Days Of Pleasure
The holiday migration from Ridgley School began six days before Christmas. Within a few hours the dormitories on the hill, which for months had resounded to the sound of voices, suddenly became silent and almost deserted; a few members of the school lingered and half a dozen of the faculty remained to spend a part or all of the vacation on the hill, but the great majority set forth to the four quarters of the wind. Among those who took the morning train on that day of great exodus were Neil Durant and Teeny-bits Holbrook. Within three hours, as the engine dragged its load westward, the Ridgleyites who at the start had crowded two cars had diminished in number to no more than a score. Every large station along the way claimed two or three and as they left they shouted back farewells and, loaded down with suitcases, went out to greet the friends and relatives who had come to meet them. They all had a word for Neil Durant and Teeny-bits--a special word it seemed--for there was no question that recent events had ripened the friendships and enhanced the popularity of these two members of "the best school in the world."
What happiness this was, Teeny-bits said to himself, to be going on a vacation with a fellow like Neil Durant and to have evidence at every moment of the friendship of such a "good crowd" as these fellows who were piling off the train and yelling out their good-bys. It all made him feel how much the last three months had brought into his life, how much he owed to the generosity of old Fennimore Ridgley who, though long ago laid to rest in his grave, had made it possible by his gift for Teeny-bits to come to Ridgley School.
At two o'clock the train pulled into the station of Dellsport where Teeny-bits and Neil said good-by to the half dozen of their schoolmates who were going farther west. They found waiting for them in a closed car Mrs. Durant and Sylvia Durant, Neil's sister, who immediately made Teeny-bits feel at ease by talking about school affairs. It had been a tremendous disappointment, it seemed, to both Mrs. Durant and Sylvia that they had been unable to come to the football game which had resulted so gloriously for Ridgley.
"If it hadn't been for the influenza," said Sylvia, "you would have heard some terrible shrieking on the day of that game--I know I'd have yelled loud enough so that every one would have heard me, because there was nothing in the world that I wanted quite so much as to have Ridgley come through. And when we got Neil's telegram maybe I didn't make the windows rattle! And mother almost
"We had a terrible quarrel over the newspaper the next day," said Mrs. Durant, "and I finally compromised by letting Sylvia read the whole story aloud, so we know just what happened and how one of you evened the score at the crucial moment and how the other fellow carried the ball across at the end of the game."
Almost before Teeny-bits realized it he was talking to these two pleasant persons as if he had known them all his life.
"I want you to act just as if this were your own home," said Mrs. Durant when she had led the way into the Durant house on Bennington Street. "I shall have to call you Teeny-bits--and I hope you won't mind--because Neil has always spoken of you that way in his letters and 'Mr. Holbrook' would
sound formal, wouldn't it?"
"It would make me feel like a stick of wood," said Teeny-bits. "I don't think any one ever called me that in my life. I've just been Teeny-bits and I guess I always shall be."
But Teeny-bits Holbrook could not help contrasting this luxurious home where every reasonable comfort was in evidence, where there were fireplaces and soft rugs and rich paintings, with his own poor little home in Hamilton where Ma Holbrook did the work and with her own hands kept everything shining and clean.
For six days he lived a life that he had never lived before. They skated at the country club where the new ice had formed over an artificial pond, drove out in the car over frozen roads to Waygonack Inn for dinner and danced in the evening, went to the theater and "took in", as Sylvia called it, two or three parties that were important incidents of the holiday festivities at Dellsport. Everywhere they encountered jolly crowds of young fellows and girls.
"Every one seems to fall for you, Teeny-bits," said Neil to the new captain of the Ridgley team one day, "and they all call you by your nickname. If you stayed round here very long you'd have them all wearing a path to our front door."
"You know why it is," replied Teeny-bits, "it's because I'm a friend of yours
"You're off the track," said Neil, "you're wild
, man. You've got a way with you without knowing it, and as for the girls around here--oh, my heavens!"
"I never realized before what an awful kidder you are, but anyhow I know I'm having the time of my life," said Teeny-bits.
