IN THE ARENA
Stories of Political Life
TO MY FATHER
Boss Gorgett The Aliens The Need of Money Hector
Mrs. Protheroe Great Men's Sons
"IN THE FIRST PLACE"
The old-timer, a lean, retired pantaloon, sitting with loosely slippered feet close to the fire, thus gave of his wisdom to the questioning student:
"Looking back upon it all, what we most need in politics is more good men. Thousands of good men are in; and they need the others who are not in. More would come if they knew how much they are needed. The dilettantes of the clubs who have so easily abused me, for instance, all my life, for being a ward-worker, these and those other reformers who write papers about national corruption when they don't know how their own wards are swung, probably aren't so useful as they might be. The exquisite who says that politics is 'too dirty a business for a gentleman to meddle with' is like the woman who lived in the parlour and complained that the rest of her family kept the other rooms so dirty that she never went into them.
"There are many thousands of young men belonging to what is for some reason called the 'best class,' who would like to be 'in politics' if they could begin high enough up—as ambassadors, for instance. That is, they would like the country to do something for them, though they wouldn't put it that way. A young man of this sort doesn't know how much he'd miss if his wishes were gratified. For my part, I'd hate not to have begun at the beginning of the game.
"I speak of it as a game," the old gentleman went on, "and in some ways it is. That's where the fun of it comes in. Yet, there are times when it looks to me more like a series of combats, hand-to-hand fights for life, and fierce struggles between men and strange powers. You buy your newspaper and that's your ticket to the amphitheatre. But the distance is hazy and far; there are clouds of dust and you can't see clearly. To make out just what is going on you ought to get down in the arena yourself. Once you're in it, the view you'll have and the fighting that will come your way will more than repay you. Still, I don't think we ought to go in with the idea of being repaid.
"It seems an odd thing to me that so many men feel they haven't any time for politics; can't put in even a little, trying to see how their cities (let alone their states and the country) are run. When we have a war, look at the millions of volunteers that lay down everything and answer the call of the country. Well, in politics, the country needs all the men who have any patriotism—not to be seeking office, but to watch and to understand what is going on. It doesn't take a great deal of time; you can attend to your business and do that much, too. When wrong things are going on and all the good men understand them, that is all that is needed. The wrong things stop going on."
I guess I've been what you might call kind of an assistant boss pretty much all my life; at least, ever since I could vote; and I was something of a ward-heeler even before that. I don't suppose there's any way a man of my disposition could have put in his time to less advantage and greater cost to himself. I've never got a thing by it, all these years, not a job, not a penny—nothing but injury to my business and trouble with my wife. She begins going for me, first of every campaign.
Yet I just can't seem to keep out of it. It takes a hold on a man that I never could get away from; and when I reach my second childhood and the boys have turned me out, I reckon I'll potter along trying to look knowing and secretive, like the rest of the has-beens, letting on as if I still had a place inside. Lord, if I'd put in the energy at my business that I've frittered away on small politics! But what's the use thinking about it?
Plenty of men go to pot horse-racing and stock gambling; and I guess this has just been my way of working off some of my nature in another fashion. There's a good many like me, too; not out for office or contracts, nor anything that you can put your finger on in particular—nothing except the game. Of course, it's a pleasure, knowing you've got more influence than some, but I believe the most you ever get out of it is in being able to help your friends, to get a man you like a job, or a good contract, something he wants, when he needs it.
I tell you then's when you feel satisfied, and your time don't seem to have been so much thrown away. You go and buy a higher-priced cigar than you can afford, and sit and smoke it with your feet out in the sunshine on your porch railing, and watch your neighbour's children playing in their yard; and they look mighty nice to you; and you feel kind, and as if everybody else was.
But that wasn't the way I felt when I helped to hand over to a reformer the nomination for mayor; then it was just selfish desperation and nothing else. We had to do it. You see, it was this way: the other side had had the city for four terms, and, naturally, they'd earned the name of being rotten by that time. Big Lafe Gorgett was their best. "Boss Gorgett," of course our papers called him when they went for him, which was all the time; and pretty considerable of a man he was, too. Most people that knew him liked Lafe. I did. But he got a bad name, as they say, by the end of his fourth term as Mayor—and who wouldn't? Of course, the cry went up all round that he and his crowd were making a fat thing out of it, which wasn't so much the case as that Lafe had got to depending on humouring the gamblers and the brewers for campaign funds and so forth. In fact, he had the reputation of running a disorderly town, and the truth is, it was too wide open.
But we hadn't been much better when we'd had it, before Lafe beat us and got in; and everybody remembered that. The "respectable element" wouldn't come over to us strong enough for anybody we could pick of our own crowd; and so, after trying it on four times, we started in to play it another way, and nominated Farwell Knowles, who was already running on an independent ticket, got out by the reform and purity people. That is: we made him a fusion candidate, hoping to find some way to control him later. We'd never have done it if we hadn't thought it was our only hope. Gorgett was too strong, and he handled the darkeys better than any man I ever knew. He had an organization for it which we couldn't break; and the coloured voters really held the balance of power with us, you know, as they do so many other places near the same size, They were getting pretty well on to it, too, and cost more every election. Our best chance seemed to be in so satisfying the "law-and-order" people that they'd do something to counterbalance this vote—which they never did.
Well, sir, it was a mighty curious campaign. There never really was a day when we could tell where we stood, for certain. As anybody knows, the "better element" can't be depended on. There's too many of 'em forget to vote, and if the weather isn't just right they won't go to the polls. Some of 'em won't go anyway—act as if they looked down on politics; say it's only helping one boodler against another. So your true aristocrat won't vote for either. The real truth is, he don't care. Don't care as much about the management of his city, State, and country as about the way his club is run. Or he's ignorant about the whole business, and what between ignorance and indifference the worse and smarter of the two rings gets in again and old Mr. Aristocrat gets soaked some more on his sewer assessments. Then he'll holler like a stabbed hand-organ; but he'll keep on talking about politics being too low a business for a gentleman to mix in, just the same!
Somebody said a pessimist is a man who has a choice of two evils, and takes both. There's your man that don't vote.
And the best-dressed wards are the ones that fool us oftenest. We're always thinking they'll do something, and they don't. But we thought, when we took Farwell Knowles, that we had 'em at last. Fact is, they did seem stirred up, too. They called it a "moral victory" when we were forced to nominate Knowles to have any chance of beating Gorgett. That was because it was their victory.
Farwell Knowles was a young man, about thirty-two, an editorial writer on the Herald, an independent paper. I'd known him all his life, and his wife—too, a mighty sweet-looking lady she was. I'd always thought Farwell was kind of a dreamer, and too excitable; he was always reading papers to literary clubs, and on the speech-making side he wasn't so bad—he liked it; but he hadn't seemed to me to know any more about politics and people than a royal family would. He was always talking about life and writing about corruption, when, all the time, so it struck me, it was only books he was really interested in; and he saw things along book lines. Of course he was a tin god, politically.
He was for "stern virtue" only, and everlastingly lashed compromise and temporizing; called politicians all the elegant hard names there are, in every one of his editorials, especially Lafe Gorgett, whom he'd never seen. He made mighty free with Lafe, referred to him habitually as "Boodler Gorgett", and never let up on him from one year's end to another.
I was against our adopting him, not only for our own sakes—because I knew he'd be a hard man to handle—but for Farwell's too. I'd been a friend of his father's, and I liked his wife—everybody liked his wife. But the boys overruled me, and I had to turn in and give it to him.
Not without a lot of misgivings, you can be sure. I had one little experience with him right at the start that made me uneasy and got me to thinking he was what you might call too literary, or theatrical, or something, and that he was more interested in being things than doing them. I'd been aware, ever since he got back from Harvard, that I was one of his literary interests, so to speak. He had a way of talking to me in a quizzical, condescending style, in the belief that he was drawing me out, the way you talk to some old book-peddler in your office when you've got nothing to do for a while; and it was easy to see he regarded me as a "character" and thought he was studying me. Besides, he felt it his duty to study the wickedness of politics in a Parkhurstian fashion, and I was one of the lost.
One day, just after we'd nominated him, he came to me and said he had a friend who wanted to meet me. Asked me couldn't I go with him right away. It was about five in the afternoon; I hadn't anything to do and said, "Certainly," thinking he meant to introduce me to some friend of his who thought I'd talk politics with him. I took that for granted so much that I didn't ask a question, just followed along up street, talking weather. He turned in at old General Buskirk's, and may I be shot if the person he meant wasn't Buskirk's daughter, Bella! He'd brought me to call on a girl young enough to be my daughter. Maybe you won't believe I felt like a fool!
I knew Buskirk, of course (he didn't appear), but I hadn't seen Bella since she was a child. She'd been "highly educated" and had been living abroad a good deal, but I can't say that my visit made me for her—not very strong. She was good-looking enough, in her thinnish, solemn way, but it seemed to me she was kind of overdressed and too grand. You could see in a minute that she was intense and dreamy and theatrical with herself and superior, like Farwell; and I guess I thought they thought they'd discovered they were "kindred souls," and that each of them understood (without saying it) that both of them felt that Farwell's lot in life was a hard one because Mrs. Knowles wasn't up to him. Bella gave him little, quiet, deep glances, that seemed to help her play the part of a person who understood everything—especially him, and reverenced greatness— especially his. I remember a fellow who called the sort of game it struck me they were carrying on "those soully flirtations."
