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Guy Francon ended with a flourish, raising his right arm in a sweeping salute; informal, but with an air, that gay, swaggering air which Guy Francon could always permit himself. The huge hall before him came to life in applause and approval.
A sea of faces, young, perspiring and eager, had been raised solemnly -- for forty-five minutes -- to the platform where Guy Francon had held forth as the speaker at the commencement exercises of the Stanton Institute of Technology, Guy Francon who had brought his own person from New York for the occasion; Guy Francon, of the illustrious firm of Francon & Heyer, vice-president of the Architects' Guild of America, member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, member of the National Fine Arts Commission, Secretary of the Arts and Crafts League of New York, chairman of the Society for Architectural Enlightenment of the U.S.A.; Guy Francon, knight of the Legion of Honor of France, decorated by the governments of Great Britain, Belgium, Monaco and Siam; Guy Francon, Stanton's greatest alumnus, who had designed the famous Frink National Bank Building of New York City, on the top of which, twenty-five floors above the pavements, there burned in a miniature replica of the Hadrian Mausoleum a wind-blown torch made of glass and the best General Electric bulbs.
Guy Francon descended from the platform, fully conscious of his timing and movements. He was of medium height and not too heavy, with just an unfortunate tendency to stoutness. Nobody, he knew, would give him his real age, which was fifty-one. His face bore not a wrinkle nor a single straight line; it was an artful composition in globes, circles, arcs and ellipses, with bright little eyes twinkling wittily. His clothes displayed an artist's infinite attention to details. He wished, as he descended the steps, that this were a co-educational school.
The hall before him, he thought, was a splendid specimen of architecture, made a bit stuffy today by the crowd and by the neglected problem of ventilation. But it boasted green marble dados, Corinthian columns of cast iron painted gold, and garlands of gilded fruit on the walls; the pineapples particularly, thought Guy Francon, had stood the test of years very well. It is, thought Guy Francon, touching; it was I who built this annex and this very hall, twenty years ago; and here I am.
The hall was packed with bodies and faces, so tightly that one could not distinguish at a glance which faces belonged to which bodies. It was like a soft, shivering aspic made of mixed arms, shoulders, chests and stomachs. One of the heads, pale, dark haired and beautiful, belonged to Peter Keating.
He sat, well in front, trying to keep his eyes on the platform, because he knew that many people were looking at him and would look at him later. He did not glance back, but the consciousness of those centered glances never left him. His eyes were dark, alert, intelligent. His mouth, a small upturned crescent faultlessly traced, was gentle and generous, and warm with the faint promise of a smile. His head had a certain classical perfection in the shape of the skull, in the natural wave of black ringlets about finely hollowed temples. He held his head in the manner of one who takes his beauty for granted, but knows that others do not. He was Peter Keating, star student of Stanton, president of the student body, captain of the track team, member of the most important fraternity, voted the most popular man on the campus.
The crowd was there, thought Peter Keating, to see him graduate,and he tried to estimate the capacity of the hall. They knew of his scholastic record and no one would beat his record today. Oh, well, there was Shlinker. Shlinker had given him stiff competition, but he had beaten Shlinker this last year. He had worked like a dog, because he had wanted to beat Shlinker. He had no rivals today....Then he felt suddenly as if something had fallen down, inside his throat, to his stomach, something cold and empty, a blank hole rolling down and leaving that feeling on its way: not a thought, just the hint of a question asking him whether he was really as great as this day would proclaim him to be. He looked for Shlinker in the crowd; he saw his yellow face and gold-rimmed glasses. He stared at Shlinker warmly, in relief, in reassurance, in gratitude. It was obvious that Shlinker could never hope to equal his own appearance or ability; he had nothing to doubt; he would always beat Shlinker and all the Shlinkers of the world; he would let no one achieve what he could not achieve. Let them all watch him. He would give them good reason to stare. He felt the hot breaths about him and the expectation, like a tonic. It was wonderful, thought Peter Keating, to be alive.
His head was beginning to reel a little. It was a pleasant feeling. The feeling carried him, unresisting and unremembering, to the platform in front of all those faces. He stood -- slender, trim, athletic -- and let the deluge break upon his head. He gathered from its roar that he had graduated with honors, that the Architects' Guild of America had presented him with a gold medal and that he had been awarded the Prix de Paris by the Society for Architectural Enlightenment of the U.S.A. -- a four-year scholarship at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.
