Ramsey Milholland by Booth Tarkington
Ramsey was not quite athlete enough for any of the 'varsity teams; neither was he an antagonist safely encountered, whether in play or in earnest, and during the next few days he taught Fred Mitchell to be cautious. The chaffer learned that his own agility could not save him from Ramsey, and so found it wiser to contain an effervescence which sometimes threatened to burst him. Ramsey as a victim was a continuous temptation, he was so good-natured and yet so furious.
After Commencement, when the roommates had gone home, Mr. Mitchell's caution extended over the long sunshiny months of summer vacation; he broke it but once and then in well-advised safety, for the occasion was semi-public. The two were out for a stroll on a July Sunday afternoon; and up and down the street young couples lolled along, young families and baby carriages straggled to and from the houses of older relatives, and the rest of the world of that growing city was rocking and fanning itself on its front veranda.
"Here's a right pretty place, isn't it, Ramsey? don't you think?" Fred remarked innocently, as they were passing a lawn of short- clipped, bright green grass before a genial-looking house, fresh in white paint and cool in green-and-white awnings. A broad veranda, well populated just now, crossed the front of the house; fine trees helped the awnings to give comfort against the sun; and Fred's remark was warranted. Nevertheless, he fell under the suspicion of his companion, who had begun to evince some nervousness before Fred spoke.
"What place do you mean?"
"The Yocum place," said Mr. Mitchell. "I hear the old gentleman's mighty prosperous these days. They keep things up to the mark, don't they, Ramsey?"
"I don't know whether they do or whether they don't," Ramsey returned shortly.
Fred appeared to muse regretfully. "It looks kind of empty now, though," he said, "with only Mr. and Mrs. Yocum and their three married daughters, and eight or nine children on the front porch!"
"You wait till I get you where they can't see us!" Ramsey warned him, firecely.
"You can't do it!" said Fred, manifesting triumph. "We'll both stop right here in plain sight of the whole Yocum family connection till you promise not to touch me."
And he halted, leaning back implacably against the Yocum's iron fence. Ramsey was scandalized.
"Come on!" he said, hoarsely. "Don't stop here!"
"I will, and if you go on alone I'll yell at you. You got to stand right here with all of 'em lookin' at you until--"
"I promise! My heavens, come on!"
Fred consented to end the moment of agony; and for the rest of the summer found it impossible to persuade Ramsey to pass that house in his company. "I won't do it!" Ramsey told him. "Your word of honour means nothin' to me; you're liable to do anything that comes into your head, and I'm gettin' old enough to not get a reputation for bein' seen with people that act the idiot on the public streets. No, sir; we'll walk around the block--at least, we will if you're goin' with me!"
And to Fred's delight, though he concealed it, they would make this detour.
The evening after their return to the university both were busy with their trunks and various orderings and disorderings of their apartment, but Fred several times expressed surprise that his roommate should be content to remain at home; and finally Ramsey comprehended the implications. Mrs. Meigs's chandelier immediately jingled with the shock of another crash upon the floor above.
"You let me up!" Fred commanded thickly, his voice muffled by the pile of flannels, sweaters, underwear, and raincoats wherein his head was being forced to burrow. "You let me up, darn you! I didn't say anything." And upon his release he complained that the attack was unprovoked. "I didn't say anything on earth to even hint you might want to go out and look around to see if anybody in particular had got back to college yet. I didn't even mention the name of Dora Yo-- Keep off o' me! My goodness, but you are sensitive!"
As a matter of fact, neither of them saw Dora until the first meeting of the Lumen, whither they went as sophomores to take their pleasure in the agony of freshmen debaters. Ramsey was now able to attend the Lumen, not with complacence but at least without shuddering over the recollection of his own spectacular first appearance there. He had made subsequent appearances, far from brilliant yet not disgraceful, and as a spectator, at least, he usually felt rather at his ease in the place. It cannot be asserted, however, that he appeared entirely at his ease this evening after he had read the "Programme" chalked upon the large easel blackboard beside the chairman's desk. Three "Freshmen Debates" were announced, and a "Sophomore Oration," this last being followed by the name, "D. Yocum, '18." Ramsey made immediate and conspicuous efforts to avoid sitting next to his roommate, but was not so adroit as to be successful. However, Fred was merciful: the fluctuations of his friend's complexion were an inspiration more to pity than to badinage.
The three debates all concerned the "Causes of the War in Europe," and honours appeared to rest with a small and stout, stolidly "pro-German" girl debater, who had brought with her and translated at sight absa-loot proofs (so she called them), printed in German, that Germany had been attacked by Belgium at the low instigation of the envious English. Everybody knew it wasn't true; but she made an impression and established herself as a debater, especially as her opponent was quite confounded by her introduction of printed matter.
When the debates and the verdicts were concluded, the orator appeared, and Fred's compassion extended itself so far that he even refrained from looking inquisitively at the boy in the seat next to his; but he made one side wager, mentally--that if Ramsey had consented to be thoroughly confidential just then, he would have confessed to feeling kind o' funny.
Dora was charmingly dressed, and she was pale; but those notable eyelashes of hers were all the more notable against her pallor. And as she spoke with fire, it was natural that her colour should come back quite flamingly and that her eyes should flash in shelter of the lashes. "The Christian Spirit and Internationalism" was her subject, yet she showed no meek sample of a Christian Spirit herself when she came to attakcing war-makers generally, as well as all those "half-developed tribesmen," and "victims of herd instinct" who believed that war might ever be justified under any circumstances f atrocity. She was eloquent truly, and a picture of grace and girlish dignity, even when she was most vigorous. Nothing could have been more militant than her denunciation of militancy.
