Right Guard Grant
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They swung themselves to the top rail of the fence in the shadow between two lights and Renneker went on.
ďThis is confidential, Grant. Iíd rather you didnít say anything about it to any one, if you donít mind. It might make worse trouble if it got around. Thanks. Now, letís see. I think Iíd better start at the beginning. I dare say youíve heard that I got a bit of a reputation at Castle City High as a guard. We have pretty good teams there, and we generally manage to lick about every one we go up against. I donít believe I was much better than half a dozen other chaps on our team, last year or the year before, but it sort of got around that I was good and the New York papers played me up. Thereís a fellow named Cravath who lives in my town and he went to school here at Alton. Last summer he got after me. Told me about Alton and how much more of a chance there was for me here. I liked the high school well enough, but Iíd always had an idea that Iíd prefer a prep school. Besides, when it comes to going to college itís a help if you go up from a well-known school like Alton. We havenít much money; the family I mean. Father used to be very well off some six or eight years ago, and we grew up rather free-handed, us kids. Then he lost it. Quite a spectacular bust-up, Grant, but it wouldnít interest you. What Iím getting at is that when it came to a question of coming here for two years the lot of us had to do some figuring.
ďThere are three of us; George, who is the oldest Ė two years older than me Ė Grace, who comes in between, and me. George was starting college this fall, and Grace is in school in New York. So there wasnít an awful lot of money for me, you see. Oh, well, that hasnít much to do with it. Iím making a beastly long story of this. Anyway, father managed to get hold of some money and said I could come up here, although he wasnít very keen about it, I fancy. And I came. I knew that the reason Dick Cravath was so anxious to get me here was because I could play football, and I intended making good. But I havenít done it. Oh, Iíve played, but I havenít played the way I should, or the way I can, Grant. And I guess the main reason was because this thingís been hanging over my head all the time. Iíve been waiting for it to break ever since the day I came up from New York.Ē
ďThen,Ē exclaimed Leonard, ďyou knew that Ė that Johnny McGrath Ė But you couldnít have!Ē
ďNo, all I knew was what I got from a pimply-faced fellow who sold papers and magazines on the train. I bought a magazine from him and he looked me over and winked. ĎSay, I know you, all right,í he told me. ĎYouíre Ralston. I saw you play in a game in New London.í I told him he was wrong, but he wouldnít have it that way. He told me all about the game. Even knew how much money the club there had paid me for playing first base. I let him talk, because I wanted to learn what he knew. When he told me Iíd played against a team called the Crescents from this town I knew I was in for trouble.I was pretty sure that sooner or later some chap who had played with the Crescents would see me and recognize me. Well, I fancy that got on my mind, Grant. In fact, I know it did. I couldnít seem to play the way I played last year. Of course, I might have turned around when I got here that day and gone back, after getting that story from the train-boy, but Ė oh, well, you always trust to the off chance. I donít know now whether Iím sorry or not that I didnít turn back. Iím out of football this year, but I like the school, and Iíve met some nice fellows. I Ė donít know.Ē Rennekerís voice dwindled into silence.
Nine oíclock struck from a church tower. Leonard sat, none too comfortably, on the angular rail and puzzled. All through his narrative his companion had sounded an under note of resentment, as though Fate had dealt unjustly with him. Of course, it was hard luck to get dropped from the team as Renneker had, but after all he had no one to blame but himself. Leonard sought an answer to one of the features of the story that puzzled him.
ďYou didnít know the Crescents came from here, then?Ē he asked. ďI mean the day you played against them at New London.Ē
ďWhat? Oh! No, I didnít know that, Grant, because, you see, I wasnít there.Ē
ďYou werenít Ė where?Ē inquired Leonard blankly.
ďAt New London,Ē replied Renneker calmly.
ďThen how Ė Ē Leonard blinked at the other in the gloom. ďBut youíve said you were! If you werenít at New London, how did you play first base for the Ė the Maple Leaf nine?Ē
Leonard laughed flatly. ďI guess Iím stupid,Ē he said.
