BY THE SAME AUTHOR
A Circuit Rider's Wife Eve's Second Husband The Recording Angel In Search of a Husband
BY CORRA HARRIS
Illustrated By Hanson Booth
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1915
Copyright, 1915, by DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Do you know what he means, Selah, sending for the oldest and ugliest, and the youngest and fairest woman in Jordantown to meet him at this outrageous hour of the afternoon?'" Frontispiece
"'I want to ask you a delicate question: where ish the ladies? I haven't sheen a woman in four hours!'" 42
"'You may be mayor of this town before you are thirty. A fat mayoress would never do'" 84
"'Bob! I'll make a confession to you. It's been horrid, from first to last. When we are married I want to sit at home and darn your socks—you do wear holes in them, don't you?'" 216
When Sarah Hayden Mosely died, she did something. Most people do not. They cease to do. They are forgotten. The grass that springs above their dust is the one recurrent memory which the earth publishes of them long after the world has been eased of their presence, the fever of their prayers and hopes. It was the other way with this dim little old woman. During the whole of her life she had never done anything. She was one of those faint whispers of femininity who missed the ears of mankind and who faded into the sigh of widowhood without attracting the least attention. She was simply the "relic" of William J. Mosely, who at the time of his death was the richest man in Jordantown. And by the same token, after his death, Sarah became the richest woman. She had no children, no relatives. She was detached in every way, even from her own property, which was managed by the agent, Samuel Briggs, and was still known as the "William J. Mosely Estate." She attended divine service every Sunday morning, always wearing a black silk frock and a black bonnet tied under her sharp little chin, always sitting erect and alone in her pew, always staring straight in front of her, but not at the minister. Recalling this circumstance afterward, Mabel Acres said:
"She must have been thinking of that all the time, not of the sermon."
She paid one dollar a year to the Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society and twenty cents extra for "incidentals." She contributed five dollars each quarter toward the Reverend Paul Stacey's salary. And she never, under any circumstance, gave more, no matter how urgent the appeal. She was suspected of being a miser. There was nothing else of which she could be suspected. So far as any one knew in Jordantown, she permitted herself only one luxury: this was a canary bird, not yellow, but green. It was a very old bird, as canaries go. Somebody once said: "Old Sarah's making her canary last as long as possible!" Every night when she retired to her room, she took the cage in with her, hung it above her bed on a hook, and threw her petticoat over it to keep the bird quiet during the night.
On the morning of the 6th of April Mrs. Mosely did not appear at the usual hour, which was six o'clock. The maid waited breakfast until the toast was cold. Then she went to the door and knocked. No reply. She opened the door, and fell with a scream to the floor. Something soft and swift like wings brushed her face. She could not tell what it was. She saw nothing.
The gardener, hearing her cries, ran in. They both approached the bed. They beheld the face of their mistress looking like the yellowed dead petals of a rose, wrinkled, withered, awfully still on the pillow.
The woman screamed again.
"She's dead! it was her spirit that brushed my face just now!"
"No, it was the canary. The cage is empty," said the gardener.
"I tell you the thing I felt was white!" cried the woman.
"Felt! If you'd looked, you'd have seen it was that green canary!" persisted the man.
This was the beginning of a great whispering uproar in Jordantown, of violent curiosity and anxious speculation.
No one ever called upon Sarah, and she never made visits. Now every one came. They listened to the maid's story. All the little boys in town were looking for the canary. They never found it.
"I told you so!" sniffled the maid.
On the day of the funeral all the business houses in Jordantown were closed. It was as if a Sabbath had dropped down in the middle of the week. Pale young clerks lounged idly beneath the awnings of the stores. Servants stared from the back doors. Sparrows rose in whirls from the dust and screeched ribald comments from the blooming magnolia trees. The funeral procession was a long one, and included all the finest automobiles and all the best people in Jordantown—not that the best people had ever known the deceased, but most of them sustained anxious, interest-bearing relations to the William J. Mosely Estate. No one was weeping. No one was even looking sad. Everybody was talking. One might have said this procession was a moving dictograph of Sarah Mosely, whom no one knew.
The Reverend Paul Stacey and Samuel Briggs occupied the car next to the hearse. They were at least the nearest relations to the present situation.
"She was not a progressive woman," Stacey was saying.
"No," answered Briggs, frowning. He was thinking of his own future, not this insignificant woman's past.
"No heirs, I hear?"
"In that case she would naturally leave most, probably all, of the estate to the church or to some charity. That kind of woman usually does," Stacey concluded cheerfully.
"This kind of woman does not!" Briggs objected quickly. "She was the kind who does not make a will at all. Leaves everything in a muddle. No sense of responsibility. I have always contended that since the law classes women with minors and children they should not be trusted with property. They should have guardians!"
"You are sure there is no will?"
"Absolutely. If she had drawn one, I should have been consulted," answered the agent.
"It seems strange that she should have been so remiss," Stacey murmured.
"Not at all. Making a will is like ordering your grave clothes. Takes nerve. Mrs. Mosely didn't have any. She was merely a little old gray barnacle sticking to her husband's estate. She—hello! What's the matter?"
The procession halted. Both men leaned forward and stared. An old-fashioned brougham was being drawn slowly by a very fat old white horse into the too narrow space between the hearse and Briggs's car. Seated in the brougham was the erect figure of a very thin old man. His hair showed beneath his high silk hat like a stiff white ruff on his neck. His hands were clasped over a gold-headed cane. His whole appearance was one of extreme dignity and reverence. The procession at once took on the decent air of mourning.
"Judge Regis! What's he got to do with this, I'd like to know!" growled Briggs.
After the brief service at the grave the company scattered. The men gathered in groups talking in rumbling undertones. The women wandered along the flowering paths.
"We must do something about that baby's grave over there. The violets are not blooming as they should. The ground needs mulching," said Mrs. Sasnett, who was the president of the Woman's Civic League and Cemetery Association.
"I think we made a mistake to trim that crimson rambler so close in the Coleman lot. It is not blooming so well this year," said Mrs. Acres.
"No place for a crimson rambler, anyhow. I told Agatha she should have planted a white rose."
"If we are to take care of this cemetery, I think we should have something to say about what is planted here, anyhow," added Mrs. Acres petulantly.
"We will have. There's been a committee appointed to draw up resolutions covering that," answered Mrs. Sasnett, who was also a firm woman.
"I hope Sarah Mosely has left something to the Civic League and Cemetery Association," said another woman walking behind.
"I doubt it, she had no public spirit. We could never interest her in the work. Such a pity."
"And in these days when women are taking hold and doing things. I called on her myself when we were putting out plants along the railroad embankment beside the station and asked her for a contribution, even if it was only a few dozen nasturtiums. But she said she wasn't interested."
"I wonder what she has done with her money. Nobody seems to know."
They stood staring back at the grave, which was now deserted except for the sexton's men, who were filling it, and a tall thin old man who stood with his head bare, leaning upon his cane with an air of reverence. Beneath the coffin lid below Sarah Mosely lay with her hands folded, faintly smiling like a little withered girl who has done something, left a curious deed which was to puzzle those who were still awake when they discovered what she had done. And it did.
It was the afternoon of the same day. The doors of all the business houses were open. Jordantown had taken off its coat and was busy in its shirt sleeves trying to make up for the trade lost during the morning. Customers came and went, merchants frowned, clerks smiled. Teams passed. Children returning from school added, by their joyous indifference, irritation to the general situation. All the sparrows were back in the dust of the street discussing its merits. And everywhere men were gathered in groups talking about something—the Something. The business of the town was like a house toppling upon sand as long as no one knew what was to be the disposition of the Mosely Estate. This was what every one was talking about.
Jordantown is one of those old Southern communities large enough to have "corporations," a mayor and council, but small enough for members of "the best families" not to speak to members of other "best families." Everybody had "feelings" and they showed them, especially if they were not agreeable. It was not a progressive place, due, partly, to its ante-bellum sense of dignity, but more particularly to the fact that when a business firm was about to fail, it did not fail. It borrowed enough to "tide over" from the agent of the William J. Mosely Estate. This interfered with that natural law in the business world as everywhere else, the survival of the fittest. Everybody survived, the fit and the unfit, which is death to competition and that arterial excitation without which trade becomes stagnation.
Three men sat in the private office of the National Bank, the windows of which overlooked the town square. They were the tutelary deities of all public occasions in the town. They always sat on the platform behind the speaker on Decoration Days. They were supposed to control municipal elections, but not one of them had ever "run" for an office. Deities don't. They are the powers behind the throne. These men represented Providence in Jordantown. And Providence is always behind the scenes. The trouble now was that by an ordinary and inevitable process of nature they had lost control of the situation. A little old woman had died who had no sense, and who for that very reason might have done something foolish with the William J. Mosely Estate, which was the very foundation upon which all deities and providences rested in that place.
"The Estate owns your National Bank Building, doesn't it?" asked Martin Acres, who knew that it did.
"Yes, and a controlling interest in the stock besides, more is the pity! I never like to have a woman own stock in my bank," Stark Coleman answered, throwing himself back upon the spring of his revolving chair.
"Why?" This from Acres, who did like to have women make accounts at his store.
"Dangerous. It is well enough for women to owe—that's their nature—but not to own. Look at the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad scandal!"
He was a short fat man with large blue eyes beneath swollen lids, and at the present moment some inner pressure seemed to increase their prominence.
"What has that to do with women?"
"Proves my point. Wouldn't have been such a racket over that scandal if half the widows and orphans in New England hadn't been pinched. Men are good losers. They keep quiet. Know better than to destroy their credit by squealing. Women have no credit, so they all squeal. And the sentimental public always adds to the clamour," Coleman concluded, mopping his face.
"Briggs collects rent from every store and business house around this square," Acres went on.
"And he told me he handles mortgages on nineteen thousand acres of land in this county," laughed the third man, who was young and who had been listening with the detached air of a humourist.
