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The Hazing of Satterlee 2d by Ralph Henry Barbour

 

Satterlee 2d tossed his arms over his head and opened his eyes. It was of no use. As a much smaller boy—he was now thirteen years of age—his mother, on putting him to bed, had always counseled “Now shut your eyes and go to sleep.” And it had worked to a charm; so infallibly that Satterlee 2d had unconsciously accepted it as a law of nature that in order to go to sleep one had only to close one’s eyes. To-night, after lying with lids forced so tightly together that they ached, he gave up the struggle. Something was plainly wrong.

He snuggled the comforter up under his nose and stared into the darkness. A thin, faint pencil of light was discernible straight ahead and rather high up. After a moment of thought he knew that it stole in at the top of the door from the hall, where an oil lamp flickered all night on a bracket. From his right came faint gurgles, as regular as clockwork. That was Sears, his room-mate, fast clasped in the arms of Morpheus. Satterlee 2d envied Sears.

Back of him the darkness was less intense for a little space. The shade at the window was not quite all the way down and a faint gray light crept in from a cloudy winter sky. Satterlee 2d wondered what time it was. Sears had blown out the light promptly at ten o’clock, and that seemed whole hours ago. It must be very late, and still he was not sleepy; on the contrary, he couldn’t remember having ever been wider awake in his life. His thoughts flew from one thing to another bewilderingly.

It had been very sudden, his change from home life to boarding-school. His mother had not been satisfied with his progress at the grammar-school, and when brother Donald, Satterlee 2d’s senior by two years, had returned from Dr. Willard’s school for Christmas vacation, healthy looking and as full of spirits as a young colt, the decision was made; Thomas should go back to school with Donald.

Thomas was amazed and delighted. Until that moment he had conscientiously treated all mention of Willard’s with scathing contempt, a course absolutely necessary, since Don was in the habit of chanting its praises at all times and in all places in a most annoyingly superior manner. But as soon as he learned that he too was to become a pupil at Willard’s Tom swore instant allegiance, for the first time hearkening eagerly to Don’s tales of the greatness of the School, and vowing to make the name of Thomas Polk Satterlee one to be honored and revered by future generations of Willardians. He would do mighty deeds in school hall and campus—more especially campus—and would win wonderful popularity. And then he bade a moist-eyed farewell to home and parents, and, in care of his travel-hardened brother, set forth for boarding-school, filled with pleasurable excitement and fired with patriotism and grand resolves.

One thing alone had worried Satterlee 2d; the school catalogue, which he had studied diligently from end to end, stated very distinctly—in fact, in italics—that hazing was strictly forbidden and unknown at the institution. Brother Don, on the other hand, told scalp-stirring tales of midnight visitations to new boys by groups of ghostly inquisitors. These two authorities, the only ones at Tom’s command, were sadly at variance. But experience had taught Satterlee 2d that printed text was on the whole more apt to be truthful than Brother Don; and he gained comfort accordingly.

He had made his début at Willard’s in proper style, had been formally introduced to many other young gentlemen of ages varying from twelve to eighteen years, had shaken hands humbly with Burtis, the school leader, and had officially become Satterlee 2d.

He and his new roommate, Sears, had become firm friends in the short period of three hours, and, realizing Sears’s good-will toward him, he had listened to that youth’s enigmatic warning, delivered just as the light went out, with respect.

“Say, if anything happens to-night, don’t wake me; I don’t want to know anything about it.”

Satterlee 2d’s troubled questioning elicited only sleepy and very unsatisfactory answers, and he had laid awake, hour after hour, or so it seemed, with ears strained for suspicious sounds. But none had come, and now—he yawned and turned over on the pillow—now he thought that he could go to sleep at last. He closed his eyes.

Then he opened them again. It seemed hours later, but was in fact scarcely five minutes. A bright, unhallowed light shone on his face. White-draped figures, silent and terrible, were about him.

Ghosts!” thought Satterlee 2d.

