Left Half Harmonñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
THE THREE GUARDSMEN
At a few minutes past three o’clock on a particularly warm afternoon in late September of last year three boys removed themselves and their luggage from the top of a Fifth Avenue stage in New York City and set forth eastward along Forty-second Street. Although decidedly dissimilar in looks and slightly dissimilar in build, they showed, nevertheless, a certain uniformity of carriage and action and, to a lesser degree, of attire. There was nothing strange in that, however, since, for the last two years, at least, they had spent nine months of the twelve in the same place, at the same pursuits and under the same discipline. The likeness of attire was less in material and color than in a certain tasteful avoidance of the extremes. Joe Myers and Martin Proctor wore blue serge and Bob Newhall a brownish-gray tweed, and in no case was the coat snugged in to the figure or adorned with a belt in conformity to the dictums of the Rochester school of sartorial art. Joe and Bob wore gray-and-gold ribbons about their straw hats, Martin a plain black. Each of the three carried a brown leather suitcase, and, had you looked closely, you would have discovered on each bag, amongst numerous other labels, a gray triangle bearing two A’s in gold snuggled together in a pyramid-shaped monogram.
At Grand Central Station they crossed the street, showing a superb indifference to the traffic. The driver of a pumpkin-hued taxi-cab, whose countenance and manner of driving suggested that he had cut many notches in his steering-wheel, yielded to a momentary weakness and jammed on his emergency brake, thereby allowing the three boys to step calmly and unhurriedly from his path. They seemed not to have observed their danger, and yet, having gained the sidewalk unharmed, one of them turned and rewarded the taxi man with a grave wink which threw the latter into a state of apoplectic anger.
“Guess,” observed Bob with a chuckle, “we spoiled his entire day!”
“Don’t worry,” responded Martin. “He’ll kill enough to make up for losing us!”
Inside the station, they turned their steps toward the right and set their bags down near one of the ticket windows. “You get them, Joe,” said Bob. “Here’s mine.” He proffered a five-dollar bill, but Joe waved it aside.
“I’ll pay for them and you can settle on the train. I’ll get all mixed up if you give me the money now.” He took a rather fat wallet from an inner pocket of his coat and stepped into the line leading to the nearest wicket. The others moved their own suitcases and Joe’s out of the way of the passers and settled themselves to wait. Martin compared the watch on his wrist with the station clock and yawned.
“Nearly twelve minutes yet,” he observed.
Bob nodded. “What about parlor-car seats?” he asked.
“There aren’t any on this train.”
Martin concealed another yawn with the back of a sunburned hand.
“No parlor-car, dearie. You’ll have to wait until five-ten for that, and it isn’t worth it. I wouldn’t wait in this Turkish bath another hour if they promised me a special train! Got anything to read in your bag?”
Bob was about to answer in the affirmative when a sudden shout from the ticket window interrupted and both boys looked across in time to see Joe clutch unsuccessfully at the arm of a man who, swinging away from the window, now started to run fast toward the nearest exit. Perhaps Bob or Martin, had he sensed instantly what was happening, might have intercepted the man, but he had a good start before either of them realized that the black object he slipped into a pocket as he ran was Joe’s wallet, and so it was Joe himself who led the evidently futile chase, Joe shouting “Stop him! Stop him!” most lustily. Abandoning suitcases, Bob and Martin dashed after.
The thief showed skill born of experience as he dodged his way toward the door, avoiding a stout lady with two small children in tow one instant and side-stepping a bundle-laden messenger boy the next and scarcely lessening his speed. Joe had poorer luck, however, for, although he got safely past the stout lady by a miracle of dexterity, he came a cropper a stride beyond and went down in a shower of parcels!
