A KINDLED AMBITION

JUBILATION and swaggering self-satisfaction reigned triumphant at
Westcott’s Monday morning. Certain small boys who had acquired a habit
of arriving half an hour before the time of opening so as to have
opportunity, before the advent of interfering teachers, for tag through
the play room and up the stairs, found their numbers doubled. Instead of
scampering wildly off like frolicsome kittens, they gathered in solid
clusters at their end of the big schoolroom and exchanged opinions and
reminiscences, sprinkling their conversation richly with comments like
“Wasn’t it great when Mac made that goal!” “Did you see Fat Bumpus slide
on his nose?” “I was dead scared that time when Trowbridge got down to
our ten-yard line!” “The paper said—” “Papa thought—” and so on, in a
series that developed itself by arithmetical progression. Richard
Sumner, who had a gift for drawing, spent ten minutes, hedged in by a
semicircle of admirers and supervised by Mike, in chalking on the board
a splendid figure of a plunging half-back, armed cap-a-pie, which he
reproduced by memory from a magazine cover. The breast of his player
rampant he covered with a huge W, and underneath he printed in neat
characters the score by games. When this was done, Mike produced a list
of an All-Triangular eleven, which he had elaborated over Sunday, and
defended with a great show of expert knowledge the right of seven
Westcottites to a place thereon.

Then the older boys came in a bunch, driven in by the cold from the
corner outside. They took places in the alcove that commanded the
street, on watch for the members of the team as they arrived. Each one
as he appeared was signalled at a distance, and hailed by name and
applause as he entered the room. Harrison, of course, received a
prolonged salvo, but Talbot, Eaton, and Hardie were welcomed almost as
heartily, while Bumpus’s bruised face, and Mac’s complacent grin, called
forth a special demonstration. Last of all Sumner was seen, hurrying
late across the street, and an original salutation that would be sure to
rattle him was suggested by Wilmot—but the bell rang and spoiled it
all.

At noon, by general agreement, ten minutes were taken from recess and
another ten from recitation,—a phenomenal concession on the part of Mr.
Westcott,—speeches were made, and the school cheered their throats and
enthusiasm out. It was a new experience for Roger Hardie to hear the
leader call his name, and to feel in the wholehearted volley, to read in
the enthusiastic faces bent upon him, that he was accounted worthy the
gratitude of the school; and his content was not lessened by the fact
that he had gained his place, against the general expectation, by his
own merit. Yet proudly happy though he was in the consciousness of a
certain success achieved, he felt no temptation to that silly vanity
which is too often the result of public praise, and transforms a
reasonably attractive boy into a bumptious, overweening cad. There was a
reason for this, other than natural modesty. Roger had conceived a new
ambition—to row on a school crew. Here again he stood at the foot of a
ladder. To gain a place he must push ahead of a dozen others whose
experience gave them a right to laugh at his pretensions.

Dunn cheered with the rest, but every “rah” which he forced himself to
utter cost him as much effort as a line of Virgil dug out with a
vocabulary. He had been badly frightened by the incident of the Newbury
protest. The upper school had held him in a measure responsible for the
false position in which they found themselves—most unjustly, Dunn
maintained, since he had been but the bearer of a message. Certain
persons, more frank than polite, had said unpleasant things in his
hearing; his closest friends had for a time been cool toward him. When,
with the decision of the committee, the cloud passed, Dunn plucked up
spirit again, and for the last week of football practice really tried
hard to retrieve his reputation. He succeeded so far, indeed, that
Harrison held out hopes to him of getting into the Trowbridge game in
the second half, if things went well. But things did not go well, at
least from Dunn’s point of view, for at no time during the game had
Yards considered it safe to exchange the steady, clear-headed,
hard-tackling end for a substitute of doubtful quality. So Dunn was left
minus the coveted W, and plus a strong conviction that he had been
ill-used. It was not easy for him to forgive Hardie for robbing him of
his place and gaining the opportunity to achieve a triumph which Dunn
felt sure he could have achieved just as well. Equally unpalatable was
the fact that Hardie seemed to be established on good terms with the
influential set, of which Talbot, Sumner, Wilmot, and Trask formed the
solid centre. On the other hand, while there were many whom Dunn called
his friends, no one showed any great liking for his society except Ben
Tracy and Stover, neither of whom was able to help him along toward that
popularity for which his heart yearned. His poor recitation work also
seemed to count against him in this strange school in which the boys
actually held it the proper thing to work on lessons, and while they
pretended to make light of low marks, at bottom despised a numskull. Can
we wonder, then, that the disdain with which Dunn first regarded his
quiet housemate, Hardie, should have turned to envy?

That afternoon Roger went down town with McDowell to buy their football
hatbands—a white background striped three times with blue, the outer
stripes wide, the inner one narrow. McDowell took his hat off as they
emerged from the shop, and gave the new decoration a long look of
admiration, regardless of the jostling crowd. “It’s not so pretty as the
crew band that Pete wears,” he said slowly, “but I’d a lot rather have
it. It means something.”

“So does the crew mean something,” answered Roger. “It means more than
any band there is. Only a few fellows can get it, and at least a dozen
can sport football bands.—Put on your dip, you lunatic. They’ll think
you’re crazy!”

Mac replaced his hat, pressing it down carefully on his hair, and giving
the brim a downward tilt. “The second crew get bands if they win their
race,” he said; “that’s eight, and the two coxswains make ten.”

“But they don’t all get crew W’s. Only five fellows in the school have a
right to them. I’d rather wear a band as a member of the first crew, if
it were just one dirty yellow streak, than have both baseball and
football combined.”

Mac laughed. “Why don’t you, then? All you have to do is to make the
crew.”

“You can’t make the crew just by coming out for it. You’ve got to know
how to row, and it takes lots of practice to learn. There isn’t any
chance for an inexperienced man, with six or eight old fellows in school
who have all had a year or more of it.”

