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THE VISION SPLENDID (2)

2006-08-28 22:51

    I wonder if Morgan, the Pirate, When plunder had glutted his heart, Gave of the junk from the ships he had sunk To help some Museum of Art; If he gave up the role of "collector of toll" And became a Collector of Art?

    I wonder if Genghis, the Butcher, When he'd trampled down nations like grass, Retired with his share when he'd lost all his hair And started a Sunday-school class; If he turned his past under and used half his plunder In running a Sunday-school class?

    I wonder if Roger, the Rover, When millions in looting he'd made, Built libraries grand on the jolly mainland To honor success and "free trade"; If he founded a college of nautical knowledge Where Pirates could study their trade?

    I wonder, I wonder, I wonder, If Pirates were ever the same, Ever trying to lend a respectable trend To the jaunty old buccaneer game Or is it because of our Piracy Laws That philanthropists enter the game? -Wallace Irwin, in Life.

    THE REBEL IS INSTRUCTED IN THE WORSHIP OF THE GODOF-THINGS-AS- THEY-ARE

    Jeff was digging out a passage in the "Apology" when there came a knock at the door of his room. The visitor was his cousin, James, and he radiated such an air of prosperity that the plain little bedroom shrank to shabbiness.

    James nodded in offhand fashion as he took off his overcoat. "Hello, Jeff! Thought I'd look you up. Got settled in your diggings, eh?" Before his host could answer he rattled on: "Just ran in for a moment. Had the devil of a time to find you. What's the object in getting clear off the earth?"

    "Cheaper," Jeff explained.

    "Should think it would be," James agreed after he had let his eyes wander critically around the room. "But you can't afford to save that way. Get a good suite. And for heaven's sake see a tailor, my boy. In college a man is judged by the company he keeps."

    "What have my room and my clothes to do with that?" Jeff wanted to know, with a smile.

    "Everything. You've got to put up a good front. The best fellows won't go around with a longhaired guy who doesn't know how to dress. No offense, Jeff."

    His cousin laughed. "I'll see a barber to-morrow."

    "And you must have a room where the fellows can come to see you."

    "What's the matter with this one?"

    A hint of friendly patronage crept into the manner of the junior. "My dear chap, college isn't worth doing at all unless you do it right. You're here to get in with the best fellows and to make connections that will help you later. That sort of thing, you know."

    Into Jeff's face came the light that always transfigured its plainness when he was in the grip of an idea. "Hold on, J. K. Let's get at this right. Is that what I'm here for? I didn't know it. There's a hazy notion in my noodle that I'm here to develop myself."

    "That's what I'm telling you. Go in for the things that count. Make a good frat. Win out at football or debating. I don't give a hang what you go after, but follow the ball and keep on the jump. I'm strong with the crowd that runs things and I'll see they take you in and make you a cog of the machine. But you'll have to measure up to specifications."

    "But, hang it, I don't want to be a cog in any machine. I'm here to give myself a chance to grow——sit out in the sun and hatch an individuality-give myself lots of free play."

    "Then you've come to the wrong shop," James informed him dryly. "If you want to succeed at college you've got to do the things the other fellows do and you've got to do them the same way."

    "You mean I've got to travel in a rut?"

    "Oh, well! That's a way of putting it. I mean that you have to accept customs and traditions. You have to work like the devil doing things that count. If you make the team you've got to think football, talk it, eat it, dream it."

    "But is it worth while?"

    James waved his protest aside. "Of course it's worth while. Success always is. Get this in your head. Four-fifths of the fellows at college don't count. They're also-rans. To get in with the right bunch you've got to make a good showing. Look at me. I'm no John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Athletics bore me. I can't sing. I don't grind. But I'm in everything. Best frat. Won the oratorical contest. Manager of the football team next season. President of the Dramatic Club. Why?"

    He did not wait for Jeff to guess the reason. "Because our set runs things and I go after the honors."

    "But a college ought to be a democracy," Jeff protested.

    "Tommyrot! It's an aristocracy, that's what it is, just like the little old world outside, an aristocracy of the survival of the fittest. You get there if you're strong. You go to the wall if you're weak. That's the law of life."