But just as he had gathered sufficient breath for a satisfactory scream of terror, and just as some one had forced the corner of a pillow into his mouth, recollection of Brother Donald’s tales came to him and his fears subsided. With the supernatural aspect removed, the affair resolved into an unpleasant but not alarming adventure. It is idle to relate in detail the subsequent proceedings. Blindfolded and attired only in a bath-robe, hastily thrown over his nightshirt, he was conducted along corridors and down long flights of stairs, over strange, uneven expanses of frozen ground, skirting frightful abysses and facing dangers which, had he believed the asseverations of his captors, were the most awful ever mortal braved. Despite his incredulity he was glad when the end of the journey was reached. He was led stumbling down three very chilly stone steps and brought to a halt. The atmosphere was now slightly warmer, and this at least was something to be thankful for.

“Neophyte,” said a deep voice which sounded suspiciously like Brother Don’s, “you have passed unscathed through the Vale of Death. The first period of your initiation into the Order of the Grinning Skull is accomplished. We leave you now to dwell alone, until dawn gilds the peak of yonder mountain, among the Spirits of the Under World. Should you survive this, the most terrible ordeal of all, you will be one of us and will be admitted into the secrets and counsels of our Order. Farewell, perhaps forever!”

The hands that held him drew away, he heard the sounds of retreating footsteps, of a closing door and a creaking bolt. He remained motionless, his heart beating against his ribs. He wanted to cry out, to bring them back, but pride was still stronger than fear. The silence and damp odor of the place were uncanny. He thought of tombs and things, and shuddered. Then summoning back his waning courage, he tore the bandage from his eyes. Alas, he was still in complete darkness.

Satterlee 2d’s reading had taught him that the proper thing to do in such situations was to explore. So he put forth his hands and stepped gingerly forward. He brought up against a cold, reeking stone wall. He followed it, found a corner, turned at right angles, soon found another corner, and then worked back, at length coming in contact with the steps and a heavy door. All efforts to move the latter were vain. The floor was of wood and sounded hollow. The place had a clammy, unwholesome feeling, and now was beginning to strike him as decidedly wanting in warmth and comfort.

Suddenly his subsiding fear gave way before a rush of anger and he stamped a slippered foot. A nice trick to play on a fellow, he declared aloud; he’d tell Don what he thought of it in the morning, and he’d punch somebody’s head, see if he didn’t! In his wrath he stepped impetuously forward and gave a shriek of horror. He was up to his knees in icy water.

He clambered out and sat shivering on the planks, while the knowledge came to him that his prison was nothing else than the spring-house, which Don had exhibited to him that afternoon during a tour of sight-seeing. A narrow staging surrounded a large pool, he remembered; in his journey about the place he had kept in touch with the walls, and so had escaped a wetting, until his impetuous stride had plumped him into it. Cold, wet, angry and miserable, he crept to the farther corner of the house, to get as far as possible from the drafts that eddied in under the door, and placing his back against the wall and wrapping his wet garments about his knees, closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep. He told himself that sleep was out of the question. But he was mistaken, for presently his head fell over on one side and he slumbered.

When he awoke with a start, aroused by the sound of the opening of the door, he stared blankly into the gloom and wondered for a moment where he was. An oblong of gray at the end of the spring-house drew his gaze. Two forms took shape, stumbled down the steps, and were lost in the darkness. Then the door was closed again save for a narrow crevice. His first thought that rescue was at hand was instantly dispelled. Some one coughed painfully, and then:

“Phew, I’m nigh dead with cold,” said a weak, husky voice. “Two miles from the village you said it was, didn’t yer? I’ll bet it’s five, all right.”

“Well, you’re here now, ain’t yer?” responded a deeper voice, impatiently. “So shut up. You make me tired, always kicking about something. What do you expect, any way? Think the old codger’s going to drive into town and hand the money over to yer? If you want anything you’ve got to work for it.”

The two had sprawled themselves out on the floor to the left of the doorway. Satterlee considered. Perhaps if he made his presence known, the men, who were evidently tramps, would let him depart unmolested. On the other hand, maybe they would be angry and cut his throat promptly and very expertly, and drop his body into the pool. He shivered and clenched his fists, resolved to perish bravely. He wished he were home in his own bed; he wished—then he stopped wishing and listened.

“How long we got to stay here?” asked the first tramp wearily.

