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THE VISION SPLENDID (8)

2006-08-28 22:51

    Is not this the trouble with our whole man-made world, that the game is played with loaded dice? Against the poor, the weak and the unfortunate have the cards been stacked. A tremendous percentage is in favor of the crook, the scoundrel, the smug robber of industry by whom the hands are dealt.

    Wealth, created by the many, is more and more flowing into the vaults of the few. Legislatures, Congress, the courts, all the machinery of government, answer to the crack of the whip wielded by Big Business. The creed of the allied plunderers is that he should take who has the power and he should keep who can.

    Until we mutiny against the timidity of our times Democracy and Prosperity will be dreams. The poor and the parasite we shall have always with us.

    In that new world which is to be MEN and not THINGS will be supreme, property a means and not an end. The heart of the world will be born anew under an economic reconstruction that will give freedom for individual development. For our social and industrial life will be founded not on a denial of God but on an affirmation of Brotherhood.——From the Note Book of a Dreamer.

    THE HERO MEETS AND ADMIRES A MONA LISA SMILE. HE IS TENDERED AN APOLOGY FOR A PAST DISCOURTESY

    Came James Farnum down Powers Avenue carrying with buoyant dignity the manner of greatness that sat so well on him. His smile was warm for a world that just now was treating him handsomely. There could be no doubt that for a first term he was making an extraordinary success of his work in the legislature. He had worked hard on committees and his speeches had made a tremendous hit. Jeff had played him up strong in the world too, so that he was becoming well known over the state. That he had risen to leadership of the progressives in the House during his first term showed his quality. His ambition vaulted. Now that his feet were on the first rungs of the ladder it would be his own fault if he did not reach the top.

    His progress down the busy street was in the nature of an ovation. Everywhere he met answering smiles that told of the people's pride in their young champion. Already James had discovered that Americans are eager for hero worship. He meant to be the hero of his state, the favorite son it would delight to honor. This was what he loved: the cheers for the victor, not the clash of the battle.

    "Good morning, Farnum. What are the prospects?" It was Clinton Rogers, of the big shipbuilding firm Harvey & Rogers, that stopped him now.

    "Still anybody's fight, Mr. Rogers." The young lawyer's voice fell a note to take on a frankly confidential tone, an accent of friendliness that missed the fatal buttonholing familiarity of the professional politician. "If we can hold our fellows together we'll win. But the Transcontinental is bidding high for votes——and there's always a quitter somewhere."

    "Does Frome stand any chance?"

    "It will be Hardy or Frome. The least break in our ranks will be the signal for a stampede to P. C. The Republicans will support him when they get the signal. It's all a question of our fellows standing pat."

    "From what I can learn it won't be your fault if Hardy isn't elected. I congratulate you on the best record ever made by a

    ember in his first term."

    "Oh, we all do our best," James answered lightly. "But I'm grateful for your good opinion. I hope I deserve it."

    James could afford to be modest about his achievements so long as Jeff was shouting his praises through the columns of the _World_ to a hundred thousand readers of that paper. What the shipbuilder had said pleased him mightily. For Clinton Rogers was one of the few substantial moneyed men of Verden who had joined the reform movement. Not a single member of the Verden Club, with the exception of Rogers, was lined up with those making the fight for direct legislation. Even those who had no financial interest in the Transcontinental or the public utility corporations supported that side from principle.

    James himself had thought a long time before casting in his lot with the insurgents led by his cousin. He had made tentative approaches both to Frome and to Edward B. Merrill. Both of these gentlemen had been friendly enough, but James had made up his mind they undervalued his worth. The way to convince them of this was to take the field against them.

    He smiled now as he swung along the avenue. Both Frome and Merrill ——yes, and Big Tim too, for that matter!——knew by this time whether they had made a mistake in sizing him up as a raw college boy with his eye teeth not cut.

    A passing electric containing two young women brought his gloved hand to his hat. The long slant eyes of the lady on the farther side swept him indolently. In answer to her murmured suggestion the girl who was driving brought the machine round in a half circle which ended at the edge of the curb in front of Farnum.

    The lawyer's hat came off again with easy grace. The slim young driver leaned back against the cushions and merely smiled a greeting, tacitly yielding command of the situation to her cousin, an opulent young widow adorned demurely with that artistic touch of mourning that suggests a grief not inconsolable.

