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It was several moments before West recovered his breath enough to speak, during which time he sat and gazed at his rescuer in amazement not unmixed with curiosity. And the rescuer looked down at West in simple amusement.
"Thanks," gasped West at length. "I suppose I'd have broke my silly neck if you hadn't given me a hand just when you did."
The other nodded. "You're welcome, of course; but I don't believe you'd have been very much hurt. What's that thing?" nodding toward the brassie, still tightly clutched in West's hand.
"A bras--a golf club. I was knocking a ball around a bit, and it went over the cliff here."
"I should think golf was a rather funny sort of a game."
"It isn't funny at all, if you know anything about it," replied West a trifle sharply. The rescuer was on dangerous ground, had he but known it.
"Isn't it? Well, I guess it is all in getting used to it. I don't believe I'd care much for tumbling over cliffs that way; I should think it would use a fellow up after a while."
"Look here," exclaimed West, "you saved me an ugly fall, and I'm very much obliged, and all that; but--but you don't know the first thing about golf, and so you had better not talk about it." He made an effort to gain his feet, but sat down again with a groan.
"You sit still a while," said the boy in the straw hat, "and I'll drop down and get that ball for you." Suiting the action to the word, he lowered himself over the ledge, and slid down the bank to the beach. He dropped the golf ball in his pocket, after examining it with deep curiosity, and started back. But the return was less easy than the descent had been. The bank was gravelly, and his feet could gain no hold. Several times he struggled up a yard or so, only to slip back again to the bottom.
"I tell you what you do," called West, leaning over. "You get a bit of a run and get up as high as you can, and try and catch hold of this stick; then I'll pull you up."
The other obeyed, and succeeded in getting a firm hold of the brassie, but the rest was none so easy. West pulled and the other boy struggled, and then, at last, when both were out of breath, the straw hat rose above the ledge and its wearer scrambled up. Sitting down beside West he drew the ball from his pocket and handed it over.
"What do they make those of?" he asked.
"Gutta percha," answered West. "Then they're molded and painted this way. You've never played golf, have you?"
"No, we don't know much about it down our way. I've played baseball and football some. Do you play football?"
"No, I should say not," answered West scornfully. "You see," more graciously, "golf takes up about all my time when I haven't got some lesson on; and this is the worst place for lessons you ever saw. A chap doesn't get time for anything else." The other boy looked puzzled.
"Well, don't you want to study?"
West stared in amazement. "Study! Want to? Of course I don't! Do you?"
"Very much. That's what I came to school for."
"Oh!" West studied the strange youth dubiously. Plainly, he was not at all the sort of boy one could teach golf to. "Then why were you trying for the football team awhile ago?"
"Because next to studying I want to play football more than anything else. Don't you think I'll have time for it?"
"You bet! And say, you ought to learn golf. It's the finest sport going." West's hopes revived. A fellow that wanted sport, if only football, could not be a bad sort. Besides, he would get over wanting to study; that, to West, was a most unnatural desire. "There isn't half a dozen really first-class players in school. You get some clubs and I'll teach you the game."
"That's very good of you," answered the boy in the straw hat, "and I'm very much obliged, but I don't think I'll have time. You see I'm in the upper middle, and they say that it's awfully hard to keep up with. Still, I should really like to try my hand at it, and if I have time I'll ask you to show me a little about it. I expect you're the best player here, aren't you?" West, extremely gratified, tried to conceal his pleasure.
"Oh, I don't know. There's Wesley Blair--he's captain of the school eleven, you know--he plays a very good game, only he has a way of missing short puts. And then there's Louis Whipple. The only thing about Whipple is that he tries to play with too few clubs. He says a fellow can play just as well with a driver and a putter and a niblick as he can with a dozen clubs. Of course, that's nonsense. If Whipple would use some brains about his clubs he'd make a rather fair player. There are one or two other fellows in school who are not so bad. But I believe," magnanimously, "that if Blair had more time for practicing he could beat me." West allowed his hearer a moment in which to digest this. The straw hat was tilted down over the eyes of its wearer, who was gazing thoughtfully over the river.
"I suppose he's kept pretty busy with football."
"Yes, he's daft about it. Otherwise he's a fine chap. By the way, where'd you learn to kick a ball that way?"
"On the farm. I used to practice when I didn't have much to do, which wasn't very often. Jerry Green and I--Jerry's our hired man--we used to get out in the cow pasture and kick. Then I played a year with our grammar-school eleven."
