CHAPTER 2. Spires and Gargoyles
At first Amory noticed only the wealth of sunshine creeping across the long, green swards, dancing on the leaded window-panes, and swimming around the tops of spires and towers and battlemented walls. Gradually he realized that he was really walking up University Place, self-conscious about his suitcase, developing a new tendency to glare straight ahead when he passed any one. Several times he could have sworn that men turned to look at him critically. He wondered vaguely if there was something the matter with his clothes, and wished he had shaved that morning on the train. He felt unnecessarily stiff and awkward among these white-flannelled, bareheaded youths, who must be juniors and seniors, judging from the savoir faire with which they strolled.
He found that 12 University Place was a large, dilapidated mansion, at present apparently uninhabited, though he knew it housed usually a dozen freshmen. After a hurried skirmish with his landlady he sallied out on a tour of exploration, but he had gone scarcely a block when he became horribly conscious that he must be the only man in town who was wearing a hat. He returned hurriedly to 12 University, left his derby, and, emerging bareheaded, loitered down Nassau Street, stopping to investigate a display of athletic photographs in a store window, including a large one of Allenby, the football captain, and next attracted by the sign “Jigger Shop” over a confectionary window. This sounded familiar, so he sauntered in and took a seat on a high stool.
“Chocolate sundae,” he told a colored person.
“Double chocolate jiggah? Anything else?”
He munched four of these, finding them of pleasing savor, and then consumed another double-chocolate jigger before ease descended upon him. After a cursory inspection of the pillow-cases, leather pennants, and Gibson Girls that lined the walls, he left, and continued along Nassau Street with his hands in his pockets. Gradually he was learning to distinguish between upper classmen and entering men, even though the freshman cap would not appear until the following Monday. Those who were too obviously, too nervously at home were freshmen, for as each train brought a new contingent it was immediately absorbed into the hatless, white-shod, book-laden throng, whose function seemed to be to drift endlessly up and down the street, emitting great clouds of smoke from brand-new pipes. By afternoon Amory realized that now the newest arrivals were taking him for an upper classman, and he tried conscientiously to look both pleasantly blasé and casually critical, which was as near as he could analyze the prevalent facial expression.
At five o’clock he felt the need of hearing his own voice, so he retreated to his house to see if any one else had arrived. Having climbed the rickety stairs he scrutinized his room resignedly, concluding that it was hopeless to attempt any more inspired decoration than class banners and tiger pictures. There was a tap at the door.
A slim face with gray eyes and a humorous smile appeared in the doorway.
“Got a hammer?”
“No—sorry. Maybe Mrs. Twelve, or whatever she goes by, has one.”
The stranger advanced into the room.
“You an inmate of this asylum?”
“Awful barn for the rent we pay.”
Amory had to agree that it was.
“I thought of the campus,” he said, “but they say there’s so few freshmen that they’re lost. Have to sit around and study for something to do.”
The gray-eyed man decided to introduce himself.
“My name’s Holiday.”
“Blaine’s my name.”
They shook hands with the fashionable low swoop. Amory grinned.
“Where’d you prep?”
“Andover—where did you?”
“Oh, did you? I had a cousin there.”
They discussed the cousin thoroughly, and then Holiday announced that he was to meet his brother for dinner at six.
“Come along and have a bite with us.”
At the Kenilworth Amory met Burne Holiday—he of the gray eyes was Kerry—and during a limpid meal of thin soup and anaemic vegetables they stared at the other freshmen, who sat either in small groups looking very ill at ease, or in large groups seeming very much at home.
“I hear Commons is pretty bad,” said Amory.
“That’s the rumor. But you’ve got to eat there—or pay anyways.”
“Oh, at Princeton you’ve got to swallow everything the first year. It’s like a damned prep school.”
“Lot of pep, though,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t have gone to Yale for a million.”
“You going out for anything?” inquired Amory of the elder brother.
“Not me—Burne here is going out for the Prince—the Daily Princetonian, you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You going out for anything?”
“Why—yes. I’m going to take a whack at freshman football.”
“Play at St. Regis’s?”
“Some,” admitted Amory depreciatingly, “but I’m getting so damned thin.”
“You’re not thin.”
“Well, I used to be stocky last fall.”
After supper they attended the movies, where Amory was fascinated by the glib comments of a man in front of him, as well as by the wild yelling and shouting.
“Oh, honey-baby—you’re so big and strong, but oh, so gentle!”
“Kiss her, kiss ’at lady, quick!”
A group began whistling “By the Sea,” and the audience took it up noisily. This was followed by an indistinguishable song that included much stamping and then by an endless, incoherent dirge.
“Oh-h-h-h-h She works in a Jam Factoree And—that-may-be-all-right But you can’t-fool-me For I know—DAMN—WELL That she DON’T-make-jam-all-night! Oh-h-h-h!”
As they pushed out, giving and receiving curious impersonal glances, Amory decided that he liked the movies, wanted to enjoy them as the row of upper classmen in front had enjoyed them, with their arms along the backs of the seats, their comments Gaelic and caustic, their attitude a mixture of critical wit and tolerant amusement.
“Want a sundae—I mean a jigger?” asked Kerry.
They suppered heavily and then, still sauntering, eased back to 12.
“It’s a whiz.”
“You men going to unpack?”
“Guess so. Come on, Burne.”
Amory decided to sit for a while on the front steps, so he bade them good night.
The great tapestries of trees had darkened to ghosts back at the last edge of twilight. The early moon had drenched the arches with pale blue, and, weaving over the night, in and out of the gossamer rifts of moon, swept a song, a song with more than a hint of sadness, infinitely transient, infinitely regretful.
He remembered that an alumnus of the nineties had told him of one of Booth Tarkington’s amusements: standing in mid-campus in the small hours and singing tenor songs to the stars, arousing mingled emotions in the couched undergraduates according to the sentiment of their moods.
Now, far down the shadowy line of University Place a white-clad phalanx broke the gloom, and marching figures, white-shirted, white-trousered, swung rhythmically up the street, with linked arms and heads thrown back:
“Going back—going back, Going—back—to—Nas-sau—Hall, Going back—going back— To the—Best—Old—Place—of—All. Going back—going back, From all—this—earth-ly—ball, We’ll—clear—the—track—as—we—go—back— Going—back—to—Nas-sau—Hall!”
Amory closed his eyes as the ghostly procession drew near. The song soared so high that all dropped out except the tenors, who bore the melody triumphantly past the danger-point and relinquished it to the fantastic chorus. Then Amory opened his eyes, half afraid that sight would spoil the rich illusion of harmony.
He sighed eagerly. There at the head of the white platoon marched Allenby, the football captain, slim and defiant, as if aware that this year the hopes of the college rested on him, that his hundred-and-sixty pounds were expected to dodge to victory through the heavy blue and crimson lines.
Fascinated, Amory watched each rank of linked arms as it came abreast, the faces indistinct above the polo shirts, the voices blent in a paean of triumph—and then the procession passed through shadowy Campbell Arch, and the voices grew fainter as it wound eastward over the campus.
The minutes passed and Amory sat there very quietly. He regretted the rule that would forbid freshmen to be outdoors after curfew, for he wanted to ramble through the shadowy scented lanes, where Witherspoon brooded like a dark mother over Whig and Clio, her Attic children, where the black Gothic snake of Little curled down to Cuyler and Patton, these in turn flinging the mystery out over the placid slope rolling to the lake.
Princeton of the daytime filtered slowly into his consciousness—West and Reunion, redolent of the sixties, Seventy-nine Hall, brick-red and arrogant, Upper and Lower Pyne, aristocratic Elizabethan ladies not quite content to live among shopkeepers, and, topping all, climbing with clear blue aspiration, the great dreaming spires of Holder and Cleveland towers.
From the first he loved Princeton—its lazy beauty, its half-grasped significance, the wild moonlight revel of the rushes, the handsome, prosperous big-game crowds, and under it all the air of struggle that pervaded his class. From the day when, wild-eyed and exhausted, the jerseyed freshmen sat in the gymnasium and elected some one from Hill School class president, a Lawrenceville celebrity vice-president, a hockey star from St. Paul’s secretary, up until the end of sophomore year it never ceased, that breathless social system, that worship, seldom named, never really admitted, of the bogey “Big Man.”
First it was schools, and Amory, alone from St. Regis’, watched the crowds form and widen and form again; St. Paul’s, Hill, Pomfret, eating at certain tacitly reserved tables in Commons, dressing in their own corners of the gymnasium, and drawing unconsciously about them a barrier of the slightly less important but socially ambitious to protect them from the friendly, rather puzzled high-school element. From the moment he realized this Amory resented social barriers as artificial distinctions made by the strong to bolster up their weak retainers and keep out the almost strong.
Having decided to be one of the gods of the class, he reported for freshman football practice, but in the second week, playing quarter-back, already paragraphed in corners of the Princetonian, he wrenched his knee seriously enough to put him out for the rest of the season. This forced him to retire and consider the situation.
“12 Univee” housed a dozen miscellaneous question-marks. There were three or four inconspicuous and quite startled boys from Lawrenceville, two amateur wild men from a New York private school (Kerry Holiday christened them the “plebeian drunks”), a Jewish youth, also from New York, and, as compensation for Amory, the two Holidays, to whom he took an instant fancy.
The Holidays were rumored twins, but really the dark-haired one, Kerry, was a year older than his blond brother, Burne. Kerry was tall, with humorous gray eyes, and a sudden, attractive smile; he became at once the mentor of the house, reaper of ears that grew too high, censor of conceit, vendor of rare, satirical humor. Amory spread the table of their future friendship with all his ideas of what college should and did mean. Kerry, not inclined as yet to take things seriously, chided him gently for being curious at this inopportune time about the intricacies of the social system, but liked him and was both interested and amused.
Burne, fair-haired, silent, and intent, appeared in the house only as a busy apparition, gliding in quietly at night and off again in the early morning to get up his work in the library—he was out for the Princetonian, competing furiously against forty others for the coveted first place. In December he came down with diphtheria, and some one else won the competition, but, returning to college in February, he dauntlessly went after the prize again. Necessarily, Amory’s acquaintance with him was in the way of three-minute chats, walking to and from lectures, so he failed to penetrate Burne’s one absorbing interest and find what lay beneath it.
