Left Half Harmon
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“Yes, go ahead and read,” answered Harmon scornfully.
And Martin Proctor, sitting on the top step outside, read. He read at some length, too. He started in with a list of Alton Academy graduates who had attained national prominence. The list included a Secretary of State, two Chief Justices, three United States Senators, numerous congressmen and a wealth of smaller fry. When he had finished Harmon inquired: “No Presidents or Vice-Presidents?”
“I haven’t graduated yet,” replied Martin cheerfully. “Now I’ll read you something from the report of the Board of Overseers.”
“What for? What do I care about the Board of Overseers?”
“Joe told me to.”
When that was done Martin paused for comment, got none and began a flattering description of the Carey Gymnasium. Inside, Harmon leaned against the wall and grinned. A brief summary of scholarships and a statement to the effect that the Academy roster of year before last represented thirty-nine states of the Union, two territories and three foreign countries completed the programme.
“Joe said I was to ask you if you’d made up your mind,” announced Martin then.
“You tell him to give you an evening paper to read the next time,” replied Harmon.
“Say, why don’t you?” asked Martin persuasively. “Honest, Harmon, you’ll like Alton a heap better than Kenly.”
“You go back and ask Myers what he’s going to say to the faculty when I get out of here and tell my story!”
“Oh, we’ve got that fixed all right,” chuckled Martin. “Well, I’ve got to be getting down to supper.”
“Hold on there! When do I eat?”
“I don’t know. You see, if we opened the door to give you anything you might try to get out!”
“You think so, do you?” asked Harmon grimly. “Well, you’ve got more sense than I thought you had! How long does supper run?”
“Until seven. It’s ten minutes past six now.”
“Listen, Porter – ”
“Proctor’s my name, old chap.”
“Proctor, then. Look here, now. If you’ll open that door and let me out I’ll keep quiet about this. You can tell the others that – that I asked to see that catalogue and that you went to hand it in and I knocked you down.”
“Yes, and they’d believe it, wouldn’t they?” asked Martin scornfully. “Think of something better, please! Besides, I’m just as much interested in saving you from your career of crime as they are, Harmon. Why, I’d never forgive myself if I left one turn unstoned! We’re trying to save you from yourself, old chap!”
“You’d much better be thinking about saving yourselves,” answered Harmon, laughing.
“Did you laugh then?” called Martin eagerly.
“Sure. It struck me as funny. You’ll see the joke later.”
“I’ll send Joe up. He said if you sounded like you were in a good temper – ”
The lessening sounds of footsteps hurrying down the stairs finished the sentence and Harmon chuckled. After all, it was funny, the whole thing; and he might as well laugh as frown.When it came right down to brass tacks there was no very good reason why he shouldn’t change his allegiance to Alton Academy. At the present moment it meant just as much to him as Kenly did: more in fact, for he had seen Alton and hadn’t seen Kenly. And he liked what he had seen. It might very well be that Kenly wasn’t nearly so good a school, even discounting the biased boastings of his captors. Of course his parents expected him to go to Kenly, and so did his brother, but the choice had been his and he saw no reason why he hadn’t a perfectly good right to choose over. It wasn’t too late, for he had not registered at Kenly and the first quarter’s tuition was still in his pocket. Possibly his brother would be slightly peeved —
He paused just there in his cogitating and comprehension slowly illumined his face. He jumped to his feet, thrust his hands into his pockets and grinned broadly at space. “That’s it!” he murmured blissfully. “I’ll bet that’s it!” He withdrew his hands, snapped his fingers and turned on a heel. After that he gave way to a spasm of laughter that left him, with streaming eyes, clinging weakly to the door frame. “Oh, gosh!” he gurgled. “It’s too good! Wait – wait till they find out – about it!” That thought sent him off again and he finally subsided on the floor, his laughter dying away in chuckles and his eyes fairly streaming.
Recovering from his levity, he reviewed the events of the afternoon from the time of his first meeting with the “Three Guardsmen.” He recalled Joe Myers’ surprising interest in his name and the fact that he had attended Schuyler High School, and how insistently the subject of football had held the conversation. Everything coincided with his theory. He understood now why the three boys had connived at getting off the train and keeping him off, why they had gone to so much trouble to show him about the school and, finally, why they had made him a prisoner. And he understood why he had been offered a quarter’s tuition and a place on the team! It was all very simple – and excruciatingly funny! And he was about to give way to laughter again when footsteps once more broke the silence. He pulled his face straight and waited. It was Joe this time.
