Blowing on a glass, polishing it and glancing at Elmer through its flashing rotundity, the bartender remarked that he wasn't much of a hand at this here singing business. No bartender could have done other than smile on Elmer, so inspired and full of gallantry and hell-raising was he, and so dominating was his beefy grin. "Me and my room-mate'll show you some singing as is singing! But he could not afford liquor very often and the co-eds were mostly ugly and earnest.
The bar was one long shimmer of beauty--glowing mahogany, exquisite marble rail, dazzling glasses, curiously shaped bottles of unknown liqueurs, piled with a craftiness which made him very happy. When he had come to college, he had supposed he would pick up learnings of cash-value to a lawyer or doctor or insurance man--he had not known which he would become, and in his senior year, aged twenty-two this November, he still was doubtful. What good would it be in the courtroom, or at the operating table, to understand trigonometry, or to know (as last spring, up to the examination on European History, he remembered having known) the date of Charlemagne?
You would not be likely to mistake Terwillinger College for an Old Folks' Home, because on the campus is a large rock painted with class numerals. There is a men's dormitory, but Elmer Gantry and Jim Lefferts lived together in the town, in a mansion once the pride of the Gritzmachers themselves: a square brick bulk with a white cupola.
Their room was unchanged from the days of the original August Gritzmacher; a room heavy with a vast bed of carved black walnut, thick and perpetually dusty brocade curtains, and black walnut chairs hung with scarves that dangled gilt balls. There was about the place the anxious propriety and all the dead hopes of a second-hand furniture shop.
All the items of his wardrobe, the "ordinary suit," distinctly glossy at the elbows, and the dark-brown "best suit," were ready-made, with faltering buttons, and seams that betrayed rough ends of thread, but on him they were graceful.
You felt that he would belong to any set in the world which he sufficiently admired.
To elect any one as class-president twice was taboo. Elmer swallowed ideas whole; he was a maelstrom of prejudices; but Jim accurately examined every notion that came to him.
The ardent Eddie Fislinger, now president of the Y. Jim was selfish enough, but it was with the selfishness of a man who thinks and who is coldly unafraid of any destination to which his thoughts may lead him.Terwillinger College, founded and preserved by the more zealous Baptists, is on the outskirts of Gritzmacher Springs, Kansas.(The springs have dried up and the Gritzmachers have gone to Los Angeles, to sell bungalows and delicatessen.) It huddles on the prairie, which is storm-racked in winter, frying and dusty in summer, lovely only in the grass-rustling spring or drowsy autumn. I'll get 'nother drink," soothed Jim, and Elmer slid into tears, weeping over the ancient tragic sorrows of one whom he remembered as Jim Lefferts. He was conscious of a voice which he had been hearing for centuries, echoing from a distant point of light and flashing through ever-widening corridors of a dream. They had won the championship of the East-middle Kansas Conference, which consisted of ten denominational colleges, all of them with buildings and presidents and chapel services and yells and colors and a standard of scholarship equal to the best high-schools. That was a very funny incident, and he laughed greatly. You might as well go find a nice little fight and get it out of your system! Elmer Gantry, best known to classmates as Hell-cat, had, this autumn of 1902, been football captain and led the best team Terwillinger College had known in ten years.There was a romantic flare to his upturned overcoat collar; the darned bottoms of his trousers did not suggest poverty but a careless and amused ease; and his thoroughly commonplace ties hinted of clubs and regiments. You saw only its youthful freshness first, then behind the brightness a taut determination, and his brown eyes were amiably scornful.