THE PLUM TREE
By DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS
Author of The Cost, Golden Fleece, Etc.
Illustrated By E. M. ASHE
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Copyright 1905 The Bobbs-Merrill Company
I. HOW IT ALL BEGAN 1 II. AT THE COURT OF A SOVEREIGN 17 III. SAYLER "DRAWS THE LINE" 33 IV. THE SCHOOL OF LIFE-AS-IT-IS 44 V. A GOOD MAN AND HIS WOES 68 VI. MISS RAMSAY REVOLTS 78 VII. BYGONES 96 VIII. A CALL FROM "THE PARTY" 107 IX. TO THE SEATS OF THE MIGHTY 123 X. THE FACE IN THE CROWD 136 XI. BURBANK 144 XII. BURBANK FIRES THE POPULAR HEART 163 XIII. ROEBUCK & CO. PASS UNDER THE YOKE 168 XIV. A "BOOM-FACTORY" 177 XV. MUTINY 193 XVI. A VICTORY FOR THE PEOPLE 199 XVII. SCARBOROUGH 209 XVIII. A DANGEROUS PAUSE 221 XIX. DAVID SENT OUT AGAINST GOLIATH 224 XX. PILGRIMS AND PATRIOTS 234 XXI. AN INTERLUDE 249 XXII. MOSTLY ABOUT MONEY 261 XXIII. IN WHICH A MOUSE HELPS A LION 271 XXIV. GRANBY INTRUDES AGAIN 282 XXV. AN HOUR OF EMOTION 292 XXVI. "ONLY AN OLD JOKE" 296 XXVII. A DOMESTIC DISCORD 306 XXVIII. UNDER A CRAYON PORTRAIT 314 XXIX. A LETTER FROM THE DEAD 327 XXX. A PHILOSOPHER RUDELY INTERRUPTED 333 XXXI. HARVEY SAYLER, SWINEHERD 345 XXXII. A GLANCE BEHIND THE MASK OF GRANDEUR 365 XXXIII. A "SPASM OF VIRTUE" 380 XXXIV. "LET US HELP EACH OTHER" 387
THE PLUM TREE
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
"We can hold out six months longer,—at least six months." My mother's tone made the six months stretch encouragingly into six long years.
I see her now, vividly as if it were only yesterday. We were at our scant breakfast, I as blue as was ever even twenty-five, she brave and confident. And hers was no mere pretense to reassure me, no cheerless optimism of ignorance, but the through-and-through courage and strength of those who flinch for no bogey that life or death can conjure. Her tone lifted me; I glanced at her, and what shone from her eyes set me on my feet, face to the foe. The table-cloth was darned in many places, but so skilfully that you could have looked closely without detecting it. Not a lump of sugar, not a slice of bread, went to waste in that house; yet even I had to think twice to realize that we were poor, desperately poor. She did not hide our poverty; she beautified it, she dignified it into Spartan simplicity. I know it is not the glamour over the past that makes me believe there are no women now like those of the race to which she belonged. The world, to-day, yields comfort too easily to the capable; hardship is the only mould for such character, and in those days, in this middle-western country, even the capable were not strangers to hardship.
"When I was young," she went on, "and things looked black, as they have a habit of looking to the young and inexperienced,"—that put in with a teasing smile for me,—"I used to say to myself, 'Well, anyhow, they can't kill me.' And the thought used to cheer me up wonderfully. In fact, it still does."
I no longer felt hopeless. I began to gnaw my troubles again—despair is still.
"Judge Granby is a dog," said I; "yes, a dog."
"Why 'dog'?" objected my mother. "Why not simply 'mean man'? I've never known a dog that could equal a man who set out to be 'ornery.'"
"When I think of all the work I've done for him in these three years—"
"For yourself," she interrupted. "Work you do for others doesn't amount to much unless it's been first and best for yourself."
"But he was benefited by it, too," I urged, "and has taken life easy, and has had more clients and bigger fees than he ever had before. I'd like to give him a jolt. I'd stop nagging him to put my name in a miserable corner of the glass in his door. I'd hang out a big sign of my own over my own office door."
My mother burst into a radiant smile. "I've been waiting a year to hear that," she said.
Thereupon I had a shock of fright—inside, for I'd never have dared to show fear before my mother. There's nothing else that makes you so brave as living with some one before whom you haven't the courage to let your cowardice show its feather. If we didn't keep each other up to the mark, what a spectacle of fright and flight this world-drama would be! Vanity, the greatest of vices, is also the greatest of virtues, or the source of the greatest virtues—which comes to the same thing.
"When will you do it?" she went on, and then I knew I was in for it, and how well-founded was the suspicion that had been keeping my lips tight-shut upon my dream of independence.
"I'll—I'll think about it," was my answer, in a tone which I hoped she would see was not hesitating, but reflective; "I mustn't go too far,—or too fast."
"Better go too far and too fast than not go at all," retorted my wise mother. "Once a tortoise beat a hare,—once. It never happened again, yet the whole timid world has been talking about it ever since." And she fell into a study from which she roused herself to say, "You'd better let me bargain for the office and the furniture,—and the big sign." She knew—but could not or would not teach me—how to get a dollar's worth for a dollar; would not, I suspect, for she despised parsimony, declaring it to be another virtue which is becoming only in a woman.
"Of course,—when—" I began.
"We've got to do something in the next six months," she warned. And now she made the six months seem six minutes.
I had at my tongue's end something about the danger of dragging her down into misfortune; but before speaking I looked at her, and, looking, refrained. To say it to her would have been too absurd,—to her who had been left a widow with nothing at all, who had educated me for college, and who had helped me through my first year there,—helped me with money, I mean. But for what she gave besides, more, immeasurably more,—but for her courage in me and round me and under me,—I'd never have got my degree or anything else, I fear. To call that courage help would be like saying the mainspring helps the watch to go. I looked at her. "They can't kill me, can they?" said I, with a laugh which sounded so brave that it straightway made me brave.
So it was settled.
But that was the first step in a fight I can't remember even now without a sinking at the heart. The farmers of Jackson County, of which Pulaski was the county seat, found in litigation their chief distraction from the stupefying dullness of farm life in those days of pause, after the Indian and nature had been conquered and before the big world's arteries of thought and action had penetrated. The farmers took eagerly to litigation to save themselves from stagnation. Still, a new lawyer, especially if he was young, had an agonizing time of it convincing their slow, stiff, suspicious natures that he could be trusted in such a crisis as "going to law."
To make matters worse I fell in love.
* * * * *
Once—it was years afterward, though not many years ago—Burbank, at the time governor, was with me, and we were going over the main points for his annual message. One of my suggestions—my orders to all my agents, high and low, have always been sugar-coated as "suggestions"—started a new train of thought in him, and he took pen and paper to fix it before it had a chance to escape. As he wrote, my glance wandered along the shelves of the book-cases. It paused on the farthest and lowest shelf. I rose and went there, and found my old school-books, those I used when I was in Public School Number Three, too near thirty years ago!
In the shelf one book stood higher than the others—tall and thin and ragged, its covers torn, its pages scribbled, stained and dog-eared. Looking through that old physical geography was like a first talk with a long-lost friend. It had, indeed, been my old friend. Behind its broad back I had eaten forbidden apples, I had aimed and discharged the blow-gun, I had reveled in blood-and-thunder tales that made the drowsy schoolroom fade before the vast wilderness, the scene of breathless struggles between Indian and settler, or open into the high seas where pirate, or worse-than-pirate Britisher, struck flag to American privateer or man-o'-war.
On an impulse shot up from the dustiest depths of memory, I turned the old geography sidewise and examined the edges of the cover. Yes, there was the cache I had made by splitting the pasteboard with my jack-knife. I thrust in my fingernail; out came a slip of paper. I glanced at Burbank—he was still busy. I, somewhat stealthily, you may imagine, opened the paper and—well, my heart beat much more rapidly as I saw in a school-girl scrawl:
[Transcriber's Note: the image is approximately this:
Harvey Sayler hait Elizabeth Crosby love
with the letters "H", "a", "r", "e", "y", "S", "l", "e" in the first line and "E", "l", "a", "e", "h", "r", "s", "y" in the second line, in that order, struck out, as marked by the game mentioned in the following paragraph.]
I was no longer master of a state; I was a boy in school again. I could see her laboring over this game of "friendship, love, indifference, hate." I could see "Redney" Griggs, who sat between her and me, in the row of desks between and parallel to my row and hers,—could see him swoop and snatch the paper from her, look at it, grin maliciously, and toss it over to me. I was in grade A, was sixteen, and was beginning to take myself seriously. She was in grade D, was little more than half my age, but looked older,—and how sweet and pretty she was! She had black hair, thick and wavy, with little tresses escaping from plaits and ribbons to float about her forehead, ears, and neck. Her skin was darker then, I think, than it is now, but it had the same smoothness and glow,—certainly, it could not have had more.
* * * * *
I think the dart must have struck that day,—why else did I keep the bit of paper? But it did not trouble me until the first winter of my launching forth as "Harvey Sayler, Attorney and Counselor at Law." She was the daughter of the Episcopal preacher; and, as every one thought well of the prospects of my mother's son, our courtship was undisturbed. Then, in the spring, when fortune was at its coldest and love at its most feverish, her father accepted a call to a church in Boston, eight hundred miles away.