“Isn’t there?” answered Mac, absently. He was looking about him at the
faces hurrying past, wondering that no one seemed to mark the
significant symbol that he bore. Just then a small boy in knickerbockers
and light top-coat, wearing a flat hat with white band edged with
blue—the regular Westcott hatband—appeared in front of them. He caught
sight of the new bands, glanced at the faces below, smiled, and,
stopping short in the crowd, fixed his gaze upon them, revolving in his
tracks as they passed. Here was one who knew the token.

It is ever thus. The small boy looks up with veneration to the wearer of
the school letter. The school athlete admires the member of a freshman
team; the freshman adores the varsity captain who has so long worn the
stately letter that it has quite lost its glamor. The varsity captain
thinks chiefly of the task which he has taken upon his shoulders, and
admires only some lucky captain before him who won his race or his Yale
game, or some frail, pretty, unathletic girl whose weakness her
schoolboy brother flouts. So the chain is looped.

“Who was that?” asked Roger.

“Stanley Hale,” answered Mac, with a grin. “The football band is good
enough for him.—But why isn’t your chance for the crew as good as any
one’s? Pete’s a friend of yours.”

“That’s just it: for that reason he wouldn’t put me on unless he had to.
But what’s the use of talking about it? I shall be lucky to get on to
the river at all.”

That night Louis Tracy appeared at the dinner-table a little late. “Did
you get your bid for the Fridays, Ben?” he asked, turning to his cousin
as he unfolded his napkin. “I’ve got one.”

Ben nodded. “Mine came this afternoon.”

“I got mine this morning,” said Cable.

“So did I,” announced Roger, who was feeling particularly happy.
Talbot’s brother had procured him a good seat for the Yale-Harvard game,
and Sumner had got his name put on the list for the dancing class.

Dunn looked up inquiringly. “What’s that?” he demanded. “I didn’t get
anything.”

“Just the Friday dancing class at the Crofton,” said Ben, carelessly. “A
good many of the fellows go.”

Dunn pondered a few seconds, then blurted out, “How do you get into the
thing?”

“I was on the list last year,” replied Ben.

“So was I,” said Cable, answering a look from Dunn.

“My Aunt Mary got me my invitation,” Louis Tracy explained.

There was a moment of silence which to some at the table seemed a bit
awkward; but Dunn, who was determined to probe the matter to the bottom,
pushed boldly on. “How did you work it, Hardie?”

“Mine came through Mrs. Sumner. She is one of the patronesses. Jack
asked me last week whether I’d like one, and I jumped at the chance.”

At this point Mrs. Adams interposed a new topic of conversation, and the
tongues were soon flying at the usual rate over a safe course; but
Dunn’s voice, commonly the loudest and most insistent, was only heard
when a question was put directly to him. He ate his dinner in moody
silence, his face darkly clouded. In the middle of dessert he excused
himself, leaving the ice-cream half eaten on his plate.

“It’s tough on poor Jason to get left out of the Fridays,” said Cable,
as the door closed behind him.

“What in time did you want to bring it up for?” exclaimed Ben, turning
reproachfully on his cousin.

“I didn’t think about it,” answered Louis. “Jason had no business
butting in, anyway.”

“He’d have found out about it sooner or later,” suggested Cable. “We
were all as much at fault as Louis.”

“Can’t you do something to help him out?” asked Roger. “You might get
him an invitation, Ben, I should think.”

“Well, I can’t,” Ben answered impatiently. “I don’t run the things, and
none of my people do, either.”

Later in the evening Dunn came into Ben Tracy’s room and sat down on the
bed. “Say, Ben,” he began, “can’t you help me to get an invitation for
that dancing class? I don’t care anything about the dancing part of it,
but it’s going to be awfully disagreeable to hang round here all winter
and be the only fellow left out. I shall be ashamed to live.”

Ben didn’t answer. He knew very well that if he took Dunn’s name to his
Aunt Mary, she would want to know all about the applicant, his
character, appearance, manners, habits, church relations,—all about his
father, mother, relatives, acquaintances, ancestors, his father’s
business and his grandfather’s. And after her nephew had undergone the
cross-examination, she would probably refuse to help him and admonish
him to avoid such associations.

“You might try Mr. Westcott,” said Ben, jumping at a stray idea, as
Jason jumped at answers in the history class. “He could get your name on
the list easily enough.”

“He wouldn’t do it if he could,” answered Dunn, despondently. “He’s down
on me and would be glad of a chance to sting me and preach at me. If
your Aunt Mary can get one for Louis, she can get one for me, too. Try
her, won’t you? It’ll be the greatest favor you could do me. I’ll pay it
back sometime, I swear I will. Say you will, please!”

Ben looked hard at the floor. He didn’t want to say yes, and he hadn’t
the heart to say no; yet something he must say. He lifted his eyes for a
moment to Dunn’s pleading face.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said.

Dunn leaped forward and gripped his hand. “That’s the way to talk. You
can fix it up all right. I’ll make it good to you some day before the
year is out, ten times over!”

Dunn went back to his own room, leaving his anxieties behind him. They
had settled on unlucky Ben, who brooded for a long time on the best way
to approach his hypercritical aunt. When he crawled into bed at last, he
was no nearer a satisfactory conclusion than when Dunn left him.

“If I ask her and she refuses, Jason will be worse off than he is now,”
he muttered to himself as sleep crept over him. “I don’t know what to
do!”

He knew no better when he awoke the next morning. As a result he did
nothing at all, except to pity himself as a victim of unkind fate.

THE next morning—it was the day for election of a football
captain—Roger found Pete and Jack Sumner in the cloak-room talking
earnestly together. “I want to ask a favor of you fellows,” he began, as
soon as he caught sight of them. “Everybody out at Adams’s has
invitations to the Fridays, except Dunn. He is awfully cut up about it.”

“I can’t help it,” said Talbot. “It isn’t my fault if he doesn’t deserve
any.”

