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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter1,part2)

2006-08-28 23:26

    PART 2

    As an urchin Jeff had taken things as they came without understanding causes. Thoughts had come to him in flashes, without any orderly sequence, often illogically. As a gangling boy he still took for granted the hard knocks of a world he did not attempt to synthesize.

    Even his mother looked upon him as "queer." She worried plaintively because he was so careless about his clothes and because his fondness for the outdoors sometimes led him to play truant. Constantly she set before him as a model his cousin, James, who was a good-looking boy, polite, always well dressed, with a shrewd idea of how to get along easily.

    "Why can't you be like Cousin James? He isn't always in trouble," she would urge in her tired way.

    It was quite true that the younger cousin was more of a general favorite than harum-scarum Jeff, but the mother might as well have asked her boy to be like Socrates. It was not that he could not learn or that he did not want to study. He simply did not fit into the school groove. Its routine of work and discipline, its tendency to stifle individuality, to run all children through the same hopper like grist through a mill, put a clamp upon his spirits and his imagination. Even thus early he was a rebel.

    Jeff scrambled up through the grades in haphazard fashion until he reached the seventh. Here his teacher made a discovery. She was a faded little woman of fifty, but she had that loving insight to which all children respond. Under her guidance for one year the boy blossomed. His odd literary fancy for Don Quixote, for Scott's poems and romances she encouraged, quietly eliminating the dime novels he had read indiscriminately with these. She broke through the shell of his shyness to find out that his diffidence was not sulkiness nor his independence impudence.

    The boy was a dreamer. He lived largely in a world of his own, where Quentin Durward and Philip Farnum and Robert E. Lee were enshrined as heroes. From it he would emerge all hot for action, for adventure. Into his games then he would throw a poetic imagination that transfigured them. Outwardly he lived merely in that boys' world made to his hand. He adopted its shibboleths, fought when he must, went through the annual routine of marbles, tops, kites, hop scotch, and baseball. From his fellows he guarded jealously the knowledge of even the existence of his secret world of fancy.

    His progress through the grades and the high school was intermittent. Often he had to stop for months at a time to earn money for their living. In turn he was newsboy, bootblack, and messenger boy. He drove a delivery wagon for a grocer, ushered at a theater, was even a copyholder in the proofroom of a newspaper. Hard work kept him thin, but he was like a lath for toughness.

    Seven weeks after he was graduated from the high school his mother died. The day of the funeral a real estate dealer called to offer three, hundred dollars for the lots in the river bottom bought some years earlier by Mrs. Farnum.

    Jeff put the man off. It was too late now to do his mother any good. She had had to struggle to the last for the bread she ate. He wondered why the good things in life were so unevenly distributed.

    Twice during the next week Jeff was approached with offers for his lots. The boy was no fool.

    He found out that the land was wanted by a new railroad pushing into Verden. Within three days he had sold direct to the agent of the company for nine hundred dollars. With what he could earn on the side and in his summers he thought that sum would take him through college.

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