MIDDLE AGE stood before the counter of the College Drug Store and examined with reflective eye the display of college insignia ingeniously wrought on banner, pipe, and shield. The panoply and regalia of youth, the splendid uselessness of most of the articles, the tragic solemnity of it all, filled him with longing for a time when these, and not an impaired digestion and shattered nerves, were the realities of life.
The early twilight of a winter afternoon had fallen on the quiet college town. Groups of students passed the glare of the windows, boyish laughter and youthful jest marked the close of the day during which countless parental hearts had followed these boys, in imagination, to and from the classroom and shared with them their work and play. This winter day counted among its most blessed memories the thousand and one self-denials and personal sacrifices of a thousand parents, that these loitering feet might continue to tread the streets of this little college town and that these boyish voices might continue to fill the twilight air with laughter and song.
The door opened and in a whirl of snow a young man entered. He was only a boy, but he came as a monarch might enter the home of a humble subject. As he shook the light snow from his capless head and from the collar of his leather jacket, he smiled a casual greeting to the clerk behind the counter and glanced with pleasing frankness, but without a ray of interest, at the unfamiliar middle-aged figure at the pipe counter. With entire accustomedness he stepped behind the counter and slipped a package or two of cigarettes into his pocket. In leisurely circuit of the store, he acquired a bag of salted nuts, a box of matches, and a few other necessities of the moment. Then he lounged to a stool at the soda fountain. The clerk, anticipating that this would be his last stop, stood, awaiting the inevitable order. ‘The usual’ was all the description necessary, and forthwith he was supplied with an amazing combination of fruits and sirups and ices of which he disposed slowly and silently. This done, a fresh cigarette was lighted and, stopping only to view with appraising eye the feminine beauty and pulchritude in an advertisement of the picture at the local movie-house, he nodded a farewell. He turned a moment at the door to murmur, ‘Charge Ferguson,’ and disappeared. The clerk made some entries in a dog-eared book and turned to other duties.
Middle Age watched with a curious sense of humility the slender figure of the boy as it melted into the darkness of the street. Surely he never handled himself in that way. He felt a little as if a splendid pageant had passed; he recognized that feeling of reaction that comes when the last glittering wagon has gone by in the circus parade, or when the last soldier has hurried along trying to march in step to a distant band. He stood silent and for the moment depressed and then he knew what the feeling was and whence t came. He recalled a coronation procession in a European capital. That was all. He knew now what had happened. Royalty had passed. The youthful king, the hope of his nation, had shown himself to his subjects, and was even now immersed in the duties of the court. Yes, the young king had passed and for a moment the dull eyes of Middle Age failed to recognize him.
As Middle Age walked with cautious step over the ice and snow, he pondered on what he had seen. What of this gallant young king, what manner of man was he, what of his court? To what advisers would he lend his ear? How would his kingdom prosper? How sure is the vision of those fearless eyes? As he tapped the frozen ground with his walking-stick he found his ears ringing with that cryptic phrase, ‘Charge Ferguson.’ How simple it all was! Those magic words had placed at youth’s behest the entire glittering pharmacy. But who was Ferguson? The unseen elder Ferguson who acted as royal treasurer and met these drafts on the royal exchequer? Middle Age wondered if the royal moneys were being w isely expended.
These questions could be answered only by acquaintance with Ferguson, and to this task Middle Age devoted himself for many weeks. The Royal Personage was not difficult of approach. He met advances with the same disarming self-assurance with which he purchased his cigarettes. He looked into the eyes of Middle Age and alleged Experience with a disconcerting frankness. He treated the whole episode of this strange acquaintance without concern and without interest, but from beginning to end with faultless and unfailing courtesy. If he did not seem abashed by the evident interest of his new friend, he certainly did not swagger. He never posed, he never evaded, he never condescended. The whole matter is now lost to him in the intricate and pressing life about him, and Middle Age has become, no doubt, a blurred and indistinct figure in the crowded canvas of undergraduate life.
