[Dedication] To THE MEMORY OF MY FRIEND JENNIE PRESTON
I "ONE OF THOSE IMPOSSIBLE AMERICANS"
II THE PLEA
III FOR LOVE OF THE HILLS
IV FRECKLES M'GRATH
V FROM A TO Z
VI THE MAN OF FLESH AND BLOOD
VII HOW THE PRINCE SAW AMERICA
VIII THE LAST SIXTY MINUTES
IX "OUT THERE"
X THE PREPOSTEROUS MOTIVE
XI HIS AMERICA
XII THE ANARCHIST: HIS DOG
XIII AT TWILIGHT
"ONE OF THOSE IMPOSSIBLE AMERICANS"
"N'avez-vous pas—" she was bravely demanding of the clerk when she saw that the bulky American who was standing there helplessly dangling two flaming red silk stockings which a copiously coiffured young woman assured him were bien chic was edging nearer her. She was never so conscious of the truly American quality of her French as when a countryman was at hand. The French themselves had an air of "How marvellously you speak!" but fellow Americans listened superciliously in an "I can do better than that myself" manner which quite untied the Gallic twist in one's tongue. And so, feeling her French was being compared, not with mere French itself, but with an arrogant new American brand thereof, she moved a little around the corner of the counter and began again in lower voice: "Mais, n'avez—"
"Say, Young Lady," a voice which adequately represented the figure broke in, "you, aren't French, are you?"
She looked up with what was designed for a haughty stare. But what is a haughty stare to do in the face of a broad grin? And because it was such a long time since a grin like that had been grinned at her it happened that the stare gave way to a dimple, and the dimple to a laughing: "Is it so bad as that?"
"Oh, not your French," he assured her. "You talk it just like the rest of them. In fact, I should say, if anything—a little more so. But do you know,"—confidentially—"I can just spot an American girl every time!"
"How?" she could not resist asking, and the modest black hose she was thinking of purchasing dangled against his gorgeous red ones in friendliest fashion.
"Well, Sir—I don't know. I don't think it can be the clothes,"—judicially surveying her.
"The clothes," murmured Virginia, "were bought in Paris."
"Well, you've got me. Maybe it's the way you wear 'em. Maybe it's 'cause you look as if you used to play tag with your brother. Something—anyhow—gives a fellow that 'By jove there's an American girl!' feeling when he sees you coming round the corner."
"Lord—don't begin on why. You can say why to anything. Why don't the French talk English? Why didn't they lay Paris out at right angles? Now look here, Young Lady, for that matter—why can't you help me buy some presents for my wife? There'd be nothing wrong about it," he hastened to assure her, "because my wife's a mighty fine woman."
The very small American looked at the very large one. Now Virginia was a well brought up young woman. Her conversations with strange men had been confined to such things as, "Will you please tell me the nearest way to—?" but preposterously enough—she could not for the life of her have told why—frowning upon this huge American—fat was the literal word—who stood there with puckered-up face swinging the flaming hose would seem in the same shameful class with snubbing the little boy who confidently asked her what kind of ribbon to buy for his mother.
"Was it for your wife you were thinking of buying these red stockings?" she ventured.
"Sure. What do you think of 'em? Look as if they came from Paris all right, don't they?"
"Oh, they look as though they came from Paris, all right," Virginia repeated, a bit grimly. "But do you know"—this quite as to that little boy who might be buying the ribbon—"American women don't always care for all the things that look as if they came from Paris. Is your wife—does she care especially for red stockings?"
"Don't believe she ever had a pair in her life. That's why I thought it might please her."
Virginia looked down and away. There were times when dimples made things hard for one.
Then she said, with gentle gravity: "There are quite a number of women in America who don't care much for red stockings. It would seem too bad, wouldn't it, if after you got these clear home your wife should turn out to be one of those people? Now, I think these grey stockings are lovely. I'm sure any woman would love them. She could wear them with grey suede slippers and they would be so soft and pretty."
"Um—not very lively looking, are they? You see I want something to cheer her up. She—well she's not been very well lately and I thought something—oh something with a lot of dash in it, you know, would just fill the bill. But look here. We'll take both. Sure—that's the way out of it. If she don't like the red, she'll like the grey, and if she don't like the—You like the grey ones, don't you? Then here"—picking up two pairs of the handsomely embroidered grey stockings and handing them to the clerk—"One," holding up his thumb to denote one—"me,"—a vigorous pounding of the chest signifying me. "One"—holding up his forefinger and pointing to the girl—"mademoiselle."
"Oh no—no—no!" cried Virginia, her face instantly the colour of the condemned stockings. Then, standing straight: "Certainly not."
"No? Just as you say," he replied good humouredly. "Like to have you have 'em. Seems as if strangers in a strange land oughtn't to stand on ceremony."
The clerk was bending forward holding up the stockings alluringly. "Pour mademoiselle, n'est-ce-pas?"
"Mais—non!" pronounced Virginia, with emphasis.
There followed an untranslatable gesture. "How droll!" shoulder and outstretched hands were saying. "If the kind gentleman wishes to give mademoiselle the joli bas—!"
His face had puckered up again. Then suddenly it unpuckered. "Tell you what you might do," he solved it. "Just take 'em along and send them to your mother. Now your mother might be real glad to have 'em."
Virginia stared. And then an awful thing happened. What she was thinking about was the letter she could send with the stockings. "Mother dear," she would write, "as I stood at the counter buying myself some stockings to-day along came a nice man—a stranger to me, but very kind and jolly—and gave me—"
There it was that the awful thing happened. Her dimple was showing—and at thought of its showing she could not keep it from showing! And how could she explain why it was showing without its going on showing? And how—?
But at that moment her gaze fell upon the clerk, who had taken the dimple as signal to begin putting the stockings in a box. The Frenchwoman's eyebrows soon put that dimple in its proper place. "And so the petite Americaine was not too—oh, not too—" those French eyebrows were saying.
All in an instant Virginia was something quite different from a little girl with a dimple. "You are very kind," she was saying, and her mother herself could have done it no better, "but I am sure our little joke had gone quite far enough. I bid you good-morning". And with that she walked regally over to the glove counter, leaving red and grey and black hosiery to their own destinies.
"I loathe them when their eyebrows go up," she fumed. "Now his weren't going up—not even in his mind."
She could not keep from worrying about him. "They'll just 'do' him," she was sure. "And then laugh at him in the bargain. A man like that has no business to be let loose in a store all by himself."
And sure enough, a half hour later she came upon him up in the dress department. Three of them had gathered round to "do" him. They were making rapid headway, their smiling deference scantily concealing their amused contempt. The spectacle infuriated Virginia. "They just think they can work us!" she stormed. "They think we're easy. I suppose they think he's a fool. I just wish they could get him in a business deal! I just wish—!"
"I can assure you, sir," the English-speaking manager of the department was saying, "that this garment is a wonderful value. We are able to let you have it at so absurdly low a figure because—"
Virginia did not catch why it was they were able to let him have it at so absurdly low a figure, but she did see him wipe his brow and look helplessly around. "Poor thing," she murmured, almost tenderly, "he doesn't know what to do. He just does need somebody to look after him." She stood there looking at his back. He had a back a good deal like the back of her chum's father at home. Indeed there were various things about him suggested "home." Did one want one's own jeered at? One might see crudities one's self, but was one going to have supercilious outsiders coughing those sham coughs behind their hypocritical hands?
"For seven hundred francs," she heard the suave voice saying.
Seven hundred francs! Virginia's national pride, or, more accurately, her national rage, was lashed into action. It was with very red cheeks that the small American stepped stormily to the rescue of her countryman.
"Seven hundred francs for that?" she jeered, right in the face of the enraged manager and stiffening clerks. "Seven hundred francs—indeed! Last year's model—a hideous colour, and "—picking it up, running it through her fingers and tossing it contemptuously aside—"abominable stuff!"
"Gee, but I'm grateful to you!" he breathed, again wiping his brow. "You know, I was a little leery of it myself."
The manager, quivering with rage and glaring uglily, stepped up to Virginia. "May I ask—?"
But the fat man stepped in between—he was well qualified for that position. "Cut it out, partner. The young lady's a friend of mine—see? She's looking out for me—not you. I don't want your stuff, anyway." And taking Virginia serenely by the arm he walked away.
"This was no place to buy dresses," said she crossly.
"Well, I wish I knew where the places were to buy things," he replied, humbly, forlornly.
"Well, what do you want to buy?" demanded she, still crossly.
