Ralph Barbour.

Left Half Harmon





CHAPTER XX
EVIDENCE

Coach Cade was pleased with Saturdays game, and said so. So, too, was the school in general. In fact, it seemed that the school found more encouragement than was warranted. One heard a good deal on Sunday about what Alton was going to do to Kenly when the time came. Doubtless much of this optimism was due to the arrival of Felix McNatt in the backfield, which, with the placing of Proctor at left tackle, appeared to round out the team remarkably. Certainly there was little in Saturdays victory over a palpably weaker opponent to account for all the enthusiasm which spread over the school like a contagion.

Sunday afternoon, walking across to Academy Hall to post a letter, Willard encountered McNatt bent on a similar errand. McNatt showed evidences of having played football recently, for three strips of adhesive plaster formed a star over one cheek-bone. Having dropped their letters in the box beside the entrance, the two boys stood for a few minutes and talked. McNatt was evidently a trifle discouraged about his mission of reforming football on a more scientific basis.

Mr. Cade says theres a good deal in it, but thinks the ah impetus should come from the colleges. Now I dont agree with him there, Harmon By the way, is your name Harmon or Brand? I heard some of the players calling you Brand yesterday.

Harmon. Brands just a nickname.

I see. Well, as I was saying, I dont think Mr. Cade is right. I believe that if we fellows at this school developed the game along the lines that you and I have discussed so frequently, others would follow. There thered be a movement, Harmon. If we look to the colleges to make the start well have to wait a long time, I fear. In my opinion colleges are extremely conservative in the matter of football, especially the larger ones, the ah the leaders. Of course I realize that the season is so far advanced that any extreme changes now would possibly militate against the teams success. Nevertheless, I am hoping that Mr. Cade will decide to experiment in a small way. I have spoken to quite a number of the players and they all appeared most interested. In fact, I dont recall that any of them offered a serious criticism.

I guess itll take time, murmured Willard. Great ideas generally have to to overcome a good deal of opposition, dont you think? How does it seem to be playing again, McNatt?

The full-backs face lighted. Splendid, he replied. Do you know, Harmon, I didnt suppose I could find so much pleasure in the game again. Of course I realize that Im still rather stale, but its coming back to me, its coming back. McNatt nodded gravely. I make mistakes and Im frightfully slow, but with practice Ill improve. At least, I hope to, he corrected modestly. Its possible, though, that I shant do as well as I should. The fact is, Harmon, Im conscious of the variance of thought that exists between those in charge of the team and me.

I approach the problem confronting us scientifically. They approach it in the old hit-or-miss style. I strive not to let the lack of shall I say? harmony trouble me, but I fear it does at times. So often, when the quarter-back signals one play, I know that the situation calls for another, and I fear that the absence of a sympathetic approval of the play demanded sometimes ah unconsciously reduces my enthusiasm for it. And, really, one must be thoroughly convinced of the propriety of a play before one can go into it wholeheartedly, just as one must be convinced as to any other act. You see what I mean, Harmon?

Oh, absolutely, answered Willard, absolutely! But, really, McNatt, I wouldnt trouble much about that. Seems to me youve been playing a mighty sweet game.

You think so? asked the other doubtfully. I dont know. If only it was possible to give reasoning thought to the conduct of the game! But it will come, Im certain of that. Meanwhile I shall do the best I can.

Im sure of that, said Willard earnestly.

Theres just one thing that might happen, resumed McNatt as they strolled away from Academy, knitting his brows. Some time that quarter-back is his name Tarbox?

Tarver, Gilbert Tarver, replied Willard gravely.

I think Ive called him Tarbox several times. Well, as I was saying, there is a possibility that some time he may call a play that I shall subconsciously rebel against and, under a certain mental condition, it might be that I would ah spill the beans.

Willard went off into a gale of laughter. McNatt viewed him in mild surprise. Im afraid, he said, gently reproving, the result would be far from humorous. It is conceivable that it might, happening at a crucial moment in the contest, even prove disastrous to our fortunes!

I I wasnt laughing at that, moaned Willard, wiping his streaming eyes. I was laughing at at your slang!

Slang? Oh! McNatt smiled. I dare say it did sound queer. I pick up quite a good deal of slang from Winfred. Well, I must get back. Im working on a plan that will, I think, produce more certainty of result to the kick-off. You may have noticed how seldom the team in possession of the ball at the kick-off is able to concentrate defensively in the locality of the catch. My idea, if it proves practical and I think it will would enable the team to know where the ball would descend and so concentrate on that point. Well, Ill see you again, Harmon.

