By Owen Johnson
THE PRODIGIOUS HICKEY THE VARMINT THE TENNESSEE SHAD SKIPPY BEDELLE
* * * * *
STOVER AT YALE THE WASTED GENERATION BLUE BLOOD CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
HIS SENTIMENTAL PROGRESS FROM THE URCHIN TO THE COMPLETE MAN OF THE WORLD
BY OWEN JOHNSON
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERNEST FUHR
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1937
Copyright, 1922, BY OWEN JOHNSON.
All rights reserved
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To CHARLES HANSON TOWNE FOR AULD LANG SYNE
LIKEWISE A DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES
Until the first great disillusions of his youth, the Bedelle Foot Regulator and the Mosquito-Proof Socks, had brought a new sentimental need of consolation and understanding, Skippy Bedelle's opinion of the feminine sex had been decidedly monastic. During the first twenty-five years of their existence, he regarded them as unmitigated nuisances, and pondering on them, he often wondered at the hidden purposes of the Creator. Later they might possibly serve some purpose by marrying and adding to the world's supply of boys. In a further progress, a sort of penitential progress, they became more valuable members of society, as maiden aunts who tipped you on the quiet, and grandmothers who mitigated parental severity and knew the exquisite art of ginger snaps, crisp and brown.
But before the skirted animal, which resembled but was quite unlike a man, had atoned for the error of her birth, Skippy refused to take her seriously. There were boys even younger than he who wore girls' jewelry, who wrote and received what were called "mash notes," and who flaunted these sentimentalities openly. He knew such incomprehensible males did exist. There were three on his block and he had thrashed them all soundly and been thrashed for having thrashed them, which of course convinced him in his biblical estimate that women were created for the confusion of man.
Skippy's prejudice was of long root. From an early age he had been afflicted with sisters; one older and one younger, and he could find no mitigating circumstances between the sister who could hit you and could not be hit back, who never romped without pretending to howl, and the sister who put you at your ease when you had tripped over the parlor rug, by asking publicly:
"John, have you washed behind your ears?"
The thought of girls was inalienably connected in his memory with unnecessary washing up; with boring parties; with stiff collars; with unending polishing of shoes; humiliating walks down the avenue, stammering, idiotic phrases, while from every window the eyes of malicious friends were set in mockery. Girls never slid down the banisters or fell out of apple trees, or snapped garter snakes, or raised white mice or collected splinters coasting down the icehouse roof. Girls were always spruced up and shining; always covered with pink ribbons and waiting for callers; always dressing and undressing; always kissing their worst enemies in public instead of giving them a dig in the ribs or treading on their toes and whispering under their breath:
"Wait till I catch you outside; I'll tear the hide off er yer!"
Girls spoiled vacations. It was on account of girls, to give them something to do, that dancing schools were invented; that pews in churches were stiff and uncomfortable; that ministers stormed and threatened until the hour hand had gone its round. In a word, wherever life was drab, or stiff, or formal, wherever prohibitions intervened to check the young impulse, wherever the policing principle showed itself, at the bottom somewhere the feminine sex must be the cause.
Gradually, of course, some mitigation came to this inveterate contempt; gradually he did begin to distinguish between girls as such and women. He saw that some such line of demarcation must be drawn but it was still confused and hazy. Later on it was undoubtedly true that woman must play some part in a man's life; this much he gathered from novels and the ways of those giants to his imagination, the great Turkey Reiter and Charlie de Soto.
Undoubtedly in the long process of evolution from the clam to the stripling, morality was the contribution of the imitative monkey period each boy passes as he merges towards perfect manhood. A thousand supplications, commandings, and exhortations cannot accomplish what the spectacle of a Turkey Reiter or a Charlie de Soto or a Dink Stover instantly achieves in its casual Olympic passing. Such, with all due respect to the efforts of secondary education, are the real moral forces of youth.
When therefore Skippy had made choice of his heroes and slavishly set himself in imitation, he had been unpleasantly disturbed by their evident friendliness to the sex he despised and after much mental perturbation perceived that sooner or later he, too, would share the common lot and actually take pleasure in explaining to something pink and white, with large rolling eyes and smiling teeth, that the game of baseball is played with a ball and a bat and that the fielder and not the batter is chasing the ball, that the difference between baseball and football is that a baseball hurts the hands and a football hurts the foot.
Some day when he grew to be Captain of the Eleven like Dink Stover undoubtedly he would condescend to be gazed at and flattered and fondled. If Dink Stover could stand the way Tough McCarthy's sister hung on his arm and flirted openly before the whole school—why of course in permitting such a display of affection Dink Stover was right, for Dink Stover could do no wrong. Some day, then, like his hero, he would condescend to be adored. Some day his turn would come as they sang at the immortal Weber and Fields:
"For I must love some one, And it may as well be you."
But all this was in the uncharted future. His attitude toward the sex was still the attitude of normal soap-defying boyhood, defensive and belligerent. Yet all this was to change, in the twinkling of an eye, in one short season. The first great disillusionments of youth were at hand and woman with the mask of sympathy and understanding waiting to fashion the man out of the urchin. By what ways, ludicrous and tragically comic, this sentimental progression was achieved is here set down in reverent reminiscence.
Likewise a Declaration of Principles vii
I Fate in a Bathtub 1
II Birth of an Idea 7
III Macnooder Opens Vistas 10
IV Loneliness of Great Men 16
V The Golden Shower 21
VI Methods of a Financier 26
VII Tragedy 37
VIII When Friends Prove False 40
IX Snorky as a Lady-Killer 51
X Love Lightly Considered 59
XI The Demon of Jealousy 62
XII All's Well That Ends Well 70
XIII A Woman of the World 74
XIV The Plot Against the Mosquito 83
XV The Tennessee Shad Suspects 94
XVI Experiments in Fragrance 99
XVII Soap and Sentiment 110
XVIII Love Comes Like the Measles 118
XIX The Urchin Begins to Bloom 127
XX The Heart of a Brunette 135
XXI Worldly Wisdom of Skippy Bedelle 145
XXII Girls as an Epidemic 151
XXIII The Blonde of the Species 160
XXIV Result of a Brother's Advice 169
XXV Antics of a Talking Machine 175
XXVI Containing Some High Melodrama 183
XXVII Hickey in a Deadly Role 194
XXVIII Sitting It Out 200
XXIX Dead Game Sports 206
XXX Experiments in a Dress Suit 214
XXXI Shirt Studs as Cupid's Messenger 222
XXXII Living up to an Angel 230
XXXIII Sudden Interest in the Bible 242
XXXIV The Way of the Transgressor 248
XXXV The Scalp Hunter 257
XXXVI Splashing With Your Toes 275
XXXVII Skippy Retires With His Scalp 279
XXXVIII The Philosophical Attitude 289
XXXIX Love Plus Hippo 305
XL Reality Minus Hippo 312
They walked in silence, oppressed by the greatness of their grief Frontispiece
Instantly the air was filled with flying sponges 4
"Good gracious!" cried Miss Dabtree with an impetuous lunge towards the point of attack 78
"Really, Jack, I'm beginning to suspect you're an old hand." 140
He balanced carefully, stretched out one arm to encircle an imaginary waist 172
The partner of his arms, escaping, rolled over towards Tootsie 182
FATE IN A BATHTUB
THERE comes a moment when without warning boy and puppy instantaneously pass into the consciousness of manhood. With the young canine it comes with the first deep-throated defiance of the intruder, the instinct that the wriggling, fawning days are over and that the moment to attack and accept attack has arrived. With the human puppy the change is more elusive. To some it comes with the first clinging splendor of long trousers, to others with the first hopeless love, when at the tragic age of fifteen the world, fate and the disparity of ages intervene. But usually this transformation, all in the twinkling of an eye, from the hungry slouch of boyhood into the stern and brooding adolescence, comes with the discovery of a controlling idea. Without any apparent cause, some illuminating purpose descends on the imagination, the future opens, and in the vision of a future Napoleon, a P. T. Barnum, a millionaire or a predestined genius the man emerges.
When Skippy Bedelle at the age of fifteen years and three months, in the warmth of early Spring, rambled across the green stretches to his appointed rendezvous with Compulsory Bath, he went as a puppy sidles to an undetermined purpose, with a skipping, broken motion, occasionally halting for an extra hitch at the long undisciplined trousers. A cap rode on the straw-colored shock of hair which hung like weeds over the freckled, sharp nose and the wide and famished mouth. Once the idea occurred to him to turn a cartwheel, and he promptly landed sprawling on his back, picked himself up, skipped forward a dozen steps, stooped to tighten a shoe lace and arrived breathlessly before Doc Cubberly, who was eyeing him, watch in hand.
Thirty seconds later he was contemplating the tips of his toes from the warm and delicious water, yielding to the relaxing ecstasy of pleasant day dreams. He had no quarrel with water as such, though from principle and to remain regular he rebelled against the element of compulsion, but water, particularly warm water, brought him a quickening of the imagination.
Now between water as such and bath, particularly compulsory bath, is all the difference between the blue freedom of the sky and the allotted breathing space which is enclosed in a cage. There was something peculiarly humiliating and servile in being forced to soap and water three times a week under penalty of having your name read out before a tittering schoolroom—Absent from Bath! It vaguely recalled medieval days and such abominations as the inspection of ears and the prying intrusion of governesses!
Skippy was aware of all this and publicly voiced his indignation at the despotic practice. To have done otherwise would have been to draw down a storm of ridicule. There are certain traditions in school life as firmly established as the doctrine of infant damnation in the good old days of theology. Secretly, however, Skippy adored the first warm contact of the tentative toes, the slow ecstasy of the mounting ripple over the sinking body and the long, drowsy languor of complete submersion. It was the apotheosis of happiness when all the aches and vexations of the day disappeared in a narcotic reverie, when he could forget the scorn of the Roman, flunking him; the jibes of Slugger Jones, the rigorous discipline of Turkey Reiter and the base ingratitude of Dennis de Brian de Boru Finnegan, who had refused him the price of a jigger, with pockets that bulged with the silver he had loaned him.
"Well, I'll be jiggswiggered!"
Skippy looked up hastily to perceive the unwashed features of Slops Barnett peering over the partition in set disapproval.
"What are you doing that for?"
"Getting into it," said Slops in an angry whisper. "You're a nice one, you are!"
