Harding of St. Timothy's/Chapter 8
THE banquet was not to begin until eight o'clock. Harry, sitting at his desk, invited ideas for a speech.
"Substitutes"—it ought to be easy to invent something humorous and also something quite touching to say on the subject Mr. Eldredge had given him. Fellows working hard all the season taking the rough knocks of better players, used as buffers by the first eleven, and then on the day of the game just wearing the first eleven's blankets and toddling up and down the side-line. They were comical figures,—all bundled and blanketed,—but they were pathetic, too, and each one praying that some one on the first eleven would get hurt not seriously hurt, of course, but just enough to have to leave the game. It was inevitable that a substitute should always be in that state of mind, and it was an idea out of which something might be made.
Then, Harry reflected, he could become personal, and take up the cases of various individuals. There was "Fatty" Myers, who wore five sweaters, and whose heroic abstinence all the season from sweetmeats and pastry had delighted the scornful; there was Tad Melville, who, when he was not exercising, was reading books on "How to Get Strong, and How to Stay So"—nicknamed "Old Stay-So," in consequence. There were many little incidents that Harry began to see he could utilize in his speech, and he sat up to the desk and began to write.
He grew more and more wrapped in the work. One thought followed another, his lips curved now and then in appreciation of his own humor; and finally he became involved in an eloquent climax, full of feeling and sentiment and pathos.
He stopped in the midst of it to read back a little way and admire it. "Oh, by George, it's a good speech!" he said to himself. He jumped about in his chair excitedly, and then with self-conscious art he finished his affecting peroration.
He felt in his heart that it would be a great deal better speech than any one else would make that evening, the only really polished and witty speech, the only one that would have any genuine life and originality. All the others would be like Frank Windsor's, entirely impromptu and commonplace. Harry swelled a little with pride in his accomplishment and in anticipation of the applause it would receive. It would be another proof to the fellows of his eminence.
The banquet was held in the choir-room over the library. All the eleven, all the substitutes, and two or three specially invited guests, of whom Philip Ward was one, sat down to it.
Mr. Eldredge and two other masters and Ward wore evening clothes. The boys had arrayed themselves in their best, and had at the outset an air of festive formality.
The two tables, of which one was much longer than the other, were placed together in the form of a T. At the top of the T sat Mr. Eldredge, with Rupert Ormsby on his right hand and Philip Ward on his left. At the intersection of the T, and in the middle and at the foot of the long table, were placed great bowls of red carnations, and beside every boy's plate was a carnation for his buttonhole and a miniature football tied with a bow of red ribbon. The first thing that the boys did upon sitting down was to pin on these decorations. They were more restrained in their behavior than they usually were at meal-time. A glow of cheerfulness rather than a demonstrative spirit of triumph seemed to prevail.
Harry, sitting between Joe Herrick and Fatty Myers, was assailed by nervousness. The audience that he was to address seemed much more imposing than he had expected, and he suddenly became afraid that he would forget his speech.
So he took out the manuscript and surreptitiously tried to study it, holding it in the folds of his napkin; but both Herrick and Myers detected him, and raised such an outcry that he had to put it back into his pocket. He did not want to have everybody at the table laughing at him. So he sat silent, trying to recite the speech to himself.
Before long the formality was all dissipated. Mr. Jackson, the choirmaster, raised suddenly, from his seat at the foot of the long table, the St. Timothy's song, which was at once taken up by all the others; and after that there was no more constraint. At last, when the ice-cream had been brought on, Mr. Eldredge rose and rapped on the table; and Harry felt a nervous, chilly tremor down his spine.
"We have now come," said Mr. Eldredge, "to the literary part of our celebration. I regret that we have n't a poet to do justice to our annual victory over St. John's."
There was loud applause for the phrase "annual victory," and Mr. Eldredge continued:—
"In default of a poet, I am going to call on one who, we can feel sure, will have something ready and appropriate to say to us, even in spite of this suddenness. When by an unfortunate accident our team was deprived of its captain's leadership upon the field, it became necessary for some one to take his place, or at least to transmit his orders.
