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THE VISION SPLENDID (10)

2006-08-28 22:51

    Many business men of every community are respectable cowards. The sense of property fills them with a cramping timidity. ——From the Note Book of a Dreamer.

    SAFE AND SOUND BUSINESS RALLIES TO THE DEFENSE OF THE COUNTRY. THE REBEL, FRUSTRATED, PLANS FURTHER VILLAINIES

    When James reached his office next morning he found Killen waiting for him. One glance at the weak defiant face told him that the legislator was again in revolt. The lawyer felt a surge of disgust sweep over him. All through the session he had cajoled and argued the weak-kneed back into line. Why didn't Hardy do his own dirty work instead of leaving it to him to soil his hands with these cheap grafters?"

    No longer ago than yesterday it had been a keen pleasure to feel himself so important a factor in the struggle, to know that his power and his personality were of increasing value to his side.

    But to-day——somehow the salt had gone out of it. The value of the issue had dwindled, his enthusiasm gone stale. After all, what did it matter who was elected? Why should not the corporate wealth that was developing the country see that men were chosen to office who would safeguard vested interests? It was all very well for Jeff to talk about democracy and the rights of the people. But Jeff was an impracticable idealist. He, James, stood for success. Within the past twenty-four hours there had been something of a shift of standards for him.

    His visit to The Brakes had done that for him. He craved luxury just as he did power, and the house on the hill had said the final word of both to him in the personalities of Joe Powers and his daughter. It had come home to him that the only way to satisfy his ambition was by making money and a lot of it. This morning, with the sharpness of his hunger rendering him irritable, he was in no mood to conciliate disaffectants to the cause of which he was himself beginning to weary.

    "Well?" he demanded sharply of Killen.

    "I've been looking for your cousin, but I can't find him. He was to have met me here later."

    "Then I presume he'll be here when he said he would." The eyes of the lawyer were cold and hard as jade.

    "You can tell him it won't be necessary for me to see him. I've made other arrangements," Killen said uneasily. "You mean that you repudiate your agreement with him. Is that it?" Farnum's voice was like a whiplash.

    "I've decided to support Frome. Fact is——"

    "Oh, damn the facts! You made an agreement. You're going to sell out. That's all there is to it."

    The young man's face was dark with furious disgust.

    Killen flared up. "You better be careful how you talk to me, Mr. Farnum. I might want to know what Big Tim was doing in your office yesterday. I might want to know what business took you up to The Brakes by a mighty roundabout way."

    James strode forward in a rage. "Get out of here before I throw you out, you little spying blackguard."

    "You bet I'll get out," screamed the mill man. "Get clear out and have nothing more to do with your outfit. But I want to tell you that folks will talk a lot when they know how you and Big Tim fixed up a deal——" Killen, backing toward the door as he spoke, broke off to hasten his exit before the lawyer's threatening advance.

    James slammed the door shut on him and paced up and down in an impotent fury of passion. "The dirty little blackleg! He'd like to bracket me in the same class as himself. He'd like to imply that I——By Heaven, if he opens his lying mouth to a hint of such a thing I'll horsewhip the little cad."

    But running uneasily through his mind was an undercurrent of disgust-with himself, with Jeff, with the whole situation. Why had he ever let himself get mixed up with such an outfit? Government by the people! The thing was idiotic, mere demagogic cant. Power was to the strong. He had always known it. But yesterday that old giant at The Brakes had hammered it home to him. He did not like to admit even to himself that his folly had betrayed Hardy's cause, but at bottom he knew he should not have gone to The Brakes until after the election and that he ought never to have let Killen out of the office without an explanation. Yesterday he would have won back the man somehow by an appeal to his loyalty and his self-interest.

    He must send word at once to Jeff and let him try to remedy the mischief.

    His cousin, coming into the office with Rawson just as James took down the receiver of the telephone, noticed at once the disturbance of the latter.

    James told his story. It was clear to him that he must anticipate Killen's disclosure of his visit to The Brakes and so draw the sting from it as far as possible. But his natural reluctance to shoulder blame made him begin with Killen's defection.

    "I told you to let me deal with the little traitor," Rawson exploded.

    "He was quite satisfied when I left him yesterday. They must have got at him again," Jeff suggested. "I left O'Brien with him. But I was dead sure of him."

