Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

No Holding by Ralph Henry Barbour

 

The captain, the head coach and the trainer of the Hillton Academy football team sat about the table in the head coach’s room. It was the evening of November 27th, and on the morrow, Thanksgiving day, the wearers of the crimson were to meet on the gridiron their old-time rivals of St. Eustace Academy, in the final and most important contest of the year.

The drop-light illumined three thoughtful faces. Bob Syddington, captain, a broad-shouldered and fine-looking lad of eighteen, traced figures on the green-leather table-covering and scowled intently. Gardiner, the head coach, a man of thirty, wrote on a sheet of paper with a scratching pen. The trainer and the school’s physical director, Mr. Beck, leaned back in his chair, his eyes from behind the gold-rimmed glasses fixed speculatively upon Syddington. Gardiner looked up.

“Cantrell at left half, of course?”

Syddington nodded.

“He won’t last the game,” said the trainer, “but he’s good for the first half.”

The coach’s pen scratched again. Syddington scowled more darkly and his hand trembled a little over the leather.

“How about right half?” Gardiner glanced fleetingly at the captain and then, questioningly, at the trainer. The latter spoke after a moment:

“Well, Lane’s first choice, isn’t he?”

“To my mind, yes,” answered Gardiner, “but Syddington thinks Servis should start the game; that while he’s not so brilliant as Lane, he’s more steady. I don’t share Syddington’s distrust of Lane, but if he thinks he’s going to feel that he has better support behind him, I’m willing to hold Lane out until he’s needed.”

“Then there’s Lane’s knee,” said Syddington, without looking up.

“The knee’s all right,” said Beck, decisively. “Physically Lane’s in as good shape as he was before the injury.”

“Ye-es, but Servis has never been hurt,” answered Syddington. “Seems to me that makes him less liable to injury now.”

His face was pale and there were little stubborn creases about the mouth. The trainer opened his lips as if to reply, but closed them again. Gardiner examined his pen and waited. Restraint was in the air.

“I think we’d better start with Servis,” said Syddington, after a moment. He heaved a sigh of relief and shot a glance at Beck.

The latter’s face wore an expression of disappointment, which disappeared under the lad’s scrutiny, but which, nevertheless, caused Syddington to transfer his gaze to the table and sent a flush to his cheeks.

Gardiner wrote for a moment. “That leaves only full-back, and Hale’s our man there. And that finishes the line-up. I’ll read it over.”

Then he and Beck discussed once more the plan of the battle.

Bob Syddington heard nothing. He was fighting a battle of his own, and his thoughts were far from pleasant. To do a dishonorable act knowingly, deliberately, is in itself disagreeable enough to a boy who has all his life hated mean actions. But to know that two persons in whose eyes one particularly wants to appear clean and honorable are aware of the act adds greater bitterness.

Syddington entertained no illusions. He knew that when he had caused Servis’s name to be placed in the line-up instead of Lane’s he had done a dishonorable thing. And he knew that both the head coach and the trainer were equally aware of the fact, and that he had fallen far in their estimation; that henceforth they must hold him, at the best, in pitying contempt. A monstrous price, he told himself bitterly, to pay for next year’s captaincy!

And he was not only injuring himself, but by deposing Lane he was placing in jeopardy the team’s success in the “big game.” There was never a doubt but that Lane was the man for the position of right half-back. Without exception he was the most brilliant player at Hillton. He had won the game with Shrewsburg by a sixty-yard run for a touch-down. More than once in minor games he had brought the spectators to their feet by his daring running or hurdling. It was almost a certainty that if he went into the St. Eustace game he would do just what the school expected, and by brilliant playing become the hero of the year. And there lay the rub.

Only the day before, Carter, the right tackle, had warned him: “If there was an election now, Bob, we’d make you captain again by a majority of one or two. But if Lane goes in and does his usual spectacular stunt, he’ll be the next captain as sure as fate. Take my advice and keep him out somehow. You’ve got Servis and Jackson, and—well, don’t be an ass!” And Syddington had shaken his head and answered righteously, “I can’t do that, Tom.”

And now he had done it!

He clenched his hands under the table and hated himself with an intensity that hurt. Gardiner and the trainer talked on. The clock on the mantel ticked monotonously.

It was not as if Lane would make a poor captain. On the contrary, Syddington knew that he would prove a good one. That the captain did not altogether like him, Lane knew. He had said a few days before—it had never been meant for Syddington’s ears, but nevertheless had reached them—“I’ll never get into the St. Eustace game until every other back is in the hospital. Syddington’s no fool!” And now Syddington hated Lane more than ever because he had rightly judged him capable of dishonesty.