    "Good morning, Miss Frome——Mrs. Van Tyle," James distributed impartially before turning to the latter lady. "Isn't this a day to be alive in? Who says it always rains in Verden?"

    "I do——or nearly always. At least it finds no difficulty in giving a good imitation," returned the young woman addressed.

    "A libel——I vow a libel," Farnum retorted gaily. "I was just going to hope you might be tempted to forget New York and Vienna and Paris to pay us a long visit. We're all hoping it. I'm merely the spokesman." He waved a hand to indicate the busy street black with humanity.

    A hint of pleasant adventure quickened the eyes of the young widow who surveyed lazily his wellgroomed good looks. She judged him a twentieth century American emerging from straightened circumstances and eager to trample even the memory of it under foot. "Did the Chamber of Commerce appoint you a committee to hope that I would impose on my relatives longer? Or was it resoluted at a mass meeting?" she asked with her Mona Lisa smile.

    He laughed. "Well, no! I'm a self-appointed committee voicing a personal desire that has universal application. But if it would have more weight with you I'll have the Chamber take it up and get myself an accredited representative."

    "So kind of you. But do you think the committee could do itself justice on the street curb?"

    She had among other sensuous charms a voice attuned to convey slightest shades of meaning. James caught her half-shuttered smoldering glance and divined her a woman subtle and complex, capable of playing the world-old game of the sexes with unusual dexterity. The hint of challenging mystery in the tawny depths of the mocking eyes fired his imagination. She was to him a new find in women, one altogether different from those he had known. He had a curiosity to meet at close range this cosmopolitan heiress of such cultivation as Joe Powers' millions could purchase.

    What Verden said of her he knew: that she was too free, too scornful, too independent of conventions. All the tabby cats whispered it to each other with lifted eyebrows that suggested volumes, the while they courted her eager and unashamed. But he had a feeling that perhaps Verden was not competent to judge. The standards of this town and of New York were probably vastly different. James welcomed the chance to enlarge his social experience. Promptly he accepted the lead offered.

    "I'm sure it can't. To present the evidence cogently will take at least two hours. May I make the argument this evening, if it please the court, during a call?"

    "But I understood you were too busy saving the state——from my father and my uncle by the way——to have time for a mere woman," she parried.

    The good humor of her irony flattered him because it implied that she offered him a chance to cultivate her——he was not at all sure how much or how little that might mean——regardless of his political affiliations. Not many women were logical enough to accept so impersonally his opposition to the candidacy of an uncle and the plans of a father. "I AM busy," he admitted, "but I need a few hours' relaxation. It will help me to work more effectively to-morrow——against your father and your uncle," he came back with a smile that included them both.

    Alice Frome took up the challenge gaily. "We're going to beat you. Father will be elected."

    "Then I'll be the first to congratulate him," he promised. Turning to Mrs. Van Tyle, "Shall we say this evening?" he added.

    "You're not afraid to venture yourself into the hands of the enemy," drawled that young woman, her indolent eyes daring him.

    Again he studiously included them both in his answer. "I'm afraid all right, but I'm not going to let you know it. Did I hear you set a time?"

    "If you are really willing to take the risk we shall be glad to see you this afternoon."

    James observed that Alice Frome did not second her cousin's invitation. He temporized.

    "Oh, this afternoon! I have an engagement, but I am tempted to forget it in remembering a subsequent one."

    His smiling gaze passed to Alice and gave her another chance. Still she did not speak.

    "The way to treat a temptation is to yield to it," the older cousin sparkled.

    "In order to be done with it, I suppose. Very well. I yield to mine. This afternoon I will have the pleasure of calling at The Brakes."

    Alice nodded a curt good-bye, but her cousin offered him a beautifully gloved hand to shake. A delightful tingle of triumph warmed him. The daughter of Big Joe Powers, the grim gray pirate who worked the levers of the great Transcontinental Railroad system, had taken pains to be nice to him. The only fly in the ointment of his self-satisfaction had been Alice Frome's reticence.