Not so Ferguson — he stands out as clear as a cameo in the mind of his inquiring friend. It is this unforgettable figure, tins graceful, ardent, intelligent, but often mistaken and hence much criticized, Heir of the Ages that I shall attempt to sketch. It is wise and right that we should be interested in him; he will soon inherit his kingdom and we shall all soon be under his sway. It is meet that we be concerned about him, and proper that we should see if the kind of example and instruction we have given him are the best we have to offer.
In the first place, Ferguson is no mean and unattractive figure from the eugenic standpoint. He is better made, better built, better put together, and carries himself better than the youth of past generations. Middle Age bungled through hours of gymnasium exercise under the watchful eye of a skilled and kindly trainer. He dressed and bathed with Ferguson. He watched him do his work, he saw him lounging in the dressing-rooms, and he cheered him in the heat of passionate striving for victory. He saw him win and, what is better, saw him lose like a gentleman. It is an experience not without its embarrassments to Middle Age to stand with a dozen Fergusons in shameless nudity and discuss a book, a play, a victory, or a defeat. You feel singularly out of place, for you are a rapidly decaying mortal and you find yourself standing with the young gods on the slopes of Olympus. No, dear friend, so anxious about the physical degeneration of the race, you need not worry. Ferguson will carry on.
So much for the body. How about the head? Ferguson prefers to call it his ‘bean.’ Here we are on less sure ground. Middle Age had concerned himself with other matters so long that an accurate appraisal of Ferguson’s bean is a difficult matter. This much is sure. Ferguson wants to know. He does not accept the formulæ of past generations; he accepts them only when he thinks they are proved. He has become skeptical about so many of them that he has a habit of throwing them out of court without proper consideration. This is bad for Ferguson and annoys his elders and his preceptors. He must be shown the unwisdom of doing so. He is interested in very different things than those that concerned his father. On the whole they are much better and more important things. He can hold his own in a discussion without losing his temper better than his elders, but he has a tendency to stick to the weak side of a case after he knows it is lost. He likes lost causes. He will look in the eyes of the Professor of Economics and tell him he does not agree with him; this annoys some Professors of Economics and Ferguson is called ‘rebellious.’ He is less rebellious than any type of man alive, for the simple reason that he feels in the bottom of his heart that the thing is not worth the trouble of rebelling against. He knows it will all come out in the wash, and the real facts emerge if he only thinks and talks about it enough. That is one reason why he is so difficult to argue with. The principal trouble with Ferguson’s bean is that he allows this habit to lead him astray. He is so sure of the unimportance of a host of unimportant things that he fails to see, sometimes, the tremendous importance of some really important things. That is one of the great problems in the training of Ferguson for the throne.
There is a certain type of elder that insists that Ferguson is ‘radical.’ He is. But bless your dear anxious heart, brother, he is at the same time the most conservative, tradition-bound, and stand-pat of mortals. Take a look at the little world he has built. Examine its laws and its customs. He has a code more rigid than the laws of the Medes and Persians, more inflexible than Draco at his best or worst. He believes in a Code, in an Established Order, he trusts in Authority and worships Order. He is a little uncertain about the wisdom of some of the regulations governing the outside world, but he has no doubt about the wisdom and validity of his own. When he comes to the throne he will see that the same order prevails and that authority is respected as fully, and rather more fully, possibly, than it is now. The statute book may change in detail but the underlying principles will never be altered by Ferguson.
His attitude toward his teachers and his studies baffles a dull observer, but in the main it is governed by his predominating intellectual trait. He admires manhood vastly more than scholarship. He has yet to learn the important place pure scholarship holds in the general plan of things. He is sure to learn this in time. If he finds in the scholar the man he is looking for, the scholar can lead him anywhere. But the tremendous forces that have made Ferguson what he is have left him where he refuses to see the scholar if the man is not there. It is said that he will learn nothing. No candid observer could claim that the outward and visible signs of mental accretion are overwhelming, but in private conversation Ferguson displays at times a disconcerting clearness of vision, and a wealth of real understanding about a lot of things that he regards as important. A great amount of it he gets in the classroom, but alas, the hard-working instructor too often is left in ignorance that the seed has fallen in fertile ground. Ferguson does not care for facts as facts. He is interested in principles. The problem is to show him that the facts illustrate the principles.