To go to see her was impossible; how could the money be spared,—fifty dollars, at the least? Once—when they had been gone about four months—my mother insisted that I must. But I refused, and I do not know whether it is to my credit or not, for my refusal gave her only pain, whereas the sacrifices she would have had to make, had I gone, would have given her only pleasure. I had no fear that Betty would change in our separation. There are some people you hope are stanch, and some people you think will be stanch, if—, and then there are those, many women and a few men, whom it is impossible to think of as false or even faltering. I did not fully appreciate that quality then, for my memory was not then dotted with the graves of false friendships and littered with the rubbish of broken promises; but I did appreciate it enough to build securely upon it.
Build? No, that is not the word. There may be those who are stimulated to achievement by being in love, though I doubt it. At any rate, I was not one of them. My love for her absorbed my thoughts, and paralyzed my courage. Of the qualities that have contributed to what success I may have had, I put in the first rank a disposition to see the gloomiest side of the future. But it has not helped to make my life happier, invaluable though it has been in preventing misadventure from catching me napping.
So another year passed. Then came hard times,—real hard times. I had some clients—enough to insure mother and myself a living, with the interest on mortgage and note kept down. But my clients were poor, and poor pay, and slow pay. Nobody was doing well but the note-shavers. I—How mother fought to keep the front brave and bright!—not her front, for that was bright by nature, like the sky beyond the clouds; but our front, my front,—the front of our affairs. No one must see that we were pinching,—so I must be the most obviously prosperous young lawyer in Pulaski. What that struggle cost her I did not then realize; no, could not realize until I looked at her face for the last time, looked and turned away and thought on the meaning of the lines and the hollows over which Death had spread his proclamation of eternal peace. I have heard it said of those markings in human faces, "How ugly!" But it seems to me that, to any one with eyes and imagination, line and wrinkle and hollow always have the somber grandeur of tragedy. I remember my mother when her face was smooth and had the shallow beauty that the shallow dote on. But her face whereon was written the story of fearlessness, sacrifice, and love,—that is the face beautiful of my mother for me.
In the midst of those times of trial, when she had ceased to smile,—for she had none of that hypocritical cheerfulness which depresses and is a mere vanity to make silly onlookers cry "Brave!" when there is no true bravery,—just when we were at our lowest ebb, came an offer from Bill Dominick to put me into politics.
I had been interested in politics ever since I was seven years old. I recall distinctly the beginning:—
On a November afternoon,—it must have been November, though I remember that it was summer-warm, with all the windows open and many men in the streets in shirt-sleeves,—at any rate, I was on my way home from school. As I neared the court-house I saw a crowd in the yard and was reminded that it was election day, and that my father was running for reelection to the state senate; so, I bolted for his law office in the second story of the Masonic Temple, across the street from the court-house.
He was at the window and was looking at the polling place so intently that he took no notice of me as I stood beside him. I know now why he was absorbed and why his face was stern and sad. I can shut my eyes and see that court-house yard, the long line of men going up to vote, single file, each man calling out his name as he handed in his ballot, and Tom Weedon—who shot an escaping prisoner when he was deputy sheriff—repeating the name in a loud voice. Each oncoming voter in that curiously regular and compact file was holding out his right arm stiff so that the hand was about a foot clear of the thigh; and in every one of those thus conspicuous hands was a conspicuous bit of white paper—a ballot. As each man reached the polling window and gave in his name, he swung that hand round with a stiff-armed, circular motion that kept it clear of the body and in full view until the bit of paper disappeared in the slit in the ballot box.
I wished to ask my father what this strange spectacle meant; but, as I glanced up at him to begin my question, I knew I must not, for I felt that I was seeing something which shocked him so profoundly that he would take me away if I reminded him of my presence. I know now that I was witnessing the crude beginnings of the money-machine in politics,—the beginnings of the downfall of parties,—the beginnings of the overthrow of the people as the political power. Those stiff-armed men were the "floating voters" of that ward of Pulaski. They had been bought up by a rich candidate of the opposition party, which was less scrupulous than our party, then in the flush of devotion to "principles" and led by such old-fashioned men as my father with old-fashioned notions of honor and honesty. Those "floaters" had to keep the ballot in full view from the time they got it of the agent of their purchaser until they had deposited it beyond the possibility of substitution—he must see them "deliver the goods."
My father was defeated. He saw that, in politics, the day of the public servant of public interests was over, and that the night of the private servant of private interests had begun. He resigned the leadership into the dexterous hands of a politician. Soon afterward he died, muttering: "Prosperity has ruined my country!"
From that election day my interest in politics grew, and but for my mother's bitter prejudice I should have been an active politician, perhaps before I was out of college.
Pulaski, indeed all that section of my state, was strongly of my party. Therefore Dominick, its local boss, was absolute. At the last county election, four years before the time of which I am writing, there had been a spasmodic attempt to oust him. He had grown so insolent, and had put his prices for political and political-commercial "favors" to our leading citizens so high, that the "best element" in our party reluctantly broke from its allegiance. To save himself he had been forced to order flagrant cheating on the tally sheets; his ally and fellow conspirator, M'Coskrey, the opposition boss, was caught and was indicted by the grand jury. The Reformers made such a stir that Ben Cass, the county prosecutor, though a Dominick man, disobeyed his master and tried and convicted M'Coskrey. Of course, following the custom in cases of yielding to pressure from public sentiment, he made the trial-errors necessary to insure reversal in the higher court; and he finally gave Dominick's judge the opportunity to quash the indictment. But the boss was relentless,—Cass had been disobedient, and had put upon "my friend M'Coskrey" the disgrace of making a sorry figure in court. "Ben can look to his swell reform friends for a renomination," said he; "he'll not get it from me."
Thus it came to pass that Dominick's lieutenant, Buck Fessenden, appeared in my office one afternoon in July, and, after a brief parley, asked me how I'd like to be prosecuting attorney of Jackson County. Four thousand a year for four years, and a reelection if I should give satisfaction; and afterward, the bench or a seat in Congress! I could pay off everything; I could marry!
It was my first distinct vision of the plum tree. To how many thousands of our brightest, most promising young Americans it is shown each year in just such circumstances!
AT THE COURT OF A SOVEREIGN
That evening after supper I went to see Dominick.
In the lower end of Pulaski there was a large beer-garden, known as Dominick's headquarters. He received half the profits in return for making it his loafing-place, the seat of the source of all political honor, preferment and privilege in the third, sixth and seventh congressional districts. I found him enthroned at the end of a long table in the farthest corner of the garden. On one side of him sat James Spencer, judge of the circuit court,—"Dominick's judge"; on the other side Henry De Forest, principal owner of the Pulaski Gas and Street Railway Company. There were several minor celebrities in politics, the law, and business down either side of the table, then Fessenden, talking with Cowley, our lieutenant governor. As soon as I appeared Fessenden nodded to me, rose, and said to the others generally: "Come on, boys, let's adjourn to the next table. Mr. Dominick wants to talk to this young fellow."
I knew something of politics, but I was not prepared to see that distinguished company rise and, with not a shadow of resentment on any man's face, with only a respectful, envious glance at me, who was to deprive them of sunshine for a few minutes, remove themselves and their glasses to another table. When I knew Dominick better, and other bosses in this republic of ours, I knew that the boss is never above the weaknesses of the monarch class for a rigid and servile court etiquette. My own lack of this weakness has been a mistake which might have been serious had my political power been based upon men. It is a blunder to treat men without self-respect as if they were your equals. They expect to cringe; if they are not compelled to do so, they are very likely to forget their place. At the court of a boss are seen only those who have lost self-respect and those who never had it. The first are the lower though they rank themselves, and are ranked, above the "just naturally low."
But—Dominick was alone, his eternal glass of sarsaparilla before him. He used the left corner of his mouth both for his cigar and for speech. To bid me draw near and seat myself, he had to shift his cigar. When the few words necessary were half-spoken, half-grunted, he rolled his cigar back to the corner which it rarely left. He nodded condescendingly, and, as I took the indicated chair at his right, gave me a hand that was fat and firm, not unlike the flabby yet tenacious sucker of a moist sea-creature.
He was a huge, tall man, enormously muscular, with a high head like a block, straight in front, behind and on either side; keen, shifty, pig eyes, pompous cheeks, a raw, wide mouth; slovenly dress, with a big diamond as a collar button and another on his puffy little finger. He was about forty years old, had graduated from blacksmith too lazy to work into prize-fighter, thence into saloon-keeper. It was as a saloon-keeper that he founded and built his power, made himself the local middleman between our two great political factors, those who buy and break laws and those who aid and abet the lawlessness by selling themselves as voters or as office-holders.
Dominick had fixed his eyes upon his sarsaparilla. He frowned savagely into its pale brown foam when he realized that I purposed to force him to speak first. His voice was ominously surly as he shifted his cigar to say: "Well, young fellow, what can I do for you?"
"Mr. Fessenden told me you wanted to see me," said I.
"He didn't say nothing of the sort," growled Dominick. "I've knowed Buck seventeen years, and he ain't no liar."
I flushed and glanced at the distinguished company silently waiting to return to the royal presence. Surely, if these eminent fellow citizens of mine endured this insulting monarch, I could,—I, the youthful, the obscure, the despondent. Said I: "Perhaps I did not express myself quite accurately. Fessenden told me you were considering making me your candidate for county prosecutor, and suggested that I call and see you."
Dominick gave a gleam and a grunt like a hog that has been flattered with a rough scratching of its hide. But he answered: "I don't give no nominations. That's the province of the party, young man."