By now the waiting-room was in wild confusion. Cries of “Thief! Thief!” filled the air; those about the entrance were trying hard to get out of the way and those at a distance were striving madly to reach the scene. Station policemen hurriedly joined the pursuit, but their quarry was already on the threshold of freedom when a new actor made his appearance in the drama. Just as the thief swung toward the doors something shot through space, there was a crashing thud, a surprised grunt and the chase was over!
A boy of seventeen unwrapped his arms from the legs of the motionless form on the floor, arose to his feet, dusted his clothes and looked somewhat embarrassedly into the faces of the throng that had already surrounded him. A gray-coated officer pushed his way into the center of the circle, gave a quick, inquiring glance at the boy and leaned over the figure on the floor.
“He’s all right. Hit his head when he went down. Give a hand with him, Conlon, and we’ll get him to one side. You come along, sir, till I get the rights of it.” A brother policeman aiding, the thief, now showing signs of consciousness, was lifted to one side of the entrance. By that time Joe and his companions had worked their way to the front and Joe quickly told his story.
“Grabbed your pocketbook, did he?” asked the first policeman. “Let’s see has he got it. Sure, he has! Is this it? Hold on now, not so fast! What’s your name?”
Martin whispered swiftly in Joe’s ear, “Myers Joseph,” answered Joe after a brief hesitation.
“And where do you live?”
“Philadelphia, eh? What about making a charge against this feller?”
“I don’t see how I can,” answered Joe. “My train leaves in five minutes.”
“Never mind the charge,” broke in a new voice. “I know this duck and I’ll look after him. On your feet, Clancey!”
A clean-shaven, lean-jawed man had pushed his way through the crowd, and now he gripped the thief’s coat lapels and fairly lifted him to his feet.
“Detective,” whispered a man behind Martin.
“This guy’s wanted,” continued the newcomer. “Stand up, you’re all right, ‘Spike.’ Put up your hands.” The captive, finding that playing possum would not do, obeyed meekly and the detective ran quick and practised fingers over him. Then a pair of handcuffs were slipped onto the man’s wrists and he was being whisked through the throng.
“Here’s your pocketbook, young man,” said the policeman importantly. “You’d not have it saving this feller here.” He indicated the boy whose football tactics had ended the chase and who, hemmed in by the crowd, was now striving to get away. “Better see if the contents is correct.”
Joe had tried to express gratitude to the other boy, examine his pocketbook and listen to the low-voiced urging of Martin all at the same time, with the result that he was decidedly incoherent and confused. Martin was tugging at his arm and telling him that they had but five minutes to get the train. The policeman came to his rescue.
“Move on now! Move on!” he commanded sternly, pushing right and left. “Stop blocking up this passage!”
The throng dissolved almost as quickly as it had formed. Somehow, Joe and Martin, hurrying back to where Bob had returned to guard the suitcases, found themselves close to the boy who had made the capture. He had rescued his luggage, a large kit-bag, from a bystander and, too, was seeking the ticket window.
“I’m much obliged to you,” said Joe. “I guess he’d have got away if you hadn’t stopped him.”
The stranger nodded. “Yes, he was in quite a hurry. I’d just come in when I saw him swing around the corner and knew that something was up. I wasn’t sure he was the man they were after, but I thought I’d better take a chance.”
“I’m certainly glad you did,” replied Joe emphatically. “It was mighty nice of you.”
“Not at all.” The boy smiled and stepped into line at a window. Joe followed while Martin and Bob, bags in hand, stood ready to run for the gate. A moment later the stranger turned and found Joe behind him.
“I can get a ticket for Lakeville here, can’t I?” he asked.
“Yes. Are you a Kenly fellow?”
“Not yet. I’m just entering. Are you going there?”
“No, I’m Alton.” The other looked slightly puzzled and so Joe explained. “Alton Academy, you know. That’s twelve miles this side of Lakeville. We play you fellows at football and baseball and so on.”
“Oh, I see. Maybe I’ll see you again some time then.”
