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October 29 , 2009

The Diary of a Freshman


Mamma left for home this afternoon. As I want to be perfectly truthful in my diary, I suppose I must confess that before she actually went away I sometimes thought I should be rather relieved when she was no longer here. Mamma has a fixed idea that I came to college for the express purpose of getting my feet wet by day, and sleeping in a draught by night. She began the furnishing of my rooms by investing in a pair of rubber boots,—the kind you tie around your waist with a string. The clerk in the shop asked her if I was fond of trout-fishing, and she explained to him that I had always lived in the West where the climate was dry, and that she did n't know how I would stand the dampness of the seacoast. Mamma thought the clerk was so interested in my last attack of tonsillitis I didn't have the heart to tell her that all the time he was looking sympathetic with his right eye, he was winking at me with his left.

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Now that she is gone, however, I don't see how I could have thought, even for a moment, that I should be glad, and I 've been sitting here for an hour just looking at my room and all the nice things she advised me about and helped me to choose—wishing she could see how cosey it is late at night with the green lamp lighted and a little fire going. (It is n't really cool enough for a fire; I had to take my coat off for a while, the room got so warm—but I was anxious to know how the andirons looked with a blaze behind them.) I suppose she is lying awake in the sleeping-car thinking of me. She made me move my bed to the other side of the room, so that it would n't be near the window. I moved it back again; but I think now I 'll change it again to the way she liked it.

Of course I was disappointed last May when I found I hadn't drawn a room in one of the college buildings. I had an idea that if you did n't live in one of the buildings owned by the college you would n't feel, somehow, as if you "belonged." Before I arrived in Cambridge I worried a good deal over it. The old Harvard men at home were most unsatisfactory about this when I asked their advice. The ones who had lived in the Yard when they were in college seemed to think there was n't any particular use in going to college at all unless you could live either in their old rooms or some in the same building; and the ones who had lived outside as I am going to do (this year, anyhow) said the college buildings were nice enough in their way, but if I could only get the dear old place (which was pulled down fifteen years ago) where James Russell Lowell had scratched his name on the window-pane, and where somebody else (I 've forgotten who it was) crawled up the big chimney when the sheriff came to arrest him for debt and was discovered because he did not crawl far enough, I should be all right.

I don't see how the good times and the advantages of a place like this hold out for so long; everybody who has been here speaks as if he had about used them up.

Well, we found rooms pleading to be rented; every other house in Cambridge has a "Student's Room to Let" card in the window. Even some of the rooms in the Yard had been given up at the last minute by fellows who flunked their exams. Mamma said she felt very sorry for the poor boys; and after that the enormity of my having been conditioned in physics and solid geometry decreased considerably. The trouble (there were four days full of it) wasn't in finding a good place, but in trying to decide on some one place. For a while it looked as though I should either have to live in five separate houses—some of them over a mile apart—or give up going to college. We dragged up and down all the quiet side streets within a reasonable distance of the Yard, ringing bells and asking questions until the words "I should like to look at" and "What is the price of?" began to sound like some kind of a silly English Meisterschaft system. Several times when we were very tired we wandered by mistake into houses we had been to before. This made the landladies exceedingly peevish; but mamma said it was just as well, because now we knew what their true characters really were.

We found that we could rent some of the rooms lighted and heated; but most of them were merely "lit and het."

All the houses in Cambridge and many of the buildings in the Yard seemed to be disgorging roomfuls of old furniture and consuming cartloads of new, and everywhere we went we met strings of cheerful, energetic mothers with tired, rather cross-looking sons. I've seen only one fellow with his father so far, and they sort of apologized for the fact by being dressed in deep mourning.

