CHAPTER I A NEW BOY AND AN OLD ONE
A boy in a blue serge suit sat on the second tier of seats of an otherwise empty grand-stand and, with his straw hat pulled well over his eyes, watched the progress of a horse-drawn mower about a field. The horse was a big, well-fed chestnut, and as he walked slowly along he bobbed his head rhythmically. In the seat of the mower perched a thin little man in a pair of blue overalls and a shirt which had also been blue at one time, but which was now faded almost white. A broad-brimmed straw hat of the sort affected by farmers, protected his head from the noonday sun. Between the overalls and the rusty brogans on his feet several inches of bare ankle intervened, and, as he paraded slowly around the field, almost the only sign of life he showed was when he occasionally stooped to brush a mosquito from these exposed portions of his anatomy. The horse, too, wore brogans, big round leather shoes which strapped over his hoofs and protected the turf, and, having never before seen a horse in leather boots, the boy on the grand-stand had been for a while mildly interested. But the novelty had palled some time ago, and now, leaning forward with his sun-browned hands clasped loosely between his knees, he continued to watch the mower merely because it was the only object in sight that was not motionless, if one excepts the white clouds moving slowly across a blue September sky.
Now and then the clouds seemed to shadow the good-looking, tanned face of the youth, producing a troubled, sombre expression. The truth is that Master Clinton Boyd Thayer was lonesome and, although he would have denied it vigorously, a little bit homesick. (At sixteen one may be homesick even though one scoffs at the notion.) Clinton had left his home at Cedar Run, Virginia, the evening before, had changed into a sleeper at Washington just before midnight, and reached New York very early this morning. From there, although he had until five in the afternoon to reach Brimfield Academy, he had departed after a breakfast eaten in the Terminal and had arrived at Brimfield at a little before nine. An hour had sufficed him to register and unpack his bag and trunk in the room assigned to him in Torrence Hall. Since that time--and it was now almost twelve o'clock--he had wandered about the school. He had peeped into the other dormitories and the recitation building, had explored the gymnasium from basement to trophy room and, finally, had loitered across the athletic field to the grand-stand, where, for the better part of an hour, he had been sitting in the sun, getting lonelier every minute.
Clint--everyone had always called him Clint and we might as well fall in line--had never been farther north than Baltimore; and today he felt himself not only a long way from home but in a country somehow strangely and uncomfortably alien. The few persons he had encountered had been quite civil to him, to be sure; and the sunlight was the same sunlight that shone down on Cedar Run, but for all of that it seemed as if no one much cared where he was or what happened to him, and the air felt differently and the country looked different, and--and, well, he rather wished himself back in Virginia!
He had never been enthusiastic about going North to school. It had been his mother's idea. Mr. Thayer was willing that Clint should prepare for college in his native state, but Clint's mother had other ideas. Mr. Thayer had graduated from Princeton and it had long been settled that Clint was to be educated there too; and Clint's mother insisted that since he was to attend a Northern college it would be better for him to go to a Northern preparatory school. Clint himself had not felt strongly enough about it to object. Several of his chums had gone or were going to Virginia Military College; and Clint would have liked to go there too, although the military feature didn't especially appeal to him. Brimfield Academy, at Brimfield, New York, had finally been selected, principally because a cousin of Clint's on his father's side had once attended the school. The fact that the cousin in question had never amounted to much and was now clerking in a shoe store in Norfolk was not held against the school.
So far the boy had liked what he had seen of Brimfield well enough. The thirty-mile journey from New York on the train had been through an attractive country, with now and then a fleeting glimpse of water to add variety to the landscape; and the woods and fields around the Academy were pretty. From where he sat at the east end of the athletic field he could look along the backs of the buildings, which ran in a row straight along the edge of a plateau. Nearest at hand was the gymnasium. Then came Wendell and Torrence, the latter having the honour of being Clint's abode for the ensuing nine months. Next was Main Hall, containing recitation rooms, the assembly room, the library and the office; an older building and built all of brick whereas the other structures were uniformly of stone as to first story and brick above. Beyond Main Hall were Hensey and Billings, both dormitories, and, at the western end of the row and slightly out of line, The Cottage, where dwelt the Principal, Mr. Fernald, of whom Clint knew little and, it must be confessed, cared, at the present moment, still less. In front of the buildings the ground fell away to the country road over which Clint had that morning travelled behind a somnolent grey horse and a voluble driver, to the last of which combination he owed most of his information regarding the Academy.
