Ralph Henry Barbour
Collection of seven sports stories for boys.
“Oh, see the pretty little boy! Is the pretty little boy going to play football? The pretty little boy is going to play football—per-haps!”
The speaker, one of four youths seated on the grass near the side line, chuckled as the subject of his humor turned inquiringly.
“What will happen to the pretty little boy and his nice clean trousers and his beautiful red jersey?” continued another of the quartette, adopting the first speaker’s sing-song style. “Oh, please, teacher, I’d rather not say! It will be a perfect shame, will it not?”
“It will not!” responded a third youth promptly and emphatically. The boys laughed enjoyably, unaffected by the fact that the “pretty little boy” was viewing them doubtfully, uncomfortably from the distance of a dozen yards away.
It was hardly fair to call him pretty, although his fresh complexion, yellow-brown hair and rather finely cut features made him strikingly good-looking. He was fairly tall for his age, which was fifteen, well made and carried himself with a lithe grace emphasized by the new suit of football togs he wore. The khaki trousers were quite immaculate, and so were the red stockings, and so was the red jersey. Even his shoes were unscuffed, and altogether he looked very much as though he had but a moment before stepped from the pictured advertisement of some dealer in athletic supplies. Possibly it was the fashion-plate suggestion that had prompted the group near by to ridicule.
At first Harry Danforth had not associated the remarks with himself and had looked around out of sheer curiosity. When he understood that he was the butt of their humor the blood flooded into his cheeks and he faced hurriedly away. Like many boys with fair complexions, he blushed on slight provocation, and he was always ashamed of it. He walked slowly away in an effort to evade his tormentors, but their voices still reached him.
“Oh, see the blush of modesty upon the face of the pretty little boy! How beautiful is modesty!”
There was more, but Harry didn’t hear it. Taking refuge at the edge of a group of waiting candidates, he sought to forget his burning cheeks. But as, at his advent, many of the fellows turned to observe him, his embarrassment continued.
“See the study in red,” whispered one youth laughingly to his companion, and although he had not meant the strange boy to hear him, the latter did hear, and felt the blood surging harder than before into his face. He was heartily glad when, at that instant, the coach summoned them on to the field.
There were fully sixty candidates on hand that first afternoon of football practice at Barnstead Academy. Some few of them were members of the last season’s eleven, more were second-string players of the year before, and the balance were, like Harry, new candidates. Mr. Worden, the head coach, a finely built, pleasant-faced man of about thirty, took the names of all who had reported. In this task he was assisted by a boy of eighteen or so whose name Harry later learned was Phillips. Phillips was manager of the team. Harry gave his name, age, class, weight and details of former football experience to Phillips and was promptly sent to the awkward squad, or Squad Z, as the school facetiously termed it. There he was one of a group of some twenty youths whose ages ranged from thirteen to sixteen and who, in the course of the hour’s instruction that followed, exhibited every phase of football inexperience. The awkward squad was in charge of a large boy whom the coach addressed as Barrett. Barrett looked to be about seventeen and wore a vastly bored expression all the time that he labored with the beginners. If his features lighted at all during that period it was when Harry showed by his handling of the pigskin that he at least might possibly have the makings of a player. Barrett watched him speculatively, almost interestedly, at intervals, and once even vouchsafed a grunt of satisfaction as Harry fell neatly on a wabbling ball and snuggled it under his chest.
Meanwhile the more advanced candidates were punting and catching or trotting about the field behind a shrill-voiced quarterback. Harry, in the intervals between his own duties, had time to watch, and what he saw he found a little bit discouraging. Where he had come from, quite a ways beyond the New England hills that closed this pleasant valley at the west, he had been looked on as something of a player. On his high school team he had made a reputation for himself that was quite remarkable considering his age, and when, in the Spring, he had announced his impending departure for preparatory school his schoolmates had set up a veritable howl of despair. Once reconciled, however, they had pictured in gorgeous colors Harry’s football future. Of course he would make the school team at Barnstead at once, would do wonderful things there and then go up to college far-famed and glorious. Pete Wilkinson, avid reader of romance, had drawn Harry aside and begged him not to accept the first offer he received from college scouts.
“Just hold back on them and they’ll give you anything you want, Harry. Wait till you get all the offers and then choose the best. Why, the big colleges will do most anything for fellows who can play the game the way you can!”
Harry had gravely promised to be discreet in the matter, not considering it worth while to point out to the sanguine Pete that even if the colleges clamored and fought for him, which he didn’t in the least consider likely, he had already made up his mind where to go and that all the bribes in the world would not change his mind. But while he was a person of some note at Hillston High School, he felt himself a very small and unimportant atom here at Barnstead. He had come quite unheralded and his fame had not preceded him. Here he was just one more kid to be hammered into shape or, found wanting, to be tossed aside with the other discards in the yearly game of making a football team. And watching the play of the experienced fellows, Harry saw that there was quite a difference between Hillston standards and Barnstead! The team here was evidently made up of fellows much older than he, for one thing. His roommate, a chap named Colgan, whose athletic interests stopped at an occasional set of tennis, had told him that Coach Worden showed a partiality for the younger candidates and that Harry’s youthfulness would not be a disadvantage if he could play the game. But this afternoon, with so many older fellows in sight, Harry felt that if he made the school team inside the next two years he would be lucky. But in spite of discouraging thoughts he paid flattering attention to Barrett’s instructions, performed as well as he knew how and proved a shining example to the other members of Squad Z.
