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CHAPTER III

THE WEAK SPOT

JACKSON was a long, lean, sinewy fellow who overtopped Edward by three inches. In the first line-up he crouched, swinging his big-boned, rangy arms, and eying Edward with a deliberate and concentrated look somehow more menacing than his swinging arms and defiant posture. He was evidently not one who would lose his head or waste his energy. Edward in that first moment felt a sudden fear and resolved that he must gain self-confidence by overpowering his man at the start,—getting the jump on him.

In that he succeeded; high-strung and well drilled in his position, he was more quickly awake to the game than his more phlegmatic opponent. From the very first he was putting every ounce of his strength into the play, and so long as he was holding his man, he did not
 
P 48--The Crashaw brothers.jpg

EDWARD TACKLED HIS BROTHER

 
stop to consider how much strength Jackson might have in reserve.

Early in the half Edward broke through and tackled his brother, who had caught a punt and dodged the St. Timothy’s end; he hurled Charles to the ground with a fury which drew the applause of cheers and laughter from St. Timothy’s. It was all laughter a moment later when Edward helped Charles to rise and gravely gave him a condoling pat on the back.

The ball was on St. John’s twenty-yard line, and Charles signalled for a run round left end. On the play Edward thrust Jackson aside and tackled the runner for a loss. St. John’s had to kick, and Blanchard got the ball in the middle of the field.

A few moments later he called for Edward to take it, and Edward made a five-yard rush, Durant opening up the way.

“Great work, Ned, great work!” Blanchard cried. Sheldon, who was playing left guard, just beside Edward, gave him a jubilant hand and hauled him to his feet and his place in the line-up. On the side-lines the St. Timothy’s spectators were not unmindful of what Edward was doing; that rush had brought the ball close to the boundary, and Edward heard eager cries, “That’s the way, Crashaw! Put it all over big brother now.”

Edward was getting winded; still he thought nothing of that. It was probably just the excitement of the game, and as he panted between plays, he glanced at Charles; but Charles’s face was serene; he moved about distributing whispered words and encouraging pats among his men; last of all he gave one to Jackson.

Jackson was not panting yet, but his eyes were burning now with an awakened fire and his long arms swung with an impatient nervousness. Edward, crouching opposite him, panting but exultant, was unaware of any change.

On the next play Blanchard let Edward take the ball again; but this time the boy was so anxious to get away quickly that he lost his feet and went down without even being tackled. He got up mortified; the advantage which he had won the moment before was lost.

“Never mind, Ned,” said the captain, and gave the signal which meant that Edward should open up a hole for Jim Payne, the right half-back.

With all his force Edward launched himself at Jackson, but this time a moment too soon; Jackson neatly evaded him and then plunged in and grabbing Payne round the waist began rushing him backwards; the St. John’s eleven concentrated behind to help him, and Payne, shouting “Down! Down!” was being slowly borne back towards his own goal.

The referee put a stop to that and called the ball down at the spot where Payne had been tackled.

Edward took his place with a strange superstitious fear; had his luck turned? He had started in too strongly perhaps—yet now Jackson was compelling him to keep up to that pace.

For St. Timothy’s, Watts dropped back to kick; Edward braced himself to prevent Jackson from breaking through and blocking the punt. And again Edward was over-eager and charged too soon,—so that before he knew how it had happened, Jackson had flashed past him and was bearing down on the full-back, who sent the ball away just in time; it sailed barely beyond the reach of Jackson’s upraised arms.

It was a good, successful kick, and in the satisfaction and relief which it occasioned, there were not many who thought of Edward’s failure to perform his part; but he was chagrined enough by it. “Steady, now; steady!” he murmured to himself, as if he were a frightened horse that was getting beyond control.

For the rest of the half he fought it out with Jackson on even terms—just as the two elevens were fighting it out. He held his own, but with increasing difficulty, and it seemed to him that Jackson was growing stronger and stronger all the time. At the end of the half, with the score nothing to nothing, he felt as exhausted as he might naturally feel at the end of a hard game. And Jackson, it was evident, had not yet begun to tire.

In the athletic house Edward doused his head with water and then lay on his back on the floor with his eyes closed. He wished that Blanchard would n’t find it necessary to talk; he felt that what would do him most good would be to snatch five minutes’ sleep. Oh, if he had not lost those precious hours during the night! But Blanchard came up and sat beside him, and assured him that he was playing splendidly, and that in the next half St. Timothy’s would score.

Edward, without opening his eyes, smiled a weary assent.