    James cleared his throat and began casually. "I expect the little beggar got suspicious when he saw Big Tim coming to my office."

    "To your office?" Rawson cut in sharply.

    The lawyer flushed, but his eyes met and quelled the incipient doubt in those of the politician. "Yes, he came to feel the ground. Of course I told him flatly where I stood. But Killen must have thought something was doing he wasn't in on. It seems he followed me to The Brakes yesterday afternoon when I called on Mrs. Van Tyle."

    "Followed you to The Brakes. Good Lord!" groaned Rawson. "What in Mexico were you doing there?"

    "Thought I mentioned that I was calling on Mrs. Van-Tyle," returned James stiffly.

    "Wasn't that call a little injudicious under the circumstances, James?" contributed Jeff with his whimsical smile.

    "I suppose I may call wherever I please." "It was a piece of dashed foolishness, that's what it was. You say Killen saw you. The thing will fly like dust in the wind. It will be buzzed all over the House by this time and every man that wants to sell out will find a reason right there," stormed Rawson.

    "Are you implying that I sold out?" demanded James icily.

    Jeff put a conciliatory hand on his cousin's shoulder. "Of course he doesn't. He isn't a fool, James. But there's a good deal in what Rawson says. It was a mistake. The waverers will find in it their excuse for deserting. Of course Big Tim has been at them all night. We'll go right up to the House in your machine, Rawson. We haven't a moment to lose."

    Rawson nodded. "It's dollars to doughnuts the thing is past mending, but it's up to us to see. If I can only get at Killen in time I'll choke the story in his throat. You wait here at the 'phone, Jeff, and I'll call you up if you're needed at this end of the line. Better have a taxi waiting below in case you need one. Come along, James."

    If he did not get to Killen in time it was not Rawson's fault, for he made his car flash up and down Verden's hills with no regard to the speed limit. He swept it along Powers Avenue, dodging in and out among the traffic of the busy city like a halfback through a broken field after a kick. With a twist of the wheel he put the machine at the steep hill of Yarnell Way, climbed the brow of it, and plunged with a flying leap down the long incline to the State House.

    James clung to the swaying side of the car as it raced down. It was raining hard, and the drops stung their faces like bird shot. Two hundred yards in front appeared a farm wagon, leaped toward them, and disappeared in the gulf behind. A dog barking at them from the roadside was for an instant and then was not. In their wake they left cursing teamsters, frightened horses, women and children scurrying for safety; and in the driver's seat Rawson sat goggle-eyed and rigid, swallowing the miles that lay in front of him.

    The car took the last incline superbly and swung up the asphalt carriage way to a Yale finish at the marble stairway of the State House. Rawson was running up the steps almost before the machine had stopped. Farnum caught him at the elevator and a minute later they entered together the assembly room of the House.

    One swift glance told Rawson that Killen was not in his seat, and as his eyes swept the room he noted also the absence of Pitts, Bentley, and Miller. Of the doubtful votes only Ashton and Reilly were present.

    He flung a question anything of Bentley, Akers?"

    "Mr. Bentley! Why, yes, sir. He was called to the telephone a few minutes ago and he left at once. Mr. Miller went with him, and Mr. Pitts."

    "Were Ashton and Reilly here then?"

    "No, sir. They came in a moment before you did."

    Rawson drew Farnum to one side and whispered.

    "Killen must have gone right from your room to Big Tim. They got the others on the phone. They must have been on that street car we met a mile back. There's just a chance to head 'em off. I'll chase back in my machine while you call up Jeff and have him meet the car as it comes in. Tell him not to let them out of his sight if he has to hold them with a gun. You keep an eye on Reilly and Ashton. Don't let anyone talk to them or get them on the phone. Better take them up to the library."

    James nodded sulkily. He did not like Rawson's peremptory manner any the better because he knew his indiscretion had called it down upon him. What he had been unable to forget for the past hour was that if this break to Frome had happened yesterday it would have been he that gave the orders and Rawson who jumped to execute them. Now he had slipped back to second place.

    He caught Jeff on the line and repeated Rawson's orders without comment of his own, after which he went back from the committee room, gathered up Reilly and Ashton, and took them on a pretext to the library.

    It must have been nearly an hour later that a messenger boy handed James a note. It was a hasty scribble from Rawson.

