"You have so many pretty gowns already! You wear one last evening—you wear anodder this evening—and still you make some more! When a young girl nigh kill herself so as to make a picture-book of her dresses I think it is time to look for some young man who seems to like the pictures. Eh?"
"Mother Angelique, I do not relish jokes which are silly," protested the girl. "You know how the girls of our country are taught! We cannot sit with hands in our laps without being very unhappy."
She went out and sat upon the door-step where old Etienne made way for her.
"At first I did not think I would come out, Mr. Farr," she said. "But I have made bold to come."
"I do not think it needs boldness to come where I am," he returned. "I hope you are not going to make a stranger of me because I have not been very neighborly of late. I have been busy and I have been away. The boys have paid my fare up-country, and so I ran about to carry the gospel of the free water. The truckmen have volunteered in half a dozen places. We are doing a great work."
"And yet I am afraid," she confessed. "You are fighting men who can do you much harm. I have been asking questions so as to know more about those men. For they have threatened poor Father Etienne. I wanted to know about them. I cannot help. But can you not help, Mr. Farr? I think you are much more than you seem to be," she added, naively.
"They have threatened Etienne?" demanded Farr, a sharp note in his voice.
"Ah, m'sieu', I have said nottin's to you. I am only poor old man. No matter."
"Why didn't you say something to me?"
"It's because you might feel bad, m'sieu'. P'raps not, for I'm only poor man and don't count."
"What have they said to you?"
"It's nottin's," said Etienne, stubbornly. "You shall not think you got me into trouble. You did not. I would have done it maself as soon as I thought of it."
"I command you to tell me what has been said to you, Etienne."
"They say that I shall be discharge from the rack. They say I have talk too much to my compatriots about the poison water. But I shall talk—yes—jesso!"
"Who says so?"
"The yard boss say to me that. Oh, there's no mistake. He have the power, M'sieu' Farr. The super tell the yard boss, the mill agent tell the super, the alderman tell the mill agent, the mayor he tell the alderman."
"And probably Colonel Symonds Dodd told the mayor," growled Farr. "It's a great system, Etienne. Nobody too small—nobody too big!"
"But I do not care. I shall talk some more—yes, I shall talk in the hotel de ville when you shall tell me to talk. I was scare at first and I tol' you I would not talk; but now I have found out I can talk—and I am not scare any more, and I will talk." Pride and determination were in the old man's tones. Since that most wonderful evening in all his life when he had heard his voice as if it were the voice of another man ringing forth denunciation of those in high places, the old rack-tender had referred to that new manifestation of himself as if he were discussing another man whom he had discovered. The memory of his feat was ever fresh within him. And his meek pride was filled with much wonderment that such a being should have been hidden all the years in Etienne Provancher. Many men had called around to shake his hand and increase his wonderment as to his own ability.
"We will wait awhile," counseled Farr, understanding the pride and treating it gently. "Stay at your work and be very quiet, Etienne, and they will not trouble you. You need your money, and I will call on you when you can help again."
"Then I will come. I shall be sorry to see somebody have my rake and pole, but I shall come."
A moment of silence fell between them, and during that moment a young woman passed rapidly along the sidewalk. Walker Farr shut his eyes suddenly, as a man tries to wink away what he considers an illusion, and then opened his eyes and made sure that she was what she seemed; there was no mistaking that face—it was Kate Kilgour.
He stared after her. She halted on the next corner, peered up at the dingy street light to make sure of the sign legend on its globe and then turned down an alley.
"Ba gar!" commented old Etienne, putting Farr's thoughts into words, "that be queer t'ing for such a fine, pretty lady to go down into Rose Alley, because Rose Alley ain't so sweet as what it sounds."
Then two men came hurrying past without paying any attention to the denizens of the neighborhood who were sitting in the gloom on the stoop. The street light revealed the faces of the men as it had shown to them the girl's features. One was Richard Dodd. Unmistakably, they were following the girl. Farr heard Dodd say: "Slow up! Give her time to get there. She's headed all right."
And Farr stared after those men, more than ever amazed.
One of them was obtrusively a clergyman—that is to say, he was cased in a frock-coat that flapped against his calves, wore a white necktie, and carried a book under his arm.
Dodd was attired immaculately in gray, and as he walked he whipped a thin cane nervously. They began to stroll soon after they had hurried past the stoop, and were sauntering leisurely when they turned into Rose Alley.
"I now say two ba gars!" exploded Etienne. "Because I been see the jailbird, Dennis Burke, all dress up like minister, go past here with the nephew of Colonel Dodd. And they go 'long after la belle mam'selle."
"He smart, bad man, that Dennis Burke. But he was hire by the big man to do something with the votes on election-time—so to cheat—and he get caught and so he been in the state prison. But he seem to be out all free now and convert to religion in some funny way. Eh?"
"Etienne, are you sure of what you are talking about?" demanded Farr. His voice trembled. The visit of that handsome girl to that quarter of the city—those men so patently pursuing her—there was a sinister look to the affair.
"Oh, we all know that Burke. He hire many votes in this ward for many years. He known in Marion just so well as the steeple on the hotel de ville. And that odder—that young mans, we know him, for his oncle is Colonel Dodd. Oh yes!"
"Good night, Etienne—and to you Miss Zelie!" said Farr, curtly, walking off toward the entrance of Rose Alley. He did not ask the old man to go with him. He was drawn in two directions by his emotions and stopped after he had taken a few steps. This seemed like espionage in a matter which was none of his concern. It was entirely possible that the confidential secretary of Colonel Dodd and the nephew of that gentleman might have common business even in Rose Alley and at that time of evening.
But the matter of that masquerading ballot-falsifier, just out of state prison, overcame Farr's scruples about meddling in the affairs of Kate Kilgour.
He turned the corner into the alley in season to see the two men far ahead of him; they passed out of the radiance shed by a dim light and he saw no more of them. He walked the length of the alley and was not able to locate any of the party. At its lower end the alley was closed in by houses, and it was plain that the people he sought had not passed out into another thoroughfare. He marched back, scrutinizing the outside of buildings, trying to conjecture what business the handsome girl and the two men could have in that section at that hour, and where they had entered to prosecute that business.
"I must continue to blame it all on the nice old ladies," he told himself, smiling at the shamed zest he was finding in this hunt. "But I hope this knight-errantry will not grow to be a habit with me. I mustn't forget that I have another job on hand for nine o'clock—also knight-errantry!"
He paused under the dim light where his men had disappeared and looked at his cheap watch.
Twenty-five minutes of nine!
Then he heard a woman's protesting voice. She cried "No, no, NO!" in crescendo.
He gazed at the house from which the voice seemed to come. It was near at hand, a shabby little cottage with a thin slice of yard closed in by a dilapidated picket fence. He perceived no observers in the alley, and he stepped into the yard. The front windows were open, for the evening was warm, but no lights were visible in the house.
He heard the protesting cry again. It was more earnest.
He head the rumble of a man's voice, but could not catch the words. Whatever was happening was taking place in some rear room.
"No, I say, no! Unlock that door," cried the voice, passionately.
Farr troubled his mind no longer with quixotic considerations about intrusion. He hoisted himself over the window-sill into the darkened front room, passed down a short corridor and, when he heard the voice once again on the inside of a door which he found locked, he immediately kicked the door open. He appeared to those in the room, heralded by an amazing crash and flying splinters.
First of all, he was astonished to find two women there; one was Miss Kilgour and the other was her mother. And there were the two men whom he had followed.
Farr swept off his hat and addressed the girl.
"I happened to be passing and heard your voice," he said. "If you are—" He hesitated, a bit confused, realizing all at once that knight-errantry in modern days is not quite as free and easy a matter as it used to be when damsels were in distress in the ruder times of yore. "I am at your service," he added, a bit curtly.
But she did not reply. Her attitude was tense, her cheeks were flaming, her eyes were like glowing coals.
"You lunatic, you have come slamming in here, disturbing a private wedding," announced the man in the white tie, slapping his palm upon the book he carried.
"Get out of here!" shouted Dodd. He had dodged into a corner of the room, his face whitening, when Farr had burst in. He remained in the corner now, brandishing his cane.
The uninvited guest surveyed the young man with more composure than he had been able to command when he looked at the girl.
Etienne Provancher had fortified him with some valuable information.
"Mr. Richard Dodd, I'll apologize and walk out of here after you have explained to me why you have faked up into a parson one Dennis Burke, late of the state prison, to officiate at weddings."
Upon the silence that followed the girl thrust an "Oh!" into which she put grief, protest, anger, consternation.
"Mother!" she cried. "Did you know? How could you allow—how did you come to do such a terrible thing?"
Her mother put her hands to her face and sat down and began to sob with hysterical display of emotion. Farr scowled a bit as he looked at her. She was overdressed. There was an artificial air about her whole appearance—even her hysterics seemed artificial.
The girl turned from her with a gesture of angry despair as if she realized, from experience, that she could expect, at that juncture, only emotion without explanation.
"Hold on here," cried Dodd, "hold on here, everybody! This is all right. You just let me inform you, Mr. Butter-in, that Mr. Burke has full authority to solemnize a marriage. He is a notary and was commissioned at the last meeting of the governor and council. And I know that," he added, attempting a bit of a swagger, "for I secured the commission for him myself." He came out of his corner and shook his cane at Farr. "I want you to understand that I have political power in this state!"
