Harding of St. Timothy's/Chapter 5
HARRY laced up his canvas jacket with trembling fingers. His hands were clammy, and he had a scared feeling that to-day he was more brittle than usual. But he was not going to let any one see that he was scared.
All the boys of both elevens were dressing in the athletic house, and there was not by any means the noisy chatter that preceded the practice on an ordinary afternoon. The talk was in low tones and the laughter was subdued.
Two boys who were to be opponents in the line-up were dressing side by side, and boasting humorously of what they were going to do to each other, but generally the atmosphere of the athletic house this afternoon was business-like and serious.
Frank Windsor went round, nervously touching one after another of his eleven, and saying, "Hurry up, old man! Hurry up!" His eyes shone with excitement and his cheeks were red; he looked flurried. Over in a corner Rupert Ormsby, with nothing on but one red stocking, sat patiently picking a knot in his shoestring and whistling in a subdued key.
Joe Herrick, all dressed, sat on a bench across the room and looked at Rupert's muscles. They were brown and big and active; there was something unpleasantly suggestive in the way they quivered and stood out in Rupert's arms when he was engaged in even the mild exercise of picking a knot.
"No joke having to go up against a big brute like that," thought Herrick. "But if I could only put it all over him!"
Frank Windsor clapped his hands and cried, "All out, Corinthians!"
Rupert, drawing on his other stocking, looked up with a smile. "We'll be with you in a moment," he said.
It was a snapping, bright October day, with a north wind blowing and clouds flying up over the brilliant woods that surrounded the field. Harry, running out into this clear sharp air, felt a little stronger than he had been when he sat in the dressing-room and waited.
The Corinthians, who were spread along the nearer side of the field, raised a cheer for their team, and Harry, as he followed Frank Windsor and jumped over the rope, felt very proud.
Frank Windsor warmed his eleven up at once by giving them signal practice. Harry crouched and ran and went through all the motions with enthusiasm. It was not at all bad fun, this harmless showing off before a crowd of sympathetic spectators.
In the midst of it a cheer broke from the boys on the farther side of the field—the Pythian cheer; and at that Harry, who had just crouched in the mimic line-up, swallowed hard. The moment had come. Rupert Ormsby, carrying the ball, burst through the throng of Corinthian spectators, and followed by his team, ran out on the field.
"Now then, fellows!" Frank Windsor said, and his team gathered round him to receive the last instructions. Harry glanced out of the corner of his eye at the other eleven, who were romping down toward one of the goals.
Two masters in white sweaters stepped over the rope. One of them called the captains to one side and tossed a coin.
Then Frank Windsor came running back to his team. "Our ball!" he said. "Get ready, fellows."
Pythians and Corinthians were cheering wildly while the two teams scattered to their places. Then the cheer was hushed. Harry stamped on a whitewashed line nervously. His heart was beating so hard that it seemed to bother his breathing.
The umpire blew his whistle, the ball went sailing down the field, and Harry rushed after it. Halleck of the Pythians charged down on him to put him out of the way of the runner who had caught the ball. But Harry dodged quite cleverly, and the next instant had flung himself headlong and made the first tackle of the game. It was a good play, and when he got up and heard the Corinthian cheering and found that he was still all right, he ran to his position at left end with a wild satisfaction and eagerness.
He had been surprised himself at making the play. His success drove fright out of his breast, and in its place came a fierce determination. "I guess I'll be good enough to make the school team! I guess I'll show everybody it was all right to make me athletic president!"
His opponent, a fifth-former named Andrews, was a green player also. Pythians and Corinthians were alike expecting to see some ragged playing on that end of the line. The really skillful play would be on the other end, where Rupert Ormsby and Joe Herrick were matched against each other.
What Harry and his opponent, however, lacked in experience, they made up in zeal and aggressiveness; and they had to be continually warned by Mr. Eldredge, the referee, because of offside play and holding. Twice the Corinthians had to forfeit ten yards on account of Harry's offending in these respects.
But he was throwing all his strength into the contest, and really doing better than he had ever done in practice. To Frank Windsor's surprise he was having a little the better of Andrews, and the Corinthian captain, when he finally got the ball on a fumble, made a short run round Harry's end, aided by the green player's interference.