ďIíve got your promise that this goes no further?Ē asked Renneker. Leonard nodded vigorously. ďAll right. I didnít play on that team, Grant. I couldnít. Iím no good at all at baseball. That was my brother.Ē
ďYour brother!Ē exclaimed Leonard.
ďYes. He looks like me, a whole lot like me, although if you saw us together you wouldnít be fooled long. Heís two years older than I am, nearly three, and heís an inch taller but not quite so heavy. His name is George Ralston Renneker, Ralston after my motherís folks. Thatís why I knew what was up when the train boy put that name on me. George is Ė oh, heís all right, Grant, but heís a nut. Sort of crazy about some things. Weíve always been great pals, but Iíve bawled him out a thousand times. He hasnít any idea about the value of money and he keeps right on spending it just as if we still had it. When he gets flat and father wonít come across he goes off and plays baseball or hockey or anything to get some coin. He can do just about anything fairly well, you see. I suppose it isnít always just the money, either, for heís nuts on all sorts of sports, and he has to keep going at something or bust. Once he rode in a steeplechase near home and got thrown and had a couple of ribs broken. There wasnít any money in it that time. He just did it for fun, for the adventure. I fancy heíd jump off the Woolworth Tower with an umbrella if there was enough money waiting him below! Sometimes he makes quite a lot of money. Once he drew down a hundred and fifty for a ten-round preliminary bout over in Philadelphia. He boxes rather better than he does anything, I fancy. He was the ĎTrenton Kidí that night. Usually he goes under the name of George Ralston. Heís a nut, Grant.Ē
Leonard digested this remarkable information in silence for a moment. Then: ďBut if it wasnít you, Renneker,Ē he exclaimed, ďwhy did you let them drop you from the team? I donít see that.Ē
ďYou will in a minute,Ē answered the other patiently. ďGeorge is at Ė well, never mind the college; itís not more than a hundred miles from here. This is his first year. I dare say it will be his last, too, for he doesnít stick long. He went to three schools. But I donít want him to get in trouble if I can help it. Heís out for baseball and track already, and he will probably try hockey, too. If this thing got around heíd be dished, and it would mean a lot more to him than it did to me. Of course, you can say that Iím compounding a felony or something, but I donít care if you do. I realize that George hasnít any right to take part in athletics at his college, but thatís between him and his own conscience. Iím not going to be the one to queer him. Iíve known all along that when this thing broke it would be up to me to be the goat. Well, it did. And I am.Ē
Leonard shook his head. ďIt isnít right, though, Renneker. It puts you out of football Ė and everything else, for that matter Ė this year and next. Why, even when you go up to college this thing will follow you, I guess!Ē
ďWell, Iím rather expecting that by next fall I can tell the truth,Ē answered Renneker. ďIt isnít likely that poor old George will last more than his freshman year without getting found out. If they have something else on him one more thing wonít matter, I guess. Anyway, I mean to keep in training on the chance of it.Ē
ďDoes he know about it?Ē asked Leonard presently. ďThat youíre taking the blame for this and have lost your place on the team?Ē
ďOh, no. Whatís the use of worrying him about it? Heíd be just idiot enough to give the snap away and spoil his own fun.Ē
ďServe him right,Ē said Leonard indignantly. ďI think itís a rotten shame that youíve got to suffer for his Ė his misdoings!Ē
ďOh, well, it isnít as bad as that. I guess Iíve groused a good deal, Grant, but, after all, Iím glad to do it for the old coot. Heíd do anything in the world for me without batting an eye-lid. Besides, Iím feeling quite a lot better now that Iíve unburdened my mind to some one. Talk does help a lot sometimes, and I fancy Providence must have sent you forth to-night to hear my tale of woe. Much obliged, really, for being so patient, my dear chap.Ē
ďDonít be an ass,Ē begged Leonard. Half an hour before he would have gasped at the idea of inferring that Renneker was an ass, but just now it didnít even occur to him. ďI was glad to listen. Just the same, Renneker, you are acting wrong in this business. I suppose I canít convince you Ė Ē
ďAfraid not, Grant.Ē
ď Ė but itís a fact, just the same. Aside from everything else, you owe something to the team and the School, and youíre letting them both down when you do this thing. You Ė youíre endangering to-morrowís game, and Ė Ē
ďIíve thought of all that, Grant, and I donít agree with you. My own people come before the School or the team Ė Ē
ďBut, Great Scott,Ē interrupted Leonard impatiently, ďin this case your own people, your brother, I mean, is in the wrong! Youíre helping him to get away with something that isnít Ė Ē
ďAbsolutely, but when it is your brother that doesnít count much with you.Ē
ďIt ought to,Ē muttered Leonard.
