"You mean the Smiths of Boston?" asked Miss Jones.
"No, of Cleveland. They're not related."
"I heard that McGhee of St. Paul will be in the city next week with his daughter."
"Yes, and the Bentleys of Chicago."
Bles passed on. He was disappointed. He was full of things to say, of mighty matters to discuss; he felt like stopping these people and crying: "Ho! What of the morning? How goes the great battle for black men's rights? I have came with messages from the host, to you who guard the mountain tops."
Apparently they were not discussing or caring about "the Problem." He grew disgusted and was edging toward the door when he encountered his hostess.
"Is all well with you, Mr. Alwyn?" she asked lightly.
"No, I'm not enjoying myself," said Bles, truthfully.
"Delicious! And why not?"
He regarded her earnestly.
"There are so many things to talk about," he said; "earnest things; things of importance. I—I think when our people—" he hesitated. Our?—was our right? But he went on: "When our people meet we ought to talk of our situation, and what to do and—"
Miss Wynn continued to smile.
"We're all talking of it all the time," she said.
He looked incredulous.
"Yes, we are," she insisted. "We veil it a little, and laugh as lightly as we can; but there is only one thought in this room, and that's grave and serious enough to suit even you, and quite your daily topic."
"But I don't understand."
"Ah, there's the rub. You haven't learned our language yet. We don't just blurt into the Negro Problem; that's voted bad form. We leave that to our white friends. We saunter to it sideways, touch it delicately because"—her face became a little graver—"because, you see, it hurts."
Bles stood thoughtful and abashed.
"I—I think I understand," he gravely said at last.
"Come here," she said with a sudden turn, and they joined an absorbed group in the midst of a conversation.
"—Thinking of sending Jessie to Bryn Mawr," Bles heard Miss Jones saying.
"Could she pass?"
"Oh, they might think her Spanish."
"But it's a snobbish place and she would have to give up all her friends."
"Yes, Freddie could scarcely visit—" the rest was lost.
"Which, being interpreted," whispered Miss Wynn, "means that Bryn Mawr draws the color line while we at times surmount it."
They moved on to another group.
"—Splendid draughtsman," a man was saying, "and passed at the head of the crowd; but, of course, he has no chance."
"Why, it's civil-service, isn't it?"
"It is. But what of that? There was Watson—"
Miss Wynn did not pause. She whispered: "This is the tale of Civil Service Reform, and how this mighty government gets rid of black men who know too much."
"But—" Bles tried to protest.
"Hush," Miss Wynn commanded and they joined the group about the piano. Teerswell, who was speaking, affected not to notice them, and continued:
"—I tell you, it's got to come. We must act independently and not be bought by a few offices."
"That's all well enough for you to talk, Teerswell; you have no wife and babies dependant on you. Why should we who have sacrifice the substance for the shadow?"
"You see, the Judge has got the substance," laughed Teerswell. "Still I insist: divide and conquer."
"Nonsense! Unite, and keep."
Bles was puzzled.
"They're talking of the coming campaign," said Miss Wynn.
"What!" exclaimed Bles aloud. "You don't mean that any one can advise a black man to vote the Democratic ticket?"
An elderly man turned to them.
"Thank you, sir," he said; "that is just my attitude; I fought for my freedom. I know what slavery is; may I forget God when I vote for traitors and slave-holders."
The discussion waxed warm and Miss Wynn turned away and sought Miss Jones.
"Come, my dear," she said, "it's 'The Problem' again." They sauntered away toward a ring of laughter.
The discussion thus begun at Miss Wynn's did not end there. It was on the eve of the great party conventions, and the next night Sam Stillings came around to get some crumbs from this assembly of the inner circle, into which Alwyn had been so unaccountably snatched, and outside of which, despite his endeavors, Stillings lingered and seemed destined to linger. But Stillings was a patient, resolute man beneath his deferential exterior, and he saw in Bles a stepping stone. So he began to drop in at his lodgings and tonight invited him to the Bethel Literary.
"What's that?" asked Bles.
"A debating club—oldest in the city; the best people all attend."
Bles hesitated. He had half made up his mind that this was the proper time to call on Miss Wynn. He told Stillings so, and told him also of the evening and the discussion.
"Why, that's the subject up tonight," Stillings declared, "and Miss Wynn will be sure to be there. You can make your call later. Perhaps you wouldn't mind taking me when you call." Alwyn reached for his hat.
When they arrived, the basement of the great church was filling with a throng of men and women. Soon the officers and the speaker of the evening appeared. The president was a brown woman who spoke easily and well, and introduced the main speaker. He was a tall, thin, hatchet-faced black man, clean shaven and well dressed, a lawyer by profession. His theme was "The Democratic Party and the Negro." His argument was cool, carefully reasoned, and plausible. He was evidently feeling for the sympathy of his audience, and while they were not enthusiastic, they warmed to him gradually and he certainly was strongly impressing them.
Bles was thinking. He sat in the back of the hall, tense, alert, nervous. As the speaker progressed a white man came in and sat down beside him. He was spectacled, with bushy eyebrows and a sleepy look. But he did not sleep. He was very observant.
"Who's speaking?" he asked Bles, and Bles told him. Then he inquired about one or two other persons. Bles could not inform him, but Stillings could and did. Stillings seemed willing to devote considerable time to him.
Bles forgot the man. He was almost crouching for a spring, and no sooner had the speaker, with a really fine apostrophe to independence and reason in voting, sat down, than Bles was on his feet, walking forward. His form was commanding, his voice deep and musical, and his earnestness terribly evident. He hardly waited for recognition from the slightly astonished president, but fairly burst into speech.
"I am from Alabama," he began earnestly, "and I know the Democratic Party." Then he told of government and conditions in the Black Belt, of the lying, oppression, and helplessness of the sodden black masses; then, turning, he reminded them of the history of slavery. Finally, he pointed to Lincoln's picture and to Sumner's and mentioned other white friends.
"And, my brothers, they are not all dead yet. The gentleman spoke of Senator Smith and blamed and ridiculed him. I know Senator Smith but slightly, but I do know his sister well."
Dropping to simple narrative, he told of Miss Smith and of his coming to school; and if his audience felt that great depth of emotion that welled beneath his quiet, almost hesitating, address, it was not simply because of what he did say, but because, too, of the unspoken story that lay too deep for words. He spoke for nearly an hour, and when he stopped, for a moment his hearers sighed and then sprang into a whirlwind of applause. They shouted, clapped, and waved while he sat in blank amazement, and was with difficulty forced to the rostrum to bow again and again. The spectacled white man leaned over to Stillings.
"Who is he?" he asked. Stillings told him. The man noted the name and went quietly out.
Miss Wynn sat lost in thought, and Teerswell beside her fumed. She was not easily moved, but that speech had moved her. If he could thus stir men and not be himself swayed, she mused, he would be—invincible. But tonight he was moved as greatly as his hearers had been, and that was dangerous. If his intense belief happened to be popular, all right; but if not? She frowned. He was worth watching, she concluded; quite worth watching, and perhaps worth guiding.
When Alwyn accompanied her home that night, Miss Wynn set herself to know him better for she suspected that he might be a coming man. The best preliminary to her purpose was, she knew, to speak frankly of herself, and that she did. She told him of her youth and training, her ambitions, her disappointments. Quite unconsciously her cynicism crept to the fore, until in word and tone she had almost scoffed at many things that Alwyn held true and dear. The touch was too light, the meaning too elusive, for Alwyn to grasp always the point of attack; but somehow he got the distant impression that Miss Wynn had little faith in Truth and Goodness and Love. Vaguely shocked he grew so silent that she noticed it and concluded she had said too much. But he pursued the subject.
"Surely there must be many friends of our race willing to stand for the right and sacrifice for it?"
She laughed unpleasantly, almost mockingly.
"Well—there's Miss Smith."
"She gets a salary, doesn't she?"
"A very small one."
"About as large as she could earn. North, I don't doubt."
"But the unselfish work she does—the utter sacrifice?"
"Oh, well, we'll omit Alabama, and admit the exception."
"Well, here, in Washington—there's your friend, the Judge, who has befriended you so, as you admit."
She laughed again.
"You remember our visit to Senator Smith?"
"Well, it got the Judge his reappointment to the school board."
"He deserved it, didn't he?"
"I deserved it," she said luxuriously, hugging her knee and smiling; "you see, his appointment meant mine."
"Well, what of it—didn't—"
"Listen," she cut in a little sharply. "Once a young brown girl, with boundless faith in white folks, went to a Judge's office to ask for an appointment which she deserved. There was no one there. The benign old Judge with his saintly face and white hair suggested that she lay aside her wraps and spend the afternoon."
Bles arose to his feet.
"What—what did you do?" he asked.
"Sit down—there's a good boy." I said: "'Judge, a friend is expecting me at two,' it was then half-past one, 'would I not best telephone?'"
"'Step right into the booth,' said the Judge, quite indulgently." Miss Wynn leaned back, and Bles felt his heart sinking; but he said nothing. "And then," she continued, "I telephoned the Judge's wife that he was anxious to see her on a matter of urgent business; namely, my appointment." She gazed reflectively out of the window. "You should have seen his face when I told him," she concluded. "I was appointed."
But Bles asked coldly:
"Why didn't you have him arrested?"
"For what? And suppose I had?"
Bles threw out his arms helplessly.
"Oh! it isn't as bad as that all over the world, is it?"
"It's worse," affirmed Miss Wynn, quietly positive.
"And you are still friendly with him?"
