Part 1 out of 3
Italicized text is enclosed by '~'s.
by Booth Tarkington
To the Memory of Billy Miller
(William Henry Harrison Miller II)
1908 - 1918
Little Patriot, Good Citizen
Friend of Mankind
When Johnnie comes marching home again,
We'll give him a hearty welcome then,
The men with the cheers, the boys with shouts,
The ladies they will all turn out,
And we'll all feel gay, when Johnnie comes marching home again!
The old man and the little boy, his grandson, sat together in the
shade of the big walnut tree in the front yard, watching the
"Decoration Day Parade," as it passed up the long street; and when
the last of the veterans was out of sight the grandfather murmured
the words of the tune that came drifting back from the now distant
band at the head of the procession.
"Yes, we'll all feel gay when Johnnie comes marching home again,"
he finished, with a musing chuckle.
"Did you, Grandpa?" the boy asked.
"Did I what?"
"Did you all feel gay when the army got home?"
"It didn't get home all at once, precisely," the grandfather
explained. "When the war was over I suppose we felt relieved, more
than anything else."
"You didn't feel so gay when the war ~was~, though, I guess!" the boy
"I guess we didn't."
"Were you scared, Grandpa? Were you ever scared the Rebels would
"No. We weren't ever afraid of that."
"Not any at all?"
"No. Not any at all."
"Well, weren't you ever scared yourself, Grandpa? I mean when you
were in a battle."
"Oh, yes; ~then~ I was." The old man laughed. "Scared plenty!"
"I don't see why," the boy said promptly. "I wouldn't be scared in
"'Course not! Grandpa, why don't you march in the Decoration Day
Parade? Wouldn't they let you?"
"I'm not able to march any more. Too short of breath and too shaky
in the legs and too blind."
"I wouldn't care," said the boy. "I'd be in the parade anyway, if
I was you. They had some sittin' in carriages, 'way at the tail end;
but I wouldn't like that. If I'd been in your place, Grandpa, and
they'd let me be in that parade, I'd been right up by the band.
Look, Grandpa! Watch me, Grandpa! This is the way I'd be, Grandpa."
He rose from the garden bench where they sat, and gave a complex
imitation of what had most appealed to him as the grandeurs of the
procession, his prancing legs simulating those of the horse of the
grand marshal, while his upper parts rendered the drums and bugles
of the band, as well as the officers and privates of the militia
company which had been a feature of the parade. The only thing he
left out was the detachment of veterans.
"Putty-boom! Putty-boom! Putty-boom-boom-boom!" he vociferated, as
the drums--and then as the bugles: "Ta, ta, ra, tara!" He addressed
his restive legs: "~Whoa~, there, you Whitey! Gee! Haw! Git up!"
Then, waving an imaginary sword: "Col-lumn right! Farwud ~March!~
Halt! Carry ~harms!~ He "carried arms." "Show-dler ~harms!~" He
"shouldered arms," and returned to his seat.
"That'd be me, Grandpa. That's the way I'd do." And as the
grandfather nodded, seeming to agree, a thought recently dismissed
returned to the mind of the composite procession and he asked:
"Well, ~why~ weren't you ever afraid the Rebels would whip the
"Oh, we knew they couldn't."
"I guess so." The little boy laughed disdainfully, thinking his
question satisfactorily asnwered. "I guess those ole Rebels couldn't
whipped a flea! They didn't know how to fight any at all, did they,
"Oh, yes, they did!"
"What?" The boy was astounded. "Weren't they all just reg'lar ole
"No," said the grandfather. "They were pretty fine soldiers."
"They were? Well, they ran away whenever you began shootin' at 'em,
"Sometimes they did, but most times they didn't. Sometimes they
fought like wildcats--and sometimes we were the ones that ran away."
"To keep from getting killed, or maybe to keep from getting
"But the Rebels were bad men, weren't they, Grandpa?"
The boy's forehead, customarily vacant, showed some little vertical
shadows, produced by a struggle to think. "Well, but--" he began,
slowly. "Listen, Grandpa, listen here!"
"Listen! Well, you said--you said you never got scared the ole
Rebels were goin' to win."
"They did win pretty often," said the grandfather. "They won a good
"I mean, you said you never got scared they'd win the war."
"No, we were never afraid of that."
"Well, but if they were good men and fought like wildcats, Grandpa,
and kep' winning battles and everything, how could that be? How
could you ~help~ bein' scared they'd win the war?"
The grandfather's feeble eyes twinkled brightly. "Why, we ~knew~ they
At this, the little vertical shadows on Ramsey's forehead became more
pronounced, for he had succeeded in thinking. "Well, ~they~ didn't
know they couldn't, did they?" he argued. "They thought they were
goin' to win, didin't they?"
"Yes, I guess they did. Up till toward the last, I suppose they
probably did. But you see they were wrong."
"Well, but--" Ramsey struggled. "Listen! Listen here, Grandpa!
Well, anyway, if they never got scared ~we'd~ win, and nobody got
scared ~they'd~ win--well, I don't see--"
"You don't see what?"
But Ramsey found himself unable to continue his concentration; he
slumped down upon the small of his back, and his brow relaxed to
its more comfortable placidity, while his eyes wandered with a new
butterfly fluttering over the irises that bordered the iron picket
fence at the south side of the yard. "Oh, nothin' much," he
"I see." And his grandfather laughed again. "You mean: If the
Rebels felt just as sure of winning the war as we did, and kept
winning battles why shouldn't we ever have had any doubts that we
were going to win? That's it, isn't it?"
"I guess so, Grandpa."
"Well, I think it was mostly because we were certain that we were
"I see," said Ramsey. "The Rebels knew they were on the side of the
Devil." But at this, the grandfather's laugh was louder than it had
been before, and Ramsey looked hurt. "Well, you can laugh if you
want to!" he objected in an aggrieved voice. "Anyway, the Sunday-
school sup'intendent told us when people knew they were on the
Devil's side they always--"
"I dare say, I dare say," the old man interrupted, a little
impatiently. "But in this world mighty few people think they're on
the Devil's side, Ramsey. There was a Frenchman once, in olden times;
he said people were crazy because, though they couldn't even make
worms, they believed they could make gods. And so whenever countries
or parts of a country get into a war, each side makes a god and a
devil, and says: "God's on our side and the Devil's on the other."
The South thought the Devil was on our side, you see."
"Well, that kind o' mixes it all up more'n ever."
"Yes, it seems so; but Abraham Lincoln wasn't mixed up about it.
When some people told him that God was on our side, he said the
important thing was to find out if we were on God's side. That was
the whole question, you see; because either side could make up a god,
the kind of a god they liked and wanted; and then they'd believe in
him, too, and fight for him--but if he was only a made-up god they'd
lose. President Lincoln didn't want to have a made-up god on his
side; he wanted to find God Himself and find out what he wanted, and
then do it. And that's what Lincoln did."
"Well, I don't understand much of all ~that~!"
"No?" Then suppose you look at it this way: The South was fighting
for what it believed to be its rights, but we weren't fighting for
our rights; we were fighting for the right. The South was fighting
for what it believed to be its right to split the Union and be a
country by itself; but we were fighting for 'Liberty and Union, now
and forever, one and inseparable.' It wasn't only the Union we
fought for; it was Freedom. The South wanted freedom to leave the
Union; but the reason the South wanted that freedom to separate from
us was because ~we~ wanted the Freedom of Man. ~There's~ the reason
we had the certain knowledge that we were going to win the war. How
plain and simple it is!"
Ramsey didn't think so. He had begun to feel bored by the
conversation, and to undergo the oppression he usually suffered in
school; yet he took a little interest in the inexplicable increase of
fervour with which his grandfather spoke, and in a shoot of sunshine
which somehow got through the foliage of the walnut tree and made a
bedazzlement of glinting fine lines in one spot, about the size of
a saucer, upon the old man's head of thick white hair. Half closing
his eyes, drowsily, Ramsey played that this sunshine spot was a white
bird's-next and, and he had a momentary half dream of a glittering
little bird that dwelt there and wore a blue soldier cap on its head.
The earnest old voice of the veteran was only a sound in the boy's
"Yes, it's simple and plain enough now, though then we didn't often
think of it in exactly this way, but just went on fighting and never
doubted. We knew the struggle and suffering of our fathers and
grandfathers to make a great country here for Freedom, and we knew
that all this wasn't just the whim of a foolish god, willing to waste
such great things--we knew that such a country couldn't have been
building up just to be wasted. But, more than that, we knew that
armies fighting for the Freedom of Man ~had~ to win, in the long run,
over armies that fought for what they considered their rights.
"We didn't set out to free the slaves, so far as we knew. Yet our
being against slavery was what made the war, and we had the
consciousness that we were on the side of God's plan, because His
plan is clearly the Freedom of Man. Long ago we began to see the
hints of His plan--a little like the way you can see what's coming
in August from what happens in April. but man has to win his freedom
from himself--men in the light have to fight against men in the dark
of their own shadow. That light is the answer; we had the light that
made us never doubt. Ours was the true light, and so we--"
"Boom--" The veterans had begun to fire their cannon on the crest
of the low hill, out at the cemetery; and from a little way down the
street came the rat-a-tat of a toy drum and sounds of a fife played
execrably. A file of children in cocked hats made of newspapers came
marching importantly up the sidewalk under the maple shade trees; and
in advance, upon a velocipede, rode a tin-sworded personage,
shrieking incessant commands but not concerning himself with whether
or not any military obedience was thereby obtained. Here was a
revivifying effect upon young Ramsey; his sluggard eyelids opened
electrically; he leaped to his feet and, abandoning his grandfather
without preface or apology, sped across the lawn and out of the gate,
charging headlong upon the commander of the company.
"You get off that 'locipede, Wesley Bender!" he bellowed. "You gimme
that sword! What rights you got to go bein' captain o' my army, I'd
like to know! Who got up this army, in the first place, I'd like to
know! I did, myself yesterd'y afternoon, and you get back in line or
I won't let you b'long to it at all!"
The pretender succumbed; he instantly dismounted, being out-shouted
and overawed. On foot he took his place in the ranks, while Ramsey
became sternly vociferous. "In-tention, company! Farwud ~march~!
Col-lumn ~right~! Right-showdler ~harms~! Halt! Far-wud ~march~.
