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THE HALF-BACK

A Story of School, Football, and Golf

By

RALPH HENRY BARBOUR

Illustrated by B. West Clinedinst







[Illustration]




TO
EVERY AMERICAN BOY
WHO LOVES HONEST, MANLY SPORT,
THIS STORY IS DEDICATED.




CONTENTS.


CHAPTER

I. - THE BOY IN THE STRAW HAT.

II. - STATION ROAD AND RIVER PATH.

III. - OUTFIELD WEST.

IV. - THE HEAD COACH.

V. - A RAINY AFTERNOON.

VI. - THE PRACTICE GAME.

VII. - A LETTER HOME.

VIII. - THE GOLF TOURNAMENT.

IX. - AN EVENING CALL.

X. - THE BROKEN BELL ROPE.

XI. - TWO HEROES.

XII. - THE PROBATION OF BLAIR.

XIII. - THE GAME WITH ST. EUSTACE.

XIV. - THE GOODWIN SCHOLARSHIP.

XV. - THE BOAT RACE.

XVI. - GOOD-BY TO HILLTON.

XVII. - THE SACRED ORDER OF HULLABALOOLOO.

XVIII. - VISITORS FROM MARCHDALE.

XIX. - A VARSITY SUB.

XX. - AN OLD FRIEND.

XXI. - THE DEPARTURE.

XXII. - BEFORE THE BATTLE.

XXIII. - HARWELL _vs_. YATES - THE FIRST HALF.

XXIV. - HARWELL _vs_. YATES - A FAULT AND A REQUITAL.

XXV. - THE RETURN.




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.



A leap in the nick of time.

Joel's arrival at school.

His next drive took him cleanly over Rocky Bunker.

"Stay where you are; the fellows are bringing a boat".

The left-guard bore down straight upon Joel.

Instantly the crimson crew seemed to lift their boat from the water.


DIAGRAMS.

Plan of Hillton Academy Golf Links.

Diagram of Second Play.

Diagram of Third Play.

Positions, Harwell _vs_. Yates.





CHAPTER I.


THE BOY IN THE STRAW HAT.

"How's craps, Country?"

"Shut up, Bart! he may hear you."

"What if he does, ninny? I want him to. Say, Spinach!"

"Do you suppose he's going to try and play football, Bart?"

"Not he. He's looking for a rake. Thinks this is a hayfield, Wall."

The speakers were lying on the turf back of the north goal on the campus
at Hillton Academy. The elder and larger of the two was a rather
coarse-looking youth of seventeen. His name was Bartlett Cloud,
shortened by his acquaintances to "Bart" for the sake of that brevity
beloved of the schoolboy. His companion, Wallace Clausen, was a handsome
though rather frail-looking boy, a year his junior. The two were
roommates and friends.

"He'd better rake his hair," responded the latter youth jeeringly. "I'll
bet there's lots of hayseed in it!"

The subject of their derisive remarks, although standing but a scant
distance away, apparently heard none of them.

"Hi, West!" shouted Bartlett Cloud as a youth, attired in a finely
fitting golf costume, and swinging a brassie, approached. The newcomer
hesitated, then joined the two friends.

"Hello! you fellows. What's up? Thought it was golf, from the crowd over
here." He stretched himself beside them on the grass.

"Golf!" answered Bartlett Cloud contemptuously. "I don't believe you
ever think of anything except golf, Out! Do you ever wake up in the
middle of the night trying to drive the pillow out of the window with a
bed-slat?"

"Oh, sometimes," answered Outfield West smilingly. "There's a heap more
sense in being daft over a decent game like golf than in going crazy
about football. It's just a kid's game."

"Oh, is it?" growled Bartlett Cloud. "I'd just like to have you opposite
me in a good stiff game for about five minutes. I'd show you something
about the 'kid's game!'"

"Well, I don't say you couldn't knock me down a few times and walk over
me, but who wants to play such games - except a lot of bullies like
yourself?"

"Plenty of fellows, apparently," answered the third member of the group,
Wallace Clausen, hastening to avert the threatening quarrel. "Just look
around you. I've never seen more fellows turn out at the beginning of
the season than are here to-day. There must be sixty here."

"More like a hundred," grunted "Bart" Cloud, not yet won over to good
temper. "Every little freshman thinks he can buy a pair of moleskins and
be a football man. Look at that fellow over yonder, the one with the
baggy trousers and straw hat. The idea of that fellow coming down here
just out of the hayfield and having the cheek to report for football
practice! What do you suppose he would do if some one threw a ball
at him?"

