The Plastic Age
For a moment after reading Morse's letter Hugh was genuinely sorry, but almost
immediately he felt irritated and hurt.
He handed the letter to Carl, who entered just as he finished reading it, and
exploded: "The simp! And after I wasted so much time on him."
Carl read the letter. "I told you so." He smiled impishly. "You were the wise boy;
you knew that he would get over it."
Hugh should really have felt grateful to Morse. It was only a feeling of
responsibility for him that had made Hugh prepare his own lessons. Day after
day he had studied with Morse in order to cheer him up; and that was all the
studying he had done. Latin and history had little opportunity to claim his interest
in competition with the excitement around him.
Crossing the campus for the first few weeks of college was an adventure for
every freshman. He did not know when he would be seized by a howling group of
sophomores and forced to make an ass of himself for their amusement.
Sometimes he was required to do "esthetic dancing," sometimes to sing, or, what
was more common, to make a speech. And no matter how hard he tried, the
sophomores were never pleased. If he danced, they laughed at him, guyed him
unmercifully, called attention to his legs, his awkwardness, urged him to go
faster, insisted that he get some "pash" into it. If he sang, and the frightened
freshman usually sang off key, they interrupted him after a few notes, told him to
sing something else, interrupted that, and told him "for God's sake" to dance. The
speech-making, however, provided the most fun, especially if the freshman was
cleverer than his captors. Then there was a battle of wits, and if the freshman too
successfully defeated his opponents, he was dropped into a watering-trough that
had stood on the campus for more than a century. Of justice there was none, but
of sport there was a great plenty. The worst scared of the freshmen really
enjoyed the experience. By a strange sort of inverted logic, he felt that he was
something of a hero; at least, for a brief time he had occupied the public eye. He
had been initiated; he was a Sanford man.
One freshman, however, found those two weeks harrowing. That was Merton
Billings, the fat man of the class. Day after day he was captured by the
sophomores and commanded to dance. He was an earnest youth and entirely
without a sense of humor. Dancing to him was not only hard work but downright
wicked. He was a member of the Epworth League, and he took his membership
seriously. Even David, he remembered, had "got in wrong" because he danced;
and he had no desire to emulate David. Within two days the sophomores
discovered his religious ardor, his horror of drinking, smoking, and dancing. So
they made him dance while they howled with glee at his bobbing stomach; his
short, staggering legs; his red jowls, jigging and jouncing; his pale blue eyes,
protruding excitedly from their sockets; his lips pressed tight together, periodically
popping open for breath. He was very funny, very angry, and very much
ashamed. Every night he prayed that he might be forgiven his sin. A month later
when the intensity of his hatred had subsided somewhat, he remembered to his