A Far Country
My entrance into the campaign was accompanied by a blare of publicity, and during that fortnight I never picked up a morning or evening newspaper without reading, on the first page, some such headline as "Crowds flock to hear Paret." As a matter of fact, the crowds did flock; but I never quite knew as I looked down from platforms on seas of faces how much of the flocking was spontaneous. Much of it was so, since the struggle had then become sufficiently dramatic to appeal to the larger public imagination that is but occasionally waked; on the other hand, the magic of advertising cannot be underestimated; nor must the existence be ignored of an organized corps of shepherds under the vigilant direction of Mr. Judd Jason, whose duty it was to see that none of our meetings was lacking in numbers and enthusiasm. There was always a demonstrative gathering overflowing the sidewalk in front of the entrance, swaying and cheering in the light of the street lamps, and on the floor within an ample scattering of suspiciously bleary-eyed voters to start the stamping and applauding. In spite of these known facts, the impression of popularity, of repudiation of reform by a large majority of level-headed inhabitants had reassuring and reenforcing effects.
Astute citizens, spectators of the fray—if indeed there were any—might have remarked an unique and significant feature of that campaign: that the usual recriminations between the two great parties were lacking. Mr. Parks, the Republican candidate, did not denounce Mr. MacGuire, the Democratic candidate. Republican and Democratic speakers alike expended their breath in lashing Mr. Krebs and the Citizens Union.
It is difficult to record the fluctuations of my spirit. When I was in the halls, speaking or waiting to speak, I reacted to that phenomenon known as mob psychology, I became self-confident, even exhilarated; and in those earlier speeches I managed, I think, to strike the note for which I strove—the judicial note, suitable to a lawyer of weight and prominence, of deprecation rather than denunciation. I sought to embody and voice a fine and calm sanity at a time when everyone else seemed in danger of losing their heads, and to a large extent achieved it. I had known Mr. Krebs for more than twenty years, and while I did not care to criticise a fellow-member of the bar, I would go so far as to say that he was visionary, that the changes he proposed in government would, if adopted, have grave and far-reaching results: we could not, for instance, support in idleness those who refused to do their share of the work of the world. Mr. Krebs was well-meaning. I refrained from dwelling too long upon him, passing to Mr. Greenhalge, also well-meaning, but a man of mediocre ability who would make a mess of the government of a city which would one day rival New York and Chicago. (Loud cheers.) And I pointed out that Mr. Perry Blackwood had been unable to manage the affairs of the Boyne Street road. Such men, well-intentioned though they might be, were hindrances to progress. This led me naturally to a discussion of the Riverside Franchise and the Traction Consolidation. I was one of those whose honesty and good faith had been arraigned, but I would not stoop to refute the accusations. I dwelt upon the benefits to the city, uniform service, electricity and large comfortable cars instead of rattletrap conveyances, and the development of a large and growing population in the Riverside neighbourhood: the continual extension of lines to suburban districts that enabled hard-worked men to live out of the smoke: I called attention to the system of transfers, the distance a passenger might be conveyed, and conveyed quickly, for the sum of five cents. I spoke of our capitalists as men more sinned against than sinning. Their money was always at the service of enterprises tending to the development of our metropolis.
When I was not in the meetings, however, and especially when in my room at night, I was continually trying to fight off a sense of loneliness that seemed to threaten to overwhelm me. I wanted to be alone, and yet I feared to be. I was aware, in spite of their congratulations on my efforts, of a growing dislike for my associates; and in the appalling emptiness of the moments when my depression was greatest I was forced to the realization that I had no disinterested friend—not one—in whom I could confide. Nancy had failed me; I had scarcely seen Tom Peters that winter, and it was out of the question to go to him. For the third time in my life, and in the greatest crisis of all, I was feeling the need of Something, of some sustaining and impelling Power that must be presented humanly, possessing sympathy and understanding and love.... I think I had a glimpse just a pathetic glimpse—of what the Church might be of human solidarity, comfort and support, of human tolerance, if stripped of the superstition of an ancient science. My tortures weren't of the flesh, but of the mind. My mind was the sheep which had gone astray. Was there no such thing, could there be no such thing as a human association that might at the same time be a divine organism, a fold and a refuge for the lost and divided minds? The source of all this trouble was social....
Then toward the end of that last campaign week, madness suddenly came upon me. I know now how near the breaking point I was, but the immediate cause of my "flying to pieces"—to use a vivid expression—was a speech made by Guptill, one of the Citizens Union candidates for alderman, a young man of a radical type not uncommon in these days, though new to my experience: an educated man in the ultra-radical sense, yet lacking poise and perspective, with a certain brilliance and assurance. He was a journalist, a correspondent of some Eastern newspapers and periodicals. In this speech, which was reported to me—for it did not get into the newspapers—I was the particular object of his attack. Men of my kind, and not the Judd Jasons (for whom there was some excuse) were the least dispensable tools of the capitalists, the greatest menace to civilization. We were absolutely lacking in principle, we were ready at any time to besmirch our profession by legalizing steals; we fouled our nests with dirty fees. Not all that he said was vituperation, for he knew something of the modern theory of the law that legal radicals had begun to proclaim, and even to teach in some tolerant universities.