"You can afford to laugh, Sasnett," retorted the banker; "you are one of the few men in this town not affected by this—er—disaster. But a good many of the rest of us may find ourselves in a hell of a hole if that woman has willed everything she had to the church or to some orphan asylum!"
"Why?" asked Sasnett, still smiling in the provoking manner of a man who has nothing to lose.
"I couldn't do business with every loan and investment to be passed upon by a board of directors reeking with preachers and eleemosynary trustees. They are all damphules, with empty breeches pockets, and craws filled with morbid scruples. How do I know there won't be a woman among them! Good Lord! Think of a woman on the board of directors in a bank!" snorted Coleman.
"Well, it couldn't be as bad as that," said Acres, as he pulled at the ends of his wiry gray moustache.
"Yes, it can! It can be as bad as hell, I tell you. Nobody knows what that woman's done. And when you don't know what a woman's done, you may be sure it's worse than you can imagine!" Coleman insisted.
"Carter is beside himself. Briggs holds a mortgage of sixteen hundred on the Signal and he was to let Carter have four hundred more to-day. Now the loan's called off. He tells me the Signal must suspend publication if he can't raise the money," Sasnett put in.
"At least he'll sell a few hundred copies extra Saturday if he prints Sarah Mosely's will," said Acres.
"But if there is no will?"
"What does Briggs say?"
"Oh, Briggs!" laughed Sasnett, "he's as mad as a horsefly that's been slapped off. He says there is no will. But he doesn't really know. He's zooning around wondering if he'll be able to light again on the flanks of the estate."
"Regis made himself rather conspicuous at the funeral to-day—wonder why," remarked Coleman thoughtfully.
"Whim. Old men like to show up on such occasions. They are next of kin to funerals, feel their dust shaking on their bones when anybody dies."
"There he comes now!" exclaimed Acres.
The Judge was indeed approaching, walking smartly up the street to the National Bank Building. He was one of those old men who somehow recall a cavalry sword, slightly bent, of exceedingly good metal. He retained, you might say, merely the skin and bones of a splendid countenance. The skin was brown as parchment, and wrinkled, but the bones were elegant—Hamlet's skull, not Yorick's. His eyes were perfectly round, gray below a kind of yellow brilliance, as if an old eagle within looked out beneath the steel bars of those bristling brows. His nose belonged to the colonial period of American history. It was an antique, and a very fine one, well preserved, high bridge, straight, with thin nostrils which drew up at the corners to hold the singularly patient whimsical smile in place which his mouth made. All told, the Judge's countenance was one of those de luxe histories of a gentleman not often seen outside of the best literature, but sometimes seen in an old Southern town where some gentleman has also managed to retain the exceeding honour of being a man as well.
His long black coat-tails clung as close as a scabbard to his thin legs. He wore a high silk hat and a white carnation in his buttonhole. He looked neither to the right nor to the left. Apparently he was the one man in sight who was not concerned about the question of what had become or would become of the William J. Mosely Estate.
As he approached the Bank Building, a very large red-faced old man with a white moustache and goatee turned his head in the opposite direction, wrinkled his nose, which was naturally Roman and cynical, and grunted. This was Colonel Marshall Adams. He and the Judge did not "speak." They had not spoken to one another in thirty years. This requires great firmness of character when you live within speaking distance in a town where talking is the chief occupation. They both had that—firmness. It was always one of the agreeable sensations in Jordantown to see these two old men come near enough together to exchange a word or a salutation. The sensation consisted in the fact that they never did it.
The Judge tucked his gold-headed cane under his arm and ascended the stairs which led to his office on the floor above the bank. The Colonel went off, rumbling through his Roman nose, down the street. He did not walk, he paced, as if he were stepping upon pismires, with his feet wide apart. This was due to the fact that so much of the time walking was a matter of carefully balancing himself against the strange unsteadiness, the heaving and rolling of the ground beneath him. And this was due in turn to the fact that the Colonel was never himself except when he was "not himself," but had been exalted about four fingers in a glass above the level of the common man—a condition which has always affected the flat permanency of the earth, often causing it to rise unaccountably before such persons, to meet them even more than halfway. The Colonel had had long experience in this matter, and he walked warily from force of habit even when he was sober.
The difference between Judge Regis and Colonel Adams was this: when the Judge perceived that he was about to meet the Colonel face to face, he never turned aside. But when the Colonel perceived that he was about to meet the Judge, he always did. It was the way each of them had of expressing his contempt for the other.
As the Colonel negotiated himself around the next corner with the rotary motion of a slightly inebriate straddle-legged old planet, he almost collided with another body which was more nearly spherical and which had apparently no legs at all, only two wide-toed "Old Lady's Comforts" showing beneath the hem of her dress. These toes were now set far apart. The very short old lady above them seemed to have caved in above the waistline, but below it she was globular to a remarkable degree. Her face was wrinkled like fine script and very florid. Her upper lip was delicately crimped and sunken. Her lower lip stuck out and reached up in an effort to meet the situation, the situation being more and longer teeth in the lower jaw. Her nose was that of a girl, retrousse, still impertinent.
She stood regarding the Colonel with that contradictory uplook of her faded blue eyes which was pathetic, and that tilt of her nose which was offensive, with her lips primped tight after the manner of a woman who is getting ready to wash behind the ears of a small boy. She always put the Colonel in this class when she looked at him, and he resented it. He resented it now by removing his Kentucky Colonel straw hat and glaring his bow at her, as if that was a concession he made to his own dignity, not to her.
"Good afternoon, Colonel Adams! Well, who are you running from now?" she said by way of seizing his ears.
"Madam!" he exclaimed, puffing out his breast, "no man would dare ask such a question! For four years the enemy of my country never saw the back of Marshall Adams—and——"
"And you've been retreating ever since," she added.
"From what?" he demanded, slowly purpling with impotent rage.
"From the Present, from things that are," she answered.
"Madam, I'm an old man, I prefer the grandeur of the past to those follies to which you, and women like you, would commit the present."
"But there's Selah, she at least belongs to the Present."
"Selah belongs to me, thank God!"
"She belongs to herself. You are robbing her of her own life."
"No woman ever belonged to herself, Madam, especially a young and beautiful woman. She is an ineffable estate which all men buy with love and hold with all the strength they have."
"For shame, sir! You are a brigand keeping your daughter in a cave."
"My house is not so fine as Selah deserves, but it is not a cave," he retorted, flattening himself sidewise in order to pass.
"All the same you are a brigand, robbing your own flesh and blood of life and happiness," she thrust at him as he went by, waddling on herself after the manner of a fat old duck.
This was Susan Walton, the one celebrated character Jordantown had produced since the Civil War, and she was a source of embarrassment rather than pride. According to the ethics of that place no woman should be known beyond her own church and parlour, much less celebrated. Judge Regis was a distinguished jurist, of course, and Marshall Adams had been a famous leader of forlorn hopes in the Confederate Army. But it is one thing to be distinguished at the bar or famous in battle fifty years ago, and quite another thing to be celebrated in the present. Susan was that thing. It was said of her that she had kept her husband, an elegant soft old gentleman, in Congress for a quarter of a century and up to the very day of his death by being a thorn in the side of the political life of the state. She kept scrapbooks in which she pasted dangerous and damaging information about politicians and prominent men generally. Whenever one of them became a candidate in opposition to her husband, she prepared an awful obituary of him from her encyclopedia of past records; and he usually withdrew from the race or was defeated. Few men live who can face their former deeds in a political campaign. She made public speeches at a time when no other woman in the South would go further than give her "experience" in church or read a missionary report before the Woman's District Conference. She was for temperance and education even before the days of Local Option and when the public school system consisted of eight weeks in the summer. She was the only woman who had ever had the honour, if it was an honour, to address the State Legislature when a bill was pending there concerning Child Labour; and she did it in the high falsetto voice of a mother who calls her sons out of a bait game in the public square. It was said that she actually did address that dignified body as "boys," and that the "boys" liked it. She had the brains of a man and the temper of an indignant but tender-hearted woman. This is an exact description of her literary style, which was not literary, but it was versatile in wit and sarcasm and outrageous veracity. She used it as an instrument of torture and vengeance in the public prints upon the characters of political demagogues, liquor interests, and the state treasury. And what she said was violently effective. Her victims might persist in the error of their ways, but not one of them ever recovered from the face-scratching fury of her attack.
Add to this the fact that she was a suffragist in the days when there was only one other woman in the state who believed in citizenship for women, and that she never ceased to "agitate" for suffrage, and you receive a faint impression of this old termagant celebrity who had put Jordantown "on the map" and had given it a reputation for broadmindedness at a distance which it in no way deserved.
Susan did not herself press the point of being a celebrity in her own appearance. She did not look the part. She did not even try. She was sixty years old, wore black frocks which touched the pavements behind as she walked and were raised some eight inches above it in front, owing to that perfect frankness with which age is always willing to confess its stomach. She had worn the same bonnet for five years, tied under her protruding chin. Sometimes she changed the ribbons, but she never changed the "shape."
She nodded to the three men seated near the open window in the bank. Then she paused at the bottom of the steps which led to the second floor and sighed.
"This staircase was built for men to climb," she grumbled as she began the ascent. She stood on the step below and put her right foot on the one above, but she did not alternate with the left. The gears in her left knee were not strong enough to bear the necessary lift. Her feet made a flat all-heel-and-toe sound as she went up, very emphatic. When she reached the top her face was red, and she was "out of breath." But she went on panting down the hall, looking at the lettering on the doors of the various offices. Printed on a large ground-glass door she saw "Mike Prim." She wrinkled her nose, adjusted her spectacles, poked out her neck and stared at it.
"Humph! Mike Prim! Nothing else! What does he do? How does he make a living? Every man in this town knows, and not a single woman!" she said to herself.
