On this particular chilly November afternoon, the famous Yale Bowl was
packed to its upmost tier with seething humanity, there for the purpose
of witnessing the classic football event of the season, between Old Eli
Though the score was nothing to nothing, with only two minutes to play
in the last quarter, the Harvard side were jubilant, for Roger Baer, the
Yale star and Massachusetts’ only menace, had just injured his ankle and
was forced to leave the field.
These thousands of men and women, cramped into the great stadium,
represented an army of interested, pulsating humanity divided into
sides, with each faction placing their faith in the ability of the team
for which they had come to root.
Whether it was to be Yale or Harvard who would emerge from the game,
showered in the glory of victory, was a question of time, but whether or
not the men and women, whose eyes were fascinated by the action of the
teams in the field, were really alive with interest, could be told by
the expressions registered upon their tense faces—the faces of all but
Panama Williams had been dragged to the Yale Bowl by two of his buddies
from the Marine Aviation Base at San Diego, who were also on a leave of
absence in the East.
Williams’ busy life had been cramped with so many things that sports had
never found a place in his heart.
Why he had consented to go to the game, he couldn’t explain,
nevertheless he was there, in a box on the Yale side, entirely devoid of
interest or enthusiasm.
This man, attired in the uniform of the United States Marine Corps, with
the emblems of a top sergeant emblazoned upon each sleeve, was a
taciturn, hard-boiled individual who had passed through four enlistments
in the service of his country’s sea soldiers.
With the government’s aviation expansion program came a desire to win
new glories as a pilot, so Sergeant Williams, who had served his country
in the four corners of the globe, on land and sea, took to the air and
again made good.
This soldier, who found keen enjoyment in the coquetry of a tropical
native girl, the roar of a sixteen-inch gun or the intricacies of a
Wright motor, lounged in a box at the Yale Bowl, visibly bored with the
activities going on about him, and completely unresponsive to the spirit
of the play; a direct contrast to the Marine beside him, who sat,
seething with emotion.
Over by the Yale bench, the worried coach, now confronted with the
reality that his star player was lost to this game, entered into a
hurried conference with his assistants.
Each man viewed the row of players sprawled on the bench before them
until the eyes of the coach fell upon the tall, gaunt figure of a
fair-haired youth who sat, wrapped in a blanket, twitching his large
fingers from nervousness.
“I’m going to send in Phelps as Baer’s substitute,” the coach announced
at length, his words almost deafened by the roars of objections raised
by his assistants.
“Lefty Phelps?” Scotty, the coach’s chief aid, questioned, “Why, he’s
never been in a big game in his life!”
“If you put him in as quarter,” another assistant ventured, “we’re bound
to take plenty of punishment.”
“Why?” the coach asked, visibly determined in having his own way.
“Well, for one thing, he’s the nervous type,” Scotty explained, “and
it’s just that failing that may break up the game.”
The coach smiled broadly as if his assistant had grasped the very
purpose behind his idea in selecting Lefty.
“Nervous is right. His over-anxiety may get him so rattled that he’ll
come through with a touchdown!”
Lefty, of course, could not help but overhear this discourse on his
failings and, at the words uttered by the coach, leaped to his feet and
joined the little group of men.
“You have been itching for a chance to win your ‘Y’,” the coach
explained as Lefty confronted him. “Get in there as quarter. Carry the
ball around left end. You’ve only got time for two plays. Now get that
ball and come through with a touchdown! Do you hear?”
Lefty didn’t stop to reply, but darted off to the umpire with the words
of the coach still ringing in his ears: “A touchdown, do you hear?”
The whistle blew for time up as Lefty announced his substitution. Over
in the grand stand, on the Yale side, a white-haired man and woman rose
with pride. There were smiles of triumph written over their aged faces
as their boy entered the field for Yale and victory.
“Mother, it’s our boy!” cried the man. “He’s going in!”
The old lady’s eyes were moist with tears of joy. “God bless him—and
Yale!” she murmured softly.