Amory was far from contented. He missed the place he had won at St. Regis’, the being known and admired, yet Princeton stimulated him, and there were many things ahead calculated to arouse the Machiavelli latent in him, could he but insert a wedge. The upper-class clubs, concerning which he had pumped a reluctant graduate during the previous summer, excited his curiosity: Ivy, detached and breathlessly aristocratic; Cottage, an impressive mélange of brilliant adventurers and well-dressed philanderers; Tiger Inn, broad-shouldered and athletic, vitalized by an honest elaboration of prep-school standards; Cap and Gown, anti-alcoholic, faintly religious and politically powerful; flamboyant Colonial; literary Quadrangle; and the dozen others, varying in age and position.
Anything which brought an under classman into too glaring a light was labelled with the damning brand of “running it out.” The movies thrived on caustic comments, but the men who made them were generally running it out; talking of clubs was running it out; standing for anything very strongly, as, for instance, drinking parties or teetotalling, was running it out; in short, being personally conspicuous was not tolerated, and the influential man was the non-committal man, until at club elections in sophomore year every one should be sewed up in some bag for the rest of his college career.
Amory found that writing for the Nassau Literary Magazine would get him nothing, but that being on the board of the Daily Princetonian would get any one a good deal. His vague desire to do immortal acting with the English Dramatic Association faded out when he found that the most ingenious brains and talents were concentrated upon the Triangle Club, a musical comedy organization that every year took a great Christmas trip. In the meanwhile, feeling strangely alone and restless in Commons, with new desires and ambitions stirring in his mind, he let the first term go by between an envy of the embryo successes and a puzzled fretting with Kerry as to why they were not accepted immediately among the elite of the class.
Many afternoons they lounged in the windows of 12 Univee and watched the class pass to and from Commons, noting satellites already attaching themselves to the more prominent, watching the lonely grind with his hurried step and downcast eye, envying the happy security of the big school groups.
“We’re the damned middle class, that’s what!” he complained to Kerry one day as he lay stretched out on the sofa, consuming a family of Fatimas with contemplative precision.
“Well, why not? We came to Princeton so we could feel that way toward the small colleges—have it on ’em, more self-confidence, dress better, cut a swathe—”
“Oh, it isn’t that I mind the glittering caste system,” admitted Amory. “I like having a bunch of hot cats on top, but gosh, Kerry, I’ve got to be one of them.”
“But just now, Amory, you’re only a sweaty bourgeois.”
Amory lay for a moment without speaking.
“I won’t be—long,” he said finally. “But I hate to get anywhere by working for it. I’ll show the marks, don’t you know.”
“Honorable scars.” Kerry craned his neck suddenly at the street. “There’s Langueduc, if you want to see what he looks like—and Humbird just behind.”
Amory rose dynamically and sought the windows.
“Oh,” he said, scrutinizing these worthies, “Humbird looks like a knock-out, but this Langueduc—he’s the rugged type, isn’t he? I distrust that sort. All diamonds look big in the rough.”
“Well,” said Kerry, as the excitement subsided, “you’re a literary genius. It’s up to you.”
“I wonder”—Amory paused—“if I could be. I honestly think so sometimes. That sounds like the devil, and I wouldn’t say it to anybody except you.”
“Well—go ahead. Let your hair grow and write poems like this guy D’Invilliers in the Lit.”
Amory reached lazily at a pile of magazines on the table.
“Read his latest effort?”
“Never miss ’em. They’re rare.”
Amory glanced through the issue.
“Hello!” he said in surprise, “he’s a freshman, isn’t he?”
“Listen to this! My God!
“‘A serving lady speaks: Black velvet trails its folds over the day, White tapers, prisoned in their silver frames, Wave their thin flames like shadows in the wind, Pia, Pompia, come—come away—’
“Now, what the devil does that mean?”
“It’s a pantry scene.”
“‘Her toes are stiffened like a stork’s in flight; She’s laid upon her bed, on the white sheets, Her hands pressed on her smooth bust like a saint, Bella Cunizza, come into the light!’
“My gosh, Kerry, what in hell is it all about? I swear I don’t get him at all, and I’m a literary bird myself.”
“It’s pretty tricky,” said Kerry, “only you’ve got to think of hearses and stale milk when you read it. That isn’t as pash as some of them.”
Amory tossed the magazine on the table.
“Well,” he sighed, “I sure am up in the air. I know I’m not a regular fellow, yet I loathe anybody else that isn’t. I can’t decide whether to cultivate my mind and be a great dramatist, or to thumb my nose at the Golden Treasury and be a Princeton slicker.”
“Why decide?” suggested Kerry. “Better drift, like me. I’m going to sail into prominence on Burne’s coat-tails.”
“I can’t drift—I want to be interested. I want to pull strings, even for somebody else, or be Princetonian chairman or Triangle president. I want to be admired, Kerry.”
“You’re thinking too much about yourself.”
Amory sat up at this.
“No. I’m thinking about you, too. We’ve got to get out and mix around the class right now, when it’s fun to be a snob. I’d like to bring a sardine to the prom in June, for instance, but I wouldn’t do it unless I could be damn debonaire about it—introduce her to all the prize parlor-snakes, and the football captain, and all that simple stuff.”
“Amory,” said Kerry impatiently, “you’re just going around in a circle. If you want to be prominent, get out and try for something; if you don’t, just take it easy.” He yawned. “Come on, let’s let the smoke drift off. We’ll go down and watch football practice.”
Amory gradually accepted this point of view, decided that next fall would inaugurate his career, and relinquished himself to watching Kerry extract joy from 12 Univee.
They filled the Jewish youth’s bed with lemon pie; they put out the gas all over the house every night by blowing into the jet in Amory’s room, to the bewilderment of Mrs. Twelve and the local plumber; they set up the effects of the plebeian drunks—pictures, books, and furniture—in the bathroom, to the confusion of the pair, who hazily discovered the transposition on their return from a Trenton spree; they were disappointed beyond measure when the plebeian drunks decided to take it as a joke; they played red-dog and twenty-one and jackpot from dinner to dawn, and on the occasion of one man’s birthday persuaded him to buy sufficient champagne for a hilarious celebration. The donor of the party having remained sober, Kerry and Amory accidentally dropped him down two flights of stairs and called, shame-faced and penitent, at the infirmary all the following week.
“Say, who are all these women?” demanded Kerry one day, protesting at the size of Amory’s mail. “I’ve been looking at the postmarks lately—Farmington and Dobbs and Westover and Dana Hall—what’s the idea?”
“All from the Twin Cities.” He named them off. “There’s Marylyn De Witt—she’s pretty, got a car of her own and that’s damn convenient; there’s Sally Weatherby—she’s getting too fat; there’s Myra St. Claire, she’s an old flame, easy to kiss if you like it—”
“What line do you throw ’em?” demanded Kerry. “I’ve tried everything, and the mad wags aren’t even afraid of me.”
“You’re the ‘nice boy’ type,” suggested Amory.
“That’s just it. Mother always feels the girl is safe if she’s with me. Honestly, it’s annoying. If I start to hold somebody’s hand, they laugh at me, and let me, just as if it wasn’t part of them. As soon as I get hold of a hand they sort of disconnect it from the rest of them.”
“Sulk,” suggested Amory. “Tell ’em you’re wild and have ’em reform you—go home furious—come back in half an hour—startle ’em.”
Kerry shook his head.
“No chance. I wrote a St. Timothy girl a really loving letter last year. In one place I got rattled and said: ‘My God, how I love you!’ She took a nail scissors, clipped out the ‘My God’ and showed the rest of the letter all over school. Doesn’t work at all. I’m just ‘good old Kerry’ and all that rot.”
Amory smiled and tried to picture himself as “good old Amory.” He failed completely.
February dripped snow and rain, the cyclonic freshman mid-years passed, and life in 12 Univee continued interesting if not purposeful. Once a day Amory indulged in a club sandwich, cornflakes, and Julienne potatoes at “Joe’s,” accompanied usually by Kerry or Alec Connage. The latter was a quiet, rather aloof slicker from Hotchkiss, who lived next door and shared the same enforced singleness as Amory, due to the fact that his entire class had gone to Yale. “Joe’s” was unaesthetic and faintly unsanitary, but a limitless charge account could be opened there, a convenience that Amory appreciated. His father had been experimenting with mining stocks and, in consequence, his allowance, while liberal, was not at all what he had expected.
“Joe’s” had the additional advantage of seclusion from curious upper-class eyes, so at four each afternoon Amory, accompanied by friend or book, went up to experiment with his digestion. One day in March, finding that all the tables were occupied, he slipped into a chair opposite a freshman who bent intently over a book at the last table. They nodded briefly. For twenty minutes Amory sat consuming bacon buns and reading “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” (he had discovered Shaw quite by accident while browsing in the library during mid-years); the other freshman, also intent on his volume, meanwhile did away with a trio of chocolate malted milks.
By and by Amory’s eyes wandered curiously to his fellow-luncher’s book. He spelled out the name and title upside down—“Marpessa,” by Stephen Phillips. This meant nothing to him, his metrical education having been confined to such Sunday classics as “Come into the Garden, Maude,” and what morsels of Shakespeare and Milton had been recently forced upon him.
Moved to address his vis-a-vis, he simulated interest in his book for a moment, and then exclaimed aloud as if involuntarily:
“Ha! Great stuff!”
The other freshman looked up and Amory registered artificial embarrassment.
“Are you referring to your bacon buns?” His cracked, kindly voice went well with the large spectacles and the impression of a voluminous keenness that he gave.
“No,” Amory answered. “I was referring to Bernard Shaw.” He turned the book around in explanation.
“I’ve never read any Shaw. I’ve always meant to.” The boy paused and then continued: “Did you ever read Stephen Phillips, or do you like poetry?”
