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Authors: May Sarton

The Small Room (16 page)

BOOK: The Small Room

But before she went to sleep, she wondered whether just this were not what you did take on if you chose to be a teacher … this, the care of souls.


On the way back to Appleton after the weekend Jane slept most of the way, and Lucy again found herself looking out the window at the pastures, stone walls and white farms she had watched flow past her in September, just a little over two months ago. She would never have imagined that she would be bringing back a sleeping child, a child in her care, that she would have found herself already so deeply engaged and committed. For Jane and she were coming back
and Lucy had determined to make a real stand, now she was backed up by professional advice. Things could not be allowed to slide along, or Dr. Gunderson warned that a serious breakdown could take place.

Fortunately Lucy felt sure that Blake Tillotson would be responsive, as indeed he was. He readily agreed that Jane go straight to the infirmary where she could be protected, and promised to follow through on her father and if possible get a decision at once that she be given therapy as Dr. Gunderson had recommended. Lucy had a sense, for the first time in weeks, that there was hope. But Tillotson then warned her that “
College Notes
will have a rather vituperative editorial tomorrow. Things have got a little out of hand,” and she agreed to come to a meeting in his office at four the next day. So, she thought with a sinking heart, it was too late for the easy solution she had imagined possible in the euphoria of the return.

By four-o'clock the next afternoon the campus was buzzing; without mentioning any names or the Seaman affair itself, the editorial accused the administration of dishonesty. It was headed “Justice or Anarchy.” Perhaps, after all, Lucy told herself, a head-on collision might turn out to be healthier than all the subterranean gossip. Such were her thoughts as she crossed the campus on the way to Tillotson's office, and ran into Jack Beveridge.

“Oh Jack, I'm so glad to see you! I'm scared about this meeting because I've stuck my neck out.”

“So have I,” he said, his profile looking somewhat narrower, more tense than usual, and the nervous tic back again around his mouth. “Maria hardly speaks to me.”

Lucy received this confession in silence.

“It seems absurd that this ridiculous affair could rock our marriage, but it sure has.” His eyes narrowed. Under the nervousness Lucy felt suppressed rage. “I sometimes think we've all gone mad. Rats in a cage.”

“Odd, that's just the image Jane used.”

“Is Carryl invited to this star chamber gathering, by the way? Do you know?”

“Blake didn't mention her name when I talked to him last night.” As they walked, Lucy decided she had better inform Jack of what had happened in the last days. “I took Jane home with me for the weekend, Jack. I got her to see a psychiatrist. She's in a bad way.”

“You have been a busy little bee!” The tone was teasing, but not kind.

“Please, please, don't be cross.”

“I'm not cross,” he said testily. “I admire your courage. You have entered the lists as fresh as a daisy, and all the rest of us seem to be worn down by something like passive disgust—with ourselves, I suppose, with the whole messy business college teaching appears to be. I wish I could take Maria to Italy,” he said half to himself. “We're rotting here.”

Lucy hoped devoutly that Jack's bitter mood would not prevail. Jennifer at least could be counted on, and Blake Tillotson, for some objectivity, some compassion too.

Hallie and Jennifer were already sitting on two of the leather chairs that seem mandatory in presidential offices. Lucy glanced up at the inevitable bad portrait of Miss Wellington in Doctor's robes that stared down at them with an expression of dislike in her pale blue eyes. Miss Wellington would not approve of psychiatrists, that was sure.

Blake Tillotson came in from his inner sanctum and pulled the chair out from behind the big empty desk with a natural instinct not to be pompous that Lucy inwardly commended.

“Exams are coming up, I know. I realize how precious time is. Let us therefore waste none. By the way,” he interrupted himself, “where is Miss Valentine?” And called back into the inner office, “Get Valentine, Pross, will you please?” He had not mentioned the Dean on the telephone and Lucy suspected that he would just as soon she not be found. But she did appear a few seconds later, as polished and composed as an icon.

“Sit down, Dean,” Blake said with false cheer. “You know what we are up to, of course.”

