Left Half Harmonñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Wait a sec!” said Bob. “We’ve got some ginger-ale. I’ll fetch it. Keep ’em off the cake till I get back, Mart!”
“I’ll do my best,” Martin assured him, “but you’d better hurry. I know that gleam in Joe’s eye of old!”
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 “Go to it!” For a minute or two conversation was taboo, and then Bob held his bottle aloft and, speaking somewhat thickly, offered a toast.
“Gentlemen, I give you Mr. Willard Harmon, the brand plucked from the burning, the lamb saved from the slaughter, the – the – ”
“The innocent victim of a deep-dyed plot!” supplied Martin.
“The full-back who was only a half!” cried Joe.
“The gold brick!” laughed Willard.
“Charge your glasses, gentlemen! To the – the Brand!” And Bob drank deeply, with mellow gurgles.
“The Brand!” chanted Joe and Martin, and followed the example.
Afterwards they reviewed the afternoon’s events in the utmost good humor and with frequent laughter. Martin’s 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: “It was that bit about the open plumbing in the gymnasium that decided me! I couldn’t resist that!”
When, finally, Bob and Joe had taken themselves off and the roommates were preparing for bed, Martin said: “Look here, what about your trunk?”
Willard shook his head ruefully. “It’s at Lakeville by now, I suppose, and I’m likely to run short of shirts before I get it. I’ve got only one in my bag.”
“You can wear mine, I guess,” answered Martin. “Better telephone to the station the first thing in the morning and get the agent to have them send it back.”
“Maybe the quickest way would be to go over and get it myself,” suggested the other.
“No you don’t! You stay right here! We went to too much trouble to get you to let you go over there and forget to come back!”
“No fear,” laughed Willard. “I’ve paid my money here and I’ll have to stick now! Honest, Proctor, is Alton a better school than Kenly?”
Martin paused in the act of disrobing and looked gravely judicial. “Well, we like to say it is,” he answered cautiously.
“Is it bigger?”
“Not much. They usually have a few less students.”
“But the faculty here is better?”
“Hm: well, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that. Maybe it used to be, but Kenly enlarged hers a couple of years ago.”
“I see. How about athletics: football and baseball and so on? Do we usually beat Kenly?”
“Oh, I reckon it’s 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.”
“Well, then, what about the – the buildings and location and all that?”
“No comparison as to location.”
“Oh, Alton’s got the best of it there, eh?”
“Alton?” said Martin contemptuously.
“I should say not! Why, this place is stuck right down in the village, you might say. Kenly’s got about thirty acres of land on the side of a hill: trees and brooks and fields – why, say, she’s got four gridirons and four diamonds and a quarter-mile running track and a regular flock of tennis courts!”
“Sounds good,” commented Willard. “What about the buildings over there?”
“They’re all right, too. Guess they’re as good as ours, anyway. There are more of them. She’s got a corking gymnasium. It would make two of ours!”
Willard sighed discouragedly. “But you fellows kept telling me how much better Alton was than Kenly!”
Martin grinned slowly. “Sure! Why not? That’s patriotism. Every fellow’s got to think his school better than the other school!”
“Oh! Then Alton isn’t really any better than Kenly?”
“Of course it is!”
“In what way?” urged Willard hopefully.
“Well,” began the other reflectively, holding his pajama jacket together with one hand and rubbing a touseled head with the other. “Well – ”
“Better class of fellows?” suggested Willard.
“N-no, they’re about the same. Some pretty decent chaps go to Kenly. It isn’t that. It – it – well, Alton’s just better, if you see what I mean!”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” laughed Willard.
Martin grinned. “You will when you’ve been here awhile,” he said encouragingly. “The switch is at the left of the door when you’re ready.”
“All right. I say, though, I’ve changed my mind about the beds. I’d rather have the other.”
“Honest? Well – ” Martin hesitated. “You’d better stick to the one you picked out, old man. That one’s got curvature of the spine. The spring lets you down in the middle.”
“I don’t mind,” laughed Willard. “I only chose the other because I saw it was yours.”
“Oh, that was it! Well, say, if you make a kick at the Office they’ll 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.”
Willard turned the switch and felt his way to the bed. “I don’t call this very bad,” he declared when he had experimented. “Anyway, it won’t keep me awake tonight!”
“That’s good. I hope it won’t. Good night – Brand!”
“Good night, Mart!”
FIRST DAYS AT ALTON
Willard’s 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 Martin’s shirts. Those two days witnessed the shaking down of Willard into the manners and customs of Alton Academy. It wasn’t 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 Martin’s 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 Academy’s 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 wasn’t 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.
“You’re wrong, Brand,” he said. “If we had half as many we’d get on better. It takes three weeks, nearly, to find out who’s good and to weed out the others, and that’s just so much time lost. Johnny’s dippy on the subject of having every fellow who ever heard of football come out, and it’s a sad mess for the first fortnight. Of course it sometimes happens that he finds a player that way who mightn’t show up if he wasn’t urged to, but, gee, I think it’s piffle! Give me last year’s first and second teams, or what’s left of ’em, and a dozen chaps who have made names where they come from and I’ll turn out as good a team as any. Must have been a hundred fellows out there this afternoon, and I’ll bet you fifty of them never played a game of football in their lives!”
