"People be damned?" inquired Stewart, with a provocative grin.
"There's too much of this soviet gabble loose these days. It all leads to the same thing, and you've got to choke it for the good of this government!"
"Right you are to a big extent, Blanchard! But just now we are talking of a vital problem in our own state and it has nothing to do with sovietism."
"But you spoke of making the people our partners!"
"I merely put the matter to you in a nutshell, for we'll need to be moving on pretty quick!" He glanced at the clock. He threw off his jacket and pulled on his coat.
"It will be explained in my official report, as chairman of the power and storage commission."
"I don't relish the rumors about what that report is likely to recommend."
"Rumors are prevalent, are they?"
"Prevalent, Morrison, and devilish pointed, too!"
"I suppose that's why the old horned stags of the lobby are whetting their antlers," surmised Morrison, giving piquant emphasis to his remark by a gesture toward a caribou head, a trophy of his vacation chase. "I have heard a rumor, too, Blanchard. Are they going to introduce legislation to abolish my commission and turn the whole water-power matter over to the public utilities commission?"
Blanchard flushed and said he knew nothing about any such move.
"I'm sorry that syndicate isn't taking you into their confidence," sympathized Morrison. "I know just how you feel. The boys who ought to train with me are not taking me into their conferences, either!"
"You spoke of coming down to cases!" snapped Blanchard, his uneasy conscience getting behind the mask of temper. "I don't ask you to reveal any official report. But can you tell me what this 'people-partners' thing is?"
"I can, Blanchard, because it isn't anything that is specifically a part of the report. It's principle, and principle belongs in everything. I merely apply it to the case of water-power in this state."
He went close to his caller and beamed down on him in a sociable manner. "I rather questioned my own good taste and the propriety of my effort to get on to the commission and be made its chairman. As an owner of power and of an important franchise I might be considered a prejudiced party. But I hoped I had established a bit of a reputation for square-dealing in business and I wanted to feel that my own kind were in touch with me and would have faith that I was working hard for all interests. You and I can both join in damning these demagogues and radicals and visionaries and Bolshevists. We must be practical even when we're progressive, Blanchard."
"Now you're talking sense!"
"I hope so!" But his next statement, made while the millman glared and muttered oaths, fell far short of sanity in Blanchard's estimation. "I'm fully convinced that one of the inalienable rights of the people is ownership of water-power. We franchise-proprietors ought to content ourselves with being custodians, managers, lessees of that power that comes from the lakes that God alone owns."
"Are you putting that notion in your confounded report?"
"Are you sticking in something about confiscating the coal and the oil and the iron and—"
"Oh no!" broke in Morrison, calm in the face of fury. "Those particular packages all seem to be nicely tied up and laid on the shelf out of the people's reach. And whether they are or not is not my concern now. I'm only a little fellow up here in a small puddle, Brother Blanchard. I'm not undertaking the reorganization of the world. I'll say frankly that I don't know just what kind of legislation in regard to the already developed water-power in this state can be passed and be made constitutional. But now when coal is scarcer and high, or monopolized, at any rate, to make it high and scarce in the market, the exploiters are turning to water-power possibilities with hearty hankering, and the people are turning with hope."
"I'm afraid I'm getting hunks out of that report of yours, ahead of official time."
"You're getting the principle underlying it—and you're welcome."
"Morrison, the idea that the people have any overhead right and ownership in franchise-granted and privately developed water-power is ridiculous and dangerous nonsense."
"It does sound a bit that way, considering the fact that the people of this state have never even taxed water-power, as such. The ideas of the fathers, who gave away the power for nothing, seem to have come down to the sons, who haven't even woke up to the fact that it's worth taxing—yes, Blanchard, taxing even to the extent that the people will get enough profits from the taxation to make 'em virtual partners! And as to the millions of horse-power yet to be developed, let the profits be called lease-money instead of taxation. Then we'll be going on a business basis without having the matter everlastingly muddled and mixed and lobbied in politics!"
Blanchard knew inflexibility when he saw it; and he knew Stewart Morrison when it came to matters of business. He did not attempt argument. "Well, I'll be good and cahootedly condemned!" he exploded.
"No, you'll be helped and I'll be helped by putting this on a business basis where the radicals, if they grab off more political power, won't be able to rip it up by crazy methods; the radicals don't know when to stop when they get to reforming."
"Radicals! Confound it, it looks to me as if we had one of 'em at the head of that power commission! Morrison, have you turned Bolshevik?"
"My friend," expostulated Stewart, gently, "when you opposed the principle of prohibition the fanatics called you 'Rummy.' The name hurt your feelings."
"They had no right to impugn my motives!"
"Certainly not! It's all wrong to try to turn a trick by sticking a slurring name on to conscientiousness."
"You're turning around and hammering your friends and associates, no matter what name you put on it."
"It has always been considered perfectly proper to lobby for the big interests in this state for pay! Why shouldn't I lobby for the people for nothing?"
"You and I are the people! The business men are the people. The enterprising capitalists who pay wages are the people. The people are—"
He halted; the telephone-bell had broken in on him.
Morrison apologized with a smile and answered the call. He sprawled in his chair, his elbow on the table, and listened for a few moments. "But don't stutter so, Joe!" he adjured. "Take your time, now, boy! Say it again!"
He attended patiently on the speaker.
"They won't take your word on the matter, you say? Why, Joe, that's not courteous in the case of an American Legion commander! Hold on! I can't come down there! I have to attend the reception at Senator Corson's."
He listened again to what was evidently expostulation and entreaty, and, while he listened, he gazed at the sullen Blanchard with an expression of mock despair.
"Joe, just a word for myself," he broke in. "I'm afraid you have pledged me a little too strongly. You went off half cocked this afternoon! Oh no! I don't take it back. I'm not a quitter to that extent. But I really didn't undertake to run the whole state government, you know! Those folks up on Capitol Hill don't need my advice, they think!"
With patience unabated he listened again. "If it's that way, Joe, I'll have to come down. I'll certainly never put an honest chap in bad or leave him in wrong, when a word can straighten the thing. Hold 'em there! I'll be right along!" He hung up.
"As I was saying," persisted Blanchard, "the people—"
Morrison put up his hand and shook his head.
"I guess we'd better hang up the joint debate on the people right here, Blanchard! What say if you come along with me and pick up a few facts? The facts may give you a new light on your theories." He hastened to a closet and secured his top-coat and his silk hat.
"Down to the Central Labor Union hall. There's a big crowd waiting there."
Blanchard surveyed his own evening apparel in a mirror. "I'm headed for a reception—not the kind I'd get as the head of the Conawin corporation from a labor crowd."
"Nevertheless, I urge you to come with me. I believe that a little contact with the people in this instance will clear your thoughts."
"Another one of your riddles!" snorted the manufacturer. "What's it all about?"
"Blanchard," declared Morrison, setting his jaws grimly while he pondered for a moment and then coming out explosively, "it's about what we may expect from the people when damned fools try to play politics according to the old rules in these new times. It's about what we may expect of the people when they're denied a showdown by men at the head of public affairs. There's trouble brewing in the city of Marion to-night. What would you do if you happened to glance out of your office window and saw a leak spurting big as a lead-pencil from the base of the Conawin dam? You'd know the leak would be as big as a hogshead in a few minutes, wouldn't you?"
"Yes!" admitted the other.
"You'd get to that leak and plug it mighty quick, wouldn't you?"
"No need to ask!"
"Well, this is a hurry call and I need your help."
"I don't stand in well with the labor crowd—" demurred Blanchard.
"I know all that! You're hiring too many aliens and Red radicals in your mill! But you ought to have some influence with your own gang, such as they are! I suspect that they're the leading troublemakers down in that hall. Blanchard, if you're not afraid of your own men, come along!" He clapped the millman on the shoulder and led the way toward the door.
"If there are scalawags starting that 'state steal' howl again somebody ought to tell 'em that there are three machine-guns and plenty of loaded rifles on Capitol Hill to-night, and the men behind 'em propose to shoot to kill," stated Blanchard, vengefully, shaking his silk hat.
Morrison whirled on him. "You're just the man to go down there and tell 'em so! You probably have inside information. All I know is hearsay! I'll advise 'em and you threaten 'em. Come along, Blanchard! We'll make a good team!"
THE MEN WHO WERE WAITING TO BE SHOWN
While Commander Lanigan talked with the mayor from a telephone-booth in a drugstore under Central Labor Union hall, Post-Adjutant Demeter stood with his nose pressed against the glass door, waiting anxiously.
Lanigan pushed open the door with one hand while he hung up the receiver with the other, and by his precipitate exit nigh bowled his adjutant over; Mr. Lanigan, it was plain to be seen, was wound up tightly that evening and his mainspring was operating him by jumps.
"He's the boy! He's coming! Tell the world so! And I'll go back up-stairs and tell them blistered sons o' seefo that there are such things as truth and a bar o' soap in this country, spite o' the fact they have never used either one!"
Demeter followed his commander into the street.
In spite of his haste, Lanigan was halted; he gazed up into the heavens, his breath streaming on the crackly-cold air.
The skies were blazing with shuttlings of lambent flame. From nadir to zenith the mystic light shivered and sheeted. Never had Lanigan beheld a more vivid display of the phenomenon of the aurora borealis. He seemed to be waiting for something. He sighed and shook his head.
"Peter, my heart jumped at first glimpse! 'Tis like the flash of the Argonne big guns! Thank God, the thunder of 'em isn't following!"
"Yes, thank God!" murmured Demeter, his soul in his tones!
They stood there for a few minutes, shoulder to shoulder, the contact of arm with arm serving for an exchange of thoughts between those veterans in a silence that would have been profaned by words.
The phantasmagoria overhead was shifting infinitely and rapidly; there were flashes that seemed to presage a thunderous roar of an explosion and were more bodeful because the hush aloft in the heavenly spaces remained unbroken; then the filaments and streamers of light made one mighty oriflamme across the skies, an expanse of woven hues, wavering and lashing as if a great wind were threshing across the main fabric and flinging its attendant bannerets.
"It's in the air; it's in the nerves! It puts hell into a man, doesn't it, Peter?"
