Elinor’s Sophomore Year

Myra’s Little Ram

Elinor and Ruth had met in New York and taken the train up the river. They sat primly clasping box and bundle on the lengthwise seat near the door of the coach.

“Strange that Myra did not make connections,” said Elinor, trying to keep her foot from tapping in eager impatience, ” I can hardly wait to see all the girls. Every minute something inside of me is calling to the wheels, `Hurry, hurry, hurry, please hurry!’ But they rumble on as slowly as ever. Last fall they chanted over and over — ” she hesitated, “well, anyhow, the only reason I care about coming this year is for the sake of seeing the girls. I’m not in the least fond of the college itself or the work, you know.”

“That’s one thing I never could understand about you, Elinor. Maybe you really care but you won’t acknowledge it even to yourself.”

“How would you like it,” Elinor put on a little more of her company vivacity, “just when you are proud of doing denominate numbers at nine, to be informed that your mother did them at seven? I entered college at sixteen; ah, but my mother was admitted to the second semester of the sophomore year at fifteen! I was prepared in doublequick time so as to catch up with my older brother; but my mother prepared herself. I occasionally have time to spare, don’t you think so? Alas! my mother learned so rapidly that she spent hours playing solitaire while the other girls were studying.”

“I wish,” said Ruth, “that my mother knew about this college and what wonderful friends I have found. She would have longed for such things for me — and there seemed no chance, no hope.”

Elinor’s face softened in quick sympathy. “Did she die when you were a child, Ruth?”

“She is not dead,” answered the older girl, her mouth falling into lines of self-repression, her eyes darkening somberly, ” she is in — ” the words faltered, “she is not dead.”

“Oh, forgive me!” Elinor cried in contrite embarrassment, “I didn’t know. You always spoke of her as if — as if — . I am so sorry! Won’t it be lovely to get hold of Myra again and to look at Lydia! I am simply crazy to see them. It was dear of you to meet me. Myra wrote that perhaps you would be at the station. Where can she be?”

“Maybe she will hide and pop out at us,” Ruth joined in readily, “he’s always doing — “

Here the door banged open and Myra blew in with a gust of rain from gray skies outside, her hand grasping her hat, her curls damp against her cheek.

“Well, here you are at last! I’ve been walking for miles through this endless train. Think of Miss Offitt in a common coach!” Aided by a sudden lurch of the car she sat down jerkily upon a suitcase, and was beginning to push back her hair and unfold a time-table, when a recollection smote her. She jumped up to fall into the arms of her companions, while the other passengers gazed with mild entertainment over the tops of their newspapers.

“To think that I was forgetting to say holloa!” wailed her voice somewhat muffled against Elinor’s jacket, “it seems so natural to have you around that I can’t believe a whole summer has passed. I’ve had the most terrible time at home. It’s all your fault. I tried to be funny. Every little while I made an inane remark and then waited for the family to laugh, just as you do here. They didn’t say a word — only listened and looked at me sort of sadly as if waiting for the joke, and then started to talk about other things. It was so discouraging that I gave up being witty.”

“No?” exclaimed Elinor mischievously incredulous, “not really gave it up? Witty — “

“Hush, sweetheart! Oh, you dear sweet child, I am so glad to see you that I could pinch you black and blue. Ruth, isn’t she darling? I’m pretty fond of you both. Don’t hurt my feelings first chance. Sarcasm will render you unpopular with girls — also men. That reminds me of Lady Lydia. She was queen of the seashore all summer. She wore white duck from morning to night and talked about petitioning the faculty for permission to have caps and gowns this year.”

“What color?”

“Elinor! I expected it. I knew you couldn’t resist. That’s the great and glaring flaw in your character, Miss Offitt: you’re not magnanimous. Small annoyances rankle. You can’t forgive. Details like a missing button, artistic disarray of hair and so forth, tissue paper flowers — “

“Hear her gibber!” broke in Elinor hastily, “we’ll be obliged to begin all over again with her education, Ruth. Do you notice how she wanders in her speech? Sure sign of mental degeneracy!”

