HotFreeBooks.com
The Henchman
by Mark Lee Luther
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE HENCHMAN

BY

MARK LEE LUTHER



AUTHOR OF "THE FAVOR OF PRINCES," "THE RECKONING," "THE LIVERY OF HONOR," ETC.



New York

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.

1902

All rights reserved



COPYRIGHT, 1901,

BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.



TO

GEORGE RICE CARPENTER

OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY



Those familiar with the early history of Western New York will know the "Tuscarora Stories" of this volume for twice-told tales which the author has ventured to adapt from the suggestive "Pioneer History of Orleans County," by Judge Arad Thomas.



BOOK I

The Henchman

CHAPTER I

It was the custom of the geographers of a period not remote to grapple somewhat jejune facts to the infant mind by means of fanciful comparison: thus, Italy was likened to a boot, France to a coffee-pot, and the European domain of the Sultan to a ruffling turkey. In this pleasant scheme the state of New York was made to figure as a couchant lion, his massy head thrust high in the North Country, his forepaws dabbled in the confluence of the Hudson and the Sound, his middle and hinder parts stretched lazily westward to Lake Erie and the Niagara. Roughly speaking, in this noble animal's rounding haunch, which Ontario cools, lies the Demijohn Congressional District whose majority party was now in convention assembled. In election returns and official utterances generally the Demijohn District bore a number like every district in the land, but the singular shape lent it by the last gerrymander had settled its popular title till another political overturn should distort its outline afresh.

The spokesman of the defeated faction had been recognized by the chair, and was moving that the convention's choice of the gentleman from Tuscarora County be declared unanimous. His manner was even more perfunctory than his words.

"The name of Calvin Ross Shelby," he ended colorlessly, "spells success."

"Screws it out as if it hurt him," whispered the Hon. Seneca Bowers to the nominee. "I tell you, Ross, there's no argument like delegates."

Bowers was a thick-set man of the later sixties, with a certain surface resemblance to General Grant of which he was vain. So far as he could he underlined the likeness, affecting a close-trimmed beard, a campaign hat, and the inevitable cigar; when the occasion promised publicity sufficient to outweigh the physical discomfort he even rode on horseback; and he was a notable figure on Decoration Day and at all public ceremonies of the Grand Army of the Republic. Shelby was his protege.

The present member of Congress from the Demijohn District, whose seat Shelby coveted, may be most charitably described as a man of tactless integrity. His course in Washington had been a thorn in the side of the organization by whose sufferance he rose, with the upshot that the Tartar neared the end of his stewardship backed by a faction rather than a party. The faction clamored for his renomination and pushed their spirited, if poorly generalled, fight to the floor of the convention. In debate they were eloquent, in logic unanswerable; nor did any one attempt to answer them. With the best of possible causes they lacked but the best of possible worlds to insure success. The whole story of their failure was packed into the Hon. Seneca Bowers's succinct phrase, "There's no argument like delegates."

The vanquished clustered in a little group apart marked by a suggestion of tense nerves, but the gathering was noticeably of a kind. Country lawyers, bankers, merchants, stockmen, farmers, in its units, it was sealed as a whole with the seal of New England which had sent forth these men's grandfathers and great-grandfathers in their ox-carts to people and leaven the West. The transplanted New Englandism had sloughed certain traits of the pioneers who laid the axe to the forests of the Genesee Country and the Holland Purchase. Only the older people of the Demijohn District now computed their dealings in shillings; mentioning one's conscience on week-days was an eccentricity; the doctrine of Original Sin had lapsed from among burning topics of conversation; family records were less and less scrupulously kept; and the Mayflower's claim to consideration as the Noah's Ark of the only ancestors worth reckoning had assumed a mask of comedy. Yet, all said, the Yankee blood cropped out in face and limb and speech—particularly in speech; the folk of the Demijohn District did not employ the dialect of Hosea Biglow, nor a variant of it, but the insistent drawling R to be heard on every second lip was of no doubtful lineage.

The victor, who sat with folded arms as the perfunctory motion was seconded and carried, was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. Not a few there could recall his sturdy grandfather, a pioneer of Massachusetts birth, and everybody remembered his spendthrift father who had squandered the substance of three generations in drink. The man's own story was an open page which needed no thumbing of the Tuscarora County history to find. Born under the administration of Buchanan, the lad's palm was callous with work by the surrender of Lee, and it knew no softening till his seventeenth year; yet somehow he got the marrow from the common schools, and in good time won a competitive scholarship in a narrow little sectarian college which boastfully called itself a university. Here he acquired two wholesome things: a perception that the college is but the beginning of education, and a lasting disgust with bigotry of every stripe. There followed some years of school-mastering by day and law-book drudgery by night, whose end was his admission to the bar and a partnership with the man sitting by his side. Then politics drew him, and, step by step, through rough and ready service at the polls, in town caucus, county convention, what not, he secured his footing and finally a seat in the lower house of the State Legislature. In politics a hobby is often a useful piece of property, and Shelby, who had a hobby, rode it to success; it made him a marked man in the first month of his term, it gave him a popular title, it compelled his renomination and reflection. Nowadays chairmen always introduced him as the "Champion of Canals," and even at this moment the catchword with cries of "speech" greeted him from every quarter of the dingy convention hall. He unfleshed his strong teeth in a wide-mouthed smile, rose, squared his shoulders, and walked alertly down an aisle to the platform. Brought thus into the open, under the yellow glare of a gas-light chandelier, he showed for a simply clad, businesslike person, with a well-set head and a shaven jaw, whose firmness a cushion of superfluous flesh could not disguise.

"Thank you, boys," he said.

The offhand fashion of address provoked a fresh demonstration which the nominee acknowledged with a good-humored nod. His eye sauntered over the delegates, and with a shrewd twinkle halted on the dejected group which had fought his nomination.

"This happy occasion reminds me of a Tuscarora County story," he began, with a little drawl; "the story of Tired Tinkham's election as overseer of highways at Noah's Basin—a pioneer classic which some of you have doubtless heard. It happened in the early days of Noah's Basin, when that interesting village contained perhaps a score less people than walk its changeless streets to-day. Tired Tinkham was the local Rip Van Winkle—the children's friend and labor's foe. No one could whittle green willow whistles in the springtime like Tired Tinkham, or fashion bows and arrows with such fascinating skill. Like Rip also he drank whenever a drink was forthcoming, but unlike Rip he did not hunt. Minks, coons, and squirrels were plentiful, with here and there a deer or bear, but Tired Tinkham was too weary to hunt. He fished; fished day in and day out in the canal basin, which gives the place its name; fished till the packet captains came to know him and point him out as a fixture in the scenery. But, lazy as he was, Tired Tinkham didn't monopolize all the laziness in Noah's Basin. In one particular laziness was epidemic, even among the otherwise industrious, and it took the form of shirking the road tax. No roads were wretcheder than theirs; nobody cared less than they. In his personal view of life Tired Tinkham was a fit exponent of the local theory of public duty, and some village humorist accordingly hit upon the idea of nominating him for overseer of highways. Tired Tinkham looked more than commonly fatigued at the suggestion, but did not put the crown away. His election was unanimous. Then Noah's Basin woke up. The jubilee bonfires were scarcely ashes before Tired Tinkham delivered at the corner grocery what he called his inaugural address. 'I cal'late I know why I wuz 'lected; he said. 'T' loaf 'n' let ye loaf. I cal'late ye've mistook suthin'. Ye'll work.' And work Noah's Basin did as it had never worked before."

Shelby noted that the anecdote won even a thin-lipped grin from the hostile camp.

"The Tired Tinkhams aren't so rare in politics," he went on. "We sometimes put them in the White House. Americans have a way of growing up to their responsibilities, and perhaps even I shall prove another sort of man than I've been ticketed." His tone quickened suddenly, and his glance fastened on the defeated anew. "I should count this honor less had it fallen as a ripe fruit falls, the prize of the first comer. We've had our battle; we wear our scars; no battle worth the name is without its scars; but I assume to speak for every man present when I say that the blows we give and take do not rankle to the prejudice of the common cause. Our quarrels are wholly in the family, where speech is free, for it is a fundamental article of our party creed that the will of the majority should prevail. The will of the majority made plain, it is our healthy custom to strip off our coats, and go to work: The party, not the individual, is of moment;—the historic party of our fathers, the party of the living present, the party of the future whose bounds no man may set."

As he dropped into his seat, Shelby added a foot-note.

"If that didn't jam their duty down those soreheads' throats," he told Bowers, "I'll take another guess."



CHAPTER II

Meanwhile the nominee's fortunes and traits of character underwent dissection in his own town at the first autumn assembly of the Culture Club which, as always, met with Mrs. Hilliard. There were two profound reasons for this constancy to Mrs. Hilliard,—her house boasted the largest double parlors in New Babylon, and her husband had a billiard table. The intimate association of billiards with the pursuit of sweetness and light may at first seem grotesque, but Mrs. Hilliard proved it to be not without warrant in sound philosophy; by her simple formula billiards stood to culture as the Salvation Army to the decorous body of the Church Militant, both alliances resting on the basic truth that some souls will prick ears only to the beating of tom-toms.

