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Class Spirit by Ralph Henry Barbour

 

Peter Doe descended the marble steps of the big dormitory with discouragement written large upon his face. When he reached the sidewalk he drew a blank book from his pocket and studied it with frowning brows until he had crossed the avenue, and, half-unconsciously, perched himself on the top rail of the college fence. Then he sighed and returned the book to his coat.

Peter had been canvassing for the freshman crew for four days. Armitage and the rest had spoken cheerfully of eight hundred dollars as the probable result of his labors. To-day Peter shook his head ruefully. The book in his pocket held subscriptions representing only two hundred and sixty-four dollars, of which nearly half was “pledged,” a term possessing doubtful significance. And Peter was discouraged.

When Ronald Armitage—popular, influential and much sought—had requested Peter to join the squad of canvassers, Peter had been secretly much flattered, and had acquiesced instantly, gladly. For two whole days he had haunted the dormitories, indifferent to all discourtesies.

Peter was glad to be of service to his class. He believed that a man’s first duty was to his college, his second to his class, his third—well, the third did not as yet trouble him. He stood just five feet six and one-half inches, and had all a small man’s admiration for brawn and athleticism. His complexion was pink and white, a fact which worried him so much that in summer he spent precious hours lying with his face upturned to the sun in the hope that he would tan. But he never did; he simply got very red and the skin peeled off his nose.

Peter’s crowning glory was his hair, which was of the color of red gold. It was very beautiful hair from an artistic point of view, but it did not please Peter. At preparatory school it had won him the name of “Little Goldie,” a title which still clung to him among his acquaintances. He was good at studies, and was visibly impressed with the seriousness of existence.

After a while Peter slipped from the fence. He was eighteen years old, and at eighteen discouragement is a matter of a moment. Peter set his face toward Haworth Hall and Vance Morris, resolved to play his last card. Vance Morris was one of the richest men in college, and by far the wealthiest in the freshman class.

Peter had gone to school with him at St. Matthew’s, but their acquaintance was only of the nodding kind. Armitage had told Peter that Morris was “good for a hundred at least.” Fortune had apparently played into the collector’s hands at the very beginning of his canvassing, for, crossing the yard in the morning he had encountered Morris, and had, not without a struggle with his diffidence, stopped him and asked for a subscription.

“We, that is, Armitage and the others, you know, thought that about one hundred dollars would be—er—enough,” he had announced. Whereupon Morris, who was plainly in a hurry to reach the square, had grinned and replied:

“Really? That’s very modest of them, isn’t it? Don’t you think they’d rather have a thousand?”

The tone had made Peter feel a bit uncomfortable, but he had managed to give audible expression to the belief that a hundred would do very nicely; upon which Morris had again grinned down upon him from his six feet two inches, and had started away.

But Peter had trotted after him. “Then we—then I may look for one hundred, Morris?”

“You may,” the other had answered. “Oh, yes, you may look for it. There’s my car.”

It was a hard race to the square, but Peter sprinted desperately and swung himself up on the rear platform a second after Morris.

“You—you promise?” gasped Peter.

“Oh, yes, confound you! Get off or you’ll break your neck!”

Peter did not break his neck, but he afforded much amusement to a group of students by rolling riotously over the street for several yards. To-day, as he skirted the yard toward Morris’s room, he recalled that hard-bought promise and was comforted. Another hundred would bring his list up to the sum of three hundred and sixty-four dollars, far removed from the fabulous amount predicted by Armitage, but, after the ill success of the past four days, something over which to rejoice. During the bitterest moments of his laboring, Peter had comforted his soul with thoughts of that one hundred dollars.

Peter found Morris alone, lying at ease in a big, hospitable armchair, and in good humor.

“Hello!” Morris held forth a big, brown hand. “Glad to see you. Sit down.”

Peter made known the object of his visit, and finally Morris yawned and stretched a hand toward his desk.

“All right; toss me my check-book.”

