I guess the Reverend Pubby had never done much in the Centaur line, for he came very near balking entirely right there. It took us five minutes to explain that there was no other way of getting out to Siwash and that the Faculty would take it as a personal insult if he didn't come. We also had to explain how disagreeable the Faculty was when it was insulted. And then after he had consented we spent another five minutes hoisting him aboard a prehistoric plug and telling him how to stick on. Then the line filed out through the alley with a regular ghost-dance yell, while we detained Petey. We were about to massacre him for leaving us to sweat all morning, but we forgot all about it when Petey told us what he had been doing. He admitted that, in order not to annoy the profs and cause unnecessary questions, he had taken the liberty to build a temporary Siwash College for this special occasion.
Yes, sir; nothing less than that. You remember Dillpickle Academy, the extinct college in the west part of town? It had been closed for years because the only remaining student had gotten lonesome. But most of the equipment was still there, and Petey had borrowed it of the caretaker for one day only, promising to give it back as good as new in the morning. Petey could have borrowed the great seal away from the Department of State. He and his Rep Rho Betas had let a lot of students into the deal, had been working all morning, and Siwash was ready for business at the new stand.
We wanted to measure Petey for a medal then and there, but he refused, being needed on the firing-line. He rode off and we made a grand rush for the new Siwash College—special one-day stand, benefit performance. We got there before the escorting committee and had a fine view of the grand entry. The Reverend Pubby had fallen off four times, and the last mile he had led his horse. It was a sagacious scheme bringing him along, as none of the others had a chance to exhibit their extremely sketchy horsemanship in anything better than a mile-an-hour gait.
Old Dillpickle Academy was busier than it had ever been in real life when we got there. Fully fifty students were on the scene. They were decked out in cowboy clothes, hand-me-downs, big straw hats, blankets—any old thing. One thing that impressed me was the number of books they were carrying. At Siwash we always refused to carry books except when absolutely necessary. It seemed too affected—as if you were trying to learn something. But out there at near-Siwash every man had at least six books. I saw geographies, spellers, Ella Wheeler Wilcox's poems, Science and Health, and the Congressional Record. Learning was just naturally rampant out there. Students were studying on the fence. They were walking up and down the campus "boning" furiously. They were even studying in the trees. You get fifty college boys to turn actors for a day and you will see some mighty mixed results. There was "Bay" Sanderson, for instance. "Bay's" idea of being a wild and Western student was to sit on the front gate with a long knife stuck in his belt and read detective stories. He did it all through the performance, and whenever the guest was led past him he would turn the book down carefully, pull the knife out of his belt and whoop three times as solemn as a judge.
You never saw any one so interested as the Reverend Ponsonby Diggs. His eyes stuck out like incandescent globes. He had been pretty well jolted up, and he yelled in a low, polite way every time he made a quick movement, but his thirst for information was still vigorous. As head host Petey was pumpee, and he was always four laps ahead of the job.
"Eh, I say," said Pubby, after surveying the scene for a few minutes. "This is all very interesting, you know. But what a little place!"
"Hell, Reverend," said Petey emphatically, "she's the biggest school in the world."
The Reverend was a man of guile. He didn't bat an eye.
"How many students has the college?" he inquired.
"We've got a hundred, all studying books and learning things," said Petey proudly.
"Reahly, now?" said the Reverend; "I say, reahly? And these cows! Might I ask if these cows are a part of the college?"
"Sure thing," said Petey. "Sophomore roping class uses 'em. Great class to watch."
"I say now, this is extraordinary," said the Reverend. "You don't mean to tell me you tie up cows?"
"Rope 'em and tie 'em and brand 'em," said Petey. "What's college for if it ain't to learn you things?"
"I say now, this is extraordinary," said the Reverend. I gave him four more "extraordinaries" before I did something violent. He'd used two hundred that morning. "Might I see the class at work?" he inquired.
Petey didn't even hesitate. "Sorry, Reverend," says he. "But the Professor of Roping and Branding has been drunk for a week. Class ain't working now."
The college bell tapped three times. "That's cleaning-up bell," said Petey.
"Oh, I say now," said the Reverend, hauling out his notebook. "What's cleaning-up bell?"
"Why, to clean up the college," said Petey. "We clean it up once a week. With the fellows riding their horses into class and tracking mud and clay in, and eating lunches and stuff around, it gets pretty messy before the end of the week. We make the Freshmen clean it out. There they go now."
A dozen "supes" filed slowly into the building with brooms and shovels. Pubby couldn't have looked more interested if they had been crowned heads of Europe.
Just then a fine assortment of sounds broke out in the old building. The doors burst open and a young red-headed Mick from the seventh ward near by rode a pony down the steps and away for dear life. Behind him came a double-sized gent with yard-wide mustaches. He was dressed in a red shirt, overalls and firearms. He was a walking museum of weapons. Petey told me afterward that he had borrowed him from the roundhouse near by, and that for a box of cigars he had kindly consented to play the part of an irritable arsenal for one afternoon only.
"That's the janitor," said Petey in an awestruck whisper. "Get behind a tree, quick. He's sure some vexed. He hates to have the boys ride their ponies into classroom."
We got a fine view of the janitor as he swept past. He was a regular volcano in pants. Never have I heard the English language more richly embossed with profanity. Firing a fat locomotive up the grades around Siwash with bad coal gives a man great talent in expression. We listened to him with awe. Pubby was entranced. He asked me if it would be safe to take anything down in his notebook, and when I promised to protect him he wrote three pages.
By this time the campus was filling up. Word had gotten around the real college that the big show of the season was being pulled off up at Dillpickle, and the students were arriving by the dozen. We were getting pretty nervous. The new arrivals weren't coached, and sooner or later they were bound to give the snap away. We decided to introduce our guest to the president. If we could keep things quiet another half hour all would be safe, Petey assured us.
We took the Reverend up to the main entrance, Petey's thinker working like a well-oiled machine all the way. He pointed out the tree where they hanged a horse thief, and Pubby made us wait till he had gotten a leaf from it. The Senior classes at Dillpickle had had the custom of hauling boulders on to the campus as graduation presents. Petey explained that each boulder marked the resting place of some student whose career had been foreshortened accidentally, and he described several of the tragedies—invented them right off the reel. Pubby was so interested he didn't care who saw his notebook. When Petey told him how a pack of timber wolves had besieged the school for nine days and nights, four years before, he almost cried because there was no photograph of the scene handy. We had to promise him a wolf skin to comfort him.
Dillpickle Academy was a plain old brick building, with one of those cupolas which were so popular among schools and colleges forty years ago. I don't know just what mysterious effect a cupola has on education, but it was considered necessary at that time. In front of the building was a wide stone porch. Inside we could see half a dozen dogs and a horse. Pubby looked a bushel of exclamation points when Petey explained that they belonged to the president. He looked a lot more when he saw a counter with a fine assortment of chewing tobacco and pipes on it. That, Petey whispered to me, was his masterpiece. He had borrowed the whole thing from a corner grocery store.
Petey had just put his eye to the window of the president's room, ostensibly to find out whether Prexy was in a good humor and in reality to find out whether Kennedy, an old grad who had consented to play the part, was on duty, when one of the boys hurried up and grabbed me.
"Just evaporate as fast as you can," he whispered; "there are six cops on the way out. They're going to pinch the whole bunch of us."
Now this was a fine predicament for a young and promising college—to be arrested by six lowly cops on its own campus, in the act of showing a distinguished visitor how it ran the earth, and was particular Hades with the trigger-finger! Bangs was showing Pubby the window through which the Professor of Arithmetic had thrown him the term before, and I told Petey. He sat down and cried.
"After all this work and just as we had it cinched!" he moaned. "I'll quit school to-morrow and devote my life to poisoning policemen. This has made an anarchist of me."
There was nothing to do. We couldn't very well explain that the college would now have to run away and hide because some enthusiastic Freshman had fired a horse-pistol on the streets of Jonesville. I looked at the crowd of fantastic students getting ready to bolt for the fence. I looked at our victim, fairly punching words into his notebook. It was the brightest young dream that was ever busted by a fat loafer in brass buttons. Then I saw Ole Skjarsen and had my one big inspiration.
"Excuse me," I said, rushing over to Pubby, "but you'll have to mosey right out of here. There's Ole Skjarsen, and he looks ugly."
"Oh, my word!" said Pubby; he remembered Ole from the night before.
"Right around the building!" yelled Petey, grabbing the cue. Naturally Ole heard him and saw those whiskers. "Har's das spy!" he yelled. "Kill him, fallers; he ban a spy!" We dashed around the building, Ole following us. And then, because the cops had arrived at the front gate, the whole mob thundered after us.
