CHAPTER 4. Narcissus Off Duty
During Princeton’s transition period, that is, during Amory’s last two years there, while he saw it change and broaden and live up to its Gothic beauty by better means than night parades, certain individuals arrived who stirred it to its plethoric depths. Some of them had been freshmen, and wild freshmen, with Amory; some were in the class below; and it was in the beginning of his last year and around small tables at the Nassau Inn that they began questioning aloud the institutions that Amory and countless others before him had questioned so long in secret. First, and partly by accident, they struck on certain books, a definite type of biographical novel that Amory christened “quest” books. In the “quest” book the hero set off in life armed with the best weapons and avowedly intending to use them as such weapons are usually used, to push their possessors ahead as selfishly and blindly as possible, but the heroes of the “quest” books discovered that there might be a more magnificent use for them. “None Other Gods,” “Sinister Street,” and “The Research Magnificent” were examples of such books; it was the latter of these three that gripped Burne Holiday and made him wonder in the beginning of senior year how much it was worth while being a diplomatic autocrat around his club on Prospect Avenue and basking in the high lights of class office. It was distinctly through the channels of aristocracy that Burne found his way. Amory, through Kerry, had had a vague drifting acquaintance with him, but not until January of senior year did their friendship commence.
“Heard the latest?” said Tom, coming in late one drizzly evening with that triumphant air he always wore after a successful conversational bout.
“No. Somebody flunked out? Or another ship sunk?”
“Worse than that. About one-third of the junior class are going to resign from their clubs.”
“Spirit of reform and all that. Burne Holiday is behind it. The club presidents are holding a meeting to-night to see if they can find a joint means of combating it.”
“Well, what’s the idea of the thing?”
“Oh, clubs injurious to Princeton democracy; cost a lot; draw social lines, take time; the regular line you get sometimes from disappointed sophomores. Woodrow thought they should be abolished and all that.”
“But this is the real thing?”
“Absolutely. I think it’ll go through.”
“For Pete’s sake, tell me more about it.”
“Well,” began Tom, “it seems that the idea developed simultaneously in several heads. I was talking to Burne awhile ago, and he claims that it’s a logical result if an intelligent person thinks long enough about the social system. They had a ‘discussion crowd’ and the point of abolishing the clubs was brought up by some one—everybody there leaped at it—it had been in each one’s mind, more or less, and it just needed a spark to bring it out.”
“Fine! I swear I think it’ll be most entertaining. How do they feel up at Cap and Gown?”
“Wild, of course. Every one’s been sitting and arguing and swearing and getting mad and getting sentimental and getting brutal. It’s the same at all the clubs; I’ve been the rounds. They get one of the radicals in the corner and fire questions at him.”
“How do the radicals stand up?”
“Oh, moderately well. Burne’s a damn good talker, and so obviously sincere that you can’t get anywhere with him. It’s so evident that resigning from his club means so much more to him than preventing it does to us that I felt futile when I argued; finally took a position that was brilliantly neutral. In fact, I believe Burne thought for a while that he’d converted me.”
“And you say almost a third of the junior class are going to resign?”
“Call it a fourth and be safe.”
“Lord—who’d have thought it possible!”
There was a brisk knock at the door, and Burne himself came in. “Hello, Amory—hello, Tom.”
“’Evening, Burne. Don’t mind if I seem to rush; I’m going to Renwick’s.”
Burne turned to him quickly.
“You probably know what I want to talk to Tom about, and it isn’t a bit private. I wish you’d stay.”
“I’d be glad to.” Amory sat down again, and as Burne perched on a table and launched into argument with Tom, he looked at this revolutionary more carefully than he ever had before. Broad-browed and strong-chinned, with a fineness in the honest gray eyes that were like Kerry’s, Burne was a man who gave an immediate impression of bigness and security—stubborn, that was evident, but his stubbornness wore no stolidity, and when he had talked for five minutes Amory knew that this keen enthusiasm had in it no quality of dilettantism.
The intense power Amory felt later in Burne Holiday differed from the admiration he had had for Humbird. This time it began as purely a mental interest. With other men of whom he had thought as primarily first-class, he had been attracted first by their personalities, and in Burne he missed that immediate magnetism to which he usually swore allegiance. But that night Amory was struck by Burne’s intense earnestness, a quality he was accustomed to associate only with the dread stupidity, and by the great enthusiasm that struck dead chords in his heart. Burne stood vaguely for a land Amory hoped he was drifting toward—and it was almost time that land was in sight. Tom and Amory and Alec had reached an impasse; never did they seem to have new experiences in common, for Tom and Alec had been as blindly busy with their committees and boards as Amory had been blindly idling, and the things they had for dissection—college, contemporary personality and the like—they had hashed and rehashed for many a frugal conversational meal.
That night they discussed the clubs until twelve, and, in the main, they agreed with Burne. To the roommates it did not seem such a vital subject as it had in the two years before, but the logic of Burne’s objections to the social system dovetailed so completely with everything they had thought, that they questioned rather than argued, and envied the sanity that enabled this man to stand out so against all traditions.
Then Amory branched off and found that Burne was deep in other things as well. Economics had interested him and he was turning socialist. Pacifism played in the back of his mind, and he read The Masses and Lyoff Tolstoi faithfully.
“How about religion?” Amory asked him.
“Don’t know. I’m in a muddle about a lot of things—I’ve just discovered that I’ve a mind, and I’m starting to read.”
“Everything. I have to pick and choose, of course, but mostly things to make me think. I’m reading the four gospels now, and the ‘Varieties of Religious Experience.’”
“What chiefly started you?”
“Wells, I guess, and Tolstoi, and a man named Edward Carpenter. I’ve been reading for over a year now—on a few lines, on what I consider the essential lines.”
“Well, frankly, not what you call poetry, or for your reasons—you two write, of course, and look at things differently. Whitman is the man that attracts me.”
“Yes; he’s a definite ethical force.”
“Well, I’m ashamed to say that I’m a blank on the subject of Whitman. How about you, Tom?”
Tom nodded sheepishly.
“Well,” continued Burne, “you may strike a few poems that are tiresome, but I mean the mass of his work. He’s tremendous—like Tolstoi. They both look things in the face, and, somehow, different as they are, stand for somewhat the same things.”
“You have me stumped, Burne,” Amory admitted. “I’ve read ‘Anna Karenina’ and the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ of course, but Tolstoi is mostly in the original Russian as far as I’m concerned.”
