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When people are thrown together, especially when they are young, the mutual relationship existing between them rarely remains stationary. It drifts toward like or dislike; and cases have been known where it progressed into love or hatred.
Stillson Renmark and Margaret Howard became at least very firm friends. Each of them would have been ready to admit this much. These two had a good foundation on which to build up an acquaintance in the fact that Margaret's brother was a student in the university of which the professor was a worthy member. They had also a subject of difference, which, if it leads not to heated argument, but is soberly discussed, lends itself even more to the building of friendship than subjects of agreement. Margaret held, as has been indicated in a previous chapter, that the university was wrong in closing its doors to women. Renmark, up to the time of their first conversation on the subject, had given the matter but little thought; yet he developed an opinion contrary to that of Margaret, and was too honest a man, or too little of a diplomatist, to conceal it. On one occasion Yates had been present, and he threw himself, with the energy that distinguished him, into the woman side of the question--cordially agreeing with Margaret, citing instances, and holding those who were against the admission of women up to ridicule, taunting them with fear of feminine competition. Margaret became silent as the champion of her cause waxed the more eloquent; but whether she liked Richard Yates the better for his championship who that is not versed in the ways of women can say? As the hope of winning her regard was the sole basis of Yates' uncompromising views on the subject, it is likely that he was successful, for his experiences with the sex were large and varied. Margaret was certainly attracted toward Renmark, whose deep scholarship even his excessive self-depreciation could not entirely conceal; and he, in turn, had naturally a schoolmaster's enthusiasm over a pupil who so earnestly desired advancement in knowledge. Had he described his feelings to Yates, who was an expert in many matters, he would perhaps have learned that he was in love; but Renmark was a reticent man, not much given either to introspection or to being lavish with his confidences. As to Margaret, who can plummet the depth of a young girl's regard until she herself gives some indication? All that one is able to record is that she was kinder to Yates than she had been at the beginning.
Miss Kitty Bartlett probably would not have denied that she had a sincere liking for the conceited young man from New York. Renmark fell into the error of thinking Miss Kitty a frivolous young person, whereas she was merely a girl who had an inexhaustible fund of high spirits, and one who took a most deplorable pleasure in shocking a serious man. Even Yates made a slight mistake regarding her on one occasion, when they were having an evening walk together, with that freedom from chaperonage which is the birthright of every American girl, whether she belongs to a farmhouse or to the palace of a millionaire.
In describing the incident afterward to Renmark, (for Yates had nothing of his comrade's reserve in these matters) he said:
"She left a diagram of her four fingers on my cheek that felt like one of those raised maps of Switzerland. I have before now felt the tap of a lady's fan in admonition, but never in my life have I met a gentle reproof that felt so much like a censure from the paw of our friend Tom Sayers."
Renmark said with some severity that he hoped Yates would not forget that he was, in a measure, a guest of his neighbors.
"Oh, that's all right," said Yates. "If you have any spare sympathy to bestow, keep it for me. My neighbors are amply able, and more than willing, to take care of themselves."
And now as to Richard Yates himself. One would imagine that here, at least, a conscientious relater of events would have an easy task. Alas! such is far from being the fact. The case of Yates was by all odds the most complex and bewildering of the four. He was deeply and truly in love with both of the girls. Instances of this kind are not so rare as a young man newly engaged to an innocent girl tries to make her believe. Cases have been known where a chance meeting with one girl, and not with another, has settled who was to be a young man's companion during a long life. Yates felt that in multitude of counsel there is wisdom, and made no secret of his perplexity to his friend. He complained sometimes that he got little help toward the solution of the problem, but generally he was quite content to sit under the trees with Renmark and weigh the different advantages of each of the girls. He sometimes appealed to his friend, as a man with a mathematical turn of mind, possessing an education that extended far into conic sections and algebraic formulae, to balance up the lists, and give him a candid and statistical opinion as to which of the two he should favor with serious proposals. When these appeals for help were coldly received, he accused his friend of lack of sympathy with his dilemma, said that he was a soulless man, and that if he had a heart it had become incrusted with the useless debris of a higher education, and swore to confide in him no more. He would search for a friend, he said, who had something human about him. The search for the sympathetic friend, however, seemed to be unsuccessful; for Yates always returned to Renmark, to have, as he remarked, ice water dashed upon his duplex- burning passion.
It was a lovely afternoon in the latter part of May, 1866, and Yates was swinging idly in the hammock, with his hands clasped under his head, gazing dreamily up at the patches of blue sky seen through the green branches of the trees overhead, while his industrious friend was unromantically peeling potatoes near the door of the tent.