"She's an actual wonder," Fred said, when the two had got back to Mrs. Meigs's, afterward. "Don't you look at me like that: I'm talkin' about her as a public character, and there's nothin' personal about it. You let me alone."
Ramsey was not clear as to his duty. "Well--"
"If any person makes a public speech," Fred protested, "I got a perfect right to discuss 'em, no matter what you think of 'em"--and he added hastily--"or don't think of 'em!"
"Good heavens!" Fred exclaimed. "You aren't expecting to interfere with me if I say anything about that little fat Werder girl that argued for Germany, are you? Or any of the other speakers? I got a right to talk about 'em just as public speakers, haven't I? Well, what I say is: Dora Yocum as an orator is just an actual perfect wonder. Got any objections?"
"All right then." Fred settled himself upon the window seat with a pipe, and proceeded, "There's something about her, when she stands there, she stands so straight and knows just what she's up to, and everything, why, there's something about her makes the cold chills go down your spine--I mean my spine, not yours particularly! You sit down--I mean anybody's spine, doggone it!" And as Ramsey increased the manifestations of his suspicions, lifting a tennis racket over the prostrate figure, "Oh, murder," Fred said, resignedly. "All right, we'll change the subject. That fat little Werder cutie made out a pretty good case for Germany, didn't she?"
Ramsey tossed the racket away, disposed himself in an easy chair with his feet upon the table, and presently chuckled. "You remember the time I had the fuss with Wesley Bender, back in the ole school days?"
"All the flubdub this Werder girl got off to-night puts me in mind of the way I talked that day. I can remember it as well as anything! Wesley kept yelpin' that whoever mentioned a lady's name in a public place was a pup, and of course I didn't want to hit him for that; a boy's got a reg'lar instinct for tryin' to make out he's on the right side in a scrap, and he'll always try to do something, or say something, or he'll get the other boy to say someting to make it look as if the other boy was in the wrong and began the trouble. So I told poor ole Wes that my father spoke my mother's name in a public place whenever he wanted to, and I dared him to say my father was a pup. And all so on. A boy startin' up a scrap, why, half the time he'll drag his father and mother if there's any chance to do it. He'll fix up some way so he can say, 'Well, that's just the same as if you called my father and mother a fool,' or something like that. Then, afterward, he can claim he was scrappin' because he had to defend his father and mother, and of course he'll more than half believe it himself.
"Well, you take a Government--it's only just some men, the way I see it, and if they're goin' to start some big trouble like this war, why, of course they'll play just about the same ole boy trick, because it's instinct to do it, just the same for a man as it is for a boy--or else the principle's just the same, or something. Well, anyhow, if you want to know who started a scrap and worked it up, you got to forget all the talk there is about it, and all what each side says, and just look at two things: Who was fixed for it first, or thought they were, and who hit first? When you get the answer to those two questions everything's settled about all this being 'attacked' business. Both sides, just the same as boys, they'll both claim they had to fight; but if you want to know which one did have to, why forget all the arguing and don't take your eye off just what happened. As near as I can make out, this war began with Germany and Austria startin' in to wipe out two little countries; Austria began shootin' up Serbia, and Germany began shootin' up Belgium. I don't need to notice any more than that, myself--all the Werder girls in the country can debate their heads off, they can't change what happened and they can't excuse it, either."
He was silent, appearing to feel that he had concluded conclusively, and the young gentleman on the window seat, after staring at him for several moments of genuine thoughtfulness, was gracious enough to observe, "Well, ole Ram, you may be a little slow in class, but when you think things out with yourself you do show signs of something pretty near like real horse-sense sometimes. Why don't you ever say anything like that to--to some of your pacifist friends?"
"What do you mean? Who you talkin' about? Whose 'pacifist friends'?"
"See here!" Fred exclaimed, as Ramsey seemed about to rise. "You keep sitting just where you are, and don't look at me out of the side of your eye like that--pretendin' you're a bad horse. I'm really serious now, and you listen to me. I don't think argufying and debating like that little Fraulein Werder's does much harm. She's a right nifty young rolypoly, by the way, though you didn't notice, of course."
"Why didn't I?" Ramsey demanded, sharply. "Why didn't I notice?"
"Oh, nothing. But, as I was saying, I don't think that sort of talk does much harm: everybody knows it goes on among the pro-Germans, and it's all hot air, anyhow. But I think Linski's sort of talk does do harm, prob'ly among people that don't know much; and what's more, I think Dora Yocum's does some, too. Well, you hit Linski in the snoot, so what are you-- Sit still! My lord! You don't think I'm askin' you to go and hit Dora, do you? I mean: Aren't you ever goin' to talk to her about it and tell her what's what?"
"Oh, you go on to bed!"
"No, I'm in earnest," Fred urged. "Honestly, aren't you ever goin' to?"
"How could I do anything like that?" Ramsey demanded explosively. "I never see her--to speak to, that is. I prob'ly won't happen to have another talk with her, or anything, all the time we're in college."
"No," Fred admitted, "I suppose not. Of course, if you did, then you would give her quite a talking-to, just the way you did the other time, wouldn't you?" But upon that, another resumption of physical violence put an end to the conversation.