“Yes, indeed,” Amory affirmed eagerly. “I’ve never read much of Phillips, though.” (He had never heard of any Phillips except the late David Graham.)
“It’s pretty fair, I think. Of course he’s a Victorian.” They sallied into a discussion of poetry, in the course of which they introduced themselves, and Amory’s companion proved to be none other than “that awful highbrow, Thomas Parke D’Invilliers,” who signed the passionate love-poems in the Lit. He was, perhaps, nineteen, with stooped shoulders, pale blue eyes, and, as Amory could tell from his general appearance, without much conception of social competition and such phenomena of absorbing interest. Still, he liked books, and it seemed forever since Amory had met any one who did; if only that St. Paul’s crowd at the next table would not mistake him for a bird, too, he would enjoy the encounter tremendously. They didn’t seem to be noticing, so he let himself go, discussed books by the dozens—books he had read, read about, books he had never heard of, rattling off lists of titles with the facility of a Brentano’s clerk. D’Invilliers was partially taken in and wholly delighted. In a good-natured way he had almost decided that Princeton was one part deadly Philistines and one part deadly grinds, and to find a person who could mention Keats without stammering, yet evidently washed his hands, was rather a treat.
“Ever read any Oscar Wilde?” he asked.
“No. Who wrote it?”
“It’s a man—don’t you know?”
“Oh, surely.” A faint chord was struck in Amory’s memory. “Wasn’t the comic opera, ‘Patience,’ written about him?”
“Yes, that’s the fella. I’ve just finished a book of his, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray,’ and I certainly wish you’d read it. You’d like it. You can borrow it if you want to.”
“Why, I’d like it a lot—thanks.”
“Don’t you want to come up to the room? I’ve got a few other books.”
Amory hesitated, glanced at the St. Paul’s group—one of them was the magnificent, exquisite Humbird—and he considered how determinate the addition of this friend would be. He never got to the stage of making them and getting rid of them—he was not hard enough for that—so he measured Thomas Parke D’Invilliers’ undoubted attractions and value against the menace of cold eyes behind tortoise-rimmed spectacles that he fancied glared from the next table.
“Yes, I’ll go.”
So he found “Dorian Gray” and the “Mystic and Somber Dolores” and the “Belle Dame sans Merci”; for a month was keen on naught else. The world became pale and interesting, and he tried hard to look at Princeton through the satiated eyes of Oscar Wilde and Swinburne—or “Fingal O’Flaherty” and “Algernon Charles,” as he called them in precieuse jest. He read enormously every night—Shaw, Chesterton, Barrie, Pinero, Yeats, Synge, Ernest Dowson, Arthur Symons, Keats, Sudermann, Robert Hugh Benson, the Savoy Operas—just a heterogeneous mixture, for he suddenly discovered that he had read nothing for years.
Tom D’Invilliers became at first an occasion rather than a friend. Amory saw him about once a week, and together they gilded the ceiling of Tom’s room and decorated the walls with imitation tapestry, bought at an auction, tall candlesticks and figured curtains. Amory liked him for being clever and literary without effeminacy or affectation. In fact, Amory did most of the strutting and tried painfully to make every remark an epigram, than which, if one is content with ostensible epigrams, there are many feats harder. 12 Univee was amused. Kerry read “Dorian Gray” and simulated Lord Henry, following Amory about, addressing him as “Dorian” and pretending to encourage in him wicked fancies and attenuated tendencies to ennui. When he carried it into Commons, to the amazement of the others at table, Amory became furiously embarrassed, and after that made epigrams only before D’Invilliers or a convenient mirror.
One day Tom and Amory tried reciting their own and Lord Dunsany’s poems to the music of Kerry’s graphophone.
“Chant!” cried Tom. “Don’t recite! Chant!”
Amory, who was performing, looked annoyed, and claimed that he needed a record with less piano in it. Kerry thereupon rolled on the floor in stifled laughter.
“Put on ‘Hearts and Flowers’!” he howled. “Oh, my Lord, I’m going to cast a kitten.”
“Shut off the damn graphophone,” Amory cried, rather red in the face. “I’m not giving an exhibition.”
In the meanwhile Amory delicately kept trying to awaken a sense of the social system in D’Invilliers, for he knew that this poet was really more conventional than he, and needed merely watered hair, a smaller range of conversation, and a darker brown hat to become quite regular. But the liturgy of Livingstone collars and dark ties fell on heedless ears; in fact D’Invilliers faintly resented his efforts; so Amory confined himself to calls once a week, and brought him occasionally to 12 Univee. This caused mild titters among the other freshmen, who called them “Doctor Johnson and Boswell.”
Alec Connage, another frequent visitor, liked him in a vague way, but was afraid of him as a highbrow. Kerry, who saw through his poetic patter to the solid, almost respectable depths within, was immensely amused and would have him recite poetry by the hour, while he lay with closed eyes on Amory’s sofa and listened:
“Asleep or waking is it? for her neck Kissed over close, wears yet a purple speck Wherein the pained blood falters and goes out; Soft and stung softly—fairer for a fleck...”
“That’s good,” Kerry would say softly. “It pleases the elder Holiday. That’s a great poet, I guess.” Tom, delighted at an audience, would ramble through the “Poems and Ballades” until Kerry and Amory knew them almost as well as he.
Amory took to writing poetry on spring afternoons, in the gardens of the big estates near Princeton, while swans made effective atmosphere in the artificial pools, and slow clouds sailed harmoniously above the willows. May came too soon, and suddenly unable to bear walls, he wandered the campus at all hours through starlight and rain.
A DAMP SYMBOLIC INTERLUDE
The night mist fell. From the moon it rolled, clustered about the spires and towers, and then settled below them, so that the dreaming peaks were still in lofty aspiration toward the sky. Figures that dotted the day like ants now brushed along as shadowy ghosts, in and out of the foreground. The Gothic halls and cloisters were infinitely more mysterious as they loomed suddenly out of the darkness, outlined each by myriad faint squares of yellow light. Indefinitely from somewhere a bell boomed the quarter-hour, and Amory, pausing by the sun-dial, stretched himself out full length on the damp grass. The cool bathed his eyes and slowed the flight of time—time that had crept so insidiously through the lazy April afternoons, seemed so intangible in the long spring twilights. Evening after evening the senior singing had drifted over the campus in melancholy beauty, and through the shell of his undergraduate consciousness had broken a deep and reverent devotion to the gray walls and Gothic peaks and all they symbolized as warehouses of dead ages.
The tower that in view of his window sprang upward, grew into a spire, yearning higher until its uppermost tip was half invisible against the morning skies, gave him the first sense of the transiency and unimportance of the campus figures except as holders of the apostolic succession. He liked knowing that Gothic architecture, with its upward trend, was peculiarly appropriate to universities, and the idea became personal to him. The silent stretches of green, the quiet halls with an occasional late-burning scholastic light held his imagination in a strong grasp, and the chastity of the spire became a symbol of this perception.
“Damn it all,” he whispered aloud, wetting his hands in the damp and running them through his hair. “Next year I work!” Yet he knew that where now the spirit of spires and towers made him dreamily acquiescent, it would then overawe him. Where now he realized only his own inconsequence, effort would make him aware of his own impotency and insufficiency.
The college dreamed on—awake. He felt a nervous excitement that might have been the very throb of its slow heart. It was a stream where he was to throw a stone whose faint ripple would be vanishing almost as it left his hand. As yet he had given nothing, he had taken nothing.
A belated freshman, his oilskin slicker rasping loudly, slushed along the soft path. A voice from somewhere called the inevitable formula, “Stick out your head!” below an unseen window. A hundred little sounds of the current drifting on under the fog pressed in finally on his consciousness.
“Oh, God!” he cried suddenly, and started at the sound of his voice in the stillness. The rain dripped on. A minute longer he lay without moving, his hands clinched. Then he sprang to his feet and gave his clothes a tentative pat.
“I’m very damn wet!” he said aloud to the sun-dial.
The war began in the summer following his freshman year. Beyond a sporting interest in the German dash for Paris the whole affair failed either to thrill or interest him. With the attitude he might have held toward an amusing melodrama he hoped it would be long and bloody. If it had not continued he would have felt like an irate ticket-holder at a prize-fight where the principals refused to mix it up.
That was his total reaction.
“All right, ponies!”
“Shake it up!”
“Hey, ponies—how about easing up on that crap game and shaking a mean hip?”
The coach fumed helplessly, the Triangle Club president, glowering with anxiety, varied between furious bursts of authority and fits of temperamental lassitude, when he sat spiritless and wondered how the devil the show was ever going on tour by Christmas.
“All right. We’ll take the pirate song.”
The ponies took last drags at their cigarettes and slumped into place; the leading lady rushed into the foreground, setting his hands and feet in an atmospheric mince; and as the coach clapped and stamped and tumped and da-da’d, they hashed out a dance.
A great, seething ant-hill was the Triangle Club. It gave a musical comedy every year, travelling with cast, chorus, orchestra, and scenery all through Christmas vacation. The play and music were the work of undergraduates, and the club itself was the most influential of institutions, over three hundred men competing for it every year.
Amory, after an easy victory in the first sophomore Princetonian competition, stepped into a vacancy of the cast as Boiling Oil, a Pirate Lieutenant. Every night for the last week they had rehearsed “Ha-Ha Hortense!” in the Casino, from two in the afternoon until eight in the morning, sustained by dark and powerful coffee, and sleeping in lectures through the interim. A rare scene, the Casino. A big, barnlike auditorium, dotted with boys as girls, boys as pirates, boys as babies; the scenery in course of being violently set up; the spotlight man rehearsing by throwing weird shafts into angry eyes; over all the constant tuning of the orchestra or the cheerful tumpty-tump of a Triangle tune. The boy who writes the lyrics stands in the corner, biting a pencil, with twenty minutes to think of an encore; the business manager argues with the secretary as to how much money can be spent on “those damn milkmaid costumes”; the old graduate, president in ninety-eight, perches on a box and thinks how much simpler it was in his day.
