The Ancient Grudge/Chapter 2
STEWART CONFERS A FAVOR
For three days Stewart lay threatened with pneumonia; then slowly he began to regain his strength. Within a week he was sitting on the piazza of his house, looking out across the tennis-court and over the rocky knoll, beyond which he could see the ocean. Sometimes when he had been dozing, he awoke with a strangling cry, with both arms raised to ward off the blind, dripping monster that knelt on his chest and crazily choked him. But wide awake, he did not dwell on the sensation of drowning; he hardly recalled it; he lay in a contented, ethereal, purifying languor.
Floyd Halket came once and sat with him, rather shy and conscious at first, for he had been dodging tributes for four days; but he responded soon to Stewart's eager and quite objective interest in the details of the rescue. "Just five minutes before it happened, I was telling Lydia Dunbar you had no business here, taking our prizes," Stewart said. "What a lucky thing for me that you were here!"
"That was a good doctor," said Floyd. "He stuck to his job."
"Like you," Stewart laughed.
The boys were both to enter Harvard that fall; in the enthusiasm roused by this mutual discovery, they exchanged certain confidences and expectations. Floyd had studied at home with a tutor and was afraid his freshman year would be lonely unless he could do something in athletics. "Oh, I'll see that you are n't lonely," Stewart assured him. "I know lots of fellows."
Followed by her little girl of six or seven, Mrs. Lee came out on the piazza. She had the same light, waving air as Stewart, the same slender grace; her kind gray eyes and sensitive lips made her seem as charming to the boy as when, a week before, she had come to him and thanked him in gentle, broken words. She now held out both hands, and said, "You see he is quite well, Floyd;" and Floyd shyly gave her his right hand and was pleased because she had called him by his Christian name. The little girl, hiding behind her mother's skirt, peered out at Floyd with a grave and silent curiosity.
"Come here, Goldilocks," he besought her; and then, as she only shrank from sight, he tried coaxing. "I want to show you something."
Mrs. Lee stooped and brought the child round to him.
"When your hair is all gold, I don't see why you want to mix silver with it," Floyd said gravely; and he reached out his hand, stroked the child's head, and then displayed to her astonished eyes a silver quarter.
"Oh, you had it in your hand all the time!" she cried accusingly, while her mother and brother laughed.
Floyd was hurt by the suspicion. He passed his right hand over the left and showed her his empty palm. "Why, I do believe I see more money!" he exclaimed. She turned up her eyes, trying to follow the movement of his hand; she felt it snuggle, for a moment under her little pigtail, and then—he was holding another silver quarter before her face!
She laughed a little, but she was awed.
"Are there any more on me?" she asked, turning slowly round.
"No—wait a moment—no," Floyd said. "I thought I saw a ten-cent piece, but it was n't, after all." He held out his hand to Stewart. "Good-by," he said. "I'm awfully glad that you're all right again. Good-by, Mrs. Lee; good-by, Goldie."
But the little girl, who had been twisting her hands and swaying in agitation, piped,—
"Are n't those my quarters?"
Floyd stared for a moment; then they all broke into a laugh. Mrs. Lee bent down to explain, but Floyd, fishing in his pocket, cried,—
"Why, of course; as long as I took them out of your hair, they certainly do belong to you, Goldie." And then he turned with a comical face to Stewart, who lay giggling. "I've got only one; did n't I give one of them to you?"
The little girl watched her brother with hopefulness while he felt in his pockets. "Yes, this must be it," said Stewart, bringing out a quarter and handing it to Floyd.
"There," said Floyd, as he transferred the two pieces to the child, "I did n't mean to forget. And you'd better be careful not to let them get into your hair again, or somebody will steal them." He patted the bright head, and then he turned and went down the steps.
Mrs. Lee seated herself beside Stewart.
"What a nice boy he is!" she said.
"Yes, and I did n't suppose he was so amusing."
"I was thinking," Mrs. Lee suggested after a pause, "that you and he might room together at college, Stewart. It would be a fine thing if, after the way your acquaintance has begun, it could grow into something close and permanent."
