A POLITICAL ROMANCE
JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
HARPER & BROTHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON
Copyright, 1905, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The huge convention-hall still rang with the thunders of applause, and most of the delegates were on their feet shouting or waving their hats, when Harley slipped from his desk and made his way quietly to the little side-door leading from the stage. It was all over now but the noise; after a long and desperate fight Grayson, a young lawyer, with little more than a local reputation, had been nominated by his party for the Presidency of the United States, and Harley, alert, eager, and fond of dramatic effects, intended to be the first who should tell him the surprising fact.
He paused a moment, with his hand on the door, and, looking out upon the hall with its multitude of hot, excited faces, ran quickly over the events of the last three or four days. Ten thousand people had sat there, hour after hour, waiting for the result, and now the result had come. The rival parties had entered their conventions, full of doubt and apprehension. There was a singular dearth of great men; the old ones were all dead or disabled, and the new ones had not appeared; the nation was conscious, too, of a new feeling, and all were bound to recognize it; the sense of dependency upon the Old World in certain matters which applied to the mental state rather than anything material was almost gone; the democracy had grown more democratic and the republic was more republican; within the nation itself the West was taking a greater prominence, and the East did not begrudge it. It was felt by everybody in either party that it would be wiser to nominate a Western man, and, the first having done so, the second, as all knew it must, now followed the good example.
Moreover, both conventions had nominated "dark horses," but the second nominee was the "darker" of the two. James Madison Grayson, affectionately called Jimmy Grayson by his neighbors and admirers, was quite young, without a gray hair in his head, tall, powerfully built, smooth-shaven, and with honest eyes that gazed straight into yours. He was known as a brave man, with fine oratorical powers and a winning personality, but he had come to the convention merely as a delegate, and without any thought of securing the nomination for himself. Not a single vote had been instructed for him, but in that lay his opportunity. All the conspicuous candidates were weak; good men in themselves, a solid political objection could be raised against every one of them, and for a while the voting was scattered and desultory. Then Grayson began to attract attention; as a delegate he had spoken two or three times, always briefly, but with grace and to the point, and the people were glad both to see him and to hear him.
At last a far-sighted old man from the same state knew that the moment had come when the convention, staggering about in the dark, could be led easily along any road that seemed the path of light. He mentioned the name of Grayson, putting it forward mildly as a suggestion that he would withdraw at the first opposition, but his very mildness warded off attack. Received rather lightly at first, the suggestion soon made a strong appeal to the delegates. Nothing could be urged against Grayson; he was quite young, it was true, but youth was needed to make a great campaign—the odds were heavily in favor of the other party. Nor were there lacking those who, expecting defeat, said that a young man could bear it better than an old one, and a beating now might train him for a victory four years hence.
Grayson himself was surprised when he heard the report, nor could he ever be convinced that he would be nominated; he regarded the whole thing as absurd, a few votes, no more, might be cast for him, but, as was fit and decent, he withdrew from the hall. All those whose names were before the convention were expected to remain at home or elsewhere in the city, and Jimmy Grayson and his wife stayed quietly in their rooms at the hotel.
Harley had believed this evening that the nomination of Grayson was at hand. It was an intuitive sense, a sort of premonition that the battalions were closing in for the final conflict, and he did not doubt the result. He had just returned from a war on the other side of the world, where he had been present as the correspondent of a great New York journal on many battle-fields, and he often noticed this strained, breathless feeling that the moment had come, just before the combat was joined. Now this convention-hall was none the less a battle-field though the weapons were ballots, not bullets, and Harley believed in his intuition. At midnight the flood-tide swept in, bearing Grayson on its crest, and, when they saw that he was the man, everybody flocked to him, making the nomination unanimous by a rising vote.
Harley now stood a moment at the door, listening to the cheers as they swelled again, then he stepped out and ran swiftly down the street. A fat policeman, taking him for a fleeing pickpocket, shouted to him to stop, but he flitted by and was gone.
It was only two or three blocks to the hotel, where Mr. Grayson sat quietly in his room, and Harley was running swiftly, but in the minute or two that elapsed much passed through his mind. After his long stay abroad he had returned with a renewed sense, not alone of the power and might of his own country, but also of its goodness; it was here, and here alone, that all careers were open to all; nowhere else in the world could a relatively obscure young lawyer have been put forward, and peacefully, too, for the headship of ninety million people. It was this thought that thrilled him, and it was why he wished to be the first who should tell the young lawyer of it. He had made the acquaintance of Jimmy Grayson the day before; the two had talked for a while about public questions, and each had felt that it was the beginning of a friendship, so he had no hesitation now in making himself an unannounced herald.
He ran into the hotel, darted up the stairway—Jimmy Grayson's rooms were on the first floor—and knocked at the door of the nominee. A light shone from the transom, and he heard a quick, strong step approaching. Then the door was thrown open by Mr. Grayson himself, and Mrs. Grayson, who stood in the centre of the room, looked with inquiry at the correspondent.
"Why, Mr. Harley, I'm glad to see you," said Mr. Grayson, with a welcoming tone in his voice. "Come in, but I warn you that you cannot interview me any further I'm not worth it; I've told you all I know."
Harley said nothing, but stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. He saw that they yet knew nothing—there had been no messenger, no telephone call, and the news was his to tell. He bowed to Mrs. Grayson, and then he felt a moment of embarrassment, but his long experience and natural poise came quickly to his aid.
"I do want to interview you, Mr. Grayson," he said, quietly; "and it is upon a subject to which we did not allude in our former talk."
Mr. Grayson glanced at his wife, and her look, replying to his, indicated the same puzzling state. Both knew that the chief correspondent of one of the greatest journals in the world would not leave a Presidential convention in the hour of birth to secure an irrelevant interview.
"If I can serve you, Mr. Harley, I shall be glad to do so," said Jimmy Grayson, somewhat dryly; "but I really do not see how I can."
"I am quite sure that you can," said Harley, with emphasis.
He listened a moment, but he did not hear any step in the hall nor the jingling of any telephone bell. Both Mr. and Mrs. Grayson waited expectantly, curious to see what he had in mind.
"If you were to be nominated for the Presidency, I should like to tell the Gazette what your programme would be—that is, what sort of a campaign you would conduct," said Harley, deliberately.
Mr. Grayson laughed and glanced again at his wife.
"It is a wise rule for a man in public life never to answer hypothetical questions; of that I am sure, Mr. Harley," he said.
"I am sure of it, too," said Harley.
Jimmy Grayson bit his lip. It seemed to him that the correspondent would make a jest, and the hour was unfitting.
"I shall answer your question when I am nominated," he said.
"Then you will answer it now," said Harley.
A sudden flush passed over Mr. Grayson's face and left it white. Mrs. Grayson trembled and glanced again at her husband, still in a puzzled state.
"Your meaning is not clear, Mr. Harley," he said.
"It should be. When I left the convention-hall, two minutes ago, they had just made the nomination unanimous. I wished to be the first to tell the news, and I have had my wish."
The eyes of the nominee looked straight into those of Harley, but the correspondent did not flinch. It was obvious that he was telling the truth.
"The notifying committee will be here in a few minutes," he said. "Ah, I hear their step on the stair now."
The tread of men walking quickly and the sound of voices raised in eagerness came to the room. The powerful figure of Jimmy Grayson trembled slightly, then grew rigid.
"I did not dream of it," he said, as if to himself; "nor have I now sought to take it from others."
"Nor have you done so," said Harley, boldly; "because it belonged to no man."
Mrs. Grayson stepped forward, as if in fear that her husband was about to be taken from her, because at that moment the volume of the voices and the trampling increased and paused at her door. Then the crowd poured into the room and hailed the victor.
Harley slipped to one side, and no one in the committee knew that the nominee had been notified already, but the correspondent never ceased to watch Jimmy Grayson. He saw how the nature of the man rose to the great responsibility that had been put upon him, how he nerved himself for his mighty task. He stood among them all, cool, dignified, and ready. Harley was proud that this was one of his countrymen, and when his last despatch was filed that night he wired to his editor in New York: "Please send me on the campaign with Grayson. I think it is going to be a great one." And back came the answer: "Stay with him until it is all over, election night."
