Right Guard Grantñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Thanks.” The other’s voice was noncommittal.
Leonard, moving past the desk, turned swiftly and stared with surprise and incredulity. He remembered now. Last November he had gone up to Philadelphia to see a post-season football game between a local team and an eleven from Castle City, Long Island. The visitors had won by the margin of one point after a slow and gruelling contest. Leonard’s seat had been close to the visiting team’s bench and a neighbor had pointed out to him the redoubtable Renneker and told him tales of the big fellow’s prowess. Leonard had had several good looks at the Castle City star and had admired him, just as, later, he had admired his playing. Renneker had proved all that report had pictured him: a veritable stone wall in defense, a battering ram in attack. He had worn down two opponents, Leonard recalled, and only the final whistle had saved a third from a like fate. As Leonard had played the guard position himself that fall on his own high school team he watched Renneker’s skill and science the more interestedly. And so this was Renneker! Yes, he remembered now, although in Philadelphia that day the famous player had been in togs and had worn a helmet. It is always a satisfaction to finally get the better of an obstinate memory, and for the first moment or two succeeding his victory Leonard was so immersed in that satisfaction that he failed to consider what the arrival of Gordon Renneker at Alton Academy would mean to his own football prospects. When he did give thought to that subject his spirits fell, and, rescuing his suit-case, he went out in search of Number 12 Haylow Hall with a rueful frown on his forehead.
Leonard was only seventeen, with little more than the size and weight belonging to the boy of that age, and he had told himself all along that it was very unlikely he would be able to make the Alton team that fall. But now he realized that, in spite of what he had professed to believe, he had really more than half expected to win a place on the eleven this season. After all, he had done some pretty good work last year, and the high school coach back in Loring Point had more than once assured him that by this fall he ought to be able to pit himself against many a lineman older and heavier. “Get another twenty pounds on you, Len,” Tim Walsh had said once, “and there’s not many that’ll be able to stand up to you in the line. I’ll give you two years more, son, and then I’ll be lookin’ for your name in the papers. There’s lots of fellows playing guard that has plenty below the neck, but you’ve got it above, too, see? Beef and muscle alone didn’t ever win a battle. It was brains as did it. Brains and fight. And you’ve got both, I’ll say that for you!”
And then, just a week ago, when Leonard had gone to bid Tim good-by, the little coach had said: “I’m sorry to lose you, Len, but you’ll be getting a bigger chance where you’re going. Sure. And you’ll be getting better handlin’, too. Take those big schools, why, they got trainers that knows their business, Len, and you’ll be looked after close and careful.
Here a fellow has to do his own trainin’, which means he don’t do none, in spite of all I say to him. Sure. You’ll do fine, son. Well, so long. Don’t put your name to nothin’ without you read it first. And don’t forget what I been tellin’ you, Len: get ’em before they get you!”
Well, he hadn’t put on that twenty pounds yet, for in spite of all his efforts during the summer – he had gone up to his uncle’s farm and worked in the field and lived on the sort of food that is supposed to build bone and tissue – he was only seven pounds heavier than when he had weighed himself a year ago. And now here was this fellow Renneker to further dim his chances. Leonard sighed as he turned in at the doorway of the dormitory building. If there were eleven guards on a football team he might stand a show, he thought disconsolately, but there were only two, and one of the two would be Gordon Renneker! He wondered what his chance with the scrubs would be!
He tugged his heavy suit-case up one flight of stairs in Haylow and looked for a door bearing the numerals 12. He found it presently, cheered somewhat to observe that it was toward the campus side of the building. It was closed, and a card thumb-tacked to the center bore the inscription, “Mr. Eldred Chichester Staples.” Leonard read the name a second time. That “Chichester” annoyed him. To have a roommate named Eldred might be borne, but “Chichester” – He shook his head gloomily as he turned the knob and pushed the door open. It seemed to him that life at Alton Academy wasn’t starting out very well for him.
