HotFreeBooks.com
All-Wool Morrison
by Holman Day
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse

After they had gone he lighted his pipe and sat down in the Governor's big chair and smoked and pondered. Every little while he thrust his forefinger and thumb into his vest pocket and ransacked without avail. "I must have left it in my dress clothes," he muttered. "But no matter! I'm not in the right frame of mind to enjoy poetry. However, merely in the way of taking a new clinch on the proposition I do remember this much, 'But I will marry my own first love!' There's truth in poetry if you go after it hard enough. And, on second thought, I'd better keep my mind on poetry as closely as I can! I certainly don't dare to think of politics right now!"



XX

IN THE COLD AND CANDID DAYLIGHT

For the first time in his life Governor North had his breakfast served to him in his room at his hotel; he ate alone, chewing savagely and studying newspapers. He did not welcome this method of breakfasting as a pleasing indulgence. Rugged Lawrence North was no sybarite; he hated all assumptions of exclusiveness; he loved to mingle and mix, and his morning levees in the hotel breakfast-room catered to all his vanity as a public functionary. He did not own up squarely to himself that he was afraid to go down and face men and answer questions. He had ordered the hotel telephone exchange to give him no calls; he had told the desk clerk to state to all inquirers that the Governor was too busy to be seen; he paid no attention to raps on his door. His self-exculpation in this unwonted privacy was that he could not afford to allow himself to be bothered by questioners until he and Senator Corson could arrange for effectual team-work by another conference. When he and the Senator parted they agreed to get together at the Corson mansion the first thing after breakfast.

While the Governor ground his food between his teeth he also chewed on the savage realization that he had nothing sensible to say in public on the situation, considering his uncompromising declarations of the day before; there were those declarations thrusting up at him from the newspaper page like derisive fingers; by the reports in parallel columns he was represented as saying one thing and doing another! And a bumptious, blundering, bull-headed Scotchman had put the Governor of a state in that tongue-tied, skulking position on the proud day of inauguration!

His Excellency slashed his ham, and stabbed his eggs, making his food atone vicariously.

He did not order his car over the hotel telephone. The hotel attachs were obsequious and would be waiting to escort him in state across the main office. The politicians would surround the car. And he was perfectly sure that some of the big men of an amazed State House lobby might step into that car along with him and seek to know what in the name o' mischief had happened overnight to change all the sane and conservative plans in the way of making a legislature safe!

He bundled himself and his raw pride into his overcoat, turned the fur collar up around his head, and went down a staircase. He was sneaking and he knew it and no paltering self-assurance that he was handling a touchy situation with necessary tact helped his feelings in the least. He stepped into a taxicab and was glad because the breath of previous passengers that morning had frosted the windows. That consolation was merely a back-fire in the rest of the conflagration that raged in him.

It was a dull morning, somber and cold.

When he stamped up the broad walk from the gate of the Corson mansion he beheld the boarded windows of the ballroom, and the spectacle added to his sense of chill. But his anger was not cooled.

Senator Corson's secretary was waiting in the hall; he showed the Governor up to the Senator's study.

Either because the outdoors was not cheerful that morning or because the Senator had been too much engrossed in meditation to remember that daylight would serve him, the curtains of the study were drawn and the electric lamps were on.

Corson was walking up and down the room, chewing on one end of a cigar and making a soggy torch of the other end. He continued to pace while North pulled off his coat.

"I have sent word to Morrison to come here," reported the host.

The mantel clock reported the hour as nine; His Excellency scowled at the clock's face. "And you got word back, I suppose, that after he has come out of his mill at ten o'clock and has washed his hands and—"

"He's at City Hall," snapped Corson, with an acerbity that matched the Governor's. "I called the mill and was referred to Morrison at City Hall. He's on his way up here! At any rate, he said he'd start at once."

"Did he condescend to intimate in what capacity he proposes to land on us this time?"

"I'm going to allow you to draw your own conclusions. I've been trying to draw some of my own from what he said."

"What did he say?"

"Apologized because I was put to any trouble in locating him. Said he was expecting to be called by me and thought he would go to City Hall and await my summons in order to put himself and the whole situation on a strictly official basis." The Senator delivered that information sullenly.