Then the Corinthian crowd on the side lines began to throw up their hats and yell, and say to one another that Harry was a real "find," after all, and Windsor had known what he was about in putting him on the eleven.
Their enthusiasm was brief, however; for on the next two plays there was no gain. The Corinthians had to kick, and the Pythians ran the ball back to the middle of the field—for Joe Herrick, who should have got down and tackled the runner, came instead with an unexpected crash against Rupert Ormsby, and lay for an instant quite dazed by the collision.
When he got up, he was sullenly thinking that he owed Rupert another grudge. It was an absurd idea, but he believed that Rupert had knocked him over with unnecessary publicity and violence, to shame him before the crowd.
And in the next mix-up, when Rupert made a dash toward tackle to help in the interference for a "centre" play, he received a sudden heavy blow in the side just under the heart; and he went down in the scrimmage with the breath quite knocked out of him.
He got up feeling a little weak, and walked round for a moment before going to his place.
When he did go to it, he did not settle down at once, but stood for a moment looking deliberately into Herrick's eyes with a faint smile. Foul play was something that had never been countenanced in these school games, and the boy who had now committed it was receiving from his victim as much surprise as scorn.
The humiliation of having to meet such a look from Rupert and of realizing that he had not been deceived as to the source or intention of the blow did not improve Herrick's temper. He dropped his eyes and crouched in position, and muttered, "Oh, play ball!"
Rupert made no answer. He got into position, and the Pythian quarter-back gave a signal that meant a rush through right guard.
"Wait!" called Rupert, straightening up.
He ran to the quarter-back and whispered in his ear, then back to his place again. And in another moment another signal was shouted. Then, as the ball was snapped back, Herrick was hurled to one side like a pillow, and when he picked himself up he found that the Pythians had made ten yards round his end.
He took his place in the line. Rupert stood opposite him, with his eyes sparkling and a broad, good-natured smile on his face. And Herrick appreciated fully that Rupert had had his revenge.
The mild and legitimate character of it made it no more tolerable to the victim; and there was a deep, smouldering wrath in his heart, a bitter resentment of Rupert's greater strength, an angry wish to get even by taking some sharp advantage if the opportunity rose.
In the occasional breathing spaces as the game went on Herrick set his mind to devising some means of getting even—of compassing the advantage which would enable him to handle Rupert as he deserved. Unfortunately Joe Herrick was not a stupid boy.
The two teams were pretty evenly matched. The Corinthian guards and tackles were stronger than their opponents, and often broke through and prevented the end runs which the Pythians had been expecting to make with their fleet half-backs, and with Ormsby to assist at right end.
When the first half was two thirds over, and neither team had scored, and the ball was still in the middle of the field, the Pythian supporters on one side, in their orange and black caps, and the Corinthians on the other, in their blue and white caps, seemed trying to win the game with cheers.
Harry Harding and Tom Andrews were having an excited battle. Of the two boys, Andrews had the less nervous temperament. As the game progressed he became gradually more roused to its demands.
Harry had thrown himself with all his strength and violence into it at the outset, and now he was beginning to weaken. He staggered round between plays, gasping for breath, and called for water, and sometimes lay on the ground after a scrimmage until the full time limit had expired. He had never been so used up in practice, and after each play he would lie wondering how much longer the half was going to last.
And all the time Andrews seemed to be growing stronger. Fortunately, Perry, the Corinthian left tackle, was able to handle his opponent and give Harry some support besides. And Harry, who was not unaware of this, had never felt more grateful to any one in his life.
Then, suddenly, the Pythians flashed their trick play. Rupert Ormsby darted from his position, and Andrews ran from his. They met behind the quarter-back, and nearly all the Pythian eleven ran with Andrews.
But it was Rupert who had taken the ball, and he and the quarter-back shot out round Harry's end, while nearly the whole Corinthian team was struggling to break up the attack on the other side of the line.