"What would you have? I use the world; I did not make it; I did not choose it. He is the world. Through him I earn my bread and butter. I have shown him his place. Shall I try in addition to reform? Shall I make him an enemy? I have neither time nor inclination. Shall I resign and beg, or go tilting at windmills? If he were the only one it would be different; but they're all alike." Her face grew hard. "Have I shocked you?" she said as they went toward the door.
"No," he answered slowly. "But I still—believe in the world."
"You are young yet, my friend," she lightly replied. "And besides, that good Miss Smith has gone and grafted a New England conscience on a tropical heart, and—dear me!—but it's a gorgeous misfit. Good-bye—come again." She bowed him graciously out, and paused to take the mail from the box. There was, among many others, a letter from Senator Smith.
Mr. Easterly sat in Mrs. Vanderpool's apartments in the New Willard, Washington, drinking tea. His hostess was saying rather carelessly:
"Do you know, Mr. Vanderpool has developed a quite unaccountable liking for the idea of being Ambassador to France?"
"Dear me!" mildly exclaimed Mr. Easterly, helping himself liberally to cakes. "I do hope the thing can be managed, but—"
"What are the difficulties?" Mrs. Vanderpool interrupted.
"Well, first and foremost, the difficulty of electing our man."
"I thought that a foregone conclusion."
"It was. But do you know that we're encountering opposition from the most unexpected source?"
The lady was receptive, and the speaker concluded:
"Yes. There are five hundred thousand or more black voters in pivotal Northern States, you know, and they're in revolt. In a close election the Negroes of New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois choose the President."
"What's the matter?"
"Well, business interests have driven our party to make friends with the South. The South has disfranchised Negroes and lynched a few. The darkies say we've deserted them."
Mrs. Vanderpool laughed.
"What extraordinary penetration," she cried.
"At any rate," said Mr. Easterly, drily, "Mr. Vanderpool's first step toward Paris lies in getting the Northern Negroes to vote the Republican ticket. After that the way is clear."
Mrs. Vanderpool mused.
"I don't suppose you know any one who is acquainted with any number of these Northern darkies?" continued Mr. Easterly.
"Not on my calling-list," said Mrs. Vanderpool, and then she added more thoughtfully:
"There's a young clerk in the Treasury Department named Alwyn who has brains. He's just from the South, and I happened to read of him this morning—see here."
Mr. Easterly read an account of the speech at the Bethel Literary.
"We'll look this young man up," he decided; "he may help. Of course, Mrs. Vanderpool, we'll probably win; we can buy these Negroes off with a little money and a few small offices; then if you will use your influence for the part with the Southerners, I can confidently predict from four to eight years' sojourn in Paris."
Mrs. Vanderpool smiled and called her maid as Mr. Easterly went.
"Zora!" She had to call twice, for Zora, with widened eyes, was reading the Washington Post.
Meantime in the office of Senator Smith, toward which Mr. Easterly was making his way, several members of the National Republican campaign committee had been closeted the day before.
"Now, about the niggers," the chairman had asked; "how much more boodle do they want?"
"That's what's bothering us," announced a member; "it isn't the boodle crowd that's hollering, but a new set, and I don't understand them; I don't know what they represent, nor just how influential they are."
"What can I do to help you?" asked Senator Smith.
"This. You are here at Washington with these Negro office-holders at your back. Find out for us just what this revolt is, how far it goes, and what good men we can get to swing the darkies into line—see?"
"Very good," the Senator acquiesced. He called in a spectacled man with bushy eyebrows and a sleepy look.
"I want you to work the Negro political situation," directed the Senator, "and bring me all the data you can get. Personally, I'm at sea. I don't understand the Negro of today at all; he puzzles me; he doesn't fit any of my categories, and I suspect that I don't fit his. See what you can find out."
The man went out, and the Senator turned to his desk, then paused and smiled. One day, not long since, he had met a colored person who personified his perplexity concerning Negroes; she was a lady, yet she was black—that is, brown; she was educated, even cultured, yet she taught Negroes; she was quiet, astute, quick and diplomatic—everything, in fact, that "Negroes" were not supposed to be; and yet she was a "Negro." She had given him valuable information which he had sought in vain elsewhere, and the event proved it correct. Suppose he asked Caroline Wynn to help him in this case? It would certainly do no harm and it might elect a Republican president. He wrote a short letter with his own hand and sent it to post.
Miss Wynn read the letter after Alwyn's departure with a distinct thrill which was something of a luxury for her. Evidently she was coming to her kingdom. The Republican boss was turning to her for confidential information.
"What do the colored people want, and who can best influence them in this campaign?"
She curled up on the ottoman and considered. The first part of the query did not bother her.
"Whatever they want they won't get," she said decisively.
But as to the man or men who could influence them to believe that they were getting, or about to get, what they wanted—there was a question. One by one she considered the men she knew, and, by a process of elimination, finally arrived at Bles Alwyn.
Why not take this young man in hand and make a Negro leader of him—a protagonist of ten millions? It would not be unpleasant. But could she do it? Would he be amenable to her training and become worldly wise? She flattered herself that he would, and yet—there was a certain steadfast look in the depths of his eyes that might prove to be sheer stubbornness. At any rate, who was better? There was a fellow, Stillings, whom Alwyn had introduced and whom she had heard of. Now he was a politician—but nothing else. She dismissed him. Of course, there was the older set of office-holders and rounders. But she was determined to pick a new man. He was worth trying, at any rate; she knew none other with the same build, the brains, the gifts, the adorable youth. Very good. She wrote two letters, and then curled up to her novel and candy.
Next day Senator Smith held Miss Wynn's letter unopened in his hand when Mr. Easterly entered. They talked of the campaign and various matters, until at last Easterly said:
"Say, there's a Negro clerk in the Treasury named Alwyn."
"I know him—I had him appointed."
"Good. He may help us. Have you seen this?"
The Senator read the clipping.
"I hadn't noticed it—but here's my agent."
The spectacled man entered with a mass of documents. He had papers, posters, programmes, and letters.
"The situation is this," he said. "A small group of educated Negroes are trying to induce the rest to punish the Republican Party for not protecting them. These men are not politicians, nor popular leaders, but they have influence and are using it. The old-style Negro politicians are no match for them, and the crowd of office-holders are rather bewildered. Strong measures are needed. Educated men of earnestness and ability might stem the tide. And I believe I know one such man. He spoke at a big meeting last night at the Metropolitan church. His name is Alwyn."
Senator Smith listened as he opened the letter from Caroline Wynn. Then he started.
"Well!" he ejaculated, looking quickly up at Easterly. "This is positively uncanny. From three separate sources the name of Alwyn pops up. Looks like a mascot. Call up the Treasury. Let's have him up when the sub-committee meets to-morrow."
Bles Alwyn hurried up to Senator Smith's office, hoping to hear something about the school; perhaps even about—but he stopped with a sigh, and sat down in the ante-room. He was kept waiting a few moments while Senator Smith, the chairman, and one other member of the sub-committee had a word.
"Now, I don't know the young man, mind you," said the Senator; "but he's strongly recommended."
"What shall we offer him?" asked the chairman.
"Try him at twenty-five dollars a speech. If he balks, raise to fifty dollars, but no more."
They summoned the young man. The chairman produced cigars.
"I don't smoke," said Bles apologetically.
"Well, we haven't anything to drink," said the chairman. But Senator Smith broke in, taking up at once the paramount interest.
"Mr. Alwyn, as you know, the Democrats are making an effort to get the Negro vote in this campaign. Now, I know the disadvantages and wrongs which black men in this land are suffering. I believe the Republicans ought to do more to defend them, and I'm satisfied they will; but I doubt if the way to get Negro rights is to vote for those who took them away."
"I agree with you perfectly," said Bles.
"I understand you do, and that you made an unusually fine speech on the subject the other night."
"Thank you, sir." This was a good deal more than Bles had expected, and he was embarrassed.
"Well, now, we think you're just the man to take the stump during September and October and convince the colored people of their real interests."
"I doubt if I could, sir; I'm not a speaker. In fact, that was my first public speech."
"So much the better. Are you willing to try?"
"Why, yes, sir; but I could hardly afford to give up my position."
"We'll arrange for a leave of absence."
"Then I'll try, sir."
"What would you expect as pay?"
"I suppose my salary would stop?"
"I mean in addition to that."
"Oh, nothing, sir; I'd be glad to do the work."
The chairman nearly choked; sitting back, he eyed the young man. Either they were dealing with a fool, or else a very astute politician. If the former, how far could they trust him; if the latter, what was his game?
"Of course, there'll be considerable travelling," the chairman ventured, looking reflectively out of the window.
"Yes, sir, I suppose so."
"We might pay the railroad fare."
"Thank you, sir. When shall I begin?"
The chairman consulted his calendar.
"Suppose you hold yourself in readiness for one week from today."
"All right," and Bles rose. "Good-day, gentlemen."
But the chairman was still puzzled.
"Now, what's his game?" he asked helplessly.
"He may be honest," offered Senator Smith, contemplating the door almost wistfully.
The campaign progressed. The National Republican Committee said little about the Negro revolt and affected to ignore it. The papers were silent. Underneath this calm, however, the activity was redoubled. The prominent Negroes were carefully catalogued, written to, and put under personal influence. The Negro papers were quietly subsidized, and they began to ridicule and reproach the new leaders.
