There was a man in my class at Princeton who never went to football games. He spent his Saturday afternoons delving for minutiae about Greek athletics and the somewhat fixed battles between Christians and wild beasts under the Antonines. Lately—several years out of college—he has discovered football players and is making etchings of them in the manner of the late George Bellows. But he was once unresponsive to the very spectacle at his door, and I suspect the originality of his judgments on what is beautiful, what is remarkable and what is fun.
I reveled in football, as audience, amateur statistician and foiled participant—for I had played in prep school, and once there was a headline in the school newspaper: “Deering and Mullins Star Against Taft in Stiff Game Saturday.” When I came in to lunch after the battle the school stood up and clapped and the visiting coach shook hands with me and prophesied—incorrectly—that I was going to be heard from. The episode is laid away in the most pleasant lavender of my past. That year I grew very tall and thin, and when at Princeton the following fall I looked anxiously over the freshman candidates and saw the polite disregard with which they looked back at me, I realized that that particular dream was over. Keene said he might make me into a very fair pole vaulter—and he did—but it was a poor substitute; and my terrible disappointment that I wasn’t going to be a great football player was probably the foundation of my friendship with Dolly Harlan. I want to begin this story about Dolly with a little rehashing of the Yale game up at New Haven, sophomore year.
Dolly was started at halfback; this was his first big game. I roomed with him and I had scented something peculiar about his state of mind, so I didn’t let him out of the corner of my eye during the whole first half. With field glasses I could see the expression on his face; it was strained and incredulous, as it had been the day of his father’s death, and it remained so, long after any nervousness had had time to wear off. I thought he was sick and wondered why Keene didn’t see and take him out; it wasn’t until later that I learned what was the matter.
It was the Yale Bowl. The size of it or the enclosed shape of it or the height of the sides had begun to get on Dolly’s nerves when the team practiced there the day before. In that practice he dropped one or two punts, for almost the first time in his life, and he began thinking it was because of the Bowl.
There is a new disease called agoraphobia—afraid of crowds—and another called siderodromophobia—afraid of railroad traveling—and my friend Doctor Glock, the psychoanalyst, would probably account easily for Dolly’s state of mind. But here’s what Dolly told me afterward:
“Yale would punt and I’d look up. The minute I looked up, the sides of that damn pan would seem to go shooting up too. Then when the ball started to come down, the sides began leaning forward and bending over me until I could see all the people on the top seats screaming at me and shaking their fists. At the last minute I couldn’t see the ball at all, but only the Bowl; every time it was just luck that I was under it and every time I juggled it in my hands.”
To go back to the game. I was in the cheering section with a good seat on the forty-yard line—good, that is, except when a very vague graduate, who had lost his friends and his hat, stood up in front of me at intervals and faltered, “Stob Ted Coy!” under the impression that we were watching a game played a dozen years before. When he realized finally that he was funny he began performing for the gallery and aroused a chorus of whistles and boos until he was dragged unwillingly under the stand.
It was a good game—what is known in college publications as a historic game. A picture of the team that played it now hangs in every barber shop in Princeton, with Captain Gottlieb in the middle wearing a white sweater, to show that they won a championship. Yale had had a poor season, but they had the breaks in the first quarter, which ended 3 to 0 in their favor.
Between quarters I watched Dolly. He walked around panting and sucking a water bottle and still wearing that strained stunned expression. Afterward he told me he was saying over and over to himself: “I’ll speak to Roper. I’ll tell him between halves. I’ll tell him I can’t go through this any more.” Several times already he had felt an almost irresistible impulse to shrug his shoulders and trot off the field, for it was not only this unexpected complex about the Bowl; the truth was that Dolly fiercely and bitterly hated the game.
He hated the long, dull period of training, the element of personal conflict, the demand on his time, the monotony of the routine and the nervous apprehension of disaster just before the end. Sometimes he imagined that all the others detested it as much as he did, and fought down their aversion as he did and carried it around inside them like a cancer that they were afraid to recognize. Sometimes he imagined that a man here and there was about to tear off the mask and say, “Dolly, do you hate this lousy business as much as I do?”
His feeling had begun back at St. Regis’ School and he had come up to Princeton with the idea that he was through with football forever. But upper classmen from St. Regis kept stopping him on the campus and asking him how much he weighed, and he was nominated for vice president of our class on the strength of his athletic reputation—and it was autumn, with achievement in the air. He wandered down to freshman practice one afternoon, feeling oddly lost and dissatisfied, and smelled the turf and smelled the thrilling season. In half an hour he was lacing on a pair of borrowed shoes and two weeks later he was captain of the freshman team.
Once committed, he saw that he had made a mistake; he even considered leaving college. For, with his decision to play, Dolly assumed a moral responsibility, personal to him, besides. To lose or to let down, or to be let down, was simply intolerable to him. It offended his Scotch sense of waste. Why sweat blood for an hour with only defeat at the end?
Perhaps the worst of it was that he wasn’t really a star player. No team in the country could have spared using him, but he could do no spectacular thing superlatively well, neither run, pass nor kick. He was five-feet-eleven and weighed a little more than a hundred and sixty; he was a first-rate defensive man, sure in interference, a fair line plunger and a fair punter. He never fumbled and he was never inadequate; his presence, his constant cold sure aggression, had a strong effect on other men. Morally, he captained any team he played on and that was why Roper had spent so much time trying to get length in his kicks all season—he wanted him in the game.
