[Transcriber's note: Extensive research found no evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
OVER THE LINE
HAROLD M. SHERMAN
One Minute to Play Touchdown! Hit by Pitcher Bases Full, Etc.
The Goldsmith Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 1929, BY
THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING CO.
When a new fellow moves into the neighborhood, you look him over, strike up an acquaintance and sort of go around with him, but not until he shows the sort of stuff he's made of do you take him into the gang and make a real pal of him, or else let him alone, as the case may be.
It's somewhat the same with a new book. You look through it, read it and if it's good stuff, the author, like the new chap in the neighborhood, becomes one of the gang. And when such an author keeps on producing sure fire stuff, like Harold M. Sherman has been doing, there is no doubt at all that his books will be read.
This book deals with the mental hazard that has been the downfall of so many chaps. But Judd Billings overcomes his obstacle while still at high school and how he later makes a name for himself at college, makes this a book that will be instantly liked by all who read it. In fact, all one need say is that it is a Harold M. Sherman book.
J. D. V.
I THE STRANGE CONTRACT II JUDD GRITS HIS TEETH III A KICKER Is DISCOVERED IV FIGHTING SPIRIT V FOR A SCRAP OF PAPER VI ILL NEWS AND A NEW ARRIVAL VII THE FIRST NIGHT VIII JUDD PRACTICES FOOTBALL IX AT THE FAIR X THE ATTEMPTED HOLD-UP XI BENZ BROODS XII ONE KIND OF LOYALTY XIII AN IMPRACTICAL JOKE XIV THE CONFESSION XV JUDD GAINS A PROMOTION XVI BEFORE THE GAME XVII THE FIRST HALF XVIII THE SECOND HALF
THE STRANGE CONTRACT
"Judd, I'd rather a fellow would be anything else but a quitter!"
Judd jumped to his feet, eyes blazing.
"I'm not a quitter ... but I'm not gonna go back to school!"
Bob Billings, older brother, stared for a moment, unanswering. Judd had come on to the city to visit him during summer vacation. Since the father's death and Bob's attending Bartlett College, there had been little chance for the two to be together, especially with Bob employed in the Star Sporting Goods store, miles away from Trumbull, the little town near which the Billings family lived.
"You've got to get a hold on yourself," Bob said, finally, "I'd no idea you'd gotten this way. You're babying yourself out of everything you'd really like to do. And here I'd counted on your taking up on that Trumbull High team where I left off! No reason why you couldn't either ... you've got a much better physique than I have. That work on our farm has given you the muscles of an ox. You've got a grip in those hands that would make most fellows yell for help. Only trouble with you is—you don't know your own strength and you're afraid to use it. Right now a much smaller guy could tie you into bow knots!"
Judd's face flushed. He had a great deal of respect for his older brother, Bob. It was Bob who had written the greatest athletic page in Trumbull High history by his feats in baseball, football and track. And then, when the war had broken out, it was Bob who had enlisted in the air service and come back from abroad with the Croix de Guerre and a distinguished service medal with several citations for bravery. And now, as a senior at Bartlett College, it was Bob who was heralded as the outstanding member of the football team. Yes—there was no question about it—Bob was a he man!
To follow in the footsteps of such a brother was indeed an honor—or was it a hardship? When Judd Billings had entered high school the students looked upon him with expectant awe. Wasn't he the brother of the great Bob Billings? Surely he would carry on the tradition of the family. More great things would be forthcoming. Judd's big-boned, awkward frame was pointed out with high glee. He was a trifle taller and pounds heavier than Bob had been. What might this mean when he got under way? Give him time and then look for some more records to be broken!
But those who prophesied big things for Judd did not take the matter of temperament into consideration. Judd was as different from Bob as Saturday was from Sunday. It did not take the students long to discover that he was unusually shy and self-conscious. Judd would almost jump at his own shadow. He avoided crowds and made friends slowly. As for competition, he apparently detested it, retracing his steps rather than encounter physical conflict. And so, when he might have been the idol of the entire school, Judd soon became the object of disgust.
"My eyes!" he would offer as excuse for his not taking up with sports. It was true that he had had some trouble with his eyes but townspeople shook their heads and said wisely that Judd's eyes were only serving as his alibi. The trouble was more deep-rooted than that.
"I'll tell you what's wrong with Judd!" explained old Mr. Bailey, proprietor of the Trumbull General Store, "I used to know his Dad, Jim Billings. He was a steady customer of mine up to the time of his death and some man he was, too! As husky a farmer as I ever see! He didn't have any use for mollycoddles and he brought his oldest boy, Bob, up to fight his own battles, not wasting any sympathy on him. But Judd came along seven years after Bob and he missed out on old Jim's disciplinin'. With the father dead, Judd came under his mother's care and Mrs. Billings has sure put her boy on the toboggan. You see she's so nervous and scarey that she imagines terrible things are going to happen to everybody. She hasn't let Judd go skating on the bay for fear the ice might break. She's against his going into sports because he might get injured. She's made a hothouse plant out of that big, strapping fellow and I say it's a cryin' shame because Judd's got the same stuff in him his father was made of if he could only get it out. Wish Judd could be around Bob for awhile. That's the kind of association he needs!"
Mrs. Billings, well meaning though she had been, realized finally that something must be done about Judd. Her anxious attention had been divided between him and the operation of the farm. Hank Duncan, Jim Billings' hired man, had taken charge of the place with Jim's passing, Mrs. Billings insisting that Bob secure the college education which he had planned before going into service.
"I can't understand what is the matter with Judd," she wrote her older son early in June, "I've tried to give him every opportunity and to do everything for him I thought best, but he has just failed in one subject and was barely conditioned in two others. He is so discouraged that he says he's not going to continue in high school. He wants to find a job and get to work. What would you advise?"
Bob, on receipt of this letter, had thought matters over carefully ... gravely. Just half a block from the small bachelor apartment he occupied was a spacious city park with baseball diamonds, a football field and tennis courts. It had been his habit to keep in trim for football season by working out in the park during the summer. If he could get Judd to spend the summer with him he would do what he could to make him over.
The temptation to accept Bob's invitation had been too great for Judd to refuse. He was mortally sick of his associations at Trumbull. Every place he went reminded him of some failure he had made. He was looked down upon by fellows his own age. Few ever taunted him openly. Judd felt that this was out of respect for the fact that he was the brother of the great Bob. Just why he should be different than the other fellows was something he couldn't figure out and his humiliation at failing in his school work had caused him to feel that he could never face his schoolmates again.
Seeing how set Judd was against returning to school, Bob wisely refrained from forcing the issue. He was glad that Judd had instantly reacted to the charge of "quitter." As long as a fellow had the fight spirit in him there was some hope.
"I'm going out for a little workout with the football tonight," Bob informed, "Got to keep in training, you know. Like to come out and chase the ball for me?"
Judd consented begrudgingly but, before Bob's practice was over, he began to betray genuine interest. Bob showed him how to throw the pigskin and he found it great fun to lay the ball on his hand and sail it through the air in spiral flight after recovering Bob's kicks.
"Say, Judd!" Bob called, "You might get down the field and catch these punts. It'll save you chasing them after they strike."
Judd moved slowly to the place Bob indicated, not wanting to reveal his growing interest too plainly. Bob kicked. The ball, turning end over end, carried almost exactly to the place Judd was standing. He moved a few steps to the side and reached up his arms but his judgment of distance was poor. The ball struck him a smarting blow in the face and bounced away. Judd, over-balanced, fell to the ground.
Bob trotted up to Judd and dragged him to his feet.
"What's the matter, Buddy?"
Judd showed him the spot over his eye, a slight skin bruise.
"Oh, why that's nothing. Come on, let's try another." Bob picked up the ball.
"No ... see ... it's bleeding." Judd displayed some drops of blood on his handkerchief. "I reckon I'd better go to the room and sterilize it, I don't want to get blood poisoning, you know."
Bob laughed. "Tommy rot! Whoever gave you such silly ideas? Forget it!"
Judd's feelings were wounded. "You can't tell what'll happen if you don't take care of yourself. I heard of a fellah once..."
"See here, Judd! Get those wild imaginings out of your head. How far do you think we'd get in this world if every time a little thing happened to us we sat down to worry about it and to think up lots worse things happening?"
But Judd was done for the afternoon. He turned and walked away, dabbing his handkerchief tenderly to the bruise and sympathizing with himself. He should have known better than to have played with Bob. He might have been sure that something like this would happen. There were so many things that a fellow had to watch out for! But after Judd had reached the apartment and looked at himself in the glass and been convinced that his hurt did not amount to so much after all, he reflected—with a smile—that chasing the football had been real sport.
The next time Judd accompanied Bob to the park the great Bob taught him how to stand and how to hold his hands in catching a punt. At first Judd was a bit reluctant to get in the path of a twisting football again but he gradually overcame this fear and found, to his delight, that he could catch some of the longest punts with ease. Bob was kicking the ball forty and fifty yards at a kick and most of the punts Judd had to run in order to get under. After a particularly long chase, in which Judd reached up and just managed to catch the ball on the tips of his fingers, Bob shouted from down the field: "That's the pep! Great stuff, Buddy!"