Then he was shaking hands, scratching the perspiration off his face with the end of a rolled parchment, nodding, smiling, suffocating in his black gown and hoping that people would not notice his mother sobbing with her arms about him. The President of the Institute shook his hand, booming: "Stanton will be proud of you, my boy." The Dean shook his hand, repeating: "...a glorious future...a glorious future...a glorious future..." Professor Peterkin shook his hand, and patted his shoulder, saying: "...and you'll find it absolutely essential; for example, I had the experience when I built the Peabody Post Office..." Keating did not listen to the rest, because he had heard the story of the Peabody Post Office many times. It was the only structure anyone had ever known Professor Peterkin to have erected, before he sacrificed his practice to the responsibilities of teaching. A great deal was said about Keating's final project -- a Palace of Fine Arts. For the life of him, Keating could not remember at the moment what that project was.
Through all this, his eyes held the vision of Guy Francon shaking his hand, and his ears held the sounds of Francon's mellow voice: "...as I have told you, it is still open, my boy. Of course, now that you have this scholarship...you will have to decide...a Beaux-Arts diploma is very important to a young man...but I should be delighted to have you in our office...."
The banquet of the class of '22 was long and solemn. Keating listened to the speeches with interest; when he heard the endless sentences about "young men as the hope of American Architecture" and "the future opening its golden gates," he knew that he was the hope and his was the future, and it was pleasant to hear this confirmation from so many eminent lips. He looked at the gray-haired orators and thought of how much younger he would be when he reached their positions, theirs and beyond them.
Then he thought suddenly of Howard Roark. He was surprised to find that the flash of that name in his memory gave him a sharp little twinge of pleasure, before he could know why. Then then he remembered: Howard Roark had been expelled this morning. He reproached himself silently; he made a determined effort to feel sorry. But the secret glow came back, whenever he thought of that expulsion. The event proved conclusively that he had been a fool to imagine Roark a dangerous rival; at one time, he had worried about Roark more than about Shlinker, even though Roark was two years younger and one class below him. If he had ever entertained any doubts on their respective gifts, hadn't this day settled it all? And, he remembered, Roark had been very nice to him, helping him whenever he was stuck on a problem...not stuck, really, just did not have the time to think it out, a plan or something. Christ! how Roark could untangle a plan, like pulling a string and it was open...well, what if he could? What did it get him? He was done for now. And knowing this, Peter Keating experienced at last a satisfying pang of sympathy for Howard Roark.
When Keating was called upon to speak, he rose confidently. He could not show that he was terrified. He had nothing to say about architecture. But he spoke, his head high, as an equal among equals, just subtly diffident, so that no great name present could take offense. He remembered saying: "Architecture is a great art...with our eyes to the future and the reverence of the past in our hearts...of all the crafts, the most important one sociologically...and, as the man who is an inspiration to us all has said today, the three eternal entities are: Truth, Love and Beauty...."
Then, in the corridors outside, in the noisy confusion of leave-taking, a boy had thrown an arm about Keating's shoulders and whispered: "Run on home and get out of the soup-and-fish, Pete, and it's Boston for us tonight, just our own gang; I'll pick you up in an hour." Ted Shlinker had urged: "Of course you're coming, Pete. No fun without you. And, by the way, congratulations and all that sort of thing. No hard feelings. May the best man win." Keating had thrown his arm about Shlinker's shoulders; Keating's eyes had glowed with an insistent kind of warmth, as if Shlinker were his most precious friend; Keating's eyes glowed like that on everybody. He had said: "Thanks, Ted, old man. I really do feel awful about that A.G.A. medal -- I think you were the one for it, but you never can tell what possesses those old fogies." And now Keating was on his way home through the soft darkness, wondering how to get away from his mother for the night.
His mother, he thought, had done a great deal for him. As she pointed out frequently, she was a lady and had graduated from high school; yet she had worked hard, had taken boarders into their home, a concession unprecedented in her family.