"But you are the party," was my reply. At the time I was not conscious that I had thus easily dropped down among the hide-scratchers. I assured myself that I was simply stating the truth, and ignored the fact that telling the truth can be the most degrading sycophancy, and the subtlest and for that reason the most shameless, lying.
"Well, I guess I've got a little something to say about the party," he conceded. "Us young fellows that are active in politics like to see young fellows pushed to the front. A good many of the boys ain't stuck on Ben Cass,—he's too stuck on himself. He's getting out of touch with the common people, and is boot-licking in with the swells up town. So, when I heard you wanted the nomination for prosecutor, I told Buck to trot you round and let us look you over. Good party man?"
"Yes—and my father and grandfather before me."
"No reform germs in your system?"
I laughed—I was really amused, such a relief was it to see a gleam of pleasantry in that menacing mass. "I'm no better than my party," said I, "and I don't desert it just because it doesn't happen to do everything according to my notions."
"That's right," approved Dominick, falling naturally into the role of political schoolmaster. "There ain't no government without responsibility, and there ain't no responsibility without organization, and there ain't no organization without men willing to sink their differences." He paused.
I looked my admiration,—I was most grateful to him for this chance to think him an intellect. Who likes to admit that he bows before a mere brute? The compulsory courtiers of a despot may possibly and in part tell the truth about him, after they are safe; but was there ever a voluntary courtier whose opinion of his monarch could be believed? The more distinguished the courtier the greater his necessity to exaggerate his royal master—or mistress—to others and to himself.
Dominick forged on: "Somebody's got to lead, and the leader's got to be obeyed. Otherwise what becomes of the party? Why, it goes to hell, and we've got anarchy."
This was terse, pointed, plausible—the stereotyped "machine" argument. I nodded emphatically.
"Ben Cass," he proceeded, "believes in discipline and organization and leadership only when they're to elect him to a fat job. He wants to use the party, but when the party wants service in return, up goes Mr. Cass' snout and tail, and off he lopes. He's what I call a cast iron—" I shall omit the vigorous phrase wherein he summarized Cass. His vocabulary was not large; he therefore frequently resorted to the garbage barrel and the muck heap for missiles.
I showed in my face my scorn for the Cass sort of selfishness and insubordination. "The leader has all the strings in his hand," said I. "He's the only one who can judge what must be done. He must be trusted and obeyed."
"I see you've got the right stuff in you, young man," said Dominick heartily. "So you want the job?"
I hesitated,—I was thinking of him, of his bestial tyranny, and of my self-respect, unsullied, but also untempted, theretofore.
He scowled. "Do you, or don't you?"
"Yes," said I,—I was thinking of the debts and mother and Betty. "Yes, indeed; I'd esteem it a great honor, and I'd be grateful to you." If I had thrust myself over-head into a sewer I should have felt less vile than I did as my fears and longings uttered those degrading words.
He grunted. "Well, we'll see. Tell the boys at the other table to come back." He nodded a dismissal and gave me that moist, strong grip again.
As I went toward the other table each man there had a hand round his glass in readiness for the message of recall. I mentally called the roll—wealth, respectability, honor, all on their knees before Dominick, each with his eye upon the branch of the plum tree that bore the kind of fruit he fancied. And I wondered how they felt inside,—for I was then ignorant of the great foundation truth of practical ethics, that a man's conscience is not the producer but the product of his career.
Fessenden accompanied me to the door. "The old man's in a hell of a humor to-night," said he. "His wife's caught on to a little game he's been up to, and she's the only human being he's afraid of. She came in here, one night, and led him out by the ear. What a fool a man is to marry when there's a chance of running into a mess like that! But—you made a hit with him. Besides, he needs you. Your family—" Buck checked himself, feeling that drink was making him voluble.
"He's a strong man, isn't he?" said I; "a born leader."
"Middle-weight champion in his day," replied Fessenden. "He can still knock out anybody in the organization in one round."
"Good night and thank you," said I. So I went my way, not elated but utterly depressed,—more depressed than when I won the first case in which I knew my client's opponent was in the right and had lost only because I outgeneraled his stupid lawyer. I was, like most of the sons and daughters of the vigorous families of the earnest, deeply religious early-West, an idealist by inheritance and by training; but I suppose any young man, however practical, must feel a shock when he begins those compromises between theoretical and practical right which are part of the daily routine of active life, and without which active life is impossible.
I had said nothing to my mother, because I did not wish to raise her hopes—or her objections. I now decided to be silent until the matter should be settled. The next day but one Fessenden came, bad news in his face. "The old man liked you," he began, "but—"
I had not then learned to control my expression. I could not help showing what ruins of lofty castles that ominous "but" dropped upon my head.
"You'll soon be used to getting it in the neck if you stay in politics," said Fessenden. "There's not much else. But you ain't so bad off as you think. The old man has decided that he can afford to run one of his reliable hacks for the place. He's suddenly found a way of sinking his hooks in the head devil of the Reformers and Ben Cass' chief backer, Singer,—you know him,—the lawyer."
Singer was one of the leaders of the state bar and superintendent of our Sunday-school.
"Dominick has made De Forest give Singer the law business of the Gas and Street Railway Company, so Singer is coming over to us." Buck grinned. "He has found that 'local interests must be subordinated to the broader interests of the party in state and nation.'"
I had been reading in our party's morning paper what a wise and patriotic move Singer had made in advising the putting off of a Reform campaign,—and I had believed in the sincerity of his motive!
Fessenden echoed my sneer, and went on: "He's a rotten hypocrite; but then, we can always pull the bung out of these Reform movements that way."
"You said it isn't as bad for me as it seems," I interrupted.
"Oh, yes. You're to be on the ticket. The old man's going to send you to the legislature,—lower house, of course."
I did not cheer up. An assemblyman got only a thousand a year.
"The pay ain't much," confessed Buck, "but there ain't nothing to do except vote according to order. Then there's a great deal to be picked up on the side,—the old man understands that others have got to live besides him. Salaries in politics don't cut no figure nowadays, anyhow. It's the chance the place gives for pick-ups."
At first I flatly refused, but Buck pointed out that I was foolish to throw away the benefits sure to come through the "old man's" liking for me. "He'll take care of you," he assured me. "He's got you booked for a quick rise." My poverty was so pressing that I had not the courage to refuse,—the year and a half of ferocious struggle and the longing to marry Betty Crosby had combined to break my spirit. I believe it is Johnson who says the worst feature of genteel poverty is its power to make one ridiculous. I don't think so. No; its worst feature is its power to make one afraid.
That night I told my mother of my impending "honors." We were in the dark on our little front porch. She was silent, and presently I thought I heard her suppressing a sigh. "You don't like it, mother?" said I.
"No, Harvey, but—I see no light ahead in any other direction, and I guess one should always steer toward what light there is." She stood behind my chair, put her hands on my shoulders, and rested her chin lightly on the top of my head. "Besides, I can trust you. Whatever direction you take, you're sure to win in the end."
I was glad it was dark. An hour after I went to bed I heard some one stirring in the house,—it seemed to me there was a voice, too. I rose and went into the hall, and so, softly to my mother's room. Her door was ajar. She was near the window, kneeling there in the moonlight, praying—for me.
* * * * *
I had not been long in the legislature before I saw that my position was even more contemptible than I anticipated. So contemptible, indeed, was it that, had I not been away from home and among those as basely situated as myself, it would have been intolerable,—a convict infinitely prefers the penitentiary to the chain gang. Then, too, there was consolation in the fact that the people, my fellow citizens, in their stupidity and ignorance about political conditions, did not realize what public office had come to mean. At home they believed what the machine-controlled newspapers said of me—that I was a "manly, independent young man," that I was "making a vigorous stand for what was honest in public affairs," that I was the "honorable and distinguished son of an honorable and distinguished father." How often I read those and similar eulogies of young men just starting in public life! And is it not really amazing that the people believe, that they never say to themselves: "But, if he were actually what he so loudly professes to be, how could he have got public office from a boss and a machine?"
I soon gave up trying to fool myself into imagining I was the servant of the people by introducing or speaking for petty little popular measures. I saw clearly that graft was the backbone, the whole skeleton of legislative business, and that its fleshly cover of pretended public service could be seen only by the blind. I saw, also, that no one in the machine of either party had any real power. The state boss of our party, United States Senator Dunkirk, was a creature and servant of corporations. Silliman, the state boss of the opposition party, was the same, but got less for his services because his party was hopelessly in the minority and its machine could be useful only as a sort of supplement and scapegoat.
With the men at the top, Dunkirk and Silliman, mere lackeys, I saw my own future plainly enough. I saw myself crawling on year after year,—crawling one of two roads. Either I should become a political scullion, a wretched party hack, despising myself and despised by those who used me, or I should develop into a lackey's lackey or a plain lackey, lieutenant of a boss or a boss, so-called—a derisive name, really, when the only kind of boss-ship open was head political procurer to one or more rich corporations or groups of corporations. I felt I should probably become a scullion, as I thought I had no taste or instinct for business, and as I was developing some talent for "mixing," and for dispensing "hot air" from the stump.
I turned these things over and over in my mind with an energy that sprang from shame, from the knowledge of what my mother would think if she knew the truth about her son, and from a realization that I was no nearer marrying Betty Crosby than before. At last I wrought myself into a sullen fury beneath a calm surface. The lessons in self-restraint and self-hiding I learned in that first of my two years as assemblyman have been invaluable.