    Euchred, by thunder! Both Jeff and I missed them. Big Tim butted in with a car at Grover Street before we could make connections. Am waiting at the House for them. Don't bring A. & R. in till time to vote. FROME CAN'T WIN IF YOU MAKE THEM BOTH STICK.

    James stuck the note in his pocket and flung himself with artificial animation into the story he was telling. Once or twice the others suggested a return to the House, but he always had just one more good story they must hear. Since only routine business was under way there was no urgency, and when at length they returned to the House chamber the clock pointed to five minutes to twelve.

    Rawson and two or three of the staunchest Hardy men relieved Farnum of his charge in the cloak room and took care of the two doubtfuls. The seats of Bentley, Miller, Pitts and Killen were still vacant, and there was a tense watchfulness in the room that showed rumors were flying of a break in the deadlock.

    Already the state senators were drifting in for the noon joint sessions, and along with them came presently the missing assemblymen flanked by O'Brien and Frome adherents.

    The President of the Senate called the session to order and announced that the eleventh general assembly would now proceed to take the sixty-fourth ballot for the election of a United States Senator.

    In an oppressive silence the clerk began to call the roll.

    "Allan."

    A raw-boned farmer from one of the coast counties rose and answered "Hardy."

    "Anderson."

    In broken English a fat Swede shouted, "Harty."

    "Ashton."

    "Hardy." The word fell hesitantly from dry lips. The man would have voted for the Transcontinental candidate had he dared, but he was not sure enough that the crucial moment was at hand and the pressure of his environment was too great.

    "Bentley."

    Three hundred eyes focused expectantly on the gaunt white-faced legislator who rose nervously at the sound of his name and almost inaudibly gulped the word "Frome."

    A fierce tumult of rage and triumph rose and fell and swelled again. Bentley became the center of a struggling vortex of roaring humanity and found himself tossed hither and thither like a chip in a choppy sea.

    It was many minutes before the clerk could proceed with the roll- call. When his name was reached James said "Hardy" in a clear distinct voice that brought from the gallery a round of applause sharply checked by the presiding officer. Killen gave his vote for Frome tremulously and shrank from the storm he had evoked. Rawson could be seen standing on his seat, one foot on the top of his desk, shaking his fist at him in purple apoplectic rage, the while his voice rose above the tumult, "You damned Judas! You damned little traitor!"

    The presiding officer beat in vain with his gavel for quiet. Not until they had worn themselves to momentary exhaustion could the roll-call be continued.

    Miller and Pitts voted for Frome and stirred renewed shouts of support and execration.

    "Takes one more change to elect Frome. All depends on Reilly now," Rawson whispered hoarsely to Jeff. "If he sticks we're safe for another twenty-four hours."

    But Reilly, knowing the decisive moment had come, voted for Frome and gave him the one more needed to elect. Pandemonium was loose at once. The Transcontinental forces surrounded him and fought off the excited men he had betrayed who tried to get at him to make him change his vote. The culminating moment of months of battle had come and mature men gave themselves to the abandon of the moment like college boys after a football game.

    When at last the storm had subsided Ashton, who had seen several thousand dollars go glimmering because his initial came at the beginning of the alphabet instead of at the close, in the hope of still getting into the bandwagon in time moved to make the election unanimous. His suggestion was rejected with hoots of derision, and Frome made the conventional speech of acceptance to a House divided against itself.

    Jeff joined his cousin as he was descending the steps to the lower hall. "Don't blame yourself, old man. It would have happened anyhow in a day or two. They were looking for a chance to desert. We couldn't have held them. Better luck next time."

    James found cold comfort in such consolation. He was dissatisfied with the he had played in the final drama. Instead of being the hero of the hour, he was the unfortunate whose blunder had started the avalanche. Yet he was gratified when Rawson said in effect the same thing as Jeff.

    "And I'm going to have the pleasure of telling that damned little Killen what I think of him," the politician added with savage satisfaction.

    "Don't blame him. He's only a victim. What we must do is to change the system that makes it possible to defeat the will of the people through money," Jeff said.

    "How are you going about it?" Rawson demanded incredulously.

    "We'll go after the initiative and referendum right now while the people are stirred up about this treachery. The very men who threw us down will support us to try and square themselves. The bill will slip through as if it were oiled," Jeff prophesied.

    "Oh, hang your initiative and referendum. I'm a politician, not a socialist reformer," grinned Rawson.

