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Chapter IV. The Head Coach.

"Upper Middle Class: Members will meet at the gym at 2.15, to march to depot and meet Mr. Remsen."

"Louis WHIPPLE, Pres't."

This was the notice pasted on the board in Academy Building the morning of Joel's fifth day at school. Beside it were similar announcements to members of the other classes. As he stood in front of the board Joel felt a hand laid on his shoulder, and turned to find Outfield West by his side.

"Are you going along?" asked that youth.

"I don't believe so," answered Joel. "I have a Latin recitation at two."

"Well, chuck it! Everybody is going--and the band, worse luck!"

"Is there a band?" West threw up his hands in mock despair.

"Is there a band? Is there a band! Mr. March, your ignorance surprises and pains me. It is quite evident that you have never heard the Hillton Academy Band; no one who has ever heard it forgets. Yes, my boy, there is a band, and it plays Washington Post, and Hail Columbia, and Hilltonians; and then it plays them all over again."

"But I thought Mr. Remsen was not coming until Saturday?"

"That," replied West, confidentially, "was his intention, but he heard of a youngster up here who is such an astonishingly fine punter that he decided to come at once and see for himself; and so he telegraphed to Blair this morning. And you and I, my lad, will March--see?--with the procession, and sing--"

     "'Hilltonians, Hilltonians, your crimson banner fling
      Unto the breeze, and 'neath its folds your anthem loudly sing!
      Hilltonians! Hilltonians! we stand to do or die,
      Beneath the flag, the crimson flag, that waves for victory!'"

And, seizing Joel by the arm, West dragged him out of the corridor and down the steps into the warm sunlight of a September noon, chanting the school song at the top of his voice. A group of boys on the Green shouted lustily back, and the occupant of a neighboring window threw a cushion with unerring precision at West's head. Stopping to deposit this safely amid the branches halfway up an elm tree, the two youths sped across the yard toward Warren Hall and the dinner table.

"You sit at our table, March," announced West. "Digbee's away, and you can have his seat. Come on." Joel followed, and found himself in the coveted precincts of the Hampton House table, and was introduced to five youths, who received him very graciously, and invited him to partake of such luxuries as pickled walnuts and peach marmalade. Joel was fast making the discovery that to be vouched for by Outfield West invariably secured the highest consideration.

"I've been telling March here that it is his bounden duty to go to the station," announced West to the table at large.

"Of course it is," answered Cooke and Cartwright and Somers, and two others whose names Joel did not catch. "The wealth, beauty, and fashion will attend in a body," continued Cooke, a stout, good-natured-looking boy of about nineteen, who, as Joel afterward learned, was universally acknowledged to be the dullest scholar in school. "Patriotism and--er--school spirit, you know, March, demand it." And Cooke helped himself bountifully to West's cherished bottle of catsup.

"This is Remsen's last year as coach, you see," explained West, as he rescued the catsup. "I believe every fellow feels that we ought to show our appreciation of his work by turning out in force. It's the least we can do, I think. Mind you, I don't fancy football a little bit, but Remsen taught us to win from St. Eustace last year, and any one that helps down Eustace is all right and deserves the gratitude of the school and all honest folk."

"Hear! hear!" cried Somers.

"I'd like very well to go," said Joel, "but I've got a recitation at two." Cooke looked across at him sorrowfully.

"Are you going in for study?" he asked.

"I'm afraid so," answered Joel laughingly.

"My boy, don't do it. There's nothing gained. I've tried it, and I speak from sad experience."

"But how do you get through?" questioned Joel.

"I will tell you." The stout youth leaned over and lowered his voice to a confidential whisper. "I belong to the same society as 'Wheels,' and he doesn't dare expel me."

"I wish," said Joel in the laugh that followed, "that I could join that society."

"Easy enough," answered Cooke earnestly. "I will put your name up at our next meeting. All you have to do is to forget all the Greek and Latin and higher mathematics you ever knew, give your oath never to study again, and appear at chapel two consecutive mornings in thigh boots and a plaid ulster."

Despite West's pleas Joel refused to "cut" his recitation, promising, however, to follow to the station as soon as he might.

"It's only a long mile," West asserted. "If you cut across Turner's meadow you'll make it in no time. And the train isn't due until three. You'll see me standing on the truck." And so Joel had promised, and later, from the seclusion of the schoolroom, which to-day was well-nigh empty, had heard the procession take its way down the road, headed by the school band, which woke the echoes with the brave strains of the Washington Post March.

To-day the Aeneid lost much of its interest, and when the recitation was over Joel clapped his new brown felt hat on his head--for West had conducted him to the village outfitter the preceding day--and hurried up to his room to leave his book and pad. "Dickey" Sproule was stretched out upon the lounge--a piece of personal property of which he was very proud--reading Kenilworth.

"Hello!" cried Joel, "why aren't you over at the lab? Isn't this your day for exploding things?" Sproule looked up and yawned.

"Oh, I cut it. What's the good of knowing a lot of silly chemistry stuff when you're going to be an author?"

"I should say it might be very useful to you; but I've never been an author, and perhaps I'm mistaken. Want to go to the station?"

"What, to meet that stuck-up Remsen? I guess not. Catch me walking a mile and a half to see him!"