As the Fall progressed, mass-meetings were held in Washington and the small towns. Larger and larger ones were projected, and more and more Alwyn was pushed to the front. He was developing into a most effective speaker. He had the voice, the presence, the ideas, and above all he was intensely in earnest. There were other colored orators with voice, presence, and eloquence; but their people knew their record and discounted them. Alwyn was new, clear, and sincere, and the black folk hung on his words. Large and larger crowds greeted him until he was the central figure in a half dozen great negro mass-meetings in the chief cities of the country, culminating in New York the night before election. Perhaps the secret newspaper work, the personal advice of employers and friends, and the liberal distribution of cash, would have delivered a large part of the Negro vote to the Republican candidate. Perhaps—but there was a doubt. With the work of Alwyn, however, all doubt disappeared, and there was little reason for denying that the new President walked into the White House through the instrumentality of an unknown Georgia Negro, little past his majority. This is what Senator Smith said to Mr. Easterly; what Miss Wynn said to herself; and it was what Mrs. Vanderpool remarked to Zora as Zora was combing her hair on the Wednesday after election.
Zora murmured an indistinct response. As already something of the beauty of the world had found question and answer in her soul, and as she began to realize how the world had waxed old in thought and stature, so now in their last days a sense of the power of men, as set over against the immensity and force of their surroundings, became real to her. She had begun to read of the lives and doing of those called great, and in her mind a plan was forming. She saw herself standing dim within the shadows, directing the growing power of a man: a man who would be great as the world counted greatness, rich, high in position, powerful—wonderful because his face was black. He would never see her; never know how she worked and planned, save perhaps at last, in that supreme moment as she passed, her soul would cry to his, "Redeemed!" And he would understand.
All this she was thinking and weaving; not clearly and definitely, but in great blurred clouds of thought of things as she said slowly:
"He should have a great position for this."
"Why, certainly," Mrs. Vanderpool agreed, and then curiously: "What?"
Zora considered. "Negroes," she said, "have been Registers of the Treasury, and Recorders of Deeds here in Washington, and Douglas was Marshal; but I want Bles—" she paused and started again. "Those are not great enough for Mr. Alwyn; he should have an office so important that Negroes would not think of leaving their party again."
Mrs. Vanderpool took pains to repeat Zora's words to Mr. Easterly. He considered the matter.
"In one sense, it's good advice," he admitted; "but there's the South to reckon with. I'll think it over and speak to the President. Oh, yes; I'm going to mention France at the same time."
Mrs. Vanderpool smiled and leaned back in her carriage. She noted with considerable interest the young colored woman who was watching her from the sidewalk: a brown, well-appearing young woman of notable self-possession. Caroline Wynn scrutinized Mrs. Vanderpool because she had been speaking with Mr. Easterly, and Mr. Easterly was a figure of political importance. That very morning Miss Wynn had telegraphed Bles Alwyn. Alwyn arrived at Washington just as the morning papers heralded the sweeping Republican victory. All about he met new deference and new friends; strangers greeted him familiarly on the street; Sam Stillings became his shadow; and when he reported for work his chief and fellow clerks took unusual interest in him.
"Have you seen Senator Smith yet?" Miss Wynn asked after a few words of congratulation.
"No. What for?"
"What for?" she answered. "Go to him today; don't fail. I shall be at home at eight tonight."
It seemed to Bles an exceedingly silly thing to do—calling on a busy man with no errand; but he went. He decided that he would just thank the Senator for his interest, and get out; or, if the Senator was busy, he would merely send in his card. Evidently the Senator was busy, for his waiting-room was full. Bles handed the card to the secretary with a word of apology, but the secretary detained him.
"Ah, Mr. Alwyn," he said affably; "glad to see you. The Senator will want to see you, I know. Wait just a minute." And soon Bles was shaking Senator Smith's hand.
"Well, Mr. Alwyn," said the Senator heartily, "you delivered the goods."
"Thank you, sir. I tried to."
Senator Smith thoughtfully looked him over and drew out the letters.
"Your friends, Mr. Alwyn," he said, adjusting his glasses, "have a rather high opinion of you. Here now is Stillings, who helped on the campaign. He suggests an eighteen-hundred-dollar clerkship for you." The Senator glanced up keenly and omitted to state what Stillings suggested for himself. Alwyn was visibly grateful as well as surprised.
"I—I hoped," he began hesitatingly, "that perhaps I might get a promotion, but I had not thought of a first-class clerkship."
"H'm." Senator Smith leaned back and twiddled his thumbs, staring at Alwyn until the hot blood darkened his cheeks. Then Bles sat up and stared politely but steadily back. The Senator's eyes dropped and he put out his hand for the second note.
"Now, your friend, Miss Wynn"—Alwyn started—"is even more ambitious." He handed her letter to the young man, and pointed out the words.
"Of course, Senator," Bles read, "we expect Mr. Alwyn to be the next Register of the Treasury."
Bles looked up in amazement, but the Senator reached for a third letter. The room was very still. At last he found it. "This," he announced quietly, "is from a man of great power and influence, who has the ear of the new President." He smoothed out the letter, paused briefly, then read aloud:
"'It has been suggested to me by'"—the Senator did not read the name; if he had "Mrs. Vanderpool" would have meant little to Alwyn—"'It has been suggested to me by blank that the future allegiance of the Negro vote to the Republican Party might be insured by giving to some prominent Negro a high political position—for instance, Treasurer of the United States'—salary, six thousand dollars," interpolated Senator Smith—"'and that Alwyn would be a popular and safe appointment for that position.'"
The Senator did not read the concluding sentence, which ran: "Think this over; we can't touch political conditions in the South; perhaps this sop will do."
For a long time Alwyn sat motionless, while the Senator said nothing. Then the young man rose unsteadily.
"I don't think I quite grasp all this," he said as he shook hands. "I'll think it over," and he went out.
When Caroline Wynn heard of that extraordinary conversation her amazement knew no bounds. Yet Alwyn ventured to voice doubts:
"I'm not fitted for either of those high offices; there are many others who deserve more, and I don't somehow like the idea of seeming to have worked hard in the campaign simply for money or fortune. You see, I talked against that very thing."
Miss Wynn's eyes widened.
"Well, what else—" she began and then changed. "Mr. Alwyn, the line between virtue and foolishness is dim and wavering, and I should hate to see you lost in that marshy borderland. By a streak of extraordinary luck you have gained the political leadership of Negroes in America. Here's your chance to lead your people, and here you stand blinking and hesitating. Be a man!"
Alwyn straightened up and felt his doubts going. The evening passed very pleasantly.
"I'm going to have a little dinner for you," said Miss Wynn finally, and Alwyn grew hot with pleasure. He turned to her suddenly and said:
"Why, I'm rather—black." She expressed no surprise but said reflectively:
"You are dark."
"And I've been given to understand that Miss Wynn and her set rather—well, preferred the lighter shades of colored folk."
Miss Wynn laughed lightly.
"My parents did," she said simply. "No dark man ever entered their house; they were simply copying the white world. Now I, as a matter of aesthetic beauty, prefer your brown-velvet color to a jaundiced yellow, or even an uncertain cream; but the world doesn't."
"Yes, the world; and especially America. One may be Chinese, Spaniard, even Indian—anything white or dirty white in this land, and demand decent treatment; but to be Negro or darkening toward it unmistakably means perpetual handicap and crucifixion."
"Why not, then, admit that you draw the color-line?"
"Because I don't; but the world does. I am not prejudiced as my parents were, but I am foresighted. Indeed, it is a deep ethical query, is it not, how far one has the right to bear black children to the world in the Land of the Free and the home of the brave. Is it fair—to the children?"
"Yes, it is!" he cried vehemently. "The more to take up the fight, the surer the victory."
She laughed at his earnestness.
"You are refreshing," she said. "Well, we'll dine next Tuesday, and we'll have the cream of our world to meet you."
He knew that this was a great triumph. It flattered his vanity. After all, he was entering this higher dark world whose existence had piqued and puzzled him so long. He glanced at Miss Wynn beside him there in the dimly lighted parlor: she looked so aloof and unapproachable, so handsome and so elegant. He thought how she would complete a house—such a home as his prospective four or six thousand dollars a year could easily purchase. She saw him surveying her, and she smiled at him.
"I find but one fault with you," she said.
He stammered for a pretty speech, but did not find it before she continued:
"Yes—you are so delightfully primitive; you will not use the world as it is but insist on acting as if it were something else."
"I am not sure I understand."
"Well, there is the wife of my Judge: she is a fact in my world; in yours she is a problem to be stated, straightened, and solved. If she had come to you, as she did to me yesterday, with her theory that all that Southern Negroes needed was to learn how to make good servants and lay brick—"
"I should have shown her—" Bles tried to interject.
"Nothing of the sort. You would have tried to show her and would have failed miserably. She hasn't learned anything in twenty years."
"But surely you didn't join her in advocating that ten million people be menials?"
"Oh, no; I simply listened."
"Well, there was no harm in that; I believe in silence at times."
"Ah! but I did not listen like a log, but positively and eloquently; with a nod, a half-formed word, a comment begun, which she finished."
"As a result," continued Miss Wynn, "I have a check for five hundred dollars to finish our cooking-school and buy a cast of Minerva for the assembly-room. More than that, I have now a wealthy friend. She thinks me an unusually clever person who, by a process of thought not unlike her own, has arrived at very similar conclusions."
"But—but," objected Bles, "if the time spent cajoling fools were used in convincing the honest and upright, think how much we would gain."
"Very little. The honest and upright are a sad minority. Most of these white folk—believe me, boy," she said caressingly,—"are fools and knaves: they don't want truth or progress; they want to keep niggers down."
