Frankling dodged the whole college and got wild in the eyes. He looked like an eminent statesman who was being compelled to act as barker in a circus against his will. It must have churned up his vitals to do his sketch act with Ole; but when you have had one of those four-year cases, and it has gotten tangled up in your past and future, you can't always dictate just what you are going to do. It was plain to see that Miss Spencer had Frankling hooked, haltered, hobbled, staked out, Spanish-bitted, wrapped up and stamped with her name and laid on the shelf to be called for; and it was just as evident that she considered he would be all the nicer if she walked around on him for a while and massaged his disposition a little with her little French heels.
So Frankling continued to divide time with Ole, and all the fellows whom he had insulted about their neckties and all the girls whom he had forgotten to dance with sat around in perfect content and watched the show.
We all thought it would wear out after a few weeks. But it didn't. The semester recess came and, when college assembled again, Ole cut Frankling out for the athletic ball as neatly as if he had been in the girl game all his life. Frankling countered with the promenade two weeks later, but he went clear to the ropes when Miss Spencer came out one fine morning at chapel with Ole's football charm—the one he had won the year the team had annihilated two universities and seven assorted colleges. He came back gamely and decorated her with fraternity hatpins, cuff buttons, belt buckles and side combs; and on the strength of it he got three Friday evenings in a row. That might have jarred any one but Ole. But he came up smiling and took Miss Spencer to a Y. M. C. A. social, where he bought her four dishes of ice cream and had to be almost violently restrained from offering her the whole freezer.
Winter wore out and spring came. Frankling brought the whole resources of the locomotive works into play. He got a private car and took a party off to the Kiowa baseball game, with Miss Spencer as guest of honor. He bombarded her with imported candy and American beauties, and cluttered up the spring with a series of whist parties, which butted into the social calendar something frabjous. Ole plowed right along with his own peculiar style of argument. He met the private-car business with a straw ride and his prize offering was a hunk of spruce gum from his pine woods, as big as your two fists; and, so far as we could see, the gum got exactly the same warmth of reception as the candy—though it didn't disappear with anywhere near the rapidity.
As April went by, we Seniors got busy with the first awful preliminaries of Commencement. It began to be considered around college that Senior Day would settle the affair one way or the other. Senior Day is the last event of Commencement Week at Siwash and more engagements have been announced formally or otherwise that day than at any other time. If a Senior man and girl, who had been making a rather close study of each other, walked out on the campus together after the exercises and took in the corporation dinner at noon side by side, no one hesitated about offering congratulations. They might not be exactly due, but it was a sign that there was going to be an awful lot of nice-looking stationery spoiled by the two after the sad partings were said. Now we didn't have a doubt that either Frankling or Ole would amble proudly down between the lilac rows on Class Day with Miss Spencer, under the good old pretense of helping her locate the dinner-tables a hundred yards away; and betting on the affair got pretty energetic. Day after day the odds varied. When Frankling broke closing-time rules at Browning Hall by a good thirty minutes some two-to-one money was placed on him. When Ole and Miss Spencer cut chapel the next day the odds promptly switched. You could get takers on either side at any time, but I think the odds favored Ole a little. You can't help boosting your preferences with your good money. It's like betting on your college team.
Commencement Week came and, although we were Seniors, we went through it without hardly noticing the scenery. We watched Ole and Frankling all through Baccalaureate, and when Ole won a twenty-yard dash across the church and over several of us, and marched down the street with Miss Spencer, it looked as if all was over but the Mendelssohn business. But Frankling had her in a box at the class play the next night. How could you pay any attention to the glorious threshold of life and the expiring gasps of dear college days with a race like that on!
Commencement was on Wednesday and Senior Day was Thursday. Up to Wednesday night it was an even break—steen points all. One of the two had won. We hadn't a doubt of it. But, if both men had been born poker players, drawing to fill, in a jack-pot that had been sweetened nine times, you couldn't have told less to look at them. Frankling was as glum as ever and Ole had the same reenforced concrete expression of innocence that he used to wear while he was getting off the ball behind somebody's goal line, after having carried it the length of the field. We were discussing the thing that night on the porch of the Eta Bita Pie house and were putting up a few final bets when Ole came up, carpet-bag in hand and his diploma under his arm, and bade us good-by. He was going out on the midnight train—going away for good.
For a minute you could have heard the grass growing. If Ole was going away that night it meant just one thing: the cruel Miss Spencer had tossed him over and he was bumping the bumps downward into a cold and cheerless future. We were so sorry we could hardly speak for a minute. Then Allie Bangs got up and put his arm as far across Ole's shoulder as it would go.
"By thunder, I'm sorry, old chap!" he said huskily.
For a man who had just had an air-castle fall on his neck, Ole didn't talk very dejectedly. "Vy yu ban sorry?" he demanded. "Aye got gude yob St. Paul vay. De boss write me Aye skoll come Friday. Aye ent care to be late first t'ing."
"But, Ole—" Bangs began. Then he stopped. You can't bawl out a question about another man's love affairs before a whole mob.
"Yu fallers ban fine tu me," Ole began again. "Aye lak yu bully! Ven yu come by St. Paul, take Yim Hill's railroad and come to Sven Akerson's camp, femt'n mile above Lars Hjellersen's gang. Aye ban boss of Sven's camp now. Aye gat yu gude time and plenty flapyack."
He turned to go. Allie and I got up and walked firmly down the walk with him. We were going to be relieved of our suspense if we had to buy the information.
"Now, Ole," said Allie, grabbing his carpet-bag, "you know we're not going to let you go down to the train alone. Besides, we want to know if everything is all right with you. You know we love you. We're for you, Ole. You—you and Miss Spencer parting good friends?"
"Yu bet!" said Ole enthusiastically. "She ban fine gur'rl, Aye tal yu. Sum day Aye ban sending her deerskin from lumber camp."
Bangs braced up again. "Er—you and Miss Spencer—er—not engaged, are you?" he said, the way a fellow goes at it when he is diving into cold water. Ole looked around in perfect good humor. "Get married by each odder?" he said. "Yee whiz! no, Master Bangs. She ban nice gur'rl. It ent any nicer in Siwash College. But she kent cook. She kent build fire in woodstove. She kent wash. She kent bake flatbrot. She kent make close. She yust ban purty, like picture. Vat for Aye vant to marry picture gallery? Aye ban tu poor faller fur picture gallery, Aye tank."
"But, Ole," says I, jumping in, "you've been rushing the girl all winter as if your life depended on it. What did you mean by that?"
Ole turned around patiently and sat down on the steps of the First Methodist Church, which happened to be passing just then. "Vell, Aye tal yu," he explained. "Miss Spencer she ban nice tu me. She go tu class party 'nd ent give dam vat das Frankling faller say. Aye ent forget dat, Aye tal yu; 'nd, by yimminy Christmas! Aye show her gude time all right."
We took Ole to the station and sat down to rest three times on the way back. So all that terrific performance was a reward for Miss Spencer! "O gratitude!" says the poet, "how many crimes are committed in thy name!"
We were so dazed that night that it didn't occur to us to wonder why Miss Spencer stood for all the gratitude. But the next day, when the exercises were over, that young lady stepped down from the platform and was met by a tall chap whom she later introduced to us as a friend of the family from her home town. You can always spot these family friends by the way the girl blushes when she introduces them. Miss Spencer wore a fine new diamond ring and we knew what it meant. It was just another case where the girl came to school and the man stayed at home and built a seven-room house on a prominent corner four blocks from his hardware store and waited—and tried not to get any more jealous than possible. I suppose Miss Spencer used Ole as a sort of parachute to let Frankling down easily at the last. Anyway, we wiped the whole affair off the slate after that. She wasn't one of us, anyway. Made us shiver to think of her. What if one of us had sailed in the Freshman year and cut Frankling out!
VOTES FROM WOMEN
Do I believe in woman's suffrage? Certainly, if you do, Miss Allstairs. As I sit here, where I couldn't help seeing you frown if I didn't please you, I favor anything you favor. If you want the women to vote just hand me the ax and show me the man who would prevent them. If you think the women should play the baseball of our country it's all right with me. I'll help pass a law making it illegal for Hans Wagner to hang around a ball park except as water-boy. If you believe that women ought to wear three-story hats in theaters—
No, I'm not making fun of you. I hope I may never be allowed to lug a box of Frangipangi's best up your front steps again if I am. If you want the women to vote, Miss Allstairs, just breathe the word, and I'll go out and start a suffragette mob as soon as ever I can find a brick. And I would be a powerful advocate, too. You can't tell me that women wouldn't be able to handle the ballot. You can't tell me they would get their party issues mixed up with their party gowns. I've seen them vote and I've seen them play politics. And let me tell you, when woman gets the vote man will totter right back to the kitchen and prepare the asparagus for supper, just to be out of harm's way. His good old arguments about the glory of the nation, the rising price of wheat and the grand record of those sterling patriots who have succeeded in getting their names on the government payroll won't get him to first base when women vote. He'll have to learn the game all over again, and the first ninety-nine years' course of study will be that famous subject, "Woman."
