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Right Tackle Todd
Ralph Henry Barbour
Illustrator: Leslie Crump
He felt rather tired, very happy and—extremely foolish.
“Stereotyped,” said Martin Gray. “That’s the word!” He spoke triumphantly, as one will when a moment’s search for the proper term has been rewarded. “Stereotyped, Clem!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied his room-mate, only mildly interested in Mart’s subject. “Of course they do look pretty much alike—”
“It isn’t only their looks, though. But, come to think of it, that’s another proof of my—er—contention. Hang it, Clem, if they weren’t all alike as so many—er—beans—”
“Don’t you mean peas?” asked Clement Harland, grinning.
“Beans,” continued Mart emphatically. “They wouldn’t all wear the same things, would they?”
“Don’t see that, Mart. After all, a chap’s simply got to follow the jolly old style, eh?”
“Not if he has any—er—individuality! No, sir! I saw fifty at least of the new class arrive yesterday, and except that sometimes one was shorter or taller or fatter than the others, you could have sworn they were all from the same town. Yes, sir, and the same street! Same clothes, same hats, same shoes, same—”
“Well, after all, why not? Besides, after they’ve been here awhile they develop different—as you’d say—‘er—characteristics.’ What if the kids do look alike when they first come?”
“But you don’t get the—er—the idea at all!” protested Martin. “What I’m trying to get at—”
“Is that Alton Academy attracts a certain type of fellow and doesn’t get enough freaks to suit you.”
“Freaks be blowed! I don’t want freaks, I want new blood, something different now and then. You know as well as I do that new blood is what—”
“You’ve got the ‘melting pot’ idea, eh?”
“Yes, I guess so. Why not? Look at the other schools; some of ’em, anyway: Dexter, Dover—”
“I said some of ’em. Take Dexter now.”
“Look at the—er—variety of fellows that go there. What’s the result?”
“Why, the result is that they manage to beat Dover pretty often at football, but I always thought that coach of theirs had a good deal to do with that!”
“Shucks, I’m not talking about athletics, although that’s a pretty good test, too. What I mean is that it’s the school that draws its enrollment from all over the country and from all—er—classes that does the biggest things; and that’s the most use, too.”
“I don’t believe it,” answered Mart. “It’s the school itself, its policy, its traditions that count. You might have every state in the Union—”
“Oh, that, of course, but I say that a student body composed of a lot of totally different types—”
“All right, but how are you going to get them?”
“Reach out for ’em! How do other schools get ’em?”
“Search me, old son! Maybe they advertise in the papers; Dakotas, New Mexico, Florida, Hawaii—”
“Sure! Why not! This school’s in danger of—er—dry-rot, Clem! Four hundred or so fellows all alike, speaking the same language—”
“I should hope so!”
“Thinking the same thoughts, having the same views on every subject. Gosh, can’t you see that you and I don’t get as much out of it as if we could rub up against something different now and then? Wouldn’t it be refreshing to find a fellow who didn’t think just as we think about everything, who didn’t wear exactly the same kind of clothes, who didn’t think the sun rose and set in New England?”
“But the sun does rise and set in New England,” objected Clem. “I’ve seen it.”
“Oh, shut up! You know what I mean. Wouldn’t it?”
Clem considered a moment. Then he shook his head doubtfully. “You should have gone to Kenly Hall, Mart,” he answered. “They have all kinds there, the whole fifty-seven varieties.”
“Yes, and they’re better off for it. Of course it’s the proper thing for us to make fun of Kenly, but you know mighty well that it’s every bit as good a school as Alton; maybe better in some ways. But Kenly isn’t much different from us. They get about the same lot year after year, just as we do. One year’s freshman class looks just like last year’s. Maybe they do get an occasional outsider. Quite a few middle-west chaps go there. But mostly they draw them from right around this part of the country, as we do. Gee, I’d certainly like to see, just for once, a fellow turn up here who didn’t look as if he’d been cast in the same mold with all the others!”
