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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter6,part1)

2006-08-28 23:26

    CHAPTER 6

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

    PART 1

    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.

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