Right Guard Grant
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Leonard viewed him scathingly. “Honest, Renneker,” he replied with slow and painstaking enunciation, “you give me an acute pain!”
Renneker smiled more broadly. “Good boy! Speak your mind! However, if you’ll stop being peeved and think a minute you’ll see that it wouldn’t do to upset Johnny’s apple-cart at this late hour. Besides, I haven’t brought my togs, and couldn’t play decently if I had. Why, I haven’t practiced for a week, Grant.”
“You don’t need practice,” responded Leonard earnestly. “A fellow like you – ”
“The dickens I don’t!” scoffed Renneker. “I’m as stiff as a crutch. Be a good fellow, Grant, and stop scolding.” Renneker looked at the letter in his hand, returned it to its envelope and placed it back in his pocket with a smile of resignation. “Just plain nut,” he said. “That’s what he is.”
Leonard, watching, was suddenly realizing that this new acquaintance of his was a very likeable chap and that, although he did feel thoroughly out of patience with him just now, he was getting to have a sort of affection for him. Of course he wouldn’t have had Renneker suspect the fact for an instant, but there it was! The big fellow’s story seemed to explain a good deal, such as, for instance, that the calm superiority affected by him had really been a blind to conceal the fact that he was secretly in a state of nervous apprehension, in short a colossal bluff that not even Coach Cade had had the nerve to call! It must have been, Leonard reflected sympathetically, rather a job to play good football and know that at any moment exposure might occur. And, after all, that letter of George Renneker’s had rather won Leonard. Of course the fellow was an irresponsible, hair-brained ass, but, nevertheless, the reader had seemed to find something likeable in the writer of that amazing epistle, and he understood somewhat better why Gordon had felt it worth while to protect George even at the cost of his own undoing. He wasn’t frowning any longer when Renneker looked back from a momentary inspection of the flying landscape beyond the car window. Renneker must have noted the change, for he asked:
“Decided to overlook my transgressions?”
Leonard nodded, smiling faintly. “Yes, although I still think you’re all wrong. Let me tell you one thing, too. If – if” – he stumbled a little there – “if you’re doing this because you think I’d be – be disappointed about not playing, Renneker, you can just quit it right now. I never expected to play in this game – anyhow, I haven’t for a good while – and it won’t mean a thing to me if I don’t. So if that’s it, or if that has anything to do with it – ”
“My dear chap,” replied Renneker soothingly, “when you know me better you’ll realize that I’m not a Sir Launcelot or a – a Galahad. Rest quite easy.”
It wasn’t, though, a positive denial, and Leonard was by no means convinced. He looked doubtfully, even suspiciously at the somewhat quizzical countenance of the other and subsided.And then a trainman banged open a door and shouted “La-a-akeville! Lakeville!” and Leonard hurried back for his suit-case.
They went to the hotel for luncheon, walking up from the station and pretending they didn’t know that they were objects of interest all the way along the five blocks. There remained the better part of an hour before the meal was to be served, and after depositing their bags in the room that was to serve them for dressing purposes, most of the party descended again to the street and set off to see the town. Slim claimed Leonard as his companion, but Leonard begged off rather mysteriously and Slim set out a trifle huffily in company with Appel and Menge. Leonard then set out to find Mr. Cade, and after several unsuccessful inquiries had failed to discover that gentleman, Tod Tenney came skipping down the stairs and, his escape blocked by Leonard, revealed the fact that Mr. Cade and Mr. Fadden were in Room 17. Leonard, likewise scorning the snail-like elevator, climbed the stairs and found the room. Mr. Cade’s voice answered his knock. The coach and his associate were sitting in straight-back chairs in front of a long window, their feet on the sill and pipes going busily. Mr. Fadden looked around, waving the smoke clouds from before him with the newspaper he held, and said sotto voce: “One of the boys, Cade.”
“Can I speak to you a moment, sir?” asked Leonard.
Mr. Cade’s feet came down from the sill with a bang and he swung around. “Oh, hello, Grant! Why, certainly. Anything wrong?”
“No, sir. It’s about – ” He hesitated and glanced dubiously at Mr. Fadden.
“Oh, that’s all right,” laughed Mr. Cade. “You can speak before Mr. Fadden. Pull up that chair and sit down first.”
Leonard obeyed, occupying, however, only some six inches of the chair’s surface. “It’s about Gordon Renneker, sir,” he began again.
“Renneker?” The coach looked interested at once. “What about Renneker, Grant?”
“Well – ” Leonard stopped and started anew: “Wouldn’t it help us a lot, Mr. Cade, if he played to-day?”
“Probably, but I thought it was understood that Renneker was – er – out of football. What’s on your mind?”
“I can’t explain it very well,” answered Leonard, “because I promised not to speak about – about part of it. That makes it – difficult.” He looked at Mr. Cade and then at Mr. Fadden as though seeking assistance. Mr. Cade frowned perplexedly.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, Grant, for I don’t know what you’re trying to get at. If you’re troubled about Renneker not playing, why, I’ll have to tell you that there isn’t anything you can do about that. We’re looking for you to see to it that he isn’t missed, Grant. And we think you can do it.”