"I wouldn't brag about that kind of political power, when you can use it to make notaries out of jailbirds. That must be a nice bunch you have up at your State House!"
"On your way!" Again the cane swished in front of Farr's face.
"I beg your pardon, madam," apologized Farr, bowing to the girl. "You seem to be the only one in this room entitled to that courtesy," he added, with a touch of his cynicism. "Am I intruding on your personal business?"
"You are not," she answered, her eyes flashing. "I am glad you came in here. I could have stopped the wretched folly myself, but you have helped me, and I thank you." She delivered that little speech with vigor.
"Kate!" pleaded Dodd. "This isn't fair. I meant it all right. Here's your mother here! You wouldn't be reasonable the other way. We had to do something. For the love of Heaven, be good. You know I—"
She had turned her back on him. Now she whirled and spat furious words at him, commanding him to be silent.
"Do you want to spread all this miserable business before this gentleman?" she demanded. "I am ashamed—ashamed! My mother to consent to such a thing!"
She turned her back on him again and walked to and fro, beating her hands together in her passion. And now ire boiled in Dodd. He directed it all at the man who had interfered.
"This is no business of yours, you loafer. I don't know who you are, but you—"
Farr grabbed the switching cane as he would have swept into his palm an annoying insect. He broke it into many pieces between his sinewy fingers and tossed the bits into Dodd's convulsed face.
"You'll know me better later on—you and your uncle, too. Ask him what I advised him to do about having his weapon loose on his hip—take the same advice for yourself."
Then his expression altered suddenly. A disquieting jog of memory prompted him to yank out the cheap watch.
Twelve minutes to nine.
It was a long way to the foot of the steps of the Mellicite Club! And Union Hall was filled with men who were patiently waiting for him to keep his pledged word!
"I hope you'll be all right now," he said to the girl, haste in his tones. "I'm sorry—I must go—I have an important engagement."
Her eyes met his in level gaze, turned scornful glance at the others in the room, and then came back to his.
"Are you going in the direction of the Boulevard?" she asked him.
"Will you bother with me as far as the Boulevard?"
"If you are a good walker," he informed her. There was strict business in her tone and cool civility in his.
"I'm going along with this gentleman, mother."
Farr ushered her ahead of him through the shattered door.
"But I want to walk home with you, my child," wailed the sobbing woman.
"You'd better ask Mr. Dodd to escort you. And I trust that the talk you and he will have will bring both of you to your senses."
She hurried away up the alley with Farr, after he had unlocked the front door, finding the key on the inside.
"I am sorry I must hurry you," he apologized, "and if you cannot keep up I must desert you when we get to a well-lighted street."
She drove a sharp side glance at him and did not reply. Probably for the first time in her life she heard a young man declare with determination that he was in a hurry to leave her. Even a sensible young woman who is pretty must feel some sort of momentary pique because a young man can have engagements so summary and so engrossing.
He offered her his arm that they might walk faster. Her touch thrilled him. He was far from feeling the outward calm that he displayed to her.
They did not speak as they hurried.
Both were nearly breathless when they came out on the Boulevard. He saw the big clock—its hands were nearly at the right angle.
"Good night!" she gasped, and she put out her hand to him. "I thank you!"
"It was nothing," he assured her.
When their palms met they looked into each other's eyes. It was a momentary flash which they exchanged, but in that instant both of them were thrilled with the strange, sweet knowledge that no human soul may analyze: it is the mystic conviction which makes this man or that woman different from all the rest of humankind to the one whose heart is touched.
She gave him a smile. "Are you a knight-errant?"
She hurried away before he could reply—and, though all his yearning nature strove against his man's resolution to do his duty, it could not prevail: he did not follow her as he wanted to—running after her, crying his love. But duty won out by a mere hazard of a margin because her face, as she had shown it to him at the moment of parting, possessed not merely the wonderful beauty which had so impressed him when he had first seen her—it shone with a sudden flash of emotion that glorified it.
He turned away and hurried to the foot of the steps of the Mellicite Club.
He had no time to ponder on the nature of that mystery which he had uncovered in the shabby cottage in Rose Alley nor to wonder what sort of persecution it was that could enlist a mother's aid in that grotesque fashion against her own daughter.
He had not time even to frame a plan of campaign against the man whom the patient waiters in Union Hall were expecting him to capture.
The bell in the tower was booming its nine strokes and the Honorable Archer Converse was coming down the steps from his club, erect, crisp, immaculate, dignified—tapping his cane against the stones.
CORRALING A CONVERT
Mr. Converse bestowed only a careless glance at the stranger who was waiting at the foot of the club-house steps.
The young man accosted him, not obsequiously, but frankly.
"I know you always take a turn in the park at this hour, Mr. Converse. I beg your pardon, but may I walk for a few steps with you?"
"Why do you want to walk with me?"
"It's a matter—"
"I never discuss business on the street, sir. Come to my office to-morrow."
He marched on and Farr went along behind him.
"You heard?" demanded the attorney.
"I heard." Farr replied very respectfully, but he kept on.
He had rushed away from the girl and had come face to face with Mr. Converse, his mind utterly barren of plan or resource. That interim on which he had counted as a time in which he might devise ways and means had been so crowded with happenings that all consideration of plans in regard to Archer Converse had been swept from his mind.
At all events, he had rendered a service in that time; he had made good use of that forty-five minutes—that reflection comforted him even while he dizzily wondered what he was to do now.
That service had demanded sacrifice from him—why not demand something from that service? An idea, sudden, brazen, undefendable, even outrageous, popped into his head. He had no time for sensible planning. Mr. Converse was glancing about with the air of a citizen who would like to catch the eye of a policeman.
"I know all about you, Mr. Converse, even if you know nothing about me. I'm making a curious appeal—it's to your chivalry!"
That was appeal sufficiently novel, so the demeanor of Mr. Converse announced, to arrest even the attention of a gentleman who usually refused to allow the routine of his life to be interrupted by anything less than an earthquake. He halted and fronted this stranger.
"A man who wears that," proceeded Farr, indicating the rosette of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion in the lapel of Mr. Converse's coat, "and wears it because it came to him by inheritance from General Aaron Converse is bound to listen to that appeal."
"Do you know a Richard Dodd who is the nephew of Colonel Dodd?"
"I do, sir. You aren't asking me to assist him, are you? I will have nothing to do with him—no help from me!"
"Just a moment—wait one moment! Mr. Converse, do you know a man named Dennis Burke who has been in prison for ballot frauds?"
"I helped send him there, sir. Are you reciting the rogues' roster to me?"
"Richard Dodd has dressed Burke up as a parson and is trying to force a young woman into a marriage. I haven't time to tell you how I happened to know about this affair—but it is in Rose Alley and there's no time to waste."
"A preposterous yarn."
"I have just come from that house."
"You're a young man of muscle—why didn't you stop it?"
"The girl's mother is there, backing Dodd. Mr. Converse, the cause needs a man like you—a man of law, of standing, of influence. I appeal to you to follow me."
"A moment—a moment! I scent a ruse. I don't know you. Are you a decoy for blackmailers or robbers?" he inquired, bluntly.
Farr took off his hat and stood before the Honorable Archer Converse, his strange, slow, winning smile dawning on his face.
"I beg your pardon for interrupting your stroll," he said, gently. "I hope you'll look at me! You may see, perhaps, that you're in error. I'll go back and kill Dodd—and come to your office to-morrow—on business—engaging you as counsel for the defense."
"Lead the way to that house," snapped Mr. Converse. The attitude of Farr, his forbearance, his refraining from further solicitation, his frank demeanor, won out for him. "I'm sometimes a little hasty in my remarks," acknowledged Mr. Converse in the tone of one who felt chastened. "Are you a new-comer to our city?" he continued as they hurried away. "You must be. I should certainly have remembered you if I had ever seen you before." It was an indirect compliment—a gentleman's careful approach to an apology.
The young man did not reply. He had conceived for this stately man a sudden hero-worship. What Citizen Drew had told him was added to his own instinct in matters of the understanding of a personality. He did not dare to stop and consider to what despicable extent he was lying to his victim. He knew if he stopped to think he would quit. Now the whole affair seemed a crazy thing. Did even his proposed ends justify this procedure?
"There's a short cut through Sanson Street," stammered Farr, the sense of his own iniquity increasing in the same ratio in which his respect and admiration grew. The honorable gentleman traveled along at a brisk jog, evidently desiring to show his apologetic mood by exhibiting confidence in his guide.
And Farr, stealing side glances at him, was more self-accusatory, more abashed. He cherished the hope that they would be able to anticipate the departure of Dodd and the confederates from the cottage. It was not clear to him just how he would make the incident serve, anyway. He was conscious that he had grasped at any opportunity which would open the ears of the Honorable Archer Converse to a person who had accosted him on the street. Finding somebody in the house would, at least, stamp his story with verity even if it served no purpose in the main intent of Farr's efforts.
But on a well-lighted street corner the young man halted suddenly.
"It's no use," he informed the astonished Mr. Converse. "Conscience has tripped me. I can't do it."
"Do you mean to intimate that you have been tricking me, sir?"
"I mean to say, Mr. Converse, that I had proposed to take a half-hour or so and think up some method of honestly and properly interesting you in a matter which is very dear to me—a public matter, sir. But here is how I spent that half-hour."