"Why, I want to buy some nice things for my wife. Something the real thing from Paris, you know. I came over from London on purpose. But Lord,"—again wiping his brow—"a fellow doesn't know where to go."
"Oh well," sighed Virginia, long-sufferingly, "I see I'll just have to take you. There doesn't seem any way out of it. It's evident you can't go alone. Seven hundred francs!"
"I suppose it was too much," he conceded meekly. "I tell you I will be grateful if you'll just stay by me a little while. I never felt so up against it in all my life."
"Now, a very nice thing to take one's wife from Paris," began Virginia didactically, when they reached the sidewalk, "is lace."
"L—ace? Um! Y—es, I suppose lace is all right. Still it never struck me there was anything so very lively looking about lace."
"'Lively looking' is not the final word in wearing apparel," pronounced Virginia in teacher-to-pupil manner. "Lace is always in good taste, never goes out of style, and all women care for it. I will take you to one of the lace shops."
"Very well," acquiesced he, truly chastened. "Here, let's get in this cab."
Virginia rode across the Seine looking like one pondering the destinies of nations. Her companion turned several times to address her, but it would have been as easy for a soldier to slap a general on the back. Finally she turned to him.
"Now when we get there," she instructed, "don't seem at all interested in things. Act—oh, bored, you know, and seeming to want to get me away. And when they tell the price, no matter what they say, just—well sort of groan and hold your head and act as though you are absolutely overcome at the thought of such an outrage."
"U—m. You have to do that here to get—lace?"
"You have to do that here to get anything—-at the price you should get it. You, and people who go shopping the way you do, bring discredit upon the entire American nation."
"That so? Sorry. Never meant to do that. All right, Young Lady, I'll do the best I can. Never did act that way, but suppose I can, if the rest of them do."
"Groan and hold my head," she heard him murmuring as they entered the shop.
He proved an apt pupil. It may indeed be set down that his aptitude was their undoing. They had no sooner entered the shop than he pulled out his watch and uttered an exclamation of horror at the sight of the time. Virginia could scarcely look at the lace, so insistently did he keep waving the watch before her. His contempt for everything shown was open and emphatic. It was also articulate. Virginia grew nervous, seeing the real red showing through in the Frenchwoman's cheeks. And when the price was at last named—a price which made Virginia jubilant—there burst upon her outraged ears something between a jeer and a howl of rage, the whole of it terrifyingly done in the form of a groan; she looked at her companion to see him holding up his hands and wobbling his head as though it had been suddenly loosened from his spine, cast one look at the Frenchwoman—then fled, followed by her groaning compatriot.
"I didn't mean you to act like that!" she stormed.
"Why, I did just what you told me to! Seemed to me I was following directions to the letter. Don't think for a minute I'm going to bring discredit on the American nation! Not a bad scheme—taking out my watch that way, was it?"
"Oh, beautiful scheme. I presume you notice, however, that we have no lace."
They walked half a block in silence. "Now I'll take you to another shop," she then volunteered, in a turning the other cheek fashion, "and here please do nothing at all. Please just—sit."
"Sort of as if I was feeble-minded, eh?"
"Oh, don't try to look feeble-minded," she begged, alarmed at seeming to suggest any more parts; "just sit there—as if you were thinking of something very far away."
"Say, Young Lady, look here; this is very nice, being put on to the tricks of the trade, but the money end of it isn't cutting much ice, and isn't there any way you can just buy things—the way you do in Cincinnati? Can't you get their stuff without making a comic opera out of it?"
"No, you can't," spoke relentless Virginia; "not unless you want them to laugh and say 'Aren't Americans fools?' the minute the door is shut."
"Fools—eh? I'll show them a thing or two!"
"Oh, please show them nothing here! Please just—sit."
While employing her wiles to get for three hundred and fifty francs a yoke and scarf aggregating four hundred, she chanced to look at her American friend. Then she walked rapidly to the rear of the shop, buried her face in her handkerchief, and seemed making heroic efforts to sneeze. Once more he was following directions to the letter. Chin resting on hands, hands resting on stick, the huge American had taken on the beatific expression of a seventeen-year-old girl thinking of something "very far away." Virginia was long in mastering the sneeze.
On the sidewalk she presented him with the package of lace and also with what she regarded the proper thing in the way of farewell speech. She supposed it was hard for a man to go shopping alone; she could see how hard it would be for her own father; indeed it was seeing how difficult it would be for her father had impelled her to go with him, a stranger. She trusted his wife would like the lace; she thought it very nice, and a bargain. She was glad to have been of service to a fellow countryman who seemed in so difficult a position.
But he did not look as impressed as one to whom a farewell speech was being made should look. In fact, he did not seem to be hearing it. Once more, and in earnest this time, he appeared to be thinking of something very far away. Then all at once he came back, and it was in anything but a far-away voice he began, briskly: "Now look here, Young Lady, I don't doubt but this lace is great stuff. You say so, and I haven't seen man, woman or child on this side of the Atlantic knows as much as you do. I'm mighty grateful for the lace—don't you forget that, but just the same—well, now I'll tell you. I have a very special reason for wanting something a little livelier than lace. Something that seems to have Paris written on it in red letters—see? Now, where do you get the kind of hats you see some folks wearing, and where do you get the dresses—well, it's hard to describe 'em, but the kind they have in pictures marked 'Breezes from Paris'? You see—S-ay!—what do you think of that?"
"That" was in a window across the street. It was an opera cloak. He walked toward it, Virginia following. "Now there," he turned to her, his large round face all aglow, "is what I want."
It was yellow; it was long; it was billowy; it was insistently and recklessly regal.
"That's the ticket!" he gloated.
"Of course," began Virginia, "I don't know anything about it. I am in a very strange position, not knowing what your wife likes or—or has. This is the kind of thing everything has to go with or one wouldn't—one couldn't—"
"Sure! Good idea. We'll just get everything to go with it."
"It's the sort of thing one doesn't see worn much outside of Paris—or New York. If one is—now my mother wouldn't care for that coat at all." Virginia took no little pride in that tactful finish.
"Can't sidetrack me!" he beamed. "I want it. Very thing I'm after, Young Lady."
"Well, of course you will have no difficulty in buying the coat without me," said she, as a dignified version of "I wash my hands of you." "You can do here as you said you wished to do, simply go in and pay what they ask. There would be no use trying to get it cheap. They would know that anyone who wanted it would"—she wanted to say "have more money than they knew what to do with," but contented herself with, "be able to pay for it."
But when she had finished she looked at him; at first she thought she wanted to laugh, and then it seemed that wasn't what she wanted to do after all. It was like saying to a small boy who was one beam over finding a tin horn: "Oh well, take the horn if you want to, but you can't haul your little red waggon while you're blowing the horn." There seemed something peculiarly inhuman about taking the waggon just when he had found the horn. Now if the waggon were broken, then to take away the horn would leave the luxury of grief. But let not shadows fall upon joyful moments.
With the full ardour of her femininity she entered into the purchasing of the yellow opera cloak. They paid for that decorative garment the sum of two thousand five hundred francs. It seemed it was embroidered, and the lining was—anyway, they paid it.
And they took it with them. He was going to "take no chances on losing it." He was leaving Paris that night and held that during his stay he had been none too impressed with either Parisian speed or Parisian veracity.
Then they bought some "Breezes from Paris," a dress that would "go with" the coat. It was violet velvet, and contributed to the sense of doing one's uttermost; and hats—"the kind you see some folks wearing." One was the rainbow done into flowers, and the other the kind of black hat to outdo any rainbow. "If you could just give me some idea what type your wife is," Virginia was saying, from beneath the willow plumes. "Now you see this hat quite overpowers me. Do you think it will overpower her?"
"Guess not. Anyway, if it don't look right on her head she may enjoy having it around to look at."
Virginia stared out at him. The oddest man! As if a hat were any good at all if it didn't look right on one's head!
Upon investigation—though yielding to his taste she was still vigilant as to his interests—Virginia discovered a flaw in one of the plumes. The sylph in the trailing gown held volubly that it did not fait rien; the man with the open purse said he couldn't see that it figured much, but the small American held firm. That must be replaced by a perfect plume or they would not take the hat. And when she saw who was in command the sylph as volubly acquiesced that naturellement it must be tout a fait perfect. She would send out and get one that would be oh! so, so, so perfect. It would take half an hour.
"Tell you what we'll do," Virginia's friend proposed, opera cloak tight under one arm, velvet gown as tight under the other, "I'm tired—hungry—thirsty; feel like a ham sandwich—and something. I'm playing you out, too. Let's go out and get a bite and come back for the so, so, so perfect hat."
