This etext was prepared by Mary Starr.
THE VISION SPLENDID
by William MacLeod Raine
Of all the remote streams of influence that pour both before and after birth into the channel of our being, what an insignificant few–and these only the more obvious–are traceable at all. We swim in a sea of environment and heredity, are tossed hither and thither by we know not what cross currents of Fate, are tugged at by a thousand eddies of which we never dream. The sum of it all makes Life, of which we know so little and guess so much, into which we dive so surely in those buoyant days before time and tide have shaken confidence in our power to snatch success and happiness from its mysterious depths.
–From the Note Book of a Dreamer.
A REBEL IN THE MAKING
The air was mellow with the warmth of the young spring sun. Locusts whirred in rhapsody. Bluebirds throbbed their love songs joyously. The drone of insects, the shimmer of hear, were in the atmosphere. One could almost see green things grow. To confine youth within four walls on such a day was an outrage against human nature.
A lean, wiry boy, hatchet-faced, stared with dreamy eyes out of the window of his prison. By raising himself in his seat while the teacher was not looking he could catch a silvery gleam of the river through the great firs. His thoughts were far afield. They were not concerned with the capitals of the States he was supposed to be learning, but had fared forth to the reborn earth, to the stir and movement of creeping things. The call of nature awakening from its long winter sleep drummed in his heart. He could sympathize with the bluebottle buzzing against the sunny windowpane in its efforts to reach the free world outside.
Recess! With the sound of the gong his heart leaped, but he kept his place in the line with perfect decorum. It would never do to be called back now for a momentary indiscretion. From the school yard he slipped the back way and dived into a bank of great ferns. In the heart of this he lay until the bell had called his classmates back to work. Cautiously he crept from his hiding place and ran down to the river.
Flinging himself on Big Rock, with his chin over the edge, he looked into the deep holes under the bank where the trout lay close to the strings of shiny moss, their noses to the current, motionless save for the fanning tails.
Idly he enjoyed himself for a happy hour, letting thoughts happen as they would. Not till the school bell rang for dismissal did he drag himself back with a sigh to the workaday world that called. He had a lawn to mow and a back yard to clean up for Mr. Rawson.
With his cap stuck on the back of his head and his hands in the pockets of his patched trousers, the boy went whistling townward on his barefoot way. At Adams Street he met the schoolchildren bound for home. A dozen boys from his own room closed in on him with shouts of joyous malice.
“Played hookey! Played hookey! Jeff Farnum played hookey!” they shrilled at him.
Ned Merrill assumed leadership of the young Apaches. “You’re goin’ to catch it. Old Webber was down askin’ for you. Wasn’t he, Tom? Wasn’t he, Dick?”
Tom and Dick lied cheerfully to increase Jeff’s dread. They added graphic details to help the story.
The victim looked around with stoicism. He remembered the philosophy of the optimist that a licking does not last long.
“Don’t care if he was down,” the boy bluffed.
“Huh! Mr. Don’t Care! Mr. Don’t Care!” shrieked Merrill gleefully.
They made a circle around Jeff and mocked him. Once or twice a bolder tormentor snatched at his cap or pushed a neighbor against him. Then, with the inconstancy of youth, they suddenly deserted him for more diverting game.
A forlorn little Italian girl was trying to slip past on the other side of the street. Someone caught sight of her and with a whoop the Apaches were upon her pell-mell. She began to run, but they hemmed her in. One tugged at her braided hair. Another flipped mud at her dress from the end of a stick. Merrill snatched her slate and made off with it.
Jeff cut swiftly across the street. Merrill was coming directly toward him, his head turned to the girl. Triumphant whoops broke from his throat. He bumped into Jeff, stumbled, and went down in the mud.
Young Merrill was up in an instant, clamorous for battle. His hands and clothes were plastered with filth.
“I’m goin’ to lick the stuffin’ out of you,” he bellowed.
Jeff said nothing. He was very white. His fingers worked nervously.
“Yah! Yah! He’s scared,” the mob jeered.
Jeff was. In that circle of hostile faces he found no sympathy. He had to stand up to the bully of the class, a boy who could have given him fifteen pounds. Looking around for help, he saw that none was at hand. The thin legs of the rescued Italian girl were flashing down the street. On the steps of the big house of P. C. Frome a six-year-old little one was standing with her nurse. Nobody else was in sight except his cousin, James, and the Apaches.
“You’re goin’ to get the maulin’ of your life,” Ned Merrill promised as he slipped out of his coat. “Webber’ll lick you if he finds out you been fightin’,” James Farnum prophesied cheerfully to his cousin. He intended to do his duty in the way of protest and then watch the fight.
Ned worked his wiry little foe to the fence and pummeled him. Jeff ducked and backed out of danger. Keeping to the defensive, he was being badly punished. Once he slipped in the mud and went down, but he was up again before his slower antagonist could close with him. Blood streamed from his nose. His lip was gashed. Under the buffeting he was getting his head began to sing.
“Punch him good, Ned,” one of the champion’s friends advised.
“You bet he is,” another chortled.
Their jeers had an unexpected effect. Jeff’s fears were blotted out by his desperate need. Some spark of the fighting edge, inherited from his father, was fanned to a flame in the heart of the bruised little warrior. Like a tiger cat he leaped for Ned’s throat, twisted his slim legs round the sturdy ones of his enemy, and went down with him in a heap.
Jeff landed on the bottom, but like an eel he squirmed to the top before the other had time to get set. The champion’s patrician head was thumped down into the mud and a knobby little fist played a painful tattoo on his mouth and cheek.
“Take him off! Take him off!” Merrill shrieked after he had tried in vain to roll away the incubus clamped like a vise to his body.
His henchmen ran forward to obey. An unexpected intervention stopped them. A one-armed little man who had drifted down the street in time to see part of the fracas pushed forward.
“I reckon not just yet. Goliath’s had a turn. Now David gets his.”
“Lemme up,” sobbed Goliath furiously.
“Say you’re whopped.” Jeff’s fist emphasized the suggestion.
This kind of one-sided warfare did not suit Jeff. He made as if to get up, but his backer stopped him.
“Hold on, son. You’re not through yet. When you do a job do it thorough.” To the former champion he spoke. “Had plenty yet?”
“I–I’ll have him skinned,” came from the tearful champion with a burst of profanity.
“That ain’t the point. Have you had enough so you’ll be good? Or do you need some more?”
“I’m goin’ to tell Webber.”
“Needs just a leetle more, son,” the one-armed man told Jeff, dragging at his goatee.
But young Farnum had made up his mind. With a little twist of his body he got to his feet.
Merrill rose, tearful and sullen. “I–I’ll fix you for this,” he gulped, and went sobbing toward the schoolhouse.
“Better duck,” James whispered to his cousin.
Jeff shook his head.
The little man looked at the boy sharply. The eyes under his shaggy brows were like gimlets.
“Come up to the school with me. I’ll see your teacher, son.”
Jeff walked beside him. He knew by the sound of the voice that his rescuer was a Southerner and his heart warmed to him. He wanted greatly to ask a question. Presently it plumped out.
“Was it in the war, sir?”
“I reckon I don’t catch your meaning.”
“That you lost your arm?” The boy added quickly, “My father was a soldier under General Early.”
The steel-gray eyes shot at him again. “I was under Early myself.”
“My father was a captain–Captain Farnum,” the young warrior announced proudly.
“Not Phil Farnum!”
“Yes, sir. Did you know him?” Jeff trembled with eagerness. His dead soldier-father was the idol of his heart.
“Did I?” He swung Jeff round and looked at him. “You’re like him, in a way, and, by Gad! you fight like him. What’s your name?”
“Jefferson Davis Farnum.”
“Shake hands, Jefferson Davis Farnum, you dashed little rebel. My name is Lucius Chunn. I was a lieutenant in your father’s company before I was promoted to one of my own.”
Jeff forgot his troubles instantly. “I wish I’d been alive to go with father to the war,” he cried.
Captain Chunn was delighted. “You doggoned little rebel!”
“I didn’t know we used that word in the South’ sir.”
Chunn tugged at his goatee and laughed. “We’re not in the South, David.”
