Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 26

Chapter 26

Not much in my life at college is essential to this history - save the training. The students came mostly from other and remote parts of the north country - some even from other states. Coming largely from towns and cities they were shorn of those simple and rugged traits, that distinguished the men o' Faraway, and made them worthy of what poor fame this book may afford. In the main they were like other students the world over, I take it' and mostly, as they have shown, capable of wiling their own fame. It all seemed very high and mighty and grand to me especially the names of the courses. I had my baptism of Sophomoric scorn and many a heated argument over my title to life, liberty and the pursuit of learning. It became necessary to establish it by force of arms, which I did decisively and with as little delay as possible. I took much interest in athletic sports and was soon a good ball player, a boxer of some skill, and the best wrestler in college. Things were going on comfortably when an upper classman met me and suggested that on a corning holiday, the Freshmen ought to wear stove-pipe hats. Those hats were the seed of great trouble.

'Stove-pipe hats!' I said thoughtfully.

'They're a good protection,' he assured me.

It seemed a very reasonable, not to say a necessary precaution. A man has to be young and innocent sometime or what would become of the Devil. I did not see that the stove-pipe hat was the red rag of insurrection and, when I did see it' I was up to my neck in the matter.

You see the Sophs are apt to be very nasty that day,' he continued.

I acknowledged they were quite capable of it.

'And they don't care where they hit,' he went on.

I felt of my head that was still sore, from a forceful argument of the preceding day, and admitted there was good ground for the assertion.

When I met my classmen, that afternoon, I was an advocate of the 'stove-pipe' as a means of protection. There were a number of husky fellows, in my class, who saw its resisting power and seconded my suggestion. We decided to leave it to the ladies of the class and they greeted our plan with applause. So, that morning, we arrayed ourselves mhigh hats, heavy canes and fine linen, marching together up College Hill. We had hardly entered the gate before we saw the Sophs forming in a thick rank outside the door prepared, as we took it, to resist our entrance. They out-numbered us and were, in the main, heavier but we had a foot or more of good stiff material between each head and harm. Of just what befell us, when we got to the enemy, I have never felt sure. Of the total inefficiency of the stove-pipe hat as an article of armour, I have never had the slightest doubt since then. There was a great flash and rattle of canes. Then the air was full of us. In the heat of it all prudence went to the winds. We hit out right and left, on both sides, smashing hats and bruising heads and hands. The canes went down in a jiffy and then we closed with each other hip and thigh. Collars were ripped off, coats were torn, shirts were gory from the blood of noses, and in this condition the most of us were rolling and tumbling on the ground. I had flung a man, heavily, and broke away and was tackling another when I heard a hush in the tumult and then the voice of the president. He stood on the high steps, his grey head bare, his right hand lifted. It must have looked like carnage from where he stood.

'Young gentlemen!' he called. 'Cease, I command you. If we cannot get along without this thing we will shut up shop.'

Well, that was the end of it and came near being the end of our careers in college. We looked at each other, torn and panting and bloody, and at the girls, who stood by, pale with alarm. Then we picked up the shapeless hats and went away for repairs. I had heard that the path of learning was long and beset with peril but I hoped, not without reason, the worst was over. As I went off the campus the top of my hat was hanging over my left ear, my collar and cravat were turned awry, my trousers gaped over one knee. I was talking with a fellow sufferer and patching the skin on my knuckles, when suddenly I met Uncle Eb.

'By the Lord Harry!' he said, looking me over from top to toe, 'teacher up there mus' be purty ha'sh.'

'It wa'n't the teacher,' I said.

'Must have fit then.'

'Fit hard,' I answered, laughing.

'Try t' walk on ye?'

'Tried t' walk on me. Took several steps too,' I said stooping to brush my trousers.

'Hm! guess he found it ruther bad walkin' didn't he?' my old friend enquired. 'Leetle bit rough in spots?'

'Little bit rough, Uncle Eb - that's certain.'

'Better not go hum,' he said, a great relief in his face. 'Look 's if ye'd been chopped down an' sawed - an' split - an' throwed in a pile. I'll go an' bring over some things fer ye.'

