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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter22,part1)

2006-08-28 23:39

    CHAPTER 22

    But when your arms are full of girl and fluff You hide your nerve behind a yard of grin; You'd spit into a bulldog's face, or bluff A flock of dragons with a safety pin. Life's a slow skate, but love's the dopey glim That puts a brewery horse in racing trim. ——Wallace Irwin.

    CANARIES SING FOR THE HERO

    PART 1

    James Farnum had been back in Verden twenty-four hours. A few little scars still decorated his handsome visage, but he explained them away with the story of a motor car accident. Just now he was walking to the bank, and he had spoken his piece five times in a distance of three blocks. From experience he was getting letter perfect as to the details. Even the idiotic joke about the clutch seemed now a necessary part of the recital.

    It was just as he was crossing Powers that a motor car whirled around the corner and down upon a man descending from a street car. The chauffeur honked wildly and rammed the brakes home. Simultaneously James leaped, flinging his weight upon the man standing dazed in the path of the automobile. The two went down together, and for a moment Farnum knew only a crash of the senses.

    He was helped to his feet. Voices, distant and detached, asked whether he was hurt. Blood trickled into his eyes from a cut in the head. It came to him oddly enough that his story about the motor car accident would now be true.

    A slender figure in gray slipped swiftly past him and knelt beside the still shape lying on the asphalt.

    "Bring water, Roberts!"

    James knew that clear, sweet voice. It could belong only to Alice Frome.

    "Are you much hurt, Mr. Farnum?"

    "No, I think not——a cut over my eye and a few bruises."

    "I'm so glad. But this poor old man——I'm afraid he's badly hurt."

    "Was he run over?"

    "No. You saved him from that. You don't know him, do you?"

    The lawyer looked at the unconscious man and could not repress a start. It was his father. For just an eyebeat he hesitated before he said, "I've seen him before somewhere."

    "We must take him to the hospital. Isn't there a doctor here? Someone run for a doctor." The young woman's glance swept the crowd in appeal.

    "I'll take care of him. Better get away before the crowd is too large, Miss Frome."

    "No. It was our machine did it. Oh, here's a doctor."

    A pair of lean, muscular shoulders pushed through the press after the doctor. "Much hurt, James?" inquired their owner.

    "No. For heaven's sake, get Miss Frome away, Jeff," implored his cousin.

    "Miss Frome!" Jeff stepped forward with an exclamation.

    The young woman looked up. She was kneeling in the street and supporting the head of the wounded man. Her face was almost as bloodless as his.

    "We almost ran him down. Your cousin jumped to save him. He isn't dead, doctor, is he?"

    Jeff turned swiftly to his cousin and spoke in a low voice. "It's your father."

    The lawyer pushed forward with a manner of authority.

    "This won't do, doctor. The crowd's growing and we're delaying the traffic. Let us lift him into the machine and take him to the hospital."

    "Very good, Mr. Farnum."

    "Doctor, will you go with him to the hospital? And Jeff . . . you, too, if you please."

    A minute later the car pushed its way slowly through the crush of people and disappeared. James was left standing on the curb with Alice.

    He spoke brusquely. "Someone call a cab, please……I'll send you home, Miss Frome."

    "No, to the hospital," she corrected. "I couldn't go home now without knowing how he is."

    "Very well. Anything to get away from here."

    "And you can have your cut attended to there."

    "Oh, that's nothing. A basin of cold water is all I need. Here's the cab, thank heaven."

    The girl's gaze followed the automobile up the hill as she waited for the taxicab to stop. "I do hope he isn't hurt badly," she murmured piteously.

    "Probably he isn't. Just stunned, the doctor seemed to think. Anyhow it was an unavoidable accident."

    The eyes of the young woman kindled. "I'll never forget the way you jumped to save him. It was splendid."

    James flushed with pleasure. "Nonsense. I merely pushed him aside."

    "You merely risked your life for his. A bagatelle——don't mention it," the girl mocked.

    Farnum nodded, the old warmth for her in his eyes. "All right, I'll take all the praise you want to give me. It's been a good while since you have thought I deserved any."

    Alice looked out of the window in a silence that appeared to accuse him.

    "Yet once"——She felt in his fine voice the vibration of feeling—— "once we were friends. We met on the common ground of——of the spirit," he risked.

    Her eyes came round to meet his. "Is it my fault that we are not still friends?"

    "I don't know. Something has come between us. What is it?"

    "If you don't know I can't tell you."

