Naturally, Martha had gotten along in her studies without being pestered by society to any extent. I sometimes think this helped old Scroggs to hate us. She was his only child, and he had taken all the affection and interest that most people distribute over their entire acquaintanceship and concentrated it on her. They had grown up together since she became a motherless baby, and they did say that while you could bombard the old man with gatling guns without jarring his opinions he would lie down, jump through a hoop or play dead whenever Martha wanted him to.
Naturally Martha caused some mild sensation when she appeared at the biggest social spasm of the college year, with her sleeves bulging in the wrong place, and nothing but her own hair on her head. But what caused the real sensation was the fact that Petey had been released from the workhouse the day before. Yes, sir—just turned out with seven more days to serve. He had thrown a brick at a Sophomore who was trying to catch him and dye his hair the Sophomore colors, and the brick had annihilated one of the city's precious thirty-seven-cent street lights. Petey had gone to the works for ten days, leaving a new dress suit that hadn't been dedicated and unlimited woe among the girls, for he was a Class A fusser.
Petey was non-committal about his insanity. He had the best eye for beauty in the college, and yet he had been taking Miss Scroggs around to church socials and town affairs for two months. But college boys aren't slow, whatever you want to say about them. We had faith in Petey and we backed up his game. We gave Martha the time of her young life at the Prom.—pulled off three imitation rows over her program—and then we turned in that winter and gave her a good, hot rush—which is a technical college expression for keeping a girl dated up so that she doesn't have time to wash the dishes at home once a month.
I must say that it wasn't much of a punishment, either, when we got acquainted with Martha. She was a good fellow clear through and had a smile that illuminated her plain face like a torchlight parade. Of course, after you get out of school you learn that beauty is only skin deep and seldom affects the brain; but this is a wonderful discovery for a college boy to make when there are so many raving beauties about him that he has to take a nap in the afternoon in order to dream about all of them. At any rate, we took Martha to everything that came along, one of us or another, and before a month we didn't have to pretend very much to scrap for her dances, even if you did have to lug her around the room by main strength—she was as heavy on her feet as a motor-bus.
April came and the first baseball game with it, and Saunders, our pitcher, managed to draw a thirty-day sentence for stealing a steam roller one noon and racing off down the avenue with a fat cop in pursuit. We nearly fell dead once more when Saunders came walking into chapel three days later. He had been released by Judge Scroggs with a warning never under any circumstances to do anything of any sort at any time any more, and been assured that he was nothing more than hangman's meat. But he had been released! That night he took Martha Scroggs to the Alfalfa Delt hop. And the next day he held Muggledorfer down to two hits and no runs, with Martha waving hurrahs at him from a tally-ho.
We wanted to elect Petey president of the college, for we laid the whole affair to him. But he wouldn't talk at all. If anything, he seemed a little sore about the whole thing. Martha didn't loosen up, either. She just smiled and told those of us who knew her well enough to ask questions that Saunders was a lovely boy and that she had had that date with him for ages—flies' ages, I guess she meant, for Alice Marsters, one of the beauties of the school, stayed home from the dance after announcing that she was going with Saunders, and never seemed able to remember him by sight after that.
About a week afterward Maxwell, the college orator, a very solemn member of the Siwash brain trust, was arrested for ever so little a thing. I believe he so far forgot himself as to help give the college yell on Main Street the night his literary society won a debate. Anyway, he got ten days, and he was due in three days to orate for Siwash against the whole Northwest. It was the biggest event of the school year—the oratorical contest. We'd won seven of them—more than any other school in the sixteen states—and we stood a good show with Maxwell. We were crazy to win. Of course nobody ever goes to the contests; but we all stay up all night to hear the results, and when we win, which we do once every other college generation, we try to make the celebration bigger than the stories of other celebrations that have been handed down. We'd been planning this celebration all winter and had everything combustible in Jonesville spotted.
Some of us were for going out and burning up the workhouse, but before we got around to it Maxwell appeared. It was the day before the contest. He'd served only two days, but instead of rushing right off to rehearse his oration, which he couldn't do in the workhouse, owing to an accountable prejudice the tramps and other prisoners had against oratory, he took the evening off and went driving with Martha Scroggs—about as queer a thing for him to do as it would be for the Pope to take a young lady to the theatre. But we didn't ask any questions. We cheered him off on the midnight train, and the next night, when he won and we got the news, we turned out and built a bonfire of everything that wasn't nailed down. And when the police got done chasing us they had nineteen of the brightest and best sons of Siwash bottled up in the booby hatch.
We didn't mind that on general principles. The bonfire was worth it, especially since we managed to get a few palings from old Scroggs' fence for it—but, as usual, the wrong men got pinched. There was the intercollegiate track meet due in two weeks, and there, in the list of felons, were Evans, our crack sprinter, Petersen, our hammer heaver, and yours truly, who could pole vault about as high as they run elevators in Europe, even if he was only a sub-Freshman with field mice in his hair.
Now, this was really serious. We could afford to lose an oratorical contest—it just meant no bonfire for another year—but we had our hearts set on that track meet. We were up against our lifelong rivals—Muggledorfer, the State Normal, Kiowa, Hambletonian, and all the rest of them. We had to win—I don't know why. Beats all how many things you have to do in college that don't seem so absolutely necessary a few years afterward. Anyhow, if we three point-gobblers had to spend the next ten days in the works instead of rounding into form, the points Siwash would win in that meet could be added up by a three-year-old boy who was a bad scholar. It was so desperate that we hired a lawyer and laid the case before him that night as we sat in our horrid cells—they wouldn't take Hinckley for bail any more.
"Get a continuance," said he. And the next morning he appeared with us before the awful presence and demanded the continuance on the score of important evidence, lack of time to perfect a defense, other engagements, poor crops, Presidential election, and goodness knows what—regular lawyer style, you know.
Old Scroggs glared at us the way an unusually hungry tiger might look at a lamb that was being taken away to get a little riper. "I cannot object to a reasonable continuance," he said sourly. "And I don't deny that you will need all the defense you can get. The case is an atrocious one, and I propose to do my small part toward putting down arson and riot in this unhappy town. You will appear two weeks from this morning."
The field meet was two weeks from that afternoon! And we didn't have a ghost of a defense!
We three scraped up the required bail and went back to college feeling cheerful as a man who has been told that his hanging has been postponed until his wedding morning. Of course we sent for Petey Simmons. He arrived dejected. "No use, fellows," he remarked as he came in the door. "I know what you all want. You all want engagements with Martha Scroggs. It's no go. I've been over to see her and she's afraid to tackle it. The old man's told her that if she runs around with any more of this disgraceful, disgusting and nine other epitheted college bunch he'll show her the door. Says he's been worked and he's through. Says he's going to give you the limit and, if possible, he's going to give you enough to keep you in all vacation instead of letting you loose on a defenseless world all summer. That's how strong you are up at the Scroggs house."
There you were! Siwash College, the pride of six decades, mollycoddled by an old parody on a gorilla with a grouch against the solar system! We trained these two weeks in hopes that a chariot of fire would come up and take the old man down, but there was nothing doing. He remained abnormally healthy and supernaturally mad. On the morning before the fatal day we all wrote letters home, explaining that we had secured elegant jobs in various emporiums over the city and wouldn't be home until late in the summer. Then we shivered a shake or two apiece and got ready to retire from this vain world for somewhere between thirty and ninety days. Just about that time Petey Simmons blew down to the college, bursting with information. He demanded a meeting of the Athletic Council at once and of us three sterling athletes as well. We were all in order in ten minutes.
"Fellows, it's this way," said Petey. "Martha Scroggs is very loyal to the college, as you all know. She has done her very best with old Fireworks, but it hasn't made a dent in him. No little old party or buggy ride is going to get any one out this time. There's just one chance, she says, and she's taken it. This morning she confessed to her father that she is engaged to one of the men who is to come up for trial to-morrow morning. They think the old man will be well enough to unmuzzle before noon, but he's been acting like a bad case of dog-days all morning. He's given her twenty-four hours to name the man—and Martha thinks that by night he'll be resting comfortably enough to promise to let him off to-morrow. And she has given us the privilege of choosing the man she's engaged to. Now, it's up to this council to pick out the lucky chap. It's our only hope, fellows. We'll have one point-winner anyway—unless the old man eats him alive to-morrow."
Evans and Petersen turned pale—they had real fiancees in college. But each stepped forward nobly and offered himself for the sacrifice. I stepped out, too, though I was so young at that time that I didn't know any more how to go about being engaged to a girl than I did about my Greek lessons. Then the council began to discuss the choice. And just there the trouble began.
