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CHAPTER VI

AFTER denying Stoddard's accusation, Joe Herrick stood for a few moments with his hands tucked up under his red sweater, staring with a frown across the field at the athletic house. The other members of the eleven were mingling with the crowd, receiving the condolences and exhortations of their supporters, but Herrick stood alone. He had few friends outside of the Crown, and the members of that society who were Corinthian sympathizers were already clustered round Frank Windsor, offering him advice, criticism, and encouragement.

Harry Harding was so sore over his failure that he did not join this group or seek to make himself in any way conspicuous. He was satisfied to sit on the ground unobtrusively with the substitutes. The swift suspicion of Herrick which Stoddard's words had roused in him had caused him for a moment to forget his own unhappiness; and he looked up at the lonely figure with a wondering interest, trying from the boy's face to fathom the truth.

Herrick started toward the athletic house, into which Rupert had been carried. But as he approached, an open carriage, drawn by two horses, came spinning down the road and stopped in front of the door. Herrick and some other boys ran forward and stood by while Rupert, wrapped in blankets, was borne out and placed gently on the cushions.

He looked pale, but he smiled and waved a hand at the group of his friends, who responded with a feeble cheer and cries of "Good luck, Rupe!" "You're all right!" Doctor Vincent got in beside him and the carriage drove away.

Herrick had said nothing and had not joined in the cheer. He walked with lagging steps back to the football field. About him boys were deploring the hard luck that had befallen Rupert and the school. With a broken leg he could never get round for the game with St. John's; and what was the school eleven to do without its captain and best player!

Herrick avoided talking with any one; he strolled down to one of the goals, where during the intermission two small boys were practicing drop-kicks, and stood there, looking on. They were very proud to have such a distinguished spectator, and did their best to show off; but he was really paying no attention to their efforts.

When the second half began, it was a different Herrick who went into the game. The listlessness and sluggishness which had characterized his playing after Rupert had been hurt had disappeared; and Tom Albree, who during the intermission had been flattered by the Pythians for the way he was standing up against the veteran, was pushed to one side, and foiled and upset until in his chagrin he was almost ready to cry.

"Herrick's playing the game of his life!" one of the Corinthian substitutes said to Harry enthusiastically. "I believe we'll make this a close game yet."

"We would n't if Rupert Ormsby were still in it," Harry replied.

There was a bitterness in his answer that seemed to denote a lack of enthusiasm for the new vigor shown by his team. His friend looked at him in surprise, and supposed that Harry's bitterness was due to his removal from the game.

Two long runs round Albree's end, a few successful plunges through the centre, and rank Windsor at last carried the ball across the line for the first Corinthian touchdown. Harry jumped up with the other substitutes, and capered and waved his arms and yelled; but it was really only a regard for external decency that prompted him. With the heaviness in his thoughts caused by his own failure and by Herrick's treachery, and most of all by Rupert's injury, there was no room for rejoicing. He shouted again when Frank Windsor kicked the goal, and again when, with only one minute left to play, the Corinthians rushed across the line for their second touchdown. Frank Windsor kicked this second goal, tying the score.

It was a tame outcome, and after the Corinthians had cheered their team for the uphill struggle, they flocked away as silently as the Pythians, who were cast down by their failure to achieve the expected victory.

With the game over, the boys fell to discussing among themselves the chief feature of it—Rupert's injury—and the effect it would have upon the school eleven.

Herrick freed himself from the three or four friends who came up to congratulate him on his playing, and turned to Harry.

"Seen Stoddard anywhere?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes, there he is—with Nat Belmont."

"Come along," said Herrick. Pulling Harry by the arm, he led him up behind Stoddard, and then called in a peremptory voice, "Stoddard! Look here a moment, will you?"

Francis turned, hesitated, and then, leaving Belmont, came back slowly to meet the two players.

"What is it?" he asked, in an unfriendly voice.

"I wanted to tell you that you're right and I lied to you," Herrick said. "I did trip Ormsby. That's how he got hurt. That's all I wanted to tell you. Now you can go back to your friend." In spite of his confession there was a scornful defiance in his voice.

"I knew you were lying," said Stoddard quietly. "I saw you trip him."

He walked away and rejoined Belmont.

"It will be all over the school in half an hour," Herrick said with bitterness, "and I suppose nobody will believe that I had n't any thought of hurting him. I did n't know it was going to break his leg."