How a Triangle show ever got off was a mystery, but it was a riotous mystery, anyway, whether or not one did enough service to wear a little gold Triangle on his watch-chain. “Ha-Ha Hortense!” was written over six times and had the names of nine collaborators on the programme. All Triangle shows started by being “something different—not just a regular musical comedy,” but when the several authors, the president, the coach and the faculty committee finished with it, there remained just the old reliable Triangle show with the old reliable jokes and the star comedian who got expelled or sick or something just before the trip, and the dark-whiskered man in the pony-ballet, who “absolutely won’t shave twice a day, doggone it!”
There was one brilliant place in “Ha-Ha Hortense!” It is a Princeton tradition that whenever a Yale man who is a member of the widely advertised “Skull and Bones” hears the sacred name mentioned, he must leave the room. It is also a tradition that the members are invariably successful in later life, amassing fortunes or votes or coupons or whatever they choose to amass. Therefore, at each performance of “Ha-Ha Hortense!” half-a-dozen seats were kept from sale and occupied by six of the worst-looking vagabonds that could be hired from the streets, further touched up by the Triangle make-up man. At the moment in the show where Firebrand, the Pirate Chief, pointed at his black flag and said, “I am a Yale graduate—note my Skull and Bones!”—at this very moment the six vagabonds were instructed to rise conspicuously and leave the theatre with looks of deep melancholy and an injured dignity. It was claimed though never proved that on one occasion the hired Elis were swelled by one of the real thing.
They played through vacation to the fashionable of eight cities. Amory liked Louisville and Memphis best: these knew how to meet strangers, furnished extraordinary punch, and flaunted an astonishing array of feminine beauty. Chicago he approved for a certain verve that transcended its loud accent—however, it was a Yale town, and as the Yale Glee Club was expected in a week the Triangle received only divided homage. In Baltimore, Princeton was at home, and every one fell in love. There was a proper consumption of strong waters all along the line; one man invariably went on the stage highly stimulated, claiming that his particular interpretation of the part required it. There were three private cars; however, no one slept except in the third car, which was called the “animal car,” and where were herded the spectacled wind-jammers of the orchestra. Everything was so hurried that there was no time to be bored, but when they arrived in Philadelphia, with vacation nearly over, there was rest in getting out of the heavy atmosphere of flowers and grease-paint, and the ponies took off their corsets with abdominal pains and sighs of relief.
When the disbanding came, Amory set out post haste for Minneapolis, for Sally Weatherby’s cousin, Isabelle Borge, was coming to spend the winter in Minneapolis while her parents went abroad. He remembered Isabelle only as a little girl with whom he had played sometimes when he first went to Minneapolis. She had gone to Baltimore to live—but since then she had developed a past.
Amory was in full stride, confident, nervous, and jubilant. Scurrying back to Minneapolis to see a girl he had known as a child seemed the interesting and romantic thing to do, so without compunction he wired his mother not to expect him… sat in the train, and thought about himself for thirty-six hours.
On the Triangle trip Amory had come into constant contact with that great current American phenomenon, the “petting party.”
None of the Victorian mothers—and most of the mothers were Victorian—had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed. “Servant-girls are that way,” says Mrs. Huston-Carmelite to her popular daughter. “They are kissed first and proposed to afterward.”
But the Popular Daughter becomes engaged every six months between sixteen and twenty-two, when she arranges a match with young Hambell, of Cambell & Hambell, who fatuously considers himself her first love, and between engagements the P. D. (she is selected by the cut-in system at dances, which favors the survival of the fittest) has other sentimental last kisses in the moonlight, or the firelight, or the outer darkness.
Amory saw girls doing things that even in his memory would have been impossible: eating three-o’clock, after-dance suppers in impossible cafes, talking of every side of life with an air half of earnestness, half of mockery, yet with a furtive excitement that Amory considered stood for a real moral let-down. But he never realized how wide-spread it was until he saw the cities between New York and Chicago as one vast juvenile intrigue.
Afternoon at the Plaza, with winter twilight hovering outside and faint drums down-stairs… they strut and fret in the lobby, taking another cocktail, scrupulously attired and waiting. Then the swinging doors revolve and three bundles of fur mince in. The theatre comes afterward; then a table at the Midnight Frolic—of course, mother will be along there, but she will serve only to make things more secretive and brilliant as she sits in solitary state at the deserted table and thinks such entertainments as this are not half so bad as they are painted, only rather wearying. But the P. D. is in love again… it was odd, wasn’t it?—that though there was so much room left in the taxi the P. D. and the boy from Williams were somehow crowded out and had to go in a separate car. Odd! Didn’t you notice how flushed the P. D. was when she arrived just seven minutes late? But the P. D. “gets away with it.”
The “belle” had become the “flirt,” the “flirt” had become the “baby vamp.” The “belle” had five or six callers every afternoon. If the P. D., by some strange accident, has two, it is made pretty uncomfortable for the one who hasn’t a date with her. The “belle” was surrounded by a dozen men in the intermissions between dances. Try to find the P. D. between dances, just try to find her.
The same girl… deep in an atmosphere of jungle music and the questioning of moral codes. Amory found it rather fascinating to feel that any popular girl he met before eight he might quite possibly kiss before twelve.
“Why on earth are we here?” he asked the girl with the green combs one night as they sat in some one’s limousine, outside the Country Club in Louisville.
“I don’t know. I’m just full of the devil.”
“Let’s be frank—we’ll never see each other again. I wanted to come out here with you because I thought you were the best-looking girl in sight. You really don’t care whether you ever see me again, do you?”
“No—but is this your line for every girl? What have I done to deserve it?”
“And you didn’t feel tired dancing or want a cigarette or any of the things you said? You just wanted to be—”
“Oh, let’s go in,” she interrupted, “if you want to analyze. Let’s not talk about it.”
When the hand-knit, sleeveless jerseys were stylish, Amory, in a burst of inspiration, named them “petting shirts.” The name travelled from coast to coast on the lips of parlor-snakes and P. D.’s.
Amory was now eighteen years old, just under six feet tall and exceptionally, but not conventionally, handsome. He had rather a young face, the ingenuousness of which was marred by the penetrating green eyes, fringed with long dark eyelashes. He lacked somehow that intense animal magnetism that so often accompanies beauty in men or women; his personality seemed rather a mental thing, and it was not in his power to turn it on and off like a water-faucet. But people never forgot his face.
She paused at the top of the staircase. The sensations attributed to divers on spring-boards, leading ladies on opening nights, and lumpy, husky young men on the day of the Big Game, crowded through her. She should have descended to a burst of drums or a discordant blend of themes from “Thais” and “Carmen.” She had never been so curious about her appearance, she had never been so satisfied with it. She had been sixteen years old for six months.
“Isabelle!” called her cousin Sally from the doorway of the dressing-room.
“I’m ready.” She caught a slight lump of nervousness in her throat.
“I had to send back to the house for another pair of slippers. It’ll be just a minute.”
Isabelle started toward the dressing-room for a last peek in the mirror, but something decided her to stand there and gaze down the broad stairs of the Minnehaha Club. They curved tantalizingly, and she could catch just a glimpse of two pairs of masculine feet in the hall below. Pump-shod in uniform black, they gave no hint of identity, but she wondered eagerly if one pair were attached to Amory Blaine. This young man, not as yet encountered, had nevertheless taken up a considerable part of her day—the first day of her arrival. Coming up in the machine from the station, Sally had volunteered, amid a rain of question, comment, revelation, and exaggeration:
“You remember Amory Blaine, of course. Well, he’s simply mad to see you again. He’s stayed over a day from college, and he’s coming to-night. He’s heard so much about you—says he remembers your eyes.”
This had pleased Isabelle. It put them on equal terms, although she was quite capable of staging her own romances, with or without advance advertising. But following her happy tremble of anticipation, came a sinking sensation that made her ask:
“How do you mean he’s heard about me? What sort of things?”
Sally smiled. She felt rather in the capacity of a showman with her more exotic cousin.
“He knows you’re—you’re considered beautiful and all that”—she paused—“and I guess he knows you’ve been kissed.”
At this Isabelle’s little fist had clinched suddenly under the fur robe. She was accustomed to be thus followed by her desperate past, and it never failed to rouse in her the same feeling of resentment; yet—in a strange town it was an advantageous reputation. She was a “Speed,” was she? Well—let them find out.
Out of the window Isabelle watched the snow glide by in the frosty morning. It was ever so much colder here than in Baltimore; she had not remembered; the glass of the side door was iced, the windows were shirred with snow in the corners. Her mind played still with one subject. Did he dress like that boy there, who walked calmly down a bustling business street, in moccasins and winter-carnival costume? How very Western! Of course he wasn’t that way: he went to Princeton, was a sophomore or something. Really she had no distinct idea of him. An ancient snap-shot she had preserved in an old kodak book had impressed her by the big eyes (which he had probably grown up to by now). However, in the last month, when her winter visit to Sally had been decided on, he had assumed the proportions of a worthy adversary. Children, most astute of match-makers, plot their campaigns quickly, and Sally had played a clever correspondence sonata to Isabelle’s excitable temperament. Isabelle had been for some time capable of very strong, if very transient emotions….
They drew up at a spreading, white-stone building, set back from the snowy street. Mrs. Weatherby greeted her warmly and her various younger cousins were produced from the corners where they skulked politely. Isabelle met them tactfully. At her best she allied all with whom she came in contact—except older girls and some women. All the impressions she made were conscious. The half-dozen girls she renewed acquaintance with that morning were all rather impressed and as much by her direct personality as by her reputation. Amory Blaine was an open subject. Evidently a bit light of love, neither popular nor unpopular—every girl there seemed to have had an affair with him at some time or other, but no one volunteered any really useful information. He was going to fall for her…. Sally had published that information to her young set and they were retailing it back to Sally as fast as they set eyes on Isabelle. Isabelle resolved secretly that she would, if necessary, force herself to like him—she owed it to Sally. Suppose she were terribly disappointed. Sally had painted him in such glowing colors—he was good-looking, “sort of distinguished, when he wants to be,” had a line, and was properly inconstant. In fact, he summed up all the romance that her age and environment led her to desire. She wondered if those were his dancing-shoes that fox-trotted tentatively around the soft rug below.