Well, sir, you never saw a more successful race in your life. There were no less than a hundred Siwash students behind us, and, though no one but Ole Skjarsen had any interest in us, they were all trying to break the sprint record in our direction, it being the line of least resistance. And, say! We certainly had misjudged the Reverend Ponsonby Diggs. He may have been fat, but how he could run! His work was phenomenal. I think he must have been on a track team himself at some earlier part of his career, for the way he steamed away from the gang would have reminded you of the Lusitania racing the Statue of Liberty. He lost his cap. He shed his long black coat. He rolled over the fence at the rear of the campus without even hesitating, and the last we saw of him he was going down the road out of Jonesville into the west, his legs revolving in a blue haze. Even if we had wanted to stop him, we couldn't have caught him. And besides, Ole caught Petey and me just outside of the campus and we had to do some twenty-nine-story-tall explaining to keep from getting punched for harboring spies. No one had thought to put him next to the game.
That all? Goodness, no! We cleaned up for a week and had been so good that the Faculty had about decided that nothing had happened when the Reverend Ponsonby Diggs appeared in Jonesville again. He came with a United States marshal for a bodyguard, too. He had footed it to the next town, it seems, and had wired the nearest British consul that he had been attacked by savages at Siwash College and robbed of all his baggage. They say he demanded battleships or a Hague conference, or something of the sort, and that the consul's office asked a Government officer to go out and pacify him. They stepped off the train at the Union Station and went right up to college—only four blocks away.
Petey and I remained considerably invisible, but the boys tell me that the look on the Reverend's face when he arrived at the real Siwash was worth perpetuating in bronze. He went up the fine old avenue, past the fine new buildings, in a daze; and when our good old Prexy, who had him skinned forty ways for dignity, shook hands with him and handed him a little talk that was a saturated solution of Latin, he couldn't even say "most extraordinary." You can realize how far gone he was.
Some of the boys got hold of the marshal that day and told him the story. He laughed from four P. M. until midnight, with only three stops for refreshments. The Reverend Pubby Diggs stayed three days as the guest of the Faculty and he didn't get up nerve enough in all that time to talk business. We saw him at chapel where he couldn't see us, and he looked like a man who had suddenly discovered, while falling out of his aeroplane, that somebody had removed the earth and had left no address behind. His baggage mysteriously appeared at his room in the hotel on the first night, and when he left he hadn't recovered consciousness sufficiently to inquire where it came from. I think he went right back to England when he left Siwash, and I'll bet that by now he has almost concluded that some one had been playing a joke on him. You give those Englishmen time and they will catch on to almost anything.
THE GREEK DOUBLE CROSS
Suffering bear-cats! Say! excuse me while I take a long rest, Jim. I need it. I've just read a piece of information in this letter that makes me tired all over.
What is it? Oh, just another variety of competition smothered with a gentlemanly agreement—that's all; another bright-eyed little trust formed and another readjustment of affairs on a business basis. We old fellows needn't break our necks to get back to Siwash and the frat this fall, they write me. Of course they'll be delighted to see us and all that; but there's no burning need for us and we needn't jump any jobs to report in time to put the brands on the Freshmen and rescue them from the noisome Alfalfa Delts and Sigh Whoops—because there isn't going to be any rescuing this fall.
They've had an agreement at Siwash. They're going to approach the Freshies under strict rules. No parties. No dinners at the houses. No abductions. No big, tall talk about pledging to-night or staggering through a twilight life to a frowzy-headed and unimportant old age in some bum bunch. All done away with. Everything nice and orderly. Freshman arrives. You take his name and address. Call on him, attended by referees. Maintain a general temperature of not more than sixty-five when you meet him on the campus. Buy him one ten-cent cigar during the fall and introduce him to one girl—age, complexion and hypnotic power to be carefully regulated by the rushing committee. Then you send him a little engraved invitation to amalgamate with you; and when he answers, per the self-addressed envelope inclosed, you are to love him like a brother for the next three and a half years. Gee! how that makes me ache!
Think of it! And at old Siwash, too!—Siwash, where we never considered a pledge safe until we had him tied up in a back room, with our colors on him and a guard around the house! That settles me. I've always yearned to go back and cavort over the campus in the fall when college opened; but not for me no more! Why, if I went back there and got into the rushing game, first thing I knew they'd have me run up before a pan-Hellenic council, charged with giving an eligible Freshman more than two fingers when I shook hands with him; and I'd be ridden out of town on a rail for rushing in an undignified manner.
Rushing? What's rushing? Oh, yes; I forgot that you never participated in that delicious form of insanity known as a fall term in college. Rushing is a cross between proposing to a girl and abducting a coyote. Rushing a man for a frat is trying to make him believe that to belong to it is joy and inspiration, and to belong to any other means misery and an early tomb; that all the best men in college either belong to your frat or couldn't get in; that you're the best fellows on earth, and that you're crazy to have him, and that he is a coming Senator; that you can't live without him; that the other gang can't appreciate him; that you never ask men twice; that you don't care much for him anyway, and that you are just as likely as not to withdraw the spike any minute if you should happen to get tired of the cut of his trousers; that your crowd can make him class president and the other crowds can make him fine mausoleums; that you love him like real brothers and that he has already bound himself in honor to pledge—and that if he doesn't he will regret it all his life; and, besides, you will punch his head if he doesn't put on the colors. That's rushing for you.
What's my crowd? Why, the Eta Bita Pie, of course. Couldn't you tell that from my skyscraper brow? We Eta Bites are so much better than any other frat that we break down and cry now and then when we think of the poor chaps who can't belong to us. We're bigger, grander, nobler and tighter about the chest than any other gang. We've turned out more Senators, Congressmen, Supreme Justices, near-Presidents, captains of industry, foreign ambassadors and football captains than any two of them. We own more frat houses, win more college elections, know more about neckties and girls, wear louder vests and put more cross-hatch effects on our neophytes than any three of them. We're so immeasurably ahead of everything with a Greek-letter name that every Freshman of taste and discrimination turns down everything else and waits until we crook our little finger at him. Of course, sometimes we make a mistake and ask some fellow that isn't a man of taste and discrimination; he proves it by going into some other frat; and that, of course, keeps all the men of poor judgment out of our gang and puts them in the others. Regular automatic dispensation of Providence, isn't it?
It's been a long time since I had a chance to gather with the brethren back at Siwash and agree with them how glorious we are, but this note brings it all back. My! how I'd like this minute to go back about ten years and cluster around our big grate fire, which used to make the Delta Kaps so crazy with envy. Those were the good old days when we came back to college in the fall, looked over the haycrop in the Freshman class, picked out the likeliest seed repositories, and then proceeded to carve them out from the clutches of a round dozen rival frats, each one crazy to get a spike into every new student who looked as if he might be president of the Senior class and an authority on cotillons some day. No namby-pamby, drop-three-and-carry-one crochet effects about our rushing those days! We just stood up on our hind legs and scrapped it out. For concentrated, triple-distilled, double-X excitement, the first three weeks of college, with every frat breaking its collective neck to get a habeas corpus on the same six or eight men, had a suffragette riot in the House of Parliament beaten down to a dove-coo.
There was nothing that made us love a Freshman so hard as to have about six other frats after him. I've seen women buy hats the same way. They've got to beat some other woman to a hat before they can really appreciate it. And when we could swat half a dozen rival frats over the heart by waltzing a good-looking young chap down the walk to chapel with our colors on his coat, and could watch them turning green and purple and clawing for air—well, I guess it beat getting elected to Congress or marrying an heiress-apparent for pure, unadulterated, unspeckled joy!
Competition was getting mighty scarce in the country even then. There were understandings between railroad magnates and beef kings and biscuit makers—and even the ministers had a scale of wedding fees. But competition had a happy home on our campus. About the best we had been able to do had been to agree not to burn down each other's frat houses while we were haltering the Freshmen. I've seen nine frats, with a total of one hundred and fifty members, sitting up nights for a week at a time working out plans to despoil each other of a runty little fellow in a pancake hat, whose only accomplishment was playing the piano with his feet. One frat wanted him and that started the others.
Of course we'd have got along better if we'd put the whole Freshman class in cold storage until we could have found out who the good men were and who the spoiled fruit might be. We were just as likely to fall in love with a suit of clothes as with a future class orator. We took in one man once because he bought a pair of patent-leather tan shoes in his Junior year. We argued that, if he had the nerve to wear the things to his Y. M. C. A. meetings, there must be some originality in him after all—and we took a chance. We won. But it's a risky business. Once five frats rushed a fellow for a month because of the beautiful clothes he wore—and just after the victorious bunch had initiated him a clothing house came down on the young man and took the whole outfit. You can't always tell at first sight. But then, I don't know but that college fraternities exercise as much care and judgment in picking brothers as women do in picking husbands. Many a woman has married a fine mustache or a bunch of noble clothes and has taken the thing that wore them on spec. That's one more than we ever did. You could fool us with clothes; but the man who came to Siwash with a mustache had to flock by himself. He and his whiskers were considered to be enough company for each other.
