by Booth Tarkington
To the Memory of Billy Miller (William Henry Harrison Miller II) 1908 - 1918 Little Patriot, Good Citizen Friend of Mankind
When Johnnie comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah! We'll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah! The men with the cheers, the boys with shouts, The ladies they will all turn out, And we'll all feel gay, when Johnnie comes marching home again!
The old man and the little boy, his grandson, sat together in the shade of the big walnut tree in the front yard, watching the "Decoration Day Parade," as it passed up the long street; and when the last of the veterans was out of sight the grandfather murmured the words of the tune that came drifting back from the now distant band at the head of the procession.
"Yes, we'll all feel gay when Johnnie comes marching home again," he finished, with a musing chuckle.
"Did you, Grandpa?" the boy asked.
"Did I what?"
"Did you all feel gay when the army got home?"
"It didn't get home all at once, precisely," the grandfather explained. "When the war was over I suppose we felt relieved, more than anything else."
"You didn't feel so gay when the war was, though, I guess!" the boy ventured.
"I guess we didn't."
"Were you scared, Grandpa? Were you ever scared the Rebels would win?"
"No. We weren't ever afraid of that."
"Not any at all?"
"No. Not any at all."
"Well, weren't you ever scared yourself, Grandpa? I mean when you were in a battle."
"Oh, yes; then I was." The old man laughed. "Scared plenty!"
"I don't see why," the boy said promptly. "I wouldn't be scared in a battle."
"'Course not! Grandpa, why don't you march in the Decoration Day Parade? Wouldn't they let you?"
"I'm not able to march any more. Too short of breath and too shaky in the legs and too blind."
"I wouldn't care," said the boy. "I'd be in the parade anyway, if I was you. They had some sittin' in carriages, 'way at the tail end; but I wouldn't like that. If I'd been in your place, Grandpa, and they'd let me be in that parade, I'd been right up by the band. Look, Grandpa! Watch me, Grandpa! This is the way I'd be, Grandpa."
He rose from the garden bench where they sat, and gave a complex imitation of what had most appealed to him as the grandeurs of the procession, his prancing legs simulating those of the horse of the grand marshal, while his upper parts rendered the drums and bugles of the band, as well as the officers and privates of the militia company which had been a feature of the parade. The only thing he left out was the detachment of veterans.
"Putty-boom! Putty-boom! Putty-boom-boom-boom!" he vociferated, as the drums—and then as the bugles: "Ta, ta, ra, tara!" He addressed his restive legs: "Whoa, there, you Whitey! Gee! Haw! Git up!" Then, waving an imaginary sword: "Col-lumn right! Farwud March! Halt! Carry harms!" He "carried arms." "Show-dler harms!" He "shouldered arms," and returned to his seat.
"That'd be me, Grandpa. That's the way I'd do." And as the grandfather nodded, seeming to agree, a thought recently dismissed returned to the mind of the composite procession and he asked:
"Well, why weren't you ever afraid the Rebels would whip the Unions, Grandpa?"
"Oh, we knew they couldn't."
"I guess so." The little boy laughed disdainfully, thinking his question satisfactorily answered. "I guess those ole Rebels couldn't whipped a flea! They didn't know how to fight any at all, did they, Grandpa?"
"Oh, yes, they did!"
"What?" The boy was astounded. "Weren't they all just reg'lar ole cowards, Grandpa?"
"No," said the grandfather. "They were pretty fine soldiers."
"They were? Well, they ran away whenever you began shootin' at 'em, didn't they?"
"Sometimes they did, but most times they didn't. Sometimes they fought like wildcats—and sometimes we were the ones that ran away."
"To keep from getting killed, or maybe to keep from getting captured."
"But the Rebels were bad men, weren't they, Grandpa?"
The boy's forehead, customarily vacant, showed some little vertical shadows, produced by a struggle to think. "Well, but—" he began, slowly. "Listen, Grandpa, listen here!"
"Listen! Well, you said—you said you never got scared the ole Rebels were goin' to win."
"They did win pretty often," said the grandfather. "They won a good many battles."
"I mean, you said you never got scared they'd win the war."
"No, we were never afraid of that."
"Well, but if they were good men and fought like wildcats, Grandpa, and kep' winning battles and everything, how could that be? How could you help bein' scared they'd win the war?"
The grandfather's feeble eyes twinkled brightly. "Why, we knew they couldn't, Ramsey."
At this, the little vertical shadows on Ramsey's forehead became more pronounced, for he had succeeded in thinking. "Well, they didn't know they couldn't, did they?" he argued. "They thought they were goin' to win, didn't they?"
"Yes, I guess they did. Up till toward the last, I suppose they probably did. But you see they were wrong."
"Well, but—" Ramsey struggled. "Listen! Listen here, Grandpa! Well, anyway, if they never got scared we'd win, and nobody got scared they'd win—well, I don't see—"
"You don't see what?"
But Ramsey found himself unable to continue his concentration; he slumped down upon the small of his back, and his brow relaxed to its more comfortable placidity, while his eyes wandered with a new butterfly fluttering over the irises that bordered the iron picket fence at the south side of the yard. "Oh, nothin' much," he murmured.
"I see." And his grandfather laughed again. "You mean: If the Rebels felt just as sure of winning the war as we did, and kept winning battles why shouldn't we ever have had any doubts that we were going to win? That's it, isn't it?"
"I guess so, Grandpa."
"Well, I think it was mostly because we were certain that we were right."
"I see," said Ramsey. "The Rebels knew they were on the side of the Devil." But at this, the grandfather's laugh was louder than it had been before, and Ramsey looked hurt. "Well, you can laugh if you want to!" he objected in an aggrieved voice. "Anyway, the Sunday-school sup'intendent told us when people knew they were on the Devil's side they always—"
"I dare say, I dare say," the old man interrupted, a little impatiently. "But in this world mighty few people think they're on the Devil's side, Ramsey. There was a Frenchman once, in olden times; he said people were crazy because, though they couldn't even make worms, they believed they could make gods. And so whenever countries or parts of a country get into a war, each side makes a god and a devil, and says: 'God's on our side and the Devil's on the other.' The South thought the Devil was on our side, you see."
"Well, that kind o' mixes it all up more'n ever."
"Yes, it seems so; but Abraham Lincoln wasn't mixed up about it. When some people told him that God was on our side, he said the important thing was to find out if we were on God's side. That was the whole question, you see; because either side could make up a god, the kind of a god they liked and wanted; and then they'd believe in him, too, and fight for him—but if he was only a made-up god they'd lose. President Lincoln didn't want to have a made-up god on his side; he wanted to find God Himself and find out what he wanted, and then do it. And that's what Lincoln did."
"Well, I don't understand much of all that!"
"No? Then suppose you look at it this way: The South was fighting for what it believed to be its rights, but we weren't fighting for our rights; we were fighting for the right. The South was fighting for what it believed to be its right to split the Union and be a country by itself; but we were fighting for 'Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.' It wasn't only the Union we fought for; it was Freedom. The South wanted freedom to leave the Union; but the reason the South wanted that freedom to separate from us was because we wanted the Freedom of Man. There's the reason we had the certain knowledge that we were going to win the war. How plain and simple it is!"
Ramsey didn't think so. He had begun to feel bored by the conversation, and to undergo the oppression he usually suffered in school; yet he took a little interest in the inexplicable increase of fervour with which his grandfather spoke, and in a shoot of sunshine which somehow got through the foliage of the walnut tree and made a bedazzlement of glinting fine lines in one spot, about the size of a saucer, upon the old man's head of thick white hair. Half closing his eyes, drowsily, Ramsey played that this sunshine spot was a white bird's-next and, and he had a momentary half dream of a glittering little bird that dwelt there and wore a blue soldier cap on its head. The earnest old voice of the veteran was only a sound in the boy's ears.
"Yes, it's simple and plain enough now, though then we didn't often think of it in exactly this way, but just went on fighting and never doubted. We knew the struggle and suffering of our fathers and grandfathers to make a great country here for Freedom, and we knew that all this wasn't just the whim of a foolish god, willing to waste such great things—we knew that such a country couldn't have been building up just to be wasted. But, more than that, we knew that armies fighting for the Freedom of Man had to win, in the long run, over armies that fought for what they considered their rights.
"We didn't set out to free the slaves, so far as we knew. Yet our being against slavery was what made the war, and we had the consciousness that we were on the side of God's plan, because His plan is clearly the Freedom of Man. Long ago we began to see the hints of His plan—a little like the way you can see what's coming in August from what happens in April, but man has to win his freedom from himself—men in the light have to fight against men in the dark of their own shadow. That light is the answer; we had the light that made us never doubt. Ours was the true light, and so we—"
"Boom—" The veterans had begun to fire their cannon on the crest of the low hill, out at the cemetery; and from a little way down the street came the rat-a-tat of a toy drum and sounds of a fife played execrably. A file of children in cocked hats made of newspapers came marching importantly up the sidewalk under the maple shade trees; and in advance, upon a velocipede, rode a tin-sworded personage, shrieking incessant commands but not concerning himself with whether or not any military obedience was thereby obtained. Here was a revivifying effect upon young Ramsey; his sluggard eyelids opened electrically; he leaped to his feet and, abandoning his grandfather without preface or apology, sped across the lawn and out of the gate, charging headlong upon the commander of the company.
"You get off that 'locipede, Wesley Bender!" he bellowed. "You gimme that sword! What rights you got to go bein' captain o' my army, I'd like to know! Who got up this army, in the first place, I'd like to know! I did, myself yesterd'y afternoon, and you get back in line or I won't let you b'long to it at all!"