“God help him!” bellowed the father. “Come on, Son. Touchdown! Come on!”
In the box occupied by the Marines, enthusiasm had reached its peak with
all the occupants save Panama.
“Oh, boy! A substitution,” roared one of the noncommissioned officers,
hitting Panama a resounding blow upon the back, “Number Forty-one. Let’s
see. That’s Lefty Phelps, a newcomer, replacing the best man on the Yale
team. I’ll bet that coach’s got something up his sweater. Come on,
At this announcement, the taciturn Panama shifted idly in his seat, for
the first time showing some sign of interest.
“I hope that egg can do something,” Panama muttered, biting off a chew
of tobacco, just as the ball was shot to Lefty, who made a terrific
drive over the left tackle, gaining twenty yards, with the ball now on
the Harvard thirty-yard line.
At the conclusion of this perfect play, the roars of the Yale rooters
echoed and reechoed through the vast stadium, with every man, woman and
child on the New Haven side up and on their toes, tingling with
excitement and shouting themselves hoarse.
“What did I tell you?” shrieked the enthusiastic noncom, again whacking
Panama across the back. “He went through that line like a sieve!”
Yale then went into a huddle, with every mother’s son among them tense
with action and nerves on edge.
Lefty gave the signal for the next play. The ball was snapped at him as
he made a sweeping left end run.
Harvard was not to be taken by surprise again. As Lefty made for their
goal and victory, he was partly tackled, knocked to the ground, rolling
over in the tussle.
In a moment, he regained his feet, but the tackle and the excitement all
about him muffled his direction and he faced the Yale side, continuing
to run toward the wrong goal in his eagerness for victory.
As he shot out swiftly on his way in the opposite direction, he wondered
why there was a clear field ahead of him, but with less than a minute to
play, he felt that this was no time to stop and consider Harvard’s
One of the Yale men was close upon Lefty’s heels, shouting to him for
dear life to either turn and run toward the right goal or pass him the
hall, but the nervous, overanxious boy was deaf to everything.
Back in the stands, both the Yale and Harvard rooters were wild with
excitement, with the New Haven side roaring instructions to Lefty and
offering a prayer for aid from a Divine Providence.
To the boy, running clear across the field, the cries of the Yale
rooters were received as shouts of victory, egging him on to finish the
game for the glory of Old Eli.
With grim determination, the boy put more effort behind his race for
victory, completely oblivious to the calls of his fellow players and the
pleas of those in the stands.
The words of the coach, “Touchdown, Touchdown,” still filled Lefty’s
ears, keeping his brain and feet active and his eyes blind to all else
but the goal line just ahead of him.
Just one yard from the goal line now, Lefty’s team mate, determined to
stop him at all costs, made a flying tackle at the nervous boy’s heels,
bringing Lefty down to the ground.
Unaware that the tackle was made by his own team mate, and still blind
to the fact that he was on the verge of making a victory for Harvard,
thus defeating his own college, Lefty, with every bit of strength he
possessed, squirmed and struggled from the tightening grasp of his
fellow player, triumphantly placing the ball just over the line as the
referee’s whistle ended the game.
Lefty rose with a triumphant smile of victory beaming upon his face,
yet, not quite understanding why the Harvard men should be shouting
hilariously, throwing their helmets in the air and slapping each other
on the back.
He walked over to where his team mates stood in a group silently with
the brand of defeat plainly visible upon the faces of each man. “Well, I
made it!” he announced jovially. “You made it, all right,” one of the
men answered, eyeing the boy with a look of disgust. “You ran the wrong
way and won the game for Harvard!”
“Take a look at the score board, two for Harvard, nothing for Yale, and
you gave them the two!” said another.
Lefty, who had been beaming over with exultation and self-satisfaction,
now stood motionless, his eyes glued upon the score board and his face
bearing a miserable, abject look of stupidity and failure.
Up in the stands, a rancorous Yale freshman seemed to take unusual
delight in the misery that had befallen Lefty’s mother and father and
the tears that filled the old lady’s eyes.