“You’re getting all worked up about nothing, old son,” said Clem soothingly. “You mustn’t do it. It always upsets you so you can’t eat your meals, and it’s only half an hour to supper.”
“If you weren’t so blamed stubborn—”
“Shut up a minute! Hello! Come in!”
The door of Number 15 opened slowly until the more dimly lighted corridor was revealed through a narrow aperture and a voice said: “Excuse me, please, but is this where the fellow that hires the football players lives?”
From where Martin sat the owner of the voice was hidden, and so he could not account for the radiant grin that enveloped his room-mate’s countenance for an instant.
“I didn’t get it,” said Clem, politely apologetic. “Won’t you come in?” His face was sober again, unnaturally sober in the judgment of Martin Gray.
“Well,” said the unseen speaker doubtfully. Then the door again began its cautious passage across the old brown carpet, and Mart understood Clem’s grin.
The youth who now stood revealed to Mart’s astounded gaze was little short of six feet tall, it seemed. In age he might have been anywhere from sixteen to twenty, with eighteen as a likely compromise. He was attired neatly but, it appeared, uncomfortably in a suit of dark gray which fitted him too loosely across the shoulders and too abruptly at the ankles, its deficiency at the latter point exposing to Mart’s fascinated eyes a pair of wrinkled woolen socks of sky-blue. The low shoes were not extraordinary, but there was something deliciously quaint about the collar, with its widely parted corners, and the pale blue satin tie that failed to hide the brass collar-stud. Even the hat, a black Alpine shape, struck a note of originality, possibly because it was a full size too small and was poised so precariously atop a thickish mass of tumbled hair that seemed not yet to have decided just what shade of brown to assume. Clem coughed delicately and asked: “You were looking for someone?”
“Guess I’ve got the wrong place,” said the stranger, his first embarrassment increasing at the discovery of Mart beyond the door’s edge. “The fellow I’m looking for is the one who hires—well, takes on the football players. Guess he’s the manager, ain’t he?”
“Possibly,” answered Clem, turning to Mart with an inquiring glance. “What do you think?”
Martin took his cue promptly. “Or, maybe the coach,” he suggested. “You don’t know his name?”
The stranger shook his head. He held firmly to the outer knob of the door, resting his shoulders against the edge of it as he frowned in an effort of memory. “I heard it,” he replied, “but I forget what it was. He said I was to see him between five and six about me getting on the football team and I thought he said he lived in Number 15 in Lykes Hall, but—”
“Well, you see, this isn’t—”
But Clem interrupted Mart swiftly. “Sit down, won’t you?” he asked, smiling hospitably. “I dare say we can thresh out the mystery. And you might shove that door too, if you don’t mind. Thanks.”
The stranger closed the door as slowly as he had opened it, removed his hat and advanced gingerly to the chair that Clem’s foot had deftly thrust toward him. He gave them the impression of having attained his growth so suddenly as to be a little uncertain about managing it. He lowered himself almost cautiously into the chair, placing two rather large feet closely together and holding his hat firmly by its creased crown with both hands, hands generously proportioned, darkly tanned and extremely clean. He looked about the room and then back to Clem, while a slow smile radiated the long, somewhat plain face.
“You fellows got it right nice here,” he ventured.
“Like it?” asked Clem in a more friendly tone. The stranger’s smile had transformed him on the instant from a queer, almost uncouth figure to something quite human and likable. “Yes, it isn’t a bad room. Where do you hang out? By the way, you didn’t mention your name, did you?”
“Todd’s my name. My room’s over in Haylow; Number 33. A fellow named Judson and I have it together. It ain’t like this, though. Not so big, for one thing, and then the ceiling comes down, over there like, and I keep hitting my head on it.”
Mart laughed. “They didn’t build you for one of those third floor rooms, Todd.”
The slow smile came again and the gray eyes twinkled, and the visitor relaxed a little in the straight chair. “Gosh, I started to grow last year and it looks like I can’t stop. I didn’t use to be such an ungainly cuss.”
“I wouldn’t let that bother me,” returned Mart. “You’ll fill out pretty soon, I dare say. How tall are you?”