Well, sir, I wasn't long puzzling over why he had brought me up there. It stuck out all over, though they didn't know it, and would have been mighty astonished to think that I saw. It was in their manner, in her condescending ways with me, in her assumption of serious interest, and in his going through the trick of "drawing me out," and exhibiting me to her. I'll have to admit that these young people viewed me in the light of a "character." That was the part Farwell had me there to play.
I can't say I was too pleased with the notion, and I was kind of sorry for Mrs. Knowles, too. I'd have staked a good deal that my guess was right, for instance: that Farwell had gone first to this girl for her congratulations when he got the nomination, instead of to his wife; and that she felt—or pretended she felt—a soully sympathy with his ambitions; that she wanted to be, or to play the part of, a woman of affairs, and that he talked over everything he knew with her. I imagined they thought they were studying political reform together, and she, in her novel-reading way, wanted to pose to herself as the brilliant lady diplomat, kind of a Madam Roland advising statesmen, or something of that sort. And I was there as part of their political studies, an object-lesson, to bring her "more closely in touch" (as Farwell would say) with the realities he had to contend with. I was one of the "evils of politics," because I knew how to control a few wards, and get out the darkey vote almost as well as Gorgett. Gorgett would have been better, but Farwell couldn't very easily get at him.
I had to sit there for a little while, of course, like a ninny between them; and I wasn't the more comfortable because I thought Knowles looked like a bigger fool than I did. Bella's presence seemed to excite him to a kind of exaltation; he had a dark flush on his face and his eyes were large and shiny.
I got out as soon as I could, naturally, wondering what my wife would say if she knew; and while I was fumbling around among the knick-knacks and fancy things in the hall for my hat and coat, I heard Farwell get up and cross the room to a chair nearer Bella, and then she said, in a sort of pungent whisper, that came out to me distinctly:
"My knight!" That's what she called him. "My knight!" That's what she said.
I don't know whether I was more disgusted with myself for hearing, or with old Buskirk who spent his whole time frittering around the club library, and let his daughter go in for the sort of soulliness she was carrying on with Farwell Knowles.
* * * * *
Trouble in our ranks began right away. Our nominee knew too much, and did all the wrong things from the start; he began by antagonizing most of our old wheel-horses; he wouldn't consult with us, and advised with his own kind. In spite of that, we had a good organization working for him, and by a week before election I felt pretty confident that our show was as good as Gorgett's. It looked like it would be close.
Just about then things happened. We had dropped onto one of Lafe's little tricks mighty smartly. We got one of his heelers fixed (of course we usually tried to keep all that kind of work dark from Farwell Knowles), and this heeler showed the whole business up for a consideration. There was a precinct certain to be strong for Knowles, where the balloting was to take place in the office-room of a hook-and-ladder company. In the corner was a small closet with one shelf, high up toward the ceiling. It was in the good old free and easy Hayes and Wheeler times, and when the polls closed at six o'clock it was planned that the election officers should set the ballot-box up on this shelf, lock the closet door, and go out for their suppers, leaving one of each side to watch in the room so that nobody could open the closet-door with a pass-key and tamper with the ballots before they were counted. Now, the ceiling over the shelf in the closet wasn't plastered, and it formed, of course, part of the flooring in the room above. The boards were to be loosened by a Gorgett man upstairs, as soon as the box was locked in; he would take up a piece of planking—enough to get an arm in—and stuff the box with Gorgett ballots till it grunted. Then he would replace the board and slide out. Of course, when they began the count our people would know there was something wrong, but they would be practically up against it, and the precinct would be counted for Gorgett.
They brought the heeler up to me, not at headquarters (I was city chairman) but at a hotel room I'd hired as a convenient place for the more important conferences and to keep out of the way of every Tom-Dick-and-Harry grafter. Bob Crowder, a ward committee-man, brought him up and stayed in the room, while the fellow—his name was Genz—went over the whole thing.
"What do you think of it?" says Bob, when Genz finished. "Ain't it worth the money? I declare, it's so neat and simple and so almighty smart besides, I'm almost ashamed some of our boys hadn't thought of it for us."
I was just opening my mouth to answer, when there was a signal knock at the door and a young fellow we had as a kind of watcher in the next room (opening into the one I used) put his head in and said Mr. Knowles wanted to see me.
"Ask him to wait a minute," said I, for I didn't want him to know anything about Genz. "I'll be there right away."
Then came Farwell Knowles's voice from the other room, sharp and excited. "I believe I'll not wait," says he. "I'll come in there now!"
And that's what he did, pushing by our watcher before I could hustle Genz into the hall through an outer door, though I tried to. There's no denying it looked a little suspicious.
Farwell came to a dead halt in the middle of the room.
"I know that person!" he said, pointing at Genz, his brow mighty black. "I saw him and Crowder sneaking into the hotel by the back way, half an hour ago, and I knew there was some devilish—"
"Keep your shirt on, Farwell," said I.
He was pretty hot. "I'll be obliged to you," he returned, "if you'll explain what you're doing here in secret with this low hound of Gorgett's. Do you think you can play with me the way you do with your petty committee-men? If you do, I'll show you! You're not dealing with a child, and I'm not going to be tricked or sold out of this elec—"
I took him by the shoulders and sat him down hard on a cane-bottomed chair. "That's a dirty thought," said I, "and if you knew enough to be responsible I reckon you'd have to account for it. As it is—why, I don't care whether you apologize or not."
He weakened right away, or, at least, he saw his mistake. "Then won't you give me some explanation," he asked, in a less excitable way, "why are you closeted here with a notorious member of Gorgett's ring?"
"No," said I, "I won't."
"Be careful," said he. "This won't look well in print."
That was just so plumb foolish that I began to laugh at him; and when I got to laughing I couldn't keep up being angry. It was ridiculous, his childishness and suspiciousness. Right there was where I made my mistake.
"All right," says I to Bob Crowder, giving way to the impulse. "He's the candidate. Tell him."
"Do you mean it?" asks Bob, surprised.
"Yes. Tell him the whole thing."
So Bob did, helped by Genz, who was more or less sulky, of course; and is wasn't long till I saw how stupid I'd been. Knowles went straight up in the air.
"I knew it was a dirty business, politics," he said, jumping out of his chair, "but I didn't realize it before. And I'd like to know," he went on, turning to me, "how you learn to sit there so calmly and listen to such iniquities. How do you dull your conscience so that you can do it? And what course do you propose to follow in the matter of this confession?"
"Me?" I answered. "Why, I'm going to send supper in to our fellows, and the box'll never see that closet. The man upstairs may get a little tired. I reckon the laugh's on Gorgett; it's his scheme and—"
Farwell interrupted me; his face was outrageously red. "What! You actually mean you hadn't intended to expose this infamy?"
"Steady," I said. I was getting a little hot, too, and talked more than I ought. "Mr. Genz here has our pledge that he's not given away, or he'd never have—"
"Mister Genz!" sneered Farwell. "Mister Genz has your pledge, has he? Allow me to tell you that I represent the people, the honest people, in this campaign, and that the people and I have made no pledges to Mister Genz. You've paid the scoundrel—"
"Here!" says Genz.
"The scoundrel!" Farwell repeated, his voice rising and rising, "paid him for his information, and I tell you by that act and your silence on such a matter you make yourself a party to a conspiracy."
"Shut the transom," says I to Crowder.
"I'm under no pledge, I say," shouted Farwell, "and I do not compound felonies. You're not conducting my campaign. I'm doing that, and I don't conduct it along such lines. It's precisely the kind of fraud and corruption that I intend to stamp out in this town, and this is where I begin to work."
"How?" said I.
"You'll see—and you'll see soon! The penitentiaries are built for just this—"
"Sh, sh!" said I, but he paid no attention.
"They say Gorgett owns the Grand Jury," he went on. "Well, let him! Within a week I'll be mayor of this town—and Gorgett's Grand Jury won't outlast his defeat very long. By his own confession this man Genz is party to a conspiracy with Gorgett, and you and Crowder are witnesses to the confession. I'll see that you have the pleasure of giving your testimony before a Grand Jury of determined men. Do you hear me? And tomorrow afternoon's Herald will have the whole infamous story to the last word. I give you my solemn oath upon it!"
All three of us, Crowder, Genz, and I, sprang to our feet. We were considerably worked up, and none of us said anything for a minute or so, just looked at Knowles.
"Yes, you're a little shocked," he said. "It's always shocking to men like you to come in contact with honesty that won't compromise. You needn't talk to me; you can't say anything that would change me to save your lives. I've taken my oath upon it, and you couldn't alter me a hair's breadth if you burned me at a slow fire. Light, light, that's what you need, the light of day and publicity! I'm going to clear this town of fraud, and if Gorgett don't wear the stripes for this my name's not Farwell Knowles! He'll go over the road, handcuffed to a deputy, before three months are gone. Don't tell me I'm injuring you and the party by it. Pah! It will give me a thousand more votes. I'm not exactly a child, my friends! On my honour, the whole thing will be printed in to-morrow's paper!"
"For God's sake—" Crowder broke out, but Knowles cut him off.
"I bid you good-afternoon," he said, sharply. We all started toward him, but before we'd got half across the room he was gone, and the door slammed behind him.
Bob dropped into a chair; he was looking considerably pale; I guess I was, too, but Genz was ghastly.
