The Secret Play

The Secret Play


Ralph Henry Barbour

About this book

This story about an American football team was written for young readers and features the character of Dick Lovering. Dick has just been given a car which is proving of great benefit to him as he is partly paralyzed and needs crutches to get about. As the story opens he is driving rather nervously through the town of Clearfield.

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A blue runabout chugged blithely along Troutman Street, in the town of Clearfield, one afternoon in mid-September, honking hoarse warnings at the intersections of other thoroughfares and rustling the yellow and russet leaves, which, because of an unprecedently early frost two nights before, had already sprinkled the pavement.

In the car, clutching the wheel with an assumption of ease somewhat belied by the frequent frowns of anxiety which appeared on his face, sat the proud owner, Richard, or, as some of us already know him, Dick Lovering. Dick was seventeen years of age, tall, nice-looking, with dark eyes and hair and a lean face a trifle more pallid than one would expect on the driver of an automobile. But Dick hadn’t had that runabout very long, only about a fortnight, in fact, which accounted for his anxiety at street crossings and corners and, possibly, for the lack of healthy color in his face.

The car was painted a deep and brilliant blue, and, appropriately enough, had been dubbed by its owner “Eli Yale,” answering, however, quite as readily to “Eli.” Its varnish was as yet unmarred by scratch or blotch and its brass shone resplendently. To make no secret of it, the car had been presented to Dick by the members of the Clearfield Baseball Club at the completion of a successful season which had netted the club much money. Dick had been the manager and had conducted affairs so capably that the gift was well-deserved. The car had been bought at a bargain, having been used but a few days by its previous owner, and was proving a wonderful blessing to Dick, who was very far from being wealthy enough to purchase such a luxury himself. Dick, you see, was not as well able to get about as other boys, for he had been a cripple all his life. You’d never have suspected it to see him guiding Eli around the corner of B Street, for to all appearances he was quite a normal and healthy lad. But had you looked on the running-board at the left of the car you’d have seen a pair of crutches secured there, crutches without which Dick was quite unable to get around, or had been until the blue automobile had appeared on the scene.

Morris Brent, who had owned the car first and whose reckless driving of it had resulted in an upset and a broken leg, had initiated Dick into the science of running it and had found him a clever pupil, but the latter had not yet gained complete confidence and skill, and so when, just as he was passing the first house on his right after leaving Troutman Street, his name was called loudly and unexpectedly, Dick, glancing startledly about, unintentionally opened the throttle and Eli fairly bounded forward and was a quarter of the way down the block before Dick could bring him to a stop. When the brake was set and the driver, sighing with relief, looked back along the tree-bordered street he saw a short and somewhat stout youth waving and pursuing. Fudge Shaw—his real name was William, but everyone outside his family had forgotten the fact—arrived panting and laughing.

“That was a b-b-bully stop!” he gasped. (Fudge had an entertaining habit of stuttering in moments of excitement.) “Going out to the field, Dick?”

“Yes. Climb in.”

Fudge, attired in football togs, seated himself with a grunt beside the other, slammed the door and beamed about him. Fudge had very blue and very round eyes, so round that he constantly wore an expression of pleasant and somewhat excited surprise. He also had a good deal of sandy-red hair. He was ambitious to make the High School Football Team, was Fudge, and since Spring had refused all entreaties to have his hair cut. Viewing that mop of hair one would have doubted the necessity of the head-guard which he dangled in one hand.

Dick started up again and traveled cautiously yet briskly through B Street, but not until he had everything adjusted to his liking and one hand on the bulb of the horn did he indulge in conversation, although Fudge, unperplexed by problems of gears and levers, chattered busily.

“Gordon promised to stop for me,” he confided, “but he didn’t, and I didn’t know it was so late. I was writing.”

Fudge paused as though inviting curiosity. Eli said “Honk! Honk!” hoarsely before he chugged across Main Street, and Dick asked, “Another story, Fudge?”

