A Far Country
One November day nearly two years after my admission as junior member of the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon seven gentlemen met at luncheon in the Boyne Club; Mr. Barbour, President of the Railroad, Mr. Scherer, of the Boyne Iron Works and other corporations, Mr. Leonard Dickinson, of the Corn National Bank, Mr. Halsey, a prominent banker from the other great city of the state, Mr. Grunewald, Chairman of the Republican State Committee, and Mr. Frederick Grierson, who had become a very important man in our community. At four o'clock they emerged from the club: citizens in Boyne Street who saw them chatting amicably on the steps little suspected that in the last three hours these gentlemen had chosen and practically elected the man who was to succeed Mr. Wade as United States Senator in Washington. Those were the days in which great affairs were simply and efficiently handled. No democratic nonsense about leaving the choice to an electorate that did not know what it wanted.
The man chosen to fill this high position was Theodore Watling. He said he would think about the matter.
In the nation at large, through the defection of certain Northern states neither so conservative nor fortunate as ours, the Democratic party was in power, which naturally implies financial depression. There was no question about our ability to send a Republican Senator; the choice in the Boyne Club was final; but before the legislature should ratify it, a year or so hence, it were just as well that the people of the state should be convinced that they desired Mr. Watling more than any other man; and surely enough, in a little while such a conviction sprang up spontaneously. In offices and restaurants and hotels, men began to suggest to each other what a fine thing it would be if Theodore Watling might be persuaded to accept the toga; at the banks, when customers called to renew their notes and tight money was discussed and Democrats excoriated, it was generally agreed that the obvious thing to do was to get a safe man in the Senate. From the very first, Watling sentiment stirred like spring sap after a hard winter.
The country newspapers, watered by providential rains, began to put forth tender little editorial shoots, which Mr. Judah B. Tallant presently collected and presented in a charming bouquet in the Morning Era. "The Voice of the State Press;" thus was the column headed; and the remarks of the Hon. Fitch Truesdale, of the St. Helen's Messenger, were given a special prominence. Mr. Truesdale was the first, in his section, to be inspired by the happy thought that the one man preeminently fitted to represent the state in the present crisis, when her great industries had been crippled by Democratic folly, was Mr. Theodore Watling. The Rossiter Banner, the Elkington Star, the Belfast Recorder, and I know not how many others simultaneously began to sing Mr. Watling's praises.
"Not since the troublous times of the Civil War," declared the Morning Era, "had the demand for any man been so unanimous." As a proof of it, there were the country newspapers, "which reflected the sober opinion of the firesides of the common people."
There are certain industrious gentlemen to whom little credit is given, and who, unlike the average citizen who reserves his enthusiasm for election time, are patriotic enough to labour for their country's good all the year round. When in town, it was their habit to pay a friendly call on the Counsel for the Railroad, Mr. Miller Gorse, in the Corn Bank Building. He was never too busy to converse with them; or, it might better be said, to listen to them converse. Let some legally and politically ambitious young man observe Mr. Gorse's method. Did he inquire what the party worker thought of Mr. Watling for the Senate? Not at all! But before the party worker left he was telling Mr. Gorse that public sentiment demanded Mr. Watling. After leaving Mr. Gorse they wended their way to the Durrett Building and handed their cards over the rail of the offices of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon. Mr. Watling shook hands with scores of them, and they departed, well satisfied with the flavour of his cigars and intoxicated by his personality. He had a marvellous way of cutting short an interview without giving offence. Some of them he turned over to Mr. Paret, whom he particularly desired they should know. Thus Mr. Paret acquired many valuable additions to his acquaintance, cultivated a memory for names and faces that was to stand him in good stead; and kept, besides, an indexed note-book into which he put various bits of interesting information concerning each. Though not immediately lucrative, it was all, no doubt, part of a lawyer's education.
During the summer and the following winter Colonel Paul Varney came often to town and spent much of his time in Mr. Paret's office smoking Mr. Watling's cigars and discussing the coming campaign, in which he took a whole-souled interest.