Slops' method of rebellion, which antedated the hunger strike, was to submit to a superior authority so far as outward appearances required. But once safely behind a locked door, he employed the minimum of ten minutes in simulating the bathing process by immense disturbances in the bathtub, produced without recourse to disrobing processes, while gleefully chanting:
"Mother may I go out to swim? Yes, my darling daughter. Hang your clothes on a hickory limb But don't go near the water! Don't go near, don't go near, don't go near the water!"
Publicly Skippy stood pledged to this uncompromising defiance of the Powers That Be, so with Slops Barnett's accusing glance on him, he answered hastily:
"I caught an awful cold and got to steam it out!"
At this moment a dripping sponge came spinning through the air and struck the young irreconcilable squarely between the shoulders.
"If Pee-wee Davis threw that sponge I'll skin him alive," announced Slops wrathfully. Instantly the air was filled with flying sponges. Towels, like dripping comets, passed and re-passed, while Doc Cubberly came hobbling in, threatening, imploring and dodging stray missiles.
Skippy, safe below the surface, watched this bombardment swing over head, die out and silence return. One by one his fellow prisoners emerged, vociferous, hilarious, and passed moist and voicing imprecations into the outer region. Still Skippy continued gorgeously to steam and doze.
Then a sharp rat-tat-tat on the door.
"All right, almost dressed. Coming fast."
The crucial moment had arrived, the tragic end to all happiness below, that inevitable moment when he must, by some supreme exercise of the will, rise out of this blissful warmth and stretch a reluctant arm through the chilly air to let in the cold water. End of dreams and chill return of reality! He temporized. A second time Doc Cubberly's sliding step arrived.
"Mr. Bedelle—Mr. Bee-delle!"
"Just buttoning on my collar, Doc!"
For the hundredth time, one foot slowly emerged and five over-civilized toes sought in vain to turn the round faucet labeled "Cold." A hundred, yes a thousand times, he had attempted the apelike expedient before the final mental determination to rise out of the warm spell into the frigid air.
"Gee, if I could only turn that with my foot," he said. "Lord, what a cinch that would be!"
He tried a last ineffectual time, jerked up precipitately, shot out his arm, let in the cold water and dodged back below the surface.
BIRTH OF AN IDEA
TEN minutes later he sidled out of the bath and, having balanced Doc Cubberly's Grand Army hat on the gas jet, and simulated an attack on Tippy, the black and tan, escaped before the guardian of the bath could return to the rescue of his pet.
"All the same, you ought to be able to work a bathtub with your foot," he said as he went skipping towards the village with heightened appetite. "Gee, that would be scrumptious!"
Suddenly a queer thought came to him. After all—why not? All you needed was a foot regulator, to let in the hot and cold water gorgeously, at your ease and inclination! Foot regulators! Why not? There was something in that idea surely.
"Gee, what a cinch that would be!"
If man in his age-old struggle with nature could harness the force of steam to his service and ride the air, why should he not be master of his daily comforts?
"I don't think a foot regulator would be so ding fired hard to invent," he said, meditating.
The idea had begun to work, though as yet the vast scale had not opened to his tender imagination. Now in youth when an idea begins to grow it brings sharp animal appetites. To contemplate properly this new entrancing thought, he repaired to that first station on the hunger route, which was known as Laloo's Kennels, where fragrant hot dogs sent their tantalizing invitation from bubbling tins.
"Two ki-yis and easy on the mustard."
Mr. Laloo prospered because Mr. Laloo dealt on a strictly cash basis. He was languidly tired. One foot rested on a soap box, one arm rested on the upholstered divan he had exchanged with the late Hickey Hicks for a hot dog a day in the lean month of December, and his head drooped over the supporting toothpick. Mr. Laloo never made an unnecessary motion or uttered a superfluous word. So he continued without apparent notice to conserve the feeble energy which ran low in his burnt-out eyes.
Skippy looked at Laloo and understood. Freshmen might argue but even the Tennessee Shad wasted no time in producing the coin. There was exactly ten cents in Skippy's pocket after the most painstaking search revealed this last ray of hope in the lining of the threadbare pocket. Only ten cents to stop the deficit in his stomach! The choice was difficult. There was ginger-pop at Bill Appleby's, and jiggers at Al's, pancakes at Conover's, and the aching void within him knew no prejudice or limitations to its hospitality. He hesitated, but the fragrance in the air was maddening—besides there was always the chance of a friend in funds. He fingered the coin regretfully and laid it on the counter with a heavy heart. He might argue with Bill and plead with Al, but Laloo had the soul of a pawnbroker.
"There's the bank roll, pick out the fat ones!"
Five minutes later, with his nose buried in a fragrant sandwich, elbows on the counter, he returned to The Great Idea. Suddenly the sublimity of the conception smote him. Think of lolling languidly under the surface and regulating the temperature at will with only the exposure of a foot! Think of the gain to humanity in the added daily comfort! The idea was stupendous, colossal! It beat even Dink Stover's famous Sleep Prolonger, the Alarm Clock, which automatically closed the window and opened the hot air register at the designated hour. And out of the world, out of the whole human race, present and past, he, John C. Bedelle, was the first to stumble upon this revolutionary fact! An accident? Perhaps—but so was Galileo's discovery of the telescope an accident. When the gnawing appetite had been placated (somewhat placated, but not convinced), the Skippy Bedelle who descended Laloo's steps, with grave and thoughtful face, had emerged from the warm skin of the urchin, with the consciousness of manhood's call to service.
MACNOODER OPENS VISTAS
TO Skippy's credit be it recorded that the first impulse was humanitarian. For the second was distinctly mercenary. But then Skippy lived in a materialistic age and Skippy's father owned a department store. Yet the practical and profitable possibilities did not proceed from any inward contamination of the generous impulse of invention, but from contact and suggestion. At Bill Appleby's, where he wandered in hungrily, in a desperate hope of meeting some friend whose memory could be jogged by reference to past favors, he perceived the celebrated Doc Macnooder in earnest conclave with Appleby, to whom he was offering to sell the Lawrenceville rights of his latest invention, the Folding Toothbrush. Given Bill Appleby's natural canniness, and Macnooder's hypnotic eloquence, the discussion was apt to be long and difficult, so Skippy hovered at a respectable distance with ears at attention.
At this time, due to a rift in the lute (a little matter of expert accounting on a joint operation), the firm of Macnooder and the Tennessee Shad had been dissolved and each financier had assumed an independent and belligerent attitude. The Shad had a certain adroit and devious imagination, but the practical mind was Macnooder. His point of view was purely economic. Hickey might plan the daring manoeuvre which made the conquest of the clapper possible, and revel in the faculty's amazement at the sudden silence of the tyrant will. Macnooder would have proceeded to capitalize this imagination by fabricating clapper watch charms and selling them at auction prices. The Gutter Pup might organize the sporting club in memory of the lamented Marquis of Queensberry; Macnooder sold the tickets and extinguished the surplus. His ambition was not to be a philosopher, or a benefactor. He announced openly that he intended to be a millionaire, and among his admiring victims there was much speculation as to just how far he had gone in the accomplishment of his heart's ambition.
When Skippy moved into an eavesdropping position, the situation was this: Bill Appleby, having carefully closed and locked the cash drawer, was braced with both arms extended against the counter, eyeing Macnooder with a look of steely negation that expressed a settled conviction to doubt instantly any statement whenever or however made. Macnooder's round capuchin body was drawn up in confidence and ease and the smile on his face was bland as he remarked:
"Bill—get my proposition; let it percolate, sift down and settle. But, Bill, make no mistake. The Macnooder Folding Toothbrush is a fact—patented and financed! I'm not asking you to take stock,—no, Bill, no." He shook his head and said with friendly regret—"I couldn't, Bill; not in fairness to myself—not in fairness to my family. Why, Bill, if you were to get in on the ground floor, you'd buy a yacht in five years, live on Fifth Avenue and marry Lillian Russell."
"Go slow," said Appleby huskily, for Appleby was a bachelor.
"Well, watch me," said Macnooder with a wave of his hand that played among the rubies and emeralds floating in his imagination. "Bill, I'd like to put you in—I can't—that's flat. I can't! Why, Bill, if you put your hand in your pocket this moment and took out that little green wallet of yours and said: 'Mr. Macnooder, this is your account—it's nothing—I dismiss it, I tear it to pieces—you are my guest from now on; let's start right;—what will you have?' If you should say that—"
"I won't!" said Appleby, shrinking from the hypnotic caress in the financier's manner.
"If you should do that and should take out a nice new one hundred dollar bill—you have one, Bill, right in that old leather wallet—don't shrink, Bill, your alarm pains me—if you, now, here in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, John C. Green Foundation, should produce that one hundred dollar bill—slap it on the counter, shove it into my face, force it into my pocket, beg me to give you a little interest—no! No, Bill, no! I'd refuse—I'd have to refuse. Don't build up any false hopes, Bill, don't."
"I won't," said Appleby, yet already a sense of great personal loss had begun to invade him.
"All I can let you in on are the regional rights—the Lawrenceville rights—for ten years. I might, I don't say it flat,—I want to consider,—but I might extend them to Princeton. It's a gift, but I might. And do you know why I'm giving you this opportunity of a lifetime?"
"Because, Bill, I don't want to break you. I don't want to have to run you out of business. That's friendship, but there's more. I can use you," said Macnooder magnanimously. "You have the qualities I shall need in my future operations—I suffer from them now but I appreciate them. You will make an ideal watchdog of the dollar, and when the dollar leaves your hand, Bill, there won't be a rim left to it. Bill, let's do business—it's more than just the toothbrush, it's a whole future's open to you. Bill, the moment is yours. Choose! Fifth Avenue, a yacht, box at the opera—Lillian Russell!"
Appleby fumbled in his pocket and drew out a cigar to break the spell, and the hand that held the match trembled.
"Wall, now," he began cautiously, "to-morrow's to-morrow, and toothbrushes is toothbrushes. And say—gettin' down to tacks—who in Sam Hill ever wanted a folding toothbrush, nohow?"
Macnooder's fist descended on a shivering glass counter as he cried triumphantly:
"Say that again!"
"Wall, who does want a folding toothbrush?" said Appleby, in a more bellicose manner.