Theory aside, the fact was not to be blinked that she knew how to clash cymbals to the unregenerate and drum up in the name of culture such a varied company as no other woman could muster short of a silver wedding. In the winning of the cultivated, Mrs. Hilliard took no pride. They lent their countenance to any educational project, and she owned to herself that given a like cause any capable woman with double parlors could have them for the asking. It was rather in the hooking of men of the stamp of the Hon. Seneca Bowers and her own husband that she gloried, for in their candid souls they styled great Shakespeare rot and voted Ibsen and Tolstoi sheer bedlamites at large. While mind met mind below stairs these honest gentlemen contentedly knocked the balls about the green, smoked hospitable Joe Hilliard's cigars, and sampled the choicest liquors of his sideboard. By such diplomacy every important walk in the town's life came to have its representative in what in her heart of hearts Mrs. Hilliard called her salon.

The first autumn meeting should have gladdened the hostess. Her house had never lighted to better advantage; everybody admired the new decorations; she herself felt no impulse to quarrel either with nature or her dressmaker; the programme had run with consummate smoothness,—Volney Sprague, the editor of the Tuscarora County Whig, reading a scholarly paper on Shakespeare's anachronisms, and his fast friend Bernard Graves leading the discussion in his usual clever way; furthermore, the ices which had been ordered for this very special occasion had proved everything that ices should be. Yet Mrs. Hilliard was dissatisfied.

"The club positively loses a vital something of its individuality when Mr. Bowers and Mr. Shelby are absent," said she.

Mrs. Bowers, a large placid personage of indefinite waist-line, remarked that nothing except politics could have dragged her husband away.

"What a pity that the Hon. Seneca had to miss your anachronisms, Volney," murmured Bernard Graves, who was a personable young gentleman of thirty.

"And Shelby," queried the editor, "hasn't that choice spirit your pity too?"

Mrs. Hilliard caught nothing of their sarcasm save Shelby's name.

"I miss his criticism," she declared. "It's so practical."

The editor fell to polishing his eye-glasses for lack of a reply.

"And so helpful," pursued the lady. "He has the faculty of ending a tangled discussion with a word."

"The dear man usually changes the subject," muttered the editor savagely under cover of an amiable platitude put forth by Mrs. Bowers.

"Or fogs it round with one of his Tuscarora yarns," dropped Graves.

The topic apparently knew no bottom for Mrs. Hilliard.

"How he will shine in Congress!" she went on. "Of course he'll get the nomination?" She referred the query to Sprague.

"Probably." His reply was lukewarm.

"And isn't there news of the convention? You ought to know, who get straight from the wires what ordinary mortals must wait to read. Has he won?"

"There was nothing definite when I left the office. They hadn't begun to ballot."

Mrs. Hilliard sensed an increasing dryness in the editor's manner.

"We're not talking literature, are we?" she laughed.

Bernard Graves considered the moment ripe for a paradox.

"The by-laws of the ideal literary club would forbid all literary talk," he declared. "Then there would be nothing else."

"Cynic," rebuked the lady, threatening punishment with her fan. "We shall talk politics if we choose."

Disseminating culture and an odor of patchouli she drifted down the drawing-room to join another group, and the two men caught a fragment of feminine comment from a divan hard by.

"Cora Hilliard is handsome," asserted a voice. "Look at those shoulders."

"She manoeuvres to show them. Besides, she's too stout."

"What can you expect, my dear, after thirty-three years of idleness?"

"She's thirty-six," came the scrupulous correction.

"You don't mean it? And a blonde!"

"Oh, I know it's so. We were classmates in the seminary. Besides, her Milicent is a year and two months older than my Georgie, who will be thirteen in October, and when Milicent was born her mother was twenty-two."

"She says she feels twenty-two now."

"Well, she looks—" the gossip languished to an indistinct murmur.

"More literary discussion," said Sprague.

"It's as literary as politics."

"You're capable of saying it's as interesting."

"Why not? It's very human."

"So is politics."

"We are drifting on the rocks of an argument. You and I can't agree about politics, and we'd better stop trying. What absorbs you bores me—this tiresome Shelby above all."

"Oh, surely you're not serious," protested Sprague, eagerly. "It isn't possible that you care nothing whether Shelby or the honest man he's scheming to supplant represents you in Washington."

"He attracts me neither as a man nor as a problem in ethics. But don't be harsh with me. The fault is congenital, I'm sure. Every masculine American is supposed to be interested in politics,—I wonder if the Irish invented the notion,—but I can't conform; I don't know why."

"Gad," fumed the editor. "Your indifference is criminal."

"I like to hear you say 'gad,'" Graves observed. "You remind me of Major Pendennis."

Sprague shrugged his thin shoulders impatiently.

"I tell you it's a crime for you to sit by as unconcerned as a mud idol while other men struggle for civic decency."

"Picturesque as usual," applauded the delinquent, unruffled; but he added, more seriously: "It's natural that you should feel strongly after your newspaper war on Shelby. Is he so sure of the nomination?"

"If he's not sure, there's no virtue in packed caucuses."

"There, that interests me," cried Graves, brightening. "I'd like to see a caucus packed. The slang attracts me somehow. Is it very shocking?"

Sprague laughed in spite of himself.

"In things political your artlessness is prehistoric," he said. "You belong in the Stone Age. All in all, you and Ross Shelby aren't far removed: he's politically immoral; you are politically unmoral."

"We'll go and talk to Ruth Temple," decided the younger man, his eye lighting on the central figure of a group, chiefly masculine. "Who can look at her and maintain that the higher education of women is a mere factory for frumps?"

"Ruth has a quaint rareness all her own," Sprague answered, watching the play of the girl's mobile face. "She had it as a mere tot. Is it her mouth, her simple dress, her hair?—One can't say precisely what."

"Don't try. You're squinting at her like an entomologist over a favorite beetle. Take her for what she seems, and chuck analysis. She is decorative. She satisfies the optic nerve."

"Which is intimately allied with other nerves, my bachelor." He counted the men around the sofa where the girl sat beside little Milicent Hilliard, and announced, "Seven; it's Queen Ruth always."

"And, like a true monarch, bored to extinction by her courtiers. Behold Dr. Crandall browbeating the Rev. Mr. Hewett like a hanging judge. I'll warrant they're talking politics too. The atmosphere is drenched with it."

Sprague bent his head to listen.

"Wrong," he chuckled slyly. "It's literature this time, or what passes as such. They're threshing out the immortal ode on the 'Victory of Samothrace.'"

Bernard Graves laughed, also, at some jest well understood, and moved to watch this eddy in the astonishingly widespread discussion of an anonymous poem, of a certain rhetorical vigor, which had been Interpreted by some critics as a plea for woman suffrage. At this juncture Mrs. Hilliard suddenly bore down upon them, flourishing a yellow paper.

"Such news, such news!" she called. "Here's a telegram—a telegram from our candidate. He is nominated! Mr. Shelby is nominated. Think of it! One of our members! And he has wired the good news to us first of all!" She searched vainly for her glasses—her big blue eyes were astigmatic—and finally, with an impatient "You read it to them all," thrust the message into Volney Sprague's reluctant fingers.

He unfolded and read the paper, in lively quandary whether her choice were as haphazard as it seemed:—

"Nominated on first ballot. Home ten-thirty. Coming directly to club. It stands first.

"C. R. SHELBY."

"Isn't that simply dear of him?" demanded Mrs. Hilliard. "We come first. He remembers us in his hour of triumph. It shows the true nature of the man."

"It does indeed," grumbled Sprague, shifting within pinching distance of Bernard Graves, whom he had seen grinning in the background during the reading. "It's a barefaced bid for votes."

Mrs. Hilliard's enthusiasm demanded a vent.

"He'll be here in five minutes," she exclaimed, peering at the hall clock. "The message was delayed somehow, and his train is due now. We must devise a reception. We owe it to him. He thought of us. We must think of him. What shall we do? Think, think, you clever people!"

"That preposterous woman means to turn this into a ratification meeting," groaned the editor under his breath. "I must get out."

His hostess was of another mind, however, and barred retreat when he attempted to make his excuses.

"You shan't desert us," she declared roguishly. "You can't," she immediately added, at the sound of carriage wheels on the gravel of the drive. "He's here! The hall, the hall! Into the hall!" And into the hall Mrs. Hilliard masterfully bundled the Culture Club of New Babylon, grouping it theatrically around the newel-post and up the winding stair.

"Gad," muttered Sprague, struggling to efface himself, "knock me in the head."

Bernard Graves gleefully struck an attitude behind a friendly palm, and Mrs. Hilliard threw wide the door.

"Welcome to your own people," she cried, and Shelby, closely followed by Bowers, crossed the threshold into the light. Then big Joe Hilliard, whom the unwonted commotion had attracted from the billiard room, led a boisterous cheer, which the candidate received with modestly bowed head. He flushed, and wrestled with his diffidence like a schoolboy, as the house grew still and they waited for him to speak.

"I—I don't claim the credit, friends," he stammered. "It's your victory."



CHAPTER III

Midway in the following forenoon Shelby sat in his law office revising for the seventh time the last will and testament of the Widow Weatherwax. It was the seventh revision of her third last will and testament, to speak by the card, for the widow had a bent for will-making, which the lawyer had noticed was of periodic intensity. Once, in a moment of drollery, he entered a jocose memorandum in the "tickler," under the first week-day of several successive months: "Revise Mrs. Weatherwax's will;" and such was his foresight that twice only during that term did she frustrate his prophecy.