Todd shook his head. “I ain’t measured lately,” he acknowledged a trifle sheepishly. “Been scared to. Pop says if I don’t stop pretty soon it won’t be safe for me to go out in the woods less’n someone might mistake me for a tree and put an ax to me!”
“Where’s your home?” asked Clem, with a side glance at his room-mate.
“Four Lakes, Maine. At least, we don’t live right in the village, but that’s our postoffice address. We live about three miles north, up the Ludic road. You ever been around there?”
It seemed that they hadn’t, but once started Todd was not averse to supplying personal information. Clem fancied that Judson, whoever he might be, had not proved a sympathetic listener and that Todd was heartily glad to find someone to talk to. His father had a store, it seemed, and was also interested in timber lands and numerous other interests. There was a large family of children of which the present representative was the senior member. He had been going to school at Four Lakes until last Spring.
“I was set on going to college, you see, and I thought I’d learned enough, but I went down to Lewiston and talked with a fellow down there and he said I’d better go to a preparatory school for a couple of years first. I asked where and he said this place. So I came down here. Seems like he might have said some place nearer home, but I guess it don’t matter. This looks like a right nice school. I guess you fellows are seniors, aren’t you?”
“Juniors,” corrected Clem. “I suppose you’re one of us, Todd.”
“I guess so. I ain’t heard for sure yet. They started me off as a junior, though.”
“Oh, you’ll make it,” declared Mart. “So you’re going to play football, eh?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Todd smiled embarrassedly. “I ain’t ever yet, but this fellow I was looking for stopped me this morning and asked if I was going to and I said no, and then he asked didn’t I want to and I said I didn’t know if I did or not, and he said for me to come and see him between five and six o’clock and we’d talk about it. He said what his name was, but I forget. I think he said he managed the players.”
“He didn’t,” inquired Clem very innocently, “mention what position he thought you’d fill best on the team?”
Todd’s gray eyes twinkled again. “No, he didn’t, but I guess maybe one of the posts at the end of the field’s got broken and he’s looking for a new one.”
“I think it must have been Dolf Chapin you saw,” said Mart, smiling at Clem’s slight discomfiture. “He’s—”
“That’s the name,” declared Todd with relief. “Where’s his room, please?”
“He’s in 15 Lykes.”
“Well, isn’t this—” Then Todd’s countenance proclaimed understanding and he chuckled. “Gosh, I went right by it, didn’t I? I was over at that building where they have the library—”
“Memorial,” said Mart.
“And meant to stop at the first building after I came off that path that comes from there. Instead of that I got right back in my own house, didn’t I? I ain’t got this place learned very well yet. Well, I’m much obliged to you. Maybe I’ll see you again. My name, like I told you, is Todd, Jim Todd.” He arose and offered a big hand to Clem and then to Mart.
“Glad to have met you, Todd,” responded Clem, spreading his fingers experimentally after the crushing grip they had sustained. “My name’s Harland, and this is Gray. Drop in again sometime, won’t you? I’d like mighty well to hear how you get along with football.”
“Well, I ain’t so sure I’ll play it,” answered Todd from the doorway, frowning a little. “I guess playing games sort of interferes with a fellow’s school work, and what I’ve seen of the courses they’ve got me down for makes me think I’ll have to do some tall studying. I’m glad to have met you, and maybe I might come in and see you again some time.”
“Do that,” said Clem earnestly.
Then the door closed slowly but decidedly and Clem and Mart dropped back into their chairs. After a moment Clem said: “Looks to me like your prayer was answered, Mart.”
“Well, he’s only one, but he’s a hopeful sign.”
Clem chuckled softly. “You and Todd ought to get along pretty well together,” he continued. “You wanted something different, and there you have it. At least, he doesn’t wear clothes like the rest of us; he’s no slave to Fashion, old son. Maybe he won’t mind telling you where he buys his togs, eh?”
“Some way,” answered Mart, “it doesn’t seem quite fair to make fun of him. There was something awfully decent about the chap, in spite of his clothes and his—er—queer appearance.”