"What kind of a devilish basis does he think he's been operating on?"

"Look here, North! If you have come up here to fight with me after the row you have been having down-town this morning I warn you—"

"I have had no row down-town. I wouldn't see anybody. I wouldn't talk with anybody. Blast it! Corson, I don't know what to say to anybody!"

"Well, that's one point, at least, on which you and I can get together even if we can't agree on anything else. If you have been so cursedly exclusive as all that, North, perhaps you haven't been in touch with any of the justices of the supreme court, as I have."

"You have, eh?"

"I called Davenport and Madigan on the telephone."

"What excuse could they give for sending their snap opinions over the wire on the inquiry of a fool?"

"They offered no excuse. They couldn't. They knew nothing about any telegrams till I informed 'em. They received no inquiry. They sent no replies, naturally."

"That—that—Did that—" The Governor pawed at his scraggly neck. "He faked all that stuff?"

"Absolutely!"

Comment which could not have been expressed in long speeches and violent denunciation was put into the pregnant stare exchanged by the two men.

Then the Senator took another grip on his cigar with bared teeth and began to march again.

"Corson, what's going to be done with that blue-blazed understudy of Ananias?"

"Depend on the wrath of Heaven, perhaps," said the Senator, sarcastically. "I haven't had time to look in Holy Writ this morning and ascertain just what kind of a He Ananias told. But whatever it was, it was tame beside what Morrison told that mob about me last night."

"You've had your fling at me about my exclusiveness! What are you putting out yourself this morning in the way of statements?" The Governor banged his fist down on the newspapers which littered the study table.

"Nothing! Not yet!"

"I've got to have my self-respect with me when I deliver my inaugural address this forenoon. The only way I can possess it is by ramming Morrison into jail."

"On what ground, may I ask?"

"Interference with the Chief Executive of this state! Inciting the mob against the militia! Putting state property in danger. Forgery—contempt of court! I'll appeal to the judges to act. I'll call in the attorney-general. You and I were forcibly detained!"

"Yes, we might allege abduction," was Corson's dry rejoinder. "Our helplessness in the hands of a usurper would win a lot of public sympathy."

"I tell you, we would have the sympathy of the people," asserted the Governor, too angry to be anything else than literal.

"And they'd express it by giving us the biggest laugh ever tendered to two public men in this state, North. We've got to look this thing straight in the eye. I told Morrison last night that no such preposterous thing was ever put over in American politics, and he agreed with me. You must agree, too! That makes us unanimous on one point, and that's something gained, because it's an essential point. We can't afford to let the public know just how preposterous the situation was. A man in American public life can get away with almost any kind of a fix, if it's taken seriously. But the right sort of a general laugh will snuff him like that!" He snapped his finger. "We're not dealing with politics and procedure in the case of Morrison,"

"We're dealing with a fool and his folly!" the Governor shouted.

It was another of those cases where the expected guest under discussion becomes an eavesdropper at just the wrong moment; Morrison was not deliberately an eavesdropper. He had followed the instructed secretary to the study door, and the Governor had declared himself with a violence that was heard outside the room.

The mayor stepped in when the secretary opened the door

After the secretary had closed the door and departed Morrison stepped forward. "Governor North, you're perfectly right, and I agree with you without resenting your remark. I did make quite a fool of myself last night. Perhaps you are not ready to concede that the ends justify the means."

"I do not, sir!"

"A result built on falsehoods is a pretty poor proposition," declared the Senator. "I refer especially to those fake telegrams and to your impudent assertion to the mob that I said this or that!"

"Yes, that telegram job was a pretty raw one, sir," Morrison admitted. "But I really didn't lie straight out to those men in the square about your participation. I let 'em draw an inference from the way I complimented your fairness and good sense. I was a little hasty last night—but I didn't have much time to do advance thinking."

"I'm going to express myself about last night," stated Senator Corson.

"Will you wait a moment, sir?" Morrison had not removed his overcoat; he had not even unbuttoned it; he afforded the impression of a man who intended to transact business and be on his way with the least possible delay. He glanced at the electric lights and at the shaded windows. "This seems too much like last night. Won't you allow me? It's a little indulgence to my state of mind!"

