Right Guard Grant
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“There 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, weren’t you? What’s your line?”
“I’ve played guard mostly.”
“Guard, eh?” Slim looked him over appraisingly. “Sort of light, aren’t you?”
“I guess so,” allowed Leonard. “Of course, I don’t expect to make the first; that is, this year.”
Slim grinned wickedly. “No, but you’ll be fit to tie if you don’t. Take me now. Last year I was on the second. Left end. I’m only a soph, and sophs on the big team are as scarce as hen’s teeth. So, of course, I haven’t the ghost of a show and absolutely no hope of making it. But if I don’t there’s going to be a heap of trouble around here!”
“Well, I suppose I have a sneaking hope,” acknowledged Leonard, smiling.
“Sure. 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 wasn’t for this fellow Renneker. I dare say you’ve heard about him? He’s ab-so-lutively sure of one guard position or the other. And then there’s Smedley and Squibbs and Raleigh and Stimson and two-three more maybe If I were you, General, I’d switch to end or quarter.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to elbow you out,” laughed Leonard.
“That’s right.” Slim grinned. “Try quarter then. We’ve got only two in sight so far.”
Leonard shook his head. “Guard’s my job,” he said. “I’ll plug along at it. I might get on the second, I dare say. And next year – The trouble is, I can’t seem to grow much, Staples!”
“Better call me ‘Slim.’ Everybody else does. Well, you know your own business best. Only, if you tell Johnny that you belong to the Guard’s Union and that the rules won’t allow you to play anything else, why, I’m awfully afraid that the only thing you’ll get to guard will be the bench! Let’s go to chow.”
At the door of the dining hall they parted, for Slim’s table was not Leonard’s. “But,” said the former, “I guess we can fix that to-morrow. There are a couple of guys at our table that don’t fit very well. I’ll arrange with one of them to switch. Care to go over to Mac’s this evening? Being a newcomer, you’re sort of expected to. They’ll be mostly freshies, but we don’t have to stay long. I’ll pick you up at the room about eight.”
Under Slim’s guidance Leonard went across to the Principal’s 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. “Might as well do it all up brown,” he observed sotto voce. “Met any of the animals yet?”
“Animals?” repeated Leonard vaguely.
“Faculty,” explained Slim. “All right. We’ll find most of ’em in here. They can see the dining room from here, you’ll 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.”
“If I had, Staples, I’d have written them more simply, so you could learn them,” replied the instructor with a twinkle.
“Touche!” murmured Slim. “Honest, though, I wasn’t so rotten, was I, sir?”
“You might have been much worse, Staples. Don’t ask me to say more.”
“Well, I’ll make a real hit with you this year, sir. They say Sophomore French is a cinch.”
“I trust you’ll find it so,” replied Mr. Metcalf genially. “Where is your home, Mr. Grant?”
Presently Slim’s hand tugged him away to meet Mr. Tarbot and Mr. Kincaid and Mr. Peghorn, by which time Leonard couldn’t remember which was which, although Slim’s running comment, en route from one to another, was designed to aid his friend’s memory. “Peghorn’s physics,” appraised Slim. “You won’t have him, not this year. He’s a bit deaf. Left ear’s the best one. Don’t let him nail you or he’ll talk you to death. Here we are.”
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 Doctor’s modest residence was crowded. Slim observed pessimistically that he had never seen a sorrier looking lot of freshies.
“How about last year?” asked Leonard innocently.
“The entering class last year,” replied Slim with dignity, “was remarkably intelligent and – um – prepossessing. Every one spoke of it. Even members of the class themselves noticed it. Want another slice of cake?”
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 Principal’s 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.
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “Honestly, General, they’re a lot happier left alone. I’m supposed to be on the welcome committee myself, but I’m not working at it much. Fact is, those poor fish had a lot rather you didn’t take any notice of them. They just get red in the face and fall over their feet if you speak to ’em. I know, for I was one myself last year!”
“Somehow,” mused Leonard, “I can’t imagine it.”
“Can’t you now?” Slim chuckled. “I want you to know that the shrinking violet hasn’t a thing on me. Chuck your plate somewhere and let’s beat it. There’s no hope of seconds!”
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 wasn’t hard. By ten o’clock, 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 Slim’s schedule and, during the first day, follow Slim dutifully from one recitation room to another, at the end of each trip renewing Wednesday evening’s 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 Slim’s 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 “Billy,” 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 didn’t 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 didn’t learn until he had been rooming with the former for nearly three weeks; and then it wasn’t Slim who divulged it.) I don’t 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 “General.” Slim’s nickname had struck the popular fancy and gave every sign of sticking throughout Leonard’s stay at school.
There wasn’t 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 – sixteen verging closely on seventeen – 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 didn’t dress particularly well, for his folks weren’t 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 – 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 wasn’t possible. His presence at the academy was the unforeseen result of having spent the summer with his Uncle Emory. Uncle Emory, his mother’s 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 Emory’s reply to Leonard’s 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.
“And now,” asked Uncle Emory, “what are you doing to do with it?”
Leonard didn’t know. He was far too surprised to make plans on such short notice.
“Well,” continued Uncle Emory, “why don’t you find yourself a good school that don’t ask too much money and fit yourself for college? I ain’t claiming that your father’s made a big success as a lawyer, but you might, and I sort of think it’s in your blood. You show me that you mean business, Len, and I’ll sort of look out for you, leastways till you’re through school.”
So that is the way it had happened, suddenly and unexpectedly and gorgeously. The hundred and ninety-three dollars, less Leonard’s expenses home, hadn’t 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 hadn’t 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 hadn’t yet discerned any very good reason for not doing that on the Alton Academy Football Team!