“He’s the greatest man in hundreds of years,” cried Burne enthusiastically. “Did you ever see a picture of that shaggy old head of his?”
They talked until three, from biology to organized religion, and when Amory crept shivering into bed it was with his mind aglow with ideas and a sense of shock that some one else had discovered the path he might have followed. Burne Holiday was so evidently developing—and Amory had considered that he was doing the same. He had fallen into a deep cynicism over what had crossed his path, plotted the imperfectability of man and read Shaw and Chesterton enough to keep his mind from the edges of decadence—now suddenly all his mental processes of the last year and a half seemed stale and futile—a petty consummation of himself… and like a sombre background lay that incident of the spring before, that filled half his nights with a dreary terror and made him unable to pray. He was not even a Catholic, yet that was the only ghost of a code that he had, the gaudy, ritualistic, paradoxical Catholicism whose prophet was Chesterton, whose claqueurs were such reformed rakes of literature as Huysmans and Bourget, whose American sponsor was Ralph Adams Cram, with his adulation of thirteenth-century cathedrals—a Catholicism which Amory found convenient and ready-made, without priest or sacraments or sacrifice.
He could not sleep, so he turned on his reading-lamp and, taking down the “Kreutzer Sonata,” searched it carefully for the germs of Burne’s enthusiasm. Being Burne was suddenly so much realler than being clever. Yet he sighed… here were other possible clay feet.
He thought back through two years, of Burne as a hurried, nervous freshman, quite submerged in his brother’s personality. Then he remembered an incident of sophomore year, in which Burne had been suspected of the leading role.
Dean Hollister had been heard by a large group arguing with a taxi-driver, who had driven him from the junction. In the course of the altercation the dean remarked that he “might as well buy the taxicab.” He paid and walked off, but next morning he entered his private office to find the taxicab itself in the space usually occupied by his desk, bearing a sign which read “Property of Dean Hollister. Bought and Paid for.”… It took two expert mechanics half a day to dissemble it into its minutest parts and remove it, which only goes to prove the rare energy of sophomore humor under efficient leadership.
Then again, that very fall, Burne had caused a sensation. A certain Phyllis Styles, an intercollegiate prom-trotter, had failed to get her yearly invitation to the Harvard-Princeton game.
Jesse Ferrenby had brought her to a smaller game a few weeks before, and had pressed Burne into service—to the ruination of the latter’s misogyny.
“Are you coming to the Harvard game?” Burne had asked indiscreetly, merely to make conversation.
“If you ask me,” cried Phyllis quickly.
“Of course I do,” said Burne feebly. He was unversed in the arts of Phyllis, and was sure that this was merely a vapid form of kidding. Before an hour had passed he knew that he was indeed involved. Phyllis had pinned him down and served him up, informed him the train she was arriving by, and depressed him thoroughly. Aside from loathing Phyllis, he had particularly wanted to stag that game and entertain some Harvard friends.
“She’ll see,” he informed a delegation who arrived in his room to josh him. “This will be the last game she ever persuades any young innocent to take her to!”
“But, Burne—why did you invite her if you didn’t want her?”
“Burne, you know you’re secretly mad about her—that’s the real trouble.”
“What can you do, Burne? What can you do against Phyllis?”
But Burne only shook his head and muttered threats which consisted largely of the phrase: “She’ll see, she’ll see!”
The blithesome Phyllis bore her twenty-five summers gayly from the train, but on the platform a ghastly sight met her eyes. There were Burne and Fred Sloane arrayed to the last dot like the lurid figures on college posters. They had bought flaring suits with huge peg-top trousers and gigantic padded shoulders. On their heads were rakish college hats, pinned up in front and sporting bright orange-and-black bands, while from their celluloid collars blossomed flaming orange ties. They wore black arm-bands with orange “P’s,” and carried canes flying Princeton pennants, the effect completed by socks and peeping handkerchiefs in the same color motifs. On a clanking chain they led a large, angry tom-cat, painted to represent a tiger.
A good half of the station crowd was already staring at them, torn between horrified pity and riotous mirth, and as Phyllis, with her svelte jaw dropping, approached, the pair bent over and emitted a college cheer in loud, far-carrying voices, thoughtfully adding the name “Phyllis” to the end. She was vociferously greeted and escorted enthusiastically across the campus, followed by half a hundred village urchins—to the stifled laughter of hundreds of alumni and visitors, half of whom had no idea that this was a practical joke, but thought that Burne and Fred were two varsity sports showing their girl a collegiate time.
Phyllis’s feelings as she was paraded by the Harvard and Princeton stands, where sat dozens of her former devotees, can be imagined. She tried to walk a little ahead, she tried to walk a little behind—but they stayed close, that there should be no doubt whom she was with, talking in loud voices of their friends on the football team, until she could almost hear her acquaintances whispering:
“Phyllis Styles must be awfully hard up to have to come with those two.”
That had been Burne, dynamically humorous, fundamentally serious. From that root had blossomed the energy that he was now trying to orient with progress….
So the weeks passed and March came and the clay feet that Amory looked for failed to appear. About a hundred juniors and seniors resigned from their clubs in a final fury of righteousness, and the clubs in helplessness turned upon Burne their finest weapon: ridicule. Every one who knew him liked him—but what he stood for (and he began to stand for more all the time) came under the lash of many tongues, until a frailer man than he would have been snowed under.
“Don’t you mind losing prestige?” asked Amory one night. They had taken to exchanging calls several times a week.
“Of course I don’t. What’s prestige, at best?”
“Some people say that you’re just a rather original politician.”
He roared with laughter.
“That’s what Fred Sloane told me to-day. I suppose I have it coming.”
One afternoon they dipped into a subject that had interested Amory for a long time—the matter of the bearing of physical attributes on a man’s make-up. Burne had gone into the biology of this, and then:
“Of course health counts—a healthy man has twice the chance of being good,” he said.
“I don’t agree with you—I don’t believe in ‘muscular Christianity.’”
“I do—I believe Christ had great physical vigor.”
“Oh, no,” Amory protested. “He worked too hard for that. I imagine that when he died he was a broken-down man—and the great saints haven’t been strong.”
“Half of them have.”
“Well, even granting that, I don’t think health has anything to do with goodness; of course, it’s valuable to a great saint to be able to stand enormous strains, but this fad of popular preachers rising on their toes in simulated virility, bellowing that calisthenics will save the world—no, Burne, I can’t go that.”
