A Second Trial, A College Scene
- Our Dumb Animals
It was commencement day at college. The people were pouring into the church
as I entered. Finding the choice seats already taken, I pressed onward,
looking to the right and the left for a vacancy, and on the very front row
I found one. Here a little girl moved along to make room for me, looking
into my face with large gray eyes, whose brightness was softened by very
long lashes. Her face was open and fresh as a newly blown rose. Again and
again I found my eyes turning to the rose-like face, and each time the gray
eyes moved, half-smiling, to meet mine. Evidently the child was ready to
make friends with me. And when, with a bright smile, she returned my
dropped handkerchief, we seemed fairly introduced.
"There is going to be a great crowd," she said to me.
"Yes," I replied; "people always like to see how schoolboys are made into
Her face beamed with pleasure and pride as she said: "My brother is going
to graduate; he's going to speak. I have brought these flowers to throw at
They were not greenhouse favorites, but just old-fashioned domestic
flowers, such as we associate with the dear grandmothers. "But," I thought,
"they will seem sweet and beautiful to him, for his little sister's sake."
"That is my brother," she went on, pointing with her nosegay.
"The one with the light hair?" I asked.
"O, no;" she said, smiling and shaking her head in innocent reproof; "not
that homely one with red hair; that handsome one with brown, wavy hair. His
eyes look brown, too; but they are not, they are dark blue. There! he's got
his hand up to his head now. You see him, don't you?"
In an eager way she looked from him to me, as if some important fate
depended on my identifying her brother.
"I see him," I said. "He is a very good-looking brother."
"Yes, he is beautiful," she said, with artless delight, "and he's good, and
he studies so hard. He has taken care of me ever since mama died. Here is
his name on the program. He is not the valedictorian, but he has an honor
for all that."
I saw in the little creature's familiarity with these technical college
terms that she had closely identified herself with her brother's studies,
hopes, and successes.
"He thought at first," she continued, "that he would write on 'The Romance
of Monastic Life.'"
What a strange sound these long words had, whispered from her childish
lips! Her interest in her brother's work had stamped them on the child's
memory, and to her they were ordinary things.
"But then," she went on, "he decided that he would write on 'Historical
Parallels,' and he has a real good oration, and says it beautifully. He has
said it to me a great many times. I almost know it by heart. O, it begins
so pretty and so grand! This is the way it begins," she added, encouraged
by the interest she must have seen in my face: "'Amid the combinations of
actors and forces that make up the great kaleidoscope of history, we often
find a turn of Destiny's hand.'"
"Why, bless the baby!" I thought, looking down into her proud face. I
cannot describe how very odd and elfish it did seem to have those sonorous
words rolling out of the smiling mouth. The band striking up put an end to
the quotation and to the confidences. As the exercises progressed and
approached nearer and nearer the effort on which all her interest was
concentrated, my little friend became excited and restless. Her eyes grew
larger and brighter; two deep red spots glowed on her cheek. She touched up
the flowers, manifestly making the offering ready for the shrine.
"Now it's his turn," she said, turning to me a face in which pride and
delight and anxiety seemed equally mingled. But when the overture was
played through, and his name was called, the child seemed, in her
eagerness, to forget me and all the earth except him. She rose to her feet
and leaned forward for a better view of her beloved as he mounted to the
speaker's stand. I knew by her deep breathing that her heart was throbbing
in her throat. I knew, too, by the way her brother came to the front, that
he was trembling. The hands hung limp: his face was pallid, and the lips
blue, as with cold. I felt anxious. The child, too, seemed to discern that
things were not well with him. Something like fear showed in her face.
He made an automatic bow. Then a bewildered, struggling look came into his
face, then a helpless look, and he stood staring vacantly, like a
somnambulist, at the waiting audience. The moments of painful suspense went
by, and he still stood as if struck down. I saw how it was; he had been
seized with stage fright.
Alas, little sister! She turned her large, dismayed eves on me. "He's
forgotten it," she said. Then a swift change came over her face, a strong,
determined look; and on the funeral-like silence of the room broke the
sweet child voice:—
"'Amid the combinations of actors and forces that make up the great
kaleidoscope of history, we often find that a turn of Destiny's hand—'"
Everybody about us turned and looked. The breathless silence, the sweet,
childish voice, the childish face, the long, unchildlike words, produced a
But the help had come too late; the unhappy brother was already staggering
in humiliation from the stage. The band quickly struck up, and waves of
lively music were rolled out to cover the defeat.
I gave the sister a glance in which I meant to show the intense sympathy
which I felt, but she did not see. Her eyes, swimming with tears, were on
her brother's face. I put my arm around her. She was too absorbed to feel
the caress, and before I could appreciate her purpose she was on her way to
the shame-stricken young man, sitting with a face like a statue's. When he
saw her by his side, the set face relaxed, and a quick mist came into his
eyes. The young men got closer together to make room for her. She sat down
beside him, laid her flowers upon his knee, and slipped her hand into his.
I could not keep my eyes from her sweet, pitying face. I saw her whisper to
him, he bending a little to catch her word. Later, I found out that she was
asking him if he knew his "piece" now, and that he answered yes.
When the young man next on the list had spoken, and the band was playing,
the child, to the brother's great surprise, made her way up the platform
steps, and pressed through the throng of professors, trustees, and
distinguished visitors, to the president.
"If you please, sir," she said, with a little courtesy, "will you and the
trustees let my brother try again? He knows his 'piece' now."
For a moment, the president stared at her through his gold-bowed
spectacles, and then, appreciating the child's petition, he smiled on her,
and went down and spoke to the young man who had failed.
So it happened that when the band had again ceased playing, it was briefly
announced that Mr. Duane would now deliver his oration, "Historic
"'Amid the combinations of actors and forces that——'" This the little
sister whispered to him as he arose to answer the summons.
A ripple of heightened and expectant interest passed over the audience, and
then all sat stone-still as if fearing to breathe lest the speaker might
again take fright. No danger. The hero in the youth was aroused. He went at
his "piece" with a set purpose to conquer, to redeem himself, and to bring
back the smile into the child's tear-stained face. I watched the face
during the speaking. The wide eyes, the parted lips, the whole rapt being,
said the breathless audience was forgotten, that her spirit was moving with
And when the address was ended, with the ardent abandon of one who catches
enthusiasm, in the realization that he is fighting down a wrong judgment
and conquering a sympathy, the effect was really thrilling. That dignified
audience broke into rapturous applause; bouquets intended for the
valedictorian rained like a tempest. And the child who had helped save the
day, that one beaming little face, in its pride and gladness, is something
to be forever remembered.—Our Dumb Animals.