"Have you been working to-day, Hugh?" she asked.
I explained that I had spent the morning with Mr. Watling.
"I'll tell you a secret, mother. I'm going to be taken into the firm."
"Oh, my dear, I'm so glad!" she exclaimed. "I often think, if only your father were alive, how happy he would be, and how proud of you. I wish he could know. Perhaps he does know."
Theodore Watling had once said to me that the man who can best keep his own counsel is the best counsel for other men to keep. I did not go about boasting of the part I had played in originating the now famous Bill No. 709, the passage of which had brought about the capitulation of the Ribblevale Steel Company to our clients. But Ralph Hambleton knew of it, of course.
"That was a pretty good thing you pulled off, Hughie," he said. "I didn't think you had it in you."
It was rank patronage, of course, yet I was secretly pleased. As the years went on I was thrown more and more with him, though in boyhood there had been between us no bond of sympathy. About this time he was beginning to increase very considerably the Hambleton fortune, and a little later I became counsel for the Crescent Gas and Electric Company, in which he had shrewdly gained a controlling interest. Even toward the colossal game of modern finance his attitude was characteristically that of the dilettante, of the amateur; he played it, as it were, contemptuously, even as he had played poker at Harvard, with a cynical audacity that had a peculiarly disturbing effect upon his companions. He bluffed, he raised the limit in spite of protests, and when he lost one always had the feeling that he would ultimately get his money back twice over. At the conferences in the Boyne Club, which he often attended, his manner toward Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Scherer and even toward Miller Gorse was frequently one of thinly veiled amusement at their seriousness. I often wondered that they did not resent it. But he was a privileged person.
His cousin, Ham Durrett, whose inheritance was even greater than Ralph's had been, had also become a privileged person whose comings and goings and more reputable doings were often recorded in the newspapers. Ham had attained to what Gene Hollister aptly but inadvertently called "notoriety": as Ralph wittily remarked, Ham gave to polo and women that which might have gone into high finance. He spent much of his time in the East; his conduct there and at home would once have created a black scandal in our community, but we were gradually leaving our Calvinism behind us and growing more tolerant: we were ready to Forgive much to wealth especially if it was inherited. Hostesses lamented the fact that Ham was "wild," but they asked him to dinners and dances to meet their daughters.
If some moralist better educated and more far-seeing than Perry Blackwood (for Perry had become a moralist) had told these hostesses that Hambleton Durrett was a victim of our new civilization, they would have raised their eyebrows. They deplored while they coveted. If Ham had been told he was a victim of any sort, he would have laughed.
He enjoyed life; he was genial and jovial, both lavish and parsimonious,—this latter characteristic being the curious survival of the trait of the ancestors to which he owed his millions. He was growing even heavier, and decidedly red in the face.
Perry used to take Ralph to task for not saving Ham from his iniquities, and Ralph would reply that Ham was going to the devil anyway, and not even the devil himself could stop him.
"You can stop him, and you know it," Perry retorted indignantly.
"What do you want me to do with him?" asked Ralph. "Convert him to the saintly life I lead?"
This was a poser.
"That's a fact," sand Perry, "you're no better than he is."
"I don't know what you mean by 'better,'" retorted Ralph, grinning. "I'm wiser, that's all." (We had been talking about the ethics of business when Perry had switched off to Ham.) "I believe, at least, in restraint of trade. Ham doesn't believe in restraint of any kind."
When, therefore, the news suddenly began to be circulated in the Boyne Club that Ham was showing a tendency to straighten up, surprise and incredulity were genuine. He was drinking less,—much less; and it was said that he had severed certain ties that need not again be definitely mentioned. The theory of religious regeneration not being tenable, it was naturally supposed that he had fallen in love; the identity of the unknown lady becoming a fruitful subject of speculation among the feminine portion of society. The announcement of the marriage of Hambleton Durrett would be news of the first magnitude, to be absorbed eagerly by the many who had not the honour of his acquaintance, —comparable only to that of a devastating flood or a murder mystery or a change in the tariff.
Being absorbed in affairs that seemed more important, the subject did not interest me greatly. But one cold Sunday afternoon, as I made my way, in answer to her invitation, to see Nancy Willett, I found myself wondering idly whether she might not be by way of making a shrewd guess as to the object of Hambleton's affections. It was well known that he had entertained a hopeless infatuation for her; and some were inclined to attribute his later lapses to her lack of response. He still called on her, and her lectures, which she delivered like a great aunt with a recondite knowledge of the world, he took meekly. But even she had seemed powerless to alter his habits....
Powell Street, that happy hunting-ground of my youth, had changed its character, become contracted and unfamiliar, sooty. The McAlerys and other older families who had not decayed with the neighbourhood were rapidly deserting it, moving out to the new residence district known as "the Heights." I came to the Willett House. That, too, had an air of shabbiness,—of well-tended shabbiness, to be sure; the stone steps had been scrupulously scrubbed, but one of them was cracked clear across, and the silver on the polished name-plate was wearing off; even the act of pulling the knob of a door-bell was becoming obsolete, so used had we grown to pushing porcelain buttons in bright, new vestibules. As I waited for my summons to be answered it struck me as remarkable that neither Nancy nor her father had been contaminated by the shabbiness that surrounded them.
She had managed rather marvellously to redeem one room from the old-fashioned severity of the rest of the house, the library behind the big "parlour." It was Nancy's room, eloquent of her daintiness and taste, of her essential modernity and luxuriousness; and that evening, as I was ushered into it, this quality of luxuriousness, of being able to shut out the disagreeable aspects of life that surrounded and threatened her, particularly impressed me. She had not lacked opportunities to escape. I wondered uneasily as I waited why she had not embraced them. I strayed about the room. A coal fire burned in the grate, the red-shaded lamps gave a subdued but cheerful light; some impulse led me to cross over to the windows and draw aside the heavy hangings. Dusk was gathering over that garden, bleak and frozen now, where we had romped together as children. How queer the place seemed! How shrivelled! Once it had had the wide range of a park. There, still weathering the elements, was the old-fashioned latticed summer-house, but the fruit-trees that I recalled as clouds of pink and white were gone.... A touch of poignancy was in these memories. I dropped the curtain, and turned to confront Nancy, who had entered noiselessly.
"Well, Hugh, were you dreaming?" she said.
"Not exactly," I replied, embarrassed. "I was looking at the garden."
"The soot has ruined it. My life seems to be one continual struggle against the soot,—the blacks, as the English call them. It's a more expressive term. They are like an army, you know, overwhelming in their relentless invasion. Well, do sit down. It is nice of you to come. You'll have some tea, won't you?"
The maid had brought in the tray. Afternoon tea was still rather a new custom with us, more of a ceremony than a meal; and as Nancy handed me my cup and the thinnest of slices of bread and butter I found the intimacy of the situation a little disquieting. Her manner was indeed intimate, and yet it had the odd and disturbing effect of making her seem more remote. As she chatted I answered her perfunctorily, while all the time I was asking myself why I had ceased to desire her, whether the old longing for her might not return—was not even now returning? I might indeed go far afield to find a wife so suited to me as Nancy. She had beauty, distinction, and position. She was a woman of whom any man might be proud....
"I haven't congratulated you yet, Hugh," she said suddenly, "now that you are a partner of Mr. Watling's. I hear on all sides that you are on the high road to a great success."
"Of course I'm glad to be in the firm," I admitted.
It was a new tack for Nancy, rather a disquieting one, this discussion of my affairs, which she had so long avoided or ignored. "You are getting what you have always wanted, aren't you?"
I wondered in some trepidation whether by that word "always" she was making a deliberate reference to the past.
"Always?" I repeated, rather fatuously.
"Nearly always, ever since you have been a man."
I was incapable of taking advantage of the opening, if it were one. She was baffling.
"A man likes to succeed in his profession, of course," I said.
"And you made up your mind to succeed more deliberately than most men. I needn't ask you if you are satisfied, Hugh. Success seems to agree with you,—although I imagine you will never be satisfied."
"Why do you say that?" I demanded.
"I haven't known you all your life for nothing. I think I know you much better than you know yourself."
"You haven't acted as if you did," I exclaimed.
"Have you been interested in what I thought about you?" she asked.
"That isn't quite fair, Nancy," I protested. "You haven't given me much evidence that you did think about me."
"Have I received much encouragement to do so?" she inquired.
"But you haven't seemed to invite—you've kept me at arm's length."
"Oh, don't fence!" she cried, rather sharply.
I had become agitated, but her next words gave me a shock that was momentarily paralyzing.
"I asked you to come here to-day, Hugh, because I wished you to know that I have made up my mind to marry Hambleton Durrett."
"Hambleton Durrett!" I echoed stupidly. "Hambleton Durrett!"
"Have you—have you accepted him?"
"No. But I mean to do so."
"You—you love him?"
"I don't see what right you have to ask."
"But you just said that you invited me here to talk frankly."
"No, I don't love him."
"Then why, in heaven's name, are you going to marry him?"