"It was in that telephone back there! It crackled and snapped! A lot of it may be in those poor fools up in that hall—and they ain't knowing what the matter is with 'em! You and I have been over in the Big Bow-wow, boy, and we have had some good lessons in how to handle rattled nerves. I guess it's up to us to hold things steady, as experts. Soothe 'em and smooth 'em! It was All-Wool Morrison's lesson to me to-day! Soft and careful with 'em, seeing that they're full of what's in the air this night, and don't know just what ails 'em!"
He lowered his gaze from the skies. A man was passing on his way toward the door of the hall.
Lanigan had just laid down a general rule of diplomatic conduct for the evening, but he made a prompt exception. He leaped on the man, struggled with him for a moment, and yanked off a red necktie, taking with it the man's collar and a part of his shirt, "But some stuff that they're full of can't be smoothed out—it's got to be whaled out!" panted Lanigan. He did not release his captive. "The nerve o' ye, parading your red wattles on a night like this, ye Tom Gobbler of a Bullshevist!"
"I have the right to pick the color of my own necktie!" snarled the man.
"Not for the reason why you picked it! Not to wear it up into that hall, my bucko boy!"
When the man expostulated with oaths, Lanigan tripped him and held him on the sidewalk. "Hush your yawp! You can't fool me about your taste in ties! I know what's behind that color like I'd know what's behind an Orangeman's yellow! I don't need to wait for him to hooray for the battle o' the Boyne ere I get my brick ready! Peter, frisk his pockets!"
A crowd was collecting. Through the press rushed a young man. "Need help, Commander?"
"Only keep your eye peeled to see that another Bullshevist don't sneak up and kick me from behind, after the like o' the breed!"
Demeter's exploration produced a bulldog revolver, a slungshot, a packet of pamphlets, and several small red flags.
"What's your name?" demanded the commander.
"No business of yours!"
Lanigan kneeled on the captive and roweled cruel thumbs into the man's neck. "Out with it before I dig deeper for it."
"I knew it must be bad, but I didn't think it was as bad as that! I don't blame ye for trying to keep it mum! And ye look as though it tasted bitter coming up. I'll not poison me own mouth." He stood up and yanked the man to his feet. "So I'll call ye Bill the Bomber! Where do ye work, or don't ye work?"
"I thought so! One of that bunch down there that's trying to undermine the best government on the face of the earth. Come along! I've got a bit o' business on hand right now and I need you in it."
Then he turned, pushing the man ahead of him.
Lanigan became aware that the young fellow who had proffered aid was muttering in a derogatory fashion.
"What's on your mind, Jeff?" demanded the commander, recognizing a member of the post.
"I'm in an inquiring turn o' mind right now," rasped Lanigan. "And ye have just seen me go after information. I heard ye damning something. Ye'd best make me understand that you wasn't damning me!"
"I sure wasn't, sir! But as for this government being the best, I want to say—"
Lanigan's yelp broke in like an explosion. "Hold this Bullshevist, Peter! I want both hands free!"
"I wasn't saying anything against our government, Commander Lanigan! Not a word!" wailed the overseas man. "So help me!"
"I'm in a soothing frame of mind this night," returned the ex-sergeant. "I have been having some good lessons in soothing from the mayor of Marion, God bless him! I was nigh making a fool of myself till he showed me that the soothing way is the best way. And I shall keep right on soothing. But this is a night when the plain truth and the word of man-to-man have got to operate to prevent trouble! And I want the truth out o' ye, Jeff Tolson, or else ye'll be calling for toast, well soaked, in the hospital in the morning!"
"I went up to one of them sissy slackers—"
"Mind the kind of a name ye stick on to a soldier of the government! Do ye see who's listening?" He grabbed his prisoner again and shook him. "Be careful of what you say as an American citizen in the hearing of rats like this, Tolson! It encourages 'em. They think we mean it. Get the bile out of your system in a strictly family fuss! Spit out a lot you don't mean, if it's going to make you feel better! But first slam down the windows so that the outsiders can't overhear. I'll see you later!"
"But I want you to get me right, Commander," Tolson pleaded. "I went up to one of the boys to show him how to hold his gun and he banged me with the butt of it!"
"He did!" Lanigan clicked his teeth and showed that he was having hard work to control his own resentment.
"I was only trying to be helpful. I tried to take his gun and show him. And he insulted an overseas veteran!"
Lanigan had himself in hand again. "Tried to take away his gun, you say! You in civics and he in uniform and on duty! Jeff, if it's that hard to wake up and know that you're no longer a soldier, I reckon your wrist-watch is acting too much like a reminder-string around a Jane's finger! Better hang it from the end of your nose. It's a wonder he didn't give you the bayonet!"
"The butt was aplenty, sir!"
"I can stand it better to be banged on the knob by a gun-butt by a good American than batted in the eye by this color on a Bullshevist!" asserted Lanigan, waving the red necktie that he still retained in his clutch. He gave the owner of it another push. "Along with you, Bill the Bomber."
Tolson trailed. "But what are they trying to do up on Capitol Hill, sir? What does it all mean?"
"I don't know," confessed the commander. He drove his way through the bystanders. "You see, boys, I have started in along the way of telling the truth to-night. So I own up that I don't know! We're going to find out what it means!" He kept on toward the door of the hall with his prisoner. "I've arranged to have a man come down here and tell us what it means and tell us how to act."
"Well, he'll know more than anybody else I have tackled on the subject to-night," said Tolson, sourly. "He's a wonder, if he does know!"
"He's All-Wool Morrison—and that's your answer, buddie," retorted Lanigan. And that answer did seem to suffice for Tolson.
There were many men on the stairs leading up to the hall, and the elbowing throng at the door of the auditorium furnished further evidence of the overflowing nature of the gathering.
"Gangway!" commanded Lanigan at the top of his voice. "Make way, there! I'm bringing something straight in my mouth and something crooked in my mit, and neither one of 'em will ye have till free passage is made to the platform."
The crowd's curiosity served effectively to clear that passage.
Lanigan's captive went along, sullenly unresisting. There was no opportunity for rebellion in that mob that opened a narrow passage grudgingly, only to pack together again in a solid mass. But certain men whom Krylovensky passed or men who caught his eye by swift motions spat whispers at him in a language that Lanigan did not understand.
"Is it three cheers that your brother rattlesnakes are giving ye in the natural hissing way of 'em?" inquired the captor. "They're a fine bunch!"
With his hand twisted tightly into the slack of the man's coat and the torn shirt, the ex-sergeant forced the prisoner up the short stairs that conducted to the platform; Demeter followed.
Tobacco smoke streamed up in whirls from the banked faces that filled the hall from side to side, and the eddying clouds floated in strata above the rows of heads. Lanigan peered sternly at the crowd through the haze. "Here I am back! And I'm thanking the good saints for the few mouthfuls of fresh air I got outside and the news I got, and for this here I found and fetched along. I need him. I was on a jury once, in a murder case, and they had the tool that done the job and the lawyers tagged it Exhibit A. This is it! He's got a name, but if I tried to say it, it would cramp my jaws and hold my mouth open so long that I'd get assifixiated with this smoke. This is Bill the Bomber! Demeter, hold up the goods we found on him!"
The post-adjutant obeyed the order.
"Now, Bill the Bomber," demanded Lanigan, "tell me and the bunch what's the big idea of the arsenal, in a peaceful American city?"
"Is it peaceful?" screamed the captive, at bay. "There are soldiers marching with guns. There are men threatening and cursing! There are—"
"Hold right on—right where you are! Are you naturalized?"
"Well, let me tell you, you red-gilled Bullshevist, that till you're a voting American citizen, our private and personal and strictly family rows are none of your damn' business! All American citizens kindly applaud!"
He was answered by cheers, stamping feet, and clapping hands.
"Contrary-minded?" he invited in the silence that followed.
"Hiss a few hisses, you snakes!" he urged. "Or show those red flags you're carrying in your pockets!"
There was no demonstration, either by act or by word.
Lanigan pushed his captive to the rear of the platform and jolted him down into a chair behind which, on the wall, was draped a large United States flag. "Set there and see if you can't absorb a little of the white and blue into your system, along with the red that's already there," counseled the patriot. "You're going to hear some man-talk in a little while, and I hope 'twill do you good!"
A man in the audience rose to his feet when Lanigan marched back to the front of the rostrum.
"I am a voter here, yet I was born in another country. Will you allow me to ask a question, Commander Lanigan?"
"Sure! But let's start even on names. What's yours?"
Lanigan made a grimace. "But even at that I'm going to keep my word and I call on all present to back me up."
"See here!" bawled a voice from a far corner. "Let that Hun wait! How about your word to us in another matter? Where's the mayor of Marion?"
"The mayor of Marion is on his way to this hall!" The soldier's face was set into a grim expression and deep ridges lined his jaws. "I gave you all once tonight his word to me that he'd stand up for us on Capitol Hill, whatever it is they're trying to put over. I got the hoot from you when I said it. You wouldn't take my word and I just told him so. Now he's coming down here for himself! I say it. If some gent would like to hoot another hoot on that subject will he kindly step up here and hoot?" He doubled his fists.
There was no indication that anybody wanted to accept the invitation.
"Very well, then!" proceeded Lanigan. "I'm in a soothing frame of mind, myself, and I hope you're all soothed, too. And so that we won't be wasting any time on a busy evening I'll state that the meeting is now open for that question, Mister Weisner. Shoot!"
THE MAN'S WORD OF THE MAYOR OF MARION
Commander Lanigan had constituted himself the presiding officer of the assemblage that had been gathered under no special auspices and by no formal call. It was a flocking together of those uneasy persons who had been informing one another that they wanted to be shown! Mr. Lanigan's unconventional methods in the chair were tolerated because he had displayed much alacrity in putting the mob in the way of securing information from such high authority as the mayor of Marion. Chairman Lanigan's compelling methods in pumping this time-filler kept up the interest of the auditors.
"I belong to der Socialist party," stated Weisner.
"We don't want no Boche speeches!" warned a voice.
In his absorption in affairs, Lanigan was still hanging on to the captured red necktie. He noted that fact and held the danger signal aloft. "I don't approve of this color at this time," he remarked. "But when I have seen it waved in times past I have known that it meant a blast going off or a train coming on, and I have never taken foolish chances. Does the objecting gent down there in the corner need any further instruction from here, or shall I come down and whisper in his ear?"