Who does i' the wars more than his captain can
Becomes his captain's captain,—
and I am going to call on Frank Windsor, who served as his captain's captain, to tell us how the game was won."
Amidst loud applause Mr. Eldredge sat down, and Frank Windsor rose. In spite of all his previous bravado about this experience, he was blushing most uneasily, and no sooner did he begin to speak than perspiration gathered on his forehead. He looked steadily down at his plate, and talked in a low tone and in very mixed, incoherent sentences.
Harry could not help feeling a superior satisfaction, as Frank went on stammering out his undigested thoughts. He himself would shine all the more by contrast.
Frank ended with a lame tribute to Rupert, and after repeating it twice in an attempt to make it a little more graceful, abruptly sat down. The boys clapped him and laughed at him while he swallowed ice-water and then mopped his forehead.
Mr. Eldredge rose again, and Harry, with premonition gripping his throat, began moistening his lips.
"Mr. Windsor has told us how the game was won," said Mr. Eldredge, "but I don't believe he has told us the whole story. There's a good deal that goes into the winning which never appears on the surface. It's true in football as in most other things that 'they also serve who only stand and wait,' and I will ask Mr. Harry Harding—who did not wait in vain—to speak on behalf of the substitutes."
Harry rose, beaming happily. Mr. Eldredge had given him just the opening for his speech.
"Mr. Toastmaster," he said, "I have a quotation, too, for my subject:—
Wait, wait, wait,
On the cold, gray side line we!
And each tender sub asks his anxious heart,
'Will they never call for me?'"
He spoke the lines so pathetically that they appealed to all the other substitutes, who began to applaud and laugh with great appreciation. That gave him confidence, and he went through his speech with a genial humor and enthusiasm which reached his audience. They laughed at his jokes, and were delighted by his sallies at the expense of Fatty Myers and "Old Stay-So;" and when he finished, it was with the comfortable sense that he had improved his reputation for cleverness.
The fellows near by congratulated him, and the applause lasted much longer than that which had consigned Frank Windsor's speech to friendly oblivion.
When it was over, Mr. Eldredge stood up again.
"If it is true," he began, "that 'calamity is man's true touchstone,' perhaps we ought to congratulate our captain this year on his test instead of condoling with him on his misfortune. I will venture to say that if he had been able to lead his team to victory in person, we should still not have learned to respect and admire him so much as we do now; and I believe that however well he might have played, he could not have done more toward winning the game than, by communicating his spirit and his influence to his team, he has already done."
Here Mr. Eldredge was interrupted by a burst of applause, louder and longer, Harry could not help noticing with a twinge of jealousy, than that which had just resounded for him.
"Gentlemen," said Mr. Eldredge, "I am going to call on Rupert Ormsby to speak for the team."
While the clapping rose and continued, Rupert picked up the crutches lying beside his chair, and with them and Mr. Eldredge's assistance, got to his feet. His face was as red as Frank Windsor's had been, but it was with emotion rather than with confusion.
"Thank you, Mr. Eldredge," he said; and the master sat down.
Rupert hesitated a moment, and then, as he leaned on his crutches, he smiled. "I guess this team does n't need anybody to speak for it. Least of all a fellow that was lolling in a carriage while it was doing the work. Mr. Eldredge has just said some things that are very pleasant, but not very true. But part of what he said was entirely true; and that is that if I'd been in the game we would n't have done a bit better."
"Never said it!" interjected Mr. Eldredge, and the audience laughed.
"Well, you implied it, anyway," retorted Rupert humorously. "You were too polite really to say it. Joe Herrick, who played my end, did all that I could ever have thought of doing—and I dare say I should n't have been on the spot, as he was, to pick up that ball and put it where it would mean a touchdown. And Holder and Harding, on the other end, played so that nobody would ever have guessed we'd been afraid of a weak spot. And the others all played as I'd never, never seen them play. Mr. Eldredge is very generous, attributing so much of the winning spirit to me; but I want to say that the spirit that won that game did n't belong to me; it belonged to the fellows themselves.
