One Vote for Harlow
What is Success? This woman, loved by four men, each in his own way, found the answer in her true heart’s message
EARL REED SILVERS
WE HAVE just had our twenty-fifth reunion, Margaret. Most of the old crowd were there; Brick van Orden, and Julien Banks, the football player, and Bob Harlow, of course. To them, I was something of a stranger at first, for I had not returned since graduation, but we talked of old Doc Kingsley, the Latin prof, and of Poppy Gibbs, the dean, recalling our campus years; and after a while we were friends again.
We stood on the porch of The Cabin, and below us the river was a ribbon of shimmering blue. Men I had forgotten spoke to me with a touch of envy, for I have been to far places which to them are only names. They asked about Moscow and Madrid, and they said. “I’ve read your book. You’re lucky, Morse.”
They were ail approaching fifty, and some seemed much older and some seemed young. They had come in j>olished airs and in cars with dented fenders; they had come by train and bus, and the shoes of one man were dusty from long walking. Some were wealthy and a few were jxx>r; and those who were prosperous exuded prosperity, and those with small possessions made a brave show of plenitude.
The years had marked their faces in varying degree, with smug lines and taut lines, with lines of quick laughter and haunting pain. Some had found success and some believed themselves successful, but only one of all the class had found serenity. Only in Harlow’s clear blue eyes the light of inner peace was shining.
Harlow stcxxl beside me while we had our picture taken for tiie Afutmti ATvs. but when we went into The Cabin for the reunion banquet, he slipped away, and 1 saw him later at the foot of the T-shaped table. Brick was beside me at the head, and Julien was in the toastmaster’s chair.
The class was together again after twenty-five years. We sang “Hail, Mother,” and the words came easily, for time had burned them in our hearts—“Oh. Mother of ancient men. how rich thy storied past has been . ”
Van Orden sang too loudly, as had been his wont, and Julien’s rumbling basso was slightly off-key. And Harlow was singing, too, although we knew it only by the movement of his lips. They were singing the Alma Mater, these three men who loved you; and as they sang, they remembered, and were young again.
Across the intervening years, they saw your face and heard the music of your voice.
"D RICK VAN OR DEN’S bristling hair is grey now; ^ he is a minister of the gospel, wearing the habiliments of his calling with dignity, and he has long since forgotten that he was once a country boy sallying forth from a duck farm to conquer the world.
But he has remembered. 1 think, his first unhappy year at college, where he learned something of tolerance and something of kindliness. He lived in Holy Hill, if you recall, and he was afraid of being late to classes. He wore high collars and narrow ties, and he affected modernity, although he was a rustic at heart. He was very sincere and very clean, and he was “the freshman young and green with his self-important mien, who came to add more knowledge to his store.” He met you first, as I did. at the “Y” Reception in early October.
It was held in the gymnasium, and the freshmen were invited to meet the ladies of the faculty and the nicest girls in town. The president himself headed the reception line, and the dean’s wife was there, and Lucy Gibbs, the dean's daughter, who was tall and intellectual. We passed
before them in suffering silence, but Van Orden said to Lucy, “I am pleased to meet you, ma'am.” The faculty ladies introduced us to the nicest girls, and our only compensation was the thought of ice cream and cake to be served later in the evening. But when the time came for refreshments, the “Y” secretary announced in righteous anger that the sophomores had stolen the freezers, and we were forced to be satisfied with cake.
There was no dancing, for that was considered improper at a “Y” affair. We talked to simpering girls and quiet girls, to the garrulous and reticent alike, and Julien Banks slipped out to the porch, rolled a cigarette and smoked it, defying a disapproving dean. The minutes dragged heavily until I was introduced to you.
Years have dimmed many memories, but never the memory of the first touch of your hand. I do not recall what you wore, for I saw only your eyes, deep and black, your olive skin and your dark hair. I wanted to dance with you, but there was no dancing. I wanted to say to you, “Will you be my girl?” But Julien came along just then and, having already met you. he enquired casually, “How are you. kiddo?” And I could have taken his bull neck in clinging fingers and choked him.