Willard reported the conversation to Martin, who was doing his best today to convince himself that what had every appearance of a cold in the head was merely a touch of hay fever, and Martin mixed laughter with his sniffles. The poor nut, he said. Hed try to introduce science into eating a fried egg if he thought of it! How the dickens can the team know where a kick-off is going to land when the fellow who kicks the ball doesnt know himself half the time? I suppose his idea is to have the ball brought back if it doesnt go where its expected to! Say, Brand, remind me to get a Darlington paper tomorrow, will you? There ought to be something about last nights job in it. Ill bet those fresh chumps over at Hillsport are hopping mad today!

Thats a safe bet, laughed Willard. I only hope theyre not mad enough to raise a row about it.

How could they? asked Martin indignantly. Didnt they do the same thing to us last fall? Much good it would do em if they did get sore! I guess faculty would have a pretty good comeback, son! Anyhow, you should worry. You didnt have anything to do with it. Any more than I did, added Martin after a moment.

Willard laughed. It sounds fine the way you say it, Mart, he answered, but I guess faculty would have a lot of trouble getting your point of view. We were right there, old chap, and we even kept watch while the the nefarious deed was perpetrated.

Where do you get that talk? demanded Martin, punctuating the question with three mighty sneezes. Youd better keep away from McNatt, son. Youre catching it! Brand, just so long as my conscience is at rest I care naught for what faculty may say or do. And Ive got what is probably the most restful conscience in captivity!

Well, I guess Hillsports too good a sport to make a howl, replied Willard. Cals clothes are simply covered with paint, Bob says. And he doesnt dare wear them for fear faculty might notice and get a line on what happened. Hes going to smuggle them over to the tailors and have em cleaned.

Well, he would have a hand in it, said Martin complacently. You didnt see me begging to be allowed to desecrate the walls of the dear old town, did you? I knew better. Paint always spatters, especially when you try to put it on bricks. I could have told Cal that, but hes so blamed knowing that he wouldnt have paid any attention to me. Martin sneezed again and shook his head. It was coming over in that old trolley that gave me this cold. I guess I got worse than a spoiled suit out of the adventure. If I dont manage to break this up tonight Ill be out of football for days! I know these colds of mine.

I thought you said it was hay-fever, remarked Willard innocently.

Martin growled. Its more than a month too late for hay-fever, I guess. He seized his handkerchief, opened his mouth and twitched his nose. Nothing happened, however, and he relapsed again, with a dismal shake of his head. Its getting worse all the time, he muttered. Is there a window open anywhere?

No, but Ill open one, answered Willard obligingly.

Dont be a silly ass, requested the other. If you had this grippe you wouldnt be so plaguey comic!

Its growing fast, laughed Willard. An hour ago it was just hay-fever. Then it was a cold. Now its grippe. Better see a doctor, Mart, before pneumonia sets in!

Oh, shut up! What time is it?

Almost time for supper. What shall I bring you? Do you care for milk-toast?

I do not! And Ill look after my own supper. I guess maybe some food will do me good. If it turned out to be influenza Id be all the better for having lots of strength. Its weakened constitutions that cause so many fatalities. A fellow wants power of resistance, I guess.

Well, I dont know about that, but a clean handkerchief wouldnt hurt!

Monday introduced real November weather. The sky was overcast when Willard piled out of bed in the morning, and a cold breeze was blowing from the east. Radiators were sizzling and the bath-robed, gossiping groups were noticeably absent from the corridor when he set forth for the lavatory. Winter was in the air, and the coffee at breakfast never tasted so good.

It was just before ten that Willard received the disturbing message from the school office. Mr. Wharton, the secretary, desired to see him immediately after twelve. Oddly, perhaps, Willard failed to connect the summons with the Hillsport episode for some time. All during his ten oclock recitation he subconsciously tried to think of some neglected study or duty that would account for the secretarys desire for his company, and it wasnt until he had disposed of that explanation by the slow process of elimination that Saturday nights affair obtruded itself.