“That’s true, and I wasn’t really making fun. Only—” Clem interrupted himself with a laugh. “Say, isn’t it just like Chapin to try to round that fellow up for the football squad? Honest, Mart, if a one-legged fellow showed up here and Dolf saw him he wouldn’t be happy until he had him out on the field!”
“At that,” replied Mart, as he arose to prepare for supper, “Jim Todd might be a blamed sight better player than some of those cripples who lost the game last year for us! I noticed that your delicate sarcasm was trumped very neatly by our recent guest, old timer!”
“Yes,” Clem acknowledged, “that’s so. I fancy our friend James isn’t such a fool as his hat makes him out!”
The occupants of Number 15 Haylow didn’t see anything more of Jim Todd for a while. In fact, he had nearly gone from their memories when Clem collided with him at the entrance to the dormitory one day in late October. Jim only said “Hello” and would have gone by, but something prompted Clem to renew the acquaintance.
“Well, how do you like things now that you’ve been with us awhile, Todd?” he asked.
“Fine, thanks. I’m getting on real well.”
“Good! By the way, you never paid that next call, you know. Gray and I have been wondering about you.” That was more flattering than truthful perhaps. “Still playing football, or did you decide not to go in for the manly pastime?”
Jim smiled. “Well, I’m still on the squad,” he said, “but I don’t do very well at that game. Guess I’ll be quitting this week. It’s pretty hard, and it takes a good deal of a fellow’s time, too.”
“Well, if they’ve kept you all this time you’ll probably last the season out,” responded Clem, not a little surprised.
But Jim Todd shook his head. “I guess I’ll be getting through pretty soon,” he said firmly.
“Well, drop in and see us again, anyway.” Clem hurried on to a recitation, wondering most of the way to Academy Hall why he had renewed the invitation. Nothing came of it for nearly a fortnight, however. Then, late one afternoon, Mr. James Todd knocked and entered. Six weeks had somewhat altered his appearance, and he looked far less “different.” He was still the same tall, loose-jointed chap, but he wore a gray sweater and a pair of old blue trousers and no hat, and so much of his oddity was missing. He was, too, more at ease on this occasion, and settled his long length back in the Morris chair that Clem indicated without his former hesitation. Presently, in the course of conversation, Mart observed:
“I’ve been looking for you on the football team, Todd, but I missed you. Still, it’s hard to recognize your friends under those leather domes you fellows wear. You didn’t get into the Mount Millard game, did you?”
“I ain’t been in any of them,” answered Jim. “I ain’t much of a football player.”
“Oh, well, you’ve got two chances yet,” replied Mart cheeringly. “Maybe Cade is keeping you back for the Kenly Hall game.”
“I quit last week,” said Jim simply.
“Quit? You mean—er—is that so?” floundered Mart. “Well, maybe next year—”
“It was pretty hard work,” added Jim Todd. “Pretty wearing. I got tired of it finally. Mr. Cade and me had a sort of argument about it, but I told him I wouldn’t ever make a football man and that I had sort of got behind with my studies and he let me go finally. I like him. He got sort of mad with me, but I guess he’s over it by now.”
Clem and Mart exchanged glances that indicated puzzlement. “You mean,” asked Clem at last, “that you resigned? You weren’t fired off?”
“No, I just quit,” answered Jim untroubledly. “You see, it’s like this, Harland. Most of the fellows in the squad had played football before. Some of them have been at it two or three years, likely. It was new to me. Of course I’d seen fellows playing it, you know; they had a sort of a team at the school I went to back home; but it never interested me much and I never thought I’d care to try it. Well, I was pretty green when I started off and I had a lot to learn. Guess I didn’t learn very well, either. Seems like I was pretty stupid about it. Mr. Cade said I didn’t put my mind on it, but I don’t think that was so. Guess the trouble was I didn’t get real interested in it. He told me that if I worked hard this Fall I’d likely get to play next year. He tried to make an end of me, but I never got good enough to play in any of the games. I just sat on that bench out there at the field and looked on. They keep you on the field two hours every afternoon; sometimes longer than that; and I could see I was just wasting my time. I kept saying so to Dolf Chapin, but he said I wasn’t, that I was learning and that it was my duty to stick it out. So I did till last week. Then I decided I’d better quit. So I quit.”
