Fred Fearnot's Day, or The Great Reunion at Avon

CHAPTER IX.
THE GREAT BANQUET.

Soon after the arrival of Evelyn and Mary, the faculty and senior class of the girls' high school arrived, and the Alumni formed two lines extending from the gate to the piazza of the academy, and stood with hats off welcoming them as they passed between the lines into the house. The girls, fifteen in number, all dressed alike, marched two by two behind their teachers. They enjoyed the reception very much, and many of them were greeted by names as they passed the boys, and when they disappeared inside a great cheer went up from tile latter out in the yard.

Professor Lambert and his teachers escorted them to seats in the hall, and the boys soon after entered. It was an informal meeting, and the buzz of conversation filled the great hall. They were waiting for the hour set for the banquet. A band discoursed sweet music, and many of them secretly wished for an opportunity to dance, but the crowd was too great for that. Fred and Dick passed about through the great hall exchanging greetings with friends here and there, while Evelyn and Mary were surrounded by admirers among the students of the graduating class of that year. Others of the Alumni were among them also.

In a little while about a dozen of the best singers among the Alumni proceeded to entertain the crowd with selections from their many academy club songs, and for nearly an hour the audience listened and applauded. Then came the announcement that the gentlemen must secure their partners and be ready to lead them into the banquet room. It had been so arranged that enough ladies were invited, including the senior class of the high school girls, for every alumnus to have a partner. Of course, Fred and Terry went straight for Evelyn and Mary. Nearly a half hour was spent by the guests getting their seats, for everything was done deliberately and in order. The great hall was beautifully decorated, and the long tables groaned under a load of rich viands and delicacies, with mountains of flowers here and there, making the whole scene like a fairy palace.

Soft strains of music filled the room, and no one seemed disposed to speak loud enough to disturb harmony. Then the waiters proceeded to serve the guests, and for an hour or so every one was helped to whatever he or she desired.

Eunice had been escorted into the room by a very popular young man who had graduated at the academy four years before, and he was extremely attentive to her. She was seated quite a distance from Fred and Terry, who sat close together with Evelyn and Mary.

In due time the mayor of Avon arose from his place and, in a neat little speech, stated that he had been asked by the faculty of the academy to act as toast master, and that a committee of arrangements had placed in his hand a list of the toasts and speakers. He said that the Alumni of each year had suggested the names of those who were to speak for their classes. Then he read off the toast of the first class that had graduated at the academy, and Osgood was called on to respond to it. The young lawyer rose in his place, and if he surprised the audience in the convention that morning, he thrilled them with his eloquence that evening. It was a magnificent effort upon which he had spent several weeks in the preparation. It was a glowing tribute to the institution, its faculty and its great value to the youth of the country. It was highly applauded for its beautiful sentiment and the fervid strains of his oratory. There was very little humor in it, for he was not much given to expressing himself in a humorous vein. Then came a song from. another member of the same class. He was followed by the speaker of the Alumni for the succeeding year, and he too made a splendid speech and quite a hit by a short but beautiful tribute to the influence of the Advocate, who was then just beginning to make her influence felt among the students of the academy, and the other speakers that followed had still more to say in that direction. The third one grouped the high school girls as another influence that had an important bearing upon the destinies of the graduates of the academy.

The next speaker who followed made another hit after getting off the speech he had prepared, by announcing that he had been informed through a source that could not be doubted that two of the high school senior girls had been captured that very day by two of the Academy Alumni.

What a sensation the announcement created! The high school girls looked at each other, their eyes and faces expressing astonishment, and every glance seemed to be an interrogation.

"Who are they? Who are they?" was whispered all around the table, and the balance of the young man's speech was scarcely listened to. Everybody wanted to know who the happy couples were. The girl seniors were blushing furiously under the gaze of the spectators, and of course nearly every one of them was suspected of being the happy one.

There was just one more speaker before Fred's time came, and he spoke about the practical side of a thorough education; how it would assist one in whatever avocation he might adopt after acquiring it. It was a sensible speech, full of thoughtful philosophy, and one that greatly pleased the faculty and all the elderly people present.

"Terry, old man," whispered Fred, "that speech has given me two or three good points, and I'm sorry I haven't got time to work them up into the shape I would like to have them."

Just then Fred's name was announced as the next speaker, and as soon as it was done the cheering began by the men and the waving of handkerchiefs by the ladies. He arose to his feet and stood there two or three minutes waiting for the noise to subside. He was standing right alongside of Evelyn, who was on his right, and at his left sat one of the young ladies, a high school graduate, whose life he had saved in a runaway accident on Main street in Avon two years before, while he was a student at the academy.

When the noise subsided he still remained silent for a couple of minutes, looking up and down the length of the two tables, where every face was turned toward him.

"Friends," he said, "I fear you have frightened my speech out of me. Never until this moment did I ever feel my utter inability to find words in which to say that which is in my heart to say to you. My tongue fails to keep pace with the thoughts that flash through my mind. Yet in the presence of so much youth, beauty and wisdom, one should not lack for words to express his delight in finding himself in such a situation. They will come to me in time, but the hours have crept on until there is a limit which must be respected."

"Never mind about the limit," exclaimed Professor Lambert "Take your time, my boy."

"Thank you. Time is not mine. It's other people's time that I am taking but old Father Time waits for no man. It is passing and the panorama of life is unfolding itself before us all. With me, it begins at the time when I first appeared at the academy and as it rolls by I recall the faces and the voices of loved companions with whom I romped and played, got into mischief through thoughtless violations of rules and regulations, and then humbly presented myself to the beloved Advocate for her intercessions in my behalf."

