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CHAPTER IX

HARRY almost wept over this letter. To think that Clark, whom he had expected to make proud and happy by the announcement, should view his election in such a spirit!

Harry's disappointment was not accompanied by any bitterness against his brother; and he could not escape the justice of Clark's criticism. He admitted to himself that the Crown had played politics, but he had not himself encouraged this or taken part. There had been no real opposition to his candidacy. Rupert Ormsby, the only other fellow who was seriously considered, had been indifferent to the office; and, as it turned out in the voting, the majority of the school wanted Harry to be their president.

This was the explanation that he made in answering Clark's letter, and he added quite wistfully that he thought he had done something to justify such an election. He described the part he had taken in the football game, and recited Philip Ward's tribute to him.

"And I'm going to see if I can't make the track team in the spring," he wrote. "I'm a good deal bigger and stronger than I was when you last saw me, Clark."

In this way he sought to answer not only Clark's reproaches, but his own.

Clark had not suggested to him that he should resign the office, but it was a solution which presented itself to Harry's conscience. Yet he could not bring himself to make such renunciation. There was still the thought of that day in June to enchant him, the thought of standing up with the President of the United States,—or some one else almost as distinguished,—the thought of the pleasure it would give his mother—if not Clark!

He believed that Clark, when he was on the spot and saw how well his brother could carry off such an occasion, was bound to be pleased. So, although he had taken very much to heart what Philip Ward had said at the banquet, it did not influence him into renouncing honors already won. It was as a suggestion for future conduct rather than as a corrective of the past that it was to have its effect.

He honestly wished now to evade prominence, to avoid being conspicuous; and he decided that the best way was by staying in his room and studying hard, and doing his editorial work for the "Mirror" with more care and with less of the eleventh-hour facility which he had been accustomed to give to it. In short, he was determined to see if he could not work in a quite unworldly way.

The time did not favor him; it was between seasons, so to speak, when there was not much to do outdoors. Snow and ice had not yet come, and in the recreation hours the boys roamed restlessly from room to room.

Harry's quarters had always been a rallying-place, and it was impossible to make the fellows understand that they were not so welcome as formerly, even if it had been true. Harry always confessed to a weak sort of gladness when they arrived and compelled him to put away his work; and as for Frank Windsor, he could not endure either solitude or scholarship.

Yet Harry was making a struggle, and he acquired the habit of resorting in the afternoon to the library instead of to his room. There he found he could read and write undisturbed. And there, too, he began to take an interest in those queer, quiet boys who spent so much time at tables and desks that their sleeves were rubbed shiny, and whom Harry had been inclined to regard as the freaks and offscourings of the school.

They turned out to be more human than he had supposed. And he found that if he did not ridicule them, as many of the fellows did, they were rather pleased than otherwise when he uttered some extravagant sentiment to shock their primness.

During the rest of that term, which closed a few days before Christmas, Harry helped aspirants to construct stories and essays for the "Mirror," he tried to improve the standard of the paper, he availed himself of his authority as president of the Pen and Ink to make out lists of references for reading on the subjects of debate. To the pleasant surprise of the rector and the masters, he began to show a faculty for being unobtrusively helpful.

It was in the Pen and Ink that Harry found the first urgent and difficult demand upon his newly awakened public spirit. There was only one vacancy left, and at the first meeting after Thanksgiving an attempt to fill this was made. Harry, presiding, called for nominations. Immediately Nat Belmont was on his feet, proposing Francis Stoddard. Some one else seconded him.

"Are there any other nominations?" asked Harry.

Frank Windsor rose. "I nominate Mr. Albree," he said.

Harry looked surprised. His roommate had not confided this purpose to him. Bruce Watson seconded Albree's name.

There were no other nominations. Candidates were voted on in alphabetical order; therefore Albree's name was submitted first. Two blackballs excluded a candidate from membership; and when the votes were counted it was found that Albree had received seven blackballs. Frank Windsor and Bruce Watson, who were sitting together in the back of the room, conferred in whispers after this announcement. Then Frank rose.

"Mr. President," he said, "I'd like to say about Mr. Albree that he's one of the brightest and most amusing fellows I know, and I don't think the fact that he's never done much in a literary way should count against him. He'd be mighty good in debates. He's witty and clever, and I hope the society will feel like reconsidering its vote."