The eyes of Harley, like those of so many of his countrymen, had always been turned eastward. To him New York was the ultimate expression of America, and beyond the great city lay the influence of Europe, of that Old World to which belonged the most of art and literature. The books that he read were written chiefly by Europeans, and the remainder by the men of New England and New York. He had never put it into so many words, even mentally, but he had a definite impression that the great world of affairs was composed of central and western Europe and a half-dozen Northern coast states of the American Union; beyond this centre of light lay a shadow land, growing darker as the distance from the central rays increased, inhabited by people, worthy no doubt, but merely forming a chorus for those who had the speaking parts.
The course of Harley's life confirmed him in this opinion, which perhaps was due more to literature than to anything else. With his eyes fixed on New York, the desire to go there followed, and when he succeeded, early, and became the correspondent of a great journal, he was soon immersed in the affairs of that world which seemed the world of action to him; and, being so much occupied thus, he forgot the regions which apparently lay in the shadow, including the greater portion of his own country.
Hence the two great Presidential conventions, in each of which Western influences were paramount, and in each of which a Western man was chosen, created upon him a new and surprising impression. He found himself in the presence of unexpected forces; he became aware that there was another way of looking at things, and this powerful sensation was deepened by the personality of Mr. Grayson, in whom he saw intuitively that there was something fresh, original, and strong; he seemed less hackneyed and more joyous than the types that he found in the old states of the Union or the Old World, and, because of this, the interest of Harley, whose mind had a singularly keen and inquiring quality, was aroused; the regions that apparently lay in the shadow might have enough light, after all, and, seeing before him a campaign not less exciting than a war, he resolved to stay in it until the last battle was fought.
He took out the telegram from his editor and read it over again with keen satisfaction. "Out of one war and into another," he murmured. The conventions had been held early; it was now only the first week in June, and the election would be in the first week of November; before him lay five months of stress and perhaps storm, but he thought of it only with pleasure.
Harley always travelled light, carrying only two valises, and an hour sufficed for his packing. Then, like the old campaigner that he was, he slept soundly, and early the next morning he went again to the hotel at which the Graysons were staying. He felt a little hesitation in sending up a card so soon, knowing what swarms of people Mr. Grayson had been compelled to receive and how badly he must stand in need of rest, but there was no help for it.
While he sat in the huge lobby waiting the return of the boy, the hum of many voices about him rose almost to a roar, varied by the rustling of many newspapers. The place was filled with men, talking over the thrilling events of the night before, the nomination and the nominee, while every newspaper bore upon its front page a great picture of the new candidate.
The boy came back with a message that Mr. Grayson would see him; and Harley, a minute later, was knocking at the door, which the candidate himself opened. This man, who was his own usher, was the nominee of a great party, he might become the President of the United States—of ninety million people, of what was in nearly every material sense the first power in the world; and yet Harley, when in Europe, seeking information from the youngest and least attache of a legation, had been compelled to go through an infinite amount of form and flummery. The contrast was lasting.
"Come in," said Mr. Grayson, courteously, and Harley at once acted upon the invitation. Mrs. Grayson, at the same moment, came from the inner room, quiet and self-contained, and Harley bowed with respect.
"I dare say there is nothing you wish to ask me which a lady should not hear," said Mr. Grayson, with a slight smile. "Mrs. Grayson is my chief political adviser."
"It is no secret," replied Harley, also smiling. "I have merely come to tell you that the Gazette, my paper, has instructed me to keep watch over you from now until election night, and to describe at once and at great length for its readers every one of your wicked deeds. So I am here to tell you that I wish to go along with you. You are public property, you know, and you can't escape."
"I know that," said Jimmy Grayson, heartily; "and I do not seek to escape. I am glad the representative of the Gazette is to be you. I do not know what course your paper will take, but I am sure that we shall be friends."
"The Gazette is independent; its editor is likely to attack you for some things and to praise you for others. But I am here to tell the news."
"Then we are comrades for a long journey," said Jimmy Grayson.
Thus it was settled simply and easily by the two who were most concerned, and Harley throughout the little interview was struck by the difference between this man and many other famous men with whom in the course of business he had held journalistic dealings. Here was a lack of conventionality, and an even stronger note of simplicity and freshness. The candidate, with his new honors, still held himself as one of the people, it never occurred to him that he might assume a pose and the public would accept it; he was democracy personified, and he was such because he was unconscious of it. His perfect freedom of manner, which Harley had not liked at first, now became more attractive.
"We leave at eleven o'clock for my home," said Mr. Grayson, "and arrive there to-morrow morning. I have some preparations to make, but I shall begin the campaign a day or two later."
"I intend to go with you to your town," said Harley. "You know the compact; I cannot let you out of my sight."
Mrs. Grayson, a grave, quiet woman, spoke for the first time.
"You shall come along, not merely as a sentinel, but as one of our little party, if you will, on one condition," she said.
"What is that?"
"On condition that you come to our house and take dinner with us to-morrow."
Harley gave her a grateful look. He felt that the candidate's wife approved of him, and he liked the approval of those who evidently knew how to think. And it would be far pleasanter to travel with Jimmy Grayson as a friend than as one suspected.
"I am honored, Mrs. Grayson," he said, "and I shall be happy to come."
Then he left them, and when he passed into the hall he saw that the burden of greatness was being thrust already upon the Grayson family, as callers of various types and with various requests were seeking their rooms. But he hurried back to his own hotel, and as it was some distance away he took the street-car. There he was confronted by long rows of newspapers which hid the faces of men, and whenever a front page was turned towards him the open countenance of Mr. Grayson looked out at him with smiling eyes. Everybody was reading the account of the convention, and now and then they discussed it; they spoke of the candidate familiarly; he was "Jimmy" Grayson to them—rarely did they call him Mr. Grayson; but there was no disrespect or disesteem in their use of the diminutive "Jimmy." They merely regarded him as one of themselves, and their position in the matter differed in no wise from that of Mr. Grayson; it was a matter of course with both. To Harley, fresh from other lands, it seemed in the first breath singular, and yet in the second he liked it; the easy give-and-take promoted the smoothness of life, and men might assume false values, but they were not able to keep them. His thoughts returned for a moment to the least little attache whose manner was more important than that of a Presidential nominee.
Harley, with his two valises, was at the station somewhat ahead of time, as he wished to see Mr. and Mrs. Grayson arrive, curious to know in what sort of state or lack of it they would come.
Mr. Grayson's intention of going at once to his home was not published in the press, and there was only the ordinary crowd at the station, some coming, some leaving, but all bearing upon their faces the marks of haste and impatience. As the people hurried to and fro, the sound of many tongues arose. There was nearly every accent of Europe, but the American rose over and enveloped all. Many writers from other lands, seeking only the bad, had pronounced the Babel coarse, vulgar, and sordid; but Harley, seeking the good, saw in it men and women toiling to better their condition in the world, and that fact he knew was not bad.
Through the station windows he saw the tall buildings rise floor on floor, and there was a clang of car-bells that never ceased. In the fresh morning air it was inspiriting, and Harley felt himself a part of the crowd. He was no hermit. Life and activity and the spectacle of people filled with hope always pleased him.
An ordinary cab arrived, and Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, alighting from it, bought their tickets at the window, just like anybody else, and then sought inconspicuous seats in the corner of the waiting-room, as their train would not be ready for five minutes. In the hastening crowd they were not noticed at first, but even in the dusk of the corner the smoothly shaven face and massive features of Mr. Grayson were soon noticed. His picture had been staring at them all from the front page of the newspapers, and here was the reality, too like to be overlooked. There was a sudden delay in the crowd; the two streams, one flowing outward and the other inward, wavered, then stopped and began to stare at the candidate, not intrusively, but with a kindly curiosity that it considered legitimate. Harley had quietly joined the Graysons, and they gave him a sincere welcome. The people unfamiliar with his face began to speculate audibly on his identity.
The crowd in the station, reinforced from many side-doors, thickened, and Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, under the gaze of so many eyes, became uneasy and shy. Harley, who had been made a member of their party, found himself sharing this awkward feeling, and he was glad to hear the announcement that the train was ready.
The three abreast moved towards the gate, and the crowd opened a way just wide enough, down which they marched, still under the human battery of a thousand eyes. To Harley, although little of this gaze was meant for him, the sensation was indescribable. It was something to be an object of so much curiosity, but the thrill was more than offset by the weight that it put upon one's ease of manner.