Behind the buildings--in school parlance, the Row--lay the athletic field, almost twelve acres in extent, bordered on the further side by a rising slope of forest. Here there were football grid-irons--three of them, as the six goals indicated--quarter-mile running-track, a baseball diamond and a dozen tennis courts. The diamond was most in evidence, for the grand-stand stood behind the plate and the base paths, bare of turf, formed a square in front of it. Even the foul lines had not been utterly obliterated by sun and rain, but were dimly discernible, where the mower had passed, as yellower streaks against the vivid green. It was a splendid field; Clint had to acknowledge that; and for a time the thought of playing football on it had almost dispersed his gloom. But the after-reflection that for all he knew his services might not be required on the Eleven, that very possibly his brand of football was not good enough for Brimfield, had caused a relapse into depression. Thrice he had told himself that as soon as the plodding horse reached the further turn he would get up and go back to his room, and thrice he had failed to keep his promise. He wondered who his room-mate was to be and whether that youth had yet arrived, but his curiosity was not strong enough to get him up. Now, however, the mower was again traversing the opposite end of the field, and again approaching the further corner, and once more he made the agreement with himself, really meaning to live up to it. But, as events proved, he was not destined to keep faith.
From around the corner of the stand furthest from the Row appeared a boy in a suit of light grey flannels. The coat, hanging open, displayed a soft shirt of no uncertain shade of heliotrope. A bow-tie of lemon-yellow with purple dots nestled under his chin and between the cuffs of his trousers and the rubber-soled tan shoes a four-inch expanse of heliotrope silk stockings showed. A straw hat with a particularly narrow brim was adorned with a ribbon of alternating bars of maroon and grey. He was indeed a cheerful and colourful youth, his cheerfulness being further evidenced by the jaunty swinging of a stick which he had apparently cut from a willow and by the gay whistling of a tune. On sight of Clint, however, the stick stopped swinging and the whistling came to an end in the middle of a note.
"Hi!" said the youth in surprised tones.
"Hello," answered Clint politely.
The newcomer paused and viewed the boy on the stand with frank curiosity. Then his gaze wandered across to the mower, which was at the instant making the turn at the further corner, over by the tennis courts. Finally,
"Bossing the job?" he asked, nodding toward the mower.
Clint smiled and shook his head. "No, just--just loafing."
"Hot, isn't it?" The other pushed the gaily-ribboned hat to the back of his head and drew a pale lavender handkerchief across his forehead. "Been moseying around over there in the woods," he continued when Clint had murmured agreement. "Studying Nature in her manifold moods. Nature is some warm today. There's a sort of a breeze here, though, isn't there?"
Clint agreed again, more doubtfully, and the boy who had been studying Nature seated himself sidewise on a seat below, drawing his feet up and clasping his hands about his knees. He was a good-looking, merry-faced chap of seventeen, with dark-brown eyes, a short nose liberally freckled under the tan and a rather prominent chin with a deep dimple in it. His position revealed a full ten inches of the startling hose; and, since they were almost under his nose, Clint gazed at them fascinatedly.
"Some socks, are they not?" inquired the youth.
Clint, already a little embarrassed by the other's friendliness, removed his gaze hurriedly.
"They're very--nice," he murmured.
The other elevated one ankle and viewed it approvingly. "Saw them in a window in New York yesterday and fell for them at once. I've got another pair that are sort of pinky-grey, ashes of roses, I guess. Watch for them. They'll gladden your heart. You're new, aren't you?"
"Yes, I got here this morning," replied Clint. "I suppose you're--you're not."
"No, this is my third year. I'm in the Fifth Form. What's yours?"
"I don't know yet. I reckon they'll put me in the Fourth."
"I see. How's everything below the Line?"
"Below the line?" repeated Clint.
"Yes, Mason and Dixon's. You're from the South, aren't you?"
"Oh! Yes, I come from Virginia; Cedar Run."
The other chuckled. "What state did you say?" he asked.
"Virginia," responded Clint innocently. "Great! 'Vay-gin-ya.'" He shook his head. "No, I can't get it."
It dawned on Clint that the other was trying to mimic his pronunciation of the word, and he felt resentful until a look at the boy's face showed that he intended no impertinence.