The Army went trudging away under the continuous but unheed fire of
orders, and presently disappeared round a corner, leaving the veteran
chuckling feebly under his walnut tree and alone with the empty
street. All trace of what he had said seemed to have been wiped
from the grandson's mind; but memory has curious ways. Ramsey had
understood not a fifth nor a tenth of his grandfather's talk, and
already he had "forgotten" all of it--yet not only were there many,
many times in the boy's later life when, without ascertainable cause,
he would remember the sunlight falling upon the old man's white head,
to make that semblance of a glittering bird's-nest there, but with
the picture came recollections of words and sentences spoken by the
grandfather, though the listener, half-drowsily, had heard but the
sound of an old, earnest voice--and even the veteran's meaning
finally took on a greater definiteness till it became, in the
grandson's thoughts, something clear and bright and beautiful that
he knew without being just sure where or how he had learned it.
Ramsey Milholland sat miserably in school, his conscious being
consisting principally of a dull hate. Torpor was a little dispersed
during a fifteen-minute interval of "Music," when he and all the
other pupils in the large room of the "Five B. Grade" sang repeated
fractions of what they enunciated as "The Star Span-guh-hulled
Banner"; but afterward he relapsed into the low spirits and animosity
natural to anybody during enforced confinement under instruction. No
alleviation was accomplished by an invader's temporary usurpation of
the teacher's platform, a brisk and unsympathetically cheerful young
woman mounting thereon to "teach German."
For a long time mathematics and German had been about equally
repulsive to Ramsey, who found himself daily in the compulsory
presence of both; but he was gradually coming to regard German with
the greater horror, because, after months of patient mental
resistance, he at last began to comprehend that the German language
has sixteen special and particular ways of using the German article
corresponding to that flexible bit of a word so easily managed
English--~the~. What in the world was the use of having sixteen ways
of doing a thing that could just as well be done in one? If the
Germans had contented themselves with insisting upon sixteen useless
variations for infrequent words, such as ~hippopotamus~, for instance,
Ramsey might have thought the affair unreasonable but not necessarily
vicious--it would be easy enough to avoid talking about a
hippopotamus if he ever had to go to Germany. But the fact that the
Germans picked out ~a~ and ~the~ and many other little words in use
all the time, and gave every one of them sixteen forms, and expected
Ramsey Milholland to learn this dizzying uselessness down to the last
crotchety detail, with "When to employ Which" as a nausea to prepare
for the final convulsion when one ~didn't~ use Which, because it was
an "Exception"--there was a fashion of making easy matters hard that
was merely hellish.
The teacher was strict but enthusiastic; she told the children, over
and over, that German was a beautiful language, and her face always
had a glow when she said this. At such times the children looked
patient; they supposed it must be so, because she was an adult and
their teacher; and they believed her with the same manner of
believing which those of them who went to Sunday-school used there
when the Sunday-school teachers were pushed into explanations of
various matters set forth in the Old Testament, or gave reckless
descriptions of heaven. That is to say, the children did not
challenge or deny; already they had been driven into habits of
resignation and were passing out of the age when childhood is able
to reject adult nonsense.
Thus, to Ramsey Milholland, the German language seemed to be a
collection of perverse inventions for undeserved torment; it was
full of revolting surprises in the way of genders; vocally it often
necessitated the employment of noises suggestive of an incompletely
mastered knowledge of etiquette; and far inside him there was
something faintly but constantly antagonistic to it--yet, when the
teacher declared that German was incomparably the most beautiful
language in the world, one of the many facets of his mind submissively
absorbed the statement as light to be passed inward; it was part of
the lesson to be learned. He did not know whether the English
language was beautiful or not; he never thought about that, and no one
ever said anything to him about it. Moreover, though his deeper
inward hated "German," he liked his German teacher, and it was
pleasant to look at her when that glow came upon her face.
Sometimes, too, there were moments of relaxation in her class, when
she would stop the lesson and tell the children about Germany: what
a beautiful, good country it was, so trim and orderly, with such
pleasant customs, and all the people sensible and energetic and
healthy. There was "Music" again in the German class, which was
another alleviation; though it was the same old "Star Spangled
Banner" over again. Ramsey was tired of the song and tired of "My
Country 'Tis of Thee"; they were bores, but it was amusing to sing
them in German. In German they sounded "sort o' funny," so he didn't
mind this bit of the day's work.
Half an hour later there arrived his supreme trial of this particular
morning. Arithmetic then being the order of business before the
house, he was sent alone to the blackboard, supposedly to make lucid
the proper reply to a fatal conundrum in decimals, and under the
glare and focus of the whole room he breathed heavily and itched
everywhere; his brain at once became sheer hash. He consumed as much
time as possible in getting the terms of the problem stated in chalk;
then, affecting to be critical of his own handiwork, erased what he
had done and carefully wrote it again. After that, he erased half of
it, slowly retraced the figures, and stepped back as if to see
whether perspective improved their appearance. Again he lifted the
"Put down that eraser!"
"Yes'm. I just thought--"
Sharply bidden to get forward with his task, he explained in a feeble
voice that he had first to tie a shoe string and stooped to do so,
but was not permitted. Miss Ridgely tried to stimulate him with
hints and suggestion; found him, so far as decimals went, mere
protoplasm, and, wondering how so helpless a thing could live,
summoned to the board little Dora Yocum, the star of the class,
whereupon Ramsey moved toward his seat.
"Stand still, Ramsey! You stay right where you are and try to learn
something from the way Dora does it."
The class giggled, and Ramsey stood, but learned nothing. His
conspicuousness was unendurable, because all of his schoolmates
naturally found more entertainment in watching him than in following
the performance of the capable Dora. He put his hands in and out of
his pockets; was bidden to hold them still, also not to shuffle his
feet; and when in a false assumption of ease he would have scratched
his head Miss Ridgely's severity increased, so that he was compelled
to give over the attempt.
Instructed to watch every figure chalked up by the mathematical
wonder, his eyes, grown sodden, were unable to remove themselves from
the part in her hair at the back of her head, where two little braids
began their separate careers to end in a couple of blue-and-red
checked bits of ribbon, one upon each of her thin shoulder blades.
He was conscious that the part in Dora's shining brown hair was
odious, but he was unconscious of anything arithmetical. His
sensations clogged his intellect; he suffered from unsought notoriety,
and hated Dora Yocum; most of all he hated her busy little shoulder
He had to be "kept in" after school; and when he was allowed to go
home he averted his eyes as he went by the house where Dora lived.
She was out in the yard, eating a doughnut, and he knew it; but he
had passed the age when it is just as permissible to throw a rock at
a girl as at a boy; and stifling his normal inclinations, he walked
sturdily on, though he indulged himself so far as to engage in a
murmured conversation with one of the familiar spirits dwelling
somewhere within him. "Pfa!" said Ramsey to himself--or himself to
Ramsey, since it is difficult to say which was which. "Pfa! Thinks
she's smart, don't she?"... "Well, I guess she does, but she ain't!"
... "I hate her, don't you?"... "You bet your life I hate her!"...
"Teacher's Pet, that's what ~I~ call her!"... "Well, that's what ~I~
call her, too, don't I?" "Well, ~I~ do; that's all she is, anyway
--dirty ole Teacher's Pet!"
He had not forgiven her four years later when he entered high school
in her company, for somehow Ramsey managed to shovel his way through
examinations and stayed with the class. By this time he had a long
accumulation of reasons for hating her: Dora's persistent and
increasing competency was not short of flamboyant, and teachers
naturally got the habit of flinging their quickest pupil in the face
of their slowest and "dumbest." Nevertheless, Ramsey was unable to
deny that she had become less awful lookin' than she used to be. At
least, he was honest enough to make a partial retraction when his
friend and classmate, Fred Mitchell, insisted that an amelioration of
Dora's appearance could be actually proven.
"Well, I'll take it back. I don't claim she's every last bit as
awful lookin' as she always has been," said Ramsey, toward the
conclusion of the argument. "I'll say this for her, she's awful
lookin', but she may not be as awful lookin' as she was. She don't
come to school with the edge of some of her underclo'es showin' below
her dress any more, about every other day, and her eyewinkers have
got to stickin' out some, and she may not be so abbasa~loot~ly
skinny, but she'll haf to wait a mighty long while before ~I~ want
to look at her without gettin' sick!"
The implication that Miss Yocum cared to have Ramsey look at her,
either with or without gettin' sick, was mere rhetoric, and
recognized as such by the producer of it; she had never given the
slightest evidence of any desire that his gaze be bent upon her.
What truth lay underneath his flourish rested upon the fact that he
could not look at her without some symptoms of the sort he had
tersely sketched to his friend; and yet, so pungent is the
fascination of self-inflicted misery, he did look at her, during
periods of study, often for three or four minutes at a stretch. His
expression at such times indeed resembled that of one who has dined
unwisely; but Dora Yocum was always too eagerly busy to notice it.
He was almost never in her eye, but she was continually in his;
moreover, as the banner pupil she was with hourly frequency an exhibit
before the whole class.
Ramsey found her worst of all when her turn came in "Declamation," on
Friday afternoons. When she ascended the platform, bobbed a little
preliminary bow and began, "Listen, my children, and you shall hear,"
Ramsey included Paul Revere and the Old North Church and the whole
Revolutionary War in his antipathy, since they somehow appeared to
be the property of the Teacher's Pet. For Dora held this post in
"Declamation" as well as in everything else; here, as elsewhere,
the hateful child's prowess surpassed that of all others; and the
teacher always entrusted her with the rendition of the "patriotic
selections": Dora seemed to take fire herself when she declared:
"The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat."
Ramsey himself was in the same section of declaimers, and performed
next--a ghastly contrast. He gave a "selection from Shakespeare,"
assigned by the teacher; and he began this continuous misfortune by
stumbling violently as he ascended the platform, which stimulated a
general giggle already in being at the mere calling of his name. All
of the class were bright with happy anticipation, for the miserable
Ramsey seldom failed their hopes, particularly in "Declamation."
