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THE VISION SPLENDID (12)

2006-08-28 22:51

    From The New Catechism

    Question: What is the whole duty of man?

    Answer: To succeed.

    Q. What is success? A. Success is being a Captain of Industry. Q. How may one become a Captain of Industry? A. By stacking in his barns the hay made by others while the sun shines. Q. But is this not theft? A. Not if done legally and respectably on a large scale. It is high finance. THE REBEL AND THE UNDESIRABLE CITIZEN TALK TREASON. THE HERO HAS PRIVATE CONVERSE WITH A GREAT PIONEER OF CIVILIZATION

    Jeff never for a day desisted from his fight to win back for the people the self rule that had been wrested from them for selfish purposes by corporate greed. "Government by the people" was the watchword he kept at the head of his editorial column. Better a bad government that is representative than a good one emanating from the privileged few, he maintained with conviction.

    To his office came one day Oscar Marchant, the little, half- educated Socialist poet, coughing from the exertion of the stairs he had just climbed. He had come begging, the consumptive presently explained.

    "Remember Sobieski, the Polish Jew?"

    Jeff smiled. "Of course. Philosophical anarchy used to be his remedy."

    "Starvation is the one he's trying now," returned Marchant grimly. "He's had typhoid and lost his job. The rent's due and they'll be turned out tomorrow. He's got a wife and two kids."

    Farnum asked questions briefly and pulled out his check book. "Tell Sobieski not to worry," he said as he handed over a check. "I'll send a reporter out there and we'll make an appeal through the _World_. Of course his own name won't be used. No one will know who it really is. We'll look out for him till he's on his feet again."

    Marchant gave him the best he had. "You're a pretty good Socialist, even though you don't know it."

    "Am I?"

    "But you're blind as a bat. The things you fight for in the _World_ don't get to the bottom of what ails us."

    "We've got to forge the tools of freedom before we can use them, haven't we?"

    "You're all for patching up the rotten system we've got. It will never do."

    "Great changes are most easily brought about under the old forms. Men's minds in the mass move slowly. They can see only a little truth at a time."

    "Because they are blinded by ignorance and selfishness. Get at bottom facts, Farnum. What's the one great crime?"

    Without a moment's hesitation Jeff answered. "Poverty. All other crimes are paltry beside that."

    Marchant cocked himself up on the window seat with his legs doubled under him tailor fashion. "Why?"

    "Because it stamps out hope and love and aspiration, all that is fine and true in life."

    "Exactly. Men ought to love their work. But how can they

    ove that which is always associated in their minds with a denial of justice? Is it likely that men will work better under a system whereby they are condemned in advance to failure than under one standing rationally for a just and fair division of the fruits of labor? I tell you, Farnum, under present conditions the Juggernaut of progress is forever wasting humanity."

    "I've always thought it a pity that the mainsprings of work should be fear and greed instead of hope and love," Jeff agreed.

    "Why is it that poverty coexists with wealth increasing so rapidly?

    Why is it that productive power has been so enormously developed without lightening the burdens of labor?"

    Marchant's eyes were starlike in their earnestness. He had a passion for humanity that neither want nor disease could quench, and with it a certain gift of expression street oratory had brought out. Even in private conversation he had got into the way of declaiming. But Jeff knew he was no empty talker. All that he had he literally gave to the poor.

    "Because the whole spirit of business life is wrong," Farnum responded.

    "Of course it's wrong. It's a survival of the law of the jungle, of tooth and fang. Its motto is dog eat dog. We all work under the rule of get and grab. What's the result of this higgledypiggledy system? One man starves and another has indigestion. That's the trouble with Verden to-day. Some of us haven't enough and others have too much. They take from us what we earn. That's the whole cause of poverty. The Malthusian theory is all wrong. It's not nature, but man that is to blame."

    Farnum knew the little Socialist was right so far. Here in Verden, under the forms of freedom, was the very essence of slavery. All the product of labor was taken from it except enough to sustain a mere animal existence. Something was wrong in a world where a man begs in vain for work to support his family. Given proper conditions, men would not rise by trampling each other down, but by lending a hand to the unfortunate. The effect of efficiency would be to make things easier for the weak. The reward of service would be more service.