Fudge nodded carelessly. “Yes, and it’s going to be a peach. It—it’s a detective story, Dick. I meant it to be just a short one, but it’s turning out to be quite long. I guess it’ll be a regular novel before I get through with it. Detective stories are lots of fun to write. Maybe I’ll read some of this to you some time, Dick.”

“Thanks,” replied the other gravely. “What’s it about, Fudge?”

“Oh, about a murder and a peach of a detective chap named ‘Young Sleuth.’ You see, this old codger Middleton was found murdered in his library, surrounded by oodles of money. There was only one window in the room and that was all barred over with steel bars. And there was only one door and that was locked on the inside and they had to break it open. How’s that for a situation? You see, having his money all scattered around showed that he wasn’t killed for that, don’t it? And the barred window and the door locked on the inside—get that, Dick? On the inside, mind you!—thickens the plot a bit, eh?”

“Rather!” agreed Dick, anxiously viewing a buggy half a block ahead. “How did the murderer get in, Fudge?”

“Why, you see—well, I haven’t worked that out yet,” he confessed. “I’ve just got to where the old millionaire’s beautiful daughter sends for ‘Young Sleuth’ to unravel the mystery and bring her father’s murderer to justice. It’s going to be a peach of a story, all right!”

“Sounds so,” returned Dick, sighing with relief as the buggy turned to the right into Common Street. “You must read it to me when you get it finished. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get ‘Young Sleuth’ to work for us here, Fudge, and find a football coach.”

“That’s right! Isn’t it the limit for Farrell to leave us like this? I hope they turn him down good and hard when he comes back in the Spring and wants to coach the nine again!”

“I guess he couldn’t do anything else, Fudge. Farrell’s all right. You or I’d do the same thing probably if we got word that our mother was very ill in Ireland and wanted to see us. We’d do just as Joe did; pack up and go back there.”

“Maybe,” agreed Fudge. “But it leaves us in an awful hole, doesn’t it? Lanny White says he doesn’t know where to look for a new coach, and it’s pretty late, too. Mr. Grayson told him he guessed we’d better try to do without a coach this Fall. Just as if we could!”

“I suppose it would be hard,” said Dick. “Gordon said that Lanny had heard of a man in Bridgeport.”

“He didn’t pan out,” replied Fudge. “He was a man Bert Cable knew, but he hadn’t ever coached a football team. Now Lanny’s after a chap in Westport. He coached Torleston High a couple of years ago. It’s a bum outlook, say what you want. Lanny’s going to make a dandy captain, but he can’t coach too. No one could. There’s the First Team, and the Scrub Team and the Third Squad. Maybe if Lanny didn’t do any playing himself he’d get by all right, but what’s the good of a captain who doesn’t play? Besides, he’s too good a halfback to lose.”

“It’s too bad,” observed Dick sympathetically as, having turned into Common Street, he now drew the runabout to the side of the road where a gate appeared in the high board fence surrounding the athletic field. “By the way, where are you going to play, Fudge?”

“Me?” Fudge grinned. “Oh, I’m out for a guard position, but I’ll play anything they’ll let me. I’m versatile, I am, Dick! Say, honest, do you suppose Lanny’ll give me a show?”

“If you show him,” laughed Dick. “Seems, though, you might be a bit inexperienced for the First, Fudge.”

“I don’t expect to get on the First—this year. I want to make the Scrub Team. They say you get a lot of fun on the Scrub. Experience, too. They can’t say I’m too light, anyway!”

“No, you’re not that,” agreed Dick as, having stopped the engine, he secured his crutches, placed the tips on the ground and swung himself from the car in the wake of Fudge. “Hope you have luck, anyway.”