“Now,” Blanchard said, addressing the eleven, “I’ll tell you what I want you to do, fellows. It’s our kick-off this half, and we have the wind with us. We’ve got to keep St. John’s from running the ball back; when they kick we must get the ball inside their forty-yard line. And then we’re off for a touchdown. We can score in the first five minutes, if every man plays for all that’s in him.—Ned, I’ll give you a chance to run with the ball; Durant’s playing a bully game, opening up holes, and you ought to get through for your distance.”

“I’ll try,” said Edward.

On the kick-off he was the first one down the field, and he tackled his brother, who caught the ball, before Charles had gone two yards. The St. Timothy’s cheer inspirited him; he sprang up and went to his position with renewed confidence. Charles took instant revenge and sent Dale, his fullback, charging through Edward for five yards.

“Hold them, fellows, hold them,” Blanchard urged on the next line-up.

And hold them they did, and St. John’s kicked, and St. Timothy’s got the ball just inside St. John’s forty-yard line.

“What did I tell you, fellows?” cried Blanchard with elation. “Now we’ll do the rest of the trick.”

He made a beautiful forward pass to Cochrane, the right end, and Cochrane gained ten yards. Then Payne plunged through the centre for five yards.

“Only twenty-five more to go, fellows!” cried Blanchard. “Seven, fifty-three, six!”

That was Edward’s signal, and he rushed round behind Blanchard, receiving the ball as he passed. Head down, with Blanchard pushing him he plunged through the gap that Durant and Cochrane had opened up between them; a whitewashed line flew beneath his feet, and then he was thrown violently on his shoulder, and somehow as he fell the ball slipped away from him.

Dazed and breathless, he rose at last, to hear the joyous shouting from the St. John’s followers.

Durant was stamping about furiously and came up to him. “Oh, Butterfingers!” cried Durant. “How did you do it?”

Edward turned away sadly without answering. Charles Crashaw had heard the speech; he stood for a moment glaring at the boy who had reproached his brother. Then in the heat of his anger, he committed an error of judgment; he drove the next attack against Durant, who had been playing the strongest game in the St. Timothy’s line. The attack collapsed without gaining. Then Charles directed a play at Edward; Jackson opened up the hole and Dale rushed through for five yards.

“Stop them, Crashaw; you’ve got to stop them!” cried Durant passionately.

Charles Crashaw heard that too, and his eyes glittered.

Blanchard gave Edward a confiding pat on the shoulder. “All right, old man; all right,” said Blanchard’s quiet voice.

That generous confidence made Edward choke; he resolved to justify his captain’s faith. The next time he made a good tackle; and again St. John’s had to kick. The ball was St. Timothy’s in the middle of the field.

They rushed it by a series of attacks to St. John’s thirty-yard line. Edward had been getting into every play with all the strength that he had; and Blanchard had been driving his team without intermission.

Once Edward had been given the ball and had made a five-yard gain; he had been thrown pretty hard. Now he felt that exhaustion was coming over him again; he staggered and gasped, but he tried to keep back his gasps so that Jackson should not hear. On the thirty-yard line Blanchard called for Durant to take the ball and go through Jackson. In the play Edward was the fraction of a second slow; Jackson charged him, thrust him aside, and hurled Durant to the ground for a loss.

“You've got to block your man, Crashaw!” Durant exclaimed wrathfully when he got to his feet.

The elder Crashaw was standing right there, and his temper flared. “You must think nobody can ever tackle you!” he sneered.

“Signal!” shouted Blanchard; and Durant and Edward hurried to their places.

That was the last signal that Blanchard gave. Sayre, the centre, snapped the ball back poorly, and as Blanchard was delayed getting his hands on it, Williams, the big St. John’s guard, burst through and fell on him.

Williams got up all right, but Blanchard lay on the ground. The team gathered round him; Durant knelt and lifted his head.

“Don’t,” said Blanchard, “I’m all right. Don’t bother.”

His face was pale and he was gritting his teeth, but he sat up. Dr. Vincent, the school physician, had hurried out on the field.

“It’s my left knee,” Blanchard said to him. “Wrenched it—but I’ll be able to go on in a moment.”

The doctor turned down the boy’s stocking.

“No more football for you to-day,” he said. “It’s out of the question.”

“Wait; I’ll show you. Give me a hand.” They helped Blanchard to his feet and he took a hobbling step. He stopped then, with a painful smile.

“I guess you’re right. Doctor; it’s no use. Durant, will you be captain?—Play hard, fellows; you can lick them.”

Durant and the doctor assisted him to the side-line, while St. John’s and St. Timothy’s alike applauded him. Carberry, his substitute, ran out and began limbering up and making practice passes with the ball. Blanchard stretched himself on a blanket on the ground and then drew Durant’s head down close to his.