    Why had she not shown any desire to have him call? He could guess at one reason. The campaign for the legislature and the subsequent battle for the senatorship had been bitter. Charges of corruption had been flung broadcast. A dozen detectives had been hired to get evidence on one side or the other. If he were seen going to The Brakes just now fifty rumors might be flying inside of the hour.

    His guess was a good one. Alice drove the car forward several blocks without speaking, Valencia Van Tyle watching with good- humored contempt the little frown that rested on her cousin's candid face.

    "I perceive that my uncompromising cousin is moved to protest," she suggested placidly.

    "You ought not to have asked him, Val. It isn't fair to him or to father," answered Alice promptly. "People will talk. They will say father is trying to influence him unfairly. I wish you hadn't asked him till this fight is over."

    "My dear Nora, does it matter in the least what people say?" yawned Valencia behind her hand.

    "Not to you because you consider yourself above criticism. But it matters to me that two honest men should be brought into unjust obloquy without cause."

    "My dear Hothead, they are big enough to look out for themselves."

    "Nobody is big enough to kill slander."

    "Nonsense, child. You make a mountain out of a mole hill. People WILL gossip. It really isn't of the least importance what they gabble about."

    "Especially when you want to amuse yourself by making a fool of Mr. Farnum," retorted the downright Alice with a touch of asperity.

    Valencia already half regretted having asked him. The chances were that he would prove a bore. But she did not choose to say so. "If I'm treading on your preserves, dear," she ventured sweetly.

    "That's ridiculous," flushed Alice. "I only suggested that you wait till after the election before chaining him to your chariot wheels."

    "You're certainly an _enfant terrible_, my dear," murmured the widow, with the little rippling laugh of cynicism her cousin found so annoying. "But that young man does need a lesson. He's eaten up with conceit of himself. Somebody ought to take him in hand."

    "So you're going to sacrifice yourself to duty," scoffed Alice as she brought the electric to a stop under the porte-cochere of the Frome residence.

    Mrs. Van Tyle folded her hands demurely. "It's sweet of you to see it that way, Alice."

    James turned in at the Century Building. In the elevator he met his cousin. Both of them were bound for the office of the candidate being supported by the progressives for the Senate.

    "Anything new?" Jeff asked.

    "A rumor that Killen has fallen by the wayside. Big Tim was with him for an hour last night at the Pacific."

    "I've not been sure of Killen for quite a while. He's a weak sister."

    "He'd better not go wrong if he expects to keep on living in this state," James imparted, a hard light in his eyes.

    At the third floor they left the elevator and turned to the right under an arch bearing the sign Hardy, Elliott & Carson. Without knocking they passed into Hardy's private office.

    Of the three men they found there it was plain that one was being pushed doggedly to bay. He was small and insignificant, with weak blinking eyes. Standing with his back to the wall, he moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.

    "Who says it?" he whined shrilly. "Who says I sold out?"

    An apoplectic, bull-necked ruffian stood directly in front of him and sawed the air violently with a fat forefinger.

    "I ain't sayin' it, Killen——I'm askin' if you have. What I say is that you'd better make your will before you vote for Frome. Make 'em pay fat, for by thunder! you'll be political junk, Mr. Sam Killen."

    Killen, sweating agony, turned appealingly to Jeff. "I haven't said I was going to vote for Frome. Mr. Rawson's got no right to bulldoze me and I'm not going to stand it."

    "The hell you ain't," roared Rawson, shaking his fist at the unhappy legislator. "I guess you'll stand the gaff till you explain."

    "Just a moment, Bob," interrupted Jeff. "Let's get at the facts. Don't convict the prisoner till the evidence is in." Rawson hobbled his wrath for the moment. "That's all right, Jeff. You ask Hardy. I'm giving you straight goods."

    The keen-eyed, smooth-shaven man in a gray business suit who had been listening silently to the gathering storm contributed information briefly and impartially.

    "Mr. Killen spent an hour last night with Big Tim at the Pacific Hotel."

    "Sneaked in by the side entrance and took the elevator to the seventh floor. The deal was arranged in Room ," added Rawson.

    "You spied on me," burst from Killen's lips.

    "Sure thing. And we caught you with the goods," sneered the red-faced politician.

    "I'll not stand it. I'll not support a man that won't trust me."