The former Confederate asked questions to piece out his patchwork information. He knew that Philip Farnum had come out of the war with a constitution weakened by the hardships of the service. Rumors had drifted to him that the taste for liquor acquired in camp as an antidote for sickness had grown upon his comrade and finally overcome him. From Jeff he learned that after his father’s death the widow had sold her mortgaged place and moved to the Pacific Coast. She had invested the few hundreds left her in some river-bottom lots at Verden and had later discovered that an unscrupulous real estate dealer had unloaded upon her worthless property. The patched and threadbare clothes of the boy told him that from a worldly point of view the affairs of the Farnums were at ebb tide.
“Did . . . did you know father very well?” Jeff asked tremulously.
Chunn looked down at the thin dark face of the boy walking beside him and was moved to lay a hand on his shoulder. He understood the ache in that little heart to hear about the father who was a hero to him. Jeff was of no importance in the alien world about him. The Captain guessed from the little scene he had witnessed that the lad trod a friendless, stormy path. He divined, too, that the hungry soul was fed from within by dreams and memories.
So Lucius Chunn talked. He told about the slender, soldierly officer in gray who had given himself so freely to serve his men, of the time he had caught pneumonia by lending his blanket to a sick boy, of the day he had led the charge at Battle Creek and received the wound which pained him so greatly to the hour of his death. And Jeff drank his words in like a charmed thing. He visualized it all, the bitter nights in camp, the long wet marches, the trumpet call to battle. It was this last that his imagination seized upon most eagerly. He saw the silent massing of troops, the stealthy advance through the woods; and he heard the blood-curdling rebel yell as the line swept forward from cover like a tidal wave, with his father at its head.
Captain Chunn was puzzled at the coldness with which Mr. Webber listened to his explanation of what had taken place. The school principal fell back doggedly upon one fact. It would not have happened if Jeff had not been playing truant. Therefore he was to blame for what had occurred.
Nothing would be done, of course, without a thorough investigation.
The Captain was not satisfied, but he did not quite see what more he could do.
“The boy is a son of an old comrade of mine. We were in the war together. So of course I have to stand by Jeff,” he pleaded with a smile.
“You were in the rebel army?” The words slipped out before the schoolmaster could stop them.
“In the Confederate army,” Chunn corrected quietly.
Webber flushed at the rebuke. “That is what I meant to say.”
“I leave to-morrow for Alaska. It would be pleasant to know before I go that Jeff is out of his trouble.”
“I’m afraid Jeff always will be in trouble. He is a most insubordinate boy,” the principal answered coldly.
“Are you sure you quite understand him?”
“He is not difficult to understand.” Webber, resenting the interference of the Southerner as an intrusion, disposed of the matter in a sentence. “I’ll look into this matter carefully, Mr. Chunn.”
Webber called immediately at the office of Edward B. Merrill, president of the tramway company and of the First National Bank. It happened that the vice-president of the bank was a school director; also that the funds of the district were kept in the First National. The schoolteacher did not admit that he had come to ingratiate himself with the powers that ruled his future, but he was naturally pleased to come in direct touch with such a man as Merrill.
The financier was urbane and spent nearly half an hour of his valuable time with the principal. When the latter rose to go they shook hands. The two understood each other thoroughly.
“You may depend upon me to do my duty, Mr. Merrill, painful though such a course may be to me.”
“I am very glad to have met you, Mr. Webber. It is a source of satisfaction to me that our educational system is in the care of men of your stamp. I leave this matter with confidence entirely in your hands. Do what you think best.”
His confidence was justified. After school opened next morning Jeff was called up and publicly thrashed for playing truant. As a prelude to the corporal punishment the principal delivered a lecture. He alluded to the details of the fight gravely, with selective discrimination, giving young Farnum to understand that he had reached the end of his rope. If any more such brutal affairs were reported to him he would be punished severely.
The boy took the flogging in silence. He had learned to set his teeth and take punishment without whimpering. From the hardest whipping Webber had ever given he went to his seat with a white, set face that stared straight in front of him. Young as he was, he knew it had not been fair and his outraged soul cried out at the injustice of it. The principal had seized upon the truancy as an excuse to let him escape from an investigation of the cause of the fight. Ned Merrill got off because his father was a rich man and powerful in the city. He, Jeff, was whipped because he was an outcast and had dared lift his hand against one of his betters.
And there was no redress. It was simply the way of the world.
Jeff and his mother were down that afternoon to see their new friend off in the _City of Skook._ Captain Chunn found a chance to draw the boy aside for a question.
“Is it all right with Mr. Webber? What did he do?”
“Oh, he gave me a jawing,” the boy answered.
The little man nodded. “I reckoned that was what he would do. Be a good boy, Jeff. I never knew a man more honorable than your father. Run straight, son.”
“Yes, sir,” the lad promised, a lump in his throat.
It was more than ten years before he saw Captain Chunn again.
As an urchin Jeff had taken things as they came without understanding causes. Thoughts had come to him in flashes, without any orderly sequence, often illogically. As a gangling boy he still took for granted the hard knocks of a world he did not attempt to synthesize.
Even his mother looked upon him as “queer.” She worried plaintively because he was so careless about his clothes and because his fondness for the outdoors sometimes led him to play truant. Constantly she set before him as a model his cousin, James, who was a good-looking boy, polite, always well dressed, with a shrewd idea of how to get along easily.
“Why can’t you be like Cousin James? He isn’t always in trouble,” she would urge in her tired way.
It was quite true that the younger cousin was more of a general favorite than harum-scarum Jeff, but the mother might as well have asked her boy to be like Socrates. It was not that he could not learn or that he did not want to study. He simply did not fit into the school groove. Its routine of work and discipline, its tendency to stifle individuality, to run all children through the same hopper like grist through a mill, put a clamp upon his spirits and his imagination. Even thus early he was a rebel.
Jeff scrambled up through the grades in haphazard fashion until he reached the seventh. Here his teacher made a discovery. She was a faded little woman of fifty, but she had that loving insight to which all children respond. Under her guidance for one year the boy blossomed. His odd literary fancy for Don Quixote, for Scott’s poems and romances she encouraged, quietly eliminating the dime novels he had read indiscriminately with these. She broke through the shell of his shyness to find out that his diffidence was not sulkiness nor his independence impudence.
The boy was a dreamer. He lived largely in a world of his own, where Quentin Durward and Philip Farnum and Robert E. Lee were enshrined as heroes. From it he would emerge all hot for action, for adventure. Into his games then he would throw a poetic imagination that transfigured them. Outwardly he lived merely in that boys’ world made to his hand. He adopted its shibboleths, fought when he must, went through the annual routine of marbles, tops, kites, hop scotch, and baseball. From his fellows he guarded jealously the knowledge of even the existence of his secret world of fancy.
His progress through the grades and the high school was intermittent. Often he had to stop for months at a time to earn money for their living. In turn he was newsboy, bootblack, and messenger boy. He drove a delivery wagon for a grocer, ushered at a theater, was even a copyholder in the proofroom of a newspaper. Hard work kept him thin, but he was like a lath for toughness.
Seven weeks after he was graduated from the high school his mother died. The day of the funeral a real estate dealer called to offer three, hundred dollars for the lots in the river bottom bought some years earlier by Mrs. Farnum.
Jeff put the man off. It was too late now to do his mother any good. She had had to struggle to the last for the bread she ate. He wondered why the good things in life were so unevenly distributed.
Twice during the next week Jeff was approached with offers for his lots. The boy was no fool.
He found out that the land was wanted by a new railroad pushing into Verden. Within three days he had sold direct to the agent of the company for nine hundred dollars. With what he could earn on the side and in his summers he thought that sum would take him through college.
I wonder if Morgan, the Pirate,
When plunder had glutted his heart, Gave part of the junk from the ships he had sunk To help some Museum of Art;
If he gave up the role of “collector of toll” And became a Collector of Art?
I wonder if Genghis, the Butcher,
When he’d trampled down nations like grass, Retired with his share when he’d lost all his hair And started a Sunday-school class;
If he turned his past under and used half his plunder In running a Sunday-school class?
I wonder if Roger, the Rover,
When millions in looting he’d made, Built libraries grand on the jolly mainland To honor success and “free trade”;
If he founded a college of nautical knowledge Where Pirates could study their trade?
I wonder, I wonder, I wonder,
If Pirates were ever the same,
Ever trying to lend a respectable trend To the jaunty old buccaneer game
Or is it because of our Piracy Laws That philanthropists enter the game?