All impressions and, in fact, all ideas were extremely kaleidoscopic to Isabelle. She had that curious mixture of the social and the artistic temperaments found often in two classes, society women and actresses. Her education or, rather, her sophistication, had been absorbed from the boys who had dangled on her favor; her tact was instinctive, and her capacity for love-affairs was limited only by the number of the susceptible within telephone distance. Flirt smiled from her large black-brown eyes and shone through her intense physical magnetism.
So she waited at the head of the stairs that evening while slippers were fetched. Just as she was growing impatient, Sally came out of the dressing-room, beaming with her accustomed good nature and high spirits, and together they descended to the floor below, while the shifting search-light of Isabelle’s mind flashed on two ideas: she was glad she had high color to-night, and she wondered if he danced well.
Down-stairs, in the club’s great room, she was surrounded for a moment by the girls she had met in the afternoon, then she heard Sally’s voice repeating a cycle of names, and found herself bowing to a sextet of black and white, terribly stiff, vaguely familiar figures. The name Blaine figured somewhere, but at first she could not place him. A very confused, very juvenile moment of awkward backings and bumpings followed, and every one found himself talking to the person he least desired to. Isabelle manoeuvred herself and Froggy Parker, freshman at Harvard, with whom she had once played hop-scotch, to a seat on the stairs. A humorous reference to the past was all she needed. The things Isabelle could do socially with one idea were remarkable. First, she repeated it rapturously in an enthusiastic contralto with a soupcon of Southern accent; then she held it off at a distance and smiled at it—her wonderful smile; then she delivered it in variations and played a sort of mental catch with it, all this in the nominal form of dialogue. Froggy was fascinated and quite unconscious that this was being done, not for him, but for the green eyes that glistened under the shining carefully watered hair, a little to her left, for Isabelle had discovered Amory. As an actress even in the fullest flush of her own conscious magnetism gets a deep impression of most of the people in the front row, so Isabelle sized up her antagonist. First, he had auburn hair, and from her feeling of disappointment she knew that she had expected him to be dark and of garter-advertisement slenderness…. For the rest, a faint flush and a straight, romantic profile; the effect set off by a close-fitting dress suit and a silk ruffled shirt of the kind that women still delight to see men wear, but men were just beginning to get tired of.
During this inspection Amory was quietly watching.
“Don’t you think so?” she said suddenly, turning to him, innocent-eyed.
There was a stir, and Sally led the way over to their table. Amory struggled to Isabelle’s side, and whispered:
“You’re my dinner partner, you know. We’re all coached for each other.”
Isabelle gasped—this was rather right in line. But really she felt as if a good speech had been taken from the star and given to a minor character…. She mustn’t lose the leadership a bit. The dinner-table glittered with laughter at the confusion of getting places and then curious eyes were turned on her, sitting near the head. She was enjoying this immensely, and Froggy Parker was so engrossed with the added sparkle of her rising color that he forgot to pull out Sally’s chair, and fell into a dim confusion. Amory was on the other side, full of confidence and vanity, gazing at her in open admiration. He began directly, and so did Froggy:
“I’ve heard a lot about you since you wore braids—”
“Wasn’t it funny this afternoon—”
Both stopped. Isabelle turned to Amory shyly. Her face was always enough answer for any one, but she decided to speak.
“From everybody—for all the years since you’ve been away.” She blushed appropriately. On her right Froggy was hors de combat already, although he hadn’t quite realized it.
“I’ll tell you what I remembered about you all these years,” Amory continued. She leaned slightly toward him and looked modestly at the celery before her. Froggy sighed—he knew Amory, and the situations that Amory seemed born to handle. He turned to Sally and asked her if she was going away to school next year. Amory opened with grape-shot.
“I’ve got an adjective that just fits you.” This was one of his favorite starts—he seldom had a word in mind, but it was a curiosity provoker, and he could always produce something complimentary if he got in a tight corner.
“Oh—what?” Isabelle’s face was a study in enraptured curiosity.
Amory shook his head.
“I don’t know you very well yet.”
“Will you tell me—afterward?” she half whispered.
“We’ll sit out.”
“Did any one ever tell you, you have keen eyes?” she said.
Amory attempted to make them look even keener. He fancied, but he was not sure, that her foot had just touched his under the table. But it might possibly have been only the table leg. It was so hard to tell. Still it thrilled him. He wondered quickly if there would be any difficulty in securing the little den up-stairs.
BABES IN THE WOODS
Isabelle and Amory were distinctly not innocent, nor were they particularly brazen. Moreover, amateur standing had very little value in the game they were playing, a game that would presumably be her principal study for years to come. She had begun as he had, with good looks and an excitable temperament, and the rest was the result of accessible popular novels and dressing-room conversation culled from a slightly older set. Isabelle had walked with an artificial gait at nine and a half, and when her eyes, wide and starry, proclaimed the ingenue most. Amory was proportionately less deceived. He waited for the mask to drop off, but at the same time he did not question her right to wear it. She, on her part, was not impressed by his studied air of blasé sophistication. She had lived in a larger city and had slightly an advantage in range. But she accepted his pose—it was one of the dozen little conventions of this kind of affair. He was aware that he was getting this particular favor now because she had been coached; he knew that he stood for merely the best game in sight, and that he would have to improve his opportunity before he lost his advantage. So they proceeded with an infinite guile that would have horrified her parents.
After the dinner the dance began… smoothly. Smoothly?—boys cut in on Isabelle every few feet and then squabbled in the corners with: “You might let me get more than an inch!” and “She didn’t like it either—she told me so next time I cut in.” It was true—she told every one so, and gave every hand a parting pressure that said: “You know that your dances are making my evening.”
But time passed, two hours of it, and the less subtle beaux had better learned to focus their pseudo-passionate glances elsewhere, for eleven o’clock found Isabelle and Amory sitting on the couch in the little den off the reading-room up-stairs. She was conscious that they were a handsome pair, and seemed to belong distinctively in this seclusion, while lesser lights fluttered and chattered down-stairs.
Boys who passed the door looked in enviously—girls who passed only laughed and frowned and grew wise within themselves.
They had now reached a very definite stage. They had traded accounts of their progress since they had met last, and she had listened to much she had heard before. He was a sophomore, was on the Princetonian board, hoped to be chairman in senior year. He learned that some of the boys she went with in Baltimore were “terrible speeds” and came to dances in states of artificial stimulation; most of them were twenty or so, and drove alluring red Stutzes. A good half seemed to have already flunked out of various schools and colleges, but some of them bore athletic names that made him look at her admiringly. As a matter of fact, Isabelle’s closer acquaintance with the universities was just commencing. She had bowing acquaintance with a lot of young men who thought she was a “pretty kid—worth keeping an eye on.” But Isabelle strung the names into a fabrication of gayety that would have dazzled a Viennese nobleman. Such is the power of young contralto voices on sink-down sofas.
He asked her if she thought he was conceited. She said there was a difference between conceit and self-confidence. She adored self-confidence in men.
“Is Froggy a good friend of yours?” she asked.
“He’s a bum dancer.”
“He dances as if the girl were on his back instead of in his arms.”
She appreciated this.
“You’re awfully good at sizing people up.”
Amory denied this painfully. However, he sized up several people for her. Then they talked about hands.
“You’ve got awfully nice hands,” she said. “They look as if you played the piano. Do you?”
I have said they had reached a very definite stage—nay, more, a very critical stage. Amory had stayed over a day to see her, and his train left at twelve-eighteen that night. His trunk and suitcase awaited him at the station; his watch was beginning to hang heavy in his pocket.
“Isabelle,” he said suddenly, “I want to tell you something.” They had been talking lightly about “that funny look in her eyes,” and Isabelle knew from the change in his manner what was coming—indeed, she had been wondering how soon it would come. Amory reached above their heads and turned out the electric light, so that they were in the dark, except for the red glow that fell through the door from the reading-room lamps. Then he began:
“I don’t know whether or not you know what you—what I’m going to say. Lordy, Isabelle—this sounds like a line, but it isn’t.”
“I know,” said Isabelle softly.
“Maybe we’ll never meet again like this—I have darned hard luck sometimes.” He was leaning away from her on the other arm of the lounge, but she could see his eyes plainly in the dark.
“You’ll meet me again—silly.” There was just the slightest emphasis on the last word—so that it became almost a term of endearment. He continued a bit huskily:
“I’ve fallen for a lot of people—girls—and I guess you have, too—boys, I mean, but, honestly, you—” he broke off suddenly and leaned forward, chin on his hands: “Oh, what’s the use—you’ll go your way and I suppose I’ll go mine.”
Silence for a moment. Isabelle was quite stirred; she wound her handkerchief into a tight ball, and by the faint light that streamed over her, dropped it deliberately on the floor. Their hands touched for an instant, but neither spoke. Silences were becoming more frequent and more delicious. Outside another stray couple had come up and were experimenting on the piano in the next room. After the usual preliminary of “chopsticks,” one of them started “Babes in the Woods” and a light tenor carried the words into the den:
“Give me your hand I’ll understand We’re off to slumberland.”
Isabelle hummed it softly and trembled as she felt Amory’s hand close over hers.
“Isabelle,” he whispered. “You know I’m mad about you. You do give a darn about me.”
“How much do you care—do you like any one better?”
“No.” He could scarcely hear her, although he bent so near that he felt her breath against his cheek.
“Isabelle, I’m going back to college for six long months, and why shouldn’t we—if I could only just have one thing to remember you by—”
“Close the door….” Her voice had just stirred so that he half wondered whether she had spoken at all. As he swung the door softly shut, the music seemed quivering just outside.
“Moonlight is bright, Kiss me good night.”
What a wonderful song, she thought—everything was wonderful to-night, most of all this romantic scene in the den, with their hands clinging and the inevitable looming charmingly close. The future vista of her life seemed an unending succession of scenes like this: under moonlight and pale starlight, and in the backs of warm limousines and in low, cosy roadsters stopped under sheltering trees—only the boy might change, and this one was so nice. He took her hand softly. With a sudden movement he turned it and, holding it to his lips, kissed the palm.
