The Apotheosis of Rand
Wherein a son of misfortune meets the ghost of the man that was—and is proud
Louis ARTHUR CUNNINGHAM
THE sunlight began to seep in between the cracks in the box-car door. The beams, shifting on the straw-covered floor, grew brighter, their warmth more intense. It was a game they played, seeing which one would first light upon the face of the man who slept, his
rolled-up coat for a pillow, and awaken him. They touched his chin with its thick, dirty stubble; they touched his loose, parted lips from which his breath —tainted with the smell of bad liquor that had put him to sleep—issued heavily. They touched his seamed, gaunt cheeks and brow and were not revolted. Finally, they reached his eyelids and at their touch he awakened. Stupidly, he regarded the beams of the ceiling. His arms he stretched out languorously, catching some wisps of straw in his grimy fingers. Suddenly, he sat up and stared at the door.
“She’s stopped!” he muttered. “I’d better hop it before some of these fresh trainmen get on to me.”
He picked up the shabby bundle of a coat that had pillowed his head, scrambled to his feet, and went with uncertain step to the door, putting his ear to the crack, listening with a scowl for the footsteps of his foes on the cinders of the right-of-way. He heard nothing. Next, he peeked out, but all he could see was the blank wall of a freight shed across three intervening tracks. He had no idea where this place might be. He’d been riding since midnight, when he’d grabbed the rattler at Windsor, bound for points north and east.
Cautiously he pulled the door open and stuck his head out. Clear. In an instant he had leaped down from the car and scuttled across the tracks to the shelter of the freight-shed wall. He brushed the chaff and the clinging straw from his wretched garments, tightened the laces of his broken shoes at the risk of pulling the uppers from the soles, and walked out into a narrow street that ran behind the station. Here he could see better the place where he had landed. A huge factory, its windows reflecting gaily the rays of autumn sunlight that had awakened him, towered above the housetops; on the other side of the station he saw spires, trees. One didn’t forget . . .
“Heck!” he muttered, pleasedly, yet resentfully. “I would have to make my landfall here, of all places. Wonder if the school will turn out to welcome its distinguished son! Not often that the old grads come back in the side-door pullman, and not often they get off themselves. Well, well. ‘Home is the sailor, home from sea; and the hunter home from the hill.’ ”
Even with the ugly stubble, the looseness of lip and the bloodshot bleariness of his eyes, there was something arresting in the man’s face now—something eager and animated. Dutch Rand was the name he went by: it served as well as any other. No one cared. He was just a bum. No more than that—anywhere! How about this town? He’d been something here once; he’d been Somebody. The sight of the tall, old spires glimpsed far over the housetops brought it back to him, refreshing as a strong, life-giving draught—out there he’d been worshipped; and off the campus, in the town, they used to know him and smile and turn to look after him when he passed by.
How many years ago was that? He tried to think back, to count. He became confused. Anyway, it didn’t matter a jot. It wasn’t so very long ago; only long enough for him to hit the bottom, to crawl out and get into the war, to live when better men had died, to slide again to the bottom. Dutch Rand ... he smiled derisively. Yes, it was all of twenty years since he’d last seen this town. It was good to be here again. He was getting a kick out of it, he decided; the first thing that had really pleased him in many years.
SHUFFLED up the street. Long strings of freight cars loaded with automobiles from the big factory were moving out of the city. The streets around the station hadn't changed much.
Rand surveyed them benignantly with the wholesome relish of the prodigal revisiting scenes he loves. Why, even the little saloon, Mike Swetka’s place, where they used to go for big steins of beer and crisp pretzels and Switzer cheese, was still there. A girl with very red lips and a face that the morning light did not beautify sat at a table in there, smoking. Nothing like that in the old days. He resented her being there. Woman or not, she’d have been given the rush, those times when he used to go there with Miller, Fogarty, Gray and Addison and so many more. Brawny chaps in blue sweaters, swaggering, arrogant, gripping life hard with their big hands, fearful of nothing because for a while they were kings.
To think of that now, made pride come in him. It seemed, with every step that took him farther into the town, his pride grew. Even his carriage became more erect. He had never shuffled, slouched along, in these streets. No; his hob-nailed heels had rung stridently, lustily on the pavement.
