In 1910, Zim enrolled at Yale.
It had been a battle of wills against his grandmother, who was predictably horrified at the idea of any of her grandchildren being educated in a northern institution, no matter how prestigious. His father, perhaps surprisingly, had defended the decision though, and ultimately was able to bring it about by swearing that Zim would return to Carolina at the end of his degree. Of course, though a grown man of seventeen, Zim was denied any say in the final decision, content at least that he would be able to attend a university so close to New York, a city about which he had read much over the years, and which seemed like a world apart from his life in the South.
And so he left Charleston once again, this time to travel even further into Yankee territory, to uninspired New Haven. He wouldn’t have been entirely honest if he hadn’t admitted that the fact that his grandmother disliked the idea so much made him enjoy the train ride north even more. Ever the dutiful but cynical grandson, he even penned her letter along the way, posting it in New York when he changed trains for the last leg of his journey.
Just as he had assimilated easily into the boarding school in Virginia, Zim was almost immediately and universally well-liked at Yale. At first, some were suspicious of his elongated vowels and deliberate manner of both moving and speaking, but they were quickly overlooked as Zim revealed himself to be game for entertainments of all sorts, not to mention fully acquainted with the pursuits of a well-bred gentleman, from cards to cars and all things in between. A well-placed quote from Socrates even established him to be scholarly enough, though not unsocially bookish.
What Zim found difficult to adjust to was the pace and attitude of northern sophisticates. He had been raise to think that there was a universal etiquette in the “right kind” of circles, things that entailed rising when a lady entered a room and always offering a lady a compliment in the course of conversation, even if the compliment was merely perfunctory. In New Haven, and even more so in New York though, they seemed to have a wholly different code of conduct, though there was no question that those young and monied sons were of the same “right kind” of circle that was his own birthright. And so, Zim found himself simultaneously at risk of being labeled old-fashioned – or worse, a country bumpkin – as well as a hardened flirt. He walked a fine line his entire first semester, trying to emulate the habits of his peers as best as he was able, until at last he was able to find a handful of other southern-born sons at the august university.
Chief among this set was a likeable young man by the memorable name of Saxby Allston. Saxby – Sax to most of the boys – was the epitome of both the southern gentleman and the southern stereotype. He was confident and brash; he talked and drank too much; and he was known to make the ladies blush redder than their painted lips. Most importantly, Sax could guarantee a good time, and any brand of good time. He was older than Zim by two years, but they were in the same year at Yale, and when they met at one of the clubs, early in Zim's second semester, everyone attested that it was like a meeting of the minds, the two seeming as though they had been brothers mistakenly separated at birth. From their first encounter, there was no good thing Sax couldn't say about Zim nor the other way around. Their shared experience of growing up in reconstruction states, being raised by once great families, and having errant fathers only strengthened their bond as their first year came to a close.
"The boys around here say that I could drink a sailor under the table, but they have never – nor will they ever – meet my father. Now there is a man no stranger to the bottle," Sax confessed one night as the two sat in one of the empty club rooms on campus, smoking and of course drinking.
"At least you can say that much about your father," Zim said quietly, staring moodily into his nearly empty glass. He had been morose for the better part of the day, the result of a particularly strident letter from his grandmother and a frustrating one from Charlotte. "I don't know a thing about my father well enough to say with any certainty. He might drink. He might womanize. Only he and God know what he does because my mother and I sure as Hell don't."
"There are worse things than not knowing your father," Sax mused after a sympathetic pause. "I don't know that I wouldn't have traded mine for an absent one. Would have lessened the number of beatings as a kid, that's for sure."
They fell silent again, nothing but the smoke filling the air between them.
Although Zim was more concerned with the social aspects of life at Yale than he was with his courses, he maintained standing as a good student and was allowed to equally split his courses between banking and law because he couldn't bring himself to decide between the two. He felt certain he could tolerate a career in either and that both, being respectable enterprises, would eventually lead him to the sort of life he envisioned for himself.
But even the life he envisioned for himself was split in two. On the one hand he longed to escape the depression of his beloved Carolina. Beyond his less than pleasant family situation, the place itself was riddled with the baggage of a war lost and the burden of a loser's reconstruction. Although nearly fifty years post-war, the South had yet to rise again, yet alone to the splendor it had once known, the splendor that was idealized to him as a child and seared unto his mind as if the antebellum memories were his own. –Which is what rest on the other hand for him. He would sometimes imagine himself going back to Charleston and being useful to the city’s revitalization. Perhaps even becoming a city figure of some kind. A savior who would finally be able to restore the old jewel of the south to her former glory, lift the downtrodden lady from her knees, so to speak, and breathe new and beautiful life into her...