Once past the gate Fudge, with a startled “They’ve begun, Dick!” scurried off, leaving Dick to make his way toward where a small group of fellows were standing along the side line watching the first practice of the season. Returning greetings, Dick paused and looked around him. The gridiron had been freshly marked out and the creamy-white lines shone brilliantly in the afternoon sunlight against the green turf. Down near the west goal the First Squad was jogging about in signal practice in charge of Chester Cottrell, last year’s quarter. Dick noted that, as composed this afternoon, it was made up entirely of last year’s first and second string players; Grover, Horsford, Cable, Haley, Kent, Wayland, Toll, McCoy, Hansard, Cottrell and Felker. Two of the regulars were absent from the squad; Lanny White himself, whom Dick soon espied working with the green candidates, and Morris Brent, who last year had played fullback in one or two of the principal games and was this Fall the logical candidate for the place. Doubtless, though, Dick reflected, Lanny was keeping Morris out of the game on account of his injured leg. Morris’s folks had strongly objected to the boy’s taking part in football this season and had appealed to the doctor to support them. The latter, however, to everyone’s surprise, especially Morris’s, had declared that he didn’t believe kicking a football around would hurt that leg. It was evident, though, that Lanny wasn’t going to take chances, for Dick saw Morris, sweatered, hands in pockets, speedily following in the wake of the Third Squad with Lanny. The Scrubs were having practice by themselves at the east end of the gridiron, and Dick wondered who was in charge. With the idea of finding out, he made his way leisurely along the side line and, after traversing a few yards, was overtaken by George Cotner, the manager, a squarely built and stocky youth of eighteen with an alert countenance.

“Hello, Dick,” greeted Cotner. “Come out to see the Orphans play?”

“Is that what you call them?” asked Dick.

“That or the Coachless Wonders,” was the smiling response. “Isn’t it the dickens about Farrell? Mean trick to play on us, I say.”

“Oh, I guess he didn’t mean to play any trick. Guess he’d much rather have stayed here in Clearfield and coached the team than have been called home to see his sick mother.”

Cotner shrugged his shoulders. “If he was called home,” he said.

“Well, wasn’t he? That’s what I heard. What do you mean?”

“I mean that Joe wasn’t getting much money here, as you probably know, Dick, and he’s a pretty good coach. His contract expired this Fall and it hadn’t been renewed. The Athletic Committee was ready to renew it, but Joe didn’t show up. Then came that letter saying his mother was ill in Ireland and he was going home to visit her. It just occurred to me that maybe his mother was another school somewhere and that he was after more money.”

“Oh, I don’t think that of Joe,” answered Dick, shaking his head. “Joe was always terribly loyal to Clearfield, George. Besides, he could easily have told the Committee if he thought he wasn’t getting enough salary.”

“Yes, and the Committee would have told him that he was getting all the school could afford to pay him. Well, I don’t know anything about it, more than I’ve been told, but that idea occurred to me. Lanny’s worried stiff about it. He’s had three different men on the string and not one of them has been landed. Two wouldn’t think of the job at the salary and the third had never done any football coaching. That was Bert Cable’s man, a fellow over in Bridgeport named Mooney. I guess we’d been moony if we’d taken him. It’s tough on Lanny, though. He’s trying to look after three squads at once and doesn’t really know what to do with any of them. And now Grayson is making a talk about getting along without any coach at all! And some of the grads on the Committee are more than half agreed with him. They say we haven’t much money and what we have we ought to use in fixing the field up and building a new grandstand. Wouldn’t that jar you? Fancy trying to turn out a winning eleven without a coach! And this is our year to beat Springdale—if we’re ever going to do it again.”

George Cotner scowled across the gridiron a moment and then continued with his grievance. “We’ve got pretty fair material this year, too, Dick, and we ought to come out on top, especially if Morris Brent comes around in good shape and turns out the drop-kicker and punter he threatened to be last year. But we ought to have a good coach to look after him. Lanny’s afraid to let him practice for fear something will happen to his bum leg again, and afraid to keep him out of practice for fear he won’t get in shape for Springdale. Even if Lanny could coach the First Team, there ought to be someone to look after the others. There’s the Scrub down there running around like chickens with their heads off, going through signals when they ought to be handling the ball and learning the a, b, c’s. Harry Partridge is trying to captain them, but he doesn’t know anything about it. He’s a good guard, but he’s never had any responsibility and he’s terribly unhappy right now. Besides, hang it all, we ought to be mapping out a campaign. But when I tell Lanny that he looks wild and runs his hands through his hair and says he has all he can attend to without bothering with plans. Why, if we had——”

But Manager Cotner’s speech was rudely interrupted by a football which, wandering erratically off the field, collided violently with the small of his back. By the time he had chased it and returned it at a round-arm throw to Pete Robey he had lost the thread of his discourse. The Scrub Team trotted past at that moment and Dick answered the waving hand of Gordon Merrick who was playing right half on that eleven.