She lay back in her chair, regarding me, her lips slightly parted. All at once the full flavour of her, the superfine quality was revealed after years of blindness.—Nor can I describe the sudden rebellion, the revulsion that I experienced. Hambleton Durrett! It was an outrage, a sacrilege! I got up, and put my hand on the mantel. Nancy remained motionless, inert, her head lying back against the chair. Could it be that she were enjoying my discomfiture? There is no need to confess that I knew next to nothing of women; had I been less excited, I might have made the discovery that I still regarded them sentimentally. Certain romantic axioms concerning them, garnered from Victorian literature, passed current in my mind for wisdom; and one of these declared that they were prone to remain true to an early love. Did Nancy still care for me? The query, coming as it did on top of my emotion, brought with it a strange and overwhelming perplexity. Did I really care for her? The many years during which I had practised the habit of caution began to exert an inhibiting pressure. Here was a situation, an opportunity suddenly thrust upon me which might never return, and which I was utterly unprepared to meet. Would I be happy with Nancy, after all? Her expression was still enigmatic.
"Why shouldn't I marry him?" she demanded.
"Because he's not good enough for you."
"Good!" she exclaimed, and laughed. "He loves me. He wants me without reservation or calculation." There was a sting in this. "And is he any worse," she asked slowly, "than many others who might be mentioned?"
"No," I agreed. I did not intend to be led into the thankless and disagreeable position of condemning Hambleton Durrett. "But why have you waited all these years if you did not mean to marry a man of ability, a man who has made something of himself?"
"A man like you, Hugh?" she said gently.
"That isn't quite fair, Nancy."
"What are you working for?" she suddenly inquired, straightening up.
"What any man works for, I suppose."
"Ah, there you have hit it,—what any man works for in our world. Power,—personal power. You want to be somebody,—isn't that it? Not the noblest ambition, you'll have to admit,—not the kind of thing we used to dream about, when we did dream. Well, when we find we can't realize our dreams, we take the next best thing. And I fail to see why you should blame me for taking it when you yourself have taken it. Hambleton Durrett can give it to me. He'll accept me on my own terms, he won't interfere with me, I shan't be disillusionized,—and I shall have a position which I could not hope to have if I remained unmarried, a very marked position as Hambleton Durrett's wife. I am thirty, you know."
Her frankness appalled me.
"The trouble with you, Hugh, is that you still deceive yourself. You throw a glamour over things. You want to keep your cake and eat it too.
"I don't see why you say that. And marriage especially—"
She took me up.
"Marriage! What other career is open to a woman? Unless she is married, and married well, according to the money standard you men have set up, she is nobody. We can't all be Florence Nightingales, and I am unable to imagine myself a Julia Ward Howe or a Harriet Beecher Stowe. What is left? Nothing but marriage. I'm hard and cynical, you will say, but I have thought, and I'm not afraid, as I have told you, to look things in the face. There are very few women, I think, who would not take the real thing if they had the chance before it were too late, who wouldn't be willing to do their own cooking in order to get it."
She fell silent suddenly. I began to pace the room.
"For God's sake, don't do this, Nancy!" I begged.
But she continued to stare into the fire, as though she had not heard me.
"If you had made up your mind to do it, why did you tell me?" I asked.
"Sentiment, I suppose. I am paying a tribute to what I once was, to what you once were," she said. A—a sort of good-bye to sentiment."
"Nancy!" I said hoarsely.
She shook her head.
"No, Hugh. Surely you can't misjudge me so!" she answered reproachfully. "Do you think I should have sent for you if I had meant—that!"
"No, no, I didn't think so. But why not? You—you cared once, and you tell me plainly you don't love him. It was all a terrible mistake. We were meant for each other."
"I did love you then," she said. "You never knew how much. And there is nothing I wouldn't give to bring it all back again. But I can't. It's gone. You're gone, and I'm gone. I mean what we were. Oh, why did you change?"
"It was you who changed," I declared, bewildered.
"Couldn't you see—can't you see now what you did? But perhaps you couldn't help it. Perhaps it was just you, after all."
"What I did?"
"Why couldn't you have held fast to your faith? If you had, you would have known what it was I adored in you. Oh, I don't mind telling you now, it was just that faith, Hugh, that faith you had in life, that faith you had in me. You weren't cynical and calculating, like Ralph Hambleton, you had imagination. I—I dreamed, too. And do you remember the time when you made the boat, and we went to Logan's Pond, and you sank in her?"
"And you stayed," I went on, "when all the others ran away? You ran down the hill like a whirlwind."
"And then you came here one day, to a party, and said you were going to Harvard, and quarrelled with me."
"Why did you doubt met" I asked agitatedly. "Why didn't you let me see that you still cared?"
"Because that wasn't you, Hugh, that wasn't your real self. Do you suppose it mattered to me whether you went to Harvard with the others? Oh, I was foolish too, I know. I shouldn't have said what I did. But what is the use of regrets?" she exclaimed. "We've both run after the practical gods, and the others have hidden their faces from us. It may be that we are not to blame, either of us, that the practical gods are too strong. We've learned to love and worship them, and now we can't do without them."
"We can try, Nancy," I pleaded.
"No," she answered in a low voice, "that's the difference between you and me. I know myself better than you know yourself, and I know you better." She smiled again. "Unless we could have it all back again, I shouldn't want any of it. You do not love me—"
I started once more to protest.
"No, no, don't say it!" she cried.
"You may think you do, just this moment, but it's only because—you've been moved. And what you believe you want isn't me, it's what I was. But I'm not that any more,—I'm simply recalling that, don't you see? And even then you wouldn't wish me, now, as I was. That sounds involved, but you must understand. You want a woman who will be wrapped up in your career, Hugh, and yet who will not share it,—who will devote herself body and soul to what you have become. A woman whom you can shape. And you won't really love her, but only just so much of her as may become the incarnation of you. Well, I'm not that kind of woman. I might have been, had you been different. I'm not at all sure. Certainly I'm not that kind now, even though I know in my heart that the sort of career you have made for yourself, and that I intend to make for myself is all dross. But now I can't do without it."
"And yet you are going to marry Hambleton Durrett!" I said.
She understood me, although I regretted my words at once.
"Yes, I am going to marry him." There was a shade of bitterness, of defiance in her voice. "Surely you are not offering me the—the other thing, now. Oh, Hugh!"
"I am willing to abandon it all, Nancy."
"No," she said, "you're not, and I'm not. What you can't see and won't see is that it has become part of you. Oh, you are successful, you will be more and more successful. And you think I should be somebody, as your wife, Hugh, more perhaps, eventually, than I shall be as Hambleton's. But I should be nobody, too. I couldn't stand it now, my dear. You must realize that as soon as you have time to think it over. We shall be friends."
The sudden gentleness in her voice pierced me through and through. She held out her hand. Something in her grasp spoke of a resolution which could not be shaken.
"And besides," she added sadly, "I don't love you any more, Hugh. I'm mourning for something that's gone. I wanted to have just this one talk with you. But we shan't mention it again,—we'll close the book."...
At that I fled out of the house, and at first the thought of her as another man's wife, as Hambleton Durrett's wife, was seemingly not to be borne. It was incredible! "We'll close the book." I found myself repeating the phrase; and it seemed then as though something within me I had believed dead—something that formerly had been all of me—had revived again to throb with pain.
It is not surprising that the acuteness of my suffering was of short duration, though I remember certain sharp twinges when the announcement of the engagement burst on the city. There was much controversy over the question as to whether or not Ham Durrett's reform would be permanent; but most people were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt; it was time he settled down and took the position in the community that was to be expected of one of his name; and as for Nancy, it was generally agreed that she had done well for herself. She was not made for poverty—and who so well as she was fitted for the social leadership of our community?
They were married in Trinity Church in the month of May, and I was one of Ham's attendants. Ralph was "best man." For the last time the old Willett mansion in Powell Street wore the gala air of former days; carpets were spread over the sidewalk, and red and white awnings; rooms were filled with flowers and flung open to hundreds of guests. I found the wedding something of an ordeal. I do not like to dwell upon it—especially upon that moment when I came to congratulate Nancy as she stood beside Ham at the end of the long parlour. She seemed to have no regrets. I don't know what I expected of her—certainly not tears and tragedy. She seemed taller than ever, and very beautiful in her veil and white satin gown and the diamonds Ham had given her; very much mistress of herself, quite a contrast to Ham, who made no secret of his elation. She smiled when I wished her happiness.
"We'll be home in the autumn, Hugh, and expect to see a great deal of you," she said.
As I paused in a corner of the room my eye fell upon Nancy's father. McAlery Willett's elation seemed even greater than Ham's. With a gardenia in his frock-coat and a glass of champagne in his hand he went from group to group; and his familiar laughter, which once had seemed so full of merriment and fun, gave me to-day a somewhat scandalized feeling. I heard Ralph's voice, and turned to discover him standing beside me, his long legs thrust slightly apart, his hands in his pockets, overlooking the scene with typical, semi-contemptuous amusement.
"This lets old McAlery out, anyway," he said.
"What do you mean?" I demanded.
"One or two little notes of his will be cancelled, sooner or later—that's all."
For a moment I was unable to speak.
"And do you think that she—that Nancy found out—?" I stammered.
"Well, I'd be willing to take that end of the bet," he replied. "Why the deuce should she marry Ham? You ought to know her well enough to understand how she'd feel if she discovered some of McAlery's financial coups? Of course it's not a thing I talk about, you understand. Are you going to the Club?"
"No, I'm going home," I said. I was aware of his somewhat compassionate smile as I left him....
