Time: Today Place: The United States
Period of Action: Twenty-four Hours
by HOLMAN DAY
Author of "The Rider of King Log" "The Red Lane" "King Spruce" "Where Your Treasure Is"
PERCIVAL P. BAXTER
A Consistent and Courageous Champion in the Protection of "The People's White Coal." With the Author's Sincere Friendship and High Regard.
I. HOW "THE MORRISON" BROKE ST. RONAN'S RULE II. THE THREAT OF WHAT THE NIGHT MAY BRING III. THE MORRISON ASSUMES SOME CONTRACTS IV. ANSWERING THE FIRST ALARM V. THE MEN WHO WERE WAITING TO BE SHOWN VI. THE MAN'S WORD OF THE MAYOR OF MARION VII. THE THIN CRUST OVER BOILING LAVA VIII. A ROD IN PICKLE IX. MAKING IT A SQUARE BREAK X. A SENATOR SIZES UP A FOE XI. FLAREBACKS IN THE CASE OF LOVE AND A MOB XII. RIFLES RULE IN THE PEOPLE'S HOUSE XIII. THE LINE-UP FORMS IN THE PEOPLE'S HOUSE XIV. THE IMPENDING SHAME OF A STATE XV. THE BOSS OF THE JOB XVI. THE CITY OF MARION SEEKS ITS MAYOR XVII. THE CAPITOL IN SHADOW XVIII. THE CAPITOL ALIGHT XIX. LANA CORSON HAS HER DOUBTS XX. IN THE COLD AND CANDID DAYLIGHT XXI. A WOMAN CHOOSES HER MATE
HOW "THE MORRISON" BROKE ST. RONAN'S RULE
On this crowded twenty-four-hour cross-section of contemporary American life the curtain goes up at nine-thirty o'clock of a January forenoon.
Locality, the city of Marion—the capital of a state.
Time, that politically throbbing, project-crowded, anxious, and expectant season of plot and counterplot—the birth of a legislative session.
Disclosed, the office of St. Ronan's Mill of the city of Marion.
From the days of old Angus, who came over from Scotland and established a woolen mill and handed it down to David, who placed it confidently in the possession of his son Stewart, the unalterable rule was that "The Morrison" entered the factory at seven o'clock in the morning and could not be called from the mill to the office on any pretext whatsoever till he came of his own accord at ten o'clock in the forenoon.
In the reign of David the old John Robinson wagon circus paraded the streets of Marion early on a forenoon and the elephant made a break in a panic and ran into the mill office of the Morrisons through the big door, and Paymaster Andrew Mac Tavish rapped the elephant on the trunk with a penstock and, only partially awakened from abstraction in figures, stated that "Master Morrison willna see callers till he cooms frae the mill at ten."
To go into details about the Morrison manners and methods and doggedness in attending to the matter in hand, whatever it might be, would not limn Stewart Morrison in any clearer light than to state that old Andrew, at seventy-two, was obeying Stewart's orders as to the ten-o'clock rule and was just as consistently a Cerberus as he had been in the case of Angus and David. He was a bit more set in his impassivity—at least to all appearances—because chronic arthritis had made his neck permanently stiff.
It may be added that Stewart Morrison was thirty-odd, a bachelor, dwelt with his widowed mother in the Morrison mansion, was mayor of the city of Marion, though he did not want to be mayor, and was chairman of the State Water Storage Commission because he particularly wanted to be the chairman; he was, by reason of that office, in a position where he could rap the knuckles of those who should attempt to grab and selfishly exploit "The People's White Coal," as he called water-power. These latter appertaining qualifications were interesting enough, but his undeviating observance of the mill rule of the Morrisons of St. Ronan's served more effectively to point the matter of his character. Stewart Morrison when he was in the mill was in it from top to bottom, from carder to spinner and weaver, from wool-sorter to cloth-hall inspector, to make sure that the manufacturing principles for which All-Wool Morrison stood were carried out to the last detail.
On that January morning, as usual, he was in the mill with his sleeves rolled up.
On his high stool in the office was Andrew Mac Tavish, his head framed in the wicket of his desk, and the style of his beard gave him the look of a Scotch terrier in the door of a kennel.
The office was near the street, a low building of brick, having one big room; a narrow, covered passage connected the room with the mill. A rail divided the office into two small parts.
According to his custom in the past few months, Mac Tavish, when he dipped his pen, stabbed pointed glances beyond the rail and curled his lips and made his whiskers bristle and continually looked as if he were going to bark; he kept his mouth shut, however.
But his silence was more baleful than any sounds he could have uttered; it was a sort of ominous, canine silence, covering a hankering to get in a good bite if the opportunity was ever offered.
It was the rabble o' the morning—the crowd waiting to see His Honor the Mayor—on the other side of the rail. It was the sacrilegious invasion of a business office in the hours sacred to business. It was like that every morning. It was just as well that the taciturn Mac Tavish considered that his general principle of cautious reserve applied to this situation as it did to matters of business in general, otherwise the explosion through that wicket some morning would have blown out the windows. Mac Tavish did not understand politics. He did not approve of politics. Government was all right, of course. But the game of running it, as the politicians played the game! Bah!
He had taken it upon himself to tell the politicians of the city that Stewart Morrison would never accept the office of mayor. Mac Tavish had frothed at the mouth as he rolled his r's and had threshed the air with his fist in frantic protest. Stewart Morrison was away off in the mountains, hunting caribou on the only real vacation he had taken in half a dozen years—and the city of Marion took advantage of a good man, so Mac Tavish asserted, to shove him into the job of mayor; and a brass band was at the station to meet the mayor and the howling mob lugged him into City Hall just as he was, mackinaw jacket, jack-boots, woolen Tam, rifle and all—and Mac Tavish hoped the master would wing a few of 'em just to show his disapprobation. In fact, it was allowed by the judicious observers that the new mayor did display symptoms of desiring to pump lead into the cheering assemblage instead of being willing to deliver a speech of acceptance.
He did not drop, as his manner indicated, all his resentment for some weeks—and then Mac Tavish picked up the resentment and loyally carried it for the master, in the way of outward malevolence and inner seething. The regular joke in Marion was built around the statement that if anybody wanted to get next to a hot Scotch in these prohibition times, step into the St. Ronan's mill office any morning about nine-thirty.
Up to date Mac Tavish had not thrown any paper-weights through the wicket, though he had been collecting ammunition in that line against the day when nothing else could express his emotions. It was in his mind that the occasion would come when Stewart Morrison finally reached the limit of endurance and, with the Highland chieftain's battle-cry of the old clan, started in to clear the office, throwing his resignation after the gang o' them! Mac Tavish would throw the paper-weights. He wondered every day if that would be the day, and the encouraging expectation helped him to endure.
Among those present was a young fellow with his chaps tied up; there was a sniveling old woman who patted the young man's shoulder and evoked protesting growls. There were shifty-eyed men who wanted to make a touch—Mac Tavish knew the breed. There was a fat, wheezy, pig-farm keeper who had a swill contract with the city and came in every other day with a grunt of fresh complaint. There were the usual new faces, but Mac Tavish understood perfectly well that they were there to bother a mayor, not to help the woolen-goods business. There was old Hon. Calvin Dow, a pensioner of David Morrison, now passed on to the considerately befriending Stewart, and Mac Tavish was deeply disgusted with a man who was so impractical in his business affairs that, though he had been financially busted for ten years, he still kept along in the bland belief, based on Stewart's assurances, that money was due him from the Morrisons. Whenever Mac Tavish went to the safe, obeying Stewart's word, he expressed sotto voce the wish that he might be able to drop into the Hon. Calvin Dow's palm red-hot coins from the nippers of a pair of tongs. It was not that Mac Tavish lacked the spirit of charity, but that he wanted every man to know to the full the grand and noble goodness of the Morrisons, and be properly grateful, as he himself was. Dow's complacency in his hallucination was exasperating!
But there was no one in sight that morning who promised the diversion or the effrontery that would make this the day of days, and there seemed to be no excuse that would furnish the occasion for the battle-cry which would end all this pestiferous series of levees.
The muffled rackelty-chackle of the distant looms soothed Mac Tavish. The nearer rick-tack of Miss Delora Bunker's typewriter furnished obbligato for the chorus of the looms. It was all good music for a business man. But those muttering, mumbling mayor-chasers—it was a tin-can, cow-bell discord in a symphony concert.
Mac Tavish, honoring the combat code of Caledonia, required presumption to excuse attack, needed an upthrust head to justify a whack.
Patrolman Cornelius Rellihan, six feet two, was lofty enough. He marched to and fro beyond the rail, his heavy shoes flailing down on the hardwood floor. Every morning the bang of those boots started the old pains to thrusting in Mac Tavish's neck. But Officer Rellihan was the mayor's major-domo, officially, and Stewart's pet and protg and worshiping vassal in ordinary. An intruding elephant might be evicted; Rellihan could not even receive the tap of a single word of remonstrance.
It promised only another day like the others, with nothing that hinted at a climacteric which would make the affairs of the mill office of the Morrisons either better or worse.
Then Col. Crockett Shaw marched in, wearing a plug-hat to mark the occasion as especial and official, but taking no chances on the dangers of that unwonted regalia in frosty January; he had ear-tabs close clamped to the sides of his head.
Mac Tavish took heart. He hated a plug-hat. He disliked Col. Crockett Shaw, for Shaw was a man who employed politics as a business. Colonel Shaw was carrying his shoulders well back and seemed to be taller than usual, his new air of pomposity making him a head thrust above the horde. Colonel Shaw offensively banged the door behind himself. Mac Tavish removed a package of time-sheets that covered a pile of paper-weights. Colonel Shaw came stamping across the room, clapping his gloved hands together, as if he were as cold under the frosty eyes of Mac Tavish as he had been in the nip of the January chill outdoors.
"Mayor Morrison! Call him at once!" he commanded, at the wicket.
Mac Tavish closed his hand over one of the paper-weights. He opened his mouth.