He faced them, his complexion wan, his expression both baleful and
horrified; and he began in a loud, hurried voice, from which every
hint of intelligence was excluded:
"Most pottent, grave, and rev--"
The teacher tapped sharply on her desk, and stopped him. "You've
forgotten to bow," she said. "And don't say 'pottent.' The word is
Ramsey flopped his head at the rear wall of the room, and began
"Most pottent potent grav and revenerd signers my very nobe and
approve good masters that I have tan away this sole man's dutter it is
mose true true I have marry dur the very headman frun tuv my fending
hath this extent no more rude am I in speech--in speech--rude am I in
speech--in speech--in speech--in speech--"
He had stalled. Perhaps the fatal truth of that phrase, and some
sense of its applicability to the occasion had interfered with
the mechanism which he had set in operation to get rid of the
"recitation" for him. At all events, the machine had to run off
its job all at once, or it wouldn't run at all. Stopped, it stayed
stopped, and backing off granted no new impetus, though he tried,
again and again. "Hath this extent no more rude am I in speech--"
He gulped audibly. "Rude rude rude am I--rude am I in speech--in
speech--in speech. Rude am I in speech--"
"Yes," the irritated teacher said, as Ramsey's failing voice
continued huskily to insist upon this point. "I think you are!"
And her nerves were a little soothed by the shout of laughter from
the school--it was never difficult for teachers to be witty. "Go sit
down, Ramsey, and do it after school."
His ears roaring, the unfortunate went to his seat, and, among all
the hilarious faces, one stood out--Dora Yocum's. Her laughter was
precocious; it was that of a confirmed superior, insufferably adult
--she was laughing at him as a grown person laughs at a child.
Conspicuously and unmistakably, there was something indulgent in her
amusement. He choked. Here was a little squirt of a high-school
girl who would trot up to George Washington himself and show off
around him, given the opportunity; and George Washington would
probably pat her on the head, or give her a medal--or something.
Well, let him! Ramsey didn't care. He didn't care for George
Washington, or Paul Revere, or Shakespeare, or any of 'em. They
could all go to the dickens with Dora Yocum. They were all a lot
of smarties anyway and he hated the whole stew of 'em!
There was one, however, whom he somehow couldn't manage to hate, even
though this one officially seemed to be as intimately associated with
Dora Yocum and superiority as the others were. Ramsey couldn't hate
Abraham Lincoln, even when Dora was chosen to deliver the "Gettysburg
Address" on the twelfth of February. Vaguely, yet reassuringly,
Ramsey felt that Lincoln had resisted adoption by the intellectuals.
Lincoln had said "Government of the people, by the people, for the
people," and that didn't mean government by the teacher and the
Teacher's Pet and Paul Revere and Shakespeare and suchlike; it meant
government by everybody, and therefore Ramsey had as much to do with
it as anybody else had. This was friendly; and he believed that if
Abraham Lincoln could have walked into the schoolroom, Lincoln would
have been as friendly with him as with Dora and the teacher herself.
Beyond a doubt, Dora and the teacher ~thought~ Lincoln belonged to
them and their crowd of exclusives; they seemed to think they owned
the whole United States; but Ramsey was sure they were mistaken about
He felt that it was just like this little Yocum snippet to assume
such a thing, and it made him sicker than ever to look at her.
Then, one day, he noticed that her eye-winkers were stickin' out
farther and farther.
His discovery irritated him the more. Next thing, this ole Teacher's
Pet would do she'd get to thinkin' she was pretty! If ~that~
happened, well, nobody ~could~ stand her! The long lashes made her
eyes shadowy, and it was a fact that her shoulder blades ceased to
insist upon notoriety; you couldn't tell where they were at all, any
more. Her back seemed to be just a regular back, not made up of a lot
of implements like shoulder blades and things.
A contemptible thing happened. Wesley Bender was well known to be
the most untidy boy in the class and had never shown any remorse for
his reputation or made the slightest effort either to improve or to
dispute it. He was content: it failed to lower his standing with
his fellows or to impress them unfavourably. In fact, he was treated
as one who has attained a slight distinction. At least, he owned one
superlative, no matter what its quality, and it lifted him out of the
commonplace. It helped him to become better known, and boys liked to
be seen with him. But one day, there was a rearrangement of the
seating in the schoolroom: Wesley Bender was given a desk next in
front of Dora Yocum's; and within a week the whole room knew that
Wesley had begun voluntarily to wash his neck--the back of it,
This was at the bottom of the fight between Ramsey Milholland and
Wesley Bender, and the diplomatic exchanges immediately preceding
hostilities were charmingly frank and unhyprocitical, although quite
as mixed-up and off-the-issue as if they had been prepared by
professional foreign office men. Ramsey and Fred Mitchell and four
other boys waylaid young Bender on the street after school, intending
jocosities rather than violence, but the victim proved sensitive.
"You take your ole hands off o' me!" he said fiercely, as they began
to push him about among them.
"Ole dirty Wes!" they hoarsely bellowed and squawked, in their
changing voices. "Washes his ears!"... "Washes his ~neck!~"...
"Dora Yocum told his mama to turn the hose on him~"... "Yay-ho!
Ole dirty Wes tryin to be a duke!"
Wesley broke from them and backed away, swinging his strapped books
in a dangerous circle. "You keep off!" he warned them. "I got as
much right to my pers'nal appearance as anybody!"
This richly fed their humour, and they rioted round him, keeping
outside the swinging books at the end of the strap. "Pers'nal
appearance!"... "Who went and bought it for you, Wes?"... "Nobody
bought it for him. Dora Yocum took and give him one!"
"You leave ladies' names alone!" cried the chivalrous Wesley. "You
ought to know better, on the public street, you--pups!"
Here was a serious affront, at least to Ramsey Milholland's way of
thinking; for Ramsey, also, now proved sensitive. He quoted his
friends--"Shut up!"--and advanced toward Wesley. "You look here!
Who you callin' 'pups'?"
"Everybody!" Wesley hotly returned. "Everybody that hasn't got any
more decency than to go around mentioning ladies' names on the public
streets. Everybody that goes around mentioning ladies' names on the
public streets are pups!"
"They are, are they?" Ramsey as hotly demanded. "Well, you just look
here a minute; my own father mentions my mother's name on the public
streets whenever he wants to, and you just try callin' my father a
pup, and you won't know what happened to you!"
"What'll ~you~ do about it?"
"I'll put a new head on you," said Ramsey. "That's what I'll do,
because anybody that calls my father or mother a pup--"
"Oh, shut up! I wasn't talking about your ole father and mother. I
said everybody that mentioned Dora Yocum's name on the public streets
was a pup, and I mean it! Everybody that mentions Dora Yocum's name
on the pub--"
"Dora Yocum!" said Ramsey. "I got a perfect right to say it anywhere
I want to. Dora Yocum, Dora Yocum, Dora Yocum!--"
"All right, then you're a pup!"
Ramsey charged upon him and received a suffocating blow full in the
face, not from Mr. Bender's fist but from the solid bundle of books
at the end of the strap. Ramsey saw eight or ten objectives
instantly: there were Wesley Benders standing full length in the
air on top of other Wesley Benders, and more Wesley Benders zigzagged
out sideways from still other Wesley Benders; nevertheless, he found
one of these and it proved to be flesh. He engaged it wildly at
fisticuffs; pounded it upon the countenance and drove it away. Then
he sat down upon the curbstone, and, with his dizzy eyes shut, leaned
forward for the better accomodation of his ensanguined nose.
Wesley had retreated to the other side of the street holding a grimy
handkerchief to the midmost parts of his pallid face. "There, you ole
damn pup!" he shouted, in a voice which threatened to sob. "I guess
~that'll~ teach you to be careful how you mention Dora Yocum's name
on the public streets!"
At this, Ramsey made a motion as if to rise and pursue, whereupon
Wesley fled, wailing back over his shoulder as he ran, "You wait till
I ketch you out alone on the public streets and I'll--"
His voice was lost in an outburst of hooting from his former friends,
who sympathetically surrounded the wounded Ramsey. But in a measure,
at least, the chivalrous fugitive had won his point. He was routed
and outdone, yet what survived the day was a rumour, which became a
sort of tenuous legend among those interested. There had been a
fight over Dora Yocum, it appeared, and Ramsey Milholland had
attempted to maintain something derogatory to the lady, while Wesley
defended her as a knightly youth should. The something derogatory
was left vague; nobody attempted to say just what it was, and the
effects of the legend divided the schoolroom strictly according to
The boys, unmindful of proper gallantry, supported Ramsey on account
of the way he had persisted in lickin' the stuffin' out of Wesley
Bender after receiving that preliminary wallop from Wesley's
blackjack bundle of books. The girls petted and championed Wesley;
they talked outrageously of his conqueror, fiercely declaring that
he ought to be arrested; and for weeks they maintained a new manner
toward him. They kept their facial expressions hostile, but perhaps
this was more for one another's benefit than for Ramsey's; and
several of them went so far out of their way to find even private
opportunities for reproving him that an alert observer might have
suspected them to have been less indignant than they seemed--but not
Ramsey. He thought they all hated him, and said he was glad of it.
Dora was a non-partisan. The little prig was so diligent at her
books she gave never the slightest sign of comprehending that there
had been a fight about her. Having no real cognizance of Messrs.
Bender and Milholland except as impediments to the advance of
learning, she did not even look demure.
With Wesley Bender, Ramsey was again upon fair terms before the
winter had run its course; the two were neighbours and, moreover,
were drawn together by a community of interests which made their
reconciliation a necessity. Ramsey played the guitar and Wesley
played the mandolin.
All ill feeling between them died with the first duet of spring, yet
the twinkling they made had no charm to soothe the savage breast of
Ramsey whenever the Teacher's Pet came into his thoughts. He
daydreamed a thousand ways of putting her in her place, but was
unable to carry out any of them, and had but a cobwebby satisfaction
in imagining discomfitures for her which remained imaginary. With a
yearning so poignant that it hurt, he yearned and yearned to show her
what she really was. "Just once!" he said to Fred Mitchell. "That's
all I ask, just once. Just gimme one chance to show that girl what
she really is. I guess if I ever get the chance she'll find out
what's the matter with her, for ~once~ in her life, anyway!" Thus it
came to be talked about and understood and expected in Ramsey's
circle, all male, that Dora Yocum's day was coming. The nature of the
disaster was left vague, but there was no doubt in the world that
retribution merely awaited its ideal opportunity. "You'll see!" said
Ramsey. "The time'll come when that ole girl'll wish she'd moved o'
this town before she ever got appointed monitor of ~our~ class! Just
They waited, but conditions appeared to remain unfavourable
indefinitely. Perhaps the great opportunity might have arrived if
Ramsey had been able to acheive a startling importance in any of
the "various divergent yet parallel lines of school endeavour"--one
of the phrases by means of which teachers and principal clogged the
minds of their unarmed auditors. But though he was far from being
the dumb driven beast of misfortune that he seemed in the schoolroom,
and, in fact, lived a double life, exhibiting in his out-of-school
hours a remarkable example of "secondary personality"--a creature
fearing nothing and capable of laughter; blue-eyed, fairly robust,
and anything but dumb--he was nevertheless without endowment or
attainment great enough to get him distinction.