"Say, Hugh, this is goin' slick!" he would exclaim, his eyes glittering like round buttons of jet. "I never saw a campaign where they fell in the way they're doing now. If it was anybody else but Theodore Watling, it would scare me. You ought to have been in Jim Broadhurst's campaign," he added, referring to the junior senator, "they wouldn't wood up at all, they was just listless. But Gorse and Barbour and the rest wanted him, and we had to put him over. I reckon he is useful down there in Washington, but say, do you know what he always reminded me of? One of those mud-turtles I used to play with as a boy up in Columbia County,—shuts up tight soon as he sees you coming. Now Theodore Watling ain't like that, any way of speaking. We can get up some enthusiasm for a man of his sort. He's liberal and big. He's made his pile, and he don't begrudge some of it to the fellows who do the work. Mark my words, when you see a man who wants a big office cheap, look out for him."
This, and much more wisdom I imbibed while assenting to my chief's greatness. For Mr. Varney was right,—one could feel enthusiasm for Theodore Watling; and my growing intimacy with him, the sense that I was having a part in his career, a share in his success, became for the moment the passion of my life. As the campaign progressed I gave more and more time to it, and made frequent trips of a confidential nature to the different counties of the state. The whole of my being was energized. The national fever had thoroughly pervaded my blood—the national fever to win. Prosperity—writ large—demanded it, and Theodore Watling personified, incarnated the cause. I had neither the time nor the desire to philosophize on this national fever, which animated all my associates: animated, I might say, the nation, which was beginning to get into a fever about games. If I remember rightly, it was about this time that golf was introduced, tennis had become a commonplace, professional baseball was in full swing; Ham Durrett had even organized a local polo team.... The man who failed to win something tangible in sport or law or business or politics was counted out. Such was the spirit of America, in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
And yet, when one has said this, one has failed to express the national Geist in all its subtlety. In brief, the great American sport was not so much to win the game as to beat it; the evasion of rules challenged our ingenuity; and having won, we set about devising methods whereby it would be less and less possible for us winners to lose in the future. No better illustration of this tendency could be given than the development which had recently taken place in the field of our city politics, hitherto the battle-ground of Irish politicians who had fought one another for supremacy. Individualism had been rampant, competition the custom; you bought an alderman, or a boss who owned four or five aldermen, and then you never could be sure you were to get what you wanted, or that the aldermen and the bosses would "stay bought." But now a genius had appeared, an American genius who had arisen swiftly and almost silently, who appealed to the imagination, and whose name was often mentioned in a whisper,—the Hon. Judd Jason, sometimes known as the Spider, who organized the City Hall and capitalized it; an ultimate and logical effect—if one had considered it—of the Manchester school of economics. Enlightened self-interest, stripped of sentiment, ends on Judd Jasons. He ran the city even as Mr. Sherrill ran his department store; you paid your price. It was very convenient. Being a genius, Mr. Jason did not wholly break with tradition, but retained those elements of the old muddled system that had their value, chartering steamboats for outings on the river, giving colossal picnics in Lowry Park. The poor and the wanderer and the criminal (of the male sex at least) were cared for. But he was not loved, as the rough-and-tumble Irishmen had been loved; he did not make himself common; he was surrounded by an aura of mystery which I confess had not failed of effect on me. Once, and only once during my legal apprenticeship, he had been pointed out to me on the street, where he rarely ventured. His appearance was not impressive....
Mr. Jason could not, of course, prevent Mr. Watling's election, even did he so desire, but he did command the allegiance of several city candidates—both democratic and republican—for the state legislature, who had as yet failed to announce their preferences for United States Senator. It was important that Mr. Watling's vote should be large, as indicative of a public reaction and repudiation of Democratic national folly. This matter among others was the subject of discussion one July morning when the Republican State Chairman was in the city; Mr. Grunewald expressed anxiety over Mr. Jason's continued silence. It was expedient that somebody should "see" the boss.
"Why not Paret?" suggested Leonard Dickinson. Mr. Watling was not present at this conference. "Paret seems to be running Watling's campaign, anyway."
It was settled that I should be the emissary. With lively sensations of curiosity and excitement, tempered by a certain anxiety as to my ability to match wits with the Spider, I made my way to his "lair" over Monahan's saloon, situated in a district that was anything but respectable. The saloon, on the ground floor, had two apartments; the bar-room proper where Mike Monahan, chamberlain of the establishment, was wont to stand, red faced and smiling, to greet the courtiers, big and little, the party workers, the district leaders, the hangers-on ready to be hired, the city officials, the police judges,—yes, and the dignified members of state courts whose elections depended on Mr. Jason's favour: even Judge Bering, whose acquaintance I had made the day I had come, as a law student, to Mr. Watling's office, unbent from time to time sufficiently to call there for a small glass of rye and water, and to relate, with his owl-like gravity, an anecdote to the "boys." The saloon represented Democracy, so dear to the American public. Here all were welcome, even the light-fingered gentlemen who enjoyed the privilege of police protection; and who sometimes, through fortuitous circumstances, were hauled before the very magistrates with whom they had rubbed elbows on the polished rail. Behind the bar-room, and separated from it by swinging doors only the elite ventured to thrust apart, was an audience chamber whither Mr. Jason occasionally descended. Anecdote and political reminiscence gave place here to matters of high policy.