Somehow, at this moment, Harry liked his friend better than he had ever done. There was more than bitterness in Herrick's voice; there was emotion, even a suggestion of tears.

"No, of course you did n't know," Harry said soothingly. "You only lost your head"—

"No, I did n't lose my head, either. I did it on purpose. I could n't handle him—and that's the way I thought I'd get even."

"Well, you did n't mean to hurt him."

"I did mean to play foul, though—and that's enough—for most people. I don't care. They can talk and think what they please. After this I don't say a word about it to any one. I guess I can stand anything that's coming to me."

Harry was silent a moment. "Are n't you going to tell Rupert?" he asked.

"He knows already. I saw it in his eye when he lay and looked up at me."

"Maybe he does n't know you're sorry."

Herrick kicked sullenly at the turf. "Yes, I suppose I'll let him know that. But I won't let anybody else know it," he added defiantly. "I'll ignore it; I don't care what they say or do. I had to tell you and that kid, Stoddard—because I'd lied to you and him."

Harry could say nothing, but he felt sorrier for Joe Herrick than ever—and liked him better.

In the athletic house, while Herrick was dressing, the other players on the team congratulated him and joked with him on having saved the day. Frank Windsor, as captain, was quite bubbling over with happiness. He slapped Herrick on the back.

"There's no doubt at all, Joe!" he exclaimed gayly. "You're the hero of the occasion. You're the one that did it."

"Oh, yes, I'm the one," Herrick responded grimly.

A few hours later the story of Herrick's foul play was known throughout the school.

Francis Stoddard had declared it in his first indignation to some of his friends. Then he had reported Herrick's confession to Nat Belmont and others. By supper-time the boys who had played on the Corinthian eleven were confronted with the sensational charge.

Frank Windsor laid it excitedly before Herrick himself.

"I have nothing to say," was Herrick's answer. Then when Frank Windsor pressed him to deny the charge, he said:—

"Ask Harry Harding, if you want. He knows."

Harry reluctantly admitted the truth, and then urged all the extenuating circumstances. Herrick had not meant to hurt Rupert; he had had a long grudge against him—which he ought not to have had, to be sure; he had been no match for Rupert in the game; and he had done what was often done in the big college games when the umpire was not looking.

The members of the eleven and the members of the Crown, to whom Harry made this appeal, were not disposed to judge Herrick harshly. But it was different with the mass of the boys. They remembered only that Herrick had played foul, and had crippled the captain of the school eleven, and they shunned him.

He for his part did not at once alter his habitual manner. He remained, as he had always been, proud and defiant, and his attitude did not tend to make the other boys more lenient.

But he showed a different side to Rupert Ormsby. The day after the game he was taken into the room of the infirmary where the patient lay in bed, suffering the severe pain that had developed from the setting of the broken bone.

"How are you getting on, Ormsby?" he asked.

"Oh, pretty well, I guess, thank you," Rupert answered cheerfully.

Herrick was silent a moment, standing by the bed, and Rupert said, "Won't you sit down?"

"Of course you know how it happened," Herrick said, not heeding the invitation, "and you must know, too, how sorry and ashamed I feel. If I'd supposed it would mean anything serious like this"—

"Oh, that's all right." Rupert stretched out a forgiving hand. "We won't talk about it. I hear that you played the game of your life the second half—and kept us from pulling off the championship, after all."

"You would n't have thought I was doing much if you'd been opposite me," Herrick replied, embarrassed. "Oh, it's good of you to try, Ormsby, but you can't let me down easy. I played dirty football, and I hurt you badly, and I've spoiled your last year here at scbool, and—well, I appreciate your being so good about it, but I feel pretty low down just the same."

Rupert laughed.

"I used to think myself you were pretty low down, Herrick, but I don't any more. Now I tell you what you do—to square yourself. You've put me out of the game for good. It's up to you to see that the fellow who fills my place does it in such a way that St. Timothy's never knows the difference."

"I don't know how I'm to do that," said Herrick despondently.

"Why, I'll tell you. You're the best end in the school, and you've got to teach some other fellow how to play the other end. There are Andrews and Holder, and even Harry Harding—not much material to draw from, but I'll expect you to turn out a good end just the same."

Herrick was silent for a moment. Then he said:—

"Thank you very much, Ormsby. I'll do the best I can. And—I hope you won't be laid up for long."

