The High Calling/Chapter 2
WHEN the gun marked the second mile of the race there was not a quarter of a boat's length distance between Burrton and Brainerd, but Burrton was leading. By a system of flag signals, the spectators on the grandstand at the end of the course were informed of the relative situation of the two crews at every quarter mile. Both crews were apparently in good condition and rowing in splendid form. The last mile was always the hardest fought. As the boats began to enter the last quarter of this mile, the excitement rose to the highest pitch. First Burrton made a spurt that put them a boat's length ahead of their rivals. Then Brainerd responded to its coxswain's call and closed up the gap, gradually lapping its bow past the stern of the Burrton shell. Then Burrton drew away again for half a boat's length. Brainerd doggedly clung to that position for a short distance and then began slowly to fall behind, as the boats shot into the last eighth of the mile. Only a hundred yards now, and the race was won for Burrton. Pandemonium reigned on the seats at the goal post end of the course. Shouts of "Carlisle! Carlisle!" rose up through the din of megaphones and screech of whistles from the launches. Paul looked at Walter. The boy had risen, flung his hat up anywhere and was waving his arms like a maniac, screaming out the name of Carlisle, the crack stroke of Burrton. And then, without a second's warning, the big stroke, the hero of the Burrton crew, whose name was on a thousand tongues, suddenly bent forward and collapsed over his oar. The oar itself crashed into the line and the Burrton boat lurched over on the opposite side.
"Row on, row on!" screamed the Burrton coxswain. "Only ten yards to the green and red post."
But Brainerd shot by grimly, her bow slipped past the crippled shell and across the line, a winner by more than a length, and the race was over.
For the first few seconds the Burrton crowd did not realise what had happened. The Burrton's shell swung up sideways to the referee's boat and the crew sat sullenly stooping over their oars. Carlisle lay in a huddled heap, a sorry spectacle for a school hero, while the coxswain scooped up handfuls of water and flung them over him.
Then a hubbub of questions rent the air.
"How did it happen?"
"Are we really beaten?"
"Did Brainerd foul?"
"Was Carlisle doped?"
"What was it? Half a length?"
"Ours by a fluke."
"Who was to blame?"
Added to all the rest, Paul was smitten with the torrent of profanity that burst from scores of Burrton men as the truth that they were beaten began to come forcibly home to them. Paul had lived long enough to know that the passion of gambling always rouses the worst exhibitions of human selfishness. But it was a new revelation to him to see these smartly dressed rich men's sons cursing God and profaning the name of Christ because they had bet heavily on their boat crew and lost. In the midst of all their oaths the name of Carlisle came in for heavy scoring. From the heights of the most extravagant hero-worship he had suddenly tumbled into this cesspool of profane unpopularity. All of which goes to prove any number of useful things, among them the necessity, if you are going to be stroke oar of a boat crew, it is best if you would retain your popularity to keep in training until the season is over, and even then it is not certain that you will always escape the other extreme of being overtrained.
But Paul's attention was speedily directed to Walter. The boy looked perfectly dazed as the final result of the race broke upon him. After two or three eager questions put wildly to those nearest him, he had sunk upon the seat, and when his father spoke to him he did not at first seem to hear. Then he roused up and slowly went down off the stand and walked along by his father like one going to execution.
It was a characteristic of Paul Douglas to go straight at a difficulty or a question and make a frank and honest attempt to clear away all mystery and trouble.
He saw plainly that some unusual thing was agitating Walter. The boy was under some great stress of feeling and could not conceal it.
So when the two were back in Walter's room, Paul at once began to seek the cause of the boy's trouble.
"What is the matter with you, Walter? You have not been yourself all day."
Walter was very white, and what he said to his father's question was so inaudible that Paul could not understand it.
"What is the matter with you, Walter? Are you sick? Tell me," said his father sharply.
"I can't, father, I can't," Walter stammered and looked so wretched that his father said more gently:
"Don't be afraid of me. Speak out if you are in any trouble. I want to help you. Don't you know that, Walter?"
"Has it any thing to do with money matters? Tell me."
