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THE VISION SPLENDID (16)

2006-08-28 22:51

    A young man left his father's house to see the world. Everywhere he found busy human beings. Cities were rising toward the skies, seas and plains were being lined with traffic, school, mill and office hummed with life. He wondered why men were so busy and what they were trying to do.

    He went to a railroad director and asked: "Why are you building railroads?" "For profits," was the answer. But a laborer beckoned him aside and whispered: "No——we are making the _World_ one neighborhood. East is now next door to West, and all peoples dwell in one continuing city."

    The young man went to the boss of a labor union. "Why," he asked, "do you spend your days breeding discontent and leading strikes?" "Why?" repeated the leader fiercely, "that the workers receive more pay for shorter hours." "No," whispered a laborer, "we are teaching the _World_ the sacred value of human beings. We are learning how to be brotherly——how to stand up for each other. ——James Oppenheim.

    UNDER STRANGE CIRCUMSTANCES THE REBEL MAKES HIS BOW TO POLITE SOCIETY. TAKING AN APPLE AS A TEXT, HE PREACHES ON THE RISE OF ADAM

    "Man overboard!"

    Somebody on the liner sang it out. Instantly there was a rush of passengers to the side. From the schooner a boat was being lowered and manned.

    "I see him. He's swimming this way. I believe he's trying to escape," one slender young woman cried.

    "Nonsense, Alice! He fell overboard and he's probably so frightened he doesn't know which way he is swimming." This suggestion was from the beautiful blonde with bronze hair who stood beside her under a tan parasol held by a fresh-faced globetrotter.

    "Don't you believe it, Val. Look how he's cutting through the water. He's trying to reach us. Oh, I hope they won't get him. Somebody get a rope to throw out."

    "By Jove, you're right, Miss Alice," cried the Englishman. "It's a race, and it's going to be a near thing." He disappeared and was presently back with a rope.

    "Come on! Come on!" screamed the passengers to the swimmer. "He's ripping strong with that overhead stroke. Ye gods, it's close!" exclaimed the Britisher.

    It was. The swimmer reached the side of the ship not four yards in front of the pursuing boat. He caught at the trailing rope and began to clamber up hand over hand, while the Englishman, a man standing near, and Alice Frome dragged him up.

    The mate of the Nancy Hanks, standing up in the boat, caught at his foot and pulled. The man's hold loosened on the rope. He slid down a foot, steadied himself. Suddenly the left leg shot out and caught the grinning mate in the mouth. He went over backward into the bottom of the boat. Before he could extricate himself from the tangle his fall had precipitated, the dripping figure of the swimmer stood safely on the deck of the _Bellingham._

    In his wet foul slops the man was a sight to draw stares. The cabin passengers moved back to give him a wide circle, as men do with a wet retriever.

    "What does this mean, my man?" demanded the captain of the _Bellingham,_ pushing forward. He was a big red-faced figure with a heavy roll of fat over his collar.

    "I have been shanghaied, sir. From Verden. I'm the editor of the _World_ of that city."

    "That's a lie," proclaimed the mate of the _Nancy Hanks_ , who by this time had reached the deck. "He's a nutty deckswabber we picked up at 'Frisco."

    "Why, it's Mr. Farnum," cried a fresh young voice from the circle.

    The rescued man turned. His eyes joined those of a slim golden girl and he was struck dumb.

    "You know this man, Miss Frome?" the captain asked. "I know him by sight." She stepped to the front. "There can't be any doubt about it. He's Mr. Farnum of Verden, the editor of the _World._"

    "You're quite sure?"

    "Quite sure, Captain Barclay. My cousin knows him, too."

    The captain turned to Mrs. Van Tyle. She nodded languidly.

    Barclay swung back to the mate of the _Nancy Hanks_ . "I know your kind, my man, and I can tell you that I think the penitentiary would be the proper place for you and your captain, with my compliments to him."

    "Better come and pay 'em yourself, sir," sneered the mate.

