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BACK TO SCHOOL
“In the good old football time,
In the good old football time!”
sang “Poke” Endicott, as he pulled a nice new pair of fawn-hued football pants from his trunk and reverently strove to smooth the creases from them. “Aren’t those some pants, Gil?” he demanded.
His room-mate turned from the window as the “mole-skins” were held up for inspection.
“Rather! You must have spent a year’s allowance on those, Poke.”
“Huh!” Poke folded them carefully and then tossed them in the general direction of the closet. “I’d hate to tell you, Gil, what they stood me. But they’re good for ten years; anyhow, that’s what the tailor man said. Those
trousers, Gil, will descend from generation to generation, down through the ages, like—like—”
“A mortgage,” suggested Gil Benton, helpfully, as he turned again to the view of autumn landscape framed by the open casement. Just under the window, beyond the graveled path, the smooth turf descended gently to the rim of the little river which curved placidly along below the school buildings barely a stone’s throw away. (Joe Cosgrove, baseball captain, had once engaged, on a wager, to place a baseball across it from the steps of Academy Hall, and had succeeded at the third attempt. As Academy stands farthest from the stream of any of the buildings, Joe’s throw was something of a feat, and many a perfectly good baseball had been sacrificed since by ambitious youths set on duplicating his performance.) The Academy side of the river was clear of vegetation, but along the farther bank graceful weeping willows dipped their trailing branches in the water and threw cool green shadows across the surface. Beyond, the willows gave place to alders and swamp-oaks and basswood, and then, as the ground rose to the rolling hills, maples, already showing the first light frosts, clustered thick.
Here and there the white trunks of paper-birches showed against the hillside.
Gil—his full name was Gilbert, but no one ever called him that—viewed the familiar scene with eager pleasure and satisfaction. To-morrow began his third year at Crofton Academy, and he had grown very fond of the school; how fond he had scarcely realized until this minute. To the left, a quarter of a mile away, the old covered bridge was in sight, its central pier emerging from a wilderness of bush on Bridge Island. To his right, a little distance down-stream, lay Biscuit Island, a tiny round mound of moss-covered rock with here and there a patch of grass, and, in the middle, a group of four white birches asway in the westerly breeze. Opposite the island was the brown-stained boat-house and the long float, the latter as yet empty of the canoes and skiffs and tubs that would later gather there. By bending forward a little, Gil could catch a glimpse of a corner of the athletic field and the roofed portico of Apthorpe Gymnasium, the last of the buildings that formed a crescent along the curve of the river.
He smiled companionably at the blue and green world, sighed once—why, he couldn’t have told you—and breathed in a lungful of
the warm, scented air. It was good to be back again; awfully good! He wondered—
Footsteps crunched the gravel beneath the window, and Gil leaned out. Then he turned and called to his chum:
“Say, Poke, come and see ‘Brownie.’ He’s got a suit of ‘ice-cream’ clothes on, and a Panama hat! Me, oh, my! Who’d ever think Brownie could be so frivolous?”
Poke stumbled over a pile of clothing and hurried across to the casement, leaning out beside Gil. Almost directly below was a tall man of thirty-odd years, attired modishly in light home-spun. When, in answer to Poke’s “Hello, Mr. Brown!” he looked up at the window, his face was seen to carry a rich coating of tan from which his very light blue eyes twinkled with startling effect. He waved his hand to them.
“Hello, Endicott! Hello, Benton! You’re back early, it seems.”
“Couldn’t stay away, sir,” replied Poke laughingly. “Missed Greek awfully, sir!”
“Not the first time you’ve missed it—awfully,” retorted the instructor with a broad smile. The boys chuckled. “Don’t forget the meeting to-morrow evening, fellows.”
“No, sir; we’ll be there,” said Gil.
“He’s a dandy chap,” he added heartily, as the instructor passed on toward his room in the next dormitory. Poke nodded.
“One of the best. That’s why Plato’s the best society in school. What time is it?”
“Nearly one,” replied Gil, with a yawn.
“Don’t suppose we can get anything to eat here, eh?”
“Not likely. We might try, but as we’re not supposed to come until after dinner, I guess it would look pretty cheeky.”
“Right-O! Besides, it will be more fun eating in the village. Aren’t you going to unpack?”
“Yes, but there’s no hurry. Let’s get dinner now, Poke. We’ll go to Reddy’s; he has the best eats.”
“Got you! But wait until I get some of this mess picked up. How’s that for a swell suit of glad rags, Gil?” Poke held up the jacket for inspection. It was perceptibly green in color and decidedly “loud” in style. Gil grunted.
“If you had a gray silk hat you could march in the minstrel parade with that, Poke. Bet you sent your measurements by mail with a ten-dollar bill.”
Poke looked highly offended, and draped the
garment over the back of a chair. Then he drew away and admired it silently.
“That,” he announced finally, “was made by one of the best tailors in New York.”
Gil grunted again. “We wouldn’t wear a thing like that in Providence,” he said.
Poke laughed rudely as he hung the coat up. “Providence! I believe you, Gil! Providence never saw anything like that.”
“That’s no joke,” replied the other. “Get a move on, Poke, I’m hungry.”
“All right. Put that in the drawer for me, will you? No, the table drawer, you idiot! Where’s my hat? Come on now. I could eat an ox!”
They closed the door of Number 12 behind them, scuttled down a flight of well-worn stairs, and emerged on the granite steps of Weston Hall. They looked along the fronts of the buildings, but not a soul was in sight. Gil chuckled.
“Bet you we’re the first fellows back, Poke.”
“Sure. They won’t begin to get here until that two-twenty train.”
They turned to the right, passed between Weston and Rogers, traversed a few rods of
turf, and took a path leading downwards through a grove of maples and beeches. The path turned and twisted to accommodate itself to the descent. Gil walked ahead, hat in hand, since it was close and warm here in the woods, and Poke lounged along behind, hands in pockets and his merry, good-humored face alight with anticipation of the good things awaiting him at Reddy’s lunch counter. Poke’s real name was Perry Oldham Kirkland Endicott, and the nickname had been the natural result of the first view of the initials on the end of his suitcase. In age he was sixteen, one year his companion’s junior. He was well set-up, with a good pair of shoulders and a depth of chest that told of athletic training. He had brown hair and brown eyes, a good-looking sunburned face, and a general air of care-free jollity. Like Gil Benton, Poke was a member of the Upper Middle Class, and consequently had two more years to spend at Crofton.
Gilbert Benton, seventeen years old, was a good two inches taller than his chum, and somewhat slimmer. But the slimness showed wiry muscles and a healthy body. Gil’s hair was darker than Poke’s, and his eyes were gray.
His face spoke of determination and fearlessness. Seeing the two boys, you would have said that Gil was the sort to lead bravely a forlorn hope, and Poke the sort to shrug his shoulders, laugh—and follow. Gil’s home was in Providence, Rhode Island, and Poke’s in New York City. The latter had taken an early train and Gil had joined him at Providence, and the two had reached the station at Crofton well before noon. To arrive at school early and get settled before their fellows arrived had struck them as something of a lark.
The woods ceased and the path led them out onto Academy Road, where Hill Street turned off and where the village residences began. Hereabouts most of the trim white-walled structures were used as boarding- and rooming-houses for the Crofton students who were unable to secure accommodations in the school dormitories. At the corner was Mrs. Hooper’s; across the road from it, Jones’s; farther up Academy Road toward the school, Mrs. Sanger’s. To their left as they leaped the tumble-down stone wall was a comfortable-looking residence whose outbuildings nestled in the edge of the woods.