"Yes, I can't! Can't do it, father. I don't mean----"
And then Walter broke down completely. He laid his head down on his arms and cried hysterically. Paul sat looking at him sternly. For the first time that day an inkling of the truth began to dawn on him. At first it did not seem possible to him that his boy could do such a thing. It was so incredible to him at first that he sat silently eyeing the bowed head with an entirely new and bitter feeling.
When he finally spoke it was with a slow and steady measure of speech revealing great self-restraint.
"Did you bet on the race? Is that what's the matter?"
Walter lifted up his head and looked with a terrified face at his father.
"O father, don't be hard on me! I felt so sure we would win! I didn't see any risk! And all the fellows in Burrton bet on the race. A fellow isn't considered loyal to the school unless he bets something."
"How much did you lose?"
"I put up that last one hundred you sent me and fifty more."
"When do you have to pay?"
"I suppose at once. That's the rule."
"What other debts have you?"
Walter hesitated; then he said feebly, "I owe five week's board and some items at the men's furnishing."
"How much will it all come to?"
"I don't know."
"About how much?"
"About seventy-five dollars."
"When do you have to pay that?"
"There's no hurry. It can wait."
"Do you mean to say that a bet, a gambling debt, an obligation made on a dishonourable basis, takes precedence in time over honest claims for food and clothing?"
"It's the rule here in Burrton," said Walter sullenly. "If a bet is not settled at once the fellows lose their standing. The same is true at all the eastern schools. You have got to meet debts of honour promptly."
"Debts of dishonour, you mean."
"That isn't the standard here, father. The standard at Burrton is different from the one at home."
"I see it is," replied Paul, drily. "But the one at home is------" he paused, rose from his seat and went over by the window and stood there looking out over the school campus.
Paul Douglas had had in his fifty years of life many interesting and profoundly moving experiences, but it is doubtful if in all his life he had faced anything which stirred him so deeply as this. His high standard of conduct made him loathe the entire gambling transaction. It was agony to him to find that his own son was swept off his feet by a custom which had nothing except common custom to excuse it. Above all, Paul felt the bitterness that comes to a father when he realises that the careful teaching of years has been deliberately disobeyed or ignored. There was a mingling of bitterness and shame and anger and sorrow and heartache in Paul that Walter could not possibly understand as he sat there looking dully at his father's broad back and wondering what his father would do.
After what seemed like an hour, Paul turned around.
"Give me an itemised account of your obligations outside of your gambling expenses."
"I don't call it gambling to bet on the races," said Walter half defiantly.
"It make no difference what you call it," said Paul sternly. "What is all betting but trying to get something for nothing, and what is that but gambling? Every boy in Burrton who bet on the race is a gambler?"
"The authorities never say anything against it," said Walter sullenly. "The president knows that thousands of dollars are put up at every race and he never has said a word about it."
"We will not argue about it," said Paul coldly. "Give your accounts, your honest accounts, with the tradesmen here and then pack up your things."
"O father, you don't mean------"
"Pack up your things. We leave for Milton in the morning."
Walter took out of a drawer the bills which had accumulated there and without a word handed them over to his father. Paul summed up and found a total of $81.
"Is that all?"
"Yes, except my tuition for this last half."
"How much is that?"
"Is that all?"
"I'll settle this all up. You can begin packing while I am out."
Paul took the bills and went out abruptly, not concealing from Walter, what was very apparent, that he was tremendously angry.
He went to the various tradesmen and settled the accounts, went to the boarding place and paid the arrears and after some difficulty on account of the holiday, finally succeeded in settling the tuition at the school office.
He then asked the way to the president's house, and on presenting himself at the door was invited to go into the reception room and wait for a few moments.
The president was having a call from some old classmates who had come down to Burrton to see the race. When they went out, the president accompanied them to the door. Paul could not avoid hearing one of the visitors say, "I put up my last dollar on Burrton. May have to borrow to get out of town."
"Don't borrow of me," said the president, laughing. "I've never been able to get back what you owed me at Cambridge."
There was some jesting reply in the familiar language of old college chums and the visitors went out.
The president came into the reception room and greeted Douglas heartily. He had heard of him, had read some of his stories and was glad he had a son at Burrton.