“You’re captain now, and it’s all your game, Harry,” he said. “There’s just one thing; I believe young Crashaw will play better if you don’t scold him.”

“I’ll try to act like a captain,” Durant answered.

The game went on; Carberry at quarter-back was eager and energetic, but his judgment was not always good and his skill was limited. On the very first play Durant had him change the signal; then Jim Payne took the ball and fought his way through to St. John’s twenty-yard line. There, after three furious scrimmages, in all of which Edward was buried deep, St. Timothy’s were held and lost the ball.

For St. John’s, Charles Crashaw made an end run of fifteen yards and then sent Dale through Edward for ten yards; once more the ball was in neutral territory, and St. John’s on the side-lines were shouting in an ecstasy of relief. Edward stood after that last rush with his hands on his knees, getting his breath.

“All right, Crashaw.” It was Durant’s voice, strangely encouraging instead of sharp and critical. “All right.” And Durant clapped him on the shoulder just as Blanchard had done.

Charles Crashaw paused to survey his men and the enemy. There was Jackson, dishevelled, dirty, panting, but in the full flush of his strength; opposite him stood Edward, with his face white and drawn, betraying exhaustion and suffering. Charles looked along the line. His jocular word to Blanchard before the game had come true. He had found St. Timothy’s weak spot.

There were only a few minutes left before time would be called. Charles began to drive every play against his brother. First it would be Carter, with Charles blocking off, who would dash through the hole that Jackson opened. Then it would be Dale, the fullback. Then it would be Rose, the left tackle.

But whoever it was, he always found the hole awaiting him; Jackson always had Edward out of the way, and Carberry, striving to stop the gap, never succeeded in at once pulling the runner down.

“I’ll try to help you,” Sheldon breathed twice in Edward’s ear. “If you can’t get him, turn him in this way.”

But it was sufficiently apparent that with Williams opposite him Sheldon already had his hands more than full. Steadily, ruthlessly St. John’s proceeded up the field, hammering the necessary gains each time through the weak spot.

The St. John’s cheering grew more intense, the St. Timothy’s cheering more desperate. After every play Durant ran up to Edward, clapped him encouragingly on the back, cried cheerfully, “You can hold them, Ned!” He had never called Edward anything but Crashaw before.

Edward turned away dumbly. He was very tired—too tired to speak. He was grateful to Durant, but he did not much care now what was said to him. If they would only give him a rest for one play; perhaps then he could stop the next one. Once his eyes met his brother’s, and though he was unconscious of it there was in them a beseeching look.

Charles hesitated a moment that time before giving the signal; then he cried it out sharply and sent Rose crashing through Edward for five yards.

“Lie still and take time out after the play, Ned.” Durant whispered this in his ear. “Save your strength all you can.”

But the few seconds allowed for that did not seem to be of any value.

Ten consecutive rushes through Edward had brought the ball to St. Timothy’s ten-yard line.

“Hold them, fellows; you’ve got to hold them!” cried Durant.

“Hold them, St. Timothy’s; hold them, St. Timothy’s!” shouted the boys on the nearer side-line. “Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown!” clamored incessantly the crowd on the farther side-line.

Edward crouched for the play. He knew it would come at him; he felt a bitter resentment against Charles for battering him in this way, driving every play at him, humiliating him so. Why could n’t he go at some one else for a change? It was n’t fair, it—

He charged with all his might, and with head down tackled some one who was plunging past Jackson. They fell hard, and Edward hugged his man with his last desperate strength; this time at least he had done his duty, this time they had made no gain.

Then as the others got up, the boy whom he was clasping said in a mufded voice, half-appealing, half-humorous, “It’s only me, Ned.” And Edward saw that it was his brother Charles whom he had tackled, and that Charles did not have the ball. Rose had carried it through to the five-yard line, and all St. John’s were leaping and waving blue flags and shouting.

Charles rose and looked at his brother with a smile more wistful than triumphant. He glanced at the other St. Timothy’s players; they were all blown and anxious-eyed, but none of them looked as Edward did, none had that white circle round the mouth, none seemed so exhausted and distressed.

“Now then, fellows, get across this time,” Charles cried in hi& determined voice. “Sixty-three, seven!”

Then they went through Edward for the touchdown.

Three minutes after. Dale had kicked the goal, making the score six to nothing for St. John’s; the game was over.

Charles did not have a chance then to speak to Edward. The St. John’s boys rushed upon the field; they massed round their captain and exalted him on their shoulders, and then ran with him to the athletic house. He was far less happy than any of those who bore him.

In the shower-room he found himself standing next to Durant.