The pretender succumbed; he instantly dismounted, being out-shouted and overawed. On foot he took his place in the ranks, while Ramsey became sternly vociferous. "In-tention, company! Farwud march! Col-lumn right! Right-showdler harms! Halt! Far-wud march. Carry harms—"
The Army went trudging away under the continuous but unheed fire of orders, and presently disappeared round a corner, leaving the veteran chuckling feebly under his walnut tree and alone with the empty street. All trace of what he had said seemed to have been wiped from the grandson's mind; but memory has curious ways. Ramsey had understood not a fifth nor a tenth of his grandfather's talk, and already he had "forgotten" all of it—yet not only were there many, many times in the boy's later life when, without ascertainable cause, he would remember the sunlight falling upon the old man's white head, to make that semblance of a glittering bird's-nest there, but with the picture came recollections of words and sentences spoken by the grandfather, though the listener, half-drowsily, had heard but the sound of an old, earnest voice—and even the veteran's meaning finally took on a greater definiteness till it became, in the grandson's thoughts, something clear and bright and beautiful that he knew without being just sure where or how he had learned it.
Ramsey Milholland sat miserably in school, his conscious being consisting principally of a dull hate. Torpor was a little dispersed during a fifteen-minute interval of "Music," when he and all the other pupils in the large room of the "Five B. Grade" sang repeated fractions of what they enunciated as "The Star Span-guh-hulled Banner"; but afterward he relapsed into the low spirits and animosity natural to anybody during enforced confinement under instruction. No alleviation was accomplished by an invader's temporary usurpation of the teacher's platform, a brisk and unsympathetically cheerful young woman mounting thereon to "teach German."
For a long time mathematics and German had been about equally repulsive to Ramsey, who found himself daily in the compulsory presence of both; but he was gradually coming to regard German with the greater horror, because, after months of patient mental resistance, he at last began to comprehend that the German language has sixteen special and particular ways of using the German article corresponding to that flexible bit of a word so easily managed English—the. What in the world was the use of having sixteen ways of doing a thing that could just as well be done in one? If the Germans had contented themselves with insisting upon sixteen useless variations for infrequent words, such as hippopotamus, for instance, Ramsey might have thought the affair unreasonable but not necessarily vicious—it would be easy enough to avoid talking about a hippopotamus if he ever had to go to Germany. But the fact that the Germans picked out a and the and many other little words in use all the time, and gave every one of them sixteen forms, and expected Ramsey Milholland to learn this dizzying uselessness down to the last crotchety detail, with "When to employ Which" as a nausea to prepare for the final convulsion when one didn't use Which, because it was an "Exception"—there was a fashion of making easy matters hard that was merely hellish.
The teacher was strict but enthusiastic; she told the children, over and over, that German was a beautiful language, and her face always had a glow when she said this. At such times the children looked patient; they supposed it must be so, because she was an adult and their teacher; and they believed her with the same manner of believing which those of them who went to Sunday-school used there when the Sunday-school teachers were pushed into explanations of various matters set forth in the Old Testament, or gave reckless descriptions of heaven. That is to say, the children did not challenge or deny; already they had been driven into habits of resignation and were passing out of the age when childhood is able to reject adult nonsense.
Thus, to Ramsey Milholland, the German language seemed to be a collection of perverse inventions for undeserved torment; it was full of revolting surprises in the way of genders; vocally it often necessitated the employment of noises suggestive of an incompletely mastered knowledge of etiquette; and far inside him there was something faintly but constantly antagonistic to it—yet, when the teacher declared that German was incomparably the most beautiful language in the world, one of the many facets of his mind submissively absorbed the statement as light to be passed inward; it was part of the lesson to be learned. He did not know whether the English language was beautiful or not; he never thought about that, and no one ever said anything to him about it. Moreover, though his deeper inward hated "German," he liked his German teacher, and it was pleasant to look at her when that glow came upon her face.
Sometimes, too, there were moments of relaxation in her class, when she would stop the lesson and tell the children about Germany: what a beautiful, good country it was, so trim and orderly, with such pleasant customs, and all the people sensible and energetic and healthy. There was "Music" again in the German class, which was another alleviation; though it was the same old "Star Spangled Banner" over again. Ramsey was tired of the song and tired of "My Country 'Tis of Thee"; they were bores, but it was amusing to sing them in German. In German they sounded "sort o' funny," so he didn't mind this bit of the day's work.
Half an hour later there arrived his supreme trial of this particular morning. Arithmetic then being the order of business before the house, he was sent alone to the blackboard, supposedly to make lucid the proper reply to a fatal conundrum in decimals, and under the glare and focus of the whole room he breathed heavily and itched everywhere; his brain at once became sheer hash. He consumed as much time as possible in getting the terms of the problem stated in chalk; then, affecting to be critical of his own handiwork, erased what he had done and carefully wrote it again. After that, he erased half of it, slowly retraced the figures, and stepped back as if to see whether perspective improved their appearance. Again he lifted the eraser.
"Put down that eraser!"
"Yes'm. I just thought—"
Sharply bidden to get forward with his task, he explained in a feeble voice that he had first to tie a shoe string and stooped to do so, but was not permitted. Miss Ridgely tried to stimulate him with hints and suggestion; found him, so far as decimals went, mere protoplasm, and, wondering how so helpless a thing could live, summoned to the board little Dora Yocum, the star of the class, whereupon Ramsey moved toward his seat.
"Stand still, Ramsey! You stay right where you are and try to learn something from the way Dora does it."
The class giggled, and Ramsey stood, but learned nothing. His conspicuousness was unendurable, because all of his schoolmates naturally found more entertainment in watching him than in following the performance of the capable Dora. He put his hands in and out of his pockets; was bidden to hold them still, also not to shuffle his feet; and when in a false assumption of ease he would have scratched his head Miss Ridgely's severity increased, so that he was compelled to give over the attempt.
Instructed to watch every figure chalked up by the mathematical wonder, his eyes, grown sodden, were unable to remove themselves from the part in her hair at the back of her head, where two little braids began their separate careers to end in a couple of blue-and-red checked bits of ribbon, one upon each of her thin shoulder blades. He was conscious that the part in Dora's shining brown hair was odious, but he was unconscious of anything arithmetical. His sensations clogged his intellect; he suffered from unsought notoriety, and hated Dora Yocum; most of all he hated her busy little shoulder blades.
He had to be "kept in" after school; and when he was allowed to go home he averted his eyes as he went by the house where Dora lived. She was out in the yard, eating a doughnut, and he knew it; but he had passed the age when it is just as permissible to throw a rock at a girl as at a boy; and stifling his normal inclinations, he walked sturdily on, though he indulged himself so far as to engage in a murmured conversation with one of the familiar spirits dwelling somewhere within him. "Pfa!" said Ramsey to himself—or himself to Ramsey, since it is difficult to say which was which. "Pfa! Thinks she's smart, don't she?"... "Well, I guess she does, but she ain't!" ... "I hate her, don't you?"... "You bet your life I hate her!"... "Teacher's Pet, that's what I call her!"... "Well, that's what I call her, too, don't I?" "Well, I do; that's all she is, anyway—dirty ole Teacher's Pet!"
He had not forgiven her four years later when he entered high school in her company, for somehow Ramsey managed to shovel his way through examinations and stayed with the class. By this time he had a long accumulation of reasons for hating her: Dora's persistent and increasing competency was not short of flamboyant, and teachers naturally got the habit of flinging their quickest pupil in the face of their slowest and "dumbest." Nevertheless, Ramsey was unable to deny that she had become less awful lookin' than she used to be. At least, he was honest enough to make a partial retraction when his friend and classmate, Fred Mitchell, insisted that an amelioration of Dora's appearance could be actually proven.
"Well, I'll take it back. I don't claim she's every last bit as awful lookin' as she always has been," said Ramsey, toward the conclusion of the argument. "I'll say this for her, she's awful lookin', but she may not be as awful lookin' as she was. She don't come to school with the edge of some of her underclo'es showin' below her dress any more, about every other day, and her eyewinkers have got to stickin' out some, and she may not be so abbasalootly skinny, but she'll haf to wait a mighty long while before I want to look at her without gettin' sick!"
The implication that Miss Yocum cared to have Ramsey look at her, either with or without gettin' sick, was mere rhetoric, and recognized as such by the producer of it; she had never given the slightest evidence of any desire that his gaze be bent upon her. What truth lay underneath his flourish rested upon the fact that he could not look at her without some symptoms of the sort he had tersely sketched to his friend; and yet, so pungent is the fascination of self-inflicted misery, he did look at her, during periods of study, often for three or four minutes at a stretch. His expression at such times indeed resembled that of one who has dined unwisely; but Dora Yocum was always too eagerly busy to notice it. He was almost never in her eye, but she was continually in his; moreover, as the banner pupil she was with hourly frequency an exhibit before the whole class.
Ramsey found her worst of all when her turn came in "Declamation," on Friday afternoons. When she ascended the platform, bobbed a little preliminary bow and began, "Listen, my children, and you shall hear," Ramsey included Paul Revere and the Old North Church and the whole Revolutionary War in his antipathy, since they somehow appeared to be the property of the Teacher's Pet. For Dora held this post in "Declamation" as well as in everything else; here, as elsewhere, the hateful child's prowess surpassed that of all others; and the teacher always entrusted her with the rendition of the "patriotic selections": Dora seemed to take fire herself when she declared:
"The fate of a nation was riding that night; And the spark struck out by that steed in his flight, Kindled the land into flame with its heat."
Ramsey himself was in the same section of declaimers, and performed next—a ghastly contrast. He gave a "selection from Shakespeare," assigned by the teacher; and he began this continuous misfortune by stumbling violently as he ascended the platform, which stimulated a general giggle already in being at the mere calling of his name. All of the class were bright with happy anticipation, for the miserable Ramsey seldom failed their hopes, particularly in "Declamation." He faced them, his complexion wan, his expression both baleful and horrified; and he began in a loud, hurried voice, from which every hint of intelligence was excluded:
"Most pottent, grave, and rev—"
The teacher tapped sharply on her desk, and stopped him. "You've forgotten to bow," she said. "And don't say 'pottent.' The word is 'potent'."