In the second quarter Yale began to crack. It was a mediocre team composed of flashy material, but uncoordinated because of injuries and impending changes in the Yale coaching system. The quarterback, Josh Logan, had been a wonder at Exeter—I could testify to that—where games can be won by the sheer confidence and spirit of a single man. But college teams are too highly organized to respond so simply and boyishly, and they recover less easily from fumbles and errors of judgment behind the line.
So, with nothing to spare, with much grunting and straining, Princeton moved steadily down the field. On the Yale twenty-yard line things suddenly happened. A Princeton pass was intercepted; the Yale man, excited by his own opportunity, dropped the ball and it bobbed leisurely in the general direction of the Yale goal. Jack Devlin and Dolly Harlan of Princeton and somebody—I forget who—from Yale were all about the same distance from it. What Dolly did in that split second was all instinct; it presented no problem to him. He was a natural athlete and in a crisis his nervous system thought for him. He might have raced the two others for the ball; instead, he took out the Yale man with savage precision while Devlin scooped up the ball and ran ten yards for a touchdown.
This was when the sports writers still saw games through the eyes of Ralph Henry Barbour. The press box was right behind me, and as Princeton lined up to kick goal I heard the radio man ask:
“Who’s Number 22?”
“Harlan is going to kick goal. Devlin, who made the touchdown, comes from Lawrenceville School. He is twenty years old. The ball went true between the bars.”
Between the halves, as Dolly sat shaking with fatigue in the locker room, Little, the back-field coach, came and sat beside him.
“When the ends are right on you, don’t be afraid to make a fair catch,” Little said. “That big Havemeyer is liable to jar the ball right out of your hands.”
Now was the time to say it: “I wish you’d tell Bill—” But the words twisted themselves into a trivial question about the wind. His feeling would have to be explained, gone into, and there wasn’t time. His own self seemed less important in this room, redolent with the tired breath, the ultimate effort, the exhaustion of ten other men. He was shamed by a harsh sudden quarrel that broke out between an end and tackle; he resented the former players in the room—especially the graduate captain of two years before, who was a little tight and over-vehement about the referee’s favoritism. It seemed terrible to add one more jot to all this strain and annoyance. But he might have come out with it all the same if Little hadn’t kept saying in a low voice: “What a take-out, Dolly! What a beautiful take-out!” and if Little’s hand hadn’t rested there, patting his shoulder.
In the third quarter Joe Dougherty kicked an easy field goal from the twenty-yard line and we felt safe, until toward twilight a series of desperate forward passes brought Yale close to a score. But Josh Logan had exhausted his personality in sheer bravado and he was outguessed by the defense at the last. As the substitutes came running in, Princeton began a last march down the field. Then abruptly it was over and the crowd poured from the stands, and Gottlieb, grabbing the ball, leaped up in the air. For a while everything was confused and crazy and happy; I saw some freshmen try to carry Dolly, but they were shy and he got away.
We all felt a great personal elation. We hadn’t beaten Yale for three years and now everything was going to be all right. It meant a good winter at college, something pleasant and slick to think back upon in the damp cold days after Christmas, when a bleak futility settles over a university town. Down on the field, an improvised and uproarious team ran through plays with a derby, until the snake dance rolled over them and blotted them out. Outside the Bowl, I saw two abysmally gloomy and disgusted Yale men get into a waiting taxi and in a tone of final abnegation tell the driver “New York.” You couldn’t find Yale men; in the manner of the vanquished, they had absolutely melted away.
I begin Dolly’s story with my memories of this game because that evening the girl walked into it. She was a friend of Josephine Pickman’s and the four of us were going to drive up to the Midnight Frolic in New York. When I suggested to him that he’d be too tired he laughed dryly—he’d have gone anywhere that night to get the feel and rhythm of football out of his head. He walked into the hall of Josephine’s house at half-past six, looking as if he’d spent the day in the barber shop save for a small and fetching strip of court plaster over one eye. He was one of the handsomest men I ever knew, anyhow; he appeared tall and slender in street clothes, his hair was dark, his eyes big and sensitive and dark, his nose aquiline and, like all his features, somehow romantic. It didn’t occur to me then, but I suppose he was pretty vain—not conceited, but vain—for he always dressed in brown or soft light gray, with black ties, and people don’t match themselves so successfully by accident.
He was smiling a little to himself as he came in. He shook my hand buoyantly and said, “Why, what a surprise to meet you here, Mr. Deering,” in a kidding way. Then he saw the two girls through the long hall, one dark and shining, like himself, and one with gold hair that was foaming and frothing in the firelight, and said in the happiest voice I’ve ever heard, “Which one is mine?”
“Either you want, I guess.”
“Seriously, which is Pickman?”
“Then the other one belongs to me. Isn’t that the idea?”
“I think I’d better warn them about the state you’re in.”
Miss Thorne, small, flushed and lovely, stood beside the fire. Dolly went right up to her.
“You’re mine,” he said; “you belong to me.”
She looked at him coolly, making up her mind; suddenly she liked him and smiled. But Dolly wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to do something incredibly silly or startling to express his untold jubilation that he was free.
“I love you,” he said. He took her hand, his brown velvet eyes regarding her tenderly, unseeingly, convincingly. “I love you.”
For a moment the corners of her lips fell as if in dismay that she had met someone stronger, more confident, more challenging than herself. Then, as she drew herself together visibly, he dropped her hand and the little scene in which he had expended the tension of the afternoon was over.