“The Seaman case, I presume,” she said with a fleeting smile.

“Precisely. There are two sides to this question. Jane's and the college's. I am going to ask Miss Winter to brief us on what she knows of Jane's present state of
mind. Let us get all the facts on the table before we jump to any rash conclusions.”

Lucy felt like a small child who has somehow got herself involved in a grown-up scandal and must present crucial evidence. Jack's teasing remark had put her off, for she had been too busy with Jane's immediate problem to worry about herself having to face a hostile world. Instinctively she turned toward Jennifer as she recounted as briefly as possible the gist of what Dr. Gunderson had told her after his interview with Jane. “I am aware,” she ended, “that I have rushed in where angels, notably Olive Hunt, fear to tread …”

The laughter helped.

“Thank you, Miss Winter. Now, before I open this meeting to discussion, let me tell you where the administration stands and has stood, and just why.” It was clear to them all, as Blake Tillotson spoke, that he had yielded to Carryl Cope's persuasion to give Jane another chance. The degree of resistance to this decision had not been foreseen, he explained, except by Miss Valentine (here he made a slight bow in her direction). At present it was clear that underground resistance was turning into open revolt. Not only had the officers of student government called on him to protest, but also, that very morning, a delegation of instructors and associate professors: “On the one hand we face Jane Seaman, whom a psychiatrist has diagnosed as seriously disturbed, on the other hand, a faculty and student body who, if not seriously disturbed, are certainly up in arms.”

“If there were a third hand,” Jennifer said, “—but perhaps I must alter the phrase; in the third place, there is Carryl Cope in her embattled eminence.”

“Quite.” Blake Tillotson did not smile. “Frankly, it's a hell of a mess, and I need your help. What do we do now?”

“We resign ourselves to due process,” Jennifer murmured.

Gentle as her remark was, it was greeted with an appalled silence.

Finally Jack spoke. “Do two wrongs make a right? Will backing down now make things any better? And what about Carryl?” His voice rose. “We'll have a free-for-all faculty meeting, delegate someone to call on student government and throw the whole mess in
laps. For Carryl, a major humiliation and defeat. And this to be followed, presumably, by the expulsion from the college of Jane Seaman, who is, we are assured, mentally ill!”

“Maybe,” Miss Valentine answered quietly. “But the trouble is, Professor, that we have a revolt on our hands.”

“And somebody has to be thrown to the lions?” Jack asked icily.

“What is your alternative?” Dean Valentine had, under the circumstances, considerable dignity, Lucy had to admit.

Jack leaned back in his chair, puffing a cigarette.

“Well, Beveridge?” Blake asked a little impatiently.

“It may sound cruel, but if Jane could be shipped right out to a doctor for treatment, I don't see why that wouldn't provide the perfect solution.”

“For everyone except Jane,” Lucy said. “Surely we can't just wash our hands of her. We do have some responsibility there.”

“That,” Jennifer said supportively, “is Carryl's strong suit, is it not?”

“In what way are we responsible?” Dean Valentine asked.

The question hung in the air, and when it was clear that it would not be answered, she went on. “The college, as far as I know, has never admitted extenuating circumstances in a case of outright plagiarism.”

“Jane could be transferred to another institution,” Lucy said. “Surely that is one alternative …”

“It would not quiet the storm raised in this morning's
College Notes
, however,” Blake said gently. “My own feeling is that whatever is done, can only be done now after consultation both with faculty and students. The thing has gone too far to be hushed up, either by transferring Jane or by handing her over to a sanitarium or its equivalent—provided we could get parental consent, of course—”

“The wolf pack is in full cry,” Jennifer answered equally gently, “so we throw it some meat?”

“Very well. You do not approve. What is your own solution?” For the first time Blake Tillotson showed signs of irritation.

“I have none, Blake. I'm in a bad way.”

“Why wasn't Carryl asked to this meeting?” Jack's tone was belligerent. If Blake Tillotson had called this particular group together in the hope of getting a dispassionate analysis of the situation, he had been rather optimistic, Lucy thought.

