Pictures from an Institution
Two of the faculty families were in the Social Register; they could as well have been in the Code of Justinian, for all the good it did them at Benton. Kim says, 'There is no caste where men go to look for—' salvation, I suppose I should say; it was not salvation, though, but righteousness. It was a mark of the caste to which they belonged not to believe in caste, and I did not like them any the worse for that; I was amused at the divergence between practice and theory, though, when their sociologists talked gravely about upper upper and lower upper and lower lower classes in the world outside. In the world outside—some such phrase, or the thought that corresponds to it, often occurred to one at Benton.
As for the Benton bank director, as for the professors who had money of their own—how little it mattered in their life at Benton! They had caviare on their crackers at cocktail parties, instead of good red herring roe, and that was the end of it. The teachers of Benton were like sheep, where money was concerned, and the President was their shepherd: he had to scramble around looking, and worrying, and leading them to greener pastures if he could see any, while they walked on munching their scanty feed and baaing—piteously, but contentedly and accustomedly, too. Sometimes the President seemed to me not a shepherd but a scapegoat, and a willing one; the sheep had all the inconveniences and vexations of doing without money, but all the guilt of getting it had been put on his own diver's shoulders. Because the President smiled and spoke for money, I did not.
It was amusing to contrast the respectable casserole'd poverty of a professor and his wife with the matter-of-fact opulence—for Benton was a very expensive college—of some of the girls who sat on the floor at his feet, with more oil wells to their or their family's name than he had students. Several of the Benton skiers used to go, over the Christmas holidays, not to Sun Valley but to Davos or Kitzbuhel; as one of them said to Dr Rosenbaum, 'It's only eleven hours more.' And I heard one student, arguing with another girl about how good a Matisse reproduction was, end the argument with this extraordinary sentence: 'I ought to know; it's in my step-father's—well, not my stepfather's any more, but my mother's second husband's bedroom.' But she could have said to me, with perfect truth: 'What's extraordinary about it? The people I'm used to just have more marriages and more Matisses than the people you're used to.' All the airplanes their families owned were considered part of the family business—for as one of them told me, with an inflection I had not heard her use before: 'It's the only way you can own anything nowadays, after taxes.'
But there were many more who were just comfortably well-to-do; and there were poor girls, too, on scholarships which paid part of what they had to pay—though they too were richer than most of the professors. And there were what I used to call to myself token students: black students, brown students, yellow students, students who were believers of the major creeds of Earth—one or two of each. If there is in Tierra del Fuego a family of fire-worshippers with a daughter of marriageable age, and a couple of thousand dollars a year to spare, they can educate her at Benton.
And all these people lived together in amity and complacency. It was like, in many ways, some little community in the Middle Ages: there was a most homogeneous public opinion, a most homogeneous private opinion—almost all the people there were agreed about almost everything, and glad to be agreed, and right to be agreed. They made you feel alone venomous among the beasts of the field, or like a spy on the Ark, and you argued helplessly and uselessly—there is no argument against righteousness—or held your peace and went off outside to the Waters of the World, content to drown there.