"Why," said Stewart, "I'll think about it. I don't know that I have any objections, if he has n't."
"We must do everything we can for him," Mrs. Lee said fervently. She leaned over and kissed her son, and then exclaimed, laughing, yet with an earnestness which he fully appreciated and accepted, "I'm sure that to room with my Stewart would be a privilege for any boy."
The fir«t morning that Stewart walked down to the bathing beach a warm sea breeze was blowing, the sun, pouring through the birches and maples that arched over the woodland path, distilled the hot dampness from the soil, the little insects of the wood hummed in busy clouds, now over a greenish-golden pool, now about a rotting stump. There were no notes of birds, only the murmuring quiver of the leaves, yet to Stewart the freshness and gladness in the air was that of spring. Before he emerged from the woods he heard the cries of those on the beach; it was a warm August mornings such as sends bathers shouting into the water, sure of its welcome.
When Stewart came out on the sand, walking slowly, a cry went up, and boys and girls ran to meet him. They were delighted to see him out once more. How good and lovable people are, he thought; he was glad to be among them and alive; and he felt that until now he had never understood the sympathy and kindness in every human heart; he recalled and regretted uncharitable opinions that he had expressed about some of those who were now walking by his side.
They sat down with him on the smooth sand in front of the bath-houses; one of the girls changed her position in order that she might not keep the sunlight from him,—her hat had cast a shadow on his legs,—and another girl offered him candy. Three boys who had been swimming came ashore, ran up, and pranced around the group, waving their hands at him. "We can't shake hands, we'd get you all wet," one of them shouted; and another said, "The water's great to-day; wish you could come in, Stewart." With a juvenile impulse to amuse him, they played leap-frog, and then raced into the water, yelling and diving with the greatest possible splash.
Stewart laughed aloud. "Oh, I must n't keep you here," he said, looking round. "You ought to be doing that."
"Oh, we're in no hurry," said Lydia, who was sitting beside him.
She was the prettiest girl, and to Stewart's eyes the most attractive, even in the fact that little things about her were always awry. He noticed with a sort of affection that her broad white hat was crazily tilted, that a strand of brown hair hung down over one ear, that the blue bow which should have been at her throat was twisted round to one side of her neck, and, with most amusement of all, that she had repaired one of her shoe-strings, tying the broken ends together in a clumsy knot. When he looked away, her figure tripped through his vision with an airy, dancing grace to which even carelessness contributed,—a flying wisp of hair, a ribbon half untied.
The door of one of the bath-houses was flung open, and Floyd Halket, in his bathing-suit, came running out. Stewart's satellites called to him and he joined them. With naked arms and legs tanned to the hue of polished oak, he seemed a being suddenly strong and elemental by contrast with so many carefully dressed figures. And for his own part he stood before the two persons, boy and girl, who to his hotly grasping and tenacious nature were endowed with charm beyond all others that he had ever known.
"Will you give me fifteen yards start and race me to the raft, Mr. Halket?" asked Lydia.
"Yes—just as you are," Floyd answered, with a laugh.
"Oh, you'd like a subject for another rescue," she exclaimed. "But wait till I get ready and I believe I can beat you. Come along; are n't you all going in?"
So she drew the others away, leaving Floyd and Stewart alone.
Stewart thought of his mother's suggestion; in the expansive, sympathetic mood induced by the kindly companionship of his friends it appealed more than ever to his sentiment; it would be appropriate and beautiful to found a great, lasting friendship on Floyd's heroism.
"What do you say, Floyd," he asked, "to our rooming together at Harvard?"
"Oh!" said Floyd, in a tone that seemed to Stewart delightfully startled. His face had lighted in an instant smile. "I'd like it better than anything else."
"I guess we can hit it off," Stewart answered. "Let's try."
He could not have helped showing a certain gracious condescension had he been making the proposal to a prince. This graciousness and poise of manner Floyd, even in the short time he had known Stewart, had come extravagantly to admire; it was part of the boy's personal charm, which had enslaved Floyd from the first. For Floyd had a humble reverence—and a morbid dread of showing it—for beauty and grace and wit, qualities which he believed Stewart possessed more than any other masculine creature. Floyd liked to watch him, observing with an equal fascination the shape of his head, the wave of his striking yellow hair, his decisive, perhaps a little arrogant nose and chin, his slim hands, and long, narrow fingers.