The next night, in the middle of a prepared speech I was delivering to a large crowd in Kingdom Hall there had been jeers from a group in a corner at some assertion I made. Guptill's accusations had been festering in my mind. The faces of the people grew blurred as I felt anger boiling, rising within me; suddenly my control gave way, and I launched forth into a denunciation of Greenhalge, Krebs, Guptill and even of Perry Blackwood that must have been without license or bounds. I can recall only fragments of my remarks: Greenhalge wanted to be mayor, and was willing to put the stigma of slander on his native city in order to gain his ambition; Krebs had made a failure of his profession, of everything save in bringing shame on the place of his adoption; and on the single occasion heretofore when he had been before the public, in the School Board fiasco, the officials indicted on his supposed evidence had triumphantly been vindicated—, Guptill was gaining money and notoriety out of his spleen; Perry Blackwood was acting out of spite.... I returned to Krebs, declaring that he would be the boss of the city if that ticket were elected, demanding whether they wished for a boss an agitator itching for power and recognition....
I was conscious at the moment only of a wild relief and joy in letting myself go, feelings heightened by the clapping and cheers with which my characterizations were received. The fact that the cheers were mingled with hisses merely served to drive me on. At length, when I had returned to Krebs, the hisses were redoubled, angering me the more because of the evidence they gave of friends of his in my audiences. Perhaps I had made some of these friends for him! A voice shouted out above the uproar:—"I know about Krebs. He's a d—d sight better man than you." And this started a struggle in a corner of the hall.... I managed, somehow, when the commotion had subsided, to regain my poise, and ended by uttering the conviction that the common sense of the community would repudiate the Citizens Union and all it stood for....
But that night, as I lay awake listening to the street noises and staring at the glint from a street lamp on the brass knob of my bedstead, I knew that I had failed. I had committed the supreme violation of the self that leads inevitably to its final dissolution.... Even the exuberant headlines of the newspapers handed me by the club servant in the morning brought but little relief.
On the Saturday morning before the Tuesday of election there was a conference in the directors' room of the Corn National. The city reeked with smoke and acrid, stale gas, the electric lights were turned on to dispel the November gloom. It was not a cheerful conference, nor a confident one. For the first time in a collective experience the men gathered there were confronted with a situation which they doubted their ability to control, a situation for which there was no precedent. They had to reckon with a new and unsolvable equation in politics and finance,—the independent voter. There was an element of desperation in the discussion. Recriminations passed. Dickinson implied that Gorse with all his knowledge of political affairs ought to have foreseen that something like this was sure to happen, should have managed better the conventions of both great parties. The railroad counsel retorted that it had been as much Dickinson's fault as his. Grierson expressed a regret that I had broken out against the reformers; it had reacted, he said,—and this was just enough to sting me to retaliate that things had been done in the campaign, chiefly through his initiative, that were not only unwise, but might land some of us in the penitentiary if Krebs were elected.
"Well," Grierson exclaimed, "whether he's elected or not, I wouldn't give much now for your chances of getting to the Senate. We can't afford to fly in the face of the dear public."
A tense silence followed this remark. In the street below the rumble of the traffic came to us muffled by the heavy plate-glass windows. I saw Tallant glance at Gorse and Dickinson, and I knew the matter had been decided between themselves, that they had been merely withholding it from me until after election. I was besmirched, for the present at least.
"I think you will do me the justice, gentlemen," I remember saying slowly, with the excessive and rather ridiculous formality of a man who is near the end of his tether, "that the idea of representing you in the Senate was yours, not mine. You begged me to take the appointment against my wishes and my judgment. I had no desire to go to Washington then, I have less to-day. I have come to the conclusion that my usefulness to you is at an end."
I got to my feet. I beheld Miller Gorse sitting impassive, with his encompassing stare, the strongest man of them all. A change of firmaments would not move him. But Dickinson had risen and put his hand on my shoulder. It was the first time I had ever seen him white.
"Hold on, Hugh," he exclaimed, "I guess we're all a little cantankerous today. This confounded campaign has got on our nerves, and we say things we don't mean. You mustn't think we're not grateful for the services you've rendered us. We're all in the same boat, and there isn't a man who's been on our side of this fight who could take a political office at this time. We've got to face that fact, and I know you have the sense to see it, too. I, for one, won't be satisfied until I see you in the Senate. It's where you belong, and you deserve to be there. You understand what the public is, how it blows hot and cold, and in a few years they'll be howling to get us back, if these demagogues win.
"Sure," chimed in Grierson, who was frightened, "that's right, Hugh. I didn't mean anything. Nobody appreciates you more than I do, old man."