But in spite of the gayety, Teeny-bits thought often of Ma Holbrook and old Dad Holbrook who for the first time in many years were spending Christmas alone. Early in the week he went down to the Dellsport shops with Neil and selected presents which he thought would please them both.
On the day before Christmas, Major-General Durant, who had been attending a conference in Washington, came home. Teeny-bits had expected to stand in awe before this high official of the United States Army; he was therefore somewhat surprised to find him a genial, easy-to-talk-to man who took obvious delight in getting back to the freedom and informality of his home. He was full of stories and keenly interested in Ridgley School affairs. He himself was the most prominent alumnus of Ridgley and had many an incident to tell Neil and Teeny-bits about the days when he himself had played on the football team.
Christmas passed all too quickly. The Durants celebrated it in the good, old-fashioned manner with a big tree in the living room where a roaring fire of logs sent myriads of sparks leaping up the chimney. There were gifts from all the family to Teeny-bits and not the least appreciated of the presents that came to the visitor was a pair of fur-lined gloves from Ma and Pa Holbrook, just such a pair as they would select,--warm and substantial.
Sylvia Durant seemed to have a way of understanding what a person was thinking about. "Isn't that a good present!" she said. "They're so warm and comfortable feeling. They'll be just what you'll need for the winter sports up at the Norris place."
There was not so great a difference after all, Teeny-bits said to himself, between this Christmas and other Christmases; though the surroundings were different, the same genial, kindly spirit brooded over this luxurious home in Dellsport as always brooded at Christmas time over the humble home in Hamilton. He could shut his eyes and imagine that Ma and Pa Holbrook were in the room taking it all in and looking about them with beaming faces.
And then it was all over. On the morning after Christmas Major-General Durant went back to Washington and Mrs. Durant and Sylvia went with him to spend the rest of the holidays in the Capitol City.
Neil and Teeny-bits, having seen them off, prepared to start northward to the Norris place in the Whiteface Mountains. Teeny-bits felt none too glad to leave the Durant home; those six days had been filled to overflowing with happiness.
"You're coming again," Sylvia had said, and when Teeny-bits had replied, "I hope so," she had added, "Why, of course you are. Every one wants you to."
It was a four-hour run by train to Sheridan and an hour by sleigh to the Norris cabin at Pocassett, a little settlement of camps and cottages at the foot of the Whiteface range of mountains. In the early afternoon Neil and Teeny-bits had arrived in the snow-covered country and were receiving the greetings of their Jefferson School friends. Ted Norris had driven down to the station to meet them in a two-seated sleigh and had brought with him Whipple, whom both Teeny-bits and Neil remembered as the Jefferson punter.
"How do you fellows feel--pretty husky?" asked Norris as they were going back toward the mountains. "Some of the crowd up at the camp want to tramp over the range on snowshoes to-night if it's clear and I didn't know but what we'd join them."
"That sounds good to me," declared Neil. "Teeny-bits and I have been leading the social life down in Dellsport and we're all fed up with parties and so on."
"Sounds good to me, too," said Teeny-bits, although he had to admit to himself that he wasn't exactly "fed up" with the good time in Dellsport.
The Norris place was a cabin built of spruce logs with an immense stone fireplace at one end of a long living room,--a comfortable backwoods place where one felt very close to the out-of-doors. Here the new arrivals found awaiting them Phillips, another member of the Jefferson eleven, and an athletic looking middle-aged man whom Norris introduced as his uncle, Wolcott Norris. There was no one else at the cabin except Peter Kearns, the cook and helper.
"It's all fixed up for to-night," said the older Norris; "we're going up the gulf and over the shoulder of Whiteface and then down to the Cliff House, where a sleigh will meet us and bring us back."