This day, as always, she attained the topmost step outside his office door breathless, and, as always, Shelby gravely lent a hand to deposit her plump little person in the softest of his old-fashioned office chairs. The ceremony ended regularly with the panting announcement, "The Lord has spared me for another month."

It was the man's custom at such times to allot equal praise to Providence and the widow's marvellous vitality for this happy issue, and to hazard a guess that she had thought of important changes for her will. The widow would nod assent over a heaving bosom, and slowly fan herself back to normal respiration. The relict of a leather-lunged Free Methodist preacher, she affected a garb of ostentatious simplicity. No godless pleats or tucks or gores or ruffles or sinful abominations of braid defaced the chaste sobriety of her black gown; buttons were tolerated merely as buttons, without vain thought of ornament; and the strange little bonnet, which she perched above hair whose natural coquetry of curl was austerely sleeked away, was of a composition so harshly ugly that more worldly-minded women shuddered at the sight. The worldly-minded, indeed, were prone to the criticism that the material of Mrs. Weatherwax's garments was beyond cavil, but this surely was her own concern. It were sheer impertinence to finger the texture of a zealot's sackcloth.

Shelby busied himself with his papers, pending her recovery.

"Them stairs alluz give me sech a turn," she sighed, at length. She enunciated her R's with the merciless fidelity of her section at its worst, saying stair-urs and tur-urn.

"Too bad the town's boom stopped short of elevators," sympathized Shelby.

"Shouldn't use 'em, anyway," returned the widow, firmly. "They give me a wuss turn than the stairs."

"They're trying moving stairways in some places,—a French invention, I believe."

"Shouldn't use them contrapshuns neither. The French are a godless people, full of vanity and all uncleanness."

Shelby's imagination balked at suggesting another alternative, and he held his peace. The visitor's jetty eyes forsook his face and pounced upon the clerk, who, with tongue in cheek, was filling out narrow slips of paper at a battered table clothed in a baize of a dye traditionally held to have been green.

"How's your ma's lumbago, Willie Irons?" she demanded.

The youth stammered a husky reply, and blushed far into his brick-colored hair. He was of an age when a babyish diminutive becomes a thorn unspeakable. Mrs. Weatherwax glanced tranquilly past his writhings to the ancient table.

"Ross," she asked, "wa'n't that your grandfather's?"

"Yes. He used it in his place of business."

"I call to mind seein' it in the old distillery when I was a girl," pursued the widow, who never called a spade an agricultural implement. "Distillin's a wicked business."

"People thought differently about many things in my grandfather's day."

The widow sniffed. "Wrong's wrong. Is that Seneca Bowers's roll-top desk?"

"It was Mr. Bowers's. I bought it when we dissolved partnership."

"Law books, too?"

"Yes."

"Threw in the pictur's, I s'pose?" indicating some dingy lithographs of political worthies past and present.

"Yes," admitted Shelby with superhuman good nature; "they came to boot."

The widow sniffed again. "'Pears to me," said she, "you've got nothin' new."

The man wheeled in his chair to a neighboring safe and took a tape-bound document from a pigeon-hole.

"Shall we begin?" he asked.

"Yes—if you're so rushed," she returned, and composed her features to fitting solemnity. As the lawyer slowly read the instrument, which he could have rattled off from memory, Mrs. Weatherwax punctuated the pious phrases of its exordium with approving wags. "'Frail and transitory,'" she interpolated; "that's jest what life is. I might be took any minute." At the reference to the payment of her lawful debts she recovered her spirits sufficiently to put in that she did not owe a "red cent," as everybody knew. Finally she called a halt. "Needn't go any farther," she directed. "The first part's what I like to hear best. Exceptin' one thing, all the rest about my green rep sofy a-goin' to Cousin Phoebe, the pickle-caster to Brother Henry, the old dishes what can't be sold to my beloved nephew, Jason Weatherwax, and my best tablecloths and sheets and pillow-slips to his little Ann Eliza when she gets a husband what's a good provider, is fixed jest as it hed ought to be. What I want now is a postscript."

"Another codicil? Very well."

He made note of her wishes concerning a cherished feather bed which it had struck her was too good for that "shiftless coot," Cousin Phoebe's husband, to lie upon, and, bidding her bring her witnesses on the morrow, bustled the will into his safe and fell upon his papers after the manner of all lawyer kind since Chaucer's sergeant of the law who "semed besier than he was."

The widow eyed his movements placidly.

"In a stew to hev me go?" she asked.

"Of course not," Shelby protested. "What put that in your head?"

"Your squirmin' round. Seein' I'm entirely welcome, I'll set a piece."

Shelby restrained the delight he said he felt and returned to his papers under her relentless scrutiny.

"Telegraphs of congratulashun, I s'pose," the visitor presently observed.

"Yes; my friends are rejoicing with me."

"Everybody tickled?"

"All but the common enemy, I trust."

"I ain't hed a chance to go about much and ask," said the widow, with a preliminary sniff; "but I've met some as wa'n't tickled or enemies neither."

"No? Well, after all, this isn't paradise, but New York politics."

"At Tompkins's—I alluz go to him for my Oolong—I heard that Doc Crandall won't vote for you after your dead set at the place. He's one of your party, isn't he?"

"Yes. The doctor is one of us. Good fellow, too."

"And at Brady's, where I get my corn meal, I heard somebody say you've got the Irish down on you."

"Oh, I hope not," returned the candidate, cheerfully. "They're a most respectable and industrious factor in our town's life. I like the Irish."

"I s'pose."

He searched her face and concluded that her irony was unconscious; she undeceived him.

"Butter wouldn't melt in your mouth now you're runnin' for office," she said, laboring to her feet. "I'm s'prised you hevn't wings."

Shelby affected to relish the hoary jest, and escorted her gayly to the door. "I'll look for you to-morrow," he assured her.

"Don't strain your eyes," said the widow.

The Hon. Seneca Bowers passed her on the stairs. Greeting the lawyer, he seated himself behind the clerk's back, with a meaning slant of his Grant-like head.

Shelby understood. "Leave those notices of trial for the present, William," he ordered, "and get this stipulation signed. If the man isn't in his office, try the county clerk's."

Bowers pulled with clock-work precision at his cigar, while the boy uncoiled his long legs from his chair, and with furtive little pats at his necktie and fiery shock, made ready to go out. Shelby stumbled upon the waste-paper basket as the door slammed at his clerk's heels, and with vicious satisfaction he kicked it to the room's far end.

The caller's eyes twinkled.

"The Widow Weatherwax been administering spiritual balm?" he asked.

"I could wring her neck," Shelby averred.

"Her will again?"

"Of course."

"You'll have it as long as you practise law. I did. It goes with the office. Remunerative as ever?"

"Talk about 'benefit of clergy,'" exploded the younger man; "that mediaeval bonanza isn't to be mentioned in the same week with the ministerial half-rates, donations, and hold-ups we moderns put up with. This pulpit pounder's shrew pays me no more than she pays the doctor, the grocer, the butcher, and the rest. What a ukase I could issue if I were Czar of these United States."

"Cousin Phoebe's 'sofy,' beloved Nephew Jason's unsalable dishes, and Brother Henry's pickle-caster still extant?"

"Yes, yes," groaned Shelby.

"And little Ann Eliza's sheets and pillow-slips, I dare say. It's astonishing how they endure."

"It's astonishing how I endure."

"You must—at any rate, till the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Did the pious gossip tell you any pleasant personal news?"

"She has heard talk that the Micks are sore and that Doc Crandall has had an attack of virtue."

"You needn't lose sleep over the handful of Irish in our camp; they know who butters their parsnips. And I'll take care of the doctor. He's an innocuous mugwump. She didn't mention Volney Sprague?"

"Sprague," said Shelby, wearily; "what is that man up to now?"

Bowers rose, paced the room, and returned, big with news.

"The Whig has bolted," he announced.



CHAPTER IV

Shelby's amaze spent its force in an oath. In a moment he asked, calmly:—

"What does he say?"

"Not much; mainly that the manner of your nomination debars his printing your name at the head of his editorial page."

"Endorses the rest of our party ticket, doesn't he?"

"Yes; it's a personal bolt."

Shelby ruminated earnestly.

"It's only a one-horse country daily," he declared finally. "The Whig! You'd think Henry Clay still above ground."

"Strikes you that way, does it?" Bowers emitted with a cloud of smoke.

"Why, yes. You don't consider such a paper dangerous?"

"All newspapers are dangerous in politics; there's none too mean to have its following. The Whig has influence."

"It's a one-horse paper," reiterated Shelby.

"M-yes; it is a slow coach," Bowers admitted; "but it suits a lot of people. They respect it because it keeps the old name and jogs along in the old gait it had under Volney's father before him. It's been a stanch party paper, too, and that without soliciting a dollar's worth of public advertising or political pap of any description. The Whig doesn't often kick over the traces. The Greeley campaign was its last bolt."

"Well, the milk's spilt," said Shelby, with strenuous cheerfulness; "we've one reason the more to make next week's ratification meeting a rousing success. What did you think of our little welcome at the club last night?"

Bowers grinned.