Tallant, too, added something, and Berringer,—I've forgotten what. I was tired, too tired to meet their advances halfway. I said that I had a speech to get ready for that night, and other affairs to attend to, and left them grouped together like crestfallen conspirators—all save Miller Gorse, whose pervasive gaze seemed to follow me after I had closed the door.
An elevator took me down to the lobby of the Corn Bank Building. I paused for a moment, aimlessly regarding the streams of humanity hurrying in and out, streaking the white marble floor with the wet filth of the streets. Someone spoke my name. It was Bitter, Judd Jason's "legal" tool, and I permitted myself to be dragged out of the eddies into a quiet corner by the cigar stand.
"Say, I guess we've got Krebs's goat all right, this time," he told me confidentially, in a voice a little above a whisper; "he was busy with the shirt-waist girls last year, you remember, when they were striking. Well, one of 'em, one of the strike leaders, has taken to easy street; she's agreed to send him a letter to-night to come 'round to her room after his meeting, to say that she's sick and wants to see him. He'll go, all right. We'll have some fun, we'll be ready for him. Do you get me? So long. The old man's waiting for me."
It may seem odd that this piece of information did not produce an immediately revolting effect. I knew that similar practices had been tried on Krebs, but this was the first time I had heard of a definite plan, and from a man like Bitter. As I made my way out of the building I had, indeed, a nauseated feeling; Jason's "lawyer" was a dirty little man, smelling of stale cigars, with a blue-black, unshaven face. In spite of the shocking nature of his confidence, he had actually not succeeded in deflecting the current of my thoughts; these were still running over the scene in the directors' room. I had listened to him passively while he had held my buttonhole, and he had detained me but an instant.
When I reached the street I was wondering whether Gorse and Dickinson and the others, Grierson especially, could possibly have entertained the belief that I would turn traitor? I told myself that I had no intention of this. How could I turn traitor? and what would be the object? revenge? The nauseated feeling grew more acute.... Reaching my office, I shut the door, sat down at my desk, summoned my will, and began to jot down random notes for the part of my speech I was to give the newspapers, notes that were mere silly fragments of arguments I had once thought effective. I could no more concentrate on them than I could have written a poem. Gradually, like the smoke that settled down on our city until we lived in darkness at midday, the horror of what Bitter had told me began to pervade my mind, until I was in a state of terror.
Had I, Hugh Paret, fallen to this, that I could stand by consenting to an act which was worse than assassination? Was any cause worth it? Could any cause survive it? But my attempts at reasoning might be likened to the strainings of a wayfarer lost on a mountain side to pick his way in the gathering dusk. I had just that desperate feeling of being lost, and with it went an acute sense of an imminent danger; the ground, no longer firm under my feet, had become a sliding shale sloping toward an unseen precipice. Perhaps, like the wayfarer, my fears were the sharper for the memory of the beauty of the morning on that same mountain, when, filled with vigour, I had gazed on it from the plain below and beheld the sun breaking through the mists....
The necessity of taking some action to avert what I now realized as an infamy pressed upon me, yet in conflict with the pressure of this necessity there persisted that old rebellion, that bitterness which had been growing all these years against the man who, above all others, seemed to me to represent the forces setting at nought my achievements, bringing me to this pass....
I thought of appealing to Leonard Dickinson, who surely, if he knew of it, would not permit this thing to be done; and he was the only man with the possible exception of Miller Gorse who might be able to restrain Judd Jason. But I delayed until after the luncheon hour, when I called up the bank on the telephone, to discover that it was closed. I had forgotten that the day was Saturday. I was prepared to say that I would withdraw from the campaign, warn Krebs myself if this kind of tactics were not suppressed. But I could not get the banker. Then I began to have doubts of Dickinson's power in the matter. Judd Jason had never been tractable, by any means; he had always maintained a considerable independence of the financial powers, and to-day not only financial control, but the dominance of Jason himself was at stake. He would fight for it to the last ditch, and make use of any means. No, it was of no use to appeal to him. What then? Well, there was a reaction, or an attempt at one. Krebs had not been born yesterday, he had avoided the wiles of the politicians heretofore, he wouldn't be fool enough to be taken in now. I told myself that if I were not in a state bordering on a nervous breakdown, I should laugh at such morbid fears, I steadied myself sufficiently to dictate the extract from my speech that was to be published. I was to make addresses at two halls, alternating with Parks, the mayoralty candidate. At four o'clock I went back to my room in the Club to try to get some rest....
Seddon's Hall, the place of my first meeting, was jammed that Saturday night. I went through my speech automatically, as in a dream, the habit of long years asserting itself. And yet—so I was told afterwards—my delivery was not mechanical, and I actually achieved more emphasis, gave a greater impression of conviction than at any time since the night I had lost my control and violently denounced the reformers. By some astonishing subconscious process I had regained my manner, but the applause came to me as from a distance. Not only was my mind not there; it did not seem to be anywhere. I was dazed, nor did I feel—save once—a fleeting surge of contempt for the mob below me with their silly faces upturned to mine. There may have been intelligent expressions among them, but they failed to catch my eye.
