WINNING HIS "W"
A Story of Freshman Year at College
EVERETT T. TOMLINSON
M.A. Donohue & Company Chicago New York
In this book I have endeavored to relate the story of a boy's early experiences in college life—a boy who was neither unnaturally good nor preternaturally bad, wholesome, earnest, impulsive, making just such mistakes as a normal boy would make, and yet earnest, sincere, and healthy. We all have known just such boys and are grateful that they are neither uncommon nor unknown.
Perhaps it may add a little to the interest of this tale if it is stated that many of the events described in it actually occurred. I have not tagged a "moral" upon it, for if the story itself shall not bear its own moral, then the addition will not add to it.
EVERETT T. TOMLINSON.
Elizabeth, New Jersey.
I. THE OPENING TERM
II. PETER JOHN'S ARRIVAL
III. NEW FRIENDS AND NEW EXPERIENCES
IV. A CLOUD OF WITNESSES
V. UNSOUGHT ATTENTIONS
VI. A RACE IN THE DARKNESS
VII. SPLINTER'S QUESTIONS
VIII. THE PARADE
IX. THE WALK WITH MOTT
X. A VISITOR
XI. THE PERPETUAL PROBLEM
XII. THE MEET
XIII. WAGNER'S ADVICE
XIV. THE ADVICE FOLLOWED
XV. A REVERSED DECISION
XVII. PETER JOHN'S DOWNFALL
XVIII. AN ALARMING REPORT
XIX. A RARE INTERVIEW
XX. A CRISIS
XXI. THE EXAMINATION
XXII. A FRESH EXCITEMENT
XXIII. THE RUSH TO COVENTRY CENTER
XXIV. THE MYSTERY OF THE CANES
XXV. ON THE TRAIL
XXVI. ST. PATRICK'S DAY
THE OPENING TERM
"I've got a letter from Peter John."
"What's the trouble with him? He ought to have been here yesterday or the day before."
"I'm afraid Peter John never'll be on time. He doesn't seem to have taken that in his course. He'd never pass an 'exam' in punctuality."
"What does he want?"
"The poor chap begs us to meet him at the station."
"Then we've no time to waste. Is he afraid he'll be lost?"
"He's afraid, all right."
"What's he afraid of?"
"Everything and everybody, I guess. Poor chap."
Will Phelps laughed good-naturedly as he spoke, and it was evident that his sympathy for "Peter John" was genuine. His friend and room-mate, Foster Bennett, was as sympathetic as he, though his manner was more quiet and his words were fewer; their fears for their friend were evidently based upon their own personal knowledge.
For four years the three young men had been classmates in the Sterling High School, and in the preceding June had graduated from its course of study, and all three had decided to enter Winthrop College. The entrance examinations had been successfully passed, and at the time when this story opens all had been duly registered as students in the incoming class of the college.
Foster Bennett and Will Phelps were to be room-mates, and for several days previous to the September day on which the conversation already recorded had taken place they had been in the little college town, arranging their various belongings in the room in Perry Hall, one of the best of all the dormitory buildings. The first assembling of the college students was to occur on the morrow, and then the real life upon which they were about to enter was to begin.
The two boys had come to Winthrop together, the parents of both having decided that it was better to throw the young students at once upon their own resources rather than to accompany them, reserving their visits for a later time when the first novelty of the new life would be gone.
And on this September day the novelty certainly was the most prominent element in the thoughts of both boys. The task of arranging their various belongings in their new rooms had kept both so busy that thoughts of the homes they had left were of necessity somewhat rare, and the vision of the family life in which they had been so vital a part had not as yet come to take the place in their minds which it soon would occupy.
At the hotel where they had been staying there were many other boys who were in a predicament not unlike their own, but the very fact that all were alike new to the life and its surroundings had made every one somewhat diffident and the warm friendships and cordial relations that soon were to be formed were as yet not begun.
Will Phelps and Foster Bennett, however, had been so completely taken up with their own immediate tasks that they had little thought for other things. At the time when this story opens their study room was ready for callers, as Will expressed it, and the adjoining sleeping rooms were in a fair way for occupancy. Indeed, the boys planned that very night to sleep in the dormitory, and the experience was looked forward to as one which they both would enjoy.
Will Phelps, a sturdy young fellow of eighteen, of medium height, with strong body and a bright, keen expression in his dark eyes, had been the most popular of all the boys in the high school from which he had recently graduated. Not over-fond of study, he had somewhat neglected his tasks until his final year, and though he had then begun to work more seriously, his late effort had not entirely atoned for the neglect of the preceding years. An only son and not rigidly trained in his home, he had not formed the habits of study which his more serious-minded room-mate, Foster Bennett, possessed. But almost every one who met the young student was drawn to him by the fascination of his winning ways, and realized at once the latent possibilities for good or ill that were his. His success would depend much upon his surroundings, and though Will was sublimely confident in his ability to meet and master whatever opposed him, it nevertheless had been a source of deep satisfaction to his father and mother that he was to room with his classmate, Foster Bennett, for Foster was of a much more sedate disposition than his friend. Taller than Will by three inches, as fond as he of certain athletic sports, still Foster was one whom enthusiasm never carried away nor impulse controlled. When people spoke of him they often used the word "steady" to describe him. Not so quick nor so brilliant as Will, he was not able to arouse the response which his room-mate seldom failed to elicit, nor was his promise in certain ways so great. Will might do brilliant things, but of Foster it was said that 'one always knew where to find him.' Naturally, the two boys in a measure complemented each other, and their friendship was strong and lasting.
Peter John Schenck—no one ever thought of referring to him by another term than "Peter John"—the third member of the high-school class to which reference has already been made, was a boy who every morning had driven into the little city of Sterling from his country home, and in his general appearance was decidedly unlike either of his classmates. The influences of his home had been of a different character from those which had surrounded his two friends. Not that the love for him had been less, but certain elements of refinement had been lacking and his familiarity with the ways of the world was much less. Besides, his father had been in humbler circumstances, and Peter John was to room in college in Leland Hall, one of the oldest of the dormitories, where the room rent was much less than in Perry Hall and more in accord with Peter John's pocket. In school he had been made the butt of many a joke, but his fund of good nature had never rebelled and his persistence was never broken. Tall, ungainly, his trousers seemed to be in a perpetual effort to withdraw as far as possible from his boots, while his hands and wrists apparently were continually striving to evade the extremities of his coat sleeves. His face was freckled, not the ordinary freckles produced by the heat of the sun, but huge splotches that in color almost matched his auburn-tinted hair—at least his sister was prone to declare that the color of his hair was "auburn," though his less reverent schoolmates were accustomed to refer to him as a "brick-top."
But Peter John was undeterred by the guying of his mates, and when he had first declared his intention to go to college his words had been received as a joke. But it was soon discovered that in whatever light they might be received by others, to Peter John himself they were the expression of a fixed purpose; and so it came to pass that he too had passed the entrance examinations and was duly enrolled as a member of the freshman class in Winthrop College.
When his determination had been accepted by his mates, some of them had made use of their opportunities to enlarge upon the perils that lay before him—perils for the most part from the terrible sophomores who were supposed to be going about seeking their prey with all the fierceness of a roaring lion. Peter John had listened to the marvelous tales that were poured into his ears, but so far as his expression of face was concerned, apparently they had been without effect. Nevertheless, deep in his heart Peter John had stored them all and his fear of the class above him had increased until at last just before he departed from home he had written to his friend Will Phelps informing him of his fears and begging that he and Foster would meet him at the station and protect him from the fierce onslaughts, which, he confessed, he expected would await him upon his arrival. This letter Will Phelps had found at the little post office when he made inquiries for his mail, and upon his return to his room it had provided the basis for the conversation already recorded.
"We'd better go right down to the station, then, Will," Foster had said.
"All right. Peter John will be in mortal terror if he shouldn't find us there. He probably believes the sophs will have a brass band and knives and guns and will be drawn up on the platform ready to grab him just the minute he steps off the car."
"Not quite so bad as that," laughed Foster. "But we'll have to help the poor chap out."
"Sure. Come on, then," called Will as he seized his cap and started toward the hallway.
"Hold on a minute. Wait till I lock the door."
"'Lock the door?' Not much! You mustn't do that."
"It isn't polite."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Foster.