"Let me out of here," he said in a sick voice. "Let me out of here!"
"Sit down!" I told him.
"Just let me out of here," he said again. And before I could stop him, he'd gone, too, in a blind hurry.
Bob and I were left alone, and not talking any.
Not for a while. Then Bob said: "Where do you reckon he's gone?"
"Reckon who's gone?"
"To see Lafe."
"Of course he has. What else can he do? He's gone up any way. The best he can do is to try to square himself a little by owning up the whole thing. Gorgett will know it all any way, tomorrow afternoon, when the Herald comes out."
"I guess you're right," said Bob. "We're done up along with Gorgett; but I believe that idiot's right, he won't lose votes by playing hob with us. What's to be done?"
"Nothing," I answered. "You can't head Farwell off. It's all my fault, Bob."
"Isn't there any way to get hold of him? A crazy man could see that his best friend couldn't beg it out of him, and that he wouldn't spare any of us; but don't you know of some bludgeon we could hang up over him?"
"Nothing. It's up to Gorgett."
"Well," said Bob, "Lafe's mighty smart, but it looks like God-help-Gorgett now!"
Well, sir, I couldn't think of anything better to do than to go around and see Gorgett; so, after waiting long enough for Genz to see him and get away, I went. Lafe was always cool and slow; but I own I expected to find him flustered, and was astonished to see right away that he wasn't. He was smoking, as usual, and wearing his hat, as he always did, indoors and out, sitting with his feet upon his desk, and a pleasant look of contemplation on his face.
"Oh," says I, "then Genz hasn't been here?"
"Yes," says he, "he has. I reckon you folks have 'most spoiled Genz's usefulness for me."
"You're taking it mighty easy," I told him.
"Yep. Isn't it all in the game? What's the use of getting excited because you've blocked us on one precinct? We'll leave that closet out of our calculations, that's all."
"Almighty Powers, I don't mean that! Didn't Genz tell you—"
"About Mr. Knowles and the Herald? Oh, yes," he answered, knocking the ashes off his cigar quietly. "And about the thousand votes he'll gain? Oh, yes. And about incidentally showing you and Crowder up as bribing Genz and promising to protect him—making your methods public? Oh, yes. And about the Grand Jury? Yes, Genz told me. And about me and the penitentiary. Yes, he told me. Mr. Knowles is a rather excitable young man. Don't you think so?"
"Well, what's the trouble?"
"Trouble!" I said. "I'd like to know what you're going to do?"
"What's Knowles going to do?"
"He's sworn to expose the whole deal, as you've just told me you knew; one of the preliminaries to having us all up before the next Grand Jury and sending you and Genz over the road, that's all!"
Gorgett laughed that old, fat laugh of his, tilting farther back, with his hands in his pockets and his eyes twinkling under his last summer's straw hat-brim.
"He can't hardly afford it, can he," he drawled, "he being the representative of the law and order and purity people? They're mighty sensitive, those folks. A little thing turns 'em."
"I don't understand," said I.
"Well, I hardly reckoned you would," he returned. "But I expect if Mr. Knowles wants it warm all round, I'm willing. We may be able to do some of the heating up, ourselves."
This surprised me, coming from him, and I felt pretty sore. "You mean, then," I said, "that you think you've got a line on something our boys have been planning—like the way we got onto the closet trick—and you're going to show us up because we can't control Knowles; that you hold that over me as a threat unless I shut him up? Then I tell you plainly I know I can't shut him up, and you can go ahead and do us the worst you can."
"Whatever little tricks I may or may not have discovered," he answered, "that isn't what I mean, though I don't know as I'd be above making such a threat if I thought it was my only way to keep out of the penitentiary. I know as well as you do that such a threat would only give Knowles pleasure. He'd take the credit for forcing me to expose you, and he's convinced that everything of that kind he does makes him solider with the people and brings him a step nearer this chair I'm sitting in, which he regards as a step itself to the governorship and Heaven knows what not. He thinks he's detached himself from you and your organization till he stands alone. That boy's head was turned even before you fellows nominated him. He's a wonder. I've been noticing him long before he turned up as a candidate, and I believe the great surprise of his life was that John the Baptist didn't precede and herald him. Oh, no, going for you wouldn't stop him—not by a thousand miles. It would only do him good."
"Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to see him?"
"No, sir!" Lafe spoke sharply.
"Well, well! What?"
"I'm not bothering to run around asking audiences of Farwell Knowleses; you ought to know that!"
"Given it up?"
"Not exactly. I've sent a fellow around to talk to him."
"What use will that be?"
Gorgett brought his feet down off the desk with a bang.
"Then he can come to see me, if he wants to. D'you think I've been fool enough not to know what sort of man I was going up against? D'you think that, knowing him as I do, I've not been ready for something of this kind? And that's all you'll get out of me, this afternoon!"
And it was all I did.
* * * * *
It may have been about one o'clock, that night, or perhaps a little earlier, as I lay tossing about, unable to sleep because I was too much disturbed in my mind—too angry with myself—when there came a loud, startling ring at the front-door bell. I got up at once and threw open a window over the door, calling out to know what was wanted.
"It's I," said a voice I didn't know—a queer, hoarse voice. "Come down."
"Who's 'I'?" I asked.
"Farwell Knowles," said the voice. "Let me in!"
I started, and looked down.
He was standing on the steps where the light of a street-lamp fell on him, and I saw even by the poor glimmer that something was wrong; he was white as a dead man. There was something wild in his attitude; he had no hat, and looked all mixed-up and disarranged.
"Come down—come down!" he begged thickly, beckoning me with his arm.
I got on some clothes, slipped downstairs without wakening my wife, lit the hall light, and took him into the library. He dropped in a chair with a quick breath like a sob, and when I turned from lighting the gas I was shocked by the change in him since afternoon. I never saw such a look before. It was like a rat you've seen running along the gutter side of the curbstone with a terrier after it.
"What's the matter, Farwell?" I asked.
"Oh, my God!" he whispered.
"It's hard to tell you," said he. "Oh, but it's hard to tell."
"Want some whiskey?" I asked, reaching for a decanter that stood handy. He nodded and I gave him good allowance.
"Now," said I, when he'd gulped it down, "let's hear what's turned up."
He looked at me kind of dimly, and I'll be shot if two tears didn't well up in his eyes and run down his cheeks. "I've come to ask you," he said slowly and brokenly, "to ask you—if you won't intercede with Gorgett for me; to ask you if you won't beg him to—to grant me—an interview before to-morrow noon."
"Will you do it?"
"Certainly. Have you asked for an interview with him yourself?"
He struck the back of his hand across his forehead—struck hard, too.
"Have I tried? I've been following him like a dog since five o'clock this afternoon, beseeching him to give me twenty minutes' talk in private. He laughed at me! He isn't a man; he's an iron-hearted devil! Then I went to his house and waited three hours for him. When he came, all he would say was that you were supposed to be running this campaign for me, and I'd better consult with you. Then he turned me out of his house!"
"You seem to have altered a little since this afternoon." I couldn't resist that.
"This afternoon!" he shuddered. "I think that was a thousand years ago!"
"What do you want to see him for?"
"What for? To see if there isn't a little human pity in him for a fellow-being in agony—to end my suspense and know whether or not he means to ruin me and my happiness and my home forever!"
Farwell didn't seem to be regarding me so much in the light of a character as usual; still, one thing puzzled me, and I asked him how he happened to come to me.
"Because I thought if anyone in the world could do anything with Gorgett, you'd be the one," he answered. "Because it seemed to me he'd listen to you, and because I thought—in my wild clutching at the remotest hope—that he meant to make my humiliation more awful by sending me to you to ask you to go back to him for me."
"Well, well," I said, "I guess if you want me to be of any use you'll have to tell me what it's all about."
"I suppose so," he said, and choked, with a kind of despairing sound; "I don't see any way out of it."
"Go ahead," I told him. "I reckon I'm old enough to keep my counsel. Let it go, Farwell."
"Do you know," he began, with a sharp, grinding of his teeth, "that dishonourable scoundrel has had me watched, ever since there was talk of me for the fusion candidate? He's had me followed, shadowed, till he knows more about me than I do myself."
I saw right there that I'd never really measured Gorgett for as tall as he really was. "Have a cigar?" I asked Knowles, and lit one myself. But he shook his head and went on:
"You remember my taking you to call on General Buskirk's daughter?"
"Quite well," said I, puffing pretty hard.
"An angel! A white angel! And this beast, this boodler has the mud in his hands to desecrate her white garments!"
"Oh," says I.
The angel's knight began to pace the room as he talked, clinching and unclinching his hands, while the perspiration got his hair all scraggly on his forehead. You see Farwell was doing some suffering and he wasn't used to it.
"When she came home from abroad, a year ago," he said, "it seemed to me that a light came into my life. I've got to tell you the whole thing," he groaned, "but it's hard! Well, my wife is taken up with our little boy and housekeeping,—I don't complain of her, mind that—but she really hasn't entered into my ambitions, my inner life. She doesn't often read my editorials, and when she does, she hasn't been serious in her consideration of them and of my purposes. Sometimes she differed openly from me and sometimes greeted my work for truth and light with indifference! I had learned to bear this, and more; to save myself pain I had come to shrink from exposing my real self to her. Then, when this young girl came, for the first time in my life I found real sympathy and knew what I thought I never should know; a heart attuned to my own, a mind that sought my own ideals, a soul of the same aspirations—and a perfect faith in what I was and in what it was my right to attain. She met me with open hands, and lifted me to my best self. What, unhappily, I did not find at home, I found in her—encouragement. I went to her in every mood, always to be greeted by the most exquisite perception, always the same delicate receptiveness. She gave me a sister's love!"