She came to the door at the end of the hall upon which was printed, "John Regis, Attorney-at-law."
She opened it without knocking and stood upon the threshold.
"Well, John Regis, you must think you are still a young man, keeping your office at the top of this ladder staircase," she complained, raising her handkerchief and dabbing her face.
"Come in, Susan, and take this chair by the window," said the Judge. Rising from his desk and coming forward, he conducted her elegantly to the chair.
"It's forty years since I was here," she said, looking about her, "and you've not changed a thing. You are scarcely changed yourself, John."
"The man is changed, Susan. Forty years make more difference in a man than they do in things," he answered gently.
"The same books, all so thick and awful looking. I remember that day I thought you must be the wisest man in the world—to know all that was in them."
"I didn't know, and I don't know yet," he put in, smiling.
"The same chairs, the same brown prints on the wall. And that little vase, isn't it the one you had on your desk that day?" she asked, bending forward to look at it more closely.
"The very same. You put a rose into it that day, do you remember?"
"No, but I do remember that I was in love with you, John. A woman of sixty may admit that now!" she laughed.
"I wish you had admitted it then. I tried hard enough to win you, Susan. We should have been a team!"
"No, we should not. We are both headstrong. We should have obstructed each other. I married the right man."
"I suppose so. Certainly you never could have henpecked me into Congress the way you did Jim Walton! Why did you do it?" he asked, showing the ends of a sword smile as he regarded her.
"Well, you see I couldn't go myself," she laughed.
"So you sent your husband, next best thing."
"It wasn't so bad. I helped him, you know."
"Wrote all his speeches, kicked up all of his dust for him, didn't you?"
"Not all, but I helped."
"With your scrapbooks, for example?"
"Yes," she admitted.
"If you had been a man, Susan, you'd not have survived some of the things you've said and done."
"If I'd had the rights you men keep from us I'd never have done them!" she retorted quickly.
"I don't know," he replied, wagging his head and smiling. "Having rights, including the ballot, would not change the nature of a woman! Tell me, Susan, have I escaped the scrapbooks? I've wondered many times if you were keeping record of me, too."
"You never did—anything I could put in. And if you had——" she hesitated.
"Would you have pasted it down against me?" he finished.
"I don't know. I'm glad I wasn't tempted. How have you kept yourself so aloof all these years, John—so far above the furious issues of our times?"
"Not above, not above, my dear," he objected; "I've been busy. The law is a legal profession, not an illegal one, like politics."
They looked at each other and laughed, then the Judge added:
"And it may be I was afraid of your famous scrapbooks!"
"You were never afraid of anything," she returned.
"Yes, I am. I'm afraid of something now," he answered, flipping the pages of some papers which lay upon his desk. "I'm an old man holding in my hands a fuse which I must light presently, and I dread the consequences."
"What are you talking about?" she exclaimed, leaning forward and staring at him in faint alarm as if she did indeed smell something burning.
"I cannot tell you yet. I'm waiting for the other party," he answered.
"The other party? Whom do you expect? What does all this mean, anyway? Why was I summoned here? Have we not had enough excitement for one day, with the funeral this morning, and with every man in this town holding his breath for fear of what will happen to him when the William J. Mosely Estate is wound up? I've heard nothing else for two days. Not a word about the poor woman, who might as well have been a shadow on the wall of her house for all she meant to anybody until she died," she said, fanning herself and looking at him irritably.
"She was a great woman," he said simply.
"Well, I'm just a tired woman. I spent the whole morning tacking white pinks on an anchor design for the funeral. Then I went to the cemetery with the procession. And all the time I heard nothing but speculation about what she had or had not done with her money. I was just composing myself for a little rest before going to the Civic League and Cemetery Association at four o'clock when your messenger appeared at the door. Now I want to know what it's all about."
"Are you very much interested in the Woman's Civic League and Cemetery Association, Susan?" asked the Judge, by way of avoiding an answer.
"Certainly not! It's a nuisance. But the women of this town must do something. They have caught the public-spirit infection, and they show it like little meddlesome girls, childishly. Have you seen the nasturtium beds they've planted around the railroad station? That's feminine civic enterprise! Last week they had a committee appointed to see the mayor about keeping the cuspidors clean in the courthouse! And the cemetery! It's the livest-looking place in Jordantown, more things living and growing there than anywhere else. Even more women. They are there every day, gardening above the dust of the dead!"
"Why do you belong to it?" he asked.
"In self-defence, of course! There is to be a report from a committee about things they want changed at the cemetery this afternoon, and I'm not on the committee because one object of it is to condemn the arbor-vitae trees in my lot there. They want to cut them down. Now I will not have it! And I must be there at four o'clock to tell them so!" She began to fan herself vigorously.
"Listen to me, Susan; let the non-essential go. Don't be the occasion of a split in your ranks for the sake of a couple of shrubs. That's what destroys the strength of parties. If the whole Democratic party voted for any one man or issue, we should always have a democratic government. If the entire Republican party——"
"Listen to me, John Regis! Women are not parties. They are always factions, little, little factions, the one working against the other, because they have no really important issue at stake. Now, my arbor-vitae trees——"
The door opened and a young girl stood upon the threshold hesitating, as if she was not sure she was in the right place.
She was very tall, one of those cool, gray-eyed, ivory-skinned brunettes who always remind the beholder of white lilies blooming in the dark. Her lips were full, faintly pinkly purple, and affirmative, not beseeching. She stood with one hand upon the knob behind her, bent a little forward, the skirt of her white dress blown by the wind through the door, her eyes showing almost black beneath the brim of her white hat.
"Selah! Is it for you we've been waiting?" This from Mrs. Walton.
"Come, Selah, you are almost late! That would have been a bad beginning," said the Judge, rising, taking her hand and leading her to a chair.
"You sent for me?" the girl said, as if there might still be some mistake about that.
"Yes, yes! Sit down!"
"Mercy on us! What does the man mean? Do you know what he means, Selah, sending for the oldest and ugliest and the youngest and fairest woman in Jordantown to meet him in his office at this outrageous hour of the afternoon?"
"How do you do, Mrs. Walton?" Selah greeted.
"I don't do at all, my dear; I'm tired of doing. I should be taking my nap!"
For a moment after Selah Adams disappeared into Judge Regis's office the hall outside was silent, a gloomy tunnel between gray walls with a square light from the window at the end above the staircase. Then a singular thing happened: the ground-glass door at which Susan had stared with so much contempt opened very softly as if Silence himself was behind it. The enormous head and face of a man appeared. His features were concealed in fat, his nose merely protruded, a red knob with nostrils in the end; his mouth was wide, sucked in above a great chin covered with short black stubble; his jowls hung down, the back of his neck rolled up, and the hair upon it stuck out like bristles.
He looked up and down the hall, listened. He opened the door wide, but very softly, and came through it tiptoeing, a huge figure, almost shapeless in its monstrous rotundity. He moved with astonishing swiftness to the staircase, looked down, then fixed his black eyes with a kind of animal ferocity upon the closed door of the Judge's office until he reached it, and laid one of his little red ears to the keyhole.
If we were permitted to observe any man or woman of our acquaintance when that person supposed himself or herself to be absolutely alone, we should be astonished and often horrified at the unconscious revelations we would receive. The woman with the Madonna face may unmask and show the lineaments of a common shrew in her chamber. And the virago may soften into the gentleness of a saint as she gives way to the penitence of her own thoughts. The dignified man with the air of virtue and authority might show himself as a nimble-motioned rascal, timid and furtive, if he believed only God saw him. Not one of us ever acts absolutely true to what we know we are except when the door between us and every other man is closed. It is barely possible that sometimes in the presence of a very young child we do play the role, but never before any other creature, however near, neither wife nor husband nor friend. It is the nature of the human to act before the footlights of the world even in the broad open day, and even if there is no one to witness the performance but a beggar who never saw him before and never will see him again. It is only when he is alone that the best man does not practise at least the deceit of conceit, or cast himself for some other part in the play of man.
Mike Prim was alone. He was known as a jolly, blarney-tongued, slovenly wit, who for a consideration managed the political affairs of Jordantown and the county in a manner which was agreeable to the "deities" already mentioned, who were not willing to do all the things in this business that must be done. He was accustomed to call himself the "servant of the people." And naturally they paid for his services. He managed campaign funds and manipulated election returns in a manner which was highly satisfactory. In short, he was a fat, good fellow, elastic morally, but a good fellow, popular with men, and never introduced to women. This was the role he played in the town.
But now, with his ear glued to the keyhole of the Judge's door, he was not on the boards. He was behind the scenes acting according to the laws which governed his nature. And judged by the changes in his expression as he listened, one must have inferred that his personal standards were savage beyond belief. At first he showed only amusement, as if presently he might snort with mirth. His mouth worked like a worm, stretching in a grin, then a sneer. But when at last the three-cornered conversation within ended and the Judge's voice alone reached him, his whole body seemed to stiffen. He clenched his fat fists. Amazement fled before rage upon that furious face, perspiration streamed from every pore. His eyes shot this way and that like black bullets. No other man in the world can become so infuriated as the coward, for the brave man knows that he can satisfy his anger. He reserves it as a force to use in vengeance. He is temperate in that. But the worm-soul, which must crawl and be satisfied with merely stinging the heel of his enemy, knows no such temperance. He is the victim of his impotent fury.
Mike Prim was such a worm now, and it seemed that he must be consumed. He was a hideous conflagration flaming against the door of the Judge's office, scarcely touching it with his huge bulk, his mind leaping to seize upon every sound from within.
Suddenly, without taking time to stand erect, he sprang back and fled, his legs working like those of an enormous cat, with noiseless swiftness. His door closed as gently as a feather blown in the wind, and the next moment Prim had seized his 'phone.
"Two-five-six! yes, Acres's store! What? Not in? Well, damn him!" he muttered, as he rattled the receiver and began again.