“Hello, in there! Harmon!”
“I’ve talked to four or five of the fellows and I guess it’s all right. We’ll manage to dig up enough so it won’t cost you anything for tuition the first half of the year. How does that sound?”
“Rotten, Myers. I don’t think I’d care to go to a school where they do that sort of thing.”
“What? But you were going to Kenly!” sputtered Joe.
“I told you Kenly hadn’t offered me money.”
“Yes, but – Look here, Harmon, is that straight, man to man?”
“Gosh!” There was a long silence beyond the door. Then: “Well, I don’t understand,” said Joe helplessly. “How did you happen to decide on Kenly?”
“I told you once.”
“Yes, that’s so, but I thought you were just – just talking. Well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be willing to stay here then, Harmon. If you aren’t getting anything from them, what’s the big idea? You’re sure of a place on the team here and – and if you should change your mind you could have a half-term free of cost. Mind, I’d a heap rather you didn’t change it, because I don’t like that sort of thing any better than you say you do. We never have paid any fellow for playing on an Alton team and I don’t want to begin now. Besides, if faculty ever found out about it – Zowie!”
“Well, I don’t want any favors, thanks. But suppose I did decide to stay here, Myers – ”
“Sure! That’s the talk!”
“Wait a minute! First thing of all, do I get any supper?”
“You bet you do! Five minutes after you say the word I’ll have you hitched up to a swell meal!”
“Well, what about a room? I’d want to be decently fixed that way, you know. Entering late like this I suppose I’d have to take the leavings, eh?”
“Listen! We’ve got a swell room waiting for you. The fellow that was going in with Mart isn’t coming at all and I’ve asked the secretary to hold it open until tomorrow morning. It’s a corking room; nice big study with three windows and a fine view; on the front of Haylow; big alcove; furniture nearly new and everything!”
“Sounds pretty fair,” commented Harmon. “Maybe I wouldn’t like this fellow Proctor, though: or maybe he wouldn’t like me.”
“Rot! Everyone likes Mart, and he’s bound to like you. If he doesn’t I’ll knock him into the middle of next Sunday! You’ll get on together great!”
“We-ell,” said Harmon unenthusiastically, “maybe. And it’s certain that I’m to make the team?”
“You bet it is!” laughed Joe. “Just as long as you can stand on your feet and play football you’re sure of a job!”
“Suppose I’m not as good as you seem to think I am?”
“I’ll risk that,” chuckled Joe.
“How about the coach, though?”
“Johnny? Don’t worry about him. He will be just as tickled as I am to get you! What do you say, old man? It’s getting pretty close to seven o’clock.”
“All right, I’ll agree! Open the door!”
“No tricks? You’re not meaning to get out and then say I misunderstood you or something?”
“No tricks, Myers, I give you my word!”
The bolt shot back protestingly, the door swung open and Joe’s delighted countenance was revealed. “Gee, I’m glad, Harmon!” he exclaimed. “Shake!” Harmon shook. He, too, was smiling, but his smile was not so guileless.
“You win, Myers,” he said. “Now lead me to that supper!”
“Come on! We’ll feed first and then you can register. I haven’t had anything myself yet.” They sped down the stairs and across empty, twilighted corridors and finally to the cool outdoors. “I didn’t tell any of the fellows where you were,” Joe explained as he guided Harmon around the building toward Lawrence Hall. “I just said that I was in touch with you. Here we are. It’s sort of late, but I guess there’s plenty left. I’ll take you to my table tonight and tomorrow we’ll see if there’s a place there you can have regularly.”
Both boys were much too hungry to waste breath on conversation, and the meal proceeded almost in silence. There was plenty to eat and Harmon did full justice to it. When they had finished Joe took him in tow again and they went back to Academy Hall and turned to the left on the first floor and passed through a door whose ground-glass pane bore the inscription: “Office – Walk In.” What happened was very simple. At a desk Harmon was introduced to a tall, lean gentleman whose name was Mr. Wharton. The secretary shook hands politely and scrutinized the applicant through a pair of strong glasses. Then he gave him a card and a pen and Harmon wrote on the dotted lines, going to some pains to conceal the writing from Joe. The latter, however, had no thought of looking. Then a sum of money changed hands, the secretary filled out a receipt for it, Harmon produced a certificate from the principal of the Schuyler High School and the interview ended with a long sigh of relief from Joe.
“That’s done,” he said as they reached the corridor again. “Now I’ll take you up to your room.”