"Mrs. Hilliard managed it first-class," he said; "but I felt cheap when we came in."

"So did I. The scheme seemed a good one when she suggested it, but when it came right down to pulling it off I would have sold out for thirty cents on the dollar. It takes lovely woman to do those things. She has her uses in politics, eh?"

"M-yes," Bowers answered in half assent; "but she's an uncertain quantity. Like grandsire's musket, she's as likely to kill behind as before."

The vine-screened window in which they now talked overlooked the neighboring Temple house, a dignified sentry at the point where the leisured street forsook the chaffer of the town to climb amidst arching elms and maples, above whose gaudy autumn masses rose the dome of the courthouse and the spires of many churches. It was an old-fashioned Georgian structure with white columns clear-cut against its weathered brick; at either side of the low steps a great hydrangea, its glory waning with the summer, lifted its showy clusters from an urn; while walk and carriage drive alike sauntered to the street through hedgerows of box. The mouth of the driveway at this moment gleamed white from the kerchiefs of a knot of Polish children estray from the quarry district, who, at a laughing nod from Ruth, swooped, a chattering barbaric horde, on the fallen apples dotting a bit of sward with yellow and red. Shelby smilingly watched the scramble to its speedy end, and turned to the giver of the feast, who sat in a sheltered corner of her veranda with a caller. The latter proved to be Bernard Graves, sunning himself with a cat's content.

"Industrious young man," Shelby observed with the irony of whole-souled dislike. "Inherits a comfortable property, goes to an expensive college, dawdles through Europe, and then comes home to play carpet knight and read poetry to girls. Why doesn't he go to work?"

Bowers made no reply to the gibe. He was watching Ruth. Presently in his slow way he checked off her qualifications:—

"Handsome girl, good education, kind disposition, rich, no airs, and no incumbrances, barring her companion, the old maid cousin, who could be pensioned. Ross, she'd do you more good than a brace of married women."

Shelby threw off the laugh of a contented man.

"I'm not in the marrying class."

"Then you'd better enter." His hand on the door, Bowers asked, "Your contribution for the county campaign fund ready?"

"Draw you a check any time," the candidate returned jauntily.

Nevertheless, when the county leader had gone Shelby gave a diligent quarter-hour to his bankbook. By and by he took an opera glass from a drawer and focussed it on the pair below. So his clerk came upon him, compelling a ruse of adjusting the instrument.

"One lens has dust in it," he declared. Perceiving Bernard Graves pass down the box-bordered path, he left his office for the day.

That evening Shelby took certain steps to prosper his coming rally at the court-house, one of which was duly noted by Mrs. Seneca Bowers. It was this lady's habit in summer evenings to discuss the doings of her immediate neighbors from her piazza, but now that the nights were cool she had shifted to the bay window of a room styled by courtesy the library from a small bookcase filled with Patent Office Reports and similar offerings of a beneficent government. This station embraced a wide prospect of shady street flanked by pleasantly sloping lawns and dwellings of various architectural pretence. Most proximate and most interesting to Mrs. Bowers was the Hilliard house, and while she rocked placidly over her darning, she contrived to hold this gingerbread edifice in a scrutiny which permitted the escape of no slightest movement of chick or child. She saw the newsboy leave the evening city papers; Milicent Hilliard dance down the leaf-strewn walk to a last half-hour's play; a white-capped maid sheet the geranium beds against possible frost; and, finally, the householder himself emerge and light a cigar whose ruddy tip winked for a second in the thickening dusk. Listing from side to side, big Joe Hilliard tramped heavily down and away to his nightly haunt in the billiard room of the Tuscarora House. As the quarry owner's great bulk vanished Shelby entered the scene, briskly crosscut the Hilliard lawn, and bounded up the steps just quitted by the substantial Joe.

"There; he's done it again!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowers.

"Who has done what?" grunted her husband, from the lounge. He was coatless and shoeless, and had spread a newspaper over his bald spot to the annoyance of a few superannuated yet active flies.

"Ross Shelby. He's gone to Cora Hilliard's again!"

"Well, let him," said Bowers, from beneath the news of the day. "It's a free country."

Mrs. Bowers smoothed a mended sock and rolled it into a neat ball with its fellow by aid of an arc light which sizzled into sudden brilliance among the maples.

"'Tisn't his going that's such a scandal," she discriminated. "All the men run there. It's the way he goes. This is the ninth time I've known him to wait till Joe Hilliard had left the house."

"Looks as if he didn't dote on Joe's society," chuckled Bowers. "I can't say that I do myself."

"It's a scandal," repeated Mrs. Bowers, firmly. Her husband remaining indifferent, she assumed her wifely prerogative to pass rigorous judgment upon his conscience. "And it's your plain duty, Seneca Bowers, to speak to him."

The old man flung off his newspaper with a snort.

"What call have I to set up as a censor of public morals?" he demanded testily. "I'm not Shelby's guardian. He's of age. He's cut his eye teeth. Talk sense, Eliza."

Mrs. Bowers essayed a flank attack.

"You're the Tuscarora boss, aren't you?"

"Yes, I'm county leader."

"What you say goes?"

"I suppose so."

She pushed her Socratic pitfall a step farther.

"When you say run so-and-so, he runs, doesn't he?"

Bowers permitted himself a dry smile in the dark.

"Most generally."

"Then you're responsible," she argued triumphantly. "You got Ross Shelby into politics; you've run him for this and that; he's your charge."

The Hon. Seneca Bowers turned his disgusted face to the wall.

"So you've the Sunday-school idea of politics," he threw over his shoulder with heavy sarcasm. "I'm to teach a Bible class and pass out dinkey little reward-of-merit cards to the prize pupils! Bah!"

His wife presently fetched her outdoor wraps and adjusted them before a mirror in the dimly lit hall.

"I'm going to take a tumbler of jelly to poor lonely Mrs. Weatherwax," she announced from the door.

Bowers roused suddenly.

"I hope, Eliza, you don't intend raking them over the coals with her," he protested, rummaging for his slippers; but his consort was beyond hail.

A literal transcript of the talk in progress over the way would have confounded the evil thinking; to illustrate the blameless text with an equally faithful record of Shelby's actions might salt the narrative. He had a lawyer's perception of the values of words as words, and through extended practice with Mrs. Hilliard excelled in that deft juggling of pregnant trifles without which Platonic friendships must die of inanition. He now thanked the lady for her successful coup at the club without specifically naming it—to hint at prearrangement were too fatuous; and Mrs. Hilliard admired his tact. Parenthetically she reflected that Joe had no tact. Without specifically naming it, Shelby contrived to suggest that she could do him yet greater service by shepherding society at his ratification meeting.

"To be significant, that sort of thing should be broadly representative," said he.

His words were impersonal, but there was no misreading his look.

Mrs. Hilliard offered her aid with equal thrift of speech and prodigality of glance. She rejoiced in transparent subtleties. Joe was never subtle.

"But I've no right to ask it of you—I don't ask it," Shelby deprecated with his lips.

"You have every right, dear friend," she reassured. "Friend! We are more than friends, you and I. We are spiritually akin. We fairly speak without words."

"Exactly." His business despatched, Shelby prepared to go. "My time isn't my own now," he explained. "It belongs to the party."

"Selfish party," she pouted. "I hate it."



CHAPTER V

By the night of the meeting it was clear that that bugaboo of politicians, a general apathy, had blanketed the candidate's own community. Shelby should have stirred local pride. Not for years, in fact not since Bowers himself sat in Congress, had the nomination come to Tuscarora County out of the several counties which the Demijohn District comprised. Nor had the interval since the convention been a time for folding of hands. Mrs. Hilliard rounded her social circle, rallying the members of the Culture Club to stand by their own, and appealing to such outside its membership as seemed desirable on the ground of local pride. Shelby became all things to all men. To the club people he was the Club Candidate; to the unclubbed townsfolk he was New Babylon's Candidate; while among the quarry workers and other socially impossible flotsam and jetsam of the voting public other agencies than Mrs. Hilliard's heralded him as the People's Candidate. Yet the fog of apathy refused to lift.

There can naturally be little of the herdlike crushing at the doors of a political gathering in the country which marks the urban rally. The rural citizen has elbow-room to take his politics sedately and order his going with temperate pulse and judicial mind. Of such mettle normally were the New Babylonians who took their leisured way beneath the fluted columns of the court-house into Shelby's rally; but this audience felt itself more than normally temperate and judicial. Despite Mrs. Hilliard, despite the Hon. Seneca Bowers, despite Shelby's own striving, it had come less to encourage than to try and weigh.

The high places were immutably fixed. The bench of the courtroom, surmounted by a pitcher of ice-water and adorned by crayon portraits of New Babylonians learned in the law, of course stood consecrate to the speakers. The arm-chairs within the railed precinct set apart for members of the bar were by unwritten canon the peculiar haunt of citizens of light and leading, while the jury-box and its neighboring benches by custom immemorial bloomed with the pick of feminine good society. It was a privilege of the socially elect to enter such meetings at the court-house by way of the court's own staircase behind the bench, and so came Bernard Graves. Spying a vacant seat beside Ruth Temple, the young man slipped into it as unobtrusively as Mrs. Hilliard's acute sense of her responsibility as society's chief whip would permit.

