March 22, 1903
(As narrated by Paul Carter)
The five of us (myself, Emmett, Sturgeon, Anthony, DeCottes) are sitting in various degrees of posture on the front porch of East Hall, a large, white frame house that serves as a dormitory for 14 or 15 of us law students, on an usually warm early Spring afternoon in late March.
Almost all of us are smoking cigarettes or cigars; four of the fellows sitting together in a semi-circle on dilapidated looking chairs that were brought out to the porch from the pitiful excuse of a parlor in the dorm. We men are rough on the furniture in our living quarters; when we aren’t studying, we play practical jokes on each other, frequently destroying chairs and other furniture.
B.A. “Berry” Sturgeon is seated on one of the chairs nearby, leaning against the porch, reading an article out loud from one the most recent weekly package sent by his parents, which mostly consisted of newspapers from Philadelphia and New York.
“Look, Carter” he said to me; “‘Alexander Winton will try for straightaway records at a race meet to be held in Daytona, Ormond Beach, Florida, on March 26th, 27th, and 28th.’ This is what the fellows were talking about over at Stetson Hall last night — they’re getting up a group to see the automobile races next week. Some of the fellows are going to catch the baseball game too — I think we ought to go, too.”
Barry passes the newspaper over to Emile Anthony, who set his chair down on all four legs to look at the article, then he passes it down to me. I’m seated on the a step next to one of the porch supports.
Anthony asks, “Where would we stay? Not the Ormond Hotel, surely; that place is probably already full.
“The Clarendon in Seabreeze,” Berry said, as he picks up another newspaper from the stack on the floor, and passes it to Anthony. “Pearl Spaulding said her folks would be glad to put up some of the students from Stetson at a cheap rate. She says that almost all of the rooms around Daytona are booked, but if we let her know by tomorrow, she’ll tell her mother to hold a few rooms.”
“Pearl’s serious?” Anthony said, a bit incredulous.
“Yeah,” Berry said, then lowering his voice and adding, “and she specifically asked if Emmett was coming.”
We all raise our eyebrows, then look over to the other side of the porch, where Emmett sits apart from the rest of us, in a rickety wooden armchair leaning against the wall, deep in thought, mumbling to himself softly, as he works out the details of an upcoming debate on paper for the Kent Club. Emmett is not only the president of the law student’s club, he is considered the second best debater at Stetson — next to myself. I don’t mean to brag, but it is the truth — my best friend and I are the top two students in the Stetson University law class.
Pearl Spaulding is one of the most popular students at Stetson — she is a gifted musician, a good singer, and a reporter on the student newspaper, The Stetson Collegiate. She’s nice looking, smart, always with a great story or bubbling laughter, and always surrounded by an entourage— typical for the most popular students at Stetson. We, Emmett and I, are not of that group.
“She’s interested in Emmett?” Anthony asks, in a low voice.
Berry only shrugs. “Didn’t see that coming either, but yeah.”
Anthony cocks his head towards Emmett. “Does he know her?”
I said, “I doubt it. He doesn’t even notice the girls at Hamilton Hall, and they are the most obvious flirts.”
We again glance over at Emmett, seated at the other end of the porch, still scribbling away with a pencil, editing his typed pages, obviously not having heard our conversation. Emmett always has a way of being able to separate himself, mentally, psychologically, from everything around him. I always thought it was amazing, his ability to shut out distractions and noises and focus that way. Emmett always says it comes from living with his large family where there was little privacy; it was always up to him to carve out a private niche whenever and wherever he could.
Anthony shakes his head, and calls:
“Emmett. Come over here.”
Emmett glances up over his pince-nez. “What?”
“We want to talk to you.”
Emmett stands up, drags his chair in one hand and papers in the other. His chair completes our circle.
“A bunch of us are going with the Stetson Hall fellows to see the auto races next week.”
“I don’t know,” he says, hesitantly. I have a lot of work to do….
Berry bends down, picks up a copy of Harper’s Weekly, and hands the magazine to Emmett, pointing to the information on Ormond Beach. “We’re going to see the races. Come with us.”
Emmett peers at the article with interest — then he says, “they’re stringing 10 miles worth of telegraph wire, and using Morse operators for accurate timing.”
He put down his debate notes, and starts reading the article closely. Emmett is always interested in new inventions, science, anything logical — the four of us exchange glances and nods. It is always difficult to get Emmett to break away from schoolwork, to take a break, to have fun…
“So, you’re with us?” Berry asks.
Emmett hesitates — I see him color slightly. I’m the only other person who knows that he can’t afford it. He’d never say it out loud — he has too much pride. I know how hard Emmett scrimps every single penny just to give the impression that he can keep up with everyone else at Stetson.
“We’d be cutting two days of classes, and some of us are in the same classes. Dean Farrah would figure out we’re skipping. Minimally, we’d all get demerits.” And Emmett has a spotless record. Emmett’s not exactly a ‘poler,’ the term we used to describe folks who constantly had their noses in books, oblivious to the world around them, but the fellows in East Hall like and respect Emmett. They don’t tease him much because I think they picked up on the fact that he didn’t have much, and he is protecting what he has.
“Emmett’s right,” Anthony said. “I’ve already been fined once this term and got a warning. I can tell you my folks would not be happy….”
“We’re in Common Law Pleading class together — ” Berry said, thoughtfully. “That would not go unnoticed.”
“Not to mention hell to pay the next week,” DeCottes said dryly.
“What if we left Thursday afternoon?” Anthony said. “We’d still make it out to Ormond for the afternoon races, and only miss classes on Friday.”
Everyone nods, except Emmett.
“Come on, Wilson,” Berry said, encouragingly. “Take a break from the books for a change. You’ll like this.”
I could see the wheels turning in his head. He’s thinking he could skip a few meals in the dining hall to make up for the costs here and there — we waited, watching Emmett as we sat in our circle surrounded by newspapers, cigarette smoke drifting lazily over our group.
Finally, he gives us his rare, flat half smile.
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