That evening tramp over the slopes of Whiteface Mountain was the beginning of a wonderful series of winter sports at Pocassett. The party that made the climb consisted of the six from the Norris place and twice as many more from other cabins and cottages that nestled in the snow at the foot of the mountains. While the growing moon hung overhead and shed its silver radiance over the white world, the snowshoers climbed the gulf by way of a trail that led among spruces and hemlocks, then up and out to the great, bare shoulder of the mountain. Gaining the ridge, they crossed and went plunging, sliding and leaping down in the soft snow that clothed the farther slope. It was a night to make one's blood run fast, and the whole crowd came back to the settlement at Pocassett in high spirits. The days that followed were filled with similar sports,--skating where the snow had been cleared from the surface of the Pocassett River, snowshoeing in all directions over the hills, fishing through the ice at Lonesome Lake and Wolf Pond and, on one or two nights, get-togethers with the crowd of young people who were occupying other camps near by.
Teeny-bits soon discovered that the vigorous, middle-aged man who had been introduced to him that first day as Ted Norris' uncle was in reality taking the place of the Jefferson football captain's father, who had died several years before. It seemed to him that here was the most intensely interesting man he had ever met. He was a mining engineer, and from little things that were said now and then it was evident that there was scarcely a quarter of the world into which he had not penetrated. A casual remark about India aided by a question or two from Phillips and Neil Durant brought forth a story of a trip into the jungles of that distant country; at another time the sight of a bare mountain-side called forth reference to a snow-covered range in China and led to interesting details of life in the Far East.
"Sometime you will have to take us on a trip to Japan or China or India or somewhere," said Ted Norris one night when the six of them were at supper.
"Well," said the mining engineer, "I'd like to do it. Who knows, perhaps sometime I can."
Teeny-bits Holbrook would have liked nothing better than to "pump" this man who had traveled so much, for he found stories of far lands intensely interesting, and when the first mishap of the vacation occurred he was somewhat envious of the victim, to whom it opened up an opportunity for closer acquaintance. On Thursday Neil Durant, in trying out a pair of skis on a steep slope behind the camp, crashed into a thicket of young pine trees and, although he came through with a grin on his face, he discovered that he had sprained his ankle and would not be able to join the crowd on the ski party that had been planned for Thursday evening. Wolcott Norris announced at supper that he also would stay behind; and thus it happened that the former captain of the Ridgley team sat with his bandaged ankle propped up on a chair in front of the fireplace while Wolcott Norris settled back comfortably to enjoy an evening of conversation. They talked about many things--travel, business, college and sports--before the subject got around to the Ridgley-Jefferson game.
"You know I was there," said the mining engineer, "and I don't think I ever spent a more interesting two hours. You fellows certainly had the game developed to a fine point and though of course I, as an old Jefferson boy, was yelling hard for the purple, I couldn't help handing you chaps a bit when you came through. And your friend Teeny-bits--now that I know him--measures up to the idea of what he was like, which I got from watching him play."
"Yes," said Neil, "he comes through--you can always count on him. Every one down at school fell for him from the start, partly, I suppose, because he was different from most of the fellows and then, of course, because he made good. Certain things about him attracted attention before he'd been in school very long."
"Well," said Neil, "a lot of things--one is the knife mark on his back."
"The what?" asked Wolcott Norris.
"Why a sort of birthmark that looks like a knife."
The mining engineer had been looking into the embers of the fire rather dreamily and talking in a low tone to Neil. He now half turned round and said in a voice that showed more than casual interest, "Tell me about it. It sounds interesting."
"Well," said Neil, "it's a mark, sort of brick colored, on his shoulder, that looks exactly like a knife or a dagger. I noticed it one day in the shower-bath room when Teeny-bits first came out for the football team."
"Has he always had it?"
"Yes, I guess so. I suppose it's just chance--the shape of it, but it is such an unusual looking thing that the fellows got interested in him and then of course there was the story about his mother being killed in a railroad wreck. That got around school some way; Teeny-bits himself told it, I think; so there isn't any harm in my repeating it. Some mighty nice people in Hamilton picked him up after a train accident which killed his mother and took him home. They finally adopted him, and gave him their name when they weren't able to find any of his relatives, and of course the mystery of that made the fellows all the more interested in him."
