She did not take much time to reproach him for the betting incident, believing that Paul had emphasised that quite strongly, but she did express the hope that her son would not be afraid to be independent of surroundings and stand on his own feet and have his own convictions, and then she went on to say: "One of the hardest things you will have to do all your life is to be independent. This will take more courage often than for a woman to be out of fashion. But there isn't a finer thing in all the world than an independent soul, one that knows the right and does it even if the whole world around is doing exactly the other thing. If the coarse stories you mention are told in your presence you don't have to join in the laugh over them. There is a number of ways in which you can clearly make those fellows understand your attitude in that matter and of course you have the right and privilege of guarding yourself from any talk of that sort in your own room. Your room is your castle. Guard it from impurity. I feel as if almost any kind of wrong could be excused in a young man who has the virtue of a pure heart and maintains constant respect for womankind. But, if I ever gave you any advice about the choice of a friend, I think I should be quite safe in saying to you, be very slow to accept into the sacred place of your friendship any young man who talks with impure lips of womanhood. Such a man is a blight on all he touches.
"I trust you, Walter, to make the most of your opportunities and make us all proud of you. Success to the arc lamp. Write us the minute you succeed. Tell me more about the German schoolmate. We are interested in him and somehow I feel from the little you have told us of him that he is a fine young fellow.
"Helen is very dignified about her callers. There is nothing more to tell about her."
"All send love, most of all, mother."
When Paul reached home he told Esther somewhat in detail the incidents of the boat race and his interview with the president. He was hopeful for Walter and believed the boy had learned his lesson and would not fail at that point again. But he could not understand the particular "streak," as he called it, in Walter's make up, which seemed to demand expensive and needless luxuries.
"The boy had bought a very elaborate dresser. It was quartered oak and had a number of patent arrangements about it that made it unusually expensive. Walter confessed it cost him forty-seven dollars. This was one of the things he went in debt for. It seems he had become enamoured of just such a dresser in one of the rooms he had been caring for, a suite belonging to Van Shaw, the son of the steel magnate at Allworth. Of course, we want our son to go through school with all the comforts around him necessary for his proper culture and education. But I cannot see for the life of me how a forty-seven dollar quartered oak dresser is going to make any more of a man of him, especially when he goes in debt for it. I told him so and to my disappointment he took what I said rather badly. That is, he flared up some and seemed hurt at my criticism of his luxurious habits. But it isn't the luxurious tastes I object to so much as the reckless and inexcusable act of going in debt for such a thing; that is perfectly inexcusable. Where did Walter get his tastes, do you suppose?"
"Oh, dear, I don't know," said Esther with a sigh. "You know Louis used to have just a streak in him. Perhaps some of my ancestors on father's side were French aristocrats before the revolution. You know the Darcys had estates in southern France in the sixteenth century. I don't believe any more than you do, Paul, that a forty-seven dollar dresser is at all necessary to Walter's education. He will have to learn better ways. We must not forget his splendid good qualities in other directions. He has a great many. I can't believe he is going to disappoint us."
"No, I can't believe that," said Paul gravely. "But the boy has much to learn and I hope he will learn it without unnecessary suffering."
It was this same week, two days after the receipt of his mother's letter, that Walter had an unusual and rather dramatic opportunity to act on his mother's advice, in the matter of asserting his rights about the kind of conversation he would permit in his own room.
Walter had very little acquaintance with Van Shaw and the rich men's sons' set at Burrton. But incidentally it had come out during his chance meeting with Van Shaw that Walter's mother was a Darcy. The Darcys were at the time immensely influential at Allworth, Van Shaw's home. The fact that Walter was doing manual labor at Burrton did not affect his social standing very seriously, as at the time, there had not come into Burrton the social stigma against a student working his way through which had already come into several state universities and technical schools in this country. Besides, there was in all of Walter's make up that indefinable stamp of high breeding and refinement, helped on by an unusually attractive and handsome bearing, which made him look distinguished in any group of young men. When he had put on his best suit before the forty-seven dollar dresser and come out on the rare occasions when he could spare time for some function, he was in many ways the most elegant person in all the company.
Van Shaw had gradually taken a peculiar attitude toward Walter, partly of recognition of his family and its antecedents and partly of patronage, as if he took for granted Walter would welcome his attentions. As a matter of fact, Walter resented Van Shaw's bearing toward him, but in his weakness and his leaning toward the upper society he envied, Walter endured what otherwise he would have been ashamed to acknowledge. On two occasions it had been a relief to Walter to be of help to Van Shaw in the electrical rooms. And on the particular occasion we are now to describe Van Shaw had come into Walter's room one evening to ask him about a point in connection with some original work which had to do with the winding of a single phase alternator.
While they were talking over the problem and Walter was trying to make Van Shaw see how important it was to take account of the position induced in the several turns and the fact of the reaction of the armature current, half a dozen other fellows dropped in. Walter was quite popular and not infrequently eight or ten students might be found in his rooms, as on this occasion.
Van Shaw was soon in possession of all Walter's knowledge on the subject, for he was bright enough mentally, and he carelessly sauntered over to the dresser and made a comment on it. Then he noticed a picture of Helen Douglas, a new one which Helen had sent Walter within the last few days.
"Sister, isn't she?" asked Van Shaw.
"Mighty handsome girl. Hope she'll visit you some time," said Van Shaw, as he picked up the photograph and started to pass it around among the other fellows.
There was something so offensive in the tone and manner of Van Shaw that Walter, who was standing near him, intercepted the picture before anyone in the room could take it. He put it back into its place without a word.
Van Shaw laughed.
"Say, maybe she isn't your sister, either. That makes me think," and before Walter could realise what he was doing, Van Shaw had begun a questionable story, while the group in the room sat and lounged around with looks of anticipated amusement.
Walter Douglas will never forget that scene and his part in it if he lives a hundred years. Van Shaw was leaning up against the dresser, in a vain way mindful of the impression he was about to make, when Walter interrupted him. Walter was very pale and what he said came from lips that trembled with a mingling of anger, and fear of the result.
"Wait! I would rather you would not tell that story in my room."
Van Shaw could not have been more astonished if Walter had pointed a gun at him. The rest of the company simply stared in the most profound silence at Walter. Ten or fifteen seconds ticked away. Then Van Shaw, who had turned very red in the face, said, slowly: "I don't know as you have anything to say about this. I don't intend to let a good story go untold."
"You don't tell it here in my room."
"I don't? Who will prevent it?"
Van Shaw turned a little toward Walter. Douglas was smaller, shorter, and of lighter build in every way than himself. But he was in the real point of vantage, in his own room. The other students did not seem disposed to take any sides in the matter. But one of them said: "Oh, cut it out, Van, if Douglas doesn't