A FEW minutes later, and still wrathful, Joe went in to dinner. He ate silently, though his father and mother and Bessie kept up a genial flow of conversation. There she was, he communed savagely with his plate, crying one minute, and the next all smiles and laughter. Now that was n’t his way. If he had anything sufficiently important to cry about, rest assured he would n’t get over it for days. Girls were hypocrites, that was all there was to it. They did n’t feel one hundredth part of all that they said when they cried. It stood to reason that they did n’t. It must be that they just carried on because they enjoyed it. It made them feel good to make other people miserable, especially boys. That was why they were always interfering.
Thus reflecting sagely, he kept his eyes on his plate and did justice to the fare; for one cannot scorch from the Cliff House to the Western Addition via the park without being guilty of a healthy appetite.
Now and then his father directed a glance at him in a certain mildly anxious way. Joe did not see these glances, but Bessie saw them, every one. Mr. Bronson was a middle-aged man, well developed and of heavy build, though not fat. His was a rugged face, square-jawed and stern-featured, though his eyes were kindly and there were lines about the mouth that betokened laughter rather than severity. A close examination was not required to discover the resemblance between him and Joe. The same broad forehead and strong jaw characterized them both, and the eyes, taking into consideration the difference of age, were as like as peas from one pod.
“How are you getting on, Joe?” Mr. Bronson asked finally. Dinner was over and they were about to leave the table.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Joe answered carelessly, and then added: “We have examinations to-morrow. I’ll know then.”
“Whither bound?” his mother questioned, as he turned to leave the room. She was a slender, willowy woman, whose brown eyes Bessie’s were, and likewise her tender ways.
“To my room,” Joe answered. “To work,” he supplemented.
She rumpled his hair affectionately, and bent and kissed him. Mr. Bronson smiled approval at him as he went out, and he hurried up the stairs, resolved to dig hard and pass the examinations of the coming day.
Entering his room, he locked the door and sat down at a desk most comfortably arranged for a boy’s study. He ran his eye over his text-books. The history examination came the first thing in the morning, so he would begin on that. He opened the book where a page was turned down, and began to read:
Shortly after the Draconian reforms, a war broke out between Athens and Megara respecting the island of Salamis, to which both cities laid claim.
That was easy; but what were the Draconian reforms? He must look them up. He felt quite studious as he ran over the back pages, till he chanced to raise his eyes above the top of the book and saw on a chair a baseball mask and a catcher’s glove. They should n’t have lost that game last Saturday, he thought, and they would n’t have, either, if it had n’t been for Fred. He wished Fred would n’t fumble so. He could hold a hundred difficult balls in succession, but when a critical point came, he ’d let go of even a dewdrop. He ’d have to send him out in the field and bring in Jones to first base. Only Jones was so excitable. He could hold any kind of a ball, no matter how critical the play was, but there was no telling what he would do with the ball after he got it.
Joe came to himself with a start. A pretty way of studying history! He buried his head in his book and began:
Shortly after the Draconian reforms—
He read the sentence through three times, and then recollected that he had not looked up the Draconian reforms.
A knock came at the door. He turned the pages over with a noisy flutter, but made no answer.
The knock was repeated, and Bessie’s “Joe, dear” came to his ears.
“What do you want?” he demanded. But before she could answer he hurried on: “No admittance. I ’m busy.”
“I came to see if I could help you,” she pleaded. “I ’m all done, and I thought—”
“Of course you ’re all done!” he shouted. “You always are!”
He held his head in both his hands to keep his eyes on the book. But the baseball mask bothered him. The more he attempted to keep his mind on the history the more in his mind’s eye he saw the mask resting on the chair and all the games in which it had played its part.
This would never do. He deliberately placed the book face downward on the desk and walked over to the chair. With a swift sweep he sent both mask and glove hurtling under the bed, and so violently that he heard the mask rebound from the wall.
Shortly after the Draconian reforms, a war broke out between Athens and Megara—
The mask had rolled back from the wall. He wondered if it had rolled back far enough for him to see it. No, he would n’t look. What did it matter if it had rolled out? That was n’t history. He wondered—
He peered over the top of the book, and there was the mask peeping out at him from under the edge of the bed. This was not to be borne. There was no use attempting to study while that mask was around. He went over and fished it out, crossed the room to the closet, and tossed it inside, then locked the door. That was settled, thank goodness! Now he could do some work.
He sat down again.
Shortly after the Draconian reforms, a war broke out between Athens and Megara respecting the island of Salamis, to which, both cities laid claim.
Which was all very well, if he had only found out what the Draconian reforms were. A soft glow pervaded the room, and he suddenly became aware of it. What could cause it? He looked out of the window. The setting sun was slanting its long rays against low-hanging masses of summer clouds, turning them to warm scarlet and rosy red; and it was from them that the red light, mellow and glowing, was flung earthward.
His gaze dropped from the clouds to the bay beneath. The sea-breeze was dying down with the day, and off Fort Point a fishing-boat was creeping into port before the last light breeze. A little beyond, a tug was sending up a twisted pillar of smoke as it towed a three-masted schooner to sea. His eyes wandered over toward the Marin County shore. The line where land and water met was already in darkness, and long shadows were creeping up the hills toward Mount Tamalpais, which was sharply silhouetted against the western sky.
Oh, if he, Joe Bronson, were only on that fishing-boat and sailing in with a deep-sea catch! Or if he were on that schooner, heading out into the sunset, into the world! That was life, that was living, doing something and being something in the world. And, instead, here he was, pent up in a close room, racking his brains about people dead and gone thousands of years before he was born.
He jerked himself away from the window as though held there by some physical force, and resolutely carried his chair and history into the farthest corner of the room, where he sat down with his back to the window.
An instant later, so it seemed to him, he found himself again staring out of the window and dreaming. How he had got there he did not know. His last recollection was the finding of a subheading on a page on the right-hand side of the book which read: “The Laws and Constitution of Draco.” And then, evidently like walking in one’s sleep, he had come to the window. How long had he been there? he wondered. The fishing-boat which he had seen off Fort Point was now crawling into Meiggs’s Wharf. This denoted nearly an hour’s lapse of time. The sun had long since set; a solemn grayness was brooding over the water, and the first faint stars were beginning to twinkle over the crest of Mount Tamalpais.
He turned, with a sigh, to go back into his corner, when a long whistle, shrill and piercing, came to his ears. That was Fred. He sighed again. The whistle repeated itself. Then another whistle joined it. That was Charley. They were waiting on the corner—lucky fellows!
Well, they would n’t see him this night. Both whistles arose in duet. He writhed in his chair and groaned. No, they would n’t see him this night, he reiterated, at the same time rising to his feet. It was certainly impossible for him to join them when he had not yet learned about the Draconian reforms. The same force which had held him to the window now seemed drawing him across the room to the desk. It made him put the history on top of his school-books, and he had the door unlocked and was half-way into the hall before he realized it. He started to return, but the thought came to him that he could go out for a little while and then come back and do his work.
A very little while, he promised himself, as he went down-stairs. He went down faster and faster, till at the bottom he was going three steps at a time. He popped his cap on his head and went out of the side entrance in a rush; and ere he reached the corner the reforms of Draco were as far away in the past as Draco himself, while the examinations on the morrow were equally far away in the future.