You looked beyond Julien to where Brick van Orden was standing. He wore a new suit, dark blue and unbecoming. His scrubbed hands dangled from his sleeves and beads of perspiration gleamed upon his forehead. He was unhappy and conspicuous, and Julien jerked a thumb in his direction. “Who’s the rube?” he asked.
You turned your deep dark eyes to me. “I would like to meet him, please.”
So I beckoned to Brick and when he came over. I presented him, “Miss Wells, this is Brick van Orden.” As he took your outstretched hand, his own hand was trembling. “I—I—how are you, ma’am?” he stammered. Julien gulïawed, but you looked back into Brick’s red face and said gently, “I’m leaving now. Would you care to see me home, Mr. Van Orden?”
Julien and I watched you go across the floor with this country boy at your side, and when you reached the door you took his arm as if he were an old friend, and the night shut us from you.
TT IS STRANGE how, looking backward, we remember certain things; small incidents and minor happenings, and the look on a man’s face and a girl’s laugh in the darkness. It is strange that after all these years I should remember Van Orden’s eyes when he came to Greek class the next morning. They were the eyes of a person who has seen visions and has cherished hopes beyond belief.
Perhaps it is not so strange that I should remember all things in which you had a part. The first football game, when you sat with me in the wooden stands and cheered when Julien blocked a punt. The clear, cold morning in the fall when we walked along the river bank. My first visit to your home on Maple Street. Your voice saying, “Brick was here last night, Larry. What shall I do with him?” I knew that Brick was in love with you, but I asked
casually, “Why bother with a rube like him?” k
“I wouldn’t hurt him,” you said.
“I can’t hurt him.”
But Julien was less considerate.
After the first snowstorm we were going to algebra in the Engineering Building, with Brick a few steps in front of us, walking alone as usual.
Julien picked up a lump of soggy snow and planted it between his shoulders. Brick turned, glaring, and Julien chose to take offense. He advanced upon Brick and tripped him, so that he fell awkwardly. Julien held him down. We stood around laughing, all except Bob Harlow, who touched Julien’s shoulder and said quietly, “Let him up, Banks.”
We thought that there would be two victims instead of one, for Harlow was not an athlete nor had he impressed his personality upon us. He was just one of the crowd. But Julien stood up, looking slightly ashamed, and Brick climbed to his feet, angry and humiliated, and walked away without further word.
It is strange, isn’t it, that I should remember that? And that I should remember, too, a day in late spring when I saw you standing beside the jumping pit while the track team was practicing. I went over to you. for we were pals by then, and I could see Julien putting the shot down the field and Harlow at the pole vault. We stood together in the warm sun, and after a minute you looked up gravely. “I’m not seeing Brick any more, Larry.” You had been seeing a great deal of him. You were the dawn and the sunset of his day. You were all he had at college. “Why?” I asked.
“He doesn’t understand things,” you said, and there was something in the proud tilt of your head which kept me from further questioning.
But you did not see him again even to say good-by, and that was the ending of his unhappy year.
In the summer he invited me to visit him on his farm. I remember, chiefly, his mother. She was a tall woman, with work-hardened hands. She wore billowy skirts beneath a gingham apron, and most of her working hours were spent in the kitchen. Above a heat-exuding stove, she sang snatches of old-fashioned songs; and at meals, she looked at Brick with worshipping eyes, seeing him, not as the immature farm boy that he was, but as a college man training for the priesthood. All her ambitions, all her hoi>es and desires were centred in him.
I remember one morning when Brick and I sat UJXMI an overhanging rock at the swimming hole. A line of ducks came into our vision, waddling toward the river in ludicrous procession. A lame duck limped after them, and Brick, watching the lame duck, said, “That’s the way I am, out of step with all the others.” His profile was tense against a background of shadowed leaves. “I’ve just about decided not to go back to college. I couldn't face Margaret now.”
He did not tell me what I learned later; that in his youthful ignorance he had crushed you in his arms, frightened you, and that he was ashamed to look you in the eyes again.
Y\ 7"E SAT in silence for a time, and only a * ^ short distance away the lame duck found the water which was his heritage and he was no longer lame.