When I entered upon my second and last winter, I was outwardly as serene as—as a volcano on the verge of eruption.
SAYLER "DRAWS THE LINE"
In February the railways traversing our state sent to the capitol a bill that had been drawn by our ablest lawyers and reviewed by the craftiest of the great corporation lawyers of New York City. Its purpose, most shrewdly and slyly concealed, was to exempt the railways from practically all taxation. It was so subtly worded that this would be disclosed only when the companies should be brought to court for refusing to pay their usual share of the taxes. Such measures are usually "straddled" through a legislature,—that is, neither party takes the responsibility, but the boss of each machine assigns to vote for them all the men whose seats are secure beyond any ordinary assault of public indignation. In this case, of the ninety-one members of the lower house, thirty-two were assigned by Dunkirk and seventeen by Silliman to make up a majority with three to spare.
My boss, Dominick, got wind that Dunkirk and Silliman were cutting an extra melon of uncommon size. He descended upon the capitol and served notice on Dunkirk that the eleven Dominick men assigned to vote for the bill would vote against it unless he got seven thousand dollars apiece for them,—seventy-seven thousand dollars. Dunkirk needed every one of Dominick's men to make up his portion of the majority; he yielded after trying in vain to reduce the price. All Dominick would say to him on that point, so I heard afterward, was:
"Every day you put me off, I go up a thousand dollars a head."
We who were to be voted so profitably for Dunkirk, Silliman, Dominick, and the railroads, learned what was going on,—Silliman went on a "tear" and talked too much. Nine of us, not including myself, got together and sent Cassidy, member from the second Jackson County district, to Dominick to plead for a share. I happened to be with him in the Capital City Hotel bar when Cassidy came up, and, hemming and hawing, explained how he and his fellow insurgents felt.
Dominick's veins seemed cords straining to bind down a demon struggling to escape. "It's back to the bench you go, Pat Cassidy,—back to the bench where I found you," he snarled, with a volley of profanity and sewage. "I don't know nothing about this here bill except that it's for the good of the party. Go back to that gang of damned wharf rats, and tell 'em, if I hear another squeak, I'll put 'em where I got 'em."
Cassidy shrank away with a furtive glance of envy and hate at me, whom Dominick treated with peculiar consideration,—I think it was because I was the only man of education and of any pretensions to "family" in official position in his machine. He used to like to class himself and me together as "us gentlemen," in contrast to "them muckers," meaning my colleagues.
Next day, just before the voting began, Dominick seated himself at the front of the governor's gallery,—the only person in it. I see him now as he looked that day,—black and heavy-jawed and scowling, leaning forward with both forearms on the railing, and his big, flat chin resting on his upturned, stubby thumbs. He was there to see that each of us, his creatures, dependent absolutely upon him for our political lives, should vote as he had sold us in block. There was no chance to shirk or even to squirm. As the roll-call proceeded, one after another, seven of us, obeyed that will frowning from the gallery,—jumped through the hoop of fire under the quivering lash. I was eighth on the roll.
"Sayler!" How my name echoed through that horrible silence!
I could not answer. Gradually every face turned toward me,—I could see them, could feel them, and, to make bad enough worse, I yielded to an imperious fascination, the fascination of that incarnation of brute-power,—power of muscle and power of will. I turned my eyes upon the amazed, furious eyes of my master. It seemed to me that his lips must give passage to the oaths and filth swelling beneath his chest, and seething behind his eyes.
"Sayler!" repeated the clerk in a voice that exploded within me.
"No!" I shouted,—not in answer to the clerk, but in denial of that insolent master-to-dog command from the beast in the gallery.
The look in his eyes changed to relief and contemptuous approval. There was a murmur of derision from my fellow members. Then I remembered that a negative was, at that stage of the bill, a vote for it,—I had done just the reverse of what I intended. The roll-call went on, and I sat debating with myself. Prudence, inclination, the natural timidity of youth, the utter futility of opposition, fear, above all else, fear,—these joined in bidding me let my vote stand as cast. On the other side stood my notion of self-respect. I felt I must then and there and for ever decide whether I was a thing or a man. Yet, again and again I had voted for measures just as corrupt,—had voted for them with no protest beyond a cynical shrug and a wry look. Every man, even the laxest, if he is to continue to "count as one," must have a point where he draws the line beyond which he will not go. The liar must have things he will not lie about, the thief things he will not steal, the compromiser things he will not compromise, the practical man in the pulpit, in politics, in business, in the professor's chair, or editorial tribune, things he will not sacrifice, whatever the cost. That is "practical honor." I had reached my line of practical honor, my line between possible compromise and certain demoralization. And I realized it.
When the roll-call ended I rose, and, in a voice that I knew was firm and clear, said: "Mr. Speaker, I voted in the negative by mistake. I wish my vote recorded in the affirmative. I am against the bill."
Amid a fearful silence I took my seat. With a suddenness that made me leap, a wild and crazy assemblyman, noted as the crank of that session, emitted a fantastic yell of enthusiastic approval. Again there was that silence; then the tension of the assembly, floor and crowded galleries, burst in a storm of hysterical laughter.
I wish I could boast how brave I felt as I reversed my vote, how indifferent to that tempest of mockery, and how strong as I went forth to meet my master and hear my death-warrant. But I can't, in honesty,—I'm only a human being, not a hero, and these are my confessions, not my professions. So I must relate that, though the voice that requested the change of vote was calm and courageous, the man behind it was agitated and sick with dread. There may be those who have the absolute courage some men boast,—if not directly, then by implication in despising him who shows that he has it not. For myself, I must say that I never made a venture,—and my life has been a succession of ventures, often with my whole stake upon the table,—I never made a venture that I did not have a sickening sensation at the heart. My courage, if it can be called by so sounding a name, has been in daring to make the throw when every atom of me was shrieking, "You'll lose! You'll be ruined!"
I did not see Dominick until after supper. I had nerved myself for a scene,—indeed, I had been hoping he would insult me. When one lacks the courage boldly to advance along the perilous course his intelligence counsels, he is lucky if he can and will goad some one into kicking him along it past the point where retreat is possible. Such methods of advance are not dignified, but then, is life dignified? To my surprise and alarm, Dominick refused to kick me into manhood. He had been paid, and the seventy-seven thousand dollars, in bills of large denomination, were warming his heart from the inner pocket of his waistcoat. So he came up to me, scowling, but friendly.
"Why didn't you tell me you wanted to be let off, Harvey?" he said reproachfully. "I'd 'a' done it. Now, damn you, you've put me in a place where I've got to give you the whip."
To flush at this expression from Dominick was a hypocritical refinement of sensitiveness. To draw myself up haughtily, to turn on my heel and walk away,—that was the silliness of a boy. Still, I am glad I did both those absurd things. When I told my mother how I had ruined myself in politics she began to cry,—and tears were not her habit. Then she got my father's picture and kissed it and talked to it about me, just as if he were there with us; and for a time I felt that I was of heroic stature.
But, as the days passed, with no laurels in the form of cases and fees, and as clients left me through fear of Dominick's power, I shriveled back to human size, and descended from my pedestal. From the ground-level I began again to look about the matter-of-fact world.
I saw I was making only a first small payment on the heavy price for the right to say, no, for the right to be free to break with any man or any enterprise that menaced my self-ownership. That right I felt I must keep, whatever its cost. Some men can, or think they can, lend their self-ownership and take it back at convenience; I knew I was not of them—and let none of them judge me. Especially let none judge me who only deludes himself that he owns himself, who has sold himself all his life long for salaries and positions or for wealth, or for the empty reputation of power he wields only on another's sufferance.
A glance about me was enough to disclose the chief reason why so many men had surrendered the inner citadel of self-respect. In the crucial hour, when they had had to choose between subservience and a hard battle with adversity, forth from their hearts had issued a traitor weakness, the feeling of responsibility to wife and children, and this traitor had easily delivered them captive to some master or masters. More, or less, than human, it seemed to me, was the courage that could make successful resistance to this traitor, and could strike down and drag down wife and children. "I must give up Elizabeth," I said to myself, "for her own sake as well as for mine. Marry her I must not until I am established securely in freedom. And when will that be?" In my mood of darkness and despair, the answer to that question was a relentless, "Never, especially if you are weighted with the sense of obligation to her, of her wasting her youth in waiting for you."
I wrote her all that was in my mind. "You must forget me," I said, "and I shall forget you—for I see that you are not for me."
The answer came by telegraph—"Please don't ever again hurt me in that way." And of the letter which came two days later I remember clearly this sentence: "If you will not let me go on with you, I will make the journey alone."
This shook me, but I knew only too well how the bright and beautiful legions of the romantic and the ideal could be put to flight, could be hurled headlong into the abyss of oblivion by the phalanxes of fact.
"I see what I must do," was my answer to her letter. "And I shall do it. Be merciful to me, Elizabeth. Do not tempt me to a worse cowardice than giving you up. I shall not write again."
And I did not. Every one of her letters was answered—sometimes, I remember, I wrote to her the whole night through, shading my window so that mother could not from her window see the reflection of my lamp's light on the ground and become anxious. But I destroyed those long and often agonized answers. And I can not say whether my heart was the heavier in the months when I was getting her letters, to which I dared not reply, or in those succeeding months when her small, clear handwriting first ceased to greet me from the mail.
