Follow the Ball

Follow the Ball


Ralph Henry Barbour

About this book

"Follow the ball" is a boarding school adventure story written by Ralph Henry Barbour, an American novelist, who primarily wrote popular works of sports fiction for boys. The book follows 16 year old Joe Kenton and his schoolmates engaging in a mix of study, sports and some surprising adventures.

Contents (21)

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Joe Kenton, tilted back in his swivel chair, was thinking.

The school year was nearly over and there were many things that he had meant to do and hadn’t done. There was that extra course in the spring term, there was that reading that was to have made next year easier, there was—well, several other things. Such as getting on better terms with his roommate. That, too, had got by him, in spite of all his good intentions. There was some excuse for abandoning the extra course and the reading; playing on the school nine hadn’t left much time for additional work; but attaining the reputation of being the cleverest second baseman in the history of the school needn’t have kept him from making up with Hal Norwin.

The silly part of it was that there was no apparent reason for the estrangement. They had entered Holman’s together last fall, and, although they had never chummed much at home, it had seemed natural that they should room together. But it hadn’t worked out well. They had managed to get along without a real quarrel, but that was the best that could be said. And now, although no word had been spoken of it, it was mutually understood that next year they should separate. There were moments when Joe regretted it. It did seem that they should have hit it off better. Why hadn’t they? He had nothing against Hal; or nothing much. He did think him a bit snobbish, inclined to make too much of the fact that his school friends were of the “smart crowd.” And sometimes he acted “stuck-up” about his playing. Perhaps, though, he had a right to, for he was easily the best man on the team, not even excepting Captain Bob Stearns. As for his trying to get Wilder on second instead of Joe, why, he had a right to his judgment. Still, that rankled.

Perhaps, thought Joe, if he had made the effort when he had meant to, away last autumn, they might have got together, and life in 14 Routledge would have been fairly jolly. Fourteen was a dandy study. They had been lucky to get it. He wished he could be certain of having as good a one next fall; for, of course, he would get out and let Hal fill his place with a more congenial roommate. In case the trouble had been more his fault than Hal’s, that would sort of make up. And speaking of Hal, where the dickens was he?

The clock on his dresser said twenty-two past eleven. At Holman’s you were required to be in hall at ten unless you had secured leave, and even then eleven was the limit of absence. And here it was twenty-two minutes after! Well, Hal must have obtained permission, for he couldn’t get in now without ringing, and he surely wouldn’t be idiot enough to risk a row with faculty! And yet, he reflected as he began to undress, it wouldn’t be unlike Hal to take a chance just at the wrong time. He was forever doing it—and forever getting by with it! The crowd he trained with thought it clever to show contempt for rules and had, as Joe well knew, a long list of unpublished escapades to their credit; or discredit. Oh, well, he should worry! What happened to Hal was none of his business. He had plenty of troubles of his own; one of which was to get the light out before “Granny” Maynard, second floor proctor, began his nightly snooping expedition. However, there were still full three minutes—

There was a sound at the open window. A hand slid over the sill and then the upper part of a body appeared against the outer darkness. “Give me a hand, Joe! That’s some climb. Thanks.” Hal Norwin swung over the ledge, breathing hard but grinning in triumph. Then the grin changed to a frown. “Rotten luck,” he continued. “I thought maybe they’d forget to lock the door for once, but of course they didn’t. And ‘Granny’ stuck his silly old bean out and saw me. I beat it around back, but I’ll bet he recognized me. Got the door locked?”

Joe nodded. “Yes, but we’ll have to let him in if he comes. Funny he hasn’t been around if he saw you.”

“Well,” panted Hal, “if he stays away another ten seconds I’ll beat him.” He struggled out of his clothes rapidly. “But if he did recognize me and reports me—well, you know the answer; probation for yours truly! And pro doesn’t suit me just now; not with the Munson game the day after to-morrow. There, now let him come! I—listen!”

There were footsteps in the corridor. Joe leaped toward the switch. In the sudden darkness he heard Hal’s bed creak. The footfalls came nearer. Joe, standing silent in the darkness, listened and hoped. Perhaps Maynard was only making his rounds, after all. Perhaps he hadn’t seen— The steps stopped outside. There was a moment of suspense. Then three brisk raps sounded.

“Pretend you’re asleep!” whispered Hal.

But Joe, remembering that he was still attired in his underclothes and that he had but the moment before put the light out, saw the uselessness of that. Instead, he fumbled his way to the door and opened it. The proctor stood revealed in the dim light of the corridor.

“Norwin,” he began.

“I’m Kenton,” said Joe placidly. “What’s up?”

