THE GOLDEN HOUR SERIES
A new series of books for young people, bound in extra
cloth, with illuminated designs, illustrations,
and title-pages made especially
for each volume
PRICE PER VOLUME, NET, 50 CENTS
THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO.
Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.
By THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO.
Prof. William Wells, LL.D.
KNOWN AND LOVED BY MANY GENERATIONS OF UNION
COLLEGE STUDENTS AS “BILLY WELLS,” THIS
LITTLE VOLUME IS AFFECTIONATELY
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE.
|The Moonlight Rush||9|
|The Gamma Questers||21|
|Before the Faculty||35|
|The Quarrel of Friends||49|
|A Cowardly Revenge||61|
|Almost a Tragedy||74|
|The Welcome Home||87|
One moonlight evening in the early spring, under a cloudless sky, a party of twelve Concord College Sophomores sang these lines as they marched up the street toward the college grounds. They were young, all in a happy mood; they kept step to the strokes of their canes on the pavement, and swung along with vigor and elasticity, making the air throb with their rollicking songs.
Parmenter was with them. His was the tenor voice that rang out with such strength and clearness above the others. He was the leader of his class; in favor with the faculty, popular with his fellows, a welcome guest at any gathering.
The party passed on up the hill, through the college gate and along the terrace, still singing. They halted in front of Professor Samuel Lee’s residence, faced toward it and began a new song:
The last words were hardly out of the mouths of the singers before the door of the house was opened, and from the square of light thus made, the old professor himself stepped out upon the porch.
“Thank you, young gentlemen,” he said, pleasantly. “This is a glorious night for a song. I’ve heard students sing along this terrace for twenty years and more, and I never liked their songs better than I do to-night. The music of them grows upon me always. Thank you again, gentlemen, and good-night!”
“You’re welcome, Sammy!” shouted one irrepressible from the group, while all the rest responded with a hearty “Good-night!”
No one intended to be disrespectful to Professor Lee. The use of his nickname was meant as a mark of affection, and he understood it so. But in the classroom his dignity was never trespassed upon. There were one or two good stories handed down from class to class, narrating the just fate that befell audacious students of the past who had ventured to be rude to “Sammy.” These possibly apocryphal incidents made him more popular, and in private he was the trusted friend of every student at Concord College.
Besides that, he had a boy of his own—an only child, with whom he kept in close sympathy, and in whom the best and brightest of all his hopes were centered. This boy, Charley, was a member of the Sophomore Class. He was a bright, lovable, popular fellow, impetuous, perhaps somewhat lacking in stability, but likely to become a worthy if not a brilliant man.
He came out now upon the porch, just as his father turned to go in, and stood for a moment peering into the group on the walk as if trying to make out the identity of the persons who composed it. He was no sooner seen by his classmates than another song broke from their lips:
Young Lee recognized the tenor voice in a moment. He and Parmenter were bosom friends. Their companions had long ago dubbed them Damon and Pythias.
“Hello, Fred!” cried Lee, “are you there? Hello, fellows! Is there room for me?”
“Always room for one more,” was the reply. “Move up, please! Move up now and let the gentleman aboard! Why don’t you help him on, Freddie? Help him on; he’s yours.”
There was more good-natured bantering. Then the party faced toward the campus and started on, singing a good-night song to Professor Lee:
The steps sounded in unison, the heavy canes beat time, and back from the campus, mellowed by the growing distance, came still the music of the song:
Through a half-open window the words came floating softly into the ears of Professor Lee, and he smiled as he thought of the real affection and seeming irreverence of the boys. Though his hair was white with years, his heart was very youthful.
He liked young men, and sympathized with them. He entered heartily into both their work and play. He enjoyed their fun, approved of their games, and was the champion of athletics at Concord. But the doubtful sport of hazing he detested with his whole soul, and did not hesitate to say so.
Every one was aware of his feeling on this subject, but there were few who knew why it was so deep. In a distant city, confined in an asylum for the insane, Professor Lee’s only brother had lived for years, an imbecile. His condition was the direct result of injuries received at the hands of college hazers in his youth.
With this sorrow shadowing his life, it is not strange that hazing was an object of horror and hatred in Professor Lee’s thoughts.
The party of students, now headed by Parmenter and Lee, passed on across the campus, still singing. From the shadows of North College the tall figure of a young man emerged and came toward them. In the bright moonlight he was recognized at once as Van Loan, a man who had recently entered the Freshman class, coming from another college.
He had brought with him a reputation for mental ability and physical strength that gave him at once a prominent position among his fellows. But he was inordinately vain. He did not hesitate to boast of his wealth, of his aristocratic lineage, and of his superior attainments.
There is no community so thoroughly democratic as a community of students; and while Van Loan’s real ability met with the respect it deserved, his vanity and arrogance made him obnoxious.
To-night he was dressed in the height of fashion. His costly clothes were a perfect fit. But the articles of ornament and apparel which particularly attracted the attention of the Sophomores who approached him were his high silk hat and his heavy cane.
It was an unwritten law among the students at Concord College that Freshmen should not wear silk hats or carry canes before reaching their third term. Any violation of this law was sure to bring on a class rush, in which the winning side secured and preserved the offensive articles of costume as trophies and emblems of their victory.
Yet here was a Freshman, in the midst of the second term, approaching a group of Sophomores with a cane in his hand and a silk hat on his head! Apparently he saw danger ahead of him, for he stopped a moment.
“What is it?” asked some one in the group, as they came up to Van Loan.
“It must be Wilson’s dummy come to life,” replied another. Wilson was the college tailor.
Van Loan heard these uncomplimentary remarks, and his face flushed with anger. He started boldly on, turning to the right as if to pass by the group. But half a dozen Sophomores intercepted him.
“What do you fellows mean by this impertinence?” he asked, curtly.
“We mean,” replied Parmenter, “that Freshmen are not yet allowed to carry sticks or wear ‘plugs.’ As you came here recently, from a one-horse college, perhaps you were not aware of this rule. If not, we shall be pleased to escort you to your room, where you can lay these highly objectionable articles of apparel away, and let them grow with your growth until it is time for you to wear them. But if you have knowingly and deliberately violated our rule, we—”
“What business is it of yours what I carry or wear?” interrupted Van Loan, hotly. “Stand aside and let me pass, or some one will get hurt!”
“Having declined our offer to escort you to your room,” continued Parmenter, coolly, “we shall be obliged to ask you to deliver up to us at once the articles I have named.”
“You shall not have them!” replied Van Loan, savagely. “I dare any one of you to come and get them. I dare all of you to take them away! You are cowards and bullies, every one of you!”
Nevertheless, as the Sophomores approached him he backed out into the road, retreating steadily until he came to the edge of a muddy pool of water left by the melting snows.
“You are robbers!” he shouted, fiercely. “What right have you to stop a gentleman in the public road and demand his property?”
“The right that might makes,” came the quick reply from some one in the group.
The Sophomores were gradually encircling their victim. Van Loan glanced about him nervously, and clutched his cane as if to make ready for action.
“Give them up peaceably, and we won’t even disturb the part in your hair,” said some one.
“And be quick about it, too,” said another, “for tempus is fast fugiting.”
Another body of students, scenting sport and trouble from afar, was rapidly approaching from the direction of South College. The circle about Van Loan was completed and contracting. He saw that his only hope lay in holding his enemies at bay until help should arrive from his own classmen. Yet he could not face all ways at once.
“Come, here’s the last word,” said Robinson, who recognized the men now bearing down on them as members of the Freshman class; “will you surrender the obnoxious articles peaceably, or won’t you?”
Van Loan, too, saw that assistance was at hand, and his courage increased accordingly.
“Never!” he shouted. “These things are mine, and I’ll keep them, and the first man that lays his hands on them or me, I’ll break his—”
What it was that Van Loan would have broken, no one ever knew; for Parmenter, advancing quickly to his side, tripped him so suddenly and dexterously that he measured his full length in the shallow, muddy pool into which he had been too dainty to step.
In the same instant Lee snatched the cane from his grasp, and Robinson caught the silk hat as it fell.
But the victory was short-lived. Van Loan’s assailants turned with their trophies only to find themselves face to face with and outnumbered by a party of Van Loan’s classmates, who plunged at once to the rescue.
Then the rush was on. Up from the midst of the struggling mass came the class call of the Sophomores. It was followed at once by the class cry of the Freshmen. Soon the campus was alive with students hurrying singly and in groups toward the scene of the conflict.
Freshmen and Sophomores darted at once into the thick of the fight, while the Juniors and Seniors, moving about on the outskirts of the battleground, cheered and encouraged alternately the contending factions.
Van Loan had struggled to his feet as the center of battle moved away from him, and looked down ruefully and in speechless anger at his soiled and dripping garments.
“Don’t look very pretty, do they?” said a smiling Junior who stood by.
The victim of the drenching did not deign a reply. He jerked off his coat, and began wringing the water from it. Suddenly he asked: “Who was it, anyway? What coward threw me down?”
“A young fellow by the name of Parmenter,” was the answer; “a first-class all-around athlete. I shall be happy to introduce you to him at some more opportune moment.”
Van Loan did not relish the bantering tone of his informant; and muttering something more about cowards and bullies, he turned savagely on his heel, and started across the campus toward his room.
But a second thought appeared to come to him; for in the next moment he swung himself quickly about and ran, as fast as his heavy garments would permit him to, toward the crowd that was still struggling over his hat and cane.
He forced his way desperately into the center of the group and through it, looking for Parmenter, his wet clothing like ice upon his body, but a fire of hate raging in his heart.
It was not long before Van Loan’s hat was in shreds; but the cane, heavy and tough, resisted all the violence brought to bear upon it, and remained unbroken. Wherever it was, there was the center of the fight. The struggling group about it moved here and there, now swiftly, now slowly, swaying and parting, meeting and clinging, the dark mass looking from a distance, in the moonlight, like some huge monster twisting and writhing in pain.
Hats were lost and trampled upon. Coats were torn from the backs of their owners, clothes were rent and ruined—everywhere the campus was strewn with the débris of personal belongings.
Shifting back and forth by degrees, the surging mob finally reached a point in the driveway near the corner of South College.
Suddenly, the mass being rent by some swift convulsion, Parmenter darted from the midst and ran rapidly along the drive toward the main entrance to the building. He held Van Loan’s cane in his hand. In an instant Van Loan was at his heels, with Lee a good third.
From the crowd that pressed forward toward them came hoarse shouts of encouragement and wild yells of anticipated victory. The non-combatants who stood by joined in the cheers, and hurried on after the racers.
Those who watched closely saw that Parmenter, notwithstanding the swiftness of his gait, limped as if he had been hurt. They saw, too, that Van Loan was gaining on him; and more than one person, marking the look of desperate desire in Van Loan’s face, feared that it meant serious mischief.
When Parmenter reached the stone pavement in front of the buildings Van Loan was near enough to grasp him, but he did not do so. He kept on until pursuer and pursued were side by side; then turning sharply and suddenly, he thrust out his foot and struck Parmenter’s feet from under him. The young man was hurled headlong to the pavement.
He fell on his side and shoulder. The blow of his fall was heard above the storm of shouts and cheers that followed him. In an instant Van Loan had seized the cane, and flourished it for a second in heroic attitude above the prostrate body of his victim. Then finding Lee almost within touch, he turned and ran with it into an open doorway of South College.
But Lee did not follow him; he stopped where Parmenter lay in the moonlight, white-faced, limp, and unconscious, with flowing blood staining the pavement under his head.