He didnt allow that to alarm him, though. After all, a mere prank of that sort, common wherever there were boys schools, couldnt be taken very seriously. In any case, he would get off with a reprimand. What bothered him more was the question of how Mr. Wharton had managed to associate him with the affair, and he wondered whether Martin and the others were wanted at the office also. He hoped to run across one or the other of them and compare notes, but luck was against him, and as soon as he was released from classroom at twelve he set forth a trifle uneasily down the corridor to the office.

He had to wait several minutes while the secretary heard and denied a freckle-faced freshmans request for leave of absence over the next Sunday and then he made his identity known and received a distinct shock when Mr. Wharton jerked a thumb over his shoulder and said: Doctor McPherson.

The thumb indicated a closed door across the width of the outer office. Although Willard had never passed through that portal, he knew that it admitted to the Principals sanctum. His confidence waned as he opened the gate in the railing, heard it click behind him and hesitated before the blank portal.

You neednt knock, said the secretary, over his shoulder. The Doctor expects you.

Willard thought the latter sentence sounded horribly grim!

The Principals office, unlike the outer room, was large and spacious, with a flood of pale light entering by three big windows that overlooked the Green. A half-dozen mahogany armchairs stood about the room, a wide bookcase almost filled one wall space and a huge table-desk, remarkably free from books or papers occupied the geometrical center of the soft green rug. At the desk, his back toward the windows, sat Doctor Maitland McPherson, a man of well under fifty years, thin-visaged, clean-shaven, somewhat bald. He laid aside the book he had been reading at Willards entrance, slipping an ivory marker between the pages before he closed it, and nodded pleasantly.

Harmon? he asked.

Yes, sir.

Bring one of those chairs here, please, and be seated.

Willard followed instructions and then looked inquiringly across the few feet of shining mahogany and green blotting pad to the countenance of the Principal. This was his first close view of Doctor McPherson, although he had seen him at least once every day. Usually the length of the assembly hall separated them, and just now Willard wished mightily that it still separated them. Not that the Doctor looked very formidable, for he didnt. He wasnt a large man, and his strength and vigor were evidently that of the mind rather than of the body. His brown eyes, rather golden brown, were soft and kindly, and two deep creases that led from the corners of his short, straight nose to the ends of his rather wide mouth suggested that he preferred smiling to frowning. Even now there was a smile on the Doctors face, although it wasnt a smile that encouraged the caller to emulate it.

I presume, said the Doctor, that you know why I sent for you, Harmon.

No, sir, answered Willard, honestly enough.

Really? The Doctors grizzled brows went up in faint surprise. Leisurely, he swung his chair a little and opened the upper left-hand drawer beside him. Then he laid something midway between him and Willard, something that by its appearance seemed to desecrate the immaculateness of the mahogany on which it rested. It was a crumpled object, white in places, black in other places, smeared and stiffened. In brief, it was a white handkerchief befouled with black paint.

Have you ever seen that before, Harmon? asked the Doctor.

CHAPTER XXI
BOB SAYS SO

Willards heart sank. There was no need to pick the thing up for closer examination. Its crumpled, distasteful folds showed one border missing, and, if evidence had still been lacking, closer inspection would have elicited the fact that, half obliterated by a paint smudge, the word Harmon was plainly printed on a corner. It was the handkerchief that he had given to Bob Newhall Saturday night to wipe his hands on.

Yes, sir, replied Willard.

When and where? asked the Doctor quietly.

Last Saturday night, sir, at Hillsport.

The Doctor picked the object up gingerly and dropped it back in the drawer. Then he closed the drawer slowly and gazed thoughtfully for a short moment at the book he had laid aside.

I have received a very indignant letter from Doctor Handley, at Hillsport School, he said presently. He tells me that some time during Saturday night the wall of his residence was defaced with black paint in um in ill-advised celebration of Altons football victory over Hillsport.

Willard gasped. We I didnt know it was his wall, sir! he exclaimed.

Is that true? You didnt know that Doctor Handleys residence stood at the corner, across from the school entrance?

No, sir, answered the boy earnestly. Id never been there before, sir.

But the others? They must have known.

The others? stammered Willard.

Yes, replied the Doctor gently. You said we a moment ago.

Willard reddened. I I corrected myself, he answered.

Doctor McPherson smiled whimsically and shook his head. I wouldnt call it a correction, Harmon. You see, its extremely unlikely that you would have engaged in such a such an amusement by yourself. Defacing property in that manner is gang work: Ive never known it otherwise.

Willard gulped. Yes, sir. Well, none of us knew that wall was Doctor Doctor

Handleys? asked the Principal helpfully.