    "Get off my deck, you dirty crimp," roared the captain. "Slide now, or I'll have you thrown off."

    Mr. Jones made a hurried departure. Once in the boat, he shook his fist at Barclay and cursed him fluently.

    The captain turned away promptly. "Mr. Farwell, if you'll step this way the steward will outfit you with some clothes. If they don't fit they'll do better than those togs you're wearing."

    The English youth came forward with a suggestion. "Really, I think I can do better than that for Mr. Far——" He hesitated for the name.

    "Farnum," supplied the owner of it.

    "Ah! You're about my size, Mr. Farnum. If you don't mind, you know, you're quite welcome to anything I have."

    "Thank you very much."

    "Very well. Mr. Farwell——Farnum, I mean——shake hands with Lieutenant Beauchamp," and with the sense of duty done the worthy captain dismissed the new arrival from his mind.

    Jeff bowed to Miss Frome and followed his broad-shouldered guide to a cabin. He was conscious of an odd elation that had not entirely to do with a brave adventure happily ended. The impelling cause of it was rather the hope of a braver adventure happily begun.

    "By Jove, I envy you, Mr. Farnum. Didn't know people bucked into adventures like that these tame days. Think of actually being shanghaied. It's like a novel. My word, the ladies will make a lion of you!" The Englishman was dragging a steamer trunk from under his bed. It needed no second glance at his frank boyish face to divine him a friend worth having. Fresh-colored and blue-eyed, he looked very much the country gentleman Jeff had read about but never seen. It was perhaps by the gift of race that he carried himself with distinction, though the flat straight back and the good shoulders of the cricketer contributed somewhat, too. Jeff sized him up as a resolute, clean-cut fellow, happily endowed with many gifts of fortune to make him the likable chap he was.

    Beauchamp threw out some clothes from a steamer trunk and left the rescued man alone to dress. Ten minutes later he returned.

    "Expect you'd like an interview with the barber. I'll take you round. By the way, you'll let me be your banker till you reach Verden?"

    "Thank you. Since I must."

    From the barber shop the Englishman took him to the dining saloon. "Awfully sorry you can't sit at our table, Mr. Farnum. It's full up. You're to be at the purser's."

    Jeff let a smile escape into his eyes. "Suits me. I've been at the bos'n's for several weeks."

    "Beastly outrage. We'll want to hear all about it. Miss Frome's tremendously excited. Odd you and she hadn't met before. Didn't know Verden was such a big town."

    "I'm not a society man," explained Jeff. "And it happens I've been fighting her father politically for years. Miss Frome and Mrs. Van Tyle are about the last people I would be likely to meet."

    From his seat Jeff could see the cousins at the other end of the room. They were seated near the head of the captain's table, and that officer was paying particular attention to them, perhaps because the _Bellingham_ happened to be one of a line of boats owned by Joe Powers, perhaps because both of them were very attractive young women. They were types entirely outside Farnum's very limited experience. The indolence, the sheathed perfection, the soft sensuous allure of the young widow seemed to Jeff a product largely of her father's wealth. But the charm of her cousin, with its sweet and mocking smile, its note of youthful austerity, was born of the fine and gallant spirit in her. Beauchamp sat beside Miss Frome and the editor observed that they were having a delightful time. He wondered what they could be talking about. What did a man say to bring such a glow and sparkle of life into a girl's face? It came to him with a wistful regret for his stolen youth that never yet had he sat beside a young woman at dinner and entertained her in the gay adequate manner of Lieutenant Beauchamp. James could do it, had done it a hundred times. But he had been sold too long to an urgent world of battle ever to know such delights.

    After dinner Jeff lost no time in waiting upon Miss Frome to thank her for her assistance. It was already dark. When he found her it was not in one of the saloons, but on deck. She was leaning against the deck railing in animated talk with Beauchamp, the while Mrs. Van Tyle listened lazily from a deck chair.

