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Chapter 2


CHAPTER II.

IN a high-walled corrider of one of the college buildings, a
crowd of students waited amid jostlings and a loud buzz of talk.
Suddenly a huge pair of doors flew open and a wedge of young
men inserted itself boisterously and deeply into the throng.
There was a great scuffle attended by a general banging of
books upon heads. The two lower classes engaged in herculean
play while members of the two higher classes, standing aloof,
devoted themselves strictly to the encouragement of whichever
party for a moment lost ground or heart. This was in order to
prolong the conflict.

The combat, waged in the desperation of proudest youth,
waxed hot and hotter. The wedge had been instantly smitten
into a kind of block of men. It had crumpled into an irregular
square and on three sides it was now assailed with remarkable
ferocity.

It was a matter of wall meet wall in terrific rushes, during
which lads could feel their very hearts leaving them in the
compress of friends and foes. They on the outskirts upheld the
honour of their classes by squeezing into paper thickness the
lungs of those of their fellows who formed the centre of the
melee

In some way it resembled a panic at a theatre.

The first lance-like attack of the Sophomores had been
formidable, but the Freshmen outnumbering their enemies and
smarting from continual Sophomoric oppression, had swarmed
to the front like drilled collegians and given the arrogant foe the
first serious check of the year. Therefore the tall Gothic
windows which lined one side of the corridor looked down
upon as incomprehensible and enjoyable a tumult as could
mark the steps of advanced education. The Seniors and juniors
cheered themselves ill. Long freed from the joy of such
meetings, their only means for this kind of recreation was to
involve the lower classes, and they had never seen the victims
fall to with such vigour and courage. Bits of printed leaves,
torn note-books, dismantled collars and cravats, all floated to
the floor beneath the feet of the warring hordes. There were no
blows; it was a battle of pressure. It was a deadly pushing
where the leaders on either side often suffered the most cruel
and sickening agony caught thus between phalanxes of
shoulders with friend as well as foe contributing to the pain.

Charge after charge of Freshmen beat upon the now
compact and organised Sophomores. Then, finally, the rock
began to give slow way. A roar came from the Freshmen and
they hurled themselves in a frenzy upon their betters.

To be under the gaze of the juniors and Seniors is
to be in sight of all men, and so the Sophomores at this
important moment laboured with the desperation of the half-
doomed to stem the terrible Freshmen.

In the kind of game, it was the time when bad tempers came
strongly to the front, and in many Sophomores' minds a
thought arose of the incomparable insolence of the Freshmen.
A blow was struck; an infuriated Sophomore had swung an
arm high and smote a Freshman.

Although it had seemed that no greater noise could be made
by the given numbers, the din that succeeded this manifestation
surpassed everything. The juniors and Seniors immediately set
up an angry howl. These veteran classes projected themselves
into the middle of the fight, buffeting everybody with small
thought as to merit. This method of bringing peace was as
militant as a landslide, but they had much trouble before they
could separate the central clump of antagonists into its parts.
A score of Freshmen had cried out: "It was Coke. Coke punched
him. Coke." A dozen of them were tempestuously endeavouring
to register their protest against fisticuffs by means of an
introduction of more fisticuffs.

The upper classmen were swift, harsh and hard. "Come, now,
Freshies, quit it. Get back, get back, d'y'hear?" With a wrench of
muscles they forced themselves in front of Coke, who was
being blindly defended by his classmates from intensely earnest
attacks by outraged Freshmen.

These meetings between the lower classes at the door of a
recitation room were accounted quite comfortable and idle
affairs, and a blow delivered openly and in hatred fractured a
sharply defined rule of conduct. The corridor was in a hubbub.
Many Seniors and Juniors, bursting from old and iron discipline,
wildly clamoured that some Freshman should be given the
privilege of a single encounter with Coke. The Freshmen
themselves were frantic. They besieged the tight and dauntless
circle of men that encompassed Coke. None dared confront the
Seniors openly, but by headlong rushes at auspicious moments
they tried to come to quarters with the rings of dark-browed
Sophomores. It was no longer a festival, a game; it was a riot.
Coke, wild-eyed, pallid with fury, a ribbon of blood on his chin,
swayed in the middle of the mob of his classmates, comrades
who waived the ethics of the blow under the circumstance of
being obliged as a corps to stand against the scorn of the whole
college, as well as against the tremendous assaults of the
Freshmen. Shamed by their own man, but knowing full well the
right time and the wrong time for a palaver of regret and
disavowal, this battalion struggled in the desperation of
despair. Once they were upon the verge of making unholy
campaign against the interfering Seniors. This fiery
impertinence was the measure of their state.

