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CHAPTER VI

A ST. JOHN’S CHAMPION

WHEN his brother went down, Edward was standing with Lawrence and Keating on the farther side of the rink. “Whew, that was a hard one!” he exclaimed. Then he saw Charles lying motionless and the hockey players gathering round him.

“I—I’m afraid your brother’s hurt,” Lawrence said.

Edward was looking frightened, but he pulled a brave smile; “I guess they can’t knock Charles out,” he answered.

He started to run; the others followed. Dr. Vincent was just ahead of him, running too, and in the opening that the crowd made for the doctor Edward pushed through.

It was a wonderful relief to him, before even he could see Charles, to hear his brother’s voice, although it sounded queer and choked.

“No, no, I’m all right,” Charles was saying. Knocked me silly for a moment, I guess.”

Then Edward saw him; supported by Isham, he was holding a bloody handkerchief to his nose; his face was pale and bloody. Sheldon was kneeling beside him, and with his own handkerchief was trying to help in staunching the flow of blood.

Dr. Vincent put the handkerchiefs down from the boy’s face. Edward had for a moment a sensation of faintness, of horror; would Charles, his handsome brother, be disfigured for life? His nose was battered over to one side and was already thick and swollen. The doctor bathed his face from the pail of water that some one had brought, and then felt and pressed the injured nose.

“Hurt?” he said.

“Oh, some,” replied Charles.

“It’s broken; well, there’s not much that can be done for it just now.—One moment.”

Charles bore without wincing the treatment to which he was subjected. When it was over, he smiled at Edward, who had edged closer and got hold of his hand.

“Cheer up, Ned,” he said. “What are you looking so blue about? You fellows have a chance to beat us yet.”

There was laughter at that, the laughter of relief and of applause.

With Charles showing such fortitude, Edward felt that he must be equally stoical. So instead of saying what had been on his lips,—“O Charley, does it hurt awfully? Are you all right? Is n’t there something I can do?”—he merely observed, “Your face, Charley, is certainly a mess.”

All the St. Timothy’s boys clapped when Charles got to his feet and skated again out on the ice; and then Jim Payne called for a cheer, and they gave nine rahs, with “Crashaw” at the end of them; that made Edward’s eyes shine and his face flush, and he looked shyly away when Lawrence and Keating glanced at him and smiled.

Yet it was in pity almost as much as in admiration that the boys applauded Charles; his appearance was that of one better qualified for the hospital than the rink. His face was gory, his blue jersey was smeared with blood; his swollen nose and bruised, discolored cheek gave him a desperate look. He swung round once or twice cautiously, then took a half-dozen long confident strokes.

“All right,” he said; and the game proceeded.

Within a few seconds Edward realized that St. Timothy’s had singled out Charles now as the vulnerable point, and were directing at him their most severe attack—just as in the football game Charles had singled out Edward. The understanding came to Edward in a flash when Durant wheeled with the puck and charged clear across the rink at Charles.

He did not get by; there was a momentary scrimmage, and then the puck was hit wildly out into the centre, where Sheldon secured it. He pivoted an instant, hesitating; then shot it to Durant, who this time approached Charles with tempting deliberation. Charles made a rush; Durant flicked the puck out of his reach, Blanchard captured it and got safely away from all the forwards, and past Jackson at coverpoint, only to be thwarted at the last by the goal-keeper, who sent the puck skimming out of danger amid the shouts of St. John’s.

Charles picked it up at the side of the rink and started with it. He came down along the side, close by where Edward stood, and right there Sheldon rushed to meet him.

Edward held his breath; was there to be another collision like the last? Perhaps the same question caused Sheldon a moment’s uncertainty—the question and the glimpse of Charles’s bloody face; he slackened his speed a little, as if undecided whether to charge his man or to try to snatch the puck from under his hockey; and in that instant of indecision Charles made a sudden swerve, seemed to leap into increased speed, and eluding Sheldon entirely, swept down the middle of the rink.

In a moment he seemed surrounded by St. Timothy’s players; but then magically he emerged from them, still racing toward their goal, the puck clinging in the crook of his hockey, as if tied there. He was outskating them all; only Durant, rushing in at an angle, had a chance to head him off,—Durant and Wallace the goal-keeper.

The three came together squarely in front of the goal, came together and went down in a clashing heap; but even as they fell, St. John’s were shouting triumphantly, for at the very moment of the collision Charles had shot the goal.

When he got up, his nose was bleeding afresh, but he did not mind that. There was only a minute more to play, and the game was practically won. He skated slowly to his position, down the side of the rink; holding his bloody handkerchief to his face, he saw Edward in the front rank of the subdued St. Timothy’s spectators, and Edward’s face was so different from all the others!

It was alight with pride and admiration and love; Charles could not help reading all those things in a glance; it was not darkened by the chagrin and disappointment of defeat. There was not one of the St. John’s Sixth Formers who looked any happier.

