The Varmint

The Varmint

Author:
Owen Johnson
Author:
Owen Johnson
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Johnson, Owen, 1878-1952
Schools — Fiction
Lawrenceville School — Fiction
The Varmint


Contents

Chapter I 11
Chapter II 23
Chapter III 35
Chapter IV 47
Chapter V 63
Chapter VI 77
Chapter VII 89
Chapter VIII 107
Chapter IX 115
Chapter X 133
Chapter XI 145
Chapter XII 159
Chapter XIII 172
Chapter XIV 187
Chapter XV 201
Chapter XVI 216
Chapter XVII 231
Chapter XVIII 249
Chapter XIX 282
Chapter XX 303
Chapter XXI 315
Chapter XXII 332
Chapter XXIII 349
Chapter XXIV 368
Chapter XXV 379
Chapter XXVI 389


The Varmint

By OWEN JOHNSON

Author of “The Prodigious Hickey,” “Stover at Yale,”

“The Humming Bird,” “Tennessee Shad,” etc.

With Four Illustrations

By F. R. GRUGER

A. L. BURT COMPANY

Publishers        New York

Copyright, 1910, BY
THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY
Published, July, 1910
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.

TO
Alexander Lambert, M.D.
IN FRIENDSHIP, IN GRATITUDE,
AND IN MEMORY OF MY WIFE.