“She is too vulnerable to be dispassionate,” Blake answered without equivocation.

“It would seem that we all are,” was Jennifer's response to this. “My own view is … tentatively … (for I must admit that I feel inconclusive), that if education is our business then the only thing that really matters here, or at least the point where our emphasis must lie, is with Jane herself. I cannot help feeling that as far as she is concerned we have bungled hugely from beginning to end.” For Jennifer this statement was extraordinarily passionate.

Until now Hallie Summerson had kept very quiet; now she leaned forward, her blue gaze fastened on Jennifer's face, her eyes narrowed slightly.

“I couldn't agree with you more,” Blake said at once, “but if our business is education, then surely Carryl Cope also matters.”

“Carryl took a chance,” Hallie blazed out. “Some of us thought it a risky chance, a dangerous one. I think she must now take the consequences.” Alone among them, Hallie seemed sure of where she stood.

“But, Blake, if it could be communicated somehow to the world at large that Jane is ill, mightn't the whole thing just die a natural death?” Jack asked in a gentler tone.

“To be honest with you, Jack, I fear not. Each side is waving the banner of principle now and that means fanaticism. We have got beyond sweet reasonableness.”

“After all,” Hallie at last drove her point home, “if a general faculty meeting is called, Carryl will have a chance to justify herself. At present she is being smeared outrageously by gossips who don't know what they're talking about.” That made sense, Lucy thought. One could count on Hallie's generosity, and she realized that it would have been a serious blow if one could not.

“Very well,” Jack said. “The faculty will vote for expulsion, as we all know. Then what? It goes to student government, a bunch of self-righteous girls who are already boiling mad.”

“I object,” Dean Valentine interrupted. “I have reason to know those girls well. They are not prigs, but they feel—and you must admit they have reason on their side—that this whole affair has made a farce of their authority. Either you have student government or you don't.”

“It is not a case where reason noticeably operates,” Jennifer said with one of her elusive smiles. “How much of this goes back to Olive, Blake? Perhaps the time has come for us to be painfully frank.”

“Indeed, yes. I called on you people with exactly that need in mind. The time has come for honesty with no holds barred, and I think,” he smiled his endearing smile, “I can count on this group to provide it.” There was a pause while Blake lit a cigarette, a pause he was clearly giving himself before taking the plunge. “As you know, Olive has been pressuring me about our idea that it is time we had a psychiatrist officially attached to the college. You know, too, I expect, that it is a matter of several million dollars. If we carry out this plan, Olive's money will go to Radcliffe.” He paused while this news, never so baldly stated before, sank in. “It is no longer easy to raise money for an independent college, especially a woman's college. And it is very easy to take a wholly disinterested attitude when you don't have to do it. If we call a general faculty meeting and the results are what you expect them to be, Jane Seaman will be expelled. This will not prevent her from getting psychiatric care …”

“But we shall have washed our hands of her,” Hallie broke in. “Blake, how can you?”

The direct attack brought a flush to Blake's forehead. “I am not saying what I shall do, Hallie. I am trying to give you the total picture.”

“I am on Carryl's side,” Jack said with something like fury. “If I may be forgiven for the professor's tendency to quote, let me remind you of what Yeats wrote on a friend's illness:

‘Why should I be dismayed

Though flame had burned the whole

World, as it were a coal,

Now I have seen it weighed

Against a soul?'

Having gone so far, we have no right to throw Carryl and Jane Seaman to the wolves. If you decide to do so, Blake, I'm afraid I shall have to resign.”

“Spare us the theatricals, Jack. No decision has been made.” Blake spoke sharply; Jack muttered something and subsided.

“On this subject Olive is a little mad, of course.” Hallie turned to Blake quite gently, as if to pour oil on the exceedingly troubled waters. “And we all feel for you. But, that being true, won't she be just as angry if we take this whole matter over Carryl's head? It seems to me, Blake, if you will forgive my saying so, that we simply have to forget about Olive Hunt and her millions.”

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