He was a bit relieved to find the room empty, although it was evident enough that Eldred Chichester Staples had already taken possession. There were brushes and toilet articles atop one of the two slim chiffoniers, books on the study table, photographs tacked to the wainscoting, a black bag reposing on a chair by the head of the left-hand bed, a pair of yellow silk pajamas exuding from it. Leonard set his own bag down and walked to the windows. There were two of them, set close together, and they looked out into the lower branches of a maple. Directly below was the brick foot-path and the gravel road – and, momentarily, the top of an automobile retreating toward the Meadow street gate. Some fortunate youth had probably arrived in the family touring car. Leonard had to set one knee on a comfortably broad window-seat to get the view, and when he turned away his knee swept something from the cushion to the floor. Rescuing it, he saw that it was a block of paper, the top sheet bearing writing done with a very soft pencil. With no intention of doing so, he read the first words: “Lines on Returning to My Alma Mater.” He sniffed. So that was the sort this fellow Chichester was! Wrote poetry! Gosh! He tossed the tablet back to the window-seat. Then the desire to know how bad the effort might be prompted him to pick it up and, with a guilty glance toward the door, read further. There were many erasures and corrections, but he made out:
“Oh, classic shades that through the pleasant years
Have sheltered me from gloomy storm and stress,
See on my pallid cheeks the happy tears
That tell a tale of banished loneliness.”
“What sickening rot!” muttered Leonard. But he went on.
“Back to your tender arms! My tired feet
Stand once again where they so safely stood.
Could I want fairer haven, fate more sweet?
Could I? Oh, boy, I’ll say I could!”
Leonard re-read the last line doubtfully. Then he pitched the effusion violently back to the cushion.
“Huh!” he said.
ENTER MR. ELDRED CHICHESTER STAPLES
Eldred Chichester Staples had not arrived by the time Leonard had unpacked his bag. His trunk, which was to have joined him inside an hour, according to the disciple of Ananias who had accepted his claim check, had not appeared, and, since it was dinner time now, Leonard washed, re-tied his scarf, used a whisk brush rather perfunctorily and descended the stairs in search of food. It wasn’t hard to find Lawrence Hall. All he had to do was follow the crowd, and, although the entire assemblage of some four hundred students was not by any means yet present, there were enough on hand to make a very good imitation of a crowd. Leonard endured some waiting before he was assigned a seat, but presently he was established at a table occupied by five others – there were seats for four more, but they weren’t claimed until supper time – and was soon enjoying his first repast at Alton. The food was good and there was plenty of it, but none too much for the new boy, for his breakfast, partaken of at home before starting the first leg of his journey to New York City, was scarcely a memory. He followed the example of his right-hand neighbor and ordered “seconds” of the substantial articles of the menu and did excellently. Towards dessert he found leisure to look about him.
Lawrence Hall was big and airy and light, and although it accommodated more than twenty score, including the faculty, the tables were not crowded together and there was an agreeable aspect of space. The fellows about him appeared to be quite the usual, normal sort; although later on Leonard made the discovery that there was a certain sameness about them, somewhat as though they had been cut off the same piece of goods. This sameness was rather intangible, however; he never succeeded in determining whether it was a matter of looks, manner or voice; and I doubt if any one else could have determined. Dinner was an orderly if not a silent affair. There was an ever-continuing rattle of dishes beneath the constant hum of voices and the ripples of laughter. Once a dish fell just beyond the screen that hid the doors to the kitchen, and its crash was hailed with loud hand-clapping from every quarter. After awhile the scraping of chairs added a new note to the pleasant babel, and, contributing his own scrape, Leonard took his departure.
He had seen a notice in the corridor of Academy Building announcing the first football practice for three o’clock, and he meant to be on hand, but more than an hour intervened and he wondered how to spend it. The question was solved for him when he reached the walk that led along the front of the dormitories, for there, before the entrance of Haylow, a piled motor truck was disgorging trunks. His own proved to be among them, and he followed it upstairs and set to work. It wasn’t a very large trunk, nor a very nobby one, having served his father for many years, before falling to Leonard, and he was quite satisfied that his room-mate continued to absent himself. He emptied it of his none too generous wardrobe, hung his clothes in his closet or laid them in the drawers of his chiffonier, arranged his small belongings before the mirror or on the table and finally, taking counsel of a strange youth hurrying past in the corridor, lugged the empty trunk to the store-room in the basement. Then, it now being well past the half-hour, he changed into an ancient suit of canvas, pulled on a pair of scuffed shoes and set forth for the field.