    "I think I know." He folded his handkerchief again to find a spot unstained. "You wanted me to fit into some ideal of me you had formed. Am I to blame because I can't do it? Isn't the fault with your austerity? I've got to follow my own convictions——not Jeff's, not even yours. Life's a fight, and it's every man for himself. He has to work out his own salvation in his own way. Nobody can do it for him. The final test is his success or failure. I'm going to succeed."

    "Are you?" The compassion of her look he could not understand. "But

    how shall we define success?"

    "It's getting power and wielding it."

    "But doesn't it depend on how one wields it?"

    "Yes. It must be made to produce big results. Now my idea of a successful man is your uncle, Joe Powers."

    "And my idea of one is your cousin, Jefferson Farnum."

    The young man sat up. "You're not seriously telling me that you think Jeff is successful as compared with Joe Powers?"

    "Yes. In my opinion he is the most successful man I ever met."

    James was annoyed. "I expect you have a monopoly in that opinion, Miss Frome——unless Jeff shares it."

    "He doesn't."

    The lawyer laughed irritably. "No, I shouldn't think he would." He added a moment later: "I don't suppose Jeff is worth a hundred dollars."

    "Probably not."

    "And Joe Powers is worth a hundred millions."

    "That settles it. I must have been wrong." Alice looked at him with a flash of demure daring. "Valencia said something to me the other day I didn't quite understand. Ought I to congratulate you?"

    "What did she say?" he asked eagerly.

    "Oh, I'll not tell you what she said. My question was in first."

    "You may as well, though it's still a secret. Nobody knows it but you and me."

    "And Valencia."

    "I didn't know she knew it yet."

    Alice stared. "Not know that she is going to marry you? Then it isn't really arranged?"

    "It is and it isn't."

    "Oh!"

    "I know it and she suspects it."

    "Is this a riddle?"

    "Riddle is a good word when we speak of your cousin," he admitted judicially.

    "Perhaps I asked a question I ought not to have."

    "Not at all. I'm trying to answer you as well as I can. Last time I mentioned the subject she laughed at me."

    "So you've asked her?"

    "No, I told her."

    "And she said?"

    "Regretted that other plans would not permit her to fall in with mine."

    "Then I don't quite see how you are so sure."

    "That's just what she says, but I've a notion she is planning the trousseau."

    Alice flashed a sidelong look at him. Was he playing with her? Or did he mean it?

    "You'll let me know when I may safely congratulate you," she retorted ironically.

    "Now is the best time. I may not see you this evening."

    "Oh, it's to be this evening, is it?"

    "To the best of my belief and hope."

    His complacency struck a spark from her. "You needn't be so cock sure. I daresay she won't have you."

    His smile took her into his confidence. "That's what I'm afraid of myself, but I daren't let her see it."

    "That sounds better."

    "I think she wants to eat her cake and have it, too."

    "Meaning, please?"

    "That she likes me, but would rather hold me off a while."

    Alice nodded. "Yes, that would be like Val."

    "Meanwhile I don't know whether I'm to be a happy man or not."

    Her fine eyes looked in their direct fashion right into his. "I must say you appear greatly worried."

    "Yes," he smiled.

    "You must be tremendously in love with her."

    "Ye-es, thank you."

    "Why are you going to marry her then——if she'll let you?"

    "Now I'm having Joe Powers' railroads and his steamboats and his mines thrown at me, am I not?" he asked lightly.

    "No, I don't think that meanly of you. I know you're a victim of ambition, but I don't suppose it would take you that far."

    He gave her an ironical bow. "Thanks for this testimonial of respect. You're right. It wouldn't. I'm going to marry Joe Power's daughter, _Deo volente_ because she is the most interesting woman I know and the most beautiful one."

    "Oh! That's the reason."

    "These, plus a sentimental one which I can't uncover to the cynical eyes of my young cousin that is to be, are my motives; though, mind you, I'm not fool enough to be impervious to the railroads and the ocean liners and the mines you didn't mention. I hope my reasons satisfy you," he added coolly.

    "If they satisfy Val they do me, but very likely you'll find they won't."

    "The doubt adds a fillip to the situation." Her eyes had gone from time to time out of the window. Now she gave a sigh of relief. "Here we are at the hospital. Oh, I do hope that poor man is all right!"

    "I'm sure he is. He was recovering consciousness when they left.

    James helped her out of the cab and they went together up the steps. In the hall they met Jeff. He had just come down stairs.

    "Everything's all right. His head must have struck the asphalt, but there seems to be no danger."

    Alice noticed that the newspaper man spoke to his cousin and not to her.

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