    "The principle of the old order is dead," Marchant went on, wagging his thin forefinger at Jeff. "The whole social fabric is made up of lies, compromises, injustice. The only reason it has hung together so long is that people have been trained to think along certain lines like show animals. But they're waking up. Look at Germany. Look at England. What the plutocrats call the menace of Socialism is everywhere. Now that every worker knows he is being robbed of what he earns, how long do you think he will carry the capitalistic system on his back? From the beginning of the world we have tried it. With what result? An injustice that is staggering, a waste that is appalling, an inhumanity that is deadening." Jeff let a hand fall lightly on his shoulder. "Of course it's all wrong. We know that. But can you show me how to make it right, except out of the hearts of men growing slowly wiser and better?"

    "Why slowly?" demanded Marchant. "Why not to-day while we're still alive to see the smiles of men and women and children made glad? You always want to begin at the wrong end. I tell you that you can't change men's hearts until you change the conditions under which they live."

    "And I tell you that you can't change the conditions until you change men's hearts," Jeff answered with his wistful smile.

    "Rubbish! The only way to change the hearts of most plutocrats is to hit them over the head with a two-by-four. Smug respectability is in the saddle, and it knows it's right. We'll get nowhere until we smash this iniquitous system to smithereens."

    "So you want to substitute one system for another. You think you can eliminate by legal enactment all this fatty degeneration of greed and selfishness that has incased our souls. I'm afraid it will be a slower process. We must free ourselves from within. I believe we are moving toward some sort of a socialistic state. No man with eyes in his head can help seeing that. But we'll move a step at a time, and only so fast as the love and altruism inside us can be organized into external law."

    "No. You'll wake up some morning and find that this whole capitalistic organization has crumbled in the night, fallen to pieces from dry rot."

    Jeff might not agree with him, but he knew that Marchant, dreamer and incoherent poet, his heart aflame with zeal for humanity, was far nearer the truth of life than the smug complacent Pharisees that fattened from the toil of the helpless many who could do nothing but suffer in dumb silence.

    As the months passed Jeff grew in stature with the people of the state. In spite of his energy he was always fair. The plain truth he felt to be a better argument than the tricks of a demagogue.

    A rational common sense was to be found in all his advice. Add to this that he had no personal profit to seek, no political axe to grind, and was always transparent as a child. More and more Verden recognized him as the one most conspicuous figure in the state dedicated to uncompromising war against the foes of the Republic.

    Those who knew him best liked his humility, his good humor, the gentleness that made him tolerant of the men he must fight. His poise lifted him above petty animosities, and the daily sand- stings of life did not disturb his serenity.

    Everywhere his propaganda gained ground. People's Power Leagues were formed with a central steering committee at Verden. Politicians with their ears close to the ground heard rumbles of the coming storm. They began to notice that reputable business men, prominent lawyers not affiliated with corporations, and even a few educators who had shaken away the timidity of their class were lining up to support Jeff's freak legislation. It began to look as if one of those periodical uprisings of the people was about to sweep the state.

    Big Tim found his ward workers met persistently by the same questions from their ordinarily docile following. "Why shouldn't we tie strings to our representatives so as to keep them from betraying us? . . . Why can't we make laws ourselves in emergency and kill bad laws the legislature makes? . . . What's the matter with taking away some of the power from our representatives who have abused it?"

    In the city election O'Brien went down to defeat. Only fragments of his ticket were saved from the general wreckage. Next day Joe Powers wired James Farnum to join him immediately at Chicago.

    "I'm going to put you in charge of the political field out there," the great man announced, his gray granite eyes fastened on the young lawyer. "Ned Merrill won't do. Neither will O'Brien. Between them they've made a mess of things."

    "I don't know that it is their fault, except indirectly. One of those populistic waves swept over the city."

    "Why didn't they know what was going to happen? Why didn't they let me know? That's what I pay them for."

    "A child could have foreseen it, but O'Brien wouldn't believe his eyes. He's been giving Verden an administration with too much graft. The people got tired of it."

    "What were Merrill and Frome up to? Why did they permit it?" demanded Powers impatiently.

    "They were looking out for their franchises. To get the machine's support they had to give O'Brien a free hand."

    "If necessary you had better eliminate Big Tim. Or at least put him and his gang in the background. Make the machine respectable so that good citizens can indorse it."

    James nodded agreement. "I've been thinking about that. The thing can be done. A business men's movement from inside the party to purify it. A reorganization with new men in charge. That sort of thing."

    "Exactly. And how about the state?"

    "Things don't look good to me."

    "Why not?"

    "This initiative and referendum idea is spreading."

    Powers drove his fist into a pile of papers on the desk. "Stop it. I give you carte blanche. Spend as much as you like. But win. What good is a lobby to me if those hare-brained farmers can kill every bill we pass through their grafting legislature?"