He "tried for" the high-school eleven, and "tried for" the nine, but
the experts were not long in elminiating him from either of these
competitions, and he had to content himself with cheering instead of
getting cheered. He was by no manner of means athlete enough, or
enough of anything else, to put Dora Yocum in her place, and so he
and the great opportunity were still waiting in May, at the end of
the second year of high school, when the class, now the "10 A,"
reverted to an old fashion and decided to entertain itself with a
They gathered upon the sandy banks of a creek, in the blue shade of
big, patchy-barked sycamores, with a dancing sky on top of everything
and gold dust atwinkle over the water. Hither the napkin-covered
baskets were brought from the wagons and assembled in the shade,
where they appeared as an attractive little meadow of white napery,
and gave both surprise and pleasure to communities of ants and to
other original settlers of the neighbourhood.
From this nucleus or headquarters of the picnic, various expeditions
set forth up and down the creek and through the woods that bordered
it. Camera work was constant; spring wild flowers were accumulated
by groups of girls who trooped through the woods with eager eyes
searching the thickets; two envied boy fishermen established
themselves upon a bank up-stream, with hooks and lines thoughtfully
brought with them, and poles which they fashioned from young
saplings. They took mussels from the shallows, for bait, and having
gone to all this trouble, declined to share with friends less
energetic and provident the perquisites and pleasures secured to
Albert Paxton was another person who proved his enterprise. Having
visited the spot some days before, he had hired for his exclusive use
throughout the duration of the picnic an old rowboat belonging to a
shanty squatter; it was the only rowboat within a mile or two and
Albert had his own uses for it. Albert was the class lover and,
after first taking the three chaperon teachers "out for a row," an
excursion concluded in about ten minutes, he disembarked them; Sadie
Clews stepped into the boat, a pocket camera in one hand, a tennis
racket in the other; and the two spent the rest of the day, except
for the luncheon interval, solemnly drifting along the banks or
grounded on a shoal. Now and then Albert would row a few strokes,
and at almost any time when the populated shore glanced toward them,
Sadie would be seen photographing Albert, or Albert would be seen
photographing Sadie, but the tennis racket remained an enigma.
Oarsman and passenger appeared to have no conversation whatever--not
once was either seen or heard to address a remark to the other; and
they looked as placid as their own upside-down reflections in one of
the still pools they slowly floated over. They were sixteen, and had
been "engaged" more than two years.
On the borders of the little meadow of baskets there had been
deposited two black shapes, which remained undisturbed throughout
the day, a closed guitar case and a closed mandolin case, no doubt
containing each its proper instrument. So far as any use of these
went they seemed to be of the same leisure class to which Sadie's
tennis racket belonged, for when one of the teachers suggested music,
the musicians proved shy. Wesley Bender said they hadn't learned to
play anything much and, besides, he had a couple o' broken strings
he didn't know as he could fix up; and Ramsey said he guessed it
seemed kind o' too hot to play much. Joining friends, they organized
a contest in marksmanship, the target being a floating can which they
assailed with pebbles; and after that they "skipped" flat stones upon
the surface of the water, then went to join a group gathered about
Willis Parker and Heinie Krusemeyer.
No fish had been caught, a lack of luck crossly attributed by the
fishermen to the noise made by constant advice on the part of their
attendant gallery. Messrs. Milholland, Bender, and the other rock
throwers came up shouting, and were ill received.
"For heaven's sakes," Heinie Krusemeyer demanded, "can't you shut up?
Here we just first got the girls to keep their mouths shut a minute
and I almost had a big pickerel or something on my hook, and here you
got to up and yell so he chases himself away! Why can't nobody show
a little sense sometimes when they ought to?"
"I should say so!" his comrade exclaimed. "If people would only just
take and think of all the trouble we been to, it seems funny somebody
couldn't let us have half a chance to get a few good fish. What
chance they got to bite with a lot o' ~girls~ gabbin' away, and then,
just as we get 'em quieted down, all you men got to come bustin' up
here yellin' your heads off. A fish isn't goin' to bite when he
can't even hear himself think! Anybody ought to know that much."
But the new arrivals hooted. ~"Fish!"~ Ramsey vociferated. "I'll
bet a hundred dollars there hasn't been even a minny in this creek
for the last sixty years!"
"There is, too!" said Heinie, bitterly. "But I wouldn't be supprised
there wouldn't be no longer if you got to keep up this noise. If
you'd shut up just a minute you could see yourself there's fish
In whispers several of the tamed girls at once heartily corroborated
this statement, whereupon the newcomers ceased to gibe and consented
to silence. Ramsey leaned forth over the edge of the overhanging
bank, a dirt precipice five feet above the water, and peered into the
indeterminable depths below. The pool had been stirred, partly by
the inexpert pokings of the fishermen and partly by small clods and
bits of dirt dislodged from above by the feet of the audience. The
water, consequently, was but brownly translucent and revealed its
secrets reluctantly; nevertheless certain dim little shapes had been
observed to move within it, and were still there. Ramsey failed to
see them at first.
"Where's any ole fish?" he inquired, scornfully.
"Oh, my goodness!" Heinie Krusemeyer moaned. "~Can't~ you shut up?"
"Look!" whispered the girl who stood nearest to Ramsey. She pointed.
"There's one. Right down there by Willis's hook. Don't you see
Ramsey was impressed enough to whisper. "Is there? I don't see him.
The girl came closer to him, and, the better to show him, leaned
out over the edge of the bank, and, for safety in maintaining her
balance, rested her left hand upon his shoulder while she pointed
with her right. Thereupon something happened to Ramsey. The touch
upon his shoulder was almost nothing, and he had never taken the
slightest interest in Milla Rust (to whom that small warm hand
belonged), though she was the class beauty, and long established in
the office. Now, all at once, a peculiar and heretofore entirely
unfamiliar sensation suddenly became important in the upper part of
his chest. For a moment he held his breath, an involuntary action;
--he seemed to be standing in a shower of flowers.
"Don't you see it, Ramsey?" Milla whispered. "It's a great big one.
Why, it must be as long as--as your shoe! Look!"
Ramsey saw nothing but the thick round curl on Milla's shoulder.
Milla had a group of curls on each of her shoulders, for she got her
modes at the Movies and had that sort of prettiness: large, gentle,
calculating eyes, and a full, softly modelled face, implacably sweet.
Ramsey was accustomed to all this charm, and Milla had never before
been of more importance to him than an equal weight of school
furniture--but all at once some magic had enveloped her. That curl
upon the shoulder nearest him was shot with dazzling fibres of
sunshine. He seemed to be trembling.
"I don't see it," he murmured, huskily, afraid that she might remove
her hand. "I can't see any fish, Milla."
She leaned farther out over the bank. "Why, there, goosie!" she
whispered. "Right there."
"I can't see it."
She leaned still farther, bending down to point. "Why right th--"
At this moment she removed her hand from his shoulder, though
unwillingly. She clutched at him, in fact, but without avail. She
had been too amiable.
A loud shriek was uttered by throats abler to vocalize, just then,
than Milla's, for in her great surprise she said nothing whatever--
the shriek came from the other girls as Milla left the crest of the
overhanging bank and almost horizontally disappeared into the brown
water. There was a tumultuous splash, and then of Milla Rust and her
well-known beautifulness there was nothing visible in the superficial
world, nor upon the surface of that creek. The vanishment was total.
Several girls afterward admitted having used this expression, and
little Miss Floy Williams, the youngest and smallest member of the
class, was unable to deny that she had said, "Oh, God!" Nothing
could have been more natural, and the matter need not have been
brought before her with such insistence and frequency, during the
two remaining years of her undergraduate career.
Ramsey was one of those who heard this exclamation, later so famous,
and perhaps it was what roused him to heroism. He dived from the
bank, headlong, and the strange thought in his mind was "I guess
~this~'ll show Dora Yocum!" He should have been thinking of Milla,
of course, at such a time, particularly after the little enchantment
just laid upon him by Milla's touch and Milla's curls; and he knew
well enough that Miss Yocum was not among the spectators. She was
half a mile away, as it happened, gathering "botanical specimens"
with one of the teachers--which was her idea of what to do at a
Ramsey struck the water hard, and in the same instant struck
something harder. Wesley Bender's bundle of books had given him no
such shock as he received now, and if the creek bottom had not been
of mud, just there, the top of his young head might have declined the
strain. Half stunned, choking, spluttering he somehow floundered to
his feet; and when he could get his eyes a little cleared of water
he found himself wavering face to face with a blurred vision of Milla
Rust. She had risen up out of the pod and stood knee deep, like a
lovely drenched figure in a fountain.
Upon the bank above them, Willis Parker was jumping up and down,
gesticulating and shouting fiercely. "Now I guess you're satisfied
our fishin' ~is~ spoilt! Whyn't you listen me? I ~told~ you it
wasn't more'n three feet deep! I and Heinie waded all over this
creek gettin' our bait. You're a pretty sight!"
Of Milla he spoke unwittingly the literal truth. Even with her hair
thus wild and sodden, Milla rose from immersion blushing and prettier
than ever; and she was prettiest of all when she stretched out her
hand helplessly to Ramsey and he led her up out of the waters. They
had plenty of assistance to scramble to the top of the bank, and
there Milla was surrounded and borne away with a great clacketing and
tumult. Ramsey gave his coat into the hands of friends, who twisted
the water out of it for him, while he sat upon the grass in the sun,
rubbed his head, and experimented with his neck to see if it would
"work." The sunshine was strong and hot; in half an hour he and his
clothes were dry--or at least "dry enough," as he said, and except
for some soreness of head and neck, and the general crumpledness of
his apparel, he seemed to be in all ways much as usual when shouts
and whistlings summoned all the party to luncheon at the rendezvous.
