Right Guard Grant
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ďThere is, but Dick never joined. He said they were amateurs. What do you say to supper? Oh, by the way, you were out for football, werenít you? Whatís your line?Ē
ďIíve played guard mostly.Ē
ďGuard, eh?Ē Slim looked him over appraisingly. ďSort of light, arenít you?Ē
ďI guess so,Ē allowed Leonard. ďOf course, I donít expect to make the first; that is, this year.Ē
Slim grinned wickedly. ďNo, but youíll be fit to tie if you donít. Take me now. Last year I was on the second. Left end. Iím only a soph, and sophs on the big team are as scarce as henís teeth. So, of course, I havenít the ghost of a show and absolutely no hope of making it. But if I donít thereís going to be a heap of trouble around here!Ē
ďWell, I suppose I have a sneaking hope,Ē acknowledged Leonard, smiling.
ďSure. Might as well be honest with yourself. As for playing guard, well, if you got hold of a suit about three sizes too large for you, stuffed it out with cotton-batting and put heel-lifts in your shoes you might stand a show. Or you might if it wasnít for this fellow Renneker. I dare say youíve heard about him? Heís ab-so-lutively sure of one guard position or the other. And then thereís Smedley and Squibbs and Raleigh and Stimson and two-three more maybe If I were you, General, Iíd switch to end or quarter.Ē
ďOh, I wouldnít want to elbow you out,Ē laughed Leonard.
ďThatís right.Ē Slim grinned. ďTry quarter then. Weíve got only two in sight so far.Ē
Leonard shook his head. ďGuardís my job,Ē he said. ďIíll plug along at it. I might get on the second, I dare say. And next year Ė The trouble is, I canít seem to grow much, Staples!Ē
ďBetter call me ĎSlim.í Everybody else does. Well, you know your own business best. Only, if you tell Johnny that you belong to the Guardís Union and that the rules wonít allow you to play anything else, why, Iím awfully afraid that the only thing youíll get to guard will be the bench! Letís go to chow.Ē
At the door of the dining hall they parted, for Slimís table was not Leonardís. ďBut,Ē said the former, ďI guess we can fix that to-morrow. There are a couple of guys at our table that donít fit very well. Iíll arrange with one of them to switch. Care to go over to Macís this evening? Being a newcomer, youíre sort of expected to. Theyíll be mostly freshies, but we donít have to stay long. Iíll pick you up at the room about eight.Ē
Under Slimís guidance Leonard went across to the Principalís house at a little after the appointed hour and took his place in the line that led through the front portal and past where Doctor McPherson and Mrs. McPherson were receiving. Slim introduced the stranger and then hustled him away into the library. ďMight as well do it all up brown,Ē he observed sotto voce. ďMet any of the animals yet?Ē
ďAnimals?Ē repeated Leonard vaguely.
ďFaculty,Ē explained Slim. ďAll right. Weíll find most of íem in here. They can see the dining room from here, youíll observe, and so they sort of stand around, ready to rush the minute the flag goes down.Not so many here yet. Try to look serious and intellectual; they like it. Mr. Screven, I want you to meet my friend Grant. General, this is Mr. Screven. And Mr. Metcalf. Mr. Metcalf wrote the French and Spanish languages, General.Ē
ďIf I had, Staples, Iíd have written them more simply, so you could learn them,Ē replied the instructor with a twinkle.
ďTouche!Ē murmured Slim. ďHonest, though, I wasnít so rotten, was I, sir?Ē
ďYou might have been much worse, Staples. Donít ask me to say more.Ē
ďWell, Iíll make a real hit with you this year, sir. They say Sophomore French is a cinch.Ē
ďI trust youíll find it so,Ē replied Mr. Metcalf genially. ďWhere is your home, Mr. Grant?Ē
Presently Slimís hand tugged him away to meet Mr. Tarbot and Mr. Kincaid and Mr. Peghorn, by which time Leonard couldnít remember which was which, although Slimís running comment, en route from one to another, was designed to aid his friendís memory. ďPeghornís physics,Ē appraised Slim. ďYou wonít have him, not this year. Heís a bit deaf. Left earís the best one. Donít let him nail you or heíll talk you to death. Here we are.Ē
There were others later, but Leonard obtained sustenance before meeting them, for Slim so skillfully maneuvered that when the dining room doors were thrown open only a mere half-dozen guests beat him to the table. To the credit of the faculty be it said that Mr. Kincaid only lost first place by a nose. The refreshments were satisfactory if not elaborate and Slim worked swiftly and methodically, and presently, their plates well piled with sandwiches, cake and ice-cream, the two retired to a corner. The entering class was large that fall and, since not a few of the other classes were well represented, the Doctorís modest residence was crowded. Slim observed pessimistically that he had never seen a sorrier looking lot of freshies.