"Mr. Stoddard has been proposed for membership, and will now be voted on," said Harry, and Windsor sat down.

A few moments later Harry received from the tellers the memorandum announcing the result of the vote. He announced slowly:—

"Mr. Stoddard has received two blackballs, and is therefore not elected."

Nat Belmont and three or four other fellows sitting on the front benches twisted round and glared angrily at Watson and Windsor. Bruce Watson accepted the challenge of this glare, and rose.

"Mr. President," he said, in a pacific voice, "I should like to say that Francis Stoddard is a friend of mine. I've known him and liked him for a long time, and personally I should be glad to see him in the society. But I can't help thinking that Albree would be the better man of the two, and that his election would be for the better interests of the Pen and Ink. He'd do more to liven things up than Stoddard would. I hate, for personal reasons, to be opposing Stoddard, but that's the way I feel."

"Mr. President," said Belmont quickly, "I move another ballot be taken on both candidates."

The motion was carried without debate. This time Albree received nine blackballs—more than half of the total number of votes cast. Windsor and Watson looked grim. The ballot-box was passed for votes upon Stoddard's name. He received, as before, two blackballs.

"Mr. President," exclaimed Belmont, "I move another ballot on Mr. Stoddard!"

There was no objection raised, but the third ballot showed the same result as the two previous ones. And a fourth ballot was taken, with no change.

"Is it the pleasure of the meeting that the balloting should go on indefinitely?" asked Harry.

Belmont rose. "Mr. President, it seems to me that two members are trying to hold up this society. Two members are keeping a fellow out that the society wants, in order to get in a fellow that the society does n't want. I suggest that one more ballot be taken to give these gentlemen a chance to show a better spirit."

"Mr. President," cried Frank Windsor, starting to his feet, "in reply to the gentleman's insinuations about holding up the society, I'd like to say I've as much right to my vote as he has to his; and if he thinks he can bulldoze me into changing it, he'll find himself mistaken!"

Belmont was quick to reply. "Mr. President, the only bulldozing that I've ever known of in this society has come from members of a secret society that meets somewhere off in the woods and tries to run the affairs of another."

Harry, flushing, rapped on the table and rose.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I think there's been enough of this. If we adjourn and talk things over among ourselves, we'll be able to settle them in a better temper. Will some one make a motion to adjourn?"

The motion was made and carried. Later in the evening Harry talked to Frank Windsor and Bruce Watson in his room.

"You fellows are in the wrong," he said to them earnestly. "Albree is n't as good a man for the place as Stoddard, and you can't persuade that crowd that he is. You can keep on blackballing Stoddard, but you'll never get Albree in. Now do you want to keep on,—and split the society,—and maybe do worse than that?"

"How worse than that?" asked Watson.

"There are some pretty plain hints. Some of the fellows think it's time there was a rival society started to operate against the Crown. Once that's done, it will mean a continuous wrangle in the school."

"I don't see why Stoddard's a better man," insisted Watson.

"He's written some pretty good stuff for the 'Mirror,' and Albree never has, for one thing," Harry explained.

"But Albree's more amusing."

"That's not really the point, and you know it, Bruce. Now are you fellows going to be pig-headed and make trouble, or are you going to give in when nine tenths of the society show you that you're in the wrong?"

"I told Tom Albree I'd get him elected; he wants to join," Frank Windsor muttered stubbornly.

"Oh, that's it!" exclaimed Harry, in a sort of exasperated despair. "And now you don't like to own up to him that you can't do what you promised!" He thought a moment, and then he said, "I tell you what, Frank. If I go to Tom Albree myself, and explain how it is, and so let you and Bruce out, will you agree not to blackball Stoddard?"

They looked at each other and hesitated, and then said, "Yes."

It was a task repugnant to one who had always tried to bring pleasant messages to people and to evade the unwelcome word. But as president of the Crown, and also of the Pen and Ink, and in the interests of both societies, Harry fulfilled the duty.

Tom Albree did not take his rejection with good grace, and he believed Harry to have been at the bottom of it; in fact, Harry forced himself to be brave enough to declare his responsibility. Albree concluded that Harry was becoming officious, and thenceforth he felt less friendly toward him. But the threatening split in the Pen and Ink was averted, and there was a lull in the hints about the necessity of a secret society antagonistic to the Crown.