"Give me the National Bank, Central! What? The number? You know the number! yes, five-two-four! What? Bank closed? I don't give a hang if it is. Coleman's in his office. Saw him there myself."
During the next hour Mr. Michael Prim called the telephone number of every prominent citizen in Jordantown. Treason was abroad in the air, much treason, that was conducted by Prim. And something akin to treason apparently was still going on in the Judge's office.
Meanwhile the streets of the town had taken on a lighter, more frivolous aspect. Prettily dressed women were mincing along the pavements, their parasols bobbing up and down like variegated mushrooms. They bowed, smiled coquettishly at the men. The men swept off their hats and smirked. All of them were lovers after the manner of lovers in the South. That is to say, they adored all women, and these ladies were accustomed to being loved after the manner of Southern women. They lived for that, nothing else. Pretty goods, expensive goods, and nice, virtuous little baggages. Speculators in love, but not deliberate moral beings. They had nice consciences, easily satisfied. They had nice minds, easily blinded. Some of them were little termagants, all the dearer for that to men who like to conquer the shrew in a woman, if they do not have to do it too often. Besides, these little doll ladies were public spirited. They did dainty things about town, and they were charming while they were doing them. At this very moment they were on their way to the Woman's Civic League and Cemetery Association, which was meeting with Mabel Acres, who was the wife of the most prominent merchant in the town, and by the same token she always served the most expensive refreshments. Not a single one of them as they passed beneath the windows of the National Bank Building would or could have believed that her whole nature and attitude toward man was to be changed before night.
Susan Walton, strangely excited and enhanced, now happened to glance through the window, and the sight of the fluttering feminine pageant below reminded her of something.
"Come, Selah!" she exclaimed, rising with unexpected alacrity. "We are due at the Civic League and Cemetery Association, and we have work to do there!"
"If I'm not mistaken in your expression, Susan, this will be the last meeting of that organization," said the Judge.
"I'm hopeful that it is. The women in this town only want something to do. And we've got it at last, if only we can make them see it!" she said, as she passed through the door which he held open for her, accompanied by Selah, who wore the half-baptized look of a vague young soul still in doubt.
"Not a word about her arbor-vitae trees," said the Judge as he returned to his desk. "I doubt if they'll ever be mentioned again. The weeds will take the cemetery, and the women will stop fussing about clean cuspidors in the courthouse. But what a din we shall have in this town when they really get going. Well, God help us, it had to come! They are no longer one flesh with us."
* * * * *
A town without women in the streets is like a meadow without flowers, a bay tree without leaves, like the air without the wings of birds in it and the sweet sounds they make there about their feathers and affairs.
Now since four o'clock not a woman had been seen on the streets of Jordantown, if one excepted an occasional bandanna-headed negress. Not a fan had been purchased, not a paper of pins, nor a yard of lace. Trade languished. Nobody knew yet what was wrong, but every man on the square missed something. They thought they were still worried about the Mosely will, and they were. But over and above that they had a sense of not being entirely present. For a man to be sufficiently conscious of himself, there must always be the possibility of a woman in sight before whom he may magnify himself at least in his own imagination. The Jordantown Square citizens lacked this mirror. They wandered from corner to corner expecting to find it, to see somewhere near or far the flutter of a woman's skirt, the sky of a woman's eyes. But they did not know that this was what they were after. Each one pretended to himself that he was looking for another man. And when two of them met, they went on to the next corner together, both looking for some one else. Then they separated, excused themselves, each hurrying in the opposite direction.
The afternoon passed. Clerks were idle; they stood in doorways looking up and down the street. Prominent citizens left their chairs beneath the courthouse awning to avoid other prominent citizens whom they saw approaching. Still they could not avoid one another.
"Any news?" asked Acres of Coleman, whom he met coming out of the courthouse.
"Not a thing. Clerk says no will has been probated there to-day. Briggs was right. There isn't any. He thinks the court will appoint him administrator."
"And he looks his thought," sneered Acres; "been strutting around all the afternoon, swelled fit to burst."
"Well, he may, nobody can tell. See you later," said Coleman, hastening his steps.
"Wait! hold on! I thought you were going in my direction. I wanted to ask you something," exclaimed Acres, detaining him.
"No, I'm going back to the bank. What?"
"Have you seen Mike?"
"Yes, just from his office. Sent for me. No, he says he's in the dark, too," answered Coleman, still struggling against this companionship.
"He's always in the dark. Would be if he knew all about it," Acres grumbled.
At this moment the huge amorphous figure of a man emerged sidewise from the staircase of the National Bank Building. He looked back up the stairs, shot a glance up and down the street, then he moved like a blur around the corner into the darkening shadows. This was a habit he had which the innocent people of the town had not sufficient experience to interpret. He never started forth without looking both ways. He never walked any distance without looking back over his shoulder.
"That's Mike now!" exclaimed Acres. "Not a dollar in his pocket, and he owns this town."
"Yes, he has got dollars in his pocket, plenty of 'em. He's been collecting for the campaign fund this afternoon—quarterage you know!" sneered Coleman, who had just paid his.
"Aims to be the next mayor, doesn't he?"
"No, worse than that: he's going to be representative from this county in the next legislature!"
"Bob Sasnett will have something to say about that. He told me to-day he might run. That means he will."
"Well, he hasn't got anything else to do. He's the only man in town who is independent of Mike. He can furnish his own campaign fund. Good night!" said Coleman, determined to be gone this time.
"Wonder what's the matter with Coleman," muttered Acres, hurrying to meet Carter, the editor of the Signal, only to see him vanish into the drugstore. "Wonder what's the matter with everybody. Hello, Colonel Adams, that you?"
"Yesh, it's me, Mabel; whatcher want," answered the Colonel, bracing himself against the courthouse. He always called Acres "Mabel," after his wife.
"Well, how do you feel—pretty good?" said the little gossip, grinning up in the old red face.
"No, shur! I do not. I feel like a child on a cold night wish all the bedclothes pulled off me—thatsh how I feel. How do you feel?"
"Same here, Colonel!"
"Mabel, me boy," whispered the old man, swaying gently as he attempted to fix his eyes upon the other's face, "I want to ash you a delicate question: where ish the ladies? I haven't sheen a woman in four hours, Mabel! Think of that and in a town full of the pretties' women in thish state. What does it mean? Thash what I want to ash you. I'm famished, I'm thirshty, for the shight of a pretty face!"
"That's so," said Acres; "what does it mean? Hadn't thought of it before, but——"
"Oh, my God! what would thish world be without the ladies, Mabel! If we wish 'em like thish in four hours, how could we live wishout 'em forever! We could not, shur!" He began to weep, a poor old man of the past, standing in the twilight of the village street, looking up and down like a lost child crying for its mother. Then he moved on, refusing "Mabel's" arm.
Men began to close their offices and shops; window sashes banged; keys rattled in locks. More men appeared upon the streets. They lighted cigars, loitered, not quite ready yet to go home. When a man knows his wife and daughters are at home, he feels safe. He is in no hurry to be there himself. This was the hour when every man in Jordantown was accustomed to know that. If any one had asked a single one of them the question, "Where's your wife?" he would have answered, "At home, of course!" It was only the Colonel, half seas over, who had his doubts, but the Colonel was notoriously psychic where women were concerned.
At this very moment a queer thing happened: a stream of women poured into the square and took their way down both sides of it, almost treading upon the toes of the men as they passed. And they were walking leisurely.
These were undoubtedly the same women who had passed at four o'clock on their way to the Civic League and Cemetery Association. Every man in the streets recognized them. Yet they were not the same. They did not return salutations. For the first time the men were ignored, not exactly snubbed, but literally not seen by the women in Jordantown. And each man was alone, there were not enough of them together to talk about it; they could only feel and wonder, as they stood staring in amazement at those fluttering white and black and blue and pink figures disappearing around corners and down the avenues.
The sense of femininity is only a sense of weakness. And what we call masculinity is only the sense of strength, which may belong to women as well as to men under the same conditions. The men on the square had just witnessed a miracle, never seen before in this world—the rise of egotism in the feminine portion of the community, which caused every one of them to enter that zone of man on an equal footing with men in consciousness. And naturally the men did not understand that. They were so dazed that they could not even discuss it with one another. What they had experienced was too subtle to put into words. Not a man of them looked any other man in the face as they followed those women home. But every one of them was asking himself some question: "What's my wife doing out so late?" "Why didn't Selah Adams speak to me?" "What in hell's that old cat, Susan Walton, up to now, wading by me as if she owned the town?" "Oh, it's nothing! they were embarrassed at being out so late!" "But why then did they walk so infernally like Odd Fellows coming home from the lodge at midnight?"
"I'll know presently!" said Magnis Carter, as he flirted around the corner into the avenue. "I'll ask Carrie!"
And, as good as his word, he did.
"Carrie, what's the Civic League and Cemetery Association mean by keeping such late hours?" he asked as he sat down to dinner.
"There is no such organization here any more, Magnis."
"Isn't? What's become of it? You women get mad and tear up your Magna Charter?"
"No, we've changed it, going to get out another charter."
"So, you've changed it? Going to be an Odd Fellows lodge now?" he laughed.
"Something like that," she answered coolly.
"Can't afford it, my dear; to be an Odd Fellow costs like thunder!"
"We have plenty of funds," was the astonishing reply.
"Speak as if you'd inherited the Mosely Estate."
Silence on the part of Carrie, who sat at the other end of the table like a Dominique hen brooding strange eggs.
"Hear anything about the will?"
When there was no answer to this question, Carter looked up at his wife.
"I say did you hear anything about Sarah Mosely's will?"
Still no reply.
"Then you did hear something? What was it?" His manner had become suddenly serious.
"You'll know soon enough, Magnis."
"Can't you tell me?"
"No, I cannot!"
