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The Witness

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Like a sudden cloudburst the dormitory had gone into a frenzy of sound. Doors slammed, feet trampled, hoarse voices reverberated, heavy bodies flung themselves along the corridor, the very electrics trembled with the cataclysm. One moment all was quiet with a contented after-dinner-peace-before-study hours; the next it was as if all the forces of the earth had broken forth.

Paul Courtland stepped to his door and threw it back.

"Come on, Court, see the fun!" called the football half-back, who was slopping along with two dripping fire-buckets of water.

"What's doing?"

"Swearing-match! Going to make Little Stevie cuss! Better get in on it. Some fight! Tennelly sent 'Whisk' for a whole basket of superannuated cackle-berries"—he motioned back to a freshman bearing a basket of ancient eggs—"we're going to blindfold Steve and put oysters down his back, and then finish up with the fire-hose. Oh, the seven plagues of Egypt aren't in it with what we're going to do; and when we get done if Little Stevie don't let out a string of good, honest cuss-words like a man then I'll eat my hat. Little Stevie's got good stuff in him if it can only be brought out. We're a-going to bring it out. Then we're going to celebrate by taking him over to the theater and making him see 'The Scarlet Woman.' It'll be a little old miracle, all right, if he has any of his whining Puritanical ideas left in him after we get through with him. Come on! Get on the job!"

Drifting along with the surging tide of students, Courtland sauntered down the corridor to the door at the extreme end where roomed the victim.

He rather liked Stephen Marshall. There was good stuff in him; all the fellows recognized that. Only he was woefully unsophisticated, abnormally innocent, frankly religious, and a little too openly white in his life. It seemed a rebuke to the other fellows, unconscious though it might be. He felt with the rest that the fellow needed a lesson. Especially since the bald way in which he had dared to stand up for the old-fashioned view of miracles in biblical-lit. class that morning. Of course an ignorance like that wouldn't go down, and it was best he should learn it at once and get to be a good fellow without loss of time. A little gentle rubbing off of the "mamma's-good-little-boy" veneering would do him good. He wasn't sure but with such a course Marshall might even be eligible for the frat. that year. He sauntered along with his hands in his pockets; a handsome, capable, powerful figure; not taking any part in the preparations, but mildly interested in the plans. His presence lent enthusiasm to the gathering. He was high in authority. A star athlete, an A student, president of his fraternity, having made the Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, and now in his senior year being chairman of the student exec. There would be no trouble with the authorities of the college if Court was along to give countenance.

Courtland stood opposite the end door when it was unceremoniously thrust open and the hilarious mob rushed in. From his position with his back against the wall he could see Stephen lift his fine head from his book and rise to greet them. There was surprise and a smile of welcome on his face. Courtland thought it almost a pity to reward such open-heartedness as they were about to do; but such things were necessary in the making of men. He watched developments with interest.

A couple of belated participants in the fray arrived breathlessly, shedding their mackinaws as they ran, and casting them down at Courtland's feet.

"Look after those, will you, Court? We've got to get in on this," shouted one as he thrust a noisy bit of flannel head-gear at Courtland.

Courtland gave the garments a kick behind him and stood watching.

There was a moment's tense silence while they told the victim what they had come for, and while the light of welcome in Stephen Marshall's eyes melted and changed into lightning. A dart of it went with a searching gleam out into the hall, and seemed to recognize Courtland as he stood idly smiling, watching the proceedings....