And Lane would know, and Gardiner and Beck and Carter; and the fellows would suspect. But—and that was the worst of all—he himself could never forget. The clock struck the half-hour, and Gardiner looked up.

“Half after nine! This won’t do. We must get to bed. Don’t bother about to-morrow, Syddington. Get your mind off the game and go to sleep. It’ll be all right.”

Syddington rose and took up his overcoat. After he had struggled slowly into it he faced the others as if about to speak, but instead walked to the door in silence.

“Good night!” said Gardiner.

“Good night, Syddington!” echoed Beck.

The boy thought he could already detect a different tone in their voices, a foretaste of that contempt with which in future they were to consider him.

“Good night; good night, sir!” he answered, miserably. Then, with the door opening under his hand, he turned, his face pale but resolute, with something that was almost a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Mr. Gardiner, I wish you’d change that line-up, please.”

“Of course, if there’s anything——”

“I’d like Lane to go in at right half instead of Servis. Thank you, sir. Good night!”

When the door had closed coach and trainer faced each other smilingly.

“I didn’t think he could do it,” said Beck.

“Nor did I,” answered Gardiner. “And he didn’t.”


The autumn sunlight had disappeared slowly from the field of battle, and the first shadows of evening grew and deepened along the fences. The second half of the game was well-nigh over, and the score-board told the story thus:

Hillton 6        Opponents 8
Hillton’s Ball
3 Down        4 Yds to Gain
7 Minutes to Play

Over on the Hillton sections of the stand the cheering was hoarse and incessant, and crimson banners waved ceaselessly. It has ever been Hillton’s way to shout loudest under the shadow of defeat.

Hillton’s one score had been secured in the first three minutes of play. Quick, steady tackle-back plunges had carried the ball from the center of the gridiron to St. Eustace’s six-yard line before the latter team had awakened to its danger. From there Cantrell had skirted the Blue’s right end and Hale, the Hillton full-back, had kicked an easy goal.

But St. Eustace had pulled herself together, and from that time on had things her own way, forcing her rival to abandon offense and use every effort to protect her constantly threatened goal. Yet it was not until the half was almost over that St. Eustace finally managed to score, pushing her full-back through for a touch-down and afterward kicking goal.

The second half had started with honors even, but on his five-yard line Hale had failed miserably at a kick, and had been borne back for a safety. And now, with but seven minutes left, with the ball on Hillton’s fifty-yard line and four yards to gain on the third down, the Crimson was fighting valiantly against defeat.

Syddington, pale and panting, measured the distance to the St. Eustace goal with his eyes and groaned. If only Lane or Sanford, who had taken Cantrell’s place, could be got away round an end! If only they could get within kicking distance of that cross-bar! If——

“34—29—96—12!”

Lane was hurdling the line at right guard. Syddington dashed into the mêlée, shoving, shouting hoarsely. The blue line gave and Lane fell through, squirming, kicking. The Hillton stand went wild with joy. The score-board proclaimed first down.

“Get up! Get up!” called Syddington, a sudden note of hope in his strained voice. “That’s the stuff! We can do it again! Hard, fellows, hard!”

Aching, dizzy, but happy, nevertheless, red-faced and perspiring, Carl Lane dropped the ball and trotted back to his position.

“Signal!” cried Colton. “27—34—”

Lane crept, crouching, back of Sanford.

“—87—5!”

He dashed forward in the wake of the other half, the ball thumped against his stomach, was clasped firmly, and the next instant he was high in air. Arms thrust him back, others shoved him forward. For an instant the result was doubtful; then the St. Eustace players gave, the straining group went back, slowly at first, then faster. Lane, kicking friend and foe impartially in his efforts to thrust himself forward, felt himself falling head foremost. Some one’s elbow crashed against his temple, and for a moment all was dark.

When he came to, his face was dripping from the sponge and his head ached as if it would burst; but the score-board once more proclaimed first down, and the crimson-decked section of the grand stand had gone suddenly crazy. His name floated across to him at the end of a mighty volume of cheers.

He picked himself up, shook himself like a dog emerging from water, grinned cheerfully at Carter, and sped back of the line. Syddington, his blue eyes sparkling with newborn hope, thumped him on the shoulder as he passed.