"I love to hear a Southerner talk," he went on. "There was a chap here named Broland year before last; came from Alabama, I think. He was fine! Red-hot he was, too. You could always get a fall out of Bud Broland by mentioning Grant or Sherman. He used to fly right off the handle and wave the Stars-and-Bars fit to kill! We used to tell him that the war was over, but he wouldn't believe it."
Clint smiled doubtfully. "Is he here now?" he asked.
"Broland? No, he only stayed a little while. Couldn't get used to our ways. Found school life too--too confining. He used to take trips, and Faculty didn't approve."
"Trips?" asked Clint.
The other nodded. "Yes, he used to put a clean collar in his pocket and run down to New York for week-ends. Faculty was sort of narrow-minded and regretfully packed him off home to Alabam'. Bud was a good sort, but--well, he needed a larger scope for his talents than school afforded. I guess the right place for Bud would have been a good big ranch out West somewhere. He needed lots of room!"
Clint smiled. "What time do we eat?" he asked presently, when they had silently watched the passage of the mower. The other boy tugged at a fob which dangled at his belt and produced a silver watch.
"Let's see." He frowned intently a moment. "I was twelve minutes fast yesterday afternoon. That would make me about twenty minutes ahead now. I'd say the absolutely correct time was somewhere between eleven-fifty-eight and twelve-six. And dinner's at half-past."
"Thank you," laughed Clint. He pulled forth his own watch and looked at it. "I make it two minutes after," he said, "and I was right this morning by the clock in the station in New York."
"Two minutes past, eh?" The boy below set his timepiece and slipped it back under his belt. "It must be great to have a watch like yours. I used to have one but I left it at the rink last Winter and it fell into the snow, I guess, and I never did find it. Then I bought me this. It's guaranteed for a year."
"Why don't you take it back, then?"
"Oh, I've got sort of used to it now. After all, there's a certain excitement about having a watch like this. You never know whether you're going to be late or early. If I have to catch a train I always allow thirty minutes leeway. It's twelve o'clock, all right. Solomon's quit." He nodded toward where the man in the blue overalls was unhitching the horse from the mower. "You can't fool Solomon on the dinner hour."
"Is that his name?" inquired Clint.
"I don't suppose so. That's what he's called, though. He never says anything and so he seems to be all-fired wise. There's a lot in that, do you know? Bet you if I didn't talk so much I'd get the reputation of being real brainy. Guess I'll have to try it." He grinned broadly and Clint smiled back in sympathy.
"Let's tell our names," said the other. "Mine's Byrd; first name, Amory; nicknamed Amy. Pretty bad, but it might be worse."
"Mine's Clinton Thayer."
"Thayer? We've got some cousins of that name. They're Northerners, though. Live in New Hampshire. No relation to you, I guess. I suppose fellows call you Clint, don't they?"
"All right, Clint, let's mosey back and have some dinner. I had a remarkably early repast this morning and feel as though I could trifle with some real food."
"So do I," replied Clint as he climbed down. "I had my breakfast at half-past six."
"Great Scott! What for?"
"The train got in at six and there was nothing else to do. I got here before nine."
"You did? I thought I was one of the early Byrds--Joke! Get it?--but I didn't sight the Dear Old School until after ten. Couldn't find any fellows I knew and so went for a walk. Most of the fellows don't get here until afternoon. By the way, who do you room with?"
"I don't know," replied Clint. "I didn't ask. They put me--"
"I don't know either," sighed Amy. "I found a lot of truck in my room, but I haven't seen the owner yet. The fellow who was in with me last year has left school. Gone to live in China. Wish I could! I suppose the fellow I draw will be a regular mutt." They had reached the corner of Wendell, and Amy paused. "The dining room's in here. If you don't mind waiting until I run up and wash a bit we'll eat together."
"I'd like to," answered Clint, "but I reckon I'll wash too."
He moved along with the other toward the next dormitory.
"Aren't you in Wendell?" asked Amy.
"No, this next one. Torrey, isn't it?"
"Torrence." Amy stopped and viewed him With sudden interest. "Say, what number?"
"Well, what do you know about that?"
"What?" Clint faltered.
"Why--why--" Amy seized his hand and shook it vigorously. "Clint, I want to congratulate you! I do, indeed!"
