In the Second Dormitory by John Preston True

Ramon Valdez was an acquisition. He was a Cuban. Father had picked him up at Havana, where he was looking out for somebody who could teach him English instead of the queer jabber that he learned, second-hand, from a wizened little French adventurer, who had set up as a teacher of languages, and had nearly forgotten even his own. I did get sold in the most ridiculous way over father's telegram that announced his coming! But that's all over—they have about forgotten it.

He was real fun after we got acquainted; he didn't seem to know anything about base-ball, and couldn't catch a fly worth a cent! guess it is too hot in Havana to play ball. He couldn't fish either, but it wasn't the season for that, so we didn't care. But he could ride! He mounted the colt one day, bareback, and went around the lot five times before he fell off, and not one of us boys could stay on a rod. We respected him some after that.

But he was queer! The first thing mother did was to buy him a lung protector, as he wasn't acclimated yet, she said. Jack, the six-year-old, got hold of it and put it on outside of his frock, and then came galloping around with it on in that way. Well, Ramon came down to breakfast the next morning with that protector on just as Jack had fixed it! Then he wanted some "john-bread." Where he got it, I don't know, but what he meant was "johnny-cake."

I heard him reciting some poetry to Mollie one night—that was father's way in teaching languages, to make us commit poetry and recite to each other—and this was what he made of it!

Zoze zevening bells,
Zoze zevening bells!
How may-nay tales zheir moozic tells
Of yuz an' home an' zat sweet time
W'en first I heard zheir queezing chime.
 

"Their what, Ramon?" cried Mollie.

"Zheir queezing chime," he repeated innocently, staring at her.

"Soothing, Ramon, soothing!" He laughed away too, like a good fellow, and didn't get mad in the least. I suppose our Spanish was as funny to him. He never laughed at us, though; I presume he was too polite.

But he just got into the ways of us boys about as quickly as any new boy that ever came to the Highland School, and before he had been there two weeks he was in a scrape!

It's dreadfully dull to be the teacher's son. You have to do just so, you know, "to set a good example," and it isn't any fun. Father never asked me to tell what was going on, no matter what was up; but he put me "upon honor" not to go in myself, so of course I had to keep out. But the fellows understood, and used to tell me all about it afterward, and as somehow they always came to grief, I felt a little more contented than I might have done.

One night we could not get to sleep.

The long moonbeams came down athwart the dormitory through the great windows, and lay in broad parallelograms, bisected and quartered, upon the floor. We got our geometry lesson out of the figures, and reeled off a whole section of theorems, without the least effect. That ought, by rights, to be enough to set a whole houseful of boys journeying into the Land of Nod, but it didn't us.

Father heard us jabbering and came up to see what the matter was, but our sudden interest in the science of planes and prisms so amused him that he laughed all the way down-stairs; for Charlie Brown crept to the door and heard him.

At last Frank Hapgood—"Happy-go-lucky"—sat up in desperation, flung his pillow on the floor, got out of bed deliberately and sat down on it. Nine other pillows, nine other white-robed figures solemnly followed suit. Said Harry Eveleth, "Fellows, I've tried to do my duty and go to sleep, and I can't. We must do something!"

A silence, broken by a sigh from Ramon. "Ah! on nights like zis I have gone to ze—ze zoogar houses to sleep some time, in Habana!"

THE OLD HORSE WAS SLEEPY.

THE OLD HORSE WAS SLEEPY ... BUT THEY WERE READY AT LAST.

Frank "Happy" gave a start, looked at the circle intently, then gave a little nod, and winked.

Eight others of the owl committee gave a simultaneous start in answer, as though they had been unconsciously fooling around a galvanic battery. The gentleman from Havana alone was quiet; he did not yet understand, but the others did, and he was ready to follow. Texan herders say that a drove of ten thousand cattle will sometimes at night leap to their feet like a flash, without apparent cause or warning. There will be a roar of thundering hoofs, a distant rumble, and that herd will have vanished like smoke from the camp-fire, "on the stampede!" Our boys had "stampeded."

Ten or fifteen minutes later a certain wakeful teacher was pleasantly made aware of the fact that a cataract of boys, each with one of the nice white blankets belonging to Mrs. Teacher, tied across his shoulders, was streaming down the lightning-rod by his window; and stepping lightly thither, he caught a disconnected word or two about "old Brown's sugar-house."

"How shall we get her out?"

"Tie up her feet in straw!"

"But the carriage will make such a racket!"

"Well"—after a moment's thought—"we can take the cart; that's been newly greased."

There was a rumble, a slow sque-e-ak, and the cart was out without much noise. Two boys at the thills and two more pushing behind, they softly trundled it down the yard, stopping at every unusually loud squeak. It was almost as light as day; only in the yard the trees cast a slight shadow of tangled branches, leafless as they were.