"I don't believe it; there are scores, thousands, perhaps millions such, I admit; but the average American loves justice and right, and he is the one to whom I appeal with frankness and truth. Great heavens! don't you love to be frank and open?"
She narrowed her eyelids.
"Yes, sometimes I do; once I was; but it's a luxury few of us Negroes can afford. Then, too, I insist that it's jolly to fool them."
"Don't you hate the deception?"
She chuckled and put her head to one side.
"At first I did; but, do you know, now I believe I prefer it."
He looked so horrified that she burst out laughing. He laughed too. She was a puzzle to him. He kept thinking what a mistress of a mansion she would make.
"Why do you say these things?" he asked suddenly.
"Because I want you to do well here in Washington."
"No, special." Her eyes were bright with meaning.
"Then you care—for me?"
He bent forward and cast the die.
"Enough to marry me?"
She answered very calmly and certainly:
He leaned toward her. And then between him and her lips a dark and shadowy face; two great storm-swept eyes looked into his out of a world of infinite pain, and he dropped his head in hesitation and shame, and kissed her hand. Miss Wynn thought him delightfully bashful.
The election of Harry Cresswell to Congress was a very simple matter. The Colonel and his son drove to town and consulted the Judge; together they summoned the sheriff and the local member of the State legislature.
"I think it's about time that we Cresswells asked for a little of the political pie," the Colonel smilingly opened.
"Well, what do you want?" asked the Judge.
"Harry wants to go to Congress."
The Judge hesitated. "We'd half promised that to Caldwell," he objected.
"It will be a little costly this year, too," suggested the sheriff, tentatively.
"About how much?" asked the Colonel.
"At least five thousand," said the Legislator.
The Colonel said nothing. He simply wrote a check and the matter was settled. In the Fall Harry Cresswell was declared elected. There were four hundred and seventy-two votes cast but the sheriff added a cipher. He said it would look better.
Early December found the Cresswells domiciled in a small house in Du Pont Circle, Washington. They had an automobile and four servants, and the house was furnished luxuriously. Mary Taylor Cresswell, standing in her morning room and looking out on the flowers of the square, told herself that few people in the world had cause to be as happy as she. She was tastefully gowned, in a way to set off her blonde beauty and her delicate rounded figure. She was surrounded with wealth, and above all, she was in that atmosphere of aristocracy for which she had always yearned; and already she was acquiring that poise of the head, and a manner of directing the servants, which showed her born to the purple.
She had cause to be extremely happy, she told herself this morning, and yet she was puzzled to understand why she was not. Why was she restless and vaguely ill at ease so often these days?
One matter, indeed, did worry her; but that would right itself in time, she was sure. She had always pictured herself as directing her husband's work. She did not plan to step in and demand a share; she knew from experience with her brother that a woman must prove her usefulness to a man before he will admit it, and even then he may be silent. She intended gradually and tactfully to relieve her husband of care connected with his public life so that, before he realized it, she would be his guiding spirit and his inspiration. She had dreamed the details of doing this so long that it seemed already done, and she could imagine no obstacle to its realization. And yet she found herself today no nearer her goal than when first she married. Not because Mr. Cresswell did not share his work, but because, apparently, he had no work, no duties, no cares. At first, in the dim glories of the honeymoon, this seemed but part of his delicate courtesy toward her, and it pleased her despite her thrifty New England nature; but now that they were settled in Washington, the election over and Congress in session, it really seemed time for Work and Life to begin in dead earnest, and New England Mary was dreaming mighty dreams and golden futures.
But Harry apparently was as content as ever with doing nothing. He arose at ten, dined at seven, and went to bed between midnight and sunrise. There was some committee meetings and much mail, but Mary was admitted to knowledge of none of these. The obvious step, of course, would be to set him at work; but from this undertaking Mary unconsciously recoiled. She had already recognized that while her tastes and her husband's were mostly alike, they were also strikingly different in many respects. They agreed in the daintiness of things, the elegance of detail; but they did not agree always as to the things themselves. Given the picture, they would choose the same frame—but they would not choose the same picture. They liked the same voice, but not the same song; the same company, but not the same conversation. Of course, Mary reflected, frowning at the flowers—of course, this must always be so when two human beings are thrown into new and intimate association. In time they would grow to sweet communion; only, she hoped the communion would be on tastes nearer hers than those he sometimes manifested.
She turned impatiently from the window with a feeling of loneliness. But why lonely? She idly fingered a new book on the table and then put it down sharply. There had been several attempts at reading aloud between them some evenings ago, and this book reminded her of them. She had bought Jane Addams' "Newer Ideals of Peace," and he had yawned over it undisguisedly. Then he had brought this novel, and—well, she had balked at the second chapter, and he had kissed her and called her his "little prude." She did not want to be a prude; she hated to seem so, and had for some time prided herself on emancipation from narrow New England prejudices. For example, she had not objected to wine at dinner; it had seemed indeed rather fine, imparting, as it did, an old-fashioned flavor; but she did not like the whiskey, and Harry at times appeared to become just a bit too lively—nothing excessive, of course, but his eyes and the smell and the color were a little too suggestive. And yet he was so kind and good, and when he came in at evening he bent so gallantly for his kiss, and laid fresh flowers before her: could anything have been more thoughtful and knightly?
Just here again she was puzzled; with her folk, hard work and inflexible duty were of prime importance; they were the rock foundation; and she somehow had always counted on the courtesies of life as added to them, making them sweet and beautiful. But in this world, not perhaps so much with Harry as with others of his set, the depths beneath the gravely inclined head, the deferential smile and ceremonious action, the light clever converse, had sounded strangely hollow once or twice when she had essayed to sound them, and a certain fear to look and see possessed her.
The bell rang, and she was a little startled at the fright that struck her heart. She did not analyze it. In reality—pride forbade her to admit it—she feared it was a call of some of Harry's friends: some languid, assured Southern ladies, perilously gowned, with veiled disdain for this interloping Northerner and her strong mind. Especially was there one from New Orleans, tall and dark—
But it was no caller. It was simply some one named Stillings to see Mr. Cresswell. She went down to see him—he might be a constituent—and found a smirky brown man, very apologetic.
"You don't know me—does you, Mrs. Cresswell?" said Stillings. He knew when it was diplomatic to forget his grammar and assume his dialect.
"You remember I worked for Mr. Harry and served you-all lunch one day."
"Oh, yes—why, yes! I remember now very well."
"Well, I wants to see Mr. Harry very much; could I wait in the back hall?"
Mary started to have him wait in the front hall, but she thought better of it and had him shown back. Less than an hour later her husband entered and she went quickly to him. He looked worn and white and tired, but he laughed her concern lightly off.
"I'll be in earlier tonight," he declared.
"Is the Congressional business very heavy?"
He laughed so hilariously that she felt uncomfortable, which he observed.
"Oh, no," he answered deftly; "not very." And as they moved toward the dining-room Mary changed the subject.
"Oh," she exclaimed, suddenly remembering. "There is a man—a colored man—waiting to see you in the back hall, but I guess he can wait until after lunch."
They ate leisurely.
"There's going to be racing out at the park this evening," said Harry. "Want to go?"
"I was going to hear an art lecture at the Club," Mary returned, and grew thoughtful; for here walked her ghost again. Of course, the Club was an affair with more of gossip than of intellectual effort, but today, largely through her own suggestion, an art teacher of European reputation was going to lecture, and Mary preferred it to the company of the race track. And—just as certainly—her husband didn't.
"Don't forget the man, dear," she reminded him; but he was buried in his paper, frowning.
"Look at that," he said finally. She glanced at the head-lines—"Prominent Negro Politician Candidate for High Office at Hands of New Administration. B. Alwyn of Alabama."
"Why, it's Bles!" she said, her face lighting as his darkened.
"An impudent Negro," he voiced his disgust. "If they must appoint darkies why can't they get tractable ones like my nigger Stillings."
"Stillings?" she repeated. "Why, he's the man that's waiting."
"Sam, is it? Used to be one of our servants—you remember? Wants to borrow more money, I presume." He went down-stairs, after first helping himself to a glass of whiskey, and then gallantly kissing his wife. Mrs. Cresswell was more unsatisfied than usual. She could not help feeling that Mr. Cresswell was treating her about as he treated his wine—as an indulgence; a loved one, a regular one, but somehow not as the reality and prose of life, unless—she started at the thought—his life was all indulgence. Having nothing else to do, she went out and paraded the streets, watching the people who were happy enough to be busy.
Cresswell and Stillings had a long conference, and when Stillings hastened away he could not forbear cutting a discreet pigeon-wing as he rounded the corner. He had been promised the backing of the whole Southern delegation in his schemes.
That night Teerswell called on him in his modest lodgings, where over hot whiskey and water they talked.
"The damned Southern upstart," growled Teerswell, forgetting Stillings' birth-place. "Do you mean to say he's actually slated for the place?"
"He's sure of it, unless something turns up."
"Well, who'd have dreamed it?" Teerswell mixed another stiff dram.
"And that isn't all," came Sam Stillings' unctuous voice.
Teerswell glanced at him. "What else?" he asked, pausing with the steaming drink poised aloft.
"If I'm not mistaken, Alwyn intends to marry Miss Wynn."
"You lie!" the other suddenly yelled with an oath, overturning his tumbler and striding across the floor. "Do you suppose she'd look at that black—"
"Well, see here," said the astute Stillings, checking the details upon his fingers. "They visit Senator Smith's together; he takes her home from the Treble Clef; they say he talked to nobody else at her party; she recommends him for the campaign—"
"What!" Teerswell again exploded. But Stillings continued smoothly:
"Oh, I have ways of finding things out. She corresponds with him during the campaign; she asks Smith to make him Register; and he calls on her every night."