Perry sprang out and upset the quarterback, giving Harry a chance to make the tackle; and Harry dived headlong with his arms outstretched. But he had misjudged the distance, and missed Rupert by a yard, a glaring blunder for all the Corinthians to see. And Rupert went racing on his way, while all the Pythians streamed after him down the side line, tossing their orange and black caps, waving sweaters, and shouting:—
Harry picked himself up. He stood for a moment, uncertain in his mortification what to do. But no one noticed him. Then he began to run in pursuit of the other players, who were now careering far ahead down the field.
He had not gone ten yards when a wilder outburst of cheers from the Pythians, a sudden universal up-flinging of caps and coats and sweaters announced to him that it was touchdown indeed. The two elevens were piled up together near the goal.
Harry trotted up dejectedly as the pile was being pulled apart by umpire and referee. Frank Windsor got out from the bottom, and seeing Harry, ran up to him.
"That's your fault! Don't you let them get round your end again!" he said sharply. Harry felt hurt that Frank Windsor should speak to him in that way.
The ball had been carried two feet beyond the line. Harris, the Pythian centre, took it out, and Rupert kicked the goal. Rejoicing over this achievement was expressed in the reiterated, carefully separated shout: "Pythi-an! Pyth-i-an! Pyth-i-an!" reiterated with indefinite monotony. It grated on Harry's nerves.
Frank Windsor, with the ball under his arm, walked angrily out to the middle of the field. Then he called his team round him.
"You fellows have got to play ball!" he said. "You've got to hold them—and you've got to tie that score. They had no business to get that touchdown, if you fellows out on the right had had your eyes open and played the game."
The sudden unexpected reverse had put him into a bad temper, and as he finished speaking he gave Harry another withering look. He kicked a hole in the ground with his heel and put the ball down.
"Get to your places," he said.
Then he drew back a dozen feet, and when the whistle sounded, he ran forward and sent the ball flying far up the field.
Harry had much the same chance as at the beginning of the game to distinguish himself by a diving tackle. But he was hurled to the ground by Andrews, who came against him full tilt with a leather-protected shoulder. And the runner carried the ball back thirty yards from where he had received it.
As the Corinthian eleven lined up amid more Pythian shouting, Frank Windsor clapped his hands, and cried desperately:—
"Stop them now! You've got to stop them! Put some life into it!"
Frank Windsor, right half-back, was playing close to the line, and giving his particular attention to the support of Joe Herrick. Between them they managed to stop two attempts at end runs without gain.
After the second effort, Herrick, foreseeing that on the next play the Pythians would kick, ran round to Harry Harding. It was his chance to put into execution the scheme for getting even with Rupert that his cunning mind had devised.
"Andrews is always playing offside," he whispered. "I can see—all down the line. Insist on Mr. Eldredge's watching him—on the next play."
Then he ran back to his position.
Harry, exhausted and excited, was in a state of mind open to any such suggestion. He cried out breathlessly:—
"Wait, Mr. Eldredge! Mr. Eldredge, sir!"
"What is it?" said the referee.
"I wish you'd watch Andrews, please. I wish you'd come to this end of the line and watch him a while. He's always offside."
"I'm not!" declared Andrews indignantly.
"Will you watch him, please, sir?" insisted Harry.
"I'll watch you both," Mr. Eldredge answered, and he stepped quickly out to that end of the line. "Come, play ball!" He blew his whistle. The Pythian full-back retreated to catch the ball and kick.
It was passed to him; he caught it and kicked it high and far. Andrews and Rupert Ormsby, the two ends, plunged forward to rush down the field and make the tackle.
But as Rupert charged past, Herrick thrust out one foot, and with a quick turn tripped him and sent him headlong. Then, without waiting, Herrick ran to get into the scrimmage.
Eastman, the quarter-back, who had caught the ball, was struggling forward, pushed and pulled by three or four others over the prostrate bodies of Pythians. Herrick hurled himself into the press, and in another instant went down with the heap.
When he crawled out from it, he ran to his position. But Rupert Ormsby was not there to face him.
Herrick looked up the field, and saw Rupert writhing on the ground, where he had been tripped. Two of the Pythian team were already bending over him; a third was running to the side line, calling for Doctor Vincent.
With a sickening fear and remorse Joe Herrick hurried forward to see what he had done.