I had several times come to the saloon in the days of my apprenticeship in search of some judge or official, and once I had run down here the city auditor himself. Mike Monahan, whose affair it was to know everyone, recognized me. It was part of his business, also, to understand that I was now a member of the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon.
"Good morning to you, Mr. Paret," he said suavely. We held a colloquy in undertones over the bar, eyed by the two or three customers who were present. Mr. Monahan disappeared, but presently returned to whisper: "Sure, he'll see you," to lead the way through the swinging doors and up a dark stairway. I came suddenly on a room in the greatest disorder, its tables and chairs piled high with newspapers and letters, its windows streaked with soot. From an open door on its farther side issued a voice.
"Is that you, Mr. Paret? Come in here."
It was little less than a command.
"Heard of you, Mr. Paret. Glad to know you. Sit down, won't you?"
The inner room was almost dark. I made out a bed in the corner, and propped up in the bed a man; but for the moment I was most aware of a pair of eyes that flared up when the man spoke, and died down again when he became silent. They reminded me of those insects which in my childhood days we called "lightning bugs." Mr. Jason gave me a hand like a woman's. I expressed my pleasure at meeting him, and took a chair beside the bed.
"I believe you're a partner of Theodore Watling's now aren't you? Smart man, Watling."
"He'll make a good senator," I replied, accepting the opening.
"You think he'll get elected—do you?" Mr. Jason inquired.
"Well, there isn't much doubt about that, I imagine."
"Don't know—don't know. Seen some dead-sure things go wrong in my time."
"What's going to defeat him?" I asked pleasantly.
"I don't say anything," Mr. Jason replied. "But I've known funny things to happen—never does to be dead sure."
"Oh, well, we're as sure as it's humanly possible to be," I declared. The eyes continued to fascinate me, they had a peculiar, disquieting effect. Now they died down, and it was as if the man's very presence had gone out, as though I had been left alone; and I found it exceedingly difficult, under the circumstances, to continue to address him. Suddenly he flared up again.
"Watling send you over here?" he demanded.
"No. As a matter of fact, he's out of town. Some of Mr. Watling's friends, Mr. Grunewald and Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Gorse and others, suggested that I see you, Mr. Jason."
There came a grunt from the bed.
"Mr. Watling has always valued your friendship and support," I said.
"What makes him think he ain't going to get it?"
"He hasn't a doubt of it," I went on diplomatically. "But we felt—and I felt personally, that we ought to be in touch with you, to work along with you, to keep informed how things are going in the city."
"Well—there are one or two representatives, friends of yours, who haven't come out for Mr. Watling. We aren't worrying, we know you'll do the right thing, but we feel that it would have a good deal of influence in some other parts of the state if they declared themselves. And then you know as well as I do that this isn't a year when any of us can afford to recognize too closely party lines; the Democratic administration has brought on a panic, the business men in that party are down on it, and it ought to be rebuked. And we feel, too, that some of the city's Democrats ought to be loyal to Mr. Watling,—not that we expect them to vote for him in caucus, but when it comes to the joint ballot—"
"Who?" demanded Mr. Jason.
"Senator Dowse and Jim Maher, for instance," I suggested.
"Jim voted for Bill 709 all right—didn't he?" said Mr. Jason abruptly.
"That's just it," I put in boldly. "We'd like to induce him to come in with us this time. But we feel that—the inducement would better come through you."
I thought Mr. Jason smiled. By this time I had grown accustomed to the darkness, the face and figure of the man in the bed had become discernible. Power, I remember thinking, chooses odd houses for itself. Here was no overbearing, full-blooded ward ruffian brimming with vitality, but a thin, sallow little man in a cotton night-shirt, with iron-grey hair and a wiry moustache; he might have been an overworked clerk behind a dry-goods counter; and yet somehow, now that I had talked to him, I realized that he never could have been. Those extraordinary eyes of his, when they were functioning, marked his individuality as unique. It were almost too dramatic to say that he required darkness to make his effect, but so it seemed. I should never forget him. He had in truth been well named the Spider.