"Bill, your hand!" said Macnooder, matching the gesture to the exclamation. "Straight to the point. Keen—Gad, you're devilishly keen! That's you, Bill, no one can beat you at seeing the kernel at once! Who wants a folding toothbrush? No one!" said Macnooder, folding his arms and beaming with delight. "Is there any reason any one should? There is not. Can you imagine anything more unnecessary, idiotic or useless than a folding toothbrush? Don't try—you can't. That's the beauty of it. But, Bill, make no mistake—that's where you get the heterogeneous sucker! Has there ever been a folding toothbrush! Never! That's where they bite! Think of it—no one's ever had one before. How do they know whether they want one until they've tried it? They've had a bicycle or a kodak, but a folding toothbrush, Bill—think what it means! Get the sound of it. Why, Bill, it's sunk into your imagination already! You've got the hankering yourself. You have. I can feel it!"
"Wall, now, I would sorter like a squint at one."
"And you shall," said Macnooder, reaching into his pocket. But at this moment he stopped, perceiving Skippy, who, lost in wonder, was listening, all ears.
"I beg your pardon, Doc, honest, I couldn't help hearing," he said hastily.
"This is a private conversation," said Macnooder severely.
"I say, Doc," said Skippy, gazing at the package which had come forth from an inner pocket, "I say, Doc, can't I just have one look at it?"
"You can not," said Macnooder, whose hand indicated the exit in the classic gesture of melodrama when the cruel father dismisses the penniless lover.
Skippy drew a long breath, hesitated and went slowly out. But what a world had opened before him! It was something to be a benefactor of humanity, but why not tap the wealth of the Incas! If the mere invention of a folding toothbrush could open the sacred precincts of Fifth Avenue, what realms beyond the dreams of avarice were waiting for him who should revolutionize the bathtub!
LONELINESS OF GREAT MEN
THE course of his meditations suddenly halted before the Jigger Shop. They were all there; the fortunate possessors of dimes and nickels, gluttonously, selfishly gorging themselves with juicy creamy strawberry, coffee, and chocolate jiggers; clinking their glasses, licking their spoons—and he, John C. Bedelle, the future Bathtub King, without a cent in his pockets! The irony of it! If they only knew, what sycophants would fawn upon him! Then an idea came to him—at such moments alone can man read the secret heart of humanity. He would make a test of true friendship.
He passed through the outer rapturous fringe of hungry boyhood and slowly approached the counter where Al, guardian of the jigger, dished out the jiggers and watched the counters with uneasy eye. Not that he had any hope, but it was only fair to give even the most abandoned of mankind a sporting chance.
"I see you, Skippy."
The tone was not encouraging. Bedelle determined on direct methods. He turned his pockets deliberately inside out.
"Oh yes, I see you."
"Nothing doin'," said Al, stroking his corn-colored mustache with that languid finality against which there was no appeal. "Nothin' at all."
"He has had his chance," said Bedelle to himself in gloomy pride. Yes, Al had had his chance, that one chance that comes unwittingly to every man—Al who might have toured the world with him as his majordomo, or his confidential valet.
"Hello, Dennis!" he said, perceiving back of an enormous chocolate eclair the human anaconda famine and opportunity had at this moment made of Finnegan, the discoverer of the double adjective.
"How's the bank account?" said Skippy lightly, for etiquette forbade any reference to the half-dollar parted with on the Wednesday before.
"Why, bless my immortal soul, you old rambunctious, skipping Zockarooster, are you setting them up?" said Brian de Boru, pretending to misunderstand.
Skippy disdained a reply. Al, after all, was but running true to form, but this was the basest ingratitude,—the serpent's tooth in the fair landscape of friendship.
"If he'd at least offered to share that eclair I—I could—" said Skippy to himself, and then stopped in silence before the future Finnegan had thrown to the winds. For he liked Dennis and Dennis would have made such an ideal publicity man.
He passed like a poor relation at a wedding feast, and as he passed with many a stammered hint, and eloquently pleading eyes, his faith in his kind began to ooze away. Of course it was the end of the month, yet of twenty friends who had fed from his hand, when his hand had been hospitable, not one stirred to the commonest of human impulses. And so gloomy, alone and misunderstood, like the young Napoleon at Brienne, John C. Bedelle, with the consciousness of future greatness, moved out from the uncomprehending crowd. At the door Toots Cortrelle arrived with unmistakably jingling pockets, and seeing him, cried with the zest of young hunger certain of gratification:
"Hullo, Skippy, old sockbutts!"
"Couldn't lend me a quarter or a dime, could you?" said Skippy solemnly.
"You can, Toots—you can, honest?"
"With ease and pleasure. This is the way it is done," said Toots, who proceeded to transfer a quarter from his pocket to the astounded Skippy, with the classic manner of a prestidigitator.
"What's happened?" said Skippy, feeling that the situation demanded some explanation.
"Maiden aunt and birthday," said Toots joyfully. "Al, take Mr. Bedelle's order and make mine a triple jigger, coffee with chocolate syrup!"
When ten minutes later, gorged and sated, with his faith in humanity somewhat restored, Skippy separated from his benefactor, he turned to Toots and said solemnly:
"Old friend, I shall remember this!"
"All right—turn about's fair play. Ta-ta and so long," said Cortrelle, all unsuspecting of the future Destiny had built up for him.
"Yes, some day I shall remember," said Skippy solemnly to himself. And as he trudged back to his room at the Kennedy, there to map out the future operations of the Bathtub Trust, he allowed his imagination to dwell delightfully on that momentous future date when the debt of friendship should be paid. He saw himself in a gorgeous marble-lined office, protected by an outer fringe of obsequious secretaries, a box of expensive cigars on his shining mahogany desk, and before him in respectful attention Toots Cortrelle, now grown a man, but worn and wasted with the buffeting years, and he saw the light of hope spurting upward in the tired eyes as he heard himself saying:
"Cortrelle, once long ago, you did something I told you I should remember. You have forgotten it. I never forget. For that I am going to put you in charge of my whole South American trade at a salary—" Here Skippy paused somewhat perplexed before continuing, awed at his own munificence—"at a salary of over three thousand dollars a year!"
But just as Toots with tears in his eyes was starting to grasp his hand, Skippy's foot tripped over a step and he rolled ignominiously down the terrace and fetched up in a heap among the gravel.
"Oh, please do it again!" said the voice of Snorky Green from an upper window.
"You go to blazes!" exclaimed Skippy, rising wrathfully. But all at once his anger left him. Snorky Green was his roommate and partner of his secrets, and the secret that had been locked up within him these last momentous hours simply had to be told.
THE GOLDEN SHOWER
TEN minutes later Snorky Green was standing in a daze, one hand on an open Bible,—taken for the occasion from the room of the Pink Rabbit,—and gazing into the flushed countenance of his roommate, who was saying:
"Snorky, are you a Christian?"
"Say, what do you—"
"No matter—you believe in God!"
"Sure I do."
"Swear never to reveal to man, woman or child what I am about to disclose to you."
"As I am a Christian and believe in God."
"As I am a Christian and believe in God."
"And if I do may God strike with his afflictions those I love best—"
"Oh, I say—"
Snorky reluctantly subscribed to this terrible oath and five minutes later the Secret was his.
"Do you see it?"
"Do I see it?" Snorky tore from his throat the collar that was stifling him. "My aunt's cat's pants!" he said solemnly. "Skippy, we'll be billionaires!"
"We'll buy a yacht and live on Fifth Avenue," said Skippy, who for sentimental reasons suppressed any reference to Lillian Russell.
"Say this is so big we've got to take every precaution," said Green, whose imagination was on more practical lines. "No one must even suspect until we've got this drawn up and patented."
"That's what worries me."
Snorky Green cautiously opened the door and investigated the hall, then returning drew up his chair and said in a confidential whisper:
"Skippy, when this goes through every bathtub in the country will go in the scrap heap. Think of that!"
"I have thought of that."
"It'll do what the pneumatic tube did to the bicycle."
"What the trolley did to the horse-car!"
They shook hands and Skippy, bursting with happiness, said impulsively:
"Old friend, whatever I make—you're down for half."
"No, no. Two-thirds to you—one-third to me," said Snorky, as Caesar putting from him the proffered crown.
"I won't have it—share and share alike," said Skippy in a rush of emotion.
"But, Skippy, do you realize what even one-third will mean!" said Snorky, in a voice trembling with the vision of the future. He went nervously to the desk and returned with pad and pencil. "Write down these figures."
"Ought we to?"
"We'll destroy it afterward. Put down ninety-two million."
"The population of the United States."
"I see—ninety-two it is."
"Divide that by—by—well let's be conservative."
"Let's say there's one bathtub to every fifty-five inhabitants."
"I think that's too conservative."
"We mustn't let our imagination run away with us," said Snorky. "One in fifty and then we're safe."
"Well, let's say two million bathtubs," said Skippy, who disliked figures, and felt the first promptings of avarice.
"So be it. Two million bathtubs and on every tub our royalty!"
"What'll we ask?"
"What do you suppose a bathtub averages!"
"Say fifty dollars, at ten per cent,—that would be five dollars coming to us."
"Five dollars, but Skippy, isn't that exorbitant?"
"You forget we'll be in a position to dictate."
Under 2,000,000 he wrote the figure five and slowly noted the colossal result.
"Do you realize what that means?"
"It means ten million dollars!"
"No, it means more than that—it means that if the Bathtub Combine came to us to-day and offered us a million dollars—it would be suicide to accept it!"
Skippy's eyes dilated with excitement. Slowly he tore the sheet of paper in two.
"Burn it—take no chances," said Snorky, who proceeded to light a match.
"And that's only the United States," said Skippy in a whisper.
"There's Canada and the British Empire!"
"But Englishmen carry rubber tubs with them."
"They can be educated."
"The French don't bathe," said Skippy mournfully.
"Holy cats, Rockefeller won't be in it!" said Skippy, who was suffocating. "Snorky, what I said goes! Money isn't everything. No—sentiment's bigger. Fifty-fifty, I said, and fifty-fifty it stands!"
"Then I'll put money into it," said Snorky, offering his hand. "I'll go to my father. But not now—not a word until we get the patent. If any one gets the idea we're lost!"
Skippy jumped at the sound of Butsy White's elephantine descent of the stairs.
"And Skippy," said Snorky Green, with a sudden realization of a man's frailties, "whatever you do—never tell a woman. You understand?"
Skippy, whose relations with the opposite sex were of the cat-and-dog variety, solemnly raised his hand.
"Now to be practical. I say, Skippy, we do have to invent the regulator, you know."
