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ďWait a sec!Ē said Bob. ďWeíve got some ginger-ale. Iíll fetch it. Keep íem off the cake till I get back, Mart!Ē
ďIíll do my best,Ē Martin assured him, ďbut youíd better hurry. I know that gleam in Joeís eye of old!Ē
Bob made what was probably a record trip to Lykes Hall and return, arriving anxious and breathless and laden with four bottles of ginger-ale. Then Martin cut the cake in four equal wedges, doled out the doughnuts and bade them ďGo to it!Ē For a minute or two conversation was taboo, and then Bob held his bottle aloft and, speaking somewhat thickly, offered a toast.
ďGentlemen, I give you Mr. Willard Harmon, the brand plucked from the burning, the lamb saved from the slaughter, the Ė the Ė Ē
ďThe innocent victim of a deep-dyed plot!Ē supplied Martin.
ďThe full-back who was only a half!Ē cried Joe.
ďThe gold brick!Ē laughed Willard.
ďCharge your glasses, gentlemen! To the Ė the Brand!Ē And Bob drank deeply, with mellow gurgles.
ďThe Brand!Ē chanted Joe and Martin, and followed the example.
Afterwards they reviewed the afternoonís events in the utmost good humor and with frequent laughter. Martinís account of sitting on the step outside the door and reading choice bits of the school catalogue to the prisoner was especially amusing, and Willard revived the laughter when he supplemented gravely: ďIt was that bit about the open plumbing in the gymnasium that decided me! I couldnít resist that!Ē
When, finally, Bob and Joe had taken themselves off and the roommates were preparing for bed, Martin said: ďLook here, what about your trunk?Ē
Willard shook his head ruefully. ďItís at Lakeville by now, I suppose, and Iím likely to run short of shirts before I get it. Iíve got only one in my bag.Ē
ďYou can wear mine, I guess,Ē answered Martin. ďBetter telephone to the station the first thing in the morning and get the agent to have them send it back.Ē
ďMaybe the quickest way would be to go over and get it myself,Ē suggested the other.
ďNo you donít! You stay right here! We went to too much trouble to get you to let you go over there and forget to come back!Ē
ďNo fear,Ē laughed Willard. ďIíve paid my money here and Iíll have to stick now! Honest, Proctor, is Alton a better school than Kenly?Ē
Martin paused in the act of disrobing and looked gravely judicial. ďWell, we like to say it is,Ē he answered cautiously.
ďIs it bigger?Ē
ďNot much. They usually have a few less students.Ē
ďBut the faculty here is better?Ē
ďHm: well, I wouldnít go so far as to claim that. Maybe it used to be, but Kenly enlarged hers a couple of years ago.Ē
ďI see. How about athletics: football and baseball and so on? Do we usually beat Kenly?Ē
ďOh, I reckon itís about a stand-off. One year we win at football and she wins at baseball. Or we win at both and she gets the track championship and the hockey series. Call it fifty-fifty.Ē
ďWell, then, what about the Ė the buildings and location and all that?Ē
ďNo comparison as to location.Ē
ďOh, Altonís got the best of it there, eh?Ē
ďAlton?Ē said Martin contemptuously.
ďI should say not! Why, this place is stuck right down in the village, you might say. Kenlyís got about thirty acres of land on the side of a hill: trees and brooks and fields Ė why, say, sheís got four gridirons and four diamonds and a quarter-mile running track and a regular flock of tennis courts!Ē
ďSounds good,Ē commented Willard. ďWhat about the buildings over there?Ē
ďTheyíre all right, too. Guess theyíre as good as ours, anyway. There are more of them. Sheís got a corking gymnasium. It would make two of ours!Ē
Willard sighed discouragedly. ďBut you fellows kept telling me how much better Alton was than Kenly!Ē
Martin grinned slowly. ďSure! Why not? Thatís patriotism. Every fellowís got to think his school better than the other school!Ē
ďOh! Then Alton isnít really any better than Kenly?Ē
ďOf course it is!Ē
ďIn what way?Ē urged Willard hopefully.