But Colonel Shaw was ahead of him with speech! "This is the time when that fool mill-rule goes bump!" The colonel's triumphant tone hinted that he had been waiting for a time like this. His entrance and his voice of authority took all the attention of the other waiters off their own affairs. "Call out Mayor Morrison."
"Haud yer havers, ye keckling loon! Whaur's yer een for the tickit gillie?" The old paymaster jabbed indignant thumb over his shoulder to indicate the big clock on the wall.
"I can't hear what you say on account of these ear-pads, and it doesn't make any difference what you say, Andy! This is the day when all rules are off." He was fully conscious that he had the ears of all those in the room. He braced back. With an air of a functionary calling on the multitude to make way for royalty he declaimed, "Call His Honor Mayor Morrison at once to this room for a conference with the Honorable Jodrey Wadsworth Corson, United States Senator. I am here to announce that Senator Corson is on the way."
Mac Tavish narrowed his eyes; he whittled his tone to a fine point to correspond, and the general effect was like impaling a puffball on a rat-tail file. "If ye hae coom sunstruck on a January day, ye'd best stick a sopped sponge in the laft o' yer tar-pail bonnet. Sit ye doon and speir the hands o' the clock for to tell when the Morrison cooms frae the mill."
The colonel banged the flat of his hand on the ledge outside the wicket. "It isn't an elephant this time, Mac Tavish. It's a United States Senator. Act on my orders, or into the mill I go, myself!"
The old man slid down from the stool, a paperweight in each hand. "Only o'er my dead body will ye tell him in yer mortal flesh. Make the start to enter the mill, and it's my thocht that ye'll tell him by speeritual knocks or by tipping a table through a meejum!"
"Lay off that jabber, old bucks, the two of ye!" commanded Officer Rellihan, swinging across the room. "I'm here to kape th' place straight and dacint!"
"I hae the say. I'll gie off the orders," remonstrated Mac Tavish; there was grim satisfaction in the twist of his mouth; it seemed as if the day of days had arrived.
"On that side your bar ye may boss the wool business. But this is the mayor's side and the colonel is saying he's here to see His Honor. Colonel, ye'll take your seat and wait your turn!" He cupped his big hand under the emissary's elbow.
Mac Tavish and Rellihan, by virtue of jobs and natures, were foes, but their team-work in behalf of the interests of the Morrison was comprehensively perfect.
"What's the matter with your brains, Rellihan?" demanded the colonel, hotly.
"I don't kape stirring 'em up to ask 'em, seeing that they're resting aisy," returned the policeman, smiling placidly. "And there's nothing the matter with my muscle, is there?" He gently but firmly pushed the colonel down into a chair.
"Don't you realize what it means to have a United States Senator come to a formal conference?"
"No! I never had one call on me."
"Rellihan, Morrison will fire you off the force if it happens that a United States Senator has to wait in this office."
The officer pulled off his helmet and plucked a card from the sweatband. "It says here, 'Kape 'em in order, be firm but pleasant, tell 'em to wait in turn, and'—for meself—'to do no more talking than necessary.' If there's to be a new rule to fit the case of Senators, the same will prob'bly be handed to me as soon as Senators are common on the calling-list." He put up a hand in front of the colonel's face—a broad and compelling hand. "Now I'm going along on the old orders and the clock tells ye that ye have a scant twinty minutes to wait. And if I do any more talking, of the kind that ain't necessary, I'll break a rule. Be aisy, Colonel Shaw!" He resumed his noisy promenade.
Mac Tavish was back on the stool and he clashed glances with Colonel Shaw with alacrity.
"There'll be an upheaval in this office, Mac Tavish."
"Aye! If ye make one more step toward the mill door ye'll not ken of a certainty whaur ye'll land when ye're upheaved."
After a few minutes of the silence of that armed truce, Miss Bunker tiptoed over to Mac Tavish, making an excuse of a sheet of paper which she laid before him; the paper was blank. "Daddy Mac!" Miss Bunker enjoyed that privilege in nomenclature along with other privileges usually won in offices by young ladies who know how to do their work well and are able to smooth human nature the right way. She went on in a solicitous whisper. "We must be sure that we're not making any office mistake. This being Senator Corson!"
"I still hae me orders, lassie!"
"But listen, Daddy Mac! When I came from the post-office the Senator's car went past me. Miss Lana was with him. Don't you think we ought to get a word to Mr. Morrison?"
"Word o' what?" The old man wrinkled his nose, already sniffing what was on the way.
"Why, that Miss Lana may be calling, along with her father."
"Mr. Morrison is a gentleman, above all things," declared the girl, nettled by this supercilious interrogation. "If Miss Corson calls with her father and is obliged to wait, Mr. Morrison will be mortified. Very likely he will be angry because he wasn't notified. I understand the social end of things better than you, Daddy Mac. I think it's my duty to take in a word to him."
"Aye! Yus! Gude! And tell him the music is ready, the flowers are here, and the tea is served! Use the office for all owt but the wool business. To Auld Hornie wi' the wool business! Politeeks and socieety! Lass, are ye gone daffie wi' the rest?"
"Hush, Daddy Mac! Don't raise your voice in your temper. What if he should still be in love with Miss Lana, spite of her being away among the great folks all this long time?"
Mac Tavish was holding the paper-weights. He banged them down on his desk and shoved his nose close to hers. "Fash me nae mair wi' your silly talk o' love, in business hours! If aye he wanted her when she was here at hame and safe and sensible, the Morrison o' the Morrisons had only to reach his hand to her and say, 'Coom, lass!' But noo that she is back wi' head high and notions alaft, he'd no accept her! She's nowt but a draft signed by Sham o' Shoddy and sent through the Bank o' Brag and Blaw! No! He'd no' accept her! And now back wi' ye to yer tickety-tack! I hae my orders, and the Queen o' Sheba might yammer and be no' the gainer!"
Miss Bunker swept up the sheet of blank paper with a vicious dab and went back to her work, crumpling it. Passing the hat-tree, she was tempted to grab the Morrison's coat and waistcoat and run into the mill with them, dodging Mac Tavish and his paper-weights in spite of what she knew of his threats regarding the use he proposed to make of them in case of need. She believed that Miss Lana Corson would come to the office with the others who were riding in the automobile. She had her own special cares and a truly feminine apprehension in this matter, and she believed that the young man, who was one of the guests at the reopened Corson mansion on Corson Hill, was a suitor, just as Marion gossip asserted he was.
Miss Bunker had two good eyes in her head and womanly intuitiveness in her soul, and she had read three times into empty air a dictated letter while Stewart Morrison looked past her in the direction which the Corson car had taken that first day when Lana Corson had shown herself on the street.
And here was that stiff-necked old watch-dog callously laying his corns so that Stewart Morrison would appear to be boor enough to allow a young lady to wait along with that unspeakable rabble; and when he did come he would arrive in his shirt-sleeves to be matched up against a handsome young man in an Astrakhan top-coat! Under those circumstances, what view would Miss Lana Corson take of the man who had stayed in Marion? Miss Bunker was profoundly certain that Mac Tavish did not know what love was and never did understand and could not be enlightened at that period in his life. But he might at least put the matter on a business basis, she reflected, incensed, and show some degree of local pride in grabbing in with the rest of Mr. Morrison's friends to assist in a critical situation.
And right then the situation became pointedly critical.
The broad door of the office was flung open by a chauffeur.
It was the Corson party.
Colonel Shaw was not in a mood to apologize for anybody except himself. He rose and saluted. "Coming here to herald your call, Senator Corson, I have been insulted by a bumptious understrapper and held in leash by an ignorant policeman. They say it's according to a rule of the Morrison mills. I suppose that when Mayor Morrison comes out of the mill at ten o'clock, following his own rule, he can explain to you why he maintains that insulting custom of his and continues this kind of an office crew to enforce it."
Miss Bunker flung the sheet of paper that she had crumpled into a ball and it struck Mac Tavish on the side of the head that he bent obtrusively over his figures.
The old man snapped stiffly upright and distributed implacable stare among the members of the newly arrived party. He was not softened by Miss Corson's glowing beauty, nor impressed by the United States Senator's dignity, nor won by the charming smile of Miss Corson's well-favored squire, nor daunted by the inquiring scowl of a pompous man whose mutton-chop whiskers mingled with the beaver fur about his neck; a stranger who was patently prosperous and metropolitan.
Furthermore, Mac Tavish, undaunted, promptly dared to exchange growls with "Old Dog Tray," himself. The latter, none else than His Excellency, Lawrence North, Governor of the state, marched toward the wicket, wagging his tail, but the wagging was not a display of amiability. The politicians called North "Old Dog Tray" because his permanent limp caused his coattails to sway when he walked.
"Be jing! I've been on the job here at manny a deal of a morn," confided Officer Rellihan to Calvin Dow, "but here's the first natural straight flush r'yal, dealt without a draw." He tagged the Corson party with estimating squints, beginning with the Governor. "Ace, king, queen, John-jack, and the ten-spot! They've caught the office, this time, with a two-spot high!"
Mac Tavish played it pat! "And 'tis the mill rule; it lacks twal' meenutes o' the hour—and the clock yon on the wall is richt!" Thus referring all responsibility to the clock, the paymaster dipped his pen and went on with his figures.
The Governor cross-creased the natural deep furrows in his face with ridges which registered indignant amazement. "You have lost your wits, but you seem to have your eyes! Use them!"
"It's the mill rule!"
"But we are not here on mill business!"
"Then it canna concern me."
"Officer, do you know what part of the mill Mayor Morrison is in?" The Governor turned from Mac Tavish to Rellihan.
"He is nae sic thing as mayor till ten o' the clock and till he cooms here for the crackin wi' yon corbies!" declared the old paymaster, pointing derogatory penstock through the wicket at "the crows" who were ranged along the settees.
Rellihan shook his head.
"Well, at any rate, go hunt him up," commanded His Excellency.
Rellihan shook his head again; this seemed to be an occasion where unnecessary talking fell under interdiction; for that matter, Rellihan possessed only a vocabulary to use in talking down to the proletariat; he was debarred from telling these dignitaries to "shut up and sit aisy!"