His father had owned a stationery store in Stanton. Changing times had ended the business and a hernia had ended Peter Keating, Sr., twelve years ago. Louisa Keating had been left with the home that stood at the end of a respectable street, an annuity from an insurance kept up accurately -- she had seen to that -- and her son. The annuity was a modest one, but with the help of the boarders and of a tenacious purpose Mrs. Keating had managed. In the summers her son helped, clerking in hotels or posing for hat advertisements. Her son, Mrs. Keating had decided, would assume his rightful place in the world, and she had clung to this as softly, as inexorably as a leech....It's funny, Keating remembered, at one time he had wanted to be an artist. It was his mother who had chosen a better field in which to exercise his talent for drawing. "Architecture," she had said, "is such a respectable profession. Besides, you meet the best people in it." She had pushed him into his career, he had never known when or how. It's funny, thought Keating, he had not remembered that youthful ambition of his for years. It's funny that it should hurt him now -- to remember. Well, this was the night to remember it -- and to forget it forever.
Architects, he thought, always made brilliant careers. And once on top, did they ever fail? Suddenly, he recalled Henry Cameron; builder of skyscrapers twenty years ago; old drunkard with offices on some waterfront today. Keating shuddered and walked faster.
He wondered,as he walked, whether people were looking at him. He watched the rectangles of lighted windows; when a curtain fluttered and a head leaned out, he tried to guess whether it had leaned to watch his passing; if it hadn't, some day it would; some day, they all would.
Howard Roark was sitting on the porch steps when Keating approached the house. He was leaning back against the steps, propped up on his elbows, his long legs stretched out. A morning-glory climbed over the porch pillars, as a curtain between the house and the light of a lamppost on the corner.
It was strange to see an electric globe in the air of a spring night. It made the street darker and softer; it hung alone, like a gap, and left nothing to be seen but a few branches heavy with leaves, standing still at the gap's edges. The small hint became immense, as if the darkness held nothing but a flood of leaves. The mechanical ball of glass made the leaves seem more living; it took away their color and gave the promise that in daylight they would be a brighter green than had ever existed; it took away one's sight and left a new sense instead, neither smell nor touch, yet both, a sense of spring and space.
Keating stopped when he recognized the preposterous orange hair in the darkness of the porch. It was the one person whom he had wanted to see tonight. He was glad to find Roark alone, and a little afraid of it.
"Congratulations, Peter," said Roark.
"Oh...Oh, thanks...." Keating was surprised to find that he felt more pleasure than from any other compliment he had received today. He was timidly glad that Roark approved, and he called himself inwardly a fool for it. "...I mean...do you know or..." He added sharply: "Has mother been telling you?"
"She shouldn't have!"
"Look, Howard, you know that I'm terribly sorry about your being..."
Roark threw his head back and looked up at him.
"Forget it," said Roark.
"I...there's something I want to speak to you about, Howard, to ask your advice. Mind if I sit down?"
"What is it?"
Keating sat down on the steps beside him. There was no part that he could ever play in Roark's presence. Besides, he did not feel like playing a part now. He heard a leaf rustling in its fall to the earth; it was a thin, glassy, spring sound.
He knew, for the moment, that he felt affection for Roark; an affection that held pain, astonishment and helplessness.
"You won't think," said Keating gently, in complete sincerity, "that it's awful of me to be asking about my business, when you've just been...?"
"I said forget about that. What is it?"
"You know," said Keating honestly and unexpectedly even to himself, "I've often thought that you're crazy. But I know that you know many things about it -- architecture, I mean -- which those fools never knew. And I know that you love it as they never will."
"Well, I don't know why I should come to you, but -- Howard, I've never said it before, but you see, I'd rather have your opinion on things than the Dean's -- I'd probably follow the Dean's, but it's just that yours means more to me myself, I don't know why. I don't know why I'm saying this, either."
Roark turned over on his side, looked at him, and laughed. It was a young, kind, friendly laughter, a thing so rare to hear from Roark that Keating felt as if someone had taken his hand in reassurance; and he forgot that he had a party in Boston waiting for him.
"Come on," said Roark, "you're not being afraid of me, are you? What do you want to ask about?"
"It's about my scholarship. The Paris prize I got."
