Left Half Harmon
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“Moraine,” supplied Bob.
“Yes, moraine. He dug a place big enough for a cellar, I heard, but he never found anything but rocks. He’s a wonder, is Felix McNatt!”
“Is his name really Felix?” asked Martin.
“Sure! And he’s got a middle name that’s worse, only I’ve forgotten it.”
“Felix Adelbert,” said Don: “Felix Adelbert McNutt – I mean McNatt!”
“McNutt’s better,” laughed Bob. “It suits him perfectly. Remember the time – last spring, wasn’t it? – when he was raising toads and one of them got into bed with the chap who rooms with him – ”
“Rooms with the toad?” asked Martin incredulously.
“No, with McNutt, you jay! What’s his name, Joe?”
“McNutt’s?” asked Joe, with a wink at Martin.
“Oh, you make me tired! Fuller, that’s the chap! Fuller crawled into bed one night and found a toad there ahead of him and told the hall master the next day. He said he didn’t mind having toads hopping around the room, but that having to share his bed with them was almost too much. And faculty agreed with him and McNutt had to get rid of his toads.”
“What the dickens did he want with the things, anyway?” asked Don in disgust. “I wouldn’t touch one for anything!”
“Oh, toads are all right,” answered Joe. “Quite harmless and friendly. McNutt was raising them, it seemed. He’d read somewhere that an able-bodied toad would eat seven million, three hundred and eighty thousand, nine hundred and thirty-three bugs a year. I’m not absolutely certain of the exact number, but it was something like that. Anyway, McNutt figured that if he could raise a few hundred toads he could sell them to farmers and get rich. He said he was trying to develop an improved strain of toads that would be particularly – er – insectivorous: I believe that’s the word.”
“In justice to the gentleman,” said Bob, “it should be stated that it was the – the scientific interest of the thing rather than the pecuniary reward that attracted him. Science is McNutt’s long suit!”
“I think Fuller, or whatever his name is, was most unreasonable,” laughed Don. “Why, the world might be rid of insects by this time if he hadn’t been so cranky! Do toads eat mosquitoes, Joe?”
“I guess so. I know they eat flies, anyway. I saw one do it once. He stopped about a yard away and the fly didn’t even know he was about. Then —zip– out went Mr. Toad’s tongue, like you uncoiled the mainspring of a watch, and the fly was gone!”
“Flew away, probably,” suggested Martin.
“He did not, son! He was in Mr. Toad’s tummy.”
“You say the toad was a yard distant from the fly when the – when the shot was fired?” asked Don.
“Well, maybe a couple of feet,” Joe compromised. “It was a long way.”
“Take off another eighteen inches,” begged Bob earnestly. “I want to believe you, Joseph but two feet – ” He shook his head sadly.
“Go to the dickens! It was two feet if it was an inch. Anyone will tell you that a toad’s tongue is remarkably long.”
“Nobody has to tell me, after that yarn,” replied Bob gravely.“All I’m wondering now is where the toad keeps his tongue when he’s not using it!”
“I told you he coils it up,” laughed Joe, “like a watch spring.”
“It’s a mighty good thing toads can’t talk,” observed Willard. “With a tongue like that, they’d never stop! McNatt asked me to come and see him. He said he had a fine collection of minerals in his room.”
“Minerals? Boy, he’s got enough rocks there to build a house! And bird nests and butterflies and beetles and – and things in jars that make you shudder to look at ’em!” Joe shuddered merely at the memory. “He’s always trying to hatch out moths and things in cigar boxes. Once he had some silk-worms, I remember. Mr. Screven got him to bring them to class one day. Funny things, they were. They didn’t live very long, because McNutt couldn’t get the right sort of leaves for them to eat. They should have had mulberry leaves, I think, and he thought some other sort ought to do just as well, and the worms got mad and went on a hunger strike! Fuller told me once that the room is so full of rubbish that he can’t turn around. Said he was forever finding a family of white mice or striped lizards tucked away in one of his bureau drawers and that he always had to look before he sat down for fear of sitting on something he shouldn’t!”
When the laughter had subsided Willard told of McNatt’s theory regarding scientific football. He found that, as he told it, it didn’t sound as plausible as it had when McNatt explained it, but it certainly aroused amusement. Joe drew a picture of Gil Tarver pulling out a memorandum book and looking up the right play. “Because, you see, not even Gil could ever remember two hundred – was it two hundred, Brand? – three hundred plays. Probably they’d make a rule that a quarter-back must find his plays unassisted and must not consume more than three minutes looking them up! Gil would have a pocket built on his jacket to keep the book in, I suppose.”
“Gosh, suppose it dropped out!” exclaimed Don. “Would he be allowed time-out to look for it?”
“Probably a center would be picked for his light-finger ability,” suggested Bob. “It would be part of his stunt to reach through or around the opposing center and steal the quarter-back’s memorandum book, thus placing the enemy hors de combat!”