At the end of three days we 'd picked out five rooms. Considered in a lump, they seemed fine; but tackling them separately, mamma could n't decide which one was least objectionable. One was in a part of town that "looked damp"—a man across the street unfortunately sneezed just as we were passing a stone wall covered with green moss. The second smelt of cooking. On the steps of the third a groceryman was waiting to deliver several gallons of gasoline (this one was almost struck off the list). The fourth was near the river (we had the bad luck to be in that part of town when the tide was out), and from the windows of the fifth there was a merry little view of a graveyard. We simply could n't make up our minds, and were standing in the middle of a narrow, rather shabby little street two or three blocks below the Square discussing the matter, when a door behind us opened and a mother and son (we turned to look) came out, followed by a gray-haired woman—evidently the landlady—who was doing the talking, in a very New England voice, for all three. The mother was slim and pretty, and had on a beautiful dress that went swish-swash-swish when she walked away, and the fellow looked like her; he was very handsome.

"Well, I 'm real glad to know you," the landlady said to the fellow's mother. "Jus' seems 's if I could n't rest till I knew the young men's folks; dustin' their photographs every day makes it sort of different. It do—don't it? Oh, yes—I 'll take care of him. They get real mad at me, the young men do, sometimes, for makin' them change their shoes when it's snow-in' and makin' them wear their rubber coats when it's rai-nin'. They 're in too much of a hurry, they are. That's what's the matter with them." She gave the fellow a roguish look, and he and his mother walked up the street laughing as if they were very much pleased.

"I think," said mamma (who had become strangely animated on hearing of the change of shoes)—"I think that before we decide on one of these five rooms we 'll go in there." So we went up to the gray-haired woman, who had lingered outside to talk baby talk to a cat that was making gothic arches of itself all over the piazza, and in about seven minutes by the watch we 'd signed the lease of the last vacant rooms in the house.

A short, steep staircase like the companionway of a ship leads up to a landing about the size of a kitchen table. The edges of the steps are covered with tin and are terribly slippery. The door on the left opens into my study, and at the end of that is my bedroom, and next to that is a great big bathroom (it's bigger than the other two) with a porcelain tub and a shower which I am to share with the fellow who lives just across the staircase on the right. Mrs. Chester, the landlady, says: "All the young men thinks an awful lot of that bathroom."

The study is so small that we did n't have to buy as much furniture as we expected to. I have an oak desk with a rolling top that makes a noise like some one shovelling coal when you open and shut it, and usually sticks half-way. Of course, when we finally got it out from town (Boston is about four miles from Cambridge, and it takes anywhere from three days to a week for an express wagon to make the trip), we found that it was much too large to go up the staircase. But Mrs. Chester said we could take out the back of the house and have it swung up to the room on ropes—the "young men" always did that when they wanted pianos or sofas, or desks like mine. I wasn't present at the operation, as I had to go in town to lunch with mamma, but it was successfully performed (by "a real handy gentleman from down Gloucester way, who used to be a fisherman and is a carpenter now"), for I found the desk in the room when I returned and the walls of the house looked about the same.

Besides the desk I have an oak chair with a back that lets up and down by means of a brass rod; its cushions are covered with gray corduroy. Then there is another chair, a revolving one (very painful), that goes with the desk. We bought a bookcase at a shop just off the Square, from an odious little man who put his hand on my shoulder and said to mamma, "They will grow up, won't they?" It looks rather bare, as there aren't any books in it yet; but mamma would n't let me fill it, although right next door to the place where we bought it there were loads of books in the window for five and ten cents apiece.

We got some Turkish rugs at an auction in town. The man said they never would wear out. When they arrived here and I saw them for the first time by daylight (they had gas at the sale) I knew what he meant. However, mamma darned them very nicely, and as everything else looks so new, perhaps it's just as well.

I 've put the photographs of mamma and papa, and the one of Mildred in the ball dress and big hat with white ostrich feathers, and the one of Sidney in his little cart with the two goats, on the mantelpiece. I 'm afraid I never cared much for the goats when I was at home, but to-night I 've been thinking of all the funny things they used to do and wondering if I'll ever see them again. They're such cute little beasts. Over the mantelpiece I have two crimson flags with the sticks crossed.