–Wallace Irwin, in Life.
THE REBEL IS INSTRUCTED IN THE WORSHIP OF THE GOD-OF-THINGS-AS- THEY-ARE
Jeff was digging out a passage in the “Apology” when there came a knock at the door of his room. The visitor was his cousin, James, and he radiated such an air of prosperity that the plain little bedroom shrank to shabbiness.
James nodded in offhand fashion as he took off his overcoat. “Hello, Jeff! Thought I’d look you up. Got settled in your diggings, eh?” Before his host could answer he rattled on: “Just ran in for a moment. Had the devil of a time to find you. What’s the object in getting clear off the earth?”
“Cheaper,” Jeff explained.
“Should think it would be,” James agreed after he had let his eyes wander critically around the room. “But you can’t afford to save that way. Get a good suite. And for heaven’s sake see a tailor, my boy. In college a man is judged by the company he keeps.”
“What have my room and my clothes to do with that?” Jeff wanted to know, with a smile.
“Everything. You’ve got to put up a good front. The best fellows won’t go around with a longhaired guy who doesn’t know how to dress. No offense, Jeff.”
His cousin laughed. “I’ll see a barber to-morrow.”
“And you must have a room where the fellows can come to see you.”
“What’s the matter with this one?”
A hint of friendly patronage crept into the manner of the junior. “My dear chap, college isn’t worth doing at all unless you do it right. You’re here to get in with the best fellows and to make connections that will help you later. That sort of thing, you know.”
Into Jeff’s face came the light that always transfigured its plainness when he was in the grip of an idea. “Hold on, J. K. Let’s get at this right. Is that what I’m here for? I didn’t know it. There’s a hazy notion in my noodle that I’m here to develop myself.”
“That’s what I’m telling you. Go in for the things that count. Make a good frat. Win out at football or debating. I don’t give a hang what you go after, but follow the ball and keep on the jump. I’m strong with the crowd that runs things and I’ll see they take you in and make you a cog of the machine. But you’ll have to measure up to specifications.”
“But, hang it, I don’t want to be a cog in any machine. I’m here to give myself a chance to grow–sit out in the sun and hatch an individuality–give myself lots of free play.”
“Then you’ve come to the wrong shop,” James informed him dryly. “If you want to succeed at college you’ve got to do the things the other fellows do and you’ve got to do them the same way.”
“You mean I’ve got to travel in a rut?”
“Oh, well! That’s a way of putting it. I mean that you have to accept customs and traditions. You have to work like the devil doing things that count. If you make the team you’ve got to think football, talk it, eat it, dream it.”
“But is it worth while?”
James waved his protest aside. “Of course it’s worth while. Success always is. Get this in your head. Four-fifths of the fellows at college don’t count. They’re also-rans. To get in with the right bunch you’ve got to make a good showing. Look at me. I’m no John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Athletics bore me. I can’t sing. I don’t grind. But I’m in everything. Best frat. Won the oratorical contest. Manager of the football team next season. President of the Dramatic Club. Why?”
He did not wait for Jeff to guess the reason. “Because our set runs things and I go after the honors.”
“But a college ought to be a democracy,” Jeff protested.
“Tommyrot! It’s an aristocracy, that’s what it is, just like the little old world outside, an aristocracy of the survival of the fittest. You get there if you’re strong. You go to the wall if you’re weak. That’s the law of life.”
The freshman came to this squint of pragmatism with surprise. He had thought of Verden University as a splendid democracy of intellectual brotherhood that was to leaven the world with which it came in touch.
“Do you mean that a fellow has to have money enough to make a good showing before he can win any of the prizes?”
James K. nodded with the sage wisdom of a man of the world. “The long green is a big help, but you’ve got to have the stuff in you. Success comes to the fellow who goes after it in the right way.”
“And suppose a fellow doesn’t care to go after it?”
“He stays a nobody.”
James was in evening dress, immaculate from clean-shaven cheek to patent leather shoes. He had a well-filled figure and a handsome face with a square, clean-cut jaw. His cousin admired the young fellow’s virile competency. It was his opinion that James K. Farnum was the last person he knew likely to remain a nobody. He knew how to conform, to take the color of his thinking from the dominant note of his environment, but he had, too, a capacity for leadership.
“I’m not going to believe you if I can help it,” Jeff answered with a smile.
The upper classman shrugged. “You’d better take my advice, just the same.
At college you don’t get a chance to make two starts. You’re sized up from the crack of the pistol.”
“I haven’t the money to make a splurge even if I wanted to.”
“Who from?” asked Jeff ungrammatically.
“You can rustle it somewhere. I’m borrowing right now.”
“It’s different with you. I’m used to doing without things. Don’t worry about me. I’ll get along.”
James came with a touch of embarrassment to the real object of his visit. “I say, Jeff. I’ve had a tough time to win out. You won’t– you’ll not say anything–let anything slip, you know–something that might set the fellows guessing.”
His cousin was puzzled. “About what?”
“About the reason why Mother and I left Shelby and came out to the coast.”
“What do you take me for?”
“I knew you wouldn’t. Thought I’d mention it for fear you might make a slip.”
“I don’t chatter about the private affairs of my people.”
“Course not. I knew you didn’t.” The junior’s hand rested caressingly on the shoulder of the other. “Don’t get sore, Jeff. I didn’t doubt you. But that thing haunts me. Some day it will come out and ruin me when I’m near the top of the ladder.”
The freshman shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, James. Just tell the plain truth if it comes out. A thing like that can’t hurt you permanently. Nothing can really injure you that does not come from your own weakness.”
“That’s all poppycock,” James interrupted fretfully. “Just that sort of thing has put many a man on the skids. I tell you a young fellow needs to start unhampered. If the fellows got onto it that my father had been in the pen because he was a defaulting bank cashier they would drop me like a hot potato.”
“None but the snobs would. Your friends would stick the closer.”
“Oh’ friends!” The young man’s voice had a note of angry derision.
Jeff’s affectionate grin comforted him. “Don’t let it get on your nerves, J. K. Things never are as bad as we expect at their worst.”
The junior set his teeth savagely. “I tell you, sometimes I hate him for it. That’s a fine heritage for a father to give his son, isn’t it? Nothing but trouble and disgrace.”
His cousin spoke softly. “He’s paid a hundred times for it, old man.”
“He ought to pay. Why shouldn’t he? I’ve got to pay. Mother had to as long as she lived.” His voice was hard and bitter.
“Better not judge him. You’re his only son, you know.”
“I’m the one he’s injured most. Why shouldn’t I judge him? I’ve been a pauper all these years, living off money given us by my mother’s people. I had to leave our home because of what he did. I’d like to know why I shouldn’t judge him.”
Jeff was silent.
Presently James rose. “But there’s no use talking about it. I’ve got to be going. We have an eat to-night at Tucker’s.”
Jeff came to his new life on the full tide of an enthusiasm that did not begin to ebb till near the close of his first semester. He lived in a new world, one removed a million miles from the sordid one through which he had fought his way so many years. All the idealism of his nature went out in awe and veneration for his college. It stood for something he could not phrase, something spiritually fine and intellectually strong. When he thought of the noble motto of the university, “To Serve,” it was always with a lifted emotion that was half a prayer. His professors went clothed in majesty. The chancellor was of godlike dimensions. Even the seniors carried with them an impalpable aura of learning.
The illusion was helped by reason of the very contrast between the jostling competition of the street and the academic air of harmony in which he now found himself. For the first time was lifted the sense of struggle that had always been with him.
The outstanding notes of his boyhood had been poverty and meagerness. It was as if he and his neighbors had been flung into a lake where they must keep swimming to escape drowning. There had been no rest from labor. Sometimes the tragedy of disaster had swept over a family. But on the campus of the university he found the sheltered life. The echo of that battling world came to him only faintly.
He began to make tentative friendships, but in spite of the advice of his cousin they were with the men who did not count. Samuel Miller was an example. He was a big, stodgy fellow with a slow mind which arrived at its convictions deliberately. But when he had made sure of them he hung to his beliefs like a bulldog to a bone.
It was this quality that one day brought them together in the classroom. An instructor tried to drive Miller into admitting he was wrong in an opinion. The boy refused to budge, and the teacher became nettled.
“Mr. Miller will know more when he doesn’t know so much,” the instructor snapped out.
