Parmelee’s “Spread” by Ralph
The room was old-fashioned, a dark-walled
parallelogram, the farthest end of which was
seldom reached by the light which crept
through the two small-paned windows. Overhead
four huge rafters passed from side to
The ledges beneath the windows formed
wide seats, which were upholstered in somber
corduroy. The mantel above the large fireplace
was narrow, high, a mere shelf, designed
a century ago to hold the twin candlesticks and
the snuffers on their silver tray.
The occupant had wisely confined the furnishings
to old-style mahogany in quaint Chippendale
forms. The green-shaded student-lamp
on the desk under the heavy bronze chandelier
gave almost the only modern touch. Yet
with all its gloom, the apartment was singularly
homelike and restful.
Perhaps this thought occurred to Parmelee,
’00, as he closed the door behind him, for
his gaze swept slowly over the room, and he
sighed once as he removed his cap and gown
and laid them carefully aside. He crossed to
one of the windows, and sank back dispiritedly
against the cushions.
Parmelee’s face, seen in the warm light of
a late June afternoon, lost something of its
usual paleness, but the serious lines about the
mouth and the pathos of the deep-set brown
eyes were accentuated.
The face, on the whole, was strikingly
handsome. The forehead under the dark hair
was broad and high; the nose straight and
fairly large; the mouth, despite its grave lines,
seemed made for smiles; the chin was full and
firm. Yet the expression now was one of
weariness and melancholy.
Through the open windows came faintly
the strains of a waltz from the band in the college
yard. Over the top of a vividly green
chestnut-tree the western sky was beginning
to glow with the colors of sunset. Now and
then a student in cap and gown, or the more
brilliant attire appropriate to class-day, hurried
past the house; but for the most the little
street was deserted and still.
Parmelee had done his duty. He had conscientiously
taken part in all the exercises of
the day, excepting only those about the tree.
When the procession that had marched about
the yard and cheered the buildings had dissolved,
he had hurried away to his room, lonesome
Every one seemed so disgustingly happy!
Fellows with nice mothers and pretty sisters,
cousins or sweethearts appeared to flaunt them
before Parmelee’s eyes; fellows hurrying off
to somebody’s spread thrust him unceremoniously
out of the way with muttered apologies.
He was so out of it all! He had no womenfolk
to take care of, no friends to greet, no
spreads to attend. He was simply a nonentity;
merely “Parmelee, that hunchbacked
That was Parmelee’s trouble. All his life
he had been a “hunchback.” As a boy he had
often taken flight before the merciless gibes
of his companions, too sick at heart to follow
his first impulse to stand and fight.
When he had entered the preparatory
school he had enclosed himself in a shell of
sensitiveness, and had missed many a friendship
that might have been his. At college it
had been the same. He believed his deformity
to be repellent to others, and credited them
with sentiments of distaste or pity, when, as
was generally the case, the attractiveness of
his countenance made them blind to his defect
of form. Naturally fond of athletics, he believed
himself barred from them. He made
few acquaintances and no friends; no friends,
that is, except one.
Philip Schuyler and he had met in their
freshman year. Schuyler, refusing to be repelled,
had won his way through Parmelee’s
defenses, and the two had been inseparable
until shortly before the last Christmas recess.
Then they had quarreled.
The cause had been such a tiny thing that
it is doubtful if either still remembered it.
Pride had prevented the reconciliation which
should have followed, and the two friends had
drifted widely apart.
Parmelee sometimes told himself bitterly
that Schuyler had made the quarrel an excuse
for ending a companionship of which he was
wearied. Schuyler had quickly found new
friends; Parmelee simply retired more deeply
than before into his shell. It meant more to
him, that quarrel, than to Schuyler. He had
lost the only real friend of his life. The
wound was a deep one, and it refused to heal.
On this day it ached more than it had for
Parmelee glanced at his watch, suddenly
realizing that he was hungry. He had missed
his lunch. It was yet far from the dinner-hour,
Then he remembered that his boarding-house
would be practically given over that
evening to a spread. He shrank from the
idea of facing the throng that would be present.
The restaurants would be crowded. A
solitary dinner in town was not attractive.
The only alternative was to go dinnerless, or—yes,
he could have something here in his
room. He smiled a trifle bitterly.
“It will be Parmelee’s spread,” he said.
He went out and turned his steps toward
the avenue. In the store he surprised the
clerk by the magnitude of his order. The
whimsical idea of having a spread of his own
grew upon him. The expense meant nothing
When he was ready to return, the bundle
of his purchases was so large that for the moment
he was dismayed. Then he took it in his
arms and retraced his steps.