Turning over, Floyd lay with his elbows in the sand and his hands supporting his chin. He lifted his bare feet and dropped them gently at measured intervals, each time digging his toes into the warm sand; it was a pleasant little sensation to accompany his happiness. His biceps, big and loose as he lay resting thus, quivered at each trifling jolt when his feet struck the sand. He gazed off with a dreamy unconsciousness of his own strength, of his smoothly undulating muscles, which to Stewart in his convalescent state seemed a theme for agreeable contemplation.
"What are you thinking of?" Stewart asked.
Floyd turned his dark eyes and smiled.
"Oh, nothing. Just feeling—feeling good. I want to celebrate; I'm just busting!" Rolling over on his back, he snapped himself to his feet and then stood looking toward the water; half a dozen heads were bobbing near the raft. "Folsom thinks he can swim; watch me duck him."
He raced into the water, shouting and splashing, dove under and reappeared, and plunged out toward Jack Folsom, shouting threats as he came. Jack retorted and scuttled for the raft; on shore Stewart watched the chase, delighted as Jack's efforts to increase his speed grew more and more frantic. Suddenly Floyd disappeared beneath the surface; there was a furious splashing then of Jack's feet; an instant later he was drawn under quietly. Then the two heads emerged again; the boys dragged themselves up on the raft and sat amicably side by side, wringing the water out of their hair.
Stewart thought Floyd a queer fellow, to lie for a while in such comatose contentment and then to jump suddenly out of his skin and run like a wild Indian for joy. He liked him for it, at the same time feeling a slight mental superiority. Why should the mere prospect of rooming with a certain fellow arouse such intense exultation? Stewart watched Floyd and the others diving and disporting themselves, and in the warm noonlight his tolerance became more comprehensive. After all, occasional demonstrativeness in persons who were ordinarily self-contained was a rather attractive trait.
On further acquaintance Stewart confessed a slight disappointment in his new friend. Floyd was amiable and could be amusing when one was alone with him, but in a crowd, and especially among girls, he was silent and showed none of the promising gay spirit with which he had first surprised and gratified Stewart. When Mrs. Lee had dinner parties for Stewart's friends, Floyd showed an odd clumsiness; ideas, words, sentences failed him or became so involved that even while he was making the mental struggle for utterance, the moment for them passed. Once Stewart induced him to show his sleight of hand; with this he won a good deal of admiration and applause, but he would never again display his skill. Stewart urged him, "Some of them have never seen it; anyway, none of them are tired of it." There was a wistful, humorous appeal in Floyd's answer, "But don't you see, Stewart, when a fellow has only one parlor trick, he's got to look out that he does n't get tired of it?"
Little by little Stewart was able to depose Floyd from the mental eminence on which he had at first joyously placed him; he was never willing to let any one occupy such a position long. He became able to view him with the complacency which a clever person extends to a friend who is pleasant but indisputably dull.
The opening of the college term approached. Stewart and Floyd went one day to Cambridge to engage rooms. Floyd was of little importance in the search; he was easily satisfied. If Stewart pointed out to him that here there would be no morning sun, or that the wall-paper was cold and cheerless, or that the bedrooms were too small, or that steam heat was an abomination and they must have an open fire, Floyd assented, but he did not care. With his simple tastes, he was indifferent to luxuries; with plenty of money at his command, he could spend as much or as little as the persons about him and be happy if only he liked them. So the choice of the room and afterwards the furnishing of it were dictated by Stewart. It was in a private house; this was before the era of the great new dormitories, with their marble corridors, oak wainscoting and ceilings, porcelain bath-tubs, swimming-tanks, and tennis-courts; when these institutions came to pass, Stewart sighed and felt that he had been born too soon. But considering the time in which he lived, the room of his choice was highly desirable. There was a bay window, with a maple-tree just outside; there were two bedrooms (Floyd insisted that Stewart should take the one with the sun), and there was a bath-room up only one flight.