How do I know so much about it? Just as I told you. I've been through the mill. I've seen women vote. I've tried to get them to vote my way. I've never herded humming birds or drilled goldfishes in close formation, but I'd take the job cheerfully. It would be just a rest cure after four years' experience in persuading a large voting body of beautiful and fascinating young women to vote the ticket straight and to let me name the ticket.
Oh, no! I never lived in Colorado, and I never was a polygamist in Utah, thank you. I'm nothing but an alumnus of Siwash College, which, as you know, is co-educational to a heavenly degree. I'm just a young alumnus with about eighty-nine gray hairs scattered around in my thatch. Each one of those gray hairs represents a vote gathered by me from some Siwash co-ed in the cause of liberty and progress and personal friends. Eighty-nine was my total score. Took me four years to get 'em, working seven days in the week and forty weeks in the year. I'm no brass-finished and splash-lubricated politician, but I'll bet I could go out in any election and cord up that many votes with whiskers on them in three days. "Votes for Women" is a fine sentiment and very appropriate, Miss Allstairs, but "Votes from Women" has always been the motto under which I have fought and been bled—I beg your pardon; that just slipped out accidentally. Of course there was nothing of the sort possible. Now there isn't the slightest use of your getting angry and making me feel like an Arctic explorer in a linen suit. If you insist I'll go out on the front porch and sit there a few weeks until you forgive me, but that's the very best I can do for you. I will positively not erase myself from your list of acquaintances. When a man has been hanging around the world in a bored way for thirty-two years, just waiting for Fate to catch up with its assignments and trundle you along within my range in order to give the sun a rest—
Oh, well—if you forgive me of course I'll stop anything you say. Though really, now, that wasn't joshing. It came from the depths. Anyway, as I was saying, "Votes from Women"—excuse me, please; I fell off there once and I'm going to go slow—"Votes from Women" was the burning question back at Siwash when I infested the campus. The women had the votes already—no use agitating that. The big question was getting 'em back when we needed them. You see, the Faculty always insisted on regulating athletics more or less and on organizing things for us—didn't believe we mere college youths could get an organization together according to Hoyle, or whoever drew up the rules of disorder in college societies, without the help of some skyscraper-browed professor. So they saw fit to organize what they called a general athletic association. Every student who paid a dollar was enrolled as a member, with a vote and the privilege of blowing a horn in a lady or gentleman like manner at all college games. And just to assure a large membership, the faculty made a rule that the dollar must be paid by all students with their tuition at the beginning of the year. That, of course, enrolled the whole college, girls and all, in the Athletic Association. And it was the Athletic Association that raised the money to pay for the college teams and hired the coaches and greased old Siwash's way to glory every fall during the football season.
Now this didn't bother any for a few years. The men went to the meetings and voted, and the girls stayed at home and made banners for the games. Everything was lovely and comfortable. Then one day, in my Freshman year just before the election, there was a crack in the slate and the Shi Delts saw a chance to elect one of their men president—it wasn't their turn that year, but you never could trust the Shi Delts politically any farther than you could kick a steam roller. They put up their man and there was a little campaign for about three hours that got up to eleven hundred revolutions a minute. We clawed and scratched and dug for votes and were still short when Reilly got an idea and rushed over to Browning Hall. Five minutes before the polls closed he appeared, leading twenty-seven Siwash girls, and the trouble was over. They voted for our man and he was elected by four votes. But, incidentally, we tipped over a can of—no, wait a minute. I've simply got to be more classical. What's the use of a college diploma if you have to tell all you know in baseball language? Let's see—you remember that beautiful Greek lady who opened a box under the impression that there was a pound of assorted chocolate creams in it and let loose a whole international museum of trouble? Dora Somebody—eh? Oh, yes, Pandora. I always did fall down on that name. Anyway, the box we opened in that election would have made Pandora's little grief repository look like a box of pink powder. The kind you girls—oh, very well. I take it back. Honestly, Miss Allstairs, you'll get me so afraid of the cars in a minute that I'll have to ditch this train of thought and talk about art. Ever hear me talk about art? Well, it would serve you right if you did. I talked about art with a kalsominer once, and he wanted to fight me for the honor of his profession.
However, as I was saying, the women voted at Siwash that fall and I guess they must have liked the taste, for the first thing we knew we had the woman vote to take care of all the time. The next fall pretty nearly every girl in the college turned out to class meetings, and the way they voted pretty nearly drove us mad. They seemed to regard it as a game. They fussed about whether to vote on pink paper or blue paper; voted for members of the Faculty for class president; one of them voted for the President of the United States for president of the Sophomore class; wanted to vote twice; came up to the ballot box and demanded their votes back because they had changed their minds; went away before election and left word with a friend to vote for them. Took us an hour, right in football practice time, to get the ticket through in our class; and what with lending pencils and chasing girls who carried their ballots away with them, and getting called down for trying to see that everything went along proper and shipshape and according to program, we boys were half crazy when it was all over.
But the girls liked it enormously. It was a novelty for them, and we saw right there that it was a case of organize the female vote or have things hopelessly muddled up before the end of the year. In the interests of harmony things had to be done in a businesslike manner. Certain candidates had to be put through and certain factions had to be gently but firmly stepped on. Harmony, you know, Miss Allstairs, is a most important thing in politics. Without harmony you can't do a thing. Harmony in politics consists of giving the insurgents not what they ask for, but something that you don't want. I was a grand little harmonizer in my day too. I ran the oratorical league the year before it went broke and then traded the presidency to the Chi Yi-Delta Whoop crowd for the editorship of the Student Weekly. That's harmony. They were happy and so was I. When I saw how hard they had to hustle to pay the association debts the next fall I was so happy I could hardly stand it.
No, Miss Allstairs, that was not meanness on my part. It was politics. There is a great deal of difference between meanness and politics. One is lowdown and contemptible and nasty, and the other is expedient. See? Why, some of the most generous men in the world are politicians. Time and again I've seen Andy Hoople, the big politician of our town, pay a man's fare to Chicago so that he could go up there and rest during the last week of a political campaign and not bother himself and get all worried over the way things were going—and the man would be on the other side too.
Anyway, to—wait a minute; I'm going to hook over some French now. Look out, low bridge—to rendezvous to our muttons—how's that? In a good many ways there are worse jobs than that of persuading a pretty girl to vote the right way. Sometimes I liked the job so well that I was sorry when election came. But, on the whole, it was hard, hard work. We tried arguments and exhortation and politics, and you might as well have shot cheese balls at the moon. Never touched 'em. I talked straight logic to a girl for an hour once, showing her conclusively that it was her duty as a patriotic Siwash student to vote for a man who could give a strong mind and a lot of money to the debating cause; and then she remarked quite placidly that she would always vote for the other man for whatever office he wanted, because he wore his dress suit with such an air. I had to take her clear downtown and buy her ice cream and things before she could understand the gravity of the case at all—
No, indeed, Miss Allstairs, I didn't bribe her. You must be very careful about charging people with bribery. Bribery is a very serious offense. It's so serious that nowadays it's a very grave thing to charge a politician with it. I think it will be made a crime soon. I bought ice cream for this girl because she could understand things better while she was eating ice cream. It made her think better. Of course, you can't do that with a man in real politics. You have to give him an office or a contract or something in order to get his mind into a cheerful condition. You can argue so much better with a man when he is cheerful. No, indeed. I wouldn't bribe a fly. Nobody would. There isn't any bribing any more anyway. Illinois has taught the world that.