“I see,” said Mart dryly. “And Johnny Cade? I suppose he had something to say, Todd.”
“Yes, he said a whole lot,” answered Jim soberly. “Looked once like I’d have to paste him in the jaw, the way he was talking, but I didn’t because I knew he didn’t mean all he said. He was sort of upset, I guess.”
“Sounds to me as if you were a more valuable man than you realized,” said Clem.
“No, I guess I wasn’t very valuable, really. I guess these football coaches like to have their own way pretty well.”
“Well,” said Mart, laughing, “I’ll bet you’ve earned the distinction of being one of the few fellows that ever resigned from the squad! No wonder Cade was grumpy! He’s not used to that!”
There followed another lapse in the acquaintanceship. Clem and Mart caught glimpses of Jim Todd in class room and dining hall; infrequently passed him on the campus; sometimes exchanged greetings by word or sign. The Kenly Hall game came and went, bringing the football season to a disappointingly inconclusive end. Beaten the year before, Alton tried desperately to wreak vengeance, but, although her players and her game were infinitely superior to those of the preceding season, Kenly Hall, too, showed improvement, and at the final whistle the score stood just where it had stood at the end of the first half, at 7 to 7. Each team had scored one touchdown and followed it with a clean goal. Each team, too, had narrowly failed of a second score, Kenly Hall when a forward-pass over the goal-line had been tipped but not caught and Alton when a fourth down on the enemy’s four-yard line had gained but one foot of the necessary two. Both touchdowns had resulted from long runs, a Kenly Hall quarter-back bringing glory to the Cherry-and-Black by a thirty-four-yard dash around the opponent’s left and “Cricket” Menge, left half on the Gray-and-Gold team, evening things up a few minutes later by wrapping himself about a lateral pass and dodging and twirling his way over eleven white lines to a score.
After the first disappointment, Alton Academy, viewing the result more calmly and fairly, came to the conclusion that her gridiron warriors had gained more glory than had been thus far accorded them. Both Kenly Hall coach and captain had stated publicly that the team which had met Alton was the best eleven that had represented the Cherry-and-Black in six years, and if that was so—and certainly Alton Academy had no reason to doubt it!—then Captain Grant’s team—“‘General’ Grant’s Army” the football song called it—had secured a virtual victory in spite of the score. Careful analysis of the contest added strength to that verdict, for the records showed that Alton had outrushed her opponent by thirty-two yards, gained two more first downs than her ancient enemy had secured and had had slightly the better of the kicking argument. So on Monday night there was a delayed, but intensely enthusiastic, mass meeting in the auditorium and honor was done to the heroes. Everybody spoke who had any right to, and a few who hadn’t, and there was much singing and a great deal of cheering. Clem and Mart, neither of them football enthusiasts, attended the celebration, as in duty bound, and ended by cheering quite as loudly as any. The testimonial had one result that the school in general never learned of. It decided a wavering Athletic Committee in favor of renewing Coach “Johnny” Cade’s contract, which terminated that Fall, for another two seasons. Prior to seven-thirty that Monday evening his last two years’ record of one defeat and one tie, even when balanced against previous success, had looked more than black to the Committee. At nine o’clock it was viewing that record more leniently. And on Wednesday Coach Cade departed with a new contract in his trunk.
When Clem came back to school after Christmas he found a package awaiting him in the mail box. Opened, it revealed a long, flat box of small cubes wrapped in pink tissue paper. Investigation proved the cubes to be spruce gum. There was also a scrawling enclosure from Jim Todd. “Wishing you a Merry Christmas,” Clem read. “This is the real thing. Hope you like it. I’m sending it to Alton because I don’t know where you are. Give some to Gray. Yours, J. T.”