“Isabelle!” His whisper blended in the music, and they seemed to float nearer together. Her breath came faster. “Can’t I kiss you, Isabelle—Isabelle?” Lips half parted, she turned her head to him in the dark. Suddenly the ring of voices, the sound of running footsteps surged toward them. Quick as a flash Amory reached up and turned on the light, and when the door opened and three boys, the wrathy and dance-craving Froggy among them, rushed in, he was turning over the magazines on the table, while she sat without moving, serene and unembarrassed, and even greeted them with a welcoming smile. But her heart was beating wildly, and she felt somehow as if she had been deprived.
It was evidently over. There was a clamor for a dance, there was a glance that passed between them—on his side despair, on hers regret, and then the evening went on, with the reassured beaux and the eternal cutting in.
At quarter to twelve Amory shook hands with her gravely, in the midst of a small crowd assembled to wish him good-speed. For an instant he lost his poise, and she felt a bit rattled when a satirical voice from a concealed wit cried:
“Take her outside, Amory!” As he took her hand he pressed it a little, and she returned the pressure as she had done to twenty hands that evening—that was all.
At two o’clock back at the Weatherbys’ Sally asked her if she and Amory had had a “time” in the den. Isabelle turned to her quietly. In her eyes was the light of the idealist, the inviolate dreamer of Joan-like dreams.
“No,” she answered. “I don’t do that sort of thing any more; he asked me to, but I said no.”
As she crept in bed she wondered what he’d say in his special delivery to-morrow. He had such a good-looking mouth—would she ever—?
“Fourteen angels were watching o’er them,” sang Sally sleepily from the next room.
“Damn!” muttered Isabelle, punching the pillow into a luxurious lump and exploring the cold sheets cautiously. “Damn!”
Amory, by way of the Princetonian, had arrived. The minor snobs, finely balanced thermometers of success, warmed to him as the club elections grew nigh, and he and Tom were visited by groups of upper classmen who arrived awkwardly, balanced on the edge of the furniture and talked of all subjects except the one of absorbing interest. Amory was amused at the intent eyes upon him, and, in case the visitors represented some club in which he was not interested, took great pleasure in shocking them with unorthodox remarks.
“Oh, let me see—” he said one night to a flabbergasted delegation, “what club do you represent?”
With visitors from Ivy and Cottage and Tiger Inn he played the “nice, unspoilt, ingenuous boy” very much at ease and quite unaware of the object of the call.
When the fatal morning arrived, early in March, and the campus became a document in hysteria, he slid smoothly into Cottage with Alec Connage and watched his suddenly neurotic class with much wonder.
There were fickle groups that jumped from club to club; there were friends of two or three days who announced tearfully and wildly that they must join the same club, nothing should separate them; there were snarling disclosures of long-hidden grudges as the Suddenly Prominent remembered snubs of freshman year. Unknown men were elevated into importance when they received certain coveted bids; others who were considered “all set” found that they had made unexpected enemies, felt themselves stranded and deserted, talked wildly of leaving college.
In his own crowd Amory saw men kept out for wearing green hats, for being “a damn tailor’s dummy,” for having “too much pull in heaven,” for getting drunk one night “not like a gentleman, by God,” or for unfathomable secret reasons known to no one but the wielders of the black balls.
This orgy of sociability culminated in a gigantic party at the Nassau Inn, where punch was dispensed from immense bowls, and the whole down-stairs became a delirious, circulating, shouting pattern of faces and voices.
“Goo’ boy, Tom, you got a good bunch in Cap.”
“Oh, Kerry—I hear you went Tiger with all the weight-lifters!” “Well, I didn’t go Cottage—the parlor-snakes’ delight.”
“They say Overton fainted when he got his Ivy bid—Did he sign up the first day?—oh, no. Tore over to Murray-Dodge on a bicycle—afraid it was a mistake.”
“How’d you get into Cap—you old roue?”
“’Gratulations yourself. Hear you got a good crowd.”
When the bar closed, the party broke up into groups and streamed, singing, over the snow-clad campus, in a weird delusion that snobbishness and strain were over at last, and that they could do what they pleased for the next two years.
Long afterward Amory thought of sophomore spring as the happiest time of his life. His ideas were in tune with life as he found it; he wanted no more than to drift and dream and enjoy a dozen new-found friendships through the April afternoons.
Alec Connage came into his room one morning and woke him up into the sunshine and peculiar glory of Campbell Hall shining in the window.
“Wake up, Original Sin, and scrape yourself together. Be in front of Renwick’s in half an hour. Somebody’s got a car.” He took the bureau cover and carefully deposited it, with its load of small articles, upon the bed.
“Where’d you get the car?” demanded Amory cynically.
“Sacred trust, but don’t be a critical goopher or you can’t go!”
“I think I’ll sleep,” Amory said calmly, resettling himself and reaching beside the bed for a cigarette.
“Why not? I’ve got a class at eleven-thirty.”
“You damned gloom! Of course, if you don’t want to go to the coast—”
With a bound Amory was out of bed, scattering the bureau cover’s burden on the floor. The coast… he hadn’t seen it for years, since he and his mother were on their pilgrimage.
“Who’s going?” he demanded as he wriggled into his B. V. D.’s.
“Oh, Dick Humbird and Kerry Holiday and Jesse Ferrenby and—oh about five or six. Speed it up, kid!”
In ten minutes Amory was devouring cornflakes in Renwick’s, and at nine-thirty they bowled happily out of town, headed for the sands of Deal Beach.
“You see,” said Kerry, “the car belongs down there. In fact, it was stolen from Asbury Park by persons unknown, who deserted it in Princeton and left for the West. Heartless Humbird here got permission from the city council to deliver it.”
“Anybody got any money?” suggested Ferrenby, turning around from the front seat.
There was an emphatic negative chorus.
“That makes it interesting.”
“Money—what’s money? We can sell the car.”
“Charge him salvage or something.”
“How’re we going to get food?” asked Amory.
“Honestly,” answered Kerry, eying him reprovingly, “do you doubt Kerry’s ability for three short days? Some people have lived on nothing for years at a time. Read the Boy Scout Monthly.”
“Three days,” Amory mused, “and I’ve got classes.”
“One of the days is the Sabbath.”
“Just the same, I can only cut six more classes, with over a month and a half to go.”
“Throw him out!”
“It’s a long walk back.”
“Amory, you’re running it out, if I may coin a new phrase.”
“Hadn’t you better get some dope on yourself, Amory?”
Amory subsided resignedly and drooped into a contemplation of the scenery. Swinburne seemed to fit in somehow.
“Oh, winter’s rains and ruins are over, And all the seasons of snows and sins; The days dividing lover and lover, The light that loses, the night that wins; And time remembered is grief forgotten, And frosts are slain and flowers begotten, And in green underwood and cover, Blossom by blossom the spring begins. “The full streams feed on flower of—”
“What’s the matter, Amory? Amory’s thinking about poetry, about the pretty birds and flowers. I can see it in his eye.”
“No, I’m not,” he lied. “I’m thinking about the Princetonian. I ought to make up to-night; but I can telephone back, I suppose.”
“Oh,” said Kerry respectfully, “these important men—”
Amory flushed and it seemed to him that Ferrenby, a defeated competitor, winced a little. Of course, Kerry was only kidding, but he really mustn’t mention the Princetonian.
It was a halcyon day, and as they neared the shore and the salt breezes scurried by, he began to picture the ocean and long, level stretches of sand and red roofs over blue sea. Then they hurried through the little town and it all flashed upon his consciousness to a mighty paean of emotion….
“Oh, good Lord! Look at it!” he cried.
“Let me out, quick—I haven’t seen it for eight years! Oh, gentlefolk, stop the car!”
“What an odd child!” remarked Alec.
“I do believe he’s a bit eccentric.”
The car was obligingly drawn up at a curb, and Amory ran for the boardwalk. First, he realized that the sea was blue and that there was an enormous quantity of it, and that it roared and roared—really all the banalities about the ocean that one could realize, but if any one had told him then that these things were banalities, he would have gaped in wonder.
“Now we’ll get lunch,” ordered Kerry, wandering up with the crowd. “Come on, Amory, tear yourself away and get practical.”
“We’ll try the best hotel first,” he went on, “and thence and so forth.”
They strolled along the boardwalk to the most imposing hostelry in sight, and, entering the dining-room, scattered about a table.
“Eight Bronxes,” commanded Alec, “and a club sandwich and Juliennes. The food for one. Hand the rest around.”
Amory ate little, having seized a chair where he could watch the sea and feel the rock of it. When luncheon was over they sat and smoked quietly.
“What’s the bill?”
Some one scanned it.
“Rotten overcharge. We’ll give them two dollars and one for the waiter. Kerry, collect the small change.”
The waiter approached, and Kerry gravely handed him a dollar, tossed two dollars on the check, and turned away. They sauntered leisurely toward the door, pursued in a moment by the suspicious Ganymede.
“Some mistake, sir.”
Kerry took the bill and examined it critically.
“No mistake!” he said, shaking his head gravely, and, tearing it into four pieces, he handed the scraps to the waiter, who was so dumfounded that he stood motionless and expressionless while they walked out.
“Won’t he send after us?”
“No,” said Kerry; “for a minute he’ll think we’re the proprietor’s sons or something; then he’ll look at the check again and call the manager, and in the meantime—”
They left the car at Asbury and street-car’d to Allenhurst, where they investigated the crowded pavilions for beauty. At four there were refreshments in a lunch-room, and this time they paid an even smaller per cent on the total cost; something about the appearance and savoir-faire of the crowd made the thing go, and they were not pursued.
“You see, Amory, we’re Marxian Socialists,” explained Kerry. “We don’t believe in property and we’re putting it to the great test.”
“Night will descend,” Amory suggested.
“Watch, and put your trust in Holiday.”