"Secrets from your husband?"
"I never resent your keeping your affairs from me, why should you object to my keeping mine from you?" she answered coolly.
"Good Lord, Carrie, you look at me as if you'd filed papers for divorce! And when did the Mosely will become one of your affairs, I'd like to know?"
She declined to tell him that. She poked her foot about under the table with the absent-minded stare a woman always has when she is trying to find the electric bell with her extremities. She found it and pressed all the current on, so that the maid came with an injured put-upon air to clear the table.
Carter continued to regard his wife as if she had become a phenomenon, and as if he was entirely ignorant of the laws which had exalted her into the unknown. When the servant disappeared with the tray of indignantly rattling dishes he began again.
"Look here, Carrie, if there's any news about the disposition of that woman's estate, I ought to have it for the Signal. We go to press to-morrow."
"You'll get all the news you are entitled to have in time to publish this week, Magnis, and through the proper channels."
Three doors farther down the avenue Selah Adams sat upon the front veranda, looking like the vestal virgin of the moon.
She had taken the precaution to enter the house through the back door when she returned with the other women. The Colonel was fuming in the library. She could hear him through the open door as she fled noiselessly up the staircase.
"Not a light in the house, by Jove! First time in forty years I've come home to a darkened house. No candle in the window to guide an old man's wandering feet, nobody to greet me, no slippers—no nothing!" he moaned.
And Selah, leaning over the banisters above, could hear him stumbling over the chairs. She knew what that meant. The Colonel regarded all chairs as his mortal enemies when he was in a certain condition. She heard the crash of the big Morris chair as it struck the wall, and feet attacking it furiously. Then the Colonel lumbered out into the hall.
"Hey, there! Tom! Becky! Where's everybody? By Gad! if somebody don't come, I'll—I'll——"
"What is it, father?" came Selah's voice, tinkling like ice in a glass.
"Selah! whatsh thish mean?" he roared.
"What does what mean, father?"
"No light! I've just been asshaulted in my own house!" he shouted.
"Assaulted?" she giggled, turning the switch.
The hall below was instantly flooded with light. She beheld the Colonel leaning against the newel post, looking up but not seeing her. He was lifting first one foot and then the other and feeling them tenderly with his hands.
"Yesh! thas what I shaid! That Morris chair met me at the door and barked every shin I've got. Get out of here!" he roared at the two servants who had entered from the kitchen. "Selah, where've you been?"
"I'm up here, father. I didn't know it was so late. I'll be down in a minute."
To lie is not the nature of women, but it is often their necessity.
"Bring the arnica with you, me dear— I'm a wounded man! But I'm glad you were at home. I've been nervous 'bout you all day; there's something wrong in this town!"
* * * * *
All that had happened an hour ago. The Colonel was now peacefully snoring with both feet bandaged and elevated upon pillows; and Selah was waiting upon the veranda. She was evidently waiting. When a young and beautiful woman is not waiting for a lover, she does not look so calmly, sweetly indifferent. She is restless. She rises and looks at the moon. Now the moon was looking at Selah, embroidering her white dress with the fairy shadows of leaves, covering her face with a soft splendour, glistening like a crown of light upon her dark hair. That was the difference.
Footsteps sounded upon the gravel. The figure of a man, tall, slender, regnant, was swinging up the walk. Selah did not move. She was that fairest thing in a darkened world, the presence achieved when a woman combines herself with silence, stillness, and moonlight.
The man sprang lightly up the steps.
"Hush!" she whispered, "don't ring the bell!"
"Selah!" he exclaimed, advancing to her. "What a vision you are!"
"Don't speak so loud," she whispered, motioning him to a seat beside her.
"I didn't, darling. I'd as lief shout before an altar as lift my voice in this chapel of the moon," he answered, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips.
"Father is not well. He's just dozed off!" she exclaimed.
"If I know anything about such dozing, it would take an earthquake to rouse him now!" he answered, laughing.
Selah sighed and withdrew her hand.
"If you do that, dear, I shall seize more!" he whispered, leaning forward and slipping his arm around her waist.
"Don't, Mr. Sasnett!" she said so coolly that he drew back and stared at her.
"'Mr. Sasnett,' and when did I cease to be Bob, pray? I've been Bob for a good many years to you, Selah. What's the matter? Have you seen me flirting with another girl? You have not! Have you heard of my calling on Mike Prim? You have not! Has some one told you of the last murder I committed? Certainly not! I haven't killed a man yet. Shall not do so until he becomes my rival in your heart. Now what is it? Why am I 'Mr. Sasnett' upon this beautiful moonlight night when of all times I should be most tenderly Bob?"
"I can't explain," she answered.
"What is the matter with everybody in this town, especially the women? It hasn't been an hour since mother came home and said she couldn't explain when I asked her why she was so upset."
"She was upset then?" asked the girl curiously.
"Most awfully! She got out of the car like a flying squadron of rage, eyes blazing, face pale. And when I asked her what the trouble was she said I'd know soon enough. Now what did she mean?"
"You'll know soon enough," repeated Selah, smiling.
"Good heavens! What's the game, Selah?"
"We've drawn trumps at last," answered Selah.
"We! Who are we? Certainly not mother! As she dashed—really dashed, you know, and at her age!—upstairs to her room she informed me that she had resigned from the presidency of the Civic League and Cemetery Association, and that never again would she be mixed up with women who had so far forgotten their dignity and womanhood. Then she banged the door."
"She did take it rather hard. I imagine your mother is a very old-fashioned woman."
"Well, she's quite the lady, if that's what you mean, and something of an autocrat. Did you depose her from the presidency this afternoon?"
"No, we dissolved the organization. There is no Civic League and Cemetery Association now!"
"Then we'll all have weeds on our graves—and untidy streets!" he murmured between a snigger and a sob.
"Was that all your mother said?" asked Selah.
"Not quite. The fact is that's why I came over to-night. She's got her neck feathers up at you, too, it seems. I asked her through the door if we were to come by and pick you up for the drive we had planned, and she——" he hesitated.
"She said, 'Don't mention Selah Adams to me, Robert,' just like that, as if she'd seen you leading a riot or addressing a mob!"
"Yes, I know. You are a dramatist, Bob, better than you suspect!" answered Selah.
"Thanks for the 'Bob,' anyway. Now let's forget it. Mother will come around all right. She really loves you. She's only ruffled over some of your cat-scratching politics in the league. Now be a good girl and kiss me, dear!" he pleaded.
"I can't, Bob."
"You mean you won't; well, I can and will," he exclaimed, placing his palms upon either side of her face and drawing her to him.
"You must not!" she objected, evading him.
"Why? Aren't we engaged?"
"We were engaged," she answered with a sob.
"Who's broken it? Not I?"
"You will, when you know! Besides, I wish to be released from—from——"
"Say it! You'd as well to say it as to wish it!" he exclaimed with sudden passion.
"I don't want to say it, but I must give you your liberty, dear."
"Well, I'll not have it so long as you call me 'dear' in that tone!" he cried.
"But I want mine!" she said, looking at him gravely.
"Don't you love me, Selah?"
"Love is not everything. There are—other things more important than love. Every man knows that!"
"No woman ought to know it! Besides, love is everything. It's the face of every flower. It's the leaves on the trees. It's the breath of heaven. It's the blush on your cheek, the blood in your veins and mine, dear."
"No, liberty is more than love. And liberty is the enemy of love," she answered.
"You speak like a—like a——" He searched his imagination to find what she did speak like, and she finished for him:
"Like an enemy!"
"No, not quite so bad as that, but you are morbid, dear. This isn't a meeting of suffragists, this is a sacrament. You and I are alone before the altar of love. We must not deny one another this sweet bread of life!"
"You said something just then about suffragists. Do you believe in suffrage for women, for your wife, for example?"
He sat up and looked at her. He began to smile teasingly, as if she were a little girl and he a patient elder person with a beam in his eye.
"So that's it, hey? You want to be a suffragist and with the suffragists stand! Of course I believe in it. I believe in letting every woman have what she wants. Now kiss me, Selah, like the dear little suffering suff you are!"
"No, I must be sure you mean that. Men say things to women they do not believe, just to humour them, just to get——"
"A kiss, yes! I'd vote for you for coroner, Selah, for one kiss to-night!"
"Well, you won't get it, Mr. Sasnett, not until I am sure, absolutely sure, you are for us, not against us."
"Us! One at a time, Selah, I say. You wouldn't have me be for all women, would you? A man loves one woman, but he can't stand 'em en masse. He'd romp like a four-year-old in a crowd of men, but a crowd of women, a commonwealth of women! Good Lord! it would be awful. Don't ask me to kiss them all, dear!"
"You are making fun of us. I knew you were not for us," she said.
"But I'm for you, heart and soul. When are we to be married? You promised to name the day."
"It will not be this year, if ever," she answered coolly.
"Not this year? It must be this year! I'm going to be representative from this county, and I want to take my bride to the Capitol with me."
"You don't know whether you will be elected or not, yet, Mr. Sasnett. It depends upon conditions of which you do not now dream. When is the election?"
"In November," he answered.
"Before that time there will be five thousand more voters in this county than there are now!"
"Where'll they come from?"
"They are here now."
"In your pocket, is that what you mean?"
"They may be," she answered, smiling darkly.
"You speak as if you were Mike Prim, Selah. It's scandalous!"
* * * * *
It was Saturday afternoon, two days since the funeral and two days since Mike Prim bent listening with such furious excitement at the keyhole of Judge Regis's office. Jordantown had become the stage upon which a mystery play was being enacted with all the farcical features of a comedy. Every man, especially, was doing exactly what he would have done and said if there had been footlights and an audience in front, only not one of them knew that this was so. Providence is the Great Dramatist, and secures perfectly natural effects by providing emergencies which call for action, and by keeping every man under the delusion that he chooses his own role.