Silence assured him and again he ordered Mr. Weisner to ask his question.
The querist ceased from showing deference to the volunteer in the chair; Weisner turned his back on Lanigan and addressed all in hearing, shaking his fist over his head: "Who tells me dis vhat I don'd know? Does Karl Trimbach his seat haf in der State House vhere der Socialists haf elected him?"
"If he has been elected, sure he'll have his seat," declared Lanigan, loyally. "That's the way we do things in this country! Why shouldn't he have his seat?"
"Den vhere—vhere is dot zertificate dot should show to Karl Trimbach dot he shall valk into der State House und sit on his seat? He don't get it. Why don'd dey send it?" Weisner bellowed his questions. He threshed his arms wildly about him.
"This is no time to be starting anything, Weisner! Don't stand there and be a Dutch windmill—be an American citizen! Soothe yourself!"
Another gentleman arose. He was distinctly Hibernian. He wore an obtrusive ribbon-knot of green, white, and yellow, the colors of the flag of the Irish Republic. "Lanigan, ye may not be able to reply satisfact'rily to th' questions o' the sour-krauters, but when I ask ye whether or not the Hon'rable Danyel O'Donnell, riprisent'thive-ilict, put in that high office be th' votes o' th' Marion pathrits of a free Ireland, takes his sate, what does th' blood o' yer race say to me?"
Lanigan blinked and hesitated. He felt the sudden Celtic surging of a natural impulse to run with his kind, to swing the cudgel valiantly for the cause, and to ask questions after the shindy was over.
"You know th' principles o' th' Hon'rable O'Donnell," insisted the speaker in loud tones. "Tis his intint to raise his voice in th' halls o' state and shout ear-rly and late, 'Whativer it is ye're about, gents, it all may be very well, but what will ye be doing for the cause o' free Ireland?' That's th' kind of a hero we're putting in th' State House en the hill."
"Putting a pest there, ye mean!" returned Lanigan.
"Is that the blood o' yer race speaking?"
"No, it's the common sense up here," declared the commander, tapping his knuckles against the side of his head. "Look, here, Mulcahy, my man! You're spouting about a subject that's too big for me to understand or you to explain. And that's why you're muddling yourself and mixing up the minds of others with your questions. I ask you no questions. I'm going to tell you something—and it's so! If the kids in your family was down with the measles, and the missus was all snarled up with the tickdoolooroo and you wasn't feeling none too well yourself, what with a hold-over, a black eye, and a lot o' bumps, what would you—Hold on! I say, I ask no questions! I know the answer. If Tommy O'Rourke came howling and whooping into your back door and asked you to go out and shin up a tree and fetch down his tomcat, ye'd tell Tommy to bounce along and mind his own matters till ye'd settled your own—and if he didn't go you'd kick him out."
"I'm discussing th' rights and wrongs of a suffering people."
"And playing safe for yourself because the subject is so big—and putting others in wrong because they can't settle all the troubles of the universe offhand to suit ye! My family is America, Mulcahy! It ought to be yours, first, last, and all the time. But we've got our own aches to mind, right now! And the way I'm putting it, a plain man can understand. If the tomcat don't know enough to come down all by himself, leave him be up there till the doctor tells us we can be out and about."
Weisner put his demand again and Mulcahy made the affair a vociferous duet; other men were on their feet, shouting. But a top sergeant has a voice of his own and a manner to go with the voice: Lanigan yelled the chorus into silence.
While he was engaged in this undertaking a diversion at the door assisted him. The crowd parted. Men shouted, pleading, "Make way for the mayor!"
Morrison came up the aisle toward the platform, Blanchard at his heels.
There were cheers—plenty of them!
But sibilantly, steadily, ominously the derogatory hisses were threaded with the frank clamor of welcome; hisses whose sources were concealed.
The mayor ran up the steps of the platform and marched to Lanigan, doffing the silk hat and extending his hand cordially.
With his forearm the commander scrubbed off the sweat that was streaming down into his eyes. "It's been like hauling a seventy-five into action with mules, Your Honor! For the love o' Mike, shoot!"
The hisses continued along with the applause when Stewart faced the throng.
Lanigan leaped off the platform, not bothering with the stairs. "I'm going to wade through this grass," he yelped. "God pity the rattlesnake I locate!"
A shrill voice from somewhere dared to taunt, "Pipe the dude!"
Morrison smiled. He had unbuttoned his topcoat, and his evening garb, in that congress of the rough and ready, made him as conspicuous as a bird of paradise in a rookery. "I seem to be double-crossed by my scenic effects, Blanchard," he stated in an aside to the magnate, who had stepped upon the platform because that elevation seemed safer than a position on the floor. "We must fix that! Furthermore, it's hot up here!" He pulled off his top-coat. He realized that the full display of his formal dress only aggravated the situation. In St. Ronan's mill he mingled with men in his shirtsleeves. He turned and saw Nicolai Krylovensky in the chair where Lanigan had thrust him. There was no other chair on the platform. Stewart hastily laid the coat across the alien's knees. "Keep 'em out of the dirt for me, will you, brother? I'm notional about good cloth!" He pushed his silk hat into the man's hand and then he stripped off the claw-hammer and white waistcoat, piled them upon the overcoat; and whirled to face his audience.
All eyes were engaged with the mayor.
Krylovensky, unobserved, let the garments slip to the floor and dropped the hat.
"Now, boys, we'll get down to business together in an understanding way! What's it all about?" Stewart invited, cheerily.
"Just a minute!" cried Lanigan, heading off all the possibilities that were threatening by a general powwow. "I've just been up against the bunch here, Mister Mayor, and they're trying to turn it into a congress-of-nations debate, and it ain't nothing of the kind. And I know you're in a hurry, and we don't expect a speech!"
"You won't get one!" retorted the mayor, tartly. "I have dropped down here merely in a business way to find out what's wanted of me as the executive head of this city."
"Your Honor, I have been preaching the notion of telling the truth to-night, and I'm going to come across with something about myself," confessed Lanigan, manfully. "I've gone off half cocked twice to-day. I've been thinking it over and I realize it. In your office I grabbed in on a word or two you said and took it for granted that you were going to lift the whole load of the people's case up at the State House and stop anything being put over on the people, whatever it is the Big Boys are planning. But you didn't promise me to do it."
"I did not, Joe!"
"And I've been telling this gang that you did promise me and that I'd get you down here to back up my word. I don't ask you to back up my lie. You're too square a proposition, Mayor Morrison!"
"After that man-talk, Joe, I've just naturally got to make a little of my own. And the boys can't help seeing that both you and I mean all right. I did give you good reasons for jumping at conclusions as you say you did, Joe! Understand that, boys! But my head isn't swelled to the extent that I believe I can settle everything.
"Now that I'm down here I'll say this. I'll do everything I can, as mayor of Marion, to straighten things out to-night so that the people won't be left guessing. Guessing starts gabble and gabble starts trouble! Don't do any more shouting about 'state steal,' and don't allow others to shout. Most of us don't know what it means, anyway, and others don't care, so long as it gives 'em a chance to stir up riots and grab off something for themselves under cover of the trouble. There are a lot of outsiders in this country, standing ready to make just such plays! Don't let your ears be scruffed by mischief-makers, boys. Let's have our city come through with a clean name! I'm going to do my part as best I can. But you've all got to do yours—understand that!" He smacked his fist down into his palm.
"Do you bromise me dot Karl Trimbach gets dot seat?" boomed Mr. Weisner.
"The same question goes as to th' Hon'rable Danyel O'Donnell," said Adherent Mulcahy.
"I cannot promise."
Then sounded that voice of the unknown troublemaker, sneeringly shrill, the senseless, passion-provoking common, human fife of the mob spirit, persistently present and consistently cowardly in concealment. "Of course you don't promise anything to the people! Dudes stand together! Go back and dance!"
Lanigan began to claw a passage for himself.
"Stand where you are, Joe!" commanded Stewart. "Don't flatter a fool by making any account of him!"
"Those kinds of fools are going to make trouble in this city before the night is over, Your Honor!"
"That's the trouble with politics," declared Mulcahy. "Ye can't get a square promise in politics fr'm th' Big Boys!"
Morrison put up a monitory forefinger.
"But you can get a square promise from me in business—and I can see that it's time to give that promise and make it specific. That's the way a business contract must be drawn. Hear me, then! It's the business of this city to see that no man abuses its good name or its hospitality, no matter whether he's a resident or comes here because it's the capital of the state. And I'll see to it that the men up at the State House end understand that they must play fair for the good of all of us. You must understand the same at this end. I'll take no sides in politics. The men who are entitled to their seats in this legislature will have those seats. I'm only one man, boys! But one man who is perfectly honest and is depending on the right will find the whole law of the land behind him—and wise men and good men have attended to the law. Will you take my word and let it stand that way between us?"
A chorused yell of assent greeted him.
"All right! It's a contract! Mind your end of it!"
He turned sharply from them and faced Krylovensky. The alien leaped up and kicked the mayor's garments to one side.
"Say! See here, my friend!" expostulated Stewart.
"Down with rulers!" screamed the man. "I'll be a martyr, but not a hat-rack!"
The mayor walked toward the frantic person. "I'm sorry! I was thoughtless!"
"You and your kind think of nothing but yourselves. You try to make slaves of free citizens of the world!" Krylovensky had been buffeted and had controlled himself. But the fires of his narrow fanaticism were now whirling in his brain; sitting there on high before the eyes of his fellows, the men to whom he had been preaching the doctrines of soviet sovereignty—the supremacy of the people—he had just suffered what his distorted views held as the enormity of ignominy; he had been used as a clothes-tree for discarded garments. Used by a ruler!
When Morrison, not realizing that the man had become little short of a maniac, stooped to pick up the garments Krylovensky dove forward and struck the mayor's face with open hand. "Now throw me to your dogs! I'll die a martyr to my cause!" he squalled.
The mayor snapped upright and laid restraining hands on the man who was threatening him with doubled fists.
A roaring mob came milling toward the platform.
"I'll be a martyr!" insisted the alien.
"I can't humor you to that extent," replied Morrison, in the tone of a father denying indulgence in the case of a wilful child.