ďWell,Ē began the other reflectively, holding his pajama jacket together with one hand and rubbing a touseled head with the other. ďWell Ė Ē
ďBetter class of fellows?Ē suggested Willard.
ďN-no, theyíre about the same. Some pretty decent chaps go to Kenly. It isnít that. It Ė it Ė well, Altonís just better, if you see what I mean!Ē
ďIím afraid I donít,Ē laughed Willard.
Martin grinned. ďYou will when youíve been here awhile,Ē he said encouragingly. ďThe switch is at the left of the door when youíre ready.Ē
ďAll right. I say, though, Iíve changed my mind about the beds. Iíd rather have the other.Ē
ďHonest? Well Ė Ē Martin hesitated. ďYouíd better stick to the one you picked out, old man. That oneís got curvature of the spine. The spring lets you down in the middle.Ē
ďI donít mind,Ē laughed Willard. ďI only chose the other because I saw it was yours.Ē
ďOh, that was it! Well, say, if you make a kick at the Office theyíll put a new spring on for you. Logan was always threatening to do it, but he never did. He was in here with me last year.Ē
Willard turned the switch and felt his way to the bed. ďI donít call this very bad,Ē he declared when he had experimented. ďAnyway, it wonít keep me awake tonight!Ē
ďThatís good. I hope it wonít. Good night Ė Brand!Ē
ďGood night, Mart!Ē
FIRST DAYS AT ALTON
Willardís trunk arrived two days later, as though, by its delay, protesting against the change of plan, and by that time its owner was going about in one of Martinís shirts. Those two days witnessed the shaking down of Willard into the manners and customs of Alton Academy. It wasnít hard, for Martin was there to serve as a very willing counselor and guide. Willard became a member of the Junior Class on the strength of his high school certificate, and, since that was also Martinís class, the latter was able to render assistance during the first difficult days. Fortunately the two boys took to each other at once and life in Number 16 Haylow promised to move pleasantly.
The term began on Thursday, and on Friday the football candidates gathered for the first practice. Alton Academyís registration was well over four hundred, as the catalogue later announced, and of that number nearly one-fourth reported on the gridiron as candidates for the school team. Willard, viewing the throng, thought little of his chances of securing a place.
Coach Cade made much the same sort of a speech as coaches generally make on such occasions, and promised a successful season in return for cheerful obedience and hard work; and looked unutterably relieved when the more or less attentive audience dispersed. Mr. Cade was a short, thick-set man of twenty-seven or twenty-eight years, with black hair that stood up on his head much like the bristles of a blacking brush, a square face that looked at least one size too large for the rest of him, small features which included two very piercing dark eyes, a button nose and a broad mouth and, to cap the climax, a very gentle voice. Not a handsome chap, Willard thought, but certainly a very capable looking one. Later, he learned from Martin that John Cade had played with Alton Academy for three years and then for as many more on the Lafayette teams, making a remarkable reputation, first as a school quarter-back and then as a college guard. Willard found it difficult to imagine Coach Cade as a quarter. Probably, he concluded, in those days the coach lacked the breadth and heaviness he showed now, a conclusion proved to be correct when Willard came across an old photograph of an Alton eleven in the gymnasium some weeks later. In the picture John Cade was a short, not over-heavy and very alert boy of seventeen, his dark eyes darting defiance and his black hair bristling a challenge. He was familiarly known among the fellows of present-day Alton as Johnny, but none had ever been heard to address him so!
Practice this first afternoon wasnít a serious ordeal, for much time was given to verbal instruction, and at half-past four the squads were dismissed. Willard, walking back to the gymnasium with Martin and Bob, said that it ought to be easy to get a good team with such a raft of candidates to choose from, and Bob snorted derisively.
