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THE VISION SPLENDID (4)

2006-08-28 22:51

    "I met a hundred men on the road to Delhi, and they were all my brothers."——Old Proverb. THE REBEL FLUNKS IN A COURSE ON HOW TO GET ON IN LIFE

    It would be easy to overemphasize Jeff's intellectual difficulties at the expense of the deep delight he found in many phases of his student life. The daily routine of the library, the tennis courts, and the jolly table talk brought out the boy in him that had been submerged.

    There developed in him a vagabond streak that took him into the woods and the hills for days at a time. About the middle of his Sophomore year he discovered Whitman. While camping alone at night under the stars he used to shout out,

    "Strong and content, I travel the open road," or

    "Allons! The road is before us!

    "It is safe——I have tried it——my own feet have tried it well."

    Through Stevenson's essay on Whitman Jeff came to know the Scotch writer, and from the first paragraph of him was a sealed follower of R. L.

    S. In different ways both of these poets ministered to a certain love of freedom, of beauty, of outdoor spaces that was ineradicably a of his nature. The essence of vagabondage is the spirit of romance. One may tour every corner of the earth and still be a respectable Pharisee. One may never move a dozen miles from the village of his birth and yet be of the happy company of romantics. Jeff could find in a sunset, in a stretch of windswept plain, in the sight of water through leafless trees, something that filled his heart with emotion. Perhaps the very freedom of these vacation excursions helped to feed his growing discontent. The yeast of rebellion was forever stirring in him. He wanted to come to life with open mind. He was possessed of an insatiable curiosity about it. This took him to the slums of Verden, to the redlight district, to Socialist meetings, to a striking coal camp near the city where he narrowly escaped being killed as a scab. He knew that something was wrong with our social life. Inextricably blended with success and happiness he saw everywhere pain, defeat, and confusion. Why must such things be? Why poverty at all?

    But when he flung his questions at Pearson, who had charge of the work in sociology, the explanations of the professor seemed to him pitifully weak.

    In the ethics class he met the same experience. A chance reference to Drummond's "Natural Law in the Spiritual world" introduced him to that stimulating book. All one night he sat up and read it—— drank it in with every fiber of his thirsty being.

    The fire in his stove went out. He slipped into his overcoat. Gray morning found him still reading. He walked out with dazed eyes into a world that had been baptized anew during the night to a miraculous rebirth.

    But when he took his discovery to the lecture room Dawson was not only cold but hostile. Drummond was not sound. There was about him a specious charm very likely to attract young minds. Better let such books alone for the present. In the meantime the class would take up with him the discussion of predeterminism as outlined in Tuesday's work.

    There were members of the faculty big enough to have understood the boy and tolerant enough to have sympathized with his crude revolt, but Jeff was diffident and never came in touch with them.

    His connection with the college ended abruptly during the Spring term of his Sophomore year.

    A celebrated revivalist was imported to quicken the spiritual life of the University. Under his exhortations the institution underwent a religious ferment. An extraordinary excitement was astir on the campus. Class prayer meetings were held every afternoon, and at midday smaller groups met for devotional exercises. At these latter those who had made no profession of religion were petitioned for by name. James Farnum was swept into the movement and distinguished himself by his zeal. It was understood that he desired the prayers of friends for that relative who had not yet cast away the burden of his sins.

    It became a point of honor with his cousin's circle to win Jeff for the cause. There was no difficulty in getting him to attend the meetings of the revivalist. But he sat motionless through the emotional climax that brought to an end each meeting. To him it seemed that this was not in any vital sense religion, but he was careful not to suggest his feeling by so much as a word.

    One or two of his companions invited him to come to Jesus. He disconcerted them by showing an unexpected familiarity with the Scriptures as a weapon of offense against them.

    James invited him to his rooms and labored with him. Jeff resorted to the Socratic method. From what sins was he to be saved? And when would he know he had found salvation?

    His cousin uneasily explained the formula. "You must believe in Christ and Him crucified. You must surrender your will to His. Shall we pray together?"

    "I'd rather not, J. K. First, I want to get some points clear. Do you mean that I'm to believe in what Jesus said and to try to live as he suggested?"

    "Yes."

    Jeff picked up his cousin's Bible and read a passage. " 'We know that we have passed from death unto life, BECAUSE WE LOVE THE BRETHREN. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.' That's the test, isn't it?"

    "Well, you have to be converted," James said dubiously.