He hurried across the room and snapped up the shades and pulled apart the curtains. He reached his hand to the wall-switch and turned off the lights.

"This isn't last night—it's this morning—and there's nothing like honest daylight on a proposition, gentlemen! Nothing like it! Last night things looked sort of tragic. This morning the same things will look comical if"—he raised his forefinger—"if the inside of 'em is reported. If the real story is told, the people in this state will laugh their heads off." Again the Governor and the Senator put a lot of expression into the look which they exchanged. "I got that mob to laughing last night and, as I told General Totten, that settled the civil war. If the people get to laughing over what happened when Con Rellihan took his orders only from the mayor of Marion, it will—well, it'll be apt to settle some political hash."

"Do you threaten?" demanded North. He was blinking into the matter-of-fact daylight where Morrison stood, framed in a window.

"Governor North, take a good look at me. I'm not a pirate chief. I'm merely a business man up here to do a little dickering. I can't trade on my political influence, because I haven't any. You have all the politics on your side. I propose to do the best I can with the little stock in trade I have brought." He walked to the table and flapped on it his hand, palm up. "You are two almighty keen and discerning gentlemen. I don't need to itemize the stock in trade I have laid down here. You see what I've got!"

He paused and, his eyes glinting with a suppressed emotion that the discerning gentlemen understood, he glanced from one to the other of them.

"You've got a cock-and-bull yarn in which you are shown up as a liar and a lawbreaker," the Governor declared. "You've got some guess—so about errors in returns—"

"Hold on! Hold on, North!" protested Senator Corson. "It's just as Morrison says—we don't need to itemize his stock in trade. I can estimate it for myself. Morrison, you say you're ready to dicker. What do you want?"

"A legislature that's organized open and above-board, with all claimants in their seats and having their word to say as to the sort of questions that will be sent up to the court. Staying in their seats, gentlemen, till the decisions are handed down! Let the legislature, as a whole, draft the questions about the status of its membership. I've got my own interest in this—and I'll be perfectly frank in stating it. I have a report on water-power to submit. I don't want that report to go to a committee that has been doctored up by a hand-picked House and Senate."

"You don't expect that Governor North and myself are going to stand here and give you guaranties as to proposed legislation, do you?"

"You are asking me, as an executive, to interfere with the legislative branch," expostulated His Excellency.

"Gentlemen, I don't expect to settle the problems of the world here this morning, or even this water-power question. I'm simply demanding that the thing be given a fair start on the right track." There was a great deal of significance in his tone when he added: "I hope there'll be no need of going into unpleasant details, gentlemen. All three of us know exactly what is meant."

Senator Corson was distinctly without enthusiasm; he maintained his air of chilly dignity. "What legislation is contemplated under that report that you will submit?"

"Some of the lawyers say that a general law prohibiting the shipping of power over wires out of the state must be backed by a change in our constitution. Until we can secure that change there must be a prohibitive clause on every water-power charter granted by the legislature—a clause that restricts all the developed power for consumption in this state."

"A policy of selfishness, sir."

"No, Senator Corson, a policy that protects our own development until we can create a surplus of power. Sell our surplus, perhaps! That's a sound rule of business. If you'll allow me to volunteer a word or two more as to plans, I'll say that eventually I hope to see the state pay just compensation and take back and control the water-power that was given away by our forefathers.

"As to power that is still undeveloped, I consider it the heritage of the people, and I refuse to be a party to putting a mortgage on it. My ideas may be a little crude just now—I say again that everything can't be settled and made right in a moment, but I have stated the principle of the thing and we fellows who believe in it are going ahead on that line. I realize perfectly well, sir, that this plan discourages the kind of capital that Mr. Daunt represents, but if there is one thing in this God's country of ours that should not be put into the hands of monopoly it's the power in the currents of the rivers that are fed by the lakes owned by the people. I'm a little warm on the subject, Senator Corson, I'll confess. I have been stubbing my toes around in pretty awkward shape. But I had to do the best I could on short notice."

"You have been very active in the affair," was the Senator's uncompromising rejoinder.