I remember being stopped by Grierson as I was going out of the side entrance. He took my hand and squeezed it, and there was on his face an odd, surprised look.
"That was the best yet, Hugh," he said.
I went on past him. Looking back on that evening now, it would almost seem as though the volition of another possessed me, not my own: seemingly, I had every intention of going on to the National Theatre, in which Parks had just spoken, and as I descended the narrow stairway and emerged on the side street I caught sight of my chauffeur awaiting me by the curb.
"I'm not going to that other meeting," I found myself saying. "I'm pretty tired."
"Shall I drive you back to the Club, sir?" he inquired.
"No—I'll walk back. Wait a moment." I entered the ear, turned on the light and scribbled a hasty note to Andrews, the chairman of the meeting at the National, telling him that I was too tired to speak again that night, and to ask one of the younger men there to take my place. Then I got out of the car and gave the note to the chauffeur.
"You're all right, sir?" he asked, with a note of anxiety in his voice. He had been with me a long time.
I reassured him. He started the car, and I watched it absently as it gathered speed and turned the corner. I began to walk, slowly at first, then more and more rapidly until I had gained a breathless pace; in ten minutes I was in West Street, standing in front of the Templar's Hall where the meeting of the Citizens Union west in progress. Now that I had arrived there, doubt and uncertainty assailed me. I had come as it were in spite of myself, thrust onward by an impulse I did not understand, which did not seem to be mine. What was I going to do? The proceeding suddenly appeared to me as ridiculous, tinged with the weirdness of somnambulism. I revolted, walked away, got as far as the corner and stood beside a lamp post, pretending to be waiting for a car. The street lights were reflected in perpendicular, wavy-yellow ribbons on the wet asphalt, and I stood staring with foolish intentness at this phenomenon, wondering how a painter would get the effect in oils. Again I was walking back towards the hall, combating the acknowledgment to myself that I had a plan, a plan that I did not for a moment believe I would carry out. I was shivering.
I climbed the steps. The wide vestibule was empty except for two men who stopped a low-toned conversation to look at me. I wondered whether they recognized me; that I might be recognized was an alarming possibility which had not occurred to me.
"Who is speaking?" I asked.
"Mr. Krebs," answered the taller man of the two.
The hum of applause came from behind the swinging doors. I pushed them open cautiously, passing suddenly out of the cold into the reeking, heated atmosphere of a building packed with human beings. The space behind the rear seats was filled with men standing, and those nearest glanced around with annoyance at the interruption of my entrance. I made my way along the wall, finally reaching a side aisle, whence I could get sight of the platform and the speaker.
I heard his words distinctly, but at first lacked the faculty of stringing them together, or rather of extracting their collective sense. The phrases indeed were set ringing through my mind, I found myself repeating them without any reference to their meaning; I had reached the peculiar pitch of excitement that counterfeits abnormal calm, and all sense of strangeness at being there in that meeting had passed away. I began to wonder how I might warn Krebs, and presently decided to send him a note when he should have finished speaking—but I couldn't make up my mind whether to put my name to the note or not. Of course I needn't have entered the hall at all: I might have sent in my note at the side door.
I must have wished to see Krebs, to hear him speak; to observe, perhaps, the effect on the audience. In spite of my inability to take in what he was saying, I was able to regard him objectively,—objectively, in a restricted sense. I noticed that he had grown even thinner; the flesh had fallen away from under his cheek-bones, and there were sharp, deep, almost perpendicular lines on either side of his mouth. He was emaciated, that was the word. Once in a while he thrust his hand through his dry, ashy hair which was of a tone with the paleness of his face. Such was his only gesture.
He spoke quietly, leaning with one elbow against the side of his reading stand. The occasional pulsations of applause were almost immediately hushed, as though the people feared to lose even a word that should fall from his dry lips. What was it he was talking about? I tried to concentrate my attention, with only partial success. He was explaining the new theory of city government that did not attempt to evade, but dealt frankly with the human needs of to-day, and sought to meet those needs in a positive way... What had happened to me, though I did not realize it, was that I had gradually come under the influence of a tragic spell not attributable to the words I heard, existing independently of them, pervading the spacious hall, weaving into unity dissentient minds. And then, with what seemed a retarded rather than sudden awareness, I knew that he had stopped speaking. Once more he ran his hand through his hair, he was seemingly groping for words that would not come. I was pierced by a strange agony—the amazing source of which, seemed to be a smile on the face of Hermann Krebs, an ineffable smile illuminating the place like a flash of light, in which suffering and tragedy, comradeship and loving kindness—all were mingled. He stood for a moment with that smile on his face—swayed, and would have fallen had it not been for the quickness of a man on the platform behind him, and into whose arms he sank.
In an instant people had risen in their seats, men were hurrying down the aisles, while a peculiar human murmur or wail persisted like an undertone beneath the confusion of noises, striking the very note of my own feelings. Above the heads of those about me I saw Krebs being carried off the platform.... The chairman motioned for silence and inquired if there were a physician in the audience, and then all began to talk at once. The man who stood beside me clutched my arm.