"The club has responded nobly," she confided in a stage whisper across the intervening millinery. "That eccentric Volney Sprague is positively the only recreant. And isn't the audience representative?"

She beamed impartially round upon the just and the unjust through her jewelled lorgnon. Mrs. Hilliard rejoiced in her lorgnon. It compensated fully for her defect of vision, and lent her a distinction which she felt to be wholly cosmopolitan. She aspired to be cosmopolitan.

The New Babylon Brass Band fell lustily upon a popular two-step at this moment, and an usher thrust a bundle of campaign leaflets into Graves's hands. One of these pamphlets contained a half-tone portrait of Shelby, with an account of his career and a few phrases from the more noteworthy of his public addresses. Graves gave these latter a caustic scrutiny, and read aloud one of the italicized quotations.

"'It has been said, that Egypt is the gift of the Nile; Tuscarora County is no less the gift of the Erie Canal!' Now what can you say of a man who couples those two ideas with a sober face? He is aesthetically dead."

"At least, he's enthusiastic," smiled Ruth, "which is refreshing nowadays. The canal is his master hobby, the poetry of his prosaic existence. Mr. Shelby is nothing if not practical."

"Offensively practical."

"Practicality achieves."

Graves thought he detected an implication levelled at himself, and laughingly accused her.

Ruth made no denial.

"The world weighs achievement," she returned, "not barren cleverness."

Outwardly serene, the young man was inwardly ruffled. It was no new thing for her to reproach him with napkined talents, and he was wont to count it as an earnest of her liking. The novelty of this situation lay in her presenting Shelby as a pattern of fruitfulness, and it irked him. The agile leap of the brass band from the half-finished two-step to "Hail to the Chief," suddenly put this out of mind, and he watched the speakers of the evening file up the judge's staircase to the rostrum. With the subsidence of the musicians the Hon. Seneca Bowers aligned himself with the water-pitcher.

"How much he looks like Grant!" exclaimed Mrs. Hilliard, with originality.

With soldierly calm Bowers waited for the applause to cease, and submitted a slated list of officers for the meeting. It was straightway manifest that he had made good his promise to take care of Dr. Crandall. Speech-making was the breath of the worthy, if pompous, physician's nostrils, and Bowers had shrewdly judged that to offer him the chairmanship would clinch his wavering allegiance. The crowd which always relished his grandiloquence, voted him into office with a shout, and cheered his soaring periods to their peroration. A quartet of young voters now proceeded in catchy doggerel to laud the virtues of the party and the commanding genius of its candidates, thereby giving the blown doctor a much-needed respite. He came up in good form presently, winged another flight with Shelby's name as its climax, and while Mrs. Hilliard split a new pair of gloves in ineffectual applause, the candidate rose and faced his well-wishers and his foes.

"Mr. Chairman," he began, "men and women."

Bernard Graves was surprised into approval of his unexpected good taste, never dreaming that a chance remark of Ruth's had moved Shelby to discard the more hackneyed form of address. Before ever he presented himself as a candidate for public office, Shelby had been rated in the note-book of the Secretary of the State Committee as an effective speaker on "canals, local issues, and currency," with the further information that he was "strong in rural neighborhoods." This entry foreshadowed the development of an art which he had since rounded to high facility. He was considered a spellbinder of uncommon power.

"There are some among you who think harsh things of the way by which the honor of a congressional nomination has come to the community we love," he went on boldly. "I ask all such—my honest critics, I make no doubt—and I ask my avowed supporters to listen to a story. It's an old story, nearly as old as New Babylon itself, and many of you must have heard it from the honored lips of the Tuscarora pioneers whose deeds it chronicles. It is a story of our town in that rough-hewn past before railroads were dreamed of, before 'Clinton's Ditch' had touched our wilderness with its mighty wand and made it blossom like the rose. We owe a vast debt to De Witt Clinton," he digressed to add. "He was our Moses, and I can never think upon his great achievement without a thrill of gratitude. I confess to a mania for the Erie Canal."

A man in the body of the audience whom Graves recognized as a canal bank watch whose appointment Shelby had brought about, called for three-times-three, but Shelby interfered, saying, "I'd rather you'd listen than cheer."

"I speak," he continued, "of New Babylon before the coming of the canal put an end to the log cabins, the spinning-wheels, the ox-sleds, the corduroy roads, the miasmatic swamps, the wolves, the bears, the fever, the ague, the blue pill, and all the rude makeshifts and backwoods' evils which to your forefathers and mine were stern reality. These were the days when men wore their coat collars high in the back and small clothes were lengthening into trousers; when veterans of the Revolution still walked the land hale and strong, and the second war with the mother country was an uncicatrized memory. In short, I mean New Babylon of the critical hour when the Legislature wisely saw fit to erect Tuscarora County, and appointed a commission to choose a county-seat. 'Then was the tug-of-war.' New Babylon coveted the award, pined for it, panted for it as the hart for the water brooks. But so did Etruria, our strapping rival."

A ripple of appreciation of his version of the familiar legend ran from jury-box to door, and Shelby, a psychologist, like every real orator, perceived it with stirring pulse. The instrument he knew best lay attuned to his hand.

"How little could we boast," he said, adroitly identifying his listeners with the past. "The surveyors assured us that the canal was pointed our way, though no one was sanguine of its speedy coming. We did occupy the geographical centre of the new county, and with that ends the tale of our pretensions."

"We had Penelope Chubb!"

The suggestion came from an old man in one of the arm-chairs immediately below.

Interruptions never disconcerted Shelby.

"I forgot Penelope Chubb," he admitted smilingly. "Yes, we had her, the best dress-maker in Tuscarora, whom even Etruria was keen to employ. But you wouldn't have had us offer Penelope Chubb to the commissioners as an inducement," he added, and won a laugh for his readiness. "It was far different with Etruria. It lay on the great Ridge Road, and the stages from the East tooled and trumpeted straight through its long main street. It had stores and shops and factories, it had a grist-mill, a distillery, a tavern—"

"Two taverns," corrected the hoary critic below.

"Two taverns, a bona fide doctor, a licensed preacher, the only academy, the only meeting-house, the only printing-press, and the only newspaper within the county limits. The Etrurians were so cock-sure of victory that they raised the price of village lots. Yet we presumed to hope. Great emergencies focus on individuals; so with ours. New Babylon found its saviour in Israel Booth."

Booth's name was the signal for an outburst. The older generation held him in equal reverence with the fathers of the republic.

"It was Israel Booth who saw that our one hope lay in a natural resource, and set himself to conjure one from Red Jacket Creek. Genius has seldom worked with less promising material. Red Jacket Creek isn't an imposing stream to-day as it skirts our town,—I am told few of the historic streams are imposing,—and there was hardly more of it then. It yielded adequate power to run the sawmills only during the spring freshets when the swamps overflowed, and it was our ill luck that the legislative commission decided to visit Tuscarora in dog-days while Etruria's stage line was doing a land-office business and our poor little resource was wasted to a long-drawn-out puddle choked with cat-tails and lily-pads. But what dismayed other men seemed to spur Israel Booth, and one night, a bare fortnight before the commissioners' coming, his great conception saw its birth. Before he slept he took counsel with the leading settlers."

Shelby broke off to address one of his audience.

"Your father was in the secret, Mr. Hewett," he said; "and yours, Dr. Crandall—and my grandfather, and many another upright citizen."

The gentlemen singled out for reflected fame stirred consciously in the effort to appear unconscious.

"Now Red Jacket Creek woke from its summer sleep. The spiders in the mill yards were dispossessed; lumber that had been hauled away was replaced and piled conspicuously; the dams and flumes were repaired, and the water-gates were shut; the backwater began to flood the ponds and agitate the colony of frogs; prominent men were heard to pray for rain, and Israel Booth was seen carrying water by night from his well to the raceway; New Babylon was big with mystery. You all know the sequel. You know how the commissioners came to us hungry from Etruria; how Booth and his helpers met them in Sunday butternut and shirt frills without spot; how we flattered our visitors' distinguished yet entirely human stomachs with the toothsome dishes of our grandmothers; how we cracked dusty bottles of Madeira brought years before from New England; and how we brewed a waggish punch from the output of our rival's own distillery. You know how they were driven presently about our cleanly streets, every dooryard raked spick and span against their coming, and were brought at last to the mills. You know how the Red Jacket, pent to bursting from a providential thunder-storm of the night, blustered down through the race with the pride of a Danube; how the saws sang, the logs rolled, the teamsters shouted, and the commissioners admired. You know, too, that the guests left before the waters abated or the punch-bowl knew drought; and that by the same token we won our fight. Does any of you in his inmost heart censure the pioneers for their stratagem? I think not. They worked with what tools lay to their hands, and the profit is their children's and their children's children's."

He wisely left it to his listeners to point the parallel, and turned to discuss the larger issues of the campaign. His canvass chanced among one of the several battles waged over the national currency, a thorny topic at best, but Shelby threw a life into the juiceless principles of his theme which roused the dullest. At the last, referring to the hardships a depreciated currency might entail on the nation's pensioners, he turned to the Hon. Seneca Bowers as if his Grant-like figure typified the great war's heroism, and delivered an impassioned eulogy upon the soldier dead. It was naturally, convincingly done, and the audience was loath to find it his peroration.