One November day nearly two years after my admission as junior member of the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon seven gentlemen met at luncheon in the Boyne Club; Mr. Barbour, President of the Railroad, Mr. Scherer, of the Boyne Iron Works and other corporations, Mr. Leonard Dickinson, of the Corn National Bank, Mr. Halsey, a prominent banker from the other great city of the state, Mr. Grunewald, Chairman of the Republican State Committee, and Mr. Frederick Grierson, who had become a very important man in our community. At four o'clock they emerged from the club: citizens in Boyne Street who saw them chatting amicably on the steps little suspected that in the last three hours these gentlemen had chosen and practically elected the man who was to succeed Mr. Wade as United States Senator in Washington. Those were the days in which great affairs were simply and efficiently handled. No democratic nonsense about leaving the choice to an electorate that did not know what it wanted.
The man chosen to fill this high position was Theodore Watling. He said he would think about the matter.
In the nation at large, through the defection of certain Northern states neither so conservative nor fortunate as ours, the Democratic party was in power, which naturally implies financial depression. There was no question about our ability to send a Republican Senator; the choice in the Boyne Club was final; but before the legislature should ratify it, a year or so hence, it were just as well that the people of the state should be convinced that they desired Mr. Watling more than any other man; and surely enough, in a little while such a conviction sprang up spontaneously. In offices and restaurants and hotels, men began to suggest to each other what a fine thing it would be if Theodore Watling might be persuaded to accept the toga; at the banks, when customers called to renew their notes and tight money was discussed and Democrats excoriated, it was generally agreed that the obvious thing to do was to get a safe man in the Senate. From the very first, Watling sentiment stirred like spring sap after a hard winter.
The country newspapers, watered by providential rains, began to put forth tender little editorial shoots, which Mr. Judah B. Tallant presently collected and presented in a charming bouquet in the Morning Era. "The Voice of the State Press;" thus was the column headed; and the remarks of the Hon. Fitch Truesdale, of the St. Helen's Messenger, were given a special prominence. Mr. Truesdale was the first, in his section, to be inspired by the happy thought that the one man preeminently fitted to represent the state in the present crisis, when her great industries had been crippled by Democratic folly, was Mr. Theodore Watling. The Rossiter Banner, the Elkington Star, the Belfast Recorder, and I know not how many others simultaneously began to sing Mr. Watling's praises.
"Not since the troublous times of the Civil War," declared the Morning Era, "had the demand for any man been so unanimous." As a proof of it, there were the country newspapers, "which reflected the sober opinion of the firesides of the common people."
There are certain industrious gentlemen to whom little credit is given, and who, unlike the average citizen who reserves his enthusiasm for election time, are patriotic enough to labour for their country's good all the year round. When in town, it was their habit to pay a friendly call on the Counsel for the Railroad, Mr. Miller Gorse, in the Corn Bank Building. He was never too busy to converse with them; or, it might better be said, to listen to them converse. Let some legally and politically ambitious young man observe Mr. Gorse's method. Did he inquire what the party worker thought of Mr. Watling for the Senate? Not at all! But before the party worker left he was telling Mr. Gorse that public sentiment demanded Mr. Watling. After leaving Mr. Gorse they wended their way to the Durrett Building and handed their cards over the rail of the offices of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon. Mr. Watling shook hands with scores of them, and they departed, well satisfied with the flavour of his cigars and intoxicated by his personality. He had a marvellous way of cutting short an interview without giving offence. Some of them he turned over to Mr. Paret, whom he particularly desired they should know. Thus Mr. Paret acquired many valuable additions to his acquaintance, cultivated a memory for names and faces that was to stand him in good stead; and kept, besides, an indexed note-book into which he put various bits of interesting information concerning each. Though not immediately lucrative, it was all, no doubt, part of a lawyer's education.
During the summer and the following winter Colonel Paul Varney came often to town and spent much of his time in Mr. Paret's office smoking Mr. Watling's cigars and discussing the coming campaign, in which he took a whole-souled interest.
"Say, Hugh, this is goin' slick!" he would exclaim, his eyes glittering like round buttons of jet. "I never saw a campaign where they fell in the way they're doing now. If it was anybody else but Theodore Watling, it would scare me. You ought to have been in Jim Broadhurst's campaign," he added, referring to the junior senator, "they wouldn't wood up at all, they was just listless. But Gorse and Barbour and the rest wanted him, and we had to put him over. I reckon he is useful down there in Washington, but say, do you know what he always reminded me of? One of those mud-turtles I used to play with as a boy up in Columbia County,—shuts up tight soon as he sees you coming. Now Theodore Watling ain't like that, any way of speaking. We can get up some enthusiasm for a man of his sort. He's liberal and big. He's made his pile, and he don't begrudge some of it to the fellows who do the work. Mark my words, when you see a man who wants a big office cheap, look out for him."
This, and much more wisdom I imbibed while assenting to my chief's greatness. For Mr. Varney was right,—one could feel enthusiasm for Theodore Watling; and my growing intimacy with him, the sense that I was having a part in his career, a share in his success, became for the moment the passion of my life. As the campaign progressed I gave more and more time to it, and made frequent trips of a confidential nature to the different counties of the state. The whole of my being was energized. The national fever had thoroughly pervaded my blood—the national fever to win. Prosperity—writ large—demanded it, and Theodore Watling personified, incarnated the cause. I had neither the time nor the desire to philosophize on this national fever, which animated all my associates: animated, I might say, the nation, which was beginning to get into a fever about games. If I remember rightly, it was about this time that golf was introduced, tennis had become a commonplace, professional baseball was in full swing; Ham Durrett had even organized a local polo team.... The man who failed to win something tangible in sport or law or business or politics was counted out. Such was the spirit of America, in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
And yet, when one has said this, one has failed to express the national Geist in all its subtlety. In brief, the great American sport was not so much to win the game as to beat it; the evasion of rules challenged our ingenuity; and having won, we set about devising methods whereby it would be less and less possible for us winners to lose in the future. No better illustration of this tendency could be given than the development which had recently taken place in the field of our city politics, hitherto the battle-ground of Irish politicians who had fought one another for supremacy. Individualism had been rampant, competition the custom; you bought an alderman, or a boss who owned four or five aldermen, and then you never could be sure you were to get what you wanted, or that the aldermen and the bosses would "stay bought." But now a genius had appeared, an American genius who had arisen swiftly and almost silently, who appealed to the imagination, and whose name was often mentioned in a whisper,—the Hon. Judd Jason, sometimes known as the Spider, who organized the City Hall and capitalized it; an ultimate and logical effect—if one had considered it—of the Manchester school of economics. Enlightened self-interest, stripped of sentiment, ends on Judd Jasons. He ran the city even as Mr. Sherrill ran his department store; you paid your price. It was very convenient. Being a genius, Mr. Jason did not wholly break with tradition, but retained those elements of the old muddled system that had their value, chartering steamboats for outings on the river, giving colossal picnics in Lowry Park. The poor and the wanderer and the criminal (of the male sex at least) were cared for. But he was not loved, as the rough-and-tumble Irishmen had been loved; he did not make himself common; he was surrounded by an aura of mystery which I confess had not failed of effect on me. Once, and only once during my legal apprenticeship, he had been pointed out to me on the street, where he rarely ventured. His appearance was not impressive....
Mr. Jason could not, of course, prevent Mr. Watling's election, even did he so desire, but he did command the allegiance of several city candidates—both democratic and republican—for the state legislature, who had as yet failed to announce their preferences for United States Senator. It was important that Mr. Watling's vote should be large, as indicative of a public reaction and repudiation of Democratic national folly. This matter among others was the subject of discussion one July morning when the Republican State Chairman was in the city; Mr. Grunewald expressed anxiety over Mr. Jason's continued silence. It was expedient that somebody should "see" the boss.
"Why not Paret?" suggested Leonard Dickinson. Mr. Watling was not present at this conference. "Paret seems to be running Watling's campaign, anyway."
It was settled that I should be the emissary. With lively sensations of curiosity and excitement, tempered by a certain anxiety as to my ability to match wits with the Spider, I made my way to his "lair" over Monahan's saloon, situated in a district that was anything but respectable. The saloon, on the ground floor, had two apartments; the bar-room proper where Mike Monahan, chamberlain of the establishment, was wont to stand, red faced and smiling, to greet the courtiers, big and little, the party workers, the district leaders, the hangers-on ready to be hired, the city officials, the police judges,—yes, and the dignified members of state courts whose elections depended on Mr. Jason's favour: even Judge Bering, whose acquaintance I had made the day I had come, as a law student, to Mr. Watling's office, unbent from time to time sufficiently to call there for a small glass of rye and water, and to relate, with his owl-like gravity, an anecdote to the "boys." The saloon represented Democracy, so dear to the American public. Here all were welcome, even the light-fingered gentlemen who enjoyed the privilege of police protection; and who sometimes, through fortuitous circumstances, were hauled before the very magistrates with whom they had rubbed elbows on the polished rail. Behind the bar-room, and separated from it by swinging doors only the elite ventured to thrust apart, was an audience chamber whither Mr. Jason occasionally descended. Anecdote and political reminiscence gave place here to matters of high policy.
I had several times come to the saloon in the days of my apprenticeship in search of some judge or official, and once I had run down here the city auditor himself. Mike Monahan, whose affair it was to know everyone, recognized me. It was part of his business, also, to understand that I was now a member of the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon.
