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HARDING OF ST. TIMOTHY'S

 

CHAPTER I

THE master in charge of the great silent schoolroom touched a bell. Instantly the silence was broken with a variety of sounds. There was an outburst of confused speech, a scraping of chairs and feet on the wooden floor, a slamming together of books, and a banging of desk-lids. For the touching of the bell signified that the last study hour of this September afternoon was ended.

The boys issuing from the brick building divided into two streams, which turned to right and left, moving up or down the maple-shaded road toward the two big dormitories of St. Timothy's School. Some of the boys were frolicking, chasing one another, playing leap-frog as they went, out in the middle of the road; but most of them moved languidly along the sidewalk in groups of three and four. It had been a half holiday; they had been playing hard all the afternoon, except for this one study hour, and were tired.

Harry Harding and Rupert Ormsby were the last to leave the study building and stroll toward the Upper School. Harry's movements were especially indolent.

"What's your hurry, Rupe?" he said. "We have plenty of time."

"Yes," said the bigger boy, as he slackened his pace. "I suppose I won't get supper any sooner for hurrying, but I'm awfully hungry."

"That's what comes of being such an all-round athlete," Harry rejoined, and then he added wistfully, " Do you think I'll ever be able to do anything in athletics, Rupe?"

"Oh, I should n't wonder. You showed up pretty well in the football practice to-day. If you were n't so light. But you can run—and I guess you have plenty of sand." He smiled at Harry cheerfully, but Harry seemed to be in gloom.

"When you're in the sixth form," he said, "and sort of prominent because you once had a brother here that everybody knows about, you wish sometimes you could amount to something yourself."

"What's the matter?" asked Rupert. "You're head editor of the 'Mirror' and vice-president of the Pen and Ink, and generally a great gun. What more do you want?"

"Oh, it is n't that sort of thing that counts," replied Harry. "It's athletics. I'd give anything to be the sort of all-round fellow my brother Clark was—the sort you are."

"Ho! brains beat muscle any day."

"There's one thing," Harry continued, "that I am glad of, and that is that it's you who are the big all-round athlete. You'll be president of the athletic association and captain of the crew, and everything else. And I'm mighty glad of it!"

"Thanks!" Rupert laughed. "Only I'm afraid your congratulations are premature."

"Oh, no! You're the only real athlete in the whole sixth form. There are two or three pretty good in the fifth,—like Sam Hall and Nat Dennison,—but they won't count till next year. By the way, Rupert,"—he spoke with a sudden embarrassment, as if he hardly knew how to approach the subject,—"I wanted to tell you,—I hope you'll be glad to know,—you've been taken into the Crown."

Rupert stopped and leaned against the fence. They were only a hundred yards from the Upper School. Boys were sitting on the steps of the big brick building or standing about on the grass-plot in front, waiting for the supper-bell.

"I'm sorry," Rupert said. "I'll have to decline it, Harry."

"Why?" There was blank disappointment on Harry's face.

"I don't stand for the Crown." Still leaning against the fence, Rupert reached out, grasped Harry's shoulders, and shoved him back and forth, gently, affectionately.

"Why not?" There was resentful surprise now in Harry's tone.

"Because," said Rupert, releasing him, "it's a clique, and there ought not to be any clique in a school like this. You fellows in the Crown think that you're the aristocracy; you flock by yourselves and manage things so that you run the school. I'm not saying you don't run it pretty well, but I object to the system."

"The fellows in the Crown are your friends—the fellows you know and like best—the best fellows in the school," pleaded Harry. "I should think you'd like to join them."

"There!" exclaimed Rupert. "Just as if a fellow outside of your society can't be an intimate friend of fellows in it! That's just what I object to."

"No, I don't mean that. I don't think it's true."

"Besides," continued Rupert, "I'm not so sure that you have the best fellows in the Crown. I don't believe Joe Herrick's a very good sort of fellow."

"Herrick's improved a lot since he's been a member," declared Harry, "and we want to have the best fellows, don't we, when we're so anxious that you should join us?"

Rupert laughed. "You're a persuasive little chap," he said. "But I'm sorry. I don't believe in it, Harry, and I can't join. Tell the fellows how much I appreciate the honor and all that."

Harry looked very downcast.

"They'll be awfully disappointed," he said. "I guess my brother Clark never saw any harm in the Crown. He was president of it when he was in school—and I think he's as good as there is."