The change that made him different was invisible.
The change in Ramsey was invisible, and yet something must have been
seen, for everyone appeared to take it for granted that he was to
sit next to Milla at the pastoral meal. She herself understood it,
evidently, for she drew in her puckered skirts and without any words
make a place for him beside her as he driftingly approached her,
affecting to whistle and keeping his eyes on the foliage overhead.
He still looked upward, even in the act of sitting down.
"Squirrel or something," he said, feebly, as if in explanation.
"Where?" Milla asked.
"Up there on a branch." He accepted a plate from her (she had
provided herself with an extra one), but he did not look at it or
her. "I'm not just exactly sure it's a squirrel," he said. "Kind of
hard to make out exactly what it is." He continued to keep his eyes
aloft, because he imagined that all of the class were looking at him
and Milla, and he felt unable to meet such publicity. It was to him
as if the whole United States had been scandalized to attention by
this act of his in going to sit beside Milla; he gazed upward so long
that his eyeballs became sensitive under the strain. He began to
blink. "I can't make out whether it's a squirrel or just some leaves
that kind o' got fixed like one," he said. "I can't make out yet
which it is, but I guess when there's a breeze, if it's a squirrel
he'll prob'ly hop around some then, if he's alive or anything."
It had begun to seem that his eyes must remain fixed in that upward
stare forever; he wanted to bring them down, but could not face the
glare of the world. So the fugitive ostrich is said to bury his head
in the sand; he does it, not believing himself thereby hidden but
trying to banish from his own cognizance terrible facts which his
unsheltered eyes have seemed to reveal. So, too, do nervous children
seek to bury their eyes under pillows, and nervous statesmen theirs
under oratory. Ramsey's ostrichings can happen to anybody. But
finally the brightness of the sky between the leaves settled matters
for him; he sneezed, wept, and for a little moment again faced his
fellowmen. No one was looking at him; everybody except Milla had
other things to do.
Having sneezed involuntarily, he added a spell of coughing for which
there was no necessity. "I guess I must be wrong," he muttered
"What about, Ramsey?"
"About it bein' a squirrel." With infinite timidity he turned
his head and encountered a gaze so soft, so hallowed, that it
disconcerted him, and he dropped a "drumstick" of fried chicken, well
dotted with ants, from his plate. Scarlet he picked it up, but did
not eat it. For the first time in his life he felt that eating fried
chicken held in the fingers was not to be thought of. He replaced
the "drumstick" upon his plate and allowed it to remain there
untouched, in spite of a great hunger for it.
Having looked down, he now found difficulty in looking up, but gazed
steadily at his plate, and into this limited circle of vision came
Milla's delicate and rosy fingers, bearing a gift. "There," she said
in a motherly little voice. "It's a tomato mayonnaise sandwich and
I made it myself. I want you to eat it, Ramsey."
His own fingers approached tremulousness as he accepted the thick
sandwich from her and conveyed it to his mouth. A moment later his
soul filled with horror, for a spurt of mayonnaise dressing had
caused a catastrophe the scene of which occupied no inconsiderable
area of his right cheek; which was the cheek toward Milla. He groped
wretchedly for his handkerchief but could not find it; he had lost
it. Sudden death would have been relief; he was sure that after such
grotesquerie Milla could never bear to have anything more to do with
him; he was ruined.
In his anguish he felt a paper napkin pressed gently into his hand; a
soft voice said in his ear, "Wipe it off with this, Ramsey. Nobody's
So this incredibly charitable creature was still able to be his
friend, even after seeing him mayonnaised! Humbly marvelling, he did
as she told him, but avoided all further risks. He ate nothing more.
He sighed his first sigh of inexpressibleness, had a chill or so
along the spine, and at intervals his brow was bedewed.
Within his averted eyes there dwelt not the Milla Rust who sat
beside him, but an iridescent, fragile creature who had beome
He spent the rest of the day dawdling helplessly about her; wherever
she went he was near, as near as possible, but of no deliberate
volition of his own. Something seemed to tie him to her, and Milla
was nothing loth. He seldom looked at her directly, or for longer
than an instant, and more rarely still did he speak to her except as
a reply. What few remarks he ventured upon his own initiative nearly
all concerned the landscape, which he commended repeatedly in a weak
voice, as "kind of pretty," though once he said he guessed there
might be bugs in the bark of a log on which they sat; and he became
so immoderately personal as to declare that if the bugs had to get on
anybody he'd rather they got on him than on Milla. She said that was
"just perfectly lovely" of him, asked where he got his sweet nature,
and in other ways encouraged him to continue the revelation, but
Ramsey was unable to get forward with it, though he opened and closed
his mouth a great many times in the effort to do so.
At five o'clock everybody was summoned again to the rendezvous for a
ceremony preliminary to departure: the class found itself in a large
circle, standing, and sang "The Star Spangled Banner." Ordinarily,
on such an open-air and out-of-school occasion, Ramsey would have
joined the chorus uproariously with the utmost blatancy of which his
vocal apparatus was capable; and most of the other boys expressed
their humour by drowning out the serious efforts of the girls; but he
sang feebly, not much more than humming through his teeth. Standing
beside Milla, he was incapable of his former inelegancies and his
voice was in a semi-paralyzed condition, like the rest of him.
Opposite him, across the circle, Dora Yocum stood a little in advance
of those near her, for of course she led the singing. Her clear and
earnest voice was distinguishable from all others, and though she did
not glance toward Ramsey he had a queer feeling that she was assuming
more superiority than ever, and that she was icily scornful of him
and Milla. The old resentment rose--he'd "show" that girl yet, some
When the song was over, cheers were given for the class, "the good ole
class of Nineteen Fourteen," the school, the teachers, and for the
picnic, thus officially concluded; and then the picnickers, carrying
their baskets and faded wild flowers and other souvenirs and burdens,
moved toward the big "express wagons" which were to take them back
into the town. Ramsey got his guitar case, and turned to Milla.
"Well--" he said.
"Well what, Ramsey?"
"Why, no," said Milla. "Anyways not yet. You can go back in the
same wagon with me. It's going to stop at the school and let us out
there, and then you could walk home with me if you felt like it. You
could come all the way to our gate with me, I expect, unless you'd be
late home for your supper."
"Well--well, I'd be perfectly willing," Ramsey said. "Only I heard
we all had to go back in whatever wagon we came out in, and I didn't
come in the same wagon with you, so--"
Milla laughed and leaned toward him a little. "I already 'tended to
that," she said confidentially. "I asked Johnnie Fiske, that came
out in my wagon, to go back in yours, so that makes room for you."
"Well--then I guess I could do it." He moved toward the wagon with
her. "I expect it don't make much difference one way or the other."
"And you can carry my basket if you want to," she said, adding
solicitously, "Unless it's too heavy when you already got your guitar
case to carry, Ramsey."
This thoughtfulness of hers almost overcame him; she seemed divine.
He gulped, and emotion made him even pinker than he had been under
"I--I'll be glad to carry the basket, too," he faltered. "It-it
don't weigh anything much."
"Well, let's hurry, so's we can get places together."
Then, as she manoeuvred him through the little crowd about the wagon,
with a soft push this way and a gentle pull that, and hurried him up
the improvised steps and found a place where there was room for them
to sit, Ramsey had another breathless sensation heretofore unknown to
him. He found himself taken under a dovelike protectorship; a
wonderful, inexpressible Being seemed to have become his proprietor.
"Isn't this just perfectly lovely?" she said cozily, close to his
He swallowed, but found no words, for he had no thoughts; he was only
an incoherent tumult. This was his first love.
"Isn't it, Ramsey?" she urged. The cozy voice had just the hint of
a reproach. "Don't you think it's just perfectly lovely, Ramsey?"
The next morning Ramsey came into his father's room while Mr.
Milholland was shaving, an hour before church time, and it became
apparent that the son had someting on his mind, though for a while
he said nothing.
"Did you want anything, Ramsey?"
"Didn't want to borrow my razors?"
Mr. Milholland chuckled. "I hardly supposed so, seriously! Shaving
is a great nuisance and the longer you keep away from it, the better.
And when you do, you let my razors alone, young feller!"
"Yes, sir." (Mr. Milholland's rzaors were safe, Ramsey had already
achieved one of his own, but he practised the art in secret.) He
passed his hand thoughtfully over his cheeks, and traces of white
powder were left upon his fingers, whereupon he wiped his hand
surreptitiously, and stood irresolutely waiting.
"What is it you really want, Ramsey?"
"I guess I don't want anything."
"No, sir. You gay' me some Friday."
Mr. Milholland turned from his mirror and looked over the edge of a
towel at his son. In the boy's eyes there was such a dumb agony of
interrogation that the father was a little startled.
"Why, what is it, Ramsey? Have you--" He paused, frowning and
wondering. "You haven't been getting into some mess you want to
tell me about, have you?"
His tone was meek, but a mute distress lurked within it, bringing
to the father's mind disturbing suspicions, and foreshadowings of
indignation and of pity. "See here, Ramsey," he said, "if there's
anything you want to ask me, or to tell me, you'd better out with
it and get it over. Now, what is it?"
"Well--it isn't anything."
"Are you ~sure?~"
Ramsey's eyes fell before the severe and piercing gaze of his father.
Mr. Milholland shook his head doubtfully; then, as his son walked
slowly out of the room, he turned to complete his toilet in a
somewhat uneasy frame of mind. Ramsey had undoubtedly wanted to say
something to him and the boy's expression had shown that the matter
in question was serious, distressing, and, it might be, even
In fact it was--to Ramsey. Having begun within only the last few
hours to regard haberdashery as of vital importance, and believing
his father to be possessed of the experience and authority lacking
in himself, Ramsey had come to get him to settle a question which had
been upsetting him badly, in his own room, since breakfast. What he
want to know was: Whether it was right to wear an extra handkerchief
showing out of the coat breast pocket or not, and, if it was right--
ought the handkerchief to have a coloured border or to be plain
white? But he had never before brought any such perplexities to his
father, and found himself too diffident to set them forth.