    James said nothing.

    If the years were bringing Jeff a sharper realization of the forces that control so much of life they were giving him too the mellowness that can be in revolt without any surrender of faith in men. He could for instance now look back on his college days and appreciate the kindness and the patience of the teachers whom he had then condemned. They had been conformists. No doubt they had compromised to the pressure of their environment. But somehow he felt much less like judging men than he used to in the first flush of his intellectual awakening. It was perhaps this habit of making allowance for weakness, together with his call to the idealism in them, that made him so effective a worker with men.

    He was as easy as an old shoe, but people sensed the steel in him instinctively. In his quiet way he was coming to be a power. For one thing he was possessed of the political divination that understands how far a leader may go without losing his following. He knew too how to get practical results. It was these qualities that enabled him out of the wreckage of the senatorial defeat to build a foundation of victory for House Bill . To bring into effect Jeff's pet measure of the initiative and referendum necessitated an amendment to the state constitution, which must be passed by two successive legislative assemblies and ratified by a vote of the people in order to become effective. The bill had been slumbering in committee, but immediately after the senatorial election Jeff insisted on having it brought squarely to the attention of the House.

    His feeling for the psychological moment was a true one and he succeeded by a skillful newspaper campaign in rallying the people to his support. The sense of outrage felt at this shameless purchase of a seat in the Senate, accented by a knowledge of its helplessness to avenge the wrong done it, counted mightily in favor of H. B. No.  just now. It promised a restoration of power to the people, and the clamor for its passage became insistent.

    A good deal of quiet lobbying had been done for the bill, and the legislators who had sold themselves, having received all they could reasonably expect from the allied corporations, were anxious to make a show of standing for their constituents. Politicians in general considered the bill a "freak" one. Some who voted for it explained that they did not believe in it, but felt the people should have a chance to vote on it themselves. By a large majority it passed the House. Two days later it squeezed through the Senate.

    Rawson, who had been persuaded half against his judgment to support the bill, lunched with Jeff that day.

    "Now watch the corporations dig a grave for your little pet at the next legislature," he chuckled, helping himself to bread while he waited for the soup.

    "They may. Then again they may not," Farnum answered. "We are ruled by political machines and corporations only as long as we let them. I've a notion the people are going to assert themselves at the next election."

    "How are you going to make the will of the dear people effective with the assembly?" asked Rawson, amused.

    "Make the initiative and referendum the issue of the campaign. Pledge the legislators to vote for it before nominating them." "Pledge them?" grinned Rawson cynically. "Weren't they pledged to support Hardy? And did they?"

    "No, but they'll stick next time, I think."

    "You're an incurable optimist, my boy."

    "It isn't optimism this time. It's our big stick."

    "Didn't know we had one."

    "Do you remember House Bill ?"

    "No. What's that got to do with it?"

    "It slipped through early in the session. Anderson introduced it. Nobody paid any attention to it because he's a back country Swede and his bill was very wordy. The governor signed it to-day. That bill provides for the recall of any public official, alderman or legislator if the people are not satisfied with his conduct."

    The big man stared. "I thought it only applied to district road supervisors. Were you back of that bill, Jeff?"

    "I had it drawn up and helped steer it through the committee, though I was careful not to appear interested."

    "You sly old fox! And nobody guessed it had general application. None of us read the blamed thing through. You're going to use it as a club to make the legislators stand pat on their pledges."

    "Yes."

    "But don't you see how revolutionary your big stick is?" Rawson's smile was expansive. "Why, hang it, man, you're destroying the fundamental value of representative government. It's a deliberate attack on graft."

    "Looks like it, doesn't it?"

    It was while Rawson was waiting for his mince pie piled with ice cream that he ventured a delicate question.

    "Say, Jeff! What about James? Is he getting ready to flop over to the enemy?"

    "No. Why do you ask that?"

    "I notice he explained when he voted for House Bill  that he reserved the right to oppose it later. Said he hadn't made up his mind, but felt the people should be given a chance to express themselves on it." Upon Farnum's face rested a momentary gravity. "I can't make James out lately. He's lost his enthusiasm. Half the time he's irritable and moody. I think perhaps he's been blaming himself too much for Hardy's defeat."

    Rawson laughed with cynical incredulity. "That's it, is it?"

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