He saw many of the people—it was a curious manifestation—reach out and touch the candidate's sleeve lightly as he passed. But Mr. Grayson, if he knew it, took no notice and marched straight ahead, all expression discharged from his face. Harley saw that this was the disguise eminent public men must assume upon occasions, and he was willing that they should keep the task.
When the great iron gate leading to his train was closed behind him, Harley felt a mighty sense of relief. It seemed to him that he had run a gantlet not much inferior to that through which the Indians put the captive backwoodsmen, and the dark-red walls of the car rose before him a fortress of safety.
It was an ordinary Pullman, and Mr. and Mrs. Grayson had not secured the drawing-room, but the usual berths like Harley's, and he joined them in their seats. He felt now a certain pleasure in the situation. The pressure of circumstances was making him, in a sense and for the time being, a member of their family. He was glad that the other correspondents would wait to join the candidate at his home, as it gave him a greater chance to establish those personal relations needful on a long campaign that must be made together.
The whistle blew, the train moved, and they passed through miles of city, and then through suburbs growing thinner until they melted away into the clean, green prairie, and Harley, opening the window, was glad to breathe the unvexed air that came across a thousand miles of the West. He leaned back in his seat and luxuriously watched the quietly rolling country, tender with the breath of spring, as it spun past. That mighty West of which he had thought so little seemed to reach out with its arms and invite him, and he was glad to go.
Presently he was aware of an unusual movement of people down the aisles of the car, accompanied by a certain slowing of the pace when they passed the seats in which the Graysons and he sat. They were coming from the other cars, too, and now and then the aisle would choke up a little, but in a moment the shifting figures would relieve it, and the endless procession of faces moved on.
The Graysons, following Harley's example, were gazing out of the window at the cheerful country, but the correspondent knew that Mr. Grayson was fully conscious of this human stream, and that he himself was the cause of it. Yet he lost none of his good temper even when some, venturing further, asked if he were not the nominee, adding that it was a pride to them to meet him and speak to him. In fact, the change from silence to conversation was a relief to Mr. Grayson, varying the monotony of that fixed gaze to which he had been subjected so long, and it was now that Harley saw him in a most favorable guise. His consciousness of a great talent did not interfere with a perfect democracy; it did not cause him to assume an air that said to these people, "I am better than you, keep your distance," but he gave the impression of ability solely through his simplicity of manner and the ease with which he adapted himself to the caliber of the person who spoke to him.
Thus the train swung westward hour after hour, and the procession through the car never ceased. The manner of the candidate did not change; however weary he may have grown, he was always affable, but not gushing, and Harley, watching keenly, judged that the impression he made was always favorable. He strove, too, to interpret this manner and to read the mind behind it. Was Mr. Grayson really great or merely a man of ready speech and pleasing address? Harley was willing to admit that the latter were qualities in themselves not far from great, but on the main contention he reserved his judgment. He was still divided in his opinions, sometimes approving the complete democracy of the candidate and sometimes condemning. He had been born in the South, in a border state, and he grew up there amid many of the forms and formalities of the old school, and the associations of youth are not easily lost. Nor had a subsequent residence in the East brushed them away. This world of the West was still, in many respects, new to him.
He ate luncheon in the dining-car with the Graysons, and he noticed the bubbling joy of the black waiter who served them, and who showed two rows of white teeth in a perpetual smile. Harley appreciated him so much that he doubled his tip, but, as they were still watched by many eyes in the dining-car, he felt a certain nervousness in handling his knife and fork, as if the penalty of greatness, even by association, were too heavy for him. Once his eyes caught those of Mrs. Grayson, and a faint, whimsical smile passed over her face, a smile so infectious, despite its faintness, that Harley was compelled to reply in like fashion. It told him that she understood his constraint, and that she, too, felt it, but Harley doubted whether it was in like degree, as he believed that in the main women are better fitted than men to endure such ordeals. Mr. Grayson himself apparently took no notice.
Harley returned to their car with the Graysons, but in the afternoon he detached himself somewhat, and came in touch with the fluctuating crowd that passed down the aisle—it was always a part of his duty, as well as his inclination, to know the thoughts and feelings of outsiders, because it was outsiders who made the world, and it was from them, too, that the insiders came.
Harley found here that the chief motive as yet was curiosity; the campaign had not entered upon its sharp and positive state, and the personality of Mr. Grayson and of his opponent still remained to be defined clearly.
The train sped westward through the granary of the world, cutting in an almost direct line across the mighty valley of the Mississippi, and they were still hundreds of miles away from the Grayson home. In going west both parties had gone very far west, and the two candidates not only lived beyond the Mississippi, but beyond the Missouri as well.
The prairies were in their tenderest green, and the young grass bent lightly before a gentle west wind. In a sky of silky blue little clouds floated and trailed off here and there into patches of white like drifting snow, and Harley unconsciously fell to watching them and wondering where they went.
The sun, a huge red ball, sank in the prairie, twilight fell, the ordeal of the dining-car was repeated, and not long afterwards Harley sought his bed in the swaying berth. The next morning they were in the home town, and there were a band and a reception committee, and Harley slipped quietly away to his hotel, being reminded first by the Graysons that he was to take dinner with them.
He spent most of the day wandering about the town, gathering hitherto unnoticed facts about the early life of Mr. James Grayson, which in the afternoon he despatched eastward. Then he prepared for dinner, but here he was confronted by a serious problem—should one so far west wear evening clothes or not? But he decided at last in the affirmative, feeling that it would be the safe course, and, hiding the formality of his raiment under a light overcoat, he went forth into the street. Five minutes' walk took him to the house of Mr. Grayson, which stood in the outskirts, a red brick structure two stories in height, plain and comfortable, with a well-shaded lawn about it. It was now quite dark, but lights shone from several windows, and Harley, without hesitation, rang the bell.
Harley's ring was not answered at once, and as he stood on the step he glanced back at the city, which, in the dark, showed only the formless bulk of houses and the cold electric lights here and there. Then he heard a light step, and the door was thrown open. He handed his card to the maid, merely saying, "Mr. and Mrs. Grayson," and waited to be shown into the parlor. But the girl, whose face he could not see, as the hall was dimly lighted, held it in her hand, looking first at the name and then at him. Harley, feeling a slight impatience, stepped inside and said:
"I assure you that I am the real owner of it—that is, of the name on the card."
"What proof have you?" she asked, calmly.
Harley had heard recently many phases of the servant-girl question, and this development of it amused him. She must be one of those ignorant and stubborn foreigners—a Swede or a German.
"Suppose you take the proof for granted and risk it," he said. "Mr. and Mrs. Grayson can quickly decide for you, and tell you whether I am right."
"They have gone out for a little walk," she said, still standing in the way, "and so many strange people are coming here now that I don't know whether to show you in or not. Maybe you are a reporter?"
"Well, and what then?"
"Or worse; perhaps you are a photographer."
"If I am, you can see that I have no camera."
"You might have a little one hidden under your overcoat."
"It is night, and cameras are used in the sunshine."
"We have electric lights."
Harley began to feel provoked. There were limits to perverseness, or should be.
"I am expected to dinner by Mr. and Mrs. Grayson," he said. "Will you kindly cease to keep me waiting and show me in? I shall not steal any of the furniture."
The maid was annoyingly calm.
"Mr. and Mrs. Grayson have not yet returned from a little walk which they were afraid to undertake until it grew dark," she said. "But I think I'll risk it and show you in if you will hold up your hand and swear that you haven't a camera hidden under your overcoat."
Harley's sense of humor came to his aid, and he held up his hand.
"I do solemnly swear," he said.
He tried to see the face of this maid, who showed a perversity that was unequalled in an experience by no means limited, but she stood in the duskiest part of the dim hall, and he failed. He knew merely that she was tall and slender, and when she turned to lead the way he heard a faint sound like the light tinkle of a suppressed laugh. Harley started, and his face flushed with anger. He had encountered often those who tried to snub him, and usually he had been able to take care of himself, but to be laughed at by a housemaid was a new thing in his experience, and he was far from liking it.
She indicated a small parlor with a wave of her hand and said:
"You can go in there and wait. You have promised not to steal the furniture, and, as the room contains only a piano, a table, and some chairs, all of which are too big to be hidden under your overcoat, I think that you will keep your promise."
She sped lightly away, leaving Harley trembling so much with amazement and anger that he forgot for at least two minutes to sit down. When he took off his overcoat he murmured: "Before Mr. Grayson thinks of ruling the United States he should discipline his own household."