They became jovial about five-thirty and, linking arms, strolled up and down the boardwalk in a row, chanting a monotonous ditty about the sad sea waves. Then Kerry saw a face in the crowd that attracted him and, rushing off, reappeared in a moment with one of the homeliest girls Amory had ever set eyes on. Her pale mouth extended from ear to ear, her teeth projected in a solid wedge, and she had little, squinty eyes that peeped ingratiatingly over the side sweep of her nose. Kerry presented them formally.
“Name of Kaluka, Hawaiian queen! Let me present Messrs. Connage, Sloane, Humbird, Ferrenby, and Blaine.”
The girl bobbed courtesies all around. Poor creature; Amory supposed she had never before been noticed in her life—possibly she was half-witted. While she accompanied them (Kerry had invited her to supper) she said nothing which could discountenance such a belief.
“She prefers her native dishes,” said Alec gravely to the waiter, “but any coarse food will do.”
All through supper he addressed her in the most respectful language, while Kerry made idiotic love to her on the other side, and she giggled and grinned. Amory was content to sit and watch the by-play, thinking what a light touch Kerry had, and how he could transform the barest incident into a thing of curve and contour. They all seemed to have the spirit of it more or less, and it was a relaxation to be with them. Amory usually liked men individually, yet feared them in crowds unless the crowd was around him. He wondered how much each one contributed to the party, for there was somewhat of a spiritual tax levied. Alec and Kerry were the life of it, but not quite the centre. Somehow the quiet Humbird, and Sloane, with his impatient superciliousness, were the centre.
Dick Humbird had, ever since freshman year, seemed to Amory a perfect type of aristocrat. He was slender but well-built—black curly hair, straight features, and rather a dark skin. Everything he said sounded intangibly appropriate. He possessed infinite courage, an averagely good mind, and a sense of honor with a clear charm and noblesse oblige that varied it from righteousness. He could dissipate without going to pieces, and even his most bohemian adventures never seemed “running it out.” People dressed like him, tried to talk as he did…. Amory decided that he probably held the world back, but he wouldn’t have changed him. …
He differed from the healthy type that was essentially middle class—he never seemed to perspire. Some people couldn’t be familiar with a chauffeur without having it returned; Humbird could have lunched at Sherry’s with a colored man, yet people would have somehow known that it was all right. He was not a snob, though he knew only half his class. His friends ranged from the highest to the lowest, but it was impossible to “cultivate” him. Servants worshipped him, and treated him like a god. He seemed the eternal example of what the upper class tries to be.
“He’s like those pictures in the Illustrated London News of the English officers who have been killed,” Amory had said to Alec. “Well,” Alec had answered, “if you want to know the shocking truth, his father was a grocery clerk who made a fortune in Tacoma real estate and came to New York ten years ago.”
Amory had felt a curious sinking sensation.
This present type of party was made possible by the surging together of the class after club elections—as if to make a last desperate attempt to know itself, to keep together, to fight off the tightening spirit of the clubs. It was a let-down from the conventional heights they had all walked so rigidly.
After supper they saw Kaluka to the boardwalk, and then strolled back along the beach to Asbury. The evening sea was a new sensation, for all its color and mellow age was gone, and it seemed the bleak waste that made the Norse sagas sad; Amory thought of Kipling’s
“Beaches of Lukanon before the sealers came.”
It was still a music, though, infinitely sorrowful.
Ten o’clock found them penniless. They had suppered greatly on their last eleven cents and, singing, strolled up through the casinos and lighted arches on the boardwalk, stopping to listen approvingly to all band concerts. In one place Kerry took up a collection for the French War Orphans which netted a dollar and twenty cents, and with this they bought some brandy in case they caught cold in the night. They finished the day in a moving-picture show and went into solemn systematic roars of laughter at an ancient comedy, to the startled annoyance of the rest of the audience. Their entrance was distinctly strategic, for each man as he entered pointed reproachfully at the one just behind him. Sloane, bringing up the rear, disclaimed all knowledge and responsibility as soon as the others were scattered inside; then as the irate ticket-taker rushed in he followed nonchalantly.
They reassembled later by the Casino and made arrangements for the night. Kerry wormed permission from the watchman to sleep on the platform and, having collected a huge pile of rugs from the booths to serve as mattresses and blankets, they talked until midnight, and then fell into a dreamless sleep, though Amory tried hard to stay awake and watch that marvellous moon settle on the sea.
So they progressed for two happy days, up and down the shore by street-car or machine, or by shoe-leather on the crowded boardwalk; sometimes eating with the wealthy, more frequently dining frugally at the expense of an unsuspecting restaurateur. They had their photos taken, eight poses, in a quick-development store. Kerry insisted on grouping them as a “varsity” football team, and then as a tough gang from the East Side, with their coats inside out, and himself sitting in the middle on a cardboard moon. The photographer probably has them yet—at least, they never called for them. The weather was perfect, and again they slept outside, and again Amory fell unwillingly asleep.
Sunday broke stolid and respectable, and even the sea seemed to mumble and complain, so they returned to Princeton via the Fords of transient farmers, and broke up with colds in their heads, but otherwise none the worse for wandering.
Even more than in the year before, Amory neglected his work, not deliberately but lazily and through a multitude of other interests. Co-ordinate geometry and the melancholy hexameters of Corneille and Racine held forth small allurements, and even psychology, which he had eagerly awaited, proved to be a dull subject full of muscular reactions and biological phrases rather than the study of personality and influence. That was a noon class, and it always sent him dozing. Having found that “subjective and objective, sir,” answered most of the questions, he used the phrase on all occasions, and it became the class joke when, on a query being levelled at him, he was nudged awake by Ferrenby or Sloane to gasp it out.
Mostly there were parties—to Orange or the Shore, more rarely to New York and Philadelphia, though one night they marshalled fourteen waitresses out of Childs’ and took them to ride down Fifth Avenue on top of an auto bus. They all cut more classes than were allowed, which meant an additional course the following year, but spring was too rare to let anything interfere with their colorful ramblings. In May Amory was elected to the Sophomore Prom Committee, and when after a long evening’s discussion with Alec they made out a tentative list of class probabilities for the senior council, they placed themselves among the surest. The senior council was composed presumably of the eighteen most representative seniors, and in view of Alec’s football managership and Amory’s chance of nosing out Burne Holiday as Princetonian chairman, they seemed fairly justified in this presumption. Oddly enough, they both placed D’Invilliers as among the possibilities, a guess that a year before the class would have gaped at.
All through the spring Amory had kept up an intermittent correspondence with Isabelle Borge, punctuated by violent squabbles and chiefly enlivened by his attempts to find new words for love. He discovered Isabelle to be discreetly and aggravatingly unsentimental in letters, but he hoped against hope that she would prove not too exotic a bloom to fit the large spaces of spring as she had fitted the den in the Minnehaha Club. During May he wrote thirty-page documents almost nightly, and sent them to her in bulky envelopes exteriorly labelled “Part I” and “Part II.”
“Oh, Alec, I believe I’m tired of college,” he said sadly, as they walked the dusk together.
“I think I am, too, in a way.”
“All I’d like would be a little home in the country, some warm country, and a wife, and just enough to do to keep from rotting.”
“I’d like to quit.”
“What does your girl say?”
“Oh!” Amory gasped in horror. “She wouldn’t think of marrying… that is, not now. I mean the future, you know.”
“My girl would. I’m engaged.”
“Are you really?”
“Yes. Don’t say a word to anybody, please, but I am. I may not come back next year.”
“But you’re only twenty! Give up college?”
“Why, Amory, you were saying a minute ago—”
“Yes,” Amory interrupted, “but I was just wishing. I wouldn’t think of leaving college. It’s just that I feel so sad these wonderful nights. I sort of feel they’re never coming again, and I’m not really getting all I could out of them. I wish my girl lived here. But marry—not a chance. Especially as father says the money isn’t forthcoming as it used to be.”
“What a waste these nights are!” agreed Alec.
But Amory sighed and made use of the nights. He had a snap-shot of Isabelle, enshrined in an old watch, and at eight almost every night he would turn off all the lights except the desk lamp and, sitting by the open windows with the picture before him, write her rapturous letters.
... Oh it’s so hard to write you what I really feel when I think about you so much; you’ve gotten to mean to me a dream that I can’t put on paper any more. Your last letter came and it was wonderful! I read it over about six times, especially the last part, but I do wish, sometimes, you’d be more frank and tell me what you really do think of me, yet your last letter was too good to be true, and I can hardly wait until June! Be sure and be able to come to the prom. It’ll be fine, I think, and I want to bring you just at the end of a wonderful year. I often think over what you said on that night and wonder how much you meant. If it were anyone but you—but you see I thought you were fickle the first time I saw you and you are so popular and everthing that I can’t imagine you really liking me best. Oh, Isabelle, dear—it’s a wonderful night. Somebody is playing “Love Moon” on a mandolin far across the campus, and the music seems to bring you into the window. Now he’s playing “Good-by, Boys, I’m Through,” and how well it suits me. For I am through with everything. I have decided never to take a cocktail again, and I know I’ll never again fall in love—I couldn’t—you’ve been too much a part of my days and nights to ever let me think of another girl. I meet them all the time and they don’t interest me. I’m not pretending to be blasé, because it’s not that. It’s just that I’m in love. Oh, dearest Isabelle (somehow I can’t call you just Isabelle, and I’m afraid I’ll come out with the “dearest” before your family this June), you’ve got to come to the prom, and then I’ll come up to your house for a day and everything’ll be perfect....
And so on in an eternal monotone that seemed to both of them infinitely charming, infinitely new.
June came and the days grew so hot and lazy that they could not worry even about exams, but spent dreamy evenings on the court of Cottage, talking of long subjects until the sweep of country toward Stony Brook became a blue haze and the lilacs were white around tennis-courts, and words gave way to silent cigarettes…. Then down deserted Prospect and along McCosh with song everywhere around them, up to the hot joviality of Nassau Street.
Tom D’Invilliers and Amory walked late in those days. A gambling fever swept through the sophomore class and they bent over the bones till three o’clock many a sultry night. After one session they came out of Sloane’s room to find the dew fallen and the stars old in the sky.