Frankly, simply, convincingly he related to his amazed listener the full story of what he had found in the cottage in Rose Alley.
"And therefore I had no time to ponder on my business with you—I simply turned from the young lady, and there you were, sir, coming down the club steps. I did the very best I could on short notice—but what I did was very crude. I apologize. I suppose, under the circumstances, I may as well say 'Good-night'!" He raised his hat.
But there was something in all this which piqued Converse's curiosity.
"Wait one moment. This is getting to be interesting."
A rather hazy conviction began to assure Farr that possibly chance had dealt a better stroke for him than well-considered planning. It was surely something to know that the honorable gentleman was interested.
"If you had had time to think out a method of approaching me—Let me see, your name is—"
"Mr. Farr, supposing I had been amenable to your suggestions, what is it you wanted of me?"
"I wanted you to attend a public meeting," blurted the young man. "They are men who need help—they need—"
"That's sufficient," snapped Converse. "I am not in politics. I do not address public meetings. Mr. Farr, you would have wasted your time planning. Absolutely!"
"But is there not some appeal that—"
"Useless—useless, sir." He tapped his cane, and his tones showed irritation. He whirled on his heels. "It is decidedly evident that you are a stranger in these parts, sir. On that account I forgive your presumption."
At that moment a jigger-wagon rumbled to a halt near them. The corner light had revealed them to the driver.
"Mr. Farr," called the man, "it hasn't taken long for the news of what you did at the meeting to-night to travel around among the boys. And we ain't going to let you get ahead of us, sir."
"The more, the merrier, in a good cause," said Farr; but he was staring regretfully at the back of Mr. Converse, who had begun his retreat.
"I want to tell you I'm on the executive committee of the State Teamsters Union, Mr. Farr. I've been talking the matter up and I can promise you that the union as a body will vote to lend horses and men to carry your spring-water free gratis. And I hope that gent who's starting up-town where the dudes are will tell 'em that there are honest men enough left to protect the poor folks from that poison water him and his rich friends are pumping out of the river to us."
The Honorable Archer Converse halted his departure very suddenly.
"You are not referring to me, are you, my man?"
"I am if you're tied up with that Consolidated Water Company bunch," stated the unterrified member of the proletariat.
Mr. Converse retraced his steps. He shook his cane at the driver.
"I want to inform you very distinctly, sir, that I am not interested in the Consolidated."
"Dawson, apologize to this gentleman," Farr admonished the driver.
"I'm sorry I said anything," muttered the man. "But all dudes look alike to me," he told himself under his breath.
Mr. Converse appeared to be considerably disturbed by the humble citizen's sneer in regard to the Consolidated matter. He addressed himself to Farr.
"I have been touched on a point where I am very sensitive," he informed the young man. "I do not condone the policies of the Consolidated in regard to their control of franchises. Their system of operation has introduced a bad element into our finance and politics. I would be sorry to be misunderstood by the people of this state."
"I hope you will not be misunderstood, sir," averred Farr, with humility.
"In order to show you my stand in the matter and so that you may correct any misunderstanding among your friends in these quarters," proceeded Mr. Converse, stiffly, "I will inform you that I am taking the case of the citizens' syndicate of Danburg on appeal up to our highest court. We hope to prove criminal conspiracy. We hope to show up some of the corruption in the state. That is why I have gone into the case."
"I thank you for informing me. I have been trying to fight the Consolidated in my own humble way."
The eminent lawyer came closer and was promptly interested.
"I am in search of information of all kinds, sir. Kindly explain."
Eliminating himself as much as possible, Farr described the operations of the Co-operative Spring Water Association. But he could not eliminate the man on the box-seat of the jigger-wagon. When Farr had finished his brief explanation that loyal admirer gave in some enthusiastic testimony in regard to the man who had devised the plan and had sacrificed his time in efforts to extend the system. He kept on until Farr checked him.
"I will say, Mr. Converse, before you leave, that I'd like to have you carry away a right opinion of me. I was not trying to drag you to a mere political gathering. There are some poor men assembled just now in this quarter who need a sympathetic listener and a little good advice. They are also trying to get justice from the Consolidated and all the general oppression it represents."
"Where are those men?" asked Converse, after a pause during which he wrinkled his brows and tapped his cane.
Farr pointed down the street. Not far away a low-hung transparency heralded "The Square Deal Club."
Mr. Converse gazed in that direction and hesitated a few moments longer.
"You assure me that it's not a mere political rally?"
"I do, sir!"
Then the son of General Converse gallantly extended his arm.
"I'll be glad to be escorted by you, Mr. Farr," he said. "Now that I understand this thing a bit better, I am going to break one of my rules." As they walked along he remarked: "A man's affairs are sometimes directed and controlled for him in a most singular fashion. Little things change preconceived notions very suddenly."
"They do, sir," agreed Walker Farr.
CONSCIENCE ENLISTING A RECRUIT
A man who stood at the head of the stairs, an outpost, saw them coming and ran and opened a door ahead of them. The door admitted to a hall which was packed with men who were ranged on settees and stood in the aisles and at the sides of the big room.
"Make way for the Honorable Archer Converse," shrieked their avant courier, excitedly.
"Three cheers for the Honorable Archer Converse," called a voice, and all the men came on to their feet and yelled lustily.
The distinguished guest climbed upon the platform—Farr close at his heels. The young man placed a chair for the lawyer and remained standing. He raised his hand to command silence.
"This is rather unexpected, boys. But this distinguished man happened to be passing our hall to-night and has dropped in on us in a purely informal manner. It's a great honor, and I want to say to him for all of us that the old Square Deal Club is mighty grateful. I ask you to rise, gentlemen of the club."
All came to their feet again.
"Bow your heads and for thirty seconds of deep silence pay your respect and veneration to the memory of our great war governor, General Aaron Converse."
The Honorable Archer Converse looked forth over those bowed and bared heads. The most of them were gray heads, and toil-worn hands were clasped in front of those men. And when at last the faces were raised to his there was an appealing earnestness in their gaze which touched him poignantly.
"Boys, the son of that great man is present. How will you express your admiration and respect for him?"
They cheered again tumultuously.
Farr walked to the edge of the platform.
"It is kind and generous of Mr. Converse to consent to step in here for a few moments this evening. I will leave the meeting in his hands."
There was a hush for a moment. Then the guest carried his chair to the extreme front edge of the platform.
"I don't know just what sort of meeting this is—I have not been fully informed," he said, very crisply. "But I want it distinctly understood that I am not here to make any speech. Your faces indicate that you are very much in earnest in regard to the business you are met to consider. I am assured that this is no mere political rally?"
"No," somebody replied.
"I'm glad of that. I am not in politics. The political mess grows to be nastier every year. But what are you here for? Come, now! Come! Let's talk it over." He was a bit brusque, but his tone was kindly.
A man who stood up in the middle of the hall was rather shabby in his attire, but he had the deep eyes of one who thinks.
"Honored sir," he said, "I don't stand up as one presuming to speak for all the rest. But I have talked with many men. I know what some of us want. We don't expect that laws or leaders will make lazy men get ahead in the world or that victuals can be legislated into the cupboard without a man gets out and hustles for 'em. I have worked at a bench ever since I was fourteen. I expect to work there until I drop out. I don't want any political office. I couldn't fill one. But why is it that the only men who get into office are the kind who turn around and get rich selling off property which belongs to all of us—I mean the franchises for this, that, and the other?" He sat down.
A thin man in the front row got up.
"Honorable Archer Converse, one franchise that was given away by those men years ago was the right to furnish water to this city. A private concern got hold of that franchise. It holds the right to-day. It saves money by pumping its water out of the Gamonic River. Saves money and wastes lives. The Board of Health's reports show that there were eleven hundred cases of typhoid fever in this city last year. In my family my mother and two of my children died. I shiver every time I touch a tap—but spring-water that can be depended on costs us at the grocer's a dollar for a five-gallon carboy—and my wages are only ten dollars a week. There are lakes twenty miles from this city. Pure water there for all of us! But every tap drips sewage from the Gamonic River. Haven't we got any leaders who will make that water company pump health instead of death?"
"They sent 'Tabulator' Burke up for ballot frauds," said a voter who stood up in a far corner. "But anybody in this city understands well enough that the judge who sent him to state prison knew who the real chaps were, knew how much the real ones paid 'Tabulator' to take the whole blame. And the governor knows it all and has just reappointed that judge."
The Honorable Archer Converse sat very straight in his chair and listened to those men. He continued to sit straight and listened to others. The men dealt in no diatribe. There was no raving, there was no anarchistic sentiments. They arose, uttered their grievances gloomily but without passion, and sat down.
One elderly man stood up and raised both hands.
"I came across the sea to this country, sir. I came because I could have my little share in the government where I paid taxes and labored—I could vote here. It's the only public privilege I have. But, O God, give us some one to vote for!"
"I sympathize with your feelings," replied Mr. Converse. "But you are talking to the wrong man. I'm not in politics."
"By the gods, you will be if my nerve only holds out," Farr told himself.
Another man sprang to his feet. He spoke quietly, but his very repression made him more effective.