Teerswell sat down limply.
"I see," he groaned. "It's all up. She's jilted me—and I—and I—"
"I don't see as it's all up yet," Stillings tried to reassure him.
"But didn't you say they were engaged?"
"I think they are; but—well, you know Carrie Wynn better than I do: suppose, now—suppose he should lose the appointment?"
"But you say that's sure."
"Unless something turns up."
"But what can turn up?"
"We might turn something."
"What—what—I tell you man, I'd—I'd do anything to down that nigger. I hate him. If you'll help me I'll do anything for you."
Stillings arose and carefully opening the hall door peered out. Then he came back and, seating himself close to Teerswell, pushed aside the whiskey.
"Teerswell," he whispered, "you know I was working to be Register of the Treasury. Well, now, when the scheme of making Alwyn Treasurer came up they determined to appoint a Southern white Republican and give me a place under Alwyn. Now, if Alwyn fails to land I've got no chance for the bigger place, but I've got a good chance to be Register according to the first plan. I helped in the campaign; I've got the Negro secret societies backing me and—I don't mind telling you—the solid Southern Congressional delegation. I'm trying now ostensibly for a chief-clerkship under Bles, and I'm pretty sure of it: it pays twenty-five hundred. See here: if we can make Bles do some fool talking and get it into the papers, he'll be ditched, and I'll be Register."
"Great!" shouted Teerswell.
"Wait—wait. Now, if I get the job, how would you like to be my assistant?"
"Like it? Why, great Jehoshaphat! I'd marry Carrie—but how can I help you?"
"This way. I want to be better known among influential Negroes. You introduce me and let me make myself solid. Especially I must get in Miss Wynn's set so that both of us can watch her and Alwyn, and make her friends ours."
"I'll do it—shake!" And Stillings put his oily hand into Teerswell's nervous grip.
"Now, here," Stillings went on, "you stow all that jealousy and heavy tragedy. Treat Alwyn well and call on Miss Wynn as usual—see?"
"It's a hard pill—but all right."
"Leave the rest to me; I'm hand in glove with Alwyn. I'll put stuff into him that'll make him wave the bloody shirt at the next meeting of the Bethel Literary—see? Then I'll go to Cresswell and say, 'Dangerous nigger—, just as I told you.' He'll begin to move things. You see? Cresswell is in with Smith—both directors in the big Cotton Combine—and Smith will call Alwyn down. Then we'll think further."
"Stillings, you look like a fool, but you're a genius." And Teerswell fairly hugged him. A few more details settled, and some more whiskey consumed, and Teerswell went home at midnight in high spirits. Stillings looked into the glass and scowled.
"Look like a fool, do I?" he mused. "Well, I ain't!"
Congressman Cresswell was stirred to his first political activity by the hint given him through Stillings. He not only had a strong personal dislike for Alwyn, but he regarded the promise to him of a high office as a menace to the South.
The second speech which Alwyn made at the Bethel Literary was, as Stillings foresaw, a reply to the stinging criticisms of certain colored papers engineered by Teerswell, who said that Alwyn had been bribed to remain loyal to the Republicans by a six thousand dollar office. Alwyn had been cut to the quick, and his reply was a straight out defence of Negro rights and a call to the Republican Party to redeem its pledges.
Caroline Wynn, seeing the rocks for which her political craft was headed, adroitly steered several newspaper reports into the waste basket, but Stillings saw to it that a circumstantial account was in the Colored American, and that a copy of this paper was in Congressman Cresswell's hands. Cresswell lost no time in calling on Senator Smith and pointing out to him that Bles Alwyn was a dangerous Negro: seeking social equality, hating white people, and scheming to make trouble. He was too young and heady. It would be fatal to give such a man office and influence; fatal for the development of the South, and bad for the Cotton Combine.
Senator Smith was unconvinced. Alwyn struck him as a well-balanced fellow, and he thought he deserved the office. He would, however, warn him to make no further speeches like that of last night. Cresswell mentioned Stillings as a good, inoffensive Negro who knew his place and could be kept track of.
"Stillings is a good man," admitted Smith; "but Alwyn is better. However, I'll bear what you say in mind."
Cresswell found Mr. Easterly in Mrs. Vanderpool's parlor, and that gentleman was annoyed at the news.
"I especially picked out this Alwyn because he was Southern and tractable, and seemed to have sense enough to know how to say well what we wanted to say."
"When, as a matter of fact," drawled Mrs. Vanderpool, "he was simply honest."
"The South won't stand it," Cresswell decisively affirmed.
"Well—" began Mr. Easterly.
"See here," interrupted Mrs. Vanderpool. "I'm interested in Alwyn; in fact, an honest man in politics, even if he is black, piques my curiosity. Give him a chance and I'll warrant he'll develop all the desirable traits of a first class office-holder."
Easterly hesitated. "We must not offend the South, and we must placate the Negroes," he said.
"The right sort of Negro—one like Stillings—appointed to a reasonable position, would do both," opined Cresswell.
"It evidently didn't," Mrs. Vanderpool interjected.
Cresswell arose. "I tell you, Mr. Easterly, I object—it mustn't go through." He took his leave.
Mrs. Vanderpool did not readily give up her plea for Alwyn, and bade Zora get Mr. Smith on the telephone for discussion.
"Well," reported Easterly, hanging up the receiver, "we may land him. It seems that he is engaged to a Washington school-teacher, and Smith says she has him well in hand. She's a pretty shrewd proposition, and understands that Alwyn's only chance now lies in keeping his mouth shut. We may land him," he repeated.
"Engaged!" gasped Mrs. Vanderpool.
Zora quietly closed the door.
THE VISION OF ZORA
How Zora found the little church she never knew; but somehow, in the long dark wanderings which she had fallen into the habit of taking at nightfall, she stood one evening before it. It looked warm, and she was cold. It was full of her people, and she was very, very lonely. She sat in a back seat, and saw with unseeing eyes. She said again, as she had said to herself a hundred times, that it was all right and just what she had expected. What else could she have dreamed? That he should ever marry her was beyond possibility; that had been settled long since—there where the tall, dark pines, wan with the shades of evening, cast their haunting shadows across the Silver Fleece and half hid the blood-washed west. After that he would marry some one else, of course; some good and pure woman who would help and uplift and serve him.
She had dreamed that she would help—unknown, unseen—and perhaps she had helped a little through Mrs. Vanderpool. It was all right, and yet why so suddenly had the threads of life let go? Why was she drifting in vast waters; in uncharted wastes of sea? Why was the puzzle of life suddenly so intricate when but a little week ago she was reading it, and its beauty and wisdom and power were thrilling her delighted hands? Could it be possible that all unconsciously she had dared dream a forbidden dream? No, she had always rejected it. When no one else had the right; when no one thought; when no one cared, she had hovered over his soul as some dark guardian angel; but now, now somebody else was receiving his gratitude. It was all right, she supposed; but she, the outcast child of the swamp, what was there for her to do in the great world—her, the burden of whose sin—
But then came the voice of the preacher: "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world."
She found herself all at once intently listening. She had been to church many times before, but under the sermons and ceremonies she had always sat coldly inert. In the South the cries, contortions, and religious frenzy left her mind untouched; she did not laugh or mock, she simply sat and watched and wondered. At the North, in the white churches, she enjoyed the beauty of wall, windows, and hymn, liked the voice and surplice of the preacher; but his words had no reference to anything in which she was interested. Here suddenly came an earnest voice addressed, by singular chance, to her of all the world.
She listened, bending forward, her eyes glued to the speaker's lips and letting no word drop. He had the build and look of the fanatic: thin to emancipation; brown; brilliant-eyed; his words snapped in nervous energy and rang in awful earnestness.
"Life is sin, and sin is sorrow. Sorrow is born of selfishness and self-seeking—our own good, our own happiness, our own glory. As if any one of us were worth a life! No, never. A single self as an end is, and ought to be, disappointment; it is too low; it is nothing. Only in a whole world of selves, infinite, endless, eternal world on worlds of selves—only in their vast good is true salvation. The good of others is our true good; work for others; not for your salvation, but the salvation of the world." The audience gave a low uneasy groan and the minister in whose pulpit the stranger preached stirred uneasily. But he went on tensely, with flying words:
"Unselfishness is sacrifice—Jesus was supreme sacrifice." ("Amen," screamed a voice.) "In your dark lives," he cried, "who is the King of Glory? Sacrifice. Lift up your heads, then, ye gates of prejudice and hate, and let the King of Glory come in. Forget yourselves and your petty wants, and behold your starving people. The wail of black millions sweeps the air—east and west they cry, Help! Help! Are you dumb? Are you blind? Do you dance and laugh, and hear and see not? The cry of death is in the air; they murder, burn, and maim us!" ("Oh—oh—" moaned the people swaying in their seats.) "When we cry they mock us; they ruin our women and debauch our children—what shall we do?
"Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away sin. Behold the Supreme Sacrifice that makes us clean. Give up your pleasures; give up your wants; give up all to the weak and wretched of our people. Go down to Pharaoh and smite him in God's name. Go down to the South where we writhe. Strive—work—build—hew—lead—inspire! God calls. Will you hear? Come to Jesus. The harvest is waiting. Who will cry: 'Here am I, send me!'"
Zora rose and walked up the aisle; she knelt before the altar and answered the call: "Here am I—send me."
