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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter8,part1)

2006-08-28 23:26


    Is not this the trouble with our whole man-made world, that the game is played with loaded dice? Against the poor, the weak and the unfortunate have the cards been stacked. A tremendous percentage is in favor of the crook, the scoundrel, the smug robber of industry by whom the hands are dealt.

    Wealth, created by the many, is more and more flowing into the vaults of the few. Legislatures, Congress, the courts, all the machinery of government, answer to the crack of the whip wielded by Big Business. The creed of the allied plunderers is that he should take who has the power and he should keep who can.

    Until we mutiny against the timidity of our times Democracy and Prosperity will be dreams. The poor and the parasite we shall have always with us.

    In that new world which is to be MEN and not THINGS will be supreme, property a means and not an end. The heart of the world will be born anew under an economic reconstruction that will give freedom for individual development. For our social and industrial life will be founded not on a denial of God but on an affirmation of Brotherhood.——From the Note Book of a Dreamer.


    PART 1

    Came James Farnum down Powers Avenue carrying with buoyant dignity the manner of greatness that sat so well on him. His smile was warm for a world that just now was treating him handsomely. There could be no doubt that for a first term he was making an extraordinary success of his work in the legislature. He had worked hard on committees and his speeches had made a tremendous hit. Jeff had played him up strong in the world too, so that he was becoming well known over the state. That he had risen to leadership of the progressives in the House during his first term

    showed his quality. His ambition vaulted. Now that his feet were on the first rungs of the ladder it would be his own fault if he did not reach the top.

    His progress down the busy street was in the nature of an ovation. Everywhere he met answering smiles that told of the people's pride in their young champion. Already James had discovered that Americans are eager for hero worship. He meant to be the hero of his state, the favorite son it would delight to honor. This was what he loved: the cheers for the victor, not the clash of the battle.

    "Good morning, Farnum. What are the prospects?" It was Clinton Rogers, of the big shipbuilding firm Harvey & Rogers, that stopped him now.

    "Still anybody's fight, Mr. Rogers." The young lawyer's voice fell a note to take on a frankly confidential tone, an accent of friendliness that missed the fatal buttonholing familiarity of the professional politician. "If we can hold our fellows together we'll win. But the Transcontinental is bidding high for votes——and there's always a quitter somewhere."

    "Does Frome stand any chance?"

    "It will be Hardy or Frome. The least break in our ranks will be the signal for a stampede to P. C. The Republicans will support him when they get the signal. It's all a question of our fellows standing pat."

    "From what I can learn it won't be your fault if Hardy isn't elected. I congratulate you on the best record ever made by a

    ember in his first term."

    "Oh, we all do our best," James answered lightly. "But I'm grateful for your good opinion. I hope I deserve it."

    James could afford to be modest about his achievements so long as Jeff was shouting his praises through the columns of the _World_ to a hundred thousand readers of that paper. What the shipbuilder had said pleased him mightily. For Clinton Rogers was one of the few substantial moneyed men of Verden who had joined the reform movement. Not a single member of the Verden Club, with the exception of Rogers, was lined up with those making the fight for direct legislation. Even those who had no financial interest in the Transcontinental or the public utility

    corporations supported that side from principle.

    James himself had thought a long time before casting in his lot with the insurgents led by his cousin. He had made tentative approaches both to Frome and to Edward B. Merrill. Both of these gentlemen had been friendly enough, but James had made up his mind they undervalued his worth. The way to convince them of this was to take the field against them.

    He smiled now as he swung along the avenue. Both Frome and Merrill ——yes, and Big Tim too, for that matter!——knew by this time whether they had made a mistake in sizing him up as a raw college boy with his eye teeth not cut.

    A passing electric containing two young women brought his gloved hand to his hat. The long slant eyes of the lady on the farther side swept him indolently. In answer to her murmured suggestion the girl who was driving brought the machine round in a half circle which ended at the edge of the curb in front of Farnum.

    The lawyer's hat came off again with easy grace. The slim young driver leaned back against the cushions and merely smiled a greeting, tacitly yielding command of the situation to her cousin, an opulent young widow adorned demurely with that artistic touch of mourning that suggests a grief not inconsolable.

    "Good morning, Miss Frome——Mrs. Van Tyle," James distributed impartially before turning to the latter lady. "Isn't this a day to be alive in? Who says it always rains in Verden?"

    "I do——or nearly always. At least it finds no difficulty in giving a good imitation," returned the young woman addressed.

    "A libel——I vow a libel," Farnum retorted gaily. "I was just going to hope you might be tempted to forget New York and Vienna and Paris to pay us a long visit. We're all hoping it. I'm merely the spokesman." He waved a hand to indicate the busy street black with humanity.

    A hint of pleasant adventure quickened the eyes of the young widow who surveyed lazily his wellgroomed good looks. She judged him a twentieth century American emerging from straightened circumstances and eager to trample even the memory of it under foot.

    "Did the Chamber of Commerce appoint you a committee to hope that I would impose on my relatives longer? Or was it resoluted at a mass meeting?" she asked with her Mona Lisa smile.