"Catch it in his hat," suggested Wallace Clausen.

"He _does_ look a bit - er - rural," said Outfield West, eying the youth
in question. "I fear he doesn't know a bulger from a baffy," he added
sorrowfully.

"What's more to the subject," said Wallace Clausen, "is that he probably
doesn't know a touch-down from a referee. There's where the fun
will come in."

"Well, I'm no judge of football, thank goodness!" answered West, "but
from the length of that chap I'll bet he's a bully kicker."

"Nonsense. That's what a fellow always thinks who doesn't know anything
about the game. It takes something more than long legs to make a
good punter."

"Perhaps; but there's one thing sure, Bart: that hayseed will be a
better player than you at the end of two months - that is, if he gets
taken on."

"I'll bet you he won't be able to catch a punt," growled Cloud. "A fool
like him can no more learn football than - than - "

"Than you could learn golf," continued West sweetly.

"Oh, shut up! I know a mule that plays golf better than you do."

"Well, I sha'n't attempt to compete with your friends, Bart."

"There you both go, quarreling again," cried Clausen. "If you don't shut
up, I'll have to whip the pair of you."

Wallace Clausen was about two thirds the size of Cloud, and lacked both
the height and breadth of shoulder that made West's popular nickname of
"Out" West seem so appropriate. Clausen's threat was so absurd that
Cloud came back to good humor with a laugh, and even West grinned.

"Come on, Wall - there's Blair," said Cloud. "You'd better come too, Out,
and learn something about a decent game." West shook his head, and the
other two arose and hurried away to where the captain of the school
eleven was standing beneath the west goal, surrounded by a crowd of
variously attired football aspirants. West, left to himself, sighed
lazily and fell to digging holes in the turf with his brassie. Tiring of
this amusement in a trice, he arose and sauntered over to the side-line
and watched the operations. Some sixty boys, varying in age from fifteen
to nineteen, some clothed in full football rig, some wearing the
ordinary dress in which they had stepped from the school rooms an hour
before, all laughing or talking with the high spirits produced upon
healthy youth by the tonic breezes of late September, were standing
about the gridiron. I have said that all were laughing or talking. This
is not true; one among them was silent.

For standing near by was the youth who had aroused the merriment of
Cloud and Clausen, and who West had shortly before dubbed "rural." And
rural he looked. His gray and rather wrinkled trousers and his black
coat and vest of cheap goods were in the cut of two seasons gone, and
his discolored straw hat looked sadly out of place among so many warm
caps. But as he watched the scene with intent and earnest face there was
that about him that held West's attention. He looked to be about
seventeen. His height was above the ordinary, and in the broad shoulders
and hips lay promise of great strength and vigor.

But it was the face that attracted West most. So earnest, honest, and
fearless was it that West unconsciously wished to know it better, and
found himself drawing nearer to the straw hat and baggy gray trousers.
But their owner appeared to be unconscious of his presence and
West paused.

"I don't believe that chap knows golf from Puss-in-the-Corner," mused
West, "but I'll bet a dozen Silvertowns that he could learn; and that's
more than most chaps here can. I almost believe that I'd loan him my new
dogwood driver!"

Wesley Blair, captain of the eleven, was bringing order out of chaos.
Blair was one of the leaders in school life at Hillton, a strongly
built, manly fellow, beloved of the higher class boys, adored from a
distance by the youngsters. Blair was serving his second term as
football captain, having been elected to succeed himself the previous
fall. At this moment, attired in the Crimson sweater, moleskin trousers,
and black and crimson stockings that made up the school uniform, he
looked every inch the commander of the motley array that surrounded him.

"Warren, you take a dozen or so of these fellows over there out of the
way and pass the ball awhile. Get their names first. - Christie, you take
another dozen farther down the field."

The crowd began to melt away, squad after squad moving off down the
field to take position and learn the rudiments of the game. Blair
assembled the experienced players about him and, dividing them into two
groups, put them to work at passing and falling. The youth with the
straw hat still stood unnoticed on the side-line. When the last of the
squads had moved away he stepped forward and addressed the captain:

"Where do you want me?"

Blair, suppressing a smile of amusement as he looked the applicant over,
asked:

"Ever played any?"

