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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter19,part3)

2006-08-28 23:39

    PART 3

    The farthest thing from Merrill's thoughts had been to discuss with her the confounded notions she had somehow absorbed. The thing to do, of course, was to ignore them and assume everything was all right. After all, of what importance were the opinions of a girl about practical things?

    How the thing cropped up he did not afterward remember, but at the thirteenth green he found himself mentioning that all reformers were out of touch with facts. They were not practical.

    The smug finality of his verdict nettled her. This may or may not have

    been the reason she sliced her ball, quite unnecessarily. But it was probably due to her exasperation at the wasted stroke that she let him have it.

    "I'm tired of that word. It means to be suicidally selfish. There's not another word in the language so abused."

    "Didn't catch the word that annoys you," the young man smiled.

    "Practical! You used it yourself. It means to tear down and not build up, to be so near-sighted you can't see beyond your reach. Your practical man is the least hopeful member of the community. He stands only for material progress. His own, of course!"

    "You sound like a Farnum editorial, Alice."

    "Do I?" she flashed. "Then I'll give you the rest of it. He——your practical man——is rutted to class traditions. This would not be good form or respectable. That would disturb the existing order. So let's all do nothing and agree that all's well with the world."

    Merrill greeted this outburst with a complacent smile. "It's a pretty good world. I haven't any fault to find with it——not this afternoon anyhow."

    But Alice, serious with young care and weighted with the problems of a universe, would have none of his compliments.

    "Can't you see that there's a——a " She groped and found a fugitive phrase Jeff had once used——"a want of adjustment that is appalling?"

    "It doesn't appall me. I believe in the survival of the fittest."

    Her eyes looked at him with scornful penetration. They went through the well-dressed, broad-shouldered exterior of him, to see a suave, gracious Pharisee of the modern world. He believed in the God-of-thingsas-they-are because he was the man on horseback. He was a formalist because it paid him to be one. That was why he and his class looked on any questioning of conditions as almost atheistic. They were born to the good things of life. Why should they doubt the ethics of a system that had dealt so kindly with them?

    She gave him up. What was the use of talking about such things to him? He had the sense of property ingrained in him. The last thing he would be likely to do was to let any altruistic ideas into his head. He would play safe. Wasn't he a practical man?

    She devoted herself to the game. To see her play was a pleasure to the eye. The long lines and graceful curves of her supple young body never appeared to better advantage than at golf. Her motions showed the sylvan freedom of the woods. Ned Merrill appreciated the long, light tread of her, the harmony of movement as of a perfect young animal, together with the fine spiritual quality that escaped her personality so unconsciously.

    At the fifteenth hole he continued her education. "This country is founded upon individualism. It stands for the best chance of development possible to all its citizens. When you hamper enterprise you stop that development."

    She took him up dryly. "I see. So you and father and Uncle Joe have developed your individualism at the expense of a million other people's. You have gobbled up franchises, forests, ore lands, coal mines, and every other opportunity worth having. As a result you're making them your slaves and crushing out all individuality."

    "Not at all. We're really custodians for the people. We administer these things for their benefit because we are more fit to do it."

    "How do you know you are?"

    "The very fact that we have succeeded in getting what we have is evidence of it."

    "All I can see is that our getting it and keeping it——you and I and Uncle Joe and a thousand like us——is responsible for all the poverty in the world. We're helping to make it every time we eat a dinner we didn't work to get."

    Alice made a beautiful approach that landed her ball within four feet of the hole. Presently Merrill joined her.

    "That was a dandy shot," he told her, and watched Alice hole out. "I don't agree with you. For instance, I work as hard as other men."

    "But you're not working for the common good."

    His impatience reached words. "That sort of talk is nonsense, Alice. I don't know what has come over you of late."

    She smiled provokingly and changed the subject. Why argue with him? The slant with which they got at things was different. Like her father, he had the mental rigidity that is death to open- mindedness.

    Briskly she returned to small talk. "You're only three up."

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