"Just what I'm telling you. Freshmen mustn't lock their doors, that's not the thing. The janitor told me not to, because the sophs will take it as a challenge to break it in. He said the college had to put sixty new locks this summer on the doors here in Perry."
"Looks as if something had happened for a fact," said Foster slowly, as he glanced at some huge cracks that were plainly visible in the panels. "Sure 't'll be safe?"
"It'll be all right. The janitor says so. Come on! Come on, or we'll be too late!"
The two boys ran swiftly down the stairway (their room was on the third floor of the dormitory) and soon were on the street which was directly in front of the building. As they walked rapidly in the direction of the station, which was a half-mile or more distant from the college buildings, the sight which greeted their eyes was one that stirred the very depths of their hearts. The very buildings themselves were impressive, some old and antiquated, dating back a century or more and venerable with age, and others new and beautiful, the recent gifts of some loyal alumni. From the huge clock in the tower of the chapel rang out the chimes which announced that the hour of two was come and gone. The beautifully kept grounds, the stately buildings, the very leaves on the huge elms that grew about the grounds were all impressive at the time to the boys to whom the entire picture was new.
In the wide street that led directly through the midst of the college buildings, were passing young men of their own age, some of whom would suddenly stop and grasp with fervor the hands of some students just returned from the long summer vacation. From the windows of the dormitories could be seen the faces of students who were leaning far out and shouting their words of greeting to friends on the street below. The September sun was warm and mellow, and as it found its way through the thick foliage it also cast fantastic shadows upon the grass that seemed to dance and leap in the very contagion of the young life that abounded on every side. The very air was almost electric and the high hills in the distance that shut in the valley and provided a framework for the handiwork of nature, lent an additional charm to which Will Phelps was unconsciously responding.
"I tell you, Foster, this is great! I'm glad I'm here!" he exclaimed.
"Are you?" replied Foster in his more subdued manner. "Well, I'm glad too."
The scene upon the platform of the station was as animated and inspiring as that about the college grounds. Groups of students were here awaiting the coming of friends, and yet their impatience was hidden by the enthusiasm of the moment. One group, consisting of twenty or more young men, particularly interested Will, for their noise and exuberance seemed to know no bounds. At last a young man, evidently a student though slightly older than the most in the group, approached them and said: "Here, you sophs! You're making too much noise. Children should be seen, not heard."
"All right, pop," responded one; and for a time the noise decreased. But it was not long before it broke forth afresh and became even more violent than before. Both Will and Foster were curiously watching the group; they almost instinctively looked upon them as natural enemies and yet were compelled to laugh at their antics.
"Here you, taxi-driver," suddenly called out one of the sophomores advancing from the midst of his classmates and approaching one of the cabs, a line of which were drawn up near the platform.
"Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Here you are! Here you are! This way!" responded a half-dozen of the taxi-drivers.
"Be still!" replied the young man solemnly to the noisy men. "Can't you see I'm engaged with John? Now, John, tell me honestly, are you free?"
"Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Take you anywhere ye say," responded the driver glibly.
"You're sure you're at liberty?"
"Yes, sir. Yes, sir."
"All right, then. I'm glad to hear it. I've a great respect for liberty. That's all I wanted to know; thank you," he added, politely bowing; then turning to his classmates he said: "I say, fellows, make it three for liberty!"
The cheers were given with a will, and then the leader added solemnly, "Let's make it three for our class, the best class that ever entered old Winthrop! Now then!"
These cheers also were loudly given, but they ceased abruptly when it was seen that the train, for whose coming they had been waiting, was now approaching.
PETER JOHN'S ARRIVAL
Before the rumbling train halted at the station, there was a rush of students toward it, all eager to welcome the incoming crowd, and every one apparently being desirous of being the first to greet his friends. Upon the platforms of the cars also crowds of students were to be seen, waving their hats in the air or standing with their traveling bags in their hands, all as eager as the boys at the station to be foremost in the reunion scene.
Will Phelps and his room-mate stood a little back from the assembly and watched the proceedings with an interest which neither could conceal. It was all so stimulating, this animation and bustle and manifest eagerness in renewing the college life, and to feel that they too were to have a share in the possessions of these young men, scarcely one of whom was known to them personally, was in itself sufficient to quicken their pulses and arouse all the dormant forces of their nature. The train was a long one and yet from every car came pouring forth the stream of students and the excitement continued for several minutes.
Suddenly a shout went up from the crowd and there was a rush of students toward the rear car. "There's Baker! Good old Sam! Hurrah for the captain!" were among the cries that could be heard as the students surged toward the platform, from which a sturdy young man could be seen descending, apparently unmindful of the interest his coming had aroused and striving to be indifferent to the cheers that greeted his arrival.
Will Phelps and Foster Bennett almost unconsciously moved with the throng though they were not fully aware of the cause of the sudden interest of the students. "It may be that he's the captain of the football team," said Will in a low voice to his companion. "At any rate the captain's name is Baker and probably this is the man."
Foster nodded his head but made no other reply as he stood watching the young man as he stepped down from the platform. There could be no question as to who he was, for the conquering hero was writ large upon his powerful frame and the universal deference of the student body could be accounted for only by the fact that a leader in Winthrop had arrived.
"Look there, Will," said Foster suddenly. "There's Peter John."
"Right behind Baker. Just coming out of the door. See him?"
"Yes," responded Will as he obtained a glimpse of his classmate just as he was emerging from the doorway. Travel-stained, his hat pushed back on his head, his eyes wildly staring about at the crowd, a huge carpet-bag in his hand, his appearance certainly would have attracted the attention of the spectators had it not been that their interest was apparently centered in the mighty captain of the football team and they had no thought for any one else.
Just as Baker stepped down, Peter John emerged from the car directly behind the captain, and a cheer louder than any that before had been given rose from the assembly.
Poor Peter John! Nervous and excited, conscious only of himself and his strange surroundings, the startled freshman had no other thought than that the cheers were meant for him and doubtless were intended as a war cry from those enemies of whom he had heard such marvelous tales—the sophomores. Wild-eyed, for a moment he seemed to be well-nigh paralyzed. He stood motionless and gazed out at the surging mass of students almost as if he were minded to turn back into the car and escape from the threatening peril. But the pressure from behind was too strong to permit him to carry out his intention and he was compelled to move forward. As yet he had not seen his two waiting friends and his feeling of utter loneliness swept over him afresh. From the lowest step he was about to move when another mighty shout went up from the assembly and Peter John looked helplessly about him as if he were convinced that his doom was sealed and for him there was to be no escape.
Suddenly he darted from the midst of the crowd, sending two or three young men who chanced to be in his way sprawling, and with his quaint carpet-bag still tightly grasped in his hand fled directly back over the railway ties. He had not gone far before his flight was perceived and a shout of laughter and derision arose. Even the mighty Baker was ignored in the fresh excitement and instantly a crowd of students started in pursuit of the fleeing freshman.
"Hi, there! Stop, freshman! Wait a minute; we'll help carry your bag! Look at the sprinter! Going home? Good-bye! Good-bye!" were among the derisive cries that he heard. There could be no mistake, the attention of the entire student body was upon him, he was convinced, and his speed increased. His long legs, his flying coat tails, his flapping carpet-bag, indeed his entire appearance was such that shrieks of laughter arose from his pursuers, but Peter John never once glanced behind him. Every fresh call served to increase his terror. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were about to be taken from him and his sole hope depended upon his own exertions. It was do or die, and Peter John preferred the former.
In a brief time the good-natured crowd abandoned its pursuit, and Peter John Schenck was left to continue his lonely flight. Will Phelps and Foster Bennett had joined in the laughter at first, for the ridiculous flight of their classmate was well-nigh irresistible; but when it soon became apparent that Peter John's terror was real and that he firmly believed the entire college was in swift pursuit of him, their attitude changed.
"It's too bad, Will," said Foster. "The poor chap is scared almost to death."
"We can't help it. He'll have to learn some things, if not others," laughed Will.
"They're coming back," suggested Foster, as the pursuit was abandoned and the students laughing boisterously returned to the station.
Peter John, however, was still fleeing and his long strides and his wildly flapping carpet-bag could be distinctly seen as the frightened freshman sped up the track. The body of students, however, had now turned into the street that led back to the college grounds, and apparently Peter John's wild flight was already forgotten.