But that was the least of our troubles. After you had persuaded a girl to vote right you had to keep her persuaded. Now most any man might be able to keep one vote in line, but that wasn't enough. Some of us had to keep four or five votes all ready for use, for competition was pretty swift and there were a tremendous number of co-eds in school. You never saw such a job as it was. No sooner would I have Miss A. entirely friendly to my candidate for the editorship of the Weekly than Miss B. would flop over and show marked signs of frost—and then I would have to drop everything and walk over from chapel with her three mornings hand-running, and take her to a play, and make a wild pass about not knowing whether any one would go to the prom with me or not. And then just as she would begin to smile when she saw me Miss A. would pass me on the street and look at me as if I had robbed a hen-roost. And just as I was entirely friendly with both of them it would occur to me that I hadn't called on Miss C. for three weeks and that Bannister, of the Alfalfa Delts, was waiting for Miss D. after chapel every morning and would doubtless make a lowdown, underhanded attempt to talk politics to her in the spring. For a month before each election I felt like a giddy young squirrel running races with myself around a wheel. Some college boys can keep on terms of desperate and exclusive friendliness with a dozen girls at a time—Petey Simmons got up to eighteen one spring when we won the big athletic election—but four or five were as many as I could manage by any means, and it kept me busted, conditioned and all out of training to accomplish this. And when election-time approached and it came to talking real politics, and the girl you had counted on all winter to swing her wing of the third floor in Browning Hall for your candidate would suddenly remember in the midst of a businesslike talk on candidates and things that you had cut two dances with her at the prom, and you couldn't explain that you simply had to do it because you had to keep your stand-in with a girl on the first floor who had the music-club vote in her pocket-book—well, I may get out over Niagara Falls some day on a rotten old tight-rope, with a sprained ankle and a fellow on my shoulders who is drunk and wants to make a speech, standing up—but if I do I won't feel any more wobbly and uncertain about the future than I used to feel on those occasions.
Of course it was entirely impossible for the few dozen college politicians to make personal friends and supporters of all the girls in Siwash. We didn't want to. There are girls and girls at Siwash, just as there are everywhere else. Maybe a third of the Siwash girls were pretty and fascinating and wise and loyal, and nine or ten other exceedingly pleasant adjectives. And perhaps another third were—well, nice enough to dance with at a class party and not remember it with terror. And then there was another third which—oh, well, you know how it goes everywhere. They were grand young women, and they were there for educational purposes. They took prizes and learned a lot, and this was partly because there were no swarms of bumptious young collegians hanging around them and wasting their time. Far be it from me, Miss Allstairs, to speak disparagingly of a single member of your sex—you are all too good for us—but, if you will force me to admit it, there were girls at Siwash—ex-girls—who would have made a true and loyal student of art and beauty climb a high board—certainly, I said I wasn't going to say anything against them, and I'm not. Anyway, it's no great compliment to be admired for your youth and beauty alone. Age has its claims to respect too—oh, very well; I'll change the subject.
As I was saying, we couldn't influence all the co-ed vote personally, but we handled it very systematically. Every popular girl in the school had her following, of course, at Browning Hall. So we just fought it out among the popular girls. Before elections they'd line up on their respective sides, and then they'd line up the rest of the co-ed vote. On a close election we'd get out every vote, and we'd have it accounted for, too, beforehand. The real precinct leaders had nothing on us. It took a lot of time and worry; but it was all very pleasant at the end. The popular girls would each lead over her collection of slaves of Horace and Trig, and Counterpoint and Rhetoric, and we'd cheer politely while they voted 'em. Then we'd take off our hats and bow low to said slaves, and they would go back to their galleys after having done their duty as free-born college girls, and that would be over for another year. Everything would have continued lovely and comfortable and darned expensive if it hadn't been for Mary Jane Hicks, of Carruthers' Corners, Missouri.
No, I've never told you of Mary Jane Hicks. Why? The real reason is because when we fellows of that period mention her name we usually cuss a little in a hopeless and irritable sort of way. It's painful to think of her. It's humiliating to think that twenty-five of the case-hardened and time-seasoned politicians of Siwash should have been double-crossed, checkmated, outwitted, out-generaled, sewed up into sacks and dumped into Salt Creek by a red-headed, freckled-nosed exile from a Missouri clay farm; and a Sophomore at that—say, what am I telling you this for, Miss Allstairs? Honestly, it hurts. It's nice for a woman to hear, I know, but I may have to take gas to get through this story.
This Mary Jane Hicks came to Siwash the year before it all happened and was elected to the unnoticeables on the spot. She was a dumpy little girl, with about as much style as a cornplanter; and I suspect that she bade her pet calf a fond good-by when she left the dear old farm to come and play tag with knowledge on the Siwash campus. Nobody saw her in particular the first year, except that you couldn't help noticing her hair any more than you can help noticing a barn that's burning on a damp, dark night. It was explosively red and she didn't seem to care. She always had her nose turned up a little—just on principle, I guess. And when you see a red-headed girl with a freckled nose that turns up just locate the cyclone cellars in your immediate vicinity, say I.
Well, Mary Jane Hicks went through her Freshman year without causing any more excitement than you could make by throwing a clamshell into the Atlantic Ocean. She drew a couple of classy men for the class parties and they reported that she towed unusually hard when dancing. She voted in the various elections under the protecting care of Miss Willoughby, who was a particular friend of mine just before the Athletic election, and that's how I happened to meet her. I was considerably grand at that time—being a Junior who had had a rib smashed playing football and was going to edit the college paper the next year—but the way she looked at me you would have thought that I was the fractional part of a peeled cipher. She just nodded at me and said "Howdedo," and then asked if the vest-pocket vote was being successfully extracted that day. That was nervy of her and I frowned; after which she remarked that she objected to voting without being told in advance that the cause of liberty was trembling in the voter's palm. I remember wondering at the time where she had dug up all that rot.
Miss Hicks voted at all the elections along with the rest of the herd, and as far as I know no rude collegian came around and broke into her studies by taking her anywhere. Commencement came and we all went home, and I forgot all about her. The next fall was a critical time with the Eta Bita Pie-Fly Gam-Sigh Whoopsilon combination, because we had graduated a large number of men and we had to pull down the fall elections with a small voting strength. So I went down to college a day early to confer with some of the other patriotic leaders regarding slates and other matters concerning the good of the college.
I hadn't more than stepped off the train until I met Frankling, the president of the Alfalfa Delts, and Randolph, of the Delta Kappa Sonofaguns, and Chickering, of the Mu Kow Moos, in close consultation. It was very evident that they were going to do a little high-class voting too. And before night I discovered that the Shi Delts and the Delta Flushes and the Omega Salves had formed a coalition with the independents, and that there was going to be more politics to the square inch in old Siwash that year than there had been since the year of the big wind—that's what we called the year when Maxwell was boss of the college and swept every election with his eloquence.
There were any number of important elections coming off that fall. There were all the class elections, of course, and the Oratorical election, and a couple of vacancies to fill in the Athletic Association, and a college marshal to elect, and goodness knows what all else to nail down and tuck away before we could get down to the serious job of fighting conditions that fall. I was so busy for the first three days, wiring up the new students and putting through a trade on the Athletic secretaryship with the Delta Kap gang, that I couldn't pay any attention to the class elections. But they were pretty safe anyway. It was only about a day's job to put through a class slate. The Junior election came first, and we had arranged to give it to Miss Willoughby. We always elected women presidents of the Junior class at Siwash. Little Willoughby had a cinch because, of course, our crowd backed her hard—and we were strong in Juniors—and, besides she had a good following among the girls. So we just turned the whole thing over to the girls to manage and thought no more about it, being mighty hard pressed by the miserable and un-American bipartisan combination on the Athletic offices.
School opened on Tuesday. The Junior class election came off on Thursday afternoon and a Miss Hamthrick was elected president. I would have bet on the college bell against her. It was the shockingest thing that had happened in politics for five years. Miss Hamthrick was a conservatory student. Even when you shut your eyes and listened to her singing she didn't sound good-looking. Davis drew her for the Sophomore class party the year before and exposed himself to the mumps to get out of going. Not only was she elected president, but the rest of the offices went to—no, I'll not describe them. I'm sort of prejudiced anyway. They made Miss Hamthrick seem beautiful and clever by comparison.
It was a blow between the eyes. The worst of it was we couldn't understand it. I went over to see Miss Willoughby about it, and she came down all powdery and beautiful about the eyes and nose and talked to me as haughtily as if I had done it myself. She said she had trusted us, but it was evident that all a woman could hope for in politics was the privilege of being fooled by a man. She even accused me of helping elect the Hamthrick lady, said she wished me joy, and asked if it had been a pretty romance. That made me tired, and I said—oh, well, no use remembering what I said. It was the last thing I ever had a chance to say to Miss Willoughby anyway. I was pretty miserable over it—politically, of course, I mean, Miss Allstairs. You understand. Now there's no use saying that. It wasn't so. College girls are all very well, and one must be entertained while getting gorged with knowledge; but really, when it comes to more serious things, I never—
All right, I'll go on with my story. The next day we got a harder blow than ever. The Freshman class election came off on a snap call, and about half the class, mostly girls, elected a lean young lady with spectacles and a wasp-like conversation to the presidency. We raised a storm of indignation, but they blandly told us to go hence. There was nothing in the Constitution of the United States to prevent a woman from being president of the Freshman class, and there didn't seem to be any other laws on the subject. Besides, the Freshman class was a brand-new republic and didn't need the advice of such an effete monarchy as the Senior class. While we were talking it all over the next day the Sophomores met, and after a terrific struggle between the Eta Bita Pies, the Alfalfa Delts and the Shi Delts, Miss Hicks was elected president by what Shorty Gamble was pleased to term "the gargoyle vote." I wouldn't say that myself of any girl, but Shorty had been working for the place for a year, and when the twenty girls who had never known what it was to have a sassy cab rumble up to Browning Hall and wait for them cast their votes solidly and elected the Missouri Prairie Fire he felt justified in making comments.
