Chapter VIII
 

Vacation, in spite of increased leisure, may bring inconvenience to people in Ramsey's strange but not uncommon condition. At home his constant air was that of a badgered captive plaintively silent under injustice; and he found it difficult to reply calmly when asked where he was going--an inquiry addressed to him, he asserted, every time he touched his cap, even to hang it up!

The amount of evening walking he did must also have been a trial to his nerves, on account of fatigue, though the ground covered was not vast. Milla's mother and father were friendly people but saw no reason to "move out of house and home," as Mr. Rust said, when Milla had "callers"; and on account of the intimate plan of their small dwelling a visitor's only alternative to spending the evening with Mr. and Mrs. Rust as well as with Milla, was to invite her to "go out walking."

Evening after evening they walked and walked and walked, usually in company--at perhaps the distance of half a block--with Albert Paxton and Sadie Clews, though Ramsey now and then felt disgraced by having fallen into this class; for sometimes it was apparent that Albert casually had his arm about Sadie's waist. This allured Ramsey somewhat, but terrified him more. He didn't know how such matters were managed.

Usually the quartet had no destination; they just went "out walking" until ten o'clock, when both girls had to be home--and the boys did, too, but never admitted it. On Friday evenings there was a "public open-air concert" by a brass band in a small park, and the four were always there. A political speechmaker occupied the bandstand one night, and they stood for an hour in the midst of the crowd, listening vaguely.

The orator saddled his politics upon patriotism. "Do you intend to let this glorious country go to wrack and ruin, oh, my good friends," he demanded, "or do you intend to save her? Look forth upon this country of ours, I bid you, oh, my countrymen, and tell me what you see. You see a fair domain of forest, mountain, plain, and fertile valleys, sweeping from ocean to ocean. Look from the sturdy rocks of old New England, pledged to posterity by the stern religious hardihood of the Pilgrim Fathers, across the corn-bearing midland country, that land of milk and honey, won for us by the pluck and endurance of the indomitable pioneers, to where in sunshine roll the smiling Sierras of golden California, given to our heritage by the unconquerable energy of those brave men and women who braved the tomahawk on the Great Plains, the tempest, of Cape Horn, and the fevers of Panama, to make American soil of El Dorado! America! Oh, my America, how glorious you stand! Country of Washington and Valley Forge, out of what martyrdoms hast thou arisen! Country of Lincoln in his box at Ford's theatre, his lifeblood staining to a brighter, holier red the red, white, and blue of the Old Flag! Always and always I see the Old Flag fluttering the more sacredly encrimsoned in the breeze for the martyrs who have upheld it! Always I see that Old Flag--"

Milla gave Ramsey's arm, within her own, a little tug. "Come on," she said. "Sade says she don't want to hang around here any longer. It's awful tiresome. Let's go."

He consented, placidly. The oration meant nothing to him and stirred no one in the audience. The orator was impassioned; he shouted himself into coughing fits, gesticulated, grew purple; he was so hot that his collar caved in and finally swooned upon his neck in soggy exhaustion, prostrate round his thunderings. Meanwhile, the people listened with an air of patience, yawning here and there, and gradually growing fewer. It was the old, old usual thing, made up of phrases that Ramsey had heard dinning away on a thousand such occasions, and other kinds of occasions, until they meant to him no more than so much sound. He was bored, and glad to leave.

"Kind o' funny," he said, as they sagged along the street at their usual tortoise gait.

"What is it, Ramsey?"

"Seems kind o' funny they never have anything to say any one can take any interest in. Always the same ole whoopety-whoop about George Washington and Pilgrim Fathers and so on. I bet five dollars before long we'd of heard him goin' on about our martyred Presidents, William McKinley and James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison and all so on, and then some more about the ole Red, White, and Blue. Don't you wish they'd quit, sometimes, about the 'Ole Flag'?"

"I dunno," said Milla. "I wasn't listening any at all. I hate speeches."

"Well, I could stand 'em," Ramsey said, more generously, "if they'd ever give anybody a little to think about. What's the use always draggin' in George Warshington and the Ole Flag? And who wants to hear any more ole truck about 'from ole rocky New England to golden California,' and how big and fine the United States is and how it's the land of the Free and all that? Why don't they ever say anything new? That's what I'd like to know."

Milla laughed, and when he asked why, she told him she'd never heard him talk so much "at one stretch." "I guess that speech got you kind of wound up," she said. "Let's talk about something different."

"I just soon," he agreed. And so they walked on in silence, which seemed to suit Milla. She hung weightily upon his arm, and they dawdled, drifting from one side of the pavement to the other as they slowly advanced. Ablert and Sadie, ahead of them, called "good-night" from a corner, before turning down the side street where Sadie lived; and then, presently, Ramsey and Milla were at the latter's gate. He went in with her, halting at the front steps.

"Well, g'night, Milla," he said. "Want to go out walking to-morrow night? Albert and Sadie are."

"I can't to-morrow night," she told him with obvious regret. "Isn't it the worst luck! I got an aunt comin' to visit from Chicago, and she's crazy about playing 'Five Hundred,' and Mama and Papa said I haf to stay in to make four to play it. She's liable to be here three or four days, and I guess I got to be around home pretty much all the time she's here. It's the worst luck!"

He was doleful, but ventured to be literary. "Well, what can't be helped must be endured. I'll come around when she's gone."

He moved as if to depart, but she still retained his arm and did not prepare to relinquish it.

"Well--" he said.

"Well what, Ramsey?"

"Well--g'night."

She glanced up at the dark front of the house. "I guess the family's gone to bed," she said, absently.

"I s'pose so."

"Well, good-night, Ramsey." She said this but still did not release his arm, and suddenly, in a fluster, he felt that the time he dreaded had come. Somehow, without knowing where, except that it was somewhere upon what seemed to be a blurred face too full of obstructing features, he kissed her.

She turned instantly away in the darkness, her hands over her cheeks; and in a panic Ramsey wondered if he hadn't made a dreadful mistake.

"S'cuse me!" he said, stumbling toward the gate. "Well, I guess I got to be gettin' along back home."