Judd no longer tried to disguise his interest in football. He was enjoying these practice sessions hugely. He got so that he looked forward to them. Bob loaned him a part of an old football suit so that they could rough it up more, as he said. Judd wondered, a bit guiltily, what his mother would say if she knew what he was doing.
Gradually Bob taught Judd the fundamentals of the game. He did it in an off-hand way so that Judd would not anticipate the reason. Judd had said no more about getting a job but Bob had noticed his brother scanning the want-ads in the paper. He smiled as he noted little evidences that Judd was developing more initiative. Perhaps he might even get enough courage to go out and apply for a job himself!
The weather grew almost unbearably hot as July neared August. But Bob told Judd that perspiration was good for him so they continued to work out on such late afternoons as Bob could get away.
One afternoon Bob said to Judd: "You're learning football pretty fast, Buddy. You've been booting that ball for thirty to forty yards every kick; your passing is good and you can grab almost every ball you get your hands on. Now let's see how good you are at tackling. I'm going to take the ball and run right at you. It's up to you to down me."
Judd did not take kindly to this idea. It was different, just playing with a football and not having anyone to interfere with you. But this stopping of a man when he was running by grabbing him and hanging on until you brought him to the ground was no fun. What if? ... and a dozen visions of possible happenings flashed across Judd's mind.
"I—I—not today," said Judd, hoping that Bob would not push the suggestion.
"Come on. There's nothing going to hurt you!" Bob trotted down the field fifteen yards. He turned about and crouched forward, ready to start. "Look out! Here I come!"
The sight of Bob coming toward him terrified Judd. It seemed that Bob's knees were moving up past his head and his feet were digging the turf in a plunging drive. As Bob neared him Judd quickly side-stepped and avoided contact with him. Bob cut into the sod with his feet and swung around in a half-circle, bringing up short. "What's the matter? Afraid?"
Judd didn't answer. He was scared stiff. He wanted to run. Why, if he had not stepped out of the way he might have suffered serious injury! Who could stop a charging pair of feet and a bullet-like head? Besides, in such moments, Judd was conscious that he was facing the great Bob instead of just his brother. He felt his own insignificance.
"Judd, there's no more likelihood of anything happening to you here than any place else. It's all a matter of knowing how and then it's just as easy as catching a football. It looks hard only to those who have not learned. Let me show you." And Bob demonstrated to Judd the correct way to tackle.
"I'll not run hard the first few times," said Bob, considerately, "Just try it out."
Judd was trembling. His knees seemed weak. He was trying to tell himself that he was not afraid. He knew that what his brother had told him was so but he dreaded physical contact. Bob did not give him much time for reflection. He was coming at him again!
Judd did not wish to appear a coward in the eyes of Bob. He was almost as afraid not to tackle as he was to tackle. While he was trying to make up his mind Bob was upon him and Judd made a wild clutching dive forward. His arms closed about Bob's legs at a point midway between the hips and the knees, there was a jolting impact and the ground seemed to rise to hit him. Judd sat up to take stock of his injuries. He found, to his pleased surprise, that he was unhurt.
"Bully work!" complimented Bob, warmly, "Your first tackle was a peach!"
Judd felt his courage and self-confidence rise like the mercury in a thermometer. He was finding out that many of his old fears had been groundless. Bob ran straight at Judd a dozen times and each time Judd brought him to the ground.
"All right, Buddy. Now I'm going to get by you. I'm not going to use the straight arm. I'll show you about that later. But I'm coming at you like an express train. Try to stop me if you can!"
There was a challenge in Bob's words. Judd sensed his first big thrill of competition. Bob said he was coming through. Well, he was going to stop him!
Bob ran at Judd viciously and with all the speed at his command. Judd came forward to meet him. He saw two clock-like legs and a body bent close to the ground. He dove low in order to reach him. Then it seemed as if a dozen knees struck him thudding blows in the face. He felt himself being dragged along the ground. His hold on the one foot loosened. He hit the ground heavily and was dimly conscious of feet pounding the earth. Bob had gone through!
It was such experiences as this that sickened Judd. All the pleasure of football was gone for him now. He had a bump over one eye and a patch of skin off his chin. There was no answering spirit of fight. Judd lay where he had fallen.
Bob waited, hoping that Judd would show the spunk to get up. He had subjected his younger brother to rough treatment but he had done it for a purpose.
"I'm sorry, Buddy. You tackled too low ... and you didn't hang on tight enough after you grabbed me. You see, I kept on going and I got away from you."
Judd raised up, dazedly. He was not interested in why he had failed to stop Bob. He was concerned over the bumping he had received.
"Am I—am I hurt very bad?" he asked, tremulously.
Bob laughed. "Not bad enough to mention," he said, "You'll stop me next time, eh Buddy?"
Judd shook his head.
"No ... there's not gonna be any next time, I—I'm through."
Bob knew better than to argue with him when he felt this way. He picked up the football and walked off the field. Judd gladly followed.
Several days later, when Bob returned from work, he noticed that Judd was red-eyed. On the table lay some newspaper clippings. They were want ads.
"Well, what did you do today?" asked Bob, casually.
"I—I was out looking for work."
Bob whistled. "Well! Did you find anything?"
"Oh, I see—you answered these ads here—may I look them over?"
Judd nodded his consent.
"H-h-hm! Maxwell's! That's a good place. 'Clerk wanted. Young man preferred. No experience necessary. Good opportunity for advancement.' What did they say when you applied?"
Judd was silent. Bob waited an appreciable moment for him to reply. "Did some other fellow beat you to the place?"
Judd found his voice. "N-no—but—but they wanted a young man who had at least a high-school education."
Bob had a wave of sympathy for his younger brother. "But here's another good place, Buddy. Jackson and Ballard's! You've picked some good ones. 'Filing clerk wanted. We teach you our system. Young man with ambition to get ahead in our line of work desired.' How about this?"
Judd hesitated. "They seemed interested. Then they asked me how much education I'd had. They said they wanted some one that they could send right on up as soon as he got to know the business. They said it was their experience that fellows with high school educations were better fitted for the work...."
Bob was glad that Judd had had this experience. He knew that there were plenty of places that Judd could get work but the better institutions where opportunities for real advancement were greatest almost demanded that a young man's qualifications include a reasonable amount of education.
"Well ... buck up, Buddy. There's always a way out and you're young yet!"
Tears came anew to Judd's eyes. He turned away from Bob, ashamed.
"Why—Buddy—what's the matter?"
"I—I didn't know I could feel this way."
"How do you feel?"
"I—I dunno. I guess I'm homesick."
Bob's eyes blurred. He himself had scarcely been back to Trumbull for three years.
"Well, you'll soon be back, Buddy ... with mother. Summer vacation is about over. I expect she's missed you a lot too. She's tried to do the very best she knew how for you.... Perhaps I can come up later and ... and see you play football."
Judd started. Bob almost regretted that he had taken the liberty to make this suggestion. He had tried to do it casually as if playing football would be the natural thing for Judd to do. And he had not mentioned school although to play football would imply attending school. Judd looked at Bob sharply. His emotions were conflicting. He would like to do so many things if...
"But mother wouldn't hear to my playin'," objected Judd at last. This seemed the most logical excuse he could think of. "Anyhow, I am not goin' back to school." This came as an after thought.
"Well ... I'm glad you are going back to Trumbull any way," replied Bob, "I think you will be able to take better care of yourself." There were lots of things he would like to have said to Judd but Bob somehow did not feel that it would be wise. Judd must be allowed to think things out for himself.
When the morning arrived for Judd's departure, Bob who had to go on to work, bade his younger brother good-bye at the apartment.
"I'm leaving you a contract, Buddy, and a little note. As soon as I've gone I want you to read them. If, after thinking it over, you are willing to sign the contract, leave the duplicate for me on the table. I want you to know that whatever you do I'm for you. You're going to make good as soon as you forget yourself. You'll understand what I mean some day. Good-bye. Tell mother I'll get up to see her this fall sure. Good luck!"
Judd sat wonderingly, holding the folded slips of paper that Bob had placed in his hand. What did Bob mean by the word "Contract?" Why should his brother leave him a note? Why couldn't he tell him what he wanted to without putting it on paper? This was a funny way of doing things!
He opened the note and read: "Dear Buddy—It's easier to tell you what I have in mind on paper than it is face to face. And I think you will realize it when you have read what I have to say. The contract I have drawn up is to be strictly between you and me. No one else is to see it or know anything about it. I think that it will help you to agree to do certain things for awhile until you can get yourself to agree to do them without any outside influence. There will be times when you will have to make yourself go through experiences distasteful to you. But you will come out bigger and better for them. The keeping of this contract is strictly a matter of honor so if you do not intend to live up to it, do not be dishonest with yourself by signing it. I'm sorry that I can't be with you. But it's distinctly your fight. You're the one who has to face the music and about all anyone else could do would be to offer encouragement or advice. You'll have to make the decisions and do the acting. I'd like to see you go back to school and go out for football. I think you could make the team. And some day, when you break loose, you will astonish yourself. You've got a fine physique. There's nothing weak about you. Most of your troubles are in your mind. Come on, Buddy, let's see you make a whirlwind comeback. You can do it!"