    "Isn't that conversion——loving your brother? And if a man is willing to live in plenty while his brother is in poverty, if he exploits those weaker than himself to help him get along, then he can't be really converted, can he?"

    "Now see here, Jeff, you've got the wrong idea. Christ didn't come into the world to reform it, but to save it from its sins. He wasn't merely a man, but the Divine Son of God."

    "I don't understand the dual nature of Jesus. But when one reads His life it is easy to believe in His divinity." After a moment the young man added: "In one way we're all divine sons of God, aren't we?"

    James was shocked. "Where do you get such notions? None of our people were infidels."

    "Am I one?"

    "You ought to take advantage of this chance. It's not right to set your opinion up against those that know better."

    "And that's what I'm doing, isn't it?" Jeff smiled. "Can't help it. I reckon I can't be saved by my emotions. It's going to be a life job."

    James gave him up, but he sent another Senior to make a last attempt. The young man was Thurston Thomas and he had never exchanged six sentences with Jeff in his life. The unrepentant sinner sent him to the right about sharply.

    "What the devil do you mean by running about officiously and bothering about other people's souls? Better look out for your own."

    Thomas, a scion of one of the best families in Verden, looked as if he had been slapped in the face.

    "Why Farnum, I——I spoke for your good."

    "No, you didn't," contradicted Jeff flatly. "You don't care a hang about me. You've never noticed me before. We're not friends. You've always disliked me. But you want the credit of bringing me into the fold. It's damned impertinent of you."

    The Senior retired with a white face. He was furious, but he thought it due himself to turn the other cheek by saying nothing. He reported his version to a circle of friends, and from them it spread like grass seed in the wind. Soon it was generally known that Jeff Farnum had grossly insulted with blasphemy a man who had tried to save his soul.

    Two days later Miller met Jeff at the door of Frome .

    "You're in bad! Jeff. What the deuce did you do to Sissy Thomas?"

    "Gave him some good advice."

    Miller grinned. "I'll bet you did. The little cad has been poisoning the wells against you. Look there."

    A young woman of their class had passed into the room. Her glance had fallen upon Farnum and been quickly averted.

    "That's the first time Bessie Vroom ever cut you," Sam continued angrily. "Thomas is responsible. I've heard the story a dozen times

    already."

    "I only told him to mind his own business."

    "He can't. He's a born meddler. Now he's queered you with the whole place."

    "Can't help it. I wasn't going to let him get away with his impudence. Why should I?" Miller shrugged. "Policy, my boy. Better take the advice of Cousin James and crawl into your shell till the storm has pelted past."

    Half an hour later Jeff met his cousin near the chapel and was taken to task.

    "What's this I hear about your insulting Thomas?"

    "You have it wrong. He insulted me," Jeff corrected with a smile.

    "Tommyrot! Why couldn't you treat him right?"

    "Didn't like to throw him through the window on account of littering up the lawn with broken glass. "

    James K.'s handsome square-cut face did not relax to a smile. "You may think this a joke, but I don't. I've heard the Chancellor is going to call you on the carpet."

    "If he does he'll learn what I think."

    The upper classman's anger boiled over. "You might think of me a little."

    "Didn't know you were in this, J. K."

    "They know I'm your cousin. It's hurting my reputation."

    A faint ironic smile touched Jeff's face. "No, James, I'm helping it. Ever notice how blondes and brunettes chum together. Value of contrasts, you see. I'm a moral brunette. You're a shining example of all a man should be. I simply emphasize your greatness."

    "That's not the way it works," his cousin grumbled.

    "That's just how it works. Best thing that could happen to you would be for me to get expelled. Shall I?"

    Jeff offered his suggestion debonairly.

    "Of course not."

    "It would give you just the touch of halo you need to finish the picture. Think of it: your noble head bowed in grief because of the unworthy relative you had labored so hard to save; the sympathy of the faculty, the respect of the fellows, the shy adoration of the co-eds. Great Brutus bowed by the sorrow of a strong man's unrepining emotion. By Jove, I ought to give you the chance. You'd look the to admiration."

    For a moment James saw himself in the role and coveted it. Jeff read his thought, and his laughter brought his cousin back to earth. He had the irritated sense of having been caught.

    "It's not an occasion for talking nonsense," he said coldly.

    Jeff sensed his disgrace in the stiff politeness of the professors and in the embarrassed aloofness of his classmates. Some of the men frankly gave him a wide berth as if he had been a moral pervert.