“Well, let’s waive it—we won’t get anywhere, and besides I haven’t quite made up my mind about it myself. Now, here’s something I do know—personal appearance has a lot to do with it.”
“Coloring?” Amory asked eagerly.
“That’s what Tom and I figured,” Amory agreed. “We took the year-books for the last ten years and looked at the pictures of the senior council. I know you don’t think much of that august body, but it does represent success here in a general way. Well, I suppose only about thirty-five per cent of every class here are blonds, are really light—yet two-thirds of every senior council are light. We looked at pictures of ten years of them, mind you; that means that out of every fifteen light-haired men in the senior class one is on the senior council, and of the dark-haired men it’s only one in fifty.”
“It’s true,” Burne agreed. “The light-haired man is a higher type, generally speaking. I worked the thing out with the Presidents of the United States once, and found that way over half of them were light-haired—yet think of the preponderant number of brunettes in the race.”
“People unconsciously admit it,” said Amory. “You’ll notice a blond person is expected to talk. If a blond girl doesn’t talk we call her a ‘doll’; if a light-haired man is silent he’s considered stupid. Yet the world is full of ‘dark silent men’ and ‘languorous brunettes’ who haven’t a brain in their heads, but somehow are never accused of the dearth.”
“And the large mouth and broad chin and rather big nose undoubtedly make the superior face.”
“I’m not so sure.” Amory was all for classical features.
“Oh, yes—I’ll show you,” and Burne pulled out of his desk a photographic collection of heavily bearded, shaggy celebrities—Tolstoi, Whitman, Carpenter, and others.
“Aren’t they wonderful?”
Amory tried politely to appreciate them, and gave up laughingly.
“Burne, I think they’re the ugliest-looking crowd I ever came across. They look like an old man’s home.”
“Oh, Amory, look at that forehead on Emerson; look at Tolstoi’s eyes.” His tone was reproachful.
Amory shook his head.
“No! Call them remarkable-looking or anything you want—but ugly they certainly are.”
Unabashed, Burne ran his hand lovingly across the spacious foreheads, and piling up the pictures put them back in his desk.
Walking at night was one of his favorite pursuits, and one night he persuaded Amory to accompany him.
“I hate the dark,” Amory objected. “I didn’t use to—except when I was particularly imaginative, but now, I really do—I’m a regular fool about it.”
“That’s useless, you know.”
“We’ll go east,” Burne suggested, “and down that string of roads through the woods.”
“Doesn’t sound very appealing to me,” admitted Amory reluctantly, “but let’s go.”
They set off at a good gait, and for an hour swung along in a brisk argument until the lights of Princeton were luminous white blots behind them.
“Any person with any imagination is bound to be afraid,” said Burne earnestly. “And this very walking at night is one of the things I was afraid about. I’m going to tell you why I can walk anywhere now and not be afraid.”
“Go on,” Amory urged eagerly. They were striding toward the woods, Burne’s nervous, enthusiastic voice warming to his subject.
“I used to come out here alone at night, oh, three months ago, and I always stopped at that cross-road we just passed. There were the woods looming up ahead, just as they do now, there were dogs howling and the shadows and no human sound. Of course, I peopled the woods with everything ghastly, just like you do; don’t you?”
“I do,” Amory admitted.
“Well, I began analyzing it—my imagination persisted in sticking horrors into the dark—so I stuck my imagination into the dark instead, and let it look out at me—I let it play stray dog or escaped convict or ghost, and then saw myself coming along the road. That made it all right—as it always makes everything all right to project yourself completely into another’s place. I knew that if I were the dog or the convict or the ghost I wouldn’t be a menace to Burne Holiday any more than he was a menace to me. Then I thought of my watch. I’d better go back and leave it and then essay the woods. No; I decided, it’s better on the whole that I should lose a watch than that I should turn back—and I did go into them—not only followed the road through them, but walked into them until I wasn’t frightened any more—did it until one night I sat down and dozed off in there; then I knew I was through being afraid of the dark.”
“Lordy,” Amory breathed. “I couldn’t have done that. I’d have come out half-way, and the first time an automobile passed and made the dark thicker when its lamps disappeared, I’d have come in.”
“Well,” Burne said suddenly, after a few moments’ silence, “we’re half-way through, let’s turn back.”
On the return he launched into a discussion of will.
“It’s the whole thing,” he asserted. “It’s the one dividing line between good and evil. I’ve never met a man who led a rotten life and didn’t have a weak will.”
“How about great criminals?”
“They’re usually insane. If not, they’re weak. There is no such thing as a strong, sane criminal.”
“Burne, I disagree with you altogether; how about the superman?”
“He’s evil, I think, yet he’s strong and sane.”
“I’ve never met him. I’ll bet, though, that he’s stupid or insane.”
“I’ve met him over and over and he’s neither. That’s why I think you’re wrong.”
“I’m sure I’m not—and so I don’t believe in imprisonment except for the insane.”
On this point Amory could not agree. It seemed to him that life and history were rife with the strong criminal, keen, but often self-deluding; in politics and business one found him and among the old statesmen and kings and generals; but Burne never agreed and their courses began to split on that point.
Burne was drawing farther and farther away from the world about him. He resigned the vice-presidency of the senior class and took to reading and walking as almost his only pursuits. He voluntarily attended graduate lectures in philosophy and biology, and sat in all of them with a rather pathetically intent look in his eyes, as if waiting for something the lecturer would never quite come to. Sometimes Amory would see him squirm in his seat; and his face would light up; he was on fire to debate a point.
He grew more abstracted on the street and was even accused of becoming a snob, but Amory knew it was nothing of the sort, and once when Burne passed him four feet off, absolutely unseeingly, his mind a thousand miles away, Amory almost choked with the romantic joy of watching him. Burne seemed to be climbing heights where others would be forever unable to get a foothold.
“I tell you,” Amory declared to Tom, “he’s the first contemporary I’ve ever met whom I’ll admit is my superior in mental capacity.”
“It’s a bad time to admit it—people are beginning to think he’s odd.”
“He’s way over their heads—you know you think so yourself when you talk to him—Good Lord, Tom, you used to stand out against ‘people.’ Success has completely conventionalized you.”
Tom grew rather annoyed.
“What’s he trying to do—be excessively holy?”