And then she walked out. Above her sailed the same great stars; around her hummed the same hoarse city; but within her soul sang some new song of peace.
"What is the matter, Zora?" Mrs. Vanderpool inquired, for she seemed to see in the girl's face and carriage some subtle change; something that seemed to tell how out of the dream had stepped the dreamer into the realness of things; how suddenly the seeker saw; how to the wanderer, the Way was opened.
Just how she sensed this Mrs. Vanderpool could not have explained, nor could Zora. Was there a change, sudden, cataclysmic? No. There were to come in future days all the old doubts and shiverings, the old restless cry: "It is all right—all right!" But more and more, above the doubt and beyond the unrest, rose the great end, the mighty ideal, that flickered and wavered, but ever grew and waxed strong, until it became possible, and through it all things else were possible. Thus from the grave of youth and love, amid the soft, low singing of dark and bowed worshippers, the Angel of the Resurrection rolled away the stone.
"What is the matter, Zora?" Mrs. Vanderpool repeated.
Zora looked up, almost happily—standing poised on her feet as if to tell of strength and purpose.
"I have found the Way," she cried joyously.
Mrs. Vanderpool gave her a long searching look.
"Where have you been?" she asked. "I've been waiting."
"I'm sorry—but I've been—converted." And she told her story.
"Pshaw, Zora!" Mrs. Vanderpool uttered impatiently. "He's a fakir."
"Maybe," said Zora serenely and quietly; "but he brought the Word."
"Zora, don't talk cant; it isn't worthy of your intelligence."
"It was more than intelligent—it was true."
"Zora—listen, child! You were wrought up tonight, nervous—wild. You were happy to meet your people, and where he said one word you supplied two. What you attribute to him is the voice of your own soul."
But Zora merely smiled. "All you say may be true. But what does it matter? I know one thing, like the man in the Bible: 'Whereas I was blind now I see.'"
Mrs. Vanderpool gave a little helpless gesture. "And what shall you do?" she asked.
"I'm going back South to work for my people."
"When?" The old careworn look stole across Mrs. Vanderpool's features.
Zora came gently forward and slipped her arms lovingly about the other woman's neck.
"Not right off," she said gently; "not until I learn more. I hate to leave you, but—it calls!"
Mrs. Vanderpool held the dark girl close and began craftily:
"You see, Zora, the more you know the more you can do."
"And if you are determined I will see that you are taught. You must know settlement-work and reform movements; not simply here but—" she hesitated—"in England—in France."
"Will it take long?" Zora asked, smoothing the lady's hair.
Mrs. Vanderpool considered. "No—five years is not long; it is all too short."
"Five years: it is very long; but there is a great deal to learn. Must I study five years?"
Mrs. Vanderpool threw back her head.
"Zora, I am selfish I know, but five years truly is none too long. Then, too, Zora, we have work to do in that time."
"There is Alwyn's career," and Mrs. Vanderpool looked into Zora's eyes.
The girl did not shrink, but she paused.
"Yes," she said slowly, "we must help him."
"And after he rises—"
"He will marry."
"The woman he loves," returned Zora, quietly.
"Yes—that is best," sighed Mrs. Vanderpool. "But how shall we help him?"
"Make him Treasurer of the United States without sacrificing his manhood or betraying his people."
"I can do that," said Mrs. Vanderpool slowly.
"It will cost something," said Zora.
"I will do it," was the lady's firm assurance. Zora kissed her.
The next afternoon Mrs. Cresswell went down to a white social settlement of which Congressman Todd had spoken, where a meeting of the Civic Club was to be held. She had come painfully to realize that if she was to have a career she must make it for herself. The plain, unwelcome truth was that her husband had no great interests in life in which she could find permanent pleasure. Companionship and love there was and, she told herself, always would be; but in some respects their lives must flow in two streams. Last night, for the second time, she had irritated him; he had spoken almost harshly to her, and she knew she must brood or work today. And so she hunted work, eagerly.
She felt the atmosphere the moment she entered. There were carelessly gowned women and men smart and shabby, but none of them were thinking of clothes nor even of one another. They had great deeds in mind; they were scanning the earth; they were toiling for men. The same grim excitement that sends smaller souls hunting for birds and rabbits and lions, had sent them hunting the enemies of mankind: they were bent to the chase, scenting the game, knowing the infinite meaning of their hunt and the glory of victory. Mary Cresswell had listened but a half hour before her world seemed so small and sordid and narrow, so trivial, that a sense of shame spread over her. These people were not only earnest, but expert. They acknowledged the need of Mr. Todd's educational bill.
"But the Republicans are going to side-track it; I have that on the best authority," said one.
"True; but can't we force them to it?"
"Only by political power, and they've just won a campaign."
"They won it by Negro votes, and the Negro who secured the votes is eager for this bill; he's a fine, honest fellow."
"Very well; work with him; and when we can be of real service let us know. Meantime, this Child Labor bill is different. It's bound to pass. Both parties are back of it, and public opinion is aroused. Now our work is to force amendments enough to make the bill effective."
Discussion followed; not flamboyant and declamatory, but tense, staccato, pointed. Mrs. Cresswell found herself taking part. Someone mentioned her name, and one or two glances of interest and even curiosity were thrown her way. Congressmen's wives were rare at the Civic Club.
Congressmen Todd urged Mrs. Cresswell to stay after the discussion and attend a meeting of the managers and workers of the Washington social settlements.
"Have you many settlements?" she inquired.
"Three in all—two white and one colored."
"And will they all be represented?"
"Yes, of course, Mrs. Cresswell. If you object to meeting the colored people—"
Mrs. Cresswell blushed.
"No, indeed," she answered; "I used to teach colored people."
She watched this new group gather: a business man, two fashionable ladies, three college girls, a gray-haired colored woman, and a young spectacled brown man, and then, to her surprise, Mrs. Vanderpool and Zora.
Zora was scarcely seated when that strange sixth sense of hers told her that something had happened, and it needed but a side-glance from Mrs. Vanderpool to indicate what it was. She sat with folded hands and the old dreamy look in her eyes. In one moment she lived it all again—the red cabin, the moving oak, the sowing of the Fleece, and its fearful reaping. And now, when she turned her head, she would see the woman who was to marry Bles Alwyn. She had often dreamed of her, and had set a high ideal. She wanted her to be handsome, well dressed, earnest and good. She felt a sort of person proprietorship in her, and when at last the quickened pulse died to its regular healthy beat, she turned and looked and knew.
Caroline Wynn deemed it a part of the white world's education to participate in meetings like this; doing so was not pleasant, but it appealed to her cynicism and mocking sense of pleasure. She always roused hostility as she entered: her gown was too handsome, her gloves too spotless, her air had hauteur enough to be almost impudent in the opinion of most white people. Then gradually her intelligence, her cool wit and self-possession, would conquer and she would go gracefully out leaving a rather bewildered audience behind. She sat today with her dark gold profile toward Zora, and the girl looked and was glad. She was such a woman she would have Bles marry. She was glad, and she choked back the sob that struggled and fought in her throat.
The meeting never got beyond a certain constraint. The Congressman made an excellent speech; there were various sets of figures read by the workers; and Miss Wynn added a touch of spice by several pertinent questions and comments. Then, as the meeting broke up and Mrs. Cresswell came forward to speak to Zora, Mrs. Vanderpool managed to find herself near Miss Wynn and to be introduced. They exchanged a few polite phrases, fencing delicately to test the other's wrist and interest. They touched on the weather, and settlement work; but Miss Wynn did not propose to be stranded on the Negro problem.
"I suppose the next bit of excitement will be in the inauguration," she said to Mrs. Vanderpool.
"I understand it will be unusually elaborate," returned Mrs. Vanderpool, a little surprised at the turn. Then she added pleasantly: "I think I shall see it through, from speech to ball."
"Yes, I do usually," Miss Wynn asserted, adjusting her furs.
Mrs. Vanderpool was further surprised. Did colored people attend the ball?
"We sorely need a national ball-room," she said. "Isn't the census building wretched?"
"I do not know," smiled Miss Wynn.
"Oh, I thought you said—"
"I meant our ball."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Vanderpool in turn. "Oh!" Here a thought came. Of course, the colored people had their own ball; she remembered having heard about it. Why not send Zora? She plunged in:
"Miss Wynn, I have a maid—such an intelligent girl; I do wish she could attend your ball—" seeing her blunder, she paused. Miss Wynn was coolly buttoning her glove.
"Yes," she acknowledged politely, "few of us can afford maids, and therefore we do not usually arrange for them; but I think we can have your protegee look on from the gallery. Good-afternoon."
As Mrs. Vanderpool drove home she related the talk to Zora. Zora was silent at first. Then she said deliberately:
"Miss Wynn was right."
"Did Helene attend the ball four years ago?"
"But, Zora, must you folk ape our nonsense as well as our sense?"
"You force us to," said Zora.
The new President had been inaugurated. Beneath the creamy pile of the old Capitol, and facing the new library, he had stood aloft and looked down on a waving sea of faces—black-coated, jostling, eager-eyed fellow creatures. They had watched his lips move, had scanned eagerly his dress and the gowned and decorated dignitaries beside him; and then, with blare of band and prancing of horses, he had been whirled down the dip and curve of that long avenue, with its medley of meanness and thrift and hurry and wealth, until, swinging sharply, the dim walls of the White House rose before him. He entered with a sigh.
