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Chapter IX. An Evening Call.

The last week of October brought chilling winds and flying clouds. Life at Hillton Academy had gone on serenely since West's victory on the links. The little pewter tankard reposed proudly upon his mantel beside a bottle of chow-chow, and bore his name as the third winner of the trophy. But West had laid aside his clubs, save for an occasional hour at noon, and, abiding by his promise to Joel, he had taken up his books again with much resolution, if little ardor. Hillton had met and defeated two more football teams, and the first eleven was growing gradually stronger. Remsen was seen to smile now quite frequently during practice, and there was a general air of prosperity about the gridiron.

The first had gone to its training table at "Mother" Burke's, in the village, and the second ate its meals in the center of the school dining hall with an illy concealed sense of self-importance. And the grinds sneered at its appetites, and the obscure juniors admired reverently from afar. Joel had attended both recitations and practice with exemplary and impartial regularity, and as a result his class standing was growing better and better on one hand, and on the other his muscles were becoming stronger, his flesh firmer, and his brain clearer.

The friendship between him and Outfield West had ripened steadily, until now they were scarcely separable. And that they might be more together West had lately made a proposition.

"That fellow Sproule is a regular cad, Joel, and I tell you what we'll do. After Christmas you move over to Hampton and room with me. You have to make an application before recess, you know. What do you say?"

"I should like to first rate, but I can't pay the rent there," Joel had objected.

"Then pay the same as you're paying for your den in Masters," replied West. "You see, Joel, I have to pay the rent for Number 2 Hampton anyhow, and it won't make any difference whether I have another fellow in with me or not. Only, if you pay as much of my rent as you're paying now, why, that will make it so much cheaper for me. Don't you see?"

"Yes, but if I use half the room I ought to pay half, the rent." And to this Joel stood firm until West's constant entreaties led to a compromise. West was to put the matter before his father, and Joel before his. If their parents sanctioned it, Joel was to apply for the change of abode. As yet the matter was still in abeyance.

Richard Sproule, as West had suggested rather more forcibly than politely, was becoming more and more objectionable, and Joel was not a bit grieved at the prospect of leaving him. Of late, intercourse between the roommates had become reduced to rare monosyllables. This was the outcome of a refusal on Joel's part to give a portion of his precious study time to helping Sproule with his lessons. Once or twice Joel had consented to assist his roommate, and had done so to the detriment of his own affairs; but the result to both had proved so unsatisfactory that Joel had stoutly refused the next request. Thereupon Sproule had considered himself deeply aggrieved, and usually spent the time when Joel was present in sulking.

Bartlett Cloud, since his encounter with Joel on the field the afternoon that he was put off the team, had had nothing to say to him, though his looks when they met were always dark and threatening. But in a school as large as Hillton there is plenty of room to avoid an objectionable acquaintance, so long as you are not under the same roof with him, and consequently Cloud and Joel seldom met. The latter constantly regretted having made an enemy of the other, but beyond this regret his consideration of Cloud seldom went.

So far Joel had not found an opportunity to accept the invitation that Remsen had extended to him, though that invitation had since been once or twice repeated. But to-night West and he had made arrangement to visit Remsen at his room, and had obtained permission from Professor Wheeler to do so. The two boys met at the gymnasium after supper was over and took their way toward the village. West had armed himself with a formidable stick, in the hope, loudly expressed at intervals, that they would be set upon by tramps. But Remsen's lodgings were reached without adventure, and the lads were straightway admitted to a cosey study, wherein, before an open fire, sat Remsen and a guest. After a cordial welcome from Remsen the guest was introduced as Albert Digbee.

"Yes, we know each other," said West, as he shook hands. "We both room in Hampton, but Digbee's a grind, you know, and doesn't care to waste his time on us idlers." Digbee smiled.

"It isn't inclination, West; I don't have the time, and so don't attempt to keep up with you fellows." He shook Joel's hand. "I'm glad to meet you. I've heard of you before."