But that was just the hero complex in him.
In his rational mind, he knew such a dream was distant from reality, and what little of it might be realized would require time and effort and commitment, not to mention money, which though he didn't necessarily lack, remained precarious so long as it depended on his Mamaw's favor.
While one part of him longed for glory, the other part of Zim eschewed it. He reminded himself that he would be better off simply dedicating himself to amassing a fortune and being happy with that pursuit. He was certain he’d be able to find a pretty young wife to make and keep his home when the time was right. Perhaps he could even add to his fortune through marriage. After all, the Montjoy name was nothing to turn up a nose at. His family had been early settlers of the Carolina colony, Revolutionary patriots before they'd turned Confederate rebels, and his name still had gold to lend it a bit of polish and plenty of respectability. He might not catch the fancy of a northern girl, concerned with her New York nightlife or Newport summer home, or the Such-and-such family of Boston, but who wanted a cold, northern girl anyhow? Give him a sweet southern belle, a flirt and a tease, and he could easily find himself content. Of anything, Zim was sure of this.
That's not to say the New York girls didn't catch his eye though.
When the boys went around town, he saw plenty of girls, even stepped out with a few on occasion, but there always seemed to be a decided lack of connection. It went back to his sense that Yankees had a different social code than the one he had known so well. It seemed no one had taught any of the New York debutantes to flirt, and some reacted with sharp gasps and sharper words when he said something they considered “too forward,” but he considered the most ordinary compliment. Some of the other boys even teased him on occasion for "chasing the ladies away."
"Where I was raised, if you saw a pretty girl, you let her know how pretty she was, and she accepted such a compliment as her proper due. Can't a gentleman tell a lady she's lovely north of the Mason-Dixon?" Zim asked one evening after having sent a waitress hurrying away with a blush on her cheeks while he grinned after her retreating figure.
Saxby, having witnessed the little drama, laughed. "It's not a matter of telling her, it's how you do it, Zim. I've never seen a girl leave your side without blushing scarlet."
"I like to see a bit of pink in a lady's cheeks," Zim insisted.
"Putting some pink there is one thing, but I said scarlet. You have them red to their ears, though God knows what you say to do it."
With them that night was one of the few Yankees of their set, William Davenport Lawley, Jr., a Philadelphia man with a somewhat nervous temperament, always cautioning them against their latest prank, but in the end always grudgingly joining in. Wills, as they called him, tried to get Zim to reveal what it was he did say to make the girls blush that way, but Zim winked and refused to tell, claiming it as a “trade secret.”
The club they were at in Manhattan was slowly losing its crowd as the time neared two in the morning, and the boys headed outside for a last cigarette, still teasing Zim.
“Wills, run and find that stupid car we hired, will you?” Sax asked after a few minutes. “We’ll freeze if we don’t get off these streets soon.”
One thing neither Zim nor Sax could get used to was the cold. Even in April the wind in New York could be biting and both men found no comfort in either their lifted collars or thick scarves.
Wills went off to get the car, but not without a wondering comment about what kind of men they were if they couldn’t stand a little Spring chill. When he was out of hearing distance, the silence of the empty streets seemed to surround Zim and Sax, the latter obviously having something to say but taking his time to say it.
“When was the last time you took a girl out, Zim?” he asked casually.
“I don’t know. Probably the last dance over at Vassar we went to. February, wasn’t it? Claimed it was a Spring dance, but I remember there being seven inches of snow.” Zim shook his head remembering.
“Seems like it’s been a while is all,” Sax observed. “Unless, of course, you're not really interested in any of the girls here..."
There was no pretending that Sax was subtle.
Zim had begun to mention Charlotte with greater frequency and it was obvious from Sax’s pointed stare that he was implying that Zim had designs on the girl – designs that included marriage. Wise to the implication, Zim did not rise to the bait, instead shrugging in disinterest. He was saved from having to give any further response by a black car rounding the corner, reflecting the yellow street lamps. It slowed and Wills threw open the back door so that the other two could slide in.