If the woman hadn’t been in Mike Swetka’s, he would have entered and bought something to eat and drink. He had four bits, quite a lot for him. He felt it in his pocket. Sure, when he used to be a student here, four bits was as much as he’d ever had; yet he’d held his head high and everyone had respected him. Money, then, didn’t matter so much.
He came from the section of poorer dwellings, board fences and vacant, garbage-littered lots that was the town’s west end, out on to the broad reaches of University Street. Now he smiled outright. It had changed so little; it looked so good. He stood on the corner and watched the cars stream up and down. He felt fine . . . away inside him there was warmth that hadn’t been there before. The morning was clear and crisp . . . real football weather. On just such days as this . . .
He turned quickly on a fat little man, sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store. Hadn’t that same man been there before? Of course . . . Heintzman’s Delicatessen . . . and this was Fred.
“You bet,” said Fred. “Didn’t you know? Must ’a’ dropped from the moon. Varsity’s here today.”
Rand walked silently away. This was the thing that gripped a man, made him appraise himself . . . this changeless city, changeless save for the boys who laughed in its old streets and went away to make room for those who came laughing after them. But the same games, the same love of play, the same loyalties always.
Taxis sped by him, banners floated from canes stuck out the windows; they were bedecked with ribbons, the old beloved colors, rich purple and yellow gold. Something swelled in his throat. He wanted to shout, to laugh with the. crowd in that big touring-car, wanted so much to be one with them. This was great . . . great
Music. Why had he never drifted back here before? Why had he never realized how much all this meant to him? It was in a man’s blood. It was there forever. These people ... he saw old men in the taxis, old men driving cars with strange registry . . .
The word came unbidden to his stubble-bordered lips. And the Homecoming game. His former classmates, many of them, would be back today, back to cheer the team on, to talk over old times made new by the scenes in which they had been acted. And he himself was back ... for Homecoming.
The irony of that made him laugh quietly—a different sort of laugh from what the first sight of University Street had conjured up. He was back, an outcast, a bum, a man no one knew or cared for. Twenty years ago . . . the erectness had gone from his shoulders, his broken soles shuffled on the sidewalk. He had no business to come back. He never would have come if chance hadn’t dropped him here on this day. Best get out of town before some one recognized him and it got to be known he was back and what he had become.
But no; small chance of that. No chance of it. Some men’s years are like a zephyr, not marring their faces, not altering the lineaments; his . . . God, what hot-blasts had seared and parched, limned and hardened his face ... no one under heaven would say: “Your name’s not Dutch Rand?”
He put away that impulse to flee. He would stay and see it all. He hadn’t made anything but a mess of life, he hadn’t added any glory to the name of the old school since leaving it; yet he was a grad, he was one of the crowd, and if alumni were rated on what they’d done at school rather on their achievements in after life, he’d rate high—just how high he did not know—among them.
THERE was a little restaurant near the car stop on Brock Street. Half of his fortune went for coffee and rolls, sausage and hash-browned potatoes. But it was worth it . . . worth a lot more, he decided, after he’d listened to the white-capped and coated man who presided with great assurance over the tall silver coffee urns, the glass cases filled with pie, cake and custard. That one was talking to a car conductor, just off duty, and a couple of workmen noisily demolishing Hamburger sandwiches.
“It’s gonna be the biggest Homecomin’ celebration we’ve ever had here,” said the restaurant man. “And the hardest game the team’s ever played . . . harder, I’d say, than that game with Queen’s twenty years ago when Steve Haviland was in the backfield. Maybe some of you seen that game? You did, Murray.”
One of the working men nodded, his mouth too full for speech. He chewed vigorously, emptying it. He held a partly eaten roll in front of his face.
“You bet!” he said gulping. “Some game, that; and some player, young Steve. We ain’t produced a better one. Better teams, yes; but not a individual player to touch Haviland. How that fellow could run; an’ jump like a antelope! Went through that Queen’s crowd like a dose of salts, and I don’t mean maybe. This kid that’s playin’ in the backfield now is somethin’ like him . . . this George Benn. But he’s not in a class with Steve.” “Ain’t never seen Steve’s equal,” said the restaurant man gravely to the car conductor, who as gravely listened and nodded. “Believe me, they played hard an’ lived hard in those days. Twenty year ago, that is.”