"I hope he isn't dead! Say, did you see that smile? My God, I'll never forget it!"
The exclamation poignantly voiced the esteem in which Krebs was held. As I was thrust along out of the hall by the ebb of the crowd still other expressions of this esteem came to me in fragments, expressions of sorrow and dismay, of a loyalty I had not imagined. Mingled with these were occasional remarks of skeptics shaken, in human fashion, by the suggestion of the inevitable end that never fails to sober and terrify humanity.
"I guess he was a bigger man than we thought. There was a lot of sense in what he had to say."
"There sure was," the companion of this speaker answered.
They spoke of him in the past tense. I was seized and obsessed by the fear that I should never see him again, and at the same moment I realized sharply that this was the one thing I wanted—to see him. I pushed through the people, gained the street, and fairly ran down the alley that led to the side entrance of the hall, where a small group was gathered under the light that hung above the doorway. There stood on the step, a little above the others, a young man in a grey flannel shirt, evidently a mechanic. I addressed him.
"What does the doctor say?"
Before replying he surveyed me with surprise and, I think, with instinctive suspicion of my clothes and bearing.
"What can he say?" he retorted.
"You mean—?" I began.
"I mean Mr. Krebs oughtn't never to have gone into this campaign," he answered, relenting a trifle, perhaps at the tone of my voice. "He knew it, too, and some of us fellows tried to stop him. But we couldn't do nothing with him," he added dejectedly.
"What is—the trouble?" I asked.
"They tell me it's his heart. He wouldn't talk about it."
"When I think of what he done for our union!" exclaimed a thick-set man, plainly a steel worker. "He's just wore himself out, fighting that crooked gang." He stared with sudden aggressiveness at me. "Haven't I seen you some-wheres?" he demanded.
A denial was on my lips when the sharp, sinister strokes of a bell were heard coming nearer.
"It's the ambulance," said the man on the step.
Glancing up the alley beyond the figures of two policemen who had arrived and were holding the people back, I saw the hood of the conveyance as it came to a halt, and immediately a hospital doctor and two assistants carrying a stretcher hurried towards us, and we made way for them to enter. After a brief interval, they were heard coming slowly down the steps inside. By the white, cruel light of the arc I saw Krebs lying motionless.... I laid hold of one of the men who had been on the platform. He did not resent the act, he seemed to anticipate my question.
"He's conscious. The doctors expect him to rally when he gets to the hospital."
I walked back to the Club to discover that several inquiries had been made about me. Reporters had been there, Republican Headquarters had telephoned to know if I were ill. Leaving word that I was not to be disturbed under any circumstances, I went to my room, and spent most of the night in distracted thought. When at last morning came I breakfasted early, searching the newspapers for accounts of the occurrence at Templar's Hall; and the fact that these were neither conspicuous nor circumstantial was in the nature of a triumph of self-control on the part of editors and reporters. News, however sensational, had severely to be condensed in the interest of a cause, and at this critical stage of the campaign to make a tragic hero of Hermann Krebs would have been the height of folly. There were a couple of paragraphs giving the gist of his speech, and a statement at the end that he had been taken ill and conveyed to the Presbyterian Hospital....
The hospital itself loomed up before me that Sunday morning as I approached it along Ballantyne Street, a diluted sunshine washing the extended, businesslike facade of grimy, yellow brick. We were proud of that hospital in the city, and many of our foremost citizens had contributed large sums of money to the building, scarcely ten years old. It had been one of Maude's interests. I was ushered into the reception room, where presently came the physician in charge, a Dr. Castle, one of those quiet-mannered, modern young medical men who bear on their persons the very stamp of efficiency, of the dignity of a scientific profession. His greeting implied that he knew all about me, his presence seemed to increase the agitation I tried not to betray, and must have betrayed.
"Can I do anything for you, Mr. Paret?" he asked.
"I have come to inquire about Mr. Krebs, who was brought here last night, I believe."
I was aware for an instant of his penetrating, professional glance, the only indication of the surprise he must have felt that Hermann Krebs, of all men, should be the object of my solicitude.
"Why, we sent him home this morning. Nineteen twenty six Fowler Street. He wanted to go, and there was no use in his staying."
"He will recover?" I asked.
The physician shook his head, gazing at me through his glasses.
"He may live a month, Mr. Paret, he may die to-morrow. He ought never to have gone into this campaign, he knew he had this trouble. Hepburn warned him three months ago, and there's no man who knows more about the heart than Hepburn."
"Then there's no hope?" I asked.
"Absolutely none. It's a great pity." He added, after a moment, "Mr. Krebs was a remarkable man."
"Nineteen twenty-six Fowler Street?" I repeated.
I held out my hand mechanically, and he pressed it, and went with me to the door.
"Nineteen twenty-six Fowler Street," he repeated...
The mean and sordid aspect of Fowler Street emphasized and seemed to typify my despair, the pungent coal smoke stifled my lungs even as it stifled my spirit. Ugly factories, which were little more than sweatshops, wore an empty, menacing, "Sunday" look, and the faint November sunlight glistened on dirty pavements where children were making a semblance of play. Monotonous rows of red houses succeeded one another, some pushed forward, others thrust back behind little plots of stamped earth. Into one of these I turned. It seemed a little cleaner, better kept, less sordid than the others. I pulled the bell, and presently the door was opened by a woman whose arms were bare to the elbow. She wore a blue-checked calico apron that came to her throat, but the apron was clean, and her firm though furrowed face gave evidences of recent housewifely exertions. Her eyes had the strange look of the cheerfulness that is intimately acquainted with sorrow. She did not seem surprised at seeing me.
"I have come to ask about Mr. Krebs," I told her.
"Oh, yes," she said, "there's been so many here this morning already. It's wonderful how people love him, all kinds of people. No, sir, he don't seem to be in any pain. Two gentlemen are up there now in his room, I mean."
She wiped her arms, which still bore traces of soap-suds, and then, with a gesture natural and unashamed, lifted the corner of her apron to her eyes.
"Do you think I could see him—for a moment?" I asked. "I've known him for a long time."
"Why, I don't know," she said, "I guess so. The doctor said he could see some, and he wants to see his friends. That's not strange—he always did. I'll ask. Will you tell me your name?"
I took out a card. She held it without glancing at it, and invited me in.
I waited, unnerved and feverish, pulsing, in the dark and narrow hall beside the flimsy rack where several coats and hats were hung. Once before I had visited Krebs in that lodging-house in Cambridge long ago with something of the same feelings. But now they were greatly intensified. Now he was dying....
The woman was descending.
"He says he wants to see you, sir," she said rather breathlessly, and I followed her. In the semi-darkness of the stairs I passed the three men who had been with Krebs, and when I reached the open door of his room he was alone. I hesitated just a second, swept by the heat wave that follows sudden shyness, embarrassment, a sense of folly it is too late to avert.
Krebs was propped up with pillows.
"Well, this is good of you," he said, and reached out his hand across the spread. I took it, and sat down beside the shiny oak bedstead, in a chair covered with tobacco-colored plush.
"You feel better?" I asked.
"Oh, I feel all right," he answered, with a smile. "It's queer, but I do."
My eye fell upon the long line of sectional book-cases that lined one side of the room. "Why, you've got quite a library here," I observed.
"Yes, I've managed to get together some good books. But there is so much to read nowadays, so much that is really good and new, a man has the hopeless feeling he can never catch up with it all. A thousand writers and students are making contributions today where fifty years ago there was one."
"I've been following your speeches, after a fashion,—I wish I might have been able to read more of them. Your argument interested me. It's new, unlike the ordinary propaganda of—"
"Of agitators," he supplied, with a smile.
"Of agitators," I agreed, and tried to return his smile. "An agitator who appears to suggest the foundations of a constructive programme and who isn't afraid to criticise the man with a vote as well as the capitalist is an unusual phenomenon."
"Oh, when we realize that we've only got a little time left in which to tell what we think to be the truth, it doesn't require a great deal of courage, Paret. I didn't begin to see this thing until a little while ago. I was only a crude, hot-headed revolutionist. God knows I'm crude enough still. But I began to have a glimmering of what all these new fellows in the universities are driving at." He waved his hand towards the book-cases. "Driving at collectively, I mean. And there are attempts, worthy attempts, to coordinate and synthesize the sciences. What I have been saying is not strictly original. I took it on the stump, that's all. I didn't expect it to have much effect in this campaign, but it was an opportunity to sow a few seeds, to start a sense of personal dissatisfaction in the minds of a few voters. What is it Browning says? It's in Bishop Blougram, I believe. 'When the fight begins within himself, a man's worth something.' It's an intellectual fight, of course."
His words were spoken quietly, but I realized suddenly that the mysterious force which had drawn me to him now, against my will, was an intellectual rather than apparently sentimental one, an intellectual force seeming to comprise within it all other human attractions. And yet I felt a sudden contrition.
"See here, Krebs," I said, "I didn't come here to bother you about these matters, to tire you. I mustn't stay. I'll call in again to see how you are—from time to time."
"But you're not tiring me," he protested, stretching forth a thin, detaining hand. "I don't want to rot, I want to live and think as long as I can. To tell you the truth, Paret, I've been wishing to talk to you—I'm glad you came in."
"You've been wishing to talk to me?" I said.
"Yes, but I didn't expect you'd come in. I hope you won't mind my saying so, under the circumstances, but I've always rather liked you, admired you, even back in the Cambridge days. After that I used to blame you for going out and taking what you wanted, and I had to live a good many years before I began to see that it's better for a man to take what he wants than to take nothing at all. I took what I wanted, every man worth his salt does. There's your great banker friend in New York whom I used to think was the arch-fiend. He took what he wanted, and he took a good deal, but it happened to be good for him. And by piling up his corporations, Ossa on Pelion, he is paving the way for a logical economic evolution. How can a man in our time find out what he does want unless he takes something and gives it a trial?"