“He’s hurt!” cried Lee, frightened at his friend’s appearance, and bending over him in deep anxiety. “He’s hurt! Maybe the brute has killed him! Here, give us a lift; let’s carry him in! Rob, run for Doctor Park—run!”
The crowd, suddenly quieted, pressed forward toward the point where Parmenter lay. Half a dozen of his classmen had already lifted him in their arms, and a moment later they were carrying him, hurt, helpless, still unconscious, across the moonlit campus to his room.
But the fight was won. Van Loan’s stroke, cruel and revengeful though it was, had placed victory in the hands of the Freshmen. Henceforth every man in the class was entitled, by virtue of the time-honored student law, to wear a high hat and carry a cane whenever and wherever he might choose to do so.
Parmenter recovered consciousness soon after he was carried to his room, after being thrown so viciously by Van Loan; but when the college physician came he declared that there was a fracture of the right clavicle.
There was also a deep scalp wound where Parmenter’s head had struck on a sharp edge of the stone pavement, and this required stitching and dressing.
When the bathing and bandaging and plastering had been done, the injured man was thoroughly exhausted, and weak from loss of blood. His bosom friend, Charley Lee, remained to care for him through the night.
Next morning Parmenter awoke, refreshed and comfortable. By and by the doctor came. Parmenter gave him hardly time to take off his overcoat before he inquired,
“How long will it be, doctor, before I shall have the free use of my arm?”
“Oh, three or four weeks,” was the reply. “These simple fractures of the clavicle are of no great consequence. They heal up very quickly.”
Parmenter’s face fell. Three or four weeks! His injury might indeed have been of no great consequence from the surgeon’s point of view, but to him it was a serious matter. It was likely to block his way to the prize stage.
At Concord College one evening of Commencement week was devoted to the delivery of orations by Juniors and Sophomores in competition for prizes. Six competitors were selected from each class at a trial contest held about three months before Commencement. To be appointed to the prize stage was a marked honor, and one which Parmenter greatly coveted. He had worked for it for months.
The trial speaking was to take place in the college chapel on the following Friday; and here he was, and would be for weeks, with a broken collar-bone, and his right arm in a sling!
When Lee came back from breakfast, Parmenter exclaimed with a groan,
“It’s all up, Charley!”
“What’s all up?” asked Lee, advancing in alarm to the bed.
“Why, the prize stage! The doctor says I can’t use my arm for a month, and here’s the trial speaking coming on next Friday!”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” replied Lee, sinking into a chair. “It is a bad business, that’s so.” After a minute he added, “But your voice will be all right, Fred; you can have that as clear as a bell.”
“My voice! What good is that to me? Can I make gestures with my voice? How can a man do anything with his arm in a sling and his shoulders bound up as if he were a mummy?”
Parmenter was excited. He felt that hitherto his success on the platform had been largely due to the training he had had in what is called “presence” and his skill in gestures. That effect would now be totally destroyed.
“You might learn to use your left arm,” suggested Lee, as a forlorn hope.
“Bah! You know better than that, Charley. I’m out, that’s all. There’s only one redeeming feature about the whole business; and that is, that you’ll carry off first prize now for all the trouble I shall give you.”
For a minute Lee was at a loss for an answer. He also was a candidate for the prize stage. They had agreed that each was to strive to obtain the honor to the best of his ability; but the rivalry was so friendly that neither would have accepted an appointment at the expense of the other. At the same time, it would have been a great pleasure to either to have the other carry off the prize.
After a while Lee said, casting his eyes down on his friend’s bandaged shoulder and plastered head:
“That was a cowardly thing for Van Loan to do, wasn’t it? Dangerous, too. Why, just think of it! It might have cracked your skull!”
“Pity it hadn’t!” growled Parmenter. “Then there’d have been no question about my being an idiot. As it is—well, I’ve two years in which to get even with him. I think I can manage to make it up to him in that time.”
After a minute he added, “Did the Freshies carry sticks this morning, Charley?”
“Every one of ’em,” said Lee. “They all went down town last night after the row, and what canes they couldn’t raise money enough to buy, they begged or borrowed. They’re tremendously proud and joyous this morning—especially Van Loan. He thinks he’s the biggest toad in the puddle now, sure.”
Parmenter turned savagely toward the wall, and winced with the pain the movement caused him; but he said nothing. After a little Lee reverted to the prize-speaking contest. He had been thinking about it all the time.
“Don’t be discouraged about that prize-speaking, Fred,” he said. “Go ahead with it. Put it through. Never mind the gestures. They’re only a useless ornament, anyway. Why, you know—what’s his name?—that great orator, you remember; he never used gestures; disdained ’em; laid himself out on voice and expression, you know, and swayed the hearts of multitudes by his eloquent and thrilling—”
“Oh, tell that to the marines! Here, I want to get up. Give me a lift, will you, Charley? and help me on with my clothes.”
Parmenter had no great faith in the possibility of successful oratory without gestures, but Lee’s idea struck him as worth considering, after all; and the more he thought about it, the more he was inclined toward it.
He resumed the private rehearsals of his oration. He and Lee always rehearsed together, profiting by each other’s friendly criticism; but now Lee redoubled his efforts to make his friend’s work perfect and successful.
It was awkward to Parmenter at first to attempt to deliver his most telling sentences with his right arm bound to his side, so instinctive had gesturing become to him; but diligent study, persistent practice, and the judicious advice of his friendly critic helped him to overcome to a great extent that one difficulty. When on the following Friday he took his place before the judges, it was with no small degree of confidence in his success.
On Saturday morning the list containing the names of the fortunate six was posted on the bulletin board near the chapel entrance. Parmenter’s name was upon it.
Lee caught sight of it first, and looking no further in the list, started at a full run across the campus to deliver the news to his friend.
“Fred, it’s there!” he cried, bursting into Parmenter’s room like a whirlwind.
“What’s where?” asked Parmenter, gruffly.
“Your name—on the bulletin—prize speaking—no right arm—great victory—whoop! Give us your hand!”
Lee made a dash for his friend’s right hand, and in another second would have given it a vigorous shake.
“Oh, hold! halt! fire! murder! Hang it, man, that’s my cracked shoulder!” exclaimed Parmenter, backing away.
“Fred, forgive me! Did I hurt you? No? In the joyful exuberance of my emotion the swelling tide of feeling overran its bounds and came—”
“Oh, bother the swelling tide! I’m obliged to you for the news, though. Here, take the other hand; that’s it! I thought I could convince ’em that a man can speak sometimes with his right arm strapped fast to his ribs. You’re sure there’s no mistake about it, Charley?”
“Your name is there! I saw it with my own eyes; these eyes that otherwise had wept most bitter tears of vain regret, and poured their—”
“Bah! Stop right there! Well, I’m ready to recover now. I’m ready—say, Charley, look here! What about yourself? You took an appointment, too, didn’t you? Your name’s on the list, isn’t it?”
Lee stood for a moment without answering, the look of puzzled surprise on his handsome face breaking into one of amusement, and ending in a broad smile.
“Well, that’s one on me,” he said finally, as if partly ashamed of his remissness toward himself. “I forgot to look.”
“Forgot to look! Why, you saw my name! You couldn’t have helped seeing yours if it had been there.”
“Yes, but—but you see I wasn’t looking for mine—I didn’t—”
“Well, you are the—Charley Lee, you’re the best fellow in the world—positively the very best!”
Parmenter grasped Lee’s hand again, and tears came into his eyes. It was seldom he displayed so much emotion; but his friend’s unselfishness touched him deeply.
“Come,” he said, quietly, “let’s go over and see about the name of Charles Lee. It’s high time for some one to take an interest in that.”
He picked up his hat, took his friend’s arm, and they started to leave the room; but at the threshold they met Robinson, also one of the appointees, who told them that Lee’s name was on the list. Then there were general rejoicings and congratulations.
Lee executed a breakdown very skillfully, landing finally on Parmenter’s table, from which elevation he proceeded to deliver a mock oration.
The noise and confusion drew three or four other Sophomores into the room; and when Lee had been dragged down and quieted, the conversation turned from the prize stage to Parmenter’s shoulder, and from Parmenter’s shoulder to Freshman Van Loan.
“He thinks he won the fight,” said one of the young men. “He takes all the credit to himself, every bit of it. Brags about it without ceasing. You couldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole before the rush; the Atlantic cable wouldn’t reach to him now.”
“Some fellow told him the other day,” added another member of the group, “that unless he stopped his everlasting boasting, the Gamma Questers might do him the honor to call on him.”
“What did he say to that?” asked Robinson.
“Said he’d be pleased to see ’em. Said he’d make it interesting for ’em. Said they’d better have a surgeon in readiness to wait on ’em when he got through with ’em. Said he should particularly enjoy meeting his friend Parmenter under such auspices.”
“Oh, he’s dead set against you, Parmenter,” cried another. “He hasn’t forgiven nor forgotten that mud-bath yet. He says the collar-bone business was only part payment, and that the remaining installments will be fully as delightful as the first one was.”
For a minute no one spoke. Robinson was looking around the room, scanning intently each man’s face. Finally he said:
“Boys, if there’s any one here who don’t believe in hazing under proper circumstances will he have the goodness to retire?”
No one stirred.
“Excuse me, Parmenter,” continued Robinson, “we don’t want to drive you from your room; we will go elsewhere if you wish it.”
Parmenter did not at once reply. He rose, went to the door and locked it, closed the ventilator over the door, and returned and sat down. Then he said, “Go on with the story.”
What took place behind that closed and locked door none but the seven who were there, and the seven who were afterward taken into the company, ever knew.
The time was when the raids of the Gamma Questers, as hazing parties were called at Concord College, were of frequent occurrence. But under the severely repressive policy of the faculty, aided by a growing feeling among upper classmen against the barbarous and unmanly custom, the practice had nearly died out. There were scarcely a dozen men in the college who remembered the last instance of it.
Yet there is no doubt that a chapter of the Gamma Questers was organized that day in Parmenter’s room; neither is there any doubt that it selected Freshman Van Loan as an unwilling candidate for admission and initiation.
Under the excitement and impulse of the moment Lee was the readiest to advocate this form of retribution, and the most fertile in devising plans to carry it out. But a few days later he came to Parmenter with a cloud on his face and a burden on his mind.
“It’s about that Van Loan business,” he explained. “I’m half sorry I agreed to go into it. You know how strongly father is set against everything of this sort.”
“Do you propose to let your father know you’re in it?” asked Parmenter, half in sarcasm.
“Why, no; but he might find it out afterward.”
“I see no necessity for his doing so.”
“Well, I believe I’d about half as soon he knew it, as to feel guilty every time he looked at me.”
“Oh, well, do as you choose, of course. Perhaps you’d better go out. But if you do, Henderson will back out, and Brace, and the whole thing will fizzle out before it’s fairly begun.”
“Of course I’d hate to spoil the plans of the boys,” said Lee, hesitatingly, “and I wouldn’t if it weren’t for—”
“I can’t see what objection there is,” interrupted Parmenter, “to giving such a fellow as Van Loan a little piece of humble-pie to eat. His insufferable conduct has passed all bounds, and there’s no other effective way of letting him know it. We don’t propose to hurt him physically, you understand, and the fellow can’t be hurt mentally. But we can humiliate him, and he deserves it. You can get out of it if you want to; but you’ll miss the fun, and I think after it’s over you’ll wish you’d gone.”
Lee was silent for a minute, turning the matter over in his unstable mind.
“Well,” he said, finally, “I don’t know; maybe I’ll go after all. I’ll see.”
And he did go. Against his better judgment and truer instinct he yielded to the logic of his friend and the force of his own inclination, and joined the party.