The hot weather still held, and, passing the gravel tennis courts, a wave of heat, reflected from the surface, made him gasp. The gridiron, when he reached it, proved to have suffered in many places from the fortnight of unseasonable weather and lack of rain. Half a dozen fellows, dressed for play, were laughingly squabbling for a ball near the center of the field, and their cleats, digging into the dry sod, sent up a cloud of yellow dust. Early as he was, Leonard found at least a score of candidates ahead of him. Many of them had, perhaps wisely, scorned the full regalia of football and had donned old flannel trousers in lieu of padded canvas. A perspiring youth with a very large board clip was writing busily in the scant shade of the covered stand, and a short, broadly-built man in trousers and a white running shirt, from which a pair of bronze shoulders emerged massively, was beside him. The latter was, Leonard concluded, the coach. He looked formidable, with that large countenance topped by an alarming growth of black hair, and Leonard recalled diverse tales he had heard or read of the sternness and even ferocity of professional football coaches. Evidently football at Alton Academy was going to prove more of a business than football at Loring Point High School!
This reflection was interrupted by a voice. A large youth with rather pale blue eyes that, nevertheless, had a remarkable sparkle in them had come to a stop at Leonard’s elbow. “I’ve accumulated seventeen pounds this summer,” the chap was saying, “and it cost the dad a lot of good money. And now – ” his blue eyes turned from Leonard and fell disapprovingly on the sun-smitten gridiron – “now I’m going to lose the whole blamed lot in about sixty minutes.” He looked to Leonard again for sympathy. Leonard smiled doubtfully. It was difficult to tell whether the stranger spoke in fun or earnest.
“If it comes off as easy as that,” he replied, “I guess you don’t want it.” Looking more closely at the chap, he saw that, deprived of those seventeen pounds, he would probably be rather rangy; large still, but not heavy. Leonard judged that he was a backfield candidate; possibly a running half; he looked to be fast.
“I suppose not,” the fellow agreed in doubtful tones. “Maybe it isn’t losing the weight that worries me so much as losing it so quick. You know they say that losing a lot of weight suddenly is dangerous. Suppose it left me in an enfeebled condition!”
Now Leonard knew that the chap was joking, and he ventured a laugh. “Maybe you’d better not risk it,” he said. “Why not wait until to-morrow. It might be cooler then.”
“I would,” replied the other gravely, “only Johnny rather leans on me, you know. I dare say he’d be altogether at a loss if I deserted him to-day. Getting things started is always a bit of a trial.”
“I see. I suppose Johnny is the coach, and that’s him up there.” Leonard nodded in the direction of the black-haired man on the stand.
“Him or he,” answered the other gently. “You’re a new fellow, I take it. Fresh?”
Leonard, nettled by the correction, answered a bit stiffly, “Sophomore.”
The tall youth gravely extended a hand. “Welcome,” he said. “Welcome to the finest class in the school.”
Leonard shook hands, his slight resentment vanishing. “I suppose that means that you’re a soph, too.”
The fellow nodded. “So far,” he assented. Then he smiled for the first time, and after that smile Leonard liked him suddenly and thoroughly. “If you ask me that again after mid-year,” he continued, “you may get a different answer. Well, I guess I’d better go up and get Johnny started. He’s evidently anxious about me.” He nodded once more and moved past Leonard and through the gate to the stand. Leonard had not noticed any sign of anxiety on the coach’s countenance, but it wasn’t to be denied that the greeting between the two was hearty. Leonard’s new acquaintance seated himself at the coach’s side and draped his long legs luxuriously over the back of the seat in front. The youth with the clip looked up from his writing and said something and the others threw their heads back and laughed. Leonard was positively relieved to discover that the coach could laugh like that. He couldn’t be so very ferocious, after all!
The trainer appeared, followed by a man trundling a wheelbarrow laden with paraphernalia. The throng of candidates increased momentarily along the side-line and a few hardy youths, carrying coats over arms, perched themselves on the seats to look on. Leonard again turned to observe the coach and found that gentleman on his feet and extending his hand to a big chap in unstained togs. The two shook hands, and then the big fellow turned his head to look across the field, and Leonard saw that he was Gordon Renneker. A fifth member had joined the group, and him Leonard recognized as the boy who had accompanied Renneker into the office. Leonard surmised now that he was the captain: he had read the chap’s name but had forgotten it. After a moment of conversation, during which the other members of the group up there seemed to be giving flattering attention to Renneker’s portion, the five moved toward the field, and a minute later the business of building a football team had begun.