The suspense concerning the disposition of the Mosely Estate was only partially balanced by the confounded indignation of many citizens who came and went from Mike Prim's office.
"Sent for you again, too?" exclaimed Coleman when he met Acres as he descended the stairs.
"Yes, what's the matter?" asked Acres anxiously.
"You'll find out when you get up there. He's as mad as a rhinoceros horning sand in a desert."
"But what does he want?" Acres insisted.
"Wants you to double your subscription to the campaign fund. Better not go up if you can't do it. He got me for a cool hundred."
"What's he in such a hurry for? The campaign doesn't begin for months yet!"
"He says it's on, began two days ago. Says the liberty of every man in this county is at stake. Says he needs a fund of four times as much as usual to meet the situation," answered Coleman.
"What's he doing with it?"
"Can't tell you; not a cent of it is deposited in the bank."
"Well, I know he has taken in over a thousand dollars in the last two days."
"It's no time to collect now with everybody in suspense over this Mosely will," groaned Coleman.
"I'll be hanged if it doesn't look like blackmail to me!" exclaimed Acres.
"Why submit, then?" demanded Coleman with a grin.
"You know we are all in too deep with Prim. You submitted, didn't you?"
"Yes, and you will, too, when you see him. He's got conviction in his manner and compulsion in his tongue," said Coleman as Acres passed him upon the stairs.
"Mabel, my boy, can you lend me fifty dollars?"
Acres beheld Colonel Adams standing in the deep shadows at the top of the stairs. He wore a yellow seersucker coat, brown linen trousers, carpet slippers, with the toes of his right foot bandaged and exposed through a slit in the red leather. He was forlornly sober, pale, with his moustache drooping like a rooster's tail in the rain.
"Fifty dollars, Colonel!" exclaimed Acres.
"I'm absolutely obliged to have it, Mabel."
"Make it fifty cents and I'll be glad to accommodate you."
"Very well, fifty cents then. Thank you, Mabel. I'll just go down with this. No use to face Mike with half a dollar. He wants fifty."
"Shearing you, too?"
"No, you can't shear a sheep that's been plucked as clean as your hand. Prim keeps me mighty cool."
"What's he want with so much money, do you know?"
The Colonel limped forward very painfully, placed one hand upon Acres's shoulder, ogled Prim's door, and whispered:
"There are only two things in this world more expensive than women and wine, Mabel: politics and piety."
"You ought to be able to economize on piety," Acres retorted.
"When you do that, you get in deeper with politics—comes to the same thing—and I've never held an office in my life!" he concluded with a groan, as he placed his good foot on the second step of the stairs and drew the other tenderly after it. When he had descended three in this manner, he beckoned to Acres.
"Say, Mabel, if Mike asks about me, tell him I'm standing on the courthouse steps, with both feet bandaged and my trousers rolled up showing my barked shins. Tell him I'm begging for the cause, and as soon as I've got fifty dollars I'll be up to see him!"
The next minute Acres was facing Prim, who sat with his hands spread upon the desk in front of him, his elbows sticking out, his hair bristling, his mouth sucked in, and his eyes spitting venom. He looked like a reptile about to spring, and Acres had much the expression of a rabbit facing the reptile, slowly being drawn to his fate.
"But a hundred dollars, Mike! I can't spare that much now. Besides, what's the hurry?" he was protesting despairingly.
"Look here, Acres, who's kept this town wide open for five years? Mike Prim! Who's profited by that? Every business man in it! Who's given Jordantown an easy reputation that draws workingmen and all kinds of men who spend liberally what they make for what they want? Mike Prim! Who's profited by the jug business in the back of Bill Saddler's livery stable? Not Prim! I get my liquor cheap, that's all. Who's borne the reputation for the dirty work in your elections while you fellows played the part of law-abiding citizens and deacons and elders in the church? Prim! But who hired me for this job? You fellows with the ornamental virtues of society. I was to provide all the profits of vice to support your position. By God! do you think I haven't kept your letters of instruction about the Wimply campaign—that suggestion you made about counting the election returns? I've got it! And Coleman's order for liquor and funds to be used in the Dry Valley district, I've got that, too. And I have the agreement Wimply signed to keep the town open that year you fellows were masquerading on that Law and Order Committee: You all voted for Wimply! I've enough signatures here to put half of you in stripes!" he exclaimed, striking the desk with his clenched fist.
"That's all right, Mike. I just wanted to know what——"
"What I'm up to? Well, I'll tell you I aim to be the representative from this county. It'll take a damn sight of money to elect me, and I'm going to be elected."
"Of course, we understand that. But what's the hurry? Campaign doesn't begin now."
"That's all you know about it. But I know we are facing a crisis in this county now. Everything I've worked for, everything you fellows have stood for secretly and made me do—all of it may be swept from under our feet in sixty days. That's why I want money, and——"
"All right," Acres interrupted, taking out his check book, "here's mine. And it's more than I can spare."
"Not if I need more!" growled Prim, listing the check with a dozen others.
If an outlaw, armed to the teeth, had passed up and down the streets and robbed every man in Jordantown, they could not have appeared more dejected and, at the same time, alarmed. Conversation languished beneath the awnings. Men sat in their shirt sleeves, side by side, perfectly silent. You do not discuss the thorn in your side—and they all had two thorns. They were not only outraged by Prim's demands, they were suffering from the neuralgia of suspense in regard to the Mosely Estate.
"It's about time for the Signal to be out," said Coleman, looking at his watch.
"Never is anything in it when it does come——My God! What was that?"
The air was rent, torn to mere tatters of air, by a long blood-curdling yell, a yell which seemed to catch its breath with battle fierceness, and then come again.
The two men rushed to the door of the bank. They beheld a scene of the wildest confusion. The square, which a moment before had been sunken in apathy, was now filled with terrific excitement. Men were running from every direction toward the post office, stumbling over yelping dogs, shouting, waving their arms as they ran.
In front of the post office, in the yellow flare of the setting sun, Acres and Coleman beheld a scene which contained all the elements of dignity, rage, pathos, and comedy.
Judge Regis stood with his silk hat perfectly level upon his head, his cane tucked under his arm, and he was looking over the spread sheet of the Jordantown Signal very much as if he stared at an enemy over the top of an impregnable fortification.
In front of him Colonel Marshall Adams pranced like an old bird kicking his wings. His hat and coat lay upon the pavement. His face was a red map of rage. He held a copy of the Signal between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, and at arm's length, as if closer contact with it meant unbearable pollution. And as he trod his measure, his right fist shot out at regular intervals, each time nearer and nearer the Judge's nose, and with each motion the Colonel sent forth that ear-splitting yell which had not been heard in Jordantown since a Confederate regiment charged a Federal division there in 1864.
Bob Sasnett was the first to reach the scene. He seized the Colonel around the waist from behind, dragging him back so that his red slippers turned up on the heels and showed the soles.
"Look at him, gentlemen! That man has committed a crime!" the Colonel shouted to the gathering crowd as he shook an accusing finger at Regis.
"A crime?" came an incredulous voice.
Regis, calmly folding his paper, looked over the head of his accuser and addressed Sasnett.
"Thank you, Sasnett, for saving his dignity. He was a brave soldier. We must never forget that," he said, lifting his hat impersonally to courage as he made his way out of the ring of staring faces.
"Let me go, Bob!" screamed the Colonel, struggling. "Did you hear him? Was a brave soldier. By Gad, what am I now? And this from a man who would destroy the sanctity of fair womanhood, and then barricades himself behind a newspaper when I demand shatisfaction."
"What's the old boy talking about?" demanded Briggs, stretching his neck to get a view of the Colonel.
"If you don't believe what I shay, though I dare any man to doubt my word, read that!" he cried, flinging the paper from him.
The Signal fell flat and smooth upon the pavement; there was the scraping of many feet as the crowd pushed forward, a mere instant of silence as they read:
"The Last Will and Testament of Sarah Hayden Mosely";
then a furious rush for the post office, where every subscriber to the Signal hastily snatched his copy.
The Colonel, bereft of Sasnett's support, slid gently to a sitting posture against the lamp post, his legs wide apart, his red slippers half off. Tears filled his eyes. He wagged his head and sobbed:
"Selah! Selah! Sharper than a sherpent's tooth——" He could not recall the rest, he merely felt it. He was a poor old man, alone, forsaken, he knew that.
No one noticed him. One after another the men filed out, each with the Signal wide open, and with his eyes fastened upon a certain column.
They scattered beneath the various awnings, singly or in groups. Not one addressed his neighbour. Each remained concealed behind the wide enveloping sheets which literally tittered in their trembling hands.
Silence is the luxury of wise men and the necessity of fools—which indicates how few men are wise. It is usually the man who does not know what to say, or who has nothing worth saying to impart, that does the talking. It is a form of verbal hysteria, a kind of babbling dust which he stirs by way of concealing his incapacities. And the discourse is more characteristic of women than of the opposite sex, because the lives they live tend to the innocuous, if they do not tend to neuralgia and despair. Silence in a woman is always supernatural. But there are emergencies in life so dumbfounding and sinister in their aspect that they bind the tongue and inform even the foolish with the momentary wisdom of silence and prudence.
Magnis Carter as editor of the Signal was naturally loquacious, especially in print. He published the news with all the fluency which liquefied language permits. It was only in this manner that he was able to fill the few inside columns of the Signal. The outside pages were "patented," of course, and contained matter taken from other papers and magazines. News was so scarce in Jordantown that if a stray dog trotted across the square, it was almost a sensation. Not to know whose dog a dog was afforded an opportunity for speculation and for a change in the topic of conversation.
The singular brevity therefore with which Carter published the most important information ever needed and yearned for in Jordantown, was significant. Even the weekly local column was exceedingly reserved, as if some prescience of the future had rendered every man and woman cautious of performing a single act worthy of interest. Nothing was said of the last meeting of the Ladies' Civic League and Cemetery Association. There was no flamboyant boasting concerning the various enterprises.