A few nights later Van Loan was waked at midnight by a movement at his bedside. He opened his eyes to see indistinct figures standing about him. He knew in an instant what it all meant; but before he could raise his head from the pillow his hands were gripped and held, and his mouth closed with a bandage so that he could not call.
There was a moment of desperate but unavailing struggling on his part; then, realizing the uselessness of his attempt, he quietly submitted to the will of his captors.
They took him from his bed, dressed him, blindfolded him, bound his wrists together, and led him down stairs and out-of-doors. It was all done so quickly and noiselessly that the slumbers of men in the adjoining rooms were not disturbed.
The victim was hurried across the rear campus and into the protecting darkness of the college grove. Here torches were lighted, and in single file the party marched through the woods, across the corner of an open field, and then into the thicker forest beyond.
At the end of half a mile they came to a shallow cave in the face of a ledge of rocks. A brawling brook ran by it, and overarching trees helped shut it in. Here they halted, and made preparations for what was to follow.
After a few moments the victim’s eyes and mouth were unbandaged. It was a grotesque sight that he looked upon. The masks and costumes of the hazers were both ludicrous and hideous. Their huge mock weapons were swung menacingly.
They arranged themselves in a semicircle about the candidate. At their backs were the mysterious shadows of the cave.
The Grand Inquisitor stepped forward, flourishing a mighty broadsword—of wood. His voice was deep and hollow.
“Before we proceed to the graver and more intense portion of the initiation,” he said, “the candidate is requested to reply to certain questions, which, being satisfactorily answered, will entitle him to pose for the first degree. The first question is: Do you admire our personal appearance? And the answer is: ‘Yes.’ The candidate will please say ‘Yes.’”
“Yes,” replied Van Loan, without hesitation.
“Is it your fond and earnest desire to be initiated into the grand and illustrious order of Gamma Questers, without which honor you feel that life is not worth living? The answer is ‘Yes.’ Say ‘Yes.’”
“Yes,” responded Van Loan, quietly.
“Do you desire any part of the initiation ceremonies to be omitted, however painful, disagreeable, or surprising they may prove to be? The answer is, ‘No, I do not.’ Say so.”
Van Loan said so.
“Do you acknowledge yourself to be wholly unfit and unworthy to enter into fraternal relations with brethren so exalted as ourselves, and do you humbly implore us to overlook your thousand faults and follies, and to receive you into fellowship? The answer is, ‘I do.’”
“‘I do,’” said Van Loan.
“Finally, will you always strive to uphold the dignity and further the aims of our most noble order, to endeavor, so much as in your feeble intellect lies, to induce the president and members of the faculty of Concord College to become members hereof, and forgetting your unworthy, dishonorable, and utterly idiotic past, press on to the coveted goal that awaits all true Gamma Questers? The answer is: ‘I will.’”
“‘I will,’” was the final response.
“Most Grand and Worthy Scribe, are the candidate’s answers duly recorded?”
“They are,” came the reply in hollow tones from a black-robed figure at the extremity of the cave. He sat under a torchlight, his black mask hideously splashed with red, an immense volume spread open before him, and in his hand a huge long-handled pen.
“Then advance and give the candidate sign A, of rite number one.”
The person in the black robe arose, laid down his pen, and advanced to within five feet of the victim.
Van Loan stood quietly looking on, his face pale with anger and excitement, and under his eyes dark rings indicative of suppressed passion. Yet, burning as he was with rage, he was still calm enough to note with deep interest the apparent inflexibility of the right arm and shoulder of the person who approached him.
The Grand Scribe lifted his robe slightly, preparatory to some mock ceremony of initiation; but whatever his intention was, he never carried it out. In that instant, Van Loan, who had deftly slipped his hand from the bandage that bound his wrists, reached out and tore the mask completely from the face of the black-robed hazer.
It was done in a second; and there, under the glare of the torchlight, stood Parmenter, fully, distinctly revealed.
“I thought as much,” was Van Loan’s quiet comment; “now go on with the ceremony.”
Seeing that it was useless for him to contend against so many, he had decided from the first to obey implicitly the will of the hazers while in their power, mentally reserving to himself liberty to violate at pleasure any promise or agreement he might make under such hard conditions.
For an instant after Van Loan had uncovered Parmenter no one stirred. The act had been so sudden and unexpected that it startled them all. Then a half-dozen men pounced upon Van Loan, bound his wrists, and bandaged his eyes again.
He was thoroughly helpless now, but the mischief had been done. Parmenter, at least, was in Van Loan’s power. The Freshman had seen his face, and could prove that he was engaged in an act for which he could be expelled from the college.
The conspirators retired to deliberate. The question what was to be done was a serious one. Bessick, one of the rash ones, whispered, “Let’s hang him up by the thumbs until he promises that he will never reveal anything of what has happened.”
“That would never do,” said Robinson. “You can’t do anything but threaten. I think he can be scared into keeping still.”
“Or bought off,” said another of the hazers. “I tell you, bribery is the only thing for a man with a character as mean as his.”
There were valid objections to all those methods, and to every other plan that could be conceived; but that the conspirators could not go on with the hazing was plain. The life and fun had dropped suddenly and disastrously out of that, and the danger to at least one of them was too great to be trifled with.
Parmenter again approached Van Loan, his face still uncovered. The others followed to listen. Parmenter’s face was pale, but wore not the smallest look of fright, and he spoke quietly but very firmly.
“You have found out who I am,” he said, “and to a certain extent you have me in your power; but there are some things that depend on the use you make of the knowledge you have obtained here to-night. If you can assure us that you will keep it sacredly to yourself, I think you can trust us, and each of us, to place no obstacle in your way through college, nor harm you in any way whatever. But I don’t need to hint to you what may happen if you betray us.”
Parmenter paused, and Van Loan replied:
“I think I know what you mean. I propose to keep the knowledge I have obtained here to-night sacredly to myself.”
“Do you solemnly promise me, and each of us, that you will never reveal my identity, nor disclose to anybody at any time anything of what has happened here to-night?”
“I make you that solemn promise.”
Van Loan’s voice certainly had in it the ring of sincerity. His captors could ask no more of him than he had promised. The agreement was definite, and both parties thoroughly understood the situation.
Then they took Van Loan back to the college. He was still bound, bandaged, and blindfolded. They led him down the forest path, across the fields, and through the college grove, and loosening his hands, they left him in the middle of the campus.
By the time he had freed himself, and could look around, not one of the hazers was in sight; and before he reached his bed the men who had dragged him from it less than an hour before were locked safely in their rooms.
The next day Parmenter and Van Loan met each other face to face on the walk between the colleges. There was a nod of recognition on the part of each, but no word was spoken. The same thing occurred the next day and the next.
It leaked out after a time, as such things will, that some sort of hazing had been done, and that Van Loan was the victim of it; but who the hazers were no one except those who had participated in the affair appeared to know.
The origin of the rumor could not be traced to Van Loan; there was nothing to indicate that he was not keeping his promise.
As the days went by, and the situation remained unchanged, Parmenter began to feel relieved. The dread of discovery and consequent punishment was rapidly disappearing from his mind; but he was troubled about Lee.
Charley had sobered much since the night of the hazing. It is true he worked harder; but he went about his tasks with an anxious face, and his laugh had lost much of the old-time, merry ring.
He told Parmenter one day that it was a constant trial to him to face his father, who had heard with the utmost chagrin and sorrow that the hazing had occurred, and who spoke bitterly of it, but who evidently did not suspect that his son had been one of the offenders.
“I feel guilty every time he looks at me,” said Charley, “yet I know he doesn’t imagine that I was in it. Why, he’d as soon think I’d hang a man as haze him. That’s what’s hurting me, you see. I can’t get over it. Fred, I’d give up every college prize and honor I ever hope to get, and do it gladly, if I could blot out my part of that miserable night’s business.”
Parmenter threw back his head impatiently. He felt, whether justly or not, that he was responsible for Lee’s participation in the hazing, and the young man’s passionate words of regret cut him deeply.
“Well,” he said finally, “I don’t know that there was any law obliging you to take part in it. You joined us voluntarily, didn’t you?”
“Yes, of course. But after I’d helped start the thing, and after what you said about my backing out, you see I couldn’t very well—Fred, forgive me! I didn’t know how that was going to sound. I don’t mean to blame you, because you’re not to blame, but—”
“Oh, go right on!” interrupted Parmenter, coolly, his face a little pale and his lips drawn; “go right on! I’m the only one who’s in danger, anyway, and I might as well shoulder the whole burden and have done with it. I’m perfectly willing that all blame of any kind connected with the affair shall be laid on me.”
Lee protested earnestly that he had no feeling against Parmenter in the matter, and could not have any. A truce was patched up between them, but their relations afterward were not quite the same.
Each felt a certain restraint while in the other’s presence,—a restraint that might have worn away in time, but which now had only the effect of pushing them farther and farther apart.
Parmenter applied himself with renewed energy to the work of the term, and especially to the task of perfecting himself in his Sophomore oration.
He was passionately fond of oratory. Often, sitting or walking alone, he imagined himself on the prize stage in the midst of his triumph.
Before him in these visions stretched the long aisles of the crowded church, the pews bright with the evening costumes of the ladies, the air heavy with the fragrance of many flowers. All eyes were upon him. Every ear was attentive to catch the sounding sentences that fell from his lips.
The rustle and stir that passed through the audience at some telling point in his oration swept up pleasantly to his senses; the involuntary burst of applause at some brilliant climax rolled like a wave of delight into his soul; and when, finally, he bowed and retired, there were the marked and ribboned bouquets falling in sweet showers on the stage to attest his popularity; there was the long roll of applause rising and dying and rising again, only to be drowned at last in the music of the orchestra.
Oh, it was a splendid scene, a knightly test, a thrilling triumph! To anticipate it, to see it all in imagination as he did, left Parmenter in an exalted state for hours.
But his days were far from being happy. The anxious face of Charley Lee haunted him wherever he went. The old love for his friend was still strong enough in his heart to awaken sincere pity.
He tried a dozen times to bridge over the awkward restraint that separated them; and although Charley was always anxious to assist him, somehow the effort never succeeded. Though neither young man knew it, success lay only in a radical change of the conditions that surrounded them. Since they had been partners in transgression, they must needs be partners in expiation before they could hope to count upon a complete renewal of their old relations.
Lee’s apparent mental uneasiness became the source of deep annoyance to Parmenter at last. Still feeling himself to be the cause of it, still unable to banish it, it irritated him to such an extent that he avoided his old friend’s society lest he should, by open reproof or sharp rebuke, cut the last tie of friendship.
So day after day the two drifted apart, and by and by a new factor entered into the problem of their estrangement.
It was whispered about that Professor Lee had opposed Parmenter’s selection for the prize stage. No one could tell how the information got abroad, nor could any one at first state the ground of the professor’s opposition. Later, however, it was said to be because Parmenter had his arm in a sling and could make no gestures.
But some one who pretended to know said that Professor Lee did not so much object to the fact of Parmenter’s disability as to the cause of it.
The professor was reported to have declared before the committee that Parmenter was the leader in the moonlight rush; that it was a vulgar exhibition of brute force and savagery, and would lower the moral tone of the college for a year; that hazing and rushing were the twin relics of college barbarism; and that since the first had been so effectually abolished, it was high time for the committee to show their disapproval of the other. He knew of no better opportunity to do so than the present.
Parmenter could not learn where these reports had originated. It was suggested that one of the tutors had revealed the secrets of the committee-room to an upper classman, and that the matter had come out in that way. The story had every appearance of verity, and caused Parmenter no little anxiety and unpleasant thought.