“Want to see you after practice,” called Gordon. “Don’t go away. Important!”

“Me, too!” shouted Will Scott. “I want a ride home just as much as he does, Dick!”

Dick laughed and turned again to George Cotner who was ruffling the leaves of the red-covered memorandum book he carried. “It seems to me,” he said, “that some one of the graduates ought to come out and coach.”

“Sure, but there aren’t any; any who know football well enough to teach it, I mean. And that isn’t all, either. A coach has got to know how to get the work out of the fellows, and he’s got to be able to plan like a—like a regular planner, and scheme like a regular schemer. Take Joe Farrell, now. Joe isn’t exactly a brainy fellow, and he isn’t what you’d call well-educated, but, by Jove, Joe used to have the whole season all mapped out long before practice began. When he started he knew just what he was going to work for, and he worked for it. And got it—usually.”

“Oh, he was all right,” Dick agreed. “Wish he was coming back. I suppose, though, if he does come it’ll be too late for this season. Do you mean, George, that there isn’t a high school graduate in Clearfield able to coach the team? It doesn’t sound possible.”

“Well, name one! Name one and I’ll go and fetch him out here. All the good players have gone away, I guess. Lanny and I got a catalogue the other day and went through the alumnæ and couldn’t find a football man in the lot; no one we knew anything about, anyway. Of course, we might get some of the fellows who are in college to come back for a few days at a time and help, but that wouldn’t cut much ice. No, sir, you’ve got to have someone in charge, someone at the head. Even if he doesn’t know an awful lot of football he’s there; if you see what I mean.”

“I understand,” said Dick. “Wish I could think of someone.”

“So do I. Wish I could. Just to show how things get by when there’s no one around to take charge, look at the dummy.”

“I don’t see it,” responded Dick, his gaze traveling across to where the two uprights and cross-bar stood empty.

“That’s just it. If Farrell had been here the dummy would have been up and ready for use. I never thought of it. Neither did Lanny. He told the First Squad to go over and tackle and when they got there there was nothing to tackle. It’s stowed away in the gym.”

“Life is indeed filled with woe, George,” laughed Dick.

“Well, it is,” grumbled the other, smiling a little nevertheless. “Lanny jumped on me because the old thing wasn’t hung.”

“Well, as manager of the football team—” began Dick slyly.

“Oh, I know. I ought to have seen to it. But there you are. I never had seen to it and didn’t think of it. Everything’s the same way. We haven’t got balls enough, we’re short of blankets and—and everything! I’m going to resign if we don’t get a coach inside of a week!”

“I dare say you will have one,” said Dick soothingly. “Someone will turn up, you’ll see.”

“Where from?” grunted George. “Maybe you’d like the job, Dick?”

“Why, I don’t know,” replied the other thoughtfully. “Perhaps—perhaps I should, George. I might think it over.”

Cotner laughed, and then, seeing Dick’s sober countenance, said hurriedly: “Well, I dare say you could do it, by Jove! The fellows tell me you managed that baseball club to the King’s taste, Dick. Still, I don’t suppose you know much football.”

“No more football than baseball, George, and I’ve never played either.”

“No, of course not.” George shot a puzzled glance at him. “Well, you knew enough baseball, it seems. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be mighty willing to see you try it, Dick!”

“Thanks. Maybe if no one else turns up I’ll apply for the position.” Dick ended smilingly and George Cotner wondered how seriously the other meant what he had said.

“After all,” he said doubtfully, and apparently with a desire to be pleasant, “a coach doesn’t need to have been any great shucks himself as a player. It’s—it’s brains and—leadership that do the business, I guess.”

“They help, I fancy,” replied Dick, gravely. “I think Lanny is yelling for you, George.”