"Until he begins to feel that it disagrees with him," I said. "But then," I added involuntarily, "then it may be too late to try something else, and he may not know what to try." This remark of mine might have surprised me had it not been for the feeling—now grown definite—that Krebs had something to give me, something to pass on to me, of all men. Indeed, he had hinted as much, when he acknowledged a wish to talk to me. "What seems so strange," I said, as I looked at him lying back on his pillows, "is your faith that we shall be able to bring order out of all this chaos—your belief in Democracy."
"Democracy's an adventure," he replied, "the great adventure of mankind. I think the trouble in many minds lies in the fact that they persist in regarding it as something to be made safe. All that can be done is to try to make it as safe as possible. But no adventure is safe—life itself is an adventure, and neither is that safe. It's a hazard, as you and I have found out. The moment we try to make life safe we lose all there is in it worth while."
I thought a moment.
"Yes, that's so," I agreed. On the table beside the bed in company with two or three other volumes, lay a Bible. He seemed to notice that my eye fell upon it.
"Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son?" he asked. "Well, that's the parable of democracy, of self-government in the individual and in society. In order to arrive at salvation, Paret, most of us have to take our journey into a far country."
"A far country!" I exclaimed. The words struck a reminiscent chord.
"We have to leave what seem the safe things, we have to wander and suffer in order to realize that the only true safety lies in development. We have first to cast off the leading strings of authority. It's a delusion that we can insure ourselves by remaining within its walls—we have to risk our lives and our souls. It is discouraging when we look around us to-day, and in a way the pessimists are right when they say we don't see democracy. We see only what may be called the first stage of it; for democracy is still in a far country eating the husks of individualism, materialism. What we see is not true freedom, but freedom run to riot, men struggling for themselves, spending on themselves the fruits of their inheritance; we see a government intent on one object alone—exploitation of this inheritance in order to achieve what it calls prosperity. And God is far away."
"And—we shall turn?" I asked.
"We shall turn or perish. I believe that we shall turn." He fixed his eyes on my face. "What is it," he asked, "that brought you here to me, to-day?"
I was silent.
"The motive, Paret—the motive that sends us all wandering into is divine, is inherited from God himself. And the same motive, after our eyes shall have been opened, after we shall have seen and known the tragedy and misery of life, after we shall have made the mistakes and committed the sins and experienced the emptiness—the same motive will lead us back again. That, too, is an adventure, the greatest adventure of all. Because, when we go back we shall not find the same God—or rather we shall recognize him in ourselves. Autonomy is godliness, knowledge is godliness. We went away cringing, superstitious, we saw everywhere omens and evidences of his wrath in the earth and sea and sky, we burned candles and sacrificed animals in the vain hope of averting scourges and other calamities. But when we come back it will be with a knowledge of his ways, gained at a price,—the price he, too, must have paid—and we shall be able to stand up and look him in the face, and all our childish superstitions and optimisms shall have been burned away."
Some faith indeed had given him strength to renounce those things in life I had held dear, driven him on to fight until his exhausted body failed him, and even now that he was physically helpless sustained him. I did not ask myself, then, the nature of this faith. In its presence it could no more be questioned than the light. It was light; I felt bathed in it. Now it was soft, suffused: but I remembered how the night before in the hall, just before he had fallen, it had flashed forth in a smile and illumined my soul with an ecstasy that yet was anguish....
"We shall get back," I said at length. My remark was not a question—it had escaped from me almost unawares.
"The joy is in the journey," he answered. "The secret is in the search."
"But for me?" I exclaimed.
"We've all been lost, Paret. It would seem as though we have to be."
"And yet you are—saved," I said, hesitating over the word.
"It is true that I am content, even happy," he asserted, "in spite of my wish to live. If there is any secret, it lies, I think, in the struggle for an open mind, in the keeping alive of a desire to know more and more. That desire, strangely enough, hasn't lost its strength. We don't know whether there is a future life, but if there is, I think it must be a continuation of this." He paused. "I told you I was glad you came in—I've been thinking of you, and I saw you in the hall last night. You ask what there is for you—I'll tell you,—the new generation."
"The new generation."
"That's the task of every man and woman who wakes up. I've come to see how little can be done for the great majority of those who have reached our age. It's hard—but it's true. Superstition, sentiment, the habit of wrong thinking or of not thinking at all have struck in too deep, the habit of unreasoning acceptance of authority is too paralyzing. Some may be stung back into life, spurred on to find out what the world really is, but not many. The hope lies in those who are coming after us—we must do for them what wasn't done for us. We really didn't have much of a chance, Paret. What did our instructors at Harvard know about the age that was dawning? what did anybody know? You can educate yourself—or rather reeducate yourself. All this"—and he waved his hand towards his bookshelves—"all this has sprung up since you and I were at Cambridge; if we don't try to become familiar with it, if we fail to grasp the point of view from which it's written, there's little hope for us. Go away from all this and get straightened out, make yourself acquainted with the modern trend in literature and criticism, with modern history, find out what's being done in the field of education, read the modern sciences, especially biology, and psychology and sociology, and try to get a glimpse of the fundamental human needs underlying such phenomena as the labour and woman's movements. God knows I've just begun to get my glimpse, and I've floundered around ever since I left college.... I don't mean to say we can ever see the whole, but we can get a clew, an idea, and pass it on to our children. You have children, haven't you?"