    "I like the way that red head of his came bobbing through the water," Beauchamp was saying. "Looks to me as if he would take a lot of beating. He's no quitter. Since I haven't the pleasure of knowing Mr. Powers or Senator Frome, I think I'll back Farnum to win."

    "It's very plain you don't know Joe Powers. He always wins," contributed his daughter blandly.

    "But Mr. Farnum is a remarkable man just the same," Alice added. Then, with a little cry to cover her flushed embarrassment: "Here he is. We do hope you're a little deaf, Mr. Farnum. We've been talking about you."

    "You may say anything you like about me, Miss Frome, except that I'm not grateful for the lift aboard you gave me this afternoon," Jeff answered.

    He found himself presently giving the story of his adventure. He did not look at Alice, but he told the tale to her alone and was aware of the eagerness with which she listened.

    "But why should they want to kidnap you? I don't see any reason for it," Alice protested.

    A shadowy smile lay in the eyes of Mrs. Van Tyle. "Mr. Farnum is in politics, my dear." A fat pork packer from Chicago joined the group. "I've been thinking about the sharks, Mr. Farnum. You played in great luck to escape them."

    "Sharks!" Jeff heard the young woman beside him give a gasp. In the moonlight her face showed white.

    "These waters are fairly infested with them," the Chicagoan explained. "We saw two this morning in the harbor. It was when the stewards threw out the scraps. They turned over on their——"

    "Don't!" cried Alice Frome sharply.

    The petrified horror on the vivid mobile face remained long as a sweet memory to Jeff. It had been for him that she had known the swift heart clutch of terror.

    Farnum, pacing the deck as he munched at an apple, heard himself hailed from the bridge above. He looked up, to see Alice Frome, caught gloriously in the wind like a winged Victory. Her hair was parted in the middle with a touch of Greek simplicity and fell in wavy ripples over her temples beneath the jaunty cap. She put her arms on the railing and leaned forward, her chin tilted to an oddly taking boyish piquancy.

    "I say, give a fellow a bite."

    By no catalogue of summarized details could this young woman have laid claim to beauty, but in the flashing play of her expression, the exquisite golden coloring, one could not evade the charm of a certain warm witchery, of the passionate beat of innocent life. The wonder of her lay in the sparkle of her inner self. Every gleam of the deep true eyes, every impulsive motion of the slight supple body, expressed some phase of her infinite variety. Her flying moods swept her from demure to daring, from warm to cool. And for all her sweet derision her friends knew a heart full of pure, brave enthusiasms that would endure.

    "I don't believe in indiscriminate charity," Jeff explained, and he took another bite.

    "Have you no sympathy for the deserving poor?" she pleaded. "Besides, since you're a socialist, it isn't your apple any more than it is mine. Bring my half up to me, sir." "Your half is the half I've already eaten. And if you knew as much as you pretend to about socialism you'd know it isn't yours until you've earned it."

    Her eyes danced. He noticed that beneath each of them was a sprinkle of tiny powdered freckles. "But haven't I earned it? Didn't I blister my hands pulling you aboard?"

    He promptly shifted ground. "We're living under the capitalistic system. You earn it and I eat it," he argued. "The rest of this apple is my reward for having appropriated what didn't belong to me."

    "But that's not fair. It's no better than stealing."

    "Sh——h! It's high finance. Don't use that other word," he whispered. "And what's fair hasn't a thing to do with it. It's my apple because I've got it."

    "But——"

    He waved her protest aside blandly. "Now try to be content with the lot a wise Providence has awarded you. I eat the apple. You see me eat it.

    That's the usual division of profits. Don't be an agitator, or an anarchist."

    "Don't I get even the core?" she begged.

    "I'd like to give it to you, but it wouldn't be best. You see I don't want to make you discontented with your position in life." He flung what was left of the apple into the sea and came up the steps to join her.

    Laughter was in the eyes of both, but it died out of hers first.

    "Mr. Farnum, is it really as bad as that?" Before he could find an answer she spoke again. "I've wanted for a long time to talk with some one who didn't look at things as we do. I mean as my father does and my uncle does and most of my friends. Tell me what you think of it——you and your friends."