“It’s Okay, pop,” he shouted, “Harvard is going to give your son a nice
big ‘H’ for his grand play!”
Phelps, senior, did not venture to reply. His heart was breaking within
him. Slowly he lifted his arm and gently placed it around the slim
shoulders of his wife, managing to choke back the lump in his throat and
say, “Let’s go to him, Mother, I guess he needs us!” Maintaining their
wounded dignity, this fine old couple made their way from the stands,
passed the Yale men and their girls who boisterously flung taunts at
In the box that had been occupied by the Marines, Panama sat in
convulsions of laughter, chiding his two buddies, hilarious over their
“Say, that guy Phelps must be a Harvard man in disguise,” Panama roared,
literally doubled in two.
“Go on and laugh, you big punk,” retorted one of the other sergeants.
“Have a good time, but remember, I bet ten bucks on Yale and five of it
As Phelps and his team mates made their way to the Yale Dugout, a
battalion of reporters and cameramen followed closely upon their heels,
striving to get photographs of the disgraced player.
“Come on, take the air,” the Yale coach warned the news photographers,
as he kicked over one of their tripods; then addressing Lefty, spoke
kindly: “Forget it, kid; we’ll beat ’em next year, sure!”
The coach’s generosity only tended to heighten Lefty’s misery. He ran
and buried his head on his waiting mother’s shoulder, the shoulder that
had always been a haven of comfort to him in the past.
Once outside of the great Yale Bowl, Panama stopped to roll a cigarette
as his fellow noncoms followed suit.
“I wonder what is going to become of that poor guy?” he said, somewhat
“You mean, Phelps?” asked the noncom who lost the money on the game.
Panama nodded his head and proceeded to light his handmade weed.
“I don’t know what’ll happen to him,” the third Marine added, “but if it
was me, I’d blow my brains out.”
Williams again was overcome with a fit of laughter, managing to add as a
final retort: “That’s impossible, Red. That guy ain’t got no brains!”
Alone in the locker room for more than an hour after the game, Lefty
worked out in his mind, the plans for the future.
As much as it hurt him to reach the decision, he came to the conclusion
that he would have to leave Yale, and the sooner he went, the better
matters would be for all concerned.
There was no other way around it, half the world thought him to be a
blithering idiot, while the rest of humanity would whisper that his play
was intentional, meant to throw the game to Harvard.
It was six of one, and half a dozen of the other. Irrespective of what
the world believed, the logical course for Lefty to follow was to leave
New Haven and bury his identity until his present difficulties were at
When he dressed, he found his mother and father still waiting for him.
It was some time before any member of this unhappy trio found courage
enough to speak, and when the moment arrived, it was Lefty who broke the
They were seated in the rear of a little restaurant on the outskirts of
the town, near West Haven, a place discreetly chosen by Phelps, senior,
because of the fact that college boys never went in that direction for
“I’m going away,” Lefty began, with a display of hesitance in his voice.
“I’m leaving to-night!”
His mother’s face turned chalk white and she found her hand
automatically grasping the edge of the table for support.
“Oh, Son, you can’t do that!”
“But I must, Mother. I could never bear to go back there and face their
jeers, whispers and laughter. It is too much to ask of me!”
“Then come home with us,” the little old lady pleaded. “We understand.
Besides, no matter what has happened, Dad and I want you, Son.”
Lefty’s eyes rested on the white tablecloth before him. He dared not
look at his mother, less she detect the faint moisture trickling down
“That’s sweet of you, Mother, but I couldn’t go on, living off you and
Dad. There isn’t a man in Bridgeport who would give me a job after what
happened to-day. I’ve got to get away. I must work and find myself.
Somewhere, some place, there is a square hole that will fit my
square-pegged personality. When I find that place, I’ll make good!”
Mrs. Phelps’ troubled eyes searched those of her own boy’s. She loathed
to lose him, yet secretly she was proud of his determination to make
“But where will you go?”