The house was quiet; he heard no one stirring anywhere. The light from an electric lamp in the street shone into the parlor, and by its rays he saw Mr. and Mrs. Grayson coming up the street. Then the maid had told the truth about the "little walk," and he was early.
He leaned back in his chair and watched the pair as they approached their own house. Evidently they had stolen these few minutes in the dark to be alone with each other, and Harley sympathized with them, because it would be a long time before the wife could claim again that her husband was her own. They entered a side-gate, passed through the lawn, and a minute later were welcoming Harley.
"We did not expect to be gone so long," said Mrs. Grayson; "but we see that you have found the right place."
"Oh yes," said Harley; "a maid showed me in." Then he added: "I am very glad, indeed, to have been invited here, but if you want any more privacy I don't think you should have asked me; my kind will soon be down upon you like a swarm of locusts."
Mr. Grayson laughed and took a stack of telegraph envelopes six inches thick from a table.
"You are right, Mr. Harley," he said. "They will be here to-morrow, ready for the start. There are more than twenty applications for space on our train, and all of them shall have it. I don't think that the boys and I shall quarrel."
Mrs. Grayson excused herself, and presently they were summoned to dinner. Stepping out of a dusky hall into a brilliantly lighted room, Harley was dazzled for a moment, but he found himself bowing when she introduced him to "My niece, Miss Morgan, of Idaho." Then he saw a tall, slender girl, with a singularly frank and open countenance, and a hand extended to him as familiarly as if she had known him all her life. Harley, although he had not expected the offer of the hand, took it and gave it one little shake. He felt an unaccountable embarrassment. He saw a faint twinkle in the girl's eye, as if she found something amusing in his appearance, and he feared that he had made a mistake in coming in evening-dress. He flushed a little and felt a slight resentment towards Mrs. Grayson, because she had not told him of this niece; but he was relieved for the moment by an introduction to the third guest, Mrs. Boyle, an elderly lady, also a relative, but more distantly so.
Mrs. Boyle merely bowed, and at once returned Harley to the custody of the niece from Idaho, of whom he felt some fear, her singular freedom of manner and the faint twinkle that still lurked in her eye putting him on edge. Moreover, he was assigned to a seat next to her, and, as obviously he was expected to entertain her, his fear increased. This girl was not only Western, but Far Western, and, in his opinion, there was none so wise who could tell what she would do or say. He repeated to himself the word "Idaho," and it sounded remote, rough, and wild.
"Uncle James tells me that you are a correspondent, the representative of the New York Gazette," she said.
"And that you are to go with him on the campaign and write brilliant accounts of the things that never happen."
"I am sure that Mr. Grayson was not your authority for such a statement," said Harley, with a smile, although he did not wholly relish her banter.
"Oh no, Uncle James is a very polite man, and very considerate of the feelings of others."
"Then it is a supposition of your own?"
"Oh no, not a supposition at all; the New York newspapers sometimes reach us even in Idaho."
Harley did not respond to her banter, thinking it premature, as she had never seen him before. He could not forget the reserve and shyness natural to him, and he felt a sense of hostility. He glanced at her, and saw a cheek ruddier than the cheeks of American women usually are, and a chin with an unusually firm curve. Her hair was dark brown, and when the electric light flashed upon her it seemed to be streaked with dull gold. But the chin held him with an odd sort of fascination, and he strove to read her character in it. "Bold and resolute," he decided, "but too Western, entirely too Far Western. She needs civilizing." He was rather glad that he was going away with Mr. Grayson on the morrow and would not see her again.
"I should think," she said; "that the life of a newspaper correspondent is extremely interesting. You have all the pleasures and none of the responsibilities; you go to war, but you do not fight; you enter great political campaigns, but you cannot be defeated; you are always with the victor and never with the vanquished; you are not bound by geographical limits nor by facts, nor—"
"Excuse me, Miss Morgan," interrupted Harley, with dignity. "In my profession, as in all others, there are irresponsible persons, but the great majority of its followers are conscientious and industrious. If you only knew how—"
"That sounds as if it had been prepared in advance," she exclaimed. "I am sure that you have used it many times before."
"You must not mind Sylvia," said Mrs. Grayson, smiling her grave, quiet smile. "She seldom means what she says, or says what she means."
"Aunt Anna," exclaimed Miss Morgan, "you are really too hard upon your beloved niece. I never before dined with the staff correspondent of a great New York newspaper, and I am really seeking information. Now I wish to know if in his profession imagination is the most valuable quality, as I have heard it said."
"Do you wish to embroil me with the press so early?" asked Mr. Grayson, laughing.
"I have heard great tales about them and their daring," she persisted. "I am not sure that even now he has not a camera concealed under his coat."
"Why, Sylvia, what a strange thing to say!" exclaimed Mrs. Grayson.
But Harley started in his seat and flushed a deep red. "Miss Morgan, I shall have to ask your pardon," he exclaimed.
Mr. and Mrs. Grayson looked at them in surprise.
"Here is something that we do not understand," said Mr. Grayson.
"Why, Uncle James, there is nothing strange about what I have said," continued Miss Morgan, with the most innocent face. "I thought all of them carried cameras, else how do we get all the wonderful pictures?"
Harley felt inclined to tell the entire table his experience, but on second thought he remained silent, as the girl from Idaho began to pique him, and he was not willing that the advantage should remain wholly with her, especially when she was from the very Far West. So he affected complete indifference, and, when they asked him about his adventures in the recent war on the other side of the world, he talked freely about them, which he had never done before, because, like most Americans, he was a modest man, enduring in silence lectures on the sin of boasting from others who boasted as they breathed. Most of the time he spoke apparently to Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, but he kept a side-look upon the girl from Idaho who had played with him and humiliated him.
She became silent, as if satisfied with the flight of the arrows that had gone already from her quiver, and seemed to listen with an air of becoming respect; but Harley surprised once or twice the lurking twinkle in her eye, and he was not sure that she was wholly subdued. Opposition and difficulties always increased his resolve, and he doubled his efforts. He spoke lightly of the kingdoms and republics whose fortunes he had followed in a casual way and of the men whom the heave of affairs had brought to the surface for a space, and always he kept that side-look upon her. These relations, surely, would impress, because what could she, a child of the Idaho wilds, know of the great world? And its very mystery would heighten to her its coloring and effect.
Harley could talk well, all the better because he talked so rarely of himself, and even now it was of himself only by indirection, because he spoke chiefly of men whom he had known and deeds that he had witnessed. Watching the girl closely with that side-look, he did not see the twinkle reappear in her eye; instead she sat demure and silent, and he judged that he had taken her beyond her depth. At last he stopped, and she said, in a subdued tone:
"Did I not tell you, Uncle James, that imagination was the great quality the correspondents need?"
Harley flushed, but he could not keep from joining Mr. Grayson in his laugh. The candidate, besides laughing, glanced affectionately at the girl. It was evident that his niece was a favorite with Jimmy Grayson.
"I shall ask Miss Morgan to tell me about Idaho," said Harley.
"It's quite wild, you know," she said, gravely; "and all the people need taming. But it would be a great task."
When they went back to the drawing-room Harley and the girl were behind the others, and he lingered a moment beside her.
"Miss Morgan," he said, "I want to ask your pardon again. You know it was in the dark, and mine was an honest mistake."
"I will if you will tell me one thing."
"What is it?"
"Have you really got a camera with you?"
"If I had I should take a picture of you and not of Mr. Grayson."
Harley remained awhile longer, and Miss Morgan's treatment remained familiar and somewhat disconcerting, rather like the manner of an elder sister to her young brother than of a girl to a man whom she had known only two or three hours. When he rose to leave, she again offered him her hand with perfect coolness. Harley, in a perfunctory manner, expressed his regret that he was not likely to see her again, as he was to leave the next day with Mr. Grayson. The provoking twinkle appeared again in the corner of her eyes.
"I don't intend that you shall forget me, Mr. Harley," she said, "because you are to see me again. When you come to Washington in search of news, I shall be there as the second lady of the land—Aunt Anna will be first."
"Oh, of course, I forgot that," said Harley, but he was not sure that she had Washington in mind, remembering Mrs. Grayson's assertion that she did not always mean what she said nor say what she meant.