"The human heart, Renny," said the man in the hammock reflectively, "is a remarkable organ, when you come to think of it. I presume, from your lack of interest, that you haven't given the subject much study, except, perhaps, in a physiological way. At the present moment it is to me the only theme worthy of a man's entire attention. Perhaps that is the result of spring, as the poet says; but, anyhow, it presents new aspects to me each hour. Now, I have made this important discovery: that the girl I am with last seems to me the most desirable. That is contrary to the observation of philosophers of bygone days. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. I don't find it so. Presence is what plays the very deuce with me. Now, how do you account for it, Stilly?"
The professor did not attempt to account for it, but silently attended to the business in hand. Yates withdrew his eyes from the sky, and fixed them on the professor, waiting for the answer that did not come.
"Mr. Renmark," he drawled at last, "I am convinced that your treatment of the potato is a mistake. I think potatoes should not be peeled the day before, and left to soak in cold water until to-morrow's dinner. Of course I admire the industry that gets work well over before its results are called for. Nothing is more annoying than work left untouched until the last moment, and then hurriedly done. Still, virtue may be carried to excess, and a man may be too previous."
"Well, I am quite willing to relinquish the work into your hands. You may perhaps remember that for two days I have been doing your share as well as my own."
"Oh, I am not complaining about that, at all," said the hammock magnanimously. "You are acquiring practical knowledge, Renny, that will be of more use to you than all the learning taught at the schools. My only desire is that your education should be as complete as possible, and to this end I am willing to subordinate my own yearning desire for scullery work. I should suggest that, instead of going to the trouble of entirely removing the covering of the potato in that laborious way, you should merely peel a belt around its greatest circumference. Then, rather than cook the potatoes in the slow and soggy manner that seems to delight you, you should boil them quickly, with some salt placed in the water. The remaining coat would then curl outward, and the resulting potato would be white and dry and mealy, instead of being in the condition of a wet sponge."
"The beauty of a precept, Yates, is the illustrating of it. If you are not satisfied with my way of boiling potatoes, give me a practical object lesson."
The man in the hammock sighed reproachfully.
"Of course an unimaginative person like you, Renmark, cannot realize the cruelty of suggesting that a man as deeply in love as I am should demean himself by attending to the prosaic details of household affairs. I am doubly in love, and much more, therefore, as that old bore Euclid used to say, is your suggestion unkind and uncalled for."
"All right, then; don't criticise."
"Yes, there is a certain sweet reasonableness in your curt suggestion. A man who is unable, or unwilling, to work in the vineyard should not find fault with the pickers. And now, Renny, for the hundredth time of asking, add to the many obligations already conferred, and tell me, like the good fellow you are, what you would do if you were in my place. To which of those two charming, but totally unlike, girls would you give the preference?"
"Damn!" said the professor quietly.
"Hello, Renny!" cried Yates, raising his head. "Have you cut your finger? I should have warned you about using too sharp a knife."
But the professor had not cut his finger. His use of the word given above is not to be defended; still, as it was spoken by him, it seemed to lose all relationship with swearing. He said it quietly, mildly, and, in a certain sense, innocently. He was astonished at himself for using it, but there had been moments during the past few days when the ordinary expletives used in the learned volumes of higher mathematics did not fit the occasion.
Before anything more could be said there was a shout from the roadway near them.
"Is Richard Yates there?" hailed the voice.
"Yes. Who wants him?" cried Yates, springing out of the hammock.
"I do," said a young fellow on horseback. He threw himself off a tired horse, tied the animal to a sapling,--which, judging by the horse's condition, was an entirely unnecessary operation,--jumped over the rail fence, and approached through the woods. The young men saw, coming toward them, a tall lad in the uniform of the telegraph service.
"I'm Yates. What is it?"
"Well," said the lad, "I've had a hunt and a half for you. Here's a telegram."
"How in the world did you find out where I was? Nobody has my address."
"That's just the trouble. It would have saved somebody in New York a pile of money if you had left it. No man ought to go to the woods without leaving his address at a telegraph office, anyhow." The young man looked at the world from a telegraph point of view. People were good or bad according to the trouble they gave a telegraph messenger. Yates took the yellow envelope, addressed in lead pencil, but, without opening it, repeated his question:
"But how on earth did you find me?"
"Well, it wasn't easy;" said the boy. "My horse is about done out. I'm from Buffalo. They telegraphed from New York that we were to spare no expense; and we haven't. There are seven other fellows scouring the country on horseback with duplicates of that dispatch, and some more have gone along the lake shore on the American side. Say, no other messenger has been here before me, has he?" asked the boy with a touch of anxiety in his voice.
"No; you are the first."
"I'm glad of that. I've been 'most all over Canada. I got on your trail about two hours ago, and the folks at the farmhouse down below said you were up here. Is there any answer?"