Charles turned; the play had begun again. There was one furious scrimmage; then the timekeeper blew his whistle: the game was over.

Instantly the St. John’s Sixth Formers were out on the ice, slipping, sliding, crowding round their men—especially about Charles; they were jubilant and hilarious. The St. Timothy’s players left them in possession of the rink and silently sat down outside to take off their skating-boots; and the St. Timothy’s spectators began silently to move away. But Edward lingered; he came up to his brother and put his arm over his shoulder and pressed his hand.

“You old chump!” he said. “What’s the use of our smashing you up—if you go ahead and lick us just the same?”

“Don’t make me laugh,” said Charles. “It hurts.” He pointed to a cut on his lip. Help me off with these skating-boots, will you?”

He stretched himself out on the ground; Edward busied himself with the right foot and a St. John’s boy with the left, and Charles, lying on his back, introduced them to each other. The chorus of praise for his achievement continued round him; the other members of the team were there, joining in with the Sixth Form spectators. Edward, working silently, thrilled with pride at hearing all that was said, and felt more kindly than ever towards St. John’s.

He had a few moments alone with his brother in the gymnasium while Charles was changing his clothes.

“Does it hurt much?” he asked. “It looks like the dickens.”

“No; it sort of feels in the way; that’s all. And my head aches a little from getting such a crack.—Look here, Ned; you need n’t say anything about it when you write home.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, there’s no use in worrying them. Mother would probably go right up in the air if she heard I’d broken my nose. It’ll come back into shape in time.”

“You’d better stay over to-night and let Dr. Vincent fix it.”

“Nothing to fix. If there is, I guess Dr. Barrett at St. John’s can do just as good a job as your man. Now, mind; you’re not to mention it when you write home.”

“All right,” said Edward reluctantly. “It will sort of spoil the story, though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, I’d like to tell them how you won the game, after being knocked out—when our fellows thought they could go through you, the way—the way you went through me.”

“Oh, shucks!” said Charles. “No, don’t, Ned. I think it would only worry mother.”

“All right.” Edward’s voice was resigned. “But if I could tell it the way I saw it, she and father would be awfully proud of you—just like me, Charley.”

“Oh no, they would n’t; they have too much sense.” Charles gave his brother an affectionate, humorous glance.

But Edward persisted earnestly: “They could n’t help being proud. It was splendid, Charley. But I almost wish you had n’t done it.”

“Of course. You wanted your team to win.”

"Yes, but it was n’t only that.” Edward hesitated shyly. "It was mostly because you acted so differently from me.”

"But it was n’t at all the same thing.”

"Pretty much. Only you played a winning game and I played a losing one.”

"Forget it.”

"I can’t, Charley, until I have another chance to make good. And if I should n’t then—!”

“Look here, kid, you’re getting foolish. All you want to do is to play the game, or row, or whatever it is, for all the fun there is in it—and just don’t think about having to make good. That’s foolishness.”

“But when you go into a thing, you always feel that in a tight place you must come up to the scratch, don’t you? And you always do come up.”

“I just feel that I want to win, because it’s more fun when you’re winning. And so I go out to win. That’s all there is to it.—Isn’t it disgusting—the way that new overcoat of mine crocks my collar!”

“It looks all right.—Then you won’t let me write home and tell about the game all that ’s really worth telling?”

“All that’s worth telling is that St. John’s won.”

“You know that is n’t what the family would think.”

“You can say I made the winning score. But I’d rather you would n’t go into any details.”

“I’m sure I could make it just as fine and thrilling for father and mother as it was for me,” sighed Edward. “You know, Charley, really the game could n’t have turned out in a way to please me more. It is n’t right, I suppose—but I can’t help caring more for you than for St. Timothy’s.”

They both laughed, and just then Sheldon came up, his broad good-natured face as cheerful as if he had been participating in a victory.

“I guess I need n’t have been so sympathetic, Crashaw,” he said. “Wish I’d stood you on your head again.”

“Why did n’t you?”

“I was just trying to make up my mind to do it when you got by,” Sheldon acknowledged. “I’m too tender-hearted; that’s what’s the matter with me.—Little brother here is getting to be quite the oarsman. You going to row this year, Crashaw?”

“Yes, I’m expecting to.”

“Well, I should n’t wonder if there’d be a Crashaw on the winning crew this year, as well as on the losing one.”

“I like your news better than your way of putting it,” Charles answered.

“When they had shaken hands and Sheldon had departed, Charles turned to Edward.

“That is pretty good news,” he said. “I suppose that coming from the captain of the School crew it’s pretty straight?”

“Oh, Sheldon has n’t given a thought to the crew yet,” Edward answered. “He was just being pleasant.”

“He would n’t have said a thing like that without some reason!”