She hesitated. But he had the door open, and if he stood holding it that way much longer he was bound to drop the violet velvet gown. She did not want him to drop the velvet gown and furthermore, she would like a cup of tea. There came into her mind a fortifying thought about the relative deaths of sheep and lambs. If to be killed for the sheep were indeed no worse than being killed for the lamb, and if a cup of tea went with the sheep and nothing at all with the lamb—?
So she agreed. "There's a nice little tea-shop right round the corner. We girls often go there."
"Tea? Like tea? All right, then"—and he started manfully on.
But as she entered the tea-shop she was filled with keen sense of the desirableness of being slain for the lesser animal. For, cosily installed in their favourite corner, were "the girls."
Virginia had explained to these friends some three hours before that she could not go with them that afternoon as she must attend a musicale some friends of her mother's were giving. Being friends of her mother's, she expatiated, she would have to go.
Recollecting this, also for the first time remembering the musicale, she bowed with the hauteur of self-consciousness.
Right there her friend contributed to the tragedy of a sheep's death by dropping the yellow opera cloak. While he was stooping to pick it up the violet velvet gown slid backward and Virginia had to steady it until he could regain position. The staring in the corner gave way to tittering—and no dying sheep had ever held its head more haughtily.
The death of this particular sheep proved long and painful. The legs of Virginia's friend and the legs of the tea-table did not seem well adapted to each other. He towered like a human mountain over the dainty thing, twisting now this way and now that. It seemed Providence—or at least so much of it as was represented by the management of that shop—had never meant fat people to drink tea. The table was rendered further out of proportion by having a large box piled on either side of it.
Expansively, and not softly, he discoursed of these things. What did they think a fellow was to do with his knees? Didn't they sell tea enough to afford any decent chairs? Did all these women pretend to really like tea?
Virginia's sense of humour rallied somewhat as she viewed him eating the sandwiches. Once she had called them doll-baby sandwiches; now that seemed literal: tea-cups, petit gateau, the whole service gave the fancy of his sitting down to a tea-party given by a little girl for her dollies.
But after a time he fell silent, looking around the room. And when he broke that pause his voice was different.
"These women here, all dressed so fine, nothing to do but sit around and eat this folderol, they have it easy—don't they?"
The bitterness in it, and a faint note of wistfulness, puzzled her. Certainly he had money.
"And the husbands of these women," he went on; "lots of 'em, I suppose, didn't always have so much. Maybe some of these women helped out in the early days when things weren't so easy. Wonder if the men ever think how lucky they are to be able to get it back at 'em?"
She grew more bewildered. Wasn't he "getting it back?" The money he had been spending that day!
"Young Lady," he said abruptly, "you must think I'm a queer one."
She murmured feeble protest.
"Yes, you must. Must wonder what I want with all this stuff, don't you?"
"Why, it's for your wife, isn't it?" she asked, startled.
"Oh yes, but you must wonder. You're a shrewd one, Young Lady; judging the thing by me, you must wonder."
Virginia was glad she was not compelled to state her theory. Loud and common and impossible were terms which had presented themselves, terms which she had fought with kind and good-natured and generous. Their purchases she had decided were to be used, not for a knock, but as a crashing pound at the door of the society of his town. For her part, Virginia hoped the door would come down.
"And if you knew that probably this stuff would never be worn at all, that ten to one it would never do anything more than lie round on chairs—then you would think I was queer, wouldn't you?"
She was forced to admit that that would seem rather strange.
"Young Lady, I believe I'll tell you about it. Never do talk about it to hardly anybody, but I feel as if you and I were pretty well acquainted—we've been through so much together."
She smiled at him warmly; there was something so real about him when he talked that way.
But his look then frightened her. It seemed for an instant as though he would brush the tiny table aside and seize some invisible thing by the throat. Then he said, cutting off each word short: "Young Lady, what do you think of this? I'm worth more 'an a million dollars—and my wife gets up at five o'clock every morning to do washing and scrubbing."
"Oh, it's not that she has to," he answered her look, "but she thinks she has to. See? Once we were poor. For twenty years we were poor as dirt. Then she did have to do things like that. Then I struck it. Or rather, it struck me. Oil. Oil on a bit of land I had. I had just sense enough to make the most of it; one thing led to another—well, you're not interested in that end of it. But the fact is that now we're rich. Now she could have all the things that these women have—Lord A'mighty she could lay abed every day till noon if she wanted to! But—you see?—it got her—those hard, lonely, grinding years took her. She's"—he shrunk from the terrible word and faltered out—"her mind's not—"
There was a sobbing little flutter in Virginia's throat. In a dim way she was glad to see that the girls were going. She could not have them laughing at him—now.
"Well, you can about figure out how it makes me feel," he continued, and looking into his face now it was as though the spirit redeemed the flesh. "You're smart. You can see it without my callin' your attention to it. Last time I went to see her I had just made fifty thousand on a deal. And I found her down on her knees thinking she was scrubbing the floor!"
Unconsciously Virginia's hand went out, following the rush of sympathy and understanding. "But can't they—restrain her?" she murmured.
"Makes her worse. Says she's got it to do—frets her to think she's not getting it done."
"But isn't there some way?" she whispered. "Some way to make her know?"
He pointed to the large boxes. "That," he said simply, "is the meaning of those. It's been seven years—but I keep on trying."
She was silent, the tears too close for words. And she had thought it cheap ambition!—vulgar aspiration—silly show—vanity!
"Suppose you thought I was a queer one, talking about lively looking things. But you see now? Thought it might attract her attention, thought something real gorgeous like this might impress money on her. Though I don't know,"—he seemed to grow weary as he told it; "I got her a lot of diamonds, thinking they might interest her, and she thought she'd stolen 'em, and they had to take them away."
Still the girl did not speak. Her hand was shading her eyes.
"But there's nothing like trying. Nothing like keeping right on trying. And anyhow—a fellow likes to think he's taking his wife something from Paris."
They passed before her in their heartbreaking folly, their tragic uselessness, their lovable absurdity and stinging irony—those things they had bought that afternoon: an opera cloak—a velvet dress—those hats—red silk stockings.
The mockery of them wrung her heart. Right there in the tea-shop Virginia was softly crying.
"Oh, now that's too bad," he expostulated clumsily. "Why, look here, Young Lady, I didn't mean you to take it so hard."
When she had recovered herself he told her much of the story. And the thing which revealed him—glorified him—was less the grief he gave to it than the way he saw it. "It's the cursed unfairness of it," he concluded. "When you consider it's all because she did those things—when you think of her bein' bound to 'em for life just because she was too faithful doin' 'em—when you think that now—when I could give her everything these women have got!—she's got to go right on worrying about baking the bread and washing the dishes—did it for me when I was poor—and now with me rich she can't get out of it—and I can't reach her—oh, it's rotten! I tell you it's rotten! Sometimes I can just hear my money laugh at me! Sometimes I get to going round and round in a circle about it till it seems I'm going crazy myself."
"I think you are a—a noble man," choked Virginia.
That disconcerted him. "Oh Lord—don't think that. No, Young Lady, don't try to make any plaster saint out of me. My life goes on. I've got to eat, drink and be merry. I'm built that way. But just the same my heart on the inside's pretty sore, Young Lady. I want to tell you that the whole inside of my heart is sore as a boil!"
They were returning for the hats. Suddenly Virginia stopped, and it was a soft-eyed and gentle Virginia who turned to him after the pause. "There are lovely things to be bought in Paris for women who aren't well. Such soft, lovely things to wear in your room. Not but what I think these other things are all right. As you say, they may—interest her. But they aren't things she can use just now, and wouldn't you like her to have some of those soft lovely things she could actually wear? They might help most of all. To wake in the morning and find herself in something so beautiful—"
"Where do you get 'em?" he demanded promptly.
And so they went to one of those shops which have, more than all the others, enshrined Paris in feminine hearts. And never was lingerie selected with more loving care than that which Virginia picked out that afternoon. A tear fell on one particularly lovely robe de nuit—so soothingly soft, so caressingly luxurious, it seemed that surely it might help bring release from the bondage of those crushing years.
As they were leaving they were given two packages. "Just the kimona thing you liked," he said, "and a trinket or two. Now that we're such good friends, you won't feel like you did this morning."
"And if I don't want them myself, I might send them to my mother," Virginia replied, a quiver in her laugh at her own little joke.
