18. The Great Football Game
 

It is not my intention to give all the particulars of that game of football between Brill and Roxley, for the reason that I have many other things to tell about. Yet I feel that I must tell something of that great second half, which nobody who saw it will ever forget.

In the first half Roxley had the kick-off, and they played such a fierce whirlwind game that before the leather had been on the gridiron eight minutes they scored a touchdown. Then they made another touchdown, and just before the whistle blew for the end of the first half one of their players kicked a goal from the field.

And Brill scored nothing.

More than this, the playing was so rough that two of the Brill eleven and one from Roxley had to retire from the field.

Of course the visitors went wild with joy, and shouted themselves hoarse. They waved their colors, swung their rattles, and tooted their horns for fully five minutes, while the silence among the Brill contingent was so thick it could be "cut with a knife," as Sam afterward expressed it.

"It's all over," murmured Stanley with a glum look on his face. "Their eleven this year are too heavy for us."

"We can't meet them in mass play, that's certain," was Dick's comment. "If we are going to gain anything at all it must be by open work."

"Tom Rover can take Felton's place," came the order from the head of the team, and Tom at once threw off the blanket he had been using and got into practice with another new man and some others.

Dick felt sore, physically and mentally. He had been roughly used by two of the Roxley players, and had made a fumble at a critical moment. And all during that heartrending first half Dora had not noticed him at all!

The coach did some plain talking to the players while in the dressing-room, and told them of where he thought Roxley might be weak--at the left end.

"Don't mass unless you absolutely have to," were his words of caution. "They have the weight, but I don't think they have the wind. Keep them on the jump. I think that is your only chance."

When the whistle blew for the second half the Brill eleven came out on the gridiron with a "do or die" look on their faces.

"Now pile it into 'em!" cried the coach. "Don't give 'em time to think about it!"

Whether it was this caution, or the very desperateness of the case, it would be hard to say, but true it is that Brill went at their opponents "hammer and tongs" from the very start. They avoided all wedge work and confined themselves as much as possible to open playing. More than this, they used a little trick Dick had once played when on the eleven at Putnam Hall. The ball was passed from right to left, then to center, and then to left again, and then carried around the end for a gain of twenty-five yards. Then it was picked up again, turned back and to the left once more, and forced around the end for twenty yards more.

"That's the way to do it!" yelled several of the Brill supporters.

"Over with it, while you've got the chance!"

The ball was forced back by sheer weight of Roxley, but only for five yards. Then the Brill quarter-back got it, sent it over to Toms and in a twinkling Tom "nursed" it to where he wanted it and kicked a goal from the field.

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"

"That's the way to do it!"

"Now, then, for another!"

"By the great Julius Caesar!" cried Sam. "Isn't that fine?"

"Oh, it was grand!" exclaimed Nellie, and she waved her banner directly at Tom, and he waved his hand in return. Just then Nellie felt as if she could go and hug him.

"It certainly was fine," said Grace, "but it's only one goal, and they have such a big score," she pouted.

"Never mind. We won't be whitewashed, anyway."

"It's a pity they didn't have Tom in the first half," said Dora. Although her heart was strangely sore, she nevertheless felt proud of what Tom had accomplished.

Again the two elevens went at it, and now Roxley tried again to force the center by a rush. But to their surprise Brill shifted to the left--that one weak spot--and got the ball on a fumble by the Roxley half-back. There was more quick action by four of the Brill players, and when the scrimmage came to an end the leather was found just three yards from the Roxley goal line.

And then came that awful struggle, where muscle met muscle in a strain that was truly terrific. Roxley was heavier, but its wind was going fast. Brill held at first, then went ahead--an inch--a foot--a yard.

"Hold 'em! Hold 'em!" was the Roxley cry. But it was not to be. The yard became two, and then the leather went over with a rush.

"A touchdown! A touchdown for Brill!"

"Now make it a goal!" was the cry, and a goal it became, the Brill quarter-back doing the kicking.

From that moment on the battle waged with a fury seldom seen on any gridiron. Brill, from almost certain defeat, commenced to scent a victory, and went into the play regardless of physical consequences. Tom had his thumb wrenched and Dick had his ankle skinned, but neither gave heed to the hurts. Indeed, they never noticed them until the game was at an end.

And then came Dick's hour of triumph. How he got the ball from the burly Roxley right guard nobody could exactly tell afterward but get the ball he did, and rounded two rival players before they knew what was up. Then down the field he sped, with his enemies yelling like demons behind him, and his friends on the benches encouraging him to go on. He saw nothing and heard nothing until on the grandstand he perceived a slender girlish form arise, wave a banner, and fairly scream:

"Dick! Dick! Run! run! run!"

"It's Dora," he thought. "Dora sees me! She wants me to win!"

It was the last bit of inspiration he needed, and as a Roxley full- back came thundering up to him he threw the fellow headlong. Then straight as an arrow from a bow he rushed for the goal line, crossed it, and sank limply down in front of the grandstand.

