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THE VISION SPLENDID (6)

2006-08-28 22:51

    "The cure for the evils of Democracy is more Democracy." ——De Tocqueville. THE REBEL HUMBLY ASSISTS AT THE UNVEILING OF A HERO'S STATUE

    On the occasion when his cousin was graduated with the highest honors from the law school of Verden University Jeff sat inconspicuously near the rear of the chapel. James, as class orator, rose to his hour. From the moment that he moved slowly to the front of the platform, handsome and impassive, his calm gaze sweeping over the audience while he waited for the little bustle of expectancy to subside, Jeff knew that the name of Farnum was going to be covered with glory.

    The orator began in a low clear voice that reached to the last seat in the gallery. Jeff knew that before he finished its echoes would be ringing through the hall like a trumpet call to the emotions of those present.

    It was not destined that Jeff should hear a word of that stirring peroration. His eye fell by chance upon a young woman seated in a box beside an elderly man whom he recognized as Peter C. Frome. From that instant he was lost to all sense perception that did not focus upon her. For he was looking at the dryad who had come upon him out of the ferns three years before. She would never know it, but Alice Frome had saved him from the weakness that might have destroyed him. From that day he had been a total abstainer. Now as he looked at her the vivid irregular beauty of the girl flowed through him like music. Her charm for him lay deeper than the golden gleams of imprisoned sunlight woven in her hair, than the gallant poise of the little head above the slender figure. Though these set his heart beating wildly, a sure instinct told him of the fine and exquisite spirit that found its home in her body.

    She was leaning forward in her chair, her eyes fixed on James almost as if she were fascinated by his oratory. Her father watched her, a trifle amused at her eagerness. In her admiration she was frank as a boy. When Farnum's last period was rounded out and he made to leave the stage her gloved hands beat together in excited applause.

    After the ceremonies were over James came straight to her. Jeff missed no detail of their meeting. The young lawyer was swimming on a tide of triumph, but it was easy to see that Alice Frome's approval was the thing he most desired. His cousin had never seen him so gay, so handsome, so altogether irresistible. For the first time a little spasm of envy shot through Jeff, That the girl liked James was plain enough. How could any girl help liking him?

    The orator was so much the center of attention that Jeff postponed his congratulations till evening. He called on his cousin after midnight at his rooms. James had just returned from a class banquet where he had been the toastmaster. He was still riding the big wave.

    "It's been a great day for me, Jeff," he broke out after his cousin had congratulated him. "I've earned it, too. For seven years I've worked toward this day as a climax. Did you see me talking to P. C. Frome and his daughter? I'm going to be accepted socially in the best houses of the city. I'll make them all open to me."

    "I don't doubt it."

    "And the best of it is that I've made my own success."

    "Yes, you've worked hard," Jeff admitted with a little gleam of humor in his eyes. He would not remind his cousin that he had lent him most of the money to see him through law school.

    "Oh, worked!" James was striding up and down the room to get rid of some of his nervous energy. "I've done more than work. I've made opportunities . . . grabbed them coming and going. Young as I am Verden expects big things of me. And I'll deliver the goods, too."

    "What's the program?" Jeff asked, much amused.

    "Don't know yet. I'm going into politics and I mean to get ahead. I'll make a big splash and keep in the public eye."

    His cousin could not help laughing. "You always were a pretty good press agent for J. K. Farnum."

    "Why shouldn't I be?" "I don't know why you shouldn't. A man who gets ahead puts himself in a position where he can bring about reforms."

    "That's it exactly. I mean to make myself a power."

    "Get hold of one good practical reform and back it. Pound away on it until the people identify you with it. Take direct legislation as your text, say. There's going to be a strong drift that way in the next ten years. Machines and bosses are going to be swept to the junk heap."

    "How do you know?"

    Jeff could give no adequate justification for the faith that was in him. It would be no answer to tell James that he knew the plain people of the state better than the politicians did. However, he mentioned a few facts.

    "It's all very well for you to be a radical, but I have to conserve my influence," James objected. "I've got to be practical. If I were just going to be a reporter it would be different."