    The freshman came to this squint of pragmatism with surprise. He had thought of Verden University as a splendid democracy of intellectual brotherhood that was to leaven the world with which it came in touch.

    "Do you mean that a fellow has to have money enough to make a good showing before he can win any of the prizes?"

    James K. nodded with the sage wisdom of a man of the world. "The long green is a big help, but you've got to have the stuff in you. Success comes to the fellow who goes after it in the right way."

    "And suppose a fellow doesn't care to go after it?"

    "He stays a nobody."

    James was in evening dress, immaculate from clean-shaven cheek to patent leather shoes. He had a well-filled figure and a handsome face with a square, clean-cut jaw. His cousin admired the young fellow's virile competency. It was his opinion that James K. Farnum was the last person he knew likely to remain a nobody. He knew how to conform, to take the color of his thinking from the dominant note of his environment, but he had, too, a capacity for leadership.

    "I'm not going to believe you if I can help it," Jeff answered with a smile. The upper classman shrugged. "You'd better take my advice, just the same. At college you don't get a chance to make two starts. You're sized up from the crack of the pistol."

    "I haven't the money to make a splurge even if I wanted to."

    "Borrow."

    "Who from?" asked Jeff ungrammatically.

    "You can rustle it somewhere. I'm borrowing right now."

    "It's different with you. I'm used to doing without things. Don't worry about me. I'll get along."

    James came with a touch of embarrassment to the real object of his visit. "I say, Jeff. I've had a tough time to win out. You won't—— you'll not say anything——let anything slip, you know——something that might set the fellows guessing."

    His cousin was puzzled. "About what?"

    "About the reason why Mother and I left Shelby and came out to the coast."

    "What do you take me for?"

    "I knew you wouldn't. Thought I'd mention it for fear you might make a slip."

    "I don't chatter about the private affairs of my people."

    "Course not. I knew you didn't." The junior's hand rested caressingly on the shoulder of the other. "Don't get sore, Jeff. I didn't doubt you. But that thing haunts me. Some day it will come out and ruin me when I'm near the top of the ladder."

    The freshman shook his head. "Don't worry about it, James. Just tell the plain truth if it comes out. A thing like that can't hurt you permanently. Nothing can really injure you that does not come from your own weakness."

    "That's all poppycock," James interrupted fretfully. "Just that sort of thing has put many a man on the skids. I tell you a young fellow needs to start unhampered. If the fellows got onto it that my father had been in the pen because he was a defaulting bank cashier they would drop me like a hot potato."

    "None but the snobs would. Your friends would stick the closer." "Oh' friends!" The young man's voice had a note of angry derision. Jeff's affectionate grin comforted him. "Don't let it get on your nerves,

    J. K. Things never are as bad as we expect at their worst." The junior set his teeth savagely. "I tell you, sometimes I hate him for it. That's a fine heritage for a father to give his son, isn't it? Nothing but trouble and disgrace."

    His cousin spoke softly. "He's paid a hundred times for it, old man."

    "He ought to pay. Why shouldn't he? I've got to pay. Mother had to as long as she lived." His voice was hard and bitter.

    "Better not judge him. You're his only son, you know."

    "I'm the one he's injured most. Why shouldn't I judge him? I've been a pauper all these years, living off money given us by my mother's people. I had to leave our home because of what he did. I'd like to know why I shouldn't judge him."

    Jeff was silent. Presently James rose. "But there's no use talking about it. I've got to be going. We have an eat to-night at Tucker's."

    Jeff came to his new life on the full tide of an enthusiasm that did not begin to ebb till near the close of his first semester. He lived in a new world, one removed a million miles from the sordid one through which he had fought his way so many years. All the idealism of his nature went out in awe and veneration for his college. It stood for something he could not phrase, something spiritually fine and intellectually strong. When he thought of the noble motto of the university, "To Serve," it was always with a lifted emotion that was half a prayer. His professors went clothed in majesty. The chancellor was of godlike dimensions. Even the seniors carried with them an impalpable aura of learning.