Ferguson’s attitude toward what is called vice is a curious thing. He is an utterly sophisticated person and will talk with entire frankness. He does not drink half what his father drank, and not a tenth of his sainted grandfather’s daily potion. But when asked why he does not drink madly, wildly, as all college students are supposed to, his explanation is a little difficult to follow. He does not regard the use of liquor, its purchase, possession, or manufacture as a crime. No amount of legislation or vociferation on the part of the moralist can make him do so. But he knows that on the whole it is a bad practice, and with that curious half-blind clear-sightedness that is his salvation he promptly places its excessive use in the limbo of the things that ‘are not done.’ Temperance has found a place in his involved ethical code because he has found it. good. Good for himself, good for others, and good for the little world in which he lives.
Of the other major vices which are supposed to be characteristic of the college man, he is singularly free. But do not think for a moment that the horrid visage of vice rouses him to a fine frenzy of righteous indignation. Ferguson is not given to frenzies, nor does he indulge much in indignation, righteous or otherwise. Vices of the grosser sorts he regards as bad form and worse manners. These have found their place, too, in the catalogue of things not done. Ferguson’s father may have been a model youth, but his rectitude was the result more of the fear of consequences and a very tepid conventional morality than a reasoned balancing of good and evil in the terms of practical daily life. These things do not seem to be to Ferguson ‘moral’ questions in the sense that used to be emphasized, and woe to the man, preacher or layman, who tries to inflame Ferguson’s mind with the presentation of them as instruments of a personal Devil. The truth of the matter is that Ferguson is not ‘good.’ He does not care to be. But he has tucked away in his bean the elements of a practical philosophy of life vastly more durable, and of infinitely greater tensile strength, than the somewhat flabby ‘morality’ of his father’s generation. He does many, many things that cause the judicious to grieve, but the judicious like to grieve and Ferguson just now is a favorite object of solicitude. When he comes to the throne many things may happen at his court that would not have happened in the early nineties, but when it becomes necessary to do so he will clean house thoroughly and effectively. He will do it with a cool head and practised hand, but without averted face, and with no display of moral indignation. His administration will be clean.
Ferguson’s religion is a much more private and personal thing than his father’s. For that reason it is harder to get at and more difficult to describe. It governs his life much more than he suspects and provides him with just what he needs during a very brief and bewildering period. The men who are active in religious work he regards as no better and no worse than anyone else. Their activity alone wins them no special consideration, but on the other hand it does not place them in a class alone. Ferguson’s father used to call them ‘gospel sharks’ and they were held in more or less contempt by youths who joined their associations and dabbled in their undertakings while they sneered at them behind their backs. Ferguson may or may not share their labors, but he no longer sneers at them and, if they ‘make good,’they are elected to his clubs and receive college honors. This change is well to ponder on. It is more significant than it seems. Ferguson will never be as ‘religious’ as his father in the class of ninety, but he is quite as likely to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Of the lesser amenities of life, Ferguson is a past master. His manners can be perfect, so perfect that the wonder is where he acquired them. As a host he is delightful, as a guest considerate and easy. For social conventionalities he cares very little, but he seems to know instinctively what to do and not to do.
In qualities of heart he is supreme. The warmth of youth tempered with shrewdness, the quick impulsive thing done with feeling and with grace. He rarely blunders and never ‘slops over.’ His court will be gracious.
It has been said that Ferguson lives by code. Never did mortal do so more thoroughly. Of all the monuments of civil life, none can equal in architectural intricacy Ferguson’s code. It has been built piece by piece to meet the requirements of the moment. Devoted as he is to it he will scrap the whole thing to-day and replace it with another to-morrow if occasion demands. But it serves his need and, with all the somewhat grotesque detail that, seems to mar its outline, it is built on solid foundations. He errs in trying to apply it to every question and in trying to make it fit every emergency, but it is a pretty safe chart, and it is very doubtful if his elders could supply him with anything better. The last test of a man is whether or not he ‘makes good.’ Now ‘making good’ with Ferguson is a complicated proceeding. but in the rough a man makes good when he measures up to the code, accepts it, and lives by it.