"Some; I was right end on the Felton Grammar School team last year."

"Where's Felton Grammar School, please?"

"Maine, near Auburn."

"Oh! What's your name?"

"Joel March."

"Can you kick?"

"Pretty fair."

"Well, show me what you consider pretty fair." He turned to the nearest
squad. "Toss me the ball a minute, Ned. Here's a chap who wants to try
a kick."

Ned Post threw the ball, and his squad of veterans turned to observe the
odd-looking country boy toe the pigskin. Several audible remarks were
made, none of them at all flattering to the subject of them; but if the
latter heard them he made no sign, but accepted the ball from Blair
without fumbling it, much to the surprise of the onlookers. Among these
were Clausen and Cloud, their mouths prepared for the burst of ironical
laughter that was expected to follow the country boy's effort.

"Drop or punt?" asked the latter, as he settled the oval in a rather
ample hand.

"Which can you kick best?" questioned Blair. The youth considered a
moment.

"I guess I can punt best." He stepped back, balancing the ball in his
right hand, took a long stride forward, swung his right leg in a wide
arc, dropped the ball, and sent it sailing down the field toward the
distant goal. A murmur of applause took the place of the derisive laugh,
and Blair glanced curiously at the former right end-rush of the Felton
Grammar School.

"Yes, that's pretty fair. Some day with hard practice you may make a
kicker." Several of the older fellows smiled knowingly. It was Blair's
way of nipping conceit in the bud. "What class are you in?"

"Upper middle," replied the youth under the straw hat, displaying no
disappointment at the scant praise.

"Well, March, kindly go down the field to that last squad and tell Tom
Warren that I sent you. And say," he continued, as the candidate started
off, and he was struck anew with the oddity of the straw hat and
wrinkled trousers, "you had better tell him that you are the man that
punted that ball."

"That chap has got to learn golf," said Outfield West to himself as he
turned away after witnessing the incident, "even if I have to hog-tie
him and teach it to him. What did he say his name was? February? March?
That was it. It's kind of a chilly name. I'll make it a point to scrape
acquaintance with him. He's a born golfer. His calm indifference when
Blair tried to 'take him down' was beautiful to see. He's the sort of
fellow that would smile if he made a foozle in a medal play."

West drew a golf ball from his pocket and, throwing it on the turf, gave
it a half-shot off toward the river, following leisurely after it and
pondering on the possibility of making a crack golfer out of a country
lad in a straw hat.

Over on the gridiron, meanwhile, the candidates for football honors were
limbering up in a way that greatly surprised not a few of the
inexperienced. It is one thing to watch the game from the grand stand or
side-lines and another to have an awkward, wobbly, elusive spheroid
tossed to the ground a few feet from you and be required to straightway
throw yourself upon it in such manner that when it stops rolling it will
be snugly stowed between you and the ground. If the reader has played
football he will know what this means. If he has not - well, there is no
use trying to explain it to him. He must get a ball and try it
for himself.

But even this exercise may lose its terrors after a while, and when at
the end of an hour or more the lads were dismissed, there were many
among them, who limped back to their rooms sore and bruised, but proudly
elated over their first day with the pigskin. Even to the youth in the
straw hat it was tiresome work, although not new to him, and after
practice was over, instead of joining in the little stream that eddied
back to the academy grounds, he struck off to where a long straggling
row of cedars and firs marked the course of the river. Once there he
found himself standing on a bluff with the broad, placid stream
stretching away to the north and south at his feet. The bank was some
twenty feet high and covered sparsely with grass and weeds; and a few
feet below him a granite bowlder stuck its lichened head outward from
the cliff, forming an inviting seat from which to view the sunset across
the lowland opposite. The boy half scrambled, half fell the short
distance, and, settling himself in comfort on the ledge, became at once
absorbed in his thoughts.

Perhaps he was thinking a trifle sadly of the home which he had left
back there among the Maine hills, and which must have seemed a very long
way off; or perhaps he was dwelling in awe upon the erudition of that
excellent Greek gentleman, Mr. Xenophon, whose acquaintance, by means of
the Anabasis, he was just making; or perhaps he was thinking of no more
serious a subject than football and the intricate art of punting. But,
whatever his thoughts may have been, they were doomed to speedy
interruption, as will be seen.

