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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter3)

2006-08-28 23:26

    CHAPTER 3

    "Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind," ——Emerson.

    CONVERSING ON RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY, THE REBEL LEARNS THAT IT IS SOMETIMES WISE TO SOFT PEDAL IDEAS UNLESS THEY ARE ACCEPTED ONES

    During his freshman year Jeff saw little of his cousin beyond the usual campus greetings, except for a period of six weeks when the junior happened to need him. But the career of James K. tickled immensely the under classman's sense of humor. He was becoming the most dazzling success ever developed by the college. Even with the faculty he stood high, for if he lacked scholarship he had the more showy gifts that went farther. He knew when to defer and when to ride roughshod to his end. It was felt that his brilliancy had a solidity back of it, a quality of flintiness that would endure.

    James was inordinately ambitious and loved the spotlight like an actor. The flamboyant oratory at which he excelled had won for him the interstate contest. He was editor-in-chief of the "Verdenian," manager of the varsity football team, and president of the college senate.

    With the beginning of his senior year James entered another phase of his development. He offered to the college a new, or at least an enlarged, interpretation of himself. Some of his smiling good-fellowship had been sloughed to make way for the benignity of a budding statesman. He still held a tolerant attitude to the antics of his friends, but it was easy to see that he had put away childish things. To his many young women admirers he talked confidentially of his aims and aspirations. The future of James K. Farnum was a topic he never exhausted.

    It was, too, a subject which greatly interested Jeff and Sam Miller. His cousin might smile at his poses, and often did, but he never denied James qualities likely to carry him far.

    "His one best bet is his belief in himself," Sam announced one night.

    "It's a great thing to believe in yourself."

    "He's so dead sure he's cast for a big part. The egoism just oozes out of him. He doesn't know himself that he's a faker."

    "He is a long way from that," Jeff protested warmly.

    "Take his oratory," Miller went on irritably. "It's all bunk. He throws a chest and makes you feel he's a big man, but what he says won't stand analysis——just a lot of platitudes."

    "Don't forget he's young yet. James K. hasn't found himself."

    "Sure there's anything to find?"

    "There's a lot in him. He's the biggest man in the university to-day."

    "You practically wrote the oration that won the interstate contest. Think I don't know that?" Miller snorted.

    Jeff's mouth took on a humorous twist. "I gave him some suggestions. How did you know?"

    "Knew he wasn't hanging around last term for nothing. He's selfish as the devil."

    "You're all wrong about him, Sam. He isn't selfish at all at bottom."

    "Shoot the brains out of that oration and what's left would be the part he supplied. The fellow's got a gift of absorbing new ideas superficially and dressing them up smartly."

    "Then he's got us beat there," Jeff laughed goodnaturedly. He had not in his make-up a grain of envy. Even his laughter was generally genial, though often irreverent to the God-of-things- as-they-are.

    "When he won the interstate he lapped up flattery like a thirsty pup, but his bluff was that it was only for the college he cared to win."

    "Most of us have mixed motives."

    "Not J. K. Reminds me of old Johnson's 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'"

    Jeff straightened. "That won't do, Sam. I believe in J. K. You've got nothing against him except that you don't like him."

    "Forgot you were his cousin, Jeff," Miller grumbled. "But it's a fact that he works everybody to shove him along."

    "He's only a kid. Give him time. He'll be a big help to any community."

    "James K.'s biggest achievement will always be James K."

    Jeff chuckled at the apothegm even while he protested. Sam capped it with another.

    "He's always sitting to himself for his own portrait."

    "He'll get over that when he brushes up against the world." Jeff added his own criticism thoughtfully. "The weak spot in him is a sort of flatness of mind. This makes him afraid of new ideas. He wants to be respectable, and respectability is the most damning thing on earth."

    After Miller had left Jeff buckled down to Ely's "Political Economy." He had not been at it long when James surprised him by dropping in. His host offered the easiest chair and shoved tobacco toward him.

    "Been pretty busy with the team, I suppose?" Jeff suggested.

    "It's taken a lot of my time, but I think I've put the athletic association on a paying basis at last."

    "I see by your report in the 'Verdenian' that you made good."

    "A fellow ought to do well whatever he undertakes to do."

    Jeff grinned across at him from where he lay on the bed with his fingers laced beneath his head. "That's what the copybooks used to say."

    "I want to have a serious talk with you, Jeff."

    "Aren't you having it? What can be more important than the successes of James K. Farnum?"

    The senior looked at him suspiciously. He was not strongly fortified with a sense of humor. "Just now I want to talk about the failures of Jefferson D. Farnum," he answered gravely.

    Jeff's eyes twinkled. "Is it worth while? I am unworthy of this boon, O great Cesar."

    "Now that's the sort of thing that stands in your way," James told him impatiently. "People never know when you're laughing at them. There is no reason why you shouldn't succeed. Your abilities are up to the average, but you fritter them away."

    "Thank you." Jeff wore an air of being immensely pleased.

    "The truth is that you're your own worst enemy. Now that you have taken to dressing better you are not bad looking. I find a good many of the fellows like you——or they would if you'd let them."