THE SCHOOL OF LIFE-AS-IT-IS
A day or so after I lost the only case of consequence I had had in more than a year, Buck Fessenden came into my office, and, after dosing me liberally with those friendly protestations and assurances which please even when they do not convince, said: "I know you won't give me away, Sayler, and I can't stand it any longer to watch you going on this way. Don't you see the old man's after you hammer and tongs? He'll never let up. You won't get no clients, and, if you do, you won't win no cases."
Those last five words, spoken in Buck's most significant manner, revealed what my modesty—or, if you prefer, my stupidity—had hidden from me. I had known all along that Dominick was keeping away and driving away clients; but I had not suspected his creatures on the bench. To this day, after all these years of use, only with the greatest reluctance and with a moral uneasiness which would doubtless amuse most political managers, do I send "suggestions" or "intimations" to my men in judicial office—and I always do it, and always have done it, indirectly. And I feel relieved and grateful when my judges, eager to "serve the party," anticipate me by sending me a reassuring hint.
I did not let Buck see into my mind. "Nonsense!" I pooh-poohed; "I've no cause to complain of lack of business: but even if I had, I'd not blame Dominick or any one else but myself." Then I gave him a straight but good-humored look. "Drop it, Buck," said I. "What did the old man send you to me for? What does he want?"
He was too crafty to defend an indefensible position. "I'll admit he did send me," said he with a grin, "but I came on my own account, too. Do you want to make it up with him? You can get back under the plum tree if you'll say the word."
I could see my mother, as I had seen her two hours before at our poor midday meal,—an old, old woman, so broken, so worn! And all through the misery this Dominick had brought upon us. Before I could control myself to speak, Buck burst out, a look of alarm in his face, "Don't say it, Mr. Sayler,—I know,—I know. I told him it'd be no use. Honest, he ain't as bad as you think,—he don't know no better, and it's because he liked and still likes you that he wants you back." He leaned across the desk toward me, in his earnestness,—and I could not doubt his sincerity. "Sayler," he went on, "take my advice, get out of the state. You ain't the sort that gives in, and no more is he. You've got more nerve than any other man I know, bar none, but don't waste it on a fool fight. You know enough about politics to know what you're up against."
"Thank you," said I, "but I'll stay on."
He gave over trying to persuade me. "I hope," said he, "you've got a card up your sleeve that the old man don't know about."
I made some vague reply, and he soon went away. I felt that I had confirmed his belief in my fearlessness. Yet, if he could have looked into my mind, how he would have laughed at his credulity! Probably he would have pitied me, too, for it is one of the curious facts of human nature that men are amazed and even disgusted whenever they see—in others—the weaknesses that are universal. I doubt not, many who read these memoirs will be quite honestly Pharisaical, thanking Heaven that they are not touched with any of my infirmities.
It may have been coincidence, though I think not, that, a few days after Fessenden's call, a Reform movement against Dominick appeared upon the surface of Jackson County politics. I thought, at the time, that it was the first streak of the dawn I had been watching for,—the awakening of the sluggish moral sentiment of the rank and file of the voters. I know now that it was merely the result of a quarrel among the corporations that employed Dominick. He had been giving the largest of them, Roebuck's Universal Gas and Electric Company, called the Power Trust, more than its proportional share of the privileges and spoils. The others had protested in vain, and as a last resort had ordered their lawyers to organize a movement to "purify" Jackson County, Dominick's stronghold.
I did not then know it, but I got the nomination for county prosecutor chiefly because none of the other lawyers, not even those secretly directing the Reform campaign, was brave enough publicly to provoke the Power Trust. I made a house to house, farm to farm, man to man, canvass. We had the secret ballot, and I was elected. The people rarely fail to respond to that kind of appeal if they are convinced that response can not possibly hurt, and may help, their pockets. And, by the way, those occasional responses, significant neither of morality nor of intelligence, lead political theorists far astray. As if honor or honesty could win other than sporadic and more or less hypocritical homage—practical homage, I mean—among a people whose permanent ideal is wealth, no matter how got or how used. That is another way of saying that the chief characteristic of Americans is that we are human and, whatever we may profess, cherish the human ideal universal in a world where want is man's wickedest enemy and wealth his most winning friend. But as I was relating, I was elected, and my majority, on the face of the returns, was between ten and eleven hundred. It must actually have been many thousands, for never before had Dominick "doctored" the tally sheets so recklessly.
Financially I was now on my way to the surface. I supposed that I had become a political personage also. Was I not in possession of the most powerful office in the county? I was astonished that neither Dominick nor any other member of his gang made the slightest effort to conciliate me between election day and the date of my taking office. I did succeed in forcing from reluctant grand juries indictments against a few of the most notorious, but least important, members of the gang; and I got one conviction—which was reversed on trial-errors by the higher court.
The truth was that my power had no existence. Dominick still ruled, through the judges and the newspapers. The press was silent when it could not venture to deprecate or to condemn me.
But I fought on almost alone. I did not fail to make it clear to the people why I was not succeeding, and what a sweep there must be before Jackson County could have any real reform. I made an even more vigorous campaign for reelection than I had made four years before. The farmers stood by me fairly well, but the town went overwhelmingly against me. Why? Because I was "bad for business" and, if reelected, would be still worse. The corporations with whose law-breaking I interfered were threatening to remove their plants from Pulaski,—that would have meant the departure of thousands of the merchants' best customers, and the destruction of the town's prosperity. I think the election was fairly honest. Dominick's man beat me by about the same majority by which I had been elected.
"Bad for business!"—the most potent of political slogans. And it will inevitably result some day in the concentration of absolute power, political and all other kinds, in the hands of the few who are strongest and cleverest. For they can make the people bitterly regret and speedily repent having tried to correct abuses; and the people, to save their dollars, will sacrifice their liberty. I doubt if they will, in our time at least, learn to see far enough to realize that who captures their liberty captures them and, therefore, their dollars too.
By my defeat in that typical contest I was disheartened, embittered,—and ruined. For, in my enthusiasm and confidence I had gone deeply into debt for the expenses of the Reform campaign. At midnight of election day I descended into the black cave of despair. For three weeks I explored it. When I returned to the surface, I was a man, ready to deal with men on the terms of human nature. I had learned my lesson.
For woman the cost of the attainment of womanhood's maturity is the beautiful, the divine freshness of girlhood. For man, the cost of the attainment of manhood's full strength and power is equally great, and equally sad,—his divine faith in human nature, his divine belief that abstract justice and right and truth rule the world.
Even now, when life is redeeming some of those large promises to pay which I had long ago given up as hopeless bad debts; even now, it gives me a wrench to remember the crudest chapter in that bitter lesson. So certain had I been of reelection that I had arranged to go to Boston the day after my triumph at the polls. For I knew from friends of the Crosbys in Pulaski that Elizabeth was still unmarried, was not engaged, and upon that I had built high a romantic hope.
* * * * *
I made up my mind that mother and I must leave Pulaski, that I must give up the law and must, in Chicago or Cleveland, get something to do that would bring in a living at once. Before I found courage to tell her that which would blast hopes wrapped round and rooted in her very heart, and, fortunately, before I had to confess to her the debts I had made, Edward Ramsay threw me a life-line.
He came bustling into my office one afternoon, big and broad, and obviously pleased with himself, and, therefore, with the world. He had hardly changed in the years since we were at Ann Arbor together. He had kept up our friendship, and had insisted on visiting me several times, though not in the past four years, which had been as busy for him as for me. Latterly his letters urging me to visit him at their great country place, away at the other end of the state, had set me a hard task of inventing excuses.
"Well, well!" he exclaimed, shaking my hand violently in both his. "You wouldn't come to see me, so I've come to you."
I tried not to show the nervousness this announcement stirred. "I'm afraid you'll find our hospitality rather uncomfortable," was all I said. Mother and I had not spread much sail to our temporary gust of prosperity; and when the storm began to gather, she straightway closereefed.
"Thanks, but I can't stop with you this time," said he. "I'm making an inspection of the Power Trust's properties, and I've got mother and sister along. We're living in the private car the company gives me for the tour." He went on to tell how, since his father's death, he had been forced into responsibilities, and was, among many other things, a member of the Power Trust's executive committee.
Soon came the inevitable question, "And how are you getting on?"
"So so," replied I; "not too well, just at the present. I was beaten, you know, and have to go back to my practice in January."
"Wish you lived in my part of the state," said he. "But the Ramsay Company hasn't anything down here." He reflected a moment, then beamed. "I can get you the legal business of the Power Trust if you want it," he said. "Their lawyer down here goes on the bench, you know—he was on the ticket that won. Roebuck wanted a good, safe, first-class man on the bench in this circuit."
But he added nothing more about the Power Trust vacancy at Pulaski. True, my first impulse was that I couldn't and wouldn't accept; also, I told myself it was absurd to imagine they would consider me. Still, I wished to hear, and his failure to return to the subject settled once more the clouds his coming had lifted somewhat.
Mother was not well enough to have the Ramsays at the house that evening, so I dined with them in the car. Mrs. Ramsay was the same simple, silent, ill-at-ease person I had first met at the Ann Arbor commencement,—probably the same that she had been ever since her husband's wealth and her children's infection with newfangled ideas had forced her from the plain ways of her youth. I liked her, but I was not so well pleased with her daughter. Carlotta was then twenty-two, had abundant, noticeably nice brown hair, an indifferent skin, pettish lips, and restless eyes, a little too close together,—a spoiled wilful young woman, taking to herself the deference that had been paid chiefly to her wealth. She treated me as if I were a candidate for her favor whom she was testing so that she might decide whether she would be graciously pleased to tolerate him.