“As I was about to remark, the gowns will be black on the outside and maybe lined in different colors for the various classes. Lydia’s set her heart on it. She says that the students are a self-governing body and will be free to assume a distinctive costume if the majority so votes. She says that Prexie and the faculty will have no right to interfere, but of course they are at liberty to offer advice, and for her part she respects their experience. A mortar-board cap is awfully becoming to her.”

“Mrs. Vernon asked Lydia to come a few days early to help receive the freshmen,” volunteered Ruth, to whom Lydia’s letters had been the chief interest of her lonely summer.

“And didn’t invite me?” cried Myra, “neglected to request my valuable assistance in exhorting the little freshies to feel at home! Omitted me — this individual sitting here — ego-mei-mihi-me-me! Latin, ahem. I can also express the idea in German and French. Such an oversight grieves me. Ah, well, you wait and see!”

Elinor spoke in quick alarm. “What are you plotting now? Do behave this year, Myra, and try not to be any more of an imp than is absolutely necessary. You put me in a fidget.”

“Don’t worry beyond a point that is beneficial for your circulation, madam. I am a dignified sophomore, full-fledged, nary condition — common English for ne’er a. Ladies, `Mary had a little lamb’ — ” Here she paused and favored Elinor with a cheerful wink. “Excuse me, Ruthie, if I appear to be exclusive for a few days. You aren’t in this secret because there is only room for two, and you’re too magnanimous anyhow. Magnanimous people always forgive everything. Ah, how time flies! The sophomores of old are juniors now.”

“Only three years more!” sighed Elinor and then held her breath for a moment in astonishment at the insincere ring of what was intended to express relief, “and at last we shall be free.”

“Elinor Offitt, that attitude of yours is growing to be a regular pose. Ah, here we are!” crowed Myra, “this blessed old town! I love everybody.” At the door of the car she turned so radiantly to flash a smile of pity over the poor benighted passengers who were not on their way to college that one very young gentleman lost his heart and another was positively scandalized.

This year the ride to the college was through a gray mist of rain. They passed loaded drays shrouded with oilcloth, the drivers humped under useless awnings. At the college umbrellas were bobbing along under the dripping evergreens. Now and then a carriage rolled by, spattering mud. The vestibule was moist from the furling and flapping of more umbrellas. Every step left a wet print on the pavement.

Myra spied Lydia spotless and serene, though a bit chilly-looking in her white frock, graciously interrogating a group of strangers at the foot of the wide marble stairs. Dodging three pillars and two students bulky with luggage, she seized her distinguished roommate about the elbow, for she was not tall enough to reach the rounded throat. Lydia drew her close in such a genuine bear-hug that Elinor was almost too much astonished to claim her own welcome.

“The first thing she said,” mourned Myra when arrived safely in their new rooms, “after months of absence, was, `You’re losing one of your sidecombs.’ “

She flung off her hat. “Elinor, you haven’t mentioned my hair. Don’t you think I’m improved?”

“Oh, Myra!” groaned Elinor, “yes, it is becoming, but I want my little freshman back with her long braid and fly-away bow.”

“Where’s your own?” she demanded promptly, “I like yours done up. It makes you look more dignified. Elinor, can you realize that we are truly sophomores with a lot of little freshmen gazing upward at us? We will be kind to them. I resolved last Hallowe’en that I would never stoop to any sort of hazing. Once a band of sophomores dressed as masked ghosts and called on the freshmen in their neighborhood, and made them do ridiculous stunts — sing the laundry list, wash off smiles and wipe them on the carpet, write the date in ink with their noses. Did you ever hear of anything more undignified? Jokes ought to be refined and poetical. See here, Elinor, you’ve simply got to help me about that lamb.”

“What lamb?” asked Elinor cautiously, “how can I help?”

“The juniors gave him to the seniors last autumn, and the seniors carried him away to a farm, because they were tired of sitting up to feed him whipped cream all night. I wrote to ask the class president if I might have him, and she said I was welcome and so forth. You know a crowd of us intend to organize a fudge club to-morrow, and I must have the lamb for the initiation. It will cheer up the homesick juniors, my whilom sophomore friends. I’m going to telephone to the livery stable now, and we can drive to the farm before dinner. Do come, Elinor.”

“That innocent little woolly lamb,” said Elinor reflectively, “it sounds harmless enough. I suppose if you don’t do that, you’ll find some other outlet for your energies. Our trunks won’t be here till morning. I was dreading the long afternoon in these desolate littered up corridors. Well, maybe I’ll go, if you will hold the umbrella.”

At the dinner table Lydia appeared with three awed freshmen under her charge. After the soup had been cleared away, Myra and Elinor hurried in, curiously breathless and trying not to laugh. Myra flirted her napkin out of its ring with such enthusiasm that it went fluttering over her shoulder. Diving cheerfully in pursuit, she bumped into the maid and looked up just in time to duck in a different direction from the sliding ears of corn.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Rose,” she exclaimed, “I don’t want the whole dish, thank you. Three ears are plenty for me.” And she went off in a gale of laughter entirely unproportioned to the exciting cause. Elinor joined in as if overwhelmed by sudden mirth. The freshmen were surprised but tried not to stare. Lydia regarded them benignantly.

“Evidently they are not yet homesick,” she addressed the new students, “it won’t be such a dreadful place when once you get acquainted. Miss Offitt is a granddaughter who entered college under protest, so to speak — “

“It is fun to be a sophomore,” broke in Elinor with impolite haste, “everybody’s glad to see everybody else. Some smile and nod; others rush up and kiss. One professor shook hands as if she had been yearning to see us; one actually kissed Myra, and the rest smiled the nicest smiles. You’ll find out next year.”

“Have those young ladies been introduced to you, Elinor?” queried Myra in a loud whisper, “it is not proper for them to speak until they have been presented, and even then they must bow three times — “


Myra bowed three times very fast and solemnly before turning to one of the strangers who was gazing at her with an uncertain smile.

“Won’t you have another glass of milk?” she inquired with a beaming imitation of Lydia’s attentive manner. “Freshmen frequently drink several quarts apiece the first few days. It’s strengthening and stimulating, reminds them of home and so forth.”

“No, I thank you,” answered the freshman in a voice almost too low to be heard.

“Ah, do take it!” pleaded the little minx in such a beseeching tone that the victim’s resolution wavered.

“Well,” she murmured doubtfully, ” if you really want me to.”

“Oh, I shan’t die if you don’t,” declared Myra with a sudden change to airy flippancy, “I’m considerably more robust than I look. Now, Miss Howard, that portly personage at the head of the table is deceptively otherwise. You wouldn’t pick her out to be an invalid, would you? That healthy color of hers is solely due to bashfulness. Watch it ebb and flow.”

As Lydia’s chief affliction was the dread of growing too plump and rosy, this was going a bit too far. Elinor applied the brakes.

“Tell them about our drive into the country this afternoon, Myra.”

Myra’s effort to express warning in a scowl that persisted in mixing up with two dimples was interrupted by a remark from Lydia.

“I must urge you to beware of that curly-headed little innocent over there,” she said, “don’t believe a word she says to-night.”

“Everybody admires Miss Howard,” gushed Myra in her sweetest accents, “she is so popular and so delightful and so — well, honestly — quite bright, don’t you know? She is so superior and so condescending and so influential in the community. I hope, my dear young friends, that you have each and all come to college with the glorious intention to do enough work to get you through the semester examinations. Miss Howard is rather particular on that point, indeed somewhat of a crank. She also believes in self-government and upholds the authority of the faculty so long as they do not interfere with anything she may wish to do. She is in favor of wearing caps and gowns — black caps and gowns, young ladies, with green satin facings for the freshmen class, yellow for the sophomore — “

“Yellow means pure and radiant joyousness, I reckon,” put in Ruth, raising a face that was shining with inner happiness over being back again in this beloved place.

“Short for silly,” commented Elinor to her plate but distinct enough for Myra’s ears to catch it.

“Thank you, yes, my fellow sophomores. Ah, girls and young ladies, when I reflect upon the eminence, the glory, the dignity of our position, the — the work and all that, I feel like the — the — ” she paused impressively, ” — exactly like the past tense of dog.”

“A conundrum!” exclaimed Elinor with a tactful eye on the nervous strangers, “I do enjoy conundrums. Let’s see who can guess it first.”

The meekest young freshman laid down her fork, which to be sure had seen little active service so far on this eventful night, and thought very hard for a few moments.

“Ah!” she cried at last, forgetting shyness in the success of her meditation, “puppy!”

At the exulting clamor that greeted her solution, she almost lost consciousness, and returned to a realization of circumstances to find herself blindly sugaring her potato, while Miss Dickinson struggled to convince the Company that she had meant dogged, of course, the past tense of the regular verb.

Lydia swept a reproving glance around the table. “Girls, do behave as if you were at home in civilized society and had guests at dinner. You act to-night like irresponsible freshmen.”

“Oh, Lydia!” ejaculated Myra with a finger on her lips, “that was an awful break. These poor unoffending creatures beside you have the misfortune to be freshmen. Hide your head if it isn’t screwed on too tight, while I seek to soothe their wounded sensibilities. Aren’t we good to you?” Her voice quavered from solicitude. “Elinor, do pass the bread and so forth. Ruth, sit up straight and set a noble example and ask the maid to bring another pitcher of milk and jam for the bread belonging to the three little protegées of Lydia. Of course it’s their own fault that they’re freshmen, but still the pity of it —”

“May I speak to Miss Dickinson?” The messenger girl was leaning over the back of Myra’s chair. “The livery stable boy has come for the buggy, and he wants to know where the cushion for the seat is, and if the dashboard was kicked out before you started. He is so anxious and disturbed that I was sent to inquire.”

Myra flung out her hands, dropped them, gave a convulsive little giggle, jumped up, and was half way down the dining-room before Elinor could straighten her face into sufficient sobriety to follow without attracting curious stares. Lydia entertained her charges through the dessert, marshalled them to Chapel, and invited them to come to her room at eight for chocolate and a cheering share of a five-pound box of Huyler’s candy. They presented themselves punctually, a grave wide-eyed group, with a tendency to stand close together or sit in a row on the divan. Ruth, dropping in half-an-hour later, found them so, while they nibbled occasionally at pieces of candy and listened with the vast respect of silence to Miss Howard’s monologue upon self-government.

“It used to be like a boarding-school here, with teachers everywhere watching the girls to see if they kept the rules about exercising an hour a day, going to bed at ten, never walking far alone into the country, taking chaperons when driving or at the theatre, attending Chapel regularly, and so forth. A student was in danger of being reprimanded for running through the corridors or talking aloud during study hours. Exactly like a boarding-school, you see. Of course the girls rebelled and tried to hoodwink their tyrants. When they wished to have spreads late at night, they tacked papers over the transoms and stuffed up the cracks under the doors and posted a spy to guard against the approach of a corridor teacher. Actually this past summer I met a middle-aged lawyer who told me as a tremendous joke about his visiting a cousin at this college years ago. She wanted him to see her study, and so he skulked through the halls with a crowd of her friends, though it was against the rules to take guests to the rooms unless accompanied by a chaperon. When they heard a teacher coming, they made a rope of sheets and let him out of the window. He expected me to be amused at the recital of the trick. I have seldom been more mortified in my life. It was most painfully humiliating to be asked if we still indulged in such pranks. I informed him that since the adoption of self-government in this community, the students had risen above the trickery and subservience of slaves. Like a democracy they have banded together to preserve order and maintain the social ideal. They are self-reliant women, not irresponsible children.”

At this point the boldest freshman after sundry squirmings and moistening of her lips managed to utter a question.

“Does everybody do just as she pleases about everything?”

Lydia surveyed her graciously in approbation of such intelligent interest. “May I ask if you consider that we are a free people in America?”

The freshman appeared a bit frightened at the shock of meeting an examination in history the very first evening.

“I — think so, Miss Howard,” she faltered, “aren’t we?”

“We are,” Miss Howard assured her majestically. “May I next inquire if we are at liberty to do as we please?”

“There are — ” she hesitated, “I think there are laws.”

“Precisely.” The commendation expressed in this adverb was so thrilling that the freshman felt as if she had surely made a most noble hit, and thereupon proceeded with the nibbling of her neglected candy.

“You are precisely right,” continued the lecturer, “there are laws. These laws are the consensus of just minds as to what constitutes the social welfare. Law is consistent with liberty. We do not rob or murder because we do not desire to rob or murder. The laws forbid crimes that no well-constituted individual wishes to commit. Similarly our self-government rules prohibit certain acts which the sensible student chooses to avoid of her own good reasonableness. No prudent young woman will sit up later than ten any oftener than three times a month. She will not omit her hour’s exercise every day. She will not absent herself from Chapel more frequently than three times in a semester.”

“Oh! So those are the rules!” said the boldest freshman.

“Yes, those are the so-called rules. Ah, Ruth, good evening. Help yourself to some Huyler’s. I have been explaining self-government to these new students. To tell the truth, I have been leading up to a discussion of the caps and gowns problem. I want them to understand and admire the true dignity, honor, and liberty of the scholarly life, and to comprehend the wisdom of dressing in harmony with the idea. A distinctive costume that shall appropriately symbolize the ideal of intelligent womanliness, — the cultivated instincts, the gentleness, grace, maturity, sobriety, poise, dignity, high-mindedness that scorns to stoop — “

Bang! The door burst open and Elinor dived into the room, shot across the floor, and collapsed in a corner.

“He — he’s coming!” she gasped between her paroxysms of delight,” with Myra chasing him, or he chasing her — nobody is quite sure which. Look — look out! Climb up on something.”

From the corridor sounded a flurry and scurry and scamper of feet, mingled with shrieks of laughter and screams of, “Catch him, somebody! Head him off. He’s my lamb. Hi! get away from in front of his horns!”

Elinor weakly clutched her aching chest and scrambled upon the window-ledge. “He’ll be dashing in here the next minute. Myra held on to his heels till he kicked through the dashboard. He broke out of the bathroom. We — we forgot that lambs grow. He — he butts! There he comes. Jump!”

The three freshmen fled wildly in different directions. Long-limbed Ruth sprang agilely upon the center-table. Lydia got behind the biggest chair and began to disappear toward the floor. Then remembering her dignity she straightened up and advanced to the door just in time to be neatly and completely floored by the frenzied inrush of the determined ram.

When it was all over, and the janitor had marched away with the struggling visitor, Ruth descended from her perch and began to clear away the debris.

“I was thinking,” she remarked dreamily, “that Myra should have invited a chaperon. Isn’t that one of the rules?”

Lydia sat down carefully and fanned herself. “What I am thinking,” she said, “is that we must certainly petition the faculty for the privilege of wearing caps and gowns.”

“Why?” inquired Elinor in a curiously choked voice, “do you believe the ram would have — noticed?”

“This disgraceful episode could never have occurred,” said Lydia firmly, ” if you and Myra had been wearing caps and gowns. The influence, however unconscious, of such an intellectual and dignified — “

“And — and — and — ” sputtered Myra, raising a scarlet face from a yellow silk pillow, ” it couldn’t have happened because we — we would have had to stop so often to pick up our caps, and the g-gowns — “

“Would have flapped,” continued Elinor gravely, “and tangled up his heels.”

At the sound of Ruth’s chuckle, Elinor felt a warm little spark of possible affection glow in her heart. It was pleasant to have people laugh at a person’s jokes.

“It evidently cheered up the freshmen wonderfully,” said Ruth, “they did not seem one bit homesick when they left.”

“I shall be obliged,” said Lydia, “to elucidate again and more at length the question of petitioning for caps and gowns.”

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