"We must go after him," said Foster thoughtfully.
"Oh, leave him alone," replied Will. "He'll come back all right."
"You go up to the room and I'll go and look him up."
"Not much! If you go, then I go too! I may be the next victim and I don't intend to be offered up alone. Come on, or he'll be clear back in Sterling before we find him."
Will laughed as he spoke, and at once the two boys started up the track in the direction in which their classmate had fled. He could not be seen now for a bend in the road had concealed him from sight, and for a time his two friends did not dare to run, being fearful that they too might attract an undue amount of attention and bring upon themselves the many ills from which they were striving to save their friend.
Apparently their departure from the station had not drawn the attention of any one, and, as they became convinced that they were not being followed, their own speed increased until they too had passed the bend in the road, when they began to run swiftly. Nothing could be seen of Peter John, and when they had gone a considerable distance Will Phelps stopped and whistled.
At first there was no response, but when the signal had been thrice repeated both boys heard the voice of their friend apparently coming from behind the bushes growing on the bank directly beside them.
"All alone, Will?" called Peter John timidly.
"Yes. Yes. Where are you, Peter John?" responded Will, peering about him, but as yet unable to determine where his friend was hiding.
"Here I am."
"Come out here where we are. Stand up like a little man and be counted."
"Sure nobody's with you?"
"Foster's here, that's all."
Slowly Peter John arose from his hiding-place and peered anxiously about him. "It's all right. Come on!" called Will encouragingly. Thus bidden, Peter John stepped forth, still holding tightly in his grasp his precious carpet-bag. Will Phelps did not even laugh nor did he have any inclination to do so as he perceived how genuine was the suffering of the terrified boy.
"You needn't be afraid now, Peter John," he said soothingly. "You're all right."
"That was a close call."
"Call for what?" demanded Foster sharply. Will turned and looked in surprise at his room-mate, for the tone of his voice was very unlike that which he had used when he had insisted that they should go to the aid of their classmate.
"I tell you they were after me!" said Peter John, wiping his brow with a huge handkerchief as he spoke.
"Who were after you?" demanded Foster still more sharply.
"Don't you believe it!"
"Why, they'd have got me if I hadn't put in my prettiest."
"Nobody would have paid any attention to you if you hadn't run. You drew it all on yourself and have no one else to blame."
"Guess you weren't there when I landed! They gave such a yell when I started from the cars as I never heard before in all my born days."
"Did you think they were yelling for you?"
"Of course I did. I knew they'd be waiting for me."
"Peter John, you've made a fool of yourself. There wasn't a soul there except Will and me that knew there was such a fellow in all the world as Peter John Schenck. Everybody in college will know it now, though."
"What made 'em yell so, then?" demanded Peter John.
"They weren't yelling for you at all. They were cheering for Baker, the captain of the football team. He was just ahead of you."
"That's what I said." Foster smiled slightly as he spoke, for the expression upon the face of Peter John was a study. Consternation, incredulity, and partial unbelief in what Foster had said were all expressed there, and his entire attitude was so indescribably ludicrous as almost to be pathetic.
"Swan! I didn't know that," he said at last slowly.
"Well, you know it now."
"What shall I do?"
"'Do'? Do nothing. Just attend to your own business and let everything else go."
"I thought I was attending to my own business," said Peter John woefully.
"Oh, well, never mind, Peter John," broke in Will with a laugh. "It's all over now and no bones broken."
"I wish it was all over," said Foster in a low voice to Will.
"I wish it was too. He'll be the center of interest by to-morrow. And really, Foster, it did beat anything I ever saw."
Foster Bennett smiled but made no reply, and together the three boys began to retrace their way to the station. Peter John evidently was somewhat crestfallen and seldom spoke. At the station no students were seen, and the trio at once started up the street toward the college.
"I suppose my things are in my room," Peter John ventured to suggest.
"Yes, they're there all right. I went over this morning to see about them."
"Thank you. I'll be pretty busy for the rest of the days I take it."
"That won't do you any harm. You can come over and sleep on the couch in our room to-night if you would like to," suggested Foster.
"Are you all settled?"
"Pretty much. Enough so that we can make room for you. There's always room for one more, you know." Foster spoke pleasantly and Peter John was quick to respond. They were now near the college grounds, however, and the interest of Peter John was quickly taken up in his surroundings. Both Will and Foster were familiar with the name of every building by this time, and their residence of three days in the college town had already given to them a sense of part possession, and they glibly explained to their classmate the name and use of each building as they passed it until at last they halted before Leland Hall, where Peter John was to have his room.
"I'd like to know who's to be my room-mate," he said as all three turned into the low entry and began to mount the worn stairway.
"Probably he's thinking of the same thing too," laughed Will. "Here you are," he added as he stopped before the door of a room on the third floor. "Yours is twenty-six, isn't it?"
"Well, here it is."
"Come on in, fellows," urged Peter John, opening the door as he spoke, and all three found themselves in the presence of a young man of their own age, who glanced quickly up from the box which he was unpacking as they entered.
NEW FRIENDS AND NEW EXPERIENCES
"One of you, I fancy, is Schenck, who is to room here with me. I haven't the remotest idea which one of you is the man, but whichever it is I'm glad to see him."
The young man laughed heartily as he spoke, and all three of the freshmen laughed in response so contagious was his good nature. But his appearance was even more striking than his words, for he stood before them like a young giant. He was at least six feet and three inches in height, his shoulders were so broad that they made the very doorway appear narrow, and as he stood before them without his coat and with his shirt sleeves rolled back over his arms, the great knots of muscles could be plainly seen. Altogether he presented a most impressive sight, and his young classmates were duly impressed by his huge size and evident physical strength.
"I'm Schenck," said Peter John, after a momentary hesitation.
"Glad to see you," exclaimed the young giant, stepping forward and grasping his room-mate's hand in such a manner as to make Peter John wince. "You know what my name is, I suppose. I'm Hawley. 'Cupe' Hawley they called me in school because I was such a dainty and delicate little specimen." And again his laughter broke forth. "Friends of yours, Schenck?" he added, as he glanced inquiringly at the two companions of his room-mate.
Will Phelps and Foster Bennett were at once introduced, and warmly greeted their classmate.
"Sorry I can't offer you any seats, fellows," said Hawley, still laughing, though there was no apparent cause for his enjoyment. "Haven't got everything unpacked yet; but if you'll just wait a minute we'll find something for you to sit on."
"We'll help you," said Will Phelps, at once laying aside his coat.
In their room he and Foster had done but little of the labor required in unpacking their belongings, for neither had been accustomed to such tasks in the homes from which they had come. Their fathers both were well-to-do and it had not occurred to either of the boys that the manual labor in settling their room was something to be expected of them. For a moment Foster glanced quizzically at his friend as if he was puzzled to account for his unexpected proffer, but knowing Will's impulsiveness as he did he was quick to respond, and in a brief time the few belongings of Peter John and his room-mate were unpacked and the beds were set up, the shades at the windows, and the few scanty belongings all arranged.
"I didn't bring a carpet. Did you?" inquired Hawley of Schenck.
"No," replied Peter John.
"We can get along without one. I haven't any money to spare, and carpets are luxuries anyway. If we feel like it we can buy one afterwards. They're dangerous things though," and Hawley laughed as he spoke. "My doctor says they're the worst sources of contagion in the world, and whatever else I do I must be careful of my health." Again the laugh of the young giant rang out, and in its contagion all three of his classmates joined.
And yet as Will Phelps glanced about the room its appearance was pitifully bare. The furniture was of the plainest, the walls were bare of pictures, there were none of the numerous pillows and other tokens of the warm regard of friends that had accompanied himself and his room-mate into the new life upon which they had entered. Apparently, however, Hawley was as delighted over his surroundings as he and Foster over theirs, perhaps even more, and Will was thoughtful for a moment as he silently watched his newly made friend.
"How did you happen to come to Winthrop?" he inquired at last when the task of settling the room was measurably complete and all four had seated themselves on the rude wooden chairs which made up most of the furnishings of the room.
"I didn't 'happen' to come." Somehow everything appeared to be a source of enjoyment to Hawley, and questions or remarks were alike greeted with a laugh.
"What made you, then?"
