Harding of St. Timothy's/Chapter 11
HARRY and Frank were asleep in the morning when the harsh clangor of the rising-bell resounded through the dormitory. It approached down the corridor, rang for a moment before their door, and then receded, leaving them roused to the sorrow of the day.
Harry was the first to leave his bed. When he had closed the window, he stood looking out a moment, although the room was so cold that he shivered.
The sun was brilliant on the snow, the icicles hanging from the eaves were twinkling crystals, the smoke from the chimneys of the buildings curled up toward a serene sky; but to Harry all this blithesome aspect had the indifference of utter cruelty. It would have been more befitting if the day had come in tempest and in gloom.
Then, as he turned to dress, there was a knock on the door.
"Come in!" cried Harry. The door opened, and Mr. Eldredge stood before him with a face so radiant that the boy's heart leaped up.
"I thought you'd like to know," said the master. "Rupert rallied splendidly early this morning. He's grown stronger, and it looks now as if the danger-point was past."
"Oh!" cried Harry. He turned. "Did you hear, Frank? Did you hear? Wake up! Get up! O Frank, is n't it great! Did you hear?"
He dragged his roommate out of bed; and Mr. Eldredge left them to their own rejoicing.
When they had finished their mad, hilarious dressing, Harry stood again for a moment looking out of the window, down toward the infirmary. And now there seemed no cruelty in the gay sunlight, the flashing splendor of ice and snow, the tranquil stillness. All this was revealed to Harry now as part of the happiness of this day. And it was a gentle, friendly earth and air and sky that showed and shared such happiness. No gayest holiday in all the year had filled the school with so much joy as this bright day in March.
After breakfast, as Harry and half a dozen others were on their way to the infirmary to get an official report, they met Doctor Vincent leaving the building. The doctor's face was pale and haggard, for he had not slept at all during two nights and a day, and he walked unsteadily; his tired eyes could not bear the light reflected from the snow. But when the boys came near and he recognized them, he laughed and flung up one hand and cried, "It's all right now, fellows; he's pulled through. But I tell you, it was the closest call!"
He passed on up the road.
"He's feeling about as good as any one, for all he looks so done up," said Joe Herrick.
"It must be fine," sighed Harry, "to be a doctor and know you've pulled a fellow through."
"Finest thing in the world," declared Frank Windsor, who looked forward to doing just that some day.
In chapel that morning the rector read the one hundred and third Psalm, the psalm in which are verses that are spoken above the dead, the psalm in which are other verses of rejoicing for the living. The boys who had heard his quivering voice when he made the announcement in the schoolroom the night before caught now the exultation and the fervor with which he read the words, and in the same spirit made the responses.
After that they all knelt; and in place of the gloomy prayer for the desperately sick, with its clause of resignation to a grievous outcome, the rector read the thanksgiving on behalf of those who have been brought back from the valley of death. And the murmuring, slumberous "Amen!" of the boys rose to the Gothic arches and died whispering away.
Rupert's return to health was slow. It was not until a few days before the beginning of the Easter vacation that his friends were admitted to see him, and then it was for only a few brief moments.
Harry had hardly more than a glimpse of a frail and emaciated face with big, listless eyes and a smile so wan that it was almost sadder than tears. He left the room feeling oppressed with a sense that there could never be the old, strong Rupert again.
He saw him but twice before going away for the Easter holidays. When he returned after the two weeks' absence, he learned to his sorrow that Rupert had gone. Rupert had improved so much that it had been thought safe to move him; and his mother had taken him South in the hope that there he might regain his health more rapidly.
"And won't he come back to the school at all, sir?" Harry asked the rector, who had given him this information.
"I'm afraid he won't," the rector replied. "You see, he's missed nearly a whole term now, and he will find it impossible to regain his standing with the form. He won't be well and strong for a good while yet."
To Harry the news was a sad disappointment. The intimacy which had grown so dear to him seemed now forever brought to an end. He and Rupert were going to different colleges, their homes were in cities far apart; it was unlikely that their paths would ever cross in after life. The parting from friends was the inevitable sorrow which the close of school life would bring; but this premature separation from the best beloved of all, this sudden breaking off of an intimacy that had already been cruelly interrupted, seemed to Harry very hard to bear.
Francis Stoddard was equally depressed, but he surprised Harry after the first day or two of gloom by urging the duty of cheerfulness.