Dutch Rand’s coffee grew cold while he listened. He sat at the end of the counter near the kitchen, holding a roll in his dirty hand. He had lost all appetite for the food. An outcast, a bum, was he? Why, in this town he was a god, his name still spoken reverently by men . . . real, honest chaps like these workmen. He felt suddenly beatified, as if he had peeled twenty years off his life and disclosed himself as he was the day of the Queen’s game . . . strong, clean, laughing, sitting on top of the world. Benn . . . there was a fellow of that name who’d been his friend at school, his buddy in France. Maybe this kid . . .
He was smiling when the restaurant man looked at him. His smile must have been good, for the restaurant man, who had scowled at him when he first came in, grinned back and said: “Like the grub, bo? Have another coffee?”
Dutch knew the offer was from the heart, not the cash register.
“Sure I will,” he said. “An’ thanks. Say, this Haviland you were talking about . . . was he so good as all that?”
“Better,” said the man, taking away his cup to fill it brimful at the urn. “If you never saw Steve Haviland carry the ball you never saw the game played proper. He’d make Grange look like a telephone pole by a fast express. I ain’t exaggeratin’ none.”
Dutch, picking his teeth luxuriously, swaggered out of the shop into the warm sunlight of Brock Street. Unconsciously, he walked toward the Plaza, a rendezvous in the old days. That’s where a lot of the Homecomers would be putting up. A lively place, a homelike place. Sure, there they were . . . cars parked all around it. A big “Welcome” sign over the door and lots of people coming in and out. Girls down to see their brothers and sweethearts . . . long, lovely limbed girls in swagger coats and little cuplike felt hats, their lips reddened, their cheeks rouged, eyes sparkling. “The game” . . . “the game” ... he could almost hear the word recurring on their pretty lips. There were old grads there, too .... some portly, and with ruddy, complacent faces, chewing on their cigars; some cadaverous and cranky-looking. Some had got rich and plump; others wealthy and dyspeptic. He . . . well, he hadn’t got much of anything. He looked at a portly man in a cinnamon-colored topcoat and brown soft hat, a man who would be rated, at a glance as a dweller on the Street of Ease.
“Kane!” he muttered. “Jeff Kane . . . can you beat that! So much jack, I bet, he can’t keep track of it. Back to the old school, just like a kid. I guess we’re always kids.”
He saw old and middle-aged men behaving like urchins, pushing each other, roughing each other as though it had been only yesterday when they sat out on the campus in front of Loftus Hall and listened to the valedictory. It hadn’t been so long ago, at that, he reflected now. The years of school and college, the years of work, the years of hell and mud and blood after he’d skipped to Toronto and enlisted with a crack Canadian regiment; the years, after the war, of a no-good, shiftless existence, culminating in this ... so good, so strangely good, as if he’d done something so fine in the past that life still owed him a debt and was glad to pay it.
He stood at the curb, watching Kane out of the corner of his eye, Kane chewing on a perfecto that had cost more than a poor man’s breakfast. Kane didn’t give him a glance. He was glad. He’d rather have died than that anyone should know what he had come to. In the war he’d done very well; been mentioned a few times for what the papers called “bravery” and “distinguished conduct under fire,” but which he knew was only recklessness and contempt of death. He had never set any value on himself either on the football field or in the workaday world, or in the hour of battle. He himself didn’t count.
But here on the day of a big game they still spoke of him, and the oldsters would be comparing the playing of these boys with the fabulous feats of Steve Haviland, and Steve would always get the better of it.
Had he been so good? Even in the days of his triumph he hadn’t given much thought to that. He played hard, hard. He gave himself, hurled himself into it. He exulted in speed and strength. It was life to him; he lived it, that was all. Yet he had done so well that his performance was still fresh in men’s minds. Maybe they just imagined he had been wonderful. Their boys were every bit as good. He’d find out. He was going to see that game at all costs.
T-TE WALKED out the Mile Road toward the school.
There were neat cottages with pretty lawns and gardens here, shade trees, their boughs touching the porch roofs. The road was hard, smooth concrete. Cars whizzed by in endless procession. He kept to a narrow path by the roadside. This was an old dirt-road when he had walked it last. So much had changed, he found on closer observation . . . houses, streets, faces; the boys wore wide, floppy pants and hats more decrepit than the worn felt that covered his head. He laughed at some of them ; they were dressed little better than he, only their faces were clean and fresh, and the corduroys and coarse blue jerseys weren’t unbecoming.