Ramsey flopped his head at the rear wall of the room, and began again:
"Most pottent potent gray and revenerd signers my very nobe and approve good masters that I have tan away this sole man's dutter it is mose true true I have marry dur the very headman frun tuv my fending hath this extent no more rude am I in speech—in speech—rude am I in speech—in speech—in speech—in speech—"
He had stalled. Perhaps the fatal truth of that phrase, and some sense of its applicability to the occasion had interfered with the mechanism which he had set in operation to get rid of the "recitation" for him. At all events, the machine had to run off its job all at once, or it wouldn't run at all. Stopped, it stayed stopped, and backing off granted no new impetus, though he tried, again and again. "Hath this extent no more rude am I in speech—" He gulped audibly. "Rude rude rude am I—rude am I in speech—in speech—in speech. Rude am I in speech—"
"Yes," the irritated teacher said, as Ramsey's failing voice continued huskily to insist upon this point. "I think you are!" And her nerves were a little soothed by the shout of laughter from the school—it was never difficult for teachers to be witty. "Go sit down, Ramsey, and do it after school."
His ears roaring, the unfortunate went to his seat, and, among all the hilarious faces, one stood out—Dora Yocum's. Her laughter was precocious; it was that of a confirmed superior, insufferably adult—she was laughing at him as a grown person laughs at a child. Conspicuously and unmistakably, there was something indulgent in her amusement. He choked. Here was a little squirt of a high-school girl who would trot up to George Washington himself and show off around him, given the opportunity; and George Washington would probably pat her on the head, or give her a medal—or something. Well, let him! Ramsey didn't care. He didn't care for George Washington, or Paul Revere, or Shakespeare, or any of 'em. They could all go to the dickens with Dora Yocum. They were all a lot of smarties anyway and he hated the whole stew of 'em!
There was one, however, whom he somehow couldn't manage to hate, even though this one officially seemed to be as intimately associated with Dora Yocum and superiority as the others were. Ramsey couldn't hate Abraham Lincoln, even when Dora was chosen to deliver the "Gettysburg Address" on the twelfth of February. Vaguely, yet reassuringly, Ramsey felt that Lincoln had resisted adoption by the intellectuals. Lincoln had said "Government of the people, by the people, for the people," and that didn't mean government by the teacher and the Teacher's Pet and Paul Revere and Shakespeare and suchlike; it meant government by everybody, and therefore Ramsey had as much to do with it as anybody else had. This was friendly; and he believed that if Abraham Lincoln could have walked into the schoolroom, Lincoln would have been as friendly with him as with Dora and the teacher herself. Beyond a doubt, Dora and the teacher thought Lincoln belonged to them and their crowd of exclusives; they seemed to think they owned the whole United States; but Ramsey was sure they were mistaken about Abraham Lincoln.
He felt that it was just like this little Yocum snippet to assume such a thing, and it made him sicker than ever to look at her.
Then, one day, he noticed that her eye-winkers were stickin' out farther and farther.
His discovery irritated him the more. Next thing, this ole Teacher's Pet would do she'd get to thinkin' she was pretty! If that happened, well, nobody could stand her! The long lashes made her eyes shadowy, and it was a fact that her shoulder blades ceased to insist upon notoriety; you couldn't tell where they were at all, any more. Her back seemed to be just a regular back, not made up of a lot of implements like shoulder blades and things.
A contemptible thing happened. Wesley Bender was well known to be the most untidy boy in the class and had never shown any remorse for his reputation or made the slightest effort either to improve or to dispute it. He was content: it failed to lower his standing with his fellows or to impress them unfavourably. In fact, he was treated as one who has attained a slight distinction. At least, he owned one superlative, no matter what its quality, and it lifted him out of the commonplace. It helped him to become better known, and boys liked to be seen with him. But one day, there was a rearrangement of the seating in the schoolroom: Wesley Bender was given a desk next in front of Dora Yocum's; and within a week the whole room knew that Wesley had begun voluntarily to wash his neck—the back of it, anyhow.
This was at the bottom of the fight between Ramsey Milholland and Wesley Bender, and the diplomatic exchanges immediately preceding hostilities were charmingly frank and unhyprocitical, although quite as mixed-up and off-the-issue as if they had been prepared by professional foreign office men. Ramsey and Fred Mitchell and four other boys waylaid young Bender on the street after school, intending jocosities rather than violence, but the victim proved sensitive. "You take your ole hands off o' me!" he said fiercely, as they began to push him about among them.
"Ole dirty Wes!" they hoarsely bellowed and squawked, in their changing voices. "Washes his ears!"... "Washes his neck!"... "Dora Yocum told his mama to turn the hose on him!"... "Yay-ho! Ole dirty Wes tryin to be a duke!"
Wesley broke from them and backed away, swinging his strapped books in a dangerous circle. "You keep off!" he warned them. "I got as much right to my pers'nal appearance as anybody!"
This richly fed their humour, and they rioted round him, keeping outside the swinging books at the end of the strap. "Pers'nal appearance!"... "Who went and bought it for you, Wes?"... "Nobody bought it for him. Dora Yocum took and give him one!"
"You leave ladies' names alone!" cried the chivalrous Wesley. "You ought to know better, on the public street, you—pups!"
Here was a serious affront, at least to Ramsey Milholland's way of thinking; for Ramsey, also, now proved sensitive. He quoted his friends—"Shut up!"—and advanced toward Wesley. "You look here! Who you callin' 'pups'?"
"Everybody!" Wesley hotly returned. "Everybody that hasn't got any more decency than to go around mentioning ladies' names on the public streets. Everybody that goes around mentioning ladies' names on the public streets are pups!"
"They are, are they?" Ramsey as hotly demanded. "Well, you just look here a minute; my own father mentions my mother's name on the public streets whenever he wants to, and you just try callin' my father a pup, and you won't know what happened to you!"
"What'll you do about it?"
"I'll put a new head on you," said Ramsey. "That's what I'll do, because anybody that calls my father or mother a pup—"
"Oh, shut up! I wasn't talking about your ole father and mother. I said everybody that mentioned Dora Yocum's name on the public streets was a pup, and I mean it! Everybody that mentions Dora Yocum's name on the pub—"
"Dora Yocum!" said Ramsey. "I got a perfect right to say it anywhere I want to. Dora Yocum, Dora Yocum, Dora Yocum!—"
"All right, then you're a pup!"
Ramsey charged upon him and received a suffocating blow full in the face, not from Mr. Bender's fist but from the solid bundle of books at the end of the strap. Ramsey saw eight or ten objectives instantly: there were Wesley Benders standing full length in the air on top of other Wesley Benders, and more Wesley Benders zigzagged out sideways from still other Wesley Benders; nevertheless, he found one of these and it proved to be flesh. He engaged it wildly at fisticuffs; pounded it upon the countenance and drove it away. Then he sat down upon the curbstone, and, with his dizzy eyes shut, leaned forward for the better accommodation of his ensanguined nose.
Wesley had retreated to the other side of the street holding a grimy handkerchief to the midmost parts of his pallid face. "There, you ole damn pup!" he shouted, in a voice which threatened to sob. "I guess that'll teach you to be careful how you mention Dora Yocum's name on the public streets!"
At this, Ramsey made a motion as if to rise and pursue, whereupon Wesley fled, wailing back over his shoulder as he ran, "You wait till I ketch you out alone on the public streets and I'll—"
His voice was lost in an outburst of hooting from his former friends, who sympathetically surrounded the wounded Ramsey. But in a measure, at least, the chivalrous fugitive had won his point. He was routed and outdone, yet what survived the day was a rumour, which became a sort of tenuous legend among those interested. There had been a fight over Dora Yocum, it appeared, and Ramsey Milholland had attempted to maintain something derogatory to the lady, while Wesley defended her as a knightly youth should. The something derogatory was left vague; nobody attempted to say just what it was, and the effects of the legend divided the schoolroom strictly according to gender.
The boys, unmindful of proper gallantry, supported Ramsey on account of the way he had persisted in lickin' the stuffin' out of Wesley Bender after receiving that preliminary wallop from Wesley's blackjack bundle of books. The girls petted and championed Wesley; they talked outrageously of his conqueror, fiercely declaring that he ought to be arrested; and for weeks they maintained a new manner toward him. They kept their facial expressions hostile, but perhaps this was more for one another's benefit than for Ramsey's; and several of them went so far out of their way to find even private opportunities for reproving him that an alert observer might have suspected them to have been less indignant than they seemed—but not Ramsey. He thought they all hated him, and said he was glad of it.
Dora was a non-partisan. The little prig was so diligent at her books she gave never the slightest sign of comprehending that there had been a fight about her. Having no real cognizance of Messrs. Bender and Milholland except as impediments to the advance of learning, she did not even look demure.
With Wesley Bender, Ramsey was again upon fair terms before the winter had run its course; the two were neighbours and, moreover, were drawn together by a community of interests which made their reconciliation a necessity. Ramsey played the guitar and Wesley played the mandolin.
All ill feeling between them died with the first duet of spring, yet the twinkling they made had no charm to soothe the savage breast of Ramsey whenever the Teacher's Pet came into his thoughts. He daydreamed a thousand ways of putting her in her place, but was unable to carry out any of them, and had but a cobwebby satisfaction in imagining discomfitures for her which remained imaginary. With a yearning so poignant that it hurt, he yearned and yearned to show her what she really was. "Just once!" he said to Fred Mitchell. "That's all I ask, just once. Just gimme one chance to show that girl what she really is. I guess if I ever get the chance she'll find out what's the matter with her, for once in her life, anyway!" Thus it came to be talked about and understood and expected in Ramsey's circle, all male, that Dora Yocum's day was coming. The nature of the disaster was left vague, but there was no doubt in the world that retribution merely awaited its ideal opportunity. "You'll see!" said Ramsey. "The time'll come when that ole girl'll wish she'd moved o' this town before she ever got appointed monitor of our class! Just you wait!"