“We’ll wait till ’bout twelve. The doctor’s a great hand at staying up late, I hear.”

“What time do you say it is now?”

“Half past eleven, I guess.”

“Phew!” The other whistled lugubriously. “I’ll be dead with the cold by that time, Joe.” He went off into a paroxysm of coughing that made Satterlee 2d, in spite of his terror, pity him, but which only brought from his companion an angry command to make less noise.

“All right,” was the husky response, “give me some ’baccy, Joe? There’s more’n time fer a bit of a smoke.” There followed sounds from across the darkness and Satterlee 2d surmised that each was filling his pipe. Then a match flared suddenly and lighted up the scene. The boy shut his eyes and held his breath. Then he opened them the least crack and peered across. The men were sitting just to the left of the doorway, diagonally across from him. Between them lay the black oblong of water splashed with orange by the flickering match. Satterlee 2d wondered if it would never burn out! He could see only a tangled beard, a glittering, half-closed eye, two big hands, between the fingers of which the guarded light shone crimson. The light went out and he drew a monstrous sigh of relief. The odor of tobacco floated across to him, strong and pungent.

The two smoked silently for a moment. Satterlee 2d stared wide-eyed into the darkness and tried to discover a way out of the difficulty. From what little conversation he had overheard he judged that the tramps meditated some crime against Doctor Willard, probably robbery. If he entertained any doubt upon the subject it was quickly dispelled. The tramp with the cough was talking.

“Who’s goin’ inside, Joe?”

“You; you’re smallest an’ lightest an’ can get through the window easy. I’ll stand watch. If I whistle, make a run for it an’ try to get into the woods across the road.”

“Ye-es, but I don’t know the lay of the room like you do, Joe.”

“Well, I’m goin’ to tell yer, ain’t I? When yer get through the window, turn to yer right an’ keep along the wall; there ain’t nothin’ there but bookcases; when yer get to the corner there’s a round table; look out fer that. Keep along the wall again; there’s more book-shelves, about six or eight feet of ’em. Then you comes to a high case with a lid that lets down an’ makes a desk and swingin’ glass doors above it; you know the sort o’ thing I mean, eh?”

“Old-fashion’ secretary,” said the other, evidently proud of his knowledge.

“Correct! Well, you want to let down the lid——”

“Locked?”

“Likely it is; use ther little jimmy; the money’s in the lower drawer on the left side. I don’t know what all’s there; better clean the drawer out, see?”

Satterlee 2d was thinking hard, his heart in his throat and his pulse hammering. He must get out of the spring-house somehow and warn the doctor. But how? The men were practically between him and the door. To make a dash for liberty would surely result disastrously; if they caught him—Satterlee 2d’s teeth chattered! If he waited until they went out and then followed he might be able to arouse the doctor or scare the burglars away, if they didn’t bolt the door again on the outside, and so make him once more a prisoner. The only plan that seemed at all feasible was to creep inch by inch to the doorway and then make a dash for freedom. An impatient stir across the spring-house warned him that whatever plan was to be tried must be attempted speedily. He wriggled softly out of his bath-robe, gathered the skirt of his nightgown in one hand, took a long breath, and started forward on his hands and knees. The men were talking again, and one of the pipes was sizzling loudly.

All went well for a moment, a moment that seemed an age, and he had reached a point half-way to the door, when his hand slipped on the wet boards with a noise, faint but distinct. He stopped short, his hair stirring with fright.

“S—sh!” One of the men scrambled to his feet.

“What’s the matter?” growled the other.

“I heard somethin’—over there.”

“A frog, likely, you fool; got a match?”

Satterlee 2d was desperate. He was lost unless he could reach the doorway first. He started forward again with less caution, and one knee struck the floor sharply. A light flared out, and for a moment he stared across the pool into two pairs of wide-open, gleaming eyes. Then the match dropped into the water with a tiny hiss, and Satterlee 2d leaped for the door. The streak of light was now but a scant two yards distant. Near at hand sounded feet on the planking, and from the pool came a splashing as one of the men rushed through the water. Then a hand grasped the boy’s bare ankle. With a shriek he sprang forward, the grasp was gone, and from behind him as he fled stumbling up the steps came the sound of a heavy fall and a cry of triumph.