"What's the good of voting till men like you do get into politics, Mr. Converse, and give us leaders who will use their power to help the people who voted for them? I'm sick of voting. I'm teamed up to the polls by ward workers—and I know just why those men are in the game and who they're working for. What do you suppose Colonel Dodd cares which side carries this city, or which side carries the state? He and his crowd stand to win, whatever party gets in. You can't beat 'em. Business is business, no matter what politics may be! The city money is wasted just the same, the policy game is let run for the benefit of the rich men who back it, all the grafts go right on. You can't fool me any longer. They stir us poor chaps up at election-time, we rush to the polls and vote, and sometimes think we are accomplishing something. But what we're doing is simply boosting out some fellow who has made his pile and putting in another who wants office so that he can fill his own pockets by selling our common rights out to the same men. I say, you can't beat it!"
The Honorable Archer Converse seemed to find his position on the platform uncomfortable. He rose suddenly and stepped down on the floor. He went among the men. He grasped the hands that were outstretched to him. He realized that he had scant encouragement for these men. The meeting had given him new light. He knew considerable about the old days, and in the old days of politics men flocked to rallies. They harkened humbly to speeches from their leaders, and swallowed the sugar-coated facts, and listened to bands, and joined the torch-light parades, and voted according to party lines, and thought they had done well; the surface of things was nicely slicked over.
He understood that out of the ease with which the mob could be herded, with others doing their thinking for them, had grown politics as a business—with the big interests dominating both parties—and no one realized how it had all come about better than Converse. This new spirit, however, rather surprised him, for he had been keeping aloof from politics. These men who crowded about him were not mere dumb, driven voters in the mass—they were individuals who were thinking, who were demanding, who were seeking a leader that would consider them as citizens to be served, not chattels to be sold to the highest bidder. His keen lawyer's insight understood all this!
"I'm a butcher down in the stock-yards, Mr. Converse," said one man, who pressed forward. "We've got trained bulls there who tole the cattle along into the slaughter-pens. I've got tired of being a steer in politics and following these old trained bulls."
Converse worked his way through the press to the door, Farr at his heels.
When they were on the street the honorable gentleman turned sharply toward the Boulevard.
"I haven't any spirit or taste to-night for moonlight in the park, sir! A nice trick you played on me."
"I wanted you to get a first-hand notion of a state of affairs, Mr. Converse."
"But you ought to understand my temperament better—you ought to know it's going to stick in my mind, worry me, vex me, set me to seeking for remedies. It's just as if I'd been retained on a case. I feel almost duty-bound to pitch in."
"It's strange how a man gets pulled into a thing sometimes—into something he had no idea of meddling with," philosophized Farr, blandly. "That's the way it has happened in my case."
"It has, eh?" demanded Mr. Converse, sharply. He had tacitly accepted the young man's companionship for the walk back to the Boulevard. "Now, look here! Just who are you?"
"My name is Farr and I'm nothing."
"You needn't bluff me—you're a politician—a candidate for something."
"I'm not even a voter in this state. It's men like you, sir, who ought to be candidates for the high offices."
"My sainted father trained me to respect self-sacrifice, Mr. Farr. But for a clean man to try to accomplish things for the people in politics these days isn't self-sacrifice—it's martyrdom. The cheap politicians heap the fagots, the sneering newspapers light the fire and keep blowing it with their bellows, and the people stand around and seem to show a sort of calm relish in watching the operation. And when it is all over not a bit of good has been done."
"I'm afraid I have wasted an evening for you, sir. I'm sorry. I hoped the troubles of those men, when you heard them at first hand, would interest you."
"Interest me! Confound it all, you have wrecked my peace of mind! I knew it all before. But I'm selfish, like almost everybody else. I kept away where I couldn't hear about these things. Now, if I sleep soundly to-night I'll be ashamed to look up at my father's portrait when I walk into my office to-morrow morning. Why didn't you have better sense than to coax me into your infernal meeting?" He rapped his cane angrily against the curbstone as he strode on. "And the trouble with me is," continued Mr. Converse, with much bitterness, "I know the conditions are such in this state that a meeting like that can be assembled in every city and town—and the complaints will be just and demand help. But there's no organization—it's only blind kittens miauling. It's damnable!"
"But this is the kind of country where some mighty quick changes can be made when the people do get their eyes open," suggested the young man.
Mr. Converse merely grunted, tapping his cane more viciously.
They were on the frontier of the Eleventh Ward now. The brighter lights of the avenues of up-town blazed before them.
"Then you will not go into politics?" inquired Farr.
"I'd sooner sail for India with a cargo of hymn-books and give singing-lessons to Bengal tigers."
"Good night, sir," said Farr. He halted on the street corner which marked the boundary of the ward.
"Good night, sir!" replied Mr. Converse, striding on.
The young man watched him out of sight. He heard the angry clack of the cane on the stones long after the Honorable Archer Converse had turned the next corner.
"Maxim in the case of a true gentleman," mused Farr: "tap his conscience on the shoulder, point your finger at the enemy, say nothing, simply stand back and give conscience plenty of elbow-room—it needs no help. There, by the grace of God, goes the next governor of this state."
CONSIDERATION: ONE DAUGHTER
On the morning following his discomfiture Richard Dodd posted himself in a little tobacco-shop opposite the Trelawny Apartment-house. Lurking behind cigar-boxes in the window, he held the door of the house under surly espionage. It was plain to the shopkeeper that "the gent had made a night of it." Dodd's eyes were heavy, his face was flushed, and he lighted one cigarette after another with shaky hands.
Shortly before nine o'clock Kate Kilgour came out and walked down the avenue on the way to her work. Dodd stared after her until she was out of sight. Shame and anger and desire mingled in the steady gaze he leveled on her; in her crisp freshness she represented both the longed-for and the unattainable. He was conscious of a new sentiment in regard to her. In the past his impatience had been tempered by the comforting knowledge that she had promised herself to him—that she was his to own, to possess after a bit of tantalizing procrastination. Now he was not at all sure of her. He had been just a bit patronizing in the past—his successes with women had inflated his conceit—he had exhibited a rather careless air of proprietorship—his manner had said to her and to others, "This is mine; look at it!" But now when he had watched her out of sight jealousy, anger, the sour conviction that he had forfeited her regard combined to make him desperate, and the excesses of the night before kindled a flame which heated all his evil passions.
He threw away his cigarette, cursed roundly aloud, and hurried across the street into the Trelawny.
When Mrs. Kilgour admitted him to her suite she clung to the door-casing, exhibiting much trepidation.
He stepped in, closed the door, and put his back against it.
"Have you got those hysterics out of you so that you can listen to me and then talk sense?" he demanded, coarsely.
She went into her sitting-room and he followed, muttering:
"No wonder you ran away from me last night—no wonder you didn't have the face to stay and take what you deserve. How in tophet I ever allowed you to plan and manage I can't understand."
"You asked me to," she faltered.
"I didn't ask you to rig up a dirty conspiracy to queer me."
"Richard, you are not yourself. You have been drinking!" She tried to exhibit protesting indignation and failed. "Come to me when you are yourself."
"There's no more of this to-morrow business goes with me, Mrs. Kilgour. I'll admit that you're Kate's mother. But just now you are something else. You have tried to do me, and nobody gets by with that stuff—man, woman, or child. We'll have our settlement here and now."
"I did the best I could," she wailed.
"Out of what damnation novel did you get that idea?" he raged.
"It seemed to be a good plan, Richard. I swear by everything sacred I thought it would come out all right. Don't rave at me." Her voice sunk to an appealing whisper. She picked up a book from her table. "If you will only listen—"
"So you did get it out of a novel! My God! what have your fool ideas done to me?"
"How do you dare to talk to Kate's mother like that?"
"I am not talking to Kate's mother, I tell you! I'm talking to a woman who has put me into a hell on earth. I'm talking to you, Mrs. Kilgour, and you don't know the whole story yet."
"All my life it has been the same—only trouble and sorrow and to be misunderstood." She began to sob.
"Is there anything in that novel about ringing in an iceman to break up a marriage? I say it was all a conspiracy. You didn't intend to be square. You intended to rig a scheme so that you could duck out from under. You have always done that, Mrs. Kilgour."
"I had nothing to do with that man coming in."
"Don't try to fool me any more. You told me to come, didn't you? You must have told some yarn to your daughter to have her come."
"I did—it was all—"
"And then you told that plug-ugly to come in, too, and break it up so as to queer me. Why did I ever fall for such lunacy? If I hadn't been desperate I would never have let you drag me into such a devilish scheme. But now you have got to do your part to square me. It's going to be straight talk from now on, Mrs. Kilgour. There must be a settlement between us."
She looked away from him. She was plainly searching her soul for excuses to postpone that settlement.
"That person who came in, Dicky! I swear I did not arrange any such thing. He is only an iceman. I don't know the man. It was some accident. If the matter hadn't been interrupted! It was going along all right."
"What's the matter with your intellect? You know it wasn't going along at all! You simply had us chasing shadows. Good God! I ought to have made you tell me what you were planning. Think of it! Think of me waltzing down there like a boob and thinking you had something real to offer."
"But you frightened her with that jailbird. You should have brought a real clergyman."
"The man I brought has the power to perform marriages! I would have made a nice spectacle towing a clergyman into that mess, wouldn't I?"
She broke in upon his further speech. She wrung her hands, paltering, pleading, trying to explain, trying more desperately to postpone that settlement he was demanding.
