The Plastic Age
For several days Hugh was tortured by doubt and indecision: there were times
when he thought that he loved Cynthia, times when he was sure that he didn't;
when he had just about made up his mind that he hated her, he found himself
planning to follow her to New Rochelle; he tried to persuade himself that his
conduct was no more reprehensible than that of his comrades, but shame
invariably overwhelmed his arguments; there were hours when he ached for
Cynthia, and hours when he loathed her for smashing something that had been
beautiful. Most of all, he wanted comfort, advice, but he knew no one to whom he
was willing to give his confidence. Somehow, he couldn't admit his drunkenness
to any one whose advice he valued. He called on Professor Henley twice,
intending to make a clean breast of his transgressions. Henley, he knew, would
not lecture him, but when he found himself facing him, he could not bring himself
to confession; he was afraid of losing Henley's respect.
Finally, in desperation, he talked to Norry, not because he thought Norry could
help him but because he had to talk to somebody and Norry already knew the
worst. They went walking far out into the country, idly discussing campus gossip
or pausing to revel in the beauty of the night, the clear, clean sky, the pale moon,
the fireflies sparkling suddenly over the meadows or even to the tree-tops. Weary
from their long walk, they sat down on a stump, and Hugh let the dam of his
"Norry," he began intensely, "I'm in hell—in hell. It's a week since Prom, and I
haven't had a line from Cynthia. I haven't dared write to her."
"She—she—oh, damn it!—she told me before she left that everything was all off.
That's why she left early. She said that we didn't love each other, that all we felt
was sex attraction. I don't know whether she's right or not, but I miss her like the
devil. I—I feel empty, sort of hollow inside, as if everything had suddenly been
poured out of me—and there's nothing to take its place. I was full of Cynthia, you
see, and now there's no Cynthia. There's nothing left but—oh, God, Norry, I'm
ashamed of myself. I feel—dirty." The last word was hardly audible.
Norry touched his arm. "I know, Hugh, and I'm awfully sorry. I think, though, that
Cynthia was right. I know her better than you do. She's an awfully good kid but
not your kind at all; I think I feel as badly almost as you do about it." He paused a
moment and then said simply, "I was so proud of you, Hugh."
"Don't!" Hugh exclaimed. "I want to kill myself when you say things like that."
"You don't understand. I know that you don't understand. I've been doing a lot of
thinking since Prom, too. I've thought over a lot of things that you've said to me—
about me, I mean. Why, Hugh, you think I'm not human. I don't believe you think I
have passions like the rest of you. Well, I do, and sometimes it's—it's awful. I'm
telling you that so you'll understand that I know how you feel. But love's beautiful
to me, Hugh, the most wonderful thing in the world. I was in love with a girl
once—and I know. She didn't give a hang for me; she thought I was a baby. I
suffered awfully; but I know that my love was beautiful, as beautiful as—" He