"In fact,"—he hesitated again, and then went on,—"in fact, I've got to make a confession. When it was all over, and you fellows had won and the crowd was parading away from the field, I did n't feel happy a bit. I felt sore—sore because I was n't in it all, and because I'd had to see other fellows doing what I'd wanted to do. I can tell you this now, for I've got over it, and I do feel very, very happy. And I can honestly say now, as I look back, that I would n't have had things happen any differently. You won't all of you—perhaps you won't any of you—understand, but this whole thing has made me more aware of what there is in you fellows, and of the way you're good enough to feel toward me, than I could ever have been if I had n't got hurt and if I'd played in the game."
And while, with Mr. Eldredge's assistance, he was laboriously getting back into his seat, and the boys, who had been very much touched by what he had said, were clapping noisily, Joe Herrick was the only one of them all to appreciate the full significance of Rupert's last words. He found himself winking unaccountably to clear up the mist that had gathered in his eyes; and then on a sudden inspiration he mounted his chair, and shouted:—
"Fellows, all up, and three times three for Ormsby!"
Harry cheered with the others, but there was a little sting of disappointment in his breast even while he cheered. Somehow he knew that Rupert's speech had eclipsed his own brilliancy. When he sat down, he heard Fatty Myers say to some one across the table:
"That's about the best speech a fellow could make," and Sam Morse answered, "You bet!"
Mr. Eldredge was whispering to Ward. Then he rose and rapped on the table.
"We have with us to-night," he said, "a distinguished son of St. Timothy's—distinguished though still young. Every boy in this room is familiar with the career of Philip Ward, and can tell just how many years he has played on a 'varsity football-team. And every boy in this room who aspires to play on a 'varsity team himself some day wants to hear from Philip Ward."
The boys showed their satisfaction by loud clapping and an eager pushing about of their chairs; and Philip Ward rose. Tall and dark, he was very handsome as he stood there in his evening clothes, and the boys all looked up at him with respectful admiration. His face, which was naturally rather severe in its clear, determined lines, lighted up as he smiled and bowed, first to Mr. Eldredge, and then, as the master sat down, to the others.
"Mr. Toastmaster and members of the St. Timothy's eleven," he began, "for certain reasons I could n't help comparing to-day's game with the last football game I ever played against St. John's. I roomed that year with Clark Harding, who was captain of the team.
"He was our best man—just as, from all I hear, Rupert Ormsby was your best man. But in the first five minutes of the game with St. John's Clark wrenched his knee, and had to be carried from the field. He lay on the side line the rest of the game, looking on. He lay there and saw another fellow do the things he'd hoped to do. He lay there and saw this chap Skilton—and a corker he was, too—win the game. And yet of all the fellows that played that day you'd have said Clark Harding was the happiest—and so, I believe, he really was, except perhaps Skilton. But here's a thing I saw in our room that night—a thing I've never told till now."
He paused a moment; the boys waited intently. Harry, of course, was listening with a proud and special interest. Rupert was sitting with his eyes lowered, thinking that he did not compare very well with Clark Harding.
"I was writing a letter home about the game, and turned suddenly to ask him a question. He was lying on the bed with his face toward me, dabbing the tears away from his eyes with a handkerchief. I knew it was n't the pain in his knee that made the tears his his eyes. He asked me why I wanted to turn round just then, and I did n't say a word, and we neither of us ever mentioned it again. I knew that time about Clark,—just as all you fellows have known to-night about Rupert Ormsby,—that it was n't because he'd missed the glory of making the touchdown that he felt badly, but because he'd been shut out from doing the work and being useful. And I consider that an honorable sort of regret, with nothing small or mean or envious in it. And when you hear a fellow like Rupert Ormsby crying himself down for selfishness and pettiness, why, clap him the way you've done to-night—and don't believe him."