There was no doubt of his sweeping triumph. With its formal close the meeting transformed itself spontaneously into a reception, and, under the spell of his eloquence still, men prophesied that his brilliant career would halt not short of the governorship. Mrs. Hilliard would be satisfied with nothing less than the presidency.

"The world his oyster," said Bernard Graves. He had pocketed a sheaf of stenographic notes, with which he had busied himself during the latter part of Shelby's speech, and mounted a bench with Ruth, the better to watch the crowd surge round the foot of the platform. "Shall we go now?" he asked at length.

Ruth turned from the scene with shining eyes.

"I promised I would tell him what I thought," she answered.

"You promised Shelby!"

"He called the other day—after you had gone. He talks well of politics. I was interested."

Bernard Graves swallowed something unpalatable.

"And the speech?" he said. "What do you think?"

"That it was remarkable—even brilliant, as they're saying."

"Great is buncombe."

"Don't," she begged. "Why spoil it for me? If nothing more, it proves him a born orator, who can do what he will with men. I believe in him."

Shelby approached them presently, with the melting of the throng, and Graves had to listen to an antiphony of praise, sung by Ruth and Mrs. Hilliard. In a lull he asked Shelby if he admired the oratorical methods of General Garfield.

"Eh!" said Shelby, abruptly.

"Your manner suggests his at times."

"Yes—oh, yes. I see. Powerful speaker, Garfield. No bad model, you know."

"Yes, I know," Graves answered.

Shelby turned again to the circle of women, and Graves left the building. A few minutes later he entered the Whig office and made his way to Sprague's cluttered sanctum.

"Volney," he announced, as the editor peered genially from underneath the green drop-light, "I want to browse in your file of the Congressional Record. And you've Garfield's Works down here, too, haven't you?"



CHAPTER VI

Shelby stretched himself awake and contentedly surveyed his bachelor bedroom in the Tuscarora House. He had boarded at this establishment upward of five years, and his chamber had been decorated and, to a degree, furnished in accord with his notions of elegant comfort. The wall paper was a pattern which William Morris and his disciples would have writhed to behold,—a hideous terra-cotta ground overrun with meaningless scrolls and stiff garlands of roses of an unearthly pink. There were stuffy maroon lambrequins above the window casements, and two large blue vases, containing many-dyed plumes of pampas grass, flanked like rigid sentinels a pseudo-marble clock upon the truly marble mantelpiece which somehow suggested a mausoleum falling to decay; while the blue motive was further emphasized by a plush photograph album, with a little mirror let into its cover, standing in a metallic holder on the bureau, whose sombre walnut matched the bed and chairs. The pictures included a chromo, depicting an impossible castle set in an equally impossible landscape, a print or two of race horses, a lithograph of a poker game in supposably high life, and a photogravure of a painting familiar to the habitues of a great metropolitan hotel, popularly fancied in the country to be daring in the extreme. At first sight of the original, over the rim of a cocktail, Shelby had been fired with the resolve to own some sort of copy, and even now, after several years of possession, he esteemed it one of the world's masterpieces of pictorial art.

He dressed himself in the same content which had flushed his waking revery. The plaudits of last night's mass-meeting still rang harmoniously in his ears, and the praise of Ruth Temple and Mrs. Hilliard was sweeter in retrospect than it had been in reality. This happy serenity bore him company through the bare echoing corridors of the hotel to the office, to be heightened by the gratulations of the landlord and the help, who seemed to feel that a vicarious honor had been done the house, a most insinuating form of hero-worship which attained its climax in the homage of the true-penny who set forth his morning bitters on the bar.

Extended notices of the meeting had been telegraphed to the neighboring cities by local correspondents, and Shelby ran through the newspaper accounts in the cheerless dining room, which he thought to-day by no means comfortless. There was a flattering deference in the manner of the waitresses, and the lessening of their pert familiarity told him, more plainly perhaps than anything else, that he had become a personage. He failed to remind them that the oatmeal was burned, the rolls soggy, and the coffee reminiscent of chicory. He ate all that was set before him, and was still content. The hotel barber-shop seemed a blithe spot indeed, as he sat for his daily shave, and the admiring barber a prince of good fellows. Sweet also were the greetings of the market-place, as, cigar in mouth, he sauntered through Main Street to his law office. All his paths were pleasantness and peace.

The first discordant note was struck, oddly enough, by his faithful satellite, William Irons, who, at his employer's entrance, abruptly left off an attempt to coax his red shock into lovelocks, slid his pocket mirror under a heap of papers, and fell to hammering the typewriter with unnatural energy. Shelby accepted the subterfuge, and wished him a hearty good morning.

"Did you attend the rally, William?" he inquired, as he slit the envelopes of his morning's mail.

"Yep," said William Irons.

"Everybody seemed pleased?"

"Nope."

"No?" Shelby repeated, lifting his eyes. "And who was disgruntled?"

"The Widow Weatherwax."

"Ah! That's unfortunate," returned Shelby, blandly. "What is the widow's grievance?"

"She's put out because you told a story makin' light of drinkin' punch. She belongs to all the temp'rance societies doin' business, you know."

"No; I didn't know."

"And she says none of her church 'll vote for you after your countenancin' such a cryin' sin."

"Her list of cardinal sins is extensive."

"Yep," agreed William. "Won't even let me play my fiddle in the house. Says it's a vanity."

"I'd forgotten that you had gone to live with her."

"Do chores for my keep," explained the clerk. "Have codfish three times a day, Monday morning to Saturday night, and no warm victuals Sundays. Makes me keep my fiddle in the barn and play it behind the woodpile."

Shelby laughed, and sought to woo back his mood of charity toward all, but it was futile. The widow's mite of hostile criticism had leavened the whole lump with bitterness. Nevertheless, he bridled his tongue.

Work came hard for the moment, and his eyes strayed past his papers through an open window and spied Ruth Temple's slender shape in the lawn below. The dewy freshness of the morning seemed to touch her youth as it did the asters and belated hollyhocks of the quaint garden into which she passed as he watched. Then Bernard Graves suddenly cut into the picture, and drew a newspaper from his pocket, directing her attention to something which amused him. But Ruth did not laugh. Shelby clearly saw her color change.

A heavy step outside his door heralded the coming of the Hon. Seneca Bowers. The county leader was in no mood for idle words, and looked as Grant may have looked when about to pass judgment on a disgraced soldier.

"Seen the Whig?" he asked curtly, when William Irons had been despatched to the post-office.

"The Whig! No, I don't take it."

"I'd advise you to subscribe."

Shelby's face sobered with a premonition of misfortune.

"What's to pay now?" he asked.

Bowers struck open a copy of Volney Sprague's newspaper, and with stubby rigid thumb guided the candidate's glance to an editorial.

"Read that, sir."

His tone was a new thing in their intercourse, but without remark Shelby read:—

"AN ELOQUENT THIEF"

"Before a crowded mass-meeting last evening, Calvin Ross Shelby, congressional candidate for the suffrages of an intelligent people, stultified alike his hearers and himself. We shall not dignify his specious appeal to local pride with the easy exposure of its fallacy; the victory were too cheap; but since he glibly sought to establish a parallel between his own questionable political methods and the legendary deeds of the founders of our community, we too will frame from his eloquence a parallel which we commend to the orator and to his electors. In the newspaper business we call it the deadly parallel.

"Do you realize what this "When you can enlarge talk about the dollar means, if your farm by changing the true? It means that all you figures in your deeds; when need do to increase the acreage your dairymaid can make more of your farm is to change butter and cheese by watering the figures in your title deeds; the milk; when you can have it means that your creameries more cloth by decreasing your will yield a better product if yardstick one-half; when you you water the milk; it means can sell more tons of merchandise that when the housewife shops by shortening your pound she will buy more linen, or one-half,—then, and not until gingham, or calico, if the then, can you increase the value merchant moves the brass tacks of your property or labor by of his counter yard measure decreasing your standard of nearer together." values."

CALVIN ROSS SHELBY. JAMES ABRAM GARFIELD, Faneuil Hall, Boston, September 10, 1878.

"These fanatics say that if "But this is the first time I foreign nations don't want the ever heard a financial philosopher sort of money we choose to express his gratitude that we coin they can go without, and have a currency of such bad that we should be glad that repute that other nations will not they don't. We've some receive it; he is thankful that it other things that foreigners is not exportable. We have don't want. We've peaches a great many commodities in with the yellows, and weeviled such a condition that they are wheat, and rancid butter, and not exportable. Mouldy flour, ancient eggs, but I've yet to rusty wheat, rancid butter, meet a farmer who wants to damaged cotton, addled eggs, and corner the market. They spoiled goods generally are not remind me of a town that was exportable. But it never moved to build a gallows occurred to me to be thankful for because all its neighbors had this putrescence. It is related them. I don't need to add in a quaint German book of that it was not an American humor that the inhabitants of town. And one of the wise Schildeberg, finding that other city fathers was so carried away towns, with more public spirit by his patriotism that he tried than their own, had erected to make the council pass a gibbets within their precincts, resolution that the gallows be resolved that the town of reserved for that town's Schildeberg should also have a inhabitants exclusively." gallows; and one patriotic member of the town council offered a CALVIN ROSS SHELBY. resolution that the benefits of this gallows should be reserved exclusively for the inhabitants of Schildeberg."