"But, honestly, it did seem to be a good plan, Dicky. I'm her mother. I know her nature. You know how some natures have to be handled! She is so self-centered. She has to be taken by surprise. She has to know that she is making a sacrifice. That is why I arranged it all for Rose Alley and borrowed that house. And I had it all planned out what to say to her at the last moment there."
"Well, what was this great thing you were going to say?" He glared at her, disgust and suspicion in his eyes.
She flushed. She hesitated, unable to meet his gaze.
"It's no use to tell you now, Dicky. Somehow, now that I come to think it all over, it sounds rather tame. It all did seem so plausible, what I was going to say when I sat down and planned out the thing. And the romance of it—you know even self-centered girls like to feel that a man wants them so much that he gets desperate—and she said once that she would marry you some time—perhaps—and—"
"Oh, you—you—" He broke in and then stopped, lacking words. "What's the use?" he muttered. "You don't even know your own daughter. She has been enduring me because you have been keeping at her. I understand it now. You told me you could hurry it up. You have made me look like a melodrama villain. You have made her hate me. Now own up! Didn't she rave to you after you got home and tell you she hated me? You have nailed me to the cross for ever where she is concerned—now haven't you? Own up."
"I can win her back, Dicky. Give me a little time." But she was not able to look at him. "Don't scold me any more. I'm her mother. She will obey her own mother in time. Don't hurt my sensitive nature any more." She began to weep, twisting her rings on her trembling fingers.
He scowled at her, narrowing his eyes. "You haven't been playing square with me, Mrs. Kilgour."
"Call me Mother Kilgour, Dicky, just as you always have."
"I won't stand for any more bluffing, Mrs. Kilgour. Kate has sworn to you that she will never marry me—now hasn't she?"
"But I can talk her around—you can win her back. I'll tell her it was my plan—I'll have courage to tell her later—"
"So you have been laying that crazy idea all to me?"
"But I'll get up courage to tell her some day—and your devotion will win her back—devotion always wins. You can—"
"Mrs. Kilgour, I know you pretty well. I repeat, I know you have always ducked out from under—that's your nature. But here's a thing you can't dodge. You've got to come to time. You know how I love Kate. There isn't any reason why she shouldn't marry me. There's no excuse for her holding me off the way she does. You've got to fix it for me—quick! Understand? This fluff talk about 'devotion' and 'some day' doesn't go. I want action. Now hold on! I don't mean to threaten—I've been square with you till now. Good gad, you don't realize what a price I've paid!"
"And now on top of your other insults you are going to twit me again because I have borrowed five thousand dollars from you. Oh, Dicky, I thought you were more of a gentleman?"
"Mrs. Kilgour, I have simply got to make you understand what I have done for you before you'll wake up and do something for me."
"I appreciate what you did, Dicky. Honestly, I do. You save me from losing money on my stocks."
"Where are those stocks?"
She did not look at him. "I have them put away—all safe. They are all right. Just as soon as business is better I will get your money for you, Dicky. You shall have it, every cent."
"Where are those stocks, I say! Mrs. Kilgour, look at me. Were are they?"
"Why are you so particular about knowing where they are?" Protecting herself, she showed a flicker of resentment.
"Because you must sell and hand me that money—at once."
"I—I don't believe I can realize on them just now. They are—are down just at present. They—"
"What are the stocks?"
"I don't care to reveal my private business, Richard."
"It happens to be my business, too. I'm in trouble. I must know. I shall stay here till I find out. You may as well come across."
"As soon as I can arrange it—I will tell you. Very soon now!"
He snapped himself out of his chair and went across the room to her. He put his hands on her shoulders and bent his face to hers.
"You haven't any stocks, Mrs. Kilgour."
"No," she whispered, his eyes dominating her.
"What did you do with that money I loaned you?"
"I paid—a debt."
"What debt? Answer! This thing must be cleared up—now!"
She began to weep.
"No more hysterics, Mrs. Kilgour. We are now down to cases. Something bad will happen if you don't confide in me."
Then, cornered, with the impulse of weak natures to seek support from stronger—to appeal to a victor who cannot be eluded—she blurted the truth.
"They got to suspecting me when I was cashier for Dalton & Company. I heard they were going to put experts upon my books, Dicky. I didn't want to go to jail. I would have disgraced Kate. I knew you loved her and would not want her mother to be arrested. I had to have that money. I told you the story about the stocks. So I was saved from being disgraced."
"Oh, you were?" His eyes flamed so furiously that she turned her gaze from him.
"And now I feel better, for I have confided in you and you're going to be my good and true friend from now on. It will be made up to you, Dicky."
"What had you done with all that money you took from Dalton & Company?"
"It costs so much to live—and keep up the position I had when Andrew was alive! A woman needs so many things, Richard. I have always been proud. I was obliged to—"
He swore and swung away from her. "Wasted it on dress and jewelry! You turned the trick on one man and put him underground. And I'm the next victim! I knew I was being played for a sucker, but, oh—"
He battered his fists against the wall in pure ecstasy of rage. Then he sat down and put his face in his hands.
The woman clucked sobs which did not ring true.
"I wonder what Kate would say if she knew how I had come to the scratch. She knew her father was a hero. I wonder whether she would think I am one!" he said, after silence had continued for a long time.
"Are you going to tell her?" the mother gasped.
"I love her too much. But, see here! Do you think I picked that five thousand off a rose-bush?"
"You told me your uncle loaned it to you."
"You think I got it easy—got it for the asking, and that's why you have been loafing on the job," he said, with bitterness. "Ask my uncle for money? I should say not. He never loosened for anybody yet—not even his relatives. Mrs. Kilgour, I love your daughter so much—I was so anxious to help you—I stole that five thousand from the state treasury. I have been covering it in my accounts for more than a year—hell all the time with plenty of white-hot when the legislative committee has been over the accounts. Some day some blasted fool will wake up enough to see that there's a hole in my figures."
He put his elbows on his knees and stared at the carpet. The woman's face grew white.
"That's how it stands with me, Mrs. Kilgour. You know you were not square with me at the start. You said you needed the money for only a few weeks—you said you were pinched in a stock deal. You lied to me. You have wasted the money on fine feathers for your back. I have kept still. You can't pay me. I've got to struggle out of the mess as best I can. But, by the eternal gods, there's something coming to me, and that's your daughter. Now are you going to wake up?"
"I'll do everything I can." Her tone was not convincing, however.
He realized that this woman with the pulpy conscience and the artificial emotions, selfish and a coward, was merely vaguely stirred by his revelation, not spurred by the extent of his sacrifice in her behalf.
"Do what you can? Whine to me like that after I have stolen state's money and am standing under my steal? What if this state tips over politically and they investigate the treasury? I tell you, Mrs. Kilgour, I deserve to have Kate. I'm going to have her. You have got to fix it—and right away."
"But I can't marry off a girl of twenty as if she were a Chinese slave." His insistence caused her to display more of her pettish resentment.
"If you can't deliver the goods, Mrs. Kilgour, I shall take a hand in it."
"I'll tell her the story."
"You wouldn't dare."
"She has a sense of honor and of obligation even if you haven't. She will pay. She'll pay with herself. That's a devil of a way to get a wife, but if that's the only way I'll take it."
"But you have just owned up that you have embezzled money. As Kate's mother it's my duty to protect her from disgrace."
That amazing declaration fairly took away Dodd's breath.
By the manner in which the woman now looked at him it was plain that he had sunk in her estimation.
"You know, Richard, a mother feels called on to protect a good daughter."
He got up and stamped on the floor in his passion and swore.
"I appreciate what you did for me—but, really, I didn't ask you to steal money—and I supposed your uncle was always liberal with you. You should not have told me falsehoods."
The maddening feature of this calm assumption of superiority was the fact that the woman seemed really to believe for the moment exactly what she was saying and to forget why Dodd had jeopardized his fortunes; her manner showed her shallow estimate of the situation.
"There's another way of doing it," raged the young man, infuriated by this repudiation of obligation. "I'll blow the whole thing about the two of us—and she'll be glad enough to have me after it's all over."
"You haven't any right to bring all this trouble and disgrace into my family."
"You know one way of preventing it and you'd better get busy, Mrs. Kilgour," he advised. "I'm going to give you another chance of keeping your word and paying your debt to me. I want Kate—and I have waited for her long enough."
He clapped on his hat and hurried away.
He left the mother sprawled on a couch, her ringed hands clutched into her dyed hair. She was still clucking sobs which would not have convinced any unprejudiced hearer that she felt real grief.
When Richard Dodd entered his uncle's offices in the First National block a little later he was in the mood to force his affairs a bit. He enjoyed liberties there which the ordinary caller did not have and he walked into Kate Kilgour's little room without attracting attention or comment.
"I know exactly how you feel about last night, Kate." He addressed her respectfully and humbly. "I understand that this is no place to discuss the matter. I haven't come here to do so. I apologize for the affair. I'm going to say this to you—I took your mother's advice. She planned the thing and trumped up the errand which called you to that house. I'm afraid she is rather too romantic. I only say this, Kate: a man's love can make him do foolish things. Please talk with your mother when you go home—and take her advice. If you do, it will be better for all of us." He trembled with the restraint he had put upon himself. "You can see that I have been punished, Kate. I am a different man—you ought to be able to see it. Awful trouble has come to me. I need your love to help me through it."