Judd read the note over three times before he laid it down and gave his earnest attention to the contract. The contract was brief but stern in its requirements. It read:
I, the undersigned, do hereby agree, being bound by my honor, to live up to the following declarations to wit:
1. I will not "baby" myself at any time and under any provocation.
2. Whatever happens to me I will grin and bear it.
3. If I meet with failure in anything I am trying to do I will not cease trying nor lose faith in myself. Rather will I make a greater effort than before to succeed.
4. I will pay no attention to what others may think or say of me. I will let nothing keep me from doing what I know is right.
5. In the event that I do not live up to this contract I will write and tell my brother, Bob Billings, of the specific instances.
6. When I feel inclined not to do what I feel to be right, I will take out this contract and read it over until I have renewed my spirit and developed a determination strong enough to go ahead.
This contract signed by me in good faith and with the knowledge that the penalty for breaking same will be exacted in the doing.
................ My Signature.
As Judd read the contract, which had been typed in duplicate by Bob at the office, he suddenly began to realize some of his shortcomings of the past and the reasons for them. He studied the contract for half an hour. Then he went to the table drawer, took out pen and ink, and scribbled his name on the line left for his signature.
Judd felt like he had won a great victory as he locked the apartment door, and jumped the streetcar for the depot. He could hardly wait to get back to Trumbull ... and to re-enter school!
Mrs. Billings was overjoyed that Judd had decided to return to school but she was rather alarmed at a change which she discerned in him. There was a more determined look about his face—a look that told her Judd was going to do some things which he had never attempted to do before and Mrs. Billings was not quite certain what the outcome would be.
When school opened, the schoolmates noticed the change too. They didn't know what it meant but they did know that Judd walked with his head erect, there was a surer swing to his steps, and he looked folks straight in the eye. Judd was silent. His jaws were set tight. No one sensed the fight that was going on within—no one realized that every move Judd made was forced.
When the first call went out for football candidates, Judd hunted up Coach Little and submitted his name. He had thought about the moment when he would do this for days. And each time that he thought of it the nervous chills raced up and down his back. He had hoped that when the time really came he could find courage to go through with it.
Coach Little could not conceal his astonishment when Judd confronted him. For two years the coach had begged Judd to get out for the team. He saw in the well-built youth the makings of a fine player. Trumbull High was a small school. It needed all available material. A boy who was physically fit for football and who did not get out for practice was regarded as disloyal. No wonder that the students felt this way about it with rivalry so keen between Trumbull and Canton high schools! Trumbull's colors had trailed in the dust for three consecutive years. This season the students had early begun to clamor for revenge.
"Glad to see you getting out, Billings," Coach Little said to him, pleasantly. "I believe you should develop into a good player."
Some of the old football players crowded about. They eyed Judd unbelievingly. "What, Judd going out for football?" The surprise was so great that there was not an answering echo of enthusiasm. Judd was yet untried. They had never seen him do anything noteworthy. Judd had existed apart from them and their activities. He could not expect to be readily accepted into the ranks of those who had been proven under fire. Judd backed away, feeling self-conscious. As he left the crowd his face flushed crimson at a low-voiced remark which reached him. "Hump! He won't last long! He's got a streak of yellow a yard wide all the way down his spine!"
When Judd asked his mother for money to purchase football togs she knew that her intuition had been correct. Mrs. Billings sat staring at him for a moment. Judd was hoping that his mother would refuse him. His own decision was weakening. He still had a chance to get out of it. His eyes ... his studies ... he would have to make up some work in order to be eligible to play ... there were so many convenient excuses.... And if his mother should put her foot down it would be so much easier to withdraw. Mrs. Billings was having a struggle too. She was picturing her guarded care of the boy and contrasting his life for the first time with that of Bob's. Was it right, after all, to keep a boy from athletics? What had her plan done for Judd? It had made of him a coward, a boy who was afraid of himself and afraid of other people. Mrs. Billings turned to the drawer and took out the money, handing it over to Judd.
Judd took the money and hurried out. His heart was pounding strangely. To think that his mother had changed! She, of all people! What had come over her? Now there was no backing out. He must go ahead. He had gotten his foot in it. Why had he been so forward? No one had expected him to go out for football. They would have let him alone. It would be a bigger disgrace to go out and fail than not to go out at all. At least this is the way it seemed to Judd. And he was afraid of failing more than anything else.
JUDD GRITS HIS TEETH
Judd was the object of curious eyes the first night out. Coach Little kept the squad busy passing the football about, kicking and catching punts. Judd was exceedingly nervous. He dropped several punts, muffed passes and when the ball was given him to kick, missed it completely due to over anxious embarrassment. The sight was highly amusing to the rest of the squad, all of whom could boast of some football experience. Coach Little sought to have the boys show respect to Judd, appreciating his feelings. Judd knew that he could do better; he knew that he had not forgotten the points drilled into him by Bob. But putting this knowledge into execution before a field of players whom he felt had the "show me" attitude, was a different matter.
The news spread throughout Trumbull that Judd Billings, kid brother of the great, Bob, had at last gotten into athletics. On the heels of this news came the word that he was the laughing stock of the football squad. He was the crudest, awkwardest, greenest candidate that had ever put in appearance on the Trumbull gridiron. No danger of his ever picking up the laurels won for the Billings family by the older brother! Judd was a joke. But though the grown folks smiled at the reports they remarked that people would have to give Judd credit. Something must have come over the boy to cause him to get out for the team. Why he had not even engaged in a game of tiddly-winks before!
Judd went home from the first scrimmage with an aching body. He had been placed in the line of one of the picked teams made up by Coach Little and it had seemed to Judd that every play was directed at him. Time and again he was on the bottom of the heap. He could feel the players piling on top of him and on several occasions his face was plowed in the dirt. Judd wasn't hurt. He marvelled at this. And there had been a certain thrill in the moments that he had managed to grasp the man with the ball and hang on until he had brought him down. But Judd was not sure that he liked this rough treatment.
That night Judd wrote to Bob. He had been reading his contract over. There had come to him a strong temptation to quit. Several fellows had gotten bruised in practice. Jimmy Blackwell had the skin taken off his knuckles when someone stepped on his hand; Harry Knowlton got a clip over one eye; Tom Barley had his wind knocked out. It would be but a matter of time before something happened to him. In the letter to Bob, he wrote: "I don't know why I'm so timid. I don't feel scared inside but something keeps me from going only so far. I know I can do better but I don't. We had our first scrimmage today. Some of the fellows got bunged up. They didn't seem to mind it. I guess they're made different than I am."
Bob was glad that Judd had taken to writing him. If Judd could only confide his feelings in some one he would perhaps be able to keep up his morale. It helped to know that someone understood what you were going through. With Bob it had been his father. He must take the father's place with Judd. Bob answered back: "Stick to it, Buddy. Each time you win makes the next victory that much easier. And one of these days it will take an earthquake to jar you!"
Judd gritted his teeth and went back to practice. He tried to forget himself—to play with a carefree abandon. He tried not to think of the consequences in advance. When he could get this attitude he noticed that he seemed to play better. One instance was particularly striking. Blackwell, fullback on the regulars for two seasons, had broken through the line and was away for an open field run. It looked like he was good for a touchdown. Judd found himself free and in position to give pursuit. He thought only of downing Blackwell. The fullback had a five yard lead on him. Judd raced after him and caught up to him after a twenty yard run. He left the ground in a flying tackle and pinioned Blackwell from behind, bringing him heavily to earth. When Judd realized what he had done he was shaky for the remainder of the practice. He might have been badly hurt!
But such brilliant flashes of playing convinced Coach Little that Billings had some real football ability in him. Judd had been studying doggedly to make up his school work. There might be a possibility of his being used before the year was out. When the coach cut the squad he placed Billings as a substitute on the second team.
With the first three games on the schedule played, the students and townspeople awoke to the realization that Trumbull High had the best football team in years. The football warriors had soundly trimmed every opponent and had kept their goal line uncrossed, piling up a total of 117 points!
One night the coach gave the second team some of the plays that were used by Ashton High, Trumbull's next opponent. He wanted to see what defense his regulars could offer against them. The Ashton team built their plays around one player, their fullback. He was a big fellow and exceptionally fast. Because Billings appeared to be about his physical equal, Coach Little motioned him to the fullback position. Burton, second team quarterback, outlined to Billings the plays he was to use.
Judd was excited and a bit confused. This was the first time he had ever been called upon to run with the ball. He did not relish the thought of being tackled. It was bad enough to tackle anyone but to be thrown yourself seemed worse. Sometimes several fellows hit you at once and then more fell on you.
Judd nodded vaguely to Burton's instructions. The first play called for a cross-buck over left guard. The second team's line opened a hole; Judd received the ball and followed Burton through. He saw Burton go down, bumped solidly against some bodies in the line, felt a grip on one leg, then saw a clear field ahead. Judd ran like a scared deer. He did not care to be tackled from behind. The only way to prevent it was to outdistance everyone. But he did not reckon on the last line of defense. Blackwell, first team fullback, was charging in. Judd tried to dodge him. It did not occur to him to stiff arm. He stopped dead in his tracks.