The purchaser in front hurried away and he turned from Joe to the ticket seller. A minute or so later, when the three were walking along the platform, they again overtook the stranger, and Joe said smilingly: “If you’re looking for a parlor car, there isn’t one.”
“Thanks, I thought maybe it was up ahead.”
“Not on this train. Better come and sit with us and we’ll turn a seat over.”
Fortunately for that project, the car they entered was no more than half filled, and soon, having stowed their suitcases in the rack overhead, they settled down, Bob and Martin taking the front seat and Joe and the stranger the other, the latter placing his kit-bag, which was too large for the rack, between his feet. As soon as they were settled the train started.
“By the way,” said Joe, “my name’s Myers, and this is Newhall and this is Proctor.”
The other acknowledged the introductions with a smile. “Very glad to know you,” he said. “My name’s Harmon.”
“Joe says you’re going to Kenly,” observed Bob, trying hard to keep pity out of his voice.
“Yes, I’m just entering.” There was an embarrassed silence after that while the train rumbled its way through the tunnel. Then:
“Well, everyone to his taste,” murmured Martin. Joe frowned rebukingly and Martin grinned back.
“Guess you chaps don’t think much of Kenly,” said Harmon with a laugh.
“Oh, don’t pay any attention to Mart,” said Bob. “Kenly’s all right, I guess. She licked us last year, 14 to 6. Beat us at hockey, too.”
“That’s right,” agreed Martin, though it evidently hurt him. “Kenly’s going to have a good team this year, too, I hear.”
“Is she?” Harmon didn’t seem vastly interested.
“Guess you play football, don’t you?” asked Bob. “A fellow back there said you made a corking tackle of that thief!”
“I’ve played some.”
Joe started. “Did you say your name was Harmon?” he demanded almost brusquely. The other nodded inquiringly. “Did you go to Schuyler High last year?” pursued Joe. Harmon nodded again. Joe shot a meaningful look at Bob and Martin. Bob answered with a slow wink, but Martin looked puzzled. Joe relapsed into thoughtful silence, and conversation ceased for a minute or two. When the train emerged from the tunnel, however, Joe settled himself further into his corner, which enabled him to see his seat companion without turning his head so far, and asked: “If it isn’t too personal, Harmon, how did you happen to decide on Kenly Hall?”
Harmon looked the least bit surprised, but he answered unhesitatingly. “My brother was going to Kenly,” he explained. “Then he decided he’d quit school and join the Navy. So I just thought I might as well go where he’d started for. Guess that was the way it happened. I don’t really know much about the place. Dare say, if I’d heard of your school first I’d have gone there.”
“Gee, I wish you had!” said Joe in heartfelt tones.
Harmon viewed him bewilderedly. Then he laughed with a suggestion of embarrassment. “Thanks,” he murmured. “Guess your school isn’t missing much, though.” He turned his gaze and busied himself with getting his ticket ready for the conductor. Bob, opposite, viewed him with flattering attention. He saw a boy of apparently seventeen years, well if not heavily built, with clean-cut features, quiet gray-blue eyes and brown hair. He was not particularly good-looking, but his somewhat serious and self-confident expression would have brought a second glance from anyone. Then, too, when he smiled he looked very likable. Bob’s thought was, as he turned his gaze away: “Thinks well of himself, but doesn’t put on any airs. Doesn’t do much talking, but thinks a lot. Looks like he’d be mighty shifty on his feet and pretty hard to stop if he once got started.”
When the conductor had taken their tickets and gone on, Bob said: “I suppose you’ll be going out for the Kenly team, Harmon.”
“I think I’ll have to try for it, but I guess I won’t stand much of a show.” Harmon smiled deprecatingly.
Bob frowned slightly. It was all right, he reflected, to be modest, but there was no sense in being a humbug! Joe laughed. “Oh, I dare say you’ll get by,” he said, faintly ironic. After a moment he added lightly: “If they turn you down, come over to us. I’ll promise you a place!”