"Good morning to you, Mr. Paret," he said suavely. We held a colloquy in undertones over the bar, eyed by the two or three customers who were present. Mr. Monahan disappeared, but presently returned to whisper: "Sure, he'll see you," to lead the way through the swinging doors and up a dark stairway. I came suddenly on a room in the greatest disorder, its tables and chairs piled high with newspapers and letters, its windows streaked with soot. From an open door on its farther side issued a voice.
"Is that you, Mr. Paret? Come in here."
It was little less than a command.
"Heard of you, Mr. Paret. Glad to know you. Sit down, won't you?"
The inner room was almost dark. I made out a bed in the corner, and propped up in the bed a man; but for the moment I was most aware of a pair of eyes that flared up when the man spoke, and died down again when he became silent. They reminded me of those insects which in my childhood days we called "lightning bugs." Mr. Jason gave me a hand like a woman's. I expressed my pleasure at meeting him, and took a chair beside the bed.
"I believe you're a partner of Theodore Watling's now aren't you? Smart man, Watling."
"He'll make a good senator," I replied, accepting the opening.
"You think he'll get elected—do you?" Mr. Jason inquired.
"Well, there isn't much doubt about that, I imagine."
"Don't know—don't know. Seen some dead-sure things go wrong in my time."
"What's going to defeat him?" I asked pleasantly.
"I don't say anything," Mr. Jason replied. "But I've known funny things to happen—never does to be dead sure."
"Oh, well, we're as sure as it's humanly possible to be," I declared. The eyes continued to fascinate me, they had a peculiar, disquieting effect. Now they died down, and it was as if the man's very presence had gone out, as though I had been left alone; and I found it exceedingly difficult, under the circumstances, to continue to address him. Suddenly he flared up again.
"Watling send you over here?" he demanded.
"No. As a matter of fact, he's out of town. Some of Mr. Watling's friends, Mr. Grunewald and Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Gorse and others, suggested that I see you, Mr. Jason."
There came a grunt from the bed.
"Mr. Watling has always valued your friendship and support," I said.
"What makes him think he ain't going to get it?"
"He hasn't a doubt of it," I went on diplomatically. "But we felt—and I felt personally, that we ought to be in touch with you, to work along with you, to keep informed how things are going in the city."
"Well—there are one or two representatives, friends of yours, who haven't come out for Mr. Watling. We aren't worrying, we know you'll do the right thing, but we feel that it would have a good deal of influence in some other parts of the state if they declared themselves. And then you know as well as I do that this isn't a year when any of us can afford to recognize too closely party lines; the Democratic administration has brought on a panic, the business men in that party are down on it, and it ought to be rebuked. And we feel, too, that some of the city's Democrats ought to be loyal to Mr. Watling,—not that we expect them to vote for him in caucus, but when it comes to the joint ballot—"
"Who?" demanded Mr. Jason.
"Senator Dowse and Jim Maher, for instance," I suggested.
"Jim voted for Bill 709 all right—didn't he?" said Mr. Jason abruptly.
"That's just it," I put in boldly. "We'd like to induce him to come in with us this time. But we feel that—the inducement would better come through you."
I thought Mr. Jason smiled. By this time I had grown accustomed to the darkness, the face and figure of the man in the bed had become discernible. Power, I remember thinking, chooses odd houses for itself. Here was no overbearing, full-blooded ward ruffian brimming with vitality, but a thin, sallow little man in a cotton night-shirt, with iron-grey hair and a wiry moustache; he might have been an overworked clerk behind a dry-goods counter; and yet somehow, now that I had talked to him, I realized that he never could have been. Those extraordinary eyes of his, when they were functioning, marked his individuality as unique. It were almost too dramatic to say that he required darkness to make his effect, but so it seemed. I should never forget him. He had in truth been well named the Spider.
"Of course we haven't tried to get in touch with them. We are leaving them to you," I added.
"Paret," he said suddenly, "I don't care a damn about Grunewald—never did. I'd turn him down for ten cents. But you can tell Theodore Watling for me, and Dickinson, that I guess the 'inducement' can be fixed."
I felt a certain relief that the interview had come to an end, that the moment had arrived for amenities. To my surprise, Mr. Jason anticipated me.
"I've been interested in you, Mr. Paret," he observed. "Know who you are, of course, knew you were in Watling's office. Then some of the boys spoke about you when you were down at the legislature on that Ribblevale matter. Guess you had more to do with that bill than came out in the newspapers—eh?"
I was taken off my guard.
"Oh, that's talk," I said.
"All right, it's talk, then? But I guess you and I will have some more talk after a while,—after Theodore Watling gets to be United States Senator. Give him my regards, and—and come in when I can do anything for you, Mr. Paret."
Thanking him, I groped my way downstairs and let myself out by a side door Monahan had shown me into an alleyway, thus avoiding the saloon. As I walked slowly back to the office, seeking the shade of the awnings, the figure in the darkened room took on a sinister aspect that troubled me....
The autumn arrived, the campaign was on with a whoop, and I had my first taste of "stump" politics. The acrid smell of red fire brings it back to me. It was a medley of railroad travel, of committees provided with badges—and cigars, of open carriages slowly drawn between lines of bewildered citizens, of Lincoln clubs and other clubs marching in serried ranks, uniformed and helmeted, stalwarts carrying torches and banners. And then there were the draughty opera-houses with the sylvan scenery pushed back and plush chairs and sofas pushed forward; with an ominous table, a pitcher of water on it and a glass, near the footlights. The houses were packed with more bewildered citizens. What a wonderful study of mob-psychology it would have offered! Men who had not thought of the grand old Republican party for two years, and who had not cared much about it when they had entered the dooms, after an hour or so went mad with fervour. The Hon. Joseph Mecklin, ex-Speaker of the House, with whom I traveled on occasions, had a speech referring to the martyred President, ending with an appeal to the revolutionary fathers who followed Washington with bleeding feet. The Hon. Joseph possessed that most valuable of political gifts, presence; and when with quivering voice he finished his peroration, citizens wept with him. What it all had to do with the tariff was not quite clear. Yet nobody seemed to miss the connection.
We were all of us most concerned, of course, about the working-man and his dinner pail,—whom the Democrats had wantonly thrown out of employment for the sake of a doctrinaire theory. They had put him in competition with the serf of Europe. Such was the subject-matter of my own modest addresses in this, my maiden campaign. I had the sense to see myself in perspective; to recognize that not for me, a dignified and substantial lawyer of affairs, were the rhetorical flights of the Hon. Joseph Mecklin. I spoke with a certain restraint. Not too dryly, I hope. But I sought to curb my sentiments, my indignation, at the manner in which the working-man had been treated; to appeal to the common sense rather than to the passions of my audiences. Here were the statistics! (drawn, by the way, from the Republican Campaign book). Unscrupulous demagogues—Democratic, of course—had sought to twist and evade them. Let this terrible record of lack of employment and misery be compared with the prosperity under Republican rule.
"One of the most effective speakers in this campaign for the restoration of Prosperity," said the Rossiter Banner, "is Mr. Hugh Paret, of the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon. Mr. Paret's speech at the Opera-House last evening made a most favourable impression. Mr. Paret deals with facts. And his thoughtful analysis of the situation into which the Democratic party has brought this country should convince any sane-minded voter that the time has come for a change."
I began to keep a scrap-book, though I locked it up in the drawer of my desk. In it are to be found many clippings of a similarly gratifying tenor....
Mecklin and I were well contrasted. In this way, incidentally, I made many valuable acquaintances among the "solid" men of the state, the local capitalists and manufacturers, with whom my manner of dealing with public questions was in particular favour. These were practical men; they rather patronized the Hon. Joseph, thus estimating, to a nicety, a mans value; or solidity, or specific gravity, it might better be said, since our universe was one of checks and balances. The Hon. Joseph and his like, skyrocketing through the air, were somehow necessary in the scheme of things, but not to be taken too seriously. Me they did take seriously, these provincial lords, inviting me to their houses and opening their hearts. Thus, when we came to Elkington, Mr. Mecklin reposed in the Commercial House, on the noisy main street. Fortunately for him, the clanging of trolley cars never interfered with his slumbers. I slept in a wide chamber in the mansion of Mr. Ezra Hutchins. There were many Hutchinses in Elkington,—brothers and cousins and uncles and great-uncles,—and all were connected with the woollen mills. But there is always one supreme Hutchins, and Ezra was he: tall, self-contained, elderly, but well preserved through frugal living, essentially American and typical of his class, when he entered the lobby of the Commercial House that afternoon the babel of political discussion was suddenly hushed; politicians, traveling salesmen and the members of the local committee made a lane for him; to him, the Hon. Joseph and I were introduced. Mr. Hutchins knew what he wanted. He was cordial to Mr. Mecklin, but he took me. We entered a most respectable surrey with tassels, driven by a raw-boned coachman in a black overcoat, drawn by two sleek horses.
"How is this thing going, Paret?" he asked.
I gave him Mr. Grunewald's estimated majority.
"What do you think?" he demanded, a shrewd, humorous look in his blue eyes.
"Well, I think we'll carry the state. I haven't had Grunewald's experience in estimating."
Ezra Hutchins smiled appreciatively.
"What does Watling think?"
"He doesn't seem to be worrying much."
"Ever been in Elkington before?"
I said I hadn't.
"Well, a drive will do you good."