"A blind man, now a dumb man—Colonel Shaw, go and hunt up the man we're here to see!"
The colonel feigned elaborately not to hear.
"And finally a deaf one! Take off those ear-tabs! Go and bring the mayor here!"
Mac Tavish dropped from his stool, armed himself with two paper-weights, and took up a strategic position near the door which led into the passage to the mill.
"Roderick Dhu at bay! Impressive tableau!" whispered the young man of the Corson party in Lana's ear, displaying such significant and wonted familiarity that Miss Bunker, employing her vigilance exclusively in the direction in which her fears and her interest lay, sighed and muttered.
The door of the corridor was flung open suddenly! The staccato of the orchestra of the looms sounded more loudly and provided entrance music. Astonishment rendered Mac Tavish hors de combat. He dropped his weights and his lower jaw sagged.
It was the Morrison—breaking the ancient rule of St. Ronan's—ten minutes ahead of time!
THE THREAT OF WHAT THE NIGHT MAY BRING
All the Morrisons were upstickit chiels in point of height.
Stewart had appeared so abruptly, he towered so dominantly, that a stranger would have expected a general precipitateness of personality and speech to go with his looks.
But after he had closed the door he stood and stroked his palm slowly over his temple, smoothing down his fair hair—a gesture that was a part of his individuality; and his smile, while it was not at all diffident, was deprecatory. He began to roll down the sleeves of his shirt.
There was the repressed humor of his race in the glint in his eyes; he drawled a bit when he spoke, covering thus the Scotch hitch-and-go-on in the natural accent that had come down to him from his ancestors.
"I saw your car arrive, Senator Corson, and I broke the sprinting record."
"And the mill rule!" muttered Mac Tavish.
"It's only an informal call, Stewart," explained the Senator, amiably, walking toward the rail.
"And you have caught me in informal rig, sir!" He pulled his coat and waistcoat from the hooks and added, while he tugged the garments on, "So I'll say, informally, I'm precious glad to see old neighbors home again and to know the Corson mansion is opened, if only for a little while."
"Lana came down with the servants a few days ago. I couldn't get here till last evening. I have some friends with me, Stewart, who have come along in the car to join me in paying our respects to the mayor of Marion."
Morrison threw up the bar of the rail and stepped through. He clutched the hand of the Senator in his big, cordial grip. "And now, being out in the mayor's office, I'll extend formal welcome in the name of the city, sir."
He looked past the father toward the daughter.
"But I must interrupt formality long enough to present my most respectful compliments to Miss Corson, even walking right past you, Governor North, to do so!" explained Stewart, marching toward Lana, smiling down on her.
Their brief exchange of social commonplaces was perfunctory enough, their manner suggested nothing to a casual observer; but Miss Bunker was not a casual observer. "She's ashamed," was her mental conviction. "Her eyes give her away. She don't look up at him like a girl can look at any man when there's nothing on her conscience. Whatever it was that happened, she's the one who's to blame—but if she can't be sorry it doesn't excuse her because she's ashamed."
Possibly Miss Corson was covering embarrassment with the jaunty grandiloquence that she displayed.
"I have dared to intrude among the mighty of the state and city, Mister Mayor, in order to impress upon you by word of mouth that your invitation to the reception at our home this evening isn't merely an invitation extended to the chief executive of the city. It's for Stewart Morrison himself," ran her little speech.
"I hoped so. This word from you certifies it. And Stewart Morrison will strive to behave just as politely as he used to behave at other parties of Lana Corson's when he steeled his heart against a second helping of cake and cream."
She forestalled her father. "Allow me to make you acquainted with Coventry Daunt, Stewart."
Morrison surveyed the young stranger with frank and appraising interest. Then the big hand went out with no hint of any reservation in cordiality.
"I'm sure you two are going to be excellent friends!" prophesied Lana. "You're so much alike."
The florid giant and the dapper, dark young man swapped apologies in a faint flicker of a mutual grin.
"I mean in your tastes! Mr. Daunt is tremendously interested in water-power," Miss Corson hastened to say. "But father is waiting for you, Stewart."
So, however, was the sniveling old woman waiting!
She had not presumed to break in on a conference with another of her sex—but when the mayor turned from the lady and started to be concerned with mere men, the old woman asserted her prerogative. "Out of me way. Con Rellihan, ye omadhaun, that I have chased manny the time out o' me patch! I'm a lady and I have me rights first!" She struggled and squalled when the officer set his palms against her to push her away.
Morrison dropped the Governor's hand, broke off his "duty speech," and with rueful smile pleaded for tolerance from the Corson party.
"Hush, Mother Slattery!" he remonstrated.
"Ah, that's orders from him as has the grand right to give 'em! Niver a wor-rd from me mouth, Your 'Anner, till I may say me say at your call!"
A prolonged, still more deprecatory smile was bestowed by the mayor on the lite among his guests!
"I was out of town when I was elected mayor, and they hadn't taken the precaution to measure me for an office room at the city building. I didn't fit anything down there. Some day they're going to build the place over and have room for the mayor to transact business without holding callers on his knee. In the mean time, what mayoralty business I don't do out of my hat on the street I attend to here where I can give a little attention to my own business as well. Now, just a moment please!" he pleaded, turning from them.
He went to the old woman, checking the outburst with which she flooded him when he approached. "I know! I know, Mother Slattery! No need to tell me about it. As a fellow-martyr, I realize just how Jim has been up against it—again!" He slid something into her hand "Rellihan will speak to the judge!" He passed hastily from person to person, the officer at his heels with ear cocked to receive the orders of his master as to the disposition of cases and affairs. Then Rellihan marshaled the retreat of the supplicants from the presence.
"I do hope you understand why I attended to that business first," apologized the mayor.
"Certainly! It's all in the way of politics," averred the Senator, out of his own experience. "I have been mayor of Marion, myself!"
"With me it's business instead of politics," returned Morrison, gravely. "I don't know anything about politics. Mac Tavish, there, says I don't. And Tavish knows me well. But when I took this job—"
"Ye didna tak' it," protested Mac Tavish, determined then, as always, that the Morrison should be set in the right light. "They scrabbled ye by yer scruff and whamped ye into a—"
"Yes! Aye! Something of the sort! But I'm in, and I feel under obligations to attend to the business of the city as it comes to hand. And business—I have made business sacred when I have taken on the burden of it."
"I fully understand that, Stewart, and my friend Daunt will be glad to hear you say what I know is true. For he is here in our state on business—business in your line," affirmed the Senator. He put his hand on the arm of the elderly man with the assertive mutton-chop whiskers. "Silas Daunt, Mayor Morrison! Mr. Daunt of the banking firm of Daunt & Cropley."
"Business in my line, you say, sir?" demanded Morrison, pursuing a matter of interest with characteristic directness.
"Development of water-power, Mister Mayor. We are taking the question up in a broad and, I hope, intelligent way."
"Good! You touch me on my tenderest spot, Mr. Daunt."
"Senator Corson has explained your intense interest in the water-power in this state. And this state, in my opinion, has more wonderful possibilities of development than any other in the Union."
Morrison did not drawl when he replied. His demeanor corroborated his statement as to his tenderest spot. "It's a sleeping giant!" he cried.
"It's time to wake it up and put it to work," stated Daunt.
"Exactly!" agreed Senator Corson. "I'm glad I'm paying some of the debt I owe the people of this state by bringing two such men as you together. I have wasted no time, Stewart!"
"Round and round the wheels of great affairs begin to whirl!" declaimed Lana. "The grain of sand must immediately eliminate itself from this atmosphere; otherwise, it may fall into the bearings and cause annoying mischief. I'll send the car back, father. I mustn't bother a business meeting."
A grimace that hinted at hurt wrinkled the candor of the Morrison's countenance. "I hoped it wasn't mere business that brought you—all!" He dwelt on the last word with wistful significance, staring at Lana.
"No, no!" said the Senator, hastily. "Not business—not business, wholly. A neighborly call, Stewart! The Governor, Mr. Daunt, Lana—all of us to pay our respects. But"—he glanced around the big room—"now that we're here, and the time will be so crowded after the legislature assembles, why not let Daunt express some of his views on the power situation? Without you and your support nothing can be done. We must develop our noble old state! Where is your private office?"
"I have never needed one," confessed Stewart; it was a pregnant hint as to the Morrison methods. "I never expected to be honored as I am to-day."
The Hon. Calvin Dow was posted near a window in a big chair, comfortably reading one of Stewart's newspapers. Several other citizens of Marion, sheep of such prominence that they could not be shooed away with the mere goats who had been excluded, were waiting an audience with the mayor.
"You understand, of course, that there is no secrecy—that is to say, no secrecy beyond the usual business precautions involved," protested the Senator. The frank query in Stewart's eyes had been a bit disconcerting. "But to have matters of business bandied ahead of time by the mouth of gossip, on half-information, is as damaging as all this ridiculous talk that's now rioting through the city regarding politics."
"It's all an atrocious libel on my administration," exploded Governor North. "It's damnable nonsense!"
"Old Dog Tray," when he had occasion to bark, was not noted for polite reticence.
Lana took Coventry Daunt's arm and started off with an elaborate display of mock terror. "And now politics goes whirling, too! My, how the ground shakes! Mister Mayor, I'll promise you more serene conditions on Corson Hill this evening."
There was an unmistakable air of proprietorship in her manner with the young man who accompanied her.
The Governor shook his finger before the mayor's face and, in his complete absorption in his own tribulation, failed to remark that he was not receiving undivided attention. "I'm depending on men like you, Morrison. I have dropped in here to-day to tell you that I'm depending on you."
Senator Corson had apparently convinced himself that the mill office of St. Ronan's was too much of an open-faced proposition; it seemed more like an arena than a conference-room. Dow and the waiting gentlemen of Marion showed that they were frankly interested in the Governor's outbreak. Right then there were new arrivals.