"It's my son I came to see you about, President Davis," said Paul quietly, when he had returned the president's hearty greeting. "I am going to take him out of the school and I thought it was only fair to you that I tell you frankly why."
"Going to take him out! I'm sorry to hear it."
"But the atmosphere of Burrton does not seem to agree with my son." Paul frankly told the president the incident of Walter's bet and the consequences, without any care to hide the facts of his own intense convictions on the matter of betting which he mentioned several times as "gambling."
President Davis listened gravely and before Paul was through, his face had reddened deeply more than once. Paul spoke very bluntly and it was plain to be seen that he was under a great stress of feeling in which was mingled a real, deep, strong anger, a part of which was directed against the Burrton school and its management.
"And so," Paul said as he finished his statement, "I don't care to keep my son in an institution where the standards are so low that a gambling habit like betting is not even discouraged by the authorities."
"How do you know it is not discouraged?"
"My boy tells me that during his whole stay here he has not heard a word of disapproval or protest against this prevalent habit."
The president turned to a bookcase near by and took down a small volume entitled "Chapel Talks." He opened it at a certain page and without a word pointed to a passage.
Paul read it. "There is a prevalent idea in the school that in order to be loyal to Burrton the students must all stand together, no matter what is done by the student body. That idea is false and in the end it is harmful to the best interests of the school.
"Take for example the custom of betting on the athletics and especially on the annual boat race. This is a custom which should be discouraged by every lover of the school. Betting is gambling; it is an attempt to get something for nothing. That attempt is destructive to morals and dangerous to character. The fact that many of the alumni who come to see the games bet on them is no reason why the undergraduates should bet on the games. I look to every student to discourage this practice and use his influence to help abolish a harmful and dangerous habit."
Paul looked up from the reading and eyed the president with a new feeling of respect.
"I beg pardon for judging you, sir, without knowing all the facts. But this volume was published over a year ago. My boy never heard these chapel talks. I take it that there has been nothing said about betting here for several months."
"No, perhaps not," replied the president with some hesitation. "But the students generally know my views on the matter. That knowledge, however, does not stop the betting."
"Why can't you put an end to it by forbidding it altogether?"
In reply to Paul's question, President Davis smiled.
"How much power do you think the president of an American college has, Mr. Douglas?"
"Why, I suppose he has enough to stop things that are absolutely wrong."
"Pardon me, Mr. Douglas, but he has no such power. He may try to stop them, but his power to do so may be very limited. For a year the great president of Harvard, Dr. Charles Eliot, did his best to abolish or amend football in that university. As head of the institution he spoke out against the game, which he honestly believed to be brutal and demoralising. What was the result of his protest? It had no influence toward abolishing the game and very little, if any, toward modifying it. The fact is our colleges and universities are just now controlled in a large measure by the opinion of those who support them. In other words, the alumni in many colleges run the college, not the president or the officers. I may say to you frankly that such is the case at Burrton. Two of the visitors who were here a few minutes ago are really more influential with the board of trustees than I am. They are heavy contributors. One of them gave us a gymnasium last year. They are very fond of athletics. Both of them are betting men. It would be a very difficult task to regulate the athletics in Burrton in opposition to these alumni; so there you are, as to a president's influence. All this in confidence, Mr. Douglas."
"It must be great fun to be president of a university," said Paul in disgust. "It seems to me if I were president of this school I should want to be president, especially in matters of conduct and morals."
"You would see it differently if you were president," said Davis with a faint smile. "Among other difficulties that we face here is the fact that Burrton, being unusually well equipped for technical high-class preparation in electrical engineering, is a favorite school for the difficult sons of rich men who do not know how to get on elsewhere. We have on our hands the greatest of all problems--how to make useful men out of a class of individuals who from boyhood have been reared in habits of the most princely luxury and disregard of all rules of restraint. The fact that we don't toady to all these rich men is seen in the records, which show during the year over two hundred men suspended for failure to meet the Standard requirements. And as to the betting, Mr. Douglas, your boy has now learned his lesson and will not do that again. Hadn't you better reconsider? Will he find conditions any different or any better in any other school that you know? Do you know any college East or West where the student atmosphere is absolutely free from all evil customs and habits?"