It was about four o'clock on a mild October afternoon. The little town, of fifteen thousand inhabitants or so, had a wonderful setting in the widening valley of the Scopanong, whose swiftly running waters furnished the power for the mills. We drove to these through a gateway over which the words "No Admittance" were conspicuously painted, past long brick buildings that bordered the canals; and in the windows I caught sight of drab figures of men and women bending over the machines. Half of the buildings, as Mr. Hutchins pointed out, were closed,—mute witnesses of tariff-tinkering madness. Even more eloquent of democratic folly was that part of the town through which we presently passed, streets lined with rows of dreary houses where the workers lived. Children were playing on the sidewalks, but theirs seemed a listless play; listless, too, were the men and women who sat on the steps,—listless, and somewhat sullen, as they watched us passing. Ezra Hutchins seemed to read my thought.
"Since the unions got in here I've had nothing but trouble," he said. "I've tried to do my duty by my people, God knows. But they won't see which side their bread's buttered on. They oppose me at every step, they vote against their own interests. Some years ago they put up a job on us, and sent a scatter-brained radical to the legislature."
"Do you know him?"
"Slightly. He was in my class at Harvard.... Is he still here?" I asked, after a pause.
"Oh, yes. But he hasn't gone to the legislature this time, we've seen to that. His father was a respectable old German who had a little shop and made eye-glasses. The son is an example of too much education. He's a notoriety seeker. Oh, he's clever, in a way. He's given us a good deal of trouble, too, in the courts with damage cases."...
We came to a brighter, more spacious, well-to-do portion of the town, where the residences faced the river. In a little while the waters widened into a lake, which was surrounded by a park, a gift to the city of the Hutchins family. Facing it, on one side, was the Hutchins Library; on the other, across a wide street, where the maples were turning, were the Hutchinses' residences of various dates of construction, from that of the younger George, who had lately married a wife, and built in bright yellow brick, to the old-fashioned mansion of Ezra himself. This, he told me, had been good enough for his father, and was good enough for him. The picture of it comes back to me, now, with singular attractiveness. It was of brick, and I suppose a modification of the Georgian; the kind of house one still sees in out-of-the way corners of London, with a sort of Dickensy flavour; high and square and uncompromising, with small-paned windows, with a flat roof surrounded by a low balustrade, and many substantial chimneys. The third storey was lower than the others, separated from them by a distinct line. On one side was a wide porch. Yellow and red leaves, the day's fall, scattered the well-kept lawn. Standing in the doorway of the house was a girl in white, and as we descended from the surrey she came down the walk to meet us. She was young, about twenty. Her hair was the colour of the russet maple leaves.
"This is Mr. Paret, Maude." Mr. Hutchins looked at his watch as does a man accustomed to live by it. "If you'll excuse me, Mr. Paret, I have something important to attend to. Perhaps Mr. Paret would like to look about the grounds?" He addressed his daughter.
I said I should be delighted, though I had no idea what grounds were meant. As I followed Maude around the house she explained that all the Hutchins connection had a common back yard, as she expressed it. In reality, there were about two blocks of the property, extending behind all the houses. There were great trees with swings, groves, orchards where the late apples glistened between the leaves, an old-fashioned flower garden loath to relinquish its blooming. In the distance the shadowed western ridge hung like a curtain of deep blue velvet against the sunset.
"What a wonderful spot!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, it is nice," she agreed, "we were all brought up here—I mean my cousins and myself. There are dozens of us. And dozens left," she added, as the shouts and laughter of children broke the stillness.
A boy came running around the corner of the path. He struck out at Maude. With a remarkably swift movement she retaliated.
"Ouch!" he exclaimed.
"You got him that time," I laughed, and, being detected, she suddenly blushed. It was this act that drew my attention to her, that defined her as an individual. Before that I had regarded her merely as a shy and provincial girl. Now she was brimming with an unsuspected vitality. A certain interest was aroused, although her shyness towards me was not altered. I found it rather a flattering shyness.
"It's Hugh," she explained, "he's always trying to be funny. Speak to Mr. Paret, Hugh."
"Why, that's my name, too," I said.
"She knocked my hat off a little while ago," said Hugh. "I was only getting square."
"Well, you didn't get square, did you?" I asked.
"Are you going to speak in the tows hall to-night?" the boy demanded. I admitted it. He went off, pausing once to stare back at me.... Maude and I walked on.
"It must be exciting to speak before a large audience," she said. "If I were a man, I think I should like to be in politics."
"I cannot imagine you in politics," I answered.
"I said, if I were a man."
"Are you going to the meeting?"
"Oh, yes. Father promised to take me. He has a box."
I thought it would be pleasant to have her there.
"I'm afraid you'll find what I have to say rather dry," I said.
"A woman can't expect to understand everything," she answered quickly.
This remark struck me favourably. I glanced at her sideways. She was not a beauty, but she was distinctly well-formed and strong. Her face was oval, her features not quite regular,—giving them a certain charm; her colour was fresh, her eyes blue, the lighter blue one sees on Chinese ware: not a poetic comparison, but so I thought of them. She was apparently not sophisticated, as were most of the young women at home whom I knew intimately (as were the Watling twins, for example, with one of whom, Frances, I had had, by the way, rather a lively flirtation the spring before); she seemed refreshingly original, impressionable and plastic....
We walked slowly back to the house, and in the hallway I met Mrs. Hutchins, a bustling, housewifely lady, inclined to stoutness, whose creased and kindly face bore witness to long acquiescence in the discipline of matrimony, to the contentment that results from an essentially circumscribed and comfortable life. She was, I learned later, the second Mrs. Hutchins, and Maude their only child. The children of the first marriage, all girls, had married and scattered.
Supper was a decorous but heterogeneous meal of the old-fashioned sort that gives one the choice between tea and cocoa. It was something of an occasion, I suspected. The minister was there, the Reverend Mr. Doddridge, who would have made, in appearance at least, a perfect Puritan divine in a steeple hat and a tippet. Only—he was no longer the leader of the community; and even in his grace he had the air of deferring to the man who provided the bounties of which we were about to partake rather than to the Almighty. Young George was there, Mr. Hutchins's nephew, who was daily becoming more and more of a factor in the management of the mills, and had built the house of yellow brick that stood out so incongruously among the older Hutchinses' mansions, and marked a transition. I thought him rather a yellow-brick gentleman himself for his assumption of cosmopolitan manners. His wife was a pretty, discontented little woman who plainly deplored her environment, longed for larger fields of conquest: George, she said, must remain where he was, for the present at least,—Uncle Ezra depended on him; but Elkington was a prosy place, and Mrs. George gave the impression that she did not belong here. They went to the city on occasions; both cities. And when she told me we had a common acquaintance in Mrs. Hambleton Durrett—whom she thought so lovely!—I knew that she had taken Nancy as an ideal: Nancy, the social leader of what was to Mrs. George a metropolis.
Presently the talk became general among the men, the subject being the campaign, and I the authority, bombarded with questions I strove to answer judicially. What was the situation in this county and in that? the national situation? George indulged in rather a vigorous arraignment of the demagogues, national and state, who were hurting business in order to obtain political power. The Reverend Mr. Doddridge assented, deploring the poverty that the local people had brought on themselves by heeding the advice of agitators; and Mrs. Hutchins, who spent much of her time in charity work, agreed with the minister when he declared that the trouble was largely due to a decline in Christian belief. Ezra Hutchins, too, nodded at this.
"Take that man Krebs, for example," the minister went on, stimulated by this encouragement, "he's an atheist, pure and simple." A sympathetic shudder went around the table at the word. George alone smiled. "Old Krebs was a free-thinker; I used to get my glasses of him. He was at least a conscientious man, a good workman, which is more than can be said for the son. Young Krebs has talent, and if only he had devoted himself to the honest practice of law, instead of stirring up dissatisfaction among these people, he would be a successful man to-day."
Mr. Hutchins explained that I was at college with Krebs.
"These people must like him," I said, "or they wouldn't have sent him to the legislature."
"Well, a good many of them do like him," the minister admitted. "You see, he actually lives among them. They believe his socialistic doctrines because he's a friend of theirs."
"He won't represent this town again, that's sure," exclaimed George. "You didn't see in the papers that he was nominated,—did you, Paret?"
"But if the mill people wanted him, George, how could it be prevented?" his wife demanded.
George winked at me.
"There are more ways of skinning a cat than one," he said cryptically.
"Well, it's time to go to the meeting, I guess," remarked Ezra, rising. Once more he looked at his watch.
We were packed into several family carriages and started off. In front of the hall the inevitable red fire was burning, its quivering light reflected on the faces of the crowd that blocked the street. They stood silent, strangely apathetic as we pushed through them to the curb, and the red fire went out suddenly as we descended. My temporary sense of depression, however, deserted me as we entered the hall, which was well lighted and filled with people, who clapped when the Hon. Joseph and I, accompanied by Mr. Doddridge and the Hon. Henry Clay Mellish from Pottstown, with the local chairman, walked out on the stage. A glance over the audience sufficed to ascertain that that portion of the population whose dinner pails we longed to fill was evidently not present in large numbers. But the farmers had driven in from the hills, while the merchants and storekeepers of Elkington had turned out loyally.