METHODS OF A FINANCIER
WHEN, after a dream-ridden night, Skippy started across the campus to morning chapel, the urchin's wabble had gone from his legs forever. He moved with firm and measured tread, shoulders thrown back and head erect, every inch a man, and his glance was set into the future with proud recognition of his place in the complex scheme of things. The imagination, which returns after the sense of humor, was still drowsy with the painful waking effort in chapel, but as he proceeded to Memorial Hall, the glittering future approached a little nearer. Some day he, John C. Bedelle, would return to the old school a patron and a benefactor!
"They ought to have a gymnasium," he thought, appraising the campus in a burst of generosity. "I'll give it to them. I'll give them a gym that'll beat anything hollow. I'll give them the finest architect in the country. I will! And when it's all built and ready to dedicate—" But all at once as he started to visualize himself before the applauding crowd Snorky Green jogged his elbow:
"Skippy—Gee, I've got it!"
"Sh—sh! You know—the invention! Meet me in the room after first recitation. Mum's the word!"
A little unworthy feeling of jealousy came to Skippy at this announcement; almost a feeling of having been defrauded. Yet after all he had only himself to blame. The temptation of the future had beguiled him from the present necessity. He slid into his seat, conveniently protected, by the broad back of Tubby Banks, from the searching gaze of Lucius Cassius Hopkins, better known as the Roman, who presently would number him among the flunked. Then when the attack centered among the R's and S's, across the room, he drew forth a pencil and attacked the problem of a practical foot regulator. But immediately the deplorable deficiency of his education struck him. What preparation had he for his life's vocation? Of mathematics he knew absolutely nothing! The priceless years had been squandered on mere Latin, English prose, French verbs and the vexing grammars.
"I must have a scientific education," he said, drawing rough outlines on the margin of Caesar's Gallic Wars. "How in the deuce am I to begin? A foot's sort of different. Shall I make it a button to press on or a sort of slipper to push up and down?"
There was a cut of the famous bridge across the Rhine, but a hurried examination brought him no comfort. He looked over at Snorky across the aisles and Snorky winked back at him in the triumph of achievement. Still if Snorky was to share in the fabulous returns it was only right that Snorky should contribute to the practical details! The truth is that Skippy in calmer mood had already begun to regret the impulse of the day before. Five million dollars after all was a good deal to give away in a gesture, even to the chum of chums!
"What the deuce got into me?" he thought gloomily. Until that moment the sinister corruption of money had been foreign to his nature, but all at once a change came to his outlook. "Gee, even a third would have been a whale of a sum!"
He rose and flunked horribly in an attempt to classify an ablative absolute and answered "unprepared" when the Roman, maliciously pressing his advantage, insisted on his translating. Then with sulky dignity he strode to the blackboards with the B's and C's and the D's and flunked once more on the conjugation of an irregular verb. What time was this for trivial annoyances when his whole soul was rent with the thought of the millions which he had squandered for a moment's sentimental impulse! He was not ashamed of that impulse, no—but, all the same, Snorky, if he had had finer feelings, would never have abused his generosity!
"What's the matter?" said the chum of chums, when, recitations over, they had gained the secrecy of their bedroom. "You look positively bilious."
"I didn't sleep much," said Skippy, eyeing him with intuitive disfavor.
"Well, for Heaven's sake brace up; you look as though you'd swallowed a porcupine!"
"All very well for you to cheer up," Skippy thought to himself. It hurt, there was no turning from it. It did hurt. What a blunder he had made!
"I could have hired him on a salary," he thought gloomily. But of course now there could be no backing out.
"Well, now what have you worked out?" said Snorky triumphantly.
"I? My mind has been concentrating on the business organization."
"Gaze on this!" Snorky proudly brought forth a diagram which to Skippy's bewildered gaze looked like the cross section of a switch yard. "Do you get it?"
"That? Why that's the bathtub, you chump."
"It doesn't look like any bathtub."
"You're in it, looking down—see, this is the line of the water. Here's the hot and cold—"
"But this and that—"
"That's your legs, of course. You're in the tub looking south. Your legs stick out, don't they, and these are the foot regulators—"
"They look like feet."
"They are feet—that is, your feet stick in 'em."
"But how does it work?"
Snorky produced another scrawl.
"This is a cross section, you see. Works both ways. This you work with your hands. Then you turn it on here with this catch, and your foot regulators come into play—see?"
"It's awfully complicated."
"Ought to be."
"'Cause if you just had an attachment to put on the spigots, you mightn't get more than a dollar a tub."
"He's thinking of the money," thought Skippy, darkly.
"You don't seem enthusiastic."
"I say, Skippy, you aren't natural," said Snorky in alarm. "You don't look at me as you used to. What is it? Out with it now."
"Well," said Skippy slowly, "I said fifty-fifty and I stick to it; fifty-fifty, because I am a man of my word, but I do think there ought to be some limit . . ."
Ten minutes later, when Snorky's infectious laugh had restored his sense of humor, Bedelle, Incorporated took up the transaction of business again,—the discussion of the profits having by mutual consent been adjourned to a later session.
"Skippy, old top, I'm thinking we've got to get expert advice," said Snorky after a morning of fruitless discussion.
"I mean Doc Macnooder or the Tennessee Shad."
"I'm afraid so, too. This is bigger than us."
"It's a hard choice."
"It is—and we've got to be protected."
"You bet we've got to be protected."
"Well, if we must choose between Macnooder and the Shad, which would you rather trust?"
"Trust no one," said Snorky, finding it impossible to establish this distinction. "And say, Skippy,—oaths on the Bible are all right, but if we're going to let Macnooder in on this he's got to sign a paper."
"You betcha!" said Skippy, with whom a little of Bill Appleby's distrust remained. "A paper's the thing!"
That afternoon, after due ceremony, the door was closed and locked and Doc Macnooder inducted into an easy chair. Skippy producing the Bible said firmly:
"Doc, you've got to take the oath; never to reveal to man, woman—"
"But I'm a Unitarian," said Macnooder, examining the St. James version.
The point was debated and passed over. Snorky then produced a formidable document tied in green ribbons with large wax seals, stamped with a cameo stick-pin.
"You'll have to sign this, too."
Snorky read rapidly:
"I, Doc Macnooder, in my third form year, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, hereby testify that on this date, the 12th day of April, 1896, the information written on the back of the present sheet of paper was communicated to me by John C. Bedelle, the rightful and lawful inventor, and the document does hereby establish all his rights. Signed—"
"Yes, but what's on the other side?" said Macnooder, with rising curiosity.
"That can only be communicated to you after your signature."
Macnooder was wary, but Macnooder was inquisitive. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and considered.
"Is Dink Stover in this, or the Tennessee Shad?" he asked cautiously.
"Not a soul besides us two has the slightest suspicion."
"All right then—I'll sign."
"Skippy, you tell—" said Snorky Green generously, "the glory is yours."
"It's an invention that's got to do with a bathtub, with all bathtubs," said Skippy, with a sudden faintness of confidence before the professional agnosticism which Macnooder, the man of affairs, now assumed by crossing his legs and donning a large horn-rimmed pair of spectacles.
"The word is bathtub," said Macnooder, who not to appear too eager dug a knife from his pocket and carefully whittled at the end of his pencil.
"It's a foot regulator!"
"Aha!" said Macnooder, who didn't understand at all.
"You see, Doc, what's the matter with all the bathtubs of to-day," said Skippy, picking up courage, "your head's at one end and the faucets are at the other—and, that's an awful distance!"
"Good point!" said Macnooder, nodding.
"Now when you want to let in the cold water you've got to sit up, reach down and turn it on and that's cold and chilly and drafty as the mischief, isn't it?"
"That's a very strong point," said Macnooder, who began to see.
"Now, if you could only turn the faucets with your toes, you could lie quietly under the hot water, couldn't you? . . . But you can't—but you could if you had foot regulators. And isn't it the simplest thing in the world to have foot regulators? Only no one has ever thought of it before?"
"Think what it would do to the bathtub industry, Doc," said Snorky, who felt the preceding explanation had failed properly to illuminate the epochal quality of the invention. "Why, Doc, we'd have 'em by the throat. We'd put every bathtub out of existence. The whole dinged system is fossilized and we'd show 'em up with the first exhibit. Do you see it, Doc? Do you get the possibilities?"
"At first sound," said Macnooder, who kept his glance on the end of his pencil, not to reveal how much his imagination had been stirred, "at first sound, it interests me strangely. Skippy,—Mr. Bedelle, your hand, and my congratulations."
"Oh, I say, Doc," said Skippy, with a lump in his throat, "you really do believe in it, don't you?"
"My boy, there are gold mines in it," said Macnooder, carefully, "the wealth of the Sultan is nothing to it, or—or it isn't worth a plugged nickel."
Skippy and Snorky exchanged glances of sudden dismay.
"It's one or the other. That's what I will find out."
"How'll you do that?" said the roommates, in a breath.
"I shall write for catalogues first. I may have to conduct a personal investigation at the patent office—and of course I must look at all possibilities. The idea is revolutionary," said Macnooder, reviving their spirits. "Mr. Bedelle, nothing can deprive you of that distinction and glory. Your fame is secure. But the bank account? Can we protect ourselves against pirating? Can the Bathtub Combine avoid in any way, shape or manner, being forced to treat with the owners of the Bedelle Foot Regulator? That's what I must carefully consider. Gentlemen, one week from to-day I promise you my answer."
"Then you will take it up, Doc?"
"If everything is all right we incorporate Bedelle, patent the foot regulator, organize a stock company, and I shall accept the posts of President and Treasurer, with fifty-one per cent of the stock."
"Fifty-one per cent, Doc!"
"My invariable terms. The responsibility and the control must be mine. I don't ask fifty-two per cent, or fifty-three per cent. I ask only protection. Take it or leave it."
Skippy gazed at Snorky, who pondered a long while, but Macnooder's professional manner sunk deep into their imaginations.
"You don't trust us!" said Skippy sorrowfully.
"Business is business!" said Doc, pointing to the documents he had signed. "Did you trust me?"
"I sort of expected we'd all go cahoots," said Skippy reluctantly.
"Fifty-one per cent, gentlemen, or good day," said Macnooder pompously.
"Take it," said Snorky.
Skippy drew a long breath. It had been a day of disillusions. What millions had slipped away! Truly the lot of the inventor was hard!
"Well?" said Macnooder, rising and shooting his cuffs. "Is it or is it not?"
"It is," said Skippy heavily.