The night was quite dark, and when he had gone a few yards Harley stopped and looked back at the house. He felt a distinct sense of relief, because he was gone from the presence of the mountain girl who was not of his kind, and whom he did not know how to take; being a man, he could not retort upon her in her own fashion, and she was able to make him feel cheap.
The drawing-room was still lighted, and he saw the Idaho girl pass in front of one of the low windows, her figure completely outlined by the luminous veil. It seemed to him to express a singular, flexible grace—perhaps the result of mountain life—but he was loath to admit it, as she troubled him. Harley, although young, had been in many lands and among many people. He had seen many women who were beautiful, and some who were brilliant, but it had been easy to forget every one of them; they hardly made a ripple in the stream of his work, and often it was an effort to recall them. He had expected to dismiss this Idaho girl in the same manner, but she would not go, and he was intensely annoyed with himself.
He went to the telegraph-office, wrote and filed his despatch, and then, lighting a cigar, strolled slowly through the streets. It was not eleven o'clock, but it seemed that everybody except himself was in bed and asleep. The lights in all the houses were out, and there was no sound whatever save that of the wind as it came in from the prairie and stirred the new foliage of the trees. "And this is our wicked America, for which my foreign friends used to offer me sincere condolences!" murmured Harley.
But he returned quickly to his own mental disturbance. He felt as he used to feel on the eve of a battle that all knew was coming off, there on the other side of the world. He was then with an army which he was not at all sure was in the right; but when he sat on a hill-top in the night, looking at the flickering lights of the enemy ahead, and knowing that the combat would be joined at dawn, he could not resist a feeling of comradeship with that army to which, for a time—and in a sense, perhaps, alien—he belonged. Those soldiers about him became friends, and the enemy out there was an enemy for him, too. It was the same now when he was to go on a long journey with Jimmy Grayson, who stood upon a platform of which he had many doubts.
He turned back to the hotel, and when he entered the lobby a swarm of men fell upon him and demanded the instant delivery of any news which he might have and they had not. They were correspondents who had come by every train that afternoon—Hobart, Churchill, Blaisdell, Lawson, and others, making more than a score—some representing journals that would support Grayson, and others journals that would call him names, many and bad.
"We hear that you have been to dinner with the candidate," said Churchill, the representative of the New York Monitor, a sneering sheet owned by one foreigner and edited by another, which kept its eye on Europe, and considered European opinion final, particularly in regard to American affairs; "so you can tell us if it is true that he picks his teeth at table with a fork."
"You are a good man for the Monitor, Churchill," said Harley, sharply. "Your humor is in perfect accord with the high taste displayed, and you show the same dignity and consideration in your references to political opponents."
"Oh, I see," said Churchill, sneering just as he had been taught to sneer by the Monitor. "He is the first guest to dine with the Presidential nominee, and he is overpowered by the honor."
"You shut up, Churchill!" said Hobart, another of the correspondents. "You sha'n't pick a quarrel with Harley, and you sha'n't be a mischief-maker here. There are enough of us to see that you don't."
Harley turned his back scornfully upon Churchill, who said nothing more, and began to tell his friends of Grayson.
"He is an orator," he said. "We know that by undoubted report, and his manner is simple and most agreeable. He has more of the quality called personal magnetism than any other man I ever saw."
"What of his ability?" asked Tremaine, the oldest of the correspondents.
Harley thought a little while before replying.
"I can't make up my mind on that point," he said. "I find in him, so far as I can see, a certain simplicity, I might almost say an innocence, which is remarkable. He is unlike the other public men whom I have met, but I don't know whether this innocence indicates superficiality or a tact and skill lying so deep that he is able to plan an ambush for the best of his enemies."
"Well, we are to be with him five months," said Tremaine, "and it is our business to find out."
They were to start at dawn the next day, going back to Chicago, where the campaign would be opened, and Harley, ever alert, was dressing while it was yet dusk. From a corner of the dining-room, where he snatched a quick breakfast, he saw the sun shoot out of the prairie like a great red cannon-ball and the world swim up into a sea of rosy light. Then he ran for the special train, which was puffing and whistling at the station, and the flock of correspondents was at his heels.
Harley saw Mr. and Mrs. Grayson alighting from a cab, and, satisfied with the one glance, he entered the car and sought his place. Always, like the trained soldier, he located his camp, or rather base, before beginning his operations, and he made himself comfortable there with his fellows until the train was well clear of the city and the straggling suburbs that hung to it like a ragged fringe. Then he decided to go into the next coach to see Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, making, as it were, a dinner call.
The candidate and his wife had taken the drawing-room, not from any desire of his for seclusion or as an artificial aid to greatness, but because he saw that it was necessary if he would have any time for thought or rest. Harley approached the compartment, expecting to be announced by the porter, but a veiled lady in the seat next to it rose up before him. She lifted the veil, which was not a disguise, instead being intended merely as a protection against the dust that one gathers on a railroad journey, and Harley stopped in surprise.
"And so you see, Mr. Correspondent," she said, "that your farewell was useless. You behold me again inside of twelve hours. I wanted to tell you last night that I was going on this train, as Uncle James has great confidence in my political judgment and feels the constant need of my advice, but I was afraid you would not believe me. So I have preferred to let you see for yourself."
She gave Harley a look which he could not interpret as anything but saucy, and his attention was called again by the bold, fine curve of her chin, and he was saying to himself: "A wild life in the mountains surely develops courage and self-reliance, but at the expense of the more delicate and more attractive qualities." Then he said aloud, and politely:
"I see no reason, Miss Morgan, why you should have credited me with a lack of faith in your word. Have I said anything to induce such a belief in your mind?"
"No, you have merely looked it."
"I do not always look as I feel," said Harley, in embarrassment, "and I want to tell you, Miss Morgan, that I am very glad you are going with us on this Chicago trip."
"You look as if you meant that," she said, gravely; "but if I am to take you at your word, you mean nothing of the kind."
"I do mean it; I assure you I do," said Harley, hastily. "But are Mr. and Mrs. Grayson ready to receive visitors?"
"That depends. I am not sure that I want Uncle James interviewed so early in the day. At least I want to know in advance the subject of the interview. You can give me, as it were, the heads of your discourse. Come, tell me, and I will render a decision."
She regarded Harley with a grave face, and he was divided between vexation and a sort of reluctant admiration of her coolness. She was bold and forward, not to say impertinent, but she seemed wholly unconscious of it, and, after all, she was from one of the wildest parts of Idaho. He kindly excused much of her conduct on the ground of early association.
"I do not seek to interview any one," he said; "I merely wish to pay my respects to Mr. and Mrs. Grayson, having been their guest, as you know."
"Oh, then you can go in," she said, and, calling to the porter, she told him to announce Mr. Harley, of the New York Gazette. "Of the New York Gazette," she said again, with what Harley considered unnecessary repetition and emphasis, and he had a new count against her.
Mr. and Mrs. Grayson received him with courtesy, even with warmth, and Harley saw that he had made new progress in their esteem. He remained with them only a few minutes, and he said nothing about the objectionable conduct of Miss Morgan, who had set herself as a guard upon their door. He deemed it wiser to make no reference to her at all, because she was only an insignificant and momentary incident of the campaign, not really relevant. Chicago was merely a beginning, and they would drop her there. When he returned from the drawing-room, she was still sitting near the door, and at his appearance she looked up pertly.
"Did you find him in a good-humor?" she asked.
"I think Mr. Grayson is always in a good-humor, or at least he is able to appear so."
"I doubt whether perpetual good-humor, or the appearance of it, is desirable. One ought to make a difference in favor of friends; I do not care to present an amiable face to my enemies."
She pursed up her lips and looked thoughtful.
"When Uncle James goes to Washington to take the Presidency," she continued, "he will need me to protect him from the people who have no business with him."
"I hope the last remark is not personal?"
"Oh no," she said; "I recognize the fact that the press must be tolerated."
Harley again felt piqued, and, not willing to retire with the sense of defeat fresh upon him, he sat down near her and began to talk to her of her Western life. He wished to know more about the genesis and progress of a girl who seemed to him so strange, but he was not able to confine her to certain channels of narrative. She was flippant and vague, full of allusions to wild things like Indians or buffaloes or grizzly bears, but with no detailed statement, and Harley gathered that her childhood had been in complete touch with these primitive facts. Only such early associations could account for the absence of so many conventions.