Then the quartet drew chairs up to the blaze, and, as Remsen talked, Joel examined his new acquaintance.

Digbee was a year older than West and Joel. He was in the senior class, and was spoken of as one of the smartest boys in the school. Although a Hampton House resident, he seldom was seen with the others save at the table, and was usually referred to among themselves as "Dig," both because that suggested his Christian name and because, as they said, he was forever digging at his books. In appearance Albert Digbee was a tall, slender, but scarcely frail youth, with a cleanly cut face that looked, in the firelight, far too pale. His eyes were strikingly bright, and though his smiles were infrequent, his habitual expression was one of eager and kindly interest. Joel had often come across him in class, and had long wanted to know him.

"You see, boys," Remsen was saying, "Digbee here is of the opinion that athletics in general and football in particular are harmful to schools and colleges as tending to draw the attention of pupils from their studies, and I maintain the opposite. Now, what's your opinion, West? Digbee and I have gone over it so often that we would like to hear some one else on the subject."

"Oh, I don't know," replied West. "If fellows would give up football and go in for golf, there wouldn't be any talk about athletics being hurtful. Golf's a game that a chap can play and get through with and have some time for study. You don't have to train a month to play for an hour; it's a sport that hasn't become a business."

"I can testify," said Joel gravely, "that Out is a case in point. He plays golf, and has time left to study--how to play more golf."

"Well, anyhow, you know I do study some lately, Joel," laughed West. Joel nodded with serious mien.

"I think you've made a very excellent point in favor of golf, West," said Digbee. "It hasn't been made a business, at least in this school. But won't it eventually become quite as much of a pursuit as football now is?"

"Oh, it may become as popular, but, don't you see, it will never become as--er--exacting on the fellows that play it. You can play golf without having to go into training for it."

"Nevertheless, West," replied the head coach, "if a fellow can play golf without being in training, doesn't it stand to reason that the same fellow can play a better game if he is in training? That is, won't he play a better game if he is in better trim?"

"Yes, I guess so, but he will play a first-class game if he doesn't train."

"But not as good a game as he will if he does train?"

"I suppose not," admitted West.

"Well, now, a fellow can play a very good game of football if he isn't in training," continued Remsen, "but that same fellow, if he goes to bed and gets up at regular hours, and eats decent food at decent times, and takes care of himself in such a way as to improve his mental, moral, and physical person, will play a still better game and derive more benefit from it. When golf gets a firmer hold on this side of the Atlantic, schools and colleges will have their golf teams of, say, from two to a dozen players. Of course, the team will not play as a team, but the members of it will play singly or in couples against representatives of other schools. And when that happens it is sure to follow that the players will go into almost as strict training as the football men do now."

"Well, that sounds funny," exclaimed West.

"Digbee thinks one of the most objectionable features of football is the fact that the players go into it so thoroughly--that they train for it, and study it, and spend a good deal of valuable time thinking about it. But to me that is one of its most admirable features. When a boy or a man goes in for athletics, whether football or rowing or hockey, he desires, if he is a real flesh-and-blood being, to excel in it. To do that it is necessary that he put himself in the condition that will allow of his doing his very best. And to that end he trains. He gives up pastry, and takes to cereals; he abandons his cigarettes and takes to fresh air; he gives up late hours at night, and substitutes early hours in the morning. And he is better for doing so. He feels better, looks better, works better, plays better."

"But," responded Digbee, "can a boy who has come to school to study, and who has to study to make his schooling pay for itself, can such a boy afford the time that all that training and practicing requires?"

