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The Girl and the Game and Other College Stories/Reddy Armstrong's Reformation


 

REDDY ARMSTRONG'S
REFORMATION

 

 

REDDY ARMSTRONG'S REFORMATION

In the early days of his college course Reddy Armstrong was known as "The Lucky Red," and it is said that he gave racing tips to sporty upper-classmen, although he was only a Freshman. The reason the teams were so successful in athletics that year was that Reddy was there to bet on them. It was a great blow when he reformed.

He generally worked with Runt Ramsay, because Runt was near enough like himself to be congenial, and not enough so to be desirous of bossing the firm, and because they had always been together ever since they were suspended from "prep" school for dumping a bucket of coal on a new under-master's head because he held it too high.

Runt did not have red hair, but they made a great pair to look at. About the campus Reddy wore a dead-grass colored corduroy suit and a blue sweater. Runt dressed in creamy corduroys and a crimson sweater, which went well with his black hair, which was curly. He had good taste about a number of things, though he hoped to get over it in time.

Both of them were short, and they always walked to recitations with arms closely entwined about each other's shoulders, their faces wearing a demure and studious expression, as if they had spent the previous hour in hard poling upon the bright new books under their other arms, instead of scrapping on the sofa, and calling each other names. When you said hello to them, they smiled all over their faces.

They were seldom seen apart. If one appeared on the campus without the other, he was asked, "Where's Runt, Red?" or, "Where's Red, Runt?" They decided to elect the same studies to avoid answering this question so often.

Their rooms were next door to each other. Red slept in Runt's bed, and Runt slept in Red's bed, and both slept together in first one bed, and then the other, so many times, and each was in the other's room so much during the day, that none of the class knew which room belonged to which, and one day some of the fellows made a bet on it. But when they referred the matter to Red and Runt, they did not agree, and therefore betted on it themselves. But Mrs. Glynn, who took care of the rooms, was not certain, and they finally appealed to the Assistant Treasurer of the college to decide it.

On Saturdays of the racing season they used to come to morning recitations dressed in loud linen and broad strap-seamed top-coats, and then steal out as soon as the roll was called and take the train for Guttenberg. If the day was lucky, they stayed in New York Saturday night and Sunday, that they might rest far away from the excitement and frivolities of the campus. If unsuccessful, they sneaked back sleepily on the "Owl" train, and told Tom, the carriage driver from the Junction, to hang it up. And if they had been too much cleaned out to telegraph him to meet them, they plunged through the three miles of dreary Jersey midnight, and cursed the inventors of railroad ties and patent leather shoes.

But they were unlucky remarkably seldom, and sometimes they did some big things. That is, Reddy did them. His round boy's face became familiar and somewhat fearful to the bookmakers. There were half a dozen followers, at Monmouth and at the other places that he frequented, who had learned that to bet as the little red-haired sport did was more efficient than rubbing the hump of a humpback.

These gentlemen dressed in huge checks, and, with large, black cigars under their large, black moustaches, used to watch for the round, freckled, smiling face, followed by the other smiling, unfreckled one. Then they would flock about the two boys and ask: "Say, do yous t'ink Jacobin can carry dat much?" "Garrison ain't to ride Petrel to-day. See?" and so on. And Reddy, who enjoyed all this, would look out over the buzzing, and the excited women, and the jockeys warming up the runners, and give his opinion to each in a few earnest, sober words. If any of them dared to ask why, he blew smoke in their faces and looked offended.

One day a certain well-known official, when he heard that he was a son of the Armstrongs of the "Sunnybank breed farm," sent a messenger and brought Reddy to his box.

"Ah, you're a son of Colonel Armstrong, I believe. He and I are old friends, you know," he said, with a smile that was intended to win, and then tried to draw young Armstrong out as to his father's intentions in regard to Gascon, the well-known two-year-old. But as the boy would not draw, he finally asked: "Well, now, do you think he will enter him on the 16th?" At which Reddy, because he thought it was nobody's business, turned his blue eyes timidly toward the beady black ones of the well-known official and made answer: "Oh, no, sir," and this was not exactly true, as could have been proven by a letter in the inside pocket of Reddy's blue coat.