Leonard shook his head. “That isn’t it, sir. I know something that I can’t tell, because I promised not to.” He stopped and strove to arrange matters in his mind. He wished he had composed a statement before coming. Regarding all that Renneker had revealed to him last evening his lips were sealed. It was only about what had transpired this morning that he was not sworn to silence. It was, though, hard to keep the two apart, and he didn’t want to break his promise. Mr. Cade, watching him intently, waited in patience. Mr. Fadden puffed hard at his pipe, silently friendly. Leonard rushed the hurdle.
“If you’ll tell Renneker that you want to read a letter he received this morning, sir,” he blurted, “you’ll understand.”
“Tell him I want to read a letter he received?” repeated the coach in puzzled tones. “But why should I, Grant?”
“Why, because when you do read it, and Renneker has explained it, you – he – why, sir, he can play this afternoon!”
“Oh!” said Mr. Cade thoughtfully. After an instant he said: “Look here, Grant, you must know a whole lot about this business of Renneker’s.”
Leonard nodded. “Yes, sir, I know all about it. I – I knew about it before you did.”
The coach gazed at him curiously, opened his lips as if to speak, closed them again and glanced questioningly at Mr. Fadden.
“Better see Renneker and get it cleared up,” said the second team coach oracularly. “Where there’s so much smoke there must be some fire. Let’s get at it.”
“All right.” He turned to Leonard again. “I suppose you realize that if Renneker plays right guard to-day you don’t, Grant. At least, not long, probably.”
“Yes, sir, but Renneker’s a lot better than I am, and if he can play it doesn’t matter about me, does it?”
“H’m, no, I suppose it doesn’t. Well, I’m much obliged to you, my boy. Whether anything comes of this or doesn’t, I quite understand that you’ve tried to help us. Do you know where Renneker is just now?”
“No, sir, not exactly. He went out right after we reached the hotel. I – I guess I could find him.”
“Do it, will you? Tell him – tell him whatever you think best. You know more about this mystery than we do. Only see that he gets here right away. Thanks, Grant.”
“Could I tell him that you and Mr. Fadden want to see him to talk to him about the game?” asked Leonard. “If he suspected anything he might not want to come.”
“The mystery deepens!” sighed Mr. Cade. “But tell him that by all means. It’s totally and literally true. Just see that he comes a-running!”
Lakeville was in gala attire. Cherry-and-black pennants and bunting adorned the store windows, and beyond the casement of the town’s principal haberdasher the appropriate colors were massed in a display of neckties and mufflers. Here and there the rival hues of gray-and-gold were shown, but it was not until the arrival of the Alton rooters that Lakeville became noticeably leavened with the brighter tints. Leonard encountered Billy Wells and Sam Butler just outside the hotel, but neither of them had seen Gordon Renneker lately, and Leonard went on up the busy street on his quest. He discovered Slim and three others admiring the contents of a bake shop window and bore Slim away with him.
“We’ve got to find Renneker,” he announced anxiously.
“I don’t see why,” objected Slim. “I’m going to be just as happy, General, if I never set eyes on him again.”
“Dry up and come on. Mr. Cade wants him right off.”
“Mr. Cade has strange fancies,” murmured Slim, but he accelerated his steps. “Been over to the school grounds?”
“No, I haven’t had time. Isn’t that – no, it isn’t. It did look like him, back-to.”
“It looks like him front-to,” replied Slim, “except that this guy is about forty-five and has different features and has lost some of his hair and wears glasses – ”
“Oh, for the love of mud, shut up, Slim! And do look around, can’t you? I tell you this is important.”
“I do wish I could feel it so,” said Slim exasperatingly, “but I just can’t get up any enthusiasm for the chase. Besides, it’s getting perilously close to chow time, and we’re going in the wrong direction and – ”
“There he is!” Leonard left Slim abruptly and darted across the street, narrowly escaping the ignominy of being run down by a rattling flivver adorned with cherry-and-black pennants. Gordon Renneker had just emerged from a doorway above which hung a black-and-gold sign announcing “Olympic Lunch Room – Good Eats,” and still held in one hand the larger part of a cheese sandwich.
“Say, what the – ” Renneker stared in amazement from Leonard to the sandwich now lying in unappetizing fragments on the sidewalk.
“Awfully sorry,” panted Leonard, “but you’re wanted at the hotel right away. Room 17.”
“I’m wanted? What for?” Leonard saw suspicion creeping into Renneker’s eyes.
“Mr. Cade and Mr. Fadden,” he answered quickly and glibly. “They told me to tell you they wanted to see you about the game right away.”
“Flattering,” said Renneker. “Oh, all right. Wait till I get another sandwich – ”
“You mustn’t,” declared Leonard. “It’s almost lunch time, and they’re waiting for you, and they’ll be mad if you don’t come quick!” He pulled Renneker away from the lunch room doorway and guided him rapidly toward the hotel. From across the street a perplexed and insulted Slim watched them disappear.
“Abandoned!” he muttered. “Adrift in a strange and cruel city! Heaven help me!”