"I tell you," he declared to Harry and Herrick, on a stormy afternoon, when they sat together over a "brew" of chocolate, "we ought to be so thankful his life was spared that we should never be sad again. That's enough in itself to make us happy, and I'm going to be as happy as I can."
"That's the way to talk," said Herrick. "Besides, he won't be having a bad time taking it easy down South, and missing all this beastly weather. Francis, let me see if I can still pick out 'The Blue Danube.'"
He reached for Stoddard's banjo and began thumbing the strings.
"O great Scott!" said Harry. "Just when we were trying to be as happy as we can! Take it from him, Francis, for goodness' sake!"
Perhaps even if they had not determined to show such a brave spirit, they could not long have remained melancholy. For this was the happy term, the one most crowded with activity, the one in which the sentiment of those who were so soon to leave ripened to its sweetest, and made them more than ever before responsive to all that was kind and gentle in the life, all that was beautiful in the place.
Spring was the time, too, of the flowering forth of sports as well as of woods and fields. Canoes were launched in the ponds, "scrub" baseball games were played on the rough meadow behind the upper school long before the playground was in condition, the crews had their first practice in their shells—the whole school seemed more than ever active and alive.
Herrick was rowing on one of the crews, but Harry had been dropped from the squad entirely. He turned at first to scrub baseball, hoping to develop in that enough skill to win a place later on the Corinthian team. But he nearly always struck out when he tried to bat, and he soon realized that the ball-field was not one that he could adorn.
Then he began training for the half-mile run. He had pretty good "wind," and he was confident that if he worked hard he would be chosen to compete in the June sports.
Indeed, a sort of fear was urging him on now in these efforts, a feeling that he must succeed in order not to be ridiculous. At this season of the year, when other boys were performing exploits on pond or field, his own athletic prowess at football seemed very small and remote; and if he was to stand up as president of the athletic association and feel really comfortable, he must take some part in the athletics of this term.
Two weeks before the annual field-day he was awarded his place on the Corinthian track team. His uneasiness was set at rest. Even though he knew that in the half-mile event Sam Morse would surely beat him, he was content.
He had had several letters in the weeks since Easter from Rupert—letters in which even the handwriting seemed to indicate the progress back toward health.
"I'm coming North pretty soon now," Rupert had written in the last of these. "Maybe I'll be allowed to make you a visit some time before the end of the term. It would be fine to see all you fellows again."
Harry had shown the letter to every one in the sixth form, and had got up a "round robin" reply to it, urging Rupert to come.
It was not difficult to secure the signatures; and indeed there was in all matters a more harmonious spirit in the school this term than there had been before. In the dissolution of the Crown the barriers that had separated factions were swept away. There had grown up a freer and more genial intercourse when the assumption by a few of a secret and important interest was discontinued. And Harry's leadership in school affairs was not more disputed and was far less resented than when he had relied for it upon the support of his "machine." It had never been more enthusiastically followed than in the framing of this letter to Rupert.
The day when Harry learned that his position on the Corinthian track team was secure was crowded for him with pleasurable excitement. He received that afternoon a telegram from his brother Clark, announcing his arrival at San Francisco. Clark and Archer Sands were entering upon the last stage of their journey round the world. They would both be present on the field-day.
Only a few hours after Harry had received the telegram, he met the rector walking down to the athletic field. He touched his cap and was passing, but the rector stopped.
"Harry," he said, "I understand you're to have charge of the exercises on field-day. Do you think"—his eyes twinkled—"you're up to introducing the President of the United States to an audience?"
"He's coming?" Harry cried.
"Yes, he's coming," answered the rector. "We shall expect you to put him at his ease before the audience."
He laughed in his merry, noiseless way at his little joke, laid a gentle hand on Harry's shoulder for a moment, and then walked on.
Harry hastened exultantly to his room and wrote a letter to his mother, in which he gave her the accumulation of good news. "And now you must be sure to come up to the school for that day," he wrote. "It would spoil it all for me if you did n't come. Besides, just think, it may be your only chance to see one of your sons standing up with the President of the United States."
He did not communicate the news to his mother alone. When he had anything interesting in his mind, he was lavish in sharing it; and before nightfall every boy in the school knew that the President was really coming to be the rector's guest, and make a speech on field-day.
