Ramsey Milholland by Booth Tarkington
He never saw her again. She sent him a "picture postal" from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, which his father disengaged from the family mail, one morning at breakfast, and considerately handed to him without audible comment. Upon it was written, "Oh, you Ramsey!" This was the last of Milla.
Just before school opened, in the autumn, Sadie Clews made some revelations. "Milla did like you," said Sadie. "After that time you jumped in the creek to save her she liked you better than any boy in town, and I guess if it wasn't for her cousin Milt up in Chicago she would of liked you the best anywhere. I guess she did, anyway, because she hadn't seen him for about a year then.
"Well, that afternoon she went away I was over there and took in everything that was goin' on, only she made me promise on my word of honour I wouldn't even tell Albert. They didn't get any wire from her uncle about the touring car; it was her cousin Milt that jumped on the train and came down and fixed it all up for Milla to go on the trip, and everything. You see, Ramsey, she was turned back a couple of times in school before she came in our class and I don't exactly know how old she is and she don't look old yet, but I'm pretty sure she's at least eighteen, and she might be over. Her mother kept tellin' her all the time you were just a kid, and didn't have anything to support her on, and lots of things like that. I didn't think such a great deal of this Milt's looks, myself, but he's anyway twenty-one years old, and got a good position, and all their family seem to think he's just fine! It wasn't his father that took in the touring car on debt, like she said she was writing to you; it was Milt himself. He started out in business when he was only fifteen years old, and this trip he was gettin' up for his father and mother and Milla was the first vacation he ever took. Well, of course she wouldn't like my tellin' you, but I can't see the harm of it, now everything's all over."
"All--all over? You mean Milla's going to be--to be married?"
"She already is," said Sadie. "They got married at her Aunt Jess and Uncle Purv's house, up in Chicago, last Thursday. Yes, sir; that quiet little Milla's a regular old married woman by this time, I expect, Ramsey!"
When he got over the shock, which was not until the next day, one predominating feeling remained: it was a gloomy pride--a pride in his proven maturity. He was old enough, it appeared, to have been the same thing as engaged to a person who was now a Married Woman. His manner thenceforth showed an added trace of seriousness and self-consideration.
Having recovered his equipoise and something more, he entirely forgot that moment of humble admiration he had felt for Dora Yocum on the day of his flattest prostration. When he saw her sitting in the classroom, smiling brightly up at the teacher, the morning of the school's opening in the autumn, all his humility had long since vanished and she appeared to him not otherwise than as the scholar whose complete proficiency had always been so irksome to him.
"Look at her!" he muttered to himself. "Same ole Teacher's Pet!"
Now and then, as the days and seasons passed, and Dora's serene progress continued, never checked or even flawed, there stirred within some lingerings of the old determination to "show" her; and he would conjure up a day-dream of Dora in loud lamentation, while he led the laughter of the spectators. But gradually his feelings about her came to be merely a dull oppression. He was tired of having to look at her (as he stated it) and he thanked the Lord that the time wouldn't be so long now until he'd be out of that ole school, and then all he'd have to do he'd just take care never to walk by her house; it was easy enough to use some other street when he had to go down-town.
"The good ole class of Nineteen-Fourteen is about gone," he said to Fred Mitchell, who was still his most intimate friend when they reached the senior year. "Yes, sir; it's held together a good many years, Fred, but after June it'll be busted plum up, and I hope nobody starts a move to have any reunions. There's a good many members of the ole class that I can stand and there's some I can't, but there's one I just won't! If we ever did call a reunion, that ole Yocum girl would start in right away and run the whole shebang, and that's where I'd resign! You know, Fred, the thing I think is the one biggest benefit of graduating from this ole school? It's never seein' Dora Yocum again."
This was again his theme as he sat by the same friend's side, in the rear row of the class at Commencement, listening to the delivery of the Valedictory. "Thinks she's just sooblime, don't she!" he whispered morosely. "She wouldn't trade with the President of the United States right now. She prob'ly thinks bein' Valedictorian is more important than Captain of the State University Eleven. Never mind!" And here his tone became huskily jubilant. "Never mind! Just about a half-an-hour more and that's the last o' you, ole girl! Yes, sir, Fred; one thing we can feel pretty good over: this is where we get through with Dora Yocum!"
Ramsey and Fred had arranged to room together at Greenfield, the seat of the state university, and they made the short journey in company the following September. They arrived hilarious, anticipating pleasurable excitements in the way of "fraternity" pledgings and initiations, encounters with sophomores, class meetings, and elections; and, also, they were not absolutely without interest in the matter of Girls, for the state university was co-educational, and it was but natural to expect in so broad a field, all new to them, a possible vision of something rather thrilling. They whispered cheerfully of all these things during the process of matriculation, and signed the registrar's book on a fresh page; but when Fred had written his name under Ramsey's, and blotted it, he took the liberty of turning over the leaf to examine some of the autographs of their future classmates, written on the other side. Then he uttered an exclamation, more droll than dolorous, though it affected to be wholly the latter; for the shock to Fred was by no means so painful as it was to his friend.