"Isn't Winthrop the best college in the United States?" demanded Hawley.
"Yes, or at least that's what my father thinks. He graduated here and it may be that his opinion is a little prejudiced. Is that why you came?"
"Partly." Again Hawley laughed and closed one eye as he spoke.
"I can give a guess what the other reason was," said Foster.
"What was it?"
Hawley laughed loudly this time as he replied, "You're 'a very Daniel come to judgment.' That's from the 'Merchant of Venice,' isn't it? Well, if it is, it's about all I remember of my English course. Well, I'll be honest with you. I did see Baker this summer, and he set before me the advantages of coming to Winthrop in such a way that I couldn't very well say no. And I didn't, so here I am."
"Did he offer to pay you?" demanded Peter John.
"Did he offer what?" demanded Hawley.
Somewhat abashed Peter John did not repeat his question, and his room-mate at once turned the conversation into other lines. "We had a pretty good football team in the academy where I fitted for college, and there were several colleges, or at least the football men of the college, who seemed to be quite willing that some of our fellows should go to them. We had a half-back who was a dandy! His name was Patrick O'Hara, and he passed better in football than he did in any other subject in the course." And Hawley stopped to laugh at the recollection of his former fellow-student. "Pat wasn't very much of a hand to study, and when one of the men from White College suggested to him that he should come there, why Pat was delighted. 'What studies will you take?' asked the fellow, for you see he knew without being told that Pat wouldn't be valedictorian of his class whatever other honor he might take, and he was trying to make it easy for him. 'Well,' said Pat, ''bedad, an' if it's all th' same t' yez, I'm thinkin' I'll just be afther takin' a bit o' the spellin' an' perhaps a bit o' figurin'. How do thot be afther suitin' yez'?"
All the boys joined in the laugh with which Hawley related the story, and Will Phelps said, "Where did Pat go?"
"Well," said Hawley slowly, "he has gone to White College."
"Do you mean to say he has entered there?" demanded Will.
"That's what they tell me, though I've a notion he'll come out the same door he went in, and he won't tarry long either. Probably soon after the season ends."
"But we play White College. It's one of our nearest rivals," suggested Will. "But then," he added, "that's just like them. They never do a thing on the square anyway!"
Hawley pursed his lips as if he was about to whistle, but he did not speak though his eyes twinkled with merriment as if Will's statement somehow was hugely enjoyed by him. Foster Bennett noticing the expression on Hawley's face, also laughed, but he did not reply to his room-mate's very positive declaration. There were some things which Will could not understand, for with his intense and impulsive disposition the one thing which impressed him at the time was capable of only one interpretation. His confidence in Winthrop and his dislike of its rival college were therefore only what were to be expected of his friend.
"Obliged to you, fellows," said Hawley, as Will Phelps and Foster Bennett rose to depart. "Come in and see us often."
"You'll see enough of us from now on," responded Will as he and his room-mate departed.
As the two passed out into the street and returned to their own room Foster said, "It's pretty bare there in Leland, isn't it, Will?"
"Yes. They both seem to be happy though."
"Not much like our room."
"No. But then, Foster, you see they don't know the difference."
Foster smiled but made no response, and Will continued. "You see everything in this world is relative. A man doesn't miss what he never had, does he?"
"Now look here, Foster. Do you think a blind man suffers because he can't see? I mean a man who was born blind, of course."
"Why, the man I'm sorry for is the one that could see once and has lost his sight. He knows, let me tell you, what he's lost. But the other man doesn't appreciate it. He never could see, so he couldn't lose his sight, could he? Tell me that."
"So you wouldn't do anything to help him?"
"I didn't say that. I didn't say that at all. All I say is that the fellow I'm sorry for is the one who has had and lost, not the one who never had. Now look at Peter John, and Hawley. Their room isn't so good as ours, but it probably is just as good as they expected, or have been used to, so they don't suffer any."
"And if you and I had to put up with their room—"
"Why, we'd feel it."
"It's a mighty comfortable way of looking at things, that's all I have to say."
"But it's the true way," said Will glibly. "There's one thing I'm mighty glad of for Peter John's sake."
"What is it?"
"That he rooms with Hawley. I don't believe the sophs will bother him very much."
"Not when Hawley's on hand."
"You think they will when he's not?"
"Yes, sir, I do. Peter John just invites them. It stands right out on his face."
"Sort of a standing invitation, so to speak?" laughed Will Phelps. "Well, for my part, I hope he won't be too fresh. There's everything in that, you know."
"And therefore we'll go scot free?"
"Well, Hawley is a great fellow anyway; and I'm glad he's in our class."
"He's big, anyway."
"That's what I said."
"No you didn't, you said great."
"Not much. A man can be big without being great, can't he? Caesar and Napoleon were not big men, but I think you'd sum up that they were great."
"Great butchers, if that's what you mean. You always spin it out too fine for me, Foster."
Foster Bennett laughed and both boys entered their room to prepare for dinner. They still were taking their meals at the hotel, as their boarding-place had not been selected. In the thoughts of both it was a selection of too much importance to be made hastily, and they were therefore waiting until they became more familiar with the details of their new life.
It was all novel and interesting, and on the following day the first class meeting was held. A dignified junior presided at the meeting, and after explaining what was expected and that the class officers to be selected were to serve only for a month, when it was thought that the members of the class would have become sufficiently acquainted with one another to enable them to act with becoming wisdom, he called for nominations for class president.
Peter John Schenck immediately arose and said, "I nominate Hawley."
The nomination was seconded, and there were calls for Hawley to step to the platform and stand where all the class could see him. The young giant obediently advanced and taking his place beside Spencer, who also was nominated for the office, awaited the verdict. There were cheers when it was announced that Hawley had won, and the junior then called for nominations for secretary and treasurer.
Again Peter John arose to the occasion and said, "I nominate Phelps."
Will's face flushed scarlet at the unexpected words but his room-mate at once had seconded the nomination, and he was compelled to advance to the platform and stand beside Farmer and McVey, whose names were also presented for the same office. There was some confusion for a time, but quiet was restored when the result of the ballot was announced.
A CLOUD OF WITNESSES
Will Phelps had been elected temporary secretary and treasurer of his class, the choice having been made chiefly because his appearance, as he stood on the platform, pleased his classmates, and not because of any general acquaintance that had been formed. And yet his election had brought him at once into a certain prominence, and doubtless Will was duly appreciative of the honor bestowed upon him.
The member of the junior class to whom had been entrusted the organizing of the freshmen now rose to give some general words of advice before the meeting was adjourned. "There are some things in college," he was saying, "that have the force of laws. Some of them will appear foolish to you, it may be, and yet it will be more foolish to disregard them. For example, freshmen are not expected to go up to the hotel parlors in the evening, it would be decidedly better for them not to display on their caps or jersey the letters or numerals of the schools from which they have come, and they must not tack their cards on the doors of their rooms." Walker, the junior, continued his directions until he thought he had covered most of the details of the life upon which the incoming class was entering, but his remarks were not completed when Peter John Schenck arose from his seat and stood facing the president. There was a momentary pause as Walker ceased speaking, and the eyes of all the class were turned toward Peter John.
After due deliberation, Peter John said in a loud voice, "Mr. President, I move that we adjourn."
The hush that followed was broken by a loud laugh which had been started by Walker himself. Peter John, however, glanced about the room as if he was unable to perceive what it was that had caused the outbreak. Apparently unabashed, he again turned to the class president and said, "Isn't a motion to adjourn always in order, Mr. President? If it is, then I repeat my former motion. I move that we adjourn."
Hawley was too good-natured to treat the interruption as it deserved, so he said, "Is the motion seconded?"
Apparently it was not, and still unabashed, Peter John again took his seat while Walker resumed his remarks.
"I don't know that I have anything more to say, only to tell you fellows to be careful. College traditions and customs have all the force of laws, and though some of them may seem to be foolish, still I believe in the main they help to make the life here what it is, and that's what you all want to get. If you have any questions to ask, don't be afraid to come to me with them, or to any of the juniors, and you'll be given all we know, which, though I can promise you it may not be much, still may be just a little more than you know. Or, perhaps, some of you," he added, glancing quizzically in the direction of Peter John Schenck as he spoke.
When Walker departed from the room, Peter John was again the first to arise. "I move we adjourn," he said in a loud voice.