Peter eagerly brought book and pen, ink and blotter, and the big freshman, using the arm of the chair for support, scrawled illegible characters. Then he tore off the little strip of pale-green paper and handed it to Peter.

“That’s the best I can do for you.”

He yawned again and closed his eyes. Peter opened his. “But—but this—this is for only ten dollars!”

“You’re good at figures,” muttered Morris, sleepily.

Peter stared at him in silence while the brass-dialed clock ticked twenty times. This, then, was the realization of his magnificent hopes!

A paltry ten dollars where he had looked for a hundred! What would Armitage and the others say? What would they think of him? Peter’s voice trembled in shrill, indignant protest:

“This isn’t fair, Morris! It isn’t honest! It isn’t—isn’t decent! Why, you promised a hundred, and I—we all counted on it; and now—now you give me this measly little ten!”

Morris swung slowly round and stared in bewilderment.

“Well!” he muttered, in awestruck tones.

“You ought to do more than this for the crew!” Peter went on, waving the check wildly in air. “You can afford to give what you promised, and—and by jiminy, you’ve got to!”

“Got to!” growled the other. He drew himself from the chair until he towered above Peter like a step-ladder above a footstool. He put his hands in the pockets of his jacket and looked down in frowning amusement. “Got to!” he repeated.

Peter’s face blanched from pale to the perfect whiteness of newly fallen snow, but he held his ground. His voice broke, but he answered:

“Yes.”

Morris laughed and slapped Peter on the shoulder.

“Good for you! But look here, take that check and get out. It isn’t your funeral, you know. And besides, ten dollars isn’t to be sneezed at. If every fellow in the class gave ten dollars——”

“But you know every fellow can’t!” broke in Peter. “You know lots of them can’t afford to give anything! But you can, Morris; you can afford to give what you promised—more than that.”

“Oh, leave off!” said Morris. “Run along with your check, like a good little boy.”

Peter hesitated; then he folded the slip of paper and placed it in his pocket. Taking the pen, he dipped it into the ink and wrote a receipt. Then he faced Morris again.

“Yes, I’ll take this on account. But I’ve got to have ninety more,” he said, doggedly. “And I’m going to have it. I’m going to keep at it until I get it. You’ve got to do what is right, Morris!”

“You’re like what’s-his-name’s raven,” sighed the other. “But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. When you get a hundred dollars out of me for the crew, I’ll—I’ll give you another fifty!” He laughed uproariously.

Peter strode to the door, and when he reached it turned and faced Morris impressively.

“Remember your promise!”

The door closed sternly behind him. Morris dropped into the armchair and laughed until the tears came. That was on Thursday.

The next day Peter returned. Morris’s study was filled with students. Morris was courteous to a fault, but Peter refused to be placated.

“Can you let me have that ninety dollars for the freshman crew to-day?” he asked. The crowd grinned. Morris shook his head and looked devastated with grief.

“I regret that I can not; not to-day. Perhaps next fall—or a year from yesterday, now——”

When the door was closed between him and the laughing enemy, Peter turned and shook a small, tightly clenched fist. “Wait!” he whispered, hoarsely.

That was on Friday.

Returning across the yard from chapel the next morning, Peter encountered Wyeth, Morris’s roommate. He carried a valise, and Peter knew that he was going home over Sunday.

“Beg pardon,” said Peter, “but can you tell me where I can find Morris?”

Wyeth hesitated. Then he laughed and played traitor. He jerked his head in the direction of Haworth, and scuttled for the car. Peter’s heart leaped as he hurried across the campus. When he reached the dormitory he crossed the courtyard and sprang up the stairs two at a time. The outer door was ajar. On the inner he knocked boldly. There was no response. He knocked again, then entered the study. The room was deserted. The sunlight shone in brightly through one window, where the curtain was drawn back. Peter investigated the bedroom to the left. It was empty. He crossed to the opposite door. Within lay Morris on a gorgeous brass bedstead, his big chest rising and falling in mighty respirations, his half-opened mouth emitting sounds resembling the subterranean roar of an idle geyser. One arm lay straight beside him; the other crossed his body, clutching the embroidered quilt.

