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School began in earnest the next morning. Ned and Laurie were awakened from a deep slumber by the imperative clanging of a gong. There were hurried trips to the bath-room, and finally a descent to the recreation-room and morning prayers. Breakfast followed in the pleasant, sunlit dining-hall, and at half-past eight the twins went to their first class. There wasn’t much real work performed that morning, however. Books were bought and, being again in possession of funds, Ned purchased lavishly of stationery and supplies. He had a veritable passion for patent binders, scratch-pads, blank-books, and pencils, and Laurie viewed the result of a half-hour’s mad career with unconcealed concern.
“You’re all wrong, Ned,” he said earnestly. “We aren’t opening a stationery emporium. Besides, we can’t begin to compete with the office. They buy at wholesale, and—”
“Never mind the comedy. You’ll be helping yourself to these things soon enough, and then you won’t be so funny.”
“That’s the only way they’ll ever get used up! Why, you’ve got enough truck there to last three years!”
There was one interesting annual observance that morning that the twins witnessed inadvertently. At a little after eight the fellows began to assemble in front of School Hall. Ned and Laurie, joining the throng, supposed that it was merely awaiting the half-hour, until presently there appeared at the gate a solitary youth of some fourteen years, who came up the circling drive about as joyfully as a French Royalist approaching the guillotine. Deep silence prevailed until the embarrassed and unhappy youth had conquered half of the interminable distance. Then a loud “Hep!” was heard, and the throng broke into a measured refrain:
This was in time to the boy’s dogged steps. A look of consternation came into his face and he faltered. Then, however, he set his jaw, looked straight ahead, and came on determinedly.
Up the steps he passed, a disk of color in each cheek, looking neither to right nor left, and passed from sight. As he did so, the chorus changed to a good-humored laugh of approval. Ned made inquiry of a youth beside him.
“Day boy,” was the explanation. “There are ten of them, you know: fellows who live in town. We always give them a welcome. That chap had spunk, but you wait and see some of them!”
Two more followed together, and, each upheld in that moment of trial by the presence of the other, passed through the ordeal with flying colors. But the twins noted that the laughing applause was lacking. After that, the remaining seven arrived almost on each other’s heels and the air was filled with “Heps!” Some looked only surprised, others angry; but most of then grinned in a sickly, embarrassed way and went by with hanging heads.
“Sort of tough,” was Ned’s verdict, and Laurie agreed as they followed the last victim inside.
“It looks as if day students weren’t popular,” he added.
Later, though, he found that he was wrong. The boys who lived in the village were accepted without reservation, but, naturally enough, seldom attained to a full degree of intimacy with those who lived in the dormitories.
By afternoon the twins had become well shaken down into the new life, had made several superficial acquaintances, and had begun to feel at home. Of Kewpie Proudtree they had caught but fleeting glimpses, for that youth displayed a tendency to keep at a distance. As the hour of four o’clock approached, Ned became more and more worried, and his normally sunny countenance took on an expression of deep gloom. Laurie kept close at his side, fearing that courage would fail and Ned would bring disgrace to the tribe of Turner. But Laurie ought to have known better, for Ned was never what his fellows would have called a “quitter.” Ned meant to see it through. His mind had retained very little of the football lore that his brother had poured into it the night before, but he had, at least, a somewhat clearer idea of the general principles of the game. He knew, for instance, that a team comprised eleven players instead of the twelve he had supposed, and that certain restrictions governed the methods by which you might wrest the ball from an opponent. Thus, you could not legally snatch it out of his arms, nor trip him up in the hope that he would drop it. Ned thought the restrictions rather silly, but accepted them.
The athletic field, known in school parlance as the play-field, was even larger than it had looked from their windows. It held two gridirons and three baseball diamonds, as well as a quarter-mile track and ten tennis-courts. There was also a picturesque and well-appointed field-house and a fairly large grand stand. To Ned’s relief, most of the ninety students were in attendance, though only about forty of the number were in playing togs. Ned’s idea was that among so many he might escape close observation.
He had, of course, handled a football more or less, and he was possessed of his full share of common sense. Besides, he had perhaps rather more than his share of assurance. To his own surprise, if not to Laurie’s, he got through the hour and a half of practice very creditably. Seasoned candidates and novices were on the same plane to-day. There was, first of all, a talk by the coach. Mr. Mulford was a short, broad, good-humored man of about thirty, with a round and florid countenance, which possibly accounted for the nickname of “Pinky” that the school had affectionately awarded him. His real name was Stephen, and he had played guard, and played it well, for several years with Trinity College. This was his fourth season as football coach at Hillman’s and his third as baseball coach. So far he had been fairly successful in both sports.