THE VARMINT

“LIKE MY JIBS?” SAID STOVER


THE VARMINT

I

When young Stover disembarked at the Trenton station on the fourth day after the opening of the spring term he had acquired in his brief journey so much of the Pennsylvania rolling stock as could be detached and concealed. Inserted between his nether and outer shirts were two gilt “Directions to Travelers” which clung like mustard plasters to his back, while a jagged tin sign, wrenched from the home terminal, embraced his stomach with the painful tenacity of the historic Spartan fox. In his pockets were objects—small objects but precious and dangerous to unscrew and acquire.
Being forced to wait, he sat now, preternaturally stiff, perched on a heap of trunks, clutching a broken dress-suit case which had been re-enforced with particolored strings.
There was about young Stover, when properly washed, a certain air of cherubim that instantly struck the observer; his tousled tow hair had a cathedral tone, his cheek was guileless and his big blue eyes had an upward cast toward the angels which, as in the present moment when he was industriously exchanging a check labeled Baltimore to a trunk bound for Jersey City, was absolutely convincing. But from the limit whence the cherub continueth not the imp began. His collar was crumpled and smutty with the descent of many signs, a salmon-pink necktie had quarreled with a lavender shirt and retreated toward one ear, one cuff had broken loose and one sulked up the sleeve. His green serge pockets bulged in every direction, while the striped blue-and-white trousers, already outgrown, stuck to the knees and halted short of a pair of white socks that in turn disappeared into a pair of razor-pointed patent-leathers.
Young Stover’s career at Miss Wandell’s Select Academy for boys and girls had been a tremendous success, for it had ended in a frank confession on Miss Wandell’s part that her limited curriculum was inadequate for the abnormal activities of dangerous criminals.
As Stover completed the transfer of the last trunk-checks the stage for Lawrenceville plodded cumbrously up, and from the box Jimmy hailed him.
“Eh, there, young Sporting Life, bound for Lawrenceville? Step lively.”
Stover swung up, gingerly pushing ahead of him the battered bag.
“Lawrenceville?” said the driver, looking at it suspiciously.
“Right the first time.”
“What house?”
“Oh, the Green will be good enough for me.”
“Well, tuck in above.”
“Thanks, I’ll cuddle here,” said Stover, slipping into the seat next to him, “just to look over the way you handle the ribbons and see if I approve.”
Jimmy, connoisseur of new arrivals, glanced behind at the only other passenger, a man of consular mould, and then looked at Stover in sardonic amusement.
“Don’t look at me like that, old Sport,” said Stover impressively; “I’ve driven real coaches, sixteen horses, rip-snorters, and all that sort of thing.”
Jimmy, having guided the placid animals through the labyrinths of Trenton, gave them the rein on the long highway that leads to Lawrenceville and turned to examine Stover with new relish.
“Say, Bub,” he said at length, “you’re goin’ to have a great time at this little backwoods school—you’re going to enjoy yourself.”
“Think I’m fresh, eh?”
“Fresh?” said Jimmy thoughtfully. “Why, fresh ain’t at all the word.”
“Well, I can take care of myself.”
“What did they fire you for?” said Jimmy, touching up the horses.
“Who said they fired me?” said Stover, surprised.
“Well, what was it?” said Jimmy, disdaining an explanation.
“They fired me,” said Stover, hesitating a moment—”they fired me for trying to kill a man.”
“You don’t say so!”
“I drew a knife on him,” said Stover rapidly. “I’d ‘a’ done for him, too, the coward, if they hadn’t hauled me off.”
At this there was a chuckle from the passenger behind who said with great solemnity:
“Dear me, dear me, a dreadful state of affairs—quite thrilling.”
“I saw red, everything—everything red,” said Stover, breathing hard.
“What had he done to you?” said Jimmy, winking at Mr. Hopkins, alias Lucius Cassius, alias The Roman, master of the Latin line and distinguished flunker of boys.
“He insulted my—my mother.”
“Your mother?”
“She—she’s dead,” said Stover in a stage voice he remembered.
At this Jimmy and Mr. Hopkins stopped, genuinely perplexed, and looked hard at Stover.
“You don’t mean it! Dear me,” said The Roman, hesitating before a possible blunder.
“It was long ago,” said Stover, thrilling with the delight of authorship. “She died in a ship-wreck to save me.”
The Roman was nonplussed. There was always the possibility that the story might be true.
“Ah, she gave her life to save yours, eh?” he said encouragingly.
“Held my head above water, breeches buoy and all that sort of thing,” said Stover, remembering something in Dickens. “I was the only one saved, me and the ship’s cat.”
“Well, well,” said The Roman, with a return of confidence; “and your father—is he alive?”
“Yes,” said Stover, considering the distant woods; “but—but we don’t speak of him.”
“Ah, pardon me,” said The Roman, gazing on him with wonder. “Painful memories—of course, of course. And what happened to your brother?”
Stover, perceiving the note of skepticism, turned and looked The Roman haughtily in the face, then, turning to Jimmy, he said in a half whisper:
“Who’s the old buck, anyhow?”
Jimmy stiffened on the box as though he had received an electric shock; then, biting his lips, he answered with a vicious lunge at the horses:
“Oh, he comes back and forth every now and then.”
They were now in the open country, rolling steadily past fields of sprouting things, with the warm scent of new-plowed earth borne to them on the gentle April breeze.
All of a sudden Stover seemed to dive sideways from the coach and remained suspended by his razor-tipped patent-leathers.
“Hi, there!” cried Jimmy, bringing the coach to a stop with a jerk, “what are you trying to do?”
Stover reappeared.
“Seeing if there are any females inside.”
“What’s that to you?” said Jimmy indignantly.
“Keep your eye peeled and I’ll show you,” said the urchin, standing up, freeing his belt and unbuttoning his vest. In a moment, by a series of contortions, he drew forth the three signs and proudly displayed them.