There were plenty of frats in Siwash to make things interesting in the fall. There were the Alfalfa Delts, who had a house in the same block with us and were snobbish just because they had initiated a locomotive works, two railroads and a pickle factory. Then there were the Sigh Whoopsilons, who got to Siwash first and who regarded the rest of us with the same kindly tolerance with which the Indians regarded Daniel Boone. And there were the Chi Yis, who fought society hard and always had their picture taken for the college annual in dress suits. Many's the time I've loaned my dress suit to drape over some green young Chi Yi, so that the annual picture could show an unbroken row of open-faced vests. And there were the Shi Delts, who were a bold, bad bunch; and the Fli Gammas, who were good, pious boys, about as exciting as a smooth-running prayer-meeting; and the Delta Kappa Sonofaguns, who got every political office either by electing a member or initiating one; and the Delta Flushes; and the Mu Kow Moos; the Sigma Numerous; and two or three others that we didn't lie awake nights worrying about. Every one of these bunches had one burning ambition—that was to initiate the very best men in the Freshman class every fall. That made it necessary for us, in order to maintain our proud position, to disappoint each one of them every year and to make ourselves about as popular as the directors of a fresh-air and drinking-water trust.
Of course we always disappointed them. Wouldn't admit it if we didn't. But, holy mackerel! what a job it was! Herding a bunch of green and timid and nervous and contrary youngsters past all the temptations and pitfalls and confidence games and blarneyfests put up by a dozen frats, and landing the bunch in a crowd that it had never heard of two weeks before, is as bad as trying to herd a bunch of whales into a fishpond with nothing but hot air for gads. It took diplomacy, pugnacity and psychological moments, I tell you; and it took more: it took ingenuity and inventiveness and cheek and second sight and cool heads in time of trouble and long heads on the job, from daybreak to daybreak. I'd rather go out and sell battleships to farmers, so far as the toughness of the job is concerned, than to tackle the job of persuading a wise young high-school product with two chums in another frat that my bunch and he were made for each other. What did he care for our glorious history? We had to use other means of getting him. We had to hypnotize him, daze him, waft him off his feet; and if necessary we had to get the other frats to help us. How? Oh, you never know just how until you have to; and then you slip your scheme wheels into gear and do it. You just have to; that's all. It's like running away from a bear. You know you can't, but you've got to; and so you do.
Makes me smile now when I think of some of the desperate crises that used to roll up around old Eta Bita Pie like a tornado convention and threaten to engulf the bright, beautiful world and turn it into a howling desert, peopled only by Delta Kappa Whoops and other undesirables. I'm far enough away, now, to forget the heart-bursting suspense and to see only the humor of it. Once I remember the Shi Delts, in spite of everything we could do, managed so to befog the brain of the Freshman class president that he cut a date with us and sequestered himself in the Shi Delt house in an upper back room, with the horrible intention of pledging himself the next morning. Four of the largest Shi Delts sat on the front porch that evening and the telephone got paralysis right after supper. They had told the boy that if he joined them he would probably have to leave school in his Junior year to become governor; and he didn't want to see any of us for fear we would wake him up. I chuckle yet when I think of those four big bruisers sitting on the front porch and guarding their property while I was shinning up the corner post of the back porch, leaving a part of my trousers fluttering on a nail and ordering the youngster in a blood-curdling whisper to hand down his coat, unless he wanted to lose forever his chance of being captain of the football team in his Sophomore year. He weighed the governorship against the captaincy for a minute, but the right triumphed and he handed down his coat. I sewed a big bunch of our colors on it, discoursed with him fraternally while balancing on the slanting roof, shook hands with him in a solemn, ritualistic way and bade him be firm the next morning. When the Shi Delts came in and found that Freshman pledged to another gang they had a convulsion that lasted a week; and to this day they don't know how the crime was committed.
There was another Freshman, I remember, who was led violently astray by the Chi Yis and was about to pledge to them under the belief that their gang contained every man of note in the United States. We had to get him over to the house and palm off a lot of our alumni as leading actors and authors, who had dropped in to dinner, before he was sufficiently impressed to reason with us. Of course this is not what the English would call "rully sporting, don't you know!" but in our consciences it was all classified as revenge. We got the same doses. Pillings, of the Mu Kow Moos, pulled one of our spikes out in beautiful fashion once by impersonating our landlord. He rushed up the steps just as a Freshman rushee was starting down all alone and demanded the rent for six months on the spot, threatening to throw us out into the street that minute. The Freshman hesitated just long enough to get his clothes out of the house, and we didn't know for a month what had frozen his feet.
The Fli Gams weren't so slow, either. They found out once that one of the men we were just about to land had a great disgust for two of our men. What did one of their alumni do but happen craftily over our way and mention in the most casual manner the undying admiration that the boy had for those two? Of course we sandwiched him between them for a week—and of course we were pained and grieved when he tossed us into the discard; but we got even with them the next year. We picked up an eminent young pugilist, who made his headquarters in the next town, and for a little consideration and a suit of clothes that was a regular college yell we got him to hang around the campus for a week. We rushed him terrifically for a day and then managed to let the Fli Gams get him. They rushed him for a week in spite of our carefully regulated indignation and then proposed to him. When he told them that he might consider coming to school—as soon as he had gone South and had cleaned up a couple of good scraps—they let out an awful shriek and fumigated the house. They were nice young chaps, but no judge of a pugilist. They expected to be able to see his hoofs.
Well, it was this way every year all fall. Ding-dong, bing-bang, give and take, no quarter and pretty nearly everything fair. As I said, it wasn't considered exactly proper to burn a rival frat house in order to distract the attention of the occupants while they were entertaining a Freshman, but otherwise we did pretty nearly what we pleased to each other—only being careful to do it first. Of course a lot of things are fair in love and war that would not be considered strictly ethical in a game of croquet. And rushing a Freshman is as near like love as anything I know of. It isn't that we love the Freshman so much. When I think of some of the trash we fought over and lost I have to laugh. But we couldn't bear the idea of losing him. To sit by and watch another gang win the affections of a young fellow who you know is designed by Nature for your frat and the football team; to note him gradually breaking off the desperate chumminess that has grown up between you in the last forty-eight hours; to think that in another day he will have on the pledge colors of another fraternity and will be lost to you forever and ever and ever, and then some—what is losing a mere girl to some other fellow compared with that? Of course I realize now that, even if a Freshman does join another frat, you can eventually get chummy with him again after college days are over if you find him worth crossing the street to see; and I find myself lending money to Shi Delts and borrowing it from Delta Whoops just as freely as if they were Eta Bites. But somehow you don't learn these things in time to save your poor old nerves in college.
When I was in school the Alfalfa Delts, the Sigh Whoopsilons and the Chi Yis were giving us a horrible race. I'm willing to admit it now, though I'd have fought Jeffries before doing it ten years ago. Each fall was one long whirlwind. The President of the United States in an office-seekers' convention would have had a placid time compared with the Freshmen. We didn't exactly use real axes on each other and we didn't actually tear any Freshman in two pieces, but we came as near the limit as was comfortable. No frat was safe for a minute with its guests. If you tried to feed 'em there was kerosene in the ice cream. If you entertained them some frat with a better quartet worked outside the house. If you took them out to call the parlor would fill up with riffraff in no time; and if you took your eye off your victim for a minute he was gone—some other gang had got him. I sometimes think some of the crowds knew how to palm Freshmen the way magicians do, from the way they disappeared.
Even the girls took a hand in it. When I was a Sophomore I was intrusted with the task of leading a Freshman three blocks down to Browning Hall to call on one of our solid girls, and before I had gone a block two Senior girls met us. They were bare acquaintances of mine, being strong Delta Kap. allies, and they usually managed to see me only after a severe effort; but this time you'd have thought I was a whole regiment of fiancees. They literally fell on my neck. It was cruel of me, they declared, to be so unsociable. There I was, a football hero—I'd just broken my rib on the scrub team—and every girl in school was dying to tell me how grand it was to suffer for one's college; and yet I wouldn't so much as hint that I wanted to come to the sorority parties—and lots more talk of the same kind. Naturally I was somewhat dazzled and I'd walked about half a block with the prettiest one before I noticed that the other one was steering Freshie the other way. I turned around and never even said "Good day" to that girl; but it was too late. About a dozen Delta Kaps appeared out of the ground and tried to look surprised as they gathered around that scared little Freshman and engulfed him. We never saw him again—that is, in his innocent condition—and the boys wouldn't even trust me with the pledges we were rushing around for bait the rest of the fall term. Bait? Oh, yes. Sometimes we'd pledge a man on the quiet and leave him out a week or two, so that plenty of frats could bid him—made them appreciate his worth, you know, and got every one well acquainted.