The doors and mantel were painted an execrable light brown,—so Stewart said,—and their color was transformed to a dark green. "I should scream if I had to live with that wall-paper," said Stewart; and he spent a day, leading Floyd from one shop to another, Floyd approving vaguely—until Stewart condemned—every sample that was held up for inspection. Finally Stewart chose a paper with a background of dark red and an involved pattern of large fruits in gold and green; it was absurdly expensive, but, as Stewart pointed out, rich and distinguished. Floyd tentatively ventured to contribute but one picture, a double-page drawing from "Harper's Weekly" of an Indian fight; the thing had taken his eye, and he had cut it out and had it put in a frame that he realized tardily was of the same execrable color as the late mantel and doors. But he liked the picture so much that he showed it to Stewart, who tactfully said he thought it would hardly "go" with the paper. So Floyd hung it on the wall of his bedroom, and then under Stewart's guidance bought some carbon prints of Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; also a set of Holbein's drawings. Floyd was amazed at his room-mate's taste in carpets and curtains. Hitherto it had never occurred to him as possible that a boy of his own age could have a knowledge of such things.
As for college life—at the phrase Stewart conjured up a world of polite adventure, in which there would be whimsical plots, gay exploits, a merry warfare waged without malice against all representatives of law and discipline, a life by night at hotels and theatres in Boston and at clubs in Cambridge, and for himself eventually the leadership of all the joyous, reveling company that give to college life its irresponsible, humorous, lovable name. For Floyd, the phrase held a different meaning, other possibilities. It included the most ultimate athletic prowess; high above all men loomed for him the glorious figure of the captain of the team. It meant, too, that at last he could give up Latin and Greek and spend his working time in laboratories, with blow-pipes and test-tubes and inexhaustible experiments at his command. Beyond these two facts the world was a mystery that would be unfolding for four delightful years. All Floyd was sure of was that Harvard was the best college, his class the best class, his room-mate the one boy in all the world that he would have chosen; and some day he would do something—he hoped in athletics—to make his college and his class and his room-mate glad he belonged to them.
The night that the freshmen gave their first demonstration of class spirit, assembling in the Yard, cheering themselves, and charging the sophomores who gathered in opposition, Floyd felt that he was tasting college life. He thrust himself into the front rank for every scrinmage, and in the groaning, rib-displacing press he exulted that he was one of those who bore the brunt for the class. When the tight jam swung slowly upon an axis until it burst apart into two reeling, fighting bodies, Floyd helped to rally the host and incite it to a fresh onset. The freshmen were driven against the walls of brick buildings, tripped over low wire fences that lurked for their unfamiliar feet; but they rose to rush more lustily, shouting with delirious affection the numerals of their class. In the brief intervals of rest, Floyd looked for Stewart, but there was no finding any one in such a crowd.
Late in the evening the sophomores began to disperse. Then the freshmen, gathering close for the last time, crowed over their victory. Their cheer brought derisive outcries from the groups of upper classmen skulking away through the Yard, outcries that merited chastisement. By instinct the freshman body resolved itself into a number of small vigilance committees. In a short time the Yard, instead of being one great battle-ground, was the scene of multitudinous small affrays. Occasionally a window was flung open and a pitcher of water emptied on a scuffling group below. Jeering cries, shrill whistles, and a song as half a dozen fellows in lock-step went scouring by, were the noises of the night. Floyd and a few others roamed about, coming to close quarters with whoever offered. When at last all visible opposition was subdued, they bade one another good-night and separated.
It was nearly twelve o'clock. Floyd walked down the street to his room. His necktie had been torn off, and his bruised feet and ankles caused him to limp gingerly. He raised an examining hand to his nose; from there it strayed to the bruise swelling under his right eye. He was very happy; he had had a good time, and he felt that he had done something now for his class—in a way, even for Harvard University. He was eager to see Stewart and talk the exciting evening over with him.