    "Don't be too practical, James. You've got to have some vision if you're going to lead the people. Nobody is so blind to the future as practical politicians and business men." He stopped, smiling quizzically. "But you're the orator of the family. I don't want to infringe on your copyright. Only you have the personality to be a real leader. Get started right. Remember that America faces forward, and that we're going to move with seven league boots to better conditions."

    James mused out loud. "If a man could be a Lincoln to save the people from industrial slavery it would be worth while."

    Jeff did not laugh at his conceit. "Go to it. I'll promise you the backing of the _World_."

    "What have you to do with the _World_?"

    "Beginning with next Monday I'm to be managing editor."

    "You!"

    "Even so. Captain Chunn has bought the paper."

    "Chunn, the man who made millions in a lucky strike in Alaska?"

    "Same man."

    James was still incredulous. "How did Chunn happen to pick you for the editor?"

    "He's an old friend of mine. 'Member the day I had the fight with Ned Merrill. Captain Chunn was the man who stood up for me."

    "And you've known him ever since?"

    "I've always corresponded with him."

    "Well, I'll be hanged. Talk about luck." James looked his cousin over with increased respect. He always took off his hat to success, but he had been so long accustomed to thinking of Jeff as a failure that he could not adjust his mind to the situation. "Why, you can't run a paper. Can you?"

    Jeff smiled. "I told Captain Chunn he was taking a big chance."

    "If he's as rich as they say he is he can afford to lose some money."

    James took the news of his cousin's good fortune a little peevishly. He did not grudge Jeff's advancement, but he resented that it had befallen him to-day of all days. The promotion of the reporter took the edge off his own achievements.

    As James understood his own genius, it was as a statesman that he was fitted preeminently to shine. He had the urbanity, the large impassive manner, and the magnetic eloquence of the old-style congressman. All he needed was the chance.

    With the passing months he grew more restless at the delay. There were moments in the night when he trembled lest some stroke of evil fate might fall upon him before he had carved his name in the niche of fame. To sit in an empty law office and wait for clients took more patience than he could summon. He wanted an opportunity to make speeches in the campaign that was soon to open. That he finally went to Big Tim himself about it instead of to his ward committeeman was characteristic of James

    K. After he sent his card in the young lawyer was kept waiting for thirty-five minutes in an outer office along with a Jew peddler, a pugilist ward heeler, an Irish saloonkeeper, and a brick contractor. Naturally he was exceedingly annoyed. O'Brien ought to know that James K. Farnum did not rank with this riff-raff.

    When at last James got into the holy of holies he found Big Tim lolling back in his swivel chair with a fat cigar in his mouth. The boss did not take the trouble to rise as he waved his visitor to a chair.

    Farnum explained that he was interested in the political situation and that he was prepared to take an active in the campaign about to open. The big man listened, watching him out of half shut attentive eyes. He had never yet seen a kid glove politician that was worth the powder to blow him up. Moreover, he had special reasons for disliking this one. His cousin was editor of the _World_, and that paper was becoming a thorn in his side.

    O'Brien took the cigar from his mouth. "Did youse go to the primary last night?' he asked.

    James did not even know there had been one. He had in point of fact been at a Country Club dance.

    "Can youse tell me what the vote of your precinct was at the last city election?"

    The budding statesman could not.

    "What precinct do youse live in?"

    Farnum was not quite sure. He explained that he had moved recently.

    Big Tim grunted scornfully. He was pleased to have a chance to take down the cheek of any Farnum.

    "What do youse think you can do?"

    "I can make speeches. I'm the best orator that ever came out of Verden University."

    "Tommyrot! How do youse stand in your precinct? Can youse get the vote out to go down the line for us? That's what counts. Oratory be damned!"

    James was pale with rage. The manner of the boss was nothing less than insulting.

    "Then you decline to give me a chance, Mr. O'Brien?"

    "I do not. In politics a man makes his own chance. He gets along by being so useful we can't get along without him. See? He learns the game. You don't know the A B C of it. It's my opinion youse never will."

    O'Brien's hard cold eye triumphed over him as a principal does over a delinquent schoolboy. His vanity stung, the lawyer sprang to his feet. "Very well, Mr. O'Brien. I'll show you a thing or two about what I can and can't do."

    For just an instant a notion flitted across Big Tim's mind that he might be making a mistake. He was indulging an ugly temper, and he knew it. This was a luxury he rarely permitted himself. Now he decided to "go the whole hog," as he phrased it to himself later. His lips set to an ugly snarl.