Blackwell's tackle hit Judd with jolting force. It would not have shaken him up so much if Judd had been running at the instant. Coach Little, who a moment before had chuckled with glee at the way Judd went through the line, now turned away with an exclamation of disgust. Billings was a physical coward. Everyone on both teams knew it now. Some of the spectators began to jeer. "What d'ya stop for? Afraid he was gonna hit ya? You oughta get hurt!"
Burton came running up and helped the dazed Billings to his feet. "What's the matter?" he blazed, "Did you forget something? We had a chance for a touchdown and we haven't whipped the firsts this year!"
Coach Little called Billings off the field.
The hard games on the schedules were coming up now and every practice session was vitally important. The team carried its string of victories to six with three more games to play before the season's end.
Attention was centered on the final contest with Canton High. This school was the largest in the district. It seemed as if it always turned out a good football team. And this year was no exception. As phenomenal as had been Trumbull's season, the Canton High eleven had won greater laurels. Canton had played some of the best schools in the state and had emerged victorious. It would be hard to prophesy what would happen when Canton met Trumbull. State sporting authorities began to figure the Canton-Trumbull encounter a mythical championship battle providing both elevens won the remaining games on their schedules.
Billings' sad showing that one practice session had kept him on the sidelines every scrimmage thereafter. The players exhibited sullen contempt for him. And just as Judd had begun to win back some of their respect too. But they might have known that he would turn out that way.
Judd brooded over his situation. Oddly enough he did not mind what fellow players thought or said of him. He was having his hardest time trying to keep from babying himself. Finally Judd decided that he needed help. He did not have strength enough to force himself to do what he knew he should do. Judd stopped Coach Little as the coach was leaving the field one night.
"Could I see you a moment, sir?"
The coach paused. His mind was on the next game. He had a dozen problems to solve. What could Billings want? Was he going to resign at last? Billings had stuck longer than the Coach had thought he would. Somehow he felt a peculiar sympathy for the lad.
"Well, what is it, Judd?"
Judd hesitated until the other players were out of earshot. They looked back curiously. He heard one of them say, "I thought so. Billings is tryin' to get in soft with the coach now. Alibi Ike!"
Hot tears came to Judd's eyes. He turned to the coach pleadingly.
"Please sir, I'm not a quitter.... I'm not yellow ... that is, not really.... I didn't want to stop when I saw I was going to be tackled. Something else made me.... I—I can't make myself do what I want to do.... I ..."
The coach studied Billings sympathetically.
"I'd like to have you make me do what I can't make myself do ... force me to get in there and play ... I ... I'm not asking for mercy ... or ... or to be favored. No matter what I do, I don't care if you beat me or what happens ... I want to get over feeling like I do about myself!"
This was a most unusual request. To Coach Little there flashed a small appreciation of the struggle that Billings must be undergoing. He laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Billings. You're up against a tough fight. Some fellows never get over it. Just seems like they can't entirely break it. The season is so far along now that I don't know whether I'll have a chance to help you much. Keep a stiff upper lip. Don't take the game so seriously. You're too tense. Relax. If you do this you will not take yourself so seriously and it will help you. I'm glad you spoke to me about this. I'm glad you realize what is wrong. Keep saying to yourself, 'I will do this' and 'I will do that' and if you can say it until you believe it, nothing can stop you from doing it."
Judd thanked the coach for giving him this advice and immediately felt better. He went home with a lighter heart than he had had in weeks.
A KICKER IS DISCOVERED
Trumbull High put the skids under Newton Academy in the next to the last game of the season but in so doing the eleven lost the services of its star fullback, Jimmy Blackwell, who suffered a badly sprained ankle. There was gloom in Trumbull that night. Chances were that Blackwell had played his last game for the school and chances were that Trumbull would be no match for Canton High with Blackwell out of the lineup.
Coach Little had no player on the string of first substitutes who could begin to fill Blackwell's shoes. He moved Rudolph, second team fullback, up to Blackwell's position after some consideration. Rudolph was short but stockily built—a good little man. The boy would need a great deal of grooming but he seemed the only one available. In looking about for someone to fill the vacancy on the second team left by Rudolph's advancement, Coach Little thought of Billings. Why not? There was a slight possibility ... one never could tell....
When Judd was notified that he was to take the fullback position on the second team he was totally unnerved by the shock. He couldn't sleep for dreaming of what would probably happen to him in scrimmage. The players would all be laying for him. They thought him a physical coward and they would show no mercy. He had done nothing to command their respect. Now that his opportunity had come to redeem himself, he didn't want it. But when school was over the next afternoon, Judd found himself in the dressing room preparing for that which he feared the most.
Just outside, Burton, second team quarterback, was talking to some of his players. "Say, fellows, I just heard the Coach put Judd in at full. Some joke, huh? Watch me. I'll give him the ball every time I get a chance. We'll run him ragged. When he gets through scrimmage today he'll wish he'd never seen a football." The players laughed and sided in with Burton.
Judd finished tying his shoe and stood up, shakily. He had heard what was said. He dreaded to go out on the field. He was the last one to leave the dressing room. No one paid any attention to him. Oh, if he could just crawl off some where—some place where everyone would Let him alone and where no harm could befall him! The shrill blast of the whistle caused him to run toward the field. The teams were lining up....
The kickoff came straight for Judd. He caught the ball and started off, dazedly. He ran five, ten, fifteen yards. Then two tacklers struck him at once before he had time to dodge. He went down with a thud. He was dragged to his feet and pushed into position. Burton began calling signals. He glanced meaningly at Judd. It was his number! Judd was slow in taking the ball. He was thrown for a two yard loss. He heard Burton bawling him out and telling him to "get in there and play, you big dub!" The ball went to Judd again. He followed his interference around the end for a bare yard. He was not putting any drive into his playing.
On the fourth down Burton motioned Judd back and signified that he was to kick. The ball was on the second team's twenty-seven yard line. Judd nervously scraped a level place for him in the sod. The ball snapped back to him. He saw the lines break as his foot swung up to meet the ball. There was an impact as the punt got under way. The next instant Judd landed on his back as Fenstermaker, first team guard, bumped roughly into him.
Coach Little, on the sidelines, whistled his surprise. The punt carried forty-five yards! Rudolph, who caught it, was downed in his tracks. Burton came running up to Judd, in sudden elation, and patted him on the back. "That's the stuff, Judd, old boy. Some punt!" This compliment stimulated Judd and gave him more confidence. He began to forget himself.
Scrimmage that night ended in a hard-earned victory for the first team, 7 to 0. The second team had put up a stubborn defense and Billings' toe had kept the regulars from rolling up the score. Billings had not shown to advantage in carrying the ball. He had fumbled on several occasions and he could not hit the line. But great governor, how he could kick!
Coach Little recognized in Billings the best kicker in the school. He was up against it for material in the fullback position. Rudolph did not excel in kicking. He was a good line plunger and fairly fast around the ends. Blackwell had been a triple threat player. There was a remote possibility that Blackwell might be able to get in part of the Canton High game. If Billings were not afraid of himself and had had more experience! The coach had an idea. He called the second team quarterback to him.
"Burton, I want you to take Billings aside and train him in all the second team plays. Give him the first team signals and plays too. Teach Billings what you can."
Burton did not question Coach Little. He had learned to obey orders. And besides, Burton had to admit—secretly—that his estimation of Billings had been raised. He had called upon Judd to carry the ball at least half of the time. Each time Judd had responded. True, he made no startling gains, his greatest being six yards—but Burton had been expecting an exhibition somewhat similar if not worse than Billings' first sorry showing. Tonight, however, Judd kept coming. The fault, as Burton saw it, was that he stopped for a moment just as he was about to hit the line; he slowed up as he went to circle the ends; he did not take the ball soon enough. But when Burton thought of the farmer boy's kicks, a glint of admiration came into his eyes. Why, even Blackwell could do no better. And Blackwell was about the best football player since the great Bob!
"Billings, the coach wants me to give you the dope on the signals and plays," Burton said to Judd, as they left the dressing room for the street. It was Judd's turn to be surprised. He felt miserable. Every second in scrimmage had been agony. He had played like one in defense of one's life and had used what to him was the utmost caution. He could not help stopping just before hitting the line; he could not keep from slowing up as he circled the ends; it took him just an instant to make himself take the ball each time his signal was called. And when it came to kicking, his only thought had been to get the ball as far away from him as possible. He loathed physical contact. No one had spoken to him outside of Burton. Judd imagined that they all were conscious of his showing the white feather. The first team men seemed especially hostile. They had received a tongue-lashing from the coach for their inability to run the score up. Of course he could not know that they were a bit resentful at him for having thwarted their scoring attempts by his unusual kicking.
Judd made arrangements with Burton to meet him and go over the signals. As they parted, Burton asked him, "Say, why don't you get out to the field early? You don't have a last hour class. And practice kicking ... practice drop kicking and place kicking. You've got a good toe. It might be that..."
A warm feeling passed through Judd. He was grateful for the interest shown in him. It helped to have someone believe that he could do something. Judd hesitated.
"... I don't have a class the last hour either. I could go out with you...."