"I'll be out, I guess, to see what kind of an end you develop for the game with St. John's."

Herrick went away feeling an honest ambition, wishing to look on fellows with a kindlier eye. But it was pretty hard when he found them surly or suspicious, and knew that they were commenting on him as a "mucker," a dirty player, a mean, tricky cheat, who would stop at nothing.

He was grateful to Harry Harding, who stood by him, and to the other fellows in the Crown, who were still friendly; but he knew that throughout the school the sentiment toward him was that of Francis Stoddard, unforgiving and contemptuous.

Rupert sent a message to Frank Windsor, asking him to take charge of the candidates for the school eleven and act temporarily as captain; and accordingly Windsor posted a notice the next day, announcing the first practice.

"Ormsby says that you'll coach the ends," Windsor said to Herrick, as they walked down to the athletic house together; and Herrick felt stirred by this formal recognition of his responsibility.

Out of all the candidates who presented themselves, Windsor picked two elevens. They began to play without any clear understanding as to who besides Windsor was in authority. Harry Harding was on one end, opposing Nat Belmont, a hot-headed, nervous boy, who was trying his best to be "aggressive," but who knew very little about football. Herrick saw Harry break past him and make a tackle. Then on the next line-up Herrick ran in.

"Here, Belmont," he said, "wait till I show you how to block your man off"—

But Belmont was already angered by his failure and excited by the game. He turned on Herrick with resentment for such interference.

"Thanks. I guess I don't need your help," he said.

Herrick bit his lip, but controlled himself.

"I just wanted to show you"—

"Yes, I know there are some things you can show me—but I'd rather not learn them!" Belmont retorted scornfully.

Herrick turned. "Windsor!" he called.

Frank Windsor came running over from the other side of the line.

"Will you please explain to Belmont that Ormsby has asked me to coach the ends?" Herrick said.

"What's the matter with Belmont? Say, Belmont, you do as you're told. Herrick's running the ends, and you pay attention to him. Now mind."

Windsor went back to his position, clapping his hands and crying, "Play ball!"

Belmont submitted angrily. He believed that Windsor was managing things to suit himself, and that he had given authority to Joe Herrick because he was a fellow member of the Crown. He did not believe that Rupert Ormsby had ever delegated any such authority to the fellow who had meanly tripped him and broken his leg. He obeyed Herrick's orders and straightened up to hear his criticism and advice, but he listened sullenly, and Herrick was conscious of the boy's resentment. He exercised his authority as little as possible. He did not go shouting and clamoring round like Frank Windsor, who had a great idea of the inspiriting quality in mere noise, and he did not jump into a scrimmage and begin scolding and denouncing whenever somebody made a bad play.

It pleased him afterward when Harry Harding came up to him and said:—

"You know, Joe, you're a mighty good coach! I believe I could learn something about the game if I could have you always looking after me."

"Thanks!" Herrick answered, and he added, a little sadly, "I guess maybe you're the only one that feels that way."

Nat Belmont certainly was unsympathetic. After the practice, still smarting under the humiliation of being coached by a fellow whom he despised, and indignant over the way in which Frank Windsor was managing affairs in the interests of the Crown, he went to the infirmary.

He was admitted to the room where Rupert sat, propped up by a window, rapping on the pane and waving a hand at the boys who happened to be walking past. Belmont started in at once upon his grievance.

"Oh, hold on!" Rupert interrupted him, with a laugh. "Don't be so hard on 'em, Nat. It's all my fault. I asked Frank Windsor to run the eleven, and I particularly asked Joe Herrick to coach the ends."

"Then if you did that, Rupe, I've got to tell you what I suppose you have n't heard about Herrick"—

"Oh, yes, I've heard it. You mean about his tripping me. I heard it from him. He came and told me. And I have reasons for thinking better of Joe Herrick than I ever did before. You let him coach you, Nat, and see if you don't think better of him, too."

Nat Belmont was nonplussed. He did not like to surrender his grievance; but he was not an ill-natured boy, and when he was given time to think, he had no tendency to be unjust.

"Well," he said, "if you feel that way about it," he laughed as he rose to go, "I guess I'll have to tell Herrick I made a mistake."

He did so, with an added word of apology.

