Philosophy 4 A Story of Harvard University
Scanned, edited and proofread by Daniel P. B. Smith
A STORY OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY
BY OWEN WISTER
Two frowning boys sat in their tennis flannels beneath the glare of lamp
and gas. Their leather belts were loosened, their soft pink shirts
unbuttoned at the collar. They were listening with gloomy voracity to
the instruction of a third. They sat at a table bared of its customary
sporting ornaments, and from time to time they questioned, sucked their
pencils, and scrawled vigorous, laconic notes. Their necks and faces
shone with the bloom of out-of-doors. Studious concentration was
evidently a painful novelty to their features. Drops of perspiration
came one by one from their matted hair, and their hands dampened the
paper upon which they wrote. The windows stood open wide to the May
darkness, but nothing came in save heat and insects; for spring, being
behind time, was making up with a sultry burst at the end, as a delayed
train makes the last few miles high above schedule speed. Thus it has
been since eight o'clock. Eleven was daintily striking now. Its
diminutive sonority might have belonged to some church-bell far distant
across the Cambridge silence; but it was on a shelf in the room,--a
timepiece of Gallic design, representing Mephistopheles, who caressed
the world in his lap. And as the little strokes boomed, eight--nine--
ten--eleven, the voice of the instructor steadily continued thus:--
"By starting from the Absolute Intelligence, the chief cravings of the
reason, after unity and spirituality, receive due satisfaction.
Something transcending the Objective becomes possible. In the Cogito
the relation of subject and object is implied as the primary condition
of all knowledge. Now, Plato never--"
"Skip Plato," interrupted one of the boys. "You gave us his points
"Yep," assented the other, rattling through the back pages of his notes.
"Got Plato down cold somewhere,--oh, here. He never caught on to the
subjective, any more than the other Greek bucks. Go on to the next
"If you gentlemen have mastered the--the Grreek bucks," observed the
instructor, with sleek intonation, "we--"
"Yep," said the second tennis boy, running a rapid judicial eye over his
back notes, "you've put us on to their curves enough. Go on."
The instructor turned a few pages forward in the thick book of his own
neat type-written notes and then resumed,--
"The self-knowledge of matter in motion."
"Skip it," put in the first tennis boy.
"We went to those lectures ourselves," explained the second, whirling
through another dishevelled notebook. "Oh, yes. Hobbes and his gang.
There is only one substance, matter, but it doesn't strictly exist.
Bodies exist. We've got Hobbes. Go on."
The instructor went forward a few pages more in his exhaustive volume.
He had attended all the lectures but three throughout the year, taking
them down in short-hand. Laryngitis had kept him from those three, to
which however, he had sent a stenographic friend so that the chain was
unbroken. He now took up the next philosopher on the list; but his
smooth discourse was, after a short while, rudely shaken. It was the
second tennis boy questioning severely the doctrines imparted.
"So he says color is all your eye, and shape isn't? and substance
"Do you mean he claims," said the first boy, equally resentful, "that if
we were all extinguished the world would still be here, only there'd be
no difference between blue and pink, for instance?"
"The reason is clear," responded the tutor, blandly. He adjusted his
eyeglasses, placed their elastic cord behind his ear, and referred to
his notes. "It is human sight that distinguishes between colors. If
human sight be eliminated from the universe, nothing remains to make the
distinction, and consequently there will be none. Thus also is it with
sounds. If the universe contains no ear to hear the sound, the sound
has no existence."
"Why?" said both the tennis boys at once.
The tutor smiled. "Is it not clear," said he, "that there can be no
sound if it is not heard!"
"No," they both returned, "not in the least clear."
"It's clear enough what he's driving at of course, "pursued the first
boy. "Until the waves of sound or light or what not hit us through our
senses, our brains don't experience the sensations of sound or light or
what not, and so, of course, we can't know about them--not until they
"Precisely," said the tutor. He had a suave and slightly alien accent.
"Well, just tell me how that proves a thunder-storm in a desert island
makes no noise."
"If a thing is inaudible--" began the tutor,
"That's mere juggling!" vociferated the boy," That's merely the same
kind of toy-shop brain-trick you gave us out of Greek philosophy
yesterday, They said there was no such thing as motion because at every
instant of time the moving body had to be somewhere, so how could it get
anywhere else? Good Lord! I can make up foolishness like that myself.
For instance: A moving body can never stop. Why? Why, because at every
instant of time it must be going at a certain rate, so how can it ever
get slower? Pooh!" He stopped. He had been gesticulating with one
hand, which he now jammed wrathfully into his pocket.
The tutor must have derived great pleasure from his own smile, for he
prolonged and deepened and variously modified it while his shiny little
calculating eyes travelled from one to the other of his ruddy scholars.
He coughed, consulted his notes, and went through all the paces of
superiority. "I can find nothing about a body's being unable to stop,"
said he, gently. "If logic makes no appeal to you, gentlemen--"
"Oh, bunch!" exclaimed the second tennis boy, in the slang of his
period, which was the early eighties. "Look here. Color has no
existence outside of our brain - that's the idea?"
The tutor bowed.
"And sound hasn't? and smell hasn't? and taste hasn't?"
The tutor had repeated his little bow after each.
"And that's because they depend on our senses? Very well. But he
claims solidity and shape and distance do exist independently of us. If
we all died, they'd he here just the same, though the others wouldn't. A
flower would go on growing, but it would stop smelling. Very well. Now
you tell me how we ascertain solidity. By the touch, don't we? Then, if
there was nobody to touch an object, what then? Seems to me touch is
just as much of a sense as your nose is." (He meant no personality, but
the first boy choked a giggle as the speaker hotly followed up his
thought.)" Seems to me by his reasoning that in a desert island there'd
be nothing it all--smells or shapes--not even an island. Seems to me
that's what you call logic."
The tutor directed his smile at the open window. "Berkeley--" said he.
"By Jove!" said the other boy, not heeding him, "and here's another
point: if color is entirely in my brain, why don't that ink-bottle and
this shirt look alike to me? They ought to. And why don't a Martini
cocktail and a cup of coffee taste the same to my tongue?" "Berkeley,"
attempted the tutor, "demonstrates--"
"Do you mean to say," the boy rushed on, "that there is no eternal
quality in all these things which when it meets my perceptions compels
me to see differences?"
The tutor surveyed his notes. "I can discover no such suggestions here
as you are pleased to make" said he. "But your orriginal researches,"
he continued most obsequiously, "recall our next subject,--Berkeley and
the Idealists." And he smoothed out his notes.
"Let's see," said the second boy, pondering; "I went to two or three
lectures about that time. Berkeley--Berkeley. Didn't he--oh, yes! he
did. He went the whole hog. Nothing's anywhere except in your ideas.
You think the table's there, but it isn't. There isn't any table."
The first boy slapped his leg and lighted a cigarette. "I remember,"
said he. "Amounts to this: If I were to stop thinking about you, you'd
"Which is balls," observed the second boy, judicially, again in the
slang of his period, "and can be proved so. For you're not always
thinking about me, and I've never evaporated once."