The ivied walls and the tall spires loomed larger. They at least had not changed. There was the statue of the founder on the lawn, his arms upraised, signalling, the boys used to say facetiously, for a forward-pass. Football was in the air at this school. He could hear the plunk of leather striking against, the pigskin, see boys running with the ball.
There were many new and splendid buildings nestling in the shadow of the main tower. There were multitudes
of boys streaming across the campus. Off to the right was the football field, the bleachers rearing higher than the top of the gym roof close by.
He passed through a gap in the hedge that divided the campus from the road and struck off toward the lake. He wasn’t afraid to go there. He knew that customs didn’t change here, not in twenty years, not in fifty. The campus was open to all who might wish to walk on it, prince or pauper, it made no odds. Boys who passed him did not give him so much as a glance. He was nobody’s business. He was doing no harm. The campus is the world’s best example of democracy, except in the case of freshmen.
He waited for a while by the lake, went through the grotto, visited the chapel and walked shyly through the corridors of the Administration Building, unable completely to dismiss the fear that some of those tall dark doors would open and some of his old professors come out to confront him. But they were all gone. Probably ... all dead. Strange that they should be dead when even the cracks in the door, the worn.places in the tiling were the same. Queer that those things should have such permanency when men came and went like the leaves of the trees, their time so short and filled with hazard.
Again on the campus, he wandered toward Corby Hall . . . the old hall that had been his home. The times they’d had there, the friends he had made there, the songs and stories they’d sung and told! Corby had a warm place in his heart. The old wooden benches where they used to sit in the evenings to talk of victories won, of those that would be fought . . .
Over the tops of the benches a football came soaring. He hesitated, then ran. He sensed that the boy who had punted it, the others dotting the lawn, were laughing at him. Proudly he trapped it. They cheered. They shouted . . .
“Yay, bo! Let’s go!”
A boy held up his hand, signalling for the return kick.
“Here!” he shouted.
Dutch heard it faintly; saw his smile faintly. It had been a long punt. Dutch grinned confidently, dropped the ball to meet his toe at the moment of most force ... a drive like a piston. He’d walked tracks for miles. Low and hard the pigskin sailed toward the boys, over their heads to the shore of the lake.
Dutch, just as he had known they were laughing when he ran to catch the ball, knew now that they were wondering. Should he . . .? He fingered his lips
nervously, walked toward them. Some had letters of gold on their blue sweaters. They were big, husky fellows.
“Some kick!” said one, a tow-headed fellow.
“Where’d you learn that?”
“Was that a fluke?”
The down-and-out grinned sheepishly. He liked this . . . the respect in their clear eyes. They weren’t thinking of his clothes, his stubble; that kick was all that bothered them.
“Let’s see, kid.”
A boy, returning with the ball, handed it willingly to him. Almost carelessly he kicked it, bettering the previous distance by yards. It exhilarated him.
“Like it?” he grinned.
“S-a-a-y! You’re a wow!”
“Learned it in the Army,” said Dutch. “Love the game . . . just drifted in here . . .”
They clustered around him. They talked football. Something warming, comradely, came to Dutch. He was meeting these boys on common ground. They liked him, liked to listen to him speak of plays. He was rich in football lore—lots of good stuff, individual, that’s been lost in the perfecting of the machine.
“You sure know your stuff,” said tow-head. “Hope you’ll stick around. We’re going to eat now. Want to come?”
Want to come! He loved these boys. To share food with them, to talk with them. It was years since he’d been intimate with anyone worth while.
“Say, that’s good of you fellows, but ...” He looked at his clothes, touched his stubbly, dirty chin.”
“Oh, bunk! Come on . . . don’t be proud . .
They went, all in a bunch, to the cafeteria. Tow-head —they called him “Stuhly”—kept close to Dutch, talking about the game, the strong points of Varsity, the stronger ones of the home team.
“We got ’em cinched,” said Dutch. That “we” came out spontaneously.
“We sure have,” agreed Stuhly. “George Benn’s got a kick like a mule . . . like yours. Boy, I never saw such a punt . . never. You should see coach, show him your stuff and you might get on here, bossing the freshmen ...”