“I don’t know—Europe, New York, California—anywhere so long as it is
away from Yale. I’ve saved a little money, enough to take me away and
keep me alive until I get something to do.”
“But—but you will come back, won’t you?” she pleaded.
“When I can show them all that I’m not the poor boob they believe me to
be. Yes, then I’ll come back!”
An hour later, after he had sent his mother and father safely on their
way, back to Bridgeport, Lefty arrived at the New Haven station, bought
a ticket to New York and checked his trunk through.
He paced up and down the station platform, in and out of groups of
people, waiting for the train, and passed howling newsboys who shrieked
at the top of their lungs the announcement of the latest sports extra:
“Wuxtra! Wuxtra! Read all about Lefty Phelps’ bonehead play. Wuxtra!”
Anxious to get away from the sight of human beings and the glaring,
printed account of his stupid play, Lefty hurried off, around the side
of the station, near the freight depot, now completely deserted.
Just as he turned around the corner, he heard someone approaching from
“Hey, mister,” a tiny voice called, “want a paper? Read all about the
Yale prize boob what won for Harvard!”
Lefty increased his speed, hoping to escape from the boy, but before he
had taken another step, the newsie was alongside of him.
The boy stared up into Lefty’s face, partly hidden by the turned down
brim of his hat. In a moment, the former football player’s identity was
“Holy mackerel!” cried the youngster, “if it ain’t the guy what ran
The man, flushed with anger and shame, brushed the boy aside, hurrying
through a door that led to the men’s wash room, in fear that someone
near by might have heard the newsie’s exclamation.
When the harassed college man entered the wash room, he was relieved to
find the place deserted save for two Marines, one who was busily making
his toilet, while the other sat perched on the bootblack stand, reading
the evening paper.
These men, soldiers of the sea, would have little interest in football.
For that matter, they probably didn’t even know a game had been played
in town that day.
Taking no chances, the boy pulled his hat a trifle farther down over his
eyes and walked to the farther corner of the room, unnoticed by the men
“Say, I sure would like to get a peep at that guy,” the Marine perched
on the bootblack’s stand finally broke the silence by saying. “I’ll bet
he’s a fourteen carat pain in the arches.”
The Marine leaning over the washbasin looked up, with wet face and
grinning from ear to ear.
“You said it,” he agreed. “If that guy has any brains, he’ll wear a
beard from now on!”
Both men continued to indulge in a repartee of light bantering at the
expense of Lefty, whose cheeks were flushed crimson. Presently, the old
darky in charge of the wash room entered, going directly to where
Sergeant Williams was standing, buttoning his regulation blouse.
“Brush yo’ off, suh?” the negro ventured, picking up a large whisk
“Okay, Sambo,” Panama agreed, good-naturedly. “Did you see the game
The old darky chuckled for a moment and then replied that he had,
calling the soldiers’ attention to the faux pas made by Lefty.
“That was some retreat that guy made, eh, Sambo?” the Marine on the
bootblack stand added. “Say, I wouldn’t have a thing like that on my
conscience for a million!”
The negro’s lips parted in a broad smile, showing a mouth full of white
teeth. “No, suh, dat’s one kind o’ dirt soap can’t wash off nohow!”
Turning about to allow the Negro to brush the back of his blouse, Panama
noticed the presence of another man in the room for the first time.
“Did you see the game, pardner?” the Marine asked Lefty, not recognizing
The boy moved uncomfortably in his seat, casting his eyes upon the
advertisements on the wall and pretending not to have heard the
“I’m going out on the platform and look the femmes over,” the other
Marine announced, jumping down from the stand and going toward the door.
“See you later, Panama!”
As Williams tipped the negro and reached for his hat, his attention was
again centered upon Lefty.
“I say, did you see the game to-day, friend?”
Again there was no response save for Lefty’s moving away and the nervous
twitching of his fingers.