She gazed at him with level, cold eyes.
"You don't understand. I can't explain, dear! But I'm telling you the truth. Kate, if you don't forget that folly I was guilty of last night and be to me what you have been—if you don't marry me very soon you will be sorry."
"Are you threatening me, Richard?"
"No, I didn't mean it to sound like that. But I know that with your appreciation of what sacrifice means you will be very unhappy if you toss me away and then find out certain things."
"This is not the time for riddles, Richard. What do you mean?"
"I have said all I can say."
"I do not love you well enough to be your wife. I have not meant to play the coquette. I have not known myself. You and my mother—Oh, why rehearse? You know the story. You have understood that my love for you was not what you should have. We may as well end it here and now, Richard. I will forget last night. I will forget all the rest—for it is ended!"
"It cannot be ended," he retorted. "Understand! It cannot be ended. I am trying to hold myself together, Kate. Don't provoke me. I call on you to keep your promise. No other man shall have you." He leaned close. "Do you love any other man?"
She looked up at him and spoke slowly and gravely. "I do not think I do, Richard."
He scowled at her. "You don't think you do! What in the name of Judas do you mean by a remark like that?"
"It's because I'm trying to tell the truth," she returned, with simple earnestness.
"This is a sort of new mood you're in?" he persisted.
He hesitated. He started to speak and then was silent for a long time. "Damnation! I won't insult you!" he blurted at last.
"I hope not, Richard."
"What is preposterous?" Her tone was calm.
"I saw you look at a man last evening."
"I have seen women look at me like that in my life."
"I was not conscious that I looked at any man in any especial manner."
"You couldn't see yourself. Perhaps you did not realize that you looked at that man with any meaning in your eyes. But the women who looked at me as you looked at him told me that they loved me. I am talking it right out! But if I should hint that you're in love with a tramp I should insult you. I am crazy, that's all. My troubles are affecting my mind. Forgive me, Kate."
"You are, of course, referring to the young man who broke in on our prospective business last evening." There was just a touch of contempt in her demeanor; but her air was coldly business-like; sitting there at her desk she held him, physically and mentally, at arm's-length. Her poise was sure. It seemed perfectly natural for her to be discussing a young man in an impersonal manner.
"I am referring to that low-lived vagrant we met on the road—that iceman—that—well, I don't know what he is except that the devil seems to be kicking him under my feet to trip me. Kate, Kate, it's too ridiculous to talk about—that wretch!"
"Do you mean by that remark that I am taking any interest in that young man outside of mere curiosity?"
"I don't know why you should have any curiosity about a tramp."
"You are not a good student of physiognomy, Richard."
"So you have been studying him, have you? You went away with him and left me. What did he say to you? Where did he leave you? I haven't dared to think about your going away with him. I excused it because you were angry—so angry you'd even pick up a tramp for an escort. But what interest do you take in that renegade?" His tones were acrid with jealousy.
"I did not find him a renegade. I found him a mystery, Richard. And I hope that some day I will know what the mystery is."
"Are you trying to drive me mad?"
"I am merely chatting along in order to keep you off a topic which is distressing. I heard that your uncle intended to have the man investigated after he came into the office here and made that brave stand. I happened to hear the talk the young man made. Perhaps that accounts for my curiosity. Did your uncle find out much about the man?"
"I don't know what he found out," declared Dodd, rapidly losing control of himself. "But I propose to find out for myself."
"Please do, Richard," said the girl, ingenuously and earnestly. She seemed to be losing some of the hauteur she had shown at the first of their meeting.
"I'll find out enough to put him in jail, where he probably belongs. I'm not going to insult you, Kate, by any more talk about a tramp. You can't shift me from the main topic. Go home and talk with your mother, as I have told you. We are going to be married!"
"Richard, our affair is ended."
"Then who is the man?"
"There is no man."
"If you say that and mean it, then you don't know women as well as I know them. You don't know even yourself!" he declared. "I want to say to you, Kate, that we are all walking on mighty thin ice. The sooner you and I take hold of hands and get safely ashore—just you and I—the better it will be. Just let your curiosity about other men fall asleep. I tell you again, go home and talk with your mother."
He bowed, reached his hand to touch hers, but refrained when she turned suddenly to her desk and resumed her work.
Young Dodd hurried out of the building without attempting to see his uncle, and cooled his head and his passion and soothed his physical discomfort by a headlong dash in his car back to the state's capital city.
The girl took her courage in her hands and asked Mr. Peter Briggs, in as matter-of-fact tone as she could muster, whether he did not want any record copy made of his notes in regard to that person who had bearded Colonel Dodd. But Mr. Briggs informed her that the matter was not of sufficient importance.
"The fellow is merely a cheap, loafing sort—here to-day, there to-morrow," said Briggs. "I investigated him thoroughly."
Until then Miss Kilgour had always had a high opinion of Peter Briggs's acumen. She promptly revised that estimate, reflecting that age is bound to dull a person's senses and cloud his judgment.
THE HONORABLE LION CONFERS WITH COLONEL TIGER
All his people in the offices of the Honorable Archer Converse noticed that the chief was not amiable that day. His usual dignified composure was wholly lacking. He gave off orders fretfully, he slapped papers about on his desk when he worked there; every now and then he glanced up at the portrait of his distinguished father and muttered under his breath. He had called for more documents relating to state health statistics, reports on water systems, and had despatched a clerk to the capital city to secure certain additional facts, figures, and literature. The junior members of his law firm knew that he had taken much to heart the case of the citizens of Danburg, who had been blocked in their honest efforts to build a water system and who now charged various high interests with conspiracy. The litigation was important—the issues revolutionary. But the juniors had never seen the chief fussed up by any law case before.
Then something really did happen!
The three citizens of Danburg who had occasionally conferred with him came into his office and lined up in front of him. Mr. Davis scratched his chin and blinked meekly, Mr. Erskine exhibited his nervousness by running his fingers around inside his collar, and Mr. Owen fairly oozed unspoken apology.
"Look here, gentlemen," snapped Mr. Converse, "I'm not ready for you. I told you not to come until next week. I have an immense mass of material to study. You're only wasting time—mine and yours—coming here to-day."
"Well, you see, your honor," stammered Davis, "we came to-day so as to save you more trouble and work."
"Work!" echoed Mr. Converse, seizing the arms of his chair and shoving an astonished face forward.
"Why—why—you see we've decided not to push this case any further. And whatever is owing to you—name the sum." He did not relish the glow which was coming into the attorney's eyes, nor the grim wrinkles settling about the thin lips. "So that there won't be any hard feelings, in any way," Davis hastened to say.
"What has happened to you men all of a sudden?" demanded the lawyer. "Explain! Speak up!"
Davis's face was red, and he found much difficulty in replying.
"Well—you see—you know—if you get into law you never know when you're going to get out. We feel that this case is bound to drag! It's an awful big case—and they've got lots of money to fight us."
"I told you I'd take your case for bare expenses and court fees," stormed the lawyer. "It's a case I wanted to prosecute."
"We know—you were mighty fine about it—but we've decided different. You see, the Consolidated—"
Mr. Converse came onto his feet and shook his finger under Davis's nose. "Don't you dare to tell me you have sold out to the Consolidated," he shouted in tones that rang through his offices and brought all his force to the right about and attention.
"That wasn't it—exactly. But they'll take it off our hands—will do the right thing, now that we have shown 'em a few things! Colonel Dodd has seen new light. And it is too good a price for us to throw down."
"You have let those monopolists buy you off. They have paid you a big bribe because they are getting scared. They were afraid they had played the old game once too often. I have them where I want them! No, my men! You've got to fight this thing, I say."
"You can't drag us into law unless we're willing to go," stated Davis, doggedly. "We've taken their money and the papers have been passed—and that settles it. We haven't done anything different than the others have done in this state."
"No, and that's the trouble with this state," cried Converse, with passion. "You came in here at first and talked like men—like honest men who had good reason for righteous anger—and I took your case. And now you sneak back here and give up your fight—bribed after I clubbed them until they were willing to offer you enough money."
"We have only done what straight business men would do Mr. Converse," declared Owen.
"We had a chance to go to the high court with a case that would open up the whole rottenness in this state before we got done fighting, and you have sold out!"
"Good day. We don't have to listen to such talk," said Erskine.
"You wait one minute." The lawyer pulled open a drawer and found his check-book. He wrote hastily and tore out the check. "Here's that retaining-fee you paid me. Now get out of my office."
He drove them ahead of him to the door, shouting insistent commands that they hurry.
When they were gone he gazed about at his astonished associates, his partners, and his clerks.
"I apologize most humbly ladies and gentlemen, for making such a disturbance. I—I hardly seem to be myself to-day."
He went to his desk and sat down and stared up at the portrait of War-Governor Converse for a long time. At last he thumped his fist on his desk and shook his head.
"No," he declared, as if the portrait had been asking him a question and pressing him for a reply, "I can't do it. I could have gone into the courts and fought them as an attorney. I could have maintained my self-respect. But not in politics—no—no! It's too much of a mess in these days."
But he pushed aside the papers which related to the affairs of the big corporations for which he was counsel and kept on studying the reports which his clerks had secured for him—such statements on health and financial affairs as they were able to dig up.