"Second the motion," said Foster Bennett quickly. The motion was put and instantly carried, and the class passed out from the room.
"It was anything to shut up Peter John," Foster explained to Will as he joined his room-mate. "Did you ever see the like?"
"I never did," laughed Will. "I feel almost guilty to be acting as secretary for the class. If we had ten other offices to vote upon, I believe Peter John would have made the first nomination for every one."
"He certainly is the freshest freshman in the whole bunch."
"Yes, he doesn't know enough to know that he doesn't know, and that's about as far down as a fellow can go in his ignorance, you know."
"What shall we do for him?"
"But he'll have trouble."
"I'd hate to see him catch it too hard."
"You can't save him, Foster. He's got to learn his lesson. The idea of his being on his feet so much to-day."
"Well, he helped us to some good officers anyway, I'll say that much for him," laughed Foster. "But if he made such an impression on our class, what'll he do for the sophomores?"
"You'd better be thinking about what they'll do for him."
Walker now joined the two boys, introducing himself to each, and accompanying them to their room, where he entered and took a seat at their invitation. He was a fine-looking young man and of most agreeable manners, so that soon both Will and Foster were delighted with him personally and appreciative of the honor of the visit from their visitor.
"No," Walker was saying, "the hazing doesn't amount to anything much in Winthrop. It's nothing more than a little good-natured 'horse play' for the most part. Of course, once in a while a fellow gets a little more attention than the rest of the class; but as a rule it's his own fault. You have a classmate that'll be very popular with the sophs, if he doesn't look out," he added with a laugh.
"Who's that?" inquired Will, with a wink at his room-mate.
"The chap that was on his feet so much in the class meeting this afternoon."
"We were just talking about him," said Foster quickly. "You know he fitted at the same school where we did, and naturally we want to lend him a hand when we can. What had we better do?"
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. You can't do much for such a fellow; he has to learn it all for himself. The trouble is that he doesn't know how much or what he's got to learn yet. You can't do much for such a—"
Walker stopped abruptly as Peter John himself entered the room. His face was beaming, and as he removed his hat his stiff red hair seemed almost to rise on his head. "Well, fellows," he said, "we did things up brown this afternoon, didn't we?"
"You did too much," said Walker quietly.
"Haven't I as good a right as anybody to make a motion?" demanded Peter John hotly.
"You have as much right, but you don't want always to take all your rights, you know."
"Why not? I'll stand up for my rights every time. Now, I don't believe a word of what you said this afternoon."
"You're complimentary; but you're under no obligations to believe me," laughed Walker.
"I don't mean just that. What I mean is that I'd like to see the sophomore who'd tell me what I could wear or what I couldn't; or where I could go and where I couldn't. He hasn't anything to say about that."
"He thinks he has," suggested Walker quietly.
"I don't care what he thinks. I know my rights, and I intend to stand up for them too!"
"Is that why you were running up the railroad track the day when you came to Winthrop?" demanded Will Phelps.
"Never you mind about that!" retorted Peter John in nowise abashed. "That was when I didn't know as much as I do now."
"Three or four days will do great things for a fellow," remarked Walker dryly.
"Yes, sir, that's so. You're right about that," acknowledged Peter John graciously. "Say, fellows, what are you going to do about these Greek letter societies?" he inquired abruptly, turning to his two classmates as he spoke.
Both Will Phelps and Foster Bennett glanced uneasily at Walker, but the junior only smiled and made no response. It was apparent though that the topic Peter John had broached was one upon which all three had been conferring.
"We haven't done anything as yet," said Foster.
"Neither have I," acknowledged Peter John. "I thought I'd take my time before I decided which one I'd join. I suppose I'll have to write home to pa, but he won't know as much about it as I do."
"We live and learn," said Walker as he rose to depart. "I'll see you to-night?" he inquired of Will and Foster as he stopped for a moment in the doorway. Will glanced questioningly at his room-mate and then said: "Thank you, Walker. We'll be very glad to come."
"Where you going? What did he want?" demanded Peter John when Walker was gone.
"It was something personal," said Foster. "Walker thinks you'll have to walk the chalk line, Peter John, or you'll have trouble with the sophs."
"He does, does he? Well, I'll show him. I'd like to know what right they've got to tell me what to do. I'll do as I please! My chum—"
It was instantly plain to the boys now the cause for this sudden and strange change in Peter John's attitude. He was relying upon the prowess of Hawley to protect him now and apparently was confident that he would not be molested since he roomed with the young giant whose name already was known throughout the college and from whom such great things were expected for the football team.
"Don't depend too much upon Hawley! He can't be everywhere, remember," said Foster warningly.
"I'll show 'em, if they come near me!" retorted Peter John as he departed.
For several days the college life went on quietly and the boys were becoming somewhat accustomed to their new surroundings. There had been a "sweater rush" between the two lower classes, in which Hawley had been entrusted with the precious sweater, and, surrounded by his classmates, successfully defended it against the onslaught of the sophomores. The struggle had been severe but in good part, and the worst results had been some torn clothing and bruised faces. The freshmen wore upon their arms a strip of white cloth to enable them to distinguish their own comrades, and great was their elation when after the time limit had expired, it was discovered that the coveted sweater was unharmed. The strength of Hawley had been as the strength of ten and his praises were in every mouth.
Into this struggle Will Phelps had thrown himself with all his might, and when he joyfully emerged from the struggling mass of humanity gathered about Hawley his rejoicing was great and his cheers for the class were among the loudest.
On the border of the crowd he had perceived Peter John, but his classmate displayed no evidence of the recent struggle and Will was about to question him, when Peter John himself said, "Come over to my room to-night, Will."
"All right." Will Phelps had promised readily, and then the matter departed from his mind as he rushed about among his classmates.
That evening he suddenly glanced up from the book he was studying and said to his room-mate: "Foster, I agreed to go over to Peter John's room to-night. Want to go?"
"Can't say that I'm pining for it. What does he want?"
"I don't know. He seemed to be very much in earnest about it, though."
"Is it much nearer from here to his room than it is from his room to ours? If he wanted to see you so much, why didn't he come over here?"
"That isn't Peter John's way," laughed Will. "I promised to go, so I think I'll run over for a minute. I'll be back pretty soon."
"If you need me let me know," called Foster as Will departed, and he then at once resumed his task.
Will Phelps ran across the campus to Leland Hall, and as he turned in at the dimly lighted hall the contrast between his own surroundings and those in which he now found himself was for the moment almost painful. The stone step at the entrance had been worn away by the passing of boyish feet over it for more than a century. For a moment there flashed into his mind the thought of the eager lives that there had been trained and long since had passed over into the land beyond. Will himself was the fourth generation in direct descent in his own family to enter Winthrop, and as he now passed slowly up the rough, narrow, and worn stairway, he found himself thinking of his own father and grandfather and great-grandfather, all of whom doubtless had many a time been in the very same hallway where he himself then was. Even then from far down the street came the sounds of song and laughter of some passing body of students and the faint sound he could hear was for the moment almost like the echo of long past days. The very hall seemed to echo also with the footfalls of students who had long since completed their course and passed on. He was surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
Suddenly from the floor above him came the sound of noisy shouts and shrieks of laughter. The vision of other days and other men instantly departed, and the full force of the appeal of the present swept over him. Bounding up the steps, two at a time, he swiftly came to the third floor and then stopped abruptly as the shouts were redoubled and evidently came from Peter John Schenck's room.
For a moment Will hesitated, almost tempted to turn back, but his feeling of curiosity was strong and resolutely he advanced and rapped upon the door. This was quickly opened and Will stepped inside the room. The door had instantly been closed and bolted behind him, but Will was hardly aware of that so interested was he in the sight upon which he gazed in the room which was filled with a noisy group of students.
One glance about him had been sufficient to convince Will Phelps that his classmates were suffering from a visit of the sophomores, a dozen or more of whom he recognized as being in the room. He looked quickly behind him at the door, but this already had been closed and three of the stalwart sophomores were standing with their backs against it, the others being stationed at different points about the room. In the center stood Mott, a lusty sophomore whom he had frequently seen and whose general bearing he had intensely disliked, for his face bore the unmistakable traces of dissipation and his bearing was that of a rowdy. The fact that Mott had secured a high position among the college athletes had in a measure made amends for his low tendencies of life in the eyes of his thoughtless mates, but though he was by nature somewhat of a leader still his personal popularity was low, and it was only his physical prowess that gave him any standing.