It all came about through the frats, of course. Frats are a good thing all right, but they stir up more trouble in a college than a Turk's nine wives can make for him. Ashcroft was president of the council. He was an Alfalfa Delt. So was Evans. Ashcroft hung out for Evans like a bulldog hanging to a tramp. Beeman, a council member, was a Sigh Whoop and so was Petersen. Beeman argued that Petersen could win more points than the rest of the school put together and that it would be unpatriotic, unmanly, disgraceful and un-Siwash-like not to select him. Bailey, the third member, was an Eta Bita Pie, and while sub-Freshmen are not supposed to be anything with Greek letters on, we understood each other, and I was to be initiated the next fall. Bailey pointed out caustically that to imprison a sub-Freshman would be to ruin his reputation, break his spirit and disgrace the school—that one world's record was worth fifty points, and that, if allowed to, I would pole-vault so high the next day that I would have to come down in a parachute. The result was the council broke up in one big row and Martha Scroggs spent the afternoon unengaged.
About five o'clock Bailey came over to the track, where we were going through the last sad rites, and hauled me aside.
"Take off those togs, kid," he said. "I've got a stunt. These yaps are going to hold another meeting to-night to decide on Martha Scroggs' fiancee. In the meantime you're going out to ask the old man for her. Understand? You're going to ask him and take what he gives you like a little man and beg off for to-day, and then you're going to break the pole-vault record. See?"
Unfortunately, I did. I liked the job just as well as I would like getting boiled in oil. But one must stand by one's frat, you know—Gee, how proud I felt when I said that! I didn't have any idea how an engaged man ought to look or act, but I went home, put on the happiest duds I had, and shinned up the street about eight o'clock.
The man-eating dog of the Scroggses was somewhere else, gorging himself on another unfortunate, and I got to the front door all right. I rang the bell. Some one opened the door. It was Judge Scroggs. He looked at me as one might look at a bug which had wandered on to the table and was trying to climb over a fork.
"Young man," he said, "what do you want?"
Did you ever have your voice slink around behind your larynx and refuse to come out? Mine did. I only wish I could have slunk with it. I started talking twice. My tongue went all right, but I couldn't slip in the clutch and make any sound.
"Well," roared Scroggs, "what is it?"
That jarred me loose. "Mr. Scroggs," I sputtered, "I am engaged to your daughter. I want to marry her. I want your permission. I—I'll be good to her, sir."
He glared at me for a minute. "Oh!" he said with a queer look. "Well, come on in with the rest of them."
I followed him into the parlor. There sat Evans and Petersen. They were older than I, but if I looked as scared as they did I wish somebody had shot me. In the corner was another student. His name was Driggs. His specialty was cotillons.
We four sat and looked at each other with awful suspicions. Something was excessively wrong. I felt indignant. Can't a fellow go to see his fiancee without being annoyed by a Roman mob? I noticed Petersen and Evans looked indignant, too. We took it out by staring Driggs almost into the collywobbles. Who was he anyway, and why was he billy-goating around?
Old Scroggs had called Martha. He sat and looked at us so peculiarly that I got gooseflesh all over. Here I was, a Freshman so green that the cows looked longingly at me, and up against the job of saving the college, winning out for the frat and becoming engaged to a girl I didn't know before a whole roomful of rivals. I wasn't up to the job. If only I had gone to the works! They seemed a haven of sweet peace just then.
Martha Scroggs came into the room. She looked at the quartet. We looked at her with hunted looks. Scroggs looked at all of us.
"Martha," he said at last, "each one of these four young idiots says he is engaged to you. Which of them shall I throw out?"
The jig was up! The college was ruined! Each one of us had the same bright thought!
For a moment I thought Martha was going to faint. She looked at the mob with a dazed expression. You could almost see her brain grabbing for some explanation. It was just for a moment, though. My, but that girl was a wonder! She gulped once or twice. Then she smiled in an inspired sort of way.
"None of them, Papa," she said ever so sweetly. "I am engaged to all of them."
The eruption of Vesuvius was only a little sputter to what followed. For a moment we had hopes that old Scroggs would explode. I think if he had had us there alone he would have tried to hang us. But every tyrant has his master, so before long we began to see the halter on old Scroggs. And his daughter held the leading rope. She let him rave about so long and then she retired into her pocket-handkerchief and turned on a regular equinoctial. Scroggs looked more uncomfortable than we felt. He took her in his arms and there was a family reconciliation. Every little while Martha would look over his shoulder at us four hopefuls sitting up against the wall as lively as wooden Indians, and then she would bury her face in her handkerchief again and shake her shoulders and writhe with grief—or maybe it was something else. Martha always did have a pretty keen sense of humor.
Suddenly Scroggs remembered us and we went out of the house like projectiles fired from a very loud gun. We cussed each other all the way home—we three athletes. We would have cussed Driggs, but he sneaked the other way and we lost him.
The next morning we went up to police court in our old clothes. Judge Scroggs looked at us sourly when our turn came.
"Young men," he said, "my daughter has admitted that she has been foolish enough to engage herself provisionally to all of you, with the idea of choosing the hero in this afternoon's games. I do not admire her taste. I think she is indeed reckless to fall in love with collegians when there are so many honest cab drivers and grocery boys to choose from. But I have, in the interests of peace, consented to allow you to compete this afternoon. You are discharged. I do this the more willingly because I have seen you here before and shall again. You may go."
We did go, and when we got through that afternoon the knobby-legged athletes from our rival schools looked like quarter horses plowing home just ahead of the next race. Siwash won by an enormous lead and we three were the stars of the meet. Why shouldn't we be when our fiancee sat in a box in the grandstand and cheered us impartially? More than that, old Scroggs sat with her and I have an idea that he got excited, too, in the breath-catching parts.
I think that engagement business must have broken the old man's spirit, or else so much association with college people began to waken dormant brain cells in his head. The rest of the rioters got out of the workhouse right away, and that fall he retired from the bench, declaring that if he was to have a college student for a son-in-law, as looked extremely likely, he needed to put in all of his time at home protecting his property. In honor of his retirement we had a pajama parade which was nine blocks long and forty-two blocks loud, and a platoon of six policemen led the way.
Of course that engagement business left all sorts of complications. Scroggs pestered his daughter for about a month to make her decision. He seemed somewhat relieved when she finally announced that she couldn't; but it wasn't much relief, after all, for by this time he couldn't walk around his own house without falling over Petey Simmons. Just two years ago I got cards to Petey's wedding. He and Martha are living in Chicago in one of those flats where you have seven hundred and eighty-nine dollars' worth of bath-room, and eighty-nine cents' worth of living room, and which you have to lease by measure just as you would buy a vest. If Petey hangs on long enough he is going to be a big man in the banking business, too.
I forgot to clear up this Driggs mystery. The evening after the races, Martha called up Petey Simmons. "Petey," said she, "I wish you would tell me who this fourth man is that I'm engaged to. He doesn't seem to be on the track team and I didn't catch his name. I don't mind having to make up an excuse for being engaged to four men right on the spur of the moment if it is necessary, but I'd at least like to know their names."
Petey was as puzzled as she was and lit out to find Driggs. He was gone, but the next day he turned up and confessed all. He had a terrible affair with a girl in the next town, it seems, and had a date to bring her to the games. He was one of the nineteen criminals, and was so terror-stricken at the idea of being compelled to desert his hypnotizer that when the news of the engagement business leaked out he took a long chance and went up and announced himself. It worked, but we caught him two nights later and shaved his hair on one side as a gentle warning not to do it again.
A FUNERAL THAT FLASHED IN THE PAN
Honest, Bill, sometimes when I sit down in these sober, plug-away days—when we are kind to the poor dumb policemen and don't dare wear straw hats after the first of September—and think about the good old college times, I wonder how we ever had the nerve to imitate insanity the way we did. Here I am, rubbing noses with thirty, outgrowing my belts every year, and sitting eight hours at a desk without exploding. Am I the chap who climbed up sixty feet of waterspout a few short years ago and persuaded the clapper of the college bell to come down with me? Here you are all worn smooth on top and proprietor of an overflow meeting in a nursery. In about ten minutes you'll be tearing your coat-tails out of my hands because you have to go back home before the eldest kid asks for a story. Are you the loafer who spent all one night getting a profane parrot into the cold-air pipes of the college chapel? Maybe you think you are, but I don't believe it. If I were to tip this table over on you now you'd get mad and go home instead of handing me a volume of George Barr McCutcheon in the watch-pocket. You're not the good old lunatic you used to be, and neither am I.
Yes, times have changed. I don't feel as unfettered as I used to. There are a few things nowadays that I don't care to do. When I come home at night I take my shoes off and tiptoe to my room instead of standing outside and trying to persuade my landlady that the house is on fire. When I visit a friend in his apartments I do not, as a bit of repartee, throw all of his clothes out of the window while he is out of the room, and it has been a long time since I last hung a basket out of my window on Saturday night, expecting some early-rising friend to put a pocketful of breakfast in it as he came past from boarding-club. I am a slave to conventions and so are you, you slant-shouldered, hollow-chested, four-eyed, flabby-spirited pill-roller, you! The city makes more mummies out of live ones than old Rameses ever did out of his obituary crop.