All the fellows who had gone in for track athletics were tremendously elated. If they could only win a prize, how near they would be to the President when they came up to receive it—within three or four feet of him, maybe! And all the fellows who had gone in for baseball and rowing felt correspondingly chagrined. There would be no chance for them.
But it was Harry whose position seemed to them all most enviable.
"You'll meet him—stand right up and talk to him!" Bruce Watson made the discovery at supper that night. "Oh, what a cinch!"
Harry was so frankly joyous over his opportunity that no one could feel very resentful about it, and the teasing he received concerning his chances for a diplomatic appointment or a place in the Cabinet was all good-natured.
He lost no time in setting about the preparation of his speech. It must necessarily be short, but he wished the phrasing of it to be exactly right. He came down to dinner one day satisfied in mind. He felt that he had hit upon the best possible introduction.
Tom Eastman, who sat next to him and who was captain of the Pythian track team, was tearing open a letter. After a moment he looked up.
"The President's not the only fellow who's coming on for field-day," he said, with exultation.
"Who else?" Harry asked.
"Rupert Ormsby." All the boys at the table broke out in eager exclamation and inquiry. "Yes, I'll read you what he says—if you'll only keep still. 'I hope the Pythians are showing their speed on the track this year. The doctor has said I may come on for field-day, and I want to see the Pythians win the way they used to. Love to Harry Harding and Stoddard and Herrick, and all the rest.' Just a scrap of a note—but is n't it great!"
There was enthusiastic agreement upon this, and the news that Rupert was Doming circulated through the school as rapidly as that about the President had done, and caused almost as much excitement.
"I wish we could give him a—a demonstration of some kind," said Frank Windsor, after he had crawled into bed that night.
The remark started Harry to thinking; and while he lay in the darkness, and after Frank's regular breathing had proclaimed he was asleep, a big and generous idea came into Harry's mind. He lay pondering it rather sadly, and at last dropped off to sleep, wondering if he would have courage for it the next morning.
When he awoke he faced it cheerfully, without shrinking. He took Joe Herrick aside after breakfast and whispered with him.
At noon a notice on the bulletin-board attracted a curious throng:—
There will be an important meeting of the athletic association in the auditorium to-morrow at 12.30. Important. All attend.
H. Harding, President
Boys came up to Harry at intervals through the day, asking him why the meeting was called, but he gave them all the same mystifying answer—"Wait and see."
Even Frank Windsor had not been taken into his confidence, and was quite indignant that Harry should make such a secret of what was probably a trivial matter. The mysterious secrecy achieved, however, its purpose in bringing out the next day a full attendance at the meeting. Harry mounted the platform and stood, and when the boys were silent he said:—
"The meeting will please come to order. I will ask Mr. Eldredge to take the chair."
Thereupon Mr. Eldredge mounted the platform, and Harry descended from it, and standing on the floor said:—
"Mr. Chairman, I called this meeting because I wish to tender my resignation as president. I should like to say a few words in explanation. Rupert Ormsby is coming back here for field-day. Everybody knows Ormsby was the best athlete in the school. He ought by rights to have been elected president in the first place. And it seems to me maybe we could make up a little of his hard luck to him by electing him now, and having him stand up on field-day as our president. I'm sure it would please him, and I believe all the fellows in the school would like to have him in that position. Mr. Chairman, here's my resignation,"—Harry handed a folded paper up to Mr. Eldredge,—"and I hope very much it will be accepted, and my other suggestion adopted."
He sat down, red with the excitement of hist speech, and amid a great outburst of applause—applause which was as much perhaps for his generosity as for his idea. When it had subsided, Mr. Eldredge said, with a smile:—
"I take it for granted that you are willing to accept Mr. Harding's resignation. Is there any objection?"
He waited a moment. There was no answer. Then Harry nudged Joe Herrick, who was sitting next to him, and Herrick rose.
"Mr. Chairman," he said, "I move that Mr. Ormsby be elected president by acclamation."
"Second the motion!" cried a dozen voices from all parts of the hall.
"Gentlemen, you have heard the motion. All those in favor say aye!"
There rolled back an overwhelming response.
"Mr. Ormsby is elected. Is there any further business?"
"Mr. Chairman!" Harry was again on his feet and again excited. "I think it would be a good thing if we could make this a surprise to Mr. Ormsby—not notify him beforehand. Let it come to him all unexpected."
