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The instructor and the physical director had approached without a sound of warning, and Penny, Clint and Dreer, the latter exhibiting an evident desire to efface himself, stared in surprise for a moment. And at the same time Beaufort, raising himself weakly on one elbow, gazed bewilderedly from Penny to the faces of the newcomers.
"I'm not through," he muttered thickly. "Wait--a minute!"
"I think you are through, Beaufort," said Mr. Daley coldly. "Pick up your coat, please, and put it on. Durkin, do the same."
Silently they obeyed, Mr. Conklin helping the dazed Beaufort to his unsteady feet. He had a bleeding nose and one eye looked far from its best. For his part, Penny, although evidently distressed, showed only a bruised cheek.
"Don't go, Dreer," said Mr. Daley. Dreer halted in his elaborately uninterested departure. "Now, then, boys, what does this mean? Don't you know that fighting is barred here? And don't you think that, if you had to try to kill each other like two wild animals, you might--er--have chosen some day other than the Sabbath?"
No one had any reply to make. "Well," continued the instructor in his careful way, "why don't you--er--say something? Who began this and what was it about?"
"Durkin shied a stone at us as we were going down the hill," said Dreer, "and when we told him to stop it he--he wanted to fight."
"That was the way of it, Beaufort?"
"Aw, find out," growled Beaufort. "I don't have to account to you for what I do."
"Keep a civil tongue, Beaufort," counselled Mr. Conklin, "or it may prove bad for you, my boy."
"You've been told before that you must keep off school property," said Mr. Daley, otherwise known as "Horace."
"I'm not on school property," replied Beaufort defiantly.
"You're not now, but you have been or you wouldn't be here. After this kindly remain away from the school entirely. We've had trouble with you before."
"Sure and you'll have more if you get gay," answered the other with a grin. "When anyone throws stones at my head he gets licked for it."
"Did you do that, Durkin?"
"No, sir," replied Penny quietly. "Thayer and I were lying under the rock here when those fellows came up the hill. They saw us and went on up. Then, pretty soon, they came down again and Beaufort pretended I'd thrown a stone at him and came over here and insisted on a scrap."
"Pretended you threw it? What for?"
"Oh, it's some of Dreer's funny work," replied Penny. "He had it in for me because--for something that happened a while back, and he got Beaufort to pick a quarrel with me."
"What was the something that happened, Durkin?"
"I'd rather not say, Mr. Daley. It--it had nothing to do with this."
"What do you say, Thayer?"
"Penny's told it just the way it happened, sir. Beaufort wanted to fight and Penny wouldn't until Beaufort made him. There wasn't any stone thrown, Mr. Daley."
Mr. Daley looked puzzled. "Well," he said, "you'd better all return to hall for the rest of the day. You'll--er--you'll probably hear from this later." Beaufort took his departure non-chalantly, whistling as he made his way through the woods. Dreer stood not on the order of his going, but was over the wall almost before the instructor had finished speaking. Penny and Clint followed more leisurely, leaving Mr. Daley and Mr. Conklin in possession of the field of battle. They too, however, presently continued their interrupted walk.
"What do you make of it, Jim?" asked Mr. Daley. Mr. Conklin smiled and shook his head.
"Oh, I fancy Durkin told it straight. It's some private feud we happened on. Too bad we didn't follow our first intention and go toward the village."
Mr. Daley looked doubtful. "I'm sorry about Durkin," he said regretfully. "Mr. Fernald has been trying to secure a scholarship for him at one of the colleges, and this--er--affair will, I fear, displease him."
Mr. Conklin shot a quick glance at the other. "Oh, so you think you'll have to report it, eh?"
"Hm. Well, all right. Only it somehow seems to me that as they were off of school property and were settling an affair in a perfectly regular way it might be overlooked without any harm, Horace. You know best, of course. That's just my notion."
"But that would be encouraging fighting here, Jim, and you know what the rules are. I--I wish I might--er--forget it, but I don't think I conscientiously can."
Mr. Conklin nodded. After a moment he said, with a chuckle: "That was a clever punch of Durkin's. I'm glad we got there for the knock-out."
"Durkin appeared much lighter than Beaufort, too," replied Mr. Daley, unwilling admiration in his voice. "I wonder how he happens to be so--er--clever."
"Because he took boxing lessons with me for two years," answered Mr. Conklin unhesitatingly. "We used to have boxing, you know. That was before your time, though. I remember now that Durkin, although a mere kid, was very quick and took to it like a duck to water. It was a great mistake to abolish boxing. There's no better exercise, and none more useful."
"But doesn't it--er--encourage just this sort of thing?" asked Mr. Daley, with a backward tilt of his head.
"Not a bit," replied the other stoutly. "On the contrary, if a boy can put on a pair of gloves and harmlessly pound another boy about a bit--or get pounded about--it satisfies the desire for fistic encounter that's a part of every fellow's make-up, and he's a lot less likely to be quarrelsome. Besides, Horace, it's a fine exercise for the body and brain and eyes."
"Brain?" questioned Mr. Daley smilingly.