Yes, sir. We wouldnt have done it for anything if we had known. We we just wanted to get even with those fellows for what they did to us last year. They painted green signs all around town here, sir, and we thought it was perfectly fair to get back at them. Thats all there was to it.

A very silly proceeding, Harmon. Defacing the property of others is a particularly mean and contemptible form of mischief. And the fact that the Hillsport boys indulged in it was no excuse. Indeed, the appearance of your own town should have shown you how atrocious such vandalism is. I sympathize with the resentment that was felt here last fall when it was found that Hillsport had scrawled the score on our fences and walls, but I do not sympathize in the least with the motive that led you and your companions to commit the same indecency, Harmon. Another thing is that Hillsport was careful not to deface school property. Indeed, as I recall, she displayed some care in the selection of old fences and such places for her um decorations. In your case you seem to have tried to do as much damage as possible.

But we didnt know, sir! protested Willard again.

And that I find hard to believe, replied the Doctor, shaking his head. How many times did you paint the score up?

Only twice. The first time on a stable or something. We looked for fences and things like that, but there werent any, sir. And we wanted to put it where the Hillsport fellows would be sure to see it, and finally we found that wall! It was outside the school grounds and we didnt any of us know it was the Principals house. We wouldnt have thought of doing it there if wed known. It was just just a joke, sir!

A frightfully poor one, Harmon! Who were the others with you?

Willard dropped his gaze and a moment of silence passed. When he raised his eyes again it was to look rather miserably at the Doctor and shake his head. I guess I oughtnt to say, sir, he answered in low tones.

I shant insist, said the Doctor gently. I know how you fellows look at such things. I cant help reflecting, however, Harmon, that your code of honor as regards matters amongst yourselves is somewhat finer than you display in other matters. You dont hesitate, it appears, to daub black paint over a mans brick wall, although that man has never offended you in the least, but youre outraged at the mere thought of giving information against companions who have aided you in your offenses. Well, you shall suit yourself. I think it my duty, though, to point out to you that, in deciding on the proper punishment in your case, the question of whether you knew or did not know that you were defacing property belonging to the school and occupied by the school Principal is important. You tell me that you did now know and that the others did not know. If, as you say, you had not been in Hillsport before, I am inclined to believe what you tell me of yourself, but I cannot take your word for the others, Harmon. It seems to me extremely unlikely that one or more of them did not know whose property it was. If I knew their names I could question them and find out. As I dont know their names I am forced to give more credence to the probabilities than to your testimony. You see, Harmon, the affair looks very much like a deliberate insult to Doctor Handley, and it certainly calls for an apology. In apologizing Id like greatly to be able to assure him that the affair was merely a schoolboy prank and that the depredators were not aware that it was his property they were defiling. But I cant tell him that without more evidence than your unsupported testimony affords me. Is that clear to you?

Yes, sir, answered Willard unhappily.

And you still prefer not to give me the names of the others? Remember that I shall make every effort to find out and shall doubtless succeed.

I Id rather not, sir, answered Willard steadily.

In that case there is no more to be said. Pending a decision as to what disciplinary measures shall be taken, Harmon, you will observe hall restrictions. I am very sorry this has happened, my boy, and I hope it will lead you to a um greater respect for the rights and property of others. Good morning, Harmon.

Willard stood up, rather pale but very straight. Im sorry I cant tell you about the others, sir, he said earnestly, but but I dont believe youd act any different yourself if you were in my place. And Ill take the punishment without kicking, Doctor McPherson. But, just the same, it doesnt seem fair to me that those fellows should get away with what they did and we I should get punished for doing no more. We didnt know we were painting up Doctor Handleys wall. You neednt believe me unless you want to, but its so! What whats he want to live outside the school for, anyway? Willard ended in an indignant wail and the Doctors mouth trembled in a smile.

If your idea is to shift the blame to Doctor Handley, answered the Principal dryly, Im afraid it wont work! Youll hear from me later, Harmon. Good morning.

Good morning, sir, murmured Willard.

He found Martin hidden behind a newspaper when he got back to the room, and so absorbed was the reader that not until the door had slammed shut did he know of Willards entry. Then he showed perturbed countenance above the Darlington Daily Messenger. Seen this, Brand? he asked ominously. Willard shook his head and took the proffered paper. The Hillsport correspondent had made quite a story of it.





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