“He’s no worse than Snobson and Newgeld,” insisted Roger. “They both got
in.”

“Not with my help,” retorted Talbot. “What are _you_ bothering about it
for? He wouldn’t do it for you.”

“I don’t care whether he would or not. It just isn’t a fair deal to
leave him out.” Roger turned to Sumner. “There’s no use talking to Pete;
he’s nothing but a savage. You’ll get it for him, Jack, won’t you? You
can work your mother for it. Think what it would be yourself to be left
out of a thing when all the others are in!”

“Think what it would be to be Dunn,” said Pete; “that’s a much more
horrible thought.”

But Sumner was a friendly soul. “If you’re really set on it, I’ll see
what I can do,” he said. “I shouldn’t want him to commit suicide out at
Adams’s!”

Sumner’s words were exactly those which Ben Tracy had used to Dunn the
evening before, but his deeds, as will appear later, were wholly
different.

Before the football meeting, Talbot suggested that Horr deserved the
captaincy, and would perhaps make as good a captain as any one else.
Roger assented readily, and cast his vote in accordance with Pete’s
suggestion. With Harrison, Eaton, Talbot, Sumner, and other boys of the
first class out, there was left little room for choice. He had not
thought of himself as a possible candidate. When the votes were counted,
and the announcement was made that Horr had eight votes, Hardie four,
with one each for McDowell and Ben Tracy, Roger felt grateful that four
fellows had thought so well of him as to give him the compliment of
their votes, but it did not occur to him either to question the loyalty
of friends or to wonder why Horr should be preferred before him.

A day or two later Dunn came to the dinner-table beaming with joy, and
slapped Ben Tracy hard on the shoulder.

“I’ve got it!” he announced jubilantly. “It’s all right.”

“Got what?” asked Ben, staring blankly. The face which for the last
forty-eight hours had reflected nothing but spleen now shone with
satisfaction.

Dunn flourished a square white envelope. “My invitation for the Fridays.
It was just delayed.”

“Good for you!” exclaimed Cable. “I congratulate you,” purred Mrs.
Adams. Hardie smiled, but said nothing; Ben Tracy continued to stare,
puzzled to find that some good angel had relieved him of his unwelcome
task.

After dinner Dunn drew Ben into the corner of the general room, and
poured fervent expressions of gratitude into his ear. “Talbot and Hardie
thought they were going to get me stung,” he exclaimed, “but they didn’t
succeed. I had some friends myself! You’ve helped me in this thing, all
right, Benny, and I won’t forget it!”

“I haven’t done anything,” protested Ben, weakly, “at least nothing
worth while.”

“It’s worth a lot to me. I’ll get even with you for it some day,—and
I’ll get even with that sucker, Hardie, too; he’s put those fellows
against me.”

Dunn’s first step in getting even with Hardie was taken that very
evening, and the method of it showed that some of Jason’s brain cells
were more highly developed than those on which he relied in the
preparation of lessons.

Just before bedtime he knocked at Roger’s door. “Hello!” he cried,
putting his head into the room. “Will you give me a lift on this
confounded Virgil?”

“Certainly,” answered Roger. “Come in—. Doesn’t your trot tell you
about it?” he added with a sly grin. Dunn still adhered to the theory
that the literal translation affords an excellent short cut to
proficiency in an ancient language. The twenties and thirties that he
received on examinations were fully offset, Dunn maintained, by the
great success of his daily recitations. He always knew what the Latin
ought to say, anyway; he never made any crazy blunders such as Redfield
perpetrated.

“I can’t make connections with the trot in this place,” answered Dunn,
calmly, “and Ben can’t. I don’t believe you can, either, if you did get
eighty on the exam.”

Roger soon proved that he could—indeed, the problem presented no
difficulties except such as Dunn’s stupidity had raised or his cunning
invented. Having thus paved the way for his main business, Dunn leaned
against the door-post, and, holding a finger between the leaves of his
Virgil to strengthen the impression that he was stopping casually on the
way back to his interrupted work, began to talk.

“You didn’t get the captaincy, did you?”

Roger gave a good-natured little laugh. “No, I didn’t, and I didn’t
expect to.”

“You came mighty near it.”

“Four votes out of fourteen—that’s not very near.”

“I don’t mean that. You know what I mean.”

Hardie shook his head.

“The day before the election it was all settled that you were to get it.
I heard so from McDowell and Bumpus and two or three others. Then
something happened, and the vote went the other way.”

“What happened?” Roger was listening eagerly.

“Talbot went against you and bulldozed ’em into electing Horr. You know
he’s always got to have his way.”

Roger smiled bravely. “He probably thought Horr would make a better
captain.”

“I don’t know what he thought. I know what he did. He pretends to be a
friend of yours, too.”

“He _is_ a friend,” said Roger, quickly.

“The way he treated you didn’t look much like it. Good night.”

Dunn returned to his room fairly well satisfied with himself; he had
given Hardie something to think of that would take down his insufferable
conceit, a conceit which Dunn was convinced must be the worse since it
was masked by such a quiet exterior.

In fact, if thinking was all Roger was expected to do, Dunn’s mission of
malice was wholly successful. Roger did think, lying awake an hour after
he went to bed, and fighting vainly against an insistent mental activity
that would not be cajoled by firm resolutions or new arrangements of
pillow; but the direction which his thoughts took was different from
what Jason had anticipated. A week before, he would have ridiculed the
idea of his being made captain; his ambition did not fly so high. Now,
when the opportunity had come and gone, when the honor which, it seemed,
had been almost within his reach, was bestowed upon another, he
understood how much he should have prized it. Why had Talbot interfered
against him? Surely not from ill-will, for the record of the season
proved him as stanch a friend as an insignificant new boy ever acquired;
nor from personal liking for Horr—they belonged to wholly different
sets in school. It must be, then, that Pete regarded him as incompetent
for the position. Moreover, if Pete thought so, it was probably true; he
was just a meek, harmless, flabby sort of fellow who happened to be able
to play a fair game at end, but wasn’t fit for leadership! Dunn’s shot
had wounded, but not in the spot at which it was aimed. Hardie’s
self-esteem was hurt, not his trust in Pete.