The first boy, after a slight wink at the second, addressed the tutor.
"Supposing you were to happen to forget yourself," said he to that sleek
gentleman, "would you evaporate?"
The tutor turned his little eyes doubtfully upon the tennis boys, but
answered, reciting the language of his notes: "The idealistic theory
does not apply to the thinking ego, but to the world of external
phenomena. The world exists in our conception of it.
"Then," said the second boy, "when a thing is inconceivable?"
"It has no existence," replied the tutor, complacently.
"But a billion dollars is inconceivable," retorted the boy. "No mind
can take in a sum of that size; but it exists."
"Put that down! put that down!" shrieked the other boy. "You've struck
something. If we get Berkeley on the paper, I'll run that in." He
wrote rapidly, and then took a turn around the room, frowning as he
walked. "The actuality of a thing," said he, summing his clever
thoughts up, "is not disproved by its being inconceivable. Ideas alone
depend upon thought for their existence. There! Anybody can get off
stuff like that by the yard." He picked up a cork and a foot-rule,
tossed the cork, and sent it flying out of the window with the
"Skip Berkeley," said the other boy.
"How much more is there?"
"Necessary and accidental truths," answered the tutor, reading the
subjects from his notes. "Hume and the causal law. The duality, or
multiplicity, of the ego."
"The hard-boiled ego," commented the boy the ruler; and he batted a
swooping June-bug into space.
"Sit down, idiot," said his sprightly mate."
Conversation ceased. Instruction went forward. Their pencils worked.
The causal law, etc., went into their condensed notes like Liebig's
extract of beef, and drops of perspiration continued to trickle from
their matted hair.
Bertie and Billy were sophomores. They had been alive for twenty years,
and were young. Their tutor was also a sophomore. He too had been
alive for twenty years, but never yet had become young. Bertie and
Billy had colonial names (Rogers, I think, and Schuyler), but the
tutor's name was Oscar Maironi, and he was charging his pupils five
dollars an hour each for his instruction. Do not think this excessive.
Oscar could have tutored a whole class of irresponsibles, and by that
arrangement have earned probably more; but Bertie and Billy had
preempted him on account of his fame or high standing and accuracy, and
they could well afford it. All three sophomores alike had happened to
choose Philosophy 4 as one of their elective courses, and all alike were
now face to face with the Day of Judgment. The final examinations had
begun. Oscar could lay his hand upon his studious heart and await the
Day of Judgment like--I had nearly said a Christian! His notes were
full: Three hundred pages about Zeno and Parmenides and the rest, almost
every word as it had come from the professor's lips. And his memory was
full, too, flowing like a player's lines. With the right cue he could
recite instantly: "An important application of this principle, with
obvious reference to Heracleitos, occurs in Aristotle, who says--" He
could do this with the notes anywhere. I am sure you appreciate Oscar
and his great power of acquiring facts. So he was ready, like the wise
virgins of parable. Bertie and Billy did not put one in mind of virgins:
although they had burned considerable midnight oil, it had not been to
throw light upon Philosophy 4. In them the mere word Heracleitos had
raised a chill no later than yesterday,--the chill of the unknown. They
had not attended the lectures on the "Greek bucks." Indeed, profiting
by their privilege of voluntary recitations, they had dropped in but
seldom on Philosophy 4. These blithe grasshoppers had danced and sung
away the precious storing season, and now that the bleak hour of
examinations was upon them, their waked-up hearts had felt aghast at the
sudden vision of their ignorance. It was on a Monday noon that this
feeling came fully upon them, as they read over the names of the
philosophers. Thursday was the day of the examination. "Who's
Anaxagoras?" Billy had inquired of Bertie. "I'll tell you," said
Bertie, "if you'll tell me who Epicharmos of Kos was." And upon this
they embraced with helpless laughter. Then they reckoned up the hours
left for them to learn Epicharmos of Kos in,--between Monday noon and
Thursday morning at nine,--and their quailing chill increased. A tutor
must be called in at once. So the grasshoppers, having money, sought
out and quickly purchased the ant.
Closeted with Oscar and his notes, they had, as Bertie put it, salted
down the early Greek bucks by seven on Monday evening. By the same
midnight they had, as Billy expressed it, called the turn on Plato.
Tuesday was a second day of concentrated swallowing. Oscar had taken
them through the thought of many centuries. There had been
intermissions for lunch and dinner only; and the weather was exceedingly
hot. The pale-skinned Oscar stood this strain better than the
unaccustomed Bertie and Billy. Their jovial eyes had grown hollow
to-night, although their minds were going gallantly, as you have
probably noticed. Their criticisms, slangy and abrupt, struck the
scholastic Oscar as flippancies which he must indulge, since the pay was
handsome. That these idlers should jump in with doubts and questions
not contained in his sacred notes raised in him feelings betrayed just
once in that remark about "orriginal rresearch."
"Nine--ten--eleven--twelve," went the little timepiece; and Oscar rose.
"Gentlemen," he said, closing the sacred notes, "we have finished the
"That's the whole business except the ego racket, isn't it?" said Billy.
"The duality, or multiplicity of the ego remains," Oscar replied.
"Oh, I know its name. It ought to be a soft snap after what we've had."
"Unless it's full of dates and names you've got to know," said Bertie.
"Don't believe it is," Billy answered. "I heard him at it once." (This
meant that Billy had gone to a lecture lately.) "It's all about Who am
I? and How do I do it?" Billy added.
"Hm!" said Bertie. "Hm! Subjective and objective again, I suppose,
only applied to oneself. You see, that table is objective. I can stand
off and judge it. It's outside of me; has nothing to do with me. That's
easy. But my opinion of--well, my--well, anything in my nature--"
"Anger when it's time to get up," suggested Billy.
"An excellent illustration," said Bertie. "That is subjective in me.
Similar to your dislike of water as a beverage. That is subjective in
you. But here comes the twist. I can think of my own anger and judge
it, just as if it were an outside thing, like a table. I can compare it
with itself on different mornings or with other people's anger. And I
trust that you can do the same with your thirst."
"Yes," said Billy; "I recognize that it is greater at times and less at
"Very well, There you are. Duality of the ego."
"Subject and object," said Billy. "Perfectly true, and very queer when
you try to think of it. Wonder how far it goes? Of course, one can
explain the body's being an object to the brain inside it. That's mind
and matter over again. But when my own mind and thought, can become
objects to themselves--I wonder how far that does go?" he broke off
musingly. "What useless stuff!" he ended.
"Gentlemen," said Oscar, who had been listening to them with patient,
Oriental diversion, "I--"
"Oh," said Bertie, remembering him. "Look here. We mustn't keep you
up. We're awfully obliged for the way you are putting us on to this.
You're saving our lives. Ten to-morrow for a grand review of the whole
"And the multiplicity of the ego?" inquired Oscar.
"Oh, I forgot. Well, it's too late tonight. Is it much? Are there
many dates and names and things?"
"It is more of a general inquiry and analysis," replied Oscar. "But it
is forty pages of my notes." And he smiled.
"Well, look here. It would be nice to have to-morrow clear for
review. We're not tired. You leave us your notes and go to bed."