Harmon smiled politely, and Bob leaned across to him. “Better take him up, Harmon,” he said. “Joe’s our captain, you know.”
Harmon looked with slightly more interest at Joe. “Really?” he asked. “I’ll have to remember your offer then.” But the joking tone in his voice indicated that he wasn’t taking the suggestion very seriously. While his head was turned, Bob surreptitiously reversed the leather tag that hung from the handle of the kit-bag at his feet. Behind the little celluloid window the named stared out distinctly:
Gordon Edward Harmon.
“Yes, we’re both guards,” Joe was saying when Bob sank back in his seat again. “In fact, all three of us are, for that’s Proctor’s position, too.”
“Oh, I’m only a sub,” disclaimed Martin, “one of the ‘also-rans.’”
“‘The Three Guardsmen,’” laughed Harmon. “I guess I read about you fellows once.”
“Wasn’t there a fourth one?” asked Bob. “I never could see why that fellow Dumas called the story ‘The Three Guardsmen.’”
“That’s right,” said Martin. “D’Artagnan made the fourth.”
“Maybe D’Artagnan was a back,” suggested Joe, chuckling.
“Guess he was quarter-back,” said Martin, “for he usually ran the game!”
Bob shifted his feet and stretched. “Guess I’ll walk through and see if any of the fellows are aboard,” he said. “Want to come along, Joe?”
“Sure.” Joe arose with alacrity and joined Bob in the aisle, and they made their way forward. Martin, left alone with the new acquaintance, gazed wistfully after his friends and then, with a sigh, put his feet where Bob had sat and prepared to make polite conversation. Martin Proctor was seventeen, rather thick-set and had a round face from which a pair of brown eyes viewed the world with quizzical good humor. Just now the good humor was slightly obscured, for he wasn’t keen on entertaining this strange youth who preferred Kenly Hall to Alton Academy. However, conversation progressed well enough, once started, and presently Martin forgot his hostility.
Meanwhile Joe and Bob had come to anchor in a seat in the smoking car ahead. “It’s he, all right,” announced Bob triumphantly.
Joe nodded. “Yes, I guess it is.”
“I don’t guess; I know! Wasn’t Harmon’s name Gordon Harmon?”
“Well, that’s the name on his bag. I looked when he was talking to you. Gordon Edward Harmon’s his name!”
Joe shrugged. “I wonder how they got him, Bob,” he said.
“You heard his yarn, didn’t you?” replied Bob, chuckling.
“Yes, and I believed it – not! I’d just like to know how Kenly gets all the good players every year. They pretend they don’t go after them, but it’s mighty funny! There’s a heap more than luck in it! Here we are needing a good full-back like Harmon the worst way, and he has to select Kenly. It makes you sick!”
“Reckon he’s as good as the papers made him out?”
“Of course he is! Great Scott, you can’t get away from his record, Bob! Why, last year every one of the New York papers that I saw made him first-choice full-back on the All-Scholastic Team. The man was a wonder, considering his age. Funny thing is that he doesn’t look it. I mean he doesn’t look as heavy as they said he was. He does look pretty good, though.”
“Y-yes, but I’d never take him for a plunger. Doesn’t seem to be the right build. Looks more like a fellow who’d be fast and shifty outside tackles.”
“Yes,” Joe agreed, “but you can’t always tell by appearances. Anyway, I wish to goodness we were getting him instead of Kenly!”
Bob nodded and there ensued a long silence during which Joe looked frowningly from the window and Bob gazed fixedly at his hands. It was Bob who spoke first. “Say, Joe,” he asked slowly, “you don’t suppose we could persuade him to come to Alton instead, do you?”
Joe sniffed. “He looks like a fellow you could persuade, doesn’t he?” he asked sarcastically. “Besides, what are you going to offer him? And if we did make him an offer we’d get in wrong with faculty. The Athletic Committee wouldn’t back us up, either.”