Yet he said nothing to Charley Lee about it, nor did Charley mention the subject to him. Indeed, they saw very little of each other these days.
Bessick came in one evening for a chat with Parmenter. Bessick was one of the disappointed candidates for the prize stage. The conversation turned on Professor Lee’s position and opposition.
“I have no doubt,” said Bessick, “that he said just what has been reported.”
“But why should he select me as a target?” asked Parmenter. “Every man of the six was in that rush, Charley Lee included.”
“Well, I heard the matter discussed yesterday—now, I’m not saying this to prejudice the professor, you know, nor Charley, nor anybody; and besides it may not be true. I hope it isn’t. But I heard it talked that the thing was fixed to get you out of the way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know Lee is the only man in the class who is able to compete with you, don’t you? The prize lies between you and him—there’s no doubt about that, is there?”
“I don’t know. Suppose there isn’t; what then?”
“Well, with you out of the way Charley’d be sure to get it, wouldn’t he? And Sammy Lee would crawl across the campus on his hands and knees to have his boy take that honor, wouldn’t he? You know that, don’t you? And Charley—well, if you can’t see through a door when it’s open, I’m sorry for you.”
Parmenter protested earnestly that he didn’t think Sammy Lee would enter into such a plot, and he was sure Charley wouldn’t; and Bessick, declaring that he had no personal feeling in the matter, and that he was simply repeating what he had heard, took his leave.
But the seed he had dropped fell into soil ready to receive it. The more Parmenter thought about it and pondered over it, the more he began to believe that Bessick’s theory had some foundation.
One circumstance after another, developing during the few days that followed Bessick’s visit, tended to increase his distrust of Professor Lee and his suspicion of Charley. Whispering tongues were at work, adding one bit of gossip after another to his stock of alleged information.
Finally it was rumored in his hearing that Professor Lee was at work unearthing Parmenter’s part in the hazing of Van Loan, and that he would soon be called before the faculty on that account.
Within ten minutes after this rumor reached Parmenter’s ears Mr. Delavan, one of the tutors, knocked at his door.
“Mr. Parmenter,” he said courteously, “the president desires to see you at his study.”
“At once?” asked Parmenter.
“Very well, I’ll come right over.”
Tutor Delavan bowed and disappeared; and Parmenter, feeling a sudden weakness in his knees, resumed his chair for a few minutes before answering the summons.
At last, he thought, the blow was about to fall. Sammy Lee had procured his evidence! Either Van Loan had turned traitor, or Charley had—confessed, or some one of the remaining twelve had broken his pledge. In whatever way it had come about, he felt sure that it was the result of a systematic attempt on Professor Lee’s part to deprive him of his standing and disgrace him; and his bitterness increased accordingly.
Parmenter’s breast was still heaving with anger and apprehension as he entered the president’s study, and faced the members of the faculty who were gathered there.
President Mather, large, portly, dignified, sat at the head of the table.
“I will tell you at once why we have sent for you, Mr. Parmenter,” he said. “We are informed that you participated in a hazing affair on the night of the twelfth of April. We do not, of course, intend to condemn you unheard. What have you to say?”
Parmenter waited a moment before replying.
“Who is my accuser?” he asked.
“A member of the faculty has preferred the charge,” was the reply.
“May I ask which member of the faculty?”
Professor Lee arose from his chair.
“I made the charge, Mr. Parmenter,” he said, “upon information derived from a student at this college.”
“May I ask what student?” again inquired Parmenter.
“I am not at liberty to give you his name,” was the reply.
The accused man turned again to the president.
“I demand the right to meet my accuser face to face,” he said stoutly, determined to find out, if possible, who had betrayed him.
“That we cannot grant you,” replied the president, calmly, “until we know whether or not you deny the charge.”
Again Parmenter hesitated. He had no thought of denying the charge; but he thought he was justified in endeavoring to learn how much the faculty knew about the matter, and from what source the information had been derived. After a moment he said:
“Hazing is a very indefinite term. Of what specifications does the charge against me consist?”
Some of the members of the faculty moved uneasily in their chairs, impatient at what they considered pure evasion. But Professor Lee rose again and said:
“I will answer the question. The charge is that you, with certain other persons whose names are at present unknown to us, entered the room of Freshman Benjamin E. Van Loan on the night of the twelfth of April last, masked and disguised; that you took Van Loan forcibly from his bed, bound, blindfolded and gagged him, and compelled him to accompany you to a lonely place in the woods, half a mile from the college, where, with cruel persistence and fiendish ingenuity, you maltreated his person and insulted his manhood.”
Professor Lee’s voice had grown stronger as he talked, his manner had become deeply earnest, and his face showed marks of great excitement. He paused for a moment, as if to grasp some final thought. Then he went on.
“And I wish to say in your presence, sir, and in the presence of the president and members of the faculty, that in my judgment, no breach of discipline that has occurred here in years will so hurt us, and hinder us, and sap our moral strength, as this revival of one of the most cruel, brutal, and unmanly customs I have ever known. I do not hesitate to say, sir, that if you are guilty of the crime charged against you, there is no punishment that we, as a faculty, have the power to impose on you that will be too severe.”
No one had ever before seen Professor Lee aroused to such an extent. As he resumed his seat his face was glowing, his eyes were flashing, his under lip was trembling with excitement and indignation.
As for Parmenter, every word that came from the professor’s lips fell upon him like a blow. Never in his life before had any one dared to use such language to him. It kindled in his breast a perfect fire of rage and resentment.
Hot words came boiling to his lips. He had it wildly in mind to fling into the face of this gray-haired accuser the fact that his own son was no less guilty than he who stood there under accusation, and fully as deserving as he of those bitter, cruel, and seemingly vindictive words.
“I regret,” he began slowly, “that you have denounced me with such force and bitterness, since your condemnation falls equally as heavily—”
Parmenter stopped suddenly. A spark of manhood shot up from his breast at the supreme moment, and closed his lips. Whatever the provocation might be he would not stoop to such meanness as that.
For one moment he stood, with white face and clenched hands, stemming, with powerful effort, the tide of speech that had threatened to break disastrously from his lips. Then he turned slowly to the president.
“I do not deny the charge,” he said.
“Have you anything to say in extenuation?”
“We shall not keep you longer before us. We thank you for your prompt attendance. Good-morning, Mr. Parmenter.”
With much dignity President Mather bowed the young man out.
Parmenter, fresh from his extorted confession of hazing, went back across the campus with his mind in a tumult. Half a dozen students spoke to him on the way, but he did not answer them. He could see nothing but Professor Lee’s white, strong face; he could hear nothing but his terrible words of condemnation.
What right had this man to denounce him as brutal and unmanly? Would he have dared to do so if he had known how deeply his own son was involved in the mischief? It was plain that Charley had not told his father of the hazing. Van Loan must then have broken faith.
But for the time all of Parmenter’s anger was centered, not on Van Loan, who had betrayed him, but on Professor Lee, who had denounced him.
Every moment some new recollection of the scene in President Mather’s study added fuel to the flame of his resentment. His indignation was so great that it had not yet even occurred to him what punishment he should receive for his offense, or whether he should receive any.
He went up the section stairs blinded with passion, ready to strike out savagely at anything and everything that pertained in any way to Professor Lee.
When he entered his room he found Charley Lee seated at his table. Certainly no meeting could have been more opportune for trouble.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Charley said quietly. “I’ve just heard that absurd story about father’s opposition to your appointment to the prize stage.”
Parmenter went in and sat down. It was apparent that Charley did not know what had just happened, and Parmenter was not quite ready to tell him. He replied with forced coolness: “It seems to me that you’re a little late in gathering news, aren’t you?”
“Why, yes, I suppose so,” answered Lee. “I might have known of it days ago if I’d been bright enough to take the hints I’ve had, and catch the meaning of the remarks I’ve overheard. But I didn’t dream of such a thing.”
“Oh, didn’t you? Well, what do you think of it, now that you have heard about it?”
Parmenter was exasperatingly cool in manner and tone.
“I don’t know what to think of it,” said Charley, “it has taken me so by surprise. I don’t know whether it has any foundation in fact or not. At any rate, any suggestion that father could have had any other object in view than to sustain his well-known opposition to physical violence of course you won’t believe. Surely he has nothing against you personally.”
“No? Perhaps not; but can you explain to me why it was, then, that he chose me as the subject of his criticism and opposition? It occurs to me, for instance, that you were about as active in the rush as anyone, but I have not heard that any objections were raised to your going on the prize stage.”
Lee’s face turned red and then pale. Parmenter’s speech cut deeply, but he kept his temper. After a moment he said:
“I don’t think father intends to be unfair to anyone, nor partial to anyone, especially to me. And I repeat that he has nothing against you personally. I’ve heard him speak of you in the highest terms.”
“And I,” responded Parmenter, deliberately, “have heard him speak of me in the lowest terms.”
“Fred, what do you mean?”
“Just what I say. Within half an hour he has charged me with being brutal and criminal to the last degree.”
“There must be some mistake,” stammered Lee, “some misunderstanding—certainly he—”
“None at all,” interrupted Parmenter, rising from his chair and walking the floor savagely. “He did it knowingly, deliberately, cruelly, in the presence of the entire faculty.”
A light dawned suddenly upon Lee’s mind. “Was it about the hazing?” he asked.
“Of course about the hazing. He had nothing else to bully me for. It was his last chance to put me down and clear the way for others.”
The fire that had been smoldering in Parmenter’s breast was beginning to break out uncontrollably.
Lee’s face turned pale again. He was making an effort to hold himself in check.
“Don’t be unjust, Fred,” he said quietly. “You know that opposition to hazing is father’s hobby, if he has one, and you should make allowance for what he says in his excitement. But if you mean to insinuate that father is trying to push me up at your expense, I want you—”
“I mean to insinuate nothing,” interrupted Parmenter, hotly. “I say plainly that there seems to be a powerful effort in some quarters to make me the scapegoat for the sins of the whole class.”
“Fred, you are beside yourself.”
“It wouldn’t be strange if I were. But what I’m saying is the truth. Who else was criticised and harassed for taking part in the rush? Tell me of another man! Who else is summoned before the faculty for hazing Van Loan, and browbeaten, abused, and insulted? Are you, for instance? Tell me! Had you less to do with that affair than I? Yet you can walk around in an atmosphere of innocence and honor, unharmed and unsuspected, while I, poor fool, must play the part of sacrificial lamb!”
Parmenter’s face was white with passion. He strode up and down the floor like a madman.
“Fred, be careful!” Lee’s voice had a ring of danger in it now. “If Van Loan has betrayed you, do not charge it up to me and mine.”
“Oh, it was Van Loan, was it? I had my doubts whether I was indebted to Van Loan or you for that disclosure.”
This was cruel; besides, it was false, and Parmenter knew it; but his rage was running away with his conscience and his tongue.
“Take that back, Fred!” said Lee. “You know it’s not true, and I won’t stand it!”
“I take nothing back!” shouted Parmenter, angrily. “Do you hear me? Nothing!”
“Then you are a coward and an ingrate, and I shall not stay to quarrel with you!”
“And I shall not attempt to detain you. Good-morning, sir!”
The next moment Lee was gone, and the friendship that had grown close and sweet between these young men through two years of college life had become a shattered and pitiful wreck.
Charley went down the section stairs and out on the campus, dazed and shocked. It was the cruellest blow his life had ever known. He would never have dreamed that Parmenter could say such things to him, or he such things to Parmenter.
He passed on across the campus with such a burden of sorrow and anger on his mind that he took no note where his steps were tending. He looked up finally, and found himself in front of President Mather’s door. By some connection of ideas a new thought flashed into his mind. He stopped to consider it.