"I guess he is, too, from what I've heard of him," Rupert said kindly. "But he's built differently from me, that's all. He's the sort of fellow who takes things as they are and makes the best of them; and I know his going into the Crown and using his influence must have done a lot of good. But I don't believe my going in would do me or the Crown any good. So I think I'll stay outside." He laughed and patted Harry's shoulder. "We'd better be going in to supper."

Harry was too disappointed to speak. Of all the boys at St. Timothy's, Rupert Ormsby was the one whom Harry had come to like best. He had been attracted to Rupert the year before, when the big fellow had entered St. Timothy's as a "new kid." Rupert's "build" had excited Harry's admiration, his candid blue eyes and friendly smile had won Harry's liking. There was a cheerful, independent freedom in his manner toward every one, old boys and new, and at the same time a kindly consideration for whoever might be his comrade—and he seemed hardly to have a choice of comrades.

As Rupert and Harry approached, one of two boys sitting on the dormitory steps rose and came forward to meet them.

"Hello, Bruce!" said Harry, and Rupert said, "Hello, Watson!"

Bruce Watson linked his arm in Harry's and walked with him carelessly up the steps, past his former companion, who stood to one side rather bashfully. Rupert nodded to this thin, shy fellow, and wondered why Watson should have abandoned him so abruptly. Watson had nothing special to say, and when he accompanied Harry and Rupert inside and sat with them in the "common room," it seemed merely because of a preference for their society. And Rupert knew that Francis Stoddard, the boy who remained outside on the steps, had been Bruce Watson's closest friend.

That evening, before they went to bed, all the fellows in the Crown were aware that Rupert Ormsby had declined their election. Some of them, especially Joe Herrick, were for feeling insulted, but the general sentiment was merely one of surprise and disappointment.

"He simply does n't approve of secret societies," Harry said gloomily.

"It makes me a good deal less keen about him for president," said Joe Herrick.

"Oh, he's the fellow for it." Harry's assured, offhand declaration did not even invite a debate, and Joe Herrick was silent.

The presidency of the athletic association was, on the whole, the most desirable honorary office in the school. It was not that it
 
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ONE OF TWO BOYS ROSE AND CAME FORWARD TO MEET THEM

 
carried with it any special power or responsibility; the only duty of the incumbent was to get himself up in his best for a public appearance on the annual field-day, and introduce to the audience the distinguished guest of the occasion, who was to make a speech and present the prizes. But it had become almost traditional that the president of the athletic association should be one of the great athletes of the school. And ever since the organization of the Crown, this office—like most of the important school offices—had been held by a member of the society. This year, before electing him a member, the Crown had "slated" Rupert Ormsby for the position.

The day after Harry's talk with Rupert was a Sunday. In the afternoon small groups of boys were assembled near the study building in the shade of the maples. It was a warm afternoon for the end of September. All the boys were arrayed in their best, with patent leather shoes, and trousers handsomely creased, and large, beautiful neckties. They were all of an age when they took a great deal of pains to be well dressed. Some one had brought into the school the information that it was proper to wear one's coat with the lowest button fastened. All the boys were now observing this graceful, negligent fashion; their coats were drawn snugly about their waists and bulged comfortably about their chests.

A tall master with a brown mustache and eye-glasses, almost as well dressed as any of the boys, and resting his hip on a cane, stood by the doorway.

Now and then a group of boys would stroll toward him and touch their hats; one of them would say, "Bounds, please, sir?" and he would answer, "Yes, Nelson," or, "All right, Jones." That meant that they were free to walk out into the country beyond the school limits.

Harry Harding stepped out on the lawn in front of the chapel and began throwing a tennis-ball back and forth with Joe Herrick, just as if it were not Sunday. The master looked up and saw him.

"Harding! Herrick!" called the master, frowning and shaking his head. "Must n't do that there."

"May we do it on the ice, sir?" Harry asked earnestly, and the boys laughed.

"You have a foolish wit, Harding," the master said, with an indulgent smile; and because he was indulgent he had to reprove Harry and Herrick a moment later for again throwing the ball.

Gradually the boys scattered, some of them going up over the hill, on which stood the red brick house of one of the masters, the others walking down the slope toward the mill-pond.

Francis Stoddard and Bruce Watson had been sitting together on the fence, and Rupert Ormsby had been sitting near them with two fifth formers. Suddenly Bruce slipped down to the ground, and said:—

"Well, so long, Frank! Harry Harding and Joe Herrick and I are going for a walk," and he turned and called, "Coming, Harry?"

