Roommate

I’VE seen George occasionally since he and Frank and I used to room together in college ten years ago, and, of course, in some respects he has changed. I still think of him, however, as he was then. What I mean is that George’s personality used to shine — if you want to call it that — chiefly at night. In the daytime he was just a good ordinary roommate.

George hated to go to bed. It was n’t that he frequently went to parties or caroused or shouted under people’s windows. George simply sat around in the study till one or two o’clock nightly, doing very little, but actively not going to bed. We used to question him about it, and the invariable answer was: ‘I inherit it from my mother.’ George always explained his traits by attributing them to inheritance from his mother or father. It was obvious he considered this all the explanation necessary.

Evidently George’s mother used to get more and more wide-awake the later it got, because that is what happened to George. We all slept in the same bedroom, and after we retired George would keep up a steady stream of talk until we had to beg him to stop. It took him, by his own confession, at least an hour to go to sleep after he went to bed, and of course you’d think that after he finally got to sleep nothing could wake him up. On the contrary, anything could wake him up, and invariably did.

I soon found that out to my sorrow. One night soon after we had started rooming together I happened to come home after George had retired — a very exceptional occurrence. I undressed in the study, after our custom, and went into the bedroom without turning on the light. George’s bed happened to be between the door and my own, and I should tell you that George never slept with a pillow. ‘None of my family ever use a pillow,’ he declared.

This meant that George always threw his pillow on the floor when he retired, and on the night in question I happened to stumble over it in the dark. I was thrown slightly — ever so slightly — off balance, and in endeavoring to right myself I had to put my hand very lightly on the head of George’s bed. Like a flash he sat bolt upright, and shouted, in an unearthly quavering voice, ‘My God! What’s the matter!’

I have a very strong heart, doctors tell me, but I am sure that I nearly died at that moment. I sat down limply on my own bed, too paralyzed with fear, for some moments, to reassure George that he had nothing to fear. He immediately broke into a stream of incoherent mutterings, first of bewilderment, then of protest as the situation began to dawn on his befuddled mind. Finally, owing to the reaction from the nervous shock, he began to laugh wildly. I did the same. This, of course, waked Frank, our other roommate, who grumpily demanded the big idea.

George, now in as full possession of his faculties as he ever was after sundown, broke into further peals of laughter. This was another of his characteristics. I mean his unfailing ability to be amused at any and all accounts of his nocturnal vagaries. In his presence — usually at his urging, in fact — I have told that story to other people at least ten times, and on every occasion George has roared with mirth at it.

There happened to be an epidemic of double, triple, and quadruple Canfield sweeping the college at that particular time. It was much too nerve-racking a game for Frank and me, but of course it fitted in perfectly with George’s nocturnal temperament. He used to go to other fellows’ rooms and play the game until (he told us) he would be covering aces with two spots and queens with kings in his sleep.

One night he came back with a fellow from a neighboring dormitory in tow, and started to play in our study after we had gone to bed. George got very much worked up over the game. He swore or gloated so loudly that we had to tell him to stop. The first thing we knew he had taken his companion, the table, and the cards and set up operations outdoors under a light at the corner of one of the dormitories. They played until quarter past eight the next morning, at which point, George maintains, he was seventy-three up on his opponent. The dean of the law school happened to walk by their table at that point, but that was n’t what broke up the game. It was daytime, and George suddenly decided the whole thing was very foolish.

George merely drowsing or trying to get to sleep reacted differently from George asleep. Shortly after the ‘My God, what’s the matter’ incident, Frank and I came home to bed one evening evidently not very long after George had retired. When we went into the bedroom George said: ‘Is n’t that terrible about Miss Sanderson?’ The two Miss Sandersons, elderly ladies, were our landladies in the small private house in which we roomed. When we asked him what was terrible, he replied: ‘Have n’t you heard? She committed suicide.’ Incredulously we pressed him for details, and he told us that she had taken poison. Had n’t we read about it in the papers?

We were a little dubious about the proper method of condoling the surviving Miss Sanderson, but that problem was neatly solved for us the following morning when we encountered both Miss Sandersons, looking completely unpoisoned, in the downstairs hallway. Of course we questioned George about this with special reference as to whether he considered that sort of thing funny. He replied — and I believe quite truthfully — that he did n’t think anything about it. He claimed that he had n’t thought up the fable consciously, but that something had irresistibly impelled him to tell it when we came in the room and discovered him three-quarters asleep. I believe this was an honest explanation, because when I asked him whether he had actually believed what he was telling us he admitted that in all frankness he could n’t say that he had. George told us a good many other whoppers after that, but we made it a rule — and a successful one — never to believe anything he said unless he had his clothes on.

As I remarked, I have n’t seen nearly so much of George since graduation, but I have heard stories from other people. From the gist of these I see no reason to believe that George has changed much in the intervening years. What really prompted me to w7rite this is the news that George has recently become engaged. I should like to have a talk with his fiancée.