The story of a hockey hero who knew what it was to let his team down and a girl who never knew when she was beaten
LAST period. One minute to go.Town, 4; Warren’s 3. The puck is rolling into the Warren’s corner.
Blake of Warren’s slaps it against his stick. Blake is like lightning on his skates.
He is at centre before the Town forwards have turned around. Buswell, the big Town defense man, looms in front of him. Blake passes to the right. The goalie is drawn with the puck. Past Buswell, and Blake would be in for the return pass and an open
goal. There is nothing to do but crash through if he is to be there on time. A glimpse of the bulging shoulders of Buswell. Blake darts to the left. Buswell dodges with him. The chance for a pass is gone. The puck is shot and caromed from the goalie’s stick into the corner. The bell rings. Then the sound of the gong is lost in the Town cheers.
"DLAKE skated slowly toward the gate. Sweat ran down his cheeks. He filled his lungs with air and blew out from puffed cheeks. He walked stiltedly along the boards on his skates. The crowd was surging down the gallery stairs. Overhead they sounded like the pelting of hail on a roof, he thought. He leaned against a pillar in the private corridor to the dressing room. With his arm he wiped the sweat from his chin and forehead. He noticed a knothole in the boards of the flooring. He tried to dig the end of his stick into the hole.
Somebody was coming. He looked up. Ross Mitchell, the coach, was on his way to the dressing rooms. Ross had a bundle of sticks under his arm. He set the sticks on end, leaned on them, and looked at Blake.
“Blake,” he said, “you’re yellow.”
The coach picked up the bundle of sticks and walked on.
Ed Blake shivered. He wanted to stall till his teammates were out of the dressing rooms, but it was cold in the corridor. Near the dressing room he heard noise, the game’s aftermath of talk. In the rumble that came to him he caught the words: “Blake Buswellyellow .” With his hand on the knob, he paused. Then he pushed open the door and went in. The room was suddenly quiet. He went over to the corner and fiddled with his locker combination. He dug out his towel and soap. He felt that nobody was looking at him. Knots in shoelaces seemed suddenly to have become problems.
Somebody started to whistle: “I ain’t nobody’s darling.” Somebody else called, “Shut up.” Somebody was sympathizing with him.
That almost brought tears to Blake’s eyes. He was first out of his clothes and into the showers. In the middle of the work of scrubbing a foot he stopped. Marj had promised to wait for him. lc was not the heat of the water that brought the flush to his face. To face her tonight after that . . .
As he came out of th ? dressing room he met Marj. She was with Buswell. They were going out the door.
“Good night, Ed,” she said.
As he walked to the dormitory he kicked the chunks of snow that had toppled over on the sidewalk from the piles on either hand. At one mighty chunk he stopped, brought his foot back far, and kicked with all his might. “Buzz—well!” He bit
the word in two between clenched teeth.
The chunk of snow proved to be more like ice. His anger all exploded in the one kick. He was a fool, he thought, to be angry with Marj. What could she see in him anyv/av? A coward who failed in the pinch. Coward. The word had a nasty sound. But hadn’t he been? All his life hadn’t he been a coward? The contact of flesh on flesh. He shuddered.
The next morning at the end of her ten-thirty lecture Marjorie Sherbeck knocked at the door marked “Physical Director.” There was a rumbled “Come in.” Marj was inside before the rumble died away on the walls. She walked straight to Ross Mitchell’s desk, laid her books in front of her, leaned on them, and began to talk. Marj always did things like that. If it were to be done she went ahead and did it. She would have duplicated t hose movements if she had been interviewing the president.
“What,” said Marj, “are you going to do with him?” “Do with who?”
“That is your well-considered judgment?”
“It is. I am in the act of re-drafting the team.” "Good. I’m in time to save you the trouble.”
“I know. You’re going to ask me who’s running this team. You are, of course. But it this particular case I think I can give you a little help. Do you know Blake?” “Not very well. He’s hard to get acquainted with. High-hats the boys. Stuck on himself. Most fellows with a yellow streak are like that. Do you know him?” “Yes. I intend to marry him.”
Ross’ jaw dropped. The movement was perhaps more in awe than in surprise. Marj Sherbeck, the pet of the university from the president to the lab-boy, was going to marry Ed Blake! Blake, who couldn’t have got a straw ballot in a vote for janitor. It didn’t make sense. All he said was: “Have a chair.”