Back in his room, the first difficulty that
confronted him was the lack of a tablecloth,
but this was presently solved by spreading two
immense white bath-towels over the study
table. Then he began the distribution of the
The matter of table decoration was something
of a problem, and in the solving of it he
forgot his depression, and even whistled a
tune while trying to decide whether to bank
all the oranges together or to distribute them
in a sort of border about the edge of the table.
A few plates would have been an aid, but
it was possible to do without them. The
olives occasioned much bother by refusing to
emerge on the point of the knife-blade from
the narrow neck of their tall bottle. This difficulty
was at last obviated by pouring off the
brine and emptying the olives upon a sheet
of letter-paper. The canned meats and the
glasses of jellies and the tins of crackers he
arranged with geometrical precision, forming
stars, circles and diamonds in outline. The
oranges formed a pyramid in the center of
the board, topped with a bunch of vivid
Parmelee stood off and viewed the result,
at first critically, then with approval. Displacing
the big armchair, he shoved the banquet-table
up to one of the windows, and set a
fiddle-backed mahogany chair before it. The
effect was incongruous, and he chuckled aloud.
“You’re the loneliest-looking chair I ever
saw!” he exclaimed. “Here, this is better.”
He seized another chair and placed it at
the opposite side of the table.
“There, that balances. Besides, one should
always make provision for the unexpected
guest. Perchance, the president or the dean
may drop in.”
He gave a final look at the repast and disappeared
into the bedroom at the back. Presently
the sound of splashing water told its own
At that moment the house door slammed,
footsteps sounded in the hall, and there was
a knock at Parmelee’s door. But Parmelee,
rioting at the basin in the back room, heard
nothing. After an interval the knocking was
repeated. Then the knob turned and the door
The visitor was a very erect, white-whiskered
man of about fifty, possessing a degree
of stoutness that set off to the best advantage
his well-cut black coat, white waistcoat and
gray trousers. His dark eyes gleamed with
kindliness and humor.
He held his shining hat and his gloves in
his hand, and looked questioningly about the
room. Then the sound of Parmelee’s ablutions
caught his ear, and he took a step forward.
“Is there any one at home?” he called.
Parmelee, in his shirt-sleeves, the water
dripping from the end of his nose, came to
the inner doorway, the towel clutched desperately
in one hand, and stared with amazement.
“I beg your pardon, sir, for this intrusion,”
the visitor said. “I knocked, and
receiving no answer, took the liberty of entering
unbidden. We old graduates lay claim
to many privileges on class-day, you know;
nothing is sacred to us.”
He paused. Parmelee grasped the towel
more firmly, as if it were a weapon of defense
to be used against the invader, and nodded
silently. His gaze fell on the banquet, and
amazement gave way to dismay.
“I escaped from my wife and daughter
after much scheming,” continued the visitor,
“in order to slip down here and have a look
at this room. I haven’t seen it for—well, not
since I graduated, and that was twenty-nine
years ago this month.”
“Ah!” Parmelee had found his tongue.
“You lived here while in college?”
“Four years. After I entered the law
school I roomed in town. But don’t let me
disturb you. I’ll just glance round a moment,
if I may.”
Parmelee’s courtesy came to the surface
again. The visitor’s designs were plainly
above suspicion. It was very awkward,
“Certainly, sir; just make yourself at
home. If you’ll pardon me for a moment, I’ll
get my coat on.”
The visitor bowed deprecatingly, and Parmelee
disappeared again. He reentered the
study a moment later, to find that the visitor
had laid aside his hat and gloves, and, with
hands clasped behind him, was looking from
a window across the vista of trees and roofs
at the sunset sky. He turned as Parmelee
approached, sighed, smiled apologetically, and
waved a hand toward the view.
“I have just accomplished a wonderful
feat,” he said. “I have wiped out a quarter
of a century.”
Parmelee smiled politely. “I presume
you find things much changed?” he asked.
“Yes, yes; but not here. That view is
almost the same as it was when I sat in that
window there, studying, reading, dreaming,
just as we all will when we’re young; just as
I dare say you have done many times.”
“But I fancy, sir, your dreams came true.”
“My boy, none of our dreams ever come
true just as we dream them. They couldn’t;
they are much too grand. I have nothing to
complain of and much to be happy for, but”—he
shook his head, smiling wistfully—“I’m
not the hero of those dreams.”
“I suppose it’s idle work, picturing the
future, dreaming of the great things we’re
going to do,” answered Parmelee, soberly;
“but—it’s hard not to.”
