Ramsey Milholland by Booth Tarkington
Ramsey kept very few things from Fred Mitchell, and usually his confidences were immediate upon the occasion of them; but allowed several weeks to elapse before sketching for his roommate the outlines of this adventure.
"One thing that was kind o' funny about it, Fred," he said, "I didn't know what to call her."
Mr. Mitchell, stretched upon the window seat in their "study," and looking out over the town street below and the campus beyond the street, had already thought it tactful to ambush his profound amusement by turning upon his side, so that his face was toward the window and away from his companion. "What did you want to call her?" he inquired in a serious voice. "Names?"
"No. You know what I mean. I mean I had to just keep callin' her 'you'; and that gets kind of freaky when you're talkin' to anybody a good while like that. When she'd be lookin' away from me, and I'd want to start sayin' something to her, you know, why, I wouldn't know how to get started exactly, without callin' her something. A person doesn't want to be always startin' off with 'See here,' or things like that."
"I don't see why you let it trouble you," said Fred. "From how you've always talked about her, you had a perfectly handy way to start off with anything you wanted to say to her."
"Why didn't you just say, 'Oh, you Teacher's Pet!' That would--"
"Get out! What I mean is, she called me 'Ramsey' without any bother; it seems funny I got stumped every time I started to say 'Dora.' Someway I couldn't land it, and it certainly would 'a' sounded crazy to call her 'Miss Yocum' after sittin' in the same room with her every day from the baby class clear on up through the end of high school. That would 'a' made me out an idiot!"
"What did you call her?" Fred asked.
"Just nothin' at all. I started to call her something or other a hundred times, I guess, and then I'd balk. I'd get all ready, and kind of make a sort of a sound, and then I'd have to quit."
"She may have thought you had a cold," said Fred, still keeping his back turned.
"I expect maybe she did--though I don't know; most of the time she didn't seem to notice me much, kind of."
"No. She was too upset, I guess, by what she was thinkin' about."
"But if it hadn't been for that," Fred suggested, "you mean she'd have certainly paid more attention to who was sitting on the bench with her?"
"Get out! You know how it was. Everybody those few days thought we were goin' to have war, and she was just sure of it, and it upset her. Of course most people were a lot more upset by what those Dutchmen did to the Lusitania than by the idea of war; and she seemed to feel as broken up as anybody could be about the Lusitania, but what got her the worst was the notion of her country wantin' to fight, she said. She really was upset, too, Fred; there wasn't any puttin' on about it. I guess that ole girl certainly must have a good deal of feeling, because, doggoned, after we'd been sittin' there a while if she didn't have to get out her handkerchief! She kept her face turned away from me--just the same as you're doin' now to keep from laughin'--but honestly, she cried like somebody at a funeral. I felt like the darndest fool!"
"I'm not laughing," said Fred, but he did not prove it by turning so that his face could be seen. "What did she say?"
"Oh, she didn't say such an awful lot. She said one kind o' funny thing though: she said she was sorry she couldn't quite control herself, but if anybody had to see her cry she minded it less because it was an old schoolmate. What struck me so kind o' funny about that is--why, it looks as if she never knew the way I always hated her so."
"Yes," said Fred. "It wasn't flattering!"
"Well, sir, it isn't, kind of," Ramsey agreed, musingly. "It certainly isn't when you look at it that way."
"What did you say when she said that?" Fred asked.
"Nothin'. I started to, but I sort of balked again. Well, we kept on sitting there, and afterwhile she began to talk again and got kind of excited about how no war could do anything or anybody any good, and all war was wicked, no matter what it was about, and nothin' could be good that was founded on fear and hate, and every war that ever was fought was always founded on fear and hate. She said if the Germans wanted to fight us we ought to go to meet them and tell them we wouldn't fight."
"What did you say?"
"Nothin'. I kind o' started to--but what's the use? She's got that in her head. Besides, how are you goin' to argue about a thing with a person that's crying about it? I tell you, Fred, I guess we got to admit, after all, that ole girl certainly must have a lost of heart about her, anyway. There may not be much fun to her--though of course I wouldn't know hardly any way to tell about that--but there couldn't be hardly any doubt she's got a lot of feeling. Well, and then she went on and said old men made wars, but didn't fight; they left the fighting to the boys, and the suffering to the boy's mothers."
"Yes!" Fred exclaimed, and upon that he turned free of mirth for the moment. "That's the woman of it, I guess. Send the old men to do the fighting! For the matter of that, I guess my father'd about a thousand times go himself than see me and my brothers go; but Father's so fat he can't stoop! You got to be able to stoop to dig a trench, I guess! Well, suppose we sent our old men up against those Dutchmen; the Dutchmen would just kill the old men, and then come after the boys anyway, and the boys wouldn't be ready, and they'd get killed, too; and then there wouldn't be anybody but the Dutchmen left, and that'd be one fine world, wouldn't it?"