A day later his messenger brought a mass of data back from the State House along with a story about insolent clerks and surly heads of departments who offered all manner of slights and did all they dared to hinder investigation.
"It's a pretty tough condition of affairs, Mr. Converse," complained the clerk, "when a state's hired servants treat citizens as if they were trespassers in the Capitol. It has got so that our State House isn't much of anything except a branch office for Colonel Dodd."
"But you told them from what office you came—from my office?"
"Of course I did, sir."
"Well, what did they say?"
The clerk's face grew red and betrayed sudden embarrassment.
"Oh, they—they—didn't say anything special: just uppish—only—"
"What did they say?" roared Mr. Converse. "You've got a memory! Out with it! Exact words."
Clerks were taught to obey orders in that office.
"They said," choked the man, "that simply because your father was governor of this state once you needn't think you could tell folks in the State House to stand around! They said you didn't cut any ice in politics."
"That's the present code of manners, eh? Insult a citizen and salaam to a politician!"
"Mr. Converse, I waited an hour in the Vital Statistics Bureau while the chief smoked cigars with Alf Symmes, that ward heeler. I had sent in our firm card, and the chief held it in his hand and flipped it and smoked and sat where he could look out at me and grin—and when Symmes had finished his loafing they let me in."
Mr. Converse turned to his desk and plunged again into the data.
The next day he put a clerk at the long-distance telephone to call physicians in all parts of the state—collecting independent information in regard to the past and present prevalence of typhoid; he read certain official reports with puckered brow and little mutters of disbelief, and after he had read for a long time that disbelief was very frank. Mr. Converse had rather keen vision in matters of prevarication, even when the lying was done adroitly with figures.
He was not a pleasant companion for his office force during those days; his irascibility seemed to increase. He knew it himself, and he felt a gentleman's shame because of a state of mind which he could not seem to control.
And finally, out of the complexity of his emotions, he fully realized that he was angry at himself and that his anger at himself was growing more acute from the fact that he realized that the anger was justified. For he woke to the knowledge that he had allowed himself to grow selfish. He resented the fact that anybody should expect him to meddle with public affairs—to get into the muddle of politics. And he knew he ought to be ashamed of such selfishness—and, therefore, he grew more angry at himself as he continued to harbor resentment against any agency which threatened to drag him into public life.
He knew where the shell of that selfishness had been broken—it was cracked in the meeting where his chivalry had received its call to arms in behalf of the helpless. Those men had gazed at him, had told their troubles—and had left it all to his conscience! He did not believe those men were shrewd enough to understand so exactly in what fashion he could be snared in their affairs.
"Confound that rascal who inveigled me there!" ran his mental anathema of the strange young man. "He must have been the devil, wearing that frock-coat to hide his forked tail. And here I am now, fighting for peace of mind!"
And his struggle for his peace of mind drove him, at last, to set his hat very straight on his head and march across the street to Colonel Symonds Dodd's office.
The Honorable Archer Converse had made up his mind that no influence in the world could pull or push him into politics. He held firmly fixed convictions as to what would happen to a good man in politics. To get office this man of principle would be obliged to fight manipulators with their own choice of weapons. And once in office, all his motives would be mocked and his movements assailed. Converse was a keen man who had studied men; he was not one of those amiable theorists who believe that the People always have sense enough in the mass to turn to and elect the right men for rulers. He understood perfectly well that accomplishing real things in politics is not a game of tossing rose-petals.
He went to call on Colonel Dodd. He went with the lofty purpose of a patriotic citizen, resolved to exhort the colonel to clean house. It seemed to be quite the natural thing to do, now that the idea had occurred to him. Certainly Colonel Dodd would listen to reason—would wake up when the thing was presented to him in the right manner; he must understand that new fashions had come to stay in these days of reform.
Thinking it all over, considering that really the matter of this water-supply and attendant monopoly of franchises had become an evil, that the prospects of the party would be endangered if the party leaders continued to nurse this evil, Mr. Converse was certain that he and the colonel would be able to arrange for reform, by letting the colonel do the reforming.
They faced each other. Their respective attitudes told much!
Colonel Dodd filled his chair in front of his desk, using all the space in it, swelling into all its concavities—usurping it all.
The Honorable Archer Converse sat very straight, his shoulders not touching his chair-back.
Physically they represented extremes; mentally, morally, and in political ethics they were as divergent as their physical attributes.
"I'm sorry that you were able to take those Danburg men into camp," said Mr. Converse, couching his lance promptly and in plain sight like an honorable antagonist. "I had been retained and proposed to expose conditions in the management of water systems."
"I don't know what you mean," replied the colonel, following his own code of combat and mentally fumbling at a net to throw over this antagonist.
"Yes, you do," retorted Mr. Converse. "You know better than I do because you own the water systems of this state. But if you need to be reminded, Colonel, I'll say that you are making great profits. You can afford to tap lakes—spend money for mains even if you do have to go fifteen or twenty miles into the hills around the cities and towns."
"Whom do you represent, sir?"
"Colonel Dodd, I think—really—that I'm representing you when I give you mighty good advice and do not charge for it."
"I've got my own lawyers, Mr. Converse."
Both men were employing politeness that was grim, and they were swapping glances as duelists slowly chafe swords, awaiting an opening.
Sullen anger was taking possession of the colonel, thus bearded.
Righteous indignation, born from his bitterness of the past few days, made Converse's eyes flash.
"You are one of the richest men in this state, Colonel Dodd, and your money has come to you from the pockets of the people—tolls from thousands of them. Remember that!"
"Huh!" snorted the colonel, looking up at a bouquet.
It is not often given to men to place proper estimate on their own limitations. Otherwise, the Honorable Archer Converse would never have gone in person to prevail upon Colonel Symonds Dodd. In temperament and ethics they were so far asunder that conference between them on a common topic was as hopeless an undertaking as would be argument between a tiger and a lion over the carcass of a sheep.
Mr. Converse rose, unfolding himself with dignified angularity.
"I must remind you, sir, that I belong to the political party of which you assume to be boss. If you refuse to give common justice to the people, then you are using that party to cover iniquity."
Colonel Dodd worked himself out of his chair and stood up. "I am taking no advice from you, sir, as to how I shall manage business or politics."
"Perhaps, sir, in regard to your business I can only exhort you to be honest, but as regards the party which my honored father led to victory in this state I have something to say, by gad! sir, when I see it being led to destruction."
"Well, sir, what have you to say?"
"I will not stand by and allow it to be ruined by men who are using it to protect their methods in business dealings."
"What ice do you think you cut in the politics of this state?" inquired the colonel, dropping into the vernacular of the politician, too angry to deal in any more grim politeness.
"Not the kind you are cutting, sir—your political ice is like the ice you cut from the poisoned rivers."
"It seems to be still popular for cranks to come here and threaten me," sneered the colonel. "It was started a while ago by a shock-headed idiot from the Eleventh Ward."
The Honorable Archer Converse displayed prompt interest which surprised the colonel. "A young man from the Eleventh Ward? Was he tall and rather distinguished-looking?"
Colonel Dodd snorted his disgust. "Distinguished-looking! He threatened me, and I had him followed. He's a ward heeler. Better look him up!" His choler was driving him to extremes. He was pricked by his caller's high-bred stare of disdain. "He seems to be another apostle of the people who wants to tell me how to run my own business. Yes, you better look him up, Converse."
"Very well, sir! If he came in here and tried to tell you the truth about yourself he's worth knowing. Furthermore, I think I do know him."
"Ah, one of those you train with, eh? Do you like him?"
It was biting sarcasm, but to the colonel's disappointment it did not appear to affect his caller in the least. Converse even smiled—a most peculiar sort of smile.
"I must say, sir, that I have been hating him cordially."
The colonel grunted approbation.
"But from now on, sir, for reasons best known to myself, I'm going to make that young man my close and particular friend. You'll hear from us later."
He bowed stiffly and went out, leaving Colonel Dodd staring after him with his square face twisted into an expression of utter astonishment, his little eyes goggling, his tuft of whisker sticking up like an exclamation-point.
"The first appropriation the next legislature makes," he soliloquized, "will have to be money enough to build a new wing on the insane-hospital. They're all going crazy in this state, from aristocrats to tramps."
ENLISTING A KNIGHT-ERRANT
On his way down the stairs to the street the Honorable Archer Converse, moving more rapidly than was his wont, overtook and passed Kate Kilgour. He was too absorbed to notice even a pretty girl. She had finished her work for the day and was on her way home.
When she reached the street she observed something which interested her immensely: Mr. Converse suddenly flourished his cane to attract the attention of a man on the opposite side of the street. Then Mr. Converse called to him from the curb with the utmost friendliness in his tones. The girl passed near him and heard what he said. It was not a mere hail to an inferior. The eminent lawyer very politely and solicitously asked the tall young man across the way if he could not spare time to come to the Converse office.
She cast a look over her shoulder. The young man came across the street promptly. He was the man who had served her in her time of need!
She went on, but turned again. An uncontrollable impulse prompted her.
They were entering the door of the office-building, and the aristocratic hand of the Honorable Archer Converse was patting the shoulder of this stranger. Her cheeks flushed and she turned away hastily, for the young man caught her backward glance and returned an appealing smile.
"Who is he?" she asked herself, knowing well the chill reserve of Mr. Converse in the matter of mankind.