“Why not?” he asked himself; “why not? It is right; it is just; there is no reason why one should suffer and not both. I will do it, and do it now, while I have the strength, and then he cannot taunt me with going free while he suffers alone!”
Charley walked rapidly up the steps and across the hall, and knocked at the president’s door. He was bidden to enter. The members of the faculty were still in the room, discussing Parmenter’s case. They looked up at Lee in curiosity and surprise. He advanced toward the president and said:
“Doctor Mather, I desire to say that I took part in the hazing of Freshman Van Loan in April.”
The professors and tutors stared at him in open-eyed astonishment.
“You did, Mr. Lee?” said the president interrogatively.
“And whatever punishment,” continued Charley, “anyone else receives for that offense, I should receive the same.”
The president leaned forward in his chair. “We thank you, Mr. Lee,” he said, “for coming to us with this voluntary statement. Is there anything else you wish to say about the matter—any explanation?”
“No, nothing—except,” turning for a moment toward his father, who sat dumb with amazement and grief, “except that I am very sorry, indeed, especially on father’s account.”
Then his lips trembled, his eyes filled with tears; he turned to leave the room, and would have stumbled and fallen had not Tutor Delavan taken him kindly by the arm and led him away.
It soon became known among the students that Parmenter and Lee had been before the faculty in connection with the Van Loan case. The matter was discussed freely at the dinner tables, on the campus, and in the sections; and opinions were many and varied as to the form and severity of the punishment that would be meted out to the offenders.
That evening, as Parmenter sat alone in his room, Tutor Delavan came in with a letter for him. He delivered it with a few courteous words, and retired as quietly as he had come. Parmenter opened the letter and read it. It ran as follows:
“Concord College, May 5th.
“Mr. Alfred B. Parmenter:
“Dear Sir,—The president and members of the faculty have taken into consideration your acknowledged connection with the hazing of Benjamin E. Van Loan on the night of April 12th. We greatly deprecate so serious a breach of college discipline. We desire to be as lenient with you as possible; but it is our duty and wish to banish this class of offenses from the college by any and every means in our power.
“The judgment of the faculty is that your name be stricken from the list of competitors for the Sophomore prize of the present year; and that the competition for honors and prizes in your Junior year be likewise closed to you. It is accordingly so ordered, and of this order you will please take notice.
“Yours with regret,
“Sydenham E. Mather, President.
“Attest: R. E. Hagerman, Secretary.”
Parmenter laid the letter on his table, and stared from his window across the fields, the city, and the distant river to the far-off western hills. They were simply a dark, uneven band against a sky from which the deepening twilight had brushed the last vestige of rose.
The punishment was severe enough in all conscience. He could lay away the manuscript of his oration now, or burn it up as he chose; he would never need it. He would indeed need nothing of the kind for two years.
Two years of punishment and disgrace for an hour of silly revenge and doubtful fun! To be cut off from the prize stage with the highest honor almost within his grasp; it was hard, it was terrible!
He had expected his mother and sister on at Commencement, to share in his success. He would have to write to them now that they need not come. Worse than that, he would have to tell them the reason why.
There were others, too, people in the city, who knew of his hopes and ambitions in oratory. He did not see how he could meet them now, or speak to them on the subject.
Another man would take his place on the stage. For some one else there would be the golden opportunity, the exhilaration of oratory, the admiration of the crowd, the ribboned bouquets, the rolling applause, the splendid triumph.
Still he sat looking out upon the western sky. One star was glowing in the clear expanse. Below the horizon there was nothing but darkness, pricked here and there by the lights of far-off electric lamps.
At home there was a western porch where he had often sat with his mother and sister to watch just such an evening scene as this. His lips began to quiver, and his eyes to fill with tears. He turned back into the room, laid his head down on his bed, and gave way, for the first time in years, to a prolonged fit of weeping.
But Parmenter’s flood of tears had not the effect to clear his mental sky.
When he awoke on the following morning his heart was as hard and bitter toward Professor Lee as before; this feeling, strangely enough, still overshadowing his resentment against Van Loan.
As for Charley, Parmenter felt that it was all over between them now. The quarrel of the day before had settled that; and while, in his own mind, he knew that he had provoked it, yet Charley had said some things in his anger which he could not forget.
After the blow had fallen, Parmenter had not cared to leave his room until night, nor to converse with anybody; and he had not yet heard of Lee’s confession.
Coming back up the hill from a late breakfast that morning, and turning the corner of South College to go into the chapel, he saw a crowd of students at the bulletin-board reading and discussing some notice posted thereon.
He did not need to be told what it was. Instead of going to chapel to be gazed at and commented on, he decided to pass directly to his room. When he was nearly across the campus he met Robinson hurrying over to chapel exercises.
The bell was already tolling the final strokes, but Robinson stopped to speak to him.
“Well,” he said, as if Parmenter already knew all about it, “you and Charley are cut.”
“Charley,” exclaimed Parmenter in surprise. “What’s he cut for?”
“Why, for the Van Loan business, you know—same as you.”
“And who gave him away?”
“Haven’t you heard? He went in before the faculty yesterday, after they got through with you, and accused himself—made a clean breast of it, voluntarily. What do you think of that?”
Parmenter did not reply. He was too deeply moved to speak. Robinson went hurriedly on:
“Yes, Bessick and Ogdenburg are put on in your places. The rest of us are trembling in our shoes, though I don’t know why we need to; you and Charley won’t give us away, and Van Loan can’t. Say, Fred! is there any doubt but what Van Loan broke his promise? Everybody thinks so.”
“Oh, I don’t know, and I don’t care now,” replied Parmenter, impatiently. Robinson rattled on:
“I hear he denies it; but there was no other way for it to get out, and he’s such an all-round liar you can’t believe him. Say, Fred, when you’re sure of it just let us know; and if that Freshman don’t suffer for his perfidy, then—Oh, excuse me! There’s the last bell.”
Robinson, who was an expert runner, shot across the campus, and entered the chapel on the heels of the last group of attendants.
Parmenter passed on wearily to his room. And so Charley had confessed—and had been cut! Parmenter wondered what motive had prompted the confession. Was it weakness or bravery?
Well, there was some satisfaction in knowing that he himself was not the only one to suffer. He did not know that he had much sympathy to waste on Charley, after all. He was sure he had none for Charley’s father.
He picked up a book and tried to study; but he read the pages over and over again without remembering a word that was printed on them. Deep in his breast a voice kept saying, “Poor Charley! poor Charley!”
It aggravated him. He threw the book aside, put on his hat, and started for the city. At the college gate he came suddenly upon Lee, who was walking up alone. His hands were deep in his pockets, his gait was slow, his gaze was on the ground.
When he looked up, Parmenter noticed that his face was pale and haggard, and his eyes were bloodshot.
Charley’s appearance indicated that he had passed a sleepless night. He stopped, when he saw Parmenter, and seemed about to speak; but in a moment he changed his mind, for when Parmenter stopped in his turn, ready to reply to any friendly word, Lee passed on without a nod or smile, or any kindly look.
After that, whenever the two young men met, in the class-room, on the campus, or the street, they had for each other nothing beyond the merest look of indifference, the merest nod of recognition.
It is hard to say whether Parmenter or Charley Lee suffered more from their estrangement, and impossible to declare which felt more keenly the disgrace of his punishment.
Certainly Lee’s appearance indicated the greater grief, but people said that was because he was at home. There he had every day to meet the sympathetic kindness of his mother, which was worse than any reproach could be; and there he had every day to see in his father’s face the pained look which spoke more eloquently than words.
Charley had not the firmness nor the mental and moral strength of Parmenter. He was kinder, more impulsive, more unselfish; but he depended more on circumstances to keep him at his best.
In the shadow of disgrace that had now fallen on him he grew despondent, even despairing. With the old companionship suddenly lost he became unspeakably lonely. He found it impossible to rise from beneath the burdens that had fallen on him.
All the gentle home influence, all the friendly sympathy and assistance of those who had been his companions in the better days, and who still loved him none the less for the shadows that rested on him—all these things were wholly unavailing. He weakened, wavered, and broke.
He neglected his studies, avoided the class-room on every pretext, lost his frank and cheery manner, fell back mentally and morally with startling rapidity. By and by it began to be whispered about that he was becoming addicted to intoxicating drinks.
One man had seen him drinking at a city bar. Another had met him late at night, going home with thick tongue and unsteady step. No pains were spared to turn him back; but father, mother, and friends labored, implored, and suffered in vain.
There was but one person in the world who, at this crisis, could have arrested young Lee’s course and brought him back to safety. That person was Parmenter—Parmenter as he had been in the old days, strong in friendship, forceful in will, undaunted by disaster.
He, by merely stretching out his hand, could have turned Charley Lee back toward manhood.
But no one thought of that. The gulf between the two young men had grown too wide. Besides, Parmenter was demoralized as well as Lee; he had not fallen in the same way, but certainly he had fallen.
He, too, was neglectful of his studies and remiss in his college duties. He avoided the companionship of his fellows and sank, day by day, into a state of listless self-sufficiency from which all the efforts of his friends failed to rouse him. Whispering tongues were again at work, bringing to his ears tales of remarks, and declarations made by Professor Lee and his wife, charging Parmenter with being the cause of their son’s downfall.
The young man bitterly resented these imputations, and assumed at once that Professor Lee had uttered them.
What right had they to charge him with their son’s waywardness, when he had not even spoken to the fellow for more than a month? He could explain the story only on one hypothesis—Charley, in his weakness, must have complained of him. But poor Charley! he was hardly responsible now for what he did.
Parmenter’s anger and resentment toward his former friend had almost vanished, but the bitterness in his heart toward Professor Lee showed no abatement.
He had not yet given the word for Van Loan’s punishment, although his old comrades had frequently expressed a wish to “get even” with that tale-bearer and breaker of promises. Not that there was much doubt of Van Loan’s perfidy, and not but that Parmenter thoroughly despised him.
But Parmenter was too heartily sick of the whole business to reopen old scores, and too listless and despondent to start new troubles. Nevertheless, Van Loan was meeting with his reward. It was well understood among the students that his speedy release from the hands of the hazers was due to his promise not to betray Parmenter—a promise which, it was believed, he had deliberately violated.
His class would have no more of his leadership. His companions fell away from him. He could no longer find attentive listeners to his boastful tales.
He still kept at the head with his studies; but being much alone, he grew downcast and sullen. The humiliations to which he had been subjected on the night of the hazing were too deep for him ever to forgive or forget.
His hatred for Parmenter showed little abatement; and when, by chance, it became known to him that Lee was the one who had asked him the insulting questions with their forced answers on that miserable night, his feeling toward Charley was scarcely less bitter.
Van Loan exulted in the punishment of the two young men; he gloried in their downfall. But his resentment was not satisfied by their humiliation and disgrace. He waited for some new opportunity to gratify his mean thirst for revenge.
So far as Charley was concerned, that opportunity came to Van Loan one day in a most unexpected manner.
He went into a beer saloon in the city, a place to which some of the more weak and reckless of the students occasionally resorted. Half a dozen men were in the room; and among them, leaning against the bar, an object of entertainment to them, was some poor fellow in an advanced state of inebriety. It needed but the second glance to tell Van Loan that the drunken man was Charley Lee.
Lee discovered Van Loan at once.
“Hello, Vanly!” he cried. “Why, m’ dear boy, I haven’t seen you since—since—say, Billy,” turning to the saloon-keeper, who stood behind the bar, “give this man a drink; anything ’e wants; he’s frien’ o’ mine.”
