Chapter I. Walter Sherwood's Letter
 

"Here's a letter for you, Doctor Mack," said the housekeeper, as she entered the plain room used as a library and sitting-room by her employer, Doctor Ezekiel Mack. "It's from Walter, I surmise." This was a favorite word with Miss Nancy Sprague, who, though a housekeeper, prided herself on having been a schoolmistress in her earlier days.

"Indeed, Nancy. Let me see it. Walter is really getting attentive. His last letter came to hand only two days since. He hasn't forgotten his old guardian."

"Oh, no, sir. He'll never do that. He has a predilection for his old home. His heart is in the right place."

"Just so. I wish I felt as sure about his head."

Doctor Mack adjusted his spectacles, for he was rising sixty, and his eyes required assistance, and opened the letter. As he read it his forehead contracted, and he looked disturbed. A perusal of the letter may help us to understand why. It ran as follows:

"DEAR GUARDIAN: You will be surprised at hearing from me so soon again, but I am really forced to write. I find college life much more expensive than I supposed it would be. A fellow is expected to join two or three societies, and each costs money. I know you wouldn't have me appear mean. Then the students have been asked to contribute to a fund for the enlargement of the library, and almost every day there is a demand for money for one object or another. As it is nearly the end of the term, I calculate that with a check for an extra hundred dollars I can get along. I am awfully sorry to ask for it, but it will come out of the money father left me, and I am sure he would wish me to keep up appearances, and not fall behind the rest of the boys.

"I stand fairly well in my studies, and I expect to be stroke oar of the college boat club. Besides this, I have been elected catcher of the college baseball club. I am thought to excel in athletic sports, and really enjoy my college life very much. Please send me the check by return of mail. Affectionately yours, WALTER."

Doctor Mack laid the letter on the table, and slowly removed the glasses from his nose.

"One hundred dollars!" he repeated. "That is the second extra check he has written for, this term. Then his regular term bills will come due in two weeks. He is spending more than three times as much as I did when in college. Forty years have made a difference, no doubt, but not so great a difference as that. I hope the boy isn't falling into extravagant habits. I care for that more than for the money. His father left a good fortune, of which fact he is unfortunately aware, but I don't mean that it shall spoil him. Now, what shall I do. Shall I send him the check or not?"

Doctor Mack leaned back in his chair, and thought busily. He felt anxious about his ward, who had entered college early and was now only seventeen. Walter Sherwood was a boy of excellent talent and popular manners, but he was inclined to be self-indulgent and had a large capacity for "enjoyment." His guardian had fondly hoped that he would lead the class in scholarship, but instead of this he was only doing "fairly well" in his studies. To be sure, he excelled in athletic sports, but, as Doctor Mack reflected, this was not generally considered the chief aim in a college course, except by some of the students themselves.

"I wish I knew just how Walter is making out," thought the doctor. Then, after a pause, he resumed, with a sudden inspiration: "Why shouldn't I know? I'll go over to Euclid to-morrow with out giving Walter any intimation of my visit, and see for myself."

It may be stated here that Walter Sherwood was a member of the sophomore class in Euclid College, situated in the town of the same name. If the reader does not find Euclid in a list of American colleges, it is because for special reasons I have thought it best to conceal the real name of the college, not wishing to bring the Institution into possible disrepute. There are some who might misjudge the college, because it contained some students who made an unprofitable use of their time.

"Nancy," said Doctor Mack at the supper-table, "you may pack a hand- bag for me. I shall start on a journey to-morrow morning."

"Where to, sir, if I may make so bold as to inquire?"

"I think of going to Euclid."

"To see Master Walter?"

"Exactly."

"You haven't heard any bad news, I hope?" said the housekeeper anxiously.

"Oh, no."

"Then he isn't sick?"

"Quite the contrary. He is quite strong and athletic, I should judge, from his letter."

"He will be glad to see you, sir."

"Well, perhaps so. But you know, Nancy, young people don't miss their parents and guardians as much as they are missed at home. They have plenty of excitement and society at college."

"Yes, sir, that's true, but I'm sure Master Walter won't forget his old home. If you have room for some cookies I will put some into the bag. Walter is fond of them."

"No, I think you needn't do It, Nancy, He has a good boarding-house, and no doubt he gets all the cakes he wants. By the way, I want to take the boy by surprise, so don't write and let him know I'm coming."

"No, sir, I won't."

This was exactly what the housekeeper had intended to do, for she presumed upon her long service in the family to write a few lines occasionally to the boy whom she had known from the age of six.

"Of course I shall be pleased to give him any message from you."

"Thank you, Doctor Mack. Tell him if he catches cold I can send him some camomile. Camomile tea is excellent in such cases. My mother and grandmother used it all their lives."

"You seem to forget that I am a doctor, Nancy. Not that I object to camomile tea--in its place--though I can truly say that I never hankered after it."

"How long will you be gone, doctor?"

"I can't say exactly. You see, Euclid is nearly two hundred miles off. and I don't know whether I can make connections."

"Oh, well, don't hurry! No doubt Walter will want to keep you with him as long as possible."

"I don't feel so sure of that," thought the doctor shrewdly. "Boys are not usually so fond of the society of their guardians, though I don't doubt Walter has a sincere regard for me. He is a warm-hearted boy."

Doctor Mack was no longer in active practice. Three years before he had selected an assistant--a young Doctor Winthrop--in whom his patients had come to feel confidence, so that when he wanted to go away for a few days there was no serious objection. Unlike some elderly practitioners, Doctor Mack did not feel in the least jealous of his young assistant, but was very glad to note his popularity.

"If any one calls for me, Nancy," he said, "say that I am away for a day or two and they can't do better than go to Doctor Winthrop."

"There are some that like you best, sir."

"No doubt, no doubt! They're used to me, you know. There's a good deal in that. Any that please can wait for me, but my advice to them is to go to Doctor Winthrop."

Nancy packed the doctor's hand-bag, putting in a change of linen, a comb and brush, an extra pair of socks and a couple of handkerchiefs. Then, seeing that there was plenty of room, she slipped in a small box of cookies and a little camomile. The doctor discovered them soon after he started on his journey, and with a smile tossed the camomile out of the window, while he gave the cookies to a poor woman who was traveling with a couple of small children in the same car as himself. So that Nancy Sprague's thoughtfulness was not wholly lost, though the intended recipient did not benefit by it.

Doctor Mack had to wait over at a junction for three hours, owing to some irregularities of the trains, and did not reach Euclid till rather a late hour in the afternoon. He went to the Euclid Hotel, and entered his name,

E. MACK, Albany,

without adding M.D., and substituting Albany for the small village, thirty miles away, where he made his home.

"Strategy, doctor, strategy!" he said to himself, "I have come to spy out the land, and must not make myself too conspicuous. I am traveling, as it were, incognito."