They waited, but conditions appeared to remain unfavourable indefinitely. Perhaps the great opportunity might have arrived if Ramsey had been able to achieve a startling importance in any of the "various divergent yet parallel lines of school endeavour"—one of the phrases by means of which teachers and principal clogged the minds of their unarmed auditors. But though he was far from being the dumb driven beast of misfortune that he seemed in the schoolroom, and, in fact, lived a double life, exhibiting in his out-of-school hours a remarkable example of "secondary personality"—a creature fearing nothing and capable of laughter; blue-eyed, fairly robust, and anything but dumb—he was nevertheless without endowment or attainment great enough to get him distinction.
He "tried for" the high-school eleven, and "tried for" the nine, but the experts were not long in eliminating him from either of these competitions, and he had to content himself with cheering instead of getting cheered. He was by no manner of means athlete enough, or enough of anything else, to put Dora Yocum in her place, and so he and the great opportunity were still waiting in May, at the end of the second year of high school, when the class, now the "10 A," reverted to an old fashion and decided to entertain itself with a woodland picnic.
They gathered upon the sandy banks of a creek, in the blue shade of big, patchy-barked sycamores, with a dancing sky on top of everything and gold dust atwinkle over the water. Hither the napkin-covered baskets were brought from the wagons and assembled in the shade, where they appeared as an attractive little meadow of white napery, and gave both surprise and pleasure to communities of ants and to other original settlers of the neighbourhood.
From this nucleus or headquarters of the picnic, various expeditions set forth up and down the creek and through the woods that bordered it. Camera work was constant; spring wild flowers were accumulated by groups of girls who trooped through the woods with eager eyes searching the thickets; two envied boy fishermen established themselves upon a bank up-stream, with hooks and lines thoughtfully brought with them, and poles which they fashioned from young saplings. They took mussels from the shallows, for bait, and having gone to all this trouble, declined to share with friends less energetic and provident the perquisites and pleasures secured to themselves.
Albert Paxton was another person who proved his enterprise. Having visited the spot some days before, he had hired for his exclusive use throughout the duration of the picnic an old rowboat belonging to a shanty squatter; it was the only rowboat within a mile or two and Albert had his own uses for it. Albert was the class lover and, after first taking the three chaperon teachers "out for a row," an excursion concluded in about ten minutes, he disembarked them; Sadie Clews stepped into the boat, a pocket camera in one hand, a tennis racket in the other; and the two spent the rest of the day, except for the luncheon interval, solemnly drifting along the banks or grounded on a shoal. Now and then Albert would row a few strokes, and at almost any time when the populated shore glanced toward them, Sadie would be seen photographing Albert, or Albert would be seen photographing Sadie, but the tennis racket remained an enigma. Oarsman and passenger appeared to have no conversation whatever—not once was either seen or heard to address a remark to the other; and they looked as placid as their own upside-down reflections in one of the still pools they slowly floated over. They were sixteen, and had been "engaged" more than two years.
On the borders of the little meadow of baskets there had been deposited two black shapes, which remained undisturbed throughout the day, a closed guitar case and a closed mandolin case, no doubt containing each its proper instrument. So far as any use of these went they seemed to be of the same leisure class to which Sadie's tennis racket belonged, for when one of the teachers suggested music, the musicians proved shy. Wesley Bender said they hadn't learned to play anything much and, besides, he had a couple o' broken strings he didn't know as he could fix up; and Ramsey said he guessed it seemed kind o' too hot to play much. Joining friends, they organized a contest in marksmanship, the target being a floating can which they assailed with pebbles; and after that they "skipped" flat stones upon the surface of the water, then went to join a group gathered about Willis Parker and Heinie Krusemeyer.
No fish had been caught, a lack of luck crossly attributed by the fishermen to the noise made by constant advice on the part of their attendant gallery. Messrs. Milholland, Bender, and the other rock throwers came up shouting, and were ill received.
"For heaven's sakes," Heinie Krusemeyer demanded, "can't you shut up? Here we just first got the girls to keep their mouths shut a minute and I almost had a big pickerel or something on my hook, and here you got to up and yell so he chases himself away! Why can't nobody show a little sense sometimes when they ought to?"
"I should say so!" his comrade exclaimed. "If people would only just take and think of all the trouble we been to, it seems funny somebody couldn't let us have half a chance to get a few good fish. What chance they got to bite with a lot o' girls gabbin' away, and then, just as we get 'em quieted down, all you men got to come bustin' up here yellin' your heads off. A fish isn't goin' to bite when he can't even hear himself think! Anybody ought to know that much."
But the new arrivals hooted. "Fish!" Ramsey vociferated. "I'll bet a hundred dollars there hasn't been even a minny in this creek for the last sixty years!"
"There is, too!" said Heinie, bitterly. "But I wouldn't be surprised there wouldn't be no longer if you got to keep up this noise. If you'd shut up just a minute you could see yourself there's fish here."
In whispers several of the tamed girls at once heartily corroborated this statement, whereupon the newcomers ceased to gibe and consented to silence. Ramsey leaned forth over the edge of the overhanging bank, a dirt precipice five feet above the water, and peered into the indeterminable depths below. The pool had been stirred, partly by the inexpert pokings of the fishermen and partly by small clods and bits of dirt dislodged from above by the feet of the audience. The water, consequently, was but brownly translucent and revealed its secrets reluctantly; nevertheless certain dim little shapes had been observed to move within it, and were still there. Ramsey failed to see them at first.
"Where's any ole fish?" he inquired, scornfully.
"Oh, my goodness!" Heinie Krusemeyer moaned. "Can't you shut up?"
"Look!" whispered the girl who stood nearest to Ramsey. She pointed. "There's one. Right down there by Willis's hook. Don't you see him?"
Ramsey was impressed enough to whisper. "Is there? I don't see him. I can't—"
The girl came closer to him, and, the better to show him, leaned out over the edge of the bank, and, for safety in maintaining her balance, rested her left hand upon his shoulder while she pointed with her right. Thereupon something happened to Ramsey. The touch upon his shoulder was almost nothing, and he had never taken the slightest interest in Milla Rust (to whom that small warm hand belonged), though she was the class beauty, and long established in the office. Now, all at once, a peculiar and heretofore entirely unfamiliar sensation suddenly became important in the upper part of his chest. For a moment he held his breath, an involuntary action;—he seemed to be standing in a shower of flowers.
"Don't you see it, Ramsey?" Milla whispered. "It's a great big one. Why, it must be as long as—as your shoe! Look!"
Ramsey saw nothing but the thick round curl on Milla's shoulder. Milla had a group of curls on each of her shoulders, for she got her modes at the Movies and had that sort of prettiness: large, gentle, calculating eyes, and a full, softly modelled face, implacably sweet. Ramsey was accustomed to all this charm, and Milla had never before been of more importance to him than an equal weight of school furniture—but all at once some magic had enveloped her. That curl upon the shoulder nearest him was shot with dazzling fibres of sunshine. He seemed to be trembling.
"I don't see it," he murmured, huskily, afraid that she might remove her hand. "I can't see any fish, Milla."
She leaned farther out over the bank. "Why, there, goosie!" she whispered. "Right there."
"I can't see it."
She leaned still farther, bending down to point. "Why right th—"
At this moment she removed her hand from his shoulder, though unwillingly. She clutched at him, in fact, but without avail. She had been too amiable.
A loud shriek was uttered by throats abler to vocalize, just then, than Milla's, for in her great surprise she said nothing whatever—the shriek came from the other girls as Milla left the crest of the overhanging bank and almost horizontally disappeared into the brown water. There was a tumultuous splash, and then of Milla Rust and her well-known beautifulness there was nothing visible in the superficial world, nor upon the surface of that creek. The vanishment was total.
Several girls afterward admitted having used this expression, and little Miss Floy Williams, the youngest and smallest member of the class, was unable to deny that she had said, "Oh, God!" Nothing could have been more natural, and the matter need not have been brought before her with such insistence and frequency, during the two remaining years of her undergraduate career.
Ramsey was one of those who heard this exclamation, later so famous, and perhaps it was what roused him to heroism. He dived from the bank, headlong, and the strange thought in his mind was "I guess this'll show Dora Yocum!" He should have been thinking of Milla, of course, at such a time, particularly after the little enchantment just laid upon him by Milla's touch and Milla's curls; and he knew well enough that Miss Yocum was not among the spectators. She was half a mile away, as it happened, gathering "botanical specimens" with one of the teachers—which was her idea of what to do at a picnic!
Ramsey struck the water hard, and in the same instant struck something harder. Wesley Bender's bundle of books had given him no such shock as he received now, and if the creek bottom had not been of mud, just there, the top of his young head might have declined the strain. Half stunned, choking, spluttering he somehow floundered to his feet; and when he could get his eyes a little cleared of water he found himself wavering face to face with a blurred vision of Milla Rust. She had risen up out of the pod and stood knee deep, like a lovely drenched figure in a fountain.
Upon the bank above them, Willis Parker was jumping up and down, gesticulating and shouting fiercely. "Now I guess you're satisfied our fishin' is spoilt! Whyn't you listen me? I told you it wasn't more'n three feet deep! I and Heinie waded all over this creek gettin' our bait. You're a pretty sight!"
Of Milla he spoke unwittingly the literal truth. Even with her hair thus wild and sodden, Milla rose from immersion blushing and prettier than ever; and she was prettiest of all when she stretched out her hand helplessly to Ramsey and he led her up out of the waters. They had plenty of assistance to scramble to the top of the bank, and there Milla was surrounded and borne away with a great clacketing and tumult. Ramsey gave his coat into the hands of friends, who twisted the water out of it for him, while he sat upon the grass in the sun, rubbed his head, and experimented with his neck to see if it would "work." The sunshine was strong and hot; in half an hour he and his clothes were dry—or at least "dry enough," as he said, and except for some soreness of head and neck, and the general crumpledness of his apparel, he seemed to be in all ways much as usual when shouts and whistlings summoned all the party to luncheon at the rendezvous. The change that made him different was invisible.