    "You won't, eh?" Rawson was across the floor in two jumps, worrying his victim as a terrier does a rat. "Forget it. You were elected to support R.

    K. Hardy, sewed up with a pledge tight and fast. We're not in the primer class, Killen. Don't get a notion you're going to do as you damn please. You'll——vote——for——R.——K.—— Hardy. Get that?" "I refuse to be moved by threats, and I decline to discuss the matter further," retorted Killen with a pitiable attempt at dignity.

    Rawson laughed with insulting menace. "That's a good one. I've sold out, but it's none of your business what I got. That what you mean?"

    "You surely must recognize our right to an explanation, Killen," Jeff said gently.

    "No, sir, I don't," flushed the little man with sullen bravado. "I ain't got a thing against you, but Rawson goes too far."

    "I think he does," Jeff agreed. "Killen is all right. Gentlemen, suppose you let him and me talk it over alone. We can reach an agreement that is satisfactory."

    Hardy's face cleared. This was not the first waverer Jeff had brought back into line, not the first by several. There was something compelling in his friendly smile and affectionate manner.

    "I'm sure Mr. Killen intends only what is right. I'm content to leave the matter entirely with you and him," Hardy said. Jeff turned to Rawson. "And you, old warhorse?" "Have it your own way, but don't forget there's a nigger in the woodpile."

    Jeff and Killen walked to the office of the latter, which was on the next floor of the Century Building, the legislator stiffening his will to resist the assaults he felt would be made upon it. But as soon as the door was shut Jeff surprised him by laying a hand on his shoulder.

    "Tell me all about it, Sam."

    Killen gasped. He got an impossible vision of young Farnum as his brother in trouble. "About what? I didn't say——"

    "I've known for a week something was wrong. I couldn't very well ask you, but since I've blundered in you'd better let me help you if I can."

    Killen was touched. His lip trembled. "It don't do any good to talk about things. I guess a fellow has to carry his own griefs. Nobody else is hunting for a chance to invest in them."

    "What's a friend for?" Jeff wanted to know gently.

    The little man gulped. "I guess I've got no friends. Anyhow they don't count when a fellow's in hard luck. It's every man for himself."

    The younger man's smile was warm as summer sunshine. "Wrong guess, Sam. We're in this little old world to help each other when we can."

    The wretched man drew the back of a trembling hand across his moist eyes. He inhaled a long sobbing breath and broke into apology for his weakness. "Haven't slept for a week except from trional. The back of my head pricks day and night. Can't think of anything but my troubles."

    "Unload them on me," Jeff said lightly.

    "It's that mortgage on my mill," Killen blurted out. "It falls due this month and I can't meet it. Things haven't been going well with me."

    "Can't you get it renewed?"

    "Through a dummy Big Tim has bought it up. He won't renew, unless -" Killen broke off, to continue in a moment: "And that ain't all. My little girl needs an operation awful badly. The doctor says she had ought to go to Chicago. I just can't raise the price."

    "How much is the mortgage?"

    "Three thousand," replied the man; and he added with a gust of weak despair, "My God, man! That mill's all I've got to keep bread in the mouths of my motherless children."

    "I reckon Big Tim has offered to cancel the mortgage notes and give you about a thousand to go on," Jeff suggested casually.

    Killen nodded. "It would put me on my feet again and give the kiddie her chance." The answer had slipped out naturally, but now the fear chilled him that he had been lured into making a confession. "I didn't say I was going to take it," he added hastily.

    "You're quite safe with me, Killen," Jeff told him. He was wondering whether he could not get Captain Chunn to take over the mortgage.

    "I'm not so much struck on Hardy myself," grumbled the legislator. "He's a rich man, just as Frome is. Six of one and half a dozen of the other, looks like to me."

    "No, Killen. Frome represents the Transcontinental and the utility corporations. Hardy stands for the people. And you're pledged to support Hardy. You mustn't forget that."

    "I ain't likely to forget that mortgage either," Killen came back drearily.

    "I think I can arrange about having the mortgage renewed. Will that do?"

    "Yes. We're going to have a good year in the lumber business. Probably in twelve months I could clear it off."

    "Good! And about the little girl——she'll have her chance. I promise you that."