"Oh, it's all right," said Herrick. "I don't blame you." And both this speech and the embarrassed manner of it surprised and touched Belmont. He went round telling fellows about the change in Herrick, and by his enthusiasm trying to repair the injury that he had done.

Francis Stoddard, however, ordinarily the gentlest and mildest of boys, remained cynical.

"Oh, he knows he must show a decent side to make up for what he did," Stoddard declared. "It's just like Rupert to forgive him so easily; but I don't."

Belmont, however, held to his opinion of Herrick's sincerity, and a thing happened which made him think better of Frank Windsor, too. At a meeting of the candidates for the eleven, Frank read a letter from Rupert, tendering his resignation and expressing the feeling that since he himself could not play, some one else should be chosen captain.

"When he told me this," Frank continued, "I did n't say anything except that I'd lay the matter before you fellows. But now I say that we all refuse to accept Ormsby's resignation. He can be our captain even if he can't stir from his room. He can advise us and help us, and I say that we tell him so and refuse to let him resign."

"Second the motion," said Joe Herrick, in his gruffest voice.

The refusal to accept Rupert's resignation was unanimous. Nat Belmont had to admit that it was generous of Windsor to have proposed this action, for if it had not been taken, he would undoubtedly have been elected Rupert's successor.

When Belmont reported Herrick's act in seconding the motion, Francis Stoddard had only a sneering comment: "Trying to square himself with the crowd."

"Oh, well," Belmont answered, "when a fellow 's trying to be decent, why can't you let him?"

Stoddard flushed at the reproof, and refrained thenceforth from merciless remarks. As the days went by and he had a chance to observe personally the improvement in Herrick's demeanor, and to come a little more often under the influence of Rupert's tolerant attitude, his hostility relaxed; and at last one day, meeting Herrick alone in the corridor of the dormitory, he stopped on a sudden impulse, and said:—

"I have n't been treating you very decently; I'm sorry.

Herrick looked surprised and then embarrassed.

"Well," he said, after a moment, "I was n't blaming you much."

After that they met and walked and talked together without much constraint.

Meanwhile Herrick had been working faithfully to fill the responsibility with which Rupert had charged him. He had picked on Holder as the most promising player for the vacant end position, and day after day he coached him patiently, and tried to put "spirit" into him. It was "spirit" that Holder seemed to lack; he was naturally rather slow. Under this careful tuition he was improving, and Herrick seemed himself, through teaching, to learn. When he went into the practice he played better than he had ever done before. Harry Harding and Andrews were having a close race for the position of first substitute; Nat Belmont had been left behind. The team was working together harmoniously. Frank Windsor was doing better as Rupert's representative than he had done as captain of the Corinthians, and he seemed to be better liked. Once more a feeling of confidence began to prevail throughout the school. The boys began to say that even without Rupert they could beat St. John's.

It was rumored that Rupert, lying in bed, had devised some startling tricks which were to be the destruction of the enemy, and that the daily council which the eleven held in his room was given chiefly to the rehearsal of these plays.

"He's surely captain just the same as he always was," Frank Windsor said one day, on emerging from one of these conferences.

And when, on the day of the great game, the two elevens, St. John's in blue jerseys, St. Timothy's in red, ran out upon the field, and the cheers for both rose in mad excitement, challenging one another, gayly defiant, the enthusiasm of even that moment was less than that which burst forth an instant later. For an open carriage, in which sat Rupert Ormsby and another, swept out from the woods road, and at once the whole line of St. Timothy's spectators broke and rushed, shouting, to meet it—rushed and lined up again at the end of the field behind the goal-posts, where the carriage stopped.

"Rah, rah, rah, Ormsby!" they shouted again and again.

It was the first time since his accident that Rupert had been outdoors, and he looked on his friends now with his face flushed and his eyes shining. He laughed, and hoisting a crutch in the air, waved it in acknowledgment of their cheers.

The boy sitting beside him in the carriage—a boy with a dark, handsome face, and older than Rupert—looked out on the crowd and laughed too.

"It's Phil Ward!" exclaimed Harry Harding, who in his football clothes had run over to see the excitement. He turned to Bruce Watson. "It's Phil Ward! He was here at school with Clark. I did n't know that Rupe knew him! He was quite a fellow in college, too. He and Clark roomed together always. He used to play on Clark's team."

The game was about to begin. The boys ran back along the side line, and the two elevens separated to their places.