And yet it's no time at all since you and I were back at Siwash College, making a dear playmate out of trouble from morning till night. I wonder what it is in college that makes a fellow want to stick his finger into conventions and customs and manners, to say nothing of the revised statutes, and stir the whole mess 'round and 'round! When you're in college, college life seems big and all the rest of the world so small that what you want to do as a student seems to be the only important thing in life—no matter if what you want to do is only to put a free-lunch sign over the First Methodist Church. What does the college student care for the U. S. A., the planet or the solar system? Why, at Siwash, I remember the biggest man in the world was Ole Skjarsen. Next to him was Coach Bost, then Rogers, captain of the football team, and then Jensen, the quarter. After him came Frankling, of the Alfalfa Delts, whose father picked up bargains in railroads instead of gloves; then came Prexy, and after him the President of the United States and a few scattered celebrities, tailing down to the Mayor of Jonesville and its leading citizens—mere nobodies.
That's how important the outside world seemed to us. Is it any wonder that when we wanted to go downtown in pajamas and plug hats we paddled right along? Or that when we wanted to steal a couple of actors and tie them in a barn, while two of us took their places, we did not hesitate to do so? We felt perfectly free to do just what we pleased. The college understood us, and what the world thought never entered our heads.
Those were certainly nightmarish times for the Faculty of a small but husky college filled with live wires who specialized in applied mischief. It beats all what peculiar things college students can do and not think anything of it at all; and it's funny how closely wisdom and blame foolishness seem to be related. I remember after I had spent two hours putting my Polykon down on a concrete foundation so that I could recite John Stuart Mill by the ream, it seemed as if I couldn't live half an hour longer without a certain kind of pie that was kept in captivity a mile away downtown at a lunch-counter. And, moreover, I couldn't eat that pie alone. A college student doesn't know how to masticate without an assistant or two. When I think of the hours and hours I have spent traveling around at midnight and battering on the doors of perfectly respectable houses, trying to drag some student out and take him a mile or two away downtown after pie, I am struck with awe. When I came to this town I walked two days for a job and then sat around with my feet on a sofa cushion for three days. I'll bet I've walked twice as far hunting up some devoted friend to help me go downtown and eat a piece of pie. And that pie seemed three times as important as the easy lessons for beginners in running the earth that I had been absorbing all the evening.
You needn't grin, Bill. You were just as bad. I remember you were the biggest math. shark in college. You could do calculus problems that took all the English letters from A to Z and then slopped over into the Greek alphabet; and everybody predicted that you would be a great man if anybody ever found any use for calculus. And yet the chief ambition of your life was to find a way of tampering with the college clock so that it would run twice as fast as its schedule. You used to sit around and figure all evening over it and declare that if you could only do it once and watch the profs. letting out classes early and going home to supper at one P. M. you would consider your life well spent. Sounds fiddling now, doesn't it? But I admired you for it then. I really looked up to you, Bill, as a man with a firm, fixed purpose, while I was just a trifler who would be satisfied to steal the hands of the clock or jolly it into striking two hundred times in a row.
There was Rearick, for instance. He was the smartest man in our class. Took scholarship prizes as carelessly as a policeman takes peanuts from a Dago stand. Since then he's gone up so fast that every time I see him I insult him by congratulating him on getting the place he's just been promoted from. But what was Rearick's hobby at Siwash? Stealing hatpins. He had four hundred hatpins when he graduated, and he never could see anything wrong in it. Guess he's got them yet. Perkins is in Congress already. He out-debated the whole Northwest and wrote pieces on subjects so heavy that you could break up coal with them. But I never saw him so earnest in debate as he was the night he talked old Bill Morrison into letting him drive his hack for him all evening. He told me he had driven every hack in town but Bill's, and that Bill had baffled him for two years. It cost him four dollars to turn the trick, but he was happier after it than he was when he won the Siwash-Muggledorfer debate. Said he was ready to graduate now—college held nothing further for him. Perkins' brains weren't addled, because he has been working them double shift ever since. He just had the college microbe, that's all. It gets into your gray matter and makes you enjoy things turned inside out. You remember "Prince" Hogboom's funeral, don't you?
What year was it? Why, ninety-ump-teen. What? That's right, you got out the year before. I remember they held your diploma until you paid for the library cornerstone that your class stole and cut up into paper-weights. Well, by not staying the next year you missed the most unsuccessful funeral that was ever held in the history of Siwash or anywhere else. It was one of the very few funerals on record in which the corpse succeeded in licking the mourners. I've got a small scar from it now. You may think you're going home to that valuable baby of yours, but you are not. You'll hear me out. I haven't talked with a Siwash man for a month, and all of these Hale and Jarhard and Stencilmania fellows give me an ashy taste in my mouth when I talk with them. It's about as much fun talking college days with a fellow from another school as it is to talk ranching with a New England old maid; and when I get hold of a Siwash man you can bet I hang on to him as long as my talons will stick. You just sit right there and start another Wheeling conflagration while I tell you how we killed Hogboom to make a Siwash holiday.
I helped kill him myself. It was my first murder. It was an awful thing to do, but we were desperate men. It was spring—in May—and not one of us had a cut left. You know how unimportant your cuts are in the fall when you know that you can skip classes ten times that year without getting called up on the green carpet and gimleted by the Faculty. Ten cuts seem an awful lot when you begin. You throw 'em away for anything. You cut class to go downtown and buy a cigarette. You cut class to see a dog fight. I've even known a fellow to cut a class in the fall because he had to go back to the room and put on a clean collar. But, oh, how different it is in May, when you haven't a cut left to your name and the Faculty has been holding meetings on you, anyway; when classroom is a jail and the campus just outside the window is a paradise, green and sunshiny and fanned by warm breezes—excuse these poetries. And you can sit in your class in Evidences of Christianity—of which you knew as much as a Chinese laundryman does of force-feed lubrication—and look out of the window and see your best girl sitting on the grass with some smug oyster who has saved up his cuts. How I used to hate these chaps who saved up their cuts till spring and then took my girl out walking while I went to classes! Is there anything more maddening, I'd like to know, than to sit before a big, low window trying to follow a psychology recitation closely enough to get up when called on, and at the same time watch five girls, with all of whom you are dead in love, strolling slowly off into the bright distance with five job-lot male beings who are dull and uninteresting and just cold-blooded enough to save their cuts until the springtime? If there is I've never had it.
In this spring of umpty-steen it seemed as if only one ambition in the world was worth achieving—that was to get out of classes. Most of us had used up our cuts long ago. The Faculty is never any too patient in the spring, anyhow, and a lot of us were on the ragged edge. I remember feeling very confidently that if I went up before that brain trust in the Faculty room once more and tried to explain how it was that I was giving absent treatment to my beloved studies, said Faculty would take the college away from me and wouldn't let me play with it never no more. And that's an awful distressing fear to hang over a man who loves and enjoys everything connected with a college except the few trifling recitations which take up his time and interfere with his plans. It hung over five of us who were trying to plan some way of going over to Hambletonian College to see our baseball team wear deep paths around their diamond. We were certain to win, and as the Hambletonians hadn't found this out there was a legitimate profit to be made from our knowledge—profit we yearned for and needed frightfully. I wonder if these Wall Street financiers and Western railroad men really think they know anything about hard times? Why, I've known times to be so hard in May that three men would pool all their available funds and then toss up to see which one of them would eat the piece of pie the total sum bought. I've known Seniors to begin selling their personal effects in April—a pair of shoes for a dime, a dress suit for five dollars—and to go home in June with a trunk full of flags and dance programs and nothing else. I've known students to buy velveteen pants in the spring and go around with big slouch hats and very long hair—not because they were really artistic and Bohemian, but because it was easier to buy the trousers and have them charged than it was to find a quarter for a haircut.
That's how busted live college students with unappreciative dads can get in the spring. That's how busted we were; and there was Hambletonian, twenty miles away, full of money and misguided faith in their team. If we could scrape up a little cash we could ride over on our bicycles and transfer the financial stringency to the other college with no trouble at all. But it was a midweek game and not one of us had a cut left. That was why we murdered Hogboom.
It happened one evening when we were sitting on the front porch of the Eta Bita Pie house. That was the least expensive thing we could do. We had been discussing girls and baseball and spring suits, and the comparative excellence of the wheat cakes at the Union Lunch Counter and Jim's place. But whatever we talked about ran into money in the end and we had to change the subject. There's mighty little a poor man can talk about in spring in college, I can tell you. We discussed around for an hour or two, bumping into the dollar mark in every direction, and finally got so depressed that we shut up and sat around with our heads in our hands. That seemed to be about the only thing to do that didn't require money.