He got between the man and the mob. He held Krylovensky from him with one hand and put up the other protestingly, authoritatively.
"No man that's a real man lets another man bang him in the face," declared Lanigan with fury.
"That's a nice point, to be argued later by us when things are quieter, Joe. Stand back!"
"I'm going to kill him even if you haven't got the grit to do it." Lanigan was showing the bitter disappointment of a worshiper kicking among the fragments of a shattered idol.
"I won't allow you to do that, Joe! A dead man can't answer questions. Stand back, all of you, I say!" He twisted the grip of his hand in the man's collar until Krylovensky ceased his struggles.
"Do you work in this city?" asked the mayor.
"He works in the Conawin," shouted Lanigan. "And I shook him down this evening for a gun, a knob-knocker, and a lot of red flags."
Blanchard was backed against the big Stars and Stripes, apprehensively seeking refuge from the crowd massing on the platform. Morrison caught his eye. "Seems to be one of your patriots, Blanchard! Shall I hand him over to you?"
"I never saw the renegade before."
"I'm sorry you don't get into your mill the way I do into mine. I'd like to know something about this gentleman who doesn't show any inclination to speak for himself."
"I'm not afraid to speak," declared the captive, all cautiousness burned out of him by the fires of his martyr zeal. "I'm an ambassador of the grand and good Soviet Government of Russia."
The mayor preserved his serenity.
"Ah, I think I understand! One of the estimable gentlemen who have been coming to us by the way of the Mexican border of late! When you picked up such a good command of our language, my friend, it's too bad you didn't pick up a better understanding of our country. I haven't any time just now to give you an idea of it, sir. I'll have a talk with you to-morrow."
The mayor had seen Officer Rellihan at the door of the hall. As a satellite, Rellihan was constant in his attendance on his controlling luminary in public places, even though the luminary issued no special orders to that effect; Morrison's intended visit to the hall had been quickly advertised down-town.
Stewart glanced about him and found Rellihan at his elbow.
"Here's the honorable ambassador of Soviet Russia, Rellihan," said his chief. "Take him along with you, keep harm from him on the way, and see that he is well lodged for the night in a place where enemies can't get at him."
"I know just the right place, Your Honor," stated the policeman, pulling his club from his belt and waving it to part the throng.
Morrison broke in upon Lanigan's mumbled threats. "Mind your manners, Joe!"
"But he hit you!"
The mayor picked up his garments, one by one, inspected them, and dusted them with his palm; then he pulled them on. The crowd gazed at him.
"He hit you!" Lanigan insisted, bellicosely. "When a man hits me, I lick him!"
"You're a good fighter, Joe," agreed His Honor, running his forearm about his silk hat to smooth the nap. "But let me tell you something! Unless you put yourself in better shape there'll be a fellow some day that you'll want to lick, and you won't be able to lick him, and you'll be almighty sorry because you can't turn the trick."
"Show me the feller, Mister Mayor!"
"Go look in the glass, Joe."
"Lick myself—is that what you mean, sir?"
"Sure! If you can do it when it ought to be done, you'll have the right to feel rather proud of yourself."
He invited Blanchard with a side wag of his head and led the way from the hall.
"Morrison, let me say this," blurted the mill magnate, when they were on their way in the limousine. "By reason of this people-side-partner notion of yours, you have gone to work and got yourself into an infernal fix. How do you expect to make good that promise?"
"I suppose I did sound rather boastful, but I had to put it strong. A mealy-mouthed promise wouldn't hold them in line!"
"But that promise only encourages such muckers in the belief that they have a right to demand, to boss their betters, to call for accountings and concessions. You have put the devil into 'em!"
"I hope not! Faith in a contract—that's what I tried to put into 'em. They'll wait and let me operate!"
"Operate! You're one man against the whole state government and you're defying single-handed the political powers! You can't deliver the goods! That gang down-town will wait about so long and then 'twill be hell to pay to-night!"
Morrison had found his pipe in his overcoat pocket. He was soothing himself with a smoke on the way toward the Corson mansion.
"But why worry so much when the night is still young?" he queried, placidly.
THE THIN CRUST OVER BOILING LAVA
Senator Corson, at the head of the receiving-line, attended strictly to the task in hand as an urbane and assiduous host.
Wonted by long political usage to estimate everything on the basis of votes for and against, he was entirely convinced, by the face of the returns that evening, that the reception he was tendering was a grand success, unanimously indorsed; he would have been immensely surprised to learn that under his roof there was a bitterly incensed, furiously resentful minority that was voting "No!"
The "Yes!" was by the applausive, open, viva voce vote of all those who filed past him and shook his hand and thronged along toward the buffet that was operated in de luxe style by a metropolitan caterer's corps of servants.
The Senator's mansion was spacious and luxuriously appointed, and the millions from the products of his timber-land barony were lavishly behind his hospitality. Consoled by the knowledge that Corson could well afford the treat, his guests, after that well-understood quality in human nature, relished the hospitality more keenly. At the buffet all the plates were piled high. In the smoking-room men took handfuls of the Senator's cigars from the boxes. And the pleasantry connected with Governor Lawrence North's custom in campaigning was frequently heard. It was related of North that he always thriftily passed his cigars by his own hand and counseled the recipient: "Help yourself! Take all you want! Take two!"
The guests adopted the comfortable attitude that Corson had dropped down home to Marion to pay a debt which he owed to his constituents, and they all jumped in with alacrity to help him pay it.
While the orchestra played and the ware of the buffet clattered, the joyous voices of the overwhelming majority gave Senator Corson to understand that he was the idol of his people and the prop of the state.
The minority kept her mouth closed and her teeth were set hard.
The minority was racked by agony that extended from finger-tips to shoulder.
The minority was distinctly groggy.
This minority was compassed in the person of a single young and handsome matron who was Mrs. J. Warren Stanton in her home city Blue Book, and Doris in the family register of Father Silas Daunt, and "Dorrie" in the good graces of Brother Coventry Daunt.
In addition she was the close friend, the social mentor, the volunteer chaperon for Lana Corson, whose mother had become voicelessly and meekly the mistress of the Corson mausoleum, as she had been meekly and unobtrusively the mistress of the Corson mansion.
Miss Lana had suddenly observed warning symptoms in the case of Mrs. Stanton.
Mrs. Stanton, according to a solicitous friend's best judgment, was no longer assisting in the receiving-line; Mrs. Stanton needed assistance!
Therefore, sooner than the social code might have permitted in an affair of more rigorously formal character, Lana left the receiving job to her father and the Governor and the aides, and rescued Mrs. Stanton and accompanied the young matron to the sanctuary of a boudoir above-stairs.
Mrs. Stanton extended to the tender touch of her maid a wilted hand, lifted by a stiffened arm, the raising of which pumped a groan from the lady. The white glove which incased the hand and arm was smutched liberally in telltale fashion.
"Pull it off, Hibbert! But careful! Don't pull off my fingers unless they are very loose and beyond hope. But hurry! Let me know the worst as soon as possible."
"I realize that the reception—" began Lana.
"Reception!" Mrs. Stanton snapped her head around to survey her youthful hostess. The flame on the matron's cheeks matched the fire in her tones.
"Reception, say you? Lana Corson, don't you know the difference between a reception and a political rally?"
"I'm sorry, Doris! But father simply must do this duty thing when the legislature meets. The members expect it. It keeps up his fences, he says. It's politics!"
"I'm glad my father is a banker instead of a United States Senator. If this is what a Senator has to do when he comes back to his home, I think he'd better stay in Washington and send down a carload of food and stick a glove on the handle of the town pump and let his constituents operate that! At any rate, the power wouldn't be wasted in a dry time!"
Lana surveyed her own hand. The glove was not immaculate any more, but it covered a firm hand that was unweary. "Father has given me good advice. It's to shake the hand of the other chap, not let yours be shaken."
"Those brutes gave me no chance!"
"I noticed that they were very enthusiastic, Doris. I'm afraid you're too handsome!"
But that flattery did not placate Mrs. Stanton. "It's only a rout and a rabble, Lana! The feminine element does not belong in it. My father dines his gentlemen and accomplishes his objects. And I think you have become one of these political hypocrites! You actually looked as if you were enjoying that performance down-stairs."
"I was enjoying it, Doris! I was helping my father as best I could, and at the same time I was meeting many of my old, true friends. I'm glad to be home again." The girl was unaffectedly sincere in her statement.
The glove was off and Mrs. Stanton was surveying her hand, wriggling the fingers tentatively.
"And they all seemed so glad to see me that I'm a bit penitent," Lana went on. "I'm ashamed to own up to myself that I have allowed California and Palm Beach to coax me away from Marion these last two winters. I ought to have come down here with father. I'm not talking like a politician now, Doris. Honestly, I'm stanch for old friends!"
"I trust you don't think I'm an ingrate in the case of my own old friends, Lana!" Mrs. Stanton, unappeased, was willing to take issue right then with anybody, on that topic. "But the main trouble with old friends is, they take too many liberties. Your old friends certainly did take liberties with my poor hand, and they took liberties with your own private business in my hearing."
"How—in what way?"
"I overheard persons say distinctly, over and over again, that one feature of this—no, I'll not muddle my own ideas of society functions by calling it a reception—they declared that your father proposes to announce to-night in his home town your engagement to Coventry."
The question that she did not put into words she put into the searching, quizzical stare she gave Lana.
"Ah!" remarked Miss Corson, revealing nothing either by tone or countenance.
"It looks to me as if you've been receiving other lessons from your father, outside of the hand-shaking art. You are about as non-committal as the best of our politicians, Lana dear!"
For reply the Senator's daughter smiled. The smile was so ingenuous that it ought to have disarmed the young matron of her petulance.
But Mrs. Stanton went on with the sharp insistence of one who had discovered an opportunity and proposed to make the most of it. "Seeing that the matter has come up in this way—quite by chance—" Mrs. Stanton did not even blink when she said it—"though I never would have presumed to speak of it to you, Lana, without good and sufficient provocation—I think that you and Coventry should have confided in me, first of all. Of course, I know well enough how matters stand! I really believe I do! But I think I'm entitled to know, officially, to put it that way, as much as your highly esteemed old friends here in Marion know."
"Yes," agreed Miss Corson.