Seated upon one end of his study table was Hawley, his face beaming with good nature and smiling broadly as he faced the assembly in the room. In one corner Peter John was standing, his back against the wall and in his hands was one of the heavy wooden chairs which he was grasping by the rounds. Even in the somewhat dim light Will could see that the great splotches of red on Peter John's face appeared to be larger and of a more fiery tint than usual, and his coarse red hair fairly stood on end. There was an expression of mingled terror and wild, almost ungovernable, rage on his face, and Will knew what that portended at that time. A brief silence had followed Will's entrance, and Mott had turned to some of his comrades and a meaning smile appeared for a moment on his face as he perceived who the new-comer was. In a moment, however, the tense stillness of the room returned, and Mott, turning to Peter John, said:
"Now, then, freshman, are you ready?"
"I'll brain the first man that comes near me! Don't you lay a finger on me or I'll break your head! This is my room and I'll have you understand that you can't play any of your dirty tricks on me!"
Peter John's voice rose almost to a shriek, and lifting the chair he gazed menacingly at Mott, almost as if he was minded to rush upon him. Hawley laughed as his room-mate spoke, but Will's face became pale and he could almost hear the beating of his own heart, so intensely excited was he. He understood Peter John's disposition better than any of those who were in the room, and his fear of what might follow was great.
"We'll give you one more chance," said Mott slowly.
"I don't want any more chances. I want you to get out of this room! I didn't ask you to come! You've no right here!" shouted Peter John.
"You didn't have to ask us," retorted Mott. "We came because you need us and for the good of the college. Come, freshman, do what I tell you."
"Don't you come near—" began Peter John, but the sentence was not completed. At some unseen signal a half-dozen sprang upon him. Before he could bring down the chair which he still was holding above his head he was suddenly seized by his adversaries, the chair was wrenched from his hands, he was thrown heavily to the floor, and in a moment his hands and feet were fast bound with cords, and he was a helpless prisoner. Still he did not cease his struggling, but as he twisted and writhed he only drew the cords more tightly and made his own helplessness more apparent.
"I know who you are!" he shrieked. "I'll report you, every one! I'll give the whole list of your names to the president! I'll have you arrested! I'll put you in jail! You're a lot of thieves and low-down scoundrels! I'll have you put where you won't abuse anybody any more!" Peter John's voice rose with every fresh threat until at last it almost broke in a sob. He was almost beside himself, and Will Phelps, though he shared in the anger of his classmate, was rejoiced that he was helpless and could not do what his desperation prompted.
"Tie your handkerchief over his mouth, Hines," said Mott to one of his companions. "We must hush the infant's wailings or he'll have the whole of Winthrop up here. He seems to have some language besides that of the ordinary 'infant crying in the night'."
At Mott's direction Hines and two of his classmates at once securely bound a handkerchief about Peter John's face, a task that was not accomplished without a desperate struggle.
"Now then, since he seems to be quieted," said Mott at last, when his bidding had been done, "we'll turn to the other part of the program. Here, you freshman," he added, turning to Will Phelps as he spoke, "step up here and take your seat beside your classmate."
For an instant Will hesitated. The sight of Peter John roused every instinct of combativeness which he possessed, and that was by no means small, but a laugh from Hawley restored a measure of self-possession, and quietly and without a word he seated himself on the table by the side of his friend.
"Good! That's the way to do it! Now then, Hawley," said Mott, "you've got to get rid of that eternal grin of yours. Wipe that smile off your face and throw it out of the window."
Hawley laughed aloud as he said, "I've been trying to get rid of it for nineteen years, but I haven't succeeded yet. If you fellows will show me how to do it I'll be yours truly now and for evermore."
Some of the sophomores laughed, but Mott glared angrily at them as he said, "Quit that!" Then turning again to Hawley he said, "Oh, we'll help you all right enough. Just do as I tell you!"
"How shall I do it?"
"Take your handkerchief and wipe that smile off your face and throw it out of the window as I tell you."
Hawley drew a huge handkerchief from his pocket with which he vigorously rubbed his face, and then going soberly to the window pretended to throw something out; but when he returned to his seat his laughter became uncontrollable and he broke forth into a loud guffaw, in which some of the assembly joined.
At Mott's rebuke the laughter ceased, and then he said again to Hawley, "That won't do, freshman. You're not rid of it yet. Try it again!"
Six times the huge and good-natured freshman was compelled to repeat his senseless and silly performance, and then Mott declared that he was satisfied.
"Don't have a relapse," he said warningly, and then, turning to Will Phelps, he said, "Now I want my nice little boy, mamma's pet and papa's joy, to show what a good little boy he really is. He isn't going to do any of the naughty things that some of the wicked little college boys do. He is strong, he is, and he promised mamma he wouldn't, and he won't. Let's give him a song, fellows," he added, turning to his classmates, and at once the boys began to sing:
"We're coming, we're coming, our brave little band, On the right side of temperance we always do stand; We don't use tobacco, for this we do think, That those who do use it most always do drink."
Some of the singers had very musical voices and the simple little ditty sounded very clear and strong as they all joined in it. Will Phelps, however, was thinking of what it was that would be required of him. Then flashed into his mind the last conversation he had had with his mother and in which he had given her a promise not unlike that at which Mott had hinted. And he intended to keep it too, he assured himself. Come what might, he would not break it. He even smiled slightly as he thought of what his mother's feelings would be if she could look into Peter John's room and see what was then going on there.
As the song ceased abruptly Will said, "What is it you want me to do, Mott?"
"Well, now, freshman, that's cool. You can't help being a freshman, but it's not well even for a freshman to be too fresh. Ever hear the like of that, fellows?" he inquired of his classmates.
"Never did. Never did," responded several, shaking their heads soberly.
"Just think of it," began Mott again. "Here's a freshman who is so anxious to get into our good graces that he's not only willing to do what we tell him but he even comes and asks us what it is we want him to do. That beats anything old Winthrop has ever seen yet."
Will's face flushed, but he was silent, though Hawley began to laugh again. "Now, then, freshman," said Mott, pointing his finger at Will, "we want you to get down on the floor and wrestle with temptation."
"There's nothing here that tempts me very much," replied Will coolly, and Hawley promptly laughed aloud.
"You do as I tell you! Get down on the floor and wrestle with temptation," demanded Mott sharply.
"I don't mind doing it if it will please you any," responded Will as he slipped from his seat on the table to the floor.
"That's the way. Now then, papa's joy and mamma's pet, show us how it is that you do the trick."
Stretched upon the floor, Will Phelps went through his struggle with an imaginary foe. He twisted and writhed and struggled, shrieks of laughter greeting his efforts from the assembled sophomores, and even Hawley joined in, so ridiculous was the appearance which Will presented.
"That's very good, very good indeed!" remarked Mott when several minutes had elapsed. "You'd better get up now and take a seat beside your friend."
Will quickly did as he was bidden, laughing slightly as he glanced at Hawley, whose imperturbable good nature was not in anywise ruffled.
"Hawley, you're a great football player, I understand," said Mott.
"I'm a big player, can't say that I'm great. Some fellows might think so, but it depends on whether they've seen much or know much, I fancy."
"That's right. You're as modest as Mary's little lamb. I hear you're a great sprinter," he added, turning abruptly to Will Phelps.
"Oh, I can run a little. If you'll give me the chance now I'll show you how I can leave the sophs behind," said Will with a laugh, for he was now feeling somewhat the effects of Hawley's manner of meeting his tormentors, and as he glanced down at Peter John it required no deep insight to perceive which was the better way.
The boys in the room laughed good-naturedly and one of them said, "That's enough, Mott. They don't need any more."
"Hold on, I'm not done yet," replied Mott. "Tell me what's the name of the little school from which you came," he demanded of Will.
"The Sterling High School."
"And you ran there?"
"Get any medals?"
"Nice ones! Got any here?"
On his fob Will wore the gold medal he had won the preceding June, but he laughed and made no reply to Mott's question, fearful of incurring further ridicule if he should display the trophy.