"We'll have to do something desperate to get to that game," said Hogboom at last. Hogboom was a Senior. He ranked "sublime" in football, "excellent" in baseball, "good" in mandolin, "fair" in dancing, and from there down in Greek, Latin and Mathematics.
"Intelligent boy," said Bunk Bailey pleasantly; "tell us what it must be. Desperate things done to order, day or night, with care and thoroughness. Trot out your desperate thing and get me an axe. I'll do it."
"Well," said Hogboom, "I don't know, but it seems to me that if one of us was to die maybe the Faculty would take a day off and we could go over to Hambletonian without getting cuts."
"Fine scheme; get me a gun, Hogboom." "Do you prefer drowning or lynching?" "Kill him quick, somebody." "Look pleasant, please, while the operator is working." "What do you charge for dying?" Oh, we guyed him good and plenty, which is a way they have at old Harvard and middle-aged Siwash and Infant South Dakota University and wherever two students are gathered together anywhere in the U. S. A.
Hogboom only grinned. "Prattle away all you please," he said, "but I mean it. I've got magnificent facilities for dying just now. I'll consider a proposition to die for the benefit of the cause if you fellows will agree to keep me in cigarettes and pie while I'm dead."
"Done," says I, "and in embalming fluid, too. But just demonstrate this theorem, Hoggy, old boy. How extensively are you going to die?"
"Just enough to get a holiday," said Hogboom. "You see, I happen to have a chum in the telegraph office in Weeping Water, where I live. Now if I were to go home to spend Sunday and you fellows were to receive a telegram that I had been kicked to death by an automobile, would you have sense enough to show it to Prexy?"
"We would," we remarked, beginning to get intelligent.
"And, after he had confirmed the sad news by telegram, would you have sense enough left to suggest that college dismiss on Tuesday and hold a memorial meeting?"
"We would," we chuckled.
"And would you have foresight enough to suggest that it be held in the morning so that you could rush away to Weeping Water in the afternoon to attend the funeral?"
"Yes, indeed," we said, so mildly that the cop two blocks away strolled down to see what was up.
"And then would you be diplomatic enough to produce a telegram saying that the report was false, just too late to start the afternoon classes?"
"You bet!" we whooped, pounding Hogboom with great joy. Then we sat down as unconcernedly as if we were planning to go to the vaudeville the next afternoon and arranged the details of Hogboom's assassination. As I was remarking, positively nothing looks serious to a college boy until after he has done it.
That was on Friday night. On Saturday we killed Hogboom. That is, he killed himself. He got permission to go home over Sunday and retired to an upper back room in our house, very unostentatiously. He had already written to his operator chum, who had attended college just long enough to take away his respect for death, the integrity of the telegraph service and practically everything else. The result was that at nine o'clock that evening a messenger boy rang our bell and handed in a telegram. It was brief and terrible. Wilbur Hogboom had been submerged in the Weeping Water River while trying to abduct a catfish from his happy home and had only just been hauled out entirely extinct.
It was an awful shock to us. We had expected him to be shot. We read it solemnly and then tiptoed up to Hogboom with it. He turned pale when he saw the yellow slip.
"What is it?" he asked hurriedly. "How did it happen?"
"You were drowned, Hoggy, old boy," Wilkins said. "Drowned in your little old Weeping Water River. They have got you now and you're all damp and drippy, and your best girl is having one hysteric after another. Don't you think you ought to throw that cigarette away and show some respect to yourself? We've all quit playing cards and are going to bed early in your honor."
"Well, I'm not," said Hogboom. "It's the first time I have ever been dead, and I'm going to stay up all night and see how I feel. Another thing, I'm going down and telephone the news to Prexy myself. I've had nothing but hard words out of him all my college course, and if he can't think up something nice to say on an occasion like this I'm going to give him up."
Hogboom called up Prexy and in a shaking voice read him the telegram. We sat around, choking each other to preserve the peace, and listened to the following cross section of a dialogue—telephone talk is so interesting when you just get one hemisphere of it.
"Hello! That you, Doctor? This is the Eta Bita Pie House. I've some very sad news to tell you. Hogboom was drowned to-day in the Weeping Water River. We've just had a telegram—Yes, quite dead—No chance of a mistake, I'm afraid—Yes, they recovered him—We're all broken up—Oh, yes, he was a fine fellow—We loved him deeply—I'm glad you thought so much of him—He was always so frank in his admiration of you—Yes, he was honorable—Yes, and brilliant, too—Of course, we valued him for his good fellowship, but, as you say, he was also an earnest boy—It's awful—Yes, a fine athlete—I wish he could hear you say that, Doctor—No, I'm afraid we can't fill his place—Yes, it is a loss to the college—I guess you just address telegram to his folks at Weeping Water—That's how we're sending ours—Good-night—Yes, a fine fellow—Good-night."
Hogboom hung up the 'phone and went upstairs, where he lay for an hour or two with his face full of pillows. The rest of us weren't so gay. We could see the humor of the thing all right, but the awful fact that we were murderers was beginning to hang over our heads. It was easy enough to kill Hogboom, but now that he was dead the future looked tolerably complicated. Suppose something happened? Suppose he didn't stay dead? There's no peace for a murderer, anyway. We didn't sleep much that night.
The next day it was worse. We sat around and entertained callers all day. Half a hundred students called and brought enough woe to fit out a Democratic headquarters on Presidential election night. They all had something nice to say of Hoggy. We sat around and mourned and gloomed and agreed with them until we were ready to yell with disgust.
Hogboom was the most disgracefully lively corpse I ever saw. He insisted on sitting at the head of the stairs where he could hear every good word that was said of him, and the things he demanded of us during the day would have driven a stone saint to crime. Four times we went downtown for pie; three times for cigarettes; once for all the Sunday newspapers, and once for ice cream. As I told you, it was May, the time of the year when street-car fare is a problem of financial magnitude. We had to borrow money from the cook before night. Hoggy had us helpless, and he was taking a mean and contemptible advantage of the fact that he was a corpse. Half a dozen times we were on the verge of letting him come to life. It would have served him right.
Old Siwash was just naturally submerged in sorrow when Monday morning came. The campus dripped with sadness. The Faculty oozed regret at every pore. We loyal friends of Hogboom were looked on as the chief mourners and it was up to us to fill the part. We did our best. We talked with the soft pedal on. We went without cigarettes. We wiped our eyes whenever we got an audience. Time after time we told the sad story and exhibited the telegram. By noon more particulars began to come in. Prexy got an answer to his telegram of condolence. The funeral, the telegram said, would be on Tuesday afternoon. There was great and universal grief in Weeping Water, where Hogboom had been held in reverent esteem. Hoggy's chum in the telegraph office simply laid himself out on that telegram. Prexy read it to me himself and wiped his eyes while he did it. He was a nice, sympathetic man, Prexy was, when he wasn't discussing cuts or scholarship.
Getting the memorial meeting was so easy we hated to take it. The Faculty met to pass resolutions Monday afternoon, and when our delegation arrived they treated us like brothers. It was just like entering the camp of the enemy under a flag of truce. Many a time I've gone in on that same carpet, but never with such a feeling of holy calm. "They would, of course, hold the memorial meeting," said Prexy. They had in fact decided on this already. They would, of course, dismiss college all day. It was, perhaps, best to hold the memorial in the morning if so many of us were going out to Weeping Water. It was nice so many of us could go. Prexy was going. So was the mathematics professor, old "Ichthyosaurus" James, a very fine old ruin, whom Hogboom hated with a frenzy worthy of a better cause, but who, it seemed, had worked up a great regard for Hogboom through having him for three years in the same trigonometry class.
We went out of Faculty meeting men and equals with the professors. They walked down to the corner with us, I remember, and I talked with Cander, the Polykon professor, who had always seemed to me to be the embodiment of Comanche cruelty and cunning. We talked of Hogboom all the way to the corner. Wonderful how deeply the Faculty loved the boy; and with what Spartan firmness they had concealed all indications of it through his career!
When Monday night came we began to breathe more easily. Of course there was some kind of a deluge coming when Hogboom appeared, but that was his affair. We didn't propose to monkey with the resurrection at all. He could do his own explaining. To tell the truth, we were pretty sore at Hogboom. He was making a regular Roman holiday out of his demise. It kept four men busy running errands for him. We had to retail him every compliment that we had heard during the day, especially if it came from the Faculty. We had to describe in detail the effect of the news upon six or seven girls, for all of whom Hogboom had a tender regard. He insisted upon arranging the funeral and vetoed our plans as fast as we made them. He was as domineering and ugly as if he was the only man who had ever met a tragic end. He acted as if he had a monopoly. We hated him cordially by Monday night, but we were helpless. Hoggy claimed that being dead was a nerve-wearing and exhausting business, and that if he didn't get the respect due to him as a corpse he would put on his plug hat and a plush curtain and walk up the main street of Jonesville. And as he was a football man and a blamed fool combined we didn't see any way of preventing him.