“Mr. Burns may have told him I was promising. But how can Sheldon know as early as this—before half the fellows have begun rowing?”

“I guess he’s a good fellow but not much of a captain,” Charles said thoughtfully. “He did n’t act right this afternoon.”

“What, in knocking you down the way he did?”

“No; in not knocking me down again. He knows he made a mistake; that’s why he said he was too tender-hearted. It was n’t that exactly; he lost his nerve. I bet you Sheldon’s a fellow that loses his nerve.”

“No, I don’t believe he does.”

“You see. He’s a good fellow, but he’s a sort of a quitter, I’ll bet anything. You see.”

The very word “quitter” had a sobering effect on Edward. To hear it applied to one who, he felt, deserved it far less than he did himself, made him very uncomfortable, and he became silent. Charles attributed his silence to disapproval of such derogatory remarks about the St. Timothy’s captain.

“Oh well,” said Charles pacifically, that’s just a notion I have, and of course I don’t know him. I think he’s a mighty good fellow just the same, and I’m awfully glad we’re to be classmates at college, so that I’ll learn to know him better.—Here, I can carry my own bag.”

“Please let me,” begged Edward.

When they emerged from the gymnasium, snow was falling, the twilight of the early evening had descended, lights shone from the windows of the School buildings. In front of the Study waited the two open sleighs, and by the gate were clustered a group of boys—members of the St. Timothy’s and St. John’s hockey teams, exchanging good wishes and farewells.

“Hurry up, Charley! Hurry up!” cried some of the St. John’s boys. “We’ve all been waiting for you.”

Charles shook hands all round with the St. Timothy’s team; last of all with his brother. Edward murmured in his ear, just as he was getting into the sleigh, “Good-bye, Charley. I wish I were more like you!”

“What?” Charles looked round at him with the startled exclamation.

But there was no time for more words; Isham, the St. John’s captain, stood up in the forward sleigh and called for three cheers for St. Timothy’s; and at the end of them the horses were off at a jump, pursued by the answering cheers of St. Timothy’s for St. John’s.

Edward wrote to his mother that night; with the restrictions that had been imposed he tried to make his account of the game as graphic and stirring as possible—especially all that had to do with Charles. He was dissatisfied with his effort, and perhaps would have been even more displeased with it could he have seen his mother and father laughing together over one of the most impassioned passages.

His spelling was never very good, and it became more erratic than usual when his pen was driven by excitement.

“He went through the whole bunch like magic,” Edward wrote. “I was thrilled to the bone when I saw him emmerge, still carrying the puck and skateing like the wind. In another moment he had shot the goal, and I was proud to think that he was my brother.”

It was rather chilling to receive his mother’s letter in reply, with all the mis-spelled words listed and corrected.

“But it is nice to have you so enthusiastic about your brother’s performance, and so proud of him,” she wrote. “I am glad you gave us such a good account; I suppose it was Charles’s modesty, but from his letter about the game I could n’t have told that he did anything noteworthy. We’re so glad that he distinguished himself, and that you were there to enjoy it and to tell us of it.”

With the hockey season at an end, Edward expected that Sheldon would settle down to his work with the crew. But the captain was hardly more regular in his attendance than before. When the ice was good, he would be skating; when there was no ice, he would spend part of his time practising his feats in the gymnasium. The crew-squad grew in size slowly, but Edward retained his place in the first division and rowed regularly at number three. Davis, a Sixth Former who had recently come out as a candidate, was put in at stroke; Sheldon himself rowed seven, and Grant of the Fifth Form rowed five. The other places were constantly undergoing change; hut it appeared as if Mr. Burns and Sheldon had definitely chosen four members of the crew.

Edward was elated of course at the indication, and did not regret the fact that he was no longer asked to run the squad; in Sheldon’s absence Davis, the Sixth Former, naturally took charge.

The captain’s carelessness occasioned less grumbling among the fellows than might have been expected. They recognized Mr. Burns as the real coach and felt that with him at hand an intelligent eye was always on them. Besides, Sheldon was so good-natured and jovial that he seemed to command a special indulgence.

And then it was understood among his crew candidates that he was to take a prominent part in the gymnastic exhibition which was to be held the night before Easter; and of course he had to keep himself in practice for that.

Easter was always the last day of the winter term. Edward wrote to his mother, urging her to come up for it.

“The chapel service is something that you ought to see; every one says so; and then the night before Easter there’s to be an athletic exhibition in the gymnasium. You mightn’t care much about the horizontal bar and flying rings and all that, but I guess father would n’t mind seeing it. And the two crews, Pythian and Corinthian, are to give an exhibition of rowing on the rowing-machines. I shall be in that, because I’m on the Pythians. It won’t be especially exciting, but I guess maybe I’d row better if you and father were in the audience. And then the day after Easter we could all go home together; that would be great.”

He was delighted when his mother wrote that she and his father would come.