Mart declared that he detested gum and wouldn’t chew the stuff on a bet, but after watching Clem’s jaws rhythmically champing for some ten minutes he perjured himself and was soon as busy as his chum. Two days later, suffering from lame jaws after almost continuous chewing during waking hours, Clem seized the box, now half empty, and consigned it to the depths of the waste basket. “The pesky stuff!” he grumbled. “First thing we know we’ll have the habit!” Mart, one hand raised in protest, recognized the wisdom of the course and observed the sacrifice in silence. During the rest of that day he chewed scraps of paper torn from the corners of note-books. However, they lacked the insidious fascination of spruce gum and he gave them up and was cured. Of course they thanked Jim heartily a few days later, when he dropped in one afternoon, offering as conclusive evidence of their appreciation the fact that the supply was exhausted. Jim promptly promised to write to his father and get him to send some more. Perhaps he forgot it, for the new supply never reached Number 15 Haylow.
It is possible that absorption in new interests was accountable for Jim’s failure to make good on that promise, for it was shortly after that that Mart brought word of the Maine Society. Neither he nor Clem was eligible to membership, but that didn’t detract from their interest in the Society which, as Mart had heard it from Sam Newson, had been started by Jim Todd and already, while still less than a fortnight old, had a membership of nine. The school already possessed a Southern Club and a Western Society, but a social organization restricted to residents of a single state in attendance at Alton was something new and, like most innovations, it came in for some ridicule. The notice board in Academy Hall fairly blossomed with calls for members of similar societies. Someone named Henry Clay Calhoun, which may or may not have been a cognomen assumed for the occasion, invited other residents of South Carolina to meet in Number 14 Borden to effect the organization of “The South Carolina Society of Alton Academy, Devoted to the Abolishment of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution and to a Campaign of Education and Enlightenment among the Beknighted Citizens of Northern States.” As Borden Hall was restricted to freshmen, the authenticity of the invitation was questionable. The same was true of a summons to resident Hawaiians, while a document phrased in pidgin English and summoning all Chinese students at Alton to meet in the school laundry and enter their names on the roster of “The Chinese Tong” was even more palpably insincere. But ridicule seemed just what the Maine Society required, for a fortnight later it changed its name to the Maine-and-Vermont Society and increased its membership to thirty-one. A fellow named Tupper became president of the reorganized club and James Todd was secretary and treasurer. Meetings were held weekly in the rooms of various members at first, and then, securing faculty recognition, the Society was assigned the use of a room on the top floor of Academy Hall.
By invitation of Jim Todd, Clem attended one of the open meetings held monthly and was well entertained. The sight of Jim slowly elongating himself from behind the secretary’s table to read the previous minutes was alone well worth the effort of climbing two flights of stairs to Clem. Jim was very earnest and recited the doings of the last meeting in tones that imbued them with a vast importance. “Moved and seconded,” read Jim weightily, “that the Secretary be and hereby is empowered to contract for a sufficient supply of letter paper, appropriately printed with the Society’s name and emblem, and a sufficient supply of envelopes likewise so printed, the total cost of the same not to exceed seven dollars, and the same to be paid for out of the funds of the Society. So voted.” There were light refreshments later, and afterwards several members spoke informally—often embarrassedly—on matters of interest to citizens of the affiliated states. The best of the number was undoubtedly the secretary and treasurer. Jim was far more self-possessed than of yore and he spoke in an easy conversational style that pleased his hearers mightily. What he had to tell wasn’t much; just a somewhat rambling account of a visit to a logging camp; but he made it interesting and displayed a humorous perception that Clem, for one, had never suspected him of. On the whole, Clem enjoyed the evening and was quite sincere when he said as much to Jim on their way back to Haylow. When they parted in the corridor, Clem said:
“You haven’t been in to see us, Todd, for a long time. We’re getting out of touch with events, Mart and I. Better drop in some time and cheer us up.”
Jim looked as if he suspected the other of joshing. He was never absolutely certain about Clem’s ingenuousness. “Well,” he answered, “I’d been around before only I knew you were pretty busy with hockey and—and all like that.”