ďHow about last year?Ē asked Leonard innocently.
ďThe entering class last year,Ē replied Slim with dignity, ďwas remarkably intelligent and Ė um Ė prepossessing. Every one spoke of it. Even members of the class themselves noticed it. Want another slice of cake?Ē
Leonard rather pitied some of the new boys. They looked so timid and unhappy, he thought. Most of them had no acquaintances as yet, and although the faculty members and some of the older fellows worked hard to put them at their ease they continued looking like lost souls. Even ice-cream and cake failed to banish their embarrassment. The Principalís wife, good soul, haled them from dark corners and talked to them brightly and cheerfully while she thrust plates of food into their numbed hands, but so soon as her back was turned they fled nervously to cover again, frequently losing portions of their refreshments on the way. Reflecting that even he might do some small part to lighten the burden of gloom that oppressed them, he broached the subject to Slim when that youth had returned with another generous wedge of cake. But Slim shook his head.
ďI wouldnít,Ē he said. ďHonestly, General, theyíre a lot happier left alone. Iím supposed to be on the welcome committee myself, but Iím not working at it much. Fact is, those poor fish had a lot rather you didnít take any notice of them. They just get red in the face and fall over their feet if you speak to íem. I know, for I was one myself last year!Ē
ďSomehow,Ē mused Leonard, ďI canít imagine it.Ē
ďCanít you now?Ē Slim chuckled. ďI want you to know that the shrinking violet hasnít a thing on me. Chuck your plate somewhere and letís beat it. Thereís no hope of seconds!Ē
Back in Number 12 Haylow they changed to pajamas and lolled by the window, through which a fair imitation of a cooling breeze occasionally wandered, and proceeded to get acquainted. It wasnít hard. By ten oíclock, when the light went out, they were firm friends and tried.
The business of settling down consumed several days, and as the Fall Term at Alton Academy began on a Thursday it was Monday before Leonard really found himself. Slim was of great assistance to him in the operation and saved him many false moves and unnecessary steps. As both boys were in the same class Leonard had only to copy Slimís schedule and, during the first day, follow Slim dutifully from one recitation room to another, at the end of each trip renewing Wednesday eveningís acquaintance with one or another of the faculty members, though at a distance. In various other matters Slim was invaluable. Thursday evening Leonard took his place at Slimís table and so enlarged his circle of speaking acquaintances by eight. Several of the occupants of the board Leonard recognized as football candidates. There was, for instance, Wells, universally known as ďBilly,Ē heir apparent to the position of left tackle, and Joe Greenwood, who might fairly be called heir presumptive to the fullback position, only one Ray Goodwin thus far showing a better right. There was, also, Leo Falls, who, like Leonard, was a candidate for guard. Thus, five out of the ten were football players, a fact which not only made for camaraderie, but provided a never-failing subject for conversation. Of the others at the table, two were freshmen, likeable youngsters, Leonard thought; one was a sober-faced senior named Barton, and the other two were juniors who, being the sole representatives of their class there, were banded together in an offensive and defensive alliance that, in spite of its lack of numbers, was well able to hold its own when the question of class supremacy was debated. On the whole, they were a jolly set, and Leonard was thankful to Slim for securing him admission to them; even though, as Slim reminded him, several of them would be yanked off to the training table not later than next week.