Jeff’s instinct for fair play was roused at once, all the more because of the ripple of laughter that came from the class. He spoke up quietly.
“I can’t see yet but that Mr. Miller is right, sir.”
“The discussion is closed,” was the tart retort.
After class the dissenters walked across to chapel together.
“Poke the animal up with a stick and hear him growl,” Jeff laughed airily.
“Page always thinks a fellow ought to take his say-so as gospel,” Miller commented.
Most of the students saw in Jeff Farnum only a tallish young man, thin as a rail, not particularly well dressed, negligent as to collar and tie. But Miller observed in the tanned face a tender, humorous mouth and eager, friendly eyes that looked out upon the world with a suggestion of inner mirth. In course of time he found out that his friend was an unconquerable idealist.
Jeff made discoveries. One of them was a quality of brutal indifference in some of his classmates to those less fortunate. These classy young gentlemen could ignore him as easily as a hurrying business man can a newsboy trying to sell him a paper. If he was forced upon their notice they were perfectly courteous; otherwise he was not on the map for them.
Another point that did not escape his attention was the way in which the institution catered to Merrill and Frome, because they were large donors to the university. He had once heard Peter C. Frome say in a speech to the students that he contributed to the support of Verden University because it was a “safe and conservative citadel which never had yielded to demagogic assaults.” At the time he had wondered just what the president of the Verden Union Water Company had meant. He was slowly puzzling his way to an answer.
Chancellor Bland referred often to the “largehearted Christian gentlemen who gave of their substance to promote the moral and educational life of the state.” But Jeff knew that many believed Frome and Merrill to be no better than robbers on a large scale. He knew the methods by which they had gained their franchises and that they ruled the politics of the city by graft and corruption. Yet the chancellor was always ready to speak or write against municipal ownership. It was common talk on the streets that Professor Perkins, of the chair of political science, had had his expenses paid to England by Merrill to study the street railway system of Great Britain, and that Perkins had duly written several bread-and-butter articles to show that public ownership was unsuccessful there.
The college was a denominational one and the atmosphere wholly orthodox. Doubt and skepticism were spoken of only with horror. At first it was of himself that Jeff was critical. The spirit of the place was opposed to all his convictions, but he felt that perhaps his reaction upon life had been affected too much by his experiences.
He asked questions, and was suppressed with severity or kindly paternal advice. It came to him one night while he was walking bareheaded under the stars that there was in the place no intellectual stimulus, though there was an elaborate presence of it. The classrooms were arid. Everywhere fences were up beyond which the mind was not expected to travel. A thing was right, because it had come to be accepted. That was the gospel of his fellows, of his teachers. Later he learned that it is also the creed of the world.
What Jeff could not understand was a mind which refused to accept the inevitable conclusions to which its own processes pushed it. Verden University lacked the courage which comes from intellectual honesty. Wherefore its economics were devitalized and its theology an anachronism.
But Jeff had been given a mind unable to lie to itself. He was in very essence a non-conformist. To him age alone did not lend sanctity to the ghosts of dead yesterdays that rule to-day.
“Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” –Emerson.
CONVERSING ON RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY, THE REBEL LEARNS THAT IT IS SOMETIMES WISE TO SOFT PEDAL IDEAS UNLESS THEY ARE ACCEPTED ONES
During his freshman year Jeff saw little of his cousin beyond the usual campus greetings, except for a period of six weeks when the junior happened to need him. But the career of James K. tickled immensely the under classman’s sense of humor. He was becoming the most dazzling success ever developed by the college. Even with the faculty he stood high, for if he lacked scholarship he had the more showy gifts that went farther. He knew when to defer and when to ride roughshod to his end. It was felt that his brilliancy had a solidity back of it, a quality of flintiness that would endure.
James was inordinately ambitious and loved the spotlight like an actor. The flamboyant oratory at which he excelled had won for him the interstate contest. He was editor-in-chief of the “Verdenian,” manager of the varsity football team, and president of the college senate.
With the beginning of his senior year James entered another phase of his development. He offered to the college a new, or at least an enlarged, interpretation of himself. Some of his smiling good-fellowship had been sloughed to make way for the benignity of a budding statesman. He still held a tolerant attitude to the antics of his friends, but it was easy to see that he had put away childish things. To his many young women admirers he talked confidentially of his aims and aspirations. The future of James K. Farnum was a topic he never exhausted.
It was, too, a subject which greatly interested Jeff and Sam Miller. His cousin might smile at his poses, and often did, but he never denied James qualities likely to carry him far.
“His one best bet is his belief in himself,” Sam announced one night.
“It’s a great thing to believe in yourself.”
“He’s so dead sure he’s cast for a big part. The egoism just oozes out of him. He doesn’t know himself that he’s a faker.”
“He is a long way from that,” Jeff protested warmly.
“Take his oratory,” Miller went on irritably. “It’s all bunk. He throws a chest and makes you feel he’s a big man, but what he says won’t stand analysis–just a lot of platitudes.”
“Don’t forget he’s young yet. James K. hasn’t found himself.”
“Sure there’s anything to find?”
“There’s a lot in him. He’s the biggest man in the university to-day.”
“You practically wrote the oration that won the interstate contest. Think I don’t know that?” Miller snorted.
Jeff’s mouth took on a humorous twist. “I gave him some suggestions. How did you know?”
“Knew he wasn’t hanging around last term for nothing. He’s selfish as the devil.”
“You’re all wrong about him, Sam. He isn’t selfish at all at bottom.”
“Shoot the brains out of that oration and what’s left would be the part he supplied. The fellow’s got a gift of absorbing new ideas superficially and dressing them up smartly.”
“Then he’s got us beat there,” Jeff laughed goodnaturedly. He had not in his make-up a grain of envy. Even his laughter was generally genial, though often irreverent to the God-of-things- as-they-are.
“When he won the interstate he lapped up flattery like a thirsty pup, but his bluff was that it was only for the college he cared to win.”
“Most of us have mixed motives.”
“Not J. K. Reminds me of old Johnson’s ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'”
Jeff straightened. “That won’t do, Sam. I believe in J. K. You’ve got nothing against him except that you don’t like him.”
“Forgot you were his cousin, Jeff,” Miller grumbled. “But it’s a fact that he works everybody to shove him along.”
“He’s only a kid. Give him time. He’ll be a big help to any community.”
“James K.’s biggest achievement will always be James K.”
Jeff chuckled at the apothegm even while he protested. Sam capped it with another.
“He’s always sitting to himself for his own portrait.”
“He’ll get over that when he brushes up against the world.” Jeff added his own criticism thoughtfully. “The weak spot in him is a sort of flatness of mind. This makes him afraid of new ideas. He wants to be respectable, and respectability is the most damning thing on earth.”
After Miller had left Jeff buckled down to Ely’s “Political Economy.” He had not been at it long when James surprised him by dropping in. His host offered the easiest chair and shoved tobacco toward him.
“Been pretty busy with the team, I suppose?” Jeff suggested.
“It’s taken a lot of my time, but I think I’ve put the athletic association on a paying basis at last.”
“I see by your report in the ‘Verdenian’ that you made good.”
“A fellow ought to do well whatever he undertakes to do.”
Jeff grinned across at him from where he lay on the bed with his fingers laced beneath his head. “That’s what the copybooks used to say.”
“I want to have a serious talk with you, Jeff.”
“Aren’t you having it? What can be more important than the successes of James K. Farnum?”
The senior looked at him suspiciously. He was not strongly fortified with a sense of humor. “Just now I want to talk about the failures of Jefferson D. Farnum,” he answered gravely.
Jeff’s eyes twinkled. “Is it worth while? I am unworthy of this boon, O great Cesar.”
“Now that’s the sort of thing that stands in your way,” James told him impatiently. “People never know when you’re laughing at them. There is no reason why you shouldn’t succeed. Your abilities are up to the average, but you fritter them away.”
“Thank you.” Jeff wore an air of being immensely pleased.
“The truth is that you’re your own worst enemy. Now that you have taken to dressing better you are not bad looking. I find a good many of the fellows like you–or they would if you’d let them.”
“Because I’m so well connected,” Jeff laughed.
“I suppose it does help, your being my cousin. But the thing depends on you. Unless you make a decided change you’ll never get on.”
“What change do you suggest? Item one, please?”