Then the well-known official, because he thought he had performed a clever stroke, extended the privileges of the club to Reddy out of gratitude, and said: "Always come in here and sit with us, and bring your friend too." None of which Reddy did, because he saw things. Also, because it made him angry, and his red face still redder, to have men of that stamp claim friendship with his father, and equality with the Armstrongs of Kentucky.

You see, he had been brought up to consider the horse, next to woman, God's best and noblest gift to man. His earliest recollections were of his father and uncles and other Kentuckians drinking mint-juleps and talking horse in the wide Southern hall. When he was a little, white-haired baby, the first word he said was horse. At least, his father thought it was. He had learned to ride before he could walk, and had spent all his boyhood with horses and gentlemen horse-raisers. The family had gone in principally for that ever since his great-grandfather came over the mountains from Virginia for more room and fresh blue-grass. He knew no other sort of boyhood, and he did not know what to think of the boys he met when he first came North to school.

Because he was small, and ugly, and mischievous, and witty, and generous to excess, and quick to think and act, and everything else that red-headed Freshmen are expected to be, he was well known and liked in the class, from the first night of the term, when he turned his trustful blue eyes toward the Sophomore standing over him in the corner, and said in sweet, sad, Southern tones: "I declare, I'm mighty sorry I can't sing. But that big fellow over there can."

He became well loved, too, by those who got near enough to him to see the good stuff in him. But it did not become deep respect and universal regard until he was an upper-classman, and became a well-known orator in Whig Hall. But that was not until after his reformation.

Certain well-meaning members of the class had on more than one occasion knocked at his door and, with kind intent and great lack of tact, besought him to repent of his many sins and turn from his wild career while as yet there was time. The lucky Red had always listened docilely and thoughtfully, and had generally agreed with all the hard things they had said of him. He had thanked them, bowed them from the room in his polite Southern way, and then sent Runt to collect the gang. It was not one of these visits that affected him.

It began one night in the fall of Sophomore year. The gang had said good-night. Reddy and Runt had done a little poling, and were now lounging by the open fire, swearing gently at each other as was their wont when they wished to show their affection. They roomed on the campus now.

As Ramsay arose to reach a match from the mantel-piece for his pipe, his foot struck the iron shovel. It fell upon the brick hearth and made a sharp, ringing sound. He did not notice it, but it changed all the world to Reddy.

The ring of the shovel made him stop thinking how he should have played the last hand, and, by some process which has a long psychological name, the whole current of his thought was turned. A certain big ugly Fact stared him in the face, and made him shiver.

So, saying good-night to Runt, he jumped into bed to sleep off his sour. But this was not an ordinary sour, and he did not close his eyes until daybreak, and then he slept through chapel and two recitations. In consequence, he received a note from the Registrar, stating that the Absence Committee would wait upon him on Wednesday, at noon.

For over a year now this thing had come over him every now and then like a dull ache. He knew that it was all a matter of time before he would have to do something; but he thought he could keep on a while longer, dodging or turning his back upon it. But this time the big black fact seemed to have him in a narrow pass, and at eleven o'clock in the morning, as Mrs. O'Sullivan was pushing the furniture about, and pounding up a dust in the next room, Armstrong sat up in bed, ran his hands through his red hair, and decided to do it before sunset.

He told himself that what it meant was simply the removing of Something which bothered his free enjoyment of life. He was carrying too much weight for so young a horse; that was all.

When Runt Ramsay came in, after luncheon, he found a notice on the tobacco jar, stating that his roommate had gone to New York on an invitation from his bachelor lawyer cousin, and that, as he was coming back on the "Owl," he expected Runt to put something to eat on the bookcase, and some matches in the matchsafe by the door, as he had none, and it was Runt's turn to buy them, anyway. Runt said, "Humph!" and forgot. But, as it happened, it did not matter.

Red went as far as New Brunswick, then stepped off that train and took one for Philadelphia. But he did not stop there. He went on southward until the shadows became long. Then he jumped off and hurried to a place along a country roadside, where a blue ridge looks a certain way when the sun is setting, and where something else was pretty sure to appear if the day were fine and he watched long enough. He knew how this looked, too, and when she reined up, the eyebrows looked surprised in the way he expected; then she cried, "You, Reddy! Good gracious!" just as he knew she would.

He said, "Make Tom walk."