“Turn your light on, please.” Maynard pushed past Joe into the room. The radiance showed the apparently sleeping form of Hal, a litter of hurriedly discarded garments about his bed and Joe but partly undressed. Maynard viewed the motionless form beneath the covers perplexedly. Then:

“Which of you came in by the window just now?” he demanded.

“By the window!” echoed Joe incredulously. “What is it, a joke?”

“Now stop, Kenton!” Maynard raised a hand. He was tall and thin and bespectacled, and had a way of holding his head slightly forward from his shoulders as he talked, perhaps because the glasses did not quite overcome his nearsightedness. “Don’t trouble to lie. I know what I’m talking about, for I watched from the lavatory window and saw one of you climb in there. And I’m pretty certain which one it was.” He turned toward the form huddled under the covers. “I’m sorry,” he went on, “but I’ll have to report you. I can’t understand your doing a crazy thing like this, though.” His tone was indignant. “You must have known what it meant to be caught. If you didn’t care on your own account you ought to have realized what it would mean to the team, to the school. Hang it, it isn’t fair to risk defeat just for the sake of some piffling escapade in the village!”

The form under the bed-clothes stirred, an arm was thrust forth and Hal groaned sleepily. Then, as though disturbed by the sound or the light, he thrust the clothes down and blinked protestingly. It was a good piece of acting. Joe wondered whether Maynard was deceived by it. It was hard to tell.

“Put out that light, Joe,” muttered Hal. Then, wakefully: “Hello, what’s the row?”

Maynard viewed him doubtfully. “I think you heard what I said,” he observed.

“He says he saw some one climb in our window a while ago.” Joe nodded smilingly at the proctor.

Hal turned and looked at the window, blinking and rubbing his eyes. Then: “Wh-what for?” he asked stupidly.

“I don’t think he said,” replied Joe gravely. “You didn’t say, did you, Maynard?”

“I’ve had my say.” The proctor turned toward the door. “I’m sorry, fellows.”

“Just a minute!” said Joe. “Do you still think you saw—what you said, Maynard?”


“And you feel that it’s—it’s up to you to spoil Saturday’s game?”

“It’s up to me to report to faculty. You should have thought of the game before.”

“It seems sort of tough,” muttered Joe. Maynard flashed a puzzled look at him. Hal sat up impulsively.

“Oh, well,” he began, “I suppose—”

“Never mind,” interrupted Joe, shrugging. “I can stand it, I guess.”

“You mean—it was you?” demanded Maynard, staring hard.

Joe shrugged again. “I thought you said you knew,” he scoffed.

“I think I do,” replied Maynard meaningly, with a quick side glance at Hal’s troubled face. “But I can’t prove I’m right, I suppose. Seems to me it would be the decent thing for one of you to own up, though.”

Again Hal started to speak and again Joe interrupted. “Oh, piffle, Maynard! A fellow’s innocent until he’s proved guilty. Anyway, I guess the—the circumstantial evidence is all you need.”

“All right, have it your way, Kenton. You know where the evidence points. I’m sorry to have—I’m sorry it happened. Good night.”

“I’m sorry, too,” answered Joe soberly. “Good night, Maynard.”

The door closed behind the proctor and Joe snapped off the light. After a long moment of silence: “What did you do that for?” demanded Hal, truculently.

“Well, he was sure it was one of us. If I don’t play Saturday it won’t much matter. If you don’t, it’ll matter a lot. You’re the only one of us who can hit Cross, and unless some one hits him we’re going to get licked. Besides, I didn’t lie to him.”

When Joe had struggled into his pajamas and crawled into bed Hal spoke again. “Mighty decent of you,” he said. “Don’t know that I’d have done it for you.”

“Wouldn’t expect you to. I didn’t do it for you, so that needn’t worry you. I did it for the team; or the school; or maybe just because I want to see Munson beaten.”

“Oh,” replied Hal in relieved tones. “That’s different!” A minute later he added: “Sorry you’re in a mess, though.”

“That doesn’t matter. G’night!”

Doctor Whitlock seemed the next day much more grieved than Joe. Of course, the doctor explained gently, it meant probation for the balance of the term, and probation meant that he wouldn’t be allowed to take part in athletics, but in view of the fact that Kenton had maintained good standing for the school year and was well up near the head of his class there would be no further—ah—penalties inflicted. Joe thanked him gravely. Outside again, he laughed mirthlessly. Just what other penalty, he wondered, did the principal think mattered now?