The clock in the next room ticked on, slowly, monotonously, while Morris slept and Peter evolved an idea, an idea so grand, so desperate, that his flaming locks stirred uneasily upon his scalp and his breath came in gasps. Then he sighed as if from his very shoes. His mind was made up!

He crept into the study and locked the hall door, dropping the key into his pocket. On the wall by the fireplace hung a monstrous Mexican hat, three pairs of spurs, a quirt, and, gracefully encircling these, a long, braided rawhide lariat. With the aid of a chair Peter took the lariat from its place and crept noiselessly back to the bedroom. The giant still slept. With thumping heart Peter set to work.

For the next ten minutes he worked like a beaver—or a burglar. He made eight trips under the bed. At seven minutes past nine by the brass-dialed clock the last knot was tied, and Peter, trembling, breathless but triumphant, viewed his work with satisfaction. His enemy was delivered into his hands!

He returned to the study. He had no right, he told himself, to disturb Morris’s slumber; he must wait until the sleeper woke of his own accord. The hands of the clock crept round toward ten. Peter recollected that he was missing an English lecture, and would undoubtedly be kept from German. His regret, however, was but passing.

He took up a magazine, but had turned only two leaves when there reached him a sound like the spouting of a leviathan. He drew his knees together and shivered. The giant was waking! Then the bed creaked alarmingly and Peter crept to the door. At the same instant Morris opened his eyes, yawned, blinked, yawned again, tried to stretch his arms, and stared.

“Hello, Goldie! That you? What in thunder——”

He raised his head as far as circumstances allowed and saw himself, like Gulliver, enmeshed in a network of thongs. Amazement gave way to understanding, understanding to appreciation, appreciation to laughter. The bed shook. Peter gained courage and entered.

“Oh, Goldie,” cried the giant, “you’ll be the death of me yet, I know you will!”

Peter waited in silence.

“I didn’t think you were such a joker, Goldie, honest, I never did!”

“I’m glad I’ve amused you,” replied Peter, with immense dignity. “I assure you I had no idea of a joke.”

“No idea of a joke!” said Morris, vainly striving to wipe his streaming eyes on the pillow-slip by rolling his head. “Then what do you call this?”

“Business.”

“Business? Oh, well, call it what you like; it’s good, mighty good. To think that you managed to hog-tie me like this without waking me up! It’s—it’s— By the way, what time is it?”

“Just ten o’clock.”

“Great Scott! You don’t mean it? Here, untie these knots and let me up. I was going to be in town at eleven.”

Peter shook his head. Morris stared. The truth dawned.

“You don’t mean—” he began, incredulously. Peter nodded.

Well, I’ll be jiggered!

He lay and stared in amazement. Peter stared uncompromisingly back. The study clock ticked unnaturally loud. Peter was pale and Morris was of a redness that verged on purple. The storm broke suddenly.

“Why, you little red-headed, snub-nosed idiot!” bellowed Morris. “When I get up I’ll smash you into slivers! I’ll——”

He strove mightily to wrest himself from the clutches of the encircling lariat. He heaved, strained, twisted, writhed; but rawhide is uncompromising to a degree. At the end of one strenuous minute he subsided, panting, perspiring, glaring like a trapped lion. Peter sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t want you to think,” he announced, “that I have taken this course willingly; you—you have driven me to it. I gave you full warning.”

Morris roared loudly, inarticulately. Peter waited politely, then continued, “I gave you fair warning. I told you I had to have the money. I regret putting you to this—this inconvenience, and——”

For a space the bed rocked like a scow in a squall.

“And assure you that as soon as you do your duty to the freshman crew and to yourself I’ll let you up.”

“Duty!” frothed Morris.


“Duty!” frothed Morris.