This evening while I was sitting in front of the fire trying to decide whether I ought to begin my diary now or wait until college opened to-morrow and things began to happen, the door downstairs suddenly rattled and slammed, and some one came clattering up the tin steps at a great rate. Then the door across the landing was unlocked, and I heard whoever it was falling over chairs and upsetting things in the dark; and all the time he kept roaring at the top of his voice: "Oh, Mrs. Chester! Ay-y-y-y-y, Mrs. Chester, where are you?" Mrs. Chester had told me a few minutes before that she was "just goin' to step up street to see how Mis' Buckson 's comin' along with them rooms o' hers," so I called out that she was n't at home. Then the voice answered, "Oh, thank you;" and after a few more things in the other room had fallen on the floor and smashed, the fellow who was making all the fuss came across and stood in my doorway.

I thought for a second that the reason he did n't come in was that he was so big he could n't. I knew that the ceilings of the house were low and that my study wasn't very large, but I had n't realized before how small it all was. The fellow blocked up the whole doorway; his shoulders, in a loose, shaggy gray coat, stretched clear across. His face was burned a deep brown, and his hair was very black and looked rather long, as it evidently had n't been brushed for a good while, and he wanted to know if I could let him have a match. I could see that he was taking in my room as he stood there, and I think he smiled a little at something; but then he seemed to be smiling anyhow (in a different way), so I was n't sure. I jumped up and got him a box of matches (somehow I knew at once that he wasn't the other Freshman who has rooms in the house, although I can't think why, as he did n't look old), and he thanked me, saying he was sorry to trouble me, and went back to his room.

I felt sort of excited and restless after that, and thought I would sit down and write mamma all about him; but just as I was beginning to he stopped humming (I don't think he can be a member of the Glee Club, as he only struck the right note once by accident; still I knew perfectly well what he was trying to sing) and began to laugh. Then he came over to my door again with his hands in his pockets and said,—

"You did n't happen to see an iron bedstead lying around the streets anywhere, did you? The good Chester has evidently spent the last three months in putting my rooms in order and I can't find a thing." I told him I had seen a bed in the back yard this afternoon, but that I did n't think it could be his. He asked me very seriously why not. And then all at once I got horribly rattled. I didn't like to tell him that the bed had n't looked nearly big enough for him (it was a little narrow thing), for I was afraid he might think me fresh. Then besides, I found that I had instinctively stood up when I saw him, and as there wasn't any particular reason why I should have done this, I got sort of confused.

"Of course it's a very nice little bed," I hastened to add. Whereupon he burst out laughing with a loud whoop.

"If it 's such a nice one it certainly can't be mine, and I 'd better go down and swipe it right away," he said at last, and clattered downstairs. I tried again to write to mamma, but he made such a noise coming upstairs with pieces of bed and running down again that I could n't fix my mind. Then, too, I kept wondering whether I ought to offer to help him. Finally I went out as he was coming up with a mattress on his shoulder and asked, "Was it your bed, after all?" which made him laugh again and say: "I wouldn't tell you for anything in the world. If you aren't too busy, though, I wish you would help me put the beastly thing together."

We tried for about half an hour to make the bed stand up. It looked simple enough, but whenever we got the sides firm and more or less parallel, the back and front would wobble and fall to the floor. Once we had all four pieces standing beautifully, but just as we put on the woven wire business and Mr. Duggie (that's what Mrs. Chester calls him—I don't think it 's his real name, though) exclaimed, "I have the honor to report, sir, that the allied forces have taken New Bedford," the whole thing collapsed and pinched his finger fearfully as it came down. After that we sat on the floor awhile. He smoked a pipe and glanced meditatively at the ruins of the bed every now and then, and at last turned to me and said, "Is this your first year here?" I didn't let him see how pleased I was that he had not discovered I was a Freshman, and merely answered, "Yes."

We talked a long time—about all kinds of things. I asked him a string of questions that had been on my mind for months: whether it is better to live in a private house, one of the big private halls, or in the Yard (I called it the "Campus," and he looked queer for a moment and said it was known as the Yard here); where would be a good place to eat; whether he thought my allowance was big enough (I told him how much I was going to have); and what was the best way to make friends and get on teams and clubs and musical societies and crews and papers. He answered everything, although once or twice he puffed at his pipe and looked at me a good while before speaking. I couldn't tell whether the questions had n't occurred to him before, or whether he didn't know just what to tell me. Of course I can't remember all he said, but it sounded so important that afterward I scribbled as much of it as I could in a notebook.