"Of course we haven't tried to get in touch with them. We are leaving them to you," I added.
"Paret," he said suddenly, "I don't care a damn about Grunewald—never did. I'd turn him down for ten cents. But you can tell Theodore Watling for me, and Dickinson, that I guess the 'inducement' can be fixed."
I felt a certain relief that the interview had come to an end, that the moment had arrived for amenities. To my surprise, Mr. Jason anticipated me.
"I've been interested in you, Mr. Paret," he observed. "Know who you are, of course, knew you were in Watling's office. Then some of the boys spoke about you when you were down at the legislature on that Ribblevale matter. Guess you had more to do with that bill than came out in the newspapers—eh?"
I was taken off my guard.
"Oh, that's talk," I said.
"All right, it's talk, then? But I guess you and I will have some more talk after a while,—after Theodore Watling gets to be United States Senator. Give him my regards, and—and come in when I can do anything for you, Mr. Paret."
Thanking him, I groped my way downstairs and let myself out by a side door Monahan had shown me into an alleyway, thus avoiding the saloon. As I walked slowly back to the office, seeking the shade of the awnings, the figure in the darkened room took on a sinister aspect that troubled me....
The autumn arrived, the campaign was on with a whoop, and I had my first taste of "stump" politics. The acrid smell of red fire brings it back to me. It was a medley of railroad travel, of committees provided with badges—and cigars, of open carriages slowly drawn between lines of bewildered citizens, of Lincoln clubs and other clubs marching in serried ranks, uniformed and helmeted, stalwarts carrying torches and banners. And then there were the draughty opera-houses with the sylvan scenery pushed back and plush chairs and sofas pushed forward; with an ominous table, a pitcher of water on it and a glass, near the footlights. The houses were packed with more bewildered citizens. What a wonderful study of mob-psychology it would have offered! Men who had not thought of the grand old Republican party for two years, and who had not cared much about it when they had entered the dooms, after an hour or so went mad with fervour. The Hon. Joseph Mecklin, ex-Speaker of the House, with whom I traveled on occasions, had a speech referring to the martyred President, ending with an appeal to the revolutionary fathers who followed Washington with bleeding feet. The Hon. Joseph possessed that most valuable of political gifts, presence; and when with quivering voice he finished his peroration, citizens wept with him. What it all had to do with the tariff was not quite clear. Yet nobody seemed to miss the connection.
We were all of us most concerned, of course, about the working-man and his dinner pail,—whom the Democrats had wantonly thrown out of employment for the sake of a doctrinaire theory. They had put him in competition with the serf of Europe. Such was the subject-matter of my own modest addresses in this, my maiden campaign. I had the sense to see myself in perspective; to recognize that not for me, a dignified and substantial lawyer of affairs, were the rhetorical flights of the Hon. Joseph Mecklin. I spoke with a certain restraint. Not too dryly, I hope. But I sought to curb my sentiments, my indignation, at the manner in which the working-man had been treated; to appeal to the common sense rather than to the passions of my audiences. Here were the statistics! (drawn, by the way, from the Republican Campaign book). Unscrupulous demagogues—Democratic, of course—had sought to twist and evade them. Let this terrible record of lack of employment and misery be compared with the prosperity under Republican rule.
"One of the most effective speakers in this campaign for the restoration of Prosperity," said the Rossiter Banner, "is Mr. Hugh Paret, of the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon. Mr. Paret's speech at the Opera-House last evening made a most favourable impression. Mr. Paret deals with facts. And his thoughtful analysis of the situation into which the Democratic party has brought this country should convince any sane-minded voter that the time has come for a change."
I began to keep a scrap-book, though I locked it up in the drawer of my desk. In it are to be found many clippings of a similarly gratifying tenor....
Mecklin and I were well contrasted. In this way, incidentally, I made many valuable acquaintances among the "solid" men of the state, the local capitalists and manufacturers, with whom my manner of dealing with public questions was in particular favour. These were practical men; they rather patronized the Hon. Joseph, thus estimating, to a nicety, a mans value; or solidity, or specific gravity, it might better be said, since our universe was one of checks and balances. The Hon. Joseph and his like, skyrocketing through the air, were somehow necessary in the scheme of things, but not to be taken too seriously. Me they did take seriously, these provincial lords, inviting me to their houses and opening their hearts. Thus, when we came to Elkington, Mr. Mecklin reposed in the Commercial House, on the noisy main street. Fortunately for him, the clanging of trolley cars never interfered with his slumbers. I slept in a wide chamber in the mansion of Mr. Ezra Hutchins. There were many Hutchinses in Elkington,—brothers and cousins and uncles and great-uncles,—and all were connected with the woollen mills. But there is always one supreme Hutchins, and Ezra was he: tall, self-contained, elderly, but well preserved through frugal living, essentially American and typical of his class, when he entered the lobby of the Commercial House that afternoon the babel of political discussion was suddenly hushed; politicians, traveling salesmen and the members of the local committee made a lane for him; to him, the Hon. Joseph and I were introduced. Mr. Hutchins knew what he wanted. He was cordial to Mr. Mecklin, but he took me. We entered a most respectable surrey with tassels, driven by a raw-boned coachman in a black overcoat, drawn by two sleek horses.
"How is this thing going, Paret?" he asked.
I gave him Mr. Grunewald's estimated majority.
"What do you think?" he demanded, a shrewd, humorous look in his blue eyes.
"Well, I think we'll carry the state. I haven't had Grunewald's experience in estimating."
Ezra Hutchins smiled appreciatively.
"What does Watling think?"
"He doesn't seem to be worrying much."
"Ever been in Elkington before?"
I said I hadn't.
"Well, a drive will do you good."
It was about four o'clock on a mild October afternoon. The little town, of fifteen thousand inhabitants or so, had a wonderful setting in the widening valley of the Scopanong, whose swiftly running waters furnished the power for the mills. We drove to these through a gateway over which the words "No Admittance" were conspicuously painted, past long brick buildings that bordered the canals; and in the windows I caught sight of drab figures of men and women bending over the machines. Half of the buildings, as Mr. Hutchins pointed out, were closed,—mute witnesses of tariff-tinkering madness. Even more eloquent of democratic folly was that part of the town through which we presently passed, streets lined with rows of dreary houses where the workers lived. Children were playing on the sidewalks, but theirs seemed a listless play; listless, too, were the men and women who sat on the steps,—listless, and somewhat sullen, as they watched us passing. Ezra Hutchins seemed to read my thought.
"Since the unions got in here I've had nothing but trouble," he said. "I've tried to do my duty by my people, God knows. But they won't see which side their bread's buttered on. They oppose me at every step, they vote against their own interests. Some years ago they put up a job on us, and sent a scatter-brained radical to the legislature."
"Do you know him?"
"Slightly. He was in my class at Harvard.... Is he still here?" I asked, after a pause.
"Oh, yes. But he hasn't gone to the legislature this time, we've seen to that. His father was a respectable old German who had a little shop and made eye-glasses. The son is an example of too much education. He's a notoriety seeker. Oh, he's clever, in a way. He's given us a good deal of trouble, too, in the courts with damage cases."...
We came to a brighter, more spacious, well-to-do portion of the town, where the residences faced the river. In a little while the waters widened into a lake, which was surrounded by a park, a gift to the city of the Hutchins family. Facing it, on one side, was the Hutchins Library; on the other, across a wide street, where the maples were turning, were the Hutchinses' residences of various dates of construction, from that of the younger George, who had lately married a wife, and built in bright yellow brick, to the old-fashioned mansion of Ezra himself. This, he told me, had been good enough for his father, and was good enough for him. The picture of it comes back to me, now, with singular attractiveness. It was of brick, and I suppose a modification of the Georgian; the kind of house one still sees in out-of-the way corners of London, with a sort of Dickensy flavour; high and square and uncompromising, with small-paned windows, with a flat roof surrounded by a low balustrade, and many substantial chimneys. The third storey was lower than the others, separated from them by a distinct line. On one side was a wide porch. Yellow and red leaves, the day's fall, scattered the well-kept lawn. Standing in the doorway of the house was a girl in white, and as we descended from the surrey she came down the walk to meet us. She was young, about twenty. Her hair was the colour of the russet maple leaves.
"This is Mr. Paret, Maude." Mr. Hutchins looked at his watch as does a man accustomed to live by it. "If you'll excuse me, Mr. Paret, I have something important to attend to. Perhaps Mr. Paret would like to look about the grounds?" He addressed his daughter.