JAMES ABRAM GARFIELD, House of Representatives, June 15, 1870.

"If each grave had a voice "If each grave had a voice to tell us what its silent tenant to tell us what its silent tenant last saw and heard on earth, we last saw and heard on earth, we might stand, with uncovered might stand, with uncovered heads, and hear the whole story heads, and hear the whole story of the war. We should hear of the war. We should hear that one perished when the first that one perished when the first great drops of the crimson great drops of the crimson shower began to fall, when the shower began to fall, when the darkness of that first disaster at darkness of that first disaster at Manassas fell like an eclipse on Manassas fell like an eclipse on the nation; that another died the nation; that another died of disease while wearily waiting of disease while wearily waiting for winter to end; that this one for winter to end; that this one fell on the field, in sight of the fell on the field, in sight of the spires of Richmond, little dreaming spires of Richmond, little dreaming that the flag must be carried that the flag must be carried through three more years of through three more years of blood before it should be planted blood before it should be planted in that citadel of treason; and in that citadel of treason; and that one fell when the tide of that one fell when the tide of war had swept us back till the war had swept us back till the roar of rebel guns shook the roar of rebel guns shook the dome of the capitol, and dome of yonder capitol, and re-echoed in the chambers of the re-echoed in the chambers of the Executive mansion. We should Executive mansion. We should hear mingled voices from the hear mingled voices from the Rappahannock, the Rapidan, the Rappahannock, the Rapidan, the Chickahominy, and the James, Chickahominy, and the James, solemn voices from the Wilderness, solemn voices from the Wilderness, and triumphant shouts from and triumphant shouts from the Shenandoah, from Petersburg, the Shenandoah, from Petersburg, and the Five Forks, mingled and the Five Forks, mingled with the wild acclaim of with the wild acclaim of victory and the sweet chorus of victory and the sweet chorus of returning peace." returning peace."

CALVIN ROSS SHELBY. JAMES ABRAM GARFIELD, Arlington, Va., May 30,1868.

"Of these three passages, rightly thought by Calvin Ross Shelby's audience the most telling of his speech, the first and second are unmistakably plagiarisms of ideas, while the third, differing from its original in but one telltale, damning word, is shameless, flat-footed theft. Either of the first two offences committed singly might be unconscious; conjoined they betray deliberation; united with the third they 'smell to heaven.' It is high time for the voters of this congressional district to ask themselves the question. Shall we vote for a thief?"

"Well, sir, well?" exploded Bowers at last.

Shelby tossed the paper aside with a laugh.

"It's well done."

"Well done!" Bowers dropped one of his infrequent oaths. "Have you nothing else to say?"

"Yes; it's true, more or less."

"You admit it?"

"Keep cool. It was this way: I was pressed for time when I prepared my speech,—you know that,—and it occurred to me to adapt one or two of Garfield's illustrations. I've studied him some, and he said many things that fit in nowadays as well as they ever did. Plenty of speakers quarry there I guess. I honestly meant to give him the credit of that soldier business in my peroration, but somehow the quotation marks were lost in the shuffle. There was but one chance in a thousand that anybody would notice."

"Somebody did," growled Bowers, and spat our his mangled cigar.

"Yes; I ran against a man with a memory."

"It wasn't on the square, Ross. It'll hurt you."

Shelby eyed him shrewdly.

"You read speeches in Washington that I wrote," he reminded.

"That's different. Lots of congressmen do that,—even senators. They're not posted on everything."

"No," Shelby agreed, with an irony too subtle for Bowers; "they certainly are not. However, there's no need to borrow trouble over this thing. People will laugh a little, say it was a good speech, wherever I got it, and vote the straight party ticket despite Bernard Graves."

"Graves," said Bowers. "What has he to do with it?"

"Everything; he's the little joker with the memory."

Bowers whistled.

"What is he after?"

Shelby jerked his head toward the Temple doorstep where Bernard still lingered.

"After her."



CHAPTER VII

"Humor a silk stocking according to his crotchet, that's my maxim," submitted Bowers as they threshed the matter out in its latest aspect.

"I can't see its application to Graves. He's outside politics; hates the very name, they say."

"Practical politics is applied human nature. If a rule is sound in politics, it will work anywhere this side of the pearly gates. Graves may not care a tinker's dam for politics, but evidently he does get queasy when another man's ideas are misappropriated. Perhaps that's his crotchet. Writes himself, doesn't he?"

"Some rubbish or other," returned Shelby, contemptuously.

"That's where he is susceptible, to my thinking. I don't cotton to your woman theory. I say leave women out of politics. So conciliate him; humor his crotchet."

"I can't see why I should kotow to him, or what further harm he can do," said the candidate, but he deferred to Bowers's judgment. "I'll look him up this afternoon," he agreed; "though I've no stomach for the job. I never liked the cuss."

He abundantly appreciated this long-standing antipathy as he cast about for some common ground of interest in the little reception-room of the house shared by Bernard Graves and his mother. It seemed to the waiting caller a drab and lifeless home, uninteresting in its appointments, and out of keeping with the wealth known to have been inherited by the widow and her son. The young man's study was visible down the vista of a series of low-ceiled apartments, and Shelby saw that it was crammed with books. None of the many pictures could cope in dash and color with his own collection and, what seemed to him singular in a Protestant home, they were chiefly of the Madonna; all in all, a tame assortment beside his copy of the secular masterpiece in the great metropolitan hotel. Over one of the crowded bookcases was the cast of a winged woman. It was armless and headless, and Shelby wondered by what accident it had become so damaged, and why it was not banished to the attic.

The maid came presently to tell him that Mr. Bernard had gone for a walk to the golf links.

Shelby was relieved. He felt ill at ease in this queer drab dwelling, and doubtful of the course he ought to pursue with its tenant. It would be another matter altogether in the open air. Returning to his law office, he bade William Irons to telephone the Tuscarora House livery-stable to send around his horse and buggy.

At the farm-house on the outskirts which served the golf devotees for a headquarters Shelby was told that Graves had gone yet farther, taking the direction of the Hilliard quarries—geologizing bent, the speaker thought. Unassociated with practical results, this had always presented itself to Shelby as a trivial pursuit akin to botany, embroidery, and other employments distinctly feminine. He forebore comment, however, and presently struck down a road which wound into a little suburb peopled by Polish quarry-workers. It was essentially an alien community in whose straggling streets and lanes one heard English but seldom. Tow-headed children, shy elves peeping from odd hiding-places, swarmed a half-dozen and upward to a house. Work was the key-note of Little Poland, as it was called. While the men toiled in the sandstone quarries the women did a man's stint in the fields of the outlying farms, and bore more children. Childbirth was a mere detail in these thick-waisted women's lives; some hours, a day perhaps, and they were stooping in the fields again. And the children early put shoulder to the wheel; those too small for the fields begged food in the streets of the town. Little Poland was virtually a fief of Joe Hilliard's. Men, women, and elves looked up to him as to a benevolent feudal lord, and the naturalized males voted Joe Hilliard's party ticket with mechanical precision.

The politician approached the quarries with an interested eye. Among his many irons in the fire he had acquired part ownership in another quarry to the westward, like this bordering the towpath of the canal. Bowers held the controlling interest, though neither his name nor Shelby's figured prominently in its management. They called it the Eureka Sandstone Company.

Shelby tied his horse near the office, and, putting his head among the morning-glories curtaining an open window, stated his errand to Hilliard, whose vast bulk was humped ludicrously upon a high stool. The big fellow stopped thumbing his ledger, greeted him with a jovial shout, and directed him toward a stratum of rock which the workmen had recently unearthed.

"Look it over," he called after him. "It promises to pan out scrumptious. We struck A-1 rock seven feet below the surface."

"That discounts the Eureka," said Shelby. "We've never done better than twelve."

He picked his way through the yards, the hammers of the stone dressers clinking out a not unmusical chorus from every shed, and skirting the docks where the ponderous cranes swung the great slabs to the canal boats, scrambled down a rough roadway into the quarry proper amidst all the hurly-burly of the teamsters and the hoarse steam drills. The walls of sandstone rose sheer around him, sliced down by the blasts like sugar with a scoop. Some of the formation was not unlike sugar little refined; some, lighter, with streaks of grayish pink, like sides of bacon; and some, a rich deep brown which architects specified the country over, was said to have no equal the world around save only in Japan. In the newly uncovered tract Shelby spied Bernard Graves pecking about with a little hammer.

"Prospecting for gold?" he asked jocularly.

"No; fucoids."

"Eh?"

"Fossils, you know; a sort of seaweed. The only kind we can discover in this formation."

"My little freshwater college wasn't strong on the sciences," said Shelby, speculating whether this particular crotchet required humoring. As the young man's own interest in the topic seemed languid, he decided against this course and frankly told him that he wanted to talk with him. "Suppose we move away from the clatter of the drills," he suggested.

Graves assented, and they shifted from beneath the overhanging bank of sandy loam to the shade of an unused derrick.

"Smoke?" queried the politician, affably.

Graves declined a cigar, explaining, "I merely take a cigarette now and then, usually after dinner."

Shelby's contempt for cigarettes was boundless, but he dissembled his opinion, and lit the strongest cigar in his case.