“If I only had a letter from her, things would be easier,” Brick finished wistfully. “If we could only be friends again, it wouldn’t hurt so much.”
You may remember that I wrote you from the Van Orden farm. I told you about Brick’s mother. I said that Brick was thinking of leaving college, and that it would break his mother's heart if he did. But that if you should write him . . .
Your letter came while I was still there. 11 began, “Dear Brick,” and ended, “Sincerely, Margaret.” It suggested that you would be glad to see him in September. “Larry has been telling me about the farm,” you wrote. “It must be lovely there, but the campus is lovely, too. Y’ou will like college better this year, I think.”
So Brick came back, and we were all good
friends together. He is a minister of
the gospel now, with a city church and a radio program; and one Sunday each year he preaches in a country church for an ageing mother who is utterly proud of her son.
We were all gtxxi friends together; you and Brick, and Julien and 1, and, after freshman year, Bob Harlow. It was a long time ago, and there are many tilings we have all forgotten. But we remember, I think, the Sophomore Hop, when you danced four times with me. Y'ou wore your hair parted in the centre and drawn to a knot at your neck ; and between dances you watched the men go into the lobby and roll cigarettes with bungling fingers. Y'ou were both lovely and tolerant. But the dean s daughter abhorred slang and the intimacy of the modern dance.
We did the two-step and the waltz, and your head reached only to my shoulder. Y'ou were nineteen then, with the shining loveliness of youth. Brick had held you in his arms and been forgiven, and you and I were pals. And Julien permitted himself a dream or two.
You had one dance with Harlow. I wondered why Julien had allowed that, for Harlow was still a nonentity in college; a quiet boy, rooming alone in Willetts Hall. All that we knew about him was that he was studying to be a teacher and that he played the organ in a church downtown. He was a pole vaulter on the track team, a second stringer who could barely clear nine feet. But, curiously, when we thought back to a meeting we had held, or to a bull session in a dormitory room, we always recalled that Harlow was present. We forgot some of the others, but if a person asked us, “Who was there, anyhow?” we invariably answered, “Let’s see! There was Bob Harlow, and ...”
He had one dance with you. It was “Beautiful Lady,” I think. Passing Brick and me near the doorway, you did not look at us. Harlow was holding you gently, and your eyes were closed. It is that which I remember most vividly about our Sophomore Hop.
I remember. too, the track meet with Lavalette in the late spring. Having run my races, l sat with you in the wooden stands. Y’ou said to me, “Y’ou always win, Larry. Bob tries harder and is beaten, but you always win.” I saw Harlow warming up for the pole vault, and Julien with other young giants at the shot put circle. Brick was walking across the field with Lucy Gibbs. He wore peg-topped trousers, and he was no longer out of step with the crowd.
The meet was almost ended, with only two events remaining. We needed a first in one of them to finish the season undefeated. We could see the muscles of Julien’s perfect body ripple beneath brown skin. He heaved the iron ball and stepped aside, grinning. He was strong, and confident, and arrogant. He had black hair and a square jaw. He swaggered when he walked. But he was a good man except for his arrogance and his supreme conceit. I lis strength needed to be bridled.
Groups of spectators strolled toward the gate, for it was a foregone conclusion that Julien would win. Brick and Lucy carne over to where we were sitting. Brick smiled at you in easy friendliness, and the dean’s daughter was but vaguely disapproving of my naked limbs.
We saw Julien toss a sweater over his shoulders and walk away. An announcer Ixxxned through his megaphone that Somebody-or-other of Lavalette had won the shot put.
“ I hat means we lose the meet,” Brick snapped. “Let’s go somewhere.”
/^VNLY the pole vault remained, and we had no chance in ^ that. 1 wanted to get rid of Brick and Lucy and walk along the river bank with you. The day was dying, and there would be shadows on the water. But you said, touching my arm, “I’d like to watch the vaulting, if you don’t mind,” and we went down to the field and stood beside the runway.
The crossbar was higher than Harlow's best effort, but he cleared it. Our first-string vaulter failed, and Harlow held the torch. He kxjked at you gravely, ignoring the rest of us. and his eyes saw only you and the challenging crosspiece. He won the pole vault, and the crowd cheered, and your hand tightened on my arm.