It was a bright cold November night and the rush of air past the open car brought a vague excitement, a sense that we were hurrying at top speed toward a brilliant destiny. The roads were packed with cars that came to long inexplicable halts while police, blinded by the lights, walked up and down the line giving obscure commands. Before we had been gone an hour New York began to be a distant hazy glow against the sky.
Miss Thorne, Josephine told me, was from Washington, and had just come down from a visit in Boston.
“For the game?” I said.
“No; she didn’t go to the game.”
“That’s too bad. If you’d let me know I could have picked up a seat—”
“She wouldn’t have gone. Vienna never goes to games.”
I remembered now that she hadn’t even murmured the conventional congratulations to Dolly.
“She hates football. Her brother was killed in a prep-school game last year. I wouldn’t have brought her tonight, but when we got home from the game I saw she’d been sitting there holding a book open at the same page all afternoon. You see, he was this wonderful kid and her family saw it happen and naturally never got over it.”
“But does she mind being with Dolly?”
“Of course not. She just ignores football. If anyone mentions it she simply changes the subject.”
I was glad that it was Dolly and not, say, Jack Devlin who was sitting back there with her. And I felt rather sorry for Dolly. However strongly he felt about the game, he must have waited for some acknowledgment that his effort had existed.
He was probably giving her credit for a subtle consideration, yet, as the images of the afternoon flashed into his mind he might have welcomed a compliment to which he could respond “What nonsense!” Neglected entirely, the images would become insistent and obtrusive.
I turned around and was somewhat startled to find that Miss Thorne was in Dolly’s arms; I turned quickly back and decided to let them take care of themselves.
As we waited for a traffic light on upper Broadway, I saw a sporting extra headlined with the score of the game. The green sheet was more real than the afternoon itself—succinct, condensed and clear:
PRINCETON CONQUERS YALE 10-3
SEVENTY THOUSAND WATCH TIGER TRIM BULLDOG
DEVLIN SCORES ON YALE FUMBLE
There it was—not like the afternoon, muddled, uncertain, patchy and scrappy to the end, but nicely mounted now in the setting of the past:
PRINCETON, 10; YALE, 3
Achievement was a curious thing, I thought. Dolly was largely responsible for that. I wondered if all things that screamed in the headlines were simply arbitrary accents. As if people should ask, “What does it look like?”
“It looks most like a cat.”
“Well, then, let’s call it a cat.”
My mind, brightened by the lights and the cheerful tumult, suddenly grasped the fact that all achievement was a placing of emphasis—a molding of the confusion of life into form.
Josephine stopped in front of the New Amsterdam Theater, where her chauffeur met us and took the car. We were early, but a small buzz of excitement went up from the undergraduates waiting in the lobby—“There’s Dolly Harlan”—and as we moved toward the elevator several acquaintances came up to shake his hand. Apparently oblivious to these ceremonies, Miss Thorne caught my eye and smiled. I looked at her with curiosity; Josephine had imparted the rather surprising information that she was just sixteen years old. I suppose my return smile was rather patronizing, but instantly I realized that the fact could not be imposed on. In spite of all the warmth and delicacy of her face, the figure that somehow reminded me of an exquisite, romanticized little ballerina, there was a quality in her that was as hard as steel. She had been brought up in Rome, Vienna and Madrid, with flashes of Washington; her father was one of those charming American diplomats who, with fine obstinacy, try to re-create the Old World in their children by making their education rather more royal than that of princes. Miss Thorne was sophisticated. In spite of all the abandon of American young people, sophistication is still a Continental monopoly.
We walked in upon a number in which a dozen chorus girls in orange and black were racing wooden horses against another dozen dressed in Yale blue. When the lights went on, Dolly was recognized and some Princeton students set up a clatter of approval with the little wooden hammers given out for applause; he moved his chair unostentatiously into a shadow.
Almost immediately a flushed and very miserable young man appeared beside our table. In better form he would have been extremely prepossessing; indeed, he flashed a charming and dazzling smile at Dolly, as if requesting his permission to speak to Miss Thorne.
Then he said, “I thought you weren’t coming to New York tonight.”
“Hello, Carl.” She looked up at him coolly.
“Hello, Vienna. That’s just it; ’Hello Vienna—Hello Carl.’ But why? I thought you weren’t coming to New York tonight.”
Miss Thorne made no move to introduce the man, but we were conscious of his somewhat raised voice.
“I thought you promised me you weren’t coming.”
“I didn’t expect to, child. I just left Boston this morning.”
“And who did you meet in Boston—the fascinating Tunti?” he demanded.
“I didn’t meet anyone, child.”
“Oh, yes, you did! You met the fascinating Tunti and you discussed living on the Riviera.” She didn’t answer. “Why are you so dishonest, Vienna?” he went on. “Why did you tell me on the phone—”
“I am not going to be lectured,” she said, her tone changing suddenly. “I told you if you took another drink I was through with you. I’m a person of my word and I’d be enormously happy if you went away.”
“Vienna!” he cried in a sinking, trembling voice.
At this point I got up and danced with Josephine. When we came back there were people at the table—the men to whom we were to hand over Josephine and Miss Thorne, for I had allowed for Dolly being tired, and several others. One of them was Al Ratoni, the composer, who, it appeared, had been entertained at the embassy in Madrid. Dolly Harlan had drawn his chair aside and was watching the dancers. Just as the lights went down for a new number a man came up out of the darkness and leaning over Miss Thorne whispered in her ear. She started and made a motion to rise, but he put his hand on her shoulder and forced her down. They began to talk together in low excited voices.