Rupert's face was white and contracted in his effort to bear the pain in silence. His lips were tightly clinched, and as he turned from side to side, his right leg, stretched out upon the ground, lay motionless. Joe Herrick stood by, afraid to speak, and Rupert, glancing up at him, smiled feebly a moment, and then turned away his head.
Herrick recognized in that smile the same expression with which Rupert had conveyed his contempt for the fellow who would strike a foul blow. Rupert knew. Herrick stood by, heavy-hearted, and had nothing to say.
Doctor Vincent brushed past him and knelt beside the injured boy.
"The ankle," Rupert said, and the doctor unlaced the shoe on the motionless foot."Now, then," he said gently, and he began to draw off the shoe. Rupert closed his eyes and set his teeth with a groan. Andrews raised his head and shoulders upon a pillow of sweaters.
"Never mind, old man," he murmured, and while Rupert lay with the perspiration oozing on his white forehead, Doctor Vincent drew off the shoe.
Herrick watched the doctor gently roll down the boy's stocking. He saw the unnaturally twisted ankle, and heard Doctor Vincent say, "I'm afraid it's broken, Rupert;" and then a sudden faintness assailed him.
He walked away from the group, and kneeling on the ground, pretended to tie a shoe-string, hanging his head low until the blood had run into it and revived him. When he looked up, they were carrying Rupert from the field.
Harry Harding came up to Herrick soberly. "How did it happen, Joe?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Herrick.
"What awfully hard luck for Rupert!" Harry murmured. "Captain of the school team and everything—to have a thing like that happen to him!"
Herrick made no answer.
Pythians and Corinthians had alike been sobered by the accident. Many of them had trailed off across the field to find out the extent of Rupert's injuries, or, with more morbid curiosity, to see how he looked as he was being borne away. Now they were returning slowly, without enthusiasm.
But the game had to go on. Harris took Rupert's place as captain of the Pythian team, and summoned Tom Albree to play right end. Albree was inexperienced and weighed ten pounds less than Herrick, but to the surprise of every one he seemed from the first to be holding his own against him.
Herrick showed a lack of enthusiasm and aggressiveness. He moved slowly, and when Frank Windsor shouted at him, "Wake up, Joe! Get into the game!" he made no answer. Sullenness showed in his face.
Five minutes after Rupert had left the game the Pythians scored their second touchdown, and in much the same way as they had made their first—on a long end run outside of Harry Harding.
Frank Windsor tackled the runner behind the goal-line and got up, fuming. He walked over to Harry.
"You'd better lay off," he said. "Holder!" He beckoned with his hand.
As the substitute ran out upon the field, Harry, smarting under the disgrace, with a thick feeling in his throat and tears in his eyes, walked to the Corinthian side line. He put on his sweater and seated himself dejectedly to watch the rest of the game. He thought of how he had started in, hoping to distinguish himself, to justify his election to the presidency, even to make the school eleven—and he could hardly keep back the tears.
The half was soon over. The Corinthian players came trooping to take up their sweaters. Then Francis Stoddard stepped out from the crowd and went up to Joe Herrick, who was standing close in front of Harry.
"Do you know what you are?" said Stoddard. There was an intensity of feeling in his suppressed voice that caused Harry, overhearing him, to look up.
"No. What?" asked Herrick, with a scornful laugh.
"You're a dirty, cowardly, tricky player!" said Stoddard, still in a low, deliberate voice. "You tripped Rupert. You broke his leg. You know it."
Herrick looked at Stoddard's white face in sullen silence.
"You say things like that," he answered at last, "and you'll get your head smashed. You need n't think that just because you're so puny you can say anything without getting hurt."
"You ought to be ruled off the field—for keeps," Stoddard retorted, and turned his back.
Harry and three or four others of the eleven, who had been listening in amazement, crowded up to Herrick. "What's he talking about?" "Trip who up?" "You didn't, did you, Joe?"
"No, of course not," Herrick answered impatiently. "The kid's nutty."
The reply satisfied the others; but Harry's thoughts jumped back to that moment when Herrick had urged him to insist on having Mr. Eldredge's attention. The incident suddenly assumed a peculiar significance; and Harry had but to look again at Herrick's face to feel certain that Stoddard's charge was true, and that he himself had been deliberately used in a plot to cripple Rupert.