By this time it was a case of save the pieces. The whole thing had been as mysterious as the plague. We were getting mortal blows, we couldn't tell from whom. All political signs were failing. The game was going backward. A lot of the leaders got together and held a meeting, and some of them were for declaring a constitutional monarchy and then losing the constitution. My! But they were bitter. Everybody accused everybody else of double-crossing, underhandedness, gum-shoeing, back-biting, trading, pilfering and horse-stealing. I think there was a window or two broken during the discussion. But we didn't get anywhere. The next day the Senior class elected officers, and every frat went out with a knife for its neighbor. A quiet lady by the name of Simpkins, who was one of the finest old wartime relics in school, was elected president.
That night I began putting two and two and fractional numbers together and called in calculus and second sight on the problem. I remembered what the Hicks girl had said to me the year before. That was more than the ordinary girl ought to know about politics. I remembered seeing her doing more or less close-harmony work with the other midnight-oil consumers—and the upshot was I went over to Browning Hall that night and called on her.
She came down in due time—kept me waiting as long as if she had been the belle of the prom—and she shook hands all over me.
"My dear boy," she said, sitting down on the sofa with me, "I'm so delighted to renew our old friendship."
Now, I don't like to be "my dear boyed" by a Sophomore, and there never had been any old friendship. I started to stiffen up—and then didn't. I didn't because I didn't know what she would do if I did.
"How are all the other good old chaps?" she said as cordially as could be. "My, but those were grand days."
I didn't see any terminus in that conversation. Besides, she looked like one of those most uncomfortable girls who can guy you in such an innocent and friendly manner that you don't know what to say back. So I brushed the preliminaries aside and jumped right into the middle of things. "Miss Hicks," says I, "why are you doing all this?"
"Singular or plural you?" she asked. "And why am I or are we doing what, and why shouldn't we?"
"Help," said I, feeling that way. "Do you deny that you haven't been instrumental in upsetting the whole college with those fool elections?"
"I am a modest young lady," said she, "so, of course, I deny it. Besides, this college isn't upset at all. I went over this morning and every professor was right side up with care where he belonged. And, moreover, you must not call an election a fool because it doesn't do what you want it to. It can't help itself."
"Miss Hicks," says I, feeling like a fly in an acre of web, "I am a plain and simple man and not handy with my tongue. What I mean is this, and I hope you'll excuse me for living—do you admit that you had a hand in those class elections?"
Miss Hicks looked at me in the friendliest way possible. "It is more modest to admit it than to declare it, isn't it?" she asked.
"Certainly," says I; "and this leads right back to question Number One—Why did you do it?"
"And this leads back to answer Number One—Why shouldn't I?" she asked again.
"Why, don't you see, Miss Hicks," says I, "that you've elected a lot of girls that never have been active in college work, and that don't represent the student body, and—"
"Don't go to the proms?" she suggested.
"I didn't say it and I'd die before I did," said I virtuously. "But what's your object?"
"Education," said Miss Hicks mildly. "I'm paying full tuition and I want to get all there is out of college. I think politics is a fascinating study. I didn't get a chance to do much at it last year, but I'm learning something about it every day now."
"But what's the good of it all?" I protested. "You'll just get the college affairs hopelessly mixed up—"
"Like the Oratorical Association was last year?" she inquired gently.
"Oh, pshaw!" said I, getting entirely red. "Let's not get personal. What can we do to satisfy you?"
"You've been satisfying us beautifully so far," said Miss Hicks.
"Who's us?" I asked.
"I don't in the least mind telling you," said Miss Hicks. "It's the Blanks."
"The Blanks!" I repeated fretfully. "Never heard of 'em."
"I know it," said Miss Hicks, "but you named them yourselves. What do you say you've drawn when you draw a homely girl's name out of the hat as a partner for a class party?"
"Oh!" said I.
"We're the Blanks," said Miss Hicks, "and we feel that we haven't been getting our full share of college atmosphere. So we're going into politics. In this way we can mingle with the students and help run things and have a very enjoyable time. It's most fascinating. All of us are dippy over it."
"Oh," said I again. "You mean you're going to ruin things for your own selfish interests?"
"My dear boy," said Miss Hicks—my, but that grated—"we're not going to ruin anything. And we may build up the Oratorical Association."
That was too much. I got up and stood as nearly ten feet as I could. "Very well," said I. "If there's no use of arguing on a reasonable basis we may as well terminate this interview. But I'll just tell you there's no use of your going any further. Now we know what we have to fight, we'll take precious good care that you do not do any more mischief."
"Oh, very well," said Miss Hicks—she was infuriatingly good-natured—"but I might as well tell you that we're going to get the Athletic offices, the prom committee, the Oratorical offices and the Athletic election next spring."
"Ha, ha!" said I loudly and rudely. Then I took my hat and went away. Miss Hicks asked me very eagerly to drop in again. Me? I'd as soon have dropped on a Mexican cactus. It couldn't be any more uncomfortable.
I went away and called our gang together and we seethed over the situation most all night. They voted me campaign leader on the strength of my service, and the next day we got the rest of the frats together, buried the hatchet and doped out the campaign. It was the pride and strength of Siwash against a red-headed Missouri girl, weight about ninety-five pounds; and we couldn't help feeling sorry for her. But she had brought it on herself. Insurgency, Miss Allstairs, is a very wicked thing. It's a despicable attempt on the part of the minority to become the majority, and no true patriot will desert the majority in his time of need.
I'm not going to linger over the next month. I'll get it over in a few words. We started out to exterminate Miss Hicks. We put up our candidate for the Oratorical Association presidency. The hall was jammed when the time came, and before anything could be done Miss Hicks demanded that no one be allowed to vote who hadn't paid his or her dues. Half the fellows we had there never had any intention of getting that far into Oratorical work, and backed out; but the rest of us paid up. There had never been so much money in the treasury since the association began. Then the Blanks nominated a candidate and skinned us by three votes. When we thought of all that money gone to waste we almost went crazy.
But that was just a starter. We were determined to have our own way about the Junior prom. What do wall-flowers know about running a prom? We worked up an absolute majority in the Junior class, only to have a snap meeting called on us over in Browning Hall, in which three middle-aged young ladies who had never danced a step were named. The roar we raised was terrific, but the president sweetly informed us that they had only followed precedent—we'd had to do the same thing the year before to keep out the Mu Kow Moos. We appealed to the Faculty, and it laughed at us. Unfortunately, we didn't stand any too well there anyway, while most of the Blanks were the pride and joy of the professors. Anyway, they told us to fight our own battles and they'd see that there was fair play. Oh, yes. They saw it. They passed a rule that no student who was conditioned in any study could vote in any college election. That disenfranchised about half of us right on the spot. If ever anarchy breaks out in this country, Miss Allstairs, it will be because of college Faculties.
We made a last stand on the Athletic Association treasurership. It looked for a while as if it was going to be easy. We threw all the rules away and gave a magnificent party for all the girls we thought we could count on. It was the most gorgeous affair on record, and half the dress suits in college went into hock afterward for the whole semester. The result was most encouraging. The girls were delighted. They pledged their votes and support and we counted up that we had a clear majority. We went to bed that night happy and woke up to find that Miss Hicks had entertained the non-fraternity men in the gymnasium that night and had served lemonade and wafers. She had alluded to them playfully as slaves, and they had broken up about fifty chairs demonstrating that they were not. When the election came off she had the unattached vote solid, and we lost out by a comfortable majority. An estimable lady, who didn't know athletics from croquet, was elected. And when the reception committee of the prom was announced the next day it was composed exclusively of men who would have had to be led through the grand march on wheels.
After that we gave up. I tried to resign as campaign manager, but the boys wouldn't let me. They admitted that no one else could have done any better, and, besides, they wanted me to go over and see Miss Hicks again. They wanted me to ask her what her crowd wanted. When I thought of her pleasant conversational hatpin work I felt like resigning from college; but there always have to be martyrs, and in the end I went.