“I’ve got him!”

“You’ve got me, you fool! Let go!”

The next instant Satterlee 2d was through the doorway, had slammed the portal behind him, and had shot the big iron bolt despairingly. With closed eyes he leaned faint and panting against the oak while blow after blow was rained on it from within and hoarse oaths told of the terror of the prisoners. But the stout door showed no signs of yielding, and Satterlee 2d opened his eyes and looked about him. The night was cloudy, but the school-buildings were discernible scarce a stone-throw away.

When Doctor Willard, awakened from sleep by the wild jangling of the bell, drew his dressing-gown about him and looked forth, it was with astonishment and alarm that he beheld a white-robed youth pulling excitedly at the bell-knob. His astonishment was even greater when, having found and adjusted his spectacles, he made out the youth to be Satterlee 2d, who, by every rule of common sense, ought at that moment to be asleep in the dormitory.

“But—but I don’t understand,” faltered the doctor. “Do you mean that you have a gang of burglars locked up in the spring-house?”

“Yes, sir; two, sir; two burglars, sir!”

“Dear me, how alarming! But how——?”

“Don’t you think we could get the police, sir?”

“Um—er—to be sure. The police; yes. Wait where you are.”

The window closed, and presently the tinkle of a telephone bell sounded. A minute or two later and Satterlee 2d, cold and aching, sat before the big stove in the library, while the doctor shook and punched the coals into activity.

“I’ve telephoned for the police,” said the doctor, gazing perplexedly over his spectacles. “And now I would like to know what it all means, my boy.”

“I—I was in the spring-house, sir,” began Satterlee 2d, “when I heard a noise——”

“One moment,” interrupted the doctor. “What were you doing in the spring-house at midnight?”

Satterlee dropped his eyes. He searched wildly for an explanation that would not incriminate Donald and the others. Finally he gave it up.

“I—I’d rather not say, if you please, sir.”

“Um,” said the doctor. “Very well, we’ll pass over that for the present. What happened when you heard a noise?”

Before Satterlee 2d had finished his story there came the sound of wheels on the driveway without, which sent the doctor to the door. For a minute the boy listened to the hum of voices in the hallway. Then he commenced to nod—nod——

He awoke to find the winter sunlight streaming through the windows of the doctor’s guest-chamber, and to learn from the clock on the mantel that it was long after breakfast time. His clothes were beside him on a chair and he tumbled into them hurriedly, the events of the night flooding back to memory. He ate breakfast in solitary grandeur, his thoughts fixed miserably on the explanation that must follow. His indignation against Donald and the others had passed; he pitied them greatly for the punishment which he felt certain would soon be meted out to them. And he pitied himself because it was his lot to bring that punishment about. His visions of popularity faded into nothingness. For a moment he thought of cutting it all; of walking straight from the dining-room to the station and disappearing from the scene.

But when he pushed back his half-eaten breakfast and arose to his feet it was to grip his hands rather tight, and with pale cheeks walk, laggingly but directly, to the school hall. Prayers were over, and the doctor was rubbing his spectacles reflectively, preparatory to addressing the pupils. Satterlee 2d’s advent created a wave of excitement, and all eyes were on him as he strode to his seat. The doctor donned his glasses and surveyed the scene.

“Satterlee 2d!”

That youth arose, his heart thumping sickeningly.

“There was a portion of your story,” said the head master suavely, “which you did not tell last night. Kindly explain now, if you please, how you came to be in the spring-house at midnight.”

Satterlee 2d looked despairingly at the doctor, looked desperately about the room. Brother Donald was scowling blackly at his ink-well. Burtis, the school leader, was observing him gravely, and in his look Satterlee 2d thought he read encouragement. The doctor coughed gently.

Satterlee 2d had been taught the enormity of lying, and his conscience revolted at the task before him. But Don and the others must be spared. He made a heroic effort.

“Please, sir, I went to get a drink.”

Depressing silence followed. Satterlee 2d’s eyes sought the floor.

“Indeed?” inquired the doctor, pleasantly. “And did you get your drink?”