The Sunday afternoon meetings of the Crown had degenerated into empty, futile affairs. On cold, damp days the sacred rock held out no attractions, and the prescribed meeting was a mere formality.

The society was at this inactive period so purposeless that it had nothing to do but to discuss the merits of the various fifth-form boys who might be called on to continue it. Harry had begun to weary of the impressive secrecy and exclusiveness of its performances. To march away every Sunday afternoon with the school looking on and holding its breath had ceased to give him a pleasurable exhilaration. The sham importance of it all made him now a little ashamed. He felt it was one of those vacuous manifestations of prominence against which Philip Ward had uttered his warning.

One Sunday, as the members of the Crown were proceeding to their rallying-place, they passed Rupert Ormsby, swinging along on his crutches, with Francis Stoddard walking at his side. It galled Harry to have to go by with the others and say nothing more than "Hello!" It grated on his sensitiveness, as if he were unwillingly a party to an insult, or at least a deliberate slight. It seemed somehow especially unkind to pass a lame fellow who was limping along on crutches, and not linger and talk with him a while.

Moreover, with Harry's growing admiration for Rupert there had been a growing jealousy of Rupert's intimacy with Stoddard; and there was now perhaps a personal reluctance on Harry's part to pass and leave Stoddard in undivided possession of this intimacy.

At any rate, the incident prompted Harry to utter his protest as soon as the Crown was assembled at the sacred rock.

"Fellows," he said, "I'd like to know if you aren't getting tired of this secret society business? We all know it's just a fake. Is n't it about time to drop it?"

"Oh shucks, no!" declared Frank Windsor. "It's amusing, and besides, it keeps the other fellows guessing."

"This is n't our busy season," put in Bruce Watson. "When it's necessary to run things we can do a lot of good."

"It seems to me the Crown has done considerable for you, Harry," said Tom Albree. "Just because you've got everything you want through it, I don't know that the Crown has outlived its usefulness."

Harry flushed. "That's not a very fair remark," he said, "even though it sounds telling. I think the Crown has outlived its usefulness, whether it comes with a good grace from me to say so or not."

"I don't agree with you," said Albree, in a chilly voice. The others remained silent, except for one or two muttered remarks, "I don't, either."

"Well," said Harry, with dignity, after a moment, "I don't seem in sympathy with the society, and I wish to tender my resignation as president."

"Oh bosh!" cried Frank Windsor. "We don't want you to resign; we won't have it. I move that Mr. Harding's resignation be not accepted."

The motion was seconded and carried, and then Joe Herrick, who had not spoken except to vote, said:—

"Just the same, I think there's something in Harry's suggestion. I believe it's worth thinking over."

This from one who had formerly been the most partisan and narrow-minded upholder of the dignity of the Crown was startling, and the boys looked at Herrick in wonder.

"I don't see what's come over you, Joe," remarked Albree discontentedly.

"It's just that I believe there's something in what Harry says," Herrick repeated.

"Well," Albree answered, "maybe you'll change your mind."

The matter was for the time being allowed to drop. Harry afterward explained his views to Frank Windsor and one or two other members, but he did not convince them, and he did not press the agitation.

When hockey and snow-shoeing and tobogganing began, Harry found his diversions mainly indoors. He was a poor skater, he disliked snow-shoeing, and he was indifferent to tobogganing. His favorite diversion on winter afternoons in previous years had been to assemble a crowd of indolent companions in his room, brew chocolate for them, and devise with them disorderly plots and practical jokes, for which he had a conspicuous fertility of mind.

But now he resorted to the gymnasium, and trained with the first squad of candidates for the crews; and he abandoned his mischievously disposed friends to visit or walk with Rupert.

He found Francis Stoddard nearly always with Rupert, and that irritated him at first; but after a while he did not mind. As he phrased it to himself, Rupert's friendship was "good for two."

Stoddard played on the banjo, and taught Harry and Rupert to pick out several tunes. Both boys took a great delight in mastering this elementary accomplishment. Rupert's leg was getting stronger, too, and although he was not able to discard his crutches, he could swing along on them as rapidly now as any one would want to walk.