Ramsey leaned forward and read the name indicated by Fred's forefinger.
...When they got back to their pleasant quarters at Mrs. Meig's, facing the campus, Ramsey was still unable to talk of anything except the lamentable discovery; nor were his companion's burlesquing efforts to console him of great avail, though Fred did become serious enough to point out that a university was different from a high school.
"It's not like havin' to use one big room as a headquarters, you know, Ramsey. Everything's all split up, and she might happen not to be in a single of your classes."
"You don't know my luck!" the afflicted boy protested. "I wish I'd gone to Harvard, the way my father wanted me to. Why, this is just the worst nuisance I ever struck! You'll see! She'll be in everything there is, just the way she was back home."
He appeared to be corroborated by the events of the next day, when they attended the first meeting to organize the new class. The masculine element predominated, but Dora Yocum was elected vice-president. "You see?" Ramsey said. "Didn't I tell you? You see what happens?"
But after that she ceased for a time to intrude upon his life, and he admitted that his harassment was less grave than he had anticipated. There were about five hundred students in the freshman class; he seldom saw her, and when he did it was not more than a distant glimpse of her on one of the campus paths, her thoughtful head bent over a book as she hurried to a classroom. This was bearable; and in the flattering agitations of being sought, and even hunted, by several "fraternities" simultaneously desirous of his becoming a sworn Brother, he almost forgot her. After a hazardous month the roommates fell into the arms of the last "frat" to seek them, and having undergone an evening of outrage which concluded with touching rhetoric and an oath taken at midnight, they proudly wore jewelled symbols on their breasts and were free to turn part of their attention to other affairs, especially the affairs of the Eleven.
However, they were instructed by the older brethren of their Order, whose duty it was to assist in the proper manoeuvring of their young careers, that, although support of the 'varsity teams was important, they must neglect neither the spiritual nor the intellectual by-products of undergraduate doings. Therefore they became members of the college Y.M.C.A. and of the "Lumen Society."
According to the charter which it had granted itself, the "Lumen Society" was an "Organization of male and female students"--so "advanced" was this university--"for the development of the powers of debate and oratory, intellectual and sociological progress, and the discussion of all matters relating to philosophy, metaphysics, literature, art, and current events." A statement so formidable was not without a hushing effect upon Messrs. Milholland and Mitchell; they went to their first "Lumen" meeting in a state of fear and came away little reassured.
"I couldn't get up there," Ramsey declared, "I couldn't stand up there before all that crowd and make a speech, or debate in a debate, to save my soul and gizzard! Why, I'd just keel right over and haf to be carried out."
"Well, the way I understand it," said Fred, "we can't get out of it. The seniors in the 'frat' said we had to join, and they said we couldn't resign, either, after we had joined. They said we just had to go through it, and after a while we'd get used to it and not mind it much."
"I will!" Ramsey insisted. "I couldn't any more stand up there on my feet and get to spoutin' about sociology and the radical metempsychorus of the metaphysical bazoozum than I could fly a flyin' machine. Why, I--"
"Oh, that wasn't anything," Fred interrupted. "The only one that talked like that, he was that Blickens; he's a tutor, or something, and really a member of the faculty. Most o' the others just kind of blah-blahhed around, and what any of 'em tried to get off their chests hardly amounted to terribly much."
"I don't care. I couldn't do it at all!"
"Well, the way it looks to me," Fred observed, "we simply got to! From what they tell me, the freshmen got to do more than anybody. Every other Friday night, it's all freshmen and nothin' else. You get a postal card on Monday morning in your mail, and it says 'Assignment' on it, and then it's got written underneath what you haf to do the next Friday night--oration or debate, or maybe just read from some old book or something. I guess we got to stand up there and try, anyway."
"All right," said Ramsey. "If they want me to commit suicide they can send me one o' their ole 'Assignments.' I won't need to commit suicide, though, I guess. All I'll do, I'll just fall over in a fit, and stay in it."
And, in truth, when he received his first "Assignment," one Monday morning, a month later, he seemed in a fair way to fulfil his prophecy. The attention of his roommate, who sat at a window of their study, was attracted by sounds of strangulation.
"What on earth's the matter, Ramsey?"
"Look! Look at this!"
Fred took the card and examined it with an amazement gradually merging into a pleasure altogether too perceptible:
ASSIGNMENT TWELVE-MINUTE DEBATE, CLASS OF 1918. Subject, Resolved: That Germany is both legally and morally justified in her invasion of Belgium. (Debaters are notified that each will be held strictly to the following schedule: Affirmative, 4 min., first. Negative, 4 min., first. Affirm, 2 min., second. Neg., 2 min., second.) Afirmative Negative R. MILHOLLAND, '18 D. YOCUM, '18
Concluding his reading, which was oral, the volatile Mitchell made use of his voice in a manner of heathenish boisterousness, and presently reclined upon a lounge to laugh the better. His stricken comrade, meanwhile, recovered so far as to pace the floor. "I'm goin' to pack up and light out for home!" he declared, over and over. And even oftener he read and reread the card to make sure of the actuality of that fatal coincidence, "D. Yocum, '18."