Oscar's hand almost moved to cover and hold his precious property, for
this instinct was the deepest in him. But it did not so move, because
his intelligence controlled his instinct nearly, though not quite,
always. His shiny little eyes, however, became furtive and
antagonistic--something the boys did not at first make out.
Oscar gave himself a moment of silence. "I could not brreak my rule,"
said he then. "I do not ever leave my notes with anybody. Mr.
Woodridge asked for my History 3 notes, and Mr. Bailey wanted my notes
for Fine Arts 1, and I could not let them have them. If Mr. Woodridge
was to hear--"
"But what in the dickens are you afraid of?"
"Well, gentlemen, I would rather not. You would take good care, I know,
but there are sometimes things which happen that we cannot help. One
time a fire--"
At this racial suggestion both boys made the room joyous with mirth.
Oscar stood uneasily contemplating them. He would never be able to
understand them, not as long as he lived, nor they him. When their
mirth Was over he did somewhat better, but it was tardy. You see, he
was not a specimen of the first rank, or he would have said at once what
he said now: "I wish to study my notes a little myself, gentlemen."
"Go along, Oscar, with your inflammable notes, go along!" said Bertie,
in supreme good-humor. "And we'll meet to-morrow at ten--if there
hasn't been a fire--Better keep your notes in the bath, Oscar."
In as much haste as could be made with a good appearance, Oscar buckled
his volume in its leather cover, gathered his hat and pencil, and,
bidding his pupils a very good night, sped smoothly out of the room.
Oscar Maironi was very poor. His thin gray suit in summer resembled his
thick gray suit in winter. It does not seem that he had more than two;
but he had a black coat and waistcoat, and a narrow-brimmed, shiny hat
to go with these, and one pair of patent-leather shoes that laced, and
whose long soles curved upward at the toe like the rockers of a
summer-hotel chair. These holiday garments served him in all seasons;
and when you saw him dressed in them, and seated in a car bound for Park
Square, you knew he was going into Boston, where he would read
manuscript essays on Botticelli or Pico della Mirandola, or manuscript
translations of Armenian folksongs; read these to ecstatic, dim-eyed
ladies in Newbury Street, who would pour him cups of tea when it was
over, and speak of his earnestness after he was gone. It did not do the
ladies any harm; but I am not sure that it was the best thing for Oscar.
It helped him feel every day, as he stepped along to recitations with
his elbow clamping his books against his ribs and his heavy black curls
bulging down from his gray slouch hat to his collar, how meritorious he
was compared with Bertie and Billy--with all Berties and Billies. He
may have been. Who shall say? But I will say at once that chewing the
cud of one's own virtue gives a sour stomach.
Bertie's and Billy's parents owned town and country houses in New York.
The parents of Oscar had come over in the steerage. Money filled the
pockets of Bertie and Billy; therefore were their heads empty of money
and full of less cramping thoughts. Oscar had fallen upon the reverse
of this fate. Calculation was his second nature. He had given his
education to himself; he had for its sake toiled, traded, outwitted, and
saved. He had sent himself to college, where most of the hours not
given to education and more education, went to toiling and more toiling,
that he might pay his meagre way through the college world. He had a
cheaper room and ate cheaper meals than was necessary. He tutored, and
he wrote college specials for several newspapers. His chief relaxation
was the praise of the ladies in Newbury Street. These told him of the
future which awaited him, and when they gazed upon his features were put
in mind of the dying Keats. Not that Oscar was going to die in the
least. Life burned strong in him. There were sly times when he took
what he had saved by his cheap meals and room and went to Boston with
it, and for a few hours thoroughly ceased being ascetic. Yet Oscar felt
meritorious when he considered Bertie and Billy; for, like the
socialists, merit with him meant not being able to live as well as your
neighbor. You will think that I have given to Oscar what is familiarly
termed a black eye. But I was once inclined to applaud his struggle for
knowledge, until I studied him close and perceived that his love was not
for the education he was getting. Bertie and Billy loved play for
play's own sake, and in play forgot themselves, like the wholesome young
creatures that they were. Oscar had one love only: through all his days
whatever he might forget, he would remember himself; through all his
days he would make knowledge show that self off. Thank heaven, all the
poor students in Harvard College were not Oscars! I loved some of them
as much as I loved Bertie and Billy. So there is no black eye about it.
Pity Oscar, if you like; but don't be so mushy as to admire him as he
stepped along in the night, holding his notes, full of his knowledge,
thinking of Bertie and Billy, conscious of virtue, and smiling his
smile. They were not conscious of any virtue, were Bertie and Billy,
nor were they smiling. They were solemnly eating up together a box of
handsome strawberries and sucking the juice from their reddened thumbs.
"Rather mean not to make him wait and have some of these after his hard
work on us," said Bertie. "I'd forgotten about them--"
"He ran out before you could remember, anyway," said Billy.
"Wasn't he absurd about his old notes? "Bertie went on, a new
strawberry in his mouth. "We don't need them, though. With to-morrow
we'll get this course down cold."
"Yes, to-morrow," sighed Billy. "It's awful to think of another day of
"Horrible," assented Bertie.
"He knows a lot. He's extraordinary," said Billy.
"Yes, he is. He can talk the actual words of the notes. Probably he
could teach the course himself. I don't suppose he buys any
strawberries, even when they get ripe and cheap here. What's the matter
Billy had broken suddenly into merriment. "I don't believe Oscar owns a
bath," he explained.
"By Jove! so his notes will burn in spite of everything!" And both of
the tennis boys shrieked foolishly.
Then Billy began taking his clothes off, strewing them in the
window-seat, or anywhere that they happened to drop; and Bertie, after
hitting another cork or two out of the window with the tennis racket,
departed to his own room on another floor and left Billy to immediate
and deep slumber. This was broken for a few moments when Billy's
room-mate returned happy from an excursion which had begun in the
The room-mate sat on Billy's feet until that gentleman showed
"I've done it, said the room-mate, then.
"The hell you have!"
"You couldn't do it."
"The hell I couldn't!"
"The hell it was!"
"Soft-shell crabs, broiled live lobster, salmon, grass-plover,
dough-birds, rum omelette. Bet you five dollars you can't find it."
"Take you. Got to bed." And Billy fell again into deep, immediate
The room-mate went out into the sitting room, and noting the signs there
of the hard work which had gone on during his absence, was glad that he
did not take Philosophy 4. He was soon asleep also.
Billy got up early. As he plunged into his cold bath he envied his
room-mate, who could remain at rest indefinitely, while his own hard lot
was hurrying him to prayers and breakfast and Oscar's inexorable notes.
He sighed once more as he looked at the beauty of the new morning and
felt its air upon his cheeks. He and Bertie belonged to the same
club-table, and they met there mournfully over the oatmeal. This very
hour to-morrow would see them eating their last before the examination
in Philosophy 4. And nothing pleasant was going to happen
between,--nothing that they could dwell upon with the slightest
satisfaction. Nor had their sleep entirely refreshed them. Their eyes
were not quite right, and their hair, though it was brushed, showed
fatigue of the nerves in a certain inclination to limpness and disorder.