“Reckon Kenly’s making it easy for him?” asked Bob doubtfully.
“I don’t know. Looks like it, doesn’t it? I know they pretend to have clean hands and all that, and they surely do enough blowing, but it’s mighty funny they’re always getting star players from the high schools and smaller prep schools. Look at last year. If they hadn’t had Greene and Powers they’d never have licked us; and Greene had just entered from that school up in Rhode Island and Powers was fresh from Stamford High. Oh, well, there’s no use grouching. Let’s go back.”
“Wait a moment.” Bob still stared at his hands and spoke thoughtfully. “Seems to me this chap’s too good to lose, Joe, without making an effort.”
“Sure he is,” growled the captain. “What’s on your mind?”
Bob looked around guardedly. “I’ll tell you,” he said.
“Well, our station’s next,” said Bob some forty minutes later. “Better change your mind, Harmon, and get off with us.”
Harmon answered his laugh and shook his head. “I’d like to, but I’m booked up the line. Is Lakeville the next stop?”
“Second after Alton,” answered Joe as he lifted the suitcases from the rack and handed them to Bob. “Look us up when you come over with the team some time. You’ll find Newhall and me in Lykes and Proctor in Haylow.” There was a warning blast from the locomotive and the train came slowly to a stop. The three Altonians shook hands with Harmon, taking, as it seemed, much time in the ceremony. Outside, on the station platform, a score or more of boys were hurrying toward the carriage stand. Bob had encumbered himself with Joe’s bag and his own and it was he who led the way to the door at last, Martin following with his suitcase and Joe still making his farewell to Harmon. Then the cry of “All aboard!” came and Joe gave Harmon’s hand a final clasp, picked up the kit-bag and fled down the aisle.
For a brief instant Harmon thought his sight had tricked him, but a swift glance showed that his bag was missing and in another instant he was on his feet and calling to Joe. “Hold on there! that’s my bag you’ve got!” he shouted. But Joe evidently didn’t hear, for he was through the door and down the steps before Harmon started after him. When Harmon reached the car platform Joe and his two companions were fifty feet distant, seeking a conveyance. The train was still motionless, although, further back, a trainman was holding his hand aloft. There was but one thing to do and Harmon did it. In an instant he was pushing his way through the luggage-laden throng about the carriages.
“You’ve got my bag, Myers,” he announced breathlessly as he laid hands on it.
Joe looked around in surprise, still holding tight to the bag. “What did you say?” he asked blankly.
Harmon tugged desperately. “My bag! Let go, will you? I’ll lose my train!”
Joe looked at the bag. “Well, what do you know?” he gasped. “By Jove, I am sorry, Harmon! I thought it was mine! Who’s got my bag? Here!” He thrust the bag at Harmon so energetically that the latter failed to grasp it. “Better hurry, old man! Your train’s going!”
“Thanks!” Harmon turned and started back. He would doubtlessly have swung himself to the platform of the rear car had it not been for Bob’s awkwardness. Bob was terribly sorry and apologetic about it afterwards! Just as Harmon was free of the group, a clear path across the station platform before him, Bob stepped directly in front of him! Of course you know what happened then. Harmon dodged to the right and at the same instant Bob stepped to the left, which didn’t better the situation the least bit. Bob looked most embarrassed, and you could see that he felt just like kicking himself. In fact, he assured them all afterwards that he felt that way. But meanwhile he made the mistake of stepping back to the right just as Harmon made a final despairing effort to get past him on that side, and again they collided!
Harmon set his bag down then, smiled rather a sickly smile and watched the train become smaller and smaller in the distance. Bob fairly revelled in self-reproach and abjected himself to such an extent that a heart of stone would have been moved to forgiveness. And as Harmon’s heart wasn’t made of any such material he gave his attention to assuring Bob that it didn’t really matter. Joe and Martin were most regretful, and Joe tried to take all the blame. But Bob wouldn’t allow that.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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