James looked straight at him. “You lack bedrock principles, Jeff.”
“Take your habits. Two or three times you’ve been seen coming out of saloons.”
“Expect I went in to get a drink.”
“It’s not generally known, of course, but if it reached Prexy he’d fire you so quick your head would swim.”
“I dare say.”
The senior looked at him significantly. “You’re the last man that ought to go to such places. There’s such a thing as an inherited tendency.”
The jaw muscles stood out like ropes under the flesh of Jeff’s lean face. “We’ll not discuss that.”
“Very well. Cut it out. A drinking man is handicapped too heavily to win.”
“Much obliged. Second count in the indictment, please.”
“You’ve got strange, unsettling notions. The profs don’t like them.”
“You know what I mean. We didn’t make this world. We’ve got to take it as it is. You can’t make it over. There are always going to be rich people and poor ones. Just because you’ve fed indigestibly on Ibsen and Shaw you can’t change facts.”
“So you advise?”
“Soft pedal your ideas if you must have them.”
“Hasn’t a man got to see things as straight as he can?”
“That’s no reason for calling in the neighbors to rejoice with him because he has astigmatism.”
Jeff came back with a tag of Emerson, whose phrases James was fond of quoting in his speeches. “Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”
“You can push that too far. It isn’t practical. We’ve got to make compromises, especially with established things.”
Jeff sat up on the bed. Points of light were dancing in his big eyes. “That’s what the Pharisees said to Jesus when he wouldn’t stand for lies because they were deep rooted and for injustice because it had become respectable.”
“Oh, if you’re going to compare yourself to Christ–”
“Verden University is supposed to stand for Christianity, isn’t it? It was because Jesus whanged away at social and industrial freedom, at fraternity, at love on earth, that he had to endure the Cross. He got under the upper class skin when he attacked the traditional lies of vested interests. Now why doesn’t Bland preach the things that Jesus taught?”
“Yes, he does,” Jeff scoffed. “He preaches good form, respectability, a narrow personal righteousness, a salvation canned and petrified three hundred years ago.”
“Do you want him to preach socialism?”
“I want him to preach the square deal in our social life, intellectual honesty, and a vital spiritual life. Think of what this college might mean, how it might stand for democracy It ought to pour out into the state hundreds of specialists on the problems of the country. Instead, it is only a reflection of the caste system that is growing up in America.”
James shrugged his broad shoulders. “I’ve been through all that. It’s a phase we pass. You’ll get over it. You’ve got to if you are going to succeed.”
A quizzical grin wrinkled Jeff’s lean face. “What is success?”
“It’s setting a high goal and reaching it. It’s taking the world by the throat and shaking from it whatever you want.” James leaned across the table, his eyes shining. “It’s the journey’s end for the strong, that’s what it is. I don’t care whether a man is gathering gilt or fame, he’s got to pound away with his eye right on it. And he’s got to trample down the things that get in his way.”
Jeff’s eye fell upon a book on the table. “Ever hear of a chap called Goldsmith?”
“Of course. He wrote ‘The School for Scandal.’ What’s he got to do with it?”
Jeff smiled, without correcting his cousin. “I’ve been reading about him. Seems to have been a poor hack writer ‘who threw away his life in handfuls.’ He wrote the finest poem, the best novel, the most charming comedy of his day. He knew how to give, but he didn’t know how to take. So he died alone in a garret. He was a failure.”
“Probably his own fault.”
“And on the day of his funeral the stairway was crowded with poor people he had helped. All of them were in tears.”
“What good did that do him? He was inefficient. He might have saved his money and helped them then.”
“Perhaps. I don’t know. It might have been too late then. He chose to give his life as he was living it.”
“Another reason for his poverty, wasn’t there?”
Jeff flushed. “He drank.”
“Thought so.” James rose triumphantly and put on his overcoat. “Well, think over what I’ve said.”
“I will. And tell the chancellor I’m much obliged to him for sending you.”
For once the Senior was taken aback. “Eh, what–what?”
“You may tell him it won’t be your fault that I’ll never be a credit to Verden University.”
As he walked across the campus to his fraternity house James did not feel that his call had been wholly successful. With him he carried a picture of his cousin’s thin satiric face in which big expressive eyes mocked his arguments. But he let none of this sense of futility get into the report given next day to the Chancellor.
“Jeff’s rather light-minded, I’m afraid, sir. He wanted to branch off to side lines. But I insisted on a serious talk. Before I left him he promised to think over what I had said.”
“Let us hope he may.”
“He said it wouldn’t be my fault if he wasn’t a credit to the University.”
“We can all agree with him there, Farnum.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m not very hopeful about him. He has other things to contend with.”
“I’m not sure I quite know what you mean.”
“I can’t explain more fully without violating a confidence.”
“Well, we’ll hope for the best, and remember him in our prayers.”
“Yes, sir,” James agreed.
“I met a hundred men on the road to Delhi, and they were all my brothers.”–Old Proverb.
THE REBEL FLUNKS IN A COURSE ON HOW TO GET ON IN LIFE
It would be easy to overemphasize Jeff’s intellectual difficulties at the expense of the deep delight he found in many phases of his student life. The daily routine of the library, the tennis courts, and the jolly table talk brought out the boy in him that had been submerged.
There developed in him a vagabond streak that took him into the woods and the hills for days at a time. About the middle of his Sophomore year he discovered Whitman. While camping alone at night under the stars he used to shout out,
“Strong and content, I travel the open road,” or
“Allons! The road is before us!
“It is safe–I have tried it–my own feet have tried it well.”
Through Stevenson’s essay on Whitman Jeff came to know the Scotch writer, and from the first paragraph of him was a sealed follower of R. L. S. In different ways both of these poets ministered to a certain love of freedom, of beauty, of outdoor spaces that was ineradicably a part of his nature. The essence of vagabondage is the spirit of romance. One may tour every corner of the earth and still be a respectable Pharisee. One may never move a dozen miles from the village of his birth and yet be of the happy company of romantics. Jeff could find in a sunset, in a stretch of windswept plain,
in the sight of water through leafless trees, something that filled his heart with emotion.
Perhaps the very freedom of these vacation excursions helped to feed his growing discontent. The yeast of rebellion was forever stirring in him. He wanted to come to life with open mind. He was possessed of an insatiable curiosity about it. This took him to the slums of Verden, to the redlight district, to Socialist meetings, to a striking coal camp near the city where he narrowly escaped being killed as a scab. He knew that something was wrong with our social life. Inextricably blended with success and happiness he saw everywhere pain, defeat, and confusion. Why must such things be? Why poverty at all?
But when he flung his questions at Pearson, who had charge of the work in sociology, the explanations of the professor seemed to him pitifully weak.
In the ethics class he met the same experience. A chance reference to Drummond’s “Natural Law in the Spiritual world” introduced him to that stimulating book. All one night he sat up and read it– drank it in with every fiber of his thirsty being.
The fire in his stove went out. He slipped into his overcoat. Gray morning found him still reading. He walked out with dazed eyes into a world that had been baptized anew during the night to a miraculous rebirth.
But when he took his discovery to the lecture room Dawson was not only cold but hostile. Drummond was not sound. There was about him a specious charm very likely to attract young minds. Better let such books alone for the present. In the meantime the class would take up with him the discussion of predeterminism as outlined in Tuesday’s work.
There were members of the faculty big enough to have understood the boy and tolerant enough to have sympathized with his crude revolt, but Jeff was diffident and never came in touch with them.
His connection with the college ended abruptly during the Spring term of his Sophomore year.
A celebrated revivalist was imported to quicken the spiritual life of the University. Under his exhortations the institution underwent a religious ferment. An extraordinary excitement was astir on the campus. Class prayer meetings were held every afternoon, and at midday smaller groups met for devotional exercises. At these latter those who had made no profession of religion were petitioned for by name. James Farnum was swept into the movement and distinguished himself by his zeal. It was understood that he desired the prayers of friends for that relative who had not yet cast away the burden of his sins.
It became a point of honor with his cousin’s circle to win Jeff for the cause. There was no difficulty in getting him to attend the meetings of the revivalist. But he sat motionless through the emotional climax that brought to an end each meeting. To him it seemed that this was not in any vital sense religion, but he was careful not to suggest his feeling by so much as a word.
One or two of his companions invited him to come to Jesus. He disconcerted them by showing an unexpected familiarity with the Scriptures as a weapon of offense against them.