"It's up to me, Bernard," he confessed with a laugh. "It's my move, and I'm right on the spot like a little man, though humble pie isn't my favorite tidbit by a large majority."

"Meaning what?" asked Graves, without animation.

Behind the candidate's urbane mask rioted a lust to mar and maim, but his political self explained blandly:—

"Meaning that your checkmate in this morning's Whig was well played."

"I didn't write that editorial."

"I know you didn't. It had the Volney Sprague earmarks. But you did what is more important,—you inspired it."

"Well?"

"Just this: in a general way I admit its justness, and come frankly to tell you so."

"Why should you trouble yourself?"

Shelby throttled his mounting ire.

"Because," he returned slowly, "I recognize your ability and want your support. If you mean to interest yourself in politics, I can be of service to you. I know, of course, you don't think politicians are necessarily scamps."

"I judge no class of men so summarily," Graves opened his mouth to protest. "That is too much like Burke's indictment against a whole people, you know."

The allusion was not familiar, but Shelby said, "Exactly," with labored calm. He fancied that he detected a note of condescension, and resented it passionately.

"The average politician isn't such a bad lot," he went on. "His methods don't always square with the Decalogue, but he means well, and in the long run does well. I don't say this to pat myself on the back. You know me. I'm a plain, practical man, and try to steer by common-sense. If I'm elected to Congress, I'll do my best to make the district proud of me, and I'll promise you personally, right here and now, that I will deliver no man's speeches but my own."

Graves wished that he would make an end of his excuses and go away. The whole episode bored him, and his mind wandered even while he listened. He was thinking that that muscular Pole directing the planting of a steam drill below the sand-bank a rather statuesque figure for these prosaic days. The man had jumped upon the tripod of the drill in ordering the work, and loomed large and competent. Graves thought him in feature not unlike his great compatriot John Sobieski, and tried to picture him in the Polish king's armor which he remembered to have seen in some European collection. Shelby's silence recalled him.

"Really, there's no necessity for you to explain or promise anything to me," he rejoined coldly. "I'm not in politics, and I don't care to be."

Shelby had reached his last ditch.

"You think you're too damned good for it," he broke out. "It's the lily-fingered people of your stripe who make reform a byword and a laughing-stock."

Graves's face flamed, and he shrank inwardly with a scholar's repugnance from the rencounter. Outwardly, however, he was truculent.

"Such bar-room personalities are characteristic of you," he retorted. "Your place—"

But it was fated that Shelby should not learn his place. A sharp warning cry from a workman heralded the crumbling fall of a great section of the bank overhanging the drill which Graves had idly watched, and, as idly, watched still. A dreamer of habit, his will failed immediately to rally to the naked fact and its demands. It was unreal, a picture, a play, a poet's conception of chaos—that was it! The thing was Dantesque or Miltonic. The gaping rent, the jumbled rocks, the thick spurt of steam issuing from the buried drill, it was all tumultuous, primeval; and that grimy workman, heaving aside the dirt and scrambling to the air, was suggestive of Milton's earth-born "tawny lion, pawing to get free."

"Good God, man, wake up!" Shelby shook him roughly by the arm and dragged him toward the scene of the catastrophe. "There are men under that heap."

A little knot of Polish laborers forthwith congregated, ox-eyed and inert. Shelby tore a shovel from a paralyzed hand and began to dig, ripping out crisp oaths at their stupidity.

"Find shovels for these cattle," he commanded.

By signs Graves roused the unnerved men to action, but he could find no sort of tool for himself, and stood empty-handed apart, conscious of unfitness. The politician, burrowing like a woodchuck, showered him with red earth.

"English? Anybody speak English?" he panted without stopping. "How many are under here?"

One of the workmen understood, chattered excitedly with his fellows, and held up one soiled finger.

"Ein," he said. "Kiska, he vork here."

Shelby's shovel grated on the cylinder of the buried drill. From underneath its tripod protruded the booted leg of a man.

"Go easy, boys," he cautioned.

With his own hands he skilfully uncovered the victim's head and trunk. Graves saw that it was the giant of his day-dream. The man's rugged face was earth-stained and still; his great chest motionless. Shelby mastered the situation with a glance, thrust his hand into the coarse shirt, and felt for the heart.

"There's life in him," he announced. "Over with him into the shade." Between them all they bore him to a shelf of level rock. "Off with his shirt," said Shelby to his helper, and they two stripped the body to the waist. It was the torso of a gladiator. Shelby rolled the garment and thrust it underneath the bare back below the shoulders. "It's not high enough," he decided instantly. "Something else—a coat—anything."

Kiska's compatriots could not have complied had they understood, being coatless to a man. Bernard Graves took off a new golf coat which Shelby ruthlessly crumpled and stuffed into place. An instant later he was astride the Pole's hips, his hands grasping the powerful chest on either side. Bracing his elbows, Shelby bore his whole weight forward, counted three, sat back upon his knees, counted two, and so continued, down "one-two-three," up "one-two," with the quiet assurance of a surgeon.

The younger man watched his every movement with wondering respect. The operator interrupted his meditations.

"Get hold of his tongue with your handkerchief," he ordered. "That's right—hold it by the tip. On one side—on one side. Now take both his wrists and pin them above his head—so."

All the while the steady pressure and relaxation went on, compelling the lungs to their function. Presently came the faintest quiver of a nostril, and Shelby smiled.

"Kiska will do his own breathing pretty soon," he said. Presently he suggested: "Better fetch Hilliard now. And have him 'phone Doc Crandall to come to Kiska's house in Little Poland. I'll take Kiska home in my rig when his bellows gets well under way."

Graves did his errand, outlining the disaster and rescue as he hurried with the quarry owner to the scene. Joe Hilliard was divided between sympathy for Kiska, whom he declared was the pick of his men, and admiration for Shelby's presence of mind.

"He's got gumption, that man," he exclaimed, "gumption, simon-pure."

Graves's own impressions were mixed, and the stress of the accident passed, he resumed his ruined coat with a vague sense of personal slight. Something of this sort prompted him to say rather patronizingly to Shelby as they parted:—

"You made skilful use of that method of resuscitation. Where in the world did you pick it up?"

"Every schoolboy knows it," returned the politician, shortly; "or every schoolboy should."



CHAPTER VIII

Shelby's forecast of the effect of the Whig's exposure was brilliantly fulfilled. People did laugh over it and say that it was a good speech, whatever its source. In popular conception literary theft is at worst a venial sin whose very iniquity is doubtful unless found out. The culprit's average fellow-townsman accepted the incident as fresh evidence of his acknowledged cleverness and promptly forgot it in the nine days' wonder over his exploit at the Hilliard quarries.

The town's attitude mirrored that of the congressional district and the state. Volney Sprague's editorial occasioned some little paragraphing here and there among up-state newspapers and by brief mention in Associated Press despatches roused a metropolitan daily of opposite political faith to one of the satirical thrusts for which it was famous; whereupon one of its more serious contemporaries found a text for a thunderous jeremiad on the decay of political morality. Yet where one person read of Shelby's plagiarism, a score devoured the sensational accounts of his rescue of Kiska, while of those who read both, an illogical but human majority considered his atonement complete.

Sprague himself was disposed to gauge Shelby's vogue with the groundlings as greater than before, and lamented it to Bernard Graves, who fell wholly into his mood for once and deplored the fatuity of popular judgment with unlooked-for warmth.

His friend listened with unqualified approval.

"Thank Heaven, you're beginning to take an interest in politics!" he exclaimed.

The young man flushed.

"There are some things in this man's canvass one can't ignore," he carefully explained, and tried to think he meant plagiarism.

He had not discussed recent happenings with Ruth Temple. When he took her the Whig article the morning after the mass-meeting she had displayed a disconcerting willingness to cloud the vital fact and excuse Shelby. Indeed, he finally left with the disgusted conviction that she had pilloried not the sinner but himself,—a not uncommon outcome in a clash of wits between a woman and a man. After that, he told himself, she might form what fantastic opinion of this freebooter she chose without let or hindrance from him, and at the same time he resolved that she should see less of him. The latter resolution proved as flimsy as a New Year's vow, but while it needed less than a smile to whistle him back, the whole distasteful subject of Shelby became tacitly taboo.

As Ruth was a very woman, often saying less what she really thought than what she knew would stir dissent, her innermost opinions were less stable than he fancied. She had not had speech with Shelby since the mass-meeting, but he had found time that night to ask her to drive with him, and she anticipated the outing with a zest whose disproportion to its surface cause she did not analyze.

On the appointed afternoon she saw his horse and buggy brought from the Tuscarora House and hitched at the curb below his office, and as it lacked little of the hour set she thrust home the last hat-pin and stood jacketed and gloved by a window, waiting his coming. The hour struck and brought no Shelby, though punctuality was the first article of his creed. Out in the drowsy thoroughfare a sprinkling-cart jarred heavily past, spurting ineffectually at the yellow dust which rose perversely under its baptism and surged beneath the awnings of the shops. It was Saturday, universal shopping-day in the farmland, and a ramshackle line of rustic vehicles—buggies, democrats, sulkies, lumber wagons—with graceless plough horses slumbering in the thills, stretched in ragged alignment down the curb. Shelby's smart turnout seemed fairly urban by contrast, and Ruth saw that it met with the critical approval of the loungers.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse