Chapter II.




The sky parlor, as Yates had termed it, certainly commanded a very extensive view. Immediately underneath was a wilderness of roofs. Farther along were the railway tracks that Yates objected to; and a line of masts and propeller funnels marked the windings of Buffalo Creek, along whose banks arose numerous huge elevators, each marked by some tremendous letter of the alphabet, done in white paint against the somber brown of the big building. Still farther to the west was a more grateful and comforting sight for a hot day. The blue lake, dotted with white sails and an occasional trail of smoke, lay shimmering under the broiling sun. Over the water, through the distant summer haze, there could be seen the dim line of the Canadian shore.

"Sit you down," cried Yates, putting both hands on the other's shoulders, and pushing him into a chair near the window. Then, placing his finger on the electric button, he added: "What will you drink?"

"I'll take a glass of water, if it can be had without trouble," said Renmark.

Yates' hand dropped from the electric button hopelessly to his side, and he looked reproachfully at the professor.

"Great Heavens!" he cried, "have something mild. Don't go rashly in for Buffalo water before you realize what it is made of. Work up to it gradually. Try a sherry cobbler or a milk shake as a starter."

"Thank you, no. A glass of water will do very well for me. Order what you like for yourself."

"Thanks, I can be depended on for doing that." He pushed the button, and, when the boy appeared, said: "Bring up an iced cobbler, and charge it to Professor Renmark, No. 518. Bring also a pitcher of ice water for Yates, No. 520. There," he continued gleefully, "I'm going to have all the drinks, except the ice water, charged to you. I'll pay the bill, but I'll keep the account to hold over your head in the future. Professor Stillson Renmark, debtor to Metropolitan Grand--one sherry cobbler, one gin sling, one whisky cocktail, and so on. Now, then, Stilly, let's talk business. You're not married, I take it, or you wouldn't have responded to my invitation so promptly." The professor shook his head. "Neither am I. You never had the courage to propose to a girl; and I never had the time."

"Lack of self-conceit was not your failing in the old days, Richard," said Renmark quietly.

Yates laughed. "Well, it didn't hold me back any, to my knowledge. Now I'll tell you how I've got along since we attended old Scragmore's academy together, fifteen years ago. How time does fly! When I left, I tried teaching for one short month. I had some theories on the education of our youth which did not seem to chime in with the prejudices the school trustees had already formed on the subject."

The professor was at once all attention. Touch a man on his business, and he generally responds by being interested.

"And what were your theories?" he asked.

"Well, I thought a teacher should look after the physical as well as the mental welfare of his pupils. It did not seem to me that his duty to those under his charge ended with mere book learning."

"I quite agree with you," said the professor cordially.

"Thanks. Well, the trustees didn't. I joined the boys at their games, hoping my example would have an influence on their conduct on the playground as well as in the schoolroom. We got up a rattling good cricket club. You may not remember that I stood rather better in cricket at the academy than I did in mathematics or grammar. By handicapping me with several poor players, and having the best players among the boys in opposition, we made a pretty evenly matched team at school section No. 12. One day, at noon, we began a game. The grounds were in excellent condition, and the opposition boys were at their best. My side was getting the worst of it. I was very much interested; and, when one o'clock came, I thought it a pity to call school and spoil so good and interesting a contest. The boys were unanimously of the same opinion. The girls were happy, picnicking under the trees. So we played cricket all the afternoon."

"I think that was carrying your theory a little too far," said the professor dubiously.

"Just what the trustees thought when they came to hear of it. So they dismissed me; and I think my leaving was the only case on record where the pupils genuinely mourned a teacher's departure. I shook the dust of Canada from my feet, and have never regretted it. I tramped to Buffalo, continuing to shake the dust off at every step. (Hello! here's your drinks at last, Stilly. I had forgotten about them--an unusual thing with me. That's all right, boy; charge it to room 518. Ah! that hits the spot on a hot day.) Well, where was I? Oh, yes, at Buffalo. I got a place on a paper here, at just enough to keep life in me; but I liked the work. Then I drifted to Rochester at a bigger salary, afterward to Albany at a still bigger salary, and of course Albany is only a few hours from New York, and that is where all newspaper men ultimately land, if they are worth their salt. I saw a small section of the war as special correspondent, got hurt, and rounded up in the hospital. Since then, although only a reporter, I am about the top of the tree in that line, and make enough money to pay my poker debts and purchase iced drinks to soothe the asperities of the game. When there is anything big going on anywhere in the country, I am there, with other fellows to do the drudgery; I writing the picturesque descriptions and interviewing the big men. My stuff goes red-hot over the telegraph wire, and the humble postage stamp knows my envelopes no more. I am acquainted with every hotel clerk that amounts to anything from New York to San Francisco. If I could save money, I should be rich, for I make plenty; but the hole at the top of my trousers pocket has lost me a lot of cash, and I don't seem to be able to get it mended. Now, you've listened with your customary patience in order to give my self-esteem, as you called it, full sway. I am grateful. I will reciprocate. How about yourself?"

The professor spoke slowly. "I have had no such adventurous career," he began. "I have not shaken Canadian dust from my feet, and have not made any great success. I have simply plodded; and am in no danger of becoming rich, although I suppose I spend as little as any man. After you were expel--after you left the aca----"

"Don't mutilate the good old English language, Stilly. You were right in the first place. I am not thin-skinned. You were saying after I was expelled. Go on."

"I thought perhaps it might be a sore subject. You remember, you were very indignant at the time, and----"

"Of course I was--and am still, for that matter. It was an outrage!"

"I thought it was proved that you helped to put the pony in the principal's room."

"Oh, certainly. That. Of course. But what I detested was the way the principal worked the thing. He allowed that villain Spink to turn evidence against us, and Spink stated I originated the affair, whereas I could claim no such honor. It was Spink's own project, which I fell in with, as I did with every disreputable thing proposed. Of course the principal believed at once that I was the chief criminal. Do you happen to know if Spink has been hanged yet?"

"I believe he is a very reputable business man in Montreal, and much respected."

"I might have suspected that. Well, you keep your eye on the respected Spink. If he doesn't fail some day, and make a lot of money, I'm a Dutchman. But go on. This is digression. By the way, just push that electric button. You're nearest, and it is too hot to move. Thanks. After I was expelled----"

"After your departure I took a diploma, and for a year or two taught a class in the academy. Then, as I studied during my spare time, I got a chance as master of a grammar school near Toronto, chiefly, as I think, though the recommendation of Principal Scragmore. I had my degree by this time. Then----"

There was a gentle tap at the door.

"Come in!" shouted Yates. "Oh, it's you. Just bring up another cooling cobbler, will you? and charge it, as before, to Professor Renmark, room 518. Yes; and then----"

"And then there came the opening in University College, Toronto. I had the good fortune to be appointed. There I am still, and there I suppose I shall stay. I know very few people, and am better acquainted with books than with men. Those whom I have the privilege of knowing are mostly studious persons, who have made, or will make, their mark in the world of learning. I have not had your advantage, of meeting statesmen who guide the destinies of a great empire.

"No; you always were lucky, Stilly. My experience is that the chaps who do the guiding are more anxious about their own pockets, or their own political advancement, than they are of the destinies. Still, the empire seems to take its course westward just the same. So old Scragmore's been your friend, has he?"

"He has, indeed."

"Well, he insulted me only the other day."

"You astonish me. I cannot imagine so gentlemanly and scholarly a man as Principal Scragmore insulting anybody."

"Oh, you don't know him as I do. It was like this: I wanted to find out where you were, for reasons that I shall state hereafter. I cudgeled my brains, and then thought of old Scrag. I wrote him, and enclosed a stamped and addressed envelope, as all unsought contributors should do. He answered--But I have his reply somewhere. You shall read it for yourself."

Yates pulled from his inside pocket a bundle of letters, which he hurriedly fingered over, commenting in a low voice as he did so: "I thought I answered that. Still, no matter. Jingo! haven't I paid that bill yet? This pass is run out. Must get another." Then he smiled and sighed as he looked at a letter in dainty handwriting; but apparently he could not find the document he sought.

"Oh, well, it doesn't matter. I have it somewhere. He returned me the prepaid envelope, and reminded me that United States stamps were of no use in Canada, which of course I should have remembered. But he didn't pay the postage on his own letter, so that I had to fork out double. Still, I don't mind that, only as an indication of his meanness. He went on to say that, of all the members of our class, you--you! --were the only one who had reflected credit on it. That was the insult. The idea of his making such a statement, when I had told him I was on the New York Argus! Credit to the class, indeed! I wonder if he ever heard of Brown after he was expelled. You know, of course. No? Well, Brown, by his own exertions, became president of the Alum Bank in New York, wrecked it, and got off to Canada with a clear half million. Yes, sir. I saw him in Quebec not six months ago. Keeps the finest span and carriage in the city, and lives in a palace. Could buy out old Scragmore a thousand times, and never feel it. Most liberal contributor to the cause of education that there is in Canada. He says education made him, and he's not a man to go back on education. And yet Scragmore has the cheek to say that you were the only man in the class who reflects credit on it!"

The professor smiled quietly as the excited journalist took a cooling sip of the cobbler.

"You see, Yates, people's opinions differ. A man like Brown may not be Principal Scragmore's ideal. The principal may be local in his ideals of a successful man, or of one who reflects credit on his teaching."

"Local? You bet he's local. Too darned local for me. It would do that man good to live in New York for a year. But I'm going to get even with him. I'm going to write him up. I'll give him a column and a half; see if I don't. I'll get his photograph, and publish a newspaper portrait of him. If that doesn't make him quake, he's a cast-iron man. Say, you haven't a photograph of old Scrag that you can lend me, have you?"

"I have; but I won't lend it for such a purpose. However, never mind the principal. Tell me your plans. I am at your disposal for a couple of weeks, or longer if necessary."

"Good boy! Well, I'll tell you how it is. I want rest and quiet, and the woods, for a week or two. This is how it happened: I have been steadily at the grindstone, except for a while in the hospital; and that, you will admit, is not much of a vacation. The work interests me, and I am always in the thick of it. Now, it's like this in the newspaper business: Your chief is never the person to suggest that you take a vacation. He is usually short of men and long on things to do, so if you don't worry him into letting you off, he won't lose any sleep over it. He's content to let well enough alone every time. Then there is always somebody who wants to get away on pressing business,-- grandmother's funeral, and that sort of thing,--so if a fellow is content to work right along, his chief is quite content to let him. That's the way affairs have gone for years with me. The other week I went over to Washington to interview a senator on the political prospects. I tell you what it is, Stilly, without bragging, there are some big men in the States whom no one but me can interview. And yet old Scrag says I'm no credit to his class! Why, last year my political predictions were telegraphed all over this country, and have since appeared in the European press. No credit! By Jove, I would like to have old Scrag in a twenty-four-foot ring, with thin gloves on, for about ten minutes!"

"I doubt if he would shine under those circumstances. But never mind him. He spoke, for once, without due reflection, and with perhaps an exaggerated remembrance of your school-day offenses. What happened when you went to Washington?"

"A strange thing happened. When I was admitted to the senator's library, I saw another fellow, whom I thought I knew, sitting there. I said to the senator: 'I will come when you are alone.' The senator looked up in surprise, and said: 'I am alone.' I didn't say anything, but went on with my interview; and the other fellow took notes all the time. I didn't like this, but said nothing, for the senator is not a man to offend, and it is by not offending these fellows that I can get the information I do. Well, the other fellow came out with me, and as I looked at him I saw that he was myself. This did not strike me as strange at the time, but I argued with him all the way to New York, and tried to show him that he wasn't treating me fairly. I wrote up the interview, with the other fellow interfering all the while, so I compromised, and half the time put in what he suggested, and half the time what I wanted in myself. When the political editor went over the stuff, he looked alarmed. I told him frankly just how I had been interfered with, and he looked none the less alarmed when I had finished. He sent at once for a doctor. The doctor metaphorically took me to pieces, and then said to my chief: 'This man is simply worked to death. He must have a vacation, and a real one, with absolutely nothing to think of, or he is going to collapse, and that with a suddenness which will surprise everybody.' The chief, to my astonishment, consented without a murmur, and even upbraided me for not going away sooner. Then the doctor said to me: 'You get some companion--some man with no brains, if possible, who will not discuss politics, who has no opinion on anything that any sane man would care to talk about, and who couldn't say a bright thing if he tried for a year. Get such a man to go off to the woods somewhere. Up in Maine or in Canada. As far away from post offices and telegraph offices as possible. And, by the way, don't leave your address at the Argus office.' Thus it happened, Stilly, when he described this man so graphically, I at once thought of you."

"I am deeply gratified, I am sure," said the professor, with the ghost of a smile, "to be so promptly remembered in such a connection, and if I can be of service to you, I shall be very glad. I take it, then, that you have no intention of stopping in Buffalo?"

"You bet I haven't. I'm in for the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlock, bearded with moss and green in the something or other --I forget the rest. I want to quit lying on paper, and lie on my back instead, on the sward or in a hammock. I'm going to avoid all boarding houses or delightful summer resorts, and go in for the quiet of the forest."

"There ought to be some nice places along the lake shore."

"No, sir. No lake shore for me. It would remind me of the Lake Shore Railroad when it was calm, and of Long Branch when it was rough. No, sir. The woods, the woods, and the woods. I have hired a tent and a lot of cooking things. I'm going to take that tent over to Canada to-morrow; and then I propose we engage a man with a team to cart it somewhere into the woods, fifteen or twenty miles away. We shall have to be near a farmhouse, so that we can get fresh butter, milk, and eggs. This, of course, is a disadvantage; but I shall try to get near someone who has never even heard of New York."

"You may find that somewhat difficult."

"Oh, I don't know. I have great hopes of the lack of intelligence in the Canadians."

"Often the narrowest," said the professor slowly, "are those who think themselves the most cosmopolitan."

"Right you are," cried Yates, skimming lightly over the remark, and seeing nothing applicable to his case in it. "Well, I've laid in about half a ton, more or less, of tobacco, and have bought an empty jug."

"An empty one?"

"Yes. Among the few things worth having that the Canadians possess, is good whisky. Besides, the empty jar will save trouble at the customhouse. I don't suppose Canadian rye is as good as the Kentucky article, but you and I will have to scrub along on it for a while. And, talking of whisky, just press the button once again."

The professor did so, saying:

"The doctor made no remark, I suppose, about drinking less or smoking less, did he?"

"In my case? Well, come to think of it, there was some conversation in that direction. Don't remember at the moment just what it amounted to; but all physicians have their little fads, you know. It doesn't do to humor them too much. Ah, boy, there you are again. Well, the professor wants another drink. Make it a gin fizz this time, and put plenty of ice in it; but don't neglect the gin on that account. Certainly; charge it to room 518."



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