"Yes," said Ramsey. "Course I thought of that."
"Did you tell her?"
"What did you say?"
"Nothin'. I couldn't get started anyway, but, besides, what was the use? But she didn't want the old men to go; she didn't want anybody to go."
"What did she want the country to do?" Fred asked, impatiently.
"Just what it has been doin', I suppose. Just let things simmer down, and poke along, and let them do what they like to us."
"I guess so!" said Fred. "Then, afterwhile, when they get some free time on their hands, they'll come over and make it really interesting for us, because they know we won't do anything but talk. Yes, I guess the way things are settling down ought to suit Dora. There isn't goin' to be any war."
"She was pretty sure there was, though," Ramsey said, thoughtfully.
"Oh, of course she was then. We all thought so those few days."
"No. She said she thought it prob'ly wouldn't come right away, but now it was almost sure to come sometime. She said our telegrams and all the talk and so much feeling and everything showed her that the war thought that was always in people somewhere had been stirred up so it would go on and on. She said she knew from the way she felt herself about the Lusitania that a feeling like that in her would never be absolutely wiped out as long as she lived. But she said her other feeling about the horribleness of war taught her to keep the first feeling from breaking out, but with other people it wouldn't; and even if war didn't break out right then, it would always be ready to, all over the country, and sometime it would, though she was goin' to do her share to fight it, herself, as long as she could stand. She asked me wouldn't I be one of the ones to help her."
He paused, and after a moment Fred asked, "Well? What did you say to that?"
"Nothin'. I started to, but--"
Again Fred thought it tactful to turn and look out the window, while the agitation of his shoulders betrayed him."
"Go on and laugh! Well, so we stayed there quite a while, but before we left she got kind of more like everyday, you know, the way people do. It was half-past nine when we walked back in town, and I was commencin' to feel kind of hungry, so I asked her if she wasn't, and she sort of laughed and seemed to be ashamed of it, as if it were a disgrace or something, but she said she guessed she was; so I left her by that hedge of lilacs near the observatory and went on over to the 'Teria and the fruit store, and got some stuffed eggs and olives and half-a-dozen peanut butter sandwiches and a box o' strawberries --kind of girl-food, you know--and went on back there, and we ate the stuff up. So then she said she was afraid she'd taken me away from my dinner and made me a lot of trouble, and so on, and she was sorry, and she told me good-night--"
"What did you say then?"
"Noth-- Oh, shut up! So then she skipped out to her Dorm, and I came on home."
"When did you see her next, Ramsey?"
"I haven't seen her next," said Ramsey. "I haven't seen her at all --not to speak to. I saw her on Main Street twice since then, but both times she was with some other girls, and they were across the street, and I couldn't tell if she was lookin' at me--I kind of thought not--so I thought it might look sort o' nutty to bow to her if she wasn't, so I didn't."
"And you didn't tell her you wouldn't be one of the ones to help her with her pacifism and anti-war stuff and all that?"
"No. I started to, but-- Shut up!"
Fred sat up, giggling. "So she thinks you will help her. You didn't say anything at all, and she must think that means she converted you. Why didn't you speak up?"
"Well, I wouldn't argue with her," said Ramsey. Then, after a silence, he seemed to be in need of sympathetic comprehension. "It was kind o' funny, though, wasn't it?" he said, appealingly.
"The whole business."
"What 'whole bus'--"
"Oh, get out! Her stoppin' me, and me goin' pokin' along with her, and her--well, her crying and everything, and me being around with her while she felt so upset, I mean. It seems--well, it does seem kind o' funny to me."
"Why does it?" Fred inquired, preserving his gravity. "Why should it seem funny to you?"
"I don't mean funny like something's funny you laugh at," Ramsey explained laboriously. "I mean funny like something that's out of the way, and you wonder how it ever happened to happen. I mean it seems funny I'd ever be sittin' there on a bench with that ole girl I never spoke to in my life or had anything to do with, and talkin' about the United States goin' to war. What we were talkin' about, why, that seems just as funny as the rest of it. Lookin' back to our class picnic, f'r instance, second year of high school, that day I jumped in the creek after-- Well, you know, it was when I started makin' a fool of myself over a girl. Thank goodness, I got that out o' my system; it makes me just sick to look back on those days and think of the fool things I did, and all I thought about that girl. Why, she-- Well, I've got old enough to see now she was just about as ordinary a girl as there ever was, and if I saw her now I wouldn't even think she was pretty; I'd prob'ly think she was sort of loud-lookin'. Well, what's passed is past, and it isn't either here nor there. What I started to say was this: that the way it begins to look to me, it looks as if nobody can tell in this life a darn thing about what's goin' to happen, and the things that do happen are the very ones you'd swear were the last that could. I mean--you look back to that day of the picnic--my! but I was a rube then--well, I mean you look back to that day, and what do you suppose I'd have thought then if somebody'd told me the time would ever come when I'd be 'way off here at college sittin' on a bench with Dora Yocum--with Dora Yocum, in the first place--and her crying, and both of us talking about the United States goin' to war with Germany! Don't it seem pretty funny to you, Fred, too?"