Usually, superciliousness has not disturbed me. It is a cheap and harmless pleasure of cheap and harmless people. But just at that time my nerves were out of order, and Miss Ramsay's airs of patronage "got" on me. I proceeded politely to convey to her the impression that she did not attract me, that I did not think her worth while—this, not through artful design of interesting by piquing, but simply in the hope of rasping upon her as she was rasping upon me. When I saw that I had gained my point, I ignored her. I tried to talk with Ed, then with his mother, but neither would interfere between me and Carlotta. I had to talk to her until she voluntarily lapsed into offended silence. Then Ed, to save the evening from disaster, began discussing with me the fate of our class-mates. I saw that Carlotta was studying me curiously,—even resentfully, I thought; and she was coldly polite when I said good night.
She and her mother called on my mother the next morning. "And what a nice girl Miss Ramsay is,—so sensible, so intelligent, and so friendly!" said my mother, relating the incidents of the visit in minute detail when I went home at noon.
"I didn't find her especially friendly," said I. Whereat I saw, or fancied I saw, a smile deep down in her eyes,—and it set me to thinking.
In the afternoon Ed looked in at my office in the court-house to say good-by. "But first, old man, I want to tell you I got that place for you. I thought I had better use the wire. Old Roebuck is delighted,—telegraphed me to close the arrangement at once,—congratulated me on being able to get you. I knew it'd be so. He has his eyes skinned for bright young men,—all those big men have. Whenever a fellow, especially a bright young lawyer, shows signs of ability, they scoop him in."
"I can't believe it," said I, dazed. "I've been fighting him for four years—hard."
"That's it!" said he. "And don't you fret about its being a case of trying to heap coals of fire on your head. Roebuck don't use the fire-shovel for that sort of thing. He's snapping you up because you've shown him what you can do. That's the way to get on nowadays, they tell me. Whenever the fellows on top find the chap, especially one in public office, who makes it hot for them, they hire him. Good business all around."
Thus, so suddenly that it giddied me, I was translated from failure to success, from poverty to affluence, from the most harassing anxiety to ease and security. Two months before I should have rejected the Power Trust's offer with scorn, and should have gloried in my act as proof of superior virtue. But in those crucial two months I had been apprentice to the master whom all men that ever come to anything in this world must first serve. I had reformed my line of battle, had adjusted it to the lines laid down in the tactics of Life-as-it-is.
Before I was able to convince myself that my fortunes had really changed, Ed Ramsay telegraphed me to call on him in Fredonia on business of his own. It proved to be such a trifle that I began to puzzle at his real reason for sending for me. When he spun that trifle out over ten days, on each of which I was alone with Carlotta at least half my waking hours, I thought I had the clue to the mystery. I saw how I could increase the energy of his new enthusiasm for me, and, also, how I could cool it, if I wished to be rash and foolish and to tempt fate again.
"Oh, the business didn't amount to much," was my answer to one of my mother's first questions, on my return. She smiled peculiarly. In spite of my efforts, the red came—at least I felt red.
"How did you like his sister?" she went on, again with that fluttering smile in the eyes only.
"A very nice girl," said I, in anything but a natural manner. My mother's expression teased me into adding: "Don't be silly. Nothing of that sort. You are always imagining that every one shares your opinion of me. She isn't likely to fall in love with me. Certainly I shan't with her."
Mother's silence somehow seemed argumentative.
"I couldn't marry a girl for her money," I retorted to it.
"Of course not," rejoined mother. "But there are other things to marry for besides money, or love,—other things more sensible than either. For instance, there are the principal things,—home and children."
I was listening with an open mind.
"The glamour of courtship and honeymoon passes," she went on. "Then comes the sober business of living,—your career and your home. The woman's part in both is better played if there isn't the sort of love that is exacting, always interfering with the career, and making the home-life a succession of ups and downs, mostly downs."
"Carlotta is very ambitious," said I.
"Ambitious for her husband," replied my mother, "as a sensible woman should be. She appreciates that a woman's best chance for big dividends in marriage is by being the silent partner in her husband's career. She'll be very domestic when she has children. I saw it the instant I looked at her. She has the true maternal instinct. What a man who's going to amount to something needs isn't a woman to be taken care of, but a woman to take care of him."
She said no more,—she had made her point; and, when she had done that, she always stopped.
Within a month Ed Ramsay sent for me again, but this time it was business alone. I found him in a panic, like a man facing an avalanche and armed only with a shovel. Dunkirk, the senior United States senator for our state, lived at Fredonia. He had seen that, by tunneling the Mesaba Range, a profitable railroad between Fredonia and Chicago could be built that would shorten the time at least three hours. But it would take away about half the carrying business of the Ramsay Company, besides seriously depreciating the Ramsay interest in the existing road. "And," continued Ed, "the old scoundrel has got the capital practically subscribed in New York. The people here are hot for the new road. It'll be sure to carry at the special election, next month. He has the governor and legislature in his vest pocket, so they'll put through the charter next winter."
"I don't see that anything can be done," said Ed's lawyer, old Judge Barclay, who was at the consultation. "It means a big rake-off for Dunkirk. Politics is on a money basis nowadays. That's natural enough, since there is money to be made out of it. I don't see how those in politics that don't graft, as they call it, are any better than those that do. Would they get office if they didn't help on the jobs of the grafters? I suppose we might buy Dunkirk off."
"What do you think, Harvey?" asked Ed, looking anxiously at me. "We've got to fight the devil with fire, you know."
I shook my head. "Buying him off isn't fighting,—it's surrender. We must fight him,—with fire."
I let them talk themselves out, and then said, "Well, I'll take it to bed with me. Perhaps something will occur to me that can be worked up into a scheme."
In fact, I had already thought of a scheme, but before suggesting it I wished to be sure it was as good as it seemed. Also, there was a fundamental moral obstacle,—the road would be a public benefit; it ought to be built. That moral problem caused most of my wakefulness that night, simple though the solution was when it finally came. The first thing Ed said to me, as we faced each other alone at breakfast, showed me how well spent those hours were.
"About this business of the new road," said he. "If I were the only party at interest, I'd let Dunkirk go ahead, for it's undoubtedly a good thing from the public standpoint. But I've got to consider the interests of all those I'm trustee for,—the other share-holders in the Ramsay Company and in our other concerns here."
"Yes," replied I, "but why do you say Dunkirk intends to build the road? Why do you take that for granted?"
"He's all ready to do it, and it'd be a money-maker from the start."
"But," I went on, "you must assume that he has no intention of building, that he is only making an elaborate bluff. How do you know but that he wants to get this right of way and charter so that he can blackmail you and your concerns, not merely once, but year after year? You'd gladly pay him several hundred thousand a year not to use his charter and right of way, wouldn't you?"
"I never thought of that!" exclaimed Ed. "I believe you're right, Harvey, and you've taken a weight off my conscience. There's nothing like a good lawyer to make a man see straight. What an infernal hound old Dunkirk is!"
"And," I went on, "if he should build the road, what would he do with it? Why, the easiest and biggest source of profit would be to run big excursions every Saturday and Sunday, especially Sunday, into Fredonia. He'd fill the place every Sunday, from May till November, with roistering roughs from the slums of Chicago. How'd the people like that?"
"He wouldn't dare," objected Ramsay, stupidly insisting on leaning backward in his determination to stand straight. "He's a religious hypocrite. He'd be afraid."
"As Deacon Dunkirk he wouldn't dare," I replied. "But as the Chicago and Fredonia Short Line he'd dare anything, and nobody would blame him personally. You know how that is."
Ed was looking at me in dazed admiration. "Then," I went on, "there are the retail merchants of Fredonia. Has it ever occurred to them, in their excitement in favor of this road, that it'll ruin them? Where will the shopping be done if the women can get to Chicago in two hours and a half?"
"You're right, you're right!" exclaimed Ed, rising to pace the floor in his agitation. "Bully for you, Harvey! We'll show the people that the road'll ruin the town morally and financially."
"But you must come out in favor of it," said I. "We mustn't give Dunkirk the argument that you're fighting it because you'd be injured by it. No, you must be hot for the road. Perhaps you might give out that you were considering selling your property on the lake front to a company that was going to change it into a brewery and huge pleasure park. As the lake's only a few hundred yards wide, with the town along one bank and your place along the other, why, I think that'd rouse the people to their peril."
"That's the kind of fire to fight the devil with," said he, laughing. "I don't think Mister Senator Dunkirk will get the consent of Fredonia."
"But there's the legislature," said I.
His face fell. "I'm afraid he'll do us in the end, old man."
I thought not, but I only said, "Well, we've got until next winter,—if we can beat him here."
Ed insisted that I must stay on and help him at the delicate task of reversing the current of Fredonia sentiment. My share of the work was important enough, but, as it was confined entirely to making suggestions, it took little of my time. I had no leisure, however, for there was Carlotta to look after.
* * * * *
When it was all over and she had told Ed and he had shaken hands with her and had kissed me and had otherwise shown the chaotic condition of his mind, and she and I were alone again, she said, "How did it happen? I don't remember that you really proposed to me. Yet we certainly are engaged."
"We certainly are," said I, "and that's the essential point, isn't it?"