"Hurrah for Dick Rover!"

"Say, wasn't that a dandy run?"

"Those brothers can certainly play!"

"It's Brill's game now! Roxley is going to pieces!"

Amid a great din the leather was taken down into the field and the goal was kicked.

"Want to get out of the game?" Dick was asked as he came down, breathing heavily.

"No, not unless I'm put out," was the gritty answer.

"You'll not be put out. That was the finest run ever made on this field."

What had been said about Roxley going to pieces was, in part, true. Several shifts were made in the players, but this did not aid the eleven. With twelve minutes more to play, Brill kept up its winning streak, and secured another touchdown and goal and then a safety. When the whistle finally blew the ball was well in Roxley's territory.

"Brill wins!"

"Say, wasn't that a great game? All Roxley the first half and all Brill the second."

"Talk about a team pulling itself together! I never saw anything like what Brill did in the second half."

"Nor I."

"Those two Rover boys are winders."

So the talk ran on. Of course, Roxley was keenly disappointed, but it tried not to show it, and sang songs and cheered its opponents. And Brill cheered the enemy, as is the custom.

Tom and Dick were surrounded by a host of friends, and had to shake hands over and over again, and had to have their hurts washed and bound up. Both wanted to get to where Sam and the girls had been left, but this was impossible for quite a while, and then, much to their surprise, they found their brother and the others had gone, and Minnie Sanderson had departed also.

"Wonder where they went to?" questioned Tom. "I told Sam we'd be along as soon as possible."

To this Dick did not answer. He was thinking deeply. Was Dora still angry, in spite of how she had cheered him?

"There they are!" cried Tom a few minutes later, as he and Dick walked toward the river. He had seen Nellie and Grace on a bench in the sun, surrounded by a number of other visitors. He hurried up to them, his brother following more slowly. "Where are Dora and Sam?" he questioned, looking around.

"Dora asked to go back to the seminary," answered Nellie, and looked sharply at Dick.

"To the seminary?" repeated Tom in wonder. "Why, how's that?"

"She said she had a--headache."

"Is that so? That's too bad! Why didn't she wait for Dick to take her over?"

"I--I don't know, Tom." Nellie lowered her voice, so Dick might not hear. "Something is wrong between them. I don't know what it is."

"Wrong? Why, how can that be? I didn't hear of anything," Tom now spoke in a whisper.

"Well, I am sure something is wrong. They acted queer when Dick came to the grandstand before the game commenced. Dora's heart was not in the game at all. She was ready to go before it was over."

"By the way, Tom, who was that other girl?" asked Grace pointedly.

"What other girl?"

"The girl Dick was talking to here on the grandstand."

"Oh, that was the farmer's daughter we helped when we first came to Ashton. Her name is Minnie Sanderson. We told you about her."

"She seems to think a good deal of Dick," was Nellie's comment.

"Why, you don't mean--" Tom looked around, expecting to see Dick close by. "Hello! Where did he go?" he cried.

"Dick is walking back to the college," said Grace.

"Hi, Dick!" called out Tom to his brother. "Where are you going?"

"Up to my room," answered Dick.

"Yes, but see here--"

"Can't see now. I'll see you later," answered Dick. He waved his cap and bowed. "Good-by, Nellie! Good-by, Grace!" And then he turned on his heel and continued on his way to the dormitory building.

"Well, if this doesn't beat the Chinese!" murmured Tom.

"He must be very angry over something," murmured Nellie.

"I think he might have come and shook hands when he said good-by," said Grace with a pout.

"I think so myself," answered Tom. "Say, do you think it's that girl?" he went on, in his usual blunt fashion.

"It must be," answered Nellie, who was equally frank on all occasions. "I don't know what else it could be."

"But Dick hasn't done anything. I am sure of it. Why, I don't think he has seen her since we stopped at her home that time."

"Well, he seemed very attentive to her here in the stand," said Grace, "and if you'll remember, he didn't meet us when we arrived. I am sure Dora looked for him."

Tom gave a long sigh and shrugged his shoulders.

"This takes the edge off the victory," he murmured. "I thought the six of us would have a jolly time for the rest of the day."

"It certainly is too bad," answered Nellie. "But I don't think Dora is to blame."

"Oh, of course a girl will stick up for another girl," retorted Tom, bound to say something in his brother's defense.

"Tom Rover!" cried Nellie, and then she showed that she was displeased.

It was quite a while before Sam came back from seeing Dora to the seminary. He, too, thought Dora was more to blame than Dick, and this did not altogether please Grace. As a consequence there was a coldness all around, and the rest of the afternoon dragged most woefully. Dick did not return, and at last Sam and Tom saw the Laning girls back to their school.

"A pretty mess of fish!" muttered Sam on returning to Brill.

"Yes; and where is it going to end?" asked Tom dolefully. It was the first time there had been such cold feelings all around.