Read CHAPTER VI - JOE SMITH’S CHOICE of Pearl and Periwinkle , free online book, by Anna Graetz, on ReadCentral.com.

Joe Smith’s den in the dormitory of his dearly beloved Alma Mater was the favorite haunt of not only his intimate friends but of many other students who had yielded to the charm of his personality. His influence for good and his popularity with the student body had also attracted the attention and commendation of the faculty, whose opinion was best expressed by one of their number who had openly made a statement to the effect that when the boys were with Smith they were quite as safe as when in company with their teachers. But on this particular evening in early November Joe was alone. It had been a dreary depressing day with the cold rain beating on the rattling window panes and a complaining wind whistling mournfully through the bare trees. The young man’s face almost seemed to reflect the gloominess of the dull gray evening sky into which he gazed with the vain hope of discovering a let-up that at least would permit a pleasant evening’s walk.

A knock at the door interrupted his gloomy reflections and in his eager haste to admit his visitors he knocked over several pieces of furniture that impeded his progress.

The next moment four boisterous forms, not awaiting Joe’s invitation burst into the room rather unceremoniously. Two of them were Sophomore room-mates whose rooms were located on the same floor of the dormitory. Joe did not know them intimately but he did know that they were regarded rather dubiously by some of the students who had had dealings with them. In fact there was a rumor that the younger of the two was closely watched by the authorities. The other two were from the city, but were frequent callers at the college.

As a rule Joe shunned the company of the two “Sophs,” but this evening he was glad that it was the merry quartette that had thus visited him rather than some of his quieter and more studious friends.

“What’s on tonight, Joe?” began one by way of opening the conversation.

“Nothing,” replied Joe gloomily, kicking spitefully at the mantle top, “unless you fellows will stay and spend the evening.”

“And all become as glum as you,” replied another, mimicking Joe’s dejected appearance.

“See here, Joe, we want you to come with us tonight. Why can’t you?”

Joe whistled dolefully, but his interest aroused, he inquired questioningly:

“Where are you going?”

“To Bordell’s for a harmless little game of pool. Everybody goes, everybody but a ‘Percy dear,’” replied the younger of the Sophomores with an air of superiority.

Joe’s face flushed and he faced the speaker, but the other Sophomore spoke before Joe’s indignant thoughts could find utterance.

“That’s all you know about it, Rex,” he said reprovingly. “Why, lots of splendid fellows never play billiards and they aren’t mollycoddles by any means. I do think though that they are depriving themselves of innocent pleasures.”

Then turning to Joe in a very conciliatory tone he again urged, “Come Smith, you’ll go with us tonight,” and he rested his hand persuasively on Joe’s shoulder. There was something wonderfully fascinating about the older of these two Sophomores; so Joe thought. But he only said, “And after Bordell’s, I suppose, will come Steinberg’s?”

His four visitors laughed in hearty unison, and the one whom they called Rex exclaimed in a sarcastic tone:

“There’s no harm in that, is there? A drink never hurts a gentleman.”

“But it doesn’t always leave them gentlemen,” remarked Joe emphatically.

“Of course, Smith,” replied the elder of the Sophomores assuming a persuasive tone, “we shan’t urge you. We asked you because we like you, and because you like a little harmless fun. If you don’t come I’m afraid you’ll regret it when you are here alone. Or, by the way, won’t Reydal come?”

“Yes, Reydal,” and from the woe-begotten tone of his voice the happy-go-lucky visitors knew they had scored a point. Suddenly Joe’s boyish laugh rang out that laugh that won for him so many friends. “Reydal,” he repeated, still laughing. “Reydal, with his philosophy of gloom, and his face as long as a gypsy’s tale of woe. He will sit opposite me here by the fire; he’ll spread his coat, open his book, and try to hide his mouth and chin behind his number twenty collar. Then from the depths of shining celluloid he’ll quote his own views, contradicting some by-gone philosopher, until the welcome stroke of ten relieves me. Poor Reydal, how can I escape him?”

A sense of shame for this uncharitable attitude toward his most intimate college chum possessed Joe Smith before he had finished his humorous sarcasm, but he was in an unaccountable mood just then.