I said I should be delighted, though I had no idea what grounds were meant. As I followed Maude around the house she explained that all the Hutchins connection had a common back yard, as she expressed it. In reality, there were about two blocks of the property, extending behind all the houses. There were great trees with swings, groves, orchards where the late apples glistened between the leaves, an old-fashioned flower garden loath to relinquish its blooming. In the distance the shadowed western ridge hung like a curtain of deep blue velvet against the sunset.
"What a wonderful spot!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, it is nice," she agreed, "we were all brought up here—I mean my cousins and myself. There are dozens of us. And dozens left," she added, as the shouts and laughter of children broke the stillness.
A boy came running around the corner of the path. He struck out at Maude. With a remarkably swift movement she retaliated.
"Ouch!" he exclaimed.
"You got him that time," I laughed, and, being detected, she suddenly blushed. It was this act that drew my attention to her, that defined her as an individual. Before that I had regarded her merely as a shy and provincial girl. Now she was brimming with an unsuspected vitality. A certain interest was aroused, although her shyness towards me was not altered. I found it rather a flattering shyness.
"It's Hugh," she explained, "he's always trying to be funny. Speak to Mr. Paret, Hugh."
"Why, that's my name, too," I said.
"She knocked my hat off a little while ago," said Hugh. "I was only getting square."
"Well, you didn't get square, did you?" I asked.
"Are you going to speak in the tows hall to-night?" the boy demanded. I admitted it. He went off, pausing once to stare back at me.... Maude and I walked on.
"It must be exciting to speak before a large audience," she said. "If I were a man, I think I should like to be in politics."
"I cannot imagine you in politics," I answered.
"I said, if I were a man."
"Are you going to the meeting?"
"Oh, yes. Father promised to take me. He has a box."
I thought it would be pleasant to have her there.
"I'm afraid you'll find what I have to say rather dry," I said.
"A woman can't expect to understand everything," she answered quickly.
This remark struck me favourably. I glanced at her sideways. She was not a beauty, but she was distinctly well-formed and strong. Her face was oval, her features not quite regular,—giving them a certain charm; her colour was fresh, her eyes blue, the lighter blue one sees on Chinese ware: not a poetic comparison, but so I thought of them. She was apparently not sophisticated, as were most of the young women at home whom I knew intimately (as were the Watling twins, for example, with one of whom, Frances, I had had, by the way, rather a lively flirtation the spring before); she seemed refreshingly original, impressionable and plastic....
We walked slowly back to the house, and in the hallway I met Mrs. Hutchins, a bustling, housewifely lady, inclined to stoutness, whose creased and kindly face bore witness to long acquiescence in the discipline of matrimony, to the contentment that results from an essentially circumscribed and comfortable life. She was, I learned later, the second Mrs. Hutchins, and Maude their only child. The children of the first marriage, all girls, had married and scattered.
Supper was a decorous but heterogeneous meal of the old-fashioned sort that gives one the choice between tea and cocoa. It was something of an occasion, I suspected. The minister was there, the Reverend Mr. Doddridge, who would have made, in appearance at least, a perfect Puritan divine in a steeple hat and a tippet. Only—he was no longer the leader of the community; and even in his grace he had the air of deferring to the man who provided the bounties of which we were about to partake rather than to the Almighty. Young George was there, Mr. Hutchins's nephew, who was daily becoming more and more of a factor in the management of the mills, and had built the house of yellow brick that stood out so incongruously among the older Hutchinses' mansions, and marked a transition. I thought him rather a yellow-brick gentleman himself for his assumption of cosmopolitan manners. His wife was a pretty, discontented little woman who plainly deplored her environment, longed for larger fields of conquest: George, she said, must remain where he was, for the present at least,—Uncle Ezra depended on him; but Elkington was a prosy place, and Mrs. George gave the impression that she did not belong here. They went to the city on occasions; both cities. And when she told me we had a common acquaintance in Mrs. Hambleton Durrett—whom she thought so lovely!—I knew that she had taken Nancy as an ideal: Nancy, the social leader of what was to Mrs. George a metropolis.
Presently the talk became general among the men, the subject being the campaign, and I the authority, bombarded with questions I strove to answer judicially. What was the situation in this county and in that? the national situation? George indulged in rather a vigorous arraignment of the demagogues, national and state, who were hurting business in order to obtain political power. The Reverend Mr. Doddridge assented, deploring the poverty that the local people had brought on themselves by heeding the advice of agitators; and Mrs. Hutchins, who spent much of her time in charity work, agreed with the minister when he declared that the trouble was largely due to a decline in Christian belief. Ezra Hutchins, too, nodded at this.