By the time I was a Senior the competition was desperate. We spent the summers scouring the country for prospects and we spent the first week of school smuggling our trophies into our houses and pledging them, without giving the other fellow a look in—that is, we tried to. We came back fairly strong in my Senior year, with a good bunch of prospects; but the one that excited us most was a telegram from Snooty Vincent in Chicago. It was brief and erratic, like Snooty himself, and read as follows:
Freshman named Smith will register from Chicago. Son of old man Smith, multimillionaire. Kid's a comer. Get him sure! SNOOTY.
That was all. One of the half million Smiths of Chicago was coming to college—age, weight, complexion, habits and time of arrival unknown. That telegram qualified Snooty for the paresis ward. We didn't even know what Smith his millionaire father was. The world is full of Smiths who are pestered by automobile agents. All we knew was the fact that we had to find him, grab him, sequester him where no meddling Alfalfa Delt or Chi Yi could find him, and make him fall in love with us inside of forty-eight hours. Then we could lead him forth, with the colors and his art-nouveau clothes on, spread the glad news—and there wouldn't have to be any more rushing that fall. We'd just sit back and take our pick.
We sat back and built brains full of air-castles for about three minutes—and then got busy. It was matriculation day. There were half a dozen trains to come yet from Chicago on various roads. We had to meet them all, pick out the right man by his aura or by the way the porter looked when he tipped him, and grab him out from under the ravenous foe. The next train was due in ten minutes and the depot was a mile away. We sent Crawford down. He was trying for the distance runs anyway.
The rest of us went out to show a couple of classy boys from a big prep school how to register and find a room, and pick out textbooks; and incidentally how to distinguish a crowd of magnificent young student leaders from eleven wrangling bunches of miscellaneous thickheads, who wouldn't like anything better than to rope in a couple of good men to teach them the ways of the world. We were succeeding in this to the queen's taste, having accidentally dropped in on our porch with the pair, when young Crawford rushed up green with despair and took the rushing committee inside. He almost cried when he told us. He'd watched the train as carefully as he could, he said, but he couldn't be everywhere at once; and so a couple of Mu Kow Moos had got Smith. He knew it because he had heard them ask what his name was and he had told them Smith. He'd pretty nearly wrecked his brain trying to think of an excuse to butt in, but they had taken the boy away and he'd run all the way to the house to see if something couldn't be done.
Petey Simmons had listened, sitting crosslegged on the windowseat, which was a habit of his. Petey was a Senior and his deep studies in rhetoric during his four years in the frat had given him a great power of expression. He turned to the despairing Crawford and reduced him to a cinder with one look.
"So you couldn't think of any excuse to butt in!" he remarked slowly, "Say, Crawford, if you saw a young lady falling through the ice you'd write to her mother for permission to cheer her up. Which way did they go?"
"They're coming this way," said what was left of Crawford.
Petey grabbed his hat and discharged himself toward the depot. We brought in those big prep school boys and tried to give them the time of their lives, but our hearts weren't in it. We were thinking of those Mu Kow Moos—that frat of all others—blissfully towing home a prize they'd stumbled onto and didn't know anything about! We thought of those beautifully designed air-castles we were hoping to move into and we got pumpkins in our throats. Stung on the first day of school by a bunch that had to wear their pins on their neckties to keep from being mistaken for a literary society! Oh, thunder! We went in to dinner all smeared up with gloom. Then the door opened and Petey came in. He was five feet five, Petey was, but he stooped when he came under the chandelier. He had a suitcase in one hand and a stranger in the other.
"Boys," he said, "I want you to meet Mr. Smith, of Chicago."
* * * * *
At first glance you wouldn't have taken Smith for a perambulating national bank, with a wheelbarrow of spending-money every month. He was well-enough dressed and all that, but he didn't loom up in any mountainous fashion as to looks. He was runty and his hair was a kind of discouraged red. He had freckles, too, and he was so bashful that his voice blushed when he used it. He didn't have a word to say until dinner, when he said "thank you" to Sam, the waiter. Altogether he was so meek that he had us worried; but then, as Allie Bangs said, you can't always tell about these multimillionaires. Some of them didn't have the nerve of a mouse. He'd seen millionaires in New York, he said, who were afraid of cab drivers.
"And besides," said Petey, when a few of us were talking it over after dinner, "I'd never have got him if he hadn't been so meek. I was determined that no Mu Kow Moo was going to hang anything on us; and when I saw the three of them coming I waded right in. Allison and Briggs, those two dumb Juniors, were doing the steering. It was like taking candy from the baby. I just fell right into them and took about five minutes to tell those two how glad I was to see them back. I introduced myself to Smith; and—would you believe it?—he was still carrying his suitcase! I grabbed it and apologized for not having carried it all the way up from the station. You should have seen those yaps scowl. They wanted to shred me up, but I never noticed them again. I pointed out all the sights to Smith and told him his friends had written me about him. There was so little room on the sidewalk that I suggested we two walk ahead; and I shoved him right into the middle of the walk and made Allison and Briggs fall behind. I had a piece of luck just then. Old Pete and his sawed-off cab came by and I flagged him in a minute. I shoved Smith in and got in after him. Then I told the two babes that I could take care of Smith all right and that there was no need of their walking clear up to the house. After that I shut the door and we came away. If looks could kill I'd be tuning up my harp this minute. Say, if I didn't have any more nerve than those two I'd get a permit from the city to live. And all the time Smith never made a kick. I had him hypnotized. Now I'm going in and make him jump through a hoop."
We should have been very happy—and we would have been, but just then Symington came in with some astounding news. The Alfalfa Delts had a man named Smith, of Chicago, over at their house. He was on the front porch, with the whole gang around him; and from the looks of things they'd have him benevolently assimilated before twenty-four hours. Naturally this created a tremendous lot of emotion around our house. It was a serious situation. We might have the right Smith and then again we might have a Smith who would be borrowing money for car fare inside of ten minutes. We had to find out which Smith it was before we tampered with his young affections.
Did you ever snuggle up to a young captain of industry and ask him who his father was and whether he was important enough in the business world to be indicted by the Government for anything? That was the job we tackled that night. Smith was meek enough, but somehow even Petey's nerve had its limits. We approached the subject from every corner of the compass. We led up to it, we beat around it—and finally we got desperate and led the boy up to it. But he was too shy to come down with the information. Yes, he lived in Chicago. Oh, on the North Side. Yes, he guessed the stock market was stronger. Yes, the Annex was a great hotel. No, he didn't know whether they were going to put a tower on the Board of Trade or not. Yes, the lake Shore Drive was dusty in summer.—[Good!]—He wouldn't care to live on it.—[Bah!]—Altogether he was as unsatisfactory to pump as a well full of dusty old brickbats. Just then Rawlins, who had been scouting around seeing what he could run against in the dark of the moon, arrived with the stunning information that the Chi Yis had a man named Smith, of Oak Park, at their house and that every corner of the lawn was guarded by picked men!
When we got this news most of us went upstairs and bathed our heads in cold water. Oak Park sounded even more suspicious than Chicago. It's a solid mahogany suburb and everybody there is somebody or other. You have to get initiated into the place just as if it were a secret society, it's so exclusive. That meant there were three Smiths from Chicago in school. We had only one Smith. We had a one-in-three shot.
We stuck the colors on the boys from the big prep school just to keep our hands in and went to bed so nervous that we only slept in patches. Still, two Chicago Smiths in other frat houses were better than one. It meant that at least one frat wasn't sure of its man. Maybe neither one was. Our scouts had reported that, from what they could pick up, neither Smith had it on our Smith much in looks. That could only mean one thing: there had been a leak in the telegraph office again. What show has a guileless sixty-five-dollar-a-month operator against a bunch of crafty young diplomatists? They had read our telegram and were after the same Smith that we were.
By morning the suspense around the house could have been shoveled out with a pitchfork. If one of the other frats had the right Smith and knew it, and had pledged him during the night, there was positively no use in living any longer. Petey, who had shared his room with our Smith, reported that he was now like wax in our hands. But that didn't comfort us much. It was too confoundedly puzzling. Maybe we had the heir to a subtreasury panting to join us and maybe his freckles were his fortune. All Petey had gouged out of him during the night was the fact that his father wanted him to come to Siwash because it was a nice, quiet place. Oh, yes; it was deadly calm!
It couldn't have been more than seven o'clock when the telephone rang. Petey answered it. A relative of Smith's was at the hotel and had heard the boy was at our house. Would we please tell him to come right down? Petey said he would and then rang off. Then he grabbed the 'phone again and asked Central excitedly why she had cut him off. Central said she hadn't, but of course she rang the other line again.