    His temperament was sensitive to slights and he fell into one of his rare depressions. One afternoon he took the car for the city. He wanted to get away from himself and from his environment.

    A chill mist was in the air. Drawn by the bright lights, Jeff entered a saloon and sat down in an alcove with his arms on the table. Why did they hammer him so because he told the truth as he saw it? Why must he toady to the ideas of Bland as everybody else at the University seemed to do? He was not respectable enough for them. That was the trouble. They were pushing him back into the gutter whence he had emerged. Wild fragmentary thoughts chased themselves across the record of his brain.

    Almost before he knew it he had ordered and drunk a highball. Immediately his horizon lightened. With the second glass his depression vanished. He felt equal to anything.

    It was past nine o'clock when he took the University car. As chance had it Professor Perkins and he were the only passengers. The teacher of Economics bowed to the flushed youth and buried himself in a book. It was not till they both rose to leave at the University station that he noticed the condition of Farnum. Even then he stood in momentary doubt.

    With a maudlin laugh Jeff quieted any possible explanation of sickness. "Been havin' little spree down town, Profeshor. Good deal like one ev'body been havin' out here. Yours shpiritual; mine shpirituous. Joke, see! Play on wor'd. Shpiritual——shpirituous."

    "You're intoxicated, sir," Perkin,s told him sternly. "Betcherlife I am, old cock! Ever get shp——shp——shpiflicated yourself?"

    "Go home and go to bed, sir!"

    "Whaffor? 'S early yet. 'S reasonable man I ask whaffor?"

    The professor turned away, but Jeff caught at his sleeve.

    "Lesh not go to bed. Lesh talk economicsh."

    "Release me at once, sir."

    "Jush's you shay. Shancellor wants see me. I'll go now."

    He did. What occurred at that interview had better be omitted. Jeff was very cordial and friendly, ready to make up any differences there might be between them. An ice statue would have been warm compared to the Chancellor.

    Next day Jeff was publicly expelled. At the time it did not trouble him in the least. He had brought a bottle home with him from town, and when the notice was posted he lay among the bushes in a sodden sleep half a mile from the campus.

    From a great distance there seemed to come to Jeff vaguely the sound of young rippling laughter and eager girlish voices. Drawn from heavy sleep, he was not yet fully awake. This merriment might be the music of fairy bells, such stuff as dreams are made of. He lay incurious, drowsiness still heavy on his eyelids.

    "Oh, Virgie, here's another bunch! Oh, girls, fields of them!"

    There was a little rush to the place, and with it a rustle of skirts that sounded authentic. Jeff began to believe that his nymphs were not born of fancy. He opened his eyes languidly to examine a strange world upon which he had not yet focused his mind.

    Out of the ferns a dryad was coming toward him, lance straight, slender, buoyantly youthful in the light tread and in the poise of the golden head.

    At sight of him she paused, held in her tracks, eyes grown big with solicitude.

    "You are ill."

    Before he could answer she had dropped the anemones she carried, was on her knees beside him, and had his head cushioned against her arm.

    "Tell me! What can I do for you? What is the matter?"

    Jeff groaned. His head was aching as if it would blow up, but that was not the cause of the wave of pain which had swept over him. A realization had come to him of what was the matter with him. His eyes fell from hers. He made as if to get up, but her hand restrained him with a gentle firmness.

    "Don't! You mustn't." Then aloud, she cried: "Girls——girls—— there's a sick man here. Run and get help. Quick."

    "No——no! I——I'm not sick."

    A flood of shame and embarrassment drenched him. He could not escape her tender hands without actual force and his poignant shyness made that impossible. She was like a fairy tale, a creature of dreams. He dared not meet her frank pitiful eyes, though he was intensely aware of them. The odor of violets brings to him even to this day a vision of girlish charm and daintiness, together with a memory of the abased reverence that filled him.

    They came running, her companions, eager with question and suggestion. And hard upon their heels a teamster from the road broke through the thicket, summoned by their calls for help. He stooped to pick up something that his foot had struck. It was a bottle. He looked at it and then at Jeff.

    "Nothing the matter with him, Miss, but just plain drunk," the man said with a grin. "He's been sleeping it off."

    Jeff felt the quiver run through her. She rose, trembling, and with one frightened sidelong look at him walked quickly away. He had seen a wound in her eyes he would not soon forget. It was as if he had struck her down while she was holding out hands to help him.

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