“Yes, sir.” Satterlee 2d breathed easier. After all, lying wasn’t so difficult.

“Ah, and then why didn’t you return to the dormitory?”

“The—door was locked, sir.”

Somebody near by groaned softly. Satterlee 2d wondered.

“On the inside?” pursued the doctor.

Too late Satterlee 2d saw his blunder. He gazed appealingly at the inexorable countenance on the platform. Then,

 

“No, sir,” he answered in low tones, “on the outside.”

“Strange,” mused the head master. “Do you know who locked it?”

“No, sir.” He gave a sigh of relief. That, at least, was no more than the truth.

“You may sit down.” Satterlee 2d sank into his seat.

“Which of you locked that door?” The doctor’s gaze swept the schoolroom. Silence followed. Then two youths were on their feet simultaneously. One was Burtis, the other was Satterlee 1st. The doctor turned to the former.

“Am I to understand that you had a hand in this, Burtis?” he asked, surprise in his voice.

“No, sir. If you please, sir, what I want to say is that the school as a whole had nothing to do with this hazing, sir, and we—we don’t like it. And if those that had a hand in it don’t own up, sir, I’ll give their names. That’s all, sir.”

He sat down. Young Mr. Sears signified excited approbation by clapping his hands until he found the doctor’s gaze upon him, whereupon he subsided suddenly with very red cheeks. The doctor turned to Satterlee 1st.

“Well, sir?”

Brother Donald shot an angry glance at Burtis.

“Burtis needn’t talk so big, sir; he’d better give a fellow a chance before he threatens——”

“That will do, my boy; if you have anything to say let me hear it at once.”

“I—I locked that door, sir.”

“Indeed? And did you have any help in the matter?”

Brother Donald dropped his gaze and was silent. Then, with much shuffling of unwilling feet, slowly, one after another, five other boys stood up.

“Well, Perkins?” asked the doctor.

“I helped,” said that youth.

“And the rest of you?” Four subdued voices answered affirmatively. The doctor frowned from one to the other. Then,

“You may take your seats,” he said, severely.

The six sank into their places and miserably awaited judgment. The doctor ran his fingers thoughtfully over the leaves of the big dictionary on the corner of his desk, then began to speak. The discourse that followed was listened to with flattering attention. It dealt very fully with the evils of hazing and seemed to promise something quite unusual in the way of punishment. Brother Donald had fully five minutes of the discourse all to himself, but appeared not at all stuck up because of the attention. In fact, when he had listened to all the doctor had to say on the subject of brotherly conduct, his countenance was expressive of shame rather than conceit. Altogether, it was quite the most exhaustive “wigging” in the recollection of the oldest pupil in the school, and therefore it was with genuine surprise that the Doctor’s concluding sentences were heard.

“In the present case,” he said, “I am inclined to be lenient. Unwittingly you have prevented the probable loss to me of several hundred dollars, and have secured the arrest of two members of society who are—hem—better placed in jail than outside. This does not morally exempt you from blame; your conduct is none the less despicable; but, nevertheless, in view of these circumstances, I shall make your punishment as light as is consistent. But first you will give me your promise that never, so long as you are in my school, will you take part in or countenance hazing in any form, shape or manner whatsoever. Have I that promise?”

Six voices sounded as one.

“Very well. Now I shall require all six of you to remain within bounds until the Easter vacation. This means that you will not be privileged, as usual, to visit the village on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. That is all. You will please carefully remember what I have said. We will now take up the lessons.”

A well-defined murmur of relief passed over the room. Then,

“If you please, sir,” said a voice, quietly, from among the boys.

The doctor glanced up.

“What is it, Satterlee 2d?”

“If you please, sir, I’d like to take the punishment with the others, sir.”

“Indeed?” The doctor looked puzzled. “And for what reason?”

“For—for lying, sir.”

“For what?”

“For—for not telling the truth, sir.”

“H—m.”

The doctor removed his spectacles and polished them slowly, very slowly, as if he were doing some hard thinking. Then he replaced them and faced the class.

“I—hem—I will exempt you from punishment. It isn’t what you deserve, not by a great deal, but—you may thank Satterlee 2d.”

Satterlee 2d’s popularity began at that moment.