She said, "Is Hunter ill?"

"No."

"What's the matter? Where did you come from? What are you doing here?"

"Looking at you."

"I know that. Hurry up. Say something."

"I have a lot to say. You must listen to all of it, Betty."

Then the boy, whose mouth drooped at the corners, did some pretty hard talking. And the girl, who was small, and had a willful chin, and a great deal of dark-brown hair, which the sun knew how to shine on, she also talked.

"You will have to tell me to go away forever."

"I won't."

"Betty, you must."

"Reddy, I can't"

"You don't know me."

"I do."

"I am bad—all bad."

"I don't care."

"I drink."

"Never mind telling me, Reddy——"

"Yes, and I gamble and play the races, and I lie to the governor, and lie to you, and lie to every one, and I——"

"Stop, Reddy."

"That isn't half. Why, when all is told, you will be ashamed that you ever looked into my ugly red face."

"Don't, Reddy; please don't!"

"I'm sorry, but you must hear now. I'm just going to make you see what kind of a fellow I am. Why, I've been deceiving you ever since——"

"No, Reddy, you haven't."

"Haven't what?"

"I know—know all about it."

"You! you know about me?"

"I've known all along."

"All along! How?"

"All along, Reddy. Never mind how. Don't look down there."

"Betty, see here. Why haven't you sent—sent me away long ago?"

"Because—look up at me, Reddy—I knew that Hunter would bring you around all right; don't be so surprised."

He paused a moment, and then said: "Suppose—suppose he had not."

"But, Reddy, I know that you have stopped, or else you would not be telling me. While you were that other kind of a Reddy you didn't want me to know. You wouldn't even be angry when I flirted with——"

"Listen to me, Betty. Betty, would you give me up now if I were to tell you that I had not reformed at all, and was only making a clean breast of it?"

"Maybe."

"Would you, Betty? Quick."

"No, Reddy."

"Why?"

"Because."

"Because what?"

"Because—well—I know you would be sure to come round all right some time, because you are Reddy, and I love you and I pray—oh, so hard for you! I'm not crying."

"Oh, Betty," said the boy.

"Kiss me."

"No," said Reddy; "not even the hands." He knelt down in the muddy road.

"You're a sillier Reddy than ever. Get up. Now, Reddy, good-by. You must go." But she reined up again.

She poked her nose down close to his blue eyes, and shut her teeth close together, and spoke rapidly. "Do you want to know how I could tell you were bad? The way you looked at me all Freshman year. That's the reason I cried, and you called me a silly little thing. Want to know why I could not send you away even if you were still bad? 'Cause you might never come back. Then I'd die. What? I know that? Yes, I know that too. Of course you are not worthy. Who said you were? There's some mud on your lip, Reddy Armstrong, that came off my riding-boot. Wipe it away. And there's something else there I don't like. It's not a bit nice; it's white and it's bristly. Shave it! Do you hear me? How dare you come into my presence with that thing! Go!" But there were big tears in the girl's eyes.

Reddy watched her gallop away into the sunset. Then he turned back, loathing himself, and wondering what a strange thing was the love of a girl.

He had done all he could. He had told her. She knew now. Yet she would not let him go. So far as he could see, the only thing for him to do was to stop short, and make a man of himself, which he did.

But that was not the only thing to be done. What sort of a fellow he had been she might know or make a guess at. There was one thing she did not know, and never should, if he could help it. In one way it was worse than everything else put together. This would be hard to fix.

Runt was sitting on the floor in a characteristic attitude before the fire when his roommate came in. His chin rested on his knees, and these he was hugging with both arms. He was in pajamas, and he had doubled the end of the goatskin rug over his bare toes.

"Runt," began Reddy.

"Yep."

Reddy turned out the gas.

"What are you doing?" asked Runt, without looking up.

"Runt, this thing's got to stop."

"What thing's got to stop?"

"The way you and I are carrying on. The life we are leading here."

"What're you talking about?"

"Simply this: You and I, Runt, are two pretty nice fellows, only we're making great big fools of ourselves here at college."

"What's getting into you?"

"I mean it. See here. You and I are going to be lawyers, and in order to do that we must have an education."

"Well?"