"But first, Lana dear! To know it first—as a sister should! I'm not blaming you! I realize that you met some of those aforesaid old, true friends while you were out around the city to-day. One does drop confidences almost without realizing how far one goes, when old friends are met. I'm sure such reports as I overheard couldn't be made up out of whole cloth."
Mrs. Stanton's air and tone were certainly provoking, but Miss Corson's composure was not ruffled. "Out of the knowledge that you profess in regard to old friends, Doris, you must realize that they are energetic and liberal guessers." She turned toward the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To my room for a fresh pair of gloves, dear."
"Do you mean to tell me that you're going back for another turn among those jiu-jitsu experts?"
"We're to have dancing later."
"For myself, I'd as soon dance with performing bears. I must be excused. I'll do anything in reason, but I have reached my limit!"
Lana walked back to her, both hands extended. "You have been a dear martyr to the cause of politics. But now you are going to be the queen of our little festival. Listen, Doris! All the political buzzing bees will be thinning out, right soon. Those elderly gentlemen from the country who shook hands with a good Grange grip—they'll be wanting to get plenty of sleep so as to be wide awake to-morrow to hear the Governor's inaugural address. The other vigorous gentlemen who are so deeply in politics will be hurrying back to their hotels for their caucuses, or whatever it is they have to attend to in times like these. And the younger folks, who have no politics on their minds, will stay and enjoy themselves. There are some really dear folks in Marion!"
"I thank you for the information," returned Mrs. Stanton, dryly. "It's important if true. But there's other information that's more important in my estimation just now and you don't allow me the opportunity to thank you for it."
"I have been thinking, Doris! I really don't feel in the mood, when all those friends are under my roof, to stand here and brand them as prevaricators. Mayn't we let the matter stand till later?"
"Until after it has been officially announced?" queried Mrs. Stanton, sarcastically.
"I'm afraid that father's lessons have trained me better in political methods than I have realized," said Lana, meekly apologetic. "Because, right now, I'm obliged to run the risk of offending you, Doris, by quoting him and making his usual statement my rule of conduct."
"'Nothing can be officially declared until all the returns are in.'"
"What am I to understand from that?"
"It isn't so awfully clear, I know! But let's not talk any more about it."
Lana had dropped her friend's hands. She took them again in her grasp and swung Mrs. Stanton's arms to and fro in girlish and frolicsome fashion. "Now go ahead and be your own jolly Doris Stanton! You're going to meet folks who'll understand you and appreciate all your wit. One especially I'll name. I don't know why he's so late in coming, for he had a special invitation from my own mouth. He's the mayor of Marion!"
"What?" demanded Mrs. Stanton, irefully, pulling away from the girl who was trying to coax back good nature. "Picking out another politician for my special consideration, after what I have been through?"
"Oh, he's not a politician, Doris dear! Father says he isn't one; he says so himself and his party newspaper here in the city says regularly that he isn't, in a complimentary way, and the opposition paper says so in a sneering way—and I suppose that makes the thing unanimous. He is one of my oldest friends; he was my hero when I was a little girl in school; he is tall and big and handsome and—"
Mrs. Stanton narrowed her eyes.
She broke in impatiently on the panegyric. "I'm so thoroughly disgusted with the ways of politics, Lana, that I draw the line at a speech of nomination. You said you'd name him! Who is he?"
"I thought so!" Mrs. Stanton's tone was vastly significant.
Lana flushed. The composure that she had been maintaining was losing its serenity and her friend noted that fact and became more irritable.
"My dear Lana, I gathered so much enlightenment from the twittering of those old friends of yours down-stairs that you'll not be obliged, I think, to break your most excellent rule of reticence in order to humor my impertinent curiosity in this instance!"
"Don't be sarcastic with me, Doris! I don't find it as funny as when you're caustic with other folks."
"There does seem to be a prevailing lack of humor in the affairs of this evening," acknowledged Mrs. Stanton. "We'll drop the subject, dear!"
"I don't like you to feel that I'm putting you to one side as my dearest friend—not in anything."
"If you haven't felt like being candid with me in a matter where I'd naturally be vitally interested, I can hardly expect you to pour out your heart about a dead-and-gone love-affair with a rustic up in these parts. I understood from the chatter of your old friends that it is dead and gone. I can congratulate you on that proof of your newer wisdom, Lana. It shows that my counsels haven't been entirely wasted on you."
"It was dead and gone before you began to counsel me, Doris. It's not a matter of withholding confidence from you. Why should I talk about such things to anybody?"
"Oh, a discreet display of scalp-locks decorates a boudoir and interests one's friends," vouchsafed the worldly matron.
"Such confidences are atrocious!" Miss Corson displayed spirit.
"Now both of us are getting peppery, dear Lana, and I always reserve that privilege exclusively for myself in all my friendly relations. I have to keep a sharp edge on my tongue because folks expect me to perform the social taxidermy in my set, and it's only brutal and messy if done with a dull tool. Run and get your gloves! But take your own time in returning to me. There are still two of my fingers that need a further period of convalescence."
Mrs. Stanton promptly neglected her duties as a finger nurse the moment Miss Corson was out of the room. "Hibbert, ask one of the servants to find my brother and tell him I want to see him here. He will undoubtedly be located in some group where there is a rural gentleman displaying the largest banner of beard. My brother has an insatiable mania for laying bets with sporting young men that he can fondle any set of luxuriant whiskers without giving the wearer cause for offense."
Coventry answered his sister's call with promptitude.
"I'll keep you only a moment from your whisker-parterres, Cov! When you go back into that downstairs garden please give some of those beards a good hard yank for my sake."
But young Mr. Daunt was serious and rebuked her. "This isn't any lark we're on up here, Dorrie! Dad needs to have everybody's good will and I'm doing my little best on the side-lines for him. And he isn't tickled to pieces by your quitting. It's a big project we're gunning through this legislature!"
"It may be so! It probably is! But I'm not sacrificing four fingers, a thumb, and a perfectly good arm for the cause and I'm not allowing public affairs to take my mind wholly off private matters. So here's at it! Are you and Lana formally engaged?"
"Well, I must say you're not abrupt or anything of the sort!"
"Certain semi-coaxing methods haven't seemed to succeed, and therefore I'm shooting the well, as our oil friend Whitaker puts it!"
"Simply for the sake of keeping our affectionate brother-and-sister relations on the safe and approved plane, I'll say it's none of your blamed business," declared Coventry. "On the other hand, in a purely tolerant and friendly way, I'll say that Lana and I are proceeding agreeably, I think, and dad told me the other day that the Senator talked as if the matrimonial bill might receive favorable consideration when duly reported from committee—meaning Lana and myself and—"
"Gas!" broke in Mrs. Stanton. "I shot and I get only gas! I'm looking for oil! Is there an actual and formal engagement, I ask?"
"Oh, say!" expostulated her brother, registering disgust. "The motion pictures have spoiled that sort of thing. They have to propose bang outright in the films because the fans can't be bothered by the nuances of courtship. But for a chap to get down on his knees these days in real life would make the girl laugh as loud as the fans would whoop if the hero in reel life stood on his head and popped the question. Nothing of that kind of formal stuff in my case, sis! Of course not!"
"There better be! You go ahead this very night and attend to it!"
"Where do you get your appointment as general manager of the matter, Dorrie? You certainly don't get it from me!"
"Leaving it to be inferred—"
"I leave nothing to be inferred," declared her brother, righteously indignant. "Dorrie, you absolutely must get off that habit of carving your own kin in order to keep up the edge of your tongue. I wouldn't as much as intimate it, by denying it, that you get your meddling commission from Lana. If this is all you wanted to talk about, I'll have to be going. This is my busy evening!"
"Just one moment! It's always the busiest man who has time to attend to one thing more! I'm assuming that you love Lana."
"Conceded! You always did have a good eye in that line, Dorrie!"
"Then my advice, as an expert, ought to be respected. You go ahead and get a promise from Lana Corson. Then you'll have somebody working for your interests day and night."
"Her New England conscience!"
Young Mr. Daunt gave his sister a long, searching, and sophisticated stare. "I think I have a little the advantage of you, Dorrie. I met to-day this Mr. Stewart Morrison you're speaking of!"
"I haven't spoken of him! I haven't mentioned his name!"
"Oh, didn't you?" purred the brother. "Then I must have anticipated what you were going to say, or else I read your mind for the name—and that only shows that the Daunt family's members are thoroughly en rapport, to use dad's favorite phrase when he's showing the strawberry mark on ideas and making the other fellow adopt 'em as his own children. And I have heard how Lana and Morrison have been twice engaged and twice estranged. So, how about her New England conscience in the matter of a promise in love?"
"As I understand it, the New England conscience grows up with the possessor and comes of age and asserts itself. You can't expect an infant or juvenile conscience to boss and control like a grown-up conscience. Coventry, what kind of a man is Morrison?"
"A big, opinionated ramrod of a Scotchman who'd drive any girl to break her engagement a dozen times if she had promised as often as that."
Mrs. Stanton relaxed in her chair and sighed with relief. "Oh, from what she said about him—But no matter! I think you do know men very well, Cov! I'll do no more worrying where he's concerned. Forgive me for advising you so emphatically."
"He'd boss any girl into breaking her engagement," continued Coventry, with conviction. "Any dreaming, wondering, restless girl, curious to find out for herself and afraid of restraint."
"I know the type. Impossible as husbands," averred Mrs. Stanton, a caustic and unwearying counselor of sex independence.
"But there are some girls who grow up into real women, though you probably have hard work to believe that," said her brother, equally caustic in stating his opinions, "and they are waiting for the right man to come along and take sole possession of them, body and soul and affairs—when they are women! Then it isn't bossing any more! It's love, glorified! Letting 'em have their own way would seem like neglect and indifference, and their hearts would be broken. They eat it up, sis, eat it up, that kind of love!"
His sister leaped from her chair. "How anybody with an ounce of brains can take stock in this caveman nonsense is more than I can understand!"
"It has nothing to do with brains, sis! It's in here!" He tapped his finger on his breast. "It was put in when the first heart started beating."