I nodded; I knew he thought so.
"Well, when I went into this campaign, what more natural than that I should seek her ready sympathy at every turn, than that I should consult with her at each crisis, and, when I became the fusion candidate, that I should go to her with the news that I had taken my first great step toward my goal and had achieved thus far in my struggle for the cause of our hearts—reform?"
"You went up to Buskirk's after the convention?" I asked.
"No; the night before." He took his head in his hands and groaned, but without pausing in his march up and down the room. "You remember, it was known by ten o'clock, after the primaries, that I should receive the nomination. As soon as I was sure, I went to her; and I found her in the same state of exaltation and pride that I was experiencing myself. There was always the answer in her, I tell you, always the response that such a nature as mine craves. She took both my hands and looked at me just as a proud sister would. 'I read your news,' she said. 'It is in your face!' Wasn't that touching? Then we sat in silence for a while, each understanding the other's joy and triumph in the great blow I had struck for the right. I left very soon, and she came with me to the door. We stood for a moment on the step—and—for the first time, the only time in my life—I received a—a sister's caress."
"Oh," said I. I understood how Gorgett had managed to be so calm that afternoon.
"It was the purest kiss ever given!" Farwell groaned again.
"Who was it saw you?" I asked.
He dropped into a chair and I saw the tears of rage and humiliation welling up again in his eyes.
"We might as well have been standing by the footlights in a theatre!" he burst out, brokenly. "Who saw it? Who didn't see it? Gorgett's sleuth-hound, the man he sent to me this afternoon, for one; the policeman on the beat that he'd stopped for a chat in front of the house, for another; a maid in the hall behind us, the policeman's sweetheart she is, for another! Oh!" he cried, "the desecration! That one caress, one that I'd thought a sacred secret between us forever—and in plain sight of those three hideous vulgarians, all belonging to my enemy, Gorgett! Ah, the horror of it—what horror!"
Farwell wrung his hands and sat, gulping as if he were sick, without speaking for several moments.
"What terms did the man he sent offer from Gorgett?" I asked.
"No terms! He said to go ahead and print my story about the closet; it was a matter of perfect indifference to him; that he meant to print this about me in their damnable party-organ tomorrow, in any event, and only warned me so that I should have time to prepare Miss Buskirk. Of course he don't care! I'll be ruined, that's all. Oh, the hideous injustice of it, the unreason! Don't you see the frightful irony of it? The best thing in my life, the widest and deepest; my friendship with a good woman becomes a joke and a horror! Don't you see that the personal scandal about me absolutely undermines me and nullifies the political scandal of the closet affair? Gorgett will come in again and the Grand Jury would laugh at any attack on him. I'm ruined for good, for good and all, for good and all!"
"Have you told Miss Buskirk?"
He uttered a kind of a shriek. "No! I can't! How could I? What do you think I'm made of? And there's her father—and all her relatives, and mine, and my wife—my wife! If she leaves me—"
A fit of nausea seemed to overcome him and he struggled with it, shivering. "My God! Do you think I can face it? I've come to you for help in the most wretched hour of my life—all darkness, darkness! Just on the eve of triumph to be stricken down—it's so cruel, so devilish! And to think of the horrible comic-weekly misery of it, caught kissing a girl, by a policeman and his sweetheart, the chambermaid! Ugh! The vulgar ridicule—the hideous laughter!" He raised his hands to me, the most grovelling figure of a man I ever saw.
"Oh, for God's sake, help me, help me...."
Well, sir, it was sickening enough, but after he had gone, and I tumbled into bed again, I thought of Gorgett and laughed myself to sleep with admiration.
When Farwell and I got to Gorgett's office, fairly early the next morning, Lafe was sitting there alone, expecting us, of course, as I knew he would be, but in the same characteristic, lazy attitude I'd found him in, the day before; feet up on the desk, hat-brim tilted 'way forward, cigar in the right-hand corner of his mouth, his hands in his pockets, his double-chin mashing down his limp collar. He didn't even turn to look at us as we came in and closed the door.
"Come in, gentlemen, come in," says he, not moving. "I kind of thought you'd be along, about this time."
"Looking for us, were you?" I asked.
"Yes," said he. "Sit down."
We did; Farwell looking pretty pale and red-eyed, and swallowing a good deal.
There was a long, long silence. We just sat and watched Gorgett. I didn't want to say anything; and I believe Farwell couldn't. It lasted so long that it began to look as if the little blue haze at the end of Lafe's cigar was all that was going to happen. But by and by he turned his head ever so little, and looked at Knowles.
"Got your story for the Herald set up yet?" he asked.
Farwell swallowed some more and just shook his head.
"Haven't begun to work up the case for the Grand Jury yet?"
"No," answered Farwell, in almost a whisper, his head hanging.
"Why," Lafe said, in a tone of quiet surprise; "you haven't given all that up, have you?"
"Well, ain't that strange?" said Lafe. "What's the trouble?"
Knowles didn't answer. In fact, I felt mighty sorry for him.
All at once, Gorgett's manner changed; he threw away his cigar, the only time I ever saw him do it without lighting another at the end of it. His feet came down to the floor and he wheeled round on Farwell.
"I understand your wife's a mighty nice lady, Mr. Knowles."
Farwell's head sank lower till we couldn't see his face, only his fingers working kind of pitifully.
"I guess you've had rather a bad night?" said Gorgett, inquiringly.
"Oh, my God!" The words came out in a whisper from under Knowles's tilted hat-brim.
"I believe I'd advise you to stick to your wife," Gorgett went on, quietly, "and let politics alone. Somehow I don't believe you're the kind of man for it. I've taken considerable interest in you for some time back, Mr. Knowles, though I don't suppose you've noticed it until lately; and I don't believe you understand the game. You've said some pretty hard things in your paper about me; you've been more or less excitable in your statements; but that's all right. What I don't like altogether, though, is that it seems to me you've been really tooting your own horn all the time—calling everybody dishonest and scoundrels, to shove yourself forward. That always ends in sort of a lonely position. I reckon you feel considerably lonely, just now? Well, yesterday, I understand you were talking pretty free about the penitentiary. Now, that ain't just the way to act, according to my notion. It's a bad word. Here we are, he and I"—he pointed to me—"carrying on our little fight according to the rules, enjoying it and blocking each other, gaining a point here and losing one there, everything perfectly good-natured, when you turn up and begin to talk about the penitentiary! That ain't quite the thing. You see words like that are liable to stir up the passions. It's dangerous. You were trusted, when they told you the closet story, to regard it as a confidence—though they didn't go through the form of pledging you—because your people had given their word not to betray Genz. But you couldn't see it and there you went, talking about the Grand Jury and stripes and so on, stirring up passions and ugly feelings. And I want to tell you that the man who can afford to do that has to be mighty immaculate himself. The only way to play politics, whatever you're for, is to learn the game first. Then you'll know how far you can go and what your own record will stand. There ain't a man alive whose record will stand too much, Mr. Knowles—and when you get to thinking about that and what your own is, it makes you feel more like treating your fellow-sinners a good deal gentler than you would otherwise. Now I've got a wife and two little girls, and my old mother's proud of me (though you wouldn't think it) and they'd hate it a good deal to see me sent over the road for playing the game the best I could as I found it."
He paused for a moment, looking sad and almost embarrassed. "It ain't any great pleasure to me," he said, "to think that the people have let it get to be the game that it is. But I reckon it's good for you. I reckon the best thing that ever happened to you is having to come here this morning to ask mercy of a man you looked down on."
Farwell shifted a little in his chair, but he didn't speak, and Gorgett went on:
"I suppose you think it's mighty hard that your private character should be used against you in a political question by a man you call a public corruptionist. But I'm in a position where I can't take any chances against an antagonist that won't play the game my way. I had to find your vulnerable point to defend myself, and, in finding it, I find that there's no need to defend myself any longer, because it makes all your weapons ineffective. I believe the trouble with you, Mr. Knowles, is that you've never realized that politicians are human beings. But we are: we breathe and laugh and like to do right, like other folks. And, like most men, you've thought you were different from other men, and you aren't. So, here you are. I believe you said you'd had a hard night?"
Knowles looked up at last, his lips working for a while before he could speak. "I'll resign now—if you'll—if you'll let me off," he said.
Gorgett shook his head. "I've got the election in my hand," he answered, "though you fellows don't know it. You've got nothing to offer me, and you couldn't buy me if you had."
At that, Knowles just sank into himself with a little, faint cry, in a kind of heap. There wasn't anything but anguish and despair to him. Big tears were sliding down his cheeks.
I didn't say anything. Gorgett sat looking at him for a good while; and then his fat chin began to tremble a little and I saw his eyes shining in the shadow under his old hat-brim.
He got up and went over to Farwell with slow steps and put his hand gently on his shoulder.
"Go on home to your wife," he said, in a low voice that was the saddest I ever heard. "I don't bear you any ill-will in the world. Nobody's going to give you away."