"Yes," she admitted, "but,—" and she looked mystified.
"We drifted," I suggested.
She glanced at me with a smile that was an enigma. "Yes—we just drifted. Why do you look at me so queerly?"
"I was just going to ask you that same question," said I by way of evasion.
Then we both fell to thinking, and after a long time she roused herself to say, "But we shall be very happy. I am so fond of you. And you are going to be a great man and you do so look it, even if you aren't tall and fair, as I always thought the man I married would be. Don't look at me like that. Your eyes are strange enough when you are smiling; but when you—I often wonder what you're so sad about."
"Have you ever seen a grown person's face that wasn't sad in repose?" I asked, eager to shift from the particular to the general.
"A few idiots or near idiots," she replied with a laugh. Thereafter we talked of the future and let the past sleep in its uncovered coffin.
A GOOD MAN AND HIS WOES
After Ed and I had carried the Fredonia election against Dunkirk's road, we went fishing with Roebuck in the northern Wisconsin woods. I had two weeks, two uninterrupted weeks, in which to impress myself upon him; besides, there was Ed, who related in tedious but effective detail, on the slightest provocation, the achievements that had made him my devoted admirer. So, when I went to visit Roebuck, in June, at his house near Chicago, he was ready to listen to me in the proper spirit.
I soon drew him on to tell of his troubles with Dunkirk—how the Senator was gouging him and every big corporation doing business in the state. "I've been loyal to the party for forty years," said he bitterly, "yet, if I had been on the other side it couldn't cost me more to do business. I have to pay enough here, heaven knows. But it costs me more in your state,—with your man Dunkirk." His white face grew pink with anger. "It's monstrous! Yet you should have heard him address my Sunday-school scholars at the last annual outing I gave them. What an evidence of the power of religion it is that such wretches as he pay the tribute of hypocrisy to it!"
His business and his religion were Roebuck's two absorbing passions,—religion rapidly predominating as he drew further away from sixty.
"Why do you endure this blackmailing, Mr. Roebuck?" I asked. "He is growing steadily worse."
"He is certainly more rapacious than he was ten years ago," Roebuck admitted. "Our virtues or our vices, whichever we give the stronger hold on us, become more marked as we approach Judgment. When we finally go, we are prepared for the place that has been prepared for us."
"But why do you put up with his impudence?"
"What can we do? He has political power and is our only protection against the people. They have been inflamed with absurd notions about their rights. They are filled with envy and suspicion of the rich. They have passed laws to hamper us in developing the country, and want to pass more and worse laws. So we must either go out of business and let the talents God has given us lie idle in a napkin, or pay the Dunkirks to prevent the people from having their ignorant wicked way, and destroying us and themselves. For how would they get work if we didn't provide it for them?"
"A miserable makeshift system," said I, harking back to Dunkirk and his blackmailing, for I was not just then in the mood to amuse myself with the contortions of Roebuck's flexible and fantastic "moral sense."
"I've been troubled in conscience a great deal, Harvey, a great deal, about the morality of what we business men are forced to do. I hope—indeed I feel—that we are justified in protecting our property in the only way open to us. The devil must be fought with fire, you know."
"How much did Dunkirk rob you of last year?" I asked.
"Nearly three hundred thousand dollars," he said, and his expression suggested that each dollar had been separated from him with as great agony as if it had been so much flesh pinched from his body. "There was Dominick, besides, and a lot of infamous strike-bills to be quieted. It cost five hundred thousand dollars in all—in your state alone. And we didn't ask a single bit of new legislation. All the money was paid just to escape persecution under those alleged laws! Yet they call this a free country! When I think of the martyrdom—yes, the mental and moral martyrdom, of the men who have made this country—What are the few millions a man may amass, in compensation for what he has to endure? Why, Sayler, I've not the slightest doubt you could find well-meaning, yes, really honest, God-fearing people, who would tell you I am a scoundrel! I have read sermons, delivered from pulpits against me! Sermons from pulpits!"
"I have thought out a plan," said I, after a moment's silent and shocked contemplation of this deplorable state of affairs, "a plan to end Dunkirk and cheapen the cost of political business."
At "cheapen the cost" his big ears twitched as if they had been tickled.
"You can't expect to get what you need for nothing," I continued, "in the present state of public opinion. But I'm sure I could reduce expenses by half—at least half."
I had his undivided attention.
"It is patently absurd," I went on, "that you who finance politics and keep in funds these fellows of both machines should let them treat you as if you were their servants. Why don't you put them in their place, servants at servants' wages?"
"But I've no time to go into politics,—and I don't know anything about it—don't want to know. It's a low business,—ignorance, corruption, filthiness."
"Take Dunkirk, for example," I pushed on. "His lieutenants and heelers hate him because he doesn't divide squarely. The only factor in his power is the rank and file of the voters of our party. They, I'm convinced, are pretty well aware of his hypocrisy,—but it doesn't matter much what they think. They vote like sheep and accept whatever leaders and candidates our machine gives them. They are almost stone-blind in their partizanship and they can always be fooled up to the necessary point. And we can fool them ourselves, if we go about it right, just as well as Dunkirk does it for hire."
"But Dunkirk is their man, isn't he?" he suggested.
"Any man is their man whom you choose to give them," replied I. "And don't you give them Dunkirk? He takes the money from the big business interests, and with it hires the men to sit in the legislature and finances the machine throughout the state. It takes big money to run a political machine. His power belongs to you people, to a dozen of you, and you can take it away from him; his popularity belongs to the party, and it would cheer just as loudly for any other man who wore the party uniform."
"I see," he said reflectively; "the machine rules the party, and money rules the machine, and we supply the money and don't get the benefit. It's as if I let my wife or one of my employes run my property."
"Much like that," I answered. "Now, why shouldn't you finance the machine directly and do away with Dunkirk, who takes as his own wages about half what you give him? He takes it and wastes it in stock speculations,—gambling with your hard-earned wealth, gambling it away cheerfully, because he feels that you people will always give him more."
"What do you propose?" he asked; and I could see that his acute business mind was ready to pounce upon my scheme and search it hopefully if mercilessly.
"A secret, absolutely secret, combine of a dozen of the big corporations of my state,—those that make the bulk of the political business,—the combine to be under the management of some man whom they trust and whose interests are business, not political."
"He would have enormous power," said Roebuck.
I knew that he would point first and straight at that phase of my scheme, no matter how subtly I might disguise it. So I had pushed it into his face and had all but pointed at it myself so that I might explain it away. "Power?" said I. "How do you make that out? Any member of the combine that is dissatisfied can withdraw at any time and go back to the old way of doing business. Besides, the manager won't dare appear in it at all,—he'll have to hide himself from the people and from the politicians, behind some popular figure-head. There's another advantage that mustn't be overlooked. Dunkirk and these other demagogues who bleed you are inflaming public sentiment more and more against you big corporations,—that's their way of frightening you into yielding to their demands. Under the new plan their demagoguery would cease. Don't you think it's high time for the leaders of commerce and industry to combine intelligently against demagoguery? Don't you think they have cringed before it, and have financed and fostered it too long?"
This argument, which I had reserved for the last, had all the effect I anticipated. He sat rubbing his broad, bald forehead, twisting his white whiskers and muttering to himself. Presently he asked, "When are you and Lottie Ramsay going to be married?"
"In the fall," said I. "In about three months."
"Well, we'll talk this over again—after you are married and settled. If you had the substantial interests to give you the steadiness and ballast, I think you'd be the very man for your scheme. Yes, something—some such thing as you suggest—must be done to stop the poisoning of public opinion against the country's best and strongest men. The political department of the business interests ought to be as thoroughly organized as the other departments are. Come to me again after you're married."
I saw that his mind was fixed, that he would be unable to trust me until I was of his class, of the aristocracy of corpulent corporate persons. I went away much downcast; but, two weeks afterward he telegraphed for me, and when I came he at once brought up the subject of the combine.
"Go ahead with it," he said. "I've been thinking it over and talking it over. We shall need only nine others besides myself and you. You represent the Ramsay interest."
He equipped me with the necessary letters of introduction and sent me forth on a tour of my state. When it was ended, my "combine" was formed. And I was the combine,—was master of this political blind pool. I had taken the first, the hardest step, toward the realization of my dream of real political power,—to become an unbossed boss, not the agent and servant of Plutocracy or Partizanship, but using both to further my own purposes and plans.
I had thus laid out for myself the difficult feat of controlling two fiery steeds. Difficult, but not impossible, if I should develop skill as a driver—for the skilful driver has a hand so light that his horses fancy they are going their own road at their own gait.
MISS RAMSAY REVOLTS
The last remark Roebuck had made to me—on his doorstep, as I was starting on my mission—was: "Can't you and Lottie hurry up that marriage of yours? You ought to get it over and out of the way." When I returned home with my mission accomplished, the first remark my mother made after our greeting was: "Harvey, I wish you and Lottie were going to marry a little sooner."
A note in her voice made me look swiftly at her, and then, without a word, I was on my knees, my face in her lap and she stroking my head. "I feel that I'm going to—to your father, dear," she said.
I heard and I thought I realized; but I did not. Who, feeling upon him the living hand of love, was ever able to imagine that hand other than alive? But her look of illness, of utter exhaustion,—that I understood and suffered for. "You must rest," said I; "you must sit quiet and be waited on until you are strong again."
"Yes, I will rest," she answered, "as soon as my boy is settled."