The tables were packed close at the old Frolic. There was a man rejoining the party next to us and I couldn’t help hearing what he said:
“A young fellow just tried to kill himself down in the wash room. He shot himself through the shoulder, but they got the pistol away before—”
A minute later his voice again: “Carl Sanderson, they said.”
When the number was over I looked around. Vienna Thorne was staring very rigidly at Miss Lillian Lorraine, who was rising toward the ceiling as an enormous telephone doll. The man who had leaned over Vienna was gone and the others were obliviously unaware that anything had happened. I turned to Dolly and suggested that he and I had better go, and after a glance at Vienna in which reluctance, weariness and then resignation were mingled, he consented. On the way to the hotel I told Dolly what had happened.
“Just some souse,” he remarked after a moment’s fatigued consideration. “He probably tried to miss himself and get a little sympathy. I suppose those are the sort of things a really attractive girl is up against all the time.”
This wasn’t my attitude. I could see that mussed white shirt front with very young blood pumping over it, but I didn’t argue, and after a while Dolly said, “I suppose that sounds brutal, but it seems a little soft and weak, doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s just the way I feel tonight.”
When Dolly undressed I saw that he was a mass of bruises, but he assured me that none of them would keep him awake. Then I told him why Miss Thorne hadn’t mentioned the game and he woke up suddenly; the familiar glitter came back into his eyes.
“So that was it! I wondered. I thought maybe you’d told her not to say anything about it.”
Later, when the lights had been out half an hour, he suddenly said “I see” in a loud clear voice. I don’t know whether he was awake or asleep.
I’ve put down as well as I can everything I can remember about the first meeting between Dolly and Miss Vienna Thorne. Reading it over, it sounds casual and insignificant, but the evening lay in the shadow of the game and all that happened seemed like that. Vienna went back to Europe almost immediately and for fifteen months passed out of Dolly’s life.
It was a good year—it still rings true in my memory as a good year. Sophomore year is the most dramatic at Princeton, just as junior year is at Yale. It’s not only the elections to the upperclass clubs but also everyone’s destiny begins to work itself out. You can tell pretty well who’s going to come through, not only by their immediate success but by the way they survive failure. Life was very full for me. I made the board of the Princetonian, and our house burned down out in Dayton, and I had a silly half-hour fist fight in the gymnasium with a man who later became one of my closest friends, and in March Dolly and I joined the upperclass club we’d always wanted to be in. I fell in love, too, but it would be an irrelevancy to tell about that here.
April came and the first real Princeton weather, the lazy green-and-gold afternoons and the bright thrilling nights haunted with the hour of senior singing. I was happy, and Dolly would have been happy except for the approach of another football season. He was playing baseball, which excused him from spring practice, but the bands were beginning to play faintly in the distance. They rose to concert pitch during the summer, when he had to answer the question, “Are you going back early for football?” a dozen times a day. On the fifteenth of September he was down in the dust and heat of late-summer Princeton, crawling over the ground on all fours, trotting through the old routine and turning himself into just the sort of specimen that I’d have given ten years of my life to be.
From first to last, he hated it, and never let down for a minute. He went into the Yale game that fall weighing a hundred and fifty-three pounds, though that wasn’t the weight printed in the paper, and he and Joe McDonald were the only men who played all through that disastrous game. He could have been captain by lifting his finger—but that involves some stuff that I know confidentially and can’t tell. His only horror was that by some chance he’d have to accept it. Two seasons! He didn’t even talk about it now. He left the room or the club when the conversation veered around to football. He stopped announcing to me that he “wasn’t going through that business any more.” This time it took the Christmas holidays to drive that unhappy look from his eyes.
Then at the New Year Miss Vienna Thorne came home from Madrid and in February a man named Case brought her down to the Senior Prom.
She was even prettier than she had been before, softer, externally at least, and a tremendous success. People passing her on the street jerked their heads quickly to look at her—a frightened look, as if they realized that they had almost missed something. She was temporarily tired of European men, she told me, letting me gather that there had been some sort of unfortunate love affair. She was coming out in Washington next fall.
Vienna and Dolly. She disappeared with him for two hours the night of the club dances, and Harold Case was in despair. When they walked in again at midnight I thought they were the handsomest pair I saw. They were both shining with that peculiar luminosity that dark people sometimes have. Harold Case took one look at them and went proudly home.
Vienna came back a week later, solely to see Dolly. Late that evening I had occasion to go up to the deserted club for a book and they called me from the rear terrace, which opens out to the ghostly stadium and to an unpeopled sweep of night. It was an hour of thaw, with spring voices in the warm wind, and wherever there was light enough you could see drops glistening and falling. You could feel the cold melting out of the stars and the bare trees and shrubbery toward Stony Brook turning lush in the darkness.
They were sitting together on a wicker bench, full of themselves and romantic and happy.
“We had to tell someone about it,” they said.
“Now can I go?”
“No, Jeff,” they insisted; “stay here and envy us. We’re in the stage where we want someone to envy us. Do you think we’re a good match?”
What could I say?
“Dolly’s going to finish at Princeton next year,” Vienna went on, “but we’re going to announce it after the season in Washington in the autumn.”
I was vaguely relieved to find that it was going to be a long engagement.
“I approve of you, Jeff,” Vienna said.
“I want Dolly to have more friends like you. You’re stimulating for him—you have ideas. I told Dolly he could probably find others like you if he looked around his class.”