    "Because I'm so well connected," Jeff laughed.

    "I suppose it does help, your being my cousin. But the thing depends on you. Unless you make a decided change you'll never get on."

    "What change do you suggest? Item one, please?"

    James looked straight at him. "You lack bedrock principles, Jeff."

    "Do I?"

    "Take your habits. Two or three times you've been seen coming out of saloons."

    "Expect I went in to get a drink."

    "It's not generally known, of course, but if it reached Prexy he'd fire you so quick your head would swim."

    "I dare say."

    The senior looked at him significantly. "You're the last man that ought to go to such places. There's such a thing as an inherited tendency."

    The jaw muscles stood out like ropes under the flesh of Jeff's lean face. "We'll not discuss that."

    "Very well. Cut it out. A drinking man is handicapped too heavily to win."

    "Much obliged. Second count in the indictment, please."

    "You've got strange, unsettling notions. The profs don't like them."

    "Don't they?"

    "You know what I mean. We didn't make this world. We've got to take it as it is. You can't make it over. There are always going to be rich people and poor ones. Just because you've fed indigestibly on Ibsen and Shaw you can't change facts."

    "So you advise?"

    "Soft pedal your ideas if you must have them."

    "Hasn't a man got to see things as straight as he can?"

    "That's no reason for calling in the neighbors to rejoice with him because he has astigmatism."

    Jeff came back with a tag of Emerson, whose phrases James was fond of quoting in his speeches. "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind."

    "You can push that too far. It isn't practical. We've got to make

    compromises, especially with established things."

    Jeff sat up on the bed. Points of light were dancing in his big eyes. "That's what the Pharisees said to Jesus when he wouldn't stand for lies because they were deep rooted and for injustice because it had become respectable."

    "Oh, if you're going to compare yourself to Christ——"

    "Verden University is supposed to stand for Christianity, isn't it? It was because Jesus whanged away at social and industrial freedom, at fraternity, at love on earth, that he had to endure the Cross. He got under the upper class skin when he attacked the traditional lies of vested interests. Now why doesn't Bland preach the things that Jesus taught?"

    "He does."

    "Yes, he does," Jeff scoffed. "He preaches good form, respectability, a narrow personal righteousness, a salvation canned and petrified three hundred years ago."

    "Do you want him to preach socialism?"

    "I want him to preach the square deal in our social life, intellectual honesty, and a vital spiritual life. Think of what this college might mean, how it might stand for democracy It ought to pour out into the state hundreds of specialists on the problems of the country. Instead, it is only a reflection of the caste system that is growing up in America."

    James shrugged his broad shoulders. "I've been through all that. It's a phase we pass. You'll get over it. You've got to if you are going to succeed."

    A quizzical grin wrinkled Jeff's lean face. "What is success?"

    "It's setting a high goal and reaching it. It's taking the world by the throat and shaking from it whatever you want." James leaned across the table, his eyes shining. "It's the journey's end for the strong, that's what it is. I don't care whether a man is gathering gilt or fame, he's got to pound away with his eye right on it. And he's got to trample down the things that get in his way."

    Jeff's eye fell upon a book on the table. "Ever hear of a chap called Goldsmith?"

    "Of course. He wrote 'The School for Scandal.' What's he got to do

    with it?"

    Jeff smiled, without correcting his cousin. "I've been reading about him. Seems to have been a poor hack writer 'who threw away his life in handfuls.' He wrote the finest poem, the best novel, the most charming comedy of his day. He knew how to give, but he didn't know how to take. So he died alone in a garret. He was a failure."

    "Probably his own fault."

    "And on the day of his funeral the stairway was crowded with poor people he had helped. All of them were in tears."

    "What good did that do him? He was inefficient. He might have saved his money and helped them then."

    "Perhaps. I don't know. It might have been too late then. He chose to give his life as he was living it."

    "Another reason for his poverty, wasn't there?"

    Jeff flushed. "He drank."

    "Thought so." James rose triumphantly and put on his overcoat. "Well, think over what I've said."

    "I will. And tell the chancellor I'm much obliged to him for sending you."

    For once the Senior was taken aback. "Eh, what——what?"

    "You may tell him it won't be your fault that I'll never be a credit to Verden University."

    As he walked across the campus to his fraternity house James did not feel that his call had been wholly successful. With him he carried a picture of his cousin's thin satiric face in which big expressive eyes mocked his arguments. But he let none of this sense of futility get into the report given next day to the Chancellor.

    "Jeff's rather light-minded, I'm afraid, sir. He wanted to branch off to side lines. But I insisted on a serious talk. Before I left him he promised to think over what I had said."

    "Let us hope he may."

    "He said it wouldn't be my fault if he wasn't a credit to the University."

    "We can all agree with him there, Farnum."

    "Thank you, sir. I'm not very hopeful about him. He has other things to

    contend with." "I'm not sure I quite know what you mean." "I can't explain more fully without violating a confidence." "Well, we'll hope for the best, and remember him in our prayers." "Yes, sir," James agreed.

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