They were past the middle of the field now, and once more Lane struck the blue-stockinged right guard for a gain. St. Eustace was yielding. Hillton was again on the offensive. From the fifty yards to the thirty-two went the conquering Crimson, Lane, Sanford and Hale hurdling, plunging, squirming between tackle and tackle. St. Eustace’s center trio were weak, battered, almost helpless.

Syddington gazed longingly at the farthest white line, now well in view. If only Lane could skirt the end! There was no longer any thought of rivalry in his heart. If Lane could make a touch-down and save them from defeat, he might have the captaincy and welcome.

The St. Eustace quarter called for time. The battered center and right guard were taken out and their places filled with new men. The timekeeper approached, watch in hand.

“Two minutes more,” he announced.

Syddington’s heart sank; the panting players reeled before his eyes, and he grasped Carter’s shoulder to steady himself. Only two minutes! And success almost within grasp! He turned swiftly to Colton.

“Two minutes, Dan! Did you hear? There isn’t time to work it down. Try the ends; give it to Lane! We’ve got to score, Dan!” He thumped his clenched hands against his padded thighs and stared miserably about him. Colton patted him on the back.

“Cheer up, Bob,” he whispered—his voice was now such that he could only whisper or shout—“cheer up! We’ll make it. Two minutes is time enough to win in!” The whistle sounded again.

“Right tackle—back!” cried the quarter. Carter dropped out of the line.

“Signal! 16—34—58—5!”

A tandem play on left guard netted two yards; the new center was a good man. Syddington’s heart was leaping into his throat and thumping back again painfully. He clenched his hands, watched his man with every nerve and muscle tense, and awaited the next signal. Would it never come? What was the matter with Colton? Did he not know he was losing——

“Sig—” began the quarter; then his voice gave out in a husky whisper. “Signal!” he repeated, hoarsely.

“Block hard!” shouted Syddington.

“Watch out for fake!” shrieked the St. Eustace captain.

“44—22——”

The Blue’s right half ran back to join the quarter up the field. Hale, the Crimson’s full-back, stood with outstretched hands on the thirty-six-yard line, with Lane and Sanford guarding him. Syddington swung his arms and crouched as if on edge to get down under the punt, yet out of the corners of his eyes he was watching the St. Eustace left tackle as a cat watches a mouse.

“44—22—11—6!” gasped Colton.

Center passed the ball back straight and clean to Hale, and the latter sped it on at a short side pass to Lane, who had dropped back; Sanford dashed at the right end of the line, and Lane, the pigskin hugged close and his right arm rigid before him, fell in behind. Sanford sent the St. Eustace end reeling backward, and Syddington put the Blue’s full-back out of the play and went crashing to the ground with him. Sanford and Lane swept through outside of tackle and sped toward the goal.

Crimson banners waved and danced. The game was lost or won in the next few seconds. Victory for Hillton, defeat for her rival, lay in the crossing of those eight trampled white lines by the lad who, with straining limbs and heaving chest, sped on behind his interference.

Sanford, lithe and fleet, held a straight course for the right-hand goal-post. Ahead, with staring eyes and desperate faces, the St. Eustace quarter and right half advanced menacingly. Behind, pounding footsteps told of stern pursuit.

Then the quarter-back was upon them, face pale and set, arms outstretched, and Lane swung to the right. Sanford’s shoulder met the foe, and the two went to earth together, Sanford on top. He was up again in the instant, and, unharmed, once more running fleetly. But Lane was ahead now, and before him, near the ten-yard line, the blue-clad half-back was waiting. The man ahead stood for defeat, for Lane doubted his ability to get round him. Even running was agony, and dodging seemed out of the question. But just as hope deserted him Sanford came into sight beside him.

“Faster!” he panted. “To the right.”

Lane had no time to make his lagging limbs obey ere Sanford and the foe were piled together at his feet. He plunged blindly over the writhing heap, stumbled, fell on one knee, staggered up again, saw the yellowish turf rising and sinking before him, felt his knees doubling up beneath him, fell, rolled over twice, crawled and wriggled on knees and elbows from force of habit, and then closed his eyes, laid his head on his arm and was supremely content.

Syddington sped down the field with the roar of three thousand voices in his ears, and a great, almost sickening happiness at his heart.

Hillton had won!

For the moment thought refused to go beyond that wonderful fact. His team, the boys whom he had threatened, coaxed, driven, struggled with for months, had beaten St. Eustace!

He thrust his way through the little group and dropped to his knees. Lane opened his eyes and for an instant stared blankly into his face. Then recollection returned and he raised his head. Above him rose the goal-posts. He grinned happily.