The chairman, in introducing me, proclaimed me as a coming man, and declared that I had already achieved, in the campaign, considerable notoriety. As I spoke, I was pleasantly aware of Maude Hutchins leaning forward a little across the rail of the right-hand stage box—for the town hall was half opera-house; her attitude was one of semi-absorbed admiration; and the thought that I had made an impression on her stimulated me. I spoke with more aplomb. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself making occasional, unexpected witticisms that drew laughter and applause. Suddenly, from the back of the hall, a voice called out:—"How about House Bill 709?"
There was a silence, then a stirring and craning of necks. It was my first experience of heckling, and for the moment I was taken aback. I thought of Krebs. He had, indeed, been in my mind since I had risen to my feet, and I had scanned the faces before me in search of his. But it was not his voice.
"Well, what about Bill 709?" I demanded.
"You ought to know something about it, I guess," the voice responded.
"Put him out!" came from various portions of the hall.
Inwardly, I was shaken. Not—in orthodox language from any "conviction of sin." Yet it was my first intimation that my part in the legislation referred to was known to any save a select few. I blamed Krebs, and a hot anger arose within me against him. After all, what could they prove?
"No, don't put him out," I said. "Let him come up here to the platform. I'll yield to him. And I'm entirely willing to discuss with him and defend any measures passed in the legislature of this state by a Republican majority. Perhaps," I added, "the gentleman has a copy of the law in his pocket, that I may know what he is talking about, and answer him intelligently."
At this there was wild applause. I had the audience with me. The offender remained silent and presently I finished my speech. After that Mr. Mecklin made them cheer and weep, and Mr. Mellish made them laugh. The meeting had been highly successful.
"You polished him off, all right," said George Hutchins, as he took my hand.
"Who was he?"
"Oh, one of the local sore-heads. Krebs put him up to it, of course."
"Was Krebs here?" I asked.
"Sitting in the corner of the balcony. That meeting must have made him feel sick." George bent forward and whispered in my ear: "I thought Bill 709 was Watling's idea."
"Oh, I happened to be in the Potts House about that time," I explained.
George, of whom it may be gathered that he was not wholly unsophisticated, grinned at me appreciatively.
"Say, Paret," he replied, putting his hand through my arm, "there's a little legal business in prospect down here that will require some handling, and I wish you'd come down after the campaign and talk it over, with us. I've just about made up my mind that you're he man to tackle it."
"All right, I'll come," I said.
"And stay with me," said George....
We went to his yellow-brick house for refreshments, salad and ice-cream and (in the face of the Hutchins traditions) champagne. Others had been invited in, some twenty persons.... Once in a while, when I looked up, I met Maude's eyes across the room. I walked home with her, slowly, the length of the Hutchinses' block. Floating over the lake was a waning October moon that cast through the thinning maples a lace-work of shadows at our feet; I had the feeling of well-being that comes to heroes, and the presence of Maude Hutchins was an incense, a vestal incense far from unpleasing. Yet she had reservations which appealed to me. Hers was not a gushing provincialism, like that of Mrs. George.
"I liked your speech so much, Mr. Paret," she told me. "It seemed so sensible and—controlled, compared to the others. I have never thought a great deal about these things, of course, and I never understood before why taking away the tariff caused so much misery. You made that quite plain.
"If so, I'm glad," I said.
She was silent a moment.
"The working people here have had a hard time during the last year," she went on. "Some of the mills had to be shut down, you know. It has troubled me. Indeed, it has troubled all of us. And what has made it more difficult, more painful is that many of them seem actually to dislike us. They think it's father's fault, and that he could run all the mills if he wanted to. I've been around a little with mother and sometimes the women wouldn't accept any help from us; they said they'd rather starve than take charity, that they had the right to work. But father couldn't run the mills at a loss—could he?"
"Certainly not," I replied.
"And then there's Mr. Krebs, of whom we were speaking at supper, and who puts all kinds of queer notions into their heads. Father says he's an anarchist. I heard father say at supper that he was at Harvard with you. Did you like him?"
"Well," I answered hesitatingly, "I didn't know him very well."
"Of course not," she put in. "I suppose you couldn't have."
"He's got these notions," I explained, "that are mischievous and crazy—but I don't dislike him."
"I'm glad to hear you say that!" she answered quietly. "I like him, too—he seems so kind, so understanding."
"Do you know him?"
"Well,—" she hesitated—"I feel as though I do. I've only met him once, and that was by accident. It was the day the big strike began, last spring, and I had been shopping, and started for the mills to get father to walk home with me, as I used to do. I saw the crowds blocking the streets around the canal. At first I paid no attention to them, but after a while I began to be a little uneasy, there were places where I had to squeeze through, and I couldn't help seeing that something was wrong, and that the people were angry. Men and women were talking in loud voices. One woman stared at me, and called my name, and said something that frightened me terribly. I went into a doorway—and then I saw Mr. Krebs. I didn't know who he was. He just said, 'You'd better come with me, Miss Hutchins,' and I went with him. I thought afterwards that it was a very courageous thing for him to do, because he was so popular with the mill people, and they had such a feeling against us. Yet they didn't seem to resent it, and made way for us, and Mr. Krebs spoke to many of them as we passed. After we got to State Street, I asked him his name, and when he told me I was speechless. He took off his hat and went away. He had such a nice face—not at all ugly when you look at it twice—and kind eyes, that I just couldn't believe him to be as bad as father and George think he is. Of course he is mistaken," she added hastily, "but I am sure he is sincere, and honestly thinks he can help those people by telling them what he does."
The question shot at me during the meeting rankled still; I wanted to believe that Krebs had inspired it, and her championship of him gave me a twinge of jealousy,—the slightest twinge, to be sure, yet a perceptible one. At the same time, the unaccountable liking I had for the man stirred to life. The act she described had been so characteristic.
"He's one of the born rebels against society," I said glibly. "Yet I do think he's sincere."
Maude was grave. "I should be sorry to think he wasn't," she replied. After I had bidden her good night at the foot of the stairs, and gone to my room, I reflected how absurd it was to be jealous of Krebs. What was Maude Hutchins to me? And even if she had been something to me, she never could be anything to Krebs. All the forces of our civilization stood between the two; nor was she of a nature to take plunges of that sort. The next day, as I lay back in my seat in the parlour-car and gazed at the autumn landscape, I indulged in a luxurious contemplation of the picture she had made as she stood on the lawn under the trees in the early morning light, when my carriage had driven away; and I had turned, to perceive that her eyes had followed me. I was not in love with her, of course. I did not wish to return at once to Elkington, but I dwelt with a pleasant anticipation upon my visit, when the campaign should be over, with George.
"The good old days of the Watling campaign," as Colonel Paul Varney is wont to call them, are gone forever. And the Colonel himself, who stuck to his gods, has been through the burning, fiery furnace of Investigation, and has come out unscathed and unrepentant. The flames of investigation, as a matter of fact, passed over his head in their vain attempt to reach the "man higher up," whose feet they licked; but him they did not devour, either. A veteran in retirement, the Colonel is living under his vine and fig tree on the lake at Rossiter; the vine bears Catawba grapes, of which he is passionately fond; the fig tree, the Bartlett pears he gives to his friends. He has saved something from the spoils of war, but other veterans I could mention are not so fortunate. The old warriors have retired, and many are dead; the good old methods are becoming obsolete. We never bothered about those mischievous things called primaries. Our county committees, our state committees chose the candidates for the conventions, which turned around and chose the committees. Both the committees and the conventions—under advice—chose the candidates. Why, pray, should the people complain, when they had everything done for them? The benevolent parties, both Democratic and Republican, even undertook the expense of printing the ballots! And generous ballots they were (twenty inches long and five wide!), distributed before election, in order that the voters might have the opportunity of studying and preparing them: in order that Democrats of delicate feelings might take the pains to scratch out all the Democratic candidates, and write in the names of the Republican candidates. Patriotism could go no farther than this....
I spent the week before election in the city, where I had the opportunity of observing what may be called the charitable side of politics. For a whole month, or more, the burden of existence had been lifted from the shoulders of the homeless. No church or organization, looked out for these frowsy, blear-eyed and ragged wanderers who had failed to find a place in the scale of efficiency. For a whole month, I say, Mr. Judd Jason and his lieutenants made them their especial care; supported them in lodging-houses, induced the night clerks to give them attention; took the greatest pains to ensure them the birth-right which, as American citizens, was theirs,—that of voting. They were not only given homes for a period, but they were registered; and in the abundance of good feeling that reigned during this time of cheer, even the foreigners were registered! On election day they were driven, like visiting notables, in carryalls and carriages to the polls! Some of them, as though in compensation for ills endured between elections, voted not once, but many times; exercising judicial functions for which they should be given credit. For instance, they were convinced that the Hon. W. W. Trulease had made a good governor; and they were Watling enthusiasts,—intent on sending men to the legislature who would vote for him for senator; yet there were cases in which, for the minor offices, the democrat was the better man!
It was a memorable day. In spite of Mr. Lawler's Pilot, which was as a voice crying in the wilderness, citizens who had wives and homes and responsibilities, business men and clerks went to the voting booths and recorded their choice for Trulease, Watling and Prosperity: and working-men followed suit. Victory was in the air. Even the policemen wore happy smiles, and in some instances the election officers themselves in absent-minded exuberance thrust bunches of ballots into the boxes!