The change in Ramsey was invisible, and yet something must have been seen, for everyone appeared to take it for granted that he was to sit next to Milla at the pastoral meal. She herself understood it, evidently, for she drew in her puckered skirts and without any words make a place for him beside her as he driftingly approached her, affecting to whistle and keeping his eyes on the foliage overhead. He still looked upward, even in the act of sitting down.
"Squirrel or something," he said, feebly, as if in explanation.
"Where?" Milla asked.
"Up there on a branch." He accepted a plate from her (she had provided herself with an extra one), but he did not look at it or her. "I'm not just exactly sure it's a squirrel," he said. "Kind of hard to make out exactly what it is." He continued to keep his eyes aloft, because he imagined that all of the class were looking at him and Milla, and he felt unable to meet such publicity. It was to him as if the whole United States had been scandalized to attention by this act of his in going to sit beside Milla; he gazed upward so long that his eyeballs became sensitive under the strain. He began to blink. "I can't make out whether it's a squirrel or just some leaves that kind o' got fixed like one," he said. "I can't make out yet which it is, but I guess when there's a breeze, if it's a squirrel he'll prob'ly hop around some then, if he's alive or anything."
It had begun to seem that his eyes must remain fixed in that upward stare forever; he wanted to bring them down, but could not face the glare of the world. So the fugitive ostrich is said to bury his head in the sand; he does it, not believing himself thereby hidden but trying to banish from his own cognizance terrible facts which his unsheltered eyes have seemed to reveal. So, too, do nervous children seek to bury their eyes under pillows, and nervous statesmen theirs under oratory. Ramsey's ostrichings can happen to anybody. But finally the brightness of the sky between the leaves settled matters for him; he sneezed, wept, and for a little moment again faced his fellowmen. No one was looking at him; everybody except Milla had other things to do.
Having sneezed involuntarily, he added a spell of coughing for which there was no necessity. "I guess I must be wrong," he muttered thickly.
"What about, Ramsey?"
"About it bein' a squirrel." With infinite timidity he turned his head and encountered a gaze so soft, so hallowed, that it disconcerted him, and he dropped a "drumstick" of fried chicken, well dotted with ants, from his plate. Scarlet he picked it up, but did not eat it. For the first time in his life he felt that eating fried chicken held in the fingers was not to be thought of. He replaced the "drumstick" upon his plate and allowed it to remain there untouched, in spite of a great hunger for it.
Having looked down, he now found difficulty in looking up, but gazed steadily at his plate, and into this limited circle of vision came Milla's delicate and rosy fingers, bearing a gift. "There," she said in a motherly little voice. "It's a tomato mayonnaise sandwich and I made it myself. I want you to eat it, Ramsey."
His own fingers approached tremulousness as he accepted the thick sandwich from her and conveyed it to his mouth. A moment later his soul filled with horror, for a spurt of mayonnaise dressing had caused a catastrophe the scene of which occupied no inconsiderable area of his right cheek; which was the cheek toward Milla. He groped wretchedly for his handkerchief but could not find it; he had lost it. Sudden death would have been relief; he was sure that after such grotesquerie Milla could never bear to have anything more to do with him; he was ruined.
In his anguish he felt a paper napkin pressed gently into his hand; a soft voice said in his ear, "Wipe it off with this, Ramsey. Nobody's noticing."
So this incredibly charitable creature was still able to be his friend, even after seeing him mayonnaised! Humbly marvelling, he did as she told him, but avoided all further risks. He ate nothing more.
He sighed his first sigh of inexpressibleness, had a chill or so along the spine, and at intervals his brow was bedewed.
Within his averted eyes there dwelt not the Milla Rust who sat beside him, but an iridescent, fragile creature who had become angelic.
He spent the rest of the day dawdling helplessly about her; wherever she went he was near, as near as possible, but of no deliberate volition of his own. Something seemed to tie him to her, and Milla was nothing loth. He seldom looked at her directly, or for longer than an instant, and more rarely still did he speak to her except as a reply. What few remarks he ventured upon his own initiative nearly all concerned the landscape, which he commended repeatedly in a weak voice, as "kind of pretty," though once he said he guessed there might be bugs in the bark of a log on which they sat; and he became so immoderately personal as to declare that if the bugs had to get on anybody he'd rather they got on him than on Milla. She said that was "just perfectly lovely" of him, asked where he got his sweet nature, and in other ways encouraged him to continue the revelation, but Ramsey was unable to get forward with it, though he opened and closed his mouth a great many times in the effort to do so.
At five o'clock everybody was summoned again to the rendezvous for a ceremony preliminary to departure: the class found itself in a large circle, standing, and sang "The Star Spangled Banner." Ordinarily, on such an open-air and out-of-school occasion, Ramsey would have joined the chorus uproariously with the utmost blatancy of which his vocal apparatus was capable; and most of the other boys expressed their humour by drowning out the serious efforts of the girls; but he sang feebly, not much more than humming through his teeth. Standing beside Milla, he was incapable of his former inelegancies and his voice was in a semi-paralyzed condition, like the rest of him.
Opposite him, across the circle, Dora Yocum stood a little in advance of those near her, for of course she led the singing. Her clear and earnest voice was distinguishable from all others, and though she did not glance toward Ramsey he had a queer feeling that she was assuming more superiority than ever, and that she was icily scornful of him and Milla. The old resentment rose—he'd "show" that girl yet, some day!
When the song was over, cheers were given for the class, "the good ole class of Nineteen Fourteen," the school, the teachers, and for the picnic, thus officially concluded; and then the picnickers, carrying their baskets and faded wild flowers and other souvenirs and burdens, moved toward the big "express wagons" which were to take them back into the town. Ramsey got his guitar case, and turned to Milla.
"Well—" he said.
"Well what, Ramsey?"
"Why, no," said Milla. "Anyways not yet. You can go back in the same wagon with me. It's going to stop at the school and let us out there, and then you could walk home with me if you felt like it. You could come all the way to our gate with me, I expect, unless you'd be late home for your supper."
"Well—well, I'd be perfectly willing," Ramsey said. "Only I heard we all had to go back in whatever wagon we came out in, and I didn't come in the same wagon with you, so—"
Milla laughed and leaned toward him a little. "I already 'tended to that," she said confidentially. "I asked Johnnie Fiske, that came out in my wagon, to go back in yours, so that makes room for you."
"Well—then I guess I could do it." He moved toward the wagon with her. "I expect it don't make much difference one way or the other."
"And you can carry my basket if you want to," she said, adding solicitously, "Unless it's too heavy when you already got your guitar case to carry, Ramsey."
This thoughtfulness of hers almost overcame him; she seemed divine. He gulped, and emotion made him even pinker than he had been under the mayonnaise.
"I—I'll be glad to carry the basket, too," he faltered. "It-it don't weigh anything much."
"Well, let's hurry, so's we can get places together."
Then, as she manoeuvred him through the little crowd about the wagon, with a soft push this way and a gentle pull that, and hurried him up the improvised steps and found a place where there was room for them to sit, Ramsey had another breathless sensation heretofore unknown to him. He found himself taken under a dovelike protectorship; a wonderful, inexpressible Being seemed to have become his proprietor.
"Isn't this just perfectly lovely?" she said cozily, close to his ear.
He swallowed, but found no words, for he had no thoughts; he was only an incoherent tumult. This was his first love.
"Isn't it, Ramsey?" she urged. The cozy voice had just the hint of a reproach. "Don't you think it's just perfectly lovely, Ramsey?"
The next morning Ramsey came into his father's room while Mr. Milholland was shaving, an hour before church time, and it became apparent that the son had someting on his mind, though for a while he said nothing.
"Did you want anything, Ramsey?"
"Didn't want to borrow my razors?"
Mr. Milholland chuckled. "I hardly supposed so, seriously! Shaving is a great nuisance and the longer you keep away from it, the better. And when you do, you let my razors alone, young feller!"
"Yes, sir." (Mr. Milholland's razors were safe, Ramsey had already achieved one of his own, but he practised the art in secret.) He passed his hand thoughtfully over his cheeks, and traces of white powder were left upon his fingers, whereupon he wiped his hand surreptitiously, and stood irresolutely waiting.
"What is it you really want, Ramsey?"
"I guess I don't want anything."
"No, sir. You gay' me some Friday."
Mr. Milholland turned from his mirror and looked over the edge of a towel at his son. In the boy's eyes there was such a dumb agony of interrogation that the father was a little startled.
"Why, what is it, Ramsey? Have you—" He paused, frowning and wondering. "You haven't been getting into some mess you want to tell me about, have you?"
His tone was meek, but a mute distress lurked within it, bringing to the father's mind disturbing suspicions, and foreshadowings of indignation and of pity. "See here, Ramsey," he said, "if there's anything you want to ask me, or to tell me, you'd better out with it and get it over. Now, what is it?"
"Well—it isn't anything."
"Are you sure?"
Ramsey's eyes fell before the severe and piercing gaze of his father. "Yes, sir."
Mr. Milholland shook his head doubtfully; then, as his son walked slowly out of the room, he turned to complete his toilet in a somewhat uneasy frame of mind. Ramsey had undoubtedly wanted to say something to him and the boy's expression had shown that the matter in question was serious, distressing, and, it might be, even critical.
In fact it was—to Ramsey. Having begun within only the last few hours to regard haberdashery as of vital importance, and believing his father to be possessed of the experience and authority lacking in himself, Ramsey had come to get him to settle a question which had been upsetting him badly, in his own room, since breakfast. What he want to know was: Whether it was right to wear an extra handkerchief showing out of the coat breast pocket or not, and, if it was right—ought the handkerchief to have a coloured border or to be plain white? But he had never before brought any such perplexities to his father, and found himself too diffident to set them forth.