There was a suppressed sense of excitement, a strained thrill of the nerves that made thumby work of their handling the buckles. The old horse was sleepy, and wouldn't "stand round" to order, and they had to push her into place; but they were ready at last, and Happy-go-Lucky whispered "Pile in!"

They piled in literally one above the other, and lay down upon the hay in the bottom of the cart. There might yet be some stray wanderer to meet and run the gauntlet of his cross-questioning. The wheel struck a stone, and there was a jounce; the bottom fellows wriggled out, what was left of them, and sat up, gasping. They had rather run the risk than try that again. But they met no one.

THE RETURN OF THE VALIANT STAMPEDERS.

THE RETURN OF THE VALIANT STAMPEDERS.

It was a night when there is no sound. The insects are dead, the birds have gone South with the other members of the higher circles of society; there was only the rattle of the heavy cart, springless and jolty, along the dusty road that wound like a great horseshoe around the long slope of the ridge that shot up suddenly into "Paradise Hill." Beyond the river a dog barked, a mile away, and ended in a melancholy howl. Ramon shivered, and drew his blanket around him; he had a superstitious fear of that sound.

The mountains in the North never seemed so high and dark before. Then they saw that it was a cloud, black, sullen-looking—great masses of vapor heaped in billowy folds, blackening the slopes with shadow, and barely touched above with silver-gilt.

"Looks a little like a storm to-morrow," said Harry.

No one answered him. The chatter had somehow died away, and they were more intent on keeping warm than talking. It wasn't all their fancy painted it—this clear, cold moonlight; it was icy.

"Never mind, boys!" cried Charlie Brown cheerfully, as they drew up at an old hop-house by the side of the road, and got out stiffly, "we can howl now if we like, and nobody to hear."

But nobody wanted to howl. They did want to get up the slope to the edge of the woods, where the sugar-house was, and putting horse and cart together in the shed, they scaled the fence and started up the hill at a lumbering trot. Now that their beds were so far away they were sleepy enough.

As it happened, just as they struck the fence, a brisk, elderly gentleman, with iron-gray hair, and spectacles, and a queer twinkle in his eye as he glanced up at the mass of clouds piling up in the mountains, walked hurriedly down a narrow sheep-path through the leafless woods, and entered the sugar-camp. It was dark in there,—dark as Erebus; only in two or three places a ray of light streamed down through the holes in the roof.

The gentleman in spectacles glanced around serenely; as though it was quite the thing for him to be wandering around in the woods at that unearthly hour; poked at the roof here and there with his cane, knocked up a few shingles that let more light in on the subject of his investigations, and came out again hastily as he heard the boys approach, and disappeared in a clump of spruces. Five or ten minutes afterward, he suddenly appeared at the bottom of the hill, backed the horse out of the shed, put on the bridle, and removed his blanket, sedately got in and drove quietly home.

Charlie Brown was the first up the hill, and heralded the sight of the camp with a cheer. "Now then, lively! Out with your jack-knives and off with a lot of spruce boughs!"

Then followed a great hacking of dull knives and cracking of limbs, with the occasional swish of an armful into the camp. The boys worked like beavers for a while, and got thoroughly warmed again, and the air within was filled with resinous fragrance. That done and arranged to their experienced leader's satisfaction, they wrapped themselves like Indians in their blankets and tumbled down upon the heap of boughs; the air trembled with a chorus of strange sounds as one by one they dropped off into a drowsy sleep, with an occasional wriggle as a knot, or the end of a limb, made itself felt through the many-folded blanket, and engraved a distinct dent upon the sleeper's back; while overhead, the giant cloud crept upward slowly, slowly toward the zenith, spreading east and west without a break. One half of the valley had vanished in the blackest shadow, and still the gilded edge swung steadily on, with the slow, resistless sweep of misty legions upon legions, armed in ebon mail; vast billows of night that drowned the scattered stars that met them, one by one. Then it struck the full moon and blotted it from sight. The world of the little valley dropped into night, and all was dark as Erebus. A breath of wind whispered through the forest, and died away, sighing, in the pines.

Ramon awoke suddenly.

Straight from the centre of that sea of blackness, like the plummet of an engineer, like the lead of a storm-tossed sailor, shot a drop of rain. Down it came with unerring swiftness, right through one of the spectacled gentleman's improvised "sky-lights" in the roof, and splashed in the Cuban's face. Half-dreaming still, he sleepily rolled over out of range; he had been awakened before in that way, and was used to it.

There was a slope now in the pile of boughs, and Harry Eveleth slid down into the vacated place unconsciously. Splash! and the raindrop covered his cheek with water. Dimly through his dormant brain the idea crept that he was back in the dormitory, and some one was trying the old trick of hanging a saturated sponge above his head; he had done it himself, once, and this was retribution. With a smothered grunt of discontent he gave Ramon a shove that sent him further, and rolled over into his place. Frank Hapgood began to slide—began to dream that he was falling down through a frightful place that had no bottom! The air whistled shrilly past his head. The black walls of the pit shot upward swiftly and he could see the faint light far up at the mouth of the shaft growing dimmer until it too went out! He tried to scream, but the wind caught the sound and carried it away with a rush of mocking laughter; he tried to reach out and grasp the walls but his hands were bound! Then he felt that he was drawing near the end; he had fallen miles!—and now his speed was slackening, and he was falling so softly, so lightly, till at last, like a downy feather he floated on the air, as a spirit from another world. He had reached the centre of the earth!