In response to an insistent demand from his fellow-citizens Mr. Watling, the Saturday evening before, had made a speech in the Auditorium, decked with bunting and filled with people. For once the Morning Era did not exaggerate when it declared that the ovation had lasted fully ten minutes. "A remarkable proof" it went on to say, "of the esteem and confidence in which our fellow-citizen is held by those who know him best, his neighbours in the city where he has given so many instances of his public spirit, where he has achieved such distinction in the practice of the law. He holds the sound American conviction that the office should seek the man. His address is printed in another column, and we believe it will appeal to the intelligence and sober judgment of the state. It is replete with modesty and wisdom."
Mr. Watling was introduced by Mr. Bering of the State Supreme Court (a candidate for re-election), who spoke with deliberation, with owl-like impressiveness. He didn't believe in judges meddling in politics, but this was an unusual occasion. (Loud applause.) Most unusual. He had come here as a man, as an American, to pay his tribute to another man, a long-time friend, whom he thought to stand somewhat aside and above mere party strife, to represent values not merely political.... So accommodating and flexible is the human mind, so "practical" may it become through dealing with men and affairs, that in listening to Judge Bering I was able to ignore the little anomalies such a situation might have suggested to the theorist, to the mere student of the institutions of democracy. The friendly glasses of rye and water Mr. Bering had taken in Monahan's saloon, the cases he had "arranged" for the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon were forgotten. Forgotten, too, when Theodore Watling stood up and men began, to throw their hats in the air,—were the cavilling charges of Mr. Lawler's Pilot that, far from the office seeking the man, our candidate had spent over a hundred thousand dollars of his own money, to say nothing of the contributions of Mr. Scherer, Mr. Dickinson and the Railroad! If I had been troubled with any weak, ethical doubts, Mr. Watling would have dispelled them; he had red blood in his veins, a creed in which he believed, a rare power of expressing himself in plain, everyday language that was often colloquial, but never—as the saying goes—"cheap." The dinner-pail predicament was real to him. He would present a policy of our opponents charmingly, even persuasively, and then add, after a moment's pause: "There is only one objection to this, my friends—that it doesn't work." It was all in the way he said it, of course. The audience would go wild with approval, and shouts of "that's right" could be heard here and there. Then he proceeded to show why it didn't work. He had the faculty of bringing his lessons home, the imagination to put himself into the daily life of those who listened to him,—the life of the storekeeper, the clerk, of the labourer and of the house-wife. The effect of this can scarcely be overestimated. For the American hugs the delusion that there are no class distinctions, even though his whole existence may be an effort to rise out of once class into another. "Your wife," he told them once, "needs a dress. Let us admit that the material for the dress is a little cheaper than it was four years ago, but when she comes to look into the family stocking—" (Laughter.) "I needn't go on. If we could have things cheaper, and more money to buy them with, we should all be happy, and the Republican party could retire from business."
He did not once refer to the United States Senatorship.
It was appropriate, perhaps, that many of us dined on the evening of election day at the Boyne Club. There was early evidence of a Republican land-slide. And when, at ten o'clock, it was announced that Mr. Trulease was re-elected by a majority which exceeded Mr. Grunewald's most hopeful estimate, that the legislature was "safe," that Theodore Watling would be the next United States Senator, a scene of jubilation ensued within those hallowed walls which was unprecedented. Chairs were pushed back, rugs taken up, Gene Hollister played the piano and a Virginia reel started; in a burst of enthusiasm Leonard Dickinson ordered champagne for every member present. The country was returning to its senses. Theodore Watling had preferred, on this eventful night, to remain quietly at home. But presently carriages were ordered, and a "delegation" of enthusiastic friends departed to congratulate him; Dickinson, of course, Grierson, Fowndes, Ogilvy, and Grunewald. We found Judah B. Tallant there,—in spite of the fact that it was a busy night for the Era; and Adolf Scherer himself, in expansive mood, was filling the largest of the library chairs. Mr. Watling was the least excited of them all; remarkably calm, I thought, for a man on the verge of realizing his life's high ambition. He had some old brandy, and a box of cigars he had been saving for an occasion. He managed to convey to everyone his appreciation of the value of their cooperation....
It was midnight before Mr. Scherer arose to take his departure. He seized Mr. Watling's hand, warmly, in both of his own.
"I have never," he said, with a relapse into the German f's, "I have never had a happier moment in my life, my friend, than when I congratulate you on your success." His voice shook with emotion. "Alas, we shall not see so much of you now."
"He'll be on guard, Scherer," said Leonard Dickinson, putting his arm around my chief.
"Good night, Senator," said Tallant, and all echoed the word, which struck me as peculiarly appropriate. Much as I had admired Mr. Watling before, it seemed indeed as if he had undergone some subtle change in the last few hours, gained in dignity and greatness by the action of the people that day. When it came my turn to bid him good night, he retained my hand in his.
"Don't go yet, Hugh," he said.
"But you must be tired," I objected.
"This sort of thing doesn't make a man tired," he laughed, leading me back to the library, where he began to poke the fire into a blaze. "Sit down awhile. You must be tired, I think,—you've worked hard in this campaign, a good deal harder than I have. I haven't said much about it, but I appreciate it, my boy." Mr. Watling had the gift of expressing his feelings naturally, without sentimentality. I would have given much for that gift.
"Oh, I liked it," I replied awkwardly.
I read a gentle amusement in his eyes, and also the expression of something else, difficult to define. He had seated himself, and was absently thrusting at the logs with the poker.
"You've never regretted going into law?" he asked suddenly, to my surprise.
"Why, no, sir," I said.
"I'm glad to hear that. I feel, to a considerable extent, responsible for your choice of a profession."
"My father intended me to be a lawyer," I told him. "But it's true that you gave me my—my first enthusiasm."
He looked up at me at the word.
"I admired your father. He seemed to me to be everything that a lawyer should be. And years ago, when I came to this city a raw country boy from upstate, he represented and embodied for me all the fine traditions of the profession. But the practice of law isn't what it was in his day, Hugh."
"No," I agreed, "that could scarcely be expected."
"Yes, I believe you realize that," he said. "I've watched you, I've taken a personal pride in you, and I have an idea that eventually you will succeed me here—neither Fowndes nor Ripon have the peculiar ability you have shown. You and I are alike in a great many respects, and I am inclined to think we are rather rare, as men go. We are able to keep one object vividly in view, so vividly as to be able to work for it day and night. I could mention dozens who had and have more natural talent for the law than I, more talent for politics than I. The same thing may be said about you. I don't regard either of us as natural lawyers, such as your father was. He couldn't help being a lawyer."
Here was new evidence of his perspicacity.
"But surely," I ventured, "you don't feel any regrets concerning your career, Mr. Watling?"
"No," he said, "that's just the point. But no two of us are made wholly alike. I hadn't practised law very long before I began to realize that conditions were changing, that the new forces at work in our industrial life made the older legal ideals impracticable. It was a case of choosing between efficiency and inefficiency, and I chose efficiency. Well, that was my own affair, but when it comes to influencing others—" He paused. "I want you to see this as I do, not for the sake of justifying myself, but because I honestly believe there is more to it than expediency,—a good deal more. There's a weak way of looking at it, and a strong way. And if I feel sure you understand it, I shall be satisfied.
"Because things are going to change in this country, Hugh. They are changing, but they are going to change more. A man has got to make up his mind what he believes in, and be ready to fight for it. We'll have to fight for it, sooner perhaps than we realize. We are a nation divided against ourselves; democracy—Jacksonian democracy, at all events, is a flat failure, and we may as well acknowledge it. We have a political system we have outgrown, and which, therefore, we have had to nullify. There are certain needs, certain tendencies of development in nations as well as in individuals,—needs stronger than the state, stronger than the law or constitution. In order to make our resources effective, combinations of capital are more and more necessary, and no more to be denied than a chemical process, given the proper ingredients, can be thwarted. The men who control capital must have a free hand, or the structure will be destroyed. This compels us to do many things which we would rather not do, which we might accomplish openly and unopposed if conditions were frankly recognized, and met by wise statesmanship which sought to bring about harmony by the reshaping of laws and policies. Do you follow me?"
"Yes," I answered. "But I have never heard the situation stated so clearly. Do you think the day will come when statesmanship will recognize this need?"
"Ah," he said, "I'm afraid not—in my time, at least. But we shall have to develop that kind of statesmen or go on the rocks. Public opinion in the old democratic sense is a myth; it must be made by strong individuals who recognize and represent evolutionary needs, otherwise it's at the mercy of demagogues who play fast and loose with the prejudice and ignorance of the mob. The people don't value the vote, they know nothing about the real problems. So far as I can see, they are as easily swayed to-day as the crowd that listened to Mark Antony's oration about Caesar. You've seen how we have to handle them, in this election and—in other matters. It isn't a pleasant practice, something we'd indulge in out of choice, but the alternative is unthinkable. We'd have chaos in no time. We've just got to keep hold, you understand—we can't leave it to the irresponsible."
"Yes," I said. In this mood he was more impressive than I had ever known him, and his confidence flattered and thrilled me.
"In the meantime, we're criminals," he continued. "From now on we'll have to stand more and more denunciation from the visionaries, the dissatisfied, the trouble makers. We may as well make up our minds to it. But we've got something on our side worth fighting for, and the man who is able to make that clear will be great."
"But you—you are going to the Senate," I reminded him.
He shook his head.
