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The Plastic Age

The dormitory initiations had more than angered Hugh; they had completely
upset his mental equilibrium: his every ideal of college swayed and wabbled. He
wasn't a prig, but he had come to Sanford with very definite ideas about the
place, and those ideas were already groggy from the unmerciful pounding they
were receiving.
His father was responsible for his illusions, if one may call them illusions. Mr.
Carver was a shy, sensitive man well along in his fifties, with a wife twelve years
his junior. He pretended to cultivate his small farm in Merrytown, but as a matter
of fact he lived off of a comfortable income left him by his very capable father. He
spent most of his time reading the eighteenth-century essayists, John Donne's
poetry, the "Atlantic Monthly," the "Boston Transcript," and playing Mozart on his
violin. He did not understand his wife and was thoroughly afraid of his son; Hugh
had an animal vigor that at times almost terrified him.
At his wife's insistence he had a talk with Hugh the night before the boy left for
college. Hugh had wanted to run when he met his father in the library after dinner
for that talk. He loved the gentle, gray-haired man with the fine, delicate features
and soft voice. He had often wished that he knew his father. Mr. Carver was
equally eager to know Hugh, but he had no idea of how to go about getting
acquainted with his son.
They sat on opposite sides of the fireplace, and Mr. Carver gazed thoughtfully at
the boy. Why hadn't Betty had this talk with Hugh? She knew him so much better
than he did; they were more like brother and sister than mother and son. Why,
Hugh called her Betty half the time, and she seemed to understand him perfectly.
Hugh waited silently. Mr. Carver ran a thin hand through his hair and then sharply
desisted; he mustn't let the boy know that he was nervous. Then he settled his
horn-rimmed pince-nez more firmly on his nose and felt in his waistcoat for a
cigar. Why didn't Hugh say something? He snipped the end of the cigar with a
silver knife. Slowly he lighted the cigar, inhaled once or twice, coughed mildly,
and finally found his voice.
"Well, Hugh," he said in his gentle way.
"Well, Dad." Hugh grinned sheepishly. Then they both started; Hugh had never
called his father Dad before. He thought of him that way always, but he could
never bring himself to dare anything but the more formal Father. In his
embarrassment he had forgotten himself.
"I—I—I'm sorry, sir," he stuttered, flushing painfully.
Mr. Carver laughed to hide his own embarrassment. "That's all right, Hugh." His
smile was very kindly. "Let it be Dad. I think I like it better."
"That's fine!" Hugh exclaimed.
The tension was broken, and Mr. Carver began to give the dreaded talk.