"Does the suggestion strike the meeting as a good one?" Mr. Eldredge asked.
"Yes! Yes!" came the answering cries.
"Then the chair earnestly requests that no one transmit to Mr. Ormsby, either by writing or by any other means whatsoever, the news of his election; and the chair appoints Mr. Harding, Mr. Herrick, and Mr. Stoddard a committee of three to wait upon Mr. Ormsby and inform him of his election at their discretion. If there is no further business, the meeting is adjourned."
The boys slowly dispersed, but a good many of those who knew Harry waited. They had some idea what it had cost him to make this sacrifice, and they wished to say a word which might show their sympathy. But he turned it aside with a laugh.
There had never before been a field-day when so little attention had been given by the spectators to the athletic sports; but that fact in no wise discouraged the contestants. Indeed, they exhibited more than ordinary zeal. This was explained by the two messages which the captains had given their teams at the beginning of the afternoon inside the athletic house.
"Now, fellows, just one thing," said Jim Tilden, captain of the Corinthians. "Remember the President of the United States is out there to look at you."
Tom Eastman, the captain of the Pythians, heard the speech. "Now, fellows, just one thing," he said, with quick defiance in his voice, and Corinthians as well as Pythians paused to listen. "Remember—Rupert Ormsby is out there to look at you."
And because of these two facts the eyes of the school and of the visitors were turned away much of the time from the young athletes, who were running and jumping and putting the shot.
Most of them gazed at the gentleman in the silk hat who sat next to the rector in the middle of the stand. But although he held the attention of so many, there was always a little gathering about an open carriage which was drawn up close to the track, and in which sat a boy, pale and thin, yet with a happy eagerness shining in his blue eyes.
Harry finished fourth in the half-mile run. He had hoped to do better than that, but when it was all over he did not feel very much disappointed. He dressed as quickly as he could, and hurried out to join his mother and Clark. They were sitting not very far from the President. And Philip Ward, who also had come on for the field-day, was sitting there too, next to his old roommate.
"It's much worse than a three-ring circus," Harry said to his mother. "I want to look at you and Clark, and I want to look at the President, and I want to be with Rupert Ormsby up there in the carriage, and I want to see the sports. They're mighty close, but the Pythians are sure to win now. They're better in these last two events than we are. I shan't mind so much, because it will please Rupert. Clark,"—he nudged his brother,—"I want you to come with me and meet Rupert Ormsby. We'll be back in a little while, mother."
As they walked up in front of the stand, it made Harry proud to be aware that in spite of the other attractions some of the boys were noticing his big, handsome brother, and saying, "See that fellow with Harry? That must be Clark Harding." Indeed, he was as proud of Clark as if he himself had been the older brother, and had brought him up.
"Pretty near time for you to do your presidential act, Harry," Clark said, as they walked along.
"No, not to-day," Harry answered.
Clark glanced at him with a puzzled inquiry in his eyes, but Harry did not explain. And the next moment they were at the carriage, and Rupert Ormsby and Clark Harding were shaking hands. Joe Herrick and Francis Stoddard and the other boys who had been hanging round the carriage modestly withdrew. Harry took Herrick and Stoddard to one side, and whispered with them while his brother and Rupert talked.
A pistol-shot sounded across the field, and five white-clad figures leaped forward in the start of the mile run, the last race on the programme.
"I think we'd better tell him now," said Harry.
With grave faces the committee of three returned to the carriage. They stood by, waiting until the runners had passed on the first lap. Then Harry spoke.
"Rupert," he said, "we three have been appointed a committee to tell you that you are expected, as president of the athletic association, to stand up in a few minutes and do your duty."
Rupert and Clark both looked at him in astonishment.
"What do you mean?" asked Rupert.
"That's right, Rupe!" Stoddard broke in excitedly. "Harry resigned the presidency a little while ago, and you were unanimously elected."
"We knew you were the only real athlete in the school, even if you were sick," Herrick added.
Rupert looked from one to another. A faint flush of color had come into his pale cheeks.
"This is your doing, Harry," he said at last, with a tremor of reproach and gratitude in his voice. "You ought not to have done it, old man. You ought not to have done it."