"Epicharmos of Kos
Was covered with moss,"
"Thales and Zeno
Were duffers at keno,"
In the hours of trial they would often express their education thus.
"Philosophers I have met," murmured Billy, with scorn And they ate
silently for some time.
"There's one thing that's valuable," said Bertie next. "When they
spring those tricks on you about the flying arrow not moving, and all
the rest, and prove it all right by logic, you learn what pure logic
amounts to when it cuts loose from common sense. And Oscar thinks it's
immense. We shocked him."
"He's found the Bird-in-Hand!" cried Billy, quite suddenly.
"Oscar?" said Bertie, with an equal shout.
"No, John. John has. Came home last night and waked me up and told
"Good for John," remarked Bertie, pensively.
Now, to the undergraduate mind of that day the Bird-in-Hand tavern was
what the golden fleece used to be to the Greeks,-- a sort of shining,
remote, miraculous thing, difficult though not impossible to find, for
which expeditions were fitted out. It was reported to be somewhere in
the direction of Quincy, and in one respect it resembled a ghost: you
never saw a man who had seen it himself; it was always his cousin, or
his elder brother in '79. But for the successful explorer a dinner and
wines were waiting at the Bird-in-Hand more delicious than anything
outside of Paradise. You will realize, therefore, what a thing it was
to have a room-mate who had attained. If Billy had not been so
dog-tired last night, he would have sat up and made John tell him
everything from beginning to end.
"Soft-shell crabs, broiled live lobster, salmon, grass-plover,
dough-birds, and rum omelette," he was now reciting to Bertie.
"They say the rum there is old Jamaica brought in slave-ships," said
"I've heard he has white port of 1820," said Billy; "and claret and
Bertie looked out of the window. "This is the finest day there's been,"
said he. Then he looked at his watch. It was twenty-five minutes
before Oscar. Then he looked Billy hard in the eye. "Have you any
sand?" he inquired.
It was a challenge to Billy's manhood. "Sand!" he yelled, sitting up.
Both of them in an instant had left the table and bounded out of the
house. "I'll meet you at Pike's," said Billy to Bertie. "Make him give
us the black gelding."
"Might as well bring our notes along," Bertie called after his rushing
friend; "and get John to tell you the road."
To see their haste, as the two fled in opposite directions upon their
errands, you would have supposed them under some crying call of
obligation, or else to be escaping from justice.
Twenty minutes later they were seated behind the black gelding and bound
on their journey in search of the bird-in-Hand. Their notes in
Philosophy 4 were stowed under the buggy-seat.
"Did Oscar see you?" Bertie inquired.
"Not he," cried Billy, joyously.
"Oscar will wonder," said Bertie; and he gave the black gelding a
triumphant touch with the whip.
You see, it was Oscar that had made them run go; or, rather, it was Duty
and Fate walking in Oscar's displeasing likeness. Nothing easier,
nothing more reasonable, than to see the tutor and tell him they should
not need him to-day. But that would have spoiled everything. They did
not know it, but deep in their childlike hearts was a delicious sense
that in thus unaccountably disappearing they had won a great game, had
got away ahead of Duty and Fate. After all it did bear some resemblance
to an escape from justice. .
Could he have known this, Oscar would have felt more superior than ever.
Punctually at the hour agreed, ten o'clock he rapped at Billy's door and
stood waiting, his leather wallet of notes nipped safe between elbow and
ribs. Then he knocked again. Then he tried the door, and as it was
open, he walked deferentially into the sitting room. Sonorous snores
came from one of the bedrooms. Oscar peered in and saw John; but he saw
no Billy in the other bed. Then, always deferential, he sat down in the
sitting room and watched a couple of prettily striped coats hanging in a
At that moment the black gelding was flirtatiously crossing the
drawbridge over the Charles on the Allston Road. The gelding knew the
clank of those suspending chains and the slight unsteadiness of the
meeting halves of the bridge as well as it knew oats. But it could not
enjoy its own entirely premeditated surprise quite so much as Bertie and
Billy were enjoying their entirely unpremeditated flight from Oscar. The
wind rippled on the water; down at the boat-house Smith was helping some
one embark in a single scull; they saw the green meadows toward
Brighton; their foreheads felt cool and unvexed, and each new minute had
the savor of fresh forbidden fruit.
"How do we go?" said Bertie.
"I forgot I had a bet with John until I had waked him," said Billy. "He
bet me five last night I couldn't find it, and I took him. Of course,
after that I had no right to ask him anything, and he thought I was
funny. He said I couldn't find out if the landlady's hair was her own.
I went him another five on that."
"How do you say we ought to go?" said Bertie, presently.
"Quincy, I'm sure."
They were now crossing the Albany tracks at Allston. "We're going to
get there," said Bertie; and he turned the black gelding toward
Brookline and Jamaica Plain.
The enchanting day surrounded them. The suburban houses, even the
suburban street-cars, seemed part of one great universal plan of
enjoyment. Pleasantness so radiated from the boys' faces and from their
general appearance of clean white flannel trousers and soft clean shirts
of pink and blue that a driver on a passing car leaned to look after
them with a smile and a butcher hailed them with loud brotherhood from
his cart. They turned a corner, and from a long way off came the sight
of the tower of Memorial Hall. Plain above all intervening tenements
and foliage it rose. Over there beneath its shadow were examinations
and Oscar. It caught Billy's roving eye, and he nudged Bertie, pointing
silently to it. "Ha, ha!" sang Bertie. And beneath his light whip the
gelding sprang forward into its stride.
The clocks of Massachusetts struck eleven. Oscar rose doubtfully from
his chair in Billy's study. Again he looked into Billy's bedroom and at
the empty bed. Then he went for a moment and watched the still forcibly
sleeping John. He turned his eyes this way and that, and after standing
for a while moved quietly back to his chair and sat down with the
leather wallet of notes on his lap, his knees together, and his
unblocked shoes touching. In due time the clocks of Massachusetts
In a meadow where a brown amber stream ran, lay Bertie and Billy on the
grass. Their summer coats were off, their belts loosened. They watched
with eyes half closed the long water-weeds moving gently as the current
waved and twined them. The black gelding, brought along a farm road and
through a gate, waited at its ease in the field beside a stone wall. Now
and then it stretched and cropped a young leaf from a vine that grew
over the wall, and now and then the want wind brought down the fruit
blossoms all over the meadow. They fell from the tree where Bertie and
Billy lay, and the boys brushed them from their faces. Not very far
away was Blue Hill, softly shining; and crows high up in the air came
from it occasionally across here.
By one o'clock a change had come in Billy's room. Oscar during that
hour had opened his satchel of philosophy upon his lap and read his
notes attentively. Being almost word perfect in many parts of them, he
now spent his unexpected leisure in acquiring accurately the language of
still further paragraphs." The sharp line of demarcation which
Descartes drew between consciousness and the material world," whispered
Oscar with satisfaction, and knew that if Descartes were on the
examination paper he could start with this and go on for nearly twenty
lines before he would have to use any words of his own. As he
memorized, the chambermaid, who had come to do the bedrooms three times
already and had gone away again, now returned and no longer restrained
her indignation. "Get up Mr. Blake! " she vociferated to the sleeping
John; "you ought to be ashamed!" And she shook the bedstead. Thus John
had come to rise and discover Oscar. The patient tutor explained
himself as John listened in his pyjamas.