"Well, I'm going," answered Joel. An inarticulate growl was the only response, and Joel took the stairs at leaps and bounds, and nearly upset Mrs. Cowles in the lower hall.

"Dear me, Mr. March!" she exclaimed, as together they gathered up a load of towels, "is it only you, then? I thought surely it was a dozen boys at least."

"I'm very sorry," laughed Joel. "I'm going to the station. Mr. Remsen is coming, you know. Have I spoiled these?"

"No, indeed. So Mr. Remsen's coming. Well, run along. I'd go myself if I wasn't an old woman. I knew Mr. Remsen ten years ago, and a more bothersome lad we never had. He had Number 15, and we never knew what to expect next. One week he'd set the building on fire with his experiments, and the next he'd break all the panes in the window with his football. But then he was such a nice boy!" And with this seemingly contradictory statement the Matron trudged away with her armful of towels, and Joel took up his flight again, across the yard to Academy Road, and thence over the fence into Turner's meadows, where the hill starts on its rise to the village. Skirting the hill, he trudged on until presently the station could be seen in the distance. And as he went he reviewed the five days of his school existence.

He remembered the strange feeling of loneliness that had oppressed him on his arrival, when, just as the sun was setting over the river, he had dropped down from the old stage coach in front of Academy Hall, a queer-looking, shabbily dressed country boy with a dilapidated leather valise and a brown paper parcel almost as big. He remembered the looks of scorn and derision that had met him as he had taken his way to the office, and, with a glow at his heart, the few simple, kindly words of welcome and the firm grasp of the hand from the Principal. Then came the first day at school, with the dread examinations, which after all turned out to be fairly easy, thanks to Joel's faculty for remembering what he had once learned. He remembered, too, the disparaging remarks of "Dickey" Sproule, who had predicted Joel's failure at the "exams.". "Who ever heard," Sproule had asked scornfully, "of a fellow making the upper middle class straight out of a country grammar school, without any coaching?" But when the lists were posted, Joel's name was down, and Sproule had taken deep offense thereat. "The school's going to the dogs," he had complained. "Examinations aren't nearly as hard as they were when I entered."

The third day, when he had kicked that football down the field, and, later, had made the acquaintance of Outfield West, seemed now to have been the turning point from gloom to sunshine. Since then Joel had changed from the unknown, derided youth in the straw hat to some one of importance; a some one to whom the captain of the school eleven spoke whenever they met, a chum of the most envied boy in the Academy, and a candidate for the football team for whom every fellow predicted success.

But, best of all, in those few days he had gained the liking of well-nigh all of the teachers by the hearty way in which he pursued knowledge; for he went at Caesar as though he were trying for a touch-down, and tackled the Foundations of Rhetoric as though that study was an opponent on the gridiron. Even Professor Durkee, known familiarly among the disrespectful as "Turkey," lowered his tones and spoke with something approaching to mildness when addressing Joel March. Altogether, the world looked very bright to Joel to-day, and when, as presently, he drew near to the little stone depot, the sounds of singing and cheering that greeted his ears chimed in well with his mood.

Truly "all Hillton" had turned out! The station platform and the trim graveled road surrounding it were dark with Hilltonian humanity and gay with crimson bunting. Afar down the road a shrill long whistle announced the approach of the train, and a comparative hush fell on the crowd. Joel descried Outfield West at once, and pushed his way to him through the throng just as the train came into sight down the track. West was surrounded on the narrow baggage truck by some half dozen of the choice spirits from Hampton House, and Joel's advent was made the occasion for much sport.

"Ah, he comes! The Professor comes!" shouted West.

"He tears himself from his studies and joins us in our frivolity," declaimed Cooke.

"That's something you'll never have a chance of doing, Tom," answered Cartwright, as Joel was hauled on to the truck. "You'll never get near enough to a study to have to be torn away."

"Study, my respected young friend," answered Cooke gravely, "is the bane of the present unenlightened age. In the good old days when everybody was either a Greek or a Roman or a barbarian, and so didn't have to study languages, and--"

"Shut up! here's the train," cried West. "Now every fellow cheer, or he'll have me to fight."

"Hooray! hooray! hooray!" yelled Cooke.

"Somebody punch him, please," begged West, and Somers and another obliging youth thrust the offender off the truck and sat on his head. The train slowed down, stopped, and a porter appeared laden with a huge valise. This was the signal for a rush, and the darkey was instantly relieved of his burden and hustled back grinning to the platform.

Then Joel caught sight of a gentleman in a neat suit of gray tweed descending the steps, and saw the pupils heave and push their ways toward him; and for a sight the arrival was hidden from view. Then the cheers for "Coach!" burst enthusiastically forth, the train was speeding from sight up the track, the band was playing Hilltonians, and the procession took up its march back to the Academy.

When he at last caught a fair sight of Stephen Remsen, Joel saw a man of about twenty-eight years, gayly trudging at the head of the line, his handsome face smiling brightly as he replied to the questions and sallies of the more elderly youths who surrounded him. Joel's heart went out to Stephen Remsen at once. And neither then nor at any future time did he wonder at it.

"That," thought Joel, "is the kind of fellow I'd like for a big brother. Although I never could grow big enough to lick him."