As he ascended the stairs, he wondered at the noise; then, when he opened the door, he stood bewildered. Stewart was in the middle of the room, ladling punch from a wash-bowl that was placed on his new mahogany desk; eight or ten fellows were grouped round him, pledging him with their glasses.
"Hello!" he cried. "Hello, Floyd!" He waved him forward from the doorway, and with an unsteady hand held out to him the glass he had filled. "Just in time. Cæsar's ghost! you're a mess!"
Floyd took the glass, embarrassed at becoming on the instant an object for many bright, young, intoxicated eyes.
"He's the fellow 1 was telling you about," Stewart continued. "I say we all drink to him—bumpers. Bumpers to a hero—and the fellow that saved my life! A-ay!"
"A-ay!" shouted his friends obediently. And they drank.
Stewart came up and threw his arm across Floyd's shoulders. The dripping ladle waved in his hand.
"Foolish old thing!" he said. "Fighting when you might have been drinking! Foolish old thing!"
"Why, but were n't you all out rushing with the class?" asked Floyd.
"No—been having a nice quiet noisy evening right at home. You," Stewart giggled,—"you've been out making enemies, and I've been home making friends. 'For he's a jolly good fellow'—"
The others took the song up and carried it on while Stewart gazed at them solemnly. Then he turned again to Floyd and confided in his ear, "They sing rotten. Cæsar's ghost! they're rotten!"
"Where did you get the punch?" asked Floyd, still bewildered.
"Jim Hobart had the fizz. But he rooms over a proctor, so we had to have it here—we had to have it here," Stewart repeated with sober emphasis. "And when we looked for you, you'd gone off no one knew where.—Oh, they're rotten!" He turned to the others. "'For he's a jolly good fellow!'"—and he sang, leading them extravagantly, solemnly, with the ladle.
While Floyd was looking on with a broadening smile, one of the guests detached himself from the group of singers and came up to him. He was a tall, narrow-faced boy, with black eyebrows that met thickly across his nose, sallow cheeks, and the concentrated, single-minded expression common to extremely narrow faces. "You're Floyd Halket," he said. "I'm Hobart—Jim Hobart." And promptly he grasped the lapels of Floyd's coat, and penning him into a corner, talked to him, with a mild, wavering gaze directed at the spot where his necktie should have been. Was it true that Stewart Lee had been under water half an hour? And dead when he came out? And how had Floyd saved him, anyway? "Don't mind their singing," Jim said imperiously, when Floyd tried to evade the close, redundant questioning. "You caught him under the arms? Go on, go on, go on, g'on, g'on, g'on, g'on—"
Floyd stemmed the torrent with a precipitant explanation; the others raised their glasses aloft, straining for a high note. "For he's a jolly good fel-lo-o-o-o-ow"—they came down panting—"which nobody can deny."
Stewart called for a repetition.
"I did n't believe you were a real hero when Stewart Lee told us," said Jim Hobart, still browsing at Floyd's lapels. "You don't look it. Hero, hero, hero, hero—"
"Oh, shut up!" said Floyd, choking him by the back of the neck playfully.
Stewart cut the song off with an ornate sweep of the ladle.
"Hero, hero," muttered Jim Hobart, squirming in Floyd's grip.
"He is a hero!" Stewart proclaimed contentiously. "I was under water thirty-five minutes. Some say an hour. I was dead."
"How did it feel to be dead?" asked one boy. He swayed a little as he asked the question, but he was serious and pop-eyed.
"Why, just dead, that's all. The way you'll be feeling to-night."
"I'm not tight; I've never been tight in my life. I—"
The indignant protest was suddenly reduced to a gurgle. Stewart had spied the boy's collar-button, and with a whimsical impulse had darted at it and was pressing it into his windpipe.
"Press his button!" shrieked Stewart in delight, releasing him. "Get him talking! Press his button!"
The youth talked in resentment; Stewart sprang again, sure-fingered, and held him writhing and gasping. The others admired the trick; one after another tested it on the impotently raging victim.
Suddenly Stewart turned to Floyd. "Here, you dirty old thing, why don't you get tight? Here's another glass for you. You've got to get tight—can't always be a hero."