Governor North continued to be frankly a skeptic and had been expressing his emotions by wagging his head and grunting. In the line of his general disbelief in every declaration and in everybody, he pulled his watch from his pocket as if to assure himself as to the real time; he had scowled at the Senator's mantel clock as if he suspected that even the timepiece might be trying to put something over on him. "I must be moving on toward the State House." He wore the air of a defendant headed for the court-room instead of a Governor about to be inaugurated. "I must know where I stand! Morrison, what's it all about, anyway?"

The Governor was convincingly sincere in his query. He had the manner of one who had decided, all of a sudden, to come into the open. There was something almost wistful in this new candor. Stewart's poise was plainly jarred.

"What's it all about?" He blinked with bewilderment. "Why, I have been telling you, Governor!"

"Do you think for one minute that I believe all that Righteous Rollo rant?"

"I have been stating my principles and—"

"Hold on! I've had all the statements that I can absorb. What's behind 'em? That's what I want to know. Wait, I tell you! Don't insult my intelligence any more by telling me it's altruism, high-minded unselfishness in behalf of the people! I have heard others and myself talk that line of punk to a finish. Are you going to run for Governor next election?"

"Absolutely not!"

"Are you grooming a man?"

"No, sir!"

"Building up a political machine?"

"Certainly I am not,"

"Going to organize a water-power syndicate of your own after you get legislation that will give you a clear field against outside capital?"

"No—no, most positively!"

"Senator Corson, you claim you know Morrison better than I do. How much is he lying?"

"I think he means what he says."

North picked up his overcoat and plunged his arms into the sleeves. "If I should think so—if I should place implicit faith in any man who talks that way—I'd be ashamed of my weakness—and I've got too many things about myself to be ashamed of, all the way from table manners to morals! There's one thing that I'm sort of holding on to, and that's the fact that my intellect seems to be unimpaired in my old age. Morrison, I don't believe half what you say."

The mayor of Marion made no reply for some moments. Corson, surveying him, showed uneasiness. A retort that would fit the provocation was likely to lead to results that would embarrass the host of the two Executives.

"Oh, by the way, Governor," said Stewart, quietly, "I just came from City Hall. I really did not intend to drift so far from strictly official business when I came up here. I want to assure you that there will be no expense to the state connected with the police guard at the Capitol. They are at your service till after the inaugural ceremonies. Do you think you will need the officers on duty at your residence any longer, Senator Corson?"

"No, sir!"

"I agree with you that everything seems to have quieted down beautifully. Governor, you have my best wishes for your second term. I'm sorry I'll not be able to go to the State House to hear your address."

He went to the Governor and put out his hand, an act which compelled response in kind.

"I'm much obliged!" His Excellency was curt and caustic. "After the vaudeville show of last night there won't be much to-day at the State House to suit anybody who is fond of excitement."

Before North, departing, reached the door Senator Corson's secretary tapped and entered. He gave several telegrams into the hand of his employer.

"Pardon me, gentlemen!" apologized the Senator, tearing open an envelope. "Wait a moment, North. These messages may bear on the situation."

He read them in silence one after the other, his face betraying nothing of his thoughts.

He stacked the sheets on the table. "Evidently several notable gentlemen in our state rise early, read the newspapers before breakfast, and are handy to telegraph offices," he remarked, leveling steady gaze at Stewart. "These telegrams are addressed to me, but by good rights they belong to you, Mister Mayor, I'm inclined to believe."

There was irony in the Senator's tone; Morrison offered no reply.

"They're all of the same tenor, North," explained Senator Corson. "I'm bracketed with you. You'll probably find some of your own waiting at the State House for you. And more to come!"

"Well, what are they—what are they?"

"Compliments for the sane, safe, and statesmanlike way we handled a crisis and saved the good name of the state."

"Now, Morrison," raged the Governor, "you can begin to understand what kind of a damnable mess you've jammed me into along with Corson, here! That steer of a policeman will blab, that Scotchman will snarl, and that loose-mouthed girl will babble!"

"Governor, I haven't resented anything you have said to me, personally. You can go ahead and say a lot more to me, and I'll not resent it. But let me tell you that I can depend on the business loyalty of the folks who serve me; and if you go to classing my kind of helpers in with the cheap politicians with whom you have been associating, I shall say something to you that will break up this friendly party. My folks will not talk! Save your sarcasm for your agents who have been running around getting you into a real scrape by telling about those election returns."