"Well, that was great work. If you could only drive a golf ball like that! Say, what's your name?"
"Mine's Outfield West. The fellows call me 'Out' West. My home's in Pleasant City, Iowa. You come from Maine, don't you?"
"Yes; Marchdale. It's just a corner store and a blacksmith shop and a few houses. We've lived there--our family, I mean--for over a hundred years."
"Phew!" whistled West. "Dad's the oldest settler in our county, and he's been there only forty years. Great gobble! We'd better be scooting back to school. Come on. I'm all right now, though I was a bit lame after that tumble."
The two boys scrambled up the bank and set out along the river path. The sun had gone down behind the mountains, and purple shadows were creeping up from the river. The tower of the Academy Building still glowed crimson where the sun-rays shone on the windows.
"Where's your room?" asked West.
"Thirty-four Masters Hall," answered Joel March; for now that we have twice been introduced to him there is no excuse for us to longer ignore his name.
"Mine's in Hampton House," said West. "Number 2. I have it all to myself. Who's in with you?"
"A fellow named Sproule."
"'Dickey' Sproule? He's an awful cad. Why didn't you get a room in the village? You have lots more fun there; and you can get a better room too; although some of the rooms in Warren are not half bad."
"They cost too much," replied March. "You see, father's not very well off, and can't help me much. He pays my tuition, and I've enough money of my own that I've earned working out to make up the rest. So, of course, I've got to be careful."
"Well, you're a queer chap!" exclaimed West.
"Why?" asked Joel March.
"Oh, I don't know. Wanting to study, and earning your own schooling, and that sort of thing."
"Oh, I suppose your father has plenty of money, hasn't he?"
"Gobs! I have twenty dollars a month allowance for pocket money."
"I wish I had," answered March. "You must have a good deal saved up by the end of the year." West stared.
"Saved? Why, I'm dead broke this minute. And I owe three bills in town. Don't tell any one, because it's against the rules to have bills, you know. Anyhow, what's the good of saving? There's lots more." It was March's turn to stare.
"What do you spend it for?" he asked.
"Oh, golf clubs and balls, and cakes and pies and things," answered West carelessly. "Then a fellow has to dress a little, or the other fellows look down on you."
"Do they?" March cast a glance over his own worn apparel. "Then I guess I must try their eyes a good deal."
"Well, I wouldn't care--much," answered West halfheartedly. "Though of course that hat--"
"Yes, I suppose it is a little late for straws." West nodded heartily. "I was going to get a felt in Boston, but--well, I saw something else I wanted worse; and it was my own money."
"What was it?" asked West curiously.
"A book." West whistled.
"Well, you can get a pretty fair one in the village at Grove's. And--and a pair of trousers if you want them."
March nodded, noncommittingly. They had reached the gymnasium.
"I'm going in for a shower," said West. "You'd better come along." March shook his head.
"I guess not to-night. It's most supper time, and I want to read a little first. Good-night."
"Good-night," answered West. "I'm awfully much obliged for what you did, you know. Come and see me to-morrow if you can; Number 2 Hampton. Good-night."
Joel March turned and retraced his steps to his dormitory. He found his roommate reading at the table when he entered Number 34. Sproule looked up and observed:
"I saw you with Outfield West a moment ago. It looks rather funny for a 'grind,' as you profess to be, hobnobbing with a Hampton House swell."
"I haven't professed to be a 'grind,'" answered Joel quietly, as he opened his Greek.
"Well, your actions profess it. And West will drop you quicker than a hot cake when he finds it out. Why, he never studies a lick! None of those Hampton House fellows do."
March made no answer, but presently asked, in an effort to be sociable:
"What are you reading?"
"The Three Cutters; ever read it?"
"No; what's it about?"
"Oh, pirates and smuggling and such."
"I should think it would be first rate."
"It is. I'd let you take it after I'm through, only it isn't mine; I borrowed it from Billy Cozzens."
"Thanks," answered Joel, "but I don't believe I'd have time for it."
"Humph!" grunted Sproule. "There you are again, putting on airs. Just wait until you've been here two or three months; I guess I won't hear so much about study then."