“No, no, don’t think that!” The visitor
laid a hand for a moment on Parmelee’s shoulder,
then darted a quick look of surprise at
the place his fingers had touched. Parmelee
saw it, and a wave of color dyed his face. But
the other continued after a pause that was
almost imperceptible. “Don’t think that,
my boy. Life wouldn’t be half what it is without
dreams. And who knows? Perhaps
yours are destined to come true. I hope they
“They never have,” said Parmelee, bitterly.
The older man smiled. “But there’s time
yet.” He turned and walked slowly about
the apartment, nodding his head now and
then, viewing the dark rafters as he might
have viewed old friends, and putting his head
in the bedroom door, but declining Parmelee’s
invitation to enter.
Reminiscences came to his mind, and he
told them lightly, entertainingly. He stood
for several moments in front of the empty
fireplace, and sighed again as he turned away.
He moved toward where he had laid his
hat and gloves. “I left word with my wife
to tell my son to come here for me, but I
don’t see him.” He picked up his hat and
looked out into the street. “He took part
in the tree exercises; he would have to change
his clothes afterward, and that would take
some time. I dare say if I walk up the street
I shall meet him.”
Parmelee struggled in silence with his reserve;
then he said:
“I—I wish you’d wait here for him, sir.
You see, it’s just possible that you might miss
him if you went.”
“But you’re certain I sha’n’t be in the
way? Your guests will not arrive for a
“I’m not expecting any one, sir.”
“Indeed!” The visitor glanced at the
banquet and looked puzzled. “Pardon me;
I thought you were giving a small spread. I
shall be very glad to remain if I’m not in your
He laid aside his hat and took a seat.
Parmelee retired to the window and frowned
at the banquet. Of course he had not been
asked to explain it, but no other course seemed
possible; the situation was ridiculous. He
would make a clean breast of it. Somehow it
did not seem difficult to tell things to the kind-faced
“I dare say you think I’m crazy,” he said,
“with all that stuff spread out there and—and
nobody coming, but—” And then he explained
things, although not very lucidly, for
he was disturbed by a realization of the absurdity
of the affair. But the visitor seemed
to understand, and when Parmelee had ended,
he exclaimed, with concern:
“Why, then I’ve been keeping you from
your supper! And no lunch, you say? I’d
no idea, I assure you—” He seized his hat
again. Parmelee sprang to his feet.
“No, no, I’m not in the least hungry!
That is, I’m in no hurry.”
The older man hesitated.
“But if you’ve had no lunch, you must
be starved! Indeed, I’m sure you must be!
I can appreciate your condition in a measure,
for my own lunch was a sorry affair, although
I did get a few bites. Don’t let me keep you
a moment longer.”
“But—but—” exclaimed Parmelee. The
visitor paused with his hand on the door-knob.
“Perhaps—you must be hungry yourself, and—if
you wouldn’t mind the lack of knives and
forks—and plates—I’d be awfully glad——”
“Well, really now, I’ve half a mind to
accept,” laughed the other. “The truth is,
I’m as hungry as a bear. These boarding-houses
on class-day—” He shook his head
expressively. “You are sure I’m not taking
some one else’s place?”
“No, indeed,” answered Parmelee. “The
fact is, I set that chair there for you half an
“For me?” inquired the visitor.
“Well, for the unexpected guest. You
see, sir, the one chair looked so lonely. Have
you room enough? Shall I move the desk
out a bit? It’s awkward having no plates—or
forks—or anything. If you will take this
penknife, sir? And—wait a moment! The
Parmelee excitedly seized two old blue
plates from over the mantel, dusted them on
a corner of the nearest bath-towel, and presented
one to the guest.
“Queer I didn’t think of these, isn’t it?
I think you’ll find that sliced chicken very
fair. Do you eat olives? I’ve never tried
cold Saratoga chips myself, but they look
He proffered one article after another in
a very fever of hospitality. In his eagerness
he distributed the olives impartially over the
whole board and brought the pièce de résistance,
the pyramid of oranges, tumbling into
The guest laid down his pocket-knife and
looked gravely across at his host.
“Is—is anything the matter?” faltered
“I must refuse to go on until I see you
“Oh!” Parmelee blushed and seized a
tin of potted turkey at random. After that
the banquet progressed finely. The unexpected
guest did full justice to the repast,
and the unaccustomed host remembered his
own hunger and satisfied it. More than that,
he forgot his shyness and was radiantly happy.
And after a while, when the last of the strawberries
had disappeared, he suddenly found
himself telling, in the most natural way in
the world, things that he had never told any
one before, except, perhaps, Philip Schuyler.
He stopped short in the middle of a sentence
in sudden embarrassment.
“And so your deformity, such a little
thing as it is, has worked all this—this misery?”
mused the guest. “Dear, dear, such
a pity, my boy, so unnecessary!”
“Unnecessary?” faltered Parmelee.