He snapped about face, on his heels, and walked out of the door.



XXI

A WOMAN CHOOSES HER MATE

The haste displayed by Mayor Morrison in getting away from the study door suggested that he was glad to escape and was not fishing for any invitation to return for further parley.

But when he approached the head of the stairway he moved more slowly. His demeanor hinted that he would welcome some excuse, outside of politics, to keep him longer in the Corson mansion. He paused on the stairs and made an elaborate arrangement of a neck muffler as if he expected to confront polar temperature outside. He pulled on his gloves, inspected them critically as if to assure himself that there were no crevices where the cold could enter. He looked over the banisters. There was nobody in the reception-hall. He arranged the muffler some more. Step by step, very slowly, he descended as far as the landing where he had met Lana Corson joyously the night before. Not expectantly, with visage downcast, he looked behind him.

Lana was framed in the library door at the head of the stairs.

"I was trying to make up my mind to call to you. But you seemed to be in so much of a hurry! I suppose you have a great deal to attend to this morning."

"The principal rush seems to be over. Was it anything—Did you want to speak to me?"

"Perhaps it isn't of much importance. It did seem to be, for a moment. But it's something of a family matter. I think, after all, it will be imprudent to mention it."

He waited for her to go on.

"Probably under the circumstances you'll not be especially interested," she ventured.

"The trouble is, I'm afraid I'll show too much interest and seem to be prying."

"Will you please step up here where I'll not be obliged to shout at you?"

He obeyed so promptly that he fairly scrambled up the stairs.

"You said down there in the hall last evening that my father was angry and that an angry man says a great deal that he doesn't mean. My father was very, very angry when he and. I arrived home last night."

"I reckoned he would be."

"In his anger he talked to me very freely about you. The question is, should I believe anything he said?"

"I—I don't know," he stammered, "You're not going back on your own statement about an angry man, are you?"

"I don't think it's fair to accept all his statements."

"I'm sorry you still hold that opinion. You see I drew some conclusions of my own from what my father said to me, and those conclusions urge me to apologize to you for the Corson family. I'm afraid you didn't find my father in an apologetic mood this morning."

"Not exactly."

"Doris tells me that I have a New England conscience. I'm not sure. At any rate, I'm feeling very uncomfortable about something! It may be because you're misunderstood by our family. Do I seem forward?"

"No! Of course you don't. But you're putting me in a terrible position. I don't know what to say. I don't want any apologies. They'd make me feel like a fool—more of a fool than I have been."

"Are you admitting now that you were wrong in the stand you took about the water-power and—and—well, about everything?"

He had been listening in distress and perplexity, striving to understand her, groping for the meaning she was hiding behind her quiet manner. But her question struck fire from the flint of his resolution. "That power matter is a principle, and I am not wrong in it. As to the means I used last night, it was brass and blunder and I'm ashamed of acting that way."

"There's no need of going into the matter. I received a great deal of information from my father—when he was angry. And I woke up early this morning and began to consider the evidence. I was hard at it when you drove up in your car. I have been waiting for you to come from your talk with my father and the Governor. I want to say, Stewart, that when I stood up last night, like a fool, and lectured you about neglecting your opportunities in life I was considering you only as the boss of St. Ronan's mill. But my father told me what you really are. I have always respected him as a very truthful man, even when he is well worked up by any subject. I must take his word in this matter, though he didn't realize just how complimentary he was in your case. And if you can spare me a few moments, I want you to come into the library."

She walked ahead of him toward the door.

"I think I'll leave the Corson family right out of it, Stewart. I'm a loyal daughter of this state. I'm home again and I've waked up. Humor me in a little conceit, won't you? Let me make believe that I'm the state and listen to me while I tell you what a big, brave, unselfish—"

They were inside the door and he put his arm about her and led her toward the big screen and broke in on her little speech that she was making tremulously, apprehensively, with a sob in her voice, trying to hide her deeper emotions under her mock-dramatics.