    The mill man wrung his hand, tears in his eyes. "You're a white man, Jeff, and a dashed good friend. I tell you I'd hate like poison to go back on Hardy. A fellow can't afford to do a thing like that. But what else could I do? A fellow's got to stand by the children he brings into the world, ain't he?"

    Farnum evaded with a smile this discussion of moral issues. "Well, you can stand by them and us, too, if I can fix up this mortgage proposition for you."

    "When will you let me know?" asked Killen anxiously.

    "Will to-morrow morning do? In James' office, say."

    "I'll have to know before noon," Killen reminded him, flushing with embarrassment.

    "If I can arrange to get the money——and I think I can——I'll let you know at eleven. Don't worry, Sam. It will be all right."

    The legislator shook hands again. "I ain't going to forget what you're doing for me. No, sir!"

    Jeff laughed his thanks easily. "That's all right. I reckon you would have done as much for me. Sam Killen isn't the man to throw his friends down."

    "That's right," returned the other with a sudden valiant infusion of courage. "I stand pat. I'm not going to lie down before the Transcontinental. Not on your life, I ain't."

    They were walking toward the outer door as Killen's speech overflowed. "The Transcontinental doesn't own this state yet. No, sir! Nor Frome and Merrill either. We'll show 'em——"

    The valor of the big voice collapsed like a rent balloon. For the office door had opened to let in Big Tim O'Brien. His shrewd eyes passed with whimsical disgust over Killen and rested on Farnum.

    The situation made for amusement, since Jeff knew that Big Tim had heard over the transom enough to show that Killen's vote had been recaptured for Hardy.

    "You've stumbled on a red hot Hardy ratification meeting. Did you come to get into the bandwagon while there is time, Tim?" Jeff asked with twinkling eyes.

    "No sinking ship for mine. I guess I wouldn't ratify yet a while if I were youse, Farnum."

    He stood aside to let the editor of the _World_ pass. Jeff laughed. "Go to it, Tim."

    "I haven't got anything to say to you, Mr. O'Brien," the mill man announced with heightened color.

    "Maybe I've got something to say to youse, Mr. Killen."

    Jeff passed out smiling. "Well, I'll not interrupt you. See you tomorrow, Sam."

    Big Tim sat down heavily in a chair and pulled from his vest pocket a fat black cigar. "Smoke, Killen?"

    "No, thanks." The legislator spoke with stiff dignity.

    Big Tim looked at the other man and his paunch shook with the merriment that appeared to convulse him.

    "What's the matter?" snapped the mill man.

    "I'm laughin' at the things I see, Killen. Man, but you're an easy marrk."

    "How?"

    "Can't you see they're stringin' youse for a sucker?"

    "No, I can't see it. I've made up my mind. I'm going to stand by Hardy."

    "Fine! Now I'll tell youse one thing. We're goin' to elect Frome tomorrow." O'Brien rose as one who has no time for unprofitable talk. "Your friends have sold youse out. I'm going to call on one of thim right now."

    "I don't believe it."

    "Of course you don't." Tim's projecting balcony shook with the humor of it. "But you'll be convinced when they take your mill from youse, me boy. It's a frame-up——and you're the goat."

    With which shot he took his departure, too shrewd to attempt any argument. He had left behind him a doubt. That was all he could do just now.

    Before Tim was out of the building Killen was gumshoeing after him. He meant to find out whether O'Brien had been lying when he said he was going to call on one of his friends. Fifty yards behind him Killen followed, along Powers Avenue, down Pacific Street, to the Equitable Building. From the pilot of one of the elevators he learned that the big boss had got off at the seventh floor and gone straight into James Farnum's office.

    His mind was instantly alive with suspicions tumbling over each other in chaotic incoherency. There was a deal of some kind on foot. Jeff's cousin was in it. Then Jeff must be playing him for a sucker. His teeth set with a snap.

    Meanwhile Big Tim was having a heart to heart talk with James K. Farnum.

    The young lawyer had risen in surprise at the entrance of O'Brien. The big fellow, laughing easily, had helped himself to a chair.

    "Make yourself at home, Tim," he said jauntily.

    "Anything I can do for you, Mr. O'Brien?" James asked with stiff dignity.

    "Sure. Or I wouldn't be here. Sit down. I'll not bite ye."