However, when he left the house, a few minutes later, he boldly
showed an inch of purple border above the pocket; then, as he was
himself about to encounter several old lady pedestrians, he blushed
and thrust the handkerchief down into deep concealment. Having gone
a block farther, he pulled it up again; and so continued to operate
this badge of fashion, or unfashion, throughout the morning; and
suffered a great deal thereby.
Meantime, his father, rather relieved that Ramsey had not told his
secret, whatever it was, dismissed the episode from his mind and
joined Mrs. Milholland at the front door, ready for church.
"Where's Ramsey?" he asked.
"He's gone ahead," she answered, buttoning her gloves as they went
along. "I heard the door quite a little while ago. Perhaps he went
over to walk down with Charlotte and Vance. Did you notice how neat
he looks this morning?"
"Why, no, I didn't; not particularly. Does he?"
"I never saw anything like it before," said Mrs. Milholland. "He
went down in the cellar and polished his own shoes."
"For about an hour, I think," she said, as one remaining calm before
a miracle. "And he only has three neckties, but I saw him several
times in each of them. He must have kept changing and changing.
I wonder--" She paused.
"I'm glad he's begun to take a little care of his appearance at
last. Business men think a good deal about that, these days, when
he comes to make his start in the world. I'll have to take a look
at him and give him a word of praise. I suppose he'll be in the pew
when we get there."
But Ramsey wasn't in the pew; and Charlotte, his sister, and her
husband, who were there, said they hadn't seen anything of him. It
was not until the members of the family were on their way home after
the services that they caught a glimpse of him.
They were passing a church a little distance from their own; here
the congregation was just emerging to the open, and among the sedate
throng descending the broad stone steps appeared an accompanied
Ramsey--and a red, red Ramsey he was when he beheld his father and
mother and sister and brother-in-law staring up at him from the
pavement below. They were kind enough not to come to an absolute
halt, but passed slowly on, so that he was just able to avoid
parading up the street in front of them. The expressions of his
father, mother, and sister were of a dumfoundedness painful to bear,
while such lurking jocosity as that apparent all over his brother-
in-law no dignified man should either exhibit or be called upon to
In hoarse whispers, Mrs. Milholland chided her husband for an
exclamation he had uttered. "John! On Sunday! You ought to be
"I couldn't help it," he exclaimed. "Who on earth is his clinging
vine? Why, she's got ~lavender~ tops on her shoes and--"
"Don't look round!" she warned him sharply. "Don't--"
"Well, what's he doing at a Baptist church? What's he fidgeting at
his handkerchief about? Why can't he walk like people? Does he
think it's obligatory to walk home from church anchored arm-in-arm
like Swedes on a Sunday Out? Who ~is~ this cow-eyed fat girl that's
got him, anyhow?"
"Hush! Don't look round again, John."
"Never fear!" said her husband, having disobeyed. "They've turned
off; they're crossing over to Bullard Street. Who is it?"
"I think her name's Rust," Mrs. Milholland informed him. "I don't
know what her father does. She's one of the girls in his class at
"Well, that's just like a boy; pick out some putty-faced flirt to
take to church!"
"Oh, she's quite pretty--in that way!" said his wife, deprecatingly.
"Of course that's the danger with public schools. It would be
pleasanter if he'd taken a fancy to someone whose family belongs
to our own circle."
"'Taken a fancy'!" he echoed, hooting. "Why, he's terrible! He
looked like a red-gilled goldfish that's flopped itself out of the
bowl. Why, he--"
"I ~say~ I wish if he felt that he had to take girls anywhere," said
Mrs. Milholland, with the primmest air of speaking to the point--"if
this sort of thing ~must~ begin, I wish he might have selected some
nice girl among the daughters of our own friends, like Dora Yocum,
Upon the spot she began to undergo the mortification of a mother who
has expected her son, just out of infancy, to look about him with the
eye of a critical matron of forty-five. Moreover, she was indiscreet
enough to express her views to Ramsey, a week later, producing thus a
scene of useless great fury and no little sound.
"I do think it's in ~very~ poor tast to see so much of any one girl,
Ramsey," she said, and, not heeding his protest that he only walked
home from school with Milla, "about every other day," and that it
didn't seem any crime to him just to go to church with her a couple
o' times, Mrs. Milholland went on: "But if you think you really
~must~ be dangling around somebody quite this much--though what in
the world you find to ~talk~ about with this funny little Milla Rust
you poor father says he really cannot see--and of course it seems
very queer to us that you'd be willing to waste so much time just now
when your mind ought to be entirely on your studies, and especially
with such an absurd ~looking~ little thing--
"No, you must listen, Ramsey, and let me speak now. What I meant
was that we shouldn't be ~quite~ so much distressed by your being
seen with a girl who dressed in better taste and seemed to have
some notion of refinement, though of course it's only natural she
~wouldn't~, with a father who is just a sort of ward politician, I
understand, and a mother we don't know, and of course shouldn't care
to. But, oh, Ramsey! if you ~had~ to make yourself so conspicuous
why couldn't you be a little ~bit~ more fastidious? Your father
wouldn't have minded nearly so much if it had been a self-respecting,
intellectual girl. We both say that if you ~must~ be so ridiculous
at your age as to persist in seeing more of one girl than another,
why, oh why, don't you go and see some really nice girl like Dora
Ramsey was already dangerously distended, as an effect of the earlier
part of her discourse, and the word "fastidious" almost exploded him;
but upon the climax, "Dora Yocum," he blew up with a shattering
report and, leaving fragments of incoherence ricochetting behind him,
fled shuddering from the house.
For the rest of the school term he walked home with Milla every
afternoon and on sundays appeared to have become a resolute Baptist.
It was supposed (by the interested members of the high-school class)
that Ramsey and Milla were "engaged." Ramsey sometimes rather
supposed they were himself, and the dim idea gave him a sensation
partly pleasant, but mostly apprehensive: he was afraid.
He was afraid that the day was coming when he ought to kiss her.
Vacation, in spite of increased leisure, may bring inconvenience to
people in Ramsey's strange but not uncommon condition. At home his
constant air was that of a badgered captive plaintively silent under
injustice; and he found it difficult to reply calmly when asked where
he was going--an inquiry addressed to him, he asserted, every time he
touched his cap, even to hang it up!
The amount of evening walking he did must also have been a trial to
his nerves, on account of fatigue, though the ground covered was not
vast. Milla's mother and father were friendly people but saw no
reason to "move out of house and home," as Mr. Rust said, when Milla
had "callers"; and on account of the intimate plan of their small
dwelling a visitor's only alternative to spending the evening with
Mr. and Mrs. Rust as well as with Milla, was to invite her to "go
Evening after evening they walked and walked and walked, usually in
company--at perhaps the distance of half a block--with Albert Paxton
and Sadie Clews, though Ramsey now and then felt disgraced by having
fallen into this class; for sometimes it was apparent that Albert
casually had his arm about Sadie's waist. This allured Ramsey
somewhat, but terrified him more. He didn't know how such matters
Usually the quartet had no destination; they just went "out walking"
until ten o'clock, when both girls had to be home--and the boys did,
too, but never admitted it. On Friday evenings there was a "public
open-air concert" by a brass band in a small park, and the four
were always there. A political speechmaker occupied the bandstand
one night, and they stood for an hour in the midst of the crowd,
The orator saddled his politics upon patriotism. "Do you intend
to let this glorious country go to wrack and ruin, oh, my good
friends," he demanded, "or do you intend to save her? Look forth
upon this country of ours, I bid you, oh, my countrymen, and tell
me what you see. You see a fair domain of forest, mountain, plain,
and fertile valleys, sweeping from ocean to ocean. Look from the
sturdy rocks of old New England, pledged to posterity by the stern
religious hardihood of the Pilgrim Fathers, across the corn-bearing
midland country, that land of milk and honey, won for us by the
pluck and endurance of the indomitable pioneers, to where in
sunshine roll the smiling Sierras of golden California, given to
our heritage by the unconquerable energy of those brave men and
women who braved the tomahawk on the Great Plains, the tempest,
of Cape Horn, and the fevers of Panama, to make American soil
of El Dorado! America! Oh, my America, how glorious you stand!
Country of Washington and Valley Forge, out of what martyrdoms
hast thou arisen! Country of Lincoln in his box at Ford's theatre,
his lifeblood staining to a brighter, holier red the red, white,
and blue of the Old Flag! Always and always I see the Old Flag
fluttering the more sacredly encrimsoned in the breeze for the
martyrs who have upheld it! Always I see that Old Flag--"
Milla gave Ramsey's arm, within her own, a little tug. "Come on,"
she said. "Sade says she don't want to hang around here any longer.
It's awful tiresome. Let's go."
He consented, placidly. The oration meant nothing to him and stirred
no one in the audience. The orator was impassioned; he shouted
himself into coughing fits, gesticulated, grew purple; he was so hot
that his collar caved in and finally swooned upon his neck in soggy
exhaustion, prostrate round his thunderings. Meanwhile, the people
listened with an air of patience, yawning here and there, and
gradually growing fewer. It was the old, old usual thing, made up
of phrases that Ramsey had heard dinning away on a thousand such
occasions, and other kinds of occasions, until they meant to him no
more than so much sound. He was bored, and glad to leave.
"Kind o' funny," he said, as they sagged along the street at their
usual tortoise gait.
"What is it, Ramsey?"
"Seems kind o' funny they never have anything to say any one can
take any interest in. Always the same ole whoopety-whoop about
George Washington and Pilgrim Fathers and so on. I bet five dollars
before long we'd of heard him goin' on about our martyred Presidents,
William McKinley and James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison and all
so on, and then some more about the ole Red, White, and Blue. Don't
you wish they'd ~quit~, sometimes, about the 'Ole Flag'?"
"I dunno," said Milla. "I wasn't listening any at all. I hate
"Well, I could ~stand~ 'em," Ramsey said, more generously, "if they'd
ever give anybody a little to think about. What's the use always
draggin' in George Warshington and the Ole Flag? And who wants to
hear any more ole truck about 'from ole rocky New England to golden
California,' and how big and fine the United States is and how it's
the land of the Free and all that? Why don't they ever say anything
new? That's what I'd like to know."
Milla laughed, and when he asked why, she told him she'd never heard
him talk so much "at one stretch." "I guess that speech got you kind
of wound up," she said. "Let's talk about something different."