Miss Hicks received me rapturously. You would have thought we had been boy and girl friends. She insisted on asking how all the folks were at home, and how my health had been, and hadn't it been a gay winter, and was I going to the prom, and how did I like her new gown? While I was at it I thought I might as well amuse myself, too, so I asked her to marry me. That was the only time I ever got ahead of her. She refused indignantly, and I laughed at her for getting so fussed up over a little thing.
"Marriage is a sacred subject," she said very soberly.
"So was politics," said I, "until you came along. If you won't talk marriage let's talk politics. What do you girls want?"
"Oh, I told you a while ago," she said.
"But, Great Scott!" said I. "Aren't you going to leave a thing for us fellows who have done our best for the college?"
"Now you put it that way," she said quite kindly, "I'll think it over. We might find something for you to do. There's a couple of janitorships loose."
"Hicksey," says I.
"Miss Hicks," says she.
"I beg your pardon—my dear girl, then," said I. "I've come over to the bunch to confess. You've busted us. We're on the mat nine points down and yelling for help. We don't want to run things. We only want to be allowed to live. We surrender. We give up. We humbly ask that you prepare the crow and let us eat the neck. Isn't there any way by which we can get a little something to keep us busy and happy? We're in a horrible situation. Aren't you even going to let us have the Athletic Association next spring?"
"I was thinking of running that myself," said Miss Hicks thoughtfully.
I let out an impolite groan.
"But I'll tell you what you might do," said Miss Hicks. "You boys might try to win my crowd away from me. You see, you've played right into my hand so far. You haven't paid any attention to my supporters. Now, if you were to go after them the way you do the other girls in the college I shudder to think what might happen to me."
"You mean take them to parties and theaters?"
"Why not?" asked Miss Hicks. "You see, they're only human. I'll bet you could land every vote in the bunch if you went at it scientifically."
"Oh, I know they're not pretty," said Miss Hicks. "But they cast the most bee-you-ti-ful votes you ever saw."
"What you mean," I said, "is that if we don't show those girls a superlatively good time this winter we won't get a look at the election next spring?"
"They'd be awfully shocked if you put it that way," said Miss Hicks; "and I wouldn't advise you to talk to them about it. Their notions of honor are so high that I had to pay for the lemonade for the independent men myself at the last election."
"Oh, very well," says I, taking my hat, "we'll think it over."
"You might wear blinders, you know," she suggested.
"Oh, go to thunder!" said I as earnestly as I could.
"Come again," she said when she closed the door after me. "I do so enjoy these little confidences."
Honestly, Miss Allstairs, when I think of that girl I shrink up until I'm afraid I'll fall into my own hat. It ought not to be legal for a girl to talk to a man like that. It's inhuman.
We thought matters over for two weeks and tried one or two little raids on the enemy with most horrible results to ourselves. Then we gave in. We put our pride and our devotion to art in cold storage and took up the politicians' burden. We gave those girls the time of their young-to-middle-aged lives. We got up dances and crokinole parties and concerts for them. We took them to see Hamlet. We had sleighing parties. We helped every lecture course in the college do a rushing business. We just backed into the shafts and took the bit without a murmur. And maybe you think those girls didn't drive us. They seemed determined to make up for the drought of all the past. They were as coy and uncertain and as infernally hard to please as if they'd been used to getting one proposal a day and two on Sunday. Let one of us so much as drop over to Browning Hall to pass the time of day with one of the real heart-disturbers, and the particular vote that he was courting would go off the reservation for a week. It would take a pair of theater tickets at the least to square things.
We gave dances that winter at which only one in five girls could dance. We took moonlight strolls with ladies who could remember the moon of seventy-six, and we gave strawrides to girls who insisted on talking history of art and missionary work to us all the way. When I think of the tons of candy and the mountains of flowers and the wagonloads of latest books that we lavished, and of the hard feelings it made in other quarters, and of our loneliness amid all this gayety, and of our frantic efforts to make the prom a success, with ten couples dancing and the rest decorating the walls, I sometimes wonder whether the college was worth our great love for it after all.
But we were winning out. By April it was easy to see this. The Blanks thawed with the snow-drifts. They got real friendly and sociable, and after the warm weather came on we simply had to entertain them all the time, they liked it so. When I think of those beautiful spring days, with us sauntering with our political fates about the campus, and the nicest girls in the world walking two and two all by themselves—Oh, gee! Why, they even made us cut chapel to go walking with them, just as if it was a genuine case of "Oh, those eyes!" and "Shut up, you thumping heart."
All this time Miss Hicks wouldn't accept any invitation at all. She just flocked by herself as usual, and watched us taking her votes away from her without any concern apparently. I always felt that she had something saved up for us, but I couldn't tell what it was; and anyway, we had those votes. By the time the Athletic election came around there wasn't a doubt of it.
I must say the women did pretty well during the year. They'd cleaned up the Oratorical debt, and somehow there was about three times as much money in the Athletic treasury after the football season as there had ever been before. But they'd raised a lot of trouble too. No passes. Dues had to be paid up. Nobody got any fun out of the class affairs. They got up lectures and teas and made the class pay for them. And, anyway, we wanted to run things again. We'd felt all year like a bunch of last year's sunflowers. Besides, we'd earned it. We'd earned a starry crown as a matter of fact, but all we asked was that they give our little old Athletic Association back and let us run it once more.
Miss Hicks announced herself as a candidate, and we felt sorry for her. Not one of her gang was with her. They were enthusiastically for us. We'd planned the biggest party of the year right after the election in celebration, and had invited them already. Election day came and we hardly worried a bit. The result was 189 to 197 in favor of Miss Hicks. Every independent man and every bang-up-to-date girl in college voted for her.
Of course it looks simple enough now, but why couldn't we see it then? We supposed the real girls knew that it was a case of college patriotism. And, of course, it was a low-lived trick for Miss Hicks to float around the last day and spread the impression that we'd never loved them except for their votes. She simply traded constituencies with us, that's all. Take it coming or going, year in or year out, you couldn't beat that girl. I'll bet she goes out to Washington state and gets elected governor some day.
I went over to Browning Hall the night after the election, ready to tell Miss Hicks just what everybody thought of her. I was prepared to tell her that every athletic team in college was going to disband and that anarchy would be declared in the morning. She came down as pleasant as ever and held out her hand.
"Don't say it, please," she said, "because I'm going to tell you something. I'm not coming back next year."
"Not coming back!" said I, gulping down a piece of relief as big as an apple.
"No," she said, "I'm—I'm going to be married this summer. I've—I've been engaged all this year to a man back home, but I wanted to come back and learn something about politics. He's a lawyer."
"Well, you learned enough to suit you, didn't you?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," she said with a giggle. "Wasn't it fun, though! My father will be so pleased. He's the chairman of the congressional committee out at home and he's always told me an awful lot about politics. I've enjoyed this year so much."
"Well, I haven't," I said; "but I hope to enjoy next year." And then I took half an hour to tell her that, in spite of the fact that she was the most arrant, deceitful, unreliable, two-faced and scuttling politician in the world, she was almost incredibly nice. She listened quite patiently, and at the end she held up her fingers. They'd been crossed all the time.
No, that's the last I ever saw of her, Miss Allstairs. She left before Commencement. She sent me an invitation to the wedding. I'll bet she didn't quite get the significance of the magnificent silver set we Siwash boys sent. We sent it to the groom.
That was the end of women dominion at Siwash. There wasn't a rag of the movement left next fall. But we boys never entirely forgot what happened to us, and it's still the custom to elect a co-ed to some Athletic office. They do say that the only way to teach a politician what the people want is to bore a shaft in his head and shout it in, but our experience ought to be proof to the contrary. Why, all we needed was the gentle little hint that Mary Jane Hicks gave us.
SIC TRANSIT GLORIA ALL-AMERICA
How did the Siwash game come out Saturday? Forget it, my boy. You'll never know in this oversized, ingrowing, fenced-off, insulated metropolis till some one writes and tells you. Every fall I ask myself that same question all day Saturday and Sunday, and do you suppose I ever find a Siwash score in one of those muddy-faced, red-headed, ward-gossip parties that they call newspapers in New York? Never, not at all, you hopeful tenderfoot from the unimportant West. After you've existed in this secluded portion of the universe a few years you'll get over trying to find anything that looks like news from home in the daily disturbances here. And I don't care whether your home is in Buffalo, Chicago or Strawberry Point, Iowa, either. Go down on the East Side and beat up a policeman, and you'll get immortalized in ten-inch type. Go back West and get elected governor, and ten to one if you're mentioned at all they'll slip you the wrong state to preside over.