It’s strange, how I should remember these little things. The summer after sophomore year, when I spent a week-end at your cottage on the shore and found Julien there. He was a bronzed Hercules on yellow sand, and he ignored pursuing hordes of other girls to lx* with you.
He was hurt in the season’s first football game. You remember that, of course. It was against Beacon City and Julien, insolentandmasterful,dominated theplay. Between the halves we paraded across the field, chanting, “I lail. hail, the gang’s all here;” and Brick van Orden was quite one of us, and Harlow marched too. We cheered for the team and for Julien Banks, and when we returned to the stands, Julien waved to you as he led the team from the field house.
But in the second half he was hurt. After a plunge at centre, he lay where he had fallen, the ball still clutched beneath his arm, his rugged face relaxed. He would be all right in a minute, we thought. But he was not all right; and when, after a little while, he was carried off, your lips were quivering.
You asked me that evening to take you to the only hospital of which the town boasted. He was still unconscious when we arrived, his big hands quiescent against a grey blanket. All arrogance had left him.
Ön the far side of the cot, in shadows where the dim light did not reach, Harlow was standing. You did not see him at first. You walked over to Julien, ignoring the nurse, and touched your lips to his forehead.
“There’s nothing that we can do,” Harlow said gently. “They don’t know yet what it is. But he may be all right tomorrow.”
We tiptoed from the room, and at the doorway I beckoned to Harlow. But he shook his head, moving closer to Julien.
“I’m staying,” he said.
Julien was in uniform again within three days. When they battered him, that Saturday, he fought back aggressively, contemptuous of punishment, oblivious to the pain of bruised muscles. He was more heroic in defeat than he had ever been in victory.
That night, when he sat before the open fire in your living room, he boasted of his prowess. He would be captain next year, he said, and he would show them things. He placed his hand possessively on yours, and you did not draw it away.
Julien had asked you to the Football Dance at the season’s ending. You were flattered, for he was the campus idol. You said to me, “I’m going with Julien, Larry, but I’ll save the next to last dance for you.”
But you sat with me at football games because Julien was playing. You heard his name at the end of college cheers, and you saw small boys follow him from the field. You did not see his knee crash against the chin of a tackier in the Lakeview game; or, if you saw, you thought it was an accident. You had no way of hearing the campus comment, or the coach’s warning, “Easy on the rough stuff, Banks.”
You wore a new brown coat to the Valley Hills game, a garnet dress, and tan shoes. The day was overcast, with promise of rain or snow, and the field was as hard as baked clay. You were thinking
I suspected, that Julien might get hurt again. You were thinking that in the field house after the game, he would be elected captain. And you would be the captain’s girl.
T—TE PLAYED, as in other games that season, with arrogant aggressiveness. He revelled in his strength, and he was rough and tough. He was the happy warrior, the disdainful gladiator, the medieval knight in armor. He was Robin Hood and Galahad J He was Lancelot, and you were his Elaine.
He played for you, I think. He wanted to show you how strong he was, and to be heroic in your eyes. For he, like Brick | van Orden, cherished dreams, and he had placed his hand possessively on yours. And so, he knelt in youthful strength upon the altar of devotion, and he did not know that what he did that afternoon was sacrilege.
Twice the team was penalized for his roughness. Toward the end of the first half, the referee cautioned him for piling on, and Harlow said to you, “I don’t think it was intentional, Margaret.” But Lucy Gibbs, who is Mrs. Van Orden now, moved closer to her escort, Brick, and snorted in frank disapprobation.
Clouds were low above the chalk-marked ! field, and mist obscured the distant I meadows. We saw Julien take the ball at ' midfield and sweep around end. We saw him race down the side line, surprisingly fast, and we stood up, expecting a touchdown, but the Valley Hills safety man stopped him, bringing him to the ground with a hard tackle, but clean.
Julien climbed to his feet in a mad | frenzy of frustration. He had been within reach of further glory, and his moment of triumph had been denied him. He took a single step toward the tackier, whose face was half turned away, and crashed his heavy fist against his jaw. I heard the impact, and I heard your breathless sob. I felt your hand upon my arm as Julien walked uncertainly toward the field house, his head still held high in pathetic defiance. Stunned silence gripped the stands, and a boy in blue jersey lay crumpled on the turf.