Dolly and I both felt a little uncomfortable.
“She doesn’t want me to be a Babbitt,” he said lightly.
“Dolly’s perfect,” asserted Vienna. “He’s the most beautiful thing that ever lived, and you’ll find I’m very good for him, Jeff. Already I’ve helped him make up his mind about one important thing.” I guessed what was coming. “He’s going to speak a little piece if they bother him about playing football next autumn, aren’t you, child?”
“Oh, they won’t bother me,” said Dolly uncomfortably. “It isn’t like that—”
“Well, they’ll try to bully you into it, morally.”
“Oh, no,” he objected. “It isn’t like that. Don’t let’s talk about it now, Vienna. It’s such a swell night.”
Such a swell night! When I think of my own love passages at Princeton, I always summon up that night of Dolly’s, as if it had been I and not he who sat there with youth and hope and beauty in his arms.
Dolly’s mother took a place on Ram’s Point, Long Island, for the summer, and late in August I went East to visit him. Vienna had been there a week when I arrived, and my impressions were: first, that he was very much in love; and, second, that it was Vienna’s party. All sorts of curious people used to drop in to see Vienna. I wouldn’t mind them now—I’m more sophisticated—but then they seemed rather a blot on the summer. They were all slightly famous in one way or another, and it was up to you to find out how. There was a lot of talk, and especially there was much discussion of Vienna’s personality. Whenever I was alone with any of the other guests we discussed Vienna’s sparkling personality. They thought I was dull, and most of them thought Dolly was dull. He was better in his line than any of them were in theirs, but his was the only specialty that wasn’t mentioned. Still, I felt vaguely that I was being improved and I boasted about knowing most of those people in the ensuing year, and was annoyed when people failed to recognize their names.
The day before I left, Dolly turned his ankle playing tennis, and afterward he joked about it to me rather somberly.
“If I’d only broken it things would be so much easier. Just a quarter of an inch more bend and one of the bones would have snapped. By the way, look here.”
He tossed me a letter. It was a request that he report at Princeton for practice on September fifteenth and that meanwhile he begin getting himself in good condition.
“You’re not going to play this fall?”
He shook his head.
“No. I’m not a child any more. I’ve played for two years and I want this year free. If I went through it again it’d be a piece of moral cowardice.”
“I’m not arguing, but—would you have taken this stand if it hadn’t been for Vienna?”
“Of course I would. If I let myself be bullied into it I’d never be able to look myself in the face again.”
Two weeks later I got the following letter:
When you read this you’ll be somewhat surprised. I have, actually, this time, broken my ankle playing tennis. I can’t even walk with crutches at present; it’s on a chair in front of me swollen up and wrapped up as big as a house as I write. No one, not even Vienna, knows about our conversation on the same subject last summer and so let us both absolutely forget it. One thing, though—an ankle is a darn hard thing to break, though I never knew it before.
I feel happier than I have for years—no early-season practice, no sweat and suffer, a little discomfort and inconvenience, but free. I feel as if I’ve outwitted a whole lot of people, and it’s nobody’s business but that of your
Machiavellian (sic) friend,
P.S. You might as well tear up this letter.
It didn’t sound like Dolly at all.
Once down at Princeton I asked Frank Kane—who sells sporting goods on Nassau Street and can tell you offhand the name of the scrub quarterback in 1901—what was the matter with Bob Tatnall’s team senior year.
“Injuries and tough luck,” he said. “They wouldn’t sweat after the hard games. Take Joe McDonald, for instance, All-American tackle the year before; he was slow and stale, and he knew it and didn’t care. It’s a wonder Bill got that outfit through the season at all.”
I sat in the stands with Dolly and watched them beat Lehigh 3-0 and tie Bucknell by a fluke. The next week we were trimmed 14-0 by Notre Dame. On the day of the Notre Dame game Dolly was in Washington with Vienna, but he was awfully curious about it when he came back next day. He had all the sporting pages of all the papers and he sat reading them and shaking his head. Then he stuffed them suddenly into the waste-paper basket.
“This college is football crazy,” he announced. “Do you know that English teams don’t even train for sports?”
I didn’t enjoy Dolly so much in those days. It was curious to see him with nothing to do. For the first time in his life he hung around—around the room, around the club, around casual groups—he who had always been going somewhere with dynamic indolence. His passage along a walk had once created groups—groups of classmates who wanted to walk with him, of underclassmen who followed with their eyes a moving shrine. He became democratic, he mixed around, and it was somehow not appropriate. He explained that he wanted to know more men in his class.
But people want their idols a little above them, and Dolly had been a sort of private and special idol. He began to hate to be alone, and that, of course, was most apparent to me. If I got up to go out and he didn’t happen to be writing a letter to Vienna, he’d ask “Where are you going?” in a rather alarmed way and make an excuse to limp along with me.
“Are you glad you did it, Dolly?” I asked him suddenly one day.
He looked at me with reproach behind the defiance in his eyes.
“Of course I’m glad.”
“I wish you were in that back field, all the same.”
“It wouldn’t matter a bit. This year’s game’s in the Bowl. I’d probably be dropping kicks for them.”
The week of the Navy game he suddenly began going to all the practices. He worried; that terrible sense of responsibility was at work. Once he had hated the mention of football; now he thought and talked of nothing else. The night before the Navy game I woke up several times to find the lights burning brightly in his room.