General Washington may have stabled his horse (the iron-gray that never put his front feet to the ground in the presence of an artist) in your bedroom.

When girls come out to vespers (Thursdays from November to May) and stop to look at the Yard, you can stop whatever you happen to be doing and look at them.

In May and June the morning and evening views from your windows are different from and more beautiful than anything in the world.

The Glee Club (weather permitting) sings under the trees; you lie on your window-seat in the twilight and wonder whether, after graduating, you will accept Fame or Fortune.

Proximity to lectures during the annual inundations of December, January, February, March, and April.


Too much effort involved in taking a bath. What ought to be an innocent pleasure becomes a morbid family pride.

Accessibility to bores who want to kill time while waiting for their next lecture. At first you think this is Popularity.

Enforced quiet after 9 P.M.—at which hour you usually close your books and feel like making a noise.

Enforced activity before 9 A.M.—until which hour you always close your eyes and try not to feel at all.

Necessity of burning a kind of coal that refuses to light (or to stay lighted) for anybody but the janitor, who is never in the basement, where you always firmly believe (in spite of your daily failure) that you are going to find him.


Mrs. Muldooney's is by all means the most desirable place. It is crowded, hot, noisy, expensive, and not particularly nourishing. Mrs. Muldooney is a tall, grim, steel-armored old cruiser of sixty-five, with dark-blue hair, who doles out eleven canned cherries to every man at luncheon and sends in word from the kitchen that there aren't any more. She tries to collect twenty-five cents when you have a guest; but as you promptly disown your guest, she is usually foiled. Her place, however, is always crowded with Freshmen, and I ought to go there.


My allowance is generous. It ought to satisfy my every need; but it won't.


Try enthusiastically but not too seriously to take part in everything. In this way you find out what kind of amusement really amuses you—which as you grow older is a source of great content.


Friends, in the true sense of the word, are divine accidents beyond all human control. You will probably meet with four or five such accidents in your college career. For the rest—be polite to everybody, and you will soon have the satisfaction of knowing that your position, both in the University and in the world, is, at least, unique.


Vide supra, under "Friends."

I was just going to ask him something else, when we heard Mrs. Chester exclaiming,—

"Land sakes, if it ain't Mr. Duggie! I saw the light from Mis' Buckson's parlor."

"Hello, you dear old buzzard! How dare you turn me out in the cold this way?" he called to her; and as she came in, he jumped up and took both her hands. "I 'm so glad to see you again." She gave him a little push, and looked pleased.

"Law, Mr. Duggie—how you talk! He's got real fleshy—ain't he?" she added, looking at me. She asked him where he 'd been all summer, and he told her he 'd been off shooting in the Rocky Mountains, and had brought her a breastpin made of an elk's tooth that she'd have to wear on Sundays when she went to see her married daughter in Somerville. I thought I ought to leave, but did not know how to interrupt them exactly; so I turned and examined some silver cups on the mantelpiece. There were five beauties, but I could n't make out the inscriptions on them.

"You 've had lots of visitors the last few days. They kept a-comin' to find out when you 'll be back. The Dean was here to-day—a real sociable gentleman, aren't he?—and he wants you to go right 'round and see him as soon as you can. And yesterday that little man—I forget his name—oh, you know, he's the President of the Crimson—came to find out about something. He said you were the only one who could tell him. And then there 've been lots of young men to see about the football—oh, my, just crowds of them, and they all left notes. I 'll run down and get them, and then I 'll put up your bed."

After she left, I said good-night. It's awfully late, and I have to get up early, to be in time to register.

I wonder who he is. I hope he didn't think I was fresh. I don't believe he did, though, for as I was going he said,—

"We 're such near neighbors, you must drop in when you haven't anything better to do."

Mamma's train must have passed Utica by this time.

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