He had put her in her cab; he had tried to tell her how much he thanked her; they had said good-bye and the cocher had cracked his whip when he came running after her. "Why, Young Lady," he called out, "we don't know each other's names."
She laughed and gave hers. "Mine's William P. Johnson," he said. "Part French and part Italian. But now look here, Young Lady—or I mean, Miss Clayton. A fellow at the hotel was telling me something last night that made me sick. He said American girls sometimes got awfully up against it here. He said one actually starved last year. Now, I don't like that kind of business. Look here, Young Lady, I want you to promise that if you—you or any of your gang—get up against it you'll cable William P. Johnson, of Cincinnati, Ohio."
The twilight grey had stolen upon Paris. And there was a mist which the street lights only penetrated a little way—as sometimes one's knowledge of life may only penetrate life a very little way. Her cab stopped by a blockade, she watched the burly back of William P. Johnson disappearing into the mist. The red box which held the yellow opera cloak she could see longer than all else.
"You never can tell," murmured Virginia. "It just goes to show that you never can tell."
And whatever it was you never could tell had brought to Virginia's girlish face the tender knowingness of the face of a woman.
Senator Harrison concluded his argument and sat down. There was no applause, but he had expected none. Senator Dorman was already saying "Mr. President?" and there was a stir in the crowded galleries, and an anticipatory moving of chairs among the Senators. In the press gallery the reporters bunched together their scattered papers and inspected their pencil-points with earnestness. Dorman was the best speaker of the Senate, and he was on the popular side of it. It would be the great speech of the session, and the prospect was cheering after a deluge of railroad and insurance bills.
"I want to tell you," he began, "why I have worked for this resolution recommending the pardon of Alfred Williams. It is one of the great laws of the universe that every living thing be given a chance. In the case before us that law has been violated. This does not resolve itself into a question of second chances. The boy of whom we are speaking has never had his first."
Senator Harrison swung his chair half-way around and looked out at the green things which were again coming into their own on the State-house grounds. He knew—in substance—what Senator Dorman would say without hearing it, and he was a little tired of the whole affair. He hoped that one way or other they would finish it up that night, and go ahead with something else. He had done what he could, and now the responsibility was with the rest of them. He thought they were shouldering a great deal to advocate the pardon in the face of the united opposition of Johnson County, where the crime had been committed. It seemed a community should be the best judge of its own crimes, and that was what he, as the Senator from Johnson, had tried to impress upon them.
He knew that his argument against the boy had been a strong one. He rather liked the attitude in which he stood. It seemed as if he were the incarnation of outraged justice attempting to hold its own at the floodgates of emotion. He liked to think he was looking far beyond the present and the specific and acting as guardian of the future—and the whole. In summing it up that night the reporters would tell in highly wrought fashion of the moving appeal made by Senator Dorman, and then they would speak dispassionately of the logical argument of the leader of the opposition. There was more satisfaction to self in logic than in mere eloquence. He was even a little proud of his unpopularity. It seemed sacrificial.
He wondered why it was Senator Dorman had thrown himself into it so whole-heartedly. All during the session the Senator from Maxwell had neglected personal interests in behalf of this boy, who was nothing to him in the world. He supposed it was as a sociological and psychological experiment. Senator Dorman had promised the Governor to assume guardianship of the boy if he were let out. The Senator from Johnson inferred that as a student of social science his eloquent colleague wanted to see what he could make of him. To suppose the interest merely personal and sympathetic would seem discreditable.
"I need not dwell upon the story," the Senator from Maxwell was saying, "for you all are familiar with it already. It is said to have been the most awful crime ever committed in the State. I grant you that it was, and then I ask you to look for a minute into the conditions leading up to it.
"When the boy was born, his mother was instituting divorce proceedings against his father. She obtained the divorce, and remarried when Alfred was three months old. From the time he was a mere baby she taught him to hate his father. Everything that went wrong with him she told him was his father's fault. His first vivid impression was that his father was responsible for all the wrong of the universe.
"For seven years that went on, and then his mother died. His stepfather did not want him. He was going to Missouri, and the boy would be a useless expense and a bother. He made no attempt to find a home for him; he did not even explain—he merely went away and left him. At the age of seven the boy was turned out on the world, after having been taught one thing—to hate his father. He stayed a few days in the barren house, and then new tenants came and closed the doors against him. It may have occurred to him as a little strange that he had been sent into a world where there was no place for him.
"When he asked the neighbours for shelter, they told him to go to his own father and not bother strangers. He said he did not know where his father was. They told him, and he started to walk—a distance of fifty miles. I ask you to bear in mind, gentlemen, that he was only seven years of age. It is the age when the average boy is beginning the third reader, and when he is shooting marbles and spinning tops.
"When he reached his father's house he was told at once that he was not wanted there. The man had remarried, there were other children, and he had no place for Alfred. He turned him away; but the neighbours protested, and he was compelled to take him back. For four years he lived in this home, to which he had come unbidden, and where he was never made welcome.
"The whole family rebelled against him. The father satisfied his resentment against the boy's dead mother by beating her son, by encouraging his wife to abuse him, and inspiring the other children to despise him. It seems impossible such conditions should exist. The only proof of their possibility lies in the fact of their existence.
"I need not go into the details of the crime. He had been beaten by his father that evening after a quarrel with his stepmother about spilling the milk. He went, as usual, to his bed in the barn; but the hay was suffocating, his head ached, and he could not sleep. He arose in the middle of the night, went to the house, and killed both his father and stepmother.
"I shall not pretend to say what thoughts surged through the boy's brain as he lay there in the stifling hay with the hot blood pounding against his temples. I shall not pretend to say whether he was sane or insane as he walked to the house for the perpetration of the awful crime. I do not even affirm it would not have happened had there been some human being there to lay a cooling hand on his hot forehead, and say a few soothing, loving words to take the sting from the loneliness, and ease the suffering. I ask you to consider only one thing: he was eleven years old at the time, and he had no friend in all the world. He knew nothing of sympathy; he knew only injustice."
Senator Harrison was still looking out at the budding things on the State-house grounds, but in a vague way he was following the story. He knew when the Senator from Maxwell completed the recital of facts and entered upon his plea. He was conscious that it was stronger than he had anticipated—more logic and less empty exhortation. He was telling of the boy's life in reformatory and penitentiary since the commission of the crime,—of how he had expanded under kindness, of his mental attainments, the letters he could write, the books he had read, the hopes he cherished. In the twelve years he had spent there he had been known to do no unkind nor mean thing; he responded to affection—craved it. It was not the record of a degenerate, the Senator from Maxwell was saying.
A great many things were passing through the mind of the Senator from Johnson. He was trying to think who it was that wrote that book, "Put Yourself in His Place." He had read it once, and it bothered him to forget names. Then he was wondering why it was the philosophers had not more to say about the incongruity of people who had never had any trouble of their own sitting in judgment upon people who had known nothing but trouble. He was thinking also that abstract rules did not always fit smoothly over concrete cases, and that it was hard to make life a matter of rules, anyway.
Next he was wondering how it would have been with the boy Alfred Williams if he had been born in Charles Harrison's place; and then he was working it out the other way and wondering how it would have been with Charles Harrison had he been born in Alfred Williams's place. He wondered whether the idea of murder would have grown in Alfred Williams's heart had he been born to the things to which Charles Harrison was born, and whether it would have come within the range of possibility for Charles Harrison to murder his father if he had been born to Alfred Williams's lot. Putting it that way, it was hard to estimate how much of it was the boy himself, and how much the place the world had prepared for him. And if it was the place prepared for him more than the boy, why was the fault not more with the preparers of the place than with the occupant of it? The whole thing was very confusing.
"This page," the Senator from Maxwell was saying, lifting the little fellow to the desk, "is just eleven years of age, and he is within three pounds of Alfred Williams's weight when he committed the murder. I ask you, gentlemen, if this little fellow should be guilty of a like crime to-night, to what extent would you, in reading of it in the morning, charge him with the moral discernment which is the first condition of moral responsibility? If Alfred Williams's story were this boy's story, would you deplore that there had been no one to check the childish passion, or would you say it was the inborn instinct of the murderer? And suppose again this were Alfred Williams at the age of eleven, would you not be willing to look into the future and say if he spent twelve years in penitentiary and reformatory, in which time he developed the qualities of useful and honourable citizenship, that the ends of justice would then have been met, and the time at hand for the world to begin the payment of her debt?"