But at the top of the first column on the editorial page, between two wide black lines, appeared this notice:
"Death of an Estimable Christian Woman."
The obituary of Sarah Hayden Mosely followed below. This was so brief that it might have been placed in capital letters on her tombstone without crowding the margins. It appeared to have been written with the circumspection of a person who desired his readers to understand that he was in no way responsible for the deceased nor for her deeds. The title was stereotyped. Every woman who died in Jordantown appeared in the Signal obituary tribute as "An Estimable Christian Woman."
It was at the next column that every man stared with amazement mixed with fear and indignation. This contained "The Last Will and Testament of Sarah Hayden Mosely," the title written in smaller, paler type. The text of the will followed:
In the name of God, Amen.
I, Sarah Hayden Mosely, being weak in body but of sound and perfect mind, do make this my last will and testament:
I give and dispose of my entire estate, real and personal, to a self-perpetuating Board of Trust, the members of which are hereinafter named.
The said estate shall no longer be known as the William J. Mosely Estate, but it shall be called the Co-Citizens' Foundation Fund of Jordan County.
This fund shall not be subject to liquidation, but the income from it, or such part of it as is necessary, shall be spent each year in the effort to obtain equal suffrage for the women of Jordan County.
No part of the said income shall be spent for any other purpose until the said women shall have the right to vote in all elections held in the said county.
But after they have obtained the ballot, the said Board of Trust shall found and maintain at the expense of this fund a department of Common Law in the Jordantown Female Seminary. And all possible efforts shall be made to establish here a school of law for the women of this state where they may receive that legal training which alone insures to women the proper knowledge and mental discipline necessary for the preservation of their property and their rights as citizens of this commonwealth.
This self-perpetuating Board of Trust shall consist of three members, one man and two women.
Each shall receive a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year for services rendered.
I appoint John Regis, Susan Walton, and Selah Adams members of this self-perpetuating Board of Trust and executors of my will. And they shall not give bond nor be held accountable to the court for the manner in which they exercise these functions.
If any member or members of the said board appointed in this will shall refuse to serve, the remaining members or member shall choose and elect a suitable person or persons to fill each vacancy.
No monument or stone shall mark my grave until the conditions of this will have been fulfilled.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this the 3d day of April, 1914.
[Seal] SARAH HAYDEN MOSELY.
Signed and sealed by the above named Sarah Hayden Mosely as her last will and testament, and by us in her presence and at her request subscribed as witnesses.
ENOS CANN. MARY CANN.
In a brief paragraph beneath this extraordinary document the editor added that in an interview Judge John Regis admitted that all the trustees had accepted, that they were confident of carrying out the terms of the will, but that the board was not ready now to give information concerning its plans.
No woman had ever been "interviewed" in Jordantown by a newspaper reporter. This may have accounted for the fact that Carter did not call upon either Mrs. Walton or Selah Adams before going to press. Besides, the sixteen-hundred-dollar mortgage on the Signal was now owned by the Co-Citizens' Foundation. He could not trust himself even in the presence of these powerful women. The very form of his question, his manner, might betray his secret feelings and do incredible damage.
In fact all domestic conversation in Jordantown was now censored as carefully both by the men and the women as if they belonged to opposing armies. Every man regarded his wife with suspicion, and he was at the same time conscious of a strange cheerful indifference on the part of his wife that was unnatural and offensive. Half the clinging-vine love with which women entwine their husbands is not love at all, but a nameless anxiety due to their sense of helplessness. Transpose the conditions of each and the same beseeching look so often seen in women's faces will be ludicrously mixed with the whiskers on the faces of their lords. The only ineradicable difference between men and women is gender. They are singularly alike in every other particular. Give a woman liberty, and she will go a man one better in license. Take a man's liberty from him, and he surpasses any woman in timidity. If men have more strength, women have more endurance. If the one is more active, the other is the more persistent. And it depends entirely upon the emergency which will show the most courage. Place them side by side under the same conditions to accomplish the same thing, and while each will go about the business in a different manner, the same proportion of both sexes will succeed at the job.
The difficulty is that men and women neither live nor work under the same conditions. The former have the overwhelming advantage, owing to the fact that they create their own public opinion and hold the balance of power, prestige, and influence.
This was precisely the balance which had been destroyed in Jordantown. The women now had all the advantage. It was monstrous and called for the exercise of all the furnace language of which men are naturally capable.
The one hope expressed everywhere was that, being the timid things that they were, the women would not know how to keep the grip they had upon the situation.
"Hang it! They are our wives and daughters. We ought to be able to do what we always have done, direct them and control them through their affections," said Acres, turning up the ends of his moustache with a kind of bantam bravado.
"If a woman has nothing but her affections it is easy enough to manage her, but nobody knows what use she may make of her heels if she has everything else besides," growled Coleman, who had just come from a breakfast table where his wife, Agatha, had pointedly refused to give him certain information about the Co-Citizens' Foundation which he knew she had.
"It's all a huge joke, that's what this damphule will is," said Briggs gloomily.
"Of course the suffrage part of it is a joke. The state constitution is plain on that question. Only males can vote," Acres agreed.
"But, hang it! They've got this vast estate, which affects every business interest in this town, and the devil only knows what they will do with it!" exclaimed Coleman.
"Ask your wife," Sasnett suggested.
"I did ask Mabel," Acres admitted.
"What'd she say?"
"Said they'd collect the rents and interest first thing."
Sasnett laughed, and Briggs seized his hat and left the room with the air of an injured man.
While these desultory conferences were being held all over the town Monday morning, where two or three were gathered together on the streets, Susan Walton was sitting opposite Judge Regis in his office. Her knees were wide apart, her hands folded above her fat stomach. She had untied her bonnet strings, which was a bad-weather indication.
The Judge was listening with his eye fixed keenly upon her, the hair above his temples sticking out like owl's ears.
"I've bluffed it so far, John Regis. I've reorganized the Civic League and Cemetery Association into the Co-Citizens' League, which was no small undertaking, I can tell you. Half the women would not have joined if they'd known what they were doing. I got them by not explaining how immediate the business of getting suffrage is, and by offering scandalous committee appropriations. But I'm shaking in my shoes. I don't know how we are to carry out the conditions of this trust. The more I think of it, the more I suspect Sarah Mosely of being plain crazy!"
"She's the first woman in this country to meet the issue of suffrage for women with the sanity of practical common sense," he answered.
"But she's limited her bequest to use in this county. Suffrage is a state issue. I should know. I have given years of thought to it."
"Yes, you've spent your energies like the rest of them, Susan, in mere agitation, in parades with transparencies bearing the legend, 'Votes for Women!' The last one of you might as well be blowing your breath against the order of things. Nothing could be more futile."
"We are beginning to create a sentiment for suffrage," she protested.
"Yes, in women. But can women give it to you? What's the good of undertaking the impossible? The income from this Foundation will not exceed twenty thousand dollars a year. That would not be a drop in the bucket in a state campaign, where you would be compelled to fight the most powerful political machines, and the graft and vice elements of the cities, all of which are naturally opposed to suffrage for women."
"Still, I don't see what we can do here in this county alone with the whole state against us," she objected.
"That is the question Mrs. Mosely answered. This little old woman fading into a mere shadow behind the doors of her house saw the solution which the rest of you missed with all your breadth of vision—too much breadth of vision, Susan, is as bad as not having any at all. No focus to it, not enough rays to burn through."
"I think you know I have had some experience in political affairs, more than most women, and I must say I don't see yet where Sarah Mosely focussed her rays," snapped Susan.
"I had several conferences with her. It appeared that she had thought of nothing else for years but this Foundation. She got the idea, she told me, from living with her husband. He was a man whose wife was his rib, not a separate human being. He was kind to her, but she had no more liberty than a child. She never knew anything of his affairs. She told me that she was and had always been absolutely incapable of attending to any business. She had been obliged to trust an agent. In any case she would have been forced to trust some one. She thought most women were in this condition of helplessness, and that they would remain so, always the prey of circumstances of the forces about them. And she wished to change that."
"Go on," the old lady commanded as the Judge paused.
He did go on. He called attention to certain laws governing county elections.
"With all your knowledge of the needs of women, and your bitter sense of injustice, you women never thought of this simple means by which you may win. And it was the thing Sarah Mosely grasped. She was the first woman in America, so far as I know, to grasp the significance of this easy and effective method of obtaining suffrage for women. And instead of leaving her money to a hospital, or to endow a chair or two in some university, she has left it for this purpose. It's amazing—her vision, and the directness with which she reasoned to the right conclusion!"
"Still I don't see how we can force this issue here," Mrs. Walton insisted.
"Do you know, Susan, why men have the ballot and why women have not got it?"
"I have my suspicions, John. It's because they've got everything else, including us. Because they've got pockets in their breeches, for one thing."
"Exactly! now you've got pockets in your skirts, with something like twenty thousand dollars to spend for a certain purpose. And that is not all you have. This Board of Trust owns the majority of stock in the National Bank, and has loaned money to nearly all the business houses in town. You hold mortgages on nineteen thousand acres of land in this county. You practically own the Signal. There is not a politician anywhere who would not know he held this county in the hollow of his hand if he had that much influence to back him. Influence, Susan, is not mere influence ever. It's power! You've got that!"
"When did you become such an ardent suffragist, John?" Susan suddenly demanded.
The Judge laughed.
"I've been a kind of mugwump of the cause for years. If I were younger, I doubt if I should be ardently in favour of it now. I admit that I prefer the dear woman to the abler ballot-bearing woman—every man must—but before your sex can become entirely like my sex except in gender, Susan, I shall be where Sarah Mosely is now. It will not matter to me. I admit, however, that I was converted to active partisanship by Mrs. Mosely. I have been more impressed by that dim little old woman than by all the arguments you, for example, ever made for suffrage. She was herself an unanswerable plea for the rights of women to live, for she had never really lived at all. She looked as if every mortgage held by her estate had been foreclosed at her expense."