They all laughed and clapped at this—except Rupert. And he sat blushing and feeling a good deal better than a few moments before, when he had foreseen a disastrous comparison with Clark Harding. Philip Ward continued:—
"When Mr. Eldredge told me I'd be expected to make a speech to-night, I thought perhaps the best thing I could do would be to talk on how to act when you go to college—for I suppose most of you are going a year or two years from now. And it seems to me that the case of Clark Harding—which is the same, you see, as the case of Rupert Ormsby—gives me a good starting-point. Those two fellows are out to do something—not just to be prominent. At least, that's the way it was with Clark, and from having known Rupert since he was a kid, I think I can say the same for him. But we'll leave him out of it now; it's not fair to embarrass him any more by singing his praises. I'll stick simply to Clark.
"He was a fellow, I can tell you, that never once thought of the importance of being personally prominent. He never did things with that purpose in view. Now in that respect he was different from nearly every other fellow of his age; he was certainly different from me. Here at school I'd got into the habit of mistaking prominence for success; nearly every boy makes that mistake. It's only the rare fellows like Clark who don't make it.
"But the rest of us find out after a while that it is a mistake. We've gone to college, just as we've gone to school, maybe—with just an idea of being socially prominent and popular, getting into clubs and societies, making athletic teams, holding offices, being talked about and looked up to as if we were somebody. And maybe we succeed in that ambition. And then, when we've done it, we find that it's a pretty empty success, after all.
"We find that some fellow like Clark Harding, who has n't lifted a hand to gain what we've prized, has got that and more, too. And we begin to feel like the pacemaker in a running race, who starts out as if he were going to leave the whole field behind—and then, after the first lap, is passed by every one. That's what comes to the boy who, either here or at college, acquires no more solid ambition than just to shine."
Ward paused a moment, and in that interval, while the other boys were sitting gravely silent, Harry stirred in a discomfort that was almost physical. With a sudden sensitiveness, which had made him wince, he had felt that, unintentionally, this discourse was aimed at him. And what made it more painful was that the brother whom he adored was being used to point the moral. How truly he knew that he himself was the boy who liked to shine!
"I hope," Ward continued, speaking even more earnestly, "you won't misunderstand me. Most of you fellows who are here to-night are prominent in the life of St. Timothy's School. The fact that you are here is an indication of prominence. And prominence is not a crime; it need not be a misfortune. It means that you are having a larger opportunity to live than other boys—a larger opportunity to work and to play, a larger opportunity to befriend those who are more obscure, more weak, more unsatisfied and unhappy than yourselves. You have the opportunity for leadership; and leadership means a good deal more than walking at the head of the procession. The fellow who is after the ornamental features of leadership will never be a leader. He will only be that by doing the work and letting some one else attend to the advertising.
All good things await
Him who cares not to be great
But as he saves and serves the state.
"And you are saving and serving the state—this little state of St. Timothy's—when you are building your own character. For when you are building your own character, you are—though you may not know it—helping some friend to build his. And character is the only thing that counts. Without character, muscles are nothing; brains are nothing; and though you had 'the front of Jove himself, an eye like Mars, to threaten and command,' and had not character, some homely, puny-looking dwarf, who has what you lack, may arise at any moment and upset you."
He sat down; and after a moment of stillness, which attested the impression that his speech had made, the applause broke out. And Harry, applauding with the others, knew that his own clever little speech, over which he had so hopefully toiled, was already buried and forgotten.
But it was no longer this knowledge which depressed him on this night of triumph and celebration. Philip Ward had, all unconsciously, shown him how unlike Clark he was, and it was this which stung.
When Harry came into his room that night he found a letter from Clark, postmarked Aden, lying on his desk.
It was the first unsympathetic letter that he had ever had from his brother. This was the part that hurt:—
"What the dickens is all this about your being elected president of the athletic association? It may be all right, but I don't quite see it. I never knew you were especially much of an athlete. It looks to me as if you fellows in the Crown had been playing politics. Have n't you got somebody else's honor away from him?"