ďYouíre wrong, Brand,Ē he said. ďIf we had half as many weíd get on better. It takes three weeks, nearly, to find out whoís good and to weed out the others, and thatís just so much time lost. Johnnyís dippy on the subject of having every fellow who ever heard of football come out, and itís a sad mess for the first fortnight. Of course it sometimes happens that he finds a player that way who mightnít show up if he wasnít urged to, but, gee, I think itís piffle! Give me last yearís first and second teams, or whatís left of íem, and a dozen chaps who have made names where they come from and Iíll turn out as good a team as any. Must have been a hundred fellows out there this afternoon, and Iíll bet you fifty of them never played a game of football in their lives!Ē
ďSure,Ē agreed Martin, ďbut some of them are capable of playing, you poor fish, and itís just those that Johnny wants to find. If they donít make good this year, heís got them started for next. Your plan might work all right this year, Bob, but youíd run short of material next year. Youíve got to plan ahead, old son, and thatís what Johnny does.Ē
ďAre there many of last seasonís fellows left?Ē asked Willard.
ďSix first-string chaps,Ē answered Bob. ďJoe, Stacey Ross, Jack Macon, Gil Tarver, Arn Lake and myself. There is quite a bunch of good last year subs and second team fellows, though. And then thereís Mart!Ē
ďYes, and Martís going to try for something besides guard position this year,Ē remarked that youth. ďWith you and Joe holding down each side of center thereís no hope for me. Last season I lived in hope that Joe would get killed or that youíd be fired, but nothing happened. This thing of waiting around for dead menís shoes is dull work!Ē
ďWhat are you going after?Ē laughed Bob.
ďI donít know,Ē replied Martin discouragedly. ďHowíd I do as a full-back?Ē
ďGreat! Say, Mart, do something for me, will you? Go and tell Johnny to let you play full-back!Ē
ďOh, dry up, you big ape! I could play full-back as well as Steve Browne can.Ē
ďSteve hasnít a chance!Ē
ďSearch me! Weíve got to find someone. Steveís a good chap, but he hasnít the weight, speed, or fight for full-back. If we could buy Brandís brother out of the Navy, now Ė Ē
ďWell, you did your best,Ē laughed Martin. ďYou got the right bag, but the wrong boy! Look here, Brand Ė Ē
ďI refuse to answer to that name,Ē said Willard haughtily.
ďWhatís the matter with it? Itís a perfectly good name. What I was about to say when so rudely interrupted Ė Ē
ďWhat I was about to say,Ē interjected Bob, ďis that it would be a good plan to hurry up a bit and get ahead of some of this mob. If we donít weíll be waiting around until supper time for a shower!Ē
ďCome on, then: stir your stumps, slow poke! I was going to say, Brand, that itís your duty to either fill the full-back position yourself or find someone to fill it. You were Ė admitted to Alton on your representation that you were a full-back Ė Ē
ďĎAdmittedí is good!Ē jeered Willard.
ďAnd you arenít,Ē Martin proceeded, unheeding the interruption. ďFellows are asking Joe where Gordon Harmon is and Joeís having an awful time explaining how the deal fell through. Heís told four quite different stories so far and is working on a fifth! You could save Joe a lot of mental worry, Brand, if you turned yourself into a star full-back.Ē
ďIím afraid Iím a bit light,Ē laughed Willard. ďMaybe I could find a full-back for you, though, if the reward was big enough.Ē
ďYouíll receive the undying gratitude of Joe and the key of the city.Ē
ďHuh, Iíve seen the city!Ē said Willard.