Haylow Hall was the last building at the left of the Green. Joe pushed his way through a group of boys on the stone steps and Harmon followed, conscious that he was being viewed with a good deal of interest by the loungers. Joe, too, noticed the fact, for he chuckled, as they started up the stairs: “Guess some of those fellows recognized you, from the way they stared!” There, however, Joe was wrong. The interest had been only such as would have been accorded to any fellow under such circumstances. For Joe was unaware of the glow of triumph that shone from his countenance as he guided his companion into the dormitory!
In Number 16 Martin Proctor was unpacking a trunk when Joe and Harmon entered. Martin looked questioningly from the latter to Joe, a doubtful grin on his face.
“It’s all right,” announced Joe gayly. “He’s registered, Mart! Where’s Bob?”
“Over at the room, I guess. He brought the bag and lit out. Say, Harmon, I’m mighty glad about this. And – and I hope you don’t hold it against us for what we did. It was sort of rough stuff, but – ”
“Not at all,” answered Harmon calmly. “It’s quite all right. Guess I ought to feel flattered instead of sore, anyway. Myers says I’m to room here with you.”
“That’s right. It’s a pretty fair room, Harmon. Better than lots of ’em, anyway. You might take your pick of the beds in there. It doesn’t matter to me which I have.”
“Thanks.” Harmon gravely inspected the curtained alcove and decided on the left-hand bed. Perhaps the fact that Martin’s pajamas lay there had something to do with the decision. Martin blinked but stood the blow heroically and tried to forget that the right-hand bed had a weak spring. At that moment Harmon caught sight of his kit-bag on the floor and pointed at it in surprise.
“Isn’t that mine?” he asked. “How did get here?”
“Bob brought it up from the station a few minutes ago,” explained Martin.
“You fellows must have been pretty certain of having your way!” marveled the owner of the bag.
Joe nodded soberly. “We had to be,” he said grimly. “Once we had started, we had to go through with it, Harmon.”
“But suppose I hadn’t given in! Suppose I’d gone to the principal here and told him that you fellows had kidnapped me and locked me up in a room?”
Joe smiled gently. “No chance of that, old man. If you hadn’t decided to stay with us by midnight we’d have taken you back to the station and put you on the twelve-twenty train.”
“Hm! And I – er – I wouldn’t have had anything to say?”
“No.” Joe shook his head. “There’d have been three of us anyway; maybe four; and we’d have fixed you so you couldn’t talk much.”
Harmon smiled. “Still, afterwards I could have talked. I could have come back, or written a letter and spilled the beans.”
“Yes, you could have done that, but we argued that once away from here you’d get over your grouch and forget it. Besides, a chap doesn’t want to look foolish.”
“That’s so,” agreed Harmon, and he repeated it more emphatically in the next breath. “It is uncomfortable, isn’t it?” The arrival of Bob Newhall made a response by Joe unnecessary, although the latter wondered just a little over Harmon’s expression and the inflection of his voice. Bob gave a shout of triumph and joy when he saw Harmon.
“A brand from the burning!” he exclaimed. “This is great! I just knew you’d see reason, Harmon! Say, I’m tickled to death!”
“Well, don’t upset the table,” warned Martin. “Let’s sit down, fellows. This has been sort of a strenuous day. Try the big chair, Harmon. By the way, as we’re going to see a good deal of each other we might as well get used to real names. Mine’s Martin, but I’m generally called Mart.”
“But never Smart,” interpolated Bob.
Harmon smiled at the pleasantry. “And I’m usually called Will and never Way,” he said.
Martin looked puzzled. For that matter, so did the others.
“You mean folks call you Will?” asked Martin, doubtfully.
“Yes. Short for Willard.”
“Oh! Willard’s your middle name. I see. Well – ”
“Hold on!” exclaimed Bob. “I thought your middle name was Edward!”
“No, my middle name is Kane. Willard is my first name.” Harmon explained politely and smilingly. Joe’s jaw began to drop slowly.
“What!” cried Bob. “Aren’t you Gordon Harmon, the fellow who played full-back last year for Schuyler High?”
Harmon shook his head gently. “Oh, no, that’s my brother,” he said.
A deep silence fell. Bob stared at Joe and Joe stared at Martin and all three stared at Harmon. And the latter met their looks with an amused smile. When the silence threatened to continue forever Bob gave an audible gulp and blurted wildly:
“But I saw the name on your bag! It’s there now! ‘Gordon Edward Harmon!’”
“Oh,” replied Harmon gently, “that isn’t my bag. I borrowed it from my brother.”