"And now, gentlemen," said Macnooder briskly, "I make no promises. I shall examine the scheme ruthlessly, without sentiment or prejudice—but perhaps, likewise who knows!—Gentlemen, your hands, this moment may be historic!"
Caught by the sudden inspiration of how history might some day look back to these humble beginnings, with a common gesture they rose and clasped hands.
BEDELLE, Incorporated! John C. Bedelle, The Bathtub King! For a delicious week Skippy sailed into the future on the magic carpet of his imagination. He dreamed through the long dull hours of recitations; he dreamed when huddled in sweater he watched the scurrying of the baseball candidates; he dreamed over the prunes at breakfast and the prune whip at night, and in his soft and delicious bed he lay awake for hours planning out the disposal of his future wealth.
The week ended, as all weeks must. At precisely five o'clock in the afternoon, with that fine sense of ceremony that was his, Doc Macnooder knocked at the door and entered.
"Well!" said Snorky Green and Skippy in joyful chorus.
"Your hats and follow me!" said Macnooder in his best Dramatic Club manner.
The tone sent a chill down their backs. Silently, already prepared for the great catastrophe, they filed across the campus, to the Upper House. Not a word had been spoken.
"We will now proceed to examine the Fourth Form baths," said Macnooder, in the same lugubrious voice.
Utterly and instinctively without hope Skippy clutched his roommate's arm and stumbled down the stairs. Something was coming, something that meant the end of all! Macnooder, entering the first bathhouse, flung back the door and pointed to the bathtub.
"Mr. Bedelle, there is your answer!"
"Jerusalem, the faucets are in the middle!" said Snorky, recoiling with a gasp.
"The Bathtub Combine has us beat!" said Macnooder. "If we patented the Foot Regulator every bathtub in the country will have the spigot fastened in the middle."
"Why in Sam Hill didn't you think of that?" said Snorky, turning indignantly on the inventor. He kicked at the offending tub, scowled at Skippy and deserted on the spot.
"And this is the friend I'd have made a millionaire!" said Skippy to himself in the bitterness of his trial.
"You see, Bo?" said Macnooder, descending from his pedestal, as he perceived how the revelation had crushed the younger imagination.
"I see, Doc."
"It's no use, is it?"
"No,—damn 'em, they've got us beat!"
"Now, old sport," said Macnooder kindly, "don't mope about it. Your ideas are all right and I'm here to keep you practical. Better luck next time, but be sure and come to me."
"Thank you, Doc," said Skippy, through whose dimmed eyes the fatal bathtub seemed to advance like a juggernaut. He escaped and went dizzily across the Campus and sat on the steps of Memorial Hall, gazing out gloomily at the dotted recreation fields. The great Bedelle gymnasium, which but yesterday was outlined in splendor against the sky, was now cinders and dust, Fifth Avenue further off than Africa, and as for Lillian Russell—
"Looking all over for you, Skippy," said a familiar voice.
Before him stood Toots Cortrelle.
"Oh, it's you," he said heavily.
"Are you flush? I thought if you were—that quarter you know—you said—"
"I said I should remember," said Skippy, with a hollow laugh. There was just twenty cents in his pockets that an hour ago had been heavy with millions. He drew out two dimes and tendered them.
"Here's the best I can do, Toots. I'll try to get that other nickel to you to-morrow."
WHEN FRIENDS PROVE FALSE
COMMONPLACE minds are crushed by defeat; great imaginations rise to profit. Ten days after Skippy Bedelle had seen the gilded fabric of his future greatness collapse with the failure of the Foot Regulator to revolutionize the bathtub industry the spirit of invention had risen triumphantly from the ashes of first disillusionment. After all, there were other services to render to humanity, and the mind that at the age of fifteen could have reasoned so brilliantly in theory must inevitably express itself with profit to the race and to his own individual bank account.
At first Skippy's depression had been profound, and as the sensation was new he enjoyed its sensual charm to the fullest. He discarded the jaunty cap for a slouch hat which he pulled down over his eyes; he selected the soberest of neckwear, turned up his collar, sank his fists in his pockets, and spent solitary afternoons among the ruins of the Carthage of his imagination, seated on the site of what would never be the John C. Bedelle Gymnasium. Even the spectacle of Cap Keafer knocking out a home run in the ninth inning brought him no rapturous exultation. He was akin to Ivanhoe, the disinherited knight, and Athos of the brooding sorrows. The world had receded from him, and nobody cared or noticed. He was alone, misunderstood, without a friend in the world. For after what had happened he could never again feel the same towards that basest of ingrates, Snorky Green.
* * * * *
The evening after the collapse of the Bedelle Foot Regulator, Incorporated, there had been a short and exceedingly painful interview.
"Well, Skippy, old top," said Snorky, who was genuinely contrite and ready to make the advance, "that certainly was hard luck. I feel just as bad as—" Here he stopped before the sudden majestic indignation which confronted him.
"Green!" said Skippy, frowning.
"Oh, I say—"
"Green, when you thought I was going to be a rich man," continued Skippy icily, "there was nothing you wouldn't do for me. You fawned on me. But when I had to face defeat—at the first test—you deserted me with sneers and gibes. That is not friendship. Green, you are not capable of true friendship, and you have proved it. I shall never forget and I shall never forgive!"
"Oh, shucks, Skippy!" said Snorky. "What's the use of rubbin' it in? I'm not as bad as all that!"
"Green," said Skippy, working himself into the scene which he had rehearsed a dozen times as he had long debated whether to address the offender as Mr. Green, "Green, we will have to go on rooming together but I wish you to understand that nothing you can ever do or say will change my feelings now towards you. Nothing! Whatever communication is necessary from now on between us, will be in writing—"
"In writing," said Skippy firmly.
"Oh, well, if that's the way you're going to take it you can go to blazes!" said Snorky wrathfully. "But before you climb on your high horse, suppose you restore my red choker tie, my agate cuff buttons, my silver-rimmed fountain pen and a few pairs of fancy socks—"
"This is unworthy of even you," said Skippy, who rose and with a perfect social manner took the articles in question from the bureau on the south side of the room and gingerly placed them on the bureau in the western corner. "The socks are in the wash. I prefer to return them as I received them." After which he disrobed and, somewhat consoled, watched from the coverlets the indignant and bewildered Snorky Green sitting on his bedside, halfway out of his trousers, glaring at him in rage.
* * * * *
For a week, a miserable, lonely week, Skippy held to this irreconcilable attitude. During this time he touched the bottom of depression—he even doubted himself! Would he ever invent anything again? Had it been just a flash in the pan? Was it all a false start? What had become of the imagination which had blazed up so brilliantly? Perhaps after all he was no different from the rest—just an average mind fit only for such vulgar things as banking and trade. Then one morning through the gloom clouds a sudden shaft of sunlight arrived. He had another idea!
He had been lolling deliciously in bed, disdaining to notice the first harsh summons to rise, and his mind had dwelt enviously on the brilliant figure of Doc Macnooder. After all, even Doc Macnooder had his failures. There was the matter of the Folding Toothbrush, which all Macnooder's eloquence had failed to market with Bill Appleby.
"Jingo! That certainly was a bum idea," he said to himself, somewhat comforted. "You might do something with a toothbrush, but a folding one is a joke!"
* * * * *
All at once he sprang out of bed and, reaching the washstand in a bound, seized the nearest tooth mug. Snorky, who, despite the present unpleasantness, still trusted his rising instincts, catapulted out of bed and arrived three seconds later at his side of the washstand, where through still foggy eyes he beheld Skippy gazing at a toothbrush which he held reverently before him as a jeweler examines a named stone.
"What the deuce?"
"Dinged if I haven't got Macnooder beat a mile!" exclaimed Skippy, who in the first exhilaration of discovery had completely forgotten the correspondence acquaintanceship he had imposed.
"It's about a toothbrush!" said Snorky with great intelligence.
"You bet it's about a toothbrush." But here Skippy suddenly remembered, and the smile gave place to a frown.
"Oh, I say, Skippy! Let's call it off," said Snorky in a rush of feeling. "It was dead rotten of me and I'm doggone sorry—honest, I am—but you've rubbed it in enough."
"Very well, I forgive you and I shall try to forget," said Skippy, who also had chafed under the long silence.
"What's the great idea?" said Snorky hurriedly.
"The great idea is a Souvenir Toothbrush," said Skippy proudly.
* * * * *
The idea did not reach Snorky immediately, but he was too diplomatic to show his disappointment, so he said humbly:
"I suppose it's because I'm a dumb-head, but why a souvenir toothbrush?"
"Why a souvenir pillow-case? Why a souvenir buttonhook or a souvenir bootjack or a footstool, necktie, lap robe, or anything souvenir?"
"All right, why?" said Snorky, who felt hurt at this assumption of intellectual superiority.
"The bootjack doesn't make the souvenir; it's the souvenir makes the bootjack, doesn't it?" said Skippy, who was thinking deeply.
* * * * *
Snorky had never heard of the Socratian method, but he was impressed; so not understanding, he nodded and answered:
"Aha, I see!"
"It's the thing you souvenir that's important. If you want to remember you can't remember too often."
"And how can you remember better than the first crack out of bed—"
"I get all that," said Snorky, acknowledging the brilliancy of the argument. "But how the dickens can you make a souvenir out of a toothbrush?"
"My boy—my boy!" said Skippy with crushing contempt. "Have you no imagination? A souvenir toothbrush! Why, easy! Make the handle in the shape of a baseball bat and put the Lawrenceville-Andover score on the back—red and black."
"Well, I'll be jiggswiggered!"
"You can make 'em in the form of a riding crop for racing sports, masts for yachtsmen, sword-blades for the army. Why, it's a cinch! You can have Lawrenceville shields on the back, Princeton colors, Yale colors. You can do anything, anything with the idea—you can have your best girl's initials, or you can have her photograph stenciled on!"
"Sure thing! Why not Mother or Auntie—'when this you see remember to use me!'" said Snorky, who feared where another flight of the imagination might transport his roommate.
"Green!" said Skippy, flaring up at this destructive levity; but before he could deliver his broadside the breakfast gong began to rock the house and simultaneously each head ducked into a waiting basin.