“Oh, hockey doesn’t take all my time,” said Clem. “For instance, I don’t play much after supper.”
“Oh, well, I meant that being captain of the team you’d likely be pretty busy one way and another. I’ll be dropping in some evening soon, though, if you say so.”
“Wish you would. Good night!”
Seeking Number 15 and a bored Mart, who had refused the invitation to the Maine-and-Vermont Society with scathing remarks, Clem marveled at the perfectly idiotic way in which he persisted in fostering the acquaintance of Jim Todd. He didn’t really care a hang about the queer chap, of course, and— But hold on! Was that quite true? Didn’t he rather like Jim, if the truth had to be told? Well, yes, he sort of guessed he did. There was something about Jim Todd that appealed to him. Maybe—and he grinned as he flung open the door of Number 15—it was just Todd’s quality of being “different”!
A few days later Clem, smashing into the boards of the outdoor rink, after a valiant effort to hook the puck from Landorf, of the scrub six, almost bumped heads with Jim Todd. It was a nippingly cold February afternoon, and Jim made one of the small audience that stamped about on chilled feet and watched the progress of the practice game. Jim, though, appeared less conscious of the cold than most of the others. He had on the old gray woolen sweater, and a cloth cap set inadequately on the back of his streaky brown locks. About him were overcoats—even one or two of fur—and unfastened overshoes rattled their buckles as their wearers kicked the wooden barrier or stamped about on the hard-trodden snow to encourage circulation. Jim wore a pair of woolen socks of a dubious shade of tan and low shoes that were ostensibly black. And he didn’t prance about a bit. Once in a while he did rub his long bony hands together, but the action seemed an indication of interest in the hockey game rather than in the temperature. As a matter of fact, this was Jim’s first glimpse of such a contest, and he was, for Jim Todd, quite excited over it.
Between the halves Clem skated over to him. “Aren’t you frozen?” he asked wonderingly.
“Me? No.” Jim shook his head slowly. “It’s right cold, though, ain’t it? A whole lot colder than we have it in Maine, I guess. Say, what’s that thing made of you’re hitting around on the ice?”
“Rubber. Haven’t you ever played hockey?”
“No. When I was a kid we used to whack a block of wood around with sticks, but it wasn’t much like this hockey. Looks like you’ve got almost as many rules as there are in football. You’re a pretty nice skater, ain’t you?”
“Not as good as some of the fellows,” replied Clem. “You skate, of course.”
Jim nodded. “That’s ’bout the only thing I can do real well,” he answered. “Don’t believe I could get around the way you do, though; dodge and turn so quick and all like that. I ain’t so bad at skating fast, but I’ve got to have plenty of room.”
“Better go into the races Saturday morning,” suggested Clem. “What’s your distance?”
“Yes, what are you best at? Half-mile? Mile? Two miles?”
“Why, I don’t know. I’ve skated in a lot of races, you might say, but we didn’t ever measure them. We’d race, generally, from the old boat-house to the inlet; on Lower Pond, you know. Guess that’s about three-quarters of a mile; more or less.”
“Why don’t you enter for Saturday, then?” asked Clem. “You ought to be able to do the mile if you’ve been doing the three-quarters, Todd.”
“Well, I don’t know. Would you? Does it cost anything?”
“Not a cent,” laughed Clem. “There’s a list of the events over on the notice board in the gym. Better pick out a couple and get your name down.”
“Well— Gosh, though, I can’t! I didn’t bring my skates. I sort of had a notion there wasn’t much skating down here. I guess there wouldn’t be time to send for them, either, to-day being Tuesday.”
Clem leaned over the barrier and viewed Jim’s shoes. “No, I guess not, but I think Mart’s skates will fit you. Drop in later and we’ll see. He doesn’t use them much.”
“Maybe he wouldn’t like me to have them,” responded Jim doubtfully. “Anyway, I ain’t skated since last winter, Harland, and I guess I wouldn’t be much good. Much obliged to you, but maybe I’d better not.”