The Senator hastily made himself solitaire manager of that particular chess-game and ordered moves: "Lana, wait with Coventry in the car. We'll be only a moment. At my house this evening it will be a fine opportunity for you and Daunt to have your little chat, Stewart, and get together to push the grand project for our good state."
"Yes," agreed Morrison; "I'll be glad to come." He was giving the young woman and her escort his close attention and spoke as if he meant what he said. He blinked when the door closed behind them.
"And what say if you wait till then, Governor, to confer with the mayor—if you really find that there is need of a conference?" suggested the director of moves.
"But I want to tell you right now, Morrison, seeing that you're mayor of the city where our state Capitol is located, that I expect your full co-operation in case of trouble to-night or to-morrow," His Excellency declared, with vigor.
"Oh, there will be no trouble," asserted the Senator, airily. "Coming in fresh from the outside—from a wider horizon—I can estimate the situation with a better sense of proportion than you can, North, if you'll allow me to say so. We can always depend on the sane reliability of our grand old state!"
The Governor was not reassured or placated.
"And you can always depend on a certain number of sore-heads to make fools of themselves here—you could depend on it in the old days; it's worse in these times when everybody is ready to pitch into a row and clapper-claw right and left simply because they're aching for a fight."
The closed door had no more revelations to offer to Morrison; he turned his mystified gaze on the Senator and the Governor as if he desired to solve at least one of the problems that had come to hand all of a sudden.
"I can take care of things up on Capitol Hill, Morrison! I'm the Governor of this state and I have been re-elected to succeed myself, and that ought to be proof that the people are behind me. But I want you to see to it that the damnation mob-hornets are kept at home in the city here, where they belong."
"When father kept bees I used to save many a hiveful for him by banging on mother's dishpan when they started to swarm. As to the hornets—"
"I don't care what you bang on," broke in His Excellency. "On their heads, if they show them! But do I have your co-operation in the name of law and order?"
"You may surely depend on me, even if I'm obliged to mobilize Mac Tavish and his paper-weights," said the mayor, and for the first time in the memory of Miss Bunker, at least, Mac Tavish flushed; the paymaster had been hoping that the laird o' St. Ronan's had not noted the full extent of the belligerency that had been displayed in making mill rules respected.
But the abstraction that had marked Morrison's demeanor when he had looked over the Governor's head at the closed door and the later glint of jest in his eyes departed suddenly. The eyes narrowed.
"You talk of trouble that's impending this night, Governor North!"
"There'll be no trouble," insisted the Senator.
"Fools can always stir a row," declared His Excellency, with just as much emphasis. "Fools who are led by rascals! Rascals who would wreck an express train for the chance to pick pocketbooks off corpses! There's been that element behind every piece of political hellishness and every strike we've had in this country in the last two years since the Russian bear stood up and began to dance to that devil's tune! On the eve of the assembling of this legislature, Morrison, you're probably hearing the blacklegs in the other party howl 'state steal' again!"
"No, I haven't heard any such howl—not lately—not since the November election," said Morrison. "Why are they starting it now?"
"I don't know," retorted the Governor. But the mayor's stare was again wide-open and compelling, and His Excellency's gaze shifted to Mac Tavish and then jumped off that uncomfortable object and found refuge on the ceiling.
"The licked rebels know! They're the only ones who do know," asserted the Senator.
Col. Crockett Shaw, practical politician, felt qualified to testify as an expert. "Those other fellows won't play the game according to the rules, Morrison! They sit in and draw cards and then beef about the deal and rip up the pasteboards and throw 'em on the floor and try to grab the pot. They won't play the game!"
"That's it exactly!" the Governor affirmed.
Senator Corson patted Morrison's arm. "Now that you're in politics for yourself, Stewart, you can see the point, can't you?"
"I don't think I'm in politics, sir," demurred the mayor, smiling ingenuously. "At any rate, there isn't much politics in me!"
"But the game must be played by the rules!" Senator Corson spoke with the finality of an oracle.
"If you don't think that way," persisted Governor North, nettled by Morrison's hesitancy in jumping into the ring with his own party, "what do you think?"
"I wouldn't presume," drawled Stewart, "to offer political opinions to gentlemen of your experience. However, now that you ask me a blunt question, I'm going to reply just as bluntly—but as a business man! I believe that running the affairs of the people on the square is business—it ought to be made good business. Governor North, you're at the head of the biggest corporation in our state. That corporation is the state itself. And I don't believe the thing ought to be run as a game—naming the game politics."
"That's the only way the thing can be run—and you've got to stand by your own party when it's running the state. You need a little lesson in politics, Morrison, and I'm going to show you—"
The mayor of Marion raised a protesting hand. "I never could get head nor tail out of a political oration, sir. But I do understand facts and figures. Let's get at facts! Is this trouble you speak of as imminent—is it due to the question of letting certain members of the House and Senate take their seats to-morrow?"
"I must go into that matter with you in detail!"
"It has been gone into with detail in the newspapers till I'm sick of it, with all due respect to you, Governor North. It has been played back and forth like a game—and I don't understand games. There has been no more talk of trouble since you and your executive council let it be known that all the members were to walk into the State House and take their seats and settle among themselves their rights."
"We never deliberately and decisively let that be known."
"Then it has been guessed by your general attitude, sir. That's the common talk—and the common talk comes to me like it does to all others. That talk has smoothed things. Why not keep things smooth?"
"Breaking election laws to keep sore-heads smooth? Is that your idea of politics?"
"You cannot get me into any argument over politics, sir! I'm talking about the business of the state. I have found that I could do business openly in this office. It has served me even though it has no private room. I say nothing against you and your council because you have done the state's business behind closed doors at the State House. However—"
"The law obliges us to canvass returns in executive session, Morrison."
"I say nothing against the business you have done there," proceeded Morrison, inexorably. "I can't say anything. I don't know what has been done. I'm in no position, therefore, to criticize. If I did know I'd probably have, good reason to praise you state managers as good and faithful servants of our people. But the people don't know. You have left 'em to guess. It's their business. It's bad policy to keep folks guessing when their own business is concerned. What's the matter with throwing wide the doors to-morrow and saying 'Come along in, people, and we'll talk this over'?"
"That's admitting the mob to riot, to intimidate, to rule!"
"Impractical—wholly impractical, Stewart," the Senator chided.
Calvin Dow came toward the group, stuffing his spectacles back into their case. Given a decoration for his coat lapel, the Hon. Calvin Dow, with his white mustache and his imperial, would have served for an excellent model in a study of a marshal of France. His intrusion, if such it was, was not resented; with his old-school manners and his gentle voice he was the embodiment of apology that demanded acceptance. "Jodrey, you never said a truer word. As old politicians, you and I, we understand just how impractical such an idea is. But I must be allowed to put the emphasis very decidedly on the word 'old.' There seems to be something new in the air all of a sudden."
"Yes, a fresh crop of moonshiners in politics," was the Senator's acrid response. "And the stuff they're putting out is as raw and dangerous as this prohibition-ducking poison."
"The trouble is, Jodrey," pursued the old man, gently, but undeterred, "those honest folks who really do own the country show signs of waking up and wanting to pay off the mortgage the politicians hold on it; and those radicals who think they're going to own the country right soon, now, believe they can turn the trick overnight by killing off the politicians and browbeating the proprietors. It looks to me as if the politicians and the real owners better hitch up together on a clean, business basis."
"Excellent! Excellent!" declared Banker Daunt, who had been shifting uneasily from foot to foot, chafing his heavy neck against the beaver collar, perceiving that his own projects were only marking time. "Hitch up on a better business basis! It should be the slogan of the times. Eh, Mister Mayor?"
"Right you are! crisply agreed Stewart, complimenting Daunt with a cheery smile that promised excellent understanding.
"And harmony among the progressive leaders of city and state! Eh, Mister Mayor? What say, Governor North?" The metropolitan Mr. Daunt was not disposed to allow his commercial proposition to be run away with by a stampeding political team.
"That's what I'm asking for—the co-operation that will fetch harmony," admitted the Governor, grudgingly. "But—"
However, when His Excellency turned to the mayor with the plain intent of getting down to a working understanding, Mr. Daunt broke up what threatened to be an embarrassing clinch. As if carried away by enthusiasm in meeting one of his own kind in business affairs, Daunt grabbed Morrison's hand and pulled the mayor away with him toward the door, assuring him that he was glad to pitch in, heart and soul, with a man who had the best interests of a grand state to conserve and develop in the line of water-power. Then he went on as if quoting from a prospectus.
"When the veins and the arteries of old Mother Earth have been drained of the coal and oil, Mr. Morrison, God's waters will still be flowing along the valleys, roaring down the cliffs, ready to turn the wheels of commerce. On the waters we must put our dependence. They are the Creator's best heritage to His people, in lifting and making light the burden of labor!" was the promoter's pompous declaration.
"You cannot shout that truth too loudly, sir! I have been crying it, myself. But I always add with my cry the warning that if the people don't look sharp, the folks who hogged the other heritages, grabbed the iron, hooked onto the coal, and have posted themselves at the tap o' the nation's oil-can, will have the White Coal, too! God will still make water run downhill, but it will run for the profit of the men who peddle what it performs. I'll be glad to have you help me in that warning!"
"Exactly!" agreed Mr. Daunt. "When you and I are thoroughly en rapport, we can accomplish wonders." His rush of the willing Morrison to the door had accomplished one purpose: he had created a diversion that staved off further political disagreement for the moment. "You must pardon my haste in being off, Mister Mayor. Senator Corson has promised to motor me along the river as far as possible before lunch, so that I may inspect the water-power possibilities. Come, Governor North!" he called.
Daunt again addressed Morrison. "The Senator tells me that your mill privilege is the key power on the river."
"Aye, sir! The Morrison who was named Angus built the first dam," stated Stewart, with pride. "But we have never hoarded the water nor hampered the others who have come after us. We use what we need—only that—and let the water flow free—and we're glad to see it go down to turn other wheels than our own. Without the many wheels a-turning there would not have been the many homes a-building!"
"Exactly! Development—along the broadest lines! Do you promise me your aid and your co-operation?"