"Take that man Krebs, for example," the minister went on, stimulated by this encouragement, "he's an atheist, pure and simple." A sympathetic shudder went around the table at the word. George alone smiled. "Old Krebs was a free-thinker; I used to get my glasses of him. He was at least a conscientious man, a good workman, which is more than can be said for the son. Young Krebs has talent, and if only he had devoted himself to the honest practice of law, instead of stirring up dissatisfaction among these people, he would be a successful man to-day."
Mr. Hutchins explained that I was at college with Krebs.
"These people must like him," I said, "or they wouldn't have sent him to the legislature."
"Well, a good many of them do like him," the minister admitted. "You see, he actually lives among them. They believe his socialistic doctrines because he's a friend of theirs."
"He won't represent this town again, that's sure," exclaimed George. "You didn't see in the papers that he was nominated,—did you, Paret?"
"But if the mill people wanted him, George, how could it be prevented?" his wife demanded.
George winked at me.
"There are more ways of skinning a cat than one," he said cryptically.
"Well, it's time to go to the meeting, I guess," remarked Ezra, rising. Once more he looked at his watch.
We were packed into several family carriages and started off. In front of the hall the inevitable red fire was burning, its quivering light reflected on the faces of the crowd that blocked the street. They stood silent, strangely apathetic as we pushed through them to the curb, and the red fire went out suddenly as we descended. My temporary sense of depression, however, deserted me as we entered the hall, which was well lighted and filled with people, who clapped when the Hon. Joseph and I, accompanied by Mr. Doddridge and the Hon. Henry Clay Mellish from Pottstown, with the local chairman, walked out on the stage. A glance over the audience sufficed to ascertain that that portion of the population whose dinner pails we longed to fill was evidently not present in large numbers. But the farmers had driven in from the hills, while the merchants and storekeepers of Elkington had turned out loyally.
The chairman, in introducing me, proclaimed me as a coming man, and declared that I had already achieved, in the campaign, considerable notoriety. As I spoke, I was pleasantly aware of Maude Hutchins leaning forward a little across the rail of the right-hand stage box—for the town hall was half opera-house; her attitude was one of semi-absorbed admiration; and the thought that I had made an impression on her stimulated me. I spoke with more aplomb. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself making occasional, unexpected witticisms that drew laughter and applause. Suddenly, from the back of the hall, a voice called out:—"How about House Bill 709?"
There was a silence, then a stirring and craning of necks. It was my first experience of heckling, and for the moment I was taken aback. I thought of Krebs. He had, indeed, been in my mind since I had risen to my feet, and I had scanned the faces before me in search of his. But it was not his voice.
"Well, what about Bill 709?" I demanded.
"You ought to know something about it, I guess," the voice responded.
"Put him out!" came from various portions of the hall.
Inwardly, I was shaken. Not—in orthodox language from any "conviction of sin." Yet it was my first intimation that my part in the legislation referred to was known to any save a select few. I blamed Krebs, and a hot anger arose within me against him. After all, what could they prove?
"No, don't put him out," I said. "Let him come up here to the platform. I'll yield to him. And I'm entirely willing to discuss with him and defend any measures passed in the legislature of this state by a Republican majority. Perhaps," I added, "the gentleman has a copy of the law in his pocket, that I may know what he is talking about, and answer him intelligently."
At this there was wild applause. I had the audience with me. The offender remained silent and presently I finished my speech. After that Mr. Mecklin made them cheer and weep, and Mr. Mellish made them laugh. The meeting had been highly successful.
"You polished him off, all right," said George Hutchins, as he took my hand.
"Who was he?"
"Oh, one of the local sore-heads. Krebs put him up to it, of course."
"Was Krebs here?" I asked.
"Sitting in the corner of the balcony. That meeting must have made him feel sick." George bent forward and whispered in my ear: "I thought Bill 709 was Watling's idea."
"Oh, I happened to be in the Potts House about that time," I explained.
George, of whom it may be gathered that he was not wholly unsophisticated, grinned at me appreciatively.
"Say, Paret," he replied, putting his hand through my arm, "there's a little legal business in prospect down here that will require some handling, and I wish you'd come down after the campaign and talk it over, with us. I've just about made up my mind that you're he man to tackle it."
