It was perhaps from the colonel that Randolph had learned to make poverty picturesque. His clothes were old and his shoes were shabby. But his strength lay in the fact that he did not think of himself as poor. He had so much, you see, that the rest of us lacked. He was a Randolph. He had name, position, ancestry. He was, in short, a gentleman!
I do not think he looked upon any of us as gentlemen, not in the Old Dominion sense. He had come to our small Middle-Western college because it was cheap and his finances would not compass education anywhere else.
In an older man his prejudices would have been insufferable, but his youth and charm made us lenient. We contented ourselves with calling him “Your Highness,” and were always flattered when he asked us to his rooms.
His strong suit was hospitality. It was in his blood, of course. When his allowance came he spent it in giving the rest of us a good time. His room was as shabby as himself—a table, an ink-spotted desk, a couch with a disreputable cover, a picture of Washington, a half-dozen books, and a chafing-dish.
The chafing-dish was the hump and the hoof of his festivities. He made rarebits and deviled things with an air that had been handed down from generations of epicures. I can see him now with his black hair in a waving lock on his forehead, in worn slippers and faded corduroy coat, sitting on the edge of the table smoking a long pipe, visualizing himself as the lord of a castle—the rest of us as vassals of a rather agreeable and intelligent sort!
It was perfectly natural that he should stage his first love-affair, and when he was jilted that he should dramatize his despair. For days after Madge Ballou had declared her preference for Dicky Carson, Randolph walked with melancholy. He came to my rooms and sat, a very young and handsome Hamlet, on my fire-bench, with his chin in his hand.
“Why should she like Dicky best?”
“She has no imagination.”
“But Dicky’s a—beast—”
“With a fat bank-account.”
“Money wouldn’t count with Madge.”
“I’m not so sure—”
“Women are not like that, MacDonald.”
I saw, as he went on with his arguments, that she had become to him an Ophelia, weakly led. Women in his lexicon of romance might be weak but never mercenary. I think he finally overthrew her in his mind with “Get thee to a nunnery!” I know that he burned her picture; he showed me the ashes in a silver stamp-box.
He had, of course, his heroes—there were moments when unconsciously he aped them. It was after a debate that the boys began to call him “Bonaparte.” He had defended the Little Corporal, and in defending him had personified him. With that dark lock over his forehead, his arms folded, he had flung defiance to the deputies, and for that moment he had been not Tom Randolph but the Emperor himself.
He won the debate, amid much acclaim, and when he came down to us I will confess to a feeling, which I think the others shared, of a soul within his body which did not belong there. Tom Randolph was, of course, Tom Randolph, but the voice which had spoken to us had rung with the power of that other voice which had been stilled at St. Helena!