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A piece of newspaper sprang up, apparently by itself, and slid along the floor. Then unknown invisible blocks, miles of them, his head clearing, and he made grave announcement to a Jim Lefferts who suddenly seemed to be with him: "I gotta lick that fellow." "All right, all right. But still, he was to be allowed one charming fight, and he revived as he staggered industriously in search of it. For the first time in weeks he was relieved from the boredom of Terwillinger College.
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.He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk. Luxuriously as a wayfarer drinking cool beer they caressed the phrases in linked sweetness long drawn out: Elmer wept a little, and blubbered, "Lez go out and start a scrap. You get somebody to pick on you, and I'll come along and knock his block off. The debating set urged him to join them, but they were rabbit-faced and spectacled young men, and he viewed as obscene the notion of digging statistics about immigration and the products of San Domingo out of dusty spotted books in the dusty spotted library. He liked to know things about people dead these thousand years, and he liked doing canned miracles in chemistry. He'd get out and finish law school and never open another book--kid the juries along and hire some old coot to do the briefs.He leaned against the bar of the Old Home Sample Room, the most gilded and urbane saloon in Cato, Missouri, and requested the bartender to join him in "The Good Old Summer Time," the waltz of the day. He kept from flunking only because Jim Lefferts drove him to his books. Elmer was astounded that so capable a drinker, a man so deft at "handing a girl a swell spiel and getting her going" should find entertainment in Roman chariots and the unenterprising amours of sweet-peas. To keep him from absolutely breaking under the burden of hearing the professors squeak, he did have the joy of loafing with Jim, illegally smoking the while; he did have researches into the lovability of co-eds and the baker's daughter; he did revere becoming drunk and world-striding. He tasted one, and murmured foolishly, "'Scuse me." It was the chase, the water. The whisky would certainly be in that other lil sawed-off glass. It tickled his throat and made him feel powerful, and at peace with every one save that fellow--he could not recall who, but it was some one whom he would shortly chastise, and after that float into an Elysium of benevolence. The sour invigorating stench of beer made him feel healthy. He regarded basket-ball and gymnasium antics as light-minded for a football gladiator. " The bartender was shuffling toward them, amiably ready for homicide. Instantly, by some tricky sort of magic, there were two glasses in front of him. With a smirk of self-admiration he sucked in the raw Bourbon. But since the last night of the football season, with the glorious bonfire in which the young gentlemen had burned up nine tar barrels, the sign of the Jew tailor, and the president's tabby-cat, Elmer had been tortured by boredom.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.
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.
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.
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.