"Did you run against the track team of the Meadowbrook Academy?" inquired Mott.
"No. Is that where you fitted?" replied Will simply. Hawley broke into another loud laugh and Mott's face flushed. Will perceived that he had made a mistake and his better plan would be to say as little as possible, whatever the provocation might be or the opening his adversary might give him.
"Did you beat the fast sprinter from the Toad Hollow Institute?" demanded Mott.
"Can't say that I did. I never heard of the school till now."
"Ever run against anybody from the Honeyville Classical Seminary?"
"Or from the Smartville Four Corners team?"
"We didn't have anything to do with those schools. We weren't in their class."
"Oh, let up, Mott. We've done enough. Let 'em go now," suggested one of the sophomores.
"Not yet," responded Mott. "We must have these freshmen give us an exhibition of what they can do. You fellows take off your collars," he said, turning again to Will and his classmate.
For an instant Will Phelps hesitated and there was a sudden tightening of the muscles in his arms, but Hawley, good-natured and imperturbable as ever, at once removed his collar and Will quietly followed his example.
"That's good," said Mott encouragingly. "Now take out your collar buttons."
Both freshmen obeyed, wondering what was to be required of them. Their curiosity was speedily relieved when Mott said, "We'll have a collar-button race. You two athletes put these buttons on the floor and push them across to the other side of the room with your noses. The one that wins will make the track team here I haven't a doubt."
Hawley again laughed loudly as he and Will took the places assigned them. For a moment their faces were near together and Hawley whispered a few words in Will's ear. His companion's eyes flashed in response, but he did not reply, and in a moment, at Mott's word, the race was begun.
A RACE IN THE DARKNESS
Slowly and steadily the two freshmen began to push the collar buttons across the floor. The floor itself was uncarpeted and not particularly clean, and the position and actions of the two boys certainly did not add to their dignity; but there was not a trace of a smile to be seen on the face of either as they complied with the demands which had been made. The sophomores in the room were also serious, that is, all were save one, and, as he laughed aloud at the ridiculous aspect of their victims, Mott said savagely, "Put him out! He's no business here? Get out of this room!"
The offending sophomore, despite his protests and his promise to "be good," was thrust out from the room, and the race was then resumed. Whenever either of the contestants lagged or one seemed to be gaining slightly upon the other he was sharply bidden to make good his loss, and when the two freshmen had come near the side of the room which they were seeking to gain the collar buttons were close together and each freshman could see the expression on his companion's face. Perhaps it was well for them both that the members of the rival class could not see the quiet glance which Hawley gave Will nor its equally keen response, but the look was understood by both freshmen and they were aware that the critical time in the contest was approaching.
They were by this time within two feet of the door which opened into the hall. The sophomores who had been standing in front of it now moved back to give the contestants room, and as Hawley perceived that the way was clear, after looking up for a moment and glancing keenly at his classmate, he suddenly leaped to his feet and Will instantly followed his example. Before the astonished sophomores were fully aware of what was occurring both had darted through the doorway after Hawley had with almost incredible quickness flung open the door. Instantly it was closed, and Hawley, seizing the iron handle of the catch and putting forth all his strength, braced his feet against the wall and prepared to hold the inmates prisoners in the room.
"Get Andrews and Briggs!" whispered Hawley, and Will quickly darted across the hallway to the room of his two classmates. A word was sufficient to inform them of what was occurring, and in an incredibly brief time all three were standing beside Hawley.
The giant freshman was holding the door, which opened inward, easily, though the sophomores in the room were striving desperately on their side. But Hawley had the strong handle and only the tiny latch could be seized from within. Numbers counted for nothing in this struggle, as only one could pull at a time.
The silence in the building was unbroken, though the first thought of the bold freshmen had been that their sophs would throw open the window and summon their classmates to their aid. Whether it was due to their excitement or to the fact that they did not wish to have their predicament known, Will Phelps never learned, but no outcry was made, though the steady pull upon the door continued.
"I've got 'em!" whispered Hawley gleefully. "If the latch doesn't give way they won't see outdoors again till I give 'em leave. Run, Will!" he added hastily. "Get twenty of our fellows here as soon as you can and we'll fix 'em yet. I can hold on here forever!"
Leaving his classmates at the doorway, Will Phelps ran swiftly down the stairs and sped across the campus to his own room. He found his room-mate seated at his desk, evidently hard at work. Foster glanced up reprovingly as Will burst into the room and said, "I thought, Will, you were—"
He stopped abruptly as he perceived how excited his classmate was, but before he could make any inquiries Will broke in: "We've got a lot of sophs shut up in Peter John's room! Get some of the fellows and make for the room! Hawley's holding 'em in! Tell Jones and Camp to come and then tell them to get some more and every one to bring two or three with him. Get some more yourself and I'll do the same."
Before his astonished room-mate could make any further inquiries, Will darted out of the room and ran down the stairway covering three steps at a leap. But Foster understood what it was that was demanded of him, and, without hesitating an instant, seized his cap and swiftly followed.
The scheme worked marvelously well, and within five minutes a band of twenty-five freshmen had assembled in the hall in front of Peter John's and Hawley's room in Leland. Hawley was still holding the door and no outcry from within the room had been heard.
"How many sophs room in this entry?" said Will quickly.
"Four," replied Hawley. "Two in the front corner room on the second floor and two in the back corner."
"Can you hold on till we can fix them?"
"I can hold on forever. But you'd better be quick about it."
At Will's word four of his classmates followed him to the floor below and two were speedily assigned to hold one door while two more held the other. They were to be quiet, and, if no outbreak was made, then they were not to make their presence known, but under no circumstances were the sophomores to be permitted to come out from their rooms.
As soon as this arrangement had been perfected Will ran swiftly back to join Hawley and his classmates on the floor above. Hawley was still standing at his post of duty, but as Will approached he laughed silently and whispered:
"What'll we do now, fellows?"
Several whispered suggestions were made, but at last it was agreed that the assembled freshmen should step back on either side and that Hawley should permit the door to be partly opened. It was confidently believed that the sophomores would rush out, and, if they did, a half-dozen were to be permitted to come forth and these were to be seized as silently as possible and bound by the freshmen as their own unfortunate classmate, Peter John Schenck, had already been treated. When a few had emerged and been seized then Hawley was to strive to close the door again and hold the others within, and, with the force thus divided, no strong resistance could be made and the treatment which they were to receive could be determined upon.
As soon as this decision had been made Hawley withdrew from the door, but there was no pressure upon it from within, and for a moment the assembled freshmen stared blankly at one another as if they feared that their game had escaped them and that they themselves were the ones to appear in the unenviable light. Will Phelps advanced as if he was about to open the door, but a silent gesture from Hawley caused him to abandon the project. As he stepped back the latch clicked and the door was suddenly opened. Evidently the inmates were surprised that the door was free, and three or four cautiously stepped forth to peer into the dimly lighted hall. Before they were fully aware of the true condition of affairs they were seized by the waiting freshmen. There were sounds of a momentary struggle, but when those who were within the room attempted to come forth the door was quickly closed in their faces and they were prisoners again. The four who had been seized were quickly bound, and then the assembly turned once more to the door itself.
"We'll go in," said Hawley, "and you musn't let a soph get past you. We must hold every one in there. Now then!" he added, as he pushed gently against the door.
But the door failed to yield to the pressure. For a moment the astounded freshmen knew not what to make of the unexpected resistance, and then as a slight sound from within the room could be heard, Hawley grimly braced himself against the door and whispering to his classmates began to exert all his strength in his endeavor to open it.
For a brief time it resisted all their efforts, and then with a resounding crash it suddenly yielded. But it seemed to the startled freshmen as if the very walls themselves were giving way. There were the sound of falling pieces of furniture and in the midst of the confusion several of the sophomores suddenly darted from the room, and before their enemies could recover from their surprise had gained the head of the stairway and were fleeing from the building.
"Take after 'em! Don't let 'em get away!" called Hawley. "Hold on, it's all right," he quickly added as he perceived Mott in the room. "We don't care for anybody else for we've got the ringleader right here. Let 'em go! Let 'em all go! We don't want anybody else."
There was a momentary hesitation on the part of the sophomores as if they were minded to stand by their classmate, but as they peered about them it seemed almost as if the entire freshman class were present, and instantly discretion became the better part of valor, and they fled in a body from the room and also from the building.