“Over, eh, Syddington?” he asked, weakly.

“Yes, Lane, over. Are you all right?”

“Yes; a bit tuckered, that’s all. Let me up, please.”

They helped him to his feet, and he stretched his aching muscles cautiously. Beck handed him his head harness, and he turned and limped off. The cheering, which had almost subsided for want of breath, took on new vigor, and he went up the field to the wild refrain of “Lane! Lane! Lane!”

Hale kicked goal and the teams lined up for the kick-off once more. But when the ball had fallen into the arms of the Hillton left end the whistle shrilled and the battle was at an end. The score-board said:

Hillton 12. Opponents 8.

The crowds were over the ropes on the instant, and while the wearied crimson players were hoarsely cheering their defeated rivals, they were seized and borne off to where the band was playing Hilltonians. Then the procession round the field began. And when it had formed, Carl Lane, left half-back, borne upon the shoulders of four stalwart, shrieking friends, was at the head. And Syddington, almost at the end of the line of swaying heroes, saw, and was more than content.

“They’ll make him captain the day after to-morrow,” he said to himself, “and I’m glad—glad!”

And with the band playing as it had not played for two years, with every voice raised in song, Hillton marched triumphantly back to the campus.


It was the evening of the day following Hillton’s victory. The songs and cheering were over, and the big bonfire was only a mound of ashes. Syddington had lighted a fire in the study grate, for an east wind was sweeping across the Hudson and rattling the casements fiercely.

It was all over! The boys had broken training, the field was left to the pranks of the winter winds, canvas jackets and padded trousers were put away, and the football season was at an end. Well, it had been a successful one, and next year——

His hands dropped and he sat upright, staring blankly before him. He had forgotten. Next year meant little to him now. Lane had earned the captaincy twice over. If it must go to some one other than himself, he was glad that Carl Lane was to be that person. He would nominate Lane himself. He began to fashion a little speech in his mind; and when he was in the middle of it, there came a knock at the door and Lane entered. Syddington stared a moment in surprise.

“How are you, Lane? Glad to see you,” he said, finally. “I—I was just thinking about you when you knocked. Sit down, won’t you?”

“Thanks.” Lane tossed his cap on the table and drew a chair toward the hearth. “Cold, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Syddington went back to the armchair and wondered what the visit meant. Lane had not the air of a casual caller; his face was serious and held a suggestion of embarrassment. There was a moment’s silence; then Lane went on in a tone of frank sincerity:

“Look here, Syddington. The fellows are talking about the captaincy.” He was watching Syddington closely. “And I find that I can have every vote but four.”

“I don’t know who the four are,” answered Syddington, bravely, “but if I’m one of them you can count me out. I’m going to vote for you, and if you’ll let me, I’ll put your name up.”

“Thank you. I didn’t expect that. I fancied you’d want it yourself.”

“So I do. So does every fellow, I guess. But you’ve won it, Lane, fair and square, and I don’t begrudge it to you. I’ll acknowledge that I did at first, but after you won the game——”

“You mean that you knew before the game that I might get the captaincy?” Lane’s voice was full of wonder.

“Yes. Carter told me.”

“And you let me play?”

“Yes, although—” he faltered—“although I came near not.”

“I see. And I owe you an apology. I didn’t think you’d let me on, and I said so. I think it was a mighty plucky thing to do, mighty plucky, Syddington, and—and awfully decent. And now, look here. What I came here to say was just this.” He rose and took his cap from the table. “I can have the captaincy to-morrow, perhaps, but of course I’m not going to accept it.”

“Not going to—to——”

“Would you take it if you were in my place? If I had given you the chance to win the big game, knowing that if you did you’d get the captaincy; if you knew I’d set my heart on keeping it; if I’d slaved all fall to turn out the finest team Hillton’s had in years; if—if——”

“But that has nothing to do with it,” faltered the other.

“Yes, it has everything to do with it,” said Lane, earnestly. “It’s a matter of fair play—and no holding. If I took that captaincy after what you’ve done I’d detest myself.”

“But—but it doesn’t seem right.”

“It is, though. You’re a captain from head to heels, and I’m not. And—I guess that’s all.” He moved toward the door. Syddington followed with pale face.

“I—I don’t know how I can thank you, Lane, honestly! If you change your mind——”

“I sha’n’t. And as for thanks—I think we’re quits. Good night!”

“Good night!” replied Syddington. “I—” he faltered and the color flooded into his cheeks—“I—I want to shake hands with you, Lane.”