"The time has not yet come," he said. "Confusion and misunderstanding must increase before they can diminish. But I have hopes of you, Hugh, or I shouldn't have spoken. I shan't be here now—of course I'll keep in touch with you. I wanted to be sure that you had the right view of this thing."
"I see it now," I said. "I had thought of it, but never—never as a whole—not in the large sense in which you have expressed it." To attempt to acknowledge or deprecate the compliment he had paid me was impossible; I felt that he must have read my gratitude and appreciation in my manner.
"I mustn't keep you up until morning." He glanced at the clock, and went with me through the hall into the open air. A meteor darted through the November night. "We're like that," he observed, staring after it, a "flash across the darkness, and we're gone."
"Only—there are many who haven't the satisfaction of a flash," I was moved to reply.
He laughed and put his hand on my shoulder as he bade me good night.
"Hugh, you ought to get married. I'll have to find a nice girl for you," he said. With an elation not unmingled with awe I made my way homeward.
Theodore Watling had given me a creed.
A week or so after the election I received a letter from George Hutchins asking me to come to Elkington. I shall not enter into the details of the legal matter involved. Many times that winter I was a guest at the yellow-brick house, and I have to confess, as spring came on, that I made several trips to Elkington which business necessity did not absolutely demand.
I considered Maude Hutchins, and found the consideration rather a delightful process. As became an eligible and successful young man, I was careful not to betray too much interest; and I occupied myself at first with a review of what I deemed her shortcomings. Not that I was thinking of marriage—but I had imagined the future Mrs. Paret as tall; Maude was up to my chin: again, the hair of the fortunate lady was to be dark, and Maude's was golden red: my ideal had esprit, lightness of touch, the faculty of seizing just the aspect of a subject that delighted me, and a knowledge of the world; Maude was simple, direct, and in a word provincial. Her provinciality, however, was negative rather than positive, she had no disagreeable mannerisms, her voice was not nasal; her plasticity appealed to me. I suppose I was lost without knowing it when I began to think of moulding her.
All of this went on at frequent intervals during the winter, and while I was organizing the Elkington Power and Traction Company for George I found time to dine and sup at Maude's house, and to take walks with her. I thought I detected an incense deliciously sweet; by no means overpowering, like the lily's, but more like the shy fragrance of the wood flower. I recall her kind welcomes, the faint deepening of colour in her cheeks when she greeted me, and while I suspected that she looked up to me she had a surprising and tantalizing self-command.
There came moments when I grew slightly alarmed, as, for instance, one Sunday in the early spring when I was dining at the Ezra Hutchins's house and surprised Mrs. Hutchins's glance on me, suspecting her of seeking to divine what manner of man I was. I became self-conscious; I dared not look at Maude, who sat across the table; thereafter I began to feel that the Hutchins connection regarded me as a suitor. I had grown intimate with George and his wife, who did not refrain from sly allusions; and George himself once remarked, with characteristic tact, that I was most conscientious in my attention to the traction affair; I have reason to believe they were even less delicate with Maude. This was the logical time to withdraw—but I dallied. The experience was becoming more engrossing,—if I may so describe it,—and spring was approaching. The stars in their courses were conspiring. I was by no means as yet a self-acknowledged wooer, and we discussed love in its lighter phases through the medium of literature. Heaven forgive me for calling it so! About that period, it will be remembered, a mushroom growth of volumes of a certain kind sprang into existence; little books with "artistic" bindings and wide margins, sweetened essays, some of them written in beautiful English by dilettante authors for drawing-room consumption; and collections of short stories, no doubt chiefly bought by philanderers like myself, who were thus enabled to skate on thin ice over deep water. It was a most delightful relationship that these helped to support, and I fondly believed I could reach shore again whenever I chose.
There came a Sunday in early May, one of those days when the feminine assumes a large importance. I had been to the Hutchinses' church; and Maude, as she sat and prayed decorously in the pew beside me, suddenly increased in attractiveness and desirability. Her voice was very sweet, and I felt a delicious and languorous thrill which I identified not only with love, but also with a reviving spirituality. How often the two seem to go hand in hand!
She wore a dress of a filmy material, mauve, with a design in gold thread running through it. Of late, it seemed, she had had more new dresses: and their modes seemed more cosmopolitan; at least to the masculine eye. How delicately her hair grew, in little, shining wisps, around her white neck! I could have reached out my hand and touched her. And it was this desire,—although by no means overwhelming,—that startled me. Did I really want her? The consideration of this vital question occupied the whole time of the sermon; made me distrait at dinner,—a large family gathering. Later I found myself alone with heron a bench in the Hutchinses' garden where we had walked the day of my arrival, during the campaign.
The gardens were very different, now. The trees had burst forth again into leaf, the spiraea bushes seemed weighted down with snow, and with a note like that of the quivering bass string of a 'cello the bees hummed among the fruit blossoms. And there beside me in her filmy dress was Maude, a part of it all—the meaning of all that set my being clamouring. She was like some ripened, delicious flower ready to be picked.... One of those pernicious, make-believe volumes had fallen on the bench between us, for I could not read any more; I could not think; I touched her hand, and when she drew it gently away I glanced at her. Reason made a valiant but hopeless effort to assert itself. Was I sure that I wanted her—for life? No use! I wanted her now, no matter what price that future might demand. An awkward silence fell between us—awkward to me, at least—and I, her guide and mentor, became banal, apologetic, confused. I made some idiotic remark about being together in the Garden of Eden.
"I remember Mr. Doddridge saying in Bible class that it was supposed to be on the Euphrates," she replied. "But it's been destroyed by the flood."
"Let's make another—one of our own," I suggested.
"Why, how silly you are this afternoon."
"What's to prevent us—Maude?" I demanded, with a dry throat.
"Nonsense!" she laughed. In proportion as I lost poise she seemed to gain it.
"It's not nonsense," I faltered. "If we were married."
At last the fateful words were pronounced—irrevocably. And, instead of qualms, I felt nothing but relief, joy that I had been swept along by the flood of feeling. She did not look at me, but gazed straight ahead of her.
"If I love you, Maude?" I stammered, after a moment.
"But I don't love you," she replied, steadily.
Never in my life had I been so utterly taken aback.
"Do you mean," I managed to say, "that after all these months you don't like me a little?"
"'Liking' isn't loving." She looked me full in the face. "I like you very much."
"But—" there I stopped, paralyzed by what appeared to me the quintessence of feminine inconsistency and caprice. Yet, as I stared at her, she certainly did not appear capricious. It is not too much to say that I was fairly astounded at this evidence of self-command and decision, of the strength of mind to refuse me. Was it possible that she had felt nothing and I all? I got to my feet.
"I hate to hurt your feelings," I heard her say. "I'm very sorry."... She looked up at me. Afterwards, when reflecting on the scene, I seemed to remember that there were tears in her eyes. I was not in a condition to appreciate her splendid sincerity. I was overwhelmed and inarticulate. I left her there, on the bench, and went back to George's, announcing my intention of taking the five o'clock train....
Maude Hutchins had become, at a stroke, the most desirable of women. I have often wondered how I should have felt on that five-hour journey back to the city if she had fallen into my arms! I should have persuaded myself, no doubt, that I had not done a foolish thing in yielding to an impulse and proposing to an inexperienced and provincial young woman, yet there would have been regrets in the background. Too deeply chagrined to see any humour in the situation, I settled down in a Pullman seat and went over and over again the event of that afternoon until the train reached the city.
As the days wore on, and I attended to my cases, I thought of Maude a great deal, and in those moments when the pressure of business was relaxed, she obsessed me. She must love me,—only she did not realize it. That was the secret! Her value had risen amazingly, become supreme; the very act of refusing me had emphasized her qualifications as a wife, and I now desired her with all the intensity of a nature which had been permitted always to achieve its objects. The inevitable process of idealization began. In dusty offices I recalled her freshness as she had sat beside me in the garden,—the freshness of a flower; with Berkeleyan subjectivism I clothed the flower with colour, bestowed it with fragrance. I conferred on Maude all the gifts and graces that woman had possessed since the creation. And I recalled, with mingled bitterness and tenderness, the turn of her head, the down on her neck, the half-revealed curve of her arm.... In spite of the growing sordidness of Lyme Street, my mother and I still lived in the old house, for which she very naturally had a sentiment. In vain I had urged her from time to time to move out into a brighter and fresher neighbourhood. It would be time enough, she said, when I was married.
"If you wait for that, mother," I answered, "we shall spend the rest of our lives here."
"I shall spend the rest of my life here," she would declare. "But you—you have your life before you, my dear. You would be so much more contented if—if you could find some nice girl. I think you live—too feverishly."
I do not know whether or not she suspected me of being in love, nor indeed how much she read of me in other ways. I did not confide in her, nor did it strike me that she might have yearned for confidences; though sometimes, when I dined at home, I surprised her gentle face—framed now with white hair—lifted wistfully toward me across the table. Our relationship, indeed, was a pathetic projection of that which had existed in my childhood; we had never been confidants then. The world in which I lived and fought, of great transactions and merciless consequences frightened her; her own world was more limited than ever. She heard disquieting things, I am sure, from Cousin Robert Breck, who had become more and more querulous since the time-honoured firm of Breck and Company had been forced to close its doors and the home at Claremore had been sold. My mother often spent the day in the scrolled suburban cottage with the coloured glass front door where he lived with the Kinleys and Helen....