"I do," declared Stewart.
"You're the kind of a man who makes a spoken word of that sort more binding than a written pledge with a notarial seal." Again Daunt shook the Morrison hand. "I consider it settled!"
Daunt's wink when he grabbed Morrison had tipped off Senator Corson, and the latter collaborated with alacrity; he hustled the Governor toward the door. "We must show Daunt all we can before lunch, Your Excellency! All the possibilities of the grand old state!"
"I haven't got your promise for myself, Morrison," snapped North over his shoulder. "But I reckon I can depend on you to do as much for your party and for law and order as you'll do for the sake of a confounded mill-dam. And we'll leave it that way!"
"There'll be no trouble, I repeat," promised Senator Corson, making himself file-closer. "North has been sticking too close to politics on Capitol Hill, and he has let it make him nervous. But we'll put festivity ahead of everything else on Corson Hill, to-night, and the girls will be on hand to make the boys all sociable. Come early, Stewart!"
The mayor flung up his hand—a boyish gesture of faith in the best. "Hail to you as a peacemaker! We have been needing you! We're glad you're home again, sir."
For a few moments he turned his back on the business of the city, as it awaited him in the persons of the citizens. He went to the front window and gazed at the Corson limousine until it rolled away; Lana had Coventry Daunt with her in the cozy intimacy afforded by the twin seats forward in the tonneau.
"They make a smart-looking couple, bub," commented Calvin Dow, feeling perfectly free to stand at Stewart's elbow to inspect any object that the younger man found of interest. "Is it to be a hitch, as the gossip runs?"
"There seems to be some gossip that's running ahead of my ken in this city just now, Calvin!" The mayor frowned, his eyes fixed on the departing car. His demeanor hinted that his thoughts were wholly absorbed by the persons in that car. "I hope you're spry enough to catch it. Go find out for me, will you, what the blue mischief they're up to?"
"In politics? Or—"
"In politics! Yes!" returned Morrison, tartly. "What other kind of gossip would I be interested in, this day?"
He snapped himself around on his heels and started toward the men who were waiting. He singled one and clapped brisk hands smartly with the air of a man who wanted to wake himself from the abstraction of bothersome visions. "Well, Mister Public Works, how about the last lap of paving on McNamee Avenue? Can we open up tomorrow? I plan on showing our arriving legislative cousins clean thoroughfares on Capitol Hill, you know!"
"I'm losing fourteen men off the job at noon today, Your Honor! Grabbed off without notice," grumbled the superintendent.
"Grabbed off for what?"
"Well, maybe, to keep our paving-blocks from being thrown through the windows of the State House!"
"Who is taking those men from their work?"
"The adjutant-general. They're Home Guard boys."
"Something busted out in Patagonia needing the attention of a League of Nations army?" inquired the mayor, putting an edge of satire on his astonishment.
The superintendent shot a swift stare past the mayor. "Perhaps Danny Sweetsir, there, can tell you—Captain Daniel Sweetsir." The public works man copied the mayor's sarcasm by dwelling on the title he applied to Sweetsir.
The mayor took a look, too.
A young man in overalls and jumper had hurried into the office from the private passage; he was trotting toward a closet in one corner. He had the privileges of the office because he was "a mill student," studying the textile trade, and was a son of the Morrison's family physician.
Sweetsir shucked off his jumper, leaped out of his overalls, threw them in at the closet door, and was revealed in full uniform of O. D. except for cap and sword. He secured those two essentials of equipment from the closet and strode toward the rail, buckling on his sword.
Miss Bunker was surveying him with telltale and proprietary pride that was struggling with an expression of utter amazement.
"The deil-haet ails 'em a' this day!" exploded Mac Tavish. The banked fires of his smoldering grudges blazed forth in a sudden outburst of words that revealed the hopes he had been hiding. His natural cautiousness in his dealings with the master went by the board. "Noo it's yer time, chief! I'll hae at 'em—the whole fause, feth'rin' gang o' the tykes, along wi' ye! Else it's heels o'er gowdie fer the woolen business."
Morrison flicked merely a glance of mystification at Mac Tavish. The master's business was with his mill student. "What's wrong with you, Danny? Hold yourself for a moment on that side of the rail where you're still a man of the mill! I'm afraid of a soldier, like you'll be when you're out here in the mayor's office," he explained, softening the situation with humor. "What does it mean?"
"The whole company of the St. Ronan's Rifles has been ordered to the armory, sir. The adjutant-general just informed me over the mill 'phone."
Captain Sweetsir saluted stiffly. "I am not allowed to ask questions of a superior officer, sir, or to answer questions put by a civilian. I am now a soldier on duty, sir!"
"Come through the rail."
The officer obeyed and stood before Morrison.
"Now, Captain, you're in the office of the mayor of Marion, and the mayor officially asks you why the militia has been ordered out in his city?"
Again Captain Sweetsir saluted. "Mister Mayor, I refer you to my superior officer, the adjutant-general of the state."
Morrison promptly shook the young man cordially by the hand. "That's the talk, Captain Sweetsir! Attend honestly to whatever job you're on! It's my own motto."
"I try to do it, Mr. Morrison. You have always set me the example!"
Mac Tavish groaned. He saw mill discipline going into the garbage along with everything else that had been sane and sensible and regular at St. Ronan's. And the Morrison himself had come from the mill that day ten minutes ahead of the hour!
"So, on with you, lad, and do your duty!" Stewart forwarded Sweetsir with a commendatory clap of the palm on the barred shoulder.
Calvin Dow was lingering. "We mustn't let the youngsters shame us, Calvin," Morrison murmured in the old man's ear. "We all seem to have our jobs cut out for us—and I can't tend to mine in an understanding way till you have attended to yours."
The veteran saluted as smartly as had the soldier and trudged away on the heels of Sweetsir.
"Ain't there any way of your making that infernal old tin soldier up at the State House lay his paws off our paving crew?" asked the superintendent.
"Hush, Baldwin!" chided the mayor, unruffled, speaking indulgently. "We seem to have a new war on the board! Have you forgotten, after all that has been happening in this world, that in time of war we must sacrifice public improvements and private enterprises? Go on and do your best with the paving."
"Hell is paved with good intentions, but I can't put 'em down on McNamee Avenue."
"Of course not, Baldwin! That would be using war material that will be urgently needed, if I'm any judge of these times."
"How's that, Mister Mayor?"
"Why, the hell architects seem to be planning an extension of the premises," drawled Morrison.
THE MORRISON ASSUMES SOME CONTRACTS
In the past, each day after lunch, Mac Tavish had been enabled to get back to the sanity of a well-conducted woolen-mill business; in the peace that descended on the office afternoons he put out of his mind the nightmare of the forenoons and tried not to think too much of what the morrows promised.
Stewart Morrison had caused it to be known in Marion that he reserved afternoons for the desk affairs of St. Ronan's mill.
Mac Tavish always brought his lunch; he cooked it himself in his bachelor apartment and warmed it up in the office over a gas-burner at high noon.
While he was brushing the crumbs of an oaten cake off his desk, six men filed in. He knew them well. They were from the Marion Chamber of Commerce; they made up the Industrial Development Committee.
"I'm afraid we're a bit too early to see the mayor," suggested Chairman Despeaux.
"Ye are! Nigh twenty-two hours too early to see the mayor!"
"But we 'phoned the house and were told he had left to come to the office!"
"The mayor—mind ye, the mayor—he cooms frae the mill at—"
Mac Tavish remembered the crashing blow to his proud pronunciamiento that forenoon, and his natural caution regarding statements caused him to hesitate. "He is supposed to coom frae the mill at ten o'clock, antemeridian! Postmeridian, Master Morrison, of St. Ronan's—not the mayor—he cooms to his desk yon—well, when he cooms isna the concern o' those who are speirin for a mayor."
The gentlemen of the committee exchanged wise grins, suggestively sardonic grins, and sat down.
Mac Tavish, bristling in silence over his figures, was comforted by the ever-springing hope that this intrusion might serve as the last straw on the overloaded Morrison endurance.
He perked up expectantly when Stewart came striding in. Then he wilted despondently, because Morrison greeted the gentlemen with breezy hospitality, led them beyond the rail, and gave them chairs near his desk.
"Command me! I am at your service!"
"We're on our way to Senator Corson's. We have been invited to meet Mr. Daunt at lunch," said Despeaux; a thin veneer of suavity suited his thin lips.
"I'm glad to hear you say so. We felt that we'd like your opinion of him and his plans before we commit ourselves,"
"I like his personality," stated Stewart, heartily. "But I have only a general notion of his plans."
"Same here," admitted the chairman, though not in a tone of convincing sincerity. "The Senator brought him into my office for a minute or so before they started up-river. Told me to get the boys together and come for lunch. But if it's to put the water-power of this state on a bigger and broader basis, you and the storage commission are with us, aren't you?" Despeaux demanded rather than queried; his air was a bit offensive.
"I'm a citizen of Marion and a native of this state, body and soul for all the good that can come to us, by our own efforts or through the aid of outsiders," declared Morrison, spacking his palm upon the arm of his chair.
"Well, I guess we don't need any better promise than that, for a starter, at any rate. Of course, we knew it—but there's nothing like having a right-out word of mouth." Despeaux rose and pulled out his watch. "We'd better move on toward the eats, boys!"
"Just a moment, however, Despeaux! My father was a Morrison and my mother a Mac Dougal. I can't help what's in me!"
"What is it that's in you?" inquired Despeaux, pausing in the act of putting back his watch.
"You don't suspect that a man like the big Silas Daunt, of Daunt and Cropley—"
"I don't suspect. I haven't got as far as that! But I want to know exactly what he means by coming into this state. I have a man out getting me some facts about what kind of a devil's mess is being stirred up all of a sudden to-day in politics. Suppose you get under Daunt's hide and find out whether he wants to do us or do for us, on the water-power matter."