His talk was brief and earnest, although he smiled through it all. He wanted lots of material, but he didn’t want any fellow to report for practice who didn’t mean to do his level best and stick it out. Those who were afraid of either hard work or hard knocks had better save their time and his. Those who did report would get a fair trial and no favor. He meant to see the best team this fall that Hillman’s School had ever turned out, one that would start with a rush and finish with a bang, like a rocket!
“And,” he went on, “I want this team made up the way a rocket is. A rocket is filled with stars, fellows, but you don’t realize it until the final burst. So we’re going to put the soft pedal on individual brilliancy this year. It almost had us licked last fall, as you’ll remember. This year we’re going to try hard for a well-rounded team of hard workers, fellows who will interlock and gear together. It’s the machine that wins, the machine of eleven parts that work all together in oil. We’re going to find the eleven parts first, and after that we’re going to do the oiling. All right now! Ten men to a squad. Get balls and pass in circles. Learn to hold the ball when you catch it. Glue right to it. And when you pass, put it where you want it to go. Don’t think that the work is silly and unnecessary, because it isn’t. A fellow who can’t hold a ball when it comes to him is of no use on this team. So keep your minds right on the job and your eyes right on the ball. All right, Captain Stevenson.”
At least, Ned could, to quote Laurie, “stand in a circle” and pass a football, and he did, and did it better than several others in his squad. In the same way, he could go after a trickling pigskin and catch it up without falling over himself, though it is possible that his “form” was less graceful than that of one or two of his fellows. When, later, they were formed in a line and started off by the snapping of the ball in the hands of a world-wearied youth in a faded blue sweater bearing a white H on its breast, Ned didn’t show up so well, for he was almost invariably one of the last to plunge forward. The blue-sweatered youth called his attention to the fact finally in a few well-chosen words.
“You guy in the brown bloomers!” he bellowed. (Of course they weren’t bloomers, but a pair of somewhat expansive golf breeches that Ned, lacking proper attire, had donned, not without misgivings, on Laurie’s advice.) “Are you asleep? Put some life into it! Watch this ball, and when you see it roll, jump! You don’t look like a cripple, but you surely act like one!”
Toward the end a half-dozen last-year fellows took to punting, but, to Ned’s relief, no one suggested that he take a hand at it, and at half-past five or thereabouts his trials came to an end. He went out of his way, dodging behind a group on the side-line, to escape Joe Stevenson, but ran plump into Frank Brattle instead.
“Hello, Turner,” Frank greeted. “How did it go?”
“All right,” replied Ned, with elaborate carelessness. “Fine.”
“Rather a nuisance having to go through the kindergarten stunts, isn’t it?” continued the other, sympathetically. “Mulford’s a great hand at what he calls the fundamentals, though. I dare say he’s right, too. It’s funny how easy it is to get out of the hang of things during the summer. I’m as stiff as a broom!”
“So am I,” answered Ned, earnestly and truthfully. Frank smiled, nodded, and wandered on, and Ned, sighting Laurie hunched up in the grand stand, joined him. “It’s a bully game, football,” he sighed, as he lowered himself cautiously to a seat and listened to hear his muscles creak. “Full of beneficial effects and all that.” Laurie grinned in silence. Ned felt experimentally of his back, frowned, rocked himself backward and forward twice, and looked relieved. “I guess there’s nothing actually broken,” he murmured, “I dare say it’ll be all right soon.”
“They say the first two months are the hardest,” responded Laurie, comfortingly. “After that there’s no sensation.”
Ned nodded. “I believe it,” he said feelingly. He fixed his gaze on the farther goal-post and after a minute of silence remarked:
“I’d like to catch the man who invented football!”
He turned a challenging look on his brother. Laurie blinked and for several seconds his lips moved noiselessly and there was a haunted look in his gray eyes. Then, triumphantly, he completed the couplet: “It may suit some, but it doesn’t suit all!”
“Rotten!” said Ned.
“I’d like to see you do any better,” answered Laurie, aggrievedly. “There isn’t any proper rhyme for ‘football,’ anyway.”
“Nor any reason for it, either. Of all—”
“Hi, you fellow!” interrupted a scandalized voice. “What are you doing up there? Have you done your two laps?”
The speaker was a lanky, red-haired man who bristled with authority and outrage.
“Two laps?” stammered Ned. “No, sir.”
“Get at it, then. And beat it in when you have. Want to catch cold, do you? Sitting around without a blanket or anything like that!” The trainer shot a final disgusted look at the offender and went on.
“Gee,” murmured Ned, “I thought I was done! Two laps, he said! I’ll never be able to, Laurie!”
“Oh, yes, you will,” was the cheerful response. “And while you’re doing them you can think up a better rhyme for ‘football’ than I did!”
Ned looked back reproachfully as he limped to the ground and, having gained the running-track, set off at a stiff-kneed jog. Laurie’s expression relented as he watched.
“Sort of tough on the kid,” he muttered sympathetically. Then his face hardened again and he shook his head. “I’ve got to be stern with him, though!”
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