However, everything looked promising. We had made all the necessary arrangements. The students were to meet in chapel at nine o'clock in the morning and eulogize Hogboom for an hour, after which college was to be dismissed for the day in order that unlimited mourning could be indulged in. There were to be speeches by the Faculty and by students. Maxfield, the human textbook, was to make the address for the Senior class. We chuckled when we thought how he was toiling over it. Noddy Pierce, of our crowd, was to talk about Hogboom as a brother; Rogers, of the football team, was to make a few grief-saturated remarks. So was Perkins. Every one was confidently expecting Perkins to make the effort of his life and swamp the chapel in sorrow. He was in the secret and he afterward said that he would rather try to write a Shakespearean tragedy offhand than to write another funeral oration about a man who he knew was at that moment sitting in a pair of pajamas in an upper room half a mile away and yelling for pie.
As a matter of fact, there were so many in the secret that we were dead afraid that it would explode. We had to put the baseball team on so that they would be prepared to go over to Hambletonian at noon. The game had been called off, of course, and Hambletonian had been telegraphed. But I was secretary of the Athletic Club and had done the telegraphing. So I addressed the telegram to my aunt in New Jersey. It puzzled the dear old lady for months, I guess, because she kept writing to me about it. We had to tell all the fellows in the frat house and every one of the conspirators let in a friend or two. There were about fifty students who weren't as soggy with grief as they should have been by Monday night.
I blame Hogboom entirely for what happened. He started it when he insisted that he be smuggled into the chapel to hear his own funeral orations. We argued half the Monday night with him, but it was no use. He simply demanded it. If all dead men are as disagreeable as Hogboom was, no undertaker's job for me. He was the limit. He put on a blue bath-robe and got as far as the door on his promenade downtown before we gave in and promised to do anything he wanted. We had to break into the chapel and stow him away in a little grilled alcove in the attic on the side of the auditorium where he could hear everything. Sounds uncomfortable, but don't imagine it was. That nervy slavedriver made us lug over two dozen sofa pillows, a rug or two, a bottle of moisture and three pies to while away the time with. That was where we first began to think of revenge. We got it, too—only we got it the way Samson did when he jerked the columns out from under the roof and furnished the material for a general funeral, with himself in the leading role.
By the time we got Hogboom planted in his luxurious nest, about three A. M., we were ready to do anything. Some of us were for giving the whole snap away, but Pierce and Perkins and Rogers objected. They wanted to deliver their speeches at the meeting. If we would leave it to them, they said, they would see that justice was ladled out.
The whole college and most of the town were at the memorial meeting. It was a grand and tear-spangled occasion. There were three grades of emotion plainly visible. There was the resigned and almost pleased expression of the students who weren't in on the deal and who saw a vacation looming up for that afternoon; the grieved and sympathetic sorrow of the Faculty who were attempting to mourn for what they had always called a general school nuisance; and there was the phenomenally solemn woe of the conspirators, who were spreading it on good and thick.
The Faculty spoke first. Beats all how much of a hypocrite a good man can be when he feels it to be his duty. There was Bates, the Latin prof. He had struggled with Hogboom three years and had often expressed the firm opinion that, if Hoggy were removed from this world by a masterpiece of justice of some sort, the general tone of civilization would go up fifty per cent. Yet Bates got up that morning and cried—yes, sir, actually cried. Cried into a large pocket handkerchief that wasn't water-tight, either. That's more than Hoggy would ever have done for him. And Prexy was so sympathetic and spoke so beautifully of young soldiers getting drawn aside by Fate on their way to the battle, and all that sort of thing, that you would have thought he had spent the last three years loving Hogboom—whereas he had spent most of the time trying to get some good excuse for rooting him out of school. You know how Faculties always dislike a good football player. I think, myself, they are jealous of his fame.
Maxfield made a telling address for the Senior class. He and Hoggy had always disagreed, but it was all over now; and the way he laid it on was simply wonderful. I thought of Hoggy up there behind the grilling, swelling with pride and satisfaction as Maxfield told how brave, how tender, how affectionate and how honorable he was, and I wished I was dead, too. Being dead with a string to it is one of the finest things that can happen to a man if he can just hang around and listen to people.
Pierce got up. He was the college silver-tongue, and we settled back to listen to him. Previous speakers had made Hoggy out about as fine as Sir Philip Sidney, but they were amateurs. Here was where Hoggy went up beside A. Lincoln and Alexander if Pierce was anywhere near himself.
There is no denying that Pierce started out magnificently. But pretty soon I began to have an uneasy feeling that something was wrong. He was eloquent enough, but it seemed to me that he was handling the deceased a little too strenuously. You know how you can damn a man in nine ways and then pull all the stingers out with a "but" at the end of it. That was what Pierce was doing. "What if Hogboom was, in a way, fond of his ease?" he thundered. "What if the spirit of good fellowship linked arms with him when lessons were waiting, and led him to the pool hall? He may have been dilatory in his college duties; he may have wasted his allowance on billiards instead of in missionary contributions. He may have owed money—yes, a lot of money. He may, indeed, have been a little selfish—which one of us isn't? He may have frittered away time for which his parents were spending the fruit of their early toil—but youth, friends, is a golden age when life runs riot, and he is only half a man who stops to think of petty prudence."
That was all very well to say about Rameses or Julius Caesar or some other deceased who is pretty well seasoned, but I'll tell you it made the college gasp, coming when it did. It sounded sacrilegious and to me it sounded as if some one who was noted as an orator was going to get thumped by the late Mr. Hogboom about the next day. I perspired a lot from nervousness as Pierce rumbled on, first praising the departed and then landing on him with both oratorical feet. When he finally sat down and mopped his forehead the whole school gave one of those long breaths that you let go of when you have just come up from a dive under cold water.
Rogers followed Pierce. Rogers wasn't much of a talker, but he surpassed even his own record that day in falling over himself. When he tried to illustrate how thoughtful and generous Hogboom was he blundered into the story of the time Hoggy bet all of his money on a baseball game at Muggledorfer, and of how he walked home with his chum and carried the latter's coat and grip all the way. That made the Faculty wriggle, I can tell you. He illustrated the pluck of the deceased by telling how Hogboom, as a Freshman, dug all night alone to rescue a man imprisoned in a sewer, spurred on by his cries—though Rogers explained in his halting way, it afterward turned out that this was only the famous "sewer racket" which is worked on every green Freshman, and that the cries for help came from a Sophomore who was alternately smoking a pipe and yelling into a drain across the road. Still, Rogers said, it illustrated Hogboom's nobility of spirit. In his blundering fashion he went on to explain some more of Hoggy's good points, and by the time he sat down there wasn't a shred of the latter's reputation left intact. The whole school was grinning uncomfortably, and the Faculty was acting as if it was sitting, individually and collectively, on seventeen great gross of red-hot pins.
By this time we conspirators were divided between holy joy and a fear that the thing was going to be overdone. It was plain to be seen that the Faculty wasn't going to stand for much more loving frankness. Pierce whispered to Tad Perkins, Hogboom's chum, and the worst victim of his posthumous whims, to draw it mild and go slow. Perkins was to make the last talk, and we trembled in our shoes when he got up.
We needn't have feared for Perkins. He was as smooth as a Tammany orator. He praised Hogboom so pathetically that the chapel began to show acres of white handkerchiefs again. Very gently he talked over his career, his bravery and his achievements. Then just as poetically and gently he glided on into the biggest lie that has been told since Ananias short-circuited retribution with his unholy tale.
"What fills up the heart and the throat, fellows," he swung along, "is not the loss we have sustained; not the irreparable injury to all our college activities; not even the vacant chair that must sit mutely eloquent beside us this year. It's something worse than that. Perhaps I should not be telling this. It's known to but a few of his most intimate friends. The saddest thing of all is the fact that back in Weeping Water there is a girl—a lovely girl—who will never smile again."
Phew! You could just feel the feminine side of the chapel stiffen—Hogboom was the worst fusser in college. He was chronically in love with no less than four girls and was devoted to dozens at a time. We had reason to believe that he was at that time engaged to two, and spring was only half over at that. This was the best of all; our revenge was complete.