Judd tried not to let Burton see how pleased he was at this offer. "Why ... why, thanks, awfully!" he said, "I'd like to do it."
The game with Canton High was only one week away. Word came from Canton that their team was expected to win by a margin of twenty points. Canton was claiming the state championship. Trumbull High could not make such claims, not having played as stiff a schedule as the rival school. But both Canton and Trumbull had gone through the season undefeated. And Trumbull followers would be glad to make claims if their team could conquer Canton. Sport writers picked Canton to win easily, with Trumbull's lineup weakened by the loss of Blackwell. Even if Blackwell could get into the game it was dubious if he would be able to do much. That sprained left ankle would not be any too strong. The game was to be played at Trumbull. Great preparations were started to take care of a monstrous crowd.
Three days before the game, Coach Little came on the field early and saw an interesting spectacle. Burton and Billings were on the gridiron. Billings was standing on the thirty-five yard line, facing the south goal posts. Ten yards in front of him knelt Burton with his hands on the ball. Billings motioned. Burton passed the ball between his legs. Billings caught it deftly and plied his toe to it as the ball struck the ground. The oval raised in a swift, short arch and sped over and between the uprights. Coach Little stood still in astonishment. The boys did not see him. Burton ran after the bounding ball. He returned. The process was repeated, Billings moving back to the forty yard line. Coach Little hastened out on the field.
"Here, what are you boys doing?"
Burton and Billings looked toward the coach in surprise.
"Practicing, sir." It was Burton who spoke.
The coach looked at Billings, who stood embarrassed and with his toe kicking at some uneven rises in the ground.
"Judd, if you could run with the ball as well as you can kick, you'd be of value to the team."
Burton wanted to tell the coach that he thought Billings was getting better. Billings had made a twenty yard run last night. And he had not seemed so afraid of getting hurt.
"I think Judd is ..." started Burton, but thought better of it. The coach was no fool. He was probably aware of Billings' improvement.
Judd knew that he was getting better control of himself. Each little victory that he won, no matter how much anxiety it had caused, seemed to lessen the effort he had to put forth the next time. And Judd had escaped even the slightest injury. Football was not as rough as it looked and a fellow didn't get hurt every time he fell down. On top of this he was beginning to develop a fighting blood. He could sense himself creating an objective and then feel a desire to reach that objective. If it was the fourth down and they needed three to go, Judd tried to make the three yards with some to spare. He could see himself making it and before he got a chance to wonder whether anything would happen to himself or not, he was in motion. Sometimes he reached the objective and sometimes not, but it wasn't many minutes before he found himself facing a new situation that had to be settled. And so it went, until the scrimmage was over, Judd not sensing any fear until the actual moment of contact when he was greatly disturbed until he found that nothing had happened to him.
To Judd, football was a variety of hot and cold sensations. The moment he could absolutely overcome his apprehension he knew that he would be able to hit the line hard, that he would be able to run the ends and that he would take the ball when his signal was called with the proper snap and drive.
"Billings, I am moving you up to the first squad tonight," said the coach, deciding. "This will be our last scrimmage before the big game. We may have need for your toe."
Burton could not conceal his joy. He had taken a liking to Judd ... a peculiar friendship had sprung up between them ... his contempt for the great Bob's brother was gone.
Hopes of Trumbull followers were heightened when Jimmy Blackwell put in his appearance for practice and limped through signals with the team, his ankle heavily bandaged and supported. Blackwell got away several kicks but they carried little better than thirty yards. He did not take any chances in scrimmage.
The first team lined up for scrimmage with Rudolph in the fullback position. Blackwell, wrapping himself in a blanket, came over to sit down beside Billings.
"Well, Judd, I hear you've been placed on the first squad," said Blackwell. There was the trace of chumminess in his voice.
Judd nodded his head, not knowing what to say.
"Looks like we'll need you, too. I understand you've developed into quite a kicker." Blackwell was trying to draw him out.
"Oh, I don't know..." said Judd, hesitatingly.
Blackwell lowered his voice.
"Say ... I've never told this to anyone and I wouldn't want you to repeat it. This is my last year in high school ... same as it is yours. It's my third year on the football team. When I first started in I was so afraid of myself that I'd worry myself sick over things that never happened. I could never quite figure you out until that time when I tackled you. I know what it means to stick it out the way you have. But you'll come out on top if you hang on. Nothing bothers me any more..."
Judd could hardly believe his ears. Could it be possible that a player like Blackwell had experienced the same feelings? Judd thrilled with the thought. It was good news to hear that another person had overcome something similar to that which he was struggling to conquer.
"How ... how long did it take you to ... to get the best of it?" Judd asked, interestedly.
"I still have to fight it ... at times..." replied Blackwell, gazing down at his bandaged ankle. "But the old feeling doesn't stay with me long. I soon get the upper hand ... The reason I'm speaking about this to you is partly a selfish one. It's been my ambition to see Canton High defeated. For two years I've played on the losing team. This year we counted on turning the trick ... until I was injured. Between you and me, Rudolph can't make the grade. He is fast but too small. We'll be outweighed at least ten pounds to the man. Rudolph will play for all there is in him but there isn't enough. If I get in I won't last long. You saw me out there ... kicking. It's about all I can do to put the weight of my body on this left foot, to say nothing of booting the ball at the same time ... I don't know whether the coach will give you a chance unless it's to make a kick. But if you could get a grip on yourself and let loose once ... say, I'M not even trying to guess what might happen!"
Judd sat, his blood pounding in his veins, thinking of what Blackwell had told him. He was vaguely conscious of the sound of signals being called, of cries of spectators, of the dull tread of running feet. Out on the field the loyal sons of Trumbull High were doing their utmost to get in tip top shape for the biggest battle of the season.
A sudden yell went up as Burton recovered a first team fumble and started on his way toward the goal with a clear field ahead of him. Rudolph was in pursuit.
It looked like a touchdown for the second team. But Rudolph was slowly gaining. The goal was only fifteen yards away ... now ten ... now five. Rudolph left his feet and his arms encircled the flying Burton. They came to earth two yards from the last line. The elated second team lined up for first down.
Blackwell nudged Billings. "There's a situation that might develop in the game with Canton," he said. "Imagine that the second team is Canton. If we hold 'em for downs I'll bet the coach calls you in to kick."
Judd bit his lips and watched. Three times the second team backfield dove into the first team line. But the first team was holding madly now. On the last down the ball was but a foot from the goal line. Fenstermaker, big guard, broke through the defense and dropped Burton for a one yard loss. The ball went over.
A halt was called in the game. Coach Little had motioned to Rudolph. Blackwell pushed Billings to his feet. "Get in there! The coach is calling you. What did I tell you? ... Come on ... let's see a real punt!"
Judd pulled off his sweater and ran out on the field. He knew this was to be one of his big tests. If he made good the coach might see fit to use him in the big game. But more than that—he must make good for Blackwell ... and then there was Bob ... and yes, even his mother! The scrimmage to the other players meant little more than a final strenuous seasoning ... to Judd it meant a fight against unseen odds.
Barley, first team quarterback, picked out a spot about five yards behind the goal line for Judd to stand. Barley was the personification of pep. He ran along the line, slapping his players on the back and exhorting them to hold. He came back to Billings.
"All right ... show your stuff! Kick that ball out of sight!"
Judd reached out his hands. He had a surge of fear. What if the line didn't hold? What if the pass was poor? But the next minute the ball was coming back to him. The line wavered and the pass was low. By the time he got in position to kick the players were almost upon him. He put every ounce of strength into the boot.
Forty yards down the field the ball went twisting and turning. It struck the ground and rolled to the second team's twenty yard line where a second team player fell on it. The first team was out of danger. Cheers came to Judd's ears from the few on the sidelines. He had come through under fire.
Coach Little approached Blackwell. "I believe we have unearthed a kicker who can take your place in an emergency," he said, exultantly. Blackwell was enthusiastic. "Believe? ... Why, Mister Little, that fellow's on the way to being the best kicker Trumbull High's ever had!"
The first time that Judd was called upon to run with the ball he was tackled and thrown heavily. His wind was knocked out of him. The Coach and Blackwell looked at each other apprehensively. What effect would this have on Billings? They watched his fellow players lift him up and down while Judd gasped for air. Presently he sat up, then was shoved to his feet. His face was ghastly. Barley asked him if he was all right. Judd wasn't sure. Barley asked him if he wanted to leave the game. The other players looked on, some a bit contemptuously. Was Billings going to lay down again? Judd shook his head and stumbled back into his position.
When he was next called upon to take the ball he did not follow his interference and tried to evade his tacklers, being thrown for a five yard loss. Barley reprimanded him severely. Judd was almost paralyzed with fear. He kept saying to himself, "No, I will not quit ... I will not quit."
Coach Little and Blackwell looked at each other again. Disappointment was written on their faces. Billings lacked the fighting spirit ... he could not stand hard knocks ... it would never do to trust him with carrying the ball. The Coach likened him to a young high school lad he had known who showed promise of becoming a great baseball player. The boy could catch every ball that he could get his hands on but he was afraid to stand up to the plate ... he couldn't get out of the habit of stepping back ... he was fearful of getting hit ... and the result was that he lost out all around. Billings was the same way ... only in football.