"Why, I'm sorry," said he, "but I don't believe they'll get back very
"They have gone away?" asked Oscar, sharply.
"Ah--yes," returned the reticent John. "An unexpected matter of
"But, my dear sir, those gentlemen know nothing! Philosophy 4 is
tomorrow, and they know nothing."
"They'll have to stand it, then," said John, with a grin.
"And my time. I am waiting here. I am engaged to teach them. I have
been waiting here since ten. They engaged me all day and this evening.
"I don't believe there's the slightest use in your waiting now, you
know. They'll probably let you know when they come back."
"Probably! But they have engaged my time. The girl knows I was here
ready at ten. I call you to witness that you found me waiting, ready at
John in his pyjamas stared at Oscar. "Why, of course they'll pay you
the whole thing," said he, coldly; "stay here if you prefer." And he
went into the bathroom and closed the door.
The tutor stood awhile, holding his notes and turning his little eyes
this way and that. His young days had been dedicated to getting the
better of his neighbor, because otherwise his neighbor would get the
better of him. Oscar had never suspected the existence of boys like
John and Bertie and Billy. He stood holding his notes, and then,
buckling them up once more, he left the room with evidently reluctant
steps. It was at this time that the clocks struck one.
In their field among the soft new grass sat Bertie and Billy some ten
yards apart, each with his back against an apple tree. Each had his
notes and took his turn at questioning the other. Thus the names of the
Greek philosophers with their dates and doctrines were shouted gayly in
the meadow. The foreheads of the boys were damp to-day, as they had
been last night, and their shirts were opened to the air; but it was the
sun that made them hot now, and no lamp or gas; and already they looked
twice as alive as they had looked at breakfast. There they sat, while
their memories gripped the summarized list of facts essential, facts to
be known accurately; the simple, solid, raw facts, which, should they
happen to come on the examination paper, no skill could evade nor any
imagination supply. But this study was no longer dry and dreadful to
them: they had turned it to a sporting event. "What about Heracleitos?"
Billy as catechist would put at Bertie. "Eternal flux," Bertie would
correctly snap back at Billy. Or, if he got it mixed up, and replied,
"Everything is water," which was the doctrine of another Greek, then
Billy would credit himself with twenty-five cents on a piece of paper.
Each ran a memorandum of this kind; and you can readily see how spirited
a character metaphysics would assume under such conditions.
"I'm going in," said Bertie, suddenly, as Billy was crediting himself
with a fifty-cent gain. "What's your score?"
"Two seventy-five, counting your break on Parmenides. It'II be cold."
"No, it won't. Well, I'm only a quarter behind you." And Bertie puffed
off his shoes. Soon he splashed into the stream where the bend made a
hole of some depth.
"Cold?" inquired Billy on the bank. Bertie closed his eyes dreamily.
"Delicious," said he, and sank luxuriously beneath the surface with slow
Billy had his clothes off in a moment, and, taking the plunge, screamed
loudly "You liar!" he yelled, as he came up. And he made for Bertie.
Delight rendered Bertie weak and helpless; he was caught and ducked; and
after some vigorous wrestling both came out of the icy water.
"Now we've got no towels, you fool," said Billy.
"Use your notes," said Bertie, and he rolled in the grass. Then they
chased each other round the apple trees, and the black gelding watched
them by the wall, its ears well forward.
While they were dressing they discovered it was half-past one, and
became instantly famished. "We should have brought lunch along," they
told each other. But they forgot that no such thing as lunch could have
induced them to delay their escape from Cambridge for a moment this
morning. "What do you suppose Oscar is doing now?" Billy inquired of
Bertie, as they led the black gelding back to the road; and Bertie
laughed like an infant. "Gentlemen," said he, in Oscar's manner, "we
now approach the multiplicity of the ego." The black gelding must have
thought it had humorists to deal with this day.
Oscar, as a matter of fact, was eating his cheap lunch away over in
Cambridge. There was cold mutton, and boiled potatoes with hard brown
spots in them, and large picked cucumbers; and the salt was damp and
would not shake out through the holes in the top of the bottle. But
Oscar ate two helps of everything with a good appetite, and between
whiles looked at his notes, which lay open beside him on the table. At
the stroke of two he was again knocking at his pupils' door. But no
answer came. John had gone away somewhere for indefinite hours and the
door was locked. So Oscar wrote: "Called, two p.m.," on a scrap of
envelope, signed his name, and put it through the letter-slit. It
crossed his mind to hunt other pupils for his vacant time, but he
decided against this at once, and returned to his own room. Three
o'clock found him back at the door, knocking scrupulously, The idea of
performing his side of the contract, of tendering his goods and standing
ready at all times to deliver them, was in his commercially mature mind.
This time he had brought a neat piece of paper with him, and wrote upon
it, "Called, three P.M.," and signed it as before, and departed to his
room with a sense of fulfilled obligations.
Bertie and Billy had lunched at Mattapan quite happily on cold ham, cold
pie, and doughnuts. Mattapan, not being accustomed to such lilies of
the field, stared at their clothes and general glory, but observed that
they could eat the native bill-of-fare as well as anybody. They found
some good, cool beer, moreover, and spoke to several people of the
Bird-in-Hand, and got several answers: for instance, that the
Bird-in-Hand was at Hingham; that it was at Nantasket; that they had
better inquire for it at South Braintree; that they had passed it a mile
back; and that there was no such place. If you would gauge the
intelligence of our population, inquire your way in a rural
neighborhood. With these directions they took up their journey after an
hour and a half,--a halt made chiefly for the benefit of the black
gelding, whom they looked after as much as they did themselves. For a
while they discussed club matters seriously, as both of them were
officers of certain organizations, chosen so on account of their
recognized executive gifts. These questions settled, they resumed the
lighter theme of philosophy, and made it (as Billy observed) a near
thing for the Causal law. But as they drove along, their minds left
this topic on the abrupt discovery that the sun was getting down out of
the sky, and they asked each other where they were and what they should
do. They pulled up at some cross-roads and debated this with growing
uneasiness. Behind them lay the way to Cambridge, - not very clear, to
be sure; but you could always go where you had come from, Billy seemed
to think. He asked, "How about Cambridge and a little Oscar to finish
off with?" Bertie frowned. This would be failure. Was Billy willing
to go back and face John the successful?
"It would only cost me five dollars," said Billy.
"Ten," Bertie corrected. He recalled to Billy the matter about the
"By Jove, that's so!" cried Billy, brightening. It seemed conclusive.
But he grew cloudy again the next moment. He was of opinion that one
could go too far in a thing.
"Where's your sand?" said Bertie.
Billy made an unseemly rejoinder, but even in the making was visited by
inspiration. He saw the whole thing as it really was. "By Jove!" said
he, "we couldn't get back in time for dinner."