    The lawyer continued to stand.

    "I've come to tell you that I'm a dammed fool, Mr. Farnum," the boss grinned.

    James bowed slightly. He did not know what was coming, but he had no intention of committing himself to anything as yet.

    "In ever lettin' youse get away from me. I mistook yez for a kid glove."

    Big Tim gazed with palpable admiration at the cleancut figure, at the square cleft chin in the strong handsome face. It was his opinion this young man would go far, and that every step of the way would be in the interests of James K. Farnum. Shrewdly he guessed that the way to pierce that impassive front was through an appeal to vanity and to selfinterest.

    James waited, alert and expressionless, but O'Brien, having made his apology, puffed in silence.

    "I think you suggested some business that brought you," James reminded him.

    "You've got in you the makings of a big man. Nothing on the coast to touch youse, Mr. Farnum. And I didn't see it. I was sore on your name. That was what was bitin' me. It's sure on Big Tim this time."

    None of the triumph that flooded Farnum reached the surface.

    "I think I don't quite understand," he said quietly.

    "I'm eatin' humble pie because youse slipped wan over on me. You're the best campaign speaker in the state, bar none, boy as you are."

    James could not keep his gratified smile down. "This heart-felt testimonial comes free, I take it," he pretended to mock.

    "Come off with youse," O'Brien flung back good humoredly. "I'm not here to hand you booquets, but to talk business. Here's the nub of it, me boy. You need me, and I need you."

    "I don't quite see how I need you, Mr. O'Brien." "That's because you're young yet and don't know the game. Let me tell you this." The boss leaned forward, his hard eyes focused on Farnum. "You'll never get anywhere so long as youse trail with that reform bunch. It's all hot air and tomfool theory. Populism and socialism! Take my worrd for it, there's nothin' to 'em."

    "I'm neither a populist nor a socialist, Mr. O'Brien."

    "Coorse you're not. I can see that with wan eye shut. That's why I hate to see youse ruin yourself with them that are. I've no need to tell you that this country's run by business men and not cranks. Me, I'm a business man, and I run the city. P. C. Frome's a business man; so's Merrill. That's why they're on top. Old Joe Powers is a business man from first to last. You'll never get anywhere, me boy, until youse look at things from a business point of view."

    If James was impressed he gave no sign of it. "Which means you want me to support P. C. for the Senate. Is that it?"

    "I don't care whether you do or don't. We've got this fight won. But this is only the beginning. I can see that. Agitators and trouble breeders are busy iverywhere. Line up right and you've got a big future before you. Joe Powers himself has noticed your speeches. P. C. told me that last night."

    For a moment the lawyer felt an exultant paeon of victory beat in his blood. His imagination saw the primrose path of the future stretch before him in a golden glow. The surge of triumph passed and he was himself again, cool and wary. His eyes met Big Tim's full and straight. "I was elected to support Hardy. I expect to stay with him."

    The political boss waved aside this declaration. "Sure. Of course you've got to VOTE for him. I've got too much horse sense to try to buy YOU. But after this election? Your whole future's not tied up with fool reformers, is it? Say, what's the matter with you havin' a talk with P. C.?"

    "Oh, I'll talk with him. P. C. and I are good friends."

    "When can you see him? Why not to-night?"

    "No hurry, is there?" James paused an instant before he added: "I'm going to The Brakes this afternoon on a social call. If Frome happens to be at home we might talk then. So far as making a direct appointment with him, I wouldn't care to do that until the senatorial election is decided. You understand that I pledge myself to nothing."

    "That's right," agreed Big Tim. "It don't do any harm to hear both sides of a proposition. I guess that cousin o' yours kind of hypnotized you. He's got more fool schemes for redeemin' this state. Far as I can see it don't need any redeemin'. It's loaded to the rails with prosperity and clippin' off its sixty miles an hour. I say, let well enough alone. Where youse keep your matches, Mr. Farnum? Thanks! Well, talk it over with P. C. I reckon you can get together. So long, me boy."

    Not until he was safe in the street did the big boss of Verden allow his satisfaction expression.

    "We've got him! We've got the boob hooked!" he told himself exultantly.

    A little man standing behind a showcase was watching him tensely.

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