Judd left the field that night crestfallen. Inwardly he had wanted to play the game ... to get up and play harder than ever ... but for some inexplainable reason he could not make himself. It seemed that he was panic stricken. His outer feelings ran away with his inner judgment. The school needed him badly but he could not qualify.
There was a letter from Bob awaiting him when he got home. He took it to his room to read it. Bob spoke of the coming game with Canton. Then there were a few lines of kindly encouragement and advice. "I've heard from several sources about your work this fall, Judd, and it certainly has given me cause for rejoicing to learn that you have stuck with the ship regardless of what's happened. I believe it has done you lots of good. I wish I could get home to see the game with Canton but I can't figure how to manage it. We have a game Saturday and even though you play your game on Friday it would be next to impossible for me to get away. Cheer up, you're bound to get your chance one of these days. Don't forget your contract. Hang on! You've done fine so far! The football season will soon be over. And with Blackwell on the injured list there's a bare possibility you may get into the big game. Say, wouldn't that be great?"
Judd put the letter from him with a shudder. Yes, wouldn't it be great! If scrimmage was hard, what would a real game be with rivalry at high pitch and each team contesting for every inch of ground? Judd wondered how other people could feel the way they did about things. Just now it seemed to him that the opportunity to play in the big game would be about the worst calamity that could befall him. The way to live up to the contract was not to think of self but to think of the contract. It was just like thinking of the objective and going toward it without stopping to consider what might happen. The only trouble was—Judd forgot what he was going out after when the least thing jolted him. He began to think of himself again and other things faded into insignificance.
The day of the game dawned with a miserable wet rain falling. The Canton High team and five hundred raving rooters arrived by special train at ten in the morning. Nothing seemed to dampen their spirits. They came with the intention of winning a decisive victory and having a big time in the doing.
Judd, hollow-eyed from loss of sleep through dread of the approaching conflict, met with other members of the team at eleven o'clock. Most of the boys were in good spirits. The coach had insisted that they eat at a training table and that he supervise the last meal eaten before the big game. He always got the boys in uniform early and gave them an opportunity to wear off the first wave of excitement before the game was called.
Blackwell managed to sit next to Billings. He saw that Judd was almost beside himself with nervousness, playing with his food and making a sorry pretense of eating.
"I—I'd give anything if I could get out of this..."
"No you wouldn't," prompted Blackwell, "You'd be ashamed of yourself for the rest of your life ... and you know it."
Judd hung his head. He had to confess that what Blackwell said was true. Now that he had waged the fight against himself, there was a certain growing spirit which refused to let him stop. He had thought that he would quit on the last night of scrimmage but the next night found him out taking a light signal practice with the team. It was as if he had started an automobile and then wished to stop it only to find that it had gotten beyond his control. The situation was terrifying.
When Judd dressed for the game he took a white slip of paper from his wallet and folded it inside his head gear. Some of the players saw him do it and one asked, "What's that for, a shock absorber?" The question was a harmless thrust but Judd flushed guiltily. They certainly would kid him if they knew what it really was!
In the distance could be heard the yells of the rival schools and the blare of the school bands. Overhead, in the lulls, could be heard the monotonous drip of the rain. What a day for a football game! The gridiron was water-soaked and soggy. A person would get covered with dirt and wet to the skin. Nothing inviting about that to Judd.
"Fellows, I've been your coach for seven years. There has never been a game in all my experience that I have wanted to win more than this one. We will be outweighed; we will be faced by a team of veterans; but we will not be outspirited. Trumbull has always possessed the spirit that never says die. I know that every man on the first team will be out there ... when his chance comes ... giving everything he has for old Trumbull...." The coach's eyes passed over every boy in the squad, pausing just a moment to rest upon Billings, then moving on quickly.
The last pointed words of the coach failed to impress Judd. He seemed in a daze. Could it be possible that he was actually a sub on the first team and that he might be called upon to play? The thoughts of honor had not come to him ... of fighting for his school ... of fighting for anything in particular. But he did want to fight to live up to the contract ... to the belief that a few people had in him.
Judd followed the other subs to a bench along the edge of the field. He sat down with Burton, second team quarterback, beside him. They watched the Trumbull eleven as it took the field amid a riotous welcoming from the umbrella packed stands. Judd studied the blue jerseyed youths of Canton in comparison with the dark red clad boys of Trumbull. It seemed to him that the Canton team was better drilled, the players moved with more snap and machine-like precision. Judd felt nervous and fidgety.
Trumbull won the toss and chose to kick off. There was a tense hum of sound as Barley, Trumbull quarterback, knelt and pointed the ball on a wet clod of dirt. Rudolph measured off the distance to kick. The opposing captains raised their arms, the referee's whistle shrilled, and the wall of red clad Trumbull warriors moved forward as the ball spun into the air.
Rudolph's kick carried to the ten yard line where Drake, Canton fullback, gathered it in and fell behind his quickly formed interference. He slipped and slid through the mud as he ran. A Trumbull player, meeting the solid phalanx at the twenty yard line, plunged low into the interference, being trampled under foot. But he succeeded in breaking the formation. Fellow team-mates tore into the advancing runners and the big fullback was downed on the thirty-five yard line after a brilliant opening run. The stands were in an uproar.
Judd had watched the play, being conscious of a peculiar pulsation in his throat. The very atmosphere seemed suddenly charged with fighting spirit ... he saw the Trumbull team ... now transformed into mighty gladiators ... and he experienced a shocking sensation at the thought that he was one of them ... in reserve.
Button pounded him on the back. "Wow! They failed to gain!" as the first onslaught of the Canton line was repulsed for a two yard loss.
Before the game was five minutes old it was sadly evident that today—of all days—weight was very likely to tell. The wet field was bound to greatly handicap the work of both teams. There would be little opportunity for fast, open field work or much passing. The plays would have to be through the line or around the end—straight football largely.
As the first quarter drew to a close, Canton had the ball on Trumbull's thirty yard line, benefiting by a series of punt exchanges. Holding desperately to prevent Canton gaining another first down, Trumbull was slowly but surely pushed backward through the mud. With one yard to go, Drake came crashing through center for three yards, battering his way with scarcely any interference to help him.
Judd seemed to feel each impact as the opposing lines strained against each other. He cringed inwardly as he heard the smack of Drake's collision with Barley, who brought the big fellow to earth. Canton's first down on Trumbull's eighteen yard line!
The first down seemed to give the heavier Canton team new life. They went to the attack with a savageness which was not to be denied. Using the sledge-hammer power of Drake ... the Canton team pounded again and again at the Trumbull line. The players could scarcely be recognized for the mud with which they were bespattered.
Judd noticed Blackwell, hobbling up and down in his nervous eagerness, looking appealingly at the coach. But Coach Little shook his head. He was taking no chances by putting Blackwell in so long as there was no opportunity of his doing much good. Blackwell's value, in his present condition, would lie in his offensive ability—if he could be used at all. Judd wondered why Blackwell wanted to get into such a combat. He recoiled at the very thought that he might be called upon.
An excited cry directed Judd's attention back to the play of the moment. The Trumbull line had faltered and the Canton backfield was through with Drake again carrying the ball. Judd saw Barley brushed aside as he dove for the runner. Rudolph, the last line of defense, came dashing in and threw himself at the Canton fullback as he crossed the goal line. Drake spun around and fell heavily over the goal, landing solidly upon his tackler. A mighty cheer went up from the Canton rooters—a cheer which died out in a sudden hush when it was seen that the tackler did not rise. Trumbull players gathered about Rudolph. "Water! Water!" A boy near Judd picked up a pail and went racing out on the field, dabbing a sponge in it as he ran. Judd stared dumbly at Burton, who said: "That's tough! ... Looks like Rudie's out!"
They carried Rudolph from the field and Blackwell went limping out to take his place. The Canton team lined up for the try at goal. Rudolph was regaining his senses and struggling to be in action again. Judd leaned over toward him. "You're out of it, old man," he said, soothingly. Judd thought this remark would be a great relief to one who had received such a jolt as Rudolph. But Rudolph only glared at him as another cheer told plainly that Canton had kicked goal. Score seven to nothing ... favor of Canton. Referee's whistle! First quarter up.
The teams exchanged goals and Canton kicked off to Trumbull. Barley caught the ball on his fifteen yard line and ran it back seven yards before a Canton linesman struck him down on a pretty tackle. Blackwell, taking the ball on the first play, made a limping plunge around right end for a three yard gain. He was given a resounding cheer for his gameness. Two more downs and Trumbull was forced to punt. Blackwell went back and tested his footing in the mud. He shifted his weight carefully to his left foot and booted the ball, but his kick lacked the power it ordinarily contained. The punt carried a scant thirty yards and the Canton halfback who caught it came charging toward the Trumbull goal to Trumbull's twenty-eight yard line. Several attempts to tackle this elusive runner were thwarted by the slippery condition underfoot.
With the ball in Canton's possession again the relentless pound, pound, pound against Trumbull's line began anew. Despite heroic attempts of Trumbull linesmen to stop the advance, the heavier Canton line pushed and shoved and forced its way through, making a path for the seemingly tireless Drake who had been nicknamed "Mud Scow" by an ingenious Canton yell leader.