It was a critical moment in the play of the college. Four or
five defeats from the Sophomores during the fall had taught the
Freshmen much. They had learned the comparative
measurements, and they knew now that their prowess was ripe
to enable them to amply revenge what was, according to their
standards, an execrable deed by a man who had not the virtue
to play the rough game, but was obliged to resort to uncommon
methods. In short, the Freshmen were almost out of control, and
the Sophomores debased but defiant, were quite out of control.
The Senior and junior classes which, in American colleges
dictate in these affrays, found their dignity toppling, and in
consequence there was a sudden oncome of the entire force of
upper classmen football players naturally in advance. All
distinctions were dissolved at once in a general fracas. The stiff
and still Gothic windows surveyed a scene of dire carnage.

Suddenly a voice rang brazenly through the tumult. It was
not loud, but it was different. " Gentlemen! Gentlemen!'"
Instantly there was a remarkable number of haltings, abrupt
replacements, quick changes. Prof. Wainwright stood at the
door of his recitation room, looking into the eyes of each
member of the mob of three hundred. "Ssh! " said the mob. "
Ssh! Quit! Stop! It's the Embassador! Stop!" He had once
been minister to Austro-Hungary, and forever now to
the students of the college his name was Embassador. He
stepped into the corridor, and they cleared for him a little
respectful zone of floor. He looked about him coldly. " It seems
quite a general dishevelment. The Sophomores display an
energy in the halls which I do not detect in the class room." A
feeble murmur of appreciation arose from the outskirts of the
throng. While he had been speaking several remote groups of
battling men had been violently signaled and suppressed by
other students. The professor gazed into terraces of faces that
were still inflamed. " I needn't say that I am surprised," he
remarked in the accepted rhetoric of his kind. He added
musingly: " There seems to be a great deal of torn linen. Who is
the young gentleman with blood on his chin?"

The throng moved restlessly. A manful silence, such as
might be in the tombs of stern and honourable knights, fell
upon the shadowed corridor. The subdued rustling had fainted
to nothing. Then out of the crowd Coke, pale and desperate,
delivered himself.

" Oh, Mr. Coke," said the professor, "I would be glad if you
would tell the gentlemen they may retire to their dormitories."
He waited while the students passed out to the campus.

The professor returned to his room for some books, and
then began his own march across the snowy
campus. The wind twisted his coat-tails fantastically, and he
was obliged to keep one hand firmly on the top of his hat.
When he arrived home he met his wife in the hall. " Look here,
Mary," he cried. She followed him into the library. " Look here,"
he said. "What is this all about? Marjory tells me she wants to
marry Rufus Coleman."

Mrs. Wainwright was a fat woman who was said to pride
herself upon being very wise and if necessary, sly. In addition
she laughed continually in an inexplicably personal way, which
apparently made everybody who heard her feel offended. Mrs.
Wainwright laughed.

"Well," said the professor, bristling, " what do you mean by
that ? "

"Oh, Harris," she replied. " Oh, Harris."

The professor straightened in his chair. " I do not see any
illumination in those remarks, Mary. I understand from
Marjory's manner that she is bent upon marrying Rufus
Coleman. She said you knew of it."

" Why, of course I knew. It was as plain---"

" Plain !" scoffed the professor. " Plain !"

Why, of course," she cried. "I knew it all along."

There was nothing in her tone which proved that she
admired the event itself. She was evidently carried away by the
triumph of her penetration. " I knew it all along," she added,
nodding.

The professor looked at her affectionately. "You knew it all
along, then, Mary? Why didn't you tell me, dear ? "

" Because you ought to have known it," she answered
blatantly.

The professor was glaring. Finally he spoke in tones of grim
reproach. "Mary, whenever you happen to know anything,
dear, it seems only a matter of partial recompense that you
should tell me."

The wife had been taught in a terrible school that she should
never invent any inexpensive retorts concerning bookworms
and so she yawed at once. "Really, Harris. Really, I didn't
suppose the affair was serious. You could have knocked me
down with a feather. Of course he has been here very often, but
then Marjory gets a great deal of attention. A great deal of
attention."
The professor had been thinking. " Rather than let my girl
marry that scalawag, I'll take you and her to Greece this winter
with the class. Separation. It is a sure cure that has the
sanction of antiquity."

"Well," said Mrs. Wainwright, "you know best, Harris. You
know best." It was a common remark with her, and it probably
meant either approbation or disapprobation if it did not mean
simple discretion.


Stephen Crane

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