Excuse me, but I'm considerably sore, just as I am every Sunday during the football season. Here I am, eating my heart out with longing to know whether good old Siwash has dusted off half a township with Muggledorfer again, and what do I get to read? Four yards of Gale; five yards of Jarhard; two yards of Ohell; and a page of Quincetown, Hardmouth, Jamhurst, Saint Mikes, Holy Moses College and the Connecticut Institute of Etymology. Nice fodder for a loyal alumnus eleven hundred and then some miles from home, isn't it? Honest, when I first hit this seething burg I used to go down to the Grand Central station on Sunday afternoon and look at the people coming in from the trains, just because some of them were from the West. Once I took a New Yorker up to Riverside Park, pointed him west and asked him what he saw. He said he saw a ferryboat coming to New York. That was all he had ever seen of the other shore. He called it Hinterland. That made me mad and I called him an electric-light bug. We had a lovely row.
But we're blasting out a corner for the old coll., even back here. We've got things fixed pretty nicely here now, we Siwash men. Down near Gramercy Park there's an old-fashioned city dwelling house, four stories high and elbow-room wide. It's the Siwash Alumni Club. There are half a hundred Siwash men in New York, gradually getting into the king row in various lines of business, and we pay enough rent each year for that house to buy a pretty fair little cottage out in Jonesville. Whenever a Siwash man drops in there he's pretty sure to find another Siwash man who smokes the same brand of tobacco and knows the same brand of college songs. We've got one legislator, four magazine publishers, two railroad officials, a city prosecutor and three bankers on the membership roll, and maybe some day we'll have a mayor. Then we'll pass a law requiring the boys and girls of New York to spend at least one hour a day learning about Siwash College, Jonesville, the big team of naughty-nix and the formula for getting credit at the Horseshoe Cafe. We'll make it obligatory for every newspaper to publish a full page about each Siwash game in the fall, with pictures of the captain, the coach and the fullback's right leg. Hurrah for revenge! I see it coming.
Join the club? Why, you don't have to ask to join it. You've got to join it. Ten dollars, please, and sign here. When we get a little huskier financially we won't charge new-fledged graduates anything for a year or two, but we've got to now. The soulless landlord wants his rent in advance. You'll find the whole gang there Saturday nights. Just butt right in if I'm not around. You're a Siwash man, and if you want to borrow the doorknob to throw at a hackman you've a perfect right to do it.
I'll tell you, old man, you don't know how nice it is to have a hole that you can hunt in this hurricane town, when you're a bright young chap with a glorious college past and a business future that you can't hock for a plate of beans a day! Leaving college and going into business in a big city is like taking a high dive from the hall of fame into an ice-water tank. Think of that and be cheerful. You've got a nice time coming. Just now you're Rudolph Weedon Burlingame, Siwash Naughty-several, late captain of the baseball team, prize orator, manager of two proms and president of the Senior class. To-morrow you'll be a nameless cumberer of busy streets, useful only to the street-car companies to shake down for nickels. To-morrow you're going around to the manager of some firm or other with a letter from some customer of his, and you're going to put your hand on your college diploma so as to have it handy, and you're going to hand him the letter and prepare to tell the story of your strong young life. But just before you begin you'll go away, because the manager will tell you he's sorry, but he's busy, and there are fourteen applicants ahead of you, and anyway he'll not be hiring any more men until 1918, and will you please come around then, and shut the door behind you, if you don't mind.
Yep, that's what will happen to you. You'll spend your first three days trying to haul that diploma out. The fourth day you'll put it in your trunk. I've known men to cut 'em up for shaving paper. You'll stop trying to tell the story of your life and in about a week you'll be wondering why you have been allowed to live so long. In two weeks a clerk will look as big as a senator to you and you'll begin to get bashful before elevator men. You'll get off the sidewalk when you see a man who looks as if he had a job and was in a hurry. You'll envy a messenger boy with a job and a future; you'll wonder if managers are really carnivorous or only pretend to be. You feel as tall as the Singer Building to-day, but you'll shrink before long. You'll shrink until, after a long, hard day, with about nine turndowns in it, you'll have to climb up on top of the dresser to look at yourself in the glass.
That's what you're going up against. Then the Siwash Club will be your hole and you'll hunt it every evening. You'll be a big man there, for we judge our members not by what they are, but by what they were at school. You'll sit around with the boys after dinner, and the man on your right, who is running a railroad, will be interested in that home run you made against Muggledorfer, and the man on your left, who won't touch a law case for less than five thousand dollars, will tell you that he, too, won the Perkins debate once. And he'll treat you as if you were a real life-sized human being instead of a job hunter, knee high to a copying clerk. You'll be back in the old college atmosphere, as big as the best of 'em, and after you've swapped yarns all evening you'll go to bed full of tabasco and pepper and you'll tackle the first manager the next morning as if he were a Kiowa man and had the ball. And sooner or later you'll get old Mr. Opportunity where he can't give you the straight arm, and if you don't put a knee in his chest and tame him for life you haven't got the real Siwash spirit, that's all.
Funny thing about college. It isn't merely an education. It's a whole life in itself. You enter it unknown and tiny—just a Freshman with no rights on earth. You work and toil and suffer—and fall in love—and climb and rise to fame. When you are a Senior, if you have good luck, you are one of the biggest things in the whole world—for there isn't any world but the campus at college. Freshmen look up to you and admire men who are big enough to talk with you. The Sophomores may sneer at faculties and kings, but they wouldn't think of sassing you. The papers publish your picture in your football clothes. You dine with the professors, and prominent alumni come back and shake you by the hand. Of course, you know that somewhere in the dim nebulous outside there is a President of the United States who is quite a party in his way, but none of the girls mention it when they tell you how grand you looked after they had hauled the other team off of you and sewed on your ear. They talk about you exclusively because you're really the only thing worth talking about, you know.
When Commencement comes you move about the campus like some tall mountain peak on legs. The students bring their young brothers up to meet you and you try to be kind and approachable. They give you a tremendous cheer when you go down the aisle in the chapel to get your prizes. You are referred to on all sides as one of the reasons why America is great. The professors when they bid you good-by ask you anxiously not to forget them. Then Commencement is over and college life is past, and there is nothing left in life but to become a senator or run a darned old trust. You leave the campus, taking care not to step on any of the buildings, and go out into the world pretty blue because you're through with about everything worth while; and you wonder if you can stand it to toil away making history eleven months in the year with only time to hang around college a few weeks in spring or fall. You're done with the real life. You're an old man, you've seen it all; and it sometimes takes you two weeks or more to recover and decide that after all a great career may be almost as interesting in a way as college itself. So you buck up and decide to accept the career—and that's where you begin to catch on to the general drift of the universe in dead earnest.
Take a man of sixty, with a permanent place in Who's Who and a large circle of people who believe that he has some influence with the sunrise and sunset. Then let him suddenly find himself a ten-year-old boy with two empty pockets and an appetite for assets, and let him learn that it isn't considered even an impertinence to spank him whenever he tries to mix in and air his opinions. I don't believe he would be much more shocked than the college man who finds, at the conclusion of a glorious four-year slosh in fame, that he is really just about to begin life, and that the first thing he must learn is to keep out from under foot and say "Yes, sir," when the boss barks at him. It's a painful thing, Burlingame. Took me about a year to think of it without saying "ouch."
The saddest thing about it all is that the two careers don't always mesh. The college athlete may discover that the only use the world has for talented shoulder muscles is for hod-carrying purposes. The society fashion plate may never get the hang of how to earn anything but last year's model pants; and the fishy-eyed nonentity, who never did anything more glorious in college than pay his class tax, may be doing a brokerage business in skyscrapers within ten years.
When I left Siwash and came to New York I guess I was as big as the next graduate. Of course I hadn't been the one best bet on the campus, but I knew all the college celebrities well enough to slap them on the backs and call them by pet names and lend them money. That of course should be a great assistance in knowing just how to approach the president of a big city bank and touch him for a cigar in a red-and-gold corset, while he is telling you to make yourself at home around the place until a job turns up. Allie Bangs, my chum, went on East with me. We had decided to rise side by side and to buy the same make of yachts. Of course we were sensible. We didn't expect to crowd out any magnates the first week or two. We intended to rise by honest worth, if it took a whole year. All we asked was that the fellows ahead should take care of themselves and not hold it against us if we ran over them from behind. We didn't think we were the biggest men on earth—not yet. That's where we fell down. We've never had a chance to since. You've got to seize the opportunity for having a swelled head just as you have for everything else.