"There's my bonny boy!" said Bertie, with pride; and he touched up the
black gelding. Uneasiness had left both of them. Cambridge was
manifestly impossible; an error in judgment; food compelled them to seek
the Bird-in-Hand. "We'll try Quincy, anyhow," Bertie said. Billy
suggested that they inquire of people on the road. This provided a new
sporting event: they could bet upon the answers. Now, the roads, not
populous at noon, had grown solitary in the sweetness of the long
twilight. Voices of birds there were; and little, black, quick brooks,
full to the margin grass, shot under the roadway through low bridges.
Through the web of young foliage the sky shone saffron, and frogs piped
in the meadow swamps. No cart or carriage appeared, however, and the
bets languished. Bertie, driving with one hand, was buttoning his coat
with the other, when the black gelding leaped from the middle of the
road to the turf and took to backing. The buggy reeled; but the driver
was skilful, and fifteen seconds of whip and presence of mind brought it
out smoothly. Then the cause of all this spoke to them from a gate.
"Come as near spillin' as you boys wanted, I guess," remarked the cause.
They looked, and saw him in huge white shirt-sleeves, shaking with
joviality. "If you kep' at it long enough you might a-most learn to
drive a horse," he continued, eying Bertie. This came as near direct
praise as the true son of our soil--Northern or Southern--often thinks
well of. Bertie was pleased, but made a modest observation, and "Are we
near the tavern?" he asked. "Bird-in-Hand!" the son of the soil echoed;
and he contemplated them from his gate. That's me," he stated, with
complacence. "Bill Diggs of the Bird-in-Hand has been me since April,
'65." His massy hair had been yellow, his broad body must have weighed
two hundred and fifty pounds, his face was canny, red, and somewhat
clerical, resembling Henry Ward Beecher's.
"Trout," he said, pointing to a basket by the gate. "For your dinner.
"Then he climbed heavily but skilfully down and picked up the basket and
a rod. "Folks round here say," said he, "that there ain't no more trout
up them meadows. They've been a-sayin' that since '74; and I've been
a-sayin' it myself, when judicious." Here he shook slightly and opened
the basket. "Twelve," he said. "Sixteen yesterday. Now you go along
and turn in the first right-hand turn, and I'll be up with you soon.
Maybe you might make room for the trout." Room for him as well, they
assured him; they were in luck to find him, they explained. "Well, I
guess I'll trust my neck with you," he said to Bertie, the skillful
driver; "'tain't five minutes' risk." The buggy leaned, and its springs
bent as he climbed in, wedging his mature bulk between their slim
shapes. The gelding looked round the shaft at them. "Protestin', are
you?" he said to it. "These light-weight stoodents spile you!" So the
gelding went on, expressing, however, by every line of its body, a sense
of outraged justice. The boys related their difficult search, and
learned that any mention of the name of Diggs would have brought them
straight. "Bill Higgs of the Bird-in-Hand was my father, and my
grandf'ther, and his father; and has been me sence I come back from the
war and took the business in '65. I'm not commonly to be met out this
late. About fifteen minutes earlier is my time for gettin' back, unless
I'm plannin' for a jamboree. But to-night I got to settin' and watchin'
that sunset, and listenin' to a darned red-winged blackbird, and I guess
Mrs. Higgs has decided to expect me somewheres about noon to-morrow or
Friday. Say, did Johnnie send you? "When he found that John had in a
measure been responsible for their journey, he filled with gayety. "Oh,
Johnnie's a bird!" said he. "He's that demure on first appearance.
Walked in last evening and wanted dinner. Did he tell you what he ate?
Guess he left out what he drank. Yes, he's demure."
You might suppose that upon their landlord's safe and sober return
fifteen minutes late, instead of on the expected noon of Thursday or
Friday, their landlady would show signs of pleasure; but Mrs. Diggs from
the porch threw an uncordial eye at the three arriving in the buggy.
Here were two more like Johnnie of last night. She knew them by the
clothes they wore and by the confidential tones of her husband's voice
as he chatted to them. He had been old enough to know better for twenty
years. But for twenty years he had taken the same extreme joy in the
company of Johnnies, and they were bad for his health. Her final proof
that they belonged to this hated breed was when Mr. Diggs thumped the
trout down on the porch, and after briefly remarking, "Half of 'em
boiled, and half broiled with bacon," himself led away the gelding to
the stable instead of intrusting it to his man Silas.
"You may set in the parlor," said Mrs. Diggs, and departed stiffly with
the basket of trout.
"It's false," said Billy, at once.
Bertie did not grasp his thought.
"Her hair," said Billy. And certainly it was an unusual-looking
Presently, as they sat near a parlor organ in the presence of earnest
family portraits, Bertie made a new poem for Billy,--
"Said Aristotle unto Plato,
'Have another sweet potato? '"
And Billy responded, -
"Said Plato unto Aristotle,
'Thank you, I prefer the bottle.'"
"In here, are you?" said their beaming host at the door. "Now, I think
you'd find my department of the premises cosier, so to speak." He
nudged Bertie. "Do you boys guess it's too early in the season for a
We must not wholly forget Oscar in Cambridge. During the afternoon he
had not failed in his punctuality; two more neat witnesses to this lay
on the door-mat beneath the letter-slit of Billy's room, And at the
appointed hour after dinner a third joined them, making five. John
found these cards when he came home to go to bed, and picked them up and
stuck them ornamentally in Billy's looking-glass, as a greeting when
Billy should return, The eight o'clock visit was the last that Oscar
paid to the locked door, He remained through the evening in his own
room, studious, contented, unventilated, indulging in his thick notes,
and also in the thought of Billy's and Bertie's eleventh-hour
scholarship, "Even with another day," he told himself, "those young men
could not have got fifty per cent," In those times this was the passing
mark. To-day I believe you get an A, or a B, or some other letter
denoting your rank. In due time Oscar turned out his gas and got into
his bed ; and the clocks of Massachusetts struck midnight.
Mrs. Diggs of the Bird-in-Hand had retired at eleven, furious with rage,
but firm in dignity in spite of a sudden misadventure. Her hair, being
the subject of a sporting event, had remained steadily fixed in Billy's
mind,--steadily fixed throughout an entertainment which began at an
early hour to assume the features of a celebration. One silver-fizz
before dinner is nothing; but dinner did not come at once, and the boys
were thirsty. The hair of Mrs. Diggs had caught Billy's eye again
immediately upon her entrance to inform them that the meal was ready;
and whenever she reentered with a new course from the kitchen, Billy's
eye wandered back to it, although Mr. Diggs had become full of anecdotes
about the Civil War. It was partly Grecian: a knot stood out behind to
a considerable distance. But this was not the whole plan. From front to
back ran a parting, clear and severe, and curls fell from this to the
temples in a manner called, I believe, by the enlightened, a l'Anne
d'Autriche. The color was gray, to be sure; but this propriety did not
save the structure from Billy's increasing observation. As bottles came
to stand on the table in greater numbers, the closer and the more
solemnly did Billy continue to follow the movements of Mrs. Diggs. They
would without doubt have noticed him and his foreboding gravity but for
Mr. Diggs's experiences in the Civil War.