“Let’s borrow bicycles and take a ride,” Amory suggested.
“All right. I’m not a bit tired and this is almost the last night of the year, really, because the prom stuff starts Monday.”
They found two unlocked bicycles in Holder Court and rode out about half-past three along the Lawrenceville Road.
“What are you going to do this summer, Amory?”
“Don’t ask me—same old things, I suppose. A month or two in Lake Geneva—I’m counting on you to be there in July, you know—then there’ll be Minneapolis, and that means hundreds of summer hops, parlor-snaking, getting bored—But oh, Tom,” he added suddenly, “hasn’t this year been slick!”
“No,” declared Tom emphatically, a new Tom, clothed by Brooks, shod by Franks, “I’ve won this game, but I feel as if I never want to play another. You’re all right—you’re a rubber ball, and somehow it suits you, but I’m sick of adapting myself to the local snobbishness of this corner of the world. I want to go where people aren’t barred because of the color of their neckties and the roll of their coats.”
“You can’t, Tom,” argued Amory, as they rolled along through the scattering night; “wherever you go now you’ll always unconsciously apply these standards of ‘having it’ or ‘lacking it.’ For better or worse we’ve stamped you; you’re a Princeton type!”
“Well, then,” complained Tom, his cracked voice rising plaintively, “why do I have to come back at all? I’ve learned all that Princeton has to offer. Two years more of mere pedantry and lying around a club aren’t going to help. They’re just going to disorganize me, conventionalize me completely. Even now I’m so spineless that I wonder how I get away with it.”
“Oh, but you’re missing the real point, Tom,” Amory interrupted. “You’ve just had your eyes opened to the snobbishness of the world in a rather abrupt manner. Princeton invariably gives the thoughtful man a social sense.”
“You consider you taught me that, don’t you?” he asked quizzically, eying Amory in the half dark.
Amory laughed quietly.
“Sometimes,” he said slowly, “I think you’re my bad angel. I might have been a pretty fair poet.”
“Come on, that’s rather hard. You chose to come to an Eastern college. Either your eyes were opened to the mean scrambling quality of people, or you’d have gone through blind, and you’d hate to have done that—been like Marty Kaye.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “you’re right. I wouldn’t have liked it. Still, it’s hard to be made a cynic at twenty.”
“I was born one,” Amory murmured. “I’m a cynical idealist.” He paused and wondered if that meant anything.
They reached the sleeping school of Lawrenceville, and turned to ride back.
“It’s good, this ride, isn’t it?” Tom said presently.
“Yes; it’s a good finish, it’s knock-out; everything’s good to-night. Oh, for a hot, languorous summer and Isabelle!”
“Oh, you and your Isabelle! I’ll bet she’s a simple one… let’s say some poetry.”
So Amory declaimed “The Ode to a Nightingale” to the bushes they passed.
“I’ll never be a poet,” said Amory as he finished. “I’m not enough of a sensualist really; there are only a few obvious things that I notice as primarily beautiful: women, spring evenings, music at night, the sea; I don’t catch the subtle things like ‘silver-snarling trumpets.’ I may turn out an intellectual, but I’ll never write anything but mediocre poetry.”
They rode into Princeton as the sun was making colored maps of the sky behind the graduate school, and hurried to the refreshment of a shower that would have to serve in place of sleep. By noon the bright-costumed alumni crowded the streets with their bands and choruses, and in the tents there was great reunion under the orange-and-black banners that curled and strained in the wind. Amory looked long at one house which bore the legend “Sixty-nine.” There a few gray-haired men sat and talked quietly while the classes swept by in panorama of life.
UNDER THE ARC-LIGHT
Then tragedy’s emerald eyes glared suddenly at Amory over the edge of June. On the night after his ride to Lawrenceville a crowd sallied to New York in quest of adventure, and started back to Princeton about twelve o’clock in two machines. It had been a gay party and different stages of sobriety were represented. Amory was in the car behind; they had taken the wrong road and lost the way, and so were hurrying to catch up.
It was a clear night and the exhilaration of the road went to Amory’s head. He had the ghost of two stanzas of a poem forming in his mind. …
So the gray car crept nightward in the dark and there was no life stirred as it went by.... As the still ocean paths before the shark in starred and glittering waterways, beauty-high, the moon-swathed trees divided, pair on pair, while flapping nightbirds cried across the air.... A moment by an inn of lamps and shades, a yellow inn under a yellow moon—then silence, where crescendo laughter fades... the car swung out again to the winds of June, mellowed the shadows where the distance grew, then crushed the yellow shadows into blue....
They jolted to a stop, and Amory peered up, startled. A woman was standing beside the road, talking to Alec at the wheel. Afterward he remembered the harpy effect that her old kimono gave her, and the cracked hollowness of her voice as she spoke:
“You Princeton boys?”
“Well, there’s one of you killed here, and two others about dead.”
“Look!” She pointed and they gazed in horror. Under the full light of a roadside arc-light lay a form, face downward in a widening circle of blood.
They sprang from the car. Amory thought of the back of that head—that hair—that hair… and then they turned the form over.
“It’s Dick—Dick Humbird!”
“Feel his heart!”
Then the insistent voice of the old crone in a sort of croaking triumph:
“He’s quite dead, all right. The car turned over. Two of the men that weren’t hurt just carried the others in, but this one’s no use.”
Amory rushed into the house and the rest followed with a limp mass that they laid on the sofa in the shoddy little front parlor. Sloane, with his shoulder punctured, was on another lounge. He was half delirious, and kept calling something about a chemistry lecture at 8:10.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Ferrenby in a strained voice. “Dick was driving and he wouldn’t give up the wheel; we told him he’d been drinking too much—then there was this damn curve—oh, my God!…” He threw himself face downward on the floor and broke into dry sobs.
The doctor had arrived, and Amory went over to the couch, where some one handed him a sheet to put over the body. With a sudden hardness, he raised one of the hands and let it fall back inertly. The brow was cold but the face not expressionless. He looked at the shoe-laces—Dick had tied them that morning. He had tied them—and now he was this heavy white mass. All that remained of the charm and personality of the Dick Humbird he had known—oh, it was all so horrible and unaristocratic and close to the earth. All tragedy has that strain of the grotesque and squalid—so useless, futile… the way animals die…. Amory was reminded of a cat that had lain horribly mangled in some alley of his childhood.
“Some one go to Princeton with Ferrenby.”
Amory stepped outside the door and shivered slightly at the late night wind—a wind that stirred a broken fender on the mass of bent metal to a plaintive, tinny sound.
Next day, by a merciful chance, passed in a whirl. When Amory was by himself his thoughts zigzagged inevitably to the picture of that red mouth yawning incongruously in the white face, but with a determined effort he piled present excitement upon the memory of it and shut it coldly away from his mind.
Isabelle and her mother drove into town at four, and they rode up smiling Prospect Avenue, through the gay crowd, to have tea at Cottage. The clubs had their annual dinners that night, so at seven he loaned her to a freshman and arranged to meet her in the gymnasium at eleven, when the upper classmen were admitted to the freshman dance. She was all he had expected, and he was happy and eager to make that night the centre of every dream. At nine the upper classes stood in front of the clubs as the freshman torchlight parade rioted past, and Amory wondered if the dress-suited groups against the dark, stately backgrounds and under the flare of the torches made the night as brilliant to the staring, cheering freshmen as it had been to him the year before.
The next day was another whirl. They lunched in a gay party of six in a private dining-room at the club, while Isabelle and Amory looked at each other tenderly over the fried chicken and knew that their love was to be eternal. They danced away the prom until five, and the stags cut in on Isabelle with joyous abandon, which grew more and more enthusiastic as the hour grew late, and their wines, stored in overcoat pockets in the coat room, made old weariness wait until another day. The stag line is a most homogeneous mass of men. It fairly sways with a single soul. A dark-haired beauty dances by and there is a half-gasping sound as the ripple surges forward and some one sleeker than the rest darts out and cuts in. Then when the six-foot girl (brought by Kaye in your class, and to whom he has been trying to introduce you all evening) gallops by, the line surges back and the groups face about and become intent on far corners of the hall, for Kaye, anxious and perspiring, appears elbowing through the crowd in search of familiar faces.
“I say, old man, I’ve got an awfully nice—”
“Sorry, Kaye, but I’m set for this one. I’ve got to cut in on a fella.”
“Well, the next one?”
“What—ah—er—I swear I’ve got to go cut in—look me up when she’s got a dance free.”
It delighted Amory when Isabelle suggested that they leave for a while and drive around in her car. For a delicious hour that passed too soon they glided the silent roads about Princeton and talked from the surface of their hearts in shy excitement. Amory felt strangely ingenuous and made no attempt to kiss her.
Next day they rode up through the Jersey country, had luncheon in New York, and in the afternoon went to see a problem play at which Isabelle wept all through the second act, rather to Amory’s embarrassment—though it filled him with tenderness to watch her. He was tempted to lean over and kiss away her tears, and she slipped her hand into his under cover of darkness to be pressed softly.
Then at six they arrived at the Borges’ summer place on Long Island, and Amory rushed up-stairs to change into a dinner coat. As he put in his studs he realized that he was enjoying life as he would probably never enjoy it again. Everything was hallowed by the haze of his own youth. He had arrived, abreast of the best in his generation at Princeton. He was in love and his love was returned. Turning on all the lights, he looked at himself in the mirror, trying to find in his own face the qualities that made him see clearer than the great crowd of people, that made him decide firmly, and able to influence and follow his own will. There was little in his life now that he would have changed. … Oxford might have been a bigger field.
Silently he admired himself. How conveniently well he looked, and how well a dinner coat became him. He stepped into the hall and then waited at the top of the stairs, for he heard footsteps coming. It was Isabelle, and from the top of her shining hair to her little golden slippers she had never seemed so beautiful.
“Isabelle!” he cried, half involuntarily, and held out his arms. As in the story-books, she ran into them, and on that half-minute, as their lips first touched, rested the high point of vanity, the crest of his young egotism.