It took us just six weeks to get a toe-hold on the earth and establish our right to breathe our fair share of New York air. At the end of that time neither one of us would have been surprised if we had been charged rent while waiting in the ante-rooms of New York offices to be told that no one had time to tell us that there was no use of our waiting to get a chance to ask for anything. Talk about a come-down! It was worse than coming down a bump-the-bumps with nails in it. It was three months before we got jobs. They were microscopic jobs in the same company, with wages that were so small that it seemed a shame to make out our weekly checks on nice engraved bank paper—jobs where any one from the proprietor down could yell "Here, you!" and the office boy could have fired us and got away with it. If I had been hanging on to a rope trailing behind a fifty-thousand-ton ocean liner I don't believe I should have felt more inconsequential and totally superfluous.
But they were jobs just the same and we were game. I think most college graduates are after they get their feelings reduced to normal size. We hung on and dug in, and sneaked more work into our positions, and didn't quarrel with any one except the window-washer's little boy who brought meat for the cats in the basement. We drew the line at letting him boss us. And how we did enjoy being part of the big rumpus on Manhattan Island. We had a room—it wasn't so much of a room as it was a sort of stationary vest—and we ate at those hunger cures where a girl punches out your bill on a little ticket and you don't dare eat up above the third figure from the bottom or you'll go broke on Friday. By hook or crook we always managed to save a dollar from the wreckage each week for Sunday, and say, did you ever conduct a scientific investigation into just how far a dollar will go providing a day's pleasure in a big city? We did that for six months, and if I do say it myself we stretched some of those dollars until the eagle's neck reached from Tarrytown to Coney Island. We saw New York from roof garden to sub-cellar. We even got to doing fancy stunts. We'd dig out our dress suits, go over to one of those cafes where you begin owing money as soon as you see the head waiter, and put on a bored and haughty front for two hours on a dollar and twenty cents, including tips. And what we didn't know about the Subway, the Snubway and the Grubway, the Clubway, and the various Dubways of New York wasn't worth discovering or even imagining.
We hadn't been conducting our explorations for more than a week when a most tremendous thing happened to us. You know how you are always running up against mastodons in the big town. You see about every one who is big enough to die in scare-heads. Taking a stroll down Fifth Avenue with an old residenter and having him tell about the people you pass is like having the hall of fame directory read off to you. Well, one Sunday night when we were blowing in our little fifty cents apiece on one of those Italian table d'hote dinners with red varnish free, Allie looked across the room and began to tremble. "Look at that chap," says he.
"Who is he?" I asked, getting interested. "Roosevelt?"
"Roosevelt nothing," he says scornfully. "Man alive, that's Jarvis!"
I just dropped my jaw and stared. Of course you remember Jarvis, the great football player. At that time I guess most of the college boys in America said their prayers to him. Out West we students used to read of his terrific line plunges on the eastern fields and of his titanic defense when his team was hard pushed, and wonder if any of us would ever become great enough to meet him and shake him by the hand. What did we care for the achievements of Achilles and Hector and Hercules and other eminent hasbeens, which we had to soak up at the rate of forty lines of Greek a day? They had old Homer to write them up—the best man ever in the business. But they were too tame for us. I've caught myself speculating more than once on what Achilles would have done if Jarvis had tried to make a gain through him. Achilles was probably a pretty good spear artist, and all that, but if Jarvis had put his leather-helmeted head down and hit the line low—about two points south of the solar plexus—they would have carted Ac. away in a cab right there, invulnerability and all.
That's about what we thought of Jarvis. We had his pictures pasted all over our training quarters along with those of the other super-dreadnoughts from the colleges that break into literature, and I imagine that if he had suddenly appeared back in Jonesville we should have put our heads right down and kow-towed until he gave us permission to get up. And here we were, sitting in the same cafe with him. I'll tell you, I had never felt the glory of living in the metropolis and prowling around the ankles of the big chiefs more vividly than right there in that room the night we first saw him.
We sat and watched Jarvis while our meat course got cold. There was no mistaking him—some people have their looks copyrighted and Jarvis was one of them. We would have known it was he if we had seen him in a Roman mob. After a while Bangs, who always did have a triple reenforced Harveyized steel cheek, straightened up. "I'm going over to speak to him," he said.
"Sit still, you fool," says I; "don't annoy him."
"Watch me," says Bangs; "I'm going over to introduce myself. He can't any more than freeze me. And after I've spoken to him they can take my little old job away from me and ship me back to the hayfields whenever they please. I'll be satisfied."
"You ought to bottle that nerve of yours and sell it to the lightning-rod pedlers," says I, getting all sweaty. "Just because you introduced yourself to a governor once you think you can go as far as you like. You stay right here—" But Bangs had gone over to Jarvis.
I sat there and blushed for him, and suffered the tortures of a man who is watching his friend making a furry-eared nuisance of himself. There was the greatest football player in the world being pestered by a frying-sized sprig of a ninth assistant shipping clerk. It was preposterous. I waited to see Bangs wilt and come slinking back. Then I was going to put on my hat and walk out as if I didn't belong with him at all. But instead of that Bangs shook hands with Jarvis, talked a minute and then sat down with him. When Bangs is routed out by the Angel Gabriel he'll sit down on the edge of his grave and delay the whole procession, trying to find a mutual acquaintance or two. That's the kind of a leather-skin he is.
Presently Bangs turned around and beckoned to me to come over. More colossal impudence. I wasn't going to do it, but Jarvis turned, too, and smiled at me. Like a hypnotized man I went over to their table. "I want you to meet Mr. Jarvis," said Bangs, with the air of a man who is giving away his aeroplane to a personal friend.
"Glad to meet you," said Jarvis kindly.
"M-m-m-mrugh," says I easily and naturally. Then I sat down on the edge of a chair.
Well, sir, Jarvis—it was the real Jarvis all right—was as pleasant a fellow as you would ever care to meet. There he was talking away to us fishworms just as cordially as if he enjoyed it. He didn't seem to be a bit better than we were. I've often noticed that when you meet the very greatest people they are that way. It's only the fellows who aren't sure they're great and who are pretty sure you aren't sure either, who have to put up a haughty front. Jarvis offered us cigarettes and put us so much at our ease that we stayed there an hour. It was a dazzling experience. He told us a lot about the city, and asked us about ourselves and laughed at our experiences. And he told us that he often dined there and hoped to see us again. When we got safely outside, after having bade him good-by without any sort of a break, I mopped my forehead. Then I took off my hat. "Bangs," said I, "you're the world's champion. Some day you'll get killed for impudence in the first degree, but just now I've got ten cents and I'm going to buy you a big cigar and walk home to pay for it."
Incredible as it may sound, that was the beginning of a real friendship between the three of us. Jarvis seemed to take a positive pleasure in being democratic. And he was wonderfully thoughtful, too. He realized instinctively that we had about nine cents apiece in our clothes as a rule, and he didn't offer to be gorgeous and buy things we couldn't buy back. We got to dropping in at the cafe once a week or so and eating at the same table with him. Why on earth he fancied eating around with grubs like us, when he could have been tucking away classy fare up on Fifth Avenue, we couldn't imagine. Some people are naturally Bohemian, however. It seemed to delight Jarvis to hear us tell about our team, and our college, and our prospects, and how lucky we had been up to date, not getting stepped on by any financial magnate or other tall city monument. He wasn't a talkative man himself. It was especially hard to pry any football talk out of him, probably because he was so modest. When we insisted he would finally open up, and tell us the inside facts about some great college game that we knew by heart from the newspaper accounts. And he would mention all the famous players by their first names—you can't imagine how much more alarming it sounded than calling a president "Teddy"—and we would just sit there and drink it in, and watch history from behind the scenes until suddenly he would stop, look absent and shut up like a clam. No use trying to turn him on again. Presently he would bid us good night and go away. The first time we thought we had offended him and we were miserable for a week. But when we ran across him again he seemed as pleased as ever to see us. It was just moods, after all, we finally decided, and thought no more about it. Great men have a right to have moods if they want to. We admired his moods as much as the rest of him, and were only glad they weren't violent.
It was a couple of months before we got up courage enough to ask him to drop in at our room. Even Allie got timid. He explained that he didn't want to break the spell. But finally I braced up myself and invited him to drop around with us, and he consented as kindly as you please. Came right up to our little three by twice and wouldn't even sit in the one chair. Sat on the bed and looked over our college pictures, and chatted until Allie asked him if he was going back for the big game that fall. Then he said sort of abruptly that he couldn't get away, and a few minutes afterward he went home. We thought we'd offended him again, but a week afterward he turned up and called on us—we'd asked him to drop in any time. We decided that he didn't like to have too much familiarity about his football career and we respected him for it. It's all right for a man like that to be affable and democratic, but he mustn't let you crawl all over him. He's got his dignity to maintain.