The next morning he turned over the subject again as he dressed. “Pete
was right to think as he did, and yet he was wrong,” he said to himself.
“I should have made just as good a captain as Horr. The trouble with me
is that I’m always waiting for some one to recognize me and push me
forward. I haven’t confidence enough in myself; there’s where I’ve got
to change. I can do things when I have to. Why do I always act as if I
couldn’t?”

He rode into town that morning with Mike. Mike’s society was usually a
pleasure. His mind was always brimful of the present. He knew exactly
what he thought on all the matters that entered into his experience, and
exactly what he wanted to do. Mike never hesitated through bashfulness,
nor wasted opportunities because of lack of faith to accept them!

“You ought to have been football captain,” declared Mike, as they stood
on the back platform of a crowded in-bound car. “You’d make a lot better
one than Horr. Horr really doesn’t know the game. I told Pete Talbot so,
too. They needn’t think that because you’re quiet, you haven’t any push
in you. I know better!”

“Thank you for your good opinion, Mike,” returned the smiling Hardie.
“What did Pete do, fire you out?”

“No, he said he didn’t know but I was right. It ’ud have been fine to
have a captain at Adams’s. We haven’t had one since I’ve been in school.
There’s no one else there who’ll ever come near it.” He stopped, and a
sudden gleam flashed over his face. “I’ll tell you what to do,” he
exclaimed, “make the crew and be crew captain. That’ll be better yet!”

Roger laughed aloud. “Make the Harvard Varsity, why don’t you say? I may
make the pair-oar if I’m lucky.”

“You’ll never make anything if you talk like that,” answered shrewd
Mike. “You’re as bad as Jason, only the other way round. Jason thinks
he’s everything when he isn’t anything, and you tell people you aren’t
anything, and they believe you! You tell it and act it both. That’s not
the way to do.”

And Hardie, being an open-minded youth, accepted this wisdom from the
lips of a babe, and resolved immediately that he wouldn’t act the
incapable any more, even if he must needs remain such. He didn’t tell
Mike so, however; that would be throwing improper encouragement to small
boys who criticised their betters. Instead, he gave a sudden jerk to the
visor of the boy’s cap that brought it forward on his nose, and said
reprovingly: “There’s one thing certain, Mike, _you’ll_ never suffer
from over-modesty. Now don’t say anything more about the football
captain. Horr’s elected, and we’re all going to help him the best we
can.”

“Sure!” answered Mike, as he calmly restored his cap to the proper
place. “Don’t you suppose I know enough for that? I wouldn’t say what I
did to any one but you.”

Dunn went to his first Friday in high feather, picturing to himself in
advance the conquests he should make. Dancing, he felt, was his strong
point. But Trask and Wilmot, the head ushers for the day, had laid
strict commands on their subordinates, and Jason was introduced to none
but “pills.” He did not suspect this fact until the afternoon was
two-thirds gone, when after beseeching three ushers in succession to
present him to Molly Randolph, a much talked-of “queen,” and being put
off with flimsy pretexts, he at last discovered that there was a plot
against his dignity. After that he sulked in the corner to which
ungallant youths retired when the attractive partners were taken and
only pills remained disengaged. Hardie, blest beyond his deserts, made
the acquaintance of numerous favorites and danced the german with Helen
Talbot, who amused him with a vivacious narrative of certain disputes
with Joe, in which, with the help of her older brother, she came out
victorious. Miss Helen vanquished Roger also, for she got him to promise
her a football hatband, which, as she frankly confessed, “Joe would
never give me in the world.”

WESTCOTT’S was in some ways a bit old-fashioned. Holidays were
grudgingly given, visitors were not suffered to intrude on recitations,
and every school day was made a working day, with enforced privileges on
Saturdays if the week’s work was not satisfactorily done. Scholastic
flummery, the advertising quackery of shows and visitors’ days and
special programmes, found no favor with the authorities. If any
exception is to be made to this general rule, it must apply to the day
on which school closed for the Christmas holidays, when for half an hour
at the close of recitations the boys themselves took charge of the
schoolroom, and celebrated in their own way their approaching liberty
and their loyalty to the school.

Even here the programme was very simple. When the twelve o’clock gong
sounded, the whole school assembled in the big room. Old Westcottites
from college poured in, thronging the wide doorway of the library, and
circling the end of the schoolroom in a long line. A representative of
the first class came forward, and in a little speech, delivered usually
with a flushed face and in a faint, agitated voice, presented to the
school a gift which should be a permanent reminder of the affection and
esteem of the outgoing class. Mr. Westcott then made a response, which
was followed sometimes by a few words from some teacher. After this
various boys chosen from the managing class stepped forward and led
cheers for the school, for the individual teachers, and for the athletic
teams. Then old boys, if any were bold enough, or unable to resist the
pressure put upon them, took their turn, and exhorted the school or
praised it, as inspiration (or their confusion) led them. No boy who was
present on the day when three captains of Harvard teams and two
class-day marshals—all old Westcottites—followed each other to the
platform, will soon forget the impression made by those stalwart
figures, intelligent faces, and sincere if inartistic speeches. Not the
bishop nor the learned professor nor the governor himself could so stir
the hearts of the school. These college men were authorities, men who
had achieved, heroes within the range of every boy’s admiration.

This year, only one of these representatives from the upper world was
booked to address the school, but as he was no less a personage than
captain of the Varsity crew, he counted in general estimation tenfold.
Roger Hardie, being in the second class, played spectator and common
soldier in the cheering battalion. Mr. Westcott’s speech and Mr. Cary’s
left him rather cold; he had heard these gentlemen many times before in
various forms of discourse from cautious praise to unreserved
condemnation. But when Deering was demanded, and in response a tall,
broad-shouldered, deep-chested, bronzed young man emerged from the
library and pushed forward through a tumult of welcome, Roger’s heart
leaped to greet him.