"Undoubtedly! Try it some time and see if it isn't. You've got to think quick, look quick and act quick. If I had my way boxing would be compulsory, by George!"
Mr. Daley shook his head doubtfully. "You may be right," he said, "but it seems to me that teaching a boy how to fight is going to make him want to. That's the way it goes with other things, Jim. Give a boy lessons in swimming and he wants to swim; teach him--er--how to jump--"
"Teach him how to box and he wants to box. Certainly, but that doesn't mean that he wants to go around picking quarrels and fighting with bare fists. You might as well say that learning to fence makes you want to go out and stab folks with a rapier! And look at the evidence presented awhile ago. Beaufort undoubtedly picked that quarrel. There can't be any doubt of that. We know his record. Beaufort, I'll wager, never took a boxing lesson in his life. He showed it. The chap who knew how to box, Durkin, had to be forced to fight."
"You'll convince me in a minute," laughed Mr. Daley, "that if I want to keep out of trouble I'll have to learn to use my fists!"
"It would be a good thing if you did," responded the other. "Come over to the gym some afternoon and have a go at it!"
"That would be setting a fine example, wouldn't it?"
"As a matter of fact, it would," replied Mr. Conklin earnestly. "I wish I could convince Fernald of it!"
Meanwhile, Clint and Penny, both chastened and uneasy, were reviewing the episode in Penny's room.
"I suppose he will report it," said Penny. "If he does, and Mr. Fernald believes Dreer's story, it'll cost me that scholarship."
"I don't see why he should believe Dreer any more than you and me," Clint objected.
"I'm afraid he will want to. He hates to have fellows fight. I'm glad you kept out of it, anyway."
"I'm not! It wouldn't have made so much difference with me, Durkin."
"You might have been put on probation Thayer, and that would have kept you off the football team."
"Probation just for--for that?" exclaimed the other incredulously.
"Wouldn't be surprised," replied Penny. "Josh is rabid on the subject. Well, there's no use crying over spilled milk. And, anyhow, I'm glad I did it! Only I wish it had been Dreer instead of Beaufort!"
"So do I," muttered Clint.
Amy, when he heard of it, was devastated with sorrow. "And I wasn't there!" he wailed. "Just my silly luck! Tell me about it. You say Penny knocked him out!"
The next forenoon the summons came from the Office and at twelve o'clock Penny, Clint and Dreer were admitted to the inner sanctuary one at a time and grilled by Mr. Fernald. Penny's forebodings were none too dismal, as events proved. Probation was awarded to Penny and Dreer, while Clint was unmercifully lectured. Unfortunately, their sense of honour kept both Penny and Clint silent as to the underlying cause of the affair, and the principal's efforts to find out why Dreer should have set Beaufort to pick a quarrel with Penny, as both Penny and Clint claimed, were unsuccessful. Naturally enough, Dreer himself failed to throw light on this matter. Mr. Fernald refused to believe that any boy would deliberately seek the help of another to administer punishment to a third. He was willing to exonerate Penny and Clint from the charge of throwing stones, but insisted that it always took two to make a quarrel and that if Penny had chosen to observe the rules of the school he could have done so. For his part, Clint left the inner office feeling that he had been extremely lucky to have escaped hanging or life imprisonment, to say nothing of probation! Poor Penny was pretty downcast, Amy was furious and declared his intention of going to Mr. Fernald and telling the real truth of the whole affair. But Penny wouldn't listen to that.
"You can't do it, Byrd," he said.
"Why can't I?" Amy demanded.
"Because it wouldn't be decent," replied Penny earnestly. "You know that. A fellow can't--can't tell tales, you see."
"But, hang it all, you're letting Dreer get away with it! He busted your fiddle and set Beaufort on you and all he gets is a month's pro! And he doesn't care whether he's on pro or not. It doesn't make any difference to him. You're the one who's getting the short end of it. You're losing your scholarship as sure as shooting!"
"Yes, but a fellow can't blab," still insisted Penny.
Amy argued and stormed and threatened to go into Number 15 and knock Harmon Dreer into a cocked-hat, but in the end he had to subside. Penny insisted on taking his medicine.
Clint was as sorry as possible for Penny, but he didn't have much time for sympathy. With practice on Monday afternoon football affairs at Brimfield started on their last lap. Only Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were left for real work. After that only signal practice and blackboard lectures remained. Andy Miller showed up again, and with him two other coaches who had absented themselves for a few days, and life became once more terrifically strenuous for the 'varsity players. Saunders got back into practice that afternoon, but it was plain that his injury still inconvenienced him and he was not allowed to take part in the forty-five-minute scrimmage. Clint held down the left tackle position and held it down pretty well. Although he had no suspicion of it, his performance that afternoon settled definitely his status, and on the way to the gymnasium afterwards Mr. Detweiler ranged himself alongside, slid an arm over Clint's shoulder and said:
"Thayer, we're going to play you on Saturday. Saunders isn't in shape, I'm sorry to say, and won't be able to do more than take your place for awhile if necessary. You've done well. I want to give you credit for that. You're not a perfect tackle yet, my boy, but we've all got hopes of you and we expect you to give a good account of yourself against Claflin. And I expect to see you play better Saturday by fifty per cent than you've played yet. How do you feel about it?"
