Right Tackle Todd
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At the quarter-mile he was undoubtedly gaining on Young, and public sympathy, ever tending toward the under dog, veered from the senior suddenly and surprisingly, and the loyal sons of Maine found their hoarse ravings drowned under a greater volume of cheers for Jim Todd. “Come on, Todd! You can beat him!” “Skate, Skinny Boy! Come on! Come on!” “You’ve got him, Todd! Hit it up! Hit it up!” Even Mart, who was a most reticent youth when it came to public vocal demonstrations, appeared to be trying very hard to climb Clem’s back and yelling: “Todd! Todd! Todd! Todd!” in the most piercing tones about four inches from Clem’s left ear. Clem, though, failed to comment on the phenomenon at the time, being extremely busy enticing Todd to the finish with both voice and gesture!
It was somewhere about three hundred yards short of the line that Jim realized that defeat was not necessarily to be his portion, that Newt Young’s admirable grace and form were at last lacking and that that youth was probably as tired as Jim Todd was. Jim devoutly hoped he was even more tired, although he couldn’t conceive of such a thing! Any one who has taken a header in an ice race knows that it produces a most enervating effect and, for a time at least, leaves one in a painfully breathless condition. Perhaps Jim recalled that, in his opinion, superfluous tap on the nose of some three months previous, and perhaps the recollection of that painful indignity urged him to superhuman effort. That as may have been, the runaway windmill kept on closing the gap, slowly but inexorably.
The distance between the two dwindled from eight yards to half that many, from four yards to two, from two to one! They were almost stride for stride as they swept down on the finish line. Young, suddenly aware of the loss of his advantage, seemed at once incredulous and disheartened. There was a brief instant when he faltered, and in that instant Jim swept into the lead. Perhaps thirty yards still lay before the adversaries, and Young seized on his courage and determination again. But once in the lead Jim was not to be headed. Indeed, it seemed that until the instant of passing Young he had not shown what real speed was! The tall youth found in those last few yards some joints he had not suspected the possession of, made surprising use of them, swayed, bent, buckled and threshed down the ice with the lithe grace of a camel with a hundred-mile gale behind it, and gyrated across the finish line a good eight yards ahead of his adversary!
The sons of Maine went crazy, every one yelled and the official timekeeper proclaimed that the school record had been burst into infinitesimal fractions! As no one seemed to know what the Alton Academy record for the two miles was, the present time of six minutes and forty-one seconds was accepted as something to cheer for. So every one cheered again. And about that time Young pushed through to Jim Todd and shook hands with him, and Jim grinned and forgot to say anything about that incident on the gridiron, and every one went home.
But Jim Todd leaped into mild and momentary fame, and for some weeks was pointed out as “that long drink of water who beat Newt Young on the ice and broke the school record for the mile or two miles or something.” Perhaps his fame would have lived longer if, at about that time, Alton hadn’t played her final hockey game with Kenly Hall and smeared up the Cherry-and-Black to the tune of 7 goals to 3, a feat which, after last season’s defeat for Alton, was hailed with joy and loud acclaim and resulted later in the election of Clement Harland to succeed himself as captain of the team.Since Clem had been the first youth to get the hockey captaincy in his junior year in the history of that sport at Alton, he was now possessor of the unique distinction of being the only hockey captain ever serving two terms. Mart sniffed and said he hoped Clem wouldn’t get a swelled head over it, but that he probably would and so wouldn’t be fit to live with much longer!
Whether Clem was fit to live with or wasn’t, it strangely happened that Mart never had an opportunity to reach a decision in the matter, for after Spring recess Mart came back to Alton with a vast distaste for exertion and a couple of degrees of temperature that he hadn’t had when he went away. A day later he went to the infirmary and there he stayed until well into May with a case of typhoid that seemed to give much satisfaction to the doctor in charge but that failed to please Mart’s parents to any noticeable degree. It was a strange, washed-out looking Mart who rolled away one morning in an automobile for the station on his way home, and while his smile was recognizable by Clem the rest of him seemed strange and alien. Mart managed a joke before the car started off, but it was such a weak, puerile effort that Clem found it easier to cry than laugh over.
During the rest of the term Clem saw more of Jim Todd than ever, for Jim had been sincerely concerned about Mart and had offered all sorts of well-meant but impossible services during the illness, and Clem had liked the kindness and thoughtfulness shown. Besides, Clem felt a bit lonesome after Mart’s departure, and Jim was handy. On one or two occasions Clem even climbed to the upper floor and endured the presence of Bradley Judson for the sake of Jim. Judson, who shared the sloping-ceilinged room with Jim, was no treat, either, according to Clem!
At home, Mart wrote an occasional brief letter. He said he was getting along finely, but the letters didn’t sound so. Jim, however, who, it turned out, had seen typhoid fever before, reassured Clem. Typhoid, declared Jim, left you pretty low in your mind and weak in your body, and it took a long while for some folks to get back where they had been. So Clem took comfort. And then June arrived suddenly, and the school year was over.
