Chapter XVII
 

Throughout the term Ramsey's calculation of probabilities against the happening of another interview with Dora seemed to be well founded, but at the beginning of the second "semester" he found her to be a fellow member of a class in biology. More than that, this class had every week a two-hour session in the botanical laboratory, where the structure of plants was studied under microscopic dissection. The students worked in pairs, a special family of plants being assigned to each couple; and the instructor selected the couples with an eye to combinations of the quick with the slow. D. Yocum and R. Milholland (the latter in a strange state of mind and complexion) were given two chairs, but only one desk and one microscope. Their conversation was strictly botanical.

Thenceforth it became the most pressing care of Ramsey's life to prevent his roommate from learning that there was any conversation at all, even botanical. Fortunately, Fred was not taking the biological courses, though he appeared to be taking the sentimental ones with an astonishing thoroughness; and sometimes, to Fred's hilarious delight, Ramsey attempted to turn the tables and rally him upon whatever last affair seemed to be engaging his fancy. The old Victorian and pre-Victorian blague word "petticoat" had been revived in Fred's vocabulary, and in others, as "skirt." The lightsome sprig was hourly to be seen, even when university rulings forbade, dilly-dallying giddily along the campus paths or the town sidewalks with some new and pretty Skirt. And when Ramsey tried to fluster him about such a matter Fred would profess his ardent love for the new lady in shouts and impromptu song. Nothing could be done to him, and Ramsey, utterly unable to defend his own sensibilities in like manner, had always to retire in bafflement. Sometimes he would ponder upon the question thus suggested: Why couldn't he do this sort of thing, since Fred could? But he never discovered a satisfying answer.

Ramsey's watchfulness was so careful (lest he make some impulsive admission in regard to the botanical laboratory, for instance) that Mr. Mitchell's curiosity gradually became almost quiescent; but there arrived a day in February when it was piqued into the liveliest activity. It was Sunday, and Fred, dressing with a fastidiousness ever his daily habit, noticed that Ramsey was exhibiting an unusual perplexity about neckties.

"Keep the black one on," Fred said, volunteering the suggestion, as Ramsey muttered fiercely at a mirror. "It's in better taste for church, anyhow. You're going to church, aren't you?"

"Yes. Are you?"

"No. I've got a luncheon engagement."

"Well, you could go to church first, couldn't you? You better; you've got a lot of church absences against you."

"Then one more won't hurt. No church in mine this morning, thanks! G'by, ole sox; see you at the 'frat house' for dinner."

He went forth, whistling syncopations, and began a brisk trudge into the open country. There was a professor's daughter who also was not going to church that morning; and she lived a little more than three miles beyond the outskirts of the town. Unfortunately, as the weather was threatening, all others of her family abandoned the idea of church that day, and Fred found her before a cozy fire, but surrounded by parents, little brothers, and big sisters. The professor was talkative; Fred's mind might have been greatly improved, but with a window in range he preferred a melancholy contemplation of the snow, which had begun to fall in quantity. The professor talked until luncheon, throughout luncheon, and was well under way to fill the whole afternoon with talk, when Fred, repenting all the errors of his life, got up to go.

Heartily urged to remain, for there was now something just under a blizzard developing, he said No; he had a great deal of "cirriculum work" to get done before the morrow, and passed from the sound of the professor's hospitable voice and into the storm. He had a tedious struggle against the wind and thickening snow, but finally came in sight of the town, not long before dark. Here the road led down into a depression, and, lifting his head as he began the slight ascent on the other side, Fred was aware of two figures outlined upon the low ridge before him. They were dimmed by the driving snow and their backs were toward him, but he recognized them with perfect assurance. They were Dora Yocum and Ramsey Milholland.

They were walking so slowly that their advance was almost imperceptible, but it could be seen that Dora was talking with great animation; and she was a graceful thing, thus gesticulating, in her long, slim fur coat with the white snow frosting her brown fur cap. Ramsey had his hands deep in his overcoat pockets and his manner was wholly that of an audience.

Fred murmured to himself, "'What did you say to her?' 'Nothin'. I started to, but'--" Then he put on a burst of speed and passed them, sweeping off his hat with operatic deference, yet hurrying by as if fearful of being thought a killjoy if he lingered. He went to the "frat house," found no one downstairs, and established himself in a red leather chair to smoke and ruminate merrily by a great fire in the hall.

Half an hour later Ramsey entered, stamped off the snow, hung up his hat and coat, and sat himself down defiantly in the red leather chair on the other side of the fireplace.

"Well, go on," he said. "Commence!"

"Not at all!" Fred returned, amiably. "Fine spring weather to-day. Lovely to see all the flowers and the birds as we go a-strolling by. The little bobolinks--"

"You look here!" That's the only walk I ever took with her in my life. I mean by--by asking her and her saying she would and so forth. That other time just sort of happened, and you know it. Well, the weather wasn't just the best in the world, maybe, but she's an awful conscientious girl and once she makes an engagement--"

"Why, of course," Fred finished for him, "She'd be too pious to break it just on account of a mere little blizzard or anything. Wonder how the weather will be next Sunday?"

"I don't know and I don't care," said Ramsey. "You don't suppose I asked her to go again, do you?"

"Why not?"

"Well, for one thing, you don't suppose I want her to think I'm a perfect fool, do you?"

Fred mused a moment or two, looking at the fire. "What was the lecture?" he asked, mildly.

"What lecture?"

"She seemed to me to be--"

"That wasn't lecturing; she was just--"

"Just what?"

"Well; she thinks war for the United States is coming closer and closer--"

"But it isn't."

"Well, she thinks so, anyhow," said Ramsey, "and she's all broken up about it. Of course she thinks we oughtn't to fight and she's trying to get everybody else she can to keep working against it. She isn't goin' home again next summer, she's goin' back to that settlement work in Chicago and work there among those people against our goin' to war; and here in college she wants to get everybody she can to talk against it, and--"

"What did you say?" Fred asked, and himself supplied the reply: "Nothin'. I started to, but--"

Ramsey got up. "Now look here! You know the 'frat' passed a rule that if we broke any more furniture in this house with our scrappin' we'd both be fined the cost of repairs and five dollars apiece. Well, I can afford five dollars this month better than you can, and--"

"I take it back!" Fred interposed, hastily. "But you just listen to me; you look out--letting her think you're on her side like that."

"I don't--"

"You don't?"

Ramsey looked dogged. "I'm not goin' around always arguin' about everything when arguin' would just hurt people's feelings about something they're all excited about, and wouldn't do a bit o' good in the world--and you know yourself just talk hardly ever settles anything--so I don't--"

"Aha!" Fred cried. "I thought so! Now you listen to me--"

"I won't. I--"

But at this moment they were interrupted. Someone slyly opened the door, and a snowball deftly thrown from without caught Ramsey upon the back of the neck and head, where it flattened and displayed itself as an ornamental star. Shouting fiercely, both boys sprang up, ran to the door, were caught there in a barrage of snowballs, ducked through it in sipte of all damage, charged upon a dozen besweatered figures awaiting them and began a mad battle in the blizzard. Some of their opponents treacherously joined them, and turned upon the ambushers.

In the dusk the merry conflict waged up and down the snow-covered lawn, and the combatants threw and threw, or surged back and forth, or clenched and toppled over into snow banks, yet all coming to chant an extemporized battle-cry in chorus, even as they fought the most wildly.

"Who? Who? Who?" they chanted. "Who? Who? Who says there ain't goin' to be no war?"