"Hello!" said Petey blandly. "This is the Alfalfa Delt house?"
"No; it's the Chi Yi house," was the answer. Petey put the receiver up contentedly and we all turned handsprings over the library table. Fifty per cent safe, anyway. The Chi Yis were trying to sort out the Smiths, too.
It was an hour before anything else happened. Then Matheson of the Alfalfa Delts, a ponderous personage, who wore a silk hat on Sunday and did instructing, came over and asked if we had a man named Smith with us. He was to be a pupil of his, he said, and he wanted to arrange his work. Of course Matheson was hoping to get a green man at the door, but he didn't have any luck. Bangs himself let him in and let him read two or three magazines through in the library while we turned some more handsprings—in the dining room this time. The Alfalfa Delts were fishing, too. It was a fair field and no favors.
After a while Bangs told Matheson that the man named Smith presented his compliments and said it was all a mistake. His tutor's name was not Matheson, but Muttonhead. That sent Matheson away as pleasant as you please.
All that day we sat around and beat off the enemy and got beaten off ourselves. Our Smith got a Faculty notice to appear at once and register—that is, it got as far as the door. We sent it back to the Chi Yi house. We sent the Alfalfa Delt Smith a telegram from Chicago, reading: "Father ill. Come at once." That only got as far as a door, too. Some Alfalfa Delt got it and sent the boy back with the answer: "So careless of father!" Blanchard called up the fire department and sent it over to the Chi Yi house, hoping to be able to slip over and cut out Smith in the confusion that followed; but the game was too old. The Chi Yis had played it themselves the year before and refused to bite. Meantime we had found a Chi Yi alumnus in the kitchen trying to sell a book to the cook; and in the proceedings that followed we discovered that the book had a ten-dollar bill in it. All around, it was an entertaining but profitless day. By night, there wasn't another idea left in the three camps. We sat exhausted, each clutching its Smith and glaring at the other two.
As far as our Smith was concerned we almost wished some one would steal him. He was about as interesting as a pound of baking powder. What with fishing for his Bradstreet rating, and inventing lies to keep him from going out and seeing the town, and watching the horizon for predatory Alfalfa Delts and Chi Yis, we were plumb worn out. We were so skittish that, when the bell rang about eight o'clock, we let it ring four times more before we answered it; and when the ringer claimed to be an Eta Bita Pie from Muggledorfer who had come over to attend Siwash, we made him repeat pretty nearly the whole ritual before we would consider his credentials good.
He got in at last, slightly peevish at our unbrotherly welcome, and took his place in the library circle. We were explaining the whole situation to him, when Allie Bangs gave an earnest yell and stood on his head in the corner.
"What did you say your name was?" he asked the visitor after he had been set right side up again.
"Maxwell, of Fella Kappa chapter," said the latter.
"No, it isn't," said Bangs earnestly. "You ought to know your own name!" he went on severely. "It's Smith—and you're a barb from the cornfield! You've come to Siwash to forget how to plow and to-morrow you're going to organize a Smith Club. Do you hear? Don't let me catch you forgetting your name now—and listen closely."
It was all as simple as beating a standpat Congressman. Maxwell was a stranger, of course. He was to pin his Eta Bita Pie pin on his undershirt and go forth in the morning a brand-new Smith, green and guileless. It was to occur to him just before chapel that a Smith Club ought to be formed and he was to post a notice to that effect. He would get a couple of well-known non-fraternity Smiths interested and have them visit the houses and see the Chicago Smiths. With all the Smiths in session that night he ought to have no difficulty in finding out which was the son of old man Smith. He could be lowdown and vulgar enough to ask right out if he wished. If he found out he was to cut out that Smith and bring him to our house—if he had to bind and gag him. If he didn't he was to bring all three—if he could.
There was a quiet and most reassuring tone in Maxwell's voice as he said: "I can." They evidently had their little troubles at Muggledorfer, too.
"After we get them here," said Bangs earnestly, "we'll just pledge all three. We'll surely get the right one that way and perhaps the other two will not be so bad."
Upstairs, Petey Simmons was wearily explaining to our Smith for the ninth time that Freshmen were not allowed to appear on the campus for the first three days; and that it was considered good form to keep indoors until the Sophomore rush; and that there wasn't a room left in town anyway, and he might as well stay with us a while; and that the police were looking for college students downtown and locking them up, as they did each fall, to show their authority. Blanchard relieved him of his task and he came downstairs mopping his brow. Then we went to work and planned details until midnight. It was to be the plot of the century and every wheel had to mesh.
We spent the next day in a cold perspiration. Neither Alfalfa Delt nor Chi Yi paraded any pledged Freshmen. They were still hunting for the right Smith, too—evidently. They fell for the Smith Club plan with such suspicious eagerness that it was plain each bunch had some nasty, low-lived scheme up its sleeves. We were righteously indignant. It was our game and they ought not to butt in. But Maxwell only smiled. He was a Napoleon, that boy was. He just waved us aside. "I'll run this little thing the way we do at Muggledorfer," he explained. "You fellows can play a few lines of football pretty well, but when it comes to surrounding a Freshman and making a Greek out of him, I wouldn't take lessons from old Ulysses himself." And so we left him alone and held each other's hands and smoked and cussed—and hoped and hoped and hoped.
Maxwell went after the three Smiths himself that night. He had taken a room in an out-of-the-way part of town and his plan was to take them over there after the meeting to discuss the future good of the Smith Club. Then about a dozen of us would slide gently over there—and a curtain would have to be drawn over the woe that would ensue for the other gangs. Meanwhile, all we had to do was to sit around the house and gnaw our fingers. Maxwell called for our Smith last and he had the other two in tow. Oh, no; we didn't invite them in. Two Alfalfa Delts and three Chi Yis were sitting on our porch, visiting us. Three Chi Yis and two Eta Bita Pies were sitting on the Alfalfa Delt porch. Four Eta Bites and two Alfalfa Delts were calling on the Chi Yi house. It was a critical moment and none of us was taking chances. We couldn't keep our Smiths from wandering, but we could make sure they didn't wander into the wrong place.
Maxwell led his flock of Smiths away and we all sat and talked to each other in little short bites. The Chi Yis were nervous as rabbits. They looked at their watches every five minutes. The Alfalfa Delts listened to us with one ear and swept the other around the gloom. The night was charged with plots. Innumerable things seemed trembling in the immediate future. When the visitors excused themselves a little later, and went away very hurriedly, we learned with pleasure from one of our boys, who had been wandering around to break in a new pair of shoes or something, that the Smith meeting, which had been called for the Erosophian Hall, had been attended by four nondescript and unknown Smiths and fourteen Chi Yis, who had dropped in casually. First blood for us! Maxwell had evidently succeeded in segregating his Smiths. We expected a telephone call from his room at any minute.
We kept on expecting it until midnight and then strolled down that way. The house was dark. A very mad landlady came down in response to our earnest request and informed us that the young carouser who had rented her room had not been there that evening; and that if we were his rowdy friends we could tell him that he would find his trunk in the alley. Then we went home and our brains throbbed and gummed up all night long.
We went to chapel the next morning to keep from going insane outright. The Chi Yis were there looking perfectly sour. The Alfalfa Delts on the other hand were riotous. Every one of them had a pleasant greeting for us. They slapped us on the back and asked us how we were coming on in our rushing. Matheson was particularly vicious. He came over to Bangs and put his arm around him in a friendly way. "I am going to have dinner with my pupil to-night," he said triumphantly. "He wants me to come over and get his trunk. Says he's got a good room now and he's much obliged to you fellows for your trouble. Have you heard that there's another Smith in school—son of a big Chicago man? There's some great material here this fall, don't you think?"
Bangs tripped on Matheson's pet toe and went away. Something horrible had happened. How we hated those Alfalfa Delts! They had stung us before, but this was a triple-expansion, double-back-action, high-explosive sting, with a dum dum point. We hurt all over; and the worst of it was, we hadn't really been stung yet and didn't know where it was going to hit us. Did you ever wait perfectly helpless while a large, taciturn wasp with a red-hot tail was looking you over?
The Alfalfa Delts frolicked up and down college that day, Smithless but blissful. We consoled ourselves with a couple of corking chaps whom the Delta Flushes had been cultivating, and put the ribbons on them in record time. Ordinarily we would have been perfectly happy about this, but instead we were perfectly miserable. We detailed four men at a time to be gay and carefree with our pledges; and the rest of us sat around and listened to our bursting hearts. Of all the all-gone and utterly hopeless feelings, there is nothing to compare with the one you have when your frat—the pride of the nation—has just been tossed into the discard by some hollow-headed Freshman.
