LAST Tuesday afternoon, a little while before dinner, I was down at the Rink. The place was full of skaters, good and bad; round the circle, on the outside, swung happy couples; in the centre two or three stylish young men were solemnly going through the most wonderful evolutions, to the delight of the children peeping through the ventilators; and in one corner two bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked girls were practising a graceful figure which I had never seen. They knew I was watching them; for I heard the light-haired one ask the other if I were not a student. The dark one appeared not to hear, at which the light one seemed to feel rebuffed, as if she had asked a forbidden question. She stopped laughing so merrily, and presently said the ice was n't at all nice in a rink.
A moment afterward, as she was making a quick turn, one of her skates flew off and came gliding over the ice to my feet. She did not fall, but stood still till I brought her skate and asked her could I put it on. Half assenting, she turned to her friend, who looked so haughty and reserved that the girl, with a checked look again coming over her face, only said, with thanks, that she would not trouble me. So I went away, and sat down on the edge of the platform.
Near by were two gentlemen, whom I presently discovered to be the fathers of the two girls. The elder gentleman, father of the dark girl, was, I thought, a resident of Cambridge, whom the stout gentleman, father of the light girl, was visiting. They were intently watching, and talking about, their daughters, and did not notice me. What I heard so interested me that I have tried to report it.
"How is it," said the stout gentleman, "that you Cambridge people hold off so, with your whole families, from the students? When our girls were at Andover, they used to see the Academy students, and have honest, healthy fun with them; and when my girl was getting ready to come down here, she looked forward, as any real live girl would, to having good times with the College students. But now she 's been here a week and only met one; and that one was the professor's son, who called with his father; and she says he asked her if she thought written examinations tended to injure the style of young writers, and told her he had never had time to learn to dance."
"Well, you see," replied the other gentleman, "it has not been customary for us to have anything more to do with these young men than is absolutely necessary. We don't know anything about them before they come here; and we hesitate to introduce strangers into our families: we never see them after they go away; and we want our daughters to form friendships which they can keep if desirable, all their lives. And then the students are generally rather dissipated."
"I don't blame 'em if they are," said the stoutman. "If I was a young man, away off from home, with everybody turning the cold shoulder to me, I 'm afraid I 'd be dissipated. They seek the company which gives them the kindest reception. Now, judging from the specimens I 've seen, these young men, when they come here, are really fine fellows. As a rule, it is the best parents who send their sons to college, and it is their best sons that they send. Such sons will be more likely to do good than harm. I don't think that Cambridge ought to throw open her houses and say, 'Come in, all you students, and be one of the family'; but I do think she might treat these fellows as kindly as, for instance, you'd like to have your family treated if you should move into a strange place. Now when that polite young man brought my daughter's skate back to her, I 'd like to have had the girls a little more friendly to him. It would have been pleasanter for him, and I think they 'd have enjoyed it too."
"O, that would never do," said the other. "I don't allow my daughter to have anything to do with a student unless he brings a letter of introduction to me. But my feet are getting cold; and they are going to clear the ice, to flood it."
They called their daughters, and the laughing girls took off their skates; and presently the party went out through the big doors which were being opened to let in the cold air. The stout man walked between the girls, making them both laugh, and laughing himself, a great, honest laugh; the elder man picked his way carefully along over the ice behind them.
Then I walked slowly back to College, wondering which was right, and thinking of the dear ones at home, and of the happy Christmas we 'd had, and of the happy days to come. "After all," thought I, "we are here to work, not to play; and when the work is over, we have, thank God, our own homes to play in."