“Take me home, Larry,” you said.
SO, JULIEN lost you, although you were friends again in senior year. He lost, too, his captaincy, and he went to the Football Dance without his girl.
He was changed, if you remember, j during our last year together. He was no 1 longer a braggart. He had begun to ; harness his strength, 'for you had taught him—just as you had taught Van Orden j that passion must be tempered with restraint—that strength of sinew alone will not suffice. He roomed with Harlow in Willetts Hall, and he and Brick were friends.
The panorama of that year is clear before me, as if someone had taken an old movie reel from dusty archives and flashed it upon a screen. Your house with its wide verandah on Maple Street, where we spent so much of our time. The red logs in the open grate of your living room, and the upright piano which Harlow played. His blue eyes looking into far distances, and your deep dark eyes regarding him. Your husky alto singing, "Believe me if all these endearing young charms . . Lucy Gibbs’clear soprano, and Lucy
saying to Brick, “I’d like to see your farm some day. I’d like to meet your mother.” Julien in the background, not knowing you had once touched your lips to his forehead; still loving you, wondering if you could be his girl again.
The Junior Prom, in the dead of winter, with the stars so close that we could reach up and pluck them one by one from the garden of the sky. Each star a thought of you, and the light of all stars in your eyes. The dance program—do you remember that? P'ive dances for me, two each for Brick and Julien, and three for Harlow. My freckled face beneath unruly hair. Your words: “You’ll be famous some day, Larry. We’ll read your books and be proud of you.”
The afternoon at the track meet when you said: “You always win, Larry. Bob tries harder and is beaten. But you always win.” Our years together, first Brick and then Julien, and then I larlow. His winning of the pole vault. His staying with Julien in the hospital after we had left. His saying to you, “I don’t think it was intentional, Margaret,” when Julien, in the heat of a football game, “piled on.” His quiet voice and his clean blue eyes. His playing of the organ in a church downtown.
Juliens car--do you remember that? Kerosene lamps for headlights, and curtains with isinglass windows. Do you remember the time we drove to Lakeview at twenty miles an hour, and Julien bumped against a tree, and you called through the darkness, “Are you all right, Larry?” Do you remember the Senior Ball and Commencement?
You were going to the ball with me. But first, there was Class Day and Commencement itself. We gave out mementos, and we heard the prophecy and the class poem in the old gym. Brick was voted the most brilliant member, and Julien the best athlete, and I was the man most likely to succeed. Later, on the King’s Campus, Harlow planted the ivy. Its roots are deep now in the rich soil, and each year it climbs higher toward the gabled roof of the chapel. It is still living, like our memories; like my memory of you when, having smashed my clay pipe against the cannon, I went back to you in your long white dress, and you said. “The year’s almost ended, Larry. I don’t want it to end.”
After the Class Day exercises, Harlow walked home with us. We had two hours before Commencement in the old church, and we s|xnt half of them with you. “Your class is my class,” you said, “and I’ll be missing you.” And Bob announced, ’Tve got a job teaching. I’ll be coming back a lot.” He looked beyond us to the elms of Maple Street. “But people won’t remember me.”
“I will,” you said.
Surely you were one of those applauding him when, at the calling of his name, he walked up the carpeted aisle of the old church for his diploma. There was no special reason for other than casual tribute, for he was not a leader, he was not a big shot. Julien Banks and Brick, first honor man, had been given their full measure of acclaim. But the tribute to Harlow, who was just a member of the class, transcended all other tributes. It came, not from proud parents or faculty or outside friends, but from the class itself.
He was going stag to the Senior Ball, he said. He asked me if he could have one dance with you. He predicted, as we sat in the dorm smoking our last pipes together, “You’ll go far, Larry. You’ll be a big man.” He knocked the ashes from his pipe. “You and Margaret together,” he said.
TAO YOU remember the Senior Ball? ■L' You were there with the editor of the Campus News, the man most likely to succeed. "You were there with Larry Morse, your pal.