* * * * *
When Skippy during the relaxation of the morning recitations considered the Souvenir Toothbrush he was not so favorably impressed. Snorky's suggestion somehow threw a touch of ridicule over the whole proposition and Skippy, like all true imaginations, shrank from ridicule. Undoubtedly if the Souvenir Toothbrush became a fact, mothers and governesses would abuse its opportunities. Think of a parental eye gazing admonishingly at you from the back of a toothbrush every morning! Why, the name of Bedelle might become an execration! He saw himself pilloried among the oppressors of boykind, as unpopular as the compiler of a Latin grammar or the accursed Euclid! No, the idea was unthinkable! Skippy did not reject the Souvenir Toothbrush in toto. He bought a blank book on which he inscribed:
INVENTIONS JOHN C. BEDELLE 1896
On the first page under the day of the month he wrote a full description, adding:
Suggestion—Hold until later date and patent anonymously.
Skippy then reluctantly admitted the destructive force of Snorky Green's criticism of the Souvenir Toothbrush; he admitted it, but he could not forgive him for being right. There are certain things which one does not forgive a brother, a sister, or the chum of chums.
After all, was Snorky Green worthy of that privileged and exalted position? A disturbing doubt began to creep into Skippy's imagination. He passed over the treachery in the matter of the now defunct Bedelle Foot Regulator; that might conceivably have been the fault of an inferior temperament. It was the spirit of negative criticism, the settled habit of turning into raillery the fragile first impulses of his inventive imagination, that was alarming.
"Gee! If every time I get a big idea, he's going to knock it in the head, what's the use of having an imagination?" he said gloomily.
After all, could a creative temperament yoke itself to a destructive criticism without self-immolation? Immersed in these brooding forebodings, he came heavily up the Dickinson stairs to the communal room. Suddenly he stopped, amazed.
"What the deuce!"
On his bureau a flaming bit of color greeted him from the somber mass of his pendent neckties. He advanced and recognized Snorky Green's red choker tie, which was particularly dear to his young sartorial fancy. On the pin cushion lay the agate cuff buttons and the silver-rimmed fountain pen. He opened the top drawer and beheld three pair of open-work socks, red, orange and glowing green.
"Gee, how crude!" he said indignantly.
At another moment and in another mood his heart might have softened at this evident peace-offering; but this afternoon, with the new child of his imagination slain by Snorky Green's brutal wit, the whole proceeding was undeniably crude, a bribe too openly offered. He would have to return them; that was inevitable and that was of course the last thing he wished to do. He sat down at his desk, scowling horribly, and then, moved by a fitting inspiration, he seized his pen and dashed off the most frigid and properly insulting of notes.
To Arthur E. Green. Goods Returned. 1 Fountain Pen. 1 Pair of Agate Cuff Buttons. 1 Choker Tie (red). 3 Pair of Socks. Kindly acknowledge receipt, Bedelle.
The last he considered such a master stroke that, his good humor restored by the anticipation of the infuriating effect on his beloved friend, he began to whistle a triumphant strain. He made a neat package, pinned the ultimatum on it, and proceeded to the opposite bureau.
"Well, I'll be teetotally jiggswiggered," he said, astounded.
In the oval of the glass, a new photograph had appeared in the company of the three other smiling feminine beauties which Snorky Green, as a man of the world, displayed by implied right of conquest. Skippy set down his package and craned forward for a closer examination.
"Huh! Old enough to be his grandmother," he said contemptuously, staring at the new victim of Snorky Green's charms.
But at this moment, hearing a familiar step in the hall, he bounded back in time to assume a nonchalant, bored attitude as Snorky came joyfully in, exclaiming:
"Hello, old sporting life! What do you know to-day?"
"Green," said Skippy, drawing himself up and extending an elocutionary finger towards the bureau, "you will find something to interest you there."
He waited a moment outside in the hall until Snorky's bursting imprecation brought the needed consolation, and then tripped down the steps, seeking a calming jigger.
SNORKY AS A LADY-KILLER
"L'AMOUR a des raisons que la raison connait pas," say the French, who ought to know, and the first expansive sentimental affection of a boy for a chum has also its illogical quality. Now, Skippy adored Snorky and the affection was returned. He felt that Snorky would die for him, as of course he would lay down his own life for his friend, if they should ever hunt together in African jungles. He was willing to share Snorky's last dime, keep his confidences, and fight shoulder to shoulder. He admired, he respected, he loved Snorky, but for the life of him he could not see wherein Snorky Green's peculiar brand of beauty should appeal to the young feminine eye any more than his own lank frame and sharpened features. Why should Snorky's glass present four lovely and adoring feminine faces, while his own should give back only a pointed nose around which the orange freckles swarmed like flies? True, the lady-killer's wardrobe was of a magnificence which outshone his, but then socks and neckties and cuff-button jewelry are communal possessions.
* * * * *
Why should Snorky Green then inspire such passions while he passed lonely and unloved? No, certainly Snorky was not beautiful. He had a smudgy, stubby little nose. He was lop-eared and the dank yellow hair fell about his puffy eyes in straight, unrippling shocks. Yet four women (three blondes and a brunette) watched with affectionate glances the progress of his casual morning toilette. Why?
The next morning, as Skippy reluctantly rose and gazed upon the feminine galaxy waiting at the bureau that was not his, the sense of his own inferiority again smote him. Envy is the corrupting cancer of friendship. He did like Snorky. He yearned for the life-and-death devotion of a chum of chums; a sort of Damon and Pythias, D'Artagnan and Athos affair—but, while this sense of inferiority continued, the shadow was over the fair sunlit landscape of impulsive friendship. It was so, and the feeling would not down.
That evening, being alone, he stood again contemplating the evidence of Snorky Green's predatory progress among the ladies. He examined the four photographs carefully.
"They can't all be sisters," he said gloomily; besides, he knew that his roommate, more fortunate than he, had to bear but one such cross. "Danged if I can see what gets them. If that fellow's a lady charmer, I'll hire out for a matinee idol!"
On the pin cushion was a pin in the shape of an arrow (an arrow of course suggested a transpierced heart), which Snorky wore for important ceremonies, when he donned a perpendicular collar and a white coaching tie. On the wall was a Farmington banner and on the sofa five pillows worked by loving feminine hands.
"Sisters never go to that trouble," said Skippy, secure in his knowledge of sister nature. "By the great horned spoon this can't go on. I've either got to lick the stuffin's out of him or—"
Without finishing his phrase, he went to the table, drew forth Caesar's "Gallic Wars," and a copy of "Lorna Doone" and immediately began to concentrate. A moment later Snorky Green arrived chuckling from a foray down the hall where he had just deposited a moth ball in the lamp chimney of Beckstein, the Midnight Poler. He came in rollicking and triumphant, slamming and locking the door against a sudden reprisal. Then, seeing Skippy, he stiffened, scowled, and assumed an air of frigid dignity. Skippy, with his eye on a convenient mirror, followed his movements expectantly.
Snorky, having glared sufficiently at the unresponsive back of his roommate, planted himself in front of him and said angrily:
"Say, what in tarnation is biting you, anyhow?"
Part of the pleasure which Skippy derived from his periodic application of ostracism was in the immediate success it achieved on his roommate's impressionable temperament. At present, being in an exceedingly grouchy mood, he drew forth a pad and pencil and tendered them with a plain intimation that only thus would he receive any communications.
"What are you sore about?" said Snorky, flaring up at once. "Just because I took a crack at your old Souvenir Toothbrush? Is that it?"
Skippy drew forth a handy literal translation and ostensibly began to apply it to the baffling text.
"My lord, you act like a sick girl! You're a pleasant roommate, you are! How long are you going to sulk like this?"
Skippy began to whistle softly to himself:
"You can't play in my backyard; I don't love you any more."
Whereupon Snorky, having slammed a book on the table, advanced with doubled fists, exclaiming:
"You stop that, do you hear! You stop that or—or—I'll—"
Skippy, whose calm was delightfully reinforced by this show of temper, again, but without looking up, indicated the pad and pencil.
"I can lick you!" said Snorky hoarsely.
This was too much. Skippy sprang up, fists ready, and glowered his defiance. For a long moment they held this bellicose attitude, a collision imminent. But a resort to primitive methods is a serious affair between roommates. Each hesitated, seeking a dignified evasion of the crisis.
"Well, go on with your baby act, if you enjoy it," said Snorky scornfully. "Lord, I'd hate to have your disposition!"
The status quo having been restored, Skippy discarded Caesar's "Gallic Perplexities" and returned to boyhood's first heroine, while Snorky in a rage retreated to his side of the room and pondered.
"I certainly riled him that time," said Skippy joyfully to himself. "Wonder what he'll do now?"
After a few moments Snorky began to whistle, meditating to himself, which in boyhood is always a signal that the imagination is working.
"What's the big idea now?" said Skippy, following from the corner of his eye.
Snorky rose briskly and, repairing to his closet, disappeared on all fours. A moment later he returned, with a box of large and juicy chocolate eclairs and a bottle of ginger pop, and, establishing himself at the opposite end of the table, began to enjoy himself audibly.
"The low-down hound!" said Skippy, writhing on his seat.
In his calculations, he had completely forgotten the purchase of the afternoon. In turn he rose, delved into the debris of his closet and, returning, spread before his end of the table one tin of deviled turkey (Snorky's favorite), a large piece of American cheese and a bottle of root beer.
It had now become a battle of wits, with each resolved to impress the other with the delicious satisfaction that he was experiencing and each gazing from time to time at a point directly above the other's head. There were six eclairs. Snorky ate four rapidly, licking his fingers with gusto after each.
Then he ate the fifth eclair more slowly and with some effort. Despite all his self-control Skippy's gaze could not turn from that last-surviving member of the chocolate family. He was suffering tortures, but suffering under a calm and smiling exterior.
"Hello!" said Snorky suddenly, talking to himself. "I almost forgot."
He rose and left the room to Skippy and the sixth eclair. Tantalus, amid his parched seeking of a cooling draught, never suffered more anguish than Skippy sitting there before that undefended eclair, with only a gesture intervening.
"Of all the mean, dirty, contemptible tricks!" he said angrily between his teeth, revolting at this most treacherous trap. For he must not, he could not, no matter what the pain he must endure, admit defeat by falling on that eclair. He rose and went to the window. Certainly he had been mistaken in Snorky; no one who would carry a quarrel to such fiendish lengths had the largeness of spirit that he had the right to demand in a chum.
When Snorky returned, he glanced in some surprise at the untouched eclair. Then he lifted it gingerly, examined it closely to see if it contained any foreign corrupting matter, and, his appetite restored by the lapse of time, ate it with smacking relish.