“Sure,” agreed Martin, “but some of them are capable of playing, you poor fish, and it’s just those that Johnny wants to find. If they don’t make good this year, he’s got them started for next. Your plan might work all right this year, Bob, but you’d run short of material next year. You’ve got to plan ahead, old son, and that’s what Johnny does.”
“Are there many of last season’s fellows left?” asked Willard.
“Six first-string chaps,” answered Bob. “Joe, 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 there’s Mart!”
“Yes, and Mart’s going to try for something besides guard position this year,” remarked that youth. “With you and Joe holding down each side of center there’s no hope for me. Last season I lived in hope that Joe would get killed or that you’d be fired, but nothing happened. This thing of waiting around for dead men’s shoes is dull work!”
“What are you going after?” laughed Bob.
“I don’t know,” replied Martin discouragedly. “How’d I do as a full-back?”
“Great! Say, Mart, do something for me, will you? Go and tell Johnny to let you play full-back!”
“Oh, dry up, you big ape! I could play full-back as well as Steve Browne can.”
“Steve hasn’t a chance!”
“Search me! We’ve got to find someone. Steve’s a good chap, but he hasn’t the weight, speed, or fight for full-back. If we could buy Brand’s brother out of the Navy, now – ”
“Well, you did your best,” laughed Martin. “You got the right bag, but the wrong boy! Look here, Brand – ”
“I refuse to answer to that name,” said Willard haughtily.
“What’s the matter with it? It’s a perfectly good name. What I was about to say when so rudely interrupted – ”
“What I was about to say,” interjected Bob, “is that it would be a good plan to hurry up a bit and get ahead of some of this mob. If we don’t we’ll be waiting around until supper time for a shower!”
“Come on, then: stir your stumps, slow poke! I was going to say, Brand, that it’s your duty to either fill the full-back position yourself or find someone to fill it. You were – admitted to Alton on your representation that you were a full-back – ”
“‘Admitted’ is good!” jeered Willard.
“And you aren’t,” Martin proceeded, unheeding the interruption. “Fellows are asking Joe where Gordon Harmon is and Joe’s having an awful time explaining how the deal fell through. He’s 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.”
“I’m afraid I’m a bit light,” laughed Willard. “Maybe I could find a full-back for you, though, if the reward was big enough.”
“You’ll receive the undying gratitude of Joe and the key of the city.”
“Huh, I’ve seen the city!” said Willard.
The “city,” though, in spite of Willard’s 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 – even cautioning him against “the wop at the third chair who would shave your neck if you didn’t watch him” – and, in short, thoroughly initiated him into the mysteries of West Street buying. In school parlance, the locality was “Bagdad,” although the shops were never referred to as “bazaars.”
“You can get tick at any of them,” Martin explained, “but they’ll make it mighty uncomfortable for you if you don’t pay up every half-year, and faculty sort of frowns on running up bills. It’s better to pay cash if you can, Brand. Besides, you can usually jew ’em down if you have the money in your hand. Last spring Stacey Ross bought a suit over there at Girtle’s and they charged it to him at sixty dollars, and a fellow called ‘Poke’ 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 ‘time was money’!” Martin chuckled. “In his case two months’ time was twelve dollars and a half! Stacey got even, though.”
“How?” asked Willard.
“Got 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: ‘This suit was bought at Girtle’s.’ Old Girtle was furious and tried to get Patterson to go away. Offered him ten dollars, Patterson said, but it didn’t 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! ‘Mac’ had Stacey on the carpet about it, but when Stacey explained Mac only smiled and let him go.”
“Is ‘Mac’ what you call the Principal?” asked Willard.
“Yes, it’s short for ‘Doctor Maitland McPherson.’ Have you met him yet? He’s a good sort, Mac is. There’s 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 – I forget his name; Smith, maybe – called him ‘the old Prince,’ and Mac overheard him and came out. ‘Were you referring to me, Smith?’ he asked. ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘And what was the name you gave me?’ ‘Prince, sir; that’s short for Principal.’ ‘Ah,’ said Mac. ‘Most ingenious! You may go on Hall Restriction one week for “int.”’ ‘Int’ is short for interest.”
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 Willard’s 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 hadn’t been so independent. He would not have resented it a bit had Joe yanked him out of that beginner’s squad and put him where he could have worked with something besides his hands! By five o’clock, 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 Willard’s 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. “It is dreary work, isn’t it?” said Joe cheerfully. “Well, there won’t be much more of it, Brand. You’ll get into formations next week. By the way, you want to try for half-back, don’t you? Hm. That’s so. Hm. Too bad you’re so light. Ever try playing end?”
Willard answered that he never had, whereupon Joe remarked: “’S ’at so?” in an absent way and said he hoped there’d be a good comedy at the theater!
IN THE COACH’S ROOM
Whether the comedy was good or not, it at least evoked much laughter, and was followed by a thrilling “big picture” 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 didn’t 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 “put that down to me, please.” 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 “fine moments” 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 “fine moments” 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. Cade’s 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: “5,” “10,” “15,” and so on up to “50.” 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: “L. H.,” “R. G.,” “L. E.,” and so on. Willard was still studying the board, its purpose slowly dawning on him, when Mr. Cade spoke.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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