Several of the freshmen had seized Mott by this time, and his desperate attempts to free himself were unavailing. Peter John had been quickly freed by Will Phelps, and then Will said hastily to Hawley:
"We've stirred up the hornets' nest enough, haven't we? The sophs will be back here with all their class. Shall we let him go?"
"Let him go?" laughed Hawley, whose enjoyment seemed to be increasing with every passing moment. "Well, I rather think not."
"What shall we do? They'll be back here in a minute."
"Send everybody to his room. We'll look after this fellow ourselves."
Will Phelps turned to his classmates and said: "Get away from this fellows. The sophs will be here in a minute and we may all be hauled up before the faculty. We'll look after Mott."
Instantly the freshmen ran from Leland Hall, leaving Will Phelps and Foster Bennett, and Peter John and his room-mate to look after the captive sophomore.
"What'll we do with him?" inquired Will hastily.
"Take him over to your room."
"That'll be the first place they'll come to when they don't find him here. Still, I'm perfectly willing—"
"Take him out in the grove," suggested Foster quickly. "If we can get away from here without being seen we'll be all right there."
"That's the thing," assented Hawley. "Foster, you run ahead and see if the coast is all clear, for we may have to carry this fellow, and we might attract some attention if we should happen to be seen on the street."
"No, you won't. I'll go along all right," spoke up Mott. "It's your turn now, but it'll be mine again, you know, and I'll see that you freshmen pay up all your scores with good interest!"
"Don't you threaten us!" said Peter John angrily, speaking now for the first time.
"I'm not threatening you, freshman, I'm just telling you what you'll have to go through, that's all. You can do with me what you please, but whatever you do you musn't forget that it'll be paid back five times over."
"Don't stop here any longer. Come ahead, fellows," said Hawley quickly.
The party with Mott in their midst swiftly passed down the stairway and turned into the street that led toward "the grove," a clump of huge pine trees that had stood for many years on the borders of the rear campus of the college. The freshmen glanced anxiously about them, but apparently their presence was not noted by the few who were to be seen on the street, and they quickly increased the pace at which they were moving.
As they turned into the campus, Mott suddenly broke away from his captors who had been somewhat deceived by the apparent willingness with which he had followed them, and began to run swiftly back toward the college buildings. The sophomore was known as one of the fleetest footed men in college, and already Will Phelps had had him pointed out as one of the few who had "made" the track team in his freshman year. He had looked up to him with the respect that only a freshman can know for the prominent men in college life, and now was his opportunity to test his own ability against that of the fleeing member of the sophomore class.
Quickly he darted in pursuit, feeling rather than perceiving that his own classmates were speedily left far behind him. He was exerting himself to the utmost and ran as though the prize he was seeking was the greatest of coveted honors. As he sped over the grass his respect for his rival increased greatly, for whatever Mott's defects might be, there certainly was in him no lack of ability to run. The distance between the runners was steadily maintained, and indeed, it seemed to Will as if it was being increased. On and on he ran, and the college buildings were now near-by, and if the fleeing sophomore should once gain an entrance in one of them then Will knew all further pursuit would be useless.
Suddenly the form of Mott disappeared in the dim light and Will Phelps stopped abruptly and peered keenly before him. But when his classmates joined him and all four cautiously advanced, several minutes elapsed before a solution for the mystery was found.
Directly before them the boys could see a long ditch or trench which had been dug the entire length of the back campus and of whose existence they had not been aware. Doubtless Mott had known of it, however, and in his flight had made for it with all the speed he could command, either hoping to lead his pursuers into difficulty or trusting that it in some way would provide a means of escape for himself.
Whatever his plan may have been it succeeded admirably, for when the four freshmen stood together on the border of the trench not a sign of the presence of Mott could be discovered. In which direction he had fled they were also ignorant. It was evident however that he was gone and after a careful search had confirmed the conviction in their minds that the sophomore had escaped, Will Phelps said:
"We'll have to give it up, fellows. He's gone."
"We can go up to his room and get him," suggested Peter John, who was becoming exceedingly bold under the confidence which the presence of his friends gave him.
"We can, but we won't," said Hawley bluntly.
"Why not?" demanded Schenck.
"It's one thing to defend yourself, but it's another to fly straight into the arms of the sophs. I don't wonder that some of the freshmen get into trouble, they're so fresh. If the sophs didn't take it out of them I think our own class itself would."
"That's so," responded Peter John cordially, "I've thought of it myself lots of times. Now there's Merrivale—he rooms next to me, you know—he ought to be shown that he's too fresh."
"What's he done?" inquired Foster.
"Why he came into my room last week and borrowed fifty cents, and he hasn't paid it back yet, either!"
"Oh, well, just remember what Mott said, Peter John."
"What did he say?"
"He said every freshman would be paid back with interest."
"I don't want any interest," declared Peter John in all seriousness. "I'll be satisfied if I'm paid back without that."
"You'll get it, though," laughed Will; and as his two companions also joined in his laugh Peter John said no more, except that he "couldn't see anything very funny in that."
The boys, however, did not longer delay where they were but quietly returned to their rooms, nor were they again disturbed that night. Indeed, for several days the quiet of the college life was not ruffled and both Will Phelps and his room-mate began to hope that their troubles were at an end. Mott, whom they saw on the following morning when they were departing from chapel, laughed good-naturedly as he greeted them and indeed his friendship for them seemed to be increased by the recent experiences through which he had passed. Several times he came to the room of Will and Foster and remained until his welcome was decidedly that was displeasing to both the boys, though there threadbare. There was something in his bearing was a certain indefinable something about him that was not altogether unpleasant. His language, his bearing, and his general appearance all betokened a certain coarseness of fibre that somehow grated upon the feelings of Will and his room-mate, though they could not have explained even to themselves just what it was. He was such a marked man in college, however, and was looked up to by so many that there was a certain pleasure in his personal attention and both Will and Foster felt in a measure the flattery of his evident favor.
The college work had now begun to settle into its regular grooves and when another week had elapsed, Will and Foster began to feel that the spirit of their surroundings had to an extent been received by them and that they were indeed a part of the life. There were moments now that came to Will, when do what he might he could not banish from his mind the thought of the home in Sterling of which practically he was no longer a part. The vision of his father seated in his easy-chair in the library of an evening, before the fire that glowed upon the hearth, his paper in his hands and the very manner in which he occasionally glanced up and read to his mother something he had noticed seemed to be one that Will could not shake off. The pictures on the walls, the very rugs on the floor, and the chairs in the room could all be distinctly seen, and somehow the sight never failed to bring a certain depression with it. Will Phelps would indignantly have denied that he was homesick, but as the days came and went his manner became somewhat subdued and when he rose from his bed in the early morning and peered forth from his bedroom window at the towering hills that were all aglow with the glory of the rising sun, somehow their very beauty and grandeur seemed to deepen his feeling that he was "a good way off," as he expressed it, though just what it was that was so far away he could only have vaguely expressed or defined. Doubtless his room-mate could have explained to him that it was the little city of Sterling that now seemed to be so remote, for he too was suffering slightly from the same malady that troubled his friend.
Why is it that most boys are so afraid to acknowledge that they are ever homesick? Is it the fear that they may appear too dependent and less manly if they confess their longing for home? Certainly no boy who comes from a good home detracts from his own strength of character by acknowledging that he misses the home from which he has gone. Indeed, is it not a reflection upon the boy and the home alike, if he declares when he goes from his father's house that he misses nothing? To yield to the feeling of homesickness, to permit it to overmaster one and prevent him from performing his tasks in the place wherein he finds himself may be a confession of weakness, but to suffer nothing from it is to declare a weakness or defect greater still. And Will Phelps, though he was silent as to his own feelings, was suffering keenly in the early days of his life in Winthrop.
A week had elapsed since the events recorded in the preceding chapter and Will and Foster were studying busily in their rooms one evening, striving to hold their wearied minds to their work, for there had been an unexpected written test that day in their Greek and both were somewhat anxious as to the results of their efforts.
Suddenly the door opened and in walked Peter John, who had already acquired the collegiate habit of never inquiring if his presence was welcome in the room into which he came. His face was beaming and it was at once evident to both Will and Foster that their classmate had something of importance to declare.