Skippy, crouched in his chair, ground his teeth and tried to shut out the tantalizing sounds. Snorky began to hum gaily to himself. Then, proceeding across the direct line of his roommate's vision, he took up the latest photograph and contemplated it with a little exaggerated rapture. It was the last straw. Skippy's rage burst forth in a loud and insulting guffaw.
Snorky, to whom the advantage of the situation was now apparent, took up each photograph in turn and smiled with the pardonable pride of one who knows his own worth.
The next moment two books went flying across the room, and Skippy, now thoroughly infuriated, stood before him, arms akimbo, a sneer on his disgusted lips.
"Don't let me stop you. Go on, kiss it, fondle it. Put it under your pillow and hug it, you great big mooncalf! Say, why do you come to Lawrenceville, anyhow? Why don't you go to Ogontz or Dobbs Ferry?"
Then Snorky, tasting the sweets of revenge, went to the table and, picking up the pad and pencil, presented them to Skippy with a mocking bow.
Skippy's reply is not to be found even in the most up-to-date dictionaries. Furious at his roommate, the world in general, and himself most of all, he shed his clothes and dived into bed.
"Girls—faugh!" he exclaimed in disgust And, pulling the covers over his head, he retired to his own ruminations.
LOVE LIGHTLY CONSIDERED
TO understand what Skippy felt one must have known the springs of boyhood's impulse towards perfect manhood.
To Skippy a man was that completed being, who wore trousers that never bagged at the knees, neckties that never slipped below the collar button, who displayed a gold watch-chain across a fancy vest, from whose lower lip a cigarette was pendent, who possessed a latchkey and the right to read far into the night, and who shaved once a day. The sentimental complications had escaped him. Whatever attracted man to the frizzled, giggling, smirking, smiling bipeds in shirts remained a mystery to Skippy.
All at once he had to face this problem. He had gone resolutely up the steps towards perfect manhood. He had learned the art of pressing trousers to a thin razor-edge from Snorky, who was a year his senior in boarding-school knowledge.
The necktie question was not yet settled, though every morning he subjected his throat to a strangle-hold.
He had bought a razor and twice a week, trembling and apprehensive, drew it across his maidenly cheek. He slashed himself fearfully but he did not mind that. He wore his scars proudly, a warning to all that adolescence was on him, as the young Heidelberg student flaunts his wounds.
The cigarette (known as the Demon Cigarette, the Filthy Weed, and the Coffin Nail) had been a dreadful struggle. But he had won out.
He loathed the Demon Cigarette as he abhorred tobacco in any form, but he had martyrized himself until he was able to puff up the cold-air flue in the stilly reaches of the night without having to grope his way back to the bed and watch the room careen about him. He did not inhale, but he had learned to imitate the process so as to defy detection, as he exclaimed:
"Gee! It's good to fill the old lungs, isn't it?"
* * * * *
These things, by dint of concentration and courage, Skippy had achieved, not to stand ashamed in the eyes of his roommate. And, having with pain and perseverance traveled this far, he suddenly, this night, realized how much was still lacking.
Yes, there was certainly something lacking in his progress towards perfect manhood, something that Snorky had and he had not.
It was all very well to be a man, to smoke, to shave, and to have acquired the sartorial evidence. This was all very well—but others must perceive it, too! This was the point. As Snorky had done, he must do.
The new world to conquer was the feminine heart.
Now, Skippy had not at this moment the slightest inclination towards the lovelier sex.
He did not aspire to be a Don Juan or a Beau Brummel, but if he were to continue to room with Snorky Green he must acquire at least the appearance. He perceived this. It pained him that in the scheme of things it should be so—but a reputation he must have.
"Girls, girls! Lord, how I loathe them!" he said in a last farewell to his male independence. "What I think of a fellow who hangs around them, wears their rings and pins and carries off their handkerchiefs! But I'll be danged if I can stand any more of this conquering-hero stuff from that eyesore across the room! If it's got to be done, you bet I'll do it! I'll put it over that four-flusher, if I have to fuss every girl in Scranton!"
THE DEMON OF JEALOUSY
THE Easter vacation was ended and four hundred overfed, underslept boys had returned to spread the germs of measles, mumps and tonsilitis among their fellows. Skippy and Snorky, having fallen hilariously into each other's arms, were proceeding with the important ceremony of the unpacking, while surveying each other with a critical eye.
"Seems to me you look quite spruced up," said Snorky when, to be more at his ease, Skippy had shed his coat and stood revealed in all the splendor of a flaming-yellow buckskin vest, with gleaming brass buttons; then noting the display of jewelry in the red and yellow tie, he added: "Where did you get the fancy stuff?"
Skippy removed his scarf-pin and gazed languidly at the delicate garland of forget-me-nots. Then he yawned and said:
"I'll tell you about her some day."
Snorky sat down on his best derby. "My aunt's cat's pants! Have I lived to see it?"
"See what?" said Skippy loftily.
"You a fusser! Skippy Bedelle wearing a girl's pin! Fan me quick!"
"Just because I haven't boasted about my conquests—" said Skippy, and he brought forth a little bundle carefully wrapped in a green bandana handkerchief.
"What's that?" said Snorky faintly.
From beneath the protecting folds of the handkerchief appeared a white satin frame with hand-painted violets rampant. Out of the violets gazed an adoring pair of eyes.
"Is that her?" said Snorky.
"Lord, no! This is only Margot," said Skippy, who inhaled the fragrance and offered the same opportunity to his chum. "Rather delicate, eh, what?"
"Smells like patchouli," said Snorky, beginning to recover.
"Patchouli? Margot? Say, what kind of females do you play around with? My girls drive their own four-in-hands and wear pearls for breakfast."
"Oh, ex-cuse me!" said Snorky with a mocking courtesy.
Skippy brought forth a second photograph and placed it on the bureau, and then a third. Snorky, who had begun to sulk, feigned indifference and proceeded to range his trophies on the bureau.
"This'll cheer up the window seat a bit," said Skippy in the same casual tone.
Snorky's head appeared above the trunk long enough to watch Skippy with his arms full of pillows, lace and sweet-scented, scatter them with a nonchalant gesture. But when, continuing his manoeuvres, Skippy in the new revelation produced three banners emblazoned with the insignia of feminine schools, Snorky capitulated to his curiosity and, advancing to the bureau, stood in open-mouthed wonder.
"I'll be jiggswiggered! Holy cats and Aunt Jemima! I never would have believed it!"
Skippy brought out a fan, spread it, and pinned it affectionately above the photograph gallery.
"I guess that'll hold him," he said to himself. "Poor old Snorky! I hope his heart is strong enough."
"Been doing quite a bit of fussing yourself," said Snorky with a new respect. "Why didn't you ever tell a fellow?"
"I never discuss women," said Skippy, dusting off the fourth photograph.
"You must have gone the pace," said Snorky in wonder.
"Oh, I looked them over quite a bit."
"But, my lord, Skippy! You can't have loved all of them!"
"Just collecting souvenirs."
* * * * *
As a crowning touch, a climax long imagined, plotted and hilariously enjoyed in prospect, he next produced, before the bewildered eyes of Snorky Green, what in school-day parlance is known as a Trophy of Trophies; an incredible, amazing, inexplicable thing, a tasseled, beribboned, pink and white bed cap! Snorky made a feeble gesture or two and then lay down to signify that the shock had killed him.
"Skippy! What does that mean?"
"This also is a thing I cannot discuss," said Skippy, whose fondest imaginings were outdone by reality.
"Any more?" said Snorky, struggling weakly upward.
"That's all," said Skippy, who was gazing contentedly at the imposing collection. But all at once he reflected: "Hello, where in the deuce did I put her?"
He pretended to search through his trunk and valise in great concern until, Snorky's curiosity having been properly awakened, he suddenly struck his forehead.
"Of course. How silly of me!"
And diving into his inner pocket he brought forth a last tribute, encased in neat pink morocco, which he arranged in the unmistakable position of honor.
Snorky approached on tenterhooks. The next moment he burst out: "Mimi!"
"What, you know her!" said Skippy, surprised in turn. "Rather cute little thing."
On Snorky's bureau in the same place of honor was an identical photograph, a little Japanese brunette, with a descending puff and an ascending nose. They stood staring at each other, and the temperature of the room seemed to recede towards the freezing point.
"When did you meet her? How long have you known her, and how the deuce did you get her photo?" said Snorky, with blazing eyes.
Skippy was in a quandary. A false step might tumble about him the glorious fabric of his new reputation. He went to his bureau and thoughtfully considered the pink morocco case stolen from his sister's collection. Revenge had been sweet, yet the impulse was still on him. He decided that a quick conquest would be the more galling to a rival's pride.
"Oh, we waltzed about a bit, but I gave her an awful rush."
Snorky went and sat down in a corner, elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands. Seeing thus the wreck he had caused, Skippy began to be troubled by his conscience. Suppose it really was a serious affair. Wouldn't it be nobler to surrender the fictitious conquest to his beloved friend, to adopt a sacrificial attitude and allow Snorky to go in and win her?
"I say, old boy, I'm awfully sorry; do you really care?"
"For Mimi Lafontaine? For a girl that can't tell a man from a cabbage? Ha, ha!"
All kindly feelings vanished.
"What's the good of calling yourself names?" said Skippy crushingly. He picked up the photograph and smiled at it. "Mimi is a flirt, but she has her good points."
"Look here!" said Snorky, rising in sudden fury. "There's one question has got to be answered right now."
"And pray what is that?" said Skippy, resting one elbow on the top of the bed and crossing his legs to show his perfect calm.
Snorky planted himself before the bureau and extended his hand in a furious gesture towards the lace bed cap that now adorned the top.
"Does or does not that belong to Miss Lafontaine?"
"Any one who would lower himself to ask such a question," said Skippy, still in a stage attitude, "does not deserve my sympathy. I would have given her up. Now I shall keep her."
"Oh, you think she cares for you, you chump?"
"I do not discuss women."
The gauntlet had been thrown down and the demon of jealousy took up his abode with the menage Bedelle and Green. For a week the comedy continued, while conversation was reduced to a minimum and transmitted in writing along the lines of Skippy's imagining. Each watched the other's correspondence with a jealous eye. Whenever Skippy received a letter from home, he ostensibly hugged it to his shirt-front and, repairing to a corner, read it furtively with the pink morocco case before him. Afterward he would execute a double shuffle across the room, whistle a hilarious strain, and give every facial contortion which could express a lover's joy, while Snorky squirmed and scowled and pretended not to notice. Snorky in turn retaliated by writing long letters after hours by the light of a single candle, ruffling up his hair and breathing audibly. In the morning Skippy, passing towards the washstand, would see on the table a swollen envelope, addressed:
Miss Mimi Lafontaine, Farmington, Conn.