“I’d rather stand, thanks. I feel myself getting mad,” said Marj, “and I can’t get properly mad sitting dow'n. You men are as ignorant as apes. Here’s a boy who has the highest marks in the university. He’s running for the scholarship to Europe. And just because he doesn’t
come into the common room and whack half the roomful on the back, you call him high-hat. Because he doesn’t crash into a two-hundred-pound defense man you call him yellow. You throw him off the team. You ruin his chances as an all-round man for the scholarship. What’d you put him on the team for?”
“I put him on the team because he skates like a whizz and stick-handles like a fiend.”
“And what’re you releasing him for?”
“I don’t like to hurt you, Marj.”
“You won’t. Goon.”
“Well, I’m letting him out because he’s not there in che pinch. Every time he sees a man within ten yards of him he passes—eight yards too soon. Every time a crash through the defense would put him in the goal mouth he’s out by the boards trying to skate around. I don’t care if a man skates like a streak of lubricated lightning, if he’s not there in the pinch he’s a short circuit. Blake has had two shots on goal in each of the last four games, and all of them from the blue-line. Marj, you may grade “A” in matrimony, but you don’t fizz much in hockey.”
Marj leaned forward, and with her elbows on the desk cupped her chin in her hands. She looked straight into Ross Mitchell’s eyes. Ross, looking into hers, saw in the glints of green a hint of blue.
“Ross ...” She drew out his name until it was almost like the call of a low note on a clarinet.
“Yes?” Ross fidgetted.
“Do you really think”—there was the softness of a tear in her voice—“do you really think the things I do just fizz, just bubble up and burst? Mnnnnnnh? Do you?”
“No, Marj. I take it back. If you started out to transplant Mount Everest I figure you’d do it.”
“Ross, I’m going to gamble on the game on Saturday. I’m gambling that Ed is coming through. I’m gambling a lot of happiness on it. Would you believe me if I said I know I’ll win? Would you?”
Ross’ reply was written down, of course, many thousand years ago in the Book of Woman.
“Marj,” he called as she was going out the door, “didn’t I see you going home with Buzz last night?”
“Uh-huh. That’s part of the gamble.”
She smiled at him enigmatically as she closed the door.
THAT night Marj met Ed Blake.
She was coming out of the show with Buswell.
They were turning into one of those little Blue Delft tea places for lunch when they ran plump into him. Marj saw his face go pale.
“Good evening, Ed,” she said. Her smile was a little wistful.
Ed touched his hat and walked on.
If Buswell had looked at Marj as they went in he would have seen the suggestion of moist eyes. But for the
moment he was busily engaged opening the door for her.
She led him over to a corner where there was a table partly shielded by an old-fashioned cupboard. The table was lit only by a shaded electric candle. If Buswell could have seen through the shadow he might have wondered at the blotch of nervous red that grew from a tiny fleck at her throat. She clasped and unclasped her hands, and played with the emblem ring on her little finger.
She looked up quickly as Buswell sat down. Then she let her hands fall lightly into her lap, and lowered her head to conceal the delight that must be playing, she thought, about her eyes and mouth. For Buswell had a sneer on his lip.
“About nine tubbings,” he said, “would wash a lot of yellow out of that bird, Blake. And even then he’d need some rinsing.”
“Why, Buzz, what makes you talk like that? I think Ed is a very nice boy.”
Buswell leaned over and patted Marj’s hand which she seemed to have put there for that particular purpose.
“You said it, girlie. Blake’s a nice boy. Too darned nice for a hockey team. ’Fraid he’ll get his little toes rapped with a club. Ross fired him because he was so nice.”
“Buzz, I think you’re mean. Besides, I don’t believe Ed Blake is a coward.”
“You don’t, eh? Listen, little girl. You saw that game Saturday night? You saw the way all I had to do was swell out my chest and Blake shooed away like a whole flock of sparrows?”
“But I think he was doing what he thought was the best thing to do. I don’t believe he was running away.”
“He wasn’t, eh? Kid, if I had another chance at that guy I could make him look the color of a bouquet of buttercups.”
“Could you really?” Marj was leaning forward and looking at him admiringly.
“Could I? Say, when I got through with him he’d be crawling for the nearest knothole.”
“Well, Buzz, lie’s playing next Saturday night.”