Then the vast welter of humanity dissolved and streamed hither and thither, gaping and laughing until night, when thousands poured into the red barn of the census shack and entered the artificial fairyland within. The President walked through, smiling; the senators protected their friends in the crush; and Harry Cresswell led his wife to a little oasis of Southern ladies and gentlemen.
"This is democracy for you," said he, wiping his brow.
From a whirling eddy Mrs. Vanderpool waved at them, and they rescued her.
"I think I am ready to go," she gasped. "Did you ever!"
"Come," Cresswell invited. But just then the crowd pushed them apart and shot them along, and Mrs. Cresswell found herself clinging to her husband amid two great whirling variegated throngs of driving, white-faced people. The band crashed and blared; the people laughed and pushed; and with rhythmic sound and swing the mighty throng was dancing.
It took much effort, but at last the Cresswell party escaped and rolled off in their carriages. They swept into the avenue and out again, then up 14th Street, where, turning for some street obstruction, they passed a throng of carriages on a cross street.
"It's the other ball," cried Mrs. Vanderpool, and amid laughter she added, "Let's go!"
It was—the other ball. For Washington is itself, and something else besides. Along beside it ever runs that dark and haunting echo; that shadowy world-in-world with its accusing silence, its emphatic self-sufficiency. Mrs. Cresswell at first demurred. She thought of Elspeth's cabin: the dirt, the smell, the squalor: of course, this would be different; but—well, Mrs. Cresswell had little inclination for slumming. She was interested in the under-world, but intellectually, not by personal contact. She did not know that this was a side-world, not an under-world. Yet the imposing building did not look sordid.
"Hired?" asked some one.
Then there was a hitch.
"Where can we buy them?"
"Not on sale," was the curt reply.
"Actually exclusive!" sneered Cresswell, for he could not imagine any one unwelcome at a Negro ball. Then he bethought himself of Sam Stillings and sent for him. In a few minutes he had a dozen complimentary tickets in his hand.
They entered the balcony and sat down. Mary Cresswell leaned forward. It was interesting. Beneath her was an ordinary pretty ball—flowered, silked, and ribboned; with swaying whirling figures, music, and laughter, and all the human fun of gayety and converse.
And then she was impressed with the fact that this was no ordinary scene; it was, on the contrary, most extraordinary.
There was a black man waltzing with a white woman—no, she was not white, for Mary caught the cream and curl of the girl as she swept past: but there was a white man (was he white?) and a black woman. The color of the scene was wonderful. The hard human white seemed to glow and live and run a mad gamut of the spectrum, from morn till night, from white to black; through red and sombre browns, pale and brilliant yellows, dead and living blacks. Through her opera-glasses Mary scanned their hair; she noted everything from the infinitely twisted, crackled, dead, and grayish-black to the piled mass of red golden sunlight. Her eyes went dreaming; there below was the gathering of the worlds. She saw types of all nations and all lands swirling beneath her in human brotherhood, and a great wonder shook her. They seemed so happy. Surely, this was no nether world; it was upper earth, and—her husband beckoned; he had been laughing incontinently. He saw nothing but a crowd of queer looking people doing things they were not made to do and appearing absurdly happy over it. It irritated him unreasonably.
"See the washer-woman in red," he whispered. "Look at the monkey. Come, let's go."
They trooped noisily down-stairs, and Cresswell walked unceremoniously between a black man and his partner. Mrs. Vanderpool recognized and greeted the girl as Miss Wynn. Mrs. Cresswell did not notice her, but she paused with a start of recognition at the sight of the man.
"Why, Bles!" she exclaimed impetuously, starting to hold out her hand. She was sincerely pleased at seeing him. Then she remembered. She bowed and smiled, looking at him with interest and surprise. He was correctly dressed, and the white shirt set off the comeliness of his black face in compelling contrast. He carried himself like a man, and bowed with gravity and dignity. She passed on and heard her husband's petulant voice in her ear.
"Mary—Mary! for Heaven's sake, come on; don't shake hands with niggers."
It was recurring flashes of temper like this, together with evidences of dubious company and a growing fondness for liquor, that drove Mary Cresswell more and more to find solace in the work of Congressman Todd's Civic Club. She collected statistics for several of the Committee, wrote letters, interviewed a few persons, and felt herself growing in usefulness and importance. She did not mention these things to her husband; she knew he would not object, but she shrank from his ridicule.
The various causes advocated by the Civic Club felt the impetus of the aggressive work of the organization. This was especially the case with the National Education Bill and the amendment to the Child Labor Bill. The movement became strong enough to call Mr. Easterly down from New York. He and the inner circle went over matters carefully.
"We need the political strength of the South," said Easterly; "not only in framing national legislation in our own interests, but always in State laws. Particularly, we must get them into line to offset Todd's foolishness. The Child Labor Bill must either go through unamended or be killed. The Cotton Inspection Bill—our chief measure—must be slipped through quietly by Southern votes, while in the Tariff mix-up we must take good care of cotton.
"Now, on the other hand, we are offending the Southerners in three ways: Todd's revived Blair Bill is too good a thing for niggers; the South is clamoring for a first classy embassy appointment; and the President's nomination of Alwyn as Treasurer will raise a howl from Virginia to Texas."
"There is some strong influence back of Alwyn," said Senator Smith; "not only are the Negroes enthused, but the President has daily letters from prominent whites."
"The strong influence is named Vanderpool," Easterly drily remarked. "She's playing a bigger political game than I laid out for her. That's the devil with women: they can't concentrate: they get too damned many side issues. Now, I offered her husband the French ambassadorship provided she'd keep the Southerners feeling good toward us. She's hand in glove with the Southerners, all right; but she wants not only her husband's appointment but this darkey's too."
"But that's been decided, hasn't it?" put in Smith.
"Yes," grumbled Easterly; "but it makes it hard already. At any rate, the Educational Bill must be killed right off. No more talk; no more consideration—kill it, and kill it now. Now about this Child Labor Bill: Todd's Civic Club is raising the mischief. Who's responsible?"
The silent Jackson spoke up. "Congressman Cresswell's wife has been very active, and Todd thinks they've got the South with them."
"Congressman Cresswell's wife!" Easterly's face was one great exclamation point. "Now what the devil does this mean?"
"I'm afraid," said Senator Smith, "that it may mean an attempt on the part of Cresswell's friends to boost him for the French ambassadorship. He's the only Southerner with money enough to support the position, and there's been a good deal of quiet talk, I understand, in Southern circles."
"But it's treason!" Easterly shouted. "It will ruin the plans of the Combine to put this amended Child Labor Bill through. John Taylor has just written me that he's starting mills at Toomsville, and that he depends on unrestricted labor conditions, as we must throughout the South. Doesn't Cresswell know this?"
"Of course. I think it's just a bluff. If he gets the appointment he'll let the bill drop."
"I see—everybody is raising his price, is he? Pretty soon the darky will be holding us up. Well, see Cresswell, and put it to him strong. I must go. Wire me."
Senator Smith presented the matter bluntly to Cresswell as soon as he saw him. "Which would the South prefer—Todd's Education Bill, or Alwyn's appointment?"
It was characteristic of Cresswell that the smaller matter of Stillings' intrigue should interest him more than Todd's measure, of which he knew nothing.
"What is Todd's bill?" asked Harry Cresswell, darkening.
Smith, surprised, got out a copy and explained. Cresswell interrupted before he was half through.
"Don't you see," he said angrily, "that that will ruin our plans for the Cotton Combine?"
"Yes, I do," replied Smith; "but it will not do the immediate harm that the amended Child Labor Bill will do."
"What's that?" demanded Cresswell, frowning again.
Senator Smith regarded him again: was Cresswell playing a shrewd game?
"Why," he said at length, "aren't you promoting it?"
"No," was the reply. "Never heard of it."
"But," Senator Smith began, and paused. He turned and took up a circular issued by the Civic Club, giving a careful account of their endeavors to amend and pass the Child Labor Bill. Cresswell read it, then threw it aside.
"Nonsense!" he indignantly repudiated the measure. "That will never do; it's as bad as the Education Bill."
"But your wife is encouraging it and we thought you were back of it."
Cresswell stared in blank amazement.
"My wife!" he gasped. Then he bethought himself. "It's a mistake," he supplemented; "Mrs. Cresswell gave them no authority to sign her name."
"She's been very active," Smith persisted, "and naturally we were all anxious."
Cresswell bit his lip. "I shall speak to her; she does not realize what use they are making of her passing interest."
He hurried away, and Senator Smith felt a bit sorry for Mrs. Cresswell when he recalled the expression on her husband's face.
Mary Cresswell did not get home until nearly dinner time; then she came in glowing with enthusiasm. Her work had received special commendation that afternoon, and she had been asked to take the chairmanship of the committee on publicity. Finding that her husband was at home, she determined to tell him—it was so good to be doing something worth while. Perhaps, too, he might be made to show some interest. She thought of Mr. and Mrs. Todd and the old dream glowed faintly again.
Cresswell looked at her as she entered the library where he was waiting and smoking. She was rumpled and muddy, with flying hair and thick walking shoes and the air of bustle and vigor which had crept into her blood this last month. Truly, her cheeks were glowing and her eyes bright, but he disapproved. Softness and daintiness, silk and lace and glimmering flesh, belonged to women in his mind, and he despised Amazons and "business" women. He received her kiss coldly, and Mary's heart sank. She essayed some gay greeting, but he interrupted her.
"What's this stuff about the Civic Club?" he began sharply.
"Stuff?" she queried, blankly.
"That's what I said."
"I'm sure I don't know," she answered stiffly. "I belong to the Civic Club, and have been working with it."