"Hush, dear! I don't want to hear any state talk to me! I want to hear only Lana Corson talk. I didn't understand her last night! Now, bless her honest, true heart, I do understand her."

Speech, long repressed, was rushing from his mouth. Then he struggled with words; his excitement choked him. He looked down at her through his tears. "The bit poem, lassie! You remember it. The poem you recited, and when I sent you the big basket o' posies! All the time since yesterday it has been running in my head. I sat alone in the State House last night and all I could remember was, 'But I will marry my own first love!' I tried to say it out like a man, believing that God has meant you for me. But I couldn't think I'd be forgiven!"

Lana took his hand between her palms and stopped him at the edge of the screen. She quoted, meeting his adoring eyes with full understanding:

"And I think, in the lives of most women and men, There's a moment when all would go smooth and even—"

She drew him gently with her when she stepped backward.

She had heard the Senator's voice in the corridor; he was escorting Governor North.

On the panels of the screen were embroidered some particularly grotesque Japanese countenances. Those pictured personages seemed to be making up faces at the dignitaries who passed the open door.

"But I must go to your father, sweetheart," Stewart insisted. "I'd best do it this morning and have it all over with."

This declaration as to duty and deference was not made while Senator Corson was passing the door; nor was it made with anything like the promptitude the Senator might have expected in a matter which was so vitally concerned with a father's interests. In fact it was a long, long time before Stewart had anything to say on that subject. If Senator Corson had been listening again on the other side of the screen, he, no doubt, would have been mightily offended by a delay which seemed to make the father an afterthought in the whole business.

If he had been eavesdropping he would not have heard much, anyway, of an informing nature. He would have heard two voices, tenderly low and incoherent, interrupting eagerly, breaking in on each other to explain and protest and plead. If Stewart's protracted neglect of the interests of a father would have availed to rouse resentment, Lana's reply to Stewart's rueful declaration more surely would have exasperated the Senator; she emphatically commanded Stewart to say not one word on the subject to her father.

"Why, Stewart Morrison, for twenty-four hours you have been taking away my breath by doing the unexpected! You have been grand. Now are you going to spoil everything by dropping right back into the conventional, every-day way of doing things? You shall not! You shall not spoil my new worship of a hero!"

"Well, I won't seem much like a hero if I act as though I'm afraid of your father!"

She raised her voice in amazed query. "For mercy's sake, haven't you been proving that you're not afraid of him?" Once more, jubilantly, teasingly, wrought upon by the revived spirit of the intimacy of the old days, she assumed a playful pose with him, but this time her sincerity of soul was behind the situation. "Don't you realize, sir, that the calendar of the Hon. Jodrey Wadsworth Corson, on this day and date, is crowded with strictly new business? He is due at the State House very soon. Do you think he can afford to be bothered with unfinished business?"

He worshiped her with silence and a smile.

"Yes, Mister Mayor of Marion, unfinished business—yours and mine! Our business of the old days. But the honorable Senator is perfectly well aware that the business aforesaid is on the calendar. He had been supposing that we had forgotten it. I see a big question in your eyes, Stewart dear! Well, now that you're a party to the action and interested in the matter to be presented, I'll say that after Senator Corson had done his talking to me last evening, or very early this morning, to be more exact, I called on my family grit of which he's so proud and I did a little talking to Senator Corson. And he knows that the business is unfinished—he knows it will be brought duly to his attention—and he'll be in a better frame of mind after his present petulance has worn off."

"Petulance!" Morrison was rather skeptical.

"Exactly! He's just as much of a big child as most men are when another big child tries to take away a plaything. Oh, he was furious, Stewart! But let me tell you something for your comfort. He dwelt most savagely on the fact that you had grabbed in single-handed and beaten a Governor and a United States Senator at their own game! Wonderful, isn't it—admission like that? He has always patronized you as a countryman who knew how to make good cloth and who didn't amount to anything else in the world. Why, in a few days he'll be admitting that he admires you and respects you!"

She paused. After a few moments she went on, her tones low and thrilling. "I've been trying to explain myself to you, Stewart. You know, now, that I have always loved you. I have told you so in a way that leaves no doubts in a man such as you are. You have forgiven me for being simply human and silly before I woke up to understand you. And you don't misunderstand me any more, do you?" she pleaded, wistfully. "Last night I saw—your big self!"

