Chapters 30-31 Summary
During the summer following his freshman year, Eugene meets Laura James, a rich, unattractive, twenty-one-year-old woman who is boarding at Dixieland. Despite her looks, Eugene falls in love with her. He defends her against Helen, who calls her “ugly.” The two young people soon spend every night sitting on the front porch of Dixieland.
One evening, Eliza calls Eugene inside to tell him that Gant is on a rampage and headed this way. She begs him to head Gant off because she fears the effect Gant’s drunken rage might have on the boarders. Eugene tries to hold him back but is injured in the struggle. The next morning, Gant feels remorse—as usual—and returns home in a subdued state. Eliza rages about him but Eugene reminds her that Gant is dying of cancer.
Eugene and Laura grow closer until Laura discovers that Eugene is only sixteen. She points out that five years is a huge age difference but Eugene disagrees. He gets her to promise that she will wait for him, and they agree to never marry. The next morning, however, as they go on a picnic, Laura tells him she is too old for him. She tells Eugene she is going home for the Fourth of July but promises to come back in a week. He receives a letter from her that says she hopes her father will allow her to return. The next letter tells him she has been engaged for almost a year and is going to be married the next day. Eugene is devastated, though Eliza, Helen, and the boards mock him for his despair over an “older woman.”
One of the boarders, a Miss Brown, makes friends with him. He suspects she is a prostitute and is proved right when, after they make love, she wants some kind of payment from him. Eugene has no money, so he gives Miss Brown all the medals he won at school. During the day, Eugene walks with Irene Mallard, who urges him to stay away from Miss Brown. Eugene visits the Leonards several times during the summer; he feels a kind of healing in the presence of Margaret Leonard.
Eliza packs up Eugene’s winter clothes in preparation for his return to school. She laments that he has not spent any time with her all summer, but he tells her that she has been too busy with the boarders to spare him a minute. She says she might move into a big house by the time he returns; she has her eye on a lot that is for sale. Eugene is disgusted by her land-hungry ways. Eliza sends him off and begs him to be happy.