Panama was at peace with the world now, and in a keen mood for happy
“You must be a Yale man that probably lost dough,” he heckled. “It’s all
right, feller. Those things will happen—I lost five bucks myself—but
it’s hard to believe that guy’s silly play was on the level. If you ask
me, I think he got a piece of change from the Harvard crowd!”
At these words, Lefty’s face became livid with rage.
His play was stupid, he was aware of that, and he expected to be a
source of ridicule for the entire world for the rest of his life, but
accusing him of deliberately throwing the game was more than he could
He rose, glared at the unsuspecting sergeant for a moment, pulled off
his coat and threw his hat on the floor, crossing the room to where
Panama stood and confronted the man, to the utter amazement of the old
“You’re a liar!” he shrieked, “a dirty, contemptible liar! Take that
back—take it back, or I’ll knock your block off!”
Panama, still not realizing that he was face to face with the topic of
his conversation, was somewhat amused over Lefty’s attitude, believing
the boy’s motive to be one of school pride.
“You’ll knock my block off?”
“You heard me!” Lefty shot back, still eyeing his antagonist.
“You and who else?”
Lefty stepped back a little, ready to make a lunge at the soldier.
“Just me, do you hear, just me! I’ve been sitting here taking all your
dirty insults, and now you’re going to take ’em back!”
Panama moved closer, unable to fathom this boy’s object in flaring up
over something that was probably upon the lips of a million other people
at that very moment.
“Wait a minute, before I knock you on your ear,” he warned. “What’s
eatin’ you, anyway, my boy?”
Lefty was at the end of his rope. He had stood all and more than the
average man in his position would have taken, and he was bent upon
putting a stop to matters here and now. Besides, he wasn’t cognizant of
the fact that the man standing before him was unaware of his true
“That remark you made about me taking money for throwing the game—that’s
what’s eating me! Laugh at me for being a bonehead if you want to, but I
won’t stand by and let you call me a crook! You’re going to take it
back—you hear? Every word of it or I’ll kill you!”
Lefty made a leap for Panama’s throat, backing the Marine against the
wall and, raising his fist, prepared to crash it into the face of his
Williams brought his senses into action, raised his arm to avoid the
blow and, at the same time, used his left shoulder to push the boy off
The excited college man would have been clay in the hands of the trained
fighter who had faced and beaten men twice his size the world over, yet
Panama was not in the mood for whipping the boy, especially as he
realized now how much his idle taunting had hurt Phelps.
“Wait a minute, buddy. I didn’t know you were Lefty Phelps. Gee, kid,
I’m sorry! Say, I wouldn’t have hurt you for the world! Sure I
apologize, I take it all back—everything, and if you want to take a good
rap at my chin, you’re welcome to, ’cause I’m certainly due a kickin’
around after what I pulled!”
Lefty sensed the complete change in the Marine’s demeanor, noting the
profound look of self-condemnation registered on the man’s face and a
smile of understanding and apology written on his lips.
The reaction of it all completely unstrung the sensitive boy, and as his
nerves slightly gave away, he rested on the washbasin behind him for
support, his eyes moistening with tears.
“I guess I just lost my head,” he mumbled, somewhat incoherently as his
eyes avoided those of the other man’s. “Everybody’s been laughing at me
“Wuxtra, Wuxtra! Read all about Lefty Phelps’ bonehead play!” cried a
newsboy, on the platform outside, interrupting Lefty.
The two men stood silent, gazing out the window, in the direction of the
screaming newsie and his deadly papers.
“Hear that?” Lefty asked, overcome by the conflicting emotions within
him, and trying desperately to laugh. “It’s almost funny—yeah, it is
funny, the way I’ve been running away from things. I don’t suppose I’ll
ever live this all down.”
Panama smiled generously and sympathetically. He gently slapped the boy
on the shoulder, endeavoring to give him a feeling of confidence and
“Why, sure you will! That’s nothing. Say—I pull boners all the time, and
in my game, it’s a lot unhealthier to get foolish than it is in
football. What’s a game anyway? You’ve got your whole life to live.