Yates tore open the envelope. The dispatch was long, and he read it with a deepening frown. It was to this effect:
"Fenians crossing into Canada at Buffalo. You are near the spot; get there as quick as possible. Five of our men leave for Buffalo to-night. General O'Neill is in command of Fenian army. He will give you every facility when you tell him who you are. When five arrive, they will report to you. Place one or two with Canadian troops. Get one to hold the telegraph wire, and send over all the stuff the wire will carry. Draw on us for cash you need; and don't spare expense."
When Yates finished the reading of this, he broke forth into a line of language that astonished Renmark, and drew forth the envious admiration of the Buffalo telegraph boy.
"Heavens and earth and the lower regions! I'm here on my vacation. I'm not going to jump into work for all the papers in New York. Why couldn't those fools of Fenians stay at home? The idiots don't know when they're well off. The Fenians be hanged!"
"Guess that's what they will be," said the telegraph boy. "Any answer, sir?"
"No. Tell 'em you couldn't find me."
"Don't expect the boy to tell a lie," said the professor, speaking for the first time.
"Oh, I don't mind a lie!" exclaimed the boy, "but not that one. No, sir. I've had too much trouble finding you. I'm not going to pretend I'm no good. I started out for to find you, and I have. But I'll tell any other lie you like, Mr. Yates, if it will oblige you."
Yates recognized in the boy the same emulous desire to outstrip his fellows that had influenced himself when he was a young reporter, and he at once admitted the injustice of attempting to deprive him of the fruits of his enterprise.
"No," he said, "that won't do. No; you have found me, and you're a young fellow who will be president of the telegraph company some day, or perhaps hold the less important office of the United States presidency. Who knows? Have you a telegraph blank?"
"Of course," said the boy, fishing out a bundle from the leathern wallet by his side. Yates took the paper, and flung himself down under the tree.
"Here's a pencil," said the messenger.
"A newspaper man is never without a pencil, thank you," replied Yates, taking one out of his inside pocket. "Now, Renmark, I'm not going to tell a lie on this occasion," he continued.
"I think the truth is better on all occasions."
"Right you are. So here goes for the solid truth."
Yates, as he lay on the ground, wrote rapidly on the telegraph blank. Suddenly he looked up and said to the professor: "Say, Renmark, are you a doctor?"
"Of laws," replied his friend.
"Oh, that will do just as well." And he finished his writing.
"How is this?" he cried, holding the paper at arm's length:
"L. F. SPENCER,
"Managing Editor 'Argus,' New York:
"I'm flat on my back. Haven't done a hand's turn for a week. Am under the constant care, night and day, of one of the most eminent doctors in Canada, who even prepares my food for me. Since leaving New York trouble of the heart has complicated matters, and at present baffles the doctor. Consultations daily. It is impossible for me to move from here until present complications have yielded to treatment.
"Simson would be a good man to take charge in my absence."
"There," said Yates, with a tone of satisfaction, when he had finished the reading. "What do you think of that?"
The professor frowned, but did not answer. The boy, who partly saw through it, but not quite, grinned, and said: "Is it true?"
"Of course it's true!" cried Yates, indignant at the unjust suspicion. "It is a great deal more true than you have any idea of. Ask the doctor, there, if it isn't true. Now, my boy, will you give this in when you get back to the office? Tell 'em to rush it through to New York. I would mark it 'rush' only that never does any good, and always makes the operator mad."
The boy took the paper, and put it in his wallet.
"It's to be paid for at the other end," continued Yates.
"Oh, that's all right," answered the messenger with a certain condescension, as if he were giving credit on behalf of the company. "Well, so long," he added. "I hope you'll soon be better, Mr. Yates."
Yates sprang to his feet with a laugh, and followed him to the fence.
"Now, youngster, you are up to snuff, I can see that. They'll perhaps question you when you get back. What will you say?"
"Oh, I'll tell 'em what a hard job I had to find you, and let 'em know nobody else could 'a' done it, and I'll say you're a pretty sick man. I won't tell 'em you gave me a dollar!"
"Right you are, sonny; you'll get along. Here's five dollars, all in one bill. If you meet any other of the messengers, take them back with you. There's no use of their wasting valuable time in this little neck of the woods."
The boy stuffed the bill into his vest pocket as carelessly as if it represented cents instead of dollars, mounted his tired horse, and waved his hand in farewell to the newspaper man. Yates turned and walked slowly back to the tent. He threw himself once more into the hammock. As he expected, the professor was more taciturn than ever, and, although he had been prepared for silence, the silence irritated him. He felt ill used at having so unsympathetic a companion.
"Look here, Renmark; why don't you say something?"
"There is nothing to say."
"Oh, yes, there is. You don't approve of me, do you?"
"I don't suppose it makes any difference whether I approve or not."
