The Plastic Age
Hugh's depression was not continuous by any means. He was much too young
and too healthy not to find life an enjoyable experience most of the time.
Disillusionment followed disillusionment, each one painful and dispiriting in itself,
but they came at long enough intervals for him to find a great deal of pleasure in
Also, for the first time since he had been transferred from Alling's section in Latin,
he was taking genuine interest in a course. Having decided to major in English,
he found that he was required to take a composition course the second half of his
sophomore year. His instructor was Professor Henley, known as Jimmie Henley
among the students, a man in his middle thirties, spare, neat in his dress, sharp
with his tongue, apt to say what he thought in terms so plain that not even the
stupidest undergraduate could fail to understand him. His hazel-brown eyes were
capable of a friendly twinkle, but they had a way of darkening suddenly and
snapping that kept his students constantly on the alert. There was little of the
professor about him but a great deal of the teacher.
Hugh went to his first conference with him not entirely easy in his mind. Henley
had a reputation for "tearing themes to pieces and making a fellow feel like a
poor fish." Hugh had written his themes hastily, as he had during his freshman
year, and he was afraid that Henley might discover evidences of that haste.
Henley was leaning back in his swivel chair, his feet on the desk, a brier pipe in
his mouth, as Hugh entered the cubbyhole of an office. Down came the feet with
"Hello, Carver," Henley said cheerfully. "Come in and sit down while I go through
your themes." He motioned to a chair by the desk. Hugh muttered a shy "hello"
and sat down, watching Henley expectantly and rather uncomfortably.
Henley picked up three themes. Then he turned his keen eyes on Hugh. "I've
already read these. Lazy cuss, aren't you?" he asked amiably.
Hugh flushed. "I—I suppose so."
"You know that you are; no supposing to it." He slapped the desk lightly with the
themes. "First drafts, aren't they?"
"Yes, sir." Hugh felt his cheeks getting warmer.
Henley smiled. "Thanks for not lying. If you had lied, this conference would have
ended right now. Oh, I wouldn't have told you that I thought you were lying; I
would simply have made a few polite but entirely insincere comments about your
work and let you go. Now I am going to talk to you frankly and honestly."
"I wish you would," Hugh murmured, but he wasn't at all sure that he wished
anything of the sort.
Henley knocked the ashes out of his pipe into a metal tray, refilled it, lighted it,
and then puffed meditatively, gazing at Hugh with kind but speculative eyes.
"I think you have ability," he began slowly. "You evidently write with great fluency
and considerable accuracy, and I can find poetic touches here and there that
please me. But you are careless, abominably careless, lazy. Whatever virtues
there are in your themes come from a natural gift, not from any effort you made