"Oh, sure," said Floyd good-humoredly, taking the glass. But he drank only a little of the punch, and after that made a pretense of drinking.
They sang two more songs; then Jim Hobart came up, and after inspecting Floyd again for a while, suggested that they should all dress like heroes. This proposal met with an instant response; neckties were carefully taken off and pocketed, and the left side of each collar unbuttoned, to correspond to Floyd's, which had been torn loose and was sticking up about his ear. Then they went round, scuffing and stepping on one another's shoes, to give them the battered appearance possessed by Floyd's. Highly amused by all this, Floyd suggested that they still lacked something to complete the likeness,—a swollen eye. This was admitted, and there was some discussion as to how a swollen eye could be best obtained, but no one wished to make the first experiment. The boy whose button had been pressed achieved a discovery. "Why, it's getting the swollen eye that would make us heroes!" And then Jim Hobart struck out a solution of the difficulty, declaring haughtily, "After all, we are gentlemen, not heroes." For some time after that they took turns in stalking up to Floyd, snapping their fingers at him, and saying in a lordly voice, "After all, we are gentlemen, not heroes."
At two o'clock Floyd felt that so far as he was concerned, this diverting evening must close. He announced,
"I must turn in. Football practice begins to-morrow. Good-night, fellows." He stepped into his bedroom and closed the door.
As he undressed, he heard a murmur of discussion that his withdrawal had provoked. Suddenly Stewart's voice, high-pitched and silencing, rang out.
"No, you don't either! I would n't care if it was anybody but a hero. But I owe him my life—and you'll let him alone."
Floyd smiled, touched by the maudlin loyalty that was protecting him from annoyance. He crawled into bed; the scuffling, singing, and laughter went on in the next room, but Floyd in his healthy weariness soon fell asleep.
The next morning when he went to rouse Stewart, he found an empty room and an untouched bed. He dressed himself, surveying the disorder of the night before; his own desk was encumbered with all the books and papers that Stewart had removed from his to make room for the punch-bowl; the rug was pulled up into a heap in the centre of the room, the red cushion with the large white "H" on it was propped above a picture near the ceiling, an elaborate jest; sticky glasses stood or lay upset on a sticky mantel.
Floyd went to breakfast and then to lectures; at noon, when he returned to his room, there was Stewart, as fresh and blooming as in the midst of revelry.
"It was a wild wet night on the Swedish coast," Stewart informed him. "We organized the Aurora Club; there was some talk of making you join it. We strayed from one room to another, and then at dawn we saw the milk wagons. I got a perfectly crazy idea; we took a bottle of whiskey from Jim Hobart's room and followed a wagon for—oh, I don't know, miles—and wherever it stopped we stopped, too, and turned the can of milk into a milk punch. Everybody in Cambridge had milk punch for breakfast this morning."
Floyd laughed. "Pretty hard on the babies."
"Well, yes," Stewart admitted. "But you don't think much about them when you're perfectly pie-eyed."
"What happened then?" asked Floyd.
"We were chased by a policeman, but I guess he was n't very sincere about catching us. Anyway we'd emptied the bottle by that time. I went back to Jim Hobart's room and had a few hours of innocent slumber on his window-seat. Look here, Floyd; did I say anything nasty and cheap to you last night?"
"I was afraid I might have. And I'd rather be anything than cheap when I'm tight. A fellow who gets cheap ought never to get tight.—You took hardly anything; why not?"
"I don't like it," said Floyd.
"You're so confounded hygienic," Stewart complained. "What's the use? We've got only one life to live. Jim Hobart's a gay bird."
He collected his note-books, knocking to the floor a tablet that he did not stoop to pick up, and left the room singing cheerfully.
Floyd tried to overthrow his own instinctive conviction that in Jim Hobart Stewart had recognized his kindred spirit and companion. Failing in this, he tried to suppress or at least dismiss from mind a smarting little jealousy of Jim. As the days passed, that became the task to which he schooled himself; he could not escape from a hurt, surprised feeling that an important element in college life which he had taken for granted was denied him. The paths of the two room-mates had already diverged; they drew no nearer together as the year passed.