    The illusion was helped by reason of the very contrast between the jostling competition of the street and the academic air of harmony in which he now found himself. For the first time was lifted the sense of struggle that had always been with him.

    The outstanding notes of his boyhood had been poverty and meagerness. It was as if he and his neighbors had been flung into a lake where they must keep swimming to escape drowning. There had been no rest from labor. Sometimes the tragedy of disaster had swept over a family. But on the campus of the university he found the sheltered life. The echo of that battling world came to him only faintly.

    He began to make tentative friendships, but in spite of the advice of his cousin they were with the men who did not count. Samuel Miller was an example. He was a big, stodgy fellow with a slow mind which arrived at its convictions deliberately. But when he had made sure of them he hung to his beliefs like a bulldog to a bone.

    It was this quality that one day brought them together in the classroom. An instructor tried to drive Miller into admitting he was wrong in an opinion. The boy refused to budge, and the teacher became nettled.

    "Mr. Miller will know more when he doesn't know so much," the instructor snapped out.

    Jeff's instinct for fair play was roused at once, all the more because of the ripple of laughter that came from the class. He spoke up quietly.

    "I can't see yet but that Mr. Miller is right, sir."

    "The discussion is closed," was the tart retort.

    After class the dissenters walked across to chapel together.

    "Poke the animal up with a stick and hear him growl," Jeff laughed airily.

    "Page always thinks a fellow ought to take his say-so as gospel," Miller commented.

    Most of the students saw in Jeff Farnum only a tallish young man, thin as a rail, not particularly well dressed, negligent as to collar and tie. But Miller observed in the tanned face a tender, humorous mouth and eager, friendly eyes that looked out upon the world with a suggestion of inner mirth. In course of time he found out that his friend was an unconquerable idealist.

    Jeff made discoveries. One of them was a quality of brutal indifference in some of his classmates to those less fortunate. These classy young gentlemen could ignore him as easily as a hurrying business man can a newsboy trying to sell him a paper. If he was forced upon their notice they were perfectly courteous; otherwise he was not on the map for them.

    Another point that did not escape his attention was the way in which the institution catered to Merrill and Frome, because they were large donors to the university. He had once heard Peter C. Frome say in a speech to the students that he contributed to the support of Verden University because it was a "safe and conservative citadel which never had yielded to demagogic assaults." At the time he had wondered just what the president of the Verden Union Water Company had meant. He was slowly puzzling his way to an answer.

    Chancellor Bland referred often to the "largehearted Christian gentlemen who gave of their substance to promote the moral and educational life of the state." But Jeff knew that many believed Frome and Merrill to be no better than robbers on a large scale. He knew the methods by which they had gained their franchises and that they ruled the politics of the city by graft and corruption. Yet the chancellor was always ready to speak or write against municipal ownership. It was common talk on the streets that Professor Perkins, of the chair of political science, had had his expenses paid to England by Merrill to study the street railway system of Great Britain, and that Perkins had duly written several bread-and-butter articles to show that public ownership was unsuccessful there.

    The college was a denominational one and the atmosphere wholly orthodox. Doubt and skepticism were spoken of only with horror. At first it was of himself that Jeff was critical. The spirit of the place was opposed to all his convictions, but he felt that perhaps his reaction upon life had been affected too much by his experiences.

    He asked questions, and was suppressed with severity or kindly paternal advice. It came to him one night while he was walking bareheaded under the stars that there was in the place no intellectual stimulus, though there was an elaborate presence of it. The classrooms were arid. Everywhere fences were up beyond which the mind was not expected to travel. A thing was right, because it had come to be accepted. That was the gospel of his fellows, of his teachers. Later he learned that it is also the creed of the world.

    What Jeff could not understand was a mind which refused to accept the inevitable conclusions to which its own processes pushed it. Verden University lacked the courage which comes from intellectual honesty. Wherefore its economics were devitalized and its theology an anachronism.

    But Jeff had been given a mind unable to lie to itself. He was in very essence a non-conformist. To him age alone did not lend sanctity to the ghosts of dead yesterdays that rule to-day.

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