"Why didn't you tell me?" His resentment grew as he proceeded.
"I did not think you were interested."
"Didn't you know that this Child Labor business was opposed to my interests?"
"Dear, I did not dream it. It's a Republican bill, to be sure; but you seemed very friendly with Senator Smith, who introduced it. We were simply trying to improve it."
"Suppose we didn't want it improved."
"That's what some said; but I did not believe such—deception."
The blood rushed to Cresswell's face.
"Well, you will drop this bill and the Civic Club from now on."
"Because I say so," he retorted explosively, too angry to explain further.
She looked at him—a long, fixed, penetrating look which revealed more than she had ever seen before, then turned away and went slowly up-stairs. She did not come down to dinner, and in the evening the doctor was called.
Cresswell drooped a bit after eating, hesitated, and reflected. He had acted too cavalierly in this Civic Club mess, he concluded, and yet he would not back down. He'd go see her and pet her a bit, but be firm.
He opened her boudoir door gently, and she stood before him radiant, clothed in silk and lace, her hair loosened. He paused, astonished. But she threw herself upon his neck, with a joyful, half hysterical cry.
"I will give it all up—everything! Willingly, willingly!" Her voice dropped abruptly to a tremulous whisper. "Oh, Harry! I—I am to be the mother of a child!"
A MASTER OF FATE
"There is not the slightest doubt, Miss Wynn," Senator Smith was saying, "but that the schools of the District will be reorganized."
"And the Board of Education abolished?" she added.
"Yes. The power will be delegated to a single white superintendent."
The vertical line in Caroline Wynn's forehead became pronounced.
"Whose work is this, Senator?" she asked.
"Well, there are, of course, various parties back of the change: the 'outs,' the reformers, the whole tendency to concentrate responsibility, and so on. But, frankly, the deciding factor was the demand of the South."
"Is there anything in Washington that the South does not already own?"
Senator Smith smiled thinly.
"Not much," drily; "but we own the South."
"And part of the price is putting the colored schools of the District in the hands of a Southern man and depriving us of all voice in their control?"
"Precisely, Miss Wynn. But you'd be surprised to know that it was the Negroes themselves who stirred the South to this demand."
"Not at all; you mean the colored newspapers, I presume."
"The same, with Teerswell's clever articles; then his partner Stillings worked the 'impudent Negro teacher' argument on Cresswell until Cresswell was wild to get the South in control of the schools."
"But what do Teerswell and Stillings want?"
"They want Bles Alwyn to make a fool of himself."
"That is a trifle cryptic," Miss Wynn mused. The Senator amplified.
"We are giving the South the Washington schools and killing the Education Bill in return for this support of some of our measures and their assent to Alwyn's appointment. You see I speak frankly."
"I can stand it, Senator."
"I believe you can. Well, now, if Alwyn should act unwisely and offend the South, somebody else stands in line for the appointment."
"As Treasurer?" she asked in surprise.
"Oh, no, they are too shrewd to ask that; it would offend their backers, or shall I say their tools, the Southerners. No, they ask only to be Register and Assistant Register of the Treasury. This is an office colored men have held for years, and it is quite ambitious enough for them; so Stillings assures Cresswell and his friends."
"I see," Miss Wynn slowly acknowledged. "But how do they hope to make Mr. Alwyn blunder?"
"Too easily, I fear—unless you are very careful. Alwyn has been working like a beaver for the National Education Bill. He's been in to see me several times, as you probably know. His heart is set on it. He regards its passage as a sort of vindication of his defence of the party."
"Now, the party has dropped the bill for good, and Alwyn doesn't like it. If he should attack the party—"
"But he wouldn't," cried Miss Wynn with a start that belied her conviction.
"Did you know that he is to be invited to make the principal address to the graduates of the colored high-school?"
"But," she objected. "They have selected Bishop Johnson; I—"
"I know you did," laughed the Senator, "but the Judge got orders from higher up."
"Shrewd Mr. Teerswell," remarked Miss Wynn, sagely.
"Shrewd Mr. Stillings," the Senator corrected; "but perhaps too shrewd. Suppose Mr. Alwyn should take this occasion to make a thorough defence of the party?"
"That's where you come in," Senator Smith pointed out, rising, "and the real reason of this interview. We're depending on you to pull the party out of an awkward hole," and he shook hands with his caller.
Miss Wynn walked slowly up Pennsylvania Avenue with a smile on her face.
"I did not give him the credit," she declared, repeating it; "I did not give him the credit. Here I was, playing an alluring game on the side, and my dear Tom transforms it into a struggle for bread and butter; for of course, if the Board of Education goes, I lose my place." She lifted her head and stared along the avenue.
A bitterness dawned in her eyes. The whole street was a living insult to her. Here she was, an American girl by birth and breeding, a daughter of citizens who had fought and bled and worked for a dozen generations on this soil; yet if she stepped into this hotel to rest, even with full purse, she would be politely refused accommodation. Should she attempt to go into this picture show she would be denied entrance. She was thirsty with the walk; but at yonder fountain the clerk would roughly refuse to serve her. It was lunch time; there was no place within a mile where she was allowed to eat. The revolt deepened within her. Beyond these known and definite discriminations lay the unknown and hovering. In yonder store nothing hindered the clerk from being exceptionally pert; on yonder street-car the conductor might reserve his politeness for white folk; this policeman's business was to keep black and brown people in their places. All this Caroline Wynn thought of, and then smiled.
This was the thing poor blind Bles was trying to attack by "appeals" for "justice." Nonsense! Does one "appeal" to the red-eyed beast that throttles him? No. He composes himself, looks death in the eye, and speaks softly, on the chance. Whereupon Miss Wynn composed herself, waved gayly at a passing acquaintance, and matched some ribbons in a department store. The clerk was new and anxious to sell.
Meantime her brain was busy. She had a hard task before her. Alwyn's absurd conscience and Quixotic ideas were difficult to cope with. After his last indiscreet talk she had ventured deftly to remonstrate, and she well remembered the conversation.
"Wasn't what I said true?" he had asked.
"Perfectly. Is that an excuse for saying it?"
"The facts ought to be known."
"Yes, but ought you to tell them?"
"If not I, who?"
"Some one who is less useful elsewhere, and whom I like less."
"Carrie," he had been intensely earnest. "I want to do the best thing, but I'm puzzled. I wonder if I'm selling my birthright for six thousand dollars?"
"In case of doubt, do it."
"But there's the doubt: I may convert; I may open the eyes of the blind; I may start a crusade for Negro rights."
"Don't believe it; it's useless; we'll never get our rights in this land."
"You don't believe that!" he had ejaculated, shocked.
Well, she must begin again. As she had hoped, he was waiting for her when she reached home. She welcomed him cordially, made a little music for him, and served tea.
"Bles," she said, "the Opposition has been laying a pretty shrewd trap for you."
"What?" he asked absently.
"They are going to have you chosen as High School commencement orator."
"You—and not stuff, but 'Education' will be your natural theme. Indeed, they have so engineered it that the party chiefs expect from you a defence of their dropping of the Educational Bill."
"Yes, and probably your nomination will come before the speech and confirmation after."
Bles walked the floor excitedly for a while and then sat down and smiled.
"It was a shrewd move," he said; "but I think I thank them for it."
"I don't. But still,
"''T is the sport to see the engineer hoist by his own petar.'"
Bles mused and she watched him covertly. Suddenly she leaned over.
"Moreover," she said, "about that same date I'm liable to lose my position as teacher."
He looked at her quickly, and she explained the coming revolution in school management.
He did not discuss the matter, and she was equally reticent; but when he entered the doors of his lodging-place and, gathering his mail, slowly mounted the stairs, there came the battle of his life.
He knew it and he tried to wage it coolly and with method. He arrayed the arguments side by side: on this side lay success; the greatest office ever held by a Negro in America—greater than Douglass or Bruce or Lynch had held—a landmark, a living example and inspiration. A man owed the world success; there were plenty who could fail and stumble and give multiple excuses. Should he be one? He viewed the other side. What must he pay for success? Aye, face it boldly—what? Mechanically he searched for his mail and undid the latest number of the Colored American. He was sure the answer stood there in Teerswell's biting vulgar English. And there it was, with a cartoon:
HIS MASTER'S VOICE
Alwyn is Ordered to Eat His Words or Get Out Watch Him Do It Gracefully The Republican Leaders, etc.
He threw down his paper, and the hot blood sang in his ears. The sickening thought was that it was true. If he did make the speech demanded it would be like a dog obedient to his master's voice.
The cold sweat oozed on his face; throwing up the window, he drank in the Spring breeze, and stared at the city he once had thought so alluring. Somehow it looked like the swamp, only less beautiful; he stretched his arms and his lips breathed—"Zora!"
He turned hastily to his desk and looked at the other piece of mail—a single sealed note carefully written on heavy paper. He did not recognize the handwriting. Then his mind flew off again. What would they say if he failed to get the office? How they would silently hoot and jeer at the upstart who suddenly climbed so high and fell. And Carrie Wynn—poor Carrie, with her pride and position dragged down in his ruin: how would she take it? He writhed in soul. And yet, to be a man; to say calmly, "No"; to stand in that great audience and say, "My people first and last"; to take Carrie's hand and together face the world and struggle again to newer finer triumphs—all this would be very close to attainment of the ideal. He found himself staring at the little letter. Would she go? Would she, could she, lay aside her pride and cynicism, her dainty ways and little extravagances? An odd fancy came to him: perhaps the answer to the riddle lay sealed within the envelope he fingered.