Splash! came the rain upon his face, and the cold breath of the night and storm.

"Great Cæsar! boys, it's raining!"

There wasn't much doubt of that fact. And as stream after stream began to pour through the roof there was a sudden resurrection among the white mummies stretched upon the spruce boughs. Frank glanced around, and then made another equally wise observation:

"This old shanty's mighty leaky!"

As the ground covered by the mansion thus disrespectfully alluded to was about eight feet by twelve, and there were at that particular moment sixteen different streams of water pouring down upon their heads, the rest had already discovered the fact, and there was a hasty consultation.

"Can't we stop up the holes?"

"Nothing to do it with!" said Harry Eveleth mournfully. "And I've been sitting in a puddle for the last two minutes!"

Ramon jumped. A waterspout had shot down the back of his neck. "We mus' go out of zis! We soon shall be wetter; we can run to ze horse's house!"

"Good for you, Havana! your head's solid!" sang out Charlie Brown heartily. "Now for it! Put your blankets over your heads, woman-fashion, and travel like a blue streak; and—Jupiter Pluvius! how cold this rain is!" His words ended in an involuntary chatter.

There was a momentary hesitation; then with a sigh they ducked under the blankets and dashed out into the darkness and the rain which fell hissing through the tossing limbs of the trees, and, stumbling over the fence with a crash of breaking rails, they ran violently down a steep place without the least idea of the direction, till they all brought up in a heap in the bottom of a ditch, with some six inches of water for company! However, within a few rods was the "horse's house." They scrambled out and ran for it, their once white blankets streaming with muddy water, chilled through and through with the cutting wind. They reached it, crowded in, felt blindly around in the dark, and then came a cry of dismay:

"The horse is gone!"

They looked at each other in silence. It was too dark in there to distinguish a single feature, so they did not get much comfort from that. For a full minute not a word was spoken. Then Frank Hapgood drew a long breath and then ejaculated:

"Well, I'm blessed!"

"So ze horse is stole by ze ladrones," remarked Ramon philosophically. "How we shall pay!"

"Pay! no; the beast untied the knot and walked home, which is what we shall have to do—and it's raining brickbats!" snapped Harry, as a gust of hail crashed upon the roof. "He did that once before."

Somehow their spirits rose a little at that; the indefiniteness of the animal's fate had alarmed some of them, and pocket money was scanty. They even cracked a feeble joke or two, in a half-hearted way, but the steady splash and spatter of the rain chilled the fun all out of it, and wet as they were, they huddled together among a lot of straw and blankets until they were quite comfortably warm. They were even dozing when Charlie Brown suddenly pointed to the doorway with a husky hurrah. It was the gray light of a cold November dawn.

Father had some peculiar ideas when he built our house, and the dining-room juts out from the rest like a great bay-window—a room with three sides of glass. We were at breakfast, discussing buckwheats diligently, when father glanced down the roadway and began to laugh.

We turned, looked, and then rushed to the great windows in a crowd. Up the drive with slow and solemn tread, swaying under the gale, pelted with rain, came the valiant stampeders, a procession of blanket-mantled figures in dingy white, the water dripping from their coverings in streams, squashing and churning in their boots as they splashed indifferently onward through mud or grass alike; such miserable-looking rats!

Frank looked up with a wan attempt at a smile as he passed under the windows and saw the rows of grinning faces looking down, but the rest kept their eyes fixed upon the ground.

Father went out upon the piazza. "Good-morning, boys! out for a constitutional? nothing better to get up an appetite," he said with a cheerful smile.

Frank laughed; he really couldn't help it, although a moment before he had been mad with himself, the horse, the rain, and the world in general. As they looked at each other sheepishly out of the corner of their eyes the rest took it in, and began to grin at the ludicrous sight of themselves, and for a few minutes very great was the hilarity.

"That's right; that's right. A hearty laugh is good medicine! but you will need something more, so in with you, quick!"

And before they knew it, they were running the gauntlet of the rest of us, and scudding for the dormitory, from whence came presently a sound as of mighty rubbing, and the flavor of Jamaica ginger. But they had to stay in bed all day, to their great disgust, and "ginger" was a dangerous word to mention for weeks after; and for two whole terms not one of those boys were in any of the scrapes that were going on. "They had been there!" they said, with a rueful smile, which we could appreciate. As father used to say, "There's nothing like learning the logical sequence of consequences!" And they had a big washing bill that week.