"Lana, it was a wonderful night—more wonderful than I realized till now!"

After a time they became aware of a stir below-stairs and they came out from behind the screen where the Japanese faces grinned knowingly.

"Please obey me, Stewart; you must! It's really my trial of you to see if you're obedient when I know it's for your own good. Go down and wait for me." She left him in the corridor and ran away.

He marched down the stairs with as much self-possession as he could command.

Below him he saw Senator Corson, Mrs. Stanton, Silas Daunt, and the banker's son. All were garbed for outdoors and the Senator was inquiring of Mrs. Stanton why Lana was not ready.

From the landing down to the hall Stewart found the ordeal an exacting one. Those below surveyed him with an open astonishment that was more disconcerting than hostility; he was in a mood to fight for himself and his own; but to deal in mere polite explanations, after Lana's imperious command to keep silent on an important matter, was beyond any sagacity he possessed in that period of abashed wonder what to say or do.

It was his thought that Miss Corson, in her efforts to avoid an anticlimax of conventional procedure, was making a rather too severe test of him in forcing him to endure the unusual.

He did manage to say, "Good morning!" and smiled at them in a deprecatory way.

Coventry Daunt amiably responded as a spokesman for the group; but he had waited deferentially for his elders to make some response.

The Senator held a packet of telegrams in his hand. After Stewart had halted in the hall, putting on the best face he could and evincing a determination to stick the thing out, Senator Corson walked over and offered to give the mayor the telegrams. "They're beginning to arrive from Washington, sir. Better read 'em. They'll afford you a great deal of joy, I'm sure."

Stewart shook his head, declining to receive the missives. He wanted to tell the Senator that more joy right at that moment would overtask the Morrison capacity.

"I wish I were younger and more of an opportunist," Corson avowed. "In these guessing times among the booms, here is gas enough to inflate a pretty good-sized presidential balloon." He waved the papers.

The Senator's tone was still rather ironical, but Stewart was seeking for straws to buoy his new hopes; whether he was so recently away from Lana's dark eyes that the encouragement in them lingered with him, he was not sure. He felt, however, that the Senator's eyes did seem a little less hard than the polished ebony they had resembled.

An awkward silence ensued. The Senator stood in front of the caller and queried uncompromisingly with those eyes.

The caller, having been enjoined from babbling about the business that had been transacted behind the screen in the library, had no excuse to offer for hanging around there. "I—I suppose you're going to the State House," he suggested, after he decided that the weather called for no comments.

"We are! We are waiting for my daughter," stated Corson, with a severity which indicated that he was determined, then and there, to rebuke the cause of her delay.

"I'm so sorry you have waited!" Lana called to them from the landing, and came hurrying down, fastening the clasp of her furs.

She went to Mrs. Stanton, her face expressing apologetic distress. "It's so comforting, Doris, to know that you and I don't need to bother with all these guest and hostess niceties. You'll understand—because you're a dear friend! Father will make the doors of the Capitol fly open for his party—and you'll be looked after wonderfully." She bestowed her gracious glances on the others of the Daunt family, "I know you'll all forgive me if I don't come along."

She did not allow her amazed father to embarrass the situation by the outburst that he threatened. She fled past him, patting his arm with a swift caress. "I'm going with Stewart—over to Jeanie Mac Dougal Morrison's house. It's really dreadfully important. You know why, father. I'll tell you all about it later. Come, Stewart! We must hurry!"

Young Mr. Daunt was near the door. He opened it for her. When Stewart passed, following the girl closely, the volunteer door-tender qualified as a good sport. He whispered, "Good luck, old man!"

When Coventry closed the door he gave his sister a prolonged and pregnant stare of actual triumph.

It was only a look, but he put into it more significance than sufficed for Doris's perspicacity.

He had confided to his sister, the evening before, his hopeful reliance on a girl's heart.

But the Lana Corson who came down the stairs, who confronted them, who had fearlessly chosen her mate before their hostile eyes, was a woman.

And Coventry's gaze told his sister boastingly that he had made good in one respect—he had called the turn in his estimate of a woman.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5
Home - Random Browse