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- The New Boy at Hilltop - 1/31 -





















Hilltop School closed its fall term with just ninety-five students; it opened again two weeks later, on the third of January, with ninety-six; and thereby hangs this tale.

Kenneth Garwood had been booked for Hilltop in the autumn, but circumstances had interfered with the family's plans. Instead he journeyed to Moritzville on the afternoon of the day preceding the commencement of the new term, a very cold and blustery January afternoon, during much of which he sat curled tightly into a corner of his seat in the poorly heated day coach, which was the best the train afforded, and wondered why the Connecticut Valley was so much colder than Cleveland, Ohio. He had taken an early train from New York, and all the way to Moritzville had sought with natural eagerness for sight of his future schoolmates. But he had been unsuccessful. When Hilltop returns to school it takes the mid-afternoon express which reaches Moritzville just in time for dinner, whereas Kenneth reached the school before it was dark, and at a quarter of five was in undisputed possession, for the time being, of Number 12, Lower House.

"We are putting you," the principal had said, "with Joseph Brewster, a boy of about your own age and a member of your class. He is one of our nicest boys, one of whom we are very proud. You will, I am certain, become good friends. Mr. Whipple here will show you to your room. Supper is at six. Afterwards, say at eight o'clock, I should like you to see me again here at the office. If there is anything you want you will find the matron's room at the end of the lower hall. Er--will you take him in charge, Mr. Whipple?"

On the way across the campus, between banks of purple-shadowed snow and under leafless elms which creaked and groaned dismally in the wind, Kenneth reached the firm conclusion that there were two persons at Hilltop whom he was going to dislike cordially. One was the model Joseph Brewster, and the other was Mr. Whipple. The instructor was young, scarcely more than twenty-three, tall, sallow, near-sighted and taciturn. He wore an unchanging smile on his thin face and spoke in a soft, silky voice that made Kenneth want to trip him into one of the snow banks.

Lower House, so called to distinguish it from the other dormitory, Upper House, which stood a hundred yards higher on the hill, looked very uninviting. Its windows frowned dark and inhospitable and no light shone from the hall as they entered. Mr. Whipple paused and searched unsuccessfully for a match.

"I fear I have left my match box in my study," he said at length. "Just a moment, please, Garwood, and I will--"

"Here's a match, sir," interrupted Kenneth.

"Ah!" Mr. Whipple accepted the match and rubbed it carefully under the banister rail. "Thank you," he added as a tiny pale flame appeared at the tip of the side bracket. "I trust that the possession of matches, my boy, does not indicate a taste for tobacco on your part?" he continued, smiling deprecatingly.

Kenneth took up his suit case again.

"I trust not, sir," he said. Mr. Whipple blinked behind his glasses.

"Smoking is, of course, prohibited at Hilltop."

"I think it is at most schools," Kenneth replied gravely.

"Oh, undoubtedly! I am to understand, then, that you are not even in the least addicted to the habit?"

"Well, sir, it isn't likely you'll ever catch me at it," said Kenneth imperturbably. The instructor flushed angrily.

"I hope not," he said in a silky voice, "I sincerely hope not, Garwood--for your sake!"

He started up the stairs and Kenneth followed, smiling wickedly. He hadn't made a very good beginning, he told himself, but Mr. Whipple irritated him intensely. After the instructor had closed the door softly and taken his departure, Kenneth sat down in an easy-chair and indulged in regrets.

"I wish I hadn't been so fresh," he muttered ruefully. "It doesn't do a fellow any good to get the teachers down on him. Not that I'm scared of that old boy, though! Dr. Randall isn't so bad, but if the rest of the teachers are like Whipple I don't want to stay. Well, dad said I needn't stay after this term if I don't like it. Guess I can stand three months, even of Whipple! I hope Brewster isn't quite as bad. Maybe, though, they'll give me another room if I kick. Don't see why I can't have a room by myself, anyhow. I guess I'll get dad to write and ask for it. Only maybe a chap in moderate circumstances like me isn't supposed to have a room all to himself."

He chuckled softly and looked about him.

Number 12 consisted of a small study and a good-sized sleeping room opening off. The study was well furnished, even if the carpet was worn bare in spots and the green-topped table was a mass of ink blots. There were two comfortable armchairs and two straight-backed chairs, the aforementioned table, two bookcases, one on each side of the window, a wicker wastebasket and two or three pictures. Also there was an inviting window seat heaped with faded cushions. On the whole, Kenneth decided, the study, seen in the soft radiance of the droplight, had a nice "homey" look. He crossed over and examined the bedroom, drawing aside the faded brown chenille curtain to let in the light. There wasn't much to see--two iron beds, two chiffoniers, two chairs, a trunk bearing the initials "J. A. B." and a washstand. The floor was bare save for three rugs, one beside each bed and one in front of the washstand. The two windows had white muslin curtains and a couple of uninteresting pictures hung on the walls. He dropped the curtain at the door, placed his suit case on a chair and opened it. For the next few minutes he was busy distributing its contents. To do this it was necessary to light the gas in the bedroom and as it flared up, its light was reflected from the gleaming backs of a set of silver brushes which he had placed a moment before on the top of the chiffonier. He paused for a moment and eyed them doubtfully.

"Gee!" he muttered. "I can't have those out. I'll have to buy some brushes."

He gathered them up and tumbled them back into his suit case. Finally, with everything put away, he took off coat and vest, collar and, cuffs, and proceeded to wash up. And while he is doing it let us have a good look at him.

He was fourteen years of age, but he looked older. Not that he was large for his age; it was rather the expression of his face that added that mythical year or so. He looked at once self-reliant and reserved. At first glance one might have thought him conceited, in which case one would have done him an injustice. Kenneth had traveled a good deal and had seen more of the world than has the average boy of his age, and this had naturally left its impress on his countenance. I can't honestly say that he was handsome, and I don't think you will be disappointed to hear it. But he was good-looking, with nice, quiet gray eyes, an aquiline nose, a fairly broad mouth whose smiles meant more for being infrequent, and a firm, rather pointed chin of the sort which is popularly supposed to, and in Kenneth's case really did, denote firmness of character. His hair was brown and quite guiltless of curl. His body was well set up and he carried himself with a little backward thrust of the head and shoulders which might have seemed arrogant, but wasn't, any more than was his steady, level manner of looking at one.

Presently, having donned his clothes once more, he picked up a book from the study table, pulled one of the chairs toward the light and set himself comfortably therein, stretching his legs out and letting his elbows sink into the padded leather arms. And so he sat when, after twenty minutes or so, there were sounds outside the building plainly denoting the arrival of students, sounds followed by steps on the stairs, shouts, laughter, happy greetings, the thumping of bags, the clinking of keys. And so he sat when the door of Number 12 was suddenly thrown wide open and a merry face, flushed with the cold, looked amazedly upon him from between the high, shaggy, upturned collar of a voluminous dark gray ulster and the soft visor of a rakishly tilted cap.

The New Boy at Hilltop - 1/31

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