    "That's a large order, Miss Frome. I hardly know where to begin."

    "Wait! Here comes Lieutenant Beauchamp to take me away. I promised to play ring toss with him, but I don't want to go now." She led a swift retreat to a spot on the upper deck shielded from the wind and warmed by the two huge smokestacks. Dropping breathless into a chair, she invited him with a gesture to take another. Little imps of mischief flashed out at him from her eyes. In the adventure of the escape she had made him partner. A rush of warm blood danced through his veins.

    "Now, sir, we're safe. Begin the propaganda. Isn't that the word you use? Tell me all about everything. You're the first real live socialist I ever caught, and I mean to make the most of you."

    "But I'm unfortunately not exactly a socialist."

    "An anarchist will do just as well."

    "Nor an anarchist. Sorry."

    "Oh, well, you're something that's dreadful. You haven't the proper bump of respect for father and for Uncle Joe. Now why haven't you?"

    And before he knew it this young woman had drawn from him glimpses of what life meant to him. He talked to her of the pressure of the struggle for existence, of the poverty that lies like a blight over whole sections of cities, spreading disease and cruelty and disorder, crushing the souls of its victims, poisoning their hearts and bodies. He showed her a world at odds and ends, in which it was accepted as the natural thing that some should starve while others were waited upon by servants.

    He made her see how the tendency of environment is to reduce all things to a question of selfinterest, and how the great triumphant fact of life is that love and kindness persist. Her interest was insatiable. She poured questions upon him, made him tell her stories of the things he had seen in that strange underworld that was farther from her than Asia. So she learned of Oscar Marchant, coughing all day over the shoes he half-soled and going out at night to give his waning life to the service of those who needed him. He told her——without giving names——the story of Sam Miller and his wife, of shop girls forced by grinding poverty to that easier way which leads to death, of little children driven by want into factories which crushed the youth out of them.

    Her eyes with the star flash in them never left his face. She was absorbed, filled with a strange emotion that made her lashes moist. She saw not only the tragedy and waste of life, but a glorious glimpse of the way out. This man and his friends set the common good above their private gain. For them a new heart was being born into the world. They were no longer consumed with blind greed, with love of their petty selves. They were no longer full of cowardice and distrust and enmity. Life was a thing beautiful to them. It was flushed with the color of hope, of fine enthusiasms. They might suffer. They might be defeated. But nothing could extinguish the joy in their souls. They walked like gods, immortals, these brothers to the spent and the maimed. For they had found spiritual values in it that made any material profit of small importance. Alice got a vision of the great truth that is back of all true reforms, all improvement, all progress.

    "Love," she said almost in a whisper, "is forgetting self."

    Jeff lost his stride and pulled up. He thought he could not have heard aright. "I beg your pardon?"

    "Nothing. I was just thinking out loud. Go on please."

    But she had broken the thread of his talk. He attempted to take it up again, but he was still trying for a lead when Alice saw Mrs. Van Tyle and Beauchamp coming toward them.

    She rose. Her eyes were the brightest Jeff had ever seen. They were filled with an ardent tenderness. It was as if she were wrapped in a spiritual exaltation.

    "Thank you. Thank you. I can't tell you what you've done for me."

    She turned and walked quickly away. To be dragged back to the commonplace at once was more than she could bear. First she must get alone with herself, must take stock of this new emotion that ran like wine through her blood. A pulse throbbed in her throat, for she was in a passionate glow of altruism.

    "I'm glad of life——glad of it——glad of it!" she murmured through the veil she had lowered to screen her face from observation.

    It had come to her as a revelation straight from Heaven that there can be no salvation without service. And the motive back of service must be love. Love! That was what Jesus had come to teach the world, and all these years it had warped and mystified his message.

    She felt that life could never again be gray or colorless. For there was work waiting that she could do, service that she could give. And surely there could be no greater happiness than to find her work and do it gladly.

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