While the former captain of the Ridgley team had been saying these words the mining engineer had looked at him with an intentness that Neil had attributed to the fact that Teeny-bits' story was as interesting to him as it had been to the sons of Ridgley.
"You said that it was his mother who was killed in the railroad accident?"
"Yes," replied Neil, "I guess they never found out what her name was. That seems pretty horrible, but the Holbrooks, who adopted Teeny-bits, are mighty fine people. Daniel Holbrook is the station agent at Hamilton."
The mining engineer settled back in his chair, sighed rather heavily and gazed once more into the embers of the fire. "Well, Teeny-bits is a fine chap," he said finally, "and I don't wonder that the fellows fell for him."
"He nearly caused me nervous prostration," said Neil, "when he didn't show up at the game until the last minute, and the story about what happened to him and how the Chinese who had kidnaped him acted when they saw the knife mark on his shoulder is one of the strangest things I ever heard."
Wolcott Norris got out of his chair so quickly that Neil looked up in surprise. "What happened about these Chinese?" asked the mining engineer. "When did they come into it and how
did they act?"
"That's another bit of mystery," said Neil. "There were a couple of fellows at school who didn't like Teeny-bits for one reason or another--jealousy, I guess--and according to general belief they patched up some kind of ridiculous plot to get Teeny-bits away from the school while the big game was being played. One of them was Teeny-bits' substitute and would have played if Teeny-bits hadn't been there. Maybe you read in the papers about the accident in which a fellow named Bassett was killed and another named Campbell got pretty badly hurt. Those were the two fellows--they wrecked a big machine running away after Teeny-bits showed up at the game. At least every one supposed they were trying to make a get-away. All Teeny-bits knows about the thing is that some one sent him a fake telephone message that his father--that is, old Daniel Holbrook--had been hurt, and when Teeny-bits was on the way home some men pounced on him and carried him over to Greensboro and shut him up in some sort of Chinese place. They had him all tied up and fixed so that he couldn't get away, they thought; but Teeny-bits squirmed around and tore his sweater half off and finally got almost loose, when back came two of these Chinamen and were tying him up again when they saw this mark on his back and they began to act as if they'd been mesmerized or something. They jabbered away and pointed at the thing, and while they were going through these tantrums Teeny-bits just walked out of the place and came home."
strange," said the mining engineer, "mighty
strange. Didn't he find out why they were frightened or what was behind it all?"
"No," said Neil, "I think the matter was sort of hushed up. They did a little investigating and it didn't seem to get them anywhere, and I guess the people at the school thought it wasn't worth while to follow it up any more. No one doubts that this Campbell fellow and Bassett were behind the business, and as far as the Chinese go I guess they were just superstitious or something. You must know them pretty well--you've traveled over there so much. Don't you?"
Apparently the mining engineer did not hear Neil's question, for he had turned again to the fireplace and was gazing into the embers in an abstracted manner. Neil did not feel like interrupting. For several minutes the room was silent, then Wolcott Norris suddenly turned and asked:
"When was that crowd coming back?"
The ski party on that night consisted of the three Jefferson football players, Teeny-bits and two brothers by the name of Williams who were from a camp a quarter of a mile down the valley. They planned to go up over the shoulder of Whiteface in the brilliant moonlight and shoot down a long, bare slope which was known as The Slide, where years before an avalanche had torn its way downward leaving bare earth in its wake. This V-shaped scar on the face of the mountain was now covered with a smooth expanse of snow--an ideal avenue for a swift and thrilling descent of the mountain. Teeny-bits had done more skiing in the last few days than he had done before in all the years of his life and had become enthusiastic over the sport. The sensation of sweeping down a slope and of speeding on with increasing swiftness until it seemed as if one were actually flying filled him with exhilaration and the real joy of living. He had never tried anything as steep as The Slide, but he had no fear of the place, and when, after a somewhat laborious climb, they had reached the peak and stood gazing down on the white way that stretched before them, he was eager to be off for the descent.