"But you listen to reason! No woman wants a—"
He put his hand up and broke in on her furious remonstrance. "If I listen to reason, sis, you'll have me against the ropes in thirty seconds. I admit that there's no reason why a woman should want it that way! Brains can argue us right out of the notion. I won't argue. But I don't want you to think I'm keeping anything away from you that a sister ought to know. As my sister and as Lana's good friend, I'm sure you'll be glad to know that I love her with all my heart and I hope I haven't misunderstood her feelings in regard to me. I don't want to be too complacent, but I think she's still girl enough to welcome my kind of love and to take me for what I am."
He and his sister were thoroughly absorbed in their dialogue. Having summed up the situation in his final declaration, he turned hastily to leave the room and was assured, to his dismay, that Miss Corson had heard the declaration; she was at the threshold, her lips apart; she was plainly balancing a desire to flee against a more heroic determination to step in and ignore the situation and the words which had accompanied it.
Young Mr. Daunt manfully did his best to get that situation out of the chancery of embarrassing silence.
"Lana, the three of us are too good friends to allow this foozle to make us feel altogether silly. Despite present appearances I don't go around making speeches on a certain subject. Nor will I lay it all on Dorrie by saying, 'The woman tempted me and I fell.'"
"Yes, we may as well be sensible," affirmed Mrs. Stanton. In spite of her momentary embarrassment her countenance was displaying bland satisfaction. This was an occasion to be grasped. "I'll say right out frankly that I consider I'm one too many in this room just now!"
Lana retreated across the threshold. She was distinctly frightened.
Young Mr. Daunt laughed and his merriment helped to relieve the situation still more. "Oh, I say, Lana! This isn't a trap set by the Daunts. You come right in! I'm leaving!"
"I didn't mean to overhear," the girl faltered.
"You and I have nothing to apologize for—either of us! I take nothing back, but this is no kind of a time to go forward. I'd be taking advantage of your confusion."
"Well, of all the mincing minuets!" blurted the young matron. "One word will settle it all. I tell you, I'm going!"
But Daunt rushed to the door, seized Lana's hands, and swung her into the room. "This is a political night, and we'll go by the rules. The gentleman has introduced the bill and on motion of the lady it has been tabled. But it will be taken from the table on a due and proper date and assigned at the head of the calendar. I think that's the way the Senator would state it. It ought to be good procedure." He released her hands.
"And speaking of the calendar, Lana, may I have a peep at your dance-list?"
She gave him the engraved card.
"All the waltzes for me, eh?" he queried, wistfully. "I note that you're free."
"One, please, Coventry—for now! No, please select some of the new dances. You know them all! Some of my Marion friends are old-fashioned and I must humor them with the waltzes." Her hands were trembling. She laughed nervously. "I feel free to task your good nature."
"Thank you," he returned, gratefully, accepting the implied compliment she paid him. He dabbed on his initials here and there and hurried away.
Mrs. Stanton had plenty of impetuous zeal for all her quests, but she had also abundance of worldly tact. "One does get so tremendously interested in friends and family, Lana! Affection makes nuisances of us so often! But no more about it! I feel quite happy now. I'm even so kindly disposed toward politics that I'm ready to go down and dance for the cause, whatever it is your father and mine are going after. These men in politics—they always seem to me to be like small boys building card houses. Piling up and puffing down! Putting in little tin men and pulling out little tin men. And to judge by the everlasting faultfinding, nobody is ever satisfied by what is accomplished."
Miss Corson plainly welcomed this consoling shift from an embarrassing topic. And, in order to get as far from love as possible, she turned to business. When she and her friend descended the broad stairway of the mansion Lana was discoursing on the need of coaxing men of big commercial affairs into politics. Her views were rather immature and her fervor was a bit hysterical, but the subject was plainly more to her taste than that on which Mrs. Stanton had been dwelling.
The crowd below them, as they stood for a moment on the landing, half-way down the stairs, gave comforting evidence that it had thinned, according to Lana's prophecy. The receiving-line was broken. Senator Corson was sauntering here and there, saying a word to this one or that in more intimate manner than his formal post in the line permitted. Governor North, also released from conventional restrictions as a hand-shaker, was on his rounds and wagged his coattails and barked and growled emphatically.
The word "Law," oft repeated, fitted itself to his growls; when he barked he ejaculated, "Election statutes!"
"It's a pity your state is wasting such excellent material on the mere job of Governor, Lana. What a perfectly wonderful warden he would make for your state prison," suggested Mrs. Stanton, sweetly. But she did not provoke a reply from the girl and noted that Lana was frankly interested in somebody else than the Governor. It was a new arrival; his busy exchange of greetings revealed that fact.
"Ah! Your dilatory mayor of Marion!" said the matron, needing no identification.
Nor did Stewart require any word to indicate the whereabouts of the hostess of the Corson mansion. His eyes had been searching eagerly. As soon as he saw Lana he broke away from the group of men who were engaging him. The Governor accosted Morrison sharply, when the mayor hurried past on the way to the stairway. But again, within a few hours, Stewart slighted the chief executive of the state.
"I am late, I fear," he called to Lana, leaping up the stairs. "And after my solemn promise to come early! But you excused me this morning when I was obliged to attend to petty affairs. Same excuse this time! Do I receive the same pardon?"
The girl displayed greater ease in his presence at this second meeting. She received him placidly. There were no more of those disconcerting and high-flown forensics in her greeting. There was the winning candor of old friendship in her smile and he flushed boyishly in his frank delight. She presented him to Mrs. Stanton and that lady's modish coolness did not dampen his spirits, which had become plainly exuberant. In fact, he paid very little attention to Mrs. Stanton.
"It has got to you, Lana—this coming home again, hasn't it?" he demanded, with an unconventionality of tone and phraseology that caused the metropolitan matron to express her startled emotions by a blink. "I knew it would!"
"I am glad to be home, Stewart. But I have been tiring Mrs. Stanton by my enthusiasm on that subject," was her suggestive move toward another topic. "You're in time for the dancing. That's the important feature of the evening."
"Certainly!" he agreed. "May I be pardoned, Mrs. Stanton, for consulting my hostess's card first?"
He secured Lana's program without waiting for the matron's indifferent permission.
"A waltz—two waltzes, anyway!" he declared. "They settle arrearages in your accounts, Lana, for the two winters you have been away. And why not another?" He was scribbling with the pencil. "It will settle the current bill."
"It is a business age," murmured Mrs. Stanton, "and collections cannot be looked after too sharply."
"Will you not permit me to go in debt to you, madam?" he asked. "I'll be truly obligated if you'll allow me to put my name on your card."
"As a banker's daughter, I'll say that the references that have been submitted by Miss Corson in regard to your standing are excellent," said Mrs. Stanton, with a significance meant for Lana's confusion. But while she was detaching the tassel from her girdle Governor North interrupted. He was standing on the stairs, just below the little group.
"Excuse me for breaking in on the party, but I'm due at the State House. I'll bother you only a second, Morrison. Then you won't have a thing to do except be nice to the ladies."
"I know I'll be excused by them for a few moments, Governor." He started to descend. His Excellency put up his hand.
"We can attend to it right here, Mister Mayor!"
"But I have a word or two—"
"That's all I have!" was the blunt retort. "And I'm in a hurry. Have you got 'em smoothed down, according to our understanding?"
"I have, I think! But whether they'll stay smooth depends on you, Governor North!"
"And I can be depended on! I told you so at the office." He turned away.
"I think I ought to have a few words with you in private, however," Morrison insisted. "That general understanding is all right. But I need to know something specific."
The Governor was well down the stairs; he trudged energetically, his coattails wagging in wide arcs. It was not premeditated insolence; it was the usual manner of Lawrence North when he did not desire an interview prolonged to an extent that might commit him. "I'll be at the State House in case there's any need of my attention to something specific. I'll attend to it over the telephone—over the telephone, understand!"
The diversion on the stairs had attracted a considerable audience and produced a result that interfered further with Stewart's immediate social plans.
Senator Gorson came across the reception-hall, beckoning amiably, and the three descended obediently.
"Stewart, before you get too deep into the festivities with the girls, I want you to have a bit of a chat with Mr. Daunt. We arranged it, you know."
"But Stewart isn't up here to attend to business, father," protested the daughter, with a warmth that the subject of the controversy welcomed with a smile of gratitude.
"There is an urgent reason why Mr. Daunt should have a few words with Stewart to-night—before the legislature assembles." The Senator assumed an air of mock autocratic dignity. "I command the obedience of my daughter!" He saw the banker approaching. "I call on you, sir, to put down rebellion in your own family! These daughters of ours propose to spirit away this young gentleman."
"I'll keep you from the merrymaking only a few moments, Mayor Morrison," apologized Daunt. "But I feel that it is quite essential for us to get together on that matter we mentioned in the forenoon. I'm sure that only a few words will put us thoroughly en rapport."
Mrs. Stanton lifted her eyebrows. "That phrase means that father will do the talking, Mister Mayor. I recommend that you go along with him. You won't have to do a thing except listen. You can come later and dance with us with all your energy unimpaired."
"Yes!" urged Lana. "The waltzes will be waiting!"
"Use my den, Daunt! If I can get away from my gang, here, I'll run in on you," stated the Senator. He smacked his palm on Stewart's shoulder. "I know you always put business ahead of pleasure, though it may be hard to do it in this case, my boy! But after you and my friend Daunt get matters all tied up snug you won't have a thing to do for the rest of the night but enjoy yourself and be nice to the girls—not another thing, Stewart."
A ROD IN PICKLE
With great promptitude Attorney Despeaux fastened upon Blanchard, of the Conawin, the moment the latter left the company of Mayor Morrison on the arrival of the twain at the Corson mansion; and Mr. Blanchard seemed alertly willing to break off his companionship with the passenger he had brought in his limousine.
"What's that bull-headed fool been stirring up down-town?" demanded Despeaux when he had Blanchard safely to himself in a corner.
"Have you heard something about it?"
"I was called on the 'phone a few minutes ago."
"Who called you?"
"No matter! But hold on, Blanchard! I may as well tell you that I'm using a part of our fund to have Morrison shadowed. I suppose the reason you went along was to get a line on him. But it was imprudent. It looked like lending your countenance."
Blanchard explained sullenly why he did accompany Morrison to the meeting.
"Well, I'm glad you were there and heard him inflaming the mob," admitted the syndicate's lobbyist and lawyer. "I want to have Senator Corson fully informed on the point and it will come better from you than from a paid detective. Give it to Corson, and give it to him strong!"