"It's for four years. But, on the other hand, Guy Francon offered me a job with him some time ago. Today he said it's still open. And I don't know which to take."
Roark looked at him; Roark's fingers moved in slow rotation, beating against the steps.
"If you want my advice, Peter," he said at last, "you've made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don't you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?"
"You see, that's what I admire about you, Howard. You always know."
"Drop the compliments."
"But I mean it. How do you always manage to decide?"
"How can you let others decide for you?"
"But you see, I'm not sure, Howard. I'm never sure of myself. I don't know whether I'm as good as they all tell me I am. I wouldn't admit that to anyone but you. I think it's because you're always so sure that I..."
"Petey!" Mrs. Keating's voice exploded behind them. "Petey, sweetheart! What are you doing there?"
She stood in the doorway, in her best dress of burgundy taffeta, happy and angry.
"And here I've been sitting all alone, waiting for you! What on earth are you doing on those filthy steps in your dress suit? Get up this minute! Come on in the house, boys. I've got hot chocolate and cookies ready for you."
"But, Mother, I wanted to speak to Howard about something important," said Keating. But he rose to his feet.
She seemed not to have heard. She walked into the house. Keating followed.
Roark looked after them, shrugged, rose and went in also.
Mrs. Keating settled down in an armchair, her stiff skirt crackling.
"Well?" she asked. "What were you two discussing out there?"
Keating fingered an ash tray, picked up a matchbox and dropped it, then, ignoring her, turned to Roark.
"Look, Howard, drop the pose," he said, his voice high. "Shall I junk the scholarship and go to work, or let Francon wait and grab the Beaux-Arts to impress the yokels? What do you think?"
Something was gone. The one moment was lost.
"Now, Petey, let me get this straight..." began Mrs. Keating.
"Oh, wait a minute, Mother!...Howard, I've got to weigh it carefully. It isn't everyone who can get a scholarship like that. You're pretty good when you rate that. A course at the Beaux Arts -- you know how important that is."
"I don't," said Roark.
"Oh, hell, I know your crazy ideas, but I'm speaking practically, for a man in my position. Ideals aside for a moment, it certainly is..."
"You don't want my advice," said Roark.
"Of course I do! I'm asking you!"
But Keating could never be the same when he had an audience, any audience. Something was gone. He did not know it, but he felt that Roark knew; Roark's eyes made him uncomfortable and that made him angry.
"I want to practice architecture," snapped Keating, "not talk about it! Gives you a great prestige -- the old Ecole. Puts you above the rank and file of the ex-plumbers who think they can build. On the other hand, an opening with Francon -- Guy Francon himself offering it!"
Roark turned away.
"How many boys will match that?" Keating went on blindly. "A year from now they'll be boasting they're working for Smith or Jones if they find work at all. While I'll be with Francon & Heyer!"
"You're quite right, Peter," said Mrs. Keating, rising. "On a question like that you don't want to consult your mother. It's too important. I'll leave you to settle it with Mr. Roark."
He looked at his mother. He did not want to hear what she thought of this; he knew that his only chance to decide was to make the decision before he heard her; she had stopped, looking at him, ready to turn and leave the room; he knew it was not a pose -- she would leave if he wished it; he wanted her to go; he wanted it desperately. He said:
"Why, Mother, how can you say that? Of course I want your opinion. What...what do you think?"
She ignored the raw irritation in his voice. She smiled.
"Petey, I never think anything. It's up to you. It's always been up to you."
"Well..." he began hesitantly, watching her, "if I go to the Beaux-Arts..."
"Fine," said Mrs. Keating, "go to the Beaux-Arts. It's a grand place. A whole ocean away from your home. Of course, if you go, Mr. Francon will take somebody else. People will talk about that. Everybody knows that Mr. Francon picks out the best boy from Stanton every year for his office. I wonder how it'll look if some other boy gets the job? But I guess that doesn't matter."
"What...what will people say?"
"Nothing much, I guess. Only that the other boy was the best man of his class. I guess he'll take Shlinker."
"No!" he gulped furiously. "Not Shlinker!"
"Yes," she said sweetly. "Shlinker."
"But why should you care what people will say? All you have to do is please yourself."
"And you think that Francon..."
