Chapters 26-27 Summary
In the fall of his last year at the Leonards’ school, Eugene is invited to go with a group of other young people to Charleston. At first Eliza is reluctant to let him waste money, but she eventually encourages him to go. The train trip to Charleston is uncomfortable and Eugene gets little sleep. The next day he is quickly tired out and stays at the hotel. When one of the girls, Louise, comes to wake him, the two begin talking freely. Eugene tells her that he finds girls with nice legs attractive. Louise raises her skirts to show her legs, and the two begin necking. Eugene asks her if she wants to have sex and she agrees but tells him not to hurt her. This makes Eugene think she is a virgin, but she insists that she is not. Eugene refuses to deflower any young girl, so they get dressed and go downstairs. The group goes swimming, and Eugene and Louise again begin kissing. Later one of the other boys tells Eugene that Louise is twenty-one and has already had one illegitimate child. The group explores an antebellum mansion and thinks about the outcome of the Civil War.
When Eugene returns home in late September, Gant finally agrees to undergo surgery for his enlarged prostate. When the surgeon opens him up, he finds that Gant has cancer and so closes the incision without operating.
In 1916, Altamont celebrates the three hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death; they hold a pageant in which Eugene figures prominently. His family pokes fun at his ardor, but he ignores them despite some difficulty with his pageant costume.
Helen returns to Altamont soon after and announces that she is going to be married. She is engaged to Hugh Barton, a cash register salesman. Barton comes encumbered with an imposing mother and a divorced sister. Helen at first praises her future mother-in-law as an impressive woman, but she soon grows tired of the demanding ways of the woman and resents that Barton’s female relatives require that he support them because they have no means of income of their own. Helen has made sure that she and her future husband will live separately from the two women. The night after Helen and Barton’s wedding, Mrs. Barton falls ill—but Helen is sure it is contrived. Furthermore, a deluge of rainfall brings about a flood in Altamont, which cuts the town off from the rest of civilization. It is only after the flood waters recede that the newlyweds can head off for their honeymoon.
In the meantime, Gant insists that Eugene will go to State University. Eugene has envisioned other plans, such as Vanderbilt or Harvard. Gant tells him that he will go to State or no place at all.