“See these gilt ones,” he said confidentially to the astounded Roman, “got ’em in the open car; stood right up and unscrewed them—penal offense, my boy. The tin one was easier, but it’s a beaut. ‘No loitering on these premises.’ Cast your eye over that,” he added, passing it to The Roman, who, as he gravely received it, gave Jimmy a dig that cut short a fit of coughing.
“Pretty fine, eh?” said Stover.
“Em, yes, quite extraordinary—quite so.”
“And what do you think of these?” continued Stover, producing two silver nickel-plated knobs ravished from the washbasin. “‘Pull and Push’—that’s my motto. Say, Bill, how does that strike you?”
The Roman examined them and handed them back.
“You’ll find it rather—rather slow at the school, won’t you?”
“Oh, I’ll put ginger into it.”
“Indeed.”
“What’s your line of goods, old Sport?” said Stover, examining Mr. Hopkins with a knowing eye.
“Books,” said The Roman with a slight jerk of his thin lips.
“I see!”
Jimmy stopped the horses and went behind, ostensibly to see if the door was swinging.
“Let me drive?” said Stover, fidgeting after a moment’s contemplation of Jimmy’s method. “I’ll show you a thing or two.”
“Oh, you will, will you?”
“Let’s have ’em.”
Jimmy looked inquiringly at Mr. Hopkins and, receiving a nod, transferred the reins and whip to Stover, who immediately assumed a Wild West attitude and said patronizingly:
“Say, you don’t get the speed out of ’em.”
“I don’t, eh?”
“Naw.”
They were at that moment reaching the brink of a hill, with a sharp though short descent below.
“In my country,” said Stover professionally, “we call a man who uses a brake a candy dude. The trick is to gallop ’em down the hills. Hang on!”
Before he could be stopped he sprang up with an ear-splitting war-whoop and brought the whip down with a stinging blow over the ears of the indignant horses, who plunged forward with a frightened leap. The coach rose and rocked, narrowly missing overturning in its sudden headlong course. Jimmy clamped on the brakes, snatched the reins and brought the plunging team to a stop after narrowly missing the gutter. Stover, saved from a headlong journey only by the iron grip of The Roman, had a moment of horrible fear. But immediately recovering his self-possession he said gruffly:
“All right, let go of me.”
“What in blazes were you trying to do, you young anarchist?” cried Jimmy, turning on him wrathfully.
“Gee! Why don’t you drive a couple of cows?” said Stover in disgust. “Why, in my parts we alway drive on two wheels.”
“Two wheels!” said Jimmy scornfully. “Guess you never drove anything that did have four wheels but a baby-buggy.”
But Stover, as though discouraged, disdained to reply, and sat in moody silence.
The Roman, who was still interested in a possible brother or two, strove in vain to draw him out. Stover wrapped himself in a majestic silence. Despite himself, the mystery of the discoverer was upon him. His glance fastened itself on the swelling horizon for the school that suddenly was to appear.
“How many fellows have you got here?” he said all at once to Jimmy.
“About four hundred.”
“As much as that?”
“Sure.”
“Big fellows?”
“Sizable.”
“How big?”
“Two-hundred-pounders.”
“When do we see the school?”
“Top of next hill.”
The Roman watched him from the corner of his eye, interested in his sudden shift of mood.
“What kind of a football team did they have?” said Stover.
“Scored on the Princeton ‘Varsity.”
“Jemima! You don’t say so!”
“Eight to four.”
“Great Heavens!”
“Only game they lost.”
“The Princeton championship team, too,” said Stover, who was not deficient in historical athletics. “Say, how’s the nine shaping up?”
“It’s a winner.”
All at once Jimmy extended his whip. “There it is, over there—you’ll get the water tower first.”
Stover stood up reverentially. Across the dip and swell of the hills a cluster of slated roofs, a glimpse of red brick through the trees, a touch of brownstone, a water tower in sharp outline against the sky, suddenly rose from the horizon. A continent had been discovered, the land of possible dreams.
“It’s ripping—ripping, isn’t it?” he said, still standing eagerly.
The Roman, gazing on it for the thousandth time, shook his head in musing agreement.
Across the fields came the stolid ringing of the school bell, ringing a hundred laggards across the budding campus to hard seats and blackboarded walls, ringing with its lengthened, slow-dying, never-varying note.
“That the bell?” said Stover, rebelling already at its summons.
“That’s it,” said Jimmy.
Stover sat down, his chin in his hands, his elbows on his knees, gazing eagerly forward, asking questions.
“I say, where’s the Green House?”
“Ahead on your left—directly.”
“That old, stone, block-house affair?”
“You win.”
“Why, it’s not on the campus.”
“No, it ain’t,” said Jimmy, flicking the flies off the near horse; “but they’ve got a warm bunch of Indians all the same.” Then, remembering the Wild-Western methods of driving, he added: “Don’t forget about the ginger. Sock it to them. Fare, please.”
“I’ll sock it,” said Stover with a knowing air. “I may be tender, but I’m not green.”
He slapped a coin into the outstretched hand and reached back for the battle-scarred valise, to perceive the keen eye of Mr. Hopkins set on him with amusement.
“Well, Sport, ta-ta, and good luck,” said Stover, who had mentally ticketed him as a commercial traveler. “Hope you sell out.”
“Thanks,” said Mr. Hopkins, with a twitch to his lip. “Now just one word to the wise.”
“What’s that?”
“Don’t get discouraged.”
“Discouraged!” said Stover disdainfully: “Why, old Cocky-wax, put this in your pipe and smoke it—I’m going to own this house. In a week I’ll have ’em feeding from my hand.”
He sprang down eagerly. Before him, at the end of a flagged walk, under the heavy boughs of evergreens, was a two-story building of stone, and under the Colonial portico a group curiously watching the new arrival.
The coach groaned and pulled heavily away. He was alone at the end of the interminable stone walk, clutching a broken-down bag ridiculously mended with strings, face to face with the task of approaching with dignity and ease these suddenly discovered critics of his existence.