Joel received this taunt in silence, and, burying his head in his hands, tackled the story of Cyrus the Younger. Joel had already come to a decision regarding Richard Sproule, a decision far from flattering to that youth. But in view of the fact that the two were destined to spend much of their time together, Joel recognized the necessity of making the best of his roommate, and of what appeared to be an unsatisfactory condition. During the two days that Joel had been in school Sproule had nagged him incessantly upon one subject or another, and so far Joel had borne the persecution in silence. "But some day," mused Joel, "I'll just have to punch his head!"
Richard Sproule was a member of the senior class, and monitor for the floor upon which he had his room. He had, perhaps, no positive meanness in him. Most of his unpleasantness was traceable to envy. Just at present he was cultivating a dislike for Joel because of the latter's enviable success at lessons and because a resident of Hampton House had taken him up. Sproule cared nothing for out-of-door amusements and hated lessons. His whole time, except when study was absolutely compulsory, was taken up with the reading of books of adventure; and Captain Marryat and Fenimore Cooper were far closer acquaintances than either Cicero or Caesar. Richard Sproule was popularly disliked and shunned.
In the dining hall that evening Joel ate and relished his first hearty meal since he had arrived at Hillton. The exercise had brought back a naturally good appetite, which had been playing truant.
The dining hall takes up most of the ground floor of Warren Hall. Eight long, roomy tables are arranged at intervals, with broad aisles between, through which the white-aproned waiters hurry noiselessly about. To-night there was a cheerful clatter of spoons and forks and a loud babel of voices, and Joel found himself hugely enjoying the novelty of eating in the presence of more than a hundred and fifty other lads. Outfield West and his neighbors in Hampton House occupied a far table, and there the noise was loudest. West was dressed like a young prince, and his associates were equally as splendid. As Joel observed them, West glanced across and saw him, and waved a hilarious greeting with a soup spoon. Joel nodded laughingly back, and then settled in his chair with an agreeable sensation of being among friends. This feeling grew when, toward the end of his meal, Wesley Blair, in leaving the hall, saw him and stopped beside his chair.
"How did you get on this afternoon?" Blair asked pleasantly.
"Very well, thanks," Joel replied.
"That's good. By the way, go and see Mr. Beck to-morrow and get examined. Tell him I sent you. You'll find him at the gym at about eleven. And don't forget to show up to-morrow at practice."
The elder youth passed on, leaving Joel the center of interest for several moments. His left-hand neighbor, a boy who affected very red neckties, and who had hitherto displayed no interest in his presence, now turned and asked if he knew Blair.
"No," replied Joel. "I met him only to-day on the football field."
"Are you on the 'Leven?"
"No, but I'm trying for it."
"Well, I guess you'll make it; Blair doesn't often go out of his way to encourage any one."
"I hope I shall," answered Joel. "Who is Mr. Beck, please?"
"He's director of the gym. You have to be examined, you know; if you don't come up to requirements you can't go in for football."
"Oh, thank you." And Joel applied himself to his pudding, and wondered if there was any possibility of his not passing.
Apparently there was not; for when, on the following day, he presented himself at the gymnasium, he came through the ordeal of measurement and test with flying colors, and with the command to pay special attention to the chest-weights, was released, at liberty to "go in" for any sport he liked.
Despite his forebodings, the studies proved not formidable, and at four o'clock Joel reported for football practice with a comforting knowledge of duties performed. An hour and a half of steady practice, consisting of passing, falling, and catching punts, left the inexperienced candidates in a state of breathless collapse when Blair dismissed the field. West did not turn up at the gridiron, but a tiny scarlet speck far off on the golf links proclaimed his whereabouts.
On the way back to the grounds a number of youthful juniors, bravely arrayed in their first suits of football togs, loudly denounced the vigor of the practice, and pantingly made known to each other their intentions to let the school get along as best it might without their assistance on its eleven. They would be no great loss, thought Joel, as he trudged along in the rear of the procession, and their resignation would probably save Blair the necessity of incurring their dislikes when the process of "weeding-out" began.
Although no special attention had been given to Joel during practice, yet he had been constantly aware of Blair's observation, and had known that several of the older fellows were watching his work with interest. His feat of the previous day had already secured to him a reputation throughout the school, and as the little groups of boys passed him he heard himself alluded to as "the country fellow that punted fifty yards yesterday," or "the chap that made that kick." And when the three long, steep flights of Masters confronted him he took them two steps at a time, and arrived before the door of Number 34 breathless, but as happy as a schoolboy can be.
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