We lost 7 to 3 on Navy’s last-minute forward pass over Devlin’s head. After the first half Dolly left the stands and sat down with the players on the field. When he joined me afterward his face was smudgy and dirty as if he had been crying.
The game was in Baltimore that year. Dolly and I were going to spend the night in Washington with Vienna, who was giving a dance. We rode over there in an atmosphere of sullen gloom and it was all I could do to keep him from snapping out at two naval officers who were holding an exultant post mortem in the seat behind.
The dance was what Vienna called her second coming-out party. She was having only the people she liked this time, and these turned out to be chiefly importations from New York. The musicians, the playwrights, the vague supernumeraries of the arts, who had dropped in at Dolly’s house on Ram’s Point, were here in force. But Dolly, relieved of his obligations as host, made no clumsy attempt to talk their language that night. He stood moodily against the wall with some of that old air of superiority that had first made me want to know him. Afterward, on my way to bed, I passed Vienna’s sitting room and she called me to come in. She and Dolly, both a little white, were sitting across the room from each other and there was tensity in the air.
“Sit down, Jeff,” said Vienna wearily. “I want you to witness the collapse of a man into a schoolboy.” I sat down reluctantly. “Dolly’s changed his mind,” she said. “He prefers football to me.”
“That’s not it,” said Dolly stubbornly.
“I don’t see the point,” I objected. “Dolly can’t possibly play.”
“But he thinks he can. Jeff, just in case you imagine I’m being pig-headed about it, I want to tell you a story. Three years ago, when we first came back to the United States, father put my young brother in school. One afternoon we all went out to see him play football. Just after the game started he was hurt, but father said, ’It’s all right. He’ll be up in a minute. It happens all the time.’ But, Jeff, he never got up. He lay there, and finally they carried him off the field and put a blanket over him. Just as we got to him he died.”
She looked from one to the other of us and began to sob convulsively. Dolly went over, frowning, and put his arm around her shoulder.
“Oh, Dolly,” she cried, “won’t you do this for me—just this one little thing for me?”
He shook his head miserably. “I tried, but I can’t,” he said.
“It’s my stuff, don’t you understand, Vienna? People have got to do their stuff.”
Vienna had risen and was powdering her tears at a mirror; now she flashed around angrily.
“Then I’ve been laboring under a misapprehension when I supposed you felt about it much as I did.”
“Let’s not go over all that. I’m tired of talking, Vienna; I’m tired of my own voice. It seems to me that no one I know does anything but talk any more.”
“Thanks. I suppose that’s meant for me.”
“It seems to me your friends talk a great deal. I’ve never heard so much jabber as I’ve listened to tonight. Is the idea of actually doing anything repulsive to you, Vienna?”
“It depends upon whether it’s worth doing.”
“Well, this is worth doing—to me.”
“I know your trouble, Dolly,” she said bitterly. “You’re weak and you want to be admired. This year you haven’t had a lot of little boys following you around as if you were Jack Dempsey, and it almost breaks your heart. You want to get out in front of them all and make a show of yourself and hear the applause.”
He laughed shortly. “If that’s your idea of how a football player feels—”
“Have you made up your mind to play?” she interrupted.
“If I’m any use to them—yes.”
“Then I think we’re both wasting our time.”
Her expression was ruthless, but Dolly refused to see that she was in earnest. When I got away he was still trying to make her “be rational,” and next day on the train he said that Vienna had been “a little nervous.” He was deeply in love with her, and he didn’t dare think of losing her; but he was still in the grip of the sudden emotion that had decided him to play, and his confusion and exhaustion of mind made him believe vainly that everything was going to be all right. But I had seen that look on Vienna’s face the night she talked with Mr. Carl Sanderson at the Frolic two years before.
Dolly didn’t get off the train at Princeton Junction, but continued on to New York. He went to two orthopedic specialists and one of them arranged a bandage braced with a whole little fence of whalebones that he was to wear day and night. The probabilities were that it would snap at the first brisk encounter, but he could run on it and stand on it when he kicked. He was out on University Field in uniform the following afternoon.
His appearance was a small sensation. I was sitting in the stands watching practice with Harold Case and young Daisy Cary. She was just beginning to be famous then, and I don’t know whether she or Dolly attracted the most attention. In those times it was still rather daring to bring down a moving-picture actress; if that same young lady went to Princeton today she would probably be met at the station with a band.
Dolly limped around and everyone said, “He’s limping!” He got under a punt and everyone said, “He did that pretty well!” The first team were laid off after the hard Navy game and everyone watched Dolly all afternoon. After practice I caught his eye and he came over and shook hands. Daisy asked him if he’d like to be in a football picture she was going to make. It was only conversation, but he looked at me with a dry smile.
When he came back to the room his ankle was swollen up as big as a stove pipe, and next day he and Keene fixed up an arrangement by which the bandage would be loosened and tightened to fit its varying size. We called it the balloon. The bone was nearly healed, but the little bruised sinews were stretched out of place again every day. He watched the Swarthmore game from the sidelines and the following Monday he was in scrimmage with the second team against the scrubs.
In the afternoons sometimes he wrote to Vienna. His theory was that they were still engaged, but he tried not to worry about it, and I think the very pain that kept him awake at night was good for that. When the season was over he would go and see.
We played Harvard and lost 7 to 3. Jack Devlin’s collar bone was broken and he was out for the season, which made it almost sure that Dolly would play. Amid the rumors and fears of mid-November the news aroused a spark of hope in an otherwise morbid undergraduate body—hope all out of proportion to Dolly’s condition. He came back to the room the Thursday before the game with his face drawn and tired.