Eleven minutes of the second quarter were gone when "Mud Scow" Drake went over for the second touchdown. Judd had watched Trumbull for every foot of the water-soaked territory. He had seen Blackwell, on three different occasions, stop the slashing, slipping drive of Drake ... had seen these two go down in a sea of mud ... had seen Blackwell get up each time a little slower ... had seen the undaunted determination upon his dirt-smeared face. And when the Canton team lined up joyously for their second try at goal after touchdown, Judd saw that Blackwell was crying ... crying in unashamed fashion ... perhaps he wasn't even conscious that he was crying. This was all so puzzling to Judd. He had thought of himself first in everything. He could not comprehend exactly why Blackwell should be so concerned ... unless he were hurt ... and suffering! It did not dawn upon him what Blackwell was actually thinking ... that Blackwell, in his last year at school, felt himself unable to do his best ... sensed his inability to put the punch in the team ... to restore its shattered confidence ... shattered because of Canton's powerful, battering attack.
The first half ended with the ball on Trumbull's ten yard line and Canton just that far away from a third touchdown! Score, Canton 14; Trumbull 0. Drake's well trained toe had added the extra point after the second touchdown also.
"So far the game looks like a one man offensive and the advantage of weight," Coach Little told his players between halves. "Stop this fellow Drake and you'll stop their drive. They're using him because they have to depend upon straight football and he's the strongest man in their backfield. The chances are that Canton will play a defensive game from now on and you must take the offensive in order to win. You've got everything against you today but one thing ... and that's spirit. Any team that can put up the fight you have out there every minute of the half need not be discouraged. Don't think about the score. Concentrate on every play ... put everything you have in it ... and the score will take care of itself..."
The coach sent the same lineup back into the game.
Rudolph, swathed in blankets, sat near Judd, who watched him out of the corner of his eye. He noticed that Rudolph kept his attention centered on every move of the game. Canton kicked off, and it was Trumbull's ball on Trumbull's thirty yard line. Rudolph's lips moved at each calling of the signals. Judd unconsciously got to doing the same thing. Every time Blackwell's number was called he imagined that he was Blackwell and followed the play through in his mind. Blackwell was holding up ... he was good for short gains almost every time he took the ball. But after each run he dragged himself back into position and scraped the mud from his feet as though each sticking clod held him back.
Rudolph nudged Judd after a play in which Blackwell's fatigue was most evident. "You'll get your chance pretty soon ... he's about all in!"
The blood went racing to Judd's head. The entire game had been thus far like a disconnected dream to him. It had been difficult to actually associate himself with it.
"My ... my chance!" he faltered.
Rudolph nodded ... then clutched Judd's sleeve. "See ... Blackwell's looking this way ... we've got to kick ... and ... he can't!"
The field seemed to blur out of Judd's vision. There was a sickening buzzing in his head ... he looked at Rudolph with undisguised horror on his face.
"Me ... me ... go in ... there?"
Rudolph gave him a look of scorn and threw aside his blankets. Coach Little came up, slapping Judd on the back. "You're taking Blackwell's place, Billings ..."
"Let me go in!" pleaded Rudolph, "Judd's scared stiff!"
The coach glanced sharply at the shivering substitute. The referee's whistle was screeching demandingly. Blackwell was being helped off the field.
"No, Rudie ... you're done for the day. It's up to Billings."
The coach turned to Judd.
"Billings, I'm not putting you in because I want to ... it's because I have to, understand? And if you show yellow ... everyone in Trumbull and everyone in the state for that matter ... is going to know it."
Judd ripped off his sweater. He passed Blackwell as he went out to report to the referee. Blackwell called to him. "I'm counting on you, Judd ... do it for me, old boy!"
The great Bob's younger brother had a mixture of feelings ... the words of the coach had aroused him more than he had ever thought he could be aroused ... and Blackwell's plea had brought to him a flash of what it really meant to forget self. If Blackwell could play as he had played with a sprained ankle when every step meant a stab of pain ... if Rudolph had given his best and was even now, though injured, willing to get back into the battle ... why couldn't he carry on the good fight? WHY COULDN'T HE? The question suddenly became an obsession with him. And the answer began to rise up within him ... "I can ... I CAN!"
The ball was on Trumbull's thirty-five yard line and last down. Barley met Billings on his way out to the team. Judd had an odd thought that Barley reminded him of a man who had stuck his head out of a sewer hole and looked at him one day. Why should he think of such a curious thing as that ... at a time like this? But Barley was shouting something at him ... the stands were on their feet ... shouting ... shouting ... what were they shouting? ... why! ... it was HIS name!
"Come on, Billings! Get us out of this hole," pleaded Barley.
And when he said this ... the haunting face of the sewer digger came back to Judd ... came back in such a ludicrous light that Judd looked at Barley and laughed. Get him out of the hole? Certainly he would! The other players—grim, tired, water-soaked—saw Judd laugh. His first time under fire in the biggest game of the year ... and he could laugh!
To Barley the laugh came as a ray of sunshine. His worries vanished. Judd had the attitude of a veteran. Barley ran along the line, kicking each linesman as the referee's whistle put the ball again in play. "Get in there and hold that line!"
There was the sloppy crunching of body against body as the slippery ball snapped back to Billings. Judd caught it, juggled it, recovered and kicked. The ball arched skyward in a twisting spiral. Trumbull ends, making a quick get away, went stumbling and sliding down the field.
Drake stood under the punt, waiting to catch it. As he reached up to grab it a Trumbull end hit him, the slippery ball eluded his wet fingers and bounced a few feet away. The other end, closing in, dove for the ball. There was a wet mass of muddy forms disputing possession. The referee dug down to the bottom of the heap. Trumbull's ball on Canton's seventeen yard line!
The first real break in the game had favored Trumbull. Barley pounced upon Judd and hugged him happily. "Good boy, Judd ... we're going to score!" The team showed new spirit. Every man was on his toes. Only seventeen yards away from a touchdown! The stands began to come to life. "Yeah, Trumbull ... Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!"
Signals! Judd was conscious of them ... but he was also conscious that the signals had a direct relation to him. He knew, for instance, that the first play was going through left guard and that he was to form interference for the right half. The ball was passed back. Judd automatically crossed in front of the right half and charged toward the Canton left guard ... but Canton had broken through ... and he found himself confronted with two determined-looking tacklers. He slipped and half fell into them and both opponents fell with him. The right half plunged on over them, Judd feeling a foot on the scruff of his neck as his face went down in the mud. The play netted a bare yard.
Signals! It seemed that he had scarcely gained his feet before he was whirled into another play. Barley was pepping up the team ... he was putting drive into them ... and he was calling Billings' number!
Judd took the ball and fell in behind his interference. He circled the end, running wide. A tackler attempted to reach him but slipped and went down in the gummy mire. He stuck out his hand and another tackler dropped away from him. He was conscious of the rain on his face ... and it seemed that for every foot he advanced ... he slid two feet backward. Judd now found himself running alone. He turned in as he came to a strip of white along the edge of the field, catching a fleeting glimpse of umbrellas and huddled spectators ... then he saw the big form of Drake plowing toward him with arms outstretched.
Fear overtook Judd ... a fear which blotted out everything else from the daze of his thoughts. But in this instance, fear saved him. Judd made a supreme effort to avoid being tackled, and leaped past Drake just as Drake left his feet. Drake struck in a shallow puddle and rolled over and Judd fell across the goal line. He had scored a touchdown the first time that he was given the ball!
As quick to reclaim him as they had been quick to condemn him, his team-mates crowded about Judd and for the first time made him feel the glow of comradeship. Only Judd knew how unworthy of their praise he was. His touchdown had been a happy accident. His attempt to kick goal was blocked. Score, Canton 14; Trumbull 6.
Two minutes remained of the third quarter. Trumbull kicked off and the ball was downed on Canton's twenty-one yard line. Canton tried the Trumbull line for two downs and found that the line had stiffened. Trumbull was holding desperately. Then Drake dropped back as if to kick. Barley called to Billings. "Get back. Watch out for a fake punt!"
Judd had hardly gotten back when the play started. Drake was a triple threat man. He made as if to pass to the left end, then plunged through the right side of the line. Barley tackled Drake but the big fullback shook him off and started into an open field with only Billings between him and the Trumbull goal, seventy some yards away.
Judd had been living in dread of such a moment. There flashed through his mind the temptation to make a seeming effort to tackle Drake and fail. It would be easy to let on that he had slipped in the mud. And there would be no danger of his getting hurt. He saw Drake preparing to straight arm. Then Judd saw a mental picture of Blackwell with his lame ankle, running toward the self-same Drake unflinchingly and bringing him to the ground. A sudden blast of courage came over him. He ran at Drake swiftly and knocked Drake's arm aside; his arms closed about Drake's knees; the big fullback lurched to free himself, twisted his body in an adroit manner and managed to swing Judd about so that the weight of his body landed on his tackler's head. Judd experienced the same sensation that had come to Rudolph.
Barley, the first to his side ... spoke harshly to Drake. "Trumbull men always play fair ... this is the second man you've put out of the game!"