James invited him to his rooms and labored with him. Jeff resorted to the Socratic method. From what sins was he to be saved? And when would he know he had found salvation?
His cousin uneasily explained the formula. “You must believe in Christ and Him crucified. You must surrender your will to His. Shall we pray together?”
“I’d rather not, J. K. First, I want to get some points clear. Do you mean that I’m to believe in what Jesus said and to try to live as he suggested?”
Jeff picked up his cousin’s Bible and read a passage. ” ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, BECAUSE WE LOVE THE BRETHREN. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.’ That’s the test, isn’t it?”
“Well, you have to be converted,” James said dubiously.
“Isn’t that conversion–loving your brother? And if a man is willing to live in plenty while his brother is in poverty, if he exploits those weaker than himself to help him get along, then he can’t be really converted, can he?”
“Now see here, Jeff, you’ve got the wrong idea. Christ didn’t come into the world to reform it, but to save it from its sins. He wasn’t merely a man, but the Divine Son of God.”
“I don’t understand the dual nature of Jesus. But when one reads His life it is easy to believe in His divinity.” After a moment the young man added: “In one way we’re all divine sons of God, aren’t we?”
James was shocked. “Where do you get such notions? None of our people were infidels.”
“Am I one?”
“You ought to take advantage of this chance. It’s not right to set your opinion up against those that know better.”
“And that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it?” Jeff smiled. “Can’t help it. I reckon I can’t be saved by my emotions. It’s going to be a life job.”
James gave him up, but he sent another Senior to make a last attempt. The young man was Thurston Thomas and he had never exchanged six sentences with Jeff in his life. The unrepentant sinner sent him to the right about sharply.
“What the devil do you mean by running about officiously and bothering about other people’s souls? Better look out for your own.”
Thomas, a scion of one of the best families in Verden, looked as if he had been slapped in the face.
“Why Farnum, I–I spoke for your good.”
“No, you didn’t,” contradicted Jeff flatly. “You don’t care a hang about me. You’ve never noticed me before. We’re not friends. You’ve always disliked me. But you want the credit of bringing me into the fold. It’s damned impertinent of you.”
The Senior retired with a white face. He was furious, but he thought it due himself to turn the other cheek by saying nothing. He reported his version to a circle of friends, and from them it spread like grass seed in the wind. Soon it was generally known that Jeff Farnum had grossly insulted with blasphemy a man who had tried to save his soul.
Two days later Miller met Jeff at the door of Frome 15.
“You’re in bad! Jeff. What the deuce did you do to Sissy Thomas?”
“Gave him some good advice.”
Miller grinned. “I’ll bet you did. The little cad has been poisoning the wells against you. Look there.”
A young woman of their class had passed into the room. Her glance had fallen upon Farnum and been quickly averted.
“That’s the first time Bessie Vroom ever cut you,” Sam continued angrily. “Thomas is responsible. I’ve heard the story a dozen times already.”
“I only told him to mind his own business.”
“He can’t. He’s a born meddler. Now he’s queered you with the whole place.”
“Can’t help it. I wasn’t going to let him get away with his impudence. Why should I?”
Miller shrugged. “Policy, my boy. Better take the advice of Cousin James and crawl into your shell till the storm has pelted past.”
Half an hour later Jeff met his cousin near the chapel and was taken to task.
“What’s this I hear about your insulting Thomas?”
“You have it wrong. He insulted me,” Jeff corrected with a smile.
“Tommyrot! Why couldn’t you treat him right?”
“Didn’t like to throw him through the window on account of littering up the lawn with broken glass. ”
James K.’s handsome square-cut face did not relax to a smile. “You may think this a joke, but I don’t. I’ve heard the Chancellor is going to call you on the carpet.”
“If he does he’ll learn what I think.”
The upper classman’s anger boiled over. “You might think of me a little.”
“Didn’t know you were in this, J. K.”
“They know I’m your cousin. It’s hurting my reputation.”
A faint ironic smile touched Jeff’s face. “No, James, I’m helping it. Ever notice how blondes and brunettes chum together. Value of contrasts, you see. I’m a moral brunette. You’re a shining example of all a man should be. I simply emphasize your greatness.”
“That’s not the way it works,” his cousin grumbled.
“That’s just how it works. Best thing that could happen to you would be for me to get expelled. Shall I?”
Jeff offered his suggestion debonairly.
“Of course not.”
“It would give you just the touch of halo you need to finish the picture. Think of it: your noble head bowed in grief because of the unworthy relative you had labored so hard to save; the sympathy of the faculty, the respect of the fellows, the shy adoration of the co-eds. Great Brutus bowed by the sorrow of a strong man’s unrepining emotion. By Jove, I ought to give you the chance. You’d look the part to admiration.”
For a moment James saw himself in the role and coveted it. Jeff read his thought, and his laughter brought his cousin back to earth. He had the irritated sense of having been caught.
“It’s not an occasion for talking nonsense,” he said coldly.
Jeff sensed his disgrace in the stiff politeness of the professors and in the embarrassed aloofness of his classmates. Some of the men frankly gave him a wide berth as if he had been a moral pervert.
His temperament was sensitive to slights and he fell into one of his rare depressions. One afternoon he took the car for the city. He wanted to get away from himself and from his environment.
A chill mist was in the air. Drawn by the bright lights, Jeff entered a saloon and sat down in an alcove with his arms on the table. Why did they hammer him so because he told the truth as he saw it? Why must he toady to the ideas of Bland as everybody else at the University seemed to do? He was not respectable enough for them. That was the trouble. They were pushing him back into the gutter whence he had emerged. Wild fragmentary thoughts chased themselves across the record of his brain.
Almost before he knew it he had ordered and drunk a highball. Immediately his horizon lightened. With the second glass his depression vanished. He felt equal to anything.
It was past nine o’clock when he took the University car. As chance had it Professor Perkins and he were the only passengers. The teacher of Economics bowed to the flushed youth and buried himself in a book. It was not till they both rose to leave at the University station that he noticed the condition of Farnum. Even then he stood in momentary doubt.
With a maudlin laugh Jeff quieted any possible explanation of sickness.
“Been havin’ little spree down town, Profeshor. Good deal like one ev’body been havin’ out here. Yours shpiritual; mine shpirituous. Joke, see! Play on wor’d. Shpiritual–shpirituous.”
“You’re intoxicated, sir,” Perkin,s told him sternly.
“Betcherlife I am, old cock! Ever get shp–shp–shpiflicated yourself?”
“Go home and go to bed, sir!”
“Whaffor? ‘S early yet. ‘S reasonable man I ask whaffor?”
The professor turned away, but Jeff caught at his sleeve.
“Lesh not go to bed. Lesh talk economicsh.”
“Release me at once, sir.”
“Jush’s you shay. Shancellor wants see me. I’ll go now.”
He did. What occurred at that interview had better be omitted. Jeff was very cordial and friendly, ready to make up any differences there might be between them. An ice statue would have been warm compared to the Chancellor.
Next day Jeff was publicly expelled. At the time it did not trouble him in the least. He had brought a bottle home with him from town, and when the notice was posted he lay among the bushes in a sodden sleep half a mile from the campus.
From a great distance there seemed to come to Jeff vaguely the sound of young rippling laughter and eager girlish voices. Drawn from heavy sleep, he was not yet fully awake. This merriment might be the music of fairy bells, such stuff as dreams are made of. He lay incurious, drowsiness still heavy on his eyelids.
“Oh, Virgie, here’s another bunch! Oh, girls, fields of them!”
There was a little rush to the place, and with it a rustle of skirts that sounded authentic. Jeff began to believe that his nymphs were not born of fancy. He opened his eyes languidly to examine a strange world upon which he had not yet focused his mind.
Out of the ferns a dryad was coming toward him, lance straight, slender, buoyantly youthful in the light tread and in the poise of the golden head.
At sight of him she paused, held in her tracks, eyes grown big with solicitude.
“You are ill.”
Before he could answer she had dropped the anemones she carried, was on her knees beside him, and had his head cushioned against her arm.
“Tell me! What can I do for you? What is the matter?”
Jeff groaned. His head was aching as if it would blow up, but that was not the cause of the wave of pain which had swept over him. A realization had come to him of what was the matter with him. His eyes fell from hers. He made as if to get up, but her hand restrained him with a gentle firmness.