Pietro Tobigili, that gay young chestnut vender—he of the radiant smiles—gave forth, in his warm tenor, his own interpretation of "Ach du lieber Augustine," whenever Bertha, rosy waitress in the little German restaurant, showed her face at the door. For a month it had been a courtship; and the merchant sang often:
"Ahaha, du libra Ogostine, Ogostine, Ogostine! Ahaha, du libra Ogostine, Nees coma ross."
The acquaintance, begun by the song and Pietro's wonderful laugh, had grown tender. The chestnut vender had a way with him; he looked like the "Neapolitan Fisher Lad" of the chromos, and you could have fancied him of two centuries ago, putting a rose in his hair; even as it was, he had the ear-rings. But the smile of him it was that won Bertha, when she came to work in the little restaurant. It was a smile that put the world at its ease; it proclaimed the coming of morning over the meadows, and, taking every bystander into an April friendship, ran on suddenly into a laugh that was like silver, and like a strange puppy's claiming you for the lost master.
So it befell that Bertha was fascinated; that, blushing, she laughed back to him, and was nothing offended when, at his first sight of her, he rippled out at once into "Ahaha, du libra Ogostine."
Within two weeks he was closing his business (no intricate matter) every evening, to walk home with her, through the September moonlight. Then extraordinary things happened to the English language.
"I ain'd nefer can like no foreigner!" she often joked back to a question of his. "Nefer, nefer! you t'ink I'm takin' up mit a hant-orkan maan, Mister Toby?"
Whereupon he would carol out the tender taunt, "Ahaha, du libra Ogostine!"
"Yoost a hant-orkan maan!"
"No! No! No oragan! I am a greata—greata merchant. Vote a Republican! Polititshian! To-bigli, Chititzen Republican. Naturalasize! March in a parade!"
Never lived native American prouder of his citizenship than this adopted one. Had he not voted at the election? Was he not a member of the great Republican party? He had eagerly joined it, for the reason that he had been a Republican in Italy, and he had drawn with him to the polls his second cousin, Leo Vesschi, and the five other Italians with whom he lived. For this, he had been rewarded by Pixley, his precinct committee-man, who allowed him to carry pink torches in three night processions.
"You keeb oud politigs," said Bertha, earnestly, one evening. "My uncle, Louie Gratz, he iss got a neighbour-lady; her man gone in politigs. Aftervorts he git it! He iss in der bennidenshierry two years. You know why?"
"Democrat!" shouted the chestnut vender triumphantly.
"No, sir! Yoost politigs," replied the unpartisan Bertha. "You keeb oud politigs."
"Ahaha, du libra Ogostine, Ogostine, Ogostine! Ahaha, du libra Ogostine, Nees coma ross."
The song was always a teasing of her and carried all his friendly laughter at her, because of her German ways; but it became softly exultant whenever she betrayed her interest in him.
"Libra Ogostine, she afraid I go penitensh?" he inquired.
"Me!" she jeered with uneasy laughter. "I ain'd care! but you—you don' look oud, you git in dod voikhouse!"
He turned upon her, suddenly, a face like a mother's, and touched her hand with a light caress.
"I stay in a workhouse sevena-hunder' year," he said gently, "you come seeta by window some-a-time."
At this Bertha turned away, was silent for a space, leaning on the gate-post in front of her uncle's house, whither they were now come. Finally she answered brokenly: "I ain'd sit by no vinder for yoost a jessnut maan." This was her way of stimulating his ambition.
"Ahaha!" he cried. "You don' know? I'm goin' buy beeg stan'! Candy! Peanut! Banan'! Make some-a-time four dollar a day! 'Tis a greata countra! Bimaby git a store! Ride a buggy! Smoke a cigar! You play piano! Vote a Republican!"
"Toby," she said tearfully; "Toby, you voik hart, und safe your money?"
"You help?" he whispered.
"I help—you!" she cried loudly. Then, with a sudden fit of sobbing, she flung open the gate and ran at the top of her speed into the house.
Halcyon the days for Pietro Tobigli, extravagant the jocularity of this betrothed one. And, as his happiness, so did his prosperity increase; the little chestnut furnace became the smallest adjunct of his affairs; for he leaped (almost at one bound) to the proprietorship of a wooden stand, shaped like the crate of an upright piano and backed up against the brick wall of the restaurant—a mercantile house which was closed at night by putting the lid on. All day long Toby's smile arrested pedestrians, and compelled them to buy of him, making his wares sweeter in the mouth. Bertha dwelt in a perpetual serenade: on warm days, when the restaurant doors were open, she could hear him singing, not always "Ogostine," but festal lilts of Italy, liquid and strangely sweet to her; and at such times, when the actual voice was not in her ears, still she blushed with delight to hear in her heart the thrilling echoes of his barcaroles, and found them humming cheerily upon her own lips.
Toby was to save five hundred dollars before they married, a great sum, but they were patient and both worked very hard. The winter would have fallen bitterly upon an outdoor merchant lacking Toby's confident heart, but on the coldest days, when Bertha looked out, she always found him slapping his hands, and trudging up and down in the snow in front of the little box; and, as soon as he caught sight of her—"Aha-ha, du libra Ogostine, Ogostine, Ogostine!"
She saved her own money with German persistence, and on Christmas day her present to her betrothed, in return for a coral pin, was a pair of rubber boots filled with little cakes.
Elysium was the dwelling-place of Pietro Tobigli, though, apparently, he abode in a horrible slum cellar with Leo Vesschi and the five Latti brothers. In this place our purveyor of sweetmeats was the only light. Thither he had carried his songs and his laugh and his furnace when he came from Italy to join Vesschi; and there he remained, partly out of loyalty to his un-prosperous comrades, and partly because his share of the expense was only twenty-five cents a week, and every saving was a saving for Bertha. Every evening, on the homeward walk, the affianced pair passed the hideous stairway that led down to the cellar, and Bertha, neat soul, never failed to shudder at it. She did not know that Pietro lived there, for he feared it might distress her; nor could she ever persuade him to tell her where he lived.
Because of this mystery, upon which he merrily insisted, she affected a fear that he would some day desert her. "You don' tell me where you lif, I t'ink you goin' ran away of me, Toby. I vake opp some day; git a ledder dod you gone back home by 'Talian lady dod's grazy 'bout you!"
"Ahaha! Libra Ogostine, you believe I can make a write weet a pen-a-paper? I don' know that-a how. Some-a-time you see that gran' palazzo where I leef. Eesa greata-great sooraprise!"
In the gran' palazzo, it was as much as he could do to keep clean his own grim little bunk in the corner. His comrades, sullen, hopeless, came at evening from ten hours' desperate shovelling, and exhibited no ambition for water or brooms, but sat hunched and silent, or morosely muttering and coughing, in the dark room with its sodden earthen floor, stained walls, and one smoky lamp.
To this uncomfortable chamber repaired, one March evening, Mr. Frank Pixley, Republican precinct committee-man, nor was its dinginess an unharmonious setting for that political brilliant. He was a pock-pitted, damp-looking, soiled little fungus of a man, who had attained to his office because, in the dirtiest precinct of the wickedest ward in the city, he had, through the operation of a befitting ingenuity, forced a recognition of his leadership. From such an office, manned by a Pixley, there leads an upward ramification of wires, invisible to all except manipulators, which extends to higher surfaces. Usually the Pixley is a deep-sea puppet, wholly controlled by the dingily gilded wires that run down to him; but there are times when the Pixley gives forth initial impulses of his own, such as may alter the upper surface; for, in a system of this character, every twitch is felt throughout the whole ramification.
"Hello, boys," the committee-man called out with automatic geniality, as he descended the broken steps. "How are ye? All here? That's good; that's the stuff! Good work!"
Only Toby replied with more than an indifferent grunt; but he ran forward, carrying an empty beer keg which he placed as a seat for the guest.
"Ahaha, Meesa Peeslay! Make a parade? Torchlight? Bandaplay—ta ra, la la la? Firework? Fzzz! Boum! Eh?"
The politician responded to Toby's extravagantly friendly laughter with some mechanical cachinnations which, like an obliging salesman, he turned on and off with no effort. "Not by a dern sight!" he answered. "The campaign ain't begun yet."
"Champagne?" inquired Tobigli politely.
"Campaign, campaign," explained Pixley. "Not much champagne in yours!" he chuckled beneath his breath. "Blame lucky to git Chicago bowl!"
"What is that, that campaign?"
"Why—why, it's the campaign. Workin' up public sentiment; gittin' you boys in line, 'lect-ioneerin'—fixin' it right."
Tobigli shook his head. "Campaign?" he repeated.
"Why—Gee, you know! Free beer, cigars, speakin', handshaking, paradin'—"
"Ahaha!" The merchant sprang to his feet with a shout. "Yes! Hoor-r-ra! Vote a Republican! Dam-a Democrat!"
"That's it," replied the committee-man somewhat languidly. "You see, this is a Republican precinct, and it turns the ward—"
"Allaways a Republican!" vociferated Pietro. "That eesa right?"
"Well," said the other, "of course, whichever way you go, you want to follow your precinct committee-man—that's me."
"Yess! Vote a Republican."
Pixley looked about the room, his little red eyes peering out cannily from under his crooked brows at each of the sulky figures in the damp shadows.
"You boys all vote the way Pete says?" he asked.
"Vote same Pietro," answered Vesschi. "Allaways."
"Allaways a Republican," added Pietro sparkingly, with abundant gesture. "'Tis a greata-great countra. Republican here same a Republican at home—eena Etallee. Republican eternall! All good Republican eena thees house! Hoor-r-ra!"
"Well," said Pixley, with a furtiveness half habit, as he rose to go, "of course, you want to keep your eye on your committee-man, and kind of foller along with him, whatever he does. That's me." He placed a dingy bottle on the keg. "I jest dropped in to see how you boys were gittin' along—mighty tidy little place you got here." He changed the stub of his burnt-out cigar to the other side of his mouth, shifting his eyes in the opposite direction, as he continued benevolently: "I thought I'd look in and leave this bottle o' gin fer ye, with my compliments. I'll be around ag'in some evenin', and I reckon before 'lection day comes there may be somep'n doin'—I might have better fer ye than a bottle. Keep your eye on me, boys, an' foller the leader. That's the idea. So long!"
"Vote a Republican!" Pietro shouted after him gaily.
"Jest foller yer leader," he rejoined. "That's the way to learn politics, boys."
Now as the rough spring wore on into the happier season, with the days like spiced warm wine, when people on the street are no longer driven by the weather but are won by it to loiter; now, indeed, did commerce at Toby's new stand so mightily thrive that, when summer came, Bertha was troubled as to the safety of Toby's profits.
"You yoost put your money by der builtun-loan 'sociation, Toby," she advised gently. "Dey safe ut fer you."
"T'ree hunder' fifta dolla—no!" answered her betrothed. "I keep in de pock'!" He showed her where the bills were pinned into his corduroy waistcoat pocket. "See! Eesa yau! Onna my heart, libra Ogostine!"
"Toby, uf you ain'd dake ut by der builtun-loan, blease put ut in der bink?"
"I keep!" he repeated, shaking his head seriously. "In t'ree-four mont' eesa five-hunder-dolla. Nobody but me eesa tross weet that money."
Nor could Bertha persuade him. It was their happiness he watched over. Who to guard it as he, the dingy, precious parcel of bills? He pictured for himself a swampy forest through which he was laying a pathway to Bertha, and each of the soiled green notes that he pinned in his waistcoat was a strip of firm ground he had made, over which he advanced a few steps nearer her. And Bertha was very happy, even forgetting, for a while, to be afraid of the smallpox, which had thrown out little flags, like auction signs, here and there about the city.
When the full heat of summer came, Pietro laughed at the dog-days; and it was Bertha's to suffer in the hot little restaurant; but she smiled and waved to Pietro, so that he should not know. Also she made him sell iced lemonade and birch beer, which was well for the corduroy waistcoat pocket. Never have you seen a more alluring merchant. One glance toward the stand; you caught that flashing smile, the owner of it a-tip-toe to serve you; and Pietro managed, too, by a light jog to the table on which stood his big, bedewed, earthen jars, that you became aware of the tinkle of ice and a cold, liquid murmur—what mortal could deny the inward call and pass without stopping to buy?
There fell a night in September when Bertha beheld her lover glorious. She had been warned that he was to officiate in the great opening function of the campaign; and she stood on the corner for an hour before the head of the procession appeared. On they came—Pietro's party, three thousand strong; brass bands, fireworks, red fire, tumultuous citizens, political clubs, local potentates in open carriages, policemen, boys, dogs, bicycles—the procession doing all the cheering for itself, the crowds of spectators only feebly responding to this enthusiasm, as is our national custom. At the end of it all marched a plentiful crew of tatterdemalions, a few bleared white men, and the rest negroes. They bore aloft a crazy transparency, exhibiting the legend:
"FRANK PIXLEY'S HARD-MONEY LEAGUE.
WE STAND FOR OUR PRINCIPALS.
WE ARE SOLLID!
NO FOOLING THE PEOPLE GOES!
WE VOTE AS ONE MAN FOR
TAYLOR P. SINGLETON!"
Bertha's eyes had not rested upon Toby where they innocently sought him, in the front ranks, even scanning the carriages, seeking him in all positions which she conceived as highest in honour, and she would have missed him altogether, had not there reached her, out of chaotic clamours, a clear, high, rollicking tenor:
"Ahaha! du libra Ogostine, Ogostine, Ogostine! Ahaha! du libra Ogostine, Nees coma ross!"
Then the eager eyes found their pleasure, for there, in the last line of Pixley's pirates, the very tail of the procession, danced Pietro Tobigli, waving his pink torch at her, proud, happy, triumphant, a true Republican, believing all company equal in the republic, and the rear rank as good as the first.
"Vote a Republican!" he shouted. "Republican—Republican eternall!"
Strangely enough, a like fervid protestation (vociferated in greeting) evoked no reciprocal enthusiasm in the breast of Mr. Pixley, when the committee-man called upon Toby and his friends at their apartment one evening, a fortnight later.
"That's right," he responded languidly. "That's right in gineral, I should say. Cert'nly, in gineral, I ain't got no quarrel with no man's Republicanism. But this here's kind of a put-tickler case, boys. The election's liable to be mighty close."
"Republican win!" laughed Toby. "Meelyun man eena parade!"
Mr. Pixley's small eyes lowered furtively. He glanced once toward the door, stroked his stubby chin, and answered softly: "Don't you be too sure of that, young feller. Them banks is fightin' each other ag'in!"
"Bank? Fight? W'at eesa that?" inquired the merchant, with an entirely blank mind.
"There's one thing it ain't," replied the other, in the same confidential tone. "It ain't no two-by-four campaign. All I got to say to you boys is: 'Foller yer leader'—and you'll wear pearl collar-buttons!"
"Vote a Republican," interjected Leo Vesschi gutturally.
The furtiveness of Mr. Pixley increased.
"Well—mebbe," he responded, very deliberately. "I reckon I better put you boys next, right now's well's any other time. Ain't nothin' ever gained by not bein' open 'n' above-board; that's my motto, and I ack up to it. You kin ast 'em, jest ast the boys, and you'll hear it from each-an-dall: 'Frank Pixley's square!' That's what they'll tell ye. Now see here, this is the way it is. I ain't worryin' much about who goes to the legislature, or who's county-commissioners, nor none o' that. Why ain't I worryin'? Because it's picayune. It's peanut politics. It ain't where the money is. No, sir, this campaign is on the treasurership. Taylor P. Singleton is runnin' fer treasurer on the Republican ticket, and Gil. Maxim on the Democratic. But that ain't where the fight is." Mr. Pixley spat contemptuously. "Pah! whichever of 'em gits it won't no more'n draw his salary. It's the banks. If Singleton wins out, the Washington National gits the use of the county's money fer the term; if Maxim's elected, Florenheim's bank gits it. Florenheim laid down the cash fer Maxim's nomination, and the Washington National fixed it fer Singleton. And it's big money, don't you git no wrong idea about that!"
"Vote a Republican," said Toby politely.
A look of pain appeared upon the brow of the committee-man.
"I reckon I ain't hardly made myself clear," he observed, somewhat plaintively. "Now here, you listen: I reckon it would be kind of resky to trust you boys to scratch the ticket—it's a mixed up business, anyway—"
"Vote a straight!" cried Pietro, nodding his head, cheerfully. "Yess! I teach Leo; yess, teach all these"—he waved his hands to indicate the melancholy listeners—"teach them all. Stamp in a circle by that eagle. Vote a Republican!"
"What I was goin' to say," went on the official, exhibiting tokens of impatience and perturbation, "was that if we should make any switch this year, I guess you boys would have to switch straight."
"'Tis true!" was the hearty response. "Vote a straight Republican. Republican eternall!"
Pixley wiped his forehead with a dirty handkerchief, and scratched his head. "See here," he said, after a pause, to Toby. "I've got to go down to Collins's saloon, and I'd like to have you come along. Feel like going?"
"Certumalee," answered Toby with alacrity, reaching for his hat.
But no one could have been more surprised than the chestnut vender when, on reaching the vacant street, his companion glancing cautiously about, beckoned him into the darkness of an alley-way, and, noiselessly upsetting a barrel, indicated it as a seat for both.
"Here," said Pixley, "I reckon this is better. Jest two men by theirselves kin fix up a thing like this a lot quicker, and I seen you didn't want to talk too much before them. You make your own deal with 'em afterwards, or none at all, jest as you like! They'll do whatever you say, anyway. I sized you up to run that bunch, first time I ever laid eyes on the outfit. Now see here, Pete, you listen to me. I reckon I kin turn a little trick here that'll do you some good. You kin bet I see that the men I pick fer my leaders—like you, Pete—git their rights! Now here: there's you and the other six, that's seven; it'll be three dollars in your pocket if you deliver the goods."
"No! no!" said Pietro in earnest protestation. "We seven a good Republican. We vote a Republican—same las' time, all a time. Eesa not a need to pay us to vote a Republican. You save that a money, Meesa Peaslay."
"You don't understand," groaned Pixley, with an inclination to weep over the foreigner's thick-headedness. "There's a chance fer a big deal here for all the boys in the precinck. Gil. Maxim's backers'll pay big fer votes enough to swing it. The best of 'em don't know where they're at, I tell you. Now here, you see here"—he took an affectionate grip of Pietro's collar—"I'm goin' to have a talk with Maxim's manager to-morrow, I've had one or two a'ready, and I'll put up the price all round on them people. It's no more'n right, when you count up what we're doin' fer them. Look here, you swing them six in line and march 'em up, and all of ye stamp the rooster instead of the eagle this time, and help me to show Maxim that Frank Pixley's there with the goods, and I'll hand you a five-dollar bill and a full box o' cigars, see?"
Pietro nodded and smiled through the darkness. "Stamp that eagle!" he answered, "Eesa all right, Meesa Peasley. Don't you have afraid. We all seven a good Republican! Stamp that eagle! Hoor-r-ra! Republican eternall!"
Pixley was left sitting on the barrel, looking after the light figure of the young man joyously tripping back to the cellar, and turning to wave a hand in farewell from the street.
"Well, I am damned!" the politician remarked, with unwitting veracity. "Did the dern Dago bluff me, does he want more, er did he reely didn't un'erstand fer honest?" Then, as he took up his way, crossing the street at the warning of some red and green smallpox lanterns, "I'll git those seven votes, though, someway. I'm out fer a record this time, and I'll git 'em!"
Bertha went with her fiance to select the home that was to be theirs. They found a clean, tidy, furnished room, with a canary bird thrown in, and Toby, in the wild joy of his heart, seized his sweetheart round the waist and tried to force her to dance under the amazed eyes of the landlady.
"You yoost behafed awful!" exclaimed the blushing waitress that evening, with tears of laughter at the remembrance.
She was as happy as her lover, except for two small worries that she had: she feared that her uncle, Louie Gratz, with whom she lived, or one of her few friends, might, when they found she was to marry Toby, allude to him as a "Dago," in which case she had an intuition that he would slap the offender; and she was afraid of the smallpox, which had caused the quarantine of two shanties not far from her uncle's house. The former of her fears she did not mention, but the latter she spoke of frequently, telling Pietro how Gratz was panic-stricken, and talked of moving, and how glad she was that Toby's "gran' palazzo" was in another quarter of the city, as he had led her to believe. Laughing her humours almost away, he told her that the red and green lanterns, threatening murkily down the street, were for only wicked ones, like that Meesa Peaslay, for whom she discovered, Pietro's admiration had diminished. And when she thought of the new home—far across the city from the ugly flags and lanterns—the tiny room with its engraving of the "Rock of Ages" and its canary, she forgot both her troubles entirely; for now, at last, the marvellous fact was assured: the five hundred dollars was pinned into the waistcoat pocket, lying upon Pietro's heart day and night, the precious lump that meant to him Bertha and a home. The good Republican set election-day for the happiest holiday of his life, for that would be his wedding-day.
He left her at her own gate, the evening before that glorious day, and sang his way down the street, feeling that he floated on the airy uplift of his own barcarole beneath sapphire skies, for Bertha had put her arms about him at last.
"Toby," she said, "lieber Toby, I am so all-lofing by you—you are sitch a good maan—I am so—so—I am yoost all-lofing by you!" And she cried heartily upon his shoulder. "Toby, uf you ain'd here for me to-morrow by eckseckly dwelf o'glock, uf you are von minutes late, I'm goin' yoost fall down deat! Don' you led nothings happen mit you, Toby."
And she had whispered to him, in love with his old tender mockery of her, to sing "Libra Ogostine" for her before he said good-night.
Mr. Pixley, again seated upon the barrel which he had used for his interview with Toby, beheld the transfigured face of the young man as the chestnut vender passed the mouth of the alley, and the committee-man released from his soul a burdening profanity in the ear of his companion and confidant, a policeman who would be on duty in Pixley's precinct on the morrow, and who had now reported for instructions not necessarily received in a too public rendezvous.
"After I talked to him out here on this very barrel," said Pixley, his anathema concluded, "I raised the bid on him; yessir, you kin skin me fer a dead skunk if I didn't offer him ten dollars and a box of cigars fer the bunch; and him jest settin' there laughin' like a plumb fool and tellin' me I didn't need to worry, they'd all vote Republican fer nothin'! Talked like a parrot: 'Vote a Republican! Republican eternal!' Republican! Faugh, he don't know no more why he's a Republican than a yeller dog'd know! I went around to-night, when he was out, thought mebbe I could fix it up with the others. No, sir! Couldn't git nothing out of 'em except some more parrot-cackle: 'Vote same Petro. All a good Republican!' It's enough to sicken a man!"
"Do we need his gang bad?" inquired the policeman deferentially.
"I need everybody bad! This is a good-sized job fer me, and I want to do it right. Throwin' the precinck to Maxim is goin' to do me some wrong with the Republican crowd, even if they don't git on that it was throwed; and I want to throw it good! I couldn't feel like I'd done right if I didn't. I've give my word that they'll git a majority of sixty-eight votes, and that'll be jest twicet as much in my pocket as a plain majority. And I want them seven Dagoes! I've give up on votin' 'em; it can't be done. It'd make a saint cuss to try to reason with 'em, and it's no good. They can't be fooled, neither. They know where the polls is, and they know how to vote—blast the Australian ballot system! The most that can be done is to keep 'em away from the polls."
"Can't you git 'em out of town in the morning?"
"D'you reckon I ain't tried that? No, sir! That Dago wouldn't take a pass to heaven! Everything else is all right. Doc Morgan's niggers stays right here and votes. I know them boys, and they'll walk up and stamp the rooster all right, all right. Them other niggers, that Hell-Valley gang, ain't that kind; and them and Tooms's crowd's goin' to be took out to Smelter's ice-houses in three express wagons at four o'clock in the morning. It ain't goin' to cost over two dollars a head, whiskey and all. Then, Dan Kelly is fixed, and the Loo boys. Mike, I don't like to brag, and I ain't around throwin' no bokays at myself as a reg'lar thing, but I want to say right, here, there ain't another man in this city—no, nor the State neither—that could of worked his precinck better'n I have this. I tell you, I'm within five or six votes of the majority they set for their big money."
"Have you give the Dagoes up altogether?"
"No, by——!" cried the committee-man harshly, bringing his dirty fist down on the other's knee. "Did you ever hear of Frank Pixley weakenin'? Did you ever see the man that said Frank Pixley wasn't game?" He rose to his feet, a ragged and sinister silhouette against the sputtering electric light at the alley mouth. "Didn't you ever hear that Frank Pixley had a barrel of schemes to any other man's bucket o' wind? What's Frank Pixley's repitation, lemme ast you that? I git what I go after, don't I? Now look here, you listen to me," he said, lowering his voice and shaking a bent forefinger earnestly in the policeman's face; "I'm goin' to turn the trick. And I ought to do it, too. That there Pete, he ain't worth the powder to blow him up—you couldn't learn him no politics if you set up with him night after night fer a year. Didn't I try? Try? I dern near bust my head open jest thinkin' up ways to make the flathead see. And he wouldn't make no effort, jest set there and parrot out 'Vote a Republican!' He's ongrateful, that's what he is. Well, him and them other Dagoes are goin' to stay at home fer two weeks, beginnin' to-night."
"I'll be dogged if I see how," said the policeman, lifting his helmet to scratch his head.
"I'll show you how. I don't claim no credit fer the idea, I ain't around blowin' my own horn too often, but I'd like fer somebody to jest show me any other man in this city could have thought it out! I'd like to be showed jest one, that's all, jest one! Now, you look here; you see that nigger shanty over there, with the smallpox lanterns outside?"
The policeman shivered slightly. "Yes."
"Look here; they're rebuildin' the pest-house, ain't they?"
"Leavin' smallpox patients in their own holes under quarantine guard till they git a place to put 'em, ain't they?"
"You know how many niggers in that shack?"
"Four, ain't they?"
"Yessir, four of 'em. One died to-night, another's goin' to, another ain't tellin' which way he's goin' yit; and the last one, Joe Cribbins, was the first to take it; and he's almost plumb as good as ever ag'in. He's up and around the house, helpin' nurse the sick ones, and fit fer hard labour. Now look here; that nigger does what I tell him and he does it quick—see? Well, he knows what I want him to do to-night. So does Charley Gruder, the guard over there. Charley's fixed; I seen to that; and he knows he ain't goin' to lose no job fer the nigger's gittin' out of the back winder to go make a little sociable call this evening."
"What!" exclaimed the policeman, startled; "Charley ain't goin' to let that nigger out!"
"Ain't he? Oh, you needn't worry, he ain't goin' fur! All he's waiting fer is fer you to give the signal."
"Me!" The man in the helmet drew back.
"Yessir, you! You walk out there and lounge up towards the drug-store and jest look over to Charley and nod twice. Then you stand on the corner and watch and see what you see. When you see it, you yell fer Charley and git into the drug store telephone, and call up the health office and git their men up here and into that Dago cellar like hell! The nigger'll be there. They don't know him, and he'll just drop in to try and sell the Dagoes some policy tickets. You understand me?"
"Mother Mary in heaven!" The policeman sprang up. "What are you going to do?"
"What am I going to do?" shrilled the other, the light of a monstrous pride in his little eyes. "I'm goin' to quarantine them Dagoes fer fourteen days. They'll learn some politics before I git through with 'em. Maybe they'll know enough United States language to foller their leader next time!"
"By all that's mighty, Pixley," said the policeman, with an admiration that was almost reverence, "you are a schemer!"
"Mein Gott!" screeched Bertha's uncle, snapping his teeth fiercely on his pipe-stem, as he flung open the door of the girl's room. "You want to disgraze me mit der whole neighbourhoot, 'lection night? Quid ut! Stob ut! Beoples in der streed stant owidside und litzen to dod grying. You voult goin' to marry mit a Dago mens, voult you! Ha, ha! Soife you right! He run away!" The old man laughed unamiably. "Ha, ha! Dago mens foolt dod smard Bertha. Dod's pooty tough. But, bei Gott, you stop dod noise und ect lige a detzent voomans, or you goin' haf droubles mit your uncle Louie Gratz!"
But Bertha, an undistinguishable heap on the floor of the unlit room, only gasped brokenly for breath and wept on.
"Ach, ach, ach, lieber Gott in Himmel!" sobbed Bertha. "Why didn't Toby come for me? Ach, ach! What iss happened mit Toby? Somedings iss happened—I know ut!"
"Ya, ya!" jibed Gratz; "somedings iss heppened, I bet you! Brop'ly he's got anoder vife, dod's vot heppened! Brop'ly leffing ad you mit anoder voomans! Vot for dit he nefer tolt you vere he lif? So you voultn't ketch him; dod's der reason! You're a pooty vun, you are! Runnin' efter a doity Dago mens! Bei Gott! you bedder git oop und back your glo'es, und stob dod gryin'. I'm goin' to mofe owid to-morrow; und you kin go verefer you blease. I ain'd goin' to sday anoder day in sitch a neighbourhoot. Fife more smallpox lanterns yoost oop der streed. I'm goin' mofe glean to der oder ent of der city. Und you can come by me or you can run efter your Dago mens und his voomans! Dod's why he dittn't come to marry you, you grazy—ut's a voomans!"
"No, no," screamed Bertha, stopping her ears with her forefingers. "Lies, lies, lies!"
A slatternly negro woman dawdled down the street the following afternoon, and, encountering a friend of like description near the cottage which had been tenanted by Louie Gratz and his niece, paused for conversation.
"Howdy, honey," she began, leaning restfully against the gate-post. "How's you ma?"
"She right spry," returned the friend. "How you'self an' you good husban', Miz Mo'ton?"
Mrs. Morton laughed cheerily. "Oh, he enjoyin' de 'leckshum. He 'uz on de picnic yas'day, to Smeltuh's ice-houses; an' 'count er Mist' Maxim's gittin' 'lected, dey gi'n him bottle er whiskey an' two dollahs. He up at de house now, entuhtainin' some ge'lemenfrien's wi'de bones, honey."
"Um hum." The other lady sighed reflectively. "I on'y wisht my po' husban' could er live to enjoy de fruits er politics."
"Yas'm," returned Mrs. Morton. "You right. It are a great intrus' in a man's life. Dat what de ornator say in de speech f'm de back er de groce'y wagon, yas'm, a great intrus' in a man's life. Decla'h, I b'lieve Goe'ge think mo' er politics dan he do er me! Well ma'am," she concluded, glancing idly up and down the street and leaning back more comfortably against the gatepost, "I mus' be goin' on my urrant."
"What urrant's dat?" inquired the widow.
"Mighty quare urrant," replied Mrs. Morton. "Mighty quare urrant, honey. You see back yon'eh dat new smallpox flag?"
"Well ma'am, night fo' las', dat Joe Cribbins, dat one-eye nigger what sell de policy tickets, an's done be'n havin' de smallpox, he crope out de back way, when's de gyahd weren't lookin', an', my Lawd, ef dey ain't ketch him down in dat Dago cellar, tryin' sell dem Dagoes policy tickets! Yahah, honey!" Mrs. Morton threw back her head to laugh. "Ain't dat de beatenest nigger, dat one-eyed Joe?"
"What den, Miz Mo'ton?" pursued the listener.
"Den dey quahumteem dem Dagoes; sot a gyahd dah: you kin see him settin' out dah now. Well ma'am, 'cordin' to dat gyahd, one er dem Dagoes like ter go inter fits all day yas'day. Dat man hatter go in an' quiet him down ev'y few minute'. Seem 't he boun' sen' a message an' cain't git no one to ca'y it fer him. De gyahd, he cain't go; he willin' sen' de message, but cain't git nobody come nigh enough de place fer to tell 'em what it is. 'Sides, it 'leckshum-day, an' mos' folks hangin' 'roun' de polls. Well ma'am, dis aft'noon, I so'nter'n by, an' de gyahd holler out an' ask me do I want make a dollah, an' I say I do. I ain't 'fraid no smallpox, done had it two year' ago. So I say I take de message."
"What is it?"
"Law, honey, it ain't wrote. Dem Dago folks hain't got no writin' ner readin'. Dey mo' er less like de beasts er de fiel'. Dat message by word er mouf. I goin' tell nuffin 'bout de quahumteem. I'm gotter say: 'Toby sen' word to liebuh Augustine dat she needn' worry. He li'l sick, not much, but de doctah ain' 'low him out fer two weeks; an' 'mejutly at de en' er dat time he come an' git her an' den kin go on home wheres de canary bu'd is.' Honey, you evah hyuh o' sich a foolishness? But de gyahd, he say de message gotter be ca'yied dass dataways."
"Lan' name!" ejaculated the widow. "Who dat message to?"
"Hit to a Dutch gal."
"My Lawd!" The widow lifted amazed hands to heaven. "De impidence er dem Dagoes! Little mo' an' dey'll be sen'in' messages to you er me!—What her name?"
"Name Bertha Grass," responded Mrs. Morton, "an', nigh as I kin make out, she live in one er dese little w'ite-paint cottages, right 'long yere."
"Yas'm! I knows dat Dutch gal, ole man Grass, de tailor, dass his niece. W'y, dey done move out dis mawn, right f'um dis ve'y house you stan'in in front de gate of. De ole man skeered er de smallpox, an' he mad, too, an' de neighbuhs ask him whuh he gwine, he won't tell; so mad he won't speak to nobody. None on 'em 'round hyuh knows an' dey's considabul cyu'us 'bout it, too. Dey gone off in bofe d'rections—him one way, her 'nother. 'Peah lak dey be'n quollun!"
"Now look at dat!" cried Mrs. Morton dolefully. "Look at dat! Ain't dat de doggonest luck in de wide worl'! De gyahd he say dat Dago willin' pay fifty cents a day fo' me to teck an' bring a message eve'y mawn' tell de quahumteem took off de cellar. Now dat Dutch gal gone an' loss dat money fo' me—movin' 'way whuh nobody cain't fine 'er!"
"Sho!" laughed the widow. "Ef I'se in you place, Miz Mo'ton, an' you's in mine, dat money sho'lly, sho'lly nevah would be los', indeed hit wouldn't. I dass go in t' de do' an' tu'n right 'roun' back ag'in an' go down to dat gyahd an' say de Dutch gal 'ceive de message wid de bes' er 'bligin' politeness an' sent her kine regyahds to de Dago man an' all inquirin' frien's, an' hope de Dago man soon come an' git 'er. To-morrer de same, nex' day de same—"
"Lawd, ef dat ain't de beatenest!" cried Mrs. Morton delightedly. "Well, honey, I thank you long as I live, 'cause I nevah'd a wuk dat out by myself an de livin' worl', an' I sho does needs de money. I'm goin' do exackly dass de way you say. Dat man he ain' goin' know no diffunce till he git out—an' den, honey," she let loose upon the quiet air a sudden, great salvo of laughter, "dass let him fine Lize Mo'ton!"
Bertha went to live in the tiny room with the canary bird and the engraving of the "Rock of Ages." This was putting lime to the canker, but, somehow, she felt that she could go to no other place. She told the landlady that her young man had not done so well in business as they had expected, and had sought work in another city. He would come back, she said.
She woke from troubled dreams each morning to stifle her sobbing in the pillow. "Ach, Toby, coultn't you sented me yoost one word, you might sented me yoost one word, yoost one, to tell me what has happened mit you! Ach, Toby, Toby!"
The canary sang happily; she loved it and tended it, and the gay little prisoner tried to reward her by the most marvellous trilling in his power, but her heart was the sorer for every song.
After a time she went back drearily to the kraut-smelling restaurant, to the work she had thought to leave forever, that day when Toby had not come for her. She went out twenty times every morning, and oftener as it wore on towards evening, to look at his closed stand, always with a choking hope in her heart, always to drag leaden feet back into the restaurant. Several times, her breath failing for shame, she approached Italians in the street, or where there was one to be found at a stand of any sort she stopped and made a purchase, and asked for some word of Toby—without result, always. She knew no other way to seek for him.
One day, as she trudged homeward, two coloured women met on the pavement in front of her, exchanged greetings, and continued for a little way together.
"How you enjoyin' you' money, dese fine days, Miz Mo'ton?" inquired one, with a laugh that attested to the richness of the joke between the two.
"Law, honey," answered the other, "dat good luck di'n' las' ve'y long. Dey done shut off my supplies."
"Yas'm, dey sho did. Dat man done tuck de smallpox; all on 'em ketched it, ev'y las' one, off'n dat no 'count Joe Cribbins, an' now dat dey got de new pes'-house finish', dey haul 'em off yon'eh, yas'day. Reckon dat ain' make no diffunce in my urrant runnin'. Dat Dago man, he outer he hade two day fo' dey haul 'em away, an' ain' sen' no mo' messages. So dat spile my job! Hit dass my luck. Dey's sho' a voodoo on Lize Mo'ton!"