"He ought," said Clark Harding abruptly. His voice was gruff, and the grip that he fastened on his brother's arm was hard, yet Harry knew there was tenderness in both.
"You'd better be thinking up what to say, Rupe," Harry warned him. "They'll be wanting you after this race."
The Pythians had already won the championship, no matter what might be the result of the mile run. Yet when the five came down the home-stretch with only a few yards separating them, there seemed as much excitement among the spectators as if the event were to be decisive. The boys were crowded about the finish line and along up the track, shouting the names of their favorites—"Eastman! Eastman!" "Hall! Hall!" And in the stand the spectators were on their feet, waving flags and hats—the President among them.
"Eastman got it!" Harry announced from the step of the carriage to which he had climbed. "One more score for you fellows, Rupert. Now you'd better let me help you down. The rector will be looking for you."
"Oh, I'm not so feeble as all that," said Rupert, and he scorned the proffered hands that were outstretched to aid him. He clambered down to the ground alone.
Yet he was rather rickety and walked slowly, and submitted after a moment to having Harry take his arm and steer him through the crowd. At the foot of the grand stand was the rector, awaiting them. He took Rupert from Harry's charge and led him up the steps. And Harry, returning to where his mother sat with Philip Ward, saw Rupert with his hat off, shaking hands with the President. At that sight a lump of disappointment rose in Harry's throat. Perhaps his mother knew how he felt, for she pressed his hand without looking at him, and he swallowed the lump.
Rupert and the President and the rector's little daughter, who was to hand out the prizes, walked together across the track to the table, on which were the shining mugs and medals. The President walked in the middle, arm in arm with each of the others.
"That's to steady Rupert," Harry murmured to his mother. "Is n't it nice of him?"
The crowd became very still and expectant. Standing by the table, with her hands folded in front of her, the little girl looked wonderingly up at the President, who gazed straight ahead with a faint smile.
Rupert took a step forward. He did not look like a great athlete. His clothes hung loose upon his shrunken figure, his face was pale, and as he spoke his voice was thin and rather tremulous.
"Ladies and gentlemen, and boys of St. Timothy's School," he said, "I have the great honor of presenting to you the President of the United States."
The applause lasted only a moment. Every one was too eager to hear the President speak. He turned first to Rupert."Mr. President," he said, and bowed, "ladies and gentlemen, and boys. I was very much impressed this afternoon with a little story that your rector told me while I was looking on at your sports. It was the story of a boy who might, if all had gone well, have been a leader in these sports,—a boy who was perhaps the best athlete in this school, which has, as I have seen to-day, so many athletes,—but a boy who by a series of misfortunes had been obliged to leave in the middle of the year with all his school ambitions unattained, all his promised achievements unfulfilled. Yet he had left behind so dear a name that when, still an invalid, he was able to revisit the school, he found bestowed upon him the highest honor for that brief period that the school could give. I am glad to be among boys who do not forget true worth; and I am glad to stand beside the boy whose worth they have not forgotten."
Then from the stand, from up and down the track, upon which people had crowded in their eagerness to hear and see, came a great outburst of applause, during which Rupert stood looking at the ground, while the President's hand rested lightly on his shoulder. When at last the cheering ceased, the President continued:—
"But this is not all of the story that the rector told me. There was another boy who had been elected to this honorable office. And it was his unselfish thought,—a thought none the less unselfish because it was prompted by a sense of justice,—it was his renunciation and sacrifice, that gave the school its opportunity to show the returning comrade how well he was remembered. And I think it is only fair that I should have the chance of standing beside that boy, too,—of standing between the two presidents of your athletic association. If that boy is anywhere round, will he please step out and show himself?"
There was laughter and applause and turning of heads. Even Rupert dared now to look up at the stand with a shy, expectant smile.
Harry Harding was being hustled down the aisle.
"Get out there! Get out there!" his brother had cried to him, thrusting him forward, jamming him through the throng. And as he came, every one along the way gave a hand in helping him forward. In a moment, hatless, red, disheveled, he bounded out on the track and stepped up beside the President.
"Are you Harry Harding?" asked the President, in a stern and forbidding voice.
"Yes, sir," said Harry.
Then the President placed his left hand on Harry's shoulder, his right on Rupert's, and looked again up at the stand, with laughter twitching at his lips.
"With these two fellows holding up my hands," he said, "I could feel perfectly safe."
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