Outfield West left the campus behind and, with the little white ball
soaring ahead, took his way leisurely to the woods that bordered the
tiny lake. Here he spent a quarter of an hour amid the tall grass and
bushes, fighting his way patiently out of awkward lies, and finally
driving off by the river bank, where a stretch of close, hard sod
offered excellent chances for long shots. Again and again the ball flew
singing on its way, till at last the campus was at hand again, and Stony
Bunker intervened between West and Home.

Stony Bunker lay close to the river bluff and was the terror of all
Hillton golfers, for, while a too short stroke was likely to leave you
in the sand pit, a too vigorous one was just as likely to land you in
the river. West knew Stony Bunker well by reason of former meetings, and
he knew equally well what amount of swing was necessary to land just
over the hazard, but well short of the bluff.

Perhaps it was the brassie that was to blame - for a full-length,
supple-shafted, wooden driver would have been what you or I would have
chosen for that stroke - or perhaps West himself was to blame. That as it
may be, the fact remains that that provoking ball flew clear over the
bunker as though possessed of wings and disappeared over the bluff!

With an exclamation of disgust West hurried after, for when they cost
thirty-five cents apiece golf balls are not willingly lost even by lads
who, like Outfield West, possess allowances far in excess of their
needs. But the first glance down the bank reassured him, for there was
the runaway ball snugly ensconced on the tiny strip of sandy beach that
intervened between the bank and the water. West grasped an overhanging
fir branch and swung himself over the ledge.

Now, that particular branch was no longer youthful and strong, and
consequently when it felt the full weight of West's one hundred and
thirty-five pounds it simply broke in his hand, and the boy started down
the steep slope with a rapidity that rather unnerved him and brought an
involuntary cry of alarm to his lips. It was the cry that was the means
of saving him from painful results, since at the bottom of the bank lay
a bed of good-sized rocks that would have caused many an ugly bruise had
he fallen among them.

But suddenly, as he went falling, slipping, clutching wildly at the
elusive weeds, he was brought up with a suddenness that drove the
breath from his body. Weak and panting, he struggled up to the top of
the jutting ledge, assisted by two strong arms, and throwing himself
upon it looked wonderingly around for his rescuer.

Above him towered the boy in the straw hat.




CHAPTER II.


STATION ROAD AND RIVER PATH.

Traveling north by rail up the Hudson Valley you will come, when some
two hours from New York, to a little stone depot nestling at the
shoulder of a high wooded hill. To reach it the train suddenly leaves
the river a mile back, scurries across a level meadow, shrills a long
blast on the whistle, and pauses for an instant at Hillton. If your seat
chances to be on the left side of the car, and if you look quickly just
as the whistle sounds, you will see in the foreground a broad field
running away to the river, and in it an oval track, a gayly colored
grand stand, and just beyond, at some distance from each other, what
appear to the uninitiated to be two gallows. Farther on rises a gentle
hill, crowned with massive elms, from among which tower the tops of a
number of picturesque red-brick buildings.

Then the train hurries on again, under the shadow of Mount Adam, where
in the deep maple woods the squirrels leap all day among the tree tops
and where the sunlight strives year after year to find its way through
the thick shade, and once more the river is beside you, the train is
speeding due north again, and you have, perhaps without knowing it,
caught a glimpse of Hillton Academy.

From the little stone station a queer old coach rumbles away down a wide
country road. It carries the mail and the village supplies and, less
often, a traveler; and the driver, "Old Joe" Pike, has grown gray
between the station and the Eagle Tavern. If, instead of going on to the
north, you had descended from the train, and had mounted to the seat
beside "Old Joe," you would have made the acquaintance of a very worthy
member of Hillton society, and, besides, have received a deal of
information as the two stout grays trotted along.

"Yes, that's the 'Cademy up there among them trees, That buildin' with
the tower's the 'Cademy Buildin', and the squatty one that you can just
see is one of the halls - Masters they call it, after the man that
founded the school. The big, new buildin' is another of 'em, Warren; and
Turner's beyond it; and if you look right sharp you can see Bradley Hall
to the left there.

"Here's where we turn. Just keep your foot on that mail-bag, if you
please, sir. There's the village, over yonder to the right. Kind of high
up, ain't it? Ev'ry time any one builds he goes higher up the hill. That
last house is old man Snyder's. Snyder says he can't help lookin' down
on the rest of us. He, he!