“No! not like anybody you’ve ever seen. Never enters the Philadelphian Society. He has no faith in that rot. He doesn’t believe that public swimming-pools and a kind word in time will right the wrongs of the world; moreover, he takes a drink whenever he feels like it.”
“He certainly is getting in wrong.”
“Have you talked to him lately?”
“Then you haven’t any conception of him.”
The argument ended nowhere, but Amory noticed more than ever how the sentiment toward Burne had changed on the campus.
“It’s odd,” Amory said to Tom one night when they had grown more amicable on the subject, “that the people who violently disapprove of Burne’s radicalism are distinctly the Pharisee class—I mean they’re the best-educated men in college—the editors of the papers, like yourself and Ferrenby, the younger professors…. The illiterate athletes like Langueduc think he’s getting eccentric, but they just say, ‘Good old Burne has got some queer ideas in his head,’ and pass on—the Pharisee class—Gee! they ridicule him unmercifully.”
The next morning he met Burne hurrying along McCosh walk after a recitation.
“Whither bound, Tsar?”
“Over to the Prince office to see Ferrenby,” he waved a copy of the morning’s Princetonian at Amory. “He wrote this editorial.”
“Going to flay him alive?”
“No—but he’s got me all balled up. Either I’ve misjudged him or he’s suddenly become the world’s worst radical.”
Burne hurried on, and it was several days before Amory heard an account of the ensuing conversation. Burne had come into the editor’s sanctum displaying the paper cheerfully.
“Hello there, Savonarola.”
“I just read your editorial.”
“Good boy—didn’t know you stooped that low.”
“Jesse, you startled me.”
“Aren’t you afraid the faculty’ll get after you if you pull this irreligious stuff?”
“Like this morning.”
“What the devil—that editorial was on the coaching system.”
“Yes, but that quotation—”
Jesse sat up.
“You know: ‘He who is not with me is against me.’”
“Well—what about it?”
Jesse was puzzled but not alarmed.
“Well, you say here—let me see.” Burne opened the paper and read: “‘He who is not with me is against me, as that gentleman said who was notoriously capable of only coarse distinctions and puerile generalities.’”
“What of it?” Ferrenby began to look alarmed. “Oliver Cromwell said it, didn’t he? or was it Washington, or one of the saints? Good Lord, I’ve forgotten.”
Burne roared with laughter.
“Oh, Jesse, oh, good, kind Jesse.”
“Who said it, for Pete’s sake?”
“Well,” said Burne, recovering his voice, “St. Matthew attributes it to Christ.”
“My God!” cried Jesse, and collapsed backward into the waste-basket.
AMORY WRITES A POEM
The weeks tore by. Amory wandered occasionally to New York on the chance of finding a new shining green auto-bus, that its stick-of-candy glamour might penetrate his disposition. One day he ventured into a stock-company revival of a play whose name was faintly familiar. The curtain rose—he watched casually as a girl entered. A few phrases rang in his ear and touched a faint chord of memory. Where—? When—?
Then he seemed to hear a voice whispering beside him, a very soft, vibrant voice: “Oh, I’m such a poor little fool; do tell me when I do wrong.”
The solution came in a flash and he had a quick, glad memory of Isabelle.
He found a blank space on his programme, and began to scribble rapidly:
“Here in the figured dark I watch once more, There, with the curtain, roll the years away; Two years of years—there was an idle day Of ours, when happy endings didn’t bore Our unfermented souls; I could adore Your eager face beside me, wide-eyed, gay, Smiling a repertoire while the poor play Reached me as a faint ripple reaches shore. “Yawning and wondering an evening through, I watch alone... and chatterings, of course, Spoil the one scene which, somehow, did have charms; You wept a bit, and I grew sad for you Right here! Where Mr. X defends divorce And What’s-Her-Name falls fainting in his arms.”
“Ghosts are such dumb things,” said Alec, “they’re slow-witted. I can always outguess a ghost.”
“How?” asked Tom.
“Well, it depends where. Take a bedroom, for example. If you use any discretion a ghost can never get you in a bedroom.”
“Go on, s’pose you think there’s maybe a ghost in your bedroom—what measures do you take on getting home at night?” demanded Amory, interested.
“Take a stick” answered Alec, with ponderous reverence, “one about the length of a broom-handle. Now, the first thing to do is to get the room cleared—to do this you rush with your eyes closed into your study and turn on the lights—next, approaching the closet, carefully run the stick in the door three or four times. Then, if nothing happens, you can look in. Always, always run the stick in viciously first—never look first!”
“Of course, that’s the ancient Celtic school,” said Tom gravely.
“Yes—but they usually pray first. Anyway, you use this method to clear the closets and also for behind all doors—”
“And the bed,” Amory suggested.
“Oh, Amory, no!” cried Alec in horror. “That isn’t the way—the bed requires different tactics—let the bed alone, as you value your reason—if there is a ghost in the room and that’s only about a third of the time, it is almost always under the bed.”
“Well” Amory began.
Alec waved him into silence.
“Of course you never look. You stand in the middle of the floor and before he knows what you’re going to do make a sudden leap for the bed—never walk near the bed; to a ghost your ankle is your most vulnerable part—once in bed, you’re safe; he may lie around under the bed all night, but you’re safe as daylight. If you still have doubts pull the blanket over your head.”
“All that’s very interesting, Tom.”
“Isn’t it?” Alec beamed proudly. “All my own, too—the Sir Oliver Lodge of the new world.”
Amory was enjoying college immensely again. The sense of going forward in a direct, determined line had come back; youth was stirring and shaking out a few new feathers. He had even stored enough surplus energy to sally into a new pose.
“What’s the idea of all this ‘distracted’ stuff, Amory?” asked Alec one day, and then as Amory pretended to be cramped over his book in a daze: “Oh, don’t try to act Burne, the mystic, to me.”
Amory looked up innocently.
“What?” mimicked Alec. “Are you trying to read yourself into a rhapsody with—let’s see the book.”
He snatched it; regarded it derisively.
“Well?” said Amory a little stiffly.
“‘The Life of St. Teresa,’” read Alec aloud. “Oh, my gosh!”
“Does it bother you?”
“Does what bother me?”
“My acting dazed and all that?”
“Why, no—of course it doesn’t bother me.”
“Well, then, don’t spoil it. If I enjoy going around telling people guilelessly that I think I’m a genius, let me do it.”