Don’t let a thing like that set you back!”
Lefty smiled gratefully at the man who, a few moments before, he wanted
to kill. His eyes then fell upon the silver wings on Panama’s chest, and
for a moment, he forgot everything else.
“Why—you’re a flyer, aren’t you?”
Panama, pleased with the reverent manner in which Lefty put his question
to him, grinned complacently, explaining that he was a sergeant in the
aviation detachment of the Marine Corps. At that moment, the door opened
and the other Marine stuck his head in.
“Hey, Panama, snap into it, the train’s leaving now.”
Panama grabbed for his hat and bag, starting out the door, and then
stopped to look back at Lefty.
These two gazed at each other, silently for a moment, then the Marine
dropped his grip and walked back to where the boy stood.
“Buck up now, trooper, and forget it,” he advised, cheeringly, holding
out his right hand which Lefty gripped firmly. “My name’s Williams,
Sergeant Panama Williams. I’m stationed at the San Diego base. If you’re
ever out that way, drop in; I’ll he glad to see you!”
Lefty smiled at the other warmly and released his hold upon the man’s
“You’ve been great! If I ever go West, I’ll look you up!”
“Well, I got to shake now, buddy,” Panama said, reaching for his bag.
“Keep a stiff upper lip and I’ll bet another five bucks you come out on
After the Marine had gone, Lefty walked to the window and watched them
board the train. He felt a lump rise in his throat and a deplorable
feeling of loneliness cast its spell upon the unhappy boy.
When the train was well out of sight, he walked over to where he had
left his suitcase. Just ahead of him was one of the regulation colored
posters used by the United States Marine Corps in their recruiting
He studied the illustration of a manly, healthy looking aviator seated
in the cockpit of a Marine plane, and read the caption over, several
“The Marine Air Force make men,” he spoke aloud, repeating the
announcement printed on the poster. “I wonder what kind of a job they’d
make out of me?”
Six months of discouragement, six long months of faded dreams, hiding
from the world’s laughter and literally running away from himself, was
what Lefty had undergone since that eventful November afternoon in New
Haven’s great sports stadium when a football game had changed the entire
course of his life.
He wandered from city to city and job to job, meeting with some success
momentarily until the usual thing happened—someone recognized him and he
again became the center of ridicule.
It would always be the same: The minute his true identity would come to
light and the first mention made of the day he had ran backward, Lefty
would fly away from it all, disappearing to some other city, burning his
bridges behind him, watching his dreams fade while he strove to build
new air castles elsewhere.
May found him in Los Angeles and broke. Jobs were scarce and meals, few
and far between.
All at once, the Marine Aviation recruiting poster, pasted upon the wall
of the little wash room in New Haven, came to his mind.
“The Marines Make Men!” he repeated, quoting the poster’s caption,
verbatim. “Well, I’m going to give them a real test this time!”
He searched for the nearest recruiting office, successfully passed
through the preliminary examinations and in less than a week, found
himself at the aviation base at San Diego, where he was put through the
final paces and then told to wait in the reception room of the Senior
Medical Officer’s quarters for the news of his acceptance or rejection.
An hour passed, and still no word was forthcoming from within the office
of the S.M.O.
Lefty paced up and down the shiny, waxed floors of the spotlessly white
reception room, unmindful of everything about him save the purpose
behind his detention in that room and the probable outcome of his
attempt to enter the air service.
Just behind the narrow aisle traversed by Lefty, was an information
desk, piled high with charts, behind which sat a mite of a girl, attired
in the regulation nurse’s uniform.
Her abundance of thick, black hair, her soft skin, tanned from the
California sun and her large, vivid dark eyes were a direct contrast to
the spotlessly white uniform of the service.
She endeavored to center her mind upon the large volume of work before
her, though the tall, nervous figure of this man, pacing back and forth
in front of her desk, fascinated her and she could not but help looking
up in his direction every so often.