After an hour of rather wearisome instruction in the a, b, c’s of the game the awkward squad was dismissed. Harry imagined he could hear Barrett’s sigh of relief! Donning his sweater, Harry trotted in the wake of the others across the end of the field, through the gate and up the hill to the gymnasium. As he knew none of his companions, and as the work had left them too tired to want to be sociable, he spoke to no one until, having had his shower and dressed himself, he was walking across the campus toward his room in Temple Hall. And even then the conversation was none of his choosing!
“Why, if it isn’t our friend the football hero!” exclaimed a voice. Harry was passing a group of half a dozen boys on the main path across the campus. Resisting the impulse to turn, he kept on his way until a second youth called to him.
“Hi, kid! Why so haughty?”
“I beg pardon?” Harry paused and faced them then. They were all rather older than he, one, a dark-complexioned fellow of seventeen or eighteen, evidently being the leader of the party.
“Don’t apologize,” he begged. “You don’t mind our speaking to you, do you?”
“No,” replied Harry quietly, feeling the blood creeping into his cheeks and hating himself for it. “What did you want, please?”
“Why—er—suspecting that you were a stranger to our—to these classic shades we wouldst make thee welcome,” replied the dark chap with a grin. “Wouldst impart to us thy cognomen?”
“My name’s Danforth,” answered Harry shortly, facing the smiling faces about him with a frown.
“’Tis a fair name, my boy. Why blush for it?”
“You’re not!” gibed another boy. “What do you call it? Say, kid, you’re as red as a beet. What are you ashamed of?”
“Nothing. Is that all you want?”
“Leave us not in anger,” begged the first speaker. “Tell us, rather, of your doughty deeds upon yon trampled field of battle. Didst lay about thee mightily? Didst slay the first team with thine own good right hand?”
“No,” replied Harry, biting his lip to keep down the anger that was beginning to boil inside him.
“No? And what didst thou do, O Ensanguined Knight?”
“I minded my own business, for one thing,” answered the other shortly, turning to go on.
But some one seized his arm and spun him around again.
“Is that so?” asked the dark-complexioned youth threateningly. “Say, you’re a sort of a fresh kid, aren’t you?”
“Not when I’m left alone.”
“Well, suppose I don’t choose to let you alone?” The bully stepped close to Harry and stuck his face down with an ugly leer on it. “What would you do then, Fresh?”
“Let him be, Perry,” said one of the group. “He’s only a kid.”
“He’s a pretty fresh kid, though,” replied Perry. “You are, aren’t you?” He laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder and gripped it hard.
“If you don’t like my—my ways, let me alone,” answered Harry between set teeth.
“Sure I’ll let you alone!” Perry thrust his right foot forward, and with a sudden push sent the other stumbling backward. When Harry brought up he was seated under a bush at the side of the path and Perry and several of the others were laughing heartily. But one of the group had sprung forward, and now he was helping Harry to his feet.
“Don’t mind him, kid,” he said in a low voice. “Run along now. No harm done.” He brushed some leaves from the boy’s back and gave him a good-natured shove in the direction of the dormitory. But Harry, his face white now and his body trembling, strode across to the group and faced the chief tormentor.
“You’re a big bully, that’s what you are!” he declared hotly. “Leave your crowd and come over here with me! I dare you to!”
Perry growled something and lifted his hand, but the others intervened.
“Cut it, Perry! Let the kid alone.”
“That’s right; no scrapping, Perry. He’s too small for you.”
“I—I’ll punch his pretty little face for him!” snarled Perry, striving to push by his friends.
“You touch me and I’ll show you something you won’t like,” said Harry, standing his ground.
“You shut up, kid, and run along home,” advised one of the crowd. “There’s going to be no scrapping to-day. So cut it out.”
The boy who had helped Harry to his feet laid a hand on his arm and pulled him away. “That’ll be about all, kid. Come along.”
“All right,” answered Harry, resisting for a moment. “But he can’t do that sort of thing and get away with it. I’ll get even with him before I’m through. And I’ll fight him whenever he likes.”
“You’d put up a grand little fight, wouldn’t you?” sneered Perry across the shoulder of one of his crowd. “Say, Fresh, you just keep away from me or you’ll get hurt, and hurt badly. Do you hear?”
“I hear you talk,” scoffed Harry. “That’s all bullies can do!”
Then his rescuer dragged him away just as a second group of boys came up demanding to know what the row was about. Harry accompanied his new friend for some distance in silence. Finally, moved to defense by the other’s unspoken censure, “Well,” he muttered, “you wouldn’t like it yourself, I guess.” His companion smiled. Then,
“Kid,” he said gravely, “you’ll find a lot of things you won’t like before you get through here.”