Dutch shook his head. He didn’t have to deliberate. He’d tried jobs before. Couldn’t last, couldn’t stay away from gin.
“No, I’ll be moseyin’ on after the game.”
“You got a ticket?” asked Stuhly when they were wedged together in the press at the door.
“No; I just got here . .
“I can fix it for you to see the game.
If you’d like. They want men to patrol under the stands. Fellows drop cigarette butts and set fire to the rubbish. Give you a chance to watch if you don’t mind looking between legs.”
“Sa-a-y, that’s good of you, kid.”
Stuhly winked. They liked each other.
At the long table they placed him at the head, Stuhly on his right. They talked football. Dutch demonstrated plays with salt and pepper shakers, butter pats and lumps of sugar. They listened avidly.
“This guy knows his stuff,” said Stuhly, in a proprietary way. “He has the game cold. You stick with me after lunch,” he confided. “I’ll fix you up in no time. A guy like you would sure appreciate the strife this afternoon.”
rT"'HEY came on the field with a loping trot like a pack of wolves; they stopped, formed, manoeuvred, broke; they moved fast over the gridded field.
Footballs floated high in air as the backs practised drop-kicking; the sturdy figure of the coach walked among them.
On either side of the field and at one end were the stands, sloping walls of color, white dots of faces, moving yet motionless. The grey-clad band with the tambour-majeur strutting like a rooster in front, waving his baton, played the schoolsongs and thousands of voices took up the refrain . . .
Then the dancing cheer-leaders did their dervish antics, prancing and waving their hands, exhorting the crowd through the mouths of megaphones.
“A beeg loco-mo-teeve ... a beeg loco-mo-teeve . . . for the team !”
It came, starting softly as an engine’s first puffs, growing louder, louder, till it shuddered deafeningly in one’s ears. Then one for the coach, then one for George Benn, roaring into the sky.
Beneath the stands, where empty cigarette packages, candy wrappers and pop bottles littered the damp earth floor,
Dutch stood, looking out on the field, drinking in the sights, the sounds. He joined in the yells, timidly, bashfully at first; then very loud. His nerves tingled; he wanted to jump, to run; his hands gripped convulsively. What a day ! What a place!
Tensely he watched each move as the game began, each shifting manoeuvre, each pass and tackle. With the rest he groaned or cheered or wept maudlinly.
The stands might have gone up in smoke for all he cared. That kid . . . Benn .
“Gad, how that boy can run!” he muttered. “I ... I never was that good.
Look at him . . . look look . . !”
Benn went smashing, twisting through, crawling over the prostrate bodies, among milling arms and legs ... a gain ... a gain ! There was no doubt from the outset what it would be, yet the score zigzagged back and forth, sending the hearts of thousands down, raising them up as Benn or some other made a touchdown. This was the year of no defeats . . . nothing could stop that perfect machine. Never had such precision, such co-ordination been seen. It was super-football.
To Dutch it was like being given a glimpse of the Beatific Vision. He was weak, inert when it was done. He couldn’t move; he didn’t want to. Trampling feet thundered overhead, the stands emptied as the upper chamber of the hour-glass empties of its grains of sand. But Dutch was still there. Just one thing he wanted more . . . just one ... to meet that kid,
Benn ... to shake his hand and tell him he was good.
He went out at the tail-end of the crowd and pushed his way toward the gym . . just a ragged, dirty-faced tramp, but something in his face would make you
look twice. He knew his way around this place, knew it with his eyes shut. But he had to wait till Benn had his shower and came out with a crowd of others ... a slim, red-headed boy with sleepy-looking eyes that gazed curiously, but not hostilely at the ragamuffin’s outstretched hand.
“I’d like to shake,” mumbled Dutch. “I saw you play ... I saw Steve Haviland, too . . . and you’re better, kid. You got him beat.” Benn took his hand and exchanged the pressure.
“Thank you,” he said. “But I’ll never believe that. My dad played with Haviland, fought beside him in France. And no one could be quite as good as old Steve. We’ll never have another player like him. They don’t breed them now.”
He passed on with the crowd. Dutch still stood there, looking at the ground. He stood a long time before he walked away, erect and proud.
No one noticed him,