“Girlie, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll bet you. I’ll bet you he doesn’t come within ten feet of me in the last period. If I lose I send you the biggest box of
chocolates in the Blue Delft. And if you lose you take me to the Winter Frolic.”
Marj shielded her eyes with her long lashes to conceal her satisfaction.
“Do you think it would be right for us to bet like that? It doesn’t seem nice to Ed.”
“Say! You’re darned pernickety. You sweet on that guy or something?”
“I do think he’s awfully nice.”
“Well, you’ll think he’s a piece of cheese when I’m through with him. Are you on for the bet?”
“All right. I’ll bet with you. But don’t be too hard on him, will you, Buzz?” “Naw, I’ll take him in my arms and pet him.”
'T'HE news that Buswell
was going to tickle Blake’s fear responses was 1
quickly bruited about the rink the next Saturday evening. Early Town supporters gathered in knots to indulge in the season’s latest wise cracks on the decline and fall of a hockey player.
The rink began to fill. There was the nervous chatter of many people before a great game, the rumble of ten thousand feet prancing on the boards of the bleachers to keep warm five thousand bodies that tensed with anxiety. Here and there were the flickers of cigarette lighters. Once in a while the rubble of small talk broke into the dactylic metre of a yell or song from isolated groups on either bank of bleachers. The number and volume of the yells grew. They became competitive. Then, with a roar, the noise broke into a climax of pandemonium as the teams skated out on the ice.
Blake was the last of his team to push himself from the gate and take his place in the warming-up. He felt a tremor in his legs as he skated over for the shooting practice. The tremor went down his arms so that he could scarcely raise the puck. He looked up and caught a glimpse of Marj behind the press box. She was looking
his way. He remembered the evening on the sorority steps when he had asked her to marry him. “Sure,” she had said in her playboy way, “but how about waiting till we grow up?”
“Till you grow up,” she had meant. She knew he would never grow up; never be a man, brazenly" mannish. He stopped the puck as it was passed to him, shot, missed the goal. Never be a man. Funk. Better tell Ross to start one of the subs till he got a hold of himself. The gong. No time now.
The crowd hushed. One could hear the stripping hiss of skates on ice as the players swung to their positions.
Blast of the whistle, clash of the sticks at centre -the game was on.
Marj scarcely moved except to follow with straining eyes the sudden shifts of the play as the teams shot alternately to the attack. The puck weaved like a scuttling shuttle from side to side, or was shot from a player’s stick to be caught harmlessly in a goalie’s lap and tossed into a vacant corner.
The ice was hard. Speed glided from the long, lithe muscles of Blake’s thighs. Presently the tremble of his limbs stopped as he felt trickles of sweat creeping down the sides of his cheeks. Thrill of the vibrating cheers. Lights bright. Exhilaration of speed. Ills hand clasped the end of his stick with an easy, certain grip. It seemed that his skates and stick had been born with him. Marj in the bleachers. Sway. Sway. He’d show her. Crouching figure in front of him. Long hook check. He had lost the puck. Next time. He’d show her.
A long shot from a Town forward bounced from the bulging pads of the Warren’s goalie. Warren’s in possession, with a clear strip of ice and six men to beat. Warren’s played three on defense in a case like that. Two men up. Two to beat six, but it’s a pre, ,y play if it works. Blake zoomed like a rocket to the advance, his right forward a little ahead of him. This was his chance. The odds against him. No shooting from the blue-line this time. He’d go through if the whole team bunched on him.
A Town forward rushed at him. Blake dodged to the right, and as the centre hooked he made a clean pass that his forward caught on the Town blue-line. Buswell charged and Blake jumped to the left. Nothing between him and the goal. He caught the pass on the toe of his stick.
“Shoot!” The Warren’s call from the bleachers was like the blast of a thousand trumpets.
He did not hear. He was poised for the shot. High to the left it would be.
“Shoot!” roared the bleachers.
The goalie threw himself at Blake to smother the shot.
Flesh to flesh. Couldn’t shoot. Dodge to the left.
A long swinging skid of Buswell’s stick from behind, and the puck slid into the corner. There was a groan from the Warren’s fans that came like the diapason chord to the raucous treble of the Town cheers.
Blake skated back woodenly. Failed again. A
frost. With evident effort he pushed himself along the ice. His stick might have been laden with lead, he handled it so heavily.