"Usually, yes," answered Remsen. "Of course, there are boys, and men too, for that matter, who are incapable of occupying their minds with two distinct interests. That kind should leave athletics alone. And there are others who are naturally--I guess I mean-unnaturally--stupid, and who, should they attempt to sandwich football or baseball into their school life, would simply make a mess of both study and recreation. But they need not enter into the question of the harm or benefit of athletics, since at every well-conducted school or college those boys are not allowed to take up with athletics. Yes, generally speaking, the boy who comes to school to study can afford to play football, train for football, and think football, because instead of interfering with his studies it really helps him with them. It makes him healthy, strong, wide-awake, self-reliant, and clearheaded. Some time I shall be glad to show you a whole stack of careful statistics which prove that football men, at least, rather than being backward with studies, are nearly always above the average in class standing. March, you're a hard-worked football enthusiast, and I understand that you're keeping well up with your lessons. Do you have trouble to attend to both? Do you have to skimp your studies? I know you give full attention to the pigskin."

"I'm hard put some days to find time for everything," answered Joel, "but I always manage to make it somehow, and I have all the sleep I want or need. Perhaps if I gave up football I might get higher marks in recitations, but I'd not feel so well, and it's possible that I'd only get lower marks. I agree with you, Mr. Remsen, that athletics, or at least football, is far more likely to benefit a chap than to hurt him, because a fellow can't study well unless he is in good health and spirits."

"Are you convinced, Digbee?" asked Remsen. Digbee shook his head smilingly.

"I don't believe I am, quite. But you know more about such things than I do. In fact, it's cheeky for me to argue about them. Why, I've never played anything but tennis, and never did even that well."

"You know the ground you argue from, and because I have overwhelmed you with talk it does not necessarily follow that I am right," responded his host courteously. "But enough of such dull themes. There's West most asleep.--March, have you heard from your mother lately?"

"Yes, I received a letter from her yesterday morning. She writes that she's glad the relationship is settled finally; says she's certain that any kin of the Maine Remsens is a person of good, strong moral character." When the laugh had subsided, Remsen turned to West.

"Have you ever heard of Tommy Collingwood?"

"Wasn't he baseball captain a good many years ago?"

"Yes, and used to row in the boat. Well, Tommy was a good deal better at spinning top on Academy steps than doing lessons, and a deal fonder of playing shinney than writing letters. But Tommy's mother always insisted that Tommy should write home once a week, and Tommy's father wrote and explained what would happen to Tommy if he didn't obey his mother; and as Tommy's folks lived just over in Albany it was a small thing for Tommy's father to run over some day with a strap; so Tommy obeyed his parents and every week wrote home. His letters weren't long, nor were they filled with a wealth of detail, but they answered the purpose in lieu of better. Each one ran: 'Hillton Academy, Hillton, N.Y.,' with the date. 'Dear Father and Mother, I am well and studying hard. Your loving son, Thomas Collingwood.'

"Well, when Christmas recess came, Tommy went home. And one day his mother complimented Tommy on the regularity of his correspondence. Tommy looked sheepish. 'To tell the truth, mother, I didn't write one of those letters each week,' explained Tommy. 'But just after school opened I was sick for a week, and didn't have anything to do; so I wrote 'I am well' twelve times, and dated each ahead.'"

Digbee accompanied the other two lads back to the yard, and he and March discussed studies, while West mooned along, whistling half aloud and thrashing the weeds and rocks with his cudgel, for the tramps refused to appear on the scene. He and Digbee went out of their way to see Joel safely to his dormitory, and then Joel accompanied them on their homeward way as far as Academy Building. There good-nights were said, and Joel, feeling but little inclined for sleep, drew his collar up and strolled to the front of the building, where, from the high steps, the river was visible for several miles in either direction. The moon was struggling out from a mass of somber clouds overhead, and the sound of the waters as they swirled around the rocky point was plainly heard.

Joel sat there on the steps, under the shadow of the dark building, thinking of many things, and feeling very happy and peaceful, until a long, shrill sound from the north told of the coming of the 9.48 train; then he made his way back to Masters, up the dim stairs, and into his room, where Dickey Sproule lay huddled in bed reading The Three Guardsmen by the screened light of a guttering candle.