The correspondents who travelled with Harley were mostly men of experience, readily adaptable, and the addition of a new member to Mr. Grayson's party could not escape their attention. Harley was surprised and shocked to find that all of them were well acquainted with Miss Morgan inside of six hours, and that they seemed to be much better comrades with her than he had been. Hobart, the most frivolous of the lot, and the most careless of speech, returning from the Grayson car, informed him that she was a "great girl, as fine as silk."
"That's a queer expression to apply to a lady," said Harley. "It smacks of the Bowery."
"And what if it does?" replied Hobart, coolly. "I often find the Bowery both terse and truthful. And in this case the expression fits Miss Morgan. She's the real article—no fuss and frills, just a daughter of the West, never pretending that she is what she isn't. I heard her speak of you, Harley, and I don't think she likes you, old man. What have you been doing?"
"I hope I have been behaving as a gentleman should," replied Harley, with some asperity; "and if I have been unlucky enough to incur her dislike, I shall endure it as best I can."
He spoke in an indifferent tone, as if his endurance would not be severely tested.
"But you are missing a good time," said Hobart. "There are not less than a dozen of us at her feet, and the Grayson car is full of jollity. I'm going back."
He returned to the car, and Harley was left alone just then, as he wished to be, and with an effort he dismissed Miss Morgan from his thoughts. Mr. Grayson would speak that night in Chicago, and an audience of twenty thousand people was assured; this fact and the other one, that it would be his initial address, making the event of the first importance.
Harley as a correspondent was able not only to chronicle facts, which is no great feat, but also to tell why, to state the connection between them, and to re-create the atmosphere in which those facts occurred and which made them possible. He was well aware that a fact was dependent for its quality—that is, for its degree of good or evil—upon its surrounding atmosphere, just as a man is influenced by the air that he breathes, and for this reason he wished to send in advance a despatch about Mr. Grayson and his personality as created by his birth and associations.
He rested his pad on the car-seat and began to write, but Miss Morgan intruded herself in the first line. This question of character, created by environment, would apply to her as well as to her uncle; but Harley, angrily refusing to consider it, tore off the sheet of paper and, throwing it on the floor, began again. The second trial was more successful, and he soon became absorbed in the effort to describe Mr. Grayson and his remarkable personality, which might be either deep and complex or of the simplest Western type.
As he wrote Harley became more and more absorbed in his subject, and with the absorption came spontaneity. He did not know how well he was writing, nor what a vivid picture he was presenting to the vast Eastern population to whom Jimmy Grayson was as yet but a name. It was a despatch that became famous, reprinted all over the Union, and quoted as the first description of the candidate as he really was—that is, of the man. And yet Harley, reading it days later, recognized in it something that nobody else saw. It was a blend. In every fourth line Sylvia Morgan again, and despite his efforts, had obtruded herself. He had borrowed something from her to add to Jimmy Grayson, and he felt that he had been seeking excuses for her manner.
But this fact did not impinge upon Harley now, when he read the despatch preparatory to filing it at Chicago. He merely felt that he had made an attempt to solve Jimmy Grayson, and in doing so had fulfilled his duty.
As he folded up the article the loud voice of Hobart hailed him from the other end of the car, and he beheld that irresponsible man entering with the candidate's niece.
"You see what he has been about all this time, Miss Morgan?" said Hobart. "He has been at work. Harley, you know, is the only conscientious man among us."
"I have remarked already his devotion to duty," she said, sedately; "but do you think, Mr. Hobart, we should disturb him now? We do not know that he has finished his task."
Harley flushed. He did not wish to be thought a prig or one who made a pretence of great industry, and, although Miss Morgan's voice was without expression, he believed that irony lay hidden somewhere in it.
"You are mistaken," he said; "my work is over, for the time, at least. It was something that had to be done, or I should not have stolen off here alone."
Then he went back with them to the Grayson car, where a joyous group had gathered. Mr. and Mrs. Grayson were in the drawing-room, with the door shut, working upon the candidate's speech at Chicago, Harley surmised, and hence there was no restraint. Of this group the girl from Idaho was the centre and the sun. She seemed to be on good terms with them all, to the great surprise of Harley, who had known her longer than they, and who had not been able to get on with her at all, and he sat rather on the fringe of the throng, saying but little.
Again she inspired him with hostility; she seemed, as before, too bold, too boisterous, too much the mountain maid, although he could not analyze any particular incident as wrong in itself. And clearly she had won the liking, even the admiration, of his associates, all of whom were men of wide experience. Tremaine, the dean of the corps, a ruddy, white-haired old fellow, who had written despatches from the Russo-Turkish war, which was ancient history to Harley, warmed visibly to Miss Morgan. "It is always the way with those old gallants," was Harley's silent comment. But he had never before characterized Tremaine in such a manner.
He was afraid of her sharp tongue, knowing that a woman in such respects is never averse to taking an unfair advantage of a man; but she paid no heed to him, talking with the others and passing over him as if he had not been present; and, while this was what he wanted in the first place, yet, now that he had it, he resented it as something undeserved. But if she would not speak to him, he, too, would keep silence, a silence which he was convinced had in it a disdainful quality; hence it was not without a certain comfort and satisfaction.
But Harley was forced to admit that if she was of the bold and boisterous type, she was a favorable specimen within those unfavorable limits. While she was familiar, in a measure, with these men, yet she was able to keep them at the proper distance, and no one presumed, in any respect. She radiated purity and innocence, and it was to ignorance only that Harley now charged her faults.
They reached Chicago the next morning, and at noon Hobart knocked at the door of Harley's room at the hotel.
"There is some idle time this afternoon," said Hobart, "and Tremaine and I have asked Miss Morgan to go driving. She has accepted, but it takes four to make a party, and you are the lucky fourth."
He allowed no protestations, and, after all, Harley, who had been under much strain for some time, was not averse to an hour or two in the fresh air.
"Miss Morgan has never been in Chicago before," said Hobart, "and it is our duty to show it to her."
Hobart, who drove, put Miss Morgan upon the seat beside him, and Tremaine and Harley, who sat behind, occupied what was to some extent the post of disadvantage; but Tremaine, safe in his years, would not permit the rear seat to be neglected. He talked constantly, and her face, of necessity, was often turned to them, giving Harley opportunity to see that it had a most becoming flush.
She had an eager interest in everything—the tall buildings, the wind-swept streets, and the glimpses of the wide, green lake. Harley saw that Chicago bulked much more largely in her imagination than in his, and he began to fear that he had been neglectful; it was the most concrete expression of the West, and, as the greatest achievement of a new people in city building, it deserved attention for qualities peculiarly its own, and there could be no doubt either of Miss Morgan's admiration or pleasure. She was seeking neither for the old nor the picturesque, which are not always synonymous, but was in full sympathy with the fresh, active, and, on the whole, joyous life around her. It was sufficient to her to be a part of the human tide, and to feel by contact the keenness and zest of the human endeavor. She was not troubled by the absence of ruins.
"But the city is flat and unpicturesque," once said Harley.
"All the better," she rejoined. "I have so much of silence and grandeur in Idaho that I enjoy the sight of two million people at work on this billiard-table that is Chicago. I like my own kind, I like to talk to it and have it talk to me. I suppose that the mountains have a voice, but the voice is too big for perpetual conversation with a poor little mortal like myself. After a while I want to come down to my own level, and I find it here."
Harley glanced at her. The flush was still on her face, and there was a soft light in her eyes. He could not doubt that she was sincere, and she started in his mind thoughts that were not altogether new to him; he wondered if excessive reverence for the antique did not indicate a detachment from the present, and therefore from life itself, and, as a logical sequence, a lack of feeling for one's own kind. He had heard an elderly man from Chicago, dragged about by his wife and daughters in Rome, exclaim in disgust, "I would not give a single street corner in Chicago for all Rome!" The elderly Chicagoan had been drowned in derisive laughter, but Harley could understand his point of view, and now, as he remembered him, he had for him a fellow-feeling.
Hobart took them through many streets, one much like another, and then over a white asphalt drive beside the great lake. The shores were low, but to Harley the lake had the calm restlessness and expanse of the sea, and the wind had the same keen tang that comes over miles of salt. He saw the girl's eyes linger upon the vast sheet of green, and the incipient hostility that he felt towards her disappeared for a time. Somewhere in her nature, strait though the place might be, there was a feeling for fine things, and he felt a kindred glow.