An observant bystander would have perceived a queer sort of crispness in Morrison's manner from the outset of the interview; the same perspicacity would have detected something hard under the smooth surface of Despeaux's early politeness. Mr. Despeaux was not so elaborately polite when he retorted that he did not propose to play the spy on a guest while eating a host's victuals.
Mr. Morrison promptly put more of a snap into his crispness.
"Having balanced to partners, for politeness's sake, Despeaux, we'll take hold of hands and swing, with both feet on the floor. That was a good job you did in the legislative lobby two years ago for the crowd that called itself 'The Consolidated Development Company.' You're a smart lawyer and we had hard work beating you."
"I'll tell you what you franchise-owners did, Morrison! You beat a grand and comprehensive plan that was going to take in the whole state."
"It did take in a lot of folks for a time, but, thank God, it didn't take in a few of us who were wise to the scheme. I know why you have called on me to-day. But you haven't put me on record. Let no man of you think I have made a pledge or have committed myself till I know what's what!"
"You're Scotch, all right, Morrison. You're canny! You're for yourself and the main chance. Now let me tell you! You caught us foul two years ago because you jumped the newspapers into coming out with broadsides about a thing they didn't understand. Their half-baked scare stuff made the state think somebody was trying to steal the whole water-power."
"According to that general franchise bill, as it was framed, somebody was!"
"Morrison, in the last two years the people have been educated to understand that broad-gaged consolidation of water-power is what we must have."
"You have put out good propaganda. That fellow you have hired is a mighty fine press-agent," admitted Morrison, smiling ingenuously.
"And the men who get in the way and try to trig development this year will be ticketed before an understanding public for what they are," declared Despeaux.
"Try me as a part of the public, and see whether I'll understand! Ticketed as what, Brother Despeaux?"
"As profiting dogs in the manger of manufacturing, sir!"
There were expostulatory murmurs in the group.
"We're rather non-committal as a body on this matter, Despeaux," protested a committeeman. "We're waiting to be shown. In the mean time, we don't like to have a man like Morrison here called any hard names."
"Oh, I don't mind being called a watch-dog, boys! That's what I am. So you think I'm wholly selfish, do you, Despeaux?"
"The water-power franchises of this state were grabbed away from the people years ago, like the timber-lands were, by first-comers, and the state got nothing! The waters belong to the people. The people have a right to realize on their property! Morrison, considering what kind of a free gift you had handed to you, you've got to be careful about the position you take in these enlightened days when the people propose to profit from their own. It's mighty easy to shift public opinion these days!"
"Yes, I have seen tons of sand shifted in no time by a stream from a squirt-gun," confessed Morrison, placidly.
"And that leaves it a fifty-fifty break between us on the name-calling proposition," rejoined Despeaux, "I'll bid you a kind good day!" He strode away and his group trailed him.
A deprecating committeeman turned back, however. "I know you are honest, Morrison. But a lot of us are beginning to think that the general policy in the state regarding outside capital has been a bit too conservative. These are new times."
"Very!" said the mayor, pleasantly. "They're creaking about as loud as Squire Despeaux's new shoes." There was a snarl of ire from the shoes every time the retreating chairman lifted a foot. "I hope they won't pinch us, Doddridge! Good day!" He sat down at his desk.
Mac Tavish held his place on his stool in silence for a long time. The stiffness of his neck seemed to embrace all his members, even his tongue. Miss Bunker came in from her lunch, bringing the afternoon mail. Mac Tavish maintained his silence while Morrison picked out what were patently his personal letters before surrendering the others to the girl to be opened and assorted. Mac Tavish waited till his master had gone through his personal mail. The paymaster maintained a demeanor of what may be termed hopeful apprehension; this baiting, this impugning of honesty must needs turn the trick! No Morrison would stand for it! Mac Tavish found the laird's suppression of all comment promisingly bodeful. The fuse must be sizzling. There would be an explosion!
But Morrison began to play a lively tattoo on his desk with the knob of a paper-slitter and whistled "The Campbells Are Coming, Hurrah, Hurrah!" with the cheery gusto of a man who had not a care to trouble him.
"Snoolin' and snirtlin' o'er it!" spat the old man.
"Eh?" queried Stewart, amiably.
"Do ye let whigmaleeries flimmer in yer noddle at a time like this?"
"Why, Andy, speaking of a day like this, you'd have the crochets whiffed from your head if you'd go out for your lunch in the pep of the air instead of penning yourself in the office."
Mac Tavish leaped from his stool and marched toward this non-combatant. "Whaur's the fire o' yer spunk, Stewart Morrison?"
"Go on, Andy!" permitted the master, leaning back in his chair.
"Do ye allow such feckless loons to coom and beard ye in yer ain castle?"
"Andy, if I were playing their game, as they call it, I'd say that I'm going to give 'em all a chance to lay their cards, face up, on the table. But, putting it in a way you and I understand, I'm touching a match to their goods."
Mac Tavish nodded approvingly. He did understand that metaphor. A burning match will not ignite pure wool; threads of shoddy will catch fire.
"Aye! The fire test o' the fabric! Well and gude! But the toe o' yer boot for 'em. Such was ca'd for when he said ye set yer ainsel' in the way for muckle profeet!"
"Soft! Soft and slow, Andy," reproved the master. "There may be some truth in what he said. I'll have to stop right here and do some thinking about it! A chap gets to slamming ahead in his own line, you know. All of us ought to stop short once in a while and make a cold, calm estimate. Take account of stock! Balance the books! Discover how much of it is for ourselves, personally, and how much for the other fellow! No telling how the figures of debit and credit may surprise us!"
He spun around in his swivel chair.
"Lora, get Mr. Blanchard of the Conawin Mills on the 'phone, that's the girl!"
"Yes, Andy, I'm going to get down to the figures in my case! I hope there's a balance in my favor—but we never can tell!"
He set his elbows on his desk and clutched his hands into the hair above his temples. Mac Tavish tiptoed away. Morrison had apparently prostrated himself in the fane of figures; in the case of Mac Tavish figures were holy.
"Mr. Blanchard on the 'phone, Mr. Morrison," reported Miss Bunker.
Morrison put questions, quickly, emphatically, searchingly. He listened. He hung up. "Memo., Miss Bunker." He was curt. His eyes were hard. One observing his manner and hearing his tone would have realized that quarry had broken cover and that Mr. Blanchard had not been able to confuse the trail by dragging across it an anise-bag; in fact, Morrison had said so over the telephone just before he hung up. "Get me Cooper of the Waverly, Finitter of the Lorton Looms, Labarre of the Bleachery, Sprague of the Bates." He named four of the great textile operators of the river. "One after the other, as I finish with each!"
After he had finished with all, pondering while he waited between calls, he strode to Mac Tavish and brought the old man around on his stool by a clap on the shoulder. "A devil of a mouser, I am! I've been sitting purring on the top and they have hollowed it out underneath me."
"The cheese, Andy, the water-power cheese! They have been playing me for the cat in the case! Left me till the last, left me sitting on an empty shell! The mice have made away with the cheese from under me. They have engineered a combine! There's a syndicate a-forming! It's for me to tumble down among 'em when the shell caves. I was right about Despeaux!"
"He's Auld Bartie, wi'out the horns!"
"Oh no! Not as smart as Satan, Andy! But smart, nevertheless! Very smart. He has shown 'em a good thing. They're ready to run in! And the devil take the hindmost. I'm the hindmost and I'd better get a gait on."
"But the company ye'll be keeping!"
"You don't suppose that I'll run away from the mice instead of after 'em, do you?"
"A thoct has been wi' me, Master Morrison! May I speak it?"
"Out with it!"
"Ye'll ne'er find a better chance to break from the kin o' Auld Cloven Cootie and mind yer ain wi' the claith business! Resign!"
"It's good advice, backed up by a good excuse, Andy!"
"And noo that I may speak freely," rattled on the old man, after a gasp of delight, "I can tell ye how I hae been list'nin' for yer interests till ten o' the clock each forenoon, and the dyvor loons—deil tak' it, and here cooms back one o' the waurst o' the widdifu's."
It was the Hon. Calvin Dow and Morrison hurried to meet him. "Sum it short, Uncle Calvin!"
"They're going to play straight politics, Stewart."
"God save the state—in times like these!"
"They're going to admit to seats only the Senators and Representatives who are clearly and indisputably elected by the face of the returns."
"The picked and the chosen!" scoffed Morrison.
"The matter of the right to take seats is going to be referred to the full bench instead of being left to the legislature—taken out of politics, they say."
"Going to be put into cold storage, with all due respect to our eminent justices!"
"It means the careful weighing of evidence—and the courts are obliged to move with judicial slowness, Stewart!"
"And in the mean time those picked and chosen ones will elect the state officers whom the legislature has the power to name, will have the machinery to distribute all state patronage and to make the legislative committees safe for the big measures. There's no telling when the bench will hand down a decision."
"No telling, Stewart!" admitted the sage.
"After it has been done, it will be hard to undo it, no matter what the judges may decide as to members."
"But we can't throw the law out of the window, my son! On the outside of the thing, the Big Boys on Capitol Hill are playing the game strictly according to the legal rules. The legal rules, understand! On the outside!" Dow's emphasis on certain words was significant. He put up his hand and drew Morrison's head down close to his mouth. He began to whisper.
"Talk out loud, Calvin!" commanded Stewart, jerking away. "Keep in the habit of talking out loud with me! I won't even talk politics in a whisper."
"It really shouldn't be talked out, not at this time," expostulated Dow, wedded to the old ways. "I have had to burrow deep for it. It ought to be saved carefully—to do business with later! To win a stroke in politics it's necessary to jump the people with a sensation!"
"Try it on me! I'm one of the people. See if it will work," insisted Morrison, after the manner of his methods with Despeaux.
"They propose to go according to the strict letter of the law."
"Important but not sensational."
Dow was plainly having hard work to keep his voice above a whisper. "Returns not properly sworn to or not attested in due form by city clerks, returns not signed in open town meeting or otherwise defective on account of strictly technical errors, no matter how plainly the intent of the voters was registered, have been finally and definitely thrown out by North and his executive council, acting as a canvassing board."