“You’re getting a reputation for being eccentric,” said Alec, laughing, “if that’s what you mean.”
Amory finally prevailed, and Alec agreed to accept his face value in the presence of others if he was allowed rest periods when they were alone; so Amory “ran it out” at a great rate, bringing the most eccentric characters to dinner, wild-eyed grad students, preceptors with strange theories of God and government, to the cynical amazement of the supercilious Cottage Club.
As February became slashed by sun and moved cheerfully into March, Amory went several times to spend week-ends with Monsignor; once he took Burne, with great success, for he took equal pride and delight in displaying them to each other. Monsignor took him several times to see Thornton Hancock, and once or twice to the house of a Mrs. Lawrence, a type of Rome-haunting American whom Amory liked immediately.
Then one day came a letter from Monsignor, which appended an interesting P. S.:
“Do you know,” it ran, “that your third cousin, Clara Page, widowed six months and very poor, is living in Philadelphia? I don’t think you’ve ever met her, but I wish, as a favor to me, you’d go to see her. To my mind, she’s rather a remarkable woman, and just about your age.”
Amory sighed and decided to go, as a favor….
She was immemorial…. Amory wasn’t good enough for Clara, Clara of ripply golden hair, but then no man was. Her goodness was above the prosy morals of the husband-seeker, apart from the dull literature of female virtue.
Sorrow lay lightly around her, and when Amory found her in Philadelphia he thought her steely blue eyes held only happiness; a latent strength, a realism, was brought to its fullest development by the facts that she was compelled to face. She was alone in the world, with two small children, little money, and, worst of all, a host of friends. He saw her that winter in Philadelphia entertaining a houseful of men for an evening, when he knew she had not a servant in the house except the little colored girl guarding the babies overhead. He saw one of the greatest libertines in that city, a man who was habitually drunk and notorious at home and abroad, sitting opposite her for an evening, discussing girls’ boarding-schools with a sort of innocent excitement. What a twist Clara had to her mind! She could make fascinating and almost brilliant conversation out of the thinnest air that ever floated through a drawing-room.
The idea that the girl was poverty-stricken had appealed to Amory’s sense of situation. He arrived in Philadelphia expecting to be told that 921 Ark Street was in a miserable lane of hovels. He was even disappointed when it proved to be nothing of the sort. It was an old house that had been in her husband’s family for years. An elderly aunt, who objected to having it sold, had put ten years’ taxes with a lawyer and pranced off to Honolulu, leaving Clara to struggle with the heating-problem as best she could. So no wild-haired woman with a hungry baby at her breast and a sad Amelia-like look greeted him. Instead, Amory would have thought from his reception that she had not a care in the world.
A calm virility and a dreamy humor, marked contrasts to her level-headedness—into these moods she slipped sometimes as a refuge. She could do the most prosy things (though she was wise enough never to stultify herself with such “household arts” as knitting and embroidery), yet immediately afterward pick up a book and let her imagination rove as a formless cloud with the wind. Deepest of all in her personality was the golden radiance that she diffused around her. As an open fire in a dark room throws romance and pathos into the quiet faces at its edge, so she cast her lights and shadows around the rooms that held her, until she made of her prosy old uncle a man of quaint and meditative charm, metamorphosed the stray telegraph boy into a Puck-like creature of delightful originality. At first this quality of hers somehow irritated Amory. He considered his own uniqueness sufficient, and it rather embarrassed him when she tried to read new interests into him for the benefit of what other adorers were present. He felt as if a polite but insistent stage-manager were attempting to make him give a new interpretation of a part he had conned for years.
But Clara talking, Clara telling a slender tale of a hatpin and an inebriated man and herself…. People tried afterward to repeat her anecdotes but for the life of them they could make them sound like nothing whatever. They gave her a sort of innocent attention and the best smiles many of them had smiled for long; there were few tears in Clara, but people smiled misty-eyed at her.
Very occasionally Amory stayed for little half-hours after the rest of the court had gone, and they would have bread and jam and tea late in the afternoon or “maple-sugar lunches,” as she called them, at night.
“You are remarkable, aren’t you!” Amory was becoming trite from where he perched in the centre of the dining-room table one six o’clock.
“Not a bit,” she answered. She was searching out napkins in the sideboard. “I’m really most humdrum and commonplace. One of those people who have no interest in anything but their children.”
“Tell that to somebody else,” scoffed Amory. “You know you’re perfectly effulgent.” He asked her the one thing that he knew might embarrass her. It was the remark that the first bore made to Adam.
“Tell me about yourself.” And she gave the answer that Adam must have given.
“There’s nothing to tell.”
But eventually Adam probably told the bore all the things he thought about at night when the locusts sang in the sandy grass, and he must have remarked patronizingly how different he was from Eve, forgetting how different she was from him… at any rate, Clara told Amory much about herself that evening. She had had a harried life from sixteen on, and her education had stopped sharply with her leisure. Browsing in her library, Amory found a tattered gray book out of which fell a yellow sheet that he impudently opened. It was a poem that she had written at school about a gray convent wall on a gray day, and a girl with her cloak blown by the wind sitting atop of it and thinking about the many-colored world. As a rule such sentiment bored him, but this was done with so much simplicity and atmosphere, that it brought a picture of Clara to his mind, of Clara on such a cool, gray day with her keen blue eyes staring out, trying to see her tragedies come marching over the gardens outside. He envied that poem. How he would have loved to have come along and seen her on the wall and talked nonsense or romance to her, perched above him in the air. He began to be frightfully jealous of everything about Clara: of her past, of her babies, of the men and women who flocked to drink deep of her cool kindness and rest their tired minds as at an absorbing play.
“Nobody seems to bore you,” he objected.
“About half the world do,” she admitted, “but I think that’s a pretty good average, don’t you?” and she turned to find something in Browning that bore on the subject. She was the only person he ever met who could look up passages and quotations to show him in the middle of the conversation, and yet not be irritating to distraction. She did it constantly, with such a serious enthusiasm that he grew fond of watching her golden hair bent over a book, brow wrinkled ever so little at hunting her sentence.