For half a minute Deering stood with his hand on the desk, waiting for
the din to subside. Roger fixed his eyes upon him, and in an intense
stare drank in an impression of the man. He was quietly dressed, his
necktie subdued, his trousers—Dunn might perhaps have noticed—not
absolutely fresh from the tailor’s goose. But Deering was one for whom
clothes could do little. Such bigness, honesty, cleanness,
determination, and withal such fresh unconquerable strength of youth, no
smart costume could adorn. In some manner he suggested Talbot—Talbot as
he might be four years hence, when his body had reached its growth and
the maturing influences of college life had tamed his explosive
violence.

Deering’s speech was addressed to the first class. When the boys before
him reached college, he said, they would find certain men doing all
sorts of things that they’d better not be doing, wasting their money and
time and strength, and thinking that they were cutting a great figure.
There were plenty of such fellows hanging round the college, who were of
no use to the college or to themselves. They make a great mistake. No
one cares anything about them, and they don’t make good. The fellow who
has principles and tries to live up to them, who is willing to work hard
and keep faced in the right direction, is the man who is respected,
whether he makes a name for himself or not.

“You’ve got to mean right and work right,” he said in closing. “You
can’t mean right unless you have principles to follow, and the only way
to work right is to work hard. Here in school is the place to make a
good start. I don’t need to say anything about your studies, for your
teachers will see to that, but in your athletics, unless there’s been a
big change since my day, there’s room for improvement. You want to play
fair and play like gentlemen, but play hard. Give the best of yourselves
to your practice as well as to your matches. Don’t fool, and don’t
shirk, and don’t quit. And when you come to college, don’t let any one
persuade you that the ideals and moral standards you’ve learned here
will have to be changed.”

Had the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric from across the Charles been
present in the Westcott schoolroom that morning, he would have listened
patronizingly and given the speaker a passing grade in consideration of
his earnestness and good intentions. Had the professor spoken in
Deering’s place, the boys would have closed their ears to his careful
sentences and mentally marked him F—flat failure. They voted Deering A,
and after their reserved fashion, assented to his maxims and treasured
up his words. Even Dunn had visions of a time coming—in the dim future,
of course—when he should throw off his indolence and self-indulgence,
be a “good boy” and a grind, work like a Trojan in school and out, and
win back the ground that he had lost. When it came to baseball, he could
show them a few things!

As for Roger Hardie, Deering’s exhortation, and even more Deering’s
personality, was as a match applied to tinder. His zeal took fire
immediately. If the rowing men were like Deering, if rowing made such
men, rowing was the thing for him! If honest, serious work profited at
all in this untried sport in which experience was held to be so
important, Roger would give that work ungrudgingly as long as his
presence was tolerated on the squad. This resolve sent him to the
gymnasium to exercise every day during the Christmas recess, when, save
for himself and Mike and two smaller urchins, Adams’s was bereft of
boys. It forced him to look upon himself as, in a fashion, consecrated
to a special ambition, none the less wholesome and potent because
cherished in secret. It made it easier for him to keep faith with his
parents and his own conscience in the presence of the insidious
temptations to which he, in common with all boys of his age, was
subjected.

The tide of boys flooded back to school on the second of January, noisy
with reminiscences of good times enjoyed. Talbot came from a camp on the
shore of Cape Cod, where he had been shooting with Trask; Ben Tracy from
Montreal. Dunn had spent his freedom in New York, where he had “been to
something every night and had the highest old kind of a time.” The
anecdotes of his experiences furnished him amusement for a week; his
listeners tired of them in a much shorter time. Aside from these
anecdotes, Dunn brought back little that was new from his vacation,
certainly nothing so beneficial to himself or the school as an earnest
purpose. He continued to slide downhill with careless content, finding
specious excuses to present to teachers for classroom failures, and
flattering himself that he was playing a grand rôle in the eyes of his
mates as a jaunty, devil-may-care loafer.

The winter term in all schools is sacred to work. The boys at
Westcott’s, under pressure at home and in school, on the whole did their
full stint with faithfulness and good-will. But there was no lack of
distraction abroad or fun at school. Outside were the official
amusements at Adams’s, skating at the Country Club, occasional dancing
parties, lectures for the intellectual, theatre for the frivolous, and
jolly visiting among friends for all. At school, some petty excitement
was always to be found. A lively recitation has its interest for a
keen-witted boy, especially if it exhibits a Dunn trying to palm off an
old excuse or a Redfield to originate a new blunder. Some one was
usually in trouble, and the trouble of a school-mate, if not too
serious, is always interesting to the bystanders. And there were
occasions when the amusement was not wholly innocent.

The great fault with the Westcott lads was their thoughtlessness. They
had never known the sting of poverty, nor suffered from the want of
anything which it was at all desirable that they should have. Some of
them had feeble sense of the sacredness of property; a thing that could
be bought by a small requisition on their pocket-money possessed in
their eyes slight value. When Wilmot unscrewed an electric-light bulb in
the lower hall and flung it the whole length of the play room to smash
into a hundred pieces against the brick wall, he was simply yielding to
a reckless impulse of fun. He would have taken his punishment without
complaint if he had been caught, and he would have confessed the deed
honestly if he had been questioned; but he had no idea that he was
stealing. When Cable dropped a new stiff hat at the cloak-room door, and
half a dozen rascals immediately kicked it into tatters, they thought
they were having fun with Cable—until after an interview with Mr.
Westcott. If a book was left about the halls,—the owner had no business
to drop his books around,—some one was quite likely to use it as a
missile on his way out. Talbot and Hardie and Harrison and others of the
older boys regarded such an act as “kiddish”; Wilmot would commit it
because of uncontrolled recklessness, Dunn because he was a fool.