He had already staggered forward and embraced Van Loan effusively. Some strange turn of his drunken fancy had presented the man to his disordered mind as his bosom friend.
For the moment Van Loan was at a loss what to do or say. Then there shot suddenly into his mind a scheme for revenge as daring as it was dastardly.
“I will,” he said to himself, “lead this drunken fellow through the streets of the city and up College Hill to his home, in broad daylight, a spectacle for all men!”
Van Loan turned the thought over in his mind as if it were incomparably sweet. He waited but a moment to perfect his plan. Then he turned quietly to Lee.
“Come, Charley,” he said, “let’s go home and sober up; they’ll be looking for you, you know.”
The saloon-keeper came out from behind the bar and called Van Loan aside.
“Is he a friend of yours?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Van Loan.
“Well, hadn’t you better let him go up-stairs and sleep this thing off?”
“No,” was the reply; “he wouldn’t get over it till morning, and his father and mother would be worried about him. No, I’ll take him home.”
“Then I’ll send for a close carriage for you.”
“No, you needn’t. He can walk well enough.”
“My gracious! Look here! you don’t want to show that young man up on the street like that, do you?”
Van Loan turned on the man savagely.
“It’s none of your business what I want to do!” he exclaimed. “Your part of the programme was ended when you got him drunk. Now you mind your affairs, and I’ll mind mine. Come, Charley, let’s go.”
He went to Lee, took his arm, and led him toward the door. The maudlin young fellow waved his free hand broadly to the group at the bar.
“Good-by, gen’l’men!” he shouted. “By, Billy! Come an’ see us. Father d’lighted to see you any time.”
The saloon-keeper shrugged his shoulders suggestively, and made motions as if to wash his hands, as once did Pilate of old.
Van Loan struck the screen door open, and the two young men passed out into the street. It was no easy task to guide Lee’s wavering footsteps. His weight rested heavily on Van Loan’s arm; and at frequent intervals he insisted on stopping and facing his companion, in order to give greater emphasis to some expression of his drunken fancy.
They met many people. Some of them, who knew both young men, looked askance at them as they approached, and then passed on with knowing looks and scornful smiles.
At the corner of Centre and Concord Streets they came upon Miss Darcy, a charming girl to whom Lee had taken a strong fancy. She stopped suddenly, staring at the pair in surprise.
“Is he ill, sir?” she asked.
“Worse than that,” replied Van Loan, smiling. “You had better pass on, Miss Darcy; his society is not agreeable to-day.”
She knew what the man meant, and turned away in sorrow and humiliation.
Poor Lee, on seeing her, had attempted to lift his hat, but had pushed it from his head instead, and it had rolled into the street.
“S’cuse me, Miss Darcy,” he stammered; “somew’at tired to-day. My frien’, Mr. Vanly, he—I—” But Miss Darcy was already out of hearing.
Van Loan braced his charge against a tree, and went to recover the hat. Street-boys came up, and began to poke fun at the unfortunate fellow, following him with jeers as he moved on.
Half-way up Concord Street the pair met President Mather, driving down with some ladies of his family. Lee discovered them, waved his hand grandly toward the carriage, and called out:
“’Ello, Prexy! Beau’ful day, ladies! Comp’ments of season to you all!”
The president reined in his team, observed Charley an instant, and drove on.
They met a dozen people from College Hill, acquaintances of both men, ladies and gentlemen, who stopped for a moment to make sure that it was a case of inebriety and not of illness, and then passed on in pained surprise.
A party of students came down, curious and sympathetic, making offers of help. Van Loan declared that he wanted no assistance, and declined their offers with scant courtesy. He was having his revenge; it was deep and sweet indeed; but he began to feel that he should be glad when he got his burdensome charge inside the door of his home.
At the college gate Parmenter met them. At the first glance he did not recognize Lee. When he looked at him again he was shocked at the change in his appearance. Van Loan would have passed on with his victim, but Parmenter stopped them.
“Where did you find him?” he asked.
“At Billy’s,” was the reply.
“Did you bring him from there?”
“Through the streets?”
“Through the streets.”
Parmenter’s blood was boiling with indignation. In his righteous wrath he forgot that Charley was not his friend as of old.
“Why did you do that devil’s deed?” he exclaimed.
“To show the public what a beast the fellow is,” replied Van Loan, fiercely; “and I’m taking him to his father for the same reason. Get out of my way and let us pass!”
Parmenter was at a white heat.
“Let go of him!” he cried. “Don’t lay a finger on him! I’ll see him home. You’ve about killed him already!”
Meanwhile Charley was leaning against a gatepost, staring stupidly from one to the other.
“Take the drunken fool, and welcome!” cried Van Loan, turning away in a passion. The words were hardly out of his mouth before Parmenter shouted, “Put up your hands, you brute. Defend yourself if you can. I’m going to thrash you!”
“You—you!” screamed Van Loan, striking a pugilistic attitude.
But he was no match for Parmenter, whose fist shot out next moment, struck Van Loan squarely on the jaw, and sent him sprawling in the dust of the road.
At that moment Tutor Delavan came up. He knew intuitively what it all meant.
“Here, Parmenter,” he said, “let’s get Charley into the house as quickly as possible. You support him on that side, I will on this. If ever a man was justified in knocking another down, you were.”
They straightened the drunken man up, and started with him along the college walk toward his father’s residence, not stopping to answer the questions nor satisfy the curiosity of those whom they met.
Poor Lee had fallen suddenly into a sort of stupor. His face grew pallid and his eyes glassy. His chin dropped. He no longer tried to speak, and his feet dragged so heavily that he had almost to be carried.
For the first time since the quarrel, pity and dread came into Parmenter’s breast. Never in all his life had he looked upon a spectacle so pitiable and so revolting.
The two men dragged their helpless burden up the steps of Professor Lee’s residence, but before they could ring the bell the professor himself was at the door. The next moment they were all in the hall, the street-door was closed, the limp and insensible form of the young man was laid carefully on the settee, and Delavan had hurried off to find the college physician.
Professor Lee pushed the hair back tenderly from his boy’s eyes and forehead, then he turned sharply to Parmenter.
“Did you lead him into this also?” he asked, huskily.
The tone, the implication, roused the tiger again in Parmenter’s breast.
“I did not,” was the swift reply. “I never drank with him in my life, nor ever suggested such a thing. I do not wonder, though, that you lay this crowning disgrace of your son’s at my door, since you have been pleased, without cause, to charge to my account every fault and folly of which he has been guilty for the last six months.”
Professor Lee’s face was white with emotion.
“Look here, Parmenter!” he said, “this is no time nor place for quarrels or explanations. Let me say to you simply that I do not need your presence here. You may go!”
Parmenter backed slowly down the hall, awed and subdued by the man’s quiet anger. He did not speak again. He cast one glance at the poor, unconscious figure on the hall settee; then he turned and left the house.
He went to his room and picked up a book, but could not read. He went down to his supper, but could not eat. He tossed about in his bed all night, but he could not sleep.
He had unburdened his mind to Professor Lee, indeed—a thing he had been longing to do for weeks. But it brought him no relief. On the contrary, deeply angered as he was at the professor, a flush of shame crept into his face whenever he thought of the time and place he had chosen for his protest.
His mind became gloomier and his thoughts more desperate every day. He scarcely opened a book to study from it. His brain was dull and unsteady, and he could think of little else than his own miserable condition and his unhappy relations with the Lees.
He felt that Professor Lee had wronged him beyond forbearance, beyond endurance, beyond any hope of reconciliation.
As for Charley, his case was different. He was weak, boyish, impulsive, influenced by his father; but it might well be that time would heal the differences between him and Charley.
This was Parmenter’s daily, his hourly thought and hope; it was sweeter in his mind than had ever been his visions of oratorical success. For he had not been able, in all the stormy days that had passed, to drive from his heart the last spark of affection for the dearest friend his young manhood had known.
And now, when that friend’s disgrace and humiliation were deepest, the spark began to take on new life, to kindle, to glow, to send light and heat through his whole mental and moral system.
Perhaps this was due in part to his memory of that prostrate figure on the sofa in the hall. It was a picture that he could not forget,—the relaxed muscles, the pallid face, the disordered hair, the glassy, half-closed eyes, the wreck and ruin of young manhood stretched prostrate in his father’s hall.
It was pitiable, it was dreadful—the sight of death would have been less terrible.
Day and night this image was before Parmenter’s eyes. Go where he would he could not escape it. It followed him relentlessly. It hung about him as persistently and ceaselessly as his own shadow. It blotted out all thought of anger or revenge toward Charley Lee; it brought with it only patience, pity, a desire to help, and a great longing to be reconciled.
Before he quite knew it himself, Parmenter was sighing for the old companionship, looking forward impatiently to the days when, with the kindly help of each other, they would both be themselves again; waiting with feverish anxiety for an opportunity to get back on the old fair footing with Charley Lee.
Charley Lee had not been seen in public since the day when his intoxication had been so terribly exposed by Van Loan. Some of the students said that he was ashamed to show himself; others that his father was keeping him prisoner. But after a little while the truth came out, and all the college knew that he was ill, and could not go out.
The reaction from his fit of inebriety had been a severe shock to a system not especially strong, and the disgrace which had fallen on him preyed sharply on his mind. He suffered a kind of nervous prostration, followed by a low fever, and his strength gave way rapidly.
Parmenter was stricken with grief and remorse. His old friend’s illness swept away the last vestige of his resentment. In all that had passed between them, Parmenter came to recognize no unfriendly acts but his own, no unkind words save those which he himself had spoken.
He kept himself informed of Charley’s condition through his friends; and at last, finding that the sick man was not likely to be able to leave his room until after Commencement, he sat down one day and wrote him this letter:
“Dear Charley,—I feel that I have been a brute, and I want to apologize. I also have some beggarly excuses for my conduct which I would like to tell to you personally, if I may call and see you. May I come, and when?—Fraternally, Parmenter.”
He dispatched this message by the janitor’s boy, and paced the floor of his room in a fever of anxiety until the answer came. When the boy returned with the letter, he snatched it from his grasp, and tore open the envelope as a starving man would break a crust of bread. The message ran:
“Dear Fred,—Never mind the excuses or the apology. If you say it’s all right I’m satisfied. Only come and see me and let’s get back on the old footing. Come to-morrow morning, say about ten o’clock. I feel a little more chipper mornings.
“You have my everlasting gratitude for making the first advance. I don’t know whether I could have brought myself to it or not. On second thought come at nine o’clock—don’t wait till ten. Don’t fail me, old boy.—Lee.”
Parmenter sat down on the bed, and cried like a child. Then he jumped up and wiped the tears away, and laughed, and read the letter again, and many times again. No pleasure that his life had ever before known had thrilled him as did these simple, tremulously written words.
He went to the window, and looked out upon the sweet June landscape. What a glorious day it was! He seized his hat and left the room singing:
He went down the stairs two steps at a time. Some students in the lower hall, hearing his cheery voice and seeing his radiant face, so wondered at the transformation that they turned and followed him.
Out on the campus was a crowd of Sophomores getting up a game of foot-ball. Parmenter went over, and begged to be allowed to play with them, and they gladly gave him his old place in the team.
And how he did play! What tremendous runs he made!—though he had moped so long that he was not in his usual condition. How he shouted and laughed at each brilliant point in the game, and shook hands all round when his team came out victorious!
Every one wondered and rejoiced at his changed manner, and said that for some unexplainable reason “Richard was himself again.”
That evening Parmenter sat with a group of students on the terrace, and sang college songs for an hour in the good old fashion; and when he went to bed he slept with such refreshing sweetness as he had not known before for many weeks.
