Joy was the supreme sensation in Joel’s breast. Only the Yates full-back threatened, the ball was safely clutched in his right arm, his breath came easily, his legs were strong, and the goal-posts loomed far down the field and beckoned him on. This, he thought exultingly, was the best moment that life could give him.
Behind, although he could not hear it for the din of shouting from the Harwell stand, he knew the pursuit to be in full cry. He edged farther out from the dangerous touch line and sped on. The Yates full-back had been deceived by the play and had gone far up the field for a kick, and now down he came, and Joel found a chill creeping over him as he remembered the player’s wide reputation. He was the finest full-back, so report had it, of the year. And of a sudden Joel found his breath growing labored, and his long legs began to ache and seemed stiffening at the thighs and knees. But he only ran the faster and prepared for the threatened tackle. Harwell hearts sank, for the crimson-clad runner appeared to waver, to be slowing down. Suddenly, when only his own length separated him from his prey, the Yates full-back left the ground and, like a swimmer diving into the sea, dove for the hesitating runner.
There was but one thing that day more beautiful to see than that fearless attempt to tackle; and that one thing was the leap high into the air that the Harwell left half made just in the nick of time, clearing the tackler, barely avoiding a fall, and again running free with the ball still safe!
The Yates player quickly recovered and took up the chase, and the momentary pause had served to bring the foremost of the other pursuers almost to Joel’s heels. And now began a contest that will ever live in the memories of those who witnessed it.
Panting, weary, his legs aching at every bound, his throat parching with the hot breath, Joel struggled on. Joy had given place to fear and desperation. Time and again he choked down the over-ready sobs. Behind him sounded the thud of relentless feet. He dared not look back lest he stumble. Every second he expected to feel the clutch of the enemy. Every second he thought that now he must give up. But recollection of that fumble crushed down each time the inclination to yield, and one after another the nearly obliterated lines passed under foot. He gave up trying to breathe; it was too hard. His head was swimming and his lungs seemed bursting.
Then his wandering faculties rushed back at a bound as he felt a touch, just the lightest fingering, on his shoulder, and gathering all his remaining strength he increased his pace for a few steps, and the hand was gone. And the ten-yard line passed, slowly, reluctantly.
“One more,” he thought, “one more!”
The great stands were hoarse with shouting; for here ended the game. The figures on the score-board had changed since the last play, and now relentlessly proclaimed one minute left!