It was the laboratory at the top of the building that offered to
heedless spirits the greatest temptation. Here both the chemistry and
the physics classes performed their experiments and made their
recitations. Mr. Cary, the instructor, was neither incompetent nor a
weakling; but he couldn’t be in the laboratory all the time nor in all
parts of it at the same time. Interesting experiments were tried that
had no place in the text-book. For two weeks a jar hidden in the corner
served as a receptacle for odds and ends of chemicals, and was visited
surreptitiously every day by various members of the class, curious to
see what new color it had taken on. Reeves discovered that a cent could
be silvered by dipping it in nitric acid, then in mercury, and then, for
an instant, in the acid again. Thereupon a mania for silvering objects
suddenly developed which had to be repressed by official order. With a
piece of glass tubing drawn to a point and attached by a rubber hose to
a faucet, Trask found that he could throw a fine jet of water to a
considerable distance. He used to train this with great effect on
persons standing yards away, the spray being invisible but very
distinctly felt. It struck Hardie one day in the back of the neck just
above his collar, as he was standing beside Mr. Cary’s desk. He couldn’t
turn round or dodge the stream, for Mr. Cary was looking over his
note-book, and any movement would have betrayed the offenders. So he
stood helpless, furtively swabbing with his handkerchief at the back of
his head, but failing with all his efforts to dam the stream that
trickled down his back.

Impunity encourages. One day at recess, some scapegrace made an
obnoxious mixture in an open dish by means of iron sulphide and
hydrochloric acid, and fled for his life, leaving the laboratory door
open. The fumes descended the stairways and reached the noses of
innocent sufferers below. Mr. Westcott and Mr. Cary arrived at the
laboratory simultaneously, hot on the scent, and took counsel together.
Later in the day Mr. Westcott called the laboratory classes into his
room and demanded the culprit. No one volunteering, he explained the
danger and wrong of fooling in the laboratory, and declared that he
should punish severely any further misdemeanor, even if it were
necessary to inflict the penalty on the whole class.

As Mr. Westcott was not given to idle threats, there was seriousness on
the top floor—for a time.

SATURDAYS Roger usually had to himself. On these days he took advantage
of his freedom to visit the library or a museum, or strolled about the
city, entertaining himself with the shop windows and the mob of
bargain-hunters. Occasionally he hunted up some landmark of history
which appealed to his interest, turning aside on the way for a glimpse
of the waterside or the markets or the queer foreign quarter where the
native-born American feels himself a trespasser and is grateful for the
presence of a policeman a block away. As he was new to the fascinating
variety of city scenes, his attention was often caught by objects which
his town-bred companions passed without noticing, either because they
lacked curiosity, or because familiarity with city streets had made them
indifferent.

On two or three occasions, while traversing an irregular old square,
Roger had noticed a second-story sign bearing the words: “Professor
Pillar, Magicians’ Supplies and Novelties. Outfits for Professionals and
Amateurs. Come In and See Us.” One morning in February he decided to
accept this invitation. He found himself in a little dusty room packed
full of juggler’s paraphernalia. A friendly old man with very nimble
fingers greeted him warmly, and pressed upon him various tricks and
trinkets with such persuasiveness that Roger left the wizard’s cave
poorer by a dollar and a half, and richer by a variety of queer
acquisitions.

When he reached his room, he spread out his purchases on the desk before
him and assured himself with some heat that it was unquestionably true
that a fool and his money are soon parted. While he was thus making
himself uncomfortable with reproaches, Mike happened in and became
enthusiastic over the collection.

“I’ll sell them to you,” offered Roger.

Mike considered. “How much?”

“Just what I gave for them.”

“You wouldn’t do that unless you wanted to get rid of ’em,” remarked
Mike, shrewdly. “I’ll give you a dollar for the lot.”

The haggling spun itself out to a length which would prove tedious to
the reader if the conversation were reported in detail. The upshot of it
all was that Roger reserved two articles from the collection, and sold
the balance to Mike for the sum which the latter had first offered.

“Now what are you going to do with them?” asked Roger, when the dollar
had been paid and the goods delivered.

“I’ll tell you,” returned Mike, proudly, “but you must keep it to
yourself and not bring in anything more to spoil the market. I’m going
to show one of ’em downstairs when there are a lot of kids around, and
then auction the thing off. After a few days I’ll bring out another and
auction that off, and so on, till they’re all gone. If I don’t make
fifty per cent on the trade, I’ll give you back your money.”

It took Mike three weeks, we may add in dismissing the incident, to
carry out his programme, but in the end he got back his dollar, together
with a clear profit of seventy-one cents.

Among the objects which had caught Roger’s eye at the juggler’s were
so-called “shooting matches,” which came in little boxes like those
which contain safety matches. In appearance they resembled cigar
lighters, with a smooth brown coating running up two-thirds of an inch
from the tip; in action their vigor was such as to fill the heart of a
non-possessor with envy. If you held one in your hand after the first
flare of ignition, you got a very pretty series of tiny explosions that
gave you a pleasant little thrill, and to the ignorant onlooker an
amusing little shock. If the ignorant onlooker could be beguiled to
strike one himself before he saw any of its fellows at work, he
furnished you pleasanter thrills by dropping his match in a panic at the
first pop and jumping about delightfully as it finished its performance
on the floor.

In his deal with Mike, Roger reserved two boxes of these fireworks,
meaning to exhibit them at the next afternoon gathering in Trask’s roof
chamber, where special cronies occasionally assembled on Trask’s
invitation and amused themselves with jokes and gossip. Here, if the
truth is to be told, some boys smoked a little,—as a rule smoking was
considered not the thing at Westcott’s,—and it would be a great joy to
offer the innocent brown-tipped object to the desperate character who
announced that he was going to try a pipe. On this occasion Wilmot was
one of the first to arrive and the first to be tricked; afterwards he
became a leader in entrapping the others. As smokers were few,
non-smokers had to be drawn on; they were beguiled with invitations to
light papers in the fireplace. Talbot, who appeared late and found a
circle of ten eager to see him light a match, became suspicious and
declined the privilege. “Light it yourself, if you want it lighted!” he
said grimly. “What’s the good of doing it, anyway?”