“Don’t! You mustn’t.” Then aloud, she cried: “Girls–girls– there’s a sick man here. Run and get help. Quick.”
“No–no! I–I’m not sick.”
A flood of shame and embarrassment drenched him. He could not escape her tender hands without actual force and his poignant shyness made that impossible. She was like a fairy tale, a creature of dreams. He dared not meet her frank pitiful eyes, though he was intensely aware of them. The odor of violets brings to him even to this day a vision of girlish charm and daintiness, together with a memory of the abased reverence that filled him.
They came running, her companions, eager with question and suggestion. And hard upon their heels a teamster from the road broke through the thicket, summoned by their calls for help. He stooped to pick up something that his foot had struck. It was a bottle. He looked at it and then at Jeff.
“Nothing the matter with him, Miss, but just plain drunk,” the man said with a grin. “He’s been sleeping it off.”
Jeff felt the quiver run through her. She rose, trembling, and with one frightened sidelong look at him walked quickly away. He had seen a wound in her eyes he would not soon forget. It was as if he had struck her down while she was holding out hands to help him.
Lies need only age to make them respectable. Given that, they become traditions and are put upon a pedestal. Then the gentlest word for him who attacks them is traitor. –From the Note Book of a Dreamer.
THE REBEL FOLLOWS THE RAMIFICATIONS OF BIG BUSINESS AND FINDS THAT THE PILLARS OF SOCIETY ARE NOT IN POLITICS FOR THEIR HEALTH
“Hmp! Want to be a reporter, do you?”
Warren, city editor on the Advocate, leaned back in his chair and looked Jeff over sharply.
“It’s a hell of a life. Better keep out.”
“I’d like to try it.”
“Only correspondence. I’ve had two years at college.”
The city editor snorted. He had the unreasoning contempt for college men so often found in the old-time newspaper hack.
“Then you don’t want to be a reporter. You want to be a journalist,” he jeered.
“They kicked me out,” Jeff went on quietly.
“Sounds better. Why?”
Jeff hesitated. “I got drunk.”
“Can’t use you,” Warren cut in hastily.
“I’ve quit–sworn off.”
The city editor was back on the job, his eyes devouring copy. “Heard that before. Nothing to it,” he grunted.
“Give me a trial. I’ll show you.”
“Don’t want a man that drinks. Office crowded with ’em already.”
Jeff held his ground. For five minutes the attention of Warren was focused on his work.
Suddenly he snapped out, “Well?”
He met Farnum’s ingratiating smile. “You haven’t told me yet what to start doing.”
“I told you I didn’t want you.”
“But you do. I’m on the wagon.”
“For how long?” jeered the city editor.
Warren sized him up again. He saw a cleareyed young fellow without a superfluous ounce of flesh on him, not rugged but with a look of strength in the slender figure and the thin face. This young man somehow inspired confidence.
“Sent in that Colby story to us, didn’t you?”
“Rotten story. Not half played up. Report to Jenkins at the City Hall.”
“Now. Think I meant next year?”
The city editor was already lost in the reading of more copy.
Inside of half an hour Jeff was at work on his first assignment. Some derelict had committed suicide under the very shadow of the City Hall. Upon the body was a note scrawled on the bask of a dirty envelope.
Sick and out of work. Notify Henry Simmons, 237 River Street, San Francisco.
Jenkins, his hands in his pockets, looked at the body indifferently and turned the story over to the cub with a nod of his head.
“Go to it. Half a stick,” he said.
From another reporter Jeff learned how much half a stick is. He wrote the account. When he had read it Jenkins glanced sharply at him. Though only the barest facts were told there was a sob in the story.
“That ain’t just how we handle vag suicides, but we’ll let ‘er go this time,” he commented.
It did not take Jeff long to learn how to cover a story to the satisfaction of the city editor. He had only to be conventional, sensational, and in general accurate as to his facts. He fraternized with his fellow reporters at the City Hall, shared stories with them, listened to the cheerful lies they told of their exploits, and lent them money they generally forgot to return. They were a happy-go-lucky lot, full of careless generosities and Bohemian tendencies. Often a week’s salary went at a single poker sitting. Most of them drank a good deal.
After a few months’ experience Jeff discovered that while the gathering of news tends to sharpen the wits it makes also for the superficial. Alertness, cleverness, persistence, a nose for news, and a surface accuracy were the chief qualities demanded of him by the office. He had only to look around him to see that the profession was full of keen-eyed, nimble-witted old-young men who had never attempted to synthesize the life they were supposed to be recording and interpreting. While at work they were always in a hurry, for to-day’s news is dead to-morrow. They wrote on the run, without time for thought or reflection. Knowing beyond their years, the fruit of their wisdom was cynicism. Their knowledge withered for lack of roots.
The tendency of the city desk and of copy readers is to reduce all reporters to a dead level, but in spite of this Jeff managed to get himself into his work. He brought to many stories a freshness, a point of view, an optimism that began to be noticed. From the police run Jeff drifted to other departments. He covered hotels, the court house, the state house and general assignments.
At the end of a couple of years he was promoted to a desk position. This did not suit him, and he went back to the more active work of the street. In time he became known as a star man. From dramatics he went to politics, special stories and feature work. The big assignments were given him.
It was his duty to meet famous people and interview them. The chance to get behind the scenes at the real inside story was given him. Because of this many reputations were pricked like bubbles so far as he was concerned. The mask of greatness was like the false faces children wear to conceal their own. In the one or two really big men he met Jeff discovered a humility and simplicity that came from self-forgetfulness. They were too busy with their vision of truth to pose for the public admiration.
It was while Jeff was doing the City Hall run that there came to him one night at his rooms a man he had known in the old days when he had lived in the river bottom district. If he was surprised to see him the reporter did not show it.
“Hello, Burke! Come in. Glad to see you.”
Farnum took the hat of his guest and relieved his awkwardness by guiding him to a chair and helping him get his pipe alight.
“How’s everything? Little Mike must be growing into a big boy these days. Let’s see. It’s three years since I’ve seen him.”
A momentary flicker lit the gloomy eyes of the Irishman. “He’s a great boy, Mike is. He often speaks of you, Mr. Farnum.
“Glad to know it. And Mrs. Burke?”
“That leaves only Patrick Burke. I suppose he hasn’t fallen off the water wagon yet.”
The occupation of Burke had been a threadbare joke between them in the old days. He drove a street sprinkler for the city.
“That’s what he has. McGuire threw the hooks into me this mor- rning. I’ve drove me last day.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m too damned honest. . . . or too big a coward. Take your choice.”
“All right. I’ve taken it,” smiled the reporter.
Pat brought his big fist down on the table so forcefully that the books shook. “I’ll not go to the penitentiary for an-ny man. . . . He wanted me to let him put two other teams on the rolls in my name. I wouldn’t stand for it. That was six weeks ago. To-day he lets me out.”
Jeff began to see dimly the trail of the serpent graft. He lit his pipe before he spoke.
“Don’t quite get the idea, Pat. Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because I’m on the level. I’ll have no wan tellin’ little Mike his father is a dirty thief. . . .It’s this way. The rolls were to be padded, understand.”
“I see. You were to draw pay for three teams when you’ve got only one.”
“McGuire was to draw it, all but a few dollars a month.” The Irishman leaned forward, his eyes blazing. “And because I wouldn’t stand for it I’m fired for neglecting my duty. I missed a street yesterday. If he’d been frientlly to me I might have missed forty. . . . But he can’t throw me down like that. I’ve got the goods to show he’s a dirty grafter. Right now he’s drawing pay for seven teams that don’t exist.”
“And he doesn’t know you know it?”
“You bet he don’t. I’ve guessed it for a month. To-day I went round and made sure.”
Jeff asked questions, learned all that Burke had to tell him. In the days that followed he ran down the whole story of the graft so secretly that not even the city editor knew what he was about. Then he had a talk with the “old man” and wrote his story.
It was a red-hot exposure of one of the most flagrant of the City Hall gang. There was no question of the proof. He had it in black and white. Moreover, there was always the chance that in the row which must follow McGuire might peach on Big Tim himself, the boss of all the little bosses.
Within twenty-four hours Jeff was summoned to a conference at which were present the city editor and Warren, now managing editor.