“Come on, Brand,” begged Martin. “This is getting wild.”
“Did McNatt ever play football?” asked Don.
“I think so,” Joe answered. “Yes, I know he did. He was out for the team the first year I was here. You remember him, Bob?”
Bob shook his head. “No, but I’ve heard that he did play.”
“Yes, and I think he played the year before that. Something happened to him, though, my freshman year. I guess he had an accident or got sick. I know he wasn’t around long. Seems to me he was trying for half-back. He’s not a bad old scout, Felix Adelbert. Only trouble is, I guess, his brains are sort of scrambled.”
“Addled, maybe,” suggested Martin. “Addle-bert McNutt. Come on, Brand, I’m getting it too!”
“I think I’ll accept his invitation some day,” said Willard, as they crossed to Haylow. “I’d like to see that room of his!”
The occasion didn’t present itself that week, however, for Willard found that life on the football gridiron had suddenly become both real and earnest. Although Coach Cade had four good half-backs at his command, Willard was not overlooked. But Friday he was on an equal footing with Mawson and Moncks, to all appearances, and was certainly in line for first substitute. He didn’t want anything serious or painful to happen to either of those excellent chaps, but he couldn’t help reflecting sometimes that if one or the other was to develop something mild, like whooping cough or German measles, he could bear it with equanimity! Failing the likelihood of anything of the kind happening, however, he set himself earnestly to outdo those rivals in practice. After all, while Mawson was rather a better punter and Moncks was shiftier in a broken field, neither was unbeatable, and Willard kept that fact resolutely in mind and worked hard.
Banning High School came on Saturday and put up a very pretty game against the Gray-and-Gold. In fact, Banning sprang several surprises on the home team, and for a time, during the first of the contest, it looked as though Alton was in for a defeat. Banning was light but fast, and instead of relying on a forward-passing game as she was expected to rely, she met Alton’s own tactics and, from a close, three-abreast formation, shot her backs through the opposing line with discouraging ease. Any place outside guards pleased her, and Alton saw her tackles and ends completely outplayed during the first two periods. Banning’s speed was the secret of her success, and the Gray-and-Gold, heavier and slower, seldom stopped the plays until they were well through her line.
Banning scored first when, near the end of the second quarter, she recovered a short kick on Alton’s forty-six and plunged and knifed her way down to the thirty-one. Fast, snappy playing took the ball there in just seven downs. Mr. Cade ran in a substitute left end and a substitute left tackle then, and Banning slowed up. But she reached the twenty-five-yard line before she was halted. There, it being fourth down, with four to go, she made elaborate preparations for a placement kick. Naturally enough, while guarding against a fake, Alton expected a kick, and team and spectators were alike surprised when, the ball having flown back to quarter and the kicker having swung his long leg, there followed a long side-pass from the quarter to an end, just as Alton charged! It looked to those on the sidelines as if the pigskin went between the legs of the Alton end and tackle as they swept around, but probably it didn’t. In any event, the waiting Banning end caught it neatly and had covered ten yards of the intervening thirty before he was challenged. He shot around the Alton left half and was only brought down when Gil Tarver tackled on the eight yards.
The line-up was squarely on the five, and although the Gray-and-Gold fought desperately there, it took the enemy just three plays to put the ball over. A plunge at the center, with the whole Banning backfield behind the quarter, who carried, yielded most of two yards. Then the full-back ripped around left tackle for as much more, and, on third down, with the other backs running to the right, that troublesome Banning quarter shot through between guard and tackle on the left and put the pigskin just over the last white streak!
The half ended with the score 6 – 0 in the visitor’s favor, and the home team came in for a “panning” from the stands that, deserved or not, was decidedly enthusiastic. However, the team was not suffering for lack of criticism just then, even if it couldn’t hear what the spectators were saying. Coach Cade, although mild-mannered, had a fair command of language and could use it when needs be, and the players listened to some home truths during the half-time.
When the team came back to the field it was noted that Moncks had replaced Cochran at right half, Hutchins had taken Tarver’s place at quarter and a third-string fellow was playing left tackle. Perhaps, though, it was the talk they had listened to rather than the change in the line-up that produced results, for certainly “Hutch” played no better game behind center than Gil had, and the new tackle was far too green to be of much use. That as may be, Alton showed speed from the start and Banning’s backs were stopped at the line instead of beyond it. Also, the Gray-and-Gold took the offensive when the third quarter was a few minutes along and kept it throughout the rest of the game, with the result that the score was tied in the third period, when Moncks got away for a thirty-yard run and a touchdown, and untied at the beginning of the last quarter, when Alton hammered her way from well within her own territory to Banning’s eight yards and then tossed the ball over to Macon between the goal posts. Oddly enough, when Lake kicked an easy goal after the second touchdown, the score became 13 – 6, which was the score of last week’s contest, and 13 – 6 it remained. Martin said he guessed thirteen-six was a habit, but when Mt. Millard School got through with Alton, seven days later, he changed his mind!