Senator Harrison's eyes were fixed upon the page standing on the opposite desk. Eleven was a younger age than he had supposed. As he looked back upon it and recalled himself when eleven years of age—his irresponsibility, his dependence—he was unwilling to say what would have happened if the world had turned upon him as it had upon Alfred Williams. At eleven his greatest grievance was that the boys at school called him "yellow-top." He remembered throwing a rock at one of them for doing it. He wondered if it was criminal instinct prompted the throwing of the rock. He wondered how high the percentage of children's crimes would go were it not for countermanding influences. It seemed the great difference between Alfred Williams and a number of other children of eleven had been the absence of the countermanding influence.
There came to him of a sudden a new and moving thought. Alfred Williams had been cheated of his boyhood. The chances were he had never gone swimming, nor to a ball game, or maybe never to a circus. It might even be that he had never owned a dog. The Senator from Maxwell was right when he said the boy had never been given his chance, had been defrauded of that which has been a boy's heritage since the world itself was young.
And the later years—how were they making it up to him? He recalled what to him was the most awful thing he had ever heard about the State penitentiary: they never saw the sun rise down there, and they never saw it set. They saw it at its meridian, when it climbed above the stockade, but as it rose into the day, and as it sank into the night, it was denied them. And there, at the penitentiary, they could not even look up at the stars. It had been years since Alfred Williams raised his face to God's heaven and knew he was part of it all. The voices of the night could not penetrate the little cell in the heart of the mammoth stone building where he spent his evenings over those masterpieces with which, they said, he was more familiar than the average member of the Senate. When he read those things Victor Hugo said of the vastness of the night, he could only look around at the walls that enclosed him and try to reach back over the twelve years for some satisfying conception of what night really was.
The Senator from Johnson shuddered: they had taken from a living creature the things of life, and all because in the crucial hour there had been no one to say a staying word. Man had cheated him of the things that were man's, and then shut him away from the world that was God's. They had made for him a life barren of compensations.
There swept over the Senator a great feeling of self-pity. As representative of Johnson County, it was he who must deny this boy the whole great world without, the people who wanted to help him, and what the Senator from Maxwell called "his chance." If Johnson County carried the day, there would be something unpleasant for him to consider all the remainder of his life. As he grew to be an older man he would think of it more and more—what the boy would have done for himself in the world if the Senator from Johnson had not been more logical and more powerful than the Senator from Maxwell.
Senator Dorman was nearing the end of his argument. "In spite of the undying prejudice of the people of Johnson County," he was saying, "I can stand before you today and say that after an unsparing investigation of this case I do not believe I am asking you to do anything in violation of justice when I beg of you to give this boy his chance."
It was going to a vote at once, and the Senator from Johnson County looked out at the budding things and wondered whether the boy down at the penitentiary knew the Senate was considering his case that afternoon. It was without vanity he wondered whether what he had been trained to think of as an all-wise providence would not have preferred that Johnson County be represented that session by a less able man.
A great hush fell over the Chamber, for ayes and noes followed almost in alternation. After a long minute of waiting the secretary called, in a tense voice:
"Ayes, 30; Noes, 32."
The Senator from Johnson had proven too faithful a servant of his constituents. The boy in the penitentiary was denied his chance.
The usual things happened: some women in the galleries, who had boys at home, cried aloud; the reporters were fighting for occupancy of the telephone booths, and most of the Senators began the perusal of the previous day's Journal with elaborate interest. Senator Dorman indulged in none of these feints. A full look at his face just then told how much of his soul had gone into the fight for the boy's chance, and the look about his eyes was a little hard on the theory of psychological experiment.
Senator Harrison was looking out at the budding trees, but his face too had grown strange, and he seemed to be looking miles beyond and years ahead. It seemed that he himself was surrendering the voices of the night, and the comings and goings of the sun. He would never look at them—feel them—again without remembering he was keeping one of his fellow creatures away from them. He wondered at his own presumption in denying any living thing participation in the universe. And all the while there were before him visions of the boy who sat in the cramped cell with the volume of a favourite poet before him, trying to think how it would seem to be out under the stars.
The stillness in the Senate-Chamber was breaking; they were going ahead with something else. It seemed to the Senator from Johnson that sun, moon, and stars were wailing out protest for the boy who wanted to know them better. And yet it was not sun, moon, and stars so much as the unused swimming hole and the uncaught fish, the unattended ball game, the never-seen circus, and, above all, the unowned dog, that brought Senator Harrison to his feet.
They looked at him in astonishment, their faces seeming to say it would have been in better taste for him to have remained seated just then.
"Mr. President," he said, pulling at his collar and looking straight ahead, "I rise to move a reconsideration."
There was a gasp, a moment of supreme quiet, and then a mighty burst of applause. To men of all parties and factions there came a single thought. Johnson was the leading county of its Congressional district. There was an election that fall, and Harrison was in the race. Those eight words meant to a surety he would not go to Washington, for the Senator from Maxwell had chosen the right word when he referred to the prejudice of Johnson County on the Williams case as "undying." The world throbs with such things at the moment of their doing—even though condemning them later, and the part of the world then packed within the Senate-Chamber shared the universal disposition.
The noise astonished Senator Harrison, and he looked around with something like resentment. When the tumult at last subsided, and he saw that he was expected to make a speech, he grew very red, and grasped his chair desperately.
The reporters were back in their places, leaning nervously forward. This was Senator Harrison's chance to say something worth putting into a panel by itself with black lines around it—and they were sure he would do it.
But he did not. He stood there like a schoolboy who had forgotten his piece—growing more and more red. "I—I think," he finally jerked out, "that some of us have been mistaken. I'm in favour now of—of giving him his chance."
They waited for him to proceed, but after a helpless look around the Chamber he sat down. The president of the Senate waited several minutes for him to rise again, but he at last turned his chair around and looked out at the green things on the State-house grounds, and there was nothing to do but go ahead with the second calling of the roll. This time it stood 50 to 12 in favour of the boy.
A motion to adjourn immediately followed—no one wanted to do anything more that afternoon. They all wanted to say things to the Senator from Johnson; but his face had grown cold, and as they were usually afraid of him, anyhow, they kept away. All but Senator Dorman—it meant too much with him. "Do you mind my telling you," he said, tensely, "that it was as fine a thing as I have ever known a man to do?"
The Senator from Johnson moved impatiently. "You think it 'fine,'" he asked, almost resentfully, "to be a coward?"
"Coward?" cried the other man. "Well, that's scarcely the word. It was—heroic!"
"Oh no," said Senator Harrison, and he spoke wearily, "it was a clear case of cowardice. You see," he laughed, "I was afraid it might haunt me when I am seventy."
Senator Dorman started eagerly to speak, but the other man stopped him and passed on. He was seeing it as his constituency would see it, and it humiliated him. They would say he had not the courage of his convictions, that he was afraid of the unpopularity, that his judgment had fallen victim to the eloquence of the Senator from Maxwell.
But when he left the building and came out into the softness of the April afternoon it began to seem different. After all, it was not he alone who leaned to the softer side. There were the trees—they were permitted another chance to bud; there were the birds—they were allowed another chance to sing; there was the earth—to it was given another chance to yield. There stole over him a tranquil sense of unison with Life.
FOR LOVE OF THE HILLS
"Sure you're done with it?"
"Oh, yes," replied the girl, the suggestion of a smile on her face, and in her voice the suggestion of a tear. "Yes; I was just going."
But she did not go. She turned instead to the end of the alcove and sat down before a table placed by the window. Leaning her elbows upon it she looked about her through a blur of tears.
Seen through her own eyes of longing, it seemed that almost all of the people whom she could see standing before the files of the daily papers were homesick. The reading-room had been a strange study to her during those weeks spent in fruitless search for the work she wanted to do, and it had likewise proved a strange comfort. When tired and disconsolate and utterly sick at heart there was always one thing she could do—she could go down to the library and look at the paper from home. It was not that she wanted the actual news of Denver. She did not care in any vital way what the city officials were doing, what buildings were going up, or who was leaving town. She was only indifferently interested in the fires and the murders. She wanted the comforting companionship of that paper from home.
It seemed there were many to whom the papers offered that same sympathy, companionship, whatever it might be. More than anything else it perhaps gave to them—the searchers, drifters—a sense of anchorage. She would not soon forget the day she herself had stumbled in there and found the home paper. Chicago had given her nothing but rebuffs that day, and in desperation, just because she must go somewhere, and did not want to go back to her boarding-place, she had hunted out the city library. It was when walking listlessly about in the big reading-room it had occurred to her that perhaps she could find the paper from home; and after that when things were their worst, when her throat grew tight and her eyes dim, she could always comfort herself by saying: "After a while I'll run down and look at the paper."