"A girl," Perkins purred on, "who has grown up with him from childhood; who whispered her promise to him while yet in short dresses; who sat at home and waited and dreamed while her knight fought his way to glory in college; who treasured his vows and wore his ring and—"
"'Tain't so, you blamed idiot!" came a hoarse voice from above. If the chapel had been stormed by Comanches there couldn't have been more of a commotion. A thousand pairs of eyes focused themselves on the grill. It sagged in and then disappeared with a crash. The towsled head of Hogboom came out of the opening.
"I'll fix you for that, Tad Perkins!" he yelled. "I'll get even with you if it takes me the rest of my life. I ain't engaged to any Weeping Water girl. You know it, you liar! I've had enough of this—" You couldn't hear any more for the shrieks. When a supposedly dead man sticks his head out of a jog in the ceiling and offers to fight his Mark Antony it is bound to create some commotion. Even the professors turned white. As for the girls—great smelling salts, what a cinch! They fainted in windrows. Some of us carried out as many as six, and you had better believe we were fastidious in our choice, too.
There had never been such a sensation since Siwash was invented. Between the panic-stricken, the dazed, the hilarious, the indignant and the guilty wretches like myself, who were wondering how in thunder there was going to be any explaining done, that chapel was just as coherent as a madhouse. And then Hogboom himself burst in a side door, and it took seven of us to prevent him from reducing Perkins to a paste and frescoing him all over the chapel walls. Everybody was rattled but Prexy. I think Prexy's circulation was principally ice water. When the row was over he got up and blandly announced that classes would take up immediately and that the Faculty would meet in extraordinary session that noon.
How did we get out of it? Well, if you want to catch the last car, old man, I'll have to hit the high spots on the sequel. Of course, it was a tremendous scandal—a memorial meeting breaking up in a fight. We all stood to be expelled, and some of the Faculty were sorry they couldn't hang us, I guess, from the way they talked. But in the end it blew over because there wasn't much of anything to hang on any one. The telegrams were all traced to the agent at Weeping Water, and he identified the sender as a long, short, thick, stout, agricultural-looking man in a plug hat, or words to that effect. What's more, he declared it wasn't his duty to chase around town confirming messages—he was paid to send them. Hogboom had a harder time, but he, too, explained that he had come home from Weeping Water a day late, owing to a slight attack of appendicitis, and that when he found himself late for chapel he had climbed up into the balcony through a side door to hear the chapel talk, of which he was very fond, and had found, to his amazement, that he was being reviled by his friends under the supposition that he was dead and unable to defend himself. Nobody believed Hogboom, but nobody could suggest any proof of his villainy—so the Faculty gave him an extra five-thousand-word oration by way of punishment, and Hogboom made Perkins write it in two nights by threats of making a clean breast. Poor Hoggy came out of it pretty badly. I think it broke both of his engagements, and what between explaining to the Faculty and studying to make a good showing and redeem himself, he didn't have time to work up another before Commencement—while the rest of us lived in mortal terror of exposure and didn't enjoy ourselves a bit all through May, though it was some comfort to reflect on what would have happened if the scheme had worked—for Hambletonian beat us to a frazzle that afternoon.
That's what we got for monkeying with a solemn subject. But, pshaw! Who cares in college? What a student can do is limited only by what he can think up. Did I ever tell you what we did to the English Explorer? Take another cigar. It isn't late yet.
COLLEGES WHILE YOU WAIT
Mind you, old head, I'm not saying that a little education isn't a good thing in a college course. I learned a lot of real knowledge in school myself that I wouldn't have missed for anything, though I have forgotten it now. But what irritate me are the people who think that the education you get in a modern American super-heated, cross-compound college comes to you already canned in neat little textbooks sold by the trust at one hundred per cent profit, and that all you have to do is to go to your room with them, fill up a student lamp with essence of General Education and take the lid off.
Honest, lots of them think that. It might have been so, too, in the good old days when there was only one college graduate for each town and he had to do the heavy thinking for the whole community. But, pshaw! the easiest job in the world nowadays is to stuff your storage battery full of Greek verbs and obituaries in English literature, and the hardest job is to get it hitched up to something that will bring in the yellowbacks, the chopped-wood furniture, the automobile tires and the large majorities in the fall elections. I've seen brilliant boys at old Siwash go out of college knowing everything that had ever happened in the world up to one hundred years ago, and try to peddle hexameters in the wholesale district in Chicago. And I've seen boys who slid through the course just half a hair's breadth ahead of the Faculty boot, go out and do the bossing for a whole Congressional district in five years. They hadn't learned the exact chemical formula of the universe, but they had learned how to run the blamed thing from practicing on the college during study hours.
Not that I'm knocking on knowledge, you understand. Knowledge is, of course, a grand thing to have around the house. But nowadays knowledge alone isn't worth as much as it used to be, seems to me. A man has to mix it up with imagination, and ingenuity, and hustle, and nerve, and the science of getting mad at the right time, and a fourteen-year course of study in understanding the other fellow. The college professors lump all this in one course and call it applied deviltry. They don't put it down in the catalogue and they encourage you to cut classes in it. But, honestly, I wouldn't trade what I learned under Professor Petey Simmons, warm boy and official gadfly to the Faculty, for all the Lat. and Greek and Analit. and Diffy. Cal., and the other studies—whatever they were—that I took in good old Siwash.
You remember Petey, of course. He went through Siwash in four years and eight suspensions, and came out fresh—as fresh as when he went in, which is saying a good deal. Every summer during his career the Faculty went to a rest cure and tried to forget him. He was as handy to have around school as a fox terrier in a cat show. There are two varieties of college students—the midnight-oil and the natural-gas kind; and Petey was a whole gas well in himself. Not that he didn't study. He was the hardest student in the college, but he didn't recite much in classes. Sometimes he recited in the police court, sometimes to his Pa back home, and sometimes the whole college took a hand in looking over his examination papers. He used to pass medium fair in Horace; sub-passable in Trig., and extraordinary mediocre in Polikon. But his marks in Imagination, the Psychological Moment and Dodging Consequences were plus perfect, extra magnificent, and superlatively some, respectively.
I saw Petey last year. He is in Chicago now. You have to bribe a doorkeeper and bluff a secretary to get to him—that is, you do if you are an ordinary mortal. But if you give the Siwash yell or the Eta Bita Pie whistle in the outside office he will emerge from his office out over the railing in one joyous jump. He came to Chicago ten years ago equipped with a diploma and a two-year tailor-bill back at Jonesville that he had been afraid to tell his folks about. If he had been a midnight-oil graduate he would have worn out three pairs of shoes hunting for a business house which was willing to let an earnest young scholar enter its employ at the bottom and rise gradually to the top as the century went by. But Petey wasn't that kind. He had been used to running the whole college and messing up the universe as far as one could see from the Siwash belfry if things didn't suit him. So he picked out the likeliest-looking institution on Dearborn Street and offered it a position as his employer. He was on the payroll before the president got over his daze. Two weeks later he promoted the firm to a more responsible job—that of paying him a bigger salary—and a year ago the general manager gave up and went to Europe for two years; said he would take a positive pleasure in coming back and looking at the map of Chicago after Petey had done it over to suit himself.
Imagination was what did it. You can't take Imagination in any college classroom, but you can get more of it on the campus in four years than you can anywhere else in the world. You've got to have a mighty good imagination to get into any real warm trouble—and by the time you have gotten out of it again you have had to double its horse-power. That was Petey's daily recreation. In the morning he would think up an absolutely air-tight reason for being expelled from Siwash as a disturber, an anarchist, a superfluosity and a malefactor of great stealth. That night he would go to his room and figure out an equally good proof that nothing had happened or that whatever had happened was an act of Providence and not traceable to any student. Figuring out ways for selling bonds in carload lots was just recreation to him after a four-year course of this sort.
But to back in on the main track. I whistled outside of Petey's office the other day and went in with him past two magnates, three salesmen and a bank president. I sat with my feet on a mahogany table—I wanted to put them on an oak desk, but Petey declared mahogany was none too good for a Siwash man—and we spent an hour talking over the time when Petey manufactured excitement in wholesale lots at Siwash, with me for his first assistant and favorite apprentice. Those are my proudest memories. I won my track S. and got honorably mentioned in three Commencement exercises; but when I want to brag of my college career do I mention these things? Not unless I have a lot of time. When I want to paralyze an alumnus of some rival college with admiration and envy, I tell him how Petey and I manufactured a real Wild West college—buildings, Faculty, bad men and all—for one day only, for the benefit of an Englishman who had gotten fifteen hundred miles inland without noticing the general color scheme of the inhabitants.
We met this chap accidentally—a little favor of Providence, which had a special pigeonhole for us in those days. Our team had been using the Kiowa football team as a running track on their own field that afternoon, and the score was about 105 to 0 when the timekeeper turned off the massacre. Naturally all Siwash was happy. I will admit we were too happy to be careful. About two hundred of us made the hundred-mile trip home by local train that night, and I remember wondering, when the boys dumped the stove off the rear platform and tied up the conductor in his own bell-rope, if we weren't getting just a little bit indiscreet; and when a college boy really wonders if he is getting indiscreet he is generally doing something that will keep the grand jury busy for the next few months.