I took my head out of my hands just before dinner and went down the street to keep a rushing engagement. I had to pass the Alfalfa Delt house. It hurt like barbed wire, but I had to look. I was that miserable that it couldn't have bothered me much more, anyway, to see that wildly happy bunch. But I didn't see it. I saw instead a crowd of fellows on the porch who made our dejection look like disorderly conduct. There was enough gloom there to fit out a dozen funerals, and then there would have been enough left for a book of German philosophy. The crowd looked at me and I fancied I heard a slight gnashing of teeth. I didn't hesitate. I just walked right up to the porch and said: "Howdedo? Lovely evening!" says I. "How many Smiths have you pledged to-day?"
The gang turned a dark crimson. Then Matheson got up and came down to me. He was as safe-looking as somebody else's bull terrier.
"We don't care to hear any more from you," he said, clenching his words; "and it would be safer for you to get out of here. We're done with your whole crowd. You're lowdown skates—that's what you are. You're dishonorable and sneaky. You're cads! We'll get even. I give you warning. We'll get even if it takes a hundred years."
"Thanks!" says I. "Hope it takes twice as long." Then I went back home and let my date take care of itself.
* * * * *
We went through dinner in a daze and sat around, that night, like a bunch of vacant grins on legs. Our grins were vacant because we didn't know why we were grinning. We'd stung the Alfalfa Delts. We didn't know why or how or when. But we'd stung them! We had their word for it. Sooner or later something would turn up in the shape of particulars; only we wished it would hurry. If it didn't turn up sooner we were extremely likely to burst at the seams.
It turned up about nine o'clock. There was a commotion at the front door and Maxwell came in. He was followed by an avalanche of Smiths. There was our Smith, and a tall, lean Smith, and a Smith who waddled when he walked. They were all dirty and dusty; they all wore our pink-and-blue pledge ribbons on their coat lapels and when they got in the house they gave the Eta Bita Pie yell and sang about half of the songbook. Maxwell had not only pledged them, but he had educated them.
After we had stopped carrying the bunch about on our shoulders, and had put the roof of the house back, and had righted the billiard table, and persuaded the cook to come down out of a tree in the back yard, we allowed Maxwell to tell his story.
"It was perfectly simple," he said. "Didn't expect to be kidnapped, of course; but it's all in the day's work. You've no idea what a job I had getting colors to pin on these chumps. If it hadn't been for my pink garters and a blue union suit I'd put on yesterday—"
We stopped Maxwell and backed him up to the starting pole again. But he was no story-teller. He skipped like a cheap gas engine. We had to take the story away from him piece by piece. He'd dodged his Smiths down a side street, it seems, on the plea that there weren't any more Smiths coming—and they might as well go over to his room. All would have been well if one Smith hadn't got an awful thirst. There was a corner drug store on the way to the room and while the quartet were insulting their digestions with raspberry ice-cream soda a college man with a wicked eye came by. A few minutes later, just as they were crossing the railroad viaduct near Smith's home, two closed carriages drove up and six husky villains fell upon them, shouting: "Chi Yi forever!" And after dumping them in the carriages, they sat on them while the teams went off.
"After I'd got my man's knee out of my neck," said Maxwell, "I didn't seem to care much whether I was kidnapped or not. It would bind us four closer together after we escaped; and, besides, I have never found kidnapping to pay—too much risk. Anyway, they drove us nothing less than twenty miles and bundled us into an old deserted house. The leader told us, with a whole lot of unnecessary embroidery, that we were to stay there until we pledged to Chi Yi if we rotted in our shoes. Then, of course, I saw through the whole thing. It was an Alfalfa Delt gang disguised as Chi Yis. The Alfalfa Delts would send another gang out the next day, rout the bogus Chi Yis and allow the poor Freshies to fall on their necks and pledge up. That used to be popular at Muggledorfer.
"I did the talking and let my knees knock together considerably. I told them that we'd been too badly shaken up to think, but if they would let us alone that night we'd try to learn to love them by morning. So they put us upstairs and warned us that every window was guarded; then we lay down together and I began at the first chapter and pumped those chaps full of Eta Bita Pie all night.
"It was six o'clock when they finally pledged. When the gang came up they found us adamant. 'Never!' said I. 'We'll pledge Alfalfa Delt or die martyrs to a holy cause!' Of course they didn't dare give themselves away. They couldn't even shout for joy. All they could do was to wait for the rescuing party. I spent the day teaching the boys the songs and the yell in whispers; and about three o'clock I got my grand inspiration about the colors and rigged them out. Then I dug my own pin out and put on my vest and about four o'clock the rescuing party drove up. Say, you'd have laughed to see that fight! Ham-actors in Richard the Third would have made it look tame. The Chi Yis put up a fist or two, threw a brick and then cut for the timber; and the noble Alfalfa Delts burst open the door just as I got the chorus going on that grand old song:
"'Oh, you've got to be an Eta Bita Pie Or you won't get a scarehead when you die!'
"When they saw us there, with our colors on and four particularly wicked-looking chair legs in our hands, they gave one simultaneous gasp—and say, boys, I don't believe in ghosts, but I don't see yet how they disappeared so instantaneously! And anyway, for Heaven's sake, bring out the prog. We drilled eight miles to a railroad station and my vest buttons are tickling my backbone."
Just then a telegram arrived.
"Don't look for Smith. Changed his mind and went to Jarhard!
No wonder we couldn't blast any information out of our Smiths! Oh, they were our Smiths all right—and they weren't such a bad bunch at that. The fat one turned out to be the champion mandolin teaser in school and the lean one made the debating team; while our own particular first edition Smith won the catch-as-catch-can chess championship of the college three years later.
Just the same, I'd like to get one fair crack at that Smith who went to Jarhard. I'd get even for those three days, I'll bet a few!
TAKING PACE FROM FATHER TIME
Honestly, Bill, it's so hard to keep up to date these days, that sometimes I'm afraid to go to sleep at night for fear I'll find myself in an ethnological museum when I wake up the next morning, with people making funny cracks about the strange clothes I was wearing when they caught me.
I'm not constitutionally a back number myself either. I come as near wearing next year's styles as most fellows, and I had my wrist broken cranking an automobile before most Americans believed the things would go. I was tired of this hand-chopped furniture fad years ago, and if you hand me any slang that I can't catch on the fly you'll have to make it up right now. But there's no use talking. No one man can keep up with this world all by himself. Sometimes I get to thinking I'm so far ahead that I can afford to sit down and get a breath or two, and when I get up I have to eat dust for the next year trying to catch up.
Take colleges, for instance. I've been conceited enough to think that these flappy little college boys, with their front hair brushed back down on their necks, couldn't show me anything that I wasn't tired of. I've kept up to date on college things, I've always flattered myself. You might lose me now and then on some new way of abusing lettuce during a salad course, perhaps, but as far as looking startled at anything that might be said or done around a college campus goes, I've had a notion that I wasn't in the learning class—which shows how much I knew about it. This morning a gosling from the old school—a Sophomore—came in and visited with me for a few minutes, on the strength of the fact that he knew my baby brother in high school. We hadn't talked a minute before he handed me "pragmatism" and "zing-slingers." While I was rolling my eyes and clawing for a foothold he confessed that he was the best glider in college. When I remarked that I had been somewhat of a glider myself, but that I had preferred the twostep, he laughed and explained that he was captain of the aviation team—that they had three gliders and were finishing a monoplane that had a home-made engine with concentric cylinders.
Can you beat it? There I was, Petey Simmons' best friend, and personally acquainted with eleven thousand forms of college excitement, listening to an infant with my mouth open and stopping him every few words to say "land sakes," "dew tell" and "what d'ye mean by that?" I never was so humiliated in my life, but there's no getting around the truth. I've been ten years out of college, and when I go back they'll pull the grandfather clause on me and wheel me in early nights. I'm a back number and I know the symptoms. When that young Sophomore told me the boys of Eta Bita Pie had just spent twenty dollars apiece on a formal dance and house party, I put up the same kind of a lecture to him that my father gave me when I explained that we simply had to spend five dollars apiece on our party, or belong in the fag end of things. And I suppose when my father's crowd blew in a couple of dollars for a load of wood, his father reminded him that when HE went to college they didn't coddle themselves with fires in their dormitories. And I suppose that some day this Sophomore will be telling his son that when he was in college a simple little home-made aeroplane furnished amusement for twenty fellows, and that they never dreamed of dropping over to the coast on Saturdays for a dip in the surf in their private monoplanes. Oh, well, it's human nature and natural law, I suppose. No use trying to put a rock on the wheels of progress—and there's no use trying to ride the darned thing either. It'll throw you every time.
When I went to college, Billy—loud pedal on that "I"—things were different. We didn't spend our time fooling with gliders or blow ourselves up monkeying with pragmatism. We attended strictly to business. We were there for educational purposes and we had no time to chase humming birds and chicken hawks. Why, the gasoline money of a young collegian to-day would have paid my board bills then! We didn't go to Japan on baseball tours, or lug telescopes around South America when we ought to have been studying ethics. We lived simply and plainly. There wasn't an automatic piano in a single frat house when I was in college, and as for wasting our money on motion-picture shows and taxi-cabs—nonsense. We'd have died first.