The next morning he arose early. It was Saturday, and there were no recitations nor examinations. The work of the term was finished, and the next week was to be given up to the pleasures of Commencement. Parmenter started out for a walk before breakfast.
The morning was exceptionally beautiful, even for June. He crossed the campus and struck into the woods, drinking in the dewy perfumes as he went, feasting his eyes on sylvan sights, listening, with rapt ears, to the music of the singing birds. He thought he had never in his life before seen a morning so thoroughly charming as this.
At one time he found himself in the path leading to the ledge where they had taken Van Loan that miserable night in April. He turned aside at once, and struck off in another direction. He did not care to revisit the scene of that night’s folly. The shadow of this incident was the only one that fell upon his spirits during all that long and beautiful morning walk.
When he returned to the college grounds he started across the campus on his way to breakfast, refreshed, vigorous, hopeful, with the sunshine of a brighter day than he had known for months already flooding his heart.
In front of the chapel a group of young men stood in earnest conversation; at the corner of South College a half-dozen more were talking to each other in subdued voices. The expressions on their faces indicated that something had gone wrong.
Parmenter did not stop to inquire what it was. Somehow he did not dare to. He pushed on, with a sudden sinking of heart, until he came in front of Professor Lee’s residence.
He stopped and glanced up at the house uneasily. People seemed to be moving about hurriedly in the upper rooms. The hall door opened as he stood there; and Mr. Delavan, the tutor, came out and down the steps. Parmenter approached him and asked hesitatingly:
“Is Charley about the same as yesterday?”
The tutor looked at him wonderingly.
“Haven’t you heard,” he replied, “of his changed condition?”
“No,” responded Parmenter, huskily, backing up against a tree for support. “How changed—worse?”
“Yes, much worse. An intense fever, accompanied by delirium, set in last evening and rapidly exhausted him. He lies now in a state of coma, with symptoms of heart failure.”
“Will—will he die?”
Parmenter’s lips were white, his knees were trembling, his voice was scarcely audible.
“They have little hope of saving his life. The end may come at any moment. Here, take my arm. The news has unnerved you. I am going your way; I will walk with you.”
Parmenter went to his room, but he could not stay there. In ten minutes he was out on the campus asking for the latest news from Charley. He sat on the terrace wall in a place where he could watch the Lee house. As often as the door opened he caught his breath in the dread that some one would bring out news of Charley’s death.
But Charley still lived. The spark of life in his body paled and glowed alternately, and as the day wore on, hope revived.
Late in the afternoon Parmenter caught sight of Doctor Park, hurrying along in front of South College. He ran and overtook him.
“What about Charley?” he asked breathlessly.
“My dear man,” said the doctor, kindly, “we can’t tell. He is alive; we are making every effort to keep him alive. That is all I can say.”
The night came on, but Parmenter did not sleep. Many times in the darkness he crept down the section stairs, across the campus, and over to the house where Charley lay. There were lights in the windows. He could see people moving about in the rooms, and twice some one came out of whom he could make inquiries.
Just before dawn he stood in the shadow of the great elm by the side of Professor Lee’s gate, waiting to see or hear some one or something from his friend.
The hall door opened, and the professor himself came out. With his hands behind him, and his face turned toward the stars, he came down to the gate, and out on the walk, passing under the gas-lamp within five feet of Parmenter, and continuing along the terrace to the college gate. There he turned, came back the same way, and reëntered his house.
That face, as Parmenter saw it under the lamplight, coming and going, struck him to the heart. Never before in his life had he seen such woe and hope expressed in a single countenance. Never before had he seen the intense desire of a man’s heart strained through his face like this.
Was it possible that this was the man whom he had charged with unjust motives, with double dealing, with conduct entirely at variance with the whole tenor of his good and gracious life? And what foundation was there for the charge?
As he stood there, Parmenter went over in swift review the reasons for his hatred of Professor Lee. He stripped them of their fallacies, of their sophistries, of their baseless judgments, till they stood naked and shrinking before him; and then for the first time he realized how utterly unworthy he had been to criticise the motives or denounce the conduct of such a man.
He went back to his room under the dawn-flushed sky, more wise and more humble than he had ever been before.
All through the quiet Sunday Charley lay, gaining a little hour by hour, and when night came again they said that now he had a fair chance to live.
Early on Monday morning the word went round that there would be a college meeting in the North College Hall, and it was whispered that Van Loan’s case would be taken up and disposed of. The feeling against him on account of his heartless exposure of Lee had become intensified with Charley’s critical illness; and now that the strain of suspense was somewhat relieved, it sought to find vent.
The meeting was large beyond precedent. Davis, the honor man of the Senior class, was made chairman; and White, a Freshman, arose and offered the following resolutions:
“Whereas: Benjamin E. Van Loan, a member of the Freshman class, was, on the afternoon of the seventeenth day of the present month, guilty of an offense unbecoming a student of Concord College, unmanly and inhuman in the extreme, and
“Whereas: For his said offense and certain abusive language connected therewith Sophomore Alfred B. Parmenter promptly knocked him down, therefore be it
“Resolved: That the hearty thanks of the students at Concord College are due to the said Parmenter for his just and timely blow, and be it further
“Resolved: That while the students do not desire to usurp the powers of the faculty, they wish to express it as their undivided opinion that the interests of all persons will be better served if the said Benjamin E. Van Loan shall sever his connection with Concord College at the end of the present college year.”
The resolutions were carried with a rush. Not a dissenting voice was heard. A committee of three was appointed to present them to Van Loan.
When, an hour later, this committee went to Van Loan’s room, he was not there. The room was in disorder, as if he had made ready for a hasty flight. The committee on presentation of resolutions has never yet been able to report its duty fulfilled, for the reason that Van Loan has never since been seen at Concord College.
During the day it was said that, with the greatest care and the most complete rest and quiet, Charley might recover. Thereupon Charley’s classmates formed themselves into squads, and took turns in patrolling the grounds about the Lee house.
They allowed no one to walk on the stone pavements in that vicinity. They kept away all noise and intrusion. They themselves went about their duties on tiptoe and spoke in whispers. Nothing was left undone by any one on the hill to help forward the chances of Charley’s recovery. The Seniors gave up their class ball on his account, and the Juniors their “cremation.”
No bells were rung, no terrace songs were sung; the quiet of a peaceful Sunday reigned for days between South College and the gate.
On Commencement Day the announcement was made from the stage that the danger line in Charley’s case had been passed, and only the unexpected would now prevent his recovery.
A great cheer went up from the vast audience; for Lee, in spite of his last few months of ill behavior, was still the best-loved fellow on the hill.
This was on Wednesday. On Thursday Parmenter started for his home, three hundred miles away. He had seen neither Charley nor Professor Lee; it was not possible to do so. But he was content now to bide his time for explanation, for confession, for reconciliation.
Mr. Delavan had told him on the day of his departure of some things that gave him a clearer insight into Van Loan’s perfidy, and into Professor Lee’s simple honesty of character; and in the days of sober thought that followed he felt more and more how unworthy had been his self-made charges and suspicions, how unjustifiable and unmanly had been his treatment of Professor Lee.
In August a rumor reached Parmenter that the Lees were going to Europe for a long vacation. Both Charley’s health and his father’s demanded the change, and Mrs. Lee was to go with them. Parmenter was aroused by the news into sudden activity.
He had looked forward to the opening of the term in September as the time when he should go to the man whom he had wronged, arraign himself, plead guilty, and ask to be forgiven. He could not postpone that duty for a year, perhaps for two years longer; he felt that he could not bear the burden of his shame for all that time, nor rest in the uncertainty of only a possible reconciliation.
He must see Professor Lee and Charley before they sailed.
He threw a few things into a satchel, and took the next train for the East. He traveled a night and a day, and the next afternoon he found himself hurrying up Concord Street to College Hill.
Certainly there was no time to lose.
“All gone away to New York this morning,” said the servant at Professor Lee’s house, when Parmenter rang the bell. “They’ve started for Europe!”
Parmenter was almost speechless with dismay; but he had enough presence of mind to ascertain that they were not to sail until the next morning, and that they were to go on the steamship City of Paris.
Away he went to the railroad station, just in time to swing himself upon the train for New York. At Albany he went into a sleeping-car, but did not have his berth made up. He knew he could not sleep. His whole being had turned toward the accomplishment of one object—to find the two men he had so deeply wronged, and beg their forgiveness.
At five o’clock in the morning the train rolled into the Grand Central Station in New York City. Parmenter rushed out hotly and hailed a cab.
“Drive me to the Inman pier!” he called to the cabman. “Don’t waste a second. There’s money in it for you.”
The vehicle rattled swiftly over rough places and smooth. Parmenter fretted nervously within.
At last the cab pulled up at the entrance to a pier. Parmenter leaped out, handed the cabman a sum of money that surprised and delighted him, and plunged at once into the shadows of the long buildings. He hurried down, between rows of bales and boxes, toward the landing-place.
Some people were coming leisurely up; a family group stood not far away, the persons in it weeping quietly; the edge of the pier was lined with men and women, and at the farther corner of it were many who were waving handkerchiefs.
An officer with a gold band around his cap stood looking out upon the water.
“Where is the City of Paris?” inquired Parmenter of him.
“There she is,” replied the officer, pointing to a majestic steamer in midstream, gay with flying colors, and heading down the river.
“Has she gone?” gasped Parmenter.
“It looks as if she had,” replied the officer, smiling.
In sudden weakness and despair Parmenter staggered to an empty truck, sat down on it, and buried his face in his hands.
Parmenter went back from New York to his home, and spent a night writing a letter to Professor Lee, which was to reach him at Paris. When it was finished the young man read it over, and threw it from him in disgust. It sounded tame, formal, insincere. He felt that such a letter would fail of its mission.
He tore it up and wrote another, but with no better success. He tried to write to Charley, but his heart and courage gave out in doing that. He knew that such desperate illnesses as Charley’s sometimes washed the soul clear and the mind free of everything that had stained and clogged it. Charley might no longer feel any need for his friendship.
Parmenter perceived at last that such an offense as his could be explained, and apologized for only in person. Written lines were wholly inadequate. It needed the voice, the eyes, the spirit breathing through the words, to make them effective. He knew now that his confession and his plea must await Professor Lee’s return.
Now and then he heard indirectly from the travelers. They had been in Berlin, in Vienna, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen. The next winter they wrote from Florence, and afterward they journeyed through the Holy Land. Charley was gaining every day in health and strength; still they were not ready to return.
Parmenter waited with all patience and in all hope. He devoted himself to his studies; he worked at his college tasks with the strength and earnestness of an enthusiast. He regained his former position in the class. His old, cordial manner came back to him. He was once more a favorite and leader among his fellow-students.
The experiences, the follies, the remorse, the suffering, of that second college year had turned the channel of his life and thought, and he stood on the threshold of a broad, earnest, and sincere manhood.
Two years went by, and Commencement was at hand again. Parmenter’s class was to graduate, and Parmenter himself was to have the valedictory. All deemed it certain that he would carry off the lion’s share of the honors of Commencement Day.
There was no better speaker in the class than he, and the first prize in oratory was sure to fall to him. There was no quicker and more logical thinker in debate. The big Dobell prize was conceded to him in advance. So far as the essays were concerned, no one hoped to surpass him. In class standing it had long been known that he was first.
Commencement Day was sure to be a great day, and a succession of triumphs, for Parmenter.
“There’s only one thing that will give any of the rest of us a chance,” said Robinson to him, banteringly; “and that is for you to get into a cane rush and break your collar-bone again; and if you could manage also to fracture two or three ribs while you’re about it, you would confer a lasting debt of gratitude on your disconsolate classmates.”