But to-night it had failed her. It was not the paper from home to-night; it was just a newspaper. It did not inspire the belief that things would be better to-morrow, that it must all come right soon. It left her as she had come—-heavy with the consciousness that in her purse was eleven dollars, and that that was every cent she had in the whole world.
It was hard to hold back the tears as she dwelt upon the fact that it was very little she had asked of Chicago. She had asked only a chance to do the work for which she was trained, in order that she might go to the art classes at night. She had read in the papers of that mighty young city of the Middle West—the heart of the continent—of its brawn and its brain and its grit. She had supposed that Chicago, of all places, would appreciate what she wanted to do. The day she drew her hard-earned one hundred dollars from the bank in Denver—how the sun had shone that day in Denver, how clear the sky had been, and how bracing the air!—she had quite taken it for granted that her future was assured. And now, after tasting for three weeks the cruelty of indifference, she looked back to those visions with a hard little smile.
She rose to go, and in so doing her eyes fell upon the queer little woman to whom she had yielded her place before the Denver paper. Submerged as she had been in her own desolation she had given no heed to the small figure which came slipping along beside her beyond the bare thought that she was queer-looking. But as her eyes rested upon her now there was something about the woman which held her.
She was a strange little figure. An old-fashioned shawl was pinned tightly about her shoulders, and she was wearing a queer, rusty little bonnet. Her hair was rolled up in a small knot at the back of her head. She did not look as though she belonged in Chicago. And then, as the girl stood there looking at her, she saw the thin shoulders quiver, and after a minute the head that was wearing the rusty bonnet went down into the folds of the Denver paper.
The girl's own eyes filled, and she turned to go. It seemed she could scarcely bear her own unhappiness that day, without coming close to the heartache of another. But when she reached the end of the alcove she glanced back, and the sight of that shabby, bent figure, all alone before the Denver paper, was not to be withstood.
"I am from Colorado, too," she said softly, laying a hand upon the bent shoulders.
The woman looked up at that and took the girl's hand in both of her thin, trembling ones. It was a wan and a troubled face she lifted, and there was something about the eyes which would not seem to have been left there by tears alone.
"And do you have a pining for the mountains?" she whispered, with a timid eagerness. "Do you have a feeling that you want to see the sun go down behind them tonight and that you want to see the darkness come stealing up to the tops?"
The girl half turned away, but she pressed the woman's hand tightly in hers. "I know what you mean," she murmured.
"I wanted to see it so bad," continued the woman, tremulously, "that something just drove me here to this paper. I knowed it was here because my nephew's wife brought me here one day and we come across it. We took this paper at home for more 'an twenty years. That's why I come. 'Twas the closest I could get."
"I know what you mean," said the girl again, unsteadily.
"And it's the closest I will ever get!" sobbed the woman.
"Oh, don't say that," protested the girl, brushing away her own tears, and trying to smile; "you'll go back home some day."
The woman shook her head. "And if I should," she said, "even if I should, 'twill be too late."
"But it couldn't be too late," insisted the girl. "The mountains, you know, will be there forever."
"The mountains will be there forever," repeated the woman, musingly; "yes, but not for me to see." There was a pause. "You see,"—she said it quietly—"I'm going blind."
The girl took a quick step backward, then stretched out two impulsive hands. "Oh, no, no you're not! Why—the doctors, you know, they do everything now."
The woman shook her head. "That's what I thought when I come here. That's why I come. But I saw the biggest doctor of them all today—they all say he's the best there is—and he said right out 'twas no use to do anything. He said 'twas—hopeless."
Her voice broke on that word. "You see," she hurried on, "I wouldn't care so much, seems like I wouldn't care 't all, if I could get there first! If I could see the sun go down behind them just one night! If I could see the black shadows come slippin' over 'em just once! And then, if just one morning—just once!—I could get up and see the sunlight come a streamin'—oh, you know how it looks! You know what 'tis I want to see!"
"Yes; but why can't you? Why not? You won't go—your eyesight will last until you get back home, won't it?"
"But I can't go back home; not now."
"Why not?" demanded the girl. "Why can't you go home?"
"Why, there ain't no money, my dear," she explained, patiently. "It's a long way off—Colorado is, and there ain't no money. Now, George—George is my brother-in-law—he got me the money to come; but you see it took it all to come here, and to pay them doctors with. And George—he ain't rich, and it pinched him hard for me to come—he says I'll have to wait until he gets money laid up again, and—well he can't tell just when 't will be. He'll send it soon as he gets it," she hastened to add.
"But what are you going to do in the meantime? It would cost less to get you home than to keep you here."
"No, I stay with my nephew here. He's willin' I should stay with him till I get my money to go home."
"Yes, but this nephew, can't he get you the money? Doesn't he know," she insisted, heatedly, "what it means to you?"
"He's got five children, and not much laid up. And then, he never seen the mountains. He doesn't know what I mean when I try to tell him about gettin' there in time. Why, he says there's many a one living back in the mountains would like to be livin' here. He don't understand—my nephew don't," she added, apologetically.
"Well, someone ought to understand!" broke from the girl. "I understand! But—" she did her best to make it a laugh—"eleven dollars is every cent I've got in the world!"
"Don't!" implored the woman, as the girl gave up trying to control the tears. "Now, don't you be botherin'. I didn't mean to make you feel so bad. My nephew says I ain't reasonable, and maybe I ain't."
The girl raised her head. "But you are reasonable. I tell you, you are reasonable!"
"I must be going back," said the woman, uncertainly. "I'm just making you feel bad, and it won't do no good. And then they may be stirred up about me. Emma—Emma's my nephew's wife—left me at the doctor's office 'cause she had some trading to do, and she was to come back there for me. And then, as I was sittin' there, the pinin' came over me so strong it seemed I just must get up and start! And"—-she smiled wanly—-"this was far as I got."
"Come over and sit down by this table," said the girl, impulsively, "and tell me a little about your home back in the mountains. Wouldn't you like to?"
The woman nodded gratefully. "Seems most like getting back to them to find someone that knows about them," she said, after they had drawn their chairs up to the table and were sitting there side by side.
The girl put her rounded hand over on the thin, withered one. "Tell me about it," she said again.
"Maybe it wouldn't be much interesting to you, my dear. It's just a common life—mine is. You see, William and I—William was my husband—we went to Georgetown before it really was any town at all. Years and years before the railroad went through, we was there. Was you ever there?" she asked wistfully.
"Oh, very often," replied the girl. "I love every inch of that country!"
A tear stole down the woman's face. "It's most like being home to find someone that knows about it," she whispered.
"Yes, William and I went there when 'twas all new country," she went on, after a pause. "We worked hard, and we laid up a little money. Then, three years ago, William took sick. He was sick for a year, and we had to live up most of what we'd saved. That's why I ain't got none now. It ain't that William didn't provide."
The girl nodded.
"We seen some hard days. But we was always harmonious—William and I was. And William had a great fondness for the mountains. The night before he died he made them take him over by the window and he looked out and watched the darkness come stealin' over the daylight—you know how it does in them mountains. 'Mother,' he said to me—his voice was that low I could no more 'an hear what he said—'I'll never see another sun go down, but I'm thankful I seen this one.'"
She was crying outright now, and the girl did not try to stop her.
"And that's the reason I love the mountains," she whispered at last. "It ain't just that they're grand and wonderful to look at. It ain't just the things them tourists sees to talk about. But the mountains has always been like a comfortin' friend to me. John and Sarah is buried there—John and Sarah is my two children that died of fever. And then William is there—like I just told you. And the mountains was a comfort to me in all those times of trouble. They're like an old friend. Seems like they're the best friend I've got on earth."
"I know what you mean," said the girl, brokenly. "I know all about it."
"And you don't think I'm just notional," she asked wistfully, "in pinin' to get back while—whilst I can look at them?"
The girl held the old hand tightly in hers with a clasp more responsive than words.
"It ain't but I'd know they was there. I could feel they was there all right, but"—her voice sank with the horror of it—"I'm 'fraid I might forget just how they look!"
"Oh, but you won't," the girl assured her. "You'll remember just how they look."
"I'm scared of it. I'm scared there might be something I'd forget. And so I just torment myself thinkin'—'Now do I remember this? Can I see just how that looks?' That's the way I got to thinkin' up in the doctor's office, when he told me there was nothing to do, and I was so worked up it seemed I must get up and start!"