"Don't take it too fast," said Norris, "the slope is steeper than it looks. If you should want to slow up you can shoot over to the side and work against the slope a little."
The moon, now almost at the full, was shedding its ghostly light over the snow-covered mountains; by its brilliance the ski runners could see the surface of the slide, unbroken save for an occasional spruce which, having taken root in the scarred soil, was now thrusting up its dark branches through the blanket of white. Norris was the first to take off. He shot downward and as he gained momentum sent back a cry that floated up eerily. Teeny-bits poised at the edge and took a deep breath. This was living. Down there, growing smaller and smaller, a moving speck that seemed a mere shadow on the snow, was a new friend of his. It seemed strange that this was one of the outcomes of the Jefferson-Ridgley game: that from so desperate a struggle had arisen this opportunity to know the leader of the purple for whom he held a growing admiration. A fellow who fought so hard and so cleanly, who took defeat so wonderfully and who made such a good pal was only a little less to be admired than Neil Durant. Perhaps there was not any real difference in Teeny-bits' feeling for the two.
"I'm off," cried Teeny-bits; "see you at the bottom," and giving a strong thrust with his pole sent himself out upon the smooth surface.
With body bent slightly forward he took the first gentle slope and felt the exhilarating sensation of gathering speed as his skis carried him away from his friends. It was something between flying through the air and riding on the top of an undulating wave of water. Following Ted Norris' example he sent a shout back to the group on the crest and then gave himself completely to the joy of meeting each surprise of the snow with the proper adjustment of body and limbs that would enable him to make the descent in one unbroken slide. He had never taken so swift a flight,--it was as if he were rushing through space with scarcely any realization of the landscape round him.
Midway in The Slide, Teeny-bits suddenly found himself dodging a thicket of small spruce trees. He escaped them by swerving quickly, but he went too far to the left. Other small trees confronted him; his body brushed sharply against the branches, and then looming before him was an old monarch of the forest that somehow had escaped when the slide had scarred the mountain-side. Its gnarled branches, standing out vaguely in the half-light of the moon and stars like the arms of an octopus, seemed to Teeny-bits to rise up and seize him. He had the feeling that something was lifting him into the air, that he was going up and up into the silver face of the moon. It seemed also that at the same time there was a flash of light followed immediately by darkness.
One after another the ski runners at the top of The Slide took off and shot swiftly down the slope. None of them saw the huddled form at the foot of the ancient oak and it was only when the four had joined Ted Norris at the bottom of The Slide that they realized that something must have happened to Teeny-bits.
"Didn't any of you see him on the way down?" asked Ted Norris. "Maybe he broke his skis."
"He would have yelled at us, wouldn't he?" said one of the Williams brothers; "we'd better go back and look around."
It was not a difficult matter even in the indistinct night light to follow the marks of the skis. From the foot of the slide they mounted slowly, tracing backward the five double tracks and finally coming to the sixth, halfway down from the crest.
FROM THE FOOT OF THE SLIDE THEY MOUNTED SLOWLY, TRACING BACKWARD THE FIVE DOUBLE TRACKS.
"Here they are," said Norris. "Here's where Teeny-bits swerved over toward the left."
Almost before the words were out of his mouth he gave a startled exclamation that brought the other four quickly to the foot of the oak tree, where, with arms stretched out in front of him, lay Teeny-bits. He had fallen in such an apparently comfortable position that it seemed to the five ski runners that he could not be badly injured, but when they turned him over they saw the dark mark of blood on the snow and became assailed with a great fear that the worst thing they could imagine had happened. Ted Norris' voice trembled a little as he said to the others, "We must get him down to the house as quickly as we can. Here, help me pick him up."
It was a strange procession which went down the slope of old Whiteface Mountain on that winter night,--an awkward looking group that made progress slowly because of the burden which it bore.
"You'd better go ahead to the Emmons place and get Doctor Emmons to come up to our camp quickly," said Norris to the older of the Williams boys. "You ought to get there about the time we do, and tell him to bring stimulants and everything that he may need."