"Why should I think of Mr. Francon? It's nothing to me."
"Mother, you want me to take the job with Francon?"
"I don't want anything, Petey. You're the boss."
He wondered whether he really liked his mother. But she was his mother and this fact was recognized by everybody as meaning automatically that he loved her, and so he took for granted that whatever he felt for her was love. He did not know whether there was any reason why he should respect her judgment. She was his mother; this was supposed to take the place of reasons.
"Yes, of course, Mother....But...Yes, I know, but...Howard?"
It was a plea for help. Roark was there, on a davenport in the corner, half lying, sprawled limply like a kitten. It had often astonished Keating; he had seen Roark moving with the soundless tension, the control, the precision of a cat; he had seen him relaxed, like a cat, in shapeless ease, as if his body held no single solid bone. Roark glanced up at him. He said:
"Peter, you know how I feel about either one of your opportunities. Take your choice of the lesser evil. What will you learn at the Beaux-Arts? Only more Renaissance palaces and operetta settings. They'll kill everything you might have in you. You do good work, once in a while, when somebody lets you. If you really want to learn, go to work. Francon is a bastard and a fool, but you will be building. It will prepare you for going on your own that much sooner."
"Even Mr. Roark can talk sense sometimes," said Mrs. Keating, "even if he does talk like a truck driver."
"Do you really think that I do good work?" Keating looked at him, as if his eyes still held the reflection of that one sentence -- and nothing else mattered.
"Occasionally," said Roark. "Not often."
"Now that it's all settled..." began Mrs. Keating.
"I...I'll have to think it over, Mother."
"Now that it's all settled, how about the hot chocolate? I'll have it out to you in a jiffy!"
She smiled at her son, an innocent smile that declared her obedience and gratitude, and she rustled out of the room.
Keating paced nervously, stopped, lighted a cigarette, stood spitting the smoke out in short jerks, then looked at Roark.
"What are you going to do now, Howard?"
"Very thoughtless of me, I know, going on like that about myself. Mother means well, but she drives me crazy....Well, to hell with that. What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to New York."
"Oh, swell. To get a job?"
"To get a job."
"In architecture, Peter."
"That's grand. I'm glad. Got any definite prospects?"
"I'm going to work for Henry Cameron."
"Oh, no, Howard!"
Roark smiled slowly, the corners of his mouth sharp, and said nothing.
"Oh, no, Howard!"
"But he's nothing, nobody any more! Oh, I know he has a name, but he's done for! He never gets any important buildings, hasn't had any for years! They say he's got a dump for an office. What kind of future will you get out of him? What will you learn?"
"Not much. Only how to build."
"For God's sake, you can't go on like that, deliberately ruining yourself! I thought...well, yes, I thought you'd learned something today!"
"Look, Howard, if it's because you think that no one else will have you now, no one better, why, I'll help you. I'll work old Francon and I'll get connections and..."
"Thank you, Peter. But it won't be necessary. It's settled."
"What did he say?"
"I've never met him."
Then a horn screamed outside. Keating remembered, started off to change his clothes, collided with his mother at the door and knocked a cup off her loaded tray.
"Never mind, Mother!" He seized her elbows. "I'm in a hurry, sweet-heart. A little party with the boys -- now, now, don't say anything -- I won't be late and -- look! We'll celebrate my going with Francon & Heyer!"
He kissed her impulsively, with the gay exuberance that made him irresistible at times, and flew out of the room, up the stairs. Mrs. Keating shook her head, flustered, reproving and happy.
In his room, while flinging his clothes in all directions, Keating thought suddenly of a wire he would send to New York. That particular subject had not been in his mind all day, but it came to him with a sense of desperate urgency; he wanted to send that wire now, at once. He scribbled it down on a piece of paper:"Katie dearest coming New York job Francon love ever
That night Keating raced toward Boston, wedged in between two boys, the wind and the road whistling past him. And he thought that the world was opening to him now, like the darkness fleeing before the bobbing headlights. He was free. He was ready. In a few years -- so very soon, for time did not exist in the speed of that car -- his name would ring like a horn, ripping people out of sleep. He was ready to do great things, magnificent things, things unsurpassed in...in...oh, hell...in architecture.