"Yes, I know," said Mrs. Walton with a sigh. "She was pathetic in her submission. Most women submit, but still have enough to fuss about from time to time to keep them alive."
"She was really the least submissive of you all. She put on her thimble, threaded the needle of her robin-headed brain, and worked all your fuss and agitations and futile parades down to a formula by which you can actually obtain the ballot," he put in.
"Well, coming down to this formula, what shall we do with Briggs?" she asked shrewdly. "He looks like a dangerous factor in it to me."
"Briggs will be of use. All he needs is an expert accountant to overhaul his books occasionally. And we shall need him as we need a pair of tongs to handle live coals. Besides, we cannot afford to dismiss him now and incur his enmity. We are not working up antagonism. We have one man against us already who counts for all we can overcome."
"Who is that?"
"Mike Prim. He owns nothing visible. So we have no mortgage to hold over his head. But he practically controls this town, politically speaking."
"Don't ask me! He is not a merchant, nor a lawyer, nor a real estate agent, nor a banker, nor a broker, nor anything else that has a name, but more men—prominent citizens, farmers, labourers, tramps, beggars, anybody and everybody—go and come from his office than to and from any other office in this town. He is the power of darkness in this county to be overcome before you can win suffrage, I can tell you that."
"Well, at least Prim is tangible. He is in my line. I shall know what to do with him," answered Susan grimly.
The Judge threw back his head and laughed.
"Now you are coming, Susan! I want to see you dragging your wings before Prim!"
"I do my best work in private, John, but I'm beginning to see light. This thing really is possible. Now let us get down to business. I have an appointment with Selah Adams. She couldn't come up here this morning. I feel anxious. Her voice sounded like that of a child being kept in after school. Shouldn't wonder if that old family sword of a father were making trouble."
"We need Selah; her beauty and enthusiasm are real assets to this movement," said the Judge.
"Oh, we shall keep her on the board if I have to fight a duel with Marshall Adams," she replied with a cackling laugh.
The conference which followed was of a nature so private that they instinctively adopted the tones of conspirators as they turned the pages of ledgers which Briggs had been required to submit for inspection.
* * * * *
At two o'clock Selah Adams slipped softly out of the house, crossed the street, and entered Mrs. Walton's front door.
"She says come right up to her room, Miss Selah; she's busy and can't come down," said the negro maid, rolling her eyes and stifling either a snigger or a sob by slapping her hand over her mouth.
The next moment Selah stood in the door of Mrs. Walton's bedroom, staring with horrified eyes.
Susan Walton, clad in only her essential underwear, lay flat upon her back on the floor. She was slowly lifting first one stockinged leg, then the other, to a right angle with her body, at the same time thrusting up one arm and then the other. She was staring at the ceiling and muttering a certain formula under her breath.
"Oh! Oh! What is the matter, Mrs. Walton? Is it a fit?" cried Selah, staggering back.
"No! Exercise. Just had my lunch! One—two—three! Never allow yourself to get fat, Selah!" Up shot the other foot and arm.
"If I'd known what was before me twenty years ago, I'd have been more careful. One—two—three! Can't do what's before me unless I reduce. Avoid oatmeal and cream, that's what does it! You may be mayor of this town before you are thirty. A fat mayoress would never do. It would suggest beer! And look at me. I'm already so fat I have to lie down to take my exercise! But Regis and I have planned enough work to keep you lean this summer," she added, sitting up apparently satisfied with her state of exhaustion.
"That's what I came to see you about," said the girl, seating herself and looking down sorrowfully. "Father is dreadfully upset. He has forbidden me to mention woman suffrage in the house."
"Well, don't, then; don't speak of it at all to him."
"But he will never consent to my holding this trusteeship."
"Aren't you twenty-one?"
"I'm twenty-four, as to that, but——"
"If you were your father's son, do you think he would forbid your having your own convictions and living up to them?" the older woman interrupted.
"No, but I'm only his daughter!" Selah said.
"Can't you see that is provided for? If he forbade you the house, you still have twelve hundred dollars a year, which is certainly more than he could afford to give you."
"That isn't it: he can't do without me, he needs me."
"Listen to me, Selah! Men have been our little children for so long that we do not know how to wean them. Here you are, ready to resign the greatest opportunity any young woman has ever had in this state in order to stay at home and break your father's breakfast eggs and putter over him and keep him soothed by agreeing with everything he says. That's why men can vote and we can't. That's why they get everything, and we get nothing but our board and clothes. We've humoured and pampered them until they have no sense of us and our needs," she concluded, twisting her hair angrily into a tight knot on the back of her head.
"Oh, I wish I knew what was right!" cried the girl, clasping her hands.
"We've tried the old sacrificial righteousness long enough, Selah, to know that it is not contagious so far as we are concerned. Now you just take my advice, and we'll have the new righteousness for women proved in Jordan County before the end of this year!"
"As soon as that?" cried the girl, enthused in spite of herself.
"Yes, if we can win at all we can do it in a few months. Regis and I planned the whole campaign this morning. Give me that kimono. Now let me have your hand. It's not so easy to get to one's feet at sixty, Selah!"
She was sublimely unconscious of the figure she made moving across the room with the ends of her kimono trailing back like the gray wings of an old duck-legged hen. She gathered up some loose sheets from her desk.
"Here's the whole thing—all divided into three parts. Yours will be in some ways the most difficult. You'll have the organizing to do among the women in the country districts. But we've decided to get a good motor. You'll need to cover distances rapidly. That will be one agreeable feature at least. You and Bob Sasnett may find it convenient to do your canvassing together!" she laughed, while Selah blushed.
* * * * *
If by some miracle a modern man should awaken some morning to find himself thrust back a hundred years in time, although in the same place where he had always lived, he could not believe in the reality of a single thing he saw. Every man and every woman would be merely characters in an historical romance. Every sentence he would hear would sound like fiction. All manners and customs would seem exaggerated, sentimental, and he himself would give the impression of being a monster without breeding or a single attribute becoming to proper manhood.
If, on the other hand, he should by some incantation be projected forward only fifty years in time, still in the place of his birth, the effect of unreality would be even more startling, especially if those things should have happened which prophets predict and toward which all progress tends. Conditions would be unendurable, manners offensive. No man would seem quite a man. No woman would seem modest. Clothes, customs, beliefs, ambitions, and ideals would all have changed. And he himself would seem to them a pitiable reversion to type, ludicrously unequal to meeting the emergencies of advanced civilization. In short, there are no lasting standards of living. Education, morals, economics, finance, and politics are only the cards we play every generation in the progressive euchre of evolution. The honesty with which we play the game determines the worth of society.
At the end of a month Jordantown had not undergone so great a metamorphosis as fifty years would make, but it was in the throes of a frightful evolution. The changes already wrought were so amazing that the author may be excused if this record fails to convince the reader of their reality. At least half the citizens themselves did not and could not believe that they were not walking in a hideous nightmare from which they hoped to awaken and find their womankind properly subdued and returned to the less conspicuous sphere of womanhood.
The first bomb exploded when Samuel Briggs resigned as director of the National Bank. Mr. Briggs had been elected to represent the stock owned by the Mosely Estate. He had not only resigned, but he had ventured to propose the name of Mrs. Susan Walton as a suitable person to represent the same stock which was now owned and controlled by the Co-Citizens' Foundation Fund. He did not add that he had been able to retain his position as agent only by signing a contract with the Board of Trust to obey every instruction given him with all the energy and influence he possessed in the town. This demand, that he should resign as director in favour of Mrs. Walton, was the first test made of his obedience.
Having offered his suggestions Briggs leaned back in his chair, smoked, and stared at the ceiling, while the eleven other directors stared at him with the horror of honest men contemplating an armed traitor.
"If this is going to be a hencoop instead of a bank, I'll draw every dollar I have in it out, and sell my stock to the lowest bidder!" exclaimed a frowsy old man, clawing his whiskers. This was Thaddeus Bailey. He owned three grocery stores in Jordantown, and had a monopoly on that trade.
"I don't know how much money you have on deposit, Thad, but it will take more stock than you own to satisfy that mortgage you owe to this new-fangled female suffrage fund," answered his neighbour.
"What'll we do with her if we elect her?" asked Acres.
"Better ask what she'll do with the bank?" some one replied.
"She'll run it, that's what! Didn't she run her husband for Congress till his tongue hung out? Ain't she running the whole female population of this county at the present time?"
"Hang it! I'd rather close the doors of this bank than elect that woman a director!" exclaimed Coleman.
"Come to the same thing if you didn't," replied Briggs. "Take it from me, the trustees will withdraw the last dollar they have invested in it. You couldn't pay. And then they'd declare you insolvent, appoint Susan Walton receiver, and take the whole thing over!"
"I move we let her in, gentlemen, and appropriate fifty dollars to add a ladies' dressing-room. Susan's looking up. She'll need it. She's beginning to powder her nose, and she's bought a new bonnet, thank God!" said Bob Sasnett with his usual laugh.
When the directors were leaving the bank after indignantly electing Mrs. Walton to the board, Coleman looked at Sasnett suspiciously.
"Where do you stand in this damn business, anyhow, Bob?" he demanded.
"Oh, I'm not standing at present, Stark, I'm crawling on my umbilicus same as the rest of you; the only difference is that I retain the charm and radiance of my countenance."
"When do you purpose to announce your candidacy for representative?"
Sasnett looked at him so quickly that even his smile scarcely veiled the shrewdness of his glance.
"Waiting for the women to settle Mike Prim," he answered. "If they don't, you fellows may elect him. Mike's so deep rooted in your affairs a man couldn't dig him up without soiling his hands."