I went with my friend, who had suffered less darnage, and Uncle Eb brought me what I needed to look more respectable than I felt

The president, great and good man that he was, forgave us, finally, after many interviews and such wholesome reproof as made us all ashamed of our folly.

In my second year, at college, Hope went away to continue her studies in New York She was to live in the family of John Fuller, a friend of David, who had left Faraway years before and made his fortune there in the big city. Her going filled my days with a lingering and pervasive sadness. 1 saw in it sometimes the shadow of a heavier loss than I dared to contemplate. She had come home once a week from Ogdensburg and I had always had a letter between times. She was ambitious and, I fancy, they let her go, so that there should be no danger of any turning aside from the plan of my life, or of hers; for they knew our hearts as well as we knew them and possibly better.

We had the parlour to ourselves the evening before she went away, and I read her a little love tale I had written especially for that occasion. It gave us some chance to discuss the absorbing and forbidden topic of our lives.

'He's too much afraid of her,' she said, 'he ought to put his arm about her waist in that love scene.'

'Like that,' I said, suiting the action to the word.

'About like that,' she answered, laughing, 'and then he ought to say something very, very, nice to her before he proposes - something about his having loved her for so long - you know.'

'And how about her?' I asked, my arm still about her waist.

'If she really loves him,' Hope answered, 'she would put her arms about his neck and lay her head upon his shoulder, so; and then he might say what is in the story.' She was smiling now as she looked up at me.

'And kiss her?'

'And kiss her,' she whispered; and, let me add, that part of the scene was in nowise neglected.

'And when he says: "will you wait for me and keep me always in your heart?" what should be her answer,' I continued.

'Always!' she said.

'Hope, this is our own story,' I whispered. 'Does it need any further correction?'

'It's too short - that's all,' she answered, as our lips met again.

Just then Uncle Eb opened the door, suddenly.

'Tut tut!' he said tuning quickly about

'Come in, Uncle Eb,' said Hope, 'come right in, we want to see you.

In a moment she had caught him by the arm.

'Don' want 'o break up the meetin',' said he laughing.

'We don't care if you do know,' said Hope, 'we're not ashamed of it.'

'Hain't got no cause t' be,' he said. 'Go it while ye're young 'n full 'o vinegar! That's what I say every time. It's the best fun there is. I thought I'd like t' hev ye both come up t' my room, fer a minute, 'fore yer mother 'n father come back,' he said in a low tone that was almost a whisper.

Then he shut one eye, suggestively, and beckoned with his head, as we followed him up the stairway to the little room in which he slept. He knelt by the bed and pulled out the old skin-covered trunk that David Brower had given him soon after we came. He felt a moment for the keyhole, his hand trembling, and then I helped him open the trunk. From under that sacred suit of broadcloth, worn only on the grandest occasions, he fetched a bundle about the size of a man's head. It was tied in a big red handkerchief. We were both sitting on the floor beside him.

'Heft it,' he whispered.

I did so and found it heavier than I expected.

'What is it?' I asked.

'Spondoolix,' he whispered.

Then he untied the bundle - a close packed hoard of bankbills with some pieces of gold and silver at the bottom.

'Hain't never hed no use fer it,' he said as he drew out a layer of greenbacks and spread them with trembling fingers. Then he began counting them slowly and carefully.

'There!' he whispered, when at length he had counted a hundred dollars. 'There Hope! take thet an' put it away in yer wallet. Might come handy when ye're 'way fr'm hum.'

She kissed him tenderly.

'Put it 'n yer wallet an' say nothin' - not a word t' nobody,' he said.

Then he counted over a like amount for me.

'Say nothin',' he said, looking up at me over his spectacles. 'Ye'll hev t' spile a suit o' clothes purty often if them fellers keep a fightin' uv ye all the time.'

Father and mother were coming in below stairs and, hearing them, we helped Uncle Eb tie up his bundle and stow it away. Then we went down to meet them.

Next morning we bade Hope goodbye at the cars and returned to our home with a sense of loss that, for long, lay heavy upon us all.