They were rather quiet when they drove back towards the hotel, but she spoke at last of her uncle James and his speech that night, which might justify the expectations of either his friends or his enemies. There had grown up lately in the theatrical world a practice of "trying a new piece on the dog"—that is, of presenting it first in some small town which was not too particular—but now the political world was moving differently in this particular case. The candidate was to make his first appearance in one of the greatest of cities, before two million people, so to speak, and the ordeal would be so severe that Harley found himself apprehensive for Jimmy Grayson's sake. The feeling was shared by his niece.
"You don't think he will fail, do you?" she said, in an appealing tone to Hobart.
"Fail!" replied that irrepressible optimist. "He can't fail! The bigger the crowd the better he will rise to the occasion."
But she did not seem to be wholly convinced by Hobart's cheerfulness, which was too general in its nature—that is, inclusive of everything—and turned to Harley and Tremaine as if seeking confirmation.
"It will be a terrible test," said Harley, frankly, "but I feel sure that Mr. Grayson will pass it with glory. He is a born orator, and he has courage."
"I thank you for your belief," she said, giving Harley a swift glance of gratitude, and unaccountably he felt a pleasing glow at the first gracious words she had ever spoken to him.
"I could not bear it if he failed," she continued. "He is my uncle, and he is our own Western man. What things would be in the newspapers to-morrow!"
"If Mr. Grayson should fail to-night, he would recover himself at his second speech; he has your spirit, you know," said the ancient Tremaine.
But she did not seem to relish his elderly gallantry. "How do you know I have spirit?" she asked. "I have done nothing to indicate it."
"I inferred it," replied he, bowing, but she only lifted her chin incredulously, and Tremaine subsided, his suppression giving Harley some quiet enjoyment.
They returned, chiefly in silence, to the hotel. The dusk was coming down over the great city, and with it a grayish mist that hid the walls of the buildings, although the electric lights in lofty stories twinkled through it like signal-fires from hill-tops. Miss Morgan seemed subdued, and at the hotel door she said to them in dismissal: "I thank you; you have given me much pleasure."
"I rather think that she is wrapped up in Mr. Grayson's success," said Hobart, "and, as she intimates, it will come pretty near to breaking her heart if he fails."
In the lobby Harley met Churchill, of the Monitor, and Churchill, as usual, was sneering.
"I imagine that Grayson will make a display of provincialism to-night," he said. "America will have to blush for herself. I have copies of the Monitor, and all our London cables show the greatest amazement in Great Britain and on the Continent that we should put up such an outre Western character for President, one of the Boys, you know."
"The Grayson of the Monitor is not the Grayson of reality," replied Harley, "and the opinion of Europe does not matter, because Europe knows nothing about Mr. Grayson."
"Oh, I see! You are falling under the influence," said Churchill, nastily.
"What do you mean?" demanded Harley.
But Churchill would not answer. He sauntered away still sneering. Harley looked after him angrily, but concluded in a few moments that his wrath was not worth while—Churchill, trained to look always in the wrong direction could never see anything right.
THE FIRST SPEECH
When Harley started at an early hour for the vast hall in which Mr. Grayson was to speak, he realized that there was full cause for the trepidation of his feminine kind—perhaps in such moments women tremble for their men more than they ever tremble for themselves—and he had plenty of sympathy for Mrs. Grayson and Miss Morgan. The city, astir with the coming speech, was free to express in advance its opinion of it, both vocally and through its press, which was fairly divided—that is, one-half was convinced that it would be an overwhelming triumph, and the other half was equally sure that it would be a failure just as overwhelming.
Harley had in his pocket a copy of his own paper—the Gazette—the latest to reach him, and he had read it with the greatest care, but he saw that it remained independent; so far, it neither endorsed nor attacked Grayson; and, also, he had a telegram from his editor instructing him to narrate the events of the evening with the strictest impartiality, not only as concerned facts, but, above all, to transmit the exact color and atmosphere of the occasion. "I know that this is hard to do," he said, but with the deft and useful little compliment that a wise employer knows how to put in at the end, he added: "I am sure that you can do it." And he knew his man; Harley would certainly do it.
Harley, seated in an obscure corner of the stage, but one offering many points of vantage for his own view, saw the vast crowd come quickly into the hall, among the largest in the world, and he heard the hum of voices, in which he thought he could distinguish two notes, one of favor and one of attack. Yet the audience was orderly, and on the whole the element of curiosity prevailed. The correspondent, quick to read such signs, saw that the people had an open mind in regard to Jimmy Grayson; it was left to the candidate to make his own impression. Churchill took a seat near him and began to annoy him with depreciatory remarks about Grayson, not spoken to Harley in particular, but to the wide world. Hobart once said that Churchill needed no audience, preferring to talk to the air, which could make no reply of its own, but must return an echo.
Harley saw Mrs. Grayson and her niece slip quietly into a box, sitting well back, where they could be seen but little by the audience; and then, knowing that Mr. Grayson had arrived, he went behind the wings, where the candidate sat waiting.
Mr. Grayson received him with a calm and pleasant word; if his family were in a tremble, he was not; at least he was able to hide any apprehension that he might feel, and he remarked, jestingly: "It is apparent that I will have an audience, Mr. Harley; they will not ignore me."
"No, you are a good puller," rejoined Harley.
There were some dry preliminaries—introductory remarks by the chairman and other necessary bores—and then the audience began to call for Grayson. The speech would be reported in full by short-hand, for which mechanical work the staff correspondent always hires a member of that guild, and Harley was free for the present. He resolved to go into the box with Mrs. Grayson and Miss Morgan, but he changed his mind when he glanced at their faces. There was pallor in their cheeks, and their whole attitude was of strained and intense waiting. For them the crucial moment had come, and Harley had too much humanity to disturb them, even with well-meant efforts, at such a moment.
The hum in the crowd increased to a roar, a thunderous call for Grayson, but there was a pause on the stage, where no figures moved. The chairman glanced uneasily towards the wings and shuffled in his seat as if he did not know what to do, but his apprehension did not last long.
The candidate appeared, coming forward with a steady step, his face pale and apparently inexpressive; but Harley could see that the eyes, usually so calm, were lighted up by a fire from within. Suddenly all his fear for Grayson sank away; it came upon him with the finality of a lightning flash that here was a man who would not fail, and by an unknown impulse he looked from the candidate to the box in which Miss Morgan sat. She seemed to have read his faith in his eyes, for a look of relief, even joy, came over her face.
This intuition of the two was justified, as the candidate did not have to conquer his audience. He held it in his spell from the opening sentence; the golden and compelling oratory, afterwards so famous, was here poured before the greater world for the first time. Harley listened to the periods, smooth but powerful, and he could not throw off their charm; some things were said of which he was not sure, and others with which he positively disagreed, but for the time they all seemed true. Jimmy Grayson believed them—there could be no doubt of it; every word was tinged with the vivid hue of sincerity—that was why they held the audience in a spell that it could not escape; these were convictions, not arguments that he was speaking, and the people received them as such. Moreover, he was always clear and direct, he had a Greek precision of speech, and there was none in the audience who could not follow him.
Harley, no orator himself, had in the course of his profession heard much oratory, some good, much bad, and even now he struggled against the charm of Grayson's voice and manner, and sought to see what lay behind them. Was there back of this golden veil any great originating or executive power, or was he, like so many others who speak well, a voice and nothing more? An orator might win the Presidency of the United States, but his gift would not necessarily qualify him to administer the office. It was a tribute to Harley's power of will or detachment that he was able at such a time to ask himself such a question.
But he forgot these after-thoughts in the pleasurable sympathy that his view of the candidate's wife and niece aroused. Their faces were illumined with joy. Feeling his spell so strongly themselves, they knew without looking that the audience felt it, too, and the evening could be no fuller for them. Here he was, a hero not only for his womenkind, but for all whom his womenkind could see, and Harley thought that under the influence of this feeling Miss Morgan's features had become very soft and feminine. The curve of the jaw was gentle rather than firm, and now in her softer moments it seemed to Harley that something might be made of this mountain girl, say by the deft hands of an Eastern and older woman. Then he blushed at himself for such a condescending thought, and turned to his task—that is, the effort to reproduce for readers in New York, the next morning, the atmosphere of that evening in a Chicago hall, and the exact relation that Mr. Grayson, the people, and the events of the hour bore to each other.