Peter interlaced his fingers round one knee and settled himself comfortably against the foot-rail. He observed the captive gravely, dispassionately, almost indulgently, as a just parent might view a disobedient child to whom punishment is being meted out. Then he began to talk. He pointed out to Morris that a college man’s duty does not end with himself; that he should consider the good of the university and his class, and stand ready and eager to support the honor of each to the best of his ability; that he should be willing to sacrifice his personal pleasure to that end. Class spirit, said Peter, was one of the most beautiful things about college life.

Peter talked leisurely, eloquently, even convincingly. Having established—to his own satisfaction, at least—the claim that the class body possesses on its members, he passed to the subject of the benefits of athletics. When he had exhausted that, he indicated the self-evident fact that athletics can prosper only with the support of the students. Morris by this time had raged himself dry of expletives, and was a silent, if unenthusiastic, auditor.

Peter was encouraged, and his eloquence increased. The freshman class, he declared, was in many ways the most important of all. Its contests on track, field and river were watched with interest second only to that given to the struggles of the varsity teams and crews. The class that attained honor in its freshman year established a stable basis for future glory. Those whose privilege it was to make possible that honor, either by labor or by financial support, should deem themselves fortunate.

Morris was now groaning impotently. Peter brushed a stray wisp of red-gold hair from his brow and went on, his eyes transfixing his victim. There were many in the class, he said, who could afford to contribute but little to the cause. There were others so fortunate as to be in position to give generously. It was the duty, the privilege of every fellow to give according to his means. In the case of Morris——

The clock chimed the half-hour. Morris gave a deep sigh and yielded.

“Goldie, for heaven’s sake cut it out!” he begged. “Let me up and I’ll write you a check for fifty dollars.”

“Ninety,” corrected Peter, firmly.

“Well, ninety.”

Peter rose and untied several knots. The result was not quite what Morris had expected. He found only his right arm free.

“Where’s your check-book?” asked Peter.

“In the desk. Aren’t you going to let me up?”

The only response was the sound of pen on paper. When Peter reappeared he placed the book before his captive and put the pen into his hand. “After you’ve signed,” he said.

Morris grumbled, but with some difficulty affixed his signature to the check for ninety dollars. Peter tore it off and once more presented the book. Morris stared. “What’s this?” he demanded.

“Another one for fifty,” answered Peter, quietly. “Remember your promise.”

“My promise?” cried Morris.

“Certainly. When I got one hundred from you for the crew you were to give me fifty more. Have you enough ink?”

Morris glowered, glancing from Peter’s inexorable countenance to the open check-book. Then he grinned craftily and signed.

“Now you’ve got to untie me,” he said.

Peter folded the two slips carefully and placed them in his pocket. Then he wrote a receipt for one hundred and forty dollars, Morris watching him uneasily.

“Thank you!” said Peter, laying down the receipt. “I am certain that you’ll be glad in the end that you were able to do so much for the crew. I am now going over to the bank”—Morris writhed—“to get these cashed. As soon as possible I’ll return and set you free.”

For a moment Morris fought against fate. Then he capitulated.

“Hold on, Goldie! I know when I’m beaten. I give you my word I won’t stop those if you’ll let me up now. What’s more, I won’t lay a hand on you, honor bright!”

Peter set about untying the knots; it was a long task.

“Had breakfast?” asked Morris, presently.

Peter had not. He had quite forgotten it.

“Well,” said Morris, “wait until I get my clothes on and we’ll go over to Brimm’s and have some.”

“All right,” stammered Peter. He flushed with pleasure and embarrassment.

“But what I can’t understand,” said Morris, a little later, stretching his cramped arms above his head, “what I can’t understand is why you want to go to all this bother about crew money. It isn’t your funeral.”

Peter Doe paused in the labor of undoing a particularly obstinate knot that confined Morris’s chest, and stared at the conquered giant in real surprise.

“Why, class spirit, of course!” he said.