Back in the Norris cabin Neil Durant had found that conversation between himself and the mining engineer lagged. For half an hour the elder Norris had sat apparently absorbed in his thoughts, and twice when Neil had made remarks he had answered in a manner that showed his mind to be far away. Neil himself was indulging in reveries when the sudden interruption came,--a sound of voices outside the cabin, an exclamation, a quick thrusting in of the door, and then the noise of persons talking awkwardly, as those who carry a heavy burden. The two at the fireplace turned in their chairs and saw immediately that something serious had happened.
"He crashed into a tree on the big Slide," said Ted Norris. "His body seems warm but we're afraid that--well, just look at his neck; it moves so queerly. Doctor Emmons ought to be here any minute. Bert Williams went down ahead to get him."
Within the space of a second, it seemed, Wolcott Norris had taken charge of the situation. Teeny-bits Holbrook was laid out on a cot which they brought in from one of the sleeping rooms and placed in front of the fire, and here a quarter of an hour later Doctor Emmons made his diagnosis.
"No, his neck isn't broken," said the surgeon, "so you needn't worry about that, and you can see from the color of his face that he isn't in immediate danger. He has a concussion, which isn't necessarily serious,--though that's a pretty bad blow he received on his head. Now with your help, Mr. Norris, we'll look him over for further injuries. There may be some broken bones to contend with also."
Without loss of time the surgeon, aided by the mining engineer, removed, most of Teeny-bits' clothing and began the process of examination by which he quickly established the fact that no bones had been broken and that the only injury from which Teeny-bits was suffering was the one to his head. During this examination one slight incident attracted the attention of Neil Durant and his friends who stood about speaking to each other in whispers. It occurred when Wolcott Norris, following instructions from the surgeon, with trembling hands uncovered Teeny-bits' back and revealed the dagger-like, terra-cotta mark upon his bare shoulder. For an instant the mining engineer had seemed about to faint; he wavered on his feet and groped suddenly for the support of a chair-back. To the watchers it had appeared that he had become momentarily unnerved by the unexpected accident, or that perhaps he had seen something in Teeny-bits' condition that was unfavorable. The surgeon, however, had quickly reassured them as they pressed forward a little closer by saying:
"He's sound from top-knot to toe except for that ugly smash on the head. Now we'll put these blankets over him and keep him quiet. If the concussion isn't bad he'll become conscious before very long."
But hour after hour passed and Teeny-bits did not regain his senses. He lay in a stupor, occasionally muttering thick and unintelligible words.
"There's no need of you fellows staying up," said Wolcott Norris at midnight. "The doctor and I will be here with Teeny-bits and the best thing you can do is go to bed."
After a time the Williams brothers went home and Whipple and Phillips followed the mining engineer's advice. Neil Durant and Ted Norris, however, refused to leave the room where Teeny-bits lay. They sat together by the fireplace and waited for an encouraging word from the surgeon.
"I know he'll pull through," said Neil. "He's as tough as a wildcat."
"Some boy!" said the big son of Jefferson. "He's the real goods. Oh, he's got to come out of it."
Finally these two friends, who had fought each other so valiantly only a few weeks before, dozed off sitting there side by side, with the ruddy light of the fireplace on their faces.
They awoke simultaneously. The gray light of morning had begun to penetrate the camp windows, and Teeny-bits was sitting up on the couch, looking about him as if he had been awakened from a puzzling dream.
"What did I do with the skis?" he asked and, raising his hands to his bandaged head, gazed at his friends in bewilderment.
The doctor and Wolcott Norris, Neil and Ted were beside the cot in an instant.
"It's all right, old man!" said Neil. "You got a thump on your head coming down the slide."
"It feels----" Teeny-bits began. But his head was too heavy; the shadow of a smile crossed his face and lying back on the pillow he closed his eyes.
"We must keep very quiet," said the surgeon. "He'll sleep now and be the better for it."