Harley was a conscientious man, interested in his work, and when he gave the last page of the despatch to a telegraph-boy the speech was nearly over. He said emphatically that it was a success, that the audience was brought thoroughly under the spell, but whether this spell would endure after the candidate was gone he did not undertake to prophesy. The coldest and most critical seeker after truth and nothing but the truth could have found no fault with what he wrote.
He gave the last page of the despatch to the telegraph-boy, and entered the secluded box that held Mrs. Grayson and Miss Morgan. Two elderly Chicago men, who played at politics and who were warm enthusiasts for Grayson, were there, and Harley was introduced to them. But he talked to them only as long as politeness demanded, and then, with all sincerity, he congratulated Mrs. Grayson on her husband's triumph.
"I never had a doubt of it," she replied, her voice tremulous, and honestly forgetful in the glory of the moment of all the fears that had been assailing her a few hours ago. "I knew what he could do."
Harley turned presently to Miss Morgan, and he spoke in the same vein to her, but she asked, with some asperity, "Did you think he could fail?"
"Failure is possible, I suppose, in the case of anybody."
"But you do not know our Western spirit."
"I am learning."
Her gentleness was gone. She resented what she chose to consider an attempt at patronage of the West, and Harley again was made the target for the arrows of her sarcasm. Yet he did not resent it with his original acerbity; custom was dulling the sharp edge of her weapons, and, instead of wounding him, they rather provoked and drew him on. He was able to reply lightly, to suggest vaguely the crudities of Idaho, and to incite her to yet more strenuous battle for her beloved mountains.
But both ceased to talk, because the candidate was approaching his climax, and the grand swell of his speech had in it a musical quality that did not detract from its power to carry conviction. Then he closed, and the thunders of applause rose again and again. At last, after bowing many times to the gratified audience, he came back to the box, and his niece, her eyes shining with delight, sprang up, as if driven by an impulse, and, throwing her arms about his neck, kissed him. The act was seen by many, and it was applauded, but Harley did not like it; her emotion seemed to him too youthful, to smack too little of restraint—in short, to be too Western. Despite himself, he frowned, and when she turned back towards the box she saw the frown still upon his face. There was an instant fiery flash in her eye, and she drew herself up as if in haughty defiance, but she said nothing then, nor did she speak later when she left with the Graysons, merely giving him a cold good-night bow.
Harley lingered a little with the other correspondents, and was among the last to leave the building. He was thinking of the Idaho girl, but he did not fail to notice what was going on, and he saw a group of middle-aged or elderly men, the majority of them portly in figure and autocratic in bearing, follow the trail of Jimmy Grayson. Although familiar with the faces of only one or two in the group, he knew instinctively who they were. It was a gathering of the great, moneyed men of the party, eager to see the attitude of Grayson upon affairs that concerned them intimately, and prompt to take action in accordance. They were the guardians of "vested" interests, interests watched over as few things in this world are, and they were resolved to see that they took no harm. But the speech of the night had been general in its nature, a preliminary as it were, and Harley judged that they would do nothing as yet but skirmish upon the outskirts, keeping a wary eye for the main battle when it should be joined.
"Did you notice them?" asked white-haired Tremaine in his ear.
"Oh yes," replied Harley, who knew at once what he meant; "I watched them leave the hall."
"One gets to know them instinctively," said Tremaine. "I've seen them like a herd of bull-dogs—if such animals travelled in herds—on the heels of every presidential candidate for the last forty years, and that covers ten campaigns. But I suppose they have as much right to look after their interests as the farmer or mechanic has to look after his."
"Yet it is worth while to watch them," said Harley, and all in the group concurred.
They were to leave in the afternoon for Milwaukee, which gave plenty of time for rest, and Harley, who needed it, slept late. But when he rose and dressed he went forth at once, after his habit, for the morning papers, buying them all in order to weigh as well as he could the Chicago opinion of Grayson. The first that he picked up was sensational in character, and what he saw on the front page did not please him at all. There was plenty of space devoted to Grayson, but almost as much was given to an incident of the evening as to Grayson himself. There was a huge picture of a beautiful young girl throwing her arms around Jimmy Grayson's neck, and kissing him enthusiastically. The two occupied the centre of the stage close to the footlights, and twenty thousand people were frantically cheering the spectacle. By the side of this picture was another, a perfectly correct portrait of Miss Morgan, evidently taken from a photograph, and under it were the lines: "Jimmy Grayson's Egeria—the Beautiful Young Girl Who Furnishes the Western Fire for His Speeches."
And then in two columns of leaded type, under a pyramid of head-lines, was told the story of Sylvia Morgan. Flushed with enthusiasm, the account said, she had come from Idaho to help her uncle, the candidate. Although only eighteen years of age—she was twenty-two—she had displayed a most remarkable perception and grasp of politics and of great issues. It was she, with her youthful zeal, who inspired Mr. Grayson and his friends with courage for a conflict against odds. He consulted her daily about his speeches; it was she who always put into them some happy thought, some telling phrase that was sure to captivate the people. In a pinch she could make a speech herself, and she would probably be seen on the stump in the West. And she was as beautiful as she was intellectual and eloquent; she would be the most picturesque feature of this or any campaign ever waged in America. It continued in this vein for two columns, employing all the latest devices of the newest and yellowest journalism, of which the process is quite simple, provided you have no conscience—that is, you take a grain of fact and you build upon it a mountain of fancy, and the mountain will be shaped according to the taste of the builder.
Harley would have laughed—these things always seemed to him childish or flippant rather than wicked—if it had not been for the photograph. That was too real; it was exactly like Sylvia Morgan, and it implied connivance between the newspaper and some body else. In Idaho it might have one look, but here in Chicago it would have another, and in New York it would have still another and yet worse. She ought to see the true aspect of these things. To Harley, reared with the old-fashioned Southern ideals, from which he never departed, it was all inexpressibly distasteful—he did not stop to ask himself why he should be more concerned about the picture of Miss Morgan than those of many other women whom he saw in the newspapers—and his feeling was not improved by the entrance of Churchill and his sneering comment.
"A good picture of her," said Churchill. "These Western girls like such things. Of course she sent it to the newspaper office."
"I do not know anything of the kind, nor do you, I think," replied Harley, with asperity. "Nor am I aware that the West is any fonder than the East of notoriety."
"Have it any way you wish," said Churchill, superciliously. "But I fail to see why you should disturb yourself so much over the matter."
His tone was so annoying that Harley felt like striking him, but instead ignored him, and Churchill strolled carelessly on, humming a tune, as he had seen insolent people on the stage do in such moments.
Harley thrust the newspaper into his pocket, and went into one of the ladies' parlors, where he saw Miss Morgan sitting by a window and looking out at the hasty life of Chicago. She did not hear his approach until he was very near, and then, starting at the sound of his footsteps, she looked up, and her cheeks flushed.
"It should be a happy day for you," said Harley, "and I suppose that you are enjoying the triumph."
"Why should I not?" she replied. "I have a share in it."
"So you have, and the press has recognized it."
"What do you mean?"
"I was just looking at a very good picture of you," said Harley, and he spread the paper before her, hoping that she would express surprise and distaste. But she showed neither.
"Oh, I've seen that already," she said, quite coolly. "Don't you think it a good picture?"
"I have no fault to find with the likeness," replied Harley, with some meaning in his tone.
"Then what fault have you to find?"
Harley was embarrassed, and hesitated, seeking for the right words—what did it matter to him if she failed to show the reserve that he thought part of a gentlewoman's nature.
"You infer more than I meant," he said, at last. "I merely felt surprise that they should have obtained a photograph so quickly."
The slightly deepened flush in her cheeks remained and she surveyed him with the same cool air of defiance.
"They would have had a picture, anyhow, something made up; was it not better, then, to furnish them a real one than to have a burlesque published?"
"It's hardly usual," said Harley, more embarrassed than ever. "But really, Miss Morgan, I have no right to speak of it in any connection."
"No, but you were intending to do so. It was in your eye when I looked up and saw you coming towards me."
Her voice had grown chilly, and her gaze was fixed on Harley. The Western girl certainly had dignity and reserve when she wished them, but he did not believe that she chose the right moments to display these admirable qualities.
"I did not know that I had such a speaking countenance," said Harley. "And even if so, you must not forget that you might read it wrong."
"I do not think so," she said, still chilly, and, glancing up at the clock, she added: "It is almost twelve, and I promised Aunt Anna to be with her a half-hour ago."