II

In all his fifteen years Stover had never been accused of standing in awe of anything or anybody; but at the present moment, as he balanced from foot to foot, calculating the unending distance of the stone flags, he was suddenly seized with an overpowering impulse to bolt. And yet the group at the steps were only mildly interested. An urchin pillowed on the knees of a Goliath had shifted so as languidly to command the approach; a baseball, traveling back and forth in lazy flight, had stopped only a moment, and then continued from hand to hand.
Stover had thought of his future associates without much trepidation, as he had thought of the Faculty as Miss Wandell in trousers—being inferior to him in mental agility and resourcefulness who, he confidently intended, should shortly follow his desires.
All at once, before he had spoken a word, before he had even seen the look on their countenances, he realized that he stood on the threshold of a new world, a system of society of which he was ignorant and by whose undivined laws he was suddenly to be judged.
Everything was wrong and strangely uncomfortable. His derby hat was too small—as it was—and must look ridiculous; his trousers were short and his arms seemed to rush from his sleeves. He tried desperately to thrust back the cuff that had broken loose and stooped for his bag. It would have been wiser to have embraced it bodily, but he breathed a prayer and grasped the handle. Then he started up the walk; half way, the handle tore out and the bag went down with a crash.
He dove at it desperately, poking back the threatened avalanche of linen, and clutching it in his arms as a bachelor carries a baby, started blindly for the house.
A roar of laughter had gone up at his discomfiture, succeeded by a sudden, solemn silence. Then the White Mountain Canary pillowed against the knees of Cheyenne Baxter, spoke:
“No old clothes, Moses; nothing to sell to-day.”
At this Butsey White’s lathery face suddenly appeared at the second-story window.
“He doesn’t want to buy—he wants to sell us something,” he said. “Patent underwear and all that sort of thing.”
Stover, red to the ears, advanced to the steps and stopped.
“Well?” said the Coffee-colored Angel as the guardian of the steps.
“I’m the new boy,” said Stover in a gentle voice.
“The what?”
“The new boy.”
“Impossible!”
“He’s not!”
“New boys always say ‘sir,’ and take off their hats politely.”
The White Mountain Canary looked at Tough McCarty, who solemnly interrogated the Coffee-colored Angel, who shook his head in utter disbelief and said:
“I don’t believe it. It’s a blind. I wouldn’t let him in the house.”
“Please, sir,” said Stover hastily, doffing his derby, “I am.”
“Prove it,” said a voice behind him.
“Say, I’m not as green as all that.”
Stover smiled a sickly smile, shifted from foot to foot and glanced hopefully at his fellow-imps to surprise a look of amusement. But as every face remained blank, serious and extremely critical, the smile disappeared in a twinkling and his glance went abruptly to his toes.
“He certainly should prove it,” said the Coffee-colored Angel anxiously. “Can you prove it?”
Stover gingerly placed the gaping valise on the top step and fumbled in his pockets.
“Please, sir, I have a letter from—from the Doctor,” he blurted out, finally extracting a crumpled envelope and tendering it to the Coffee-colored Angel, who looked it over with well-simulated surprise and solemnly announced:
“My goodness gracious! Why, it is the new boy!”
Instantly there was a change.
“Freshman, what’s your name?” said little Susie Satterly in his deepest tones.
“Stover.”
“Sir.”
“Sir.”
“What’s your full name?”
“John Humperdink Stover, sir.”
“Humper—what?”
“Dink.”
“Say it again.”
“Humperdink.”
“Say it for me,” said the Coffee-colored Angel, with his hand to his ear.
“Humperdink.”
“Accent the last syllable.”
“Humper—Dink!”
“Are you trying to bluff us, Freshman?” said Cheyenne Baxter severely.
“No, sir; that’s my real name.”
“Humperdink?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, Rinky Dink, you’ve got a rotten name.”
“Yes, sir,” said Stover, who never before had felt such a longing to agree.
“How old?”
“Fifteen, sir.”
“Weight?”
“One hundred and thirty, sir.”
“Ever been in love?”
“No, sir.”
“Ever served a penal sentence?”
“No, sir.”
“Then where did you get these clothes?”
The group slowly circulated about the embarrassed Stover, scanning the amazing costume. Cheyenne Baxter took up the inquisition.
“Say, Dink, honest, are these your own clothes?” he said with a knowing look.
“Yes, sir.”
“Now, honest,” continued Cheyenne in a whisper, bending forward and putting his hand to his ear as though inviting a confidence.
Stover felt suddenly as though his own ears were swelling to alarming proportions—swelling and perceptibly reddening.
“What do they feed you on, Rinky Dink?” said the White Mountain Canary softly.
“Feed?” said Stover unwarily, not perceiving the intent of the question.
“Do they give you many green vegetables?”
Stover tried to laugh

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