    "It's like the nerve of ye to come to me. Want to begin at the top instid of at the bottom. Go to Billie Gray if youse want to have some wan learn youse the game. If you're any good he'll find it out."

    James got himself out of the office with all the dignity of which he was capable. Go to Billie Gray, the notorious ballot box stuffer! Take orders from the little rascal who had shaved the penitentiary only because of his pull! James saw himself doing it. He was sore in every outraged nerve of him. Never before in his life had anybody sat and sneered at him openly before his eyes. He would show the big boss that he had been a fool to treat him so. And he would show P. C. Frome and Ned Merrill that he was a very valuable man.

    How? Why, by fighting the corporations! Wasn't that the way that all the big men got their start nowadays as lawyers? As soon as they discovered his value Frome and his friends would be after his services fast enough. James was no radical, but he believed Jeff knew what he was talking about when he predicted an impending political change, one that would carry power back from the machine bosses to the people. The young lawyer decided to ride that wave as far as it would take him. He would be a tribune of the people, and they in turn would make of him their hero. With the promised backing of the _World_ he would go a long way. He knew that Jeff would fling him at once into the limelight. And he would make good. He would be the big speaker for the reform movement. Nobody in the state could sway a crowd as he could. James had not the least doubt about that. It was glory and applause he wanted, not the drudgery of dirty ward politics.

    Under Jeff's management the _World_ had at once taken the leadership in the fight for political reform in the state. He made it the policy of the paper to tell the truth as to corruption both in and out of his own party. Nor would he allow the business office, as influenced by the advertisers, to dictate the policy of the paper. The result was that at the end of the first year he went to the owner with a report of a deficit of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars for the twelve months just ended.

    Captain Chunn only laughed. "Keep it up, son. I've had lots of fun out of it. You've given this town one grand good shaking up. The whole state is getting its fighting clothes on. We've got Merrill and Frome scared stiff about their supreme court judges. Looks to me as if we were going to lick them."

    The political campaign was already in progress. Hitherto the public utility corporations of Verden had controlled and practically owned the machinery of both parties. The _World_ had revolted, rallied the better sentiment in the party to which it belonged, and forced the convention to declare for a reform platform and to nominate a clean ticket composed of men of character.

    Jeff agreed. "I think we're going to win. The people are with us. The _World_ is booming." It's the advertising troubles me. Frome and Merrill have got at the big stores and they won't come in with any space worth mentioning."

    "Damn the big advertisers," exploded Chunn. "I've got two million cold and I'm going to see this thing out, son. That's what I told Frome last week when he had the nerve to have me nominated to the Verden Club. Wanted to muzzle me. Be a good fellow and quit agitating. That was the idea. I sent back word I'd stuck by Lee to Appomattox and I reckoned I was too old a dog to learn the new trick of deserting my flag."

    "If you're satisfied I ought to be," Jeff laughed. "As for the advertising, the stores will come back soon. The managers all want to take space, but they are afraid of spoiling their credit at the banks while conditions are so unsettled."

    "Oh, well. We'll stick to our guns. You fire'em and I'll supply the ammunition." The little man put his hand on Jeff's shoulder with a chuckle. "We're both rebels——both irreconcilables, son. I reckon we're going to be well hated before we get through with this fight."

    "Yes. They're going about making people believe we're cranks and agitators who are hurting business for our own selfish ends."

    "I reckon we can stand it, David." Chunn had no children of his own and he always called Jeff son or David. "By the way, how's that good looking cousin of yours coming out? I see you're giving his speeches lots of space."

    A light leaped to the eyes of the younger man. "He's doing fine. James is a born orator. Wherever he goes he gets a big ovation."

    Chunn grunted. "Humph! That'll please him. He's as selfish as the devil, always looking out for James Farnum."

    "He wins the people, Captain."

    "You talk every evening yourself, but I don't see reports of any of your speeches."

    "I don't talk like James. There's not a man in the state to equal him, young as he is."

    "Humph!"

    Captain Chunn grumbled a good deal about the way Jeff was always pushing his cousin forward and keeping in the background himself. In his opinion "David" was worth a hundred of the other.

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