As the winter came on Jarvis dropped up to see us quite frequently. He never asked us to come and see him and we were really a little grateful—for I don't believe I should have had the nerve to go bouncing into the apartments of a national hero and hobnob with the mile-a-minute class. Anyway we didn't expect it or dream of it. And we didn't ask him any more questions about himself. We didn't care to try to elbow into his circle. If he chose to come slumming and sit around with us, we were more than content. We had seen enough of him already to keep us busy paralyzing Siwash fellows for a week when we went back to Commencement. "Jarvis? Oh, yes. Fact is, he's a friend of ours. Comes up to our rooms right along. We happened to meet him in a cafe. And say, he tells us that when he made that fifty-yard run—and so on." We used to practise saying things like this naturally and easily. We could just see the undergrads at the frat house sitting around in circles and lapping it up.
All this time we were plugging away down at the plant, early and late, with every ounce of steam we had. There's one good thing about business in this Bedlam—when you break in you keep right on going. By the time Commencement rolled around we were getting checks with two figures on them, and had a better job treed and ready to drop. Ask for a vacation? Why, we wouldn't have asked for four days off to go home and help bury our worst enemy. That's what business does to the dear old college days when it gets a good bite at them. There we were, one year out of Siwash, breaking forty-five reunion dates, and never even sitting around with our heads in our hands over it. This business bug is a bad, bad biter all right. Just let it get its tooth into you, and what do you care if some other fellow is smoking your two-quart pipe back in the old chapter house? And for that matter, what do you care about anything else until you get up far enough to take breath and look around? Sometimes, after a couple of weeks of extra hard work, I've taken my mind off invoices long enough to wag it around a bit and I've felt like a swimmer coming up after a long dive.
We landed those promotions in July and went right after another pair. I got mine in August—Allie in September. And along in December they called us both up in the office, where the big crash was. He said nice things to us about getting a chance to fire our own chauffeurs if we kept on tending to business, and first thing we knew we had offices of our own in the back of the building, with our names painted on the doors, and call-bells that brought stenographers and the same old brand of office boys that used to blow us out of the other offices along with their cigarette smoke. And we realized then that if we worked like thunder for thirty years more and saved our money and made it earn one hundred per cent, perhaps some of the real business kings would notice us on the street some day. That's about the way the college swelling goes down.
All this time we hadn't seen much of Jarvis. He'd stopped coming to the cafe and we'd really been so busy that we almost forgot about him. It's simply wonderful the things business will drive out of your mind. It wasn't until late in the winter that we realized that we'd probably lost track of Jarvis for good—that is, until we climbed up into his set and discovered him at some dinner that was a page out of the social register. We mixed around a lot more now. We went to the million-candle-power restaurants every now and then, and ate a good deal more than sixty-five cents' worth apiece without batting an eye; and we went to see a play occasionally and didn't climb up into the rarefied atmosphere to find our seats, either. And whenever we broke in with the limousine crowd we kept a bright lookout for Jarvis. We wanted to see him and show him that we were coming along. We wanted him to be proud of us. I'd have given all my small bank balance to hear him say: "Fine work, old man; keep it up." I'll tell you when a big chap like that takes an interest in you, it's just as bracing as a hypodermic of ginger. Baccalaureates and inspirational editorials can't touch it.
I was holding down the proud position of shipping clerk and Allie was my assistant the next spring, and it seemed as if we had to empty that warehouse every twenty-four hours and find the men to load the stuff with search-warrants. Help was scandalously scarce. We couldn't have worked harder if we had been standing off grizzly bears with brickbats. I'd just fired the fourth loafer in one day for trying to roll barrels by mental suggestion, when the boss came into my office.
"Can you use an extra man?" he asked me.
"Use him?" says I, swabbing off my forehead—I'd been hustling a few barrels myself. "Use him? Say, I'll give him a whole car to load all by himself, and if he can get the job finished by yesterday he can have another to load for to-day."
"Now, see here," said the boss, sitting down; "this is a peculiar case. This chap's been at me for a job for months. There's nothing in the office. He's a fine fellow and well educated, but he's on his uppers. He can't seem to land anywhere. I'm sorry for him. He looks as if he was headed for the bread line. He's too good to roll barrels, but it won't hurt him. If you'll take him in and use him I'll give him a place as soon as I get it; let me know how he pans out."
"Just ask him to run all the way here," I said, and put my nose down in a bill of lading. After a while the door opened and some one said, "Is this the shipping clerk?" It was the ghost of a voice I used to know and I turned around in a hurry. It was Jarvis.
I don't suppose it is strictly business to cry while you are shaking hands with a husky you're just putting into harness at one-fifty per. I didn't intend to do it, but somehow when your whole conception of fame and glory comes clattering down about your ears, and you find you've got to order your star and idol to get a hustle on him and load the car at door four damquick, you are likely to do something foolish. I just stood and sniveled and let my mouth hang open. Neither of us said a word, but presently I put my arm around his shoulders and led him out into the shipping room. "There's the foreman," I said, in a voice like a wet sponge. "And you report here at six o'clock sharp." Then I went and hunted up Allie and for once we let business go hang in business hours. We couldn't work. We kept clawing for the solid ground and trying to readjust society and the universe and the beacon lights of progress all afternoon.
When quitting time came we waited for Jarvis. We didn't say anything, but we loaded him into a cab and took him up to the old cafe. Then he told us his story, while we learned a lot of things about glory we hadn't even vaguely suspected before. He was one of the greatest football players who ever carried a ball, Jarvis was. Of that there was no doubt. He admitted it himself then. I might say he confessed it. He'd come to his university without any real preparation—you know even in the best regulated institutions of learning they sometimes get your marks on tackling mixed with your grades on entrance algebra. He'd spent two hours a day on football and the rest of his time being a college hero. He'd had to work at it like a dog, he said. How he got by the exams, he never knew. It seemed to him as if he must have studied in his sleep. By the time he graduated he'd had about every honor that has been invented for campus consumption. He belonged to the exclusive societies. All kinds of big people had shaken hands with him—asked for the privilege. He had a scrapbook of newspaper stories about his career that weighed four pounds. He knew the differences between eight kinds of wine by the taste and he had a perfect education in forkology, waltzology, necktiematics, and all the other branches of social science.
He would never forget, he said, how he felt when he was graduated and the university moved off behind him and left him alone. It was up to him to keep on being a famous character, he felt. His college demanded it. He had to make good. But there he was with a magnificent football education and no more football to play. His financial training consisted in knowing when his bank account was overdrawn. His folks had pretty nearly paralyzed themselves putting him through and he wasn't going to draw on them any further. He went to New York because it seemed to be almost as big as the university, and he started all alone on the job of shouldering his way past the captains of finance up to the place where his college mates might feel proud of him some more.
The result was so ridiculous that he had to laugh at it himself. He lost five yards every time he bucked an office boy. His college friends kept inviting him out and he went until they began offering him help. Then he cut the whole bunch. He didn't care to have them watch the struggle. He'd been in New York two years when he met us, he said, and he hadn't earned enough money to pay his room-rent in that time. There were times when he might have got a decent little job at twelve dollars per, or so, but he would have had to meet the boys who had looked up to him as a world-beater and somehow he just couldn't tackle it. When we had come over and paid homage to him he saw we had taken him for a successful man of the world, as well as a member of the All-America team, and he hadn't been able to resist the desire to let two human beings look up to him again. He hadn't invited us to his room, he said, because part of the time he didn't have a room; and he even confessed that once or twice he'd walked up to our rooms from downtown because he was crazy for a smoke and didn't have the price.
I guess there never was a more peculiar dinner party in New York. Part of the time I sniveled and part of the time Allie sniveled, and once or twice we were all three all balled up in our throats. But after a while we braced up and I told Jarvis what the Boss had told me, and we drank a toast to the glad new days, and another to success, and another to Jarvis, the coming business pillar, and some more to our private yachts and country homes, and to Commencement reunions, and this and that. Then we chartered a sea-going cab and took Jarvis home with us. We made him sleep in the bed while we slept on the floor, and the next morning we loaned him a pair of overalls that we had honorably retired and we all went down to work together.
The next three months were perfectly ridiculous. We simply couldn't order Jarvis around. Suppose you had to ask the Statue of Liberty to get a move on and scrub the floors? We couldn't get our ingrained awe of that freight hustler out of our systems. Of course when any one was around we had to keep up appearances, but when I was alone and I had something for Jarvis to do I'd call him in and get at it about this way: "Er—say, Jarvis, could you help me out on a little matter, if you have the time? You know there's a shipment for Pittsburgh that's got to go out by noon. I think the car is at door 6. Those barrels ought to be put into the car right away, and if you'd see that they get in there I'd be very much obliged to you. I'd attend to it myself, but they've given me a lot of stuff to go over here."