"You must try not to worry about it," murmured the girl. "You'll remember."
"Well, maybe so. Maybe I will. But that's why I want just one more look. If I could look once more I'd remember it forever. You see I'd look to remember it, and I would. And do you know—seems like I wouldn't mind going blind so much then? When I'd sit facin' them I'd just say to myself: 'Now I know just how they look. I'm seeing them just as if I had my eyes!' The doctor says my sight'll just kind of slip away, and when I look my last look, when it gets dimmer and dimmer to me, I want the last thing I see to be them mountains where William and me worked and was so happy! Seems like I can't bear it to have my sight slip away here in Chicago, where there's nothing I want to look at! And then to have a little left—to have just a little left!—and to know I could see if I was there to look—and to know that when I get there 'twill be—Oh, I'll be rebellious-like here—and I'd be contented there! I don't want to be complainin'—I don't want to!—but when I've only got a little left I want it—oh, I want it for them things I want to see!"
"You will see them," insisted the girl passionately. "I'm not going to believe the world can be so hideous as that!"
"Well, maybe so," said the woman, rising. "But I don't know where 'twill come from," she added doubtfully.
She took her back to the doctor's office and left her in the care of the stolid Emma. "Seems most like I'd been back home," she said in parting; and the girl promised to come and see her and talk with her about the mountains. The woman thought that talking about them would help her to remember just how they looked.
And then the girl returned to the library. She did not know why she did so. In truth she scarcely knew she was going there until she found herself sitting before that same secluded table at which she and the woman had sat a little while before. For a long time she sat there with her head in her hands, tears falling upon a pad of yellow paper on the table before her.
Finally she dried her eyes, opened her purse, and counted her money. It seemed that out of her great desire, out of her great new need, there must be more than she had thought. But there was not, and she folded her hands upon the two five-dollar bills and the one silver dollar and looked hopelessly about the big room.
She had forgotten her own disappointments, her own loneliness. She was oblivious to everything in the world now save what seemed the absolute necessity of getting the woman back to the mountains while she had eyes to see them.
But what could she do? Again she counted the money. She could make herself, some way or other, get along without one of the five-dollar bills, but five dollars would not take one very close to the mountains. It was at that moment that she saw a man standing before the Denver paper, and noticed that another man was waiting to take his place. The one who was reading had a dinner pail in his hand. The clothes of the other told that he, too, was of the world's workers. It was clear to the girl that the man at the file was reading the paper from home; and the man who was ready to take his place looked as if waiting for something less impersonal than the news of the day.
The idea came upon her with such suddenness, so full born, that it made her gasp. They—the people who came to read the Denver paper, the people who loved the mountains and were far from them, the people who were themselves homesick and full of longing—were the people to understand.
It took her but a minute to act. She put the silver dollar and one five-dollar bill back in her purse. She clutched the other bill in her left hand, picked up a pencil, and began to write. She headed the petition: "To all who know and love the mountains," and she told the story with the simpleness of one speaking from the heart, and the directness of one who speaks to those sure to understand. "And so I found her here by the Denver paper," she said, after she had stated the tragic facts, "because it was the closest she could come to the mountains. Her heart is not breaking because she is going blind. It is breaking because she may never again look with seeing eyes upon those great hills which rise up about her home. We must do it for her simply because we would wish that, under like circumstances, someone would do it for us. She belongs to us because we understand.
"If you can only give fifty cents, please do not hold it back because it seems but little. Fifty cents will take her twenty miles nearer home—twenty miles closer to the things upon which she longs that her last seeing glance may fall."
After she had written it she rose, and, the five-dollar bill in one hand, the sheets of yellow paper in the other, walked down the long room to the desk at which one of the librarians sat. The girl's cheeks were very red, her eyes shining as she poured out the story. They mingled their tears, for the girl at the desk was herself young and far from home, and then they walked back to the Denver paper and pinned the sheets of yellow paper just above the file. At the bottom of the petition the librarian wrote: "Leave your money at the desk in this room. It will be properly attended to." The girl from Colorado then turned over her five-dollar bill and passed out into the gathering night.
Her heart was brimming with joy. "I can get a cheaper boarding place," she told herself, as she joined the home-going crowds, "and until something else turns up I'll just look around and see if I can't get a place in a store."
* * * * *
One by one they had gathered around while the woman was telling the story. "And so, if you don't mind," she said, in conclusion, "I'd like to have you put in a little piece that I got to Denver safe, so's they can see it. They was all so worked up about when I'd get here. Would that cost much?" she asked timidly.
"Not a cent," said the city editor, his voice gruff with the attempt to keep it steady.
"You might say, if it wouldn't take too much room, that I was much pleased with the prospect of getting home before sundown to-night."
"You needn't worry but what we'll say it all," he assured her. "We'll say a great deal more than you have any idea of."
"I'm very thankful to you," she said, as she rose to go.
They sat there for a moment in silence. "When one considers," someone began, "that they were people who were pushed too close even to subscribe to a daily paper—"
"When one considers," said the city editor, "that the girl who started it had just eleven dollars to her name—" And then he, too, stopped abruptly and there was another long moment of silence.
After that he looked around at the reporters. "Well, it's too bad you can't all have it, when it's so big a chance, but I guess it falls logically to Raymond. And in writing it, just remember, Raymond, that the biggest stories are not written about wars, or about politics, or even murders. The biggest stories are written about the things which draw human beings closer together. And the chance to write them doesn't come every day, or every year, or every lifetime. And I'll tell you, boys, all of you, when it seems sometimes that the milk of human kindness has all turned sour, just think back to the little story you heard this afternoon."
* * * * *
Slowly the sun slipped down behind the mountains; slowly the long purple shadows deepened to black; and with the coming of the night there settled over the everlasting hills, and over the soul of one who had returned to them, that satisfying calm that men call peace.
Many visitors to the State-house made the mistake of looking upon the Governor as the most important personage in the building. They would walk up and down the corridors, hoping for a glimpse of some of the leading officials, when all the while Freckles McGrath, the real character of the Capitol, and by all odds the most illustrious person in it, was at once accessible and affable.
Freckles McGrath was the elevator boy. In the official register his name had gone down as William, but that was a mere concession to the constituents to whom the official register was sent out. In the newspapers—and he appeared with frequency in the newspapers—he was always "Freckles," and every one from the Governor down gave him that title, the appropriateness of which was stamped a hundred fold upon his shrewd, jolly Irish face.
Like every one else on the State pay-roll, Freckles was keyed high during this first week of the new session. It was a reform Legislature, and so imbued was it with the idea of reforming that there was grave danger of its forcing reformation upon everything in sight. It happened that the Governor was of the same faction of the party as that dominant in the Legislature; reform breathed through every nook and crevice of the great building.
But high above all else in importance towered the Kelley Bill. From the very opening of the session there was scarcely a day when some of Freckles' passengers did not in hushed whispers mention the Kelley Bill. From what he could pick up about the building, and what he read in the newspapers, Freckles put together a few ideas as to what the Kelley Bill really was. It was a great reform measure, and it was going to show the railroads that they did not own the State. The railroads were going to have to pay more taxes, and they were making an awful fuss about it; but if the Kelley Bill could be put through it would be a great victory for reform, and would make the Governor "solid" in the State.
Freckles McGrath was strong for reform. That was partly because the snatches of speeches he heard in the Legislature were more thrilling when for reform than when against it; it was partly because he adored the Governor, and in no small part because he despised Mr. Ludlow.
Mr. Ludlow was a lobbyist. Some of the members of the Legislature were Mr. Ludlow's property—or at least so Freckles inferred from conversation overheard at his post. There had been a great deal of talk that session about Mr. Ludlow's methods.
Freckles himself was no snob. Although he had heard Mr. Ludlow called disgraceful, and although he firmly believed he was disgraceful, he did not consider that any reason for not speaking to him. And so when Mr. Ludlow got in all alone one morning, and the occasion seemed to demand recognition of some sort, Freckles had chirped: "Good-morning!"
But the man, possibly deep in something else, simply knit together his brows and gave no sign of having heard. After that, Henry Ludlow, lobbyist, and Freckles McGrath, elevator boy, were enemies.
A little before noon, one day near the end of the session, a member of the Senate and a member of the House rode down together in the elevator.
"There's no use waiting any longer," the Senator was saying as they got in. "We're as strong now as we're going to be. It's a matter of Stacy's vote, and that's a matter of who sees him last."