I was in the last car, and had just finished telling "Prince" Hogboom that if he poked any more window-lights out with his cane he would have to finish the year under an assumed name, when Petey crawled over two mobs of rough-housers and came up to me. He was seething with indignation. It was breaking out all over him like a rash. Petey was excitable anyway.
"What do you suppose I've found in the next car?" he said, fizzing like an escape valve.
"Prof?" said I, getting alarmed.
"Naw," said Petey; "worse than that. A chap that has never heard of Siwash. Asked me if it was a breakfast food. He's an Englishman. I'm ag'in' the English." He stopped and began kicking a water tank around to relieve himself.
"How did he get this far away from home?" I asked.
"He's traveling," snorted Petey; "traveling to improve his mind. Hopeless job. He's one of those quarter-sawed old beef-eaters who stop thinking as soon as they've got their education. He's the editor of a missionary publication, he told me, and he is writing some articles on Heathen America. Honest, it almost made me boil over when he asked me if anything was being done to educate the aborigines out here."
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Do?" said Petey. "Why, I answered his question, of course. I told him he wasn't fifty miles from a college this minute, and he said, 'Oh, I say now! Are you spoofing me?' What's 'spoofing'?"
"Kidding, stringing, stuffing, jollying along, blowing east wind, turning on the gas," says I. "'Spoofing' is University English. They don't use slang over there, you know."
"Well, then, I spoofed him," said Petey, grinning. "He said it was remarkable how very few revolvers he had seen, and then he wanted to know why there was no shooting on the train with so much disorder. He's pretty well posted now. I'd go a mile out of my way to help a poor dumb chap like him. I told him this was the Y. M. C. A. section of Siwash and that the real rough students were coming along on horseback. I said they weren't allowed on the trains because they were so fatal to passengers. I informed him that all the profs at Siwash went armed, and that the course of study consisted of mining, draw poker, shooting from the hip, broncho-busting, sheep-shearing, History of Art, bread-making and Evidences of Christianity."
"Did he admit by that time that you were a good, free-handed liar?" I asked.
"Admit nothing," said Petey; "he took it all down in his notebook and remarked that in a wild country like this, remote from civilization, a knowledge of bread-making would undoubtedly be invaluable to a man."
"He was spoofing you," says I.
"He wasn't," said Petey; "he thinks he's a thousand miles from a plug hat this minute. He's so interested he is going to stop over for a day or two and write up the college for his magazine. I've invited him to stay at the Eta Bita Pie House with us, and we're going to show him a real Wild West school if we have to shoot blank cartridges at the cook to do it."
"Petey," said I solemnly, "some day you'll bump an asteroid when you go up in the air like this. This friend of yours will take one look at Siwash and ask you if Sapphira is feeling well these days."
"Bet you five, my opera hat, a good mandolin and a meal ticket on Jim's place against your dress suit," said Petey promptly. "And you better not take it, either."
"Done!" says I. "I bet you my hunting-case suit against your earthly possessions that you can't tow old Britannia-rules-the-waves around Siwash for a day without disclosing the fact that you are the best catch-as-catch-can liar in this section of the solar system."
"All right," said Petey. "But you've got to help me win the stuff. This is a great big contract. It's going to be my masterpiece, and I need help."
"I'm with you clear to Faculty meeting, as usual," says I. "But what's the use? He'll catch on."
"Leave that to me," said Petey. "Anyway, he won't catch on. When I told him we had a checkroom for pappooses in the Siwash chapel he wrote it down and asked if the Indians ever massacred the professors. He wouldn't catch on if we fed him dog for dinner. Just come and see for yourself."
I agreed with Petey when I took a good look at the victim a minute later. We found him in the car ahead, sitting on the edge of the seat and looking as if he expected to be eaten alive, without salt, any minute. You could have told that he was from extremely elsewhere at first glance. He was as different as if he had worn tattoo-marks for trousers. He was a stout party with black-rimmed eyeglasses, side whiskers that you wouldn't have believed even if you had seen them, and slabs of iron-gray hair with a pepper-and-salt traveling cap stuck on top of his head like a cupola. He was beautifully curved and his black preacher uniform looked as if it had been put on him by a paperhanger. I forgot to tell you that his name was the Reverend Ponsonby Diggs. He had to tell it to me four times and then write it down, for the way he handled his words was positively heartless. He clipped them, beheaded them, disemboweled them and warped them all out of shape. Have you ever heard a real ingrowing Englishman start a word in the roof of his mouth and then back away from it as if it was red-hot and had prickles on it? It's interesting. They seem to think it is indecent to come brazenly out and sound a vowel.
The Reverend Ponsonby Diggs—as near as I could get it he called himself "Pubby Daggs"—greeted Petey with great relief. He seemed to regard us as a rescue brigade. "Reahly, you know, this is extraordinary," he sputtered. "I have never seen such disorder. What will the authorities do?"
That touched my pride. "Pshaw, man!" I says; "we're only warming up. Pretty soon we'll take this train out in the woods and lose it."
I meant it for a joke. But the Reverend Mr. Diggs hadn't specialized in American jokes. "You don't mean to say they will derail the train!" he said anxiously. Then I knew that Petey was going to win my dress suit.
I assured the Reverend—pshaw, I'm tired of saying all that! I'm going to save breath. I assured Diggsey that derailing was the kindest thing ever done to trains by Siwash students, but that as his hosts we would stand by him, whatever happened. Then Petey slipped away to arrange the cast and I kept on answering questions. Say! that man was a regular magazine gun, loaded with interrogation points. Was there any danger to life on these trains? Would it be possible for him to take a ride in a stage-coach? Were train robbers still plentiful? Had gold ever been found around Siwash? Were the Indians troublesome? Did we have regular school buildings or did we live in tents? Had not the railroad had a distinctly—er—civilizing influence in this region? Was it not, after all, remarkable that the thirst for learning could be found even in this wild and desolate country?
And Siwash is only half a day from Chicago by parlor car!
I answered his questions as well as I could. I told him how hard it was to find professors who wouldn't get drunk, and how we had to let the men and women recite on alternate days after a few of the hen students had been winged by stray bullets. I had never heard of Greek, I said, but I assured him that we studied Latin and that we had a professor to whom Caesar was as easy as print. I told him how hard we worked to get a little culture and how many of the boys gave up their ponies altogether, wore store clothes and took 'em off when they went to bed all the time they were in college; but, try as I would, I couldn't make the answers as ridiculous as his questions. He had me on the mat, two points down and fighting for wind all the time. His thirst for knowledge was wonderful and his objection to believing what his eyes must have told him was still more wonderful. There he was, half-way across the country from New York, and he must have looked out of the car windows on the way; but he hadn't seen a thing. I suppose it was because he wasn't looking for anything but Indians.
All this time Petey was circulating about the car, taking aside members of the Rep Rho Betas and talking to them earnestly. The Rep Rho Betas were the Sophomore fraternity and were the real demons of the college. Each year the outgoing Sophomore class initiated the twenty Freshmen who were most likely to meet the hangman on professional business and passed on the duties of the fraternity to them. The fraternity spent its time in pleasure and was suspected of anything violent which happened in the county. Petey was highbinder of the gang that year and was very far gone in crime.
We were due home about ten P. M., and just before they untied the conductor Petey hauled me off to one side.
"It's all fixed," he said; "it's glorious. We'll just make Siwash into a Wild West show for his benefit. The Rep Rho Betas will entertain him days and he'll stay at the Eta Pie House nights. I'm putting the Eta Bites on now. You've got to get him off this train before we get to the station and keep him busy while I arrange the program. Just give me an hour before you get him there. That's all I ask."
Now I never was a diplomat, and the job of lugging a fat old foreigner around a dead college town at night and trying to make him think he was in peril of his life every minute was about three numbers larger than my size. I couldn't think of anything else, so I slipped the word to Ole Skjarsen that Diggs was a Kiowa professor who was coming over to get notes on our team and tip them off to Muggledorfer College. I judged this would create some hostility and I wasn't mistaken. Ole began to climb over his fellow-students and I was just able to beat him to his prey.
"Come on," I whispered. "Skjarsen's on the warpath. He says he wants to bite up a stranger and he thinks you'll do."
"Oh, my dear sir," said the Reverend Ponsonby, jumping up and grabbing a hatbox, "you don't mean to tell me that he will use violence?"
"Violence nothing!" I yelled, picking up four pieces of baggage. "He won't use violence. He'll just eat you alive, that's all. He's awful that way. Come, quick!"