The wild cheering that followed and Eunice's blushes was a memorable scene. When the noise subsided, he went on picturing the panorama with a series of word paintings that nearly every one present, particularly the Alumni, could see as though there were magnificent pictures hanging on the walls before them. It was an awakening of recollections that were dear to all the boys, and in each one the Advocate figured as an angel of mercy and forgiveness.

From that theme he branched off into another, addressing himself particularly to the Alumni of the academy.

"It is our Alma Mater," he exclaimed, "to which we will turn as the years roll by with a loving devotion equaled only by the Mohammedans' love for their holy city, Mecca. For more than a thousand years the Mohammedans all over the world have struggled to accumulate means by which they can make at least one pilgrimage to the tomb of their prophet in the Holy City. So it will be with us as the years go by, we will long to go on a pilgrimage to Avon, the home of our loved Alma Mater, and when its founder shall have passed away to sleep with his fathers, we shall come to his tomb and do reverence to his genius, his learning, his grand humanity, with the devotions of Mohammadens around the tomb of Mahomet; and these walls then grown gray with age, shall hear the trembling voices of old men paying tribute to the spirit of the Institutions where they first received the armor that enabled them to fight the battles of life; and as the eyes of many of the Alumni of this Institution have looked longingly across the river to that other institution on the hills beyond, so will their sons gaze in the same direction with the same longing, and some of them will swim the river, if the bridge has been swept away, in quest of the treasure more precious to man that all the gems that are dug from the bosom of the earth. I wonder if it is a design of Providence that the two institutions should be so near together? At any rate it seems to be the design of a little god whom we know by the name of Cupid. He's little, but, oh, how he can move the hearts of men and women! One of the speakers who preceded me rejoices that he captured one of the treasures of that institution, and now his life is one sweet song. Other hearts besides his are tuning up to sing the same sweet song, for we've been told that two of them today have begun resining the bow for a sweet accompaniment for the march to the altar I greatly suspect that I know who they are, and I am prepared to sing with them. for I am so mentally and physically constituted that I am ever ready to be happy when others are so. It is not altogether true, as a famous poetess wrote:

'Laugh, and the world laughs with you, Weep, and you weep alone,'
for if I find my friend in tears, if I can't dry them for him, I will mingle my tears with his; for that bond of sympathy is worthless which is only strong when prosperity and hilarity reign. Give me the friendship of a man. the grasp of whose hand sends an electric thrill of sympathy through my entire being in the hour of trouble, rather than the joyous handshake that comes to me only in the clay of prosperity."

It was a speech that thrilled old and young alike. Many a time a lofty sentiment called forth expressions of approval from those over whose heads weary years had passed and left behind the inevitable trail of time. When he sat down he received a perfect ovation, and many minutes passed before the next speaker was announced, who was Terry Olcott who was as full of humor as it was possible for any human being to be.

Terry kept them in roars of laughter for fifteen minutes. He was an inimitable story-teller and his mastery of Dutch, Irish and negro vernacular enabled him to make a hit in whatever directions he turned.

Both Mary and Evelyn became almost hysterical as they listened. He could take an old worn-out chestnut, dress it up anew in a way that would conceal its age, giving it a freshness almost indescribable. The principal of the girls' high school nearly fell off his seat, while Professor Lambert laughed till the tears ran down his checks. He too paid a tribute to the Advocate and at times indulged in pathos that brought tears to the eyes of many.

After him came more songs, and the great reunion ended with the banquet. As the participants returned to the great recitation hall the leave- taking began, and though it was near midnight, at least an hour was spent in exchanging farewells among both sexes.

The principal of the girls' high school remained till the last in order to give the boys a chance to pay their respects to and bid good-by to the girls. The Inquiry, however, for the identity of the seniors who had that day become engaged kept going around. Each one of the girls seemed to be as anxious as any of the others to find out the identity of their fortunate companions. As Fred had claimed that he knew who they were, he was besieged by many of them.

"Oh, no! Oh, no!" he laughed, "not for my good right arm would I give the secret away."

"Fred, do you really know?" Evelyn asked.

"I think I do," he replied, "and after they are married, I'll tell you who they are."

"Oh, pshaw!"

"Well, look here, now, old girl, if you were engaged, you'd be very angry if one who had found out the secret would give it publicity before you were ready for the public to know it. Let the bride herself be the first to announce it. I certainly would not be the one to do so."

Old men and elderly ladies before leaving came to Fred, shook hands with him and congratulated him on his speech that evening, and he was satisfied that he had done even better than he had expected.

Eunice came to him leaning on the arm of the young man who had escorted her to the table, extended her band to him, smiled and said:

"Fred, I forgive you everything."

"Bless you, Advocate! Your heart wouldn't let you bear malice if your head wanted to."

"When are you going to return home?" she asked.

"I don't know. I am in no hurry to tear myself away. Mother and Margie are here, and I shall be guided entirely by their wishes."

"Oh, they are not going to leave for some time yet."

"Neither will I then. Terry and I will hang around and may probably raid some of the watermelon patches in the vicinity for the sake of old times. I saw Farmer Andrews yesterday, and he told me that his melons were ripening fast, and that whenever Terry, Dick, Joe and myself wanted to have a few of them all we had to do was to put in an appearance at his home; we told him that we would certainly do so after we recovered from the effects of this banquet to-night.

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