Of course, she had seen thousands of these worried boys pace the floor
in this very same room, waiting the pleasure of the Senior Medical
Officer in charge. She was used to their nervous anxiety—it was all part
of the regular routine of things—but there was something markedly
different about this boy: his manner, appearance and the way he would
stop and cast his eyes hungrily in the direction of the major’s office.
For the first time in her professional career, Nurse Elinor Martin found
herself enveloped by the personality of a passing medical subject with
just more than mere professional interest.
As for the boy, under normal circumstances, he was by no means a poor
judge of feminine pulchritude. Twenty-four hours earlier, he would have
welcomed being left alone for over sixty minutes in the company of a
lovely bit of femininity, but now, with the possibilities of really
beginning life over again, women were the farthest thing from his
Perhaps it was this indifference toward her and his apparent lack of
interest in her sex that fed Elinor’s imagination and made her mind so
active regarding this man, who he might be and what his chances in
His monotonous pacing back and forth before her desk was beginning to
prey upon the girl’s nerves and she ventured at length to interrupt.
“Would you mind sitting down?” she asked in a crisp fashion, pointing to
a chair. “You’re making me so nervous, I can’t work.”
Lefty looked to the floor, shamefaced and acquiesced by slipping into
the chair designated by the girl, glancing up at her sheepishly as he
nervously toyed with the brim of his hat.
As their eyes met, Lefty was greeted by a generous smile that seemed to
give him confidence.
Elinor returned to her work while the boy sat staring at the ceiling and
pulling nervously at his hat.
Completely forgetting his offense, he rose and again began to pace the
room, from left to right.
Elinor dropped her pen and shook her head just as their eyes met again.
“How terribly alone he seems?” she thought at that moment, and her whole
demeanor changed to one of friendliness and warmth.
This gave Lefty confidence. He studied the girl intently for a moment
and then, slowly crossed to the front of her desk, looking down upon her
with anxious and hungry eyes.
“Does it look like there’s anything the matter with me?” he questioned
earnestly, “anything that might keep me from passing this flying
“Well—er—nothing but your actions. You seem a trifle overanxious.”
Lefty fumbled with his fingers and smiled nervously.
“I—I am,” he admitted, pointing to the door leading into the major’s
office. “How long does it usually take them to make up their minds
whether a fellow does or doesn’t?”
Elinor, somewhat amused and decidedly interested in this clean-cut,
good-looking boy, suppressed a smile and replied bromidically: “Yes!”
Lefty, failing to catch on to the girl’s trend of humor, took a step
closer, earnestly pressing his questions.
“My eyes are perfect. I’m not color blind,” he announced, gazing down at
her in a manner that made the nurse uncomfortable. “You’re eyes are
green—sure they are—and they’re pretty—too!”
Elinor, slightly taken off guard, though good-naturedly embarrassed,
fussed about the desk, attempting to be preoccupied as Lefty continued
to demonstrate his physical fitness.
“My teeth, my lungs—why, I’m kayo! I’ve played foot— I’m in great
shape—splendid heart action—great——”
Elinor, unable to restrain herself any longer, interrupted the boy in
his serious discourse with a gay ring of laughter.
“Nurse Martin!” she interrupted tactfully.
“Nurse Martin!” he repeated after her. “Why are they keeping me here so
long? They’ve passed all the rest!”
“I don’t know,” she replied, reaching for her pen and proceeding to
write out a report card. “I do wish, though, that you would sit down and
Lefty walked back to his chair and followed out the girl’s wishes in
mute obedience, just as the buzzer from the major’s office startled them
Elinor rose and walked to the door bearing the shingle of the Senior
As her hand fell upon the brass knob, she turned for a fleeting moment
and cast a warm, well-wishing smile in Lefty’s direction that seemed to
strengthen the boy’s self-confidence.
When Elinor entered the private office of the Senior M.O., she found her
superior, a genial, old four striper, with laughing gray eyes, seated
before his desk, surrounded by the Junior Medical Officer and two other
From the drift of the conversation, the girl grasped the fact that these
men had been discussing Lefty’s possibilities and, as yet, had not
reached a definite agreement.