"Damn'd picayune hair-splitting! Why can't they use business horse-sense?"
"I'll tell you what they've used! They've used Tim Snell and Waddy Sturges and a few other safe hounds with muffled paws to run around and lug back to cities and towns deficient returns and have 'em quietly and secretly corrected where it was a case of adding a safe man to the legislature. I know that, Stewart. I know how to make some of my close friends brag to me. I know it, but I can't prove it. Clean-scrubbed are the faces of those returns. They'll show up to-morrow like the faces of the good boys on the first day at school."
"That's North's idea of that game he was talking about, is it?" Morrison exploded. "I don't believe that Senator Corson knows about those dirty details, or is a party to 'em."
"Well," asserted the Hon. Calvin Dow, stroking his nose contemplatively, "Jodrey and I used to cut sharp corners on two wheels of the four of the old wagon, in past times when he was a politician. But now that he's a statesman he doesn't like to be bothered by details."
"Do you see any joke to this, Calvin?" demanded Morrison, not relishing the veteran's chuckle.
"I can't help seeing the humor," confessed Dow, blandly. "The other, boys would be grinding the same grist if they had control of the machinery. It's only what I myself used to do." Then his face became grave. "But, confound it! in these days there seems to be an element that can't take a joke in politics. There's trouble in the air!"
"Probably!" agreed Morrison, dryly.
Dow walked to the window and looked out with the air of a man who wanted proof to confirm a statement. "I reckon I'll let you be informed direct from Trouble Headquarters, Stewart. Headquarters was at the Soldiers' Memorial in the park when I came past. I gathered that they were picking out a delegation to call on you. Post-Commander Lanigan of the American Legion was doing the picking. He's heading the bunch that I see coming across the street."
"Resign!" barked Mac Tavish through his wicket. But the mayor of Marion did not appear to hear, nor Calvin Dow to understand.
Morrison faced the door of his office.
Lanigan led in his companions with the marching stride of an overseas veteran and halted them with a top-sergeant's yelp. Click o' heels and snap o' the arm! The salute made Captain Sweetsir's previous effort seem torpid by comparison. That a further comparison with Home Guard methods and morale was in Commander Lanigan's mind became promptly evident.
"Your Honor the Mayor, we represent John P. Dunn Post, American Legion, and the independent young men of this city in general. May we have a word with you?"
"Certainly, Mr. Commander!"
In the stress of his emotions Lanigan immediately sloughed off his official air. "It's a hell of a note when a bunch of sissy slackers can keep real soldiers ten feet from the door of the city armory at the end of a bayonet."
The mayor strolled over and placed a placatory palm on the shoulder of the spokesman. "What's, all the row, Joe? Let's not get excited!"
"I have been away fighting for liberty and justice and I don't know what's been going on in politics at home. I don't know anything about politics."
"Nor I, Joe, so let's not try to discuss 'em. What else?"
"They've got three machine-guns up in our State House. What for? They are going to put in them sissy slackers—"
"Let's not call names, Joe. Those boys would have followed you across if you boys hadn't been so all-fired smart that you cleaned it all up in a hurry! What else?"
"Why have a gang of politicians got to barricade our State House against the people?"
"Let's keep cool, Joe, my boy, and find out."
"They won't let us in to find out. How are we going to find out?"
"Why, I was thinking of doing something in that line—thinking about it just before you came in."
Lanigan looked relieved, also a bit ashamed. "Excuse me for being pretty hot, Mr. Morrison. But the boys have been saying we couldn't depend on anybody to stand up for the people. By gad! I told 'em we'd come to you. Says I, 'All-Wool Morrison is our kind!'"
"I hope the name fits the goods, Joe! Suppose you boys keep all quiet and calm for the good name of the city and let me find out how the thing stands?"
He was assured of support and compliance by a chorus of voices.
Lanigan trailed the chorus in solo. "Does that settle it? I'll say it does. It's up to you—the whole thing. You've given us the word of a square man! We can depend on you. And we thank you for taking the full responsibility for seeing to it that the people get theirs—and not in the neck, either!"
But the mayor looked like a man who had stretched forth his hand to take a kitten and had had an elephant tossed at him. "It's a pretty big contract, that! See here, Joe—"
"You're good for any contract you take on, sir! We should worry after what you promise!" He whirled on his heels. "'Bout face! Forward, march!" He followed them and turned at the door. "All the rest of the Big Ones seem to be too almighty busy to bother with the common folks to-day, sir! The Governor with his politics, the adjutant-general with his tin soldiers, and the high and mighty Senator Corson with that party he's giving to-night so as to spout socially the news that his daughter is engaged to marry a millionaire dude. Thank God, we've got a man who 'ain't taken up with anything of that sort and can put all his mind on to a square deal!"
Morrison did not turn immediately to face the three persons, his familiars in the office of St. Ronan's. He clasped his hands behind him and went to the window, as if to survey the departure of the delegation.
"What with one thing and another, they're loading the boy up—they're piling it on," observed Dow to Mac Tavish in sympathetic undertone.
"He'll resign out o' the meeser-r-rable pother," growled Mac Tavish. "The word he just gied the gillies! It was as much as to say, 'I'll be coomin' along wi' ye from noo on.'" The old man's hankerings were helping his persistent hope, in spite of his respect for the Morrison trait of devotion to duty.
"Resign, Andy! Confound it, he's only nailing his grit to the mast and planning on what end of the row to tackle first. You'll see!"
Stewart walked slowly, meditating deeply, went through the opening in the rail, sat down at his desk and fumbled in a drawer and sought deeply under many papers. He brought out a book, a worn volume.
Calvin Dow, daring to peer more closely than Miss Bunker or Mac Tavish had the courage to venture, noted that the place to which Morrison opened was marked by a slip of paper, a snapshot photograph.
"Miss Bunker!" called the master. "A memo.!"
She came with her note-book and sat at the lid of the desk, facing him.
"His resignation, I tell ye," whispered Mac Tavish. "I ken the look o' detar-rmination!"
"I want it typed on a narrow strip that I can slip into my pocketbook," stated Stewart. Then, to all appearances entirely unconcerned with the listening veterans, he dictated:
"Meanwhile I was thinking of my first love, As I had not been thinking of aught for years. Till over my eyes there began to move Something that felt like tears."
Mac Tavish bent on Dow a wild look and swapped with the old pensioner of the Morrisons a stare of amazement for one of bewildered concern.
"I thought of the dress that she wore last time When we stood 'neath the cypress-tree together In that lost land, in that soft clime, In the crimson evening weather.
"Of that muslin dress (for the eve was hot) And her warm white neck in its golden chain, And her full, soft hair, just tied in a knot, And falling loose again.
"I thought of our little quarrels and strife, And the letter that brought me back my ring. And it all seemed then, in the waste of life, Such a very little thing."
The girl dabbed up her hand under pretense of fixing a lock of hair; she scrubbed away tears that were trickling. So this was it! The powwow over business and politics had not been stirring even languid interest in her. Now her emotions were rioting. Here seemed to be something worth while in the life of the master!
"But I will marry my own first love With her primrose face; for old things are best. And the flower in her bosom I prize it above—
"My God!" Mac Tavish gasped. "Next he'll be playing jiggle-ma-ree wi' dollies on his desk! His wits hae gane agley!"
In the horror of his discovery he flung his arms and knocked off the desk his full stock of paperweight ammunition. Then he was convinced beyond doubt that the Morrison was daft. Stewart did not even raise his eyes from the book; he kept on dictating above the clatter of the rolling weights; his intentness on the matter in hand was that of a business man putting a proposition on paper for the purpose of making it definite and cogent and clear.
But Stewart's thoughts were not at all clear, he was confessing to himself; in spite of his assumed indifference, he was embarrassed by the focused stares of Dow and Mac Tavish. He wondered what sudden, devil-may-care whimsy was this that was galloping him away from business and politics and every other sane subject! He was conscious that there was in him a freakish and juvenile hankering to astonish his friends.
He heard Dow say: "Oh, don't worry about the boy, Andy! We do strange things in big times! Even Nero fiddled when Rome was burning!"
Stewart finished the dictation and closed the book.
"Losh! I canna understand!" mourned Mac Tavish, not troubling to hush his tones.
The girl hesitated, her gaze on her notes. Then she looked full into Morrison's face, all her woman's intuitive and long-repressed sympathy in her brimming eyes. "But I understand, sir!" She arose. She extended her hand and when he took it she put into her clasp of his fingers what she did not presume to say in words.
"Thank you!" said Morrison.
Then he left his chair and strolled across to the old men, while Miss Bunker rattled her typewriter. "It begins to look, boys, like we're going to have quite a large evening!" he remarked, sociably.
ANSWERING THE FIRST ALARM
After his dinner with his mother, Stewart went to the library-den, his own room, the habitat consecrated to the males of the Morrison menage. He was in formal garb for the reception at Senator Corson's. He removed and hung up his dress-coat and pulled on his house-jacket; he was prompted to make this precautionary change by a woolen man's innate respect for honest goods as much as he was by his desire for homely comfort when he smoked. He lighted a jimmy-pipe and marched up and down the room. He was determined to give the situation a good going-over in his mind.
He had settled many a problem in that old room!
He was always helped by Grandfather Angus and Father David.
When he walked in one direction he was looking at the portrait of Angus on the end wall of the long narrow room; Angus bored him with eyes as hard as steel buttons and out from the close-set lips seemed to issue many an aphorism to put the grit into a man.
From the opposite wall, when Morrison whirled on his heels, David looked down. David's eyes had little, softening scrolls at the corners of them; the artist had painted from life, in the case of David, and had caught the glint of humor in the eyes. The picture of Angus had been enlarged from a daguerreotype and seemed to lack some of the truly human qualities of expression. But it was a strong face, the face of a pioneer who had come into a strange land to make his way and to smooth that way for the children who were to have life made easier for them. "Tak' it! Wi' all the strength o' ye, reach oot and tak' it for yer ainsel' else ithers will gr-rasp ahead and snigger at ye!" So said Angus from the wall, whenever Stewart pondered on problems.