“We’ve told you how you can escape him,” urged one of the boys from town as they started for the door. “We’ve got some visiting to do in the dorm, but will call for you in an hour or so, and if you should decide not to go with us there is always Reydal.”

Joe joined with them in the laughter that followed this sally, and then reentered the room, thrilled with a delightful feeling of anticipated adventure.

“There’s no harm,” he assured himself as if repeating a lesson. Just then another knock sounded and a cheery voice called, “The lion’s share for you tonight Smith,” and the evening mail was thrown on the table. The minister’s son looked it over carelessly, too excited to take an interest in it, until his eyes caught the sight of a square envelope addressed in round childish letters.

He tore it open with a quick characteristic gesture, and as he did so a small photograph fell out. Two childish faces with eyes equally appealing and lovely gazed up at him. Joe regarded it with the look of tenderness which he always felt for children, and then placed it on a conspicuous place on the mantle. He then directed his attention to the enclosed letter which was written in Periwinkle’s now familiar hand. The letter told of their experiences at school, of Pearl’s singing in the children’s choir, and of his interest in a boys’ Bible class which he had joined. He mentioned that Aunt Hetty had given Mrs. Farwell a long extension on the mortgage held against her and that Robert Grey had paid in part already and that the money had been laid aside until he was old enough to go to Joe’s college.

“Aunt Hetty is very good to us,” the letter continued. “She says we are improving in conduct. But I told her it was because of you, Smith. Pearl says I can’t be as good as you. She is right, but that don’t keep me from trying. I am afraid, Smith, that Washington Grey would still have a black eye, if I hadn’t thought of you just before I was going to hit him. I thought to myself, ’Smith wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t right, and if I want to be like him I’ve got to try pretty hard.’ Pearl sends her love, Smith, and so do I. She is making you something for Christmas, but it’s going to be a surprise. Good-bye for now.

Your friend,
Perry Toddles.”

Having finished reading the letter, Joe rose and flung the window wide-open, breathing deeply of the moisture-laden air. Something seemed to be choking him “Smith wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t right!” His mind was in a turmoil how that thought conflicted with the impulse of the previous moment. Below, the city lights, seductive and full of mystery, sent their alluring invitation through the fog. Down there he would find congenial friends and pleasure as youth desired it. Here yes, but “Smith wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t right, and I want to be just like him.”

The sound of music, alluring, enticing, came faintly to his ears; the lights signalled frantically and the wily city smiled her invitation more urgently than ever before and then that compelling voice of a conscience that responded to the inviolable faith of his little hero-worshipper “Smith wouldn’t do anything

The door burst open violently. “Ready, old Pal?” Their chorused inquiry brought him to his feet he hesitated and then closing the window with a bang the minister’s son faced his questioners.

“I’m not going,” he replied quietly but resolutely.

“Not going?” echoed his visitors quite taken aback. They had been so sure of him. They needed him, a student who stood in so well with the professors.

“Not going,” said Rex and continued with a sneering laugh, “I suppose you prefer Reydal?”

“Yes,” was the rejoinder, “I prefer Reydal.”

Then moved by a sudden impulse Joe called out: “Come in fellows I want to tell you why I can not go.”

He took the picture from the mantle and handed it to them.

“Here is a little girl who believes in me with all her heart, and here is a boy who wants to be just like myself. He doesn’t believe that Smith would do anything that was not square. It makes a lot of difference when anyone believes in you like that.”

Feeling the force of Joe’s argument and realizing the futility of attempting to change his decision, his disappointed visitors left. But many times that evening, in the midst of their hilarious fun, thoughts of those who believed in them as the boy and girl believed in Joe persisted in rising uncalled in their minds.

Some minutes after the four had left, a tall broad form, whose neck encased in an enormous collar rendered him especially conspicuous, entered the room without the ceremony of knocking.

“I’ve come to discuss with you a rather abstruse statement which I have found in Bersey’s ‘The Human Mind,’” boomed forth a voice from the depths of the said collar.

“Sit down, Reydal, sit down,” urged Joe, placing the easiest chair in the den before the fire. “We still have two hours for our chat.”