"I must confess I don't," said Paul, slowly. "I don't mind saying that this action of my son's has made me very angry. Still, I don't deny that it might have happened in any one of a dozen colleges in any part of the country. A large part of my grievance was because it seemed to me and, pardon me, seems yet, that the institution was to blame for keeping so still about these things, and doing so little to create a different moral Standard. But I'm not asking Burrton to take all the blame. My boy has got to take his punishment, and I don't know of a better one than to take him home."
"I hope you won't resort to that measure," said the president, earnestly. "Your son has unusual talent. He holds the highest place in the shops for original research. Give him another chance. It is my opinion that he will not disappoint you again."
"Perhaps not," answered Paul as he rose to go. "But I have about made up my mind."
"I hope you'll change it," said the president as Paul went away.
"Perhaps," answered Paul briefly.
He walked slowly back to Walter's room, asking many questions as he went along. His talk with the president had given him another angle from which to judge the boy's conduct. He could not hide from himself that his heart was sore over the whole matter, because he had never dreamed that his own boy would fall before a temptation which he had so often heard his father condemn at home. Paul Douglas was humiliated, as a man always is when his children begin to show the bad habits he has been fond of criticising in other people's children. And he had not yet been able to find any reasonable excuse for Walter.
When he went into the room he found Walter packing things up and evidently with no purpose of remonstrating or trying to change his father's decision.
"There's a letter from mother," he said briefly as Paul came up to the table in the middle of the room.
"You want me to read it?"
Paul sat down to read and Walter went on with his packing.
"Dear Walter," Esther wrote, "I am so glad your father has this opportunity to visit you and I presume he is at Burrton now. You will have good times together and I am envying him the privilege. I have missed you, boy, more than you can imagine. But then you will never know how much your mother has depended on you here at home. You were always so thoughtful and kind, how can I help missing my eldest.
"I have been thinking a good deal lately about the different standards that prevail in different places and I have no doubt you have noticed that some of the things we have always taught you here at home are not held by others in the school where you now are. I believe you will be able to decide fairly when it is necessary as to what is right and wrong and not allow the fact of a different Standard to confuse your judgment. I simply want you to know, Walter, that I have the utmost confidence in you. I am proud of my boy's ability. I expect you will make one of the finest engineers in the United States, and better yet, one of the finest men in the world.
"What do you think has been the great event of the last week? Helen had a young man caller two nights ago. It was the oldest son of Judge Randolph on Chandos street. The boy is a little younger than Helen, I think. He called in a formal way and to hear him talk to Helen convulsed me. I finally had to retire, but Helen was furious with me after young Randolph went away. The child was very much disturbed and claims to despise the youth, etc. It was like the story I was reading the other day:
"A young man had been calling now and then on a young lady, when one night as he sat in the parlour waiting for her to come down, her mother entered the room instead, and asked him in a very grave, stern way what his intentions were. He turned very red and was about to stammer some incoherent reply when suddenly the young lady called down from the head of the stairs: 'Mamma, mamma, that is not the one.'
"But, oh dear. Must I realise 'old age is creeping on apace' when my girl begins to have gentlemen callers? Helen will have many admirers. She is a girl who has very decided views and is very frank to express them. Now don't tease her when you write her, for this is in confidence. You must not betray me.
"Louis is doing very well now at school. His headaches trouble him some. I am giving him a course of careful training. He was much interested in the set of models you sent him. It was good of you to remember him. He admires you vastly. Don't forget that, boy, will you?
"You must come home for the holidays. We want the family all together then. Make your plans accordingly.
"All send love, and most of all, your Mother."
Paul finished the letter and laid it down. He sat there for a while in silence. Walter did not venture to break it. Finally Paul said: "Walter, I've been thinking over this affair and perhaps I have a new look at it. I want to tell you about it."
A light came into Walter's face which had been fixed and dogged and he got up from in front of his trunk where he had been kneeling and came up to the table.
"Sit down there," said Paul gravely. Walter sat down opposite his father, and the two, father and son, looked at each other earnestly across the table.