    The possibilities grew on Farnum. "I'll send Professor Perkins of Verden University to New Zealand to prepare a paper showing the thing is a failure there. I'll have every town in the state thoroughly canvassed by lecturers and speakers against the bill. I'll bombard the farmers with literature."

    "What about the newspapers?"

    "We control most of them. At Verden only the _World_ is against us."

    "Buy it."

    "Can't be bought. Its editorial columns are not for sale."

    "Anything can be bought if you've got the price. Who owns it?"

    "A Captain Chunn. He made his money in Alaska. My cousin is the editor. He is the real force back of it."

    "Does the paper have any influence?"

    "A great deal."

    "I've heard of your cousin. A crack-brained Socialist, I understand." "You'll find he's a long way from that," James denied.

    "Whatever he is, buy him," ordered Powers curtly.

    The young man shook his head. "Can't be done. He doesn't want the things you have to offer."

    "Every man has his price. Find his, and buy him."

    James shook his head decisively. "Absolutely impossible. He's an idealist and an altruist."

    Powers snorted impatiently. "Talk English, young man, and I'll understand you."

    Farnum had heard Joe Powers was a man who would stand plain talk from those who had the courage to give it him. His cool eyes hardened. Why not? For once the old gray pirate, chief of the robber buccaneers who rode on their predatory way superior to law, should see himself as Jeff Farnum saw him.

    "What I mean is that the things he holds most important can't be bought with dollars and cents. He believes in justice and fair play. He thinks the strong ought to bear the burdens of the weak.

    He has a passion to uplift humanity. You can't understand him because it isn't possible for you to conceive of a man whose first thought is always for what is equitable."

    "Just as I thought, a Socialist dreamer and demagogue," pronounced Powers scornfully.

    "Merrill and Frome have been thinking of him just as you do." James waved his hand toward the newspaper in front of the railroad king. "With what result our election shows."

    "Well, where does his power lie? How can you break it?" the old man asked.

    "He is a kind of brother to the lame and the halt all over the state. Among the poor and the working classes he has friends without number. They believe in him as a patriot fighting for them against the foes of the country."

    "Do you call me a foe of the country, young man?" Powers wanted to know grimly.

    "Not I," laughed James. "Why should I quarrel with my bread and jam?

    If you had ever done me the honor to read any of my speeches you would see that I refer to you as a Pioneer of Civilization and a Builder for the Future. But my view doesn't happen to be universal. I was trying to show you how the man with the dinner pail feels."

    "Who fills his dinner pails?"

    James met his frown with a genial eye. "There's a difference of opinion about that, sir. According to the economics of Verden University you fill them. According to the _World_ editorials it's the other way. They fill yours."

    "Hmp! And what's your personal opinion? Am I a robber of labor?"

    "I think that the price of any success worth while is paid for in the failure of others. You win because you're strong, sir. That's the law of the game. It's according to the survival of the fittest that you're where you are. If you had hesitated some other man would have trampled you down. It's a case of wolf eat wolf."

    The old railroad builder laughed harshly. This was the first time in his experience that a subordinate had so analyzed him to his face.

    "So I'm a wolf, am I?"

    "In one sense of the word you're not that at all, sir. You're a great builder. You've done more for the Northwest than any man living. You couldn't have done it if you had been squeamish. I hold the end justifies the means. What you've got is yours because you've won it. Men who do a great work for the public are entitled to great rewards."

    "Glad to know you've got more sense than that fool cousin of yours. Now go home and beat him. I don't care how you do it, just so that you get results. Spend what money you need. but make good, young man——make good."

    "I'll do my best," James promised.

    "All I demand is that you win. I'm not interested in the method you use. But put that cousin of yours out of the demagogue business if you have to shanghai him."

    James laughed. "That might not be a bad way to get rid of him till after the election. The word would leak out that he had been bought off."

    The old buccaneer's eyes gleamed. He was as daring a lawbreaker as ever built or wrecked a railroad. "Have you the nerve, young man?"

    "When I'm working for you, sir," retorted James coolly.

    "What do you mean by that?"

    "If I've studied your career to any purpose, sir, one thing stands out pretty clear. You haven't the slightest respect for law merely as law. When it's on your side you're a stickler for it; when it isn't you say nothing, but brush it aside as if it did not exist. In either case you get what you want."

    "I'm glad you've noticed that last point. Now we'll have luncheon." He smiled grimly. "I daresay you'll enjoy it no less because I stole it from the horny hand of labor, by your mad cousin's way of it."

    "Not a bit," answered James cheerfully.

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