"Oh, my word!" said Diggsey, grabbing his other five bundles and piling out of the car after me.
The train was slowing down for the crossing west of Jonesville, and I judged it wouldn't hurt the great collector of Western local color to roll a little. So I yelled, "Jump for your life!" He jumped. I swung off and went back till I met him coming along on his shoulder-blades, with a procession of baggage following him. He wasn't hurt a bit, but he looked interesting. I brushed him off, cached the baggage—all but a suitcase and the hatbox which he hadn't dropped for a minute—and we began to edge unostentatiously into Jonesville.
For an hour or more we dodged around in alleys and behind barns, while up on the campus the boys burned a woodshed, an old fruit-stand, half a hundred drygoods boxes and half a mile of wooden sidewalk by way of celebration. The glare in the sky was wild enough to satisfy any one, and when some of the boys got the old army muskets that the cadets drilled with out of the armory and banged away, I was happy. But how I did long to be close up to that fire! It was a cold night in early November, and as I lay behind woodsheds, with my teeth wearing themselves out on each other, I felt like an early Christian martyr—though it wasn't cold they suffered from as a rule. As for the Reverend Pubby, he wanted to creep away to the next town and then start for England disguised as a chorus girl, or anything; but I wouldn't let him. We sneaked around till nearly midnight and then crept up the alley to the Eta Bita Pie House, wondering if we would ever get warm again.
I've seen some grand transformation scenes, but I never saw anything more impressive than the way the Eta Bita Pie House had been done over in two hours. We always prided ourselves on our house. It cost fifteen thousand dollars, exclusive of the plumber's little hold-up and the Oriental rugs, and it was full of polished floors and monogram silverware and fancy pottery and framed prints, and other bang-up-to-date incumbrances. But in two hours thirty boys can change a whole lot of scenery. They had spread dirt and sand over the floor, had ripped out the curtains and chased the pictures. They had poked out a window-light or two, had unhung a few doors, and had filled the corners with saddles, old clothes, flour barrels and dogs. You never saw so many dogs. The whole neighborhood had been raided. They were hanging round everywhere, homesick and miserable; and one of the Freshmen had been given the job of cruising around and kicking them just to keep them tuned up.
A dozen of the fellows were playing poker on an old board table in the middle of the big living-hall when we came in. Their clothes were hand-me-downs from Noah's time, and every one of them was outraging some convention or other. Our boys always did go in for amateur theatricals pretty strongly, and the way our most talented members abused the English language that night when they welcomed the Reverend Pubby was as good as a book.
"Proud ter meet you," roared Allie Bangs, our president, taking off his hat and making a low bow. "Set right in and enjoy yourself. White chips is a dime, limit is a dollar and no gunplay goes."
When Pubby had explained for the third time that he had never had the pleasure of playing the game, Bangs finally got on to the curves in his pronunciation and understood him.
"What! Never played poker!" he whooped. "Hell a humpin', where was you raised? You sure ain't a college man? Any lop-eared galoot that didn't play poker in Siwash would get run out by the Faculty. You ought to see our president put up his pile and draw to a pair of deuces. What!—a Reverend! I beg your pardon, friend. 'S all right. Jest name the game you're strong at and we'll try to accommodate you later on. Here, you fellows, watch my chips while I show the Reverend around our diggin's. You nip one like you did last time, Turk Bowman, and there'll be the all-firedest row that this shack has ever seed. Come right along, Reverend."
That tour was a great triumph for Bangs. We always did admire his acting, but he outdid himself that night. The rest of us just kept quiet and let him handle the conversation, and I must say it sounded desperate enough to be convincing. Of course he slipped up occasionally and stuck in words that would have choked an ordinary cow-gentleman, but Diggsey was that dazed he wouldn't have suspected if they had been Latin. I thought it would be more or less of a job to explain how we were living in a fifteen-thousand-dollar house instead of dugouts, but Bangs never hesitated a minute. He explained that the house belonged to a millionaire cattle-owner who had built it from reading a society novel, and that he let us live in it because he preferred to live in the barn with the horses. The boys had filled their rooms full of junk and one of them had even tied a pig to his bed—while the way Bangs cleared rubbish out of the bathtub and promised to have some water heated in the morning was convincingly artless. He had just finished explaining that, owing to the boiler-plate in the walls, the house was practically Indian proof, when an awful fusillade of shots broke out from the kitchen. Bangs disappeared for a moment, gun in hand, and I watched our guest trying to make himself six inches narrower and three feet shorter. I don't know when I ever saw a chap so anxious to melt right down into a corner and be mistaken for a carpet tack.
"'S all right," said Bangs, clumping in cheerfully. "Jest the cook having another fit. We've got a cook," he explained, "who gets loaded up 'bout oncet a month so full that he cries pure alcohol, and when he gits that way he insists on trying to shoot cockroaches with his gun. He ain't never killed one, but he's gotten two Chinamen and a mule, and we've got to put a stop to it. He's tied up in the cellar a-swearin' that if he gits loose he'll come upstairs and furnish material for nineteen fancy funerals with silver name-plates. But, don't you worry, Reverend. He can't hurt a fly 'less he gits loose. Here's your room. That hoss blanket on the cot's brand new; towel's in the hall and you'll find a comb somewheres round. Just you turn in if you feel like it, and when you hear Wall-Eye Denton and Pete Pearsall trying to massacre each other in the next room it's time to git up."
Pubby said he would retire at once, and we left him looking scared but relieved. I'll bet he sat up all night taking notes and expecting things to happen. We sat up, too, but for a different reason. You can't imagine how much work it took to get that house running backward. And it was an awful job to do the Wild West stunt, too. We sat and criticised each other's dialect and actions until there were as many as three free fights going on at once. One man favored the Bret Harte style of bad man; another adhered to the Henry Wallace Phillips brand; while still another insisted on following the Remington school. We compromised on a mixture and then spent the rest of the night learning how to forget our table manners.
The result was magnificent. I shall never forget the Reverend Pubby's pained but fascinated expression as he sat at breakfast the next morning and watched thirty hungry savages shoveling plain, unvarnished grub into their faces. The breakfast couldn't have gone better if we had had a dress rehearsal. Our guest couldn't eat. He was afraid to talk. He just held on to his chair, and we could see him stiffen with horror every time some eater would rise up so as to increase his reach and spear a piece of bread six feet away with his fork. The breakfast was a disgusting display of Poland-China manners and was successful in every particular.
We confidently expected Petey Simmons to turn up during the meal and tell us what to do next. He had spent the night with his odoriferous Rep Rho Beta brothers cooking up the rest of the plot and had promised to run up at breakfast. But no Petey appeared. We strung the meal along as far as we could toward dinner and then took up the job of keeping the Reverend Pubby contented and in the house until the life-saving crew arrived. Did you ever try to lie all morning with a slow-speed imagination? That's what we had to do. We explained to Pubby that the students caroused all night and never came to college in the morning; we told him it was against the rules for strangers to go on the campus in the morning; we told him it was dangerous to go out-of-doors because of the Alfalfa Delta, who were suspected of being cannibals; we told him forty thousand things, most of which contradicted each other. If it hadn't been for the boys who kindly started a fight whenever his reverence had tangled Bangs and me up hopelessly on some question we couldn't have survived the inquisition. As it was, I perspired about a barrel and my brain ached for a week.
We went to lunch and put on another exhibition of free-hand feeding, getting more grumpy and disgusted every minute. We were all ready to yell for mercy and put on our civilized clothes when we heard a terrific riot from outside. Then Petey came in.
If there ever was a sure-enough Wild Westerner it was Petey that afternoon. He had on the whole works—two-acre hat, red woolen shirt, spurs, and even chaps—nice hairy ones. I discovered next day that he had swiped my fine bearskin rug and cut it up to make them. In his belt he had a revolver which couldn't have been less than two feet long. Petey was a little fellow, with one of those nineteen-sizes-too-large voices, and when he turned the full organ on you would have thought old Mount Vesuvius had wakened up and rumbled into the room.
"Howdy, Reverend," he thundered. "We jest come along to take you on a little ride over to college. Got a nice gentle cow-pony out here. She bucks as easy as a rockin'-horse. Don't mind about your clothes. Just hop right on. The boys is some anxious to get along, it being most classtime."
We followed the two of them out to the back yard. There were seven Rep Rho Betas on seven moth-eaten ponies which they had dug up from goodness knows where. The rigs they had on represented each fellow's idea of what a cowboy looked like, and would have made a real cowpuncher hang himself for shame. Petey confessed afterward that, of all the Rep Rho Betas, only seven had ever been on a horse, and, of these, three kept him in agony for fear they would fall off and compel him to explain that they were on the verge of delirium tremens. They were a weird-looking bunch, but, gee! they were fierce. Pirates would have been kittens beside them.