Through early March he took to going to Philadelphia for week-ends. Almost always there was some one else there and she seemed not anxious to see him alone, for many occasions presented themselves when a word from her would have given him another delicious half-hour of adoration. But he fell gradually in love and began to speculate wildly on marriage. Though this design flowed through his brain even to his lips, still he knew afterward that the desire had not been deeply rooted. Once he dreamt that it had come true and woke up in a cold panic, for in his dream she had been a silly, flaxen Clara, with the gold gone out of her hair and platitudes falling insipidly from her changeling tongue. But she was the first fine woman he ever knew and one of the few good people who ever interested him. She made her goodness such an asset. Amory had decided that most good people either dragged theirs after them as a liability, or else distorted it to artificial geniality, and of course there were the ever-present prig and Pharisee—(but Amory never included them as being among the saved).
“Over her gray and velvet dress, Under her molten, beaten hair, Color of rose in mock distress Flushes and fades and makes her fair; Fills the air from her to him With light and languor and little sighs, Just so subtly he scarcely knows... Laughing lightning, color of rose.”
“Do you like me?”
“Of course I do,” said Clara seriously.
“Well, we have some qualities in common. Things that are spontaneous in each of us—or were originally.”
“You’re implying that I haven’t used myself very well?”
“Well, I can’t judge. A man, of course, has to go through a lot more, and I’ve been sheltered.”
“Oh, don’t stall, please, Clara,” Amory interrupted; “but do talk about me a little, won’t you?”
“Surely, I’d adore to.” She didn’t smile.
“That’s sweet of you. First answer some questions. Am I painfully conceited?”
“Well—no, you have tremendous vanity, but it’ll amuse the people who notice its preponderance.”
“You’re really humble at heart. You sink to the third hell of depression when you think you’ve been slighted. In fact, you haven’t much self-respect.”
“Centre of target twice, Clara. How do you do it? You never let me say a word.”
“Of course not—I can never judge a man while he’s talking. But I’m not through; the reason you have so little real self-confidence, even though you gravely announce to the occasional philistine that you think you’re a genius, is that you’ve attributed all sorts of atrocious faults to yourself and are trying to live up to them. For instance, you’re always saying that you are a slave to high-balls.”
“But I am, potentially.”
“And you say you’re a weak character, that you’ve no will.”
“Not a bit of will—I’m a slave to my emotions, to my likes, to my hatred of boredom, to most of my desires—”
“You are not!” She brought one little fist down onto the other. “You’re a slave, a bound helpless slave to one thing in the world, your imagination.”
“You certainly interest me. If this isn’t boring you, go on.”
“I notice that when you want to stay over an extra day from college you go about it in a sure way. You never decide at first while the merits of going or staying are fairly clear in your mind. You let your imagination shinny on the side of your desires for a few hours, and then you decide. Naturally your imagination, after a little freedom, thinks up a million reasons why you should stay, so your decision when it comes isn’t true. It’s biassed.”
“Yes,” objected Amory, “but isn’t it lack of will-power to let my imagination shinny on the wrong side?”
“My dear boy, there’s your big mistake. This has nothing to do with will-power; that’s a crazy, useless word, anyway; you lack judgment—the judgment to decide at once when you know your imagination will play you false, given half a chance.”
“Well, I’ll be darned!” exclaimed Amory in surprise, “that’s the last thing I expected.”
Clara didn’t gloat. She changed the subject immediately. But she had started him thinking and he believed she was partly right. He felt like a factory-owner who after accusing a clerk of dishonesty finds that his own son, in the office, is changing the books once a week. His poor, mistreated will that he had been holding up to the scorn of himself and his friends, stood before him innocent, and his judgment walked off to prison with the unconfinable imp, imagination, dancing in mocking glee beside him. Clara’s was the only advice he ever asked without dictating the answer himself—except, perhaps, in his talks with Monsignor Darcy.
How he loved to do any sort of thing with Clara! Shopping with her was a rare, epicurean dream. In every store where she had ever traded she was whispered about as the beautiful Mrs. Page.
“I’ll bet she won’t stay single long.”
“Well, don’t scream it out. She ain’t lookin’ for no advice.”
“Ain’t she beautiful!”
(Enter a floor-walker—silence till he moves forward, smirking.)
“Society person, ain’t she?”
“Yeah, but poor now, I guess; so they say.”
“Gee! girls, ain’t she some kid!”
And Clara beamed on all alike. Amory believed that tradespeople gave her discounts, sometimes to her knowledge and sometimes without it. He knew she dressed very well, had always the best of everything in the house, and was inevitably waited upon by the head floor-walker at the very least.
Sometimes they would go to church together on Sunday and he would walk beside her and revel in her cheeks moist from the soft water in the new air. She was very devout, always had been, and God knows what heights she attained and what strength she drew down to herself when she knelt and bent her golden hair into the stained-glass light.
“St. Cecelia,” he cried aloud one day, quite involuntarily, and the people turned and peered, and the priest paused in his sermon and Clara and Amory turned to fiery red.
That was the last Sunday they had, for he spoiled it all that night. He couldn’t help it.
They were walking through the March twilight where it was as warm as June, and the joy of youth filled his soul so that he felt he must speak.
“I think,” he said and his voice trembled, “that if I lost faith in you I’d lose faith in God.”
She looked at him with such a startled face that he asked her the matter.
“Nothing,” she said slowly, “only this: five men have said that to me before, and it frightens me.”
“Oh, Clara, is that your fate!”
She did not answer.
“I suppose love to you is—” he began.
She turned like a flash.
“I have never been in love.”
They walked along, and he realized slowly how much she had told him… never in love…. She seemed suddenly a daughter of light alone. His entity dropped out of her plane and he longed only to touch her dress with almost the realization that Joseph must have had of Mary’s eternal significance. But quite mechanically he heard himself saying:
“And I love you—any latent greatness that I’ve got is… oh, I can’t talk, but Clara, if I come back in two years in a position to marry you—”
She shook her head.
“No,” she said; “I’d never marry again. I’ve got my two children and I want myself for them. I like you—I like all clever men, you more than any—but you know me well enough to know that I’d never marry a clever man—” She broke off suddenly.
“You’re not in love with me. You never wanted to marry me, did you?”
“It was the twilight,” he said wonderingly. “I didn’t feel as though I were speaking aloud. But I love you—or adore you—or worship you—”
“There you go—running through your catalogue of emotions in five seconds.”
He smiled unwillingly.
“Don’t make me out such a light-weight, Clara; you are depressing sometimes.”
“You’re not a light-weight, of all things,” she said intently, taking his arm and opening wide her eyes—he could see their kindliness in the fading dusk. “A light-weight is an eternal nay.”