These letters troubled him. When a fellow could write over four pages it certainly must be serious, and these looked as though they held forty. The trouble was that Skippy had begun to believe in his own passion. The little Japanese brunette had become a reality to him. He had talked with her, walked with her, received the avowal of her own uncontrollable impulse towards him. In fact, at times he almost believed that he had actually held her in his arms and whirled in the dizzy intoxication of the waltzes he had announced. He even was able to feel a real pang of jealousy, a fierce and contending antagonism against Snorky, who actually knew her. Such a situation was of course fraught with too many explosive possibilities to long endure. Fortunately Fate stepped in and preserved the friendship.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
A WEEK after these events, returning on a Saturday morning from the last vexations of the curriculum with the expectant thrill of the opening of the baseball season, Skippy was amazed to receive, by the hands of Klondike, the colored sweep, a scribbled note in the familiar handwriting of his sister:
Miss Green and I and a party of girls are down for the game. We're at the Lodge. Come right over and bring Arthur.
His first emotion was one of horror; had they been up to the room, and was his duplicity forever at the mercy of a sister's gibes? Klondike reassured him. He bounded upstairs, made a hasty survey, found everything in order, and hastily departed for the Lodge, after a quick plunge into the glorious buckskin vest, a struggle into a clean collar and a hurried dusting off of his shoes against the window seat. He reached the parlors of the Lodge on the heels of Snorky Green, who, being as thoroughly bored by the prospect as he, forgot the week's feud in a common misery.
"Gee! Aren't sisters the limit?"
"Well, we're in for it."
"Let's hope they clear out before dinner."
The next moment Skippy was perfunctorily pecking at the cheek of Miss Clara Bedelle and pretending to be overjoyed at the prospect of parading before the assembled school with six young ladies in tow. Then he looked up and something like a cataleptic fit went through his body.
Directly in front of him, evidently waiting for the introduction, was unmistakably Miss Mimi Lafontaine! He looked at Snorky and saw the same expression of horror over his pudgy features, as he came up, knees shaking, to be introduced in turn.
Then to Snorky's distressed soul came the welcome sound:
"Jack, dear, I want you to meet Mimi—Miss Lafontaine."
To the amazement of sisters and friends, said Snorky, advancing with outstretched hand:
"Hello, you old Skippy!"
Skippy clung to it as to a spar in midstream.
"Snorky, old dear—it's all right."
"You bet it is!"
"What are you idiotic boys doing?" said Sister Green.
"Shall we tell?" asked Snorky roguishly.
"Women have no sense of humor," said Skippy, grinning with a great easement of the soul.
At this moment they rose above the vexations of the female intrusion. They looked at each other and each comprehended the other. They were equals, equal in imagination, in audacity and expedient. This mutual revelation cleared away all past misunderstanding and jealousies. The sense of humor was triumphant. They loved each other.
A half-hour later, having, to the utter amazement of sister No. 1 and sister No. 2, rolled hilariously, arms locked, across the campus, they lay on opposite beds, struggling weakly to master the pangs of laughter which smote them like the colic.
"Are we going to tell our real names?" said Skippy at last.
"You know, Bo, you certainly had me going—you certainly did. And all these months, too! Snorky, I bow before you."
"Allow me," said Snorky admiringly.
"Say! You're all right, but honest now," said Skippy, pointing to Snorky's bureau and the feminine galaxy, "honest, who are they?"
"Well, of course one's my sister," said Snorky, grinning. "I swiped these three and I bought the other with the frame. Say, I'm not worried about how you got yours, but what I'd like to know is, who in tarnation belongs to that boudoir cap?"
"My grandmother, and she's a corker, too!"
They clasped hands and Snorky announced solemnly:
"Skippy, old fellow, let 'em have all their old skirts; there's nothing like the real thing, the man-to-man stuff, is there?"
"You bet there isn't."
"And say, I'm sorry about that souvenir toothbrush, honest I am, and I think you're a wonder, I do."
"Oh, that's all right. That's all right," said Skippy, embarrassed. "There's a lot of money in it, but I guess I prefer to make my pile in other ways."
A WOMAN OF THE WORLD
NOW that the Snorky-Skippy friendship had been placed on the firm rock of mutual revelation and all unfounded jealousies swept away by frank confession, Skippy's imagination returned to the real purpose of life. He was a little ashamed of the time wasted on the opposite sex, even if for a worthy purpose. Such frailties were all very well for Shrimp Davis and the Triumphant Egghead, who had legs educated for the ballroom, but he, John C. Bedelle, had other missions to perform in this life which held such short years for a man of imagination.
For several days he sought diligently among the needs of human nature for something on the grand scale. He tried his hand at a perpetual-motion machine. He thought out a combination submarine and airship which would put the navies of the world at the mercy of his country. He even descended to such trivial abstractions as a Reversible Shirt-Front, which took its due place in the book of inventions under the following entry:
Argument: Admitted that Reversible Shirt-Fronts are easy to manufacture; what demand would there be for them? Could they be popularized among the working classes? Treat cuffs same way.
For certain reasons he decided not to discuss this last invention with Snorky Green. These tentative efforts were but exercising his imagination. He knew it and waited breathlessly.
But at last, a month after the failure of the Foot-Regulator, the long-awaited thrill arrived, the thrill which comes only with the possession of a Universal Idea, and for the first time in his long, untroubled fifteen years, it arrived in conjunction with the intrusion into his still simple scheme of things of that arch-disturber—WOMAN.
Miss Virginia Dabtree was not destined to occupy the proud place of the first love, though Miss Dabtree (who was Snorky Green's aunt) was eminently equipped for such a position, being eighteen years his senior and at an age when by instinct, habit, and a need of self-encouragement, any tribute from the opposite sex, no matter how given, caused her not the slightest irritation.
Skippy, however, was too completely dazzled by the consummate artistry of Miss Dabtree's clinging toilettes, the built-up luxuriousness of her hair, the pink and white complexion, the stenciled eyebrows, and the Lady Vere de Vere attitudes to dare to entertain a personal hope.
He was dazzled, dumfounded! A new world opened to him. Through her at last he perceived woman, her place in the now more complex scheme of things, the influence she could exert, the stimulus to the imagination, and the answer to his need of some guiding purpose.
True, Miss Dabtree's age was her protection. She was removed from even the flights of his imagination, yet the influence she exerted all unwittingly over his life was inestimable. For it was for her, to protect her, that he, Skippy Bedelle, conceived his magnum opus, the Mosquito-Proof Socks.
* * * * *
The hour was eight, the day Sunday, the time the first clear week in June. They sat together on the porch of the Kennedy, listening to the sound of the Upper House singing rising clearly above the twang of banjos across the campus from the esplanade.
The long twilight had set in, yet the afterglow hung brilliantly about them. Skippy was balanced gingerly on the front edge of a rocker which swayed perilously under him and added to his general discomfort. There was a safe straight-backed stationary chair only ten feet away, but to save his life he could think of no legitimate excuse for rising and possessing it. If he leaned back the sharp upright collar, borrowed from Dennis de Brian de Boru Finnegan, cut cruelly into his chin, and when he craned forward the red choker tie (restored by Snorky in addition to the agate cuff buttons) bulged forth in the most disconcerting and unimpressive luxuriance.
"You've known Snorky, that is, Arthur, a long time, haven't you?" he said desperately, breathing hard.
"Why, you funny boy! I'm his aunt," said Miss Dabtree, laughing.
"Oh, yes!" He felt he had offended her mortally, so to repair his social blunder he said point-blank: "Gee! Some fellows are born lucky!"
"Now that is sweet of you," she said, giving him the full effect of her heavenly smile. "But I'm afraid you're a terrible flatterer."
"Shall I tell her about the Foot Regulator?" thought Skippy, who felt the need of confiding his life's ambition.
But at this moment Destiny arrived in the shape of a mosquito that registered its coming on one of Skippy's open-work socks. Skippy shook his foot uneasily, just enough to disturb the intruder but not enough to attract Miss Dabtree's attention. The mosquito transferred its operations to the other sock. Skippy, in order to conceal his predicament, slowly crossed his legs and then hastily uncrossed them, not being quite sure of the etiquette of such a position.
The mosquito, pursuing its way, lighted on the graceful silver-sheened stocking which Skippy had been contemplating furtively for the last ten minutes with a sudden realization that the feminine ankle has certain strange sentimental values utterly different from those for which his and Snorky Green's were created.
But immediately a terrible dilemma arose. How was he to act? In another moment the beautiful creature so perfumingly close to him would notice the intruder, might even retreat before the menace of more mosquitoes, and the rapturous twilight opportunity for opening his confidence would pass forever. His instinct was all to protect her. But how? To slap at the insect with his cap or his hand was unthinkable. He found himself blushing at the very thought! Yet how to warn her without acknowledging that his attention had been concentrated on the lower graceful silhouette? He might offend her irreparably. Even if he exclaimed, "Look out, there's a 'skeeter,'" what would he answer if she in her innocence should ask, "Where?"
As he debated this, hot and cold, the inevitable happened.
"Good gracious!" cried Miss Dabtree with an impetuous lunge towards the point of attack, which made Skippy modestly avert his gaze. "This place is filled with mosquitoes. We never can sit here!"
She rose and led the way to the parlor.
"Won't you come and wait for Arthur?"
"Thanks, thanks awfully; much obliged," said Skippy, gulping down his disappointment. He tripped against the foot-scraper and made a mess of opening the door for her. He wanted above all things in the world to follow her in and be permitted just for a few more wonderful minutes to sit and gaze at her loveliness. But to admit this was impossible. Whatever happened, she must never suspect, never! So at loss for an excuse he stammered, "I'd love to, but really I ought to get back for study hour."
A moment later, having backed and scraped down the steps and thanked her profusely for some indefinite thing for which she ought to be thanked, he went rushing around the corner, let himself in by King Lentz's window, and surreptitiously gained his room. At last, having torn off the red choker tie and freed his neck, back once more to the ease of bachelor attire, he returned wrathfully to the pest which had perhaps saved him from his first sentimental excursion.