"I don't know that I can justly say that he was inflaming the mob," demurred Blanchard.
"But you've got to say it! You must make it appear that way! Blanchard, it has come to a clinch and we must smash Morrison's credit in every direction. I didn't realize till to-day that he is out to blow up the whole works. Didn't he preach to you on the text of that infernal people-partner notion of his?"
"Yes! He's crazy!"
"The people own the moon, if you want to put it that way! But they can't do anything sensible with it, any more than they can with ownership of the state's water-power."
The Conawin magnate exhibited bewilderment. "Despeaux, I'm a business man. I suppose you lawyers go to work in a different way than we do in business. But as I have read the propaganda you're putting out—as I understand it—you are shouting for the people's rights, too!"
"I am! Strongly! Right out open! I even preached on people's rights to Morrison this very day—and looked him right in that canny Scotch eye of his while I preached. I like to keep in good practice!"
"Then why is Morrison so dangerous, if he's only doing what you do?" inquired the business man, with an artlessness that the attorney greeted with an oath.
"Because the infernal ramrod means what he says, Blanchard!"
"But if you don't mean it—if you have put yourself on record—and if you're obliged to step up and honor the draft you've sanctioned—what's going to happen in the showdown?"
Attorney Despeaux moderated his mordancy and became tolerantly patient in enlightening the ignorance of one of his employers. "The people are hungry for some kind of fodder in this water-power proposition. I've been telling all you power-owners so! We'll have to admit it, Blanchard! The time is played out when you can drive the people in this country. You've got to be a nice, kind shepherd and get their confidence and lead 'em. I'm a shepherd! See?" He patted himself on the breast. "There are two cribs!"
"You'll have to name 'em to me, Despeaux. I'm apt to be pretty dull outside of matters in my own line."
"I guess I'd do better to designate the chaps who are managing the cribs." The two men were in a window embrasure. Despeaux pointed to one side of the niche. "Over there, behold Morrison and his 'storage and power' crowd, made up of pig-headed engineers and scientific experts who are thinking only of how much power can be developed for the people as proprietors; over here, the public utilities commission made up of safe men, judiciously appointed, tractable in politics, consistently on the side of vested interests and right on the job to see to it that the state keeps its contracts with capital. I propose to be something of a shepherd and lead the people to the public utilities crib! And I'm going to show folks that they'll be eating poison-ivy out of the Morrison crib—even if I have to put the poison-ivy in there myself. This is no time to be squeamish, Blanchard! You've got to do your part in nailing a disturber like Morrison to the cross. Speak like a business man and say that he is dangerous in good business. We've got a Governor who is safe; we've got to have a legislature that will see to it that the committees are all right. And that's why we're standing no monkey business from any mob up on Capitol Hill to-night! Down at that hall, so my man told me, Morrison talked as if he's going to take hold and run the state! Didn't he?"
"Well, one might draw some such conclusions, I suppose, by stretching his words!"
"Blanchard, you must stretch words when you talk to Senator Corson and to all others who need to be stirred up and can help us. If that wild Scotchman butts into this plan he's inviting trouble, and we've got to see that he gets it. He's got to be choked now or never! Don't have any mercy! Just look at it this way! Talk it this way! He's turning on his own, if he does what he threatens! He played the sneak, he, a mill-owner, getting on to that commission! And he proposes to shove in a report that will smother development by outside capital. Play up the reason for his interest in the thing along that line! A hog for himself! It's easy to turn public sentiment by the right kind of talk! If I really start out to go the limit I can have him tarred and feathered as a chief conspirator, rigging a scheme to have our big industries knocked in the head."
Despeaux spoke low, but his tone conveyed the malice and the menace of a man who had been nursing a grudge for a long time. "Two years ago his newspaper letters and his rant killed that Consolidated project, and I had a contingent fee of fifty thousand dollars at stake; as it was, I got only a little old regular lobby fee and my expense money. And the power hasn't been developed by the infernal, dear, protected people, has it?" he sneered. "If the Consolidated folks had been let alone and given their franchise, we'd now be marketing over our high-tension wires two millions of horse-power in big centers two or three hundred miles from this state."
"Well, I'm not so awfully strong, myself, for making a mere power station of our own state, and letting outsiders ship our juice over the border."
"But you ought to be devilish strong against a man who is proposing to have the state break existing contracts, take back power rights and franchises and make you simply a lessee of what you already own! You've got yours! Give the outsiders a show! It's all snarled up together, Blanchard, and you've got to kill him and his crowd and their whole mushy, socialistic scheme and eliminate him from the proposition. Then we can go ahead and do something sensible in this state!" affirmed Mr. Despeaux, with the lustful ardor of one who foresaw the possibility of eliminating, also, the hateful word "contingent" in the case of fees.
But Business-man Blanchard was displaying symptoms of worriment.
The lawyer viewed with concern this evidence of backsliding, but his attention was suddenly diverted from his companion; then Despeaux nudged Blanchard and directed the latter's gaze by a thumb jerk.
They saw Morrison hurry up the stairs to greet Lana Corson when she appeared with her house guest. The attorney seemed to be vastly interested in the scene.
"I don't mean to scare you," went on Despeaux, his manner milder. "I'm not planning to commit murder or steal a state! It's Morrison right now! He's the one we're after! This whole thing may be taken care of in another way—so easily that it may make us smile. I've been keeping my eyes open, Blanchard—ears, too! Did you see Morrison rush to the Senator's daughter? A fellow can work himself into a terrible state of worry over the dear, unprotected people, when he has nothing else better to take up his mind. But after a Scotchman goes crazy over a girl—well, when the whole of 'em hold Poet Bobby Burns up as the type of their race, they know what they're talking about!"
"I can hardly conceive of Morrison being a poet or relishing poetry or the ways of a poet," returned Blanchard, dryly.
"And he probably has never read a line of it in his whole life," agreed Despeaux. "But that isn't the point! You may think I've gone off on a queer tack, all of a sudden, but I know human nature! That girl is back here with a slick young fellow, and he's the pepper in a certain mess of Scotch broth that has been heated up all over again, if I'm any guesser. That girl has been living in Washington, Blanchard. It's a great school! I've been watching her shake hands. You saw her just now when she shook with our friend, the mayor. That girl isn't down here on this trip simply to see whether the care-takers have been looking after the Corson mansion in good shape," opined the cynical Mr. Despeaux, having excellent personal reasons to distrust everybody else in the matter of motives.
"That sort of a trick is beneath Senator Corson and his daughter."
"Well," drawled the lawyer, "that all depends how closely he and Silas Daunt are tied up in a common interest in this water-power question and other matters. I suspect everybody in this world. I go on that principle. It eases my mind about slipping something over on the other fellow when I get the chance. I'm talking out pretty frankly, Blanchard, to a man who has his money in the syndicate pool, as you have! But I play square with the crowd I take money from, so long's I'm with 'em. The fee makes me yours to command, heart and soul! There's something—some one thing—that can control every man, according to his tastes. Stewart Morrison can be controlled right now by that black-eyed Corson girl more effectually than he can by any other person or consideration on God's earth. I've known him ever since he was a boy—I have watched the thing between 'em—and now that she's back here where he can see her, be near her, and be worried by the sight of another fellow trailing her, he'll be doing more thinking about her than he will about the partner-people, as he calls that dream of his about something that isn't so! I wish I could know just how sly the Senator is! I wish I could get a line on what's underneath that girl's curly topknot," he said, fervently.
Apparently absorbed by that speculation, Lawyer Despeaux again gave close attention to the tableau on the landing presented by Lana, Mrs. Stanton, and Morrison.
When Governor North marched up the stairs, said his vociferous say, and marched down again Despeaux grunted his satisfaction. "That's the talk, old boy! Show him where he gets off!"
The manner in which Senator Corson handed Morrison over to Silas Daunt elicited further commendation from the lawyer. "He's being pulled into camp smoothly and scientifically, Blanchard! The Senator is on to his job, but did you see Morrison's mug when he had to leave the girl?"
"I'll admit that it's the first time I ever saw him make up a face when he was called on to tend to business!"
"The Senator is a wise old bird! He knows human nature down to the ground. He's got the right kind of a daughter to help him, and he's making her useful. It's a case of shutting Morrison's mouth, and Corson is hep to the right play. I don't think the Senator needs any advice from us, but a little of the proper kind of information about Morrison's latest demfoolishness will make Corson understand that he needs to put some hot pep as well as sugar into his politeness. We'll get to him as soon as we can. Make it strong, Blanchard, make it strong!"
As soon as opportunity offered, Blanchard did make it strong. He was harboring a pretty large-sized grudge of his own in the case of Morrison, and it was easy to put malice into the report he gave the Senator.
"But hold on!" protested Corson. "You're making Stewart out to be a radical as red as any of them!"
"I can't help that, Senator," retorted the millman. "He dragged me down to his cursed meeting over my protest and he made a speech that put himself in hand in glove with 'em."
Corson pursed his lips and displayed the concern of a friend who had heard bad news regarding a favorite. "I always found the boy a bit inclined to mix high-flown notions in with the business practicality of his family. But I didn't realize that he was going so far wrong in his theories. That's the danger in permitting even one unsound doctrine to get into a level-headed chap's apple-basket, gentlemen! First thing you know, it has affected all the fruit. I'm glad you told me. I'm not surprised that your arguments have had no effect, Despeaux. He's naturally headstrong. Do you know, these fellows with poetic, chivalrous natures are hard boys to bring to reason in certain practical matters?"
"I was just telling Despeaux that I never saw much poetry sentiment in Stewart Morrison," affirmed the millman.
Senator Corson's condescending smile assured Mr. Blanchard that he was all wrong. "He was much in our family as a boy. Very sentimental if approached from the right angle! Very! And I think this is a matter to be handled wholly by Stewart's closest friends. Sentiment has led him off on a wrong slant. He'll only fight harder if he's tackled by a man like you, Despeaux. That's the style of him. But in his case sentiment can be guided by sentiment. And all for his best good! He mustn't run wild in this folly! I believe there's no one who can approach him with more tact than my daughter Lana." Despeaux found an opportunity to dig his thumb suggestively into Blanchard's side. "They have been extremely good friends, I believe, in boy-and-girl fashion; between us three old townsmen, I'll go as far as to say they were very much interested in each other. But in the case of both of 'em their horizons are naturally wider these days; however, first-love affairs, even if rather silly, are often the basis for really sensible and enduring friendships. And friendship must handle this thing. We'll leave it to Lana. I'll speak to her."