However, when he left the house, a few minutes later, he boldly showed an inch of purple border above the pocket; then, as he was himself about to encounter several old lady pedestrians, he blushed and thrust the handkerchief down into deep concealment. Having gone a block farther, he pulled it up again; and so continued to operate this badge of fashion, or unfashion, throughout the morning; and suffered a great deal thereby.
Meantime, his father, rather relieved that Ramsey had not told his secret, whatever it was, dismissed the episode from his mind and joined Mrs. Milholland at the front door, ready for church.
"Where's Ramsey?" he asked.
"He's gone ahead," she answered, buttoning her gloves as they went along. "I heard the door quite a little while ago. Perhaps he went over to walk down with Charlotte and Vance. Did you notice how neat he looks this morning?"
"Why, no, I didn't; not particularly. Does he?"
"I never saw anything like it before," said Mrs. Milholland. "He went down in the cellar and polished his own shoes."
"For about an hour, I think," she said, as one remaining calm before a miracle. "And he only has three neckties, but I saw him several times in each of them. He must have kept changing and changing. I wonder—" She paused.
"I'm glad he's begun to take a little care of his appearance at last. Business men think a good deal about that, these days, when he comes to make his start in the world. I'll have to take a look at him and give him a word of praise. I suppose he'll be in the pew when we get there."
But Ramsey wasn't in the pew; and Charlotte, his sister, and her husband, who were there, said they hadn't seen anything of him. It was not until the members of the family were on their way home after the services that they caught a glimpse of him.
They were passing a church a little distance from their own; here the congregation was just emerging to the open, and among the sedate throng descending the broad stone steps appeared an accompanied Ramsey—and a red, red Ramsey he was when he beheld his father and mother and sister and brother-in-law staring up at him from the pavement below. They were kind enough not to come to an absolute halt, but passed slowly on, so that he was just able to avoid parading up the street in front of them. The expressions of his father, mother, and sister were of a dumfoundedness painful to bear, while such lurking jocosity as that apparent all over his brother-in-law no dignified man should either exhibit or be called upon to ignore.
In hoarse whispers, Mrs. Milholland chided her husband for an exclamation he had uttered. "John! On Sunday! You ought to be ashamed."
"I couldn't help it," he exclaimed. "Who on earth is his clinging vine? Why, she's got lavender tops on her shoes and—"
"Don't look round!" she warned him sharply. "Don't—"
"Well, what's he doing at a Baptist church? What's he fidgeting at his handkerchief about? Why can't he walk like people? Does he think it's obligatory to walk home from church anchored arm-in-arm like Swedes on a Sunday Out? Who is this cow-eyed fat girl that's got him, anyhow?"
"Hush! Don't look round again, John."
"Never fear!" said her husband, having disobeyed. "They've turned off; they're crossing over to Bullard Street. Who is it?"
"I think her name's Rust," Mrs. Milholland informed him. "I don't know what her father does. She's one of the girls in his class at school."
"Well, that's just like a boy; pick out some putty-faced flirt to take to church!"
"Oh, she's quite pretty—in that way!" said his wife, deprecatingly. "Of course that's the danger with public schools. It would be pleasanter if he'd taken a fancy to someone whose family belongs to our own circle."
"'Taken a fancy'!" he echoed, hooting. "Why, he's terrible! He looked like a red-gilled goldfish that's flopped itself out of the bowl. Why, he—"
"I say I wish if he felt that he had to take girls anywhere," said Mrs. Milholland, with the primmest air of speaking to the point—"if this sort of thing must begin, I wish he might have selected some nice girl among the daughters of our own friends, like Dora Yocum, for instance."
Upon the spot she began to undergo the mortification of a mother who has expected her son, just out of infancy, to look about him with the eye of a critical matron of forty-five. Moreover, she was indiscreet enough to express her views to Ramsey, a week later, producing thus a scene of useless great fury and no little sound.
"I do think it's in very poor taste to see so much of any one girl, Ramsey," she said, and, not heeding his protest that he only walked home from school with Milla, "about every other day," and that it didn't seem any crime to him just to go to church with her a couple o' times, Mrs. Milholland went on: "But if you think you really must be dangling around somebody quite this much—though what in the world you find to talk about with this funny little Milla Rust you poor father says he really cannot see—and of course it seems very queer to us that you'd be willing to waste so much time just now when your mind ought to be entirely on your studies, and especially with such an absurd looking little thing—
"No, you must listen, Ramsey, and let me speak now. What I meant was that we shouldn't be quite so much distressed by your being seen with a girl who dressed in better taste and seemed to have some notion of refinement, though of course it's only natural she wouldn't, with a father who is just a sort of ward politician, I understand, and a mother we don't know, and of course shouldn't care to. But, oh, Ramsey! if you had to make yourself so conspicuous why couldn't you be a little bit more fastidious? Your father wouldn't have minded nearly so much if it had been a self-respecting, intellectual girl. We both say that if you must be so ridiculous at your age as to persist in seeing more of one girl than another, why, oh why, don't you go and see some really nice girl like Dora Yocum?"
Ramsey was already dangerously distended, as an effect of the earlier part of her discourse, and the word "fastidious" almost exploded him; but upon the climax, "Dora Yocum," he blew up with a shattering report and, leaving fragments of incoherence ricocheting behind him, fled shuddering from the house.
For the rest of the school term he walked home with Milla every afternoon and on sundays appeared to have become a resolute Baptist. It was supposed (by the interested members of the high-school class) that Ramsey and Milla were "engaged." Ramsey sometimes rather supposed they were himself, and the dim idea gave him a sensation partly pleasant, but mostly apprehensive: he was afraid.
He was afraid that the day was coming when he ought to kiss her.
Vacation, in spite of increased leisure, may bring inconvenience to people in Ramsey's strange but not uncommon condition. At home his constant air was that of a badgered captive plaintively silent under injustice; and he found it difficult to reply calmly when asked where he was going—an inquiry addressed to him, he asserted, every time he touched his cap, even to hang it up!
The amount of evening walking he did must also have been a trial to his nerves, on account of fatigue, though the ground covered was not vast. Milla's mother and father were friendly people but saw no reason to "move out of house and home," as Mr. Rust said, when Milla had "callers"; and on account of the intimate plan of their small dwelling a visitor's only alternative to spending the evening with Mr. and Mrs. Rust as well as with Milla, was to invite her to "go out walking."
Evening after evening they walked and walked and walked, usually in company—at perhaps the distance of half a block—with Albert Paxton and Sadie Clews, though Ramsey now and then felt disgraced by having fallen into this class; for sometimes it was apparent that Albert casually had his arm about Sadie's waist. This allured Ramsey somewhat, but terrified him more. He didn't know how such matters were managed.
Usually the quartet had no destination; they just went "out walking" until ten o'clock, when both girls had to be home—and the boys did, too, but never admitted it. On Friday evenings there was a "public open-air concert" by a brass band in a small park, and the four were always there. A political speechmaker occupied the bandstand one night, and they stood for an hour in the midst of the crowd, listening vaguely.
The orator saddled his politics upon patriotism. "Do you intend to let this glorious country go to wrack and ruin, oh, my good friends," he demanded, "or do you intend to save her? Look forth upon this country of ours, I bid you, oh, my countrymen, and tell me what you see. You see a fair domain of forest, mountain, plain, and fertile valleys, sweeping from ocean to ocean. Look from the sturdy rocks of old New England, pledged to posterity by the stern religious hardihood of the Pilgrim Fathers, across the corn-bearing midland country, that land of milk and honey, won for us by the pluck and endurance of the indomitable pioneers, to where in sunshine roll the smiling Sierras of golden California, given to our heritage by the unconquerable energy of those brave men and women who braved the tomahawk on the Great Plains, the tempest, of Cape Horn, and the fevers of Panama, to make American soil of El Dorado! America! Oh, my America, how glorious you stand! Country of Washington and Valley Forge, out of what martyrdoms hast thou arisen! Country of Lincoln in his box at Ford's theatre, his lifeblood staining to a brighter, holier red the red, white, and blue of the Old Flag! Always and always I see the Old Flag fluttering the more sacredly encrimsoned in the breeze for the martyrs who have upheld it! Always I see that Old Flag—"
Milla gave Ramsey's arm, within her own, a little tug. "Come on," she said. "Sade says she don't want to hang around here any longer. It's awful tiresome. Let's go."
He consented, placidly. The oration meant nothing to him and stirred no one in the audience. The orator was impassioned; he shouted himself into coughing fits, gesticulated, grew purple; he was so hot that his collar caved in and finally swooned upon his neck in soggy exhaustion, prostrate round his thunderings. Meanwhile, the people listened with an air of patience, yawning here and there, and gradually growing fewer. It was the old, old usual thing, made up of phrases that Ramsey had heard dinning away on a thousand such occasions, and other kinds of occasions, until they meant to him no more than so much sound. He was bored, and glad to leave.
"Kind o' funny," he said, as they sagged along the street at their usual tortoise gait.
"What is it, Ramsey?"
"Seems kind o' funny they never have anything to say any one can take any interest in. Always the same ole whoopety-whoop about George Washington and Pilgrim Fathers and so on. I bet five dollars before long we'd of heard him goin' on about our martyred Presidents, William McKinley and James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison and all so on, and then some more about the ole Red, White, and Blue. Don't you wish they'd quit, sometimes, about the 'Ole Flag'?"
"I dunno," said Milla. "I wasn't listening any at all. I hate speeches."
"Well, I could stand 'em," Ramsey said, more generously, "if they'd ever give anybody a little to think about. What's the use always draggin' in George Warshington and the Ole Flag? And who wants to hear any more ole truck about 'from ole rocky New England to golden California,' and how big and fine the United States is and how it's the land of the Free and all that? Why don't they ever say anything new? That's what I'd like to know."
Milla laughed, and when he asked why, she told him she'd never heard him talk so much "at one stretch." "I guess that speech got you kind of wound up," she said. "Let's talk about something different."