“Surely. You’ve been so mistaken when
you have credited all kinds of unpleasant
sentiments to people. They can’t care any
the less for you because your back is not as
straight as theirs. The fault has been yours,
my boy; you haven’t given people a chance
to get near to you. You’ve held them off at
arm’s length all your life. Take my advice.
After this go out among them; forget your
suspicions, and see for yourself if I’m not
right. When God put a hump between your
shoulders he made up for it in some other
way, you may depend upon that. And although
I’ve known you but an hour, I think
I know wherein the Lord has made it up to
you. But I’m not going to tell you; it might
make you vain.”
Parmelee raised his own eyes to the smiling
ones across the table.
“I don’t think you need have any apprehensions
on that score, sir,” he said, a trifle
“Well, perhaps not. I dare say you need
a little more vanity. But think over what
I’ve said, and if you can, act on it.”
“I will,” answered the other, earnestly.
“And I’m—I’m very grateful. I don’t think
I ever—looked at it quite that way, you see.”
“I’m certain you never have. And another
thing; I wouldn’t be too quick to bring
in a verdict in the case of that friend you’ve
told me of. I think when you learn the truth
you’ll find you’ve done him an injustice. And
forgive me if I hurt you, my boy, but I think
you’ve been more to blame than he has. It
seems to me that you were the one to take the
first step toward reconciliation. Well, I really
must be going to hunt up my family. They’ll
think I’m lost. I don’t know what’s happened
to Philip, I’m sure.”
“Philip?” asked Parmelee, quickly.
“My son,” answered the visitor, proudly.
“He graduates this spring. Philip Schuyler.
Perhaps you’ve met him?”
There was a knock at the door. Parmelee
drew himself up very straight, perhaps to
give the lie to the pallor of his face.
“Come in!” he called, and the door swung
The youth who confronted them looked
with white, set face from one to the other.
There was an instant of awkward silence.
Then, “Father!” he exclaimed, in a low
“Why, Philip, what’s the matter?” Parmelee’s
guest moved quickly to the door.
“Did you think I was lost?”
The son laughed uneasily.
“I didn’t know you were coming here; I
only learned it from mother a few minutes
ago.” It sounded like an apology, and the
older man looked apprehensively from his son
to his host.
“But was there—any reason why I
shouldn’t have come here, Phil?”
Philip Schuyler glanced from his father to
Parmelee’s set face, then dropped his eyes.
“Of course not, sir,” he replied. “It
was only that I didn’t know but I’d miss you.
Such a crowd in town!” he muttered.
“That’s all right, then,” said his father.
“And now I want to make you acquainted
with a friend of mine. I’ve only had the
honor of calling him such for an hour or so;
but two persons can become pretty well acquainted
in that time, especially over the
table,” he added, smiling. “Phil, this is—but,
dear me, I don’t know your name!”
“John Parmelee,” answered his host.
“Ah, Phil, this is Mr. Parmelee, who has
been exceedingly kind and has ministered to
my wants, outward and inward. I want you
to know him. Somehow I have an idea you
two youngsters will get on together. Mr. Parmelee,
this is my son, Philip.”
Philip bowed without moving from his
place at the door. Parmelee gave a gulp and
strode forward, his hand outstretched.
“We—we’re not new acquaintances, Mr.
Schuyler,” he said.
“Ah!” The older man watched while the
two shook hands constrainedly. “Ah!” he
repeated. It was a very expressive word as
he uttered it, and Parmelee, glancing at his
face, saw that he understood the situation.
The two unclasped their hands, and for a moment
viewed each other doubtfully.
“If you know each other, that makes simpler
the request I was about to make,” said
Parmelee’s guest. “I want Mr. Parmelee to
come and make us a visit for a week or so,
Phil. I think the North Shore sunshine will
take some of that white out of his face. Just
see if you can’t persuade him, won’t you?”
He turned away toward the window. The
two at the doorway looked at each other for
an instant in silence. Then Philip Schuyler
put out his hand, and Parmelee grasped it.
“You’ll come?” asked Philip, softly.
“If you want me.”
“Of course I do! And, I say, Jack, it’s—it’s
all right now, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Phil; it was never anything else,”
answered Parmelee, a trifle huskily. The two
gripped hands silently, smilingly, and turned
to Mr. Schuyler.
“Are you ready, dad?”
“Eh? Oh, yes. And, Mr. Parmelee, perhaps
you wouldn’t mind joining us? I’d like
you to meet Phil’s mother and sister. It—it
might be a good chance to test the value of
my advice, eh?” Parmelee hesitated for a
moment, then took up his gown.
“Thank you, sir, I think it might,” he