Warren’s second string of forwards skated out for the relief. See-saw, back and forth, the forwards charged like trios of knights-errant. But not a shot bulged the twine of either goal.
The period ended, score zero all.
The gong sounded for the second period.
Marj, with her hands up the cuffs of her coat, clasped her wrists to hold back the wildness of her anxiety. She saw Ed well out of the picture. Back-checked by the forwards, side-tracked to the boards, herded into a corner and robbed, he seemed to have lost even the will to skate. She bit her lip in suspense. Blake would be taken off if Buswell didn’t hurry.
The second period was all but played into history when Buswell got the chance he had been waiting for. From a scratch near centre the Town centre flipped the puck back into his own area. “Plank,” it sounded, almost like steel on steel as it hit the heel of Buswell’s stick.
Then there shot into focus the hulk of the big Town defense man. The puck clamped to his stick, he came down the stretch straight for Blake. Ed darted to the right for the check.
Buzz passed. Then with a sudden dodge, he heaved his shoulder into the chest of Blake.
Ed fell flat. Marj covered her mouth with her hands to suppress a scream. Buswell had been more intent on winning his bet than she knew. He grinned as he stepped into the box for his penalty, and the gong sounded to end the second period. He knew he had won.
“Better stay out, Blake, and rest the bump on the bean,” said Ross as the two-minute bell rang in the dressing room.
Blake’s face was white. There was scarcely the suggestion of a tint of pink to his lips. They were a thin line.
“Ross,” he said slowly, “you will please start me?”
"You’re sick. You’d better lie down.”
“No, I don’t think I’m sick.”
The pallor of his face changed suddenly to a red flush. “Perhaps," he said, “if you think about it, you will understand my feelings better than I do myself."
Ross had a fleeting glimpse of the tense face of Marj as she had stood in front of him in his office. She didn’t fizz in hockey, he had told her. Perhaps she did. Here was a Blake he had never seen before. But how the blazes had she been able to prophesy?
“Beat it,” he said to Blake,
“you’ll be late for the starter.”
TDUSWELL’S beam of exultation drew into a start of surprise as he saw Blake skate out on the ice. His surprise grew to anxiety as he saw the snap to the fillip of the puck as Blake passed. More energy to Blake than Buzz had ever seen before. His time was up; he skated to his place.
Thump! Buswell brought his stick across Blake’s ankle. Ed didn’t turn his head, but skimmed inside the defense,
missed the pass, and skated back to his position. His face was crimson, teeth clenched like a vise, and the force of his long strides sent spurts of snow up behind his skates.
Buswell was dumbfounded. Marj was staring with eyes that hardly believed the turn of her success.
Buswell schemed his attacks. Five minutes to cool had been enough. In the corner he jabbed the short end of his stick into Ed’s ribs. In a scramble at the boards he pushed Ed’s feet from under him. He held Blake’s stick in attack, and as they skated single instant whispered in his ear: again and I’ll split your head open.” him.
Ten minutes to go. The crowd was in a tantrum of
excitement. Whistle for off-side. There was an ominous hush as the centres bent over their sticks. The referee dropped the puck. The Town centre caught it and flopped it back to his forward. The puck careened in a drunken roll along the ice, and jumped the stick of the forward. Buswell, waiting for play, seemed shocked into sudden life. He caught the puck, made a few quick steps for speed and shot down the ice along the boards. Ed came straight for the speeding Buzz. Buzz shot to the boards and jumped for the rebound. Ed swung his hip, caught Buswell in the instant of nice equilibrium, and Buswell spread himself over the ice. Ed noticed the back of Buswell’s neck grow red to the tips of his ears.
Five minutes to go. The time flashed on the scoreboard, and the scoreboard itself was filled with four zeros. With each flash the tantrums of the crowd grew to frenzy. Boom upon boom was flung back in reverberating echoes from the rounded arch of the roof. Ringsiders slapped flap-sticks against the boards, and cheer followed cheer as first one team and then the other zig-zagged their dizzy patterns from end to end of the glaring ice.
One minute to go. Marj felt herself grow weak. She leaned against a pillar for support. She had done what she could. Ed had come through. She knew it. But the crowd didn’t. Ross didn’t. They’d remember that first awful period. And now she had lost Ed. She couldn’t go to him. She couldn’t explain about Buswell. Her eyelashes were beaded with teardrops as she hung her head and waited for the final gong . . Warren’s cheers. She tensed suddenly.