"Yes," I said....
He said nothing—he seemed to be looking out of the window.
"Then the scientific point of view in your opinion hasn't done away with religion?" I asked presently.
"The scientific point of view is the religious point of view," he said earnestly, "because it's the only self-respecting point of view. I can't believe that God intended to make a creature who would not ultimately weigh his beliefs with his reason instead of accepting them blindly. That's immoral, if you like—especially in these days."
"And are there, then, no 'over-beliefs'?" I said, remembering the expression in something I had read.
"That seems to me a relic of the method of ancient science, which was upside down,—a mere confusion with faith. Faith and belief are two different things; faith is the emotion, the steam, if you like, that drives us on in our search for truth. Theories, at a stretch, might be identified with 'over-beliefs' but when it comes to confusing our theories with facts, instead of recognizing them as theories, when it comes to living by 'over-beliefs' that have no basis in reason and observed facts,—that is fatal. It's just the trouble with so much of our electorate to-day—unreasoning acceptance without thought."
"Then," I said, "you admit of no other faculty than reason?"
"I confess that I don't. A great many insights that we seem to get from what we call intuition I think are due to the reason, which is unconsciously at work. If there were another faculty that equalled or transcended reason, it seems to me it would be a very dangerous thing for the world's progress. We'd come to rely on it rather than on ourselves the trouble with the world is that it has been relying on it. Reason is the mind—it leaps to the stars without realizing always how it gets there. It is through reason we get the self-reliance that redeems us."
"But you!" I exclaimed. "You rely on something else besides reason?"
"Yes, it is true," he explained gently, "but that Thing Other-than-Ourselves we feel stirring in us is power, and that power, or the Source of it, seems to have given us our reason for guidance—if it were not so we shouldn't have a semblance of freedom. For there is neither virtue nor development in finding the path if we are guided. We do rely on that power for movement—and in the moments when it is withdrawn we are helpless. Both the power and the reason are God's."
"But the Church," I was moved by some untraced thought to ask, "you believe there is a future for the Church?"
"A church of all those who disseminate truth, foster open-mindedness, serve humanity and radiate faith," he replied—but as though he were speaking to himself, not to me....
A few moments later there was a knock at the door, and the woman of the house entered to say that Dr. Hepburn had arrived. I rose and shook Krebs's hand: sheer inability to express my emotion drove me to commonplaces.
"I'll come in soon again, if I may," I told him.
"Do, Paret," he said, "it's done me good to talk to you—more good than you imagine."
I was unable to answer him, but I glanced back from the doorway to see him smiling after me. On my way down the stairs I bumped into the doctor as he ascended. The dingy brown parlour was filled with men, standing in groups and talking in subdued voices. I hurried into the street, and on the sidewalk stopped face to face with Perry Blackwood.
"Hugh!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to inquire for Krebs," I answered. "I've seen him."
"You—you've been talking to him?" Perry demanded.
I nodded. He stared at me for a moment with an astonishment to which I was wholly indifferent. He did not seem to know just how to act.
"Well, it was decent of you, Hugh, I must say. How does he seem?"
"Not at all like—like what you'd expect, in his manner."
"No," agreed Perry agitatedly, "no, he wouldn't. My God, we've lost a big man in him."
"I think we have," I said.
He stared at me again, gave me his hand awkwardly, and went into the house. It was not until I had walked the length of the block that I began to realize what a shock my presence there must have been to him, with his head full of the contrast between this visit and my former attitude. Could it be that it was only the night before I had made a speech against him and his associates? It is interesting that my mind rejected all sense of anomaly and inconsistency. Krebs possessed me; I must have been in reality extremely agitated, but this sense of being possessed seemed a quiet one. An amazing thing had happened—and yet I was not amazed. The Krebs I had seen was the man I had known for many years, the man I had ridiculed, despised and oppressed, but it seemed to me then that he had been my friend and intimate all my life: more than that, I had an odd feeling he had always been a part of me, and that now had begun to take place a merging of personality. Nor could I feel that he was a dying man. He would live on....
I could not as yet sort and appraise, reduce to order the possessions he had wished to turn over to me.
It was noon, and people were walking past me in the watery, diluted sunlight, men in black coats and top hats and women in bizarre, complicated costumes bright with colour. I had reached the more respectable portion of the city, where the churches were emptying. These very people, whom not long ago I would have acknowledged as my own kind, now seemed mildly animated automatons, wax figures. The day was like hundreds of Sundays I had known, the city familiar, yet passing strange. I walked like a ghost through it....