"I just soon," he agreed. And so they walked on in silence, which seemed to suit Milla. She hung weightily upon his arm, and they dawdled, drifting from one side of the pavement to the other as they slowly advanced. Ablert and Sadie, ahead of them, called "good-night" from a corner, before turning down the side street where Sadie lived; and then, presently, Ramsey and Milla were at the latter's gate. He went in with her, halting at the front steps.
"Well, g'night, Milla," he said. "Want to go out walking to-morrow night? Albert and Sadie are."
"I can't to-morrow night," she told him with obvious regret. "Isn't it the worst luck! I got an aunt comin' to visit from Chicago, and she's crazy about playing 'Five Hundred,' and Mama and Papa said I haf to stay in to make four to play it. She's liable to be here three or four days, and I guess I got to be around home pretty much all the time she's here. It's the worst luck!"
He was doleful, but ventured to be literary. "Well, what can't be helped must be endured. I'll come around when she's gone."
He moved as if to depart, but she still retained his arm and did not prepare to relinquish it.
"Well—" he said.
"Well what, Ramsey?"
She glanced up at the dark front of the house. "I guess the family's gone to bed," she said, absently.
"I s'pose so."
"Well, good-night, Ramsey." She said this but still did not release his arm, and suddenly, in a fluster, he felt that the time he dreaded had come. Somehow, without knowing where, except that it was somewhere upon what seemed to be a blurred face too full of obstructing features, he kissed her.
She turned instantly away in the darkness, her hands over her cheeks; and in a panic Ramsey wondered if he hadn't made a dreadful mistake.
"S'cuse me!" he said, stumbling toward the gate. "Well, I guess I got to be gettin' along back home."
He woke in the morning to a great self-loathing: he had kissed a girl. Mingled with the loathing was a curious pride in the very fact that caused the loathing, but the pride did not last long. He came downstairs morbid to breakfast, and continued this mood afterward. At noon Albert Paxton brought him a note which Milla had asked Sadie to ask Albert to give him.
Dearie: I am just wondering if you thought as much about something so sweet that happened last night as I did you know what. I think it was the sweetest thing. I send you one with this note and I hope you will think it is a sweet one. I would give you a real one if you were here now and I hope you would think it was sweeter still than the one I put in this note. It is the sweetest thing now you are mine and I am yours forever kiddo. If you come around about friday eve it will be all right. aunt Jess will be gone back home by then so come early and we will get Sade and Alb and go to the band Concert. Don't forget what I said about my putting something sweet in this note, and I hope you will think it is a sweet one but not as sweet as the real sweet one I would like to—
At this point Ramsey impulsively tore the note into small pieces. He turned cold as his imagination projected a sketch of his mother in the act of reading this missive, and of her expression as she read the sentence: "It is the sweetest thing now you are mine and I am yours forever kiddo." He wished that Milla hadn't written "kiddo." She called him that, sometimes, but in her warm little voice the word seemed not at all what it did in ink. He wished, too, that she hadn't said she was his forever.
Suddenly he was seized with a horror of her.
Moisture broke out heavily upon him; he felt a definite sickness, and, wishing for death, went forth upon the streets to walk and walk. He cared not whither, so that his feet took him in any direction away from Milla, since they were unable to take him away from himself—of whom he had as great a horror. Her loving face was continually before him, and its sweetness made his flesh creep. Milla had been too sweet.
When he met or passed people, it seemed to him that perhaps they were able to recognize upon him somewhere the marks of his low quality. "Softy! Ole sloppy fool!" he muttered, addressing himself. "Slushy ole mush!... Spooner!" And he added, "Yours forever, kiddo!" Convulsions seemed about to seize him.
Turning a corner with his head down, he almost charged into Dora Yocum. She was homeward bound from a piano lesson, and carried a rolled leather case of sheet music—something he couldn't imagine Milla carrying—and in her young girl's dress, which attempted to be nothing else, she looked as wholesome as cold spring water. Ramsey had always felt that she despised him and now, all at once, he thought that she was justified. Leper that he had become, he was unworthy to be even touching his cap to her! And as she nodded and went briskly on, he would have given anything to turn and walk a little way with her, for it seemed to him that this might fumigate his morals. But he lacked the courage, and, besides, he considered himself unfit to be seen walking with her.
He had a long afternoon of anguishes, these becoming most violent when he tried to face the problem of his future course toward Milla. He did not face it at all, in fact, but merely writhed, and had evolved nothing when Friday evening was upon him and Milla waiting for him to take her to the "band concert" with "Alb and Sade." In his thoughts, by that time, this harmless young pair shared the contamination of his own crime, and he regarded them with aversion; however, he made shift to seek a short interview with Albert, just before dinner.
"I got a pretty rotten headache, and my stomach's upset, too," he said, drooping upon the Paxton's fence. "I been gettin' worse every minute. You and Sadie go by Milla's, Albert, and tell her if I'm not there by ha'-pas'-seven, tell her not to wait for me any longer."
"How do you mean 'wait'?" Albert inquired. "You don't expect her to come pokin' along with Sadie and me, do you? She'll keep on sittin' there at home just the same, because she wouldn't have anything else to do, if you don't come like she expects you to. She hasn't got any way to stop waitin'!"
At this, Ramsey moaned, without affectation. "I don't expect I can, Albert," he said. "I'd like to if I could, but the way it looks now, you tell her I wouldn't be much surprised maybe I was startin' in with typhoid fever or pretty near anything at all. You tell her I'm pretty near as disappointed as she's goin' to be herself, and I'd come if I could—and I will come if I get a good deal better, or anything—but the way it's gettin' to look now, I kind o' feel as if I might be breaking out with something any minute." He moved away, concluding, feebly: "I guess I better crawl on home, Albert, while I'm still able to walk some. You tell her the way it looks now I'm liable to be right sick."
And the next morning he woke to the chafings of remorse, picturing a Milla somewhat restored in charm waiting hopefully at the gate, even after half-past seven, and then, as time passed and the sound of the distant horns came faintly through the darkness, going sadly to her room—perhaps weeping there. It was a picture to wring him with shame and pity, but was followed by another which electrified him, for out of school he did not lack imagination. What if Albert had reported his illness too vividly to Milla? Milla was so fond! What if, in her alarm, she should come here to the house to inquire of his mother about him? What if she told Mrs. Milholland they were "engaged"? The next moment Ramsey was projecting a conversation between his mother and Milla in which the latter stated that she and Ramsey were soon to be married; that she regarded him as already virtually her husband, and demanded to nurse him.
In a panic he fled from the house before breakfast, going out by way of a side door, and he crossed back yards and climbed back fences to reach Albert Paxton the more swiftly. This creature, a ladies' man almost professionally, was found exercising with an electric iron and a pair of flannel trousers in a basement laundry, by way of stirring his appetite for the morning meal.
"See here, Albert," his friend said breathlessly. "I got a favour. I want you to go over to Milla's—"
"I'm goin' to finish pressin' these trousers," Albert interrupted. "Then I've got my breakfast to eat."
"Well, you could do this first," said Ramsey, hurriedly. "It wouldn't hurt you to do me this little favour first. You just slip over and see Milla for me, if she's up yet, and if she isn't, you better wait around there till she is, because I want you to tell her I'm a whole lot better this morning. Tell her I'm pretty near practick'ly all right again, Albert, and I'll prob'ly write her a note or something right soon—or in a week or so, anyhow. You tell her—"
"Well, you act pretty funny!" Albert exclaimed, fumbling in the pockets of his coat. "Why can't you go on over and tell her yourself?"
"I would," said Ramsey. "I'd be perfectly willing to go only I got to get back home to breakfast."
Albert stared. "Well, I got to go upstairs and eat my own breakfast in about a minute, haven't I? But just as it happens there wouldn't be any use your goin' over there, or me, either."
"Milla ain't there," said Albert, still searching the pockets of his coat. "When we went by her house last night to tell her about your headache and stomach and all, why, her mother told us Milla'd gone up to Chicago yesterday afternoon with her aunt, and said she left a note for you, and she said if you were sick I better take it and give it to you. I was goin' to bring it over to your house after breakfast." He found it. "Here!"
Ramsey thanked him feebly, and departed in a state of partial stupefaction, brought on by a glimpse of the instabilities of life. He had also, not relief, but a sense of vacancy and loss; for Milla, out of his reach, once more became mysteriously lovely.
Pausing in an alley, he read her note.
Dearie: Thought I ought to call you up but over the 'phone is just nix for explanations as Mama and Aunt Jess would hear everything and thought I might seem cold to you not saying anything sweet on account of them listening and you would wonder why I was so cold when telling you good-by for a wile maybe weeks. It is this way Uncle Purv wired Aunt Jess he has just taken in a big touring car on a debt and his vacation starts to-morrow so if they were going to take a trip they better start right way so Aunt Jess invited me. It is going to be a big trip up around the lakes and I have always wanted to go touring more than anything in the world stopping at hotels and all and Mama said I ought to it would be so splendid for my health as she thinks I am failing some lately. Now dearie I have to pack and write this in a hurry so you will not be disappointed when you come by for the B. C. to-night. Do not go get some other girl and take her for I would hate her and nothing in this world make me false for one second to my kiddo boy. I do not know just when home again as the folks think I better stay up there for a visit at Aunt Jess and Uncle Purvs home in Chicago after the trip is over. But I will think of you all the time and you must think of me every minute and believe your own dearie she will never no not for one second be false. So tell Sade and Alb good-by for me and do not be false to me any more than I would be to you and it will not be long till nothing more will interrupt our sweet friendship.
As a measure of domestic prudence, Ramsey tore the note into irreparable fragments, but he did this slowly, and without experiencing any of the revulsion created by Milla's former missive.
He was melancholy, aggrieved that she should treat him so.