“There’s so much spring in the air—there’s so much lazy sweetness in your heart.”
She dropped his arm.
“You’re all fine now, and I feel glorious. Give me a cigarette. You’ve never seen me smoke, have you? Well, I do, about once a month.”
And then that wonderful girl and Amory raced to the corner like two mad children gone wild with pale-blue twilight.
“I’m going to the country for to-morrow,” she announced, as she stood panting, safe beyond the flare of the corner lamp-post. “These days are too magnificent to miss, though perhaps I feel them more in the city.”
“Oh, Clara!” Amory said; “what a devil you could have been if the Lord had just bent your soul a little the other way!”
“Maybe,” she answered; “but I think not. I’m never really wild and never have been. That little outburst was pure spring.”
“And you are, too,” said he.
They were walking along now.
“No—you’re wrong again, how can a person of your own self-reputed brains be so constantly wrong about me? I’m the opposite of everything spring ever stood for. It’s unfortunate, if I happen to look like what pleased some soppy old Greek sculptor, but I assure you that if it weren’t for my face I’d be a quiet nun in the convent without”—then she broke into a run and her raised voice floated back to him as he followed—“my precious babies, which I must go back and see.”
She was the only girl he ever knew with whom he could understand how another man might be preferred. Often Amory met wives whom he had known as debutantes, and looking intently at them imagined that he found something in their faces which said:
“Oh, if I could only have gotten you!” Oh, the enormous conceit of the man!
But that night seemed a night of stars and singing and Clara’s bright soul still gleamed on the ways they had trod.
“Golden, golden is the air—” he chanted to the little pools of water. … “Golden is the air, golden notes from golden mandolins, golden frets of golden violins, fair, oh, wearily fair…. Skeins from braided basket, mortals may not hold; oh, what young extravagant God, who would know or ask it?… who could give such gold…”
AMORY IS RESENTFUL
Slowly and inevitably, yet with a sudden surge at the last, while Amory talked and dreamed, war rolled swiftly up the beach and washed the sands where Princeton played. Every night the gymnasium echoed as platoon after platoon swept over the floor and shuffled out the basket-ball markings. When Amory went to Washington the next week-end he caught some of the spirit of crisis which changed to repulsion in the Pullman car coming back, for the berths across from him were occupied by stinking aliens—Greeks, he guessed, or Russians. He thought how much easier patriotism had been to a homogeneous race, how much easier it would have been to fight as the Colonies fought, or as the Confederacy fought. And he did no sleeping that night, but listened to the aliens guffaw and snore while they filled the car with the heavy scent of latest America.
In Princeton every one bantered in public and told themselves privately that their deaths at least would be heroic. The literary students read Rupert Brooke passionately; the lounge-lizards worried over whether the government would permit the English-cut uniform for officers; a few of the hopelessly lazy wrote to the obscure branches of the War Department, seeking an easy commission and a soft berth.
Then, after a week, Amory saw Burne and knew at once that argument would be futile—Burne had come out as a pacifist. The socialist magazines, a great smattering of Tolstoi, and his own intense longing for a cause that would bring out whatever strength lay in him, had finally decided him to preach peace as a subjective ideal.
“When the German army entered Belgium,” he began, “if the inhabitants had gone peaceably about their business, the German army would have been disorganized in—”
“I know,” Amory interrupted, “I’ve heard it all. But I’m not going to talk propaganda with you. There’s a chance that you’re right—but even so we’re hundreds of years before the time when non-resistance can touch us as a reality.”
“But, Amory, listen—”
“Burne, we’d just argue—”
“Just one thing—I don’t ask you to think of your family or friends, because I know they don’t count a picayune with you beside your sense of duty—but, Burne, how do you know that the magazines you read and the societies you join and these idealists you meet aren’t just plain German?”
“Some of them are, of course.”
“How do you know they aren’t all pro-German—just a lot of weak ones—with German-Jewish names.”
“That’s the chance, of course,” he said slowly. “How much or how little I’m taking this stand because of propaganda I’ve heard, I don’t know; naturally I think that it’s my most innermost conviction—it seems a path spread before me just now.”
Amory’s heart sank.
“But think of the cheapness of it—no one’s really going to martyr you for being a pacifist—it’s just going to throw you in with the worst—”
“I doubt it,” he interrupted.
“Well, it all smells of Bohemian New York to me.”
“I know what you mean, and that’s why I’m not sure I’ll agitate.”
“You’re one man, Burne—going to talk to people who won’t listen—with all God’s given you.”
“That’s what Stephen must have thought many years ago. But he preached his sermon and they killed him. He probably thought as he was dying what a waste it all was. But you see, I’ve always felt that Stephen’s death was the thing that occurred to Paul on the road to Damascus, and sent him to preach the word of Christ all over the world.”
“That’s all—this is my particular duty. Even if right now I’m just a pawn—just sacrificed. God! Amory—you don’t think I like the Germans!”
“Well, I can’t say anything else—I get to the end of all the logic about non-resistance, and there, like an excluded middle, stands the huge spectre of man as he is and always will be. And this spectre stands right beside the one logical necessity of Tolstoi’s, and the other logical necessity of Nietzsche’s—” Amory broke off suddenly. “When are you going?”
“I’m going next week.”
“I’ll see you, of course.”
As he walked away it seemed to Amory that the look in his face bore a great resemblance to that in Kerry’s when he had said good-by under Blair Arch two years before. Amory wondered unhappily why he could never go into anything with the primal honesty of those two.
“Burne’s a fanatic,” he said to Tom, “and he’s dead wrong and, I’m inclined to think, just an unconscious pawn in the hands of anarchistic publishers and German-paid rag wavers—but he haunts me—just leaving everything worth while—”
Burne left in a quietly dramatic manner a week later. He sold all his possessions and came down to the room to say good-by, with a battered old bicycle, on which he intended to ride to his home in Pennsylvania.
“Peter the Hermit bidding farewell to Cardinal Richelieu,” suggested Alec, who was lounging in the window-seat as Burne and Amory shook hands.
But Amory was not in a mood for that, and as he saw Burne’s long legs propel his ridiculous bicycle out of sight beyond Alexander Hall, he knew he was going to have a bad week. Not that he doubted the war—Germany stood for everything repugnant to him; for materialism and the direction of tremendous licentious force; it was just that Burne’s face stayed in his memory and he was sick of the hysteria he was beginning to hear.