The three went off together up the road.

Rupert after a moment called out, "Don't be so exclusive, Stoddard! Come over here!"

With a shy, grateful smile, Stoddard got down from his perch and joined Rupert and the fifth formers, Hall and Dennison. He did not know either of them particularly well, and pretty soon Hall said, "Denny and I were thinking of taking a walk. Won't you fellows come along?"

Stoddard was relieved when Rupert answered for him, "Oh, I think we'll sit here awhile and be lazy."

When the others had departed, he turned to Stoddard and said:—

"What's the matter with Bruce Watson these days?"

Stoddard flushed. "Why, nothing, I guess. Why?"

"You and he used to be as thick as thieves," said Rupert. He glanced at Stoddard with a friendly smile. "You're right to keep up the bluff. Let's you and me take a walk—and talk things over."

They went off in the direction opposite to that which Harry Harding and Joe Herrick and Bruce Watson had taken. They walked down by the mill-pond, and round that off into the woods, and came out upon the road half a mile behind the school. For some time neither of them spoke. At last Rupert said abruptly:—

"Did you know that Bruce has been taken into the Crown?"

"No," Stoddard answered; and he added, "I don't know much about the Crown."

"That's all that's the matter with Bruce," continued Rupert. "He's just been taken in—and of course he has to be very intimate with the Crown fellows all at once. That was why last night he had to rush up and stick his arm in Harry's and walk off with him. And this afternoon he had to go with Harry and the rest to the regular Sunday meeting of the Crown—up at their sacred rock, you know. If you feel he's sort—of sort of going back on you, don't be troubled. Just put it down to his young enthusiasm for his new friends."

"I was feeling rather badly about it," Stoddard acknowledged. "You see, Bruce is about the only fellow I've been intimate with here. I don't know why he should have gone about with me so much when he's such a popular fellow himself; but he did, and I liked him better than any one else. The last few days, though, he's been different somehow—and I was feeling kind of unhappy about it. I suppose," Stoddard added, timidly, "you're in the Crown?"

Rupert shook his head.

"Oh, I didn't know—I'm sorry—I supposed you were in everything," Stoddard said, in embarrassment.

"I'm not in the Crown, anyway," Rupert assured him.

"Of course when a fellow gets into that, it's natural he should n't care any longer for fellows outside," Stoddard remarked, with resignation. "The Crown must have such an awfully good time among themselves—always doing things together that nobody else knows about and having all sorts of private little jokes and things. Of course a fellow in the Crown can't be intimate any more with an outsider, no matter how much he may like him."

"I think that's true," Rupert admitted. "But you'd better not feel badly about that."

"Well," said Stoddard, "I suppose a fellow can't help being a little more lonely."

"Oh, I refuse to be lonely," declared Rupert.

"It's different. You're in so many things. I don't see why you're not in the Crown," said Stoddard innocently. "Of course you're never lonely."

"I tell you what we'll do!" Rupert exclaimed, after they had walked on a little while. They were making a circuit back toward the school. "We'll get up a burlesque society of our own, just you and I. We two will be the charter members, and it will be very secret and exclusive, and it won't do a thing—except have a name and a burlesque society pin that we'll be very mysterious about. We'll elect other members, perhaps, and you'll soon find you won't be feeling lonely. Of course if we find our burlesque is making any hard feeling, we'll give it up; but I don't believe it will. What do you say?"

"Oh, I think it would be fun," said Stoddard. His eyes were shining at the thought. "Thank you for wanting me to be the other member."

"I'll see about getting half a dozen cheap pins," said Rupert, "and we'll have to think up a name for it."

They walked on, talking about this, Stoddard never suspecting all the kindness that had inspired the idea. Rupert had proposed it with the thought that it might relieve the lonely boy's sense of desertion; it was a way of stepping into Bruce Watson's place.

Meanwhile the members of the Crown had, as Rupert had guessed, made off to their Sunday afternoon rendezvous. It was the absurd theory that, sauntering away in detachments, they excited no suspicion of their real purpose. When Harry Harding and Joe Herrick and Bruce Watson, who were the last to start, came up over the brow of the hill beyond the school, they found their comrades sitting in line on the stone wall by the roadside. Then they all slipped down and marched together along the road. There were fifteen of them, and each one wore above the watch-pocket of his waistcoat a gold pin—a miniature crown.