“We’ve killed your story, Farnum,” announced the latter as soon as the door was closed.
“Why? I can prove every word of it.”
“That was what we were afraid of.”
“It’s a peach of a story. With the spring elections coming on we need some dynamite to blow up Big Tim. I tell you McGuire would tell all he knows to save his own skin.”
“My opinion, too,” agreed Warren dryly. “My boy, it’s too big a story. That’s the whole trouble. If we were sure it would stop at McGuire we’d run it. But it won’t. The corporations are backing Big Tim to win this spring. It won’t do to get him tied up in a graft scandal.”
“But the _Advocate_ has been out after his scalp for years.”
“Well, we’re not after it any more. Of course, we’re against him on the surface still.”
Jeff did some rapid thinking. “Then the program will be for us to nominate a weak ticket and elect Big Tim’s by default. Is that it?”
“That’s about it. The big fellows have to make sure of a Mayor who will be all right about the Gas and Electric franchise. So we’re going to have four more years of Big Tim.”
“Will Brownell stand for it?”
Brownell was the principal owner of the _Advocate._
“Will he?” Warren let his eyelash rest for a second upon the cheek nearest Jeff. “He’s been seen. My orders come direct from the old man.”
The story was suppressed. No more was heard about the McGuire graft scandal exposure. It had run counter to the projects of big business.
Burke had to be satisfied without his revenge.
He got a job with a brewery and charged the McGuire matter to profit and loss.
As for Jeff the incident only served to make clearer what he already knew. More and more he began to understand the forces that dominate our cities, the alliance between large vested interests and the powers that prey. These great corporations were seekers of special privileges. To secure this they financed the machines and permitted vice and corruption. He saw that ultimately most of the shame for the bad government of American cities rests upon the Fromes and the Merrills.
As for the newspapers, he was learning that between the people and an independent press stand the big advertisers. These make for conservatism, for an unfair point of view, for a slant in both news recording and news interpretation. Yet he saw that the press is in spite of this a power for good. The evil that it does is local and temporary, the good general and permanent.
The spirit of commercialism that dominated America during the nineties and the first years of the new century never got hold of Jeff. The air and the light of his land were often the creation of a poet’s dream. The delight of life stabbed him, so, too, did its tragedy. Not anchored to conventions, his mind was forever asking questions, seeking answers.
He would come out from a theater into a night that was a flood of illumination. Electric signs poured a glare of light over the streets. Motor cars and electrics whirled up to take away beautifully gowned women and correctly dressed men. The windows of the department stores were filled with imported luxuries. And he would sometimes wonder how much of misery and trouble was being driven back by that gay blare of wealth, how many men and women and children were giving their lives to maintain a civilization that existed by trampling over their broken hearts and bodies.
Preventable poverty stared at him from all sides. He saw that our social fabric is thrown together in the most haphazard fashion, without scientific organization, with the greatest waste, in such a way that non-producers win all the prizes while the toilers do without. Yet out of this system that sows hate and discontent, that is a practical denial of brotherhood, of God, springs here and there love like a flower in a dunghill.
He felt that art and learning, as well as beauty and truth, ought to walk hand in hand with our daily lives. But this is impossible so long as disorder and cruelty and disease are in the world unnecessarily. He heard good people, busy with effects instead of causes, talk about the way out, as if there could be any way out which did not offer an equality of opportunity refused by the whole cruel system of to-day.
But Jeff could be in revolt without losing his temper. The men who profited by present conditions were not monsters. They were as kind of heart as he was, effects of the system just as much as the little bootblack on the corner. No possible good could come of a blind hatred of individuals.
His Bohemian instinct sent Jeff ranging far in those days. He made friends out of the most unlikely material. Some of the most radical of these were in the habit of gathering informally in his rooms about once a week. Sometimes the talk was good and pungent. Much of it was merely wild.
His college friend, Sam Miller, now assistant city librarian, was one of this little circle. Another was Oscar Marchant, a fragile little Socialist poet upon whom consumption had laid its grip. He was not much of a poet, but there burnt in him a passion for humanity that disease and poverty could not extinguish.
One night James Farnum dropped in to borrow some money from his cousin and for ten minutes listened to such talk as he had never heard before. His mind moved among a group of orthodox and accepted ideas. A new one he always viewed as if it were a dynamite bomb timed to go off shortly. He was not only suspicious of it; he was afraid of it.
James was, it happened, in evening dress. He took gingerly the chair his cousin offered him between the hectic Marchant and a little Polish Jew.
The air was blue with the smoke from cheap tobacco. More than one of those present carried the marks of poverty. But the note of the assembly was a cheerful at-homeness. James wondered what the devil his cousin meant by giving this heterogeneous gathering the freedom of his rooms.
Dickinson, the single-taxer, was talking bitterly. He was a big man with a voice like a foghorn. His idea of emphasis appeared to be pounding the table with his blacksmith fist.
“I tell you society doesn’t want to hear about such things,” he was declaiming. “It wants to go along comfortably without being disturbed. Ignore everything that’s not pleasant, that’s liable to harrow the feelings. The sins of our neighbors make spicy reading. Fill the papers with ’em. But their distresses and their poverty! That’s different. Let’s hear as little about them as possible. Let’s keep it a well-regulated world.”
Nearly everybody began to talk at once. James caught phrases here and there out of the melee.
“. . . Democratic institutions must either decay or become revitalized. . . .To hell with such courts. They’re no better than anarchy. . . .In Verden there are only two classes: those who don’t get as much as they earn and those who get more. . . . Tell you we’ve got to get back to the land, got to make it free as air. You can’t be saved from economic slavery till you have socialism. . . .”
Suddenly the hubbub subsided and Marchant had the floor. “All of life’s a compromise, a horrible unholy giving up as unpractical all the best things. It’s a denial of love, of Christ, of God.”
A young preacher who was conducting a mission for sailors on the water front cut in. “Exactly. The church is radically wrong because–”
“Because it hasn’t been converted to Christianity yet. Mr. Moneybags in the front pew has got a strangle hold on the parson. Begging your pardon, Mifflin. We know you’re not that kind.”
Marchant won the floor again. “Here’s the nub of it. A man’s a slave so long as his means of livelihood is dependent on some other man. I don’t care whether it’s lands or railroads or mines. Abolish private property and you abolish poverty.”
They were all at it again, like dogs at a bone. Across the Babel James caught Jeff’s gay grin at him.
By sheer weight Dickinson’s voice boomed out of the medley.
“. . . just as Henry George says: ‘Private ownership of land is the nether mill-stone. Material progress is the upper mill-stone. Between them, with an increasing pressure, the working classes are being ground.’ We’re just beginning to see the effect of private property in land. Within a few years. . . .”
“What we need is to get back to Democracy. Individualism has run wild. . . .”
“Trouble is we can’t get anywhere under the Constitution. Every time we make a move–check. It was adopted by aristocrats to hold back the people and that’s what it’s done. Law–”
Apparently nobody got a chance to finish his argument. The Polish Jew broke in sharply. “Law! There iss no law.”
“Plenty of it, Sobieski, Go out on the streets and preach your philosophic anarchy if you don’t believe it. See what it will do to you. Law’s a device to bolster up the strong and to hammer down the weak.”
James had given a polite cynical indulgence to views so lost to reason and propriety. But he couldn’t quite stand any more. He made a sign to Jeff and they adjourned to the next room.
“Your friends always so–so enthusiastic?” he asked with the slightest lift of his upper lip.
“Not always. They’re a little excited to-night because Harshaw imprisoned those fourteen striking miners for contempt of court.”
“Don’t manufacture bombs here, do you?”
Jeff laughed. “We’re warranted harmless.”
James offered him good advice. “That sort of talk doesn’t lead to anything–except trouble. Men who get on don’t question the fundamentals of our social system. It doesn’t do, you know. Take the constitution. Now I’ve studied it. A wonderful document. Gladstone said.”
“Yes, I know what Gladstone said. I don’t agree with him. The constitution was devised by men with property as a protection against those who had none.”
“Why shouldn’t it have been?”
“It should, if vested interests are the first thing to consider. In there”–with a smiling wave of his hand–“they think people are more important than things. A most unsettling notion!”
“Mean to say you believe all that rant they talk?”
“Not quite,” Jeff laughed.
“Well, I’d cut that bunch of anarchists if I were you,” his cousin