The Plastic Age by Percy Marks - HTML preview
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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. "I hardly know what to say to you, Hugh," he began, "on the eve of your going away to college. There is so much that you ought to know, and I have no idea of how much you know already."
Hugh thought of all the smutty stories he had heard—and told. Instinctively he knew that his father referred to what a local doctor called "the facts of life." He hung his head and said gruffly, "I guess I know a good deal—Dad." "That's splendid!" Mr. Carver felt the full weight of a father's responsibilities lifted from his shoulders. "I believe Dr. Hanson gave you a talk at school about—er, sex, didn't he?"
"Yes, sir." Hugh was picking out the design in the rug with the toe of his shoe and at the same time unconsciously pinching his leg. He pinched so hard that he afterward found a black and blue spot, but he never knew how it got there. "Excellent thing, excellent thing, these talks by medical men." He was beginning to feel at ease. "Excellent thing. I am glad that you are so well informed; you are old enough."
Hugh wasn't well informed; he was pathetically ignorant. Most of what he knew had come from the smutty stories, and he often did not understand the stories that he laughed at most heartily. He was consumed with curiosity. "If there is anything you want to know, don't hesitate to ask," his father continued. He had a moment of panic lest Hugh would ask something, but the boy merely shook his head—and pinched his leg.
Mr. Carver puffed his cigar in great relief. "Well," he continued, "I don't want to give you much advice, but your mother feels that I ought to tell you a little more about college before you leave. As I have told you before, Sanford is a splendid place, a—er, a splendid place. Fine old traditions and all that sort of thing. Splendid place. You will find a wonderful faculty, wonderful. Most of the professors I had are gone, but I am sure that the new ones are quite as good. Your opportunities will be enormous, and I am sure that you will take advantage of them. We have been very proud of your high school record, your mother and I, and we know that you will do quite as well in college. By the way, I hope you take a course in the eighteenth-century essayists; you will find them very stimulating— Addison especially.
"I—er, your mother feels that I ought to say something about the dissipations of college. I—I'm sure that I don't know what to say. I suppose that there are young men in college who dissipate—remember that I knew one or two—but certainly most of them are gentlemen. Crude men—vulgarians do not commonly go to college. Vulgarity has no place in college. You may, I presume, meet some men not altogether admirable, but it will not be necessary for you to know them. Now, as to the fraternity...."
Hugh forgot to pinch his leg and looked up with avid interest in his face. The Nu Deltas!
Mr. Carver leaned forward to stir the fire with a brass poker before he continued. Then he settled back in his chair and smoked comfortably. He was completely at ease now. The worst was over.
"I have written to the Nu Deltas about you and told them that I hoped that they would find you acceptable, as I am sure they will. As a legacy, you will be among the first considered." For an hour more he talked about the fraternity. Hugh, his embarrassment swallowed by his interest, eagerly asking questions. His father's admiration for the fraternity was second only to his admiration for the college, and before the evening was over he had filled Hugh with an idolatry for both. He left his father that night feeling closer to him than he ever had before. He was going to be a college man like his father—perhaps a Nu Delta, too. He wished that they had got chummy before. When he went to bed, he lay awake dreaming, thinking sometimes of Helen Simpson and of how he had kissed her that afternoon, but more often of Sanford and Nu Delta. He was so deeply grateful to his father for talking to him frankly and telling him everything about college. He was darned lucky to have a father who was a college grad and could put him wise. It was pretty tough on the fellows whose fathers had never been to college. Poor fellows, they didn't know the ropes the way he did....
He finally fell off to sleep, picturing himself in the doorway of the Nu Delta house welcoming his father to a reunion.
That talk was returning to Hugh repeatedly. He wondered if Sanford had changed since his father's day or if his father had just forgotten what college was like. Everything seemed so different from what he had been told to expect. Perhaps he was just soft and some of the fellows weren't as crude as he thought they were.