You see I'm getting into practice. Some day I'll have a son, I hope, and he'll go back to Siwash. Just wait till he comes home at the end of the first semester and tries to put across any bills for radium stickpins and lookophonic conversations with the co-eds at Kiowa. I'll pull a When-I-was-at-Siwash lecture on him that will make him feel like a spider on a hot stove. If I've got to be a back number I want to romp right back far enough to have some fun out of it. I'll make him sweat as much lugging me up to date as I had to perspire in the old days to illuminate things for Pa.
After all, there is no question at college more serious than the Pa question, anyway, Bill. It was always butting into our youthful ambitions and tying pig iron to our coat-tails when we wanted to soar. It's simply marvelous how hard it is to educate a Pa a hundred miles or more away into the supreme importance of certain college necessities. It isn't because they forget, either. It's because they don't realize that the world is roaring along.
I can see it all since this morning. Take my father, for instance. There was no more generous or liberal a Pa up to a certain point. He wanted me to have a comfortable room and vast quantities of good food, and he was glad to pay literary society dues, and he would stand for frat dues; but when it came to paying cab hire, you could jam an appropriation for a post-office in an enemy's district past Joe Cannon in Congress more easily than you could put a carriage bill through him. He just said "no" in nine languages; said that when he went to Siwash—"and it turned out good men then, too, young fellow"—the girls were glad to walk to entertainments through the mud; and when it was unusually muddy they weren't averse to being carried a short distance. I believe I would have had to lead disgusted co-eds to parties on foot through my whole college course if I hadn't happened across an old college picture of father in a two-gallon plug hat. That gave me an idea. I put in a bill for a plug hat twice a year and he paid it without a murmur. Then I paid my carriage bills with the money. Plug hats had been the peculiar form of insanity prevalent at Siwash in his day and he thought they were still part of the course of study.
I got along much easier than many of the boys, too. Allie Bangs' Pa made him buy all his clothes at home, for fear he'd get to looking like some of the cartoons he'd seen in the funny papers. "Prince" Hogboom was a wonder of a fullback, and his favorite amusement was to get out at night and try to pull gas lamps up by the roots. He was a natural born holy terror, but his father thought he was fitted by nature to be a missionary, and so Hoggie had to harness himself up in meek and long-suffering clothes and attend Bible-study class twice a week. The crimes he committed by way of relieving himself after each class were shocking. Then there was Petey Simmons, who was a perpetual sunbeam and greatly beloved because it was so easy to catch happiness from him. And yet Petey went through school with a cloud over his young life, in the shape of a Pa who gave him a thousand dollars a year for expenses and wouldn't allow a single cent of it to be spent for frivolity. And he had a blanket definition for frivolity that covered everything from dancing parties to pie at an all-night lunch counter. By hard work Petey could spend about four hundred dollars on necessary expenses, and that left him six hundred dollars a year to blow in on illuminated manuscripts, student lamps, debating club dues and prints of the old masters. He had to borrow money from us all through the year, and then hold a great auction of his art trophies and student lamps, before vacation came, in order to pay us back.
But all of these troubles weren't even annoyances beside what Keg Rearick had to endure. Keg was an affectionate contraction of his real nickname—"Keghead." He had the worst case of "Pa" I ever heard of. He was a regular high explosive—one of these fine, old, hair-triggered gentlemen, who consider that they have done all the thinking that the world needs and refuse to have any of their ideas altered or edited in any particular. Keg had had his life laid out for him since the day of his birth, and when he left for Siwash—on the precise day announced by his father eighteen years before—the old man stood him up and discoursed with him as follows:
"My son, I am about to give you the finest education obtainable. You are to go down to Siwash and learn how to be a credit to me. Let me impress it on you that that is your only duty. You will meet there companions who will try to persuade you that there are other things to be done in college besides becoming a scholar. You will pay no attention to them. You are to spend your time at your books. You are to lead your class in Latin and Greek. Mathematics I am not so particular about. You are to waste no time on athletics and other modern curses of college. I shall pay your expenses and I shall come down occasionally to see how you are progressing. And you know me well enough to know that if I find you deviating from the course I have laid out in any particular, you will return home and go into the store at six dollars a week."
That's the way Keg always repeated it to us. With that affectionate farewell ringing in his ears he came on down to Jonesville; and when the Eta Bita Pies saw his honest features and his particularly likable smile, they surrounded and assimilated him in something less than fifteen minutes by the clock. And then his troubles began. Keg's father had come down the week before school and had selected a quiet place about three miles from the college—out beyond the cemetery in a nice lonely neighborhood, where there was just about enough company to keep the telephone poles from getting despondent. Moreover, he hadn't given Keg any spending money.
"Education is the cheapest thing in the world," he roared. "You don't have to keep your pockets full of dollars to live in the times of Homer and Horace. I've told them to let you have what you need at the bookstore. For the rest, the college library should be your haunt and the debating society your recreation." If ever any one was getting knowledge put down his throat with a hydraulic ram, it certainly was Keg Rearick.
It isn't hard to imagine the result. Keg toiled away three miles from anything interesting and got bluer and gloomier and more anarchistic every day. Wouldn't have been so bad if nobody had loved him. Lots of fellows go through college with no particular friends and emerge in good health and spirits. But we had courted Keg and had tried to make it impossible for him to live without us. We liked him and we hankered for his company. We wanted to parade him around the campus and confer him upon the prettiest co-ed in his boarding hall, and teach him to sing a great variety of interesting songs, with no particular sense to them, and snatch off two or three important offices around school. Instead of that he only got to say "howdy" to us between classes, and the rest of his time he spent Edward Payson Westoning back and forth from his suburban lair, without a cent in his pockets and the street-car motor-men giving him the bell to get off of the track into the mud every other block.
We very soon found this wasn't going to do. Keg's spirits were down about two notches below the absolute zero. If this was college life, he said, would somebody kindly take a pair of forceps and remove it. It ached. The upshot was we made Keg steward of the frat-house table, which paid his board and room and moved him into the chapter house. He objected at first, because of what his father would say when he heard of it. But he finally concluded that anything he might say would be pleasanter than going all day without hearing anything, so he surrendered and came along.
The first night at dinner, when we pushed back our chairs and sang a few lines by way of getting ready to go upstairs and chink a little assorted learning into our headpieces, Keg cried for pure joy. He buckled down to work the way a dog takes hold of a root, and inside of a week he couldn't remember a time in his young existence when he had been unhappy. He was tossing out Greek declensions to the prof. like a geyser, and Conny Matthews, our champion Livy unraveler, had shown him how to hold a Latin verb in his teeth while he broke open the rest of the sentence. And, besides that, we had introduced him to all the nicest girls in the college and had assisted the glee club coach to discover that he had a fine tenor voice. He was a sure-enough find, and fitted into college life as if it had been made to measure for him.
Of course all this pleasantness had to have a gloom spot in it somewhere. Rearick's father furnished the gloom. He was certainly the most rambunctious, most unreconstructed and most egregious Pa that ever tried to turn the sunshine off of a bright young college career. Regularly once a week a letter would come to Keg from him. It always began "When I was in college," and it always wound up by ordering Keg to eat a few assorted lemons for the good of his future. He was to go to morning prayer, regularly—there hadn't been any for twenty years. He was to become as well acquainted as possible with his professors, because of the inspiration it would give him—fancy snuggling up to old Grubb. He was to take a Sunday-school class at once. He was to remember above all things that though it was a disgrace to waste a minute of the precious college years it was equally a disgrace to go through college without being self-supporting. He should by all means learn to milk at once. He, Keg's father, had been valet to a couple of very fine Holstein cows while he was in college, and he attributed much of his success to this fact. He would of course pay Keg's expenses while he had to, but he would hold it to his discredit. He must at once begin to find work.
This last command impressed Keg deeply, for he had been sailing along with us without a cent. He'd been earning his board and room, of course, but that was already paid for for a month out on the edge of the planet; and as it was the first time the family that owned the house had ever got a student boarder they firmly declined to rebate. It's pretty hard to butterfly joyously along with the fancy-vest gang without any other assets than unlimited credit at the bookstore, so Keg began to prowl for a job. Presently he picked up a laundry route. The laundry wagon was a favorite vehicle on which to ride to fame and knowledge in those days. By getting up early two mornings a week and working late nights, Keg managed to put away about six dollars and forty-five cents a week, providing every one paid his laundry bill. He was so pleased and tickled over the idea that he wrote to his father at once explaining that he now had plenty of work, but had had to move downtown in order to do it.