He and Hal had not mentioned last evening’s incident again. For that matter, there had not been many opportunities, for they had seen each other but a few minutes before breakfast. While dressing Hal had seemed morose and out of sorts. After the interview in the office Joe returned to Number 14. He might have gone over to the field and watched practice, and would have done so if he hadn’t funked the explanations that would have been required of him. There was a bad ten minutes just at dusk when Bob Stearns came in. The captain was hurt rather than angry and said one or two things that made Joe want to crawl under a bed—or weep. But he went away finally, leaving Joe feeling very small and mean, and liking Bob more than ever for the things he might have said and hadn’t. Then there was another knock and Joe’s silence didn’t protect him, for “Granny” Maynard opened the door and descried the lone occupant of the study in the twilight.

“Mind if I come in a minute, Kenton?” he asked. “You know the fact is I feel particularly rotten about what’s happened and I do wish it had been some one else besides me. How bad did they treat you?”

“Not very, thanks. Pro, of course. You needn’t feel badly, though. You only did what you had to.”

“I know, but—being proctor is fairly rotten sometimes. If it wasn’t for the difference it makes in my term bill I’d quit it. But I really can’t afford to. I suppose you’re out of the game to-morrow?”

“Oh, yes. But my being out of it won’t matter much.”

“Not so much as Norwin,” said Maynard significantly.

“Norwin? Oh, no! Hal’s the best player we’ve got. Don’t you think so?”

“I’m not much of an authority, but I’ve heard it said that he is.” There was a moment of silence. “It’s none of my business, Kenton, but I must say I think it was very decent of you.”

“Thanks,” replied the other dryly. “What?”

“I guess you know what I mean. I’d rather not put it in words because—well, I’m not supposed to know anything about it.” Maynard laughed as he arose. “As I said before, Kenton, I’m beastly sorry.” He held out his hand and Joe, a trifle surprised, took it. “Hope we win to-morrow, eh?”

“Rather!” agreed Joe. After Maynard had gone he frowned into the darkness beyond the open window. “He knows. Or he thinks he knows. Well, it doesn’t matter. Nothing does—much. I wonder if I told Hal the truth last night, though. Did I do it for the school or didn’t I? Of course I want Holman’s to win, but—I don’t know! But I’d hate to have him suspect that—that—oh, shucks, that’s tommyrot! Why should I do it on his account? Of course I didn’t! Surly brute!”

Hal came in a few minutes later. He didn’t see Joe until he had turned the light on. Then: “Hello!” he said awkwardly.

“Hello. How did practice go?”

“All right, I guess. Wilder played second.”

Joe nodded. “I supposed he would. That ought to please you.”

“Me? Why?”

“You wanted him there, didn’t you?”

“Sure! With you out of it—”

“I mean before. Last month.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, rot! You tried your best to get Wilder on second in place of me, didn’t you?”

“Who told you that?” demanded Hal sternly.

“Why, I don’t know that any one exactly told me. Anyhow, it didn’t matter much. He’s got the place finally.”

“So you’ve been holding that in for me?” sneered Hal. “Let me tell you, then, that I did not try to get Wilder on second. I didn’t even want him there. Why would I? You’re the better player.”

“Oh!” murmured Joe, somewhat blankly.

“Yes, ‘oh!’” retorted the other. “I don’t say I wouldn’t have tried for Wilder if I’d wanted him. But I just didn’t. Now chew that over.”

“All right. But I thought—”

“You’re always thinking something that isn’t so,” grumbled Hal. “I’ll bet you’re doing it right now, too!”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re thinking that I—that I let you take the blame for last night because I want to play to-morrow,” flared Hall. “I do, but, if that was all I wouldn’t have let you. I’m standing for it because I know plaguey well that if I don’t play we’ll get beaten. Oh, I dare say that sounds cocky, but it’s so. I can hit Cross’s curves and not another one of you fellows can come anywhere near ’em.”

“I know, and I’m not kicking, am I? I said it was me because I knew we’d get ‘Finis’ written all over us if you were out of the game. So what’s the use of chewing the rag about it now?”

“Because I won’t have you think I’m a—a sneak and a coward! And you do think so—inside.”

“I don’t!”

Hal had come close and now he stood staring down at Joe menacingly. “You don’t?” he demanded suspiciously.

“No, I don’t.”

“All right. See that you don’t. If I thought you were lying I’d—I’d knock your head off! Mind you, I appreciate what you’ve done for me—”

You!” shouted Joe, jumping up. “For you? Don’t you dare say I did it for you! I did it because I wanted to.” He waved a finger under the other’s nose. “Just one more crack like that and I’ll punch your ugly face in!”

“I didn’t mean me personally,” growled Hal. “Anyhow, we understand each other, I guess.”