early in the season. Whether there were any Kenly scouts on hand to take notes was not known, but Coach Cade was determined that if there were they should have but little to report. McNatt on defense, though, was not to be repressed, and many an ambitious Hillsport back was nipped in the bud, so to speak. On the attack McNatt gained whenever he was called on, but the work was very evenly distributed among the backs. Willard played a strong, hard game which, if no better than Mawson had put up, was equally as good. Alton made her first score in the first period, smashing Cochran over for a touchdown at the end of eight minutes of playing. Cochran crowned his touchdown with a goal. In the second period Alton worked to Hillsports eighteen yards and lost the ball on a fumble by Tarver, and was on her way to a second touchdown when the whistle blew, leaving her in possession of the ball on the enemys twenty-three yards. In the third period, after Hillsport had rallied and taken the pigskin to near Altons thirty, the Gray-and-Gold took the ball on downs and began a fourth journey up the field that finally resulted in the second score, McNatt going off left tackle for four yards and the touchdown. Tarver kicked a neat goal. That ended the scoring, and, while Hillsport opened up several long passes after the next kick-off and occasioned a moment of uneasiness once, neither side threatened the opponents goal, and the play became utterly listless as the end approached.





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