The repast was finished--so far as eating went. Mrs. Diggs with
changeless dudgeon was removing and washing the dishes. At the
revellers' elbows stood the 1820 port in its fine, fat, old, dingy
bottle, going pretty fast. Mr. Diggs was nearing the end of Antietam."
That morning of the 18th, while McClellan was holdin' us squattin' and
cussin'," he was saying to Bertie, when some sort of shuffling sound in
the corner caught their attention. We can never know how it happened.
Billy ought to know, but does not, and Mrs. Diggs allowed no subsequent
reference to the casualty. But there she stood with her entire hair at
right angles. The Grecian knot extended above her left ear, and her
nose stuck through one set of Anne d'Autriche. Beside her Billy stood,
solemn as a stone, yet with a sort of relief glazed upon his face.
Mr. Diggs sat straight up at the vision of his spouse. "Flouncing
Florence!" was his exclamation. "Gee-whittaker, Mary, if you ain't the
most unmitigated sight!" And wind then left him.
Mary's reply arrived in tones like a hornet stinging slowly and often.
"Mr. Diggs, I have put up with many things, and am expecting to put up
with many more. But you'd behave better if you consorted with
The door slammed and she was gone. Not a word to either of the boys,
not even any notice of them. It was thorough, and silence consequently
held them for a moment.
"He didn't mean anything," said Bertie, growing partially responsible.
"Didn't mean anything," repeated Billy, like a lesson.
"I'll take him and he'll apologize," Bertie pursued, walking over to
"He'll apologize," went Billy, like a cheerful piece of mechanism.
Responsibility was still quite distant from him.
Mr. Diggs got his wind back. "Better not," he advised in something near
a whisper. "Better not go after her. Her father was a fightin'
preacher, and she's--well, begosh! she's a chip of the old pulpit." And
he rolled his eye towards the door. Another door slammed somewhere
above, and they gazed at each other, did Bertie and Mr. Diggs. Then Mr.
Diggs, still gazing at Bertie, beckoned to him with a speaking eye and a
crooked finger; and as he beckoned, Bertie approached like a conspirator
and sat down close to him. "Begosh!" whispered Mr. Diggs.
"Unmitigated." And at this he and Bertie laid their heads down on the
table and rolled about in spasms.
Billy from his corner seemed to become aware of them. With his eye
fixed upon them like a statue, he came across the room, and, sitting
down near them with formal politeness, observed, "Was you ever to the
battle of Antietam?" This sent them beyond the limit; and they rocked
their heads on the table and wept as if they would expire.
Thus the three remained, during what space of time is not known: the two
upon the table, convalescent with relapses, and Billy like a seated
idol, unrelaxed at his vigil. The party was seen through the windows by
Silas, coming from the stable to inquire if the gelding should not be
harnessed. Silas leaned his face to the pane, and envy spoke plainly in
it. "O my! O my!" he mentioned aloud to himself. So we have the whole
household: Mrs. Diggs reposing scornfully in an upper chamber; all parts
of the tavern darkened, save the one lighted room; the three inside that
among their bottles, with the one outside looking covetously in at them;
and the gelding stamping in the stable.
But Silas, since he could not share, was presently of opinion that this
was enough for one sitting, and he tramped heavily upon the porch. This
brought Bertie back to the world of reality, and word was given to fetch
the gelding. The host was in no mood to part with them, and spoke of
comfortable beds and breakfast as early as they liked; but Bertie had
become entirely responsible. Billy was helped in, Silas was liberally
thanked, and they drove away beneath the stars, leaving behind them
golden opinions, and a host who decided not to disturb his helpmate by
retiring to rest in their conjugal bed.
Bertie had forgotten, but the playful gelding had not. When they came
abreast of that gate where Diggs of the Bird-in-Hand had met them at
sunset, Bertie was only aware that a number of things had happened at
once, and that he had stopped the horse after about twenty yards of
battle. Pride filled him, but emptied away in the same instant, for a
voice on the road behind him spoke inquiringly through the darkness.
"Did any one fall out?" said the voice. "Who fell out?"
"Billy!" shrieked Bertie, cold all over. "Billy, are you hurt "
"Did Billy fall out?" said the voice, with plaintive cadence. "Poor
"He can't be," muttered Bertie. "Are you?" he loudly repeated.
There was no answer: but steps came along the road as Bertie checked and
pacified the gelding. Then Billy appeared by the wheel. "Poor Billy
fell out," he said mildly. He held something up, which Bertie took. It
had been Billy's straw hat, now a brimless fabric of ruin. Except for
smirches and one inexpressible rent which dawn revealed to Bertie a
little later, there were no further injuries, and Billy got in and took
his seat quite competently.
Bertie drove the gelding with a firm hand after this. They passed
through the cool of the unseen meadow swamps, and heard the sound of the
hollow bridges as they crossed them, and now and then the gulp of some
pouring brook. They went by the few lights of Mattapan, seeing from
some points on their way the beacons of the harbor, and again the
curving line of lamps that drew the outline of some village built upon a
hill. Dawn showed them Jamaica Pond, smooth and breezeless, and
encircled with green skeins of foliage, delicate and new. Here
multitudinous birds were chirping their tiny, overwhelming chorus. When
at length, across the flat suburban spaces, they again sighted Memorial
tower, small in the distance, the sun was lighting it.
Confronted by this, thoughts of hitherto banished care, and of the
morrow that was now to-day, and of Philosophy 4 coming in a very few
hours, might naturally have arisen and darkened the end of their
pleasant excursion. Not so, however. Memorial tower suggested another
line of argument. It was Billy who spoke, as his eyes first rested upon
that eminent pinnacle of Academe.
"Well, John owes me five dollars."
"Ten, you mean."
"Why, her hair. And it was easily worth twenty."
Billy turned his head and looked suspiciously at Bertie. "What did I
do?" he asked.
"Do! Don't you know?"
Billy in all truth did not,
"Phew!" went Bertie. "Well, I don't, either. Didn't see it. Saw the
consequences, though. Don't you remember being ready to apologize? What
do you remember, anyhow?"
Billy consulted his recollections with care: they seemed to break off at
the champagne. That was early. Bertie was astonished. Did not Billy
remember singing "Brace up and dress the Countess," and "A noble lord
the Earl of Leicester"? He had sung them quite in his usual manner,
conversing freely between whiles. In fact, to see and hear him, no one
would have suspected-- "It must have been that extra silver-fizz you
took before dinner," said Bertie. "Yes," said Billy;" that's what it
must have been." Bertie supplied the gap in his memory,--a matter of
several hours, it seemed. During most of this time Billy had met the
demands of each moment quite like his usual agreeable self--a
sleep-walking state. It was only when the hair incident was reached
that his conduct had noticeably crossed the line. He listened to all
this with interest intense.
"John does owe me ten, I think," said he.
"I say so," declared Bertie. "When do you begin to remember again?"
"After I got in again at the gate. Why did I get out?"
"You fell out, man."
Billy was incredulous.