Clint couldn't have said just how he did feel, and was relieved when, seeing his embarrassment, Mr. Detweiler went on encouragingly. "Whatever you do, don't get scared. Just remember that, while winning from Claflin is a bigger thing than winning from any other team we've met, Claflin isn't very different, after all. They may play a little better football, but they're just as liable to make mistakes, just as liable to go to pieces in a pinch. Make up your mind that we've got a better team than they have and that we're going to everlastingly smear them! And then go ahead and prove it. You'll be up against a good man on attack, this fellow Terrill, but don't let that make you nervous. Remember that he's probably just as much afraid of you as you are of him, Thayer. If you can get around him a couple of times at the start you'll have him on the run for the rest of the game. So jump into him the minute the game begins and let him see that he's up against a real hard proposition. Meanwhile, do your level best to smooth down your playing. You've got the right ideas; just develop them. Make them go. Put a little more hump into your work. You'll find you can do about twice as well as you've been doing, if you put your mind on it. And remember too, Thayer, that I'm looking to you to vindicate my choice of you. Don't give anyone a chance to say after the game that I'd have done better if I'd picked Cupples or Trow for the place. All right. Take care of yourself." And Mr. Detweiler gave Clint a parting thump at the gymnasium door.
Events passed at an amazing speed for the next few days. Clint moved at times in a waking dream, and Amy, tapping his head significantly, spoke to him soothingly and hoped that the trouble would not prove permanent. Clint had a way of suddenly waking, at the most inopportune moments, to the fact that he was due to play left tackle on the Brimfield Football Team against Claflin School in a few days, and when he did he invariably experienced an appalling sick feeling at the pit of his stomach and became for the moment incapable of speech or action. When this occurred in class during, say, a faltering elucidation of the Iliad, it produced anything but a favourable impression on the instructor. Fortunately, while actually engaged in out-guessing Lee, of the second, or breaking through the none too vulnerable Pryme, or racing down the field under one of Harris's punts, he had no time to think of it and so was spared the mortification of suspended animation at what would have been a most unfortunate time. His appetite became decidedly capricious. And the capriciousness increased as Saturday drew near. Also, the sinking sensations to which he had become a prey attacked him more often. He drove Amy to despair by predicting all sorts of direful things. He was sure that he wouldn't be able to do anything with Terrill, the Claflin right end. He was morally certain that he was going to disgrace himself and the school. He was even inclined to think, rather hopefully, as it seemed to Amy, that he would be taken violently ill before Saturday.
"You'll make me ill!" declared Amy. "Honest, Clint, you talk like a demented duck! Buck up! What's the matter with you? Anyone would think you were going to be hung Saturday instead of play football!"
"I almost wish I were," murmured Clint dejectedly.
But if Clint was troubled with forebodings, not so the school at large. Enthusiastic mass-meetings were held alternate evenings and the new songs were rehearsed and the cheers which were to bring terror to the enemy were thundered with a mighty zest. Brimfield refused to even consider defeat. Parades became a frequent proceeding. By Wednesday it was only necessary for a fellow to step out on The Row and shout "Brimfield!" to have a procession form almost instantly!
The last practice took place Wednesday afternoon and for a solid forty-five minutes the 'varsity did its level best to totally annihilate the second team, and almost succeeded. Things went with a most encouraging bang that day. Even Coach Robey was seen to smile, which, during practice, was a most extraordinary thing for him to do. The 'varsity had to work for what it got, but got it. Three touchdowns and a field-goal was the sum of its attainment, while the second, fighting fiercely, managed to push Otis over for a score in the third period. Afterward the second cheered the 'varsity, was heartily cheered in return and then trotted back to the gymnasium no longer existent as a team.
The most enthusiastic meeting of the Fall was held that evening and was followed by a very riotous parade during which much red-fire was set off. The procession invaded the village and brought the inhabitants to their doors in alarm. It paused at Coach Robey's boarding place and cheered and demanded a speech. Coach Robey, however, was not at home. Neither was Mr. Detweiler, to whose abode the fellows next made their way. But they didn't care much. They greatly preferred hearing themselves to listening to anything the coaches might have to say. Finally they returned to Main Hall, indulged in one final burst of tumult and disbanded. Clint, hearkening from his room, where, quite alone, he was supposed to be diligently pursuing his studies, had another and worse attack of nerves!
There was signal practice Thursday for a short time in the afternoon, and in the evening a blackboard talk in the gymnasium. After that Clint returned to Torrence and made believe study until he could crawl into bed. Amy did what he could to take his mind from football, but his efforts were not very successful. Just when he thought he had Clint thoroughly interested in his conversation Clint would give a sudden start and blurt out: "I'll never remember the signals, Amy! I know I won't!" or "Gee, I wish it was over!"
Those were trying times in Number 14.
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