That very day I wrote Carlotta telling her about mother's health and asking her to change the date of our wedding to the first week in August, then just under a month away. She telegraphed me to come and talk it over.
She was at the station in her phaeton to meet me. We had not driven far before I felt and saw that she was intensely irritated against me. As I unburdened my mind of my anxieties about mother, she listened coldly. And I had to wait a long time before I got her answer, in a strained voice and with averted eyes: "Of course, I'm sorry your mother isn't well, but I can't get ready that soon."
It was not her words that exasperated me; the lightning of speech from the storm-clouds of anger tends to clear the air. It was her expression.
Never have I known any one who could concentrate into brows and eyes and chin and lips more of that sullen and aggressive obstinacy which is the climax of provocativeness. Patience, in thought at least, with refusal has not been one of my virtues. This refusal of hers, this denial of happiness to one who had deserved so much and had received so little, set temper to working in me like a quick poison. But I was silent, not so much from prudence as from inability to find adequate words.
"I can't do it," repeated Carlotta, "and I won't." She made it clear that she meant the "won't,"—that she was bent upon a quarrel.
But in my struggle to train those stanchest of servants and maddest of masters, the passions, I had got at least far enough always to choose both the time and the ground of a quarrel. So I said: "Very well, Carlotta. Then, that is settled." And with an air sufficiently deceptive to pass muster before angry eyes, I proceeded to talk of indifferent matters.
As I sat beside her, my temper glowering in the straining leash, I revolved her conduct and tried to puzzle out its meaning. It is clear, thought I, that she does not care for me as people about to marry usually profess to care. Then, does she wish to break the engagement?
That tamed my anger instantly.
Yes, I thought on, she wishes to be free—to free me. And, as my combine is formed and my career well advanced in the way to being established, what reason is there for trying to prevent her from freeing herself? None—for I can easily explain the situation to mother. "Yes," I concluded, "you can avoid a quarrel, can remain friends with Carlotta, can give and get freedom." What had changed her? I did not know; I did not waste time in puzzling; I did not tempt fate by asking. "You are poor, she is rich," I reminded myself. "That makes it impossible for you to hesitate. You must give her no excuse for thinking you lack pride."
Thus I reasoned and planned, my temper back in its kennel and peaceful as a sheep. That evening I avoided being alone with her; just as I was debating how to announce that I must be leaving by the first train in the morning a telegram came from Roebuck calling me to Chicago at once. When we were all going to bed, I said to Mrs. Ramsay: "I shall see you and Ed in the morning, but"—to Carlotta—"you don't get up so early. I'll say good-by now,"—this in the friendliest possible way.
I was conscious of Mrs. Ramsay's look of wonder and anxiety; of Ed's wild stare from Carlotta to me and back again at her. She bit her lip and her voice was unsteady as she said: "Oh, no, Harvey. I'll be up." There was a certain meekness in her tone which would probably have delighted me had I been what is usually called "masterful."
When I came down at seven o'clock after an unquiet night, Carlotta was lying in wait for me, took me into the parlor and shut the door. "What do you mean?" she demanded, facing me with something of her wonted imperiousness.
"Mean?" said I, for once feeling no resentment at her manner.
"By leaving—this way," she explained with impatience.
"You heard Mr. Roebuck's telegram," said I.
"You are angry with me," she persisted.
"No, Carlotta," said I. "I was, but I am not. As soon as I saw what you wished, I was grateful, not angry."
"What did I wish?"
"To let me know as gently and kindly as you could that you purposed to end our engagement. And I guess you are right. We do not seem to care for each other as we ought if we—"
"You misunderstood me," she said, pale and with flashing eyes, and in such a struggle with her emotions that she could say no more.
If I had not seen that only her pride and her vanity were engaged in the struggle, and her heart not at all, I think I should have abandoned my comfortable self-deception that my own pride forbade discussion with her. As it was, I was able to say: "Don't try to spare me, Carlotta, I'm glad you had the courage and the good sense not to let us both drift into irrevocable folly. I thank you." I opened the door into the hall. "Let us talk no more about it. We could say to each other only the things that sting or the things that stab. Let us be friends. You must give me your friendship, at least." I took her hand.
She looked strangely at me. "You want me to humble myself, to crawl at your feet and beg your pardon," said she between her teeth. "But I shan't." She snatched away her hand and threw back her head.
"I wish nothing but what is best for us both," said I. "But let us not talk of it now—when neither of us is calm."
"You don't care for me!" she cried.
"Do you love me?" I rejoined.
Her eyes shifted. I waited for her reply and, when it did not come, I said: "Let us go to breakfast."
"I'll not go in just now," she answered, in a quiet tone, a sudden and strange shift from that of the moment before. And she let me take her hand, echoed my good-by, and made no further attempt to detain me.
That was a gloomy breakfast despite my efforts to make my own seeming of good-humor permeate to the others. Mrs. Ramsay hid a somber face behind the coffee-urn; Ed ate furiously, noisily, choking every now and then. He drove me to the station; his whole body was probably as damp from his emotions as were his eyes and his big friendly hand. The train got under way; I drew a long breath. I was free.
But somehow freedom did not taste as I had anticipated. Though I reminded myself that I had acted as any man with pride and self-respect would have acted in such delicate circumstances, and though I knew that Carlotta was no more in love with me than I was with her, this end to our engagement seemed even more humiliating to me than its beginning had seemed. It was one more instance of that wretched fatality which has pursued me through life, which has made every one of my triumphs come to me in mourning robes and with a gruesome face. In the glittering array of "prizes" that tempts man to make a beast and a fool of himself in the gladiatorial show called Life, the sorriest, the most ironic, is the grand prize, Victory.
* * * * *
The parlor car was crowded; its only untaken seat was in the smoking compartment, which had four other occupants, deep in a game of poker. Three of them were types of commonplace, prosperous Americans; the fourth could not be so easily classed and, therefore, interested me—especially as I was in the mood to welcome anything that would crowd to the background my far from agreeable thoughts.
The others called him "Doc," or Woodruff. As they played, they drank from flasks produced by each in turn. Doc drank with the others, and deeper than any of them. They talked more and more, he less and less, until finally he interrupted their noisy volubility only when the game compelled. I saw that he was one of those rare men upon whom amiable conversation or liquor or any other relaxing force has the reverse of the usual effect. Instead of relaxing, he drew himself together and concentrated more obstinately upon his game. Luck, so far as the cards controlled it, was rather against him, and the other three players took turns at audacious and by no means unskilful play. I was soon admiring the way he "sized up" and met each in turn. Prudence did not make him timid. He advanced and retreated, "bluffed" and held aloof, with acuteness and daring.
At a station perhaps fifty miles from Chicago, the other three left,—and Doc had four hundred-odd dollars of their money.
I dropped into the seat opposite him—it was by the window—and amused myself watching him, while waiting for a chance to talk with him; for I saw that he was a superior person, and, in those days, when I was inconspicuous and so was not compelled constantly to be on guard, I never missed a chance to benefit by such exchanges of ideas.
He was apparently about forty years old, to strike a balance between the youth of eyes, mouth, and contour, and the age of deep lines and grayish, thinning hair. He had large, frank, blue eyes, a large nose, a strong forehead and chin, a grossly self-indulgent mouth,—there was the weakness, there, as usual! Evidently, the strength his mind and character gave him went in pandering to physical appetites. In confirmation of this, there were two curious marks on him,—a nick in the rim of his left ear, a souvenir of a bullet or a knife, and a scar just under the edge of his chin to the right. When he compressed his lips, this scar, not especially noticeable at other times, lifted up into his face, became of a sickly, bluish white, and transformed a careless, good-humored cynic into a man of danger, of terror.
His reverie began, as I gathered from his unguarded face, in cynical amusement, probably at his triumph over his friends. It passed on to still more agreeable things,—something in the expression of the mouth suggested thoughts of how he was going to enjoy himself as he "blew in" his winnings. Then his features shadowed, darkened, and I had my first view of the scar terrible. He shook his big head and big shoulders, roused himself, made ready to take a drink, noticed me, and said, "Won't you join me?" His look was most engaging.
I accepted and we were soon sociable, each taking an instinctive liking to the other. We talked of the business situation, of the news in the papers, and then of political affairs. Each of us saw that there he was at the other's keenest interest in life. He knew the game,—practical politics as distinguished from the politics talked by and to the public. But he evaded, without seeming to do so, all the ingenious traps I laid for drawing from him some admission that would give me a clue to where he "fitted in." I learned no more about him than I thought he learned about me.
"I hope we shall meet again," said I cordially, as we parted at the cab-stand.
"Thank you," he answered, and afterward I remembered the faint smile in his eyes.
I, of course, knew that Roebuck was greatly interested in my project for putting political business on a business basis; but not until he had explained why he sent for me did I see how it had fascinated and absorbed his mind. "You showed me," he began, "that you must have under you a practical man to handle the money and do the arranging with the heelers and all that sort of thing."
"Yes," said I; "it's a vital part of the plan. We must find a man who is perfectly trustworthy and discreet. Necessarily he'll know or suspect something—not much, but still something—of the inside workings of the combine."
"Well, I've found him," went on Roebuck, in a triumphant tone. "He's a godless person, with no character to lose, and no conception of what character means. But he's straight as a string. Providence seems to have provided such men for just such situations as these, where the devil must be fought with fire. I've been testing him for nearly fifteen years. But you can judge for yourself."