Freckles widened out his ears and gauged the elevator for very slow running. Stacy had been written up in the papers as a wabbler on the Kelley Bill.
"He's all right now," pursued the Senator, "but there's every chance that Ludlow will see him before he casts his vote this afternoon, and then—oh, I don't know!" and with a weary little flourish of his hands the Senator stepped off.
Freckles McGrath sat wrapped in deep thought. The Kelley Bill was coming up in the Senate that afternoon. If Senator Stacy voted for it, it would pass. If he voted against it, it would fail. He would vote for it if he didn't see Mr. Ludlow; he wouldn't vote for it if he did. That was the situation, and the Governor's whole future, Freckles felt, was at stake.
The bell rang sharply, and he was vaguely conscious then that it had been ringing before. In the next half-hour he was very busy taking down the members of the Legislature. Strangely enough, Senator Stacy and the Governor went down the same trip, and Freckles beamed with approbation when, he saw them walk out of the building together.
Stacy was one of the first of the senators to return. Freckles sized him up keenly as he stepped into the elevator, and decided that he was still firm. But there was a look about Senator Stacy's mouth which suggested that there was no use in being too sure of him. Freckles considered the advisability of bursting forth and telling him how much better it would be to stick with the reform fellows; but just as the boy got his courage screwed up to speaking point, Senator Stacy got off.
About ten minutes later Freckles had the elevator on the ground floor, and was sitting there reading a paper, when he heard a step that made him prick up his ears. The next minute Mr. Ludlow turned the corner. He was immaculately dressed, as usual, and his iron-grey moustache seemed to stand out just a little more pompously than ever. There was a sneering look in his eyes as he stepped into the car. It seemed to be saying: "They thought they could beat me, did they? Oh, they're easy, they are!"
Freckles McGrath slammed the door of the cage and started the car up. He did not know what he was going to do, but he had an idea that he did not want any other passenger. When half way between the basement and the first floor, he stopped the elevator. He must have time to think. If he took that man up to the Senate Chamber, he would simply strike the death-blow to reform! And so he knelt and pretended to be fixing something, and he thought fast and hard.
"Something broke?" asked an anxious voice.
Freckles looked around into Mr. Ludlow's face, and he saw that the eminent lobbyist was nervous.
"Yes," he said calmly. "It's acting queer. Something's all out of whack."
"Well, drop it to the basement and let me out," said Mr. Ludlow sharply.
"Can't drop it," responded Freckles. "She's stuck."
Mr. Ludlow came and looked things over, but his knowledge did not extend to the mechanism of elevators.
"Better call someone to come and take us out," he said nervously.
Freckles straightened himself up. A glitter had come into his small grey eyes, and red spots were burning in his freckled cheeks.
"I think she'll run now," he said.
And she did run. Never in all its history had that State-house elevator run as it ran then. It rushed past the first and second floors like a thing let loose, with an utter abandonment that caused the blood to forsake the eminent lobbyist's face.
"Stop it, boy!" he cried in alarm.
"Can't!" responded Freckles, his voice thick with terror. "Running away!" he gasped.
"Will it—fall?" whispered the lobbyist.
"I—I think so!" blubbered Freckles.
The central portion of the State-house was very high. Above that part of the building which was in use there was a long stretch leading to the tower. The shaft had been built clear up, though practically unused. Past floors used for store-rooms, past floors used for nothing at all, they went—the man's face white, the boy wailing out incoherent supplications. And then, within ten feet of the top of the shaft, and within a foot of the top floor of the building, the elevator came to a rickety stop. It wabbled back and forth; it did strange and terrible things.
"She's falling!" panted Freckles. "Climb!"
And Henry Ludlow climbed. He got the door open, and he clambered up. No sooner had the man's feet touched the solid floor than Freckles reached up and slammed the door of the cage. Why he did that he was not sure at the time. Later he felt that something had warned him not to give his prisoner's voice a full sweep down the shaft.
Henry Ludlow was far from dull. As he saw the quick but even descent of the car, he knew that he had been tricked. He would have been more than human had there not burst from him furious and threatening words. But what was the use? The car was going down—down—down, and there he was, perhaps hundreds of feet above any one else in the building—alone, tricked, beaten!
Of course he tried the door at the head of the winding stairway, knowing full well that it would be locked. They always kept it locked; he had heard one of the janitors asking for the keys to take a party up just a few days before. Perhaps he could get out on top of the building and make signals of distress. But the door leading outside was locked also. There he was—helpless. And below—well, below they were passing the Kelley Bill!
He rattled the grating of the elevator shaft. He made strange, loud noises, knowing all the while he could not make himself heard. And then at last, alone in the State-house attic, Henry Ludlow, eminent lobbyist, sat down on a box and nursed his fury.
Below, Freckles McGrath, the youngest champion of reform in the building, was putting on a bold front. He laughed and he talked and he whistled. He took people up and down with as much nonchalance as if he did not know that up at the top of that shaft angry eyes were straining themselves for a glimpse of the car, and terrible curses were descending, literally, upon his stubby red head.
It was a great afternoon at the State-house. Every one thronged to the doors of the Senate Chamber, where they were putting through the Kelley Bill. The speeches made in behalf of the measure were brief. The great thing now was not to make speeches; it was to reach "S" on roll-call before a man with iron-grey hair and an iron-grey moustache could come in and say something to the fair-haired member with the weak mouth who sat near the rear of the chamber.
Freckles was called away just as it went to a vote. When he came back Senator Kelley was standing out in the corridor, and a great crowd of men were standing around slapping him on the back. The Governor himself was standing on the steps of the Senate Chamber; his eyes were bright, and he was smiling.
Freckles turned his car back to the basement. He wanted to be all alone for a minute, to dwell in solitude upon the fact that it was he, Freckles McGrath, who had won this great victory for reform. It was he, Freckles McGrath, who had assured the Governor's future. Why, perhaps he had that afternoon made for himself a name which would be handed down in the histories!
Freckles was a kind little boy, and he knew that an elegant gentleman could not find the attic any too pleasant a place in which to spend the afternoon, go he decided to go up and get Mr. Ludlow. It took courage; but he had won his victory and this was no time for faltering.
There was something gruesome about the long ascent. He thought of stories he had read of lonely turrets in which men were beheaded, and otherwise made away with. It seemed he would never come to the top, and when at last he did it was to find two of the most awful-looking eyes he had ever seen—eyes that looked as though furies were going to escape from them—peering down upon him.
The sight of that car, moving smoothly and securely up to the top, and the sight of that audacious little boy with the freckled face and the bat-like eyes, that little boy who had played his game so well, who had wrought such havoc, was too much for Henry Ludlow's self-control. Words such as he had never used before, such as he would not have supposed himself capable of using, burst from him. But Freckles stood calmly gazing up at the infuriated lobbyist, and just as Mr. Ludlow was saying, "I'll beat your head open, you little brat!" he calmly reversed the handle and sent the car skimming smoothly to realms below. He was followed by an angry yell, and then by a loud request to return, but he heeded them not, and for some time longer the car made its usual rounds between the basement and the legislative chambers.
In just an hour Freckles tried it again. He sent the car to within three feet of the attic floor, and then peered through the grating, his face tied in a knot of interrogation. The eminent lobbyist stood there gulping down wrath and pride, knowing well enough what was expected of him.
"Oh—all right," he muttered at last, and with that much of an understanding Freckles sent the car up, opened the door, and Henry Ludlow stepped in.
No word was spoken between them until the light from the floor upon which the Senate Chamber was situated came in view. Then Freckles turned with a polite inquiry as to where the gentleman wished to get off.
"You may take me down to the office of the Governor," said Mr. Ludlow stonily, meaningly.
"Sure," said Freckles cheerfully. "Guess you'll find the Governor in his office now. He's been in the Senate most of the afternoon, watching 'em pass that Kelley Bill."
Mr. Ludlow's lips drew in tightly. He squared his shoulders, and his silence was tremendous.
In just fifteen minutes Freckles was sent for from the executive office.
"I demand his discharge!" Mr. Ludlow was saying as the elevator boy entered.
"It happens you're not running this building," the Governor returned with a good deal of acidity. "Though of course," he added with dignity, "the matter will be carefully investigated."
The Governor was one great chuckle inside, and his heart was full of admiration and gratitude; but would Freckles be equal to bluffing it through? Would the boy have the finesse, the nice subtlety, the real master hand, the situation demanded? If not, then—imp of salvation though he was—in the interest of reform, Freckles would have to go.