"Who are you?" demanded Mr. Converse, planting himself in front of the young man when they were in the private office.
The other met the lawyer's searching look with his rare smile. "The same man I was last time we met—Walker Farr."
"I have no right to pry into your private affairs, sir, but I have special reasons for wanting you to volunteer plenty of information about yourself."
For reply the young man spread his palms and silently, by his smile, invited inspection of himself.
"Yes, I see you. But the outside of you doesn't tell me what I want to know."
"It will have to speak for me."
"Look here, I have let myself be tied up most devilishly by a train of circumstances that you started, young man. I was minding my own private business until a little while ago."
"So was I, Mr. Converse."
"You're a moderately humble citizen, judged from outside looks just now. How did I allow myself to be pulled in as I've been?"
The young man's smile departed. "I asked myself that question a little while ago, sir, after I was pulled in, for I am a stranger—not even a voter here."
"Well, did you decide how it was?"
"I was led in by the hand of a helpless child—a poor little orphan girl whom I carried to the cemetery on my knees—a martyr—poisoned by that Consolidated water."
The lawyer was stirred by the intensity of feeling which the man's tones betrayed.
"And it was borne in upon me afresh, Mr. Converse, that the philosophy of the causes by which God moves this world of ours will never be understood by man."
"See here," snapped the son of the war governor, "take off your mask, Walker Farr! There's something behind it I want to see. You are an educated gentleman! What are you? Where did you come from?"
Again Farr spread out his palms and was silent.
"You are right about causes. You are one in my case. There may be some fatalism in me—but I'm impelled to use you in a great fight that I feel honor-bound to take up. Now be frank!"
"For all use you can make of me, Mr. Converse, my life starts from the minute I picked that little girl up from the floor of a tenement-house in this city. For what I was before is so different from what I am now that I cannot mix that identity with my affairs."
"But I cannot take a man into a matter like this unless I know all about him."
Farr rose and bowed. "I'm sorry you can't accept me at face value, sir. I'm very sorry, because I'd like to serve under such a commander as you. However, I understand your position. I don't blame you. The rule of the world is pretty binding: know a man before you associate with him. But I am as I am. There's nothing more to be said."
"You sit down," commanded Converse. "This is a case where rules of the world can be suspended. For I need the kind of man who dares to face even Symonds Dodd in his office and tell him what he is. Oh, I have just come from there," he explained in reply to Farr's stare. "He told me."
"I went merely as a voice, sir."
"But you seem to have been more than that in getting the confidence of the men in your ward. I know an organizer when I see him. I watched the faces of those men when you stepped before them. They have faith in you. That's a rare quality—the ability to inspire faith in the humble. First, faith—and then they'll follow. The movement I'm going to start needs followers, Mr. Farr! Can you do with other men what you have done with men in the Eleventh?"
"I believe I can, sir."
"Ah, you have led men in the past, have you?" Mr. Converse fired the question at him. But he did not jump Walker Farr from his equipoise. The young man took refuge behind that inscrutable smile.
"Well," sighed the lawyer, after a pause, "it's the dictum that one must be as wise as a serpent in politics, therefore I am picking out a man who will probably give a good account of himself. But it's a crazy performance of mine—going into this thing—and I may as well plunge to the extent of lunacy. Mr. Farr, the rebellious unrest in this state must be organized. We need a house-cleaning. We need the humbler voters! The men with interests are too well taken care of by the Machine to be interested. I want you to go out and hunt for sore spots and get to the voters just as you have in your ward. Find the right men in each town and city to help you. You must know many on account of your work for your water association. The fight will be financed—you need have no worry about that. Perhaps you have organized political revolts before," pursued Converse, still craftily probing. "Then you'll tell me what honorarium you expect."
"My expenses—nothing more, sir. If I had any money laid by I would pay my own way."
"I think," stated Mr. Converse, warming with the spirit of combat, glancing up at the portrait of the war governor, "that we'll be able to surprise some of the fat toads of politicians in this state, sitting so comfortably under their cabbage-leaves. You're a stranger, young man, and as you go about your work the regular politicians will simply blink at you and will not understand, I hope, provided you go softly. It is very silly of me to be in this affair, sir. But a man of my age must have peace of mind, and that infernal meeting in your ward awoke me. Furthermore," he added, displaying the acrimony that even a good man requires to spur him to honest fighting, "a cheap politician only lately flipped my card insolently and referred in slighting tones to my honored father." He rose and gave Farr his hand. "I'll have assembled here in my office at ten o'clock to-morrow morning some gentlemen who will stand for decency in public affairs as soon as they have been waked up. You will please attend that conference, Mr. Farr. We have only a short month before the state convention, and we must bring there at least a respectable number of delegates whom Symonds Dodd cannot bribe or browbeat."
"Most extraordinary—most extraordinary!" mused the Honorable Archer Converse, when he was alone. "From that meeting—to an investigation—from Dodd—to this young man—I have been leaping from crag to crag like a mountain-goat, never stopping to take breath. And here I haven't even been able to find out just who he is—and they do say I'm the best cross-examiner in this state! However, I'll show Symonds Dodd that I'm not to be sneered at, even if I have to hire Patagonians in this campaign."
Even chivalry must needs be spiced with a little strictly personal animosity to achieve its best results!
Colonel Symonds Dodd, laboriously climbing into his limousine in front of the First National block, scowled at a young man because the man grinned at him so broadly as he passed along. In his general indifference and contempt for the humble the colonel did not search his memory and did not recognize this person as the young man who had appealed to him in his office. The face seemed familiar and had some sort of an unpleasant recollection connected with it; therefore the colonel scowled. He was far from realizing that this person carried on his palm the warmth from a hand-clasp which, just a moment before, had ratified an agreement to dynamite the Dodd political throne.
If some seer had risen beside his chariot to predict disaster the colonel would have shriveled him with a contemptuous look. For the Consolidated Water Company had that day been intrenched more firmly than ever in its autocracy by a decision handed down from the Supreme Court. A city had hired the best of lawyers and had fought desperately for the right to have pure water. But the law, as expounded by the judges, had held as inexorable the provision that no city or town in the state could extend its debt limit above the legal five percent of its valuation, no matter for what purpose. The city sought for some avenue, some plan, some evasion, even, so that it might take over the water system and give its people crystal water from the lakes instead of the polluted river-water. The city pointed to typhoid cases, to slothful torpor on the part of the water syndicate. But the court could only, in the last analysis, point to the law—and that law in regard to debt limit was rooted in the constitution of the state—and a law fortified by the constitution is seldom dislodged.
Backed by law, bulwarked by political power, owning men and money-bags, Colonel Dodd rode home with great serenity. He had even forgotten his rather tempestuous half-hour with the Honorable Archer Converse. As a matter of fact, gentlemen of the aristocracy of the state who prided themselves on their ancestry were considered by Colonel Dodd to be impracticable cranks; he despised the poor and hated the proud—and called himself a self-made man. And Colonel Dodd was firmly convinced that nobody could unmake him.
He strolled among his flower-beds that evening.
Walker Farr sat in his narrow chamber and pored over interlined manuscripts. At last he shook the papers above his head, not gaily, but with grim bitterness.
"That plan will stand law, and no other lawyer ever thought of it!" he cried, aloud. "You've got an iron clutch on those cities and towns, Colonel Dodd, but I've got something that will pry your fingers loose!" He threw the papers from him and set his face in his hands. "And they ask me who I am and I can't tell them," he sobbed.
THE PROPHET WHO WAS UNDERRATED
The first sniffer to catch the trail of Walker Farr was the veteran, Daniel Breed, an old political hound who always traveled with muffled paws and nose close to the ground. But when he went to the meeting of the state committee and the Big Boys with his news their reception of him hinted that they suspected he was making up a political bugaboo in order to get a job. He was even told that his services as field man would not be needed in that campaign. And it may be imagined what effect that news had on old Daniel Breed, who had been a trusted pussy-footer and caucus manipulator for a quarter of a century.
"You don't mean to tell me that you're trying to slam me onto the scrap-heap, do you?" he demanded. "I'll scrap before I'll be scrapped."
"Look here, Dan, it's the colonel's orders," explained the chairman. "It has been decided to play politics a little more smoothly. There is too much jaw-gab going among the cranks. If there is any outside work done at all it will be put over by new chaps who are not so well advertised as you old bucks. We want to hide the machinery this year."
"That's a jobeefed nice thing to say to me, a man that would go up in a balloon and troll for hen-hawks, asking no questions, provided the state committee told me it would help in carrying a caucus."
"But we're taking care of the old boys all right, Dan. Vose is in the pension-office; Ambrose and Sturdivant are in the adjutant-general's office patching up the Civil War rolls, with orders to take their time about it. And you'll be used well."
"I want to be in the field," insisted Breed, 'sipping' his lips importantly. "Those fellows are old fuddy-duddies. I'm a natural politician."
He was an interesting figure, this Honorable Daniel Breed. He was entitled to the "Honorable." He had been a state senator from his county. With his slow, side-wheel gait, head too little for his body, nose like a beak, sunken mouth, cavernous eyes, and a light hat perched on the back of his narrow head he suggested a languid, tame, bald-headed eagle. And his voice was a dry, nasal, querulous squawk—a sound more avian than human.