Stars formed a golden canopy above a sleeping college town, and other men were there with other girls. Some of us were gay, because bright college years had meant so much; and some, to whom the years had not been bright, were taking this last fling at happiness, forgetting nights that had been lonely and unfruitful days. But to all of us, the sad and the glad alike, this was the beginning, as it was the end.
You danced with Julien, saying to him, “We’ve had a good time, haven’t we?” Saying to him with your eyes, when his arm tightened around you, “Only in friendship now. Only in friendship always.” And Julien, understanding, held you an instant close and answered, “I’ll be remembering, Margaret. And — and thanks!”
You sat with Brick and Lucy on a stuffed divan. They did not believe in dancing, but they had come. Lucy’s angularity had softened, and she was no longer contemptuous of men. She was still the dean’s daughter to whom Brick had said long years ago, “I am pleased to meet you, ma’am.” But she was, also, a girl in love with a boy who might have relinquished his dreams if it had not been for you. Her voice was gentle when she spoke of him.
He had almost quit college in his freshman year, she said. The class might have lost him. She saw him take your hand and say to you, “Thank you for many things.” The music started, and Harlow came to claim you, and that was Brick’s good-by.
You danced with Harlow, but only once around the floor. At the doorway of the gym you stopped, and the two of you went out together. After a long time, you came back again, and Harlow drifted away, and you said to me, “The next is the last dance, Larry.” There was a new note in your voice, and your eyes were misty with tenderness, and a little sad. You had just said good-by to another friend, I thought, and there was only I remaining.
We strolled outside and stood with fingers interlocked on the pillared porch. A late moon with frayed edges rested like a spent balloon upon the rim of campus trees. We could see the river and the hills beyond, and the spire of the church was dark against a brilliant sky.
You stood beside me, looking toward the stars.
“Larry.” you said, “I don’t mind asking you this, for you are the best friend I ever had. We have been friends for so long that I don’t mind asking you.”
Laughter sounded in the deeper shadows of the porch.
“You won’t mind, will you, if I have the last dance with Bob?” You unlaced your fingers, and raised your deep dark eyes to mine. “You won’t mind, will you, Larry?”
The moon was a whirling orange peel, and the stars were a million blinking eyes.
“No,” I answered, “I don’t mind, Margaret.”
“You are a dear, Larry,” you said. “I’d like to have you remember that.” You put your hands on my shoulders and, standing on tiptoe, you kissed me.
“That’s fine about you and Harlow,” I said. “That’s just fine, Margaret.”
AS I AM writing you this, the sound of revelry is drifting to me from the grill of the hotel downstairs. Younger men, the seniors, are singing “Hail, Mother,” and older men are being young again and trying to forget.
At our reunion tonight, we gave prizes to the fattest man, and to the baldest, and to the one with the largest family. We gave a cup to the most successful member of the class.
Harlow was at the far end of the table. He sat between a famous surgeon and a prominent statesman. He is. I learned, a high school principal in a country town; he has a son in college and a daughter in school. And he has you.
On Sundays, he plays the organ in the village church. He has done nothing of distinction, nothing of large moment. He is not in “Who’s Who,” as some of us are; he has no advanced degrees. But, somehow, when more years have passed and we shall look back to this reunion, we may forget the surgeon and the statesman, but we shall remember that Harlow was there. For only he, of all the class, has found serenity. Only in Harlow’s clear blue eyes the light of inner peace is shining.
Ted Wills, committee chairman-do you remember him?—raised a silver loving cup so all could see. “For the most successful man,” he boomed. "Who gets it?”
There was a moment of quiet.
“I vote for Harlow,” 1 said.
But only Brick and Julien paid any attention to me. Only they, of all the crowd, could understand. Across the pregnant intervening years, they saw your face and heard the music of your voice.
“It is only fitting,” Ted announced pompously, as if I had not spoken, “that the cup be awarded to our distinguished traveller and author, Larry Morse. What say?”
“Aye!” they answered, and I was chosen the most successful member of the class. But there was one vote for Harlow.
I thought, perhaps, you would like to know.