Toward the end of July, Clem, who was leading a life of blissful ease at the Harland summer home in the Berkshires, received a letter from Jim. He didn’t know it was from Jim until he had looked at the bottom of the second sheet, for the writing was strange to him and the inscription on the envelope – “Middle Carry Camps, Blaisdell’s Mills, Me.” – failed to suggest the elongated Mr. Todd. Clem tucked his tennis racket under his arm, seated himself on the lower step of the porch and, seeking the beginning of the missive, wondered what on earth Jim was writing about. He wouldn’t have been much more surprised had the letter been from the President and summoning him to Washington to confer on the Tariff! He hadn’t seen or heard from Jim since June, and, since life had been full of a number of things, hadn’t thought of him more than a dozen times. And now Jim was writing him a two-page letter in queer up-and-down characters and faded ink on the cheap stationery of a Maine sporting camp!
Clem smiled when he had finished the letter. Then he frowned. It was going to be rather awkward. How could he tell Jim that he didn’t want him for a room-mate without hurting the chap’s feelings? “It will be all right just the same if you don’t like the notion or have made other arrangements.” Clem reread the sentence and smiled wryly. It was all well enough for Jim Todd to say that, but Clem knew very well that it wouldn’t be “just the same.” The difficulty was that he hadn’t made other arrangements. He might tell Jim that he had, but that would be a lie, and Clem didn’t like lies. Besides, Jim would find out he had lied, and be a lot more hurt than if he had been told the unflattering truth! Clem wished mightily that he could have foreseen this situation and written to Mr. Wharton, the school secretary, as soon as the tidings of Mart’s withdrawal had come. Wharton would have arranged things for him in a minute. Instead, though, he had kept putting the matter off, and now this had happened. Gosh!
Clem recalled the fantastic figure that had wandered into Number 15 that afternoon. If the fellow would only dress less like a – a backwoodsman – it would be something. Then Clem recalled the fact that toward the end of the Spring term Jim had looked a great deal more normal as to attire. Clem sighed perplexedly. He liked Jim, too, he reflected. There were lots of nice traits in the fellow. In fact, after Mart had gone home he had preferred Jim’s society to that of most of the other chaps he knew in school; and he knew a good many, too. Then what was wrong with having Jim for a room-mate? Clem pondered that for some time. “Raw” appeared to be the most damaging charge he could bring against the applicant, and that didn’t seem to him an altogether sufficient indictment. Clem had never suspected himself of being a snob, but just now the possibility occurred to him abruptly and unpleasantly. To get away from the idea he reread Jim’s letter, and this time he read as much between the lines as in them.
It had taken courage to write that letter, he told himself. He would wager that Jim had put it off more than once and had made more than one false start. There was a humility all through it that was almost pathetic when one remembered that the writer wasn’t much under six feet in height! Yes, and he wasn’t so small other ways, Clem reflected. Considering that he had entered Alton without knowing a soul there, and had burst smack into the junior year, too, Jim had done pretty well. He was no pill, even if he did wear queer things and could be held accountable for the epidemic of loud-plaid mackinaws that had raged violently throughout the school in the late Winter! He had flivvered at football, to be sure, but he had won momentary fame as a skater, and he had organized the Maine-and-Vermont Club. That last feat proved pretty conclusively, thought Clem, that the fellow had something in him. After all, then, the worst you could say of him was that he was – Clem searched diligently for the word he wanted and found it – uncouth!
His thoughts went back to the afternoon when Jim Todd had first edged into view and to Mart’s almost impassioned utterances just previous thereto. Clem smiled. Mart had been hankering for new types and then Jim had walked in quite as if he had been awaiting his cue off-stage! Clem’s smile, though, was caused by the recollection that Mart hadn’t been nearly so enthusiastic about “new blood” in the concrete – meaning Jim Todd – as he had been in “new blood” in the abstract! Mart had tolerated Jim, but had never derived much pleasure from the acquaintanceship. Old Mart was a heap more conservative than he had thought himself!
Then, thinking of Mart, Clem remembered how perfectly corking Jim had been during Mart’s illness. If he hadn’t done a great deal to help it was only because there had been so little he could do. He had always been ready, always eager, always sympathetic. Yes, and there were those two days when poor old Mart had been so beastly sick, and Clem had worried himself miserable, or would have if Jim hadn’t sort of stuck around and kept telling him that folks could be awfully ill with typhoid and yet pull out all hunky; that he’d seen it more’n once. Why, come to think of it, there had been three or four days when Jim had been with him half the time! How had he done it? He must have missed class more than once, and as for studying – well, he just couldn’t have studied!
Clem got up very suddenly, stuffed Jim’s letter in a pocket of his white flannels and stared savagely at an inoffensive palm in a gray stone jar. But though he looked at the palm he didn’t seem to be addressing it when he spoke, for what he said was: “Clem, you’re a low-lived yellow pup! Get it?”