Chapters 24-25 Summary
When Eliza goes to Florida for her health, Eugene rooms with some friends from school. They stroll about the town on a spring day, observing the local businesses and residents. The adults in the town represent possibilities of a future life, but all are found wanting. They encounter William Jennings Bryan, the perennial presidential candidate known as the Commoner for his connection and sympathy for the working class of America. It is rumored that Bryan is thinking of retiring to Altamont. When questioned by a local reporter, Bryan is vague; he says simply that, if he had the option, he could have chosen no finer place in which to be born than Altamont. The boys discuss the growing city and the improvements it needs to match its prosperity. They talk of the war that has erupted in Europe. Some local boys have joined the Foreign Legion, excited about the new idea of air warfare. One of them, Clifton Wheeler, has become a local hero, and Eugene is ashamed that Clifton was thought of as “sissy” when he lived in Altamont. The group ends up at the local corner drug store.
As the news breaks that the World War has started, the town of Altamont is excited with war fever even though America is committed to being neutral. Miss Crane, the English teacher at Leonards’ school, is exuberant at the prospect of victory for England yet fearful at the prospect of defeat. Margaret Leonard is also worried that, if England falls, America will fall as well. She gives Eugene some books supportive of the allies in the war.
Ben visits Dr. Coker and tells him that he intends to go to Canada and enlist so he can fight on the side of England. Dr. Coker avoids giving him a straight answer and urges him to rethink his decision. America will eventually be in the war, he tells Ben. Ben prods the doctor until he receives an examination. Dr. Coker tells him at first that he is a bit thin, mainly because he smokes too much and spends too much time at the Greasy Spoon. Ben demands an answer so he can know whether he will be able to pass the physical in Canada. Dr. Coker tells him that he is one of the most fit people he knows, but Ben can see the true answer in his eyes and leaves.