The ďcity,Ē though, in spite of Willardís sarcasm, was really a very nice one. Not, of course, that it was more than a town, and a small one at that, but it was clean and well laid out, with plenty of trees, lots of modestly attractive residences and a sufficiency of wide-awake stores. When Willard said he had seen it he was enlarging on the truth, for it was not until the day succeeding the remark that he really had a thorough look at it. Then Martin took him in tow and, since there were few recitations on Saturdays, they spent an hour or more roaming about it. There were two distinct shopping centers in Alton. One lay along Main Street a good half-mile from the Academy, and on the side streets adjacent, and one occupied two blocks on West Street, scarcely more than a long stone-throw from the school. The latter catered almost exclusively to the students, and the latter found few excuses for going further afield to make their purchases. Martin told Willard which of the nearby ice cream parlors had the best soda fountain, showed him which of the stationery stores was most popular, where he could buy haberdashery at fair prices, where to get his shoes shined if such an extravagant proceeding appealed to him, where the best barber shop was Ė even cautioning him against ďthe wop at the third chair who would shave your neck if you didnít watch himĒ Ė and, in short, thoroughly initiated him into the mysteries of West Street buying. In school parlance, the locality was ďBagdad,Ē although the shops were never referred to as ďbazaars.Ē
ďYou can get tick at any of them,Ē Martin explained, ďbut theyíll make it mighty uncomfortable for you if you donít pay up every half-year, and faculty sort of frowns on running up bills. Itís better to pay cash if you can, Brand. Besides, you can usually jew íem down if you have the money in your hand. Last spring Stacey Ross bought a suit over there at Girtleís and they charged it to him at sixty dollars, and a fellow called ĎPokeí Little went and paid cash for one just like it and got off for forty-seven-fifty. Stacey had a fit and went back and read the riot act. But the old geezer told him that Ďtime was moneyí!Ē Martin chuckled. ďIn his case two monthsí time was twelve dollars and a half! Stacey got even, though.Ē
ďHow?Ē asked Willard.
ďGot a thin fellow named Patterson, a sophomore, to put the suit on and walk up and down the block for an hour one Saturday afternoon. The clothes hung all over Patterson and he looked like a scarecrow, and he carried a placard around his neck that said: ĎThis suit was bought at Girtleís.í Old Girtle was furious and tried to get Patterson to go away. Offered him ten dollars, Patterson said, but it didnít sound like Girtle! Anyhow, Patterson kept on walking up and down and about two dozen kids went with him and a lot of the fellows stood around and cheered and we had quite a fine moment! ĎMací had Stacey on the carpet about it, but when Stacey explained Mac only smiled and let him go.Ē
ďIs ĎMací what you call the Principal?Ē asked Willard.
ďYes, itís short for ĎDoctor Maitland McPherson.í Have you met him yet? Heís a good sort, Mac is. Thereís a story that some years back there was a wild westerner here from Wyoming or Arkansas or some of those places and he was talking one day in the corridor in Academy and Mac was in one of the classrooms right near, and this fellow Ė I forget his name; Smith, maybe Ė called him Ďthe old Prince,í and Mac overheard him and came out. ĎWere you referring to me, Smith?í he asked. ĎYes, sir.í ĎAnd what was the name you gave me?í ĎPrince, sir; thatís short for Principal.í ĎAh,í said Mac. ĎMost ingenious! You may go on Hall Restriction one week for ďint.Ēí ĎIntí is short for interest.Ē
Football affairs got straightened out that afternoon and Willard found himself in C Squad with some twenty or so other candidates whose knowledge of football ranged from fair to middling. Only the simpler exercises were indulged in and the hour-and-a-half period stretched out interminably. The day was unseasonably warm and the bored youth who had C Squad in charge was unable to work up much enthusiasm. Willard was heartily glad when the session was over. He presumed that a certain amount of catching and passing was beneficial to him, but he mildly resented spending an hour and a half at it. Joe Myers showed every indication of acceding to Willardís request that he be allowed to stand on his own feet, for so far Joe had paid no attention to the newcomer during practice. There were times this afternoon when Willard rather wished that he hadnít been so independent. He would not have resented it a bit had Joe yanked him out of that beginnerís squad and put him where he could have worked with something besides his hands! By five oíclock, when the end came, Willard was sick of the sight and the feel of a football!