“What on earth is the use of suddenly running down Goethe,” he declared to Alec and Tom. “Why write books to prove he started the war—or that that stupid, overestimated Schiller is a demon in disguise?”
“Have you ever read anything of theirs?” asked Tom shrewdly.
“No,” Amory admitted.
“Neither have I,” he said laughing.
“People will shout,” said Alec quietly, “but Goethe’s on his same old shelf in the library—to bore any one that wants to read him!”
Amory subsided, and the subject dropped.
“What are you going to do, Amory?”
“Infantry or aviation, I can’t make up my mind—I hate mechanics, but then of course aviation’s the thing for me—”
“I feel as Amory does,” said Tom. “Infantry or aviation—aviation sounds like the romantic side of the war, of course—like cavalry used to be, you know; but like Amory I don’t know a horse-power from a piston-rod.”
Somehow Amory’s dissatisfaction with his lack of enthusiasm culminated in an attempt to put the blame for the whole war on the ancestors of his generation… all the people who cheered for Germany in 1870…. All the materialists rampant, all the idolizers of German science and efficiency. So he sat one day in an English lecture and heard “Locksley Hall” quoted and fell into a brown study with contempt for Tennyson and all he stood for—for he took him as a representative of the Victorians.
Victorians, Victorians, who never learned to weep Who sowed the bitter harvest that your children go to reap—
scribbled Amory in his note-book. The lecturer was saying something about Tennyson’s solidity and fifty heads were bent to take notes. Amory turned over to a fresh page and began scrawling again.
“They shuddered when they found what Mr. Darwin was about, They shuddered when the waltz came in and Newman hurried out—”
But the waltz came in much earlier; he crossed that out.
“And entitled A Song in the Time of Order,” came the professor’s voice, droning far away. “Time of Order”—Good Lord! Everything crammed in the box and the Victorians sitting on the lid smiling serenely…. With Browning in his Italian villa crying bravely: “All’s for the best.” Amory scribbled again.
“You knelt up in the temple and he bent to hear you pray, You thanked him for your ‘glorious gains’—reproached him for ‘Cathay.’”
Why could he never get more than a couplet at a time? Now he needed something to rhyme with:
“You would keep Him straight with science, tho He had gone wrong before...”
“You met your children in your home—‘I’ve fixed it up!’ you cried, Took your fifty years of Europe, and then virtuously—died.”
“That was to a great extent Tennyson’s idea,” came the lecturer’s voice. “Swinburne’s Song in the Time of Order might well have been Tennyson’s title. He idealized order against chaos, against waste.”
At last Amory had it. He turned over another page and scrawled vigorously for the twenty minutes that was left of the hour. Then he walked up to the desk and deposited a page torn out of his note-book.
“Here’s a poem to the Victorians, sir,” he said coldly.
The professor picked it up curiously while Amory backed rapidly through the door.
Here is what he had written:
“Songs in the time of order You left for us to sing, Proofs with excluded middles, Answers to life in rhyme, Keys of the prison warder And ancient bells to ring, Time was the end of riddles, We were the end of time... Here were domestic oceans And a sky that we might reach, Guns and a guarded border, Gantlets—but not to fling, Thousands of old emotions And a platitude for each, Songs in the time of order— And tongues, that we might sing.”
THE END OF MANY THINGS
Early April slipped by in a haze—a haze of long evenings on the club veranda with the graphophone playing “Poor Butterfly” inside… for “Poor Butterfly” had been the song of that last year. The war seemed scarcely to touch them and it might have been one of the senior springs of the past, except for the drilling every other afternoon, yet Amory realized poignantly that this was the last spring under the old regime.
“This is the great protest against the superman,” said Amory.
“I suppose so,” Alec agreed.
“He’s absolutely irreconcilable with any Utopia. As long as he occurs, there’s trouble and all the latent evil that makes a crowd list and sway when he talks.”
“And of course all that he is is a gifted man without a moral sense.”
“That’s all. I think the worst thing to contemplate is this—it’s all happened before, how soon will it happen again? Fifty years after Waterloo Napoleon was as much a hero to English school children as Wellington. How do we know our grandchildren won’t idolize Von Hindenburg the same way?”
“What brings it about?”
“Time, damn it, and the historian. If we could only learn to look on evil as evil, whether it’s clothed in filth or monotony or magnificence.”
“God! Haven’t we raked the universe over the coals for four years?”
Then the night came that was to be the last. Tom and Amory, bound in the morning for different training-camps, paced the shadowy walks as usual and seemed still to see around them the faces of the men they knew.
“The grass is full of ghosts to-night.”
“The whole campus is alive with them.”
They paused by Little and watched the moon rise, to make silver of the slate roof of Dodd and blue the rustling trees.
“You know,” whispered Tom, “what we feel now is the sense of all the gorgeous youth that has rioted through here in two hundred years.”
A last burst of singing flooded up from Blair Arch—broken voices for some long parting.
“And what we leave here is more than this class; it’s the whole heritage of youth. We’re just one generation—we’re breaking all the links that seemed to bind us here to top-booted and high-stocked generations. We’ve walked arm and arm with Burr and Light-Horse Harry Lee through half these deep-blue nights.”
“That’s what they are,” Tom tangented off, “deep blue—a bit of color would spoil them, make them exotic. Spires, against a sky that’s a promise of dawn, and blue light on the slate roofs—it hurts… rather—”
“Good-by, Aaron Burr,” Amory called toward deserted Nassau Hall, “you and I knew strange corners of life.”
His voice echoed in the stillness.
“The torches are out,” whispered Tom. “Ah, Messalina, the long shadows are building minarets on the stadium—”
For an instant the voices of freshman year surged around them and then they looked at each other with faint tears in their eyes.
The last light fades and drifts across the land—the low, long land, the sunny land of spires; the ghosts of evening tune again their lyres and wander singing in a plaintive band down the long corridors of trees; pale fires echo the night from tower top to tower: Oh, sleep that dreams, and dream that never tires, press from the petals of the lotus flower something of this to keep, the essence of an hour.
No more to wait the twilight of the moon in this sequestered vale of star and spire, for one eternal morning of desire passes to time and earthy afternoon. Here, Heraclitus, did you find in fire and shifting things the prophecy you hurled down the dead years; this midnight my desire will see, shadowed among the embers, furled in flame, the splendor and the sadness of the world.