He never saw her again. She sent him a "picture postal" from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, which his father disengaged from the family mail, one morning at breakfast, and considerately handed to him without audible comment. Upon it was written, "Oh, you Ramsey!" This was the last of Milla.
Just before school opened, in the autumn, Sadie Clews made some revelations. "Milla did like you," said Sadie. "After that time you jumped in the creek to save her she liked you better than any boy in town, and I guess if it wasn't for her cousin Milt up in Chicago she would of liked you the best anywhere. I guess she did, anyway, because she hadn't seen him for about a year then.
"Well, that afternoon she went away I was over there and took in everything that was goin' on, only she made me promise on my word of honour I wouldn't even tell Albert. They didn't get any wire from her uncle about the touring car; it was her cousin Milt that jumped on the train and came down and fixed it all up for Milla to go on the trip, and everything. You see, Ramsey, she was turned back a couple of times in school before she came in our class and I don't exactly know how old she is and she don't look old yet, but I'm pretty sure she's at least eighteen, and she might be over. Her mother kept tellin' her all the time you were just a kid, and didn't have anything to support her on, and lots of things like that. I didn't think such a great deal of this Milt's looks, myself, but he's anyway twenty-one years old, and got a good position, and all their family seem to think he's just fine! It wasn't his father that took in the touring car on debt, like she said she was writing to you; it was Milt himself. He started out in business when he was only fifteen years old, and this trip he was gettin' up for his father and mother and Milla was the first vacation he ever took. Well, of course she wouldn't like my tellin' you, but I can't see the harm of it, now everything's all over."
"All—all over? You mean Milla's going to be—to be married?"
"She already is," said Sadie. "They got married at her Aunt Jess and Uncle Purv's house, up in Chicago, last Thursday. Yes, sir; that quiet little Milla's a regular old married woman by this time, I expect, Ramsey!"
When he got over the shock, which was not until the next day, one predominating feeling remained: it was a gloomy pride—a pride in his proven maturity. He was old enough, it appeared, to have been the same thing as engaged to a person who was now a Married Woman. His manner thenceforth showed an added trace of seriousness and self-consideration.
Having recovered his equipoise and something more, he entirely forgot that moment of humble admiration he had felt for Dora Yocum on the day of his flattest prostration. When he saw her sitting in the classroom, smiling brightly up at the teacher, the morning of the school's opening in the autumn, all his humility had long since vanished and she appeared to him not otherwise than as the scholar whose complete proficiency had always been so irksome to him.
"Look at her!" he muttered to himself. "Same ole Teacher's Pet!"
Now and then, as the days and seasons passed, and Dora's serene progress continued, never checked or even flawed, there stirred within some lingerings of the old determination to "show" her; and he would conjure up a day-dream of Dora in loud lamentation, while he led the laughter of the spectators. But gradually his feelings about her came to be merely a dull oppression. He was tired of having to look at her (as he stated it) and he thanked the Lord that the time wouldn't be so long now until he'd be out of that ole school, and then all he'd have to do he'd just take care never to walk by her house; it was easy enough to use some other street when he had to go down-town.
"The good ole class of Nineteen-Fourteen is about gone," he said to Fred Mitchell, who was still his most intimate friend when they reached the senior year. "Yes, sir; it's held together a good many years, Fred, but after June it'll be busted plum up, and I hope nobody starts a move to have any reunions. There's a good many members of the ole class that I can stand and there's some I can't, but there's one I just won't! If we ever did call a reunion, that ole Yocum girl would start in right away and run the whole shebang, and that's where I'd resign! You know, Fred, the thing I think is the one biggest benefit of graduating from this ole school? It's never seein' Dora Yocum again."
This was again his theme as he sat by the same friend's side, in the rear row of the class at Commencement, listening to the delivery of the Valedictory. "Thinks she's just sooblime, don't she!" he whispered morosely. "She wouldn't trade with the President of the United States right now. She prob'ly thinks bein' Valedictorian is more important than Captain of the State University Eleven. Never mind!" And here his tone became huskily jubilant. "Never mind! Just about a half-an-hour more and that's the last o' you, ole girl! Yes, sir, Fred; one thing we can feel pretty good over: this is where we get through with Dora Yocum!"
Ramsey and Fred had arranged to room together at Greenfield, the seat of the state university, and they made the short journey in company the following September. They arrived hilarious, anticipating pleasurable excitements in the way of "fraternity" pledgings and initiations, encounters with sophomores, class meetings, and elections; and, also, they were not absolutely without interest in the matter of Girls, for the state university was co-educational, and it was but natural to expect in so broad a field, all new to them, a possible vision of something rather thrilling. They whispered cheerfully of all these things during the process of matriculation, and signed the registrar's book on a fresh page; but when Fred had written his name under Ramsey's, and blotted it, he took the liberty of turning over the leaf to examine some of the autographs of their future classmates, written on the other side. Then he uttered an exclamation, more droll than dolorous, though it affected to be wholly the latter; for the shock to Fred was by no means so painful as it was to his friend.
Ramsey leaned forward and read the name indicated by Fred's forefinger.
...When they got back to their pleasant quarters at Mrs. Meig's, facing the campus, Ramsey was still unable to talk of anything except the lamentable discovery; nor were his companion's burlesquing efforts to console him of great avail, though Fred did become serious enough to point out that a university was different from a high school.
"It's not like havin' to use one big room as a headquarters, you know, Ramsey. Everything's all split up, and she might happen not to be in a single of your classes."
"You don't know my luck!" the afflicted boy protested. "I wish I'd gone to Harvard, the way my father wanted me to. Why, this is just the worst nuisance I ever struck! You'll see! She'll be in everything there is, just the way she was back home."
He appeared to be corroborated by the events of the next day, when they attended the first meeting to organize the new class. The masculine element predominated, but Dora Yocum was elected vice-president. "You see?" Ramsey said. "Didn't I tell you? You see what happens?"
But after that she ceased for a time to intrude upon his life, and he admitted that his harassment was less grave than he had anticipated. There were about five hundred students in the freshman class; he seldom saw her, and when he did it was not more than a distant glimpse of her on one of the campus paths, her thoughtful head bent over a book as she hurried to a classroom. This was bearable; and in the flattering agitations of being sought, and even hunted, by several "fraternities" simultaneously desirous of his becoming a sworn Brother, he almost forgot her. After a hazardous month the roommates fell into the arms of the last "frat" to seek them, and having undergone an evening of outrage which concluded with touching rhetoric and an oath taken at midnight, they proudly wore jewelled symbols on their breasts and were free to turn part of their attention to other affairs, especially the affairs of the Eleven.
However, they were instructed by the older brethren of their Order, whose duty it was to assist in the proper manoeuvring of their young careers, that, although support of the 'varsity teams was important, they must neglect neither the spiritual nor the intellectual by-products of undergraduate doings. Therefore they became members of the college Y.M.C.A. and of the "Lumen Society."
According to the charter which it had granted itself, the "Lumen Society" was an "Organization of male and female students"—so "advanced" was this university—"for the development of the powers of debate and oratory, intellectual and sociological progress, and the discussion of all matters relating to philosophy, metaphysics, literature, art, and current events." A statement so formidable was not without a hushing effect upon Messrs. Milholland and Mitchell; they went to their first "Lumen" meeting in a state of fear and came away little reassured.
"I couldn't get up there," Ramsey declared, "I couldn't stand up there before all that crowd and make a speech, or debate in a debate, to save my soul and gizzard! Why, I'd just keel right over and haf to be carried out."
"Well, the way I understand it," said Fred, "we can't get out of it. The seniors in the 'frat' said we had to join, and they said we couldn't resign, either, after we had joined. They said we just had to go through it, and after a while we'd get used to it and not mind it much."
"I will!" Ramsey insisted. "I couldn't any more stand up there on my feet and get to spoutin' about sociology and the radical metempsychorus of the metaphysical bazoozum than I could fly a flyin' machine. Why, I—"
"Oh, that wasn't anything," Fred interrupted. "The only one that talked like that, he was that Blickens; he's a tutor, or something, and really a member of the faculty. Most o' the others just kind of blah-blahhed around, and what any of 'em tried to get off their chests hardly amounted to terribly much."
"I don't care. I couldn't do it at all!"
"Well, the way it looks to me," Fred observed, "we simply got to! From what they tell me, the freshmen got to do more than anybody. Every other Friday night, it's all freshmen and nothin' else. You get a postal card on Monday morning in your mail, and it says 'Assignment' on it, and then it's got written underneath what you haf to do the next Friday night—oration or debate, or maybe just read from some old book or something. I guess we got to stand up there and try, anyway."
"All right," said Ramsey. "If they want me to commit suicide they can send me one o' their ole 'Assignments.' I won't need to commit suicide, though, I guess. All I'll do, I'll just fall over in a fit, and stay in it."
And, in truth, when he received his first "Assignment," one Monday morning, a month later, he seemed in a fair way to fulfil his prophecy. The attention of his roommate, who sat at a window of their study, was attracted by sounds of strangulation.
"What on earth's the matter, Ramsey?"
"Look! Look at this!"
Fred took the card and examined it with an amazement gradually merging into a pleasure altogether too perceptible:
TWELVE-MINUTE DEBATE, CLASS OF 1918. Subject, Resolved: That Germany is both legally and morally justified in her invasion of Belgium.
(Debaters are notified that each will be held strictly to the following schedule: Affirmative, 4 min., first. Negative, 4 min., first. Affirm, 2 min., second. Neg., 2 min., second.)
Affirmative Negative R. MILHOLLAND, '18 D. YOCUM, '18
Concluding his reading, which was oral, the volatile Mitchell made use of his voice in a manner of heathenish boisterousness, and presently reclined upon a lounge to laugh the better. His stricken comrade, meanwhile, recovered so far as to pace the floor. "I'm goin' to pack up and light out for home!" he declared, over and over. And even oftener he read and reread the card to make sure of the actuality of that fatal coincidence, "D. Yocum, '18."