"And though we may at this rate get our "dips" at the end, we aren't getting what we should out of our college course. But I don't refer to that so much. It's what we do, not what we don't, that I'm talking about. You and I are going to be lawyers, and we've got to be more or less honest when we become lawyers, merely from a business standpoint, you know. Playing poker and spending a day or two every week at the races are not the proper training for that."

"For Heaven's sake. Red——"

"Get serious. Runt; get serious. I mean all this. I've been doing a lot of thinking. We are getting older now. Life is getting to mean something. We've got to take a brace, you and I. It's getting blamed tiresome to me, anyway, to be pointed out on the campus as 'Lucky Reddy Armstrong.' I want to be known as something serious. I want to be respected as well as liked. You do too."

"What did you drink at your cousin's club?"

"Cork up! I propose to make myself something better than a clown to be funny for people. I might just as well tell you right now"—Reddy's voice became solemn—"I have quit the game!"

There was a pause. Red spread himself out upon the rug and supported his head with an elbow. He unconsciously watched Runt doubling up his toes, and trying to gather goat's hair in them. A cinder fell in the ash-pan.

"How long do you think it will last, Red?"

"Shut up! Don't say that to me. Did I ever talk this way before? This is no 'What a difference in the morning' sour. I'm in dead, dead earnest—for once in my life anyway." His voice sounded so. Runt had never heard it shake that way since early in the term, when a big Freshman had an impudent notion not to take off his hat to such a short Sophomore. "And," he went on vigorously, "it makes very little difference to me whether you believe I mean it or not. I have made up my mind, though, in regard to myself, and I shouldn't be a friend of yours if I did not tell you about it. You can do as you please."

He knew that his influence over Runt was powerful, but he had never tried to exert it in this direction before. So he turned over on his stomach, and stuck his fists under his chin, and puckered up his blue eyes at the red coals. The glow of the fire shone on the red head and on the black one, and neither of them was saying a word.

Presently Red began again. It was in a different tone this time. He did not relish talking in this strain.

"Besides, in your case, there's going home." He kept his eyes on the fire. "It's different with me. The governor has a pretty good idea of what I'm doing here, though I lie to him regularly, and he laughs about it with Uncle Sed. But I have no mother, you know, nor any unmarried sisters to care a rap what becomes of me. But with you—well, you know it's all a big lie the way you act at home; the way you pretend to be so frank with them all, the way you go to prayer meetings, and talk to your father about his sermons, and all that."

This was just about as far as one boy can go with another. Red feared that Runt would stand very little more, even from him. But this was the most important situation he had ever been in. That was the reason he turned and addressed his roommate by his Christian name.

"Hunter, you are the worst hypocrite I know—next to myself. And I'm going to stop being one. Whether you can do it or not, I can't stand any more of it, going down there in vacations, and being kissed by your mother and believed in by your father, and all the time telling big, long lies about you to—to the others. How can you look in her eyes, Runt, and then make out—oh, if you could have seen the way she looked at me to-day when she said——"

"To-day! Who?"

"Betty."

"Betty? To-day? I thought you—what were you doing in—oh, Red, did Sis put you up to this?"

"No, Runt; no. She thinks you are as good as her own pure self. I went down there—well, I wanted to tell her I had not been square. Listen, Runt! She thinks that you have reformed me. She believes you to be the best man in the world, next to your father. She said: 'I knew Hunter would bring you round all right!' She knew I had been bad, she said, by the way—by the way I acted. But she thinks her brother has been an angel all the time; and you have been as bad as I have, and it's all my own dirty doing. I dragged you with me (Shut up! I did!)—I've been your evil influence ever since we first roomed together at the "prep" school—ever since we dumped the coal on (Shut up!) Mr. Beaman. I am the one that started you on the road to hell, and now I can't stop you——"

"Cork up, Red!" the other at last broke in. He was swallowing hard. So was Reddy.


At first the gang laughed. There was indeed something amusing about it all. But when they saw that the two little Dead Games were in earnest, and looked pathetic when guyed about it, they left off making jocular remarks.

Finally, even the faculty got the idea through their heads. But they are always slow to acknowledge that any good thing can come out of the sporting element, and they continued for a term or two to give the pair fifth groups in their studies, from force of habit, and also occasional invitations to their Friday afternoon stag receptions in college offices. This greatly pained the dignity of the two.