That evening, however, when he accompanied Joe and Martin and Bob to the Broadway Theater, the moving picture house patronized by the school, Joe inquired most solicitously about Willardís progress in practice. He did not, though, seem much concerned when Willard hinted that he was wasting his time learning how to pass a football. ďIt is dreary work, isnít it?Ē said Joe cheerfully. ďWell, there wonít be much more of it, Brand. Youíll get into formations next week. By the way, you want to try for half-back, donít you? Hm. Thatís so. Hm. Too bad youíre so light. Ever try playing end?Ē
Willard answered that he never had, whereupon Joe remarked: ďíS íat so?Ē in an absent way and said he hoped thereíd be a good comedy at the theater!
IN THE COACHíS ROOM
Whether the comedy was good or not, it at least evoked much laughter, and was followed by a thrilling ďbig pictureĒ that worked Willard to a pitch of excitement that lasted until he was out on State Street again. They ran into Mr. Cade in front of the theater and he fell into step with them as they walked back toward the Green. He and Joe and Bob talked about the show, while Martin and Willard followed behind and listened. At West Street Bob proposed drinks, and they crossed to The Mirror and sat about a tiny table and drank colorful concoctions through paper straws. The coach rather surprised Willard by displaying positive enthusiasm for his tipple, which, as near as Willard could determine, contained a little of everything that could come out of the glistening taps! Willard was a little bit too much in awe of the coach to feel quite at ease, and his contributions to the conversation were few and brief. Not that the talk was very erudite, however, for Bob talked a good deal of nonsense and Mr. Cade certainly didnít oppress them with a flow of wisdom. On the contrary, he laughed at Bob a good deal and said one or two funny things himself, things at which Willard laughed a bit constrainedly, not being certain that it was right to greet anything a head football coach said with levity. At Schuyler High School the coach had been a most dignified and unapproachable martinet of whom everyone stood in admiring awe!
When they went out Bob leaned carelessly across the counter and instructed the young lady with the enormous puffs over her ears to ďput that down to me, please.Ē Willard, following the others out, reflected that, while trading on a cash basis might be wiser, one missed many fine moments by not having a charge account! (This, perhaps, is a good place to explain that the expression ďfine momentsĒ was widely current at Alton that term. Like many other expressions, its origin was a mystery, and, like them, its vogue grew by leaps and bounds until even the freshmen were having their ďfine momentsĒ and Mr. Fowler, in English 7, prohibited its use in themes.)
Near the end of State Street, with the lights on the Green gleaming through the trees ahead, Mr. Cade proposed that the boys pay him a visit, and Willard found himself turning in at a little white gate. The old green-shuttered Colonial mansion on the corner was one of several houses standing across from the Green that had at one time or another, sometimes as a gift, sometimes by purchase, become Academy property. This particular mansion was occupied by three of the married faculty members and, in turn, by the football and baseball coaches. Mr. Cadeís apartment was on the lower floor, at the right, two huge, high-ceilinged rooms separated by what had once been a pantry but was now a dressing and bathroom. The furnishings were comfortable but plain, and in the front room a generous grate eked out the efforts of a discouraged furnace. Tonight, however, the sight of the fireplace brought no pleasurable thrill. Instead, it was the four big, wide-open windows that attracted the visitors. Those in front opened on a narrow veranda set with tall white pillars, those on the side shed the light of the room onto a maze of shrubbery and trees beyond which the illumined windows of the dormitories twinkled. There was a big table in the center of the living-room littered with books and writing materials, smoking paraphernalia, gloves, a riding crop, a camera, a blue sweater and many other things, a fine and interesting hodgepodge that Willard, pausing beside it, viewed curiously. The object that engaged his closest attention, though, was a board about thirty inches square. It was covered with green felt on which at intervals of an inch white lines crossed. On the margins were figures: ď5,Ē ď10,Ē ď15,Ē and so on up to ď50.Ē Stuck at random into the board were queer little colored thumb-tacks, twenty-two in all. Half of them were gray and half of them were red, and each held letters: ďL. H.,Ē ďR. G.,Ē ďL. E.,Ē and so on. Willard was still studying the board, its purpose slowly dawning on him, when Mr. Cade spoke.ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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