When there was no hockey, Joe Herrick sometimes dropped into Rupert's room, or joined him and the others in their walks. At first Herrick's appearance made Stoddard shrink into his shell, but by degrees they became tolerant of each other, and at last even friends. So, uneventfully enough, the last days of the term slipped past.

The Christmas vacation was a long one. Rupert Ormsby went away from the school on crutches; he came back without them, declaring joyfully that his leg was as strong as it had ever been.

To demonstrate this, he joined at once in the hockey practice, and five days later played for the Pythians in the second of the interclub games, and helped them to win it by shooting a brilliant goal. The Corinthians had won the first game, but now, with Rupert showing all his old-time speed and skill, their prospect of securing the championship was dimmed.

The day after this game it rained, and then followed a week of thaw and slush, during which the boys who demanded exercise betook themselves to the gymnasium. Rupert joined temporarily the squad of crew candidates, among whom Harry, with no chance in the world, was already enrolled. They were training under the leadership of Sam Morse of the fifth form, who had been the strongest oar in the boat the year before, and would undoubtedly be chosen captain.

The crew candidates pulled chest-weights a tedious number of times, and those who were regarded as most promising rowed on the rowing-machines, and then they all ended the day's exercise with a mile run—outdoors when this was practicable, but on rainy days on the short padded track of the gymnasium.

On the fourth afternoon of his crew practice Rupert Ormsby came down into the dresssing-room after the mile run, and stretched himself, panting, on the bench, with his hands clasped over his eyes.

Harry, whose locker was near by, looked at him, and said:—

"What's the matter, Rupe?"

"Nothing—just a headache," Rupert answered.

He sat up after a while and began taking off his clothes. His face seemed to Harry unnaturally white.

"I've had a headache all day," Rupert said, "and running jolted it up a good deal. I guess a shower-bath may wash it out."

But he did not feel or look any better after he was dressed.

"I've had headaches before," he said to Harry, as they left the gymnasium together. "But this one's a corker."

He went to his room and tried to study his Greek lesson, but the harsh letters of the Iliad grew blurred and blinding before his aching eyes. Soon he put the book down, and lay with his eyes closed.

The school-bell rang, announcing the last recitation hour of the day; and Rupert rose, took his book, and went to the study building. He was called on almost at the beginning of the hour to translate. He tried to stumble through the lines, but after a moment he looked up at the master and said, "I'm not prepared, sir."

Mr. Allen glanced at him in surprise, and then for the first time noticed the grayish pallor of his face.

"I'm afraid you're not well, Ormsby," he observed. "I'd suggest that you go over to the infirmary."

"No, sir, it's nothing," Rupert answered. He had a horror of the infirmary, where he had already spent so many weeks. "It's just a headache."

He sat down, and Mr. Allen marked him leniently for the failure.

For Rupert the hour of recitation dragged on with intolerable slowness. He could not look at his book. If he moved his head suddenly, pain darted through his eyeballs, and darkness shut down over them for a moment. The hot, throbbing ache seemed to vary its energy, now allowing intervals of relief between the pulses, now speeding up the battery and sending the shocks quivering in swift succession.

When the hour ended, Rupert got to his feet and stood a moment, swaying in giddiness. Then, with a fresh burst of pain, his eyesight cleared, and he made his way out of the door.

He could eat nothing at supper; and afterward, as he was going up to his room, Mr. Eldredge, who was his dormitory master, stopped him.

"Rupert," said the master, "I want you to go down to the infirmary."

"All right, sir." Rupert turned wearily, put on his hat and overcoat, and went out of the door.

Later that evening, when the half-hour allowed for "visiting" arrived, Harry knocked on Rupert's door. There was no response. Mr. Eldredge, who happened to be standing at the head of the corridor, came down.

"Rupert won't be in to-night," he said. "He looked so sick, I had him go over to the infirmary. And since then they've sent over for his things—so I'm afraid he's to stay there for a while."

"What's the matter with him, sir?" Harry asked.

"I don't know. Nothing serious, I hope."

The next morning, after breakfast, when they were on their way to chapel, Harry and Joe Herrick stopped at the infirmary to find out how Rupert was.

"He had a rather bad night," the matron said to them. "He has a high temperature and he's very feverish. In fact,—though it's too early to be sure,—we're afraid it's typhoid fever."