"All right, I'll come," I said.
"And stay with me," said George....
We went to his yellow-brick house for refreshments, salad and ice-cream and (in the face of the Hutchins traditions) champagne. Others had been invited in, some twenty persons.... Once in a while, when I looked up, I met Maude's eyes across the room. I walked home with her, slowly, the length of the Hutchinses' block. Floating over the lake was a waning October moon that cast through the thinning maples a lace-work of shadows at our feet; I had the feeling of well-being that comes to heroes, and the presence of Maude Hutchins was an incense, a vestal incense far from unpleasing. Yet she had reservations which appealed to me. Hers was not a gushing provincialism, like that of Mrs. George.
"I liked your speech so much, Mr. Paret," she told me. "It seemed so sensible and—controlled, compared to the others. I have never thought a great deal about these things, of course, and I never understood before why taking away the tariff caused so much misery. You made that quite plain.
"If so, I'm glad," I said.
She was silent a moment.
"The working people here have had a hard time during the last year," she went on. "Some of the mills had to be shut down, you know. It has troubled me. Indeed, it has troubled all of us. And what has made it more difficult, more painful is that many of them seem actually to dislike us. They think it's father's fault, and that he could run all the mills if he wanted to. I've been around a little with mother and sometimes the women wouldn't accept any help from us; they said they'd rather starve than take charity, that they had the right to work. But father couldn't run the mills at a loss—could he?"
"Certainly not," I replied.
"And then there's Mr. Krebs, of whom we were speaking at supper, and who puts all kinds of queer notions into their heads. Father says he's an anarchist. I heard father say at supper that he was at Harvard with you. Did you like him?"
"Well," I answered hesitatingly, "I didn't know him very well."
"Of course not," she put in. "I suppose you couldn't have."
"He's got these notions," I explained, "that are mischievous and crazy—but I don't dislike him."
"I'm glad to hear you say that!" she answered quietly. "I like him, too—he seems so kind, so understanding."
"Do you know him?"
"Well,—" she hesitated—"I feel as though I do. I've only met him once, and that was by accident. It was the day the big strike began, last spring, and I had been shopping, and started for the mills to get father to walk home with me, as I used to do. I saw the crowds blocking the streets around the canal. At first I paid no attention to them, but after a while I began to be a little uneasy, there were places where I had to squeeze through, and I couldn't help seeing that something was wrong, and that the people were angry. Men and women were talking in loud voices. One woman stared at me, and called my name, and said something that frightened me terribly. I went into a doorway—and then I saw Mr. Krebs. I didn't know who he was. He just said, 'You'd better come with me, Miss Hutchins,' and I went with him. I thought afterwards that it was a very courageous thing for him to do, because he was so popular with the mill people, and they had such a feeling against us. Yet they didn't seem to resent it, and made way for us, and Mr. Krebs spoke to many of them as we passed. After we got to State Street, I asked him his name, and when he told me I was speechless. He took off his hat and went away. He had such a nice face—not at all ugly when you look at it twice—and kind eyes, that I just couldn't believe him to be as bad as father and George think he is. Of course he is mistaken," she added hastily, "but I am sure he is sincere, and honestly thinks he can help those people by telling them what he does."
The question shot at me during the meeting rankled still; I wanted to believe that Krebs had inspired it, and her championship of him gave me a twinge of jealousy,—the slightest twinge, to be sure, yet a perceptible one. At the same time, the unaccountable liking I had for the man stirred to life. The act she described had been so characteristic.
"He's one of the born rebels against society," I said glibly. "Yet I do think he's sincere."
Maude was grave. "I should be sorry to think he wasn't," she replied. After I had bidden her good night at the foot of the stairs, and gone to my room, I reflected how absurd it was to be jealous of Krebs. What was Maude Hutchins to me? And even if she had been something to me, she never could be anything to Krebs. All the forces of our civilization stood between the two; nor was she of a nature to take plunges of that sort. The next day, as I lay back in my seat in the parlour-car and gazed at the autumn landscape, I indulged in a luxurious contemplation of the picture she had made as she stood on the lawn under the trees in the early morning light, when my carriage had driven away; and I had turned, to perceive that her eyes had followed me. I was not in love with her, of course. I did not wish to return at once to Elkington, but I dwelt with a pleasant anticipation upon my visit, when the campaign should be over, with George.