Did this please old pain-in-the-face? Not noticeably. There had been no such things as laundry wagons in his day. Students were lucky if they had a shirt to wear and one to have washed at the same time. He wrote a letter back to Keg that bit him in every paragraph. He was to give up the frivolous laundry job and get some wood to saw. That and tending cows were the only real methods of toiling through college. He, Keg's father, had received his board and room for milking cows and doing chores, and he had sometimes earned as much as three dollars a week after school hours and before breakfast sawing cordwood at seventy-five cents a cord. It was healthful and classic. He would send his old saw by express. And he was further to remember—there were about four more pages to memorize, a headache in every page.
Good old Keg did his best to be obedient, but he had no chance. In the first place, cordwood was phenomenally scarce in Jonesville, and anyway, people had a vicious habit of hindering the cause of education by sawing it at the wood-yards with a steam saw. There were plenty of cows in the outskirts, but they were either well provided with companions for their leisure hours, or their owners declined to allow Keg to practice on them—he knowing about as much about a cow as he did about a locomotive. And so he dawdled on with us at the chapter house, gulping down Livy, getting a strangle hold on Homer, and pulling in six or seven dollars a week at his frivolous laundry job, some of which cash he was saving up for a dress suit. And then, one day, Pa Rearick blew in for another visit and caught his son playing a mandolin in our lounging room—far, far from the nearest cyclone cellar.
To judge from the conversation that followed—we couldn't help hearing it, although we went out-of-doors at once—one might have thought that Keg had been caught in a gilded den of sin, playing poker with body-snatchers. Pa Rearick simply cut loose and bombarded the neighborhood with red-hot adjectives. That he should have brought up a son to do him honor and should have found him dawdling his college moments away with loafers; fawning on the idle sons of the rich; tinkling a mandolin instead of walking with Homer; wasting time and money instead of trying to earn his way to success—"Bah," likewise "Faugh," to say nothing of other picturesque expressions of entire disgust—from all of which one would judge almost without effort that Keg was in bad, and in all over.
I suppose Keg attempted to explain. Possibly some people try to argue with a funnel-shaped cloud while it is juggling the house and the barn and the piano. Anyway the explanations weren't audible. Presently Pa Rearick announced, for most of the world to hear, that he was going to take his idle, worthless, disgraced and unspeakable nincompoop of a son back to his home and set him to weighing out dried apples for the rest of his life. Then up rose Keg and spoke quite clearly and distinctly as follows:
"No, you're not, Dad."
"Wh-wh-wh-whowhowwy not!" said Pa Rearick, with perfect self-possession but some difficulty.
"Because I like this college and I'm going to stay here," said Keg. "I'm standing well in my studies and I'm learning a lot all around."
"All I have to say is this," said Pa Rearick. I really haven't time to repeat all of those few words, but the ukase, when it was completely out, was the following: Keg was to have a chance to ride home in the cars if he packed up within ten minutes. After that he could walk home or dance home or play his way home with his mandolin. And he was given to understand that, when he finally arrived, the nearest substitute to a fatted calf that would be prepared for dinner would be a plate of cold beans in the kitchen with the hired man.
"You may stay here and dawdle with your worthless companions if you desire," shouted Pa Rearick to a man in an adjoining county. "The lesson may be a good one for you. I wash my hands of the whole matter. But understand. Don't write to me for a cent. Not one cent. You've made your bed. Now lie on it."
With which he went away, and we tiptoed carefully in to rearrange the shattered atmosphere and comfort Keg. We found him looking thoughtfully at nothing, with his hands deep in his pockets, from which about six dollars and seventy-five cents' worth of jingle sounded now and then. We waited patiently for him to speak. At last he turned on us and grinned pensively.
"Do you know, boys," he said, "as a bed-maker I can beat the owner of that prehistoric old corn-husk mattress out in the suburbs with one hand tied behind me."
* * * * *
Of course it is a sad thing to be regarded with indignation and disgust by one's only paternal parent, but Keg bore up under it pretty manfully. He dug into his work harder than ever—and he was a good student. Latin words stuck to him like sandburrs. That wasn't his fault, of course. Some men are born with a natural magnetism for Latin words; and others, like myself, have to look up quoque as many as nine times in a page of Mr. Horace's celebrated metrical salve-slinging. Keg went into a literary society, too, and developed such an unholy genius at wadding up the other fellow's words and feeding them back to him that he made the Kiowa debate in his Freshman year. He also chased locals for the college paper, made his class football team, got on the track squad and won the Freshman essay prize. In fact, he killed it all year long and likewise he trained all year long with his idle and vicious companions—meaning us.
It beats all how much benefit you can get from training with idle and vicious companions, if you are built that way. Of course we taught him how to play a mandolin, and how to twostep on his own feet exclusively, and how to roll a cigarette without carpeting the floor with tobacco, and how to make a pretty girl wonder if she is as beautiful as all that, without really saying it himself, and dozens of other pretty and harmless little tricks. But that wasn't half he picked up while he was loafing away the golden hours of his college course in our chapter house. Conny Matthews, whose hobby was Latin verse, plugged him up to sending in translated sonnets from Horace for Freshman themes. Noddy Pierce showed him how to grab the weak point in the other fellow's debate and hang on to it through the rebuttal, while the enemy floundered and struggled and splattered disjointed premises all over the hall. Allie Bangs had a bug on fencing, and because he and Keg used to tip over everything in the basement trying to skewer each other, they got to reading up on old French customs of producing artistic conversations and deaths and other things, and eventually they wrote one of those "Ha" and "Zounds" plays for the Dramatic Club. In fact, there's no limit to what you can absorb from idle and vicious companions. In one term alone I myself picked up banjo playing, pole vaulting, a little Spanish, a bad case of mumps, and two flunks, simply by associating with the Eta Bita Pie gang twenty-seven hours a day.
But nobody had to show Keg how to get jobs after his first experience. He had a knack of scenting a soft financial snap a mile away to leeward, and working his way through college was the least of his troubles. It used to make me tired to see the nonchalance with which he would sleuth up to a nice fat thing like a baseball season program, and put away a couple of hundred with a single turn of the wrist and about four days' hard soliciting among the long-suffering Jonesville merchants. I never could do it myself. I had the popular desire to work my way through school when I entered Siwash, and I pictured myself at the end of my college career receiving my diploma in my toil-scarred fist, without having had a cent from home. But pshaw! I was a joke. I mowed one lawn in my Freshman year, after hunting for work for three weeks; and I lost that engagement because the family decided the hired girl could do it better. After that I gave up and took my checks from home like a little man. In Siwash it is all right to get sent through school, and nobody looks down on you for it. The boys who make their own way are very kind and never taunt you if you have to lean on Pa. But all the same, you feel a little bit disgraced. Why, I've seen a cotillon leader run all the way home from a downtown store where he clerked after school hours, in order to get into his society harness on time; and when the winner of the Interstate Oratorical in my Freshman year had received his laurel wreath and three times three times three times three from the crazy student body, he excused himself and went off to the house where he lived, to fill up the hard-coal heater and pump the water for the next day's washing.
As I started to say, some time ago, Keg proved to be a positive genius in nailing down jobs. He hadn't been with us three months until he had presented his laundry route to one of the boys. He didn't have time to attend to it. He had hauled down a chapel monitorship that paid his tuition. He got his board and room from us for being steward, and how he ever got the fancy eats he gave us out of four dollars per week per appetite is an unsolved wonder. He made twenty-five dollars in one week by introducing a new brand of canned beans among the hash clubs. He took orders for bookbinding on Saturdays, and sold advertising programs for the college functions after school hours. More than once I borrowed ten dollars from him that year, while I was living on hope and meeting the mailman half-way down the block each morning just before the first of the month. And I wasn't the only man who did it, either.
Perhaps you wonder how he had time to do all this and to mix up in all the various departments of student bumptiousness, besides absorbing enough information laid down and prescribed by the curriculum to batter an "A" out of old Grubb, who hated to give a top mark worse than most men hate to take quinine. That's one of the mysteries of college life. No one has time to do anything but the busy man. In every school there are a few hundred joyous loafers who hold down an office or two, and make one team, and then have only time to take a few hasty peeps at a book while running for chapel; and there are a dozen men who do the debating and the heavy thinking for half a dozen societies, and make some athletic team, and get their lessons and make their own living on the side—and who always have time, somehow, to pick up some new and pleasant pastime, like reading up for an oration on John Randolph, of Roanoke, or some other eminent has-been. When I think of my wasted years in college and of how I was always going to take hold of Psych. and Polykon and Advanced German, and shake them as a terrier does a rat, just as soon as I had finished about three more hands of whist—oh, well, there's no use of crying about it now. What makes me the maddest is that my wife says I'm an imposingly poor whist player at that.