He went on his way toward the ballroom, pausing to chat with this or that group of constituents.
"There!" exclaimed the lawyer, relieving his high pressure by a vigorous exhalation of breath. "What did I tell you?"
"It's mighty kind and sensible of the Senator! Morrison is making a big mistake and the way to handle him is by friendship."
"Say, look here, Despeaux, I don't believe in spoiling my teeth by biting every coin that's handed to me in this world."
"Are you as devilish green as you pretend to be, Blanchard? If you had ever hung around in Washington as I have, you'd have wisdom teeth growing so fast that they'd keep your jaws propped open like a country yap's unless you kept 'em filed by biting all the coin of con! Now I know what's in the Senator's dome and what's under his girl's topknot! But let's not argue about that. Let's take a look at the probabilities in regard to the water-power matter—that's of more importance just now. I doubt that even friendship"—he dwelt satirically on the word—"can shut Morrison up on the storage report that he will shove into the legislature. But we're going to have safe committees this year, thanks to the election laws and guns, and that report will be pocketed. Then if Morrison keeps still about making the dear people millionaires by having 'em peddle their puddles to the highest bidders, capital can go ahead and do business in this state. I think his mouth is going to be effectively shut! The right operators are on the job!"
Despeaux took a peep at his watch.
"Time slipped by while we were waiting to get at Corson. Daunt has had half an hour for laying down the law to Morrison. And Daunt can do a whole lot of business in half an hour."
"He'll only stir up Morrison's infernal scrapping spirit by laying down the law," objected Blanchard, sourly.
Despeaux took both of the millman's coat lapels in his clutch. "He'll lay down in front of Morrison the prospect of the profits to be made by the deal that is proposed. And if you had ever heard Silas Daunt talk profits as a promoter you would reckon just as I'm reckoning, Blanchard—to see our Scotch friend come out of that conference walking like the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, instead of bobbing around astraddle of that damnation hobby-goat of his! Daunt can talk money in the same tone that a Holy Roller revivalist talks religion, Blanchard! And he makes converts, he sure does!"
A moment later the mayor of Marion strode across the reception-hall.
Lawyer Despeaux, giving critical attention, was not ready to affirm that Morrison's gait was that of a man who had broken a bank. But the manner in which he marched, shoulders back and chin up, and the dabs of color on his cheeks, would have suggested to a particularly observant person that the mayor had broken something. He pushed past those who addressed him and went on toward the ballroom, staring straight ahead; the music was pulsing in the ballroom; he seemed to be thoroughly entranced by the strains; at any rate, he was attending strictly to the business of going somewhere! He passed Senator Corson, who was returning to the reception-hall; the mayor gave his host only a nod.
While the Senator stood and gazed at the precipitate young man, Banker Daunt, following on Morrison's trail, arrived in front of Corson.
Lawyer Despeaux stepped from the window embrasure to get a good view and was not at all reassured by Daunt's looks. The banker displayed none of the symptoms of a victor. There was more of choler than complacency in his air. He hooked his arm inside the Senator's elbow and they went away together.
"Blanchard," said the lawyer, after a period of pondering, "that infernal Scotch idiot says that he isn't interested in politics and now he seems to have put promoting in the same class. Our hope is that he's interested in something else. Suppose we stroll along and see just how much interested he is."
By the time they reached the ballroom Morrison was waltzing with Lana.
He was distinctly another person from that tense, saturnine, defiant, brusk person who strode through the reception-hall. He was radiantly and boyishly happy. He was clasping the girl tenderly. He directed her steps in a small circle outside the throng of dancers, and waltzed as slowly as the tempo would allow. He was talking earnestly.
"Look at him! There you have it!" whispered Despeaux, recovering his confidence. "Every man has his price—but it's a mistake to think that the price must always be counted down in cash. Daunt didn't act as if he had captured our friend. He's dancing to a girl's tune now. Corson will whistle a jig when he gets ready and Morrison will dance to that tune, too!"
MAKING IT A SQUARE BREAK
In the privacy of Senator Corson's study Mr. Daunt had allowed himself to raise his voice and express some decided opinions by the way of venting his emotions.
In his heat he disregarded the amenities that should govern a guest in the presence of his host. In fact, Mr. Daunt asserted that the host was partly responsible for the awkward position in which Mr. Daunt found himself.
The Senator, whenever he was able to make himself heard, put in protesting "buts." Mr. Daunt, riding his grievance wildly, hurdled every "but" and kept right on. "Confound it, Corson, I accepted him as your friend, as your guest, as a gentleman under the roof of a mutual friend. Most of all, I accepted him as a safe and sane business man. I talked to him as I would to the gentlemen who put their feet under my table. I know how to be cautious in the case of men I meet in places of business. But you bring this man to your house and you put me next to him with the assurance that he is all right—and I go ahead with him on that basis. I was perfectly and entirely honest with him. I disregarded all the rules that govern me in ordinary business offices," the banker added, too excited to appreciate the grim humor flashed by the flint and the steel of his last, juxtaposed sentences.
"You say you told him all your plans in full?" suggested Corson, referring to the outburst with which Daunt began his arraignment of the situation.
"Of course I told him! You gave me no warning. I dealt with him, gentleman with gentleman, under your roof!"
"I didn't think it was necessary to counsel a man like you about the ordinary prudence required in all business matters."
"I had his word in his own office that he was heartily with me. You told me he was as square as a brick when it came to his word. I went on that basis, Corson!"
"I'm sorry," admitted the Senator. "I thought I knew Stewart through and through. But I haven't been keeping in touch as closely as I ought. I have heard things this evening—" He hesitated.
"You have heard things—and still you allowed me to go on and empty my basket in front of him?"
"I heard 'em only after you were closeted here with him, Daunt. And I can't believe it's as bad as it has been represented to me. And even as it stands, I think I know how to handle him. I have already taken steps to that end."
"Please accept my say-so for the time being, Daunt! It isn't a matter to be canvassed between us."
"I suppose you learn that sort of reticence in politics, even in the case of a friend, Corson," growled the banker. "I wish I had taken a few lessons from you before talking with one of your friends this evening."
"Was it necessary for you to do so much talking before you got a line on his opinions?"
"Confound it, Corson, with that face of his—with that candor in his countenance—he looks as good and reliable as a certified check—and in addition I had your indorsement of him."
"I felt that I had a right to indorse him." The Senator showed spirit. "Daunt, I don't like to hear you condemn Stewart Morrison so utterly."
"Not utterly! He has qualities of excellence! For instance, he's a damnation fine listener," stated the disgusted banker.
"But he couldn't have thrown down your whole proposition—he couldn't have done that, after the prospects you held out to him, as you outlined them to me when we first discussed the matter," Corson insisted. "Morrison has a good business head on him. He comes of business stock. He has made a big success of his mill. He must be on the watch for more opportunities. All of us are."
"Well, here was the offer I made to him, seeing that he is a friend of yours," said Banker Daunt, dilating his nostrils when he dwelt on the word "friend." "I offered to double his own appraisal of his properties when we pay him in the preferred stock of the consolidation. I told him that he would receive, like the others, an equal amount of common stock for a bonus. I assured him that we would be able to pay dividends on the common. And he asked me particularly if I was certain that dividends would be paid on the common. I gave him that assurance as a financier who knows his card." Daunt had been attempting to curb his passion and talk in a business man's tone while on the matter of figures. But he abandoned the struggle to keep calm. He cracked his knuckles on the table and shouted: "But do you know—can you imagine what he said after I had twice assured him as to those dividends on common, replying to his repeated questions? Can you?"
"No," admitted Corson, having reason to be considerably uncertain in regard to Stewart Morrison's newly developed notions about affairs in general.
"He told me I ought to be ashamed of myself—then he pulled out his watch and apologized for monopolizing me so long on a gay evening, hoped I was enjoying it, and said he must hurry away and dance with Miss Corson. What did he mean by saying that I ought to be ashamed of myself? What did he mean by that gratuitous insult to a man who had made him a generous proposition in straight business—to a guest under your roof, Senator Corson?"
"By gad! I'll find out what it means!" snapped the Senator, pricked in his pride and in his sense of responsibility as a go-between. He pushed a button in the row on his study table. "This new job as mayor seems to be playing some sort of a devil's trick with Stewart. I'll admit, Daunt, that I didn't relish some of the priggish preachment on politics mouthed by him in his office when we were there. But I didn't pay much attention—any more than I did to his exaggerated flourish in the way he attended to city business. The new brooms! You know!"
"Yes, I know!" The banker was sardonic. "I could overlook his display of importance when he neglected gentlemen in order to parade his tuppenny mayor's business. I paid no attention to his vaporings on the water question. I've heard plenty of franchise-owners talk that way for effect! He's an especially avaricious Scot, isn't he? Confound him! How much more shall I offer him?"
"I'll admit that Stewart seems to be different these days in some respects, but unless he has made a clean change of all his nature in this shift of some of his ideas, you'd better not offer him any more!" warned the Senator. "I never detected any 'For Sale' sign on him!"
The Senator's secretary stepped into the study.
"Find Mayor Morrison in the ballroom and tell him I want to see him here."
"Corson, you're a United States Senator," proceeded the banker when the man had departed, "and your position enables you to take a broad view of business in general. But naturally you're for your own state first of all."
"Certainly! Loyally so!"
"I think you thoroughly understand my play for consolidated development of the water-power here. Every single unit should be put at work for the good of the country. Isn't that so?"
"To set up such arbitrary boundaries as state lines in these matters of development is a narrow and selfish policy," insisted Daunt. "It would be like the coal states refusing to sell their surplus to the country at large. If this Morrison proposes to play the bigoted demagogue in the matter, exciting the people to attempt impractical control that will paralyze the whole proposition, he must be stepped on. You can show due regard for the honor and the prosperity of your own state, but as a statesman, working for the general welfare of the country at large, you've got to take a broader view than his."