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The Plastic Age

Hugh spent his last college vacation at home, working on the farm, reading,
occasionally dancing at Corley Lake, and thinking a great deal. He saw Janet
Harton, now Janet Moffitt, several times at the lake and wondered how he could
ever have adored her. She was still childlike, still dainty and pretty, but to Hugh
she was merely a talking doll, and he felt a little sorry for her burly, rather stupid
husband who lumbered about after her like a protecting watch-dog.
He met plenty of pretty girls at the lake, but, as he said, he was "off women for
good." He was afraid of them; he had been severely burnt, and while the fire still
fascinated him, it frightened him, too. Women, he was sure, were shallow
creatures, dangerous to a man's peace of mind and self-respect. They were all
right to dance with and pet a bit; but that was all, absolutely all.
He thought a lot about girls that summer and even more about his life after
graduation from college. What was he going to do? Life stretched ahead of him
for one year like a smooth, flowered plain—and then the abyss. He felt prepared
to do nothing at all, and he was not swept by an overpowering desire to do
anything in particular. Writing had the greatest appeal for him, but he doubted his
ability. Teach? Perhaps. But teaching meant graduate work. Well, he would see
what the next year at college would show. He was going to take a course in
composition with Professor Henley, and if Henley thought his gifts warranted it,
he would ask his father for a year or two of graduate work at Harvard.
College was pleasant that last year. It was pleasant to wear a blue sweater with
an orange S on it; it was pleasant, too, to wear a small white hat that had a blue
B on the crown, the insignia of the Boulé and a sign that he was a person to be
respected and obeyed; it was pleasant to be spoken to by the professors as one
who had reached something approaching manhood; life generally was pleasant,
not so exciting as the three preceding years but fuller and richer. Early in the first
term he was elected to Helmer, an honor society that possessed a granite
"tomb," a small windowless building in which the members were supposed to
discuss questions of great importance and practice secret rites of awe-inspiring
wonder. As a matter of fact, the monthly meetings were nothing but "bull fests,"
or as one cynical member put it, "We wear a gold helmet on our sweaters and
chew the fat once a month." True enough, but that gold helmet glittered enticingly
in the eyes of every student who did not possess one.
For the first time Hugh's studies meant more to him than the undergraduate life.
He had chosen his instructors carefully, having learned from three years of
experience that the instructor was far more important than the title of the course.
He had three classes in literature, one in music—partly because it was a "snap"
and partly because he really wanted to know more about music—and his
composition course with Henley, to him the most important of the lot.
He really studied, and at the end of the first term received three A's and two B's,
a very creditable record. What was more important than his record, however, was