"You did. You tore your clothes wide open."
Billy, looking at his trousers, did not see it.
"Rise, and I'll show you," said Bertie.
"Goodness gracious!" said Billy.
Thus discoursing, they reached Harvard Square. Not your Harvard Square,
gentle reader, that place populous with careless youths and careful
maidens and reticent persons with books, but one of sleeping windows and
clear, cool air and few sounds; a Harvard Square of emptiness and
conspicuous sparrows and milk wagons and early street-car conductors in
long coats going to their breakfast; and over all this the sweetness of
the arching elms.
As the gelding turned down toward Pike's, the thin old church clock
struck. "Always sounds," said Billy, "like cambric tea."
"Cambridge tea," said Bertie.
"Walk close behind me," said Billy, as they came away from the livery
stable. "Then they won't see the hole."
Bertie did so; but the hole was seen by the street-car conductors and
the milkmen, and these sympathetic hearts smiled at the sight of the
marching boys, and loved them without knowing any more of them than
this. They reached their building and separated.
One hour later they met. Shaving and a cold bath and summer flannels,
not only clean but beautiful, invested them with the radiant innocence
of flowers. It was still too early for their regular breakfast, and
they sat down to eggs and coffee at the Holly Tree.
"I waked John up," said Billy." He is satisfied."
"Let's have another order," said Bertie. "These eggs are delicious."
Each of them accordingly ate four eggs and drank two cups of coffee.
"Oscar called five times," said Billy; and he threw down those cards
which Oscar had so neatly written.
"There's multiplicity of the ego for you!" said Bertie.
Now, inspiration is a strange thing, and less obedient even than love to
the will of man. It will decline to come when you prepare for it with
the loftiest intentions, and, lo! at an accidental word it will suddenly
fill you, as at this moment it filled Billy.
"By gum!" said he, laying his fork down. "Multiplicity of the ego. Look
here. I fall out of a buggy and ask--"
"By gum!" said Bertie, now also visited by inspiration.
"Don't you see?" said Billy.
"I see a whole lot more," said Bertie, with excitement. "I had to tell
you about your singing." And the two burst into a flare of talk. To
hear such words as cognition, attention, retention, entity, and
identity, freely mingled with such other words as silver-fizz and false
hair, brought John, the egg-and-coffee man, as near surprise as his
impregnable nature permitted. Thus they finished their large breakfast,
and hastened to their notes for a last good bout at memorizing
Epicharmos of Kos and his various brethren. The appointed hour found
them crossing the college yard toward a door inside which Philosophy 4
awaited them: three hours of written examination! But they looked more
roseate and healthy than most of the anxious band whose steps were
converging to that same gate of judgment. Oscar, meeting them on the
way, gave them his deferential "Good morning," and trusted that the
gentlemen felt easy. Quite so, they told him, and bade him feel easy
about his pay, for which they were, of course, responsible. Oscar
wished them good luck and watched them go to their desks with his Iittle
eyes, smiling in his particular manner. Then he dismissed them from his
mind, and sat with a faint remnant of his smile, fluently writing his
perfectly accurate answer to the first question upon the examination
Here is that paper. You will not be able to answer all the questions,
probably, but you may be glad to know what such things are like.
1. Thales, Zeno, Parmenides, Heracleitos, Anaxagoras. State briefly
the doctrine of each.
2. Phenomenon, noumenon. Discuss these terms. Name their modern
3. Thought=Being. Assuming this, state the difference, if any, between
(1) memory and anticipation; (2) sleep and waking.
4. Democritus, Pythagoras, Bacon. State the relation between them. In
what terms must the objective world ultimately be stated? Why?
5. Experience is the result of time and space being included in the
nature of mind. Discuss this.
6. Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensibus. Whose
doctrine? Discuss it.
7. What is the inherent limitation in all ancient philosophy? Who
first removed it?
8. Mind is expressed through what? Matter through what? Is speech the
result or the cause of thought?
9. Discuss the nature of the ego.
10. According to Plato, Locke,ĘBerkeley, where would the sweetness of a
honeycomb reside? Where would its shape? its weight? Where do you
think these properties reside?
Ten questions, and no Epicharmos of Kos. But no examination paper asks
everything, and this one did ask a good deal. Bertie and Billy wrote
the full time allotted, and found that they could have filled an hour
more without coming to the end of their thoughts. Comparing notes at
lunch, their information was discovered to have been lacking here and
there. Nevertheless, it was no failure; their inner convictions were
sure of fifty per cent at least, and this was all they asked of the
gods. "I was ripping about the ego," said Bertie. "I was rather
splendid myself," said Billy, "when I got going. And I gave him a huge
steer about memory." After lunch both retired to their beds and fell
into sweet oblivion until seven o'clock, when they rose and dined, and
after playing a little poker went to bed again pretty early.
Some six mornings later, when the Professor returned their papers to
them, their minds were washed almost as clear of Plato and Thales as
were their bodies of yesterday's dust. The dates and doctrines, hastily
memorized to rattle off upon the great occasion, lay only upon the
surface of their minds, and after use they quickly evaporated. To their
pleasure and most genuine astonishment, the Professor paid them high
compliments. Bertie's discussion of the double personality had been the
most intelligent which had come in from any of the class. The
illustration of the intoxicated hack-driver who had fallen from his hack
and inquired who it was that had fallen, and then had pitied himself,
was, said the Professor, as original and perfect an illustration of our
subjective-objectivity as he had met with in all his researches. And
Billy's suggestions concerning the inherency of time and space in the
mind the Professor had also found very striking and independent,
particularly his reasoning based upon the well-known distortions of time
and space which hashish and other drugs produce in us. This was the
sort of thing which the Professor had wanted from his students: free
comment and discussions, the spirit of the course, rather than any
strict adherence to the letter. He had constructed his questions to
elicit as much individual discussion as possible and had been somewhat
disappointed in his hopes.
Yes, Bertie and Billy were astonished. But their astonishment did not
equal that of Oscar, who had answered many of the questions in the
Professor's own language. Oscar received seventy-five per cent for this
achievement--a good mark. But Billy's mark was eighty-six and Bertie's
ninety. "There is some mistake," said Oscar to them when they told him
; and he hastened to the Professor with his tale. "There is no
mistake," said the Professor. Oscar smiled with increased deference.
"But," he urged, "I assure you, sir, those young men knew absolutely
nothing. I was their tutor, and they knew nothing at all. I taught
them all their information myself." "In that case," replied the
Professor, not pleased with Oscar's tale-bearing, "you must have given
them more than you could spare. Good morning."
Oscar never understood. But he graduated considerably higher than
Bertie and Billy, who were not able to discover many other courses so
favorable to "orriginal rresearch" as was Philosophy 4. That is twenty
years ago, To-day Bertie is treasurer of the New Amsterdam Trust
Company, in Wall Street; Billy is superintendent of passenger traffic of
the New York and Chicago Air Line. Oscar is successful too. He has
acquired a lot of information. His smile is unchanged. He has
published a careful work entitled "The Minor Poets of Cinquecento," and
he writes book reviews for the Evening Post.
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