"I just soon," he agreed. And so they walked on in silence, which
seemed to suit Milla. She hung weightily upon his arm, and they
dawdled, drifting from one side of the pavement to the other as
they slowly advanced. Ablert and Sadie, ahead of them, called
"good-night" from a corner, before turning down the side street
where Sadie lived; and then, presently, Ramsey and Milla were at
the latter's gate. He went in with her, halting at the front
"Well, g'night, Milla," he said. "Want to go out walking to-morrow
night? Albert and Sadie are."
"I can't to-morrow night," she told him with obvious regret. "Isn't
it the worst luck! I got an aunt comin' to visit from Chicago, and
she's crazy about playing 'Five Hundred,' and Mama and Papa said
I haf to stay in to make four to play it. She's liable to be here
three or four days, and I guess I got to be around home pretty much
all the time she's here. It's the worst luck!"
He was doleful, but ventured to be literary. "Well, what can't be
helped must be endured. I'll come around when she's gone."
He moved as if to depart, but she still retained his arm and did not
prepare to relinquish it.
"Well--" he said.
"Well what, Ramsey?"
She glanced up at the dark front of the house. "I guess the family's
gone to bed," she said, absently.
"I s'pose so."
"Well, good-night, Ramsey." She said this but still did not release
his arm, and suddenly, in a fluster, he felt that the time he dreaded
had come. Somehow, without knowing where, except that it was
somewhere upon what seemed to be a blurred face too full of
obstructing features, he kissed her.
She turned instantly away in the darkness, her hands over her cheeks;
and in a panic Ramsey wondered if he hadn't made a dreadful mistake.
"S'cuse me!" he said, stumbling toward the gate. "Well, I guess I
got to be gettin' along back home."
He woke in the morning to a great self-loathing: he had kissed a
girl. Mingled with the loathing was a curious pride in the very fact
that caused the loathing, but the pride did not last long. He came
downstairs morbid to breakfast, and continued this mood afterward.
At noon Albert Paxton brought him a note which Milla had asked Sadie
to ask Albert to give him.
Dearie: I am just wondering if you thought as much about something
so sweet that happened last night as I did you know what. I think
it was the sweetest thing. I send you one with this note and I
hope you will think it is a sweet one. I would give you a real
one if you were here now and I hope you would think it was sweeter
still than the one I put in this note. It is the sweetest thing
now you are mine and I am yours forever kiddo. If you come around
about friday eve it will be all right. aunt Jess will be gone
back home by then so come early and we will get Sade and Alb and
go to the band Concert. Don't forget what I said about my putting
something sweet in this note, and I hope you will think it is a
sweet one but not as sweet as the ~real~ sweet one I would like
At this point Ramsey impulsively tore the note into small pieces.
He turned cold as his imagination projected a sketch of his mother
in the act of reading this missive, and of her expression as she
read the sentence: "It is the sweetest thing now you are mine and
I am yours forever kiddo." He wished that Milla hadn't written
"kiddo." She called him that, sometimes, but in her warm little
voice the word seemed not at all what it did in ink. He wished,
too, that she hadn't said she was his forever.
Suddenly he was seized with a horror of her.
Moisture broke out heavily upon him; he felt a definite sickness,
and, wishing for death, went forth upon the streets to walk and
walk. He cared not whither, so that his feet took him in any
direction away from Milla, since they were unable to take him away
from himself--of whom he had as great a horror. Her loving face
was continually before him, and its sweetness made his flesh creep.
Milla had been too sweet.
When he met or passed people, it seemed to him that perhaps they
were able to recognize upon him somewhere the marks of his low
quality. "Softy! Ole sloppy fool!" he muttered, addressing himself.
"Slushy ole mush!... ~Spooner!~" And he added, "Yours forever,
kiddo!" Convulsions seemed about to seize him.
Turning a corner with his head down, he almost charged into Dora
Yocum. She was homeward bound from a piano lesson, and carried a
rolled leather case of sheet music--something he couldn't imagine
Milla carrying--and in her young girl's dress, which attempted to
be nothing else, she looked as wholesome as cold spring water.
Ramsey had always felt that she despised him and now, all at once,
he thought that she was justified. Leper that he had become, he
was unworthy to be even touching his cap to her! And as she nodded
and went briskly on, he would have given anything to turn and walk
a little way with her, for it seemed to him that this might fumigate
his morals. But he lacked the courage, and, besides, he considered
himself unfit to be seen walking with her.
He had a long aftgernoon of anguishes, these becoming most violent
when he tried to face the problem of his future course toward Milla.
He did not face it at all, in fact, but merely writhed, and had
evolved nothing when Friday evening was upon him and Milla waiting
for him to take her to the "band concert" with "Alb and Sade." In
his thoughts, by that time, this harmless young pair shared the
contamination of his own crime, and he regarded them with aversion;
however, he made shift to seek a short interview with Albert, just
"I got a pretty rotten headache, and my stomach's upset, too,"
he said, drooping upon the Paxton's fence. "I been gettin' worse
every minute. You and Sadie go by Milla's, Albert, and tell her
if I'm not there by ha'-pas'-seven, tell her not to wait for me
"How do you mean 'wait'?" Albert inquired. "You don't expect her
to come pokin' along with Sadie and me, do you? She'll keep on
sittin' there at home just the same, because she wouldn't have
anything else to do, if you don't come like she expects you to.
She hasn't got any way to ~stop~ waitin'!"
At this, Ramsey moaned, without affectation. "I don't expect I
~can~, Albert," he said. "I'd like to if I could, but the way it
looks now, you tell her I wouldn't be much surprised maybe I was
startin' in with typhoid fever or pretty near anything at all.
You tell her I'm pretty near as disappointed as she's goin' to be
herself, and I'd come if I could--and I ~will~ come if I get a good
deal better, or anything--but the way it's gettin' to look now,
I kind o' feel as if I might be breaking out with something any
minute." He moved away, concluding, feebly: "I guess I better
crawl on home, Albert, while I'm still able to walk some. You tell
her the way it looks now I'm liable to be right sick."
And the next morning he woke to the chafings of remorse, picturing a
Milla somewhat restored in charm waiting hopefully at the gate, even
after half-past seven, and then, as time passed and the sound of the
distant horns came faintly through the darkness, going sadly to her
room--perhaps weeping there. It was a picture to wring him with
shame and pity, but was followed by another which electrified him,
for out of school he did not lack imagination. What if Albert had
reported his illness too vividly to Milla? Milla was so fond! What
if, in her alarm, she should come here to the house to inquire of
his mother about him? What if she told Mrs. Milholland they were
"engaged"? The next moment Ramsey was projecting a conversation
between his mother and Milla in which the latter stated that she
and Ramsey were soon to be married; that she regarded him as already
virtually her husband, and demanded to nurse him.
In a panic he fled from the house before breakfast, going out by way
of a side door, and he crossed back yeards and climbed back fences to
reach Albert Paxton the more swiftly. This creature, a ladies' man
almost professionaly, was found exercising with an electric iron and
a pair of flannel trousers in a basement laundry, by way of stirring
his appetite for the morning meal.
"See here, Albert," his friend said breathlessly. "I got a favour.
I want you to go over to Milla's--"
"I'm goin' to finish pressin' these trousers," Albert interrupted.
"Then I've got my breakfast to eat."
"Well, you could do this first," said Ramsey, hurriedly. "It
wouldn't hurt you to do me this little favour first. You just slip
over and see Milla for me, if she's up yet, and if she isn't, you
better wait around there till she is, because I want you to tell
her I'm a whole lot better this morning. Tell her I'm pretty near
practick'ly all right again, Albert, and I'll prob'ly write her a
note or something right soon--or in a week or so, anyhow. You tell
"Well, you act pretty funny!" Albert exclaimed, fumbling in the
pockets of his coat. "Why can't you go on over and tell her
"I would," said Ramsey. "I'd be perfectly willing to go only I got
to get back home to breakfast."
Albert stared. "Well, I got to go upstairs and eat my own breakfast
in about a minute, haven't I? But just as it happens there wouldn't
be any use your goin' over there, or me, either."
"Milla ain't there," said Albert, still searching the pockets of his
coat. "When we went by her house last night to tell her about your
headache and stomach and all, why, her mother told us Milla'd gone
up to Chicago yesterday afternoon with her aunt, and said she left
a note for you, and she said if you were sick I better take it and
give it to you. I was goin' to bring it over to your house after
breakfast." He found it. "Here!"
Ramsey thanked him feebly, and departed in a state of partial
stupefaction, brought on by a glimpse of the instabilities of life.
He had also, not relief, but a sense of vacancy and loss; for Milla,
out of his reach, once more became mysteriously lovely.
Pausing in an alley, he read her note.
Dearie: Thought I ought to call you up but over the 'phone is just
nix for explations as Mama and Aunt Jess would hear everything and
thought I might seem cold to you not saying anything sweet on
account of them listening and you would wonder why I was so cold
when telling you good-by for a wile maybe weeks. It is this way
Uncle Purv wired Aunt Jess he has just taken in a big touring car
on a debt and his vacation starts to-morrow so if they were going
to take a trip they better start right way so Aunt Jess invited me.
It is going to be a big trip up around the lakes and I have always
wanted to go touring more than anything in the world stopping at
hotels and all and Mama said I ought to it would be so splend for
my health as she thinks I am failing some lately. Now dearie I have
to pack and write this in a hury so you will not be disappointed
when you come by for the B. C. to-night. Do not go get some other
girl and take her for I would hate her and nothing in this world
make me false for one second to my kiddo boy. I do not know just
when home again as the folks think I better stay up there for a
visit at Aunt Jess and Uncle Purvs home in Chicago after the trip
is over. But I will think of you all the time and you must think
of me every minute and believe your own dearie she will never no
not for one second be false. So tell Sade and Alb good-by for me
and do not be false to me any more than I would be to you and it
will not be long till nothing more will interupt our sweet
As a measure of domestic prudence, Ramsey tore the note into
irreparable fragments, but he did this slowly, and without
experiencing any of the revulsion created by Milla's former
He was melancholy, aggrieved that she should treat him so.