They turned in at a path through a field. Crossing this field and climbing over the stone wall at the farther side, they came down into a hollow in which rose an enormous granite rock. Here they seated themselves, out of sight from any one passing by on the road.

"The meeting will come to order," said Harry, rapping on the rock with a stick. "The chief business to-day is to decide whom we'll put up for president of the athletic association. I guess we're all pretty well agreed that Rupert Ormsby's the man for it."

"I'm not so sure," said Herrick.

"Who else is there?" Harry asked.

"Well, there are plenty of others. Anyway, I don't see why the Crown should put up somebody who's refused to be a member. If a fellow is n't with us when he can be, he's against us, and I don't see why we should be represented by such a fellow or do anything to help his election."

"But if he's the best man for the place"—struck in Harry.

"Any man's all right for the place—if he's a good fellow and popular with the school, and interested enough in athletics not to seem absurd in such a position. What I say is that now the Crown can't afford to elect Rupert Ormsby. The only way we can keep our prestige with the school is by keeping all the honors in the Crown. We've always had the presidency; we've got to have it this year just as usual."

There was an interval of silence after this speech; the boys looked impressed. Harry, in his zeal to save the situation for Rupert, adopted a weak argument—one that was a direct challenge to the pride of the society.

"There's nobody in our crowd we could elect over Rupert," he said.

"Oh, I guess there is," declared Tom Albree.

And then Frank Windsor, who was Harry's roommate, spoke up:—

"What's the matter with Harry? I bet we could elect him!"

There was a general murmur of applause at this, and Harry turned red and laughed. "Oh, talk sense," he urged. "Who is there that can stand the least show against Rupert Ormsby?"

"That's all right," Frank Windsor persisted. "I'm talking sense."

"Harry's about the most popular fellow in the school," said Bruce Watson.

"Yes. And it makes no difference if he is n't a great athlete. It's popularity that counts."

"He'll make a good deal better speech than Rupert Ormsby would."

"He'll be on one of the club football-teams if he is n't on the school team—and that's athlete enough, really."

"Oh rot!" Harry, blushing furiously, interrupted this confused, many-voiced recital of his qualifications. "You all know as well as I do that the place belongs to the best athlete"—

"It belongs to the fellow that the school wants to give it to," cut in Frank Windsor.

"If the Crown nominated Rupert Ormsby the school would want him all right," insisted Harry.

"Yes, but the Crown won't nominate Rupert Ormsby!" said Joe Herrick, in a tone of triumph.

"It's kind of an embarrassing position for you, Harry, having to put the question of your own nomination," Frank Windsor said. "You'd better let me take the chair, and we'll rush you right through."

"Yes, give it up, Harry. Go ahead, Frank, put it through!" the boys urged.

"No, hold on!" Harry pleaded; but they drowned him out, crying:—

"Go ahead, Frank!"

Frank Windsor rose to his feet. "All those in favor of Harry Harding as the Crown's candidate for president of the athletic association please say 'Aye.'"

There was a loud response.

"Contrary minded, 'No.'"

A faint "No!" issued from Harry, and provoked a laugh.

"It is a vote."

Then they all jumped up, crowded round Harry, and shook hands with him and slapped him on the back. He could not help feeling gratified at such a demonstration of affection. And they all told him how right it was that he should have the place. He would simply be following in his brother Clark's footsteps. They told him that they guessed it ran in the family to be popular. Their satisfaction was so convincing and genuine that he could not feel really unhappy at having the honor thrust upon him.

The Crown discussed plans of campaign until the quarter-bell, sounding for the Sunday afternoon sacred studies, summoned them from their retreat. By that time each member had in his pocket a list of six boys whom he had promised to interview, and if possible persuade. As the meeting for election was not to be held for a week, there was plenty of time in which to influence doubtful voters.

When the boys recrossed the field and came out into the road, Rupert Ormsby and Francis Stoddard were just passing. Stoddard dropped his eyes bashfully. Rupert waved his hand, called out, "Hello, fellows!" and hurried on.

At sight of Rupert, Harry's elation was momentarily subdued. The thought that he was pledged to win an honor which he did not merit and which a friend deserved smote sharply upon his sense of friendship and justice.

But Rupert swung out of sight round a bend in the road; the other boys kept tossing jokes and compliments at Harry and calling one another to witness his blushes; then they began to push him about with affectionate roughness; and pretty soon he had dismissed the compunctions pricking his conscience and fallen back on the comfortable feeling that he had done his best, and that if all the fellows insisted on electing him it would not be his fault.