“Why did n’t you put a substitute in for my brother towards the end?” he asked sharply.

“The only substitute there was sprained his ankle three days ago,” Durant replied. “We might have put young Stokes in, but that would n’t have done any good. You’d have gone through him more easily than through your brother.”

“Ned must have been overtrained.”

“I should n’t wonder. He was plucky, though. When he gets his growth and his endurance he’ll be all right. I guess he blames himself more than anybody else does.”

Other players entered the bath-room, but Edward was not among them. Charles went into the dressing-room and rubbed himself down; at the farther end of the room he saw Edward half undressed, sitting on a bench with his chin in his hands. A fellow on crutches stood by him.

“You cheer up, Crashaw,” this person was saying. “I tell you, that Jackson fellow was fierce—I don’t believe anybody could have stood up under the battering they gave you. I think you did mighty well to hold him as long as you did. Everybody thinks so too. You’re young yet; in a year or two you’ll give St. John’s what for.”

"I can’t help feeling that if you’d been in there instead of me, Wallace—”

“Now cut that right out,” said Wallace, and he laid his hand on the boy’s bare shoulder.

Charles moved up near them. The older-brother habit of authority asserted itself.

“Ned,” he said, “you’d better go in and take your bath; you’ll catch cold.”

Edward looked up, saw that it was Charles, and meekly obeyed.

“He’s taking it pretty hard,” said the lame fellow.

“It’s good of you to try to make it easy,” said Charles.

“Oh, well.” Wallace lingered as if wanting to add something; then he turned on his crutches and swung out of the door.

Charles Crashaw waited for his brother. When Edward was dressed, Charles took him by the arm and said, “We’ll go for a little walk up the road—till the barge comes along and takes me in.”

Outside, they came upon Blanchard, wrapped in a blanket and seated in a carriage.

“Congratulate you, Crashaw,” he said, putting out his hand to Charles.

Edward stood by with downcast eyes.

“It’s the hardest luck you got hurt; I’m awfully sorry,” said Charles.

“It was a chump thing for me to do.” Blanchard glanced kindly at the younger brother. “Just my own clumsiness. When I ought to have stayed and backed Ned up in the defence—instead of leaving him to go it alone.”

Edward raised his eyes; there were tears in them.

“I can’t tell you how I feel, Guy,” he said; his lips quivered, and he turned quickly away.

Charles pressed Blanchard’s hand. “Thank you, ever so much,” he said. Then he hurried after his brother.

They walked together for a while in silence.

“Kid,” said Charles, when they had turned away from the field into the avenue of elms, “you know, I did n’t enjoy winning this game very much.”

“Why not?”

“Ah, you know why, Ned!” He put his arm round his brother’s waist. “It almost made me cry—to keep pounding you when you were all played out. You don’t know how I wanted to try it somewhere else—especially when it came to striking for the touchdown. Oh, I’d have given anything to make it through Durant instead of you! But I did n’t dare to take the chance, Ned. I knew that everywhere else your line was strong—and it was up to me to win that game for St. John’s. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right, Charley. I suppose I’m selfish to feel the least bit sore about it. Your last year at St. John’s and being captain—of course you—I ought almost to be glad you won. But I’m sorry for Blanchard! If only I had n’t lost it—!”

“Nobody blames you. Jackson really is a wonder. You held him mighty well, until your strength gave out.”

“If I only thought so!”

“Everybody else thinks so. The way those St. Timothy’s fellows talk about you—it makes me feel they’re just as good as St. John’s.”

“They’re the best ever—if that’s what you mean.”

“Kid,” said Charles, drawing him close, “It does me good to see you smile again.”

Behind them came the St. John’s barge at a gallop. It slowed up, and the boys in it called to Charles to climb aboard.

“Good-by, Ned,” he said, and gave a lingering squeeze to his brother’s hand.

Jackson reached a hand down from the barge.

“Crashaw,” he said. “Just to show there’s no hard feeling.”

Edward looked up at him; he was not at all savage in appearance now; he was laughing and his eyes were kind.

“None at all,” said Edward, and he grasped Jackson’s hand.

Then the barge rolled away. Edward took off his cap and waved a farewell to his brother.

When he turned, the first golden streaks of the sunset were shining beyond the chapel tower. He looked toward them with blurred eyes. There was a crowning radiance to his afternoon; through his failure and defeat he had come to know Wallace and Durant and Sheldon and Blanchard—yes, even his own brother—all that was best in them, and to care for them all as perhaps he might never otherwise have cared.

“If I could ever be big enough to treat some other poor kid the way they’ve treated me!” he thought.