He never saw her again. She sent him a "picture postal" from
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, which his father disengaged from the family
mail, one morning at breakfast, and considerately handed to him
without audible comment. Upon it was written, ~"Oh, you Ramsey!"~
This was the last of Milla.
Just before school opened, in the autumn, Sadie Clews made some
revelations. "Milla did like you," said Sadie. "After that time
you jumped in the creek to save her she liked you better than any
boy in town, and I guess if it wasn't for her cousin Milt up in
Chicago she would of liked you the best anywhere. I guess she did,
anyway, because she hadn't seen him for about a year then.
"Well, that afternoon she went away I was over there and took in
everything that was goin' on, only she made me promise on my word of
honour I wouldn't even tell Albert. They didn't get any wire from
her uncle about the touring car; it was her cousin Milt that jumped
on the train and came down and fixed it all up for Milla to go on the
trip, and everything. You see, Ramsey, she was turned back a couple
of times in school before she came in our class and I don't exactly
know how old she is and she don't ~look~ old yet, but I'm pretty
sure she's at least eighteen, and she might be over. Her mother
kept tellin' her all the time you were just a kid, and didn't have
anything to support her on, and lots of things like that. I didn't
think such a great deal of this Milt's looks, myself, but he's anyway
twenty-one years old, and got a good position, and all their family
seem to think he's just fine! It wasn't his father that took in the
touring car on debt, like she said she was writing to you; it was
Milt himself. He started out in business when he was only fifteen
years old, and this trip he was gettin' up for his father and mother
and Milla was the first vacation he ever took. Well, of course she
wouldn't like my tellin' you, but I can't see the harm of it, now
everything's all over."
"All--all over? You mean Milla's going to be--to be married?"
"She already is," said Sadie. "They got married at her Aunt Jess
and Uncle Purv's house, up in Chicago, last Thursday. Yes, sir;
that quiet little Milla's a regular old married woman by this time,
I expect, Ramsey!"
When he got over the shock, which was not until the next day, one
predominating feeling remained: it was a gloomy pride--a pride in
his proven maturity. He was old enough, it appeared, to have been
the same thing as engaged to a person who was now a Married Woman.
His manner thenceforth showed an added trace of seriousness and
Having recovered his equipoise and something more, he entirely
forgot that moment of humble admiration he had felt for Dora Yocum
on the day of his flattest prostration. When he saw her sitting
in the classroom, smiling brightly up at the teacher, the morning
of the school's opening in the autumn, all his humility had long
since vanished and she appeared to him not otherwise than as the
scholar whose complete proficiency had always been so irksome to
"Look at her!" he muttered to himself. "Same ole Teacher's Pet!"
Now and then, as the days and seasons passed, and Dora's serene
progress continued, never checked or even flawed, there stirred
within some lingerings of the old determination to "show" her; and
he would conjure up a day-dream of Dora in loud lamentation, while
he led the laughter of the spectators. But gradually his feelings
about her came to be merely a dull oppression. He was tired of
having to look at her (as he stated it) and he thanked the Lord
that the time wouldn't be so long now until he'd be out of that
ole school, and then all he'd have to do he'd just take care never
to walk by her house; it was easy enough to use some other street
when he had to go down-town.
"The good ole class of Nineteen-Fourteen is about gone," he said
to Fred Mitchell, who was still his most intimate friend when they
reached the senior year. "Yes, sir; it's held together a good many
years, Fred, but after June it'll be busted plum up, and I hope
nobody starts a move to have any reunions. There's a good many
members of the ole class that I can stand and there's some I can't,
but there's one I just won't! If we ever did call a reunion, that
ole Yocum girl would start in right away and run the whole shebang,
and that's where I'd resign! You know, Fred, the thing ~I~ think
is the one biggest benefit of graduating from this ole school?
It's never seein' Dora Yocum again."
This was again his theme as he sat by the same friend's side, in
the rear row of the class at Commencement, listening to the delivery
of the Valedictory. "Thinks she's just sooblime, don't she!" he
whispered morosely. "She wouldn't trade with the President of the
United States right now. She prob'ly thinks bein' Valedictorian is
more important than Captain of the State University Eleven. Never
mind!" And here his tone became huskily jubilant. "Never mind!
Just about a half-an-hour more and that's the last o' ~you~, ole
girl! Yes, sir, Fred; one thing we can feel pretty good over:
this is where we get through with Dora Yocum!"
Ramsey and Fred had arranged to room together at Greenfield, the seat
of the state university, and they made the short journey in company
the following September. They arrived hilarious, anticipating
pleasurable excitements in the way of "fraternity" pledgings and
initiations, encounters with sophomores, class meetings, and
elections; and, also, they were not absolutely without interest in
the matter of Girls, for the state university was co-educational, and
it was but natural to expect in so broad a field, all new to them, a
possible vision of something rather thrilling. They whispered
cheerfully of all these things during the process of matriculation,
and signed the registrar's book on a fresh page; but when Fred had
written his name under Ramsey's, and blotted it, he took the liberty
of turning over the leaf to examine some of the autographs of their
future classmates, written on the other side. Then he uttered an
exclamation, more droll than dolorous, though it affected to be
wholly the latter; for the shock to Fred was by no means so painful
as it was to his friend.
Ramsey leaned forward and read the name indicated by Fred's
...When they got back to their pleasant quarters at Mrs. Meig's,
facing the campus, Ramsey was still unable to talk of anything except
the lamentable discovery; nor were his companion's burlesquing
efforts to console him of great avail, though Fred did become serious
enough to point out that a university was different from a high
"It's not like havin' to use one big room as a headquarters, you
know, Ramsey. Everything's all split up, and she might happen not
to be in a single of your classes."
"You don't know my luck!" the afflicted boy protested. "I wish
I'd gone to Harvard, the way my father wanted me to. Why, this
is just the worst nuisance I ever struck! You'll see! She'll
be in everything there is, just the way she was back home."
He appeared to be corroborated by the events of the next day,
when they attended the first meeting to organize the new class.
The masculine element predominated, but Dora Yocum was elected
vice-president. "You see?" Ramsey said. "Didn't I tell you?
You see what happens?"
But after that she ceased for a time to intrude upon his life,
and he admitted that his harassment was less grave than he had
anticipated. There were about five hundred students in the
freshman class; he seldom saw her, and when he did it was not more
than a distant glimpse of her on one of the campus paths, her
thoughtful head bent over a book as she hurried to a classroom.
This was bearable; and in the flattering agitations of being sought,
and even hunted, by several "fraternities" simultaneously desirous
of his becoming a sworn Brother, he almost forgot her. After a
hazardous month the roommates fell into the arms of the last "frat"
to seek them, and having undergone an evening of outrage which
concluded with touching rhetoric and an oath taken at midnight,
they proudly wore jewelled symbols on their breasts and were free
to turn part of their attention to other affairs, especially the
affairs of the Eleven.
However, they were instructed by the older brethren of their Order,
whose duty it was to assist in the proper manoeuvring of their young
careers, that, although support of the 'varsity teams was important,
they must neglect neither the spiritual nor the intellectual
by-products of undergraduate doings. Therefore they became members
of the college Y.M.C.A. and of the "Lumen Society."
According to the charter which it had granted itself, the "Lumen
Society" was an "Organization of male and female students"--so
"advanced" was this university--"for the development of the powers
of debate and oratory, intellectual and sociological progress, and
the discussion of all matters relating to philosophy, metaphysics,
literature, art, and current events." A statement so formidable was
not without a hushing effect upon Messrs. Milholland and Mitchell;
they went to their first "Lumen" meeting in a state of fear and came
away little reassured.
"I couldn't get up there," Ramsey declared, "I couldn't stand up
there before all that crowd and make a speech, or debate in a debate,
to save my soul and gizzard! Why, I'd just keel right over and haf
to be carried out."
"Well, the way I understand it," said Fred, "we can't get out of
it. The seniors in the 'frat' said we had to join, and they said we
couldn't resign, either, after we had joined. They said we just had
to go through it, and after a while we'd get used to it and not mind
"~I~ will!" Ramsey insisted. "I couldn't any more stand up there
on my feet and get to spoutin' about sociology and the radical
metempsychorus of the metaphysical bazoozum than I could fly a
flyin' machine. Why, I--"
"Oh, that wasn't anything," Fred interrupted. "The only one that
talked like that, he was that Blickens; he's a tutor, or something,
and really a member of the faculty. Most o' the others just kind
of blah-blahhed around, and what any of 'em tried to get off their
chests hardly amounted to terribly much."
"I don't care. I couldn't do it at ~all!~"
"Well, the way it looks to me," Fred observed, "we simply ~got~ to!
From what they tell me, the freshmen got to do more than anybody.
Every other Friday night, it's all freshmen and nothin' else. You
get a postal card on Monday morning in your mail, and it says
'Assignment' on it, and then it's got written underneath what you
haf to do the next Friday night--oration or debate, or maybe just
read from some old book or something. I guess we got to stand up
there and ~try~, anyway."
"All right," said Ramsey. "If they want me to commit suicide they
can send me one o' their ole 'Assignments.' I won't need to commit
suicide, though, I guess. All I'll do, I'll just fall over in a
fit, and stay in it."
And, in truth, when he received his first "Assignment," one Monday
morning, a month later, he seemed in a fair way to fulfil his
prophecy. The attention of his roommate, who sat at a window of
their study, was attracted by sounds of strangulation.
"What on earth's the matter, Ramsey?"
"Look! Look at ~this!~"
Fred took the card and examined it with an amazement gradually
merging into a pleasure altogether too perceptible:
TWELVE-MINUTE DEBATE, CLASS OF 1918.
~Subject, Resolved:~ That Germany is both legally and morally
justified in her invasion of Belgium.
(Debaters are notified that each will be held strictly to the
following schedule: Affirmative, 4 min., first. Negative, 4 min.,
first. Affirm, 2 min., second. Neg., 2 min., second.)
R. MILHOLLAND, '18 D. YOCUM, '18
Concluding his reading, which was oral, the volatile Mitchell made
use of his voice in a manner of heathenish boisterousness, and
presently reclined upon a lounge to laugh the better. His stricken
comrade, meanwhile, recovered so far as to pace the floor. "I'm
goin' to pack up and light out for home!" he declared, over and over.
And even oftener he read and reread the card to make sure of the
actuality of that fatal coincidence, "D. Yocum, '18."
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