The puck had rolled into a corner behind the Warren’s goal. Blake had slapped it against his stick. Marj looked down into the box. The timekeeper had his watch in one hand and the other on the rope of the gong. Ed was at centre before the Town forwards were back in position. The Warren’s fans held their breath
in suspense. Marj lowered her eyes. She dared not look. But her fingernails bit into her wrists as she waited for the result.
Blake saw the huge shadow of Buswell loom in front of him. He sensed the stick in air. “Your head open.” The words flashed through his mind. Blake passed. The goalie was drawn with the puck. Past Buswell and he’d be in for the pass and an open goal. Down came the stick with a side swipe. But nothing could stop the speed of Blake. Like a bolt he crashed into Buswell. Buzz flopped like a ten-pin. “Plop” came the puck against Blake’s stick.
He did not hear. He was poised for the shot. High to the left it would be.
The goalie threw himself at Blake to smother the shot. Flesh to flesh. Gripping teeth. A flip of the stick.
As he lay on the ice with the goalie on top of him Ed seemed to hear, as if far in the distance, the roll of thunder. Then he felt himself lifted. High in the air he was. He saw innumerable people. Hands under him. People shouting. Pennants waving.
Why were they calling him? He passed his hand across his eyes. It felt wet and sticky. He looked at it. Blood. He remembered. Buswell with his stick in the air. Must have hit him. Rush of the goalie. Lord, how he had clenched his teeth ! He had shot. High to the left it had been. It must have been good. They were calling his name. He smiled.
As they bandaged his head in the dressing room his mind carried him back through the game he had played. He was sure of his scholarship now, sure of his place in the university, sure of himself, sure of—he supposed he could have Marj now if he wanted her. But Buswell could have her. There was a sardonic quirk to the smile that worked itself into the lines of his mouth. Women were like that. Men were but handsome brutes to them. And they picked the brute that was on top. But Marj, somehow, hadn’t seemed like that. The quirk of a smile left his mouth. He remembered the days they had played together. The Saturday hikes along the river bank, the potatoes roasted in the firehole with the embers on top, the long dusk as they had sat silently and watched the sparks from the fresh logs play like fireflies among the spruce branches.
CONGRATULATIONS, Blake,’’ Mitchell’s voice
broke in on his reverie, you an apology.”
“Thanks, Ross,” Ed replied as he gripped the hand extended to him, and his eyes below the bandage showed his gratitude. “But don’t apologize. You were right. I was yellow. If it hadn’t been for Buswell—”
“Buswell, your grandmother’s guinea hen! You had it in you, Ed. Red blood, hockey blood. But none of us he-men had the intuition to know it nor the sense to bring it out. Buswell was just a tool in the hands of the only one who believed in you. And I’m apologizing for being a dumbbell.” “The only one who believed in me?”
“That’s what I said.”
Ed leaned back in his corner. His voice was low and he seemed to be looking at the far-away.
“Ross,” he said, “the only one I thought believed in me ditched me a week ago.”
“From the standpoint of intelligence, Blake, you must be kidding the profs. Shove over and let me sit down while I tell you something.”
As Ross recited the story of Marj’s adventure in hockey management Ed’s face moved through the shades of incredulity, surprise, and adoration.
“You mean,” he said, “that Marj—that she got Continued on page 38
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Buswell to do that so that perhaps I’d—” “That’s what I mean,” Ross concluded. “So you’d get mad.”
A WEEK later as the setting sun tipped the snow-covered hilltop along the river with gold, and burnished the topmost boughs of a clump of spruce on the river bank, Ed and Marj sat under
the lower branches that glowed in the light of a new-piled fire. The kettle over the fire was already starting to boil for the coffee, and the bacon and the marshmallows were laid out ready for the embers that began to show around the edges of the fire.
Ed speared a slice of bacon with a willow prong.
“Marj,” he said, as he handed it to her for toasting, “would you tell me something?”
“Mnhmm.” She hung her bacon over a glowing ember. “I mean maybe.”
Ed busied himself with poking his willow stick into the fire.
“Well, how—how did you know that I—really had it in me?”
“Why, Ed, I knew because—well, because ...”
Marj’s bacon slipped off her stick into the ashes, and perhaps it was the exertion of retrieving it that brought the flush over her white throat, but her voice was very soft as she looked up at Ed.
“Just because,” she said.