What has the code done for Ferguson? What are the provisions of the code? The limitations of time and space make their enumeration impossible even if an outsider knew them. But there is evidence on every hand of what, it has done. It has made the Honor System a reality. It has made possible a considerable degree of participation by the student in the details of college administration and discipline. It has created a sentiment for clean living. It has made fashionable and desirable some of the simple oldfashioned virtues — truthfulness, kindness, fellowship, and helpfulness. It has laid the heavy hand of student authority on many silly and unwise practices. It has given his little world a life well ordered, reasonably selfcontrolled, considerate of others, and in essentials healthy and normal. What more can a man-made code do?
And so Ferguson lives. Four years is a very short time and Ferguson has to take many short cuts; he has to cut a good deal of red tape and he must ignore much that might well be considered important if he is to do half what he wants to do, or what is expected of him, before he graduates. Unfortunately, too much of his time is given to the practical details of his life, and too little to the work of the classroom and laboratory. He does not use his time wisely, but it may be that his father does not.
It has doubtless been observed that the mind of Middle Age is a bit dull, and has not caught the fine lights and shades in Ferguson. This may be so, but it has caught the masses and the general outlines of the picture. Ferguson’s critics will not like the picture and of course much has been omitted. Perhaps his virtues have been overemphasized and his faults ignored.
For faults there are in plenty. Ferguson is callow, but he is young, and Middle Age has long since given over the criticism of youth on that score. Time will remedy that. And Ferguson is not half so young and callow as Middle Age was at twenty. Ferguson is self-centred. He has to be. How can he help it? His life makes him so.
Ferguson is noisy and excited over his sports, dull and apathetic over his work. It occurs to Middle Age that he was too. Ferguson is ‘intellectually indifferent.’ Possibly, but the fact remains that in ninety students joined debating clubs simply to ‘join’ and left the dry shells of the organizations to be carried on the backs of a few devoted souls. ‘Grinds’ they were called, a little higher in the social scale than the gospel sharks, but not much. Now, while debating is not a major sport, it is a recognized student activity and preëminence in it brings a sure reward. Ferguson is not as intellectually indifferent as he sometimes appears to be. Another and more serious charge is that Ferguson’s code only works one way. He insists on its recognition only when it is to his advantage. There is some truth in this. Ferguson at present is compelled to attend chapel and church services. He does not like it. So he acts badly. He has adopted an attitude which he may think is dignified nonresistance. It may be nonresistance but it certainly is not dignified. He slouches into chapel, and sprawls, and yawns, and reads newspapers under the noses of distinguished gentlemen who have come to talk to him for the everlasting good of his soul. It is one of a very few instances where the code does not work, and where Ferguson refuses to play the game. After witnessing this surprising exhibition it was something of a shock to Middle Age to hear Ferguson ask grace before his Sunday dinner, in the presence of forty of his fellow students, with a simplicity and dignity and lack of unctiousness that was in striking contrast to some of the visiting clergy of the nineties.
Yes, all the things that his critics say are more or less true. But none of them have put their finger on the real trouble. The real reason why Ferguson is a problem, both to himself and his instructors, is that with all his shrewdness Ferguson has not a glimmering idea as to the real reason why he is where he is. Ninety cannot tell 1924 why he has come to college, because he has come for entirely different things, impelled by utterly different causes than those which sent Ninety. The college should tell him: sometimes it does and sometimes it does not.
As Middle Age looked over the plant, saw the machinery working, examined the raw material, and handled the finished product of this strange and unfamiliar factory, he could not resist the conviction that with all its perfections, with all the evident care and skill exercised in the management, and with its wise choice of workmen, there was one great need. This need is recognized in the industrial world now as never before, and that need is a good ‘ contact man’ — someone who can interpret the college to Ferguson and Ferguson to the college. He must be a rare man, but he can be found. He must make good, and if he does make good many of Ferguson’s troubles will vanish, production will be speeded up, strikes will be averted, and the finished product vastly improved.
In the meantime, O elder Ferguson, a health to you! The four years will he soon over. Stand it a little longer and, in supreme confidence that the investment is a good one and extra dividends certain, respond manfully to the oft-repeated, royal command — ‘Charge Ferguson!'