"But as near as I can make out," Fred said, "that isn't what happened."
"Why isn't it?"
"You say 'and both us talking' and so on. As near as I can make out, you didn't say anything at all."
"Well, I didn't--much," Ramsey admitted, and returned to his point with almost pathetic persistence. "But doesn't it seem kind o' funny to you, Fred?"
"Well, I don't know."
"It does to me," Ramsey insisted. "It certainly does to me."
"Yes," said Fred cruelly. "I've noticed you said so, but it don't look any funnier than you do when you say it."
Suddenly he sent forth a startling shout. "Wow! You're as red as a blushing beet."
"I am not!"
"Y'are!" shouted Fred. "Wow! The ole woman-hater's got the flushes! Oh, look at the pretty posy!"
And, jumping down from the window seat, he began to dance round his much perturbed comrade, bellowing. Ramsey bore with him for a moment, then sprang upon him; they wrestled vigorously, broke a chair, and went to the floor with a crash that gave the chandelier in Mrs. Meig's parlour, below, an atack of jingles.
"You let me up!" Fred gasped.
"You take your solemn oath to shut up? You goin' to swear it?"
"All right. I give my solemn oath," said Fred; and they rose, arranging their tousled attire.
"Well," said Fred, "when you goin' to call on her?"
"You look here!" Ramsey approached him dangerously. "You just gave me your sol--"
"I beg!" Fred cried, retreating. "I mean, aside from all that, why, I just thought maybe after such an evening you'd feel as a gentleman you ought to go and ask about her health."
"Now, see here--"
"No, I mean it; you ought to," Fred insisted, earnestly, and as his roommate glared at him with complete suspicion, he added, in explanation. "You ought to go next Caller's Night, and send in your card, and say you felt you ought to ask if she'd suffered any from the night air. Even if you couldn't manage to say that, you ought to start to say it, anyhow, because you-- Keep off o' me! I'm only tryin' to do you a good turn, ain't I?"
"You save your good turns for yourself," Ramsey growled, still advancing upon him.
But the insidious Mitchell, evading him, fled to the other end of the room, picked up his cap, and changed his manner. "Come on, ole bag o' beans, let's be on our way to the 'frat house'; it's time. We'll call this all off."
"You better!" Ramsey warned him; and they trotted out together.
But as they went along, Fred took Ramsey's arm confidentially, and said, "Now, honestly, Ram, ole man, when are you goin' to--"
Ramsey was still red. "You look here! Just say one more word--"
"Oh, no," Fred expostulated. "I mean seriously, Ramsey. Honestly, I mean seriously. Aren't you seriously goin' to call on her some Caller's Night?"
"No, I'm not!"
"But why not?"
"Because I don't want to."
"Well, seriously, Ramsey, there's only one Caller's Night before vacation, and so I suppose it hardly will be worth while; but I expect you'll see quite a little of her at home this summer?"
"No, I won't. I won't see her at all. She isn't goin' to be home this summer, and I wouldn't see anything of her if she was."
"Where's she goin' to be."
"She is?" said Fred, slyly. "When'd she tell you?"
Ramsey turned on him. "You look out! She didn't tell me. I just happened to see in the Bulletin she's signed up with some other girls to go and do settlement work in Chicago. Anybody could see it. It was printed out plain. You could have seen it just as well as I could, if you'd read the Bulletin."
"Oh," said Fred.
"Now look here--"
"Good heavens! Can't I even say 'oh'?"
"It depends on the way you say it."
"I'll be careful," Fred assured him, earnestly. "I really and honestly don't mean to get you excited about all this, Ramsey. I can see myself you haven't changed from your old opinion of Dora Yocum a bit. I was only tryin' to get a little rise out of you for a minute, because of course, seriously, why, I can see you hate her just the same as you always did."
"Yes," said Ramsey, disarmed and guileless in the face of diplomacy. "I only told you about all this, Fred, because it seemed--well, it seemed so kind o' funny to me."
Fred affected not to hear. "What did you say, Ramsey?"
Ramsey looked vaguely disturbed. "I said--why, I said it all seemed kind o'--" He paused, then repeated plaintively: "Well, to me, it all seemed kind o'--kind o' funny."
"What did?" Fred inquired, but as he glanced in seeming naivete at his companion, something he saw in the latter's eye warned him, and suddenly Fred thought it would be better to run.
Ramsey chased him all the way to the "frat house."