    He laughed. "Well, no! I'm a self-appointed committee voicing a personal desire that has universal application. But if it would have more weight with you I'll have the Chamber take it up and get myself an accredited representative."

    "So kind of you. But do you think the committee could do itself justice on the street curb?"

    She had among other sensuous charms a voice attuned to convey slightest shades of meaning. James caught her half-shuttered smoldering glance and divined her a woman subtle and complex, capable of playing the world-old game of the sexes with unusual dexterity. The hint of challenging mystery in the tawny depths of the mocking eyes fired his imagination. She was to him a new find in women, one altogether different from those he had known. He had a curiosity to meet at close range this cosmopolitan heiress of such cultivation as Joe Powers' millions could purchase.

    What Verden said of her he knew: that she was too free, too scornful, too independent of conventions. All the tabby cats whispered it to each other with lifted eyebrows that suggested volumes, the while they courted her eager and unashamed. But he had a feeling that perhaps Verden was not competent to judge. The standards of this town and of New York were probably vastly different. James welcomed the chance to enlarge his social experience. Promptly he accepted the lead offered.

    "I'm sure it can't. To present the evidence cogently will take at least two hours. May I make the argument this evening, if it please the court, during a call?"

    "But I understood you were too busy saving the state——from my father and my uncle by the way——to have time for a mere woman," she parried.

    The good humor of her irony flattered him because it implied that she offered him a chance to cultivate her——he was not at all sure how much or how little that might mean——regardless of his political affiliations. Not many women were logical enough to accept so impersonally his

    opposition to the candidacy of an uncle and the plans of a father. "I AM busy," he admitted, "but I need a few hours' relaxation. It will help me to work more effectively to-morrow——against your father and your uncle," he came back with a smile that included them both.

    Alice Frome took up the challenge gaily. "We're going to beat you. Father will be elected."

    "Then I'll be the first to congratulate him," he promised. Turning to Mrs. Van Tyle, "Shall we say this evening?" he added.

    "You're not afraid to venture yourself into the hands of the enemy," drawled that young woman, her indolent eyes daring him.

    Again he studiously included them both in his answer. "I'm afraid all right, but I'm not going to let you know it. Did I hear you set a time?"

    "If you are really willing to take the risk we shall be glad to see you this afternoon."

    James observed that Alice Frome did not second her cousin's invitation. He temporized.

    "Oh, this afternoon! I have an engagement, but I am tempted to forget it in remembering a subsequent one."

    His smiling gaze passed to Alice and gave her another chance. Still she did not speak.

    "The way to treat a temptation is to yield to it," the older cousin sparkled.

    "In order to be done with it, I suppose. Very well. I yield to mine. This afternoon I will have the pleasure of calling at The Brakes."

    Alice nodded a curt good-bye, but her cousin offered him a beautifully gloved hand to shake. A delightful tingle of triumph warmed him. The daughter of Big Joe Powers, the grim gray pirate who worked the levers of the great Transcontinental Railroad system, had taken pains to be nice to him. The only fly in the ointment of his self-satisfaction had been Alice Frome's reticence.

    Why had she not shown any desire to have him call? He could guess at one reason. The campaign for the legislature and the subsequent battle for the senatorship had been bitter. Charges of corruption had been flung broadcast. A dozen detectives had been hired to get evidence on one side

    or the other. If he were seen going to The Brakes just now fifty rumors might be flying inside of the hour.

    His guess was a good one. Alice drove the car forward several blocks without speaking, Valencia Van Tyle watching with good- humored contempt the little frown that rested on her cousin's candid face.

    "I perceive that my uncompromising cousin is moved to protest," she suggested placidly.

    "You ought not to have asked him, Val. It isn't fair to him or to father," answered Alice promptly. "People will talk. They will say father is trying to influence him unfairly. I wish you hadn't asked him till this fight is over."

    "My dear Nora, does it matter in the least what people say?" yawned Valencia behind her hand.

    "Not to you because you consider yourself above criticism. But it matters to me that two honest men should be brought into unjust obloquy without cause."

    "My dear Hothead, they are big enough to look out for themselves."

    "Nobody is big enough to kill slander."

    "Nonsense, child. You make a mountain out of a mole hill. People WILL gossip. It really isn't of the least importance what they gabble about."

    "Especially when you want to amuse yourself by making a fool of Mr. Farnum," retorted the downright Alice with a touch of asperity.

    Valencia already half regretted having asked him. The chances were that he would prove a bore. But she did not choose to say so. "If I'm treading on your preserves, dear," she ventured sweetly.

    "That's ridiculous," flushed Alice. "I only suggested that you wait till after the election before chaining him to your chariot wheels."

    "You're certainly an _enfant terrible_, my dear," murmured the widow, with the little rippling laugh of cynicism her cousin found so annoying. "But that young man does need a lesson. He's eaten up with conceit of himself. Somebody ought to take him in hand."

    "So you're going to sacrifice yourself to duty," scoffed Alice as she brought the electric to a stop under the porte-cochere of the Frome


    Mrs. Van Tyle folded her hands demurely. "It's sweet of you to see it that way, Alice."

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