“They’re going to start me,” he said, “and I’m going to be back for punts. If they only knew—”
“Couldn’t you tell Bill how you feel about that?”
He shook his head and I had a sudden suspicion that he was punishing himself for his “accident” last August. He lay silently on the couch while I packed his suitcase for the team train.
The actual day of the game was, as usual, like a dream—unreal with its crowds of friends and relatives and the inessential trappings of a gigantic show. The eleven little men who ran out on the field at last were like bewitched figures in another world, strange and infinitely romantic, blurred by a throbbing mist of people and sound. One aches with them intolerably, trembles with their excitement, but they have no traffic with us now, they are beyond help, consecrated and unreachable—vaguely holy.
The field is rich and green, the preliminaries are over and the teams trickle out into position. Head guards are put on; each man claps his hands and breaks into a lonely little dance. People are still talking around you, arranging themselves, but you have fallen silent and your eye wanders from man to man. There’s Jack Whitehead, a senior, at end; Joe McDonald, large and reassuring, at tackle; Toole, a sophomore, at guard; Red Hopman, center; someone you can’t identify at the other guard—Bunker probably—he turns and you see his number—Bunker; Bean Gile, looking unnaturally dignified and significant at the other tackle; Poore, another sophomore at end. Back of them is Wash Sampson at quarter—imagine how he feels! But he runs here and there on light feet, speaking to this man and that, trying to communicate his alertness and his confidence of success. Dolly Harlan stands motionless, his hands on his hips, watching the Yale kicker tee up the ball; near him is Captain Bob Tatnall—
There’s the whistle! The line of the Yale team sways ponderously forward from its balance and a split second afterward comes the sound of the ball. The field streams with running figures and the whole Bowl strains forward as if thrown by the current of an electric chair.
Suppose we fumbled right away.
Tatnall catches it, goes back ten yards, is surrounded and blotted out of sight. Spears goes through center for three. A short pass, Sampson to Tatnall, is completed, but for no gain. Harlan punts to Devereaux, who is downed in his tracks on the Yale forty-yard line.
Now we’ll see what they’ve got.
It developed immediately that they had a great deal. Using an effective crisscross and a short pass over center, they carried the ball fifty-four yards to the Princeton six-yard line, where they lost it on a fumble, recovered by Red Hopman. After a trade of punts, they began another push, this time to the fifteen-yard line, where, after four hair-raising forward passes, two of them batted down by Dolly, we got the ball on downs. But Yale was still fresh and strong, and with a third onslaught the weaker Princeton line began to give way. Just after the second quarter began Devereaux took the ball over for a touchdown and the half ended with Yale in possession of the ball on our ten-yard line. Score, Yale, 7; Princeton, 0.
We hadn’t a chance. The team was playing above itself, better than it had played all year, but it wasn’t enough. Save that it was the Yale game, when anything could happen, anything HAD happened, the atmosphere of gloom would have been deeper than it was, and in the cheering section you could cut it with a knife.
Early in the game Dolly Harlan had fumbled Devereaux’s high punt, but recovered without gain; toward the end of the half another kick slipped through his fingers, but he scooped it up, and slipping past the end, went back twelve yards. Between halves he told Roper he couldn’t seem to get under the ball, but they kept him there. His own kicks were carrying well and he was essential in the only back-field combination that could hope to score.
After the first play of the game he limped slightly, moving around as little as possible to conceal the fact. But I knew enough about football to see that he was in every play, starting at that rather slow pace of his and finishing with a quick side lunge that almost always took out his man. Not a single Yale forward pass was finished in his territory, but toward the end of the third quarter he dropped another kick—backed around in a confused little circle under it, lost it and recovered on the five-yard line just in time to avert a certain score. That made the third time, and I saw Ed Kimball throw off his blanket and begin to warm up on the sidelines.
Just at that point our luck began to change. From a kick formation, with Dolly set to punt from behind our goal, Howard Bement, who had gone in for Wash Sampson at quarter, took the ball through the center of the line, got by the secondary defense and ran twenty-six yards before he was pulled down. Captain Tasker, of Yale, had gone out with a twisted knee, and Princeton began to pile plays through his substitute, between Bean Gile and Hopman, with George Spears and sometimes Bob Tatnall carrying the ball. We went up to the Yale forty-yard line, lost the ball on a fumble and recovered it on another as the third quarter ended. A wild ripple of enthusiasm ran through the Princeton stands. For the first time we had the ball in their territory with first down and the possibility of tying the score. You could hear the tenseness growing all around you in the intermission; it was reflected in the excited movements of the cheer leaders and the uncontrollable patches of sound that leaped out of the crowd, catching up voices here and there and swelling to an undisciplined roar.
I saw Kimball dash out on the field and report to the referee and I thought Dolly was through at last, and was glad, but it was Bob Tatnall who came out, sobbing, and brought the Princeton side cheering to its feet.
With the first play pandemonium broke loose and continued to the end of the game. At intervals it would swoon away to a plaintive humming; then it would rise to the intensity of wind and rain and thunder, and beat across the twilight from one side of the Bowl to the other like the agony of lost souls swinging across a gap in space.
The teams lined up on Yale’s forty-one yard line and Spears immediately dashed off tackle for six yards. Again he carried the ball—he was a wild unpopular Southerner with inspired moments—going through the same hole for five more and a first down. Dolly made two on a cross buck and Spears was held at center. It was third down, with the ball on Yale’s twenty-nine-yard line and eight to go.
