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Under the Skylights (Book1 Chapter5)

2006-08-22 21:39

  The Downfall of Abner Joyce Chapter V

  Abner regarded Mrs. Pence and her magnificence with a sombre intensity, far from ready to approve. He knew far more about her than she could know about him——thanks to the activities of a shamefully discriminating (or undiscriminating) press——and he was by no means prepared to give her his countenance. Face to face with her opulence and splendour he set the figure of his own mother——that sweet, patient, plaintive little presence, now docilely habituated, at the closing in of a long pinched life, to unremitting daily toil still unrewarded by ease and comfort or by any hope or promise or prospect of it. There was his father too——that good gray elder who had done so much faithful work, yet had so little to show for it, who had fished all day and had caught next to nothing, who had given four years out of his young life to the fight for freedom only to see the reward so shamefully fall elsewhere…… Abner evoked here a fanciful figure of Palmer Pence himself, whom he knew in a general way to be high up in some monstrous Trust. He saw a prosperous, domineering man who with a single turn of the hand had swept together a hundred little enterprises and at the same time had swept out a thousand of the lesser fry into the wide spaces of empty ruin, and who had insolently settled down beside his new machine to catch the rain of coins minted for him from the wrongs of an injured and insulted people……

  Abner accepted in awkward silence Mrs. Pence's liberal and fluent praise of The Rod of the Oppressor,——aside from his deep-seated indignation he had not yet mastered any of those serviceable phrases by means of which such a volley may be returned; but he found words when she presently set foot in the roomy field of the betterment of local conditions. What she had in mind, it appeared, was a training-school——it might be called the Pence Institute if it went through——and she was ready to listen to any one who was likely to encourage her with hints or advice.

  “So much energy, so much talent going to waste, so many young people tumbling up anyhow and presently tumbling over——all for lack of thorough and systematic training,” she said, across her own broad bosom.

  “I know of but one training that is needed,” said Abner massively: “the training of the sense of social justice——such training of the public conscience as will insist upon seeing that each and every freeman gets an even chance.”

  “An even chance?” repeated Eudoxia, rather dashed. “What I think of offering is an even start. Doesn't it come to much the same thing?”

  But Abner would none of it. Possessed of the fatalistic belief in the efficacy of mere legislation such as dominates the rural townships of the West, he grasped his companion firmly by the arm, set his sturdy legs in rapid motion, walked her from assembly hall to assembly hall through this State, that and the other, and finally fetched up with her under the dome of the national Capitol. Senators and representatives co-operated here, there and everywhere, the chosen spokesmen of the sovereign people; Abner seemed almost to have enrolled himself among them. Confronted with this august company, whose work it was to set things right, Eudoxia Pence felt smaller than ever. What were her imponderable emanations of goodwill and good intention when compared with the robust masculinity that was marching in firm phalanxes over solid ground toward the mastery of the great Problem? She drooped visibly. Little O'Grady, studying her pose and expression from afar, wrung his hands. “That fellow will drive her away. Ten to one we shall never see her profile here again!” Yes, Eudoxia was feeling, with a sudden faintness, that the Better Things might after all be beyond her reach. She looked about for herself without finding herself: she had dwindled away to nothingness.

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