But David, though the pictured countenance was resolute enough, always put in a shrewd and cautionary amendment, whenever Stewart came down the room, stiffened by the counsel of Angus, "Mind ye, laddie, when ye tak', that the mon wha tak's slidd'ry serpents to tussle wi' 'em, he haes nae hand to use for his ainsel' whilst the slickit beasties are alive; and a deid snake serves nae guid."
That evening Stewart was distinctly getting no help from either Angus or David. They did not appear to understand his new and peculiar mood. He had been in the habit of fusing their clashing arbitraments by a humor of his own which he knew was fantastic, yet helpful according to his whimsical custom, welding their judgments twain into one dominant counsel of determination, softened by the spirit of fairness.
But after he had plucked a certain slip of paper from his waistcoat pocket, squinting at it through the pipe smoke, as he walked to and fro, mumbling as if he were engaged in the task of memorizing, he ceased to look up to Angus and David for assistance. He was sure they would not know! Here were warp and woof of a fabric beyond their ken. He would not admit to himself that he understood in full measure this emotion that had come surging up in him, overwhelming and burying all the ordinarily steadfast landmarks by which he regulated his daily thoughts and actions. "I had built a dam," he muttered, using the metaphor that was natural, "and I've been thinking it was safe and sure. Whether it wasn't strong enough—whether it was undermined, I don't know. It has given way."
There was a tap on the door and he hastily tucked the paper back into his pocket. He knew it was his mother, trained in the way of the Morrisons to respect the sanctuary of the family lairds when they were paying their devotions at the shrine of business.
"I'm saying my gude nicht to ye, bairnie, for ye're telling me ye'll no' be hame till late," she said when he flung open the door.
He copied affectionately her Scotch "braidness" of dialect when they were alone together. "No, wee mither, not till late."
He stepped out into the corridor and kissed her. She patted his cheek and walked on.
More of that whimsy into which he had been allowing his troubled emotions to lead him! He realized it fully! His brow wrinkled, he shook his head, but he called to her. He went to meet her when she returned.
"It's like it is at the office, these days! I'm Morrison of St. Ronan's on one side o' the rail; I'm the mayor of Marion on t'other! Here in the corridor, ye're wee mither!" He put his arm about her and lifted her into the library. "Coom awa' wi' ye, noo!" he cried. He threw himself into a big chair and pulled her upon his knee. "Ye're Jeanie Mac Dougal—only a woman. I need to talk wi' a woman. I canna talk wi' Mac Tavish or sic as he. He thinks I'm daft. He said so. I canna get counsel frae grands'r or sire yon on the walls. They don't understand, Jeanie Mac Dougal. I'm in love!"
"Aye! Wi' the lass o' the Corsons!"
"But ye shouldna sigh when ye say it, Jeanie Mac Dougal."
"A gashing guidwife sat wi' me to-day in the ben, bairnie, and said the lass brings her ain laddie wi' her frae the great town."
"I tak' no gossip for my guide!" he protested. "In business I tak' my facts only frae the lips o' the one I ask. I'll do the same in love."
She did not speak.
"I know, Jeanie Mac Dougal! Ye canna forget ye are wee mither and it's hard for ye to be only woman richt noo. I know the kind of wife ye hae in mind for me. The patient wife, the housewife, the meek wife wi' only her een for back-and-ben, for kitchen and parlor. But I love Lana."
"She promised and she took her promise back! Again she promised, and again she took it back!" The proud resentment of a mother flamed. "And I'm no' content wi' the lass who once may win my laddie's word and doesna treasure it and be thankfu' and proud for all the years to come."
"Oh, I know, mither! But she was young. She must needs wonder what there was in the world outside Marion. I loved her just the same."
"But noo that she is hame they tell me that her heid 'tis held perkit and her speech is high and the polished shell is o'er all."
Stewart looked away from his mother's frank eyes. He was too honest to argue or dispute. "I love her just the same!"
"She ca'd wi' her father at the mill this day, eh? The guidwife said as much."
"Aye, in the way o' politeness!" He remembered that the politeness seemed too elaborate, too florid, altiloquent to the extent of insincerity. "To see her again is to love her the more," he insisted. "I have never been to Washington. Probably I'd be able to understand better the manners one is obliged to put on there, if I had been to Washington. I ought to have gone there on my vacation, instead of into the woods. I'm afraid I have been keeping in the woods too much!"
"But did she talk high and flighty to you, bairnie?"
"It meant nowt except it's the way one must talk when great folks stand near to hear. The Governor was there!" he said, lamely.
"That was unco trouble to mak' for hersel' in the hearing o' that auld tyke whose tongue is as rough as his gruntle!"
"Still, he's the Governor in spite of his phiz, and that shows her tact in getting on well with the dignitaries, Jeanie Mac Dougal, and you're a woman and must praise the wit of the sex. She has seen much. She has been obliged to do as the others do. But good wool is ne'er the waur for the finish of it! My faith is in her from what I know of the worth o' her in the old days. And now that she has seen, she can understand better. Yes, back here at home she'll be able to understand better. Listen, Jeanie Mac Dougal!" He fumbled in his pocket. "Here's a bit of a poem. I have loved it ever since she recited it at the festival when she was a little girl. You have forgotten—I remember! And here's one verse:
"And I think, in the lives of most women and men, There's a moment when all would go smooth and even, If only the dead could find out when To come back and be forgiven."
"But I would change it to read, 'If only we all could find out when,'" he proceeded. "It wasn't all her fault, mother. I was younger, then. I'm old enough now to be humble. She is home again, and I'm going to ask to be forgiven!"
Then the telephone-bell called.
He lifted her gently off his knee and stood up. "As to the lad who is here with his father! Gossip is playing all sorts of capers this day, wee mither! And do not be worried if gossip of another sort comes to you after I'm gone this evening. There may be matters in the city for me to attend to as mayor. If I'm not home you'll know that I'm attending to them."
He went to the telephone, replied to an inquiring voice and listened intently, and then he assented with heartiness.
"It's Blanchard of the Conawin Mills! He has a bit of business with me and offers to take me along with him to the reception. Tell Jock he'll not have to bother with my car!" he said, coming to her where she waited at the door. She had picked up the slip of paper which he had dropped in his haste to attend to the telephone.
"I daured to peep at yer bit poem, Stewart, so that my ear might not seem to be put to o'erhearing your business discourse," she apologized, stanch in her adherence to the rules of the Morrisons. "And I'll tell ye that Jeanie Mac Dougal says aye to one sentiment I hae found in it."
"Good! Read it aloud to me, that's my own girlie!" He folded his arms and shut his eyes. She read in tones that thrilled with conviction:
"The world is filled with folly and sin And love must cling where it can, I say; For Beauty is easy enough to win, But one isn't loved every day."
She tucked the paper into the fingers of his hand that lay lightly along his arm. He opened his eyes and gazed down into her straightforward ones.
"Whoever may be the lass my bairnie loves will be honored by that love; aye, and sanctified by that love! And sic a lass will deserve from Jeanie Mac Dougal a smile at our threshold and respect in our hame." She went away. Her eyes were dim with unshed tears; but she held her chin high and trailed her bit of a train with dignity.
Morrison folded the paper and put it away. He took a turn up and down the long room, confronting the portrait faces in turn. He eyed them as if he were approaching them on a matter where there now could be a better understanding than on the subject suggested by the slip of paper. "I don't know whether Blanchard ought to be kicked or coddled," he confessed. "He's a fair sample of the rest. They don't kick so often in these days, Grands'r Angus, as you did in yours. On the other hand, Daddy David, there has been too much coddling in this country, lately, by the cowardice of men who ought to know better and the coddling has continued to the hurt of all of us!"
He sat down and looked at the clock; the face of that would, at least, tell him something definite: Blanchard said that he was talking from the club, around the corner, and would be along in five minutes.
And Blanchard arrived on time!
"I suppose I ought to be offended by what you said to me over the 'phone to-day, Morrison. I was hurt, at any rate!"
"So was I!" retorted Stewart, promptly. "Hurt and offended, both! So we start from the scratch, neck and neck!"
"But why do you assume that attitude on account of what I told you?"
"I was obliged to put questions to you in order to get the news that you propose to hitch up with a dominating water-power syndicate!"
"Only following out your proposition that we must get down to development in this state."
"The development is taking care of itself, Brother Blanchard. As chairman of the water-power commission, I shall submit my report to the incoming legislature. And in that report I propose to make conservation the corollary of development."
Blanchard blinked inquiringly. "What do you mean?"
"Why, I mean just this! Putting it in business terms, I propose to ask for legislation that will make the public the partners of the men who handle and control the water-power."
"I don't know how you're going about to do that in any sensible way," grumbled the other. "There have been a good many rumors about that forthcoming report of yours, Morrison. What's the big notion in keeping it so secret?"
"I have been ordered to report to the legislature, Blanchard! I have prepared my case for that general court, and customary deference and common politeness in such matters oblige me to hold my mouth till I do report officially."
"Nothing to be hidden, then?" probed the magnate.
"Not a thing—not when the proper time comes!"
"But we have been left guessing—and I don't like the sound of the rumors. You must expect big interests to get an anchor out to windward. There's no telling what a damphool legislature will do in case a theory is put up and there are no sensible business arguments to contradict it."
"As owners of water-power, Blanchard—you and I—let's bring our business arguments into the open this year, in the committee-rooms and on the floor of the House and Senate, instead of in the buzzing-corners of the lobby or down in the hotel button-holing boudoirs! Now we'll get right down to cases! You have been leaving me out of your conferences ever since I refused to drop my coin into the usual pool to hire lobbyists. I take the stand that these times are more enlightened and that we can begin to trust the people's business to the people's general court in open sessions."
Blanchard showed the heat of a man whose conscience was not entirely comfortable. "Just what is this people idea that you're making so much of all of a sudden, Morrison? People as partners, people as judges—people—people—" Blanchard hitched over the word wrathfully.