“Just for the fun,” pleaded Wilmot. “You needn’t be scared; it won’t
hurt you.”

“We all did it, and you’ve got to,” announced Trask. “If you don’t,
you’ll have to smoke a big cigar.”

“It’ll take more than this bunch to make me do that,” answered Pete,
looking round in smiling defiance. “I’m no cigarette sucker!”

“He’s trying to get out of it!” declared Wilmot, triumphantly. “A
football player and captain of the crew hasn’t the sand to light a piece
of paper!”

“He’s just contrary-minded, that’s all,” Sumner threw in. “He won’t do
it because we want him to.”

“Oh, if you want me to, that’s different,” answered Pete. “Anything to
oblige such dear friends. Only I won’t take Steve’s match; he’s too
forward. Here, Roger, give me one. I’ll trust you.”

Roger drew out his second box, took a match from it, and handed both to
Talbot. Pete stooped to perform the task expected of him, read the
inscription on the box, and decided instantly on the course to be
pursued. At the first explosion he whirled about with the sputtering
thing in his hand and plunged toward Wilmot, who sprang away from him
with a yell of fright.

“Aha!” cried Talbot, dramatically, as he threw the spent match into the
fireplace, “who’s the sandless one now? He’s afraid of his own innocent
little matches!”

“They aren’t mine,” replied Wilmot, a little rattled by the fact that
the laugh had turned against him. “They belong to Hardie, and he won’t
tell where he got ’em.” This last statement was added in the hope that
it might lead the conversation away from his own discomfiture. “Did you
ever know such a hog?”

“Let him discover the place himself, as I did,” protested Roger. “He’s
lived in the city all his life.”

“Don’t tell him,” advised Talbot. “He’s better off without ’em.”

And then the whole company fell to questioning Roger, as in a game,
concerning the kind of shop at which the matches were procured. He
answered all questions truthfully, though insulting doubts as to his
honesty were cried aloud before the end of the list was reached, a list
which began with possibilities such as groceries, drug stores, cigar
stands, news stands, street fakirs, toy-shops; proceeded with dealers in
firearms, fireworks, sporting goods—and tailed out into the most
idiotic suggestions that foolish brains could originate. Wilmot capped
the climax by declaring that it was from a school-supply house that the
matches came. “They’re for use in school,” he shouted with glee; “that’s
what they’re for!”

Hardie laughed and shook his head.

Then Wilmot started on a new course, and pleaded for a few out of the
new box.

“You’ve got a whole boxful, and I’ve only one left,” he urged. “Go
halves, and I won’t call you a hog any more.”

But Hardie was still obdurate. “Children shouldn’t have matches,” he
said.

Wilmot turned away in disgust. “You’re worse than a hog, you’re a whole
drove of swine! I wouldn’t look over the edge of the sty at you!”

The next morning Roger relented. He didn’t feel at all sure that Wilmot
was to be trusted with tools of such potential power for disturbance;
but like all right-minded boys, he hated to be considered stingy. He
hunted up Wilmot as soon as he reached school the next morning and
reopened the case.

“Do you still want those things, Steve?” he asked.

“Sure I do,” answered Wilmot, promptly. “I think you might at least tell
me where you got ’em.”

“Well, you can have my box. Only you must be careful with them.”

Wilmot pocketed the box with alacrity. “I’ll be careful, all right. You
don’t suppose I’d set the building on fire, do you?”

“No, not that! You don’t have to do that to get into trouble.”

“You needn’t worry. I’m not looking for trouble.”

Wilmot never was looking for trouble; he had no need to do so, as it had
a habit of coming to him unsought. The caution, too, which he had
promised to exercise, was rather of a wily than a practical character,
as was demonstrated by his conduct when he reached the laboratory that
morning. Six or eight fellows were already there waiting for the new
experiment to be announced; Mr. Cary was still on the stairs; and
Redfield and a few others had gone down for books.

“I’ve got Hardie’s matches!” Wilmot called eagerly to the waiting
audience, “and I’m going to put ’em in the back part of my drawer. If
any fellow should happen to take one out, break off the end, and put it
into Reddy’s sand bath, why, I shouldn’t know anything about it. See?”

“None of it for me,” remarked Trask. “I’m not going to run my head into
any noose.”

“You haven’t the nerve,” said Wilmot.

“Neither have you, or you’d do it yourself!”

Mr. Cary now appeared with the laggards, and the class was soon set to
work. On one boy Wilmot’s short address made a deeper impression than
the directions of the teacher. Dunn had long been casting about for some
easy means of raising himself in the popular esteem. While he felt no
doubt that his true worth must appear as soon as the baseball season
began, he was unwilling that this recognition should be postponed to so
late a day if he could achieve it earlier. Here was an opportunity to
take a long step forward by accepting the general challenge which Wilmot
had issued, and proving himself a bold fellow when Trask had
acknowledged that he did not dare and Wilmot himself hung back.

A sand bath, as most of my readers know, is a bowl-shaped vessel filled
with sand in which fragile glass flasks are placed in order to insure an
even heat. A bunsen burner under the sand bath heats the sand, and,
through the sand, the flask and its contents. Redfield had just lighted
his burner and was busy weighing out his chemicals. Dunn passed behind
him, and directing his attention to something across the room, tucked a
match-end into the sand in Redfield’s bath and went on to his own table.
Scarcely three minutes had elapsed when the half-dozen lads who had been
watching furtively over their work heard a slight explosion, followed
immediately by an exclamation from Redfield, who went crashing back on
the row of tables behind. At the same time they beheld a small geyser of
popping sand spurt into the air and descend in a shower about the
burner.