“No, Doctor, I agree with the flight sergeant in Los Angeles,” the major
announced. “Your argument is well founded, but simply because a man runs
backward in a football game is no sign that he will continue to run
backward for the rest of his life.”
The Junior Medical Officer reached for a cigarette, lighted it and
walked toward the window, paying no attention to Elinor who stood by the
door, taking in their words with surprising eagerness.
“I grant you are right, sir,” the Junior M.O. conceded, “but the man is
inclined toward over-anxiety. Is it safe to pass such a person for
The major smiled broadly as his eyes twinkled with tolerance and
“It has been my experience that overanxious men such as Phelps make good
flying material. When they do go forward, they usually accomplish great
things. Admiral Dewey was that type: Impressionable, nervous and quick
to act without thinking. Mark my word, this boy is the kind the
government will either award a Congressional Medal or else bury in
The two officers standing over the major’s chair looked at each other
and shook their heads, signifying their views were in harmony with those
of the Senior Medical Officer, while the Junior M.O., still gazing out
of the window, merely shrugged his shoulders as a sign of complete
“Miss Martin,” the major announced, handing Elinor a health record, “we
have passed this man Phelps, Have him report to the Commanding Officer.”
“Yes, sir!” she replied coolly, though her heart beat furiously for joy
and she found it difficult to control her emotions.
In the outer office, Lefty was still pacing up and down the floor,
stopping every few seconds to cast his eyes in the direction of the
white-tile clock that hung on the wall.
As the door leading from the major’s office opened slightly, the boy
hurried to his chair and sat down, attempting to appear indifferent to
whatever tidings Elinor might bring.
Entering the room, Elinor walked to her desk without speaking. Not the
least bit blind to Lefty’s sham indifference, she was tempted to prolong
his anxiety by withholding the happy information.
A minute or so went by and the boy, no longer able to retain his assumed
composure, jumped from his chair and darted across the room to where
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he pleaded. “Tell me that I failed so that I
can get over with it as quickly as possible.”
The boy’s words completely took her off guard. Her eyes looked up into
his anxious face as her mouth slowly parted.
She would have loved to reach up and take this great big, clumsy boy in
her arms and mother him but her better judgment prevailed. Transfixing
her eyes to the health card, she said, somewhat absently, “You are to
report for instruction immediately!”
Lefty was so overcome with joy that he found it impossible to speak.
With a great display of effort, he collected himself and managed to say:
“You mean—you mean I passed? Gee, that’s great—and thanks a million,
Elinor did not venture to reply but proceeded to place the official
stamp on Lefty’s physical report card, going through the regular routine
course of the service in a trained, mechanical fashion as the boy now
centered his attention upon a large likeness of Lindbergh that hung in a
gilt-edged frame over her desk.
“Great fellow, isn’t he?” Lefty said, his eyes still transfixed upon the
portrait of the national idol.
Elinor smiled as she held out the card for Lefty, replying in an
encouraging and ambiguous manner, “Yes, and he started just like this!”
The boy was quick to grasp the double meaning behind her comparison, and
as he proceeded to button his shirt sleeve, the thread broke and the
button flipped off, rolling across the desk.
“Just like a man!” she announced, taking his arm and joining the shirt
cuff with a paper clip. “If I wasn’t so awfully busy, I’d sew it on for
Now that he had passed the examination and was on the road to begin a
new and promising existence, Lefty once more found time to devote to the
At the sign of encouragement visibly apparent, he leaned far over the
desk and looked longingly at the lovely girl who sat smiling up at him.
“Are you always busy?” he asked.
Elinor hesitated for a brief moment and then casting her eyes down upon
the pile of papers resting on her desk, replied: “Not—always!”
“How about to-night?” he urged.
“You’ll find the Commanding Officer’s quarters in the first building to
your right,” she announced indifferently, “and please close the door as
you go out!”