"That road to the left we're comin' to 's Academy Road. This? Well, they
used to call it Elm Street, but it's generally just 'the Station Road'
nowadays. Now you can see the school pretty well, sir. That squatty
place's the gymnasium; and them two littler houses of brick's the
laboratories. Then the house with the wide piazza, that's Professor
Wheeler's house; he's the Principal, you know. And the one next it, the
yellow wooden house, I mean, that's what they call Hampton House. It's a
dormatory, same as the others, but it's smaller and more select, as you
might say.

"Hold tight, sir, around this corner. Most of them, the lads, sir, live
in the village, however. You see, there ain't rooms enough in the
'Cademy grounds. I heard the other day that there's nigh on to two
hundred and twenty boys in the school this year; I can remember when
they was'nt but sixty, and it was the biggest boardin' school for boys
in New York State. And that wa'n't many years ago, neither. The boys?
Oh, they're a fine lot, sir; a bit mischievous at times, of course, but
we're used to 'em in the village. And, bless you, sir, what can you
expect from a boy anyhow? There ain't none of 'em perfect by a long
shot; and I guess I ought to know - I've raised eight on 'em. There's the
town hall and courthouse, and the Methodist church beyond. And here we
are, sir, at the Eagle, and an hour before supper. Thank you, sir.
Get ap!"

* * * * *

Hillton Academy claims the distinction of being well over a century old.
Founded in 1782 by one Peter Masters, LL.D., a very good and learned
pedagogue, it has for more than a hundred years maintained its high
estate among boys' schools. The original charter provides "that there
be, and hereby is, established ... an Academy for promoting Piety and
Virtue, and for the Education of Youth in the English, Latin, and Greek
Languages, in Writing, Arithmetic, Music, and the Art of Speaking,
Practical Geometry, Logic, and Geography, and such other of the Liberal
Arts and Sciences or Languages as opportunity may hereafter permit, and
as the Trustees, hereinafter provided, shall direct."

In the catalogue of Hillton Academy you may find a proud list of
graduates that includes ministers plenipotentiary, members of cabinets,
governors, senators, representatives, supreme court judges, college
presidents, authors, and many, many other equally creditable to their
alma mater. The founder and first principal of the academy passed away
in 1835, as an old record says, "full of honor, and commanding the
respect and love of all who knew him." He was succeeded by that
best-beloved of American schoolmasters, Dr. Hosea Bradley, whose
portrait, showing a tall, dignified, and hale old gentleman, with white
hair, and dressed in ceremonious broadcloth, still hangs behind the
chancel of the school chapel. Dr. Bradley resigned a few years before
his death, in 1876, and the present principal, John Ross Wheeler, A.M.,
professor of Latin, took the chair.

As Professor Wheeler is a man of inordinate modesty, and as he is quite
likely to read these words, I can say but little about him. Perhaps the
statement of a member of the upper middle class upon his return from a
visit to the "office" will serve to throw some light on his character,
Said the boy:

"I tell _you_ I don't want to go through with that again! I'll take a
licking first! He says things that count! You see, 'Wheels' has been a
boy himself, and he hasn't forgotten it; and that - that makes a
difference somehow!"

Yes, that disrespectful lad said "Wheels!" I have no excuse to offer for
him; I only relate the incident as it occurred.

The buildings, many of them a hundred years old, are with one exception
of warm-hued red brick. The gymnasium is built of red sandstone. Ivy has
almost entirely hidden the walls of the academy building and of Masters
Hall. The grounds are given over to well-kept sod, and the massive elms
throw a tapestry of grateful shade in summer, and in winter hold the
snow upon their great limbs and transform the Green into a fairyland of
white. From the cluster of buildings the land slopes away southward, and
along the river bluff a footpath winds past the Society House, past the
boathouse steps, down to the campus. The path is bordered by firs, and
here and there a stunted maple bends and nods to the passing skiffs.

Opposite the boat house, a modest bit of architecture, lies Long Isle,
just where the river seemingly pauses for a deep breath after its bold
sweep around the promontory crowned by the Academy Buildings. Here and
there along the path are little wooden benches to tempt the passer to
rest and view from their hospitable seats the grand panorama of gently
flowing river, of broad marsh and meadow beyond, of tiny villages
dotting the distances, and of the purple wall of haze marking the line
of the distant mountains.

Opposite Long Isle, a wonderful fairyland inaccessible to the scholars


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