Mr. Cary rushed to the spot, likewise all the boys, both those who were
in the secret and those who were not. “Go back to your work!” ordered
the teacher, and the boys slunk away, though not beyond earshot. “What’s
this, Redfield?” he asked sharply.

The victim of the explosion, having recovered from his fright, stood
giggling with nervousness. “My sand blew up, sir,” he said.

“Do you know what made it do so?” demanded Mr. Cary, sternly.

“No, sir. I was standing right here waiting for the thing to heat. It
went off all of a sudden, right up in the air, and kept snappin’ all the
way up.”

“And you know absolutely nothing more about it?”

“Not a thing!” answered Redfield, with evident honesty. “I wouldn’t blow
myself up if I could help it.”

There seemed no reason to doubt the truth of Redfield’s statements; he
was not only incapable of skilful dissembling, but also, as was
generally known, a favorite target for heartless schoolboy pleasantry.
Mr. Cary, therefore, asked no further questions, but turned off the gas
from the burner, and dumping out the smoking sand poked it over in
search of clews to the explosion—to the great delight of the half-dozen
unworthies who were in the secret. Finding nothing, he bade Redfield
start again with fresh sand, and returned to his desk.

A half-hour later Fluffy Dobbs’s mess blew up in the same way. This time
the instructor, being hardly a dozen feet away, caught the full effect.
He came directly to the smoking bath, but though his face blazed with
indignation, he was too wise to embark on an interrogation which was
unlikely to yield positive results.

“Don’t you think something is the matter with the sand, sir?” asked
Wilmot, innocently. “Perhaps there’s nitre in it.”

“It isn’t likely.”

“Can this have anything to do with it?” suggested Wilmot, offering a
charred bit of wood which he had picked up from the floor. The
instructor took it, smelled of it, and shook his head. “I don’t know,”
he said. “If these explosions are due to the sand, it is a remarkable
occurrence. If they were deliberately caused, it is a very dangerous and
culpable form of joke. We shall take only one experiment to-day. As soon
as you have finished with that, you may go.”

Mr. Cary stood close to Wilmot’s desk during the rest of the exercise,
either because it was in a central position or because he saw in the
disturbance the fine Italian hand of that young gentleman. One awkward
result for Wilmot was that, not daring to take the match-box from his
drawer in the presence of the teacher, he was obliged to leave it behind
when he went. Dunn, too, made a misplay. He had used two of the three
matches taken from Wilmot’s box on Redfield and Dobbs; not knowing what
to do with the third, he broke off the end and poked it into the bag of
fresh sand which stood at the end of his table.

The first thing Mr. Cary did after the boys had left the laboratory was
to examine the sand in the bag. At the very top, like Benjamin’s cup
hidden in the mouth of the sack, he found the match-end which Dunn had
placed there. He compared this with the charred piece picked up by
Wilmot. Over these he mused a few minutes; then, with the instinct which
sends the police, after an important break, to the haunts of certain
well-known criminals, he went straight to Wilmot’s drawer. There, under
the soiled laboratory coat, he discovered the fatal box. He broke off a
match-head, put it into a sand bath, and in five minutes had an
explosion of his own. After that he gathered up his exhibits and hied
him to Mr. Westcott’s office.

The laboratory excitement furnished a topic of deep interest to certain
groups during the lunch hour. Dunn, who was sure that he had made a hit,
talked largely of his achievement. Wilmot, though pleased with the
unexpectedly full success of his idea, was a little worried that he had
been forced to leave his treasure in the laboratory. It wouldn’t do to
use the thing too often, and Dunn was capable of firing off all the
precious matches in a day. By the end of recess, largely through Dunn’s
enthusiastic narratives, the incident had been aired among the older
boys. Towards two o’clock word came to Wilmot that he was wanted in the
head-master’s office.

What happened in the half-hour during which Wilmot was closeted with Mr.
Westcott was never fully known to the boys. Steve spoke of it very
unwillingly, and his memory of such scenes was never good. The instant
he saw the fatal box of shooting matches on the table before him, he
knew that it was all up with him, and his only course was to obtain the
best terms of surrender possible. The terms were hard. He was suspended
from school for a week. His parents were to be notified; he was to make
up all lost lessons at home with a tutor; the school was to be informed
of the misdeed and the penalty; he was not to return to the chemistry
class unless Mr. Cary expressed a desire to give him another trial.
Against the suspension Steve pleaded piteously; he would copy thousands
of lines, stay after school hours every day, apologize to anybody and
everybody,—if only the message didn’t go home. But Mr. Westcott was
inexorable; the letter was posted that very afternoon.

The next day was a bitter one for Steve Wilmot. Immediately after
breakfast his mother retired to the privacy of her chamber to weep; his
father paced the library for some time before he could calm himself
sufficiently to give the boy a hearing. It was not the first occasion on
which Steve had brought unhappiness upon his family. From the day when
he began to walk he had been blundering into scrapes. He had been dealt
with by all recognized methods of discipline. Severe punishment,
denunciation, threats, gentle remonstrance, pleading, exhortation, loss
of allowance—none had prevailed to change his nature. A psychological
expert had once declared that since Steve’s escapades were mere boyish
tricks without malice, they would be outgrown in time. The hope born of
this assurance had carried the parents over such shocks as the visit of
policemen to warn against trespassing in the public garden, or an
indignant letter from a good lady whose cat Steve had snowballed as the
dear animal was taking an innocent walk on the alley fence. Now it
appeared that their hope had been a delusion, for suspension from school
was a humiliation which the family had hitherto been spared. Mr. Wilmot
talked gravely about putting the young man to work, but he didn’t mean
it. In the end, he accepted Steve’s promise that he would walk
circumspectly hereafter all the days of his life. Mrs. Wilmot also found
comfort in the reflection that Steve was at bottom neither dishonest nor
vicious, and that the salutary effect of the lesson might be expected to
outlast the four remaining months of his school career. After all, he
might have done worse things than carry shooting matches into a school
laboratory. So she dried her tears and hoped again.

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