ďPossibly, but it doesnít. As for to-morrowís game, Grant, Iím absolutely sincere when I say that I believe you will do just as well as Iíd have done.Ē
ďThatís nonsense,Ē Leonard protested.
ďNo, it isnít, really. I havenít been playing much of a game this fall. Iíve just managed to keep my position, and thatís about all. Johnny Cade has been on the point of dropping me into the subs lots of times. Iíve seen it and Iíve had to act haughty and pull a bluff to keep him from doing it.Ē
ďThatís all right,Ē persisted the younger boy doggedly, ďbut you say yourself that was because this business was hanging over you. Well, it isnít hanging over you any longer, and thereís no reason why you shouldnít play to-morrow as well as youíve ever played. Now, isnít that so?Ē
ďMy dear chap,Ē replied Renneker, smoothly evasive, ďyou ought to be a prosecuting attorney or something. I say, what time is it getting to be? You fellows are supposed to be in hall by nine-thirty.Ē
ďIt isnít that yet,Ē answered Leonard. But he slid down from the fence and fell into step beside the other. He tried very hard to think of something that would persuade Renneker out of this pig-headed, idiotic course. He grudgingly admired the big fellow for what he had done. It was chivalrous and generous and all that sort of thing, this business of being the goat for Brother George, but Leonard didnít know Brother George and he couldnít summon any sympathy for him. When he did speak again they were well up the broad path to Academy Hall, and what he said wasnít at all what he had sought for.
ďI do wish youíd think this over to-night, Renneker,Ē he pleaded.
ďMy dear chap,Ē replied the other very patiently and kindly, ďyou mustnít think any more about it. Itís all settled, and thereís no harm done. If you keep on, you know, youíll make me sorry I confided in you.Ē Renneker laughed softly.
ďI donít care,Ē persisted Leonard weakly. ďItís a rotten shame!Ē Then an idea came to him. ďLook here,Ē he exclaimed, ďwhatís to keep me from telling Johnny?Ē
ďNot a thing,Ē was the cool response, ďexcept your promise not to.Ē
Leonard growled inarticulately.
In front of Academy they parted, Renneker to seek his room in Upton, and Leonard to take the other direction. The mass meeting was over and the fellows were pouring out from Memorial, still noisily enthusiastic. ďWell, I hope I havenít added to your nerves, Grant,Ē said Renneker. ďJust remember that when the whistle blows you wonít have any, and that having them now consequently doesnít matter one iota. That may help. Iím in Upton, you know; Number 9. Come in and see me some time, wonít you? Good night.Ē
ďGood night,Ē replied Leonard. He had difficulty making his voice sound disapproving, but he managed it after a fashion. Renneker laughed as he turned away.
ďTry to forget my faults, Grant,Ē he called back, ďand think only of my many virtues!Ē
Upstairs in Number 12 Slim was displaying a hurt expression. He had left the meeting when it was no more than half over to hurry back and stroke the otherís head, he explained, and here the other was gallivanting around the campus! Leonard apologized. He did not, however, mention Renneker. Why, he couldnít have told.