Coach Cade made a few remarks, doubtless not very different from those he had made at this time of year on many former occasions, was answered with approving applause and some laughter and waved a brown hand. The group of some seventy candidates dissolved, footballs trickled away from the wheelbarrow and work began. Leonard made one of a circle of fifteen or sixteen other novices who passed a ball from hand to hand and felt the sun scorching earnestly at the back of his neck. Later, in charge of a heavy youth whose name Leonard afterwards learned was Garrick, the group was conducted further down the field and was permitted to do other tricks with the ball – two balls, to be exact. They caught it on the bound, fell on it and snuggled it to their perspiring bodies and then again, while they recovered somewhat of their breath, passed it from one to another. In other portions of the field similar exercises were going on with other actors in the parts, while, down near the further goal balls were traversing the gridiron, propelled by hand or toe. Garrick was a lenient task-master, and breathing spells were frequent, and yet, even so, there were many in Leonard’s squad who were just about spent when they were released to totter back to the benches and rinse their parched mouths with warm water from the carboy which, having been carefully deposited an hour ago in the shade of the wheelbarrow, was now enjoying the full blaze of the westing sun. Leonard, his canvas garments wet with perspiration, his legs aching, leaned against the back of the bench and wondered why he wanted to play football!
Presently he forgot his discomforts in watching the performance of a squad of fellows who were trotting through a signal drill. Last year’s regulars these, he supposed; big, heavy chaps, most of them; fellows whose average age was possibly eighteen, or perhaps more. The quarterback, unlike most of the quarters Leonard had had acquaintance with, was a rather large and weighty youth with light hair and a longish face. His name, explained Leonard’s left-hand neighbor on the bench, was Carpenter. He had played on the second team last year and was very likely to prove first-choice man this fall. He was, the informant added admiringly, a corking punter. Leonard nodded. Secretly he considered Mr. Carpenter much too heavy for a quarterback’s job. The day’s diversions ended with a slow jog around the edge of the gridiron. Then came showers and a leisurely dressing; only Leonard, since his street clothes were over in Number 12 Haylow, had his shower in the dormitory and was wearily clothing himself in clean underwear and a fresh shirt when the door of the room was unceremoniously opened and he found himself confronted by a youth whose countenance was strangely familiar and whom, his reason told him, was Eldred Chichester Staples, his poetic roommate. Considering it later, Leonard wondered why he had not been more surprised when recognition came. All he said was: “Well, did you get rid of the whole seventeen?”
LEONARD GETS PROMOTION
Eldred Chichester Staples appeared to be no more surprised than Leonard. He closed the door, with the deftness born of long practice, with his left foot, sailed his cap to his bed and nodded, thrusting hands into the pockets of his knickers.
“The whole seventeen,” he answered dejectedly. “Couldn’t you tell it by a glance at my emaciated frame?”
Leonard shook his head. “You look to me just hungry,” he said.
“Slim” Staples chuckled and reposed himself in a chair, thrusting his long legs forward and clasping lean, brown hands across his equator. “Your name must be Grant,” he remarked. “Where from, stranger?”
“Loring Point, Delaware.”
“We’re neighbors then. My home’s in New Hampshire. Concord’s the town.”
“Isn’t that where the embattled farmers stood and – and fired – er – ”
“The shot that was heard around the world? No, General, you’ve got the dope all wrong. That was another Concord. There aren’t any farmers in my town. Come to think of it, wasn’t it Lexington, Massachusetts, where the farmers took pot-shots at the Britishers? Well, never mind. I understand that the affair was settled quite amicably some time since. Glad to be here, General?”
“I think so. Thanks for the promotion, though. I’m usually just ‘Len.’”
“Oh, that’s all right. No trouble to promote you. What does ‘Len’ stand for?”
“Swell name. You’ve got the edge on the other Grant. Ulysses sounds like something out of the soda fountain. Well, I hope we’ll hit it off all right. I’m an easy-going sort, General; never much of a scrapper and hate to argue. Last year, over in Borden, I roomed with a chap named Endicott. Dick was the original arguer. He could start with no take-off at all and argue longer, harder and faster than any one outside a court of law. I was a great trial to him, I suspect. If he said Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote ‘The Merchant of Venice’ I just said ‘Sure, Mike’ and let it go at that. Arguing was meat and drink to that fellow.”
“And what became of him? I mean, why aren’t you – ”
“Together this year? He didn’t come back. You see, he spent so much time in what you might call controversy that he didn’t get leisure for studying. So last June faculty told him that he’d failed to pass and that if he came back he’d have about a million conditions to work off. He did his best to argue himself square, but faculty beat him out. After all, there was only one of him and a dozen or so faculty, and it wasn’t a fair contest. At that, I understand they won by a very slight margin!”
“Hard luck,” laughed Leonard. “I dare say he was a star member of the debating club, if there is one here.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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