What the others thought of Leonard the latter didnít know, but they seemed to take to him readily. Perhaps the fact that he was sponsored by Slim had something to do with it, for Slim, as Leonard soon noted, was a favorite, not only at his table but throughout the school in general. (The fact that Slim was President of the Sophomore Class was something that Leonard didnít learn until he had been rooming with the former for nearly three weeks; and then it wasnít Slim who divulged it.) I donít mean to convey the idea that Leonard was unduly exercised about the impression he made on his new friends, but no fellow can help wanting to be liked or speculate somewhat about what others think of him. After a few days, though, he became quite satisfied. By that time no one at the board was any longer calling him Grant. He was ďGeneral.Ē Slimís nickname had struck the popular fancy and gave every sign of sticking throughout Leonardís stay at school.
There wasnít anything especially striking about the newcomer, unless, perhaps, it was a certain wholesomeness; which Slim, had he ever been required to tell what had drawn him to his new chum, would have mentioned first. Leonard was of average height, breadth and weight. He had good enough features, but no one would ever have thought to call him handsome. His hair was of an ordinary shade of brown, straight and inclined to be unruly around the ears and neck; his eyes were brown, too, though a shade or two darker; perhaps his eyes were his best feature, if there was a best, for they did have a sort of faculty for lighting up when he became interested or deeply amused; his nose was straight as far as it went, but it stopped a trifle too soon to satisfy the demands of the artist; his mouth was just like any other mouth, I suppose; that is, like any other normal mouth; and he had a chin that went well with his somewhat square jaw, with a scarcely noticeable elevation in the middle of it that Slim referred to as an inverted dimple. Just a normal, healthy youngster of sixteen, was Leonard Ė sixteen verging closely on seventeen Ė rather better developed muscularly than the average boy of his years, perhaps, but with nothing about him to demand a second glance; or certainly not a third. He didnít dress particularly well, for his folks werenít over-supplied with wealth, but he managed to make the best of a limited wardrobe and always looked particularly clean. He was inclined to be earnest at whatever he set out to do, but he liked to laugh and did it frequently, and did it in a funny gurgling way that caused others to laugh with him Ė and at him.
He might have made his way into the Junior Class at Alton had he tutored hard the previous summer, but as he had not known he was going there until a fortnight before, that wasnít possible. His presence at the academy was the unforeseen result of having spent the summer with his Uncle Emory. Uncle Emory, his motherís brother, lived up in Pennsylvania and for many years had displayed no interest in the doings of his relatives. The idea of visiting Uncle Emory and working for his board had come to Leonard after Tim Walsh, football coach at the high school, had mentioned farm work as one of the short paths to physical development. Rather to the surprise of the rest of the family, Uncle Emoryís reply to Leonardís suggestion had been almost cordial. Uncle Emory had proved much less of the bear than the boy had anticipated and before long the two were very good friends. By the terms of the agreement, Leonard was to receive board and lodging and seventy-five cents a day in return for his services. What he did receive, when the time for leaving the farm arrived, was ninety-three dollars, being wages due him, and a bonus of one hundred.
ďAnd now,Ē asked Uncle Emory, ďwhat are you doing to do with it?Ē
Leonard didnít know. He was far too surprised to make plans on such short notice.
ďWell,Ē continued Uncle Emory, ďwhy donít you find yourself a good school that donít ask too much money and fit yourself for college? I ainít claiming that your fatherís made a big success as a lawyer, but you might, and I sort of think itís in your blood. You show me that you mean business, Len, and Iíll sort of look out for you, leastways till youíre through school.Ē
So that is the way it had happened, suddenly and unexpectedly and gorgeously. The hundred and ninety-three dollars, less Leonardís expenses home, hadnít been enough to see him through the year at Alton, but his father had found the balance that was needed without much difficulty, and here he was. He knew that this year was provided for and knew that, if he satisfied Uncle Emory of his earnestness, there would be two more years to follow. Also, a fact that had not escaped Leonard, there were scholarship funds to be had if one worked hard enough. He had already set his mind on winning one of the five available to Sophomore Class members. As to the Law as a profession, Leonard hadnít yet made up his mind. Certainly his father had made no fortune from it, but, on the other hand, there were men right in Loring Point who had prospered exceedingly thereby. But that decision could wait. Meanwhile he meant to study hard, win a scholarship and make good in the eyes of Uncle Emory. And he meant to play as hard as he worked, which was an exceedingly good plan, and hadnít yet discerned any very good reason for not doing that on the Alton Academy Football Team!