Clint smiled. "Thanks, Byrd, but what about?"
"Byrd?" murmured the other disappointedly. "Is that the best you can do after our long acquaintance? You--you grieve me!"
"Amory, then," laughed Clint.
"Call me Amy," begged the other. "You'll call me worse than that when you've known me longer, but for now let it be Amy."
"All right. And now, please, what am I being congratulated for?"
Amy's face became suddenly earnest and sober, "Because, my young friend, you are especially fortunate. A kindly Providence has placed you in the care of one of the wisest, most respected, er--finest examples of young manhood this institution affords. I certainly do congratulate you!"
Amy made another grab at Clint's hand, but the latter foiled him.
"You mean the fellow I'm going to room with?" he asked.
"Exactly! Faculty has indeed been good to you, Clint. You will take up your abode with a youth in whom all the virtues and--and excellencies--"
"Who is he?" demanded Clint suspiciously.
"His name"--Amy drew close and dropped his voice to an awed and thrilling whisper--"his name is--Are you prepared?"
"Go on. Ill try to stand it."
"His name, then, is Amory Munson Byrd!"
"You mean--I'm in with you?"
"I mean just that, O fortunate youth! Forward, sir! Allow me to conduct you to your apartment!" And, putting his arm through Clint's, he dragged that astonished youth into dormitory.
CHAPTER II CAPTAIN INNES RECEIVES
"What's that awful noise?" asked Clint startledly, looking up from his book.
It was the evening of the second day of school and Clint and Amy Byrd were preparing lessons at opposite sides of the green-topped table in Number 14 Torrence.
"That," replied Amy, leaning back until his chair protested and viewing his room-mate under the shade of the drop-light, "is music."
"Music!" Clint listened incredulously. From the next room, by way of opened windows and transoms, came the most lugubrious wails he thought he had ever listened to. "It--it's a fiddle, isn't it?" he demanded.
Amy nodded. "More respectfully, a violin. More correctly a viol-din. (The joke is not new.) What you are listening to with such evident delight are the sweet strains of Penny Durkin's violin." Amy looked at the alarm clock which decorated a corner of his chiffonier. "Penny is twelve minutes ahead of time. He's not supposed to play during study-hour, you see, and unless I'm much mistaken he will be so informed before the night is much--"
"Hey, Penny! Cut it out, old top!"
From somewhere down the corridor the anguished wail floated, followed an instant later by sounds counterfeiting the howling of an unhappy dog. Threats and pleas mingled.
"Penny! For the love of Mike!"
"Set your watch back, Penny!"
"Shut up, you idiot! Study's not over!"
"Call an officer, please!"
But Pennington Durkin was making too much noise on his instrument to hear the remonstrances at first, and it was not until some impatient neighbour sallied forth and pounded frantically at the portal of Number 13 that the wailing ceased. Then,
"What is it?" asked Durkin mildly.
"It's only ten minutes to nine, Penny. Your clock's fast again. Shut up or we'll kill you!"
"Oh!" said Penny surprisedly. "Are you sure? I set my watch--"
"Oh, forget it! You say that every night," was the wearied response. "How the dickens do you think anyone's going to study with that noise going on?"
"I'm very sorry, really," responded Penny, "If I'd known--"
"You never do know, Penny!" The youth outside strode back to his room and slammed the door and quiet prevailed once more. Amy smiled.
"Poor Penny," he said. "He suffers much in the cause of Art. I refuse to study any more. Close up shop, Clint, and let's talk. Now that you've been with us a whole day, what do you think of us? Do you approve of this institution of learning, old man?"
"I think I'm going to like it," replied Clint soberly.
"I do hope so," murmured Amy anxiously. "Still, any little changes you'd like made--"
"Well, you asked me, didn't you?" laughed Clint. "Besides, how can I help but like it when I am honoured by being roomed with you?"
"Sarcasm!" hissed Amy. "Time's up!" He slammed his book shut, tossed it on a pile at his elbow, yawned and jumped from his chair. "Let's go visiting. What do you say? Come along and I'll interdoodle you to some of our prominent criminals. Find your cap and follow me."
"I wish," said Amy, as they clattered down the stairs in the wake of several other boys who had lingered no longer than they after nine o'clock had struck, "I wish you had made the Fifth Form, Clint."
"So do I," was the reply....