There was another thing, too, that was going to happen. “Sammy Lee” was coming home. He and his wife and Charley had already set sail for America. They would reach New York on Tuesday of Commencement week, and be at home on Wednesday morning for the Commencement exercises.
A private letter from Professor Lee had communicated the news, joyful to all his friends at the college, that Charley would return fully restored to health and strength, wholly free from his old weaknesses, ready to take up his work where he had left it off, and earnest in his desire to reach up to the measure of sterling manhood.
A small party went down to New York from the college on Monday night to meet the Lees when they should land, and escort them home. Parmenter was among the number. When his friend Robinson heard that he was going, he said to him with great earnestness:
“Why, Fred, you’re crazy! You can’t get back here till Tuesday at midnight, at the very best; and how can you expect to go on the stage Wednesday morning all broken up with the journey, and be any credit to yourself or your friends? For your own sake, and the sake of your class, you ought not to do it. With all due deference to Sammy Lee, I repeat that you’re crazy.”
Robinson paced the floor in a high state of indignation, forgetting, in his unselfish zeal for his friend’s success, that he was himself a competitor for the same honors.
Parmenter smiled a little, and said quietly, “Don’t fret, Rob. I want to see the professor and Charley when they land; but I shall be back here all right on Wednesday morning, and all ready.”
So Parmenter went to New York. Some of Professor Lee’s enthusiastic admirers among the alumni there had chartered an excursion steamer to go down the bay, meet the incoming ocean vessel, take the professor and his family off at quarantine, and give them such a welcome home as they would not soon forget.
Invitations were sent to all the old Concord boys and their families to accompany the party, and quick messages were to notify them to hasten to the pier of the excursion boat as soon as the incoming vessel should be sighted.
But Tuesday morning went by and no call came. Noon passed, and the steamer had not yet been heard from. The party of undergraduates and alumni that had gathered at the office on the pier dwindled slowly as the afternoon slipped by, until at last only Parmenter and Delavan were left. Delavan had stepped from the place of tutor up to a professor’s chair; he filled it most worthily.
He pulled out his watch, glanced at it, and turned to Parmenter in surprise.
“Why, man!” he exclaimed. “What are you thinking of? You have barely time to get to the Grand Central Station before the last train goes out. Come, I’ll go to the station with you, but I won’t go up to-night. I’m not needed at the college, and I’ll wait for Professor Lee.”
He had started to his feet and was moving toward the door. Parmenter sat still.
“I’m not going up to-night, either,” he said, quietly.
Delavan turned back in amazement.
“But my dear man,” he exclaimed, “to-morrow morning is Commencement! You’re on the Commencement stage!”
“Yes, I know. I shall not be there.”
The young professor came back into the room and sat down.
“Parmenter,” he said, “what does this mean? Surely you are not going to let the honors of Commencement Day slip by you in order to meet Professor Lee and Charley as they land? I know something of what has happened between you, and what you hope for in the way of reconciliation, and let me assure you that this action is certainly uncalled for. Pardon me, my dear boy, but it’s foolish!”
Then Parmenter awoke. “Look here, professor!” he said warmly. “I have been waiting for this meeting for two years. I have thought of it night and day. The hope that it may not be wholly fruitless has kept me from disgrace and despair. Do you suppose that a petty prize or the gratification of a selfish ambition would be enough to send me running like a coward from it now?”
“Why, Parmenter, I didn’t know that you—I—”
“I wronged Professor Lee!” interrupted Parmenter, hotly. “I wronged him terribly. I contributed my share, and it wasn’t a small one, to his son’s disgrace; and I’ve never said to him one word of contrition, of repentance, or regret. It’s too late to make him any adequate reparation now; but I can be here to meet him and Charley when they land, to acknowledge my fault to him, to tell him of my grief and humility, and ask him to try me again, and prove me that I am wiser and juster than I was. Now tell me, professor, isn’t that the least that I can do and have any semblance of a man about me?”
Parmenter had risen in his excitement, and stood with flashing eyes, flushed face, and heaving breast. Delavan went up to him and took both his hands.
“I understand you, my dear fellow,” he said, quietly. “You are right. Come, let’s telegraph up to them that we’ll not be there. Then we’ll go back up town.”
Commencement Day dawned bright and beautiful. It always did. No one had ever known a rainy Commencement Day at Old Concord; and the day was just as beautiful on New York Bay as it was in the college city.
The ocean vessel had been sighted late in the morning; and the excursion steamer, with more than a hundred enthusiastic men and women on board, was pulling rapidly down to meet her.
The little boat was gay with bunting. Flags and banners floated from every pole and post. A great streamer at the bow bore the name of “Concord,” and another at the stern displayed the college cry.
There was a brass band on the boat, and a brass cannon; and lest these should not meet the anticipated demand for noise, every person on board was supplied with a college fish-horn. But the party failed to reach quarantine in time. They had hardly got below Governor’s Island when the black hull of the great vessel loomed up on the smoky horizon, beating up the bay toward them. Ten minutes later the two steamers, big and little, were directly opposite, though at some distance from each other. Then the reception began.
It was peculiarly a college boys’ reception. Human throats vied with brass instruments, with booming cannon, and the blare of horns in proclaiming welcome to the travelers.
When the people on the big steamer realized that the demonstration was for some of their number, they crowded to the side of the vessel, and waved handkerchiefs and hats.
After a few minutes one of the upper guard rails was cleared, for a little space, of all the human figures save one. That one no one who knew him could fail to distinguish as “Sammy Lee.” He stood, with bared head, waving his hat in one hand and his handkerchief in the other, and apparently shouting some response at the top of his voice.
Then he called his wife and son to his side; and from that point up the bay and all the way to the steamer’s pier the three stood together responding as best they could to the cries and cheers, the music and the noise, the waving hats and handkerchiefs that continuously greeted them.
At last the big steamer reached her pier and swung slowly in; and the smaller boat made fast to the wharf that the excursionists might disembark and greet the travelers as they landed.
Through all this demonstration Parmenter stood quietly in the background, joining occasionally in the cheering, brushing the tears from his eyes now and then, as he noted the sincerity and enthusiasm of the greeting.
He went out on the pier with the others, but remained in the rear. Now that his great opportunity had arrived, he hardly knew how to avail himself of it. His heart beat thunderously against his breast.
Far up the pier he saw Professor Lee and his wife and son come down the bridge. Then they were swallowed up in the circling crowd that pressed forward to greet them.
Parmenter’s heart failed him then; his courage gave way, and he turned aside and stood by a wharf-post, with his face toward the water, that people passing by might not see his tears.
After a little some one touched him on the shoulder, and he turned to see who it was.
For one second the two men looked into each other’s eyes; then their hands met in a heart-thrilling clasp, then their arms were laid lovingly across each other’s shoulders.
They were again in complete accord. No words were necessary to assure them of that. If they had been necessary Parmenter could not have spoken them. The lump in his throat had effectually choked his utterance. After a minute he managed to stammer out:
“Charley—your father—I wronged him! I want to explain—confess—and get forgiveness.”
Lee swung quickly around, and pierced to the center of the party that was coming slowly down the pier. He whispered something into his father’s ear, drew him quietly from the throng, crossed over with him to where Parmenter stood, and then left them alone together.
The crowd moved on, laughing and chatting, casting backward glances at the two who remained behind, wondering a little but knowing scarcely anything of the drama that was being reenacted with lightning-like rapidity in those two hearts.
Those who looked at the two men a minute later from the deck saw that something unusual was going on. They saw Parmenter standing, hat in hand, looking straight into the professor’s eyes, and talking with terrible earnestness.
They saw, too, that though he did not move a muscle, his face was white and his hands were tightly clenched.
The first time that Professor Lee interrupted him he reached out and touched the young man’s shoulder gently. The next time he grasped both of Parmenter’s hands in his and held them fast; and the third time, after a flow of impassioned words that came hot from the penitent’s heart to his mouth, the old man drew the bared young head down toward him and pressed it tenderly with his lips. That was all.
After that they came back, arm in arm, to the boat. Tears were in Parmenter’s eyes, but his face was radiant with the sunshine of reconciliation.
When every one was on board again the excursion steamer left the pier for a run down the bay and a trip up the North and East Rivers. A luncheon was served; and after that the party gathered in the cabin, and Professor Lee responded to a brief address of welcome.
He had never spoken better in his life—never more earnestly, never more joyously. His magnificent reception had warmed his heart, and filled it to overflowing with gratitude and enthusiasm. He told briefly of his travels, and of the pleasure he found in his return home.
“This morning,” he said, “with my wife and son, I was looking over our baggage preparatory to meeting the customs officers. Happening to look out on the bay I saw your boat with its flags and bunting, its college mottoes, and its college colors, and its decks dark with people. I could not believe my eyes. I dared not speak of it to my wife and son.
“I stole away and went on deck to assure myself. Then I heard a great cry of ‘Sammy Lee!’ and I said to myself, ‘Sammy, it’s you they’re after—sure.’
“So I ran down, and called to Mrs. Lee and Charley. ‘Come,’ I said, ‘come on deck quick! Let the baggage go! let the custom-house officials go! let everything go! The boys are here to welcome us home.’
“Gentlemen, there were men on that vessel who are worth millions. There were high dignitaries of church and state on board. Yet I, poor as a church-mouse, not known beyond the circle of my own pupils,—I, for my own sake, for the sake of the dear ones who are with me, for the sake of the grand old college that I have the honor to represent, have commanded such a reception to-day as those men with their combined wealth, power, and influence couldn’t buy, force, or borrow for a single moment.
“I feel it to the bottom of my heart. I shall never forget it. I shall live this scene over in my mind every day so long as I remain on earth.”
There was a storm of applause. When it had subsided the professor continued:
“I went away from you two years ago, tired, hurt, and miserable; but I come back to you filled with new life. If there were any wounds still open when I entered New York Bay this morning your sovereign remedy of welcome has completely healed them; if there was one hard or bitter feeling still lingering in my breast when I stepped upon that pier an hour ago, the splendid courage, the manly confession, the magnificent self-sacrifice, of one among you has swept it from its hiding-place forever.”
Again the storm of cheers and applause burst forth. No one understood perfectly what it was all about, but every one felt that the allusion was to Parmenter.
“So I am come to you again,” the speaker continued, “with nothing but love and gratitude in my heart for all of you—with nothing but affection for the dear old college and all who are in it or of it, with the peace and quiet of serene old age stealing softly over me; with the only grief I have ever known, during all my life among you, lost and buried in the beautiful memories of the past. I thank you—thank you a thousand times; and God bless you always!”
His voice broke at last, and he sank into his seat and brushed away his tears. But all his boys knew that they were tears of joy and not of sorrow, and the flow of spirits and good-fellowship burst forth anew.
Commencement Day at Concord went gloriously by. In the absence of Parmenter, Robinson was the most conspicuous member of the graduating class, and had the largest share of honors.
At midnight Professor Lee and his party reached the city, and found a rousing welcome awaiting them at the train. In some unaccountable way Parmenter’s story had traveled home ahead of him, and he had to share with the professor and his family the honors of the night.
Later a great crowd of students, with Parmenter and Charley Lee arm in arm in the midst of them, marched up the hill and through the college gate, singing as no one had ever heard them sing before.
The party halted in front of Professor Lee’s residence and sang: “Here’s to Sammy Lee, drink it down;” and as that tired but happy traveler laid his head on his pillow in his cherished home, there came softly, musically, gratefully to his ears, from some distant quarter of the campus, the old familiar good-night song:
Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.
Archaic and variable spelling has been preserved.
Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.