“Well, if you change your mind—” Clem hurried away to try some shots at goal before the whistle blew again.
Just before supper-time, however, Jim wandered into Number 15. He announced that he guessed he’d take part in those races if it was all right about the skates. “There’s a two-mile race down, I see, and I guess I’d like to try that.”
“Two miles? Thought you’d been doing three-quarters,” said Clem, while Mart dug his skates out of the closet.
“Yes, but sometimes I got licked, and I’ve got a sort of notion I can do better at a longer distance. Maybe I’ll try for the mile, too. I guess there’s a lot of pretty good skaters going into it, eh?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Clem, “but you’ll have a good time. You don’t mind getting beaten, do you?”
Jim frowned slightly. “Why, yes, I guess I do,” he replied. “Every fellow does, don’t he?”
“Well, I meant to say you didn’t mind much. Of course no fellow wants to take a defeat, but he has to do it just the same sometimes, you know. And there’s a whole lot in taking it the right way.”
“The right way?” inquired Jim.
“Why, yes, Todd. Look here, are you joshing me? You know what I mean, confound you!”
“Well, I don’t know as I do,” said Jim doubtfully. “I don’t get mad when I’m licked, if that’s what you mean. Leastways, I don’t let on I’m mad. But it don’t make me feel any too good to get beat!”
“I suppose your trouble is that you’ve never been beaten often enough to get used to it, then,” answered Clem. “Getting mad doesn’t do any good, you crazy goof. You want to smile and make believe you like it.”
“Oh, for the love of Liberty,” wailed Clem, “take this fellow off me, Mart! He’s worse than a Philadelphia lawyer!”
Mart’s return with the skates provided a diversion. They were a size too small, but after a long and admiring appraisal of them Jim declared that they would do. “I never saw a pair just like these before,” he confided admiringly. “What they made of, Gray?”
“Aluminum, mostly. Light, aren’t they? Like them?”
“Gosh, yes, but I don’t know if I can do much with them. They don’t weigh more’n a third what mine do. I’m going to try them, just the same. I’m much obliged to you.”
“You’re welcome. Just see that you win a race with them. We’ll go down and root for you, Todd.”
“I might win the two-mile race,” replied Jim, “if I get so I can use these right. I’ll try ’em to-morrow.”
They didn’t see Jim again until the morning of the races. It was a corking day, that Saturday, with a wealth of winter sunshine flooding the world and only the mildest of northerly breezes blowing down the river. The weather and the list of events ought to have brought out a larger representation of the student body, but as a matter of fact by far the larger portion of those who had assembled at ten o’clock were contestants. Clem, yielding to the solicitations of the Committee, had entered for three races at the last moment, and it wasn’t until he had won the 220-yard senior event in hollow fashion from a field of more than a score of adversaries and been narrowly beaten in the quarter-mile race that he encountered Jim.
Jim had discarded his beloved gray sweater and was the cynosure of all eyes in a mackinaw coat of green and black plaid. The green was extremely green and the plaid was a very large one, and Jim presented an almost thrilling appearance. Under the mackinaw, his lean body was attired very simply in a white running shirt, and Clem addressed him sternly.
“Want to catch pneumonia and croak?” he demanded. “Don’t you know you can’t skate with that state’s prison offense on and that if you take it off you’ll freeze stiff? Where were you when they handed brains out, Todd?”
Jim grinned. “Hello,” he replied. “That was a nice licking you gave all those other fellows. And, say, if you’d got going quicker in that other race you’d have made it, easy.”
Clem was looking attentively at the mackinaw. Now he felt of it. “Say, that’s some coat, son. Where’d you get it?”
“I’ll bet it’s warm. I never saw one made of as good stuff as that is. Any more like it where it came from?”
Jim chuckled. “I’m going to write pop to send down a couple dozen of them,” he said. “You’re about the tenth fellow that’s asked me that so far. I could sell a lot of ’em if I had ’em.”
“Joking aside, though, can I get one, Todd?”