Drake laughed and denied the accusation.
A water boy came running up and dashed a pail of water on Judd's face. The Trumbull players crowded about, crestfallen. Judd came to ... with an expression of pain on his face. He moved his left shoulder cautiously and winced as he did so. "Oh ... take me out ... take me out..." he whispered ... "My shoulder!"
Barley picked up Billings' head gear which had been knocked off in the tackle. The stands were cheering his name. But Judd was conscious only of pain. As they helped him to his feet ... he saw the coach on the field.
"I—I can't go on, sir," he said. "I—I'm hurt."
The coach examined Judd's shoulder. "It's just a wrench ... you're our only hope ... can't you stick?"
As the coach asked the question he took the head gear from Barley's hands and went to place it back on Billings' head. A piece of white paper fell out. The coach picked it up curiously. There was some writing on it.
"Here, sir! Give that to me! That's mine!" Judd's eyes flashed. It would not do for anyone to see what was written on it. If they did he would be humiliated forever.
"Please, sir!" as the coach began to unfold the paper. "If you'll give it back to me ... I'll stick in the game!"
Coach Little shook his head perplexedly and handed him back the paper. Judd took it shame-facedly and tucked it quickly in his cap, turning away. His team-mates stared at him in incomprehensive amazement.
"He's gone nutty!" said Barley.
The players had no sooner lined up to resume play than the whistle blew for the end of the third quarter. The ball was on Canton's thirty-nine yard line and Canton's first down. Score—Canton 14; Trumbull 6.
On the sidelines a small commotion was evident. The great Bob Billings had arrived! He'd intended to see the entire game but had missed train connections at the junction. It had been his desire, however, to keep Judd from knowing of his contemplated presence. The substitutes crowded around the former Trumbull star in eager admiration. Bob sought out Coach Little.
"Mister Little ... my name's Bob Billings ... how's the game going?"
"Too much beef for us in weather like this ... the boys are putting up a great fight though!"
"How ... how's my kid brother doing?"
Coach Little looked out upon the field. The teams were changing ends and getting in position to take up play in the last quarter.
"I can't understand him. He scored our only touchdown on a great fifteen yard sprint. Then he stopped that big bull ... Drake ... just as it looked like Drake had a clear field. Drake fell on Judd after the tackle and hurt him ... He'd have quit the game then and there if it hadn't been for a piece of paper."
"A piece of paper?"
Coach Little laughed. "Yes ... I found it in his cap and gave it back to him without reading it on his promise to stay in the game. I suppose the kid's sweet on some girl and was more afraid of being embarrassed than he was of being hurt!"
The great Bob's eyes clouded over, and his jaws tightened. "Poor Buddy!" he said, softly.
FOR A SCRAP OF PAPER
Out on the field Judd was having the biggest fight of his life. There surged up within him the desire to overcome the fears of the past. He remembered the morning that he took the pen and signed his name to the contract in Bob's room; remembered his coming back to Trumbull and re-entering school; remembered how he had made himself get out for football; remembered his mother's changed feelings toward his activities. He had fought this thing that he knew was not a part of him ... trying ... trying to shake it off ... but it clung to him hardest at just the times when he wanted to do the most ... when it was the most difficult to get away from ... and easiest to surrender.
The paper had seemed to Judd as the only outward evidence of his determination to keep up the good fight ... to conquer fear. He did not want to admit to anyone that he had broken faith with himself ... he had gone so far now that there must be no turning back ... regardless of consequences. And the piece of paper did mean something to Judd. It meant living up to his true self ... a self which had no use for babying; a self which never recognized failure ... a self which did not think of itself ... first.
Judd crouched in his defensive position, a hand holding his lame shoulder, eyes on the Canton backfield. There was a sudden shift, the lines crashed and the big Drake came through again. But Judd, gritting his teeth, went forward to meet him and dropped Drake for a bare two yard gain.
"Good boy!" cried Barley, pulling Judd to his feet. "Right at 'em!"
Drake, dripping with mud and water, jogged back to his position. The quarterback said something in Drake's ear. Drake nodded and glanced at Billings derisively. The next moment he had the ball again and was circling the end.
Judd, muttering to himself, "I can! ... I can!" cut through the muddy turf. Barley spilled the interference and once more Judd tore into Drake, bringing the big fellow down. But Drake had gained five yards.
Third down and three to go! Canton tried a line play. Trumbull held. Drake fell back to kick. Judd retreated to Trumbull's thirty yard line to play for the punt.
The pigskin came spinning through the heavy air toward him. He had run forward about five yards to get under it. He made the catch but slipped and fell as he started forward. As he got to his feet two Canton tacklers hit him. When Judd got up he was conscious of a sharp pain in his right knee. Time out was taken while he paced about, testing his foot to the ground.
Barley, supporting him, said in a whisper: "Tough luck, old man. You're putting up a great game. They wouldn't be in it if it wasn't for their man Drake ... we've got just seven minutes ... I'll tell you what I'm going to do ... I'm going to give you the ball practically every play and we'll hand them some of the same medicine they've been feeding us!"
"I—I don't believe I can do you much good," faltered Judd.
Barley grinned. "Where do you get that stuff? Anyone who can stop that bird Drake can hit the line ... How's your knee ... better?"
The referee's whistle sounded. Judd became conscious of the wild entreaties of the Trumbull crowd. They still had faith in their team ... they knew the boys would do their best ... and now was the time when Trumbull must fight the hardest.
He nodded. On the first play Barley, at quarterback position, smacked the ball against his stomach as he came pounding through. Judd hit the line; it wavered; he went through; his feet scraped against the slippery sod; bodies struck him ... hands clutched at him ... but he kept on going as long as he could feel earth beneath him. When he found himself back in position and got his bearings he discovered that he had made seven yards! His team-mates were exuberant. There was a wild motley of sounds from the sidelines.
Once more he felt the ball in the hollow of his arm, finding himself plunging around the end with his hand against Barley. He saw a tackler and pushed Barley into him ... then cut in, stumbling as he did so, to avoid another muddy face which leered before him. Judd ran for ten yards before he was dragged to the ground....
The game became just one run after another; it seemed like he was continually getting up from the bottom of a heap and staggering to his position, only to start forward again—reaching out for the ball—and blindly but savagely following in the direction of his interference.
There was an outer din of noise that Judd was vaguely conscious of. He could feel a jerking pain in his leg and an aching twitch in his shoulder, Occasionally, when Barley didn't call his number, he would start forward, then drop to his hands and knees and rest. Oh, how good it seemed to be out of play! He was tired ... desperately tired ... his whole body was sore ... he was miserably wet and uncomfortable ... his eye-lids were almost stuck shut with mud ... his mouth was thick with the grime of it ... but he kept mumbling to himself, "I can! I can!"
Barley called time out as he fell face downward in the mud. The water boy was out on the field again. Judd blinked as a sheet of cold water struck him slosh in the face. Barley was pounding him on the back.
"Wake up, ... we're only five yards from the goal and three minutes to go..."
Judd looked up and beyond Barley. He saw the dark outline of the bleak, wet goal posts, saw the tense faces of the Canton team ... then his own fellows grouped around him.
Fenstermaker, Trumbull guard, knelt beside him. He was crying ... the tears making odd little rivulets down his blackened face. "Come on, Judd ... we'll make a hole for you!"
Judd struggled to his feet. They were all willing to help him. He was astounded at his own power to keep going. He didn't seem to care what happened. It didn't seem like it was he at all. He allowed them to set him on his feet. "You—you fellows make the hole," he said, "I-I'll go through!"
On the sidelines, under the very goal posts, the great Bob stood ... his cap was in his hands ... his hair was wet with rain ... his feet were almost lost to view in a puddle of water ... he was unconscious of anything but the actions of his brother. A Trumbull fan, recognizing him, pounded Bob on the back. "I guess you'll have to take a back seat now, eh Bob? The kid's got it all over you!"
If Judd could have known what his brother was thinking of him then! If he could only have known that Bob was on the sidelines! But Judd didn't know a thing except that this was his fight. He wasn't even playing for the school. He wasn't thinking of any honor. His single thought was that to have failed in what he set out to do was to fail in everything.
Bob watched Judd as he swayed upon his feet; his eyes followed him as he lunged forward and took the ball once more; he lost sight of Judd for a moment, then saw him come straining through the line with a tackler hanging to his waist.
The tackler's hand slipped off ... Judd shook himself free ... Bob wanted to shout, "Look out!" as he saw Drake dive for him ... then he caught his breath as the kid dodged the fullback but slipped and fell. Drake turned and threw himself upon Judd as Judd rolled over and planted the ball over the goal line.
The name "Billings" rang from one end of the field to the other, with the substitute fullback being lifted to his feet and pummeled by his team-mates who were crazy with joy ... but Judd was so fatigued that his attempt at a goal after a touchdown went wide. Two minutes more to play and the score 14 to 12 in favor of Canton.
It was Trumbull's kickoff, Barley begging Judd to hurry up. Judd swung his toe against the ball and started to follow his kick dazedly. The ball, water-soaked and heavy, carried to Canton's five yard line. The best Canton could do was carry it back ten yards.