There was some confusion immediately behind me, some pushing and some voices; a man was sick or had fainted—I never discovered which. Then my view was blocked out for a minute by rising bodies and then everything went definitely crazy. Substitutes were jumping around down on the field, waving their blankets, the air was full of hats, cushions, coats and a deafening roar. Dolly Harlan, who had scarcely carried the ball a dozen times in his Princeton career, had picked a long pass from Kimball out of the air and, dragging a tackler, struggled five yards to the Yale goal.
Some time later the game was over. There was a bad moment when Yale began another attack, but there was no scoring and Bob Tatnall’s eleven had redeemed a mediocre season by tying a better Yale team. For us there was the feel of victory about it, the exaltation if not the jubilance, and the Yale faces issuing from out the Bowl wore the look of defeat. It would be a good year, after all—a good fight at the last, a tradition for next year’s team. Our class—those of us who cared—would go out from Princeton without the taste of final defeat. The symbol stood—such as it was; the banners blew proudly in the wind. All that is childish? Find us something to fill the niche of victory.
I waited for Dolly outside the dressing rooms until almost everyone had come out; then, as he still lingered, I went in. Someone had given him a little brandy, and since he never drank much, it was swimming in his head.
“Have a chair, Jeff.” He smiled, broadly and happily. “Rubber! Tony! Get the distinguished guest a chair. He’s an intellectual and he wants to interview one of the bone-headed athletes. Tony, this is Mr. Deering. They’ve got everything in this funny Bowl but armchairs. I love this Bowl. I’m going to build here.”
He fell silent, thinking about all things happily. He was content. I persuaded him to dress—there were people waiting for us. Then he insisted on walking out upon the field, dark now, and feeling the crumbled turf with his shoe.
He picked up a divot from a cleat and let it drop, laughed, looked distracted for a minute, and turned away.
With Tad Davis, Daisy Cary and another girl, we drove to New York. He sat beside Daisy and was silly, charming and attractive. For the first time since I’d known him he talked about the game naturally, even with a touch of vanity.
“For two years I was pretty good and I was always mentioned at the bottom of the column as being among those who played. This year I dropped three punts and slowed up every play till Bob Tatnall kept yelling at me, ’I don’t see why they won’t take you out!’ But a pass not even aimed at me fell in my arms and I’ll be in the headlines tomorrow.”
He laughed. Somebody touched his foot; he winced and turned white.
“How did you hurt it?” Daisy asked. “In football?”
“I hurt it last summer,” he said shortly.
“It must have been terrible to play on it.”
“I suppose you had to.”
“That’s the way sometimes.”
They understood each other. They were both workers; sick or well, there were things that Daisy also had to do. She spoke of how, with a vile cold, she had had to fall into an open-air lagoon out in Hollywood the winter before.
“Six times—with a fever of a hundred and two. But the production was costing ten thousand dollars a day.”
“Couldn’t they use a double?”
“They did whenever they could—I only fell in when it had to be done.”
She was eighteen and I compared her background of courage and independence and achievement, of politeness based upon the realities of cooperation, with that of most society girls I had known. There was no way in which she wasn’t inestimably their superior—if she had looked for a moment my way—but it was Dolly’s shining velvet eyes that signaled to her own.
“Can’t you go out with me tonight?” I heard her ask him.
He was sorry, but he had to refuse. Vienna was in New York; she was going to see him. I didn’t know, and Dolly didn’t know, whether there was to be a reconciliation or a good-by.
When she dropped Dolly and me at the Ritz there was real regret, that lingering form of it, in both their eyes.
“There’s a marvelous girl,” Dolly said. I agreed. “I’m going up to see Vienna. Will you get a room for us at the Madison?”
So I left him. What happened between him and Vienna I don’t know; he has never spoken about it to this day. But what happened later in the evening was brought to my attention by several surprised and even indignant witnesses to the event.
Dolly walked into the Ambassador Hotel about ten o’clock and went to the desk to ask for Miss Cary’s room. There was a crowd around the desk, among them some Yale or Princeton undergraduates from the game. Several of them had been celebrating and evidently one of them knew Daisy and had tried to get her room by phone. Dolly was abstracted and he must have made his way through them in a somewhat brusque way and asked to be connected with Miss Cary.
One young man stepped back, looked at him unpleasantly and said, “You seem to be in an awful hurry. Just who are you?”
There was one of those slight silent pauses and the people near the desk all turned to look. Something happened inside Dolly; he felt as if life had arranged his role to make possible this particular question—a question that now he had no choice but to answer. Still, there was silence. The small crowd waited.
“Why, I’m Dolly Harlan,” he said deliberately. “What do you think of that?”
It was quite outrageous. There was a pause and then a sudden little flurry and chorus: “Dolly Harlan! What? What did he say?”
The clerk had heard the name; he gave it as the phone was answered from Miss Cary’s room.
“Mr. Harlan’s to go right up, please.”
Dolly turned away, alone with his achievement, taking it for once to his breast. He found suddenly that he would not have it long so intimately; the memory would outlive the triumph and even the triumph would outlive the glow in his heart that was best of all. Tall and straight, an image of victory and pride, he moved across the lobby, oblivious alike to the fate ahead of him or the small chatter behind.
Published in The Saturday Evening Post magazine (21 January 1928).
Illustrations by ?.