"Oh, yes, it does. A man likes to have the approval of even the humblest of his fellow-creatures. Say, what will you take in cash to approve of me? People talk of the tortures of conscience, but you are more uncomfortable than the most cast-iron conscience any man ever had. One's own conscience one can deal with, but a conscience in the person of another man is beyond one's control. Now, it is like this: I am here for quiet and rest. I have earned both, and I think I am justified in----"
"Now, Mr. Yates, please spare me any cheap philosophy on the question. I am tired of it."
"And of me, too, I suppose?"
"Well, yes, rather--if you want to know."
Yates sprang out of the hammock. For the first time since the encounter with Bartlett on the road Renmark saw that he was thoroughly angry. The reporter stood with clenched fists and flashing eyes, hesitating. The other, his heavy brows drawn, while not in an aggressive attitude, was plainly ready for an attack. Yates concluded to speak, and not to strike. This was not because he was afraid, for he was not a coward. The reporter realized that he had forced the conversation, and remembered he had invited Renmark to accompany him. Although this recollection stayed his hand, it had no effect on his tongue.
"I believe," he said slowly, "that it would do you good for once to hear a straight, square, unbiased opinion of yourself. You have associated so long with pupils, to whom your word is law, that it may interest you to know what a man of the world thinks of you. A few years of schoolmastering is enough to spoil an archangel. Now, I think, of all the----"
The sentence was interrupted by a cry from the fence:
"Say, do you gentlemen know where a fellow named Yates lives?"
The reporter's hand dropped to his side. A look of dismay came over his face, and his truculent manner changed with a suddenness that forced a smile even to the stern lips of Renmark.
Yates backed toward the hammock like a man who had received an unexpected blow.
"I say, Renny," he wailed, "it's another of those cursed telegraph messengers. Go, like a good fellow, and sign for the dispatch. Sign it 'Dr. Renmark, for R. Yates.' That will give it a sort of official, medical-bulletin look. I wish I had thought of that when the other boy was here. Tell him I'm lying down." He flung himself into the hammock, and Renmark, after a moment's hesitation, walked toward the boy at the fence, who had repeated his question in a louder voice. In a short time he returned with the yellow envelope, which he tossed to the man in the hammock. Yates seized it savagely, tore it into a score of pieces, and scattered the fluttering bits around him on the ground. The professor stood there for a few moments in silence.
"Perhaps," he said at last, "you'll be good enough to go on with your remarks."
"I was merely going to say," answered Yates wearily, "that you are a mighty good fellow, Renny. People who camp out always have rows. That is our first; suppose we let it be the last. Camping out is something like married life, I guess, and requires some forbearance on both sides. That philosophy may be cheap, but I think it is accurate. I am really very much worried about this newspaper business. I ought, of course, to fling myself into the chasm like that Roman fellow; but, hang it! I've been flinging myself into chasms for fifteen years, and what good has it done? There's always a crisis in a daily newspaper office. I want them to understand in the Argus office that I am on my vacation."
"They will be more apt to understand from the telegram that you're on your deathbed."
Yates laughed. "That's so," he said; "but, you see, Renny, we New Yorkers live in such an atmosphere of exaggeration that if I did not put it strongly it wouldn't have any effect. You've got to give a big dose to a man who has been taking poison all his life. They will take off ninety per cent. from any statement I make, anyhow; so, you see, I have to pile it up pretty high before the remaining ten per cent. amounts to anything."
The conversation was interrupted by the crackling of the dry twigs behind them, and Yates, who had been keeping his eye nervously on the fence, turned round. Young Bartlett pushed his way through the underbrush. His face was red; he had evidently been running.
"Two telegrams for you, Mr. Yates," he panted. "The fellows that brought 'em said they were important; so I ran out with them myself, for fear they wouldn't find you. One of them's from Port Colborne, the other's from Buffalo."
Telegrams were rare on the farm, and young Bartlett looked on the receipt of one as an event in a man's life. He was astonished to see Yates receive the double event with a listlessness that he could not help thinking was merely assumed for effect. Yates held them in his hand, and did not tear them up at once out of consideration for the feelings of the young man, who had had a race to deliver them.
"Here's two books they wanted you to sign. They're tired out, and mother's giving them something to eat."
"Professor, you sign for me, won't you?" said Yates.
Bartlett lingered a moment, hoping that he would hear something of the contents of the important messages; but Yates did not even open the envelopes, although he thanked the young man heartily for bringing them.
"Stuck-up cuss!" muttered young Bartlett to himself, as he shoved the signed books into his pocket and pushed his way through the underbrush again. Yates slowly and methodically tore the envelopes and their contents into little pieces, and scattered them as before.
"Begins to look like autumn," he said, "with the yellow leaves strewing the ground."
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